Title: Son of a Preacher Man
Author: Slipstream
Rating: G
Summary: Book finds something he wasn't expecting amongst the crew of Serenity.
Notes: Redux of ffFriday challenge #51 (Book). I know, I know, a non-Jayne Firefly fic from me? I'm surprised, too. Could possibly fit with canon if you ignored a bunch of things and squinted pretty hard, otherwise it's total bunnie-induced fan-crack. I had a couple of people ask on my last post for links to my other fic, so I'd like to direct all interested parties towards the "Fanfic: Firefly" section in my memories.

Before Book was Book, back when he was young and foolish, he had wanted a son. He had bedded many women in his quest to sire another man like himself, one who was hard and tall and stood straight when he pointed his gun at another man, but only once did his work result in offspring. His heart had soared with gladness until the preliminary genetic tests revealed that his child bore two X chromosomes instead of the desired one. He had given the woman-—Leila, that had been her name-—enough money to get off of the core planets and birth or terminate the child as she pleased, plus a little extra to keep her mouth shut. He was at a key point in his climb of the Alliance ladder, and he had no use for dawdling women.

A man could keep busy in the ranks of the Alliance, busy enough not to have to think, and in the two long decades that followed he did not give his daughter nor her mother a passing thought, save occasionally on lonely, half-drunk nights when he wished again that the child had been male. Then the war came and he saw and did terrible things, and his eyes were opened, and he fled from his former life in horror. He made his first confession to the man who would become his abbot, and wept as he was given a new name under which he could search for salvation free from the sins of his old life. Chastity suited him as a form of penance, and on nights when he awoke to dark urges he had only to remember the look on Leila's face as he handed her enough credits to kill their child to snuff out those thoughts.

Eight years passed. Book became restless, and with the permission of his abbot he set out to wander the worlds for a while. It was then that he discovered that God's ultimate plan for him involved a far more literal form of penance. The ship had called to him, reminded him of the few parts of his past that he was not ashamed of, and the girl with the umbrella was sweet and caring. He didn't care if the old bucket of bolts fell apart halfway to Boros, just so long as he got to bask in the warmth of her smile as she ate.

He was completely at ease as he loaded his luggage into the cargo bay. Book was feeling good about his journey, about his decision to leave the abbey. He heard approaching voices and turned to get a glimpse of the other passengers when his heart froze at the sight of the woman in the leather vest with a gun strapped to her hip.

She was the spitting image of her mother, but it was as if someone else—-a soldier, a man—-had climbed into her skin and was walking around. For a moment he had the disjointed feeling of stepping outside of his body and watching his younger self march across the cargo bay of a Firefly so very long ago. He turned back to his belongings, shaken, and thought seriously about abandoning his things and running back to the abbey as fast as his old legs would carry him, but the cargo doors chose that moment to close with a decisive bang. Book swore he could hear the Lord's pointed commentary in the metallic echoes that bounced around the hold.

It was all a test, he decided as the strange events of their journey unfolded, a test designed by God to see if he was worthy of mercy. The Lord was going to make him earn his keep, and knock him down a peg or two while he was at it.

After, he approached the whore the way people approach a saint, hoping that she would relay his message to God for him, plead on his behalf. "I think I'm on the wrong ship," he said, weeping, praying that the Lord would have mercy on him, a sinner, and take him away from this place with all of its reminders of his shameful life.

"Maybe," she said. Her hand was cool upon his brow, still slightly damp from the water. He was reminded of his baptism. "But maybe you're exactly where you ought to be."

That night Book walked the decks of Serenity, listening to the sounds the old boat made as she sailed through the darkness of space, a single point of life and light in the cold universe. He could feel the presence of the crew around him, tucked safely into their bunks for the night. He paused outside of the door leading to the Washburnes' quarters, and after a moment he could hear the distinct, happy grunts and moans of a young couple very much in love. With all he'd done and seen in his life, he was surprised to feel himself blush.

He wondered if Leila had found a man willing to claim and raise her child as his own, if Zoe even knew that this man was not her father. She was married, did some man she had been raised to call bà bà walk her down the aisle? Did the captain? Did any man dare to even suggest that they should? Book could picture her, glorious in her red dress, as she marched alone to the altar, declaring her independence with each step even as she bound herself to her husband. It made his lips smile, but his soul was sorrowful for not having been there to see it first-hand.

He would stay, he thought as he made his way through the ship to check on Kaylee and the mysterious girl sleeping next to her in the infirmary, though with what he'd experienced of the Lord's sense of humor so far, he knew that the decision was never actually his. He had the funds to take him long past Boros, and once those ran out he'd work as he was able to make up for the rest of his passage.

After all, if a shepherd couldn't keep his eye on his own lamb gone astray in the storm, what good was he to the rest of his flock?