Dean didn't think he'd ever been colder. Not and still conscious, anyway. His breath had gone past misting in front of him to misting in his goddamn lungs, every breath weighing heavy in his chest. He huffed into his gloved hands and stomped his feet down harder into the snow with each step, trying to keep his muscles from falling asleep in the cold. Ahead of him, Sam strode forward, upright, as confident in the snowy woods as a goddamn yeti.
"Sure," Dean grumbled. "Let's go hunt the thing that's been turning people into solid blocks of ice. Whose goddamn idea was this?"
"You'd rather let them die?" Sam called back.
"This isn't a hunt, Sam." said Dean. "This is Man Versus Wild. I could be warm right now!" He pulled out Bobby's flask and took a swig. Even his whiskey was too damn cold. "How far out are we?"
Sam stopped and checked the GPS. "We've gone about 15 kilometers, now."
"Kilometers." Dean scowled. "What are you, Canadian?"
Sam rolled his eyes. "Yes, Dean. I am Canadian." He set off again, his strides long and sure, and Dean had to hustle to keep up.
"Hey, Jolly Green Giant, slow the hell down!"
"The cross-country skiers went missing four hours ago, Dean, we don't have time to slow down."
Dean felt like the runt of the litter, trying to bound over the snow to keep up with the big dogs. "We don't have time for you to be an asshole."
"Really, Dean? You wanna get into who's an asshole right now?"
"Into the fact that my brother's being a giant douchebag? Sure, let's get into that."
"Fine!" Sam spun in place, stopping abruptly enough that Dean had to flail his arms to keep from running into him or falling over. "Let's get into the fact that we've lost our only goddamn friend left, and you still won't let me in. Let's get into how you trust me so little right now that you went behind my back to kill someone you promised to leave alone."
Somehow, that made Dean's insides go even colder. "We're even on that, remember? After you shot my daughter --" He started, but Sam wasn't listening, had barely even paused in his tirade.
"-- Let's get into the fact that I've got freaking Lucifer taunting me, and you're still the biggest pain in my ass, right now. Let's get into how --"
"It's snowing," Dean interrupted, as a frigid wind blasted them with thick, fat flakes. Sam closed his eyes.
"-- You were supposed to check the weather reports!" he finished without missing a goddamn beat.
"You're blaming me for the snow now? We're in goddamn New Hampshire, Sam."
"I asked you if it looked like it was going to get nasty out here."
"And the reports didn't say anything about any extra snow!"
The wind blew harder, whipping the surrounding trees back and forth and sending the snow into near white-out conditions. Dean bit his lip and squinted at Sam over his scarf. Sam had the grace to look chagrined, at least, though it was hard to tell when his hair kept blowing across his face like that. He shoved it out of his eyes and looked up.
Dean grabbed for Sam's arm almost instinctively as the snow got thicker. "What?"
Sam pointed skyward. "What do those look like to you?"
Dean looked. It was hard to make out through the sudden blizzard, but he soon caught sight of what Sam was pointing at. "Giant ghost horses in the sky?"
Sam swallowed. "I think we've found what's been freezing people."
Dean nodded, hanging on harder to Sam's sleeve even though the snow was slowing again. "I think we don't have a big enough gun for this."
"We need to find shelter."
"And they call you the smart one."
"Less bitching, more moving." Sam grabbed onto the hand Dean had wrapped in his sleeve and started pulling him away from the path.
"Woah, wait, since when are you in charge?"
"Since I'm the one with the GPS!"
Dean yanked Sam back onto the path as a fresh burst of snow blew into his face. "You're also the one who's been hallucinating, dammit! Come on, I saw a cave back this way."
"What?" Sam balked. "There was no cave on the map!"
"Did the map say 'freeze self here'?" Dean dug in his feet and dragged harder. "Move it, dude, those horses' eyes are starting to glow!" Sam looked up, swallowed, and let Dean pull him back down the path to the narrow crack he'd spotted in rock-strewn, woodsy hillside. Dean shoved Sam in first, glancing back over his shoulder long enough to actually lock eyes with one of the horses swirling in the hurricane of icy death. Dean could swear he actually saw frost creep its way down the trees and wondered when they'd wandered into a damned Roland Emmerich movie. Then Sam's hands locked around his shoulders and he was yanked backwards into the darkness.
The cave was deeper than he'd first thought -- he'd been figuring on just a shallow little dip, enough to get out of the wind for awhile, but the crack widened a few feet in to a fairly substantial cavern. Dean pulled his scarf down off his nose and wiped futilely at the snow on his face. "See?" he said, and hearing that his voice shook faintly, took another swig from Bobby's flask. "Home sweet icy cave."
Sam shook out his hair, and Dean made a mental note to buy the guy a new hat. "Yeah, Dean," he answered, his voice dry enough they could have used it for kindling. "You're a genius."
Dean scowled. Sam was clearly locked into bitch-at-Dean mode, and frankly, he was sick of trying to argue with him. "I'm going to go see if there's anything we can use for firewood in here. Have fun sulking."
Sam sighed, tucking his GPS device away in his coat, then rubbing his hands together. "I'll come with you." When Dean shot him a look, he shrugged. "Just because I'm pissed doesn't mean I want you spelunking without me." He smirked. "You'd get lost."
Dean rolled his eyes. "Just try to keep up then, jackass."
Dean dreamed of monsters.
This was actually true as just kind of a general rule. Ever since coming back from Hell, his dreams had been full of blood and death, vengeful angels and gleeful demons. In the last several months the Leviathans had cheerfully joined the fray -- and obliterated all the others. Now his dreams came at him with gaping jaws and swiping tongues, devouring everything Dean loved with great, heaving swallows until he was left alone in a vast, echoing emptiness, locked in his own form as it slowly gave in to entropy and rot.
These were not those monsters.
Dean dreamed of monsters singular and immense, so brightly colored they hurt his eyes. There was an orange lion with bat wings and a scorpion's tail and a red dragon belching enough fire to blanket the world in darkness for hundreds of miles. There was a blue baboon-like creature with protruding fangs and an extra hand at the end of its tail. And there was a purple bear so large it seemed to be the night sky itself, a single one of its claws the length of the entire Impala. They loomed over Dean as he tried to run, only to stumble onto his hands so many times he was forced to crawl, screaming for Sam and hoping that he hadn't already been consumed by the beasts.
He woke with a gasp, his muscles spasming as he sprawled out across the cold stone floor. It took him several moments to get his bearings and remember where they were, each moment revving up his terror as he became more and more certain that something was very, very wrong. He half expected to roll over and see a massive purple bear foot bearing down on him, and he couldn't help a preemptive wince as he looked up --
And saw an enormous, barrel-chested purple unicorn staring down at him, its dark brown mane falling into its eyes.
"Dean," Sam called, and Dean blinked, because for a second there, it looked like the unicorn had -- "Dean! We have a problem!"
Oh god. He wasn't hallucinating. This was a thing. This was -- the unicorn -- Sam was a fucking barrel chested purple unicorn with giant anime eyes.
Dean panicked. He scrabbled against the floor, trying to get his limbs to coordinate long enough to make it to his feet. The cold in the cave must have invaded his muscles because no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't find his center of balance, and much like in his dream, he found himself crawling desperately away.
"Dean!" Sam said again. "Calm down! It's okay!"
"It is not okay!" Dean growled, giving up on making it to his feet and instead turning on the unicorn -- Sam -- crouched low on all fours, his breath heaving. "You're a purple unicorn! How is that remotely okay?!"
"Right," Sam said, tossing his head with a brief whinny. "Well, I was trying to calm you down first, but . . . it gets worse."
"How can it get worse?!"
Dean blinked. ". . . No I'm not."
"No, you are. You're a blue horse. I didn't even realize it was you until you woke up and started flailing all over the place."
"I'm not -- that's --" Dean looked down at his arms and recoiled. What he'd taken for the fabric of his coat was actually a thin coating of fur over the world's freakiest chunky-ass horse legs, ending seamlessly in chunky blue hooves. Something moved in the corner of his vision and he lunged for it, trying again when it danced just out of his reach -- then froze as he realized he was chasing his goddamn tail. He reared up, kicking his front hooves in the air with a panicked whinny, then landed and ducked his head down to peer between his hind legs.
He was blue. He was blue all the way from his chest to his legs, his clothes having somehow vanished in the night. And as far as he could tell from this angle, he was completely dickless.
He let out something that sounded suspiciously like a goat's bleat and collapsed over onto his back, his legs -- all four of them -- in the air.
Sam sighed and rolled his giant, honey-brown anime unicorn eyes. "Are you done yet?"
"Sammy," Dean said -- and yeah, it was still fairly bleat-ish. "Sammy, we're candy colored ponies!"
"Actually, you're sort of denim-y. And I'm eggplant."
"And a unicorn," Dean noted. His eyes -- which he supposed were probably as ridiculously large as Sam's, right now -- widened. "Oh shit. Am I a unicorn, too?"
And he clubbed himself in the forehead with his right front hoof as he attempted to check.
"No," Sam said, sounding put-upon. "You're just a horse."
"Well . . . good," Dean decided finally. "At least I've got that going for me."
"Okay," Dean said, when he was finally feeling centered enough on his hooves that he could be pretty sure he wasn't going to collapse like a cheap toy if he tried to move too much. "Okay, so." He paced in a circle -- determinedly not chasing his tail again, thanks, though it was damned distracting. "Taking stock."
"We're horses," Sam said.
"A horse and a unicorn," Dean corrected, pointing at Sam with his hoof. He looked down at it. "Is this a thing? Do horses point hooves at each other?"
"How the hell should I know?"
"Right." Dean set his hoof carefully back down on the ground and resumed his pacing. "We're --" He shot Sam a look. "-- horse-shaped --"
"Equine," Sam supplied.
"-- And also naked," Dean continued. "Which means our clothes are missing. Along with all our supplies. We're in a cave --"
"-- That you dragged us into --"
"-- In the middle of the New Hampshire wilderness, while outside a herd of ghost horses --"
"-- Team of ghost horses --"
"-- is trying to bury us under the freaking Day After Tomorrow. Anything I'm missing?"
Sam was silent for a long moment, which just freaking figured, really. He looked around the cave, eyes landing on seemingly anything but Dean.
"I can make things levitate with my horn," he said.
Dean stopped pacing and dropped his head to peer down his now incredibly long nose at him. "Come again?"
A little glowing yellow cloud appeared around Sam's horn and one of the nearby rocks. The rock floated up into the air, while Sam continued to stare up at the ceiling, his big unicorn lips curled like he was whistling.
Dean stared. He kicked the floating rock, sending it spinning across the room like a ping pong ball. "You've gotta be fucking kidding me."
"It could be useful," Sam grumbled.
"That's it," Dean decided. "I'd rather face off against the crazy ghost horses." And he started stalking towards the entrance to the cave. He paused, glancing back at Sam, whose head was hanging low now, the glow gone from around his horn. "You coming, or what?"
Sam popped his head back up and trotted after him.
Dean braced his hooves as he approached the entrance to the cave. They no longer had a single stitch of clothes between them, and fur or no fur, that was going to suck in all that snow. He heaved in a breath and steeled his nerves. His nostrils flared. He felt the inexplicable urge to scuff his front hoof against the ground.
Here went nothing.
Dean screwed his eyes shut and lunged out the door -- and into a perfectly lovely temperate night in what appeared to be late spring.
". . . The hell?"
"Yeah," said Sam, trotting out of the cave behind him. "I noticed it while you were bracing yourself." He lifted one hoof and waved it into the sky in a way that Dean was pretty sure horses' legs weren't actually meant to bend. "No wind. No snow."
Dean turned in place, his tail swishing anxiously as he glared at the tree tops. "No freaking ghost horses. There aren't even any clouds." He looked back at his tail, which was still swinging furiously. "Uh, here's a thing," he said. "How do I make it stop doing that?"
"You know I've never actually been a horse before, right?"
"You figured out how to levitate rocks, dude."
"It's still not the same skill set." Sam tilted his head. He actually looked amused. "What, not satisfied with the state of your poker tail?"
Dean turned away, deciding to pretend he couldn't hear Sam. His bristling tail probably told a different story, though. He turned his head back towards the sky instead, frowning. The moon was full and bright, taking up an incredible portion of the sky, yet the stars burned like stark pinpoints, almost all as bright as each other. "Check out the stars," Dean said. "Those are not New Hampshire stars."
"Maybe we traveled through time," Sam said, also staring up. "Maybe this is what the sky looked like a couple thousand years ago."
"Right," Dean said. "the cave totally transported us through time and just happened to turn us into ponies."
Sam blushed, his purple cheeks actually turning pale pink. Dean stared.
"Well, that's disconcerting," he noted.
Sam hmphed under his breath, head held low as he slunk past Dean, venturing further into the thick new forest. In the distance, a wolf howled. Dean stood at attention, peering around, then jumped to follow Sam.
"You're not in charge," he said, just in case Sam got any funny ideas. "You're just packing the only weapon we have, right now."
"Great," Sam grumbled. "Your confidence in me is inspiring."
A thought occurred to Dean. "Hey Sam," he said, peering at his brother's swaying tail. "Is the Lucifer in your head a unicorn now, too?"
"I hate you," Sam said, his head still slung low, though now more in anger than embarrassment. "And, uh, he's keeping quiet, right now."
Dean nodded, still keeping a close eye on the surrounding woods as he trotted after Sam. Man, he wished he had a rifle on him.
. . . Not that he had any idea how he'd manage to fire it without fingers.
Then Sammy and cliff shot through his brain, and he found himself lunging forward to catch the trailing end of Sam's luxurious freaking tail in his teeth.
Somehow, amazingly, it actually worked. Sam stared wide-eyed at him from where he dangled at the end of what had to be at least three feet of tail, and Dean blinked back, tasting the crappy motel conditioner that Sam had used two days ago, when they'd finally sprung for a place with running water. Why that taste would linger on Sam's tail, Dean didn't want to know.
Then the ground under Dean's hooves gave way and they were both sliding down the rocky cliff, only Dean had a mouth full of horse hair to go with him impending doom. He spat out Sam's tail and spread his hooves, trying to slow his descent. "Use your horn!" he screamed at Sam.
What Sam screamed back would have been hilarious coming out of a purple unicorn's mouth if Dean weren't pretty sure they were going to be the last words he ever heard.
They hit the bottom in a tangle of pony limbs, Sam's horn just barely missing taking out Dean's eye. Somehow, instead of going splat, they managed to roll, tumbling end over end away from the base of the cliff until they finally rolled right up a pine tree, ricocheted off of a branch with what Dean would swear was the sound of a pinball bell, and wound up in a heap at the foot of an enormous, craggy old tree with doors and windows built into the trunk.
Honestly, Dean wasn't sure why he was even surprised, anymore.
He levered himself up as best he could and tried to pull a pine cone out of his mane with his hoof. "You alright, Sam?"
"Yeah," Sam grunted, sounding winded, and Dean looked over as he tried to disentangle his hoof, which was now glued to his mane with pine sap. Sam somehow looked downright immaculate. Dean was about to tell him just how unfair that was when the door in the side of the tree burst open and out came a zebra looking like Storm from the X-Men in her punk rock phase, complete with excessive amounts of jewelry, only with fur instead of spandex.
"Who comes out to my house so late?" she bellowed. "And in such a very sad state!"
Dean flashed her what he really, really hoped was still his trademark "trust me" grin, still trying to pull his hoof from his mane. He indicated Sam with his nose. "He did it."
The zebra didn't much look like she believed him.
"Come inside then, you two, if you can walk. The forest at night is no place for a talk."
"Of course the zebra's a poet," Dean mumbled, as Sam wrapped both his front legs around the one Dean had gotten attached to his head and yanked, dislodging Dean's hoof and a good sized chunk of startlingly bright honey-colored mane. "Ow!"
"Quit whining," Sam said. "The zebra's clearly sentient. Maybe she can help."
"What, she gonna lay some spooky zebra mojo on us?" Dean groused, then froze as he got his first good look at the zebra's little tree home. There were enormous West African style masks along the walls and bundles of herbs strung from the ceiling. A huge cauldron stood bubbling happily in the center of the room.
"Call me Zecora, if you will," the zebra said. "You two are not from Ponyville."
"No, ma'am," Sam said, pony eyes all wide and earnest. "We're not even usually equine. I'm Sam Winchester. This is my brother, Dean."
Zecora gasped, looking between them. "The prophecy!"
"Dammit, Sam." Dean barely resisted the urge to smack himself in the face with his hoof. "You had to use our real names. You scared the rhyme out of her!"
"Darkness comes, and the world will fester," Zecora intoned, perching on her hind legs to wave both her front hooves at them. "Upon the arrival of the brothers Winchester!"
Dean groaned. "Really? That's the prophecy?"
"It's very a strong word that's used this time," Zecora admitted, looking a little sheepish. "But 'Winchester' is not that easy to rhyme."
"Sequester," Sam offered. "Semester."
"It's very clear in my books, you see," Zecora continued to Dean as she crossed the room to her bookshelf. "This is not a pleasant prophecy."
"Jester," Sam offered.
"Breast," Dean said. "Er."
Zecora didn't look amused. She looked from Sam to Dean, then back again as if to say 'are you two done, then?'
Only, you know, rhymier.
She pulled one of the books from the shelf with her teeth, then set it down on what appeared to be a workbench carved out of the tree itself. She sat down on her haunches and waved Sam and Dean over, then started flipping through the book with her remarkably agile hoof.
"My books are not very detailed, though. They say only that disharmony will grow." She tapped one of the pages, showing a drawing of stylized, brightly colored ponies running in terror from shadowy, humanoid figures, while a pair of yellow eyes stared down at them from the darkness of the background. Dean looked over at the facing page, but could only make out a series of scribbles. Apparently, Zecora's pony-world hadn't mastered writing in English, yet.
"To Ponyville is where you should go, to see what Twilight Sparkle might know." Zecora shut the book again once Dean and Sam had gotten a look. "Her library is much larger than mine. There's no telling what wonders you might find."
Dean shot Sam a glance and saw him looking right back. "Is it just me, or does this sound like the first scene of a crappy fantasy novel?"
Sam smirked. "When have you ever read a fantasy novel?"
"Shut up," Dean said. "Let's just get this thing over with."
Not that he put it past Sam to find another cliff to fall off of, anyway.
The whole place looked kind of like someone's hallucinatory vision of a Shakespearean town, full of exposed beams, overhanging upper floors, and thatched roofs. The sun was just starting to rise as they made it past the expanse of apple orchard surrounding it into the town proper, casting all the buildings in soft yellows and pinks.
Or, well, Dean hoped it was the sun that made them that color, anyway.
The streets were quiet. Dean only spotted a few ponies -- all as brightly colored as he and Sam were -- trotting about, making their way to whatever the pony equivalent of an early morning job was. One of them, a deep purply-pink pony with a flowery tramp stamp of all things, paused on the threshold of what looked like a classic one-room school house to wave. Sam lifted a hoof in return.
"Dude," Dean hissed. "For all you know, that was the unicorn version of giving her the finger!"
"I'm waving back, Dean. Why would she be flicking off a stranger?"
"What am I, the Horse Whisperer?" Dean started stalking off. "Come on, maybe this Twilight Sparkle chick will know how to get us home."
Sam trotted after him. "Mare," he said. "A female horse -- or pony -- is called a mare."
"Okay, seriously, if you don't knock off the horse lessons, I'm going to punch you in the face."
Sam smirked. "That'd be a nice trick."
"Kick you, then!" Dean screeched to a halt as he spotted train tracks going past. "Here's a question: how the hell did any of this stuff get built with no hands?"
An apple surrounded by a gold glow floated cheerfully in front of Dean's face. Dean shot Sam a glare and reached out to chomp it out of the air -- only to have it smack into the end of his nose. Rather than continue bobbing for apples in thin air, he lashed out with his hoof, sending it flying into the shutters of one of the houses. A broad-nosed pony with facial hair stuck its head out. "Hey, watch it, buster! Some of us are trying to sleep, here!"
Dean waved at him.
Zecora's description of Twilight Sparkle's library was right on, but then, loads of words rhymed with "tree". ("Sparkle", on the other hand, actually rhymed with less than "Winchester" did, near as Dean could tell.) Not only was the library the only building around shaped like a tree, it also had a nice big sign out front with a book on it. Dean paused as they approached the door.
"You know, maybe we would have been better off just crashing in the cave again and hoping it took us home eventually."
"Yeah," said Sam. "Because it's ever been that simple for us."
"Right." Dean raised his hoof to knock on the door, then paused. "This is so weird."
"Do you want me to knock?" Sam asked.
Dean hopped back a few steps. "Well, if you wanna."
Sam rolled his eyes and kicked at the door with his right front hoof. "I hope we're not waking her up."
Dean was torn between teasing Sam about worrying about disturbing a pony librarian and agreeing. They weren't exactly swimming in leads, here. This Twilight chi -- mare was their only lead. It wouldn't do them any good to get off on the wrong foot -- hoof.
Okay, he was going to have to stop that, or his head was going to explode. And considering that he was currently a blue horse, he wasn't about to put it past this world to make it actually explode.
No one answered Sam's knock for several moments, and Dean was just inching up to give it a whirl himself when the top half of the Dutch door swung open wide enough to reveal someone's enormous peering eyes. Dean wondered if they'd get home and think everyone had freakishly small eyeballs.
"Uh, hi," Sam said. "I'm Sam, and this is my brother Dean. Zecora said we should come here and talk to Twilight Sparkle?"
"Who?" a voice -- most likely belonging to the eyes -- asked.
"Twilight Sparkle. Zecora said she might be able to help us with some information."
"Who," said the voice again.
"Twi-light Spar-kle," Sam enunciated carefully. "We heard about her from Ze-cor-a, the zebra who lives in the woods."
"Oh for chrissake," Dean said. He lashed out with one hoof, sending the door flying the rest of the way open. "It's an owl, Sam!"
The owl flapped in the now open doorway, its huge eyes staring down at them. "Who," it said.
"Who is it, Aloysius?" another voice called, this one apparently belonging to the purple unicorn with pink and purple bed-head trotting up, yawning. "Oh! Hello, there!" She leaned her head over the lower half of the door, peering sleepily at Sam and Dean. "I don't think I've seen you two ponies here before."
Dean and Sam shared a glance. "Twilight Sparkle?" Dean asked, unconsciously adopting his "official business" tone. His hoof itched to be grabbing a badge from his non-existent pocket.
"That's me," the unicorn said. A pink glow appeared around her horn and her tousled mane smoothed itself out into a quaint little bob with bangs. "What can I do for you?"
This place was never going to stop being ridiculously weird, was it?
"I'm Sam," Sam said. "This is my brother Dean. Zecora the zebra sent us here, Ms. Sparkle. She said you might be able to help."
"Twilight," she said. The pink glow surrounded the door and it swung open. "Come on in. I'll certainly do my best!"
She was so damn perky!
Dean let Sam lead the way into the library, if nothing else so he could see just how much his brother and this new pony matched. Purple unicorns were apparently totally a thing around here, though Sam didn't have the little anime girl flair of a purple and pink mane. His was more of a cherry wood color, not too far from his actual hair. Still, purple unicorns. They actually looked kind of adorable together.
And there was a thought Dean was going to be banishing to the dark reaches of nowhere just as soon as everything stopped being pony-shaped.
The owl -- Aloysius, apparently -- had flapped over to perch on the wooden unicorn head statue in the center of the main room, watching the proceedings ponderously. Dean eyed it as he made his way in -- the last thing he needed was owl crap to add to the pine sap still stuck in his hair.
"Now," Twilight was saying. "What was it you need -- oh goodness!" She stared wide-eyed -- or wider-eyed, anyway -- from Sam to Dean, her little pony mouth hanging open. Dean frowned. Sam cleared his throat, and Twilight lifted one hoof to physically close her mouth before assuming a bright, extraordinarily awkward smile. "Sorry! I just -- I've never seen full grown stallions without cutie marks, before."
"Cutie what-nows?" Dean asked, then recoiled with a whinny as Twilight's jaw actually literally hit the floor.
"Holy crap," Sam said. "Did you just dislocate your jaw?"
Twilight didn't need her hoof to pick her jaw up off the floor this time, she just snapped it shut like she was made entirely of rubber. "Uh -- ha ha, sorry, it seemed like you didn't know what a cutie mark was."
"We don't," said Sam, then held out his hoof. "Please don't drop your jaw again."
"Ah ha ha," said Twilight. She started pacing in a circle. "Oh, no, of course not, I just -- well, everypony knows what -- I mean, it's a cutie mark. It's a pony rite of passage! Like this, see?" And she turned sideways, and pointed to a little pink and white starburst on her flank.
"Ohhhhh," Dean said. "Back home we call that a tramp-stamp."
A book came flying off one of the shelves and whacked Dean in the back of his head. Dean rubbed at it with one hoof and glared at Sam, who was busy looking innocently at the ceiling.
Twilight just blinked at them. "What do hobos have to do with anything?" Dean opened his mouth to give an appropriately inappropriate answer, then caught Sam's glare and closed it again.
He didn't need his unicorn brother magically throwing any more books at him.
"Twilight!" a pre-adolescent male voice called from up the stairs that ran up over the bookcases on one wall of the room. A purple lizard, enormous compared to most lizards Dean had ever seen, yet still much smaller than any of the ponies had been, came rushing down into the room. "Why didn't you tell me we had guests?" he asked, skidding to a stop in front of her. "You should have woken me up!"
"I only just woke up myself, Spike. Aloysius answered the door."
Spike shot a glare at the owl. Dean wondered if it had ever crapped on his head.
"Well, then he should have woken me up," he grumbled, then flashed a grin at Dean and Sam. He had fangs. "What can we do for you gentlecolts? If you need something fun to read, Twilight here has the whole Daring-Do series!"
Twilight nudged him aside with her hoof. "Which is already on loan to my good friend Rainbow Dash," she said. Dean wondered how much he and Sam stood out just by virtue of not being named, like, Sunset Rosegarden or Moonbeam Cookie. "But I'm guessing if Zecora sent you and you're --" She blushed and waved a hoof vaguely at Dean's ass -- or un-tramp-stamped flank, he supposed. "-- you know, that you probably need something a little less frivolous than the adventures of Daring-Do, pegasus adventurer."
"Uh," said Sam. "Yes." He was clearly as nonplussed by all this as Dean, even with the addition of shiny new magical powers. "You see, we're not actually ponies."
Spike raised an eyebrow. "Come again?"
"Who," said Aloysius.
Before either Sam or Dean could elaborate, yet another voice chimed in, this one rapidly approaching from the front door. "Twilight!" it called, and the door creaked open, letting in a yellow, winged pony with pink hair and butterflies on her ass. "Oh Twilight, come quick! It's terrible, it's just terrible, all the birds -- oh!" She let out a soft squeak and hid behind her hair. "Oh, uh. Hi."
"What is it, Fluttershy?" Twilight asked, and Dean ticked off another cutesy name in his mental tally. He was so introducing himself to the next set of ponies as Hotblood Thunderstruck or something.
Sam could be "Acid Reflux".
"Oh, no, I couldn't," Fluttershy whispered, refusing to make eye contact or even really look at Sam or Dean. "I'll just come back later."
"Man," Dean mumbled. "That is one chick who lives up to her name."
"Twiiiiiiiiiiliiiiiiiiight!" Dean spotted another pony, this one a white unicorn with long, curly purple hair and thick, curly eyelashes. "Oh Twilight, darling, I simply must speak with you -- oh, Fluttershy! I didn't expect to see you here so early and -- ohhhhhhhhhhh." The new unicorn's knees actually wobbled, and she started fluttering those eyelashes like mad. Dean noticed she was wearing blue eyeshadow, and wondered how the hell she managed to apply it. She stared right past Fluttershy and Twilight, past Spike and Dean, too. This pony apparently only had eyes for Sam. "Well hello there, handsome!" She preened, fluffing her mane with one hoof and angling her body in what Dean had to suppose was a pony pin-up girl pose, showing off the three diamonds decorating her butt.
"Uh, Sam," Dean said, leaning over towards his brother. "I think the new pony's hitting on you."
"Yeah," Sam mumbled, his head ducked low in embarrassment again. "I noticed."
"Rarity," said Twilight. "Not that it's not good to see you, but --"
A rainbow streak blasted in through an open window and screeched to an audible midair halt. "Twilight!" cried the new blue pegasus, this one with a rainbow mane and tail and a storm cloud spewing a rainbow lightning bolt on her flank. Dean was willing to bet this was Rainbow Dash. "Omigosh, I'm so glad I caught you."
"Of course you caught me, Rainbow Dash, the sun's barely even up! Now what is going on here?"
All the ponies started talking at once, and Dean and Sam tried to subtly back themselves into a corner as they looked for an alternate way out. Dean was feeling like he'd well and truly hit his pony quota for the day, and any more would result in pony critical mass. The only thing that would top this off would be --
"Hi!" Dean spun in place, letting out a startled whinny before he could stop himself. He'd just nearly backed his way right into the central sculpture -- and the bright, Pepto-Bismal pink pony standing in front of it, her mane a riot of darker pink curls. "I've never seen you in Ponyville, before! And trust me, I know everypony in Ponyville! Which means you're not from Ponyville, which means you might not know anypony here just yet, or even know your way around! Well, you're in luck, because I'm Pinkie Pie, and I give the very best, most amazing welcomes anypony could ever ask for! Wanna see my welcome wagon?"
"That's it!" Dean cried, and all the ponies fell silent around him, blinking. He huffed, stamping his foot and looking from wide-eyed, snub-nosed pony to wide-eyed, snub-nosed pony, then finally managed to pick Sam -- just as wide-eyed, but with a somewhat longer nose -- out of the crowd. He pointed his hoof at him. "I need some freaking air," he said, and started stalking purposefully towards the door. "You -- deal with the ponies right now. Okay?"
He didn't wait for an answer, just shouldered his way between the crowd of candy-colored ponies and out into the growing sunshine.
"What?" Sam called after him. "Dean! You -- jerk!"
Dean rolled his eyes. Maybe if he tried hard enough, he could pretend this was all part of Sam's hallucinations or something.
Hey, maybe they'd been drugged! That was almost a cheery thought.
"You're right!" said Pinkie Pie, once again just behind him. "It's way better to do the welcome out here!"
"SONOFABITCH!" Dean yelled. Pinkie just blinked at him for a moment, looking supremely confused.
"You're kind of grumpy, aren't you?" she said. "Is that your name? Can I guess? Can I? Is iiiiiiiiiiit . . . Grumpy Jeans? Honeygrumble? Glowerson or Mergatroid or Steve or Wooly Loathsomeness? Am I getting close? Tell me when I get close! Ooo, how about some initials?"
"No!" Dean put up a hoof in an attempt to stop her and ended up actually shoving it into her mouth. She didn't seem to mind. "Holy crap, woman! What are you on?"
Pinkie pulled her head back, her mouth pulling off his hoof with an audible pop. She looked down. "The grass, silly! Ooo, is that your name? Sillygrump?"
"Pinkie!" Oh, great, here came another new voice. An orange-and-blond pony with a cowboy hat and a country twang came trotting up, two barrels full of apples strapped to her back. "Can't you see this poor pony's tired? Give him a minute to breathe, now, would ya?"
"You're right, Applejack!" Pinkie said, looking thoroughly abashed. "Sorry, mister. I just get really excited when there's new ponies to meet, and I've never seen either you or your friend before! So I thought, 'Pinkie, you have to meet these new ponies right away!' and when you stalked off, I thought 'oh no, he must be shy! I should --'"
"Pinkie!" Applejack cut her off again, giving Pinkie a stern look. Dean decided he kind of liked her. She was kind of like a pony-Ellen.
"Right!" Pinkie said again. "Sorry!" And she mimed zipping her mouth shut, then locking it with a key. Then she trotted a few feet away and started pretending to dig, then waved her hooves in the air for a bit, then sat grinning proudly up at them, blinking her huge blue eyes. Applejack sighed, nudged an apple out of one of her barrels with her nose, tossing it into the air and then headbutting it to Pinkie like a soccer champion. Pinkie caught it in her mouth.
"Now go along then, Pinkie," Applejack said. "He'll come and find ya when he's feeling less shy, alright?"
"Okay!" Pinkie said, happily chewing her apple. "See you later, Grumplestiltskin!"
Dean didn't relax until she bounced her way back into the library. He shot a wary eye at Applejack, who was watching Pinkie just as sternly.
"Thanks," he said. "It's too early for that kind of shit."
She turned that stern look at him. "It's way too early for that kind of language. My granny would wash your mouth right out if she heard you talking like that."
Dean snorted. "She wouldn't be the first. I'm Dean, by the way." He hesitated, then added "Dean Winchester," half expecting her to freak out like Zecora had. Instead, she nodded to him.
"Applejack. I was just coming over from Sweet Apple Acres, but it looks like Twilight's a little busy."
"Yeah, I'm guessing there's a lot going on." Dean gave her a quick look over, from the freckles at the corners of her eyes to the three little apples on her flank under the barrels. "Say, you didn't happen to be human once upon a time, did you?"
"I didn't happen to be a what now?"
"Yeah, it was a long shot." Dean gave the library door a wary look, his head drooping as he let out a soft groan. "Guess we'd better get this show on the road."
"Oh! Are you a traveling performer?" Applejack asked.
"This is going to be my longest day ever."
"What do you think the odds are that any of these ponies have any whiskey?" he asked. Sam just sighed.
"The Hollywood starlet might have some brandy somewhere," he guessed. "And the pink one is definitely on some kind of uppers. But they don't really seem like a whiskey kind of crowd."
"Damn." Dean looked around for some sort of chair, then gave up and flopped his ass down on the ground, his hind legs sprawled out to either side. "I was really hoping to get drunk right about now."
"Yeah Dean," Sam said, carefully folding his hind legs as he sat next to him. "I know."
"Now," Twilight was saying. "Fluttershy, what were you saying about the birds?"
"Oh!" Fluttershy gave Sam and Dean an uneasy look past her long-ass shwoopy bangs, but at least she wasn't whispering any more. "They're all gone."
"Wait, what?" Twilight blinked. "All of them? Are you sure?"
"Oh yes! I went out to direct them in their sunrise song, and they weren't there! I looked all along the Everfree Forest, and I even asked the other animals to help me look, but we couldn't find them anywhere."
"Maybe they all . . . went on a field trip?" Twilight guessed.
"Ooo!" Pinkie waved one hoof in the air. "I love field trips! We could all go to Manehattan!"
"It can't be all the birds," Spike said, with little more than a quick shrug at Pinkie's meandering away from the point. "After all, Aloysius is still here, and he's a bird."
"Who," said Aloysius.
"He's the only one I've seen," said Fluttershy. "Even my flamingo's run off."
"That's very strange." Twilight turned to one of her bookshelves, and with a glow of her horn, pulled out several volumes. "Spike, start going through these books on the migratory patterns of the local birds. Maybe there's something there."
"Oh, but Twilight!" This was from Rarity, who seemed to have finally gotten tired of flipping her hair at Sam every two minutes. "The birds aren't the only trouble! As you know, I have a very important order to fill for Hoity Toity -- he's even gotten the magnificent Fleur de Lis to model them for me! -- so I've been up all night for the last few days, trying to get it all done --"
"Get to the point, Rarity!" groaned Rainbow Dash. Dean was glad he didn't have to say it.
"-- And as I was up all night working on the fabulous outfits which will surely make me one of the most popular designers in all of Equestria, I heard this absolutely terrible noise coming from the forest! I went to the window to see what was the matter and this -- thing went dashing by! I didn't get a very good look, but it was monstrous! I came over just as soon as I was sure it was gone, just to tell you!"
"Omigosh," Fluttershy said. "You saw a monster? Oh you must have been so scared!"
"It was horrible!" Rarity popped up on her hind legs and pressed one forehoof to her head. "It was the worst. Possible. Thing!" And then she collapsed backwards onto a fainting couch that Dean knew hadn't been there a moment ago.
"Seriously, dude," he muttered to Sam. "A beer, that's all I'm asking."
"Dean," Sam said, his face all super serious as he stared at Rarity and her couch. "She saw a monster in the woods. Maybe we're supposed to be here to help them!"
"Dude." Dean poked him in the chest with his hoof. "We're in the land of ponies. Who knows what counts as a monster around here? I'm not an expert in pony monsters."
"Are you an expert in other kinds of monsters?" Pinkie asked, suddenly right beside Dean again. Dean let out a faint squawk, then glared at her.
"You really need to stop doing that."
"What kinds of monsters are you experts at?" Pinkie asked, unconcerned. "Hydras? Manticores? Basilisks? Dragons? Do you have a monster cutie mark?" She craned her neck to peer at his flank, then blinked. "Oh! I know! You're experts at invisible monsters!"
"His cutie mark isn't invisible," Twilight said, coming over to stand next to Pinkie. Dean noticed all the other ponies staring at them now, too, and drew himself up as tall as he could while still sitting on the floor like a dog. "It's not there at all. Girls, this is Sam and Dean. Zecora sent them here. They say they've never even heard of cutie marks."
That got a few different reactions. Rainbow Dash scoffed, glaring suspiciously down at them from where she was hovering by the staircase. Rarity flopped over on her fainting couch again. Fluttershy let out a tiny "oh my!" and covered her mouth with her hoof.
"Now how in tarnation is that even possible?" asked Applejack. "Everypony in Equestria gets a cutie mark. And them's that don't have 'em yet sure as sugar know about them."
"Yeah," Sam said. "That's the thing. We're not from Equestria. We're not even usually ponies. We're humans."
All six of the ponies were staring at them now, along with Spike and Aloysius. A ripple of gasps and "that's not possible"s went through them. Rainbow Dash finally landed, trotting over until she was nose to nose with Sam. She looked him over with a dangerous glint in her eye, then backed off a step.
"You look like ponies to me," she declared, looking over at Twilight, then back at Sam and Dean. "Everyone knows that humans aren't real. They're just an old mares' tale."
"You came here as frantically as we all did, Rainbow," Rarity said, climbing up off her couch and kicking it away with a quick flick of her back hoof as though it were on wheels. "What did you need to tell Twilight?"
Rainbow Dash scowled. "The clouds aren't behaving."
"The clouds?" Pinkie bounced over to the window and peered out. "There aren't any clouds, silly!"
"But there should be," Applejack said. "We've got showers scheduled for just after lunch!"
"Exactly! But Cloudsdale is totally out of stock! The night crew stayed up putting them all together, but then when they released them, they all just flew out over the Everfree Forest and disappeared!"
"Wait, hang on." Dean raised a hoof, waving it from Applejack to Rainbow Dash. "You telling me you guys create the weather? Like in a factory?"
"Uh, duh," Rainbow said. "Where else do you think clouds come from?"
"I give up," Dean said, folding his front legs so he could flop his head down onto the ground. "There's not enough booze in any world for me to deal with this."
Then Applejack twisted her head around and pulled a metal flask out from behind one of her apple barrels with her teeth and tossed it to Dean, who managed to catch it between his hooves. He blinked at it, then up at her.
"Cider," she explained. "It ain't fresh, but I get the feeling it's about what you're looking for."
Dean wondered if his eyes were doing the pitiful wobbling thing that anime characters sometimes got. He had a feeling they probably were. He wasn't a huge fan of hard cider, but it would sure as heck do in a pinch. Sam sighed. "You want me to --"
"I got it!" Dean protested, and after some consideration, raised the flask, clenched between his hooves, up to his mouth to unscrew the lid with his teeth. He sipped it cautiously, and when the distinct tang of alcohol hit his tongue, took a long swig and let out a satisfied sigh. "You," he said to Applejack, "are my new favorite pony ever."
"Sure thing, sugarcube."
"Hey, wait a minute." Rainbow Dash jabbed a hoof in Applejack's direction. "Why are you here this early?"
"Same reason you all are," she said. "Things aren't going the way they ought to. The timber wolves started howling last night, but we haven't seen a single spark on the zap apple trees. Granny says in all her years in Ponyville, she's never heard of the like."
Twilight started pacing. "Birds and clouds going missing, timber wolves acting strangely, and a monster at Rarity's." She stopped and looked at Sam and Dean. "And you two, with no cutie marks, claiming to be humans from somewhere beyond Equestria."
Dean shot a glance at Sam. "We didn't do it."
"But it's got to be connected," Sam said. "Zecora said something about a prophecy."
"Like the Mare in the Moon?" Pinkie asked. "We all thought that was just an old mare's tale, too, but then boom! Nightmare Moon came to kidnap Princess Celestia and everything! Maybe humans are really really real, too!"
"I guess they could be," Twilight said, though she didn't sound convinced. "Did Zecora say anything else about the prophecy?"
"It rhymed," Dean said helpfully.
"Well, yes," Twilight said. "We are talking about Zecora, here."
"It's about the Winchester brothers," Sam said. "That's our last name. I think it was about chaos or something."
Pinkie let out an excited gasp, and suddenly was in front of Sam, shaking him by the withers. "Chaos? Do we get chocolate rain again? Oh tell me there'll be chocolate rain!"
Sam's eyes were actually spinning with the force of her shakes. Dean set Applejack's flask aside and reached out a hoof to push Pinkie back. "She used the word 'fester'."
"Oh," Pinkie said. Her nose wrinkled. "Ewwwwww."
Twilight had another book down from the shelves, floating in the air in front of her as she flipped the pages with her horn. "I think I remember something about that. I didn't pay much attention. I mean . . . humans? It's just too silly."
"Says the purple unicorn," Dean muttered. Sam gave him a sympathetic look, but the others just stared.
Twilight cast her book aside and turned back to the shelves, pulling several more out. "I'm sure it was just here, somewhere."
Sam let out a jaw cracking yawn that actually echoed through the whole library, and Twilight paused. "Oh gosh, I'm sorry. You two must be exhausted! Maybe you should go get some rest, and we'll meet back here this afternoon."
"Sounds good." Dean got back to his feet, feeling a bit steadier now that he had some cider in his belly. "Don't suppose there's a motel in town?"
"Dean," Sam hissed. "We don't have any money."
"Well, you can come stay with me!" Rarity offered, batting her lashes at Sam. "I'm sure I could find somewhere for you in my boutique."
"Uh, you sure?" Rainbow Dash asked. "They think they're humans."
"Er. Well, nopony's perfect."
"I'd offer Sugarcube Corner," Pinkie said. "But the Cakes already have Pumpkin and Pound to take care of." This apparently made some kind of sense, since the other ponies just nodded along. "And Fluttershy's cottage is too small."
"It's not that small," Fluttershy said, but she didn't seem to have the vocal power to overcome Pinkie's repeated "TOO SMALL!"
"It's alright," Applejack said, sounding a bit resigned. "We've got plenty of room over at Sweet Apple Acres, so long as you ponies aren't too good to sleep in a barn."
Dean gave her a tired smile. "Sweetheart, I can guarantee we've slept in worse." And right now, he was pretty sure he could fall asleep in the middle of a rawhead nest, if there weren't any ponies chattering in his ear.
"We really appreciate it," Sam said. "If you need anything in return --"
"Don't you worry about that," Applejack said. "The Apple family is nothing if not willing to lend a hoof."
"You folks expecting something different?" Applejack asked, a note of amusement in her voice. "I can't imagine what a human barn might look like."
"No, ma'am," Sam said. "This is pretty much it."
"That's Applejack, now," she told him. "Or AJ, if you like. You're guests here at Sweet Apple Acres, and there's no need for any 'ma'am'ing."
Sam nodded. "Thanks. You'll barely notice we're here."
He trotted right on inside, and Dean flashed Applejack a smile before following.
"Any spot in particular you'd rather we crash?" he asked.
"Anywhere's good, so long as you don't break anything. We just finished up the last of the applebuck season this morning, so we won't be in and out on you."
"The . . . what season?"
"Applebuck? It's what we call the harvest."
"Ah." Dean wasn't sure when exactly the apple harvest was back home, but he was moderately sure it wasn't late winter. Not that it was exactly wintery around here. And he'd never spent that much time in an apple orchard, anyway. Speaking of. . . . "You guys don't have a tradition of sacrificing travelers to appease the god of the harvest, do you?"
Applejack stared, one eye significantly wider open than the other, then turned to trot off. "Humans sure are weird."
"I'll take that as a no."
Sam had already laid claim to one of the haystacks, stretched out on his stomach on top of what looked like a large saddle blanket. "So," he said, when Dean had closed the door behind him. "She seems nice."
"She's the least crazy pony we've met, I'll give you that."
"She's very orange."
"Says the purple unicorn."
"You know that being a purple unicorn doesn't actually invalidate everything I say, right?"
"Go to sleep, Sam."
Dean found a spot on a haystack nearer the door and spent a few moments circling it, trying to work out the best position to lie down in as a horse. How the hell did horses sleep, anyway? And why was he expecting horses in this world to work like horses back home?
Eventually, he just kind of threw himself down sideways, all four legs sticking out in front of him. That got uncomfortable rather fast, though, so he flopped onto his back, bending his front legs up close to his chest. That worked for awhile before he flailed his way onto his stomach, the hay digging into his chin. Sam had the right idea with that saddle blanket, he decided. The hay was itchy. He rolled around a bit longer, then groaned and wobbled to his feet, glancing at Sam. His brother was fast asleep. Probably the first time he'd gotten to sleep without Lucifer bugging him in a long time, assuming he hadn't shown up as a red goat or something and Sam just hadn't said anything. Dean sighed and Sam stirred, settling back down again when Dean froze.
Right. Dean would just go sit outside for a bit, let Sam get his rest.
The sun had made its way a good ways into the sky, now, and the day was really bright compared to the dim interior of the barn. Dean sat just to the side of the door, basking in it for a moment, and wondered if ponies got sunburned. All that fur had to be good for something, right?
He heard something shuffling nearby and opened his eyes to see a massive red horse with a green apple on his flank and a harness over his shoulders sitting on the other side of the door. Dean looked him over and inclined his head. "Hey."
The horse nodded back, chewing on the piece of straw sticking out of his mouth. "Howdy."
"You Applejack's . . ." What the hell would the ponies call it around here? ". . . Stallion-friend?"
The other horse looked appalled. "Nope."
Dean nodded. "Brother," he guessed.
Not much one for chit chat, this one. "I'm Dean."
"That's a hell of a name."
Dean sat watching him chew on his straw for a few more moments. "Okay, then."
"Guldurnit all to heck!" cried a shaky, old lady kind of voice from the other side of the barn. "Big Macintosh, where did you get yerself off to? Just because the other signs haven't shown themselves yet don't mean you can be all lackadaisicalial about the zap apple harvest!"
Big Macintosh lowered his head with a soft sigh, then stood up. "Over here, Granny," he called. "Just meeting AJ's guest."
"Oh, who has that filly brought home with her this time, then?" A somewhat shriveled-looking green pony with white hair and a sagging jawline made her wobbling way around the corner of the barn and squinted at Dean. "Well hello there. Granny Smith, at yer service." She offered a hoof to shake at the barn door. Big Macintosh reached out one leg and gently nudged it over to where Dean was actually standing.
"Nice to meet you, ma'am," Dean said, putting on his most polite, oh-no-I-have-only-the-best-intentions-towards-your-daughter tone while he awkwardly lifted his hoof in return. "Dean Winchester."
She wrapped her leg around his in a way that defied skeletal structure and shook with abandon. "What was that, sonny? Bean Who-sister?"
"Dean Winchester. Ma'am."
"Well nice to make yer acquaintance, Bee Withersman! I'm Granny Smith."
Dean shot Big Macintosh a look. Big Macintosh just shrugged.
"Now," Granny was saying. "What can I do ya for?"
"We're, uh, just passing through," Dean said, speaking as loudly as he could without actually shouting at her. "My brother and I just needed a place to rest for a bit."
"Well'n what in tarnation are ya doin' out here in all the sun? You want a nap, you'll be wantin' to at least be in the barn!" Granny shook her head and squinted over at Big -- hell, Dean was going to start calling him Mac. "Well, go on, open the door for him!"
Mac looked over at Dean. Dean shook his head. "Thanks, Granny," he said. "But I'm alright out here."
"Well phooey! If you're havin' trouble sleeping, I got just the thing!" She hooked one of her front legs over Dean's neck and yanked him down to her, pressing her cheek against his. She smelled like old people and apples, which Dean supposed made about as much sense as anything else in this world. "C'mon, sonny. I'll get you fixed up right quick." And she started walking towards the house without letting go of his neck. Dean had to hunch down and follow along just to make sure he didn't dislocate her leg. "Daisy Jo'll be here any minute with the milk delivery, just you wait and see!"
He was being offered -- ordered, really -- warm milk by an elderly green pony who ran an apple farm. "You know, I should really just stick close to my brother --"
"Fiddlesticks, he'll be just fine in there. I'll have Big Macintosh keep an eye on him for you. Won't you, Big Mac?"
"Eeyup!" Mac called, from where he was still stationed outside the barn.
"Now let's see, we'll get you some warm milk and then if that doesn't work, then I'll try telling you a nice story. That always puts Apple Bloom right to sleep! Oh, here's Daisy Jo now!" Granny finally let go of Dean's neck to flail her hoof in the air at an approaching dairy cow. "Hello, Daisy Jo!"
"Good mooooorning, Granny!" said the cow in a thick Wisconsin accent.
Really. It was like they were punking him.
It wasn't that he didn't appreciate the gesture. It was just super weird to drink warm milk from a cow you'd just made small talk with. Especially when you knew it was warm because it was fresh, straight from the udder into a glass. Dean didn't know where that cow had been.
Rather than risk a second round of coddling from Granny, Dean ducked out and went to hide in the barn again. Sam was still fast asleep, having rolled onto his back, and was now snoring cartoonishly, loud enough that Dean half expected to see the rafters start shaking. It was hard to tell the time in the dimness of the barn, but Dean figured they probably had at least another hour or two before Twilight would be ready with her findings. Lord knew it sometimes took Bobby awhile to find anything, and he didn't have stocks of things like The Adventures of Daring-Do, whatever that was, cluttering up his shelves. He knew he should really try to get some sleep, but something about the whole business of being a blue pony was messing with his system. He just couldn't get relaxed. He felt like he was almost at Pinkie Pie levels of restlessness, and that was a pony who definitely could use some meds.
After pacing around the barn for what had to be a good half an hour, Dean heard the door creak open. He looked over to see Applejack peering in, silhouetted in the bright sunlight from outside. At least, he had to assume it was Applejack. She was the only pony around that he'd seen wearing a cowboy hat.
"Still up, huh sugarcube?" Applejack asked, slipping past the door and pushing it softly shut behind her. "Granny said you were having trouble sleeping. I thought maybe I'd check on ya."
"Thanks," Dean grunted. He wasn't sure how he felt about how much attention Applejack and her family were paying to his sleeping habits. He wondered if normal people had this many people watching over them. He wondered if the loneliness of just him and Sam on the road would be harder to take, now. "Nice family you got here."
"You ain't even met Apple Bloom, yet. She's in school, just now."
"She your . . . daughter?"
"Aw heck no!" Applejack scoffed, looking mildly offended. "My little sister. I ain't old enough to have a filly Apple Bloom's age."
"Sorry, I'm not really great at guessing the ages of ponies."
"I reckon it must be really different for you, here." Applejack sat down, tilting her head. "You and your brother looked fit to just about lose your eyeballs back at Twilight's. I can't say I know much about human tales. Lyra's the pony to go to for those, but she's off visiting relatives in Philly-delphia."
"It's actually not as different as you might think," Dean mused. "I mean, yeah, we're not all different colored ponies, but we have families and barns and farms and towns, like you guys do."
"Is it true you all walk up on your hind legs like minotaurs?"
They had minotaurs around here. Good to know.
"Yeah. Well, you know, on two legs. Two legs, two arms, thumbs." Dean looked down at his front hooves. "Man, I miss thumbs."
"I can't even imagine." Applejack shook her head. "But I've never been a big fan of fantasy as a genre."
"Uh, yeah." Dean shook his head. "You seem pretty down to earth."
"That's me. Just a simple farm girl. I tried the big city life for a while, back when I was about Apple Bloom's age, but it just didn't fit, you know?"
"Yeah, I get that." Dean had never been a huge fan of spending more than a couple weeks in a city. Not that he was used to spending more than a couple of weeks anywhere else. "Must be nice to know where you belong."
"Come now," Applejack held up a hoof. "I know you and your brother are some ways from home, but we'll figure a way to get you on back there, don't you worry. Twilight's the smartest pony I know. She even trained under Princess Celestia. If anyone can find it, she can."
"Right." Dean smiled ruefully. "You know, I used to have a friend just like that, could find anything about anything." He sighed. "Had one with wings, too. Man, what I wouldn't give to have either of them around here."
He tried to picture Bobby and Cas as ponies. Cas would be a pegasus, of course, maybe with a bit of unicorn thrown in for good measure. Bobby . . . Bobby would probably be more like Applejack, all no-nonsense and down to Earth. He'd just be grumpier.
No, that wasn't right. Applejack was more Ellen than Bobby, and not just because she was female. If Ellen and Jo were ponies, they'd definitely fit right in with the Apple family.
Applejack seemed to sense where his mood was headed and offered him a small, sad smile. "You want me to leave you alone for a bit, sugar? Let you try and get a couple winks in?"
Dean shook his head. "Nah. It's nice to have someone other than the Purple Wonder over there to talk to, sometimes."
"Well alright, then." Applejack settled down further, until she was lying down, one front hoof crossed over the other, her head up and her tail curling out along the floor. Dean mimicked the pose, surprised to find it rather comfortable. "Tell me more about the human world, then. Why, I hear you folk just let the weather do whatever it pleases!"
Dean snorted. "'Let' isn't really the word for it, sister."
And they lay there, chatting back and forth like -- well, he guessed like friends, Sam snoring his fool head off behind them, right up until Rainbow Dash came knocking on the door to tell them that Twilight had something to report.
"Unprecedented, huh?" Dean sighed. "Man, I hate those."
"Unprecedented for you?" Sam asked. "Or for us?"
"Both?" Twilight shrugged. "Like I said, there really isn't much. But since this was all written by the great ponies of old, I'm guessing it'll be something Equestria's never seen before."
Sam nodded along. "Zecora's book had an illustration, a pair of eyes and the outline of a monster. Do you have anything like that?"
"Yup. I think it's probably the same book, even." Twilight turned to the stack of books on the low table in the corner, floating one over and flipping through it. "Here we go. This what you meant?" She turned the book around to face Sam, and Dean leaned over to get another look. It was the same drawing, alright, the ponies fleeing from a standing figure surrounded by trees, with those leering yellow eyes hovering in the background.
"I don't suppose pony eyes come in yellow?" he asked. Twilight shrugged and nodded, and Dean felt himself relax slightly. "Probably not Azazel, then."
"Azazel's dead, Dean," Sam said. "It is pretty creepy, though."
Rainbow Dash and Applejack, who'd accompanied them back, exchanged a look, but didn't interrupt. Dean shot them a glance and a small shrug. It'd take too long to try to explain. He looked back at the illustration and tilted his head.
"Hang on." He reached out a hoof and tapped the silhouetted figure. "We've seen that shape before, Sam."
Sam scowled. "Yeah, I was just thinking that."
"What?" Twilight asked. "What is it?"
"Looks like you folks might have yourselves a wendigo."
He expected a gasp of shock, maybe. A look of confusion, at the very least. He didn't expect Twilight to try and correct him on his pronunciation.
"You mean a windy-go," she said.
"Uh, no. Wendigo."
"Uh, no," Rainbow Dash said, rolling her eyes. "We know what a windy-go is. We starred in Canterlot's Hearth's Warming Eve pageant this year and everything."
"Fine then, smart ass," Dean said. "What's a 'windy-go'?"
Rainbow Dash scowled, leaning in for an angry retort, only to get bumped aside by Twilight. "A windy-go is a wind spirit," she explained. "They ride up above the clouds, bringing snow storms and feeding off disharmony. Ponies who aren't careful can get frozen solid."
"That's not what we're talking about," Sam said. "Wendigoes are creatures who used to be human. They live in the woods for hundreds of years, coming out every twenty years or so to feed."
"And they definitely aren't living off of any 'disharmony'," Dean added. "They prefer flesh."
"They eat ponies?" Applejack asked with a gasp.
"Sure," Sam said. "They'll eat whatever they can get their hands on. And they're fast enough to get their hands on just about anything. They prefer people, though."
"You mean they eat other humans?" Rainbow Dash shook her head. "That is so messed up."
"That's kind of the point, yeah," Dean said with a smirk. "'Swhy they're called monsters."
"And you think one of these . . . wen-di-goes is here? In Equestria?"
"It makes sense," Dean said. "It could easily have scared off the birds, even freaked out the timber wolves. And if what Rarity said earlier is true, then it sounds like it was out stalking by her house last night."
All three of the other ponies shuddered. "But wait," Rainbow Dash said. "What about the clouds?"
"I have a theory about that," Sam said. "But I think our first priority right now needs to be stopping the wendigo. It's hard enough to catch one during the day. At night, it's pretty much a perfect hunter."
Twilight nodded. "Rainbow, go get the other girls. Ponyville's in trouble, and it's up to us to protect it!"
Dean blinked at her enthusiasm and leaned his head over towards Applejack. "You guys do that a lot?"
"Every coupla weeks or so. I'm just glad this isn't another Ursa Major."
". . . The constellation?" Sam asked.
"Giant sky-bear," Applejack explained.
"O . . . kay." Sam nodded, then frowned and looked over at Dean. Dean shrugged.
"Don't look at me. I just work here. Hey AJ. I don't suppose you've got any more cider?"
Applejack silently handed him her flask.
"Ooo," Fluttershy said. "Is it too cold?"
"Uh." Dean glanced at Sam, then over to Pinkie Pie, who was standing next to her. "Is she joking?"
"Nope!" Pinkie said cheerfully.
Dean plastered a smile on his face and resumed pacing. "No, we're not talking about warming the bastard up. We're talking about torching it. Extra-crispy."
Fluttershy let out a horrified squawk and reared back on her hind legs. "But -- but --"
"Look, I thought you ponies had dealt with monsters before?"
"Yeah!" Twilight said, looking just as horrified. "By sending them back where they came from! Not by setting them on fire!"
Dean pressed his hoof to his forehead.
"Look," Sam said, patting him on the shoulder before taking over the explanation. "These things -- we're not talking about creatures that make you argue a lot, here. Wendigoes are vicious, ruthless, and totally amoral. It will have no problem trying to kill you, or any of your other friends."
"But if we kill it," Twilight reasoned, "won't we be just like it?"
Sam shot Dean a despairing look. Dean didn't know why, it wasn't like he'd thought of a foolproof plan to convince them in the last two minutes.
"No," he said. "Because you're not killing it just to be mean. You're killing it to keep it from killing lots and lots and lots of ponies."
"It's --" Fluttershy started, voice almost too soft to be heard. "It's mean?"
"It kills and eats people!" Dean said. "What part of that is nice?!"
"Lots of animals have to eat other animals," she said. "Especially if we don't bring them lots of nice vegetables to eat instead."
"You . . . feed the wild animals carrots?" Sam asked. Fluttershy nodded earnestly.
"Okay," Dean said, getting fed up. "Haven't you ever faced anything that wouldn't go away? That was so bad you had to get rid of it completely?"
The ponies all looked in different directions thoughtfully. "Well," said Pinkie. "There was Discord."
Sam and Dean waited, but she didn't seem to think this required any additional information.
"Pinkie," Sam prompted. "Do you want to tell us about Discord?"
"Sure," Pinkie said brightly, then smiled. Sam and Dean waited in silence for another moment.
"Really?" Dean said finally. "That's what passes for humor around here?"
"Nope!" Pinkie said. "I just haven't thought of a better joke yet!"
"Discord was a draconequus," Twilight said. "A pony made up from parts of all sorts of other animals."
"Like a chimera," Sam said, and she nodded, while Dean and the other ponies just kind of looked blankly at them.
"He lived for causing chaos everywhere he went," Twilight continued. "He could alter the very fabric of reality with a snap of his fingers, and only the Elements of Harmony were powerful enough to stop him. Just like you said, he wouldn't leave. So we had to turn him to stone."
Dean blinked. "Wait, you're willing to turn a guy to stone, but you won't set one on fire?"
"We had to," Twilight said again. "He was going to ruin Equestria forever!"
"Right, sister," Dean said. "And this wendigo is going to eat the entirety of Ponyville. Which is just as forever as What'shisface's chaos."
"No, no," Pinkie said. "Discord does chaos. What'shisface lives over by the train station."
Dean really should have known.
"Okay, fine," Twilight said, looking at her friends. "We'll do it your way. But I for one am not setting the fire."
The other ponies all agreed.
"That's okay," Sam said. "I was actually thinking you guys could help out another way."
"Yeah, well, if Granny finds out I nicked her stash, there'll be hell to pay. She only makes one batch a year from the zap apple harvest. It's sure to give you a nice boom, though."
"Right." Dean nodded approvingly, testing to make sure he could reach back and grab one of the bottles with his teeth. "Now we just need a way to light them."
"I know a firestarting spell," Twilight said. "But I'd have to be pretty close to make sure it hits the right target."
"No good." Dean shook his head. "I want you ponies as far back as possible."
Rainbow Dash, who was once again hovering in mid-air, cleared her throat uncomfortably. "Uh," she said, holding out what looked like a zippo lighter in one hoof. "Will this do?" She shot a glance at Rarity, who was staring wide eyed at her. "What? It's awesome."
Dean had to admit, he rather dug Rainbow Dash's style.
"How are you even holding that?" Sam asked. "I'm pretty sure horse hooves back home aren't that flexible."
"No offense, man," Rainbow Dash said. "But your horses back home sound super-lame."
"She's not wrong," Dean said with a smile. Sam glared at him, then floated the lighter out of Rainbow Dash's grip.
"I think I can work this." He gave it a few test flicks with his weirdo horn power and nodded. "Okay. You're all clear on the plan?"
"Are you sure those protective symbols will work?" Twilight asked in return.
"Definitely. The wendigo shouldn't be able to get inside the sacred circle."
Twilight nodded firmly. "Alright, everypony. Let's do this."
Dean knew from the get go that it wouldn't really work that way. Very few of their plans ever did.
They got the wendigo's attention, easily enough -- apparently candy colored ponies looked like so many M&Ms to a wendigo -- and even managed to lure it back towards Rarity's house (shaped like a carousel of all things). Pinkie was basically a one pony distraction machine, and between her manic, physics-defying antics and Rainbow Dash's excessive air speed, they had the thing whipping its head around in circles just trying to keep up with them. Dean almost even felt sorry for it -- but only almost.
He waited until both Pinkie and Rainbow Dash were far enough out of the line of fire, then threw himself forward out of the bushes, yanking out one of the molotov cocktails with his teeth.
That was when it all fell apart.
Over the course of the day, Dean had grown almost comfortable in his new four-legged form, moving around on his hooves like it was second nature, but he hadn't had a chance to jump in this body. He cleared the bush but landed badly, his right leg going out from under him. He tried to roll with the movement the way he would back home when he landed wrong, but his shoulders weren't where they were supposed to be, and he ended up slamming down onto his side instead, hard enough to shatter the two spare cocktails in his bag, then whacked his head on a rock, sending the world spinning and busting the one he had in his mouth. His only consolation was that Sam, jumping out after him, had just as much trouble sticking the landing.
Of course, that also meant he lost the lighter, so really, it wasn't any consolation at all.
The wendigo whirled on them, letting out a furious roar. Rainbow Dash flew in to distract it again, but it was on to her moves now, and with a single swipe of its massive, clawed hand, it sent her spinning into the side of Rarity's house. Pinkie shrieked "Dashie!" and ran to help her, while Applejack charged out of her protective circle, head held low like a bull rushing a toreador. The wendigo grabbed her by the tail and whipped her around like a sling. She flew back, knocking Pinkie and Rainbow Dash into the house again just as they were regaining their feet. Rarity and Twilight started sending cascades of pine cones and tree branches at it, both of them keeping back, but there wasn't anything big enough nearby to count as much of a weapon.
Goddammit. Dean's inability to jump like a horse was going to get these six ponies killed.
He staggered his way to his feet, only to have his vision go double on him as stars flickered around his head in a merry parade. The wendigo barely spared him a glance, apparently thinking he'd be easy prey later, and Dean tried not to think that it was right. This was what he and Sam did, after all. They got other people, brave, heroic people who never hurt anyone, killed. And this time, those people were brightly colored ponies who liked to save people with the power of friendship and love.
Then Fluttershy, who'd been hanging back and serving mostly as their animal interpreter, flapped her way up out of her circle until she was eye level with the wendigo and stared.
"Holy crap, Sammy," Dean hissed. "Mom-eyes is totally a super power."
The wendigo froze in the face of the fierce disappointment radiating from Fluttershy's disapproving gaze.
"How. Dare. You?" she roared. "Picking on poor, defenseless ponies! Terrifying all those birds! Stalking around the forest like you own the place! You don't belong here! You're just a big. Dumb. BULLY!"
The wendigo shrank back, and Dean was almost convinced that the shame tactic would work. Then it raked one clawed hand at her, and Fluttershy broke the stare to dodge back with a squeak.
She'd apparently held it still just long enough, though, because Sam was on his feet now, his horn glowing fiercely. As Dean swayed, trying not to embarrass himself too much by falling over again, his brother set his hooves in the ground and lowered his head, pointing his horn at the wendigo. The yellow glow of magic surrounded it, flaring brighter and brighter until it flashed a brilliant white -- and a blast of flame poured forth, swamping the wendigo from head to foot.
It didn't even have time for a final death roar before it crumbled to dust and ashy bones at Sam's feet.
Sam stared down at the wendigo's remains. Dean stared at Sam. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the ponies were doing the same thing. No one moved or said a thing. Dean opened his mouth, not sure what was going to come out.
"Holy crap, dude! You can shoot fire out of your head!"
"Uh." Sam blinked, scuffing one hoof through the wendigo ash. "Apparently."
Twilight trotted up, beaming. "That's not all," she said. She pointed a hoof at Sam's flank, and both he and Dean twisted their heads to look. A little orange and yellow shape, like a clipart representation of a flame, covered him from the top of his hind leg nearly to his spine. "You got your cutie mark!"
Sam gaped at her, then turned to look at Dean. Dean blinked back, once again fishing for something to say.
Admittedly, Dean hadn't tried very hard to change her mind. The whole concept of Sam, a freaking giant even in purple unicorn form, being guest of honor at a party that as far as Dean could tell was generally reserved for the pony equivalent of teenage girls was enough to make him snort into his punch.
The punch was pretty good, at least, spiked with something Dean couldn't quite put his finger on, and Pinkie had a huge array of snacks and baked goods ready seemingly with the flick of a hoof -- and the aim of a cannon. He really didn't want to know where she kept that "party cannon" when she wasn't using it. There were even streamers and balloons covering all the trees in the little park she'd chosen for the party, and one of those old fashioned record players with the giant horns on them, tooting out a surprisingly modern-poppy sounding tune, to which she was happily dancing.
The pink pony knew how to throw a pony party, he guessed. He wondered if people back home ever did this sort of thing, after he and Sam had skipped town. Somehow, he doubted it.
"Enjoying the party?" Rainbow Dash asked, settling in for a landing next to Dean on the edge of the park.
Dean shrugged. "Not bad."
"Not bad? Please." Rainbow Dash snorted turning her nose up at him. "Pinkie Pie throws the best parties in all of Equestria."
"No offence," Dean said with a smirk. "But compared to some of the parties I've been to back home, this is kids' stuff."
"Well, yeah," Rainbow Dash said. "Back home, you're s'posed to be humans. I bet your parties are full of all kinds of freaky things."
Dean decided he didn't want to know what constituted "freaky" to a pony. "Not that we don't appreciate the effort," he said. "But that wendigo was only part of the problem, here."
Rainbow Dash nodded, looking up. "The clouds," she said. "The birds are coming back, but we still haven't managed our scheduled showers."
"I have a theory about that, actually," Sam said, trotting up on Dean's other side.
"I'd sure like to hear it," Rainbow Dash said. "Because if we get too behind, we're going to have to throw out one heck of a storm."
"Hey! Guest of honor!" Pinkie didn't so much as arrive as appear, popping up behind Rainbow Dash in a festive party hat decorated with little waving flames. "Hoof bump!" She stuck out one foot, and Sam raised an eyebrow, then knocked one of his against hers.
"Right," Sam said. "So I was thinking --"
"Hang on," Rainbow Dash said. "We should get Twilight over here, too. Hey Twilight!"
"Yes, Rainbow Dash?" Twilight came over, bringing a half-eaten, floating cupcake with her.
"Sam here says he's got a theory."
"Oh! Well then, let's get everyone on it." She turned to call the others over, and Pinkie pouted.
"Does that mean the party's over?"
"We'll throw another one later," Rainbow Dash assured her. Applejack, Fluttershy, and Rarity came up, and Sam's eyes went wide as he suddenly found himself the center of rather intense pony attention. Dean covered his mouth with one hoof and tried not to look too amused at how uncomfortable Sam looked.
"Uh, right." Sam cleared his throat. "Anyway, I was thinking. See, right before Dean and I . . . arrived . . . we were checking out some weird weather going on. Freaky snow storms coming out of nowhere, people turning up frozen."
Dean nodded, catching on to Sam's meaning. "Right. And right before we went into the cave that got us here, those freaky horse things appeared in the clouds."
"After we started arguing," Sam said.
"You mean you have windy-goes in the human world, too?" Pinkie asked. "How neat!"
"That's just it," Sam said. "We don't. Just like you guys don't usually have wendigoes here."
"You think they crossed over the same way you did," Twilight said. "But that means --" She gasped. "There's an open portal between the human and pony worlds in the Everfree Forest!"
"Oh no!" Fluttershy said. "What if somepony gets lost?"
"That's kind of already happened," Dean said, gesturing between himself and Sam.
"Right." Fluttershy looked down and blushed. "Sorry."
"But if there's really a portal in the forest," Applejack asked, "why haven't we had ponies show up claiming to be people before?"
"Yeah," Rainbow Dash said. "What, did the windy-wendigoes break the world or something?"
Sam shook his head. "I know wendigoes don't have that kind of power."
"Neither do windy-goes," Twilight said.
"But we knew someone back home that did," Dean said, rubbing his chin. He was pretty sure it wasn't actually possible -- they hadn't seen any hint of the guy since before Sam even headed into the pit -- but he had to admit, he was kind of hoping it was true.
If Gabriel had survived, then maybe, just maybe, Castiel could have, too.
"And from what you said before, you guys know someone around here who could, too," Sam said.
Twilight's eyes went wide. "Discord!"
"But he's a statue in Canterlot!" Rarity protested.
"And Gabriel got offed by his big brother," Dean said. "Well . . . I mean maybe. We've thought he was dead before."
"The human world is kind of violent, isn't it," Rainbow Dash said.
"Sister, you don't know the half of it."
"But if there's a portal between the worlds," Applejack asked, "then what can we do about it? I don't want any more of those wendigoes coming in and hurting anypony."
"And we don't want any more windy-goes freezing people on our end," said Sam. "Humans argue a lot."
"There's nothing in my books," Twilight said, stamping her foot. "We're going to have to investigate the scene of the crime itself."
"That's great," Dean said. "But I'm not sure we can even find that cave again."
"Actually," Rainbow Dash said, popping up into the air again. "I think maybe I know how to find it."
"How?" asked Sam.
"Simple. Windy-goes use up lots of clouds. They're probably pulling them straight through the portal. I'll just borrow some from Cloudsdale and see where they're flying off to."
Dean nodded. "We've worked with worse plans. Let's go check out the cave."
"Okay!" Pinkie said. "But can we finish the party first?"
Pinkie's priorities, Dean decided, were ever so slightly skewed.
"Of course," Twilight said. "After all, it's nearly sunset. And nopony wants to go into the Everfree Forest after dark if they can help it, especially if there might be strange human monsters running around. We'd better wait until morning."
"I'm not a huge fan of putting this thing off," Dean argued. "For all we know, this thing has a time limit."
Applejack shot him a disapproving look, and Dean was startled to find himself ducking his head a little under the force of it. "You a fan of falling over from exhaustion? You gotta sleep sometime, sugar."
"It's settled then," Twilight declared. "We'll meet at the library at dawn tomorrow. That'll give us time to pack up some supplies, too. Applejack, can the Apple family host Sam and Dean for the night?"
"Sure thing," Applejack said. "Granny's real taken with Dean here."
Sam shot him a look, mouthing "you met her grandmother?" Dean glared back.
"Oh good!" Pinkie said. She grabbed Sam's front hooves, somehow lifting him up onto his hind legs despite the fact that he probably weighed about twice as much as she did. "Now let's dance!"
He woke up shortly before dawn to a tiny yellow pony with red hair and a giant pink bow poking her hoof curiously at his face. Dean blinked at her and wondered how he'd let her get so close. Being a pony was throwing off his natural paranoia.
"Hiya!" she said far too cheerfully when she saw him looking up at her. "I've never met a full-grown pony without a cutie mark, before!"
"Yeah," Dean mumbled. "I've been getting that a lot." He looked past her towards Sam, who was already up and using a wide, flat brush to polish his hooves. "What time is it?"
Sam shrugged. "Apple Bloom said we've got just enough time for breakfast before we have to go to the library."
Apple Bloom. Dean looked at the little yellow pony again. "You're Applejack's sister, right?"
Apple Bloom beamed. "That's right! I don't have my cutie mark yet, either, see?" She twisted her body, pointing at her flank with her nose. As she said, it was completely blank. "Is it true that you're secretly a human?"
Apple Bloom was a tiny bit excitable, Dean decided. "Uh, yeah."
"AJ said that's why you don't have your cutie mark yet," Apple Bloom continued. "Because you've been a pony even less time than I have! But she also said Sam got his last night, which is not fair." She shot Sam a dark look, and Sam snorted softly and turned his attention to brushing stray straw from his tail. "Are you really going back to the human world?"
Dean nodded, attempting to neaten his own mane and failing miserably. He wondered if always looking neat and clean was a unicorn thing. Of course, Sam tended to miss the grosser stuff back home, too.
"Do you have to?" Apple Bloom asked, turning a truly impressive set of wibbly puppy dog eyes on him. It wasn't fair, really. Those things took up more than half her face. "I bet you could find lots to do around here if you stayed, and plenty of friends. You could be an honorary Cutie Mark Crusader!"
Dean blinked. "A what now?"
"That's what she and her friends call themselves," Applejack said, striding into the room, her saddlebags stuffed full and already strapped into place. "They're trying to earn their cutie marks, even though we've told them that they just have to be patient."
Apple Bloom stuck her tongue out at Applejack, then turned back to Dean. "I bet we could have gotten wendigo fighting cutie marks, but someone didn't tell her little sister what was going on!"
"Well, gosh, Apple Bloom, I'll be sure next time we're going to face a monster that likes to eat little ponies that you're still nowhere near him."
Apple Bloom stomped her foot and stalked off, pouting.
"Don't mind her," Applejack said. "She and her friends are a bit too adventurous for their own good."
Dean huffed a soft laugh. "Nah, I get it." He gestured to Sam with his head. "I've got a younger sister of my own to look after."
Sam sent his brush flying at Dean's head and Applejack laughed.
"I can see that. Now come on, Granny fixed us up a nice quick breakfast and a couple saddlebags of supplies for you boys and she doesn't like to be kept waiting."
Dean saluted with his hoof, then tried once again to brush the hay off himself. Sam trotted up next to him as they let Applejack lead the way.
"You know," he said softly. "We really could stay."
"What, just ditch Earth to deal with Dick Roman and his big mouth bastards all alone?"
Sam shrugged. "Maybe we're not supposed to stop him, Dean. It's not like we have any ideas on how. Maybe this is our chance to live happy lives."
"I didn't say it'd be perfect."
Dean watched Applejack's tail sway as she jogged along ahead of them and sighed internally. "Not perfect. But nice," he admitted. "Lucifer make his return debut, yet?"
Sam shook his head. "I haven't seen him. And you've been more together these last two days, too."
"We found the magic cure for Hell," Dean said. "And it's brightly colored ponies." He looked over at Sam, wishing he could say anything but what he was about to say. "But we can't."
Sam dropped his head and nodded. "Yeah. I know."
Honestly, Dean felt weird just hearing about it.
Rainbow Dash's clouds worked exactly as ordered, though, rushing out across the sky as soon as she arrived with them and leading them all on a mad run through the woods -- thankfully avoiding falling down any cliffs, this time. They made it to the hillside the cave was tucked into just in time to watch them funnel down into the entrance.
"There it is!" Twilight shouted completely unnecessarily, though Dean had to admit, if she hadn't, Sam probably would have. "That must be where the portal is!"
"Looks about right to me," Dean said. He trotted up to the cave entrance and twisted his head to look back. "Whelp. Guess this is goodbye."
Pinkie started laughing. The other ponies all protested and shook their heads.
"Are you kidding, sugarcube?" Applejack asked, coming forward to stand at the front of the crowd. "We're not letting you go back and face those windy-goes all by yourselves!"
"Uh," Sam said. "But it's the human world. It's . . . pretty different."
"Understatement," Rainbow Dash muttered, landing next to Applejack. "And from the sounds of it, you guys could really use some good old fashioned pony-power on your end."
"Besides," Rarity said. "You boys helped us with the wendigo. It's only fair."
Dean looked over at Sam, who was rubbing his chin with his hoof, then back at Applejack. "You're not going to take 'no' for an answer, are you?"
"Are you kidding?" Pinkie said. "That's our least favorite thing to do!"
Dean groaned under his breath. "Alright, fine. But if you get yourselves killed, do not come crying to me."
As he started through the entrance, he heard Pinkie bouncing along behind him.
"He likes us!" she cried. "He really likes us!"
He let himself smirk for a moment before coughing and carefully pulling his customary frown back in place.
Yeah. He really kinda did.
"That must be it," Sam said. He moved to the center of the room, right under the eye of the tiny, misty storm. "That must be the portal."
"Right," Dean said. "I'm pretty sure we would have noticed if we'd fallen in here from the ceiling."
"I'll check it out," Rainbow Dash offered, and she swooped up before anyone could stop her, hovering just below the cloud-line. "It doesn't look like anythi -- WOAH!" And with a rainbow colored flash, she was pulled upward into the storm and vanished.
"Rainbow Dash!" the other ponies all cried in unison. Dean started looking around for anything they could use to go in after her.
"Fluttershy, you think you can fly a rope up there for us?"
Fluttershy shook her head frantically. "Oh no no no no no I'm not a strong flyer! I'm only used to carrying a few bunnies, not a whole pony! Much less six of them!"
"You may not need to," Sam said. "If you pull the rope up, maybe the portal will be strong enough to pull all of us in, anyway."
"Um. Girls?" Rarity started.
"Well, how did you two get through it the first time?" asked Twilight. "I don't remember reading about humans being able to fly."
"Really, everypony," Rarity tried again.
"I'm not sure," Sam said. "We just woke up here, all . . ."
"Ponified," Dean supplied.
"No, really, I think --"
"Oh wow!" Pinkie shouted, much louder than the volume Rarity had managed. Dean looked over and saw that she and Rarity were staring upwards. He followed their gaze.
"Is it just me?" he asked. "Or are those clouds getting lower?"
"Not just you," Twilight told him. "Everypony brace yourselves! I think we're about to --"
And then the clouds were upon them, and nothing made any sense any more for a long time.
Goddamn, he'd missed whiskey. It was like he hadn't gotten his hands on any in --
Holy fuck he had hands.
He pushed himself upright, eyes going wide, and stared down at his jacket-covered arms.
Arms. He had arms again. And hands and fingers and visible skin. He had his jacket and his hair and his flask and his pants on. He could balance upright on his feet without feeling like he was about to topple over. He had freaking shoulders. He never thought he would ever miss shoulders, but there it was.
He heard Sam groaning nearby and spun around, one groping hand locating their equipment bag, pulling out his flashlight. Unlike the cave in Ponyville, this one wasn't lit by its own eerie, internal light -- a light he hadn't even noticed was weird until just now. Being a pony apparently messed with his head something fierce.
"Shut up shut up shut up."
Sam's too. Or maybe it was being human that really screwed with Sam. Sounded like Lucifer was trying to make up for lost time. "Sammy?"
Sam opened his eyes, squinting in the light of the flashlight, then put up a hand to block it. Dean counted, getting to three before Sam's eyes went wide.
"Is that what these are?"
Dean spun again, and this time the flashlight picked up a curvy, bright-eyed woman with pink hair and a peaches and cream complexion. She was holding her hand up in front of her face and wiggling her fingers every which way, going "OoooOOOOooooOOOooo!" as she did.
"That's my name!" she said. She looked down. "Wow, humans really are weird! What are these things?"
God help him, the manic pink pony was fondling her own boobs. Dean wasn't sure if he should be thankful that whatever magic transformed them from ponies to people had dressed her in a long-sleeved pink t-shirt and a full pink and yellow skirt, or disappointed.
"Maybe you shouldn't do that, Pinkie Pie," a familiarly accented voice said. "They look kinda like udders, to me."
Dean found Applejack easily enough. She was still blonde, and still wearing her cowboy hat, but her orange coat had been replaced with a deep tan straight out of the sixties, along with her faded orange-and-white flannel button down and blue jeans. She was looking over her new form suspiciously. "These kinda look like my work duds," she said. "But why the heck do they cover so much?" She started to take her flannel shirt off, but stopped when Sam put his hand on her arm and shook her head.
"I think they're quite lovely," Rarity said. She had carefully styled purple hair, just like in her pony form, with extremely pale skin. She wore a long, white, clingy sweater over a pair of white leggings. "Very well designed, despite the . . . odd shape." She stood carefully, and Dean was surprised when she didn't start wobbling like a newborn horse, instead leaning forward just a little with her arms pulled in tight to her chest before carefully straightening. "How's my mane? Is it alright? What about my -- EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!"
"What is it?" A dark skinned woman with a short, purple and pink bob wearing what looked like a school uniform rushed over. "Are you okay?"
"Oh, Twilight, it's horrible!" Rarity twisted and wiggled her ass in the light of Dean's flashlight. "My tail is gone!"
"Uh, yeah," Sam said. "Humans don't have tails." And he shot a nasty look to the empty air on his left. Dean figured Lucifer probably made some kind of snide comment about Rarity's reaction to being human.
"That's four of you," Dean said. "Where are Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy?"
"Up here!" Rainbow called. Dean looked up, swinging the light of his flashlight with him. He finally managed to locate Rainbow Dash, leaning out over the edge of a small ledge about twenty feet up the side of the cave wall. Her blue coat had translated into a deep brown complexion, though not as dark as Twilight's, offsetting the bright spikiness of her hair. When she shifted, he could see she was wearing a blue baseball style t-shirt with darker blue piping along the collar and sleeves. "We're, uh. Kinda stuck!"
"Fluttershy?" Twilight called. She'd come over to stand next to Dean, Rarity hot on her heels. "Fluttershy, are you up there, too?"
Her answer came in the form of a mortified squeak.
"Yeah," Rainbow Dash said, rolling her eyes. "She's up here, too."
"You ponies just hang on," Applejack said. She came up on Dean's other side. "I had some rope in my saddlebags, but they seem to have gone missing. . . ."
"Try the duffle by the wall," Dean offered.
"The who by the -- oh, you mean this big ole saddlebag over here?"
"It's not a --" Applejack was already rifling through it, wrinkling her nose at the number of weapons she found. "-- Yeah, sure."
She surfaced with a coil of yellow and black nylon rope. "This here's a little lighter than I'm used to, but I think I can make do." She tied the rope into a quick lasso -- how the hell did she know how to do that with fingers? Hell, how did she know how to do it without them? -- and stepped up again, swinging the rope around in her hand. "Just let me get the hang of it, I ain't used to doin' this with my hooves instead of my head -- here we go!" She let loose with the lasso, and it sank perfectly around the tip of the ledge where Rainbow Dash waited. "Well, that ain't half bad, is it?"
"Hands," Sam said, somewhat weakly. Dean looked over to see him staring wide eyed at Applejack. "We call them 'hands'."
"And what do you call these things?" Pinkie had pulled off her tiny pink sneakers and socks and was wiggling her toes around in the air.
"Toes," Dean told her. Pinkie laughed delightedly, falling onto her back.
"They're so silly!"
Rainbow Dash slipped quickly down the rope. She landed on her feet and balanced there cautiously for a moment, still clinging to the rope. She'd managed to land herself in a pair of slightly shiny, tight jeans, and she seemed to be distracted by the way the fabric clung to her leg.
"That is so weird," she grumbled, shaking out her leg and tugging at the wide rainbow colored belt around her waist. "Why couldn't I get a dress like you guys did?"
"I like 'em," Applejack said, hooking her thumbs into her front pockets. Rainbow Dash let go of the rope with a soft harrumph.
"You coming, Fluttershy?" she called.
"Uh," said Fluttershy, still hidden away on the ledge. "No?"
"Fluttershy, darling!" Rarity called. "I'm sure you look absolutely scrumptious as usual! We're all your friends here, right?"
The other ponies all immediately cheered. Sam joined in a bit more half-heartedly, and when Rarity shot him a dark look, Dean added his own voice.
"Yeah, sure," he said. "She's a cool chick."
"There're chicks?" Fluttershy appeared at the edge of the rock, then. She was pale and waif-thin, her face half hidden by her pink hair, but her eyes were wide and excited. "Where?!"
Dean grinned, turning to look at Sam. "Dude."
"She means baby chickens, Dean."
"I knew that."
"There aren't any chicks down there!" Fluttershy told him, sounding offended. "You can't trick me!"
"Okay, not right in here, but there's loads of animals right outside," Sam said. "We're in a national park. These woods are chock full of rabbits and bears and deer."
Fluttershy's eyes went wide again. "There's bears? And deer? Will they be friends with me?"
"Of course," Sam said.
"Dude," Dean hissed. "No animal out there is going to come near any of us!"
"Shut up, Dean," Sam said. "I'm sure they'd love to meet you."
"O-okay, then. Nopony laugh."
"We're not going to laugh," Rainbow Dash said, looking annoyed. "Now get down here before I have to come up there and get you!"
Fluttershy's trip down the rope wasn't nearly as slick as Rainbow Dash's. Of all the ponies, she seemed to be having the most trouble adapting to her new body -- and considering her long, flowy yellow dress and floppy sandals, it wasn't much of a surprise.
Of course she'd turned into a hippie.
"Oh," she said when her feet touched the floor. She swung one leg out and watched her skirt flap in the breeze. "This isn't haute couture at all."
"But it's so you, darling," Rarity assured her. "Why, it even has your cutie mark on it!"
"It does?" Fluttershy finally let go of the rope and executed a delicate little turn on her toes as she twisted to look at herself. "It does!" She settled and pointed at the large pink and blue butterflies embroidered onto the hip of her dress. "Oh, isn't it lovely?"
All the other ponies were quickly turning themselves, stretching and flailing their arms as they figured out how to twist from the waist so they could look at their hips. Sure enough, each of them had their cutie mark on them somewhere. Pinkie's was detailed at the bottom of her skirt, Rainbow Dash's emblazoned like a logo across the front of her t-shirt. Rarity's were stitched like patches on her waistline, while Twilight's was small and unobtrusive, where the alligator would be on a polo shirt. Applejack turned around in a full circle twice before someone finally pointed hers out to her -- it was stitched into the back pocket of her jeans.
Dean couldn't help but smirk at Sam. He was staring down at himself, patting his chest and checking his cuffs and collar. "I didn't," he said. "It didn't --"
"Left thigh," Dean finally said. "You look like you're wearing those crappy-ass skater jeans that came with the patches."
Sam finally found the little flame mark on his pants and sighed. "At least it's just on my clothes."
"Girls, look!" Pinkie had her skirt pulled up like a four year old, showing off a pair of frilly pink panties -- and the trio of balloons tattooed on her hip. Sam's eyes went wide, and not just from the look up a pony's skirt. He pulled his shirt up and tugged his waistband away from his hip -- and groaned.
"Great. That's just great."
"Aw, come on, Sammy," Dean said. "It's not like it's your first tattoo."
"I guess you still don't have one of your own," Applejack said, her voice weighted with sympathy. She patted Dean gently on the shoulder. "It's alright, sugar. I'm sure you'll get it soon enough."
Dean coughed. "Uh, yeah. Can't wait."
"Oh my gosh," Fluttershy said. She'd made her way to the edge of the cavern, probably anxious to get out there and meet all her new animal friends. "Listen to that wind! The windy-goes must be really active, right now!"
Twilight shivered visibly. "It is pretty cold in here. There must be somepony out there arguing right now!"
"Somebody," Sam said. "We say 'somebody'."
"Oh yeah," Twilight said sheepishly. "I guess you're not ponies, huh?"
"It's okay," Dean said, shooting Sam a pointed look. "We shouldn't tease you about it. You know, in the name of harmony."
Sam leaned in close, lowering his voice to try and keep the former ponies from hearing. "Dean, I can't get along with anyone right now! Lucifer's pissed, he's yelling at me for 'leaving him alone' for so long!"
Dean swallowed. He'd been rather hoping that the stint in Equestria might have cured Sam of his imaginary hitchhiker. He pulled out his flask and took a large gulp. "Yeah, well, tell him to keep it down, then. Apparently, the only way of getting rid of these things is to be okay."
"Yeah," Sam muttered. "Because we're both super-great at that."
The other ponies -- girls -- ladies -- others had gathered together around Fluttershy near the entrance to the cavern, their heads tilted as they listened to the windy-goes blast outside. At the back of the pack, Rainbow Dash stood facing the other way, staring at Sam and Dean.
"You guys okay?" she asked. "'Cause I'm pretty sure it should be us who are all weirded out, here."
Dean sighed. "Yeah, we're good."
"Uh huh. You know, one of the Elements of Harmony is honesty. You might want to give it a try, sometime."
Dean flashed her a completely false grin. "Hey, I'm always honest."
"Yep," Rainbow Dash said. "If we die? It's your fault."
Dean took one last swig from his flask before tucking it away. "Usually. Yeah."
Why did it sound like that was a line she'd practiced over and over in front of a mirror?
"Right," Dean said. "You mentioned that. And if people argue long enough, they freeze, right?"
"That's how it works in the Hearth's Warming Eve pageant."
Sam rubbed his nose. "Wait. Wait. You're telling me your information on this comes from, what, a play?"
"Not just any play," Rarity said. "The Hearth's Warming Eve pageant is a celebration of the founding of Equestria and the coming together of the three pony tribes."
"Pegasi, unicorns, and earth ponies," Fluttershy said. "By settling their differences and learning about the magic of friendship, they drove away the windy-goes and brought nature back into balance."
"And, again," Dean said. "This is from a play."
"It's a tradition," Twilight said. "Are you going to tell them they're just characters in a play?" She pointed up at the sky -- using her whole hand as though it were still a hoof. Dean looked up, just able to make out the horse shapes in the clouds again.
"Yeah, okay. So how did the ponies in the legend use the -- what was it, harmony?"
"The magic of friendship," Twilight said. "It's one of the most powerful forces in all of Equestria."
Jesus, that was cheesy. This had all made way more sense when he was still a pony. "Right. That."
"In the legend, Clover the Clever's unicorn powers were triggered by Private Pansy and Smart Cookie's friendship and laughter, and they kept the fires of friendship burning all night long with their friendly stories and songs."
Dean held up his hand. "Let me get this straight. You want us to defeat the giant freaking ghost ponies of doom -- with karaoke?"
The girls all looked at each other. Pinkie Pie shrugged. "If that means singing, then yep! And I know a great one! The fire of friendship lives in our hearts --"
Dean pressed his hand over her mouth. She kept trying to sing under him, but looked up curiously. "Please don't."
"You have something against singing?" Applejack asked, staring at him like he'd somehow betrayed her.
"What? I -- jeez, no, I love music, okay, but -- you guys have to see how ridiculous this is!"
"Dean." Sam shook his head slowly. "They went with us on the wendigo thing. Maybe we should trust them."
Pinkie nodded hard enough to wobble his hand off her mouth. "It'll really really work, I promise!"
Dean looked at the others. They were standing there, in the wind and the ice, in bodies that weren't their own and clothes they didn't understand, because they just wanted to help. They wanted to spread their own magic of friendship to his world -- and yeah, okay, maybe it could use a little bit of that. God knew there wasn't a lot of it going around, these days.
"Okay fine. But not here." Dean looked out across the snowy forest. "If it's coming down this hard, that means there's someone out here in the middle of it, right? If we really want to help, we should find them first. Get them to stop arguing and sing along or whatever."
"Right!" Twilight struck a determined pose, one fist raised in the air, eyes narrowed. "Ready girls?"
"Ready!" the others all said, mimicking her pose. Sam shrugged at Dean and raised his own fist. Dean suppressed the urge to roll his eyes.
"Ready," he said.
"Let's go!" And Twilight strode out into the snow. She wasn't exactly dressed for a trek through freezing weather -- none of them were -- but there wasn't a whole lot they could do about that now but find the source of the hatred the windigoes were feeding on and turn it into love or whatever. At least Twilight and Rarity had on sweaters, and Rainbow Dash, Applejack, and Pinkie all had a certain inner energy to them that would probably help keep them warm.
Fluttershy, in her lightweight sundress, ended up shivering hard enough that she was almost vibrating over the ground rather than walking. About twenty feet out from the cave, Dean decided he couldn't take it any more. He shrugged out of his jacket, grimacing as the wind started cutting through his overshirt, and held it out for her.
"Here. You can't warm anyone's heart if you're freezing your tits off."
Fluttershy dipped her head and smiled, snuggling down into the collar of the jacket. "Thank you."
Dean rubbed the back of his head and tried to pretend her earnest thanks didn't make him blush.
"Yeah, don't mention it."
It was just a tiny bit too familiar.
"Howdy folks!" He covered his discomfort with a broad smile, stepping over a snow drift and out into the clearing they'd picked for their argument.
"Who the fuck are you?" the woman practically growled. Oh yeah, the windy-goes were freaking feasting, right here.
"John Bonham," Dean said automatically. Behind him, Rainbow Dash cleared her throat. Right, honesty. "-- is not my name. I'm Dean. This here is my brother Sam, and our friends, uh." Goddamn, why did they have to have such silly names? "Twilight, Rainbow, Rarity, Pinkie, Applejack, and Fluttershy."
"What are you, some kind of roving band of snow hippies?" the man asked. Dean's smile almost broke in half.
"We're just a bunch of friends out for a walk, sir," he said, his jaw clenched. He shot a look at Sam, who had his best "don't mind me, I'm just a big giant puppy" look on his face. "Out . . . looking for a good time."
"And how!" said Pinkie. She wasn't very good at being quiet for long.
"Bob," the woman hissed. "Are they some kind of cult?"
"What am I, Diane, the cult professional?"
Aaaaaaand they were arguing again. Dean shot a helpless look back at Twilight, who waved him forward, mouthing sing!
Fuck. Warm happy friendship song. Why did all the songs he knew have to involve so much angry screaming? He turned the helpless look on Sam, who shrugged at him again.
Great help he was.
"Hey . . . friends," Sam said, puppy-dog smile desperately sprawled across his face. "Let's not argue, huh? Not when it's . . . so nice out. . . ."
"You call this nice?" Diane said, a note of fear in her voice now. Great, they were coming off as psychopaths.
"Well sure!" Dean tried. "Who doesn't love a little snow?"
They sucked at this. Really. Sucked.
And then Pinkie bounded up between them, pink curls bouncing, arms spread wide in the universal gesture of glee. "My name is Pinkie Pie," she sang. "And I am here to say: I'm gonna make you smile and I will brighten up your day-ay-ay-ay!"
Bob and Diane started slowly backing away. "You know what, honey?" Bob said. "I think maybe that was the turn we wanted to take back . . . that way." He gestured somewhere vaguely behind them.
"You're right!" Diane said. They both flashed identical "please don't hurt us, crazy people" smiles at Pinkie, still backing up.
At least they weren't fighting?
"Oh come on," Dean tried, raising his voice above Pinkie's jubilant singing. "Join in! It'll warm you up!"
"We're totally harmless," Sam added, not at all suspiciously.
Bob eyed them warily, flicking glances to where Pinkie was now dancing circles around her friends, who'd formed a back-up group. "You're . . . very talented," she allowed.
"Oh yeah, Pinkie's a star," Dean said, shrugging sheepishly. When in doubt, commiserate. "This storm came up out of nowhere, huh?"
"Yeah, it did," Diane agreed. She'd stopped backing up. "Is this . . . a survivalist thing? Like, the power of positive thinking?"
"It's not just for motivational speakers any more," Sam said. Dean wished he'd be quiet, but figured saying so would be counter-productive.
Pinkie finished her song with a flourish and a final crowed "Smiiiiiiiiiiiiile!" Bob and Diane exchanged glances, then started politely clapping. It was muffled, since they were both wearing gloves, but it was a start, at least. "Now you guys try!"
"Um," Bob said. "We're not really the singing type."
"Do you know any stories?" Twilight offered. "Because we love stories, too."
"Nothing warms you up on a blustery day more than sharing a good song or a story with new friends," Applejack said. "Well, 'cept maybe some hot apple cider, but I'm plum out."
"I've got some tea in my thermos," Diane offered. "There's not much left, but it might still be hot."
"Well, that's mighty kind of you!"
"Here." Diane pulled a silver thermos out of her pack and offered it over. "You're barely dressed for this kind of weather. You girls must be freezing."
""Eh," Rainbow Dash said. "I've had worse." She rubbed her hands together against her chest, belying her words. "I, uh, wouldn't mind a pair of those fingery things, though."
"Gloves," Sam offered at a whisper.
"Oh," Bob said. "Are you exchange students?"
"Yes!" Dean leaped on the idea like it was a life preserver. Already the wind was starting to die down. "They're from way, way out of town."
"Little place called Equestria," Sam said.
"Is that near the Azores?" Bob asked.
Sam dodged the question. "We were hoping to show them some of New Hampshire's gorgeous wildlife, but this storm's making it pretty hard."
"I like bunnies," Fluttershy managed, barely more than a squeak.
"Me too," Diane said, enthusiastic now. "Why, I bet if we stay quiet long enough, we might even spot a snowshoe hare going by!"
"Oh! That would be wonderful!" Fluttershy popped up on her toes and clapped her hands, still tucked deep into the sleeves of Dean's jacket. "Do you really think so?"
"Sure! It looks like this storm's finally starting to break up, after all."
It was, too. The clouds were back to looking like normal clouds, and were already dispersing, letting in the occasional ray of sunlight. Hell, if they kept this up, they might be able to drive the windy-goes all the way back through the portal to Equestria, where they belonged.
God help him, it actually felt really good. Sure, the windy-goes wouldn't be dead. Dean still had absolutely no idea if the suckers could even be killed. But they'd be gone, and Bob and Diane would have a great story to tell their friends when they got home about the crazy foreign singing cultists they'd met in the woods on their vacation.
Applejack passed him the thermos of tea with a knowing look. Dean did his best to pretend he didn't notice her expression as he passed it right on to Rarity, who accepted it graciously.
Sam shrugged. "We still don't know what -- or who -- created the portal. If we don't close it, you could potentially come and go whenever you wanted."
"Why does that sound like it might be a bad thing?" Rainbow asked.
"Because it would be," Twilight said. "No offence, Pinkie, but the portal just isn't natural. It's already caused a lot of trouble -- if it's open for much longer, it could threaten the very fabric of the universes themselves!"
"Oh!" Pinkie's shoulders slumped. "That sounds bad."
"Just a little," Dean said. "Shit, if Bobby were here, he'd start pulling up books on alternate universes and shit and we'd get this solved in no time." As he spoke, he pulled out his flask again, running his thumb over the battered sides before tipping it up to his mouth.
It was empty.
Somehow, that seemed almost appropriate.
"I might be able to find something in the Star Swirl the Bearded Wing in the Canterlot Library," Twilight said. "Maybe this kind of thing has happened before. If anyone would know about it, it'd be Star Swirl the Bearded."
Man, Dean would so love to call Bobby "Singer the Bearded" to his face, some time. Make Sam show off his new tattoo, maybe.
He tried to picture how Bobby would react to the ponies and their world. He honestly couldn't picture it. It was too weird, even for Bobby.
"Well, you guys try on your end," Sam was saying. "We'll look into some things on our end. Maybe we can meet back in the cave in a week and compare notes?" He cut himself off as he stumbled into Applejack's back. She'd stopped short in the path, just behind Rarity and Pinkie. "What --?"
Dean swallowed thickly. "Oh hell no."
Standing in front of the goddamn cave to Equestria, their backs to them, their arms up, were Dick Roman and seven of his cronies.
"Oh!" Fluttershy said. "Are they friends of yours?"
Alerted by her voice, Dick and the other leviathans turned. The smile that slowly spread across Dick's face was broad, vicious, and deeply creepy. "Well," he said. "Look who the cat dragged in!"
Dean shook his head. "We are so fucked."
"Well, well," Dick said, looking Dean over and leaning in for a good long sniff. "If it isn't the Winchesters, right on my doorstep all over again."
"Doorstep?" Dean asked, raising his eyebrow with as much bravado and bluster as he could manage. "I'm not seeing any doors around here. And if there were, they sure as hell wouldn't be yours."
"Manners, Dean." Dick smiled again. Dean wondered how anyone could look at that expression and not see the pure evil lurking underneath. "Aren't you going to introduce me to your friends?"
"You guys know these ponies?" Applejack asked, struggling against the grip of a large bodyguard of a man in a black suit who had his arm wrapped over her chest. Her hat had flown off somewhere. She looked rather strange without it.
"Not ponies," Sam said, swallowing convulsively. He'd had more up-close-and-creepy time with leviathans than Dean had, thanks to that bastard who'd gone around with Dean's face.
"Force of habit, darling," Rarity said. Unlike Applejack, she was holding perfectly still, her body tensed and ready as if she were about to leap into action. "She means humans, of course."
"Not humans, either," Dean said.
"What-what are they?" Fluttershy stuttered. She was hiding behind Pinkie, a nice trick seeing as Pinkie was currently being held down by two leviathans, one holding her in a headlock, the other pinning her arms to her sides.
"Leviathans," Dick said pleasantly, nodding as though accepting an accolade when Twilight gasped. "You've heard of us!"
"The legends are older than even Star Swirl the Bearded's time," Twilight said. "From before the three pony tribes were even formed!"
"That's right," Dick said. "You see, boys, it wasn't just your world that we used to rule. We're older even than your angels. That's how we know where they all are."
"All of what?" Sam asked.
"The soft spots, of course. We were really banking on the one in Wisconsin hitting paydirt, first, but we're not picky. We'll own them all, eventually."
"You opened up the portal?" Rainbow Dash asked. "You sent the wendigo through?"
"Ah, you mean that charming little monster? No, that was just an interesting little side-effect. We're still ironing out all the kinks, after all."
"But why?" Pinkie asked. She'd managed to work one arm free, and was using it to gesture wildly. "I mean, what's in it for you?"
Dick wagged a finger at her. "Now now, we've got to keep some secrets, right? I think I've told you all quite enough."
"I know I've heard enough," Twilight said. "Girls! Into formation!" None of the girls moved, all still held back by the leviathans, and Twilight smiled sheepishly. "Right, sorry. We'll just have to do this the old fashioned way. You see, Mr. Leviathan, you might have known Equestria once upon a time, but a lot has changed since then."
"True," Dick said, unconcerned. "But we'll learn all that soon enough."
"You'll learn it right now! We're about to show you where the true strength of Equestria really lies: the Elements of Harmony!"
"Well," Dean muttered. "This'll be interesting."
"Applejack!" Twilight said, and Applejack straightened in her captor's grip, throwing her head back proudly. "The spirit of Honesty!" A golden glow rushed suddenly from the mouth of the cave, swirling over to surround Applejack. The leviathan flinched back from where it touched her, leaving Applejack standing tall, her hands clenched in fists by her side.
"Fluttershy! The spirit of Kindness! Pinkie Pie, the spirit of Laughter!" Another glow rushed out, this one winging in circles around Pinkie and her captors, driving them back. Pinkie pulled Fluttershy up next to her, and Fluttershy, seemingly reassured by the glowing mist, tossed her hair back and folded her arms over her chest.
"Rarity, the spirit of Generosity!" Dean glanced over at Sam, and Sam shrugged. Another glow zipped out, and sure enough, it sought out Rarity like a heat-seeking missile. "And Rainbow Dash, the spirit of Loyalty!" Rainbow Dash raised her fists in a boxing pose as the gold mist surrounded her, daring the leviathans with her eyes to try coming after her.
"And finally, the spark that ties them all together, the element of Magic!"
That . . . really wasn't what Dean though she was going to say.
The glow of the sixth element didn't come winging out of the cave like the others. It appeared in a bright pink flash high above their heads, swirling into a heart-shape before it lowered towards Twilight's outstretched palm. She and the other ponies were focused one hundred percent on the golden mists. It was like trying to watch a real life version of an anime transformation sequence.
Unfortunately for the ponies, Dick and his buddies weren't frozen in place like anime villains.
"Take them out," Dick yelled, finally looking a bit ruffled. "Now!"
The six cronies all threw back their heads, showing off the wicked rows of jagged teeth and their flailing tongues before surging forward.
"No!" Sam rushed in, hands outstretched as if he could hold the leviathans back by will alone, but the days of him wielding anything near that kind of power were long gone and Dick's assistant was on him in an instant. Dean grabbed for the closest weapon he had on hand -- his pistol -- and brought it to bear at Dick's head.
"One more step from any of you and I'll blow off your boss's goddamn head!"
Dick laughed. "You don't have anywhere near the power to kill me, boy!"
"Don't need to kill you to wreck your empire, Dick," Dean said, pulling the trigger. "Just need you out of the way."
At point blank range, the bullet ripped right through Dick's head, taking out a good chunk of brain matter on the way. Dick fell back a step, then another, just based on pure momentum alone. It bought just enough time for the girls to finish their thing. They rose in the air, chests up, magic glowing necklaces around their necks -- all except Twilight, who'd managed to land herself a damned tiara -- their bodies giving off a bright white light that bounced off the rapidly melting snow, just about blinding Dean. The energy built with an audible hum, then burst forth in a swirling rainbow, arcing up into the sky before shooting down and wrapping around each of the leviathans in turn. Dean threw his arm up as the leviathans began to scream.
Holy shit. He was never underestimating the power of being a nice person ever again.
"Dean!" Sam shouted. "Look out!"
Dean lowered his arm just in time to see Dick, the bullet hole still leaking black ichor, barreling at him like a goddamn rhinoceros.
"This world was ours first!" Dick screamed. Dean hopped out of the way, only to realize that Dick's eyes weren't focused on him -- they were pinned on Twilight, at the center of the ponies' power.
"Oh hell no." Dean reached out and grabbed Dick by the back of his collar.
It was just about the stupidest thing Dean had ever done, in a long, long, painful life filled with innumerable really stupid things. Dean's fingers had no sooner clamped around the back of Dick's suit than he suddenly had a screaming, primordial thing on his hands, shrieking a thousand tremendous horrors in Dean's face, its enormous jaws flashing, teeth chomping down so close that the tips of them grazed Dean's cheekbones.
That was it. He was dead.
Then the rainbow of Harmony or whatever wrapped around them both, spinning tighter and tighter until Dean felt like he was being squeezed to death by a sparkly princess boa constrictor. He couldn't see anything but the rainbow swirl, but he could hear Sam screaming in the distance.
"Sorry, Sammy," he managed. "You know I had to."
And the rainbow exploded and Dean flew back, his last moments of consciousness before he smacked into the rock wall that marked the side of the cave filled with the bright light of friendship and a strange burning sensation on his hips.
"Is he going to be alright?"
"He doesn't look alright!"
"He's a human, I don't even know what they're supposed to look like."
"Dean! Can you hear me?"
"Oh, you poor thing!"
"Butterflies," Dean mumbled, then decided he'd had quite enough of people yelling at him and passed back out.
Then his pillow shifted slightly and he realized he was looking at Fluttershy's dress as he lay stretched across her lap.
How weird was it that the part of him that didn't feel like a dirty old man was disappointed because it was the wrong pony cuddling him?
"Oh!" Fluttershy bent over, offering him a small smile. "You're awake!"
Dean groaned, trying to roll off her lap as gracefully as he could. She held him down with her palm on the flat of his chest.
"No you don't," she said. "I don't know much about humans, but I'm pretty sure anypony would need their rest after getting a bump like that on their head."
"Yeah, well," Dean tried to sit up again. "We're durable." The fight started coming back to him, and this time when Fluttershy moved to hold him down, he batted her hand away. He made it about halfway to sitting and looked around. They were in the very mouth of the cave, surrounded on all sides by Sam and the other ponies. It was warmer than it had been last time Dean had noticed, and everything had gone quiet. "The leviathans?"
"Taken care of," Twilight said. She was still wearing her tiara. Dean looked around and noticed that all the other girls were wearing their necklaces, too. "It's a good thing we were so close to the portal. I don't know if we would have been able to call the Elements out from further away."
"They turned them to stone," Sam said. He was eyeing the ponies warily. "They just started blasting away with those rainbows and turned them all into stone. It's like Lovecraft's statue garden out there, now."
"It seemed safest," Twilight said. "Nothing I've read ever said anything about how to stop a leviathan, but the Elements have worked against some really strong bad guys."
"Stone," Sam said again. "I just -- I don't even --"
"As long as they're dead," Dean said, "I'm not complaining."
"Oh no," Fluttershy said. "We couldn't do that."
"It's more like a stasis," Twilight said. "I'll see if I can get some of the guards from Canterlot out here to move them back to the Princess's garden. They should be safe, there."
"Portal's still open, then?" Dean asked. He made his way upright with only one hand in place to hold his head on and counted it as a victory. "You girls aren't stranded?"
Twilight shook her head. "I'll have to check my books, but I'm not sure anything can close it back up, now, not completely. I'm thinking our best shot is to patch it up, and then just check it every now and then to make sure it's not leaking."
"Like the Ponyville Dam," Pinkie said. "We're really good at patching that up! Ooo, maybe I'll get a new Pinkie sense twitch! Eye-flutter-tail-twitch-shoulder-ache-nose-wiggle, something's coming through the portal!"
Dean stared. "I'm just going to guess that makes sense to all of you guys."
Applejack smiled. "Not even a little. But that's just Pinkie Pie being Pinkie Pie. Our little element of laughter."
"Yeah," Dean said, finding himself smiling back. Just a small one, but more real than he'd felt in ages. "I'm starting to get that."
"Yeah," Dean said. "You're a pretty decent chick yourself."
"Rarity's not a chicken," Fluttershy said.
"It's an expression."
"Oh! Can I be a bunny, then?"
Dean shrugged. "Sure thing." Though personally, he was pretty sure she didn't have the right figure to pull off the ears and tail.
Sam smacked him on the arm, and Dean couldn't help a grin.
"Thanks for looking after me," he said, rubbing his head.
"It's no problem," Fluttershy said. "I was happy to help. Especially after the way you saved Twilight."
"That's right," Rainbow Dash said. "That was pretty sweet! I thought that guy was going to eat you for sure!"
Dean shrugged, feeling a little sheepish. "Yeah, well, that's kinda what I do."
"That explains the cutie mark, then," Twilight said. Dean frowned at her, and she pointed down at his shirt. Embroidered over the pocket was a pair of stylized white arms, reaching out and around a bright red heart, the hands meeting together in fists over the point.
"It means you're caring," Twilight said, her voice soft. "You're the Protector of Harmony."
Dean stared down at the patch on his pocket again, then checked under his waistband on either hip. Sure enough, it was down there as well, bright and clear like an expertly done tattoo. "The hell!"
"Saving people," Sam said thoughtfully, shaking his finger at Dean, then turning it on himself. "Hunting things."
Sam smiled. "It's not like it's your first tattoo."
Fluttershy shrugged out of Dean's jacket and held it out, still hiding a little behind her hair. "I think it's sweet," she said shyly. "And it suits you."
Dean yanked the jacket on, pulling it down firmly over the patch on his shirt. "Yeah, well, in this world, it's just marking me to get hit." He looked down, then groaned as the mark appeared to bleed through the fabric, appearing bright and proud on the front of his jacket. "We're never going to be able to hide from anyone again," he realized. "We're completely screwed here, Sammy."
"I don't know how things work around here," Applejack said. "But if you're meanin' to blend in, back in Ponyville that wouldn't even get you a second glance."
"Yeah, Ponyville's made of magic and friendship and rainbows," Dean grumbled. Applejack looked offended, then angry. She turned and stalked into the cavern with the portal.
"Watch it, buster," Rainbow Dash said, before spinning to rush after her, Fluttershy hot on her heels.
"You know, Dean," Twilight said, looking into the cavern at her friends, then turning back to face him. "You may be the Protector of Harmony, but you have a lot to learn about friendship."
Dean scowled, not meeting her eye. "Yeah, whatever."
Twilight shook her head. "Take it from a pony who knows. You can't be all business all the time."
And then she was gone, too. The cavern lit up with a flash, and Dean and Sam were left standing in the tunnel, staring into an enormous black emptiness.
It was definitely fitting.
It was like all the motivation had dropped right out of Dean. They had too much free time on their hands, now, and he no longer knew how to use any of it.
"You could contact Lisa," Sam suggested once.
"No. I couldn't."
Sheriff Mills tried to help. She even offered to deputize them at one point, but when Dean tried to pull on the uniform, his goddamn "cutie mark" bled right through. It seemed the human world hadn't yet invented a material that could cover the damn thing up, and unlike Sam, whose mark stuck stubbornly to his hip, Dean's was always front and center, loud and freaking proud. And no one, not one single person on this side of the portal interpreted it as meaning "protector". Dean had never been propositioned by so many men -- or so many women into watching men -- before in his life.
He was tempted to take one of them up on it, though it wasn't something he'd ever enjoyed much, before. Everything just felt so empty now, and his usual tricks of booze and babes and more booze wasn't cutting it. He'd gotten a taste of feeling halfway normal back in Ponyville, and now that he remembered what it was like, he missed it more than he could say.
When Sam started losing more and more of his sense of reality to the Lucifer in his head, Dean realized he probably wasn't the only one who felt that way.
"That's it." He grabbed onto Sam's arm and dragged him out to the car -- still a piece of shit, getting rid of the leviathans hadn't done a damn thing to get rid of the reopened federal case against the Winchesters. "That's enough."
"What?" Sam blinked at the car like he wasn't sure how he got there. "Where are we going?"
Dean bit his lip and huffed. "Ponyville."
Sam swallowed, staring at him with wide eyes. "You -- you really mean that."
"Yeah, I do. Dad's gone. Cas is gone. Bobby's gone. The leviathans are toast, the demons are boring, and there's plenty of hunters out there who can take out the spirits and the vampires." It was strange. It should have hurt to say it out loud, but somehow, Dean just felt . . . better. "You got a single thing here worth sticking around for?"
Sam shook his head. "You don't think the portal's locked up?"
"I think if it is, the Protector of Harmony and the Human Torch can probably blow it open enough to get through again." Sam smirked. "What?"
"Nothing. Just -- that's gotta be the first time I got to be the cool one in your metaphor."
Dean turned on the car. "First: it's not a metaphor. Second: the Protector of Harmony is fucking awesome, and I will punch you if you try to say otherwise."
"Okay, okay. Take us away, then, oh Protector."
"Yep," she said, looking them over and nodding. "I knew it."
"You waited here the whole time?" Sam asked.
"Don't be dumb," Rainbow said, taking off and leading the way back through the forest to Ponyville. "We took turns."
Dean craned his neck around as he trotted along behind her, hooves thumping heavily into the grass. His cutie mark practically shone in the soft light of the forest, looking more at home against his flank than it ever had on his chest. He almost didn't mind that it had a giant freaking heart in the middle of it.
"Hurry up, slowpoke!" Rainbow Dash yelled back at him. "Pinkie Pie has had Town Hall decorated for weeks already, and Granny Smith isn't going to hold your rooms at Sweet Apple Acres forever!"
Dean broke into a canter, and his wide, blue pony legs ate up the distance between him and Sam. Soon enough, he could see the first houses of Ponyville through the trees.
He'd never had one before, so he couldn't know for sure, but he thought that maybe this was what going home felt like.