He told Captain Reynolds that he had heathens aplenty right there, on the very ship that held them. Serenity, a state
of grace. None of them had earned that-- pirates or not, and he wasn't sure enough to judge, they were sinners all. Worshippers
of false idols. Old voices whispered in his mind when he looked at them, old mandates to bring the lawless into line, filtered
through the new Word and his own salvation. Smash their idols, guide their eyes to God.
Jayne worshipped money; the doctor, the tiny cold godlings of science and text. Kaylee saw only surfaces and glitter; her
lust for the material was perhaps the most innocent and forgiveable of their sins. Wash placed nothing higher than his love
for a woman-- whom Book could not read at all; he did not presume to guess at Zoe's gods, though he suspected that her husband
ranked high among them. But her partner in old rebellions, their dashing captain-- he knelt to ghosts, both those of mortal
men and of his own illusions. As for the Companion, well, she could be dismissed out of hand. She served the basest and
oldest of masters, the lusts of the flesh.
The River-child was an innocent, her madness cleansing her of all gods, burning the false away and leaving her clean. His
training demanded expression at the sight of her, demanded that he teach the truth and the laws. Only now it was God's Truth
he would speak, God's Law. He would save her from the lies around her, and save the others as well, bring them to the state
of grace they falsely claimed.
Perhaps then he too would be forgiven.
Subtlety was required, though seemingly futile. They all seemed to have learned to ignore the Alliance's blunt messages of
cooperation and theoretical coprosperity. How could the quiet murmur of God's Truth reach them?
Only by compromise, it seemed; only sideways. He feared that perhaps he would undermine his message, dilute it past its meaning.
But it was the only way.
"Taking things on faith is bad medicine, Shepherd," Simon told him, smiling wryly over his instruments in the infirmary.
"My patients tend to prefer it when I can give them a how and a why."
He could tell the boy that God was healing through his hands, but the only way to prove that would be for one of them to die
under Simon's care when God withdrew His gift, and they must not die unsaved. And indeed, the doctor's lack of respect for
the source of his skill didn't seem to hinder it, as he saved them one by one.
And so Book held his tongue, and watched Simon serve a calling all unaware.
A river flows at no man's orders, and River would take no symbol on his say-so. She danced, merry in her blankness and ignorance,
and in moments of weird and frightening clarity he could see God in her steps. He was the God of the innocent, after all.
They would inherit His kingdom. No, that was the meek, and River Tam certainly was not that. But she did seem to draw guardian
angels to herself, unlikely and rough ones who shielded her from fire.
Book withheld his Bible, the book of symbols, because she did not see beyond them, and he was no longer certain if that was
because she was beneath them or above.
Wash laughed and poured the coffee. "No, we were married in a church, Shepherd, nice and proper. Zoe had to make some threats
to get Mal to come inside and be her maid of honor, but she got her way in the end. She tends to do that, you know." Book
smiled and drank, knowing there was no need to reply; let Wash start talking about Zoe and he would run for hours. "It was
a real nice ceremony- the priest was good, he had a whole sermon with imagery and allusions. I did have to ask him to leave
out the part about obeying, because I didn't want my bride to laugh in my face in the middle of our wedding day." Book opened
his mouth to ask about the sermon, hoping to find a way to reach the man there, but Wash continued on.
"And I'll tell you something, Shepherd, when Zoe took my hand and said 'I do,' this...feeling just came over me. I never felt
that way in a church before, it was like warmth and light and singing just filling me up inside." He looked up at the ceiling
for a moment, his face as peaceful and certain as any of the saints depicted in the abbey. "I'm not saying that God took
a personal interest in us getting married-- I'm sure he has more important things to worry about-- but all the same I kind
of think He was glad to see us so happy and being blessed in His name."
Book stared down into his coffee mug, a still surface above dark depths and mystery. "I'm sure He was."
He couldn't say precisely when it began, what moment was the first time the phrases began to flicker through his mind when
he knelt and meditated on the puzzle of Malcolm Reynolds. He sought to describe the man to himself, and the words that came
were the cross of guilt he bears and taking sins on himself that others would forget and he fled and wanders
in the desert of the black.
He did not want to believe these things, did not want to see a flash of a different color beneath the brown of Mal's flaunted
apostacy. But the longer he watched, the more he saw the ghosts of old ways in the captain's silences and sorrows, echoes
of days when crimes were not pardoned with a moment's regret, but must be washed away through years of penance.
He knelt to meditate, and he saw Mal crawling on his knees through the desert toward Calvary, the sins of the forgotten on
his back. And a prayer that the captain's eyes might be forced open changed in Book's mouth until he asked that the man might
Kaylee laughed and shimmered and danced about the ship, and he assumed they went to her for that, drawn to her light as mindlessly
as moths. But slowly he noticed that often, when they were with her, they were not laughing, and that when they walked away,
it was with a smile more quiet than bright.
He lurked in shadows, hid in corners, watched and listened and meditated on what he saw and heard, until one day it came clear.
She was kneeling before the engine, up to her elbows in grease and gears, coaxing a broken piece to life. She healed Serenity
with her hands as surely as the doctor did, Book thought absently, watching from outside the door. And engine-work grew out
of carpentry, didn't it, many years removed but still building and fixing through the labor of hands...
Mal knelt beside her, handing her tools when she asked for them, talking too softly for Book to hear. She would glance from
the engine to her captain from time to time, and smile softly, and say something in reply. Once she placed her tools down
and caught Mal's hand, squeezing it gently and pressing her forehead to his shoulder. Mal kissed her hair, and on his face
Book saw the peace of the confessional.
He stopped spying on her moments with the crew after that, and on his knees that night asked God's forgiveness for his subterfuge.
It had not occured to him that one could grant absolution with a smile, but if through that girl the Lord could lift burdens
from a heart, it was not His servant's place to question, only to thank Him for His kindness and walk on.
He would not have expected Jayne to be a drinker of tea, but then he had not expected Jayne to have any thoughts on life and
death and immortality, and that had been proven false over the coffin of the undead boy. So Book could only reprove himself
for his surprise as Jayne accepted the cup from Inara's hands and sipped the liquid.
"They give you this down on the world, Inara?" he asked, nodding approval at the taste.
"Yes," she replied, and Book saw that her eyes were still red and swollen from crying over the gravesite. "It was Nandi's.
They gave me some of her things."
Jayne nodded and held his tongue, allowing her silence for her grief, and again Book was forced to scold himself for his surprise.
There was more to all of them than he had first seen, and apparently less to himself. He should both ask God's forgiveness
for his former blindness, and thank Him for opening his eyes.
"So you've been on this boat for a while now, Shepherd," Jayne said suddenly, looking over at where Book frowned into his
own cup of tea. "Been all over half the 'verse, I suppose. You any closer to finding God?"
Inara looked at him, and he found himself frozen by those two sets of eyes awaiting his answer, the eyes of true and unrepentant
sinners. A killer and a whore. God's children.
"You can't find Him by searching, Jayne," he said at last, speaking a truth he had left the abbey to deny. "He isn't out
there in the black."
"Well, then where the hell is He?" Jayne asked, smiling a little.
Inara met Book's gaze and raised an eyebrow, one hand settling gently over her chest. "He's in here?" she asked, so softly
that he knew she was merely seeing if he could confirm what she already knew.
He nodded, and the ship moved on, carrying her sinners to grace, and God in all His faces smiled.