Discord was a stone statue again.
He didn't look carefree, laughing, like he had for a thousand years, and he didn't look terrified, like he had when Fluttershy and her friends had turned him to stone. Instead he looked sad. Fluttershy couldn't remember why she had agreed to help her friends turn him to stone, and break her promise, or if she even had agreed – maybe the five of them found a way to do it without her. She hoped so, because the sight of him, head drooping, hands clasped in front of his chest, filled her with a terrible grief and guilt.
She couldn't bear the thought of him standing out in a garden, all alone, prey to nature and the weather. "I'm going to take you home and put you in my living room, okay, Discord?" she said to the statue. "And I'll talk to you every day, and read to you, and... and keep you company, because we're still friends. Even after what you did." She wasn't sure what, exactly, he did, but it didn't matter. He had to have done something to have ended up in stone, but she wished that her friends had shown mercy. Had they pushed her into helping them, or just done it themselves? She felt sick with guilt, and wished she could remember which way it had gone. If only they'd just let her talk to him! This was terrible for him; surely they could have found a better way?
But they hadn't, so she was going to take him home.
Carefully, so carefully, she wrapped ropes around him and tied them around her middle. Then she rose up into the air, flapping as hard as she could. The statue was surprisingly light. She hadn't been sure she'd even be able to move it, but she was carrying it without much effort.
Then Rainbow Dash slammed into her ropes while speeding through the air, and broke them. Discord fell.
Desperately, Fluttershy dove for the statue, but couldn't catch it in time. Miraculously the only thing that broke was his goat leg. She could get some epoxy at her house and glue it back on. "Rainbow, you just broke Discord with your carelessness!" Fluttershy shouted.
"Eh, who cares? He's just Discord," Rainbow Dash said. "Sorry, gotta scram!"
She flew off, leaving Fluttershy with the statue. With the broken ropes, she couldn't carry him again, and she really should glue him first. So she flew home to get more ropes, and glue, and returned... to discover with horror that an entire classroom's worth of foals were running around and playing in the meadow where she'd left Discord.
"Oh no!" She flew down to shoo them away, and found they had broken off his antlers and wings. "Get away from him! Go!"
"They're only playing," Cheerilee said.
"But they're breaking him!"
"You can put him back together, though, right? So no harm done. They're just foals," Cheerilee said.
When the foals left, Fluttershy laid out Discord's pieces carefully, preparing to glue them back together. Then Pinkie Pie came bouncing in.
"Hi, Fluttershy! I'm having another party! Do you want to come to my party?"
"No, I'm sorry, I have to glue Discord back together," Fluttershy said.
"Aw! You're gonna work on gluing that old meanie pants statue back together when you could be partying with your friends? Come on!"
"But I really have to – PINKIE!" Fluttershy shrieked suddenly, as one of Pinkie's bounces landed on Discord's broken bat wing, snapping it in half. "You broke him! You broke his wing!"
"Whoops, sorry! I'll be careful!" Pinkie said, and promptly bounced onto his goat leg, breaking that too.
"NO! Pinkie, just go away! I have to fix Discord and you keep breaking him!"
"You're being mean!" Pinkie said. "You should be with your friends, not fixing a dumb old statue! See if I invite you to a party again!" And she bounced off.
Fluttershy felt sick. She hated conflict with her friends, and now she had really upset Pinkie Pie... but on the other hand, Pinkie had broken two of Discord's limbs. Fluttershy tried to match the two pieces of the wing up, but there seemed to be a tiny little chip on one edge that made them not fit together right.
Then Rarity was there. "Darling, I've heard you're being very rude today, and I've come to ask you to stop it."
"I'm not trying to be rude, but I need to put Discord back together. Look at his poor wing!" She held up the pieces. "You're good with detail work, Rarity, maybe you could help me?"
"Hmm." Rarity levitated both pieces. "Well, this is hardly quality work. I'm not sure something so shoddy could possibly be repaired."
"But it's not a real statue! It's Discord! I have to put him back together again or I can't save him!"
"Some things just aren't worth saving, Fluttershy," Rarity said dismissively, and dropped the two wing pieces. They shattered into half a dozen pieces of various sizes, as Fluttershy stared in horror. "You really should stop worrying about this old statue and come spend time with your friends. We're more important than a nasty old thing like this. But I suppose you'll come to your senses eventually." She pranced off, as Fluttershy stared in horror.
"Discord," she whimpered. "How am I going to get you back together?"
She managed to glue the two pieces of his leg together, and set them aside to dry as she tried to find the pieces of the broken wing. "Oh, no, they're so tiny," she whimpered. "How will I ever find them all?"
Then she heard a loud "crack", and looked up to see Applejack rolling a barrel over the leg she had set out to dry. Not only had it snapped in the place where she'd already glued it, but it had broken in many other pieces as well. "Oh no!"
"Sorry, sugarcube, what'd I run over?" Applejack asked.
"Just go away! Just all of you go away and leave me alone! I have to fix him!" Fluttershy screamed at her.
Applejack looked at the broken Discord pieces. "Waste of your time if you ask me," she said, and rolled her barrel off.
Fluttershy started to cry. There were so many pieces now, how would she get them all together? None of her friends understood how important this was, or cared.
The sunlight was starting to fade as the sun approached the horizon. If night fell she'd never find Discord's pieces. She worked frantically, trying to find all the tiny bits and gather them, but some of the smaller pieces kept flying off as she accidentally brushed them with her wing.
"Fluttershy, you need to come in," Twilight said. "It's dangerous out here in this meadow. Night's coming."
Fluttershy looked down at Twilight's hooves. She was standing precariously over Discord's head, her hooves dangerously close to it. "Please be careful, Twilight, Discord is very fragile! You could break him!"
"That's not important. We have to keep you safe. You're our friend, but Discord's just a nuisance. He's better off in stone."
"But everypony has been breaking him into pieces! I have to glue him!"
"You can't fix everything, Fluttershy," Twilight said, and stepped forward. There was a crack. "Come on now."
Fluttershy looked down at Twilight's hooves again, in despair, where one hoof was standing where Discord's neck used to meet his head, except that her hoof had stepped right through his neck, crumbling the part she'd stepped on into dust and severing Discord's head.
I can't fix that, Fluttershy thought, numb with horror. I can't put so much dust and crumbly bits back together into part of his neck. I can't glue his head onto his neck with that piece missing. I can't save him.
"Anyway, you'd better go inside," Twilight said, and teleported away without even paying attention to the damage she'd done.
Fluttershy reached for Discord's head with shaking hooves. Tears welled in her eyes as she cradled the stone head that would never animate again, never laugh, never greet her, never tell her jokes, never never never—
She screamed, and didn't stop.
Fluttershy gasped, and opened her eyes to moonlit darkness and the little nightlight she had plugged in.
It was a dream. Just a dream. Discord wasn't really stone. No one had broken him into little bits. He was downstairs on her couch and her friends hadn't cracked him into little pieces with carelessness and recklessness and ignored everything she had to say and acted like it wasn't even important to save him. It was a dream.
She threw the covers off and fluttered downstairs, flying maybe just a little bit faster than she ordinarily would.
Discord slept on the couch. He didn't keep to the day/night cycle like ponies did, so when Tuesday tea time, practically the only time Discord actually bothered to keep, had rolled around, he was at the end of what for him had been a lengthy waking cycle, and he'd asked if he could crash on her couch. He'd been sleeping since shortly after dinner.
Fluttershy hovered above him and gently, very gently, touched his chest, confirming that it was rising and falling exactly as it should. She didn't know if Discord really needed to breathe, but he was definitely doing it anyway.
Choking down a sudden sob, she lowered herself onto the couch, wrapping her forelegs around his chest, nuzzling her cheek and mane against his long neck.
Discord stirred. "Huh? Whuh – Fluttershy?"
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to wake you," she whispered. "I had a bad dream."
She felt Discord smiling from where his jaw laid against her mane, rather than seeing it. "Oh dear. Most ponies think of me as the cause of nightmares, not the cure."
"I don't care," she said, and pressed her face and muzzle into his chest so she wouldn't sob, because the reminder of how much other ponies didn't care about him reminded her of her dream, and even though he was obviously alive and safe, the memory still made her want to cry.
"Well. If you need me to protect you from the bad things that go bump in the night, I'd be happy to," Discord murmured sleepily, shifting himself so he was holding her too, his lion leg supporting her from below and his eagle talon draped over her, combing through her hair a few times before finally going still again.
She lay on top of him, holding and being held by him, breathing his scent and feeling his fur against hers, as his breathing changed and he fell back asleep. She wasn't going to tell him that she wasn't here for him to protect her, but for her to protect him.