When August Caswell poured himself a glass of wine that night, standing by the window overlooking the canals, he already knew he has taken the first step into something he’d eventually regret. His moves were followed by a pair of blue eyes, shaded by the blanket which hid the rest of the body of the little boy curled in his armchair. There was still something dark on his face, smudges of which could’ve been both ashes and blood, striped with white lines tears had left behind. August couldn’t recall seeing the boy cry; all he remembered, even though it had barely been a few hours, were flames devouring that house, and a small silhouette reaching towards him.
He wasn’t asked about the child he had snatched from the fire which took its home; no one cared to know who he was nor why he’d done it. If they had asked, August thought to himself as he turned his back to the window to observe the boy, he wouldn’t know what to tell them. Never in his life had he liked children, not even his little siblings whom he’d left in their home country - they were loud and demanding, and couldn’t understand other people nor the beauty and importance of rare artworks he appreciated so much. And yet he not only saved this one, but also brought him home without caring to mention it to anyone, hence practically deleting every trace of the little lone survivor of the fire.
I will contact the police in the morning, he told himself. In the morning, I will find this boy a new home and forget about this night.
He lifted the glass, bringing it to his lips, before realising it was empty and putting it down again. He turned again and took the bottle, sighed, poured himself another glass, arranged some papers on the table by the window, sighed again and closed his eyes shortly before talking. The boy’s eyes never left him, and he could feel that blue glare on himself as if something kept physically, repeatedly poking the same spot on his back.
“Do you have a name?”
The boy nodded slowly. “I’m Lain.” He hesitated a bit. “Lain Valdescu.”
“Lain Valdescu?” August frowned, brushing his lips against the glass. It sounded wrong, made up, like a name never spoken out loud before and combined of other names. “Are you from here? It doesn’t sound very Italian,” he muttered.
“Neither does August,” the boy noticed quietly, and August put the glass down again.
“That is because it’s not. I’m English.” He watched the boy as he shrugged the blanket off enough to breathe, seeming to be relaxing a bit though his skin kept that pale shade of fear. His hair was light brown, August noticed, longer than it was probably healthy for his eyes and falling in tangled mess which might have resembled curls once upon a time.
“...Oh.” He frowned slightly and bit his lip, trying and failing to wipe off one of the smudges off his face with an equally smudged sleeve. “Can Lain be English too?”
August raised an eyebrow. “I suppose so.” His eyes darted over the boy’s appearance, the brown blanket which still covered most of his body, the couch and shelves in the dark back of the room, and objects collected or received from all around the world, hung on the walls in places where one might have expected to see family portraits. He couldn’t help but feel somewhat grateful for the way his little guest acted, even though it was under the influence of fear and loss which most likely hadn’t even properly hit him yet; the last he wanted were dark smudges on his things, or broken glass on the carpets.
“Then I’m English too," the boy said.
Somehow, as if shielding a small smile from being spotted, the glass found its way to August’s lips again, occupying them for a few seconds and giving him time to sort his thoughts. There was something in that child that made August almost fond of him, and a thought of not sending him off right away started prodding its way around August’s mind. Perhaps it is possible there’s a child with, while lacking coordination like all of them, brain at least developed enough to understand and listen when the adult tells them not to touch anything. Smirking slightly, he gave the boy a nod.
“Lain, then. Do you like books?”
It was the boy’s turn to look at him in silence. “I liked stories,” he said then, “but now I like pictures more.” He drew his knees to his chest, hugging himself tightly. “Then I can imagine the stories myself.”
August kept his eyes on Lain’s - dark brown on light blue - as neither of them spoke for a long time. His glass was empty again, but he didn’t even notice it - and the morning came and went, but he never forgot.