Though their faces have long since faded, blurred into a haze of memories, their voices are like splashes of white on a pitch black canvas, like paint stains that he can never, ever scrub away, acid that corrodes into him and leaves ugly pink splotches in its destructive wake.
"Twelve," they murmur, encircling him, running their pale long fingers through his hair, across his shoulders, down the line of his back. White, he thinks numbly, gazing at the tiled floor, tracing patterns on his thighs.
White, the surgical masks they wear, injecting syringe after syringe into him, drug after drug that made his head spin and stomach churn. White, the walls that hold him in that tiny, tiny room, solving the same puzzle over and over again, twisting cubes and drawing figures until he wants to vomit.
White like snow, white like cotton, white like their pale faces as they grow silent, one by one.
There's a boy his age, and his name is Nine.
The number flashes in his mind, a brilliant magenta, but Nine's voice is like pinpricks of darkness, smooth and even, rippling with deep velvety blue, and on occasion, a burst of cobalt.
He's lean and lithe, catlike even, with slender fingers that toy with the battered white chess pieces and dark eyes that pierce into him, eyes that calculate and observe and hypothesize, edged with the same cold glint.
"Eleven died yesterday," Nine remarks quietly, knees tucked into his chest.
"Yeah," Twelve mutters, slouching onto the walls. "Wonder when we're going, too."
They lapse into uncomfortable silence.
"Say, Twelve…" Nine says, slow and careful. "Ever think about, I don't know...escaping here?"
"You can't mean…?" He sits up immediately, eyes widening to the size of saucers. "No way. You're insane!"
It's the first time Twelve sees him smile, icy and sinister. "Aren't we all?"
The alarm blares an aggressive crimson, blurry shapes that dance across his vision and send his head reeling. A scream threatens to tear itself from his throat as he runs across the dewy grass, shards of glass and rusted metal cutting into his bare feet.
And it doesn't stop.
Lungs burning a fiery red, he pushes himself to keep moving, heedless of everything but the thudding of his heart and the rushing of his blood, because if he stops now, it'll all be over for them, like it's always been from the beginning, from the moment the first syringe entered his body-
He thinks of corpses, tiny in death, and wooden posts and overturned earth.
Ten feet to freedom- nine, eight, seven-
Twelve's never quite grasped the idea of freedom, but he think it might be the feeling of Nine's hand in his, the blue sky on the other side of the fence.
They hide out in alleyways and abandoned street corners, living off scraps and whatever they can find. But even so, the world is blur of color- the deep blues of midnight, the warm glow of yellow street lights, amethyst rings the color of Five's eyes.
"What now?" Twelve asks, in a small voice.
"We fight back, of course," Nine replies, his eyes burning into him. "You know we don't have much time left, don't you? Ten years, tops."
Twelve wonders what it's like, to have a sometime, a somewhere, a someplace, when for him, he's only ever had his finite set, the pulse of his slowing heartbeat like the clock ticking away, the dwindling minutes closing in on him until he's clutching at his chest and waking up in a cold sweat.
He's been nothing but terminal, even from the very beginning.
A time bomb, little green numbers ticking a second closer to zero.
He gives a terse nod.
Sometimes, the only solace he can find is the comforting rumble of his motorcycle beneath his feet, the black handlebars cool and light between his shaking fingers. He tears through the highway so suddenly that the drivers all honk in protest, so recklessly that the police curse after him, but he only grins and slams into the accelerator, zooming away into the distance.
The reds and yellows of the cityscape all blur into a murky orange the color of sunset, twinkling past him like the stars in the sky.
It's the only time he's ever felt truly invincible.
His screams are electric blue.
Twelve tears off the covers and flicks on the light, bolting barefoot to his side. Nine's writhing in terrible agony, hands clutching his face and knuckles steadily growing whiter, gulping down air with wheezy breaths, the erratic rise and fall of his chest.
"Nine," he gasps, crouching down and pulling Nine's head into his lap. "Listen to me. Hold on, okay? You've got to hold on. Please, Nine, please-" Don't leave me, he thinks, but the words are swallowed by the choked sob that threatens to escape him.
Living without him is unfathomable.
Because without Nine, what else is there to live for? What does he have left?
He waits with baited breath, clumsily brushing the hair out of Nine's eyes, and eventually, Nine shudders and grows still, his breathing steadied, his grip slackened. "Can you hear me?" Twelve asks softly.
Nine cracks an eye open, managing a feeble smile. "Like hell I'm gonna die before you, bastard."
Twelve snorts, cuffing him on the shoulder to mask that overwhelming tidal wave of relief. "Huh. We'll see about that."
The explosions are little bursts of purple, sometimes lavender, sometimes plum. It's a bit of a headache at first, those flashes of brilliant color searing into him like the summer fireworks, but it blends in before long, little waves of purple in a sea of blacks and blues.
BOOM! Another government building explodes in a cloud of ash and brick, a pleasant shade of lilac. BOOM! An antiseptic hospital collapses in a fog of broken glass and tile, a deep heliotrope.
It's like a steady rhythm, he thinks as he hurtles away from the scene of the crime.
Plan, plunder, plant, and flee, with the wind blowing his hair into his eyes and that laugh bubbling from his throat, maniac and utterly exhilarating.
Rinse and repeat.
Lisa Mishima's voice is the color of morning sunshine, and he can't get enough of those soft lilting words and the warm yellows melting into cream, dappled with pale pink whenever she gets even the tiniest bit flustered.
Falling in love has always been out of the question, but when it comes to her, the answer is always "yes."
He remembers that orange night, the infinity of her arms gripping his waist and her warmth at his back, and for one moment, he truly believes that the world is just him and her, that they have a chance.
It takes everything he has to keep from breaking down in that ferris wheel, crouching down before her in some twisted semblance of calm as he dismantles bomb after bomb, but there just isn't enough time.
Lisa's trembling, babbling apology after apology, and fed up, he grabs her face and holds her face between his hands to quiet her, fingers gently pressing against her cheeks. They gaze at one another, and her lips glisten in the half-light.
He just wishes that they could have more time, more than those ticking numbers on the clock, wishes that he could live for her.
Wishes this didn't have to be a tragedy.
The bullet hits him in a hot flash of blinding pain, and he crumples to the ground. This is it, he thinks, feeling the blood soak into his shirt, trickle down his spine. As his eyelids droop shut, he imagines a blanket of white ash, carrying him up and up.
It's oddly serene, the way he drifts away, all dreamy smiles and weightless bones, fading, fading, fading.
If this is death, Twelve thinks, it isn't so bad.
He wonders if the world will notice, wonders if anyone will ever remember him.
Wonders why they never had the chance to live.