Down the Rabbit Hole - Chapter Twelve
Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mal and Simon continue to hide from the Feds, but time may be taking its toll. Not slash. This chapter: Simon worries about Mal. Simon worries about River. Simon worries about time. Mal imparts some hard-earned Rim wisdom.


Last chapter was here, a long time ago. Chapter Eleven


“What do you think they’re doing?” Simon set his stylus aside.

Another hour had flown by, hastened by the excitement of watching the mold grow. In that time Simon had paced a pattern on the floor, removed and replaced every item in the hover console, and re-examined each shadowy recess of the ruined house on the off chance that he might find an overlooked source of water. Finally, in an attempt to keep his hands off Mal’s pulse and, in turn, the captain’s fingers off his throat, he had taken up the engineer’s writing tablet. Ignoring Mal’s request to hear the dead man’s entries read aloud, and somewhat unmotivated to compose his own thoughts, Simon had quickly skipped past the only game loaded on the system and had settled in Composer, recreating orchestral movements and asking Mal to guess the creator. To his surprise the captain had accurately identified Mozart and Handel, and had invented extremely creative names for others. But the last smart answer had been seven concertos ago, leaving Simon with a new and unwanted distraction.

“On the ship, I mean,” he continued

The captain was drifting.


Slurring more words. Leaving sentences unfinished. Dialing in and out of focus. Silence might be Mal’s way of managing pain, but what Simon heard now were involuntary gaps; chasms into which words disappeared after sliding from an authoritative start to not-quite-making-sense to being given up for lost. Not that every comment sputtered out: Mal could still aim a sharp barb at his hapless cellmate. But it was the increasing energy he required to do so that triggered Simon’s visceral alarm. And made him hesitate in his response to it.

“Captain?” He picked up the flashlight, angling the red beam across Mal’s prone form, discerning the rise and fall of his chest.

He knew with absolute certainty in which direction his patient’s condition was headed, and why. He understood the combination of factors that made him powerless to help. He could recite case studies and percentages and odds, none of which would bring him comfort. Predict to the minute the expected decline of faculties and functions.

Estimate at what point he would be left alone.

And yet, crouched in this slurry of fatigue and fear, suspended between intellect and need, Simon Tam hesitated in his acceptance of fact. And then Simon Tam rejected it entirely.


Simon Tam, instead, was behaving in much the same fashion as the irrational relatives he used to avoid in the ER. Swearing he wouldn’t lose Mal to incoherency. Vowing the impossible task of keep him alert without fluid or blood. Knowing he could tap into that celebrated stubborn streak and defy medical convention, if he could only keep Mal talking. Because Simon Tam knew one thing Dr. Tam didn’t. Simon Tam knew Mal Reynolds.


“’m here!” Mal snapped. “Thinking.”

Simon let out a breath. Add irritability to the list of symptoms. Of course with Mal it was hard to tell.

“Then tell me, what do you think they’re doing on the ship?”

“Hidin’, they got any sense.”

“Which we both know they don’t.” Simon played out the expected answer, happy to hear humor. Or what he hoped was humor. He waited on Mal’s reply, using the sound of the captain’s breathing as a cue to whether he was going to speak.

“Organizin’ ’n excitin’ rescue. Of their beloved cap’n.”

“Only their captain?”

“ ’magine River’ll make ‘em… pick you up. ”

Simon smiled before his thoughts darkened. River, on the ship without him. He imagined her as Serenity had left the planet, left him behind. Crying and screaming. Or mute and fetal. Wielding a butcher knife. Coming across a gun. No one knew what smoothers to give her, what doses. Inara was resourceful enough to look into his records, but he didn’t know how much she would be able to decipher. Surely Book would lend a hand. But if River became unstable, if she injured herself or others…

“Tol’ you ’fore not to worry on River.”

Simon didn’t bother to hide his amazement. Mal’s eyes were closed and his grasp on reality was swaying like a bridge in a high wind, yet he still read Simon through the dark. “How do you know I’m worrying about River?”

“Ain’t stupid.” Mal’s tone momentarily touched on belligerent. “Just…” The word dangled and Simon thought it would be another unfinished thought, but Mal surprised him by regrouping. “Tired. Gorram tired.” Simon waited for the characteristic eye rub, but Mal didn’t make the effort. “Time?”

Simon glanced at the Cortex, even though he had looked a second ago. And every second prior to that. “Two thirty.”


“We only have until six…”

“ ’ll be here,” Mal said sharply.

“They haven’t waved yet. What if they can’t mount a rescue?”

“They will. Planning. Takes…”

Time. Simon mentally finished the sentence for the captain. In the past, time the enemy had sprinted along, eating up the opportunity for study, surgery, sleep, or escape. Yet here it was both racing and standing still. Dragging its feet through the night hours, impassive to his need to be out of this place, yet at the same time rushing at them with the threat of dawn, to open that door and throw light onto their crime. Forsaking Mal as he rode the long hours without treatment, less able to afford the delay with every minute. Challenging Zoe, who knew the deadline Mal had given her, knew better than Simon what loomed on the other side of 6 AM, yet was unaware of the added urgency. Not that it would make a difference, her knowing that Mal had to be evacced. The crew would be in the full throes of planning and executing either way. He’d seen them in rescue action; had participated, knew how it worked. Only this time they couldn’t bring Serenity.

“Where will they get a vessel?”

He hated himself for continuing to talk, wished he could let Mal sleep. But he harbored a fear, perhaps not altogether clinically sound, of his not waking. Discussing Serenity and her crew heightened Mal’s awareness. And any insight Mal could give made him feel, foolishly, as though he might have some degree of control over their circumstances. Simon waited a few moments and was about to repeat his question when Mal pushed out an answer.

“Boatyard. Friend’a ours. Hide Serenity. Rent a ship. Small. Smallish.” Mal laughed to himself. “Ship as can’t be traced.”

“But how will they get us out? You said they’re searching the ships.”

“Guise a business. Or, smugglin’. Could hide you. Right unner the floorboards. ‘Course, Feds tenda know that.”

Wonderful. Simon quit conjecture and turned their rescue over to Zoe’s capable hands. They’d banded together to rescue Mal before. Book had proved surprisingly adept, Wash single-mindedly determined. Jayne would participate to help the captain, even if it meant rescuing Simon as well. If he tried to leave Simon behind, River could correct him with a quirk of her eyebrow.

And just like that he was back to River.

Capable of firing a gun and killing three men. Of sending a bounty hunter to his death in the black. River who was frightened and unbalanced and brilliant and dangerous. Now without him. Without meds.

“What will they do with her if we don’t come back?”

Mal snorted. “Anyone tell you your bedside manner’s lackin’ in the…” he struggled for the word he wanted, then gave up. “It ain’t good,” he finished.

“She needs care.”

“E’eryone on Serenity‘s aware a that. Think Zoe won’ protec’ her?”

She would. He knew. Just as he knew Kaylee would, and Inara, Book and Wash. “Jayne might see things otherwise.”

“Think Zoe can’ han’le Jayne?”

He’d seen Zoe handle Jayne. Often more effectively than Mal, for that matter.

“No. I know she can. I know they’ll watch her. It’s just… She’s not like the rest of you. This life, the crime and violence, she’s not meant for this. She wasn’t born for this.”

“The rest of us were?” A pause, and a stronger voice challenged him. “You honestly belie’e that?”

“No,” Simon backpeddled. “No, that’s not what I mean. But you’re, you were never as sheltered as she was. It doesn’t affect you.”

Mal took a long breath in, leaving no question as to his comprehension.

“New rule, Doc. ‘Cause I’m aimin’ for us t’ both live through the night. You can go back… to the pulse… e’ery ten minutes. Five, if ya want. Long as you don’ say nothing."

“I didn’t mean…” It hadn’t been his plan to upset Mal, and now it was he who stumbled for his words. “I was only saying that you’re no stranger to violence. You’ve seen so much death. You’re inured.”

Simon could have sworn he saw Mal flinch before he responded, voice low but words shockingly clear.

“You think a man gets indifferen' to death, you ain’t nearly as smart as we give you credit for, top three percent.”

“But, I’ve seen you...” Simon started, even as his conscience ordered him to stop, stop this now. “I’ve seen you kill men and never flinch.”

“An’ you figure…” Mal turned his head toward Simon, slowly, painfully, “… that’s on account a my being Rim raised? The likes a me. Zoe. Jayne. ‘s all how we’re born? We don’t know different? Tha’s it?”

It was, and Mal knew it.

“Sooo, I was birthed tha’ way. Yessir, tha’ would be me, come outta my momma’s womb alrea’y shootin’ and hollerin’. Never gone a day without killin’ a man. Just born with a likin’ for it.

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Ain’t it?” Mal’s voice rose. “We’re savages outside the Core, shoot ya soon as shake yer hand.” He mimicked pulling his gun from its holster. “Myself, I was top three percent in pluggin’ a man ‘twixt the eyes." He swung his pointed finger toward Simon. "Can’t remember if I started studyin’ that afore I could walk or after.”

“Stop.” Fear at Mal’s increasing agitation overshadowed Simon's wonder at his lucidity. “Stop, you’ll hurt yourself.” To his surprise, Mal did stop, lowering his arm to his side, but never breaking eye contact. When he spoke again his voice carried the morose tone that had colored the tale of the homesteader.

“World out there is for sure rough and tum’le, doctor. Was a time that was free and pleasin’, ‘fore I had it burned inna me that any day could be my last. See, I mighta grown up in the wilds but I never killed a man ‘til I went to war. So you’ll have to take your notion a evolution ‘n peddle i’ elsewhere.”

“I’m sorry,” Simon said reflexively. And he was, truly, even if he wasn’t sure what he was apologizing for. “I’m sorry that that had to happen to you. Still…”

Mal gave the slightest tilt of his head, and Simon lurched forward. “There’s not another way now? You’ve spent your adult life with a gun on your hip, the last five years breaking the law in one way or another, killing any number of men in the past twelve months alone, and you accept that. I’m supposed to accept that? For myself? And River?”

“Y’ever set in a dugout shelter, Doc?”

“No, mostly I keep to sewers and moldy houses.”

“ ’s what you’d expect – cave a dirt, dug into a hillside or straight underground. Shored up a little by what’s available, beams maybe. Few supplies, case you gotta stay long. You get in there and lock down and hide when whatever is outside gets too bad to face, too bad to fight with any chance a winnin’. Popped up all over the Rim in the last 10 years. On remote homesteads, same as this. A hole in the ground to hide your family in when the verse sees fit to wipe you away. ”

“Hide, from what?”

“’lliance, originally. Lookin to gain a foothold, sweep onto a farm… or ranch, clean it out, burn it down. Never brings a good outcome to them livin’ there.

Then some folks used ‘em hide from Reavers, as come doin’ near the same damage to crops and farms and people. Sometimes they wouldn’t look for the dugouts. And sometimes they wouldn’t find ‘em.”

Simon glanced involuntarily around their small hideout as Mal continued, his voice barely above a whisper.

“Bigger uns, you’d fit 10 or 14 folk, hunkered knee t’ knee, dirt shakin’ down from overhead with each explosion, or landin’, or poundin’ a feet. Light from a lamp or two. Not much air to speak of. Not no one darin’ make a sound. Mommas clingin’ tight to kids. Fathers blamin’ themselves for their helplessness. Nothin to be done but wait, ‘n hope it all passes over, hopin’ to hell no one finds the door. Knowin’ if you go back out, won’t nothing be the same as you left it.” He broke off in a dry cough. It was the most he had spoken all night, and Simon was too transfixed to dissuade him.

“You think any a them people was born to that? Any a them kids? To smellin’ the fear rollin’ off everyone in the room? Ain’t a place you can stay. Not a way you can live. Man reaches a point he’s gotta make his way through that door and take his chances. And maybe the life he can find ain’t the life anyone wants. But it’s the better choice. Cause it’s his own choice.”

Mal rolled his head back to face the ceiling.

“Ain’t no one was meant for this, Simon. Not you, not River, not Kaylee. Ain’t no soul was meant to live hard. Just some adapt to it better. ”

------------------------------------------- Continue to Chapter Thirteen


Thursday, December 13, 2007 11:15 AM


As anticipated, Hompespun, such brilliant prose from you. The discussion of Mal's violent nature was absolutely riveting!

I can't leave a full review now, but I will later, for sure!

Thursday, December 13, 2007 11:34 AM


OMG!! You made my day by posting this. I love the insight into the characters and look forward to seeing what happens in the morning.

Thursday, December 13, 2007 12:58 PM


I squeed so very much when I saw this. I love this story so much. I startred reading it, I think, on LJ, and have been waiting rather impatiently for another chapter.

I hope you don't keep us waiting too long for the next one!

Simon and Mal are going to come out of this (right? RIGHT?!?) knowing and understanding a lot more about the other. It's a privledge for you to show us this well written and so very plausible journey in getting there.

Thursday, December 13, 2007 1:39 PM


Oh brilliant! So happy to see you posting more of this story, was worried you weren't going to continue and I so want to see what else happens. Love the dialogue between Simon and Mal, and am enjoying the fact that this tale is teaching more about the Captain than he would ever have learnt in a lifetime on Serenity. Just hope rescue comes before it is too late to do any good. Also hope the next part is up soon! Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Thursday, December 13, 2007 1:55 PM


One wonderful thing about this is how you capture Simon’s train of thought. It flows logically through a much varied conversation (not an easy thing to achieve!), it’s true to him, it touches on Mal’s situation, and it includes River and the rest of the crew so I feel their presence in the story. I can see that this chapter took a lot of time and thought to put together. Brava Homespun!

OK - favorite lines:

“New rule, Doc. ‘Cause I’m aimin’ for us t’ both live through the night. You can go back… to the pulse… e’ery ten minutes. Five, if ya want. Long as you don’ say nothing." -- A bit of humor there combined with a cranking up of the tension in the conversation – a lovely mix. It’s so true of Simon that he wouldn’t leave the matter be. I can’t imagine he’s got good bedside manner at the best of times, much less in this kind of situation… And I love that he puts himself in the place of the “irrational relatives in the ER.” I think that would be an odd but unavoidable step for him.

“See, I mighta grown up in the wilds but I never killed a man ‘til I went to war. So you’ll have to take your notion a evolution ‘n peddle i’ elsewhere.” -- A line I can picture Nathan delivering so very well!

I was a little confused about the dugout shelter – was picturing baseball LOL! But Mal’s description cleared that right up. Heartbreaking, but a perfect image.

Thursday, December 13, 2007 7:12 PM


i just discovered this story with the newest posting. Yeah for you -- this is really good stuff.

You are doing a great job with voices; and thank you so much for the description of where we are. Enough to make the picture without flattening us.

Mal4Prez is right -- that line about evolution is priceless. And I love that bit about Mal telling Simon how often he has checked his pulse -- and asking what he plans to do about what he finds.

Don't make ME wait like all these other folks have waited for a new chapter.

Friday, December 14, 2007 7:44 PM


You already know what I think of your work. I've made it as clear as I can. This addition only solidifies that opinion. I can't begin to tell you how happy I am to see you continuing this storyline.

"Saw that comin'."

Rob O.

Saturday, December 15, 2007 5:40 AM


What an amazingly brilliant piece of writing you've created once again! So glad to see more of this story and hoping for more soon. You have a rare gift of diction - your word choice is so perfect you say more in a few words than many others can say in sentences. And the specific word choices make the characters sound so much like Joss's writing that I want to laugh and cry at the same time at the push and pull of humor and sadness. Beautiful visual of the dugout and the horrors of Rimworld life. I find it amazing that you can be so far into Mal's head and thoughts and then in the next sentence be just as deep into Simon's character. This is a work to be proud of.

Sunday, December 16, 2007 5:17 AM


Thanks to you all for reading this after such a ridiculous hiatus. I very much appreciate it.

Hoperules, Leiasky, Amdobell, misswhatsis, I am trying so hard not to leave things hanging again. Really I am. I'm afraid of what misswhatsis will do to me if I don't post again.

And Leiasky, regarding "right? RIGHT?!?" *Shrugs* I dunno.

Mal4Prez, (I'm able to control the squeeing now) thanks for your comment about Simon's train of thought. It's one twisty track. Also, anyone who knows me well would probably think baseball first, lol.

HeWhoKicksAlot, thanks for sticking with it, even though I am probably making grevious medical errors. And thanks for always checking in.

Katesfriend, your comments always make me smile. I already knew I liked to be in Mal's head, but I have to say that Simon's is a revelation. The words - yeah, each one takes about a month to perfect. :)

Thank you all very much.


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Yes, Jayne, at a Parade
Oh dear, a silly little crackpiece "Based on Actual Events" that anjulie is forcing me to post as a birthday present to her.
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Down the Rabbit Hole, Chapter Seventeen
Simon and Mal have spent the night hiding from the Feds. As the escape deadline looms, Simon is still talking to himself. Wordy fellow. Not slash.

Water's Edge
Another wartime fic, and the last of the stash of Zoe and Mal fics on my hard drive. Might last me through the winter. Thanks to those who have enjoyed and commented, these have been fun to post.

Three short fics about Zoe and Mal
Three short preseries fics because Slumming was kind enough to say she'd like to read more. And because I love Mal and Zoe. Three because they're too short to post alone.
(Knows she is supposed to be writing Simon.)

Early Mal and Zoe, wartime. (Early homespun, for that matter.) Zoe's POV. One-shot.

Down the Rabbit Hole, Chapter Sixteen
Simon and Mal hiding out from the Feds. Not slash. This chapter: With no one else to talk to, Simon asks himself the tough questions.

Down the Rabbit Hole, Chapter Fifteen
Mal and Simon continue to evade Feds. Not slash.
This chapter: Get oooout of the hooouuse.

Down the Rabbit Hole, Chapterette 14
Simon and Mal hiding from the Feds, awaiting rescue. Not slash. This chapter: Try not to faint, it's only a short chapter. Almost an interlude, but I couldn't cut it out. Still in the house, still not rescued. Thanks for reading.

Down the Rabbit Hole - Chapter Thirteen
Simon and Mal, still hiding out from the Feds. And still not slash. <b>This chapter:</b>How long can two men hide in a slimy, abandoned house before one loses his mind? Apparently, not long enough. Warning for a long chapter.