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i got the horse right here

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When they actually set eyes on the horse in person for the first time, there's a kind of almost horrified silence between them. 'Horrified' mainly because it seems to dawn on the three of them, simultaneously, that 'oh shit our actions have consequences' and 'this started out as a goof but now it's real and possibly a financial liability' and also 'god fucking damn it we went and we got a fucking horse didn't we'.

Worldwide Webster is... a horse. It's self-evident but worth mentioning, because Webster is... very much a horse, in pretty much every respect. He's the fucking platonic ideal of a horse. He is brown. Kind of reddish-brown, really - and the same color all over, with a patch of white on one hind leg, and another on his  head, just above the eyes.  He's is also very large. They've all seen horses in real life before. This does not change the fact that the very sight of this particular horse is both breathtaking and terrifying in equal measure.

"I swear to god, every time I stop looking at a horse I forget how big they are," Travis says. "Like, I know they're big? I get that, conceptually. But this is, like - big. This horse could absolutely murder me without a second thought."

"How the fuck did we, as a species, ever manage to domesticate horses without dying?" Justin asks nobody in particular.

Griffin is just shaking his head. "I can't stop thinking about the, the - the fucking horse fingers thing. That's all I can think about now, every time I look at a real flesh-and-finger-bone horse. You fuckers have ruined me for life."

This would usually be the sort of moment where they'd start bouncing words off each other - diving off into increasingly bizarre tangents, falling down verbal rabbit holes and throwing each other into fits of helpless laughter. None of this happens, because they all resume staring at the horse again with horrified awe.

It's not their horse. Not really. They just made the mistake of asking a bunch of feral internet strangers with too much money to spare if, hey, you know how we all love joking about horses all the time? Wouldn't it be funny and cool if you all helped us internet-adopt an actual real life horse? And for some reason, all those feral internet strangers went fuck yeah simultaneously and slammed the 'donate money' button - which kind of just goes to show that they should really stop joking about doing things just because 'there's never going to be enough people to make it happen'. Because it's been proven time and time again that, generally speaking, there will be.

It's not their horse, but there's a certain sense of responsibility there nonetheless. They named it, for god's sake. They're paying for its horse-y college fee, and they named it, and now they're watching it graze in a field only a few feet away from them - with only a fence and a gate stopping them from going up to it and, you know, touching it. Laying their hands on it. Having tangible sensory proof that it actually exists and isn't some weird hallucination.

Speaking of which.

"We should - well, shit. We should pet it, shouldn't we?" Griffin says.

"I mean, we came out all this way to see the dang thing," Justin says. "I feel like it'd be weird if we didn't end up petting it."

Travis nods. "Petting it sounds like a solid plan."

There's a beat. None of the three of them make even the slightest move to approach their poorly-thought-out publicity stunt.

"We're going to pet the horse now, right?" Travis checks.

"Oh yeah, absolutely," Justin agrees. "Any moment now."

More silence.

"Justin, you go," Griffin says. "You get to pet him first - you're the oldest."

"And therefore, my life has less meaning?!"

"Well, yeah, you're gonna die first!" Travis chimes in, cheerfully, and gives Justin a shove in the vague direction of the horse. "And, when you think about it, does it reaaally matter if you die today versus whether you die in thirty-plus years?"

"Yes! I have a wife," Justin protests. "And kids!"

"And if the horse eats you, we'll be sure to take very, very good care of them," Griffin promises.

Travis grins. "Well, come on, Griffin! We all know horses don't eat flesh!"

"Well, can we really say that for sure?" Griffin's eyes go comically wide and innocent. "I mean, maybe they just need a push. Maybe they haven't taken the first bite yet."

"Maybe it's just like Pringles," Travis suggests, falling into the bit. "Once you pop, you just can't stop - or I guess, since it's horses and people - once you crunch, you've gotta finish the whole human-shaped lunch?"

"Once you bleed, the horse will feed," Griffin shoots back, quick as lightning.

"Once you consume -"

"You fucking bastards! I swear to god." Justin shoves Travis back, and starts digging through his pockets. "I have an extremely good idea that I know I, personally, am going to love," he says. "I'm going to stay right here with my phone and my 5G connection and I'm going to research whether or not horses eat meat or bones or whatever the fuck, and I'm sure the answer is going to horrify and disgust me in equal measure. And while I'm doing that, you backstabbing traitors can go and pet our terrible horse-shaped mistake with your own fucking cowardly hands, because that's what you are. You're cowards! You're horse cowards!"

"But what if -" Travis begins.

Justin locates his phone, and glares. He flings one accusatory hand at the two of them, and then points right at the horse. "Pet. The. Horse."

"Are you -" Griffin starts.

"Go pet the fucking horse Griffin, Jesus Christ, I swear to God - I'm going to find out whether or not horses can eat flesh, have ever eaten flesh, or are ever going to be capable of eating flesh, because you've made me devastatingly paranoid about this despite the fact that I'm literally ninety-percent sure we've talked about this exact subject at some point. And when - and if - if I'm absolutely certain that this creature isn't going to trample me underneath its hyperspecialized finger-hooves and rend the flesh off my bones - then and only then I will join you. Got it?"

"...got it," says Griffin.

So Griffin and Travis go out into the paddock to pet the horse.

It's no longer quite as underweight as it was in the initial photos they received. And apparently it's got over its initial rowdy tendencies - part of the reason they're actually allowed to be out here, unaccompanied, interacting with it. And also? Up close, it's even bigger.

"You go first," says Griffin, hanging back a bit.

"You're so quick to throw our lives away in favor of your own," Travis complains, but approaches the horse nonetheless. He hesitates, and then pets the horse, brushing a hand gently along the bristly fur of its neck. It snorts gently, tossing its head, but seems fairly amenable to the contact. Not bloodthirsty or murderous in the least. Maybe a tiny bit rowdy, but not ready to kill. "Whoa, Griffin!" he says, startled.
"Our boy's got some muscle on him!"

Griffin abandons his plan to stay a safe distance away, and comes over to join his brother. He pats absently at the neck a bit - "oh shit, yeah, our Webster's a muscle man!" - before going up to scritch him thoroughly behind the ears.

"He's so weirdly soft," Travis says, delighted - pressing the full length of his hand to the horse's flank. "Like, he's not soft soft, not like a dog or cat or anything, he's just emotionally soft. You get me?"

"I get you, I get you," Griffin agrees. He pats Webster's nose. "This is the sort of horse I could curl up with in front of the television on a Saturday evening to watch Antiques Roadshow with and share all my deepest, most intimate emotional secrets with. This is a good fucking horse, a horse I can get behind." He turns. "Hey, Juice!" he bellows across the field. "Come check out our cool fuckin' horse!"

"A fucking horse, a horse that fucks," Travis says, and looks at Worldwide Webster with a distinct look of consideration on his face. "Hey, d'you think Webster fucks?"

"Worldwide Webster McElroy the First does not fuck," Griffin says, offended. "Not yet. He's just a baby boy - let him graduate from horse college first."

They keep on petting him, examining their spur-of-the-moment sponsorship decision from head to tail. He really is a very good horse.

"I feel the intense urge to spoil this horse," Travis says. "Give him all the horse-y treats and trinkets he could ever need. Hang on," he adds, unzipping his satchel. "I brought an apple! Just in case. Lemme just - here we go, got it. Apple time, Webby."

"Nope - no," Griffin says. "Too familiar. Stop that. We're not there, not yet."

"We're not there yet?" Travis frowns. He holds up the apple to Webster's face. Webster sniffs it, inspects it thoroughly, and then starts chomping away with great enthusiasm.

"We've literally just met him - we need to build up our relationship with him first."

"I'll take him out for ice-cream after this," Travis suggests. "We can get to know each other more then."

It's at this point Justin arrives, puffing a bit.

"I found a book about flesh-eating horses on Amazon," he announces grimly, brandishing his phone at them. "I've also ordered it, because apparently I hate myself like that. And since you're my brothers, my flesh and blood, my loin-siblings, I feel obliged to warn you about this too. Step away from the horse if you value your life."

Travis's eyes widen. He drops his hand away from Webster's mouth - Webster's already got a fair bit of toothgrip into the apple, so it doesn't fall to the ground. Webster continues to chomp happily at the apple.

Griffin just shakes his head, and pats the horse's back. "Webster and me are buds; he'd never eat me."

"Well, it's your funeral," Justin says. "Which I don't plan to attend. Because the horse will probably be lurking near your coffin, waiting for me."

"Stop being dramatic and come over and pet our damn horse, Juice," says Griffin.

Justin stops being dramatic, and goes over to pet the damn horse.

After a few seconds, he nods. "This is a bomb-ass horse," he assesses.

"Right?" Travis says, resuming his horse-petting agenda. "We should've brought a brush."

"A brush would've been great," Griffin says. "I kinda want to braid his mane. I have no idea how to braid, though."

"Next time," Travis says. "You can learn off Youtube or whatever, or I can probably teach you? Braiding horse hair can't be too different from braiding human hair."

"You think there's gonna be a next time?"

"Well, yeah! There has to be, right?" Travis ruffles Webster's mane affectionately. "Now that we've met him, we're officially buds for life."

"Okay, you know what? Previous meateating crisis stuff aside?" Justin says, looking up from where he's been rubbing at Webster's velvety snout. "I think I love this horse. It might just be because we're now responsible for his safety and education and everything, but - I'm officially attached."

"I want to see him grow up big and strong and healthy," Travis agrees.

"Same here," says Griffin, and then, with a startled sort of dawning realization, "aw, shit. We're horse dads now, aren't we?"

"You're only realizing this now?" Travis says.

After a few seconds, Justin starts giggling uncontrollably like he's just stumbled upon an especially challenging food-related press release, or like Travis has ploughed headfirst in a completely deadpan off-the-wall bit with complete conviction and no trace of irony - except neither of those things or anything like them have happened, and this laughing fit has come out of literally nowhere.

Griffin smiles, the mood contagious - although he looks a bit baffled. "You good there, Juice?"

"We named," Justin manages between delighted heaves of laughter, "we named this fucking horse Worldwide Webster. We inflicted that name on - on an actual living being! We did that! God, we're the worst fucking horse dads in existence!"

Griffin throws back his head and straight up cackles, at that - startling Webster slightly.

"I need that on a T-shirt, please," Travis says. "Can we get matching 'worst horse dads in existence' shirts? I feel like that encompasses my entire identity at the moment."

"Shirts, yes," says Justin, "most definitely. Maybe even mugs."

"Horse dads," says Travis happily.

"Horse dads," Griffin and Justin agree. They share a hella sweet paternalistic equine fistbump, and then try to fistbump Worldwide Webster as well. They're thwarted by the fact that he doesn't have fists, and compromise by bumping his side. He doesn't seem to mind.

They dick around for a bit - mostly just spending quality time loving and appreciating their newly adopted horse son - and they end up taking a whole bunch of pictures with him, too - because why not? And there ends up being some really good photos in there. It's generally agreed that the best out of all of them is the one where they're all crowded around Webster, looking almost manically delighted, while he just regards the camera with an exceedingly patient, long-suffering look.

They all look at that one for a very long time, and then Travis steals Griffin's phone to slap a dog-face filter over the top of it.

"Perfect," says Griffin, and uploads it to Instagram like the embarrassing proud social media mom that he's become in the last few minutes.

Horse dads indeed.