Part 5 - Faith

The loss of Ginny's faith had been a long time coming. She could trace its inevitability all the way back to when she was sixteen, when she left home for an early acceptance MedAcad program on Osiris. Yes, that's when Ginny's faith began to waver; it predated the inevitable collapse.

Apathy, superficiality, greed, and incompetence surrounded her. The other students were core-born, spoiled and privileged and careless. They just didn't care.

Well, they did care about achieving rank, about growing up to be respected, about operating on the elite and being well-connected.

Ginny was an outcast because of her youth, because of her upbringing, because of her vast wealth of first-hand medical knowledge and experience (because she'd been digging bullets out of Uncle Mal back when her classmates were attending cotillions). They hated her for being smarter than them, made fun of her for being different and so much stronger.

But Ginny was a nose-to-the-grindstone kind of girl and just stopped caring after awhile. She wasn't at the school to make friends, after all; she was there to become a doctor, a trauma surgeon like her daddy. She idolized him.

By twenty-five, she was the attending physician for the St. Lucy's emergency center on Ariel. She worked long hours in a place where she wasn't especially needed or valued. Ginny may have been the best, but there were always three more surgeons more than willing and able to do her job.

The core had too many doctors, so many that it was not uncommon to walk through the ER and hear them fighting with each other over procedures.

Meanwhile, rim worlds were just as poor and lacking in the most basic of necessities; and Ginny's whole family continued to suffer because of the lifestyle they chose.

When Davey was eight, his appendix ruptured four days from proper medical facilities. He nearly died and so did his mama. He was her reason for living.

There wasn't anything Ginny could do when they waved her and she cut the transmission feeling helpless and resentful. Seemed like it didn't matter whether it was the Alliance or the Republic who was in charge, rim worlds were always going to be rim worlds, deprived and technologically lacking, unwanted stepchildren surviving on scraps and sheer resolve. What should have been a simple, nearly painless laproscopic outpatient procedure looked like it would be the end of the bright boy.

During a lull in the chaos that was the St. Lucy trauma center, Dr. Ginger Marie Tam found an empty room and cried hysterically into her hands.

She did so until the little black pager she wore at her hip those days instead of a gun went off to alert her that there was work to be done. She calmly wiped her swollen blue eyes and rushed to it, finding herself even more seething mad when she arrived to discover a little boy, the son of a senator and wealthy businessman, brought in with the beginning stages of appendicitis. His case was not yet an emergency but his well-connected parents had pulled strings to demand a shameful amount of personnel and resources be dedicated to him. His name was Golyat Hastin and he was Davey's younger half-brother, that bastard Casimir Hastin's son.

After flawlessly performing the surgery, after picking up a message from drawn and bleary-eyed Louisa informing her that they were en-route to intercept a Republic medical cruiser, the IRV Xi Wangmu--which, despite Lou's status as a high-ranking, highly-decorated war veteran and all-around hero, was refusing to alter course in order to make the trip faster--Ginny went back to that same empty room and cried again. There was more anger the second time, injustice and rage welling up inside her until she felt like she was just going to burst.

She decided that she no longer believed in God.

The next days were a blur, long hours and crippling worry had Ginny walking around like a zombie and retreating every few hours into the always-deserted room to cry. It was a nice little room, modest beige carpet on the floor, scenes of nature hung on the stark white walls, and a big, colored glass window that faced west. It lit up like it was on fire when the sun set.

It wasn't until the evening of the fourth day that Ginny finally realized her nice little room was actually a chapel.

"Excuse me," A kind voice interrupted just seconds before the young woman felt a hand on her shoulder.

Working purely on instinct, she grabbed the intruder by the wrist and threw him to the floor with a flip move Louisa'd taught her ages ago.

And then she was face-to-face with a man who would have been extremely handsome had he not been gasping for breath as Ginny choked the life out of him. "What?" She demanded coldly, suddenly very aware that she was straddling his fit, firm body as she pinned him mercilessly to the modest beige carpet. It was very difficult not to blush.

"Um," The man choked, deep almond-shaped brown eyes wide and wild as he stared up at the dark-haired beauty hovering over him, "I just wanted to know if you were alright."

Ginny paused.

"Oh."

She released him and jumped away in an instant, losing her battle with the furious blush as she offered the stranger a hand up. "Sorry," She mumbled sheepishly, "I'm a little tense and... well, I guess I've never really handled people sneakin' up on me very well."

"Quite alright," The man answered pleasantly, voice a little strained as he rubbed his sore throat and deftly straightened his neat black suit.

When his hand finally fell away from the collar Ginny's mouth dropped. "You're a shepherd?" She gaped helplessly.

He gave a warm smile, long, messy mousey hair falling out of the short ponytail gathered at the nape of his neck and into his kind eyes. "As of a week ago," He answered, offering out his hand, "My name is Casy Yonah. I was just assigned as hospital chaplain. And you are?"

"Dr. Tam," Ginny automatically replied, having long gotten out of the habit of assuming anyone around there cared about her first name, "And so goin' to the special hell..."

Laughing, the shepherd stated, "Of course not. That level is reserved for child molesters and people who talk at the theater. If they sent all the people who've kicked my pi gu, then there wouldn't be any room for the ones who really deserve it."

A rare smile came to Ginny's face. "You wouldn't happen to have trained at Southdown, would you?" She asked teasingly.

"How did you guess?" He answered, glancing down at himself in search of some specific giveaway.

Ginny laughed, "Just lucky."

Smiling, the shepherd straightened himself up a bit more and cleared his throat. "So, my child," He began very formally, "Is there anything I can do for you?"

"Not really," Ginny answered, exhaustedly falling back into her seat, "No offense. I respect your profession and all, my mama and daddy did raise me right, but I'm not too keen on the Lord at present."

"And why is that?" He questioned softly, his kind eyes never leaving hers as he took a seat at the young woman's side.

Ginny looked away into one of the pretty stained glass windows, watching it glow with the setting sun as she tiredly sighed, "I ain't lookin' for spiritual guidance."

Chuckling, the shepherd responded, "It's strange I would find you crying in a chapel then."

Stunned, Ginny didn't even register her eyes going wide as she glanced around the small room. Before she could stop herself, the young woman blurted, "Aw, hell."

She quickly slapped a hand down over her blasphemous mouth, cheeks heating up as Casy began to laugh.

Mortified and not seeing any other option, Ginny bolted from the room.

A few hours later, after trying hard to forget about the overwhelming embarrassment and fear by inundating herself with all the patients she could get her hands on, she picked up another message from Louisa. Rapture had finally managed to intercept the IRV Xi Wangmu and Davey would be going into surgery the second one of the doctors got through with their very important paperwork.

Ginny checked on Golyat and found that the five-year-old had three interns at his beck and call, that he was being served cake and ice cream and fresh fruit, that Casimir Hastin was fluffing his pillows and promising him a pony for being such a good boy.

She had to leave and threw up in the ladies'--that's what bathrooms were called in the core, the ladies' and the gents'; Ginny longed to hear someone, anyone, call out that they were going to hit the head, or visit the crapper, or, as Uncle Jayne liked to joke, drop the kids off at the pool.

Yup, Ginny was most definitely homesick, and everything about the core just seemed to make is worse. She hated the people, the language, the values. She longed to be home. Not even necessarily back on Serenity, just somewhere she could actually feel like the work she did was making a difference; somewhere she was needed; somewhere people acted like people to one another and didn't think twice about what was in it for them; somewhere kindness was a given and not dependent on bank accounts or status. A lot of people on the rims may have had no problem robbing and cheating, but at least they had the decency to be upfront about it.

The shepherd was waiting for her outside the bathroom and Ginny could have just died right there on the spot. She knew it was stupid, but she looked like a mess; after nearly sixty hours of being on call, she was pale and had heavy circles beneath her blue eyes, her dark hair was a frizzed, tangled mess that she knew Jessie would scold her for if she ever saw it like that, and, to top off the whole package, now her breath smelled like vomit.

Perfect.

"Hello," Casy greeted, a warm, somewhat shy smile on his handsome face, "I saw you go in and I wanted to talk to you... are you feeling alright?"

Actually quite sick and dizzy, Ginny shoved past him and snapped, "I'm fine. And I've got a lot of work to do."

Frowning, the shepherd announced, "The head nurse just told me you were off."

"Well, I'm not!" The slim woman growled angrily over her shoulder, "I'm very busy and I can't do my job with some irritatin' man a' God clingin' to my heels!"

The girl never had been one for beating around the bush.

"She said you were going to be sent home," Casy stated very quietly, gently, "You've already gone far over the eighty-hour work week maximum."

Seething, Ginny stopped, turned around and screamed, "So what if I did? Why do you care? I'm not some ta made niao charity case and I won't be your next big project! No one here needs or wants you around so why don't you go somewhere where you'll actually do some good!" She was vaguely aware that she was drawing a crowd but could not bring herself to care. A dull buzzing was drowning out the sounds of her own shouting and the dizziness was crashing over her in increasingly severe waves.

Ginny was a workaholic; she knew she didn't take very good care of herself, and stress and worry over her family tended to exacerbate the situation.

She knew she'd overdone it when her vision grew just dark enough to watch the whole world go hurtling upwards as her knees gave and she collapsed limply to the floor.

As was the usual case, three doctors took two hours to confer over her charts before finally pronouncing that she needed fluids and bed rest. Ginny spent the entire time thinking about just how much good any one of them would be doing if he was on the rim worlds that needed doctors, how many people they would have saved while they were debating over a diagnosis she knew from the second she faded back into consciousness.

The shepherd stayed by her bedside, chatting pleasantly and trying to get her to open up to him. She didn't feel much like sharing, not wanting to give fodder to any of the gossip about her she knew was already whirling around the hospital; she also didn't feel much like arguing, which was why she didn't put up a fight when Casy declared that he would like to see that she got home alright. Besides, Ginny's little apartment was a long tram ride away and it was nice to be able to lean against a warm, solid shoulder as she struggled to stay awake throughout the whole thing.

"Can I make you some tea?" Casy asked kindly, his deep-set almond eyes searching the young woman's pale face as he carefully helped her to her bed. Since the apartment was only two rooms, and one of those rooms was the bathroom, it wasn't a very far walk from the door. In fact, "bed" may have been a bit generous to describe the place where Ginny slept; it was nothing more than a sleeping pallet on the hard floor; she was constantly homesick for her hard steel bunk back on Serenity, or for the straw stuffed mattress she slept on when she visited her parents at Haven. The young woman never could manage to catch a wink on anything too fluffy.

"Sure," She responded blearily, getting up the second he turned his back and stumbling across the room to her desk and the small cortex terminal set on top of it. While the shepherd was busy boiling water in the kitchen, Ginny logged on to the cortex to see if Louisa had left her anymore messages about Davey's condition.

She hadn't.

Ginny put her head down on the desk and cried quietly.

She didn't hear Casy came back, didn't notice him at all until after he'd set the steaming cup of chamomile tea down at her elbow and knelt beside her. "What's the matter?" He asked gently, drawing one strong hand down her shaking back as the other brushed a tear off her cheek, "Why are you crying?"

With a big choking sob, trying furiously to wipe away the snot and spit running out of her face, Ginny answered, "Davey's gonna die and it ain't fair!!"

A pause followed, filled by the young woman's weeping, before Casy inquired, "Who is Davey?"

"M-My nephew," Ginny sniffled, standing unsteadily to pull down one of the framed captures she kept all over the shelves above her desk. "This is him," She stated, tears still running down her pretty face as she flopped back down in her seat and lovingly drew her fingers along the dark-skinned boy's absolutely radiant smile, his glowing gold eyes, his stand-on-end scarlet hair, "He's only eight..."

The funny thing about telling Casy things was that... Casy actually listened. He was sympathetic and agreed with Ginny when she raged on about how unjust the medical establishment had become, when she complained about how she was such an outcast, when she poured her heart about how guilty and isolated and useless and homesick she was feeling.

"It ain't fair," She lamented, wiping her eyes with a tissue the shepherd had offered, "I got all this learnin' and I can't even help my own family! Bein' poor or livin' on a spaceship or a rim world don't make a person any less entitled to gettin' taken care of when he's sick! We got the most advanced medical technology in all a' history! Little boys shouldn't be dyin' just 'cuz they don't have senators and businessmen for parents!"

Casy grew silent, speculative, his handsome face stoic. After a few moments, he drew down another framed capture, holding it out as he asked, "Is this one of your sisters?"

"Ya, Louisa," Ginny stated, nodding and leaning over to point out her family members, "That's her in the middle, and the guy next to her is her husband, Mac. The little boy is Washburne and the girl is Anaya. I took that a few years ago at Naya's second birthday party back on Haven. She's five now and Burne's twelve. They both got real big since then but I... I ain't seen 'em in awhile... just been real busy..."

Casy smiled softly, remarking, "They're a lovely family." He gazed at the capture for another moment before putting it back and taking down another. "Another of your sisters?" The shepherd inquired, smirking fondly over what was quite obviously a wedding portrait.

Again, Ginny nodded, stating, "Rosie. She got married two years ago to Ekain Harper."

"That famous impressionist painter that just had the big gallery show on Sihnon?" Casy asked, both interested and amazed, "And, wait, your last name is Tam, so does that mean your sister is Rose-Ellen Beth Tam, the author?"

Smiling proudly, Ginny answered, "Yup. You read her book?"

"Of course," Casy stated, clearly impressed as he continued to stare at the capture, "I don't know anyone who hasn't. It was an absolutely amazing work."

Impossibly prouder, Ginny beamed, "Ya. She's got a real gift for storytellin'... she's expecting her first in a month or two. I did the ultrasounds myself. It's gonna be a boy."

"That's wonderful," The shepherd answered brightly.

"Uh huh," Ginny said, glad to be bragging about her family as she stood unsteadily to take down yet another capture, "And this is Angie and Jay and their daughters. That right there is Serra, she's three, and Clover, she's two, and Zinnia, she's one, and Jonquil, she's only 'bout four months."

"Jonquil?" Casy laughed fondly, glad that the young woman was finally mildly relaxed and happy, eager to keep her talking to him, "That's an unusual name."

Shrugging, Ginny replied, "It's a flower. Most a' the girls in my family get flower names. My mama started it with me and my sisters, and I guess it just stuck. And it certainly don't help none that Jay's nuttier than squirrel turd."

The shepherd smiled at the exhausted brunette and her colorful diction, his longish mousey hair beginning to slip more and more from the messy ponytail gathered at the nape of his strong neck. "So..." He said, "Rose-Ellen Beth..."

"Jessamine Lee," Ginny finished tiredly, "And Angelica Simone."

"And you?" Casy pressed after a moment, taking down an absolutely bursting group capture of the entire Tam-Reynolds-Cobb-Washburne-Machado bunch. He particularly enjoyed the bright and carefree smile his companion wore in it as she was being pelted with water balloons by a pair of dark-haired teenaged twins.

"I'm Ginger," She responded with a yawn, her head beginning to droop forward towards the desk, "Ginger Marie Tam. My family calls me Ginny and I guess if I had any friends, they'd pro'ly call me Ginny, too."

The pair sat in silence for a long few moments before the shepherd finally put the capture back in its place among the dozens of others, standing up as he prompted, "You should drink your tea and get to bed. I didn't mean to keep you up."

"It's alright," Ginny yawned, sucking down a soothing mouthful of chamomile, "This is the most I've talked to anyone outside a' family or work in years... thanks, Shepherd, for actually listenin'. I mean, I know it's just your job and all, but it really did make me feel better."

"That..." Casy began uncertainly, "That's what I'm here for... any time you need me. Can I help you to bed?"

Ginny nodded and allowed herself to be led the short span of her apartment back to the mattress on the floor. She was asleep almost before her head hit the pillow.

The next morning--late afternoon, really--she woke up feeling energized and refreshed, and the first thing she did was sprint to her desk and turn on the cortex to check for updates about Davey.

A message from Louisa lit up the screen, her adoptive jie-jie's striking bronze face appearing exhausted but smiling.

Davey was going to recover.

Ginny nearly melted with relief.

The young woman never could say exactly how much time passed before she became aware of someone knocking at her door. Still in scrubs, her body feeling sticky, achy, she dragged herself to answer it.

The shepherd's handsome, smiling face appeared, his tall body lean, weighted down by the bulging grocery bags he had in both hands. His black suit was neat, his short mousey ponytail perfectly messy.

"Good afternoon," He chirped after a brief moment of fidgeting under Ginny's silent, confused stare, "Are you feeling better?"

"Uh..." Ginny gaped blankly, tugged the ruined ponytail out of her matted dark hair and giving the long mane a shake, "Ya, I'm ok. What're you doin' here?"

The man shifted a bit on his feet, announcing somewhat shyly, "Well, first, I wanted to check up on you. Make sure you were alright. And, um, second-" He held up the grocery bags, grinning sheepishly "-I wanted to bring by some food so I could make you dinner. I happened to notice a distinct lack of anything aside from chocolate pudding in your refrigeration unit last night."

Ginny felt her face get hot and knew that it would be bright red. "I eat a lot a' take-away," She admitted.

"That just won't do," The shepherd responded teasingly, still beaming her what seemed to be his best and most lovable smile, "We have to keep your strength up, and home-cooked meals are the best way... so, can I come in?"

Biting her lip in deep thought, Ginny answered, "Look, Shepherd, I appreciate the effort. Really, I do, but you don't gotta take care a' me. Don't feel obligated just 'cuz I went 'n wept on ya."

He pouted just a bit--giving away just how painfully young he was; probably about the same age as Ginny--before whining, "I don't feel obligated. I wanted to spend time with you... really. You're interesting."

"But... uh..." Ginny gaped unintelligently, running her hands through her tangled hair in a desperate attempt to flatten it, "The place is a mess and I haven't showered-"

"I don't mind," Casy chirped, cutting in with yet another charming grin, "There are worse things than a bit of clutter. And you can take a shower while I'm cooking... not that you need one since I think you're pretty cute when you look like you just rolled out of bed."

Ginny's eyebrows flew up into her hairline. "Ok, hold up just one gorram minute!" The young woman shouted indignantly, jabbing a slim finger into the shepherd's chest. She nearly lost her train of thought when she felt how warm and solid it was, but quickly focused and accused, "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were flirtin' with me, preacher-man!"

Casy continued to grin, though a faint pink rose on his broad cheekbones. "Why is that so hard to believe?" He challenged playfully.

With a calculating glare and a blush of her own, Ginny stated, "Don't you guys not... do that?"

Casy stared blankly.

"You know," Ginny elaborated, not bothering to keep her voice down as she bellowed into the hallway of her thin-walled building, "Ain't ya'll celibate?"

"Oh," The shepherd finally laughed, "Well, yes, some sects are. Mine hasn't ever been. Some of the brothers choose not to marry but that is a personal decision and not something required of us."

"Oh," Ginny answered, still looking at him suspiciously, defensively. "What makes ya think this is a good time to be sniffin' after me?" She challenged, "Ya know I'm sick and upset 'bout Davey!"

The shepherd chuckled, "Your nephew is fine. Louisa waved the hospital looking for you and I talked to her for a bit. She told me he's recovering. As for being sick-" He waved the grocery bags at her "-that's what the food is for. I'm nursing you back to health."

Again, Ginny merely stared for a few moments before demanding, "Why?"

His expression was open and honest. Ginny nearly fainted; it was exactly the kind of openness and honesty she'd been missing so much.

"Because," The young man answered quietly, "I figured you could use a friend, not a shepherd... after all, you ain't too keen on the Lord at present." The corners of his mouth twitched and he seemed rather pleased with his impression of her earlier statement. "And the best way to prove that I don't want to be your shepherd," He continued rather importantly, "Is to act the way I normally would around a brilliant, beautiful, incredibly interesting woman who I'm not counseling. So my plan is to tell you that I think you're beautiful and interesting, which I think I already covered, and then pretty much flirt non-stop and just be wildly inappropriate in general... just to eliminate any conflicts of interest, of course."

A reluctant smile slowly came over the young woman's face until she finally busted out laughing. Good Lord, that was one strange shepherd.

She stepped aside and allowed him into her tiny apartment.

Casy shooed her into the bathroom fairly quickly, handing her a bottle of lavender soap and instructing her to take a long bubble bath. The news that Ginny did not have a bath, only a shower, was met with alarm and the declaration that she was going to have to move immediately.

Beginning to believe that Casy was, in fact, completely insane, Ginny took her shower feeling more relaxed than she should have given the situation. The soap he'd brought smelled heavenly and listening to him hum as he bustled about her kitchen--cooking for her, the girl noted delightedly--was just... comforting... nice... kind of... homey...

Forty minutes later, when she stepped out of the steamy bathroom with her hair wet and a thin towel wrapped around her slim body, Ginny was met by the smell of roasting chicken and grilled vegetables and damn near drooled a puddle onto the floor. "Lord," She moaned deliriously, drifting toward the kitchen counter where the shepherd was standing with his back to her as he basted the bird, "That smells so good."

"Thank you," The young man chirped brightly, "The monks at the abbey taught me a thing or two, and I brought along some of the herbs from the garden there, to use until I can start my own. What you smell is rosemary. It's really a remarkable-"

He cut himself off as he turned fully and laid eyes on Ginny. "Um," He stated, blushing as his gaze fell to his feet, "Did you have a good shower?"

"Ya, I did," The brunette answered, tucking the corner of her towel in more securely. She waited for a brief moment, smirking at the shepherd's blatant refusal to look up. "Am I makin' you uncomfortable, preacher-man?" She teased wickedly, wringing her hair out onto the floor before boosting herself to sit on the counter.

"Uncomfortable?" He parroted, his voice cracking quite hilariously. After clearing it a few times and quickly gaining some composure, Casy continued, "Yes, I think there is a distinct amount of uncomfortableness and it's... uh... in my pants?"

Ginny glowered angrily, "You got another thing comin' if you think that's the kinda line you can use and not get slapped!"

"I'm trying!" The shepherd protested, blushing bright, "I've been at an abbey for the last five years and took a crash course in flirting this morning from a strung-out fourteen-year-old who thought the chapel was a bathroom! Give me a break!"

Unsure whether or not to take that story seriously, Ginny replied, "Use a little common sense. My brother Jay was a total horn-dog and even he never used a line that bad, leastways not after he got kneed in the goodie sack over 'what do you like for breakfast?'."

"Ok," Casy said, appearing very thoughtful for a few moments as he put the chicken back into the oven. He strode over to Ginny, leaning against the counter beside her. He was still unable to look at her fully as he gave a slight smile and tried, "Ok. I got it... is that towel felt?"

Ginny glanced at her old towel, the one with the happy cartoon characters dancing across it, and frowned in confusion as she bluntly answered, "No, it ain't."

Casy gave a nervous grin, "Would you like it to be?"

Ginny stared, completely unamused. "Thin ice, Shepherd," She warned.

The shepherd laughed awkwardly, brushing back some stray hairs. "If I followed you home," He tried feebly, "Would you keep me?"

"You did follow me home," Ginny retorted matter-of-factly, "And I'm startin' to regret lettin' you in."

Again, he managed a nervous chuckle, scratching his chin as he asked, "Was your father a thief?"

"Ya," Ginny replied, eyes narrowing dangerously, "A criminal mastermind. You got a problem with that?"

The shepherd looked surprised, and also like he was resisting a powerful urge to run for his life. "Because someone stole the stars from the skies and put them in your eyes," He blurted hurriedly, his handsome face fluctuating between stark white and flush red.

Ginny relaxed and didn't smack him, but she didn't look thrilled either. "Try again," She ordered, growing rather impatient.

"Right," The man agreed, blush rising anew, "Do you believe in love at first sight?"

"No," Ginny replied, clearly cynical about the very idea.

The shepherd grinned, offering, "So should I walk by again?"

The question was met with an inelegant snort.

Starting to get just a bit discouraged, Casy gave it one more shot, looking up from the floor and meeting Ginny's blue gaze. "Do you have a map?" He asked, not breaking the contact.

"No," She answered. After being stared at expectantly for a few moments, she sighed heavily and inquired, "Why?"

"Because," Casy replied, smiling sweetly as he reached up to brush his knuckles along Ginny's pale jaw, "I just keep getting lost in your eyes."

"This was a ruttin' dumb idea," The brunette declared, hopping abruptly down from he counter.

"I'm trying to help!" Casy defended, grabbing her by the arm before she could flee. "Ginny," He said, "I meant what I said about liking you. I barely know you and even I can see how lost you are... I want to be there for you, as a friend or anything else you may need."

Ginny stayed quiet, unsure how to answer, unsure what she wanted or needed from the shepherd. He just stared for a long few moments, standing in her tiny kitchen/living room/bedroom and staring blankly. He opened his mouth like he was going to say something else but seemed the think better of it.

"Would you like something to drink?" The shepherd finally asked.

"Hell yes," Ginny answered heartily, going straight to the large jug of wine her mama sent for New Year's.

"That wasn't quite what I had in mind..." Casy muttered, reluctantly accepting a large glass of the dark violet liquid. After eyeing it skeptically for a few moments, watching Ginny pound back nearly half of hers in just one gulp, the shepherd took a tiny, delicate sip.

He choked violently, coughing and spluttering, his eyes watering. "What is this?" He finally managed to gasp, holding the drink at arms length, like it was going to attack him at any moment and pour itself down his throat.

"My mama's hooch," Ginny replied, draining the rest of her glass and taking Casy's away from him, "It's homemade... you don't like it?"

"No, no," The shepherd coughed, voice strained, "It's... good. I just... don't drink a lot... or at all..."

Ginny immediately felt horrible. "Hell," She swore, "I didn't even think 'a that. You're sposta abstain, right?"

Casy nodded, wiping his eyes and still coughing.

"Why didn't you just ruttin' say so?" The young woman demanded angrily, "I got enough on my mind as it is without bein' the one temptin' you away from your righteous path or seventy-two virgins or whatever the hell else you're in this for!"

The shepherd looked vaguely affronted. "We're being friends," He reminded his companion, "Friends drink together. I figured it was for the greater good."

"Don't be somethin' you ain't for my sake!" Ginny raged. Despite the fact that she was a good foot and a half shorter than the muscular blonde man, she got right in his face and yelled, "I don't want that! Everybody 'round here is phony and I just can't take anymore of it! If you don't drink, don't drink! Be who you are and tell me the gorram truth! All the time, no matter what!! I'm a big girl and I can handle it!"

"Fine," Casy replied, leaning in to meet the young woman's furious glare. He moved forward until she was pinned against the kitchen counter, the hard surface digging into her slender back as he put a hand on either side of her. "I think you're depressed," The shepherd observed flatly.

Before Ginny could stop herself, a response jumped out of her big mouth. "No shit," She spat.

His expression unchanged, Casy pressed, "Why?"

"I hate this place," Ginny coldly answered, "I hate that none a' my neighbors care to know me and that everybody at my work talks about me behind my back. I hate that the Republic is shapin' up to be just another Alliance and that totalitarianism and corruption are turnin' out to be inevitable. I hate that, at any one time durin' the day, there are at least a dozen doctors sittin' around doin' nothin' while children on the rim are still dyin' a' chickenpox, and the flu, and burst appendixes. I hate that honest people still get hurt and ripped off dealin' pirates just tryin' to get vaccines and medicine and foodstuffs because there ain't no other way, because those who have power ain't never gonna care 'bout those who don't. I hate that I can't decide whether to be furious at God or completely give up the idea that any such bein' exists."

She glared fiercely at the man hovering over her, staring straight into his kind almond eyes and handsome face, and added, "Most a' all, I hate that I can't do a damn thing to change any of it."

"Why not?" Casy immediately questioned, getting closer, his fingertips just barely skimming the thin towel wrapped around Ginny's thin body.

"I just..." The young woman answered, voice breathy and failing as she became suddenly entranced by the shepherd's shapely lips, "I just can't. I'm one person against the whole verse, against hundreds 'a years 'a society and tradition, against evil and greed and apathy and bureaucracy-"

"How can you hope to do anything if all you ever do is nothing?" Casy cut her off, gaze challenging and fierce, "How can you know changing the world is impossible if you don't even try?"

Ginny swallowed heavily, wanting to scream, or to run.

"More importantly," The shepherd continued very somberly, "How can you hope to find faith in the world or in God if you don't even have faith in yourself?"

For a long few moments, the dark-haired twenty-five-year-old let the words sink in, tried to think of an answer. The most intelligent thing she could force out of her suddenly dry mouth were the words, "Chicken's ready."

And so it was. Casy lingered a few seconds before finally moving away from the young woman in the towel and pulling their dinner out of the oven. Ginny dressed in a sensible t-shirt and pair of jeans and then broke out a small collapsible table and two chairs. She set them up in the center of her small apartment and put out dishes and silverware. The shepherd came just at the right moment with two heaping plates of food and the two young people sat down to their meal.

The conversation stayed away from Ginny's unhappiness, from politics and other subjects that generally had a potential to become volatile. And the dinner was a success. Ginny was surprised at just how easily she found herself liking the shepherd. He was quirky, funny and awkward, and... sweet... naïve... it had been a long time since she'd met anyone so... nice.

He left later that evening with the promise that he would be back the next day. Since the hospital didn't want Ginny to work for the rest of the week, he said that he would to take her out to do something fun.

He made it very clear that the outing would be a date.

Ginny was kind of... excited.

The circus was in town so they went there. Ginny laughed her head off when she saw that's where he'd brought her. She hadn't been to a circus since she was around ten but let herself be open to the experience and had to admit that it was entertaining. She and the shepherd stuffed themselves with popcorn and ice planets and cotton candy and yelled delightedly as acrobats and clowns and exotic animals paraded through the ring.

Afterwards, Ginny's spirits were inordinately high. She was sure she smelled like an elephant but didn't care. She was having so much fun! She'd almost forgotten how much fun it was to have a friend, to go on a date, even!

"Did you see that contortionist?" Casy ranted, a huge grin on his handsome face, his short ponytail nearly obliterated and his mousey hair sticking out every which way, "He got himself completely into that tiny box without even breaking a sweat!"

"He sure was bendy," Ginny laughed, licking pink sugar off her fingers as she scanned the dusty fairground. At the far end, just behind the tents, she could see a row of cruiser shuttles that she'd failed to notice when they walked in through the front gate. "Huh," The young woman observed, gravitating towards the crafts with Casy absentmindedly following, continuing to babble endlessly.

When the shepherd finally caught on to where they were going, Ginny had already jumped the small fence separating the vessels from unauthorized personnel. "Um," He gaped, pressing his handsome face against the chain link and seeming reluctant to follow, "I think we're supposed to stay... over here."

"I just wanna ask 'em about the ships," Ginny replied, grinning teasingly over her shoulder, "I think they're shuttles off a bigger cruiser that must be in orbit right now... you don't gotta come if you don't wanna."

The young woman just saw him frowning and beginning to climb after her before she turned a corner and ran straight into a rather large man... or woman... bearded lady?

"Can't you read?" (S)He snarled in a thick Slavic accent, "Theez area eez off limits!!"

"Sorry," Ginny apologized vaguely aware of the shepherd rushing to her side, "I just wanted to ask about the ships. They're cruiser shuttles, right? Former Alliance?"

"Yes," (S)He grunted, lips invisible behind a thick, dark beard as she slapped a hand against one of the hulls, "Our cruiser, Gilly,she eez in orbit now. The circus owner, he bought her from junkyard on Verbena who has many more floating around the planet. There vas factory there, had contract making military ships but now nobody wants. "

Ginny stared for a moment, finally responding, "Huh."

Throughout the remainder of the week, she couldn't get rid of the idea that had suddenly struck her standing there at the circus. She waved Rosie about it, taking to her dreamy pregnant sister over the cortex about the possibility of maybe getting her own hospital cruiser to tour through the rim with. Rosie thought it was a shiny idea and gave her full support. She smiled, cryptically remarking, "I always knew you were going to do something great for the verse. Find your faith, mei-mei, and make us all proud."

Ginny kept on thinking. It got to the point where she actually contacted the scrap yard on Verbena and got a ballpark price for the junked out cruisers. Her entire life's savings and all that was left of the inheritance she got from her grandparents was just short of covering the cost, never mind what it would take to get the vessel running, stock it with personnel and medical supplies, keep her in the air...

The following Monday, Ginny was allowed to return to work. She felt much better, if a little down about her master plan falling through so quickly. She had breakfast with Casy in the hospital cafeteria--he nagged her incessantly about her choice of chocolate pudding as a meal--and then dove back into work.

Her first patient that morning was a gentleman by the name of Wilson P. Langston. He was old and rather kindly, a shipping tycoon who was originally from the rim and had amassed ridiculous amounts of money to his name during his substantial lifetime. He came in complaining of shortness of breath, which turned out to be asthma. Ginny treated him and very patiently explained his condition, what medications he would have to take and what things he should avoid.

"Thanks, darlin'," The old man stated, his dark, wrinkled face breaking into a tired grin and his deep brown eyes bright and magnified behind the huge lenses of his glasses, "You been real good to me. And it sure is nice to hear somebody who don't talk all fancified and fruity."

"Don't I know it," Ginny laughed, thoroughly enjoying Langston's company, "I swear, next person I hear use the word oneself is gonna get the business end of a scalpel straight to the pi gu."

Laughing uproariously, the old man answered, "Lord, ain't you a hoot? Not that I'm complainin', darlin', but why're you workin' in this stiff factory? You seem like the type who'd be a lot more happy out doin' some good in the great wide verse."

Ginny smiled softly. "I recently been thinkin' along those lines," She said, "Had a pretty grand scheme in mind for how I'd go about it, too, but I don't got the coin that would take."

"Oh ya?" Langston chirped with a haphazard smirk, "Tell me about it."

"Well," The young physician answered, "I was gonna buy a' old Alliance cruiser and fix her up into a hospital ship and tour about the rim. I'd rig the shuttles as individual clinics and dispatch 'em down to the planets. Doctors would treat people and take more serious cases back up to the cruiser. I reckon we could hit just about every rim world at least once a year, maybe even twice or more if I get a fleet built up. Most rim worlds could potentially be within range a' proper medical facilities at all times within five years."

"That's the most sensible thing I've heard in ages," Langston beamed, "What's stoppin' you?"

"Even buyin' a cruiser from a scrap yard turns out to be outside my budget," She sadly explained, "And, besides, I don't know how many doctors I could actually convince to tag along. Even if I could get the ship and the money to set her up, it might end up bein' just me aboard."

The old man stood, straightening his smart bowtie and smoothing down the shocking white hair on the top of his dark head. He grinned at Ginny, offering her a card and stating, "I think I could pro'ly help. You come by and see me anytime, darlin', and we'll try n' get you in the sky."

Ginny gaped. "You serious?" She demanded, suddenly skeptical.

"Serious as sittin' on a hedgehog," Langston responded, flashing a winning smile.

She arranged a meeting the following day, taking a long lunch and a long tram ride downtown. Langston's office building was huge, stately and impressive and slightly intimidating.

But the man met her in the lobby, grinning happily as he brushed past his herd of trailing yes men. He ushered her into his grand office, serving drinks and food and questioning the girl endlessly about anything and everything, her life, her family, her hopes, her plans, her favorite color. He was endlessly impressed by the tales of her infamous family and all the adventures she'd taken part of during her wild childhood.

In the end, Langston smiled and offered to buy her a cruiser, to have his company match all funds she could raise for the project.

Needless to say, Ginny was speechless but accepted without pause. She didn't have to think about the idea anymore because she knew in her heart it was what she had to do if she ever wanted to be happy again.

A lawyer came in and they drew up the papers, Langston shook Ginny's hand and then Ginny returned to finish her shift at the hospital. Afterwards, Casy came over to her apartment with dinner again; it was beginning to become a habit of his.

Picking at her stir-fry, Ginny casually remarked, "Wilson Langston's gonna buy me a spaceship."

Casy choked slightly. After just staring for a moment, he responded, "Um... that's... nice?"

"Sure as hell it is," The brunette stated, looking up out of her bowl to send a tentative smirk across at her companion, "Any interest in helpin' me tour a hospital cruiser through the rim?"

The shepherd beamed, laying a gentle hand on top of Ginny's as he warmly answered, "I would be honored."

So they got to work.

They found a few more corporate sponsors, big companies with good reputations and deep pocketbooks and no qualms about charitable donations. Ginny refused a few, such as Fruity Oaty Bar--even though no one else really understood why. But Langston was helping spread the word and people were getting in line to donate to the cause. She knew she'd scored big when medical supply companies started volunteering to donate full sets of equipment.

Ginny also sent a lot of letters out to hospitals all over the core and recruited a surprising number of doctors who were willing to sign on for a year or more of service to the project. After she had the hundredth person confirmed, Ginny had to admit that she had vastly underestimated the interest the core-born physicians would have. Some were generally trying to do some good in the verse; others were just real eager to get out where they wouldn't be so crowded in their practice of medicine. Ginny was plenty fine with either because she was going to have a cruiser that needed to be manned.

Next, of course, they had to call in the best mechanics in the verse. Ginny hired her mama and sisters to consult on which cruiser would be best to buy, to do all necessary repairs, and she also hired Serenity and Rapture to do part and supply runs during the initial phases and other odd jobs afterwards. Because of their falling out with the Republic over the sub-par treatment Davey received, neither crew wanted to stay employed with the Supply Corps any longer. It wasn't doing very much good anymore anyways, not with the cutbacks the Parliament had been handing down for the last few years. The promises were falling through and things were turning back to what they'd been under Alliance rule, to neglect and having to engage in piracy just to get by.

With a blank check and one helluva a hug from Langston, Ginny took off from work--she found she was more and more willing to do that--and Serenity picked her and Casy up from Ariel. Sam was aboard, along with Angie and Jay and their gaggle of sweet little girls, and Burne, and Anaya. Jessie was still aboard Rapture with Davey, as well as Louisa, Mac, and Ginny's mama. It had been about a month since Davey's surgery and he was mending fine. He'd been on Haven with the family and reports said that he was having a great time with J.J. and Leyne to keep him company. The eighteen-year-old twins were going to be sad to see him go.

But Ginny was so happy to see her family. She was damn near tackled to the floor when her flood of nieces and nephews came running out of Serenity's bay. Burne was so big she hardly recognized him, handsome and strapping and, at twelve, right on the cusp of becoming a teenager. He sure did take after his daddy, happy and bright and just a bit funny looking with his mop of blonde curls and strong, square jaw. He had his mama's eyes though, those soft baby blues she got from her daddy.

Anaya had grown just as much, an impish, five-year-old pixie with gold doll ringlets and mischievous emerald eyes. She was bratty and had no filter between her brain and her mouth, but she was loved by all. She had her unhappy orange tabby cat, Taeng, stuffed beneath one arm and was tugging on Ginny's pant leg with the other, shouting about presents.

Serra was just three, with her unruly chocolate brown curls tied back in an angelic pink bow and her little body in a sweet pink sundress. Her tiny face was flecked lightly with freckles and her whisky brown eyes shined as she dutifully led her little sisters by the hand, two-year-old Clover on the right and one-year-old Zinnia on the left. Both girls had their mother's fine strawberry blonde locks and their daddy's dark, laughing eyes.

In the midst of the crowd of excited kids, Ginny looked over just in time to see her big sister walk down the ramp carrying the niece she hadn't yet met. Jonquil--already called Jonny by everyone but Jay, who was holding out some hope of sticking his daughter forever with the quirky name--was bitty as could be, a sweet, cooing infant with blue eyes and just a wisp of dark fuzz on the top of her head. She wasn't quite five months old.

Angie glowed, reminding her sister somewhat of a Madonna.

But Ginny didn't have too much time to say hey to her sister because in the next moment, Jay came bounding down the ramp like the overexcited puppy that he was. Being tortured by the Niska's a few years back hadn't slowed him down a bit. In fact, all the sitting around and waiting for his broken bones and various gashes to heal just seemed to make him even crazier than he was to begin with. He was thirty-two, his face already starting to line and scarred heavily on his left cheek, but anyone watching the way the man moved would not have guessed him to be a day over twelve.

"GINNY!!" He shouted, running to join the gaggle of children, tackling his sister straight to the ground. Sitting on her stomach, the rather large child grinned and then slobbered kisses all over the young woman's face. "I missed you, little one!!" Jay laughed, "You just gotta visit more often!! You work too dang hard!! And now you're gettin' a cruiser 'a your very own? It's like you're growin' up on me!"

"Missed you, too, Jay," The brunette answered, grabbing her brother into a tight hug and wrestling with him in the dirt. She smiled fondly at her nieces and remarked, "But I see you been plenty busy in my absence."

With a cocky wink and grin, Jay responded, "Well, I had to do somethin' to pass all that time out in the black. And you weren't exactly there to engage me in a heated game 'a tall card, now were ya?"

"Aw, Jay, you get off her now!" Angie scolded, not really doing a very good job because she couldn't get the smile off her pretty face, "That ain't no proper way to greet nobody and you didn't let Ginny introduce her friend!"

"Oh, where are my manners," He laughed, shaking the dust out of his amber curls and onto Ginny's face, making his surrogate sister squeal and splutter as he jumped off of her. Offering his hand out to the bemused shepherd, Jay chirped, "James Q. Reynolds, my man. Pleasure to have you comin' aboard."

"Casy Yonah," The preacher said, shaking hands and smiling earnestly, "It's very nice to finally meet you. Ginny's told me so much-"

"All lies, I'm sure," Jay cackled, giving Casy a hearty, somewhat painful slap on the back as he picked up a suitcase and ushered the shepherd inside the ship, "Come on in, Case. Can I call you Case? Shiny! I'll give you a tour and introduce you to Sammy. That is, if we can find him. He's in a bit of sulk right now 'cuz he got in another fight with his woman. She's a crazy one. You pro'ly won't meet her since she left him again. She usually don't come back for a month or two every time..."

The conversation tapered off as Jay took Casy inside, filling him in on the drama that was Sam's relationship with the outlaw woman known as Junior. It was a bit of an explosive affair, but the two really did love each other. Junior's occasional crime and shady business dealing kept her rather busy and that, plus her fugitive status and the fact that she was one of the only people in the verse just as if not more stubborn and prideful than Solomon Reynolds, tended to cause some problems. She was known to pop on and off of Serenity on a regular basis, miraculously meeting up with them at random ports and disembarking at others. As much as she wanted to, as much as Sam wanted her to, the woman didn't yet seem to have the courage to commit to staying very long. She didn't quite grasp what it meant to have a home where you were always always always welcome. After her hand in saving Jay from the Niska's, Junior had earned that home with the Serenity clan. She'd confessed to Sam that it was what she'd always wanted but she was still wary of having it snatched away someday.

Ginny got up from the ground, laughing and dusting herself off as the nieces and nephews continued to hang off her.

"Did you bring us presents?" Anaya chirped excitedly, nearly strangling her poor mewling cat. The girl had an endless, completely free smile.

"'Course I did!" Ginny answered, helping Burne lug the bags in as she lead them inside the ship, "What kinda auntie would I be if I didn't bring presents?"

"YAY!!" All the little girls cheered, breaking into a round of carefree giggling and running about, tugging poor Burne into their game.

Ginny shot him a pitying smile, asking, "Bet you can't wait for Davey to get back and rescue you from all the girls, huh?"

"You have no idea," The almost-teen answered, blue eyes fearful as Naya began to loudly suggest a game of dress up.

The voyage out to Verbena was relatively uneventful. Sam moped about Junior; Jay acted crazy and ran around like a fool for the amusement of himself, his daughters, his niece, and his nephew; Angie continued to be the perfect mother.

Ginny fell easily back into the family she knew and loved and was real impressed with Casy for fitting right in. Whether it was trying to counsel Sam about his relationship, or engaging Jay in an energetic game of hoopball, or complimenting Angie's cooking, or telling the kids fantastical stories, Casy always seemed to be right where he should be, right where he would be doing the most good and having the most fun. Ginny sort of envied him for that skill but, as the days passed, she found herself growing more and more fond of the crazy shepherd.

Serenity met up with Rapture in Verbena's orbit, the self-proclaimed sister ships docking and emptying into one another. Davey immediately and proudly flashed his long scar to Burne, proclaiming how tough he'd been to the surrogate big brother he would always idol. Burne was impressed but joked that it wasn't quite as cool as the scar he had on his own forehead, the one from the stray bullet that had grazed him all those years ago on Haven.

Jessie came running up to Ginny to tearfully welcome her baby sister home. Louisa did the same, though somewhat more reserved. Mac seized Ginny into a giant bear hug and proclaimed undying love. Ginny's mama, sixty, wrinkled and gray-haired, only a little bit slower and nowhere near any less amazingly sunny as she was when she was young, hugged Ginny fiercely, and smiled, and laughed.

Casy was introduced all around. He immediately hit it off with everybody.

And then it was time to go cruiser shopping.

"That one looks nice," Ginny's mama stated, leaning over the console to point out the front window at a mass of steel that was drifting in its aimless orbit around the planet, "She's a 20-C79 Gaur class. Maybe a might on the small side for your operation, but they're sposta run pretty smooth once you get out all the unnecessary engine parts."

"Auntie Kaylee," Jay whined desperately, squirming to maintain his view as he navigated the precarious field of ships, "You gotta stop gettin' in the way a' the windshield! I can't see and we're gonna end up splattered on the Gaur 'fore Ginny can buy it!"

The old woman took a step back, fondly mussing up her son-in-law's hair and brushing a kiss across his forehead as she apologized, "Sorry, sweetie. I'm just so excited! It ain't everyday I get to help pick out a cruiser! And work on her, too!"

"Mama," Ginny whined, "Daddy made me promise to keep you from doin' anything heavy. You got arthritis, 'member?"

Kaylee tutted her daughter, answering, "You don't worry 'bout me, Ginger-baby. I been workin' on ships all my life and I don't intend to stop just yet."

"I don't think the Gaur is any good," Burne dryly remarked, he and Louisa intensely focused on the view out the window; the mother and son were quite the spaceship entrepreneurs, both possessing near-encyclopedic knowledge of just about anything and everything that had ever left atmo anywhere in the verse, "She's barley half-way finished. The labor and parts you'd have to put in would be more than she's worth."

"Aw, shucks," Kaylee pouted, looking so very young despite her wrinkles and gray hair.

"What about that one?" Casy cut in, bouncing baby Jonny in his arms as Angie hovered.

"The Titan?" Angie replied, deftly straightening her daughter's thin, fuzzy hair, "They're sposta be a'right. I read a brochure sayin' that they're one a' the biggest cruisers ever made and that they're great for settlements."

"You can't trust the brochures a lick," Louisa announced skeptically, "I had a friend who infiltrated one durin' the war and he said it was a horrible ride. It couldn't turn good even at real low speeds and was always jerkin' about. Made it kinda hazardous to walk and sleep anywhere onboard."

"That's pro'ly not a good idea for a ship you're gonna be doin' surgeries on," Sam remarked, sprawled bonelessly in the co-pilot chair with his blue eyes narrowed on the window.

"True," Ginny agreed, nodding and carefully watching the crafts floating by, "Didn't we already pass these ones? Jay, you backtrackin' or was that all of 'em?"

The lanky pilot checked his instruments, momentarily announcing, "I've gone a full orbit so that must be all of 'em. We can try a new path, see if there are anymore hidin' out there."

"I like that one!!" Anaya yelled, seated on her daddy's massive shoulders and nearly pitching herself off as she pointed wildly at a looming shape that was emerging from behind one of the other vessels, "Bonehead, what's it called?"

Burne was just starting to get a little embarrassed of his baby sister's favorite nickname for him. But, however red he turned when she used it, he could not bring himself to tell the girl to stop. "That's a 20-C89 Manta, mei-mei," He answered, "They're good, right, Mama?"

"I've heard so," Lou said, smiling proudly as she pulled her son into a one-armed hug, "The grav stabilizin' technology and design are pretty unique and sposta work real well. For the size, she's downright graceful. I'm surprised no one's snapped her up already."

A moment of silence came over the bridge as the entire assembled crew watched the craft float by. Shaped just like a giant fighter kite, the dark structure was massive. Like all cruisers, it was several dozen stories high and over two miles wide. Still, she seemed... lighter than all the rest, more fluid in her movements despite the fact that she was only drifting in an aimless orbit.

"Let's check her out," Ginny suggested, grinning and eager as she led the charge down to the EVA suits. She, as well as Louisa, Jessie, Angie, her mama, and--after a bit of convincing--a fearful Casy all suited up for the spacewalk and subsequent inspection. Despite the shepherd's numerous panic attacks, the group painstakingly went over just about every inch of the cruiser's engine and interior and exterior and its remaining shuttles. The craft was in a bit of disrepair but nothing major. Ginny floated through the cooridors and could just see them filled with doctors who gave a damn, with patients who suddenly had half a chance.

They got back aboard, took Casy to lie down for awhile, attached Jonny back to Angie's boob, and then set off for Verbena to buy Ginny's new cruiser.

After about two hours of negotiating, the young woman got the price down from five million credits to two. She did so by promising the rather kindly junkyard owner that they would buy all the parts they could from him and that he would get a mention as one of the sponsors of her organization.

Everything was set. Serenity stayed with the cruiser, Ginny's mama and sisters single-handedly getting down to making it run once again as the Firefly shuttled needed parts between dirt and orbit. Louisa made a quick round trip in Rapture in order to take Ginny and Casy back to Ariel before she headed out to pick up a list of machinery the others hadn't been able to find in the Verbena junkyard.

Ginny gave her notice at the hospital and got to fundraising as a fulltime job. She raised hundreds of millions in the space of a few weeks, more than enough to start out and with promises of more to come as her hospital continued to run.

Shortly after the point when Ginny actually had to start turning away qualified doctors interested in the project because there just wasn't anymore living space aboard the cruiser, Rosie went into labor. With Casy hot on her heels, the brunette rushed to Sihnon and, about forty-eight hours later, delivered her beautiful dark-haired nephew. Rosie's husband Ekain--a talented painter who was just as dreamy and sensitive as his wife--cried when Ginny gave him his son to hold for the first time.

Rosie and Ekain named their son Lore. Lore Benat Harper-Tam. He had Rosie's sparkly brown eyes.

Watching the happy couple cry tears of happiness of the product of their love, Ginny's hand instinctively reached for Casy's. He was standing right beside her, ready to take it.

"Faith," Ginny whispered, feeling her own blue eyes pricking insistently as her vision blurred.

Casy's grip tightened around hers, the shepherd asking, "What?"

"Faith," Ginny repeated, turning to look at him, to smile, "That's what I'm callin' the hospital."

The shepherd returned a warm smile, bending to press a chaste kiss to Ginny's forehead before answering, "Your gift to the verse."

With an enigmatic smile, the young woman declared, "Now that I found it again, it don't seem right not to share."

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Translations -

pi gu - butt

ta made niao - goddamned

jie-jie - older sister

mei-mei - younger sister

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Author's notes -

Golyat - a name meaning "exile." The original Hebrew form of the name Goliath.

IRV - Interstellar Republic Vessel

Xi Wangmu - Queen Mother of the West; in Chinese Mythology, she is the ruler of the western paradise and the goddess of immortality. She possesses a peach tree which, every 3,000 years, produces a peach that grants eternal life.

Gilly - a truck or wagon, especially one used to transport the equipment of a circus or carnival.

Taeng - Thai name meaning "melon."

Gaur - a large, dark-coated ox of South and Southeast Asia. It is the largest of all wild cattles.

Titan - in Greek mythology, a race of powerful, pre-Olympian deities.

Manta - of a species of cartilaginous fish called rays, Mantas are the largest. The largest known specimen was 7.6 meters (25 feet) across its pectoral fins (or "wings") and weighted 3,000 kg. (6,600 lbs.) They are also known as Devil Rays because of a pair of distinctive "horn" projections on either side of their heads. When they swim, it looks like they are flying.

Faith - confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person or thing; belief that does not rest on material proof or evidence; belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings or religion; belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards or merit, etc; loyalty to a person or thing; a set of principles or beliefs.