Curse of Curves
Keiki slept on her stomach, her back bare. Tangled black hair stood out against the white sheets her long legs were tangled in. A shrill alarm went off, prompting a heavy banging from the floor below. The tenet next door swore and began to shout, "Turn that fucking thing off! Turn it off, Keiki!" followed by more banging. A small hand shot out and hit the alarm off the upside-down cardboard box that acted as a nightstand for the girl in the bed. Sitting up and stretching, Keiki grimaced and placed one hand on her forehead. Looking over to the side, she eyed the tiny bag of white pills dubiously. Digging under her pillow, she found a different bag, this time holding blue pills. Grinning, she took a small handful and threw them down her throat, swallowing them dry.
Piling her hair on top of her head, she strolled out of her tiny apartment wearing a non-descript outfit of jeans and a grey t-shirt. A few black curls fell from the hastily thrown together ponytail as she hurried through the streets with a small tote-bag. On her feet was a pair of sneakers, dirty and worn with use. The night air smelled like a combination of cheap perfume and cigarettes, and Keiki kept her head down and her eyes averted from any other passersby. Stopping at a cart on the corner, Keiki bought cigarettes and water. The dirty man running the stand leered at her, and then winked. "Have a good night at work now, luv. I'll be seeing you later tonight." Keiki rolled her eyes and moved on her way, thinking 'I bet you will, greasy bastard'. Running up to the door of a dirty building, she slid a card into an electronic lock and slipped inside.
"Eric, can you walk me home at the end of my shift tonight? That street vendor's being a bit creepy again." The large bouncer put one large hand on Keiki's head and grinned, messing with her hair.
"Of course, sweetie. That's half my job, right?" Keiki grinned at him, her eyes sparkling with amusement. "Your favorite part, no doubt." It didn't take her long to make her way back to the dressing room her and the other girls used to get ready. Throwing her bag down at her station, Keiki collapsed into her chair and took a pair of nine-inch heels covered in hard, plastic 'diamonds' colored a tacky pink. The black fabric of the shoe had worn to show some white. Keiki grabbed a sharpie and colored it in, then stripped off her jeans and t-shirt, changing into her work uniform.
A dark figure stood silently upon a telephone pole, looking out into the night. A tiny black figure floated at his shoulder. Turning his face to look behind him, a pale sliver of moonlight illuminated his cheek, revealing a scar and a strange tattoo.
The man grimaced. The source of the uproar slammed into him from the side. Both landed easily on their feet, with Hisagi glaring at his attacker. "Madarame. Please, we are on official Shinigami business. "
"Even so, we get to go to a strip club to do it. They say this girl's giving off a signal that'll bring Hollows lumbering into town from all over the place." Abarai Renji sauntered out of the shadow, bopping a fist on top of his friend's shiny, bald head. "Doesn't mean you should be that drunk." All three were all wearing gigai, allowing them to move and be seen by humans. "Now, let's head out. This thing is tighter than it used to be, I think."
Madarame snickered. "Maybe you should stop eating so much when we come here, Abarai. Freeloader." The two bickered the entire trip to the club, while Hisagi just thrust hands into his pockets and kept pace with them. It wasn't in his nature to get involved in childish squabbles.
The pounding music could be heard half a block away from the club. Garish neon lights advertised the contents within, spelling out 'NUDE GIRLS!', or the name of a particular cheap, watery beer. Hisagi's lip curled upward at the sight. Not only was it a strip club, but it was obviously a very cheap, derelict strip club. 'Not that strip clubs are all that classy to begin with.', he thought. He had agreed with the decision to seek out and recruit all humans with innate strong spiritual abilities, like Kurosaki Ichigo, in order to train more Substitute Shinigami.
'I didn't think it would land me in a hole like this, though.' Following a grinning Abarai and a gleeful Madarame, Hisagi tried to avoid touching the handle as they walked into the heat of the strip club. Lazy spirals of smoke rose from burning red cigarettes smoked by the stinking old men at the bar and shouting University students alike. 'Los Angeles. What a disgusting city.' Numerous teams made up of high-ranking members of each squad of the Gotei 13 were scattered across the world, searching for the sources of subtle yet strong pulsations of energy. They had been sent to the United States. Others were in London, Amsterdam, Berlin. Hisagi was quite bitter that he had ended up in the middle of a desert in what had to be the dirtiest city he had ever encountered.
The three shinigami slipped into a booth, Renji ordering them a round of American beer. Leaning back and taking a long swig of his, Hisagi stared at the stage, his eyes devoid of any lust or fascination at the display in front of him. Madarame was laughing as he slapped a hand on Hisagi's back with a wide grin.
Then the music stopped, and the room went dark. The room began to erupt into drunken boos and slurred cheers as a violent bass began to pound through the club. Madarame and Abarai were both leaning back, salacious grins on their face as two young human girls sat on their laps. Madarame smirked and nudged Hisagi. "Hey, they don't look to be the one we want, but I think I should investigate fur-"
He was cut off when the stage was lit up once more, albeit not as bright as it had been before. A single silhouette slinked onto the stage, obviously the next 'entertainer'. The bar had quieted down when she appeared, but a hum of anticipation continued to hang in the air. Hisagi's turned to stare at the stage, his interest piqued. Slightly.
Three dim spotlights lit up the stage illuminating a girl with her back to the audience, her skin smooth and tan as she delicately raised one arm into the air. The music continued to pulse, and her slim body began to twist with it. The movements were not the mechanical grind of the rest of the girls in the room, but slow and exotic. Hisagi leaned forward, finally grinning over at Abarai. No matter how reserved or mature he was, a naked girl was still a naked girl. And somehow, this one had him hypnotized. Hisagi felt Madarame nudge him, but wouldn't take his eyes off the girl on the stage. Bending over before rotating her hips and turning around, the girl kept her eyes closed as she moved. Madarame clapped him on the back and hooted. Abarai's face was furrowed in concentration, staring at a wildly beeping cell phone in his hand. "Guys. It's her. The shinigami candidate. It's the fucking stripper."
Keiki walked off the stage, pulling money out from where it had been tucked into the lace of her panties and tacky garters. Grabbing her t-shirt and pulling it on, she rested her hands on her vanity station and closed her eyes. Sitting down in her chair, she propped her feet up on the shabby counter and leaned her head back. Ebony hair fell down around her shoulders as she pulled out ridiculous pony-tails and massaged her scalp. Sighing deeply, she opened her eyes and looked into the mirror. Which reflected three oddly-dressed men standing behind her, each one more bizarre looking then the last. Swiveling the chair around and letting one leg drop to the floor while resting an arm on the other, Keiki furrowed her eyebrows. Well now. That's interesting. She was particularly impressed with the brightly dyed hair and tribal tattoos decorating the tallest. If they were in the private area of the club, and she had never seen them before, there was only one explanation.
No one else could see them.
Keiki stood up and sighed deeply before pushing past them to where her jeans had been slung over a stool. Pulling them on, she grabbed her bag and stormed out. Eric stopped her at the door. "You're not done, sweetcakes."
"Tell them I had a death in the family. Gotta get out of here." She had been seeing things others could not since she was a small child. It was most definitely not something she enjoyed. Kissing Eric on the cheek, Keiki hurried out into the street. Taking an immediately left and walking swiftly down the alley beside the club, she waited until they were against a high fence before turning around and glaring down the three men who had followed her. They had stuck with her, although the red….no, more magenta-haired one was scratching his head in confusion. "So? Are you here to complement me on my dancing from beyond the grave? Or is there a better reason for waltzing into my place of business and spooking around."
Madarame nudged Abarai with his elbow and coughed. Abarai leaned over and whispered to Hisagi; "Techincally, since your taichou is…gone, you're the highest ranked here. Uh, so you tell her." Hisagi sent him a withering glare. "Coward.", he shot back under his breath. Stepping forward, he cleared his throat. "Well…as you can see, we are spirits. Your ability to see and touch us, as well as other spiritual apparitions is a sign that you have a higher level of spiritual energy then most humans. We are here to recruit you-". The look on the girl's face remained stone cold. Things were not going very well. Pushing Hisagi aside, Madarame held out his hand in a grand gesture. "We are shinigami, those who send departed souls to the beyond. We are here to recruit you for a war, a war that has been raging-"
"Nice sonnet there, buddy, but I don't really have any idea what you're talking about. And I absolutely have no interest." Keiki pushed her way through them, glancing up at the scarred shinigami's face and the odd tattoo there. "Nice ink, perv."
Hisagi's mouth fell open, at a complete loss as to what she was talking about. What was perverted about a tribute to the man who had saved him when he was only a child? Abarai shrugged at him, as did Madarame. Turning around, the girl had already disappeared. Madarame slapped one hand against his forehead and gestured for them all to chase after her. At the same time, three alarms went off simultaneously. Each shinigami checked his Hollow-locating device and swore. It was right around the corner, and there was no doubt as to whom he was going after.
"Shit." All three of them said, simultaneously.
Keiki backed up slowly. Her bag fell to her feet, a roll of dirty singles tumbling out onto the oily concrete. Clutched in her shaking hand was a can of pepper spray, futilely aimed at the monstrosity before her. Red eyes burned out from behind a chalky white mask, surrounded by rippling green tentacles. The thing was breathing heavily, and she could smell the heavy, moist scent of it from where she stood. Bile rose in her throat, and Keiki counted the fact that she was too broke to buy food as a blessing. Her mouth dry, her heart fluttered quickly with fear, everything enhanced by the amphetamines she had driven into her system. A huge roar knocked her from her feet, and she grabbed her bag and began to scramble backwards as she tried to scream. All of her breath was gone. A clawed hand slammed into her slide, throwing her across the street and into her apartment building.
Hisagi swore. "Aw…FUCK! It's already got her." Abarai Renji just grinned as he brought out his zanpaktou and sliced it through the air to his side. Shooting into the air, he slammed it cleanly through the middle of the Hollow's mask. Without waiting to see what he knew without a doubt would happen, he ran to Hisagi, who held the girl in his arms. "So?"
Hisagi's face was grim. "We gotta get her out of here. She's pretty banged up."
"How the Hell are we supposed to know where to take her?!" Madarame shouted. Frustrated, he shook her until Hisagi pushed him away with an annoyed glare. "WHERE DO YOU LIVE?"
"Oi! Not the best idea." Abarai pulled Madarame back and leaned down over the girl and poked her. Hisagi pushed him away and pulled her up higher against his chest and tilted his head down so he could hear a hoarse whisper.
She couldn't breathe anymore. She couldn't see she couldn't...but her body burned with pain, her hands sticky with blood where they grasped her stomach. Coughing racked her body, blood spurting from her lips and nose. Keiki closed her dim eyes, hearing the sound of scraping feet bring the creature closer. God she was cold. The stink of the concrete and the breath of the nightmare made flesh filled her nostrils as she lay there, helpless. Warm arms lifted her up into oblivion. Shouts filled her ears, strange names echoing and fading through the night. Someone shouting questions at her, shaking her roughly, asking where she lived. Coughing up another mouthful of blood, she gestured at the building, words bubbling out through the pain. "In there. In there. 4B…" Finally, blessedly, the world went dark.
The door kicked open by Madarame, the three men walked into a tiny dark apartment. Hisagi flicked the light on, and all three stopped in shock. The room was small, empty save a large mattress covered in clean white sheets, an old lamp and an upside-down cardboard box. An ancient alarm clock was upside down on the floor. Cautiously, they crept in. It was not far from the Spartan conditions they lived in while in Soul Society. Madarame tore the top sheet off the bed and began tearing it into strips, Hisagi sat down then dropped the girl onto the mattress and examining the three long tears in her skin. They were deep, but not deep enough to kill her if the bleeding stopped soon. She had hit her head when she slammed into the building, but already her eyelids were fluttering open. Hisagi sat back on his heels, calm. "Get her wrapped up, and then we'll fill her in." A deep breath filled his lungs and he looked over at Abarai. Renji was scratching the back of his head with a glare.
"Well, this is already kind of going to shit."
"Yeah, you think?" Hisagi looked back down. Madarame was finishing up his work on binding up her wounds. She sat up and looked at them, then looked down at her chest. Touching the side of her face, she grimaced when she felt the raw flesh. Those wide, green eyes that had so surprised him turned to his and he swallowed, not unaware of how hard it suddenly was to draw breath. Hair matted with blood and grime, her face dirtied and damaged, she was beautiful. Not like the girl he had seen moving with agonizing abandon on the stage not an hour ago, despite the smeared makeup that had been heavily applied around her eyes.
A ragged gasp suddenly exploded from her lips as she grasped her side. Examining herself, she moaned and looked back up at them. "What, you didn't think it was important to take me to a hospital? It's not like I don't have insurance. It may be dirty work, but they do provide you with health. And dental." Her face was tightly drawn in pain beneath the sarcastic words, pale and clammy. "I'm going to County General. Although who knows what I'm going to tell them about how it happened. Not like I could have gotten clawed by a bear in the middle of East Los Angeles."
Hisagi stared. Dental? What was Dental? Insurance? Before he could continue his questions, the girl had already stood and was walking stiffly to the bathroom. Her breath remained shallow and her eyes were half-closed but she managed to get to her bag where Abarai had dropped it when they came in. Picking it up, she headed towards the door. "I'm going to the hospital. I count on you following me so I don't get raped at gunpoint? This isn't the best side of town." He glanced at Abarai, who had a confused expression on his face as he scratched the back of his neck. Madarame shrugged. They followed behind her as she stormed out the door.
Keiki strolled out of the hospital, finally clean and stitched up, her face bandaged and a prescription for her favorite candy, vicodin in her hand. Holding up the tiny bottle, she grinned widely. They had given her a shot of ativan while she was inside, and it hummed through her veins making her warm and sleepy. Tying the lace of the baggy scrub pants they had given her at the hospital to replace the torn and bloody clothes she had arrived in, Keiki turned and grinned at the boys. "So? Enjoy your first visit to a human world hospital?" The three of them looked sick. She turned away and laughed, stretching her arms into the air. The barest glimpse of her back showed, and Hisagi found himself looking away with a blush. Despite the scant amount of skin shown, it triggered the memory of her first seconds on stage.
On top of that, he had never seen anything like the clinic they had gone to. Learning her name was Keiki from her insurance card, driver's license, the forms she filled out…It was amazing how long it took her to actually see a doctor, despite the gaping wounds crossing her stomach and arching down her sides. Once they were in an exam room, the three of them watched as the doctor brutally stapled the edges of the gashes together. Abarai nudged Hisagi. "I've seen one of those before. It's used to bind paper together." They looked at each other and grimaced. And she preferred this to the care she would have gotten from the 4th squad captain? Through it all, they sat by her and explained who they were and what had attacked her. She focused intently, using it as a distraction while the doctor pulled broken glass and tiny stones out of her cheek. They introduced themselves in the American manner, and she smiled and repeated each one back. Despite being aware of the culture difference, Hisagi found himself thrown off each time she used his first name.
They cleaned her off after they finished stitching her up. And now she stood before them, drugged to an inch of her life with a sweet, sleepy smile on her face. The contrast between this young girl and the hardened stripper who captivated them all on the stage made him lose his breath. "So, shinigami, why is it that I'm being attacked by one of these Hollows. Furthermore, why are you three here going to strip clubs so that you can sneak backstage and stalk me?" Her tone was amiable despite the harshness of her words.
Hisagi took a deep breath then cleared his throat. "Earlier, in the club, I tried to tell you. You have an abnormally high…" He was at a loss for words to explain what reiatsu was to her. "You can see spirits, and ghosts. You see us, you can TOUCH us and speak to us. Surely you know that makes you special." Keiki turned around and wrinkled her nose at the word as if she found it distasteful. "That all means that you have power like we do. We hope to train you as a shinigami, to fight Hollows. To fight in a war that will affect your world as well." Without a word of reply, she faced front and continued to walk through the streets.