Alexis had glimpsed Jack before, in the days since Jack had arrived in the Moors as a foundling. She was one of the village’s familiar shadows, the shape of a girl dressed like the doctor, one of the Moors’ minor monsters, benevolent beasts. Tight stiff fabric covering almost every inch of her body, braid running down her back, spectacles comfortingly separating her face from that of her more malevolent sister. Yes, she had glimpsed Jack before, and sometimes spoken of her to others in furtive whispers—she liked a gossip as well as anyone else, and Jack was gossip-worthy.
But she had never really looked at her with full attention until her resurrection, when her eyes blinked open to meet Jack’s.
Up close, magnified by the spectacles, these eyes were intent, lively, even a little bit hungry, but not in a way Alexis minded. She swallowed hard, and realized only by that reflex that her throat was dry, and her body sore, and that she was in a strange place, lying on a hard table under bright lab light.
Jack helped her to sit up.
“Open your mouth,” Doctor Bleak said, and it was only then that Alexis noticed he was there at all. Of course she obediently opened her mouth and tilted her head this way and that as he directed. In the village it was generally known that it was best to obey the doctor, and not to ask too many questions about what he was doing.
“Very good,” Doctor Bleak pronounced at last. “Your parents are outside waiting for you, young lady. Jack, take her out.”
Jack offered her an arm, and she took it and stumbled into the cloudy daylight. Her parents were waiting with red eyes but hopeful expressions. She’d died, they told her. That recurring dream she’d had—the one with a lover made of mist who came to pay their respects every night—had stopped her heart. But now the doctor had brought her back, and all was well. And, they informed Jack at length, they were very very grateful, and in the future would be greatly in the doctor’s debt.
Jack said briskly, “No need to worry about it. It was an excellent learning experience for me as an apprentice—your daughter’s body could not have been better.” Then, flushing slightly, she said to Alexis, “Which is to say you were fully intact, and there was no need to sew anything back together or replace any organs. Doctor Bleak says it can be much harder in many cases. In fact, I should thank you for providing me with such an easy first resurrection.”
“Really your first resurrection?” Alexis asked. (And she really should have known better than to ask one of the doctors a question. But it seemed harmless. How could she have known that one reason you were told not to ask the doctors questions was not only out of fear of the answers, but because the doctors liked being asked questions so much?)
Jack’s eyes gleamed behind the lenses concealing them. “Well, the doctor has had me assist in sewing bodies together before, and in autopsies, but until now he did not trust me with such a delicate procedure. After all, I am still only an apprentice.”
“You did a great job,” Alexis said, offering the inexpert opinion of one who had nevertheless benefited. “As far as I can tell, nothing’s off at all!”
Jack smiled. “I’m so glad. If anything had happened to you, I would have hated it.”
So. A first meeting.
“You’re thinking about the Chopper girl again,” Doctor Bleak observed.
He liked to think he was decent at deducing Jack’s moods by now, after a few years of experience with her, trying to follow their unpredictable swings and turns. In this case, though, it did not take much deduction. Ever since the resurrection, Jack kept bringing Alexis up—during experiments, comparing her body to the corpses they were working with; other times asking about Alexis’ case when they were at rest. The questions were of interest, of course: How could a phantom stop a woman’s heart? Would it have aftereffects? Would the white streak in her hair remain white forever? Would Alexis have been conscious of the phantom lover coming to her when she died, or not?
Doctor Bleak had only been able to answer some of the questions; others, he did not know much about. He did not think it was truly scientific curiosity driving all the questions, though. Interesting as they were, there were other mysteries to explore, and it had been days since the resurrection. He thought that it was more that Jack was fourteen, and she was lonely here, and Alexis was not much older than she was. And Alexis had stopped by briefly yesterday, to drop off a gift of food from the Choppers’ table, and Jack had spent almost an hour speaking to her before she had to leave in order to get back to the village before dark.
Though she had not seemed exactly eager to leave either.
“Alexis,” Jack said. “Yes, I’m thinking about her.”
Doctor Bleak sighed.
On the Moors, it was better not to get too attached, especially to other youngsters, who were in the most danger, who were the most likely to be killed. He himself practiced a scientific detachment. Jack’s interest in Alexis, he knew, could break her heart. But then again, he thought, Jack was so isolated here. This trade, this practice, was dangerous in more ways than physical. It could change a person, make them too cold or even ruthless, stop them from seeing humans as people rather than mere bodies. And Jack had the disadvantage of a sister who had already thrown away her humanity—the pain there would lead her to shun connection if she let it, and the need to be different from her soon-to-be-monstrous sister could easily lead her to pursue an opposite extreme.
Love—even the earliest inklings of love—could be dangerous, and he did try to protect his apprentice from danger. But to cast love away could be dangerous too. Perhaps if Jack could find a close companion in this Alexis, it might not be bad.
Thinking this, he told her, “It might be good to get some notes on her current condition, to see what the procedure’s lasting effects have been.”
“Do you think something might have been wrong?” The edge of worry in Jack’s voice was slight, but given her level-headed nature, it was akin to alarm.
“I think it went well. But why ask my opinion? You took lead on that operation. It’s your responsibility to follow up,” Doctor Bleak said. “Go and see how she is doing, and come back and tell me all you learn. Within reason,” he added. It caused her to give him a strange look. But while he did want to know how the Chopper girl was doing, he also wanted this to be a project of Jack’s own; he wanted her to keep some things separate and, perhaps, unscientific.
“All right,” Jack said. “I’ll go tomorrow.”
Before feeling Alexis’s pulse, Jack had her wash her wrist and neck both, the two places Jack would be touching. Alexis asked why—it wasn’t as if a little sweat or dirt would prevent Jack from making good observations.
Jack shrugged. “As a scientist, I try to keep good working conditions. But I also get nervous about dirt. It’s one reason I keep myself covered.” And she was, indeed, wearing thick gloves, which she removed to touch Alexis’s wrist when it was fully clean.
Alexis had imagined the hands beneath those gloves might be the pristine hands of a lady, like they said Jillian’s hands were, the lady in the castle. That would have been frightening and yet at the same time lovely, and so it would have suited Jack well. But although they were protected by gloves, they were the hands of a worker, and both palms and fingers were callused. And they were warm.
“Your pulse is fast,” Jack said. She frowned. “Has it been like this since the resurrection?”
“No,” Alexis said. “I’m sorry. I guess I’m just nervous.”
“Oh.” Jack relaxed. “Well, it’s steady at least, and strong, even if it’s fast. Let me see your neck.” She touched the pulse point there too, hands so strong and rough and gentle, and Alexis’s heart continued to pound.
She checked the back of Alexis’s throat, asked Alexis if she had noticed any other problems: shortness of breath, rashes forming, an upset stomach, any kind of soreness. Alexis had had a couple problems—some tiredness, a sore throat—but nothing that seemed to be outside of Jack’s expectations.
“You’re very alive,” she said drily when she was done. “I’ll come back again in a couple days to check on you again.”
And she did.
Between asking questions and making examinations, she answered questions from Alexis too, unbothered by Alexis’s curiosity. Questions about the world she came from before—it was a safe world, it seemed, safe and with many marvelous inventions, but Jack did not miss it. Questions about her work with Doctor Bleak, to which the answers were sometimes hideous. When Alexis shuddered at hearing about the dissection of a kidney or the dismembering of a bat, Jack would shrug and say, “Well, we made some useful notes.”
If the experiments led to them being able to do wonders like bringing Alexis back to life, Alexis could hardly complain.
After a couple weeks, Jack said, “No, there don’t seem to be any aftereffects we might not have foreseen. If you have any issues, or even get ill, come in for a consultation. If nothing else, it would be interesting to see what illnesses might affect a resurrected body. And we’ll be happy to help.”
“So you won’t be coming back again?” Alexis asked.
“Well,” Jack said, “I don’t suppose there is a reason to.”
But she wet her lips with her tongue.
Alexis said, “If I were to invite you to come back again to visit me, would that be reason enough?”
Jack blushed. “Yes,” she said. Then, “If you want me to come back, of course I will. And you can come to the windmill anytime, even if you aren’t sick. If we aren’t busy, I’ll be glad to receive you.”
Before dying, Alexis always had a healthy fear of Doctor Bleak and his house so far from the safety of the village and the girl from another world who lived there. But now what had once seemed dangerous seemed to her to be vital. She thought that if she did not see the girl who had brought her back to life again, she might well lose the spark that had been given back to her, so much did the thought of it hurt. A change had been wrought in her, but it was not madness or medicine that had wrought it. Only the warm hands of a girl, and the same girl’s sparkling eyes.
They kissed behind the windmill.
It was not Alexis’s first kiss, but it was her first kiss waking. Her phantom lover had kissed her in dreams, and at last kissed the very breath out of her body. But kissing a real human being on the lips, warm and sweet, was a very different thing—though having done it, Alexis could well understand how it might stop the heart.
It was Jack’s first kiss, of course. This Alexis knew without asking. Another experiment. “Was my body perfect for it?” she asked Jack in a teasing voice.
“Perfect altogether,” Jack assured her. There was that gleam behind her glasses. “Should we see if the effects can be replicated?”
“Yes,” Alexis said. “I think we should.”
And Jack brought her body to life all over again.