The doctor and the boy's parents tell him the worst is over, but the boy sees pity in their eyes. To them, he's bruised eyes, yellow skin, sunken cheeks. They tell him to be patient; he needs to rest.
But the boy's mind is strong, for the first time in weeks, and he expects his body to keep pace. That night, when the household is asleep, he tries to walk downstairs by himself. He's out of breath by the second step, and his legs give out by the third. He grips the railing, sinks to his knees, weeps. Just two months ago, he was the fastest runner in school. Now he can't even make it to the downstairs lavatory without help.
Mother finds him there an hour later, shivering with the cold; she wraps him in a blanket and carries him downstairs, as easily as if he's an infant. He feels like an infant, with legs that won't walk and urine-drenched pants. Mother is crying -- she tries to hide it, but he sees the bloodshot eyes between stringy strands of hair. It's his lowest point.
He won't allow himself to sink any lower. While his parents and nurse are awake, he rests, and reads, and plays chess. At night, he struggles to heal. He walks back and forth across the hallway that night, and again the night after that. He tries to do it twice the night after, and he has to rest for a long time near the end, but he makes it.
Days pass. The yellow tint fades from his skin. He's still too skinny, but his ribs don't jut as much as they once did. Soon he can climb down the stairs on his own, and, soon after that, down and then back up again.
Recovery is slow, slower than he expected. His mind is young and alight with energy; his body is sluggish and cold. He pushes against his walls a little more, a little more, but after a few months, he finds they will no longer budge.
He returns to school. He sits on the sidelines with a cane, watching his classmates run. It's a windless day, but their hair and clothes stream behind them like flags, like victory. If he closes his eyes, he can feel the same breeze.
At Mother's funeral, the boy is still too weak to be a pallbearer. Father lets him walk beside him, and even then, the boy struggles to keep pace.
She visits him in dreams, tells him he's good, and brave, and strong.
He wants to be strong.
But Father is weak, and fading away, and by the time the ground freezes, the boy is alone.
He uses his inheritance to buy a fancy hat, because men wear fancy hats. He leaves school and hires an accountant, who tells him he'll lose the house in a year if he doesn't sell the company. Father, weak Father, allowed it to fail.
The boy knows he's good, and brave, and strong.
He chases his father's old investors, trying logic, trying pity. Neither works. They see a child. They see weakness.
So he begins to lie. Small lies, at first: fake deals with competitors, forged signatures on contracts. The lies are powerful, more powerful than he expected. Some lies reveal new weaknesses, and he knows his lies are stronger. He pushes his advantage. Sometimes, he even makes them cry. He should feel terrible, probably, but it's their turn to be weak. He's brave, and strong.
A year passes. Two. The company flourishes. He buys another. Opponents try to push back; he uses other opponents against them. It's a game of chess, and he looms above it all, watching the pieces battle on the board his lies created.
He walks among them, an equal. He feels the same breeze they do. This time, he controls the direction it will blow.
At night, he dreams of running classmates, and Mother's tears, and victory flags that wave around him while he stands alone.
You're good, and brave, and strong.
Small lies, at first.