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Wednesday, February 13th, 2008 08:59 am
Title: Cremnophobia
Author: [personal profile] bluflamingo
Fandom: SGA
Character: Kate Heightmeyer
Rating: PG-13
Words: 2465
Disclaimer: No, I don’t own them. To my profound disappointment.

Summary: A fear of precipices. Some phobias have their roots in entirely rational fear (spoilers for 4.04 Doppelganger)

Beta'd by [livejournal.com profile] domtheknight

For [livejournal.com profile] 14valentines Day 13: Arts and Athletics



Cremnophobia

When Kate was sixteen, her dad got a big promotion at work. It meant more money, more respect, a new company car – and a move across the country.

“New York,” her mom said. “Oh, Kate, you’ll love it there, I promise. It’s such a vibrant city, so many people, so much to do. You’ll have so much more fun living there, make so many new friends.”

Kate wanted to point out that she liked her old friends, the ones she’d had since she was in kindergarten; she liked where they lived as well, even if it was a small town miles from the nearest major city. She liked knowing how to get everywhere and never getting lost, and she liked running into people she knew every time she went out for milk.

“Sure,” she said instead. “It’s a great opportunity.” Some days, the easiest thing was just to agree. She’d learned that a long time ago.

*

New York was as different as Kate had expected it to be, from the big things like the skyscrapers and all the people, to the little things like the way the desks were arranged in school and how the bakery on the corner made their donuts.

It wasn’t bad, not really, or not bad beyond the fact that all of her friends were a plane ride away, rather than round the corner or down the street. The teachers did their best to catch her up on the stuff they’d already covered that her old school hadn’t, and Kate had never been afraid of working hard. She knew exactly how much was in her college fund, and exactly how much would be in there when she graduated high school, and she already had a list of places she could apply with that much money.

They’d been in New York for a month – long enough for all the boxes to have been unpacked, not long enough for anyone to have found time to repaint the kitchen, which was the exact same shade of yellow as a Post-It note – when her mom said over tea after school, “When are you going to see about joining the soccer team again?”

Kate shrugged, crumbling an oatmeal cookie between her fingers. A crumb got stuck down her fingernail, then lodged further when she tried to push it out. “They already had try-outs. I’m probably too late.” She stuck her finger in her mouth, trying to suck the crumb out.

“Don’t do that,” her mom said. “And I’m sure they’d be happy to consider you if you saw the coach. You were one of the best on the team before we moved.”

“Only because we barely had enough people to make up a team,” Kate pointed out, even though it wasn’t completely true; they had barely had enough people for a team, but she’d been good anyway. “I’ve been busy with all the extra homework. I’ll do it later, maybe.”

Her mom frowned. “I thought you liked soccer,” she said. “But I suppose it’s your choice. I just thought it might help you to make friends.”

Kate shrugged again. “I’m fine,” she said. She took a sip of tea and smiled. “Maybe I’ll try out for cheerleading instead.”

“Kate,” her mom said, frowning again, but a mock frown this time. “Can you imagine what your father would say to you jumping around in one of those short skirts in front of the boys?”

Kate could.

*

The truth was both more and less than what she’d told her mom: she really had missed try-outs, but, like her old team, they were always advertising for girls to join. Apparently, even in New York, all the girls wanted to be cheerleaders or in the gymnastics club. They’d give her a trial, Kate was sure, if she went and asked, especially if she said that she’d played in her last school. It would be embarrassing not to be chosen after she’d asked, of course, but she could handle it – it wouldn’t be any more humiliating than sitting by herself at lunch every day for the first two weeks had been, and they might take her, which would be cool.

The trouble was, Suzie Gardner was the captain of the girls’ soccer team. And Suzie didn’t like Kate.

*

It had started in English Lit class, when Kate had gotten an answer right after Suzie had gotten it wrong.

“Think you’re smarter than me?” Suzie had sneered later, leaning on the locker next to Kate’s. Kate hadn’t even known her name, only that they shared most classes, and that Suzie was popular – no big surprise there, since she was tall and thin and pretty, and wore tops that Kate’s father would have disapproved of.

“No,” she’d said, trying to find her favorite pen, which had fallen into a black hole, or been eaten by mice or something. “We did that book in my last school.” She’d been trying to be nice, not wanting anyone to dislike her, especially someone like Suzie. Kate hadn’t been popular like that in her old school, but she’d been pretty well liked and hung out with some of the girls who were popular.

“Oh right, your last school. Where was that again?” Suzie had flicked her hair and arched her back slightly. “I heard you only had six kids in each grade cos no-one in their right mind wanted to live there.”

“No, we had more than that. It was a pretty small school compared to here though.” Kate had found her pen, finally, tucked between her algebra and her physics books. “I didn’t mean to make you look bad in class, I’m sorry.”

“Please,” Suzie had snorted. “I’d like to see you try.” She’d flicked her hair again and strutted away, leaving Kate to collect up her books in peace. No-one else had seemed to notice anything, and Kate had assumed that Suzie, having reasserted herself as the alpha female, would leave her alone.

*

It took Kate a while to find some people she could get along with, who’d ask her to sit with them at lunch and talk about her old town and her old school. She wouldn’t exactly call them friends, but she was pretty sure they were going to become her friends – Milly who sat by her in chemistry and got more questions wrong than she got right, Peter, who she’d met by chance when she got lost on her way to the gym on her first day, and Hannah, who was Milly’s best friend and Peter’s sort-of ex-girlfriend, depending who you asked, and the reason that they all hung out together.

A couple of days after the thing in English Lit, Suzie brushed past their table at lunch and knocked Kate’s apple juice into her lap. “Oops,” she said sweetly without stopping.

Peter handed her a bunch of paper napkins and kept his eyes firmly on the table.

Milly rolled her eyes. “Neat. Most people take longer than that to annoy Suzie.”

Kate smiled, balling up all the damp napkins and hoping her jeans would dry before class. “I like to make an impression.”

“Clearly,” Milly said, smiling. She poured half of her juice into Kate’s empty glass and handed it over.

“Just, you know,” Hannah said. “Try not to mess with her too much. Some of her friends are a bit –“

“Crazy?” Peter suggested. “Insane? Nuts? Violent? Voted most likely to be arrested before they turn twenty?”

“Strange,” Hannah said, like he hadn’t spoke.

“Great,” Kate said.

*

Suzie wasn’t interested in not being messed with by Kate, because she was too busy messing with Kate. It was all stupid little stuff, like knocking over her drink had been, and Kate kept expecting it to stop, for Suzie to get bored with her, or find someone else to pick on.

She didn’t.

*

Kate had been in New York for six months, long enough that she didn’t really keep count of how long it had been any longer. She’d caught up with her schoolwork and started getting good grades again, she was still friends with Milly and Hannah and Peter, she’d even joined the theatre club so her mom would stop asking about the soccer team.

She stayed late at school more evenings than she left on time, because her mom had a job and the apartment felt weird when it was just her there, and on Thursday night, one week, she stayed later than she meant to, so that the school was nearly empty when she was leaving.

She’ll remember, later, that the corridor was dark and gloomy, even though she’ll know that it wasn’t, that all the lights were on. She didn’t hear anyone coming, wasn’t aware that she wasn’t alone until there were hands on her shoulders, the world tilting insanely for a moment, until she came to a halt, hands on her shoulders, the balcony rail pressed up against her back, staring at the ceiling behind a face she didn’t recognize.

She’ll remember screaming, and have no idea if she really did scream or if the scream is like the darkness, something her mind put in later.

“Hi Kate,” the boy said. Kate thought she smelled smoke, not cigarette smoke, but something sweeter, some kind of drug. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Please don’t hurt me,” Kate said stupidly.

“Sure?” He jerked forward, pushing her back further over the rail, until she could feel empty air beneath her. She definitely screamed then. “It’s a pretty long fall from here. Maybe not enough to kill you, but enough that you won’t be acting in anything for a while. Your place has elevators, right?”

“Please,” Kate begged. “Please, whatever you want, please don’t –“

She’ll wonder, later, why she didn’t wrap her hands round the rail, remember feeling it against the back of her hands. In that moment, she didn’t even remember that she could move, never mind think about what she could do to get away. “I don’t know you,” she said, trying to catch her breath. “I’ve never done anything to you, please don’t hurt me.”

He smiled, and she thought that he was actually kind of cute. He wasn’t much older than her. “You know my friend,” he said. “Suzie.”

Kate couldn’t help the sob that burst out, or the tears that started. “I’ve never done anything to her,” she sobbed. “Please, please –“

The crash of the door scared her more than the hands on her had done, enough that she could barely process the man’s voice shouting, “Leave her alone,” the length of the hall. “Pull her back up and let go of her.”

“Let go of her?” the boy said quietly. Kate’s scream sounded high and thin against his. “You want me to?”

“No,” Kate sobbed. “No, please, please don’t let go, please…”

She’ll think, later, that maybe she passed out from fear then. A long time later, she’ll realize that she was conscious, just not aware, too terrified to process the world around her. When she came back to herself, Mr. Thompson, her history teacher, was holding onto her, and the boy who’d threatened her was slumped against the opposite wall, his nose bloody.

“You’re safe now, Kate, it’s over,” Mr. Thompson said.

*

In reality, it dragged on until after graduation – police reports, and court, and Suzie being suspended, then expelled, then arrested as well. Kate missed two weeks of school after it happened, getting the story in bits and pieces from a nice, middle-aged policeman who talked to her quietly in her kitchen over tea and cookies and always had a clean handkerchief for when she started crying.

Suzie, it turned out, had told her friends that Kate was trying to steal the boyfriend Kate hadn’t even known she’d had, that Kate wanted to hurt her so she’d have to quit soccer and Kate could take her place, that Kate had threatened her. The boy – Kevin – had got it into his head that Suzie needed protecting from Kate and that it was his job to do it.

“I never did that,” Kate told Officer Parker. “She picked on me, but I never did anything to her.”

“I know,” Officer Parker said, patting her hand. “Suzie’s quite a sick young women. I don’t think she knows what really happened any more.”

*

The day the jury came back with a guilty verdict against Kevin for attempted murder, Kate’s mom hugged her and said, “It’s over, finally. You can start to put it behind you now.”

Kate hugged her back and didn’t want to let go. “Yeah,” she said quietly.

*

She’d been in college for nearly two months when she woke up shaking and couldn’t catch her breath. Across the room, Janey said sleepily, “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, sorry,” Kate said, lying down carefully. “Bad dream.”

“Okay.” Janey curled up on her right side. “Night.”

Six months later, Janey came back to their room one afternoon with a pale blue flyer and handed it silently to Kate. “What is it?” Kate asked, expecting it to be for a party, or maybe for a lecture on some obscure topic – Janey believed that the best way to get the benefit of a college education was to go to every free thing that was ever offered and see if it was interesting. Usually, she dragged Kate along with her.

“I think you should go and see them,” Janey said solemnly. She sat down next to Kate and let Kate rest her head on her shoulder. “Before you make yourself really sick.”

“I’m not sick,” Kate said. She wasn’t – there wasn’t anything wrong with her, apart from being tired all the time, and that would go away as soon as she stopped having the nightmares.

“They’re not doctors,” Janey said, turning the flyer in Kate’s hand so the writing was the right way up. “You can just go and talk, and they can’t tell anyone from school, no-one has to know.”

Kate looked down at the flyer again, the words swimming together. She was so tired, so sick of dreaming about the same thing, over and over and over until it felt like it had never happened to her. “Will you come with me?” she asked.

Janey hugged her tightly. “Of course.”

Janey, two years later, was the only person who wasn’t surprised when Kate said she wanted to train as a psychiatrist. Kate let her think it was because the counseling was helping her, and didn’t say that she thought that, even though it did help, she could maybe do a better job of it on herself, if she just knew enough, that she could make it all go away and never have to dream about falling, ever again.

Friday, February 15th, 2008 03:33 pm (UTC)
Eerie and very sad and very, very well done.

--Silverthreads
Friday, February 15th, 2008 09:34 pm (UTC)
Thank you :)
(Anonymous)
Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008 02:37 am (UTC)
Interesting explanation of both Kate's fear of heights and of why she became a psychiatrist.

And for some reason I particularly like the idea of her growing up in a small town, and the adjustment of moving to NY being a lot of what shaped her adult self.

Jess
Thursday, September 4th, 2008 06:11 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I have no idea where the moving thing came from - maybe because it must be tough to be the psychiatrist somewhere like Atlantis, where literally everyone is someone you could end up seeing, and she must have some experience of diving into a difficult situation.
Friday, January 9th, 2009 07:28 am (UTC)
I found this sat well with how I see Heightmeyer as a character. You managed to capture her poise and give a very good explanation for why she choose the career she did.
Friday, January 9th, 2009 10:49 am (UTC)
Thank you. I find her really difficult to write, so I'm glad it meshed with the character for you.