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Author's Note: This story is a remix of Bite Your Tongue by Tafkar, writted for the 2005 remix redux challenge.

by LJC

Caroline Reynolds was just about to give up completely when a shower of hay fell from the top corner of the loft, alerting her to the presence of her prey.

"Tansy's coming after supper," she called up from the foot of the ladder. "So you best get cleaned up."

A sandy blonde head appeared at the edge of the loft. "Aw, Momma. What'd you ask her for?"

"Any pair of hands that can do the work is a blessing, and with half our hands still up in Two Suns, we're short, and I want to get that herd up to summer pasture before the rains."

"Shoot. How come Tansy gets to go, 'an I gotta wait?"

"'Cause you're all of ten years old," she pointed out with a fond smile.

"But she's a girl!"

"Tansy was born in the saddle, and half her family have been drovers on this ranch, since before you was born."

"A girl ain't no good, 'cept for one thing," her son muttered, and Caroline froze in her tracks.

"Malcolm Jonas Reynolds, what did you just say?" she ground out between clenched teeth.

"Nothing, Momma."

"It was very much something. You get your ass down here right this second."

"What I do?"

"I am going to count to five."

Mal half-slid, half fell down the ladder, landing close enough that she could reach out and cuff him upside the head with an open palm.

"Now what's all this wúyìyì fèi huà coming out of my son's mouth? Eh?"

He stared at the toes of his boots, cheeks flaming red. "Jonesy said girls ain't good for nothing but one thing. I figured he meant cooking and all."

She gaped for a moment, mouth hanging open until she closed it with a click. "Cooking."

"Jonesy says--"

"I don't want to hear another word about what Jonesy says, you hear me?"

"But Momma--"

"Don't you but me! If all I was good for was cooking, who do you think would run this ranch?"

"I didn't mean you, Momma!" he said quickly. "I meant girls."

"So you're saying girls ain't got nothing more in their heads, but how to make cornbread?"

He swallowed hard, and then looked up at her with guileless blue eyes. "You make real good cornbread, Momma."

"Don't you sass me, Malcolm."

"Yes, Ma'am."

She grabbed him by the elbow and hauled him over to where bales of hay were piled against the wall. She motioned for him to sit down beside her, and he squirmed beneath her gaze. She finally sighed.

"Now you listen to me, Malcolm. A girl can do damn near anything, she puts her mind to it. And there is not a thing in the 'verse a girl shouldn't be allowed to do, if she's got an ability. You understand me? Any damn thing."

He nodded slowly, as if this was new information that required careful consideration.

"Now, I ain't saying a gal can do every thing a man can do--the good Lord made us different, and there's differences a plenty." She pointed out into the yard, and Mal's eyes traced the trajectory of her finger, coming to rest on one of the ranch hands that had helped raise him.

"Toby there can chop a cord of wood in half the time I can. Don't mean he's better'n me, it means he can swing that axe longer is all. Different is different. Not better or worse--just different."

She tilted his chin so that he was looking her square in the eye.

"I don't want to hear you ever judge a single soul ever again on what they have--or don't have-- in their britches. It's what's up here," she touched the soft brown hair falling into his eyes, "and in here," she tapped his chest just above the pocket of his shirt, "that makes the measure of a man. Or woman."

"Do you let me ever hear you mouthing off, talking trash like that Ned Jones, ever again."

"Hòuhuî, Mûqin," Mal said, cowed. She ruffled his hair affectionately.

"You damn well better be sorry. After you finish up you chores tonight, no cortex. You can help Tandy, 'fore you go to bed. No dessert, neither."

Mal looked stricken. "But Momma, Rosemarie made peach cobbler--"


That was the voice she used on wayward bulls, drunk ranch hands, and uppity little boys, and after ten years of hearing it often enough, he knew which battles were won and lost.

"Yes, Ma'am."

"And I'll tell you what else. You better start counting to ten before you speak. Or one day, you're gonna wind up on the business end of some nice girl's gun."

Malcolm Reynolds stared down the barrel of the pistol, counting to ten.

"Pants." Saffron gestured with the gun, a wicked gleam in her eye. The shuttle, course for Isis Canyon laid in, hummed beneath his feet. Anger making his movements stiff, he stripped off his coat and tugged at the gunbelt he had only just fastened minutes before.

"Don't really see the benefit in all this. However I slip, you're not gonna catch my crew with their trousers down."

His belt buckle rang on the metal deck plates as he pushed the heavy canvas trousers all the way down and then kicked them aside.

"Really. Well, then you have nothing to worry about, do you?" Saffron's eyes were cold and flat like a rattler's. "Boots and socks, too."

"Dammit woman, it's hot out there!"

She merely raised a brow, and he hopped awkwardly on one foot, tugging first one boot off, then the other.

"So you'll get a nice tan," she said with a shrug as he fussed with the buttons of his shirt. "You could use it."

Her eyes traveled from his chest down to his bare feet.

"You're looking a little pasty."

She stepped back, so that he wouldn't get any funny ideas about trying to whip the fabric at her, and maybe dislodge the gun. He knew the gun was loaded. He'd loaded it himself before they had left Serenity. Not much point in taking chances. Not this close to the end of the game.

The shuttle's engines coughed beneath their feet, signaling their descent. At the rate they were going, that would put them halfway between Hamer's floating island fortress, and the canyon. Mal idly wondered when she had reprogrammed the shuttle's autopilot.

"You know what makes this all so easy?" Saffron said as she gestured. "You. Men. You're all alike. You look at a girl, and you can only think of one thing. It never occurs to you that she could be faster on the draw, let alone think circles around you."

"Gee, it's not like I don't have a woman in my engine room, or as my first mate, or anything," he muttered.

"Oh, I admit. You're something of a rare breed, Malcolm Reynolds. But you're still a man. You probably still think that amazon of yours is an exception to the rule. Or that little grease monkey. "

"You're right. It didn't quite occur to me, when I first clapped eyes on you, that a pretty girl could at her core be a low-down, conniving, treacherous cheat who'd take a man's boots and leave him stranded in the middle of nowhere over an expensive piece of tin."

"Oh. Stop. You'll turn my head."

"I guess I just like to give people the benefit of the doubt."

"Spare me your misplaced sense of chivalry." She rolled her eyes as the shuttle came to land with a soft thump. "Chivalry--and wounded pride. That's what makes you a mark. You're all the same."

He put up his hands as she raised the gun, backing him towards the hatch. She slapped the button, which glowed green, pistons giving a small sigh as the gangway lowered to the ground with a puff of sand and dust.

"You know what I hate most about men?" she asked as she raised the gun.

"Never met one."

She brought the butt of the pistol down hard across the back of his head, and kicked him out the open hatch.

There was a soft knock on the hatch door, followed by the clank-hiss of the door dropping open.

"Are you decent?" Inara called down, the hem of her black gown brushing the ladder rungs.

"That's a loaded question."

Inara managed to make backing down a ladder look graceful.

"Oh good. You're wearing pants."

Mal's mouth quirked in a smile as he held his hands open in a timeless gesture of my cramped cabin is your cramped cabin. "What's the matter? Didn't enjoy the view?"

Inara shrugged. "Well, if you've seen one..."


"I brought your gun."

Mal's eyes strayed to his gunbelt, which lay at the foot of his bed. "Wash gave me my gun when he gave me my pants."

"I brought your priceless antique laser pistol." Layers of flowing shirts were brushed aside, plastic and metal gleaming dully in the dim light of his cabin.

"Oh that gun."

"It doesn't work, you know."

"My witty banter and devil-may-care charm?"

"The Lassiter," she said as she laid the gun in his open palm. "It doesn't work."

He hefted the gun, and then laid it in the metal lockbox that up until that morning had held his second best shaving razor. "Don't have to work--just has to sit there, being all rare and invaluable. Wait--you tried to fire it?"

Inara shrugged again. "I wasn't going to kill her."

"I thought you fancy Academy types just used swords."

She sat primly on the edge of his bed, arranging skirts so that only the toes of her slippers peeked out beneath the fall of silk. "We're schooled in all kinds of weapons. Some of us even have sharp-shooting medals."

"Maybe I should finally fire Jayne and hire you on."

"Maybe you should stop letting women like Saffron anywhere near your... weapon." Her dark eyes smiled, belying her tone.

"Show's over, Inara. You don't need to needle my wounded pride."

"Is that what I was doing?"

He grinned, and kicked the box beneath his bunk with one scuffed boot-heel.

His head still ached, and for that matter, his nose still hurt. He could feel a sunburn prickling his neck and shoulders beneath the soft cotton of his shirt.. He had a priceless artifact under his bed, and he hoped that meant it would be at least worth enough to get them some new compression coils and maybe a month's worth of rice and tea.

He wondered if Inara knew how to make cornbread.


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