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You Can't Go Home Again

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Dinner, surprisingly enough, had not turned out to be a debacle; it was debatable how it would have gone if William had been there with them, but luckily the arrogant sod was on a trip to Edinburgh and wouldn’t be back for another day. Hardy was not the only one to breathe a sigh of relief hearing that, and luckily Grant Wallace mentioned nothing more over dinner about estates and wills; he was fascinated enough with hearing about her’s and Hardy’s lives in Broadchurch.

“It’s been some time since I’ve seen the ocean,” he said, and she thought he sounded a bit wistful. “And I’ve never seen those cliffs.”

She ended up speaking about her life, mostly—Hardy stayed stubbornly quiet and closed-mouthed about it all, doing his best to ignore his father. Grant seemed unperturbed by his childish behavior and listened with fascination about the latest case of larceny the station had dealt with—and of the whale that ended up beached beneath the cliffs last summer during a seasonal storm.

All in all, the dinner was a success; no dishes were thrown or broken, and both father and son were at least civil when they did speak to each other. Despite this, Ellie felt drained and on edge and excused herself early from any further engagement, and it was with a grateful sigh of relief that she shut the door to her room behind her.

It was a spacious one, if a bit weirdly laid out—a shallow staircase of five steps led the way into a room of warm brick and lush carpet; a fireplace, stained with centuries of soot, sat on the outside wall and the seven-foot-long windows showed a breathtaking view of the mountains in the far distance. A built-in bookshelf was on the other wall, and full of tomes of various sizes and thickness, taller than what she was comfortably able to reach.

There was age to this house, and she had the particular sense that this room had received a lot of attention from the current Wallace family, let alone all of their ancestors. Hit again by the enormity of Hardy’s revelations, she shook her head and let herself feel it, trying to work it out of her system.

Broadchurch was by all accounts a small community; a single road led and out of it, and only a few thousand people inhabited its borders. (There were the few American tourists who scoffed at that, stating they had been raised in towns that literally had less than five hundred people living there.) Its inhabitants were an ancient breed of mariners and sea-dwellers, descendants of the people who thousands of years before had dug their heels into the sand of Dorset’s coast and carved out a life for themselves. Ellie herself was one such person, born and bred. She had ancestors who had fought for England; there were those who had died in the War of 1777, when America fought for its independence.

But she had never really met anyone personally of any sort of true notoriety; there were no truly remarkable bloodlines to be found in such a small town. To know that her boss belonged to one of the oldest families of Scotland—one that had created such notoriety for itself—was, if she was absolutely honest, a bit awing.

She was going to have to watch that—she knew, better than most, she was sure, how little Hardy liked that sort of attention.

She changed into her pajamas gratefully and slid under the covers of the large bed with a groan of relief; then she picked up her mobile and called her boys. Of course, this meant she had to put up with several minutes of small talk with her dad, but it was worth it hearing Tom’s voice—even if her teenager did sound stereotypically teenagery. “How are things with Grandad, then, Tom?”

“Okay, I guess,” came his noncommittal reply. “I’ve been up in my room, mainly. Fred stuck a lego up his nose and gave himself a nosebleed, so that was pretty cool.”

“Oh god,” she groaned, face in her hand in resignation. “How was it?”

“Well, Grandad called Mrs. Latimer in a panic because Fred was crying and wouldn’t stop, and nothing was stopping him. So Mrs. Latimer walked over with Lizzie and checked him over, and said he was fine, just freaked out. It was hardly bleeding, anyway, and Fred and Lizzie played together afterwards and were fine.”

Well, that was good—she hadn’t left her house to suffer imminent destruction, after all. Which reminded her: “And how’s Daisy, then?”

“Daisy? Oh, DI Hardy’s daughter.” He sounded far too casual, too careful, and Ellie rolled her eyes; he seemed to have a bit of a crush. “She’s good, too, as far as I know. She’s hanging out with Chloe a lot.”

Well, that was good to hear, too. Daisy’s remaining in Broadchurch had been a short-lived topic earlier in the day when Grant had asked if she would be joining them. Hardy’s expression hadn’t twitched when he replied. ‘She’s busy with school, but she’ll come down if there’s a need.'

Ellie had felt those words like a knife to her own heart, and she had not been able to suppress the pity she had felt seeing Grant’s hopeful expression fall. The man was dying, after all, and he wanted to see his granddaughter. When she brought that up to Hardy, however, she received nothing but disdain.

‘See that phone, Miller?’ He paused in the middle of the hall to point at another side table, where—sure enough—a phone sat by innocently. ‘All these years, he could’ve reached out and attempted to know her. The most she ever gets is a Christmas card in the mail every year.’

‘And what about coming and visiting here? You’ve had to come back occasionally. Why not bring her along?’

He’d rolled his eyes. ‘She’s met both my dad and Will before. She doesn’t like it here anymore than I do, and I don’t force her to come if she doesn’t want to.’

Ellie had contemplated that for a long, silent moment; then, half-afraid of his reaction, she’d asked, ‘And what about Tess? What did she make of them when you were married? Of.. all of this?’

The way his expression had closed off was answer enough, and she had felt a stab of guilt then for bringing it up. Clearly, she had stumbled upon one of his hidden landmines—there were still topics that even now he felt she had no business treading on, even after seeing for herself what he was like. She didn’t suppose she wanted to know, after all, if Tess had been arrogant enough to assume she could convince her husband to take up the name and estate he had left behind—but knowing the woman the way she did, Ellie wasn’t hopeful of that possibility.

So where did that leave poor Daisy?

Reminded of such, Ellie found herself unable from holding back from asking Tom, “Sweetheart, your dad and I… did we ever make you feel less loved when Fred was born? Or that we were playing favorites?”

The silence on the other end of the phone was so absolute that she was afraid of exactly that; but then she heard him shifting and his breathing continue its steady rhythm, and she realized he had merely been thinking critically about the question. “Not really, no,” he said quietly. “I think… I think there was a period of time right after he was born that I felt jealous of all the attention he was getting. But then I talked to Ollie, and he told me that Fred wasn’t your new favorite kid, just more helpless, and that he needed more things done for him and more time spent taking care of him than I did, since I was so much older—and more independent.”

This last rejoiner was said with wry humor, and Ellie laughed. “Independent, indeed,” she said with the same tone. “Well, I’m glad your cousin can make some sense.” She was silent for another long moment, then, "But you’d tell me, right? If I ever started playing favorites between the two of you?”

“Is it that bad there?” Now he simply sounded startled, and Ellie wanted to suddenly cry at the reminder that Tom was no longer a child.

“Whatever Jenkinson told me, this is not a vacation. I think I’m playing referee.”

The self-help and parenting books all said never to unburden oneself to your child, but Tom was at least a good sport about it—he had asked, after all. That was all she said about the entire messed up situation, but she was sure that he understood, having known Hardy and his ways first-hand since Danny’s case. She felt calmer and less overwhelmed when she said goodnight and hung up, reminding herself she was only going to be here for a week, and that it couldn’t possibly be as bad as she was fearing this visit would be.

~/~/~/~/~

The morning proved her wrong. She slept surprisingly soundly for being in such an unfamiliar place, and her talk with Hardy watching the sunrise was not unpleasant either. She joined him in the kitchens for breakfast, sitting across from one another at the sturdy table that also served as the servants’ eating quarters, and while neither of them talked as they ate it still wasn’t a wholly unpleasant business either. Various staff came and went, wishing them a good morning, and one of the older staff came up to tell Hardy how grateful he was that he had come for a visit.

Hardy, for his part, had not dismissed the old man but had greeted him warmly enough. “How’re things, then, Frank? Is Mary still going for treatments, or is her cancer in remission?”

The old man looked frankly delighted at the inquiry, nodding his head decisively. “She’s been in remission for six months, sir. Still too thin, and she’s always cold, but we’re building her back up. We’ve been very fortunate.”

He bowed his head respectfully and left then, but Ellie thought over his and Hardy’s interaction carefully before she lowered her fork. Hardy caught her staring and one eyebrow shot up. “Wha’, Miller?”

“So you changed your name from Wallace to Hardy the first chance you got, and you left this estate as soon as you could—but the staff all still treat you like you’ve never left. And you’ve still got influence and money, or you wouldn’t have been able to do half the things you do. I’d always wondered how you were able to keep Claire in that cottage for so long without hurting for money.”

His mouth twitched. “I gave up my titles a long time ago—so you can’t call me Lord Anything, sorry, Miller. But you can’t easily give up the influences or connections that come with the position, and I never seriously tried to. I’m glad I didn’t—otherwise Sandbrook wouldn’t have been solved at all.” He sat back in his seat, holding another cup of steaming tea. “The money is my inheritance—most of it will go to Daisy, but there are times when I dipped into it.”

“And how much are you worth, then, sir?” This she said with a smirk, and luckily he took it as such.

“Dunno. I seem to conveniently forget when I’m asked.”

“That’s all right—I’ll just ask Jocelyn.” The smirk broadened when she caught the look of surprise on his face. “She overheard me and Maggie talking about you making it through your surgery all right, and she implied that you were concerned you wouldn’t.” Her voice quieted. “I bullied her into talking about it, really, but I was still pissed off about the text you sent me—and all she would say was that only days before the surgery, you showed up at her door asking her to draw up your will.” Her smile was a lot more forced then, and she knew he could see it. “That almost made me ring you up and call you a fucking arsehole, that you thought you had to go through it alone.”

There were times when his expression went blank, as if his brain had short-circuited—usually when talking about the possibility he could be cared for in any capacity. Now that she had an idea of how his childhood was like, this wasn’t funny to her anymore. Seeing the same uncomprehending look on his face at this given moment, she thought suddenly of her discussion with Tom about favorites and was mortified to realize she was ready to cry.

Had no one ever stood up for him?

“All you’d do was sit and wait,’ he said, startling her. “And you had more important things to be thinking of, if you remember.”

“I do,” she said coldly. “But Sandbrook was pretty damn important, too-- and if you’d died on me halfway through it, I wouldn’t have spoken kindly about it at your funeral.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

Their breakfast had finished up without incident, and so Ellie foolishly let her guard down at little, hopeful that maybe everything would go smoothly.

Two hours later, she cringed when she heard the shouts come from Grant’s study, where he and Hardy had gone to discuss the estate. “Ye’re a selfish, foolish child, Alec, and ye’ll ken it when I’m gone!”

There was the worrying sound of something crashing onto the floor, the scrape of shattered glass loud even amidst Hardy’s answering shout, accent suddenly harsh and grating. “The only thing I’ll ken when ye’re gone is that I’ll be bloody fucking glad of it!” Then the door swung open and he strode out into view, looking frankly dangerous, and Grant wheeled out after him with a similar expression.

“Dinna ignore me, Alec! Ye canna ignore this, and yer brother--”

I said no!” Hardy didn’t even bother to look back, his long legs lending him a speed that neither Ellie nor Grant could hope to match. “I’d had my fill of yer games when I was thirteen, and I’m no’ going to allow ye that control again!” Then he had turned the corner and was gone, leaving the corridor echoing and tense with their fight. Grant threw up his hands in utter frustration and then ran them vigorously through his grey hair-- a habit that Hardy himself had, Ellie realized with a slight shock. He didn’t go back to the study, but turned his wheelchair around and went down the hall to another hallway.

Ellie wavered from wanting to leave or going into the study to pick up whatever was broken, but then Millie materialized quite suddenly to do the cleaning-up. She didn’t glance in Ellie’s direction, didn’t even acknowledge her presence, but Ellie had the sense Millie knew she was there regardless. Curiosity won out; she walked up to the doorway and peered inside, seeing a space smaller than she would have initially suspected, also of dark oak and dominated by a long window. Millie was bent over sweeping up what might have been an ash tray-- she could smell the lingering acrid scent of old cigarettes.

“This happens often, ye ken,” Millie said, straightening up and meeting Ellie’s eye. “Every time Alec comes home, there’s at least one thing broken before he leaves again.”

“It sounded like that fight was Hardy’s fault,” Ellie said, surprising herself. She owed nothing to Grant Wallace, after all, so why was she standing up for him?

Millie’s expression didn’t twitch. “Dinna let one fight settle yer mind for ye, Ellie. Grant Wallace isna innocent in this.”

“Hardy told me he played favorites between him and William.”

“I couldna tell ye that.”

“No? You just told me yesterday you’ve been employed here since before Hardy was born. I would think you would be in a prime position to know.”

Millie’s mouth quirked. “Alec’s taught ye well, hasn’t he?” she asked wryly, and outright smiled at the look on Ellie’s face. “Ach, the way ye solved Sandbrook proves ye’re a competent detective, but that tactic ye just used is all Alec’s. He’s always gone for the jugular. Follow me, dearie-- I’ll answer yer question while we walk. I’ve got a question for ye, as well.”

“I suppose you deserve to go first, then, seeing as I've been so rudely dropped in your lap.”

“Ye showing up now is no a problem, Ellie. Lord kens servants love to gossip, and ye’ve given them plenty to discuss.” Now Ellie was sure that she was being laughed at. Millie led them through the maze of hallways and various staircases, until they ended up coming out of a back door that led to the trash receptacles sitting outside near the kitchens. “Ye’ve worked several cases with Alec now, or so he’s told me. What d’ye make of him?”

“What do I make of Hardy? He’s a knob,” Ellie said immediately. “He has no social grace to speak of, he’s rude and short tempered most days, and I’ve frequently thought about shoving him off the pier at Broadchurch.” She paused, then, and when she spoke next her voice was significantly softer. “But he cares, too. Cares very much about the victims and families of the crimes we solve, cares about the safety of his coworkers, and he loves Daisy to pieces. He’d say otherwise, but he’s a good man underneath it all, I think.”

“Hmm.” Millie threw the glass shards away, but instead of heading back inside, she put the dust bin down and headed around the corner of the house, towards the open field nearest the line of trees. It was a fair distance to see, but Ellie thought she could see Hardy’s tall figure out there. “The family graveyard is there, where he is. The lad goes and talks to his mother a lot after Grant makes him angry.”

“So you knew his mother well, too, I imagine.”

“Oh, aye,” Millie said matter-of-factly. “Verra much so. William takes after her much more than Alec does, and that’s a fact. The lads lost her when they were both verra young, though, and Grant doesna speak of her.”

“Heartbroken?” Ellie knew she shouldn’t pry, but curiosity was winning out over propriety.

Millie glanced over at her, her gaze steady. “Oh, aye,” she said mildly. “Ye might say that.”

‘It was after one of their fights, after all, that she took the car and left.’

“And what part did Grant play in her death?” she asked, not breaking eye contact with her.

Millie’s expression was opaque, a servant’s mask. “None,” she said bluntly, but Ellie was sure she was hiding strong emotion. “What she did, she did herself.”