The Never-Was and Wouldn't-Be

by Obselescence

Chapter 1: Chapter One

Twilight Sparkle sighed. She looked out into the distance and saw only grass. Grass forever: beautiful, bright, and green, stretching further than the eye could see and the hoof could walk, and further still for good measure. Soft rays of sunshine fell across the fields, giving the world a gentle, quiet warmth. It was, as things went, a perfect day.

And, for the very last time, she was spending it alone.

A light gust of wind passed her by, rustling her mane and whistling in her ears. The grass swayed, ever so slightly, but soon enough the breeze fell off and the fields settled again into silence. Perfect. Or was it? She couldn’t hear the soft buzzing of gnats, or the pitter-patter of bunnies hopping through the grass. Twilight had never cared much for those sounds before, but now—today, of all days—she almost missed them. The fields felt almost too peaceful. Too empty. Too quiet.

“Hey, Twilight!” called Rainbow Dash’s voice from the cloudless blue sky. “You coming back to Ponyville? The Princess says everyone needs to be there before we can start.”

“Just a few more minutes,” Twilight called back, without looking up. “I’ll be there.”

“Take as long as you want,” said Rainbow Dash. “I’ll tell everyone you got held up.”


Another breeze stirred her mane as Rainbow Dash flew off. Another little sound in the silence. Twilight frowned. When was the last time she’d been by herself like this? Surrounded only by grass, with hardly a pony or bunny or even a butterfly in sight? Completely and utterly alone?

She couldn’t remember. Perhaps, after Harmony, she never would.

“Having second thoughts are we, hm?” said another voice—a deeper, richer voice, and one Twilight didn’t altogether like. The air around her thickened into cotton candy and the ground beneath her hooves became chocolate pudding. “I never thought the great Princess Sparkle would be one to get cold hooves.”

“Go away, Discord,” she said. She stepped out of the chocolate pudding pool and wiped her hooves clean on the grass. “I’m thinking.”

“Ah, well, that’s good to hear,” said Discord, stepping through the cotton candy cloud that surrounded her. “That you’re still thinking, I mean.” He swirled the cotton candy about with his paw, until it looked like a fluffy pink brain, and took a bite out of it. “You know what they say about those who stop.”

“Hilarious,” she huffed, turning away from him. She was in no mood for Discord’s antics today—if, indeed, she ever could be in the mood for Discord’s antics. “You know what I meant.”

“I always do,” said Discord, finishing his cotton candy brain. He licked his paw and grinned. “But it’s more fun to misinterpret, don’t you think?”

“You’re not going away, Discord,” said Twilight. “Which is funny, because I could have sworn I asked you to.”

“And it’s even funnier, because I chose to misinterpret that too,” said Discord, grinning wider. “Do sit down and chat with me, though,” he said, conjuring a rocking chair to sit on. A corn cob pipe materialized in his mouth. “Why don’t you tell ol’ Pappy Discord what’s troubling you?”

Twilight sighed. She did know better than to ask something of Discord that he didn’t want. And maybe she did need someone to talk to. Anyone. Even a sneering, sarcastic draconequus. “You won’t be going away, will you?” she asked.

“Not until you do, my dear,” said Discord, blowing a few bubbles from his pipe. “Which could take a very long time, at this rate.”

“Can you keep a secret, then?”

“A secret?” Discord guffawed, laughing until he swallowed his pipe. “Aside from my natural wit, charm, and trustworthiness,” he said, waving away the bubbles forming out of his ears, “what on earth makes you think it will be safe with me?” He winked at her. “Or with you, for that matter. Remember: after today, there are no secrets.”

Twilight sighed. “You know what I meant.”

“Always,” said Discord. “Your secrets, however long they may last, shall be safe with me.”

“It’s just…” she paused, trying to marshal her thoughts. It was just… what? The other princesses had agreed with it from the start. All of Equestria agreed with it now. She herself had gone over her arguments a thousand times, searching for, categorizing, and refuting every logical objection. All she had left were gut feelings, and she’d never quite liked those. “It’s just… Harmony,” she said, at last. “I don’t really know if I’m ready for it yet.”

“Oh?” Discord raised a bushy white eyebrow. “So I did get it in one. And isn’t it ironic, too? Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Friendship, having doubts about Harmony.” He cleared his throat, and his head shifted into a copy of hers. “‘The next step in understanding,’” he said, in Twilight’s own voice. “‘Beyond friendship, and into unity, where—’”

“Where nopony will ever again feel alone, unhappy, or unsure,” finished Twilight. She’d memorized the speech a year ago, delivered it only last month. Those words had sounded so convincing when she’d spoken them to all of Equestria. They were still convincing. Only, hearing them from Discord’s mouth, she was no longer sure she wanted to be convinced.

A piercing caw sounded over the fields. She looked up and saw a night-black raven flying overhead—a straggler. One of the few birds out there that hadn’t yet reached Ponyville. One by one, though, they were getting there, answering Princess Celestia’s magical call. Twilight could still hear the echoes of it in her own head: Come, be one with us. With Harmony.

It wouldn’t be long now until every living thing in Equestria was gathered in one place. Until Harmony.

“I don’t know,” said Twilight. “It just doesn’t feel right, for some reason. I mean, will we still be us? Am I still going to be me?”

“Well, who else would you expect to be?” said Discord, molding his face back into his usual misshapen features “Pinkie Pie? Rainbow Dash? Or—heaven forbid—moi?

“I don’t know,” she said, shaking her head. “It’s just… when I’m a part of Harmony, will I still like books? Or studying? Or will Harmony decide what I like?” She paused, thinking about what it would be like to be a little of everything and everyone. “Or would I even need to study? Maybe when I’m part of Harmony, I’d have read the textbook already, as somepony else. Maybe I’d just be a part of the author, and they’d be a part of me too...”

“I can only imagine so,” said Discord, yawning. “Which is to say: you have astoundingly uninteresting hobbies. I can’t imagine Harmony will make that aspect of you any more boring, if that’s your concern.”

“And I guess it won’t be all bad,” Twilight continued, ignoring his comments. “Pinkie Pie’s parties would all get perfect attendance ratings. And, if I’m part of Harmony, then that means everyone would know everything I know too…” She giggled at the thought of being able to talk integral math with Applejack, then sighed and shook her head. “But I won’t know what it’ll be like until it happens. That’s the thing: nobody really knows. The theories are foolproof, the logic is sound. Everything seems predictable, except…”

“Except that you still aren’t sure,” said Discord.

“No,” Twilight admitted. “I’m still not sure.” It sounded silly to say that, after a year’s worth of work, preparation, and study, but it was true. She wasn’t one-hundred percent, proof-positive sure, and that bothered her.

“Well, if you ask me, that’s the perfect state in which to be.” His eagle-claw arm morphed into a tail and his tail began to look rather like an eagle’s claw. “Certainty is a little drab, don’t you think?”

“So why are you still on-board with this, Mister Chaos?” Twilight asked, gritting her teeth. "How did Fluttershy get you to agree to Harmony?"

“What makes you think she needed to convince me?” said Discord. He conjured a floating sand castle, complete with walls and tiny flag. “It’s not so different from what I do, really.” Slowly, the sand castle started to disintegrate. “You pick the structure apart, spread a little entropy. Bit by bit, all the walls come down…” The castle collapsed entirely into a heap of sand. “And everything’s the same.” He laughed, scattering the sand to the winds. “Is that Harmony or Chaos? Who knows? Who says our endgames were ever really all that different?”

“Who’s to say they’re the same?” asked Twilight. “I mean, even if I’m not sure about it… Harmony’s supposed to build something greater. It’s not just about tearing down divides. It’s about building something bigger than us… from us. From all of us, together.”

“Oh, I didn’t say it didn’t,” said Discord, waggling a talon at her. “But if you get enough sand together, a pile will reach just as high as a tower.” He grinned at her. “I don’t suppose you gave much thought, though, to which one you were building.”

Twilight frowned. She’d never really thought of Harmony that way before, and she wasn’t sure she’d ever want to. Even with her doubts… it had to be better than the way Discord described it. Harmony wasn’t just sticking sand together; it was connecting everything, so that nopony would ever feel misunderstood, or excluded… or afraid. “Is that what you told Fluttershy, then?”

“Oh,” said Discord. His grin disappeared. “Well—not in so many words. Or witticisms. You understand. Fluttershy’s a little more delicate than you are.” He sighed, staring in Ponyville’s direction. “And how could I say no when she had her heart so set on being one and the same with all her little animal friends? With all her little pony friends?” He sighed again and added, very quietly: “With me?”

Discord bit his lip, his snaggletooth wobbling slightly. “Do you know what it’s like to be by yourself, Twilight?” he asked. “Where all you have is yourself and nopony will give you the time of day unless you take it from them?”

“Um…” said Twilight. Did she know what that was like? She’d had her friends for a very long time, and before them she’d had Spike. And even before him, she’d had Shining Armor.

She’d always had someone.

Discord pulled out a baseball cap, signed “Fluttershy and DiScORd: Best Friends Forever” and set it carefully on his head. “You know, I didn’t used to care about making friends,” he said. “Now I do. Friends, plural, even. I was perfectly all right before I realized how much I wanted them—happier, even. But friendship is very much like an addiction: you try it once, you know you oughtn’t to keep going, and yet…” A Harmony flag appeared in his paw. “You just can’t stop.”

“I don’t know if I’d put it like that…”

“Oh, but I would,” said Discord. “How complete is your victory, Princess Twilight, that you’ve got me buying into your charades?” He winked at her. “But, of course, that’s our little secret. For as long as it lasts.”

“For as long as it lasts,” agreed Twilight. She wondered vaguely what it would be like when Discord joined Harmony too, and what she might think when his thoughts became part of Harmony’s and Harmony’s thoughts became his. Would they become friends, eventually, too? It seemed probable, at least.

Or... would there even be a Twilight Sparkle and a Discord to be friends? Maybe, in the end, it would all just be Harmony, and Harmony would be friends with itself—forever.

She couldn’t even imagine what that would be like.

“So what do you think I should do, then?” she asked. “If I’m not sure?”

Do?” said Discord. “Oh, but there’s nothing to do, really. This is just the culmination of things. Every time you did that gag-me-with-a-spoon act about friendship being important, or saved Equestria by understanding your friends better—that was a step closer to Harmony.” He scratched his chin. “Tell the truth, I can’t understand why you’re suddenly so uncomfortable with being friends. It’s all you’ve ever preached.”

“I’m not uncomfortable with being friends,” said Twilight. “But, I mean, whenever I was helping Rainbow Dash with her Wonderbolt problems, or helping Pinkie set up a party, I was still... Twilight Sparkle, I guess. It was me and my friends. Not just Harmony and more Harmony. I don’t know if it would be the same.”

“So what you’re saying,” said Discord, “is that you can’t stand getting close to your friends, even after all that mushy junk about wanting to be with them forever.”

“That isn’t what I was saying at all!”

“Oh, I know,” said Discord. “But it’s more fun to misinterpret.”

Twilight stopped. “Yeah,” she said, lips curling into the barest hint of a smile. “It… kind of is.”

A small pack of mice scurried through the grass, past her, and on to Ponyville. A flock of pigeons followed a minute later. Twilight felt her heart sink in her chest. Sooner or later, everything else would be ready for Harmony, and the question would arise as to where she was.

For the first time in her life, she wondered if it would be okay to be tardy.

“There’s always a third option, you know,” said Discord. “You could sabotage the spell. Harmony doesn’t have to happen.”

“I...” Twilight’s eyes widened. “I guess I…” She shook her head, trying to clear it. “No. No. I couldn’t do that to my friends—to all of Equestria—just because I’m not personally sure about Harmony.” She thought back to Fluttershy. How she’d been so happy at the thought of being with both her animal friends and her pony friends forever that she’d cried. If Discord couldn’t take that away from Fluttershy, how could she? “I mean, even thinking about doing that would be—”

“The word you are looking for,” said Discord, holding up a dictionary, “is selfish. And it’s exactly the sort of word Harmony is meant to destroy, so we’ll call that a victory.” The dictionary burst into fireworks. “Congratulations.”

“I... guess so…”

“But there’s always a fourth option,” Discord continued, popping a yellow eyeball out of its socket. It winked at her. “We could, as the ponyfolk say, make a deal.”

“A deal?” Twilight looked up, suspicious. “What kind of deal are you talking about, Discord, and why should I trust anything you’re offering?”

“Oh, it’s nothing evil,” said Discord, popping the eye back into his head. “If that’s what you’re afraid of. I’m simply offering you an out that doesn’t involve betraying all your friends and sabotaging your life’s efforts.” He turned his back on her. “Buuuuut if you’d rather not hear it…”

“I want to hear it,” said Twilight. “But no promises.”

“Excellent,” said Discord, grinning. “I never intended to make any.” He opened his mouth and pulled from it a golden pocket watch. “The deal is simplicity itself: with my own prodigious talents and a generous donation from your—ahem—considerable magical reserves, it is entirely possible to cast a spell that will put time…” He put a claw on the watch’s minute hand and, with a gentle flick, sent it spinning backward. “...on your side.”

Twilight narrowed her eyes at him. “Time travel? That never works.”

“But I’m not talking about time travel,” said Discord, spinning the hour hand too. “I’m talking about a spell that will take time and undo it altogether. Just think: with just a little dose of it, it could be last week, or last month—or last century.”

“How is that supposed to help?”

Discord sighed. “What I am proposing to you,” he said, crushing the watch in his paw, “is a second chance. If, hypothetically, you were to set time back to before any of this Harmony business started—before any of this friendship business started—there is a very slight chance that things would turn out... differently.”


“Differently. It is, of course, a messy business to take away Harmony once you’ve offered it, but what if it never becomes a problem? Perhaps the thought never crosses your mind—or, perhaps, you never doubt it. Maybe Princess Celestia disagrees with you this time, or your friends convince you it’s for the best after all.” The pocket watch reformed in his paw and began ticking away once more. “A second chance.”

Twilight’s heart quickened in her chest. A second chance… “But how could that change anything?” she asked. “You don’t get different results if you try again. It’s fate. Everything’s fate. You said as much yourself: Harmony’s the culmination of everything I’ve ever done, and it was my destiny to become Princess Celestia’s student. To learn friendship. To become a princess. To propose Harmony.” She paused. “Just as it’s my destiny to be unsure about it, I guess.”

“Destiny?” Discord laughed. “Oh, you ponies, and your quaint little concept of destiny. Maybe I ought to introduce you to chaos theory.” He held up a golden bit and flipped it. “Nothing is ever set in stone. You may think it’s certain that every little thing will always line up in the same way, every single time, and that this implies every outcome is fixed… but, once in a million tries, if you flip the coin enough times… It will eventually land on its side.”

The coin landed on the grass. Tails.

“Well,” said Discord. “That would’ve been an excellent time for it to work.” He shrugged. “The point is, though, that things can change. They may not change the first time. They may not change after a second try either, or a third try, or even after one million, fifty-nine thousand, and eight hundred thirty-two tries. The point is that there is a very slight chance they may change, and that is what I am offering to you.”

“One million, fifty-nine thousand…” Twilight’s eyes widened. “Have I made this deal before?”

“Perhaps you did,” said Discord. “Or perhaps you didn’t. Who’d remember if you did? But, on the off-chance you did make it, can you think of any better recommendation for making it again?” He stroked his goatee thoughtfully. “It’s possible, even, that you’ve changed your destiny before. Have you ever wondered how much of your own life was fated to happen?”

“It was all fated,” said Twilight. She paused. “Wasn’t it?”

“Oh, perhaps,” said Discord. “But consider how charmed your life has been up to this point. How lucky a duck you must have been to make it this far. Maybe this isn’t the first time your fate has changed for the better.” He snapped his claws, and a host of ghostly Twilight Sparkles appeared before him.

“I wish I had a big brother, too…” said the first.

Twilight’s mouth fell open. “What?”

Why couldn’t we save the Crystal Empire? asked the second.

“But we did save the Crystal Emp—”

“I wish I’d stayed with my friends…” said a third.

“If only I’d been there, I could have…”

“If I’d just…”

Twilight shut her eyes and covered her ears. “All right, all right!” she said, half-shouting. “I get the point!”

“As you wish.” He snapped his claws again and the ghostly Twilights disappeared. “I’m only saying—it’s something to consider, when you ask yourself just how permanent your plight is.”

And she did consider that, as soon as she was sure the ghost-Twilights were gone. If what Discord was saying was true—which was never entirely certain—she could set the clock back. There was no way of knowing if anything would change, or that she wouldn’t be back, in however many years, making this very same deal. But if there were even a chance that she’d be happier with her choice, that she wouldn’t ruin her friends’ happiness by taking Discord’s deal...

And, if nothing changed, there was no harm done anyway, right? She still had years of happiness to relive. Fond memories of her adventures with friends over the years. So many good times, and so very few bad ones. Was that a coincidence? Or was it as Discord said? That maybe, just maybe, she could change her fate, and had already done so?


“Wait,” she said. “What’s in this deal for you, Discord?”

“For me?” said Discord, gasping in exaggerated disbelief. His jaw dropped so far that it hit the ground. “Why, what should you think I would need out of this deal? The satisfaction of helping out a dear, beloved friend, with whom I’ve had a long professional relationship, is reason enough to want to do this.”

“Which I might believe, if most of that history hadn’t involved us as enemies.”

Discord set his jaw back in place and sniffed. “Believe what you like, then, Twilight Sparkle. It’s not my fault that you’ve made this mess for yourself, or that I’ve fallen prey to this honeypot you call friendship. There’s nothing to stop me from doing whatever I’d like besides my own conscience, and there hasn’t been for a long time. If you can’t accept that, it’s no skin off my bones.”

“Well…” Twilight paused. She supposed it could be possible, for once, that Discord was really trying to help her. He had discovered friendship, hadn’t he? She’d been there the first moment he’d learned it was better to be friends with somepony else—to help others, rather than terrorize them. And, if he’d really wanted to, he could have stopped Harmony all by himself. He didn’t need an elaborate scam to make it happen. He could accomplish it in the next ten seconds by turning Ponyville upside down, or dropping it into the ocean, or turning it into a fruit pie.

Wasn’t that proof that he meant what he said?

“Tick tock,” said Discord, pointing to a little rainbow streak in the sky. He stuck out a paw. “Do we have a deal?”

Twilight looked to the sky, watching the little rainbow trail grow ever bigger as it got closer. Rainbow Dash would be here any second, and this time there would probably be no chance for delay. She looked to Discord’s outstretched paw. It was him or Harmony. In the end, if her deal failed… she could always refuse it the second time, couldn’t she? Harmony wouldn’t give her a deal like this. She couldn’t imagine a hundred million minds agreeing to let her take it, or agreeing to let Discord offer it. How could they? It was such a selfish thing to try...

There would be no second chances, unless she took the one Discord was offering.

“All right,” she said, taking Discord’s paw. “Deal.”

“Excellent,” said Discord, grinning toothily. “Let’s get started, then. Time is cake, as they say.” He fished the golden pocket watch out from his mouth again. “Just channel as much magic as you can into this,” he said. “I’ll handle the rest.”

She glanced one last time to Rainbow Dash in the sky, then shut her eyes and let the magic flow. She didn’t know what it would feel like when Discord’s spell finally took effect, but she hoped that the Twilight of the past would make better choices than she had. That she wouldn’t make as many mistakes, or let herself be uncertain about making the right choices. Maybe next time, she’d build a castle, instead of a pile…

“Perfect,” said Discord, winding the watch up. It glowed just a little brighter with every twist of the crown, until it was almost blinding to look at. “More than perfect, in fact. This should be just enough to get us back a decade or so, give or take. Just enough time to allow you to reevaluate all your life choices.”

She nodded. “Thank you, Discord. I’m really grateful that you’re doing all this for me.”

“No thanks necessary,” he said. “I’ve always been one to indulge in selfish desires.” He wiggled his claw over the hour hand. “And, incidentally, good luck to you, Twilight.”

“Thanks,” she said again. “I’ll need it, won’t I?”

“Indeed you will,” he said, winking at her. “There’s no guarantee, after all, that you’ll beat me the next time 'round.”

Her eyes shot open. “What?”

“Nothing, nothing,” he said. “Just a friendly reminder that nothing is set in stone. Not even learning the magic of friendship. The deal is still as written—I’d be a terrible friend to have lied to you—but… good luck to both of us, don’t you think?”

“But that wasn’t—You didn’t—”

“Oh, I know I didn’t tell you that,” he said calmly. He flicked his claw and the hour hand, charged with all of her magic, began to spin backwards. “But, as we agreed: it’s more fun to misinterpret.”

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