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Endless Choices

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Anthy brings precious little with her when she leaves.

In truth, there isn't much *to* bring. An adolescence watered down with millenia and lazily congealed with shoddy metaphors doesn't lend itself to the accumulation of souvenirs. She has a suitcase full of clothes she purchased right before leaving, a sepia-toned photograph in a magenta frame, and Chuchu, who has his own little bindle full of leaves and twigs and the occasional rock which she is sure has a deep and sentimental story behind it. Perhaps she'll ask him later.

There's also the seed, placed delicately in its own envelope Anthy folded from rough brown paper and tucked tenderly between Anthy's sensible pink traveling suit and her cotton slip.

Anthy was still getting used to being awake and inhabiting her own body again, feeling the rawness of the world without the warm buffer of a layer of rosewood and seeing light and color without useless glass to soften it and frame it into neatly palatable chunks. Perhaps that was why seeing the rosehip while she said her farewells to the roses in the greenhouse felt so intensely shocking, like getting a slap of ice-cold water to her face.

Roses grew hips. It was the nayural order of the world. They grew hips and inside those hips formed seeds and the hips protected the seeds until some animal ate the hips and obligingly scattered the seeds, possibly with a bonus dose of fertilizer to give the potential roses their best start in life. Anthy had seen the hips hundreds of times in her personal garden, the one she kept locked away somewhere inside a gate overgrown with thorns that perhaps didn't exist on the campus grounds.

She had never seen them in the greenhouse.

Not here, where her brother had asked-demanded?- that she carefully cultivate the roses until they had long, thick stems and perfect storybook blooms- that they lost their rich smell and became infertile hadn't mattered, and she hadn't even bothered to mention it to him. She *had* told him when they became horribly prone to disease and totally unable to survive the conditions outside, and somehow not long after she found herself willing a greenhouse into existence, with the rest of Ohtori's campus unfurling what felt like moments later.

These roses were sterile, and she usually bred them by using her old roses and cross-breeding with some of the roses from the times before they stopped setting hips.

That was how she had arrived at this one, in fact, and how she came to be staring at a small greenish-orange hip that was ripe but totally unsuitable for eating. It had been something of an experiment, she remembered, and if she chose its parents because they produced blooms that were a lovely deep pink that reminded her of a kind little girl and had tough, crinkled leaves that may just survive the worst the world had to throw at it, well. Akio was never as smart as he thought he was, and roses were her domain the way his own fantasy cosmos was his.

The rose grew, and if its flowers were at first white and its leaves smooth and its throns few and far between, Anthy had never expected anything more. Even as the leaves coarsened, the blooms remained stubbornly white. When she was won back, Anthy looked to the bush with something that she couldn't allow to be hope... but was met with a blank mask of pure white roses. After that, Anthy stopped looking to that particular bush and she showered that rose with the same dispassionate attention that she gave to the others, even if she couldn't resist a bit of extra tenderness when she folded in the fertilizer and even if she chose to sprinkle it with the used tea leaves she had after she entertained her brother.

Then after a night of tears and apologies and poisoned tea, Anthy found a single pink bloom deep in the heart of the bush.

Normally, Anthy trimmed each flower before it could begin to wilt and drop petals all over the floor of the greenhouse. Akio believed they were best used at the peak of their beauty, which to him meant before they had fully unfurled and were still a tight, repressed cluster of petals desperately seeking to protect their delicate unspoiled center from the ravages of the outside world.

Or something along those lines. Anthy preferred to tune him out when he started waxing pretentious. His monologues had become something akin to elevator music at this point. It was a shame she never thought to suggest that to Mikage.

Perhaps as a form of rebellion, or perhaps because Anthy had always found something oddly beautiful in decay and the passage of time, she left that single pink rose. As her brother seduced and Utena succumbed and the duelists battled and Anthy dropped little crumbs of truth drop into the vast gulf between her and the world, the petals slowly fell until the sepals stood barren of anything to protect and the rose's ugly inside stood bare for anyone to see. And still Anthy left it.

She rather forgot about it, in truth. She and Akio were coming to the climax in their little game, the entire system gradually grinding to a halt until the momentum of Utena's fall could propel the entire mess back into orbit.

It worked. Akio and Anthy's cumbersome apparatus began its well-trod trajectory, and Akio was too caught up in the smoothness of the gears to notice a shift in its axel.

While her brother went on in in cozy ignorance, Anthy began to say her goodbyes, leaving her greenhouse- the sterile fruits of years of empty labor- for last.

When she found the rose hip, right where the pink bloom had been, she almost left in search of a knife. After a moment's hesitation, she instead chose to carefully tear the fruit away, finding an odd satisfaction in the sting of the fruit getting embedded under her nails and the way the outside tore off in rough chunks. Inside, she found a single seed.

She couldn't say what impulse made her decide to take the seed with her. Just because, through some miracle, her infertile rose had produced a seed hardly meant that the seed was viable. Still, she found herself wrapping the seed in a handkerchief, careful not to let the dirt from her hands stain the light pink and unconsciously tracing a finger over the red embroidery.

When she was packing her meager life into a small suitcase later, she wondered how she would bring the seed. Not in her suitcase, certainly. Perhaps she would take a page from Juri's notebook and place it into a locket.

She imagined metal, warm from her skin, sitting next to her heart, then bursting violently from her heart waiting for a ready hand to draw it-

No. A locket wouldn't work after all.

Somehow, Anthy thought as she looked at the boundary of Ohtori, folding it up in paper and tucking it into her shirt seemed anti-climactic, but she supposed not everything needed to have some deep metaphorical meaning.

The paper crinkled cheerfully as she took a decisive step forward.