Suffocating. The shades in the alleyway were so damn claustrophobic, pressing down upon his figure leaned against the cool red brick. The clicking of a lighter; a small speck of fire jumped to life, bringing the smoker's face into view as he attempted to light his cigarette. A shock of bright orange hair, tired brown eyes glinting in the weak light as the flame died and left only the smallest of bright ovals at the end of his cigarette to light the dark. He was sore, he was hungry, but most of all…he was so very, very tired.
It was stalking him still; he could feel those eyes on his back. Just waiting, waiting for the chance to strike him down. That damn thing was always watching him, and he often wondered what was making it hesitate. Why it hadn't done to him what it's ilk had done to so many others. It wanted to. He was connected to it in a sick and twisted sort of bond; he could feel what it wanted to do to him. It wanted to, so very badly. But it never did, it never had. He was always running away from it, and it was always at his back and breathing down his neck.
"It wants to…you want to finally finish me off, don't you?" He asked to the sky, to the air. To the dull red brick building before him, forming the other half of the dank and dark alleyway. It was wet here, cold through the middle of an icy autumn. It always seemed to be raining in Karakura City, and this autumn was no different. And right now, this dank and cold alleyway was the place where he was currently taking one of his few breaks. Ichigo Kurosaki never got much of a break ever since it began to follow him. None that he asked would ever take him in, never again. The damning mark was bright and visible on his face, emblazoned on his left cheek as if branded there by some invisible iron; a large ring of thick black. The mark that belonged to them, the sign that the bearer was to be paid a visit. No sane human being would ever take in a person bearing their mark; it was madness to do so. It was practically suicide.
Every mark was different for every mark bearer, and no one really knew why. Ichigo's had been a large O on his left cheek. He took a deep drag off of his smoke. Maybe his schoolteachers were right. Maybe those cancer sticks would kill him. He was kind of hoping that this drag would kill him dead, and that…that thing wouldn't get him. The last thing he wanted was to have it catch him, to know what it was like for the others that had been caught by theirs. Ichigo's sanity was already fraying, as was everyone else's; they had all been through things that no human being should experience. Hunted, like animals; they held no peace of mind. Every moment was on edge, the constant knowledge that those things could show up out of anywhere, could grab them and do them in as they did so many others took a toll on them like nothing else could.
It was a sort of psychological torture that could know no bounds.
Ichigo closed his eyes as he sighed openly, smoke floating out before him. It was watching him, it was always right there and waiting. He could never shake the feeling that someone was staring intently at him at every moment in time, could never have rest for fear of his monster coming to take him away, to drag him off and catch him in a deadly embrace. They wanted to be free, yet how can one be free when they have a creature watching over them at every second in time?
"Fuck." Ichigo growled, dropping the butt of his smoke and grinding it out with the toe of his boot. The wet pavement aided in this action, and left the butt a black smear across dark gray pavement as Ichigo walked back down the alley to the others. He was wearing a long black trench coat, flying open, as the belt was lost long ago. Maybe it broke. Who knows. The ends of the coat were frayed and torn, sleeves ripped here and there from calls much too close. A plain and unassuming black sweater was under it, and a long tattered red scarf was currently wound around his neck. It had been a gift from his family, before he had been targeted by his monster and ran away from his only home, to protect them. He wore blue jeans, large holes worn in the knees and the occasional clean cut through the fabric where he had been caught on the sharp end of a knife. Ichigo had enemies; he had a rival/attempted killer, too. A violent jackass who had some shit with Kurosaki. The kind of shit that Ichigo didn't even know the source of.
Stepping into the dim light of a steel drum bonfire, Ichigo looked to everyone in their little family. Renji Abarai was sitting on a dull green dumpster, the lid held half open by a couple rotted two-by-fours. He was wearing black jacket over a dirty white t-shirt, and dull brown pants that looked darker now than they were when they were made. Renji Abarai, the only one in the entire group who hadn't been targeted. He and Ichigo had started out rivals, but had grown to be friends through the influence of the small woman sitting near the drumfire, warming her hands. Rukia Kuchiki, orphan and targeted. A large black K was on her left hand, visible for only a moment as she pulled on some fingerless gloves to attempt to warm her cold hands with. Her hair was greasy from not being washed in a long time, knotted a bit here and there from lack of care or just having things get in it. But at the same time, her eyes were the brightest sort of violet; an odd purple color that had caught Ichigo's attention from the very beginning, on the night that he had met Rukia and Renji. He'd tripped over Rukia while running from his invisible stalker, not paying attention to what was in front of him and the two of them had slammed into the concrete. When he got up, she had been up as well and Ichigo had had to deal with a pissed Rukia and a doubly pissed Renji, and Kurosaki had been sure that the red-haired thug was going to kill him. But the two of them had seen his Stigmata, the black mark on his face signifying that he was targeted. Rukia had shown him hers, on her left hand. They had decided to travel together, seeing as Ichigo couldn't go back home and to what Ichigo had found out later, Rukia and Renji were homeless, had grown up on the cruel streets from children to their current ages.
They had formed a group, a gang. Maybe even a pseudo family, though Ichigo still missed his sisters and his father greatly. But it was better this way, better that he was the only one in danger of this thing that was always with him.
Ichigo walked forward into the warmth of the drumfire, dropping onto the gravel heavily. He looked to Renji, who tossed a can of something at him. Ichigo read the label with confusion, before waving it in the air at Renji.
"The fuck you get canned corn from?" He queried, before Renji scoffed. The redhead's tattooed eyebrows were eerie in the low flickering light cast by the makeshift bonfire. Ichigo always said that he got tattooed eyebrows because his old pair must have looked fucking retarded. That usually got a fight out of Renji and an agreed laugh from Rukia. God knew they needed the laughs.
"None of your damn business where I got the shit. Eat it." Renji half-ordered, closing his eyes again. He obviously wasn't going to tell, and so Ichigo shrugged and dug into his pocket. He pulled out a pocketknife and stabbed it in the lid, and after slicing open the top of the can he tipped it back and let the contents run down his throat. Cold corn, cheap and tasteless. But it was something in his stomach, something greatly appreciated.
Rukia looked over at Ichigo and caught the can, looking into it. He hadn't eaten more than a mouthful.
"You stupid ass, you're gonna starve if you keep up this shit." She scolded him, taking a gulp herself. Ichigo waved her off, ignoring her protests to his eating habits.
"I'll live. You need it more anyway, since you have to grow another five or so feet to be normal height."
It was a blow given with a wry smirk, and Rukia fumed. "Shaddap! I'm perfectly normal height, dammit!" She shouted, before turning around and throwing the near empty can at Renji's head.
"And you stop giggling like a goddamn idiot!" She continued, watching with satisfaction as the can collided with the side of Renji's head. He flinched as it hit, the ice-cold juice from the can spilling out onto his crotch.
"SHIT!!" Renji screeched, pulling the can up and attempting to wipe out the stain with the sleeve of his jacket. It didn't work, and Rukia and Ichigo were practically crying with laughter at his perfect reaction.
"It's not that goddamn funny! Now it looks like I pissed all over myself!!" Renji groaned, looking in the can with a sigh. It was almost empty. Again.
"We never have enough food to last." He sighed, finishing the can off and tossing it down the alley haphazardly. Rukia had moved back to warming her hands on the fire, her smile fading a bit at the statement. Ichigo returned to his somber manner, closing his eyes.
"Yeah." Was all Rukia could come up with, speaking quietly. They were all hungry, all of the time. And they could never stop moving.
"It's because of those damn things." Renji growled, deep-seated hatred in his voice. They all felt it, even if Renji didn't bear a mark or have one of those beings at his back.
"The Angels." Ichigo spoke, sounding eerie in his somber tone. Rukia and Renji froze at the name, the title given to those things that shared a mark with them. Renji didn't have a mark, didn't have an Angel. But both Rukia and Ichigo did, shown by the marks they bore. The marks were known as 'Stigmata', and appeared on the body of one that would be visited by an Angel. The bearers of a Stigmata and subsequently, an Angel were called the 'Anointed Ones' or just the Anointed.
And Karakura City hated them.
Anointed weren't welcome within the city; they were seen as the source of the Angel Epidemic, as it were called. And since Ichigo and Rukia were Anointed, and would be ostracized by humanity, Renji would stay with them. They were all some screwed up sort of family. They relied on each other.
"Awright, who's taking watch tonight?" Renji yawned, stretching on his spot on top of the dirty green dumpster. Small popping noises could be heard, and Rukia grimaced.
"You know I hate it when you pop your shoulders. It sounds fucking nasty."
Ichigo sat up, yawning a bit as well. "I'll take watch for a shift, then I'll come kick your ass awake and you can take a shift." He told Renji, settling up against the wall to watch just in case an Angel showed. Renji and Rukia both nodded, Rukia catching Ichigo's coat as he flung it at her.
"Use it to cover up; it's cold out tonight." Ichigo told her, and she stared hard at him. "You're gonna get pneumonia or some shit, and then you'll die. Ya know that, right?" She asked in a rhetorical sort of way, already pulling it over her smaller frame. Ichigo smirked, closing his eyes for a brief moment before reopening them and beginning to keep watch. "Just go to bed, Rukia. I won't get pneumonia; what would it do if I died?"
Renji and Rukia settled down, sleeping as lightly as always while Ichigo kept watch for any sign of movement. Anything at all and he'd wake the two of them up, so they could run like hell if necessary.
It was quiet times like this that he thought back to his family. What were they doing? Did they look for him? He did jump out a window and disappear into the night, after all; no goodbye note, no sign that he ever wanted anything to do with them ever again. There had been no fights with his dad beforehand; they would no doubt figure out that something was terribly wrong for the normally good kid Ichigo Kurosaki to run off and join up with a couple ne'er-do-well orphans. All he really hoped for was that his family wouldn't come looking for him and wouldn't find him. The last thing he wanted to look his old man in the face and say was, 'Dad, I'm Anointed. From now until I die, an Angel is going to be stalking by steps and waiting for the moment to-'
A loud shout broke him from his reverie, and the three homeless teens shot up from their spots on the ground. Someone was running at them as fast as their legs would carry them, shouting about something in a tone so hysterical that they couldn't make it out. A figure rounded the corner and came barreling at them, short brunette hair plastered to his forehead with sweat. Ichigo squinted at the kid that was probably his own age, before his eyes widened.
"Asano? What the hell-" He began, before Keigo ran past them and an ethereal being turned the corner that Keigo had just cleared, smiling as innocently as a child. Renji, Rukia and Ichigo froze at the sight of the young man with the oddly light complexion, even though it was the early hours of the morning. It almost looked as if the sun was shining on him on a warm summer day.
"It's an Angel!!" Renji shouted, grabbing Rukia by the arm and beginning to run as if his life depended on it. Ichigo grabbed his coat from the ground where it had fallen and dashed after them, running as hard as humanely possible as they all were. Nobody dared look back at the figure of the shorthaired boy around Ichigo's age, smiling genially at their backs.
"Keigo, what the fuck?!" Ichigo shouted at Asano's back, and realized that Keigo was babbling apologies in a mad fashion as he ran. They decided to ask Keigo later as they continued running, turning what felt like billions of corners and running through countless alleyways before finally coming to a point where they could run no longer. They all collapsed against the walls, panting and gagging and hacking, Keigo himself having run himself to the point of sickness. He vomited in the corner, gasping and hacking and gagging and coughing, unable to do more than just suck in deep breath after deep breath.
They all just attempted to bring themselves back to a normal state for what felt like an eternity, before the group of four could speak again.
"Keigo…Keigo, what happened…" Ichigo spoke, leaning against the stone wall. Rukia and Renji gave him odd looks, as if to say 'You know this kid?'; he could see it in their faces. Keigo turned to look up at Ichigo with confusion, before his eyes brightened up.
"Ichigo...you're alive…we thought you ran off and got killed by that punk that was after you…" He breathed, looking at Ichigo closely and stopping in whatever else he was about to say when he saw the large O on Ichigo's cheek. It all clicked into place, and Keigo leaned back.
"You're…sorry." He stated, looking downwards. Ichigo groaned aloud. "Don't apologize, it makes you look like a puss. Now why the hell did you have an Angel behind you?" He cut to the heart of the situation, and Keigo's expression darkened. He was silent a moment, staring down meaningfully at his limp hands as if they would give him an answer. After a moment more, he began to laugh in an odd sort of way, a slow, sad way.
"You already know, don't you?" He half asked, half stated while pulling up his sleeve. A large black M was on his wrist. Renji and Rukia looked closely at the Stigmata, as if attempting to discern the identity of the Angel. But they looked at Ichigo and saw the dark expression he was wearing, saw him lean back against the wall as Keigo looked away and laid a hand over his Stigmata.
"How did it happen. What happened to him, Keigo." Ichigo deadpanned, staring straight at the teenager sitting across from him. The brunette was silent a moment more, before beginning.
"He and I…it was his mother. She called and they got in an argument, and then he snapped at me and we got in a fight. We were on the school roof. He got too close and…I…I didn't know that the railing was rusted…" He trailed off, his voice returning to a slowly heightening pitch of hysteria. Ichigo just ignored him, closing his eyes.
"You killed Mizuiro." He deadpanned, and Keigo wrung his hands as if it would wipe away the mark of his guilt.
"I didn't mean to! He got too close and I shoved him; I didn't know! I didn't know the railing would break and he'd fall!" The teen shouted, obvious distress over what he had done eating away at him. Ichigo opened his eyes again as Rukia and Renji watched.
"Doesn't matter. Mizuiro was turned into an Angel, and now he's coming after you." He stated in a sort of monotone, no sympathy for his former friend present. Ichigo had changed with his Stigmata; he saw how people would treat him just because of it, and became bitter towards those people and people in general, aside from Rukia and Renji. At the moment, Keigo had his hands hidden in his lap, staring blankly at nothing.
"My sister threw me out. She told me I was too dangerous now." He stated blankly, looking at the three companions he had.
"You…who are these guys?" He motioned to Rukia and Renji, who sat up at their acknowledgment.
"I'm Renji Abarai, and this is Ru-" Renji began, before he got an elbow in the gut.
"I can introduce myself! I'm not three, you know!" Rukia berated him, before smiling very innocently to a slightly horrified looking Keigo.
"My name is Rukia Kuchiki. Good to meet you." She smiled angelically, as Keigo looked to Ichigo slightly horrified still.
"Is that normal?" He motioned to Renji, still recovering from the elbow. Ichigo shrugged in an apathetic and uninterested sort of way, which wasn't helpful in the least to answering Keigo's question. Rukia looked closer at Keigo, pulling her knees to her chest and setting her hands on them. At the moment she was wearing a slightly ripped long-sleeve lavender shirt with a Chappy bunny on it, and dirty blue jeans with holes in the knees. Her fingerless gloves covered the Stigmata on her left hand, so she wouldn't have to look at it.
"So, you don't have anywhere to go?" She asked, and Keigo nodded. Rukia looked to Renji and Ichigo, and both knew what she was going to propose. Ichigo nodded, and Renji sighed.
"We don't have enough food as it is…but fine. Hey you, brown boy. You're going to stay with us, 'cos there's no other place in Karakura City that's going to take in an Anointed. Got it?" He ordered, and Keigo blinked.
"Uh…what? With you guys? Where do you live?"
Rukia, Renji and Ichigo snorted and laughed at the question. Renji smirked at Keigo, answering the highly confused young man.
"Nowhere. We're homeless; couldn't you tell when you ran by us sleeping near a steel drum fire?" He laughed a bit, and Keigo frowned.
"But if you guys don't have a home, where do you go when it rains? What do you guys eat?"
Renji sighed, and Ichigo pulled his scarf over his mouth.
"When it rains, we hide under a building whose roof hangs over enough for us to huddle under. Or we hide in an abandoned building, if we're real lucky; you know how hard it is to find an abandoned building nowadays, with all the 'city renewal' renovation plans going on and all that." The orange-haired young man answered Keigo, the top half of his Stigmata visible over the top of the scarf. Rukia chimed in right about there, messing with her gloves.
"We eat whatever we can find. It's not a lot; we barely have anything most of the time, but we survive. Mostly it's a can of something for dinner, if we still have cans of food from our raids. We don't get a can each, of course; we share one."
Keigo listened, slightly taken aback at the Anointed lifestyle. He was still dressed relatively nicely, only recently homeless and so if he hid his Stigmata, he might be able to pass off as a normal kid. Nowadays though, the Police Chief had everyone checked very thoroughly if they were going to enter some sort of shelter, and people were wary of accepting strangers for fear of a visit from an Angel.
"You guys don't have a home base?" Keigo asked, and they shook their heads.
"That asshole Police Chief Tosen has every abandoned building checked whenever they're found, and any Anointed inside are arrested and put in Purgatory. We can't risk being caught." Ichigo murmured, and Keigo frowned at the name 'Purgatory'.
"Purgatory? Sounds painful."
Renji, Rukia and Ichigo's demeanors darkened at the mention of Purgatory.
"Purgatory is where they put the Anointed they capture. It's a little walled-off section of the city, a town for Anointed to wait for their Angels to come and take them. We're always on the run to make sure we don't get discovered and arrested, because if they find out we're Anointed, they'll put us there. You too, now." Rukia narrated, before motioning to Ichigo.
"He's in the most danger. That Stigmata is right smack dab on his face; that's why Ichigo has to wear that scarf most of the time."
At the announcement, Ichigo pulled his scarf upwards a bit more. The long red garment hung limply from his shoulder, trailing down onto the dirty ground that Ichigo sat upon. It's ends were frayed, it was very dirty and was obviously old. Keigo moved his hand over the Stigmata on his arm, tracing the large M with his finger.
"…So this is my life from now on. Running from the Angels and living homeless."
Ichigo, Rukia and Renji nodded.
"Yup. Get used to the fast lane kid, because you're on it." Renji told him, looking around the alley they were sitting in.
"Well, it looks like we should be able to rest here for tonight. We'll wake up early and get moving again, see if we can find something to eat."
Ichigo and Rukia nodded, as Ichigo pulled off his coat and tossed it at Keigo's head. Keigo didn't catch it like Rukia did and it caught him in the face unexpectedly.
"Bwuh? What was that for?" Keigo asked defensively, before pulling the coat off of his head and seeing all three others curled up or laying against the wall, sleeping. Keigo shivered at the chill wind blowing through the alleyway, pulling Ichigo's coat on and laying down on the concrete. He noticed that Ichigo wasn't asleep and was watching down the alleyway silently, like a guardian.
'He's so much different now. It's been one year since he ran off, but he's nothing like he used to be. Ichigo seems older. More…worn.'
Keigo closed his eyes, wanting to get some small amount of sleep before the morning came and he was off on some crazy adventure involving evading the police and supernatural beings intent on killing them, all while trying to find something to eat.
Meanwhile, Ichigo kept awake, a silent vigil for any that would wish the small group harm.
((Well, this is my newest project and addiction. If it goes right, then this story should last a good while and focus on the Anointed, their stories and their fleeing from the Angels and the city itself. Anyone have any good ideas for Angels and Anointed, I'm open, though I've already got most of them planned out.))