Sideways

Dragonlots AKA Dana Bell

He wasn't afraid of death. Not really. He'd prayed with those at the Abby as they slowly faded away with peaceful expressions and he'd sent others there during a past he'd tried to forget. All for the good of the Alliance, or so he'd thought.

"Keep her safe," floated through his mind. He'd seen the Alliance's influence there. River, the poor child, a victim of those who thought they knew what was in the best interest of others.

"Book!"

Was someone shouting his name? Pain racked his body and he tasted blood. He wouldn't have long. Maybe just long enough, if God so willed it.

"You have the time," a soft voice informed him.

The Shepherd blinked trying to understand, seeing a young girl with soft blonde hair, a long flowing gown, seeming to glow.

"I'm here to take you…home." She kneeled beside him, placing a delicate hand on his arm. "He's very pleased with you."

"I…"

"He knows. And understands."

Malcolm Reynolds was there, speaking words, words that faded farther and farther away until he stood beside his body watching as Simon Tam performed a final rite over his dead body.

"It's time to go," the girl informed him.

"This isn't how I imagined death."

She smiled her plump face lighting up like a firefly. "Well, you aren't dying exactly. He has a reward in mind." Her blue eyes darted around like she was afraid someone would hear. "I wasn't supposed to tell you that."

"I'm sure He'll understand."

They vanished in a glitter of lights and appeared briefly over Earth before they stood in an ancient hall. There were men and women there all dressed in long golden robes.

"Not what I imagined Heaven would be like," Book said.

A woman nearby smiled warmly and a man with a boyish face came to him.

"You aren't in Heaven."

"Then where am I?"

"We're Elders," the man replied as way of explanation. "The caretakers of the Greater Good."

"Isn't that God's domain?"

A twinkle reflected in the man's hazel eyes. "We're His helpers."

"I see." The shepherd took a moment to digest the information. "And why have I been brought here?"

"They want to make you like me," the little girl supplied.

"An angel?"

"In a manner of speaking," the man replied. "We were very impressed by the care you extended to the crew of Serenity and then on Haven. We felt your natural talent could be used for far greater purposes."

"If you're making an offer, son, please get to the point."

A smile of understanding touched his lips. "Most of our Whitelighters look after those who in the future will be the same or else witches fighting demons." His face shadowed briefly. "Like I did."

Book waited.

"There's one on Serenity who is a future Whitelighter and we're afraid, after all that has happened, that he has lost his way. We believe, with your continued guidance, he'll find the path again."

"You're talking about Malcolm Reynolds." He wasn't exactly sure how he knew that, but it seemed right.

"Yes."

"But he saw me die."

"You'll have the ability to change your appearance."

"When you help him," the little girl added. "You must do so in a way he won't figure out it's you."

Part of him wanted to leap at the chance, another part remembered his dark past. "But I've done things,"

"So did I, during my early lives. He," the man rolled his eyes upward. "Gives many chances."

A second chance to part of Serenity and her crew, to be with old friends, to help a lost one find his way. It was a challenge Shepherd Book felt up to.

"And if I agree to do this?"

"I have no doubt we'll give you other charges. You noticed how you got here."

Book nodded.

"It's called orbing and part of your new powers."

"You'll be able to heal, too," the girl added.

"One final thing, you'll be answerable to us."

"It's beginning," the woman said. Before her an image appeared. Serenity blazing through space splashed red, with skeletons strapped to the front and a gun mounted on the top.

Shepherd felt a cold that had nothing to do with being dead. "How soon would I go?"

"A few days," the man answered. "There are some rules you need to know as well as training on how to use your powers."

"Will I be able to stop that insanity?" He watched in horror as the ship floated past the Reavers' ships.

"No. This needs to happen." The man turned away from the horrific images.

"One more thing, you may encounter another of our Whitelighters during your assignment. He's assigned to look after the Caine children, who will soon be traveling with Serenity's crew."

"I can't imagine Captain Reynolds allowing children on his ship."

"He'll pick them up before you. We'd like you to join them when they reach White Fall."

The picture changed to show the crew walking the deserted streets of a planet. When he saw the bodies, he wondered what had happened.

"You'll be briefed about Miranda." The man took his arm and they walked to another chamber. "Well, " he prompted. "Do you wish to become a Whitelighter?"

He thought about Serenity and her crew, about the time he'd spent with them. They were the family he'd never had the chance to have. Could he walk among them again and not tell them who he really was?

"You've made a tempting offer, son. I'm not sure accepting it would be in the best interest of everyone concerned."

"I understand your hesitance." Again a sense of a something important and yet not shared. When the man made no further attempt to persuade him, Book wondered. Did they already know the outcome and brought him here just as a formality?

"Did you like being a Whitelighter?" the Shepherd asked.

"It had its rewards as well as shortcomings."

"And those were?"

"Mine is a very long story. Let's just say that the children who will be coming aboard are descendants of one of my sister-in-laws."

"Interesting." Not knowing the whole story didn't make the situation clear, still, he was used to dealing in the gray area.

"What you should consider is Malcolm Reynold's future. You have an opportunity to influence the outcome."

"Will he still become a future Whitelighter without me there to guide him?"

"It will take longer. And that decision will also influence other lives."

"You don't make this easy do you?"

"I'm not supposed to. Although, I do understand."

A silence fell between them. Book carefully considered all he had been told. Many lives, not just Malcolm's hinged on his decision. Did he honestly as a Shepherd have any other choice?

"They'll come at you sideways," he muttered with grin of understanding.

The man chuckled. "We thought you'd understand."

The sun glared down as a young black man dressed in pious Abby colors covered his eyes while a beat up firefly landed on the ground. The extension opened and a young couple clutching their meager belongings hurried out and soon were lost in the local crowd.

Serenity's captain sauntered out taking in details. Behind him the rest of the crew hovered, including, the man noticed three children with an older gentleman. He smiled recognizing another like him.

With a practiced ease he approached the ship. A cat appraised him and offered her head to be scratched. He wondered when the feline had joined the crew.

"Seems to hav' taken a shine to ya." It was good to hear Kaylee's voice again. "Where're ya headed?"

"No destination in mind. Just out of the Abby and want to walk the world for awhile."

She gave him an odd look. "Cap'n?"

"Been missin' havin' a Shepherd on board," he replied to her unasked question.

"I brought these." He offered a sack full of fresh food.

"Should pick up Shepherds more often," the mercenary, Jayne, stated, wearing guns as casually as clothes. "Scat!" He kicked at the cat.

"That's no way to treat one of God's creatures." He picked up the cat and held it.

"If you say so." He accented his words with a loud sneeze.

"What's your name, Shepherd?" The Captain extended his hand.

"Hawk. Templar Hawk."

"Welcome aboard Serenity."