Miki Kaoru watched the snowflakes drift lazily down. It had just begun to snow, and the ground was slowly whitening. He glanced from the window to the wall clock across the atrium. It indicated there were still ten minutes to meeting time. A moment later treasurer Juri Arisugawa came in, shaking the snowflakes off her long auburn curls.

A frown marred her pretty face as she stamped the snow from her boots. Her glare took in the whole atrium of Ohtori Academy's administrative building, empty save for herself and Miki.

Startled at her angry demeanor, Miki asked hesitantly, "Are you feeling all right?"

"Why should I be?" she snapped. "New Year's break isn't even over and we're called back to campus for a Student Council meeting! What was Touga thinking?"

"I figured that Ends Of The World had asked Touga to call it," said Miki.

"Of course, when we still don't know who Ends Of The World is. So I can't give him ... her ... whoever ... the piece of my mind he deserves."

Miki stared at her. She smiled at him and patted his shoulder. "Don't think I'm taking this out on you, Miki. But you sure are dealing with this imposition calmly."

He shrugged. "I came up to campus early to use the piano in the music room. It's nicer than the one at our house."

"You're so accommodating," she said teasingly. Miki could feel himself blushing a bit under the older girl's fond regard.

The outer door opened again and a tall young man stepped inside. The door, as it swung shut, blew off some of the snow that dusted his long wavy hair and wool coat. Kyouichi Saionji removed his gloves and stuck them in his coat pockets, watching Miki and Juri with a stony regard.

Miki glanced between Juri and Saionji, could almost feel the tension between the two like the raw ice outside. Not liking the chilly feeling it was giving him, Miki turned to the older boy and said brightly, "Happy New Year, Saionji, sir."

Saionji visibly relaxed at that. He nodded to them both, "To you too, Miki, Juri." He walked across the atrium to join them, so they wouldn't have to shout to converse.

"Did you just get back into town today, for this meeting?" asked Miki.

Saionji shook his head. "Actually, I've stayed on campus all break. I just didn't feel up to seeing my family, and they certainly didn't make any fuss about me remaining here."

"All alone?" Miki was careful not to put too much sympathy in his voice, lest Saionji's quick temper take offense. But there was no such reaction.

"That doesn't bother me, and I spent a fair amount of time down at Touga's place. They had me over for New Year's Day. But I didn't expect to have to put this on again for a couple of days," he said, indicating the trousers he wore, visible beneath his winter coat. Miki and Juri were likewise dressed. Their three colors, each distinct from the standard Ohtori turquoise, showed that they had all worn their Student Council uniforms.

"I'm surprised you and Touga didn't come over here together," commented Juri.

"I haven't seen him for a bit," explained Saionji. "Had other things to do, and then the summons showed up in my mailbox." He glanced up at the clock and scowled. "Just watch, now he'll be late and make us wait on him."

But Saionji was proven wrong as the door opened with another flurry of snowflakes and the sound of Touga Kiryuu's voice saying, "... just tell me what this is all about."

There was a sharp feminine giggle as Touga's younger sister Nanami swept in before him. As Touga followed, he stopped when he saw the three already present. His blue eyes widened and he glanced repeatedly between his sister and his three fellow Student Council members.

Nanami clapped her hands and beamed at them. "Excellent, you're all on time." Then she examined the remainder of the atrium. Apparently not finding what she was looking for, Nanami shrugged and gazed up at her brother with the bright smile she usually saved for him, "Let's all go up to the Student Council chamber. Then I'll explain my wonderful surprise to everyone." She patted the leather- bound business portfolio she carried and set off for the elevator.

As they followed her, Miki saw Touga turn to Saionji. "Did Nanami talk to you all?"

"I got an invitation with your name on it," said Saionji.

"But it wouldn't have been my handwriting."

"She's been handling your social calendar for so long ... well, the aspects of it that need written invitations ... that I just assumed it was from you anyway."

As Miki slipped in to the side of the elevator car, he saw Touga glaring at Saionji, who was smiling smugly, no doubt pleased at having Touga perplexed for once.

But as the elevator doors opened and Miki attempted to follow Saionji out, he ended up running into the taller boy, who had stopped abruptly at the threshold. Then Saionji charged out into the hall and Miki could see past him.

There, near the door to the Student Council's room stood two girls that Miki would not have expected to see there, apparently waiting for them. Not surprisingly for the term break, neither Utena Tenjou or Anthy Himemiya wore their school uniforms. Utena sported a heavy flannel plaid shirt and jeans, while Miki thought Anthy looked very pretty in her long wool skirt and fuzzy sweater.

Miki was about to wish his two friends a "Happy New Year" but Saionji preempted this by stalking over to Utena.

"And just what the hell do you think you're doing here?" he snarled at her.

"We live here," snapped Utena, referring to the tower apartment in the administrative building which Anthy's older brother, an official at the Academy, had acquired for them.

"But you don't live here, on the Student Council's doorstep," growled Saionji.

"Which is why we waited for you out in the hall, duh!" Utena shot back, matching Saionji challenging stare for stare.

Saionji whirled to face Touga in appeal. "She's not Student Council," he cried, stabbing a finger towards Utena. "She doesn't belong here. I wouldn't mind Anthy sitting in but ... but since her Victor isn't on the Council, then it wouldn't be appropriate for the Rose Bride to be here either." Saionji turned away from them all, fists clenched at his sides. "Not now."

Miki was certain that argument had been difficult for Saionji to get out. He'd made no secret of his desire to win back the hand of Anthy, the Rose Bride, ever since Utena had beaten him in her first Duel and claimed the title of Victor.

Juri also spoke to Touga, "He's right, you know. If we have to obey all the rules, so should they." Her glance to Utena was polite, to Anthy, it was simply cold. "Nothing personal, you understand." Utena nodded in acknowledgement, but still eyed Juri warily.

Touga looked about him, mouth drawn into a thin line. Given that he'd been trying with no success to get Utena to go out with him for months now, Miki suspected that he'd welcome another opportunity to spend some time with her. Yet he glanced back and forth between Juri and a sullen Saionji and finally nodded as if coming to a decision.

"Utena, I'm sorry. But I can't really argue their position. As President of the Student Council, I'm afraid that I must enforce—"

Utena held up two note cards embossed with the school's rose crest and said flatly, "Then I wish you'd make up your mind, Mister President, before you send out your invitations."

Touga groaned and turned to his sister. "Nanami, you didn't..."

"I did," she declared. "My announcement concerns them, too, so they should be present to hear it."

A frown lay over Touga's handsome face. "Sister, you aren't even officially a member of the Council. When I was ill, it was good that you could fill in for me. But now, you should not be acting in my name like this."

"Oh please, Big Brother! You'll like my surprise. You all will. I did so much work organizing this, and I had so little time. And soon it will be public anyway, but you all should hear it first." Nanami's lower lip trembled, and the beginning of tears glistened in her eyes. Miki began mentally counting the seconds until Touga's resolve crumbled.

Three seconds passed. Touga sighed. "Very well. School isn't even in session, so I can't see how this will cause any harm, just this once." He unlocked the door of the Student Council Chamber and ushered them all inside.

Those who'd come from outdoors hung up their coats. Miki and Juri brought more chairs to the heavy mahogany table for the benefit of their guests. Miki watched in amusement as Saionji unsuccessfully jockeyed for a seat next to Anthy. Instead, Utena deftly maneuvered the Rose Bride to be sitting between herself and Juri, after which Saionji angrily glared at Utena while she pointedly ignored him.

Miki retrieved his secretary's notebook from the desk across the room and took a seat between Juri and Nanami. He flipped it open to a new page, dated the page, and recorded the names of the people in attendance: himself, Juri, Anthy, Utena, Saionji, Touga and Nanami. He brought out his stopwatch, which he always used for more accurate minutes-taking, and waited for Touga to call the meeting to order.

Touga stood and looked around the table before speaking. "I think it's clear to everyone that this is not a standard Student Council meeting."

"Yeah, no silly speeches in the elevator for once," drawled Saionji.

Touga managed to glare at him without losing an ounce of his famed composure. "So to avoid further wasting anyone's valuable time, I'll ask Nanami to share her news with us."

Nanami popped up out of her chair before Touga was even seated. "Thank you, Big Brother." She unzipped her portfolio and laid it flat open before her. Inside were a stack of small folders. Miki could see the top folder was marked with Touga's name, neatly written alongside the school crest. Nanami continued, "Each year, the Color Management Consortium produces their color forecast. This list is used by designers throughout the world in their new creations."

"Like, when we hear about colors being 'in' or 'out' for the season?" asked Miki.

"Exactly," confirmed Nanami. "The CMC is the source of those colors." Miki dutifully noted this down in the minutes.

Utena frowned. "Do you mean, these people are telling everyone what colors to use?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Why?" echoed Nanami, her cheery smile slipping slightly. "So we don't have chaos in fashion, and in interior design and, and... so we'll all look correct! I mean, who would want to appear in the wrong shade of blue, or that purple that simply no one wears any more?"

"Who in the world pays that much attention to color?" asked Utena, astonished.

"People in various areas of design," supplied Juri. "In the course of my modeling work, I've seen designers who become extremely sensitive to the nuances of color."

"Thank you, Miss Juri," said Nanami, brightening at the support from such an unexpected quarter.

"Even if some of them get obsessively silly about it," finished Juri. She just smiled coolly as Nanami's expression transformed to a frown of pique.

"Anyway," continued Nanami, "I realized it would fall to me to make sure that we are all presentable for the new year." She picked up the stack of folders from the portfolio. "As soon as I had acquired the new forecast from the CMC, I set about determining the new colors for each of you."

Touga blinked. "New colors? For each of us? That's going a bit too far—"

"Oh, you don't have to worry, Big Brother," Nanami hastened to add against the possibility of raising Touga's ire. "These aren't any big departure from all your current colors. I've just selected suitable shades of each for this year. I think you'll like your new red." She swiftly held out the folder with Touga's name to him. Still watching his sister carefully, Touga took the folder from her.

Touga opened the folder and brought out a card, colored a bright red. He held the card next to the red trim of his sleeve. "It's different?"

"It's a bit more orange than what you wear now," said Nanami.

"I suppose it is," said Touga, examining the card more closely.

"It will go smashingly with your hair and eyes," Nanami assured him, "I was very careful about that."

Touga visibly relaxed and favored his sister with a smile. "I'm sure you were. Very well, it's a nice shade of red. Let's see what else you have."

"Read the description," prompted Nanami. "It's on the back."

Touga's eyebrows raised in surprise and he turned the red card over. He scanned the back, his smile widening. "An excellent choice indeed," he said, and read out loud, "'Passion—This Red glows with the brilliant heat of desire.'" Touga replaced the card in its folder and sat back, smiling in a way that now seemed more preening than anything else.

"They named the colors?" asked Utena.

"How else could we keep straight which ones we were talking about?" demanded Nanami.

"Oh, of course," said Utena. "What was I thinking?" Miki thought Utena wasn't doing a very good a job of swallowing her smile.

"Don't you think my color is fitting, Utena?" asked Touga.

"You really don't want me answering that, Mr. President," said Utena. Her irritated frown for Touga didn't alter his complacent expression, and she finally turned back to Nanami. "Could we get on with this?"

Nanami was already sorting through the folders, and picked out one with her own name on it. "Here is my yellow for the year," she announced, plucking a card from the folder and holding it out for all to see. It seemed to Miki to be a lighter and softer color than the bright gold that Nanami was wearing. Nanami read from the back of the card as she held it up, "'Butter—A creamy shade of Yellow that evokes the warm scents of early morning cookery.' Well, Western cookery, I suppose. The CMC is based in America, after all."

As Miki noted down Nanami's new color, he heard Juri mutter, "Hers would just have to involve dairy products." He wrote that down too.

"Oh, before I forget," said Nanami as she handed Miki's folder to him. "I've already arranged with the tailor to have your new uniforms made up."

Miki spotted Juri rolling her eyes at that, but if Nanami caught the gesture, she gave no sign. Miki made a mental note to himself to make an appointment at the tailor's shop for a new fitting. He was in another growth spurt and the measurements on file for him probably were already obsolete.

Seeing the expectant looks from the others, save for Saionji who had stretched out in his chair and appeared to be asleep, Miki drew out his card. He stood up so he could compare the new blue to his trousers. It seemed to be a bit darker and more purple, which characteristics he quickly wrote down in the minutes. Then holding up the card so the others could see it as he spoke, Miki read, "'Iris—The vibrant colors of spring emerge in this amethyst-touched Blue.'"

"How ... pretty," Touga commented. There was that rich, seductive undertone in his voice that Touga usually reserved for whichever girl had caught his attention for the day. Miki felt the heat flush in his cheeks as he sat down, and knew he didn't dare look Touga's way, or say anything to the Student Council President.

Thankfully, he didn't need to as Juri broke in, "I really think you should concentrate on the red that Nanami already gave you, Touga. If you get greedy, it could be exchanged. Perhaps blood red, hm?" Touga's smile didn't disappear, but he didn't respond, and he deigned to drop the close regard that was making Miki so uncomfortable.

"It's a good color for you, Miki," volunteered Utena, also glowering at Touga. Anthy nodded in agreement next to her.

"Er, yes," Miki finally got out. "I think I can work with it."

"Excellent," said Nanami, passing a folder to Juri.

Juri opened the folder and regarded her card for a moment before bringing it out to show the others. It was a cheerful, golden orange. "It will do, Nanami," she confirmed.

"It has a description," prompted Nanami.

"It will do," repeated Juri, turning a fierce smile on Nanami. Miki felt thankful that Juri had never bestowed that smile on him.

Nanami countered with a weak smile of her own, and her hand trembled a bit as she pulled the next folder from her portfolio. But instead of passing it to the next person around the table, Anthy, she handed it across to Utena. Miki glanced at Anthy and back at Utena, who also was looking questioningly at her roommate. But Anthy just gave a small shrug with her customary mild smile and asked, "What color did you receive, Miss Utena?"

Perhaps the omission wasn't too strange, thought Miki as he waited for Utena's announcement. Anthy wasn't a Duelist, after all. Rather, as the Rose Bride, she was the living symbol of what they each fought for in the Arena, and the keeper of the roses that were their Dueling tokens.

Utena opened her folder, and grinned, saying, "I must be special." She pulled out two cards and held them up to show; one was white and the other was black.

Nanami sniffed disdainfully. "Since you insist on wearing that ... outfit, and it was seen fit to allow you into the Arena anyway, for completeness' sake I had to take it into account too. The black is for your jacket of course. The white is for your epaulettes and that, that ruffle thing you stick under the hem of your jacket when you fight."

Utena stiffened. "Hey, I didn't pick those fussy Dueling clothes, they were assigned to me. My regular uniform would've been just fine..." She stopped as Anthy gently touched her sleeve.

"Please don't worry about it, Miss Utena, I'm sure I can work with the new colors," she said. "Why don't you read your cards?"

Utena glanced over the back of the black card. "Oh, for..." she burst out, "this is called 'Asphalt'. What the heck kind of color is 'Asphalt'?"

"Your black jacket right now is just too blue for this year," claimed Nanami, apparently in perfect seriousness.

"I'm sure," said Utena dryly.

Anthy had taken the white card from Utena and was studying it. "It's called 'Glisten', Miss Utena. And look, it's sparkly."

Utena peered closely at the card, adjusted its angle in Anthy's hand. "So it is. You know, Nanami, I really don't need sparkly Dueling clothes." She turned to Anthy, asking, "Are you sure it's not just a huge bother?" Miki guessed that Anthy, rather than the school's tailor, would probably be modifying Utena's uniform, since Utena was not an actual member of the Student Council.

"Oh, it will be fun, really," said Anthy.

Utena sighed. "All right, all right." She gave the black card and the folder to Anthy, who put them neatly back together with the white card.

All eyes turned to Saionji, the only remaining Duelist present. He still seemed to be asleep. Nanami held the final folder out to him, watching the older boy. "Saionji," she called sharply. Saionji started in his chair, then sank back into supposed slumber.

Nanami sniffed loudly and slid the folder across the polished tabletop towards him. Just as the folder would have sailed off, Saionji's hand whipped out, slapping down on it. He cracked one eye open and said, "If I play your game, can I go home then?"

"It's not a game," Nanami said through gritted teeth.

"Yeah, sure," said Saionji, sitting up from his sprawl. He stood up lazily, made a show of straightening his jacket and held up the folder with a flourish. He flipped his folder open, moved to remove the card, and froze, staring at it.

After some seconds passed, Touga spoke, "Saionji, is there something wrong?"

Instead of taking the card out of the folder by hand, Saionji shook the folder over the table so the card fell out, colored side up. Everyone else, except Nanami, shifted to see it better.

"Oh dear," exclaimed Anthy.

"I'm sorry, old friend," said Touga, "but that is the most disgusting—"

"—horrid—" added Utena.

"—poisonous—" put in Juri.

"—putrid—" supplied Miki.

"—color of green I have ever laid eyes on," finished Touga.

Miki wrote everyone's comments in the minutes, and observed that the card seemed to emanate faintly with an unhealthy, fungal glow.

"What could it possibly be called?" Anthy mused, staring at the card apprehensively as if she suspected it might start skittering about under its own power.

"How about 'nuked puke'?" suggested Juri.

"No! Never!" cried Saionji, slamming the table with his fists in fury. "I'll duel naked before I'll wear that!"

"Ooh, I'd like to see that," chimed in Touga, eyes bright.

Saionji glared at him, growling, "Don't go there, Touga."

Touga held up his hands in appeasement and sat back in his chair. He turned to his sister. "Saionji is clearly upset about this, and I can't say that I blame him."

Nanami glared at Saionji. "Why are you being so stubborn?"

Saionji glared right back. "Are you blind? Why don't you wear it then?"

"Because my color is yellow. You know that."

"That can't be the only green offered for the year," reasoned Touga. "Do you have the full set with you?"

"Yes," Nanami, her hands settling protectively over her portfolio.

"Let him see it," said Touga, softly but firmly.

"But ..."

"Please don't whine, Nanami. Give him the colors."

With a pout, Nanami handed the portfolio to her brother, who passed it to Saionji.

Saionji grabbed the portfolio angrily and immediately set about digging through it. Cards slipped out and fluttered to the floor before he finally located what he wanted. He held up three cards in his hand, tilting them about as if searching for the best light to judge them by. At last he selected one and purposefully strode around the table to place the card directly into Miki's hand. "Here," said Saionji. "Mark me down for this one. It's a little bright for my tastes, but it's the best of the bunch."

Miki laid out the card for everyone else to see. It reminded him of the intense bluish green the summer leaves could take on under rain-shrouded skies.

"What's it called?" asked Utena.

"Who cares?" grumbled Saionji.

Miki flipped the card over and read, "'Fern'".

Juri muttered, too quietly for anyone but Miki to hear, "Fend off, foes of Fern!" Miki wrote her comment in along with the green color's description.

Saionji waited for Miki to finish writing, then turned to Nanami. "I assume we're done, then?" he asked coldly.

"No," she said sulkily.

"Good grief, what else could you possibly want to do to us?" cried Saionji, "Dye our hair?" Miki thought he heard a giggle from Anthy's direction, but when he looked at her, her face only held a placid smile.

Nanami gave Saionji a withering look that spoke volumes of her current opinion of his intelligence level. "Of course not." She spoke to the others still seated around the table. "Please, everyone, give your cards to Anthy."

"Why?" asked Juri.

"So she can prepare our coordinating Duel roses. As mistress of the rose garden, that is obviously her job."

Utena turned to her roommate, "So have you ever dyed flowers before?"

Before Anthy could respond, Nanami snapped, "She's not going to dye them!"

"Then what?" asked Utena, appearing as perplexed as Miki was feeling.

"She'll grow them," Nanami said patiently.

"Oh, get real! How can anyone be expected to grow designer-colored roses?"

"The same way she's been growing the green and blue roses we've all seen already. Isn't that correct, Anthy?"

Utena opened her mouth to retort, then closed it. She turned a puzzled frown on Anthy, who seemed to be pondering the request. "There's only one problem, Miss Nanami," Anthy said finally.

"Which would be?"

"It's going to take at least three weeks to have mature blooms in all of the new colors."

Nanami waved a hand dismissively. "Then there simply won't be any Duels until we have the new roses."

Touga looked up, alarmed. "Nanami, the Ends Of The World is not going to like that one bit. He—"

"Don't worry, Big Brother. You'll help me draft a letter explaining it all to him. He'll certainly see that we can't possibly continue in last year's colors."

Miki wondered why Touga suddenly looked so pale. He hoped that the Student Council President wasn't getting sick in the winter weather. For his own part, Miki felt relieved that he'd be able to concentrate for a while on his studies as he preferred to, before he'd have to take time out again for Dueling.

 

On the north edge of the Ohtori Academy campus, in a dimly-lit basement lab of Nemuro Memorial Hall, final-year student Souji Mikage strolled between the hydroponics vats. He examined the contents of each, assuring himself that the ebony flowers continued to develop properly. The door to the hall clicked open behind him and he turned to observe the boy who entered.

"Mamiya, I'm surprised to see you," said Mikage. "I didn't think you'd be back until classes resumed."

"I learned something, sir," said Mamiya. "It could cause a delay in our project and I knew you'd want to know right away."

Mikage sighed. "It's always something, isn't it? Very well, what's happened now?"

"We can't use this batch of roses," said Mamiya, indicating all of the dark blooms with a sweep of his arm.

"Why not? I've just been checking them and they all look perfectly healthy."

"They're the wrong shade of black for the new year," explained Mamiya.

Mikage blinked and shook his head. "I think I need another cup of coffee," he said with a chuckle. "I thought I just heard you say that they're the wrong shade of black."

"I did."

Mikage sighed. "Mamiya, black doesn't have shades. It's simply ... black."

"No, really," said Mamiya. "We're going to have to dump these and start over with this year's black." He pulled a dark card from a jacket pocket. Before handing it to Mikage, he flipped it over and back to show the writing on the other side.

"You are making absolutely no sense," said Mikage, but he took the proffered card. The dim violet illumination from the grow lamps wasn't enough to read the lettering, let alone determine anything interesting about the dark side of the card, so Mikage took it to the desk and turned on the brighter lamp there.

The one side of the card still appeared simply ... black, to Mikage. He read the other side of the card. He frowned at Mamiya. "What the heck kind of color is 'Asphalt'?"

 

Author's Notes

Yes, I know I've played fast and loose with the "Utena" timeline.

This story was inspired by a news item about the Color Marketing Group, a real organization which produces color forecasts each year for designers and manufacturers. From the Color Marketing Group website (http://www.colormarketing.org/) we find some interesting coincidences. I had drawn up my color notes for this story before I saw the actual color forecast for 2003 from the CMG. In their list, you will find such intriguing items as:

Red Satin: Future vehicles sport a revved-up Red. Old World opulence enhances this conservative communicator. (Anyone thinking of our favorite school administrator?)

Frond: Natural chroma takes a commercial turn in this tropical Green. (Honest—I figured out Saionji's choice before I saw this forecast!)

May you have a colorful year in 2003.

-END-

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