Near Miss

Author: just_slummin

Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. Just playin' in Joss' sandbox.

Rating: PG

Summary: Wrestling with a block with the whole original fiction thing. Decided to shake it out with a little visit with some of my favorite characters. Just a little scene from Mal's pre-war days. What could have been, but blessedly was not.


"But Mrs. Reynolds, you must understand what an opportunity this would be for your son."

Sighing, she looked at the man with her best withering gaze. "I'm more than a little surprised that someone from the…." She paused, looking at the glossy brochure for the name again. "…the Academy would be interested in sponsoring a boy from Shadow. It's not exactly like we're in the Core."

"We accept students from everywhere, Mrs. Reynolds," the thin man replied with barely concealed impatience. "As I have stated, we are quite interested in working with your son. He scored very well indeed on his last examinations. With some additional educational advantages the Academy can offer to him, his potential would be practically limitless. He could do anything he wanted, given the proper tools."

"Oh, I've no doubt Malcolm could do anything he wants anyway," Hannah Reynolds replied evenly. "Wouldn't have expected him to do anything but well on those examinations. No use doin' a thing, if you ain't gonna do it right, to our way of thinkin'."

The thin man inclined his head slightly in acknowledgment. "I'm certain young master Reynolds would do well regardless of the lack of educational opportunities here. But Mrs. Reynolds, what we are offering is the chance of a lifetime for a boy such as yours."

"What do you mean, 'a boy such as mine'?" Hannah said, her spine straightening with a trace of genuine indignation.

The thin man held up his hand in a placating gesture. "I meant no disrespect, ma'am," he said, the unfamiliar title tripping slightly on his lips. "I'm simply pointing out that the Academy would open doors to your son that lead to truly stunning opportunities. The work we are doing there is some of the most significant work of educating our best and brightest that has ever been initiated. And we are offering your son the opportunity to be a part of all of that, to truly realize his full potential." He paused for a long moment. "And of course his education would come at absolutely no cost to you. We are offering a full scholarship to him." Almost delicately, he added, "And if the loss of him as a worker is the problem, perhaps we could arrange to hire an adequate replacement for the ranch."

Hannah snorted. "First off, I do my own hirin', when it needs doin'. And second, there ain't a person anywhere in the 'verse as could take the place of that boy on this ranch. I appreciate the offer and all, and I'm sure that Malcolm does too, but I think it's time for you to go."

"Might I at least talk to him?" the man asked, his lips pressed into a thin line of disapproval.

Hannah sighed. "Listen, Mister, I've already talked to him. Spent the better part of two days talkin' to him about it. And he is of a mind to stay here." Her eyes, usually so warm and welcoming, flashed with a fire that would have made a normal man flinch. "And I happen to agree with his decision. So, there's nothing else as needs to be said. No use talkin' 'bout a thing that's already been decided. Dong ma?"

"I cannot express to you how shortsighted I feel your decision is, Mrs. Reynolds," the man said, rising stiffly from the kitchen table and reflexively straightening the crease of his pants. "It is a very rare gift that is being offered to you and your family. I can only say that to turn it down is a very rash thing."

Hannah Reynolds rose to her full height and stood toe to toe with the Academy recruiter. Though her head barely cleared his chest, she clearly conveyed the formidable nature that had kept her ranch running smoothly for many years in the absence of her husband. "I can assure you that this decision was neither rash nor ill-advised," she replied, her voice steel sheathed in velvet. "I'll see you out."

So saying, she swept past the recruiter with all the poise of her unshakable belief in the rightness of what she was doing for Malcolm, not bothering to look back to see if the thin man followed her.

Gritting his teeth, the recruiter trailed the little woman out of her kitchen and onto the front porch of the ranch house. He had no illusion that his superiors would be forgiving of his lack of success. So far, he had been unable to persuade three of the more promising subjects on this trip. Thinking that he would be profoundly grateful if he could be reassigned to anywhere other than these abysmal Rim worlds, he squinted in the sudden sunlight. Drawing a deep breath, he said, "If you should change your mind, you can reach me at any time via this Cortex address."

Hannah Reynolds took the small card he offered and slipped it into the pocket of her apron. "Won't be changin' our minds," she said firmly.

"One never knows," the recruiter replied, summoning up a thin smile.

Hannah, weary of the tedium of dealing with the man but still aware of the need to be at least moderately mannerly, smiled slightly in return. "I'll keep the card," she said.

The man nodded shortly and headed toward the small hovercraft that would take him back to proper civilization. Hannah leaned against the porch railing, watching the craft rise up above the trees on her western border, leaving a cloud of dust in its wake.

Hearing a footfall behind her, Hannah turned and smiled up at her son.

"He gone?" Mal asked, running his thumb under his suspenders in a gesture that was quickly becoming a mannerism.

"Took near all afternoon to convince him we were sure," Hannah replied.

"Waste of a good day," Mal commiserated, sounding so much like his father that Hannah's heart hurt for just a moment.

"Not really," she said softly. "If they'll leave us be now, it was worth at least an afternoon." She paused, looking intently into her son's bright blue eyes. "You are sure you didn't want to go, right? I mean, I know sometimes you think about leavin' the ranch and seein' the big, wide 'verse."

Mal grinned. "Can't see the big, wide 'verse from a desk at any Academy in the Core, to my way of thinkin'. Besides, what would you do without me, Ma?"

Hannah draped her arm over her son's shoulders. "Can't imagine," she said, returning his hellbent grin with one of her own as they headed back into the kitchen together. "Just can't imagine."