Chapter 1: Part 1
Scotland, Ellie found, was really nothing at all like Dorset—both in the good and bad ways. Of course, part of that mixed bag stemmed from the fact that she was finding out more about Alec Hardy than she had ever thought she would get to.
The air was crisp and settled deeply in her lungs as she stepped outside; fog was still clinging to the fields and wide lawn spread out around her, the sun only just beginning to rise for the day. The object of her search and the current direction of her thoughts was seated on the porch watching the sky change color, still in his jammies and wrapped in a tartan blanket.
The family tartan, he had explained to her in low tones a couple of days previous. Every Scottish clan had one—this one was a particular shade of deep green, a stripe of light green, and red.
She stopped beside the seat Hardy had claimed as his and sat down beside him, her breath pluming in the air, desperately trying to think of a way to start a conversation. It turned out, though, that she didn’t have to.
“Go ahead, Miller,” Hardy muttered, drinking from a cup that was what she presumed was tea. “Ask your questions. Lord knows you’ll never leave me alone otherwise.”
He had never given her such an opening before, and Ellie was automatically wary of it. She could tell he was uncomfortable and overwhelmed, prone to be more snappish and grumpy because of it, and she had no desire to be his proverbial punching bag. She settled for the generic. “How’d you sleep?”
He side-eyed her, his wry expression letting her know she was fooling no one, but to her surprise a hint of a grin pulled at his mouth. “Should be askin’ you the same thing,” he said, “seeing as you slept in a dungeon last night.” Maybe there was more than just tea in that mug. “Didn’t really sleep, no.” The dark circles under his eyes confirmed that all too well. “Didn’t really expect to, either—never did. Always preferred the house in Glasgow.”
His birth certificate said he was born in Glasgow; his police files stated that Glasgow was his childhood city. Hell, even his accent was distinct Glaswegian. “You didn’t spend much time here, I take it,” she said dryly.
“Could say that. This house was always too big growing up. Still is.” He buried his face and that confession deep in his mug; somewhere behind them they could hear the quiet murmur of voices in the kitchen, the rumble of laughter in conversation. Ellie gazed out at the spread of the grounds that surrounded the old house, the Hardy family home for over three hundred years and felt a little awed despite herself. “Stop that, Miller.”
She jumped slightly. “Stop what?” she demanded, glaring over at him.
“You know what. That reaction is the reason why I never told anyone.”
Ellie thought about that—really thought about it—and deflated. “Suppose it’d be a bit hard,” she admitted quietly, “never knowing whether someone was being a genuine friend or just trying to get the perks.”
Hardy snorted, setting his now-empty mug aside. “Not many perks to the family name anymore. Hasn’t been since me Gran’s days.”
“Not much--? Hardy, are we even looking at the same land right now? This whole place is a perk for someone who hasn’t been raised in it! A twenty-bedroom manor with a stables, grove, and over five hundred acres of land? You’re really telling me that that’s not much?”
“Aye, and since the upheaval of Scottish land titles and classes there’s very little use for an aristocracy.” Disdain dripped from that last word. “Gran told me stories of entertaining Elizabeth II. Her mum, George V. This whole estate is falling into disrepair—or haven’t you noticed?” That last question was said with a hint of snideness.
Ellie bristled again. “Of course I noticed, and don’t knock my detective skills just because you’re angry at your dad. Go and have a row with him if you’re so bloody keen.”
He could make no response to that, not truly; not when she was right. His dad was the only reason why Ellie had discovered anything about his heritage, the titles he kept so tightly under wraps, and despite his tendency to lash out when cornered, this time he had a better target.
It had started when Hardy kept on getting calls from an unknown number—that, and the secretive bastard became even more closed-mouthed about it all than normal. Ellie had asked him about the calls exactly once, curious about the way he seemed to blatantly ignoring those attempts to talk with him—she had seen him pick up a call from Tess, after all, so who did Hardy dislike even more that he would ignore them? Her singular attempt was met with an icy glare the likes of which she hadn’t been the recipient of since Danny’s murder investigation, and she hadn’t dared to ask him about it again. Not yet.
Anyway. It didn’t seem that she needed to inquire about it now because the answer was quite smugly and calmly sitting in Hardy’s living room. Ellie had stopped by at the Hardy’s residence on the way home from work to ask about some paperwork and seen that the sliding glass door was partially open and the quick sharp retorts of an argument grew louder the closer to it she got. Concerned, she had knocked on the glass and when there was no pause in the argument she had let herself in.
“—it’s selfishness that’s driving you, Alec, just like always! He’s asked for you specifically--!” An unknown male’s voice, but with a Scottish accent that was even thicker than Hardy’s.
“And if you understood anything about Dad’s agreement with me,” came Hardy’s sharp retort, “you’d realize the only selfish one here is him!” Oh, he was definitely angry, maybe the angriest she’d ever heard him yet, and even she cringed at how savage he sounded.
Her quiet voice stopped the argument dead in its tracks, voices cut off in mid-sentence, and Hardy came around the corner of the kitchen into view, his hair standing on end the way it did when he ran his fingers through it in agitation. “What, Miller?” he barked, scowling furiously at her.
“Oh, very nice, Hardy,” she snapped, crossing her arms and returning his glare with interest. “I came over to see if you had those files to look over and saw your door open. I wanted to make sure no one had come and murdered you after being insulted one too many times. Sir.”
To his credit, Hardy did look rather shame-faced at the explanation, which was more than he usually gave as apology, anyway. Before he could speak up, his visitor did so for him from over his shoulder. “I think I like her, Alec. Anyone willing to call you out on your shite is fine in my book.” The man stepped into view was just as tall and thin as Hardy, with the same reddish-brown hair, but he had ice blue eyes instead of brown. The family resemblance was definitely there, and she could only stare at him in taken aback silence.
Hardy sighed and rolled his eyes. “Leave it, will you? Will, this is Ellie Miller—Miller, this is my younger brother William. Who was just leaving.” He directed his glare to said brother, but Will ignored him completely and sat down on the sofa instead.
“I’ll do no such thing, Alec, not until you say you’re going to do what Dad asks and come down for a visit.” His smile was far too feral to be genuine, and Ellie’s instincts raised their heads, analyzing and observing this stranger even as she navigated the information that Hardy had siblings. A sibling, at least. “And you know me too well to take that as an idle threat.”
Hardy looked ready to kill, which was truly concerning. He only grew outright hostile to those he hated, after all, and she found herself tensing automatically in case she needed to intercede. “Fine,” he ground out. “Call the bastard and tell him I’ll be there when my schedule allows it.”
Will shook his head. “Not happening. I know you, brother dear—I’m telling Dad you’re coming in a week. No exceptions.” His pale eyes flitted briefly to Ellie. “And you’ll bring your partner, too. Dad will very much want to meet her, after all.” And with that final, rather ominous, remark he stood, brushed off his coat, and left the house as if he had never been there at all-- leaving the door open behind him.
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.”
I spent a fair amount of time researching the various Lowland clans of Scotland for this, deciding which one I would have Alec be a part of. As far as I could tell from maps, Glasgow borders where the Highlands end, or is very close to where they end, anyway-- but it's still considered Lowland, so I needed to find a clan that exists either in or around it that was Lowland. I was leaning towards a distant branch of the Boyds of Scotland since they seem to have some presence in Glasgow, but then I came across the Wallace's and they seemed to fit what I needed best. Hopefully this all doesn't seem too outside the realm of possibility.
(The William Wallace name-pun likely had something to do with it, too. I couldn't resist.)
Chapter 3: Part III
Ellie’s first glance of the inside of the manor was of a wide open space and handsome arching walls of stained dark oak, well-lit and warmly inviting. Then her attention was diverted by the sound of approaching footsteps down the hallway, and her vision was suddenly filled with the sight of a woman’s green skirts and white blouse.
“Alec-me-lad! We’ve been waitin’ for ye to come for some time now—ye’ve nearly missed dinner.”
Ellie was witness to a softening of Hardy’s expression that she had very rarely seen before—he even smiled. “As if you’d ever let me starve, Millie,” he said with a wry grin, and pulled the old woman into an embrace.
Ellie hastily closed her mouth and shook her head sharply, smoothing her expression of incredulous surprise out before the woman, laughing, pulled back from Hardy’s arms and turned now to Ellie herself. Her smile now was professional enough, but it lacked the warmth of a moment ago—a switch that most wouldn’t pick up on. “And I take it ye’re the latest of Alec’s colleagues, ma’am?” she asked genially, and Ellie heard it as the challenge it was.
“Millie,” Hardy said quietly, softly chiding. “Drop the act, aye? This is Ellie Miller.”
The change in the so-named Millie’s disposition was instantaneous; the detached professionalism vanished abruptly into genuine pleasure and welcome. “Ah, so this is who helped ye solve Sandbrook, then!” she exclaimed, and claimed Ellie’s hands in her own wizened ones. “I’ve dearly wanted to meet ye, Mrs. Miller—Alec’s told me ye’re one of the best he’s worked with!”
Ellie’s eyebrows shot up, and she shot Hardy a look. “Really?” she asked slyly, and he rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably as he stepped away. “I’m flattered, sir—now if you could say that during my evaluation, I would appreciate it even more; it’d be on record that way.” She turned back to the waiting Millie, her own expression considerably warmer than even a moment before. “I’m pleased to meet you, too—though I’m afraid you’ve caught me at a disadvantage, Mrs—?”
“Brannan,” Millie said decisively. “Millie Brannan, but ye can call me Millie.” She didn’t wait for Ellie’s answer, then, but turned smartly on her heel and strode off, talking all the way. Hardy half-grinned at Ellie’s look of surprise and hoisted his duffel in a tighter grip to follow her down the hall. Feeling half in a daze, Ellie did as well, Millie’s running commentary passing in and out of her conscious hearing as she looked around at her surroundings. “—needed someone new for the kitchens, as Auld Gary finally decided to up and die on us a month ago—”
“Gary’s died? I thought the old bastard was going to live forever.”
“Aye, that’s what we all thought, ye ken. Fell down dead of a stroke right after dinner, and left a sink full of dishes, too—!”
Just as it had on the outside, the inside of the house was grand, handsomely built—just enough to hide at the first few glances the marked deterioration that prevailed over it all. It was still livable by all means, and so much more than anything that Ellie had ever seen in Dorset before, but the ghost of what this manor had to have been before still lingered. She was hard-pressed not to openly gawk at everything, and she found it especially hard not to keep looking at Hardy’s back as she walked behind him. He had grown up here, amidst all this grandeur and pomp; undoubtedly played along these halls and eaten at the grand table that she glimpsed in one of the dining rooms. Perhaps broken one or more of the objects on display on the side tables and glass cabinets.
“We’ll get ye both settled before we go to Himself,” Millie was saying when Ellie came back to the present. “He’s been wanting to see ye for quite some time, Alec.”
“I know,” he said gruffly, and Ellie felt suddenly comforted by the fact that he was still his short, impatient self. “Will made that that very clear when he came up to Broadchurch. What does Dad need now? Another appearance by the eldest son at a banquet?”
“None of that, lad,” Millie said with a sharp look back at him. “Ye’re back in the family home now, and ye’ll show yer father due respect. At least until he opens his mouth and starts his usual spiel.”
Ellie’s respect of this woman shot upwards at an increasing rate; of course, dealing with this family that was basically Hardy times three would take someone of a steel spine. She would have to hear some pointers on how to diffuse Hardy’s temper so easily, too, because rather than become indignant or ignore the telling-off, he merely made a dubious sound deep in his throat and shook his head.
They walked in silence for a time, then, until Millie paused at the foot of a staircase. “Are ye going to settle in now, then, Alec, or did ye want to wait? Yer room is ready, and I’ve put new sheets on the bed.”
He shrugged. “I’ll peek in but I want to see to Dad before dinner. Less chance of thrown dishes that way.”
Ellie snorted, then blushed when both of them looked at her. “And here I thought my family dinners were tense,” she joked, and Millie laughed outright.
“Tense isn’t the word, dear—the kitchen staff use the cheapest dinnerware when the family is together because something is always broken when they sit for gatherings.”
Ellie wasn’t sure whether to laugh or not hearing that, even if Millie’s expression was light-hearted. Luckily, it didn’t appear she needed to respond to that because again the latter was moving on without waiting. “We’ll let ye o on ahead, then, and I’ll show Mrs. Miller her own room.”
“Call me Ellie, please,” she said quietly as they walked. “I’ve never really cared for the last-name basis habit.”
The assessing look that Millie gave her was a short one, but startlingly effective. “No,” she said quietly, as she stopped in front of a closed door halfway down the hall. “I don’t suppose ye like it at that. This here’s where ye’ll be staying, Ellie. Same as I told Alec—it’s cleaned and ready, and fresh sheets on the bed for when ye need to rest.”
“How much has he told you?” Ellie found herself asking bluntly. She would feel mortified by her distinct lack of manners later, but right now she was struggling with a sense of fury and shame that Hardy would have aired her dirty laundry out to this woman.
Millie, for her credit, didn’t feign ignorance or surprise at the question. Meeting her gaze steadily, she simply let one grey eyebrow sidle upwards. “Enough,” she said quietly, and waved Ellie through the doorway. “Now, place yer things where ye want them, and meet Alec at the foot of the staircase. Himself is waiting.”
As it turned out, Himself wasn’t waiting for them—or at least he wasn’t in the room that Hardy led them to. Millie had disappeared as effectively as she had first appeared, and Ellie was feeling distinctly wrong-footed again, and grumpy because of it. “How many more surprises am I going to have to find out about today, Hardy?” she asked as he closed the door behind them. If this room wasn’t an audience chamber, she would eat her orange parka.
“Not many more. At least for today.”
She glared at him. “You bastard, you like this, don’t you?” she demanded. “Seeing me off-guard, out of my depth—”
“As if you don’t still laugh at me when we’re at Broadchurch,” he retorted lightly, hands shoved deep in his pockets. “Or did you forget the, ‘You’re barely on the water’ bit when I first showed up there?”
That stopped her for a moment, because he had a point. She did still laugh at him when he showed that despite over three years of living in a small town he didn’t understand it. Of course, she realized, looking at her surroundings now she was beginning to suspect he likely had a good excuse for that.
“I didn’t spend a lot of time here, Miller.”
She started. “Would you stop that? It’s like you’re reading my mind, and it’s bloody freaky!”
He didn’t smile, but there was definitely amusement there in his gaze. “I can’t help it if your expression is so bloody open,” he retorted smoothly. “You’re making it easy to know what you’re thinking right now, what with your gaping at everything.”
“I’m not gaping,” she muttered, crossing her arms and intensifying her glare to hide the blush that wanted to bloom on her face. “Where did you spend your time, then, if not here?”
“Gran’s. She had a small house in Glasgow.”
That, of course, told her nothing. Seeing the size of this manor, she truly didn’t know what he constituted as small—although he had seemed comfortable enough in the little blue bungalow during his first stay in Broadchurch. So maybe the house really had been small. She decided to leave that alone and instead filed away the fact that he had had a grandmother and apparently one he was close to, if he had chosen to live with her. She wasn’t sure if she was discomfited or triumphant that she was finally learning more about his past, even if it hadn’t been his idea.
Probably discomfited. He hadn’t chosen to tell her about this, after all.
The deep voice behind them made her start again and spin on her heel, surprised that she hadn’t heard the approach of footsteps. Then she finished her turn and saw why; the man who had spoken was seated in a wheelchair. He had once been a tall man—taller than Hardy, who was no slouch in that department—and clearly powerfully built, but both atrophy and age had wizened him into a former husk of his former presence, and a quick glance at Hardy showed her the stricken look on his face, quickly smoothed away into studied indifference. Clearly this man’s condition had worsened since the last time he had seen him.
“Dad.” She was positive that only she picked up the slight tremor to his voice as he spoke. Otherwise it sounded like he was addressing a stranger.
The old man’s face creased in a half-smile, pleased and rueful at once as he looked Hardy up and down slowly. “Ye look healthier than the last time I saw ye, son.”
“You don’t,” Hardy said bluntly, stone-still. “Will didn’t tell me your condition’s worsened.”
“It’s done more than worsened. Doctor’s given me six months.”
The bluntness of that statement took even Ellie’s breath away, and she stared in consternation at him. What the hell kind of greeting was that? It was then that she finally noticed the challenging look in the man’s eyes, and the answering response in Hardy’s own stance, and she wondered who would break first.
“Six months too long, if you ask me,” Hardy said smoothly, and Ellie’s own sense of propriety snapped.
“Sir!” Her exclamation was much louder in this wide expanse of room than she would have expected. It did grab the attention of both of the men, which she was pleased to see. “You,” she pushed on fiercely, “are a knob. Don’t be an arsehole, too.”
Vulgar, she knew, but it did the trick to stop him in his tracks; it also unfortunately drew the man’s attention to her. His eyes were the same brown as Hardy’s, and just as shrewd and calculating. “So this is the famous Ellie Miller,” he said quietly. “I saw ye solved Sandbrook a few years ago, when Alec asked ye for help. I’m sorry about yer husband.”
Ellie had grown used to the remarks about Joe, both the innocent, well-meaning, and the snide—but she still felt like she’d been punched in the gut by this man’s words. She fortified her suddenly tight stomach and wet her dry mouth. “I am, too.”
She was surprised when his expression softened ever-so-slightly. “I have ye at a disadvantage. I’m Grant Wallace, Alec and William’s father and lord of this estate. I’m pleased to see ye here.”
Ellie opened her mouth to say that she didn’t really have a say in the matter, then caught Hardy’s eye and hastily cleared her throat. “I’m honored I was invited here,” she said instead, smiling widely at him, and saw how some of the tension left Hardy’s shoulders. Clearly there was a test she had just passed, because the now-named Grant Wallace nodded and glanced swiftly at his son. Something sad seemed to flicker there deep in his eyes, but then it was gone.
“I’m only sorry it was because of Will’s machinations that it happened. Ye’ll be handsomely compensated, of course, for the time ye’ll be here—”
“There’s no need, really—”
“She’ll be just fine with that, Dad,” Hardy interrupted her firmly, glaring at her briefly before turning his attention to Grant. “And she’ll appreciate it, too—won’t you, Miller?”
She had been about to slip up again; turn down an offer she couldn’t refuse. She saw the amusement in Grant’s eyes and felt a brief flare of fury at the sight—the smug bastard was laughing about it! She swallowed down an angry retort and spoke through another fixed smile. “Very much so, thank you, sir.”
This time, Grant laughed outright. “Ye’re not a good liar,” he said genially, “but I thank ye for the attempt anyway. Now—” And just like that he was on to other topics, maneuvering his wheelchair around so that he faced Hardy again, “I had Will bring ye back for a visit for the simple matter of settling the estate. And who will secede me here.”
The silence that fell immediately afterwards was chilling. Ellie felt her arms prickle with it, the sense of sudden danger too great to ignore, and she was afraid to glance over at Hardy. His stilted breath was enough answer all in its own.
When he actually spoke, his voice was strangled with fury: “You haven’t changed at all, have you, you bastard?”
With hands clenched at his sides, he turned and stalked off without another word, leaving Ellie to scramble after him. If she had felt wrong-footed before, it was nothing to how she felt now, and she was hard-pressed to dig her heels in and demand to know when the hell she had entered a family daytime drama.
‘Elaine is upping my pay after this,’ she thought grimly as the door swung shut behind them, but while Hardy kept walking on, she was in no way prepared to talk to him. He would simply lash out in frustration; better to let him walk it off, which by the direction he was going—the side door—he was clearly planning on doing.
So that left Ellie to do—what, exactly? She paused in the middle of the hallway and breathed through her own mounting frustration. She was hundreds of miles away from her home, her sons, and everything familiar, and thrust into a situation that she didn’t know how to navigate. And the only one who could help her through it was currently throwing himself a fit.
“I’m going to kill him,” she muttered to herself.
“Alec tends to have that affect on people, ye ken.” Millie Brannan looked a bit sorry when Ellie jumped, but she didn’t apologize. The truly sympathetic look on her face was enough to soothe her irritation over the unintentional fright, anyway. Millie came over from where she had stood in the shadows and sighed. “It’s verra rare any family gathering goes smoothly here, and with Himself so ill… it’s no going to be easy now, either. Now, ye go and get changed into a different set of clothes and sit for a while, dear; dinner will be ready in about thirty minutes, and ye’ll need to be ready for it.”
“What about Hardy?” she found herself asking, glancing back at the outside door. “He usually goes walking for hours.”
“Dinna worry about that,” Millie said with an odd sort of grim satisfaction. “There hasna been a day of that lad’s life I havena been able to make him listen.”
“Have you always been an employee here, then?” Ellie asked curiously.
Millie’s mouth twitched, but it wasn’t with amusement. “Since before the lad was a twinkle in his parents’ eyes.”
Chapter 4: Part IV
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.”
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.”
I might have been a bit influenced by Mycroft Holmes's first appearance in BBC Sherlock while writing Ellie's talk with Grant. Oops?
I'm warming up to Grant the more I write him. William, not so much.
Chapter 6: Part VI
There was definitely underhanded dealings going on with the Wallace family-- where Ellie had been assured of this visit only being a week, this so-called last minute family gathering was put together suspiciously quickly. Within a day, the date and time was put down and sent out to the various family members, and the responses took hardly any time at all to come back, affirming their attendance.
Grant Wallace was clearly more conniving than she had first estimated-- and it seemed he planned for everything.
Having such a control freak for a father, she decided, must have had as much of an impression on Hardy’s psyche as his parents’ fights did; she could see how restless and uncomfortable he was as time went on, and the day of the family gathering grew nearer. When he finally disappeared altogether after dinner a couple of evenings before the family’s arrival, Ellie assumed he had gone to the family cemetery again, or was out wandering the groves of trees that flanked the great house. When dusk came and the house started to settle for the night, there was still no sign of him, and Elie felt uneasy enough by it that she slipped her shoes on and went searching for him.
It fell to the elderly servant Frank to point her in the right direction. “He’ll be in the stables, ma’am,” he said quietly as he passed her in the hallway. Ellie allowed herself one moment to pause and wonder what the hell he was doing there, and then she turned smartly on her heel and went in the opposite direction. The outside air was cool, the smell of fresh pine invigorating, and she breathed deeply as she went, wondering what was going on in the stables that Hardy would find them a refuge.
Not a refuge, she discovered after a moment; at least not completely. At first she thought that Frank had told her wrongly-- there was no sign of anyone there, but then she heard the low discomfited groans of an animal and she made her way down the aisle to one of the corner stalls. A heavily pregnant mare lay on her side in a bed of thick hay, swelled belly rippling with a contraction, grumbling her pain; Hardy sat in the corner of the stall, watching the mare carefully.
He knew she was there. “Miller.” His voice was soft and drowsy, and not loud enough to even startle the mare; clearly unbothered by what he was seeing. “Why aren’t you in bed?”
“I was making sure you hadn’t made a run for it,” she said with some bite-- she was tired, after all, and of course he was costing her sleep even if they weren’t on a bloody job. She jerked her head towards the groaning mare. “How’d you get stuck with this job, then?”
He shifted slightly in the hay, but only to brace himself more comfortably against the stall. “Ewan needed a couple hour’s sleep-- Merry’s been laboring for a while now, and he’d been with her the whole time. I sent him off for a break.”
Ellie’s stomach tightened with sympathy and remembered pain as a particularly prolonged contraction made the mare shudder. She eyed him critically. “Do you even have experience with this sort of stuff, Hardy?”
“I’ve never given birth, no.” This was said so dryly that Ellie couldn’t help but grin. “Granddad had trained thoroughbreds for racing, though, and I spent some time in the stables with him. Birthing mares was a regular occurrence.” His gaze drifted back to the said mare, who was lying quietly in preparation of the next contraction. “I’d forgotten what it was like.”
“What,” Ellie said with equal dryness, “hot, agonizing, and messy?”
“You’re the one who’s gone through it. Why don’t you tell me?”
She rolled her eyes and let herself into the stall, being careful not to disturb the resting mare as she slid down the wall to join him. “Knob. If you weren’t busy already, I’d smack you.”
One of his rare grins crossed his face as he glanced over at her again. “I’ll make sure to stand still, then, so you’ll be sure you can hit me.”
She really did slap his arm for that, amusement and irritation both warring to show itself—the amusement won this time, though, and she chuckled despite herself. The longer she sat there, the more she began to understand why he had taken up the job of watching over the said Merry; the birthing was clearly some time away still, and in the meantime the silence was a comfort.
Hardy preferred silence to a lot of noise; not only did he frequently go on walks along trails that were usually empty of tourists, but he was not one to listen to music at home, either, or have the telly on very often even as background noise. Whether he had always been like that or if he had had to learn to enjoy it through the chaos of the job she didn’t know, but she could appreciate it nonetheless.
“I don’t think I’ve been surrounded by so much silence since before Tom was born,” she remarked with some surprise.
Now it was his turn to chuckle, a dry rough sound from disuse. “And then you decided to add to the noise by having another one.”
She sat in the quiet for a long moment, trying to ignore the pang in her heart. “It was Joe, really,” she said quietly. “He had been an only child, and he always said how he’d always wanted a sibling growing up. I-… I’d suffered a miscarriage three years after Tom was born. Six months in.” Her voice was rough and flat. “We’d been so afraid to attempt any more after that, but there was always that want there, the desire to have another one. I’d thought we’d missed our chance by the time Fred came along.”
His attention was squarely on her again. “I didn’t know that,” he said softly.
Her smile was slight and bitter. “Miscarriage isn’t something most women are going to parade around, you know?” She sighed. “But it happens a lot more than anyone really thinks about… and it hurt for a long time afterward to even think about attempting pregnancy again. Fred was a difficult birth, and the doctor warned me the outcome next time would not likely end up so well, but to see him sleeping in my arms, still all pink and wrinkly… it was all worth it. All of it.”
He was still looking at her, his gaze remote and far away from the here and now. “Do you… think most women think that way? That having children is worth it?”
“I’d like to think so,” she said slowly after a long moment. “Plenty of abandoned and neglected children to say otherwise, though.” It was a sobering thought, and she sat in troubled silence as she thought about it. How often did she hear about that through friends in the job, and on the news? Then she realized what he likely meant by his question-- Daisy was an only child, after all. “Are you-- are you talking about Tess?”
It was his turn to look away. “She never wanted more than Daisy. And whatever else she is, Tess is a good mother-- but she didn’t like the pregnancy, and swore that our daughter was the only one she’d ever have. I didn’t fight her on it-- I’d always been afraid that if Daisy had a brother or sister, they’d be like me and Will, bickering and fighting amongst themselves. I’ve always thought that being an only child would be a good thing.”
“Siblings are overrated,” Ellie said dryly, by way of benediction, and had the pleasure of hearing him laugh quietly again. They were silent for another long moment, then she spoke again. “Do you and Will ever get along, Hardy?”
“After we’ve had a few drinks, aye.”
Ellie straightened abruptly against the door, realization clicking into place. ‘That’s why you’re so relaxed right now!” she exclaimed accusingly. “You’ve been drinking, haven’t you?”
“Took you that long to catch on, eh?” With another slow grin, he reached to the far corner of the stall and withdrew a bottle of whiskey, which he handed over to her. It was still quite full; clearly he hadn’t been at it for awhile, which was somewhat of a relief.
“Drinking on the job, sir?” she asked wryly, and took the cap off to take a swig of it herself.
“I’m allowed to. I’m on vacation.”
The whisky was smooth and finely aged, with the singular oaky taste to it that identified it as genuine Scottish drink, and her eyes widened with surprised pleasure. When she surfaced it was to his raised brow and a full-blown smirk on his face. She coughed into her fist, feeling the heat of the drink settle in her stomach and sear her throat. “I can see why.”
He laughed again freely, and she thought with a pang that seeing him a bit squiffed was endearing. Certainly he was a lot easier to deal with being so than his usual brusque and aloof self. “You’ve never woken up with a hangover from it yet.”
“And I take it you have.”
He scoffed. “Please. Scots don’t get drunk.”
Ellie took another drink and then passed it back over to him. “I can only imagine the family gatherings with this involved.”
“It’s the only thing that doesn’t get thrown against the walls.”
It was Ellie’s turn to laugh then, the warmth of the whisky still pleasantly thrumming in her stomach, and settled in more comfortably against the door to watch over the mare with him.
When she finally made it back to her room and bed, stiff and flushed from the whisky she had imbibed, she didn’t immediately notice the book until its jagged edge pinched her leg. Startled, she jumped up again with a cry thinking it a spider of some kind before seeing its dark cover partially hidden by the blanket. Frowning, she bent down and picked it up, trying to remember whether or not she had fallen asleep reading the previous night.
She hadn’t. And when flipping the pages open, she realized that the words she was seeing were handwritten. A fair hand, but thin and at times meandering, like the person writing had had a hard time concentrating on their words. Ellie didn’t truly think anything of great significance about what she was looking at until she noticed the names springing out at her: Grant, and Alec. With an unpleasant twist to her stomach, she flipped to the front page and found the name of this journal’s owner scrawled there: Mairi Elizabeth Hardy.
Ellie’s throat was tight, and she stared down at the book with a mix of amazement and consternation. Her first thought was to go and find Hardy and show him what she had in front of her-- but he already knew about this, surely? Maybe that was where the journal had come from-- maybe he wanted her to know more about his mother.
She should have felt more guilty about opening the first page to read, but a single fact stood out above all for the justification: someone had clearly meant for her to see it and read its contents.
Whatever else I may be, the first entry said, I am not a writer. I have no interest in a career of professional writing, and nor do I wish for my life to be read aloud by hundreds upon thousands of people. I have trouble keeping track of my thoughts as they come and go, and perhaps putting them to paper will help me in my endeavor to be more organized. So there will likely be a lot of punctuation mistakes and the like mixed in while I’m writing this-- but I don’t need an editor, so I’m not concerned.
Ellie grinned despite herself; she could almost hear the dry Scottish drawl in her ear as she read, the wit so readily apparent even in these slightly-faded words. Glancing at the date, she saw that Mairi Hardy had written this in June of 1965.
Roughly four years before Hardy himself was born, then. Ellie flipped back to where she had left off reading with the mental note in the back of her mind, her fascination only growing.
Mum will likely never realize that her writing lessons have paid off-- but that’s alright, too, as she merely has faith that they have and doesn’t ask me to show her proof. We must make a good impression in the world-- and literacy is a very important part of that. It proves you are not a dunce.
Or so she tells me.
But dunce or not, I still have no serious interest in writing. This is merely an exercise, an attempt to collect my thoughts and make me understand how I work. I hope it’s not considered selfish or arrogant to speak of oneself in one’s own journal, but there is no one besides God who knows a person’s heart better than the one who lives with it every day.
Ellie dropped the book in her lap and felt a sudden shiver down her spine. ‘You can never really know what goes on inside somebody else’s heart.’ Would Mairi Hardy have found it poetic that her son would say such similar words some forty years later? To Ellie herself, in fact, and the memories of that horrific night following Joe’s arrest came back with such vivid force she very nearly had the wind knocked out of her.
She put the journal carefully on the side table, suddenly afraid to touch it, and did not fall asleep until after she heard the clock in the hallway strike three.
Chapter 7: Part VII
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.
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.
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?
“Have you seen Hardy this morning?”
“Lost him again, have ye?” Grant’s mouth twitched in a wry grin, sympathetic with Ellie’s plight. He looked exceptionally tired in the bright light of the dawn, and she assumed he was in pain as well, if the fine trembling of his hand against his thigh was any indication. “He’s always had a habit o’ disappearing without a word.”
“To my everlasting frustration,” Ellie said with a roll of her eyes.
The grin deepened ever so slightly. “He’s not here this morning-- he left with Chelsea earlier.”
“Left? Left where?” The bafflement was clear to be heard, her gaze automatically seeking out the nearest window and its beautiful-- if secluded-- view.
The grin had turned into a full smile now. “It’s Sunday morning,” he said simply. “They left for kirk.”
“Kirk? What’s--? Oh, you mean church.” A beat, and she shook her head, mildly incredulous. “Hardy goes to church? Willingly? Without a suspect to watch for, I mean?”
He chuckled, taking a drink of his tea. It was just the two of them at the moment for breakfast, but Ellie was sure that others would show up-- the house was stirring, and more socializing would begin all too soon. She filled her plate and decided on coffee this morning, feeling the effects of the whisky she had imbibed last night. “Alec has never been one to say no to Chelsea-- what she wants, she gets.” He sat in quiet contemplation for a moment. “Why d’ye insist on calling him by that name, Ellie? He’s a Wallace, through and through-- he’s no a Hardy at all.”
Her gaze was distinctly cool when she met his eye. “I call him that because he insisted on it since the beginning,” she said bluntly. “He put that line down very early on, and I haven’t crossed it-- because that’s what he wants.” She put her cup down on the table with a delicate thump, not looking away from him. “He said specifically he’s never liked the name Alec. Hearing the way William says it, I’m not surprised.”
He colored ever so slightly, a faint flush creeping up his neck, but his face was carefully expressionless-- very much like Hardy himself was when interrogating a suspect. She had seen that same look peering back at her the night she had first dared to ask Hardy about Sandbrook, and it was mildly disconcerting to see it now on his father. Grant was a man holding onto a secret-- a devastating one, or so it seemed to her.
Could it be him who had left the journal in her room? She was prepared to ask him that, but instinct stopped her at the last instant. From all intents and purposes, Grant Wallace had unpersoned his dead wife-- so why would he leave such a personal item for Ellie to purposely find?
“Will and I had words about what had happened last night,” he said now, his expression grim. “He’ll no be so disrespectful again.”
“Good,” she said shortly, in no mood to forgive what Will had said last night. “Because if he disrespects Danny again, I can’t promise I won’t tear into him.”
“That’s what I told him,” he said with a nod. “Ye’re more than capable to do it, and ye’d be in the right.”
She couldn’t help her smirk. “I knew there was a reason I liked you.” Her coffee finished, she started in on the meal, startled by the faint sense of camaraderie she felt with him. “But I suppose he’s safe from me-- as long as he keeps his mouth shut.”
“I’ll let him ken that.” He was silent for a long time then and they finished their respective meals with only the clanking of utensils to accompany them. “Ye realize how rare it is, Ellie?” he asked suddenly, and she paused as she stood from the table. “To find someone who won’t be bought off, or be a friend merely for the sake of friendship? For us, I mean?”
Ellie sat back down carefully, her heart twisting with pity. “I can imagine,” she said simply. “When we were on the train coming here, Hardy, he-- he asked me if he still irked me.” She smiled lopsidedly at his look of startlement. “It’s a bit of an inside joke, I suppose. And he does, and I told him so. Can you imagine how relieved that made him?” She shook her head at the memory. “At the time I just thought it was another one of his quirks, or maybe something to do with his apparent inability to even act human on some days… but then I came here, and saw everything he was born into, and I don’t imagine he had an easy time making true friends at all.”
“He didna tell Tess about his standing until they were marrit, did ye ken?” His own mouth twisted in a wry way. “She wasna happy at all to find he had given it all up-- she’s a proud woman, and no a very generous one at that. I suppose that’s one of the reasons their marriage didna work out.”
“Did you--?” She found she couldn’t finish the question, ashamed at the last second to be so nosy.
“Did I pay her off, then?” he asked bluntly. “That is one small thing in her favor-- she turned me down flat. But a good many of his friends and potential loves did not-- and none of them stayed by his side long after that.”
“Until he moved out, I’m guessing, at which point he had already learned people would be after his money and standing before they would be interested in being truly friends with him.” She shook her head, bemused and disheartened by the realization. “Christ, what a childhood.”
A shadow crossed his face at those words, and Ellie's heart twisted even more realizing the inadvertent insult she had handed him. She couldn’t take them back, though-- Hardy was proof enough about her statement, and her loyalty was to him above anyone else of his family. There was something else, though, some dark shadow in his eyes that had her instincts stretching tight and her detective’s sense raising its head, and began to ask,
“Oh, there ye two are! Everyone else is in the main dining room, and here ye’re sneakin’ quality time!”
The raised voice made Ellie turn more quickly in her seat than normal, and looking round she saw it was a dark-haired woman standing in the doorway, impeccably dressed and looking like she was ready for a photoshoot. She looked vaguely familiar, but Ellie had no idea how having met so many new people the previous night. The woman smiled at her, the red of her lipstick standing out beautifully against the black of her hair and the white of her skin, and thrust out a hand to shake.
“Una McNab,” she said brightly. “We met last night, but only for a moment.”
“Erm-- Ellie Miller.” She shook hands for a moment and saved herself from awkwardness by offering a cuppa, which was graciously accepted. “I met quite a few people last night, I’ll admit, so you’ll have to excuse me if I need my memory refreshed…?”
“Una is Will’s fiance,” Grant said softly, pouring the tea for Ellie to pass over. “They’re to be wed in the spring.”
Now she remembered; Will had begun the party with Una hanging onto his arm, she dressed in a floor-length gown of green silk that shimmered in the light. Owing to her dislike of Will, Ellie had spent the minimum of time saying hello to them both and then made her hasty departure for Hardy’s neutral company. Una had not been anywhere to be seen during her altercation with Will, though, which hadn’t occurred to her until now.
“Oh, I’d had to use the ladies,” Una said when asked about this. She waved a self-deprecating hand as she continued. “I’m afraid that champagne always goes straight through me, I’m off every hour! But I will say,” and here her expression sobered grimly, “that Will and I had words yesterday about it. There’s no need to go after either you or his brother like that-- especially by bringing up that poor boy.”
Ellie wasn’t sure if she felt grateful or annoyed with her, and settled for a generic smile and a murmur in her empty mug; she caught the wry look on Grant’s face as she did so and knew that he was not fooled in the least. “Well, it’s been a pleasure to be reacquainted with you, Una, but I’m going to go and take my dishes to the kitchen--”
“But ye dinna have to do that-- what do ye suppose the servants are here for?”
“Mrs. Miller was raised differently than us, Una,” Grant said hastily, seeing the darkening of Ellie’s expression. “I must say, it’s been refreshing seeing her helping the servants out as much as possible-- so many people forget to do that, aye?”
Una looked at him blankly for a moment. “Oh. Ah- indeed, Grant. I meant no offense, Mrs. Miller--”
“None taken,” she hastened to reassure her. “If you’ll excuse me--”
“If ye’d like the company, I’ll come with ye. I’ve never been to the kitchens before; it sounds rather exciting.”
There was very little less exciting than the kitchens at this time of the day, but Una’s expression was so earnest that Ellie almost laughed. Grant motioned her on with a sharp jerk of his chin, amusement warring with irritation, and she gave in. “All right. Come on then.”
She didn’t think she had ever seen someone so out of place in her life as Una in the kitchens, with her dress and perfect makeup amongst the clean yet plain tables and stoves and still-sooty fireplace. Her high heels clicked against the stone floor dimly as she bent and fawned over the quaintness of her surroundings.
“But there’s so much history here! Can ye even imagine what it was like two hundred, or even three hundred years ago when every meal had to be prepared over the flames? They would have had what plants that could be dried hung up in bunches up here--” and she waved a hand at the low hanging archways, “or stashed away in the root cellar to be used in the winter months. Milk would have been used daily, since they didna have a way to keep it cold for long; ice boxes didna exist until the 1800s, ye ken.”
“I-- didn’t know that, no.” Ellie felt fairly bowled over by the excitable stream of words washing over her; did some people really care so much for such inane detail? Apparently so, because the evidence was standing in front of her gushing over the archways in the ceiling. “So, ah-- what do you do for a living, then, Una?”
Will’s fiancé turned from her excitable talk as if the last few minutes had not happened. “Oh, I’m a museum curator; our focus is on Scottish history, of course, and its differences from the British. So many people only ken about the famous kings and queens-- ye ken, like Henry VIII or Elizabeth I, or Richard III-- and they forget that Scotland has its own long and rich history with our own kings and queens and battles. Most people today still dinna ken much about it; otherwise we would’ve chosen to break from Britain at long last during the independence referendum back in 2014.”
Ellie did remember that happenstance; who in Britain hadn’t been aware of that? She had been tempted to ask Hardy his opinion of it, seeing as it was his nationality voting, but Sandbrook had been distracting enough she never had. Considering the fact that he never showed any sign of being attached at all to Scotland, she doubted he even cared about the vote. “I’m afraid I don’t have much of a head for history,” she said with a self-deprecating smile and a shrug. “I was always more interested in mysteries and forensics.”
May 12th, 1972
Alec held the baby today-- with Grant’s help, of course. He’s such a good older brother right now, so helpful. Seeing the three of them together on the sofa made my heart twist, and I wanted so badly to believe it was with happiness; but I am not a fool, and I know I’m simply resentful. For two years Grant hasn’t given me the time of day but for the occasional moment in bed, or the odd day out without his precious job intervening. And even those are interrupted by someone needing him for his opinion, or his help, and he leaves me with Alec and now Willie too.
Oh well. I suppose I’ve got my revenge-- Alec calls me ‘Mam’ now, and he rarely calls Grant ‘Da’ at all. I’m the most important person in his life, and I will happily brag about that, and Willie will undoubtedly be the same way.
Anyway, I had to leave the room amidst their giggling before I said something I would regret. Not that I wouldn’t mean it, but it would only lead to me and Grant arguing again. What’s happened to the understanding young man I married? He doesn’t care about my visits to the psychiatrist, besides that he doesn’t want it to be heralded in the papers that I’m a basket case, and he frequently rolls his eyes and asks what a pill is supposed to do to help me with my mood swings.
I’ll have to organize a trip to London soon, to go and help with the charities. If I cannot alleviate my own suffering, perhaps I can help others with their own.
Ellie closed the journal with more force than she had intended, deeply uneasy by the direction of Mairi Wallace’s entries. She knew the ending of the woman’s story already but it was entirely different now, since she had had time to get to know her, and pity was building in her chest the farther she got in the book.
She had her own burgeoning suspicions about the circumstances into Mairi’s death, too, which had only deepened with her earlier talk with Grant at breakfast. Seeing as she was too far away from her usual resources to check into anything, though, she would need to call in outside help, and with a deep breath she picked her phone up.
She only had to wait for it to ring once before it was answered. “Hello, petal. How are things in Scotland, then?”
“How did you--? No, never mind, I can guess. How’s the vlogging going, Maggie?”
She heard the dry rasp of Maggie’s laugh; she could picture her sitting in Jocelyn’s living room looking at the incredible view of the beach from the front door. “Oh, better than I could have hoped for. I’ll be going to London in a week to join Jocelyn in celebration, so I’m getting my walking in now. What do you need, then, Ellie?”
She hesitated for a moment, wondering if Hardy would count this as a betrayal. “I need your help looking into a car accident that took place about forty years ago.”
“Oh, a cold case, is it? What’s the name I’m looking for?”
“Not so much a cold case, no, just… something’s not adding up. The woman’s name was Maira Wallace… nee Hardy.” The scratch of pencil on paper stopped abruptly on Maggie’s end of the line, and Ellie took a deep breath.
“Ah,” Maggie said softly. “And does your boss have any idea you’re looking into this?”
“No,” Ellie said shortly, “and anything you learn looking into this remains between us. Anything at all. Let me know when you find something.”
“I’m frankly amazed you allowed Chelsea to drag you anywhere, Hardy.” Smirking now, she outright laughed at the flush that reddened his face. They were once again amidst the bustle of a crowd of the many Wallace relatives, for one last get together before they all dispersed for their own homes, and she was determined to make him as uncomfortable as possible just for the hell of it. “Usually it’s you who strongholds someone into doing what you want.”
“Well, what Chelsea wants, Chelsea gets,” he muttered into his cup; water tonight, or so she thought. His pacemaker had settled the heart arrythmia, but he still watched his alcohol intake and eating habits. Ellie snorted now hearing his response.
“Your dad said exactly the same thing, you know.”
He rolled his eyes at that but didn’t speak. Ellie sighed and decided she would have pity on him.
“Did you know that ice boxes weren’t invented until the late 1800s?”
He side-eyed her like she was something deranged. “No, and I don’t think I care. Where the hell did you pick that piece of information up?”
“Una,” she said simply, and he shook his head.
“Should have known. She talks about useless trivia all the time.” He nodded at a passing cousin, but didn’t speak to them at all; the noise and the press of bodies was wearing at him, and she could see it clearly even if no one else did. Ellie sighed and gave up the game, taking the glass from him.
“Go on and leave, then. You need a break.”
He looked first so taken aback and then so grateful to her she felt a warm glow in the pit of her stomach. He didn’t linger at all, but turned on his heel and left out one of the side doors out into the corridor, and ultimately outside where the sun was setting and the air was cooling from the heat of the day.
Later on, Ellie would try to figure out what instinct it was that made her hesitate for a fraction of an instant, and then follow him. Perhaps it was simply that she had no interest in socializing with his family without him there; maybe it was her detective’s instincts, a thread of tension that she was not consciously aware of but realized it was there. More than anything, though, she thought it was likely the mother’s instinct, awakened by the absence of her own son’s and stirred up from reading Mairi’s troubling journal entries, that urge to protect and look after.
Regardless of reason, as it turned out it was Ellie who ultimately saved his life. Her instincts, already stretched taut to their limits, were enough to follow after him, careful to remain unseen in case he noticed her. It appeared that whatever tension she was feeling had not been wholly her own—as soon as Hardy had walked hallway across to the barns, she saw the slope of his shoulders slump with lost tension. He paused then, hands restlessly opening and closing, head tilted upwards so that he could look up at the open starlit sky; similar posture that she had seen several times during his various trips up and down Dorset’s cliffs. The sight sent an unexpected pang of homesickness shooting through Ellie’s gut, and her breath caught in her throat.
But then the moment passed, and he shook himself free of whatever thoughts were plaguing him. His long legs ate the distance of the field much easier than Ellie’s shorter ones, and she was nearly trotting to keep him in sight before she realized the direction he was heading—the family graveyard. His mum, she realized with a different sort of pang to the heart now. He’s going to speak to his mum.
Realizing the intense privacy of the moment she was about to intrude on, she began to veer off and head back to the house, instincts be damned—and due to this saw a lithe shadow detach itself from its fellows and race across the path. Before she could open her mouth to shout aloud a warning, the figure had reached Hardy’s side; he had appeared to have heard something at least, half-turned towards his attacker—and attacker it was, because the cry stuck in Ellie’s throat when he suddenly lurched, stumbled, and fell.
She was sprinting before her mind could fully process what she had just seen—déjà vu was a horrible feeling, and all she could see now was Briar Cliff five years ago. At that time of course it had been his heart that dropped him and left him choking on the ground, and there was an absurd moment that she was sure that the same thing had happened now. The attacker heard her approach—she saw a knife glint wetly in the fading sunlight before whoever they were turned and ran for the forest line; by the time she had reached Hardy’s side, they were halfway to it. Adrenaline made her muscles bunch in preparation for pursuit even as she knew she had to make Hardy her priority—
“Don’t, Miller,” he growled through clenched teeth; his hands were curled into his side and pressing down at the wound, white-faced with the pain but reassuringly alert. “Don’t follow them.”
She was already kneeling beside him, gently pulling up one of his hands to look at the wound. His shirt was already staining red, and she muttered a vicious curse under her breath. “Shit. Here—press down on this, Hardy!” She tore off her long-sleeve shirt and bunched it up tightly against his side, replacing his hands and placing her on top of his own. She felt absurdly level-headed for the situation—likely because he was awake and able to talk to her; if he were to pass out on her, it would be another story. “They’re getting away, you know.”
“Forest,” Hardy said through gritted teeth.
Fumbling one-handed with her phone, she glared down at him. “I know it’s a forest! What has that got to do with anything? They can’t possibly get far in the dark.”
He inhaled sharply at a sudden stab of pain. “How well would you travel a forest at night, Miller? Specifically one you don’t know at all?” he demanded snidely, and let his head fall back with a strangled groan as she pressed down hard on the wound. “Bloody fucking hell, this hurts!”
“So stop moving around so much, you knob!” Ellie snapped, worried and trying not to show it. She lifted the very edge of the jacket, pausing for a moment, and her voice was softer when she spoke next. “I don’t think it’s hit anything vital—but you’re not allowed to die on me anyway.”
“I didn’t ask to be stabbed!”
Her phone vibrated as it called 999, and she managed a shaky laugh at his indignation. “Well, clearly someone felt you deserved it. Now shut up and let me call an ambulance here.”
One plot twist down. I'm likely going to tear some hearts out with the second one.
Chapter 9: Part IX
I apologize for the long wait with this update: it's been a hectic past couple of months, and my reasons are threefold. First I started a different job with different hours which threw my entire schedule, and for a second my whole immediate family and I caught covid near the end of September. The third reason is in direct correlation with the second, since on my fourteen-day quarantine I ended up somehow rewatching the entirety of the old tv show MASH. And if any of you out there know what tv show I'm talking about, you'll know it's a long one, with over 250 episodes. In between feeling exhausted if I so much as washed my dishes for too long and watching the antics of our favorite Korean surgeons and nurses, I felt very little inspiration for this story until just the other day.
I'm working on the next chapter of this story even now, so expect another update very soon. I hope you enjoy, and stay safe.
“He’s sleeping, dearie,” Millie said three hours later, her voice soft and regretful as she closed the door behind her. The shadows were long in the hallway, the lights dimmed, and Ellie could barely make out her features. She nodded anyway. “Would ye like to take over watching him?”
“If it’s not too much trouble,” Ellie said, feeling uncomfortable even as she said it; the old woman saw a lot more than she ever said aloud, and she knew with her actions following his stabbing she had shown her hand—most of Hardy’s family had been so far convinced that she and Hardy were merely colleagues and not friends, but her subsequent actions following the ambulance’s arrival should have let them all know it. “Millie, I—” The old woman paused while walking away, one eyebrow quirking upwards in curiosity, and her expression smoothed over seeing the worry on Ellie’s face.
“He’ll likely be in danger still, won’t he? Ye say the police never found his attacker.”
“Likely,” Ellie said bluntly, and she was eternally grateful for Millie’s spine of steel—she merely nodded and went on her way.
“I’ll keep an eye out, Ellie. Go on in and make sure no one finishes the job, aye?”
Ellie waited until the maid’s stooped figure walked around the edge of the corner before she let herself in to Hardy’s room. A startling mix of trepidation and angered resolve tightened her stomach, the anxiety reawakened by her brief conversation with Millie thrumming in her bones, and her fear that Hardy’s attacker would try to finish their botched job. But the resolve spoke very plainly above that—he would only be murdered over her dead body.
As for the subject of her thoughts, she found him quietly slumbering in the bed, drugged into oblivion; the stitches in his side were painfully tender, and the tetanus shot was no walk in the park, either—the doctor had recommended the escape of sleep, and Ellie had backed him up. For now she was content to simply sit in the dark silence and ruminate. Seated in the chair beside his bed, she watched his chest rise and fall and was forcibly reminded once again of that terrifying night on Briar Cliff, and its subsequent rush to the hospital.
She had waited numbly for the doctors to stabilize him then, and when she was finally allowed in the room she had sat and watched him breathe with the help of the cannula, seen the startling scarecrow thinness of his body, and felt choked with rage. He had lied to her, allowed his willful deceit over his health to potentially jeopardize the case, and she had only grown more angry the more concerned she became for him.
She had gone home to Joe in the early hours of the morning—dear, sweet, loving Joe, who had seen the state of her and wordlessly pulled her into one of his hugs and then poured her a glass of wine, and sat on the sofa holding her hand until she stopped shaking. Joe, who less than four hours before had almost turned himself in for Danny’s murder and decided to run instead, which had set off Hardy’s heart attack in the first place. The fresh knowledge of her ex-husband’s deceit nearly made her gag and did make her eyes burn with tears now. Another memory spoiled.
She focused on Hardy’s steady breathing in the darkness now; not the simulated machine that had breathed for him following Briar Cliff, and there was no machine steadily beeping his heartbeat, which helped. Slowly Joe’s ghost receded with the emotions of that night, and Ellie was again focused on the here and now.
Her fury of the here and now had not abated at all, she found, but luckily the fear was gone, which left her remarkably clear-headed. Slowly and carefully she began to pick apart the attack, doing her utmost to distance herself from the dizzying sense of vertigo when she remembered the knife’s blade striking home, determined to find the culprit just as she had a hundred times before; all the while she remained on high alert, listening for any potential sounds that could be a further attack even in the dark of the night.
The house merely settled around her, its ancient walls creaking slightly and the water gurgling gently in its pipes. Hardy’s steady breathing didn’t change at all, and he didn’t show signs of waking by the time Millie came back with the dawn to relieve her.
“Get some sleep, dearie,” the old maid said kindly. “Ye’ll need it for when he wakes up.”
She fell into the bed without even bothering to fully undress and slept solidly for five hours, so tired that she found she hadn’t moved at all in her sleep; it had done her good, though, to have that rest and she was calm and collected when she made her way back to Hardy’s room.
He was awake, but not easily coherent. Ellie was almost sad she had left her phone in her own room, the way he seemed so loose-limbed and easy now. Millie was having to stop him from picking at the bandage at his side. “No, Alec, leave it be. Ye dinna want to be stitched up again, do ye?”
“How do I ken I have stitches if I canna see them?” He was peering down curiously at the blood splotch that had bled through the padding. “Is that a lotta blood, d’ye think?”
“It isna,” Millie said with fond resignation, and took his hand away before he could poke at it. “Cover it up and forget it’s there, aye?”
Just like a child. Ellie stifled a laugh and walked through the door, making sure to make enough noise to not startle them. Be that as it was, Hardy did startle as she approached and a most remarkable smile spread over his face at the sight of her.
"Miller," he said, and he was out of it enough his accent broadened it to Millah. "Or d'ye still mind Ellie?"
She had to bite her tongue to keep from laughing outright. “I think we’ll stick with Miller for now,” she said seriously. “I wouldn’t want to take advantage of someone who’s high, after all.”
“I’m no high,” he said with the greatest dignity. “I’m lyin’ down, ye ken?”
Oh god, she was going to crack a rib keeping herself from laughing. Millie was standing with bowed head to hide her own mirth, but Ellie had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing in his face. “Well, either way,” she said, and her voice only shook a little from her efforts, “I’m glad to see you awake now. How’re you feeling?” Besides high, but that’s not the point.
There was clearly something left of his usual self beneath the drugs, because she could see the visible frown on his face as he thought about an answer. “Floaty,” he said finally. “Dinna like it.”
“Well, if I haven’t heard that one before,” Ellie muttered with a slight smile now. “You’re fussier than my son, Hardy.”
“Could be yer son, the way ye mother me.” He didn’t sound too upset over that, actually, which was both endearing and worrying. It was only when he was at his most vulnerable that he confessed such things, after all, and she felt abruptly guilty that she was attempting to have a conversation when he was too loopy to censor his words.
But he wouldn’t thank her to be scared away now-- and he still needed someone to watch his back. Her curiosity won in this case as she sat down in the chair that Millie had set there. “Do you mind that, then? My mothering you?”
“Ach, no really,” he said drowsily. “Suppose it means ye care. Ye care about yer boys, ye ken that? Tough love, soft love, ye’ve raised ‘em better than anyone I ken.” He frowned then, thinking about that. “Well. Maybe Chloe Latimer, too. She’s a good kid. Beth should be proud.”
“I’ll be sure to pass it along, sir,” Ellie said dryly, but she was touched nonetheless. “Are you going to have any recollection of this conversation later on?”
She grinned. “Good. I’ll be able to tease you about later, then.”
“Someone hates me.”
It was said so matter-of-factly that she paused, taken aback. “Just because you were stabbed does not mean someone hates you. You specifically, I mean. could be someone just hates what your family stands for and decided to take it out on you because you were an easy target.”
“Ye gonna find them, Miller?”
She sighed. “You know I can’t. Glasgow PD is already looking into it; it happened on their turf, you know. They’ll turn up something soon, I’m sure.”
“Bunch of stupid nincompoops.”
She snorted now, half-amused. “Where did you come up with the word ‘nincompoop’, Hardy?”
“Millie. She called Arthur Duncan that one day.”
“Right.” She would have to ask who the hell this Arthur Duncan was, and what he did or said that had Millie calling him that. “Well, hopefully they prove you wrong. I don’t care for people who stab my boss.”
“Not fun,” he agreed with a nod. “Is that a lotta blood, d’ye think?” He was back to picking at the bandages again, and this time Ellie allowed herself a smile as she reached over to stop him.
“You really are as bad as Fred, my God-- stop that, Hardy, or I’ll videotape this and send it to Beth.”
He stopped mid-reach. “You wouldna.”
“Oh, I would,” she assured him with a satisfied smirk. “She’ll be horrified by the wound, but she'll love how adorable you are while high. Or,” she continued when he opened his mouth to argue, “I’ll go an extra step and adopt you. Then I can mother you all I like and you can’t say a word about it.”
He glared at her. “I’ll behave,” he finally said mulishly, and her smile softened at his tone.
“Do you need me to get you anything? The doctor said you’ll be bedridden for a few days.”
He didn’t even hesitate in his response. “Daisy. She needs to know what happened--”
Ellie gently pushed him back into the mattress as he attempted to sit up. “I’ve already called her, Hardy, and she knows what happened. She’s on her way here right now.”
“She’s coming here?” He really was a step behind today; she supposed she shouldn’t be surprised. “Miller, the attacker hasn’t been found yet!”
“Hardy, I tried to talk her out of coming, but she was adamant. And before you ask, yes, I did point out that very fact and it did absolutely nothing to change her mind. Bloody stubborn Hardys,” she muttered irritably. “So she’ll be here this evening, and that means you will not be an arse about it.” She glared at him when he didn’t immediately reply. “Right, Hardy?”
He looked ready to argue some more, his temper not to be taken lightly, but he was still too out of it to raise such an energetic fuss. He was close to falling asleep again, and she let him drift off without trying to find out more information about the attack. When he was aware he would be more help, but for now she was just happy to know he was all right.
Grant came to relieve her after a couple of hours, drawn and pale with both shock and pain. She supposed age had absolutely nothing to do with how concerned a parent was for their kids-- she knew that even if Tom or Fred were Hardy’s age, if she knew they had been knifed she would be near frantic and absolutely furious.
She didn’t stay very long with the two of them, but she looked over her shoulder to find Grant folded in on himself in his wheelchair and his long fingers reaching through the wide space of the bed to grasp Hardy’s hand in his own. She filed that away in the back of her head and felt a tickle of suspicion at the same time.
Glasgow PD was in charge of the investigation, of course, and she had been specifically barred from looking into the evidence being so close to the victim. As a result she was chomping at the bit as she tried to keep from demanding answers and chewing out the DI for being an incompetent busybody gossiper; it was with this feeling of frustration that she sat down and opened the old diary of Mairi Wallace. There were only a few dozen pages left in the book, and Mairi’s state of mind had gone in a worrying roller coaster of thoughts and emotions the longer the years went on.
The days are sunny now, and I’m feeling so much better. I’ve so much more energy to spend with Alec and Willie…
We hosted a party tonight, with all of our closest friends and neighbors. I don’t get much opportunity to host such extravagant get-togethers, but it feels so much like being a queen of my own castle that I will gladly accept the exhaustion simply to enjoy myself…
Grant and I had another fight the other day, worse than any previously. Do I even know him anymore?...
I was scared to go and comfort Alec last night after he had a nightmare. I couldn’t leave my bed, because he was in such a state I was sure his mood would bleed into mine and I’m already struggling to keep myself from flying apart. Instead I listened to him screaming and crying until M. went and comforted him, and this morning I’ve found my sense of guilt has built regardless…
I went against Grant’s wishes, and found a psychiatrist to talk to. He still says that what I’m feeling will pass if I simply try harder to make it so in my mind, but I fear that what is broken is my mind. I will have to hide this diary even better now, because I know someone is rifling though it when I’m not here, and this family gives even less credence to the idea of psychology as they do the idea of there being a God in heaven.
It could be that Grant was laying his sympathy on thick to make Ellie fall for a scheme; but she was too good a detective to look at anything at face value, and the more she read and the more she observed, the more her stomach knotted thinking about Mairi’s unfortunate ending.
Chapter 10: Part X
It's been awhile, I know. I haven't forgotten this story, though, so there will be following updates. It's a short chapter this time, but I hope you enjoy it nonetheless.
“So your vacation days are being extended, I guess,” Beth said dryly on her end of the phone, and Ellie snorted in both agreement and exasperation.
“Bloody Hardy’s-- well, Wallaces, I mean. And here I thought my family had drama.” Ellie rolled her eyes and sat back in her seat. “I’m stuck living a literal storyline from Days of Our Lives mixed with a dash of Midsomer Murders, and the DI here is bloody irritating.”
Beth chuckled. “It’s nice to hear you ranting about the state of your job-- or lack of it, anyway. How is Hardy doing, Ell?”
“Not high anymore, thank God. It was funny to see while it lasted, but I couldn't discuss anything with him at first because he was so out of it, and in the meantime our suspect is likely on their way out of the country."
The look Beth gave her was fondly amused. "Our," she chuckled. "You're not even on the case and you're referring to it as if you are."
"I should be. The DI is bloody well useless, and he doesn't even seem to care! It's like he thinks that since Hardy is part of this family, crime is a given."
Beth hummed irritably in the back of her throat. "Yeah, that’s a good detective. Does it really matter that someone was literally knifed in the stomach? No, because they’ve got money, they're just asking for it.” She caught Ellie’s flinch as soon as the words left her mouth and leaned forward as if she were physically there. “Ell?”
“Guess you can read me too well,” Ellie said quietly, mustering up a grin, but it didn’t stay long.
Beth was quiet for a long moment, troubled and sympathetic. “Can’t have been easy,” she said gently, “having to witness him hurting on the ground again.”
That did it; for the entire day Ellie had managed to keep herself wound up tight and in control, effectively ignoring the lingering panic of his attack. In one stroke Beth had managed to find the point of her stress and bring it up into the open. “Damn it,” she whispered, even as the tears burned in her eyes. She hastily wiped them away but more kept coming. “Damn it, Beth, why are you so good at being a counselor?”
“Well, it’s not always easy,” Beth said with a sad smile. “It helps that I know you so well already. I can’t imagine that witnessing his heart attack those several years ago was easy to see– and I’m sure the other night was far too much like it for comfort.” She was quiet for a long moment, then asked, “Is Hardy going to get some counseling for this? I mean, I can’t imagine he’s going to be able to brush it off, and seeing he’s already got some sort of PTSD–”
“Wait, how do you know he has PTSD?” Ellie hadn’t even seen that initially, and they’d worked together for months before she found out the source of his trauma.
“I didn’t for a long time. In fact, it was only while I was in school to become a FIFSA that I learned about the intricacies of PTSD and its varying legacies. I suppose you’ve just confirmed it, though. Was it a case?”
“I can’t tell you.” Ellie really wished she could; she had listened to Hardy’s story about Pippa silently, and never spoken about it with him, or anyone. Sometimes the horror of what she had heard would choke her, and she had desperately wished there was some way of talking it out. “I would, Beth, I really would, because it was awful and sickening and completely horrifying, and I’ve had nightmares myself of what he went through, but it’s for him to talk about.”
“Has he ever spoken about it?” Beth just looked troubled now.
“His ex-wife knows about it. I think she was there in the aftermath. But I don’t know if he ever went to see a psychiatrist about it all. Knowing him he didn’t.”
“Well, don’t follow his example, yeah? If you need someone to talk to, I’m here, or any number of other counselors if I’m too close. Take some vacation when you get back here, too, never mind that you’ve had to go to Scotland already for several days.”
“Elaine owes me so much vacation right now.” Ellie let herself giggle wetly and wiped the remains of her tears away, feeling better now with Beth’s talk. The ability to laugh, however weakly, didn’t hurt either. "Thanks for taking Daisy to the station this morning, by the way, and I know Hardy appreciates it, too."
“That’s just being a good friend, really,” Beth said with an airy wave of her hand, but she looked pleased nonetheless. “I was tempted to go with her, but I don’t think the invitation extended to vague acquaintances. I don’t know how she’s managing to distract herself being alone on the train.”
“Probably not well,” Ellie admitted, “but Hardy’s recovered enough he won’t be sleeping when she comes in. That’ll settle both of their nerves.”
Beth hummed an agreement, pondering. Ellie let the silence stretch, these silences no longer tense and uncomfortable between them.
“Is he coming back with you, then?”
“Of course he is. He'll be uncomfortable for a while, but the wound isn't going to stop him from traveling.”
“No, no, I meant–” Beth paused for a long moment, troubled. “I mean, is he coming back to Broadchurch with you at all? If he is the head of the family, and his dad isn’t well–”
“Trust me, Beth, the last thing Hardy wants to do is stay here in Scotland. And his dad isn’t well, no, but he’s still not completely incapicated in mind. Hardy’s got time to figure out the balance of power– but he wants to go back to Broadchurch, he told me so the night of the family get-together.”
“Ah, the night of the bloody expensive dress,” Beth said dryly, but with a decided smirk. “What are you gonna do with that, by the way?”
Ellie groaned. “Bloody hell, I don’t know. Where am I supposed to wear something that nice in Broadchurch? And it’d better not be an excuse he uses later to drag me to more of those fancy parties.”
Beth’s laughter echoed, warm and fond. “I’ve got to admit, Hardy cleans up very well. I almost didn’t believe it was him when you sent me those photos. And you looked amazing, Ell, really. You should wear it when you have a date.”
“Well, that’ll be never. Listen, Beth, I’ve gotta go– they’re pulling the car around to go pick up Daisy at the station.”
“All right. Take care of yourself, Ell, and be careful.”
Daisy was silent for a long portion of the ride to the manor, but her thin lips and white-knuckled grip on her bag was telling enough of her feelings. Ellie warning her that Hardy would not be pleased to see her there with his attacker still loose didn’t garner much more of a reaction than a slight shrug and a distracted grin.
“How is he, Mrs. Miller? Really? ‘Cos he’ll downplay it just to make me feel better–”
“Well, a stabbing is never a good thing,” Ellie said bluntly, and Daisy only flinched a little, “but as far as they go he was fortunate. Either his attacker has little knowledge of human anatomy, or they weren’t aiming to kill him– the blade missed pretty much everything vital, and only barely nicked his intestine. He’s got a lot of stitches, though, and he’s in some pain.”
“We’ll be taking him back to Broadchurch soon, though, right?”
Ellie hesitated. “The doctor doesn’t think it wise to do that yet. He wants the wound to heal a bit more before your dad gets up and moves, so we’re looking at a couple more weeks here.”
Daisy took a deep breath, sitting in studied stillness before she spoke. “Well. At least Granddad will be pleased.” It was all she said for the rest of the car ride, and Ellie allowed her the silence, knowing she hated to be pushed; as soon as they reached the manor, Daisy was out of the car and in the manor before Ellie had even finished closing her door. She made it inside in time to see Grant rolling up to his granddaughter with a genuine, if strained, smile.
“Daisy, darlin’,” he said warmly, and Ellie paused at yet another eerie similarity between Grant and his son. “I’m glad to see ye.”
“Granddad.” Daisy bent down to give him a cursory hug, clearly distracted, but Grant was equally loathe to let go of her. Ellie felt a pang of sympathy hit her seeing that, and wondered again how much of this family distance was truly his own. “Where’s Dad, same room as before?”
“Aye. If ye want, I can have Millie take ye there–”
Daisy’s answering smile was soft. “I’ll be fine on my own, Granddad. Thank you, though.” And with that she was gone, her hurried footsteps echoing long after she was out of sight. Ellie sighed and stretched out her tight back, cursing silently the idea of growing older, and was aware all the while of Grant’s continued presence.
“Has he spoken to you yet?” she asked with some sympathy.
His despondent shake of his head was answer enough. “He blames me, I think.” He drew in a shaky breath. “If he hadna been here to begin with…”
“You couldn’t have known a nutter with a knife would be here this time,” Ellie said with gentle conviction. Still, a parent would always blame themselves when their children were injured, and she knew that as well as anyone. “I’ll talk to him, let him know how childish he is.”
“Ye really think he’ll listen to ye?” There was definite cynical amusement in his question.
“Oh, I know he will.” Grant’s hands were trembling again where they lay curled in his lap, and Ellie had to stifle the urge to grasp them in hers, to ally his fears. There was nothing else she could say to him that didn’t feel shallow or pandering, and so she merely left him with a murmured goodbye and made her way to her room. She was very nearly done with Mairi’s diary, and she attempted to read the last of it, but she was too distracted and the words slipped past her without making an impact. After thirty minutes she finally conceded defeat and shut it with a frustrated growl, before standing up and making her way to Hardy’s room.
Daisy was still there, considerably less tense than before, seated in the chair beside his bed and reading something on her phone while Hardy dozed. He startled awake when hearing Ellie’s approach, catching Daisy’s attention again, and father and daughter turned as one to beckon Ellie in.
“Miller,” Hardy said drowsily. “Took you long enough to come by today."
"Knob," she said with exasperation. "You've been sleeping." She stopped by the edge of the mattress and glanced over the rumpled edge of his shirt where she could see the bandage peaking through. "Is it okay if I–?"
"Go ahead." He waved a hand in vague permission, still fuzzy from his nap, and Ellie lifted his shirt up enough to see that the bandage wasn't discolored at all now. She supposed it wouldn’t be with him not being high and fussing over it anymore, and the memory made her mouth twitch into a smile. He noticed, of course. “Laugh away, Miller,” he groused sarcastically. “Millie already tol’ me about it, wounded be damned.”
“Oh, I wasn’t surprised to see you high off those painkillers,” Ellie said with smooth humor, “I’m just wondering why it’s only after a surgery I see you smiling.”
“Really good drugs,” he shot back, and Daisy hid a laugh behind her hand. “What have you got, Miller?”
“Something’s bugging me.” Ellie pulled the blankets back up and crossed her arms, before she caught herself. “Should Daisy–?”
Hardy shook his head. “Darlin’, would you go find Millie? Have her get you something to eat from the kitchens while I talk with Miller.”
Daisy clearly wasn’t happy about the send-off, but she was smart enough not to fight him on it. Ellie made sure to check that she wasn’t hanging around the door before sitting in the chair now vacant and thinking through what she’d been needing to discuss. “First of all, sir, what do you remember about it? Does anything in particular stand out to you?”
“I think that the person was a woman.” His answer was instantaneous– clearly he’d been doing a lot of his own thinking. “They were wearing baggy clothes, but they way they moved, the way they ran…”
“Well, that helps,” Ellie snarked to herself. “Half the guests there that night were women. Anyway, I’m guessing there’s more you noticed, yeah?”
He was silent for a long moment, then: “They were left-handed.”
“Yeah, I noticed that, too.” She wrote that in her notebook and tapped the pen against its surface for a minute. “That’ll bring the number of suspects down by a significant margin, I think. Unless they purposely used their left hand to throw us off.”
“I thought of that, too, but they were too comfortable using their left for it to be a simple tactic for throwing us off.”
“Did you tell this to the Glasgow DI?”
“Hasn’t been back since that first night yet.”
Ellie growled under her breath in sheer frustration. “How in the hell do they function over there? They aren’t even doing their jobs!”
“Why do you think I left the job in Glasgow in the first place?” Hardy didn’t even sound upset about that, merely resigned. “Can’t see past their own egos most of the time, thinking they’re more important being big-city coppers.”
Ellie managed a genuine grin, albeit a strained one. “Five years ago, I would’ve thought that could apply to you, Hardy.”
“Funny,” he said with a half-grin of his own, “five years ago I would’ve said you were a useless rural DS.”
And didn’t that make Ellie want to positively beam? It was weird, she knew, how they paid each other backhanded compliments like they were straight praise. But that was them, and she didn’t suppose that either she or Hardy would change that now. “So is this your permission to go snooping around, then, sir?”
“If you’ve got something bugging you, Miller, go and find out what it is. Let a rural copper show the big shots how it's done.”
Chapter 11: Part XI
"Ye're very thorough in yer job, aren't ye?"
Ellie didn't bother turning to look at Millie as she nodded her head, knowing that she would be seen anyway. "It's all in the little details."
"Like the floor that helped ye solve Sandbrook."
Ellie's breath caught in her throat, taken aback; then she turned smartly on her heel. "What has Hardy told you about that?"
"A lot," Millie said bluntly. "He said ye were dogged and determined and the best damn detective he'd ever met, and that Sandbrook was only solved because of ye."
Of course the knob would never admit that to her face, but Ellie felt warmed inside nonetheless. "I like to think of it as a joint effort," she said quietly, because that was also the truth. They owed each other a lot during those months of Joe's trial and their duel investigations into Lee and Claire Ashworth, and they had also learned just how effective a team they could be.
As they were now, even if Hardy was currently bedridden and the Glasgow PD couldn't be arsed to do their damn jobs. Ellie glared at the wall of the house and stood with hands on her hips, looking for all the world like a mother prepared to tell off her unruly child. She had decided to take the time to peruse the outer perimeter of the manor house, and being a manor house she had a lot of ground to cover.
Millie was watching her with a knowing tilt to her head. “I suppose ye would. He was the one who told ye about yer husband, was he no?”
“Where are you going with this?” That day was now several years in the past but it was no less painful to think of, and Ellie did not have the patience for it today.
But of course Millie was made of sterner stuff– she would have to be, having worked for the Wallaces for so long. Her gaze was direct and open as she met Ellie’s gaze. “Would ye have protected him from the truth, then, Ellie, if yer roles were reversed? Or would ye have tried to brush it aside and had someone else take the responsibility of telling him who the murderer was?”
“Why does that matter?” Ellie retorted, stung by the thought. Truthfully, that had been the moment her respect for Alec Hardy had been fully cemented– arse though he was, he was someone who she could count on telling her the truth when it truly mattered. There could be no hesitation on her side to do any less now; but there had been a time once, even after Joe’s confessing and before Sandbrook was in full swing, that Ellie might not have done the same for him after all.
Then he had told her about almost drowning, and about the horror of finding Pippa’s body, and she had found to keep secrets from him was as impossible as it would be to stop breathing.
“Did he ever tell you why he’s afraid of the water?” she asked now, not quite snidely, wanting somehow to hurt this woman, to show her that Ellie was not in the mood for this interrogation– and felt her stomach clench when seeing Millie’s open expression shatter into confusion.
“Afraid of water? Whatever for?” It was something of a wonder, seeing Millie put the pieces together of past memories, as confusion morphed into horrified understanding. “Oh.”
“There’s a lake a bit of a hike from here, still on the grounds– the cousins would go and swim whenever they visited, and Alec frequently went with them, him bein’ one of the older ones– he was concerned about the little ones swimming unsupervised. He loved swimming, and when he came here to recuperate after his surgery, he was advised swimming would be a good way of gaining his strength back.” Millie shook her head, spreading her hands helplessly. “But he’s never went back to the lake– honestly looked a bit green round the gills ye might say when it was suggested. We never understood why.”
For a moment Ellie contemplated who she meant by ‘we’, but she was mostly upset over her own possible blunder– she’d been so sure that Hardy would have at least told Millie what had happened in the river. It was her turn to look her in the eye openly and plainly state, “Well, he trusted me with the why. We don’t keep secrets from each other, Millie– not when it really matters.”
She’d just passed some sort of test again, the relieved look on Millie’s face there and gone in a flash. She was tempted to ask about it, but ultimately the draw of her current case was strong enough to pull her away from Millie’s strange relief.
Her steps had taken her around the far edge of the manor house, closest to the family cemetery and the gardens in which she had overheard Millie's and Will's conversation. Something tickled the back of her head at that recollection but it wasn't causing immediate understanding, so she let it be for the moment. "Hardy's attacker came from this direction. There doesn't seem to be any sign of them having circled around the house from the front doors or the like–"
"Would someone do that?" Millie asked, startled.
"If they're clever, yes, or properly paranoid about covering their steps. How many doors are there on this facing wall, Millie?"
"All right. That narrows it down substantially then." Ellie nodded to herself and drew in a breath sharply through her nose, before letting it out slowly. That niggling feeling in the back of her head wasn’t going away, though, so she felt like she was on the right track. It was just so bloody frustrating! Sometimes she wished that this job could come with the little hint button some games on a mobile had, if only so that she could be sure she was headed in the right direction. “Right. I’ll be on my way, then, see if Hardy and I can’t make a cohesive picture of all of this.”
There was no protest from Millie, so she went on her way back to Hardy’s room– and of course the wanker wasn't there. Ellie stood in some astonishment in the doorway for a minute before rolling her eyes and turning around back into the hallway. If a bloody heart attack hadn’t stopped him from going back to work after Briar Cliff, why would a simple stabbing slow him down now?
She always forgot just how much of this manor there actually was until she had to go looking for someone specific, and this time was no different. After several minutes of checking in various rooms, she found Dasy in one of the sitting rooms with Grant, surprisingly, having a conversation that seemed to be pleasant enough.
“He’s with Chelsea,” Grant said when Ellie asked about Hardy’s whereabouts, and Daisy nodded her head in agreement.
“He was going a bit stir-crazy,” she explained with a small grin, and Ellie couldn’t help but laugh a little in exasperated amusement. That she could imagine very well.
“Well, as long as he doesn’t rip his stitches…”
“Oh, trust me, Ellie,” Grant said dryly, “if he did that Chelsea would skin his hide. He’ll behave himself.”
Daisy’s brow crinkled with confusion. “Skin his hide?”
“An American expression I picked up while I was in the army, sweetheart. It means ye intend to give someone a good thrashing.”
Americans, Ellie decided, were distinctly weird and left it at that. Loathe to interrupt their current catching up, she left Daisy and Grant to continue their conversation and went on searching for her wayward boss.
When she finally found him, it was with Chelsea in one of the many side rooms– occupied this time with a piano, which Chelsea was playing rather well. It wasn't a tune she recognized, which her years of piano lessons shamed her for, but it was clear it was one both of the cousins were readily familiar with. Chelsea's voice was clear but straining with the long disuse of professionally using it, pleasant enough to listen to nonetheless. What surprised her was to hear Hardy joining in, low and not as confident, but still pleasant enough. He at least could hit the notes unlike her dad who was nominally tone-deaf and could only sing one.
And he was smiling. That was an action that was usually only reserved for Daisy, and Ellie marveled to see it again so soon after only a couple of days. Her amazement only grew when Chelsea started another song without hesitating, and this time her scattered visits to St. Bede’s told her it was a hymn. Hardy sang that one, too, low enough to barely pick him up over Chelsea’s higher tone.
Unwilling to let them– him, really– that they were being observed, she backed away and retraced her steps, then walked back to the door, her footsteps deliberately loud enough to alert them of her presence. Neither the piano nor Chelsea’s singing had stopped, but as she had suspected Hardy had stopped and sat there like he hadn’t been joining in at all.
She recalled the hymn’s name as it finished. Abide With Me. “Who taught you to play?” she asked as the piano quieted.
“My mum,” Chelsea said, turning around on the bench to better talk to her. “And several years of lessons from tutors.”
“She played on the international level,” Hardy spoke up with a proud look on his face– a look Ellie herself was familiar with from Sandbrook onwards, when she would put the pieces together in a difficult case. “Toured all over Europe for years.”
“Really? Wow.” Suitably impressed, Ellie shared a grin with Chelsea even if the latter’s was vaguely embarrassed. “Do you still?”
Chelsea shook her head regretfully. “No. I broke my hand while riding a few years ago. I’ve never managed to get the full dexterity back I’d need.”
“Ah. I’m sorry.” Ellie had never had the interest to pursue piano playing as anything more than a few lessons, but she knew how utterly cutthroat professional playing really was. Performers had to be at their peak perfection, and to be less so meant losing their place in the orchestra.
“It was awhile ago now. And I still play at church on Sundays– that’s enough for me.”
Ellie felt her eyebrows shoot upwards. “Oh is that why you both went missing last Sunday?”
Chelsea laughed, and even Hardy cracked a grin. “Oh no. I don’t live around here anymore, haven’t for years. I went last Sunday just to hear the sermon.”
“And you managed to drag him with you. How’d you manage that?” This Ellie said with a shit-eating grin, and Hardy scoffed as she motioned in his direction.
“Simple,” she said with a matching smile. “I’m the baby cousin and Alec hasn’t ever been able to tell me ‘no’.” A beat of silence, then, with that grin widening, “And believe it or not, he goes to hear the sermons, too.”
“Hardy?” Ellie barked out incredulously, then realized how rude that was. “Oh god, I’m sorry, I sound like an arse– but seriously? I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve seen him go to church.”
“Just because someone doesn’t go to church a lot doesn’t mean they can’t argue theology,” Hardy grumbled from his seat.
“And he does,” Chelsea cut in.
“Who in the hell do you argue theology with?” Ellie demanded, almost staring open-mouthed at him.
“Coates. Who the hell else?”
Now her mouth did drop open; Chelsea was laughing where she sat and not even trying to hide it. “Coates–? As in Paul Coates, ex-vicar of St. Bede’s? The Paul Coates who you accused of murdering Danny years ago?”
He had the decency to flush a little at the pointed question. “All right, steady on. Actually, my accusing him of his actions during Danny’s case was kind of the reason we started debating theology in the first place. He took my views on the Church as a reason to start discussing them with me.”
“And you let him?” He barely let Ellie debate with him– granted, most of their arguments were really yelling at each other as they snarked back and forth, so maybe that wasn’t the best basis for conductive reasoning.
Hardy shrugged. “He wouldn’t back down, and he stood up to me during the investigation. He earned it.”
That, Ellie reasoned, was actually very much like him. People earned his respect in very different ways, and most of the time you never knew his respect had been won at all. “Is that why he had your number? When he called you during the trial a couple of years ago?”
“Yeah. Came in handy sometimes if he needed uniform to come to the church, too.”
“Huh. Guess I need to catch up on my gossip. I don’t know if even Beth has his number.”
Now it was his turn to look taken aback. “Why would she have Coates’s number?”
“You’re not the only one he talked theology with. Mark and Beth had gone to him for counseling before Lizzie was born, and even after they separated Beth would go to him to vent and get some advice.”
Still looking faintly surprised, Hardy grunted an acknowledgment and then just as quickly moved on. “What have you got, then, Miller?”
“How do you do that? You didn’t even know I was looking for you!”
“We saw you out the windows with Millie, and not out for a midday stroll. Also, you have that look on your face when you’re puzzling out something, so what have you got?”
He was never going to cease frustrating her; resigned to that fact, Ellie brushed aside her irritation and focused on the task at hand. “The only doors that the attacker could have used are those two on the far wall by the gardens. There’s something bugging me about that, though, and I can’t figure out what.”
Chelsea was frowning. “But aren’t those doors always locked?”
They had ruled her out as a suspect very early on in the investigation– she had been by Grant’s side at the moment of Hardy’s stabbing, a fact that had been backed up by every guest in the manor. Be that as it was, Ellie had to fight down a stab of suspicion towards her for the question; Chelsea was family, and more than that she had spent quite a bit of her childhood here– of course she would know something like that.
But of course that was also the niggling feeling in the back of her head, and Ellie felt herself still in the following moment as realization struck.
Hardy’s thoughts were running along the same track. “They don’t open those even for parties. The gardens out front are for guests, those out back are for family only.”
There had been a mix of family and guests that second night, the night he was stabbed. It was part of the reason why he had been outside in the first place– too many people in a loud place, and on top of that half of those people were ones he didn’t know.
Ellie turned back around, her thoughts racing as the pieces started coming together. “I’ll be right back!” she called over her shoulder and then she was gone, racing back down the hallway towards those doors.
She hadn’t made it halfway before her phone started ringing, and with a frustrated growl Ellie glanced at the number fully expecting to immediately end the call. Seeing it as an unknown number, she frowned and made to put her phone away again but then curiosity made her pick it up anyway.
“Ellie. Care to tell me why neither my daughter nor my ex-husband are picking up their phones?”
The whole Wallace-Hardy clan was absolutely amazingly annoying, and that included those married into it. “I’m not even going to guess how or why you have my number, Tess. Or why you automatically assume I’m even with Hardy or Daisy.”
“Oh, come on, Ellie,” Tess said, and she had forgotten just how arrogant she sounded. “You’re up meeting with the Wallace family. How much of a shock was it to you, by the way, to know Alec comes from such a prestigious bloodline?”
“Pretty shocking,” Ellie admitted, “but he gets grumpy if you harp on about it. Hardy’s being bossed around by Chelsea currently– I don’t know where his phone is– and Daisy is talking with her granddad.”
“Yes, I’m sure Grant is monopolizing Daisy’s time.” There was too much bitterness to hide in Tess’s voice even over the phone, and the locked doors were forgotten as Ellie’s other questions about Grant came up. “He’s very controlling.”
“Did anything ever seem… off about him, Tess? When you were still married to Hardy? I get the sense that Grant’s hiding something– and not even him, but Millie too.”
There was a long pause on Tess’s end of the line, and then a heavy sigh. “Oh, they’re definitely hiding something. Something about the night of Grant’s wife’s death.”
“I got that sense, too.”
“As you should. But be careful if you go looking, Ellie– I was looking into it myself, and Grant got wind of it. To say he wasn’t pleased would be an understatement.”
A ball of dread began to form in Ellie’s stomach. “Why didn’t you tell Hardy your suspicions? Doesn’t he deserve to know there might be something off about it all?”
“You don’t understand– has Alec ever told you about his mother?”
“A little bit. Not much. I get the feeling he pretty much thinks she’s a saint.”
Tess sighed again. “You’re pretty much right– he never allows a bad word to be said about her. In his mind, Grant is the antagonist and his mother the angel. I’ve never been able to find out enough about her to say otherwise. And then there’s Grant.”
That ball of dread was growing tighter. “What about him?”
“He told me, very matter-of-factly,” and here Tess’s voice shook with remembered anger, “when I was looking into Mairi Wallace’s death that if I continued to do so, he would take Daisy from me and I wouldn’t see her again.” Another long pause, and Ellie couldn’t bear it.
“Would he do that?”
Tess laughed bitterly. “Ellie, he absolutely would. Whatever happened that night, he's desperate to keep it hidden. Remember that when you start looking into it, will you? I wouldn’t be surprised if he tried to separate you from your boys if he knew you were."
Chapter 12: Part XII
Things are wrapping up-- only a couple more chapters to go, I think. Hopefully I won't have made some of the moments in this chapter feel too unbelievable or forced.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
June 12th, 1977
It’s getting to be too much. Everything in my head is just too loud and noisy and it grates. When I’m not focused on my charity work, I’m a void; nothing is fulfilling. I want to get up and work but as soon as I do, I suddenly feel like I don’t want to. My therapist tells me that such feelings are a passing thing and will eventually get better, but in the meantime I must continue to take my medicine.
I’ve been taking these pills for so many years now– must I live on them for the rest of my life? Why do I have to rely on them to make me feel bloody normal? I want to enjoy spending time with my sons, but of late I’ve realized I’m growing to resent them.
Grant wants nothing to do with me, and neither does he often pay attention to William. No, his attention is all on Alec– his first born, his pride and joy. Does that sentence make me sound like I resent my oldest son? Probably. Do I actually?
Maybe. Alec is in every way his father’s son; the older he gets the more he looks like Grant. His temperament is much more Grant’s, too. He’s grown quieter the last couple of years, though– he barely engages with me or even M., and I know it’s because of the fighting.
He overhears mine and Grant’s shouting matches; one time I spied him up on the staircase, shielding William from sight and his hands covering his brother’s ears. William was crying, upset over our fury and Alec looked down at me like he was ready to lay into me for it.
He’s a good older brother. I wish I had had siblings who could protect me when life became too frightening. I tried my best to reassure them both, told them that Grant and I had merely had a disagreement, but Alec merely shook his head, grabbed hold of William’s hand, and led them both upstairs and out of my sight.
I'm starting to fear that my own sons are starting to hate me.
"I bloody knew it!"
Ellie's victorious cry was said through clenched teeth, spread as they were in a vicious smile; the lock on the door clanked sharply as she let go of it, and she sped away and into the house, slipping off the gloves she had on as she went.
Hardy had reluctantly been led back to his bed after Ellie had left him and Chelsea; she hadn't told him about her conversation with Tess, having told Daisy in passing her mother was trying to call her. As ornery as he had been earlier, even his stubbornness couldn't stand up against physical injury– when she made it back to his room, he was asleep again. Excited as she was, she was as equally loathe to wake him knowing he slept so little already. Closing the door behind her as quietly as she could, she went and found the next best candidate for her discovery.
Grant was at his desk writing a letter of some sort, but it looked rather professional; Ellie supposed such things were part of being the head of a family such as this. Parts had to be played, good will extended to others, appreciation showed lest offense was taken. Hearing her footsteps, he looked up and something severe lessened in his expression. Ellie tried her hardest not to let the opposite happen to hers.
"Ellie. What have ye found out?"
She paused for a fraction of a second, and then she rolled her eyes. "D'you know how much you and your son are alike?" she demanded, but very quickly moved on. "I found out what was bugging me about the doors. Specifically, the locks on the doors."
The letter was forgotten; Grant straightened in his wheelchair and faced her fully. "Aye?" The single word was spoken flatly, and all the more dangerously because of it and Ellie nodded sharply.
"Oh yes. Who all has the keys to those doors, Grant?"
"Millie, and the grounds keeper Edwin. Myself, of course. William, since he still lives here." He read something in her expression then, a minute twitch she was unable to conceal. His own face grew very alarmed. "You dinna think–"
"Not William, no." Bitter as he was, wanker as he was, he was one to hurt with his words and not with his hands. "Would you call the Glasgow PD out again, Grant? There's something I want them to take a look at before they brush us off again."
Two hours later, Hardy remarked mildly, "Well. Suppose this was one of the easier cases you've solved."
Ellie crossed her arms and glowered. "No one stabs my boss and gets away with it," she said, and for some unfathomable reason this caused him to smile a little. They watched in relative silence then as the tall figure of Uma McNab was led out to the car in handcuffs, her rights having already been read to her; a small crowd of servants trailed after in the hallway, their soft murmurs quickly hushed as Grant wheeled passed them all. They melted into the shadows and went on with their chores, none willing to risk his potential wrath– wisely, because he was stony-faced with fury. He wheeled himself to Hardy's and Ellie's sides and watched with dark eyes as Uma was helped into the back of the car and the door shut with finality behind her.
"How dare she." His voice was rough with emotion. "How dare she attack one of my sons. How dare she attack this family!"
It was her discussion with Tess that made Ellie want to scoff and ask, ‘Oh, so it’s the family you’re worried about?’ But she remembered too the stress that had dug into his face following Hardy’s injury, and she began to doubt. She glanced over at Hardy to find he had just done the same to her.
He spoke first. “Suppose she’ll talk, Miller?”
“That’s usually my line. I think so. She seemed more surprised than anything when the police showed up. Suppose we’ll have to thank the bloody useless bastards soon.”
She very nearly spat the statement out, unimpressed with the lot of them; she was the one who worked to solve it, and of course the Glasgow PD was going to be the ones credited with finding the evidence.
It had been a partial fingerprint hidden at the very edge of the farthest door lock that sealed the deal; on top of that, there had been the direction of the lock that had tipped them off as well. Right -handed people would place the lock in the slot one given direction, left-handed people the exact opposite– and it happened every time. Uma hadn’t likely even realized she’d done it, being a southpaw like she was.
She was also stupid enough to not be wearing gloves when she placed the lock back on the door; even the quick wiping of it after she’d done so hadn’t been thorough enough. Ellie could find some vicious satisfaction in that because what she’d just said to Hardy was true– Uma’s reasoning didn’t matter, what mattered was that she had attacked Hardy at all.
No one would get away with that. Not on her watch. She glanced covertly over at him then, making sure he wasn't going to collapse. Braced as he was beside both her and Daisy, his weight was carefully balanced to keep it off his stitched-up side, but she could still see the strain of it in the set of his mouth. He had refused to allow this moment to pass without his witnessing it, though, so he was just going to have to deal with it.
Her irritation with his blasé attitude lifted, however, when he looked down at her and said, "We'll still know who actually solved it. Not bad, either– for a rural copper."
"Knob." Ellie didn't hide her grin, slight as it was., but it helped to ease the last of the tension that trembled in the line of his shoulders. Daisy shook her head with a roll of her eyes at the antics of the adults around her after overhearing this exchange, no doubt unimpressed with the lot of them. The cars started off with their suspect and Ellie helped Hardy back to a chair to lessen the strain on his wound. “You got him, Daisy?” she asked, and at Daisy’s nod she moved away again to join Grant, who had yet to move away from the open door. “You’re gonna let the bees in, you know. Probably should shut the door, at least.”
He was silent and unmovable as stone for a time, and then with startling suddenness he turned to look up at her. “Will William be considered a suspect?”
Uma had spoken for Will’s innocence for the entire circumstance– the only thing she did say of substance, but it had already been enough to compound her own guilt. Be that as it was, the DI had taken William along for questioning– but Ellie rather suspected that he had done as a gleeful jab at the Wallace family instead of any substantial suspicion of wrongdoing; she had noticed Will’s face at the time of Uma’s arrest and the look of dumbfounded betrayal she saw there was one she had seen often enough in her own mirror.
“He’ll be questioned,” Ellie said now. “They’ll want to confirm that Uma worked alone.” It had been his own set of keys after all that she had used to unlock the door with. In the wake of their leaving, Grant appeared shrunken in size and his hands were trembling worse than ever; shock, she supposed.
“Three times now,” he whispered. “Three times I could have lost Alec. Am I being punished now for showing such favoritism for him, Ellie?”
She wasn’t prepared for such a question; after trying to find something of worth to say, some reassurance he could believe, she merely shook her head and laid a hand on his shoulder to squeeze it gently. "C'mon, Grant. Let's go inside where you can sit and worry in the warm."
"Come inside, Willie. It's gonna get cold out here soon."
Ellie had heard Grant, and Millie, and even Uma refer to William by his childhood moniker– but she had had yet to hear it from Hardy. Now she had, and the gentleness of his tone was startling. She leaned harder on the wall where she was listening in and bit her lip to worry at it, working through a wave of pity for them both.
Will had been gone for more than half the day, and had only come back about half an hour ago; he had refused to speak to anyone, nor make eye contact, and he had slunk off with a bottle of whisky to soothe his hurts. Ellie had had no compunction to look for him, but Hardy had surprised her.
Maybe it was the memory of Tess that had compelled him, but he had waited for twenty minutes before setting off to find Will– and found him he had, hidden away in the stables. It seemed that brother was like brother, which made her smile to herself.
Neither of them knew she was out here eavesdropping.
"I never wanted her to hurt you, Alec." Will's voice was rough and unsteady, but he wasn't crying yet. It made him sound younger. "I complained, I did, and I won't lie about it--but I- I never thought–"
"'Course ye didna, ye numpty. Dinna apologize for her, yeah?" It was interesting how much Hardy's already broad accent broadened even more when talking to members of the household.
"How could my complaints lead her tae stabbing ye, then? What was she thinking would happen? And she's nay gonna apologize!"
"I dinna suppose she will, no. Hand me the whisky, Will." There was the tell tale swish of liquid being upended as the bottle was drunk from. "Look, I canna say I understand what ye're going through–"
"'Course ye can, Alec. Tess stabbed ye in the back after all, did she no? Made Sandbrook fall apart. Which hurt worse, then?"
Hardy was quiet for a long while. "Ye ken the answer to that already."
"Aye. I do." They were silent then for another long moment, and Ellie was just starting to push off the wall to leave when she heard him speak again. "She wanted ye out of the way, as the head of the family, so that I…"
"Bloody hell," Hardy grumbled, "is that all people care about 'round here? Me bein' the future head of the bloody fuckin' family?"
"Ye ken that's what Dad expects of ye. His golden boy, out there fightin' crime, puttin' bad guys away." The bitterness in Will's voice burned. "And wha' of me, Alec? I put me energy in the charities that Mam loved, I've helped found women's safe houses, and I go and help at bloody soup kitchens– but I never hear a word of praise from either of ye."
"The newspapers say it often enough, Will–"
There was a scuffle, and the thump of a body falling on wood; a low grunt of pain from Hardy, and Ellie was prepared to intervene– hiding be damned– when it immediately grew quiet again. "I didna need the fuckin' newspapers' validation!" Will howled. "I needed you!" She could hear the heavy breathing of both brothers as they froze in the wake of such an admission, and she could imagine them glaring at each other across the expanse of the stable. "Ye left me, Alec. I ken it were hard, and ye were still grievin' Mam, and Da was puttin' so much pressure on ye that ye just couldna breathe in this house– but ye buggered off in the night withou' so much of a goodbye and ye left me behind." He choked on a sob, sounding so unlike his usual cock-sure self that Ellie felt her heart twist painfully in her chest. "And I ken ye dinna really remember it, but before Mam died it were ye and me against the world, Alec, ye stood up for me and even told Mam and Dad off for bein' such children– and then there were the accident–"
"Don't--" Hardy began, strangled and uneven.
"And ye forgot about me. I didna have ye there anymore and it were just me and Da in this house, and I waited for ye to come and take me with ye to Glasgow– and ye never did." There was a long stilted moment of silence, and Ellie had to blink back tears. "I hated ye for years. Hated ye. Da would preferred ye to be the one here; hell, even Millie would prefer ye to be here, ye've always been her favorite–"
"Millie doesna have favorites–"
"She does! She's always preferred ye over me, and that's because ye've always reminded her of Mam, but ye dinna see that because ye've always lived in denial and ye run away when somethin' happens! Bloody coward, aren't ye? Ye run away from everything and everyone, and ye canna say that ye didna have a way to learn about Mam again when ye were in the accident, because Millie was the Hardy family nurse first and she'd be able to tell ye anything!"
Ellie felt the floor shift beneath her feet. Their conversation was almost forgotten now as she sped through several different thoughts that were finally coalescing into a clearer picture.
When the apology came, it was Hardy who said it and it was rough with tears. "I didna ken, Willie, I'm sorry, I didna even realize–"
"Ye never do, though, do ye? Never did figure out basic human function, or how to read someone if it weren't in an interrogation room. And it took me a long while to realize that about ye, and that the accident wasna yer fault, and ye couldna help forgetting– it were lucky ye werena killed– but I've always felt like I lost me brother anyway. 'Cos the one who woke up in the hospital weren't the one I had before."
Tears finally escaped Ellie's hold, and they fell fast and hot down her face as she turned silently on her heel and fled the stables, unable to bear the sound of their sobbing.
Maggie had called her two hours before, and it was only now that Ellie noticed it; what with how the morning had gone, she wasn't surprised. What was surprising was the fact that a voice-mail had been left for her– Maggie wasn't known for leaving messages unless it was truly important.
How much more can I find out about this family?
She should have been more careful about how she had asked that, because she hadn't even had to hear the first sentence before she realized it was going to grow so much worse.
"Petal." Even over the phone, Maggie sounded strained, if still calm. "I found a lot more about what you wanted than what you… may be prepared for. I'm sending you an encrypted email with all of the information, in case you decide you want to show him– but I would make sure I was sitting down before I took a look at it all, though.” A long silence then. “I know Hardy was the one who told you about Joe– make sure you’re the one to tell Hardy about this, yeah?”
Ellie’s stomach dropped even more as the message ended, and in the silence she tried to gather her thoughts. For the past few days she had believed that Hardy’s family was heavily controlling, entitled, and cold-hearted– especially in the wake of Tess’s revelation about Grant’s underhanded threats. But a parent would do anything to protect their own children; and Grant had explicitly said three times he had almost lost Hardy to a premature death.
Maggie’s email had come through around the same time as her message, and it was with distinct dread that Ellie found a deserted room on the second level of the manor to hide. As soon as the images of old and faded newspaper clippings downloaded and she was able to read the headlines, and see the crushed and folded car in the pictures, she did as Maggie suggested and found a chair to collapse into.
It took nearly fifteen minutes for her to feel strong enough to stand without her legs feeling weak, but this final secret compelled her to climb to her feet and demand answers from the only one who probably would.
Ultimately Ellie had to be given directions to a side room in the servants’ wing of quarters, and she was feeling angry and saddened enough to barge in through the doorway without hesitating or knocking. In her single-minded need to understand everything she had read and seen, she missed the moment that another door on the other end of the hallway opened to admit another who was angry and seeking answers.
“I’d been wondering who gave me the diary to read– should’ve realized sooner it was you.”
Ellie’s voice cut through the silence like a knife, pointed and sharp, but Millie didn’t flinch back. “I’ll admit I was expecting you sooner,” she said quietly, old and tired in a way she hadn’t been before. “But then of course we’ve done our best to keep it all hidden for so long.”
“Care to explain why you’ve decided someone needed to find out about the skeletons in this family’s closet now?”
“Ellie.” Millie was nearly begging. “Please, sit down. I’ll tell ye whatever ye want to hear, but it’s- it’s rather a long explanation, ye see.”
“I’ll stand, thanks,” Ellie said flatly. “Start talking.”
The old woman’s hands were shaking, and she wrung them together to try and stop them. “It was easier, ye ken, to let the lad believe what he did– he forgot things after the car accident, and the narrative in his head changed to ease his trauma. By the time we realized that he was growing dangerously biased in his memories, it was too late to change it– the truth would’ve been so much harder to bear. Grant was afraid it would break him, and he forbade the entirety of the household to breathe a word of the truth in case Alec were to suspect the lie.”
“So what’s changed?” Her voice was maybe even flatter than before.
“You,” Millie said simply. “Ye’re audacious, and smart, and more than that– ye’re loyal to Alec. He needs to ken the truth before Grant dies; I canna let the lad hate his own father any longer. Not in the wake of Uma’s actions.”
“That’s for me to decide, Millicent.”
Grant’s furious voice made them both turn around to face the doorway, to find him there with a truly thunderous look on his face. In his hands he held a dark, old book which he held up now to show them– and Ellie’s heart skipped a beat, because it was Mairi Wallace’s journal. “D’ye care to tell me why I’ve found this in yer room, Ellie? Choose yer explanation very carefully, mind ye– my patience with ye grows thin.”
I made myself tear up during Will's and Hardy's conversation this chapter. This family is just so broken.
Chapter 13: Part XIII
TW: Suicide, Child Endangerment. Please tread carefully when reading this chapter if you're not in the right headspace. I wrote most of this after a pretty bad round of depression so it's going to be raw. I wasn't going to right this chapter at all in my initial plan but I realized I needed to write down Mairi's side of That Night and a journal entry wasn't going to be able to do that.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
February 24th, 1979
“Ye never listen! Ye dinna care about–”
“I dinna care? Listen to yerself, ye think ye’re the only one–?”
“I wilna stand here and listen to yer sanctimonious shite anymore, think about the boys–”
“Dinna bring them into this, they’re not–”
“Then just fucking leave! If ye think ye’re so stifled here, go and find someone who’ll play along wi’ yer poor little ‘woe is me’ narrative!”
Grant’s voice was still ringing along the walls of the manor as Mairi ran down the staircase after leaving their bedroom. She didn’t even know why they referred to it as ‘theirs’, actually– they hadn’t slept in the same room in years. Maybe she had been optimistic about the possibility of it happening again.
But not now. Not ever again.
She hurried through the hallways trying to contain her tears, furious that he could still cause her hurt– shouldn’t they both be used to drawing blood by now? She was so caught up in her own thoughts and spiral that she almost didn’t catch the slim figure of her eldest son peering around the corner of the study at her, but when she did it was with the intensity of a hound scenting a hare.
Being so upset and uncontrollable, Mairi didn’t hesitate to make the worst decision of her life. “Alec. Come and take a ride in the car with me.”
The look he gave her was one of wariness, far too used already to her moods and odd behaviors even at ten years old. “Dinna want to.” Usually if she said she wanted to go for a drive it meant a lot of speeding and reckless driving; she had taken him and Willie on such a drive exactly once, and afterwards Alec had told her neither of them were going to accompany her again. Such a proclamation had angered her at the time but when she had calmed down she had only been horrified she had placed them in such danger.
Such caution was absent now, however, and she was nearly close to begging as she reached for him. “Please, honey, I’d just like some company this time. It’ll just be us, just like old times."
He was analyzing her as was his habit now, more wary than ever. Mairi had no idea how crazed and unkempt she looked, and he was too frightened of what she would do if he turned her offer down to deny her.
The only good thing was that he wouldn't regret his choice for long.
She barely gave him a chance to nod before she gripped his hand tightly in hers and led him along the hall. This harshness he took as normal– for as long as he could remember she had always been rough without meaning to be, a Mum behavior that he assumed was the same for everyone. “What were ye and Dad fighting about this time, then?” Both his tone and expression were fierce, more so than any ten-year-old’s had the right to be, and Mairi’s grip automatically tightened in response.
Why was she never good enough? She tried and she tried and she tried, but she failed every time to be even bloody normal– and that was only achieved by taking pills like clockwork, so what was the point? What was the point to anything?
She blinked back welling tears with difficulty, making sure her voice was steady when she replied. “Nothing so important, honey. I just need to leave for a bit, ye ken? Give Dad some time to calm down.”
“We’re leaving leaving?” Now he balked, straining against her hold. “But Willie–!”
“Yer brother will be fine for an hour or so! Christ, Alec, ye dinna have to protect Willie from me, and I’ll bring ye back shortly! Lord kens ye prefer to stay here, anyway.” She couldn’t quite hide the bitterness in her voice while saying that, and she had to wipe her eyes hurriedly to prevent the tears from over-spilling. God, why did she feel so unbalanced and unreal? Why did she feel so out of control?
She dismissed the servant who was there to bring the car around, irrationally upset that apparently no one thought she could do anything for herself. Alec slid into the passenger seat without complaint, fidgeting slightly, having learned a long time ago it would do nothing to argue with her in this mood, but she didn’t miss the sideways glance he took to the manor again– thoughts of William clearly in the forefront.
Mairi’s stomach twisted; she was neither stupid nor ignorant, and she knew that Alec had taken it upon himself the last few years to be Willie’s protector from the fights she and Grant had.
She hesitated for one last moment, suddenly remorseful. She shouldn’t separate her boys from each other, even if it would only be an hour or so; she was reaching to pull the key from the ignition and prod Alec to go back inside, but a wave of resentment rose up in her throat and choked her of words. Alec and William were brothers, but she was their mother. She had superiority, didn’t she? Nothing Grant said would make it otherwise. He was only resentful of Willie, after all, he always had been– and maybe that was her fault, but that did nothing to change things now.
They were several miles down the road before Alec finally spoke. “Mum? Are ye okay?”
He had never asked her that before; no one did except Millie, and she didn’t really count. Even if it was asked with caution, the simple question made her throat close and her eyes burn with tears again.
She was a terrible person, and a terrible mother. No child should have to ask their parent that, and still she had just forced Alec to. “I’m fine, sweetie,” she said once she knew her voice wouldn’t shake; her hands were already doing that enough as they clutched the steering wheel. She wanted nothing more than to let the wail in her throat out, to keen and scream and pull at her hair if only to find some kind of relief to how she felt inside.
But that would be the actions of a child, and she was not a child. As always, she pushed those yearnings aside and struggled to breathe through them instead, and when she was finally steady enough she glanced over at her son. Alec was still eyeing her in apprehension, unable to understand the storm inside her, and she desperately hoped he never would. Perhaps he would be lucky enough to not inherit her insanity.
“Dinna look fine,” he said somewhat grumpily.
Her fingers tightened on the steering wheel tightly enough the leather creaked; the urge to scream only intensified. The black hole in her stomach was swallowing her. “Ye’ll find,” she said through clenched teeth, “that as an adult ye’ll always be fine. Even when ye’re not.”
“Is that why ye and Da fight so much?”
She was tired of fighting. She was just tired in general. She wanted it to all be over, and gone, and hopefully there would be oblivion and nothing else after. “It’s a part of it,” she said around the lump in her throat.
“Why dinna ye leave him, if ye fight so much?”
She had failed so badly as both a wife and a mother if Ale was asking her that. “I canna do that.” Appearances must be upheld in such a high society– affairs were overlooked and forgiven in most circumstances, but outright divorce was to court social suicide; hadn’t she heard that countless times from Grant’s mother? But she couldn’t explain that to an ten year old and make sure he could understand it, so she fell back on the usual explanation she used: “God put me with your father for a reason, and I canna go against what He says.”
She hated God sometimes; hated the restrictions and the rules and the label of sinner. Hated that the idea of forgiveness meant she was worthless to begin with, that she was wrong and needed to be saved.
She already knew that she was worthless and wrong; she didn’t need to be reminded. Her husband hated her because she was so messed up in the head, her sons hated her because she wasn’t a good mum.
She was alone. And she always would be.
“Doesna seem like God’s put ye where ye need to be.” This Alec said with a distinctly bleak tone, and something about that finally made something in her break. A final lifeline snapped from its hold and she was suddenly free-falling.
Feeling suddenly calm and untouchable, she spoke aloud but mostly the words were for her alone as a truck came around a bend in view, its headlights approaching at a steady dependable speed. “I think God will put ye in the right place, even if ye dinna ken it at the time.” It was almost a thank you to the driver of the truck, thanks that they would be in a such a perfect spot at such a perfect time.
It would need precision; too soon and the truck would have time to swerve; too late and she would miss them entirely. Hopefully it would be swift and not painful.
He saw the look of deadly calm on her face, but didn’t realize what it meant. “Mum–?”
She didn’t hear him. Her heart was flying painfully in her chest and her hands were grasping the steering wheel white-knuckled as she swerved into the opposite lane. There was no time for regret, or any more tears, or anger; she would be free.
Finally she would rest. Finally the guilt would be gone.
And then she heard the scream from beside her, and the calm and the peace fled into outright terror:
At the last second she heard the scream, and as the lights of the truck came crashing down upon them she remembered she wasn't alone after all, and her arm shot out to grab and protect because it was her son here, Alec–
There was one last moment of clarity and of horror, then a horrible shattering and breaking–
The next chapter will be up in a day or two so you all aren't left hanging on such a grim moment. Ellie will be her usual badass self, and she will be in charge of another bollocking.
Chapter 14: Part XIV
In the wake of Grant’s icy words, Ellie didn’t allow herself to freeze– to do so would be a mistake. "It was placed in my bed the day after we arrived." Her tone was cool and implacable, just as it would be while talking across the table to a troublesome interviewee back in Broadchurch. "I've read it all already, so don't bother destroying it to prevent me from getting hold of it, either."
"Ye read it," he said in a flat voice that should have made her tremble, "and didna think of the harm ye would bring down on this family if this journal became known?"
Five years ago she likely would have backed off; but five years ago, she wouldn't have believed she would be so protective of Alec bloody Hardy. "I was thinking of the harm to your son," she snapped, “being lied to for so long.”
“It’s for his own protection!”
“That may be, but it’s still a lie!” She was louder than she’d planned to be, and she flinched back from the acid in her voice. Such stridency was not going to endear her to him right now. She bit down on the heat in her tone with difficulty and tried again: “He’s believing something completely fabricated– has believed it for all these years. And I understand, Grant, I really do know why you’ve kept it from him–”
“Do ye?” His voice was bleak and empty. “Do ye understand what it was like that night, when the police showed up at the door saying my wife was dead and my son injured and in the hospital? Do ye understand what it was like to stand beside Alec’s bed and wonder if he would- if he wouldn’t–” His voice broke before he could finish the question, and Ellie felt her heart break to see such grief laid bare. “I never understood, so how in the hell can you?”
“It isnae a contest,” Millie snapped, effectively cutting herself into the argument.
It also swung Grant’s attention her way again, and the age-old grief retreated in the wake of fresh betrayal and anger. His expression was fiercer and more furious than Ellie had ever seen it before; but where before his fury was white-hot, quickly blown over, this was freezing ice and deeply biting. He lifted the battered journal up with hands trembling with it. “How dare ye, Millie?” he demanded, and if he could have towered over her he would be doing so now. “How dare ye? Of everyone employed here, I never thought ye’d be the one to meddle in affairs that doesna concern ye!”
Ellie had never seen Millie respond to the Wallace temper with anything but sly wit, and therefore was taken aback when she saw the way the wizened old woman swelled with sudden anger. “None o’ my concern, is it, sir? It’s been my concern since comin’ here after yer marriage to Mairi, or have ye conveniently forgotten that?”
“Ye are not to stick yer nose where it doesna belong!”
“I’ll stick it wherever I damn well please!” Millie snapped. “I’ve kept my silence these past forty years as part of our agreement, and I’ve said naught to the lad. Aye, I’ve kept yer secrets, and God will have to forgive me for all of the baseless pain they’ve brought! Now ye’ve witnessed family set upon family, and for nothin’ but the sake of the manor and the family title. I’ve sat and watched over Alec now for the past few days making sure no further harm comes to the lad-- and I’ve had enough, ye hear? He needs to ken the truth before it’s too late, ye stubborn auld fool, and ye’ll bloody well listen to me this time!”
“No. I forbid it.”
Clearly the old maid would not be able to persuade him; his expression was stone, unmoved by her outburst. Ellie took a deep breath and braced herself. “Then I’ll tell him myself, Grant.”
His furious gaze shifted to her, and she had to stop herself from stepping backwards. “If ye do,” he said lowly, “then I’ll not only make sure ye lose yer job, I’ll make ye and yer family leave Broadchurch. I’ll cut ye off from Alec as surely as I have countless others!”
She bristled. “Oh, for his protection, right? Is that what you’ve told yourself about this, then, that you know what’s best?” She took a step forward now. “I told you a few days ago I was here to watch his back, not to be complicit with his family. And just so we’re clear, there are no secrets between him and me.” She was pleased when he blanched, realizing too late just how much steel her cheery demeanor hid. “And I think you’ll find he’ll not sit idly by and watch you stick your nose where it doesn’t belong, this time. Not with me.”
“Listen to her, Grant,” Millie begged him. “The lad needs to ken the truth before ye’re gone. Dinna make him hate ye even to the grave.”
“And make him hate his mother instead?” This came out as a rough whisper, spoken through bloodless lips. Grant looked suddenly wizened and old, and Ellie’s heart twisted painfully. They were breaking him apart, and they would need to do so even more before he would listen.
“Yes,” she said bluntly. “She’s the one dead, isn’t she? And from various reactions I’ve noticed, I’m starting to think none of you here are all that upset that she is.”
Millie’s sharp intake of breath was nearly lost in Grant’s own low sound of pain. But she saw it the moment it seemed his heart broke all over again, shattered as badly as the car that had been destroyed the night Mairi Wallace died; being trained as ruthlessly as she had been by Hardy himself, she didn't let herself be softened by compassion. She dug in instead.
“She's gone, Grant, and Alec is still alive. You're still alive. And maybe he wouldn't have been able to handle it as a boy, but he's not a boy anymore, is he? Seems to me," she said with careful precision, "like you're not protecting him as much as you're punishing yourself."
He sat still as stone, the trembling of his hands the only thing that belied the imagery of a statue. "It was my fault."
It was said so quietly that Ellie almost missed it. But Millie had heard it, too, and her dismayed shake of the head was answer enough. "Forgive me, sir," she said coldly, "but you didn't make Mairi swerve into that truck."
Grant blanched to a mottled grey. "Who told ye–?"
"A tenacious friend of mine in Broadchurch, who has a lot of contacts and avenues of information." She wouldn't lead Maggie into Grant's sights if she could help it. "A friend, I might add, who is also grateful for your son’s actions as Detective Inspector in Broadchurch and won’t appreciate your meddling.”
“Is that a threat?”
She nearly rolled her eyes, exasperated at the suspicious nature that permeated this family’s psyche. “No,” she said shortly, “I’m telling you that your son has garnered a loyalty from Broadchurch he hasn’t had anywhere else.”
I had no choice, no one stood up for me.
When Sandbrook had fallen apart he had left because he had been alone; whether that was by early choice or by his own blunt personality Ellie didn’t know. She doubted he had made many friends there, and on the outside looking in it seemed like Broadchurch was no different.
But she also doubted that he had ever bothered debating theology with Sandbrook’s vicar, or sat outside in companionable silence with the town's local barrister. Or had had an even slightly trusting relationship with the local newswoman. Had the locals of Sandbrook treated him like one of their own, nodded to him at the shops and genuinely asked how he was?
“Loyalty,” he sneered now, unimpressed with her logic. “What does loyalty mean today? Your town would turn on him as it did on you if the right story was presented.”
The full weight of his words took a moment to sink in, and when they did Ellie was angry enough to match his temper. “You would spread rumors about your own son to make him leave Broadchurch. I really have seen it all, now.” And with that she turned smartly on her heel and headed for the door.
“Ye canna leave–”
She swung to face him. “Can’t I? I’m going to find your son, Grant, and I’m going to tell him myself. That’s what’s going to happen now, and it’s up to you to decide how it’ll be told. You have ten seconds before I walk out of this door to go find Hardy.”
He was trembling with a mix of rage and helplessness, caught as he was between the two women– but he was giving. Slowly but surely, he was being ground down between the millstone of their stubbornness. “Ye would still tell him, even after I’ve threatened ye so.”
“He told me about Joe,” Ellie said quietly, firmly. “He told me about Pippa.”
She was prepared to explain exactly what she had been told, if only to make him understand how much she and Hardy actually told and trusted each other, unable to imagine that Hardy would tell his father about finding Pippa's body. Therefore she was surprised when Grant's expression cracked then, the anger giving way to outright shock; then the shock turned to something approaching awe. “He told ye about that? Willingly?”
They had reached a turning point somehow, even if Ellie didn’t quite understand why. She simply nodded and held his gaze.
His expression hardened but not with the renewed anger as she had initially dreaded; he was hardening his resolve instead, to not give into fear. It took several moments of tense silence before he finally spoke, and both Ellie and Millie didn't dare to talk first. “Find Alec, then,” he finally said quietly, “and meet me in my room. Tell him nothing of what ye found out– what he needs to hear, he’ll hear from me.”
She smiled thinly, viciously satisfied at his capitulation. “I’ll drag him there if I have to.”
Fifteen minutes later, she opened the door to Grant's room to let Hardy through, who was still walking gingerly and sat down with relief on the chair beside his father’s wheelchair. “Dad. Should’ve known you’d get Miller on your side.”
It was amazing how just fifteen minutes had allowed Grant to recover from his earlier outburst. There was no sign of his fury, and his color was back to normal; the only thing that belied his nervousness was the way his fingers played with the edge of the blanket spread over his lap.
“Dinna take yer frustrations out on her, lad,” Grant said with a level look. “What griefs ye have are with me and yer brother—and they’re justified.” He smiled wryly at the look of surprise that crossed Hardy’s face, a twist of the lip that reminded Ellie so forcibly of Hardy himself. “Since Uma was arrested for her attempted killing of ye, Alec, the question remains of what will happen to the estate, these grounds after- after I’m gone.”
That… was not the way Ellie had imagined the conversation going. She was opening her mouth to protest such a subject matter when Grant glared up at her with enough heat to make her doubt the wisdom of such a thing. He stayed quiet then for so long even Ellie was wondering what the hell he was doing as a game plan. Clearly Hardy was thinking the same thing, since he raised one scornful eyebrow and growled deep in his throat. “That’s it? The bloody estate? Will can have it for all I care, and the fucking titles too—all I want is to go back to Broadchurch.”
Ellie wanted to kick herself for the warmth that bloomed in her heart at that remark.
“That’s just it, lad,” Grant said softly, and with such sudden gravity that even she was taken aback. “William cannot legally have the title of master of the estate—he never has had that ability. Willie’s not mine, ye see.”
This revelation was met with stunned silence; Hardy sat in rigid shock in his chair, barely breathing, before shaking his head as if to clear it. “Mum wouldn’t do that.”
Ellie’s heart broke hearing the conviction of that statement—underlaid with desperation. There were still aspects of the little boy he had been, lost without his mother, and she had seen too many of those to not see it now. She looked instinctively at Grant, gauging his own reaction, and saw the truth there in his own pain. “She did, lad. I never did find out who it was she was meeting, who she had the affair with—your mother was so very good at secrets, ye ken?—but two years after ye were born, she couldna hide the fact that she was pregnant. And that we hadna lain together in over a year.”
Hardy had already bypassed pale; now he was white, and on impulse Ellie gripped his fingers hard, suddenly besieged by doubt. How badly would this affect him? Worse than Tess’s infidelity, and Sandbrook’s initial failure?
“She wanted to keep the baby, and I—fool that I was—let her. I loved her, ye see? Ye must ken that, Alec; we fought more than was decent, but I loved yer mother. It was… difficult, though.”
“Difficult,” Hardy bit out, and his hand gripped hers back in a crushing grip.
“I took the child in as my own, raised him as a Wallace—he was half hers, after all,” Grant continued as if he hadn’t been interrupted. “And I think that’s where our troubles began, wasn’t it? Ye were my own, my own flesh-and-blood, and as much as I love Will, there was always a feeling of resentment in me at the sight of him, to ken yer mum preferred the arms of another man. I’m as much to blame for it as yer mum—I should have tried harder to love him, to hide my preferences. And I saw too late the pressure I placed on ye, as well. Ye are the rightful heir to this estate, after all—but I pushed ye too hard to be so, and I didna ken how to bring ye back around.”
“So?” Hardy asked bluntly. “I don’t see how that explains--”
“Yer mum wasna well. Mentally, I mean. Mood swings, outbursts. There would be days where she was up all day and night, working on projects, helping with charities, with such energy it was enough to make yer head spin to see it. She was sunny and laughing and happy on those days, perhaps too much, but I couldna bear to keep her quiet on those days, and the attention she spent on ye and Willie was more than enough reason not to.” He was quiet then for a long moment, drawn and pale, his long fingers clutching the edge of the blanket in a bruising grip. “But then there were the days where everything went dark for her. Where the energy just disappeared, as did her liveliness. Those days it was hard for her to get out o’ bed, and she barely spoke at all, and her anxieties and self-loathing took control. Doctors today call what she had something different than it was called back then, manic-depressive disorder–”
“Bipolar,” Ellie said softly, her heart aching for the girl she had come to know while reading the journal. “They call it bipolar disorder now.”
Hardy was still ramrod straight where he sat, but the look on his face was one of realization and old memories finally making more sense. “That’s why you had us tested,” he breathed. “All those doctor’s visits, those talks, making sure Will keeps up on his meds–”
“I needed to make sure both ye and Willie werena troubled the way yer mother had been. I couldna let ye feel the way yer mother did, not my own children– I hadna done anything to help Mairi, but I could help ye both.”
“Why didn’t you help Mum?” Now Hardy was angry, lashing out as he did when cornered. “You say you care about me and Will but what made Mum so different?”
“I didna understand, Alec.” The agony in Grant’s voice was choking. “Mental illness wasna a concern back in those days, and I wholly believed yer mum was imagining it all; I’d never thought about killing myself, so how in the world could she? It wasna natural, or so I thought at the time. I brushed her off, said it was all in her head and that she merely had to think positively.”
Oh Lord. Ellie was tempted to lay into him for that, angered despite herself, but there was no need to do so– Grant had been punishing himself for the past forty years already.
“She went to a therapist, several in fact, and was diagnosed shortly after yer fourth birthday. And that’s where our real troubles started, when I found out she was going at all. ‘Think of the family image,’ I said. ‘What will people think when they find out the wife of the head of the Wallace clan is certified looney?’” He broke off then with a sharp intake of breath and his expression twisted with a flash of self-loathing. He appeared suddenly bent over and old, older than Ellie had seen him yet; Hardy made some compulsive movement beside her, quickly halted, but she thought maybe he had been prepared to reach out and steady his father. “We were never right again, and we started fighting and arguing over even the smallest things– yer mum seemed to want to challenge me and justify her own feelings by making me invalidate her illness, as if she wanted to make sure she was as hopeless a lost cause as she believed.
“I treated her as if she were a small child in need of a punishment. I never tried to understand her mental state. And that’s what caused the accident.”
He didn’t continue on, then, too loathe to put it all into words. Ellie remembered the photos of the crushed and folded car, having been hit the hardest on the driver’s side– the reports had said Mairi had most likely died instantly, and her son Alec, age 10, had been severely injured and had been in a coma for over a week.
“Tell him, Grant,” she said quietly. Hardy jumped slightly like he had forgotten she was there but didn’t look away from his father. Grant remained silent, however, and finally Hardy spoke.
“Dad? What- what aren’t you telling me?”
Grant looked over at her then, for just a moment, and she could see the loss in his eyes; as she had done several times with Hardy when he was needing help with a final decision she gave him a quick, concise nod. It seemed to be exactly what Grant needed, and it was with a final steadying breath that he answered.
“I let ye believe that the car accident that ye was in happened a year or so after yer mum’s death… but it’s a lie nonetheless. Ye love yer mother without reserve and I couldna bear to take that away from ye, but now the lie’s been found out.” Grant sat in deep silence for a long time, his expression drawn and pale—looking, Ellie realized with a jolt, very much like Hardy did when he was troubled. The silence didn’t last long before he continued on, though, as if now he couldn’t bear to hold back anymore:
“The night yer mum died… we had fought simply over the way the bed was settled against the wall. She hadna taken her meds, ye see—forgotten them, or so I believed at first. The police investigation that followed informed me that she had disposed of them several weeks prior, and due to that she would have been more depressed and suicidal than usual. She left our room and I didn’t think anything of the sound of the car leaving until I had the police knocking on the door, saying her-her body needed to be identified. And that you were being rushed to the hospital with a severe head injury.”
Hardy flinched back as if struck, the breath knocked from his chest. Something told Ellie that he was suddenly hearing the sound of shattering glass and crunching metal, and he suddenly lurched to his feet as if to flee. Grant’s rough voice stopped him before he had taken three steps, and Ellie could see the moment his heart broke all over again when he spoke next: “We think she’d intended on committing suicide that night, and perhaps that I could forgive eventually… but I never could forgive her for taking ye with her in that car. I dinna want to think a mother would willfully kill her own son—but that’s exactly what she tried to do that night.” His voice broke, choked with self-loathing. “And all because I didna take her illness seriously.”
Ellie settled Grant into his bed and soothed his grief before attempting to follow after Hardy. “He’ll be ready to talk it over with me eventually,” she informed him quietly, and only felt a slight twinge of guilt for the pride that information garnered her. “He grieves in private, you know.”
Five years ago she wouldn’t have thought Hardy grieved about anything—the realization she knew better now was no little feat. She was feeling incredibly shell-shocked as well, horrified by the truth of Grant’s tale and grieving the way that Hardy’s mask had shattered before he fled the room.
“I am glad,” Grant said in a rough quiet tone, “that Alec has ye to fight in his corner, Ellie. Lord kens he’s needed that in his life. I should have realized…”
Ellie regarded him for a long moment, pondering. “When did you find out about his finding Pippa?”
He inhaled sharply, one hand rubbing at his eyes. “He’d come down for a month after his pacemaker surgery to recover his strength. I dinna ken what it was that night that made him open up to me, but after I caught him having a nightmare he told me about it all– and I pulled away from him.” The bitterness in his voice only grew. “I couldna easily understand that I had nearly lost him again, and I wasna able to tell him exactly why I was so upset; he thought I didna care. So he left to go back to Daisy, and he hadna been back since then.”
There was so much miscommunication there, built up over forty years of time; Ellie wondered if they would ever manage to muddle their way through it in the time Grant had left. She saw to it that he was comfortable and then she left, wandering the halls and looking for any sign of her wayward friend.
She found him, finally, hidden away in the small room that Millie claimed as her own-- of the maid herself there was no sign, but that was better in this case. He was sitting on the floor in the corner, long legs drawn up to his chest and fingers buried in his hair; no tears when he looked up at her, but he was grey and tight-lipped like he would vomit if he opened his mouth.
All at once it hit her, exactly what Grant had finally confessed to knowing; what it meant for Hardy, and it left her breathless with the pain. Her eyes burned with tears, but she pushed them back with difficulty, knowing instinctively that if she let her emotions run wild it would set him off as well.
There were no words; there couldn’t be. She crouched down in front of him and took a deep breath, heart aching with the need to try and reassure and soothe, the mother’s instinct screaming at her to help. She grasped his fingers in her own and squeezed them, and his grasp tightened on hers like a lifeline, desperate and chilly with the shock, his breathing stilted and erratic as he struggled to breathe through the remnants of his panic. He was trembling hard enough to shake them both, but Ellie held on even tighter and didn’t flinch away.
“He did what he had to,” she finally whispered. “He protected you.”
Protected that little boy whose worship of his mother must have been agonizing to the father who knew the truth, but let it continue knowing the truth would be impossible to comprehend and accept. Protected his son’s innocence in the only way he knew how-- and paying the price for it all these long years in a final sacrifice that portrayed him as the singular villain.
He nodded, but there was no thought behind it. The breath hitched in his throat and he had to force himself to breathe again, and Ellie was forcibly reminded of Tom the day she had had to tell him about Joe. Heart aching all over again, she reached out with her other hand and cupped his face, her thumb softly stroking the skin of his stubbled cheek. “What do you need, Hardy?” she asked then, still hushed in the quiet. “What can I do?”
His grip on her fingers, already crushing, tightened even more. His throat worked silently for a long moment, struggling with the words caught there. “I need--” Too much; his voice cut off hoarsely, and she could see his struggle trying to tame his panic. He met her eyes desperately. “I need to go back home,” he finally choked out. “I need to go back to Broadchurch.”
She nodded, her heart lightening despite the circumstances. “I’ll take care of it,” she said. But not now. Knowing all-too-well how close to flying apart he was, she kept hold of his hand and slowly lowered herself onto the ground beside him, and simply sat in the quiet with him until his breathing evened out and his trembling ceased.