Title: How Things Began (11/23)
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: A short chapter—but a pivotal one.

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 | Chapter 11


Lunch was delayed briefly by a turn around the shop they were forced to exit through, Ruby gazing at a variety of the nautical items for sale before shaking her head. “Trying to stop collecting things—not enough room,” she said as she turned to the exit.

“How about as holiday gifts?”

“What, for next year?”

“It’s never too early to start shopping,” Elias advised, keeping a straight face.

“You are utterly mad.” She laughed, leading the way out of the shop.

They ate at a small café further along the water, the large window providing what was certainly a postcard-worthy view on most days. They chatted easily as they ate their small meals, and by the time they exited patches of blue were becoming visible above them.

“Care to stay and hope the fog burns the rest of the way off?” he asked, his hands once again in his pockets.

She glanced at her watch, then gave a shake of her head. “Probably best to get back, at least to your car. Have to be coming up against the time limit there.”

He’d forgotten about that.

The car wasn’t too far away, and he let out a sigh of relief as he returned to find it free of a ticket and a parking boot. A quick glance at the receipt showed he’d paid for four hours, so he’d not have to worry about a ticket appearing in the post, either.

He opened Ruby’s door first, earning him a small grin; he held it as she slid into the car, then gently closed it once she was settled. He used the walk around the car to take a few last, deep breaths of cold air, then steeled himself for the drive back. He could make it without reaching over to take her hand, surely. He just had to make sure both hands stayed on the steering wheel for the entirety of the drive.

He’d planned to take the motorway back to the city, following the route they’d taken on the drive down. Ruby, however, surprised him again, turning to him as he navigated his way out of town.

“D’you have an A to Z?”

“Of course.”

“Up for an adventure?”

“Always.”

“How about we take the A roads back. Or even the B roads?”

“Are you that terrified of my motorway driving skills?”

“If I was completely terrified of your driving, I’d be suggesting we take the fastest—and straightest—route. Possibly even to the train station.”

“You’re truly a brave woman.”

“Or foolish. You up for it?”

“Of course I am. The B-roads are great for a car that corners well.” He grinned. “The map is in the back seat.”

He tried not to inhale deeply as the scent of her shampoo washed around him, released as she turned in her seat and rummaged for the map. And he held his breath as she brushed against him, her hand resting now on the side of his seat as she strained for the book.

She emerged triumphant and began to page through to find the right map.

“How long have you had this?” she asked suspiciously, frowning as she looked at the tattered corners.

“Er…a fair while.”

“Let’s be clear, then—if we get lost going back, it’s not my fault. I can only do so much with bad maps.”

His smile fell, his mind rushing back to the glen, to Robert and the Lieutenant and death raining down around him. That had been the primary discovery, after—that the maps they’d been provided had been so bad that the entire cartography section had had to be re-assigned, all of the maps of the border pulled, all of the teams ordered back from where they were.

“Elias?” Ruby’s voice pulled him back, her hand resting on his arm. He’d stopped the car—fortunately having the good sense to pull off to the side of the road—and he dropped his hands from the wheel.

He felt as though he’d been running a race, his chest tight, his face warm.

“Are you alright?” Her fingers—cool and divine—rested against his cheek, then his forehead. She’d unbuckled herself at some point, had shifted so she was facing him as much as possible. “You look terrible.”

“Aye.” He wished he’d thought to have some water in the car. He could murder a bottle of the stuff right now.

“Do you want to get out? Walk, maybe? Or get a drink? I could go find something.”

He shifted his focus to outside the car, noting the neighbourhood they were in appeared to be on the lower end of ‘bad’. “No. I—it’s nothing. I’ll be fine.”

He cracked his window, glancing down to find he’d not shifted out of third when he’d pulled over. He moved the gearshift to first, glanced into his mirrors, and pulled back onto the road.

Ruby was slow to move, finally turning to sit properly in her seat, pulling on her lap belt, watching him almost the entire time. He felt the heat pass, knew he’d be fine when the inevitable clamminess followed.

It wasn’t the first time that had happened to him, and it wouldn’t be the last.

Ruby finally stopped gazing at him, instead quietly picking the map book up from where she’d placed or dropped it in the floor well. She remained quiet as she leafed through it, finding the right map, double-checking their location as they passed some signs for turning west.

“Do you want traditional A roads, or dual carriageway?” she asked after peering intently at the map.

He felt a flash of relief that she’d not enquired further after how he was feeling, but the relief was soon overtaken by pique that she’d accepted his brush off.

“Which did you have in mind?” The pique had carried over to his tone, and he felt nothing but regret as her face fell.

“You’re the driver—what are you up for?”

He sighed, then had an idea as he saw they were approaching a service station. “I think I’m up for a drink and a stretch, and then we’ll figure it out.”

He pulled into the forecourt, deciding he may as well put petrol in his car while they were there. Ruby remained in the car, her eyes riveted to the map as he filled the tank. He went inside, buying two bottles of water and two pieces of the sad-looking fruit they had in the chilled case, and asked the man working the counter if there was anywhere nearby that had a place to stop and eat. It was a relief to learn there was a lay-by not two miles up the road, and he felt a bit better as he returned to the car, handing Ruby the carrier bag which held his purchases.

“Just going to pop up the road. Then I’ll make good on that promise.”

She nodded slowly, setting the bag on the floor by her discarded wind cheater before staring out the window.

The lay-by was small but did have some picnic tables, and he was happy to see they’d have it to themselves. Ruby glanced at him as he pulled over, but refrained from asking him the question she so plainly had.

“I do need that drink, and I think some fresh air would be nice,” he said softly. “There’s enough in there for two, if you’re up for joining me.” He’d not really doubted she would, but it was still a relief when she unbuckled her belt and joined him outside of the car, carrier bag in her hand.

He straddled the bench on one side of the table, silently asking her for the bag and unpacking its contents as she sat on the other side. “The fruit was a bit dodgy, but I needed something to eat—take your pick of what you might like.”

She chose the spotty banana, leaving him the bruised apple; he cracked open his bottle of water before reaching into his pocket for the penknife he always carried.

“Did you know that I was almost killed, after you left?” he asked without preamble.

“That was you.”

“It was.”

“I’m so sorry, Elias.” Her hand once again moved to rest on his forearm.

“You asked why I left—that pretty much did it.” She squeezed his arm. “I still … it’s still there. Some days more than others. Not always up here, mind—” He tapped his forehead. “More back here.” He rapped the back of his skull. “Just takes the right combination of things to shift it, and it’s always a bit of a shock when it pops up.”

Her hand moved to take his, her fingers threading through his. “Do you ever talk about it?”

He shook his head, looking at their joined hands. “Sometimes. There’s still a doc I see—another reason to have the car.” He gave her a small smile as he glanced up. “It’s not as bad as it used to be. Moving down here, changing jobs—that helped.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

He sighed, once more staring at where her fingers wove with his. “No, not really.”

“’K.” She squeezed his hand. “If you do, though—to someone not a doc—I’m here.”

“Thank you.” He whispered the words.

They sat in silence for a while, the sound of cars periodically whishing by providing the soundtrack, and then he finally decided he really ought to release her hand and eat the fruit in front of him.

“I’ll be fine, Ruby,” he said as he noted her gazing intently at him.

“I just worry about you.”

“It’s appreciated.” He reached for his knife, neatly halving the apple before quartering it.

“’s that where you got your scar?” she finally asked, her banana halfway consumed.

“Which one?” he asked drily.

“Oh!” She’d clearly not considered that he might have more than one, and blushed at the idea. “I meant on your eyebrow.” She reached forward, her hand hovering in the air between them before dropping to break off another piece of banana.

“As a matter of fact, it was.” He gave her a small smile. “I think it’s from when I landed face-first on the dirt.”

That earned a quirk of her lips in return. “You’re supposed to lie and say you got it heroically.”

“I think I have plenty of other ones that suit on that front.”

She tossed the rest of the banana aside, pulling her water to her. “How badly were you hurt?”

“I got off the lightest.”

She weighed her next question carefully. “How angry were you, about that?”

“That I was the least injured? Fairly upset. But not as upset as I was about why it had happened in the first place.”

“I can only imagine. I was pretty furious, reading about it.”

“You have a copy of the report.”

“Unofficially.”

“Remind me to send you the official version sometime—the one with the personalised cover letter. If you enjoy a good fit of anger, it’ll make your day.” He gave her a droll smile, having quickly learned that humour was about the only way to keep from falling into a bleak fury for the rest of his life.

He finished his apple, scooping the seeds and bits of core into his hand before carrying them over to the dustbin chained helpfully to a post near the tarmac. Ruby followed, depositing her banana peel as he held the lid open for her. She didn’t move after he dropped the lid back down, her eyes gazing at, he suspected, the scar over his left eye.

She surprised him when she stepped closer to him, her right hand reaching up, her fingers lightly brushing across it, causing his eyes to drift shut.

He wanted to kiss her so badly his entire body ached.

“I’m glad you made it out,” she said softly, her fingers vanishing from where they’d touched him. He opened his eyes to find she’d taken a step back, both hands now cradling her half-empty bottle of water.

“So am I.” He finished his own beverage, turning to deposit the now-empty bottle in the bin as well, then nodded towards his car. “Ready for the return journey?”

“You haven’t said how you’d like to go back yet.” She joined him as he walked, taking him by surprise as her hand captured his.

“I hadn’t actually considered it.”

“Then let’s look at the map.” She smiled gently up at him, and swung their joined hands between them.

~ - ~

Chapter Twelve
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