Summary: Simon went the quiet kind of crazy, and everyone but River was surprised.
The Quiet Kind
Simon didn't go crazy the way River did. His head wasn't filled with noisome nonsense and senseless screams. He didn't go insane the way Reavers did; there was no violence and bloodthirst.
No, Simon went the quiet kind of crazy, and everyone but River was surprised. Over the length of his stay on Serenity Simon had first learned to mask his fear and his anger, and later he had learned to mask his masks. He could smile and laugh when he was feeling no joy, could make his eyes large and sad when feeling no sorrow, and could clench his fists and jaw when feeling no anger. He was a good actor, and was much better at acting sane than River was. But River knew better. She knew that when he was alone his defenses fell away and he sat staring at nothing. Thinking nothing. He just…wasn't there.
It was the Black that got to him. All that space, that nothingness. On Osiris he had been cosseted and kept close to his parents, who had prized him even above River. If he had been the one accepted at the Academy, River doubted their parents would have let him go, so eager were they to keep their son at their sides. The open space frightened him, even if he didn't dare say so.
It was the hiding. Being kept locked in the ship while the others went off to do a job. No fresh air, no sunlight, no freedom. Usually he stayed in the infirmary or in his bedroom; both rooms were small and suffocating, and lately he had taken to wandering around the ship while the others were gone. He ran his hand along the wall as he walked, as if it would leave a trail that he could follow so he could always find his way back.
It was the people. Mal's stumbling attempts at warmth, Jayne's contemptuous glares, Kaylee's nerve-wracking attempts at connecting with him. On the rare occasions River and he were allowed planetside, the people they mingled with were uncouth and often cruel. Any connections Simon felt to them had slowly faded as he withdrew. No one on the ship could understand him, could see the universe the way he could. He never had been very good at expressing himself, and any attempts to do so would have earned him ridicule at worst and mockery at best from his crewmates.
Simon's mind was a funny place, River had decided. She thought of it as Simon's own little Black, his own tiny galaxy that he went to when he needed to be alone. It was the only place no one but her could find him, and even then she couldn't really reach him. It scared her almost as much as the blue hands, and at night sometimes she would creep across the narrow hallway and into his room, and would edge under his bedcovers just so she could feel his warmth. She would listen to his gentle breathing and know then that he was still alive, in some way.
It took a long time for anyone else to notice that something was wrong with her brother. He laughed and bantered and chatted with the crew, and his doctoring skills were as good as ever. Perhaps, River thought, the knowledge of how to use a scalpel and how to stitch sutures were so deeply ingrained in him that those skills would never leave his hands, no matter how far away his mind went. But he had tired eventually, and his laughter had gradually dwindled to silence while his body dwindled to skin and bone. He stopped eating dinner with the rest of the crew, preferring to remain alone in his room. At those times River would sit stone-still outside his door, listening with her mind, while the others hummed and worried while they ate.
Finally the others had a serious discussion about Simon's behavior. They were unable to coax Simon from his room, and eventually decided to discuss the matter among themselves. They gathered around the dinner table while River lingered around the edges of the room. Mal had asked if anyone knew what was bothering the Doc.
"You guys get into a fight?" he'd asked Kaylee, who had shaken her head quickly.
"I ain't had a conversation with him in two weeks, Cap'n. He just don't talk anymore."
"What?" Jayne had looked affronted. "I didn't do nothin' to him."
Mal had looked dubious. "Well, something's wrong with him…" His voice trailed off into thoughtfulness. The others were also furrowing their brows and biting their lips, and they jumped when River spoke.
"It's the Black."
Mal had frowned, and Zoe and Inara had exchanged confused glances. "He never said anything about the Black," Mal said.
"He ain't turnin' into a Reaver, is he?" Jayne had asked, his voice quivering slightly and his body tense. Reavers- one of the only things Jayne was afraid of. Reavers and Rivers.
River rolled her eyes at them- idiots—and sat down at the table. "All by himself in the Black," she murmured, and she put her head on the table and wept.