A/N: This fic was done for Mai Universe's "Carnival of MUses" writing project, for which the 7/15/11 through 8/15/11 prompts were "insanity" and "books."

~X X X~

"And then, just when Natsuki was kissing me as a thank-you for getting everything set up, she noticed the bullet holes in the wall. I'd never had to try spackling before, you see, and I hadn't done a perfect job of making it smooth, so that even though the paint was dry it still showed if you were looking right at it."

Shizuru Fujino giggled, remembering her girlfriend's rather exasperated reaction. Natsuki was so cute when she was flustered, though! And it had been Duran's fault, too, so she hadn't had to accept all the blame on her own.

Her audience, though, didn't greet the story with amusement, just a deep sigh.

"Shizuru, we've talked about this."

She was stretched out on the brown leather sofa, and turned her head to the right to look at the man seated in the room's high-backed leather chair. He had thinning hair, gold-rimmed spectacles, and a neatly trimmed, sandy brown beard. His voice was disapproving.

Next to him on the massive mahogany writing desk, Kiyohime's first and second heads gingerly took the corners of a page in their mouths and gently turned the leaf. The book lying open on the desk was one that had come from the high shelves behind it; bookcases lined one entire wall of the room.

"Yes, sensei?" she asked.

"I asked you to tell me about your life this past month. Things started well enough, with details of your university classes and so on. But then you spiraled off into this elaborate fantasy construct," he said, disappointed. He spun a gold pen in his fingers, the polished length catching the lamplight in sparks of fire.

"...Fantasy?" Shizuru asked.

The man nodded solemnly.

"This story of sharing a home with this Natsuki Kuga person, of being lovers. Every human being wants to be happy and fulfilled, Shizuru; we all need love. It's only natural that you would hope for the same thing. I sympathize with why you would want to lose yourself in the imagery of a happy, fulfilling life. But that's all it is. A fantasy, Shizuru."

"Natsuki is not a fantasy," she said, forgetting herself enough to allow a trace of displeasure into her voice.

"Is she not? A beautiful young woman, a year younger than yourself, highly intelligent, yet independent and rebellious, with a troubled past that drove her to become a loner, sealing herself off from the world behind an emotional wall only you could breach? She sounds more like a character from a television series than a regular person. Don't you see what you've done? You've created a mirror of your own feelings in this Natsuki. Emotionally isolated, alone, so that you could come to her heart's rescue, while of course in reality it is you who craves rescue, someone to save you from your emotional prison."

"That isn't the truth at all," Shizuru insisted.

"Isn't it? Your own mind knows the truth, Shizuru, and I believe that in your subconscious you know this, and are seeking relief from your own delusions. This is shown by the ever-increasing elements of fantasy you are introducing into this imaginary world of yours. At first, your Natsuki was merely a fellow student at your school, an ordinary enough figure. But then she became a motorcycle-riding, gun-wielding action hero who was fighting an evil conspiracy responsible for her mother's death. You created a character from a spy novel or action movie as an attempt to shatter your own delusion, to stretch its limits so much that it would snap."

He paused, stroking his beard thoughtfully. Shizuru did not trust herself to say anything, so she kept silent.

"Unfortunately," he continued, "your emotional needs were so strong that your world-image was adaptable, expanding to absorb this new information. Your subconscious's response was to take things to the next level, by adding in elements so outrageous that they clearly do not represent reality."

"Pardon me, but I do not think that to be true."

"Oh? Have you truly stopped to think about these pets in your story? These bullet holes you supposedly spackled over—caused by a large dog made of metal with firearms built into its body, as if it were a cyborg or robot from a science-fiction story? To say nothing of this 'Kiyohime' you talked of earlier—a six-headed hydra? That is a creature drawn purely from mythology, even to her name. A child would not believe such a thing could be true."

Several of Kiyohime's heads snapped up at that, their reptilian features somehow looking very offended.

"Kiyohime is no more of a delusion than Natsuki is," Shizuru said, quite firmly but without raising her voice.

The bearded man leaned forward earnestly.

"Shizuru, you must recognize these fantasies for what they are. If you do not, I am certain that they will grow more and more outrageous. Perhaps you will start to imagine that you yourself are taking an active role in this Natsuki's struggles, or that these fantastic creatures become full-sized expressions of their monstrous attributes. If it continues, you risk blurring the line between reality and illusion to the point that you are no longer able to go out in society. I do not want to have to—"

He was interrupted by two soft knocks and the opening of the door. A woman in her forties wearing the crisp uniform of a nurse came in, bearing a tray with a glass and a selection of pills.

"Pardon me, but it is time for your medication, Fujino-san."

Shizuru sat up as the nurse approached, then walked past her to the bearded man. He took the medicine, swallowing each pill in turn, and washed them down with a gulp of water.

"I'm sorry," he told Shizuru, "but that's all the time I can spare you today."

"I understand," she said, getting up. "Until next time, then."

"Quite. And do think about what we've talked about. Fantasy and imagination are fine things, but must not be allowed to blind a person to reality."

Shizuru walked over to the desk and picked up the book. The margins were filled with scribbled, incoherent notations that reminded her of nothing so much as a child's handwriting exercises or perhaps a stream-of-consciousness diary. The writing was meticulously kept to the margins, though, and did not obscure the beautiful imagery of ukiyo-e woodblock prints that were the book's subject. She closed it and slipped it into place on the shelf, then scooped up Kiyohime in her arms.

A tall woman in a beautifully patterned kimono, her hair the same shade as Shizuru's and the bearded man's, was waiting in the hall outside.

"I really do appreciate the time you spend with Kentaro-niisan when you visit us. I know that it cannot be easy."

Shizuru shook her head.

"No, okaasan, it is a simple enough thing. Not compared to you, who see him every day, or otousan, who provides room for his wife's brother to be kept here so that he need not be confined in an institution away from family and those who love him."

The older woman sighed heavily.

"I just wish that he ever gave some sign that he knew us for who we are."

Kiyohime stretched out her sixth head and nuzzled Mrs. Fujino's cheek sympathetically, while Shizuru thought about what her uncle had said.

"I'm sure he does, okaasan. Even in the depths of madness, there is always some part of us that can be touched by those we love."

After all, she herself was proof of that.

~X X X~

A/N: As you probably already realized, I used Japanese forms of address (which I generally don't in these "Duran & Kiyohime" fics) just so that I could have the nurse say "Fujino-san"...since that could apply to either of them and make it momentarily confusing just which one the medication was for. "Sensei" in this case is being used as the form of address for a doctor, while "okaasan" is "mother," "otousan" is "father," and "niisan" is "older brother."

Long-term readers of "Duran and Kiyohime's Omake Theater" will recall the incident that put those bullet holes in the wall in the first place!