Down the Rabbit Hole, Chapter Sixteen
Thursday, January 31, 2008

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.


Hi. Working on the fly here because I realllly wanted to get this posted today, or it would have had to wait til some time...not now. Sincere apologies to all the firefighters, EMTs (you know who you are) and medical professionals I am insulting with my writing in these current chapters. Which is peopled with characters belonging to Joss Whedon, not to me. I'm excited because I think I might actually finish this story. Thanks for reading. ------------------------------------- Back to Chapter Fifteen

Or, for a quick refresher, It was just as they passed beyond the reach of the flames that Mal fell. -------------------------------------------------


Simon’s hand closed on air as he grabbed too late, jerking to a stop so quickly the hover slammed into his hip, knocking him sideways. “Ye su!” He struggled to swing the craft around, releasing it to thud unheeded to the ground as he found Mal, face down and unmoving.

No, no no. “Mal.” He shook the captain’s right shoulder, not expecting a reply and not getting one. Reaching for Mal’s throat he felt for the carotid pulse, scanning their surroundings as he did so. There wasn’t much to see. Even this far removed from the house, smoke still rendered details indistinct. Only the corona of the structural fires blazed through the pall, and that brightness blinded him to anything beyond. No figures moved before those flames; not soldiers advancing with rifles, and not Jayne striding toward them, tossing insults.

He stared for a moment at Mal, measuring his ragged respiration, loathe to turn him onto his back for fear he’d never be able to lift him from that position. He heard a slightly hysterical laugh that must have been his. Lift him? How was he going to do that from any position? Debris was once again raining on them, and he started as something seared his ear, painfully recalling his attention.

All right.

Kneeling, he ducked his head and drew Mal’s right arm around his neck, wedging his left shoulder as far as he could under the captain’s chest. He planted his right foot on the ground and grasped Mal’s waistband with his left hand, strained to gain a half-standing position. They immediately listed, but he splayed his feet in time to stop them from falling. Keeping a death grip on the captain’s wrist, he threw all the strength he could summon to his right, dragged Mal the short inches to the hover, and deposited him across the seat, nearly dropping next to him.

There was no way to position him that wouldn’t invite injury. The best Simon could do was keep a firm grasp on Mal’s thick twill trouser band with one hand and maneuver the hover with the other. His legs cracked repeatedly against the hull as he trotted awkwardly alongside, trying to nudge the throttle and pick up some speed, but having to repeatedly abandon steering in order to brush burning ash off of Mal or himself.

He was coughing uncontrollably and his streaming eyes were slits against the airborne grit. Yet as he moved forward with his unwieldy cargo, he imagined the smoke was lessening, and soon realized the fire was no longer chasing them along the ground. He was testing a deeper breath of clearer air when a shriek sounded from behind, followed by a long, defeated groan.

Spinning, he witnessed the farmhouse collapse, shooting a pyre of sparks heavenward. When had they left there? Five minutes ago? An hour? Simon could muster nothing beyond numbness at the destruction of their former shelter. Until, with a jolt, he ran into their next.

His head had been turned but this time he’d felt Mal slip and had caught him with both hands. Captainless, the hover had leapt forward and just as quickly smashed to a halt, throwing Mal and tripping Simon down with him.

Gui, what now?

Ascertaining that Mal was still with him, Simon limped to the console and restarted the vehicle. He bowed his head as the engine caught, resting his throbbing forehead on the handlebar for a second before asking for reverse. The engine whined but the hover didn’t move. Again Simon twisted the throttle. Again the engine answered but the unit stayed fixed.

Simon slammed the hull with the side of his fist. “Come on!” Stumbling to the front of the craft, he found the hindrance. They had hit Mal’s slope; an embankment that rose above Simon’s head, draped in a tangle of groundcover. The hover’s undercarriage was snagged in a thicket of vegetation. Dang ráng.” Simon reached blindly beneath the hull and met with an impossible snarl of vines. He was bitterly reminded that Mal had no knife, and any cutting tool the farmstead might have had to offer was now a molten heap. Sitting down hard with his back against the hull, he stared up at the drifting smoke that pre-empted the dawn, struggling with the ache in his head and in his throat. God, what next?

What next?!”

He braced his feet against the slope before him and pushed, feeling a savage satisfaction as the dirt crumbled. “What the gui is next?” He kicked again. “Locusts?” He rubbed his face roughly. What was he supposed to do now? Tote Mal into the woods across his shoulders? Hope that the official disinterest in house fires continued? Wait for the Feds to execute him at sunrise?

He plunked the back of his head against the hood, softly and then with increasing force, cursing to himself until, with a grimace, he tucked his chin and leaned once again into the hover. Positioning his feet higher on the slope so that he almost formed a V, he drove against the earth, gritting his teeth as he straightened his legs. Yes. He felt the hover edge. Felt it give - then felt it rebound the instant he stopped pushing.

Son of a bitch!

“Son… of... a…. bitch!” With each word his foot lashed out at the hill that had trapped them. On the last, the ground beneath his boot gave way with a crack, depositing Simon heavily on his back. He kicked in panic at the snare, ignoring the pain as his shin and calf were repeatedly pummeled against something sharp and hard. To his surprise his efforts succeeded, and he rolled roughly down the incline and sprang to his feet, blood pumping.

The hover sat docilely in the foliage. Simon snatched up a stick and cautiously hobbled back up to the bow, probing the ground. Dirt, vines, dirt, then the stick hit something unyielding. Simon struck it again and felt an echo. He dropped to his knees, hands spread. Wood. Wood planks, with a hole in a rotted spot where his foot had gone through. He ran his hands up the surface and found an iron ring. Standing over it he pulled, and a door opened from the earth, exposing an entrance angled into the hill.

It was true.

What Mal had said was true. Heaving the door so it fell fully open on the hillside, he retrieved the flashlight from the hover console and inched down through the entrance. Once he was completely inside, he flipped on the light.

Six long steps inlaid with timber led down a tunnel to a narrow, earthen-walled bunker. A pile of blankets formed a bed in one corner. Most of the rest of the space was occupied by piles of crates and by shelves, lined from the floor to the seven-foot ceiling with supplies. Simon set the light on the floor and dashed back out to fetch Mal.

“It’s better you’re not awake for this,” he told the captain, grunting as he hoisted him under the armpits and dragged him up the slope, heaving him through the doorway and down the steps, critically aware of every jolt. He headed for the pile of blankets and laid Mal down as gently as he could, propping his feet on a wooden crate and reserving one blanket to tuck around him. “Be right back.”

Darting up the steps to close the door, he was confronted with the gleam of the hover. Ai ya, might as well post a sign that they were there. Jumping back down the steps, he searched shelves piled with tools and weapons and came up with a sheathed 6-inch knife. Perfect.

Outside he sawed at the tendrils trapping the hover, finally freeing it. It would never fit inside the dugout door. Starting the engine, he steered to the left of the slope, aiming for the woodline. He’d hide it in the trees. He passed a hundred feet or so into the thicket before stashing the hover between some accommodating rhododendrons, then took off at a run back toward the shelter. He wondered, as he swept his worried view from side to side, why no one had pursued them. Why hadn’t the soldiers waited to see who exited the house? Why had no federal or local officials bothered to check into the fire, which had to have been visible for miles? Why had no one cared? Preoccupied, he did not see what caused him to trip and nearly go sprawling. He wished, for many nights to come, that he had never looked back to check.

What had caught his toe had been the denim-patched legs of Ames, the homesteader turned renegade who had shot Mal and had in turn been killed by him. The corpse was laid by the bushes near the wood line, and Simon couldn’t help the compulsion to take a closer look at the man whose fate had so randomly intersected their own. He had seen bodies, seen plenty of bodies in all states of dead, dissected, and damaged beyond repair. Until this moment, he’d never seen one that would haunt him.

Ames was a wiry, unremarkable sort, probably not much taller than Simon, but even in the dim light it was plain he was aged more than anyone Simon had ever known. The parts of his face that weren’t covered by stubble were crisscrossed with wrinkles and scars. The tips of two fingers on his right hand were missing, the digits from the knuckles down left to repair themselves with little surgical intervention. The hands themselves were veined and gnarled, and they rested in plain view because someone had laid the man’s arms across his chest, resting his hands upon his rifle. Someone had straightened his legs. Someone had made sure his eyes and mouth were serenely closed rather than obscenely gaping.

Simon replayed the moments before he had shot Mal, when the limping figure had emerged from these trees.

"Wo de ma." He hung his head. " Zhè me duo cuò wù. Zhè me duo yú chun di cuò wù." Impulsively he touched his fingers to Ames’ forehead, bade him a peaceful rest, and resumed his sprint back to his captain.

The collapsed house was down to embers and licks of flame, and the fire that had earlier spread in the yard seemed to have given up in sympathy. The smoke was lifting and Simon could see glimpses of the lightening sky. For better or worse, morning was coming. Which direction it would take, the empty yard couldn’t tell him.

The sickly red light he had come to hate greeted him inside the shelter. He switched the flashlight to the full, bright beam, illuminating the windowless room, and for the first time got a good look at Mal. His initial thought was that the captain was filthy, and that he must look much the same. He moved his hands over the back of Mal’s skull, gently tilting his head back and checking his airway. Mal was breathing much as he had been before; rapid, shallow. His face was gray with the exception of his lips, which were blue. Simon pressed a finger to the back of one mottled hand and, removing it, counted – too high – as he waited in vain for color to return to the skin. Time, blood loss, the fire, running, the falling, all had conspired to conquer the steel will. Mal’s body was shunting blood away from his extremities, trying to save his organs. Simon could no longer get a pulse at the wrist.

He tucked the blanket tighter around Mal’s shoulders and headed for the shelves, laughing at the irony of the first thing he spied.


Mismatched bottles of water shared space with tins of crackers, fish, fruit and protein, jumbled with boxes of ammunition, knives, hatchets and other tools Simon could not identify. He had opened the first container cautiously, sniffing, pouring some liquid on his hand, and finally sampling it before believing it was the stuff they had so desperately needed. “Do you have it in IV?” he asked aloud as he ripped through the shelves, certain there must be medical supplies in an emergency shelter. His knuckles raked across a plastic box and he hauled it down, opening it to find gauze, bandage rolls, antiseptic and weaves. “Not now,” he tossed the box to the floor. “Give me meds. You have to have meds.” He stepped in to reach higher and his foot hit a canister. Oxygen. Oxygen and a mask with a giant Alliance flag on it and dear Buddha, it was functional.

“This will help, Mal.” He tested the flow and slipped the mask over the captain’s face. “I’m still looking for more but this will help.” He returned to his scavenging, praying to the dead man under the trees. “Now, Mr. Ames, tell me you took more than that.”

~ ~ ~ ~

The minute hands were winding down to hopeless as Simon sat on a crate at Mal’s bedside, head in his hands. He toyed with the watch he’d found, hanging from a peg by the bed.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry about all of this.”

He shifted to adjust the IV on Mal’s arm. He’d found one, one bag of fluid which, under normal circumstances, he would have discarded as unsafe or at least questionable. But it seemed circumstances would never be normal again. He’d done his best to clean the needle, the catheter, Mal’s arm and his own hands. But one bag of lactated ringers was not going to save anyone. He’d hoped for blood. He’d hoped for antibiotics.

“It’s nearly 5:30. It’s probably light outside. I haven’t heard from Inara.” The com rested on the floor by the bed. Simon picked it up and stood. “The Engineering Corps,” he smiled grimly to himself, “ is nothing if not timely.” He paced a few steps. “Then they’re going to be looking for us.”

He wondered if any of this would matter to Mal in 40 minutes. He’d give him his own blood if he could. He’d tried to fashion some makeshift transfusion tools but had given up when the needle he’d used on Mal had broken when he tried to refit it, and the auxiliary tubing had proven to have a gash. There was nothing else suitable in Ames’ stash.

He took a sip of water, the second bottle he’d opened once he’d done what he could with Mal. He had used some to wipe the captain’s face, wet his lips. It had felt too much like anointing a body for a funeral.

“So when they come, what do I do? Go out in a blaze of glory?” Yes. That way River stays safe. He clutched the com, unused to planning the nature of his death. “And what am I supposed to do until then? Write a manifesto?” He took his seat. “What would you be doing? After all, you’re the one who’s supposed to have the yú rén jié zhèng ming ideas.”

Come on, Captain. Give me an argument. Make some remark about my rich upbringing or my lack of intelligence. Tell me your twisted logic of how both sides should be thanking you for doing what they wanted done. Because here’s how they’re thanking you. Here’s how both sides are thanking you.

The visions were flashing through Simon’s mind: Ames laid out under the trees; the engineer sealed in the tunnel; Mal here before him, silent and pale. What was the last thing Mal had said to him? If he were asked, what would he tell the crew had been the captain’s last command?


It would take a miracle for Inara and Jayne to reach them in time. He'd said “Go”.

He reached over and slid Mal’s gun from its holster, clipped the com onto his belt, and picked up his bottle of water. He hesitated only once, looking at the man on the blankets.

“I’m sorry.”

And Simon Tam stepped out of the dugout.

-------------------------- Onward to Chapter Seventeen


Thursday, January 31, 2008 2:10 PM


Ooh, there are some lovely descriptive lines in this!

<i>a shriek sounded from behind, followed by a long, defeated groan.</i>

I love that, I can hear it perfectly

<i>The minute hands were winding down to hopeless as Simon sat on a crate at Mal’s bedside, head in his hands.</i>

Such a sad image.

Very exciting, and very worrisome for Mal. I do not like him without a pulse at his wrist and his lips all blue, his pallor grey *shivers* I know you're not evil enough to really let him die! Right?! RIGHT?!

And Simon leaves him at the end! *gasps* Ooh, there's so much turmoil and emotion and regret and fear and stuff all mixed up in a big ball here, and it's <i>delicious</i>!!!

Wonderful part, as usual darlin'! You're in the home stretch now! I can't wait for the rest!!

Thursday, January 31, 2008 2:21 PM


Wow - this was fabulous! I never thought Simon would leave Mal, but thinking he's going to go out in a blaze of glory is going to be quite the inspirational experience for the Doctor. He is sure to understand Mal and Zoe MUCH better after this. You have successfully managed to put Simon through the wringer.

Your word choice is as usual - genius. And you left me wondering what exactly Simon is going to do next - take on the Alliance and die, go find Inara, or purposely lead the Alliance away from Mal. So now you have to hurry up and write more soon!

Thursday, January 31, 2008 2:35 PM


Wow, this is so choke full of angst for Simon and I am worried about Mal. Just hope Simon's decision to go for help will enable him to get help in time to save the Captain. At least he has left Mal in relative comfort and hopefully somewhere safe until he can get back to him. I absolutely love how you have delineated Simon in this fic, the characterisation is spot on. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Friday, February 1, 2008 12:13 AM


well this was a really great exploration of Simon - AND a tense piece of actioneering! top stuff:)

Friday, February 1, 2008 5:58 AM


Ohh, pour on the angst why don't you! This was an excellently crafted chapter that left me craving more!

I'm excited that you're going to finish this story too!

When? I have no fingernails left, I've bitten them all off!

Friday, February 1, 2008 6:34 AM


What a cliffhanger!! PLEASE DON'T WAIT TOO LONG BEFORE YOU POST THE NEXT INSTALLMENT!!! As always, you're character insights are GREAT!

Monday, February 4, 2008 3:18 AM


I love the insights into Simon, and how he's learning more than he ever really wanted to know. But I second the others - want more ... now!

Monday, February 4, 2008 11:09 AM


Oh, this is fun! I mean... Mal is not fun. Go you with the very believable-seeming med stuff with circulation and all. I say "seeming" because I have no idea about it, but it seems realistic to me! Also seems like you put some work into making Simon actually sound like a doctor, and into making Mal's injury more than a nebulously defined bunch of painful ouchiness to crank up the angst. By which I mean - nicely done!

Not that I'm not angsting. I'm angsting out big time, and really wondering what you've got planned for Simon. I hope he makes it back! I hope he gets out there and finds that lazy damned crew...

Oh, but I do want to kick the good doctor a bit. I thought a few chapters ago that he was going to go out searching for this hidden stash of goods. You know, when Mal told him it might be there. But he didn't. Silly doctor!

Thursday, February 7, 2008 5:10 PM


Oh, no! Now I have to wait, just like everyone else. I think I might cry, this is so sad.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008 10:15 AM


Looks mournfully for the next chapter....sits patiently



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