When Discord had asked Fluttershy if he could escort her home from the Gala, her first immediate reaction was to say no. Make a polite excuse about having promised to go out with Rarity. Rarity would back her up on that without question. But then the thought occurred to her that if she said yes, it would give her a perfect opportunity to discuss this with him, in private. Because she was fairly certain he didn't really get why what he'd done was wrong.
She was tired, after a stressful evening – Fluttershy found parties exhausting even when they were entirely fun, and the Gala... had not been. Between the humiliation of watching Discord make a complete fool of himself, the guilt she felt for hurting Discord's feelings, the guilt she felt for being such a doormat that she felt guilty for hurting Discord's feelings after he'd tried to do such a terrible thing to Tree Hugger, the guilt she felt for dragging Tree Hugger into a dangerous situation and the anger she felt at Discord for making it a dangerous situation... right now dealing with Discord was the last thing she wanted to do. But she was the only one who could ever get through to him. And this particular thing he'd done... oh, in the end no real harm had been done, but she could see the pattern. If she did nothing, this toxic behavior would grow until somepony really got hurt, or he ended up in stone, or both.
"Escorting her home", in this case, involved snapping up a giant pumpkin with a delightful little carriage compartment inside, making it levitate, and flying it back to Ponyville. As long as Fluttershy didn't get close enough to the window to see the ground, she could enjoy the view of the moonlit sky and the stars without triggering her fear of heights. Fluttershy didn't want to start the conversation here, up in the sky, supported only by Discord's power; she didn't think he would deliberately harm her out of anger, but if he got upset, what if he lost control of the carriage?
So she waited until they reached her house, and she invited him in for tea. And then when he was sitting on her sofa, sipping at a teacup she'd given him (though at least this time he was drinking the tea too, not just the cup), she said, "Discord, we need to talk."
Discord made a face. "Oh, must we?"
"Yes. We do."
"I hate it when you say those words."
"I know, but we do have to talk," she said firmly. "What you did at the Gala—"
"But I apologized!" Discord said. "And eventually, after Tree Chugger cleared her chakras or whatever she was doing, she said she forgave me and she gave me a hug!"
Fluttershy decided to let the childish misremembering of Tree Hugger's name slide. "You did apologize, yes, and I'm very proud of you," Fluttershy said. "I'm sure it was very hard for you to put aside your pride and say you were sorry, but you did it, and that's wonderful."
Discord puffed up slightly. "There, you see? Everything is just fine. I apologized, she forgave me, it's all water under the bridge."
Fluttershy sighed. "No. It's not."
"But what's the problem? I apologized!"
"Discord, the problem is that you did the thing that you needed to apologize for in the first place. What you did was very, very wrong, and I'm not sure you understand why."
Golden eyes glared down at her. Fluttershy wasn't intimidated – today's events had at least shown her how desperately Discord depended on her friendship, and how miserable the thought of anything disrupting it made him. He wouldn't harm her, no matter how mad he got. Harming others was another story, which was why she had to have this conversation with him. "Of course I understand why. Do you think I'm stupid?" He conjured a floating image of himself in a corner with a dunce cap on, only to surround it with a glowing red circle with a diagonal line through it. The image then vanished. "You weren't rejecting me for Tree Slugger, so everything I feared was absolutely moot and there was no reason for me to have been jealous in the first place!"
Patiently Fluttershy said, "No, Discord. That's not the reason why what you did was wrong. Even if it had been exactly what you thought, even if I had been rejecting you for Tree Hugger – which you should have known I would never do," she added sternly, then continued, "it still would have been wrong."
Discord's brow furrowed in an exaggeratedly skeptical look. "Oh, do tell. Is this where you tell me 'hurting ponies is never the right thing to do, Discord?'" He pitched his voice high and quiet, imitating her. "I wasn't going to hurt her. She'd have done fine in that dimension. Señor Piquante would have made a great friend for her."
"Firstly, it hurts ponies to be separated from their friends and the ponies they love," Fluttershy said, "so yes, being sent to a strange dimension where she doesn't know anypony and doesn't know how to get home would hurt her. How would you like it if somepony did that to you?"
Discord scoffed. "It's been tried. Many times. I always find my way back eventually."
"But what if you didn't know how to get back?"
"Then I'd have to be suffering from such serious amnesia that I wouldn't remember that I had friends back in this dimension, so it wouldn't bother me."
Oh give me strength. He was being particularly obstinate today. Discord wasn't naturally very empathic, but he was imaginative, and he was perfectly capable of imagining what it would feel like to suffer something he normally couldn't feel, but that ponies could... when he felt like it. "Then take my word for it. When you don't have the power to just come back to the dimension you came from, it's very painful and frightening to be sent to a dimension where you don't know anypony and the rules of reality are all different."
"How would you know? No one's ever done that to you, have they?"
"No, but I can imagine it. It would be awful." Fluttershy shivered. "Can't you imagine it too?"
Discord rolled his eyes. "I suppose."
"And secondly, yes, it's wrong to do something like that to someone who hasn't intentionally hurt you. Tree Hugger was willing to try to be friends with you. She complimented you several times."
"She didn't even remember she'd met me before! How do you forget meeting someone like me?"
Fluttershy sighed. "She doesn't always have a very good memory. She says it's more important to live in the present and be, um, I guess aware of all the possibilities around you than to remember the past. That's one of the reasons I thought you'd get along with her, you know. She's a very accepting pony, she doesn't judge anypony, and I remember you saying something about having a similar outlook on life and the past?"
"Well, I've said that the past is past, you can't change it, so there's no point dwelling on it. Which is why I find it very strange that we're having this conversation. If your good pal and I both agree that the past is past, why are you making a big deal about something that both of us got over?"
"Because the reason you did it is wrong," Fluttershy said. "And if we don't address that, you'll do it again, and maybe the next time it won't, um, end up so well."
"We already discussed that the reason that I did it was wrong," Discord said. "You weren't abandoning me, it's possible to have multiple really close friends, la la la."
"No, that's what I'm trying to say," Fluttershy said. "Tree Hugger didn't do anything to you. She was nothing but kind to you. She didn't know that you felt that she was getting in the way of your friendship with me. And even if she had been, she still wouldn't have known. So she was innocent. If I had really rejected you for a different friend, then I would have been the one doing something wrong, not Tree Hugger."
"So what, was I supposed to throw you into another dimension? How would that get me what I wanted?"
"What you wanted was our friendship back the way it had been, right?"
"No, I wanted all of Celestia's secret stash of cake. Really, Fluttershy, must you even ask?"
"How would sending my friend to another dimension ever get you that, then?"
He stared at her. Apparently that hadn't occurred to him. It amazed her sometimes, that Discord could be so very intelligent and yet sometimes so very, very childishly ignorant.
"It wouldn't, would it. If I had decided I was going to reject you for no good reason, because I liked Tree Hugger better... how would sending Tree Hugger to another dimension make me feel good about you, or make me feel as if I should go back to being your friend?"
"Well, sending you to another dimension would just make certain you'd never be my friend again," Discord muttered. "So that wouldn't have been any better."
"That's right... because neither of those things would have done any good for anypony. I would have been unhappy, Tree Hugger would have been unhappy, and you might have felt good for a few moments because you would have felt like you got revenge... but then it would sink in that you'd lost your friend, and then you would be unhappy." She flapped her wings and flew over to him, looking him in the eye. "Discord, if you feel rejected by your friend... you should say so. If they're a real friend, and they understand that they're making you unhappy, they'll stop. If they're not a real friend, they won't stop, but then you're better off without them."
"But I wouldn't have been better off without you," Discord said plaintively. "Even if you were rejecting me. I had to have you back. I... I don't have any other friends without you, Fluttershy."
"You have friends! You made friends with Pinkie finally, right? And Twilight! And even Rarity seemed to be warming up to you. And the Cutie Mark Crusaders—"
"—hate me ever since... you know, the whole thing with Tirek. You should have seen how they acted when I went to Rarity's to ask who everypony was going with. Like I was going to eat them or something."
"They did feel very betrayed," Fluttershy said. "I don't think you've ever really tried to make it up to them, have you?"
"I tried to invite them on another trip."
"Discord, if they don't trust you why would they want to go on a trip with you? You have to win back their trust. That includes saying you're sorry. All of us saw you apologize, but they didn't."
"I suppose, but still. If you weren't my friend, Pinkie and Twilight would stop being my friends, and Celestia wouldn't trust me so she wouldn't be my friend, and... and I'd lose everything." He swallowed. "I shouldn't have taken it out on Tree Rubber, I suppose, but... you want me to imagine what it's like to get stuck in another dimension and not be able to get home, when that would never happen to me? Try imagining losing the one friend that connects you to your other friends, so that you have nothing left, no one who cares at all. And you have no idea why."
Fluttershy hugged him. "Discord, I'm so sorry I made you feel that way. I never meant to, but I was so excited about having a new friend, I didn't think about how it would look to you, since you're not very experienced with having friends." She drew back. "Though I did think you understood that it's possible to have more than one friend. Because you know that you're my friend and so are the others, so you know that I personally have at least seven friends, because five other Element Bearers, plus Spike, plus you..."
Discord chuckled. "You know I'm bad at math."
"I know, but... how did you not know we can have more than one friend, when you know I already do?"
"The six of you are friends for a reason," Discord said. "You're more like a team than a group of friends... you're friends because you have to come together to protect Equestria."
"But we're still friends."
"Yes, yes, but there's all that destiny entanglement and cutie marks connected to each other and what not. And the same is true for the Cutie Mark Crusaders. And Spike is connected to Twilight, so that connects him to you."
"Wait – what about the Cutie Mark Crusaders?" She'd been just about to use them as an example to refute his argument.
"Oh... whoops! Spoilers!" He grinned. "I can't really go telling you things you won't find out until the future comes, can I. Just forget I said anything."
"All right," Fluttershy said, because it wasn't as important as making sure he understood this lesson.
"But I don't have any kind of connection like that with anyone. I'm just friends with you because... we're just friends. I mean, all right, there was that whole 'persuade me to reform and keep me from turning Equestria into my chaos playground' thing, but it's not like that was destined to happen or something... and the same goes for Tree Hugger."
"I don't understand what you mean."
"Well, there's no destiny binding the two of you together, is there. You're just friends, for no particular reason other than you like each other. And you see, I've noticed, most of you don't have other friends. Oh, Twilight has Cadance, but she's more like family. Rainbow had Gilda, but told her to get lost because she wanted to keep you guys instead. And Rarity has Spike, but I think we all know he's looking for something a little... warmer than friendship." Discord smirked.
"Discord, that's not nice. We all know Spike has a little crush on Rarity, but I'm sure he values her friendship for its own sake, not just because he wishes she was in love with him."
"Oh, probably. For a dragon he's a total sap, really. The point is... none of you have other friends. Except you have me. And then all of a sudden you have Tree Hugger and you're claiming she's funnier than I am and one of the things you kept saying when I asked you why you were my friend was that I was funny so what am I supposed to think?"
"So... you thought we can have only one friend that we're not... what does destiny-entangled mean? Like we're destined to be friends with each other?"
"Exactly. As soon as that Rainboom went off, there were forces connecting the six of you, pushing you toward each other. But that's not why you're friends with me, and that's not why you're friends with Tree Hugger, and hardly any of you have friends outside your little circle, so..."
"Oh, Discord." Fluttershy gave him another hug. "All of us have other friends. Twilight never had any before she met us, but now she has Sunset Shimmer, and you, and she was friends with Cadance before she was family. I was something of a shut-in and I didn't have a lot of friends, but I had some. Rarity and Rainbow Dash have lots of friends. Applejack spends most of her time with her extended family, but she has friends too. And Pinkie Pie is friends with everypony. It's just... we don't have a lot of time to spend with some of our other friends, because, yes, we have to spend some of our time saving the world and things like that. But that doesn't mean we don't have them."
"Well, I know that now."
She released him. "Why didn't you tell me how you were feeling?"
"I can't believe I actually need to explain this," Discord said, scowling. "Do you ponies routinely rip your defenses right open to somepony who's blithely hurting you?"
"If we have reason to believe that maybe the pony who's hurting us might possibly not realize they're doing it, because the last time we checked, they were our friend? Definitely. Friends owe each other the benefit of the doubt. I give that to you all the time, Discord."
"And we all saw how well that worked out for you," he said bitterly, looking away. "Fluttershy, if you decided to give up being friends with me because I've made too many mistakes for your standards and you just can't deal with me anymore... you'd be doing more or less exactly what anyone else I've cared about in my lifetime has done, eventually, so why wouldn't you? Why shouldn't I expect that? I betrayed you. Why wouldn't you betray me?"
"Because I'm not you, silly," Fluttershy said. "You betrayed me, yes, but I forgave you for that. Why would I forgive you and then suddenly decide to stop being your friend anyway?"
"Because you found somepony better to be friends with."
Fluttershy sighed. "This whole problem could have been solved if you'd just talked to me. Discord, ponies have the right to be friends with whoever they want. If I make another friend, you have no right to hurt that pony just because you feel jealous. You had no good reason to be jealous, and if you'd talked to me you'd have found that out, but even if you had had a good reason, it still doesn't give you the right to hurt anypony. Not me and not Tree Hugger. We're not toys you can throw in the trash because we won't do what you want. We have feelings. And if what you want is friendship, you have to remember at every moment that friends don't like it when you hurt their friends, and that every pony in Equestria might be connected to any other pony by their friends. Tree Hugger is my friend; hurting her would never have made me happy with you. And by the way, it was really mean of you to abandon poor Parcel Post just because he brought your tickets late. That wasn't his fault."
"Wait, what are we talking about now?"
"I'm friends with Muffins." Everyone in town called Muffins either Derpy Hooves or Ditzy Doo – she answered to either one of them happily – but Fluttershy thought the nicknames were rather cruel. "Muffins is friends with Parcel Post. When Parcel Post brought you your tickets, you tossed him aside and he got captured by some large flying creature and forced to dress up in extremely fancy mare's clothing by the creature's young."
"Is that what happened?" Discord chortled. "I wondered what he was doing wearing that outfit."
"Discord. He was snagged by a large flying monster. He could have been eaten."
"Oh, the Coelacat is harmless," Discord said, dismissively waving a paw. "She and her young eat nothing but truffula fruit and pine wood. Her girls were just having a bit of fun with your mailpony pal, I'm sure."
"That's not the point. He got lost in your dimension, trying to bring you mail, and he asked you for help... and you tossed him aside and let the Coelacat get him. That was cruel."
"I'm so very sorry that I'm a terrible, horrible, no-good, extremely bad excuse for a draconequus who doesn't deserve to have any friends," Discord said sarcastically. "I'll just go jump off a cliff now, all right?"
"That's not what I'm saying. I'm not trying to hurt you."
"Hurt me? Ha! As if I can't handle a little bit of stern critique! I'm just a bit miffed that it seems to be all you can talk about. Really, Fluttershy, haven't we done this topic to death yet?"
She sighed. "You hurt other ponies. You hurt Parcel Post, and I meant to talk to you about that as soon as I found out, but with all the excitement of the Gala I forgot about it until now. And you hurt Tree Hugger. And when you hurt other ponies, it hurts me. You have to be more considerate of others."
"What do you want from me, Fluttershy?" He paced, hands thrown in the air. "I gave up chaos for you, but that's not enough, is it! Now you want me to be some sort of hero of sensitivity and concern for my fellows? You want me to worry constantly about whether or not I'm hurting somepony's wittle feewings? You're kindness! Not me! How much more of who I am do I have to give up?"
"Discord, you could have all the chaos you wanted if you were just willing to be considerate of others!" Fluttershy snapped. "That's the only thing I want! I never wanted you to give up chaos, just harming others with it!"
"But ponies always think chaos is harmful!"
"Tree Hugger doesn't, but you wouldn't even spend enough time with her to find that out, because you were too jealous to give her a chance!"
He stopped short. "She doesn't?"
"No, she doesn't. That's why I thought you'd like her, before you started behaving like a jealous... jerk. If you had been considerate and you hadn't been jealous for no reason and you'd cared about the wellbeing of others, you might have made a new friend. As it is, you frightened her badly and I don't know if she can forget that. She's forgiven you, but I don't know if she'll ever feel safe enough around you to be your friend."
"I. Well." She rarely saw Discord at a loss for words. "Well, I guess I'm sorry then. But then, I already said so."
"Yes. But being sorry isn't enough. You can't fix the damage you've done just by being sorry. Isn't that why you recovered Twilight's books for her, by going back in time and copying them? Because you understood that being sorry for betraying us to Tirek didn't fix the loss of her books?"
"You bring that up a lot for a mare who's supposedly forgiven me for it."
Fluttershy sighed with exasperation. "Discord. I forgave; that doesn't mean I forgot. You almost learned that particular lesson too late; a lot of damage was done. You could have been killed. We all could have been killed. And I know you regret it, very deeply. I'm trying to help you avoid another similar situation. You have to show more consideration to ponies than you do. You can't toss them into danger without even caring. You can't threaten them because you're jealous that one of them is friends with your friend. If you had lost your powers – if they hadn't come back after Tirek took them, for instance – and somepony treated you like that, you would hate it. And I would hate it, that anypony would treat you like that."
He sagged and more or less fell into a lawn chair he manufactured for himself. "So I need to pay attention to whether ponies are happy with me? Whether they like what I'm doing or not? Why don't you just go out and get me a stone overcoat, we know where this is going to end up if that's the standard I have to –"
"No, Discord. You don't need to care whether ponies are happy. I wish you would, but I know that your nature bothers a lot of ponies without you even doing anything to hurt them, so I would never try to hold you to a standard that would basically mean you can't ever be yourself. What you need to care about is whether your actions are safe for ponies. I don't expect you to go around rescuing ponies in trouble. Just don't endanger them. Or any creature, really, but especially not ponies, if you want to be able to make friends with ponies."
"Do I need to make friends with ponies? I have you."
"I'm not enough." She laid her hooves in his paws. "What happened today proved that I'm not enough. You can't be so afraid of losing me that you hurt my friends. Discord, you have to make other friends. It's not good for you to put so much on one pony. What will you do when I die?"
"I'm trying not to think about that," he mumbled.
"I try not to think about it too, but I'm mortal. I'll get old, and someday I'll die. I can't bear the thought of you going back to being lonely and friendless when I'm gone... and the thing about being mortal is I don't know how long I have. I could be eaten by a monster tomorrow."
"You are never going to be eaten by a monster. I will never, ever let that happen," Discord said, his paws tightening around her hooves as he sat up and looked her straight in the eye. "I promise you this."
"I, um, thank you? But that's not the point. Maybe I'll get sick. Maybe I'll be flying and have a panic attack and my wings will freeze up." Fluttershy had to stop herself. She was entirely too adept at coming up with scenarios that might kill her; she'd been doing it constantly her entire life. Normally being with Discord made her feel secure, because she did know he could protect her from almost anything, and after everything that had happened after the Tirek incident she knew he'd never intentionally betray her again. But today he wasn't making her feel particularly safe. "I need to know that you have other friends you can rely on to help you if I die. Because I will never stop caring about you, Discord. Even if you betrayed me again, even if you went off the deep end and started spreading chaos around and we had to fight you to stop you... I would still care about you. But you will lose me someday, because I'm mortal, and I'll die someday, and I need to know that you'll be able to deal with that."
"I won't," Discord mumbled.
"You have to try. You have to make other friends who will help you. And I can't spend every minute with you either, and I know sometimes you want to spend more time with me than just Tuesday tea, and sometimes I'm not available. I want you to have someone to turn to if that happens, so you can still spend time with a friend. But you can't do that if you're going to be completely inconsiderate and put ponies in danger and throw temper tantrums that get ponies hurt. You just can't."
"I – I'll try," he said, quietly. "You... you know I mess things up a lot, though, right?"
"I don't expect you to be perfect. I just want you to try your best." She withdrew her hooves. "And give Treesie another chance? She's really a very nice pony, and I think I could talk her into giving you another chance, if you were willing to actually try to make friends with her. It makes me very uncomfortable when my friends aren't friends with each other, and I think you could really get along with Tree Hugger if you tried."
"I... suppose... it would be better that way."
"It would! Then you wouldn't feel shut out when she and I are together and you show up, and we could all be friends together."
"I could try." He was mumbling again.
"I'm glad." She went over to the tea tray. "Would you like more tea? I don't have any cookies, I'm afraid, but we all ate plenty of those at the Gala..."
"No, I had probably best make sure that Smooze has managed to ooze its way back home without problems." Discord stood up, the lawn chair vanishing.
"I thought you sent him home?"
"More or less. I sent him back to my house. He may have decided to puddle in my bathtub for the night, or head back to his own amorphously defined abode."
"I think he really bonded with Tree Hugger. Maybe if you can make friends with her, you can bring Smooze for a visit and all four of us can have a picnic together. Maybe Rarity would give me a few gems I could feed him."
"Sure, why not." He ran his paw down his face. "I'm tired, Fluttershy. I'm going to call it a night."
She didn't offer to let him crash on her couch the way she usually did when he got tired at her place. "Okay, be safe going home then."
He rolled his eyes, but grinned. "Fluttershy, how would I not be safe?"
"Okay then, how about, 'Good night, sleep tight, don't let the tatzlwurms bite?'"
Discord groaned. "That was terrible," he said, as she giggled. "So long, Fluttershy. See you next Tuesday?"
"I'll make scones," Fluttershy said.
"Sounds yummy. Good night!" And he was gone.
Wearily Fluttershy winged her way up to her bedroom. She didn't know if he was even going to remember this talk the next time something like this came up, but at least she'd gotten him to the point where he acknowledged that he'd try to do better. That was... progress, at least.