Mal frowned deeply and tilted his head as he folded his arms across his chest. "Jayne," he said. "You care to explain this little development?"
"Sure," Jayne said, folding his arms as well, sticking his chest out proudly. "It's a pony."
"I know it's a pony," Mal forced out between clenched teeth. "I wanna know why you got it into your head to bring a pony onto my boat."
"Well, you said you wanted one," Jayne shrugged, "and I found one for next to nothin' planetside. So I took it." He nodded at it, and the rest of the supplies he'd brought with him into the cargo bay. "I call him Jimmy," he declared. "'Course, you can rename him if you like."
Mal stared at him. "I said I-- when did I say I wanted a pony?"
Jayne dropped his arms and glanced around. "That's what you told Inara, isn't it? You wanted a pony and a--" he snickered-- "a plastic rocket, and well, Mal, that ain't hardly a gift to give a grown man, but if you really--"
"What I said to Inara," Mal protested, "in a, a private, joking--" he turned to address Zoe, behind him. "Why would she even tell anyone what I said?" he asked her.
Zoe shook her head, lips pursed like she might laugh otherwise, and laughing wasn't something she'd done for a long time now. "Can't make any sense of it, Sir," she said.
Mal looked back at Jayne, who was rummaging through a bag for a handful of feed to offer the pony. "You really got this 'cause you thought I wanted it?" he asked.
"Kinda," Jayne said noncommittally, "and kinda 'cause I figured it'd boost some of that... whaddya call it, morale, on this boat." As Jimmy ate from his hand, he added, "figured we could use it more often than not these days."
"Well," Mal rubbed at his forehead thoughtfully. "I appreciate what you tried to do here, for me. That was awful kind of you, even though you was takin' me seriously and all. Zoe," he glanced back at her. "See if you can't find a few places we can pick up supplies for our new passenger. Anything cheap, anything we can maybe barter our services for." He waited until she had left the cargo bay before continuing. "Jayne?"
"Don't..." Mal sighed. "Next time you wanna buy me a present, you check with me first, dong ma?"
Jayne scoffed. "Hell, Mal, you make it sound like I plan on ever buyin' you anything again."
"Oh, look," Kaylee's cheerful voice preceded her entrance into the cargo bay. "It's a pony! I wonder if it's a boy pony or a girl pony?"
Mal didn't have to look behind him to know that Zoe was behind this latest revelation. "It's a boy pony, Kaylee," he said, turning around. "You can call him Jimmy." He raised a knowing eyebrow at his first mate. "Zoe, I take it you filled everybody in?"
"Figured the crew had a right to know we'd be carryin' a new passenger, what with him takin' up room and resources and all," Zoe told him matter-of-factly, the corners of her mouth twitching ever so slightly.
"I think Jimmy's a good name for him," Kaylee said. She'd gone right up to the pony and was petting him firmly between the ears, trying to look him right in the eyes as she did so. "He's just so adorable I can hardly stand it. Ain't he adorable, Simon?"
From behind her, Simon raised his eyebrows. "I think he's... he looks... very healthy," he said encouragingly, gesturing vaguely in the pony's direction. Off her expectant look, he added, "and... cute. Yes."
"On some planets the exchange of livestock represents the marriage vow," River said, sitting on a nearby crate and pulling her knees up to her chin. She folded her hands. "Instead of rings, they give cows or horses. Ponies for the poorer ones."
"Yeah, uh, that's very nice, River," Mal said, then glanced around at his crew. "Well, you all got a good look in, so how's about you get back to your jobs and leave me to deal with what's done, here?"
"Can we take turns lookin' in after him?" Kaylee asked hopefully as she let Simon lead her away by the hand.
"I'll let you know if I need any help," Mal told her, then set his gaze on River, who still lingered behind. "Livestock don't live forever, little one," he pointed out to her. "Anyone ever tell you what happens to those marriages when their cows start dying?"
"Cows have calves," she replied. "Rings tarnish, or get lost. They depreciate. You can't pawn them off. It isn't worth it."
Mal nodded. "That's right," he agreed. "But I ain't from one of those livestock planets, and neither is Jayne, so don't start gettin' any ideas just on account of some pony I decided to keep on board."
"Your planet dealt in trinkets," River told him solemnly as she rose to her feet. "And Jayne's."
"Exactly," Mal said. "Rings and such, for them as could afford 'em."
"Trinkets are better, sometimes," she allowed. "And plastic doesn't tarnish," she added, as she made her way out of the cargo bay back to the passenger bunks.
"What's that even supposed to mean?" Mal wondered, watching her back for a moment, before he turned back to Jayne, who was stooped over the pony with a guilty expression on his face. "What?" he asked, warily.
"Well," Jayne said, avoiding Mal's gaze, "I was gonna tell you I went ahead and got you that toy plastic rocket...."