Do Humans Hibernate?

by Pen Mightier

Rainbow, the Overly Nosy Pony

Rainbow carefully hung the wet towel by the cheery fireplace. She sighed as her mane and fur fluffed up faster than popcorn in the fire’s warmth. The shower had been a necessary evil. She needed it to get rid of the wet frost in her wings. A pegasus with frosted wings is a grounded pegasus, and a grounded pegasus is a homeless pegasus. But her mane and tail was unfortunately naturally fluffy. It takes a lot of patience, tenacity and broken hairbrushes to get that trademark Rainbow Dash windswept look. Which meant her life must well and truly be on the line for her to even dream of washing outside the privacy of her own home.

She had expected Marshal to take her to the palace to warm up. Much to her surprise he had offered her a hot shower at his place instead. Despite her misgivings, she agreed so quickly she surprised herself. She was even more surprised to find his home wasn’t some dark lair in the mountains or a temple of doom or something. In fact, it was a newly built thatch cottage just a little out of the way in an old vineyard comfortably nestled in a riverside grove. Cute, cozy, with flower planters at the windows - it was idyllic to a fault. It was not a guy’s place, let alone an otherworldly alien’s.
There are certain standards you expect a guy's pad to maintain; It should firstly be super messy which is like normal messy but with the dirty laundry as a sidekick and mom as a sworn nemesis. It should also be uber coltish which involves having towering mountains of sports magazines and hidden valleys of clop collections. Growing up in a family full of guys, Rainbow knew this was universal. Marshal should be no exception. She finally got her chance to find out for sure when the human disappeared to take his turn in the shower.

Something wasn’t right. At first it was just a nagging feeling. But as she looked about the living room and adjoining kitchen, more unsettling details leapt out at her. The carpet was the lush fur-friendly variety that all ponies used but was surely more a chore to clean than it was worth for bare-skinned creatures like him. Despite it being so brand new it still sparkled, the kitchen set along one wall was entirely pony-sized. It sat at odds with the dizzyingly high ceilings, obviously built to accommodate Marshal.

She was a little disappointed in the contents of the icebox, or lack thereof. No self-respecting pony should ever be caught with an empty fridge. There was a traditional low dining table surrounded by pony cushions in one corner. There was even a very well-kept planter at the window sill growing all the pony favourites such as daffodils, dandelions and, her own personal favourite, roses. Rainbow didn't know very much about gardening but she knew it must take a lot of care and effort to keep those growing through winter. And yet there wasn't a single thing that personalized the living space; no photographs, paintings, not even a single decoration or souvenir. It was bare of anything that suggested Marshal lived there.
If she didn't know any better, she'd have thought it was a pony's home.

She knew she shouldn’t, but the nagging feeling won out. Her curiosity led her deeper into the quiet house. She finally found herself at a door at the end of a long, empty corridor. She raised an ear in the direction she came from. She heard the faint pitter patter of the shower in the distance. Deciding she probably still had some time until Marshal came out, she cautiously pushed the door open. She had expected a spaceship or a portal to another world or a phonebooth or something. But it turned out to be a very regular, very boring-looking bedroom. The bed was one of those large herd-sized beds, though that was probably more to accommodate his size than anything.

She had heard that the first place to search when raiding a colt's room was under the bed. "Ahah!" She looked underneath, so sure that she'd finally hit pay dirt. Except she found a whole lot of disappointment and nothing else. There wasn't even that Coloratura hug pillow she was looking forwards to seeing.
With a frustrated huff she straightened up and looked at the rest of the room. There was a plain wooden wardrobe and a few unassuming chests of drawers. Impatience took over as she pulled the wardrobe open. Within hung two spare sets of uniforms along with a single set of plain white pajamas. Dissatisfied, she turned her attention to the drawers. To her surprise the first contained a well organized grooming set, including a variety of very comfy-looking fur brushes, preening combs and luxurious-looking mane shampoos and massage oils. There was even a book on pony grooming next to it, one bearing the stamp of Twilight's library.
If she didn't know any better, she'd have been torn between puzzlement or the creeps. But considering it was Marshal, she opted for mere puzzlement. Looking around at this whole house, it was as if a non-pony had gone to the trouble of imagining what the perfect home for a....for a pony would be like.

That was when the realization struck her. He...he didn't build this home for himself. He built it to share with somepony, somepony he cared for so much she was all he thought about when he built it.
But who was it?
Her ears drooped as the answer came to her; there wasn't a single photograph or memorabilia in the house, the brushes and combs didn't have a single hair on them, the fur shampoos were untouched and the icebox was empty.
That special somepony didn't exist in his life. Not yet, anyway. He was still waiting for her, tending the flowers, keeping everything spick and span, just in case she trotted into his life one day.

But why? She hated to admit it, but he wasn’t an unlikeable guy. Sure, he was full of stupid jokes and tall tales. But he was more or less kinda sorta okay-ish. Most ponies aren’t picky when it comes to stuff like race or gender so it should have been easy for him to find somepony who might fancy a human. So why was his house so desperately empty?

Then she remembered how long it took her to find out where he lived. Come to think of it, this was the first bit of personal info she got on him, ever. How’d he manage to hang out with her for almost a month without sharing even the tinsiest bit of his private life with her? Come to think of it, she had tried to raise the question a few times. He had always gotten away distracting her with one of his tall tales. 

Is this what he was keeping all to himself?

Why? Why hide all this loneliness? Why deal with it all by himself?

But most importantly, why does all this emptiness hurt so much to look at? It’s just like...just like looking at Tank’s empty basket...

"It's sad, isn't it?"
Rainbow gasped. Her heart threatened to choke her where it lodged itself in her throat. She whirled around in a sudden fit of panic. Dark dread struck her as she realized she had been caught red-hoofed snooping around the bedroom by a sombre-looking Marshal. The tall human gave a long sigh, pulling his towel off his hair and draping it over his bare shoulders as he stepped into the room. His eyes lingered on the grooming book still held in Rainbow’s forehooves.
"U-uh, t-this isn’t what it looks like, honest!” She began, very convincingly. It kinda didn’t help that she was trying to hide the book against her barrel at the same time.
"It's alright. I don't blame you. Everybody's curious about the big mysterious monster who lives in the house at the edge of town." He waved a hand dismissively. But she could see the disappointment in his eyes. She'd never seen that look on him, and the very sight cut into her chest like a lightning bolt. "As you can see, I have nothing to hide." He waved at his bare room. "Happy?"

Rainbow felt tears and lameness well up in her eyes. With it came uncoolness; How could she, the strong and awesome Rainbow Dash, bawl her eyes out like a little foal? With it came fear; What if he never wanted anything to do with her ever again? But more than all that, with it came sadness; How could he live with such hollow loneliness?

If you’re gonna help someone, help’em. Don’t leave it until it’s… it’s too late.

Rainbow Dash had faced evil goddesses, eldritch horrors, even butt-symbol socialists. She faced everything head-on, even the passing of the seasons. She wasn’t about to throw in the towel and run, not here, not now. "N-No!" She cried, dropping the book on the floor. She felt her cheeks burn with something thick and wet. But she bit back the saltiness collecting in her muzzle and glared defiantly up at him. "No, I'm not happy!"
"Rainbow?" He blinked, surprised. "Y-You're crying." He pointed out, intelligently.
"Because I-I get it." She trembled, fighting to look up at him through the stinging tears. "I get it, okay?! L-Looking at this place is like staring at Tank's empty basket. Except it's a whole house!" She thought of Tank and the big empty gap he had left in her heart. All the tears and loss she had carefully put away came flooding all at once. "Staying in this place is like living in a big empty hole, waking up every single day only to be reminded of that missing somepony!" She sobbed. She wasn’t sure whether she was sobbing for herself or for him. She wasn’t sure of anything anymore. "Why do you do this to yourself?! It's stupid! So stupid! You're stupid! Stupid stupid stupidhead!"
“Whoah, Rainbow. I’m sorry! I’m sorry I made you cry. I didn’t mean it, I…” Marshal panicked.
"I-I'm not crying! I’m not! I’m not, okay?!" She wailed in denial. She wasn't even sure why she was crying anymore, just that she must. Otherwise her heart would explode. “Why?” She demanded in between sobs, “Why are you’re such a…” She didn’t get to tell him exactly what he was. Before she knew it she had been swept up in a hug. She gave a loud squeak of surprise at the sudden embrace.

“Thanks, Rainbow.” She heard him say as he squeezed her tight against his bare chest. She would have struggled against all the mushiness pinning her. She would have fought tooth and hoof against all the lame besieging her. But for some reason his words left her feeling powerless in his embrace.

“Wh-what t-the hay are you t-thanking me for, i-idiot.” She sniffled, wiping her wet cheeks against his chest vindictively.

“Do I look like I know what what the fuck I’m doing?” He chuckled, weakly.

“S-Saving the world a-again?” Rainbow half-scoffed, half-sobbed.

“Nah. The world can wait in line,” he said, softly, his back sinking down against the dresser until he was sitting on the floor. The shift in his weight caused her to flop into his lap. She didn’t say anything, instead snuggling deeper into his hold, allowing his warm embrace to lull her sobs.

“What I meant to say was, ‘thanks for seeing past all my bullshit’,” he finally said. “That’s all most ponies want to see when they look at where I live, at my life, at me. So that’s what I give’em, a little glamour, a little razzle dazzle.”

“You mean your ‘horseapples’,” she muttered with a sniffle, “Is that all you’re ever gonna show me too? Because that’s all I am? ‘Most ponies’?” she demanded, bitterly. "What is it this time? You're actually a pony who gained the ability to transform after being bitten by a magical monkey? The house is secretly a giant robot designed to fight off nightmare dragons?"
“Heh. Nah, you’re too weird to be ‘most ponies’, you’ve proven that much.” he chuckled, earning him a half-hearted boop. “Fine, you get to hear my emo sob story, bullshit-free, if you really want it.”

Before hearthswarming would be nice,” Rainbow muttered under her breath.

“Hey, I’m about to spill my emo heart all over your face. Trust me, you don’t want me rushing this.” He took a slow, reluctant breath. "So, you've probably figured I'm not exactly local."
"No, really?" Rainbow rolled her eyes.
"Nah, took the crazy town express over. One day I was sitting in my own normal little dimension, getting all normally hyped up over normally asking out this girl I barely knew. I had it all normally planned. It was gonna be normally perfect. Then abnormal bitch-slaps me in the face and I landed here all of a sudden. I think that was nine years ago now. I kinda lost track of the first three or four years."
"You've been in Equestria for nine years?" Rainbow raised an eyebrow. She was certain she had never heard of any mysterious aliens living around these parts.
"Nope, fate fucked up her throw and missed Equestria by a mile. Dropped me in outer Gryphonia instead," he said with a bitter chuckle, "Took me a while to convince those chicks I'm not food. Kinda had to pick up enough of their lingo from inside a cage."
"What?!" Rainbow growled, wings flaring with righteous fury. "Who were they?! Imma fly over there right now and..."
"Easy, Dash," he chuckled, “That was yoinks ago now. The Gryphonian civil war probably sorted them out. It certainly allowed that skinny little human kid to sneak out the back door while they were all fighting over who gets to shit from the tallest roost,” he stared off into the distance, seemingly reliving more memories. “I spent the next few years travelling all over. Roamed with a Saddle Arabian caravan until they stopped over in Maretonia. By that point I was old enough to strike out on my own. Worked the docks in Maretonia until I signed up with a Minoan trade ship. Went back and forth to Minos, got to know some of their minotaurs quite well. Actually considered settling down there until we ran into some dragon raiders on my last voyage. Washed up on the coast of North Luna Bay. One thing led to another and I ended up freezing my butt off in a jail cell in Yakyakistan which, admittedly, was an improvement over freezing my dick off in the tundras. I managed to super piss-off the yaks, which is like normal piss-off but while wearing this cape that wasn't yak enough for them. That was when I met her." His lips curled into a sad yet fond smile at the memory. "Her name was Crystal Heart. She was a simple unicorn mare. Serving time for stealing yak bread of all things," he chuckled, shaking his head. "She would always go on about how 'This day is going to be perfect.' I got so pissed off one day that I decided to prove her wrong. I busted out of prison in the middle of the Yakyakistani winter, kidnapped her from her cell and carried her flank with me across the Crystal Wastes. She hated my guts forever for that.”

‘Crystal Heart, so that’s her name’ Rainbow thought, her ears drooping a little. She had a sinking feeling she knew where this was going.

"Took a while for her to open up to me," he went on, his smile growing wider and wider in reminiscence, "We got totally wasted in a tavern in outer Zebrica one night. We were so buck-faced plastered we practically blubbered our dark emo backstories to each other. She told me she escaped from the Crystal Empire. Some evil megaprick with a fetish for stairs and crystals mind-fucked her into doing some really evil shit in Equestria to bring the Crystal Empire back. She had children apparently, but she'd always break down crying before she could talk about what he made her do to them. She blamed herself for all the shit he forced her into. Had enough emotional baggage to sink Cloudsdale twice over." He gave a soft sigh at that. "Despite all that, she still had room to think about me. After hearing my own sob story, she dragged me back to Equestria, swearing she'd do some good and help me find a way home. We arrived in Canterlot just as the mother of all motherfuckers was screwing up everyone's day and sucking off everyone's butt tattoos while he was at it. It was like watching a vacuum cleaner with an ass fetish."
"Tirek?" Rainbow gasped.
"Yeah, that's the bastard." He nodded, grimly. "I'll be honest, I was ready to leg it. But not her. No, she led as many survivors as she could into this secret crystal mine underneath Canterlot that nobody knew about. I kinda ended up helping and soon we had at least half the city stuffed down there. We were just getting the last few through the entrance when butt-eater himself came knocking.” His eyes glazed over as he choked a little. “Her last words were so calm, so certain. I still...I still have nightmares of them. ‘I’m sorry I can’t be with you the rest of the way. I hope you find your way home, wherever ‘home’ may end up being. Remember, you found good in me. If you can do that, you can find good anywhere you desire. Thank you. I….I had fun.

"And then she went and did the big damn hero thing and collapsed the cave entrance on top of herself and ol’ butt-eater.” Rainbow felt his trembling grip on her tighten. “That was when I realized it, Rainbow. I...I might already have found home without even knowing it. All I had to do was, I dunno, reach out and help her. But I always told myself I’m just a piddly little human and she’s an uber-magical unicorn. I thought things would turn out okay for her somehow, someway, y’know, magically or some shit. So I….I left it. And by the time I realized I could’ve gotten off my ass and did something for her, it was too late,” he bit his lip, closing his eyes, his face a picture of regret.

Rainbow Dash opened her mouth to say something, anything. But whatever it was wouldn’t come out. She had never been one for the touchy feely-stuff. Why talk when you can act? Except, as Rainbow Dash had learned the hard way, no amount of action, not even destroying an entire weather factory, can turn back time.

But that wasn’t what her friends did when Tank was leaving. That wasn’t what Marshal did when Rainbow was stuck sitting in front of Tank’s burrow every day. They didn’t try to turn back time. They helped her, the one who was left behind. Because it’s the ones who gotta carry on with the race who need help moving forwards again, the same way….the same way Marshal had not only helped Rainbow move forwards but also pushed her into the lead again. The same way Marshal had helped Crystal Heart finally move forwards towards her own finish line.

The same way she will help Marshal keep up with her in the race, no matter what!

A fierce new determination welled up within Rainbow. She threw her uncertainty aside, forcing her thoughts into words as best as she could. “Hay, uh, I think...I think you’ve already helped her. I mean, we’re kinda the same, me and her. We both did really uncool stuff in the past, stuff we weren’t proud of. And you helped us feel we’re making up for it, making it right.”

“You….you think so?” A hint of hope crept into his voice.

“I…” Rainbow took a slow, deep breath before nodding with a strange but familiar certainty, “I know so."

“I guess I never….I never thought of it that way,” Marshal murmured, “I mean, she was so determined to get me home. Now looking back, I think….I think understand why she smiled when she said ‘thank you’ at the end…” His voice trailed off into a soft sob. He bowed low, cradling his face in his hand. “Oh, Cryssie….Cryssie...”

“Hay, uh, Mars?” Rainbow quavered, feeling more and more out of her depth. “U-um, s-sorry, I didn’t mean….” She hesitantly reached out to him.

“No, thank you, Dash.” He suddenly smiled up at her through his tears. Rainbow squeaked as he pulled her into an almighty bear hug. “Thank you. Just, thank you. Thank the goddamn you!”

“O-okay! S-sure! Wh-whatever you say! J-just let me breathe!” Rainbow pleaded as she clawed at the arms crushing her chest in.

“Oh, uh, sorry,” he chuckled wetly, giving her room for air, “It’s, I didn’t realize how much I needed to talk through all this.” He sighed in relief, a sigh long overdue.

“Me too.” Rainbow admitted, sheepishly. “I dunno, it feels sorta…” She waved a hoof in the air vaguely, as if hoping to fish the word out of the air.

“Yeah, kinda like…” He grinned widely through his tears as he pulled out a purple Twilight-brand flashcard from seemingly nowhere.

“...super-ultra-extreme-awesomemazing!” They exclaimed at the same time. “Jinx! Jinx again! Jinx times infini-bwahahahahahahah!” They broke down in gales of wild wet laughter.

“Ahahah! Help, guard, hahahah! L-laughter...killing me! Hehehehehee!” Rainbow howled.

“Hahah! Ohaha! Too late, it’s on a killing spree! I-I think we’re already in heaven, Dash!” Marshal guffawed.

“Hahah! You sure this is heaven? 'Cause I'm pretty sure you're still...heheh...with me!” Rainbow cackled. They held onto each other for dear life as they laughed and cried their hearts out. Rainbow laughed and laughed, willing herself to float off in their shared little bubble. Here, the rest of the world, the loneliness and loss, all melted away into nothingness. Even when the laughter faded into companionable silence, all that was left was the two of them, gazing into each other’s eyes, their faces still glowing with big goofy smiles.

It was an indescribable feeling. Rainbow Dash was used to leading races by miles, crossing the finish line all by herself. But for the first time ever, it felt like she was about to cross with somepony else, somepony she wanted next to her all the way to the finish line.

‘But...what about him? ’ Doubt reared its shadowy head. ‘Can I...can I really help him move forwards with….with me?’

Her concern for him must have shown on her face as he slowly mirrored her frown. “Rainbow, you okay?” He asked.

Rainbow steeled herself. “Um…” She finally broke the silence with a question that came out awfully timidly for the usually brash mare, “Uh, did you….ever find her?”

“I…” Marshal faltered, looking thoughtful. “I guess it’s more like I’ve been waiting for her. Not long after the whole Tirek thing, Princess Celestia gave me the Medal of Harmony for what she said was 'going above and beyond', no matter how much I told her it was all Crystal Heart. I spent the next six months searching for her before Equestria finally declared her dead. They gave her a posthumous Medal of Harmony, buried an empty casket and built this lawn ornament to her in Canterlot. Me? I was dead sure she wasn't dead. The high and mighty queen does not suffer sissy things like death. I wanted to believe that if she found out where I was and she still gave a fuck about my ass she'd come find me. I went and got the most high profile job open to me; I applied to be a guard in the disaster-magnet of Equestria – Ponyville. I guess the Medal of Harmony was good enough a job resume. I told Twilight my reasons, of course. She went out of her way and made me her Marshal, the adorkable girl. And...I guess I’ve been waiting here ever since.”

Rainbow suddenly saw in his forlorn smile that sad little mare who would spend her days reading bedtime stories next to a snowdrift. She couldn’t help but wonder if he saw something similar in her. But remembering Crystal Heart’s last, Crystal Heart doesn’t want him to live in the past as she had done. She wanted him to move forwards.

And it was down to Rainbow to help him move on.

“So…” Rainbow’s heart raced. She wasn’t entirely sure why she felt as if everything hung on what she said next. “This is all for her?” She waved a forehoof at the pony brushes, the grooming book, the house, everything.

He closed his eyes pensively. Rainbow held her breath all the way through his thoughtful silence. After what felt like forever, a sad little smile dawned on his face as he slowly opened his eyes. “Nah. Not anymore, anyway. I used to tell myself that all I wanted was to honour her last wish, to build a home and share it with somebody special, just like she told me to.” he said, his voice solemn yet certain. “Now I think I can finally start believing that. I can finally properly honour her memory by getting off my ass and doing what she told me to do.” He gave Rainbow an earnest smile. “Thank you, Rainbow.”

An empty stretch to the finish line was all Rainbow had ever wanted. But suddenly there was so much more! It was something that was setting off sonic-rainbooms in her chest, something that was causing her cheeks to burn like Celestia’s sun, something that was spreading her wings and raising her high into the sky. It was, for a lack of a better word, super-ultra-extreme-awesomemazing. She had no idea what it was, but she knew it was because he was there, sharing that final stretch to the finish line with her. And it’s crazy but she didn’t want the finish line to ever come, forever and ever.

Except….the finish line was coming. It was already the last day of her sentence. She bit her lip, regret welling up as she realized she had done too good a job reducing her own sentence. If only….if only she could be punished for just one more day, just one more, that’d be all she could ever wish for.

Wait! That’s it!

“Hay, uh, I lost today.” Rainbow said. Admitting defeat came so easily to her it was almost scary. “That means I’m getting an extra day on my sentence, right?”

“Wait, but you were…” Marshal began, puzzled.

“Nope,” Rainbow was quick to cut him off, “I lost. A deal’s a deal. Gimme another day in the slammer.” Rainbow couldn’t help but smile as his puzzled look quickly melted into a chuckle.

“Heh, fine. But you asked for it,” Marshal chuckled.

“Uh, why do I not like the sound of that?” Rainbow raised an eyebrow, suddenly regretting her life choices.

“Well, speaking of slammers, you realize you’re in Ponyville dungeon right now, little Ms. Jailbird?” He grinned widely. “Do you know what that means?”

“Uh…” Rainbow gave a sheepish little pony squee. “Wh-what does that mean?” She followed his eyes as they slowly flicked up to her puffy fluffy mane. It had dried out completely midway through their shenanigans, making Rainbow look as if she was wearing Pinkie on her head.

As one their eyes travelled over to the fur brush and preening comb lying forgotten on the floor next to them. “Nope.” Rainbow said, looking him sternly in the eye.

“Yep.” Marshal grinned.

“Noooooope!” Rainbow’s smile grew watery.

“Yeeeeeeeeeeeep!” Marshal raised a pair of eyebrows so criminal they might as well have gone the rest of the way to the moon.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Rainbow made a desperate leap for safety. But Marshal and the brush quickly tackle-glomped her into the carpet. There is much speculation on what followed, mostly in the form of horror stories surrounding the legendary Ponyville dungeon. But nopony knows for sure what horrific torments could possibly induce a pony to obediently return every day for more. Its first ever inmate would always decline to answer when asked, though it’s worth mentioning that she would always do so with a furious blush.