Good times, for a change
See the luck I've had
Can make a good man turn bad
So please, please, please let me get what I want
Lord knows it would be the first time
Zecora woke up with her nose buried in thick fur and it took her a few moments to remember where she was. She could no longer hear the howling wind that had at times screeched with the ferocity of a banshee.
The great bear was fast asleep, and would likely remain so for the rest of the winter unless something disturbed him, so she was careful to make her exit as quietly as possible.
Outside the cave, frost glistened on the morning landscape. The storm was over, and though it hadn't snowed, Zecora could see her breath and she wrapped her cloak tighter around her shoulders and secured her saddlebag. She wondered how Fluttershy and the creature had fared at the cottage. She hadn't told Fluttershy the entire truth about her visit. Though she had spent the night in the cave to shelter from the storm, she was planning on setting up camp nearby to keep an eye on the pegasus. She knew she'd only be able to do it for a couple of weeks before it got too cold to be out with only the warmth of a campfire and layers of clothing to stave off the temperature.
She needed to be sure about the creature.
Fluttershy opened her eyes. She was still curled up under about five layers of blanket and She'd even put socks on in the middle of the night because her hooves were cold. She'd also put a blanket on the bean bag for the chickens to nest on. The ferrets and Angel Bunny were under the quilt with her.
The silence after last night's storm was surprising and she gently pushed the layers off her so as not to disturb her co sleepers. How was Discord doing?
He hadn't uttered any other words since saying her name, and he had shortly gone to sleep after drinking the tomato soup laced with soothers and his medication, but she had gone to bed feeling slightly more positive that he was able to speak at all. She pushed open the bedroom door and found him sleeping soundly under the many layers of blankets she had given him. He was slightly curled up from the cold, which wasn't good for his ribs, but he looked peaceful at least.
"Discord," she said softly. It was time for his medication and she wanted to discuss that with him if she could. He didn't stir.
"Discord," she repeated.
"Mmph..." he said. His eyes opened gradually.
"Good morning," said Fluttershy. "I'm going to make us breakfast in a minute, but how did you sleep last night?" She was under no illusions that he wasn't likely respond with much more than "Shy" again but she was adamant that she was going to talk to him as if he understood everything she was saying. How else was he going to get better?
Discord rubbed his eyes. He felt incredibly groggy and his head was sore. As long as he didn't move around too much his goat leg felt okay.
Fluttershy pulled up a chair and sat next to him. "Would you like some eggs? Or maybe some toast?"
He stared at her, and she noticed something different about his eyes. While they still contained the same mismatched pupils, before they seemed to look at her in the same way a tortoise or dog expecting to be fed looked at her. Now he was looking at her with a sort of vague recognition. It was like he was trying to work things out.
She waited for an answer, and he opened his mouth. A rasping sound came out. His throat was dry. He was probably dehydrated from the medication. "W...where?" he said, with great difficulty.
Fluttershy's heart leapt. "You're in my cottage, in Ponyville," she said. "How are you feeling?"
Fluttershy was trying hard to keep calm. On the one hand he was speaking, on the other Celestia had told him he was dangerous.
At the moment, however, he didn't look dangerous. He looked broken and tired.
"I can give you some painkillers in a minute, but do you think you can eat some eggs and toast?"
He thought for a second and nodded. Fluttershy was glad there was no resistence to the fact that she needed to give him medication. She had been worried about that.
"I'll go and make us some then," she said. She reached out and gently petted his paw, and he looked surprised, but otherwise did not react. He watched her leave the room and he lay back down again with exhaustion.
She returned with a tray of eggs, toast and orange juice. Even if Discord decided not to use utensils again at least those things could more or less be eaten without too much mess. He began devouring the eggs greedily, and stabbed the toast with his eagle talon while he took big bites out of it.
"Here," she said, handing him two pills."Drink these down."
He stared at her. "What...is?"
"It's your medication. You know, to stop the pain."
He looked genuinely confused.
"Here," said Fluttershy, and she crushed the pills into his orange juice. The confusion in his eyes disappeared and Fluttershy wondered if he had ever seen pills before. Maybe not. What use would he have had for them before? She handed him the glass, and to her relief he drank it.
"Tastes...funny," he said.
She noticed he was having trouble pronouncing the letter "T."
"I know," she said gently. "But it will make you feel better." She decided not to give him his soothers yet. She wanted to see if she could speak to him and find things out first. "Discord, can you remember anything?" she coaxed softly.
She needed to be careful here. What was it Celestia had said? My presense would disturb him. That probably meant mentioning the Princess as well. "I mean, what's the last thing you can remember before last night?"
Discord narrowed his eyes. He seemed to be trying to think through a fog.
Fluttershy felt the back of her neck prickle. "The chaos?" she asked, trying not to give in to the fear that was suddenly threatening to take hold of her.
"Ice...cream...and...urtles..." and he smiled.
"'Urtles" he confirmed.
Fluttershy wondered if he was talking nonsense and she had pushed him a little too hard. "Here," she said, refilling his glass of orange juice and crushing the soothers and antibiotics inside. "This will help you sleep."
Over the next few weeks Discord said more and more, but she didn't try to bring up the past with him again. She figured it would be best if he came to it on his own. He still seemed to have trouble articulating certain words and sometimes had to think for more than a minute if she asked him a question that wasn't related to food or painkillers, but his physical injuries seemed to be mending rapidly.
In fact, one day after she had gone out to get groceries she found him at the top of the stairs on all fours.
"What are you doing?" she shrieked.
"Walking," he said, simply.
"We don't know if your hip is better yet! And if you fall down the stairs you could hurt your head again!" Indeed, his hip didn't seem to be better. It took her a second to realize he wasn't actually standing on all fours, but was instead taking the stance of a tripod. His goat leg wasn't touching the floor.
"Want to come down," he said.
"No!" she dropped her grocery bags. "You'll hurt yourself."
He actually snorted at her in defiance, a mannerism she might have been joyful at because it meant he was improving but instead she just felt terror as he put his paw on the upper step.
"Listen to me, Mister!" she said, trying her scolding voice and getting ready to bring out The Stare if necessary. "If you don't get back into bed right this instant...I'll...I'll..." She would what? What did she have to threaten him with?
He wasn't listening to her at any rate. He pressed down all his weight on his lion paw and dragon foot and brought his eagle talon down onto the second step from the top. He wobbled slightly as he made the transition. Fluttershy began to run towards him but his dragon foot had already left the ground. In that split second she saw his body begin to fall and with a loud scream of panic she flung the bean bag towards the bottom of the stairs. She watched him move through the air almost as if it was happening in slow motion, and she saw the fear in his eyes as he realized he'd made a terrible mistake. Then he hit the bean bag, mostly neck and face first.
She ran towards him, terrified his stitches had burst open, or worse, that he had broken his neck. "Discord, Discord! Are you okay?!"
He looked up at her from the bean bag and she could have sworn there was a glint in his eye.
Zecora chewed her oat bar thoughtfully as she stared at the fire. She knew Fluttershy had put herself and Discord into isolation deliberately, but that still didn't mean she wasn't worried. If the creature was indeed what she feared it was then it was likely to take advantage of Fluttershy's kindness and make life a living hell for her.
She picked up her staff. It was time to pay a visit to some of the others to see what information she could gather, and on the way back she would stop at the cottage just to be sure.
"My head hurts," said Discord. He was on her bed lying on his stomach. Getting him back up the stairs had been an ordeal. She couldn't support his weight, so he had to drag himself upwards.
Fluttershy removed the bandage and dressing on Discord's head. She was relieved that the stitches were still in place and there was no swelling. "It looks okay," she said.
"But it really hurts," he insisted.
"I think you might have a headache from taking painkillers for so long," she said.
"Makes no sense," he laughed.
"It does. You might be becoming dependent on them". He had finished his course of antibiotics and was now out of soothers. Seth had instructed her to try and get him off painkillers as soon as possible.
"How am I supposed to get rid of the pain if I don't take painkillers?" he asked her.
"You'll have to wean yourself off them" she said. "I can give you half a pill today, and you can have a quarter tomorrow."
"I want two whole pills."
"I'm sorry, Discord. But you can't. It's not good for you and it will make your headache worse in the long run.I can make you some chamomile tea to help you sleep."
"I want two pills."
He scowled at her, then smiled slyly and began digging his talons and lion claws into the bed, kneading the mattress like a cat. Fluttershy watched as the stuffing began to emerge from the holes his claws were making.
She gritted her teeth. She wasn't going to rise to it. She'd had badly behaved patients before. Angel Bunny was permanently like that. On the other hand, Angel Bunny didn't have enormously sharp fangs and claws. Discord may have improved in many ways, but he still behaved very much like an animal in others. He continued to knead at the mattress. She left the room.
"I want my painkillers! he shouted at her.
She trudged up the stairs angrily and handed him a glass of water and half a pill.
"I said two," he growled stroppily.
"That's all your getting," she said primly. "It's for your own good. Unless you want me to put it away again."
He growled again and took the glass from her. He put the pill on his tongue and swallowed it before he drank the water.
"I know this is boring," she said, softening her tone of voice. "But once you're better you won't need the pills and you'll feel fine, I promise."
He grunted at her like a teenage foal. Fluttershy sighed. She wanted to ask him if he remembered anything else, but now certainly wouldn't be the time. He was likely to be as cooperative as a giraffe who was told it needed to get into a pen with some lions. "You need to rest just a little longer."
"Don't want to rest."
"You just fell down the stairs. I know you want to move around but you need to rest a little bit longer. It should only be a few more days. How does your hip feel."
"It hurts. Everything hurts," he growled, though that wasn't entirely true. Yes, his hip did hurt but it was bearable. What was unbearable, was his throbbing headache and the blasted pony wasn't listening to him when he said he needed more pills.
"If it hurts then you should stay in bed."
He opened his mouth to reply but closed it again, but not before shooting her a death stare.
"I'm going to make us some dinner," she announced. She closed the door behind her with a click. Discord growled and dragged his body off the bed until he was standing on three legs again. He leaned his long body against the wall and reached up with his forelimbs, twisting the door knob. Nothing happened. He tried again. Nothing. The blasted pony had locked him in! He thought of every curse word imaginable with regards to the pegasus, which given his memory, wasn't as long a list as his usual vocabulary. He collapsed against the wall. He felt exhausted and though the pill had started to dull the pain a little his head still throbbed.
Stupid, stupid pony!
Fluttershy chopped up some green peppers and onions and fried them gently in a pan. She was glad she had something to keep her occupied for the moment. Though she had left the room in a calm manner, inside she was fuming. How dare he growl at her after all she had done for him! As she watched the vegetables frying and added some noodles she began to calm down.
He's frightened she told herself. He doesn't remember anything and he's acting out. She added some mushrooms to the stir fry. There was a gentle tap on the window and her ears flattened in fear. She quickly, relaxed, however when she saw the familiar face of the zebra witchdoctor.
"Just a sec!" she hissed and she took the pan off the stove and opened the front door.
"Yes?" she said, stepping outside and closing the door gently behind her.
"I am here to check on how you are, and fear not, Fluttershy I have not come from afar." The others had been surprisingly secretive about Fluttershy and had given the zebra very little information.
"Oh?" said the pegasus.
Fluttershy fidgeted and scuffed her hoof on the ground. "I'm fine," she said. "Discord's being a baby, but that's about it."
"Discord?" the zebra looked worried all of a sudden.
"Oh...oh dear. I wasn't supposed to tell you his name."
"Why ever not, young Fluttershy? What is this secret, tell me why."
The pegasus squirmed. "I've just been told not to tell anyone about it by someone higher up. But trust me, I do have everything under control."
"I. WANT. MY. PILLS." came a loud, angry voice from upstairs.
Zecora grabbed her by the shoulders. "Fluttershy, I must know, much more about this foe. Is the creature from up nigh, perhaps the creature Uglahai?"
"I...I don't know what that is," said Fluttershy truthfully.
"The trickster," said the zebra. "When I was a foal my mother spun us tales. Some of the spider Anansi, and some of incredible gales. But of all the stories I remember from days past, worst were the ones of the Spirit of Chaos."
Fluttershy's eyes widened. "You know who he is? And you didn't tell me?"
"I had my suspicions, but they weren't confirmed. And you seem like a mare that is well informed. But I still had worries, so I came to look, to make sure that you were not being used by a crook."
"I don't know much about him, Zecora. I only know what Celestia told me, which was that Discord used to be...someone very dear to her." She was sure the zebra wasn't the type to spread classified information about the Princess, but she still felt guilty telling her.
Zecora shook her head. "That makes no sense, the Uglahai, he has no friends. Not you, nor I."
"Then what could she mean?"
"I know not. Only Celestia can answer that." The zebra looked at her worriedly and Fluttershy took Zecora's hoof in her own.
"I promise you, I'm okay. He's being loud, but he's still in bed and healing. Princess Celestia wouldn't have given me this mission if she thought I could get hurt."
Zecora seemed to think for a moment then nodded.
"What you say is true, I just cannot help but worry about you."
Fluttershy smiled. "Thank you," she said. "But I'm fine, really I am. Would you like some tea for the road?"
"That would be lovely."
Fluttershy carried the meal up the stairs. If he was asleep she could always reheat it for later. She put the key in the lock and turned it carefully so as lot to wake him. "Discord," she said. "I'm sorry about earlier but maybe some food will make you feel bet..."
He wasn't in the room. Panic flooded her as she checked under the bed, inside the wardrobe, but there was no draconequus. That was when she noticed the open window. She poked her head out but he wasn't there.
This was the last thing she needed. She had just reassured Zecora she was doing fine and could handle things and this was like a slap in the face. Adrenaline spurring her on, she ran down the stairs and out the door.
"Discord!" she called frantically. He couldn't have gotten far with his goat leg the way it was. She lit an oil lamp and began frantically searching the path and bushes nearby. She was about ready to cry. This couldn't be happening, it just couldn't. Princess Celestia had trusted her to do the right thing and she had blown it. She called his name again and ran down the path. After almost an hour of searching, something occured to her. She didn't see any tracks on the path other than Zecora's or any indication that a body had dragged itself across the undergrowth. She turned and looked back at the light in her cottage and started running.
Discord lay on the bathroom floor, staring at the ceiling. Everything felt amazing. He purred and rubbed his face against the bathroom rug. He didn't care how many dirty hooves had previously been on it. It felt like heaven. Why hadn't he thought of this before? This would solve all his problems. Stupid pony trying to stop him from solving all his problems...
The door burst open. "Discord!"
He barely registered the sound of the terrified pegasus's voice. "I was looking everywhere for you! Do you know how much you scared me?!"
"Hmm?" he said, looking at her with a calm expression on his face. Then he started laughing. "Silly mare!" he cooed. His pupils were massive. Fluttershy looked up to see the bathroom cabinet was open, and when she checked it, all the painkillers she'd had in a jar were gone.
"Nooooo!" trilled Discord happily.
"Discord, how many did you take?" she cried, grabbing his face.
"All of them!" he grinned happily. Fluttershy's blood went cold. There were about 30 pills in there, and they were the kind used for severe pain. Discord removed himself from her hooves and began rubbing his face along the rug again.
"Serves her right!" he laughed.
"This isn't funny!"
"It is! It's very funny! Serves Prissy Princess right." Then, to Fluttershy's surprise, he began half-laughing half-crying. "She left me! She left me!"
Fluttershy thought fast. She needed to get to Seth right away. She wasn't prepared to handle this on her own.
"Discord!" she said, taking his head in her arms again. "You need to stay awake, do you understand me?" She positioned his head under the shower and blasted cold water on his face. He shrieked, but it ended in wild laughter and sobbing again. Fluttershy knew she needed to hurry. She ran down the stairs, grabbed her coat and was out the door, running as fast as her legs could carry her.
She reached Seth's house twenty minutes later,and pounded on his door. She felt like her heart was going to burst. Seth opened the door to see a very red faced and out of breath pegasus.
"Fluttershy! What's wrong?"
When they returned to Fluttershy's cottage, Discord was unconscious. Fluttershy started crying.
"Shh, don't worry," said Seth. He began running a tube down the draconequus's long throat then he attached the end closest to him to a bottle of charcoal solution. The reaction was almost instantaneous and Discord lurched forward, vomiting onto the rug. Seth manouvered his head into the bathtub.
Discord didn't even seem aware of who was touching him. He just continued to retch into the tub. Fluttershy began pulling Seth towards the door.
"Hey, hey! What gives?" asked the earth pony.
"He doesn't know you," said the pegasus. "I'm afraid you'll startle him."
"Why the hell did he do that?" asked Seth.
"I...I don't know. He wanted painkillers and I was trying to wean him off them."
"The fool! Was he aware that thirty pills in one go could kill him?"
"I honestly don't know."
"Fluttershy, really, if you need an extra pair of hooves to help with this I'm happy to take some of my leave and..."
"No," she said suddenly. "I'm fine. I...I was just stupid because I didn't keep the cabinet locked."
Seth looked at her and sighed, shaking his head as Fluttershy wiped tears off her face with her hooves. Even when they had been together she had been this stubborn. It was hard not to like that about her.
"Will he be okay?" she asked.
"Yup. But he's going to have a mare of a headache in the morning."
Once she had convinced Seth to leave, Fluttershy checked on Discord. His breathing was raspy and he was leanin over the tub.
"Come on," she said. "Let's get you into bed."
It was a struggle moving the draconequus, but he managed to stumble along back to the bedroom with her help. She gave him a glass of water and tucked him in.
"I'm not going anywhere tonight," she told him softly. "I'll be right here if you need me."
She ran her hoof along his mane and he whimpered softly.. She'd worry about cleaning up the bathroom in the morning.
Fluttershy watched him as he slept, her mind full. She ended up eating cold stir fry in the bedroom as she guarded him. Why had he done that? Had he been aware that pills of such amounts could kill him? And what did he mean by "Prissy Princess" and "She left me?"
She sighed. She had to admit one thing to herself, and that was she couldn't do this alone with the scant information she had. She needed to get more information from Celestia. She left the bedroom briefly then went back upstairs with a quill and parchment and sat at the table near the window, occcassionally turning to check Discord was still snoozing peacefully.
Dear Princess Celestia, she wrote.
I am writing you this letter because I feel that I need more information about Discord in order to care for him properly. I'm a bit worried that he may be trying to hurt himself when I'm not watching him. I'm really sorry to ask, but could I read that book? If I could learn more about his history and the draconequii, maybe I would be better placed to care for him.
I'm really sorry. I know you must be disappointed in me, but I'm worried that without the full information I won't be able to do a good job.
She sighed deeply and put the quill down, then she folded the parchment and put it in an envelope. She'd ask the mailpony to take it to the Golden Oaks library so Twilight and Spike could send it to Princess Celestia directly. It would get to the Princess faster that way.
Shefelt exhausted. She looked over at Discord. He was peacefully sleeping for now but she knew his headache would be something to contend with in the morning. Seth had left soothers for her so that would help, at least. She felt too tired to crawl down to the sofa bed.
She crawled across the bed and curled up next to the draconequus.
When Discord awoke he was aware of a blinding pain behind his eyes. He was also aware of a pony in very close proximity to him. He opened his eyes, wincing the moment the light hit them and was confronted by a pink mane and the sleeping face of the pegasus. He opened his mouth to say something snarky and managed the word: "blleaargh." He felt like he had been hit by a cart. He was also very, very thirsty.
The noise he uttered woke Fluttershy. "Oh, how are you feeling?" she asked softly, getting to her hooves.
"Crappy," came the croaked reply.
"I'll get you some water and soothers," she said. "Do you think you can eat something?"
The thought of eating anything turned the draconequus' stomach. "No," he protested.
"How about some soup later."
He made a non-commital noise and she got the soothers for him, taking a few seconds while she was downstairs to put the letter into the mailbox for the mail mare to collect.
Discord swallowed the pills and collapsed back down on the mattress.
"Why does my head hurt so bad?" he moaned.
"You took thirty pills in one go!"
"So? I thought they were meant to stop pain."
"Discord, there's a reason I've only been giving you two pills at a time. Any more is dangerous, and thirty is deadly!"
He looked at her in genuine surprise. "You were giving me poison?"
"They're not poison! Not in small amounts. Ponies use them as medicine, but like anything if you have too much of it, they can kill you."
To her surprise, he chuckled. "Typical," he said. "All the things that feel good are 'bad' for you."
"In the future," she said. "Please trust me when I say I'm doing things for your own health."
"And why should I do that? I don't even know what I'm doing here."
She grit her teeth. "I've been asked to look after you."
"I...I can't reveal that information."
He laughed. "And you expect me to trust you?"
"I may be able to reveal that information in the future, but for now I've promised someone I wouldn't. But what I can promise you is this: I mean you no harm. All I want is to see you get better."
"Discord, can you remember anything at all? I mean before you came to my cottage."
He knitted his brow, and after about half a minute he said: "I remember two ponies. They were pointing a crossbow at me."
"Yes?" said Fluttershy encouragingly, though she felt a chill go down her spine as he recounted the image.
"Really? You don't remember anything before then?"
He thought hard again and said: "I remember stars."
She decided to not press him any further for the moment. Hopefully when Princess Celestia got her letter she would know more.
"I'm not going to lie to you," she said. "Today your head is going to hurt a whole lot because you overdosed on pills, but I'm going to try and make you as comfortable as possible. I think if you ate a little later, your headache would disappear faster. And I'll give you lots of water and soothers and we'll pull the blinds down so it's dark and doesn't hurt your eyes. Is that okay?"
He nodded. He wasn't about to argue with her after what had happened to him.
Later that day after she had finished cleaning charcoal out of her bathtub and washing the porcelin with hot water, she began running a bath. She couldn't imagine that Discord felt very comfortable when he was covered in dirt, scabs, dried food and regurgitated charcoal solution. When she entered the bedroom, however, he seemed timid.
"I smell lavender," he said.
"Yes, I'm running a bath," she said. "It should help you feel better."
He paused, then said "I'd like a bath, but I'd also like some privacy."
"I'm sorry Discord, but I can't allow that after what happened today. I need to help you, and the best way for me to do that is if I clean your wounds. I can also help you untangle some of your feathers and fur. It can't feel very comfortable to have them matted like that."
"It's not," he admitted. "But..."
She wondered what was bothering him. Like ponies, he went around naked so that couldn't have been the problem. Did he have a fear of water? Was he embarrassed about someone else washing him? She tried a different tact: "Discord, please. I only want to help you. And it might make your headache feel better." He hesitated. The lavender bubble bath did smell good, soothing even.
"'kay" he said, and hobbled out of bed and across the hallway into the bathroom.
Fluttershy checked the temperature of the water with her hoof and signalled to him that it was ready. Discord manouvered himself so that he was sitting on the edge of the bath tub, then turned his body so that he could sink into the water without hurting his goat hoof. As he sank lower into the water, he felt its warmth soak into and underneath his feathers and a low moan of satisfaction erupted from his throat.
"Oh, that does feel good," he said, tilting his head back and resting it against the side of the tub closest to the wall. His dragon foot and goat hoof stuck out above the water and his tail, which was too long to fit the length of the tub, hung out over the edge and onto the floor.
Fluttershy began lathering up some bubble bath and used a bowl to pour water over the fur on his neck. Discord sighed happily. "I may need to get dirty more often," he said. A blush spread across Fluttershy's face. Why had that sounded like a double entendre? She pushed the thought out of her mind quickly and began shampooing his mane. She felt less worried when she peered down at him, and suddenly realized why he might have felt embarrassed about having a bath. Discord didn't look like a guy who was making dirty jokes. He looked like a bird that had just been plucked. Like most birds who got their feathers soaked, Discord's body looked smaller than it actually was under all that fur and feather, and she was reminded of how near death he had been (twice) over the past few weeks.
She began to wash him off with the shower head, making sure that the water that came out was still warm. When that was done, she went to the airing cupboard and looked for the biggest, fluffiest towel she could find, which turned out to be beach towel and was big enough to wrap around most of Discord's body after he had dried his mane and feathers with it. He began to shiver once they left the warmth of the bathroom and she quickly helped him into bed. He refused to let go of the towel and wrapped it round himself like shawl.
Fluttershy actually stifled a giggle. He looked like a strange monk.
"Feeling better?" she asked. He nodded. "See," she said. "Wasn't that worth it?"
"You ask a lot of questions," he said, giving her a sidelong view, "but I don't believe you've told me much about yourself..."
Oh. "Well, my name's Fluttershy..." she began.
"Yes, we've ascertained that," he said in an acerbic tone of voice. "I want to know why specifically I've been given to you so that you can be my caretaker, but since you're not going to tell me that, perhaps we could start with the basics. What's a pegasus doing living on the ground? I don't believe your kind tend to spend much time mucking about in the dirt. That's for earth ponies."
"Oh, well that's a long story," she said, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable that the spotlight had been turned on her.
"Well, then," he said, grinning and showing rows of sharp teeth. "I have all the time in the world to listen."
She really didn't want to talk about this with him. It was her personal and private life and he really didn't have any right to know about it, but she knew that if she didn't open up a little to him that she would yet very little in return. She took a deep breath."My parents died when I was a filly," she said, throwing herself in at the deep end. If he wanted to say anything nasty then she might as well get it over with. Discord, however, was silent, and still looking at her from his towel tee pee. She continued. "They were on a train to Canterlot while I was at flight school, and it derailed. Th-They didn't have time to get out." She swallowed hard; she wasn't going to cry, dammit. "I wasn't the only filly who lost parents on that train. There were a few foals who ended up orphaned. The Crown was very good to us. Pri...they ending up providing for our education and recompensing us. That's how I ended up here, when I realized what my cutie mark was telling me to do."
"Look after animals? Or the sick and needy?"
"Well, both. But I'm better at looking after animals, I think. I think everyone needs kindness in their lives. It can help with a lot of painful things."
He was silent again.
"What about you, do you...did you have family?"
His eyes were suddenly cold and hard. "I don't remember," he said. "And I want to go to sleep now. My head still hurts a little."
Celestia's reply came within a day to the Golden Oaks Library, and Twilight was keen to read it, but Spike stopped her.
"Uh uh," he said. "It says it's for Fluttershy's eyes only."
"Oh," said the unicorn, feeling slightly crestfallen.
"Yeah," said Spike. "Can I deliver it?"
"I don't see why not. But remember to not disturb Fluttershy. She said that any strangers might disturb Discord."
The dragon nodded and stuffed the scroll into his pouch.
It was 2 weeks until Hearth's Warming, and the air was still chilly. Spike put on his ear muffs, boots and winter coat and headed down the path.
Lots of the townsponies were out doing last minute shopping for the holidays and Spike took longer than usual to arrive at Fluttershy's cottage while he was avoiding the footfall of hooves all around him.
He stuffed the letter into the mailbox and turned back to run the gauntlet again, unaware that he was being watched.
Discord's headache was finally gone. It had taken almost two days, but he had done as Fluttershy had asked and eaten his meals without complaint. He was finally beginning to fill out, and his ribs were no longer visible, though he still looked very thin, even for his long shape. Fluttershy was unprepared for his appetite when it came back full force.
"Can I have some cheese on toast?" he asked. "Can I have a bushel of apples? Can we have mashed potatoes with gravy tonight?"
She was glad he was eating, but it was hard to keep up. He ate almost as much as all her animals combined. His requests were becoming extremely varied and after a while she told him he needed to tone it down because she just didn't have the ingredients for "Black Forest Gateau Ravioli, not to mention the recipe.
"Can we have egg fried rice?" he asked her on that particular evening. She was actually relieved he had requested that. She could make a large batch and there would be enough for leftovers.
"I'll see what I can do," she said smiling. She made her way into the kitchen and as she looked out the window she saw the letter sticking out of the letter box. She dropped everything and ran out the door, tearing opening the envelope quickly.
After much thought, I have decided that yes, I will let you have the book for your information.
Please be aware that the information within it is for your eyes only and I trust you not to relay any of it to the others.
I am not disappointed in you. On the contrary, I know how difficult this must be and I am very proud of you for being brave enough to tackle this on your own.
Remember that if at any time you wish to back out, or feel unsafe, you are free to use the Elements.
I will be delivering the book within the next few days.
The book arrived a day later, but not at all in the way Fluttershy was expecting. She had anticipated the mail mare bringing her a package, possibly labelled fragile, but instead a carriage pulled up outside the cottage late in the afternoon and a guard had knocked on her door.
"Fluttershy?" said the stallion, in such a brisk voice that Fluttershy couldn't help but feel a little intimidated.
"Yes, that's me."
"Delivery from Princess Celestia." He handed her an archival box which had been waxed with the royal seal."
"Th-Thank you," spluttered the pegasus. The guard nodded and then signalled to the others that it was time to go.
Fluttershy backed into the house and closed the door quietly. She looked up the stairs, as if expecting Discord to be standing at the top of them, then she made her way over to the couch and placed the archival box on the coffee table, looking at it furtively. She was dying to open the package, but at the same time she was worried about what she would find in there.
It's for Discord she reminded herself. The more you know the better you'll be able to help him.
She broke the royal seal and unwrapped the book which was covered with tissue paper. Like the other volumes she had seen in the Golden Oaks Library, the book was bound in blue vegetable leather. She dug around in her saddle bag for the note she had made weeks ago in the library and found the crumpled sheet of paper. She smoothed it out with her hoof and noted the page numbers: Equestria's Past Volume XIII by Hoofsteader. Pages 84-235
She opened the book and began to read:
Chapter XVI The Reign of Discord
Discord was a creature of the race Draconequui. Though believed to be a race in their own right, all that is known about the Draconequui is that at the time of his reign, there was only one living of their species. An attempt has been made to find evidence of other Draconequui and their customs, but to no avail.
From scrolls written by Starswirl the Bearded, it is apparent that Discord came to the Kingdom of Equestria as a nomad around the same time that King Jovian passed away. (See volume XII pages 267-350). Starswirl the Bearded apparently had something approaching a friendly relationship with the draconequus since they were both weilders of magic, and it was through the mage that Discord became known to Princess Celestia and Princess Luna.
The full extent of Discord's dealings with the royal family are unknown, but unfounded rumours spread throughout Equestria that Princess Celestia had taken him as a lover.
Fluttershy nearly dropped the book. Lover? She peered down again at the writing and continued reading:
These are, of course, silly rumours and as a historian it is my job to present the facts. What is more likely is that our glorious Princess found herself in a situation where Discord was difficult to manage. What is known is that during Princess Celestia's engagement to Prince Stellarium, Discord decided to betray the Princesses and Starswirl.
Until then, it was unclear just how much power the draconequus had. Discord was the Spirit of Chaos, and able to wield this power directly from nature.
After that there were descriptions of what Discord had done which Fluttershy found especially difficult to read. Her eyes flitted over phrases such as "famine...suffering...inverse gravity..." Her eyes filled with tears as she read more and more of the suffering a cruelty ponies had endured under Discord's reign. Why had he betrayed Celestia? Was that what he had intended to do all along? Had he simply been friendly with Starswirl to infiltrate the Crown?
Finally she got to the part about the Crystal Empire and the mining village. She had expected to read a passage about Princess Celestia being angry at Commodore for "killing" Discord, but instead she was surprised to see the words:
Brave Commodore, an Earth Pony from the mining village which is now the Crystal Empire, saved Equestria from the beast's long reign by shooting Discord in the head with a Crystal of Order. From that day forward, there has been peace in Equestria.
Fluttershy couldn't help but feel a little skeptical while reading the passages. For one thing, she was certain other forms of unrest had occured since then: Nightmare Moon for example. Perhaps this book had been written before Luna returned. After all, Celestia had been guarded about that whole affair as well, and with good reason.
But she did agree with the author that the rumours about Princess Celestia and Discord seemed rather gossipy and unfounded. But what of Prince Stellarium? Had Celestia ever married him? She hadn't heard any mention of Celestia marrying in any of the history books, and surely Twilight would have mentioned something like that by now.
She left me. The Prissy Princess left me.
She shook her head. She only had Discord's word to go on regarding that, and the author had said the rumours were unfounded. Maybe Discord had wanted the Princess for himself and got angry when she wanted to marry the stallion she loved. She couldn't imagine Princess Celestia with a partner who wasn't pony. The book seemed to be throwing up more questions rather than answering the ones she already had.
She put the book down on the coffee table. That had been a lot to take in and she was feeling overwhelmed. She decided to stick with her original plan, which was waiting until Discord told her what he could remember, if he ever did. She got up and hid the book behind the bookcase.
Later that night she was brushing Angel Bunny's fur when she heard a noise.
"Hey," said Discord. He was standing at the top of the stairs, this time on four legs.
She smiled softly. "Can you manage?" she asked.
"I think so."
She watched him carefully as he cautiously made his way down the stairs. Halfway there he paused to catch his breath. Fluttershy continued to watch him.
He stumbled the rest of the way down the stairs and she ran up to him quickly, cursing herself for letting him do that without assistance.
"I'm fine," he chuckled, pushing her away with his paw while she made a fuss. "Just not been on these stems for a while now. Bit rusty." She nodded. Despite his insistance that he needed no help, he seemed so fragile. The image before her seemed so at odds with what she had read in the book earlier. She tried not to think about the words famine and unrest.
Discord slowly made his way over to the fireplace and collapsed on the bean bag.
"Oh yeah," he purred. "That's the stuff."
She wondered if he remembered being on the bean bag when she had found him in the woods and first taken him in.
"I'm glad you're feeling better," she said, truthfully.
"So am I, Shy." he said, rolling over onto his back. "But you still haven't explained to me what I'm doing here and why I'm all bandaged up."
She caught her breath. "I...I found you in the woods," she said. "You were hurt, badly, so I brought you back here to look after you."
"And why would you do that?"
"Why wouldn't I?"
"Well," he said, putting his hands behind his head. "You don't know me, for one thing."
"I don't know a lot of the animals I take in and look after," she said.
He chuckled. "Is that what you think I am? An animal?"
She felt her face turn red. "No! That's not what I meant. I...just meant I'm used to caring for people. All kinds of people."
He was looking at her curiously, in a way that implied he was still wary of her and she turned her gaze downwards, her face still hot. She remembered she hadn't checked the regular mail today in the excitement of the book arriving and used that as a way to excuse herself from his gaze.
There was a catalogue for small mammal feed in the mailbox, along with a letter from Rarity. Fluttershy felt joy when she recognized the hoofwriting. She opened the letter:
I do hope you are doing well. Spike and Twilight tell me that you have everything under control and have been in contact with the Princess and Zecora has informed us that you are managing everything just fine. I'm proud of you, dear. I know I would be shaking in my horseshoes if I had to look after that brute all by myself!
I am writing to let you know I am thinking of you, and also to let you know that with Hearth's Warming fast approaching, I want to offer you a free Haute couture commission from Carousel Boutique. I will make any outfit you ask, because you so deserve it, Fluttershy. We all need gorgeous things to keep us going! That's why I keep a picture of Trenderhoof on my dressing table!
Just name what you want, and I'll get to work. It should be ready for Hearth's Warming.
Thinking of you always.
Hearth's Warming! She had nearly forgotten. She usually spent it with Rainbow Dash or the Apple Family, but this year that wasn't an option. She had Discord to look after. She folded up the letter sadly. She'd reply to it later.
When she entered the house again she expected to see Discord smirking at her from the beanbag, but to her surprise he was curled up on it in a donut shape and the ferrets had taken refuge in the hollow he had made with his body. His eyes were closed and he was breathing deeply. She laughed softly. He looked like a strange, deformed ferret mother and he was clearly cold. Perhaps the position of the bean bag near the fireplace was what he found so comforting about it. She covered him with a wool throw and started preparing her own bed on the sofa.
Snow didn't arrive until the eve before Hearth's Warming and Fluttershy started putting the dolls up on the mantlepiece. She had one made of felt of herself she'd kept from fillyhood that her mother had made her and a small knitted one she had made of Angel Bunny.
"What are those?" asked the draconequus as he entered the room. He occassionally stood on his hind legs now, but had to revert to being a quadruped because it tired him out being upright.
"Hearth's Warming dolls," said Fluttershy.
"That doesn't answer my question," said the draconequus. "Why do you put effigies of yourself above a fireplace? You planning on torching them later?"
The choice of words might have sounded creepy or threatening but he was smiling at her mischievously. Despite herself, she giggled. "No, silly. We put up dolls of ponies from our family to remind us of them and how much we love them."
Discord went quiet, then cleared his throat. "What is Hearth's Warming? Another silly pony tradition?"
"Um, I suppose the time of year has the same meaning as the dolls do. You spend it with ponies who mean a lot to you."
"And where are you spending it this year?"
"Oh, I'm not going anywhere this year," she said. "I'm staying here."
He seemed to relax a little at this, then said "Well, I guess I'm gonna hit the hay. If it's alright with you I'll take the beanbag again."
"That's fine." She had started sleeping in her own bed again. Discord had been offered the sofa bed but seemed to prefer the bean bag for some reason. "There's hot chocolate if you get cold at night," she said. "Good night, Discord. Happy Hearth's Warming Eve."
"Happy Strange and Weird Pony Tradition to you too," he grinned, lifting his head from the bean bag. She smiled and walked up the stairs, carrying her oil lamp.
He watched her and pool of light vanish up the stairs, then turned his head to look at the dolls on the mantlepiece.
"Their eyes follow you across the room," he muttered, and pulled the throw over his head so he wouldn't have to look at them.
In the morning Fluttershy came down the stairs. She was wearing a crown made of holly.
"No, no, no...wait. Let me guess," said the draconequus. "You're a tree, right?"
She laughed, and that was when he realized she was carrying a package wrapped in colourful paper.
"A tree hobo?" he offered.
"This is for you," she said, handing him the package.
He looked at her with narrowed eyes. "Why?"
"It's another Hearth's Warming tradition. We give gifts to each other."
"I didn't give you a gift."
"That's okay. You didn't know. Go on, open it."
He looked at her uncertainly then began tearing at the paper with his claws.
Fluttershy had hidden the letter from Rarity that had come with the package earlier.
"Know that I love you, Fluttershy, and it's for this reason alone that I have created this monstrosity for you!"
Discord pulled out what looked like a scarf, except it seemed to be hollow, like a giant legwarmer. It was striped, but all of the colours were mismatched. In fact the only thing they matched were the parts of his body.
"I know you get cold in the evenings sometimes."
"This is...for me?"
"Because you're my friend," she said simply.
Next: The antagonists are introduced. Plus Discord gets a lot mouthier.
The next chapter won't be up for a while now as I need to concentrate on other things, but hey, at least I got a lot of writing done during this streak!
I'll add more notes if I think of them as and when.
The chapter title is from a Tori Amos song. And I've forgotten to mention that the title of this fic comes from the NIN song of the same name which actually fits Discord (or Discord suffering depersonalisation) quite well.