When William arrived, it was surprisingly without fanfare; Ellie had been prepared for a red carpet rolled out and trumpets blaring his return, and maybe the servants standing in a row down it greeting him. But in the end it turned out that she stumbled upon him as he was reading through a book in Grant’s study and looking so much like Hardy that she actually had to double-take.
He noticed her, of course, and his smirk was decidedly not his brother. Nor were the blue eyes-- that may have come from his mother. “Well, here’s the illustrious Ellie Miller. How’re ye liking Scotland, then? I’m sure Alec is making it as miserable as possible, of course-- he always does.”
It would not do, she realized suddenly, to show him anything; not if she didn’t want it used against her later. So she stopped her automatic stiffening, both at the jab and in irritation, and merely gazed at him coolly. “I’ve noticed it’s wet here,” she said evenly, “seeing as it’s rained every day so far.”
“Verra good detecting skills, that, picking up when it rains a lot.” He set the book down and came around the corner of the desk, leaning his lanky frame against it. “I’m sure ye get this much rain in Broadchurch, though, so it canna be that surprising. Do ye like it there? Broadchurch? Solving cases with my brother?”
His own gaze was direct and piercing, and Ellie’s temper wanted to raise its head. She forced it down with difficulty-- it wouldn’t do to reveal her hand too soon, after all, and the only ones who knew just how much she and Hardy knew about and trusted each other were the two of them. instead of snapping at him, she met his gaze squarely. “The only thing I like about working with your brother,” she lied smoothly, “is solving the cases.”
“But ye went over to his house, remember?” Now the arrogant fuckwit thought he was being clever, what with his tone and sly smile. “Why would ye bother to care where he lives if ye were only colleagues?”
She mentally rolled her eyes. I’m the detective, here, sweetheart-- why don’t you let me prove it? “That’s no secret,” she said with a genial smile. “Everyone knows where Hardy lives. It was the talk of the month when he moved back and actually planned to stay.”
Now he faltered, unprepared for her quick answer. His gaze flickered uncertainly for just a moment, a thin line quirking between his brows as he frowned. “But that’s-” Oh, she could definitely see the family resemblance between him and Hardy now; her boss frequently sported the same bewildered look when faced with the reality of Broadchurch. “Why do ye ken that?”
Her smile sharpened at the edges. “It’s a small town,” she said with the same cheerful tone, letting the implied ‘you fuckwit’ shine through. “Everyone knows where everybody lives.” And turning smartly on her heel, she walked out of the room, smirking now that he couldn’t see her face.
She really didn’t like him. The one thing she could confidently say about this trip was that it was showing her that Hardy could have been so much worse when he first came to Broadchurch.
Perhaps it was the drift of her thoughts that led her, but she mindlessly drifted down the length of the manor’s many corridors, curious enough now to look around. There weren’t many pictures or photos to see, but there were the relics of olden days set up proudly on the walls; old swords and plaques glinted in specially-made cases, and she even saw the remnants of an old flag hanging in a darkened corner.
The family crest was in a spot of honor near the front foyer; she looked in interest at the armoured arm raised with sword in hand, encircled with a coronet. Along the upper curve she saw two words in latin, Pro Libertate. For Liberty. She wondered briefly what liberty it was that the family Wallace had fought for that had led to their motto-- the same liberty from England that the famous William Wallace had fought and died for so long ago?
‘This house is yours for as long as ye’re here, lass,’ Grant had said the day before. ‘Feel free to look around, aye?’
Her sightseeing led her to aside room, open and airy with comfortable sofas and a table to rest in. It was here that she found what photo albums the family had, and feeling only a little guilty she found the latest one, very worn by frequent handling. There were few photos from recent years, but she caught sight of William and a dark-haired woman standing together in front of a car, smiling at each other. On another page she saw a much younger Grant sitting beside a lit Christmas tree, his dark hair and full beard making her again double-take at the resemblance with Hardy.
That was who was missing: Hardy himself. She had to go far back into the album to find him at all, and there were missing places in its pages like some of the photos were missing. The only question was who had removed them; Hardy himself, or Grant?
The photo she found that finally included him was old and faded, crinkled with age but still quite clear; seven different faces peered up at her, four girls and three boys, all of various ages but no younger than four or five. Pulling it gently from its cover she peered at the date and realized that he would be one of the older boys. Turning it back over, she scanned the different smiling faces-- and there he was. The familial resemblance to both his father and brother was even more pronounced in the photo, with his hair a more vibrant auburn than it was now, and of course there was no carpet of dark beard hiding a lot of his face anyway. His smile in the photo seemed to take over his entire face, and she felt a peculiar pang of sadness realizing she had never seen that in all the time she had known him.
“The various cousins.”
Grant’s soft voice made her jump guiltily, and she turned in her seat to find he had wheeled himself quietly into the room beside her while she was occupied. His expression was a peculiar blend of fond and sad as he looked at the photo. “Sir?”
He nodded at it. “They had just finished a play about the tale The Dracae-- where women and young lassies are lured to the depths of a river by water spirits to live in servitude for seven years. They frequently did that growing up when they met up for a family gathering-- they would spend all day practicing their various roles, rehearsing, and then after dinner they would perform it for us adults.”
“They did this.. often, then?” Looking closer she found that they were all dressed in various costumes, the girls draped in skirts and their hair pulled back, and the boys all wearing robes to hide their features. One of the girls had bright green makeup on her face drawn like scales, and another had blue.
“Whenever the family gathered, aye. It was a different play each time, too, they never did the same one twice.” He pointed at the oldest girl, a redhead with dark eyes. “That’s Marcie, my sister’s eldest. Beside her--” The girl with the green face, “is Chelsea, her younger sister. She was the unlucky lass lured into the water that day. Then the lad beside them is Bram, my brother’s child. He was one of the hags that dwells beneath the waters. The two girls sitting beside him are Theresa and Tiffany-- twins, my younger sister’s. And of course, ye already ken my Alec and William.”
Her gaze drifted again to the Hardy in the picture-- Alec, she corrected herself, because whatever he had told her about taking up his mother’s name at thirteen, in the photo he was Tom’s age. And genuinely happy, to boot, at least in that moment at least. “It’s odd,” she confessed quietly. “For a long time, I didn’t think he even knew how to smile.”
Grant’s expression shifted then, something dark and grieving and gone so fast she wasn’t sure she hadn’t imagined it. “Alec always was a quiet child, somber, and he watched more than he spoke. But whatever griefs he had wi’ me and Will, he always made sure to come to the family gatherings-- he loved seeing the lassies, and they him.” He looked at her for a long moment, gauging, then said, “If ye’re agreeable to it, Ellie, I’d like to invite them over to meet ye. It’s been too long since they’ve seen Alec, and I think ye’d serve nicely to keep him calm.”
Ellie’s mouth tightened. “It’s not my job to play referee for your son, sir,” she said a mite coldly. “I wouldn’t be here at all, except for William’s apparent idea of a joke.”
“Ye think that Will acted on his own, lass? I spent my time looking into yer history, and I instructed him to invite ye along if he were to run into ye while in Broadchurch. I didna think Alec would be so stupid as to pick another woman like Tess to work with.”
On another day, she might have become angry at the clear jab at her character, but now she was too much on guard to do anything but laugh. “Now I know where Hardy’s habit of lashing out comes from. If you think I’m going to be manipulated that way, you’d better rethink your strategy.”
“Would payment be a better option, then?” he asked smoothly. “Or has Alec already taken care of that?”
His words didn’t register for a moment, and she gaped stupidly at him until they did. Fury choked her. “How dare you! How dare you, to suggest such a- such a-- do you really think I’m so easily bought? That I can be bought at all?” She found herself on her feet without recalling jumping up, the photo album spilled messily onto the floor between them. Her voice shook with fury. “Go ahead and do whatever you want, sir-- I’ll be heading home tomorrow.” She turned on her heel and made to leave, but froze when he spoke up quietly behind her.
“Ye’ll find yer job lost when ye get back to Broadchurch, then, Mrs. Miller, if ye do leave tomorrow.”
He sounded so off hand, so callous, that she felt a genuine thrill of dread down her spine. She gritted her teeth anyway and refused to back down. “I’d like to see you try and make that happen.”
“Ye think I canna do it? Or that I wilna? The Wallace family has a lot of influence, ye ken.”
“So I’ve been told.” Her heart was flying in her chest. “But what about Hardy?”
For the first time, Grant seemed surprised. “What about Alec?”
She took a deep breath, and let it out slowly, feeling like she was about to plunge into deep unknown waters. “So we work together. Have done for several years now, and on a lot of cases. What would he say if I mysteriously up and left my job?”
He waved a hand derisively, and she wanted nothing more than to slap him for it. “My son doesna work well wi’ others, Mrs. Miller, and anyone will do for a colleague. He’ll find the next DS perfectly suitable, I’m sure.”
She swung back around. “Are you sure about that?” she demanded, and she advanced on him. To his credit, he stood his ground, unperturbed by her anger. “Just for that, sir, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do: your son is an adult, and he can bloody well play kindly with others on his own volition. I’ll stay after all, and meet your bloody family, but I won’t be helping you, sir-- I’ll be helping him. Watching his back so that his family doesn’t fucking stab him in it.” And giving him the coldest smile she could, she turned to leave again-- before pausing and looking back. “And he may not have many colleagues he’s worked well with, but you’ll recall he asked me to help him solve Sandbrook. Think on that before you start playing your games, yeah?”
It was a good five minutes later that reaction set in, and she realized exactly what she had said to whom. Her hands were shaking and she stuffed them into her pockets to hide it.
We’re colleagues, she thought fiercely, squeezing her eyes shut as she paused in the hallway. That’s it. Colleagues.
She and Hardy were not friends. They still fought like the dickens every chance they had, she still wanted to hit him upside the head with a shovel every other day, and he clearly felt the same about her.
So when had she suddenly felt so damn protective of the annoying bastard?
A mother’s instinct, she supposed; during Danny’s case, her interactions with him made her think she was the exasperated mother to his unruly child, and she had not been pleased with the illustration. There were days she still felt that way.
But then on the other scale there was Sandbrook, and his telling her about finding Pippa. There was the night in his hotel room, when he had been the softest she had ever seen him, his damaged heart breaking for her. There were the moments now where he asked her about parenting, when they could discuss their children like any proud parents should. Cups of tea brought to work in the mornings, dinners bought and eaten at his desk on a late night, and their bench to sit on watching the sun set some evenings after wrapping up a case.
No pubs, yet, but she would wear him down eventually.
She jumped about a mile. “Christ, Hardy, don’t do that!”
The knob actually looked amused. She was going to take back every nice thought she had had of him and kick him in the knee for good measure. But then, this was one of the first times she had seen him approach anything like humor since arriving in Scotland, so she supposed he could be given a reprieve. “You shouldn’t be so distracted, then,” he said simply, and then he paused when he realized how she looked. “What’s happened?”
“Why did you choose me to help you with Sandbrook?” The question slipped out without thought, and she was just as taken aback by it as he so clearly was. “Was it just because I was convenient, and close enough that you could stronghold me into doing what you wanted?”
A shadow crossed his face. “Dad’s been talking to you, hasn’t he?”
“What makes you think that?”
He scoffed. “I’ve put up with him for decades, Miller-- I know how he works. What did he say to you?”
She hesitated, and the shadow deepened in his expression. Before she could speak, he was turning on his heel and striding down the hallway, pausing only briefly when Ellie tried to reason him out of confronting his father. “It was nothing, Hardy, he was just being an arse--”
“He doesn’t have to stick his nose into everything, Miller, and I won’t have him doing it now--” He turned into the room Ellie had left Grant in and she very nearly walked into him when he stopped abruptly. Peering over his shoulder she realized that Grant had been unable to pick up the fallen photo album, and its pages lay half-crumpled and smiling up at the ceiling. The picture of all the children was partially hidden by the sofa, and she watched Hardy’s expression soften as he looked down at it.
“He told me you all had performed a play,” she said quietly. “That you did that often, growing up.”
His gaze didn’t leave the photo. “We did,” he said, just as quietly. “Before we all grew up, and grew apart. After Granddad died-- Dad’s dad, I never knew my mum’s-- we all just… drifted apart. The only one I ever keep in regular contact with is Chelsea.”
“Why is that? I mean, I… Lucy and I, we don’t have cousins or aunts and uncles. I would think families would stick together if there were so many members.”
Picking up the album, he placed the photo carefully in its slot and smoothed out the page. “You’d think,” he agreed softly. “But Granddad and Grandma were the people who held us all together. After they were gone, we never met up for holidays or the like anymore. And after the accident…”
Ellie’s ears pricked. “What accident?”
He looked annoyed at the slip-up, but knew she wasn’t going to give up her questions. “I don’t have many memories before the age of twelve,” he explained, horribly offhand, and her stomach twisted. “A head injury, or so I was told. I don’t remember anything about it-- but it’s hard to keep up relationships if you don’t recall them, you know?”
The silence was stifling. “I’m sorry,” Ellie finally said, feeling it inadequate.
His mouth twisted. “Don’t be,” he said shortly, and flipped the album shut with a snap. He stood and turned to look her in the eyes. “I wanted your help with Sandbrook at first because I wanted to distract you,” he confessed without shame. “I didn’t think you would become so invested in it, but you surprised me. In a-- lot of ways. You’re a fine detective, Miller, and solving Sandbrook-- that only cemented it. I was… proud to have your help, I couldn’t have done it without you.”
“Yes, well,” she said with an uncomfortable twitch of her shoulders, “not bad for a rural copper, yeah?”
He outright smiled at that, albeit ruefully. “Should’ve known you wouldn’t forget that.”
“I didn’t,” she said primly, smiling herself, but she sobered quickly. “For what it’s worth, I’m glad I helped you solve it, knocks on my abilities aside.”
And just like that, they were on point again-- which still wasn’t the best of prospects, considering it was his father they were discussing. “He threatened my job,” she finally confessed when he kept pushing the issue, and continued hurriedly on when his expression darkened again. “He wanted me to play your referee when your family comes visiting, and I was tired of being manipulated, so I- I threatened to leave early, in the morning.”
Now he merely looked frustrated. “Miller! I told you what to expect when we came here, didn’t I? What the hell were you thinking, saying that to him?”
“You told me that William would make me lose my job,” she said tartly, stung. “You never said anything about your dad pulling the same trick.”
“Aye, well, Will had to have learned it from somewhere.” This was said with no small amount of asperity. “So what did you do, then? After he threatened you?”
“Well, you came up in the discussion, we shared some-- ah, some back and forth, you know, and then I finally told him I’d stay after all… if only to watch your back.” This she said so hurriedly it came out as a rush, and it took a very long moment for him to fully compute what she had just said. “I know I shouldn’t have said it, so don’t bite my nose off, Hardy, I want to kick myself for giving them any idea about what we’re like--”
“You think Dad doesn’t already know? Miller, he had a pretty good idea when he found out I had gone back to Broadchurch the second time.” It was his turn to shrug uncomfortably at her incredulous look. “He was right, the old bastard-- I don’t work well with others, and I’ve never gone back to a job and a colleague after I’ve already left them once. You should’ve seen the look on his face when I confirmed I was moving back to Broadchurch.”
“Hysterical, I’m sure-- but I thought you didn’t come here often? How did your dad find out about your various-- er, activities?”
He rolled his eyes. “I came down to recuperate,” he said irritably, but she thought it was from memories and not her actual question. “Will was off in London for his charitable work, and this place is usually big enough for me to avoid Dad if I really want to. ‘Sides, Millie’s here, and she’s a good ally to have at your back.”
“It also helped you stay out of the limelight when the news of Sandbrook broke,” she said with a raised brow. She’d wondered at the time why there had never been more than one statement from him following its closure, but she supposed hiding in a large manor house in the middle of Scotland would do the trick of keeping the papers from asking him too many questions. “How long were you here for, then?”
“A month. I left as soon as Will came home; we fight worse than me and Dad, if you can believe it. So I went back to Sandbrook-- like I told you before-- to try and fix things for the family. And you know how that went already.”
She did; the day they had sat together on the wall discussing Trish Winterman’s case had been an enlightening one, on many fronts, and it had not been a moment she had taken lightly. “I suppose it was too broken to fix,” she said before she could stop herself, and flushed in mortification. “Oh my god, I did not mean how that sounded, Hardy!”
He merely sighed. “Suppose you’re right. I’d hoped…”
He didn’t finish the thought, but the direction of it was all too clear; surrounded by his childhood home and its memories, how could it not be? “How much of that wanting,” she asked quietly, “was because of your own parents’ failed marriage?”
His gaze was sharp when he looked at her, but he didn’t speak immediately. Instead, he stood and went over to the mantel of the fireplace and took down a framed picture of an older kind, an older stern woman peering out at them. This picture he removed from its spot to draw out a second one, this one much more recent and colorized. He handed it over and Ellie looked at it in silence, almost afraid to touch it. “My mum,” he said unnecessarily, because of course Ellie already knew that.
The woman looking up at her was not quite smiling, but there was a gentling of her expression and the lift of her brow that suggested good humor; her plaited hair was a deep auburn, her eyes the same shade of blue as William’s. And Daisy’s, she realized suddenly. She saw a lot of Daisy in her, in fact, the family resemblance undeniable between grandmother and granddaughter. She was also, Ellie thought with a soft pang, quite young.
“She was fourteen when she married Dad.” Hardy’s voice was quiet as he spoke, his expression twisted with something she couldn’t name as he looked at the photo. Ellie’s head jerked up to meet his gaze, aghast, and his mouth wrenched bitterly. “Aye, I know. Millie says she lied about her age to get Dad to marry her, and he didn’t know the truth until a few years later. By that time, they’d already had me, and Dad wouldn’t hear of divorcing her. I suppose they cared for each other in the beginning, but… they fought. Screamed. Threw things at each other. And afterwards, Mum would find me and William where we had sat and listened to it all and tell us everything was fine. That she and Dad had only had a disagreement.” He was silent for a long moment then. “The final night I was in Sandbrook before coming to Broadchurch, Tess and I fought badly. I don’t remember what it was about, but afterwards I walked down the hallway to find Daisy listening at the door-- and I told her everything was fine, and her mum and I had only had a disagreement.”
Ellie drew a breath in sharply; she couldn’t help it. The bitterness of his expression grew, and he took the photo back, looking down at that innocent visage, still several years from her tragic ending.
“I suppose I have Mum to thank for coming to my senses then,” he said, and Ellie found she couldn’t speak. “She taught me the cost of staying in a loveless marriage, and damned if I was going to let history repeat itself.”
He put the photo back where it had been, and Ellie sat in troubled silence for a long time before she finally shook herself. “Does Daisy know about her? Your mum?” she finally asked.
“Besides the fact that she’s dead?” he said bluntly. “No. She’s never bothered asking, and I don’t plan on telling her anything unless she does. She’s dealt with her own broken family-- she doesn’t need to know the details about mine.”