I own nothing but an excess of books, a college diploma, and the words. Characters belong to Joss Whedon and the title's from an Alex Day song.
the world spun underneath our feet
as we shut our exhausted eyes
(candy floss, alex day)
Mal Reynolds was dying.
Maybe 'ready to climb the walls and/or shoot himself to redirect the pain' was a better way of putting it. It was the middle of the gorram night cycle, he was exhausted, and a persistent toothache was refusing to let him sleep. Stupid throbbing pain. Not a small pain either – steady and white-hot, like getting shot in the same place repeatedly with a laser gun.
Not that he knew what that felt like or anything.
Mal gave up trying to actually sleep and rolled out of his bunk. The pain diminished a tad when he was standing up. Trying to be careful not to touch his swollen cheek, he pulled a shirt over his head. A flash of pain left him weak in the knees. Air. He needed fresher air. His bunk smelled like the warm, recycled stuff that had been breathed too many times.
Serenity's metal brushed his bare feet. The ache was getting worse, blocking out everything else and washing periodically over his vision. He gave up trying to be quiet and grabbed blindly at a railing, sitting down on the stairs leading to the cargo bay.
He felt rather than heard someone behind him and turned his head slowly. A floaty blue skirt, bare legs, and River's pretty little feet crossed his line of sight. He would've asked her what she was doing up, but he couldn't move his jaw without pain lancing through his face.
It really, really hurt.
He felt her pause, stand behind him, so he leaned his head against her knees. Laughter mixed with the concern in her voice. 'Was thirsty. Getting water for the River.' She bent over him suddenly, long black hair waterfalling over his face and shoulders and her white elf face hanging upside down in front of him. 'Captain's not well, a hammer in his mouth.'
Mal managed a weak grin. 'Got tha' righ'.' It hurt to talk properly.
River flowed to move beside him and handed him something. A cup of tea. Steam rose up into his face. 'Can' take your tea, Li'l Albatross.'
She closed his fingers around the cup, so he gave in and accepted it, holding the mug against his sore cheek. Heat felt good. He barely noticed River standing up. 'Will get Simon for fuss and needles.' She was gone before Mal could protest. He leaned against the railing, thinking wistfully of Inara's cool scented hands. Gorram tooth was pretty small to be causing so much hurting. Then again, a bullet was smaller. At the moment, he wasn't sure which he'd rather have to deal with.
Simon Tam was woken ungently and instantly by a small, persistent pressure under his ear. As his eyes flew open, he glimpsed his little sister's pale face in the shadows beside the bunk. She removed her cold fingers as he sat up quickly. 'River! Mei mei, what's wrong?'
'Captain's jaw is not structurally sound,' she informed him. 'Burning, aching.' Big brown eyes fixed on him with a do-something-about-it expression.
'Mal's not feeling well?' Simon swung his feet over the edge of the bed and got up, pulling the blanket back up over Kaylee's shoulders and taking a moment to be thankful they'd stayed mostly clothed tonight. He pulled on a shirt and felt around for his shoes for a second before giving up. The little mechanic stirred and Simon brushed her cheek gently with his fingertips. 'Go back to sleep, bao bei. I'll come back.'
Kaylee opened sleepy eyes and smiled. 'Hurry up – cold w'thout you.' She pulled his pillow over to hug and was instantly asleep again.
River had already vanished back up the ladder and was waiting, somewhat patiently, in the corridor. She flitted ahead of him down the darkened passages and stopped beside the dark silhouette of the captain, standing and stolidly gripping the railing.
'What's the problem, Captain?'
'Toothache,' Mal got out.
'Come somewhere where there's light and I'll take a look at it,' Simon offered. Mal put up no resistance, which alone spoke for the amount of pain the man must be in. River disappeared before they reached the med bay; she still disliked the bright lights and sharp tools and avoided them whenever she could.
The tooth was abscessed badly; Simon entertained a brief fantasy of doping the captain and crawling back into his warm bed with Kaylee till morning, but he and his patient were both awake now and the situation wasn't one that would improve with time.
'I'm going to have to do a root canal procedure to remove the decayed part of your tooth,' he said crisply, moving to a tray of instruments.
'You're no' a den'is'.' Mal spoke with difficulty. 'Shoul' I trus' you?'
'Root canal's a simple procedure with the tools I have,' Simon replied calmly. 'I know on Rim planets with little medical supplies it can take up to an hour and be quite painful, but if you let me do it, it'll be over in fifteen minutes.' He turned back to the other man, who was still sitting up on Simon's examining table, a recalcitrant expression on the side of his face that wasn't completely swollen. Mal met his eyes and, surprisingly, lay back and tipped his chin up. 'Go 'head.'
It was the first time Simon had actually done this procedure, dentistry not being his area of expertise, but he'd seen it done a few times and had read up on the process. It went well, considering, and within twenty minutes he was putting away the dope shot he'd given Mal and washing his hands. The captain swung his feet heavily over the side of the table and paused a moment before getting up. 'Going back to bed?'
Simon let thoughts of his love's warm arms filter through the surgeon's precise mask he wore over his thoughts. 'Yes, unless there's something else you need me to see to.'
'L'il Kaylee's in your bed?'
Simon swallowed hard. 'Yes.' The captain had had to work it out sometime.
Mal straightened, sliding off the table and standing straight. He looked his medic in the eye and then, enunciating carefully and painfully, told him exactly what would happen to him if he broke Kaylee's heart.
There was a short silence before Simon nodded. 'I'll keep all that in mind, Captain.'
Mal allowed himself a slight slump and walked out, the painkillers in his system already making his movements sluggish. At the door, he turned. 'An' Simon?'
The young doctor looked up, blue eyes bright. 'Yes?'
A/N: I'm aware that root canals take longer than half an hour to do. I assume that in five hundred years, medical science will be advanced enough to speed up the process a bit. Also, I'm not condoning Simon & Kaylee sharing a bunk, but it's canon and it begged to be written.
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