He knows there are only two reasons not to say a wish out loud:
First, because wishes are infantile. Because wishes are made by the ignorant, the idiotic, and the impotent. By children spotting stars, that might only be airplanes. By people who think a shout of want will bring them something beautiful easier than hard pursuit, and by cowards who can’t drag up the strength to run after what they choose. But mostly, by idiots.
Second, because if he says it out loud, it will never come true.
And that’s infantile, too: believing that Fate is so spiteful that if she hears, she’ll hang what he wants out of his reach, just because he wants it. But he believes in a spiteful world, when it pulled him out of his big boy bed with smoke and fire and turned him out into a cold midnight, when it trapped his mother inside red-hot walls and sent his father out as the man who had already failed even though he’d never fail again.
So, maybe he keeps his mouth shut and tackles two tasks at once. He says nothing out loud, and convinces everyone and himself that he’s full-grown, intelligent, strong enough for whatever might come. He says nothing, and leaves his lifeline hanging off that one wish.
Because when you’re wishing that Mom could see how tall you’ve grown, you never really let it go.
His wish comes true. Impossibly. Amazingly.
She’s alive, and she’s smiling up at him with all the grace and warmth he remembers falling on him when he was small. He hugs her, holds her, and she’s whole between his hands, steady in his arms. There’s rope-burn on his palms from where the lifeline dragged him through, a few things that aren’t as brilliantly shined as he imagined, but she’s there, and his world is spinning the right way for the first time since the fire ate through its foundation.
And it’s impossible, but it’s the most sublime hour he’s ever walked through. Moment by moment, it feels more real, more tangible, more likely to actually belong to him.
Until he notices all the old familiar roads that he’ll never be introduced to now. That twists memory and thought harder than it should, but there are places that he has memorized, that he will never see. Nights he’ll never visit. Hands he’ll never hold. Backs he’ll never catch mid-fall. Warnings he’ll never give. Dangers he’ll never turn aside.
His long midnight had been his solid ground, his weight and his leverage to push other people back into daylight. And now, there are lives cut short. Lives never lived at all.
People who would be forever paying for his bliss.
It’s not like anyone would know. Now he’s never met them, and they can’t blame a stranger for existing somewhere else, for never wandering near their danger, for not being close enough to extend a rescuing hand. But he knows, and it aches.
And halfway through his question, his plea, his demand to know why he should be the one to always pay, to purchase happiness for someone else, he stops because he already knows.
Because when you’re wishing that Mom could see how tall you’ve grown, you can’t stoop to bring yourself into view.