This story was inspired by the poem "The Six Strings," written by the incomparable Federico Garcia Lorca. The first three sentences that River speaks are, in fact, Garcia Lorca's lines. The 'deep song' that Jayne talks about is a reference to cante jondo, which is something that I like to believe would survive Earth-That-Was, even if only in isolated pockets. Readers of 'Dear Ma,' I swear there is more coming on that soon - I just wanted to ease back into writing after a long and busy summer, and when the inspiration for this hit I felt my fanfic engine get up and running again. It won't be long now! Many thanks to all of you for reading, and enjoy.
The hatch to his bunk was open. That's awful suspicious, he cautioned himself as he drew near. Reckon I'dve remembered leaving it like that. Bending just enough to peek inside, he cursed almost inaudibly, then lowered himself into the room. "You just don't quit being annoying, do you?" he asked in perturbation as his feet hit the floor.
She didn't turn from where she stood before the instrument on the wall, the fingers of her right hand hovering just over the strings as if she were afraid to touch them. Hell, that girl ain't afraid of nothin', Jayne chastised himself for the thought. She can't. Doc said they got rid of the bit of her brain what would let her be. If she ain't scared, though, what's she looking so creepy about? Tentatively she plucked one of the thin cords, looking disappointed with the sound it made. I swear, if she breaks one a them strings, things are gonna get ugly quick. There just ain't the money for new ones right now.
"Quit that," he ordered as she reached forward again. Her hand froze, but she still wouldn't look at him. "Girl, what are you playin' at?" he asked when the silence drew out longer than he could stand.
Finally she moved her head just enough to watch him from the corner of her eye. "The guitar makes dreams weep," she intoned.
She shuffled her feet a bit and moved her hand to rest on the guitar's polished body. "The sobs of lost souls escape from it's round mouth," she went on. He stared at her, eyebrows raised, standing stock-still at the foot of the ladder. "And," the girl added, "like the tarantula it weaves a large star to trap the sighs floating in its black wooden cistern."
He couldn't keep the few words she'd spoken from reverberating in his head. 'The guitar makes dreams weep.' His mother had told him the same thing the day she first handed him the guitar, albeit that she'd said it in different words. 'When words ain't enough, boy, you've got ta use something else. A body can't let feelings build up inside forever, else they'd explode. Better to let them out.' For the briefest moment he could still feel the hot, dry wind that blew so often back home that it was just a part of the landscape, could see the faded blue skirt his mother had been wearing the first time he'd played for her. 'Play what you can't say, son. Gotta let it out somehow.'
"Play for me?" the girl whispered, snapping him back to the present.
His eyes narrowed as he peered down at her angrily; the daydream had been pleasant, and she'd broken it. "Reckon you can play it yourself, seein' as how you're the genius," he responded roughly, moving towards his bed. As he passed she grabbed his wrist, holding on with more strength than he would have guessed she had.
"It's not the same," she informed him when he turned back to her. The ire died in his chest as he took in the sorrow on her face. "The skill is there, but not the talent."
"Look, girlie, if'n I had any sort of ability besides killing people, do you figure I'd be standing here right now?"
"One ability feeds the other," she insisted. "You would not be so talented in playing if you were less so in killing."
"I got quick fingers, that's all. Ain't nothing you can't get better at."
"Your feelings are too primordial for words. Music and action are your outlets." She met his gaze as he tried to sort out whether or not he was being called an idiot. "You have put too much stock in words of late," she reprimanded gently. "There are more complete ways of expressing oneself."
He couldn't argue with something he knew so thoroughly, so instinctively, to be true. The girl's statements were uncannily like those of his mother, and he didn't dare try to deny their validity. That don't mean I've got to play, though, he reminded himself. Get through this without goin' to the deep song. That ain't none of their business, hearing that. It's too personal. Sides, it'd just disturb 'em. I don't want nobody yelling at me to shut up or nothing like that. Not when I'm playin' deep. No telling what I'd do if that happened.
"Family will appreciate, not scorn," she said, ignoring his scowl at her obvious thought-scanning. "They feel too deeply for words also, but have no way to express it." With that, she lifted the instrument off of its pegs and held it out to him. "You must do it for them. You must weave the web that will trap their sighs." When he didn't move to take it, she grew insistent. "It is your job to protect them."
"Don't see nothin' threatening around," he retorted, not so much upset as nervous. Ain't never played like she wants for no one besides ma. No one else understands. No one else hears it right, it just sounds broken to them.
"The danger is inside. Without release, they will eat themselves alive." She shook the guitar slightly, making him wince at the thought of the damage she could do if she dropped it.
"You are the only one who can let the lost souls out of their prison. They have mourned apart for too long." She paused. "The glue is strong, but the edges must be together in order for it to set properly." Sensing that he was on the edge of capitulation, she widened her eyes and pouted. "Please?" she half-begged, knowing that once he made this decision he would stick to it. A turning away would be disaster. He must bring out what we are feeling without words.
He sighed heavily, unable to ward her off any longer, and grasped the guitar. "We're gonna do this, girl, we're gonna do it someplace with better acoustics." Someplace I won't get spaced for being near you. "C'mon, let's get this over with."
As they walked, he didn't let her know how much relief the thought of playing – really playing this time, not just regurgitating old ballads and folk songs like he had when he'd played for the crew before – gave him. As he felt the strings practically thrumming under his touch, pleading to be of use, his own desperate ache to be needed transformed into intent. His hand tightened as the unspeakable emotions that had plagued Serenity for weeks now welled up inside him and tingled down into his fingertips. Seating himself on an empty crate in the cargo bay, cavernous now with no freight, he took a breath, stole a final look at the persistent girl who had dragged him this far, and let his guitar express what his tongue could not.
The girl would always remember that night in the cargo bay. Jayne had played, had really played, and from the first note she knew that this was different from anything he had ever played before. She could feel the pain running through him, could sense the flow of the music an instant before it was audible. Slowly the others emerged, drawn by the timeless rhythms that had echoed down through the ages of humanity to draw them back together that night in the bowels of the lonely ship deep in the Black. As each one entered and listened, letting the tones carry them away and soothe their sorrows, the fabric they had woven over the months was repaired and strengthened, the missing pieces still lamented but no longer rendering the garment useless. When the last bit of sound died away hours later, leaving them exhausted but whole once more, she sighed. Too beautiful for words, she thought as she watched the drained guitarist shake his hands out wearily, rubbing them where they threatened to cramp.
It was her brother, to her surprise, who broke the silence, for once not with malice but with honest praise. "Jayne?"
He looked up, eyes guarded. "...Yeah?"
"That..." the doctor faltered for a moment, clearly searching for the right language. "That was one of the most amazing things I have ever heard. Thank you."
It took a moment, but the veil of suspicion finally lifted from the gun hand's gaze. "Reckon you're welcome," he responded finally, then ducked his head when a murmur of thanks came from the others assembled, as well.
"If I may ask," Inara ventured, "where did you learn to play like that?"
He opened his mouth to answer, but River interjected. "One cannot learn to play like that," she informed the group. "One has to be born with it." She stared around triumphantly, pleased with herself for discovering this carefully hidden talent and exposing it to the others.
"Quick hands," Mal muttered pensively.
"Deep feelings," the girl retorted, ignoring the warning look Jayne shot her. No one argued.
"Well," the captain said finally, standing up. "Seein' as how it's the middle of the night and the show's over, I'm going to bed. Probably wouldn't be a bad idea for the rest of you to do the same." He spoke a general goodnight, then caught Jayne's eye and threw him an appreciative nod before turning away. I don't know where that came from, but I'm glad it came out when it did. Something about that music made everything seem all right again, like he's gone and said all the things we wanted to but couldn't. A slight smile crossed his lips. Then again, that's Jayne, ain't it? Always saying what we're all thinking but are too polite or scared or nervous to actually put forward.
The others trailed out of the cargo bay behind him at their own pace. Simon was first, casting a considering and slightly regretful look in Jayne's direction as he went. After Kaylee had crushed the guitar painfully between herself and it's owner long enough to whisper her thanks and press a kiss to his cheek, she and Inara left as well. River stayed put, swinging her legs back and forth, smiling up at the ceiling as if nothing in the Verse could rob her of her current happiness. Serenity sang smoothly beneath them, her equilibrium restored.
Drumming his fingers quietly against his knee as he stared down at the instrument that had possessed him that evening, Jayne didn't notice that Zoe had knelt down in front of him. When her hand touched his, stilling his fretful tapping, he jumped slightly and met her teary eyes. They stared at one another for a long moment, the only sound around them the steady thumps that issued forth each time one of River's feet hit the crate beneath her.
"Thank you, Jayne," Zoe said finally, her voice lighter than it had been in weeks.
The unadulterated gratitude on her face disturbed him, and he shifted uncomfortably. "Wasn't really me," he half-whispered before realizing that he was saying too much. "I mean...it's just music."
"Ain't nobody in the Verse could have played what you just did," she replied easily. "Nobody else could have done what you just did here."
"Was just some songs," he insisted a little desperately, afraid to admit just how deep he had been a few minutes earlier. Wonder if Crazy feels like she's floatin' like that all the time. Just...wanderin' through all them memories and trying to find some way to let them out so's she can have some peace and quiet in her own self.
"You saved us, Jayne," Zoe stated. "You took what was inside of us all and you forced us to listen to it, to acknowledge what we were feeling about the things we've seen lately. Ain't nobody else could have done that the way you did." She stood up and looked down at him. "I didn't think I could feel right again until I heard you play tonight. Now...well, let's just say there's a bit more shine to the world than there was. It ain't all the way right, but I'm starting to think maybe it might be again some day." She smiled then, and he couldn't help but feel his mouth twitch in kind. "Thank you," she repeated once before turning away.
When she was gone he rose slowly, setting the guitar down just long enough to stretch before he headed towards his bunk. An odd kind of tiredness plagued him, drawing him towards his bed but also making him yearn for more conversation, to be close to another person. The urge for companionship was so strong that he didn't complain when River followed him down into his personal space and stood, watching, as he hung the instrument back in place and gently wiped a smudged print from its gleaming hull.
"I told you they would be grateful," she reminded him.
"Yeah, well...we'll see how it is in the morning. Reckon they might find it a bit more amusin' then than they do now. Ain't no sort of gun hand plays what I just did, and they know it. Be lucky if I have a job come tomorrow, showin' that kind of thing." His voice carried no anger, only an expectation of great sorrow, and the girl frowned deeply at his words.
"You speak as if they are cruel-hearted," she huffed. "Did your music cause temporary deafness?"
"You mean what they said, the thanks an' all of that?" He shrugged. "It was just words. Mebbe they meant it when they said it, but it won't be the same come morning."
"You're wrong. Things have changed. You have changed. There is openness now where they was none."
"Reckon we'll see soon enough." He wanted to believe her, wanted to do so desperately, but he knew his own reputation. He was an idiot in all things but the gun and the ending of lives, or so he'd made himself seem for so long now that it felt like forever, and he could not imagine anyone being able to see past the facade that had all but become his personality. It didn't matter how he'd played, or what the music had done for the people around him – it could not possibly be enough for them to see that there was more to Jayne Cobb than he himself was willing to admit. He wished he could trust them enough to open himself. If the girl's right about it, then maybe... He shook his head. Can't be that way. I've been like this for too long. Been runnin' from people for too long to stop now.
"You will see," she predicted, hoisting herself up on the ladder until she could peer down at him. "And Jayne?"
Her eyes sparkled for an instant. "If they are not nice, remember that you are not the only one I can kill with my brain." Then, satisfied that he knew at least one person would not ridicule him for the evening's events, she slipped into the hallway and out of sight.
Below, he turned back to the guitar on the wall. Maybe it'll be like she said, he thought with a glimmer of hope. Caressing a string, his confidence grew. Ought to be like she said. If it ain't...well...maybe it'll make me feel like playing again. Least Crazy'll appreciate it. Remembering the look on Zoe's face and Kaylee's whisper, he smiled. Perhaps more than just River would enjoy an encore, after all. Be all right come morning, maybe. Finally be all right somewhere.
He slept that night as he had not slept in many years; contentedly. Elsewhere in the ship, River checked the dreams of each member of the sleeping crew, searching for hints as to how they might be come morning. When she eventually did close her eyes, she was certain that she had not lied; he would be appreciated. As she slipped into a remarkably dreamless sleep, her only regret was that she had not remembered to thank him for calming her demons along with those of the others. There will be time, she contented herself. There will be time in the morning.