Title: How Things Began (10/23)
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 these past months.



Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10


Ruby was up early on Friday, unable to sleep for the excitement she felt for her day with Elias. She’d kept his note, the neatly creased piece of paper with his even writing tucked in the mirror over her small bureau.

A wintry Friday,
My car, your choice of escape.
Ring with your answer.


She’d laughed when she’d read it, shaking her head in delighted amusement; she couldn’t wait to pick up the phone, to ring him simply to tease him.

It had been amazing how much that lunch had changed things; how simply talking about the things which had been bothering the both of them, apparently, had levelled things between them. She’d seen him a few times since the lunch, generally passing in the lobby or on the lift, and each time she’d felt her heart skip, a smile coming unbidden to her lips as he’d smile in greeting at her.

It was as though her mind had finally given her heart permission to like him again, to view him as she had before she’d first met him. She knew better, of course, than to think he was some perfect creature of her dreams; but she also knew that in being flawed, he was infinitely more interesting than she ever could have imagined.

And now she was coming perilously close to running late, lost in her happy musings on the man who would be at her front door in just a few short minutes. She checked her hair one last time, made sure her makeup wasn’t on too heavily and that there was nothing stuck in her teeth. She took a step back, smoothed the heavy wool of her jumper, the denim of her jeans, then gave a short nod. She reached for her wind cheater —used mainly for running through the neighbourhood—triple-checked that she had her mobile and wallet, and decided she was as ready as she’d be.

“See you tonight, Bruce!” she called, interrupting the off-key singing coming from the loo .

“I’ll be disappointed if you come home!” he replied.

She laughed, and left the flat.

She realised, as she stood on the pavement before the Georgian building housing her flat, that she had absolutely no idea what kind of car Elias drove. Something small and flash, perhaps, that would get up to speed in the blink of an eye. They all drove cars like that, the boys from the teams.

A small, grey car whipped around the corner then slowed , and as it approached she could see Elias peering out, looking at building numbers. She grinned, her heart speeding up even as she suddenly felt terribly shy. The feeling intensified when he spotted her standing on the other side of the line of parked cars along the pavement, and he came to a smooth stop just before her.

He was beaming, leaning across the passenger seat to open the door for her. As she slid in, he apologised. “I’d have got out and opened it for you, but I don’t want to hold up traffic.”

She laughed, belting herself in as she watched him. “The street is a street in name only—most people only use it for parking.”

“Now you tell me.”

“Now you know. I appreciate the sentiment, though.”

His grin deepened. “Still on for Portsmouth?”

“Unless we see something more interesting on the drive down.”

“Sounds reasonable.”

He navigated them out of the neighbourhood, then effortlessly forced his way into traffic. She tried not to grab onto the handle before her, tried to trust that he’d surely not get them into a traffic accident on what was their first date, but she was unable to stifle a gasp as he performed a remarkable feat of derring-do involving slaloming between parked and turning cars .

“Trust me,” he said, glancing over at her.

“Right,” she replied slowly, her gaze riveted to the road in front of them.

He got them out of London without causing damage to anything, and she slowly relaxed once they were on the orbital, the car whizzing along at a speed somewhere near the upper edges of legal. Elias appeared to be completely relaxed and yet intently focused on the traffic, his eyes scanning the road before them, both hands resting on the steering wheel.

“Where’d you learn to drive?” she asked, deciding he was still most likely up for conversation.

“Home.” He glanced over at her. “And I might have received a bit of training on it in the old life.”

“That explains that.”

“I’ll have you know, Miss Quarles, that I’ve yet to have a traffic accident.”

“Seriously?” She couldn’t quite believe that.

“Seriously. I’m a very good driver. An excellent one, in fact.”

“Have any of your passengers ever expired from fear?”

“My mum has forsworn riding with me,” he admitted, easing off the accelerator slightly.

“Your father must be made of stern stuff.”

“He thought it a good thrill, when he was still alive.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. He lived a good life, died happily in his bed of old age.”

“Er….how old was he?”

“Past eighty.”

She made a silent “oh” of response, which of course he didn’t miss.

“Second marriage for da, and he remarried a young thing. Mum was happy, so was he.”

“Just you?”

“Just me. But more cousins and aunties and uncles than you could imagine.”

“Thus the uncle down here.”

“Exactly. Most of da’s family are still in Scotland. Mum’s, though—they’re all over.”

“Is your mum English?”

“Perish the thought. Proper Scots, the lot of us.” He switched into his brogue.

She laughed. “Why d’you stick with the Estuary accent?”

“It’s easier.”

“But you sound better with the brogue.”

His eyes skated over to where she sat. “Was that an unequivocal compliment?”

“Yes,” she replied, determined not to be embarrassed by the statement of fact.

“I can use it, if you prefer, when we’re together.”

“Can you do that? Flip between them?”

“Of course. Can’t you?”

“What makes you think I have another accent?”

“Oh, you do—you’ve always done, I’ve just not been able to work it out. Besides, I’ve yet to meet a Londoner who’d choose to holiday along Morecambe.” He was in full brogue now, his voice taking on a warmer timbre than she was used to.

“That’s just being stereotypical.”

He grinned. “And as you’re not going to tell me where you’re from, I shall just have to guess.”

“Go on, then.”

“You’re from the north. English, which is a pity as Scots is far superior , but it’s not your choice, where you were born.”

“Snob.”

“You’re simply jealous of my fine heritage.” He continued to grin, clearly enjoying himself. “Not from the northeast, either, your rhythm’s all wrong for that. I’m thinking Cumbria or Lancashire, but no further south.”

“Why do you think that?”

“Because you went to Morecambe. Frequently, as I recall.”

“Perhaps I had relatives up there.”

“Ah, but I recall you saying it was a friend’s auntie.”

“You never holidayed with mates?”

“And then you mentioned carrying cockles home to your mum.”

“Your recall of our conversations is slightly alarming.”

“My memory has got me out of trouble more than once; it tends to retain all sorts of odd little facts.”

“Is it photographic?”

“No. And don’t try to change the conversation.”

“I was curious!”

“It was a handy distraction for you. Now, if you lived close enough to the bay to carry cockles home and not get sick from them, I’m going to say you’re a Lancashire lass.”

She remained quiet, determined not to give him a smile for an answer.

“I won’t hold it against you, you know, if you are. Nobody’s perfect.”

“Oi!”

Another grin was aimed in her direction. “Why do you keep it secret?”

She sighed. “I don’t keep it secret. I just don’t tell many people.”

“Why?”

“I just…don’t.”

“Ah.” He moved into the deceleration lane, then exited onto the motorway which would carry them southwest to Portsmouth.

He remained silent, apparently content to watch the road in peace. But she, once again, felt the need to speak. “My family are still up there.”

“Are they?” he replied mildly, glancing over to her. “Ruby, you don’t have to tell me, if you don’t want to.”

“No, it’s alright.” She sighed, turning a bit in her seat so she could look at him without having to turn her head. “I just … that’s my old life. People there … I go home now, and they really have no idea who I am. I think my da is still a bit upset with me, that I chose to enlist rather than go to uni.”

“Where would ye have gone?”

“Durham. Had an unconditional for English; almost accepted it, too.”

“Do you regret not?”

“Some days. But not today.”

His smile was genuine as he glanced over to her. “I’m happy to hear it.”

They lapsed back into silence, the miles melting away as they sped along. The sky remained low and grey, the fields around them a mid-winter brown. As she stared out the window, she thought—not for the first time—of how her life might have been different if she’d gone to uni. She’d probably be a teacher somewhere; or maybe she’d have taken up writing. Maybe she’d have met a nice bloke and settled down, living a conventional life in a conventional house in a conventional village. Maybe, if she’d been lucky, she’d have found a way to use her degree to travel somewhere, perhaps studying in Italy or even America, learning more about the writers whose work she most enjoyed.

She was fairly sure that if she’d sat her degree, she’d not have ended up in London working for the Met. Which in turn would have meant not being in a car speeding southwest, Elias McCoy at the wheel.

She was terribly fond of him, especially of the newer version of him: still charming, still cocky every now and again, but much more settled. She felt a pang of regret at the idea of not ever meeting him, either the man she’d met years before or the one currently driving them to Portsmouth.

No, she had no regrets at the moment about the path she’d chosen.

Portsmouth, when they arrived, was blanketed in a low fog, the heavy whiteness muting everything about the town. Elias followed the signs to the tourist attractions—driving, she noted, far more carefully than he had in London—and found them a parking spot not far from where the tall ships were moored along the waterfront.

“The signs say there’s something to be seen over there—” He gestured in the direction of the water. “But I can’t see a bloody thing.” He grinned. “Care to chance it nonetheless?”

“Why not?” She smiled, and froze. His grin had faded, his eyes now looking at her lips; she felt her breath shorten, felt a frisson of electricity pass through her. If he kissed her—and he looked like he was giving the idea some serious thought—she wasn’t quite sure what she’d do. “Shall we go?” she asked softly, pulling his attention back to her eyes.

“Aye!” He rushed out of the car, hurrying around to meet her as she opened her door and got out of the car. “Here I was, trying to be a gentleman,” he groused.

“Move faster next time, McCoy,” she advised.

“I think I shall,” he murmured . He shook his head, taking a step back, and then glanced around them. “I’ll just make sure we’re paid up for a wee while, shall I?”

“Okay.” She watched as he hurried off to find the pay station, unable to keep from smiling once more. He was—as she had told him over and over again—utterly charming. And, she realised, she was in very great danger of falling for him.

~ - ~

It had been so tempting to kiss her, the thought almost overwhelming every other idea in his mind. She’d seen it, too, her eyes widening slightly as she watched him, her own smile fading a bit as her eyes darted between his lips and his eyes.

And then she’d broken the thrall, thankfully; he might be desperate to give her a proper kiss, but it would have been all wrong. She was only just trusting him, and kissing her … well, it would have felt a bit too much like taking advantage. No, far better to simply forget the idea altogether and focus instead on simply enjoying the moment with her.

He’d had to force himself to put that policy into immediate action as he was, once again, tempted to kiss her outside the car. As he hurried to find the pay station he forced himself to take slow breaths, muttering to himself that he needed to get a firm grip on his emotions if the day was to not be a disaster.

It was challenging, though; she’d opened up to him in the car, telling him more in the hour and a half ride than she had in the entire time he’d known her. She’d relaxed, as well, feeling comfortable enough to give him a true compliment—and one which still made his heart skip just a bit. He only ever spoke in his native accent when he was home; he wondered if she’d think it amusing or if she’d actually enjoy it if he chose to use it during their trip.

Only one way to find out, really. He made a mental note to lose the London accent that day, to not worry about flattening out his r’s or mellowing his vowels. He’d just be himself, Elias McCoy of Carsethorn.

He paid for several hours’ parking then returned to where Ruby waited for him, her arms crossed. The fog made it difficult to see much of anything, but that didn’t appear to be keeping her from trying, her eyes slowly moving across the faint outlines of the buildings near them. He slipped the parking receipt onto his dash, made sure the car was locked, and then joined her. “Been here before?” he asked, shoving his hands into his pockets.

“No—always wanted to.”

“Are ye saying you used my conveyance to fulfil a dream?”

“Would it offend you if I said yes?”

“Only mildly.”

She laughed. “It was a good combination—guaranteed good company and a trip to a place I’d not been. Thank you.”

“You’re quite welcome. Not sure ye’ll be thanking me later; I’ve nae been here myself. We may both end up a bit lost.”

“’s alright. I won’t blame you if it happens.” She unfolded her arms, tucking her hands into the pockets of her wind cheater.

“I’ll remember that later.”

She laughed.

They found their way to the Victory with little trouble, nearly every sign in the town pointing the way to the ship. Her bulk was easy to see where they paid their entry fee—or, rather, where Ruby insisted on paying their entry fee, pointing out that he’d driven—but her masts disappeared in the fog, creating something of a slightly odd appearance.

They weren’t alone on the ship but it felt like it, the voices of the other visitors muted as they explored. They spent two hours on board, Ruby insisting on seeing every square inch of it, grinning almost the entire time, her eyes gazing around them with wonder as she gently stroked a hand across a low beam below decks or as she tested out a hammock in one of the exhibits. She crouched down behind cannon, gazing along the barrels as she mused about how painfully loud it must have been to stand next to one as it fired, and she continued to grin as they reached the lowest deck—the hold—smiling back at him as he bent practically double in the harsh artificial light used to illuminate the windowless space.

It was once they were back up in the orlop that she paused, her smile fading. “Are you having fun?” They were in a small corner of the deck, just the two of them, and he felt his heart race as she gazed up at him, her eyes expressing her worry that perhaps he wasn’t having as good a time as she was.

No. He wasn’t going to kiss her. No, no, no. No matter how impossibly tempting it was, her chin tilted up, her body close enough that he could do it…

No.

“I’m having a lovely time.” He forced a smile, took a deep breath as he dragged his eyes away from her. “I’d, ah, not really studied naval history. I had no idea how large the ships were.”

“It’s amazing, isn’t it? But then you think about how many men actually lived on here, all of the time, and it seems a bit claustrophobic.”

“Why didn’t you sign up for the navy?”

“D’you promise not to laugh?”

“I can’t imagine laughing at anything you tell me in earnest.” He looked back at her, meeting her warm gaze.

“I get seasick.”

“Ah, yes. That could be something which the navy might not appreciate.” He made himself look away again, and take a step back. He felt entirely too warm standing so close to her.

“Yeah. Fortunately for you, though, I don’t get carsick.”

“And we’re back to disparaging my driving.”

“Not disparaging. Merely observing.”

“Hm.”

“You’re my ride home—I’d not slag you off until we were well back to London.” She gave him a sly smile as he looked back to her, leading him to shake his head.

“Terrible woman.”

“I’ve been called worse.”

“I’d believe it.”

He followed her as she wound her way back up to the quarterdeck, the fresh air welcome after being below decks for so long, the muted white of the fog almost painfully bright. He found a convenient spot against which to lean and watched as she slowly made her way around the deck one last time, her hand again trailing across wood—the rails, the mast, even the rigging. He tried not to think of what it would be like for her to do that to him, her fingertips brushing against his skin.

No. No, no, no.

He swallowed, leaning back, his head resting against the mast as he stared straight up it. It was dizzying, the lines of the rigging angling in to meet the yards in a riot of vectors . He tried to imagine climbing up there; making his way up in the dark, the ship rolling under him. He’d have no doubt fallen to his death, and he thanked the fates for seeing fit to keep him on land.

“Ready to go?” Ruby’s voice came from his left, and he glanced down from where he’d been trying to find some blue sky to discover her standing almost against him.

He took a step back, unfolding his arms and putting his hands in his pockets, wilfully ignoring the urge to take her hand as he nodded. “Care for a wee snackie?”

She nodded slowly, and joined him in walking to the ramp leading to the quay.

~ - ~

Chapter Eleven
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