They find him with blood dripping down his nose.
He tastes rusted metal on his tongue, but he’s too tired to spit out. He watches the flames nip at his heels. They singe his skin, leave nasty marks that become a ring of scars around his ankles. He sits in silence, with hands folded neatly in his lap and lets the fire surround him.
He closes his eyes and pretends to hear his mother’s voice. He pretends she cards her fingers through his hair and he imagines pressing his ear up against her chest until he hears the gentle thrum of her heart. She hums instead of singing because she doesn’t like her voice. He remembers thinking it sounded weird; broken and out-of-tune. She laughed and pinched his cheeks when he made her pinky-swear to never sing in the shower. With her in mind, the embers almost sizzle out and the last crackles of fire almost lull him to sleep.
It works for a little while. But the fear crawls back up his throat all at once, he feels his blood freeze and heart pound in his ears. He glances down at his neatly folded hands; they tremble. He can’t focus on his thoughts anymore, they scream words at him he doesn’t understand. But underneath them, he thinks that real fear isn’t all that different after all.
He does not scream.
He lifts a dirt-covered hand to rub the sleep from his eyes. When he gets dust in them, he wonders if the tears have been there all along.
They find him with blood dripping down his nose and a hollow look in his eyes.
They tell him things – he doesn’t listen. He falls asleep in someone’s arms – listening instead to the crackle of fire and losing the last of a home.