Summary: Lab procedures almost always have extraneous material that there is no future use for and the Seville family is no different. At least, that's what Simon thinks.
a/n: there's actually a quantum assload of backstory to this, stemming from my eight-year-old self discovering the special features on her DVD copy of the 2007 movie. this led me on a magical journey, where I discovered the little documentary ross jr and Janice had put together. it discussed the chipmunks' origins and all that jazz, and then Janice briefly talked about how at the zenith of their popularity, Alvin and Theodore were getting fucking shovel loads of fan mail and simon wasn't and this made Janice feel like a guilty mother. and it just made me, a simple child, sad because simon was my favorite and I didn't want him to feel unloved. so I applied it to their actually family dynamic because I heart drama and whump. 80's universe characters and scenarios; the Chipmunks are each nine-years-old.
He should have been more careful. Erring on the side of caution wouldn't suffice in a setting like this, not when the fruits of his labors weighed in at a staggering one on the pH scale. How could he preach safety and foresight when he himself failed to practice them when the situation demanded it? Stupid, he had been stupid and careless.
The burn—visually, at least—wasn't as horrific as the image his mind had conjured upon impact. He had attempted to address it rationally, to open up the grid in his mind and start following procedures, but the pain had overwhelmed him. It was a starry, searing pain that flared like a supernova and trenched his mind in red haze; his vision doubled, trebled, then rashed with black dots.
When he finally emerged from the proverbial voyage through every hellish level of the agony, he found himself damning himself for his own stupidity. Hydrochloric acid was no child's toy. It was an essential, however destructive, acid that he had doggedly pursued in the hopes he could use it for a potential acid rain experiment. Dave had acquiesced after about a week of combating questions with lectures about the dangers of acid and placed the order. He had been ecstatic: now, he wished he had respected Dave's authority. Or, at the very least, remembered to roll his sleeve back down.
Simon took a deep breath, oppressing himself not to think of words like "burn" and "skin", and opened his eyes. The burn had not left. There had only been a small deal of acid left in the beaker, no more than twenty millimeters, and a few blessed drops had spattered across the countertop instead of his forearm. The acid that had made contact, however, had decimated the light, sparse bristle of summer fur and burnt his epidermis; the flesh was a disconcerting shade of scarlet, pale in places with the makings of blisters. A scent like soured bleach hung suspended in the air, accompanied by the smoky stench of burnt fur.
Water. The concept exploded into being and Simon quickly acted on it. He twisted to the basin where he had been scrubbing out his supplies a mere minute ago, shrugged off his lab coat, and jerked the offended area beneath the cool jet of water. There was a brief, blissful moment of reprieve where he felt nothing but sheer jubilation. The rush of endorphins was so intense that he momentarily thought the water had cured his burn.
Reality returned to him soon enough. The pain returned, a blaring fire alarm of it that rang hotly and fiercely at a frantic tattoo in his mind, and so did the inevitable self-loathing. Why had he rolled up his sleeve? Because he might've gotten color dye on it when he washed out the test tube? How ridiculous. He was scrubbing out vestigial amounts of acid. Even Alvin would've known better and he still thought table salt and sodium chloride were two different things.
He pushed his glasses onto the ledge of his brow with his unoccupied hand and sighed. It had been a mistake. A careless error. And he had paid for it. Next time, he would keep his arms covered—pin the sleeves to his wrists if he had to. He had half a stock bottle left of acid and he intended to have a second trial up by Thursday. Then, of course, he would be more cautious.
What haunted him presently was the fact that Dave had been right. Dave had expounded greatly upon the potential for harm and Simon had retaliated by bringing up his immaculate track record (he was 0-0 when it came to lab accidents—or, at least, he had been). It wasn't that Simon disrespected Dave's opinion. He appreciated the amount of paternal affection that went into those lectures. But he was a Chipmunk possessed by the need to prove himself and he wasn't about to accept "no" as a final answer. Not him. Simon didn't share many traits with his older brother, but obstinacy was the thread that bound their DNA together.
He couldn't be anything else but right. If he wasn't right, who was he? If he wasn't the smart one, what was his identity? The tall one? No, he had to be right and that meant being right about the acid.
Simon turned the tap off and inspected the burn again, this time feeling braver. It still thrummed with deep, infernal pain, but the swelling had diminished slightly and the scorched crusts of fur had been washed away. He would have to keep rinsing it off in the kitchen, where the water pressure wasn't stronger.
One hand hovering over the wound, he dashed up the stairs of the basement and entered the back hallway to the kitchen. The house was silent. Alvin was at football practice and Theodore, ever the thoughtful romantic, had surprised Eleanor with tickets to the collegiate soccer playoff game in Burton. He had seen Dave off earlier in the day to run errands, which left Simon an empty, quiet house to work in—a rarity for the Seville abode.
Simon got the stool from the corner (even as the tallest, the sink had not been built to accommodate Chipmunks of their stature) and took it to the kitchen sink, where he promptly repeated the dilution process. He could see the burnt tissue a little more clearly now, where parts of his epidermis had been skinned away to reveal plutonian craters of bloody red rimmed with white blistered skin. It was a second-degree burn—the blisters confirmed that—but not severe enough to warrant any panic. The pain meant his nerves weren't damaged and the skin was red, not white, which reduced the possibility of vein destruction.
He almost smiled. With the right tools, he could probably wrap the wound himself. The skin would regenerate within the next two weeks and he would be free—
The smile passed as quickly as it came. Dave was home. "Uh, in-in here!"
There was the familiar clink of Dave's keys being deposited in the clay dish on the foyer table (a Father's Day present from Theodore) and the crinkle of plastic bags being swapped between hands. A moment later, Dave appeared in the doorway. "Hey, Simon. Any major breakthroughs? Should we be calling NASA?"
Simon chuckled nervously. "N-Not yet, I'm afraid. Just the normal amount of breakthroughs."
"Well, in that case, I'll just have NASA on hold," Dave replied, dropping the groceries on the kitchen table. "I'll tell you, I've forgotten how stress-free shopping is when Alvin isn't there."
"I can imagine." The pain was escalating again, vying for his attention.
"He's a wonderful kid, but something about being out in public makes him… well, not so wonderful, I guess. And then when Theodore's not there, I spend a lot less."
He couldn't stop rinsing the burn. Most doctors suggested diluting the burned area for a minimum of a half hour; Simon had only been rinsing it for about ten minutes. Dave would suspect something if he spent another twenty minutes supposedly washing his hands.
Dave carded through the bags for his copy of receipt and finally noticed that Simon had yet to turn off the tap. He had reasoned his son had just come up from the basement and was cleaning himself off, but about three minutes had passed and there was no sign of the water stopping. "Simon?"
"What're you doing?"
Simon's heart stumbled on a beat. "Just, uh, washing my hands. You know Dave, trace amounts of certain chemicals can have quite the detrimental impact on household objects and the people who use them. It's important to be careful."
Dave, ever acceptant of Simon's way of rationalizing just about everything, would have taken this for an answer had he not detected an edge in his voice. It was something raw, strained, something buried that was beginning to surface. Nothing like Simon at all. "Simon? Are-Are you sure—?"
"Dave!" he exclaimed. Pain had seeped into his voice. "It's nothing!"
Dave crossed the kitchen in three strides and had the blue-clad Chipmunk in his grasp before he could even begin to strategize his next move. He saw the burn, but its place on Simon's arm failed to register for a moment; instead, Dave visualized it on an entirely different plane of thought, separate from that where he and his family existed. The shock of it ebbed and Dave found himself descending into panic. "Simon! What happened?! We've got to get you to the ER! That's—why didn't you say something?!"
"It's nothing!" Simon repeated, attempting to recover his arm from Dave's grip. "It's just a minor burn!"
"This is minor?!"
"Please, let me go!"
"Simon!" Dave caught himself before he could shout the name in the voice he typically reserved for Alvin's moments of lunacy and tried to reassess the situation. The wound wasn't as terrible as he'd initially thought. Yes, the sight of it on his own son's arm was nightmare-inducing, but Dave trusted Simon to make the choice of seeking medical treatment himself. And judging by his reaction, he had evidently opted to treat it himself. Dave couldn't say he agreed with that decision, but he couldn't argue with Simon, especially about something so rooted in objective fact and science. "Okay, Simon, okay… we won't go to the ER. Okay?"
The bespectacled Chipmunk, gaze fixed on the kitchen linoleum, nodded.
"I just want to know… I-I mean, why didn't you tell me when I walked in? Doesn't that hurt?"
Again a nod.
The recollection of their disagreement about the acid returned to him with stark vengeance. "Was it that new acid?"
A third nod, this one accompanied by a quick swipe at the eyes. There was a touch of anger in the gesture: tears were a fierce enemy of the middle Seville boy. Dave had learned this early on and never pressured Simon to publicly share his feelings. Alvin and Theodore were open books emotionally; Simon was not, which presented its own set of issues. It was sometimes frustrating not knowing what he was thinking, but Dave respected this trait with the space and vague words of comfort it necessitated.
Now, though, Dave felt they were on the precipice of breaking new ground. It was more than the acid—it had to be. Simon was not wont to shed a tear over anything, much less a little quarrel. He desperately wanted to know what had happened so he could fix it, so he could immediately and painlessly cease his suffering, but no such panacea existed for situations like this. So, Dave eased the burn back under the flow of water. "How long do we rise it for?"
"Thirty minutes. I've already done ten." The tremor had fled from his voice.
"Okay. Let me go get some things. I'll be right back."
Simon didn't watch Dave leave. This was already evolving into the nightmare he had predicted. He couldn't explain his feelings to Dave, not when he couldn't even elucidate them to himself beyond the point of a nebulous sadness laced in places with snaps of fury. And he couldn't endure pity. He didn't deserve pity. He had made a stupid mistake and was now indebted to decompensate. Dave's urge to coddle would only interrupt that precious exchange.
When Dave returned, about five minutes had passed and the pain no longer made unexpected crescendos into agony. There were still pinpricks of heat along the swollen blisters, but the whole of it had ensconced into a singular block of pain, a plateau in the experience. Simon felt a little better and trusted his eyes to rest on Dave without swimming with tears. "It doesn't hurt as badly."
"Good, good." Dave unzipped the first-aid kit, unpacking whatever remotely resembled gauze. "I-I don't know much about burns, but I know they're painful."
"Plenty of stovetop burns. Right, Dave?"
"More than I can count," he said with a sheepish chuckle.
The man found a small, capped bottle labeled Silvadine and flashed the label at Simon. "Is this what I'm looking for?"
"Precisely," he replied, managing a wan smile.
Dave set it aside with his mound of recovered gauze and somberly watched water charge through the burn's terraced maze of blister and burnt tissue. He had known acid could harm the body—this was the sort of intrinsic knowledge most everyone was born with—but he had never pictured a burn of this severity. Some nagging part of him felt motivated to remind him he could have sustained a third-degree burn or a splash of the stuff to his eyes. This was a mental image Dave was content with shoving into the furthermost corner of his mind.
Suddenly, Simon spoke again: "I'm sorry, Dave."
"Don't be sorry. You proved to me I could trust you and I don't doubt my decision," Dave said, patting his shoulder affectionately. "Everyone makes mistakes. I don't expect you to be perfect."
"But I have to be."
This came as a bit of a startle to Dave. It was no secret Simon strived for excellence and was in possession of some standards so high they required small jets to meet, but he had never pinned him as a perfectionist. Simon was always willing to calculate a margin of error in his own life. "Who told you that?"
"No one, but…" He bit his lip uncertainly and looked into the swirling maelstrom of the drain. "If I'm not perfect and right about things, then, well… who am I? Just a taller version of Alvin?"
"Of course not!" Dave would have chuckled at the comparison had the circumstances been different. "You don't have to be perfect or right all the time to be you. You're special because you're Simon."
"Hardly a compelling argument," Simon murmured.
Dave fumbled for the right words to clearly express his feelings. The metaphor was a little rough, but it articulated what no speech could. "Simon, you're special because you're your own person. Not because you're smart or good at certain things: those are just parts of you. They don't define you. You're more than what you can do."
"Better, Dave," he said encouragingly.
Dave waited a moment for the shift in the atmosphere to occur. When it failed to happen, he realized he hadn't quite tapped into the true issue yet. "You don't believe me."
Simon smiled again, however tight-lipped. "Well, there's not a lot of sound evidence, I guess."
"You know I love you."
"Of course." But his tone teetered precariously between incredulousness and a tired despondency that Dave immediately associated with the death of their family kitten. Alvin and Theodore had reacted appropriately—with anger and denial, respectively, as Dave had expected—but Simon had resigned himself to depression. Surrendered himself, almost, as if it were the only suitable punishment for what he blamed himself for. Dave had been shocked by it and he was shocked by it now.
"Simon… do you think I don't love you?"
The smile persisted as his cerulean eyes began to take on an uncharacteristic shine. "That's a bit of an exaggeration, Dave."
The notion punched through him like an icicle, rendering the scene with piercing clarity. This was never about being perfect—not directly, anyway. Dave couldn't imagine his own son instilling himself with the belief he was not loved and then declaring this as fact based on what he suspected was a lack of evidence. It broke his heart to think about. "How-How could you… what made you think that I don't love you?"
"I'm not easy to love, I guess. Alvin may be a pest and a scourge on our physical wellbeing, but he's good. He's good at everything he does and he's a good person. And Theodore—who doesn't love Theodore? He's sweet and innocent and… well, you'd never want anything bad to happen to him. They're easy to love. They never push people away. They're lovable and I'm not. It's very simple, really."
This was explained to Dave with the same clinical detachedness Simon utilized for elucidating concepts like condensation and long division to his brothers. It was no more than a conclusion for Simon, the compilation of data he had collected and evaluated over the years. For Dave, however, it was a proverbial earthquake that collapsed every building of thought he'd ever erected about his sons. Was he more affectionate with Alvin and Theodore?
A hot surge of tears shrink-wrapped Dave's eyes as he stared down at his middle child. "Oh, Simon…"
"Please, Dave. It's not worth the tears," he said calmly. "There's not a doubt in my mind that you're a good father. You're a superb parent and you've done an excellent job of raising us. This isn't a flaw on your part at all."
This token of consolation did little to alleviate Dave's guilt; if anything, it amplified it. He felt as if he had failed Simon. How could he have been so negligent of his own son's feelings that he had come to condemn himself for being undeserving of affection? It was a concept as unfathomable as the burn on his arm.
Yet, upon reflection, Dave came to realize the theory was not at all implausible or even absurd. He was more sentimental when it came to Alvin and Theodore—more willing to dispense a hug or a kiss on the forehead. And he admitted, however reluctantly, that he didn't always express enthusiasm about Simon's interests the way he did with Theodore's penchant for baking or Alvin's musical ventures. Dave had almost come to view Simon as a surrogate parent, someone who could tame Alvin in his absence or balance the checkbook when he forgot or pick groceries up on the way home from school. He was responsible and mature, but he was still only a child. Dave seemed to occasionally forget this.
Unlovable. The word kept returning to him like aftershocks in the wake of his personal earthquake. It was an awful word. Too awful to even associate with Simon. The Chipmunk could be introverted, almost cold, but never unsympathetic: Dave knew how much Simon cared for his brothers and the lengths he would go to in order to shelter them. Alvin and Theodore had always reciprocated that care (especially Alvin, who cultivated something of a soft spot for Simon). How could he cast himself as unlovable when his brothers so clearly appreciated him?
Was appreciation identical to love? Or was it merely gratitude for something a person was capable of rather than the person themselves?
A tear made sudden, violent headway down the slope of Dave's cheek. He extended his arms and enfolded Simon, pressing the Chipmunk's head to chest and delivering a kiss to his forehead. Adoration as he had never known possessed him. How could he have denied him this? Something as simple as a hug would have sufficed, would have prevented that horrible word from ever crossing his mind. He had equated Simon's intelligence and reservation to coldness, but never again. Never again would he let appreciation take the place of true love.
Dave placed a comforting hand between Simon's shoulder blades and was surprised to find a slight tremor. He was crying. Whether this was a sign of acceptance or resignation, Dave didn't know. He gently turned Simon's face up to his own; the Chipmunk's cheek fur was damp and lined with the shadowy trails of fallen tears. Dave, wounded by the sight of them, dabbed away at his eyes with his shirtsleeve until they were dry again. "I love you, Simon."
He smiled wearily. "I love you too, Dave."
"I'm sorry if I don't treat you the same way I treat Alvin and Theodore. That's my mistake, not yours. I sometimes just get caught up in things and… well, I don't show you how much I love you the way I should. But don't ever call yourself unlovable, Simon. You're not unlovable. And you don't have to be perfect or smart or anything for me to love you. You just have to be you."
"I think I can handle that," Simon replied, earning a relieved chuckle from Dave.
"Now, let's get you bandaged up." Dave switched off the faucet and uncapped the bottle of Silvadine. As he returned his attention to the burn, a disquieting thought struck him. "What would you've done if I hadn't come home early?"
"Just treated it myself. Burns are actually quite easy to treat if they don't damage nerve endings or blood vessels," Simon added, watching Dave squeeze a dollop of the antibiotic cream onto the blister-pocked area. There was a resounding sting, but the medicine quickly placated the pain and numbed the wound.
"Have you gotten hurt before and not told me?" Dave asked. He couldn't prevent a note of anxiety from creeping into his voice.
Simon shrugged nonchalantly. From his perspective, injuries were to be treated with procedural medicine, not coddling. "Just some scrapes. It was nothing I couldn't handle on my own."
This came as a shock to Dave, who was accustomed to dressing Alvin's frequent scraped knees (Alvin, though quick to declare himself too macho for tears, often dialed up the theatrics when it came to injury) and carrying Theodore into the kitchen for some comfort food whenever the youngest Chipmunk sustained a cut or splinter. With the exception of today, Dave couldn't remember the last time he had bandaged up Simon. "Why didn't you come to me?"
"It seemed unnecessary, I suppose. If I can do it myself, why would I bother you to do it?"
Dave finished administering the Silvadine and unspooled the kit's roll of gauze, his mind a flurry of emotions. There was a kernel of truth in Simon's argument—he had always been capable of caring for himself—but Dave was loathe to think he had missed out on those precious bonding moments. "Well, the next time something happens, do you think you could run it by me? I'm pretty good with Band-Aids."
"And gauze." Dave laughed as he wrapped a second layer of bandage around the burn, securing it down with a strip of white tape. He had almost forgotten how much he adored Simon's dry sense of humor: it was a trait they shared, one he entertained as something to bind them where genetics couldn't.
A memory surfaced in his mind. It was a beloved one, the sort he imagined he stored not in his brain, but in his heart. "Do you remember when you used to get earaches?"
"Of course," he said with an unconscious shudder. As a toddler, Simon had been plagued with recurring earaches so intense they often incapacitated him. Dave had been terrified by this affliction and had taken Simon to almost every pediatrician in LA (most of which refused to treat him on the grounds he was a Chipmunk, not a human child), fearing he would suffer permanent hearing loss. Fortunately, they managed to find a more tolerant practice that prescribed him the right antibiotics until Simon outgrew the earaches. "I haven't had one in years."
"When you'd get them at night, I'd take you back to my room and let you sleep with me," Dave mused fondly. "You'd curl up next to me and let me hold you for hours. I felt terrible because you were in so much pain, but I loved those nights because I got to just hold you. I never wanted to let you go."
Simon, to his immense surprise, found himself recalling those nights with unprecedented clarity. He could visualize the silhouette of the chair in the corner and the shadows splayed across the ceiling and the disembodied cobalt numbers of the digital clock blinking spectrally in the darkness. These memories lit a cheerful flame in the hearth of his heart. "I remember that."
Dave ruffled his hair. "I have a lot of good memories of you, Simon. And I want to have a lot more."
The sensation of Dave's hand against his scalp was reassuring, soothing: the quintessential fatherly gesture. Simon wished the feeling would never fade from his memory. "I concur."
"So do you think I could see what you're up to in the basement? I'd like to see if that burn was worth it."
A glint of hope sparked in his eyes. "Really?"
"Of course. I never get to see your experiments in action." Dave lifted Simon off of the stool, only for the Chipmunk to cling to his sleeve with unexpected ferocity. "Simon?"
"Dave?" His cheeks had taken on color and his eyes darted restlessly from Dave's own to the tiles beneath his feet. When he spoke again, he sounded shy and almost a little embarrassed. "Could… Could you carry me?"
Dave almost melted with affection and elation. It had been years since he had received such a request and he had unwittingly been desperate to field one ever since. Practically beaming, Dave scooped up his son with the practiced ease of a loving father and held him securely to his chest. As they descended the basement steps, leaving the melancholy and regret of their conversation to dissipate in the kitchen, Dave found himself wishing he would never have to let Simon go again.
a/n: so yeah it's been like twelve years since I've written a story for this archive and so my characterization skills are a little rusty, but I enjoyed the emotional challenge this story presented. I haven't written something so thematic in a long time and I liked exploring it here, where there's so much material to draw upon. I hoped you enjoyed it and will maybe possibly appreciate simon a little more (not as much as I do of course as that would probably be impossible and detrimental to one's health). also I don't feel like editing this so if you find an error in grammar/spelling just tell me and I'll edit it.