Two Cups of Tea

by AbsoluteAnonymous

Chapter 1: Two Cups of Tea

Rarity's eyes fluttered shut, and she sighed, resting her head on the small purple pillow before her as the masseuse caressed her back. Talented hooves rubbed almond-scented oil into her skin until her flawless white coat was slick with it, and the masseuse's sister eagerly filed Rarity's hooves.

The two of them murmured to one another in flutey, accented voices all the while, but Rarity ignored their gossip, choosing instead to focus on how well Aloe was doing at relieving the tension in her shoulders. Tension she hadn't even known she was carrying, now that she thought about it. It was certainly lucky that the Ponyville spa should be staffed with such skilful workers.

Fluttershy had politely refused the massage, apparently embarrassed by the thought of having strangers touch her in such a borderline-intimate way. She was instead soaking in the nearby hot tub, her mane caught up in an elegant twist to keep it out of the water. Fragrant curls of steam rose from the surface. A third spa attendant stood close by, keeping watch over the bath and occasionally pouring in more of the scented oils or bath salts. The room was filled with the sweet smell of ginger and lemongrass.

These quiet Thursday afternoons at the spa together were as much a part of Rarity's weekly routine as anything she may have done for the boutique, and they certainly meant a lot more to her. It was only at the spa that she could truly relax.

True, there were times when she couldn't help but wonder whether their shared Thursdays meant anywhere near as much to Fluttershy as they did to her. But whenever such thoughts would appear in her mind unbidden, Rarity simply ignored them. There was nothing else she could do. At least, nothing that would allow her to maintain her composure.

"Fluttershy, darling," she called out, keeping her eyes shut. "How's your bath?"

"Oh, it's lovely. Thank you for asking," came Fluttershy's soft-spoken response.

As regular customers, the staff at the spa had upgraded their status from ordinary patrons to valued guests only a few weeks earlier, meaning that there would always be a private bath suite set aside for Rarity and Fluttershy on their Thursdays. The suite they'd received was luxurious: aside from the fleece-covered massage couch and the bath lit by a multitude of gently flickering tea-candles, there was a mud pit in the corner filled with mineral-rich clay and a massage mat resting on the floor beside the couch. The adjoining sauna, dressing area, and tea rooms were all equally luxurious.

Coming to the spa each week was like taking a much-needed holiday away from the rest of the world. Like coming into a new world entirely, in fact - one of soft, relaxing beauty and richness. A world that Rarity found she wanted to stay in. Who wouldn't want to live in a world of such simple, elegant beauty?

Her entire life was driven by that longing for beauty. The longing that almost made her want to forget the rest of the world and hide in it forever, safe and secure in perfection, seeking it out whenever she could.

Yet of all the things she owned, although the most precious to her were the beautiful things, they were never those that were only beautiful on the surface. Her need was never shallow. If it had been pure vanity, she could've been appeased with forgeries or replicas. What she cherished most was that pure kind of beauty that existed both above and below the surface. When looking for gems, she took only the finest; when choosing friends, she chose only the dearest.

But though Rarity may have desired beauty, more than that, Rarity desired the perfection that beauty promised, both for herself and others. And yet that perfection was so difficult to obtain, let alone keep.

Aloe hummed to herself as she drew her gentle yet firm hooves over Rarity's back, digging into the many pinches and knots the unicorn had developed from her many late nights spent hunched over a desk and working.

Again, Rarity sighed, and opened her eyes to glance over at her friend. Fluttershy wore a nervous expression, her eyes flicking from side to side and her mouth twitching slightly, like she had something that she needed to say but was struggling to find the right words. Yet Rarity suspected that she already knew what Fluttershy wanted to say.

Composure was key above all else. Composure, dignity, elegance - whatever you wanted to call it, they all meant the same thing. Simply put, they all referred to that special something, that je ne sais quoi, that separated commoners putting on airs from the true aristocrats in society. Though not noble by blood, Rarity had learned long ago that it was only through wearing a mask of composed perfection that she could ever hope to come anywhere near achieving true perfection.

"Rarity?" Fluttershy finally spoke up, interrupting Rarity's train of thought.


"Um, I was just wondering if, um, maybe we can talk later? In private, I mean?"

"Of course we can, dear - just after my massage. We can talk in the sauna."


Any other day, Rarity might have closed her eyes right then to try and reclaim that feeling of intimate relaxation that had been draped over her like a blanket only moments earlier. Instead, she watched Fluttershy thoughtfully as Aloe continued the massage and Lotus continued the hooficure.

Even while reclining in the bath, she managed to seem almost unfairly graceful. The worst of it was that it was apparently completely natural. That artless smile with the natural sweetness around her mouth, that soft flutter of her eyelids - it was simply how Fluttershy was.

Rarity's life was built around seeking and obtaining perfection however she could, to satisfy that desperate need, and Fluttershy stood before her as some kind of living embodiment of it.

Growing up, Rarity had never known such poise or elegance and sought it now as some kind of rebellion against her upbringing - yet Fluttershy didn't have to try. She was everything Rarity longed to be, and the unicorn couldn't even look at her without feeling that old, familiar prickle of pain.

She might have called the feeling jealousy once, but she knew now that that wasn't quite it. She could never be envious of her friend. The worst she could bring herself to be was admiring. Yet that was bad enough.

Normally, the two of them would share a sauna together upon Rarity finishing her massage. It was a part of their regular Thursday routine, and Rarity could practically hear the hiss of steam as the spa attendant poured yet another cupful of water over the heated rocks awaiting them.

But she could see from the worry in Fluttershy's eyes what it must have been that the she wanted to talk about. And really, the poor dear shouldn't have to hold it in, no matter how much Rarity wanted to stave it off.

"Let's skip the sauna today, actually," Rarity suggested after a moment. "We can go straight to our tea."


The tea room was a place of velvet darkness, snug corners, and red, orange, and yellow flickering lights, all working together to create the illusion of calm, comfort, and overall cosiness. The air was filled with the scent of the daisy tea and honey cakes set before them.

The act of drinking tea was a soothing one. Almost ritualistic, like a religious rite stripped of the actual worship. Both Fluttershy and Rarity wore their custom monogrammed bathrobes; Fluttershy's damp mane was kept out of the way in a towel while Rarity's dry one was pinned up in a stylishly unkempt knot.

"What is it you wanted to talk to me about, darling?" Rarity asked over her tea. It was her firm belief that although an effectively brewed cup could serve just as well when drunk from a mug, drinking from china added miles to ones enjoyment of tea. It was the aesthetic appeal coming into play, she suspected.

Fluttershy sat across from her, biting her lip and fiddling with her straw. The cups their tea had been served in were far too delicate to be handled by ordinary hooves, so their server had thoughtfully brought Fluttershy a stem to drink from.

"I'm just so embarrassed," Fluttershy finally whispered, releasing the stem and instead folding her hooves neatly before her. She cast her gaze downwards at the wooden surface of the table, turning pink as she spoke. "I feel silly saying anything ... "

"Don't be afraid, dear! You can tell me anything. You know that, don't you?"

With a warm smile, Rarity reached across the table and gently placed a comforting hoof over Fluttershy's. She half expected the pegasus to squeak and jump back, but she didn't, instead returning the smile.

"Yes, I know," she replied almost shyly, face turning even pinker. That timidity of hers was unfair, Rarity thought. An elegant cruelty, all the crueler for how quietly unaware Fluttershy seemed to be of how charming she was. "I was just wondering if maybe you could help me with something."

"Of course I could. Anything." Rarity vowed, taking back her hoof and solemnly placing it over her heart. The moment she did so, she was struck with the urge to put it back where it had been, warm over Fluttershy's own.

"Do you remember last Hearts and Hooves Day?" Fluttershy asked, flushing.


And there it was, the confirmation of her worries. Exactly what Rarity had suspected Fluttershy would want to talk to her privately about.

The pegasus sighed, once again staring into the depths of her tea rather than meet Rarity's eyes. "I wanted to talk to him back then," she said softly. "But I couldn't. So I thought that maybe I'd be brave enough to say something once he wasn't seeing Cheerilee any more, and finally decided to ask him; but then, on my way to the spa today, I saw him with her."

"Oh no, that's terrible!"

"Well ... I don't know." Fluttershy mumbled, the pink on her cheeks deepening to more of a scarlet. "I was too much of a scaredy pony to say anything to him sooner, so I guess it's only fair that ... that I .... that I never ... "

A single whimper. It was a far cry from a sob, but her shoulders began to tremble all the same.

Rarity set down her teacup with a sharp chink. In a moment she was up from her seat and beside Fluttershy, wrapping her forearms around her in a gentle hug. Selfishly seizing the opportunity to indulge in a single moment of happiness as she comforted her friend.

"Don't say that!" Rarity chastised, ignoring the flutter of her heart as she felt the pegasus nestle against her. "You deserve happiness just as much as Cheerilee does! Being afraid to bare your heart doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you ... being a little shy or sensitive isn't a flaw, you know. It's what makes you you. And you're wonderful, Fluttershy, you truly are."

"It's silly of me," Fluttershy sniffed, lifting a hoof to wipe at her eyes. "I know it is. If they're happy together, then I should be happy, too. That's the important thing, right? When you love somepony, y-you want them to be happy."

"Of course you do," the unicorn whispered, shutting her eyes. "It means more to you than anything else in the world."

"And they are happy. Aren't they?" Fluttershy mumbled.

"I wouldn't know, I suppose," Rarity stammered. Fluttershy was leaning into the embrace, pressing her face against the crook of Rarity's neck; accepting the comfort she had to offer, when normally she'd shy way from such contact. "But really, dear, who can say? Maybe ... maybe Big Macintosh just didn't want to hurt her feelings. He's such a gentlepony, after all."

"He is," came the watery reply, partially muffled from the way Fluttershy still clung to Rarity. Warm tears stained Rarity's coat, not that she noticed or cared right then. "And he's so strong and sweet and gentle ... "

"You're all of those things too, though. You're just as strong and sweet and gentle as he is. You're not weak, I promise," Rarity cooed. She could feel Fluttershy's soft mane brushing against her cheek as she clung to her.

It was wrong, wasn't it? To want her to stay like that? To want her to stay this close always? Fluttershy was such a skittish pony, and only fell apart like this when her heart was broken.

To have her stay like this was to have her in despair, and Rarity hadn't yet fallen so far as to actually wish for a friend's unhappiness, just for her own gain.

Rarity swallowed.

"You deserve to be happy, darling," she said at last.

"I don't know what to do," Fluttershy whimpered. Her shoulders no longer shook with suppressed sobs, but Rarity could still feel the warmth of her tears. "I love him so much, but ... I don't know how to tell him. I don't think I'll ever be able to. M-maybe it'd just be better for me to leave them alone and let them ... "

"Don't say that," Rarity interrupted, voice firm. "It's not about what's right or wrong. This is love. It's about what you want. And if you want to tell him how you feel, then you need to do so. Otherwise, you'll forever be left wondering whether you could've been happy together."

"So ... you don't think I should give up?"

"No. Of course not. Some things are worth fighting for, don't you think?"

"I suppose." She gave Rarity a tiny smile, again lifting a hoof to wipe at her eyes.

Fluttershy nodded weakly, at first still clinging pathetically to her friend but eventually drawing away. The unicorn pulled back as well, reluctantly returning to her seat.

"I'm sorry, Rarity," Fluttershy said. Her voice was soft, hesitant, but warm. "But ... I just needed to tell somepony. Thank you for listening."

"Any time, dear," Rarity answered warmly, raising the delicate china teacup to her mouth to take a sip of her rapidly cooling drink. "I'm your friend, after all. I'm always willing to listen."

"I know, Rarity. Thank you." With a sigh, Fluttershy took a sip of her own tea. Her mouth pursed slightly in surprise at how cool it was, but being Fluttershy, she didn't say anything. She wasn't one to complain about something as trivial as tea.

"I'll always be here for you," Rarity added. "I promise."

Fluttershy smiled. She didn't say anything more, but the smile was enough.

In her eyes there was gratitude. That was enough.

And the two of them lapsed into silence once more as they drank their tea.

Through half-lidded eyes, Rarity watched her friend, trying not to feel the pain. The ache.

She understood more than Fluttershy might think, but whatever feeling there was singing in her heart would forever go unanswered. She'd resigned herself to that fact long ago. After all, it wasn't a question of the depth or strength of their friendship, but rather of compatibility. There was no sense in ruining what they had in the hopes of finding something more.

Rarity sought perfection in all things, but a wise mare knows when perfection has already been reached and when it's not worth tampering any further for fear of ruining it. She saw Fluttershy and saw those dainty flaws and follies and imperfections, coupled with the beautiful whole, and would only ever find a friend. Nothing more.

There were some ponies whose presence throbbed in the air, engulfing and addicting. Fluttershy's presence was more like a quite ripple, a hushed whisper, drawing no attention but influencing her surroundings all the same in deeper and deeper ways as she changed and grew. The very opposite of Rarity. Perhaps that was what made her so ...

No. There was no word for it.

In the end, the conversation drifted to lighter topics - everyday gossip and rumors, casual questions about each other's business and daily affairs - as they finished their tea.

Once they had, there was little left for them to do. They always saved the tea for last, and whether or not either of them may have wanted to remain in the spa any longer, that pot of tea they'd shared had had a sense of finality about it. Drinking tea in their private suite meant that they were finished with the spa for the day, and that was that.

They retired to the dressing rooms to gather their things, returning the towels and robes and slippers that had been provided to them (compliments of the staff) and just generally freshening up.

Physically, Rarity felt rejuvenated and fresh, just as she always felt after an afternoon at the spa. But inside, she felt almost sick.

She sat at the dressing table, artfully rearranging her mane when she caught sight of the pegasus in the mirror. Fluttershy held a hairbrush in her mouth and was awkwardly attempting to brush what little she could reach of her mane.

"Darling, would you like me to do that for you?" Rarity asked, setting down her own brush and smiling slightly as she patted her curls.

"Oh! Um, okay. Thank you, Rarity."

Rarity patted the empty stool beside her with a hoof. "Come and sit down. I'll work wonders on that beautiful hair of yours."

"Ah, that's okay ... you don't have to do anything really fancy. "

But Fluttershy sat anyway, dutifully facing away from her friend so that her back was to the unicorn and she was staring straight ahead. So oblivious to the pang Rarity felt when she saw how easily the brush ran through Fluttershy's fine, lovely pink mane.

There was a kind of perfection to be found in tragedy, Rarity believed; it made for a broken, fragmented kind of beauty all on its own. And the beauty she saw in Fluttershy, both on the surface and in Fluttershy's heart, was the one kind of beauty that Rarity would never be able to call her own.

That was certainly tragic. Wasn't it?

There would never be a time when the question in her heart would have an answer, and so she'd forever make do with the next best thing.

Fluttershy was able to cling to the pitiful hope that someday she'd be brave enough to speak up to her love. Rarity would forever be held back. Not because of circumstances or fear of rejection, but because there was nothing else she could do that would allow her to retain her composure.

Yet every Thursday, they would come together, and Rarity could at least pretend. Pretend that they would always have their routine and their conversations and their tea. That there would always be two cups, one for each of them, and that there would never be a time when Rarity was forced to take tea alone because Fluttershy had moved on and forgotten her. Because Fluttershy had finally found that special somepony to make her happier than Rarity ever could.

Fluttershy deserved to be happy.

The brush slowly continued to stroke Fluttershy's gleaming rose-colored mane. Her hair smelled almost of flowers, Rarity realized. A detail she hadn't noticed before, and yet now knew she'd never be able to breathe in often enough before she never could again.

She would never touch Fluttershy's hair with her hooves. Only with a brush. She would never stroke that mane for the sake of affection alone or smell the gentle floral scent of her hair unless she were to do so accidentally. But she could still be close to her and enjoy the luxurious intimacy of their private suite together, taking what little she could whenever she could, pretending that it was enough to make her happy. Even as she longed for more. Longed for that beautiful perfection.

Fluttershy leaned into the brushing, a contented smile lighting her face, and still Rarity stroked.

Whatever else happened, they'd always have their Thursdays together. They'd always have their tea. And that would simply have to be enough.

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