Author's Note: I don't own Perception. Just putting the "fan" in "fanfiction" here. This is a post-Shadow AU which preserves a bare few details from Light. A million thanks to EnoughToTemptMe, as always, for putting up with some of my crap and not standing for the rest. This will be the only author's note. Now, enough of my jaw waggling—on with the show!

I don't know how many days I've been in the hospital. Two? Ten? A hundred? I can't count—they all blur together. All I can do is try to hold myself together, fight for my tenuous hold on reality, until she comes.


She comes to visit me every day, I think, and she shakes me out of my waking nightmares. She talks with me, and I feel almost human again. I dread her leaving, but she's not mine, and other people have a claim to her, too, so eventually she returns to the world of sanity, and the nightmares return to haunt me.

My lucid moments with Kate start to become longer and clearer as the meds start to work, and the days are less blurry—I can usually tell today from three days ago, at any rate.

And then it happens. I wake up, and I know that it's a new day. I lay awake in bed for a while, waiting for the nightmares, the delusions, but they don't come. The meds are working; I don't even feel watched by the small, nondescript camera near the door. When the orderly walks in with breakfast, I recognize his face, though I can't remember his name.

"Good morning, Dr. Pierce," the orderly says, putting the tray at the end of my bed.

"Good morning," I answer. Breakfast doesn't look too bad. The oatmeal doesn't look like glue today, and the fruit is less brown than it usually is. My tea still smells funny, but there's also a cup of water.

"How are you feeling?" the orderly asks.

I smile. "Really good," I say, and I mean it. It's a new day, which means Kate hasn't come to visit yet, and today she won't have to shake me out of my delirium. I might even be able to pretend for a few minutes that I'm not totally crazy.

I take my breakfast to the window and soak in the morning sunlight. I go through four crosswords and three five-star sudoku puzzles before lunch, and after, I put aside the puzzles to watch the Cubs get slaughtered again. They're still my favorite team.

The day rolls on to four o'clock, and I start to worry. I haven't had any real sense of time until today, so maybe Kate's always been this late. She is a real person with a real job, after all. I take a few deep breaths and recite the Fibonacci sequence to calm myself down.

When the orderly comes to take away the dinner dishes, I ask if Kate's supposed to come by today.

"Kate who?" the orderly asks.

Oh, God.

I can feel it—the panic—churning in my gut and clawing its way up to my chest. My fingers twitch nervously against my legs in the pattern of some piece by Chopin or Mozart or Tchaikovsky. "K-kate Moretti," I stammer. "She—she's come by every day."

The orderly shakes his head. "I'm sorry, Dr. Pierce, but you've had no visitors."

No. No, this can't be right. Kate brought me out of all my delusions. She's the singular ray of sunshine, the one good thing in my fucked-up life. "You—you must be mistaken," I say, and a nervous, panicked ha escapes right after. "She's an FBI agent. Petite. Long, brown hair." She makes me sane, I want to say, but the panic is tearing its way up my throat now and the words are shoved mercilessly aside.

"An FBI agent?" the orderly asks, and he seems incredulous. I'm sick with horror when I realize how insane it sounds for me, a paranoid schizophrenic, to be visited every day by the embodiment of the government.

I want to vomit, but more questions need to be answered before I'm really horrified. "How—how many days have I been here?" I manage, all in one short breath. I'm trying to breathe deeply, but the nausea of this discovery is threatening to crush me to the ground.

"You've been here since December," the orderly says. "Six months."

"No, no, no," I say quickly, because this I can remember. "I—there was a murder. Just a few days ago, may—maybe a couple of weeks." I breathe in against the nausea. "I had an—an episode, and I—I admitted myself. Not—not six months." I squash the small doubt in my mind with the weight of everything I know about my condition. Even at my worst, the medication would never take six months to kick in.

"There was no murder," the orderly informs me as if I'm three years old.

And then it hits me: this isn't real. This realization is enough to give me a hold on myself, at least for a few minutes. I stop shaking—I didn't even realize I was shaking—and the rolling storm in my stomach calms to a gently lapping tide. "Okay. I get it. I'm hallucinating now, and in a few minutes, Kate's going to come in and wake me up." I finally feel like I can breathe.

And then the orderly speaks again. "I'm sorry, Dr. Pierce, but there is no Kate. You've had no visitors since you came here."

No. That can't be true. This is all a hallucination, a delusion—but even as I tell myself that, I remember that I don't feel paranoid, and the meds are working. This is real.

I can't even feel the panic or the nausea any more. I just feel numb. In six months, I've had no visitors. The orderly leaves, and I walk back to my bed. I sit and curl up in a ball, resting my forehead on my knees. I know nothing but a despair so desperate it takes away everything inside me as I sob. I'm left hollow, alone, and unloved. Half a year and nobody misses me. I'm on the verge of giving up and falling back into bed when I feel a weight on the bed next to me.

I know it's her because, well, who else? "Why are you here?" I ask, and my voice comes out toneless and hollow.

She puts a hand on my shoulder, and I'm amazed I can feel anything at all, even if it's only her phantom touch. "Because you need me," she says, but I'm not sure I believe her.

"You shouldn't be here," I say. "You're not even real." I lean forward, my feet hit the floor, and I hide my tearstained face in my hands. It's not enough. I can still feel her next to me, and she feels so real, I almost can't believe she's not. She's been so faithful to me, always there when I wake up—and of course she would be.

Her hand slides down and across my back, and her arm wraps around me. I'm so surprised, I look up at her, and her gorgeous brown eyes are studying me, looking into me instead of at me.

I tear myself away, and in my mind, it sounds like heavy-duty Velcro ripping apart.

"You're not real," I repeat. My hands, now fallen from my face, fist in my quilt. "You're a hallucination, a—a dream of a reality I can never have." I know she's not real, but that doesn't stop the saner parts of me from wanting her.

It doesn't help that she runs her fingers through my hair. I think it's to reassure me, but it only makes me grip the blankets tighter. "I'm still here for you, Daniel," she says, but I don't see how that's even possible.

"Why?" I ask her—but I'm really asking myself. "Why not Natalie, or—or a real Kate?" I'm not even sure there is a real Kate. Is there?

"I guess today's not a good day," this imaginary Kate says. "I'll come back tomorrow, okay?" She kisses my cheek and walks out the door. I find myself quickly returning to hollowness. The imagery is strong: my body with nothing in it, just skin inflated by empty air and darkness. I fall sideways onto the bed and curl up under my covers. Maybe when I wake up, this will all have been some kind of horrible nightmare.