Some evenings, everything is wrong. There's this sense of displacement, the world seems unreal and Anthy fits inside her own skin in a different way than usual. On these days she washes the dishes, she wipes down the benches, she makes biscuits in the oven and brews tea. She dresses for dinner, and when Utena come into the kitchen and sees all the evidence and frowns, Anthy is suddenly terrified that she is about to be punished. She never flinches or misses a beat. She smiles, cocks her head, and says,
'I'm just about to get started on dinner, Utena-sama.'
Utena looks confused sometimes, at other times scared or frustrated. 'It's not your turn to cook,' she says, because it's never Anthy's turn to cook when it's a proper meal. Anthy's good at snack-food and yakisoba and shaved ice for summer. Utena, somehow, miraculously, manages their nutrition.
'Right,' Anthy says, still smiling. It's gentle because it hurts to sustain an insincere grin for too long, and she's learned that the hard way. Her false cheer is subtle and subdued. It's gentle because it's a fearful kind of shield against things that aren't even there any more.
'I hate this,' Utena says. She takes the sugar-bowl or the teapot or the knife out of Anthy's hands, and puts it down on the kitchen bench.
Plants can communicate, Anthy thinks. When they are in danger, they can emit specific chemicals, scents, to warn each other. They don't have many defences, though some can become more bitter. This only works if two plants are near enough to each other.
Utena stands close, but not too close, and touches her slowly and gently. Never holds her or cages her in. Just this hand on her arm, a thumb rubbing up and down.
'I always thought,' Anthy says one night in bed, when there's darkness and the plausible deniability of sleepiness, 'that it was this layer over the top of me. That there was this truer, purer version of myself. Things I never knew. That when I left him, I'd regain myself and leave that broken self behind.'
'You weren't broken,' Utena says. In bed, holding each other is safer, so it's comforting when Utena slips her arm around Anthy's waist. 'You were always you.'
'No, it's...' Anthy tries to find the words for it. 'I spent so long surviving it, telling myself that wasn't really me. What if it is? What if it always was? What if I'm this person that I hate?'
Utena nodded, and shifted closer. 'I don't hate you, but also, you know, you can learn bad habits, and hate that you have them. You can want to change but not be able to. I don't think it's a measure of who you are, that kind of thing.'
Utena maintains that she's oblivious to a lot of things, but in moments like these, she's so insightful it seems like she knows everything. There's this childlike trust Anthy has in her opinions.
'I think,' Utena says with a smirk, pressing a kiss to the end of Anthy's nose, 'you're worrying about nature and nurture, when you're missing the whole point. I'm here with you because I liked what I saw in you from the start. Not the, er, being a doormat thing. But that look in your eyes, that hint at what you were feeling. That smile you got when I surprised you somehow.'
'A cultivar,' Anthy says. Not encouraged traits, not something forced on a person or impressed into them through their circumstances. Not a wire around a branch, holding it in shape around a stake, until it was too old to deviate. Flora that was selectively bred specifically for its innate properties. Taken as it was, for what it was. Accepted and cherished.
'Huh?' Utena frowns, and reaches up to brush her hair out of her eyes.
'Never mind,' Anthy says, 'I'll explain it tomorrow. For now, let's just...'
Anthy closes her eyes, and leanes forwards into Utena's warmth. She's always had a greedy, hungry heart. She's always thought this moment precious and marvellous, lying sleepy and close in the dark together. She's always loved the way that Utena hates the plight of the rose bride, the way she's treated every tiny violation of Anthy's self as a crime.
All those years she'd been unable to believe that anyone could become a prince. She'd been looking for the wrong qualities. There's always been something unique about Utena, different to anyone. Her innate and unexplainable self.
'We're a garden,' Anthy whispers into the skin in the curve of Utena's hip, 'the very best flowers there ever were. Here we are, a garden in our garden bed.'
Utena shivers, laughs happily. She always laughs when Anthy says something whimsical or pointless. She reaches for Anthy, and Anthy thinks, some evenings, everything is right in the world.