He had always loved her hands.

They weren't smooth or delicate, or by any means ladylike. The nails were bitten off under force of habit, the fingers short and inelegant, with calluses on the pads of her fingertips and palms. To most other men her hands were hideous, unbecoming of a woman her age. To him, they were sacred.

Her hands were a testament to their seven years together, visible symbols of the loyalty and unspoken trust that bound her to his side, proof of the devotion that kept her coming back to him even when her every instinct screamed out for her to run.

Only those hands had ever stirred the embers inside him, made him feel he was worth more than just the sparks from his gloves, deserving of the lengths she'd taken to have his back. Stars only knew he'd been less than exemplary at looking out for hers, but she gave him her all anyway, knowing full well that he could never give her his in the same way. He'd felt those hands shove him aside before, ready to take any bullet meant for him. He'd seen them drop her gun, that extension of herself, only once, when she'd believed he'd died. He'd seen them wipe away the lovely glittering tears caught on her eyelashes, a weakness she would never show anyone else. It would be a lie to say that he had ever done the same for her. The fact ashamed him.

His breath caught every time those rough palms fluttered over his scars, fingertips avoiding the glaring reminder of her one failure. It had to be a painful thing for her to look at, let alone touch. He knew it must be a feat for her to lie beside him now, knowing that her breakdown could have cost him much more than just some skin, could have cost her everything. Every time she looked at him he could almost feel the waves of shame wash through her, see her recoil at the burns he'd inflicted on himself. It was painfully obvious that, however indirectly, she would always hold herself responsible for his pain.

He'd yelled at her that day. It had disgusted him that she'd wanted to die, that she'd given up her duty to herself, to hell with him! Almost begrudgingly he'd assented to keep her under his command, like in doing so he'd be performing her some great difficult favor.

She had taken it all silently, no doubt mortified. At any rate, she'd hid it well. She always had. Except…yes, her hands had clenched into fists, he remembered, and he'd seen the blood on her nails when she released them. She hadn't been totally steeled against her suspicion that he'd lost his faith in her.

She was still human, he'd had to remind himself. For all her prowess and protocol, her sense of duty and responsibility, she would never be the bionic model soldier he sometimes believed her to be. She could break just as easily as he. She felt pain, she cried tears, she bled just like everyone else. Those hesitant fingers brushing his side were proof enough of that.

He caught her hand with his own, pulled it up to press a kiss to her palm. She shivered at his words against her skin, tangible, delicate, like the slightest breath would blow them away. "Riza… do I…does it bother you touch me, after…?"

Her head pillowed on his shoulder turned away, and he felt her draw in a deep breath before speaking, weighing her answer. "I-–" she paused. He could've sworn he'd heard a waver threading through that sure, steady voice. "I could ask you the same thing."

His fingers slid down her arm until they tangled around hers, holding that lovely hand captive for as long as she would listen. "If it means anything to you," he said, tightening his grip on her hand, "it doesn't bother me at all."

She pulled her hand back, and for an agonizing moment he was terribly afraid she was going to push him away. But no, instead her arms snaked back around his waist, drawing him nearer, moving just enough to fit her body more closely to his own. He pulled the sheets around them and all too soon she fell asleep, one lovely hand resting on the burns it once avoided.

He swore those hands would heal him in the end.