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Deep Wide Ocean

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Dear God,

   be good to me.

The Sea

   is so wide,

And my boat

   is so small.

- Traditional Sailor's Prayer.

*

Ellie shook his hand when she said goodbye. She crossed the room and extended it to him, her eyes downcast.

‘Handshake?’ he said in disappointed tones.

‘Yeah. Not hugging you,’ she mumbled.

Hardy’s chest rose and fell. He stood up straight, squared his shoulders and grasped her hand. Blue and orange kissed.

She could not quite meet his eye, but his grip was firm. Respectful. Tender.

Warm.

Ellie hated keeping secrets. She hated lying even more.

If he had asked her, she would have replied honestly.

She darted a glance at him from under her lashes, almost willing him to ask it.

Do you want me to stay?

Even the thought of it made the answer rise to the tip of her tongue, ready, ready.

Yes. God yes.

But he did not ask, so she said nothing.

‘Look after yourself, Miller,’ he said, forcing a smile.

Miller.

That was all she was to him, wasn’t it? It was what she told him – told herself – she was to him. She would not let him call her Ellie. She’d insisted on the last names thing, even though she had once resisted it. They weren’t friends or… anything else. They were just work colleagues doing a case together. 

And now that case was over. There was nothing keeping them together. She had to be sensible about this.

She nodded, her eyes wet, and moved towards the door.

‘What about Joe?’ he asked.

All business. As it should be.

‘Erm. It’s been dealt with.’ She nodded and forced a smile. He did not try to force one in return. He was staring at her now, as though his whole soul were bound up in concern for her. The look suspended her breathing. Turning away, unable to speak and fearing that she would not be able to hold back her tears if she stayed, Ellie ducked her head and fled out the door. His heartbroken gaze did not leave her. She felt its weight.

 Don’t look back.

He was looking at her through the window; she knew it. Her tread faltered.

Don’t look back.

He couldn’t stay, so why should she ask him to? What could she say to him? How could she come between him and his daughter? What possible reason could she give him?

Because…

There was no reason for him to stay in Broadchurch.

Because I…

There was nothing keeping him here.

I...  

Ellie squared her shoulders and walked into the afternoon sunlight. The river flowed quietly alongside her, lapping gently against the rocks and humming in her ears like a lover’s whisper.

She could still feel Hardy’s hand on hers, like the touch of a warm ghost.

 

*

She tried to forget him. 

The boys kept her busy enough. Juggling a career and motherhood all on her own was tough work, but she was beginning to manage. Mealtimes were a struggle since she still had no idea how to cook, but it brought her satisfaction to cope with these things on her own. She had her two beautiful boys, her friends, and her community back. The house felt like home again and Joe was nowhere to be found. 

She wondered if Hardy had found a similar solace.

It frustrated her how tenderly, how anxiously, she thought about him. She would give anything to rekindle that old antagonistic fondness she’d felt for him, or even just the plain antagonism. Hatred would be easier to bear than this thorny anxiety, but it was impossible to go back to that. Hearing him talk about himself and Pippa – the way he’d exposed every vulnerability and fear to her – how could she hate him? How could she hate him when she knew how kind and gentle he was under that hard exterior? 

She didn’t hate him. She wished him happiness.

She didn’t want him to be alone.

Holding the phone in her hand, she contemplated ringing him. She ached to hear his voice. She was desperate to know that he was okay and that he was with his daughter and he was living a wonderful life. But what was she supposed to say? 

Don’t be alone.

Please, please, don’t be alone.

Her finger hovered over his name before she turned the phone screen black and threw it onto her desk with a groan.

*

He thought of her every day. Every hour, in the days when Daisy wasn’t with him. He thought of Joe, and her two sweet boys, and how the three of them were still in danger thanks to him.

He got a job near Sandbrook. Detective Inspector. Daisy stayed with him on weekends. His flat was small and shitty, but he was only grateful it wasn’t a hotel. 

He wanted to call her, just to hear her voice, but he had no real reason to. He wished fervently, perversely, for a reason to be with her again. Any reason would do.

And then, his wish came true.

*

Claire, Lee and Ricky’s plea hearings were due in four months. Everything seemed to be going smoothly. The prosecution had collated all the evidence and were confident that they would plead guilty. 

That was when Hardy was arrested.

‘On what grounds?’ he asked incredulously of the officers.

‘Multiple counts of rape, assault, kidnapping, and holding Claire Ripley against her will in Broadchurch for seven months,’ the officer replied, almost apologetically.

‘You know these charges aren’t true,’ Hardy said. ‘She’s made them before to stall proceedings, but she retracted them. She’s only doing this to try and get out of the charge.’

The officers were firm. ‘We know. But we have to take these accusations seriously.’

Struck dumb, Hardy went along quietly. He was taken to an interrogation room and found himself on the receiving end of a thorough round of questioning. 

‘Why were you keeping Claire Ripley at the cottage in Broadchurch?’

Hardy did not recognise the officer. He had a hard, beady eye and a cold demeanour. He was taking the charges very seriously indeed. Hardy resolved to simply tell the truth. At this stage he was convinced the charges would not stick.

‘I wasn’t keeping her there. She asked me to protect her after her husband was acquitted, so I found a place she could lie low. It was like witness protection.’

‘You lured her into this house under the promise of witness protection.’

It wasn’t a question, just a deadpan statement. Hardy felt nettled.

‘I didn’t lure her anywhere. She asked and I agreed,’ he said.

‘And in the seven months she was in your house, you did not permit her to leave?’

‘I encouraged her to keep a low profile. I couldn’t keep her safe from Lee if he was able to find her.’

‘Did you keep her there against her will?’

‘No.’

‘Did you lock her up and keep her imprisoned under threats of violence?’

‘No.’

‘Did you rape her repeatedly and assault her while keeping her imprisoned in that house?’

‘I did not imprison her. I never touched her.’

‘Did you threaten Claire Ripley and extract a confession regarding the Sandbrook case through violence?’

‘God no!’ 

‘Then why was Claire Ripley arrested showing multiple facial injuries, bruising to the arms and ribcage, and obvious signs of vaginal tearing?’

‘That was Lee Ashworth,’ Hardy replied vehemently. ‘We established this after we arrested them. When Lee came back to England, he and Claire became entangled. He was abusive towards her.’

‘According to Claire, it was you that abused her, and you who threatened her with death if she didn’t stick to your version of events.’

Hardy sat back in disgust and folded his arms. ‘She’s lying. I never touched her. Ask Ellie Miller. She’ll vouch for me.' 

‘Ah. Now that’s the thing,’ the officer said delicately. ‘You see, DS Miller has been implicated in this.’

Hardy became very still. ‘Implicated?’

‘According to Claire, DS Miller assisted you in your campaign of intimidation. Given the documented case of police brutality against Joe Miller, and the fact that the two of you were suspected of having an affair and arresting her husband to get him out of the way, I’m afraid this accusation holds quite a bit of weight. And it means her word in your favour counts for very little.’

In a low voice, Hardy said, ‘have you arrested her?’

‘Not yet. We’ll bring her in for questioning first.’

‘She’s innocent,’ Hardy said fervently. ‘I’m innocent – neither of us ever lifted a finger to hurt Claire. Our investigation of the Sandbrook case was unorthodox, I know, but everything we reported is true, and every confession we extracted was through honest methods.’ 

‘That may be true of Lee and Ricky,’ the officer commented, ‘there’s enough evidence to convict them – but Claire is a grey area. To my mind, it seems entirely plausible that you took advantage of a frightened woman who needed help, locked her up, and when Lee Ashworth came back you decided to rid yourself of her once and for all by implicating her in his murder of Pippa.’

Hardy couldn’t take it any more. His brows pulled into a ferocious knot. In a heat of passion, he responded in furious tones that did little to proclaim his innocence.

*

‘I don’t believe this,’ Ellie was yelling, ‘months without so much as a text and the first call I get from you is to say you’ve been arrested!’

Hardy slumped against the wall and pinched the bridge of his nose, the phone receiver clutched to his ear. She continued to berate him and he interrupted, ‘Miller. They said they were going to question you on this.’

‘They did, earlier today. I was released. I thought it was just a formality, though, just to clear up those accusations Claire made in the interview room. I didn’t actually think -’ 

‘What did you tell them?’

‘The truth.’

‘So did I.’

‘But – they’re still going ahead with it?’

‘Think so.’

He heard her chewing her lip. ‘Have you called Jocelyn? You should have a lawyer with you.’

‘No. I know how this works. Don’t need her yet.’

‘Oh don’t be a fuckwit, Hardy, at this stage you need to take all the help you can get.’ There was a pause. ‘If you get charged, what does that mean for me?’

‘It means you might be charged too.’ Hardy sounded like he was in pain. ‘They’re calling you an accessory. I think they’re trying to get more evidence before they arrest you.’

‘But I can’t – I can’t be arrested. What about my boys? Oh God, what’s Tom going to say when he finds out - !’

‘Breathe, Miller. Breathe,’ Hardy said gently.

She did. Shakily, she asked, ‘what’s stopping them from arresting me now?’

‘There’s a suggestion that I may have fooled you. Got you to help without you realising Claire was my prisoner.’

‘How long will that keep them away?’

‘Not long. I’d say they’re questioning Claire again now.’ 

Just then, an officer informed him that his time was up.

‘Oh bloody hell. I have to go. I’ll call you when I can.’

She did not even have the chance to say goodbye before he hung up.

Shortly afterwards he was officially charged. Due to the serious nature of the offence, Jenkinson had to intervene to ensure he was not remanded into custody. After coughing up a hefty bail bond, he went at once to see Miller.

*

So long dreaming of a reunion. So long dreaming of her. And this was what had brought them back together.

Hardy sat on her couch and rubbed his tired eyes. Ellie picked up a copy of the charge sheet and read through it.

‘Have you read all this bullshit?’ Ellie demanded. ‘Says that you forced her to have an abortion – that you lured her to Broadchurch and kept her imprisoned in the cottage – raped her repeatedly – abused her – wouldn’t let her leave the house – intimidated her, forced a confession…’

Every word was like a knife. He winced and almost doubled over. Somehow it was worse to hear it coming from Ellie than from a magistrate.

Ellie lowered the paper with a strident crackle. ‘What’s this going to mean for the Sandbrook trials?’

‘If I’m convicted,’ Hardy mumbled, ‘Claire will get off. All charges dropped. As for Lee and Ricky… with our names smeared, there’s a good chance the trials will fall apart.’

‘That… can’t happen,’ Ellie said. ‘Surely not. Not all three – Hardy, it can’t happen!’

He lifted his head very slowly and met her gaze. He said nothing, but his tragic countenance said enough. 

Ellie began pacing in a rage. She ripped the paper into pieces and scattered them.

‘It can’t happen. It can’t happen. I won’t let it.’

 She stopped pacing and seized Hardy’s hand.

‘We can’t let them win. I won’t let another murderer get off. We can beat this, can’t we? Together.’

‘Together,’ Hardy agreed, and her impulsive gesture turned into a professional handshake.

*

Ellie was arrested and officially charged. Knowing she was strapped for money, Hardy helped her post bail. She came out in a daze. Hardy walked by her side and they wandered aimlessly for a little while.

‘I’m due in the Crown Court in about four months,’ she said faintly.

‘Me too,’ he grunted. ‘Sandbrook cases are due around the same time. I think they’re pushing us ahead to see what happens with us.’

A red cloud seemed to envelop Ellie. She had been determined not to lash out at Hardy, but as the gravity of their situation became apparent she couldn’t help it. She shoved him. ‘I told you. I fucking told you that your so-called witness protection was stupid! Why the hell would you keep a suspect that close to you? Seven months alone in that cottage, with no-one to vouch for you…’

‘I know,’ Hardy said tiredly. ‘I know.’

‘Why did you do it, Hardy? You played right into her hands! She was manipulating you the whole time!’

‘I felt sorry for her!’ Hardy protested. ‘I’d just lost my partner too. I wanted to help her.’

Ellie put her hands on her hips. ‘Did you have sex with her?’

‘Miller…’

‘No, tell me! Did you fuck her?’

‘No!’

‘Not once?’

‘No! I never saw her like that. And she never asked.’

She eyed him suspiciously. ‘So you would have, if she’d asked?’

‘No. Yes. I don’t know. The situation was… strange.’

‘You’re fucking right it’s strange! And now everyone else can see how strange it is too!’

They stood with some distance between them. Ellie massaged her temples.

‘Did you ever hurt her?’

Hardy looked wounded. ‘You have to ask me that?’

‘Yes! Yes, I fucking do! I’ve just been arrested, Hardy! I have to go home and tell my son and my sister that I’ve been charged as an accessory to rape! Jesus Christ, I have to tell them that you were arrested as a rapist! So tell me now, promise me right now that everything they’ve said is a lie.’

He looked steadily at her. ‘I never touched her,’ he reiterated. 

‘You swear?’

Hardy hugged his arms to his chest in agitation and had to walk away from her.

‘Hardy!’ she called. ‘Hey! Don’t turn your back on me!’

She marched after him and put her hand on his shoulder. He swung around. ‘Don’t question me like that. For God’s sake, Miller, you know me. You know I’d never be capable of what they’re saying! Hurting her, and…’ 

He looked sick and rubbed his upper arms in distress.

Regret touched her countenance. ‘I believe you. Of course I do. It’s just… seven months with her in that cottage. No contact with anyone but you.’ She ran her hand through her hair. ‘How are we going to prove your innocence?’

The outlook was bleak. Both of them knew it.

‘I’m sorry,’ Hardy muttered. ‘I’m sorry I dragged you into this.’

She sighed. ‘You didn’t drag me into anything.’

‘I did. I pulled you into the Sandbrook case. If it weren’t for me…’

‘Don’t, Hardy. I helped you because I wanted to. And if it weren’t for us, three murderers would be on the streets. All we do… all we do now is make sure they stay in prison.’

Silence followed. Then:

‘Can I walk you home?’ Hardy asked.

‘Yeah. I think you should speak to Tom and Lucy as well. Explain what's going on.’

They headed towards Ellie’s house. Ellie was wearing orange and Hardy was wearing black; the sight of them walking together thus accoutred was so usual in Broadchurch that people barely looked twice at them.

They discussed a plan of action. The conversation began to peter out and Ellie frowned.

‘In all those weeks you were away,’ she said suddenly, ‘why didn’t you ever call me? Or come to visit?’

‘I didn’t think you wanted me to.’

Ellie puffed her cheeks out and bit down on whatever she was going to say. She looked utterly furious. ‘Didn’t want…’ she repeated.

Hardy blinked.

‘You – uh, you wanted?’

‘A text would’ve been nice!’ she snapped. ‘Just a “hey, Miller, I’m alive, don’t worry, the pacemaker’s working just fine and I’m having a smashing time with Daisy, how are you?”’

‘You didn’t text me either,’ he pointed out.

‘Because I thought you…’

‘Didn’t want?’

‘You did?’

He managed a stiff nod.

‘Then I guess…’

‘We both wanted.’

‘To see...’

‘Nn.’

‘Well. Suppose it doesn’t matter now anyway,’ Ellie said. ‘We’re back together, whether we like it or not.’

*

 

Hardy lost his new job as DI. His CS discreetly asked him to take leave indefinitely; he agreed, having neither the strength nor the support of his colleagues necessary to protest.

Thus freed from work responsibilities, he moved back to Broadchurch and took up residence in the little blue house by the river once more. The rental company informed him that it had stood empty these past few months; they could find no willing tenants. 

With a sense of inevitability Hardy unloaded his meagre belongings. The sight, smell and sound of the river clouded his senses, at once comforting and unsettling. His heart weighed heavily in his chest.

Jenkinson and the others had been doing an admirable job of keeping media attention away from them, but Claire’s solicitor was apparently a shrewd woman, and a phone call quickly changed everything. The media descended on Broadchurch with an intensity neither of them had anticipated.

Maggie called them up. ‘There’s a media swarm coming. Stay indoors,’ she advised.

Ellie was set upon when she was picking up Tom from school. The threat to her son made her furious, and they snapped a number of unflattering photos exhibiting the famous temper that had led to her breaking Joe’s rib.

News vans arrived too. The angle of police corruption and brutality was too tempting to ignore. Soon it was not simply the papers but the television channels. The headline on the six o’clock news was “The Worst Cops in Britain?”

Trying to stay above the attention, Hardy and Ellie set about preparing their defense. Jocelyn generously agreed to represent them free of charge.

‘The lack of witnesses in the months she was in that cottage is a huge liability,’ Jocelyn said. Hardy and Ellie sat opposite her in contrasting black and orange, regarding her intently with the same brown eyes. ‘At the moment, it’s your word against hers, and something tells me that a jury will be far more sympathetic to a battered wife than a browbeaten cop, especially with all this media attention.’

‘And – and what about me? All this accessory stuff?’ Ellie put in nervously. ‘Does that means I'm dependant on whether Hardy gets off?’

‘Yes; although if worse comes to worst, you may argue that Hardy had you fooled as well, and that you did not know.’

‘If it comes to that, I’ll testify in your favour,’ Hardy said.

‘No you bloody won’t,’ Ellie snapped. ‘You’re not admitting to anything you didn’t do.’

‘If it keeps you out of jail, I will.’

‘No. I won’t let you lie for me. We’re going to tell the truth. That’s all.’

‘The truth might not be enough, Miller,’ he said. ‘Please. The only reason you’re in this mess is because of me, and if I can do something that keeps you out of jail and stops Joe from getting his hands on your boys...’ 

Her eyes widened. ‘No…’ she breathed. ‘Oh no. I forgot – he’d get custody of them, wouldn’t he? If I… if anything happened to me, he would…’

She clapped her hands over her mouth and made a retching noise. Jocelyn and Hardy helped to calm her, and after about a minute she recovered.

‘We have to beat this,’ she mumbled. She was shaking. ‘Have to – have to win.’

‘I will do everything I can,’ Jocelyn assured her. ‘But if we are going to win, a lot will depend on you.’

She handed them a newspaper. The front cover was plastered with unflattering images of the two of them, and it detailed the sordid affair they had supposedly been carrying on.

‘Thanks to Joe Miller’s acquittal, Sharon’s accusation regarding your “affair” has solidified into fact. The whole world views you as two corrupt cops embroiled in an affair, imprisoning and torturing anyone who gets in your way. The recorded beating of Joe Miller certainly doesn’t help.’

Ellie looked like a frightened schoolgirl. Her orange coat suddenly seemed far too big for her. Hardy ran his hand along the back of her chair and squeezed with all his might, wishing he could comfort her.

‘This one,’ Jocelyn paused to direct them to the right page, ‘suggests that Ellie found out about Claire, grew jealous, and decided to imprison her just as you got jealous and imprisoned Joe.’

Hardy skimmed the article. What little he took in made him sick to his stomach and he had to close it.

‘They make us look like monsters,’ Ellie said in a hollow voice.

‘But there is a silver lining to this,’ Jocelyn went on, and they both looked at her. ‘Since so much depends on Joe’s acquittal and the smearing of your characters to provide credibility to these frankly ludicrous claims of Claire Ripley, the solution is simply -’

‘Convict Joe Miller,’ Hardy finished.

‘Exactly. If you gather enough compelling evidence on Joe to stage a re-trial, it will throw all these accusations into doubt.’

‘But… it’s four months,’ Ellie said. ‘We’ve only got four months before the plea hearings. Four months to get enough…’

‘Well. Then you had better get cracking,’ Jocelyn said. 'I'll make an application to the Crown Court to get this case dismissed on lack of evidence in the meantime. With any luck we'll be able to beat these charges before they come to a head.'

They went to leave, and thanked her profusely for her support as they did.

‘It’s quite all right. After what happened in Danny’s case, it’s the least I can do.’ They walked down the path together. ‘Oh – one more thing,’ she called after them. ‘Try not to be seen together too much. With all this media attention, and with the two of you supposedly having an affair – well. The less fuel we can give them, yes?’

Colour rose to Ellie’s cheeks. Hardy acknowledged Jocelyn and they walked down the hill together. They drifted apart as they did. Quite a distance separated them, enough to fit four more abreast between them.

‘How’s it gonna work – us not seeing each other, if we need to work together to convict Joe?’ she asked.

‘Guess we’ll just have to be discreet. The media’s not gonna be around forever.’

‘There’s neighbours to consider too.’

There was an uneasy silence.

‘We’re not doing anything wrong,’ Hardy pointed out. ‘We’re just working together. I don’t see why…’

‘But to the rest of the world, it seems like we are,’ she said sadly.

It nauseated him to know he was living in a world where loving her was a liability; where helping her amounted to sin; where being with her was a crime. Given the depth of his feelings, which had long ago plumbed past friendship, the awkwardness of their situation was especially acute to him.

Not so long ago, he had hoped for a future with her. Now all he wanted was a future for her. Deprived of any chance to make her happy, perhaps he could at least keep her safe. 

Perhaps.

*

There was another unfortunate consequence to the media attention, one he had dreaded.

Daisy found out.

Thus far, Hardy had managed to keep his head above water. He’d borne every blow with the same stoic tragedy with which he had borne the collapse of the Sandbrook trial. But when he received a phone call from Tess and heard that Daisy had seen the papers, believed them, and no longer wished to see him, he cracked.

For a long time he stared at the wall. He picked up the phone with curious calmness and dialled Daisy over and over. On the seventh call, she picked up.

‘I don’t want to speak to you, you pervert!’ she shouted.

The words struck him like a knife through the heart. 

‘Darlin’ – darlin’ please, it’s not true. Claire’s just accused me to -’

‘I don’t want to hear it! First you cheated on Mum, lost the evidence as a result, divorced her,’ Hardy winced, remembering that he had taken the blame of infidelity as well as the divorce and the loss of the pendant, ‘and then you – you fucking – locked up that poor woman whose husband had just murdered that little girl – fucked that detective sergeant and used that boy’s death to get her husband out of the way – I never want to speak to you again, do you understand? You’re not my dad! You’re fucking sick and I never want to see you again!’

She hung up. Subsequent attempts to reach her were fruitless. Even her voicemail was inaccessible to him. Hardy put his phone down. What happened was a blur. He screamed, or cried, or beat his fists against the wall, or perhaps he did nothing at all. All he knew for certain was that after he regained lucidity, he found himself outside in the dark, staring at the rushing river water. Finding that the agony of existence was too much to bear, he sought the only comfort available to such wretched, solitary souls as himself.

He pulled his coat on and left the house without bothering to lock it. Hailing a cab, he went to the next town over and entered the nearest pub he saw. Seating himself upon a bar stool, he downed a number of shots in quick succession, then went sauntering down the street in a daze. A heaviness lingered about him. People crossed the street to avoid him. Perhaps they recognised him from the papers. Perhaps they simply sensed the black, reckless misery that hung around him and knew better than to approach.

He went to another bar, a rather lively place, and sequestered himself on a stool in the corner, effecting the stereotypical aspect of a brooding barfly. 

Desperate for a little comfort, he responded to the advances of the women who did not recognise him as Alec Hardy but merely as an attractively tortured soul. Yet the spirit of Ellie seemed to hover around him, preventing him from taking things further. Finding that he still felt lonely in their company, his interest in them lapsed and the women moved on, casting longing glances over their shoulders as they did.

He did not know how late it was when he emerged, but it was raining. Standing dumbly on the footpath, a car sped through a puddle and doused him. He hailed a cab. 

‘Where to then, sir?’ the cabbie asked. 

Hardy mumbled. ‘Home. Take me home.’ And he gave an address.

*

Ellie awoke to a frantic knocking on her door. Jerking awake at once, she rubbed her eyes and sat up. Panic spread through her and she raced downstairs. Taking a knife from the block in the kitchen, she crept to the front door.

‘Who is it?’

‘Ellie – Ellie, it’s me,’ a voice called pitifully. ‘Let me in, please.’

‘Hardy?’ she said incredulously. She unlocked the door and opened it. Hardy almost collapsed on top her. Sodden with rain, she did not notice at first that he was crying. ‘Hardy – my God, what are you doing here? I thought you were Joe, I was ready to kill you -’

‘Oh Ellie – Ellie, I’m sorry – didn’t know where else to go – just needed you – sorry, so sorry – you can do anything you want with me – kill me, I don’t care – just don’t hate me like the rest of the world!’  

She could smell the alcohol on him. ‘You’re drunk – and you’re wet through!’ She realised she was still holding the knife. Quickly ushering him inside, she locked the door again, returned the knife to the kitchen and helped Hardy to the couch.

‘Mum?’ someone said. Tom was at the top of the stairs, blinking blearily at her. ‘Wuzzgoinon?’

‘It’s nothing darling, it’s nothing,’ Ellie assured him. ‘Go back to sleep.’

‘Is that Alec?’

‘Yes. I – he got caught in the rain. Nothing to worry about. Is Fred still sleeping?’

Tom nodded and yawned. His teenage brain was too sleep-deprived to question her further, and after a little more reassurance he went back to bed.

Ellie turned her attention back to Hardy. ‘She knows. She knows,’ he was mumbling.

‘Who knows? What are you talking about? Hardy -’ she got closer and pressed her hand to his forehead. Despite the cold and damp, he was burning up. ‘You’re delirious.’ 

‘Daisy,’ Hardy said, seizing Ellie’s hand as he did so, ‘Daisy – Daisy, my little girl!’

‘Is she hurt?’ Ellie asked, concerned. Then she got it. ‘No… oh no. She knows?’

Hardy buried his head in his hands. ‘She hates me.’

‘She doesn’t hate you. You’re her dad.’

‘Saw the papers. Thinks I’m a monster. Like him. Like him.’

‘Him?’ Ellie echoed. Was he talking about Lee Ashworth?

‘Like him. Like him,’ Hardy mumbled.

He became more and more distressed. Unsure of how to succour the agony of his soul, Ellie tried to minister to his ailing body instead.

‘We need to get you out of those clothes. Get you warm, or you’ll get sick.’

She cast around. Some of her clothes were hanging nearby. She felt them, and once she discovered they were dry she held them out to him.

He was groaning Daisy’s name and hers a lot.

‘Ellie… my Ellie,’ she heard him say. He squinted at her. ‘Do you hate me?’

‘Hate you? No. Sometimes I feel like strangling you, but I don’t hate you.' 

‘Oh. That’s good. I thought after everything I’d done to you…’

‘Everything you’ve done? Sorry, Hardy, but you haven’t fucked up my life nearly as much as the man I married. You’re a fucking picnic compared to what he’s done to me. In fact,’ she reflected, ‘a lot of the time what you do to me is fix what he fucked up.’ She helped him take his jacket and shirt off. As she was easing a baggy t-shirt over his head she noticed the pacemaker scar above his collarbone, only newly healed and still a vivid red. It stood out amidst a mass of white scar tissue covering his brown torso.

She blinked at it, suddenly distracted. It was only when Hardy made a grunting noise that she shook her head and roughly tugged the shirt down. 

‘Trousers now,’ Ellie said. ‘You can do this one alone.’

He clutched his waistband possessively. ‘Don’t wanna.’

There followed an argument. Finally, Hardy yielded and she forced a pair of trackpants on him.

‘Now,’ Ellie said, ‘this should keep you warm.’

She threw her orange North Face jacket around him. He pulled it on and she zipped it up.

Hardy sniffed. ‘Smells like you.’

‘I’ll just get you some blankets. You can sleep here tonight.’

She took his wet clothes with her and hung them up to dry. Hardy was watching her intently when she returned.

‘Ellie… my Ellie,’ Hardy sighed. ‘I’d do anything for you, you know that?’

‘Yes, yes,’ she said impatiently. ‘You can start by lying down.’

He did so. Ellie threw the blankets over him.

‘Ellie,’ he said. ‘Ellie, Ellie, Ellie. I like your name.’

‘Now I know you’re drunk,’ she teased, ‘Alec.’

He flinched. ‘No. Not Alec,’ he said. ‘Don’t call me Alec. Not his name. Not him. Can still hear how she used to say it…’

He grew agitated again. Ellie sat on the edge of the couch and soothed him. ‘All right, okay, I’m sorry, I won’t call you Alec.’

‘Alec. Alec, Alec,’ Hardy said in distaste. ‘His name.’

‘Whose name?’

‘My father – swore I’d never be like him – said I’d never be like him, but they’re saying I am, I am…’

‘I hope you don’t get ill from this,’ Ellie remarked, stroking his cheek and forehead.

He leaned into her touch with a soft sigh and she tucked him in. He continued to mumble, less and less coherently until he finally grew still. 

‘You just sleep it off,’ Ellie said. She laid her hand on his cheek. ‘We’ll talk in the morning.’

Hardy stared at her for what seemed like a long time. ‘The last thing my mother ever said to me was “God will put you in the right place, even if you don’t know it at the time,”’ he said. ‘Do you think she was right?’

‘I think you’ll have to wait and find out,’ Ellie replied. ‘Now sleep.’ 

She stood and went to leave him.

‘Ellie,’ he called.

‘Yes?’

‘You’re my angel.’

A short laugh escaped her. ‘Sleep, Hardy.’

She turned the light off. His eyes fluttered closed. The long, dark lashes fanned over his freckled cheeks.

Ellie continued to bustle around for a little bit. She rearranged his wet clothes and tried not to think of how awkward things would be in the morning, though she already forgave him for the indiscretion. She could not imagine anything more harrowing than what he was going through, and to add Daisy’s rejection on top of that…

She returned to his side. He was asleep. A troubled crease split his forehead. Impulsively, she leaned down and kissed his brow. He relaxed at once, and the line disappeared.

‘You’re my angel, too,’ she murmured, and left him.

*

Hardy did not recognise his surroundings at first. Blinking and wincing at the throbbing in his head, he recovered his memory by degrees.

He sat up. Ellie had left a glass of water on the table, along with an alka-seltzer tablet and a note that read:

Morning Sleeping Beauty.

XOXO 

The full weight of his indiscretion hit him. Shame and embarrassment sank deep into his belly, heavy as lead. He checked his watch. It was almost 6 am. He noticed his sleeve was orange. He was wearing her jacket.

The mortification was unendurable. She knew the worst of him – the very worst. How could he face her now? 

He decided he could not. Seizing his clothes, which were still slightly damp, he got changed, folded up Ellie’s clothes and blankets, and left without so much as touching the water she’d put out.

He retreated to the cliffs. There, he watched the sun rise and tried to forget all that had happened yesterday.

His phone dinged. He winced and drew it out.

Hey. You all right?

He did not answer. The messages continued.

Hey. Answer me. Are you okay?

Hardy. Answer your phone. Do you need help?

Please, just let me know you’re okay.

Do you need anything?

Did you get home?

When the messages had no effect, his phone started ringing. It rang a total of three times. Then a message.

Pick up.

Another call.

Answer me you prick.  

Another call.

Hardy, if you don’t fucking answer me soon I swear I will –

There followed a threat too visceral to detail. With a sigh, Hardy called her.

She answered on the first ring.

‘Hardy! Fucking finally. Hardy! Where are you?’

‘Miller – erm, look, I’m sorry about last night. I shouldn’t have -’

‘Oh please, I don’t care about that, I just care that you’re all right.’

He winced, suddenly overcome with the sense that he did not deserve this woman’s kindness. He had caused her nothing but grief, been nothing but rude, and yet…

‘Can I see you?’ she asked.

He inhaled and exhaled once.

‘Please.’

He yielded, and they arranged to meet.

‘Never thought you were the type to go boozing like that,’ Ellie remarked.

They were sitting at breakfast together in a little café called The Lighthouse. Fred was with them, though Tom had not deigned to join them and was in the arcade close by. Against Hardy’s wishes, Ellie had ordered him the full English and he was picking morosely at a pile of bacon and eggs. The grease was helping with his hangover, admittedly.

‘M’not, usually,’ Hardy replied in resignation. ‘Just… all got to me at once.’

‘I know the feeling.' 

‘I never could, before the pacemaker,’ Hardy said, gesturing to his heart. ‘Couldn’t turn to that relief. Would’ve killed me, probably.’

Ellie looked concerned. Fred babbled something before she could reply, and she busied herself feeding the toddler. Once he was happy, she turned back to Hardy.

‘Have you heard any more from Daisy?’

‘No. Don’t think I will, for a while.’

He set his knife and fork down and passed his hands over his face.

‘It’ll be all right, Hardy,’ Ellie said. ‘Once we beat the charges, she’ll know it’s not true. Is Tess talking to her about it?’

‘Trying.’

Ellie’s gaze flicked over him. He looked grey, wan and taut, and far older than his years. The loss of Daisy seemed to have taken all the life out of him in one stroke. She could not describe his expression as anything but broken. 

‘So,’ she went on, ‘you’re named after your father?’

Hardy jerked. ‘I told you that?’

She nodded. ‘And that’s why you don’t like your name?’ 

He was mute, but the look on his face gave her the answer.

‘Do you want to talk about it?’

He shook his head.

‘Okay.’ She couldn’t help adding, ‘is he still alive?’

‘Dead. Heart disease.’

He ate a mouthful of beans. Chewed. Swallowed.

‘I think I’ll go back to Sandbrook today,’ he said. ‘At least try to see Daisy. Explain what’s happening. And if she won’t see me, I can at least make arrangements with Tess.’

She nodded. ‘Do you need a ride to the station?’

‘Please.’

‘You should go back to your house first. Spruce up a bit. You’ll give Daisy the fright of her life if she sees you like this.’ 

‘I don’t look that bad…’

‘It’s pretty bad.’

‘Stinky!’ proclaimed Fred.

Hardy took a discreet whiff of his clothes. They were damp and smelled of sweat and booze. ‘God, you’re right.’

Ellie started giggling. The sound made something bloom in Hardy and he almost smiled.

*

To their dismay, they were swamped by reporters when Ellie dropped him off at the station. Knowing that the pictures of them together would be all over the news tomorrow, Ellie decided to see Maggie.

‘Auntie Ellie!’ Olly called. He bounded up to her. ‘Have you come to give me that interview?’ 

‘For the hundredth time, no, Oliver,’ Ellie said. ‘Hardy and I won’t be giving interviews to anyone. Is Maggie here?’

‘She’s out the back. OY! MAGGIE!’ Olly bellowed, and Ellie winced.

A pause followed.

‘What?’ a voice called back.

‘ELLIE’S HERE!’

Maggie emerged from the archives clutching a number of old articles. ‘Ellie!’ she exclaimed. She tugged her glasses off and tossed them on the desk, along with the papers. ‘What are you doing here?’

‘I came to ask your advice,’ she said. She sat down in front of Maggie’s desk. ‘This media scrutiny’s driving me crazy. I don’t know how to handle it. I dropped Hardy off at the train station and we…’

She stopped, staring at something over Maggie’s shoulder.

‘What is she doing here?’ Ellie demanded.

Karen White was lingering in the door to the archives, watching them. Maggie glanced at her.

‘It’s all right, petal,’ she told Ellie. ‘She’s with us.’

‘I know what she said about Hardy – with Sandbrook,’ Ellie said shortly. ‘Why have you let her in?’

‘I’m here to find the truth,’ Karen said. ‘The Herald wants to team up with the Echo. Make sure we get both sides of the story out there.’ She came a little closer. ‘If you give me an interview, I can help you.’

Ellie sprang to her feet. ‘I’ve seen your version of the truth,’ she said furiously. ‘I’ve seen what you said about Hardy. Maggie – please don’t tell me you’re falling for this.’

‘There’s only so much I can do with my small town rag,’ Maggie said. ‘With the support of the Herald -’

‘She’s not supporting you, you’re supporting her!’ Ellie cried. She began to back away. ‘Don’t trust her,’ were her final words before she fled down the street.

Karen shrugged and returned to the archives. Wondering briefly at what exactly she was digging for, Maggie turned to Olly.

‘You better be right about her,’ she said.

‘She hasn’t let us down so far,’ Olly pointed out.

It was true. The Herald’s take had been surprisingly balanced so far, and Karen had followed Maggie’s lead and circulated some modified versions of her articles. Even Jocelyn had agreed it was worth the risk if it led to a wider dissemination of papers that supported, or at least did not prematurely condemn, the detectives. 

*

Unsurprisingly, the images of them together at the station were splashed across the front pages the next day. Somehow, the two of them being together was tantamount to an admission of guilt. The articles furiously demanded to know why these two people, accused of such serious crimes, had not been remanded into custody. Why were they allowed back on the streets? Why were they able to continue their sordid affair while Claire was in jail? The talkback radios rang with complaints, and the public vehemently protested the unfair, preferential treatment given to the police officers.

Hardy’s visit to Sandbrook proved fruitless. Daisy continued to refuse to see him. He tried to talk things out with Tess, but there was little to be done. She did, however, assure him she would testify in his favour. With the papers kicking off about himself and Ellie, she also advised him to stay away from Broadchurch for a little while. This he did, though he stayed in touch with Ellie over the phone.

Then, impossibly, things got worse. 

The Herald released an exclusive story about him, written by its very own Karen White. The headline proclaimed:

LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON?

And it detailed an incident.

Over thirty years ago, a young Alec Hardy had visited Broadchurch with his parents Jemima Hardy and Alec Hardy Senior. This Alec Sr. had apparently been physically and sexually abusive towards his wife, and during this holiday tensions had come to a head. A particularly bad row ended in Jemima Hardy taking leave of her son and committing suicide by leaping from the cliffs. She had plunged into the water and subsequently drowned.

Photographs of the young Hardy, taken by the Echo so long ago, were included, along with snippets from the original report of the incident. 

What effect must this have had on the young Hardy, the article asked. How perverse that he had willingly chosen to return to Broadchurch, the scene of his mother’s suicide. Had he come here to recreate the brutalities his father had inflicted upon his mother with the hapless Claire Ripley? What effect did the breakup of his marriage with Tess have on his state of mind, and had it prompted him to regress like this?

Perhaps the Hardys were not made for wedlock. Perhaps all the Hardys were destined to abuse women.

When Hardy saw the article it induced a panic attack so severe that it eclipsed everything he had suffered before the pacemaker operation. He couldn’t breathe. He was drowning. He sat in a state of abject paralysis, gasping for air as a thousand terrible memories and anxieties assaulted him at once.

He was certain he was dying.

But he was not. That relief, it seemed, was denied to him. The episode passed; he stood, shaking from his head to his feet, and was smitten with a childlike desire to find the one person on earth to whom it was possible to fly.

Upon his return to Broadchurch, however, he found that shame would not allow him to go to her. He roamed around his blue house instead. The sound of the river agitated him. He feared he would start drinking if he stayed put, so he went for a walk along the cliffs. 

That proved too much. Too many memories. In his desperate search for comfort, he ended up at St Bede’s Church. 

Paul and Becca were talking in the garden. Hardy waited behind the wall until they went walking together. Now certain he would be alone, he slipped inside the church. 

The familiar, earthy smell of crumbling mortar, burning incense and dripping lilies hit him at once. The church was quite empty; it was dark, too. The light of the setting sun filtered through the great stained glass windows, painting him red and blue. 

An information plaque informed him the church was 12th century Norman. Traces of pagan imagery stared at him from the stonework, the remnants of old superstitions that Christianity could not entirely quash.

Walking slowly up the nave to the crossing, he was overcome by the weight of all the souls that had trodden these stones before him. For more than eight hundred years this building had housed the collective spirit of the Broadchurch community. They had loved and lost, mourned and celebrated, married and baptised within these walls.

Prowling in a circle, he stopped at the stone medieval font. He smoothed his hand over it. Six hundred years ago, this font had welcomed infants into God’s flock, just as it did today. It was in this font that Ellie had been baptised, as had her parents, grandparents, and all her ancestors, stretching back in an unbroken line of Broadchurch natives. The thought humbled him.

His mother had been a religious woman. Hardy did not believe in God – could not, after seeing what God had let happen to one of his gentlest devotees - but he was awed by the sense of community that filled this church. He thought that was worth more, far more, than some distant, wrathful God.

He lit a candle for his mother, though he did not pray.

A number of hideous beasts were carved into the corbels on the ceiling, staring down at him. His attention was drawn particularly to a Green Man with leaves spewing from its mouth. He shuddered. There had been a similar carving in the church his mother used to go to; as a child, the sight had given him nightmares.

A small piano was set up near the lectern. An organ had evidently never graced this church. They made do with something more modest.

He experimentally hit one of the keys. A deep, melancholy note sang out. It suited him. He tapped a second key, then sat down and began to play.

It had been so long since he’d played, yet he was surprised at how easily the ability returned to him. He managed to coax an admirable, if slightly staccato, tune into the air.

He was so engrossed that he did not hear the church door open. 

‘I didn’t know you could play.’

The piano made a discordant sound. He stood up and spun around.

It was Ellie.

‘Don’t stop,’ she said. ‘I like it.’

She sat next to him. He seated himself again. The seat was narrow, and their knees pressed together.

‘Don’t know if I can play in front of you,’ he grunted. He tried anyway. Ellie tapped her foot along to the melody. 

‘I’ve been calling you,’ she murmured. ‘I saw the papers.’

‘Turned my phone off,’ he grunted.

‘What a coincidence that we both ended up here.’

‘Mm.' 

‘I came to put flowers on Danny’s grave. Then I heard the music. Followed it. I got such a fright when I saw it was you. I thought you were still in Sandbrook.’

He could not explain why he had given in to the unreasoning desire to return here, so he stayed silent.

‘I’ve already given Maggie and Olly a bollocking,’ Ellie continued. ‘I knew nothing good could come of Karen White in their offices.’

She placed her hands on the keys and added a few notes of her own to the melody.

‘I’m sorry,’ she offered. ‘I’m so sorry about what happened. Sorry that it came out like this.’

‘I’m worried about Daisy,’ Hardy sighed. ‘I never wanted her to find out about her grandparents. And now…’

‘Now it’s all over the news. Have you heard anything from her?’

‘No. Tess just said she doesn’t want to see me.’ The mood of the tune darkened considerably. Ellie added some lively notes, trying to encourage him to perk up. ‘I think I’ll go back to Sandbrook,’ he continued. ‘Even if she doesn’t want to see me, I should be there for her.’ 

She agreed. Hardy played on, and a faint smile touched Ellie’s features.

‘You’re very good. Where did you learn to play?’

‘Mum taught me. We had a piano. She used to love playing. Until…’

His chest rose and fell. 

‘My father broke her fingers,’ he finished. ‘Slammed the cover on her hands. She couldn’t play after that.’

Ellie withdrew her hands from the keys like she’d been burned. She turned to him, her eyes overflowing.

‘Did he hurt you too?’

Hardy stopped playing. ‘More after mum died.’

Ellie wrapped her arms around him. She rested her cheek on his shoulder and turned her face to the side so he could not see her crying.

‘It kills me – to hear them say you’re like him,’ she said. ‘That – that man – can hurt you and your mother, but you’re punished for it.’

He touched the arms around him. ‘I always swore,’ he said softly, ‘that I would never be like him. I became a cop to stop people like him. When I married Tess, I swore I’d never hurt her or mistreat her, no matter what. When Daisy was born -' 

He could not continue. Ellie squeezed him tight. 

‘It’s not fair,’ she mumbled. ‘S’not fair. He did that to you – to your mother. And they say you…

There was silence as they held each other.

‘Tom’s getting bullied at school,’ she said finally. ‘Because of me. Because of – of Joe.’

He pulled out of her grip to look at her. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘S’not fair. He’s done nothing wrong.’ She wiped her eyes with the heels of her hands. Hardy handed her a tissue. ‘I think he’s starting to hate me.’

‘Surely he doesn’t believe what they’re saying.’

‘No. He doesn’t. It’s just… his whole life’s gone to shit. He blamed me during the trial. I think he blames me now. And I can’t do a thing to protect him…’

Hardy thought of Daisy and winced.

‘I’m scared, Hardy,’ she admitted. ‘Scared I won’t be strong enough to do this. Scared the truth won’t be enough.’

He reflected for a moment.

‘Will you call me Alec?’ he asked.

‘Why?' 

‘I was always so scared of turning into my father. I hated using his name. But I’m not him. I know I’m not. I don’t need to be afraid of his name.’

‘All right,’ said Ellie. ‘Alec.’

It sounded so sweet on her tongue. He remembered how his mother had used to say that name when his father was –

‘Alec,’ she said again, and she smiled.

He smiled too and resumed playing. Ellie strummed along with him.

The agonised faces leered from the corbels, watching as they played together. Their knees pressed together, out of sight, and their hands occasionally brushed over the keys.

After a little time it became too dark to continue.

‘Wait a while before you leave,’ Ellie advised. ‘We shouldn’t be seen together.’

He nodded. Ellie picked her way along the tombstones that jutted from the earth like teeth. Hardy waited in the dark vestibule for almost half an hour before he left.

He walked along the cliffs to return home. The ocean roared and rubbed its restless flank against the crumbling stones, the same ocean that had drowned his mother so long ago.

*

He returned to Sandbrook. Daisy continued to refuse to see him, though Tess reported that the news about her grandparents had affected her deeply and she spent a lot of time in her room crying.

The news broke Hardy’s heart figuratively and literally, for he began getting chest pains. The pacemaker had been working smoothly since the operation, but something had evidently gone awry. Whether it was the stress or the panic attacks or his newfound tendency to drink or simple mechanical failure, Hardy began experiencing serious dizzy spells and terrible twinges.

A visit to Broadchurch general assured him that the pacemaker itself was working; something else was at fault. They took a number of tests and upped his medication, informing him to return if things got worse.

His newfound inclination to drown his sorrows in liquor made this development especially keen, and when he came back to the empty house to confront nothing but crushing loneliness, buried memories and irrepressible fears, he had to put considerable effort into staying sober. 

He threw himself into his work with an unmatched fervour, but with his face plastered all over the news it was difficult to chase up leads and question people regarding Joe and Claire. Ellie, who had been encouraged to cut back to part-time work, was struggling too.

He scored a small victory; during a visit to Sandbrook, the doctor who had performed Claire’s abortion agreed to testify on his behalf. He took a statement from her that detailed how the abortion had been done entirely of Claire’s own volition, and how he himself had been nothing but comforting and courteous throughout the affair.

He had precious little time to celebrate. A frantic phone call from Ellie turned his blood cold.

Heedless of what might happen if the press saw them together, Hardy took the next train back to Broadchurch.

*

She was waiting in his house when he got back. He’d long ago given her the spare key.

‘He’s back,’ she babbled when she saw him. ‘He’s back, he’s back, he’s back.’

It took him some time to calm her down. She was hysterical and incoherent.

‘I got a phone call from him last night,’ she managed. ‘He wanted – wanted to work something out. About the boys. I hung up on him. Today, his solicitor got in touch with me. He’s suing for custody.’

‘Have you spoken to Jocelyn?’ he asked. 

She nodded. ‘She agreed to represent me.’

‘And?’

‘Joe is an innocent man with every right to see his sons.’ She sniffed. ‘And I’m currently being investigated on charges of rape and false imprisonment. I arrested him under false pretences. Broke his rib. Jocelyn says – she says -’

A heartbreaking cry escaped her and she crumpled to the floor. Alarmed, Hardy ran to her side. He knelt next to her and stroked her back.

Ellie covered her mouth with her hand. Quivering, she took it away and continued, ‘she thinks… it’s possible they’ll take my boys away from me.' 

‘It won’t happen,’ Hardy said. ‘We won’t let it.’

She was trembling all over. She gripped his arm to support herself. Her nails dug into his flesh.

‘I got another call from him today,’ she said. ‘After his lawyer… he said if I didn’t give him visiting rights – at least half and half – if I fought him in court – then he’d sue for sole custody.’ 

‘He threatened you?’

‘Oh God, Alec -!’ she broke off with another pitiful cry. ‘What if he gets them? If we can’t beat these charges, if we don’t find enough evidence, he’ll get them! They’ll take my boys away from me and give them to – to him!’

‘We won’t let it happen,’ he tried to soothe.

‘Why did you have to take Claire in?’ she demanded, turning on him. She staggered to her feet. ‘Why did you have to take the blame with Sandbrook? Why did you have to come to Broadchurch in the first place?’

She shoved him, quite violently, and he staggered backwards.

‘My sons,’ Ellie gasped, ‘my sons – Tom and – and F-Fred, they’re in danger of being taken in by a murderer and because of you I might go to jail!' 

Hardy told himself often that Ellie would be better off without him in her life, though it didn’t make it any less painful to hear her say so.

‘Why did you ever let me see him that day?’ she cried, her raw eyes streaming with tears. ‘He never would have got off if we hadn’t lost that confession – why did you let me see him?’ 

‘I felt sorry for you!’ he protested. ‘I was trying to help!’

‘Why? You’d never had any problems being a bastard before! Why couldn’t you have just said no?’

‘Don’t you think I’ve already asked myself this? Every day I wish I’d been cruel to you. I wish I’d said no. But I couldn’t. I wasn’t – strong enough.' 

‘Why?’

He looked anguished. ‘You were in so much pain. How could I have hurt you, too?’

Ellie’s breath came in shallow gasps. Slowly, the panting evened out.

‘You couldn’t hurt me.’

He shook his head.

‘No… or anyone, I think.' Her eyes screwed up. She walked forward and rested her head against Hardy’s chest.

‘I’m sorry,’ she mumbled. 'I'm sorry. Shouldn't've said that...'

‘Doesn't matter. Are the boys safe now?’ he asked, folding his arms around her.

‘They’re staying with Lucy and Olly. I’ve asked PC Bob to check in on them.’

‘That’s good. If Joe’s back, he might come after them. Make sure they’re escorted at all times. The station’s still on your side, right?’

‘Course. Which means they’re on your side, too,’ she added.

‘Good. I was thinking we should spend some time working there. Maybe nights.’

‘Better access to the evidence, yeah?’ She pulled back, wiping her eyes, and looked at him.

‘Secure, too. And as long as the officers are on our side, we know there’s no chance of them spreading vicious rumours if they see us together.’

‘Mm.’

‘We’ll have to work hard, but we can do this.’

‘Yes. I, um, I brought some of the transcripts I’ve been working on. It’d be good if you could look over them. Give a second opinion.’

Hardy rubbed his chin. ‘I’m seeing Jocelyn early tomorrow. We're going ahead with the application to get the case dismissed on grounds of lack of evidence. I think we should compile everything we have that’s in our favour. Really give her something to go on.’ 

‘Can I come too? I think I should be there.’

‘All right. I would’ve invited you, but with what the papers are saying…’ 

‘Bugger the papers,’ she said angrily. ‘What are they going to do, take another picture of us standing next to each other?’

‘They might take a picture of you leaving my house after spending hours alone with me,’ Hardy said uneasily. ‘Just you visiting my hotel room was enough in Joe’s case.’

Ellie looked troubled. ‘We’ll just have to be careful, then.’

They set to work, and had soon settled into a rhythm. He couldn’t believe how much working with Ellie sharpened his focus. Their counterpointed arguments got to the crux of things so quickly it was astonishing. He marvelled silently at what counterparts they were. They fit together so well, colouring in all the negative spaces in each other’s lives and personalities.

He thought again about what life would be like if she were his partner - his partner in all things, as Tess had been.

Detective. Best friend.

Wife.

His heart twinged in his chest, curtly reminding him that such a future, or indeed any future, was denied to him. Wincing, he felt dizzy and had to sit down. 

‘You okay?’ Ellie asked. She was putting a few more pieces on the evidence wall.

‘Yeah.’ Hardy checked his watch. ‘Um. It’s getting late. I think m’gonna go to bed.’

‘Kay.’

He paused. ‘You can stay on the couch, if you like.’

‘Kay.’

She was engrossed in setting up her wall. Supposing she had already invited herself over anyway, Hardy readied for bed.

‘Do you need anything else?’ he asked.

‘No. Goodnight.’

He nodded and retreated to the bed. With a final, longing look at her, he rolled onto his side and closed his eyes.

*

When he woke up, he was drowning.

His lungs were spasming in his chest. He vaguely heard himself choking. River water was everywhere – in his eyes, his ears, his mouth, his heart, his soul…

‘Hey!’ someone was shouting. ‘Hey! Alec!' 

A face swam into his field of vision. He saw brown.

Lurching with a tremendous, heaving cough, Hardy sucked in a gulp of air.

‘Pippa,’ he mumbled. ‘Pippa, Pippa.’ His shaking hands clawed the blankets, searching for something that was not there.

‘It’s okay, it’s okay, it was just a nightmare.’ A hand touched his cheek. ‘I’m here. It’s okay. You’re okay.’

Hardy slumped back. He wheezed and panted, and slowly his mind cleared. The weight of the world settled back upon his shoulders and he found that in his present, vulnerable state he could not bear it. 

He burst into tears.

‘No – oh no, it’s okay, shh…’

He tried to stop, tried to hold it in, but he couldn’t. He cried for his mother, for Pippa, for Daisy, and for himself and the hopelessness of his own existence. 

A hand closed around his. Through his streaming eyes he could see Ellie. She anchored him to reality at once, and he began to regain lucidity.

‘Shh,’ she whispered. ‘It’s okay. I’m here.’

For a moment he found her presence enormously comforting. Then a sense of deep embarrassment overcame him and he hated himself for crying in front of her. 

‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘M’sorry. M’fine.’

He shuffled upright and slumped against the bedframe. He tried to pull his hand free from Ellie’s grip but she refused to release him.

‘You gave me such a fright,’ she said. ‘I thought you were dying.’ 

She stroked the sweaty hair from his forehead, then placed her palm against his burning brow.

‘You feel feverish.’

‘S’okay. M’fine,’ he insisted, pushing her hand away. He sniffed and wiped his eyes.

She would not be deterred. ‘You’re shaking.’

She appraised him with a worried eye and squeezed his hand.

‘You were saying Pippa’s name. Pippa… and mum.’

He’d called for his mother in his sleep. A hot blush swept over him, followed by a twinge of horror as he recalled the drowning dream that had coaxed that cry from his throat.

He sat in sullen silence for a time.

‘Nightmares,’ he felt obliged to explain. ‘Nightmares. Get nightmares. Dream I’m drowning. And I can’t…’

He rubbed his chest in agitation, his fingers finding the disc shape of the pacemaker under his skin.

‘More frequent before the surgery. Stopped for a bit. They’ve started coming back.’

Her grip on him tightened. ‘I thought you said the pacemaker was working?’

‘It was.’

‘Not anymore?’

He said nothing.

‘Have you been to a doctor?’

He nodded.

‘And?’

‘Can’t figure out what’s wrong. Going for another check-up soon.’

Her fingers moved to his wrist. She found his pulse and began counting.

After a minute, she said, ‘bit fast. But regular.’

‘Not dying.’

‘No.’

His breathing evened out. ‘Sorry I scared you,’ he muttered.

‘It’s okay. As long as you’re okay.’

He wiped his eyes. Ellie still held Alec’s hand, almost as if she loved him.

‘Can I do anything? Get your meds? Make a cup of tea?’

He shook his head. ‘No. This is good. It helps… if someone’s here.’

She lowered her eyes until they were hooded by her long lashes. ‘I understand. I get nightmares too. Back when I was in that shit flat in Devon, with no-one but Fred… sometimes I was more afraid of waking up than the nightmares. Because I’d be alone. Home, son, husband, gone.’ She paused for a moment before adding, ‘I used to wake Fred up. Make him cry, just so I could comfort him.’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘My nightmares have started coming back, too.’ She sniffed. Her eyes grew wet and she looked up. ‘What’s going to happen to us, Alec? I’m so afraid. I’m even afraid to sleep…' 

His distress had triggered something in her. She started shaking.

‘S’all right. Hey. C’mere.’

She crumpled into tears. He gently pulled her into a reclined position on the bed and threw the blankets over of her.

‘Shh,’ he mumbled. ‘Y’okay. M’here.’

Her hands were balled against her mouth and she was sobbing. She curled into the foetal position. Unsure whether he should touch her, his hand hovered at her waist.

‘Can I – uh, please let me…’

‘Yes,’ she sniffed.

He wrapped his arm around her and spooned her.

They stayed together like this for some time.

‘Alec,’ Ellie said suddenly, sniffing, ‘what’s your middle name?’

‘Why are you asking?’

‘I don’t think I like calling you Alec. Not now that I know it’s his name. But using your last name seems too impersonal. So I thought…’

‘It’s James,’ Hardy said. He exhaled loudly, ruffling the hair around Ellie’s ear. ‘But that was his name, too. Alexander James.’ 

‘Oh.’ 

‘My mother never liked using his name for me either. She used to call me Angel.’ His voice grew pained. ‘Always said I was her angel. Without me, she’d have nothing. I know she stayed with him ‘cause of me.’ 

‘Did she try to leave?’

‘He said he’d take me away from her if she did. He had all the money. Could afford lawyers. She couldn’t.’

Ellie’s breath caught in her throat.

‘I think I was the only thing that kept her alive for a long time. But in the end, I wasn’t enough.’

Ellie asked softly, ‘did you see it happen? The…’

She couldn’t bring herself to say the word ‘suicide.’

‘No,’ he replied. ‘For a while, she was just missing. But I knew she was dead. Knew it was just a matter of time. The way she said goodbye to me…’ he sighed. ‘Coastguard eventually found her. Water rots the body, so…’

The arms around her tightened. She felt Hardy press his nose against her hair.

‘I’m so sorry.’ She paused for a moment. ‘I suppose your middle name isn’t an option, then.’

‘No,’ he agreed. ‘But Alec is fine.' 

‘You’re sure?’

‘Yeah. It’s all right when you say it.’

Ellie drummed her fingers against the hands at her waist.

‘We are rather a sad pair, aren’t we, Alec?’ she commented.

He made a humming noise to communicate his agreement.

‘I’ve always believed in justice. Karma, I guess. What goes around comes around. But… I just can’t think what either of us could have done to deserve this.’

Her voice sounded so pitifully small, so broken. Unsure of how to respond, Hardy simply held her as tightly as he could.

Chapter Text

They woke with their arms around each other, curled like twins. Both were embarrassed and said nothing as they hurriedly showered, dressed and prepared breakfast. 

Ellie couldn’t help but be struck by the irony that the man she trusted most in the world was a man that the rest of the world despised. They called him a crooked cop, a rapist, a woman-beater - and yet she had just spent the last several hours curled in his arms listening to his gentle heartbeat, and had never felt safer.

They carefully checked that the coast was clear and set out before dawn. It was late Autumn and the morning was chilly. Their breaths fogged in the air, mingling with the mist. The wet grass wiped its eyes on their trousers, staining them as they ascended the path to Jocelyn’s house.

Maggie admitted them. ‘Oh, Ellie,’ she said. Tender concern was written all over her face.

‘What?’ Ellie asked, suddenly struck with foreboding.

‘Come in. You had better sit down for this.’

Jocelyn was waiting inside. They sat opposite her and her lover, and Maggie handed her a newspaper. 

The headline read:

THE TRUTH ABOUT BROADCHURCH.

Joe Miller Speaks Out.

Ellie went as limp as a ragdoll. Nothing moved but her eyes, skimming back and forth over the article, which detailed Joe’s – or rather, Sharon Bishop’s - version of events.

‘By Karen White,’ Hardy said dully.

Ellie screamed. The cry tore from her throat like the screech of a seagull, more animal than human. She took the paper, ripped it into chunks and began storming around the room in a rage.

‘Ellie!’ Jocelyn said in alarm. She could not quite see what was happening; it fell to Maggie to take Ellie’s arm and calm her down. 

‘It’s all right, petal, it’s all right.’

‘It’s not all right! I told you! I fucking told you about Karen White! I knew nothing good could come of her being in Broadchurch! Have you seen what she’s saying? What Joe’s saying? Oh God!’

‘We’re not going to solve anything like this,’ Jocelyn said in exasperation. ‘Maggie, take her into the kitchen, will you?’

Maggie did so. ‘Come on. I’ll make you a cup of tea. Let’s calm you down, eh?’

Ellie did not fight. Maggie led her away, weeping.

Hardy followed her with his gaze. His soul appeared to go with her.

‘So,’ Jocelyn sighed, straightening her shoulders. ‘You’ve brought something for me?’

Hardy turned to her and nodded. ‘Medical records. Everything.’

He handed them over. ‘This proves I was unwell from the moment I came to Broadchurch. I was weak. Prone to collapse. Couldn’t drive. Couldn’t walk too fast without getting dizzy. Claire would’ve been able to overpower me if she’d wanted.’

‘Were you able to have sex in this time?’ she asked bluntly.

Hardy reddened. ‘Yes. Doctor didn’t advise it, but yes.’

'And did Claire know about your condition?'

'No.'

‘Shame. That would’ve cleared all this up.’

‘I – uh, I took a statement from Becca Fisher, too.’ He handed it over. 

‘The hotel owner? Why?’

Jocelyn blinked down her nose at the paper. Hardy had hoped she would be able to read it, thus sparing him the ignominy of having to say it out loud, but her condition prevented this. He was forced to explain:

‘I tried to – uh, well, I asked her if she wanted to… y’know. With me.’

Jocelyn lowered the paper. ‘Ah.’

‘She said no. Was worried I’d collapse on her. She’d found me passed out before. I’ve included the paperwork that confirms my admittance to hospital. And my notice of dismissal from Jenkinson after she found out about the collapse, and a statement from the police saying I was unfit for duty.’

‘Excellent. This’ll really take the wind out of their sails!’

‘Will it be enough?’

‘Perhaps. But now with Joe Miller coming forward, and clearly eager to testify against you and his wife, I’m not sure.’

‘Ellie’s spoken to you about the custody battle, yes?’

She confirmed it.

‘And? What’s the outlook?’

She sighed. ‘Not good. If we can disprove these accusations, things will improve. It will certainly rule out his getting sole custody, but I am afraid that Joe is an innocent man. He is entitled to see his sons. The only way to prevent him from getting custody at all is to imprison him.’ 

Hardy clasped his hands together worriedly and bowed his head.

In the kitchen, Ellie had her hands wrapped around a mug of steaming tea.

‘I am sorry about the whole Karen White thing,’ Maggie was saying. ‘But I think I can make it up to you. Joss said Hardy was bringing over his medical history. Proof of his arrhythmia to say he was incapable of those violent acts. How about we fight fire with fire? Release those records into the media? Fight Joe and Claire with the truth?’

Ellie looked unconvinced. ‘I think he’d prefer to keep a lot of this private.’

‘No chance of privacy now, petal. Not in a case like this.’

‘It’ll reveal he was unfit for duty when he first took the job as DI.’

‘Better that than being called a bloody rapist.’ 

Ellie flinched. Maggie rubbed her shoulder. ‘He’ll say no if I ask his permission. So give me yours. If we’re going to get the public on your side, we need to fight them in the open. Give the people someone else to sympathise with besides Joe Miller, who they're currently saying is a poor cuckold and loving father cruelly denied access to his sons.’

Ellie looked like she was going to be sick. Her hands trembled so much that tea slopped onto her feet. ‘Okay. Okay, fine. Do it. If Alec gets angry, I’ll take the blame.’ 

‘You’re a gem,’ Maggie said. ‘And if you ever need someone to look after your boys, they’re welcome to stay with me and Joss.’

‘Thank you. With Joe back, I don’t think I can let them go anywhere without an escort. Alec wants to help, but I worry that people seeing him with Fred and Tom will only make things worse.’

Maggie looked at her sympathetically. ‘How are things between you and Hardy?’

‘Between us?’

‘Oh, don’t act coy. I’m a journalist. Nearly forty years now. You can’t fool me.’

Ellie blushed and turned away. ‘There’s nothing between us.’

‘But you fancy him.’

‘No!’

‘You could do worse. He’s a bit of an arsehole sometimes, but absolutely dedicated to justice and a heart of gold under it all. Reminds me of someone else I know.’ She smiled wistfully and twisted one of the rings on her fingers. ‘And he loves you.’

‘He doesn’t.’

‘You must be blind not to see the way he looks at you. Oop. Promised Joss I’d stop making blind jokes. Good thing she didn’t hear.’

Ellie was staring at the floor. ‘Please don’t say any more,’ she said in a small voice. ‘There’s nothing between us. There can’t be.’

A note of tragedy lilted at the word ‘can’t.’ Maggie understood. She backed off.

‘Well. I have to get ready for work now. But I’ll get those medical records out there. We’ll see if we can’t rattle them, eh?’

Ellie returned to the living room with Hardy. They spoke with Jocelyn a little more.

‘One more thing,’ Ellie said before they left, ‘all the stuff about Alec’s dad that Karen White dug up – is any of that admissible as evidence?’

Hardy folded his arms uncomfortably. Jocelyn pondered the question.

‘It may be used to construct a profile,’ she suggested, ‘they may indeed claim that paternal abuse twisted Hardy into a similarly violent man. But it would be stretching it. I think the judge would be on my side if I objected.’

Hardy hunched over. ‘Okay,’ Ellie said, deciding to leave it there. ‘Thank you, Jocelyn.’

The detectives went separate ways once they were outside. Ellie watched him fade into the morning mist and frowned to herself all the way to Lucy’s house.

To visit wrath upon a child for the sins of the father was a justice system good enough for the gods, but she thought man would be a little kinder than that.

Her heart twisted for her sons and for Hardy. She vowed she would do anything to keep them safe.

All three of them.

*

‘Bloody Twitter!’ Hardy bellowed down the phone at her. ‘Have you seen what your nephew’s been tweeting about me?’

Ellie tried to soothe him but he shouted over the top of her.

‘All my medical records – I gave those to Jocelyn in confidence! How the bloody hell did he get his hands on them?’

He continued to rant. ‘Will you shut up for a second!’ Ellie yelled. ‘I gave Maggie permission to leak your records to the media.’

‘You did what?' he expostulated. 'You had no right – those were private – Miller, how could you?’

Suddenly on the defensive, Ellie responded in similarly furious tones, ‘don’t have a go at me! I had to wake up to find Joe’s shit smeared across the front page this morning. Don’t you think it’s about time someone told the truth?’

‘But it’s private,’ he said, agonised.

‘Not anymore. Not on a case like this,’ Ellie said, parroting what Maggie had said.

‘Now everyone knows I got arrhythmia from the stress of – of Pippa and the divorce. They know I wasn’t fit for duty. They even know about how I…’ he trailed off.

‘This all would’ve come out in the court case anyway,’ Ellie said.

Hardy made a noise in the back of his throat. He hung up. Torn between guilt and indignation, she jammed her phone off and shoved her hands into her pockets. 'Knob.'

After a time, she read over the tweets and articles Olly and Maggie were putting out. Her stomach turned when she saw it included a detailed report from Becca Fisher that he had propositioned her and been rejected. He had apparently taken the rejection with good grace and accepted her concerns he would collapse on her.

It was certainly evidence in his favour, but she twinged at the embarrassment it must be causing him. She regretted that she had not consulted with him first.

In any case, the medical records had the desired effect. Joe’s statement to the press had fanned people into a frenzy, and people were howling in support of his desire to get custody of his sons; but this new information threw everything into doubt. For a little while, public opinion began to swing the other way. 

Though not for long.

Susan Wright came forward and gave an interview supporting Joe Miller’s version of events. That stirred the papers for a while. Then Joe appeared on national television.

He gave an interview detailing all the ignominies he had suffered at the the hands of the police. He spoke at length about how his beloved wife Ellie had cuckolded him. He used Hardy’s medical records against him by stating that the detective had known he was running out of time, and so arrested him the very day he was scheduled to resign as DI in order to patch up the investigation. After his failings with Sandbrook, Joe explained, Hardy couldn’t pass up the opportunity to redeem himself, and Joe was the best target since he was also fucking his wife. Hardy had arrested him alone, and Ellie had beaten him into confessing. He showed the pictures of his broken rib to the horrified nation.

Like thunder following lightning, there came an incident after this. 

Hardy went walking on the cliffs after he saw the interview and was out until very late. When he returned to his blue house, he was greeted by the word ‘RAPIST’ spray-painted in black letters across the blue fence.

Horror washed over him and it took him a moment to collect himself. He approached warily, his head cocked, alert to any sign of the intruders.

The door was open when he found it. He realised he’d forgotten to lock it again. A quick perimeter check assured him that the intruders were gone.

The word ‘PIG’ was spray-painted on the outside of the house. Inside, the evidence wall that Ellie had constructed for him was trashed. Paper littered the floor. His clothes had been soiled and thrown everywhere. The damage was not as extensive as it might have been, however. He suspected amateurs, perhaps two or three, who were unused to criminal activity. They had entered an unlocked door and either exhibited restraint in their vandalism, or had gotten spooked and run off before they could complete the job. Either way, he was certain disgruntled townspeople were to blame.

Sitting down on his bed with a sigh, he ran his hand through his hair.

His phone started to ring. It was Ellie. They had not spoken since she released his medical records. For her to call him now, when it was so late, suggested trouble. He answered at once.

‘Alec?’

Hardy sprang to his feet. The tone of her voice was enough to spur him to action.

‘Where are you?’ he demanded.

‘Um… at home.’ He heard her sniff.

Before she could say anything more, he said, ‘stay there. I’m coming.’

*

‘Fred’s already asleep again,’ she said when she admitted him. ‘It s-scared him, though.’

She locked the door firmly behind him. Hardy turned to her. He stroked the hair out of her eyes so he could look at her. ‘You’re not hurt?’

She shook her head. She touched the hand at her face and pressed him close. A look of tenderness came over her.

‘And you’ve secured the house?’

‘As best as I can.’

He walked into the living room. Tom was there, dully picking up the broken glass from the shattered window, which was now blocked up by pieces of plywood. The brick that had done the damage was on the table. Taped to it was a piece of paper proclaiming the word ‘WHORE.’ Hardy felt his heart twist.

‘Oh – Tom, honey, I’ll do that,’ Ellie said, moving forward to shoo Tom away. ‘You might cut yourself.’

‘What’s he doing here?’ Tom demanded.

‘He’s come to have a look at the window. I think he’ll be able to help us find who did it.’

‘It’s his fault they’re doing this in the first place!’ Tom said. He threw down the dustpan. All the gathered shards of glass flew everywhere. ‘Everything they’re saying about you – it’s all because of him!’

He stalked upstairs without another word. Ellie started quivering. She dropped to her knees and started picking up the shards Tom had dropped. Hardy knelt next to her.

‘Sorry – sorry, little accident,’ Ellie mumbled. ‘We’ll clean it up, that’s all right…’

She drew back with a little cry. Her shaking finger had become impaled on a shard. A teardrop of blood beaded at the tip.

Hardy took Ellie’s hand, inspected the wound, and gently prised the glass free. She let out a whine as he did and pulled back to nurse it in her lap. 

‘Let me clean this up,’ he implored. ‘You’ve had SOCO in, right?’

‘Yes. It happened right after the news report with – with Joe. Didn't see who did it. But... Tom and Fred were in the room when it came through. It was a miracle they weren't hurt. I called Nish, Frank and Brian in. It’s all been photographed and everything.' She sucked dully on her pricked finger. 'I just… needed someone in the house with me now.’ Tears slid from her eyes. She glanced in the direction of Tom's bedroom. ‘And now I’m afraid I’ve made it worse.’

Hardy led her to the kitchen. ‘Get yourself patched up. I’ll handle this.’

She nodded. While she went to find a band-aid, he cleaned up the glass. Once he’d gotten all the big pieces, he asked, ‘do you have a hoover?’

She nodded and directed him to it.

‘I might wake up Fred,’ he said apologetically.

She shrugged her assent. Using the hose attachment, he very carefully suctioned the fragments of the glass from the carpet.

‘Thank you,’ she said when he was done. She'd made tea for them both, and she handed him a cup.

‘You’re still shaking,’ he said, taking her hand. It grew still at his warm touch. He inspected the band-aid on her finger. ‘Hurts?’

‘No. Not anymore.’

‘I’ll come and have a look at the evidence at the station tomorrow,’ he said. He surveyed the flimsy boards covering the window. ‘You were right to call me.’

‘I was going to go straight to the Latimers,’ she said. ‘But I didn’t want to leave the house empty and unsecured, and Fred was too upset to leave me. That's when I called you.’

‘I’m glad you did,’ Hardy said gently.

‘I’m so sorry I let Maggie release those documents,’ she sniffed. ‘I thought I was doing the right thing. S’all backfired now, hasn’t it? Now, suddenly, it’s evidence in Joe’s favour. Proves you were unfit for duty. Proves you were desperate to find someone - anyone - before you were taken off the case...’

‘It doesn’t matter what the media says,’ Hardy replied. ‘All that matters is what the courts say.’

They sat side by side on the couch and nursed their tea. Ellie’s shoulder pressed against his and their knees touched. Hardy did not want to burden her with more distressing news, but he felt he had to tell her what had been done to his own house. 

‘No!’ she cried when she heard. She was gripping her teacup so hard that her knuckles turned white. ‘Oh God… it’s so lucky you weren’t there. What if you’d been asleep when they… would they have…?’

‘No. I left the door unlocked, accidentally,’ he explained in a resigned voice. ‘These aren’t vicious thugs, they’re just angry townspeople. Like that mob that went after Jack Marshall. We don’t need to be afraid of them.’

‘But they’re my neighbours,’ she said in a heartbroken voice. ‘My friends.’ She stared miserably at the brick and the word ‘WHORE’ branded on the side. ‘The attack is bad enough… but what they’re calling us…’ She reflected for a moment. ‘I am – quite the opposite to what they’re saying.’

He could tell she was thinking of what Joe had said in his interview.

‘You’d never commit infidelity,’ he murmured.

‘No.’ She almost laughed. ‘I wouldn’t be capable of it. And you… what they’re calling you…’

‘I’m not capable of it,’ Hardy finished.

She shook her head. ‘No. Never.'

There followed a short silence, during which time Ellie studied his eyes and lips. They could hear the wind whistling through the broken window.

‘I missed you, this week,’ she said in a low voice. ‘I was so worried you hated me.’

He found her hand on the couch and squeezed. ‘Never.'

‘I’m sorry for what I did.’

‘It’s all right, Ellie. You thought you were doing the right thing. It backfired. Nothing to be done now. Try not to think about it.’

‘It’s hard when it’s all over the news.’ She divided Hardy’s fingers and examined them. He passively yielded to her touch. ‘Your hands are rather rough, aren’t they, Alec?’

‘Yours are soft.’

He began to stroke her digits in turn. Their fingers locked together.

‘Perfect fit,’ Ellie said, and she smiled at him. ‘How’s your heart?’

‘Still getting twinges. I think it’s getting better, though,’ Hardy lied, pulling out of her grasp. She sensed his evasiveness.

‘I worry about you in that blue house,’ she said. ‘All alone.’

‘Don’t. M’fine.’

She bit her lip as she looked at him. He grunted and turned away. ‘It’s late,’ he said shortly. ‘Y’should try to get some sleep. We’ll deal with this in the morning.’

He took the teacup from her hand and set it down. She acquiesced and rose to her feet. They crossed to the stairs. She climbed them; Hardy did not. A quarter of the way up, she leaned over the balustrade and looked down at him. 

‘You’re staying down there?’ 

‘I’ll sleep on the couch.’

‘Do you want to sleep with me?’ she asked suddenly. ‘Not – not like that, but you know… like we did before. It was nice, having someone…’

‘Not tonight,’ Hardy said abruptly. ‘I’ll stay in the living room. Watch for any intruders. It’ll be safer, while that window’s broken.’

A heavy sigh escaped her. ‘All right. Thank you.’

In a moment of impulse, she bent over the balustrade and laid her face against his hair. Printing a scarcely perceptible kiss on his head, she withdrew and fled upstairs.

Hardy tapped his fingers on the balustrade for some time before returning to the living room. He did not relish the thought of sleeping so instead busied himself by double checking all the glass was gone. He cleaned up the rest of the house too. The evening’s fright had left precious little time for her to take care of domestic duties, and he was glad to accomplish those for her.

Any way he could help, he would.

*

Ellie padded downstairs early the next morning to find Hardy in her kitchen. Fred was sitting up in his booster seat, chattering excitedly to his Uncle Alec as he prepared breakfast.

‘I know, I know, it’s coming,’ Hardy said sympathetically as Fred reiterated that he was hungry. ‘Now, what would you like to drink? Juice? Milk?’

‘Juice!’

'Orange juice coming up. How about a Thomas the Tank Engine cup? You like trains?'

'Trains!' Fred agreed. 'Choo-choo!'

Ellie smiled. She lingered in the doorway a little longer, watching as Hardy ministered to the excited toddler. She wondered what kind of a father he had been to Daisy. The thought instantly made her melancholy, and she ached for him.

'Now open wide, and let's try to get some in your mouth instead of 'round your face this time, eh?'

Fred shouted something, and Ellie decided to announce herself. Addressing both the broody detective and the fussy toddler, she said, ‘you’re very talkative this morning.'

They both turned. 

‘Mum!’ Fred exclaimed.

Ellie leaned over and kissed his forehead. She stroked his curly hair. ‘Good morning, darling. Did you sleep well?’

Fred bobbed happily in his seat. Hardy looked slightly embarrassed.

‘Um. I was already up when Fred came downstairs. Thought I’d make a start on breakfast.’

‘So I see. You cleaned up, too,’ she noted.

He nodded. ‘Did you want me to make you something too?’

She shook her head. ‘I’ll just have cereal.’ She sat down next to Fred and filched some banana from his plate. ‘I got a text from Maggie. Thanks to Joe’s interview there’s more reporters hanging around than ever. They’ve already taken pictures of the – the graffiti on your fence.’

Hardy winced at the blow. ‘Inevitable, I guess,’ he sighed. ‘We’ll have to go to the station separately.’

‘I’ll take over here if you want to have a shower,’ Ellie suggested. ‘You look like you didn’t sleep a wink.’

'I didn't.' He handed over the breakfast bowl and left the room. ‘Bye-bye, Awec!’ Fred said.

‘You like him, don’t you, Fred?’ she mused as she fed the boy a spoonful. ‘I only wish Tom felt the same way.’

*

At the station, Ellie and Hardy worked on trying to discover who had thrown the brick through her window. Hardy got SOCO in to look at his house, too, but they were hampered at every turn by the presence of reporters. With the odds stacked against them, and with so many suspects in the Broadchurch community, Hardy despaired of ever finding who had done it. He only hoped they would not try such violence again.

Mark Latimer called in a favour with one of his mates and Ellie got her window replaced the same day. At Hardy’s insistence, she also upgraded the security in her house, installing better locks on the doors and windows.

In the meantime, Hardy tried to get the graffiti removed from his fence. The landlord informed him he would be paying for it out of his own pocket, to which he agreed. He was assured that someone would be around to clean it soon; for now he would have to live with it.

He found it terribly depressing to live in a house that was branded in such a way, but there was nothing to be done.

Ellie and Hardy began working nights at the station as often as she could find someone to babysit the boys. For all that the papers were saying about them, Hardy personally felt that the evidence on their side was fairly strong. With Jocelyn’s support, there was a decent chance that their appeal to have the case dismissed on lack of evidence would succeed. However, if it failed and things progressed to a full trial, where their guilt or innocence would be determined by twelve stupid, easily-swayed jurors… well, that was another matter.

The other officers helped them when they could, and Hardy was gratified to find that they were indeed firmly on his and Ellie’s side. Jenkinson was especially supportive. Keen to disprove these messy accusations of police incompetence and brutality, she gave them whatever resources they asked for.

Yet they made little headway on finding new, compelling evidence against Joe.

Hardy’s chest pains continued to worsen. He felt ill and lethargic, but the doctors still could not tell him exactly what was wrong. There was almost a suggestion that his present situation had saddened him to sickness. 

He did not tell Ellie about this, and simply booked in for an appointment with a specialist.

*

Ellie was due to have her first meeting with Joe and his solicitor. She did not tell Hardy, for she knew he would insist on helping her, and with much of Joe’s success riding on the proof of their affair, she thought it best to keep him away.

She had worked herself almost into a frenzy of worry. The thought of seeing him again - the necessity of seeing him again, on his terms - was agonising. Beth was her rock through this, lending her all the support necessary. The Latimers agreed to take the boys while she went to the meeting. 

She was grateful to have Jocelyn with her, but the old lawyer wasn’t very practiced at giving emotional support. As she chewed her nails and hyperventilated outside the room, all Jocelyn could say was that she should pull herself together. It did little to help her. 

She yearned for Hardy's silent support, pined for his unwavering devotion.

Abby Thompson was acting as Joe’s solicitor. She was young and still a little inexperienced, but she was hungry for her big break and trained by the formidable Sharon Bishop. If Sharon was a bulldog, Jocelyn warned Ellie, then Abby was a terrier; obstinate, aggressive, and willing to take on foes much larger than herself. 

Ellie refused to look at Joe throughout the meeting. She focused on her breathing, remembering the technique Hardy had taught her to manage panic attacks. In through the nose. Out through the mouth. Count each breath. Shut everything else out. 

She lifted her gaze from the table and stole a glance at Joe’s hand. She saw he was still wearing his wedding ring. Her stomach lurched so violently she thought she was going to be sick.

Breathe, she could hear Hardy saying. Breathe.

She would have given anything to have him with her now.

‘Given the ongoing nature of Mrs Miller’s affair with DI Hardy, my client has expressed some concern about his children. He feels it would be better if they were not in contact with a man who has been accused of so many serious offences.’

Ellie and Joe had both been allowing their lawyers to speak for them, but this dragged Ellie's gaze upright. She glared at Abby. It took all her strength to keep from vaulting the table and punching her lights out. ‘Accused,’ she snapped. ‘He’s been accused. As have I. You can’t use that against us. Or have you forgotten that it’s innocent until proven guilty?’

‘Ellie is right,’ Jocelyn interrupted smoothly. ‘It’s all very well to bandy about these accusations, but until detectives Hardy and Miller have been proven guilty in a court of law, you cannot use this against them.’

‘With the amount of media attention, and the negative effect it’s having on Mr Miller’s sons, I think we can. Is it really healthy for young Tom and Fred to be in the company of an accused rapist?’

Ellie slammed her hands on the table and rose to her feet. ‘As opposed to a fucking murderer?’ she shouted.

‘Mrs Miller, sit down,’ Abby said curtly. 

‘Oh, I swear to God, if you call me Mrs Miller one more time, I will -’

‘Ellie!’ Jocelyn snapped.

She bit her tongue and fell silent.

‘Perhaps you’ve forgotten, Mrs. Miller,’ Abby said acidly, ‘but you are still married to my client. Which is another reason why this affair with DI Hardy is such a concern.’

‘What affair?’ Ellie exploded. ‘We have never had an affair! What, you saw me visit him in a hotel room one time? Saw me walk next to him? What does that prove? It’s all lies, and unless you’ve got some solid proof you can stop throwing that in my face!’

‘Will you sit,’ Jocelyn hissed, and Ellie did so. ‘I apologise for my client’s tone, but again, I have to point out that she’s right. Unless you have proof of such an affair, it will count for very little in court.’

The meeting continued back and forth for some time. The lawyers did most of the talking, sizing up each other’s arguments. They agreed to meet in a week’s time to try and talk it out again, this time while a court-appointed arbitrator was with them. Ellie personally felt all this negotiation was pointless since neither she nor Joe were willing to compromise, but she went along with Jocelyn’s mandate to stay out of the courtroom for as long as possible.

Joe had said nothing throughout all of this. He remained as passive as he had when he was in court, locked in a glass cage. 

But as she was leaving, a voice called to her.

‘El.’

 * 

It was nighttime. Hardy was alone, dozing in his blue house when he heard an urgent rapping on the door. He saw orange before he saw anything else.

‘Ellie – for God’s sake, what are you doing here?’ he said as he opened the door. ‘If anyone sees you here at this time -’

‘I know, I know,’ she said rapidly, slipping inside. ‘I’m sorry, I just had to see you.’

‘Something’s wrong,’ he said. ‘Not another attack? Where are the boys?’

‘I just came from them. They’re staying with the Latimers. They’re fine. But…’

She told him all that had happened with Joe and Abby.

‘Why didn’t you tell me that was today?’ he demanded.

‘You’d only try to help,’ she mumbled. ‘And you can’t. With what they’re saying about us, you’d only make it worse.’

'Then why come here at all? You could be seen.' 

She wrung her hands. ‘I needed you,’ she said helplessly.

He palpitated at the thought. He would have taken an arrow to the heart with more composure. Didn’t she know what it did to him to hear those words? Claire had kept him under her spell with nothing more than her frightened brown eyes and that simple phrase. To hear it from Ellie, his dearest, his only companion in the world… 

‘What can I do?’ he implored.

‘Nothing. I don’t know.’ She began to pace, her face flushing, and he understood that she had fled to him in her darkest hour as he had to her, without sense or reason. It had been pure instinct, as natural as a bird returning home to roost.  

‘Do you have something to drink?’ she asked.

Hardy retrieved a small bottle of whiskey. Ellie uncapped it and before he could offer her a glass she took three great swigs from the bottle, winced, and coughed.

‘God that’s strong.’ She continued to take gulp after gulp. Hardy looked concerned.

‘You’ll make yourself sick if you drink it too fast.’

‘Don’t care.’

She wiped her mouth and started pacing again. Her hands were shaking. She gripped the bottle hard to still them.

‘There's - there's something more. He – um, he came up to me after the meeting. Alone. Cornered me. Was talking to me about -’

Protectiveness rose in him like a monster. 'Did he try to hurt you?'

'No.' She took another swig. ‘He said – he said – that he’d stop. He wouldn’t sue for sole custody. He’d let me have access to the children. But only if…’

She let out a little cry.

‘He wants me back!’ Her voice cracked. ‘Not just Tom and Fred – he wants me back too! He kept asking – why can’t things go back to how they were? And he’s still using my last name. Miller. My father's name. My family's name. Keeps refusing to divorce me. Still wears his wedding ring. And he was saying – over and over and over – you’re mine, you’re mine, you’re mine, you’re mine…’

‘Bullshit. It doesn’t matter what he says. You’re not his and you don't owe him a fucking thing.'

‘But in the legal sense, I am. His lawfully wedded wife till death us do part. It’s driving me mad – the fact that he still has a legal right to us. The fact that he’s legally innocent. That the boys and I – that we’re his – Alec, it’s killing me!’ 

An uncontrollable fit of grief seized her. Hardy started forward and took the bottle from her hand. He helped her to the couch. She folded onto it, her limbs trembling like broken butterfly wings.

‘I don’t know what to do,’ she moaned. ‘I don’t know what to do. If I fight him, I lose. If I don’t fight him, I lose. I’m trapped. No way out. Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea…’

‘Ellie,’ Hardy said firmly. ‘We can win this.’

‘How?’

‘Same way we stop Claire. Convict him. Clear our names.’

‘How? How?’ she demanded. She gestured to the evidence wall. He’d painstakingly pieced it back together after the break-in, but it was pathetically paltry. ‘We’ve been working this case for weeks and we’ve got jack shit to show for it!’

She took the bottle off him and gulped down another two mouthfuls. ‘He murders a child and he has a legal right to my boys,’ she groaned. ‘And I can’t divorce him without his consent, because that’s how justice works in this world.’

He murmured, ‘that’s bitter of you to say.’

‘But it’s true!’

She drained the bottle and flung it on the couch. Hardy quietly stood and deposited it in the bin. He filled a glass of water and gave it to her.

‘Drink.’

She did, sobbing all the while. He worried she would be sick from drinking so much so quickly, but she showed no sign. Soon the numbing effects of the alcohol kicked in and her limbs grew limp.

‘I want to kill him,’ she said. Her eyes were hooded. ‘If – if he gets custody – anything at all, I’ll kill him.’

‘Don’t say that.'

‘No. I mean it.’

‘And then what? What would happen to your sons? They’d grow up motherless while you rot in jail.’

‘But at least he wouldn’t get them.’ She sighed. Her head flopped back against the couch. ‘At least they’d be safe from him. He couldn’t do to them what he did to Danny. They’d be safe. And I wouldn’t have to be afraid of him anymore. I wouldn't be his wife.’

He did not know what to say, so he let her keep talking. She began rubbing her arms in agitation.

‘I can still feel his touch sometimes. Nightmares. Him touching me. With the same hands that killed Danny. Blood all on his hands. All on me. Danny’s blood.’

She started scratching her arms, first gently, then harder and harder. Her nails raked audibly over her soft hands, leaving marks. Alarmed, Hardy seized her by the wrists, arresting the self-abuse.

‘I’m his wife,’ she was moaning. ‘He’s their father. I chose him. I chose that man. It’s because of me. I’m his, I’m his, his wife…’

‘You’re not,’ Hardy soothed. ‘You know you’re not. It doesn’t matter what a piece of paper says. He gave up his right to be a husband and a father a long time ago.’

‘But in the legal sense, he is,’ she sighed. ‘And the law will protect him.’

Hardy began to inspect the damage she had done to herself. He rubbed his thumb against the raised welts forming on her wrists.

Ellie grew still. ‘I dream about killing him, sometimes,’ she said.

‘There’s no harm in dreaming.’

‘I can’t let him have us. Any of us, ever again.’

‘He won’t.’

He released her wrists. She folded her hands into her lap and grew quiet. Unsure of what to do, Hardy sat with her. He dreaded her silences more than her paroxysms. So used to her wittering, her silence was unsettling by comparison.

‘Alec,’ she said suddenly, the words slurring slightly. ‘Will you kiss me?’

He looked at her in surprise. ‘Not right now.’

She started forward and put her hand on his knee. ‘I can still feel his touch on me,’ she murmured. ‘I don’t want to feel that any more. I want to feel you.’

She kissed him without waiting for permission. He could taste the alcohol on her mouth. Very gently, he put his hands on her arms and pushed her back.

She opened her eyes and looked at him, her expression hurt. ‘Don’t you want me?’ she asked plaintively.

She tried to kiss him again. He stopped her. ‘You’re drunk.’

A shuddering sigh escaped her. ‘Not drunk.’

‘Yes you are. It wouldn’t be right.’

She huffed, but accepted defeat. ‘Will you at least hold me? I just… just want to be held for a little bit.’

He did not see any harm in that. ‘Okay.’

She took his hand and led him to the bed. They piled in together. Hardy shuffled in behind her and tentatively wrapped his arm around her.

‘This okay?’

She grasped his arm and repositioned him so he was holding her closely. ‘Yeah,’ she snuffled. ‘Warm.’

Her hair was tickling his nose. He stroked it, flattening it out of the way.

‘You’re always so kind to me, Alec,’ she sighed. ‘So kind to me, and to my boys. It breaks my heart to know what everyone’s saying about you. Joe’s free. They think Claire’s a victim. But you – someone who’d never hurt a child or a woman…’

She lapsed into silence for a moment.

‘I hated you when I first met you. It was love at first sight with Joe, but I hated you.’

 She rolled over. She touched his beard, smoothing her fingers over the rough stubble, and kissed him.

‘I chose that man,’ she said, drawing back. ‘Now I choose you. I don’t want to be his, I want to be yours.’

‘Ellie, you’re drunk,’ he said again, and a rueful heaviness settled in his stomach. He knew it wasn’t love for him that inspired these words, just a drunken, desperate need to exorcise Joe from her body.

She took his hand and placed it on her breast. He moved it away. She tried to kiss him again, but he was stone.

‘Please,’ she pouted. ‘Don’t you love me?’

Firmly, once and for all, he said:

‘No.’

He felt her tense up.

‘No?’ she breathed.

‘No.’

‘You don’t…?’

He frowned. ‘Don’t want…' 

She huffed and turned away from him, curling into the foetal position. Hardy sat up in alarm, realising that what he had intended as a rejection of sex, she had taken as a complete rejection of the most brutal kind.

‘Oh… oh no, hey, I didn’t mean -’ 

‘S’fine. I get it,’ she said in sullen tones.

‘No, no, I only meant – right now – I didn’t realise you – uh, you wanted…’

She sniffed. Panic surged through him. He’d hurt her – something he promised himself he would never do. If she had been sober, he would have smoothed this over with a kiss and shown her just how much he loved and wanted her, but that recourse was denied to him right now. His brows knotted together as he tried to think of how to fix this. He wasn't sure he was capable of explaining, wasn't sure if he had the words, or if Ellie would understand in her present state.

Reaching over her to the bedside table, he seized his wallet, opened it, and turned it upside down. An old-fashioned gold ring fell into his palm.

‘Here,’ Hardy said. He gently took her left hand and slipped it onto her ring finger. ‘This was my mother’s.’

Ellie made a confused noise. She sat up, looking at him.

‘Not his,’ he explained. ‘Not Joe’s. Mine. And if y’feel different in the morning, you can just… give it back.’

She held her hand out in front of her and studied it, still looking astonished. 

‘Yours,’ Ellie said. 

Hardy flushed in embarrassment. Feeling that the gesture had been too much, that he'd overdone it, he said, 'don't have to...' and reached for the ring again.

Ellie made a possessive growling noise. She curled her hand into a fist against her heart and rolled onto it, protecting it with her body.

‘Okay, then,’ Hardy smiled. Glad that he had appeased her, he lay down next to her and spooned her again.

Presently, Ellie felt safe enough to draw her hand from under her chest. She looked at the ring and turned it in circles.

‘Joe’s ring never fit me,’ she mused. Her voice was thickening, her eyelids drooping. ‘Always a little too tight. Always hurt if I wore it too long. This one…’ she curled her hand against her lips and closed her eyes with a soft exhale, ‘feels just right.’

She felt warm and heavy in his arms. Relaxed. Satisfied.

He stroked her hair until a mixture of the dark, the comfort and the whiskey sent her to sleep. Once he was sure he would not disturb her, he got up and set up the sofa for himself. They had shared beds before, but he thought it better not to sleep with her just now. He knew she would be mortified upon waking, and he wanted to do whatever he could to make it easier.

Moonlight was falling slantways upon her exhausted face. Her hand was still curled by her mouth, the ring shining upon her finger.

Quietly, Hardy pulled the curtains closed and left her alone.

*

A sharp pain in his heart woke him before dawn. Ellie was still sleeping soundly in his bed. Much as he was loath to disturb her, he decided that the sooner she was away, the better.

He laid his hand on her cheek. She stirred.

‘If you’re going to leave before anyone sees you, you need to get up now.’

She opened her eyes. He handed her a glass of water.

‘Hope you’re not too hungover.’

‘God I feel like absolute shit,’ she mumbled. She took the glass and downed it in three enormous gulps. ‘How much did I drink? My head…’

Hardy took the glass. She massaged her temples. ‘What…’

She froze, and her eyes widened. She snapped up, staring at Hardy in horror.

‘Oh God.’

‘It’s okay. Nothing happened,’ he assured her.

Her jaw hung slack. ‘I tried to - I’m so sorry.’

‘Don’t be.’

‘I kissed you. And I was saying… and you…’

She groped for her ring finger. Hardy shifted in embarrassment.

‘I know it's a bit... but I thought giving you the ring would be better.' He rubbed the back of his neck, abashed. ‘Because if we… and you regretted it in the morning, you couldn’t give that back.’

Ellie started to shift in agitation, rather resembling a trapped animal.

‘Need a shower,’ she mumbled.

‘Spare towel’s already in there.’

She fled to the bathroom without another word.

When she emerged, fully dressed and looking much better, Hardy had just finished cooking breakfast. Scrambled eggs on toast steamed on the table.

Ellie quietly placed the ring next to him. Hardy tried to hide the sting he felt at the rejection.

‘Thanks,’ Ellie muttered. ‘For not… you know.’

She sat opposite him and surveyed the breakfast he had prepared. ‘I’ll have to be quick. Need to get out of here soon.’

Hardy nodded. He closed his hand over the gold ring. Wetting his lips, he summoned the courage to say, ‘I didn’t give this to you just to appease you.’

She looked up.

‘I really did give it to you. You don’t need to give it back if you don’t want.’

She chewed and swallowed a mouthful of eggs. ‘It was your mother’s. I shouldn’t take it.’

‘It does nothing but sit in my wallet. I’d prefer if you had it.’

He moved the ring to the centre of the table. Ellie trained her gaze on it, almost longingly. He left it there, and said no more about it.

Soon it came time for Ellie to leave. She lingered by the table. Picked up the ring. Turned it over in her hand.

‘You really want me to take it?’

He nodded. ‘It can remind you. Every time you look at it. Not his. Not anymore.’

Mine.

She studied her bare ring finger. A white band marked where Joe’s ring had once sat. She scrubbed the scar-like mark and shuddered, then slipped Hardy’s ring on so that it covered the mark.

They went outside. It was a chilly, misty morning. Ellie zipped up her orange coat and looked across the green and white expanse of the field behind his house. There were no journalists in sight. No sign of any human life. It was as though they were the only two people on earth.

Ellie turned around. She saw the black, spray-painted word 'RAPIST' on the fence and her expression crashed.

‘Okay. Well. Um. Thanks for everything.' 

She held out her hand.

‘Handshake?’ he asked, deadpan.

‘Yeah. Not hugging you.’ She could not meet his eye.

Hardy wondered if she realised how ridiculous the phrase sounded after the intimacies they had shared but said nothing. Exhaling and straightening his shoulders, he took her hand and shook it firmly. He could feel the ring pressing against his skin.

‘Look after yourself, Ellie,’ he said.

She left, slipping across the misty field. Hardy stood by the blue fence, unwittingly right next to the branded word, watching her, his hands in his pockets. She had not gotten far when he saw her pause and study her hand. Suddenly, she looked back.

The look they shared was fatal.

She sprinted back to him, the dewy grass springing aside with every step, and he moved forward to meet her. They embraced almost violently and kissed close and long, their hot mouths melding in the frigid air. Blue and orange mingled, like she was the sun and he the ocean and she was drowning in him. When they parted, not a single word was spoken. She went away into the misty morning with colour in her cheeks and he returned to his house with a beating heart.

He touched his lips at intervals for almost an hour afterwards and roved his house in a distracted manner. He seemed incapable of keeping still and made several cups of tea, which he promptly forgot about and allowed to grow cold as he meditated on what had happened.

The kiss was a turning point in his life, one given freely and soberly in the light of day, and inspired by a passion on both sides that bordered on recklessness. He had felt the heat in it, and the way she had clasped his face and stroked his cheek…

His phone dinged. He looked at the message. It was from her.

I’m sorry about last night, and this morning, too. It was a mistake.

He did not reply to this; there followed another message reiterating that the kiss was a mistake and that it would not happen again.

Hardy sat down and tapped the phone to his chin. He knew she had fallen into one of her self-harrowing, recriminatory moods, and knew also that whatever feelings of guilt she entertained after the fact, it had not been a mistake.

In his long, faultful life the kiss represented a rare moment of purity. He felt in his soul its essential rightness, even if Ellie could not accept the same.

But since she had made no mention of returning his ring, he suspected she already had.

Chapter Text

A very West-of-Wessex girl

            As blithe as blithe could be,

            Was once well-known to me,

And she would laud her native town,

            And hope and hope that we

Might sometime study up and down

            Its charms in company.

 

Thomas Hardy, The West-of-Wessex Girl.

 


 

It was still early when Hardy set out from his house. He pulled his black coat securely around him, turning out the collar with a subtle flick. He walked with his head bowed, his brow furrowed in thought.

He reached Jocelyn’s house and rapped on the door. He saw a shape through the glass jump in surprise.

‘Who is it?’

‘S’me,’ Hardy said, allowing his Scottish brogue to give him away. 

‘What do you want?’

‘Need to talk.’

Jocelyn opened the door and admitted him. ‘About the case?’

‘About Ellie.’

They sat together at the table. Jocelyn had all their files and documents spread around her, as well as a tape recorder. Her glasses and a magnifying glass stood at the ready.

‘Well?’ Jocelyn asked with an abruptness bordering on rudeness.

‘You… erm, you saw Joe yesterday,’ Hardy ventured.

‘Yes.’

‘You know Ellie’s not coping?’

Jocelyn scoffed. ‘Not in the slightest. She’s a liability to her own cause.’

Hardy took a deep breath. ‘I think it would help if she were able to divorce Joe.’

‘Ah. That’s why you’re here?’

‘She told me he won’t sign the papers. But there’s a way to do it without his consent. I know because when Tess asked for a divorce…’ he grimaced. ‘I wanted to talk things out. She didn’t, so she said… anyway, I didn’t want to make her do that. I signed.’

Jocelyn placed aside a few of the papers. ‘It’s a somewhat longer process, but you’re right. I can put the wheels in motion straight away.’

‘I wonder,’ he paused and wet his lips, ‘if you could bring it up the next time you see him. Try to encourage him to sign. The sooner the marriage is annulled, the better.’

Jocelyn sat back and folded one leg over the other. She tapped her slippered foot. ‘Am I sensing some personal investment in this?' 

‘No. It’s not about me.’

‘Because if it were a matter of personal investment,’ Jocelyn went on, ‘it is something that I, as your lawyer, would need to know about.’

Hardy was mute.

‘Is there something between you?’

Silence.

‘I am asking for your own benefit. A lot is riding on you being innocent of any affair.’

He leaned forward. ‘Just help her divorce Joe. I think it could really help her.’

Jocelyn let it drop. ‘Will you bring me my computer?’

Hardy picked up Jocelyn’s laptop and placed it in front of her. She put on her glasses and Hardy watched as she drafted some papers.

‘I’ll deliver a formal letter to Abby. Encourage him to sign. If he won’t comply… well, we will do it without him.’

She typed very slowly, using only her index fingers. She ended up bent right over the laptop until her glasses were in danger of scraping the screen.

Finally, she turned the laptop to Hardy with a sigh. ‘Will you type as I dictate?’

He agreed and dutifully copied down what she said. Her speech was perfect: measured, eloquent, and filled with just enough legal jargon to sound intimidating. He meditated on the similarities between himself and this woman. Both experienced, both good at their jobs, both dedicated to justice, and both fighting their own failing bodies in order to continue their work.

She asked him to read the letter back. He did. She dictated some amendments, then nodded in satisfaction and turned on the printer.

‘Is there something ironic about your condition?’ Hardy could not help asking. ‘Justice being blind and all?’

‘Don’t,’ Jocelyn said, though not without humour. ‘I get enough of that from Maggie.’

‘How’re things between you?’ he asked.

‘Fine. Why do you ask?’

‘Just...’ he inhaled and exhaled. ‘Making conversation.’

She paused. ‘I don’t think I’ve been happier in a long time.’

Hardy smiled to hear it. ‘Last time we talked like this you were saying you’d missed your chance to be with her.’

‘She does love to prove me wrong.’

‘What changed? How did you come to have…’ he gestured to their shared home, ‘all this?’

Jocelyn considered the question.

‘It was a time when I was at my weakest. I was alone. The trial was coming apart. My sight was failing. But… somehow, I was able to be strong. I told her.’

Hardy sank into a reverie.

‘Maybe you should do the same,’ she suggested.

He jerked slightly.

‘Once this is all over, of course.’

The document began printing. Jocelyn pulled it out and signed it with a flourish.

Hardy was frowning in thought. ‘What’s your sense of the upcoming appeal?’

‘Barring any unfortunate new developments, I think we’ve a very good chance of getting this dismissed. The burden of proof is on them. The lack of witnesses when she was in your cottage is as much a liability to her as to us.’

‘We have to beat this.’

‘I know.’

‘We can’t let Joe take sole custody of her sons. And my daughter… my daughter…’ his face twisted. ‘She shouldn’t be hearing what they’re saying about me.’

Jocelyn promised again that she would do her utmost to get them justice. He left, and as he walked home he wondered if the traditional notion of Justice being blind was a reflection not of her impartiality, but of her tendency to punish the innocent as much as the guilty.

*

‘Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea,’ Lucy said as she stirred her tea. ‘That’s what Dad always used to say, wasn’t it?’

Ellie was sitting with her sister relating all that had happened with Joe. She shifted at the phrase. ‘That’s what I said, too.'

‘What’ll you do, El?’

‘I don’t know.’ She put her head in her hands. ‘Run away. Hide. Emigrate. Get the kids as far away from him as I can. Only I can’t, because of my bail bond. I’d be breaking the law and they’d arrest me. Again.’

‘I wonder what Dad would do,’ Lucy mused.

A hollow laugh escaped her. ‘Kill him, probably. You know how he protective he was of his baby girls.’

‘How protective he was of you,’ Lucy said, a touch snidely.

‘Oh, don’t start this, Luce. He loved us equally.’

‘You were the favourite and you know it. Always running after him. Wanting to be a hero like Dad.’

‘Luce, I’m not in the mood to do this now.’

‘Why didn’t you ever become a coastguard like you said you would? You spent enough time on that bloody boat with him.’

She glared at her sister. ‘You know why.’

Lucy took a sip of tea. ‘I’m just saying, you could have avoided all this if you’d followed your dream.’

‘Right. So that’s your advice is it?’ Ellie demanded. ‘Go back in time and change my career path? Brilliant. Thanks.’

‘What’s she done now, El?’ Olly asked behind her as he came into the room. Tom came in with him, carrying his skateboard.

‘Being insensitive,’ Ellie sighed. ‘How was the trip to the skate park?’

Tom responded with a monosyllabic grunt. He raided the fridge and went upstairs.

‘Good,’ Olly responded. Once Tom had disappeared, he added quietly, ‘though the other kids aren’t talking to him yet.’

A heavy sigh emanated from Ellie. Lucy rubbed her shoulder, and it was the first truly comforting gesture she had managed all day.

‘Auntie Ellie,’ said Olly, scooting close to her. ‘I was thinking I might be able to help.’

‘Whatever it is, the answer’s no, Oliver.’

‘It’s about this stuff Karen White dug up on Hardy,’ he went on, pulling an old copy of the Herald from his bag and setting it on the bench. ‘I was thinking we could do an article from Hardy’s point of view. I know this must have had an effect on him, but as far as I can tell, it didn’t turn him into his father. It made him the opposite. People need to know that.’

‘Why are you coming to me about it?’ she asked tiredly. ‘It’s about him, not me.’

‘Because he won’t talk to me,’ Olly said, ‘and since you gave Maggie his records, I thought…’

Ellie’s surged violently backwards. She touched the ring on her finger with a stab of guilt. She could not stand being known as his betrayer. ‘No. Once and for all, the answer’s no. I can’t tell you anything.’

She stalked from the room. ‘Think about it!’ Olly called after her, and he left the newspaper on the bench for good measure.

*

That night Hardy and Ellie met at the station to work on the case together. They spoke very little of the intimacies they had shared and approached their work in a very businesslike fashion. Some of the officers helped them for a little bit, but by midnight they were alone.

While Hardy tried to listen to some tapes, Ellie began rifling noisily through some old papers.

‘You want to stop fiddling with that?’ he asked irritably.

‘Something’s bugging me,’ Ellie frowned. She found the document she was looking for and pulled it out. ‘When Claire gave you the pendant, she said she followed Tess, broke into her car and took it. But when questioned she made no mention of taking the stereo or other valuables. Now she’s saying that the car was broken into by local kids and that you coerced her into saying she’d done it.’ She tapped the pen against the paper and frowned at him. ‘She had no reason to lie the first time. Why didn’t she admit to taking the stereo and faking the theft?’

A look of apprehension stole over Hardy. He laid aside the tapes.

‘I remember when we asked her about it,’ Ellie went on. ‘She seemed genuinely surprised when you mentioned the theft of the other valuables. Does that mean some kids went through the car after she broke the window and took the pendant? Or does it mean…’

She trailed off and glanced at Hardy. That single look was as effective as speech between them.

‘Or does it mean,’ Ellie went on slowly, voicing what they were both thinking, ‘that it was Tess who faked the theft? Got rid of the stereo and other valuables to cover up that she’d been targeted deliberately.’

Hardy let out a groan and put his head into his hands. Ellie approached him and laid her hand on his back.

‘We have to talk to her.’

‘I don’t believe it.’

‘We have to get her to testify.’

‘How could she do that?’ he cried. ‘To me? To the Gillespies? Deliberately tamper with the evidence –'

He surged to his feet and began pacing back and forth.

‘It can’t be true – she wouldn’t – she’s a detective – how could she -!’

‘We have to get her to testify for us,’ Ellie repeated patiently. ‘As it stands, Tess’ statement is evidence in Claire’s favour. Proves she didn’t really take the pendant.’

‘If she’d told the truth – if she'd told me - we would’ve known that the killer took the pendant. We would’ve known she’d been targeted – it would’ve proved – and I wouldn’t have had to – how could she do that? Cover it up just to save her own skin?’

‘Will she agree to come clean?’ Ellie asked.

Hardy ran his hand through his hair. ‘I don’t know.' 

‘She has to. We need everything we can get right now.’

Looking sick at heart, Hardy promised he would speak to Tess.

The next day, the Herald released exclusive pictures of a kiss between detectives Hardy and Miller that had apparently occurred after a nightlong dalliance at his house. A blue figure and an orange figure, slightly obscured by white mist, could be seen embracing and kissing passionately in front of a blue fence that was marked with the spray-painted word ‘RAPIST.’ 

Karen White claimed responsibility for the photographs. Hardy wondered how it had happened. Had she been following them without their knowledge? Had she sent a photographer on their tail? Had someone else offered her the shots? Hardy supposed it was useless to quibble over such things, for here it was. Solid proof at last that the two of them had been having an affair all along. It caused a conflagration, not just in the media, but in their personal lives as well. Ellie had a lot of explaining to do to the Latimers and her sister. 

Hardy received a very irate call from Jocelyn.

‘Have you seen the papers?’ she demanded.

He quietly admitted that he had.

‘How am I supposed to deal with this?’ she demanded. ‘Do you have any idea what this means?’

He made a noise at the back of his throat.

‘Don’t you have anything to say for yourself?’

Silence answered her question.

‘Why didn’t you tell me you were together?’

‘We’re not,’ he mumbled, ‘together.’

She scoffed. ‘I think you can drop the act now.’

‘No. That was our first proper kiss. Nothing else has happened between us.’

Suspiciously, Jocelyn said, ‘you’re being honest with me?’

‘Yes.’

‘Good grief,’ she sighed. ‘Well, keep it that way. Don’t leave the house and don’t see each other. I don’t want a single picture of you so much as standing next to each other until the appeal.’

‘I can’t see her at all?’

‘Absolutely not. For now, Maggie thinks we can get away with it by claiming the photographs were faked. It’s impossible to see your faces clearly due to the angle, and the mist and poor quality throws doubt onto it. I believe it will be inadmissible in court. Whether the public will believe that is another matter.’

Later, Tess arrived at his house.

‘I had to fight off a whole crowd of reporters,’ she said, sweeping her hair out of her face as she stole inside. ‘Have you seen them all out there?’

‘How’s Daisy?’ Hardy asked.

‘She’s all right. Sure wasn’t happy when she saw those pictures of you and Ellie. I bloody knew there was something going on between you two. Why the hell didn’t you tell me?’

‘There’s nothing between us,’ Hardy said tiredly.

‘Don’t lie to me, Alec.’

‘M’not. We’re not a couple. We’re not… anything.’

‘Then why did I have to wake up to pictures of you and that woman sucking each other’s faces off this morning?’

‘Her husband’s suing for custody of her children. She was upset. She came to me, so I -’

‘Fucked her?’

He fixed her with an admonishing stare. ‘She stayed with me and we talked through it. The next day she kissed me goodbye. That’s all.’

‘Sure doesn’t look like that’s all. You should’ve heard what Daisy was saying about her.’ She took off her coat and threw it over the chair. ‘God, it’s freezing here. Forgot how cold it gets on the coast.’ She sat down at his table. ‘Now, what did you need to talk to me about?’

Hardy sat opposite her. ‘I know what you did.’

‘Gonna have to be a little more specific, Alec.’

‘The pendant,’ he said shortly. ‘I know you faked the theft.’

Tess shifted. ‘Right. So straight into the interrogation, then.’

A cloud of anger stole over Hardy. ‘You let me believe that some kids were responsible!’ he shouted, slamming his hands on the table. ‘You made me think I’d lost that evidence forever! How could you do it? You’re a detective, Tess!’

‘Don’t raise your voice at me,’ she snapped. ‘If I’d let them think I’d been targeted deliberately by the killer, it would have ruined me. They’d never trust me again. But an accident was forgivable. A smash and grab by kids was the only way I thought I'd salvage my reputation.’

‘Your reputation?’ he exploded. ‘It was Pippa’s pendant, Tess! Pippa! The same age as our little girl! How could you value your reputation over her?’

‘Because she’s dead, Alec. Sometimes I feel like you forget that.’

Hardy’s lips parted in astonishment. He tried and failed to comprehend Tess’ sentiment, then his expression hardened and he said, ‘you’re going to make a statement saying you faked the robbery.’

‘No.’

Hardy’s hands curled into fists. ‘Yes,’ he said firmly. ‘Without your testimony, it looks like it really was a smash and grab. It exonerates Claire. You need to set things straight.’

‘Or what?’

‘Or I’ll go to jail and Ellie’s sons will be taken from her!’ Hardy shouted. ‘For God’s sake, Tess! After everything I’ve done for you, can’t you bring yourself to tell the truth for me? Just once?’

Tess remained silent. Hardy felt the rage growing in him.

‘Say you’ll testify for us.’

‘I’m not going to do that.’

Hardy sprang out of his chair and surged forward. She flinched away from him and he towered over her. He was trembling with rage and his teeth were bared.

‘Do it, or I swear I'll -'

'What?' she demanded. She fixed him with a steely gaze and sat up. ‘What will you do? Hurt me, like your father hurt your mother? Like they’re saying you hurt Claire Ripley? Force me?’ 

Hardy blinked. Suddenly sickened with himself, he reeled backwards and walked to the other side of the room. He began rubbing the shape of the pacemaker and winced.

Tess regarded him with an appraising eye. He was terribly pale and thin. He looked older and greyer than his years and was slightly unsteady on his feet. He had confided to her that his heart was playing up again. It seemed obvious that he was not long for this world. On the strength of this, she resolved to keep to her story.

When one weighed up the costs and benefits, it really seemed like the sensible thing to do. Why jeopardise her career for a dying man? As for Ellie, her husband was bound to get custody anyway. She could not see the harm in sticking to her story.

‘Get out,’ Hardy said in a low voice. ‘Go on, piss off. If you won’t testify, we’ve got nothing more to say.’

Tess gathered up her things and stalked to the door. As a parting shot, she said, ‘I’ll be sure to tell Daisy how well our meeting went.’

And she slammed the door shut, leaving him alone.

He could feel another panic attack coming on. A part of him had not believed Tess could be so cruel. For the first time he began to think that she was not a good person. He had always been so keen to blame himself. He told himself he must have driven her into the arms of another man, that the divorce and the loss of the pendant really was his fault. And now here he was, confronted with the proof of Tess’ guilt and his own innocence.

Had it been a mistake to take the fall for her all those years ago? Had he been wrong to lie to Daisy?

He couldn’t cope. He was going out of his mind and was disgusted with himself for making such a violent movement towards her, as if he’d been going to strike her. Yet Tess’ reaction had not been entirely justified. He had told Tess all his fears and anxieties about his father long ago. It seemed cruel, monstrously cruel for her to bring him up as she had.

In a state of distraction, he searched for the bottle of whiskey he had stashed away until he remembered that Ellie had drunk it all. Since he could not leave the house thanks to the reporters, he was forced to stay sober.

Even now Ellie was saving him from himself.

With no other recourse, Hardy folded himself into a ball, adopting his pose of childhood comfort, and hugged his knees as he breathed and sweated and suffered through the attack.

*

‘I can’t believe you lied to me!’ Tom shouted.

‘I didn’t lie, sweetheart,' Ellie said desperately. 'Alec and I – we’re not together, I promise!’

He brandished the newspaper at her. ‘Then why are they showing these pictures everywhere? And don’t say it’s not you because I know you stayed at his house last night!’

Ellie wrung her hands. ‘I can’t explain it!’

‘Then start trying!’

She looked into her son’s fierce blue eyes. She surrendered. ‘That was our first kiss. Our first proper kiss,’ she said weakly, wiping her eyes. ‘I went to see him to discuss the custody battle. He was kind to me. He looked after me. I kissed him goodbye and those pictures – just make it look horrible…’

The tears fell faster than she could wipe them away. Tom looked suspicious. ‘So you’re not together?’

‘No.’

‘Do you want to be?’

‘I - ' she hesitated, but decided she had to be honest. 'I think so. How – how do you feel about that?’

He threw her a scornful look. ‘Do you really have to ask?’

She shuddered slightly. ‘Well. It doesn’t matter anyway. With everything going on, we can’t.’

‘Everything that’s happening is because of him,’ Tom protested. ‘How can you like him?’

‘It’s not.’ She shook her head. ‘It’s not because of him. It’s because of your father, and Claire Ripley.’

His expression remained obstinate. It almost broke her. She sat down and buried her face in her hands.

‘You’re so young, Tom,’ she said tremulously. ‘I’m so sorry you have to go through this. I’m sorry – I can’t – protect you.’

A sob convulsed her. Tom approached her and warily put his hand on her shoulder. She groped for his hand and gripped it tight.

‘It’s all right, mum,’ he said quietly. ‘It’s not your fault.’

Ellie stood up and pulled him into a hug at once. She breathed in the smell of him and stroked his soft blonde hair.

‘And I guess it’s not his fault either,’ he conceded.

‘No,’ Ellie said softly, twisting his hair in her fingers. ‘No. He’s been helping me. He’s been so kind to me. To all of us.’

There was a pause.

‘I don’t want to go with Dad.’ She heard Tom sniff. ‘I know he killed Danny. Me and Fred – we can’t go with him.’

She gripped him so tight she stopped breathing. ‘Oh no!’ she gasped. ‘No, you won’t! I won’t let him near you, either of you, ever again. I promise.

She kissed him some half dozen times until he pulled away from her grip. She wiped the tears from his eyes and kissed his forehead.

‘Will that count for anything?’ he asked. ‘If I say I don’t want to go with him, will that stop him from getting custody?’

A tearful, heartbreaking smile stole over Ellie’s face. ‘I’m afraid not,’ she said. ‘Kids under sixteen – their opinion usually doesn’t count for much. And Fred, because he’s so little – he doesn’t get a say at all.’

‘But – they can’t make me go with him,’ he said apprehensively, ‘can they?’

‘Let me speak to Jocelyn,’ Ellie implored. ‘I’ll see what she can do.’

She kissed him again. 

‘Has Alec really been helping you that much?’ he asked.

‘Sometimes I feel like he’s the only thing keeping me together,’ she admitted.

Tom reflected for a moment. ‘In the paper - all that stuff they’re saying about Alec’s dad – is it true?’

She nodded.

‘Does he talk to you about it?’

She nodded again.

‘The kids at school – some of them say that I’m gonna be paedo or a murderer like Dad.’

Ellie felt as if she’d been dealt a physical blow. It took all her effort to stay upright.

‘And it – it scares me sometimes,’ he admitted, biting his lip. ‘If I’m his son – I wonder if I will turn out to be like him.’ He looked at his mother with Joe’s blue eyes. ‘It’s kind of comforting to know that even though Alec’s dad was a monster, he didn’t become a monster.’

‘Quite the opposite,’ she said with a ghost of a smile. Her hand went to the gold ring that shone on her finger. She twisted it gently.

‘Yeah. I hope they prove his innocence. He doesn’t deserve what they’re calling him.’

‘And nor do you,’ Ellie said. She hugged her son again. ‘You’re not him. You will never be him. And he will never see you again. I won’t let him.’

He hugged her back. ‘I love you, mum.’

‘I love you, my darling.’

*

Several days passed. Hardy and Ellie did not – could not – see each other. The appeal was almost upon them, and they agreed that they should stay apart until then. Autumn faded, and the season of winter began while they were separated.

Hardy suffered exquisitely in the meantime. Daisy was not answering his calls. Tess refused to speak to him. He couldn’t see Ellie. He couldn’t leave the house without reporters harassing him. He couldn’t sleep without vividly reliving his mother’s death and his near-drowning with Pippa in his arms. And to top it all off, he couldn’t even drink to ease the pain.

He stopped eating. He stopped sleeping. His panic attacks grew more regular. He vaguely recalled he had not taken his medication in a while. He tossed back two pills. 

Soon after, the world turned black.

*

Through bleary eyes, he thought he saw Olly’s face. Then he saw a nurse – two nurses. He closed his eyes again.

When he opened them, he was lying in a hospital bed. Apparently he had collapsed and Olly had found him when he went to see him about doing an interview. The nurses were furious when they learned that dehydration, lack of food and lack of sleep were factors. They scolded him at length for not taking care of himself.  

‘Have you told anyone about this?’ Hardy asked Olly once he felt better.

‘Just Maggie,’ he replied.

‘Don’t tell Ellie,’ he implored. ‘I don’t want her to worry.’

Olly looked unconvinced.

‘Please, Oliver.’

‘How about this: you give me an interview, I don’t tell. Deal?’

He glared at Olly, then threw the covers back.

‘Woah, you’re not supposed to be up and about yet!’ Olly said.

The nurses came in and said the same. Hardy ignored all of them and determinedly marched out of the hospital.

When he got home a number of reporters were waiting for him.

‘DI Hardy! Is it true you were admitted to Broadchurch general?’

Others fired similar questions. He ignored them all, loped past the blue fence with the word ‘RAPIST’ on it, and shut himself away inside his blue house.

*

Ellie had just returned home after a meeting with Jocelyn. Fretting over her sons, she began tidying up to distract herself. As she did she came across the old newspaper Olly had left with her, the one detailing Hardy’s family history.

LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON?

Her face twisted. She supposed Tom must have found it. The question posed in the headline must have touched a nerve in him. 

She unfolded the paper and looked over the picture. It was of a melancholy boy, the misnamed Alec whose dead mother called him Angel. His eyes were haunting and dark and he bore the countenance of a child who had felt the pricks of life quite before his time.

Ellie studied the photograph closely. Suddenly her eyes widened and her lips parted in incredulity. In the background of the photo was a blurry figure she recognised. She seized the paper with a rattle and drew it closer, raking her eyes over it. 

‘It couldn’t be…’

She was startled by an urgent rapping on her door. ‘Ellie! It’s me, Maggie.’

She opened the door. ‘Don’t you answer your phone?’ the journalist demanded. ‘It’s about Hardy. Olly found him passed out today. Apparently he’s already discharged himself from hospital against their advice.’

It was the last sting she needed to spur her to action. ‘Will you look after the boys tonight?’ she asked.

Maggie agreed. ‘I’ll take them home with me.’

Ellie made all the necessary arrangements, then kissed her children goodbye.

*

Hardy was in bed, listening to the melody of the surging river as he stared at the ceiling. He had cleaned himself up, eaten, dressed warmly, and was suitably recovered from the morning’s incident. All that remained was to get some sleep, much as he dreaded the thought. His phone was off and there was little to disturb him beyond his own fevered mind. His heart was quiescent, at least. He was grateful for that.

There came a rapping at the door. He winced and sat up. Thinking that it was only another reporter, he did not answer. The rapping repeated itself, somewhat more urgently. His thoughts turned to Ellie – but surely that was impossible. There was no way she could get past the reporters without being seen. 

Then he heard a timorous voice. ‘Alec?’

His stomach lurched. He fumbled with the door, unlocked it and opened it to behold a dripping spectre.

It was indeed Ellie, inexplicably soaked to the bone and her teeth chattering loudly.

‘I’m so cold!’ she exclaimed. ‘Can I come in?’

‘What have you done?’ he started. ‘No – come in, quickly.’

He seized her arm and pulled her inside. Going over to the windows, he peeked through the Venetian blinds. The group of reporters still stood there. Not one had noticed her.

‘You’re soaked through,’ he said as he looked at her. ‘How -’

‘I went through the river!’ she said. She approached him fervently, leaving a puddle in her wake, and seized his hand. ‘I heard you collapsed – that you’d discharged yourself. I had to see you, but the reporters were surrounding you, and it just seemed so unfair that I couldn’t see you so I went around them and -!’

She smiled triumphantly.

‘You came down the river,’ Hardy said incredulously. ‘In winter – Ellie, you idiot!’

Heedless of the water, he threw his arms around her and pressed her close. He brushed his lips against her wet forehead.

‘Pot, meet kettle,’ she sniffed. ‘Why the hell didn’t you stay in hospital? Why didn’t you tell me you were this ill?’

‘We have to get you warm,’ Hardy said feverishly. ‘You have to get out of those clothes – you can have a warm shower. I’ll find something for you to wear.’

She was shivering too violently to resist. Her purple lips parted over her chattering teeth as he helped her to the bathroom.

Hardy stayed in the living room while she showered, pacing in circles. He was going out of his mind with worry. How he valued his own life had been proved, but hers – he was furious that she had risked it in such a way. The river was deep and fast-flowing and had recently been swelled by rains. She could have drowned. Even now she was in danger of getting sick from the cold. Why had she thrown herself so recklessly into the water just to get to him?

The answer that presented itself was too absurd to contemplate.

Presently, he heard a knock. ‘Clothes?’ she asked through the door.

‘They’re just outside.’

She opened the door a crack. He glimpsed a pink arm shoot out and pull the clothes inside, then the door shut again.

‘I hope they’re okay,’ Hardy said awkwardly. ‘Most of my clothes were ruined when I had that break-in.’

She emerged wearing his suit trousers, a blue work shirt and blue sweater. Ellie held up her hands, which were hidden by the floppy sleeves.

‘You don’t have anything less formal?’

‘All ruined.’ He placed his black coat around her shoulders in addition.

‘Kinda roomy in the crotch,’ Ellie remarked, and she swivelled her hips, trying to get used to the odd way the trousers clung to her.

Hardy heard himself laugh. She laughed too, and it restored the colour to her cheeks.

‘Come and sit by the heater,’ he said. ‘It should have warmed up by now.’

She did so, and folded herself into a little ball on the couch. He sat by her.

‘You’re warm?’

She nodded, and as she looked at him a little sigh escaped her. ‘You seem all right. I’m glad.’

‘You just crawled out of a river in winter and you’re worried about my health?’

‘Someone has to, since you won’t.’

‘It was nothing serious. Just something stupid. I’m okay.’

Her hand crept across the couch and found his. She pressed her fingers against the hollow beneath his thumb and started counting.

‘You’re wearing my ring,’ Hardy noted.

‘Of course. It’s like a touchstone to me now. Oh bollocks, I lost count.’

She frowned and started again. After another minute of counting, she released his wrist.

‘Do they know what’s wrong with you?’

‘They’re saying they might need to replace the device. Their advice in the meantime is avoid stress. Don’t have panic attacks.’ His countenance darkened considerably.

‘But they can fix you?’

‘They can try.’ He paused and glanced at the window. ‘Have you thought about how you’ll get out of here without being seen?’

‘You leave tomorrow morning. They follow you. I sneak out once they’re gone.’

His chest rose and fell. ‘You shouldn’t have come here, Ellie.’

‘You should’ve answered your phone,’ she said sullenly. ‘Told me you were all right.’

‘If they see you…’ he continued.

She cut him off. ‘I know.

He let it drop. ‘Well. As long as you're here, do you want something to eat?’ He got to his feet.

‘As long as it’s not a salad. I hate salad.’

‘Beans on toast?’

‘Please.’

He busied himself in the kitchen. When he came out she was hanging up her sodden clothes near the heater. 

‘My shoes are ruined,’ she sighed. ‘Everything else made it.’

They ate their meagre meal together at the table. Removed from close proximity to the heater, a trifling shiver passed over Ellie. Hardy retrieved a blanket and tossed it over her.

‘Stop fussing.’

‘I’m worried you’ll get ill from the river.’

‘I won’t. The warm shower did the trick.’

They finished eating and spoke quietly of the upcoming appeal. It was only a few days away. Ellie became a little distressed.

‘I really shouldn’t have come here,’ she said, sounding upset. ‘If anyone sees me here… oh God, what if I’ve ruined everything?’

‘It’s okay,’ Hardy soothed. ‘No-one’s seen you.’

'Yet.' She started sobbing. ‘I just had to see you. I had to make sure you were all right. I keep having dreams where you die in this fucking blue house, all alone…’

She reached for him. He started forward and pressed his face close to hers. ‘It’s all right. I’m all right.’ 

A tremulous sigh escaped her and she turned to him. 'Yes.'

‘Come and sit by the heater,’ he said, and led her to it again. Once he had her tucked securely under a blanket, he cleared their dishes away.

Curled on the couch, Ellie watched him. She was chewing her thumbnail and seemed to have something on her mind.

‘What is it?’ he asked.

‘There is – another reason I came,’ she admitted. ‘I needed to know – well, I was looking at the article today. About your mother.’

A low sound escaped him and he turned away.

‘I know, I know, I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘But… exactly how old were you when it happened?’

‘Eleven.’

‘Eleven,’ she repeated. She gnawed her lip. ‘My father... he was one of the coastguards around here. I went to work with him sometimes, and I remember, when I was about ten, he found a woman in the water. I didn’t see her, but… there was a little boy. Her son. He had brown hair. Dad said I should stay with him. Keep him company until…’

Hardy turned to her incredulously. He sat next to her with a bump. ‘That was you?’

‘It was you?’ she asked. ‘I didn’t remember until the photographs jogged my memories, but…’

He blinked at her. ‘You said your name was Milly. I thought – like Millicent.’

‘No. That was Dad’s nickname for me. You never told me your name. You didn’t speak much.’

‘No… and you wouldn’t stop talking,’ Hardy said. His gaze flicked over her, cataloguing her features. He suddenly touched her hair. ‘Curly hair… and you had freckles, and this enormous gap between your front teeth.’

She self-consciously pulled away from his touch. ‘It took me a while to grow into my teeth.’

He was staring at her in awe. ‘You saved me,’ he said.

‘Don’t be daft.’

‘You did. I got no comfort from my father after mum died. But I remember you – you and your father. You were both so kind to me.’ A smile split his features. ‘You shared sweets with me.’

‘Boiled raspberry drops,’ they said simultaneously. Ellie continued, ‘I remember. It made our tongues go bright red.’

‘It made me laugh.’

Brimming with feelings he did not know how to express, Hardy clasped her hands.

‘I can’t believe I’ve met you before.’

‘Yeah. I guess I didn’t hate you at first sight after all,’ she replied.

He let out a joyous laugh and hugged her. He buried his face in her curly hair and clung to her for dear life, as if he were drowning and she were the only thing that could save him.

When they parted, Hardy pressed his forehead to hers and closed his eyes. He had found her. His angel. The girl with the sweet smile and the brown hair. The kindness she had shown him – her and her father – he had clung to that in his darkest moments after his mother’s death. He never knew strangers could be so kind.

‘I feel as if I’m meeting you again for the first time,’ Ellie said softly. ‘The world really does work in mysterious ways.’ 

Hardy pulled back. There was a lump in his throat and he could not speak. Ellie tried to restore some levity to the situation with a few jokes, then got up to make tea.

‘Green tea, yeah?’ she asked.

‘Peppermint,’ he said absently.

She came back in and handed him the tea. He took the cup and stared at the rippling surface for a moment.

‘I remember, you kept trying to give me things,’ he said slowly. ‘Tried to give me trading cards. Bubble gum. Something else.’

‘The only thing you took were the boiled lollies.’

‘And a yo-yo.' Another smile cracked his face. ‘You tried to give me a yo-yo in my bereavement.’

‘I didn’t know what I was doing!’ she said defensively. ‘How was I supposed to know how to make you feel better?’

‘You overcompensated.’

‘I did,’ she conceded. ‘You didn’t make things any easier. You barely said a word.’

‘I liked it. Being smothered with kindness. Clumsy kindness. Your father was better.’ He paused. ‘What happened to him?’

She flinched. Placing aside her teacup, she said, ‘he drowned when I was sixteen.’

Hardy put his own cup down. He wet his lips. ‘Drowned?’

‘Hazards of the job. Mum always said he’d play the hero one too many times.’

Hardy let his concerned expression voice his inquiry. Ellie picked at the fabric of the couch.

‘A family went fishing out in the bay. Got caught in a storm. Dad was sent out to rescue them. He got three of them, but when he went back for the fourth, the youngest child… neither were ever seen again.’

‘You never recovered the bodies?’

She shook her head. ‘There’s a monument at St Bede’s. Lovely big one. The family put it up for him as a show of gratitude. It tore me apart, to think that he could spend his whole life saving people from drowning only to drown himself. I dropped out of school the same year. Got a few different jobs. Soon as I turned eighteen, I joined the force. Mum was furious.’

‘Strange form of rebellion,’ he remarked, ‘becoming a police officer.’

‘I thought it’d make him proud. His last name was Miller,’ she added. ‘Dad and I, we did our family tree together. He was so proud of this town and our heritage. I wanted to keep his name, so when I married I asked Joe if he would change his. He agreed, and I remember thinking how lucky I was to have married someone so generous and understanding…’

She paused, her lips going taut.

‘It – hurts – to hear him still using that name. He’s taken so much from me. My home, my friends, my sons, my body. Even my name. My name, Alec!’ She suddenly struck her fist against the couch. ‘Do you know what that feels like?' 

‘To share your name with a monster? Yes. I know.’

Ellie's gaze flicked over him. She let out a deep sigh. ‘There are times,’ she said, ‘when I feel like you’re the only person in the world who understands me.’

Their hands crept towards each other.

‘I feel the same way about you.’

Slowly, their fingers locked together. Alec’s thumb rested atop hers and he rubbed it back and forth. 

‘It’s strange,’ she murmured.

‘What is?’

‘That it’s so comforting to me. Just knowing I’m not alone. That at least one person in the world understands.’ She regarded his melancholy brown eyes. Suddenly she was transported back in time, and all she could see was the dark-eyed boy from her childhood. It opened a wound in her.

‘Not alone,’ Hardy repeated, continuing to stroke her hand. The tenderness of his gaze was fatal.

She squeezed him. He could feel the ring pressing against him.

‘Alec,’ she said, ‘you can kiss me, if you want.’

Leaning forward, Hardy kissed one cheek, then the other, then pressed his lips to her forehead. When he pulled back her eyes fluttered open and a smile played on her face.

'You missed.'

He tried again. He printed little kisses all over her face, her nose, her cheekbone, her eyelid. Then, turning her chin upwards, he brushed his mouth against hers.

'Do you want to?' she asked.

'Do you?'

'God yes,' she replied, and she surged forward and kissed him hard. He parted his lips to fit her and put his arms around her. Straddling his lap, she pushed him back against the couch and stroked his tongue with her own. Her hands tangled in his hair.

As she ground her hips against him she felt his cock stir. He clasped her close and broke the kiss so he could print little love bites on her neck. Throwing her head back, she sighed and shrugged off the black coat. Hardy helped her pull the blue sweater over her head.

'Can you?' Ellie asked suddenly. Her hand wandered down and found the growing bulge. She stroked him through the fabric and he groaned.

'Yes.'

'You're not just saying that? I don't want you collapsing on me.'

'Won't,' he grunted. He fondled her breasts through the blue shirt. Her bra had been ruined, so they rolled freely in his palms.

'I don't want you to have a heart attack or anything.'

'Hell of a way to go, though,' he commented. He unbuttoned her shirt, exposing her breasts. They were larger and softer than he'd imagined. Stroking the dusky nipples with his thumbs, he leaned forward and kissed her sternum, then grasped a nipple between his teeth.

'Awkward - to explain to the doctor,' she said, and she gasped as he swirled his tongue over the sensitive nub.

'Y'got scars,' Hardy noted. He nosed her with some concern. 'And a birthmark.'

A red, strawberry-shaped mark stood out on her abdomen amongst a number of smaller trauma scars.

'I'm a policewoman,' she shrugged. 'The job comes with risks.'

Hardy caressed the ropey c-section scar on her abdomen.

'So does motherhood,' she added, twitching slightly under the pressure of his fingers. 'Love, marriage, children... they're always the things that hurt the most, aren't they?'

She pulled his shirt over his head and they clasped their naked torsos together, kissing close and hard as they did. Hardy took one of her hands and pressed it to his pacemaker scar. She curled her fingers against it.

'They scar y'the most,' he rumbled. 'And they're still worth it.'

He pulled her hair, caressed the back of her head and kissed her again. She moved her hips insistently against him and he cupped his hand between her legs to give her something to grind against.

'Worth dying for?' she asked.

'Mm,' he agreed. He bit down gently on one of her nipples, then scraped his beard hard across her skin.

'What about you?' she panted. 'Where'd you get your scars?'

'Same place as you.'

'Hazards of the job?'

'And love.'

She touched a nasty-looking scar on his shoulder. 'What's this one?'

'Got shot,' he grunted. 'My first year on the beat. Drug bust in Glasgow.'

She kissed it, then parted his chest hair to find a hard nub of scar tissue under his pectoral muscle. 'This one?'

'Stabbed. Glasgow again. Was wearing my protective vest at the time. Only just grazed me.'

She kissed it. Tangling her hand in his hair, she located a long gash on the top of his head. 'Here?'

'Gift from my father.'

Ellie grew still. She cradled Hardy's skull between her hands and looked into his eyes with tremulous concern. He reached up and touched one of her hands, then turned his head and kissed her palm.

'Alec,' Ellie said quietly, 'come to bed.'

Grasping his hand, she got up and pulled him to the bed. They sank upon it together, Hardy on top of her. She moaned slightly at the feeling of his weight upon her.

She couldn't be close enough to him. 

She kicked off her trousers. 'You're not wearing pants,' Hardy said, looking stunned.

'They got ruined in the river,' she reminded him.

'You were wearing my trousers - without pants.' He sounded scandalised.

'Don't sound so offended.'

He paused. 'It's kinda hot.'

She giggled. 'Typical bloke.'

He rumbled his agreement into her neck and her giggle turned into a warm, real laugh. The sound went through him like an arrow and he rubbed his face against her soft skin.

'Your beard tickles,' she squirmed. 

'Mm,' he agreed. He began playing with her entrance, parting the lips with one finger. 'Wet,' he commented in a growl.

He sank inside of her and she let out a soft, keening noise. He moved in and out, just trying to get used to the feel of her, and spread the wetness around her cunt, circling and massaging her clit.

'Ah - ahh,' she gasped. He drove his fingers inside her and began crooking them. She arched violently. 'Ah! A-Alec,' she managed after a little while. 'Do you have a condom?'

He paused. 'Yes.'

'Get it.'

He did, retrieving a box from a drawer in the bedside table. He tossed it to her and fumbled with his trousers.

‘Ribbed for her pleasure,’ Ellie read. She grinned at him. ‘How long have you been holding on to these?’ 

‘A while. Hope they’re not expired.’

Ellie checked. ‘Good news. They’ve got a month left.’ She helped Hardy pull down his trousers. ‘Just in time.’

She curled her fingers around his cock, then took him into her mouth. His hips stuttered. 'Lucky me,' he managed.

She made an amused noise. Bobbing up and down, swirling her tongue over the head of his cock, she soon had him hard and throbbing. She could taste the precum leaking from the tip.

Pulling him back onto the bed, she let him roll the condom on then spread her legs invitingly around him. After a number of deep kisses, he pushed inside her.

'Ah - fuck,' Ellie whispered. 

She squirmed, struggling a little with his girth. He slipped into her slowly - in and in and in. The pressure, the delicious stretch, the heat - it was all just right, just hovering on that odd pain-pleasure threshold. Once he was buried in her to the hilt, he began thrusting gently and the pain faded, replaced entirely by pleasure.

'Feels good,' she sighed. 'Ah... you feel - good.'

He agreed with a dizzy kiss, utterly lost in the smell and the wet, tight heat of her cunt. She wrapped her legs around him and directed him to go slow and hard. He was grateful she hadn't asked for fast. He wasn't sure he had the stamina for that right now. 

He found her clit with his fingertips and stroked. She hissed and bit down on his earlobe. He rubbed gently, adding the pressure to the glorious, tight drag of his cock inside her. Her nails raked across his back. 

'Good,' she whispered. 'Ah - there.'

He followed her directions. His breath was coming in increasingly short gasps. Everything about her was intoxicating, and when he heard her whimper his name and felt her muscles clench and tighten around him, he could not stop himself from whispering,

'I love you.'

A little cry pealed from her throat. Her muscles clenched harder and she shuddered through her orgasm. She clawed at him, then looked into his eyes. He gathered her close to him, his expression tender, and a short time later he came with his forehead pressed against hers, his brown eyes looking into her own.

Hardy rolled off. They recovered their breaths. Hardy slipped off the condom and tossed it in the bin. Before she could say anything, he was on top of her again, warm and pleasantly heavy.

'Hm?' she asked drowsily.

He slid his hand down her belly. He lightly petted her pubic hair for a moment, then slipped his fingers over her slick lips. She had come with a rather embarrassing gush of wetness, and he stroked it in and out. He found her clit and she jerked, over-sensitive. He looked inquiringly at her.

'Bit sore,' she explained, wrinkling her nose.

His hand stilled. 'So stop?'

'So careful,' she corrected.

A sound of mirth escaped him again. He kissed and fondled her breasts, then moved lower until his head was between her legs.

'Didn't get to taste you,' he rumbled, kissing the inside of her thighs. The sensation of his beard on her skin set her trembling all over again. He nosed upwards and swiped her lips apart.

He found her hand on the bed. She was gripping the sheets tight.

'Seem tense,' he noted apprehensively.

'Not... really used to it,' she explained.

He hummed. 'But you want it?'

She paused. 'Yes.'

He was glad. He wanted to make her come again. He swirled his tongue over her clit. She jerked violently. Too much. He left that alone for the moment and fucked his tongue inside her, then sucked and swirled his tongue against the delicate folds. 

After a little time she made a soft pleading noise. He began to lick her clit, first with broad strokes, then with precise, devastating flicks of his tongue. With the addition of two fingers gently pushing in and out and curling hard inside her, she soon came a second time. His name got stuck in her throat and all she could do was gasp 'ah - ahh...'

When it was all over, they curled against each other. Alec lay on his back. One leg hung off the bed, the foot lazily tapping in the air. Ellie was on top of him, her ear pressed to his heart. She looked drowsy and satiated. A small smile lingered on her face.

‘No-one’s ever done that for me without me having to ask,’ she commented.

'Missing out,' he mumbled, and she wondered whether he meant her or her lovers.

One of his arms curved around her. He played with a nautical compass tattoo he found on her shoulderblade.

‘Where’d you get this?’

He traced around it in a circle, beginning and ending with a tap on the northern arrow.

Ellie shifted her head slightly. ‘Blind stinking drunk at my 21st. Got tattooed by a sailor in some place near the harbour. Don’t even remember getting it done.’

He hummed. ‘Suits you.’

‘What, a compass?’

‘Just the fact you have it.’ He reflected for a moment. ‘You did say that everyone has a moral compass.’

‘Only hope mine doesn’t break.’

She was tracing circles on his own skin. Her arm was tucked by her side, the hand resting by her cheek and stroking the scar above his collarbone. It was still a vivid red. 

‘Will you go to a doctor?’ she asked.

‘I’ve already been.'

‘Will you go again anyway?’

He hesitated.

‘Please?’

‘All right,’ he sighed. ‘If you think I should.’

‘Just for peace of mind,’ Ellie murmured. 'Just to make sure...'

She tensed up. He leaned forward and kissed her hair. 

‘I think I love you, Alec,’ she said. Tears sprang to her eyes and her hand curled into a fist. ‘If something were to happen to you, I -’

‘Shh, shh,’ he soothed. ‘I’m here. I’m not going anywhere. I promise.’

‘Do you think we’ll actually be able to make this work?’ she asked. ‘Beat the charges… be together?’

He kissed her to avoid a reply at such a time.

‘Oh…’ her eyes fluttered closed and she bit her lip. ‘I’m afraid that means no.’

'Don't think of it now. Just sleep,' he murmured.

They did, for a little while, and dozed together in the dark.

After a time, Ellie grew ponderous. The more she reflected, the more unhappy and penitent she became. She freed herself from his arms and sat up. Hunching over, she stared at the bed and seemed to contemplate the universe in the crumpled sheets before her.

Hardy opened one eye. Silver light was drifting through the miniscule cracks in the venetian blinds, enclosing Ellie's body in bars. He ran his hand up her back to her neck, found her hair, and stroked it.

'What are you thinking?'

‘We share so much heartbreak,' she sighed. 'Both with horrific first marriages. You investigating Pippa’s death, who was so close in age to Daisy. Me investigating Danny’s death, when he was my Tom’s best friend. Our children not talking to us. Both of us losing a parent to drowning…’ her brows knitted together. ‘It makes me feel as though some – I don’t know, some kind of tragic doom hangs over us. A curse.’

‘Curse?’ he repeated. 

‘And I feel as if us together will – make it worse. Intensify it. Does that make sense?’

He said nothing and continued to stroke her hair. With a restless sigh, she wrung her hands. ‘I can’t explain it.' 

‘I know what you mean,’ he said quietly.

At the moment it seemed patently obvious that their two selves together could lead to nothing but an intensification of their sorrow. If anyone found out…

He sat up and kissed her bare, freckled shoulder. Wrapping his arm around her, he pulled her down. ‘Come back to sleep,’ he implored.

She yielded and nestled into him once more, her ear against his heart. Her damp lashes stuck to her cheeks when she closed her eyes.

Hardy stroked his hand up and down her bare arm with a sense of foreboding. Like it or not, his destiny was irrevocably tied to hers. He was painfully aware that his downfall would bring her ruin. If he lost this court case, Ellie would lose too. Her innocence depended on his own guiltlessness. Her fortunes depended on his own. His life suddenly became a precious thing because she needed him.

'I'm afraid,' she whispered.

'Shh. I'm here. I always will be.'

He hoped he was telling the truth, for he thought he finally understood the last words his mother had said to him before the deep wide ocean swallowed her.

Chapter Text

My sweet, how incomplete we are.

- Augie March, Here Comes the Night.


 

Hardy stirred. His arms were empty. He blindly felt for Ellie; her side of the bed was cold. He started upright.

‘Ellie?’ he mumbled, panic surging through him. 

She was sitting by the window and glanced at him when he spoke. One knee was drawn up to her chest, upon which she rested her arm. She had opened the venetian blinds just a crack to look out at the sky. Around her shoulders she wore Hardy’s black coat and nothing else.

He rubbed his eyes. ‘What’re you doing?’

‘Watching the rain,’ she replied. Condensation ran down the glass and she tracked its path with her eyes. ‘Listening to the river.’

‘S’early,’ he said. ‘Still dark. Come back to bed.’

‘The sun’s just starting to rise.’ She pulled the black coat securely around her. ‘I can see it. A little patch of orange just off in the distance, behind the rainclouds.’

Hardy got up and went over to her. He kissed her neck.

‘C’mere. S’cold without you.’ He folded his hand around her wrist and pulled her back to bed. The black coat fell to the floor, forgotten, and he spooned her, wrapping her tightly in his embrace.

She let out a little sigh.

‘Y’sleep all right?’

‘More or less. You?’

‘More or less.’

He ran his hand up and down her arm, then absently fondled one of her breasts, rolling the nipple between his thumb and forefinger until it hardened.

‘This is probably the stupidest thing we could have done, isn’t it?’ she said, her apprehension evidently having increased with the hours.

Hardy began printing feathery little kisses on her neck.

‘Might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb,' he shrugged.

'Might as well commit the crimes we'll be hanged for,' she rejoined.

He ran his hand down her body and played with her entrance. Ellie bit her lip, then after a few moments she sat up and straddled him. She kissed him, rocking her hips back and forth in his lap. He was half-hard already, but the sensation of her warm, wet cunt brushing his cock quickly changed that. He leaned forward and hungrily began nuzzling and kissing her torso. He rubbed his whiskery cheek against her soft breasts and the ridges of her ribcage, his hands meanwhile massaging the dimples on her thighs.

‘Y’smell good,’ he rumbled, nosing her sternum. He kissed her breasts and sucked on one of the nipples. She quivered at the brush of his beard and let out a little laugh. The sound went straight through him. Starting forward with a growl, he trailed little bites up her neck and collarbones.

He pressed his fingers inside her, crooking and curling, smearing the wetness around her cunt. She twitched, grinding against his palm.

‘Impatient,’ he murmured.

She spread her legs further until she was well and truly in his lap. His cock pulsed, weeping precum. She took it in one hand and experimentally stroked up and down, then began a grinding motion with her hips, slicking the swollen lips against him. He groaned. Gripping her arse, he rocked her forward and she squirmed so that her clit rubbed against his shaft.

He was aching with the need to bury himself inside her. He hooked his arms under her shoulders, kissed and licked her jawbone, and swivelled his hips to make his intention plain.

‘Mm… condom?’ she asked.

Shit. He’d forgotten. With an involuntary whine he paused to fumble for one. She sat back on her haunches.

‘Probably the last thing we want… is a baby,’ she mused.

‘Not right now,’ he agreed. ‘Wouldn’t be safe.’

Perplexed, she caught his eye. ‘Not right now?’ she repeated.

Shit.

‘Alec?’

‘Always… hm, wanted more,’ he admitted. She was running her hand up and down his cock which was very distracting…

‘With Tess?’

Thank God. An escape route. He nodded. ‘She said no.’

‘Why?’

‘One was enough.’

She took the condom from him and opened it with her teeth, then rolled it on.

‘Not for you?’

‘Um. Just – nnn – like – being a father.’

Steadying herself with a hand on his shoulder, Ellie lifted her hips and sank heavily onto his cock. They both moaned, and Ellie’s knees trembled. He was so thick and she was so tight and hot…

‘I think you must be – a good dad,’ she began. He spread his fingers across her arse and lifted her up. She sank down again in a slow, wet, tight drag. ‘Oh… fuck, fuck, yesss.’

‘Should we really be – talking about that – right now?’ he asked.

She rode him gently, grinding down on him, just getting used to his size. He let her set the pace. His fingers splayed over her abdomen, dancing across the silvery stretch marks like they were piano keys, then he swept up her sternum and squeezed her breasts hard.

‘You started it,’ she accused. ‘With your – oh fuck, do that again – baby talk.’

‘Not particularly – ungh – sexy, is it?’ He pinched her nipples.

‘So what should I say instead?’ she slackened the pace a little and looked down at him, just rocking back and forth. A sly grin formed on her face and she leaned over and kissed him. ‘How much I love your big, thick cock inside me?’ she began a hard, grinding movement that drew a long groan from him. ‘How much I love the way you feel buried deep inside me?’ She straightened and increased the pace again, her fingers raking over his hairy chest. ‘How much I love your mouth and your hands on me?’ She tossed her head, throwing her curls out of her sweaty face. ‘How much I love fucking you?’

‘Aye, that’ll do it,’ he wheezed.

She started giggling, sending jolts through him. She clasped both his hands in hers, threading their fingers together, and continued to grind atop him, drawing him inexorably closer to the edge. 

‘And – what should I say?’ he asked.

He felt her thighs clench.

‘Say you love me.’

He propped himself upright and brought his face close to hers. Using one hand on her thigh to modulate her thrusts, he slipped the other up her back, up her neck, and clasped the back of her head. He pulled her hair, then cradled her skull and tipped her towards him. Gazing steadily into her eyes, he said:

‘I love you.’

They kissed, long and slow. Hardy hooked his hand more firmly under her, providing her with extra leverage. She rode him hard, and he brought his other hand to the juncture of her thighs and stroked her clit. She gasped and added her own hand, guiding him.

She began to whimper. Her movements became jerky and unsteady. He clasped her close and their fingers became so tangled he could not tell which were hers and which were his. Soaked in the wetness dripping from her cunt, they slid and slipped easily over her clit with a pressure that was lethal. He felt her abdominal muscles tense up. She was teetering right on the brink...

He nibbled her earlobe and sucked on her neck. ‘I love you,’ he whispered again, punctuating this by rolling his hips upwards to meet her. His fingers circled her clit and she let out a high-pitched whine, then gasped and whimpered. He was so deep in her that he could feel every subtle spasm of her cunt. The muscles fluttered helplessly around him.

‘Fuck – fuck,’ she sobbed involuntarily as he kept stroking, coaxing wave after wave. ‘Ah – Alec…’

The pressure on him was unbearable, but it wasn’t quite enough to push him over. Breathing hard, Ellie’s pace slackened. She was moving sluggishly now, her tired muscles hampering her.

‘Good,’ she managed. ‘Good. Mm… now…’ She straightened up a little and bounced gently atop him, ‘how do you want me to…’

He made a humming noise but said nothing.

‘Tell me how you want it,’ she implored.

He put his hands on her hips. One of his thumbs brushed the strawberry-shaped birthmark on her abdomen.

‘Nn… not so up and down,’ he said. ‘More… grinding.’

She followed his direction, letting the soft pressure of his fingertips guide her movements. ‘Like that?’

‘Yeah… like that.’

She made a swivelling, grinding motion with her hips that forced the breath from his lungs.

‘Do that – again,’ he managed.

She did, and it wasn’t long before he was coming too, gasping her name into her shoulder as she rode it out with him.

It was a long time before either of them caught their breaths. Ellie was bent over him, pleasantly heavy and warm, her damp breath making a patch on his overheated skin. He ran his hands up the nodules of her spine, counting them one by one.

Idly, he sucked little bruises onto her collarbones and breasts.

‘Marking your territory?’ Ellie asked. She sat up and pushed her sweaty hair out of her face.

Hardy hummed in agreement. He pulled her down again and swirled his tongue over her skin. Kissed down each of her arms in turn. ‘Mine,’ he said, leaving a hickey and kissing it. ‘Mine.’ He made another. She laughed.

His large hands wrapped her up possessively, first fanning across her shoulderblades, then moving to her breasts and rolling them in his palms.

‘God you’re handsy,’ she said.

‘Complaining?’

‘No.’

She rolled off him and they fell into bed side by side. Hardy threw the condom in the bin. Loath to be away from her, he pulled her towards him, fastening them together with an arm around her waist. He nosed her curly hair, a tiny smile on his face.

‘I know this is going to sound strange,’ she said, ‘but I really needed that.’

‘A good shag?’

‘With someone who wasn’t him. With someone I…’ she paused. ‘I was going mad with Joe back. Him saying he was still my husband. Remembering all the times he touched me with the same hands that murdered Danny.’

She found Hardy’s large, rough hands and threaded her fingers through them. She inspected them, from the dark hairs on the knuckles to the blunt nails and the calluses, then drew them to her lips and kissed them.

He swept the hair from her face and began printing soft, wet kisses on her neck.

‘Hn. Ellie.’

‘Mm?’

‘Do y’ever think about getting married again?’

‘Can’t,’ she sighed, shifting to give him better access. His delicate kisses moved to the ridge of her ear. ‘Still married to Joe.’

‘After you’ve divorced him?’

‘I don’t know if I could. I signed Danny’s death warrant the day I signed that marriage license. I don’t think I have the courage to do it again.’

His kisses stopped.

‘After Tess, you must know what that feels like,’ she prompted.

He ran his hand down her arm and found the gold ring upon her finger. He twisted it, and she curled their fingers together and drew them to her heart.

‘If it were the right person, I would.’

‘But how could you be sure they were right? How would you know?’

‘I’d just know.’

‘How?’ she repeated. ‘You thought Tess was right. I thought Joe was right.’

‘S’pose now we know the difference between real and fake.’ He exhaled, and she could feel the turbulence inside him. ‘Mm… Claire once told me that… you know it’s true when you meet someone and they make you realise – all along you were only ever half of something.’

‘You’re taking advice from Claire now? After her spectacular choice of Lee Ashworth?’

‘I know,’ he said, and he pressed his chin against her shoulder, a thoughtful fixity arresting his face as he tried to find the words to express himself. ‘I know. But I keep thinking about it. Because I – feel whole. When I’m with you.’

He threaded his fingers through hers and gripped tight.

‘And I – don’t want to lose you. Don’t want that feeling to go away. Ever.’

‘Not alone,’ Ellie murmured.

‘No.’

There was a pause. ‘The sun’s rising,’ Ellie said. ‘We should go soon.’

She got up, retrieved Hardy’s black coat and threw it around herself.

‘M’gonna have a shower,’ Hardy said. ‘Unless you want one first?’

She shook her head. She was gazing ponderously at the floor. With some misgiving, Hardy went to the bathroom.

When he emerged he found Ellie sitting in the chair, gazing out the window again. It was raining steadily. He went over to her, laid a hand on her shoulder and kissed the top of her head. A sad smile formed on her face, and brushing her fingers over his hand, she got up and went to the bathroom without a word.

Her silence was troubling. He expected some emotional fallout, though he hoped she would not think herself into a penitent or regretful mood. He was not sure he could stand rejection after what they had shared.

Ellie came out dressed in her damp clothes from yesterday.

‘How do I look?’ she asked.

‘Like you’ve just crawled out of a river.’

He motioned at the table. He’d put out milk and cereal, the only thing he had for breakfast. She mutely poured herself a bowl. He followed suit, and they ate silently.

Ellie only managed a mouthful before she became too sullen to eat. She stirred the bowl and picked up spoonfuls only to drop them back.

Hardy watched with concern.

‘You should eat something.’

‘Don’t lecture me,’ she snapped, pushing the bowl away. Milk slopped onto the table. She folded her arms, looking nettled.

Hardy exhaled through his nostrils. He put down his spoon. ‘What is it?’

‘Next meeting with Joe is today,’ she said with a shudder, rubbing her arms. ‘And I have to sit there – knowing that now, I am an adulterer. All the things he’s accusing me of - they're true now.’

He was almost scornful. ‘You really believe that?’

Her chair scraped backwards. She stood, leaning against the curtained window with her back to him, and covered her mouth with her hand.

Hardy stood and went to her.

‘Don’t come near me, Alec. Don’t – don’t!’ she cried.

But he was already by her side, his face pressed close to hers. She turned away, and his hand brushed her waist.

‘I told you not to!’

‘I only want to help you!’

‘You mustn’t – you can’t – don’t you see?’ she cried. ‘How can I say I’m innocent of an affair when I’ve fucked you? When I – feel…’

She broke off with a little gasp and sank tremblingly into the chair once more, her hand pressed to her stomach. Hardy knelt at her side, his hand on hers.

‘Is that what you call this?’ he asked, wounded. ‘Adultery?’

‘It is,’ she sobbed. ‘I’m still his wife.’

His wife!’ Hardy exclaimed in a tone of bitter reproach. ‘His! You are mine.’

He pressed his face to her side.

‘You really think a piece of paper makes a marriage?’ he asked angrily. ‘Do you think my parents were ever truly married? That she was his wife while he was hitting her and raping her? They only got together to save face after mum got pregnant with me, but they weren’t married for a single day of their lives. Not really. Just like Joe was never your husband. The man you loved wasn’t him and he never loved you, or he wouldn’t be putting you through this shit.’

He looked up at her and grasped her hand firmly, pressing his thumb against the gold ring on her finger. ‘Love is the only thing that makes a marriage. You are not his and you have never been his.’

A shaky sigh emanated from her. She bent her head and pressed her lips against his hair.

‘But I did love him.'

‘You thought you did. There’s a difference.’

She paused. ‘Is it the same with you and Tess?’

He reflected for several tortured moments on his relations with Tess. Had he ever known the real her? Had he ever really loved her for what she was underneath her charming exterior? After their last meeting, he thought not.

‘Yes,’ he replied.

She sniffed. ‘We are a pair of simpletons.’

They soon agreed that they could waste no more time. The sky was well and truly lightening. A glance out the window showed no sign of any reporters, but they had been tricked into believing so before. Hardy pulled on his black coat. As he fastened it around him, he was gratified to find that it smelled of her.

‘Wait at least ten minutes before you go,’ Hardy said. ‘Keep a sharp eye.’

Ellie nodded mutely. Her nervousness was increasing with each passing minute. 

‘Good luck today,’ he told her. ‘Call me afterwards. Tell me everything.’

She nodded again. Hardy put his hand on the back of her neck and drew her forward to kiss her head. She was as still and cold as marble.

He was about to open the door when she looked up.

‘Alec,’ she called. ‘Wait.’

He turned, and she threw her arms around him and kissed him with a passion. He slipped his arm around her waist and returned the kiss, then pulled away. She only let him go for a moment before she swiftly changed her mind and kissed him several more times. She pressed her forehead to his and bit her lip. He made to kiss her cheek, but she shook her head.

‘No. No more.’

But the words had scarcely left her mouth before she began kissing him again, long and slow and tender, as if she never wanted it to end.

Hardy broke them apart. ‘We’ll be together again soon,’ he promised. He clasped her hand tightly, then went out the door. He slipped through her fingers, leaving her alone. 

As Hardy walked into the freezing morning, she glimpsed three reporters stealthily slip from their hiding places and follow him. She waited carefully. A fourth appeared, and followed them. After another minute, Ellie muffled her face in a scarf, went outside, locked the door behind her and ran as fast as she could.

As she trod the path to Jocelyn’s house, she tried to ignore the swelling certainty that herself and Hardy together would intensify the tragic sadness of their lives into a tragic horror.

*

Throughout the meeting with Joe, Abby and the court-appointed arbitrator, Ellie was restless and downcast. Her thoughts were as effective for penance as self-flagellation. She berated and tortured herself for being so weak and base as to spend those hours in Hardy’s arms. And yet she yearned ceaselessly to have him with her now.

At Jocelyn’s insistence, she did not say any more than was strictly necessary. Joe, too, was silent, though he wore an unbearably smug look on his face.

It made her want to kill him.

The arbitrator agreed that the photograph of the kiss could easily have been faked and was not convincing enough to provide proof of Hardy and Ellie’s affair. Joe let out an odd laugh at that, and Ellie glanced up to find him smiling at her, his icy blue eyes glittering.

She steeled herself and thought of Hardy. Breathe. Breathe.

Finally, the arbitrator concluded that there was no way the two of them could reach a settlement. She said she would give approval for the custody battle to proceed to court. Before the meeting ended, Jocelyn brought up a final matter.

‘I trust you received my client’s request that you agree to an annulment of your marriage?’

Joe confirmed that yes, he had.

‘I’d like to formally request again that you sign the documents. If not, we will proceed with an application to annul without your permission.’ She pushed the papers across the table. ‘Your marriage is over, and it will be terminated one way or another. It would be a lot cleaner if you simply signed now.’

Joe looked at the papers, then at Jocelyn, then at Ellie. He folded his arms.

‘I’m not signing anything.’

Ellie made a noise and clenched her fists. She felt Jocelyn pinch her knee in warning, and bit her tongue to stop herself from speaking. Jocelyn put forward her request again; Joe refused a second time. They left it there.

Ellie wanted nothing more than to fly to Alec, but since it was impossible, she went for a walk along the cliffs instead, hoping it would clear her thoughts. The boys were with the Latimers and she knew they were safe. She dwelt miserably on how to relate everything that had happened to Tom.

It was bitterly cold on the cliffs. She zipped her orange coat up and drove her hands into her pockets. The wind whipped around her, tangling her curls with freezing fingers. Ascending to the highest part, she looked out across the deep wide ocean.

She lost track of how long she stood there, watching the ocean drown the orange sun. A pair of herring gulls flew past her, crying to each other as they rode the updrafts. She closed her eyes and was smitten with the childish wish for wings of her own.

‘I had a feeling I’d find you up here.’

Her eyes snapped open. Cold dread suffused her, and she turned slowly.

It was Joe, wearing his blue coat, and walking up to meet her.

Every single sinew, nerve and tendon in her body crackled with energy. ‘Get away from me,’ she croaked. ‘You stay the fuck away from me!’

She looked around helplessly, searching for someone – anyone – that could be nearby. But the cold had driven all ramblers from this part of the world. Sad December was the only companion her sadder self had on the shoulders of these sandy giants.

‘There’s no need to be so defensive. I just want to talk to you,’ Joe said, sounding infuriatingly reasonable. ‘That’s all.' 

‘You can talk to me all you like in court,’ Ellie snarled, shrinking away from him.

‘There’s something I want to say now.’

She had no choice. He had her trapped. ‘What?’ she demanded.

‘I’m going to make you the same offer I made you before,’ he said. ‘Drop the court case, put a stop on the divorce, and I won’t take sole custody of the boys.’

‘You have nothing to threaten me with,’ Ellie dared to snap. ‘The courts w-won’t give you sole custody. Our appeal’s in a few days, and once Alec and I have beaten those charges, you’ll have nothing.’

She was almost surprised at her own optimism. Or was it simply her belief in Alec’s innocence that gave her the strength to say that?

‘I’m going to say it again,’ Joe said. ‘Drop the court case. Stop the divorce. And I’ll let you see the boys.’

‘And if I don’t?’ she challenged.

Joe reached into his pocket. Alarmed, Ellie took a step backwards and raised her fists defensively. Yet all he drew out were photographs.

‘I release these to the media.’

He tossed the photographs at her, one by one. The wind carried them to her feet. Curiously, she looked down and in the fading light she discerned what they contained.

She collapsed, falling to her knees. She covered her mouth with one hand, her nerveless fingers reaching for one of the photographs.

It was of herself and Hardy. It was partially obscured and difficult to make out, but it showed unmistakably her riding Hardy, her head thrown back in passion as she fucked him.

She reached for another photograph and turned it over. It showed the same scene in a slightly different pose. And another. And another. Their morning’s lovemaking captured for all to see.

Joe walked forward until he was standing over her. She hunched over, quivering, and he dropped several more, carelessly raining her own doom upon her.

‘How?’ she managed to croak.

‘A journalist friend took them,’ he said breezily. ‘She sent them through to my phone. I asked her not to release the photos until I gave the okay. She’s very keen to help me, you see.’

‘Karen White,’ Ellie said dully.

‘Yes. Whether or not the world sees you fucking Alec Hardy is entirely up to me. Whether the two of you go to jail is entirely up to me. And whether you see Tom and Fred again is also entirely up to me.’

She flinched at every word, her gaze locked on the ground. Joe squatted at her side and grasped her chin, forcing her to look at him.

‘Did you like it when he fucked you?’

She said nothing.

‘I think you did. From the looks of it you had a very good time. Curious, considering the heart condition and all. Didn’t think he’d have the stamina.’

Her nails dug into the soft dirt. She wanted to kill him. Could she kill him? Could she throw him from the cliff? She wasn’t sure she could overpower him in her present state.

She touched the ring Hardy had placed on her finger.

Not his. Not Joe's. Be strong. There must be another way.

‘Tell me. Did you actually have an affair with him while we were together?’

Her mouth moved.

‘No.’

‘During the trial?’

‘No.’

‘I think you’re lying. Even locked away behind glass I could see how close you were.’

She pulled out of his grip. It was the only defiant motion she could manage. Her limbs had turned to jelly.

‘What do you want?’ she said in a resigned voice.

Joe stood up in one smooth motion. Ellie struggled and managed to do likewise. She folded her arms across herself and turned to the side, away from him.

‘Drop the court case,’ he repeated. ‘Stop the divorce.’ He took a step forward. ‘And never see Alec Hardy again. I’m your husband, El, in case you forgot.’

She said impetuously, ‘he is more my husband than you!' 

Joe ran his tongue over his teeth. ‘Because you love him?’

‘Because he would never hurt me.’

She had begun in defiant, independent terms, but her pink lips trembled and she could not refrain from crying. She fixed her gaze on the town of Broadchurch, just over the hills. It was lighting up with a hundred tiny beacons in the dusk. He said something, but she did not hear him, so lost was she in looking at her native town. She turned the ring upon her finger in increasingly agitated circles. 

‘Ellie.’ he said sharply. ‘What is it?’

‘I was only thinking I was born over there.’

Joe turned and surveyed Broadchurch nestled upon the cliffs. ‘So were Fred and Tom,’ he said, not understanding her sentiment. ‘So were lots of people.’

‘You weren’t.’

Her tone was almost childish in its reproach. An exasperated look came over him.

‘And neither was Alec,’ he concluded. ‘Though from what I’ve heard, he’ll probably die there. So now that you know what I have, what will your answer be?’

‘I need – time. To think about it.’

‘Would you really prefer jail and separation from your sons over a life with me?’ he asked. ‘Come on, El. Didn't we have a good life? Things can go back to the way they were. We can be happy again, if only you’d stop being so stupid about this.’

Her nether lip trembled violently.

‘Everything can be as it was,’ he said, ‘before Alec came along. We can be together. You, me and the boys. Like before.’

She felt like she was being slowly suffocated, or crushed, or both.

'El.' He took a step forward and touched her elbow. ‘I love you.’

She shoved his chest with as much strength as she could muster in her present state. ‘Don’t say that to me!’ she cried. ‘Don’t you dare say that to me!’

He staggered backwards, his countenance becoming dark.

‘Don’t push me, Ellie,’ he said warningly. ‘You’re not to do that again.’

She shuddered. He took a careful step forward. When she stayed still, he leaned forward and kissed her cheek. She shrank away from him. Fear, horror and revulsion rattled through her. Her reaction disappointed him.

‘You have until the appeal to decide,’ he said, walking away from her. ‘Oh, and one more thing.’ He paused and turned on his heel to look at her. ‘If I see you and Alec together before the trial - if I so much as find out you've been talking to him - I’ll release the pictures. Think carefully on your choice.’ 

And he swept down the hill and into the darkness. 

Several minutes passed. Ellie stood like a tree, unmoving but for a subtle swaying coaxed by the wind.

Finally, a terrible howl escaped her. She scratched her arms and her face until she drew blood, hating herself, despising herself beyond measure for her weakness and for the hours she had spent in Hardy’s arms. Her sons – her sons – Tom and darling little Fred - !

Sinking to the ground, she numbly began to pick up the photographs he had dropped at her feet. She ripped them into tiny pieces and hurled them off the cliff, letting the wind carry them out to sea.

Rocking back and forth, a low moaning escaped her.

‘Trapped,’ she said in anguish. ‘No way out. Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.’

When faced with the same dilemma, Alec’s mother had chosen the deep blue sea. So had her father, come to think of it, though in different circumstances.

Clenching her fists, Ellie turned her back on the ocean.

‘I choose the devil,’ she whispered, and walked away from the precipice. 

*

In the days leading up to the appeal, Hardy received a single text from Ellie.

We can’t see each other again.

He tried calling and texting to reach her, but it all proved fruitless. He knew her mood, and decided to leave her for the moment.

He went to the doctor. It was puzzling. He was taking his medication. The device seemed to be running fine. Was it truly just stress and mental health that was causing all these problems? He was referred to a specialist, whom he would meet in a few days’ time.

After this, his health unexpectedly worsened. The chest pains were almost unbearable. He threw back a double dose of meds, but it didn’t seem to help. Then he started having symptoms of something more serious. Having been through it before, he recognised what they were. He managed to call for an ambulance before he blacked out.

*

When he woke up, he was in a hospital bed. Ellie was with him. She was wringing her hands anxiously and she started when she saw him open his eyes.

‘Oh Alec -!’ there was a hysterical catch to her breath.

‘What happened?’ he mumbled.

She related the events to him. He had almost gone into cardiac arrest, in an episode similar in severity to the time he had collapsed in the boatyard while pursuing Joe.

‘So you came to see me – like a good angel!’ he murmured in tones that were not entirely lucid.

‘I can’t stay long,’ she said, glancing nervously at the door. ‘No-one knows I’m here and no-one can know. One of Maggie’s nurse friends smuggled me in. She’s standing watch, but I only have a few minutes…’

‘Been so worried about you,’ Hardy slurred. ‘‘Why haven’t you been answering my calls?’

His tender concern for her sake while he was thus incapacitated almost broke her. ‘Oh Alec – you are so dear -! And you look so ill… but I have to tell you – I have come to say – I cannot see you again.’

He blinked, not comprehending. ‘Not ever?' 

‘At the trial, yes,’ she amended. ‘But beyond that, you and I – are finished.’

‘Ellie, you’re not making sense.’

‘We were so stupid,’ she gasped. ‘We were so selfish to go on loving each other! And I hate myself for it…’

He struggled to sit up. ‘Ellie…’

He reached for her hand and she snatched it away.

‘What we did – was wrong.’ She drew herself up. ‘I have to think of my sons now. I can't see you again. Forget what we had. Forget what we said.’

She pulled off the ring on her finger and placed it at his bedside. ‘I’m returning this,’ she added. ‘It is not right – that I keep your mother’s ring.’ 

He could only stare at her, his brows pulled together.

‘Something has happened,’ he said. ‘Joe – Joe’s done something. Ellie, whatever it is, tell me. We can work this out together.’

‘We can’t.’

‘Yes, we can. Whatever it is - tell me!'

‘I can’t,’ she gasped out. ‘I can’t – I mustn’t… Alec I’m not…’

She squeezed her eyes shut and turned away. 'We're finished. I have to think of Tom and Fred. I have to think of them.’ She said it like a mantra. There was a wild look to her, and he wondered what she was planning, and what she was capable of.

‘Don’t leave me on my own,’ he begged. ‘Say that I can still call you. Say that we have a chance – once all this is over.’ 

'We don't,' she said. 'And if we did, it does not matter because - because I don't love you. I only fucked you so I could forget what he felt like.'

'Good God - is this what I've woken up to hear?'

'It's the truth. I have to go. I owed it to you to say it to your face, and I have. Goodbye.'

He could not believe his ears. By the simple virtue of her being Ellie Miller, he had assumed she would never leave him. She hastened from the room and he followed her with his eyes.

‘Ellie – Ellie come back,’ he called. He swallowed thickly and tried a little louder. ‘Ellie! Ellie, please! Talk to me! Ellie!’

She heard him utter a hoarse cry of pain. His distress sent the monitor into a craze that brought nurses running. The sound made something twang in her belly and she half-turned as if to go and succour him, but she checked herself. Covering her ears, she ran outside and did not stop until any chance of hearing him had passed away.

She stood in the grey carpark, doubled over, hyperventilating. 

And what now? She had broken faith with him. She ought not to have seen him at all but she had been so afraid he was going to die…

The appeal was tomorrow. Joe sent her a cursory reminder that her answer to him was due by midnight tonight.

She had already abandoned Alec. She’d put a stop on the divorce. She was stalling the proceedings to court too, which was perplexing Jocelyn. The final step was to take him back, and it would guarantee he would not release the photographs, the only solid proof of their affair that existed.

He’d been demanding to see the boys, but she thought she could buy him off with herself instead. Buy his silence with her body. For a day, or a week, or however long it would take the judge to dismiss the case.

And then what? What would come next? She didn’t know. All was uncertainty.

She went home and spent her time unnecessarily kissing the children. Tom and Fred. Fred and Tom. Her darlings. Her reasons for living.

She and Hardy both believed that children – that one’s family – was worth dying for.

She believed they were worth killing for, too.

 *

Alec returned to his little blue house on the river, quite alone. The nurses had been loath to let him go, but he could not bear the hospital. His heart ached and twinged almost as much as it had before the pacemaker operation; he was overcome with the sense that he was going to die.

They had offered to schedule a new operation to replace the pacemaker. He had refused, and they had given him new medication instead. This he placed on the windowsill, but did not touch.

Had Ellie's rejection of him been a true one? He knew she could get into wildly contradictory moods when she was emotional, and there could be nothing more emotionally taxing than having a murderer after one's children. He thought he'd had a future, just off in the distance, behind the rainclouds... he wasn't so sure now. 

In the dusk of the evening he went for a walk. Struggling to the highest part of the cliffs, to the place where his mother had jumped thirty years ago, Hardy approached the very edge. He moved closer and closer until his toes were just poking over the precipice, and looked down. He'd put her ring in his pocket, and he turned it over in his fingers, thoroughly depressed by all it represented. The ocean roared and groaned, chewing the orange cliffs with its grey teeth. 

Deprived of work, deprived of family, deprived of everything that had given his life meaning, he could not imagine what he had to live for. He could hear his mother’s insistent voice that someday God would put him in the right place.

She had been wrong, after all. 

He felt the ground shift slightly beneath his weight. A handful of stones tripped down the cliff face. Experimentally, Hardy jumped up and down. The earth shifted again, but did not break away. He jumped once more; this time the earth moved not at all. He stepped back from the edge.

It was curious. Why had the crumbling cliff refused to take him? Why now did the water abhor him? Was he reserved for something, or was he not sufficiently dignified for this kind of death?

He kept walking. He came to St Bede’s, the place where Ellie and her father and all her ancestors had worshipped and been baptised and married. This was the community of Broadchurch embodied in stone. As an outsider, he no longer felt that he had the right to enter. He walked around the unkempt churchyard instead.

He came to Danny’s grave. Fresh flowers were laid at the base. He gazed contemplatively at the headstone for a time.

He moved on. The name ‘Miller’ jumped out at him from a number of older graves. Overlooking the sea, among the empty graves erected by sailors' widows, he found a large, beautiful white marble monument:

 

SACRED

TO THE MEMORY

OF

 

THOMAS FREDERICK JUDE MILLER

 

WHO, AT THE AGE OF FORTY-ONE,

WAS LOST OFF THE COAST OF BROADCHURCH

TRYING TO SAVE ANOTHER’S LIFE.

THIS STONE

IS ERECTED IN HIS HONOUR

BY THE LOVEDAY FAMILY

AS A GIFT TO HIS WIFE AND DAUGHTERS.

 

There followed a small inscription of a sailor’s prayer:

 

Dear God,

Be good to me.

The sea

Is so wide

And my boat

Is so small.

 

Hardy mouthed the words. His gaze flicked to the base of the stone. He saw stains from grass overgrowing it, though the offending vegetation had been removed and the monument lovingly cleaned. Someone obviously tended this grave.

Yet it was not truly a grave of course. There lay no body beneath the green grass at his feet. He squatted and traced the lettering with his fingertips, waxing melancholy at the thought. He tried to recall what Thomas Miller had looked like. He remembered a wide smile that had stopped at an inconsequential distance from his ears, a booming laugh, wild, curly hair, weatherbeaten skin covered in sailor tattoos and a permanent sunburn. He recalled how gentle and sensitive he’d been, how caring, how he’d knelt at his side, close enough for him to see all the distinctive creases on his face, including permanent, characterful lines just under his eyes that had helped him to adopt a sombre, comforting aspect.

He remembered his voice. The hug he’d given him. The phrase, “let me go find your dad, eh? I’ll leave Milly here to look after you while I’m gone.”

And with that, he had met Ellie for the first time.

When their fathers had finally led them their separate ways, into an estrangement that would last thirty years, he had cast a longing look back at Milly, as she had to him. Clasping her father’s hand, she had waved goodbye, and as he returned the gesture he had envied her for having such a parent.

He reflected more and more on the chance meeting. At an imperfect moment, two perfect halves had confronted each other. The time had not been ripe for them, and they had parted, and out of the delay in finding each other again had sprung all their misfortunes. For when the perfect moment came, each of the twain had come to confront imperfect counterparts; had married them; had fought with them; had separated from them; and had suffered most exquisitely for their sakes.

In the aftermath of the divorce, an invisible thread had led him back to Broadchurch. He had forgotten the name of the town, remembering nothing of this place except ocean and cliffs and a little girl. The papers suggested that something perverse had driven him to return to here. But they were wrong. He now understood what unconscious impulse had driven him here. Sandbrook had been the greatest trauma in his life after losing his mother; he had come here unconsciously seeking the comfort that the little girl and her father had bestowed on him, the only comfort he’d ever received after her death.

And he had found her, though he hadn’t recognised her. They’d fought like cats and dogs. But she had saved him nonetheless. Smothered him in kindness. Insisted on giving him strange things. Dumped a bag of grapes at his hospital bedside, a gesture that made about as much sense as her trying to foist a yo-yo on him when she was ten. She had taught him to trust again. She’d given his life meaning. He had become one half of a partnership. He’d gotten better thanks to her.

The more he reflected the more ashamed he became of his attempt, however feeble, at self-extermination. How could he even contemplate leaving Thomas Miller’s daughter alone in this world? As long as he had air in his lungs and a bumping heart in his chest, he owed it to her, to her father, to himself, to protect her, to pay her back for what she had done for him.

Like clouds parting before the sun, the path onwards revealed itself to him.

He would plead guilty. He would testify that he had fooled Ellie. He would say that she had helped him in good faith and that she had known nothing of his imprisonment and brutalisation of Claire. It would lead to Claire being acquitted, but at least it would ensure Ellie would remain blameless. It would ensure Joe did not get sole custody of her sons.

He knew what they did to crooked cops in prison. That would kill him, or his heart would. He did not expect to live more than a few weeks either way.

Thus resolved, Hardy returned to his house, struggling along the cliffs. He came to the river, which was frozen at the edges, the reeds clumped together by frost. Winter had truly come to Broadchurch. It sank its claws into him and he shuddered.

Going inside, he collapsed in his chair. He did not turn the lights on, nor did he deign to turn the heater on or dress warmly. He shivered in the dark, his heart twanging like a bowstring, and regretted his reckless, exhausting walk along the cliffs. He had set out half intending to kill himself through exertion, and now he feared he had done just that. But he couldn’t die. Not until Ellie was free.

He sank his fingernails into the arms of the chair and dragged himself to his feet. Staggering to the windowsill, he grasped the bottle of medication, unscrewed the cap and threw back two pills.

Chapter Text

Let there be truth at last, 
   Even if despair.

Thomas Hardy, Between Us Now.

 


 

The sun was setting. Ellie was in the Latimers’ house, standing alone by the window and watching the rain track down the glass. She could hear Fred shouting and Lizzie babbling in the next room. Tom was with them, laughing at his brother’s antics.

‘El?’ Beth said softly, padding up behind her. ‘You’re all alone. Come join us in the lounge. It’s warmer.’

She took her friend’s arm, but Ellie was stone.

‘What is it?’

She sighed. ‘I can’t stop thinking about him.’

‘Your husband?’

There was a pause. ‘Yes.’

‘There’s no point worrying yourself sick. You know he’ll never get sole custody. The appeal’s tomorrow, and these charges won’t stick. And I suppose it sounds terrible to say, but Alec being sick right now will help you. They’d never believe he could’ve done all those terrible things.’

Ellie huffed and rubbed her arms. ‘I worry about him on his own.’

‘I already heard from Maggie that he’s discharged himself from hospital. That has to be a good sign, right?’

Ellie thrust out her lower lip and said nothing. Just then, her phone buzzed. Taking it out, she glanced over it and immediately went as pale as an arum lily.

‘Everything okay?’

‘Yes. Yes, it’s nothing. Um.’ She shoved the phone away. ‘I think I might go and see Jocelyn tonight. Can you look after the boys until I get back?’

‘Course.’ Beth nodded. She studied her friend with some concern. ‘I wish you’d tell me what’s really going on, El. I know something’s not right.’

‘You don’t need to worry,’ Ellie said. She had to speak around a lump in her throat. ‘It should all be fixed by tomorrow.’

She went and kissed and hugged Tom and Fred goodbye. 

‘Look after them,’ she said, and Beth nodded. Zipping up her orange coat, Ellie went outside and disappeared.

As she crossed the field to her house, Ellie reflected on her course of action. She could not let Joe see the boys, but she could meet Joe and confirm that she would agree to his terms. And then – seal the deal with a kiss. Or more. Take him back as her husband, in every way.

She shuddered violently. Could she actually do it? She had decided long ago that she would sooner kill him or herself than ever let him touch her again. But it wasn’t just about her. She had to think of Tom and Fred.

And there was nothing she would not suffer for their sakes. No torture or abuse or ignominy was too great.

She went inside her shadowed house and her phone dinged again. Her mouth dry, she took it out and was rocked with a fresh wave of dread. It was from Joe. He was sending the pictures of her fucking Hardy one by one.

This one came with a short message.

Your answer?

She looked up and found herself staring out the living room window, the same window that had been recently been shattered by a brick that bore the word ‘WHORE’ upon it. She pressed her fingers to her temples and roamed the house in agitation. She had repainted every wall and thrown out or burnt anything that reminded her of Joe, yet his ghost still lingered here. She walked into the kitchen, her face overcast with gloom and pain, and wondered how many nights he had stood in this room preparing dinner for herself and Tom.

She found herself staring longingly at the knives in the block and had to leave, palpitating as she did. She needed to be practical about this. She had to stop him from releasing those pictures. If it meant she and Hardy would be exonerated and Tom and Fred kept safe for just a little longer, she had to do it.

She went upstairs and sat down on the bed with a bump. She had always had a fastidious temperament when it came to sexual partners. At present, she could not imagine herself summoning desire for scarce any man, except for – for Alec.

The thought drew a long groan from her and she hated herself afresh for loving and wanting him. With everything that was happening, how could she have been so stupid as to love him? And yet what chance did conscience have when it stood against two ardent hearts? And oh, she’d loved fucking him, and those pictures were a firm testament to that. His cock had felt so good inside her, and when he put his mouth on her, and whispered those sweet things into her ear…

My fault. My fault.

She still felt the stir of arousal even now, even when her whole world threatened to crumble because of her love for him, and she hated herself even more.

Whore.

She wished she could hate him too. It would be so much easier if she could just hate him, but she couldn't. As much as she loathed herself, she still loved Alec.

She tried to imagine fucking Joe and was overcome with nausea and revulsion so strong that she almost vomited. Death was infinitely preferable, or murder.

But she had to do it. For her sons. For Alec. Just lie back and think of England. That was what a good wife did, wasn’t it?

Thoroughly depressed, and feeling stifled by the house, she could not stay. She ran down the stairs and outside, into the evening.

Drawn by some invisible thread, she ended up at St Bede’s church. She thought idly that she might seek guidance from Paul, or pray, or set some flowers on Danny’s grave. 

As she climbed the hill, she did not see the dark shape of Alec gliding away against the burnt orange sky. When she arrived the churchyard was dark, serene and empty. 

She stepped over the graves of her ancestors and thought of the family tree she and her father had put together. Here lay John and Robert Miller, two sailor brothers who fought in the battle of Trafalgar. The fisherman George Miller, his wife and their seven children. Her great-grandmother Elfride Miller who had been an army nurse. The bodies of a dozen or more generations of Millers lay sleeping in this churchyard, all of them quite indifferent to the suffering of their descendant. 

She wondered how many of her ancestors had married unwisely. How many had made poor husbands and wives? How many had committed, or suffered, marital rape? How many were battered, how many quarrelsome, how many unhappy? Did she owe her own life to generations of legally sanctioned misery and abuse? Had they felt marriage as a steel-jawed trap, as she did?

And then again, she thought as she passed on, how many had been happy? How many marriages had been built on constancy, trust, friendship and loving-kindness? So many were interred in pairs, together even in death, the headstones proclaiming that each was forever the beloved of the other.

She went forthwith to her father’s monument and sighed. His body belonged beneath the green sods at her feet, enclosed in the earth with the rest of the Miller clan. Instead, he was lost to the rolling sea.

‘I wish you were here, Dad,’ she said softly.  

Something glinted at her feet and she discerned in the fading light that a ring lay upon the white marble base, just beneath the inscription of the Sailor’s Prayer. She blinked, then bent over and picked it up.

Surely it couldn’t be…?

Yet it was. Hardy’s ring. His mother’s ring. He had left it here. Why? When? How?

 She looked around in search of him but could see nothing. Struck with sudden melancholy, Ellie gripped it tight.

He came to visit my father’s grave… left hospital just so he could come here.

She supposed he had wanted to pay his respects to the man that had found his mother's body.

And this ring was all he had left to give.

He was so ridiculously sentimental sometimes that the gesture did not surprise her, nor the sheer recklessness of it. A thorny knot of anxiety pressed against her heart.

She hated herself for loving him. She hated herself more for abandoning him.

Huffing, she thrust the ring into her pocket. She walked back across the churchyard with her head bowed. As she was crossing by the vestibule of the church, she glimpsed a shadowy figure there. At first she interpreted the shape as some grotesque or gargoyle, some eldritch horror cast in stone like the corbels that had watched her and Alec play the piano together.

Then it moved.

Joe came out of the shadows, dressed in his blue coat, and sprang lightly towards her. The shock of it made her almost faint against a crooked headstone.

‘Careful,’ he said, and he moved as if he were going to support her. She snatched away from him and stumbled backwards across the graves.

‘What are you doing here?’ she croaked, her mouth dry. ‘Have you been following me?’

‘I saw you come in,’ he said breezily. ‘Thought I’d better not interrupt you. Something of a family reunion, isn’t it?’

He stamped his foot upon a fallen stone, which still faintly bore the name Florence Mary Miller upon it.

‘They are not your family,’ she retorted.

‘By marriage, they are.’

A paralysis seemed to take hold of her. She felt utterly helpless.

‘You haven’t been answering my texts. Have you made up your mind?’

She shied away until a headstone stood between them. ‘Not yet.’

‘The clock’s ticking,’ he said mildly. ‘And Karen’s waiting to hear from me.’ He took a step towards her. ‘It would be a terrible shame if those pictures were released the night before you appear in court.’

Something rankled in the back of her mind as he said this, but she could not dwell on it just now.

‘You said I had until midnight,’ she replied obstinately.

‘And not a minute later.’ He put his hands into his pockets and regarded her. ‘Why are you stalling, El? What are you waiting for? Someone to save you? Alec to ride in on a white horse?' He let out a bark of laughter at that.

She groped for his ring.

‘No.’

‘You haven’t been to see him, have you?’

She stared at the ground. ‘No.’

He rounded the headstone and she retreated behind another. ‘Don’t lie to me, El. Have you seen him?’

She’d interrogated enough people to recognise that Joe already knew the answer to his question. Yet she persisted with the lie.

‘I said no.’

Out of sight, she slipped Alec’s ring onto her finger, back into its rightful place. She was inexpressibly grateful that she’d found it.

Joe stood silently for a moment, his breath fogging in the darkening air.

‘Doesn’t matter, I suppose. He’s a dead man walking.’

Ellie flinched. ‘Why do you say that?’

He shrugged. ‘It’s what everyone says.’

The wind started to pick up. It whistled between the stones.

‘You’re sure you won’t decide now?’ Joe asked.

‘I’m sure.'

‘Until midnight, then.’

He stretched his hand out to take hers but she slapped it violently away and leapt into a defensive posture.

His countenance blackened. ‘Don’t hit me, Ellie. I’ve warned you about that already.’

She trembled, her face a defiant mask. Joe pointed his index finger at her.

‘You’ll treat me like a husband, are we clear?’

Two tears slipped from her eyes. She nodded once.

‘Good.’ Tramping upon the graves of her ancestors, Joe bent his head towards her. ‘Kiss me,’ was his command.

She lifted her face to him, but remained still and cold as marble. He contented himself with the surrender and kissed her left cheek, then her right. She fixed her eyes upon the last rays of light playing upon the horizon as he accomplished this, imagining herself far away, as a gull soaring through the sky. He pulled back to regard her, his gaze lingering on her lips for several seconds.

‘Until midnight,’ he said, withdrawing. ‘I’ll be waiting for your call.’

And he left her alone in the dark churchyard.

Ellie sank to her knees like a penitent sinner, a low moan escaping her. She could still feel his clammy lips upon her skin, and she scratched her cheeks until the sensation faded.

One thing was confirmed. She could not suffer his touch. She would rather drive a knife through her own heart than let him fuck her – let him possess her – again.

She couldn’t let him have her. Not her, nor Fred, nor Tom.

She would have to kill him. Murder him. She reflected dully on how to do it, and amidst fantasies of battering him to death with a hammer or throwing him off a cliff or throttling the life out of him the answer presented itself.

She would hide a knife in her bedroom. A kitchen knife. One of the same knives he once used to prepare dinner for her and the boys. Then she would invite him upstairs, take him into her bedroom and kill him in their marriage bed. The same bed he’d sated his lust all those years, the same bed in which he’d used her body, time and time again, to push down his true, aberrant desires. The same bed in which she’d taken so much pleasure in fucking the murderer of her best friend’s son. The same bed that her poor, beautiful boys had been conceived in. Fred and Tom. Tom and Fred. Cursed with a monster for a father.

Just like Alec.

What would Alec say when he discovered she had killed Joe? Would he still love her?

She twisted the ring on her finger. No, she thought. He would not love a murderer. It was ironic. When she met him she had hated him for being so callous and cold-blooded. But in truth, he was more tender-hearted than her by far.

He would die for the ones he loved. He would die for her and Daisy in a second; he had proved it. But he would never kill.

That was where they were different. That was where she was like Joe.

‘I’m sorry, Alec,’ she whispered miserably. ‘I’m not strong enough.’

She felt like a corpse drifting upon a current, drawn hither and thither contrary to her will. With no real sense of direction, she began to trudge away from the church when her phone rang.

She had to steel herself for several moments before she could answer it. Taking a deep breath, she pulled it out.

It was Jocelyn.

‘Hello?’

‘Ellie!’ Jocelyn said. ‘Thank God I’ve got a hold of you. It’s about Alec.’

Her insides froze. ‘Is he okay?’

‘He’s lost his mind as well as his heart, as far as I can see. He called me to say that he wants to call off his appeal. He said he’s going to plead guilty so he can get you off the charges. Take the fall for it all, and say you were an unwitting accomplice.’

‘No!’ Ellie gasped involuntarily. ‘No, he can’t! He can't do that!'

‘That’s what I said.’

‘I told him I didn't want him to lie for me,' she said, anguished. 'God, it'll be like Sandbrook, but worse!’  

‘He was adamant that it was what he wanted. I’ve tried calling him back, but he won’t pick up. I need you to talk to him.’

‘Me?’ Ellie repeated. ‘Oh - no – I can’t.’

‘I know it’ll be dangerous but you’re the only one he’ll listen to. The press haven’t been around today, so I think you can…’ 

‘No – no, I can’t. I can’t,’ she pleaded.

‘If you won’t see him at least call him. Talk some sense into him.’

‘I can’t do that either,’ she said. She glanced around her, wondering if Joe were watching her even as she spoke.

‘Why not? Ellie, you’ve been behaving so strangely this last week. Please, if there’s something wrong, you have to tell me. I’m your lawyer. No secrets, remember?’

‘Don’t ask me,’ she begged. ‘You go and see him. You or Maggie.’

‘He won’t listen to us! Honestly Ellie, what is the matter with you? Don’t you want to help him?’

‘Of course I do!' She tore her hair in frustration. 'For fuck's sake of course – that's what I'm trying - oh you don’t even understand my feeling – I jumped into a river!’

‘Jumped into a river?’ Jocelyn repeated. ‘No, I’m afraid I don’t understand you.’

There was silence, save for the wind crackling in the receiver.

‘Please,’ Jocelyn said. ‘Please try calling him.’

‘I can’t,’ she said again. ‘I have to go – but if you get a hold of him – will you please tell him – please ask him not to lie. He’s always taking the blame for things he didn’t do. Sometimes I worry he really does believe he's guilty...’

‘Tell him yourself,’ Jocelyn snapped. ‘I’m going to call Ben and ask him for help with damage control tomorrow.’

She hung up without saying goodbye. Ellie crawled to the vestibule and sank upon the stone with a bump, her knees against her chest and her knuckles pressed to her brow ridge.

‘You stupid idiot!’ she shouted at the leaden sky. ‘Oh, you darling fool! Why would you do that?’ 

She already knew the answer. He had whispered it in her ear more than once.

‘God, I don’t want to be like Tess,’ she groaned. ‘Don’t make me your new Tess.’

This threw a kink into her plans. She wondered if she should go to him. But Joe would know. She thought of what he had asked her - you haven’t been to see him, have you?

She knew that tone of voice. She had interrogated enough people to know it meant Joe already knew she’d seen him today. But how? Had a nurse tipped him off? Impossible. Maggie’s friends were as good as gold. So he must have been following her.

The thought made her shudder, but it it made sense. It certainly explained how he'd found her just now. How long had he been doing it? Days? Weeks? Maybe even months. She was grateful she’d had the foresight to ensure Tom and Fred were escorted at all times. 

She folded her hands into her lap and reflected on it a little more. She found herself staring at the ring upon her finger and her lips parted in astonishment. An alternative answer revealed itself, crystallising the more she dwelt on it.

No. Not me.

She calculated swiftly in her head. Hardy could not have placed that ring there more than an hour ago. Very probably less. Then it was possible…

He’s been following Alec.

She seized out her phone and opened it to the pictures Joe had sent her. There was something else bothering her. At first it had been a mere niggle, but now alarm bells were definitely sounding.

She did not know Karen White that well, but Ellie knew for certain that she could be counted on to serve her own interests. She had released that article about Hardy’s mother and agreed to help Joe because it had been advantageous to her. So why would she send the pictures of her and Alec fucking to Joe and wait until he gave the okay to release them? She would never sit on a scoop like this. Never.

If Karen hadn’t taken the pictures, and she were right about Joe following Alec, then the next conclusion to make was that Joe must have taken the photos himself. She recalled opening the venetian blinds just a crack to look at the sun and the rain that morning. At that dark, foggy time, Joe must have approached the window and…

She looked carefully through the pictures Joe had been taunting her with. She wasn't an expert when it came to photography, but now that she was looking it seemed obvious that they’d been taken on a phone and not with a professional camera. She could always tell the difference between Olly’s iphone snaps in the paper and the photographs Reg took when he bothered to show up.

And if that were true, then it also implied that Joe was responsible for the pictures of the kiss they had shared. They had been blurry and imperfect – again, taken on a phone. A professional photographer set on their tail would have been able to produce clear shots with their camera, even in spite of the fog. 

She called Olly. The phone rang and rang.

‘Come on, come on,’ she muttered. She started pacing and chewed her thumbnail. ‘Pick up!’

He did, at last. ‘Auntie Ellie, hey!’ he said. ‘How are -’

She cut him off. ‘Are you still in contact with Karen White?’

‘Oh,’ he said in surprise. ‘Sort of. I mean, we’re not on bad terms or anything… why, what’s she done?’

‘Nothing yet,’ Ellie said. ‘I just need to know, has she been in Broadchurch since Maggie kicked her out of the Echo?’

‘No. She got her big scoop and the boss promoted her. Put her on the big desk. She hasn’t had to get her hands dirty after that.' 

‘Do you know if she’s personally stationed anyone here? Any photographers or journalists that might be working directly for her?’

‘Uhh… I don’t think so. I mean, the Herald’s got people here, but…’

‘Then who gave her the pictures of Hardy and I kissing?’

‘You mean the “faked” photos?’ Olly said in a gently mocking tone.

‘Don’t piss me about Oliver, just answer the question.’

Her tone frightened him. ‘It wasn’t me, if that’s what you’re implying!’ He thought about it for a moment. ‘Huh. I actually don’t know. Should I ask her?’

‘Please. Text me the answer as soon as you know.’

‘All right. Hey - Auntie Ellie, is everything okay?’

‘I don’t know,’ she replied honestly. ‘Just send me the answer when you can.’

She hung up, put the phone down and waited for the reply, her mind and heart abuzz. While she sat beneath that arch, partially within the church vestibule and partially without, it grew blacker and blacker. The wind picked up, coaxing whispers and susurrations from the long grass. Yet no spirits moved in this churchyard. The dead were restful tonight.

Or perhaps they were simply waiting.

Watching.

Finally, the answer came through, both dreaded and hoped for.

Joe Miller was source for photographs.

A long, deep, frozen breath drifted from her warm lungs.

So. Joe Miller had been stalking Alec Hardy.

Why?

Deprived of Alec’s company, she had to imagine he were sitting opposite her, going through the evidence, driving her mad with his seemingly emotionless, methodical approach, endlessly contradicting her and bickering with her.

Why would Joe stalk me? she could hear him saying in that Scottish brogue. What was he after? Why would he go after me and not you? Why wouldn’t he go after Tom and Fred instead?

Yeah, you do realise you’re doing that incessant question list, one after the other, bam bam bam, so I don’t have a chance to answer?

Am I?

Yes. Now let me think.

But ask yourself: what does he want? He wants you and he wants his sons. So why not go after them? Why is he fixated on me?

‘Because,’ she said out loud to the phantom Alec, ‘he sees you as his rival.’

His rival?

He asked me whether we had an affair. During the investigation into Danny’s death.

He honestly suspects that? That horseshit that Sharon Bishop made up?

Ellie paused to smile.

Well, she thought, he at least thinks we were having it away during the trial. He definitely didn’t believe it was our first time. Just the first time we got caught.

All right. So he hates me. Thinks he needs me out of the picture before he can get back together with you.

So that brings us back to the original question. Why stalk you?

She could visualise Alec passing a hand over his beard. He gets evidence on me. Smears my name. I get imprisoned. Bang. That’s me gone for good. No more rival. Easiest way to get rid of me.

A sudden chill passed over Ellie. ‘No. There’s another way to get rid of you.’

Alec. When did your heart start troubling you again?

She had to pause to frantically calculate the answer.

It was after Karen White released the story about mum, her ghost Alec said once she’d figured it out. I came to Broadchurch. We met at the church, remember? 

‘I remember,’ she whispered with a dry mouth. ‘It was right before Joe and Abby contacted me, too.’

She paused.

Did you always go to Broadchurch general for your check-ups?

Yeah. It was where I got the operation done, phantom Alec replied. They had my records. Why do you ask?

Because Joe used to work at Broadchurch general.

What are you saying?

I’m saying he may have been trying to take you out of the picture in another way.

What – kill me? How?

‘The medication,’ Ellie whispered. ‘Oh Jesus.’

Joe – he’s a trained paramedic. Worked as a nurse for a bit, too, and his first degree was in pharmacology. He said he gave it up because he liked the thrill of working as a paramedic- the bloodrush it gave him - but that after Tom and Fred were born, they were all the thrill he needed and – oh God!

She clapped a hand to her mouth. She could hear Alec’s voice in her ear. Breathe, Miller. Breathe. You’re working a case now.

I know, I bloody know! I don’t need you to tell me that! She took a deep breath. What I’m saying is, Joe knows what drugs and medication can do. I think he could easily have been switching your pills or changing your dosage in a way that would wear you down and slowly kill you, without showing symptoms that suggest poisoning. It’d just look like you were succumbing to your heart condition.

Where? Alec demanded. Where would he have been making the switch? At hospital? At my house?

Both, maybe. I don’t know. He knows enough about crime from me to make an invisible break-in.

Ellie.

She could visualise Alec standing before her. He was a ghost, and he was dripping. His palms were turned upwards, almost in a gesture of supplication. 

Am I in danger right now?

Her mouth was dry. ‘I don’t know.’

She called him at once, wishing with all her heart that she’d told Alec about Joe blackmailing her. They would have worked it out together, she knew. Instead he almost died today, and possibly…

He did not answer. She called again. And again. And again. It rang out every time.

She gnawed her fingernails. Perhaps he was ignoring her? But she could not imagine that as a possibility. She'd informed him she did not love him today, had thrown his ring back in his face, and his reaction had been to visit her father's grave, pay his respects and make the decision to go to jail so that she would be exonerated. He would answer her. Why wasn't he answering?

Her phone dinged and her heart leapt. 

It was Joe.

Your choice, Ellie? it demanded.

Couched among the gravestones, she looked as taut and strained as a bowstring at breaking point. Her rational mind screamed that there was nowhere near enough evidence to prove her theory, but her heart did not care. She made her choice then and there. 

Let Joe release the pictures to the media. Let a hundred journalists see them together. She did not care anymore.

The ghosts of her ancestors, and Danny too, watched silently as Ellie fled from the churchyard, swift as a shotten arrow. She ran across the gull-haunted sea-bord cliffs to where the river met the ocean and followed it upstream to rejoin her other half.

When the fateful stroke of midnight came Ellie did not even notice it. Her whole soul was bound up in concern for Hardy.

He had been dead when she found him. Just like he was in her nightmares, a warm corpse in a blue house. She saw him lying on the floor, immediately called for an ambulance and then, finding that the door was locked, she had wrapped her orange coat around her hand and punched through the window to unlock the door from the inside. She immediately started performing CPR.

It took just over a quarter of an hour for the ambulance to arrive.

Two paramedics revived him, then immediately rushed him into the ambulance. CPR was exhausting work, and even despite the adrenaline flooding through her, Ellie could barely move. Seeing a bottle of pills upon the windowsill, she pocketed it and managed to crawl into the ambulance, babbling her suspicions to the paramedics. They assured her they would test exactly what the pills were, and she had clung to his hand in the meantime.

She thought he looked at her, once.

But maybe it was wishful thinking.

They rushed him into emergency to get him stabilised. She heard a few nurses say that the outlook was grim, so she called Tess and told her to bring Daisy to Broadchurch.

If this really were Alec’s last night on earth, he deserved to have his family with him.

The tests came back. His medication had indeed been switched. Now that they knew exactly what had caused the problem, they were able to provide countermeasures. He began to stabilise, slowly.

But he did not wake up. 

‘The next twenty-four hours are critical,’ the nurse told her. ‘We will do everything we can, but you have to understand, the damage has been done. There is a chance he won’t make it.’

‘Just do what you can,’ was all Ellie said.

She contacted the station. Organised things as best she could. Told them all to find and arrest Joe Miller.

In the meantime, she waited with Hardy. Nurses bustled in and out, checking up on his vitals and administering more medication. Ellie felt as if she were in a dream. She remembered little of the fifteen minutes she had spent forcing Alec Hardy’s heart to keep beating, kissing air into his lungs. She felt numb and far away. She could barely move her arms from sheer exhaustion. She suspected she may be in shock. 

She recovered her strength by degrees. Absently, she stroked his hand, careful not to disturb the pulse monitor clipped to his finger. He looked a corpse laid out upon the sheets.

Unable to wait quietly for Tess and Daisy, Ellie started wittering.

‘You asked me about how my dad died,’ she said. ‘I said he drowned, but I didn’t tell you the whole story. The real story starts when I was fifteen. See, I’d been going out to sea with Dad for ages – but never on anything dangerous, you know? Just when it was calm. But when I turned fifteen I was able to take on a proper apprenticeship role. I started working properly, which meant going out in storms.’

The monitors flickered and beeped in time with Alec’s heart, melodious as a crashing tide. 

‘My first big storm – that was one of the scariest moments of my life. Me, Dad and two other crew were sent out. We picked up a husband and wife whose boat had capsized. The weather kept getting worse, and Dad was really struggling to bring her back into calmer waters. The waves were tossing us back and forth like we were nothing. Water was everywhere, choking the engines. Then the motor shorted out and a hole punched through the hull. I heard the crew muttering that if things got worse, we might need to abandon ship. But Dad – oh, Dad was brave. He instructed the crew how to plug the leak, then managed to get the engines going again. All this time I was frozen. Crying my eyes out, clutching my little life jacket to me. Dad saw that, and he managed to be cheerful, somehow. The whole time, cracking jokes. Saying, “these waves are nothing!” or “doesn’t God have anything bigger to throw at us?”’

She paused to laugh and wipe her nose.

‘I tried to be brave like him, but I couldn’t. So what Dad did was, he took my hands and he put them on the controls. Steering and throttle. Let me feel the engine, the shake and the swell of the sea. With him guiding me, we started to move. A big, big wave, so big it blotted out the sky, came over us. I can still feel the shaking. But Dad and me, we hung on. And we kept going. Kept heading to safety.’

‘“We’re really caught between the devil and the deep blue sea now, aren’t we Milly?” he said to me. And I shouted back, still crying, “you always say that.”’

“Ah,” he said, “but that’s the thing. I never told you which one to choose.” And he gunned the throttle, just like that, and I heard the engine whine. “You see, we know a few things about the devil. We know he was an angel, once. We know he’s got rules. You can bargain with the devil. Reason with him. Fight him. Kill him, if it comes to it. But the ocean? Well, she’s deep and wide and neverending and that’s all we’ll ever know about her. You can’t fight the water. Can’t kill her. Can’t even beg for mercy. So when you’re caught between the two…”

Ellie paused her narrative to do a little flourish and held out her hands as if she were controlling a ship: 

‘- And right when he said that, this wave crashed against us, and Dad swung hard left. The boat turned, I swear at a ninety degree angle, but she didn’t capsize, and we rode that wave and came out the other side, and I could see the orange cliffs of Broadchurch, and Dad just calmly said:

‘“Always choose the devil. You can kill the devil, but there’s no fighting the deep wide ocean. And never abandon your ship. Not until she abandons you.”’

Her hands slumped to her sides. ‘We came into shore, all hands accounted for, and two more rescued. I should have been proud. I was. But…’

She bit her lip.

‘I stopped going to sea with him. I was scared. I kept thinking of what would’ve happened if… anyway, I know it nearly broke Dad’s heart when I told him, but he was supportive.’

She bent her head sorrowfully.

‘On the day he died, me, mum and Luce all heard him take the call for help. We all saw him go rushing out. But there was this moment when he looked at me. Out of everyone, he turned and he looked back at me. I could see him thinking and I knew he was wondering whether to ask me to go with him…’

She sighed heavily and sat back. ‘But he didn’t. He ran out and that was the last I ever saw of him. And I hate myself for letting him go. I should have been strong. I should have gone with him. I know that if I’d been there he would’ve been okay. Because I always thought he was fearless, but the thing is – he was just as scared as me, that day we were in the storm, and he needed my hands on the controls guiding him as much I needed his. We were able to be strong for each other.

‘He was wrong,’ she concluded. ‘I think you can fight the deep blue sea. You just can’t do it alone.’ She laughed. ‘Any sailor will tell you that.’

Alec remained unresponsive. Her tale ended, Ellie lapsed into silence. Hateful, neverending silence. The silence of an unanswered question, the silence of a dialogue which had no second speaker. A silence of anticipation and disappointment. A caesura of sound.

‘He’s just in here,’ she heard a nurse say, and she looked up to see Tess come running into the room.

‘Is he dead?’ Tess asked breathlessly.

‘He’s alive. Just.’ Ellie fixed her eyes hopefully on the empty doorway. ‘Where’s Daisy?’

‘She’s here. But… still refusing to see him.’

Ellie’s face fell. Tess tossed back her hair.

‘Phew. I sped here with my sirens on. I thought he was really dying.’

‘He was,’ Ellie said dully. ‘And here’s why.’

She told Tess her suspicions about Joe.

‘Bloody hell,’ Tess said. ‘You really think your husband poisoned him?’

‘That’s what I’m trying to prove. I know the meds were definitely switched. I know he’s been following him.’

She sighed over his prone form.

‘I’ve got officers out looking for Joe. It’s enough to bring him in for questioning.' 

‘Any luck so far?’ Tess asked.

‘No word yet.’

‘Is there anything I can do? I’m probably more experienced than most of your officers.’

She bristled slightly. ‘No. I need you here with Alec. I’m planning on going out myself, soon as I know he’s in good hands.’ She glanced at the doorway again. ‘Do you mind if I try speaking to Daisy?’

‘Be my guest.’

Tess remained at the bedside. Ellie went outside and found Daisy. She was loitering near an old vending machine, her arms folded.

‘Daisy?’

The teenager looked up and scowled. She looked so much like her father in that instant that Ellie’s insides ached.

‘Hi. My name is Ellie,’ she began.

‘I know who you are,’ she said shortly. ‘I don’t want to speak to you.’

She’d forgotten. To Daisy, she he was nothing but a corrupt, brutal copper, her father’s whore, for whose sake he’d imprisoned Joe and Claire. In her weakened physical and emotional state it threatened to break her. She could feel the tears pricking her eyes already.

‘I know what you think of me,’ Ellie said, swallowing hard. ‘I know what you think of your father. But please, it’s not true. Claire Ripley has been saying these things just to get herself out of prison. And Joe – my husband – well, I think he’s the reason your father’s in that hospital bed.’

Daisy squinted at her. ‘Dad’s got a heart condition.’

‘Yes. And Joe has been making it worse. Poisoning him, essentially.’

Daisy laughed. ‘Do you know how ridiculous that sounds?’

‘More ridiculous than the papers saying your father locked up and brutalised a woman when he could barely stand up without getting dizzy?' 

Doubt flickered over the girl’s face. She stayed silent. Ellie took a step forward.

‘How old are you, sweetheart?’

‘Sixteen,’ she replied.

‘Sixteen.’ It hurt to hear. ‘You know, I was just your age when I lost my dad. I loved him. He was – the best father I could hope for. He loved me with all his heart and I lost him.’

Daisy looked wary, but she was intrigued. ‘How?’

She swallowed hard. ‘He drowned. And afterwards – I would’ve given anything to have him back. To turn back time – or at least to have been able to say goodbye to him.’

She trailed off and crossed over to Daisy. She made to touch her hand, but the teenager withdrew.

‘Your father loves you, Daisy. Everything they’re saying about him – us – it’s not true. And I’d hate for you to lose him before you realise that.’ 

Daisy shifted. She folded her arms and stared at the ground.

‘Every little girl needs her dad,’ she said gently. ‘Please. You should be with him.’ A lump in her throat prevented her from saying any more. When Daisy did not respond, she left her and returned to Hardy’s side.

Tess was fixing Hardy’s pillows. ‘She’s not coming?’

Ellie shook her head. ‘I’m glad you both came so quickly, though. Thank you.’

‘We were married for fifteen years,’ Tess said mildly. ‘I do feel something for him.’

‘Yes,’ Ellie sighed. She walked to the other side of the bed and smoothed the crease from his pillow. Tess’ hand suddenly shot out and closed around her wrist.

‘What’re you…?’ she began. She tried to pull away but Tess held her fast. Their hands hovered above Hardy’s head.

‘That ring,’ Tess said, turning her by the wrist to see it better. ‘Where did you get that?’

Ellie wrenched free and clutched her hand protectively to her heart. ‘He gave it to me.’ 

‘Gave it – to you?’ She looked incredulous. ‘You! It’s mine.’

‘He said it was his mother’s.’ She covered it with her other hand, shielding it from Tess’ oddly possessive gaze. 

‘Once upon a time it was.’ She stood up straight and folded her arms. ‘Until he proposed to me with it.’

Ellie felt as if she’d been kicked in the stomach.

‘He never told you it was my wedding ring?’ 

‘All he said was that it belonged to his mother,’ she said faintly, ‘and that he wanted me to have it.’

An ugly laugh escaped her. ‘Sure he didn’t propose to you with it? I bloody knew there was something more between you. So what, you’re engaged already? With my ring?’ 

Stung to defensiveness, Ellie bunched her hands into fists. ‘It is not your ring,’ she snapped. ‘You threw it back at him after you lost the pendant and got caught cheating on him.’

‘Oh, so we’re getting into that, are we?’ she said with a scornful tilt of her head. 

Well, since she'd already put her foot in it... ‘Alec told me you’re refusing to come clean about the faked robbery. He said you refused to testify for us. Why? Please Tess. I’m just trying to protect my sons.’

‘And I’m protecting my daughter,’ Tess finished.

Baffled, Ellie asked, ‘how?’

Suddenly, the penny dropped.

‘Wait – are you saying – does Daisy still not know that Alec took the fall for you?’ 

Tess confirmed it.

Ellie was speechless. ‘Alec – Alec’s dying,’ she said, gesturing to his prone form. ‘This court case – being separated from Daisy – helping me – it’s killing him. I had to perform CPR on him for - for fifteen minutes today to keep him alive after he was poisoned – and you’re telling me that in all this time you never even told Daisy the truth about Sandbrook? Either of you?’

‘Alec said it was up to me whether we told her. I decided it was better to keep to our story, and he agreed.’

Ellie was still in a state of shock. ‘Your daughter thinks her father is a rapist,’ she said slowly, ‘and you’re honestly standing there telling me you thought it was better not to tell the truth about Sandbrook?’

A black cloud descended upon her. She marched around to the other side of the bed, seized Tess by the arm and dragged her outside.

‘Ow! Ellie, let go of me!’

‘You are coming with me,’ she snarled. Fury had endowed her with strength. She hauled Tess bodily into the waiting room where Daisy sat.

The teenager got to her feet. ‘I don’t want to see you,’ she began.

‘You sit down,’ Ellie snapped at Daisy. She opened her mouth to protest, but Ellie spoke over her. ‘Sit. Down.’

The rage in her voice quickly cowed her and Daisy complied. Ellie yanked Tess in front of her daughter.

‘Your mother has something to say to you.’

‘No, I don’t,’ Tess said.

‘Yes you bloody well do!’ Ellie roared. ‘You haven’t been protecting your daughter, you’ve been protecting yourself! You have been lying to her all this time and your husband is in a fucking hospital bed dying because of it!’

Daisy glanced between the women. ‘Mum?’ she asked.

Tess said nothing. Ellie fastened her steely grip around Tess’ upper arm.

‘Tell. Her.’ She growled. ‘Or I will.’

She had no choice. With a long, bitter exhalation, Tess told Daisy everything her father had done during the Sandbrook case.

Daisy’s perplexed expression changed to one of horror. All the teenage attitude dripped out of her, until nothing remained but a frightened little girl. 

‘So… Dad never cheated on you?’ she said in a small voice. ‘He never – never went with his co-worker? You did? He never lost the evidence and he didn’t divorce you – you divorced him?’

Tears began to trickle down her pink cheeks.

‘You made me think he left because he didn’t love us anymore,’ she said in tones of utter betrayal. ‘Either of us. And when I heard the stuff about Claire Ripley - I thought it must’ve been true – that he left us because he had her and could… I thought he hated me – how could you… how could you…’

She dropped her head into her hands. Her long brown hair curtained around his face. Tess tentatively touched her shoulder.

‘We were trying to protect you,’ she began.

Her neck snapped up. ‘Protect me?’ she screamed. ‘Protect me?’

‘Daiz…’

Daisy leapt to her feet. ‘Don’t fucking touch me!’ she shouted. ‘Stay away from me – you stay away from me! You liar!’

‘Daisy!’ Tess cried, but the teenager had already fled from the room. She threw a very dark look at Ellie. ‘I hope you’re happy.’

‘I am,’ she replied stonily, and she followed Daisy.

Daisy was at Hardy’s bedside, clutching his hand and whispering softly to him. Ellie approached quietly and laid a hand on her back.

‘Why?’ she was asking, tears flooding down her face. ‘Why did you lie, Dad?’

‘He thought he was doing what was best for you,’ Ellie said.

‘How could he possibly think lying was best for me? Why would he put himself through that? He didn’t do anything wrong.’

‘Because your father can be daft prick sometimes,’ Ellie sighed. ‘And I suppose he thought you were better off with a mother’s love than a father’s.’

Misery settled over Daisy’s countenance. ‘Because of grandma and grandpa.’

‘Yes.’

‘And… he helped you and Claire Ripley because of grandma too,’ she went on. ‘Because she never had anyone to help her. Because he couldn’t protect her, but he thought he could help other women whose husbands were…’

She suddenly threw herself into Ellie’s arms.

‘He tried to tell me,’ she sobbed. ‘He tried to tell me but I wouldn’t listen to him. I believed them. I believed the papers. I believed he was -!’

She started wailing. Ellie wrapped her up as tightly as she could. Vaguely, in the back of her mind, she wondered if this was what it was like to have a daughter.

‘It’s okay. You didn’t have all the facts,’ she said, rubbing her back. ‘It is not your fault. It is not your fault.’

‘He must have – hated – me,’ she choked.

Ellie squeezed her. ‘No. Never. Never, do you hear me? All he ever said was that he was sorry he couldn’t protect you from all this.’

Daisy rested her chin upon Ellie’s shoulder and thought about it. ‘I suppose he must love me, to do all those things for me.'

Ellie could not refrain from kissing Daisy’s hair. ‘Yes, my darling.’ She pulled back and looked into Daisy’s brown eyes, so similar to her father’s. ‘He loves you more than anything in this world. Never doubt that.’

They heard footsteps at the door. Thinking it was Tess, Ellie did not turn around.

‘Ellie!’

She recognised Maggie’s voice and released Daisy with a start. The journalist approached the bed, her gaze locked on Hardy’s prone form. Jocelyn and Olly came in behind her.

‘We got your message,’ Maggie said. ‘How is he? Is he going to survive?’

‘Um. We’re not sure yet.’ She glanced at Daisy. ‘This is his daughter, Daisy.’

Maggie, Jocelyn and Olly all murmured hello.

‘Have you apprehended Joe Miller?’ Jocelyn asked.

‘I’ve got everyone out looking for him. No luck so far, but the hospital has confirmed that Hardy’s meds were definitely switched. I’ve got them looking through the security footage to see if Joe’s on there.’

‘Poison,’ Daisy was muttering. ‘He poisoned my dad…’

Looking worried, Ellie continued, ‘I couldn’t leave him until Tess and Daisy got here, but I need to get out there. If anyone can find him, it’s me.’

She drew the trio away from Hardy’s bed, just out of earshot of Daisy. ‘Jocelyn, will you be able to handle the courts alone?’

She nodded. ‘It will be a little unorthodox without the accused present, but I’ll make sure they know exactly why he wasn’t able to make it.’

‘You’re a godsend. Now – Olly.’ She turned to her nephew and he straightened up. ‘I know you’re close with Karen White. It’s very likely that Joe’s sent her a number of new incriminating images. I need you to call her, wake her up and convince her not to release those photos.’

Olly looked somewhat crestfallen. ‘That’s it?’

‘Certainly not. I need you to do your Twitter magic and make sure it’s all over the news that Joe Miller attempted to kill DI Alec Hardy and that we’re looking for him as we speak. Your job is to get the truth out there. And tell Karen White that in exchange for not releasing those photographs, I’ll give her an exclusive interview. Anything and everything she wants.’

‘What’s in the photos?’ he asked curiously.

Ellie replied, ‘Alec and I having sex.’

The three of them coughed and choked.

‘I know,’ Ellie sighed. ‘It was one time, about a week ago. Joe – well, Joe had been following Alec. He took the pictures himself and he’s been blackmailing me all this time, saying that if I didn’t do what he said, he’d release them to the media.’

‘No wonder you’ve been acting like such a loon these past few days,’ Maggie commented.

‘It does explain quite a lot,’ Jocelyn remarked.

‘The truth will come out sooner or later,’ Ellie said, ‘but for today, we can’t let anything overshadow Joe trying to kill Alec. And – and I’d prefer if the boys – and Daisy – didn’t see those pictures.’

‘Right. Yeah. No, totally,’ Olly said, still slightly agape.

‘Tell Karen – whatever she wants. Just don’t release those photographs.’

‘DS Miller!’

One of her officers came into the room with a nurse in tow. ‘We found him,’ she said breathlessly, waving a sheaf of papers in the air.

Ellie took the papers and flipped through them. They contained still images of security footage that showed Joe Miller, his bald head disguised with a black beanie and upturned collar, walking down the corridor and turning into Alec’s room.

‘Are these from yesterday?’ Ellie said.

They nodded. ‘Just before you came to see him. And have a look at this.’

They pointed to another set of pictures. These showed Joe going through medical supplies. He smoothly bypassed security with a password and a swipecard.

‘God’s sake,’ Ellie said through gritted teeth. ‘He’s using his old ID to get in. Why did no-one update the security here?’

The nurse protested, ‘it’s Broadchurch. We never would’ve suspected that an ex-employee would come in and steal supplies.’

Ellie found herself quietly cursing her town’s trusting ways. ‘Keep going through the security footage,’ she told the officer, slapping the papers back against her chest. ‘All the other times Alec was in hospital. See if you can catch him in the act of switching the medication. Though I suspect he may have broken into Alec’s house to do that.’ 

They nodded and left. Ellie took a deep breath and steeled herself. She could hear Hardy’s voice.

Shut it off. You’re working a case now.

Olly was already furiously tweeting away, his thumbs moving at the speed of sound. As she looked at the phone, she realised that she had Joe’s number. Cursing herself for being so slow, she decided she had to leave immediately to get a trace on it. She needed to chase up SOCO too. Get them out to Alec’s house to find something – anything – that might suggest Joe had been in his house.

‘All right. I’m going out to find him.’

‘Ellie,’ Maggie called. ‘What shall I do?’

‘Help Olly,’ Ellie implored. ‘Get the truth out there. And call Mark and Beth. Tell them what’s going on, and that under no circumstances are Tom and Fred to be left alone for a single second. PC Bob should already be watching their house. Make sure everyone knows. Joe is somewhere in Broadchurch. He killed Danny Latimer and he tried to kill again.’

‘You might start a witch hunt with words like that,’ Maggie warned. ‘People will be scared. Parents especially.’

‘Good,’ Ellie said vehemently. ‘Anything to catch him. At this stage, whether he’s in one piece or not does not concern me.’

She glanced over at Daisy, who had pulled her chair up to her father’s bedside. ‘One more thing,’ she said in a lowered voice. ‘Can you look after Daisy? She just found out about Alec lying for Tess. She’s pretty shaken and I don’t think she’ll talk to her mother.’

‘I’ll look after her. Don’t you worry, petal,’ Maggie replied.

Jocelyn was on the phone. ‘I know what time it is, Ben, but I need you right now. No questions! I’ll explain everything later. Now come to the hospital. I need you to pick me up. Yes, the hospital! Weren’t you listening?’

She barged out of the room. Ellie prayed everything would go well today. Without the accused present, Ellie surmised the appeal would be adjourned. She hoped there would be no negative consequences.

Before she too ran out, she paused to say goodbye to Alec. Approaching his bed, she leaned over him and kissed his forehead, very gently. One of her brown curls slipped free from its clasp and brushed his eyelid.

‘Daisy’s here,' she murmured. 'She wants to see her dad again. Don’t keep her waiting too long, okay?’

He was cold. A pulse skittered weakly under her fingers, so achingly frail. 

She let him go and was almost out the door when Daisy called to her.

‘Ellie.’

‘Yes?’

‘If you had known when your dad was going to die, and you were able to say goodbye,’ she wet her lips, ‘what would you have said?’

Ellie replied, 'that I was sorry. That I loved him, and I always would.’

*

Joe’s phone signal was last triangulated in a place she knew well. With police cars at her back, she sped to her own house in the early morning and found him standing in the kitchen. He had broken the locks to get in.

‘I thought you’d be coming for me,’ he said mildly. ‘I wanted to see the house and the boys one more time. They weren’t here.’

‘I told you before you would never see either of them again,’ she said through gritted teeth. ‘And I meant it.’

She took a step forward. ‘Joseph Michael Stoke, I am placing you under arrest for the attempted murder of Alec Hardy. You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.’

She had three officers at her back. They moved forward as a team, cuffed him and shoved him into the waiting police car.

‘I’ve already sent the photographs to Karen,’ he said. ‘Can’t wait until the world sees you for what you really are.’

‘Funny,’ Ellie said. ‘I was thinking the same thing.’

Ellie seated herself opposite Joe. Husband and wife confronted one another. He had his hands clasped together on the desk. Ellie copied his pose. Wedding rings glinted upon both their hands.

Once of the younger officers was with her, looking a little out of her depth. She put the the tape into the player and started it up, quickly recording the time and date while Ellie carefully sized Joe up.

'Right,' she said. 'Let's not mess about, shall we? Let's dive straight into it. Why did you try to kill Alec Hardy?'

'He's still alive?' Joe asked.

'Yes. He's alive.' She hoped this was still true.

Joe's lip curled.

'Is that disappointment I'm sensing? What, upset you didn't finish the job?'

He said nothing. Ellie tried a different tactic. She pulled out the photographs from the security footage.

'Why did you got to see Alec Hardy in hospital yesterday?'

No answer.

'How did you know he was in hospital?'

Nothing.

She drew out another photograph. 'Why did you steal medication from Broadchurch general? Why does their inventory show that they were missing the exact pills that Hardy had been taking by accident? Why did you switch Hardy's pills, Joe?'

'Why did you start fucking him?' Joe snarled.

'Do you hate him because I fucked him?' she asked, leaning forward. 'Did you try to kill him so you could have me all to yourself?'

'I saw you,' he said, copying her movement. 'The first day I came back. I wanted to speak to you. But I saw you with him in the church. I saw the way you touched him. I saw you together, all through my trial. I saw the kiss. I saw you fuck him. How long has it been happening behind my back?'

'So is that what it all boils down to? The jealous lover killing a rival?'

'How long?' he demanded.

'The day you caught us was our first time,' she said honestly. 'Though I've loved him a lot longer. Satisfied?'

'You're a liar.'

'Why did you switch the pills, Joe?'

'Because you're mine!' he shouted. 'You, and the boys, and he took you away from me!'

'You gave up your right to be husband and a father the day you choked the life out of an eleven-year-old boy!' she shouted back.

Joe slumped in his chair. 'I was found innocent.'

'Because you played the system,' Ellie snapped. 'But you and I both know who the guilty one is.'

Questioning ceased to be effectual after that. She decided to pause the interview.

She went outside to speak to the other officers. Dirty Brian approached her to say that the SOCO team had found Joe's prints within the blue house. He had definitely been in there, and recently too. She compiled the evidence. Then she received a phone call from Tess.

'How is he?' she asked at once.

'Still alive. Not much improvement, though, and still not awake. I've been looking through the security footage,' she went on coolly. 'All the times Alec was in hospital. We've got confirmed sightings of Joe in most of them.'

She was sure they had enough to pin him for attempted murder now. His half-defeated manner suggested that he had accepted this. But she was still no closer to proving that he had murdered Danny. A jealous husband was entirely a different monster to a child murderer.

'What dates?' she asked.

Tess listed them and Ellie wrote them down. 

'Are there any other times I've missed?' Tess asked.

'Not that I know of. I mean, there were the times he collapsed during the Broadchurch investigation, but it's not like we can blame Joe for that.' She laughed for a second, then stopped abruptly.

'Ellie?' Tess asked when the silence lengthened. 'What is it?'

Electricity crackled through her brain. 'I have to go,' she blurted.

She hung up before Tess could say more and ran to where she kept the files on the Broadchurch case. She flipped through them and looked at Becca's statement and the report on Hardy's first collapse.

It had happened the night he'd come to her house for dinner. The night Joe had cooked for him.

Ellie grew very, very still.

The second time he'd collapsed - when had that happened? She dug frantically through the files. She recalled it had been the night they'd been pursuing a suspect at the boatyard. Joe, with Danny's phone. And - yes, here it was. In Joe's confession he claimed he had lured Alec to the boatyard because he wished to surrender to him alone. Then he had panicked upon seeing Ellie and chickened out.

But that didn't make sense. Why lure him to the boatyard in the middle of the night like that if he wanted to surrender? It seemed like such a sinister move now that she considered it.

Perhaps he hadn't planned to surrender at all.

Perhaps he'd wanted to lure Alec there to kill him.

Just like he'd tried to kill him at dinner. 

He was a paramedic. He would have been able to pick up on signs of cardiac distress. He would have recognised Alec was unwell and would have known exactly what to slip into Alec's wine that would react adversely with his heart medication. If Becca hadn't found him by chance that night, Alec would have died, and the police - herself included - would have blamed the alcohol for causing the adverse reaction.

It was too compelling to ignore. Surely it couldn't be a coincidence that both times Hardy had collapsed were just after he'd been in contact with Danny's killer?

She called in her officers. 'I'm ready. Let's have another go at him.'

*

'Why did you attempt to kill Alec Hardy the night he came to our house for dinner?' she demanded as soon as the tape was rolling.

Joe started at the question. Oh, she had him now. He hadn't been expecting this.

'Why did you lure Alec Hardy to the boatyard during the investigation into Danny's murder?'

Joe's eyes grew wider. 

'Why did you run when you saw me with him?'

She continued to question him in such a manner, finally barking:

'Why did you try to kill Alec during the Broadchurch investigation?' 

Joe let out a low laugh and held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. 'Because if Alec had died,' he said with a sigh. 'You would have become the new Detective Inspector.'

She masked her triumph. 'So what, you wanted to help me get ahead?'

'No. I wanted you as the DI because you never would have suspected me.'

The admission rendered her speechless.

'You loved me, didn't you, El?' he said. 'And I loved you. If it hadn't been for Alec, we could've kept living as we did. You, me and the boys.'

She said nothing.

'We could've been happy, if not for him,' Joe said dreamily. 'Nobody would ever have known.'

She gathered her senses. 'Did you kill Danny Latimer?' she asked.

'It's all Alec Hardy's fault,' he continued fervently. 'If he'd never come here, we could've stayed a family. It's all his fault. It's all because of him.'

He would say no more on the subject, and merely continued to blame and curse Alec Hardy.

*

She terminated the interview a little later. Still no unambiguous admission of guilt, but he seemed to have all but given up, except for his stubborn belief that, whatever he had done, Alec was the guilty party.

Jocelyn called to tell her that the judge had, under the circumstances, agreed to adjourn their appeal until next week. Ellie breathed a thankful sigh, then informed her: 

‘I have some compelling new evidence for you. Joe tried to kill Alec Hardy during the Broadchurch investigation to prevent him solving the case. Have we got him, Joss? Can we apply for a retrial?’

Jocelyn asked to hear the details. When Ellie had related everything, she said:

‘Yes. By Jove, Ellie, we’ve got the bastard!’

‘That’s the first time I’ve heard you swear,’ Ellie smiled.

‘I have more good news,’ Jocelyn went on, ‘Maggie said Alec woke up. He spoke to Daisy for a little bit. The nurses think there’s a good chance he’ll make it.’

Relief washed over her like a shower of sunlight. She laughed weakly and leaned against the wall. 'God, Jocelyn, you couldn't have told me that first?'

'Ah. I suppose I ought to have.'

Ellie was half-sobbing, half-laughing. 'You can be as bad as him sometimes.'

'Maggie says the same thing.'

She shaded her eyes with her hand and took a few deep breaths, still smiling. She longed to fly to him, but she resisted. He had Daisy with him, and Maggie. He wasn’t alone.

And she still had work to do.

‘Ma’am,’ an officer called, ‘we're ready now.’

She nodded. 'Look after him, Jocelyn,' she said. 'I'll be there when I can.'

*

She was sitting opposite Ricky Gillespie. A patchy beard muffled his face and his eyes were cold and lifeless. Once, long ago, she might have been afraid to sit so close to a murderer.

Not anymore. She was used to monsters. She knew you could kill the devil.

Or bargain with him.

‘Why should I testify for you?’ Ricky drawled.

‘Because it’s the only way Claire Ripley will be imprisoned for murdering your daughter.’

Ricky’s stony face told her he already knew this.

‘Listen to me, Ricky. I’ve got kids. I know what it’s like to love someone more than you love your own life. I know that whatever mistakes you made, you loved Pippa. And you would have done anything for her. Would still do anything for her.’

Something flickered over his countenance and she knew she’d touched a nerve.

‘I get it. You’re banking on Claire getting off, which means you get off and Alec and I go to jail. But,’ she paused to dump a file on the desk, ‘I’m afraid that won’t happen. Even if Alec and I are imprisoned as crooked coppers, the evidence against you is too strong. You confessed. You knew where Lisa’s body was buried. And if Claire is exonerated, it means she never gave Pippa the rohypnol. You did. And we’ve got your flask to prove it.’

She could tell she was winning. She leaned forward and drove her point home.

‘If Claire gets off, the most likely outcome is that you will be charged with Pippa’s murder. You will be sent to prison for the murder of your own daughter while the real killers walk free. Cos Lee Ashworth, he’s trying to argue that Hardy got him mixed up in this as well. He and Claire are planning on throwing you under the bus. Pinning it all on you. Lisa's death. Pippa's death.'                                                 

His fists clenched. Oh, he was putty in her hands. She pushed the advantage.

‘You want your daughter’s murderer to go to prison?’ she waited until he looked her in the eye. ‘Then pull your fucking finger out and tell the truth. Testify for us. Do it in court, so everyone knows that Claire and Lee are guilty.’ 

She had won long ago, but he made a show of surrendering. He heaved a sigh.

‘Not for you,’ he cautioned. ‘I’m not doing this for you or that bastard Hardy. But for Pippa.’

‘For Pippa,’ Ellie agreed.

‘All right. Now, anything you need me to do,’ he paused and gave her a stiff nod. ‘I’ll do it.’

*

Ellie went to see Tom and Fred before she saw Alec. She spent several hours with them, kissing them and hugging them and assuring them - and herself - they were safe.

She spoke to the Latimers and told them about all that had happened with Joe. Beth wept to hear he was being charged for Danny’s murder once more. 

‘We’ll get him this time, Beth,’ Ellie promised. ‘There’ll be no weaselling out now.’

They shared a hug. She looked up at Mark and he said, in a wobbly voice, ‘thank you, El.’

‘Guys!’ Chloe yelled. ‘Come and see! It’s all over the news! They’re saying Alec is innocent!’

They followed her into the living room and watched the news report. ‘It’s about time,’ Beth sighed. ‘Finally, they’re getting the truth out there.’

It concluded: …DI Alec Hardy is now in a stable condition at Broadchurch general hospital….

Beth looked at her friend, who was wobbling skittishly in her shoes. ‘El,’ she said, approaching her and taking her hand. ‘You can go and be with him, if you want.’ 

Ellie sniffed. ‘Do you mind?’

‘No. We’ll look after the boys until you get back. Just go. I can tell you left a piece of yourself in that hospital room.’

She thanked her friend, kissed the children and ran out.

*

It was fast approaching midnight by the time she arrived at the hospital. She ached all over. She was bone-tired, hungry and exhausted in body, mind and spirit. She had a feeling she'd sleep for a whole day once this was over.

‘Ellie!’ Daisy exclaimed. ‘You’re here!’

The girl ran forward and threw her arms around her.

‘Easy,’ Ellie said. ‘How is he?’

‘He’s okay. Sleeping now. What’s that?’

She pointed. Ellie smiled wryly and held up a jar of boiled raspberry drops and a bag of grapes. ‘Get well presents,’ she said.

She looked slightly mystified, but merely shrugged. ‘Put them down. They’re the first gifts he’s gotten.’

Ellie placed them at his bedside. ‘Where’s Tess?’

‘The hellbeast?’ Daisy wrinkled her nose. ‘Sorting out some paperwork, I think.’

‘You’ll give your dad another heart attack if he hears you talking about her like that.’

A stubborn look spread over her face, one that she had seen Tom wear many times.

Teenagers. They’re all the same.

They sat at his bedside. ‘He looks peaceful.’

‘We had a good chat before,’ Daisy said. ‘He was so worried when he heard you’d gone after Joe. He tried to get up.’

‘Course he did.’ She shook her head wryly. ‘Did you tell him you know about Sandbrook?’

‘Yeah. I yelled at him a bit. Still can’t believe he lied to me.’ There was a pause. ‘I said I loved him too, and that I was sorry for believing the papers. He forgives me. I forgave him too.’

‘Do you forgive your mother too?’

‘No. Absolutely not.’

Ellie let the matter drop. Daisy and Tess’ relationship was a problem that would have to wait for another day.

Daisy stretched until her back cracked. ‘I’m gonna go to the toilet. Maybe get something from the vending machine too. Do you want anything?’

Ellie pulled out a fiver and handed it to Daisy. ‘Yeah. The biggest thing they’ve got. Haven't eaten all day.’

‘Neither,’ Daisy said. ‘I haven’t left him. But I can, now you’re here.’

As she walked out, she added over her shoulder, ‘hey Ellie?’

‘Yes?' 

‘Thanks for looking after him. He wouldn’t be here if not for you and… yeah. Thank you.’

She ducked her head and went out. Ellie smiled. Her manners were far better than her father’s, that was for sure.

Hardy began to stir about a minute after that. Torn between wanting him to rest and wanting to speak to him, she held her breath in anticipation.

He opened his eyes.

He gazed blearily to the side, seeing past her. ‘Grapes?’ he mumbled.

‘Hoped you might choke on them.' 

‘Nn… raspberry drops?’ he said. His head rolled and his eyes slowly focused on her. It felt as though they were seeing each other for the first time. He blinked.

A smile cracked his face.

‘Hello, Milly,’ he said.

‘Hello, Angel,’ she replied softly.

Slowly, oh so slowly, she curved her arms around his prostrate form and hugged him. He returned it as best he could, tilting his head to touch his forehead to her shoulder. 

When Ellie drew back, she remained bent over him, and twisted his hair between her fingers, smiling tenderly.

‘Where’s Daisy?’ he asked.

‘Gone to get something to eat. She hasn’t left your side for 24 hours, you know.’

Hardy closed his eyes. ‘She must be tired,’ he mumbled.

‘I’ll take her home with me,’ Ellie responded absently. ‘How are you feeling?’

‘Like shit,’ he croaked. ‘Thanks for the presents.’

‘Thought it’d be good to welcome you back to the land of the living.’ She stroked his hair and her forehead wrinkled. ‘I'm so sorry I left you.' She sniffed, and her eyes welled up. 'So sorry... I never should have...'

'It's okay. Maggie told me everything.'

There was a fearful pause. 'You were dead when I found you,' she admitted. 'Your heart stopped.’

‘Thanks for bringing me back,’ he sighed. ‘Your father did say you’d look after me.' 

‘And your mother said God would put you in the right place,’ she replied.

‘Even if I didn’t know it,’ he finished.

‘And she was right.’

Overcome with emotion, she bent over and lay her head upon him, just resting lightly upon the place where his ribcage met his stomach. He curved his arm around her, the only gesture he could manage in his weakened state.

‘I hated you for taking my job.’ She wet her lips and sought Hardy’s hand. ‘But if you hadn’t – if you hadn’t come here, then I would’ve been DI when Danny was murdered. And I never would have caught Joe. He was the one person on earth I never would have suspected. The man I trusted most.’

Her fingers interlaced with Hardy’s, fitting perfectly together.

‘I would’ve stayed married to a paedophile and a murderer. Lying next to him, every night. And my boys… my darling boys… who knows what he would have done to them?’

She sat up and tenderly kissed his forehead.

‘She always called you Angel, didn’t she? And you were mine, put here in the right place at the right time to save me.’

‘My place,’ Hardy exhaled softly, ‘it’s always been with you.’

She leaned over him on her propped elbow so she could look at him. As he held her hand, his thumb found the ring on her finger. 

‘Mum’s ring,’ he said in surprise. ‘You found it?’

She nodded. ‘And you, my friend, have been rumbled. Tess told me it was her wedding ring.’

‘Ah.’ He looked mildly embarrassed.

‘Pretty sneaky,’ she remarked. ‘Getting me to wear a wedding ring.’

‘Felt like the right thing,' he murmured, 'for you to have it.'

She stroked her thumb back and forth over his hand and said nothing. Even in spite of the unbearable affection she cherished for him, she did not think she would ever have the courage to marry him, even if she were free, even if he asked. She could not imagine swearing to him in the same in the same words she had sworn to Joe, but she was glad to wear this ring all the same. It assured her that he was hers, inseparably hers. Her husband in nature, if not in law.

They heard a soft footfall, and she started up to see Daisy in the doorway, a drink and a snickers bar clutched in her hand.

‘He’s awake!’ she said in delight. Then she wrinkled her nose. ‘Oh. Am I interrupting something?’

Ellie sat back and wiped her eyes. ‘No, sweetheart. Come in.’

‘I spoke to the nurses,’ Daisy said, sitting next to her dad, ‘they reckon you should stay in for a week.’ 

‘Bollocks to that,’ Hardy said vehemently, his head rolling on his pillow. ‘M’fine. Be outta here in a day or so.’

‘You bloody well will not!’ Ellie snapped.

Daisy looked amused. ‘They said you’d say that. I gave them permission to strap you down if you tried to leave early.’

‘At least one of the Hardys has some sense,’ Ellie said while Hardy groaned. ‘Tell them they can drug him as well. Heavy stuff. Horse tranquilisers, if they have to. Anything to keep him in that bed until he’s better.’

Daisy giggled. Hardy looked between Ellie and his beautiful daughter, and a sort of fuzzy glow began to warm the hollow of his chest.

He had found his place, after all.

*

A lot happened in a week.

Daisy practically moved in with Ellie. Tess was furious, but Daisy was adamant that she was going to live with her father from now on, which meant that while he was in hospital, she would live with Ellie. Tom wasn’t exactly thrilled about the situation, but Fred instantly took a shine to her and the two were soon thick as thieves.

Ellie continued to work on the case against Joe. She had him formally charged and he was remanded into custody. They exchanged a last look when he was taken away. Blue eyes confronted brown.

Then he was thrown into the vehicle and driven away. Ellie knew it was not the last she would see of him. They still had the trial to go, but she was confident that justice would win in the end.

Idly, she wondered whether he would plead guilty or not. But they would deal with that when the time came.

Hardy finally became well enough to leave hospital. She caught him trying to slink back to his shitty blue house, but she and Daisy vetoed him.

‘Oh no you don’t. You are coming home with us,’ she snapped. Daisy took one arm, she took the other, and they frog-marched him to the car.

‘Home,’ he repeated in a faraway voice, and he yielded.

She set him up in the spare bedroom. It had only a child’s bed in it, for which he was comically oversized. His big feet stuck out the end, and he frowned whenever Ellie and Daisy laughed at the sight of him in it.

They nursed him back to health and slowly, slowly he regained his strength. He began to look less like a half-drowned corpse and more like the father Daisy so fondly remembered. Fred was thrilled to have Alec in the house with him and was forever following him around and jabbering to him.  

‘He witters as much as you,’ he groaned, but Ellie caught the way his mouth twitched upwards as he said it.

Tom was still a little distant, but one night she caught him in Alec’s room. Lingering by the doorway, she overheard him quietly talking to Alec about his father.

‘Did you ever worry you were going to be like your dad?’ the boy asked. 

‘It was my biggest fear,’ Alec admitted. ‘But I didn’t need to worry. I’m not him. We are the choices we make, Tom, and I chose not to be like him. Your father – well, he chose to kill a child. Would you ever choose that?’

Tom sounded horrified. ‘No – never!’ 

‘There’s your answer.’

With a sad smile, Ellie slipped away from the door and left them alone.

The media fallout was horrendous. When Joe was charged, Karen White called in her favour. An exclusive interview, detailing her personal life with Joe Miller and what it had felt like to be a paedophile's wife. A few of the more personal questions set her eye twitching, but she bore it with as much good grace as she could muster. The article Karen put out was predictably sordid.

Even more predictably, in another paper she also printed the photos and detailed Ellie's affair with Hardy.

‘Congrats on the sex, dad,’ Daisy said as she sipped her tea. Hardy, who had just woken up, passed his hand over his face and blinked at his daughter. She shoved the newspaper across the table. He opened it with a rattle. 

His eyes bulged. ‘Ellie!’ he said in a strangled voice.

When Ellie saw the photographs she swore so loudly it would have put a sailor to shame.

‘I used the less explicit ones,’ Karen said mildly when they called her. ‘And I cropped them, too. Plus I told the truth. I said that the affair had only started up recently and that Joe had been using them as blackmail. The jealous husband spying on his adulterous wife and blackmailing her? It was too good not to use.’

They had to concede defeat. The photographs would have been used as evidence in Joe’s trial anyway.

Horrible as the media attention was, at least they were spreading the truth now.

On the balance of things, the Crown Court approved their application to have the case dismissed due to lack of evidence. It was agreed that the prosecution simply did not have enough to secure a criminal conviction, and Jocelyn’s compilation of evidence in their favour was nothing less than formidable. The exact nature of Ellie and Alec's relationship was established. Tess and Ricky both came forward to add their testimony, the final nails in the coffin.

It was official. They were innocent, and Claire Ripley would continue to stand trial as accessory to the murder of Pippa Gillespie.

Just in time for Christmas.

*

By early January, Hardy was well enough to move back into his blue house with Daisy. Ellie was somewhat distressed at the separation, but they had no permanent living arrangements and Daisy was sick of sleeping on her couch.

They still saw each other, though they had not spoken a single word about the future, or their love for each other. Thus, it was to her utter fury that she discovered from Maggie that Hardy was leaving Broadchurch.

She ran all the way to his blue house. The word 'RAPIST' had finally been painted over by some abashed townspeople. The fence now shone like a washed blue sky.

The door was open. She surged inside to find Alec packing away the last of his things into a cardboard box. 

'It's true, then,' she said breathlessly. 'You're leaving Broadchurch?'

'Ellie,' he said in surprise. 'I was going to tell you.'

'When?' she demanded. She put her hands on her hips. 'Once you were gone? My God, I could strangle you! Sneaking off like this without telling me!'

'School holidays have finished,' he explained, rubbing the back of his neck. 'Daisy needs to go back to school in Sandbrook, and she's still refusing to live with Tess, so...'

'So you're going to leave me,' she finished in plaintive tones.

'I have to think of Daisy,' he said gently.

'No - of course you do. Quite right.' She bit back her tears and forced a smile. 'And we'll see each other soon, won't we? For the Sandbrook trials, and Joe's trial.'

He looked dubious. His gaze became shifty, and he leaned back against the table. 

'We - erm, we never really spoke any more about... us,' he ventured.

'Only because I thought - we had an understanding.'

After all the intimacies they had shared, it seemed absurd for them to revert back to being embarrassed children. She thought the awkwardness should have disappeared from their relationship long ago. Lifting her gaze from the floor, she looked into his eyes.

'Are you really going away?'

'I thought it would be better. People have been saying things about us.'

'What things?'

'I don't know if I should tell you.'

'Why?'

'It might offend you.'

'Oh for fuck's sake, Alec, spit it out.'

'They say we're engaged to be married.'

'Married?' she repeated.

'Because of...'

He pointed at her hand.

'Married!' she exclaimed, looking at the ring. 'That's absurd.'

He turned red. 'That's what I thought. And I don't want any such thing, so - better to leave. Let the rumour mill die down.'

'Oh - no, I didn't mean like that! I only meant - because the divorce hasn't gone through, so there's no way...'

Her nether lip trembled.

Her response emboldened him. 'Ellie,' he said tenderly, and coming closer. 'If I knew you wanted me to stay with you, here in Broadchurch, as your partner, I would.'

'Then ask me.'

He inclined his head toward her. 'Do you want me to stay?'

'Yes!' she almost exploded. 'God yes!'

She threw her arms around him and kissed him.

'How could you not know that?' she demanded in between kisses. 'God you are so stupid sometimes...'

She almost knocked him clean over. He started laughing as he embraced her. 'Easy,' he said. 'I'm still recovering.'

She huddled into his chest, sniffing. He stroked her hair.

'I'll need to run this by Daisy,' he cautioned. 

'She can move in with us,' Ellie said. 'She can take the spare bedroom. Bring all her stuff down.'

'It'll be a big move,' he sighed. 'Switching schools and everything.'

'But it was nice, wasn't it?' Ellie said. 'All five of us living together.'

'Yeah,' he agreed.

'I know Fred was happy to have a dad around.'

'And my Daiz likes you.'

'I like her too.'

They spoke little of their mutual feelings, instead talking of practical concerns. Money. Jobs. Housing. Daisy came back from her last run to the fish and chip shop and they ran their plans by her. To their delight, she agreed to move to Broadchurch, exclaiming with some excitement how much she would love living here.

They still had a great deal to think of, but Hardy felt assured he was indeed in the right place.

*

The Sandbrook trials came and went. Ricky pleaded guilty and was duly sentenced. Claire and Lee both pleaded not guilty. They lost their trials, however, and were led away in chains, casting dark looks back at Alec as they did.

It would still be several months until Joe's trial, but with the advent of spring and the spontaneous birth of flowers, birds and insects throughout Broadchurch, they received some good news from Jocelyn.

Her divorce had been approved. She was no longer Joe's wife, and he was no longer a Miller. 

Moved to a lover's cheerfulness, Ellie proposed that she and Alec should take a turn about the sea cliffs, which were blooming with sea pink and bluebells and humming with butterflies. Alec put on a lighter tie and left his black coat behind, while she wore her orange jacket like always and left her hair loose in observance of her liberty. They took the children with them, and watched fondly as the three young renegades ran amok.

'Now we can strut arm-in-arm,' she said, smiling. 'Just like any other couple. We've a right to.'

She looped her arm through his, and with a sense of unabashed pride Alec promenaded alongside his Wessex girl with his head held high.

They had agreed long ago not to marry. In all honesty, Alec would have liked to, but he respected Ellie's squeamishness on the subject. She noticed that his brow was creased in thought and she asked him if anything was the matter.

‘I was just wondering what I should call you,’ he said. ‘Girlfriend sounds too much like we're teenagers. Can’t say partner, because that implies detective partner. Can’t call you my wife. So what am I left with?’

He paused and scrutinised her. She scrunched up her nose. ‘You can’t just use Ellie?’

He tried it out. ‘Hello, I’d like you to meet my Ellie,’ he said seriously, and Ellie laughed.

‘I guess that does sound a bit daft,’ she agreed. Lurking in her bright, expressive face, he could see the little girl who had shown him such tender loving-kindness so long ago.

Sometimes it seemed as if he had spent his whole life finding her again.

‘Ah,’ he murmured. Two gulls soared over their heads, crying as they wheeled towards the orange sun, far away across the ocean. ‘I have it. The perfect name.’

‘What is it?’ she asked.

‘My other half,’ he said, and he kissed her.