The Latimer case should've been the end of things.
It had been the end of his career, had no doubt taken years he couldn't afford off his life, but it didn't make up for Sandbrook, nor did it leave him feeling anything more than a hollow satisfaction at solving the bloody thing. There's no closure to be had, no vindication, just a discomforting feeling of irrational guilt and wish that it he'd never got the position in the first place. If pushing himself near to death to close this case had been a form of penance, so, perhaps, is staying for the aftermath.
And he's never been much for drink, seen it go wrong too many times, but oh, he's resenting the fact that his fucking heart problems make the very act of getting completely pissed a threat to his continued existence.
The boutique hotel gloss of his room is now dusted with a smattering of personal effects. Almost funny, thinking back to his arrival in Broadchurch, that the Traders Hotel was intended as a temporary residence whilst he figured out his living arrangements. He was supposed to have been looking for a flat or a house to let, somewhere where he could take what few belongings he'd kept after Sandbrook and the divorce and settle into the dull life of a DI in market town. Almost funny, if you didn't think about why it was he was still living out of a hotel room, still living in Broadchurch, if you could call it living, despite everything.
There's no good reason for him to stay, but even less reason for him to go. He still doesn't like it, if anything likes it less. Doesn't like the small town judgement, small town gossip, and small town assumed familiarity. He'd be hard pressed, though, to come up with a place he did like, or anywhere else he'd want go. His daughter can refuse to talk to him wherever he is, and he's not up to the stress of moving house again, not just yet. Best then to stay where he is for now, try to mitigate the worst of it.
DS Miller sits perched on the chair, knees pulled tight to her chest, arms locked round her legs, a study in defensive body language. Her eyes aren't rimmed red this time, but the shadows under them are deeper. Hasn't been sleeping, he notes, and it's almost a certainty that what sleep she has been getting has been poor. Her wedding rings glint dully as she pulls her legs even closer in.
She's quiet tonight, but if she's here, she needs to talk, so he asks, "How is Tom?"
"Horrible. He's trying so bloody hard to be strong, and it's just awful. I'm awful. When he's falling apart, it's so much easier for me to be strong for him. I don't want him trying to be strong, or pretending like everything's OK, not when I need to be his mum and take care of him. He went out on his skateboard day before yesterday and tracked mud on the floors on his way back in. I lost my temper. Flew into a rage and starting shouting, all over a bit of fucking mud." She drops her head. Her hair's mussed, curls left askew and frizzing at the ends. "He didn't deserve it."
"You're being too hard on yourself. It's only been a fortnight."
"No, I'm not, I'm really, really not. He started crying, and I was relieved. I made my kid cry, and I was relieved because I knew how to handle it, when I don't know how to handle anything else. What sort of mum does that make me?"
One at the end of her tether and cut off from community support. He would tell her it's a normal, natural reaction, but anyone with their job knows that already. "Are you still planning on leaving, getting a fresh start away from here?"
"Maybe. Probably. I don't know. Haven't even got hold of the removers yet. I don't know what the fuck I'm going to do. I've never lived anywhere else, and who'd give me a bloody job as a detective after this? It's all I've ever done, being with the police. I could do something else, but God knows even the tourism board wouldn't have me."
She's likely right about her employability, and the hell of it is, the only possible positive outcome he can think of for her in this whole nightmare, the only bloody silver lining, is that it would've made her a better detective in the end, even if no one should have to learn by having their trust and faith stripped away. At least he'd never had much of either to lose. "Who'd want to work for the tourism board in this bloody place? You'd be better off as a traffic warden."
The next morning, Becca Fisher accosts him on his way out for an early walk. "You had Ellie Miller over again last night," she says. "How is she?" Bloody small towns.
"Fine." His response is curt, and he doesn't even break stride to make it. He's well aware people are starting to talk, equally aware that anything he says or does not say will feed into their gossip.
No one's on the beach below the cliffs. There rarely is this early. He's yet another follow-up appointment with the GP soon, where he'll dutifully report that he's made an effort at stress reduction, even if all it is is him sitting for an hour each morning and staring at the waves. There'll be pressure again to have a device implanted, another lecture about not being stubborn or letting the fear of complications make his decision.
Nowhere near fifty, yet he's living with the heart of an elderly man and has naught but an ill health pension in his future. What a dismal fucking thought.
The appointment goes exactly as he'd expected. They always have since it became clear that the none of the medications were as effective as the doctors had hoped they would be, and he's not even sure why he bothers anymore. It's therefore a foul, resigned mood that he's in when Olly Stevens comes to see him.
"DI Hardy, can I have a word?"
"I've been medicalled out, and I don't talk to the press."
"I'm not here as a reporter, I just wanted to talk to you about Aunt Ellie."
"Because she's my aunt, and I worry. She's not really talking to Mum and me."
"Oh, for God's sake." He grits his teeth and takes a breath. "Give her time. She'll talk when and if she's ready, not before. It's not her job to make you feel better about her personal tragedies."
"I didn't say it was."
"Then don't act like it."
He watches the boy as he walks away. He is a boy, still callow and feckless for all that he's working in an adult's job. Miller's sister looks to be younger than he is, making Oliver young enough to be his son, if he'd grown up in a place like this.
"I've booked the removers. Just putting everything in storage," Miller tells him when he sees her next. "I thought you'd have left here by now."
He shrugs. "Nowhere else to be, not really." There's a certain comfort to being trapped in Limbo, to just letting inertia have its say.
A few hours later, and she's back again, with her eyes watering and her shoulders shaking with rage. The gossip's finally got back to her, then. "The fucking nerve of all of them, of Lu, believing even for a second that I'd do that with you!" is how she finishes her rant.
If even people he's not trying half-heartedly to pull are offended at the idea, it's no wonder he's not had a shag since he was still married, he thinks with grim amusement. He must sound slightly offended himself when he responds, because she comes over all mortified, eyes going wide and cheeks going red as she stammers out a clarification.
It must make it so much the worse, having lived here her whole life, caring so bloody much about the people and the community, to have Joe Miller's sins colouring everyone's view of her now. To have done nothing wrong but loving the wrong person and to be punished for it. That those responses are typical of a community trying to make sense of the senseless isn't likely to be even cold comfort.
"They'll be thinking a lot of things, most of them wrong. It's what happens with cases like this. Every move you make is going to be analysed and read into, and you come here a lot."
Her voice is shaking with uncertainty when she asks, "Do you want me to stop?"
Of course he doesn't, and tells her as much. Then he asks, "Tell me, Miller, do you ever wish that phone, those messages, had never been found?" That he hadn't, indirectly, ruined her life.
She closes off immediately. "Please don't make me answer that."
She has, then, and probably hates herself for it. Christ, what a fucking mess. It'll only get worse, he suspects, as the last of the shock wears off and takes whatever anaesthetising effect it's had with it. He hopes he's wrong, so of course he isn't. He'd say that's just his luck, but luck is as much of a myth as closure.
It's only a week later that she rings him, voice cracking as badly the rest of her must be, and gives him the address of a hotel in Bournemouth. It's a shabby, ghastly sort of place where even the lobby is worn and unwelcoming. Her left hand, he notes, has a pale indent where her rings used to be, and her eyes are scarlet and swollen.
"Why here?" The chair by the window looks like it's in violation of health and safety regulations, but it's the only place to sit other than the bed, so he lowers himself into it while he waits for her to speak.
"The removers were coming."
There's an inescapable finality to packing up after everything's gone pear-shaped that he knows all too well. At least he was only ever packing up his own things, and no matter how bad the end of his marriage, he and his ex-wife shared the pain of the paperwork. It never had to come down to just him. It's telling about the full magnitude of her situation, that it's making him grateful for a divorce he hadn't wanted.
On the bed, she curls on her side, facing him without looking at him, and gives vent to her outrage, stray tears belying the manner-of-fact tone she's using. She's ripping herself apart what if by what if, and there's nothing, nothing he nor anyone else could possibly say that would make it any less painful.
"This isn't the sort of thing that you can make hurt less, Ellie. It's not."
He can see the last vestiges of her composure vanish, a violent echo of her reaction on learning Danny Latimer's murderer was her husband, maybe worse for lacking that day's denial and disbelief. Her body shakes with the force of it, fist pressed up against her mouth, her breathing rapidly edging towards hyperventilation.
He says her name twice before he moves to the bed, putting a hand on her arm, only to find himself off kilter as she grasps his wrist. He ends up lying awkwardly next to her, the bulk of her weight resting his side, her face at his neck, her head tucked beneath his chin.
"Breathe, Ellie," he murmurs, one hand cradling the back of her head, the other moving lightly across her shoulder blades. He can feel her tears soaking through the fabric of his shirt collar and her breasts pressing into his chest with each shudder of breath. Without a view of the bedside clock, he's no idea how long they've been lying there, but the arm at her back has started to fall asleep by the time her breathing edges back from the rapid, shallow gasps of near hysteria and into something nearer to normal.
"Don't tell me it will be all right. I'm sick of being lied to."
Pulling her closer, he shifts his tingling arm from her shoulders to her waist, and tells her instead, "It won't be all right."
She lifts her head and looks at him with weary, swollen eyes, "I'm so fucking tired. I can't do this. How the hell do I do this?"
It's only partially rhetorical, the way she asks it, and he hates that there's no answer he can give. Cupping her cheek, he brushes away the remnants of tears from flushed and overheated skin. "I wish I knew. I'm sorry." His hand remains at her waist, fingertips brushing a smooth sliver of skin at the small of her back where her shirt's ridden up. He knows he should pull it away before he blunders into an irreversible mistake, and leaves it there all the same.
Dry lips, slightly chapped, touch his.
"You'll hate yourself tomorrow if we do this." He still hasn't pulled his hand away.
"I will anyway." She gives a sad, slight smile, granting licence he shouldn't take, but Christ, it's been so bloody long, and it's just what everyone's assuming has already happened.
And if he's gone to the bother of justifying it, well, he's well aware the implications of that.
He could put a stop to it when her hand's over his heart and she's asking if it's medically advisable for him to be doing this. It isn't, and he could, but doesn't. Could again when he realises how unprepared they are for this, no condoms to hand, relying on trust and each other's word, and still doesn't.
There's little to no space between their bodies during sex. Beneath his, her belly has the slight slackness that tells of past childbirth, as much as the fading stretch marks across it do. The lowest of them, he'd noted when he tugged down her trousers, are still faintly pink, evidence that her youngest is barely toddling yet. He slides a hand between her legs, applying the sort of pressure he dimly recalls his ex-wife enjoying.
Of course, if he's ever had an idea of what he was doing, he's probably gone and forgot it. "I'm out of practice," he confesses in the space between thrusts and kisses.
"Well I'm not," she says. Her short blunt nails dig sharply into his shoulders, her soft thighs pressing into his hips. She comes before he does, with a gasp that's perilously close to keening.
His heart's pounding afterwards, but not so much as to be alarming, and there's no blurring of his vision, nor anything to indicate any harm will come from this other than emotional. He tugs at the sheets, arranging them over their bodies as best he can, kisses her wherever he can reach.
This is, and cannot be anything other than, a mistake. Still, they've both survived worse, so it stands to reason that they can survive it.