Summary: The worst thing about being mad was knowing you were mad. A stream of consciousness River fic

Warnings: Contains some problematic/potentially triggery discussion of River's condition as it pertains to being a mental illness

Prompt: For the angst_bingo prompt 'Insanity' and the 100_tales prompt #088 'Thought'

Being insane wasn't so bad as long as you didn't understand that you were off your rocker.

Off your rocker. Idiom. Phrase from Earth-That-Was. Origin uncertain, or just lost in the centuries since it had been coined. River liked the phrase though. It reminded her of a rocking horse she'd seen in a museum once. If the horse was not on its curved wooden mounts, the rockers, it wouldn't move. It might not even stand up at all if not perfectly balanced. It would be broken.

River was broken, she knew that. It wouldn't so bad if she wasn't aware of the fact, that she had once been normal. She had been smart – don't be modest, use the right term, genius, that was what she'd been.

The Academy hadn't thought she was smart enough. They altered her, changed her. Made her different from before. Still smart but not able to comprehend, or able to comprehend too much. So much information, all the possibilities, so much to sift through to try and see what was real, what was now.

Emotions, too. What was her, what feelings were other peoples? It might be nice to be a rocking horse and have wood for a head and not have to have thoughts and feelings shove their way into your wooden brain.

Noodle. Noggin. Cranium. Brainpan. Must be a term for the head that references wood. Yet she can't recall it. What else has she forgotten, what has she lost? Memories and dreams are sometimes hard to tell apart, things she did, things she's only imagined.

If a psychiatrist had told her she was insane and she disbelieved them she would have been angry. She would turn on them…

Decapitate, to remove the head. From capit, stem of caput, head. De-head. That would be suitable punishment for questioning someone's head state. No, that would be wrong, but it doesn't stop her thinking about it. Did she ever actually do it? The academy liked her to fight, but has she actually decapitated someone for them? No, she'd know that…

But the problem was that she knew she was insane. She knew she had been sane. She knew that no-one would be lying if they said she was mad. She was damaged, off her rocker, nutty as a fruitcake, mad as a hatter; hatter, another reference to head, but it's not the reason for the idiom. Mercury vapours made hatters mad, the quicksilver metal used to turn fur into felt and this felt into hats and you'd breathe the fumes and it would lodge into your brain…

She didn't know what she'd done to deserve her treatment at the Academy. Too smart for her own good. Too smart and they made her smarter but broken, unable to efficiently and consistently function independently. Paralysed by the variables she'd had to learn to block some of them out. Seeing the future, foresight, psychic, a matter of analysing the probabilities and possibilities. It was exhausting…

And even if she did see the future – possible, likely – trying to explain it was like trying to communicate with cats. Most weren't interested and those who were lacked the vocabulary. Simon tried, but he didn't really understand – he'd look nice as a cat, with whiskers and a tail – Mal would be a tabby, and Inara a sleek Abyssian – she'd seen pictures of domestic felines, memorised them all –

She wishes her head were wooden and blocked out the constant stream of thoughts and feelings; sometimes there wasn't enough room in her own head, and now there's too many people in there, crowding her.


She's petting the horse, which is chestnut, and docile, and Simon is wondering if she's remembering horse riding with the children of one of their parent's friends – horses are old fashioned or traditional, people don't have them where they have shuttles but poor people have them on planets not civilised enough to have metal to ride instead of flesh or so said her parents, but –

Horses aren't easy to read, and she likes that.

- her parents were snobs. Are. Not were, not dead. Dead to her, though. Insane or not, she knows they didn't help her. Hush. Don't make a fuss. Don't upset the balance. Be good. Appearances are everything. Simon came for her when they didn't. They'd never accept her now. They'd institutionalise her all over again. She'll die before that happens. She can kill. Simon doesn't know how deadly she is.

She wonders if part of her is dead, the sane part, or just damaged or just sleeping. She might never see her again. A tear runs down her cheek.

"River, it's okay."

Simon is trying to be reassuring. But he knows she's damaged. The worst part about being is insane is knowing that she's mad and that it's hurting her brother to see her like this. Better she was oblivious to it all, but she's stuck with just enough self to know the horrible truth.

Some day the Academy will fall. Is that her thought or his?

She supposes it doesn't matter.

Note: I'm not sure how much sense this fic makes – but then that's pretty much the point of it, trying to separate truth and fiction and self from others.