Title: How Things Began (2/23)
Rating: T
Author: jlrpuck
Pairing: Ruby Quarles, Elias McCoy
Disclaimer: The characters contained in this story are the products of my imagination; as such, I retain all right to and ownership of them.
Summary: Welcome to the story of how Elias McCoy and Ruby Quarles met, and grew to became the characters we know.
Notes: Two things I realized I forgot in my not-short notes from Monday: First, I wanted to thank [personal profile] justlook3 for making my fantastic Ruby and Elias icon (it’s one of three she did for me, bless her). I love it—I love all of them—and I just wanted to thank her again. Second, I realized I never really put a time frame on this story. Roughly speaking, I’ve been operating off the idea that it starts ten years before “And So Things Go.”

Thank you to [personal profile] ginamak for acting as a sympathetic listener and excellent sounding board as I frantically penned this tale (and for enabling my Elias McCoy love), and for providing the first crack at beta of it when it was done. Huge thanks, as well, to [personal profile] earlgreytea68 and [personal profile] chicklet73 for their beta work, especially given how utterly insane their lives have been this past month.

FACEPALM. I forgot to thank the very generous, very kind soul who anonymously paid for another year of full LJ membership for the fic journal. Your gift is truly appreciated. *hugs*



Chapter 1 | Chapter 2


“Juliet, this is Charlie Company.”

The familiar voice pulled Ruby out of her musings, and she hurried to reply.

“Go ahead Charlie.”

“Our report is as follows…”

He was brief, his words almost staccato in their precision. No surprise, as she knew they were still in Wales, and had been for four days. But still… She’d grown used to their banter. To the particular rhythm of their exchanges, developed over the weeks they’d talked. She’d spoken with Phil as often as possible, checking on the status of all of the teams with whom she communicated, trying not to appear too curious about Charlie Company; but she’d still been eager to return to her post and to know that she’d speak with the voice on the radio at one minute to eight.

Of course her conversations with the team still had a certain rhythm; they just weren’t as smooth as they’d once been.

“Report received. Anything else?” She signed the form, ensuring it made it into the message delivery system as quickly as possible.

“No—” The radio fell suddenly silent, and she felt tendrils of panic wind through her gut. She’d had radios go silent like that before when teams were behind enemy lines; had more than once had people killed or captured as she was talking to them, no warning. Just silence.

“Charlie Company? Come in.” She tried to keep her voice even, hoping that he’d simply had to go quiet for some other, completely innocuous reason. She heard her heart thump in her ears as she waited, her breath held behind pursed lips.

She released it, relieved, when his voice came back over the radio, his tone hushed. “Would you believe I just saw a shooting star?”

She fought back a slightly hysterical giggle, choosing to focus instead on what he’d said. The tone of wonder in the words, the quiet awe; she felt as though he’d said something deeply intimate, and she flushed. “Clear night, then?”

“No tent,” he replied, his voice still quiet, but far closer to the timbre she was used to.

“Ah. Been missing those shooting stars the whole time, then.”

“All those chances to wish, gone,” he answered ruefully.

“Make the most of this one,” she replied, smiling.

“Consider it done.”

They fell into silence.

“Anything else, then?” she finally asked softly, not wanting to spoil what was certainly a moment of peace for the man on the other end. But a job was a job, and while she wouldn’t mind keeping him company over the radio, they both had other things to be doing.

“Not tonight. Kind of dozing off, actually, so I’ll be signing off.”

“There’s a good lad.”

“Don’t I just know it?” His smile was back, and Ruby felt her lips curve in answer.

“Smug.”

“Smart. Charlie out.”

“Juliet out,” she laughed, pushing the mic away from her.

Their conversations regained some of the old comfort after that, in spite of the unit being in Wales; and it was almost laughably easy to tell the night they returned to the English countryside, the man’s voice almost elated as he radioed in.

“Bit happy to be home, then?” she asked after he’d given his nightly report.

“Happy to not be dodging sheep, to be sure.”

“Tsk. It’s not nice to stereotype the Welsh. They can’t help it.”

“Stereotypes, my dear Juliet, exist for a reason.”

“Shame on your for perpetuating them.”

“Libellous woman!”

“It’s slander. And it’s not, either, because fact is an absolute defence.”

“Character assassination!”

“Hm. I somehow doubt that this is the worst you’ve been accused of.”

His only response was a low chuckle.

“Roué.”

“French! How very delightful! Parlez-vous français, mon amie?”

“No, I most assuredly do not. Small wonder you do, though, with that silver tongue of yours.”

Another laugh.

“Are all of you this giddy tonight?” she asked, trying to imagine a group of filthy, unshaven men giggling around their tents.

“I think ‘relieved’ might be the better word. And yes.”

“Wow.”

“Shh, don’t tell anyone. We have our dour reputation to maintain.”

“I think you destroyed that a few weeks back, sir.”

“In that case, my colleagues have their reputations to maintain. I’ll live with mine sullied.”

“I admire how you suffer for your colleagues.”

“It’s part of the job,” came the serious reply.

Her smile faded, and she remembered with cold clarity that although he might be cheery enough on the radio, the man on the other end of the conversation did a deadly serious job.

“That it is. Have you anything else to report tonight, Charlie?”

“Nae, all’s well.”

She felt her eyebrows rise. That was the first hint she’d ever heard an accent other than London out of him, and she wondered if perhaps the group hadn’t passed around a bottle of spirits. It wasn’t unheard of—several teams kept one for those emergencies when a man was wounded particularly badly. She was hardly going to report them for tippling a bit, especially in celebration of spending over a week behind enemy lines and not getting into a fight or captured.

But it did make her wonder where exactly her Charlie was from. She suspected she’d not be likely to find out. Charlie Company, she’d learned, was based out of Yorkshire while she was stationed at a small communications post in the Cotswolds. The irony of it was that she wasn’t all that far from where her mysterious radio friend was currently based—but barring extraordinary circumstances she’d still not get to meet him.

Not that it mattered. Part of her job entailed being there for the teams to talk to; invariably as part of it, she developed friendships with the voices she spoke with every night. Sometimes she only spoke with them for a week; sometimes—as with this one—it was for a month or longer. Her job was to listen, to report, and to know the radio operator well enough that she could tell when things might not be going as well as was being reported—to listen for hints of stress, or a change in inflection, or any other of a hundred little things which might indicate that all was not well and that it was time to switch a team out. Whoever her “Charlie” was, he knew that as well as she did; but it was part of how the game was played, each person forming a fast partnership which both knew would be dissolved at the whim of the government.

“Drive ye away, did I?” His voice startled her, pulling her back into the small room she occupied, the whir of the pneumatic tubes and the eerie glow of the radios filling the space.

“No, no. Sorry. Mind wandered, there.”

“I’ll exercise restraint and refrain from asking along what paths it wandered. The commander is waiting at my tent flap, and so I must away.”

“Glad you lot are back.”

“As am I. Charlie out.”

“Juliet out.”

~ - ~

Elias leaned back, his head resting on his smelly rucksack as he gazed up at the sky. It was their last night in the field; their last night in their filthy clothes, all of them in desperate need of a proper wash and a good shave. As tradition dictated—and he wondered who’d decided to make a tradition of it, anyway, given the last night of a recon mission invariably ended in rain—they were sleeping outside for the night, the tents packed and stacked at the edge of the camp, each of them stretched out on bedrolls on slightly muddy ground.

The rain had ended, at least, but the crystal clear night meant it was going to be a very chilly evening indeed. It might be worthwhile to pull out the heavy jumper which was squished at the top of his pack.

The clear night also meant that it was far brighter than usual for a new moon, the light from the stars illuminating the ground around him, showing the shapes of his teammates where they lay either sleeping or ruminating as he was. He could see the ghostly white of his breath as he exhaled into the already-cool night, watched as it dissipated, spreading into the air around him. Above him, the stars were scattered thick and bright, smudges against the blackness showing the barest hint of the galaxy in which the planet hung. It was stunningly beautiful, and he couldn’t help but give a self-deprecating smile as he considered that he always thought that, when he was lying on the ground and staring up at a clear night sky.

He felt his watch vibrate against his wrist, the alarm telling him that he had five minutes until it was time to radio in for the nightly check. Five minutes until he spoke with Juliet for the last time.

Melodramatic, he thought, his lips quirking again as he pushed himself up. Reaching down for the radio, he considered that there was a possibility he’d get to talk to Juliet again. The number of radio operators cleared to support field teams was small, the position requiring a very specific skill set involving not only training but experience performing a variety of operations. And the number of women filling that role was—based on his experience, at least—very, very small. Meaning that while there was a small probability he’d get to talk to a female radio operator on their next mission, odds were if he did it would be his Juliet. In spite of knowing the odds were against it, he certainly hoped he’d have the chance to talk to her again.

He carefully picked his way across the campsite, angling for the opposite side of the pile of tents. He settled onto the dry spot he’d picked out during daylight, and then carefully brought the radio up to power, taking care not to accidentally tweak the dial which set him on the correct frequency.

His watch vibrated again, letting him know it was time to call in.

“Juliet, Charlie Company.” He took care to keep his voice low, holding the mic as close as possible to his mouth without muddying the words.

“Good evening, Charlie.” Her voice was warm and welcoming, and he relaxed at its sound. He’d not realised how worried he’d been that she wouldn’t be there on this particular night.

He definitely needed to get out of the field; to go back to home (such as it was, just another small room in a building full of them, each occupied by a team member), get back into a fairly regular rhythm of life, and return to some point of normalcy so that hearing one single voice over a radio wouldn’t make his pulse accelerate like it currently was.

He’d been told it was his job to build friendships with the people answering his check-ins, and he thought he’d done quite well at it. The man who answered the morning call would never be among his close acquaintances but they certainly had amiable conversations when reporting in; and he knew Langholm had been on excellent terms with the various communications officers he’d spoken with when he’d been the radio operator.

Elias wondered if Langholm had been as excited to talk to Juliet as he was. More to the point, he wondered if she sounded as happy to talk to the other blokes as she did to him. He liked to think she didn’t.

“Charlie? All right?” He fought back a smile at the note of concern in her voice.

“Aye, all’s well. Last night out, you know how it goes.” He was about to amend the statement, to clarify it with something just in case she was one of the very rare operators who’d found a way around that particular requirement, when she replied.

“Indeed I do. Reckon your mind’s a million miles away from where you are. You draw lots for first shower?”

He laughed. “No need. Plenty enough to go around.”

“I just hope the drainage system can handle the grot.”

“Are you implying we’re filthy?”

“Don’t you try to convince me you’re not. Bet you’ve got nary a clean stitch of clothing, right down to your pants.”

Elias was surprised he blushed at her frank—and accurate—statement. “Aye, well,‘s the life of a soldier,” he replied, completely at a loss for a witty rejoinder.

“I pity whoever does your washing, as well.”

“They’re paid well enough for it. After all, have to spend some of that money I save up whilst gallivanting about.”

Juliet laughed. “Better than spending it all on ladies of the night.” She didn’t give him a chance to reply. “Anything to report tonight, soldier?”

He felt compelled to clarify nonetheless. “I don’t do that. Well, not recently.” The answering silence was brief and awkward, and he leapt straight into giving his report. “We’ve prepared for move-out tomorrow and will meet our escort at the location originally assigned us in our orders prior to the mission.” He sped through the rest of the unusually short report, his mind not really paying attention to what he was saying as he castigated himself. He shouldn’t have answered what was clearly a comment made in jest. He certainly wouldn’t have felt the urge to address it had one of the other officers made it, would instead have laughed it off and moved straight into what he was on the radio to do in the first place.

Why had he felt the need to defend himself against what was hardly unusual behaviour for soldiers back from the field, and to a person he’d never met?

“Whoa, there, Charlie, slow down. Let me get this onto paper, eh?” Juliet’s voice forced him to focus on the present, on the fact that he was sitting in a muddy field in cold clear air.

“Sorry.”

“’s alright.” Her tone was amused, and—not for the first time—he wondered at what she looked like. He had a mental image of her as a brunette; brown eyes, probably, and of middling height. He was certain she was fit; radio officers had to go through the same training regimen as active teams, just in case there was a need to drop them into the field to provide support in a wartime situation. There was silence for a moment, and then, “Right, pick up where you were talking about your gear.”

He did, taking care to focus on the report itself. As he finished she laughed, a merry sound that made him grin automatically. “Should use that tape for training, you know. Clear, slow, precise—not even the stuff we listened to was that good.”

“Are you praising my reporting skills?”

“Why, I think I am!” Another laugh. “Far better than the damning ‘that’ll do’ I first accorded you, don’t you think?”

“I remember ‘adequate’.”

“I’m astonished,” she answered in a tone that indicated she was anything but.

He frantically cast around for something to say, not wanting the conversation to end but unable to find the ease with which they usually spoke.

“So. Nice night where you are, then?” she asked, her voice soft.

“Gorgeous. Bit chilly, but that’s to be expected. Nice clear sky, though.” He leaned back, absently pulling the radio closer so he could keep talking to her as he gazed up at the sky.

“Same here. At least it looked to be when I came on shift. I’m jealous of you right now, being out there in it.”

“Even though I’m grotty?”

“Even though you’re grotty,” she affirmed, humour in her tone.

“You miss it, then?”

“Only on clear nights when there’s someone nice to talk to.”

He felt heat wash through him, and pushed it aside. It was a kind of variant on prisoner’s syndrome, where he felt a kinship with the person on the other end of the line because they represented freedom; because they made sure he was kept alive, at least in some capacity. “That may be the first proper compliment you’ve paid me, Juliet.”

“I was speaking more generally,” she replied, her laughter barely contained below her dry tone.

“You wound me!”

“You’ll recover soon enough, I’m sure.”

“I’ve been told I’m remarkably resilient.”

“Sounds like something one of the psych officers would have said.”

“As a matter of fact, it was one of their number.” He chuckled, letting his eyes close. “Bit boggy in our patch of countryside tonight. But… I’m always amazed by how very much you can see by starlight. Not enough to read by—not that I have anything to read—but enough that I could make my way to my corner of camp without stumbling across any of my snoring compatriots. I can see the trees a bit away from us, and even the animals grazing.”

“Sounds like a pastoral idyll.”

“In black and white.”

“No boy in blue?”

“Nae, we’re all in green. Well, bit more brown than green these days.”

“And back to the laundry.”

“It’s always about laundry, this point in the game.”

“Laundry and a hot shower—fuelling soldiers’ fantasies since the invention of indoor plumbing.”

“Something like that, aye.”

Something told him to open his eyes, to have a look around him. He pushed himself up, and saw the approaching form of Erskine.

“Time’s up, Juliet—the boss is coming for me.”

“Too loud again?”

“I suspect he disapproves of how much fun I have doing the nightly report.”

“Flatterer.”

“It’s only flattery if it’s not truth.” He stole another quick glance; he had about thirty seconds before the Lieutenant was standing there. “I…I hope we get to speak again. Someday.”

“I’d like that.”

“Maybe in person.”

“Transfer willing, I’d like that too.”

“Good.” He took a deep breath. “Charlie Company out.”

He fancied that her voice, when she replied, carried the gentle softness of regret. “Good-bye, Charlie. Juliet out.”

~ - ~

Ruby released the mic key, staring at the radio with something akin to disappointment. It was always a matter of chance, which teams she was assigned; and then there was the issue of whether he’d still be with the same team, or if he’d be radio operator again or would have transitioned to some other function within the team. And of course the teams changed call signs with each rotation, still another measure designed to keep the enemy from working out which soldiers might be on what teams, even small teams like Charlie Company.

She finished filling out her paperwork, absentmindedly signing it and placing it in the container before sending it off to her supervising officer. Her mind was still on Charlie Company and the voice she’d come to be rather fond of during the previous month when she answered the twenty o’clock check in, and her thoughts remained with him for the next three radio checks from the other companies out on manoeuvres in other areas of the country.

She wondered about him, her Charlie. Not her Charlie, really, but wasn’t it funny how she’d come to think of him like that? She certainly didn’t think of any of the other units she was monitoring in that way, in spite of enjoying speaking with their radio officers. She couldn’t remember feeling quite so possessive of any of the other disembodied voices she’d met in her time in communications, but she’d always heard cautionary tales from the few other women in the unit—how easy it was to become attached to them, especially when you were responsible for them for a prolonged period of time.

Dawn was slowly coming into evidence when she emerged from her building at the end of her shift, the still-clear sky shading to a warm purplish-grey before hewing towards magenta. There was mist low over the hills that early in the day. She could see her breath as the cold nipped at her cheeks and hands, encouraging her to pick up her pace across the car park en route to grab a meal. She wondered if her soldier had slept at all, or if he’d been too excited at the prospect of coming home—back to Yorkshire, hundreds of miles away. No matter whether he’d slept or not he’d be up and moving by now, he and his teammates bundling up their bedrolls, doing a last check of gear and packs before finding a spot for a quick, cold breakfast. Then there’d be a hike out to the road, where they’d be picked up by a passenger carrier, tossing their gear into the back before piling in themselves and settling in for the long, bumpy journey north to their home barracks.

She’d lied to him, sort of, the night before: she didn’t particularly miss fieldwork at all. She hated being filthy and needing a shower for days on end, and she didn’t do particularly well with the creepy crawly things which invariably appeared when one was, effectively, camping in the woods. She’d done it because it was necessary, part of the role she’d been assigned after ending her initial training period within the services; but she’d hated it enough that at her first opportunity she’d put in for transfer to communications, far preferring to be in a set location night after night, doing what she could from her perch at a bank of radios.

But then she’d not had someone like him on her team. The lads had been fair enough to work with, viewing her as one of the blokes after she’d proven herself, but none of them had necessarily had a sense of humour. There was so little common ground between them, her teammates to a man coming from the South, sharing different interests and loves from her. They’d got on well enough, but there wasn’t the feeling of comradeship she’d experienced with the latest Charlie.

She shook her head in frustration, deciding to forgo breakfast for the moment in the interest of getting in her daily workout. She hoped the expenditure of energy would help clear her mind; that the ensuing rush of endorphins would pull her out of the musing funk she seemed to have fallen into. She could then have some fruit and some water instead of the more substantial, tempting bowl of porridge, and go back to her bunk for a good solid nap.

As she ran she instead found herself glancing at her watch, wondering if Charlie Company had been picked up yet, her mind fancifully imagining that the carrier would have mechanical issues requiring it to stop at the small base at which she was stationed, allowing her to sneak a peek at the man with whom she’d been speaking. Frustrated, she increased the speed on the treadmill, her feet rhythmically pounding against the moving surface as she tried not to wonder—again—what the man looked like. It was always hard to tell from their voices, especially when any defining trait was wiped out by the blasted military-ingrained accent. She panted, swiping at a trickle of sweat, shoving aside the tendrils of hair which had come loose as she ran.

Tall. He had to be tall. And dark—that’d be nice. A tall, dark, handsome man from somewhere that wasn’t London. He most likely had a beard by now, razors being in short supply when teams were out working; she wondered if he was able to grow one, or if he was one of those poor men who perpetually looked like teenagers trying to look cool.

She snorted, dropping her chin as she laughed. She was imagining what a man she’d never meet would look like, knowing full well that it was impossible to determine looks based solely off voice. For all she knew he was four feet tall, bald, and had bad skin.

But his voice…his voice was gorgeous.

She punched the buttons on the treadmill once more, increasing her pace, hoping to outrun her thoughts. She was wheezing when she finally stopped, her five kilometre run finished far faster than usual. Her mind, however, continued to whir along, replaying snippets of the conversations she’d had with Charlie, the various tones and timbres his voice took on depending on what they’d been talking about.

The hesitancy in his tone when he said he’d like to speak with her again someday, in person.

She had trouble catching her breath, and decided to skip the rest of her usual workout. She’d be a danger to herself, anyway, if she wasn’t paying close attention while using some of the machinery.

Her hair was damp from her post-run shower when she made her way outside a half-hour later. The canteen wasn’t too far away, just around the corner from where she was, but she had a sudden desire to sneak into town for breakfast. It was an easy walk and she was cleared to come and go from the base as she liked; she just needed to change out of her issued clothes into something a little less blatantly…military. She jogged to her housing, being careful not to wake anyone as she made her way to the small room that was her own. It was a perk of working her job: a room of her very own, the better to ensure she could sleep during odd hours of the day. Even better, everyone in that area of the building worked overnights, making for a very peaceful environment during the day. She’d have no trouble at all falling asleep, she was sure, when she came back.

A brisk walk saw her emerge into the sleepy village just past eight, and she hurried to the tiny bakery situated off the town square. There was a small queue of villagers as she walked in, each of them giving her a tight, appraising glance as she quietly joined their ranks. She gave a small smile, and tried to make herself as unobtrusive as possible. As she waited, slowly inching towards the pastry case, she kept glancing to the windows of the shop, irrationally hoping she’d see one of the personnel carriers trundle through on its drive north. There would, of course, be some rumbling through later, supplies and staff and all sorts of other things carried on them, but she was sensible enough to know that there was no rational reason for Charlie Company’s vehicle to come through town.

It didn’t keep her from being disappointed, though, when one of the carriers failed to roll by during her time in the bakery.

After finally purchasing a small pastry and a cup of coffee she made her way back out into the morning sunshine, slowly walking to the village green. She settled on one of the empty benches, her meal set on the seat next to her, and slowly ate as she watched the world go by. The air was starting to warm as the sun burned off the last of the mist, birds trilling in the trees around the green as grannies began their daily perambulations around the village. The distinctive throaty sound of a diesel engine drew her attention; she watched eagerly as one of the lorries slowly rumbled through the village streets, counting the moments until it was past so she could see in the back.She slumped in disappointment as she noted the boxes stacked inside it, and once more cursed herself for being a silly girl.

She’d do herself no favours by mulling over the man she’d spoken with for the past month. Best to let him go; to hope that perhaps their paths would cross again but not to focus on the idea. She collected the rubbish from her breakfast, deposited it in the bin below the memorial to the Great War, and then made her way back to her room for some sleep.

~ - ~

Chapter 3

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