"Burn Red"

There's red on the floor and red on his hands.

It's all he sees. Red against white (white vinyl tiles, white winter skin), patches of it splattered like wildflowers-like the ones in the backyard when it's spring (soon, and too long ago).

He turns. Catches sight of the mirror. More red. On his cheeks as he breathes, harsh and fast. On his chest, splatters again, staining his shirt.

It's all he sees. It's all he ever sees.

-—-

"Arthur?"

"What?"

". . . Nevermind."

"What?"

-—-

There's red on the floor and red on his hands.

If he looks close enough there's red in her hair (red hair, auburn, she called it when she felt pretentious), streaming through the roots. Leave it long enough and she'll have a swamp. Little red trees poking out of red water.

He turns away. Beats red cupboard doors until his knuckles burn red, burst red, drip red on white vinyl tile.

It's all he sees. It's all he ever sees. It's all he feels, like he's full of it, whatever it is (it changes: swears, anger, jealousy, hate, so much fucking hate). He's a red balloon just a breath from exploding and every part of him's just stretched too thin and all he needs is to finally do it, finally pop and not care where he lands.

. . . Normally, it's all he feels. Not anymore. Now the red's cold on his fist and he doesn't feel much of anything at all.

There's just more red on the floor, more red on his hands.

It's all he sees. It's all he ever sees.

-—-

"I guess you saved me."

"You guess?"

"You did."

". . . You're welcome."

-—-

There's red on the floor and red on his hands.

There's red on the phone, still clutched in his grip and its cheap white plastic cracking like it'll break (he doesn't let go). Red light flashing against his eyes from the cradle and pressing against his brain. On. Off. On. Off. On. Off.

"This is—"

He hangs up. Drops the phone and clutches his head. His red-stained fingers weave through his black hair, and now he's got it too, red little specks splattered on the roots.

It's all he sees. It's all he can see.

-—-

"Did you have to do it like that?"

"It's them or us. We're the ones that are real, Cobb."

"Doesn't really change the act though, I think."

". . . She shot you, Cobb. In case you forgot."

"You bashed her head in with a rifle."

"Well, what do you want, an apology?"

-—-

There's red on the floor and red on his hands.

(Not anymore.)

There's red through the windows, circling—

(Not anymore.)

There's red on her eye, just above the purple, and red on his cheeks as he screams and screams—

(Not. Anymore.)

There's red on the walls.

It's hidden. But when he bashes headlong into them, till red pops over his skin, the white paint flakes off and he sees what used to be. Red, fresh paint, too vibrant for this place, too dangerous for pretty white things with red hot problems. Girls with red nail-polished fingers jammed down their throats and boys with red lines criss-crossing their arms.

He's good at finding the red. He's always found the red.

It's not jail, this place. He could have ended up there. It's not grey walls, white suits barred with black. At the time he thought it was better.

(It's not.)

He slams the wall. Hears the doctors pull at his door (that's right, he thinks, locked. I can make your doors lock) and watches the white flake away.

It's all he sees. It's all he wants to see.

-—-

"It was Mal."

"It was a projection. A shade parading around in her red dress. She fucking deserved it."

"Arthur—"

"No. No . . . none of that shit. She fucking deserved it."

-—-

There's red on the floor and red on his hands.

It's all he sees, against the white (white vinyl tiles, white winter skin), patches of it splattered like wildflowers—like the ones in the backyard when it's spring (long ago, so very long ago).

Not anymore though, he tries to remember. Not the red, or the white. Arthur's skin is tan from two months in Barbados, the tile's just rubble in a junkyard, and even if it weren't, the red was wiped clean with white cloths by cops he never even met.

Now the red's just in him. Restrained by nothing more than a reminder not to let it burn him away, tied tight in a windsor knot and sealed with cufflinks. He's a professional, now. He's a part of society. He's . . .

He's stuck in a dream ten minutes from the kick and there's red on the floor and red on his hands.

There's a woman in a red dress that skates the floor but never quite touches, and a man in a red tie that doesn't match his suit. She hugs Arthur tight, red-dress arms around his chest, and doesn't let go. Not when he pushes or pulls or even when he explodes, screaming and kicking.

In his ear, she says, French tilting her inflections, "Is that what you dream of, Arthur?"

He looks straight ahead. There's a red tie and white hands, hanging limp and useless. They don't come near him. They never come near him.

It's all he sees. It's all he ever sees.

(You can't wipe this red away.)

-—-

Brown-suited arms wrapped around Arthur's chest and didn't let go. Would never let go, not even if he exploded. It was an odd thing to know, but Arthur did. For once, was sure.

Guilt was a powerful motivator.

(Mal's dead. Someone has to.)

He watched his breath rise into the winter air in white little huffs as he said, "If it's in a dream, at least no one gets hurt."

The grip tightened, and Arthur shut his eyes, the splash of light seeping through in browns and golds.

Cobb's colors, he thought.

It was all he saw.

-—-

Thanks to Audley as always, for her help and support, and thanks to the original prompter.