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Tokens of Affection

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A story arc written to fulfill four prompts for Kink Bingo 2010.

This chapter's prompt: Needleplay

 

Chapter I
A Needle and Thread

 

It had been a bad one. That was Tifa's first clear thought as her consciousness was thrust back into the present from whatever nonsensical haze it had wandered before. Twilight-muted colors wavered and blurred before her eyes. Had she hit her head? Had she been unconscious? She couldn't rouse any answers from the jumbled space in her mind. Instead of worrying about how she came to be here, she chose to focus on exactly what here entailed.

Her body was thoroughly battered; her muscles ached. She was curled up at the base of a tree with her cheek resting against the bark and a dull but ever-present buzzing that seemed to rattle in the back of her skull. The small clearing had become an organic junkyard of blood and dismantled body parts. A claw here, a chunk of tail there, a length of red-washed spine in the middle. Yuffie was on her side about three feet away, retching in the grass as poison wracked her body.

Tifa crawled to her on quivering arms and dug her last antidote from her pocket. Yuffie took it with a moist, grateful gaze. It was just the two of them in that clearing, three if you counted the mangled chunks of creature scattered around, but there was supposed to be another team member with them.

"Where is...?"

Then Tifa remembered. The faded drone in her ears made sense.

"It ran off him with him, didn't it?" she wondered aloud, but Yuffie didn't care to answer.

Another dig through one of her skirt pockets revealed two potions, one of which she handed to Yuffie and the other she took for herself. It didn't entirely dilute the complaint of abused flesh, but it was enough that she could get to her feet and journey deeper into the forest.

First she followed the haphazard trail of gore and the dragging impressions of his massive shoes, then the path of tree limbs and bushes cut to abrupt and angular points, until at last the mechanical roar was close enough that she could follow him by sound alone. He was lumbering through the trees without apparent aim, bone-thin limbs rising in quick jerks and falling languorously in a pattern of inhuman and surprisingly fluid movements. His head bobbed above the goliath span of his shoulders, too small to suit the rest of his body and too heavy atop that skinny neck.

Of course he heard her behind him, even above the sound of the chainsaw and the forest life shrieking confused fear. He turned, so fast for such a seemingly awkward creature, with every intention of taking her to pieces. She was prepared, however, and had the whisper of ice magic in her mind and on her lips as she came upon him. The motor sputtered, hummed, clicked ineffectually and finally died before it could fall on her body. The bloodied teeth lining the blade's surface were still threatening, but the instrument as a whole was less intimidating when it was silent.

She ducked, released a hard side kick at the chainsaw's base and found relief in the vision of it flying, a hunk of uselessly frozen metal, from his grip.

Hellfire burned through the eye holes of the mask. Though the rest of his face was hidden beneath the shield of white, she couldn't help but feel that he was grinning a manic challenge at her, assuming he even had a mouth with which to conjure such an expression. Tifa was curious to find out what was beneath that mask, but imagined that if she did, it would be the last thing she would ever see.

He was not deterred by the disarming, but she had another ace up her sleeve. Or, rather, in her pocket. When he neared her again, she stopped his advance by revealing needle and thread.

In truth, she had only been guessing, hoping that it would work. While the others had eagerly turned a blind eye to Vincent's transformations and the eccentric behavior that sometimes accompanied them, she had developed a morbid fascination. She had watched him, after shifting out of Galian Beast's skin, taste the blood of his own wounds or prick himself with his claw to create one if none existed. She had seen him summoning the power of lightening from his materia in the wake of a Death Gigas transformation. And it had not escaped her notice that this new one, Hellmasker as he called it, would see him suturing his own wounds rather than using a potion or a cure materia. She supposed it might have been a form of payment to the demons, something they demanded for their obedience in battle. Tifa would never dare ask.

As the constant fighting had made Vincent stronger and more powerful, so too had his monsters become stronger, and now they no longer relinquished Vincent's body so easily. Especially after a particularly difficult battle; especially if they were wounded or unsatisfied. A period of solitude would usually return him to rights, but it seemed to take longer and longer each time. Tifa was afraid that he would soon be considered a liability if this continued, so she decided she would try to appease the monster and send him on his way.

"Interested in this?" she asked and shook the hand holding the proffered items. "Wanna let me take care of you? And then you can send Vincent back?"

Though it was nearly impossible to find any semblance of a reasoning, cognitively functional being in those eyes, he seemed to consider her words for a moment. Then he gave her his back again and she realized that not all of the blood she had tracked him by had come from other creatures. He hunched over enough that she could access him and waited.

Her fingers trembled as she pushed the tattered cloth up and away from the gash across his back. Distantly, she wondered if he could smell her fear and if he was like any other predator, prepared to devour everything weaker than itself.

She didn't have antiseptic or pain killers or any of the things she'd normally offer to someone under her care, but she suspected that Hellmasker needed none of these things. The first time the needle pierced his skin, he shivered. The second time he made a noise deep in his throat, long and leisurely and nothing like a cry of pain.

Tifa almost stopped at that. She had expected his approval at her offering, but not his pleasure. Had it not been for the impatient jerk of his head to glare behind him, she might have dropped her needle and fled. But looking up into that mask she could almost imagine an expression underneath, something half-pleading and half-demanding, overlain with a veil of irritation. Amazing, how she could read what she couldn't see. Amazing that there was anything to read at all.

It might have been simple curiosity or growing fascination that forced her fingers to steady and take up their work again. She couldn't be sure, but she made her needlework slow and careful. He continued to shudder and make contented sounds, even rolled and stretched his muscles like a cat enjoying a long petting.

She couldn't help but wonder. Why did a creature that joyously took things apart elate in being sewn back together? Why did he allow her to do it for him? Where did he come from? How much of him was Vincent and how much of him was something else entirely?

The back wound finished, he offered her the minor slash along his forearm. Now he could easily watch her as she worked. Those eyes, red and depthless, told her nothing, merely stalked every movement of her fingers. She could believe in the beginning of obsession beneath their eerie glow. She could believe, with a frightened kind of wonderment, that with every push of the needle into his flesh, she dug herself that much deeper beneath his skin.

It was done; she broke the thread with her teeth. Those eyes remained unwavering, never losing interest. Her earlier thoughts came back to her with a slow, muffled resonance. The face behind his mask would be the last thing she would see. Stupid and questioning and caught in a moment, she lifted her fingers to the edge of that white, chitin-like facade.

"Tiiffffffaaaaaa."

Her breath stuttered and her hand jerked, but never quite lost contact. It wasn't an angry sound. No, it was an airless, phantom hiss that was so terribly foreign, such an inhuman noise and yet she knew that in that utterance he was mirroring what she felt, the curiosity and the fascination. Those emotions, she realized, were dangerous in the hands of a madman. He wasn't just her mirror; he was her photo negative, a familiar landscape turned dark and indistinct.

Still, she began to lift the mask. She tilted it back from his face just enough to see his lips and jaw. Tight rows of stitches separated mismatched patches of skin. Some of it was the deathly brown-gray of the rest of his body, some of it was the scaled green hide of the monster he'd recently hacked apart, some of it was the leathery purple of Galian and some of it was the recognizable pallor of Vincent Valentine. There were other pieces of human skin in varying tones and she wondered if they were from people, soldiers that he'd taken apart.

A deep breath, and her thumb glanced across the corner of his mouth. The patchwork shifted, lurched across the frame of his face and from the edge of his lips appeared another sliver of skin. This one a lightly sun-kissed tan that she recognized as her own.

She knew, without being told, that someone--likely Hojo--had reduced Vincent to scattered components, disconnected pieces, at some point in the past. Maybe he had lost most of them, or maybe he didn't want some of them anymore. Maybe, so many years later, he was trying to find himself in the new world around him and Hellmasker was borrowing what he could from wherever he could get it.

Her eyes dropped to the suture work on his arm. It had been absorbed into his skin. He would use them to fit the pieces together, perhaps until he found an arrangement he liked. Hellmasker liked the pain of it and the resulting chaos beneath the mask.

Tifa rubbed her thumb against his bottom lip, because somewhere inside she realized that she liked the idea of being part of someone. Her patch of skin grew and those colorless lips contorted into an ugly grin full of shredding teeth. From the nothing in his eyes she pulled meaning.

He would see her again; she would mend him again. It was a promise. A threat.

He collapsed backwards and his bulk twitched and writhed until it shrunk into the narrow structure of Vincent Valentine, whose mask was made of flesh and whose hastily stitched-together insides were invisible.

Tifa sighed, resisted the urge to embrace him simply for being, and hoped that he would remember nothing that had just happened.
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A/N: Things will heat up. Constructive criticism always welcome.

Chapter Text

A Needle and Thread II

He knows it's her before he opens his eyes. He knows her scent. It's like her own personal signature etched in big, femininely curved letters in the back of his brain. There's a stirring within, like heat, like electric sparks, a thrilled buzzing as they react to this bit of familiar stimuli.

He's glad it's her above anyone else. At least until he opens his eyes and she's staring back at him with a secret in those uniquely shaded irises. It's not guilt, no, but it's something closely kin. It veils her stare even as she forces a smile to her lips.

"Welcome back."

They're alone. The abrasive tinge of blood is faint in the air, but for where it's dried into his clothes. It isn't entirely uncommon for him to awake from a transformation disoriented and on his back, but this isn't the battlefield he left behind when Hellmasker came to the forefront.

That greedy creature, separated from his own will by only a hazy and ever-shifting line, had refused again to relinquish its grip. He wonders if she found him like this, or if she found him tearing a path of destruction through the forest around them, insatiable appetite for rent flesh driving him forward. He thinks to ask if he hurt her, but can see that she's unwounded. He wants to ask if she saw him in Hellmasker's thrall but the words catch at the back of his throat. The notion is too terrible to verbalize.

Instead he props himself up, or tries to. Dizziness swirls behind his eyes and he almost falters, but her hands offer just enough support as she clasps his forearm. There's that stirring inside again, with a certain droning murmur like the hum of a chainsaw deep in his ears. Hellmasker's purr. He responds to her touch just as he and the others respond to her scent. The monster knows her.

Questions rise again, full and choking, but he just stares.

"Vi-Vincent?"

He stands as soon as he's adjusted to his own skin and follows the trickle of voices through the trees in the direction from which Tifa had come.

"I'm fine. Thank you."

Neither can manage another word as they make their way back to the group.

Later, he assumes the position of night sentry as the others sleep. Their tents are loosely arrayed around the embers of a suffocating fire but he has tucked himself among the boughs of a tree like his fellow night-predator, the owl. His vantage point affords him an expansive view, but he allows his lids to droop in concentration as his thoughts wander inward. Instinctively, his ears seek the deep rhythm of her breath to tether himself to the world.

Between his thumb and forefinger he rolls a spool of thread. He doesn't need it tonight. The usual demand for payment is suspiciously absent. He tries to remember what happened between the martial artist and his demon but manages only to snatch slivers of feeling from the depths. Curiosity... pleasure... contentedness. Other things too complex to understand without descending.

So he does. With the soft cadence of her slumber sounds ever-present on the surface, he allows himself to drift inside, down into the dark spaces where they seethe. It's easy; there are no barriers to keep him from entering this section of his own mind. As he does, however, they rise to meet him. The sensations of them—restless motion, wordless sound, and more than anything, nameless desire—engulf him. Everything resonates with Galian's growl, Hellmasker's mechanized hum, and the crackles of Death Gigas's sparks. They are speaking with the only voices they have.

Galian Beast is thirsty and Death Gigas is still. Hellmasker is pleased. Vincent delves into the blood-tint of his perspective and feels the warped adoration, the weavings of obsession. Vincent realizes without understanding why that she has gotten under his skin and Hellmasker welcomes her there.

She sighs in her sleep and it echoes down. They shake. He is overwhelmed with their wanting, so that it flows over him like a flooded river and becomes his own. Or perhaps it was always his and they merely inherited it. They dug it out from the vulnerable place he tried to bury it and were consumed.

His body is alive for her and his mind is a furnace. Hellmasker rises through the moment of weakness. His inhuman language becomes two familiar syllables as he steals Vincent's voice.

"Tiiiiiiffffaaaaaa..."

He will go to her. He will test her beautiful skin. They will be creatures of the same fabric when he is done, because he admires so much everything Tifa is made of. He will-

Vincent digs the needle into his flesh thumb. He has just enough awareness to do this, and the physical pain allows him to pull free of their clamor and assume his rightful place in control.

Midnight comes and creeps away as he works to steady his breathing and ignore her scent. It's worse than he could have imagined. It's building into a powerful thing. He can only guess at what she's done to reach him so deeply.

As she shifts in the comfort of a pleasant dream, he fears his restraint will prove too weak.

They all want to meet her.