marginalia: (tara's an angel)
disagree (1) ([personal profile] marginalia) wrote2009-07-21 09:26 am

I've allowed my fears to get larger than life (Stranger Than Fiction, Karen/Penny)

Title: I've allowed my fears to get larger than life
Author: [personal profile] marginalia, archive at skirmishes against the author
Recipient: [personal profile] gloss, who deserved better. And also timely.
Fandom: Stranger Than Fiction
Pairing: Karen/Penny
Rating: PG
Word count: just over 1000
Disclaimer: I own nothing here except my very own writer's block. One line is lifted from the film.
Notes: For femslash09. Title & cut text from Aimee Mann, who showed me the way in. Thanks to M&S for the read-through.

Kay had known it was coming eventually. She'd expected it sooner, really, as the world moved faster and faster and her editor's patience was bound to wear thin. No one could wait forever, not even for maudlin charm and beautiful tragedy, and ten years was more than forever. And this was who they had sent, this eminently practical woman, standing below her and interrupting her thoughts and her fall. Professional and dependable, a secretary crossed with a babysitter, and likely just as well read as the artificially cheerful bottle blonde from the Book Channel.

Just what she needed.

She challenged Penny, like she challenged everyone who entered her sphere, a tried and true method for maintaining isolation. Tell them what you're really thinking. They usually don't want to know, particularly when you're thinking about death.

"I try to think of nice things," Penny said, and the 'try' was what Kay held on to, a crack in the professional armor, whether Penny realized it then or not. Someone who had to work to think of the good, that was someone Kay could trust.


Penny had, as it turned out, a good deal of experience in researching potential character deaths. Not that any of them were the right death for Harold Crick.

Her second author was composing a multigenerational epic, with illnesses and accidents, deaths lingering and sudden of the young and the old. Her third, fifth, and eighteenth author wrote serial murder mysteries. The last author before Kay wondered about the particular details of death in space for a sort of CSI: Lunar Colony.

Penny spent a lot of time looking for answers that might not exist to questions most people never thought to ask. Enough time that when Harold appeared, a person who shouldn't exist, she opened the door and welcomed him in. It was certainly not the most unsettling thing about working with Kay. Every author had his or her own neurosis, of course, but none of the others stood on the edge, closed their eyes, and fell. None of the others drove their cars into rivers. None of the others killed themselves over and over again.

Authorial self-destruction. That was a new one for her.


They developed a routine of sorts. Penny sorted mail; Kay refused to let her respond to any of it. Penny read pages and made notes; Kay ignored them. Penny suggested trips to museums, walks in parks, and that Kay quit smoking, but Kay took them to lurk in the emergency room and continued to just smoke a half a cigarette at a time. Perhaps a half a cigarette didn't count. Perhaps it would just kill her more slowly.

Kay looked like if anyone touched her she would come apart, raw nerve ends everywhere sparking. Sometimes Penny thought it would be extremely satisfying to make her laugh, a true laugh from deep within. They sat close together in the pouring rain, though Kay refused the umbrella, and Penny thought carefully. No one was more stubborn than her, not even Kay.


Penny tried every trick from eleven years of author assistance to help Kay write, but nothing worked. She found her one afternoon sitting on the edge of the high backed chair, staring out the window at something entirely beyond the city.

"Do you only experience the bad things?" Penny asked.

"What?" Kay looked at her, startled.

"Jumping off buildings and the car crashes. I've seen how you imagine them. It's like you're living it yourself. Do you ever experience the good things that happen to your characters?" Penny paused, and briefly set aside her tightly-held professionalism. "The Ms. Pascals, for example?"

Kay leaned back into the chair, pulling her knees up to her chest. "No," she said, her tone like a closing door.

Penny regarded her thoughtfully. "Maybe you should."


On the day Kay discovered how to kill Harold Crick, she was oddly afraid to go back to the loft. She didn't want to be in any one place or around any one person, so she boarded a bus and wrote, scrawling notes on a yellow legal pad, getting off from time to time to smoke.

During one stop, she rummaged in her pocket only to find the nicotine patch pamphlet Penny had given her that day in the rain. She looked at it for a moment, frowning, considered throwing it in the nearby bin, but instead tucked it back in her pocket. There was no need to be hasty.

When she returned, Penny was organizing index cards -- plot elements, perhaps, or some other sort of writer's block voodoo. Kay didn't know and didn't care. She felt a little childlike and defensive, blurting out where she'd been and why, looking out the window so she wouldn't have to see Penny react. Chewing on the cap of her pen, she backed awkwardly out of the room and slipped out of her shoes to feel the cool floor beneath her feet. She started to type, counting on the clatter of the keys pushing away the memory of the look of disappointment on Penny's face.


Harold's voice still echoed from the receiver at her feet, and Penny was packing to leave. Kay covered her face with her hands and tried to focus on something, anything: her breathing, the sun on her skin, Penny's heels clicking as she crossed the room. Penny reached out and touched her shoulder, and it was as if Kay had been waiting for it for years. Tension drained from her body, still scared but safe, and she said softly, "It was him. He's real. He's coming."

"All right. I'm here. It'll be okay."


As Harold's story shifted, so did Kay's. "They gave you more time," Penny said. "I sent the sample chapters we agreed on. They're good with it."

Kay nodded. She fiddled with her lighter, but didn't reach for a cigarette. "So. Are you still a spy?" She looked up at Penny, challenging, and then away.

"No. Not a spy, or a babysitter, or a secretary."

"Then," Kay lifted her head, "I think you should stay."


It takes time to reverse years of isolation, and trust takes still more time to build. Someday soon there will be the everyday joys of verbal sparring in the kitchen, terrible late-night movies, a heart and home to return to after book tours.

Until then there are cups of tea, Bavarian sugar cookies, stories that are true, and laughter that rises from deep within.

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