Of Dreams and Rust - Sarah Fine



IN THE LAST year I have come to understand the traitorous nature of skin. We cannot live without this barrier between our beating hearts and the outside world, yet it is the most fragile of things, as well as the most deceptive. My own, despite its golden undertones, cannot keep me warm. The memory of Melik’s, the ruddy tan of earth under sun, leaves me aching in darkness. My father’s, thin and buckling under the weight of his years and all the things he’s lost, hides his silent strength.

And Bo’s, so broken and torn, is woven from sheer betrayal. Stretched over his bones like the work of a clumsy tailor, carelessly patched, heedlessly sewn. I have come to know it almost as well as I do my own, and I hate it for its failure, for the painful story it tells. I hate it because, despite its weakness, it is somehow powerful enough to keep him from the world.

“Stop,” he snaps, wrenching his forearm from my grasp. “You’re making it worse.”

I quickly rub my fingertips together, the rose hip oil slick between them. “It will keep the scar from growing stiff.” I gentle my tone. “I’m sorry if I was pressing too hard.”

Bo’s machine hand, a work of mad, relentless genius, covers the scar on his arm, shielding it from me. His human skin is the same color as mine, but his machine parts glint silver beneath the lantern dangling from the rough rock ceiling of this chamber. Despite the fact that I have seen him without his mask, Bo always wears it when I visit. I am reflected in his half-metal face, my cheekbones and chin sharp, my forehead wide and distorted, my eyes dark. They, at least, tell the truth. The weariness and sorrow within them is as deep as the canyon that leads through the Western Hills.

Bo tilts his head. “You were far away just now. Again.”

I lower my gaze to my fingers. I hurt him when I am not with him, but I seem to hurt him almost as much by being here, and I can’t figure out how to change that. “Shall I continue?”

Bo blinks his brown eye. His ebony hair hangs over his forehead, part steel, part flesh, yet all smooth. “I’m sure Guiren will be missing you. It is almost time for the clinic to open.”

“And I am sure you have many plans for today, all of which involve the use of this arm and these fingers, as well as both legs.” I glance over at his long work table, strewn with metal body parts, a bicep here, a pectoral there, circuits for blood vessels, gears and springs and bearings waiting for Bo to give them purpose, to bring them to life. Usually I love hearing about his creations and inventions. When he talks about a new idea, his whole face lights up. Sometimes I come down here just to watch him work, a few hours on a quiet afternoon spent staring at his hands moving in concert while his face cradles the tiniest of contented smiles. I have even made peace with his metal spiders, for the most part. However, when Bo began designing himself a complete steel shell, when he started to fashion a machine arm to fit over his human one, and then a set of legs, I began to realize he was the creation this time.

Now the sight of them chills me to the bone.

“I have a few minutes before I must go,” I say to him. “Let’s make the most of it.”

“All right.” He sags a bit in his chair, its legs squeaking against the patterned metal panel that covers the floor. His machine arm arcs with precise grace to hang at his side. Sometimes it seems to move on its own, walking his skeletal fingers through a dance set to electrical pulses, transmitted by wires and circuits that wind like veins within the contours of his steel muscles. My own fingertips move hesitantly over the scar on his arm, the healed wound inflicted by his own fearsome spider creations as he rescued me and Melik from a mob—a trap that Bo himself had set for the rust-haired Noor boy who had claimed my heart. Bo’s own heart would not allow him to see it through, though, and he paid for that mercy with blood. Four seasons have passed, but Bo’s flesh has an unfailing, unforgiving memory.

“Any interestingly gory cases yesterday?” he asks as casually as he might inquire