“A little girl robbed you?” Tessa said.
“Actually, she wasn’t a little girl at all, as it turns out, but a midget in a dress with a penchant for violence, who goes by the name of Six-Fingered Nigel.”
“Easy mistake to make,” Jem said.
“I caught him in the act of slipping his hand into my pocket,” Will said, gesturing animatedly with his scarred, slender hands. “I couldn’t let that stand, of course. A fight broke out almost immediately. I had the upper hand until Nigel leaped onto the bar and struck me from behind with a pitcher of gin.”
“Ah,” said Jem. “That does explain why your hair’s wet.”
“It was a fair fight,” Will said. “But the proprietor of the Devil didn’t see it that way. Threw me out. I can’t go back for a fortnight.”
“Best thing for you,” Jem said unsympathetically. “Glad to hear it’s business as usual, then. I was worried for a moment there that you’d come home early to see if I was feeling better.”
“You seem to be doing perfectly well without me. In fact, I see you’ve met our resident shape-shifting mystery woman,” Will said, glancing toward Tessa. It was the first time he’d acknowledged her presence since he’d appeared in the doorway. “Do you normally turn up in gentlemen’s bedrooms in the middle of the night? If I’d known that, I would have campaigned harder to make sure Charlotte let you stay.”
“I don’t see how what I do is your concern,” Tessa replied. “Especially since you abandoned me in the corridor and left me to find my own way back to my room.”
“And you found your way to Jem’s room instead?”
“It was the violin,” Jem explained. “She heard me practicing.”
“Ghastly wailing noise, isn’t it?” Will asked Tessa. “I don’t know how all the cats in the neighborhood don’t come running every time he plays.”
“I thought it was pretty.”
“That’s because it was,” Jem agreed.
Will pointed a finger accusingly in their direction. “You’re ganging up on me. Is this how it’s going to be from now on? I’ll be odd man out? Dear God, I’ll have to befriend Jessamine.”
“Jessamine can’t stand you,” Jem pointed out.
“Henry will set you on fire.”
“Thomas,” Will suggested.
“Thomas,” Jem began—and doubled up, suddenly racked with an explosive fit of coughing so violent that he slid from the steamer trunk to crouch on his knees. Too shocked to move, Tessa could only stare as Will—his expansive drunkenness seeming to vanish in a split second—sprang off the bed and knelt down by Jem, placing a hand on his shoulder.
“James,” he said quietly. “Where is it?”
Jem held up a hand to ward him off. Racking gasps shook his thin frame. “I don’t need it—I’m all right—”
He coughed again, and a fine spray of red splattered the floor in front of him. Blood.
Will’s hand tightened on his friend’s shoulder; Tessa saw the knuckles whiten. “Where is it? Where did you put it?”
Jem waved his hand feebly toward the bed. “On—,” he gasped. “On the mantel—in the box—the silver one—”
“I’ll get it, then.” It was as gently as Tessa had ever heard Will say anything. “Stay here.”
“As if I’d go anywhere.” Jem scrubbed the back of his hand across his mouth; it came away with red streaking the open-eye Mark.
Standing up, Will turned—and saw Tessa. For a moment he looked purely startled, as if he’d forgotten she was there at all.
“Will—,” she whispered. “Is there anything—”
“Come with me.” Catching her by the arm, Will marched her, gently, toward the open door. He thrust her out into the corridor, moving to block her view of the room. “Good night, Tessa.”
“But he’s coughing blood,” Tessa protested in a low voice. “Perhaps I should get Charlotte—”
“No.” Will glanced over his shoulder, then back at Tessa. He leaned toward her, his hand on her shoulder. She could feel every one of his fingers pressing into the flesh. They were close enough that she could smell the night air on his skin, the scent of metal and smoke and fog. Something about the way he smelled was strange, but she couldn’t place exactly what it was.
Will spoke in a low voice. “He has medicine. I’ll get it for him. There’s no need for Charlotte to know about this.”
“But if he’s ill—”
“Please, Tessa.” There was a pleading urgency in Will’s blue eyes. “It would be better if you said nothing about it.”
Somehow Tessa found she could not say no. “I—all right.”
“Thank you.” Will released her shoulder, and raised his hand to touch her cheek—so lightly she thought she might almost have imagined it. Too startled to say anything, she stood in silence as he closed the door between them. As she heard the lock slide home, she realized why she had thought something was odd when Will had leaned toward her.
Though Will had said he’d been out all night drinking—though he’d even claimed to have had a pitcher of gin smashed over his head—there had been no smell of alcohol on him at all.
It was a long time before Tessa could sleep again. She lay awake, the Codex open at her side, the clockwork angel ticking at her chest, and she watched the lamplight trace patterns across the ceiling.
Tessa stood looking at herself in the mirror over the vanity table as Sophie did up the buttons on the back of her dress. In the morning light that streamed through the high windows, she looked very pale, the gray shadows under her eyes standing out in splotches.
She had never been one to stare in mirrors. A quick glance to see that her hair was all right and that there were no spots on her clothes. Now she could not stop looking at that thin, pale face in the glass. It seemed to ripple as she looked at it, like a reflection seen in water, like the vibration that took her just before the Change. Now that she had worn other faces, seen through other eyes, how could she ever say any face was really her own, even if it was the face she had been given at birth? When she Changed back to herself, how was she to know there wasn’t some slight shift in her very self, something that made her not who she was anymore? Or did it matter what she looked like at all? Was her face nothing but a mask of flesh, irrelevant to her true self?