Title: How Things Began (7/23)
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: Happy 2010!

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 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7


Elias rested his head against the wall of the lift, his eyes closing as he savoured the very brief moment of quiet the ride provided. It was exhausting, being new to the job, always feeling like he was a moment away from doing something wrong. He hadn’t felt that level of insecurity in years, and he wondered—not for the first time—what on earth he’d been thinking when he’d agreed to come work for the Met.

Strangely, the easiest part of his initial training had been learning to operate in a system that wasn’t as strictly hierarchical as he’d come from. Time out in the field had no doubt helped, each member of the team having learned when to follow chain of command and when to ignore it for expediency’s sake. And he’d done well enough learning the rules and regulations governing the investigation of crimes—but then he’d always been good at learning by rote.

The hard part was putting it all into practice, having to re-train his mind to look at things from a slightly different perspective, to analyse things just that little bit differently. He had no good instincts on how to do the job yet, which was even more frustrating given how much he’d relied on his experience and general feel when doing his old job.

On the upside, he’d not slept so well in years, the mental exhaustion of learning a new trade making him fall asleep far faster than he’d used to. No more of his mind racing when his head hit the pillow, trying to outrun the images he still couldn’t quite get rid of from that day in the glen; no more flinching at strange noises coming from the building settling or somebody passing by on the street. He’d thought he’d be jumpier in London, once he’d moved out of his uncle’s house, but the studio he’d let somehow had turned into the one place he found he could truly relax. He suspected the fact that it was used almost exclusively for sleeping helped a great deal.

The lift dinged, slowing as it reached its stop. He must have briefly slipped into semi-consciousness, the ride taking less time than he was used to, and he blearily opened his eyes as the doors slid open.

He shuffled toward it, not expecting anyone to be on the other side given the time and the fact that it was a holiday, and he had only a millisecond to register the presence of a woman—a ginger woman—walking towards him before they crashed together.

“Sorry!” she said, looking up from her mobile. Her eyes widened as she saw him—as his no doubt did in return, complete surprise washing through him.

“Ruby!”

“McCoy.” She closed her mobile, nervously smoothing her hair with her other hand. “I, er, didn’t quite expect to see you here. In the lift. I mean…”

The door buzzed angrily, the lift keen to carry on to its destination, and he took a step back into the car. Holding his hand across the door, he shifted to the side in the event she wanted to join him.

He’d told himself that Ruby Quarles was not a factor in his decision to come to London, and at some point in the six months since he’d taken his oath as a police officer he’d come to actually believe it. But seeing her there, not a metre away…He forced himself to take a deep breath, to not act as giddy as he felt, to instead be the cool, measured man he was gaining a reputation as being among his colleagues.

“Care to join me?” he asked as the lift buzzed again, the doors bucking against his hand.

“Yeah.” She rushed into the car, tipping a half-smile in his direction, and pressed the button for the ground floor.

“You having a good holiday?” he asked conversationally.

“Been working. Listened to your latest, actually.”

“Up to the old tricks, then.”

“Just tonight,” she said, a touch defensively.

“Ah.” He sighed, closing his eyes and resting his head against the lift wall once more. He wasn’t in the mood to play word games, and especially not while trying to keep himself from showing Ruby how very glad he was to have stumbled across her. Far better to keep his mouth shut and let her think him a bit of an idiot, he decided, than to open his mouth and remove all doubt—possibly cementing her impression of him as a git in the process.

“How long have you worked here?” she asked after a moment. He fought back a smile at her curiosity.

“June. Actually got my desk about two months ago, been on the job training since then.” He kept his eyes closed, made sure his voice sounded nonchalant. He couldn’t do much to control his racing heartbeat, but Ruby didn’t have to know about that.

“Oh.” Another beat of silence. “Worked many cases?” The note of curiosity was stronger now, her voice more open.

“A few. Murder, burglary, another burglary, extortion.” He heard her chuckle and opened his eyes, tilting his head so he could glance down at her.

“You must be knackered—your Scottish is showing.”

“It’s been a long day, yes.”

“Are you enjoying it?”

He straightened with a sigh, feeling the twinge in his lower back which would probably never go away. “I am. Most days. Bit of a steep learning curve, which is taking some getting used to.”

She nodded in agreement. “Took me ‘bout a year to really get my feet under me. Bruce—my flatmate—said he didn’t really feel comfortable until about last year, this time.”

“Ah.” Her flatmate. Of course she’d have found someone. He closed his eyes, and considered that he was in what had to be the longest lift ride in recorded history.

“Did … did you have any plans? For supper?” Her voice was surprisingly tentative, causing him to arch an eyebrow as he replied, his eyes still closed.

“It depends on when I’m done with my paperwork—still have a bit of that to go.”

“Oh.” He heard her take a breath, and opened his eyes to look at her. “I … well, Bruce is out with Dieter, and I was going to go to Wen’s, but if you were alone I thought, maybe…”

The lift dinged, signalling that the slowest bit of machinery on earth had reached its destination. He glanced at the panel and noticed he’d never punched the button for his floor—which would explain why he’d run into Ruby, and then ridden down with her instead of up.

“Well, never mind.” She gave him a small smile, moving to leave the lift.

“I’d love to,” he said, surprising himself as he said it. What happened to holding back? he thought. He followed her out into the stark lobby, trying to avoid focusing on how smart she looked in her suit, her hair loosely held back with what looked to be a pencil.

“I mean, I just thought, not often I run into someone I knew before, and it would be lovely to catch up…”

“Ruby.” He waited for her to stop, then continued, “I said I’d love to. It is nice to come across old friends. But…I have to finish my report.”

“Oh.”

He stepped towards her, willing her to understand just how badly he wanted to accept her invitation. “I’d be happy to take you up on the offer tomorrow, though. If you’re not working. Or, um, if you don’t have plans.”

She sighed. “I’m working.”

He gave a regretful laugh, then stole a glance at his watch. Ephraim would be wondering what was taking him so long; he needed to get up to his desk. “I’m on the seventh floor. Southwest corner.” He reached for his warrant, digging around for the business cards he kept behind the laminated card identifying him as a police officer. “Call me when you have time for a tea. Or coffee, as the case may be.” He gave her a small smile, hoping she’d take the card from him.

She did, tilting her head as she gazed up at him—it was the appraising look she’d given him so many times, that weekend they’d met. “Thank you.”

He smiled, his hand dropping after she took the card. “Was a pleasure to run into you, Detective Quarles.”

“And you, Detective McCoy.” She took a step back, then added, “Have a good holiday.”

“You, too.” He turned, pressing the button for the lift, and was unable to avoid turning to watch her as she left, her heels clicking against the hard tile of the floor.

~ - ~

She didn’t go to Wen’s after all. She knew she should—that the company and cheer would be good for her, and the home-cooked meal wouldn’t hurt. But seeing McCoy again, knowing unequivocally that he was there (as though hearing him and seeing his name hadn’t been enough) had thrown her more than she’d expected. He looked older—far older than the mere two and some aught years should have made him appear. She’d not missed that there was a scar running just across the end of one of his eyebrows. His eyes were far more serious, even if his mouth had still seemed to have that permanent semi-smirk she’d seen the first time they’d met. And he’d just sounded weary.

She wondered if it was down to exhaustion or just general life experience. He was definitely more reserved; she had the feeling that he’d taken the spring in his step and complete confidence in himself and buried it, tucking it away as something no longer needed or wanted, and she wondered what had happened to make him do such a thing. She felt a pang of regret that she’d not thought of him terribly often, and also the sharp realisation that she was genuinely curious as to what he’d been doing in the time since they’d parted.

Dinner was procured on her walk home from the subte, the bright lights of the perpetually open chippy proving to be irresistible to her. Cheery holiday music played outside the shop, the only noise in the otherwise quiet neighbourhood, and she felt the darkness close in tight around her as she made her way back to her flat through the slush, the bag containing her meal tight in her hand.

Bruce was still out—would probably stay out all night, if not all of the next day—and she changed into a ratty pair of her old sweatpants, tugging on a too-big shirt before putting on her slippers. Dinner was eaten standing in the kitchen, her brain automatically guiding the movement of her hand from the polystyrene container to her mouth and back again, ensuring she ate even as she let her mind continue to wander.

Elias McCoy was a different man than he had been. A very different man.

Then again, maybe it was simply that he was exhausted from his job. She knew the feeling, having endured it herself when she’d first come out into field training—the perpetual wrong-footedness, the frustration with not being able to know how to do everything immediately and perfectly, the constant gnawing worry of doing something that would lead to a suspect going free on a technicality. She still felt those things, at various times, but not nearly to the degree she’d experienced at first.

She wondered if he had anyone to talk to about it—a friend, or a girlfriend, or possibly even a wife. He’d not worn a ring, but most men of his background didn’t. Or perhaps he, too, had a flatmate. Someone, at any rate, to whom he could speak, sharing the burden, releasing some of the pressure he was sure to be putting on himself. She’d had Bruce, and had found other friends; did McCoy have the same sort of group?

Surely he did. She’d seen how easily and quickly he’d befriended the comms staff, and she was fairly sure he’d at least have stayed in fair touch with his friends from the service after he left. He seemed the sort of man who could walk into a room full of strangers and have five good friends out of the group before leaving an hour later; he just had that sort of magnetism. And even if he wasn’t nearly so cocky as he had been that magnetism was still there, still surrounding him as he’d stood in the lift, eyes closed, head tilted back against the wall.

Her fingers reached for empty space and she looked down, surprised to see that she’d eaten all of her meal without remembering a single bite of it. She had to give McCoy credit—she’d spent two years rarely thinking of him, but the instant he reappeared in her life, he seemed to consume her thoughts with alarming rapidity.

She tossed the polystyrene in the dustbin and wiped down the counter, then carried her glass of lager out into the lounge. Telly was bound to be horrifyingly bad, given both the holiday and the hour, but it wouldn’t be a bad thing to watch something utterly mindless, to try to get her brain to relax enough that she’d be able to go to sleep in an hour’s time.

She fell asleep on the sofa and was awoken by the trilling of her mobile, the synthesised notes of a marimba pulling her from her dream. “Quarles,” she mumbled into it, blearily looking around her.

“You alright, Quarles?” It was Wen, and her eyes flew open as she came fully awake. A quick peek out the window showed that it was just growing light, and she looked around her, desperate to find a clock. Her watch was still where she’d left it the night before, somewhere on her dresser.

“I’m fine. What’s wrong? Am I late?”

“Didn’t hear from you last night, and Ephraim mentioned they’d worked late on their case. Figured you were the DC he was talking about when he mentioned someone listening in.”

“Yeah, ‘s me. And I’m sorry I didn’t ring, Wen—I ran into an old acquaintance, and then came home and managed to fall asleep on the sofa.”

“You’ve got about an hour to get in without being officially late,” he replied, laughing. “I’d love a very large, very black coffee for forgiveness.”

An hour. Not much time at all, given her usual ride on the subte took forty minutes. So really, she had about five minutes.

“Got it. See you then.”

She tossed the mobile aside as she leapt up, running for the small loo. Her shower was hasty enough that her hair was still dripping wet as she got dressed; she took a tentative sniff of her suit to make sure it wasn’t too vile, and tried to remember if she’d worn it the Wednesday or Thursday before. She deftly pulled her hair back into a clip, hurriedly put on only the barest bit of makeup, and then raced to collect her bag, mobile, and coat before pulling on her shoes and practically sprinting out the door.

She reached the café near the office with five minutes to go before the hour was up. There was, of course, a queue, and she swore under her breath as it crept forward, time ticking by far more quickly than she’d have liked. It was two minutes past by the time she reached the front, and she couldn’t grab the coffees fast enough, sprinting now as she raced up the hill to the office.

She was waiting for the lift, wondering if she might need another shower after her frantic dash for work, when she heard the familiar drawl behind her.

“Good morning, Detective.”

She turned, coffees clutched in her hands, and saw the Elias McCoy she’d once known, small smile pulling at his lips, his eyes bright, his hair—longer, now, than it had been—brushed to perfection.

“And you. Good evening last night?” She tried not to fidget, still cognizant of being late and eager for the lift to arrive.

“Fair enough. You?”

“Quiet one.”

“Did you meet up with your friend?” The bell dinged, and Elias gestured for her to precede him.

“No, went home instead. It’s a bit of a rare treat to get some quiet time.”

“Ah.” He pressed the button for his floor. “You’re on…?”

“Five.” She reached forward to press the button, but he beat her to it.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t more sociable last night,” he offered as the elevator jerked into motion.

“You looked tired,” she said simply. “Probably good for you to go home, unburden, and get some sleep.”

His eyebrows rose, light sparking in his eyes. “It was good to go home and get some sleep.” He glanced away from her, his attention shifting to the slowly turning numbers indicating their present floor. “Don’t live with anyone, though.”

She shifted, not sure what to say. The slow curve of his lips led her to speak, though, her voice tart as she said, “Yes, yes, very clever, you.”

He laughed lightly, leading her frown to deepen. Perhaps it had been exhaustion which had made him appear so changed the night before.

The lift fell into silence, Ruby trying very hard not to look at McCoy, willing the machine to move faster so she could get to her desk without being a full ten minutes late. Wen would give her some latitude, given that she was almost never late and she had worked a full shift the day before, but she had no desire to go borrowing trouble if it wasn’t necessary.

The lift finally reached the fifth floor, the bell merrily signalling their arrival. She prepared to flee the elevator, but was stopped by McCoy.

“I’m sorry if I’ve offended you, Ruby.” His voice was soft, and she glanced up at him to see he was in earnest.

“You haven’t.” She sighed. “Running late—very. Bit preoccupied with that.” She stepped out of the lift, turning back. “I have your card; haven’t forgotten about meeting up.”

“Good,” he said, smiling as the doors closed.

Wen was very pointedly looking at his watch when she hurried up to their desks, taking his coffee without comment.

“Won’t happen again,” she offered, chucking her coat over the back of her chair before sitting down.

“I know it won’t.” He reached for a small bundle of papers at the edge of his desk, and handed them over to her. “Give those a look, and tell me what you think.”

~ - ~

Chapter Eight
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