Author Notes: This series snuck up on me, it really did. Anyway, just a little ficlet inspired by my Anatomy course—that will make sense, I swear. Standard disclaimer applies; I own nothing…although I'd gladly kidnap Graham and Leon. (And as an aside, anyone out there with information on the Shamanic Princess novel/manga/anything other than the OAVs? I'll give you cookies?)

                                                        Fingertips

            The hand, Tiara once read, has power: prehensile, capable of strong grip and delicate maneuvering, sensitive, and—most of all---useful.  Man long ago lost the skill of scent, sight, speed, and strength, but no animal has yet to match the complexity of a human hand. 

            The human hand has twenty-seven bones.   Tiara wonders, as she watches the skeletal fingers splay across the table, if Graham's has the same number.

She could count them if she tried--each finger, each joint-- but it's fascinating enough just to watch them as they flex against the table.  These diagnostics always make Graham wary, and it shows in the steady rhythm the gold talons tap into the table. Click. Click. Click.  Joints contract, and light flashes across the metallic surface, lingering in the Eye sigil that curves across his artificial wrist.

            "Can you turn it?"

            Graham answers in obedience, and the heavy limb clunks as it is lifted and laid back across the table. 

            "It's slow," he murmurs, frowning.

            "Try moving your fingers."

            He'd been doing that for the better part an hour, but in this too Graham obeys.  Thumb, index, middle, ring, little finger, and then thumb again. It's on the ventral side of the false forearm that the real complexities lay.  Metal digits bend into metal palm, where a series of interlocking curves and crevasses shift with each movement.  Talon-tip meets talon-end in a swift succession: Clink. Clink. Pause. Clink. Pause. Clink. Clink.

            They're a little off in their timing.

            "You're right," Tiara says, pressing her own fingers to the base of his.  They leave foggy imprints on the cool surface. "It's been awhile since we've tuned it, hasn't it? I guess we were due--"

            He swallows a strangled breath; the prospect is not a good one.

"—none of that. You need it." And he nods wretchedly, because he knows he does.  "We've got an assignment," Tiara continues, uncurling his fingers in gentle strokes, "And I want my partner to be in top condition."

            "I understand, Tiara."

            "Good."

            Tiara is fifteen, well into shedding a child's body and reasoning.  In the past two years she's grown taller and sleeker, already walking with the confidence of an adult.  Her hands, however, still belong to a little girl, lost in the greater expanse of his claws.

They are the same hands that once bound the limb in coarse, thick cloth in the days when there was nothing to tune, just the grit of dried blood and the stink of day old bandages.

            Her partner is quiet, but then he's learned it's better that way.  Tiara lifts her hand from his, and Graham turns his head away.  There is no tangible pressure, but the hum of magic is enough; the extent of Tiara's power has always been massive, and at times like this—even at its gentlest—Graham can feel that power's weight bearing down.  Tiara leans in, closes her eyes, and begins.

            It starts as a tingle in the air between flesh and metal.  Far within Tiara can feel the fierce thing that tingle awakens, gold eyes sliding open and lips pulling into a wide, sultry smile.  Its attentive, stretching, yearning, and years ago it would've frightened her with the strength of its hunger. Now it's just a familiar presence, and when she tells it to behave itself it listens, settling back to watch—and just watch.

            It's easy for Tiara to set that power to its task. Easy to extend her senses into the joints and veins of enchantments that purr against the torn flesh it completes. Not so easy, but familiar, to follow those threads and find the knots and snarls where the interface has grown worn from time and use.  From finger to finger she jumps, reinforcing and reweaving—the currents along the middle and ring claws are particularly thread-bared, and so they're a given special care.  They twitch with the force applied.

            "There."

            The magic crackles, and pulls away as her hand does the same. It lingers in the air like smoke, before curling into nothingness.

            "How is it now?"

            Graham keeps his silence a moment more, his breath rasping and his head lifting slowly.  His eyebrow lowers, his eyelashes quiver, and in the brief shudders of aftershock, all five claw-tips click as he makes a fist.

            "Better," he breathes, and then swallows, because the process has always made his throat dry, and he'd been biting his lip a little too hard, "Much better." Clink. Clink. Clink.

            The bare skin at his elbow has already gone red from the chafe of metal, and Tiara wastes no time re-padding it, her fingers moving deftly and with experience, occasionally sliding up to give his shoulder a reassuring pat.  Reassurance is something Graham needs a lot of, she knows.  His eye watches the floor, and his lips move in silent apology. Please forgive me. I'm weak like this.

            Tiara's careful not to pull the bandages too tight, tucking the loose ends into the remaining spaces.  Their edges hang raggedly.

            "Does it hurt?"

            "No."

            A raised eyebrow. "Really?"

            "…A little."

            She waits.

            "But…Not for so long, anymore."

            "Will it be better by tomorrow?"

            "Yes…" he exhales the words, fragile as glass, "It will."

            She nods, and stands.  The old dressings are piled on the table like a nest of filthy snakes.  They find the trash easily enough, and she glances over her shoulder to eye her partner with a gentle suspicion.

            "Are you tired, Graham?"

            "You're going out tonight."

            "You don't have to come.  I'm safe with Kagetsu-"

            Clank. Graham's arm falls to his side.

            "I want to." He says plainly, looking at the wall. "That is I-"

            "Suit yourself," she cuts his words cleanly, not in a mood to argue.  "But I expect you to get a good night's sleep. That means at least six hours, Graham." 

            "I…I understand."

            "Good," she says one last time, and turns to leave. Twilight has bled in through the windows, and the matter at hand is done. Tiara takes the light to the door with her, tangled in her hair. The room is left in shadow, and Graham shivers.

            "…Thank you." He whispers as she goes, the hanging claws move in swifter succession than before.  Clink. The light is gone. Clink. He is tired. Clink. Everything is all right. Clink. She touched his hand.

            Clink.

He couldn't feel the warmth of her fingers.