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FIC: The Winding Roads They Led Me Here

Title: The Winding Roads They Led Me Here
Fandom: The Bletchley Circle
Characters and/or pairings: unrequited Millie/Susan
Rating: G
Word Count: 1,338
Contains: mild angst
Disclaimer: The Bletchley Circle is an excellent series that is sadly not written by me.
A/N: At some point I swear I will write fluffy Bletchley Park shenanigans for these two, but apparently not today.

Sometimes you watch her across the hut, memorising the twist of her lips, the flicker of muscles in her cheek as she stares down at some insoluble problem. You think, why can’t I be brilliant like that?, and you tell yourself that’s as far as your admiration goes.

You stop lying to yourself after the Von Dietrich business, when Susan comes back from the big house smiling that perfect-imperfect smile and you realise you want to kiss her breathless. You think you could make it work, could translate Susan for the rest of the world, make sure no one mistakes her for a silly, flustered little woman ever again. Could bring her tea while she works and afterwards hold her in your arms and smooth away frown-lines with lips and tongue. Could indulge in hopeless daydreams while never daring to act on them, more like.

So you find ways to tell her you love her without saying so, hoping she’ll spot the pattern in the way you touch her shoulder, smile at her, tell her she’s extraordinary. Hoping at the same time that she never notices, because in the choice between this half-painful friendship and nothing at all there’s no choice to be made.

And then the war ends.

You’re officially cut loose on a clammy day in June, and you spend your first hour of freedom sitting on your bed thinking, what now? What on earth do I do now? Your mother said once that when the bombs were falling it was like the world was coming to an end. Now they’ve stopped for good and you think, you were wrong, this is what the end of the world feels like, and then hate yourself for the level of arrogance and self-pity that thought required.

Susan comes in and chivvies you into packing your things away. She’s quieter than usual, and you wonder if she feels as adrift as you do.

“You’ll write to me, won’t you?” she says.

“Write? We’re seeing the world together, darling!” you say, gesturing extravagantly because if it’s playacting then the emotions don’t count.

“Yes.” She ducks her head and is halfway through folding a dress before she speaks again. “Actually, Millie, I can’t.”

“Why not?” Your throat feels like someone’s tried to strangle you.

“Well, it was all a bit of fun, wasn’t it?” She’s looking at you pleadingly. “I mean, we were never going to actually do it, it was just something to talk about. Wasn’t it?”

“I suppose so,” you say. You don’t say, No it wasn’t! I wanted to see the pyramids with you and kiss you under the northern lights and take you to a French hotel - if there are any left standing - and...

“And the thing is, Timothy will be back home soon and we’ve been talking about settling down...”

You nod miserably. “Of course, yes, I can understand that,” you say, and words to that effect.

You say goodbye at the station, a brief embrace because her train’s coming in and anyway, it’s as well to get things over with. She smells of cheap soap and you try to remember that, try to remember the feeling of her shoulder-blades through her coat, and the smudge of powder you leave on her collar, and the click of her heels on the platform.

“Don’t let them make you ordinary,” you call after her, ignoring the stares, and she turns and smiles and shouts back, “We’ll never be ordinary!”

Travel on the continent is near-impossible for a long time so you go to Scotland instead, stop wearing make-up and start wearing sensible shoes. You find yourself behind a Bletchley girl in the queue at the butcher’s one day, but when you say hello she doesn’t recognise you. Jean, who keeps tabs on all her girls through methods unknown, invites you to tea. She says Susan is getting married in the spring and you smile and say things like, well done her! She must be very happy. You mean them, too, for the most part.

You move back to London, start wearing make-up again and dye your hair a brighter colour. It’s a little like living in a sardine can, after the emptiness of the highlands, but you don’t mind that. You make friends with the woman across the hallway from you and allow yourself to fall a little bit in love with all the former Wrens you meet at dance halls, and when you come home one night to find a photograph with an address scribbled on the back lying on the mat, you don’t let it hurt. You keep the photograph though.

You take it with you to Cairo, Instanbul, Madrid, tucked into your purse long after you’ve copied the address into a notebook. You send the first postcard from San Francisco in a fit of alcohol-induced melancholy, telling her about the harbour seals and the novelty of living without rationing. You write I miss you, which is not precisely what you mean.

You move on - literally and metaphorically. They say travel broadens the mind, so perhaps it’s simply that now Susan takes up a smaller proportion of it. You still write the postcards but they’ve lost their edge of desperation and you’re glad about that. You fall in love with a girl in Paris, and as it turns out, there are still hotels standing. She comes with you to Venice and as you sit side by side, watching the shadows on the water, she takes your hand and you think that this is the secret of perfect happiness.

It doesn’t last of course, but then again, perhaps that’s the true secret of happiness - to know it’s fleeting and to take full advantage. Even before the money runs out, you and Simone start arguing. Silly things at first, like where to stay, which train to take, and you make up in whispers and sighs on narrow hotel beds. But your Bletchley backpay isn’t infinite, especially with two of you living on it, and you begin to resent Simone’s presence. You think, I could have gone twice as far on my own. Once, you nearly say it aloud.

You move back to France, to a small town near Reims. There’s not the same demand for workers that there was during the war, but the manager of the café-bar thinks your English-accented French is charming and gives you enough shifts to get by on. He stands too close to you when you tally up the bills and you try not to flinch. You ask Simone to come to London with you; you say, jokingly, that it will even things up if she lives in your country like you’ve lived in hers, but she refuses. She says France is her home, and you can understand that, at least in the abstract.

You don’t so much break up as drift apart, both of you too tired to put up much of a fight. In the end, you go back to London alone, to a string of badly paid jobs that you leave as soon as you’ve saved enough money to travel again. It’s not the same though; you have to plan rather than wander, and even though you go to Bangkok and Kathmandu and further than you’ve been in your life, the fun’s gone out of it. You gave up sending postcards around the time you met Simone, but now you want to start again, summon Susan away from her boring life (presumably not boring for her) to go on one last adventure before giving yourselves up to the ordinary.

You don’t. You can’t. You’ve lost the trick of talking to someone who never answers. And so you return to London for the last time, find a flat, find a job, settle down, for God’s sake. You take the photograph out of your purse and put it in a drawer, and though you copy Susan’s address from notebook to notebook, you do so without thinking about it.

You begin to forget.


(Deleted comment)
Sep. 29th, 2012 05:40 pm (UTC)
Ooh, a modern Medea *does* sound interesting - like the original's dark and shocking and all, but not that far out of the usual run of Greek myths, whereas that playing out in a modern setting... yeah, it sounds amazing.