I'm just playing with them; promise I'll give 'em back once I've had my fun. No sueing.
Just one more… this is in response to a fluffy little challenge over at livejournal. It's just improv and I wrote it in the space of an hour or two, so forgive me if it sucks. I get high on reviews, so please be generous with them even if they ain't nice.
"I want a pony."
Mal looked sideways at her. Behind them, Jayne snorted out a laugh.
"Ok," Mal told her as they walked the worn dirt road, the sun on their left. "Why?"
Kaylee adjusted the position her left arm had in his, staring longingly at the wide pasture on their right, and at the small group of horses just beyond the three-railed fence. "'Cause. Don't tell me you never had a pony when you was growin' up, cap'n."
"Had a herd. But they served a purpose, did work." Earlier this morning, when he'd brought her along with him and Jayne to buy spare rations, he'd thought it was a good idea. A leisurely walk would be nice, as they were in no hurry, and she'd be able to get out of the ship for the short time Serenity would be docked. Maybe if they had enough platinum left over, he could let her pick out the biggest bunch of strawberries in the entire shop.
But the way their conversation was going, she'd be bringing back a new pet instead of fruit.
He wasn't looking at her, but from the sound of her voice she sounded like she was in the middle of a mild pout. "So did Ram," she told him. "Took me and my brothers to school, daddy sometimes used him to haul around parts that were too heavy for him, but that weren't too often… an' when there wasn't work we'd take him into town and charge folk to let their kids ride him."
As amazing as this new bit of information was, Jayne apparently had stopped listening after her first sentence. "You named your horse Ram?"
Mal hid a grin as his mechanic turned to shoot a defiant look at Jayne, her arm still looped with his. "Yeah, 'cause Jayne is a perfectly normal name for a gun-totin' bully like yourself."
The mercenary sounded puzzled. "'Course it is."
Kaylee didn't answer him, watching the horses again.
Mal had to admit, they were beautiful animals. The clear, bright sun bounced off of their coats and made the various black and chestnut colors ripple and shine. Either their rancher took extremely good care of them, brushing the dust and mats out of the coarse hairs after they'd finished pulling carts all day or whatever it was he utilized them for, or these horses were for some other use. Amusement, or maybe to keep the grass from growing too tall; something ridiculous like that.
"What would you do with a pony anyway, little Kaylee? Ride it around the cargo bay?" He glanced at her again, and got confirmation of his earlier suspicion. She was in full pout mode. "Ain't no use for a pack animal on the boat."
"'Cept Jayne," Mal added.
Kaylee sighed. "I know. I just think it'd be shiny, that's all."
He pulled her closer to him via their intertwined arms, and they walked in silence for a while. Mal had stopped paying attention to the occupants of the field in favor of watching where he was going, and was busy estimating how much longer it would take before they reached the market when Kaylee suddenly yanked him off to one side.
"Ooh, look!" she exclaimed, dragging him towards the fence. Her pout gone, she had spotted one of the quarter horses near the fence and was now smiling from ear to ear.
Jayne watched her manhandle the captain and approached the fence as well, leaning on it with his arms crossed over the top rail. "What?" he wanted to know. "It's just a mangy ol' horse."
Kaylee ignored him, reaching out over the fence with the hand that wasn't attached to Mal. "Aw, he's so pretty," she cooed.
Mal arranged himself next to her and freed himself, resting both arms over the barrier and shifting his weight onto his left leg, his right foot perched on the bottom rail. He'd assumed this position many a time back on Shadow during free time, watching his family's own herd.
The palomino pricked its ears and regarded them curiously, but stayed where it was, just a few feet shy of Kaylee's reach. She climbed up onto the bottom rail amid Mal's warning to be careful and desperately stretched her arm further, as if she could easily conquer the gap and stroke its coat.
"Come on, pretty, I ain't gonna hurt ya none," she promised. "I just wanna pet you."
Mal glanced at Jayne; he looked bored if not mildly amused at the situation.
Resigned to his duty, the captain stood on the bottom of the fence alongside Kaylee and reached out with her, though not so urgently. "C'mon, horse," he said, and clicked his tongue at the animal. "C'mere."
The animal whuffled at him and twitched one ear, but didn't approach. Mal wiggled fingers at it and clicked again, refusing to look at his hired gun a second time because he knew the look he'd find on Jayne's face would be no less than sarcastic and gleeful this time. Mal steeled his resolve and reminded himself that he was doing it for Kaylee's benefit and nothing else.
He made kissy-noises in the general direction of the golden horse. "Come on, you," he muttered as Jayne guffawed loudly.
The palomino lowered its head and ambled up to them, tail swishing lazily.
Kaylee's smile grew tenfold as she finally made contact with it, alternately petting it and gently tugging on the halter to get him to come as close to the fence as possible. She squealed happily. "Thanks, cap'n!"
Mal put both feet back on the ground and leaned one elbow on the fence, a satisfied smile tugging at the corners of his mouth as he watched her fawn over the quarter. It didn't seem to mind in the least, waggling both ears at her and sniffing her face and clothes.
Kaylee scratched behind one of the twitching ears as if she was petting a dog, and the horse nickered at her. "Yeah, you like that, dontcha pretty guy, yeah… ya know, if I could convince my captain here to let me take you home with me, I could pet you all the time." She remained perched on the fence and glanced down at Mal to see how he took that.
He just watched her contentedly, and winked.
Jayne's boots creaked as he took up Mal's original position on the fence, one leg propped on the rail. "We're wastin' time here foolin' with a dumb animal when we could be out doin' what needs to get done," he complained, but he reached over to absently play with a stray lock of off-white mane.
The captain said nothing, watching with a languid smile until his mechanic decided she was satisfied with the time she'd spent with the quarter horse. She gave it one last pat on its stocky golden neck before hopping down from the fence, still smiling bright as ever. The palomino snorted once and watched her with an expression that so closely resembled human disappointment that Mal almost expected it to ask why the petting had stopped.
"There, now," he said, offering his arm to Kaylee once more. "That gonna hold you for awhile, mei-mei?"
She hooked her arm into his, beaming up at him. "You betcha, cap'n."
"That's my good girl," he told her, and Jayne moved from the fence to resume their walk into town.
Mal patted the palomino's forehead with his unoccupied hand, and it went thump thump. The feeling of soft, fine animal hairs and the smell of horse sweat and hay was welcome nostalgia, and before he and Kaylee turned to go, Mal let his hand linger along the delicate nose for a moment as the horse sniffed him gently.