Shepherd Book ran his fingers along the weathered pages of his Bible and then tucked it snuggly beneath his arm. Folding his hands behind his back, he wove down the halls, keeping his pace slow and composed to be considerate of the late hour. He knew how footsteps could echo and amplify through Serenity- there were many-a-night where he lie awake in his bunk listening to the captain pace restlessly along the galley. But it wasn't the captain so restlessly stomping around the kitchen this time, and quietly avoiding the dining room, Book resolved that he would beard that lion later.
Holding himself dutifully, he approached the infirmary. The grieving mother sat at her son's side, her weary hands interlacing with the boy's limp fingers, holding him as though he would float away if she eased her grasp. Book was bewildered by her strange tenderness- only mere hours before he watched Vera tumble fearlessly into gunfire, but now it was as if her ferociousness had petered into ash and she was nothing more than a husk hollowed by despair. Stepping through the doorway, he cleared his throat to make his presence known and she slowly raised her head to greet the shepherd with tired, wet eyes.
"The captain wanted me to let you know that there's a spare room for the night if it would make you more comfortable," he kindly offered.
"The captain does well hidin' his paranoia with hospitality," she replied with a heated flicker. "I know y'all ain't so thrilled with me bein' here in the middle of the night, but I don't give a good gorram- I'm stayin' with my boy."
"Of course," Book bowed his head as the hint of a smile curled the corners of his mouth, happy to see the fire inside her had not been completely extinguished. Moving closer, his expression grew grave once again as he looked down at Victor. "If I may..."
Vera did not respond, but only watched as he pulled the Bible from under his arm.
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the..."
"No offense, Shepherd, but I ain't so keen on a sermon right now," she sharply interrupted. "Not that I don't appreciate the sentiment, but the only time a preacher's ever come 'round was first when my momma died and then when my daddy died."
"I apologize. It wasn't my intention to imply..." he trailed off, swallowing his words and beginning anew. "I just thought I'd offer my prayer."
The snarl on Vera's face fell into flat dismay. "Suppose prayer is all I got, though I ain't so good at it."
"As long as the intention is there, your prayers will be heard."
"I'd sure like to believe that," she scoffed. "I don't got the best track record with the Lord. But my boy...well, he don't deserve this...he shouldn't have been mixed up in this ta ma de kùnjìng...if I were a better mother..."
"You can't blame yourself for the treachery of others," Book assured her, taking a seat by her side.
"I'm suppose t' protect him."
"Something tells me that he's not the type that wants protecting."
Vera shook her head with an exasperated snort. "Ain't that the truth. I try, but he's always been a handful...got a genuine curiosity but no common sense to back it up. He ain't dumb, but he's got this naive notion that folk ain't the terrible sods that they are."
"Is it not admirable for one to see inherent good in our fellow man?"
"Admirable, sure. But still ain't so smart. He don't realize that the odds have been stacked against him for his whole life."
"I think I read somewhere once, 'what matters most is how you walk through the fire.'"
"Someone said that to me before..." she sighed pensively. "...on the day Victor was born. Everyone else was tellin' me I should give him up. I just...couldn't. He was all I had left of his daddy. And after all these years of believin' he was dead, I...don't know...I...I'm sorry, Preacher. I can't get my head straight. I'm just talkin'- don't even know what I'm sayin'-don't usually do that."
"It's all right, I'm here to listen."
"Actually, that prayer don't seem so bad right about now."
Book nodded with a gentle smile and opened the Bible. To his surprise, Vera reached out and took his hand, closing her eyes as he began to read.
Freshly plucked blueberries scattered across the ground as Jayne pushed Vera behind the old barn, pinning her back against wall and making her drop the bushel she carried in her arms. At first she tried to squirm away, but her fight grew lazy as he shifted his body against hers and kissed along her neck.
"What if someone sees?" she feigned resistance, running her fingers through his hair.
"Ain't no one gonna see,"he growled into her ear as he rubbed his cheek against hers. "Ain't been caught yet."
"'Cos we've been careful. This ain't careful! What if Daddy finds out?"
Jayne grunted, pressing his lips to hers so she could no longer speak. Surrendering, she threw her arms over his neck and breathed deep. He held her firmly by the waist, and feeling her chest heave, he slowly slipped his hand down to her thigh. Without breaking their kiss, she quickly snatched his wandering hand and placed it back above her hip. He rolled his eyes within his head, listening to her moan as she raised her leg and coiled it around him. Once again, he moved his hand down, letting it rest for a moment before he coolly wormed his way up her skirt. Pulling away, Vera swatted his hand out from under her dress.
"I told you before, I'm not that kind of girl," she said flashing a coy grin.
"I know," he smiled suggestively. "Just thought you'd want to get some practice whorin', that's all."
Her expression suddenly grew cold. "I'm not a whore."
"Ah, c'mon. I didn't mean it that way," Jayne groaned, advancing towards her again.
"No, you most certainly did," she shoved him back with all of her might. "Is that all I am to you? Just a whore-in-training?"
Jayne grew confused. She was the one wanting to be a companion. He narrowed his eyes as he searched for a response. He had been with whores before- you didn't kiss whores on the mouth or smell their hair. You didn't hold their hands and watch the sun set through the trees or tuck your shirt in before you'd see them. With whores, you didn't care if their father found out and you didn't hike miles up mountains to be alone with them just to feel like there was no one else in the 'verse. All of this was obvious to Jayne, and he didn't understand how Vera couldn't see it. He didn't know how to answer such a stupid question.
"T' Hell with you," she huffed at his silent stare, breaking free of him and stomping away. "Don't come 'round me no more! I mean it!"
"Fine! You ain't worth the trouble!" he hollered after her, feeling a twang in the pit of his stomach. Wiping the spittle from the corners of his mouth, he wound his foot back and kicked the overturned basket of blueberries, sending a spray of fruit and bits of wicker violently through the dirt.
Jayne turned the corner, curbing his rage, and he caught a glimpse of Coop sitting out on the fence in the distance. He wondered if Coop had seen anything, if he had heard their shouting, if it even mattered anymore. For a second, he wondered if he could get back in good again with the crew. You didn't cross killers and ruin a promising career for a whore. Clenching his fist, he threw his arm forward and pounded heavily against the barn. A sharp pain ran down his wrist and blood trickled from his knuckles. Blood was always better than tears.
Book wandered into the kitchen, half-afraid of what he might find. There were a few metal pots strewn recklessly along floor, a drawer of utensils had been overturned and scattered across the counter, and an oozing tin can lie savagely gutted open, surrounded by a pool of its syrupy contents.
"I think the can opener is in the other drawer..." Book grimaced.
Jayne sat at the table with his back arched, rhythmically sharpening a large hunting knife. "Did I wake you or somethin'?"
"No. The captain asked me to see to our guests down in the infirmary," he replied, watching for a response. Instead, Jayne just kept about his chore as though the subject didn't pertain to him at all. "She's pretty torn up, you know..."
A strange sadness collected in Book's heart as the mercenary didn't bother to flinch. In fact, Jayne's only reply was the harsh zip of grinding metal as he ran his knife along the coarse stone. Sitting down at the table, the shepherd bit his tongue, deciding to prod further. "I'm sure she could use some company..."
"Then why don't you go on and give her some," Jayne growled.
"I'm sure she would prefer yours."
"Can't you see I'm busy?"
"I know it's none of my business, but…"
"You're right, it ain't!" Jayne roared, flinging the sharpening stone across the table.
Overcoming his apprehension, Book folded his hands in front of him and kept his position firm. He refused to see Jayne as a loose cannon, convincing himself (perhaps unwisely) that the large man would not do him any harm. He preferred to think of Jayne as an exposed nerve, sensitive to the topic at hand but still consolable.
"That girl down there..."
"You ever been with a woman, Preacher?" Jayne snapped, veering the shepherd off course.
"Well...I didn't always live in the abbey."
"I promise you ain't never been with a woman like that one. She takes it like you're killing her- like your pecker's a knife and she wants to die," he said, running his tongue along his teeth and flashing a sleazy smile as he threw his blade into the air with a thrusting motion.
Gritting his jaw, Book stared forcefully into Jayne's eyes. "Son, you're embarrassing yourself more than you're embarrassing me. Go ahead and tell your crude jokes if it helps you save face, but I've heard enough lonely, drunken confessions to know that you're running from something most men in your position can only long for."
Jayne swallowed hard, taken aback by the shepherd's commanding might. Letting his mouth hang open, he raised his brow, willing his brain to come up with a witty retort, only to be left with a stammering, "Uhh..."
"The rest of them might not think you have the moral character, but I have faith that you're capable of doing the right thing," Book insisted, standing to take his leave. "And clean up this mess you made. Just because you're in a quandary doesn't mean the rest of us have to live in filth."
Jayne shrunk in his seat, lifting his eyes with a humble glance. "G'night, Shepherd."
"You too, Jayne. Sleep tight."