A/N: This oneshot concerns the relationship between Inara and Shepherd Book. I was rewatching Serenity (the first episode) earlier, and it seemed like Book and Inara connected. I liked that they got along, because he's an older man and a preacher, and she's a young woman and a prostitute—completely opposite ends of the spectrum. I haven't seen any fics about their relationship so I did one.

Also, this contains spoilers for Serenity (the movie).

Silk and Ashes

"I don't think I'm on the right ship..."

He had choked out that statement then dejectedly rested his forehead in his hands, and she'd understood his pain. When she had first arrived on Serenity she too had questioned her decision. But it had been a thought-out decision for her, and that's where the difference between him and her lay. When he had boarded Serenity he had done so with the honest intention of paying for passage to Boros, with no inkling that the crew consisted of a group of thieves and a whore and now some fugitives. She couldn't imagine the moral struggle he must be undertaking now.

But he was a Shepherd, and his job was to save lost souls. If there was any soul that needed saving it was Mal's, and a few of the other crew members could certainly do with the kind of help that only a Shepherd could offer. Perhaps the Shepherd was a blessing in disguise, then.

In a gently hopeful tone, she had murmured her response. "Or maybe you're right where you're supposed to be." And she had rested her hand on his thick grey hair, a thin connection between them that was reminiscent of the position taken by clergymen when they blessed penitents, and they had stayed like that for several minutes while he composed himself and she tried to be as soothing as possible. They must have looked odd together, she later thought, trying to imagine what it would have looked like to someone like Mal if they'd walked in on a confused Shepherd being comforted by a proud Companion.

Odd, yes, but somehow perfectly matched.

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The weeks passed, and she and the Shepherd grew closer. She comforted him when he worried about heists and jobs that could go wrong, or when he was feeling useless. He comforted her as well, though in a different manner. His presence reminded her of the civilization and of the religious traditions that she'd left behind, and even though she was a Buddhist she felt peace when he talked about God. He was never anything but friendly to her, friendly in a way that most men could never be because they were so blinded by her makeup and perfumes and silks, and she remembered what it was like to talk to a man while simply being herself.

No one ever commented on the friendship that had bloomed between the whore and the preacher. Their interactions were quiet affairs, calm moments in a sea of gunshots and fighting, and both were content to remain lingering in the background. They were always ready to lend a hand when needed, but neither of them felt the need to constantly place themselves directly in the line of fire.

When he got off at Haven, she had been hurt but at the same time she had also understood why he wanted to leave. Strange, how much they could understand each other. She had hugged him goodbye, and he had tensed slightly at first then hugged her back with a sort of reticent tenderness, as if he wasn't sure she would be comfortable with him embracing her. And they had parted ways, and she had not seen him again for months.

Then the Operative had arrived, and everything fell apart. People were getting killed left and right, but it was only when she had seen the Shepherd's body, lying amidst desert dust and torn metal, that her resolve had hardened and she had agreed to Mal's scheme. There was little chance that they would succeed, but they also had very few other options. So she had done her part and helped turn the beloved Serenity into a Reaver ship, and when the Reavers attacked them she had been praying even as she shot them.

Above all odds, they had lived. When the Operative had disappeared the crew had returned to Mr. Universe's planet and to Haven, to bury the bodies. She hadn't cried at the funerals, but she cried later in her shuttle, and when she'd gone down to the dining hall for dinner no one had commented on her reddened eyes.

She never told anyone, but she prayed every night for the souls of the Shepherd and Mr. Universe and Wash and even for the Reavers who had been killed, because the Reavers too had once been men. This was one of the many things she kept from Mal, because he would accuse her of being sentimental and emotional and he would not be able to comprehend why.

Yet, some months after the Operative debacle, she had spotted a faint glitter from around Mal's neck while he was bending down to pick up some crates. Peering closer, she had seen a thin silver chain, and dangling on the end of was a plain cross. Unaware of her presence, he had finished packing the crates in the hold and, upon standing, tucked the cross back under his shirt before heading to the cockpit.

Smiling, she had slipped back to her room. It seemed she was not the only one the Shepherd had influenced, and that night was the last time she prayed for him, because she was sure his soul was in paradise and because it was time for her to move on. She had let the incense burn uninterrupted, and the sweet scent rose in the air and filled her shuttle. That night, for the first time in a long time, she slept peacefully.