Note: Excessive volume of line breaks. Magical realism. Frustratingly vague magical realism. Take from this what you will.
Written for Shwaya.
Arthur had been prepared to face a loose screw one day; anyone who dabbled in dream sharing and believed their minds to be safe were living truly quixotic lives.
Early on he learned all that he could about the possible side-effects, or the mistakes that were known to happen in the profession. Even still, he never thought his mind would be so bizarrely jostled during a simple mental activity. He didn't even know what happened. He was in his dreamscape, then he was laid up in a hospital bed. And if Cobb was to be believed, days passed between the two events. Somehow he was unconscious for five days in all.
He didn't know what to say when they asked what happened, the nurse getting her royal purple smudges on his IV all the while; or how to respond when Eames slipped into his room one night after visiting hours, deep blue fingers smearing over the already turquoise and purple and scarlet doorknob as he twisted it closed behind him; or how to tell his doctor that the color hallucinations weren't going away. Everyone's hands were dyed, and they painted everything they touched.
Cobb would shuffle to the chair at his bedside, exhausted, in the late afternoons with sunset orange and viridian fingerprints wrapped around the back of his hands. Buried below the dimming fear of the new phenomena that plagued Arthur, he was relieved to see James and Phillipa's marks on their father. Between Arthur's being in the hospital, and their disbanded team, his children were the only surefire way to make him unwind. And because of the beleaguered look that would vale Cobb when he visited, Arthur was grateful for Eames' mellow presence after visiting hours, which was a thought Arthur never would have imagined if he weren't laid up in a stiff hospital bed and forced to entertain himself with quasi-rubber jello, a three year old National Geographic magazine, and the question of existence, the latter two of which he didn't touch after the first morning. He learned from further experimentation that the jello could vacuum seal to his spoon if he cut it at the right angle.
Eames, on his first midnight visit, was casual as ever. He kicked his feet up beside Arthur's hip in the spot where Arthur would press and repress his wine red hand print, then the pair of them got their "where have you been"s out of the way and slipped right into the typical raillery. Arthur didn't remember falling asleep that night, and he couldn't keep his eyes open past nine the following evening.
Throughout the morning of the third day, Arthur's eyes kept trailing back to his wrist where a thick, cyclic smear of deep blue was imprinted. It faded, like every other color, sometime between the seventh and eighth hour. Afterward, Arthur went back to his moderately less interesting jello cup. He fell asleep at ten thirty that night.
He decided not to speak further of the finger paints, as he deigned to call them (and would only ever call them such in privacy), with his doctor, who was convinced that it was a side-effect of the medicine Arthur was on prior to reawakening, and announced Arthur's release would be the coming Thursday, not two days away. Just as well, Eames and Cobb were kept in dark about the colors for the time being. Arthur would have to be long gone and his current identity razed before he breathed a word of this to anyone, including them, and delved into research.
On Wednesday morning, Arthur woke with Eames' blue stamped over his palm, and twined between his fingers. It was a struggle to force that hand to participate in normal activities instead of alienating it, for fear that it would wipe away, despite knowing that nothing he had tried could clean the finger paints but time. Surprise and warmth melded together in his chest.
On Thursday the back of his hand only showed traces of blue, as if teased by a mist, but he ignored his disappointment and shuffled into the en suite bathroom to change. Cobb would pick him up soon.
Everything in the room was a shade of off-white, right down to the rim of the mirror. There were no finger paints anywhere but for under Arthur's touch, which started out on the doorknob before he splayed his hand flat beside the sink. His wine red print stood stark against the spiritless counter. It felt like he fixed something, like he made art, something he had never felt so strongly for in all his life. He breathed softly and placed his other hand on the counter top opposite the first print, and lifted it again. It truly felt like a marking of possession. Not in the base, animalistic way, and certainly not for furnishings, but similar to wearing an elegant suit, or decorating a new apartment, or typing in a fresh document.
Arthur huffed at his assessment, but patted another mark over the light switch, with the switches wedging between his fingers. Then he rubbed his other hand in an arc over the door, and swept red waves over the back wall. The ridiculousness of the whole thing, by Arthurian standards, made him snort. He was often so straight faced that allowing seriousness to fall by the wayside was something to be done in private, and was forgiven because of its rarity.
He dressed after that, and as he folded his patient's gown, he glanced in the mirror and stiffened up in shock, for across his right temple stroked a smooth swath of Eames blue, wide and somewhat uneven, like it was brushed back and forth and back again still. It curved up enough to dust his hairline. Arthur angled his head - fingerprints dotted behind his chin as well.
Arthur did not flush, but the warmth that filled him each morning when he saw Eames' marks flooded back in. He almost couldn't believe his own reaction, but Eames was the only person who had ever consistently defied Arthur's preconceptions, so he couldn't actually feel sour about the situation. He knew he had it coming from day twenty-two, which, considering his first impression of Eames, was quite soon.
Arthur remained fixated on Eames' marks until there was a knock on the door, and the doctor called him out for final instructions.
He wondered where Mr. Eames was staying. He could use some help looking into the finger paints - or so he reasoned with himself.