“Get up,” Sifu says, kicking dirt toward Forever.
“I can’t,” Forever says, cradling her arm against her chest. She doesn’t know enough yet to be sure if it’s broken or not but she knows that it isn’t right.
“You can,” Sifu folds her arms and stares down at Forever.
Forever ducks her head to wipe her eyes against her shoulder, wincing when the movement makes her arm hurt even more.
“I think it’s broken,” Forever says. “I can’t –”
“Are your legs broken?” Sifu asks, her voice slicing through Forever like slivers of ice.
Forever shakes her head.
“Then you can stand,” Sifu says.
Forever grits her teeth and swallows her pain as she stands. Her legs shake and she feels sick, but she stands.
“There,” Sifu says, nodding. “You can stand.”
“It hurts,” Forever says, her voice low. Sifu still hears.
“And you are a Lazarus,” Sifu says, shrugging. “You will always rise. Even when you think you cannot. You will rise and your family will be proud.”
“Wake up,” Beth’s voice is loud enough to cut through the fog still clinging to Forever’s mind.
“What –” there is a searing pain in Forever’s chest and she cannot feel her legs below her knees. “Beth?”
“Shh, little sister,” Beth says, smoothing a hand over Forever’s hair.
“You were down longer than we thought you’d be,” James says, crouching over Forever. “How do you feel?”
“I –” Forever shakes her head and takes a deep breath. The searing pain in her chest is receding, her legs are tingling. “My chest –”
“Here,” Beth takes her hand and places it against her chest. Forever recognises the thick, slick feel of blood beneath her fingers.
Her undershirt is torn and her fingers slide through the blood and press against flesh. Her skin feels strange under her touch, new and tender, and suddenly Forever can remember.
“You shot me,” she says, her eyes focusing on Beth. Light is glaring off Beth’s glasses and Forever cannot see her eyes.
“Yes, we did,” James says, drawing Forever’s attention. “We discussed it, remember? That we needed to test your ability to heal.”
“I remember,” Forever says. She can move her feet now, can feel her toes twitching as sensation returns. “Did I do well?”
“It will need to be a lot better before you can be allowed to leave Sequoia,” Beth says, moving away when Forever can sit under her own power.
“But you did better than we expected,” James says, eyes tracking Beth as she moves. Forever will remember the way he looks at Beth.
“Can you stand?” Beth asks, now standing by her lab table.
“I will always stand,” Forever says, pushing to her feet. Her legs are shaky and her new skin is stinging, but she stands.
“If we do our job right,” James mutters as she crosses the room. She thinks she wasn’t supposed to hear it so she doesn’t comment.
I am Lazarus she thinks as Beth scans her. I will always rise.
“You will not speak while we are here,” Father says, hand firm on her shoulder. “You will be silent and you will listen. You are not here to talk.”
“I understand, sir,” Forever says. She is almost of a height with Father now, soon she may even be taller than him. She thinks of him having to reach up to touch her shoulder.
She cannot imagine being bigger than this man.
“These negotiations are important,” her father continues, squeezing her shoulder for emphasis. “You are here as the Carlyle Lazarus. If anything goes wrong you will defend me until death.”
“Yes, sir,” Forever nods. She resists the urge to reach a hand up and touch the hilt of her sword. It is newly given and she is not yet used to the weight of it against her back.
“If anything happens – look at me Forever – if anything happens you kill the Morray Lazarus first, you understand?” Father’s eyes are cold and unforgiving, intelligent but dark. Forever can never see past the darkness.
“Yes, sir,” Forever says, nodding sharply. “I kill the Morray Lazarus first.”
“Good girl,” Father squeezes her shoulder again then releases his grip.
What is his name? she wonders when she sees Morray’s nephew. He is handsome in a way she’s just barely beginning to understand and low in her belly she feels a heat she doesn’t recognise. She resolves to ask James when she next sees him.
I am Lazarus she thinks when the talks begin to crumble. I will rise if you need me to, Father.
“You should visit,” Johanna says, perching on a high stool opposite Forever. “You could use a little sun.”
“Jonah doesn’t like me,” Forever says, calmly cutting fruit for her breakfast. “I wouldn’t want to make him uncomfortable in his own home.”
“Jonah is sour because he doesn’t like the faith Father has placed in you,” Johanna waves a hand. “He doesn’t believe in the strength of women.”
“I wouldn’t feel comfortable,” Forever says, raising one shoulder in a shrug. “And Father has given me orders to visit the Harvests.”
“Shame,” Johanna says, tossing her hair over her shoulder. “We never get to spend any time together, sister to sister.”
Johanna’s words are always light, carefree, but there’s something about them that Forever doesn’t quite trust. She thinks that maybe sometimes Johanna is hiding something behind a mask that is never lowered.
“I’m sure we’ll have time soon,” Forever says. “Maybe Father will allow me some time off.”
“Maybe,” Johanna says with another flip of her hair. She leans over the counter and steals a sliver of mango, plucking it from the plate with dainty fingers.
Johanna and her siblings all eat so carelessly, without a single thought for what part of their regimen might be affected by it, and Forever envies them that choice. She wonders if they even have regimens of their own, or if she is the only one burdened with one.
I am Lazarus she reminds herself as the mango juice runs down Johanna’s fingers. I rise so they don’t have to.
She’s only at this residence because she’s passing through from one place to another. She’s barely spent more than a night in any one place for days and she’s actually beginning to miss the sterile walls of Sequoia.
She arrives late and parks her bike on the lawn, thrilling slightly at not having to put it away as precisely as she would at home. This residence is unused, no Serfs even, and Forever is looking forward to sleeping in silence.
She doesn’t get silence. She gets three Waste, desperate for food, and three bullets in the chest. She’s out for a minute, maybe two, and then she’s gasping into life again – heart pounding in her ribs. Everything is painful and her head is fuzzy but she is a live.
She drags herself to her feet, hands slipping against her blood as it pools on the tiles of the floor, and she stands. Her legs are shaky and her chest is burning and a terrifying bloodlust is rising up within her, but she stands.
I am Lazarus. She takes a halting step forward and presses and hand against the wall for support. I rise.