sariagray: (TW: Suzie Light)
[personal profile] sariagray
Title: This is my letter to the World that never wrote to Me
Recipient: [ profile] golden_d
Author: [ profile] sariagray
Rating: PG
Characters/Pairings: Suzie Costello, Jack Harkness, OCs
Spoilers and Warnings: NA. Spoilers for Everything Changes and They Keep Killing Suzie.
Summary: Like most women, Suzie Costello was once just a little girl. This is her story.
Beta: [ profile] analineblue and [ profile] queenfanfiction
Author Notes: I’d like to thank [ profile] golden_d for the [ profile] tw_femficfest prompt, “The first time Suzie discovers Emily Dickinson.” It was a really fun character study to explore, and it let me play, which is always fun. I hope this story satisfies! I’d also like to thank [ profile] analineblue for being the other half of my fic-brain and patiently looking this over about ten times in every incarnation, from scribbled off-hand notes to polished story. Finally, a thank you to [ profile] queenfanfiction for reading this over and offering such wonderful encouragement and cheerleading and giving me faith in my ideas and words. Without any of you, this thing would NOT exist. Also, I’m posting now, because it’s November 1st in New Zealand and I’ve decided that I’m from there today. (And tomorrow’s going to be frightfully busy.) So don’t think you slept through Halloween or anything. And don’t hate me. **Poetry is from Emily Dickinson. Not me.**

This is my letter to the World that never wrote to Me

To fill a Gap
Insert the Thing that caused it –
Block it up
With Other – and ‘twill yawn the more –
You cannot solder an Abyss
With Air.

Back in India, just after independence from British rule had been established, Jishnu Rangarajan was born. He grew up, received a proper British education, and fell in love with literature. He married a good Vaishya woman who lived down the street, moved to London to pursue his studies, and had a daughter, all before turning thirty. He spent hours in his study every day, smoked a pipe like Sherlock Holmes, and used a proper cane like Detective Dupin.

His daughter had no idea what any of this meant, but she accepted it all in the same way that she accepted her mother dabbing red powder on her forehead from a small metal pot every morning.

Her father’s study, hidden away in the finished basement, was full of books – mostly old, stuffy things with dark leather bindings and tissue-thin pages. She wasn’t allowed to touch them with her grubby fingers, but she wasn’t bothered much by it; the words were small and light and there were no pictures. The books were heavy, too. Mrs. Stuart, back in Year 1, had said that books come from trees, and she was pretty sure that her father owned a whole forest’s worth. Which was a bit of a shame, really, because she liked forests more than books. Forests were quiet and shaded and cool, and they smelled of wet earth and green things. Rama went into the forest, with Sita and Lakshmana, and maybe Hanuman, too, but she couldn’t remember. Anyway, that holy exile made the forest special.

The books were kept out of reach, up impossibly high on towering shelves that her mother would dust every evening as the girl got underfoot and asked an endless stream of questions.

“What’s in them?”


“What stories?”

“All sorts, Chinna Kutti. Stories about everything.”

“Like what?”

Volcanoes be in Siciliy
And South America
I judge from my Geography –
Volcanoes nearer here
A Lava step at any time
Am I inclined to climb –
A Crater I may contemplate
Vesuvius at Home.

Her father had always made his desire for a son well known. “If only you were a boy,” he’d say, his disappointment disguised by a sickly affectionate smile of stained, crooked teeth and paired with a pat on the head, as though she were a clever pet.

One night, when she was still young enough to be otherwise oblivious to such things, she crept into the kitchen for a glass of milk after a bad dream. From the crack in the doorway, she saw her father strike her mother across the cheek. He shouted that she couldn’t give him “a proper heir, a son” and her mother sobbed foreign words like “inebriate” and “alcoholic.” Wariness turned into an outright fear that guided her, fleet-footed, back to the safety of her bed and her pile of stuffed toys. At some point during the endless night, that fear fossilized into a hard, small knot of anger.

Days later, she snuck into his study and copied out the first sloka in her sloppy child’s hand, Valmiki’s words a stark accusation in the shuddering curve of her script. “You will find no rest for the long years of Eternity, for you killed a bird in love and unsuspecting.” It didn’t make much sense to her then, but her mother had once said that it was a curse; that was good enough for her. Her father never mentioned the note, but she found the crumpled square of paper in his waste basket the following evening.

Tense years went by in steady cycles, and they all orbited each other like suspicious planets, keeping their distance and spinning on their own axes. When she was fifteen, her father disappeared on a bright summer morning only to resurface a week later in India between the thighs of his mistress and with over £100,000 of accrued debt that he’d been hiding for years. Her mother filed for divorce and remarried a nice Italian ex-pat, Marco, who she’d met during her evening course on real estate.

After that, the girl was no longer Susita Rangarajan, but Suzie Costello.

Over the fence –
Strawberries – grow –
Over the fence –
I could climb – if I tried, I know –
Berries are nice!

But – if I stained my Apron –
God would certainly scold!
Oh, dear, – I guess if He were a Boy –
He’d – climb – if He could!

Her mother stopped talking about “that nice pre-med student from Chennai” when Suzie was seventeen, and “a suitable Indian boy from a good family, at least” a few months before her eighteenth birthday, worn down by the lack of Suzie’s interest. Marco, too, offered his input, suggesting the lad down the street, and the boy who helped out at the agency. Suzie would just kiss his cheek and smile.

Jishnu came back while Suzie was away at university, just about to finish her extended joint degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. He had probably expected to be welcomed home with grateful smiles and large helpings of sambar and dosai. Instead, he met Dushani Costello, proper estate agent, on her way to show a house over in Kensington.

Suzie heard about it all second-hand through Marco, who called her up to relay the whole ridiculous scene with an easy, affable calm. Until he got to the part about prostate cancer, of course, when his voice softened and took on that sad edge, but even then Suzie couldn’t be persuaded to care.

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – Too?
Then there’s a pair of us?
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

They’d never gotten around to clearing out her father’s study, preferring instead to consider it their own personal library. Suzie hadn’t been in it for years, but it was as good a place as any to store her textbooks.

There was a boxed set of poetry left out on her father’s desk. Each book was pocket-sized with plain pasteboard covers. It looked like it had been left there in haste, perhaps by Marco when he’d last used the room. Suzie ran her index finger along the worn spines (Poe, Tennyson, Valmiki, Burns, Yeats, Shakespeare, Bharatidasan, Blake, Donne) until she finally came to rest on the last book in the collection. Dickinson. She smiled to herself and tugged the small volume from its resting place. Unlike the dog-eared copies surrounding it, the selection of Emily Dickinson’s poems had remained pristine and untouched (except, of course, for the sepia tint of smoke from the fragrant pipe tobacco her father favored).

She tucked the book under her arm and left the basement.

“What is it, Parattai?”

Her mother stood in the kitchen and looked at her curiously, nodding to the book. Her arms were folded warily across her chest, as though to protect herself from the bad things, and she clutched a wooden spoon in her hand.

“A book of poems.” Suzie dropped it into her purse and smiled. “I thought I’d take them, if that’s okay?”

Nodding distractedly, her mother turned toward the stove and stared at the bubbling lentil stew. “You should get a dog. You’re alone too much.”

I like a look of Agony,
Because I know it’s true –
Men do not sham Convulsion,
Nor simulate, a Throe –

The Eyes glaze once – and that is Death –
Impossible to feign
The Beads upon the Forehead
By homely Anguish strung.

She preferred to be alone, true, but she was never lonely. Her flat was small, barely more than a room in a house on a cozy, tree-lined East London street. When she wanted the unobtrusive, peripheral company of others, she would shove a book in her purse and head to the nearby café. It was almost always busy, except when it first opened and the ice blue dawn had just begun its ascent over the black horizon. Then it was quiet, peaceful and cool. She would sip something warm and read and let the start of everyone else’s mornings wash over her. She liked those moments the best.

It was some time before she got around to the book of Dickinson’s poems. There had been serious reading to be done first; her former professor had stumbled upon a piece of technology left on the slashed plastic seat of a greasy spoon and called her to get an opinion. At first, when he showed her, they thought it was a prototype for a new mobile. It had the vague shape of a PDA and a whole keyboard’s worth of keys that were covered in strange symbols.

“It’s probably a code,” Professor Leon had suggested as Suzie took the device from him. “To protect the information in case it got into the wrong hands.” When Suzie pressed a sequence of buttons, it lit up with a brilliant, deep ruby color and flashed a series of the same symbols.

She still had it, almost a year later, tucked safely away in her purse. She fiddled with it in between her shifts at the library, and used her lunch breaks to research the technological journals. The device frustrated her to no end, with its beeping and its flashing and its strange dark languages. It was far too complex to be a mere code, and she was starting to suspect that it was more than a simple prototype.

But she’d spent a substantial amount of time on the device this past week, and her brain deserved a break, so she grabbed the book of poems and went out.

The café was empty when she walked in, except for one man flipping through a newspaper and three baristas pretending to look busy. One of them must have been new, or else worked a later shift, because she was entirely unfamiliar to Suzie, but the other two smiled brightly when she walked in.

“Cappuccino today, or just coffee?” Jessie asked when Suzie reached the counter.

“Coffee, please.” She rummaged in her purse for her wallet but was stopped by a hand on her arm.

“Allow me.”

She looked up. The man, who had been settled comfortably on the couch just moments before, was at her elbow. He was attractive, with bright blue eyes and an easy smile, but he was wearing far too heavy a coat for early autumn. Military, she guessed. Also, American, which was definitely peculiar.

“Thank you, but it really isn’t –”

“I insist.”

He handed over a bill to Jessie, who smiled and winked at Suzie, and went into the register to get his change. He shook his head at her.

“Keep it,” he said, and Jessie stared wide-eyed at him.

Suzie grabbed her coffee quickly, smiled her thanks, and walked to her usual seat. The man followed her and she sighed. She’d been hoping for a quiet morning of poetry, unmolested by a need for conversation, but it didn’t look like that would be possible now. Perhaps she should just leave.

“Come here often?” the man asked and sat backwards in one of the high-backed wooden chairs. She had to refrain from rolling her eyes.

“I used to, but I suppose I’ll have to rethink that now.” She took a sip of her coffee and pulled out her book. “Can I help you?”

The man leaned over to get a better look. “Dickinson. Nice. A bit heavy for breakfast, though.”

Suzie snorted. Truth was, she really had no idea. Sure, she’d encountered a line or two from a poem throughout her education, and a caricaturized biography of a bizarre woman in white, but she hadn’t actually read anything. Not yet, anyway.

The man reached out his hand. “Captain Jack Harkness.”

She sighed. “Suzie Costello.” She shook his hand cautiously.

“I know.”

She blanched and quickly retracted her hand. She glanced surreptitiously out of the large café windows. The sun was peeking through the low line of trees and the gaps between buildings, bright orange and red like fire. The streets were still relatively empty; a handful of pedestrians were scattered about, a refuse truck was making its rounds, a panda car was stopped at an intersection.

If she ran fast enough, she might be able to make it.

“I’ve been watching you, Suzie Costello. You’ve got a good eye for tech, but you don’t have a clue what you’re sitting on right now, do you?” His lips curved into a half smile.

Her eyes flicked to her bag and he nodded.

“Well,” he said. “Let’s see it.”

She took a deep breath and slowly pulled out the handheld. The man’s (Captain Harkness, she reminded herself) smile brightened. It didn’t reach his eyes, though, and maybe that’s why she felt herself relax. There was a darkness there, a deep sadness that he could neither hide nor fake.

“What do you think it is?” he asked.

“It’s a communications device of some kind, but I can’t figure out how to work it. I’ve been watching the markets, and it doesn’t seem to be a prototype of any kind. At least, no one’s claiming they lost one.”

The Captain shook his head. “They wouldn’t. First, it’s not a prototype. Second, it’s about two thousand years ahead of its time. And it does more than communicate.”

Good Morning – Midnight –
I’m coming Home –
Day – got tired of Me –
How could I – of Him?

Sunshine was a sweet place –
I liked to stay –
But Morn – didn’t want me – now –
So – Goodnight – Day!

I can look – can’t I –
When the East is Red?
The Hills – have a way – then –
That puts the Heart – abroad –

You – are not so fair – Midnight –
I chose – Day –
But – please take a little Girl –
He turned away!

The next month found her tiny flat packed away in boxes labeled “Fragile” and “Kitchen” and “Textbooks,” her mother standing by the open back doors of the rented van as Marco helped to settle Suzie’s things in the back. It had been easy enough to leave the flat, and the library, and put her degree to good use.

“You meet a man and run off to Wales! What else am I supposed to think?”

“Mum, it’s a job.”

“Are you pregnant?”

Suzie laughed and took her mother’s hands in her own and squeezed them. “No, mum. I just got recruited for a job.”

“’Shani, leave the poor girl alone!” Marco called, his voice muffled and tinny through the metal. “She’s not going to be that far; we can visit.” He hopped out of the back and rested a hand on Suzie’s shoulder. “Let her live her life.”

Less than two weeks later, after she’d gotten herself settled and accustomed to her strange, secret workplace, she received a call that her mother and Marco had been killed in a routine traffic accident on their way to see her, just miles before reaching the Severn Bridge.

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human soul.

The first time Suzie read through her small book of Dickinson’s poems, almost a full year later, she lay on her bed and wept. She wept for the cruelty and unfairness of life, she wept for the words her father had refused to read (the brilliance in her that he refused to see), she wept for the smallness of humanity and the vastness of the universe and how both seemed to move against her with purpose. She wept for the little girl she once was, for her mother and Marco, for her teammates who probably wouldn’t outlive the next five years.

The second time, she felt her heart stutter over lines she’d missed through her tear-blurred eyes, words that resonated so deeply, she felt them echo in her empty soul. Sometimes, she’d even have to set the book down and breathe deeply through the pain and joy and familiarity. She’d spent a whole week like that, reading and pausing and breathing. Then she purchased the complete collection and repeated the process.

Looking back, that was probably why Jack had given her the glove to work on: to distract her. She loved him for it, for his attention and care and observation, and she fell upon the task like she had spent her life starving for it. Maybe she had.

And now, after over a month of toil, she finally had something concrete to report. He’d be so pleased with her when she told him, so impressed!

“Immortality,” she whispered with quiet cadence. She smiled and stroked the cover of the book lovingly.

Her Losses make our Gains ashamed –
She bore Life’s empty Pack
As gallantly as if the East
Were swinging at her Back.
Life’s empty Pack is heaviest,
As every Porter knows –
In vain to punish Honey –
It only sweeter grows.

The End

Chinna Kutti – Tamil nickname; Small Girl
Parattai – Tamil nickname; Unruly Hair
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