"Fluttershy! Fluttershy, you absolutely must come see this. Right now!"
Fluttershy looked up from her teacup at the manically bouncing draconequus that had appeared without warning in her living room. She took a deep breath, steeling herself. It's not mean. If you don't tell him, he won't learn. He needs to know that actions toward friends have consequences. It's not mean. It's not.
"I'm, um... I'm, uh, mad at you?"
Discord stopped bouncing, which was good because the whole house was shaking every time he did it. "You sound like you're not entirely certain about that."
Fluttershy took another deep breath. "I'm mad at you," she said again, this time more decisively.
He pouted ostentatiously. "Why, whatever for? I put all those animal habitats back together just the way they were before the vines came, exactly as I promised you I would. And I even helped you fix your house! I cannot see a single reason why you should be irate with me."
She set her teacup down and got to her feet. "You, uh, you lied to me, Discord," she said softly. "That's not nice to do to a friend."
Discord looked puzzled, though it was possibly an elaborate put-on. "When did I do that?"
"When you said you were innocent?"
"Oh, but how was that a lie? I hadn't planned for the vines to come out that day; dear me, I hadn't even remembered that I'd planted them until they popped up and reminded me! You can't think I did any of that on purpose. And surely you can't hold it against me that I did something less than socially acceptable a thousand years before you taught me the Magic Of Friendship." He batted extraordinarily large eyes that suddenly had lengthy eyelashes, clasping his paw and talon together in front of him with his hoof kicked up slightly and, inexplicably, a white and blue garment on his body where the top was white, had buttons and short sleeves, and a V-shaped neck with a wide blue collar that extended into something like two ribbons tied in a knot at the base of the V and dangling slightly, and the bottom was a pleated blue skirt.
Fluttershy didn't bother asking him about the costume. "It doesn't matter if you didn't do it on purpose, Discord, it's still, um, it's not right to say you're innocent. If I was visiting Pinkie and I accidentally dropped a tray of cupcakes on the floor, I could say I was sorry and I didn't mean to, and I could offer to help clean up, and Pinkie wouldn't be mad at me. But if I said I hadn't dropped the cupcakes at all and I didn't know who did, and then she found out I did do it, she'd be mad because I lied, and friends don't lie to friends."
Costume gone, Discord scowled. "Oh, so you're mad at me because I misspoke by a single word? Well, that hardly seems friendly."
"You didn't misspeak, Discord. You know what the word innocent means. Um, I'm sorry, but if you say you're innocent because you did something a long time ago and forgot you did it and you didn't mean for it to be having an effect right now... that's a lie. You could have said it was something you did a long time ago and you didn't mean for it to be hurting anypony right now. You didn't have to say you were innocent."
"And how could I have done that?" he sneered. "If I'd taken any responsibility for those things then and there, your pals would have demanded that the six of you outfit me for a cement overcoat right away. Do you think any of them wanted to listen to any explanations? Or would have believed anything I'd have had to say?"
"It doesn't make it not lying because you were scared of telling the truth," she said, trying to stay firm.
"Scared? Hardly! If you'd used the Elements right then to turn me to stone... you'd have drained the last of their energy. The Tree that powers them was all but dead by then, you know. So you would have guaranteed the death of the Tree, which was my original plan a thousand years before I reformed, and as soon as the Tree died, the Elements would have lost all remnants of power and I'd have gotten free again! I'd have been stuck in stone three days tops. More likely a few hours. No, no, I was concerned for you, Fluttershy! And all of you ponies! Why, if the Tree died, then the Everfree Forest would expand to consume Ponyville. Plus you'd have had no way of rescuing your princesses. Really, was telling the truth so very important as to risk the lives of Princess Celestia and Luna?"
Fluttershy sighed. "You could have trusted me."
Discord's sneer came back full force. "Oh really? My dear friend who can't be bothered to get around to defending me until the rest of her pals are halfway to sentencing me to death already? The mare who responds to the question of whether I'm lying with 'maybe'? Trusted you?"
"But you were lying!"
"But you didn't know that!"
"But I know you! And I promised not to use my Element on you anyway!" She wasn't going to break down. She wasn't going to let herself get so angry she started crying. Or snarling. "You didn't have to worry about getting turned to stone if you told the truth, because I promised you! You could have been honest with me, but you weren't, because you didn't believe my promise! Discord, I thought you trusted me."
"Well, I thought you trusted me."
She scowled at him. "Um, you're the spirit of disharmony and chaos. I trust you not to hurt me. I never said I trusted you not to lie to me. But I never did anything to you to make you think I would break my promise, and I made it to you knowing you tell lies and I kept it even when you told me you'd been lying to me the whole time about being friends. So if I said maybe you were lying and you actually were, that isn't a good reason not to trust that I won't break my promise. My friends can't make me use my Element if I don't want to, and I would never, ever break my promise to you without even letting you explain yourself."
"Oh, really? Then why did it take you so very long to get around to pointing out that possibly I might really be innocent... or at least, undeserving of a stone nap?"
"Because everypony was yelling! I don't talk very loudly, so if everypony is yelling it's hard for me to get a word in... that's why you pretended you forgot my name, wasn't it?"
"Well, it is such a very forgettable name. "
"I'm sorry, Discord, I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. I had to wait until somepony was actually going to hear me to speak up. But even if I'd never said anything at all, I still wasn't going to use my Element on you without giving you a chance to explain, and, um, probably not even then? Because even if you were being evil I would try talking you out of it first? But, um, you didn't trust me to keep my promise, so you lied to me, and, um, that hurts my feelings. Friends should trust each other, and I never did anything to you to make you think you couldn't trust me with the truth."
Discord opened his mouth. Closed it again. Opened it. Closed it. Then he sighed, snapped his talon, and sat down heavily on the puffy orange cloud that appeared suddenly under him. "I have trust issues."
Fluttershy stared at him, wondering what she was supposed to say to that. It sounded like his usual silliness, but his body language seemed to be suggesting that he was actually sincere. If he was sincere, the admission of personal failing was probably the closest she'd get to an apology. And it was in character for Discord to say something serious that he actually meant in a deadpan tone that sounded like he absolutely had to be setting up a joke because he'd never say something serious. She decided to give him the benefit of the doubt, since if he was serious she should take him seriously and if he was joking, playing straight mare to his joke and acting as if she thought he was being serious would probably make him stop. She trotted over to him, reared up, and hugged him. "I can help you work on that, maybe? If that's okay with you? You've been helping me with the things I'm afraid of... I guess it must be very hard to trust when you've spent a long time not doing it?"
"I've trusted before," Discord said, hesitantly putting his paw around her half-heartedly like he didn't quite know what to do with the spontaneous hug. "It doesn't usually work out well for me."
"That's okay. I'm willing to take as much time as you need to help you realize you can trust me. Just... please don't lie to me when I'm trying to defend you, okay? It, it makes me look really dumb to my friends..."
"Oh, and sweet Celestia forfend you look dumb to your friends," he said mockingly.
"Um, you don't want me to look dumb to my friends, Discord. Because I'm the one who trusts you. You want them to be able to think, 'Oh, if Fluttershy trusts him he can't be all bad', not 'Who cares what Fluttershy thinks, Discord has her totally fooled'. "
"Assuming I care what they think."
"Wouldn't you like to have more than one friend?"
"...Maybe, but it seems unlikely to be them."
"Well, it won't be if you never try." She pulled back from him slightly. "I understand, you lied because you were scared and you were scared because you have a hard time trusting."
"I'm not sure that's how I would characterize it..."
"Yes, I know, but I don't have to worry about keeping your gigantic ego propped up," she said teasingly, "so I can say it right. But what I wanted to say is that I forgive you, and I'm not mad at you anymore, but I do want you to try not to do that again?"
Discord sighed. "I suppose. It would probably be easier to manage to not lie to you than to manage to not turn Ponyville into a giant carousel on a regular basis, and I seem to be managing that so far."
Fluttershy looked up into his eyes. "Is it really that hard?" she whispered. "I mean... you do some chaos things with me sometimes, and I know you have that strange little place you made to live in..."
He looked down at her as intently as she had him. "Yes, Fluttershy. It really is that hard," he said in an uncharacteristically serious tone of voice. "You can't even imagine."
And then he sprang to his feet, leaving Fluttershy literally spinning in place for a moment, the somber tone gone from speech and body language. "Which brings me back to my original purpose for being here, before we got sidetracked by all this silliness! I have something to show you!" He was bouncing again, but since he wasn't actually touching the floor at all and appeared to be jumping up and down on something invisible floating in the middle of the living room, it wasn't making the house shake anymore. "Come on, let's go!"
"Um... what is it?"
"Well, that would spoil the surprise, wouldn't it?" He stopped bouncing for a moment. "You did say you trusted me not to hurt you."
"Yes, I do, but... can you promise we'll be back in time for evening? I'll have to feed the animals again by then..."
"Are you sure you're not raising pigs here, Flutters?" Discord rolled his eyes. "These creatures must eat three times their own weight daily."
"All right, all right, I promise I'll have you back here by evening, in plenty of time to fatten your piggies."
"Okay then." Fluttershy took a deep breath. She did, in fact, trust Discord not to hurt her, but this had no relationship whatsoever to whether or not whatever he had to show her would terrify her or not, since Fluttershy was well aware that her terrors of virtually everything were mostly irrational and would not budge in response to logic like "but your friends won't let you get hurt." Being Discord's best (and aside from occasional interludes with Pinkie Pie that didn't seem to stop her from wanting him locked up when she thought it was justified, only) friend came with responsibilities, though; reformation was an ongoing process, Princess Celestia had given the task to her, and if she couldn't give Discord what he needed from a friend, there was nopony else he could get it from and nothing to keep him motivated to stay good for friendship's sake. And besides, she hated the thought of him suffering because nopony would give him the time of day if she wouldn't. "You can show me."
They were immediately somewhere else. A wave of dry heat washed over Fluttershy, making her feel like some magical water vampire had just latched onto her and started draining all the fluid in her body. She and Discord were standing on an endless, empty, sandy plain, Celestia's sun burning down on them more intensely than she'd ever felt it. Fluttershy gasped. "It's so hot!"
Discord snapped open a gigantic flower over their heads as if it were a parasol and handed Fluttershy a tall glass of lemonade with ice and a straw. Gratefully she sat down on the fluffy beach towel that had also suddenly appeared right under her, feeling the warmth baking through the towel and soaking into her haunches, and held the glass in her forehooves, sipping at it. Discord himself had some sort of purple fizzy drink that Fluttershy couldn't recognize. "Thank you," she said. "Where are we?"
"We're just outside Saddle Arabia," Discord said. "I wanted to test this someplace that no living animals would see it or be affected by it."
"No living animals? Is this something that would harm animals?" Fluttershy asked, concerned.
Discord chuckled. "Absolutely to the contrary. It'll do nothing but good for any creature it touches, but talking animals get so irate over anything even slightly out of the ordinary, and the ones that don't talk... don't tend to survive in places where talking creatures don't live." He sounded bitter for a moment.
Abruptly Fluttershy remembered that Discord referred to intelligent beings, like ponies, and other animals, interchangeably, rather than reserving the term "animals" for creatures that couldn't speak for themselves. It was actually one of the traits that made Fluttershy feel that this friendship could possibly work, that they might actually have something in common, somehow. Both she and Discord agreed that in general, beings who couldn't talk deserved the same treatment as beings that could, and should be granted the same rights. Admittedly, Fluttershy wanted to take care of and be kind to all the living beings, and Discord wanted to play with them all and torment them for amusement, but at the base of it they agreed that ponies weren't better than non-ponies just because they were ponies, and that talking creatures weren't superior to non-talking creatures. If she could just get him to extend the concern she had seen him show for his friends to other creatures that he didn't know personally, she might be able to get him to treat all living things well instead of treating all living things as fun toys to play with. Someday.
"I see," she said. "So it's something nice, but maybe scary?"
"Well, I've brought you along to answer exactly that question for me." He gestured. "This is called the Plain of Sorrows. Note how empty it is! Nothing whatsoever lives here; it hasn't rained in over three hundred years. Mostly because the pegasi of Saddle Arabia won't allow it to."
"They won't? Why not?"
"Because it is so much, much more important to make sure that ponies can access all the scarce water of this region than that living creatures who are not ponies could possibly be permitted to live in areas that ponies don't. This is far from the only place in the world where pony magic has sucked the land dry, my dear, though it's one of the few where that's literal. All throughout the world there are wide, rocky bands of desolation bordering pony territories, where the earth ponies have drawn the very lifeblood of the world's magic out and pulled it into pony hooves, leaving nothing behind that can live wild and free, and apparently nopony cares but certain bizarre cults of religious fanatics like Pinkie Pie's family."
"Pinkie Pie's family?"
"Rock farmers, my dear, are Earth ponies who try to draw the magic of the world back into the desolate lands. They don't literally grow rocks, but they charge rocks with earth pony magic so that the bones of the world can once more be coated with nature. A noble effort, but futile, considering that they're less than a fraction of a percent of all ponykind and they're up against all the rest of the earth ponies in existence pulling back against them. Also that their lives are studiedly boring and miserable and any pony capable of imagining a better life for herself flees the moment she can; witness your dear pink friend." Discord sighed. "Usually pegasi don't cause the same sorts of problems, because water and air flow more freely than the magic of the earth. Here, though... Saddle Arabia ensured that no rainstorms would ever be wasted, falling on this desolate plain when they could fall on Arabian homes instead."
"That's awful! So... so all the animals died?"
"Well, most probably migrated into pony territory looking for water. At which point they were either domesticated by ponies, or died. You know as well as I do how rare truly wild places like the Everfree are. The alternative strategy, of moving into griffon or dragon territory, would have left them as something's lunch, most likely. So... I suppose, one way or another, they all submitted to the yoke of perfect friendship and harmony, or they died."
"That's so sad. Creatures shouldn't have to depend on ponies to survive. I, um, I take care of a lot of animals because so many animals do depend on ponies, but a lot of the creatures from the Everfree don't need me, I'm just their helper. They come when they're sick or when they can't get by otherwise. I, I wish more of the world was like that, where the creatures could just live on their own without needing pony care, because there's so many ponies who just don't care all that much about animals and it's so sad. There aren't enough of us who do care to take care of them all!"
Discord smiled wryly. "I knew I liked you for a reason. Aside from your willingness to put up with me."
"Aside from my obvious personal preference to have as much of nature engaged in its own chaotic acts of self-interest and self-direction as possible... well, let's just say the world might be a very different place if there had been a pony like you, once upon a time, who'd been willing to give friendship and assistance to a little wild creature without demanding that it either give up its freedom and perform for pony amusement, or starve to death." He looked pensive. "Of course, possibly that would have resulted in all of you being eaten by dragons, so I suppose it all worked out to your benefit..."
"What do you mean?"
"Oh, never mind. Watch this!"
He snapped his talon, and the blazing sun was quickly blotted out by... rainbows?
No, they weren't rainbows, exactly. They were clouds, but clouds that glowed from behind, eerily, in all the colors of a rainbow. The landscape was still brightly lit; the sky was a bit dimmer, but this was actually a good thing given how brutally bright the sun had been. Now the light was scattered, diffused and in all different colors. It was beautiful but frighteningly weird, as if there were alicorns engaged in a terrifying magical duel somewhere so high in the sky that Fluttershy couldn't hear their battle, but only see the light of their magic. She shrank back against Discord.
And then it began to rain in brilliant, shining, sparkling streaks, like liquid stars falling from the sky. It pattered at first, then rained hard, then came down as a torrential downpour, like the sky opened and let buckets fall, except that instead of ordinary rain it was glittering radiance. Like glass or gems falling from the sky. It shone, mostly in the bright yellowish white of sunlight, but in some places there seemed to be rainbow patterns undulating through the rain, colors shifting as the sky poured down.
"What... what is it?" Fluttershy asked, quivering slightly.
"Just a bit of light rain," Discord said casually.
"That's... coming down pretty hard to be light rain, Discord," Fluttershy said softly. She might be a poor flyer, she might live on the ground, she might never have worked on a weather team in her life... but she was still a pegasus. She knew weather. And this was something very, very strange.
Discord laughed. "Oh, no, my dear, you misunderstand. It's not raining lightly. It's raining light."
She stared at it in wonder. He was right. What was falling from the sky was streaks of light. But even though the thirsty ground soaked it in almost the same moment as it hit, it was falling fast and hard enough for her to see that when it struck the ground, it was water.
"But... it's water?"
"Yes, exactly! It's water and it's light! Now she gets it!"
"How?" Fluttershy asked, before remembering that was a pointless question to ask Discord.
He answered her anyway. "Well, I simply took advantage of the fact that light is both a wave and a particle."
That was totally unhelpful, but she hadn't really expected an answer that made sense. "Why?" That probably wasn't going to get a straight answer either, of course.
But Discord surprised her. "Because ponies are always moaning and groaning about how their outing is absolutely ruined by the rain, since heavens forfend they plan something merely a week or two in advance and not overscheduling by a year and a half like some sort of monstrous clockwork avatar of Orderliness and Rigidity, and then by all means the weather teams should bend over backwards because some stupid unicorn wanted to have an outdoor wedding and oh, dear, now it's going to rain and whatever shall we do when the universe doesn't perfectly conform to our hyper-planned expectations? So, since I have been trying to think of a way to create something chaotic that ponies would actually appreciate and enjoy, and for some reason only Pinkie Pie likes the chocolate milk even though you would think chocolate milk rain would be a big hit with everypony , I thought, well, why not make rain into light? Then nopony's outdoor expedition or party will be ruined by a lack of sunshine!"
"Is it... really wet, like rain?"
"Let's find out!" He ran out into it – leaving his flower parasol floating above Fluttershy's head, unsupported by anything- and tilted his head backward, mouth open, allowing rain to fall in. The light puddled all over his skin, sheening him with a brilliant glow. Then he tipped his head back down and looked at her. "Delicious, if you like fresh water. Which ordinarily I'd find rather dull but in this desert, it's quite refreshing!"
"It's beautiful," she said, almost whispering not from shyness or insecurity this time, but from awe. The rainbow-glowing clouds, the bright streaks throughout the sky, the light forming puddles and rivulets all over the ground and running in lines of brilliance down Discord's body like he was bathing in soft lightning... all of it was stunningly beautiful. Strange beyond belief, but no less beautiful for all that.
Discord smiled at her, and her heart caught in her chest. The expression lit his face up, metaphorically but no less brightly in its own domain of symbolism than the light rain itself was doing literally. Had she ever before seen Discord look happy? Not excited, not amused, not gleeful, but simply happy? Usually he looked somewhat goofy, or more than somewhat menacing, but with joy lighting his eyes and his light rain illuminating his body, he looked...
...no. No, she hadn't just thought Discord was beautiful, had she? She couldn't, she couldn't be thinking such things, he wasn't a pony, it was too strange and weird, he couldn't be beautiful to her... could he?
"Come on out and play, Fluttershy!" he said, a note of pure joy in his voice like she wasn't sure she'd ever heard from him. "The water's great!"
Fluttershy shrank back slightly again, and saw his expression start to shift, to darken. No. She couldn't do that to him. Discord didn't understand her; he knew she was afraid of everything, it was one of the first things he'd said to her, he was a master manipulator with a keen awareness of everypony's weaknesses, but when those weaknesses intersected with his own, it seemed his knowledge failed him and he couldn't make the connections he needed to. Every other pony knew Fluttershy, knew that if she was afraid of something they wanted to show her or wanted her to do with them, it wasn't about them. It was about her and her failings, the total lack of anything like logic or common sense in her overwhelming fears. But when she was afraid of something Discord was trying to give her, he didn't see it as Fluttershy being Fluttershy. He saw it as a pony being just like every other pony had ever been, to him. It didn't matter how many times she told him she trusted him; just as apparently he had issues trusting ponies, he had even greater issues believing that they could possibly trust him, and if she balked at something he said was safe, he didn't seem to recognize that she'd do the same if it was Twilight or Rainbow Dash or anypony else offering it; he saw it as proof that even the only pony who called him friend didn't really trust him.
Rainbow Dash said that that was manipulative, that Discord was pulling the "don't you trust me" card to get his own way, but Fluttershy was pretty sure she understood animal psychology better than Rainbow Dash did, and just like a pony, a draconequus was apparently still an animal. She knew that he genuinely feared that she would fear and mistrust him, she knew that he saw those shadows in almost every interaction and the only reason nopony else could tell was that he was extraordinarily good at putting up a front of caring about nothing. But she knew it was a front, she knew he could really be hurt, and she couldn't do that to him. Not when he depended on her so very much, whether he was ever willing to admit to it or not. Just like she had to be strong and face down her fears when Equestria or her friends needed her because her skills would save the day, she had to face down her fears for Discord because he was also her friend and he needed to know she trusted him. Needed to know it and believe it, not just in his mind but in his heart.
So she took a deep breath and stepped out from under the giant flower, into the rain.
It was wet, but warm, soothing, like a shower on a hot summer day rather than the chilly rain most pegasi enjoyed showering in. The heat of the desert had soaked into her completely, even with the parasol and the towel and the lemonade she'd finished; the rain washed away the sweat that soaked her mane and flank, turning the heat from something brutal to a deep, muscle-relaxing warmth. She tilted her own head back, not far enough to let the water run into her mouth but enough to let it beat down against her forehead and flow down through her mane. Fluttershy laughed. "It's wonderful, Discord!"
"Oh, I'm so glad you like it," he said, and while it sounded like he was trying to put the overdramatic emphases into the sentence that would have made it a joke, they didn't quite work, making him sound more like a colt embarrassed and pleased by praise from a fillyfriend than his usual melodramatic jesting. "Look around!"
She did, and was stunned to see plants shooting out of the ground, almost as fast as the plunder vines had, but these were normal-looking green shoots. Well, some of them were normal. Some of them were thorny or spiny. But none of them seemed to have the malevolent intent of the plunder vines; they were green, and growing up, not out, and some were already blooming into magnificent, beautiful flowers.
"Discord, did you make these?" she asked in wonderment, turning around and around again to stare at the beauty of the rapidly growing plants everywhere.
"That's the wonderful thing! I didn't! Fluttershy, they've been sleeping underground for three hundred years, waiting for this!" He spun around rapidly, the whiplash from his tail flying through the air scattering more water all over her. "Think of it, Fluttershy... trapped here by ponies who begrudged them the tiniest bit of what makes them thrive, immobile in the darkness, with no hope of life and sunlight and the fresh air again, no reason to believe they would ever be free... but they waited, they waited hundreds of years, patiently, they never gave up hope, they waited and waited and finally, finally the rains came again and now they're free! Free to be alive, and grow where they like, and breathe the air and feel the sun and move..."
Plants didn't move much, and they didn't usually have enough of a mind to feel hope or despair with. Fluttershy had a suspicion that whether he quite realized it or not, Discord wasn't actually talking about the plants. "That makes you happy, doesn't it," she said. "See, sometimes chaos can do nice things. Doesn't it make you happy to do nice things with your powers?"
"It always has, Flutters, just... you know, plants aren't ingrates. You give them water, they grow. They don't care if the water glows, or tastes like lemonade, or rains up from the ground. They just care that it's water." He looked around again. "But isn't it beautiful, Fluttershy? So much glorious freedom, so much beautiful chaos! Dead lands, flat, empty, dull, nothing but sand sand sand as far as the eye can see, and now! Now it's like a miniature jungle! Now there's life everywhere! And I didn't even make it happen... I just gave them water and they set themselves free with it!" He sighed happily. "I have no idea what's going to come up where or what color it will be or if it's a cactus or a succulent or a completely transient plant that will bloom for an hour, suck in all the water and all the light it can for its seeds, and then die. No idea at all. Isn't it marvelous?"
"Yes, it is beautiful," Fluttershy said, sincerely. She didn't care about the chaoticness of it, except to the degree that anything that could be chaotic enough to make Discord happy while also being nice enough to make ponies happy was a wonderful thing. But the idea of the plants being trapped as seeds or roots underground, awakening and flowering with the touch of the rain, coming back to life again... that had great appeal to her. And the flowers that were now blooming everywhere were as beautiful and strange as the light rain itself, and there was something wondrous about the idea that things like this really existed, that Discord hadn't made them, that nature had.
Discord went down on all fours and started running around manically through the plants like an overgrown colt, sniffing the flowers, eating things that weren't covered with spines (and occasionally things that were), but mostly just racing around chasing his tail or using the plants as obstacles to slalom through, tail swishing with a strange and alien grace. On two legs, he looked mismatched and chimerical, but on all four, he looked like a small Neighponese dragon, the kind that were long and thin and snakelike rather than the large, bulky monsters that Fluttershy was still fairly terrified of to this day even if all the ones she'd managed to talk to had turned out to be reasonable creatures, mostly. Fluttershy laughed, watching his antics. Neighponese dragons were scary at their full size, but not as scary as normal, Western dragons, and Discord was both smaller than a dragon and had a much friendlier-looking head.
"You know what these flowers need?" he called to her from some distance away.
Fluttershy was well aware her voice wouldn't carry that distance. She took to the air, fluttering through the rain over to him. Normally she really didn't like the feeling of rain falling on her wings while she was trying to fly, but the light rain felt warm and soothing and it felt more like swimming in a sun-drenched pond on a hot summer day than trying to fly through a downpour. When she was close enough, she said, "What do the flowers need?"
"Pollinators!" He snapped his fingers, and the air was filled with butterflies. Very, very strange butterflies, as large as bats, and with wings that looked like they had the leathery consistency of bat wings, but in the brilliant colors and rounded shapes of butterflies. Fluttershy gaped at them for a moment before realizing that real, ordinary butterflies couldn't handle coming out in a rainstorm like this. The light rain felt much nicer on her body than regular rain did, but it was still rain, it was still pelting down hard, and delicate butterflies wouldn't survive it. Discord had filled the desert with butterflies that could live and thrive and fly within his rainstorm.
"Oh!" Fluttershy gasped. "Discord, they're beautiful!" Several of them surrounded her, like they had the day she fell from the cloud. They weren't as delicate, as gentle and fragile, as real butterflies, but they were fuzzy and soft and when they brushed against her she thought she could feel affection from them, the same as she felt from her animals. Fluttershy laughed in delight, and then with an entirely different sensation, squirming and laughing as flying butterflies brushed wings across her sensitive belly and tickled her. "Oh, oh dear, they're tickling me! Oh, stop!"
Discord rolled onto his back, watching her, laughing himself. "Oh no! Tickled to death by the representation of her cutie mark! What a terrible fate for poor Fluttershy! Whatever shall I do?"
Fluttershy tried to get some height to get out of the butterfly swarm, but she was laughing too hard, and her squirming and wriggling was not helping her fly in the slightest. "Discord, help!" she giggled. She wasn't high enough to hurt herself if she fell, but she really didn't want to fall right now with so many cacti sprouting up from the ground.
"Ah, yes! I know just what to do!" He lunged upward onto two legs and then into the air, caught her, and declared, "She can't be tickled to death by her own cutie mark if I tickle her instead!" He then proceeded to use his nose, fluffy tail end, and soft lion paw to nuzzle, goose and otherwise tickle-torture her belly, her neck and the joints of her forelimbs. Fluttershy shrieked with laughter, wings beating frantically as she tried to free herself, kicking (but gently, she didn't want to buck him in the face or something). None of it did her any good; Discord wasn't using his powers, but he was much bigger than her, much more dextrous, and probably had centuries of experience in tickling ponies.
Also she wasn't exactly trying all that hard to genuinely escape.
When she finally felt she really couldn't take it anymore, she grabbed Discord's head with her forehooves. "Okay, okay, stop now, that's too much," she said, still laughing.
She hadn't said "stop" earlier; she'd shrieked, she'd yelled for help, she'd called his name in what would have been a stern tone if she hadn't been laughing so hard, and she'd struggled, but she had never said to stop. Discord stopped, setting her down. It was a parameter she'd set for his chaos, but it applied to tickling as well. She'd let him do what he wanted with permission, and if she was awake and could speak and didn't tell him to stop, he had permission, but the moment she told him to stop he was to do so. The first few times that he hadn't stopped when she said to, she had refused to talk to him afterward for fifteen minutes the first time, half an hour the second, and had eventually had to freeze him out for half a day before he'd stopped ignoring "stop."
She lay on her back on the ground, on top of a huge sprawling plant with fat, juicy-seeming leaves that grew plumper and plumper as more rain fell, panting and occasionally giggling with aftershocks. Discord curled around her, not actually touching her since after that much tickling she was incredibly oversensitive, but his head was resting right next to hers. "Do you really like my butterflies?"
"They're lovely," she said. "I wondered at first why they were so big and strong in comparison to regular butterflies, but then I figured out they had to be like that to fly in the rain. All the flowers will die as soon as the rain stops, won't they?" She felt rather than saw him nod; she was looking at the butterflies, not at him, but his head was lying on the same giant succulent leaf that hers was. "So they have to pollinate now or the flowers won't get to make seeds. What used to do it before all the animals died?"
"Spiders, believe it or not," Discord said.
"Really. Big fat hairy spiders that would live in the sand most of the time, but when the flowers bloomed, the spiders would all take shelter from the rain inside the flowers...and then as the flowers would fill up with water, the spiders would jump to new flowers. The weight of the spider hitting the flower would dump any of the water in the flower, so the spider would shelter there until it filled with water, and so on."
"Are you sure you're not making this up to tease me? That's a very silly way to pollinate."
"Fluttershy, Mother Nature and I have always been pretty good pals because she feels no need to make sense, as long as she gets the job done. There were other pollinators, lizards that would feed on the flower nectar if they got a chance, flies that would hatch inside the flowers and then grow and fly to other flowers to mate and lay eggs all within the duration of the rain... but the big spiders were as important here as bees are in Equestria." He sighed. "They're all dead now. All the areas that ponies colonized, they tore up all these strange plants to make room for growing pony food; the only habitats that were left for the spiders were these places, and ponies kept the rain from falling long enough that the spiders didn't make it."
"Wait... Discord?" She rolled over to face him. "Three hundred years ago you were in a statue... how do you know all this?"
He looked at her seriously. "Whenever ponies, or anyone, kill off an entire habitat, drain the earth's resources to nothing, make a desert with rains coming once every two years into a desert where it never, ever rains... that is an expression of disharmony. And I am connected to every expression of disharmony on the planet. Admittedly right now I have no idea what's going on anywhere that I'm not because I have my own senses, right in front of me, to worry about; I only sense disharmony at a distance in my dreams, now. But when I was in that statue... that, and the sounds of ponies talking near me, were the only things I could sense at all."
"Are you also connected to chaos like that? Or are they the same thing?"
"No and no. Chaos is literally everywhere; on the micro-level, at a level of things so small even Twilight might not be able to create a spell to see it, you and everything else that exists are made of slightly organized chaos. Magic itself is chaos. Harmony itself is in theory a balance of order and chaos... admittedly, rather more heavily skewed to the order side of the equation. But what is in harmony can't be free; disharmony is, by definition, doing whatever you want regardless of what anypony else is doing or wants you to do. And chaos is freedom. So harmony has a bad habit of getting too big for its britches and trying to stomp out, not just disharmony, but chaos itself. Which is fundamentally impossible but that doesn't always stop harmony from trying."
Discord wasn't usually serious enough to get philosophical, but Fluttershy liked it when he did. She wasn't sure she understood everything he was saying, but it was like she was getting to see a different side of him, the part of him that truly was ancient and wise and knowledgeable, not the part that was goofy and immature. He was so interesting like this. When he was silly, he was full of energy and things happened around him, constantly, and it wasn't something she could provide for herself or her animals but it was something she liked to feel when other ponies were making it happen. He was like Pinkie Pie that way. But then sometimes he slowed down and just talked with her, like he was doing now, and the things he said were so fascinating and sometimes weird and it made her feel like she wasn't stupid just because he was willing to tell her these things, because surely if he thought she was too dumb to understand when he got philosophical he wouldn't bother to, right?
His head was so close to hers, and the heat and the warm rain still falling all over her made her feel languid and strange, like this wasn't entirely real, like this was a dream and nothing that happened in this bizarre environment with the rainbow glowing clouds and the weird flowers everywhere and the light rain was actually happening or would have consequences. Fluttershy's heart rate jumped up with quasi-anticipation. Anything might happen and she wasn't sure any of it would matter. She was oversensitive and he was still glowing in the rain and the fact that he was relaxed and peaceful and happy maybe for the first time she'd seen him this way made him so... so...
His face was close enough for her to kiss. If she leaned forward. Just a little.
And then he sat up, breaking the moment, and really had there ever even been a moment? Why was she having ridiculous thoughts like this anyway, about Discord? Of all beings? They were just friends, right? He'd never done or said anything to make her think otherwise; he teased, but when his teasing included innuendo it was usually aimed at Twilight or Rainbow Dash, she suspected because they would splutter the loudest. Discord was a stallion – maybe not a pony, but still a stallion – and he had lived in her house for some time and he'd never made any moves on her at all or any indication he had any interest in her that way and if he had, he would, right? So the whole thing was silly and she should just put it out of her head?
"So," he said cheerfully. "What's the Fluttershy verdict? Harmless, pretty and fun, wouldn't you say?"
She nodded eagerly. "Yes, it really is."
"So... you think it's ready for Ponyville?"
Fluttershy's heart lurched. She got to her feet. "I, um, I don't know..."
"Oh, come on, Fluttershy! You just said it's harmless, and attractive, and you enjoyed it, so why wouldn't other ponies?"
"Um..." She took a deep breath. She hated doing this. Why had he asked? She didn't want to hurt him, but it would hurt him so much more if she let him go ahead with this, and ponies reacted in the way she thought they almost certainly would. "It is nice, but... it's very strange."
"Well, of course it is. That's the point! If chaos isn't strange, how is it chaos?"
"Yes, but... ponies are afraid of strange things?"
Discord looked both angry and frustrated. "If ponies are so stupid as to reject something harmless and beautiful, that was made to help them, because it's strange, then why do I care what ponies think? Do they even deserve my consideration?"
"Discord..." Fluttershy looked up at him, wishing he would sit down so she could reach him. She could fly up to his face, but it was hard to have a serious talk that way. "Um, I'm sorry... but part of the reason ponies are afraid of strange things is because of all the things you did to Ponyville when you first got loose... and then, with the vines..."
"But the vines weren't my fault! Well, they weren't my fault now, I'd totally forgotten about them!"
"I know, I know... but they were strange, and they were chaotic, and they were destructive. They were really, really scary, Discord. So, um, you, well, your old self really, but you just reminded them why they're scared of chaotic things?"
"But that's over. And nopony got seriously hurt!"
"Yes, but when the vines were taking over Ponyville no one knew that? And ponies could have gotten hurt? And anyway it was scary."
"But this isn't like that!" There was a pleading note to his voice. "This is something they'll like if they just give it a chance! You liked it, and you get scared of everything!"
"Discord... if I hadn't known it was you? I would've been scared. Because... um, strange things are scary? But I trust you? So I, uh, I thought it would be safe because you made it and you told me it was safe and I trusted you. But other ponies don't know you like I do... and you don't even try to get them to trust you. You like to rile them up and get them mad. You don't act with them like you do with me."
"I tried. You weren't having any," he grumbled.
"I wanted to make friends with you, so I tried really hard not to get upset when you tried to get me upset, because that's not the way to make friends. But I don't think anypony else is going to do that for you? Um, you're not very nice to other ponies, even though you're nice to me, so they don't trust you?"
"Well, they're hardly nice to me!"
"Yes, um, but you started it. Now they're scared of you, so you'd have to work extra hard to make them not scared, and... you haven't done that. I don't even think you've tried? So... they aren't going to like strange things that come from you, because they'll be scared."
"But you could explain to them that it's harmless!"
She sighed. "Discord, everypony who doesn't trust you knows that I do. Most of them think that means I'm stupid, or I'm so soft-hearted that I'm letting you take advantage of me and I don't really know what you're like. Some of them think you mind controlled me. Some of them think I'm a weird freak myself because I live near the Everfree and I take care of all the animals? So it's not going to do any good for me to explain. And, um... maybe I could have talked to Twilight and Pinkie and Applejack and Rarity, before the vines, and gotten them to agree to talk to ponies about it? Maybe even Rainbow Dash if you let her play with the clouds? But now they're really kind of mad at you about those vines."
"But I helped!"
"But you lied to them too. You said you were innocent and you said you didn't know what the vines were and we should ask Zecora, and then when it was all over it turned out you knew the whole time? And I know—" She held up a hoof, forestalling the objection she saw starting to form on his lips. "I know you said those things because you were afraid we'd use the Elements and if we did we'd kill the Tree and you must have been worried at least a little bit about us and Ponyville and the Princesses, since you did help even though they were your vines. But they don't, and you never said you were sorry to any of them."
"I never said I was sorry to you, either."
"But I know you meant it anyway. They don't know you like I do. You don't show them all of what you're really like, so how could they? When you're with them all you ever do is make jokes and play pranks and do things to get them mad. You're nice to me, so I trust you, but you aren't nice to them."
"And again, they are hardly nice to me. Well, except Pinkie, when there aren't vines eating her hometown."
"Discord, you messed with all of their minds and you turned them against their Elements and you turned Ponyville into a disaster area. If you never try to be nice to them, after you started out being mean, why would they be nice to you?"
"Why were you? Just because Celestia asked you to reform me?" he asked bitterly.
"Yes, that's why I started being nice," Fluttershy said. "And so then you started being a little bit nice, and I started to see good things in you, and then you gave up being evil to be my friend. No other pony has been through that with you. You never showed them your nice side very much. So they don't trust you. And, um, I'm sorry, but that's on you to fix, Discord, not on them. You'd have to be the one to try."
"Then why should I?" he snapped bitterly. "It's hopeless, you know! Ponies can't possibly comprehend me any more than I can actually comprehend them. You are all so boring! How can you stand your lives, day in, day out, the same things all the time! Why do I care about being good for their sake, when none of them care even slightly about me, or what I'm going through..."
"You don't really! If you did you would know how much I need this!"
"Why?" Fluttershy asked. This time she did rear up on her hind legs and take his paw in her hoof, trying to draw him down to sit with her. "Why do you need this so much?"
"Because I'm so bored!"
She shook her head. "You get to do Chaos things to my house. You live in a weird thingy that's not even really a place where everything is Chaos. You can do things like this in places nopony lives, any time you want to. Why is it so important to do something to Ponyville?"
"It doesn't have to be Ponyville. It could be Canterlot. Or Manehattan. Or Appleloosa. Or Neighpon, it doesn't even matter, it could be in the griffon kingdoms, it could be in Zebrica, I don't care. But it has to be somewhere that ponies, or some other animal that can talk to me, can see it. Because if it isn't, how do I even know it's real? How do I know I'm not still in a statue, hallucinating that I'm free and spreading chaos, if nopony's there to react? Bad enough that so many of you are so boring and predictable, the imaginary ponies I made up in my head aren't any different from any of you, but if none of you are there, there isn't even a hope that somepony's going to have a reaction I didn't expect?"
"I'm sorry," Fluttershy whispered, horrified. He never really talked about being a statue except to say that it was boring, uncomfortable and he hated it. A few minutes ago he'd talked about plants waiting for rain and it had sounded like he'd been talking about himself, trapped in stone. But this went farther than the pain of being trapped in darkness. It sounded like his imprisonment might have actually damaged Discord's sanity; he wasn't well known for sanity to begin with, and from all Princess Celestia had said it wasn't as if he'd been any less obsessed with spreading chaos before he'd been imprisoned, but if he was seriously questioning whether reality was real unless he had another observer to share it with... that was probably a very bad condition for a being with the power to warp reality to have.
"And it's more than that even. There are so many rules. Rules rules rules, everywhere there are rules! Gravity is a rule, things fall down. Why don't they fall up? Why don't they fall sideways? Fat ponies have a harder time getting up because gravity pulls on them harder, but in water they float! Why can't fat ponies float in air, too? Grass is green, why is that? Why can't it be orange? Leaves can be orange. But only in fall! Why can't they be orange all the time? Why can't they be made of glass? Why does rain always have to be water? Everything is always the same all the time, always following the rules, and I can't stand it! Fluttershy, it... it hurts, to look at the world being so boring, so the same all the time, and it's going to be that way forever and ever and ever and it will never be different and there's no variety, no spice, and I could fix it! I could just reach out and make a tiny tweak and make it better! And nopony will let me!"
"I didn't know..."
"Of course you didn't. You're fine with the boring world, with the rules that never break. All of you are. You're terrified when anything is different. Can you imagine... okay, can you imagine how Rarity would feel if she was stuck in a country where all the ponies wore uniforms? The exact same uniform? All of them, all the time? And when she tried to make an attractive new outfit that looked different, they screamed in terror or threw things at her or tried to turn her into stone?"
"Discord... I'm so sorry that we make you feel this way. It must be so hard for you."
"It is. It's very hard. You can't even imagine. Every moment that I look at the world, I see it made of patterns, like webs of rules, tying it into place, and I want to break them. I want to reshape the pattern so it doesn't always look the same. It is soooo boring. Like what if every single book you read had the exact same plot. I want to change it, I want to change it so much! It hurts to look at it and know I have to leave it that way, that I have to leave it boring and always the same. Because ponies will be scared." His voice took on a mocking note, then grew angry again. "Well, why do I care if ponies are scared? Ponies are scared of everything! Ponies maybe need to grow up some! Stop hiding under your beds, you little foals, and embrace some variety in your existences, it's not going to kill you!"
He sighed heavily and finally sat down. "Chaos is beautiful, Fluttershy. It's freedom. It's creativity. It's art. It is the essence of beauty. Why can't ponies see that? Why don't any of them see beauty in chaos?" His voice cracked. "Why do I have to live in a world where I'm the only one who sees it?"
"I'm sorry," Fluttershy said again. "But... I don't want everypony to hate you... I want them to see what I see." She raised her head and a hoof to the rain, and gestured, before sitting next to him. "It is beautiful. It shouldn't be scary. I want them to see it that way... and they won't if you do it now. You, um, you need to try to... maybe if you don't want to make other friends, at least try not to make enemies? Maybe try to get some ponies to think you're ok? Because... this is beautiful. And it would be so sad if you showed it to them, and they didn't understand and were scared, when all you wanted to do was make something nice for them?"
"That's why it's easier to terrorize ponies with chaos," he said dully. "Because if I make something that's intended to please them, and it terrifies them, their reaction ruins everything. Whereas if I make something that's intended to terrify them, and it works, that's hilarious."
"I know it's harder this way, but... please? For me?"
"Am I supposed to be winning ponies' trust for me or for you?"
"Well... both! Because you would be happier if ponies appreciated your chaos, and I would be happier if ponies appreciated you. I'm not like you, Discord, I'm not okay with nopony agreeing with me about what should be appreciated... actually I guess you just said you're not really okay with it either... but if I have a friend, I want my friends to be friends with each other. I want other ponies to understand why I'm friends with you. I want them to see what I see in you."
"What do you see in me?" he asked sardonically. "I know perfectly well you took up this 'being my friend' business as a strategy to reform me. If there's something you genuinely like about me, aside from the fact that I don't commit acts of unspeakable evil as long as you claim to like me, I would dearly love to know what."
He laughed sharply. "As I thought. You can't actually think of anything, can you?"
"No! I mean yes, I can! I just... um... that question's kind of embarrassing..."
"Oh, surely not. I can hardly imagine you of all ponies having sordidly embarrassing intentions toward me," he said mockingly. Fluttershy felt like her face might burn off.
"No! I don't, I just..." ...think maybe I do, except you wouldn't care because you don't think of me that way and I shouldn't think of you that way because everypony will think I'm even weirder than I am and besides you're a friend so it's just wrong because that's not how you think of me because who would ever even want me... "okay, um, you're funny..."
"I'm also mean when I'm funny. Which you have said, repeatedly, you don't like."
"But you're funny sometimes in a way that isn't mean! Like, like, when I told you you should stop talking about how great it was that the Elements were gone because the reason you were staying good was our friendship anyway and you made yourself tiny. That wasn't mean! Or you made me a parasol just when we got here and it was a giant flower. That was funny, and it wasn't mean. It was actually really nice."
"So I presume you're friends with every comedian in Equestria then?"
"No. You're also fun. Not just funny. Like the time you turned the inside of my house into a bouncy house. Or when you froze the bird bath and made you and me tiny so we could skate on it because I wasn't going to skate with you when it was hurting the animals but I said it was okay to use the bird bath as long as we put it back to water when we were done? And, and you have a lot of energy, you always make everything seem more lively and when you're gone it's just so quiet and I always used to like it nice and peaceful but sometimes now it just feels dull? Like how you feel when you go to a party and you see all your friends and you have fun but then the party ends, and you go home and you're all alone again? Even if all you're doing is sitting drinking tea, it's like, being around you is always kind of exciting and if you're not being mean to my friends then it's like a party."
"I'm a free-roving one-draconequus party?" Now he sounded amused. "I believe I actually like the sound of that."
"And you're so confident. Sometimes you're a jerk about it, but sometimes you just seem exactly like I wish I could be, like you can be assertive and stand up for yourself and you're never shy and you're almost never scared and when you are usually I'm the only one who can tell? And you really don't care that ponies think you're weird, it doesn't bother you at all, you just wish they would like the same things you like a little bit but you're never sad that they think you're strange? And you know so much! And you talk to me about it like you expect me to understand you, like I'm like Twilight and not just a dumb little pegasus who can't even fly?"
"Oh, you are not a dumb little pegasus, Fluttershy. Believe me."
"And! You think animals are just as good as ponies, like I do. You're biologically a meat eater, I've seen your teeth, but I've never even see you eat a fish. Even Harry my bear friend eats fish, and you have the same parts in you that griffons have and all of them eat meat but you don't. You drink milk and you eat cheese and eggs and I never see you eat hay or oats or other basic pony food so I think maybe you're more like a bear omnivore than a goat omnivore? But you still don't eat meat, and you could, so that means I think that you don't think it's right."
Now Discord looked slightly embarrassed. He shrugged. "I can't very well taunt something if I've just made it my lunch, now can I? Well, I could, but there's chaos and then there's just plain disgusting."
"And, um, you look interesting, and you are interesting, and... and you challenge me to get over my fears, the rest of my friends do it too but even more with you because so much of what you want to show me or do with me might scare me but I know you'll keep me safe and I know you have the power to, so I just, so I just have to make myself believe I can do it because I trust you..."
And because... because I think maybe... maybe I kind of sort of... love you? A little bit? Maybe?
She couldn't say that. She could never say that. She didn't even know if it was true. She hadn't started having weird thoughts like that until today; true, her heart beat faster and she felt excited and more alive every time she saw Discord and she felt disappointed and lonely after he left, and that was kind of what it felt like to have a crush, she'd had enough of them to know... and his fur was so fluffy and soft where it was brown, and so silky and smooth where it was gray, and he was so strong when she cuddled up against him, he was practically a god and even without his magic he was stronger than almost anypony and if her friends weren't around for him to bait and torment she felt so safe with him, and yet he was so wild and unpredictable and maybe she shouldn't even trust him as much as she did, but she did...
And he was older than her to a ludicrous degree and he wasn't even a pony and there was no way he could possibly want a tiny weak little magic-less mortal like her so it didn't matter. It didn't matter if she had a crush, it didn't matter if he was beautiful when he was actually happy and adorable when he was sleeping, it didn't matter that she'd been having weird thoughts since he brought her here and there was that one moment where she wanted to kiss him... none of it mattered, because he didn't feel the same way and it would make their friendship totally awkward if he knew. It was better to just stay friends, that was all.
Discord sighed. "Well, if you're willing to sing my praises like this, how can I deny you anything?" he said, but he didn't sound happy about it. More like defeated. "I won't bring Ponyville my light rain until you tell me they can appreciate it. And I won't make it rain fish in Canterlot, either. Even though I would really, truly, dearly love to make it rain fish in Canterlot."
Fluttershy blinked at him. "Why fish?"
"Why not fish?" He smirked. "Oh, come on, Fluttershy, can't you see it? Fish swimming in air like it's water, wiggling and squirming their way down from the sky like they're swimming to the ground rather than falling, making detours to swim past ponies or explore buildings or eat other fish... wouldn't that be priceless?"
"Well, it would be kind of funny... but then all the fish would pile up in the streets? And wouldn't they die? And, um, Princess Celestia might get mad..."
"Oh, there was a day, once upon a time, when Celestia would have appreciated a good prank like fish rain," Discord said. He sighed deeply again. "But I suppose those days are long gone."
She hugged him fiercely. "Thank you. Thank you for keeping your chaos under control for ponies, even though it's really hard for you. I know nopony else really understands how hard it is, I know I didn't until you told me, and I appreciate it so much that you're working so hard on it. I promise you it won't be forever. Someday you'll be able to make nice, beautiful chaos like your light rain anytime you want and ponies won't be scared anymore. We can work together to make that happen, okay?"
"Okay," he said in a tone of amused resignation, and hugged her back. "Tell you what, can I bring the light rain by your cottage one of these days? Maybe you could invite Twilight over to see it, she'd probably think it was fascinating."
The rain was dying down. Plants that had grown enormous, packing themselves full of rainwater, now rolled themselves up, sealing the water away to make it through however many years it would be without water next time. Flowers were wilting, petals falling away in the last rain drips. "I'd better get the butterflies out of here before the sun comes back out," Discord said. "They won't manage very long in desert sunlight."
"Do you think they would be okay in the Everfree Forest?"
"Only one way to find out, isn't there?" He snapped his talon and the butterflies vanished. "Go out and visit them for me tomorrow, see how they're doing."
"Where will you be?"
"Oh, you know. Around. Doing chaos stuff." He grinned cheekily at her, but his eyes slid away when she tried to meet them. "So I suppose there's things you need to be doing?"
"Yes, it's almost evening, I think? I need to feed the animals."
"Well, then. I'll drop you off home, and then I shall be off, on my own travails." He picked her up, held her up to his head and looked her in the eye. "Thank you, Fluttershy. I... don't say that very often to you, do I."
"No, but I know you mean it."
"Well, sometimes I have to say it. So, thank you." He set her back down. "See you in a few days?"
Discord snapped his talon, and she was home again. Alone, in the quiet. Surrounded by her animals, but they weren't Discord.
Fluttershy decided that after she fed them, she would go into town and see Pinkie Pie. If she was feeling a little lonely and down because leaving Discord's presence was like going home from a party, then going to see Pinkie should be exactly what she needed.
Two months later, and that was still the last time she'd seen Discord, the last time anypony had seen him.
When he hadn't reappeared in a few days like he'd said he would, Fluttershy had been a little worried, but Discord missing dates was perfectly normal.
When he hadn't shown up in a week, her friends had gotten very antsy. Rainbow Dash and Applejack had been certain he had run off to cause chaos somewhere in the world, and Twilight had considered that the most logical explanation for his disappearance. Fluttershy didn't want to believe it, but she'd just had that conversation where he'd explained how hard it was for him to restrain himself; she could believe that he might have lost the fight with his own impulses. Twilight had tried summoning him, but without the Elements, the summoning spell was more like knocking on his door, wherever he was; it couldn't force him to come back.
When he hadn't shown up in two weeks and yet there was no sign of any undue amount of chaos anywhere, Twilight had scryed for him. The amount of chaos magic Discord threw off in the course of everyday living was like a beacon, she explained. If he was anywhere in the world, she'd find him.
She hadn't found him.
Celestia and Luna had helped. They hadn't found him either.
And now it had been two months and Fluttershy was worried sick. What had happened to him? He was immortal, virtually invulnerable, but if he could be affected by the Elements of Harmony perhaps there were other things that could affect him as well? What if the mental problems he'd been hinting at had flared up somehow and he was holed up somewhere in a deep depression believing that this was all a dream and he was still trapped in a statue? What if somepony with power, like King Sombra except not dead, had trapped him somehow? What if he'd done something impulsive and strange, like tried to go to the moon on his own power, and got stuck there?
There was nothing she could do about it, of course. She had to just live her life, waiting, with no idea when or even if she would ever learn what had happened to her friend. Wishing she'd told him before he vanished how she thought maybe she felt, even though at the time she'd thought it was a bad idea because it might make their friendship awkward, but now if she was never going to see him again she felt terrible grief at the thought that she could have told him and maybe now she'd never be able to.
Twilight had scried for him again relatively recently. Still nothing, and it had been two months. Two months was nothing to Discord's lifetime, Fluttershy tried to tell herself. Maybe he really had just lost track of the time.
She was feeding the chickens, midday, and collecting the eggs they'd been good enough to leave for her this morning, and actually not really thinking about Discord at all because life goes on and when you don't know if you will ever see somepony again sooner or later you have to stop worrying about it constantly or it will destroy you, and at that moment she was focused on chickens.
"Whooo," came a noise behind her.
Fluttershy turned. "Owlowliscious! How nice of you to visit! I, um, I don't have anything for you to snack on—" owls were obligate predators, and Fluttershy couldn't bring herself to sacrifice mice or small birds for her friend's pet – "but I do have some nice cool water if you'd like!"
Owlowliscious conveyed that he was working at the moment, that he'd come out here to drop off a message to her.
Fluttershy took the message from his talons and carefully unrolled it with her hooves. What could it be?
Please come meet me and the others at the library. We think we have a lead on Discord, and it sounds like he's in trouble.
Her hoof trembled enough that the letter fluttered out of it. They'd found Discord. They'd found him, and he was in trouble. Just as she'd feared.
"Here," she told the chickens, putting the basket of eggs back in the coop. "I have something very important to do, okay? So if you could keep watching over this batch of eggs for me, if you don't mind...?"
The chickens informed her that that would be no problem. She ran in the house, mane flying. "Angel! Angel, you're going to have to take care of things around here for a little while, ok? If I'm going to be gone past dinnertime I'll send someone to take care of you and all the others, and you'd better not give them a hard time, mister, or I'll be cross with you?"
Angel wanted to know what was possibly so important as to make her skip making his dinner and putting the task in the hooves of strangers.
Fluttershy sighed. She wasn't going to tell Angel it was about Discord; he hated the draconequus, and the feeling seemed to be at least somewhat mutual. "It's an Elements of Harmony thing. I mean, I know we don't have the actual Elements anymore, but we're still connected to them? If that makes sense?"
No, Angel informed her. No, that did not make any sense at all.
"Well, I can't stand here and explain it right now, okay? I'll see you later, Angel, bye!"
And then she turned and ran, at full gallop, wings beating not to let her fly but to add to her land speed, toward the Ponyville library.
This story is in the same continuity as "The Last Draconequus", "Princess Twilight Sparkle Endcaps" and "Elements of Opposition." The fic sequence for this particular continuity goes like this:
Last Draconequus and related fics: Discord's childhood and history
Awkward Conversations: Post "Keep Calm and Flutter On", pre-Alicorn Twilight. Discord has conversations with several other characters. Most of them do not go well.
Princess Twilight Sparkle Endcaps:
- Vines: Pre-"Princess Twilight Sparkle". Discord decides to help with the vines. Mostly.
- Detente: Post-"Princess Twilight Sparkle". Zecora comes to Discord with an offer from the Tree of Harmony, and some advice.
Light Rain: Discord has something to show Fluttershy. Bridge between "Princess Twilight Sparkle Endcaps" and "Elements of Opposition".
Elements of Opposition (series):
- Discord in Hell (Not Literally): Discord travels to an alternate universe to wreak entertaining havoc, and picks the wrong one. After being enslaved with twisted versions of the Elements of Harmony that his now-dead counterpart had corrupted, thus corrupting their Bearers, Discord writes a desperate plea for help.
- Twilight Sparkle's Report On The Entropic Gradient: Technically happens before "Discord in Hell". The corrupted Twilight Sparkle outlines her plan for Discord to her version of Princess Celestia.
- Dragonfire and Sympathy: The alternate Spike is trying not to have any sympathy for Discord.
- World Without Harmony: Stories of the alternate universe.
- Elements of Opposition: The Mane 6 from the regular universe go on a mission to rescue Discord from the alternate universe.
These are not hyperlinked because fanfiction dot net strips hyperlinks, but all of them either are or soon will be available on my author page.