Title: How Things Began (3/23)
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: Just a quick reminder that I will be posting both today and Thursday. For those of you travelling for the holidays, please be safe!

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.



Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3

Ruby heard his voice again not a month later, the familiar tone sending her heart racing along as he said, “Echo Company, checking in.”

“Echo Company, this is Juliet, go ahead.”

“Juliet! What a divine surprise!” His voice held genuine warmth, causing her to smile foolishly into the empty room. “I’d been hoping to luck into you again; I’d just not expected it so quickly.”

“It must be fate.”

“Indeed it must.” He paused, the silence growing a touch awkward. “How’ve ye been?”

There it was—that hint of his accent. She wondered if he did it on purpose, or if it was a sign of his exhaustion. A small voice suggested it was a sign that he was comfortable with her, but she squelched that thought.

“Alright. Bit knackered, but what’s a girl to expect with working nights non-stop?”

“Don’t they give you lot proper breaks?”

“Used up my leave last time we talked.” She’d had to go north unexpectedly, her mum having come down sick enough to go into hospital. She hoped he’d not ask; she didn’t want to think about it, especially now that her mum was healthy once more.

“Ah, I’d wondered where you’d gone to.”

“Yup. You enjoy your brief foray into civilisation?”

“It was very nice.” He sounded almost smug, and her mind scurried down the path of wondering what on earth he’d been up to, to result in that tone.

“I’m very glad to hear it,” she replied slowly, unable to keep the question out of her voice.

“We’ll not go into how I spent my money. Well, besides on clean clothes, which we’d already discussed. Shall we get down to business, m‘lady?”

She shook her head, pulling the blank reporting form to her.

He was only there for a week this time, radioing in at one-minute-to precisely each of the six nights, the two of them conversing amiably before moving on to business. He was in the east of England on this trip, a quiet training exercise of some sort which seemed to bore him to no end. Their conversations grew longer each night as he’d regale her with stories—not stories of where he was, as that would have been a grave violation of protocol (and even he seemed to have his limits), but rather of where he’d been. He didn’t sound much older than she was, placing him in his early twenties, but he certainly had a way of spinning a tale. She listened, enraptured, each night, enjoying the virtual journey he would take her on, feeling a bit out of her depth in storytelling—a fact which he didn’t miss.

“So. I’ve been boring you with stories these past four days; tell me one of your own,” he said casually after radioing in late in the week.

“Oh! Oh, I couldn’t hope to compare to what you’ve been saying.”

“Pish posh.”

“Pish posh?”

“Pish posh Hieronymus Bosch, if you’re going to be picky. Now c’mon, tell us a tale.”

“I’ve…really led a boring life,” she stammered. She tried not to think about how very off-kilter talking to him made her feel; she might not be good at storytelling, but she’d spun more than a few of them during nights in camp with her old team. It was part of being in a team, the tradition of recounting places you’d been or things you’d done.

“That’s rubbish. I ask you what the most singular place you’ve been was, you say…”

“Um…”

“Don’t think about it. Just say it.”

“Caernarfon.” The word slipped out before she could think, and she held her breath for fear of the world ending. She’d been only once, on a mission; she desperately hoped she’d not be sacked for saying it.

There was a pause at the end of the radio, and then his voice came back. “Craigavon? You’ve been to the British bit of Eire?”

She let out a half-laugh, grateful for his quick-thinking. “Just once, long ago. I’d very much like to see it again, to get a proper appreciation for its sights. I missed a lot, that first visit.”

“I’d wager you did,” he replied, his voice low and warm. “Here’s another one, then. Favourite bit of coast.”

“Morecambe.”

“Tell me why.”

She sighed. “I love how changeable it is; how beautiful, too, even though it’s more than a bit deadly if you don’t know what you’re doing.”

“Ah, should have known you’d pick a place with a hint of lethality to it.”

“Says the man who’s currently not in a building.”

“I know what I’m talking about. Go on, then, tell me about Morecambe.”

She told him of the trees leading to the shore; of the flats which would be exposed with every low tide, and how they’d all hurry out to collect cockles under the watchful eye of the auntie of a friend of hers, rushing back when called, their shirts full of the greenish shells. He laughed at her description of her mum’s reaction to coming home with another shirt stretched beyond recognition from carrying the molluscs; and he let out a happy little sigh as she described the delicious meals which her mum and others would make out of the shellfish.

“You miss it?” he asked when she finished, his tone gentle.

“Not so much as you might think. Hadn’t even thought of it, not for years. Not until you asked.” His reply was a noncommittal noise, leading her to ask, “And you? What’s your favourite patch of shore?”

“Ah, an easy one. That’d—oh, bollocks; I’ve got to sign off. I’m being given the ‘cut it off’ sign.”

“Don’t think that gets you out of answering the question.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it. Goodnight, m‘lady. Echo Company out.”

“Juliet out.”

She couldn’t help but laugh the next night, when immediately after checking in he answered her question. “Right, favourite bit of shore. Easy—the Solway Coast. It lacks the tasty treats of your Morecambe, but it’s got its own charms, chief among them the most stunning expanse of sea and sky. And if you’re of a romantic bent—which I am most assuredly not, I’m far too manly for such twaddle—there are loads of old castles dotted along the coast.”

“Your mum must have dragged you to them as a child.”

“Got it in one,” he replied ruefully.

“You ever see any ghosts?”

“That assumes I believe in them.”

“You don’t?”

“I don’t. But I take it you do.”

“I’m not sure I do, really. But I’d always heard ghosts were to be found in every castle, and that—” She caught herself before she could finish the thought, that all Scotsmen were believers in ghosts. “Well, I figured there had to be some truth to Macbeth, surely?”

There was a pause in the conversation, and then he slowly corrected her. “Hamlet was the one with the ghost in the castle. Macbeth had witches, and got Scots wrong in general.”

His tone had started out cautious but thawed as he finished, and she couldn’t help but grin madly at her post. “My mistake then.”

“Don’t sound so smug.”

“I’ll try to avoid it.”

“Hmph.”

“Whilst you’re stewing, I don’t suppose you have a report?”

He did, and dutifully recited it slowly as she transcribed his words. When he’d finished, in the silence which usually fell as she signed the form and sent it off, she heard him begin to hum. She listened even after she finished, enjoying the slightly-off-key sound of what was sure to be a drinking song of some sort.

“Almost done, then, Juliet?” he finally asked.

“I was enjoying the free concert.”

“I don’t do that for just anyone; count yourself among the blessed few.”

“I’ll be sure to do just that.”

Silence fell between them.

“Suppose I should—”

“I guess it’s time—”

They stepped on each other, leading her to laughingly say, “Go on, then.”

“I guess it’s time for this soldier to away to bed. Or bedroll, if one were to be precise.”

“Indeed. Just another day to go, eh?”

“Possibly,” he replied cautiously.

“Roger. You have a good night, then, soldier.”

“And you do the same, Juliet. Echo Company Out.”

It figured that the next evening—the last one where she was guaranteed to be talking to the man she still thought of as “Charlie”—was the shift selected for her performance review. For the entirety of the night she’d have an officer standing over her shoulder, making sure every protocol was followed; every transmission begun and ended with the proper sequence of words, every form filled out to perfection, each exchange with the field nothing but completely professional. She was coming up on six months left in her enlistment, the end of the six years she’d signed on for a lifetime ago. She knew that in reality it was the service’s way of making sure she would be able to still perform her duties if she chose to re-enlist but it was devilishly poor timing, all things considered.

“Juliet, this is Echo Company.” The voice came through, sending her heart racing. She swallowed, forcing her hands to be steady as she reached for the mic.

“Echo Company, this is Juliet confirming.” She recited the code, each word precisely uttered in the way she’d had drilled into her when she was training for the position. She didn’t miss the pause at the other end, and she could imagine her faceless soldier trying to determine what was going on.

“Echo Company, confirming.” He in turn recited the words, speaking in the textbook fashion she’d teased him about once before.

“We read you, Echo Company, and we’re ready to receive your report.”

It killed her to not be able to talk with him the way she’d grown accustomed; to instead have to stand on protocol, following the procedures outlined in the rulebook. She followed them every night, of course, just not in the precise fashion her evaluator expected.

“Anything further?” she asked when his precise diction had ceased, the report concluded.

There was silence—and, per protocol, if it lasted more than ten seconds, she was to terminate the transmission. She watched the clock tick down, hoped desperately that the clever man on the other end would find a way to say something to her before the second hand ticked a ninth time.

He did. “It’s been a pleasure having the chance to work with you. I hope our paths cross again. But that’s not for the report, ma’am.”

She keyed the mic as she let out a relieved laugh. “Duly noted, Echo Company. I’ll hope our paths cross again. Juliet out.”

“Echo Company out.”

Silence filled the room, and she bent her head to focus on completing the paperwork before her rather than dwelling on missing what might have been her last chance to speak with her Charlie.

She had faith they’d talk again; after all, it had only taken a month for their paths to cross. Surely it wouldn’t take much longer for it to happen a second time?

~ - ~

Elias stared dumbly at the radio, still a bit stunned by how the conversation had gone.

It had been a lovely sunset, all fiery oranges and golds, and he’d been looking forward to telling her about it; had hoped to be able to make the conversation last as long as possible, knowing that it might be their last chance to speak for a while. He’d planned to try to get her to give up exactly where she was from, besides the North; he needed to match her cleverness in drawing out of him that he was a Scotsman.

He’d had all sorts of plans for the conversation, but it hadn’t gone at all as he’d expected.

She’d followed the rulebook to a T, had sounded almost cautious when he’d first radioed in; and then there was her laugh, full of relief at the end. But she’d not changed the code, indicating distress … which could only mean that someone had been with her in the room. Someone official; most likely someone who outranked her enough to get her to follow the rules exactly.

At least he hoped that was it, that her behaviour was the result of bureaucracy instead of the sudden discovery that she couldn’t stand him at all. It wasn’t as though he had a particularly chequered past to hide—he’d certainly bedded his share of women, but none of the one-night stands had resulted in progeny, and it wasn’t as though he had anything at all for which to be blackmailed unless one counted his utter and complete inability to keep a crease in his regulation trousers and shirts. He had a predilection for brightly-coloured boxer shorts, too, but he doubted she’d have found a way to learn about that.

He shook his head, clearing it, gently reaching over to turn the radio off. Tomorrow they’d be up early, would do the usual routine of cleaning camp, having breakfast, marching out to the pick-up point. They’re return to base, would be given the chance to shower, shave, and nap; and then they’d be taken straight into debriefing, given a thorough and most likely scathing review of their less-than-stellar performance during the week’s manoeuvres. He’d finally stumble into bed nearer dawn than dusk, and then—finally—the team would be given a bit of liberty. He’d planned on escaping to the home of some nearby relatives, but it was sorely tempting to instead take his newly-purchased car, to drive south to where he suspected she was stationed in the hopes of finding her.

It was a bit obsessive, even for him, and he finally shed the idea with a rueful shake of the head. He didn’t even know what she looked like. If he went down there, he’d be staring after every female of a certain age, contriving ways to get them to speak and generally scaring the populace. And, well, she’d never exactly said if she was married, or in a relationship, or single, or even interested…

He stood, picking up the radio before finding his way back to his bedroll. It had only taken a month to come across her a second time; he’d have to hope he’d be so lucky again.

He wasn’t, of course. The team went on several more expeditions in the following five months, visiting parts of the country both old and new. And each time he’d radio in the first evening, hoping against hope that a female voice would answer him, and that it would be her.

He wondered if it was down to their last conversation, if whatever had been going on at her end had resulted in some form of discipline or active interference from her superiors to ensure they didn’t speak over the radio. He desperately wanted to ask after her, especially when he lucked into speaking with one of the other female communications officers, but he worried that it was a bit sexist on his part to assume that all of the women in the division were close enough to be friendly outside of their jobs.

There had to be a way to speak with her again, though; maybe a landline number that went directly into the communications rooms? Of course, that would require knowing both her name and her division, never mind being dead certain of her location. And he didn’t technically have a need to know any of those things, at least not a work-related need. A personal need … well, that was another issue entirely.

After four months of not hearing Juliet’s voice he went so far as to suggest to his lieutenant that perhaps it would be a good idea for the radio operators from each team to meet each other. He added, as though just thinking of it, that perhaps an even better idea would be for the radio operators for the teams to have a chance to meet the personnel who supported them in the field. He received a very steady gaze in response to the suggestion, punctuated by a slightly arched eyebrow, leading Elias to give up the idea entirely.

He resigned himself to having to trust to luck, his resolve weakening a little bit more each time she wasn’t on the radio.

~ - ~

Chapter 4
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