Author's Note: I don't own Perception. Clearly. And about a million thanks to my beta, EnoughToTemptMe. Really, if you don't have a beta, you're missing out.
Natalie sat on the sofa, watching Daniel pace. She'd been bothering him for a week now, ever since he'd turned down Kate's fourth lunch invitation that month. "Daniel, why are you so afraid of this?"
"We've had this talk already. Nothing's changed."
Natalie raised her eyebrows. "A lot has changed," she said. "She knows you spent some time at Rexford."
"No." Daniel waved his hands. "No! Nothing has changed!"
"What makes you say that?"
Daniel leaned his head against the window. "I see things that don't exist. I hear voices that aren't there. I talk to walls." He stared out the window and, with a resigned sorrow, said, "How can I have an intimate connection with someone when I don't even know what's real?"
He turned back to Natalie only to see Kate Moretti standing in the exact spot Natalie had been standing in only seconds before. Kate's confusion and shock was unmistakable. "Kate," he said, surprised and hoping he was hallucinating.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
He blinked and stammered, and then shouted for Lewicki.
"Yeah, Doc?" Lewicki asked. He glanced to Kate, then to Daniel. "I'm on my way to class."
Daniel looked sideways at Kate.
"Sorry! Did you need something, Agent Moretti?" Lewicki asked.
"Uh, no," Kate said, her voice slightly unsteady. "Thanks."
Lewicki disappeared, and Daniel turned back to the window, running one hand through his hair anxiously.
"What was that about?" Kate asked.
"I, uh—nothing," he said, clearing his throat. "Nothing." After a moment, Daniel collected himself and turned around. "So, what brings you to the university?"
Kate shook her head. "Oh, well, it's not—you're busy; it's okay." Kate gave him one of the most pasted-on smiles he'd ever seen and walked out of his office before he could gather his wits to respond.
He stood in stunned silence, alone in his office, until he heard the bell tower chime noon. He gathered up his briefcase and his jacket and walked out of his office. He got on his bicycle and, feeling the need for some space, rode to the engineering quad on the other side of campus.
Kate had known about Daniel's condition for years now. She knew the symptoms of schizophrenia, but he'd always seemed so... together. Sure, he'd sometimes stare intently at empty space, and his eccentricity had led Probert to nickname him "Dr. Strange", but aside from his odd, abrupt mannerisms, Kate often forgot that the world wasn't quite the same in Daniel's mind. She'd been surprised when he'd confessed to having admitted himself to the psychiatric hospital the year she was in D.C.
She'd come to his office with a case, but the details had fled her mind when she heard him talking. In ten seconds, the image of the eccentric, absent-minded, brilliant professor had shifted dramatically. It was like she'd been looking at the same two-dimensional image for years, and suddenly it had turned to reveal a hidden third dimension. She'd gathered that he was a private person, and he shied away from any sort of intimate moment (like every single time Kate said she cared about him), but Kate had always assumed it was just another of his quirks. She'd never realised his insecurity ran so deep. Do you really think so little of yourself, Daniel? she thought.
And then, of course, Kate had made a complete idiot of herself, leaving him all on his own. He probably thought he'd scared her off for good, that she really did see him differently after all. All she'd needed was a moment to process the intense insecurity she'd witnessed, but then he'd pedalled away on his bike, right past her. He hadn't heard her yell after him, and on foot, she had no chance of keeping up. She lost track of him after he rounded a classroom building. She visited all of his usual spots as she crossed the university campus, but she couldn't find him anywhere.
She had to find him, and not just to prove she didn't see him differently; she did need his help on this case.
Half an hour later, she found Lewicki hurrying out of one of the classroom buildings. "Lewicki!" she called.
"Ah, Agent Moretti, sorry; I've got to get back to Dr. Pierce. I forgot I had his lunch, and if he doesn't eat—"
"He's not in his office," Kate said. "I've been looking for him for half an hour."
"But you were—"
"Yeah, uh..." Kate smiled sheepishly. "There was a bit of a, um, a misunderstanding."
Lewicki looked suspicious, but he didn't comment. "Did you check—"
"I looked everywhere I could think of," she said.
"The engineering quad?" Lewicki suggested. "Sometimes he goes over there when he needs more space."
"That's a long walk," Kate said. "I can take his lunch with me if you want."
Lewicki dug a brown paper sack out of his backpack. "Make sure he eats it," Lewicki said. "I don't want to have to deal with him if he doesn't."
Kate nodded, smiling. "Of course." She carried the bag with her across campus to the engineering quad, where she found Daniel sitting on a bench with his headphones and a crossword. She sat down next to him and put a hand on his shoulder. He started and looked up. "Lewicki forgot to give you your lunch," she said when he stopped the tape.
"You didn't come all the way over here to bring me a sandwich," Daniel said. He looked at the sandwich, but made no move to take it.
Kate set it down on the bench between them and folded her hands in her lap. "I just wanted to apologize for, uh, for walking in on you like that."
Daniel shook his head."There's nothing for you to apologize for." Tension radiated from him, and Kate shifted a few inches to give him some space.
"Well, you seemed pretty shaken up."
"I was surprised," Daniel said, eyes focused on his crossword.
Kate got the impression he was still feeling whatever he'd been feeling when she'd left his office. "Right," she said. There was a lengthy silence in which Daniel unwrapped his sandwich and started eating. "I'm not buying it," Kate said.
"I'm fine, really," he repeated, pasting on a grin.
"You keep saying that," Kate said, and when he didn't seem to give, she pressed her lips together. Pushing him would get her absolutely nowhere, and he was in no condition to help her with her case. Besides, there were other leads. If she really needed his help, well, maybe he'd feel better tomorrow. "I need to get back to work," she said apologetically. "We're in the middle of a case. Do you want a ride home?"
"No, thanks." Daniel gestured to his bicycle. "I've got it covered."
"Alright. I'll see you later." Kate waved a hand, and then pointed at the half-forgotten sandwich as she turned to leave. "Eat," she instructed. Daniel went back to his lunch and his puzzle, and Kate walked back to her car.
Natalie didn't say anything as she sat down on the bench next to Daniel. She just gave him one of her over-curious therapist looks.
"Not now," Daniel muttered, adding more letters to his crossword.
"How much longer are you going to hide?" Natalie asked.
"I'm not hiding," Daniel said, gesturing vaguely at the surrounding outdoors.
"Daniel," Natalie said reproachfully.
"You've been hiding for a while now, and you and I both know it."
"I'm fine," he said. "Not hiding," he repeated for good measure.
Natalie put a hand gently on his shoulder. "It's okay, you know," she said, her voice softening. "What you're feeling."
"No," Daniel said forcefully. He threw his pen in his bag and chucked the crossword in after it. "It's not okay!" He got on his bike and pedalled back to his office. In the annoying way of imaginary friends with a point to prove, Natalie was already waiting for him in his office.
"Will you stop?" Daniel exclaimed, dropping his bag in its usual place.
"What makes you think it's not okay for you to feel the way you do?" Natalie asked, ignoring Daniel's obvious exasperation.
Daniel checked to make sure no one was within earshot, then closed the door. No sense repeating the morning's debacle.
"How many times do I have to say it?" Daniel said, throwing his hands up. "I can't tell imaginary people from real ones. I can't—I just can't, Nat..." He slumped into an armchair, and Natalie perched on the arm as Daniel talked. "She said she didn't see me like I was crazy, and I almost believed her." He shook his head. "I was stupid."
"I don't think you're being fair to Kate."
"You didn't see her face when she left my office. I'm not always good with expressions, but that—that was obvious." Daniel rubbed his forehead with one hand.
"And what about when she came to find you?" Natalie persisted.
"She apologized," Daniel said, scoffing. "Like—like she was trying to appease the crazy man."
"Daniel, be fair," Natalie scolded.
Daniel refused to admit defeat. It just wasn't possible that someone could find out about his condition the way Kate had earlier, and still think of him the same. "Well—she didn't ask for my help on her case!"
"Are you sure you haven't misunderstood something?"
"What do you mean?"
"You said she apologized. Why?"
Daniel threw his hands up. "I don't know! She—she said she was sorry for walking in on me." Daniel silently cursed the stammer that plagued him whenever he got worked up.
Natalie looked at him with her the answer is obvious, isn't it? expression. "You're projecting your expectations of other people's reactions onto Kate. Do you think maybe she was trying to respect your need for some space from the incident?"
"My need for space?" Daniel snorted. "And they say I'm the crazy one."
Natalie raised her eyebrows. "Who bolted out of his office and biked clear across campus right after this incident?"
Daniel didn't answer. He knew he'd lost, but his loss wasn't going to change the fact that Kate Moretti had not brought him another puzzle.
Daniel lay stretched out on the sofa, battling another bout of insomnia. He'd tried to go to bed around eleven, but after an hour of lying wide awake, he was convinced it was totally useless. He'd gotten up and gone to the kitchen for a cup of tea, and Natalie had shown up and stayed until around two. The clock hands were fast approaching three, and still sleep eluded Daniel.
He was about to go upstairs and force himself to lay in bed a while longer when someone knocked on his door. He got up and opened the door as far as the chain would allow.
Kate Moretti stood outside his front door. No, she couldn't be real. She was a hallucination.
He shut the door. The real Kate Moretti couldn't really be standing outside his door. Did he dare wake Lewicki at this hour? He ran a hand through his hair, and then the telephone caught his eye. He picked it up and dialled Kate's cell phone. He tried to ignore the fact that he could hear it ringing.
Kate answered after the third ring. "Daniel, what—" She didn't sound half-asleep.
"Where are you?" he asked, glancing to the door.
"Standing on your porch wondering why you slammed the door in my face," Kate said.
Daniel hung up the phone and opened the door. Kate was still standing there, looking for all the world like it was three in the afternoon and not the wee hours of the morning. Daniel wasn't convinced she wasn't a hallucination.
"I know it's late, and I'm sorry, but it's really urgent."