Author's Note: Yes, yes, I know. I am guilty of severe neglect. It's been almost two years to the day since I last updated this story. I got lost in Glee for a while, until the actual show got so offensive it drove me away. Believe it or not, this story has never been completely out of my thoughts all this time. I'm looking for a new fandom to get enthusiastic about and friends have made some excellent suggestions, including Sherlock and Dr. Who. But before I dive into all that, I'm determined to finish this story so Wash and Jayne aren't just left stranded on Haderon for all eternity. I hope the quality of forthcoming chapters doesn't disappoint, but if it does, concrit is always appreciated.

P.S. - There's no doubt reviews would be a strong inducement to writing faster, so leave one (or more) if you get a chance. Ella

Chapter 4, in which the wary tread a much-fraught path

I cried unto God with my voice, even unto God with my voice; and he gave ear unto me - Psalm 77:1

Jayne quickly discovered the abbey held hidden dangers.

"Wash!" he hissed urgently the very next day, ducking into the tiny cell they shared, visibly shaken. "We got trouble!"

"Reavers?" Wash asked incredulously. It was the only thing he'd ever seen scare the big man this much.

"Brother Will says I got ta go ta confession! You, too. All of 'em is doin' it. Can't think why," he grumbled. "Ain't a woman in sight an' the men don't seem ta be doin' nothin' on the sly. If there's liquor hereabouts I ain't found it yet, nor anythin' worth stealin'."

"Okay?" Wash replied, the whole word a question mark. Jayne's agitation did not abate. Wash blinked. "I'm missing the problem here."

"I mean I can't figure what they got ta confess. But we got buckets, startin' with the fact we's here under false pretenses. What're we gonna do?"

"Well, lie." Obviously. Jayne seemed slower than usual in the brainpan this morning.

"Can't do that! This here's a house o' God." He looked horrified, as though Wash had just suggested he do some unthinkable thing like fight fair in a bar brawl.

"Don't tell me you never lied to Shepherd Book."

"That don't signify." Jayne swatted the notion away with his hand. "That was back on Serenity, an' anyway he ain't a full preacher no more, not since he been partakin' in gun battles an' such. But Prior Walter an' Brother Will - they's the real deal." Wash had never seen Jayne so serious. "I know I ain't hardly met a sin I didn't take fer a spin when it suited, but that don't mean I'll flout the Lord in His own house."

Wash was amazed. Who was this man and how had he commandeered Jayne's body? "Okay then, um, we'll just figure out what you're going to say." Jayne waited expectantly, hopefully, but Wash just sat there shaking his head. Take away the thieving and the whoring and the callous spilling of blood that usually filled Jayne's dance card and what the hell was left to confess? Delusions of cognition? Weapons used as tableware? Was callous disregard of others a sin or just laziness?

"Got it!" Wash clapped his hands together in triumph. "Tell him you have lustful thoughts. It's not very original. He probably hears that a lot. But still it ought to be good for some extra wafers or whatever the penance prize is supposed to be. And you don't even have to lie." Wash paled suddenly. He threw Jayne a sharp, scolding look. "But nothing specific."

Jayne, whose mind had jumped ahead to the lustful thoughts in question, responded with an evil grin. "An' if he asks?"

"I'm serious, Jayne. Nothing specific!"

"Yeah, yeah." The grin remained. "But I betcha he asks. Even a man o' God's got urges if he ain't dead. What 'bout you?"

"Um, sure I get urges, but you learn to control – "

"I mean what ya gonna do fer confession, jackass!" Jayne glowered. Made him want ta punch somethin', how the pilot treated everythin' like a joke.

"Oh. That's simple. I'm going old school – bald-faced and shameless dissembling." He didn't bother waiting for Jayne's 'huh?' face. "I'll lie."

Jayne kinda vaguely remembered from his childhood that they's a pro... a proto... a proper way o' doin' these things. "Er, forgive me Father fer the bad stuff I done." He scowled. That didn't sound right. Ain't no call ta be nervous, ya damn fool. I mean ya darn fool. Jus' stick ta the script!

"How long has it been since your last confession, my son?" Prior Walter prompted gently.

"Well," replied Jayne slowly, "it's difficult ta say." Technically true. The Lord knew he was in a tight spot, so Jayne was sure He'd let that one slip by.

They sat facing each other on the hard benches, a plain wooden cross above the doorway the only other feature in the otherwise barren room. It was cold here, just as it was everywhere, every day, and Jayne watched the priest's breath float forward, white little tufts of air advancing on the merc, trustingly eager to embrace the upcoming lies in his own exhales. Prior Walter sat very still, dark eyes focused, mild but steady, on Jayne's face. He seemed to be waiting for something.

Jayne shifted uneasily on the narrow bench. "Guess I'm s'pposed ta keep goin', huh? Well, far as sinin' goes, I reckon lustful thoughts is at the top o' my list."

Prior Walter appeared unimpressed. Disappointed, maybe? Huh! Guess he really does hear that one a lot. Time ta go ta back up.

"An' I been known ta partake freely o' spirits an' hard liquor. Oh, an' gambling. I done that, too."

If any of this peaked Prior Walter's interest, he wasn't letting on. Jayne began a quiet panic. Clearly he didn't have enough material. Wash's admonition be damned, he grasped for the one subject beside weaponry upon which Jayne knew he could wax grandiloquent. For hours, if need be.

"Those lustful thoughts I mentioned? They's some good stories goes with 'em. Like this one time - "

"Brother Vincent," Prior Walter stopped him, "confession is a means to reflect on ways to better serve God and our fellow beings in this life, and to become more worthy of salvation in the next." He gave the merc a few moments to absorb all that, then added firmly, "What do you consider your worst faults against others?"

Gorramit! What hadn't J.M. Vincent Cobb, Esquire done 'gainst others? But he didn't consider most o' those things faults at all, let alone sins. They was just part o' work, the job, his profession. 'Tho he expected Bible-bound folks'd see it otherwise.

He looked away from the Prior, eyes wandering to the wooden cross on the wall, the left leg of the bench opposite, the corner of the room where a hardy spider had spun and then abandoned a now half-frozen web. His eyes returned to the unopened black bible on Prior Walter's lap.

This confession business weren't no way suited fer a man like him – a bad man, a man who liked bein' bad, doin' evil things for fun and profit. Mostly profit. But surely if God was all-knowin', He understood why that mattered.

And that thought led back to home. "I don't support my family as good as I should. An' I don't write home often enough."

He expected that sounded pretty lame to Prior Walter, a man who'd renounced worldly ties. But the Prior just nodded sympathetically and said not a word.

Jayne became increasingly squirrely under the Prior's mild stare.

He absolutely did not like ta think. Weren't that he was stupid 'cause he weren't, 'tho he knew that was the gen'ral opinion on Serenity. He was a man o' action, be it loud an' messy or stealthful an' precise. An' plannin', strategizin' on how ta come outta a scrape alive an' maybe a mite richer, well, it made Jayne feel at home in his skin. Comfortable an' clever, skillful an' smart an' powerful. Men o' action was real men. Sit-down thinkin' was fer weaklings like Wash or dandies like the Doc. Besides, didn't do no good, created too many empty places in his head in need o' fillin'. And sure 'nuf, his body now idle, Jayne began ta remember. Another thing he gen'rally avoided, 'cause some memories called up emotions Jayne very rarely acknowledged that he had. 'Bout his family, yeah, Ma an' Matty an' the others maybe strugglin' 'cause he weren't earnin' enuf. 'Bout the crew on Serenity, what they been through together. An' one warm, brown-haired smile in coveralls he sometime imagined waitin' home fer him with flour on her face 'stead o' engine grease, in a proper house 'stead o' a broken down tin can. But that was a very private confession, not fer tellin' the preacher nor anyone else, 'cause it weren't their business an' tellin' wouldn't change nothin' anyways.

He shook his head, defeated, and said apologetically, "I don't know what more I can say, Father, an' that's the truth."

The Prior regarded Jayne for a long moment. His face softened and he seemed to be seeing right through the burly gun hand to something on the other side and far back in time. "Brother Vincent, I know more than you think about the life you've come from. I understand it's hard to lay bare our faults before others. But everyone needs someone to confide in. You're struggling with a great weight, I can tell. More than one, if I'm not mistaken. Consider this a chance to let me, let God, share some of the burden. I promise you, nothing you say goes beyond this room."

It was pin-drop quiet. Jayne frowned hard at his feet and hunched his shoulders. He didn't wanna look at the priest no more, didn't want to see those bright eyes beamin' gentle support. Jayne never know'd how ta cope with kindness when it come his way; seemed wrong somehow, like it didn't belong in his life. But even without knowin' the man, Jayne sensed the Prior was prepared ta sit there through all eternity (leastwise through dinner) waiting fer Jayne ta hold forth with somethin' more considerable.

This is Hell! That gorram Shepherd done led me ta Hell! The real one, the Hell o' the here an' now, not the one they scare children with ta make 'em behave. An' them pictures got it all wrong – weren't no devil on a throne breathin' fire an' smoke, burnin' all the lost souls as they's drownin' in the boilin' sea ferever. Hell was a cold place where thoughts got inta yer head an' hung there frozen 'n stubborn, like that spider web in the corner.

Jayne decided he'd best speak up so's not to risk blowin' their cover as penitents. Maybe tellin' jus' this one li'l thing couldn't hurt if he was careful what he said. So Jayne let hisself follow those thoughts (in a right chaste way, mind) 'bout them coveralls, an' the pretty li'l curvy figure underneath, an' the sweet, heart-shaped face with the warm, brown smile and jus' pure kindness fer a soul. An' the pasty-faced, uppity li'l piss ant got most o' them smiles sent his way.

"I get jealous o' what other folks's got," he said finally. "'Specially when they's bein' handed somethin' they don't appreciate an' ain't done nothin' ta earn. An' I don't take it kindly when they look down on me on account o' not havin' proper lernin' an' manners an' such. An' I ain't always so patient as I should be with folks got troubles o' their own and can't help being fong luh an' irritatin'."

"Ah, you're speaking of your relationship with Brother Robert," Prior Walter smiled.

"Yeah, him too."

The air seemed to tingle with silence. Realizing he'd slumped to a near crouch, Jayne straightened up and cleared his throat. Still, fancy pants an' his crazy sister didn't deserve what the Alliance was gonna do ta them if they was caught.

Jayne couldn't explain it but somethin' 'bout the way Prior Walter was lookin' at him all open-like and commiseratin' made him feel a pressure in his chest, like somethin' painful was pushin' ta get out an' he couldn't shake the feelin' that if he jus' got it out there, he'd feel ... lighter somehow.

But Jayne really wasn't used to deep introspection so he sat there for a long while trying to puzzle out in his mind just what 'it' was, until finally his mouth ran out of patience. "There's been times I betrayed the trust people put in me. I reckon that's the worst thing I ever done, Father, turned against folks who looked ta me fer better."

"Now that, Brother Vincent, is a sin worth confessing. Let's talk about that."

End chapter 4.