Alexis wished she could sleep.
She was sitting on the steps of the windmill, overlooking the garden, breathing in the freshly tilled earth. Spots of red in endless brown, like blood drops on skin. She’d been out here for hours, watching the sky lighten. She should be sleeping. Sleep would reset her emotions, to put space between one day and the next. Dr. Bleak had lectured her being awake without purpose was a waste of lightning, but his warnings felt further away than the mountains. Energy could be replaced. Experiences needed to be processed, and her brain will not allow her to rest until she did so.
It had only been less than twelve hours, but it seemed like an eternity since Jack, her Jack, had appeared, standing outside the windmill, surrounded by black scorch marks in the earth. Dr. Bleak had been so certain she’d come back, but Alexis hadn’t dared to hope. Few of the foundlings from another world survived the Moors. Those who found their way back to their birth world didn’t make a return trip. Given how harsh this existence was, it was a wise choice. She felt selfish wishing for Jack to come back. She could have long, distinguished life in the sanitized world from which she came, even if she’d never be truly happy there.
The loud crack of lightning, louder even than was typical on the Moors, and Dr. Bleak’s shouting, had urged her outside. Was he was being confronted by angry villagers over an experiment gone awry? It was not an uncommon occurrence. She picked up her skirts and rushed to the door, slamming it behind her so hard it cracked open. She nearly slid down the hill, when she saw her beloved carrying her sister in her arms. Jill. Alexis’ murderer.
Their eyes met Jack’s were wide with surprise, but Alexis felt apprehension, as much as she hated herself for it. Slices of memory flashed before her eyes, the familiar face, perverted into degeneracy with a hint of madness, reaching out with a knife, over and over.
Dr. Bleak snatched the body out of Jack’s hands, asking her questions. Snapping out of the trance she was in, the two of them exchanging questions and answers in rapid fire. Alexis stood apart, watching the two of them in a closed loop of gesturing and shouting with a near feverish intensity. She didn’t understand what was happening until Dr. Bleak started walking downstairs with her murderer’s body, shouting orders.
Jack and Alexis looked at each other for a brief moment. The scramble outside had drained her ability so speak, and instead she gave a look of bewilderment. Her eyes drifted to her blood soaked shoulder, and widened in horror. What had happened to her?
Before Jack could say anything, Dr. Bleak shouted, “Jack! No time to waste!” and she’d scampered off, eager and willing apprentice. Alexis followed, slowly trudging up the steps.
They’d brought Jill back to life that night. It was a combination of lighting, more chemicals than she could remember, and Jack’s tiny, neat rows of sutures along the pale, smooth skin of her back. Dr. Bleak and Jack shouted orders, her obeying in a begrudging silence. She kept looking over at Jack, but all of her focus and energy was on her still mirror image occupying the exam table. When it was done and Jill had been taken away by the Master, Jack collapsed into a heap on the wooden floor between the exam tables, a mess of sweat, blood, and exhaustion.
Alexis started towards her, but Dr. Bleak stepped between them, his massive bulk filling the space between exam tables. “She needs to be treated. Wait outside.” When she didn’t move, he added, “She needs time. Just like you do.” She gave a curt nod, and turned away, slow steps towards the door. She stopped, catching bits of conversation.
“Did she do this?” Dr. Bleak asked, worried.
“I was trying to stop her.” Jack’s voice was low and breathless. Exhausted.
“What a mess.” He tutted. She heard the ripping of cloth, presumably cutting her shirt open to see her wound. “Are there no competent surgeons in your world? Perhaps a seamstress?”
“My schoolmates did their best.”
She turned around, unable to conceal her curiosity Dr. Bleak had torn his eyes away from Jack and was glaring. Clearly, this was meant to be a private conversation. She shuffled away, out to the garden. He’d come for her later, given her an infusion of lightning. He’d said little as he briskly moved about the exam table, attaching wires in the familiar pattern. Given the intensity of the storm, she’d should have enough power for hours.
Now, sitting here, she contemplated everything that had happened. Why had she brought Jill back? Jack had little to do with her sister here, on the Moors. What had happened to them in that other, strange world?
She jumped at the creak of the large wooden door behind her. Jack stood in the doorway, looking her over. She hadn’t changed her clothes, or even so much as washed, since waking. Alexis had never seen Jack so disheveled, not even when she was working day and night on an experiment.
“Hi,” she said simply.
“Hi.” Jack sat down next to her at a short but respectful difference, looking her over for a long moment, drinking in the sight of her as if she were a vampire herself. “Look at you…you’re…” At a loss for words, she reached out and touched the white scar on her neck. Alexis forced herself to hold still under her hand, when she noticed the unfamiliar feel of skin.
“What happened to your gloves?” she managed to ask.
“Covered in blood. I didn’t want to stop to get new ones, not now. Came out as soon as I woke up.” Alexis closed her eyes, savoring her touch, her presence. She’d been waiting for this for so long, but now it felt tainted, Jill’s unlikely continued existence casting a shadow over them.
Jack broke the silence. “I wish Jill would have stayed.”
Alexis’ eyes snapped open, “I wish she wouldn’t.”
Jack’s smile vanished. She looked at Alexis for a long moment, not with malice, but with intense curiosity. Alexis could practically see the gears turning in her head. Finally Jack spoke. “Do you trust me?”
Of course Alexis trusted her. Jack had brought her back to life. She’d trusted her with her secrets, her virtue, her heart. “It’s her I don’t trust.” She said bitterly. She couldn’t bring herself to speak Jill’s name.
“She can’t become a vampire now.” Jack said. Alexis harrumphed at this. As if she needed to be told such an elementary fact. “She’s not a creature of senseless violence. She needs to have a reason.”
“And what reason involved trying to kill you?” Her eyes narrowed, challenging.
Jack sighed. “It’s a long story. It’s just that….she’s my sister. My blood. And for so long, she was all I had. And I couldn’t come back without her.” She remembered Jack talking about Mr. And Mrs. Wolcott, handling her as if she were an antique doll, the shared bedroom cluttered with sterile garbage. She’d never had a sister, never known anything except the homey warmth of her parents’ inn. She didn’t know what she’d do in Jack’s boots.
Blood was dangerous on the Moors. The scent of it attracted werewolves. The substance of it fed vampires. But as in our world as theirs, as certain as it formerly ran in Miss Alexis Chopper’s veins, blood was the giver of life.
She looked into Jack’s eyes, blue like the far off oceans, spoken of but never visited. Would never be visited, now. “Did anything…change? While you were gone?”
“Yes and no.” Her hand drifted up to Alexis’ chin, eyes falling on the grey pallid skin. “I didn’t know what to expect when I came home.” A long pause. “Dr. Bleak explained. About you.”
“And?” Sitting inches apart from each other, Alexis could see the dark soot covered the edges of Jack’s cheeks, outlining where her metal helmet had been. Her blouse was untucked from her trousers, and her bowtie was undone, hanging loosely around her neck. She reached out and pushed a strand of Jack’s hair behind her hair, a bit of blonde fallen from her braid.
“Grateful it’s the only thing that’s changed.” Her voice softened. “Should the lightning ever fail, I’ll gladly build you a thousand batteries.”
“There are…other scars.” She ran a hand over the bodice of her dress.
“Will you show them to me?” Jack let her hand drop, staring down. A tickle went through her, a paltry imitation of the lightning.
“The ones that can be seen, yes.” She grabbed Jack’s hand, rising. “Your room is exactly as you left it.”
Jack smiled. “Are…are you sure?”
“Always.” She leaned over to kiss Jack’s temple before pulling her up. Hand in hand, they went to reclaim the abandoned bedroom. “Jack, what’s a battery?”
“The least of our concerns right now, my love.”