Title: How Things Began (5/23)
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: 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 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5


It took Ruby ages to fall asleep, meaning she woke up later than usual, which in turn put her horribly behind schedule what with having to at least run for a bit before reporting to work. By the time she arrived at the comms building the group had, apparently, moved on to other places or things. She had a copy of the itinerary somewhere, probably in her room; she thought they might have gone out to one of the tower sites to discuss how the field radios operated with the base ones. She lacked the energy to try to find out, and instead made her way over to the canteen for a light supper and to stock up on the fruit she usually had with her for her shift.

Some of her friends were having their dinner when she walked in, and she joined them after she’d collected her meal. The conversation turned lively, as it invariably did with the group, and time seemed to get away from her as she joked and laughed.

“When’s your shift?” John, one of the blokes she’d first befriended at the site, asked her as she wiped her eyes after a particularly funny tale.

“Starts at twenty o’clock.”

“Best get going, then—you’ve only got a half-hour to go.”

“Oh!” She’d planned to at least duck into the officers’ mess before her shift started, knowing for certain that the staff would gather there around an hour before her shift, but she simply didn’t have time left. She’d have to hope that breakfast the next morning would present another opportunity to talk with the sergeant, to maybe see if she’d simply been misreading him that morning.

It was another quiet shift, the radio reports succinct, the men on the end of the line sounding exhausted. No surprise there—it was getting quite cold, and at least one team was being doused with a steady rain. No matter how garrulous a man was, that sort of weather was bound to suck his energy away, meaning the reports were brief. She still made a note on the report to her supervisor, suggesting it might be time to switch units in that part of the country.

And then it was back to the usual drudgery, simple acrostics her only distraction as time slowly ticked by. It seemed to take aeons for the clock to reach midnight, the radio silence making the night drag far longer than it had in recent memory. It was tempting to kick her booted feet up onto the small counter marking the front of the radio bank, but she knew she’d not be able to get away with it; she instead pulled the dustbin over, setting it just far enough away that she could use the lip of it as a footstool.

She couldn’t stop wondering about the dratted Sergeant McCoy. Who was the real man—the one she’d talked with for months, the one who could make clever jokes or obscure references; who seemed effortlessly able to intuit what she meant when she wasn’t at liberty to say the words; who had a bit of poetry about his soul, as her mum would say. Or was he the man she’d just met, the one who was perfectly well aware of his appeal; who seemed able to harness his charm and unleash it in whichever direction he chose; who had a hint of calculation about him.

It wasn’t a zero-sum game, of course—she was probably seeing both facets of the real man, who was also slightly younger than she’d expected. She’d just turned twenty-four; at a guess, the sergeant himself was her age, if not younger. Perhaps that’s what explained the maddening inconsistency in his character, the fact that he was so cocksure in person but far more mellow on the radio.

She’d been peeling an orange and tossed the pith into the bin with a sigh. Again, she really needed to learn not to rely on her imagination. She’d somehow constructed Charlie as a paragon of manly virtue, a veritable warrior-poet who’d come in and be exactly the man she’d hoped for, sweeping her off her feet and…well, who knew what. Love, marriage, babies probably, but all while she was allowed to remain in her job being clever and able and not having to change who she was. She laughed ruefully as she chewed on a section of the orange, knowing that she really needed to get past the idea that any of that was possible.

Besides, she’d already told Gibson she was resigning when her commission was up. She enjoyed the work of comms officer, but couldn’t see herself doing it for a long-term career. And she couldn’t think of much else she’d like to do within the military as a whole. Whereas the idea of working in the police services, and of at least having the chance to work in some sort of investigatory capacity, sounded utterly fascinating. Much like her idea of Sergeant McCoy, she was sure her imaginings wouldn’t be entirely accurate, but she found herself excited by the prospect of going to London, of learning the police side of things, of being able to maybe do something that made a difference without the possibility of killing innocent bystanders. If nothing else the pay was going to be a ridiculous sum, and she looked forward to wearing blue for a bit instead of the drab olive she was currently wearing, and had worn with rare exception for the past five and a half years.

She’d still not told her family of the move—she’d have to do that soon, as they kept asking her about her plans. Her mum would simply shake her head, well-used to her daughter doing mad things like running off and joining the military on a whim. Her da would most likely gripe about her moving still further away from Lancaster. And her brother…well, her brother would probably think it a very cool thing.

She laughed again, peeling off another section of orange.

“Quarles, phone.”

She was startled by her name coming over the in-building tannoy, and kicked the dustbin over as she straightened in her chair. She glanced over to the blinking light indicating a call for her, and slowly picked it up.

The only time anyone ever called her during work was to relay bad news.

“Hello?” She wasn’t sure if it was an internal or external line, and didn’t want to give away any information which could be misused.

“Thought I might find you there. Care for a guest?” It was McCoy, his voice surprisingly tentative.

“Er…sure. Where are you again?”

“Standing at the door to the bloody comms building, getting soaked. Can you get a lad in?”

She laughed, disconnecting the call and dialling the front desk. “Could you let our guest sergeant in? And show him back? Gibson’ll be alright with it.”

She righted the bin, kicking it back under the counter, and doused one of the clean bits of paper towelling with water to wipe the sticky juice of the orange from her fingers just before McCoy arrived in the room.

His presence seemed to fill the space, making her breath come more quickly, and she felt a slight flush in her cheeks. He was, as he’d indicated, soaked through, his hair dripping water onto the shoulders of his jumper.

“Sergeant.”

That earned a pained sigh and roll of the eyes from him. “It’s Elias, Ruby.”

“Right. Elias. Sorry—wasn’t expecting company.” She glanced around for the spare chair, finding it folded and leaning against a dark corner of the room. She pulled it out, unfolded it, then gestured for McCoy to sit.

He did, a smile tugging at his lips, his eyes riveted to her as she moved.

“This allowed?” he drawled as she settled into her chair.

“Because you’re a guest of Gibson, it is.”

“But if I were here as your own guest…”

“You’d still be outside.” She rolled to the small equipment locker at the back of the room, opening the door and digging through the bottom shelf. As expected she found an old, clean-ish towel—kept on hand for drink spills more than anything else—and tossed it to McCoy. He snatched it out of the air with one hand, giving her a rueful grin as he ran it over his hair.

“Thanks. Haven’t seen rain like this for...” he trailed off, thinking.

“Weeks, I should think.”

“That’s about right.” His grin was brightly white in the dim room, and she was once again struck by how very confident in himself he was.

“You enjoy your visit so far?” She reached for the rest of her orange, pulling a section off and popping it into her mouth. McCoy watched her, almost hungrily, and she offered over the snack.

He glanced down, surprised, and then took it with surprising shyness. Peeling off a section for himself he held the fruit for a moment, then handed it back. “It’s been good.”

“Just good?”

“Nothing against the base or your team, but I doubt anyone would describe a visit here as ‘brilliant’.”

“Charming.”

“Generally speaking, yes.”

“You always this cocky?”

He glanced back to her, genuinely surprised. “Maybe?” He took a breath, pausing a beat. “’s a bit like your question this morning, about whether I’m always so amiable.” He ate the orange, chewing thoughtfully.

“I suppose it is.” She leaned forward, being sure to hold his gaze. “Should tell you something, don’t you think?” She watched him as she leaned back, crossing her arms across her chest. He appeared to at least be giving her words serious consideration, which went a fair ways towards nudging him back over to the ‘not so bad’ list in her mind.

He swallowed, his eyes locked on hers for a beat, before his attention shifted to the electronics around them. “This is where you work your magic, then?”

“It is. Normally a little bit busier, but with most of you lads out of the field it’s been a peaceful few nights.”

“A rare pleasure for you?” His expression was open and genuinely curious, and she found herself liking that particular side of him.

“Quite. Makes up for the nights where it’s pure, unfettered terror.”

“Go on.” His mocking tone hurt, resulting in a flash of anger.

“D’you think I didn’t worry about you, when you were in Wales? That I wasn’t nervous when it’d come time for your check, wondering if this would be the night that you wouldn’t be there; that that had been the day you’d been found and were captured or worse? What do you think happens here, when one of you sees fit to get yourself dead? When one of us is here, talking to you, and then the line goes silent, and it’s a permanent sort of thing, and you know you can’t do anything to help the bloke on the other end? Think we just sit back and kick our feet up, considering it to be out of our hands? How the hell do you think people know to come find you, and where to find you, and even how they might know your situation?” She turned away from him, now angry at herself for letting him see a side of herself she shared with no one. She tried never to think of the men who’d gone silent on her, killed doing their job; and she certainly tried never to let anyone else see how much it bothered her that she couldn’t have done more for them. “Our job is to look out for you. No matter what.”

The room lapsed into awkward silence until Elias spoke.

“I--I’m sorry. It was a very poor attempt at humour on my part.” She heard McCoy shift uncomfortably before the room once more fell into silence.

She slowly turned back to him but kept her gaze averted, trying to stuff the memories back into the recesses of her mind. She was a bit furious that he’d somehow got under her skin enough that she wasn’t able to keep from sharing those dark thoughts.

“Surely there’s been good to go with the bad,” he finally said, his voice soft.

She gave a humourless half-smile, still angry with herself. “It has its moments.”

“Tell me a story, then.” It was the same tone of voice he’d used when he’d been bored in the field. It took her straight back to those nights, to the simple pleasure of listening to him talk about hidden nooks and crannies of the country, or of troubles he and his relatives got into when they were children.

“You know I can’t tell stories to save my life,” she replied, hearing the melancholy in her own voice.

‘I don’t know about that.” He scooted the chair closer, but kept from touching her. “What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you?”

“I—”

“Remember—don’t think about it. Just say what comes to mind, no matter what.”

“Even if it means saying things I oughtn’t?”

He went very still, and she turned to find him looking seriously at her. “I…” He shook his head, then quirked his lips. “I didn’t think you were totally serious, when you’d said you’d been to Caernarfon.” She raised her eyebrows, neither confirming nor denying. “Ah. I see.” He leaned back, kicking his legs out. “Surely the funniest thing to happen to you doesn’t involve that level of…risk?”

“Well…no.”

He grinned. “Excellent. Then tell me about it.”

She told him of the time she and her brother had accidentally stumbled across the neighbours sunbathing in the nude, the mortification of the older couple only making her and her brother giggle harder. It earned a proper guffaw from McCoy when she relayed that it was the local vicar and his wife who’d been involved, and how the neighbourhood reacted with tolerant amusement—and years of jokes.

“Not exactly the sleepy small village you grew up in, then?” he asked at the end of the story.

“Not quite.” She’d avoided telling him where she was from, and she suspected he still didn’t know; she had no intention of giving him any information he could use to work out her origin. It was good to keep him off-balance, she thought; she suspected it didn’t happen to him nearly often enough.

“Are you really going to work for the police?” he asked, the casualness of the question catching her by surprise.

“I am.”

He tilted his head. “Why?”

She sighed. “It feels right.” It was close enough to the truth that she’d adopted it as her standard answer, when asked. She hoped it wouldn’t turn out to be wrong.

“When do you leave?”

“Close to a month. My commission is December, and I’ll be gone once that hits.”

“Will you miss this, d’you think?”

“Parts of it.” She gave him a slow smile. “Some of the teams are nice enough, but others? Well, I’ll be glad to not have to deal with them any longer.”

His lips curved. “I choose to believe I fall into the former category.”

She laughed, catching a glance of the clock over his shoulder as she did so. She hurriedly looked down at the timepiece on her wrist to confirm the time.

“Need to work for a mo’. Stay quiet, and none of us’ll get in trouble.”

“I thought I was—” She shushed him with a wave, moving to the mic in anticipation of the one o’clock check in from the lone team in enemy territory.

She blocked McCoy out completely as she listened to the soft voice on the other end, as she took painstaking notes of the information provided. She continued to listen as she signed the initial report, rolling it up and then sending it off, and she managed to utterly forget McCoy was there by the time she finished speaking with the soldier on the radio.

She finished writing the second report in the silent room, her entire attention focused on the pen against the paper before her. Satisfied she’d noted everything of importance she rolled it up, grabbing one of the spare containers before sending it in. She jumped when she turned and saw McCoy sitting there, stock still, his eyes glittering in the dimness as he watched her work.

“Sorry,” she said, giving him a rueful smile. “Forgot you were there.”

His eyebrows rose in amusement. “I have no idea what to say to that.”

“Probably the first time it’s ever been implied you’re forgettable. I reckon it’s a bit of a shock.”

He looked offended for a moment, and then he let out a small laugh. “You win, Sergeant Quarles.” He stretched, then stole a glance at his own watch—worn, she noted, on his left wrist, the dial facing outward. “It’s well past my time to turn in, I think.”

“Is it four already?” She feigned surprise, looking at her own watch, strapped to her right wrist with the dial facing inward. It made it easier when she was writing quickly, her right hand often stabilising the paper as she wrote with her left, the watch face always positioned so she could see it.

“I’m beginning to suspect, Sergeant Quarles, that you don’t have a terribly high opinion of me.” He said the words mildly, but his dark gaze was intent.

She sighed, leaning back. “I well and truly don’t know what to think of you, Sergeant McCoy.”

“You barely know me,” he said gently.

“’s that true, though?” She tilted her head, watching him in turn.

He rubbed a hand over his face, then brushed it back across his hair as he rocked back to look at the ceiling. She wondered if he always kept it that long—just at the edge of the regs—or if he’d been without a chance for a proper cut. “You know me better than most,” he finally conceded, dropping his eyes to hers.

“And I still don’t know what to make of you.”

He leaned forward, his eyes blazing. “The bloke on the radio—that’s me. And here and now—that’s me, too. Give me a shot, Ruby; I meant it when I said I’d like to have more of a chance to talk with you. Especially in person.”

“As friends?” she asked warily. She’d seen far, far too many relationships in the military go wrong—disastrously so. It was of course possible to have a good relationship, and even a good relationship with someone based elsewhere; but relationships forged out of intense job-related situations never seemed to really work.

“If you like.”

She tilted her head, still unable to get a good read on him, still unsure of just how sincere he was being. She wanted to trust him, to believe him; but she’d seen a different side of him that morning, and it made her think that it was quite possible he was only trying to lure her to bed.

In spite of that, she decided to trust him. “Alright.”

He grinned then, his smile brilliant. “Over breakfast, eh? We’ll talk some more?”

She laughed. “I’ll be there for breakfast. When do you head back?”

“Just after—my ride leaves at nine o’clock.”

“A brief brekkie, then. At least if you’re planning on getting a proper night’s sleep.”

“I’ll most likely sleep on the ride back; ‘s how I passed the time on the way down here.”

“I heard you slept because you were hung over.”

“Who told you that?”

“Small base, Sergeant—nothing’s kept secret for very long.” She gave him a beatific smile.

He chuckled quietly. “No danger of that tomorrow—I need to be rested enough to be able to perform at full function the day after.”

“It’s a good thing the lads took you out last night, then.”

“That it is.” He sighed, standing. “I do need to turn in for the night—a proper sleep would be good, no matter my plans for the ride back tomorrow.”

She joined him, pausing awkwardly when it occurred to her she had no clue how to part company with him for the night. “You’re alright getting out and back to your bunk?”

“I think I’ll manage—pretty good with finding my way around strange places.” He paused before her, hesitating; she felt her heartbeat skip, her chest tightening as he gazed at her.

And then he was leaning forward, his lips just briefly brushing hers. She blinked her eyes open, surprised they’d closed, as he pulled back; he appeared to be equally as surprised by what had happened.

“I…” She stumbled over any words which might have come out.

McCoy shook his head, seeming to break whatever spell had come over them. He slipped past her to the door, pausing to look at her with an unreadable expression. “I’m out for the evening. Good night.”

“Good night,” she replied softly, watching as he ambled out the door.

Time seemed to slow even more after he left, the last hours of her shift seeming to last five times as long as they normally did as her mind replayed McCoy’s parting kiss over and over again. By the time her relief appeared she was more than ready to be out of the room, hurrying out of the building and across to the gymnasium. She doubled her run for the morning, forcing herself to go ten kilometres at a brisk pace, trying to work off the seemingly unending adrenaline rush she’d been experiencing since he’d kissed her.

What was most frustrating about the entire thing, she decided, was that he was a genuinely attractive man. If she met him out somewhere—say at a pub, or with friends—she’d have no qualms at all about taking him up on what appeared to be the offer of physical intimacy. She was certain he had a body to die for; and he was quick enough that she doubted he’d be boring, either in bed or after. But knowing he was in the services, knowing that they had to work together even if only rarely, prevented her from giving in to the offer. His personality could use a bit of work—a few years, and she suspected the rough edges would mellow—but it was really just an excuse to avoid tumbling into bed and, quite possibly, into a disaster of a relationship with a colleague.

She had just enough time for a shower before having to report for breakfast, and she could feel her collar grow damp from where her sodding wet hair had been pulled back in order to bring her uniform into regulation. McCoy was not there when she arrived. She almost laughed when she felt as though a vise had been loosened from around her chest. Not that she had any idea what she was going to say to the man when he appeared. She suspected, though, that he’d find something to say to her.

He appeared a half-hour later, Gibson accompanying him and talking animatedly about who-knew-what. The Warrant Officer could talk, at length and in great detail, about nearly anything. He waved off their salutes when he entered, and she turned her attention to McCoy, curious as to how he was going to act. Would she get the thoughtful man from the radio, or the cocksure one from the beginning of his visit?

What she got, she suspected, was as close to the real man as she was likely to see. He was still charming, still oozed charisma. But he also appeared to be a touch more reserved, a bit more thoughtful and just that little bit less calculating. When Gibson had finished talking—it sounded as though he was discussing the flora of north-eastern England—McCoy entered into casual conversation with the men around him. And when he got up to pour his own cup of tea, he made his way to her end of the table, settling into the chair next to her which happened to have remained empty during the meal.

“How are you today, Sergeant?” he asked, appearing nonchalant as he stirred sugar into his tea.

“I’m well, thank you. Did you sleep well?” It was a sincere question, but he still glanced up at her to gauge whether she’d meant it.

“Mediocre, I’d say. I…I’m sorry. For liberties.” He’d dropped his voice so that only she could hear it.

She sighed, envying him his beverage—he’d be able to use it to buy time to think during their conversation. “’s alright. ‘s…complicated.”

“Isn’t it just?”

“I…if things were different…” She caught his gaze, willing him to understand what she was saying. “But I can’t. Not now.”

He tilted his head, holding the saucer in his left hand as his right held his cup of tea. He remained silent.

“I’ve just seen it go wrong too many times, y’know?” She watched as her words sunk in, comprehension dawning in his brown eyes.

“I think I do, yeah.” He took a sip of tea, swallowing it quickly as he set the china aside. “I’m sorry to hear it…but I understand.”

She smiled, relieved, feeling a weight lift from her. “I’m glad.”

“Such is life, I suppose.” He gave her a rueful smile, slouching in his chair.

“Indeed it is. I’m very happy to have had the chance to meet you, you know.”

“I’m glad I got to meet you, too.” He straightened, leaning forward so his elbows rested on his knees. “I wish you the absolute best of luck with your new career.”

She laughed lightly. “We may yet talk before I go.”

His expression softened. “I somehow don’t think it’ll happen. Best to wish you luck now, when I’m guaranteed of talking to you.”

“That’s fair enough.”

He smiled in response, and pulled his cuppa back into his hands.

He gave her a firm handshake before he left, his expression holding a fair bit of gravitas even as he gave her a smile. She felt a sudden flash of regret as they parted company, a feeling of gaping emptiness as she watched him walk to the lorry waiting to ferry him back to Yorkshire. He gave one short, sharp wave as the lorry rumbled off; and then he was gone.

She sighed, shuffling off to her room. She’d miss him; but she had to think she’d made the right choice.

~ - ~

Chapter 6
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