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The 'Poet' They Call Jayne

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Summary: River discovers that Jayne's been holding out on her, with a hidden talent for editing and updating classic poetry (given the right inspiration). Pre-Rayne.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Firefly > Non-BtVS/AtS StoriesRevDorothyLFR1333,321081,34210 Nov 1123 Nov 11Yes

The River Strikes Back

This chapter is Jayne's POV.

Again, massively OOC for Jayne and River, I'm sure, but I still can't resist letting these two battle it out on an unusual (for them, at least) literary playground. Please don't sue me.

THEOLOGICAL DISCLAIMER: I'm figuring that the same River Tam who wanted to correct the scientific inaccuracies in Book's bible wouldn't hesitate to change the text of a famous poem that is generally considered to be about the God of that bible and the whole question of theodicy. If there's any heresy herein, blame it on the brilliant but definitely 'different' brain of River, and not on this poor, procrastinating pastor, writing fanfic when she should be polishing her sermon for this Sunday.

Author’s Note: Once again, I’m using italics to indicate the poet’s original words that River decided to retain and bold font to indicate her own additions and amendments.



Jayne Cobb, heartless mercenary and ruthless 'public relations' specialist for the surviving crew of the infamous ship Serenity, almost felt a nervous tremor in his hands when he unfolded the piece of paper that someone (though he suspected that in this instance 'someone' could be translated as 'moon-brained killer woman who seemed to delight in damaging his calm') had managed to tuck behind Vera on his gun-rack during the night, while he slept within easy reach, so that the paper was the first thing he saw when he opened his eyes this morning.

At first, he wondered why the gorram girl had drawn him a picture of a big, mean-looking, orange and black striped cat, but then his sleepy eyes focused on the words printed above the picture, and he swore long and loudly before springing off his bunk like his pigu was on fire.

Jayne had slept in his clothes last night, having been too tired to do otherwise after helping Mal polish off a bottle of cheap whiskey in the mess (Mal had had another fight with Inara, and Jayne's new, mellower, 'one for all and all for one' attitude since Miranda required that he stay and keep the other man company out of crew loyalty, he told himself -- well, loyalty and masculine solidarity over the crazy-making ways of womenfolk on the ship). He'd only tossed half of his room in search of yesterday's cargo pants before he remembered that he was still wearing them. Under the circumstances, he felt that no one could blame him for being a little off his game this morning.

This time there was a definite (though so tiny as to be imperceptible to anyone with senses less finely honed than Jayne's) trembling to his hand when he reached into the back pocket of his sleep-wrinkled pants and found no trace of the scribbled-over poem that he'd been carrying around for the past two weeks, trying to work up the nerve to throw it away before he did something stupid like let the barely-legal killer-woman/girl see it, let alone her over-protective brother or their wrench-swinging captain.

Jayne's brief (but manly) panic started to recede as he took stock of the fact that the girl had apparently seen the 'poem' that he'd sort of re-written for her in an idle moment (hoping that his frustration with the whole candy-assed poem-writing process would distract him from -- or even cure him of ever again thinking about -- a more physical frustration that had been plaguing him lately) and yet she had let him live.

So far.

Knowing her, she might just be inclined to torture him a bit with hope and fear before mercifully cutting his throat.

Figuring that she might change her mind about letting him continue to draw breath at any moment, and that he should make the most of whatever time he had left, Jayne decided not to waste his last minutes in this 'verse kicking himself for having been stupid enough to teach her to pick pockets a few months back. (In his defense, it had seemed like an innocent enough way to get the girl to repeatedly slip her slender hand into his increasingly tight pants pockets . . . and the look on Simon's face when she'd later demonstrated her newfound thieving ability on him had been gorram priceless!)

If he was doomed anyway, there was no harm in seeing what exactly the girl -- aw, hell, he might as well start calling her 'his girl' at least in his own mind, since that cat was definitely living bag-free now . . . . Anyway, he should find out what his beautiful, homicidal girl had written:

THE TIGER, by River Tam

Panthera tigris,
burning bright
In the forests of the night,
mere mortal knife or knee
Could harm thy fearful symmetry?

After carefully sounding out the girl's needlessly complicated writing and long words in that first part, Jayne thought for a minute, trying to figure out what exactly she meant. He'd written his semi-borrowed poem about her, so logically she ought to be writing about him.

Was she threatening to take a knife to him (again!), and/or use her knee to finish the work of destroying his manhood that she'd started back in The Maidenhead bar?

Damnit, she was plannin' to torture him before killin' him -- he'd known it all along!

On the other hand, could this be some of that 'poetical license' he'd heard about (and had originally thought meant that people in the Core had to get a license for writing poetry, and that was why all the best rhymes only seemed to show up anonymously on public bathroom walls)?

Maybe it was the girl's moon-brained way of saying she hoped she hadn't permanently spoiled his rugged good looks when she'd carved on his chest that one time, and that he still had a matched pair of working balls after the way she'd squeezed them so hard (and maybe she'd just said 'knee' instead of 'fist' in order to make it rhyme with 'symmetry')?

Maybe this wasn't going to be so bad, after all?

Jayne read on.

In my darkness, beset by lies,
the fire of thine eyes.
And when on winged feet I fight,

hand but yours dare halt my flight?

He wasn't exactly sure what any of that meant, except that it sounded like she'd maybe taken a fancy to his bright, sizzling hot eyes and didn't mind too much the thought of him layin' a hand on those strong, lethal legs of hers.

He could work with that!

And what biceps, & what violent art,
un-twist the sinews of my heart?
Who but thyself, with tiger stealth,
Could join me in my dance of death?

'Stealth' and 'death'?

Jayne snorted.

Sure, it was nice that she liked his biceps (he worked hard enough on them, and he'd noticed that she seemed to find any excuse to brush up against his arms when sitting next to him at the dinner table).

But did she think he was too dumb to notice that those two words didn't exactly rhyme? Okay, so maybe he'd fudged a bit on his own poem by tossing in 'know' with 'brow' and 'now' -- but the original version had been much worse, rhyming 'glow' and 'below' with 'brow', so he figured he'd done at least fifty percent better on that particular rhyme than that prissy-sounding Lord Byron fellow.

And, it seemed, he was at least as good at this rhymin' business as Miss River Tam with all her genius brain and education.

Jayne smiled, looking forward to seeing if she'd made any other rhyming mistakes that he could later bring to her attention -- assuming that he wasn't dead, of course.

When I slip the Blue Hands’ chain
And punish those that raped my
Any who escape my
Will at your hands breathe their last gasp.

Jayne's smile grew broader.

Now she was talking! It sounded like she was promising him that he could watch her back when she hunted down the motherless trash who had been behind that Academy go-se. She'd talked to him about that a couple of times since Miranda -- just with him -- and he'd wondered if that meant that she'd be willing to let him get a few licks in when she started raining hell down on some deserving heads.

He made a mental note to polish up his knives and make sure Vera was in tip-top shape, so that he'd be ready whenever River told him it was time to go on their little side-trip to the exciting world of 'Pay-back'.


When our enemies rained down their spears,
And water'd
‘Serenity’ with our tears,
I know you smiled my bloody
work to see,
Though they
who made our foes made me.

Jayne snarled a little at that last bit.

It was true, he'd smiled (on the inside, 'cause at the time it hurt too much to move any part of his outside) when those blast doors had opened and he'd seen the girl standin' there over a pile of Reaver bodies, with blood dripping off of her bladed weapons.

But he'd have to have a serious (and possibly painful -- and not just for him!) talk with that girl about thinkin' that she was made by the same hundans who'd created the Reavers and had turned the Operative into the soulless child-killer that he was.

Those bastards had tried to unmake her with their torture and their conditioning, and she'd managed to survive and somehow recreate herself enough to take down the monsters they'd set loose, in order to save her family.

The sooner she stopped thinkin' that she was in any way the creation of her tormenters, the better. 'Cause it weren't true, nohow.

And he was gonna make sure she remembered that, even if he had to paddle some sense into her . . . assuming she'd let him do that, and not kill him with her brain or nothin' for even thinking about it . . . .

[five minutes later]

. . . Well, he'd been thinking about a little recreational and therapeutic spanking with a certain girl for a few minutes now, and he wasn't dead yet.

Jayne took that as another encouraging sign, and resumed reading.

Panthera tigris, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
mere mortal, soon to die,
challenge our fearful symmetry?

Jayne didn't even bother to rejoice over the girl's imperfect rhyming of 'die' with 'symmetry' (or worry that somehow she was threatening him with that last line). It sounded to him like the girl was admitting that the two of them made a pair -- that they belonged together -- and she was willing to kill (or at least threaten to kill, in the case of her idiot brother, he supposed) anyone who wanted to stand in their way.

Jayne whooped for joy as he left his quarters, River's poem still clutched in his hand.

He had himself a crazy-flexible killer woman to find and some serious not-talking to do!

Author's Note 2: I'm assuming that River had at some point seen a capture, at least, of one of the 18th-century published editions of Blake's poem, illustrated by the author himself (see images of the 1794 illustrated plates here and here), and would -- naturally! -- have drawn a more anatomically exact Bengal tiger when she recreated that page from memory for her little surprise gift for Jayne. :)
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