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August

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In the aftermath—the witness interviews, the media alerts, the endless paperwork—the seasons begin to slip by, mild summer coming to an end too quickly, midnight frost just starting to form and thaw underfoot along the Broadchurch beach. The Wessex Police return to a more familiar pattern of criminal activity involving cow thefts and pub fights. A renewed normal.

“The therapist says we should do family therapy,” Miller blurts one day, apropos of nothing.

Hardy looks up from the open file on his desk, reading glasses slipping halfway down his nose and mug of instant soup steaming in his left hand. He still looks a bit peaky. A terribly unseasonal cold has just swept CID. Hardy blames the new DC, whose wife happens to be a nursery school teacher and dropped off lunch for her darling husband three days in a row. With a tsunami of phlegm, the virus has incapacitated most of the department within the span of three weeks. Despite Hardy’s best efforts and sheer stubbornness, he’s just gotten back from two very reluctant sick days. The new DC is now on his bad side.

“What?” Hardy barks, a bit panicky, and quite congested. “We’re not family.”

Miller rolls her eyes at him from the sofa. “Not us , you knob,” she says without venom. She crumples up the aluminum wrapper from the slapdash tomato sandwich she’d brought for lunch. There’s a bit of mayonnaise smudged at the edge of her mouth that he remembers too late not to notice. “Me, and the boys.”

He wrinkles his nose at her. “Together? At the same time?”

“Mm. Think that’s what they mean by the ‘family’ bit in the phrase ‘family therapy’.” She lobs the balled-up foil into his rubbish bin across the room. It teeters on the edge and falls outside the bin. She rather impolitely ignores it.

He puts down his soup and pulls off his reading glasses to squint at her from across his desk. She looks—tired, but she’s only just gotten back from her own sick days, the slope of her cheeks near her nostrils shiny and raw. Defeated, maybe. As if she’s futilely waiting for him to impart some great wisdom upon her. “Might be good,” he says, after a while.

“Knew you’d say that,” Miller replies glumly. She fiddles with the edge of her ID, where the laminate plastic has begun to come away from itself.

There is something about these moments, just the two of them, when Hardy feels like the air between them is densely weighted with guilt and unhappiness, the shadows of their shared experience. The real problem is that he remembers how she was those years ago before it all fell apart: smiley, bright, totally soft and comfortable in her pink jumper, kitchen lighting casting a rose gold warmth on her face. At times like this, he almost wishes that he didn’t remember that version of her. Here, in the fluorescent light of his office she is drawn, closed-off, her suit jacket heavy on her frame like armour.

“Daisy’s not going to Liverpool,” he finally says to fill the space. “She said she wants to defer ‘til next year.”

Miller puts on a little smile. It easily tips from a brittle start to entirely genuine. “That’s good, then.” Her words just barely curve up into a question.

He twists his mouth downward in reply and takes a long drink of his soup, which has separated somewhat since he half-heartedly stirred the packet of chicken noodle concentrate into the boiling water. “Tess isn’t happy,” he says. “Said it’s my fault after what's happened this year. They had a row.”

Miller’s eyes are sympathetic as she watches him finish the rest of the mug with a grimace. “You know it’s not your fault,” she says. “So she is staying in Broadchurch, then? The whole year?”

He nods. Despite the barrage of angry phone calls from Tess about delaying her entry into Uni and his lingering anxiety about how Daisy will fill her days in this sleepy little town, he is above all relieved that this was Daisy’s decision. Not only because he selfishly wants to keep her close after those dark months of separation, but because he has thought all along that she is all the best parts of him, packaged into another human being; all of his lightness and joy. These past few months, harrowing though they have been, he has felt anchored by her presence, like she is a lightning rod in the midst of his storm. When he’d first moved her to Broadchurch, he hadn’t considered how soon she would be going to university; that she might want to go away for school at all. The thought of her leaving in mere months had him feeling bereft, adrift. He doesn’t know who he will be once she is gone.

“All that means is you get a whole new year with her,” Miller continues, a little wistfully. “So much time.”

“S’only a year,” Hardy says. A whole year of Daisy hanging around the house and walking down to the grocery for eggs when he’s neglected to do the shopping. A whole year more than he thought he’d get when she came to him, acceptance letter in hand. That she now wants to stay in Broadchurch for longer, bravely make up for the time she spent hiding from the curious stares of her peers, is an unexpected gift, one that he has accepted fully, selfishly. “She’ll be sick of me by then.”

“Well, maybe you’ll be different, in a year. Less of a wanker.” Her tone is affectionate.

“Yeah,” Hardy murmurs. He can’t help but smile a little bit back. “Maybe.”

 

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September

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Miller’s not sure how she got from babbling Fred and sweet Tom to a rampaging toddler and a surly, mouth-breathing sixteen-year-old sod. Well, she has an idea, but she perhaps naively thought they’d sort it all out in the aftermath of the trial. She didn’t think that they’d be here again, that what had come to light during the Trish Winterman case could set back in an instant all the progress they’d made. As it is, Tom flits between states of crushing guilt and testosterone-fuelled rage, quiet and sullen one moment and lashing out at her the next.

She doesn’t like this feeling, as if there’s a relentless storm bearing down upon her every time she’s only just barely shored up the walls holding her family whole and she feels tired . So tired.

Of course, she’s only just wrangled Fred out from a Lego-related warpath and coerced him into a clean pair of trousers when she stops in the doorway of Tom’s room and finds him decidedly not ready to leave the house to attend their third session. “I don’t want to go,” Tom says pre-emptively, eyes trained on the computer screen that Miller continuously regrets letting Olly buy. His thumbs are preoccupied. Onscreen, Tom’s character is blond too, but hulking, muscular, clad in army green. TV-character-Tom does a stupid dance move before pulling out a great big cannon and obliterating a tree for some reason she can’t discern.

“Tom, I’m not asking you, I’m telling you we’re late and it’s time to leave,” she says brusquely as she pulls her bunched-up jacket out from under the strap of her bag. Fred is restless, pulling at the hem of her sleeve silently, but with an anguished look on his face. Miller feels approximately the same way. “Look, I know you’d rather do—whatever, but I can’t get back the ninety pounds for today and I’m not paying just so Fred can play with blocks for an hour.”

There’s a barrage of noise from the screen and a bright spotlight on TV-character-Tom. She’s learned over time that this means her chatter and distraction have led to TV-character-Tom’s untimely demise. Her real-life, grumpy Tom makes a guttural noise through his teeth and puts the controller down next to him on the bed, which all things considered is a better reaction than expected. Readying herself to shout if necessary, she takes a deep breath, but all Tom does is look up at her sullenly, his jaw clenching. “We don’t need it.”

“I bloody well think we do,” she snaps at him, overly loudly. She immediately regrets it. “Sorry, I’m sorry, Tom. I just think it helped, before.”

After a beat Tom says quietly, “I really hate going, mum. I really hate talking about it all with you there.”

It hits her in the chest, dull and painful. She presses the back of her hand to her mouth briefly, feeling gutted as she looks down at him. From this angle, he looks compact, withdrawn, almost as small as he was three years ago. Three long years. How guilty she feels, that losing his best friend was only the first terrible thing to happen to her sweet boy. That she doesn't really know how to connect with him. Despite her clumsy efforts, she often feels like she can’t shake this thing between them, this widening distance created by the pride and cowardice that they share like a genetic curse.

Fred, suddenly possessed of some supernatural sibling empathy, lets go of Miller’s sleeve and clambers up onto the bed next to his older brother. Tom absently holds him by the chubby wrist as Fred burrows into his side. Tom’s still looking up at her expectantly.

Miller knows she’s supposed to say something encouraging. She’s supposed to say something about how he isn’t his father, how she knows it, how what he does isn’t a reflection of any original sin, but she’s tired and they’re running late, so she just crosses her arms tight around herself and goes with honesty. “I hate it too, love, but we’ve got to go.”

She really does hate it. Going alone, for herself, was bad enough. Sending him in alone and waiting outside was even worse, but she hates this. Hates sitting in that office in between her boys, as if admitting that her shitty life choices are the only thing tying the three of them together. Hates having to be there when he starts crying, hates how she freezes up in those moments, as if she’s a ghost drifting away from her own body and watching the tears stream down his face from a distant underwater cell. 

She hesitates, tries to think of something better to say in follow-up.

“I hate it too,” she repeats, instead. Nothing else comes out.

Miller can feel the colour rising in her face, the tears building up behind her eyelashes, and she swallows twice to try and keep it all down. Her throat feels dry and tight. Tom stares at her for a long moment as Fred starts to chatter and reach for the controller. “Mum,” he says. He sounds like he’s about to share something, but falters.

Eventually Tom looks away from her, down to his feet, then stands up. “C’mon Fred,” he says simply, hefting his brother down to the carpet. “Time to go.” 

He doesn’t say anything else to her all the way to the dingy brick office building, but when they get to the door, her hands full of Fred and parking slip and car keys and handbag, he pulls it open for her.

 

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October

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12:04 AM won’t be home don’t wait up, see u tmr night x

12:05 AM Where are you? I can pick you up if you need.

12:05 AM Especially if you’ve been drinking.

12:12 AM lol dad dw at chlo’s bingeing x factor, i’ll share chlo’s bed x

Hardy stares at the message from an arm’s length away before reaching over to his nightstand and pushing his reading glasses back on to his face. He reads Daisy’s SMS again. Before he knows it, he’s pressed the call button. The dial tone goes once, twice, three times, before the call connects.

What, ” Miller grunts. Her voice is still foggy with sleep, so her tone is much less acidic than he suspects she intended.

“What’s ‘DW’ mean?’ he asks, cutting to the chase. There’s a brief pause before he hears a soft thump and the rustle of blankets. Miller makes a very distant-sounding, muffled scream into her pillow before she picks the phone back up off the floor.

“It’s past midnight and this isn’t about a dead body, why the shitting fuck am I talking to you right now?” she hisses back. “Sir,” she adds, unrepentantly.

Hardy runs a hand over his face, the stubble on his jaw a reminder of exactly what time it is in the night. “Right, well,” he says. “Lost track of time. Just, one sec.” He hits the speaker button and navigates back to Daisy’s SMS.

“I have to be up in five hours because my boss told me to go to Reading to talk to a witness at an un godly hour,” Miller says pointedly, her voice tinny through his phone speakers. “This had better be a crisis.”

“‘Lol dad DW at Chlo’s bingeing X Factor, I’ll share Chlo’s bed.’ That doesn’t mean ’Drinking wine’, does it?” Hardy queries. “‘Devil worshipping’?” He rubs his swollen eyes under his reading glasses. Deciphering Daisy’s messages feels like trying to solve a word puzzle when all he wants to do is be able to read his daughter.

There is a long silence, so long that Hardy frowns down at his mobile, takes it back off speaker and pulls it to his ear. “Miller?”

“Just talking myself out of driving over and murdering you,” she replies stonily. “Don’t worry.”

“What?”

Don’t worry ,” she repeats, and sighs. “You’re hopeless. DW means ‘don’t worry.’ Your daughter’s at Beth’s and she’s not doing drugs. Or worshipping the devil, for that matter.” He hears more shuffling of blankets over the line and the faint sound of a lamp being switched on.

“You sure?” he asks skeptically. “Bit odd to abbreviate something so short.”

“Who knows why they do it,” she says. “Blame the school system. Hardy, honestly. What is this?”

He closes his eyes, exhaling, and with his right hand smooths the duvet down from where it’s gotten rucked up around his waist. “Sort of miss her,” Hardy admits. “I was thrilled to get to keep her around for another year, but turns out we still barely have time for each other.”

Between his erratic work schedule, the shifts she’s picked up at one of the tourist shops, and her surprisingly robust social calendar courtesy of Chloe Latimer, he’s lucky if they’re in the same place more than a few times a week. The last few days have been a series of near misses and he’d been looking forward to seeing her tonight after he managed to leave work at half six. Without her at home he tends to wander a little aimlessly around the kitchen as if an unmoored ship, until settling down in front of the TV for some chat show or another.

He licks his lips, which feel dry, his tongue a bit fuzzy still from the nightcap he’d impulsively poured himself tonight after he brushed his teeth. “Still not sure if she’s just waiting to move on and be rid of me. Can’t quite sort it out.” The words feel small and vulnerable as they come out of his mouth.

More gentle rustling over the line. If he thinks about it, he can see Miller right now, mouth slanting downwards and brow furrowed, trying to find the right words in her floral pyjamas as her hair spills in an unruly cascade over her shoulders. He suddenly feels daft, calling Miller in the middle of the night to say stupid things about how hard it is to be a parent. Hardy opens his mouth to apologise but before he can form words she says quietly, “I get it. Feels like I’m always three steps behind with Tom—like I can’t sort out what he’s thinking and he doesn’t understand how I haven’t caught up.”

They are both silent. In the total stillness of his dark house, Hardy can hear the faint staccato of the wall clock in his kitchen. Over the line he can just barely hear her breathing, even and slow, until her breath catches and she practically whispers, “tell you the truth, I’m afraid of being left behind.”

“Yes,” he says, the word rushing out of him, unbidden.

It hangs between them, this shared confession, a weight in the air.

 “Hardy,” she says hesitantly, after another minute of silence on the line. “After Daisy goes to Liverpool, you’re staying in Broadchurch, aren’t you?” He hears more rustling from her end, as if Miller is pulling her covers further up around her, right up to her chin.

“Yeah,” Hardy says. He opens his mouth and closes it, can’t tell whether what he wants to say is where else would I go, or there’s nothing for me back in Sandbrook, or I haven’t got anybody else.

“It’s late,” he finally adds gruffly. “Sorry to keep you up, Miller. See you at six.”

She lets out a puff of breath into the speaker and he hears a clacking noise, nails against plastic, as she no doubt checks her alarm clock for the time. “Quite alright. Goodnight, Hardy.”

After he hangs up, Hardy pulls off his glasses and shoves them haphazardly in the direction of his nightstand in the dark. He slides himself into bed and stares upwards into the darkness until his eyes close and he falls asleep, one hand still clutching his mobile.

 

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November

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It’s a month later on the pier, after taking a statement from a thoroughly unfussed shopkeeper about what turned out to be an embarrassingly petty theft, that Hardy casts a sidelong glance at Miller as they meander back to the car. “Alright?”

“Mm,” Miller says distractedly, still stuffing her notepad and pen back into her purse.

“And wee, ah, Fred?” he ventures nonchalantly.

She frowns and looks back up at him, the coastal wind whipping the stray hairs from her temples into a haze of fine curls around her forehead. Her nose is pink. “Don’t be an arsehole, I know you know his name. Haven’t seen him all morning, I assume he’s having a fine old time smashing Thomas the Tank Engine into my walls. Why?”

Hardy shrugs, keeping his hands in his coat pockets. His neck is obscured by a uselessly trendy blue scarf courtesy of Daisy. The heels of his shoes are making a satisfying noise on each step across the pier’s icy wooden slats. The combined effect is one not unlike an uncomfortable amateur tap-dancer.

He says nothing further, so Miller goes back to ruffling around in her bag, this time looking for the half-eaten scotch egg that she had hastily wrapped up in a serviette on the way back from lunch. It’s gotten cold in the November air but she pulls it out and unfurls it triumphantly from its wrapper. She’s just taken a huge bite when Hardy asks, “Tom, is he doing alright?”

Miller’s lips press together as she swallows and brushes a spot of breadcrumb off her chin. “He’s good,” she says brightly. “He’s decided he wants to study computer programming, can you believe.” She doesn’t say anything else as she considers her egg for the next bite.

When she looks back at him Hardy is sending her a piercing look, eyebrows slightly raised, and she wilts a bit, feels slightly ashamed. Miller lets out a huff of breath. “Fine. He’s fine,” she mumbles. “S’not like before, but—”

They stop at the car and she takes the opportunity to shove the rest of the scotch egg into her mouth, chews it furiously as she opens the passenger side and gets in. Miller can feel his eyes on her as she busies herself with dropping the crumpled serviette back into her bag, pulling on her seatbelt and getting comfortable in the car seat. When she’s got nothing else to do, she sighs. “It’s hard, but I’m trying,” she says. “I think it’s working. We’re almost done the sessions. I’ve still got no idea what’s going on in his head, but he’s started talking to me again. Feel like I might even miss the bloody therapist once we’re done.”

Yesterday, the day of their eleventh session, Miller had to run out to work after dropping the kids home from the therapist’s office, and ended up on the task of chasing down witnesses to a violent assault while said witnesses were trying to go about their Saturday plans. As a result, her interviewees ranged from recalcitrant to openly hostile, and Miller had barely made it home by eight to wrangle together a slapdash dinner. Tom, sensing his mother’s frayed nerves, had voluntarily cleared the dishes and tucked Fred into bed as she did the laundry.   On his way to bed, Tom happened upon her, half-dozing by the dryer in her wrinkled pantsuit, and gently shook her to attention with an unreadable look on his face. When she wished him goodnight, he’d stepped up to her unsolicited for a long, tight hug.

The truth is, just packing up the boys to bring them to therapy every week has started to help her feel less of a shit mum, feel like despite an empty fridge and a messy house she’s doing something right. Just her and the boys, a tight family unit of three, formed by equal parts happenstance and constant, ongoing, hard-won choice.

Hardy is silent as he maneuvres the car out on to the road. They are a ways back to the station when he says to her absently, “You’re a good mum, Miller.” His eyes flicker to her and she’s not quite sure what to say; whether a ‘thank you’ is appropriate, or she should in fact be vaguely insulted that he thought the platitude was necessary. She settles on humming a tepid assent.

She’s looking out the side window, hands loose in her lap, when she feels a cool pressure on her right hand. Miller reflexively jerks, then finds her fingers entwined with Hardy’s, his fingers cold and a little clammy from being outside. His palm is soft against hers. He squeezes her hand gently and pulls away before she has time to process what’s happened. When she looks round at him, astonished, he’s got both hands carefully back on the wheel and eyes fixed ahead on the road.

 

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December

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The Latimers’ yard twinkles in the darkness, icy and beautiful. Beyond it, the field is a glittering expanse of white, Broadchurch dusted entirely in snow and holiday spirit. The snow continues to fall in soft, dry flakes, blurring the hazy light of the street-lamps and lit-up windows. 

Miller wraps her red cardigan around herself, smiles out at the view from Beth’s kitchen window. She is pleasantly light-headed, bubbly still from champagne and golden-warm from the hot toddies that followed. Intermingled with the carols playing over the stereo is Fred’s darling voice, delivering a Spiderman-related sermon to Chloe and Daisy. She can hear Beth’s laughter in the background, the clink of glassware. Miller squeezes her eyes shut, wills herself to remember the exact sound and feeling of this perfect moment.

She opens her eyes again, takes one more indulgent look at the world outside and turns with the intention to rejoin the party in the living room. Instead, Miller swears loudly, a hand flying to her thumping heart. “Hardy!” she scolds.

He stands awkwardly behind her holding a stack of dirty plates that are smeared with the remainders of a well-appreciated Christmas pudding. He is just far enough away that she can tell he is actively avoiding crowding her personal space. “Sorry,” he grunts. “Didn’t mean to startle you. Mind if I—?”

Miller side-steps him and gestures to the sink, where he deposits the stack of plates. “S’alright, just didn’t hear you coming in,” she says.

Hardy stands at the sink for a moment and hovers a hand partway toward the dish soap. “Do you think I should—”

“No, leave it,” she says. “Beth’ll just get Chloe to do it later, she’s got to earn her keep somehow.” She watches him stare doubtfully into the sink before moving away, wiping his hands on a festive dish towel embroidered with golden angels trumpeting along. He looks around the kitchen, a little desperately.

“Bit twitchy tonight,” she observes. Hardy is such a constant in her life that Miller had forgotten how infrequently he crossed paths with the Latimers, socially, until he came to her at her desk and asked her, perturbed, about the invitation to his daughter’s mate’s family holiday party. He is entirely out of place in Beth’s kitchen. He’s wearing his usual dark suit and a rather aggressively starched white button-down. Somebody—Daisy—has pinned a sprig of holly on his lapel. It is a laughably insignificant nod to the occasion, stark against what is otherwise a somber uniform. All through dinner he’d looked uncertain, a little bit lost in a crowd of former suspects becoming increasingly soused.

He shrugs. “Don’t think Mark’s too happy to see me,” he says.

That explains it. Beth’s version of events, recounted to her in a series of increasingly frustrated phone calls, is that Mark has been alternatingly agreeable and overbearing in the last few weeks. Miller suspects the holiday season has brought up too many reminders of the darkness that they’ve been working through so carefully. Tonight Mark has been tense with nervousness, a little bit snappy, and Miller knows that he wasn’t pleased that his chance at a cosy family Christmas ended up more of a neighbourhood ‘do. 

Miller rolls her eyes. “Twat. He’s lucky to even be here tonight,” she declares, then covers her mouth. “Oops. Not supposed to share that. Don’t ask.” As a distraction, she runs her fingers across a row of bottles lined up on the kitchen table and liberates one with a familiar-looking label. “You brought this one, didn’t you?” she asks Hardy. He nods. It’s the same vineyard’s cabernet sauvignon he brought to her house all those years ago—same one she also got for a depressingly belated birthday gift this year.

“You’re very predictable,” she tells him snobbishly, but unceremoniously twists it open anyway. It is rather good. Miller looks around for a clean glass and instead retrieves a seasonally appropriate pair of children’s Santa Claus and Rudolph mugs from Beth’s cupboard, pouring more than a generous splash into each. The honeyed scent of the wine drifts up to her nose and she inhales happily as she passes Rudolph over to Hardy. “Cheers.”

Hardy tilts the mug towards her in assent and takes a drink. She watches his Adam’s apple bob as he swallows and looks away from him, back to the glorious view out the window. Her cheeks and the tips of her fingers feel tingly. It’s probably from the wine.

“I met someone,” she says conversationally. “Well, Beth set us up. A bloke she knows from work.”

Her eyes drift back to him as he leans back against the counter. “From work?” Hardy echoes, looking concerned.

“Not like that,” Miller confirms. She knows what he’s thinking, irrational as it is. She’d thought the same thing. “Came in to do their IT. Gave her his number and she ended up passing him off to me.” She wraps her fingers tight around Santa Claus’ face.

Hardy doesn’t say anything, just watches her as he takes another drink of wine. The tortured strains of Santa Baby begin to play. From the living room, Tom shouts something triumphantly and the room erupts in giggles. 

“I thought maybe it was about time to move on, but by the second date he started asking about the boys and I thought—not going to do it, nope. Can’t imagine bringing someone into my house, having them meet the boys, my dad, moving in, getting married. Not again.” She shrugs.

Miller had tried to explain this to Lucy, who clucked and said something about finding the right bloke, laying a sympathetic hand on her arm. The thing is, it’s not that she didn’t get on with Grant, who was a very kind man with adult children of his own, and who had read the news reports but met her for a first date anyway without judgment or derision. It also isn’t that she still misses Joe, not really, not like that—though sometimes, alone in a queen-sized bed, she wishes for a comforting warmth beside her.

No, it’s that she’s fought so hard to build this life out of the shards of what came before it. Out the other side of two courses of family therapy, she has somehow become territorial. Come to see her repainted house, her hard-won work, and most of all her darling boys, as hers , entirely hers , so fiercely and completely hers , exactly as they are. She can’t imagine making space for someone just to have them fill the gaps left behind as if they are something to be repaired. Not after all the work she has put in, week after week, on feeling out the contours of their shared brokenness and learning to trace the edges without falling in. 

“I’m not so bothered, really,” she says honestly.

Hardy just nods. His gaze on her, at first cautious, has melted into something like pride. She feels a rush of affection toward him: her grumpy boss in his pressed suit and glossy shoes at Christmas-time, a tender, faulty heart tucked snug beneath it all. Times like these, that totally warm and open expression on his face, she wonders if—well.

He quirks a smile. “There’s always Dirty Brian,” he points out.

At this, her head buzzing warmly with wine and mirth, she giggles, covers her mouth with a hand, for some reason, can’t stop; she laughs and laughs and laughs, full-bodied, leaning toward him for support. When she finally recovers and looks up at him, her hand is somehow tangled up in his jacket lapel and his eyes are crinkled up at the corners. There are freckles scattered across his nose. He looks at her like—

“I got you a Christmas present,” he says, suddenly. “Might as well give it to you now.”

Miller releases her grip on him, takes a surprised step back, and watches as he slides his free hand under his suit jacket, pulls out an innocuous brown paper bag from his inside breast pocket. He hands it over. “You shouldn’t have,” she says very graciously as she all but rips it open.

It’s—it’s a very squashed, very crumbly scotch egg. 

With a massive bite out of it. 

He looks extremely smug.

“Oh, fuck you,” she says cheerily, and immediately hurls it at him point-blank. It explodes on contact with his left cheek into a shower of breadcrumbs and dry egg yolk, all over his white shirt, his precise suit, egg bits flying upwards and clinging to his hair. He looks at her, horrified. She feels not-so-secretly pleased that she still has this capacity to surprise him, can’t help the giddy smile stretching over her face just looking at him, covered in egg.

Of course this is when Tom and Daisy enter the kitchen with arms full of empty glasses and mugs and silverware like well-trained guests, and stop in their tracks, utterly bewildered, as Miller dissolves hopelessly into giggles.

Later, after the crumbs are brushed off and only the faintest smears remain on Hardy’s shirt collar, his eyes catch hers from across the living room table. She’s got Fred curled up against her heart, his angelic face torn between merriment and sleep, and a paper crown from a Christmas cracker lopsided on her head. Hardy sits quietly in the corner, almost obscured by the blinking tree, guarded against the hubbub of the room. She lets the fond smile fighting its way over her face to emerge at him. Hardy smiles back.

 

-

January

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“New year, new crimes,” Miller declares as she enters Hardy’s office. She looks rested, happy, in her usual grey suit. Today it’s freshly pressed and clean, crisp white shirt underneath. Her hair, which has over the last few months grown wildly long in the face of her recent distaste for hairdressers, is twisted up into some kind of braided mess at the base of her neck. Little flyaway curls framing her face have succeeded in escaping her futile attempt to tame them and he feels, suddenly, warmed from within as he looks up at her, highlighter in hand.

Hardy pulls off his reading glasses and let them fall on his desk with a clatter along with the highlighter. It’s only been a week and a half since he last saw her, hunched over at her desk trying to get all her paperwork done at nine p.m. the night before the Millers were to set off to London, and yet the sight of her makes him feel pleasantly weightless, like a great pressure has been lifted off his shoulders. “Ah, welcome back, Miller. How’s your horrible nephew?”

She pushes a stack of files haphazardly over on his couch to clear space so that she can sit herself down. “Well enough. He specifically told me to say hello to you, the little shit. Oh, and you won’t believe it, he’s got a girlfriend .”

An expression of disgust instinctively takes over Hardy’s face. He tries at the last second to wrangle his expression into something more neutral, but Miller smirks knowingly at him and he just gives up. He really doesn’t like the smarmy git, even if he is related to Miller.

“I know, eh? Posh, no less, told us all about travelling the world on her gap year before going to the LSE. Nice enough girl, but whew. Tom was smitten, naturally. Now he wants to go off to London for uni too.”

“Tom had a good time, then?”

“Well, he’s always different around Olly. Happier, younger. Think it does him good to see him properly, not just play games and send stupid pictures to him over the internet.” She starts shuffling around in the files next to her and makes a noise of dissatisfaction as the pile begins to collapse toward her. “Well, doesn’t look like it let up at all here.”

“Despite our many warnings, the youth of Broadchurch continue to possess drugs with intent to supply,” Hardy replies sardonically. “Nothin’ new, really. Thought I might have a look at some cold cases on the side.”

Miller snorts. “This many of them?”

Hardy’s mobile suddenly buzzes against his mug, an unpleasant ceramic sound reverberating in the air as he snatches it away and picks up the call. “Hardy,” he intones distractedly into the phone, flapping a hand in Miller’s direction as she awkwardly tries to stand to leave. He mouths it’s fine at her and she settles back down, picks up one of the files and gazes down at it studiously as if it is impossible to overhear his conversation.

“It’s me,” Tess says over the line. He can hear the bustle of Wessex Crown Court in the background. “We’re just about to go into court, can’t talk long.”

“You rang me ,” he points out snappishly. Miller eyes him, from the couch, concerned, and he sighs at his own overreaction, brings his voice down a bit. “Never mind, fine, what is it?”

“I’ve been speaking with Daisy,” Tess carefully says. He can hear her footsteps start and stop, imagines her pacing to-and-fro at the top of the stairs in front of the courtrooms. “She—we’ve decided it’d be nice if she comes back to Sandbrook for a month or two, just before she goes to uni. I’ve got holidays to use and we can drive her up there, make a proper trip out of it.”

Hardy feels an uneasy darkness descend into his stomach. “A month or two?” he says haltingly.

“She’ll have to be in a place August fifteenth, so probably we’ll pick her up from you early June,” Tess says. Her voice is neutral, precise, but predicting his immediate reaction, she continues a bit more firmly, “she stayed in Broadchurch all of Christmas, and she’s only here for a week in March. I need time with her too, Alec. And it was her idea, besides.”

He swallows, rubs a hand over his face, “Yeah, I get it,” he croaks. “I thought I’d take a week before she went, that’s all. No matter now.”

“Look, we’ll chat more about it, alright?” Tess says kindly. “I just—I knew you’d be upset, thought I’d let you know before she tells you. So you don’t get angry with her.”

“Yeah,” he mumbles in reply. “Thanks, fine.”

“Alright, well, I’ve got to go now,” Tess says as the bustle heightens in the background. “Take care, okay?” Without waiting for him to say goodbye, she disconnects from the call.

Hardy hurls the phone down and makes a grunt of frustration, covers his face with his hands. He knows he shouldn’t be angry about this. Daisy’s chosen to stay with him in Broadchurch six months already, when she could be using her gap year to travel or move back to Sandbrook and spend time with her mother. Really, he’s come out further ahead than he thought he would. But the hard thing about getting used to her in his daily life, a constant, is that finding out she’ll leave two months earlier feels physically painful, a cold and desperate feeling worming its way up from his gut into his throat and tension squeezing down on his neck and shoulders.

“Um,” Miller pipes up. “I didn’t mean to eavesdrop but the sound on your phone is really turned up quite loud.” He’d just about forgotten that she was still there, that he’d entreated Miller to stay at the outset of the call because he’d been so delighted to see her back. He cannot quell the sudden frustration he feels at himself, that these two distinct emotions could contrast so starkly in this moment. 

“You alright?” she says, very gently, as if addressing a sobbing child. She looks as if she wants to get up and pat his shoulder. Irrationally, this infuriates him.

“I’m fine,” Hardy shoots harshly back. At the expression on her face, he has a flash of regret before doubling down on the rage suddenly broiling in his stomach, oily and dark. “Back to work, Miller.” His tone is unequivocally dismissive.

She raises her eyebrows at him disbelievingly. “Right,” she says haughtily. “But so you know, you’re being a knob.” Miller gets up, fumbling with the wave of case files that cascades back down into her empty seat on the couch, and slaps the file she was pretending to read on top of the pile, before exiting his office without glancing back. She slams the door closed on the way out, blinds rattling against the glass.

Hardy tells himself to apologise to her later, but he’s not sure if he will work up the nerve to actually do so. He sinks his face back into his palms and makes another noise of frustration before sliding his reading glasses back on his face and picking his highlighter up. He’ll make her a cup of tea to make up for it.

When he does, later that morning, bring a mug of steaming tea to her desk, she stares at him for a long moment before accepting it wordlessly and turning back to her screen. It’s as good an apology as he can muster and things go on, in essence, as normal.

 

-

February

-

 

As they sprint around the corner, Miller’s hair unleashed and wild in the misty fog, Hardy wheezing slightly, the potential suspect is nowhere to be seen. Hardy feels his heart thumping in his chest and stops in his tracks, clutches at his heart out of habit as Miller slows ahead of him. They both take deep, greedy gulps of winter air, scanning the lane lined with all manner of entryways and exits that terminates a short distance away in a four-way intersection. The lanky Irish tourist has disappeared. 

It’s the first major case that’s landed on his desk since the unravelling of the Trish Winterman case into a serial sexual assault: a tourist gone missing from her shared Airbnb the day she was due to leave, all signs at the scene indicating a violent struggle and streaks of what SOCO have already confirmed was cocaine dusting the kitchen counter. She’d been last seen at the Traders the night before, where a contingent of backpackers from some loosely-governed online tour group for millennials had partied the night away. One 21-year-old backpacker recalled seeing Ms. Singh dancing closely with a long-legged, bearded Irishman minutes just after last call. 

Since they took on this case, Hardy’s felt a familiar baseline level of jittery and tense, like there are ants crawling slowly under his skin. The idea of a young woman disappearing while exploring the world away from her family makes him feel queasy.

So far, their leads have been remarkably useless, the few tourists who didn’t immediately bugger off remaining close-lipped in their interviews. Miller had suggested they start questioning with this one based on pure instinct, but Hardy had wanted to ask their young witness a few more follow-up questions, a venture that took an awful lot of time given she was an absolute idiot . When they finally came to collect on their potential suspect, he apparently had heard enough through the grapevine that he decided that the best course of action was to do a runner. As it turns out, Miller and Hardy are just enough out of shape that this was a rather winning strategy.

Once his lungs have recovered, Hardy swears loudly and slams his open palm down on the parked Fiat that is helping him stay upright after their breakneck chase. “ Miller !”

“Oh, don’t you start,” Miller snarls at him, pushing curls off her damp forehead. “If you’d listened to me earlier about him we wouldn’t be in this situation, would we?”

He knows she’s right, which is infuriating. She’s been right on call after call today, which is usually invigorating but today makes him feel taut with nerves, because it also means that he has been wrong time and time again. Hardy makes a noise of frustration, sweeps a hand over his face, tries to think. The evening is descending  quickly, frosty and dark. It won’t do them good to go looking for him, just the two of them, and it’ll be nigh impossible to find him in the night even once they call in additional officers who are in short enough supply as it is. 

Best course of action will be to regroup at the station. Hardy really doesn’t want to see DC Harris’ smarmy face again tonight, but looks like that’s what’ll happen. Harris has become increasingly enthusiastic about making friends with Hardy, likely because he can sense that he’s still on Hardy’s bad side. He feels his blood pressure rising at the thought.

Miller’s muttering darkly as she roots around in her bag for something and Hardy turns on her. “ What ,” he says.

“Just looking for my phone so I can tell my eternally disappointed father that I won’t make it back to put Fred to bed,” she spits out, pulling out her phone and violently jabbing at the on-screen keyboard as it illuminates her tired face through the mist. The message sends with a cheery noise and she shoves her mobile back into her bag. “I told you we should talk to him first, and did you listen, no! I knew this would happen.”

“If you ‘knew’,” he growls back at her, “then you should’ve done something about it rather than whingeing and complaining after we decided otherwise.”

We decided?!” Miller shrieks, raising a wavering finger to point at him. “No, you decided. You keep deciding what’s best, every time something happens on this case, and I am sick and tired ―”

“Of course I decided because I am your DI ,” Hardy explodes back at her.

“Don’t you dare!” Miller splutters. Her fists are now tightly closed, white-knuckled, and even in the dim streetlights Hardy can see the angry flush reddening her neck just under her loosely wrapped woollen scarf. “Don’t! You know that’s not how this works, you know perfectly well that I―”

“Oh, shut up Miller,” he cuts her off dismissively. He feels frustrated with himself for letting this suspect get away, spins to peer down the avenue. There isn’t anyone out on the road that he can see, the fog obscuring his vision much further than where the avenue becomes the intersection ahead. The lights from the houses beyond are barely visible, just warm spots in what is otherwise a wet greyness. He turns back to her and says shortly, “We’re going back to the station.”

He expects her to set off back down the road without deigning to reply, or call him a fuckwit to his face, but instead Miller stands there staring at him, lips tight with fury, her face splotchy and pink. “No, you know what, I am done with this,” she says, her voice quiet and trembling.

“What?” he asks, thrown off-guard. 

“I am done ,” she emphasizes. “I can’t be your only friend, and your unpaid therapist you call in the middle of the night, and the only DS on the planet who understands you or―or―even likes you, and the first fucking person you rail at as soon as something goes wrong. I don’t care that you’re a grumpy arsehole but I am over you just―holding my hand one moment then lashing out at me and pulling rank every time you need me to be a punching bag. I have enough to deal with.”

Hardy gapes at her. “You threw a scotch egg at me at Christmas!” he blurts.

Miller’s jaw clenches. Her eyelashes are wet, clinging together, and he’s not sure if it’s from the fog or something else. “Yes, well, it was a shitty Christmas present,” she points out. “And it’s not the same, not the same way you― need me but then act as if I’m shit on the bottom of your shoe and expect me to do what you say.”

“I don’t need you,” Hardy shoots back. His heart feels like it’s beating from his throat, cutting off his airways, rising panic sounding in his ears.

“You’re right, you don’t,” she says forcefully, wildly. “That’s the thing, you don’t actually need me, until you do, and then you don’t know how to need me unless you have every last bit of me. I thought you’d gotten past this after everything, but apparently not. After everything, after―no, I can’t do this anymore, it’s suffocating.”

He feels suddenly like he is winded again, the blood rushing in his ears, thrumming throughout his body. Over the last few months, he’d thought―well, he doesn’t know what he’d thought, but it wasn’t that they would end up like this, shouting at each other on the street as the mist creeps under his coat, leaving him chilled to the bone.

Miller has pulled the car keys out from her pocket. “You know what, drive yourself back to the station,” she hisses. She flings the keys at him and they hit him on the shoulder, clattering down to the pavement. “I’m walking, or taking a taxi, I don’t care.” Her voice wobbles a bit and her eyelashes definitely aren’t wet from the mist but from the tears welling up in her red-rimmed eyes and spilling down the sides of her nose.

“Wait―Ellie―” he says uselessly, stepping toward her.

“No, you do not call me that,” she spits, wiping her face on the sleeve of her jacket, and stomps off toward the intersection away from him, into the fog.

 

-

March

-

 

He doesn’t walk home so much as stagger up the hill, half-battered by the wind and salty ocean air prickling at his eyes. The promise of spring feels far away, air still frigid, biting. At the glass door Hardy fumbles for his keys, drops them, and curses quietly as he leans down to scrabble his cold fingers against the concrete and scoop them back up. 

He needs to remember to wear gloves. It seems an occupational hazard that his office desk is crowding with black knit gloves, left behind on every call, so when he’s digging around in his pockets in the winter months his hands never seem to work. At some point, Miller had exasperatedly shoved a pair of extra gloves in her bag for him, but he’s too nervous now to ask her for such an intimate favour while they’re out talking to burgled shopkeepers and worried parents.

It’s been weeks, the case of the missing tourist long-ago solved, but unlike so many arguments they’ve had before, this one didn’t resolve on its own. At work Miller is nothing but perfectly cooperative and helpful on all of their shared cases, but even the DCs have noticed that she has stopped taking lunch on his office couch. She’s now exactly the kind of distant professional that he was hoping for when he first came to Broadchurch, all those years ago, but he misses—well, he’s not sure, but seeing her chatter warmly with the DCs before returning to him, focussed and direct, makes him feel disembodied, as if he is hovering aimlessly between worlds.

He’s tried the usual apologies: steeping a cup of tea, bringing a coffee in a flimsy disposable to her desk. Offering a scotch egg. Where once that would be enough to trigger something , she instead pressed her lips together tightly and declined. Hardy has no idea how to approach her now and feels ashamed. He now spends his time in his office with the door wide open, hopeful and cowardly; he’s left his door like that for so many days now that DC Harris has worked up the courage to approach Hardy at his desk and invite him to lunch. While Hardy’s response the last four days has been a blunt “no”, it appears to be having the unfortunate effect of building Harris’s resilience in the face of rejection.

When he finally looks back up from the ground, having located his keys at his feet, Daisy’s unlocking the door for him, the edges of her oatmeal jumper a fuzzy halo in the light. A lifetime ago, he’d held her carefully in a hospital, fragile, a premature writhing pink thing. When she was a baby, she had lungs like anything, cried constantly until he sorted out how to hold her close to his heart. Now, pulling the door open before him, she has that placid expression on her face that reminds him of Tess, teetering just so on the edge of generalised teenaged disapproval. Equal parts foreign and familiar.

“Dad,” she says, neutrally.

He tracks her eyes down to the watch on her wrist. It’s only half eight.

He waits for her to ask, but she doesn’t say anything else, only leaves him in the doorway and goes back to the sofa, pulls her textbook back over her lap and fusses with her earphones. In the last few weeks, Daisy has become somewhat panicked about her year-long break from school. Hardy didn’t think learning to use a glorified x-ray scanner should be too difficult and tried to tell her so, which only led to Daisy falling further into a gyre of anxiety. In the end they ordered the anatomy books for her first module, months in advance.

A moment passes too long as he hovers in the doorway, watching her get settled back in with her book, so Hardy pushes the door closed behind him and starts for the kitchen. Halfway to the kettle he stops and turns back to face Daisy.

“It was good,” he says haltingly. “Nice. She’s still nice. Pretty.”

Daisy looks at him halfway, eyebrows raised just barely, earphones still mid-journey to her left ear.

He shifts from one foot to another and adds lamely, “Didn’t seem to mind me yammering on about you. Might’ve overdone that a wee bit.”

Her lips are twitching into a smirk as she pulls her head up from her book the whole way and drops her earphones on a glossy diagram of the lymphatic system. “Dad—”

“The thing is, Daiz—I’m so busy with work, even with you leaving for uni so soon—”

“—It’s fine. I’m not offended if you can’t be bothered—”

“—She said she wants somethin’ serious but I haven’t got time as it is—"

“—Just thought you might get a cheeky snog out of it, that’s all.”

Hardy chokes on his words. “What!”

Daisy’s got a full-on grin, now, eyes lit up.  She can tell he’s flustered. Too smart for her own good. “Oh, dad. D’you think I was trying to marry you off before I go?”

“Maybe,” he mumbles, scratching the front of his neck self-consciously. She had rather ambushed him with the idea of going out again with Zoe, and he certainly didn’t have a good excuse not to go. A part of him had hoped that Zoe would have found some other, more fanciable bloke in the interim, but she had accepted his invitation to dinner and ruined that plan. Thankfully, he didn’t think he had much of a shot at a third date after his visibly abject terror when the notion of a committed relationship came up in conversation.

He comes over to the sofa and Daisy shuffles her textbook to the side, makes room for him. He wraps an arm around her shoulders and pulls her close. “Can’t believe you’re back to Sandbrook in three months, then off to Liverpool.” Hardy says, muffled, into Daisy’s hair. “Still feel like I haven’t had enough time with you yet. Not ready t’meet anyone else.”

Daisy mercifully lets him wallow for a moment, but then pulls apart from him enough to crane her neck and take a proper look at him. “Soppy,” she teases Hardy. “Keepin’ me to yourself a whole extra year and you’re still complaining. I don’t know what you’ll do on your own.”

Hardy smiles down at her fondly. “Leave you lots of messages asking you to ring me back, probably. Write you soppy e-mails.”

“Sweep around Broadchurch all Byronic and overbearing, more like. You know, I can’t be worrying after you when I’m gone. You need to take up a hobby. Or make friends.” Daisy sends him a pointed look. 

He snorts. Hardy doubts he’s ever had a hobby in his life; chasing after crimes and  utterly losing himself in case after case has not generally been conducive to leisurely pursuits. The closest he’s been to a regular hobby was the eight months he spent investigating what turned out to be a money-laundering tennis club in Glasgow. In any case, he’s not exactly thrilled by the idea. And the other thing, well. “A hobby in Broadchurch? What, go swimming at the beach with some local geriatrics? Learn to shear a bloody sheep?”

Daisy shrugs, a knowing expression on her face. “You can’t go around being alone forever.” 

She pulls her feet up and crosses her legs as she leans over to scrabble around in his coat pocket. Before he knows it, she’s got his phone out and is expertly unlocking it in that casually performative way only teens with technologically-challenged parents do.

“Ach, you’d better not be looking at my—” Hardy starts, before she drags the Tinder icon into the little rubbish bin on the screen. “Oh. Thanks, darlin.” 

She rolls her eyes at him, then opens something else, scrolls quickly, tilts the phone down so he can’t see the screen as she taps his screen with her bitten fingernails. “What’re you doing?” Hardy suspiciously asks.

Daisy makes a satisfied face at his screen before she drops the phone on to his lap and kisses his cheek. “Delivery,” she says casually. “Didn’t get around to eating yet, did I? Watch the door, thanks dad.”

He stares at her as she picks up her book, carries it down the hall to her room, and goes inside, closing the door behind her. “Daisy! What— bloody apps —"

Hardy picks his phone back up, looks at Daisy’s order confirmation which displays a frankly obscene number of egg rolls scheduled to arrive in forty-two minutes. He sighs and navigates away, pulls up his SMS log, displaying no new messages. There are only a handful of contacts to whom he has sent recent messages, according to the chronological display: Daisy, obviously, is first; Tess a close second, courtesy of arrangements for Daisy’s upcoming trip to Sandbrook. Usually, Miller would be third. Now he scrolls down to sixth before finding her.

There’s a draft SMS left unsent in his conversation with her that stares up at him as he considers it, thumb hovering over the “send” button. He’s gone back and forth for two weeks over whether I’m sorry, turns out I really am a massive knob is enough. In the end, like he always does, he exits out of the message log, puts the phone back down silently, and goes to make some tea.

 

-

April

-

 

While her grocery handling skills have vastly improved over the last few years―largely out of necessity―Miller still hates the fiddliness of dicing onions, the fact she can never control her leaky tear ducts as she slices into the crisp layers. Unfortunately, Beth rather likes making chicken noodle soup from scratch and it tastes so good that Miller didn’t complain when conscripted into the task of painstakingly dicing an unruly white onion to prepare for a rare shared dinner at the Latimers’.

“Chlo’ saw DI Hardy swimming at the beach yesterday,” Beth says off-handedly. She’s finished the celery and is slicing the carrots swiftly, expertly, with a natural flair of which Miller is unnecessarily jealous. 

It takes a moment before Miller chokes, splutters, reaches up to rub her itchy eyelid as a distraction and immediately regrets her choices, as her eyes sting from the juice and immediately well up in plump tears. “What?” she says blindly, tears clouding her vision as she drops the knife. Beth takes pity and guides her fumbling hands over to the sink for a rinse. Miller scrubs at her fingers quickly before splashing her eyes with water, blinking rapidly to get out the onion. She turns back to Beth who has now taken over her job, efficiently dispatching the rest of the diced onion into the pot on the stove.

“Chlo’ saw Hardy at the beach,” Beth repeats, glancing sideways at Miller curiously. “I know, in April, brave man.” She’s already gotten a wooden spoon in the pot, skating the onion across the hot surface as it sizzles and browns.

“But he hates the water,” Miller follows up helplessly. She wipes her hands on a dishtowel and leans back against the kitchen table as if she needs the lumbar support. For some reason, hearing this nugget of information has taken the wind entirely out of her. She’s never seen him so much as stand on the wet part of the beach. The idea of Hardy going swimming at the beach , which seems more intentional, more ridiculous than a casual dip in the ocean on some family holiday with Daisy, is something she cannot even imagine. 

She wonders for a moment if Hardy goes swimming in an oversized t-shirt, swim goggles and cap, shielded from the water by layers of cotton and latex. Miller pictures him standing at the edge of the water, cautiously, allowing his toes to acclimate before submerging into the water.

Beth shrugs. “All she told me was that she saw him and that he looks fit sopping wet. Can you believe the mind on that girl? Can’t believe I made her.” She pauses and her eyes slide sideways from the pot again toward Miller, this time a calculating look.

Miller carefully schools her expression into one of neutrality. It must pass muster as Beth doesn’t say anything further, just slides the carrots and celery into the pot and puts the cutting-board back down on the kitchen table. Miller reaches for her mug of tea and pauses before confessing, “We had a bit of a row, actually.”

“You’ve got to know that doesn’t surprise me,” Beth replies as she busies herself with the chicken stock about to go into the pot next. “What about?”

Miller sighs. “I dunno, don’t really remember. He was being an arse and I couldn’t be bothered. Threw my car keys at him and told him off. Now it’s been months and, well.”

“Months?” Beth repeats slowly. She turns back around to Miller, expression dumbfounded and a little impressed. “Why didn’t I hear about this earlier? The way things spread in this bloody town!”

The way things spread in this bloody town is exactly why Miller had chosen to tamp down on her red-hot fury and aim for pristine professionalism at work. As for why it never came up with Beth, well. Miller is grateful that, over time, their friendship has repaired itself and evolved into a mutual understanding about that dark and ugly betrayal they share. Nevertheless, she still feels cautious, a little bit skittish around Beth when it comes to Hardy. Guilty in a way she can’t explain.

Miller takes a moment to drink from her mug, letting the steam from her tea obscure what she knows is an uncomfortable expression. Thankfully, Beth continues on as she rattles dirty dishes into the sink. “It’s not like he gets on with many other people in Broadchurch, but he doesn’t mind you. Looked like he had a nice time at Christmas with you around.” She casts another sidelong glance at Miller, who feels rather defensive in the face of all these meaningful looks.

“Just because I can tolerate Hardy doesn’t mean he can’t be a right twat,” she snaps. “I just think everything has been so bloody difficult the last few years, but I’m finally in a good place. And for a while, last year, it looked like Hardy was too. I thought we were―that maybe―” 

Miller loses steam, flushes red. She can tell by Beth’s knowing gaze that a shapeless thing she has hardly admitted to herself has just been found out. “Well, anyway. I can’t go backwards, Beth. I was alright with the way things were, when it was hardest, when everything was shit, but I’ve realised I can’t be the person he lashes out at when he’s frustrated any more. I don’t think he notices that when he’s upset he takes it out on me. I’m over it, I don’t care if it’s selfish. I can’t handle that responsibility. Not like that. Not now.”

Beth’s gaze has become openly empathetic, raw, and Miller is struck by the warm and surprised feeling blooming in her heart that she has chosen to share this incoherent string of words with exactly the right person. That of course, of anyone in the world, Beth would understand this: the need to push forward, to gather herself together against the storm, always moving, never looking back.

“It’s not selfish, it’s good. It’s good, Ellie.” Beth says firmly. She reaches over and with both hands clutches Miller’s left hand, tight and warm. “Standing up for yourself and deciding that you won’t take any more codependent bullshit isn’t a bad thing.” She releases Miller’s hand and turns back to check on the simmering pot on the stove. “I’m proud of you, actually. You don’t have to be responsible for his emotions. If you hadn’t told him off, he’d spend more and more time leaning on you. At least now there’s the chance of something changing.”

Miller watches Beth silently as she stirs, dill and garlic wafting headily from the pot. “I hope so,” she says quietly. The thing is, she misses him; misses their easy banter, the pleased crinkle at the edge of his eyes when she’s done something clever; misses that in so many ways he understands her so fully and completely. She can tell from the way his office door is persistently open, the hopeful look on his face every time she walks past that he, too, feels this echoing longing. 

She feels a particular ache in knowing that the only way to protect her heart is to establish this boundary between what she will offer freely to him and what he must earn the right to take.

As Beth tactfully changes the subject to the new shop opening in the town centre, Miller’s mind drifts back to the image of Hardy submerged in the sea. She has trouble picturing it in any detail because it seems so out of the ordinary; can only imagine him dipping into the water briefly, water dripping down his face, as if being baptised.

 

-

May

-

 

“Alec? Alec Hardy?” the counsellor asks from the doorway. She’s holding a pad of paper and a pen in one hand, casual against her hip. He’d find her attractive under other circumstances: her cheekbones high and shapely on her face, eyes blue and clear against tanned skin, wavy brunette hair loosely tied into a bun at the base of her neck, her finely-knit jumper tucked into a form-fitting skirt. As it is, he feels a bit unwell as he gets up to shake her hand. “I’m Nour. Nice to meet you. Come on in.”

The office is small but relatively bare, just two bookshelves flush against the only wall without tall, broad windows. There are two overstuffed armchairs in the centre of the room angled toward a third, high-backed chair, into which she folds gracefully. She sets her pad of paper down on a small side-table and gestures, smiling, toward the two armchairs. After a moment’s hesitation Hardy sits on the one closest to the door.

“So,” she says, without preamble, “your intake form says this is the first time you’ve been to counselling. I’m glad to see you here, and I’m looking forward to working with you. Before we get started, is there anything in particular that brings you in today?”

Hardy shifts in the chair. The cushions are so plush that he feels a bit crowded sitting back, so he slides forward, leans his elbows on his knees. “Um,” he says. “Not really sure.”

Nour patiently waits, but when he doesn’t elaborate further she directs her attention down at the form beside her pad, using her pen to follow his various hastily-scribbled answers. “Ah, I see you’re a police officer.” she says eventually. “It’s certainly not uncommon for police officers to seek out counsellors as a way of working through job-related trauma.” Her tone is carefully curious and non-judgmental.

“Well,” Hardy attempts. “I’ve been sent after a few incidents. Doesn’t really count.” As a young uniformed officer in Glasglow he’d been stabbed a few times and sent to counselling by a kindly superior officer who was worried he might have PTSD. It was not an overall useful experience, but he had been promptly returned to work upon completion of the sessions. “Got stabbed,” he clarifies, at her encouraging expression. She nods, but he says nothing further.

“It must be very rewarding,” Nour says, after a moment. “But I imagine difficult at times. Stressful.”

He grunts in agreement and unbuttons the top button of his starched button-down shirt. Hardy wishes he hadn’t worn his navy jumper over the shirt, as he is starting to feel overly warm in the patch of sun stretching over his chair.

“It also says here you have difficulty sleeping,” Nour probes gently.

Hardy sighs. He deeply regrets filling out the form now that Nour’s laser-focus is directed squarely at him. “Just some nightmares,” he says. He knows he sounds defensive. “About a case I had once. Stopped getting them, eventually, so it’s fine.” 

He does not mention that his most recent nightmare was in fact about a week and a half ago, when he woke up at three in the morning positive that his lungs were filling with water, thrashing under his blankets as if he were weighed down, again, by a bloated body. His shouting had woken up Daisy in the next room over, who came in and sat on the edge of his bed. She’d clutched his hand with terror in her eyes as he weakly tried to assure her that he was alright, just a bad dream.

His eyes slide from some point above Nour’s head back down to her face. He can tell that she knows he’s lying by omission and feels a bit chastened. After a second, Nour exhales and sets her pen down on top of the form. “Alec. I think you’re used to looking for the truth in your line of work. So am I, so I’m going to be honest. Someone tight-lipped as you are usually won’t book a counselling appointment and show up on time for the first session unless they have an idea why they need it. Look, I’m putting away your form. I don’t need to look at it if you just give me a sense of why you’re here.”

Hardy swallows, shifts again in his uncomfortable armchair so his hands are clasped between his knees. There are a number of reasons why he’s here, first among them that Daisy was fed up and told him he needed professional help after that awful night, but he can’t put words to the tight pressure in his chest. Increasingly, as the date that Daisy leaves the south for Liverpool nears on his calendar, he has moments where he feels entirely alone, moments where he wonders what, if anything, could possibly lie on the other side of that day for him. It’s not an unfamiliar feeling—he’s felt it before, for months on end, contemplating what shitty life he could possibly lead in this town—but now, Daisy on the precipice of her entire life ahead, he is drowning in a total sense of emptiness.

And he sees Miller almost every day, talks to her every day on almost every case, and still misses her deeply, gut-wrenchingly, painfully.

“My daughter’s leaving to go away to school in September. Well, she’s off to her mum’s first, in a month and a bit. This might be it, the last few weeks I get with her, ever,” he starts. Hardy licks his lips, tries to find the words that fit as Nour sits, listening intently. “I moved to Broadchurch for a new start. Wasn’t very well at the time. It was—surprisingly nice. I—left Broadchurch but ended up moving back a bit later with Daisy when she needed a new start too. She almost moved away, at first, but I convinced her to stay. Turned out well for her. But now she’s going to be leaving and I just don’t know where that leaves me. Feels a bit like I’m going backwards, losing something.”

His eyes drift sideways, out the window. A breeze ruffles the blooms on the tree by the window, and he can hear faint birdsong punctuating the roar of passing cars. He changes the subject. “I’m called Shitface at work.” Nour raises her eyebrows. “Nah, it’s fine, probably accurate,” Hardy continues. “I’m not exactly a favourite with the officers. Have trouble with the, er—” He gestures vaguely with both hands, as if pressing something down into an invisible box. “I just don’t know how to—” manage my temper? Talk to people like a normal human? Be close to someone without being an absolute fuckwit? All the ways he can think of to end that sentence sound in his head like somebody else’s voice and Hardy trails off, fiddles with a loose tuft of stuffing straining through a seam on the arm of the chair.

He’s silent for a long moment. He thinks about Claire, imagines her face as she is lying there in that bright white room; lying to him, in the end. As Nour starts to pick the form back up from her side table, he ventures, “d’you think we’re all just… alone?”

Nour’s clear gaze is steady on him as he looks back to her pleadingly. “I think,” she says slowly, thoughtfully, “it isn’t about whether you are alone, but whether you want to be alone.” Her hands move back to her lap.

Hardy hums, eyes skipping back out the window. “I don’t,” he says absently. “I really don’t.”

 

-

June

-

 

He counts to ten before he forces himself back outside, carrying the tray of sliced meat and cheese unnecessarily close to his chest, defensively, as if he could protect himself from certain death by way of a platter of charcuterie. Hardy’s living room is full of strangers and, even worse, familiar faces he isn’t all that keen on seeing; the door is open and the chattering, dancing, giggling party guests have spilled out of the house to the side of the hill in order to take advantage of the mild summer evening. Somebody has seized the opportunity to play music from a set of cheap portable speakers, flat bass and the sharp twang of a pop singer resounding in the air. Hardy glares towards the source of the music. He hates it.

Just as he sets the tray down on the mysterious folding table upon which an array of drinks and snacks have materialised, Daisy launches herself at him at full speed, wrapping her arms around him entirely of her own volition. Hardy feels the wind get knocked out of him and he sways slightly as she crushes him in a hug, her loose hair shoved against his face. Some of it has gotten in his mouth so he leans back away from her carefully, spitting it out, and looks down at his daughter whose eyes are squeezed shut against his chest. “Trying to embarrass yourself at your own going-away party?” he snipes at her affectionately.

She glances up at him, glowing and rosy-cheeked in her lovely summer dress. “Don’t care, just wanted to give you a big hug,” she says, muffled slightly in his shirt. “You’re going to need to change, you’ve got makeup all over you now.”

Hardy pushes her gently away so that he can look down at his shirt and, sure enough, the blue linen is smeared faintly with pink lipstick. “Thanks, Daiz.”

“You’re welcome,” she says back happily. “Dad, this is perfect . Thank you so much.”

He grunts noncommittally. “Couldn’t have you going away without a party. Even if I’ve no idea who any of these people are.”

Daisy rolls her eyes at him as she releases from him completely, reaching over to snag a translucent slice of prosciutto between two fingers. “You’re such a drama queen. Broadchurch isn’t big enough for you not to know everyone.” 

Hardy cannot deign this with a reply because she’s right, of course; he has simply strategically avoided most interaction with familiar people tonight, particularly with Chloe Latimer and her mother who are of course here, as well as the disparate members of the Miller clan. Unfortunately, wee Fred has somehow taken a shining to him, so he’s had to put in extra effort to ward him off all afternoon. Already, Hardy has twice looked down to see the youngest Miller’s sticky hands tugging at his trousers. He knows Miller is hovering on the periphery of his vision on purpose; he can feel her watching him, cautious and a bit surprised, each time Fred clings to his shins.

Daisy’s cut a healthy slice of cheddar, now, sandwiching it between two thick rounds of chorizo. He watches her give a half-wave down the hill, someone taking their leave from the party, then tuck her hair behind her ear as she chews. She looks entirely open, relaxed.

“I’m going to miss you,” Hardy says softly. “You know, it’s not too late to drag your old dad to Liverpool.” Last week, as he watched her pack the last of her wardrobe into a cardboard box, carefully setting aside every too-small t-shirt to be donated, he impulsively raised an idea he’d been contemplating: he could meet her in Liverpool, was sure he had contacts in the regional police there and could figure out some kind of transfer. He certainly wouldn’t be in her way, would rent his own place, but he could be there for her, in the background, to help her transition. Could go where Daisy was going, keep an eye on her. Protect her, maybe. Another new start for both of them.

They’d had a fight over it. She was horrified then frustrated that he would even think about following her to Liverpool; in turn, he was defensive, a bit hurt that she had such an instantly negative reaction to what he thought was otherwise a half-decent idea. Only after he’d sulked long enough to start feeling guilty and brought a conciliatory bowl of ice cream to her room had she told him plainly that she wants to be on her own, is ready to move on and start her independent life, free of the spectre of the Wessex Police looming behind her. Ready to make her own way in the world. After all, isn’t that what he did when he moved away from Scotland all those years ago? Wasn’t the whole point of him staying in Broadchurch and moving her here that he somehow inexplicably wanted to stay?

“Oh, dad,” Daisy says. She pats his cheek affectionately. “I already said you can visit when you like, if I’m not too busy. And I’ll be back for Christmas, besides.”

Hardy sighs. “I know. You’ll be fine. Still feel like I don’t know what I’ll do on my own, though. Gotten used to having you around.” It’s a refrain that he’s found himself thinking more and more frequently as the dates get crossed off the calendar in advance of Daisy and her material possessions being picked up by Tess for the drive back to Sandbrook.

Daisy tilts her head, smirking just barely. She has an enigmatic look on her face that he knows means that she knows something he doesn’t, and also thinks he’s being an idiot. It is yet another expression inherited from Tess. “You already started swimming with the local geriatrics, so it’s probably time you made friends,” she says.

“I’ve got friends,” Hardy protests half-heartedly.

“Your therapist doesn’t count,” Daisy sasses back. He rolls his eyes at her and she sighs, lowers her voice a bit. “Look, dad, I’m really proud of you for everything over the last few months. I know it hasn’t been easy for you, and I think talking to the therapist and finding other things to do around here is good for you. But you know that avoiding people just ‘cause you’re afraid isn’t any good.” She jerks her head to the side, not-so-subtly, and he follows the direction of her gesture to see Miller, holding Fred’s half-eaten plate of nibbles and chatting animatedly with Chloe. The strap of her handbag has slipped partway down her shoulder and she shuffles it back up with one hand, causing a cube of cheese and loose green grape to topple off the paper plate and down to the cement below. It is frighteningly endearing.

When he looks back at Daisy, the half-smirk has returned to her face. “You chose to stay in Broadchurch for a reason,” she says deliberately as she begins to turn back to the charcuterie tray. Hardy gives her an overly stern look before he summarily retreats inside to his bedroom until all of her guests are long gone, but the sight of Miller’s pink cheeks still reverberates inside him, warm.

 

-

July

-

 

Miller glares at her monitor, brow furrowed, as she continues violently clicking on the link that insists on causing her annoyance. Nothing happens. She flips the mouse over and sure enough, the red light has fizzled out underneath. The bloody mouse has been flickering on and off all day, some unseen break in the wire undermining her plans for an uninterrupted Friday to catch up on unfiled reports and her overstuffed email inbox. She slams the mouse down on the mousepad, giving it her best toxic stare. Still nothing happens.

Resigning herself to her fate, Miller pushes back her chair and scrambles under her desk, muttering unkind words at the computer as she blindly reaches around behind the tower and unplugs the mouse and counts to ten. Just as she plugs the mouse back in, she hears a throat clearing behind her. Miller’s instinctive reaction is to stand up while still half-crouched under the desk, resulting in her forehead bashing mightily against the underside of her desk as she comes up. “Fuck shit bloody—fucking shit.” 

Eyes squeezed shut and seeing faint stars, she takes a deep breath before straightening herself out and opening her eyes. Before her, Hardy stands looking rather contrite, one hand in his trouser pocket and one dangling rather uselessly between them before finding its way down to his side. “Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you, DS Miller. You alright?”

“Fine, fine,” she says, collapsing back into her desk chair. “It’s not about the milk, is it, because it’s not me leaving the top off and I already told Justin to come off it already.” She presses the heel of her palm against her temple, wincing a bit. She can tell it’s going to bruise.

Hardy shuffles from foot to foot in front of her. “No,” he says slowly. He looks uncomfortable, really, hovering next to her desk like this, which gets her guard up. He leans a bit closer. “Erm, who’s Justin?” he asks, voice lowered. 

Miller gapes at him. “DC Harris. You don’t know his name ?”

He shrugs, somewhat insouciantly, and the corner of his mouth twitches upward into a smirk. She sighs and gently pushes herself back in her chair, flush against the desk, widening the space between them incrementally. Hardy’s been—well, around lately, standing in the kitchen or conveniently by her desk when she’s on her way into the office, making chit-chat when for months he seemed to be so uncertain around her. It’s hard to explain, his presence around the office suddenly there again after so many months where he was rather consciously keeping himself absent. More than once she has looked up from her computer, chewing on the end of a pen, and seen him looking at her thoughtfully through the window of his office; he no longer looks away when she catches his gaze. 

She’s not sure what has changed. The thought has crossed her mind that perhaps he’s lonely with Daisy off to Sandbrook but there is something careful, intentional about the way he looks at her. As if he’s waiting patiently for something to happen. It makes her feel warm and a bit flustered, that upright and utter focus.

“It’s not about the milk,” Hardy clarifies. He crosses and uncrosses his arms, puts his hands in his trouser pockets. “I wanted to talk to you about something.”

She folds her hands in her lap and wills herself back into composure, head still throbbing. I am a professional and I know what I am doing , Miller intones to herself—a silent mantra that has been really rather helpful over the last few months—and looks up expectantly at Hardy. “Yep.”

A deeply awkward expression crosses Hardy’s face for a moment before he says haltingly, “Well, not now.” His neck and shoulders do a kind of twitch before smoothing out and he takes on an aggressively casual posture. “How about at the pub? Later?”

Miller stares at him, slack-jawed. A very long stretch of time appears to pass before she manages to respond. “No.”

Something that looks like disappointment ghosts over his face before he gives her a tight smile. “Next time, then. Well, carry on, Miller.” He pulls a hand out from his trouser pocket that hovers aimlessly in the air, as if he’s not quite sure whether or not to pat her on the head from where he’s standing, before it retracts back into his pocket. He clears his throat and wordlessly stalks back toward his office.

Miller’s heart is pounding in her chest. She continues to gape after him, as if a goldfish, watches him sit down behind his desk and glumly slide his glasses back on to his nose. The audacity to suddenly appear and ask—

Ask—

Well, she doesn’t really know what he’s asking from her. For some reason, she didn’t expect him to just take her refusal and go. Miller just sits there, on autopilot, staring intermittently at her screen and through Hardy’s office window, for what feels like hours. When she finally glances at the time on her computer monitor, ten minutes have passed. 

She finally swears under her breath before she gets up, her limbs feeling like jelly, as if she has been knocked off-balance. It’s infuriating: the way the bottom of her stomach feels like it has fallen through the floor; the way she feels bumped off-centre, emotionally, by something so simple as him walking away.

Hardy’s seated in his usual computer pose, craned forward and peering at his keyboard with his neck at an angle that is a clear violation of ergonomic standards. When she barges in, he looks up with complete surprise, turns in his chair to face her directly.

“I can’t go to the pub after work ‘cause I’ll have to pick up Freddie and tell Tom he’s watching him tonight,” she says quickly, arms crossed and avoiding his gaze. “But I’ll meet you at the pier at half eight.” She stares down the back of his computer screen before she lets her eyes slide back over to Hardy’s face.

She’d forgotten, somehow, how pale his face is close up, the way his eyes are drawn into deep crinkles at the corners even when his brow isn’t furrowed. It’s his time to gape back at her now, mouth opening then closing before he slides his glasses back off his nose.

“Yeah,” he breathes. “That’s fine.”

“Fine,” she snaps, purely out of habit, and unceremoniously flees. 

 

-

 

At eight thirty, the July sun has relaxed most of the way beneath the horizon, sky dappled pink and amber. This is the view that Miller loves whole-heartedly, that she never wants to leave: the light against the Broadchurch cliffs mesmerizing, golden; the sunset crisply reflected in the water, stretching uninterrupted into the distance in the calm of the summer sea. Hardy’s sitting on their bench with a white paper bag, arms crossed and ensconced in one of his unnecessarily plush Daisy scarves despite the coastal breeze being barely cool enough to warrant a jumper.

As Miller draws closer, she realises his eyes are closed. For a moment the irrational thought crosses her mind that his heart’s finally done it in, that he’s croaked in the most untimely way and that she’ll have to wonder for the rest of her life what it was he wanted to talk about. She quickens her pace. As if by muscle memory, her hand begins to reach into her bag to pull out her phone and call an ambulance.

To both her relief and annoyance, his eyes flutter open as she approaches and he straightens up on the bench. His hair is ruffled by the wind and he looks warm, open, loose-limbed in a way she almost doesn’t recognise. He proffers the white paper bag as she sits down beside him. The smell of fish and chips wafts out of the opening and she plucks it from his grasp.

“You went to the chippy?” she asks cautiously as she peers into the bag. Her stomach rumbles; as it turned out, picking up Fred and negotiating away Tom’s annoyance at having to cancel his online plans tonight meant she didn’t have time to actually feed herself.

“They were unfortunately out of salad,” Hardy says pleasantly. “Go on, it’s for you.”

At that, Miller greedily digs into the flaky battered fish without hesitation. They sit in silence as she eats. The sun continues to slink away as she tucks into the fish and then the chips, the last rays of sunlight leaving a glow along the edge of the water behind them as she leaves the last crumbs of batter and potato, and crumples up the bag in her hands. “Well, thanks,” she says awkwardly, once her dinner is done and she realises that he’s been doing nothing other than watching her shove fried food into her face for the last fifteen minutes. He murmurs a vague noise in response but looks, surprisingly, pleased. He doesn’t say anything more, though, so she shifts herself sideways to stare over the back of the bench, contents herself with watching the sun finish setting. When the street lamps finally flicker on, she turns back and catches his gaze.

“Well?” Miller prompts. “What did you want to talk about? I haven’t got much time.”

Hardy doesn’t respond for a moment, just looks back at her with something like fondness on his face, before he clears his throat. “Thanks for meeting me,” he says gruffly. “Look, I—” He hesitates, fingers wringing together. “I don’t know how else to tell you this, but I started seeing a therapist.”

A lump rises in Miller’s throat and she feels, inexplicably, frozen. She has to press her lips together to dampen the shaky feeling pulsing upward from her lungs. “What,” she says, gormlessly. “ You ?”

He nods.

“Okay,” she says, vowels drawn out, as she tries to process the idea of Hardy spending money on a session with a shrink. It’s hard to imagine the Hardy she has known—that closed-off, spindly man—folded up on an armchair, paying to share information about himself with a near stranger. At the same time, this version of him that she has seen in the last few weeks is different. Almost as if the taut spring of tension that he always seems to hold in his stance is gradually loosening, opening him up. “That’s… well, that’s good. I’m glad.” 

Miller thinks back to those excruciating weeks in late summer last year: feeling as if she was about to be swallowed up by the shadow still cast by the trauma that was supposed to be behind her. The relief she feels now, almost a year on, that while the shadow isn’t gone—will never be gone—she’s worked so hard to find a place for it, where it can be kept safely, contained, like a gun in a safe to be taken out once in a while and only under certain conditions. She feels a sudden, warm ache in her heart for him.

“Yeah,” Hardy murmurs. “It’s been helpful. I didn’t think it would be. I thought I was done with figuring out my life, but it turns out with Daisy off to school I had more to work through. More—baggage. I wasn’t letting myself make the decisions that I should have been making.”

His eyes have wandered off over her shoulder and to the horizon, the dark water gently rippling and reflecting slivers of starlight, and he looks as if he’s trying to find the right words for a moment before gazing back toward her. “I’ve realised,” he continues lowly, “that I need to make some changes.”

She looks at him inquiringly but then, just as suddenly as the warmth flooded her chest, the bottom drops out of Miller’s stomach because of course

Of course this would happen here, on this bench, on this pier, because Daisy’s been gone now a month and that’s about the amount of time that passes after a departure before a house starts to feel echoingly empty. Before you make decisions about things like it being time to leave. But no. It’s not her place to feel whatever this complex knot of emotions is that is rising in her throat. She has no claim to him, has made it very clear to both of them that she wasn’t going to be involved with whatever it was he still had to work out. And if he’s decided to go with Daisy, choosing to do so after starting to go to therapy is probably the healthiest choice he’s ever made.

“Oh,” she manages to interject. “Alright. I see.”

Hardy stares at her, fringe ruffling in the sea breeze, and Miller sighs. “Hardy, I get it. You’re a good dad. And even though the last few months have been—well—it’ll be hard for me to see you go to Liverpool, after everything you've done for us. When will you be leaving?”

“What?”

“Oh my god,” she blurts, as a selfish and somewhat inappropriate thought, in the context of this personal conversation, occurs to her. “This is a pity conversation, isn’t it? I can’t believe they would pass me over again for another transferred DI, I’m going to murder Jenkinson—”

What? No, Miller, will you stop blabbing for a moment!” The frustration in Hardy’s voice is extremely familiar but he immediately deflates, slumping back against the bench. “This is not how I meant this to go.” In profile, the hazy light of the street lights flickering just barely across the sharp plane of his cheekbones, he looks genuinely put out.

She raises her hands in surrender, feeling slightly guilty for sussing it out but also a bit annoyed at him for being so dramatic. “Sorry, sorry. I’ll let you say your bit.” She impulsively mimes zipping her lips and throwing away the key.

Hardy reaches up compulsively to run a hand over his face and through his hair before letting out a great big sigh. “Miller. I’m not leaving Broadchurch and you’re not being passed over for DI. I don’t want to go to Liverpool. I don’t need to be there."

A flutter of relief blooms inside her at his news before she tamps it back down, schools her expression back to neutral.

He sighs again. "Look. D’you—d’you remember, last year, you asked me why I came back here.” Miller nods. “I thought it was just something about this stupid place and these stupid cliffs” —Hardy gesticulates vaguely behind him— “that made me less of a shitty arsehole just by being here. But I know it wasn’t just the cliffs, or the town, or the job, not really .”

He trails off. His eyes are searching. Silence stretches between them as Miller keeps fiddling with the balled-up paper, unsure what to do with her hands. 

It dawns on her that she knows what’s coming. She’s not an idiot, she’s a police detective for God’s sake. She can tell by the way he’s looking at her, intensely, the entirety of his focus on her, and it’s a look in his eyes that she has recognised in him before: the same expression was on his face at Christmas, before giving her a scotch egg, at a moment when she thought he might just be about to share something with her that he wouldn’t be able to take back.

Eventually, he quirks an almost-smile. There is sudden calmness, of a kind, in his comportment, and she knows now that he knows that she knows. “Well, obviously, it’s you.”

“Hardy,” she whispers. She doesn't mean to, but her voice isn't working how she wants it to and she can feel the tears in her eyes, fights them as they well up to blur her vision. She feels as if her heart is being crushed into shards by the weight behind his words. “You know I won’t, you know I can’t be everything—”

“Miller,” he interrupts her evenly. “I’m sorry. I’ve been an arsehole to you and I’ve put so much on you and that was never, never , how I should have treated you. And I can’t promise that I’ve fixed it all already or that I’ll stop being a grumpy knob altogether but I’m working on it. Really.” 

He swallows and reaches over, places one cool palm on top of her left hand and squeezes it gently before placing his hand back on his leg. She feels frozen in place.

“I just need you to know that I want to see what this could be, when you’ll have me.”

Miller is grateful that the warm light of the streetlamps against the summer evening air must be obscuring the blotchy redness that she can feel patterning her cheeks. Distantly, she realises that her face is not just aflame but also wet, fat tears rolling down her bottom eyelashes. She unceremoniously swipes the edge of her sleeve across one cheek, then the other; lets out a deep breath she didn’t know she was holding.

Before she knows it he’s standing in front of her, hands crammed in the pockets of his trousers. “I don’t expect anything, right now, I just—I wanted to let you know. I’ll see you Monday,” he says gently. “G’night, Miller.”

After he sets off down the pier, leaving her sitting there on the bench, she ruffles in her bag for a tissue and blows her nose loudly. A passing seagull glares at Miller, apparently accusingly, and she resists the urge to hurl the balled-up paper bag at him. She takes one last sweeping look at the horizon in the distance—that clear, starry sky joined as far as the eye can see to the unbreaking ocean—before she gets up and heads home.

 

-

August

-

 

The thing about August in Broadchurch, Hardy finds, is that something in the air makes everything feel like it’s moving slower. Not the rate of crime, unfortunately; but the shops meant to open at a set summer hour always seem delayed, their proprietors frequently preoccupied with tasks for some reason best done in the summer months. Today, his rare Sunday plans were derailed by the high street bookshop’s short staffed this morning, will open at 1pm scrawled on scrap paper and haphazardly taped to the outside of the glass door, an afterthought.

Hardy ultimately consigned himself to waiting for the bookshop to open at a dinky terrace table in front of the cafe down the road. Swiping idly through Daisy’s newest set of tagged photos on Facebook—a Liverpudlian one week and she’s already been to the student pub twice, cheeky girl—it takes him a moment to notice the tiny hand tugging at the hem of his shorts.

“Hullo, Fred,” Hardy says generally downward to his new companion. He puts his phone down next to his half-picked-at scone and leans over, rests his elbows on his knees, so he is closer to eye-level with Miller’s youngest. Fred is wearing fish-patterned swim trunks and a bright yellow swim shirt, goggles hanging loose around his neck. His round face still gleams with sea water, curly mop of hair beginning to frizz as it dries in the sun.

Fred beams. “‘Lo, ‘lec.”

“I see you went swimming,” Hardy observes. Fred nods, still grinning. “Where’s your mam, then?”

As if on cue, he hears Miller’s voice behind him. “Oh, for fu there you are, Fred,” she says, scooping him up in both arms to eye him critically, Tom close behind with a towel slung across his shoulders. “We’ve been over this, Fred, please don’t run up to random men even if they end up not being strangers. Hi, Hardy. Alright, Tom, you get to be in charge now.” She deposits Fred back on the ground and shoves a hand in her bag, summarily extracting a tenner that she flaps generally in Tom’s direction. “What time is it? Quarter to noon? He can have an ice cream. Can you go with him?”

Tom obliging takes his mother’s money and shepherds Fred into the cafe, raising his eyebrows briefly at Hardy before they disappear behind the bell-ring of the door. Miller collapses into the other chair at Hardy’s table, pulling the hair tie out of her hair so it cascades, swinging wildly, down to her shoulders. She slides the hair tie arbitrarily into her bag, which she sets down on the ironwrought tabletop next to Hardy’s empty coffee cup. Her knees knock against his as he reorients slightly in his chair, towards her.

After their conversation on the pier, everything was largely as it always has been. That Monday morning, he arrived at work, fixed a cup of tea, and checked his emails before she came knocking at his office door about the next case file. A simple apology—and the something more that he offered alongside it—did not, and should not, easily shatter the brittleness that had formed between them. And yet in the weeks since, she has again begun to wander into his office for a chat; begun to accept his offers of tea; begun to share more openly again about the boys and her judgmental father. He feels unburdened, happier, but also a bit light-headed, as if the axis of the universe has rebalanced and there is now something fundamentally changed about the very stuff of his everyday.

“Eventful morning?” Hardy inquires. He slides the scone closer to Miller and she gratefully accepts, breaking off a chunk laden with fat blueberries that she pops into her mouth. She’s tanned from the summer, flushed, with freckles just barely dappling her temples. Her eyes stray over his head through the window of the cafe, checking in on the boys, before she finishes chewing and meets his eyes again.

“Fred wanted to go swimming, so swimming we went,” Miller explains. “Beach was overrun with tourists and I thought I lost him about eight times. Turns out he’d wandered off to make new friends. Don’t know where he gets all that chattiness from.” Hardy can’t help but raise an eyebrow at her and she rolls her eyes at him. “Actually, I thought we might run into you at the beach, what with your new reputation as the town charmer. Heard you gave a few girls a bit of a show last week.” Her lips curl upward at this as she pretends to focus on selecting the next chunk of scone.

Hardy can feel his face reddening. The problem with his now regular morning routine is that it has made evident the limitations of his aged swimming trunks, namely, that the waistband elastic is on its last legs. Unfortunately, he tested those limitations to his social detriment at the end of his last swim, when his trunks slipped slightly further down than publicly appropriate as he rose out of the water. He’s not sure he will ever be able to look Chloe Latimer in the eyes again. Or eighty-two-year-old Mrs. Donoghue, for that matter.

Miller is watching him, a knowing glint in her eyes. He clears his throat. This tentative playfulness between them is worth the awkwardness of this particular topic of conversation, and Hardy carefully relaxes back in his chair. 

“Is this a police questioning, Detective Sergeant?” he asks. “That can’t be allowed on a Sunday, can it?”

With that Miller grins at him, dazzling, infectious, and before he knows it he is smiling right back at her. She looks so comfortable and happy with her curls tumbling over her ears and forehead, ends brushing the wide neckline of her heathered pink t-shirt, that in a split second Hardy decisively reaches over to tuck her hair back into place. She tenses briefly as his fingers skim the shell of her ear, breath catching just barely. Hardy is dimly aware of what feels like the buzz of an electric charge between them, radiating outward.

“You’re wearing shorts,” Miller points out abruptly.

He looks down at his shorts. His bare knees stare back at him, pale and a bit knobbly. “It’s August.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you wearing shorts. Even in August,” she says, in a rather admonishing tone. “S’bit weird.”

Hardy shrugs. “Trying something new?” he offers up. He pulls the plated scone back towards him and picks around the blueberries to extract a wobbly crumb of plain dough. When he looks back up at Miller she is gazing at him, eyes blazing with a sudden and fierce fondness.

“I’m still a bit cross with you, you know,” she says.

Ah, he thinks. Is this the moment?

He nods and puts the crumb of scone back down on the plate.

And you’re still my boss which is all rather inconvenient. We’re going to have to do paperwork.” With nervous energy, Miller is tapping her fingertips against the curved edge of the table. “And I’m done with marriage, so don’t get any ideas in your head.” She looks as if she wants to say more, but stops herself.

“I’ve received feedback that I’m a wanker, a grumpy arsehole and a knob,” Hardy adds helpfully. “Just so you’re aware before you make any important decisions.” He can feel his heart thrumming in his ears, warmth spreading outward from his chest to the tips of his fingers.

“You’re a bit less of a wanker, now,” she says softly. “But it does look like I went and fell in love with a grumpy knob.”

Hardy does not expect the dizzying rush to his head, the sound of his heartbeat now hammering in his chest so loudly that for a moment he’s concerned that he’s about to have another heart attack. He knows he’s staring at her like a fool, delighted, and he reaches over to take her hands between his, her fingers still sticky and stained blue from berry scone but soft and warm and hers .

The bell above the door jangles and both of them swivel their heads as Tom and Fred—both with mouths smeared with ice cream—step out of the cafe. Sharp as a tack, Tom catalogues the scene before him and smirks as Hardy hastily lets go of Miller’s hands and she busies herself with a serviette.

“Fred’s got to go to the toilet, and he won’t go here.” Tom says to his mother, eyes still trained on Hardy. Hardy knows that embarrassment is written all over his face and curses internally. “And I’ve got to change to go over to Ryan’s.”

“Right,” Miller says. She takes the crumpled serviette with her as she stands up, licks her thumb and swipes it across Fred’s face, followed by the serviette, to scrub off the melted chocolate marks. Once she’s cleaned him up to her satisfaction, she proceeds to do the same to Tom. Squirming in her clutches, he shoots Hardy the long-suffering, embarrassed glance of a teenager trying to save face in front of an adult. 

Hardy is secretly glad that his own embarrassment at being caught with Miller has been dispatched so swiftly by poor Tom’s current discomfort. Once Miller is done thoroughly humiliating her teenaged son, she turns back to Hardy. “I’ll—see you tomorrow at work?” she ventures. “Or—” She hesitates, suddenly bashful. Uncertain.

Tom, sensing his place or lack thereof in this part of the conversation, clears his throat. “Bye, DI Hardy,” he says casually, and steers Fred in the opposite direction. Fred cranes his neck to peer backward at his mother until they are two shops down, at which point the Miller boys very obviously stop in their tracks and Tom crouches down to whisper something to Fred.

Hardy finds himself standing up, in what feels like a confusingly chivalrous gesture. He doesn’t know what to do with his hands so, by default, he shoves them into his shorts pockets. “Tomorrow’s good, Miller,” he says. “We could... go to the pub after, if you want.”

“We’ve never been to the pub,” she says matter-of-factly, smile breaking out again on her face.

“Could try something new,” Hardy replies.

Miller scrunches up her nose. “How about I just text you later and we can sort it out?”

“Yeah,” he says. He smiles at her. “Yeah.”

 

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fin

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