Title: How Things Began (9/23)
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 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9


Elias was nervous Tuesday morning, his hands actually shaking as he knotted his tie. It had dawned on him as he’d had tea with Ruby that he was still utterly, completely besotted by her, and it terrified him that she still had that much power over him, years removed from his first realization of his feelings for Ruby.

He paused as he once more remembered that day—the sound of the fight around him, the sharp lines of the radio in his cheek, the mud soaking his hair and clothes, and the utter stillness he’d experienced internally as he’d realised his feeling for Ruby. She still had that power over him, to make the outside noise go away; but she also still had the power to keep him very much off-balance.

He pulled the knot of his tie tight, deciding that it would have to do; and then he braced his hands on the cold porcelain edges of the sink, forcing himself to exhale slowly, to calm down to some degree. It was lunch. Just a meal. Time spent getting to know her as a friend—getting to know her as he’d done those many nights, simple conversation with a person whose company he enjoyed. He needed to stop putting so much pressure on himself to be effortless and calm and so many other things he wasn’t; he should instead focus on finishing getting dressed, then worry about catching the hated subte into work. He needed to take each task as it came that day, or else he’d be an utter mess until lunchtime.

He spent his morning worrying that they’d be called out to a crime scene, and was only barely able to concentrate on the tasks Ephraim had given him. Ringing witnesses, asking basic questions; he forced himself to listen carefully to them, going so far as to close his eyes and listen to the timbre of their voice as they answered his inquiries. His notes were a jumbled mess by the time he’d rung down the list, and he clenched his jaw as he made himself re-write them, his script painstakingly neat as he tried to write slowly and clearly.

“What is wrong with you, McCoy?” his mentor finally asked, leaning back in his seat, reaching over for the cricket ball. Ephraim tilted his chair back, and began to methodically toss the ball up, seeing how close he could come to the ceiling tiles without actually hitting them.

It was his favourite way to relax—and also to torment his protégé.

“Nothing,” Elias replied, rubbing his eyes.

“You’re a terrible liar.”

“Funny, I used to be a very good one.”

“Different realm. Sure you can lie with the best of them out there—” Ephraim gestured wildly towards the windows. “But in here? You’re a misery at it. What’s wrong?”

“Lunch plans.”

“Ah, with the ginger DC?”

“Ruby, Ephraim. Her name is Ruby.”

“Wen’s DC.”

“Yes.” He wondered if there was another female, ginger DC working for the Met. It was possible—there were hundreds of detectives working for the organisation.

“Heard good things about her. Heard she’s pretty, too.”

“She might be a bit…young…for you.”

“I’m more worried about my wife not approving of my taking up with someone else.” Ephraim barked at his own joke, then continued to toss the ball.

Elias shook his head, and reached for the soft rugby ball he’d brought into work, hoping Ephraim would use it for his games instead.

“Try this, eh?”

“Bah, boring. Takes the risk out of it.” Ephraim shunned the soft toy, and continued to play with the hard red ball.

Elias set it on his desk and gave it a spin, watching it as it shifted across his papers.

“Known her long?”

“Long enough.”

“Liked her that long?”

He gave a humourless smile. “Just about.”

“Why didn’t you talk to her back then?”

“I did.”

Another bark from Ephraim. “Told you no, eh?”

“You could say that.”

“Points to you for trying again, m’boy.”

Elias continued to focus on the rugby ball, giving it a firm spin every time it slowed down. It was soothing, if a bit mindless, and he felt himself slowly relax as he played with the toy.

His watch—the one he’d kept after retiring from service—vibrated, telling him he had five minutes before he was meant to meet Ruby. His nervousness returned, and he clumsily moved the ball to the side of his desk before neatening his papers.

“McCoy?”

“Aye?”

“Enjoy lunch. But when you come back, be ready to work. Can’t have you getting distracted every time something like this happens.” Ephraim looked at him from under bushy brows, reinforcing the admonition.

“Understood.”

He took a deep breath and went to find Ruby.

She was sitting at her desk, laughing at something Wen was saying; and when she turned to him, her eyes were still bright, her mouth still curved in a smile. She’d taken care with her appearance, and she looked more polished than any of the previous times he’d seen her.

She looked even more stunning than usual.

“Ah, DC McCoy. Come to claim your Ruby?”

He didn’t miss how Ruby blushed, or how she ducked her head as he replied, “It’s lunchtime, aye.”

“Enjoy yourselves. Have your mobile, Quarles?”

“In my pocket,” she grinned at Wen, patting her hip as she reached for her coat.

“Good lady. See you when you return.” The older man gave a little wave, then shifted his attention to the monitor in front of him.

“Does he ever eat?” Elias whispered as they walked away, only just remembering to help Ruby with her coat.

“I don’t think so.” She paused, adding, “Well, unless you count the livestock I’ve seen him put away.” He blinked, surprised by her humour, which in turn caused her to laugh. “It’s a joke?”

“Yeah, sorry, wasn’t expecting that so soon.”

She waited until they were in the lift, alone, to answer him. “I’m a bit giddy today—we solved one of the cases which had been bothering me.”

“Congratulations!”

She beamed. “Thank you. Spent my morning running a proper interrogation, having a grand old time.”

He tried to imagine being interrogated by the woman next to him, and felt his mouth go dry. That was, perhaps, a bad thing to think of at the moment.

“How many cases have you worked?” he asked once he’d regained his composure.

“Oh, goodness. A fair few. Solved a couple of them, as well, not necessarily with Wen’s help. Not recently, at any rate. Those first months, though…I had some very serious doubts about whether I’d ever figure it out.” Her hands were buried in her pockets again, her coat wrapped tight around her as they walked out into the icy streets.

He paused to pull on his gloves, then turned to her.

“How much time do you have?”

“’bout an hour, I think?”

“Good. I’ve got someplace to take you.” He grinned, tilting his head in the direction of the restaurant Ephraim had introduced him to a month prior. It was just down a side street, the entrance leading to an unassuming flight of stairs, which in turn led down to a surprisingly nice, airy restaurant.

Ruby laughed, delighted, as he led her up the narrow street leading to the restaurant. “The Abbey?”

“You know it?” He couldn’t help but feel disappointed.

“I do. It’s where Wen took me after my first case.” Her smile softened as she looked at him, her cheeks bright pink from the cold air. “But I’m very happy to go there with you for lunch.”

They made small talk as their coats were collected and they waited for their table, but once they were settled in one of the restaurant’s intimate booths they began to properly talk again.

“How long did it take for you and Wen to be comfortable working together?” He glanced up from the menu, his arms relaxing as he watched her.

“Oooooh.” She puffed out her cheeks, then released her breath. “Many months. Many months.” She set her menu down. “He wasn’t entirely convinced that bringing new officers in from the forces was a particularly brilliant idea. And to be honest, I wasn’t a model pupil. I still have a hard time understanding that chain of command is periodically flexible, and I’m a nightmare with names.”

“Yeah, I’d noticed,” he teased, glancing back to his menu.

“I know your name!”

“But you call me by my last.”

“I call everyone by their last!”

“Not Wen.”

“Have you seen Wen’s last name? It’s a linguist’s dream and a comms officer’s nightmare. No one calls Wen by his last name.” She shook her head, amused, and returned to looking at the menu.

The menus had been collected and their orders taken before they started talking again. “You, Elias, owe me the story of what you use your car for.”

He felt a chill at her use of his name, even if it was teasing. “I do, don’t I?” He took a long drink from his water glass to settle himself. “I go out of the city.”

“Clearly.”

“The uncle—Duncan, who I told you about last time—lives just east of here, along the Thames. So I go visit them a fair bit; at some point I suppose I’ll clean the last of my things out of their house.”

“Sorry?”

“I stayed there when I first moved down here—it was easier. So I know my way in that direction pretty well, and could even tell you the best pubs.”

“You use your car to visit your uncle.”

“It’s not so unbelievable!”

“It’s very…sweet.”

“Damned by faint praise!” She grinned, and he continued. “I’ve done a bit of exploring west of here, too.”

“More relatives to visit?”

“An ex-girlfriend, actually.”

Ruby’s eyebrows rose practically to her hairline. “Oh?”

“An ex-girlfriend who is happily married and has a child by her husband. Thank you kindly.”

“One never knows.”

“You’d have heard about it if I had any children. And odds are I’d still be with the mother, no matter what.” He had a roll in his hand, and was buttering it rather violently as he spoke.

“I’m sure you’d have done right by her,” Ruby replied gently. “And by the babe. I’m sorry you thought I was questioning that.”

He eased up on the poor roll, and finally set his knife down on the bread plate. “I’m no saint, Ruby. Not by a long shot. But I do have some ethics.”

“I know.” Her voice was very soft, and he glanced up to find her staring at his hands. He was surprised when her gaze flicked up to meet his. “I’m very sorry.”

“Give me a chance, Ruby.”

She let out a laugh, the sound derisive, startling him. He set the roll aside, reaching for his napkin and fully prepared to leave.

“I should be saying that to you, don’t you think? I…I can’t seem to be civil to you, when you’ve been nothing short of kind to me this past week.” Her voice was low as she spoke.

“I seem to recall there were issues between us before then.”

“That’s well in the past, though. Isn’t it?” She tilted her head, peering intently at him.

“I don’t think it is.”

Their food was served, the waitress cheerily asking if they required anything else before leaving them alone.

“I still owe you an apology, I think.” He ignored his food, preferring to watch Ruby instead.

“For what?”

“For being an appalling sod. For…” He swallowed. “For kissing you. For not according you the respect you deserved.”

“Eli…that was years ago.” She sighed, slumping against the booth. He didn’t have the heart to tell her he hated the nickname Eli; he was simply happy she was calling him something other than McCoy. “It’s just…I really enjoyed talking with you on those nights; they were some of the best conversations I had, working there. And I was so, so excited to meet you, this charming man who seemed to be bloody near perfect. And then you weren’t, and I was an utter idiot, and I just…it was easier to move on and not look back.”

“I couldn’t stop thinking about you,” he confessed, suddenly fascinated by the salad on his plate.

“Really?” Her tone sounded baffled. “About how awful I was, I’m sure.”

“No!” He glanced up, saw she appeared to be equally fascinated by the tablecloth. “You weren’t what I’d hoped, I’ll grant you that, but what you said…it stuck.”

“We were both suffering from disappointed expectations, then.”

“I’d pictured you as brunette.”

She laughed, her reaction mystifying him. “I knew it!” She giggled, utterly amused. “I had the advantage of knowing it was you from the start, and was able to watch you that night. You couldn’t take your eyes off of Elizabeth.”

“I thought she was you.”

“You couldn’t pay me to be brunette,” Ruby sniffed, genuinely affronted by the idea.

“I can’t imagine you as one. Ever.”

She paused a beat. “Do you realise how unnervingly charming you can be?” The question was casually asked as she reached for her silverware.

“Sorry?”

“You. Charming. You’ve got it in spades.”

“I’ve been accused of it, yes. By you, as I recall.”

“It’s a little off-putting.”

“Er…shall I stop?”

She laughed again, and he wondered what part of the conversation he was missing. “I don’t think you could if you wanted to.”

“I really haven’t a clue what to say to that.”

“It’s my way of trying to tell you why I’m never quite sure how to behave around you.”

“Oh.” He reached for his own silverware, deciding perhaps he was hungry after all. He paused, resting his hands on the table. “Ruby, I’m not going to change who I am. Not even for you.”

She gazed levelly at him, finally saying softly, “Quite right.”

The lunch cleared the air between them, much to his relief. He’d not actually realised just how much tension there had been until after it was gone, and he felt a good two stone lighter when he returned to work an hour later. He was able to concentrate, much to Ephraim’s relief, and he felt happier than he had in months.

He snuck down to see Ruby on his way out at the end of the day, and fought back his disappointment when told that she and Wen had gone out for some fieldwork. He hunted around her desk for a proper bit of paper—her regular handwriting was, indeed, appalling, and seemed to cover every single scrap on her desk—and finally gave up, pulling a piece from his small notebook. He thought long and hard before jotting a short note, thought even longer and harder about where to leave it so she could find it, and then made his way home to his flat north of the city.

He tossed his coat across the back of the ratty sofa he had used to split the room in half, the piece of furniture inherited from his uncle’s sister-in-law when he’d moved. It faced a small television, an aerial hanging haphazardly off one side in order to get the best reception. The low coffee table was nearly bare, beer mats from various pubs he’d visited stacked as neatly as possible in a corner. His bed was to the right, a mattress and box springs supported by an ancient bed frame which he’d also inherited. The nightstands were proper pieces of furniture, bought at a car boot sale a few months before along with the matching lamps. Books were arranged on a shelf above the always-made bed, with a few of them piled on the floor below the nightstands.

He needed to find a proper home for those books; he hated having the place look cluttered.

His clothes were crammed into the closet, spilling over into the portable wardrobe he’d purchased when he realised that his suits needed a bit of room if there were going to remain unwrinkled. As he habitually did he changed out of his suit first, hanging it up before tossing his shirt into the laundry hamper, his tie getting hung over the door to the closet. He pulled on a pair of jeans, grabbed a long-sleeved t-shirt from the neatly folded pile on the shelf in his closet, and made his way over to the kitchen which occupied a corner of the room. He made pasta for dinner, tossing in the least sad-looking of the veg from his fridge, and then settled onto the sofa to watch whatever he was able to receive on the aerial that night.

His mobile was still in his coat pocket, and he felt it vibrate against his back while he slowly ate his supper. With a bit of wiggling and twisting he was able to get his hand into the coat pocket, to pull it out before it rolled over to voicemail. “McCoy,” he answered, returning his attention to the grainy match currently showing on his telly.

“Hello. It’s, ah, Ruby.”

“I’d know that voice anywhere,” he answered, grinning.

She laughed. “I should have known. I got your note.”

“You found it in that mess?”

“Oi! I don’t criticise your desk when I visit, do I?”

“You’ve seen it once.”

“You sure about that?” Her voice was playful, taking him back to their original conversations. He’d missed that.

“You’d have mentioned if you’d seen it more. It’s alright—Wen’s was worse.”

“So rude,” she muttered, her complaint ruined by the amusement in her voice.

“But charming.”

“I’m going to regret calling you that, aren’t I?”

“I think you already do.”

“Insufferable.”

“Incorrigible.”

“Flirt.”

“Always. What’d you think of the note?”

“Your penmanship was glorious and your spelling was perfect. And it was very neatly done.”

“What’d you think of the contents of the note?”

“I think you were asking me on a date.”

“What if I was?” Her silence indicated she’d not been expecting that, and he felt his smile grow.

“I’d say…maybe,” she finally answered.

“Maybe?”

“Maybe.”

“I offer you a trip in my fine automobile—a veritable extension of my character—and you say, ‘maybe’?”

“Maybe.” She was just winding him up now; he could hear it in her voice.

“Maybe I won’t offer again.”

“Maybe you won’t.”

“Maybe I’ll rescind the offer.”

“Maybe you will.” She was laughing now. “But don’t—I’d love to go. It’s just that I need to double-check something.”

“Ah. Hide the skeletons, that sort of thing.”

“You know you’ve not got any better at trying to draw information out of me, these past years. I’ll have an answer for you tomorrow.”

“Then why’d you call tonight?”

“Because you said to in your beautifully crafted piece of artistry.”

“Smartarse.”

“Better than the alternative. Expect your answer in the morning.”

“I look forward to it.”

“I bet you do.” She laughed as she rang off, a delightful sound.

He was grinning like an absolute idiot when he set his phone down and returned his attention to supper.

His answer was—as promised—waiting for him when he got to work the next morning, the piece of paper neatly folded and tucked under his pen. He laughed when he opened it, the note written in painfully precise print, each line exactly the same length.

She’d one-upped his haiku.

The important thing, though, was that she’d agreed to take a day trip with him, to trust him enough to get in his car. He’d told her she could pick the place; she, interestingly, had opted for the tall ships in Portsmouth. Even more interesting, though, was that she’d trusted him enough to give him her address.

He couldn’t seem to stop grinning as he hung his coat on the coat rack, as his jacket took its place on the back of his chair. By the time Ephraim arrived an hour later, just before their shift officially started, he was practically whistling as he worked, a pile of completed reports already stacked at the edge of his desk.

“Good night, I take it?” Ephraim asked, leaning forward to turn on his computer.

“Good morning.” He grinned at his mentor, then returned his attention to the case notes in his hand.

Just two more days, and he’d be picking Ruby up at her flat. He couldn’t wait.

~ - ~

Chapter Ten
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