Ad Interim

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.

-Dylan Thomas

Simon tells her many things:

-That the word "onomatopoeia" has a 't' in it.

-That when he grows up, he is going to be a famous doctor.

-That she is a brat.

-That she is his sister, and that he will always protect her.

-That she was born on a cold, wet day where the primary colors in the world were gray, gray, and gray.

For a girl born of gray she is a splash of color against the white canvas of the world.

She wears blue shirts and purple scarves and green barettes and pink ballet slippers, and paints her room orange and yellow and red to mirror the sunset.


River is a girl made of laughter and light and happiness, and next to her Simon looks quiet and subdued, dressed always in his clothes of navy and white and black.

She laughs and dances; he reads and studies.

Shared features mark them as siblings, but when strangers look they see only polar opposites; his water to her fire, her sun to his moon.


Strangers look, but they do not see.


wears red socks striped with blue and has dinosaurs scattered around his room.


wears long-sleeved shirts of white and black under layers of rainbow colors and has a shelf of old encyclopedias above her bed.

They miss afternoons in River's room listening to music and nights spent on Simon's bed reading articles on the latest breakthroughs in science and math and medicine.

They miss dinner parties and ballet recitals and tears and laughter and smiles.

When they look they see River's rainbow to Simon's clouds and fail to appreciate that there are always two sides to a coin and that without red-orange-yellow-green-blue-indigo-violet there can be no black and white.


Eyes wide open to the light she sees everything:

-The glint of moonlight on a mirror.

-The worn floorboards of the house where feet have trampled invisible paths over time.

-The way the wind slides its fingers into her hair and twists it into knots impossible to untangle.

How the sand slides through the hourglass and the world rushes to its inevitable conclusion.


River grows older, smarter, more alive than ever before. Simon is her world and her center and he orbits her like the sun.


The Academy.

It sounded so colorful in the brochures; the challenging curriculum, the other students who wanted to learn as she did.

"Here," she told Simon. "I want to go here."


It was a lie. All of it. Most of it. Some of it?


The floors

the walls

the ceilings: all of it white.

Where there is not white, there is silver and gray.

The others dress in drab grays and washed-out jeans and faded white. They avoid her and her colors like the plague.

(There is no color here, and her heart aches for brilliant greens and eye-catching yellows and shocking pinks).

She hangs the posters she brought from home in her room and wears her brightest clothes and tells herself she does not care.


Time passes, and her reds fade to pink and her blacks fade to gray and her blues are the color of dishwater.

The Academy saps away her life and her colors and her limbs grow heavy with exhaustion that is bone-deep.


There are scars on her head and her back that she does not remember getting.

Her posters, even with their dingy colors, are too bright for her eyes and she tears them all down, packs them away.

Her wardrobe is gray and her mind is gray and her whole. Life. Is. Gray.

In the night she cries for herself and Simon and colors and pretends that there are no cameras watching her every move.


She grows taller, grows thinner, grows afraid. She learns caution at their hands and the fear is scrolled on the lattice work of the scars on her brain.


She is quiet, watching with wide eyes as they reach into her mind and rifle around, leaving memories bent and stained in their wake.

Her lips fuse together and do not part in screams or cries or pleas and behind her teeth her words pile up in a withering heap.


They give her a new set of paints to work with, but the colors are wrong and she sends them flying across the room to smash into the far wall and slide down onto the white-white-gray floor.

For this they lock her in a room made of gray-white-gray and throw away the key.


The emptiness presses down onto her, smothering her under its layers of nothing.

This is so so so wrong.

Where are the reds?

The yellows and blues?

The oranges and greens and pinks and any color that isn't gray and white and silver?!

She screams for Simon but he cannot does not will not hear.


If you love something, let it go. If it does not come back, it never loved you.

Simon never comes, and the future is lost in a thick white cloud.

She cries red-blood tears in the night and her center crumbles into silvery pieces that taste of salt and lies and nothingness.

Reality begins to chip away in fog-colored shards.


They offer her a new rainbow, one made of silver and blue and red and black.

There are four colors to the old eight.

One is a color of nothing, and another is not a real color, but she does not care, she does not care, and takes them gladly.


She grows cold, grows hard, and her skin becomes smooth silver metal unmarred by the knives that shred her flesh from the outside in.


Like recognizes like and the scalpels stop cutting, stop shredding, and sharp-lance-eyes watch as weapon and weapon alike shed blood on once-pristine white floors.


Someday, she will kill them all.

She holds this thought close to her heart and smiles at the warmth it gives off.


Time passes, sometimes. And sometimes it doesn't, and she and the world beyond pause, frozen in time, caught mid-thought/word/gesture, and the silence presses down on her ears and everything is just so blessedly quiet.


The air is heavy white fog, pricking her skin with needle-like fingers.

Ice crystals form on white flesh and her hair becomes brittle enough to break with a twist of her thin fingers.


She grows tired, so so tired, and exhaustion worse than the lack of colors leaves her frozen limbs numb and unresponsive.

She lies there in her cocoon of ice and snow and dark and dreams of Simon.


The air crackles and everything smells suddenly of ozone.

Words fly through lightning-threaded space and Simon, Simon is there and she falls into his waiting arms and cries because he is there, solid and warm, and because the explosion of sound and colors and people people so many people is too too much and stop stop STOP be quiet please just be quiet!

There is a scream and words that are not hers but come from her mouth and a needle and everything is suddenly quiet.


The colors are back.

The people are back.

The noise is back.

She screams and curls up in a corner and wishes for silver-black-blue-red because those colors, at least, she can understand.


Simon is here, and he is a solid pillar of black-navy-white in a sea of churning emotions and thoughts and people.

He is here, and unchanged, and she cries because she is so broken, so different from his mei mei of before.

The clothes he brings are bright and too big and the castoffs of others, and she wears them to disguise the fact that she is a Gray creature now, and does not need colors to thrive.


At the core of her, there is a light.

It is layered in gray and white and silver and blue, but it is there and she looks but never touches, because the light is crimson and turquoise and emerald and all the colors she has been forbidden from having ever again.


Sometimes she dreams what it would be to not be gray.

To be the River she once was, that happy dancing girl who wore colors wrapped around her in a shield and who never cared whether the sun shone or the rain poured because she was a world unto herself and as long as she lived nothing could ever hurt her.

She wants to make Simon smile and her words to come out in the proper order and to paint the world the colors of a sunset.


She closes her eyes to the dark and watches the world and sees:

-Kaylee leans towards Simon with a smile on her face and her fingers dancing through the air.

-How Inara's red silk trails with a whisper over the metal grating of the catwalk and leaves small threads around the bolts.

-Wash's dinosaurs perched on the bridge, guarding their master with fearsome spikes and growly voices.

How Simon and the crew look at her with pain and worry and sadness when they think she does not see.


She grows wistful, grows sad, and watches the world spin the colors of life together in a tapestry that no longer includes her.

And one day, she grows bold.


The light is so strong, too strong, and it burns away the gray and the blue and the red.

In the end, it burns her away as well.


Her mind splinters and fractures along old fault lines and she can see everything.

Pieces fly and ricochet and she is everything and nothing and-



She is confined to her bed for a week, and she sleeps with eyes wide open and speaks of burning wastelands and stained-glass butterflies and the smell of snow in July.

Whispers slide through the air and rose-colored smoke issues from beneath closed doors.

The crew cannot sleep for the screaming.


Streams of fog-colored butterflies fall from his lips and fill the air with the promise of morning.

There is:


on the floors


blue sky above but-

there is no white-water sun to herald the break of day.

The fog creeps in

on little cat feet

and icy fingers drag her kicking and screaming to metal floors made slick with blood.


Even in death Simon is quiet, and for that she is grateful.


Sleep is a thing of the past, and her dreams bleed into waking hours.


In the morning, a trail of bloody footprints leads the crew running to Jayne's room.

He is unharmed.

Serenity is not, and sparks hiss and crackle against the dull metal grating.

"Fireworks," she whispers. "Paint the sky. Life anew among the dead."

The matches in her hands stain the tips of her fingers black with ash.


Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

She closes her eyes and opens her arms and the world burns in curling scraps.

The inky black of a midnight with no stars flows in like the ocean and sweeps away the ashes.

She smiles, and begins again in the silence.