Disclaimer: The characters and situations do not belong to me. Joss Whedon is the master, all hail. I just like to play in his 'verse.

A/N: Just some thoughts. Let me know what you think. Also, many thanks to 'Tom "Wash" Pender' for his help with some of my mistakes and his too-kind review.


Ye, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

Ye, though I walk through the valley.

His breath was rattling in his lungs. Flecks of blood were attracting gnats and all manner of buzzing creatures around his face. Book thought about swiping them away, but he couldn't seem to raise his hand.

"Best to conserve energy," he thought. "For that rescue I'm about to receive."

He knew that was a lie. But, time like this, a little lie to oneself could be counted as a kindness. Book didn't reckon the good Lord was going to begrudge him a flicker of groundless hope. Not now.

Ye, though I walk.

Funny, the things that ran through a man's mind when he was about to pass on. At the abbey, Shepherd Jonathan had recited the 23rd Psalm night and day. Near about drove everyone crazy. Jon kept saying 'It's the Shepherd's psalm! You understand, and we're Shepherds! It's like to say we have our very own psalm.'

Poor boy was enough to make Job rend his garments. Had put Book off of that particular Psalm's comforting qualities ever since. But now, lying on his back, pain shuddering through him like electric jolts, watching the sun cross the sky one final time - well, it was all that kept coming back.

Through the valley of the shadow of death.

He was more of a Ecclesiastes man, himself. Or the Proverbs. Good words, the Proverbs. Written by wise men, able to guide a soul's life. Like stars to the ancient sailors of Earth that Was. That's what Shepherd Book had said in his first homily, anyway. Gotten a few tears, point of fact.

I will fear.

If some of his acquaintances from early on in life could see him now... Well, Book reckoned that they'd as soon help finish the job as mount a rescue operation. Book felt a coldness spread through him, knew it had little to do with his slowly dripping wounds.

His life before. Some nights of late, he'd awoken near screaming. Cold sweat pouring from his brow and the steady hammer of his heart driving the breath from him. Just faint memories of a past life. Of a life that he'd run from. To the Abbey. Into the arms of God, who, thankfully, had a stellar record for forgiveness. The old is dead, behold the new.

Too bad his dreams sometimes forgot he was all new and clean. They seemed hellbent on bringing up the old. Book squeezed his eyes shut against the painful remembrances. Just as quickly, he opened them. He'd made as much peace with God as he was going to get a chance too. Whether or not it was enough, there was no reason to deny himself one last glimpse of the sun.

I will fear no evil.

Surprisingly enough, he didn't grieve much for himself. Sure, there was more he'd like to have done. Places he'd have liked to go. But, overall, he'd lived a full life. Too full, by some man's standards. And it was near over. On to the bigger and the better. Shepherd Book accepted that with as much grace as he could muster under the circumstances.

No, he was full of sour grief for his friends. Both those who had died and those who would find the dead. Malcolm Reynolds, especially. Good man, but lost. Adrift. Clinging desperately to thin shreds of a past in hopes that he might clothe himself against the bitter storms of a future he couldn't contemplate. Mal couldn't believe. Wouldn't, perhaps. But his lack of belief coupled with guilt... Well, that could drive a man to horrible action.

Book should know. He'd been where Mal would soon stand. Had trod that road. Still had the scars to prove it.

Book sighed. Wouldn't be long now. Even with the sun high overhead, dark clouds were moving into the sides of his vision. He'd missed opportunities. He hadn't been fast enough, smart enough to convince Mal that there was more to life than the temporary thrill of a good ship beneath you and money in your pocket.

River, the dear girl, grasped the eternal concepts better than the poor Captain. Book sighed again, and realized that it was probably the last time. Way up overhead, he heard a familiar engine rumble. He smiled softly. No, not long now at all.

Perhaps, if he could hold on just a few more minutes - please, God, just a few - he would get another chance. Book lay underneath his last sun. His blood flowed, slower now, and spilled out into the dust of a remote moon.

Then he heard his name. Being shouted. Familiar voices echoing out across the graveyard that had been a village. Then Mal's voice, Mal striding across the land, Mal kneeling by his side. And Book's chance, his one last chance.

"Believe."

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord. Forever.