There's something on the wall. Dark red. He can't remember what it is.
The world is red. Red like blood and there's too much and it hurts. He needs to escape it. He has to get up and…. He can't remember.
All he knows is that everything hurts, and everywhere is red. It covers his hands, covers his thoughts like tar. The air is red and burning.
Maybe he's in hell.
"Illya! Illya, look at me. Please!"
The words sizzle, evaporate from his head like water. He needs to remember what the red is, and what he's supposed to do—
Who the hell is Illya? But it sounds like a name he knows, so he turns towards the man crouched there waiting. There's bright red on his shoulder. Illya can't take his eyes from it.
"I know you." The words bleed red out his mouth. "Bucky."
The man goes still. "No. That's…not safe. I'm Vanya. Vanya, remember?"
"Vanya." That name is false and true. He doesn't know why. "You're Vanya?"
"Yes. I'm Vanya. Your brother, remember?"
"Yes," Illya says, but memories can't be trusted here. They run like mercury, slide through his fingers like the blood on his hands.
His father committed treason. His mother was a whore. He went to Hydra because he had nowhere else to go.
His parents gave him to Uncle because he was bad.
The Hydra soldiers shot his father and took him. His mother never stopped screaming his name.
Memory hurts. Memory means sorrow and the rage that eats him alive. Memory is watching Bucky—Vanya?—shudder on the floor after the chair rips him apart. Memory is poison, like the blood red apple on the shelf on the wall.
"Illya? Illya! Can you hear me?"
He blinks, comes back with an effort. "Vanya. Help."
"I'm right here." Vanya embraces him. It hurts, but it keeps the world from sinking in a tide of burning red.
"Don't let go. I'll drown."
"Is this hell?"
"Yes," Vanya says. "But you're sick from the serum. You remember that? The serum?"
That sounds real, so Illya nods. His bones hurt. "My birthday present."
"Yes. That's right." Vanya sounds angry. Illya doesn't know why. "The serum is doing this. You broke out of your restraints, so Uncle sent me to keep you safe."
"I need to go outside. To the white." That's true; He remembers it. He was burning red and everything hurt. He had to escape the red heat and pain. So he pulled until something snapped and he was free, and then, there was something….
Something red? The apple?
"There's an apple on the wall. But, I don't remember it."
"Apple?" Vanya glances at the wall. "Don't worry. It's nothing."
It's nothing. The words slip like mercury, like lies. It's not nothing.
There's a room that's blood red though the walls are white. It's where they made the Winter Soldier. It's where they take the boys on their thirteenth birthdays. He remembers the bed, how they strapped him down.
"Precautions," Uncle said. "You don't want to hurt anyone, do you?"
No. He never wanted to hurt anyone.
"Something's wrong." He knows that's true. He holds Vanya's shoulders so he'll listen. "The apple…it's wrong. It shouldn't be there."
"You killed…a guard, when he tried to stop you," Vanya says. "You're sick. It's not your fault."
More lies. Illya's hands are sticky-red, like apples. "That's not true. It's my fault." A sudden, violent sob rips through him. His tears are boiling hot. "What did I do? Vanya, please! What did I do?"
"Shhh. Shhh." Vanya holds him tight, keeps him from sinking the rest of the way into hell. "Listen to me," he says, red and fervent. "What happened isn't your fault. Oleg gave you the serum. Do you remember?"
Illya nods, still crying. "I told him I didn't want to hurt anyone. What did I do?"
Vanya puts his metal arm around Illya's waist. It's cold like the white he tried to reach outside, before the red drowned him and he couldn't remember. Vanya stands, pulling him off the floor. Moving hurts. Illya's legs don't work, but Vanya won't let him fall. "Hold on to me. I'll take you outside."
He wants to go to the clean, cold white. But there's a black thing on the floor, surrounded by a nimbus of red. It's wrong. It shouldn't be there.
"It's too red." Illya says. "Why is it so red?"
"It doesn't matter." Vanya tries to pull him away, but they call Illya 'Bull' because he's stubborn and very, very strong. And he doesn't want to move.
"Why is it so red, Vanya? Why is it red?" He struggles, and his brother lets go instead of hurting him. Illya falls to his knees. "It's all red. It should be black, but it's all red. Why…."
"It's not your fault!" Vanya says, fast like he's afraid. "You're sick! He knew that! He knew that! He shouldn't've tried to stop you!"
"No. No, no. Please…." Illya gently turns the shattered skull towards him, to see the man's face. His hair is brown. His eyes are light blue, dull and fixed and dead. "Ruslan."
Ruslan. Four months younger than Vadik, who survived when Vadik didn't. Kind, conciliatory Ruslan, who was so proud of his new uniform, of being the first Summer Soldier. So eager to go on his first mission.
"He tried to stop you, Illya," Vanya says. "It's not your fault."
"It is. It is. It is. Ruslan! Ruslan, I'm sorry!" He rocks the limp body in his arms, weeping. The red covers him, runs down his arms and drips off his fingers. He's a killer. He killed his brother when he never wanted to hurt anyone.
"Come, little brother." Illya doesn't want to leave him. He fights, but he's weak and sick. Vanya easily pulls him away.
He carries Illya outside to the white. But it's all red now. The red covers him. It covers everything.