Day after day, the white suffocated him.
The ceiling and walls stared down at him, their sterilized, glaring hue boring into his eyes; the sheets around him clung to his aching body like a white shroud; and even the other patients, in their white beds by their white tables, seemed deathly pale, their ashen skin framed grimly by white bandages.
He loved colors. He loved hues as bright as the boisterous midday sun and shades as subtle as the earthen soil; every inch of the spectrum, from rusty red to iridescent indigo, he loved and cherished dearly.
He could not tolerate the endless white. He felt like he was being swallowed alive by it.
There was one break in the monochrome room, one pocket of air in the suffocating sterilization. She was a brilliant flash of blue framed by cascading pink, and she came every day, three times a day.
"Please sit up, Nemo, sir," she said gently, the beautiful blue crinkled at the edges in kindness. And Nemo sat up, as he had every time, pulling his pained body across the sheets while she dutifully adjusted the pillows, smiling despite the soreness radiating from his ribs.
"How could I deny such a beautiful voice, Nurse Artina?" he said, smiling a bit unsteadily, eyes glinting from behind his slightly askew glasses.
Artina laughed politely, looking off to the side a bit bashfully; the space between the blue and pink filled with a light red, to Nemo's great fascination. "Well, I'm glad you'll listen to me, no matter what your reasons," she replied simply, turning her head back to him with a somewhat shyer smile. "I've brought you some lunch," she continued, and only then did Nemo glance down and notice the tray of neatly-arranged food she held.
"For me?" he asked, smiling in delight and letting Artina set the tray of food on his lap. "Is this peanut butter and jelly? You're darling."
"It's no problem, Nemo," she replied, the faint hint of a giggle in her voice. "Please, eat. You're getting close to full recovery, and you'll need your full strength to finish the job."
"Am I?" Nemo asked, picking up the sandwich and staring at it inquisitively. "It feels like I've only been here a day, sometimes. I suppose it's thanks to your healing touch, Artina," he continued, turning from his lunch to smile his awkward, genuine smile at the nurse.
"I…try my best," Artina replied quietly, smiling a bit wider and blushing a bit harder.
"Sometimes," Nemo continued thoughtfully, pausing to take a bite out of his sandwich, "I swear you're like a real guardian angel. You'd be my guardian angel, wouldn't you?"
Artina laughed and averted her gaze again. "Nemo," she scolded gently. "Don't joke around like that. I-it's too much praise for me."
"Honestly," Nemo corrected simply, shrugging and chasing down a bite of sandwich with some milk (and neglecting to wipe the milk mustache off afterwards). "You come here, every day, and give me something to do in this miserable white room. It's like a divine sending, wouldn't you agree, Tina?"
"I was trying it out as a nickname. …I don't think it suits you much, though."
"Mm, Artina is just fine," she replied, smiling softly. "…But…miserable white room? Have you been in pain, Nemo? I can double your morphine doses, it might knock you out at first but—"
"Woah, woah, no, I think I've got enough as is," Nemo corrected quickly. "What I mean is…it's…" The older man frowned deeply all of a sudden, staring off at a white wall. "…It's all the same color, and I really hate that. Feels…I don't know. It feels so lifeless, so…and it reminds me of my side's hospital ward, and…"
"…Ah," Artina said simply, a sympathetic frown creasing her face. "I guess I…never really thought to decorate…"
"Mm, it's fine, it's fine. Don't worry your pretty little head over it, Artie," Nemo said, smiling all of a sudden and waving off the issue like it had never even happened. "You just worry about the other patients, okay, sweetheart?" And at that, Nemo reached over, took Artina's hand in his far larger one, and kissed it gently, chapped lips meeting pale skin.
Artina stared, her eyes wide; then, she gently and slowly pulled her hand away, the smile returning to her face. "…Thank you," she said, staring at Nemo with what seemed to be a mix of affection and fascination. "I'll try my hardest like always. Enjoy your food, alright? I'll be back to get the tray in a few minutes."
"I look forward to it," Nemo said back, smiling absently at Artina's retreating figure.
When he awoke the next morning, a single flower—boldly piercing the lifeless white with its bright orange hue—sat in a vase next to his bed.
He smiled to himself.