Epilogue, Part 2.
It turns out Tom's interest in coming back to Broadchurch was centered almost entirely on visiting the arcade. Ellie is trying hard not to show her annoyance, but Hardy can feel tension radiating from her shoulders. The trip was supposed to include the beach, the cliffs and the family. Not the town, with its potential for catastrophe. But Tom looks so eager, she agrees to the arcade for one afternoon.
When they walk in, Ellie takes an audible breath. Summer weekends are the busiest time of year for this kind of place. Tom runs off immediately to claim his favorite game and Charlotte wanders after him. Fred tries to follow them, but Hardy nabs him before he can get lost. Amidst the boy's protests, Ellie heads in the direction of the younger children's area.
Charlotte finds them again soon after, looking miserable and utterly out of place. She only stops frowning when she notices Hardy watching her. But even she looks more comfortable than Ellie, who is on guard, eyes constantly scanning the room, on the lookout for people she doesn't want to talk to. After an hour, Hardy rolls his eyes at both of them and sends them to the beach. Ellie hesitates until he assures her he doesn't mind. She kisses him quickly and says they'll be just outside. She loops her arm through Charlotte's and the two make their way out, smiling together over the sudden reprieve.
Between the people, the lights and the exciting noises, the arcade proves a bit over stimulating for Fred, who cannot pay attention to one thing for more than ten minutes. He tries to run off multiple times, each time with Hardy catching him to prevent an escape. Grabbing the boy is reflexive at this point. It's muscle memory. He doesn't remember ever moving as quickly as he has in the last eight months, caring for this inquisitive, audacious child. Being the primary caretaker of a two year old has proven the best cardiac rehabilitation nature has to offer.
Finally, Fred adds a little extra speed to his efforts, gleefully sprinting through the crowd. Hardy trails after him, figuring if the kid has this much energy to burn it might be worth it to let him roam for a minute. Something to their right catches Fred's attention and he runs straight into the back of a woman's legs. The woman turns around and Hardy stops where he is, instantly recognizing the red hair and pale skin. Beth Latimer, with a baby strapped to her chest in some kind of elaborate yellow contraption, leans over to check on whatever has just rammed her. "Whoa, sweetheart, you okay there?" she says.
Fred, ever resilient, stands himself back up. He blinks and smiles at her. Beth scans the room, nervously searching for this child's parents. As Hardy fills in the extra few spaces, Fred runs back to meet him, hovering around his legs.
"Oh, DI Hardy!" Beth says.
"Beth. Hi." He attempts a smile, but he can't quite manage it. He is not in the mood for awkward conversation.
"How are you?" she asks. She looks down at the child holding onto his trouser leg. "And who's this? Wait, is that Fred?" Fred wraps himself around Hardy's leg, hiding his face. "Look how big he's got!" Beth smiles at the boy.
Hardy looks down. The child is hanging onto him with a death grip now. "He's usually not shy. Fred? Can you say hello?"
After a pause, Fred looks up. He smiles at Beth and waves.
"Hi Sweetheart, you probably don't remember me."
He steps out from behind Hardy's leg and stares at her. "Is that a baby?" he asks after a moment.
"Oh, yeah, he is. This is Henry." She glances at Hardy.
Fred looks up at him and raises his arms. Hardy complies to the familiar command, lifting the boy. Fred leans out toward Beth so he can get a better look at the sleeping infant. Hardy moves him closer. "Hi Baby!" he says.
He coos at Henry for a minute more before tiring of the new experience and settling back against Hardy, wrapping his pudgy arms around his neck. Beth watches the entire exchange with an amused look on her face.
"So the rumors are true then," she says.
"What rumors?" he asks, though he knows full well what she means.
"Oh, there's been loads of them. Some are quite scandalous. You and Ellie started a relationship and ran off together. Some people said you had actually been having a torrid affair from the start, all through the investigation. Now you live together, somewhere, either another part of Dorset, or Somerset or Scotland, depending on who's talking. Another one is that you had some near death experience—when you had the heart attack at the Trader's I guess—anyway she nursed you back to health and you fell madly in love with her. I think I'm forgetting a couple but you get the gist."
He tries to keep his face neutral. "Oh, those rumors. Um. Some of it's true. Though, not the part about the investigation." He gives her a pointed look and she nods. He softens, "And I was probably already in love before the nursing to health bit."
A sentimental look comes over her face. She opens her mouth to speak when they are interrupted. "Alec?" Tom says behind him, "Can I have more...oh, um, hi Beth."
"Oh my god, Tom! Hi, Sweetheart. Wow, you're huge. You're bigger than me almost! How're you doing?"
Tom comes up close, awkwardly shifts his weight as he answers her. "I'm okay," he says. He shifts again. "How are you doing?"
They stare at each other with matching looks: fondly, tinged of sadness. There is a powerful bond between them, Hardy realizes. They were victims together.
Beth takes a shallow breath and puts an arm around Tom's shoulders, hugging him from the side. "I'm good," she says. "It's good to see you."
After a moment, she looks around. "Is Ellie here?" she asks. She seems nervous.
"She's outside," Hardy says.
Beth looks in the direction of the beach. "Do you think she would mind if I said hello?"
"Why would she mind?" Tom asks.
A flicker of guilt runs over the woman's face. Her eyes are glassy and she ducks her head. It's the confirmation Hardy needs. "Not at all," he says. She takes a deep breath, runs a hand over her baby's head.
Outside, he spots them immediately, on the wall lining the beach, just a few feet away. They are sitting close, cross-legged and facing each other, leaning in, laughing, two friends conspiring. Ellie's hair, grown out to her shoulders over the last year, looks wild against the sea breeze, falling in her face. She runs a hand through it, pushing it away, and as she does she sees them. She stares at Beth, and next to him, Beth has stopped moving. Charlotte says something and Ellie glances at her, giving a response. Whatever Charlotte says then makes Ellie smile softly, and she puts her hand up to the girl's cheek affectionately for a moment, before hopping off the wall. Hardy puts a hand on Beth's elbow to remind her to keep moving. As they approach, Ellie straightens her shoulders and sets her jaw.
"Hiya, Ell," The words come out in a rush.
"Beth, hi," Ellie says, slower, more reserved.
Beth's eyes are shining. "How've you been? You look...god, you look great." A hint of a smile catches her lip.
Surprised relief floods Ellie's face. Hardy puts a supportive arm around her waist. "Thanks, I've been...all right," she glances at him, making sure he knows she's been far better than all right. The reminder is not necessary. "What about you? Who's this then?" She smiles and leans into Beth to look at the baby.
"This is Henry."
Ellie beams at the child. "Oh Beth, he's beautiful!" The women smile at each other then, finally.
Charlotte walks up to join them, and stands awkwardly between Hardy and Tom. Beth looks at her.
Hardy clears his throat. "Right, sorry. Beth, this is my daughter, Charlotte."
"Hi," Beth says.
Charlotte smiles and gives a little wave. "Nice to meet you," she says.
"You too." Beth smiles nervously. "How old are you?"
"Oh, same as Chloe. My daughter."
"Cool," Charlotte says. She smiles again.
Meanwhile Fred, who is still settled on Hardy's hip, begins putting forth his best efforts to break free. "Eh, Char, would you mind...?" He sets the boy down.
"Nope, c'mere buddy," she says, and takes Fred's hand. All three adults watch as she and Fred head for the wall and Tom follows them. Tom and Charlotte smile at each other and then Tom takes Fred's free hand, and the two begin to swing the youngest between them. It's Fred's favorite game and he immediately starts giggling.
Hardy's attention breaks when he hears Beth take in a sharp breath. She wraps her arms around baby Henry, rests her cheek against his head. Beside him, Ellie's lips are pursed and her eyes are wet. They've all had the same thought at the same time, it seems. Hardy and Ellie have gathered together the family that Beth was supposed have: two older kids and a baby, a girl and two boys. He steps a few inches closer to Ellie and puts an arm around her again, trying to think of something appropriate to say.
Luckily, they are all distracted by a man's voice calling Beth from a few yards away. They all turn together. "Hey, Beth! There you are, been lookin' all over for ya—" Mark says, but stops short as when he notices his wife's companions.
"Yeah, sorry, we're out here. Look who I found," Beth says.
Mark takes a step closer, stares, takes another step. "Hey, Ell," he says. He gives her a small smile.
"All right, Mark," Ellie says, her voice quiet.
He closes the distance and wraps her in a hug. "Good to see you," he says, his voice breathy. "How've you been, eh?"
From this angle Hardy can see Ellie's face, looking at him with wide, confused eyes. Finally, Mark pulls back. "Um. Good to see you, too, Mark. I'm fine, thanks."
Hardy sticks his hand out. "Mark."
"All right, DI Hardy," Mark shakes the hand offered, and shakes his head, coming out of a daze. He has that friendly, neighborly look on his face. A year ago Hardy was sure that look was pure deception.
"Not DI Hardy, just Alec now," he says.
"Oh, is that right? So what're you doing now then?"
"Teaching a couple classes. Police consulting occasionally."
"Probably more often than necessary," Ellie chimes in, her eyes sparkling as she looks at him.
He smirks back at her. "Aye, the newly appointed DI seems to like my company." They hold eye contact for a beat too long.
"I see," says Mark, chuckling. "DI, then eh, Ell?"
She shrugs, smiling. "Apparently."
"Good for you," he says.
Beside them, Beth is still watching the kids. Mark follows her line of sight and for a second his face falls, but he shakes his head and is suddenly smiling again. "But, you're not around here, though, are ya? I think Olly told me where you ran off to, but I've forgotten."
"We're not far. Over in Poole."
"Still in Dorset," Beth says.
"Yeah. Only the area's so much bigger, which is nice...makes it easier to...stay anonymous," Ellie says, looking a bit sheepish.
The Latimers both nod. They understand the appeal.
Beth gazes at the kids again, and Marks watches her. He clears his throat. "Well, we better be goin'. Chloe'll be waiting."
Beth looks at Ellie. "Listen, next time you're in town, give us a ring, will you? We'll have you round for dinner or something," she says. Her smile isn't quite there, but her eyes are kind.
Ellie nods, like she is taking a solemn vow. "We will."
Beth puts her hand on Ellie's elbow for a second before Mark slings an arm around her shoulders and guides her off. "Good to see you both. Take care of yourselves," he says.
"You too," Hardy says.
They walk away. Ellie is watching, her eyes full of all kinds of emotions. "You all right?" he asks beside her.
She rests her head on his shoulder. After a pause she says, "Yeah, think so. It's just…hard."
Looking at the landscape around him, he knows what she needs, even if she doesn't. "Hey kids?" he calls. They all look at him, waiting for instruction. "The adults are going for a walk. Charlotte, you're in charge." Motioning them over, he hands Charlotte some cash, gives Tom the rest of his game tokens, and lets them know they are not to leave the vicinity of the arcade for any reason, short of escaping a natural disaster.
He turns back to Ellie. "Ready?" She's looking at him like he has lost his mind. "Well, come on," he says.
With an acquiescent shrug she takes the hand he offers. He links his fingers with hers and keeps a tight grip, grounding her. After a glance back at the kids, she lets him lead her in the direction of the high street.
Her eyes go wide with wonder as they walk. She clutches his fingers with one hand and his forearm with the other, walking so close she bumps his hip as she moves. He can't take his eyes off of her. She looks nostalgic one minute, curious the next. Every once in a while she points out a place of interest, as if he hasn't been here before. When they get to the center of town, people start to notice them. Some nod or give them an "all right." One woman, someone vaguely familiar looking named Nikki, exclaims "Ellie!" and gives her a hug. They smile kindly at each other.
As they walk, and the friendly atmosphere soothes her, her grip on his knuckles softens. He feels her entire body begin to relax. After a while she is the one smiling first at people she recognizes on the street. They make a full lap through town, passing the Echo and the Trader's, the police station, and the Newsagents, which has recently reopened. When they're on the final stretch, she lets go of him and turns around, taking a long look at the town she's always known. Her eyes are filled, but not with sadness, exactly. She lets out a slow exhale.
"It really is a lovely town," she says.
He steps up beside her. "It is."
She turns to him and puts her arms around his neck, stepping up flush against him.
He rubs his hands along her hips and looks her in the eye. "Do you miss it?" he asks.
She shrugs, and turns her head to take another long look at the familiar surroundings. "In a way, sort of. I'm glad we did this."
He nods. "Good."
"But it'll be nice to get back home, too."
Every now and then when he really looks at her, finding nothing but truth in those eyes of hers, his chest tightens. His pacemaker can't support his whole heart when emotions this strong are flooding through it. Whenever that happens, he draws in a deep breath and kisses her. She has enough life force to hold up the both of them. Her lips against his rebuild him.
He kisses her now, soft but sure. They hold each other close, arms hugging tight in a lingering embrace. He feels her lips curl into a smile against his mouth. He smiles back at her.
Out on the horizon, they see first glimmer of sunset. She takes his hand again, and they walk together, moving forward, toward the beach, the kids, and everything waiting ahead. Lit up by the golden light, Broadchurch carries on behind them.