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Hardy had spent the rest of the night thinking about soulmates and what this could potentially mean for him. The idealist in him had concluded that there was nothing ultimately wrong with a soulbond. It was something he had been waiting for all his life. He had deeply loved Tess, even though she was a Blank. He had been crushed at her betrayal, but a small part of him deep in the recess of his mind wondered if it had turned out the way it did because she was not The One. Or maybe that it had happened because she knew he would ultimately leave her if his soulmate came along. Every nation in the world recognised no-fault divorces or annulments in the case soulmate pairings. He would never regret his marriage to Tess, only because it had given him his daughter. Daisy had come to visit him after the trial and decided to stay. She had cited that her mum’s boyfriend just made her too uncomfortable, and that led to another issue. The pragmatist in him argued about how he would break this to his daughter, the age difference, the complete lack of information he had about his soulmate, and how a soulmate would fit into his life. The majority of pairings were happy, but some ended rather horribly if the pair didn’t work at it like any other commitment. In the end, he concluded that there was no use dithering about it. He had met the young man, and he was intriguing enough that Hardy was willing to give it a go.

By the time Hardy made this decision, the sun had already come up over the water and he needed to leave for work. Consequently, it meant that he hadn’t gotten much sleep. The detective inspector had been a downright bastard all morning and by lunchtime, he was still at his desk slogging through endless paperwork. Ellie walked in the door and settled herself on the chair. “What’s got your knickers in a twist?”

“I don’t know where to go on a date with my soulmate after work,” he mumbled.

Ellie’s mouth dropped open, “What!?” She screeched. She leaned over and swung the door shut. “Why are you dating? You should be at home, snogging each other senseless! What the hell, Hardy? Where did you meet? When did you meet?! Because I know I dropped you off at your house last night. Do I know her?”

“Miller! I’m not going to be able to answer any of that if you keep wittering on,” he snapped. “I don’t believe in that nonsense about love at first sight among soulmates. We talked and agreed that getting to know each other would work out better.” Against his better judgement, and only because Ellie would be a nosy parker until he got cross with her, he continued. “I went for a walk last night and came across him near the beach. He’s the new custodian up at the Book House.”

“Him? I haven’t seen him yet. Chloe Latimer told me that they saw him at the market yesterday.” She smirked. “Your daughter thinks he’s cute.” Hardy frowned, that was something he did not want to think about. His daughter being attracted to his soulmate was just strange. Ellie must have seen the face he made. “Is there a big age difference?”

“Ten years.”

“Well, that’s not terrible. He’s probably got an old soul and the patience of a saint to have to put up with you.” She snorted as Hardy scoffed at her. Ellie decided to give him a break. “Take him to Carlo’s on the boardwalk. It’s laid back so you can take your time, all the tables are private, and the food is not bad.” She stood and moved towards the door.

“Thanks, Miller.” She whipped her head around and looked at him incredulously, but the detective was steadfastly ignoring her by looking down at his paperwork. 

Hardy went home to change and by the time he had finished freshening up, he had only half an hour before he needed to be back down near the beach. His phone went off and he started cursing. He looked at it and hoped that he could stop at the station and still make it to the boardwalk on time. He arrived at the station in a right mood, entering the bullpen, he growled, “What happened?”

Ellie came around her desk to meet him. “They just arrested three men trying to pull a couple of girls in a van down near the beach.” She paused for a moment, “Hardy, the two girls were Chloe and your daughter.”

All thoughts of his date left his mind, he glanced toward his office. The two girls were huddled together on the couch inside. He opened the door, “Dad!” his daughter jumped up and flung herself into his arms.

He wrapped his arms around her, “You alright? Not hurt?” He peeked over at the Latimer girl and asked the same questions with his eyes. They both murmured their affirmative. He reluctantly let go of his daughter and looked her in the face. “Daisy, girl, I have to take care of this, you stay with Chloe. Once her mum shows up, Miller will have to interview both of you. Okay?”

“Okay, dad. You be careful, and tell the guy who helped us that he is awesome.”

Hardy closed the door as he left the office. Ellie joined him as they walked toward interrogation. “Who was she talking about?”

“I haven’t got to him yet; he’s sitting in the first interrogation room.” They stopped in the hall and Ellie steered him toward the tech room. “You’ll want to watch this before you see any of them. Either the men were idiots or overconfident because there were cameras all down the boardwalk. We don’t have the town footage yet but the shop they were in front of had a private surveillance system too. The shopkeeper gave us the tape since he also witnessed the whole thing.”

The tech was already watching the video when they entered. Hardy made an irritated noise when he saw the video feed. “Miller, you are going to have to handle this.”

“Why?” she looked at him suspiciously.

The detective pointed to the tall young man on the screen. “That’s my soulmate.”

Ellie stared at him. “Well, okay.” She looked at the video. “Won’t you look at that?”

Hardy motioned and the tech rewound the tape. The three of them watched as three men lounged around a bench in front of the camera. Daisy and Chloe walked into the frame and one of the men slid in front of them and blocked their way. A minute or so went by as the guy talked to the two girls motioning to a van parked behind them. Both girls kept shaking their heads and trying to get around the guy, but by that time the other two men had boxed them in. The next thing they see is the leader looking off camera. He grabbed Daisy and started pulling her toward the van. The other two men stood in front of him as Sam came into frame. Hardy heard Ellie gasp as they watched Sam take down the three men in less than two minutes.

The first attacker lunged at him with a knife and Sam blocked it with his bare hands. He punched the man and the thug went down. The second man tried to come at Sam from behind, but he whirled around and swept the man off his feet. The second thug hit the ground hard, and Sam kneeled and punched him in the face, knocking him out too. The last man was still dragging Daisy toward the van while Chloe screamed for help. When Sam approached, he pulled her into a headlock. Sam raised his hands and they could see him speaking to the man. The last thug's eyes flicked toward the road and Hardy knew he had just heard the approaching sirens. The man let go of his daughter and shoved her to the side. She stumbled into Chloe’s arms and both of the girls backed away off camera. Instead of doing the smart thing and fleeing toward the vehicle the kidnapper drew a large knife and attacked Sam. “Idiot,” the detective muttered. Hardy held his breath for a moment as he saw the man seemed to be a lot larger and aggressive than his accomplices. Sam looked almost unconcerned; he dropped his hands down and stood at the ready. Once the man entered his space, Sam moved so fast that Hardy had a difficult time seeing exactly what occurred. One moment the man was inches from stabbing Sam, the next he was crumpled on the ground. Sam kicked the knife away and stepped back. He raised his hands again in the surrender position and Hardy saw the constables enter the frame.

Hardy turned to Ellie, "Miller take his statement. I will be there to observe. I want to talk to him after you have finished."

"You don't think it was a little excessive?" He could tell Ellie was trying to make sure there were no loopholes.

"I know I'm too close to it, but I think he didn't use enough force. They were trying to kidnap two teenage girls. The footage on the township's cameras will back this up." He motioned to the door and they both walked down the hall.

Hardy walked into the interrogation room with Ellie. Sam was sitting patiently at the table, looking at the two of them with quietly inquisitive eyes. His gaze slid over Alec catching his eye briefly. The detective felt it then, the dull ache of wanting. He had read about it, couples who wait. Couples who want to bond but their heads get in the way of their hearts; the soulbond ached to be satisfied. All he could do at this point was wait until Miller was done. He stared at Sam the entire time, but the young man showed an excess of fortitude and ignored him as he recounted in excruciating detail every part of the incident. Hardy's mind raced, there were millions of possibilities for Sam's skills and knowledge of law enforcement. Some of his imaginings were completely logical, others were dark and unpleasant. Before he knew the time passed, Miller spoke to him. Nothing registered but he grunted in reply. It must have been what she was looking for since she simply nodded and left the room. He moved to the chair she vacated.

Sam finally looked at him. Alec sighed, "We're not arresting you. It's a pretty clear case and it was all caught on camera. Though the CPS might contact you." The Latimer case had obliterated what little faith he had left in the justice system. Even with the mistakes made, it still burned that Joe had gone free and that Ellie couldn't even get a divorce from the man for another five years. He ran his hands through his hair and looked off into space. "Ima not goin' ta like the background check am I?" he muttered, his accent coming out in his distress.

Sam exhaled heavily. "No. It's not pretty. Most of it is explainable but not nice. I've been doing some pretty questionable things since I was twelve." Hardy grimaced. He took a deep breath and looked for the optimist buried inside of him; the one that had been buried after his first horrible case on the force. As much as he wanted to deny it, even science had proven that one's soulmate couldn't be their diametric opposite. At their core, soulmates held the same beliefs and passions, it was essential to a bond. Hardy wondered what it said about him. He mentally shook himself; he was jumping to conclusions without any evidence.

Sam looked at him nervously, "So I guess this does not bode well for our date tonight."

The detective grinned ruefully. "How about a drink then? After this?" The young man smiled tremulously and he wondered at Sam’s demeanour. Either the young man was ignorant of his feelings, something Hardy doubted very much, or this was just another show of his remarkable restraint. Alec decided to forgo his usual attitude; lack of communication in his previous relationship had pretty much doomed it to heartache. “Do you want to bond? It is something you want, right? I can feel it pulling on me but I don’t know how it feels for you.”

Sam’s head jerked up. “Yes! Of course. It’s just that you seemed so against it yesterday. I just don’t want biology to push us into something.”

Alec levelled his eyes at him, “I slept on it.”

Sam groaned, “You are kind of an asshole.” Sam knew the drink was an excuse. They were going to have a serious talk about mixed signals. It annoyed him how much the hollow ache in his chest was distracting him. His heart rattled about like a panicked bird in a cage. He could tell Alec was feeling it too. They could bond without sex. Most couples did not do it that way, but Sam felt it was imperative for both of them to get this right. Everything inside him shouted that they had so much history to work through. It's not as if he had gone to this location blind. He had skimmed over the local news and history. He knew about Hardy’s work on the Sanbrook case, the Latimer boy’s death, and the subsequent trial. Currently, he probably knew far more about his soulmate than the detective would soon to find out about him from a bunch of police reports.

Miller knocked on the door just then. Slowly opening it she peeked inside. “Just a little more paperwork then off you go,” she announced a little too cheerfully.

Hardy glared at her but she just smiled smugly back at him. “Christ,” he thought. “I’m never going to hear the end of it tomorrow if I leave here with him.”