Note: I've been watching My Little Pony for years now, pretty sure I could never fic for it like I could for Invader Zim or Mystery Skulls Animated. Today's the day we find out if I'm right or if I'm wrong. My sincere thanks to R5h for beta-reading. Allons-y…
"Why, Fluttershy! Fancy bumping into you out here."
Fluttershy glanced up from her conversation with Selina Squirrel, wings half-lifted in surprise. A snaggle-fanged muzzle grinned a few inches from her own. Discord hovered over her picnic blanket, flat on his stomach mid-air. "You know, I was just passing through every dimension that starts with the letter 'E' to while away the hours and this very spot just happened to be my fifth and a half stop."
A smile broke through her shock and her eyes crinkled up. "Well it's good to see you too, Discord. I wasn't expecting to see you for… oh, dear. We haven't had a chance to reschedule our tea, have we?"
A muscle in Discord's jaw flexed, but his smile didn't change. "Ah, I hadn't even thought of it, but of course you are right. There was a little unnecessary interruption the other day, wasn't there? No doubt you'll need a little time to recover."
He snapped his claws and Fluttershy found herself in an elaborate, four post bed piled high with thick, moss-stuffed mattresses. Quilts wrapped her so tight she could barely move and Discord stuck a glass thermometer in her mouth.
"On a scale of one to clone, how Fluttershy are you today?" Discord demanded, pulling her eyelid down and peering into her eye.
Grunting, she wiggled a hoof free and bopped him on the nose. "Really, Discord, you don't have to go to any trouble. Thorax assured us the cocoons we were in were only for stasis. Chrysalis is long gone and I'm not sick. And if you're worried about something else, well." She clambered out of the swaddling and planted a hoof in the middle of his chest. "I'll say you're a wonderful ice skater, but my friend's farm is not a good location."
Discord blinked, then released a slow breath through his nose. A second Discord sidled up to him and whispered, "What do you think, chief? Is she… you know, herself?"
"Don't be silly," the first Discord scolded. "Of course she's herself. Only Fluttershy and her friends know that ice skating is the first place we really established I'd work on my behavior. Unless one of her friends is posing as her." He jammed the thermometer back in her mouth. "Okay, on a scale of Twilight to Rainbow Dash, how Fluttershy are you?"
Fluttershy giggled, dropping the thermometer. "How about tea a week from today? I think I'll be back to my normal routine by then."
Discord recoiled, a queasy expression on his face. "Ugh. Please, Fluttershy. The 'R' word, so uncouth. Well, I'm off to explore the rest of the 'E' dimensions, or perhaps I should check on pi. Yes, yes, that will do. Ta-ta!" With that, he summoned a ladder, climbed to the top, and vanished in a flash.
Fluttershy shook her head, still smiling.
"Why Fluttershy! How are you my dear? It's been simply far too long."
Fluttershy dropped the oat-scooper with a yelp as a tiny Discord slithered out into her saddlebag. Oats spilled all over the floor and the shopkeeper snorted disapproval.
"I'm so sorry," Fluttershy stammered. "I'll, ah… here." She set a bit on the counter. "For the mess, I'll be back for oats in a minute."
"You know, normally I'm one to spill beans, but every now and then I like a change of pace," Discord remarked, leaning back. His head stuck out of the saddlebag on her right side and his tail stuck out of the one on her left. "So how has everything been? How's the fam? Has the cranky cottonball moved out yet, or is he still holding mommy's saddle straps?"
"Discord? I just saw you yesterday. Is everything alright?" She brushed his head with a wing, gently. For just a moment, she thought he faltered.
"Oh you're such a pessimist, Fluttershy. Whoever said something has to be wrong for me to visit my dearest friend?" He snapped his fingers, vanishing and reappearing normal-sized in front of her. "What sort of friend would I be if I only ever showed up to drink your tea and save you from Changelings? Good friends drop in on each other for checkupsies and chatting and catching up." He batted lengthy eyelashes.
"I didn't mean that, it's only, I did see you yesterday in the meadow. I thought I wouldn't be seeing you until tea next week, that's all. You just surprised me." She smiled up at him. "Are you joining me for my whole shopping trip? I'm low on most nibbles for my animals, so I'll be a few more hours."
Discord waved a hand. "Please, Fluttershy. I'm your dear friend, but not so dear that I'd spend a positively boring amount of time foraging for your creature collective."
Fluttershy giggled. "Discord, you are a terrible tease. If you don't want to go shopping with me, just wait for our tea. I'm sure we'll have lots to talk about by the next time I see you."
"Quite so, quite so. Until we meet again!" With that, he doffed his head, reattached it, and vanished from sight.
"My dear, my dear, my dear, where does the time go?"
Without turning from Twilight's startled expression, Fluttershy formed a quick mental image-a guess-of what she would see when she turned. Swinging her head around, she homed in on a wall clock. The face of it had become Discord's eye and a miniature Discord rode the pendulum like a tire swing, giving enthusiastic whoops and cheers.
"Called it… mostly," she murmured to herself with a smile. Louder, she said, "It's good to see you, Discord, but what are you doing up there?"
The clock resumed normalcy as Discord dove into the carpet and appeared as a flat rug pattern, swimming toward the ponies' hooves. "Just coming to see how my… two… dearest friends are doing, of course. What's this, a book club? And I wasn't invited?"
Twilight shied to the side as he slithered past. "Not a club, so much. Fluttershy just stopped by to pick up a book. The Care and Tending of Manticores, Volume 2."
Discord's head peeled up out of the carpet, his eyes narrowed. "Oh? Fascinating read that must be. I thought Fluttershy knew everything there was to know about animals already."
"Oh, I'm still not an expert on magical creatures. There's always more to learn, and Trixie's new Moonshot Manticore act would be so much better if the manticore didn't have to be all chained up." Fluttershy slipped the book into her saddlebag. "I'm sure if I brush up a bit, I'll be able to convince it to cooperate. Who knows, if I do my job well enough, maybe Trixie will find he makes a good pet."
Discord's glare melted into a smile, and Fluttershy's smile faded. Something was off… maybe. Maybe something was off. She couldn't put her hoof on it.
"Why that makes complete sense, do forgive me for interrupting. I merely popped by to see if Garbunkle was planning another evening of Ogres and Oubliettes with Sir McBiggun and myself anytime soon. I seem to have wandered into the wrong room, and thought it would be rude not to say hello."
Twilight relaxed. "Oh, okay. Spike is over in the great hall with a bowl of emeralds. I'm sure he'd be willing to get you a dish if you'd like, and I can join you just as soon as-"
"No need!" He lifted a paw. "I am sure it will be a quick visit. Enjoy your reading ladies. I'll see you for tea next week Fluttershy!" With that, he grabbed two books, strapped them to his feet, and skated out of the library.
"Hey!" Twilight yelled, cantering after him. "Those are first editions!"
Fluttershy stood where she was, mulling over Discord's words. Was every day going to be like this? It wasn't unpleasant, but it wasn't like Discord to show up so often.
She shook her head, walking toward the door. It was Discord, and there was no "like" when it came to him. Discord did strange, chaotic things all the time. This was just another instance were she'd have to smile and accept the extra odd variable in her day to day life. Right?
"Of course you have to know, I'm delighted to have you over for tea." Fluttershy said cautiously, tipping a silver teapot gingerly over the hoof-painted galaxy teacups Twilight had given her. "It's just a little unusual. I mean, you haven't come to visit me since… um…"
"Since I came on Nightmare Night?" Luna smiled. "The speak-gently lesson did not go so well, I fear."
"Oh no! It wasn't your fault. I wasn't really a good teacher." Cringing, Fluttershy set the teapot down. She wasn't used to speaking with any princess other than Twilight on a regular basis, and already she was messing everything up by returning to unpleasant memories.
"Nonsense. There is far more to instruction than formal lessons. I have kept your voice in my mind for some time now, and it helps guide my tone and speech. I am quite grateful to you. It is yet one more kindness in addition to all you and your friends have already done for me." Luna lifted the teacup, sipping gingerly. "Exquisite tea. And such care with table placement and other refreshments, without all the formality and ceremony of my station."
"Oh!" Fluttershy bolted up. "Oh, forgive me, Your Highness!"
"Forgive me, Fluttershy." Luna sighed, setting the teacup down. "I forget that sometimes my speech is more roundabout than ponies are used to. I mean to say that I enjoy the elegant simplicity of your table. It is relaxing to not have to attend to every detail of formality as is usually expected of me."
"Oh, I understand." Fluttershy settled back in her seat. "I was a little surprised to get a letter that you wanted to come, but it all makes sense now. If you ever need to get away from the formality again, you can always come by for tea. Discord and I have a weekly tea—it's tomorrow, in fact. Do you think he'll like the daisycakes? I special-ordered them from Sugarcube Corner and I love them-but that could just be me. I'd hate to serve him something only I enjoyed."
Luna levitated a hoof-sized bun in the shape of a flower, crunching through a petal. "Well, I cannot speak for Discord's palate, but I'm certain anypony with an ounce of taste would enjoy a marvelous treat such as this. However, it is not just anypony I came here to discuss. I must confess, there is a secondary reason for my visit."
Fluttershy tilted her head. "Oh? Is something the matter?"
"I'm afraid so. Pray tell, Fluttershy, how are you feeling?"
Fluttershy put a hoof up to her chest. "Me? I'm feeling fine. Should I not be?"
"I would hope you are feeling in perfect health. But there are no ill effects from the changeling chrysalis you were trapped in?"
"Not that I'm aware of." Fluttershy lifted her wing and glanced under it, wondering briefly if Princess Luna thought she would turn a shiny black any second and sprout transparent wings. "I mean, not so far, though it's only been a week. Has anypony else gotten sick? Thorax said nothing would happen to us."
"Not sick in the sense that you are thinking of, no." Luna sipped her tea slowly. "Some illnesses and injuries, however, are not visible to the eye. Or, at least, to most eyes. Dreams are truly a fascinating display of what is truly going on in a creature's heart."
Fluttershy's ears perked. Creature? Not pony?
"It is probably nothing to worry about." Luna stared hard at Fluttershy, her eyes narrowing. Fluttershy gulped, getting the feeling there was most certainly something to worry about. "I'm sure it will be dealt with in due time. So, you say Discord is attending tea with you tomorrow?"
"Um, yes." Fluttershy felt herself on unsteady ground. Was the princess upset with Discord? Just the other day he'd been honored for his role in defending Equestria; he couldn't have upset anypony too badly. "He's a dear. Teatime is always a new experience when he comes, and he has the best stories to tell. He'll probably be showing off his medal the whole time." She lifted her hooves to her muzzle, whispering, "I have to tell you a secret, Princess Luna. I'm so, so very proud of him for what he did, I could almost shriek."
The warm smile on Luna's muzzle set Fluttershy at ease. "Dear Fluttershy, I do hope you do not keep it a secret. He could use a friend who is openly proud of his, shall we say, more altruistic accomplishments."
Beaming, Fluttershy nodded in agreement.
"I daresay he's the talk of the town this week. Have you seen him much?"
"Oh yes. In fact, I think I've seen him almost every day this week." Fluttershy blinked. "Actually, I've seen him every single day this week. Except for today." Fluttershy tipped the sugar bowl toward herself and peered inside for a moment.
Luna waved a hoof at Fluttershy, a wide smile on her muzzle, "I must say, his dreams are the most entertaining in all Equestria."
Fluttershy's eyes widened. "You can see Discord's dreams too?"
"Oh yes. I can only watch, of course. He prefers to be the only denizen of his dreams and keeps me at a distance, but he cannot stop me from observing." Luna's smile widened to strained grin, her eyes boring into Fluttershy's. "Truly, you should speak to him of their contents. I could not begin to explain to you the marvels I have seen up until a week ago. I am sure it would make for the most interesting conversation between friends who care for each others' well being."
Fluttershy set her teacup down, eyes wide. "Princess Luna…"
"Oh, no!" Luna pointed across the room. "Is that clock correct?" She stood abruptly. "Fluttershy, please accept my humble apologies. I am late for a meeting with my sister. We have to discuss the date of the next lunar eclipse and the festivities that will entail. I had forgotten that was so soon."
"Of course, Princess." Fluttershy brushed three daisycakes into a small sack and offered it to Luna. "Please take these with you."
Luna bowed her head, accepting the sack. "Thank you, Fluttershy. It may be some time before I am able to call on you again, but I hope you will think on our time together with fondness and," she dropped her voice lower, "with a great deal of consideration." With that, she passed out of the cottage and took to her wings.
Fluttershy watched her from the doorway, wings tucked tight against her sides. She waited until the Princess was a tiny speck of darkness against the sky before shutting the door and trotting to her tea table. As she cleared away the tea set and wiped down the table, she turned the conversation over in her mind.
"My word, was that Lu-Lu? Fluttershy, you old cad, you never told me you were getting to be close friends with the royals." Discord squeezed himself through a crack in the floorboard, offering Fluttershy a small book. He flipped past several pages filled with hoofmarks to a blank page. "You simply must get her hoofsies stamp for my collection! I have one from the artist formerly known as Countess Coloratura right here, Lu-Lu's can go right next to it."
Fluttershy stared blankly at the book, her eyes unfocused in thought. "Hoofsies," she murmured, absently.
Discord's claws sank into the paper. "Ye-e-es. I have hoofsies from all sorts of famous ponies. Oh, here's one I got from dear old Chryssy on this page over here." He turned to a page with a flaming green hoofmark, marred with three holes.
"Uh-huh." Fluttershy turned back to her tea table. "Discord, I'm sorry. I have a lot on my mind right now. Can we talk at the tea tomorrow?"
Discord grabbed her by the muzzle, swinging her around. His eyes blazed and he snarled in a deep voice, "Fluttershy would have laughed. Fluttershy would have smiled and thanked me for dropping by. Where is Fluttershy, and what did you do to her?"
Her wings clamped to her sides and she strained to pull her muzzle free from his paw. It was cinched so tight she couldn't even open her mouth to answer.
He yanked the bridge of her muzzle up against his, his eyes boring into her. "If she is missing even one feather from her wings, one hair from her tail, I will know. The longer you keep her hidden away, the more time I have to think of a fitting dimension to send you to. Answer me! Where did you take her?"
Fluttershy shut her eyes. When an animal screamed or hissed, it was hurt or felt scared and threatened. You couldn't get scared or angry-looking back, that made things worse. Opening her eyes, she stared Discord straight on, lightly tapping his paw with her hoof. Scowling, he released her muzzle, but kept glaring down at her.
"Discord," she said quietly, "Last month you finally started getting to know Big Mac and Spike, joining in on their guy's night. I was so happy you'd started making new friends. It was a big step for you."
Discord froze, his fur standing completely on end. "You're Fluttershy," he whispered, horrified. Immediately his fur smoothed back down and he pointed finger-guns at her, clicking his tongue. "Good job, Fluttershy, you passed the test with flying colors. I never doubted you for a moment. Well, it's been fabulous but I have to prepare for the tea tomorrow. Ta-t—"
"I'm sorry, Fluttershy, but I am enormously busy today, completely booked with personal appearances all around Ponyville." He pulled a planner twice as tall as himself from under one arm. Its spine landed with a crack on Fluttershy's floor. "So much to do, so many ponies to see now that I'm a celebrity savior of Equestria, but I do have a tiny slot of time for our tea tomorrow."
Fluttershy veered around the planner and planted her forehead in the small of his back, gently butting him toward the couch.
"Really!" He protested feebly. His hind hoof scraped across the floor and his dragon claw snagged on a small rug. "I only had a moment to drop in, I should be going!"
With a firm nudge, she toppled him onto the couch, then dragged over a cushy chair across from him and climbed into it.
"Oh, alright, fine," he grumbled, snapping his fingers. Suddenly her couch was a plush burgundy lounge. Glasses appeared above her muzzle and a notepad and pen materialized in her hooves. He lay back, hands folded over his stomach and stared at the ceiling with an exaggerated air of melancholy. "It all began millennia and millennia ago when I was but a newly formed spirit."
Fluttershy set the notepad and pen aside, then removed the glasses. "Discord."
The lounge reverted to her normal couch. Discord went very still, keeping his eyes fixed on the ceiling. "Lu-Lu never was very good about keeping secrets," he said, bitterly. "She told, didn't she?"
"The only thing she said is that we should have a talk. Honestly, Discord, I'm ashamed it took her visit for me to put the pieces together. You've been acting strange… stranger than usual all week. I'd have asked what was wrong eventually, but…"
"But Lu-Lu had to be a tattle-tail." He sprouted a glorious blue galaxy studded tail and glared at the ceiling as if it had personally wronged him.
Fluttershy tilted her head to the side. "She said your dreams were amazing to watch up until a week ago. Have you been having nightmares, Discord? About the changelings?"
Discord turned his face into back of the couch. His legs and tail curled in, and his ears drooped.
"It might help if you talk to somepony about it," Fluttershy said softly. "It doesn't have to be me, but I'm worried about you." She reached across and touched his shoulder with the tip of her hoof.
Behind her, a frightened sob echoed. "Please, help!"
Her stomach tightened, and she craned her head to look over her shoulder. There was another Fluttershy there, a Fluttershy with her tail pinned under a boulder, crying. "Discord! I'm stuck."
"You certainly are," Discord mumbled into the upholstery. "And I should probably help you get free. But wait, I can smell this setup a mile away, yadah yadah you're not really Fluttershy."
The other Fluttershy wept piteously. "No, you're right. There's no way you can trust me." She trembled with the weight of sorrow and fear. "Just go find the others, I understand."
As she spoke, dozens of Fluttershys suddenly populated the room. Each one crying and reaching toward Discord.
"We're probably all changelings," the first one sobbed. "You shouldn't rescue any of us."
Fluttershy's stomach tightened as her mirror self stopped crying quite suddenly, developing a sickeningly self satisfied grin. "Unless… you think, maybe one of us might be the real Fluttershy. Oh, that certainly would be a nasty changeling trick, wouldn't it?"
"I'm the real one!" cried one hanging from a ceiling beam.
"I'm the real one!" wept another from under the sink.
"I'm the real Fluttershy!" whimpered a third, cowering under the table.
Discord snapped his fingers, and they all vanished, leaving only the really real Fluttershy, blinking back tears.
"Oh, Discord." She wiped her eyes, trying to bring herself under control. The last thing she wanted to do was burst out sobbing like those awful copycats.
"And I couldn't even save you." His voice was thin as onionskin. "All I could do was serve as a distraction. And what if you had been one of them, planted among the fakes? Of course, I should know what to do. I ask some question only you would know. What idiot wouldn't figure that out right away? What sort of useless, day-old dolt just stands there, staring? But you were all crying, all of you, expecting me to save you. Waiting…"
Fluttershy climbed down from her chair and approached slowly. "How often?"
"Every night." He was little more than a ball, now, taking up half the couch space and still speaking into the cushions. "The ones that I sleep, anyway. I try not to, lately."
She tapped him on the shoulder, and finally he turned his face to her. He couldn't meet her eyes. "I'm so sorry that happened, Discord. I can't imagine what that felt like. I can't imagine what I would have done if I'd been in your hooves."
"You probably would have asked, 'So, Discord, when are we having tea next?' and I'd be the only one who said 'Next Tuesday!' like I'm supposed to," he said, glumly. "You're a good friend and you wouldn't freeze like that."
Fluttershy pulled herself up straight and said, firmly, "You don't know that, Discord. And being a good friend has nothing to do with whether or not you freeze when you're faced with something difficult. You are a good friend, and you came into changeling territory even though you knew you wouldn't have any magic and would probably get captured. That's something a good friend would do, and I'm so proud of you."
His ears lifted, and his eyes slid up to her. "You… you are?"
"Of course I am. Not only did you help save Equestria, you demonstrated an advanced friendship lesson." She winked, smiling. "Twilight would be proud too, even if you didn't come for her sake."
A ghost of a grin tugged at his lip and he rolled his eyes.
She put a hoof on his shoulder. "I can count the times you were without magic on my hooves. When you were locked in stone the first time, then the second time, when Tirek stole it from you, and when you let go of your magic to come get me. All those times, you were vulnerable. Anybody could have hurt you. I bet it made things a lot bigger and more frightening than they usually are for you."
He swiped a paw past his eyes. "Oh, who cares about that, Fluttershy? It doesn't matter, but what if there's a rogue changeling? What if one of them comes back and replaces you? What if the real you is gone and I don't know it for ten years and you're stuck in some awful hole because I couldn't recognize it wasn't you?"
"I don't think there's going to be a rogue. But if it makes you feel better, how about we make our own code word?" She smiled. "I'm going to run out of different memories to tell you if you ask me every day."
He uncurled, a grin crossing his face. "Marvelous! Anything except 'Clumsy Draconequus' if you please."
"How about 'Tattletale Princess'? I'm sure she wouldn't mind." Fluttershy put a hoof to her mouth, smothering a giggle.
Discord sprouted deep blue wings and a star spangled mane and tail, frowning severely at Fluttershy. "Thou dost mock the fearsome princess of the night and her royal Canterlot Voice?" he roared.
Fluttershy toppled over, laughing, and Discord joined her, snickering gleefully at his own mimicry.
Wiping her eyes, Fluttershy got to her hooves. "One more thing. I was thinking, the second time you were released from stone, you stayed with me for a few days. Did that make you feel any safer?"
Discord blinked, then stroked his beard. "Why… yes. After a few days when I thought I had you wrapped around my claw… before I figured out it was the other way around… I did feel quite safe here."
"Then how about you stay with me for a while? Maybe the nightmares will fade if you have a few days where you feel safe."
A truly warm smile lit his face, and he took her hoof, clasping it between his claw and paw. "Why, thank you Fluttershy. I think that would be just the ticket."
"I'm happy to have you. Just, please, try not to pick a fight with Angel if you can possibly help it."
Discord rolled his eyes. "I swear I will only turn him into a carrot if he starts it."
"Well, I used up all my tea supplies when Princess Luna dropped in. Care to come shopping with me? We can prepare this week's tea together."
"All those daisycakes you fed the princess looked positively toothsome," he grinned, his fang developing a face that whimpered sadly. "But they appear to be gone, so I'd best accompany you to be sure you purchase the proper amount."
Fluttershy flew up to a hook on the wall, removing her saddlebags and securing them over her back. "That sounds good to me. What do you think the proper amount is?"
Discord snapped his fingers, appearing as a gnarled officer in full uniform, grumbling, "My dear, an army marches on its stomach, and this stomach is in need of at least three dozen daisycakes. You know." He glanced at her over the top of thick spectacles. "Just to see if they're as truly suitable for our tea as I've heard."
She grinned, flitting past him toward the door. "Why Discord, it seems you've overheard that anypony with an ounce of taste would enjoy a treat as marvelous as a daisycake."
"That I have," he admitted, and laughed, throwing a scarf around his neck and following her out the door.