Down the Rabbit Hole, Chapter Eleven
Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Mal and Simon continue to hide from the Feds. Not slash. This chapter: The procedure is finished. The room smells. Mal annoys him. Simon Tam stresses as only Simon Tam can stress. Roll over for translations of bad mandarin. Thanks to HeWhoKicksAlot for encourgement and advice, and Mal4Prez for the swift kick.


It's been a good two and a half months since I last posted, and as that's not good manners, I apologize.

Need a refresher? (I did.) Back to Chapter Ten


The smell. It was the smell that was starting to really bother him. More than the dark. More than the silence. More than Mal’s growing irritability. The odor of decay pressed in on him, a calling card of another man’s loss, settling into his lungs, clinging to his skin and clothes. Simon shook himself and stood stiffly, muscles aching from squatting. His trousers from the knee down were steeped with muck from where he had knelt to work on Mal, and the damp fabric clung uncomfortably to his shins. He pushed at it half-heartedly with his foot, reluctant to dirty his hands when there was so little left to wipe them clean. He had, thankfully, managed to keep his seat dry, even if he paid for it with leg cramps.

He glanced toward the Cortex screen, willing for the hundredth time that it might chime, giving them the where’s and how’s of the rescue plan; giving Simon something other than pulse and respiration to discuss with a decreasingly receptive Mal.

Deprived again of that satisfaction, he turned to stretching, reaching first one arm and then the other as far toward the ceiling as possible, the pull of muscles a welcome diversion. He bent at the waist, relieving the strain in his back, then straightened and rolled his head slowly from shoulder to shoulder, soothing his tense neck. Had he not found knuckle cracking to be repulsive, he might have attempted that next.

Instead, he reviewed his small surroundings, knowing that no one had secreted themselves in the shadows since his last sweep, but checking just the same. Nothing in the room had changed at all, save the slight shift in the angle of moonlight and the accompanying lengthening of shadows. Not the occupants, not their predicament, and not their moods. He swung each arm in a final circle, and, with a deep inhale, approached the man lying in the corner.

The reduction had gone quite well. He’d been able to quickly position the bone, satisfactorily precluding the captain from causing himself more harm. In all honesty, the reset had been easier than overcoming Mal’s mò xu you recalcitrance. And, for all the captain’s apprehension, had there been any crisis? No. Simon had been sure and swift in his manipulation. Mal, for his part, had gathered himself and gone to whatever place men like him went that let them ignore broken bones. Or stab wounds. Or gunshots to the belly.

Simon shook his head at his own observation. He would never understand how a man could accept extreme violence – both dispensed and received – as a part of daily living. Mal not only accepted it, he integrated it, to the extent of creating a coping mechanism to carry him through the resultant damage; a “mind over injury” bearing that had become, through appallingly regular use, second nature.

Unconsciously he placed a hand on his left thigh, running a finger over the small scar there. Adrenaline, naturally, was a different story. It was adrenaline that had driven him to struggle to his feet and fight when he’d been shot. A chemical reaction, triggered by a threat to River. When that danger had passed, Simon had had the decency to nearly pass out after Zoe removed the bullet. So no, it was not the same behavior. He was not a robot, even if Kaylee thought otherwise. If she wanted a robot, she could look to her beloved captain, who killed men without thought or remorse, who was able to efficiently close off his pain, and anyone else’s.

And when she looks to him, she’ll choose him. Over you. In a heartbeat.

It was true. Kaylee was not going to speak to him, once she found out what he had done. She all but worshipped the captain, always insisting what a good man he was, how he did what he had to. As if there was a heart in all that emptiness. It was how she’d been raised, Simon told himself, the life she’d led, that caused her to see Mal’s way as the right way. How often had she encouraged Simon to fight back, to not be so proper, to defend himself? And now he had. He’d taken on that code that she so prized in the captain, and he’d shot a man. Just the very, very wrong man. How ironic, that his induction into barbarism would cost him her friendship. Not that he would have time to dwell on it. Zoe would kill him the minute he set foot back on the ship. Probably after letting Jayne cut off an ear. Wash would look at the floor in order to avoid watching the bloodshed. Inara would shun him, and Book be disapproving. River would chide him for his stupidity. And Kaylee would turn away, but not until she had rebuked him with those sad, hurt eyes. No, he’d never be able to stay on Serenity after this. The first words out of Mal’s mouth would be “he shot me” and Simon Tam, if they allowed him to live, would find himself without a home. It wouldn’t matter that he’d tried to fix it. It wouldn’t matter that he’d thought he was defending Mal. It wouldn’t matter that he nearly made himself sick every time he replayed the pull of the trigger. He’d shot the captain.

On the floor, Mal expelled a pained huff of air, an audible reminder of Simon’s new responsibility.

Yes, he’d shot the captain. They’d hate him for that. But he’d be damned if he was going to give them any more reason to hang him by his thumbnails.

Simon wiped his hands together forcefully as he moved toward Mal. He’d be damned if he was going to let things get any worse.

* * *

“You don’t wanna do that.”

Simon froze in his crouch, his arm partially extended. “I was just---”

“Drop your hand.”

Simon retreated. How had he sensed that without looking?

“Ain’t much of a challenge, Doc.” Mal didn’t bother to open his eyes. “You been pokin’ or proddin’ somethin’ or other every ten minutes for the past hour. Coulda timed you down to the second.”

“I … Really.” Ten? He scratched at his ear, disconcerted that he had shaved the recommended monitoring intervals by a third. Fifteen minutes in a trauma situation, that was how he had been trained. Fifteen minutes. Hadn’t felt like only ten minutes. In truth it had felt like an eternity, based on their having been trapped in this filthy kitchen for eons. But, certainly ten was acceptable. Already-cool skin could grow clammier in ten minutes. A respiration rate tending toward rapid could increase; blood flow could decrease. Better to check, stay on schedule. Regardless of the patient’s complaints. “Captain, I insist. I need to check your pulse.”

“An’ I’ll needa break your fingers. Leave it lay, Doc.”

Was he slurring his words? Damned if anyone could tell the difference with that insufferable drawl.

“I’m trying to help.”

“Ain’t much you can do.”

“That’s ridiculous.

‘s true.”

“No. It’s not.” The captain might know more about putting bullets into people, but Simon surely knew more about what came after. Ten minutes or fifteen, he knew what he was meant to be doing.

Mal opened his eyes, startling Simon with the fatigue revealed there.

“You’re gonna take my pulse.” He blinked slowly, as if the small movement required great effort. “Find it ain’t to your likin’. Too fast, slow, whatever.”

“Yes.” Simon half listened, striving instead to get a glimpse of Mal’s pupils in the poor light.

“So what, ‘xactly, can you do can fix that?”

It took a moment for Mal’s meaning to reach Simon, as though it had flown past him and rebounded off a far wall, the impact catching him off guard.


He recovered quickly, grinning and forcing a small laugh. What an inane question. He was doctor here, thank you. He was the one with the degree. The one with the authoritative answer. Which simply wasn’t coming to mind. Leaning back, he inventoried the treatment he had provided, checking off each textbook protocol.

Mal was supine, a small pillow of rolled-up curtain keeping his head out of the muck. Both feet were elevated as well as was possible, boot heels resting on the hover’s side step. Bandages encased the broken clavicle and the bullet wound, then wrapped across Mal’s back, under and over his good shoulder and back twice more to his injured one, forming a figure-8 to brace the break. His left arm was strapped across his chest, protected in a high sling over the remnants of his shirt. His left leg had a fresh layer of dressing.

And he was right.

Ta zhòu mà, he was right.

Simon had no more recourse. No resources with which to minister. No antibiotics, no painkillers, no blood packs, no water, no blankets. Not even more window curtains. He had used whiskey to clean his hands of the worst of the dirt, the same whiskey he had irresponsibly allowed his patient to use for self-medication. And now that patient, the patient who had barely flinched as Simon reset his bone, lay calmly on the floor, calling his bluff.

For a moment Simon thought he might be sick. He knew this feeling, this numbing sense of futility and the dread that followed. It was how he felt when River was having an episode and all he could offer her was a smoother. He could take Mal’s pulse until it stopped, but until they had access to medical supplies, shàng di bang máng, there was little else he could do.

“’s what I figured.” Mal rested his eyes again. “So how’s ‘bout you push off the constant pulse-takin’. Let a body lay unmolested. Say 20, 30 minutes? Af’er all, wouldn’t wanna leave you with nothin’ to do.”

“That’s very gracious.” Simon was hardly aware of the words he mumbled. Nothing. He’d had his five minutes of utility, and it was chiefly to repair damage he’d caused. Now he could do nothing but sit here in this dank purgatory with its lurid red light, the pungent odor of mildew assaulting his senses, and wait for Zoe to rescue them. Or for the Alliance to capture them. Meanwhile the captain …

He sat back hard on the floor, not seeing Mal before him, nor feeling the slime coat his trousers. If he only had some water. Some medication. His bag. God, he was never going off ship again without his bag.


He couldn’t do anything. The crew would kill him after all.


He should be used to feeling useless. After all, he was useless to River every day.


The use of his name stirred him from his wallow.

“Done a good job, fixin’ the shoulder up snug. Was the right call.”

Simon lifted his head, ashamed of being so transparently self-pitying that the captain felt compelled to offer platitudes. Was the right call. Why, so they could sit more comfortably while they hoped nothing worse happened? While they hoped Mal didn’t go into shock? Fat chance of that. The captain’s face was gray and sweat covered his brow. He was clearly exhausted. The reduction, with its generous helping of extra pain, had probably done a neat job of making things worse. What was he thinking, with his insistence on pushing his medical prowess? He was showing off. Seeing for once that he had the upper hand over Mal and using it for all it was worth. Indulging in the wild notion that Dr. Simon Tam had control over the situation when in reality - in Mal’s reality - he had none at all.


Mal’s voice was sharp this time, and Simon felt a sting of guilt.

“Can’t have you off on some ‘woulda coulda shoulda’ tour.” Mal swallowed with effort, calling Simon’s attention to his own thirst. “May be there’s no more doctorin’, but you gotta stay alert. Zoe’s like t’ call any time. We sit tight an’ wait for that. I ain’t bleedin’ out, and no one’s comin’ in. So we just gotta sit tight, pay ‘tention. You with me?”

Simon nodded. “Yes,” he said, shamefaced. “I am.”

Ignoring Mal’s most recent order, he reached over and felt for the captain’s pulse. There was no protest as he counted. Rapid. Imperfect. But strong enough. Stubborn.

For once Simon would consider that an advantage.

------------- Go to Chapter Twelve


Wednesday, May 23, 2007 8:55 AM


Glad to see this here! I was hoping you hadn't forgotten it! And the wait is forgiven!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007 8:58 AM


I'm so glad to see you continuing this. It's a great, engaging story. Looking forward to seeing everyone's reaction when they're rescued. Somehow, I don't think their reactions will be quite what Simon expects.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007 9:38 AM


Hey! I'll be the only one doing any kicking around here.

Well worth the wait. Did my little internal happy dance when I saw Chapter 11 posted here. As always, the details are perfect, as was the dialogue, internal and external. The medical, spot-on, so you can lay your fears to rest.

Excellent job. Keep up the good work.

Rob O.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007 11:17 AM


Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for continuing this captivating saga. I was just thinking about it today and hoping you post another installment.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007 1:03 PM


Hooray, I actually thought you had forgotten all about this story so was happily dancing about when I saw you had posted another chapter up. I did smile at Simon's pessimistic expectations of what the crew would do to him when he got back to Serenity. He forgets that everyone knows he would never intentionally hurt, let alone shoot, a member of the crew whether the Captain or anyone else. And the fact that he tries so hard to do everything in his power to put right the damage will be all any of them need to know, the Captain included. The only one berating Simon will be himself. Just have to hang on now for the Big Damn Rescue! Please don't leave it another two and a half months before you update, *dong ma*? Love this story too much to have to wait so long again. Good work, Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Wednesday, May 23, 2007 3:47 PM


Er, hi, I'm new to this commenting thing, but just wanted to say - Yay! Really glad to see more of this story. I found the earlier parts when I started reading here and loved them and really hoped there'd be more. I love the richness of the detail of this, and your Simon is just dead on - this is so much like him it's just wonderful to read. And I love the understated way you're showing just what a talent Mal has as a leader.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007 4:06 PM


What a dead-on fabulous fic you've written! Your descriptions of the mold and muck almost made my eyes burn and nose itch. The Simon self torture was so true to what we know of his character, and Mal's leadership skills were exemplary.

I love your fics and how well you get into the character's heads. You're very skilled at putting them both in a situation that will test them to the max - and force them to respect and depend on the other.

Thursday, May 24, 2007 3:13 AM


>Hey! I'll be the only one doing any kicking around here.

Too late LOL! But it only well-placed punt, I'll leave the rest to you to handle, Mr Kickalot!

Homespun - again, such interesting perspective from Simon about the difference between himself and Mal. Funny thing is, I think he would go to the same place as Mal if he had to. He'd discover the same ability to survive. He just doesn't get it, and can't. He hasn't been the places Mal has. I hope he's going to learn Mal's not such an automaton! And you're setting up for an interesting reunion with the crew, if the crew ever finds them...

Gotta agree with the other commenters, excellent details and little things, and the setting and the mood. And I'll add to the pressure: I really hope we don't have to wait super long for the next part. I'm so curious about where you're going to take it from here!

Friday, May 25, 2007 6:10 AM


You're back! And you've brought prezzies! Excellent!


Some brilliant work here, homespun! Simon is definitely in fine form here with his "I am so f-ed!" mantra. Once again, he's failed to realize that the crew knows he would never shoot Mal intentionally...or do harm period. The face-off in the pilot with Dobson should prove that!

And honestly? I am kinda surprised Simon doesn't understand Mal's ability to just switch off. As a trauma surgeon, I would expect Simon to have developed the ability to turn off all distracting emotions while he does his job for the patient. It's not being able to shoot someone without seemingly flinching admittedly...but I think a future chapter when Simon snaps at Mal about his habit of just going dead emotionally would be quite well-served by Mal responding back about Simon's own tricks of the trade;)


Monday, September 3, 2007 8:40 PM


I somehow managed to miss that you posted another chapter! I loved it - it seems so very real and in character for both of them. Please continue this, okay? One of the most enjoyable stories around.


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