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You Can't Go Home Again

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January 17th, 1966

Today I met the handsomest man I’ve ever seen. He was observing the horse races just as Father and I were, himself in the company of his own father. My questions led to his name: Grant Wallace, of the famous clan (could there be any other?), and potential lord of his family’s estate.

He really, truly is very handsome. Brown hair and eyes, just like most of England’s population, but very unique shades of brown nonetheless, I think. His hair is, anyway. I haven’t gotten close enough to see his eyes, but I’m sure they’re beautiful. He’s so tall, too!

Ellie paused in her reading to think about the shrunken frame of the man she was familiar with, and felt a pang in her stomach at the comparison. She didn’t know the story of how and why Hardy’s father was in a wheelchair now besides his nameless fatal condition, but it was somehow tragic nonetheless to read about his vibrancy while young. Mairi’s voice was growing stronger to her the longer she read, an entire person all to herself, and Ellie felt an even stronger pang of loss knowing that all of her wit and humor and realness was gone, too, and had been so for over thirty years.

This journal entry was short, but Ellie could imagine the teenaged Mairi Hardy giggling with her friends about the cute boys they’d seen-- maybe sneaking the dirty bits from magazines when their parents weren’t looking, like she and Beth had reminisced about and laughed over together not so long ago.

The clock struck eleven in the hallway, and Ellie shut the journal gently to put it away. It would be time for lunch soon, and the Wallace family would be coming for their visit shortly, and Ellie wanted to make sure that Hardy was ready for it.

Hell, she needed to make sure she was ready for it.

The first person she ran into after leaving her room was Will, who luckily didn’t seem inclined to talk, and he passed her by with a mere nod. He was already dressed in an impeccable shirt and wrinkleless trousers and dress shoes, as if he were going to a gala instead of a mere family gathering. She rolled her eyes and continued on her way, heading to the porch to see if Hardy was there; halfway there, she ran into Millie. The old maid was always flittering about like a hummingbird, and now was no exception, but she still took the time to ask how Ellie was doing.

“Good, thank you,” Ellie said with a grin, fond of this older woman and her no-nonsense ways. “You?”

“Ach, ye ken how it is,” Millie said with a shake of her head. “The meal is begun for dinner, and I’ve just finished putting up all the breakables for when the family comes.”

“They’re all toddlers, aren’t they?” Ellie asked dryly, and it was Millie’s turn to laugh.

“It does seem that way, doesna it? No, they’re just a family of hot tempers, the lot o’ them, and ye’ve got to let them tire themselves out. Doesna do to interrupt them before they’re done screaming.”

Ellie shook her head, unamused. “At least I can shut my son Fred in his room if he throws a big enough tantrum.”

Millie turned a gimlet eye her way. “I’d done the same for the lads growing up, several times. Willie especially.”

“He wasn’t very talkative today. Do you think he’s preparing a grand speech for when the family comes?”

Ellie meant it entirely as a joke, and she was therefore taken aback when Millie’s gaze sharpened like hawk’s sighting prey. “Ye saw him? Just now? Where?”

“Ah- down the corridor towards the back door, closest to the gardens. I think he went outside.” Her surprise deepened when the old maid swung around on her heel and strode down the hallway in the direction indicated, leaving Ellie to scramble along in her wake. “What’s wrong? Why are you looking for him?”

Millie didn’t pause in her walking, didn’t even glance at her. “It doesna concern ye, Ellie, but I thank ye anyway. I’ll take it from here.”

Ellie stopped mid step and had to stop her jaw from dropping. She’d never heard the old maid sound so short before, nor so grave, and her instincts prickled with unease. What could be so concerning about Will that had Millie so suddenly secretive?

Manners told her to leave it alone, that it wasn’t any of her business. But she still harboured a sense of indignation towards the entirety of the Wallace family for their easy high-handed use of power, and her propriety was not at its best right now. With only the slightest hesitation, she followed after Millie to the back gardens; the door didn’t make a sound as it opened, and she made sure it clicked shut behind her quietly. She could hear voices already, and they quickly became more apparent the closer she walked to the wide expanse of lush green plants and bushes and flowers.

“-ken ye’re having a rough time of it, lad,” Millie was saying gently, “but ye ken the importance of taking it.”

“But what’s the point, Millie? It doesna do anything!”

“That’s the depression talking, lad, and ye ken that as well. Did ye keep up with taking yer prescription while in London?”

His voice was oddly muffled, like he was running his hand down his face. “I did, but I’ve misplaced the bottle.”

“When was the last time ye took it, lad?”

“I dinna ken.” He sounded clearer, but genuinely puzzled. “What day of the week is it?”

Millie made a low noise in her throat. “Come on back into the house-- I found the bottle today, lost in the laundry. Ye’ll feel better when ye’re back on track.”

“Aye,” Will said, as bitter as Ellie had ever heard him before, “made normal only because I take pills like clockwork, and if I miss one I’m a fucking basketcase.”

Her stomach twisted hearing that, and she refused to admit that it was pity. Millie’s voice was still gentle, but with an edge to it. “None of that now, William. Ye’re no basketcase, and ye never were. Dinna let what ye’re feeling now convince ye otherwise, because let me tell ye, lad-- there’s no such thing as normal.”

The words were another dull blow to Ellie’s stomach, realizing how right she was. It had been something she had concluded for herself when she went to counseling during her exile from Broadchurch, the fact that even the calmest and most ideal life held some dark secrets, and that the happiest person could in fact be fighting thoughts of suicide.

She hadn’t been prepared to entertain the thought that Will could be harboring something like that, though. Telling herself off for a heel, she kicked herself mentally and backed away, knowing that she really had stumbled across something she shouldn’t have. The door luckily reopened as quietly as it had a minute before, and she slipped back inside and fairly ran down the hallway in her haste to get away.

~/~/~/~/~

Ellie watched Will furtively out of the corner of her eye that evening, but he seemed perfectly all right now; of course, in the bustle of people and the growing noise she didn’t suppose he could have a meltdown in front of everyone. Standing where she was close to Hardy’s side, she allowed her attention to drift elsewhere and tried to stay as out of the way as possible, amazed at how a crowd completely changed the feel of the large manor house. Staff and servants went to and fro seeing to everyone’s comforts, and the smell of cooking meat and vegetables from the kitchen made Ellie’s mouth water in anticipation. Dinner was still a while to go, however, and she was in the midst of a group of strangers with not even a drink to keep her company.

It still stood that Ellie Miller was a social creature; she genuinely loved greeting new people and making friends-- which made it so difficult for her now, since she would always have to live with the shadow of Joe hovering over her. These people, whoever they all may be behind closed doors, did not look at Ellie like she was the depraved ex-wife of a child murderer and that was enough for her to greet them all with a wide grin and a cheery greeting, making her way through the crowd making small talk before eventually making it back to Hardy’s side. He was the most carefully groomed she had ever seen him before, and certainly the tidiest, with his beard cut close and his dark hair swept back from his face. Still wearing a godforsaken suit, but this one was more expensive than she was sure the rest of his wardrobe was put together, and it was more form-fitting than what he usually wore. She had already snuck some photos, to show Beth later. And he wore it like it was nothing so special.

Ellie herself felt much more self-conscious in her own outfit; having been so shortly notified about this impromptu trip, she had had little time to prepare for it, and the dress she had grabbed from the few remaining that she had was not up to par with even a simple family gathering. Millie had taken one look at it where she had laid it on the bed and directed one of the maid’s to find a fitting dress. What Ellie had been brought was nothing short of a gown, a navy blue so dark it looked black, with off the shoulder elbow-length sleeves and a floor-length skirt that was carefully bunched along one hip and then fell away in a smooth wave. It was certainly the most expensive thing she had ever worn, and the fact that Millie told her it was hers to keep was discomfiting.

“How can I keep it?” she had demanded, wide-eyed and unable to believe it. “I didn’t pay for it!”

“Aye, and who d’ye think did, Ellie?” came the easy response. “And he’ll no be pleased to hear ye talking of returning it, so hush yer gob and wear it.”

She glanced over at Hardy now; he had barely glanced at her appearance all night, but there had been a moment when she had stepped into sight and his expression had been so smug she’d been tempted to take her shoe off and throw it at him.

She wasn’t sure whether to be flattered or disturbed about the fact that he knew what her dress size was, but knowing him if she brought it up she would scar him for life. Better to let the bastard have his moment-- lord knew he wouldn’t have that amongst this group.

He wasn’t treated as a pariah by any stretch, but she had still had the sense of strain whenever he was greeted by the odd family member, the inability to immediately know how to navigate greetings and conversations. She could tell who truly disliked Hardy easily enough, though-- their covert glances as they mingled reminded her uncomfortably of the same looks she and her coworkers had given him during Danny’s murder investigation.

“If looks were daggers,” she said quietly to him now, “I think you’d be dead right now.”

A corner of his mouth twitched at a dry smile. “Aye, but they’ll not say anything about it. I’m still Grant Wallace’s firstborn,” he said in lieu of her confused look, “and that means I’m heir to the estate when he’s gone. They aren’t going to risk antagonizing the future head of the family.”

That floored her, and she stood in silence as she let that sink in. The revelation of Hardy’s background was still truly hard for her to grasp, still aweing in its fact, and still he would say something so blase like that and throw her even more off-kilter-- and this was by the far the most troubling.

She was surprised by the panic this revelation brought. When Grant did die, would Hardy leave Broadchurch again to live here?

“Ellie-- there you are!”

The delighted exclamation drew her rudely from her thoughts, and she startled as she turned to look for who had spoken. The woman who had said it was standing on her other side, looking vaguely startled herself at Ellie’s abrupt movement, and then she chuckled ruefully. “Ah-- I’ve done it again,” she said apologetically. “I’ve a habit of sneaking up on people-- completely not on purpose, you know--” here Hardy, who hadn’t been at all surprised by her appearance, snorted, and she turned a mock-glare to him, “and don’t listen to anything Alec says about me, because it will all be true.” She held out a glass for Ellie to take, which she did with a small nod of thanks.

“That traumatizing, are you?” Ellie asked as she took a sip of the drink.

The woman laughed outright at that, thoroughly amused. Perhaps a bit of that came from how much she’d had to drink already, but she wasn’t at all insulted. “I’m Chelsea Wallace, Alec’s cousin.”

“I know,” Ellie said bluntly. “He told me.”

One ruddy eyebrow shot up as she turned to look at Hardy speculatively. “Did he, now? He’s told me a bit about you as well. We’ll have to compare notes.” She held out a hand suddenly to shake. “Pleased to finally put a voice to the face.”

“Oh?” This Ellie said with a raised brow as she took another drink, already knowing where this was going.

“Aye. Couldn’t keep up with Alec’s doings in Broadchurch without seeing you alongside.” Her expression sobered, and her voice was quiet when she spoke next. “I am truly sorry for what happened.”

It had been nearly five years, but the reminder of Joe’s betrayal was still enough to leave her breathless sometimes, as it did now. Where William’s veiled nods to her family was meant to hurt, Chelsea’s was genuine regret-- and Ellie wanted to know just how much about it all that Hardy had told her. She settled instead for a nod and a muttered ‘thank you’, and didn’t miss the way Hardy relaxed slightly, as if he had been afraid she would fly off the handle.

She covered her annoyance by finishing off her drink, so she wouldn’t be tempted to say something she would come to regret. When she came back up for air, she found both Hardy and Chelsea staring at her. “What?” she demanded, and Hardy was opening his mouth to reply--

“Didna ken ye hang out with sots, Alec.”

Will’s snide remark made her stiffen automatically, but before she could speak Chelsea had beaten her to it. “Didn’t ken you cared, Will,” she said smoothly. “Or do you think none of us know about the flask you hide in your room?”

He flushed a mottled red. “Been sneaking into places ye shouldna be, I see,” he retorted. “Always sticking yer nose where it doesn’t belong.” His sharp gaze flickered briefly to Ellie, flat and calculating, and she felt the hairs on the back of her neck prickle. “Both of ye. Ye’d be a perfect match for my brother, Ellie-- were the rumors true, then? Were ye both fucking during that boy’s murder investigation, setting up yer husband to take the fall?”

The room tilted suddenly. Ellie only realized that she had moved at all when Hardy’s hand was suddenly holding her wrist in a crushing grip, her hand only inches from Will’s face. His expression was as remote and icy as she had ever seen it before as he stared his younger brother down-- ultimately, it was Will who looked away first, the challenging alpha wolf stepping down. “You shouldn’t be spouting off rumors you don’t even believe to be true, William-- and that boy’s name was Danny. Maybe you should be human enough to remember that.”

The flush deepened, and Will didn’t look up to meet Hardy’s gaze again, barely even glancing at Ellie. “I’m… sorry,” he muttered, and if there was perhaps a note of genuine regret there she had no intention of acknowledging it. She found she was trembling, her breath coming in short gasps, and her chest felt tight, and even though the bustle around them had not lessened she felt as if every eye was upon her. She clenched her jaw and glared at him until he finally turned and walked away.

Chelsea was looking at her with deepened admiration and sympathy; Hardy hadn’t glanced her way at all. The tightening in her chest grew worse. “Air,” she gasped out, and shoved her empty glass into Chelsea’s free hand to stumble off.

She found herself outside minutes later, seated at one of the tables overlooking the south garden, far enough away from the bustle of the party that she couldn’t hear it. Her phone sat in front of her, reflecting the pale sky in its face, her conversation with Tom and Fred long over with.

Talking with her boys had calmed her, their voices exactly what she needed to hear, and she was fiercely grateful that it would only be a couple days and then she would be back in Broadchurch. She and Hardy could go back to their normal selves, and she could forget this ever happened.

“Miller?”

She’d heard his approaching footsteps and hadn’t needed to guess who it was-- she was merely grateful it was him and no one else. “Hardy,” she sighed, leaning back in her seat tiredly. “I’m sorry for running-- it doesn’t help with that whole proper etiquette image you told me about.”

“Damn the etiquette.” His voice was clipped and harsh, rough with barely suppressed anger, and she turned in her seat at the same time he handed her a full glass of what appeared to be more whisky. He took a seat beside her and stretched his long legs out underneath the table, glaring out in the distance as she sipped at her drink. “I’m sorry I dragged you into this.”

“Good,” she said bluntly. “You should be.” The silence was stifling between them, until finally she shook her head and spoke again. “But it’s not your fault, not really. I can see why you spent so much time at your Gran’s house rather than here.” She tilted the glass back and forth on the table as she thought of what to say next, grasping desperately for something that wasn’t going to upset them both even more. “And I’m not angry at you, Hardy.”

“Oh, good,” he said sarcastically. “I’m glad it’s not me this time.”

“Thank you.” The words slipped out unbidden, but she didn’t try to take them back. He turned to look at her in amazement, and she met his gaze squarely. “For sticking up for Danny.”

His expression softened slightly after hearing that. Danny’s absence was still keenly felt amidst the tight-knit group of Broadchurch; even though Hardy had never met him while alive, he had seen first-hand the grief and the holes his death had ripped into everyday life. The dead suffered no ill-word-- and that was especially true for children. “You’re welcome.”

They sat in the peaceful quiet for a long time, until finally he shook himself and stood. Ellie’s glass was empty, which she saw him grin at, and then he was helping her to her feet. “C’mon. We only have to make it a couple more days, and then we’ll go back home.”

It was most likely the drink making her feel generous, but she beamed up at him with real affection. “I like the way you think.”

~/~/~/~/~

December 27th, 1969

Marriage isn’t what I imagined it to be. And being a mother is a lot harder than I had ever been told about. If I'm not feeding the baby, he's crying, or needing changed, or not settling down for a nap. Grant is busy with the estate every day, helping his father with their accounts, or else he’s out at the race track with his friends. I have M. to help me with the baby, but why can’t I have my husband with me to do that? It’s not proper-- or so my mother-in-law tells me. ‘The man leads the household,’ she told me today. ‘The woman’s job is to maintain it.’

Aren’t those two things mutually inclusive? What’s the point of having a life together if we’re never together? At this rate, Grant will never know Alec at all, and I’m so angry about that. All he seems to care about is his precious family name being continued on through a son.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me. It started shortly after I turned fifteen, and I can’t figure it out. All my thoughts are ugly and dark, and I have so little energy to do anything anymore. I want to spend time with Alec, I want to play with him and show him I really truly love him, but I can only handle doing so for a little while, and then I feel listless and drifting again. The idea of trying to maintain a house this size is frightening to me.

I wish…

~/~/~/~/~

January 17th, 1970

I’ve just reread my last journal entry, and I can’t believe how badly I sounded! I don’t know what was the matter with me, but it appears to have finally lifted, thank God! I have so much more energy back, and Grant and I have spent so much more time together in the last week than we have for the last six months. I’d forgotten how much I loved him, and how wise he is. When I told him about how I’d been feeling just yesterday, he chuckled and kissed me. ‘Oh, that’s all in your head, my love. Give it time, and such feelings will pass.’

How could I live without him?