The frightening aspect of Will's remark, Ellie thought a week later on the train, was the fact that Hardy hadn’t attempted to fight it. As someone who fought tooth and nail to hide all view of his personal life, she had feared that Will’s order would lead to a full on eruption on his part—certainly Ellie herself had wanted to protest it, but she’d been effectively shut down by Hardy’s silent headshake. He’d merely led the way outside so they could talk in the cooling evening air about the paperwork.
“What the hell was that, Hardy?” She hadn’t hesitated to lay into him, though, even if his brother was off limits. “I shouldn’t have to be told where to go or what to do—especially not by a stuck-up prick like your brother! Why in the hell do I need to go to Scotland, anyway?”
“It’s Will’s idea of a joke,” he had growled in reply, his hands clenched deeply into his pockets as he paced. “He’s the only one who’ll laugh at it, o’ course, but he’s never cared about that.”
“Well, I care,” Ellie snarled. “And you can just go and tell him that I have a prior engagement and I can’t go—”
Years ago she had bitten out an invitation for Hardy to join her and Joe for dinner and seen the alarm of it freeze his expression into utter incomprehension; the look on his face now was very much the same. “You can’t just—” He cut himself off abruptly and took a deep breath. “Miller, you’re not going to be able to back out. Will’s already put your coming on the table.”
“I’m not going to be your bloody buffer against your dad, Hardy—”
“No, Miller, you don’t get it. To turn down that invitation is an insult.” At Ellie’s uncomprehending silence, he shook his head again but with rather more helplessness. “That’s the joke, see? Will knew you wouldn’t know that, so he decided to be a dick to me—not to you.” He looked genuinely sorry as he glanced over at her. “You’ll have to request time off with Jenkinson.”
“But—” She scrabbled desperately for an excuse, any reason why not, “but the station can’t be without both the DI and the DS at the same time—”
“Miller, this is bloody Broadchurch, not London. Or even Glasgow, for that matter. The station isn’t going to fall to pieces without us here for a bit. We wouldn’t be all that long—a week at most.”
“How are you going to convince Jenkinson we both need to go?”
“She won’t need convincing, Miller. I’ll simply tell her.”
And frighteningly enough, Jenkinson did just that without a word of protest, confirming instead that Ellie and Hardy would be on impromptu leave for at least the next week. When Ellie had expressed her amazement it was unduly ignored by him—no surprise there—but even Jenkinson was rather closed-mouthed about it all.
“It’s his place to tell you, Ellie. All I will say on the matter is that he hasn’t paid me off, and there has been no underhanded manipulating going on. Alec and I had this arrangement settled when I first hired him five years ago—I was prepared for this.”
What everyone seemed to be conveniently forgetting, however, was the fact that Ellie was not prepared for this—whatever ‘this’ turned out to be, and she was short-tempered about it for the entire week leading up to their day of departure. At least until she realized that Hardy wasn’t furious about this visit to Scotland; no, he was nervous.
The anxiety wasn’t for the reason she’d assumed, either. Halfway to their destination, he fidgeted with his belt before suddenly turning to her. “I still irk you, right, Miller?”
She gaped at him. “What the hell is that question? Of course you do, you great bloody bastard. Wouldn’t have it any other way, either, in case you were afraid of that changing.” Because that was the biggest shock here, wasn’t it? He was anxious about Ellie herself, and her possible reaction to whatever it was they were to see in Scotland. “What aren’t you telling me, Hardy?”
“’S nothing, Miller.”
“It’s not nothing, though, is it? Look, you mentioned something about my turning down this offer would be an insult. And maybe you could have just explained that away as your family simply being weird—but then Jenkinson didn’t so much as bat an eye over both of her highest-ranking detectives going on an extended visit to Scotland. That only comes from a family name, a family with connections. I’m right, aren’t I?”
He sat in stillness for a long moment, his expression distant as he watched the passing scenery. There was a sharpness to his eyes that told her he was merely ruminating, though, and she was content to wait for him to speak in this circumstance. “My mum’s maiden name,” he finally said softly, “is Hardy. I haven’t used my dad’s since I was thirteen, and as soon as I was able to, I changed it legally. My dad’s family name is Wallace.”
Ellie looked at him blankly for a moment. “Like- like William Wallace? The bloke killed for striving for Scotland’s independence? That Wallace?”
He snorted. “William Wallace was only one in many of the family name, and he's not a direct ancestor—but, aye, that William Wallace.” A wry note of humor marked his reply, and she snorted in turn as his brother’s name registered, and he turned to look at her with something approaching a grin. “Mum always had a peculiar sense of humor.” The amusement was very quickly gone, however, as he looked away from her again and back to the passing countryside. “The various families—still called clans in some cases—still have enough power amongst themselves that we can get our way in most circumstances, though—hence the forced invitation. If you’d insisted on turning that down, Will could have made you lose your job out of spite.”
“He’d really do that?” She couldn’t help how troubled her voice was; in reality she was thinking more along the lines that maybe Hardy wasn’t as much of a knob as she had originally thought he was.
Hardy nodded. “He would. He’s done it before.” He grimaced. “He’ll continue to try and trip you up more, too, so be watchful for that.”
“What, once wasn’t enough for him?” Now she was simply sarcastic, and bitingly so, unimpressed by such childish antics.
She was taken aback when he turned back to her then, more serious than she had seen him in a very long time. “Miller, if there’s one thing you need to know about why he’d do that, it’s because of this: you’re my colleague. A trusted colleague.”
Struck temporarily speechless by this admission, she found that all she could do was turn back to the window and watch the passing countryside—now leaving the closed-quartered gardens and sheltered houses of towns and moving into the wide expanse of wild countryside.
She expected their final stop to be somewhere in Glasgow, but the train was only part of their journey; Hardy led the way to a car rental down the street from the station and loaded their bags as Ellie went to purchase a snack for them both. He didn’t touch what she had purchased, of course, but again she thought his unwillingness to eat was not from mere pickiness this time but nervousness.
And that was the real clincher, wasn’t it? Hardy being nervous was not a good sign for anyone, and the fact that it was this family meeting he was so uptight about was even worse.
“Did you and William never get along, Hardy?” she finally asked when they were out of Glasgow. It had been stiflingly silent in the car for too long, and she was growing restless. She needed more information to meet his family and not be wrong-footed.
He glanced over at her briefly, and she saw the walls were coming up behind his eyes, higher than they had been since Sandbrook. “I don’t remember.” Clearly he wanted to leave it at that, but she continued staring at him with raised eyebrows, and with a low growl of frustration he suddenly pulled over. “I told you my mum died,” he said bluntly, and she nodded, feeling a pang deep inside; he had told her that, of course, the morning that Joe was arrested for Danny’s murder. “Car crash when I was eleven. It was an accident, but she didn’t have a seatbelt on and she went through the windshield; I was told she died on impact.”
Ellie swallowed. “I’m sorry, Hardy.”
He shrugged, feigning indifference. “It was a long time ago now. But ever since then, my dad—well, he changed. They fought all the time, and there were things thrown around that Will and I could hear shatter against walls and the floor from our rooms, and he was a right bastard most of the time. Critical and demanding. But when Mum died, he- well, he blamed himself for her dying, I think. It was after one of their arguments, after all, that she left the house and took the car—he must have discovered a conscience because of that,” he said bitterly.
“And Will?” she asked tentatively.
He sat in silence for another long moment, his gaze far away. “I was the favorite. Dad’s, anyway. Maybe it’s because I was the firstborn, I dunno—but whatever the reason, Dad always preferred me even if he tried not to show it. As soon as Will was old enough to realize that, he resented it… and me. We never have gotten back to even ground.”
Ellie allowed the silence to grow again as she puzzled out his explanation, and felt her heart twist with something a lot like sympathy. “My parents always favored me,” she admitted lowly. “Lucy was wild, liked to party. I was the one my dad always said would make something of herself.”
He snorted, a corner of his mouth twisting wryly. “I can’t imagine why he’d say that.”
Ellie stiffened. “That was low,” she said coldly, “even for you, sir.”
Startled by her tone, he turned to look at her and realized what he had just said. “Aye,” he agreed quietly. “Suppose I’m more like my dad than I’d like to think.” He started down the road again, and the silence between them was more stifling than it had been since they had worked to solve Sandbrook. Ellie was more than ready to let him brood, still not ready to forgive the knock on her sister—even though, she thought guiltily, she had had the sentiment more than once in her life.
The passing scenery made her lose all sense of anger or offense eventually, and she found herself staring at the distant mountains with a sense of awe. The cliffs of Dorset were a tourist attraction of understandable proportions, but the wilderness of Scotland was just as breath-taking. She had been to Scotland once or twice for trips, but she had only ever been in the big cities.
Had this been a normal view for him? Ellie glanced at him out of the corner of her eye—he looked out at the same view with no sense of the same awe or even appreciation, all of his focus instead on the road. She was taken aback by the stab of jealousy she felt and hastily looked away again. She had known from what little he’d told her that his childhood had not been the easiest to deal with, and his recent explanation had merely confirmed it—it was likely he had a negative reaction to seeing the places here that so awed Ellie.
She stifled a sudden urge to ask him if he was okay and sat back in her seat for the rest of the trip—at least until he turned on a side road that led to a large estate.
The grandness of the buildings could not hide a certain extent of decay and neglect, but it was still an impressive sight to lay eyes on. A looming manor with acres of neatly-cut and kept grass stood like a fortress at the other end of the drive, surrounded on one side by the forest that crept close to the rear of the building. Ellie shut her mouth and very carefully did not look over at Hardy, almost nervous about seeing the look on his own face; the way he white-knuckled the steering wheel was answer enough of his feelings.
He didn’t say a word until he had parked the car, and only glanced over at her briefly. The walls were all the way up, and she felt like she was sitting with the Hardy of five years ago, an unwanted stranger who didn’t belong.
But he saw the thought cross her face, and she was grateful when his expression softened ever so slightly. The worry of what she might think of him was prevalent, and on impulse she grabbed hold of his sleeve. “If your dad is as big a knob as you are,” she said evenly, “I’m sure I’ll dislike him on sight.”
He outright barked a laugh at that, startling them both. The walls in his eyes had fallen a little and stayed that way as he opened the door to climb out. “I’ll count on that, Miller.”