Snow swirled around the young boy as he stared up into the black mask

Snow swirled around the young boy as he stared up into the black mask. A wicked grin cracked the creature's covered face, yellow eyes twinkling with glee. The edges of the boy's vision began to grow dark. It was so cold… The ice melting beneath him soaked through his pajamas. He heard the clock tower in the nearby town begin to chime midnight. It was Christmas day, and there was no one left to celebrate with. The last thing the child saw before everything went black was the demon swallowing his sister's body whole. He wondered for the first time what his father was like…

The small captain bolted upright, breathing heavily, looking around wildly. Of course, a dream… A memory. Moonlight streamed in through his open window, forming intricate patterns on the polished wood floor. Hitsugaya Toushirou wiped the sweat and tears from his eyes and untangled his legs from the damp white sheets. He drew his knees to his chest and buried his face in his arms. God, how he hated that dream… Many Shinigami didn't remember their deaths. He was one of the lucky ones. Keh, yeah right.

Hitsugaya crawled out of bed, only slightly shaky, and grabbed a light, green robe on his way out. He'd never bothered to buy a heavier one since he only remembered the cold in his dreams. His nightmares, usually. The white-haired taichou navigated through the dark, familiar halls with ease and stopped in front of a set of sliding double doors. Damn, the lights in his office were out. That meant Matsumoto was either out drinking or was already asleep. Damn, damn, damn…

Hyourinmaru began to sing quietly in the back of his mind and Hitsugaya smiled a bit as he made his way outside and leapt onto the roof of the tenth division. The winter night was calm and still, not a sound for miles around. Billions of stars twinkled above like old friends. In truth, they had been the young captain's constant companions since before he even knew what they were. He wondered if his sister's soul was sleeping peacefully somewhere in Rukongai or staring up at the stars without a single memory of her old life. He wondered briefly if these were the same stars the humans saw from the real world.

"You okay?"

Hitsugaya whipped around to his left. Kurosaki Karin sat not two meters away, arms wrapped around her knees, head resting on her arms, grinning like a mad woman. The moon played in rainbows across her hair like a raven's feathers. Kurosaki Isshin had finally agreed to help Soul Society with preparations for the coming war and was here with his two daughters, the twins Karin and Yuzu. Yuzu had been sent to help the fourth division while Karin bunked with the tenth. Nobody could really keep track of Isshin.

"I must really be out of it if I didn't notice you there…" Hitsugaya chuckled. He walked over and sat next to his friend, leaning back on his hands. The moon was directly overhead. Midnight. A comfortable silence stretched around them like a warm blanket.

"You didn't answer me, you know," Karin said. "You all right?" Hitsugaya realized that, no, he hadn't answered her. Huh.

"Just a bad dream," he muttered. He lay back, folding his arms under his head and closing his eyes. Maybe he'd get lucky and fall asleep. A soft thump told the captain Karin had lay down beside him. Teal eyes opened again. She was lying on her side, just looking at him with a small smile. He could feel her warmth, she was so close. No, he was not blushing. Though he was glad it was dark…

"So even the great Hitsugaya-taichou has nightmares, huh?" Karin teased. When her friend didn't reply, she asked, "Do you want to talk about it? It helps sometimes." Hitsugaya turned his head to stare into her nearly black eyes. She was concerned for him. This was new.

Should he tell her? Matsumoto was the only one who knew about that dream. His pride threw a fit, but he could really use someone to talk to… Karin stared patiently back. She wasn't waiting for an answer, leaving it to him, but Hitsugaya knew she would listen. Their relationship consisted of mostly yelling and teasing, but every now and then they had moments like this. Hitsugaya turned back to stare at the moon.

"I had a twin sister when I was alive," he began. "She was three minutes younger than me. I loved her more than anything. There was nothing… that I wouldn't do for her." He closed his eyes again, remembering.

"We were complete opposites. I was shy and brooding, she was loud and bursting with energy. She was very sickly, though, so she spent most of her time in bed. She loved to come up with stories, all sorts of wild adventures and creatures. They were a lot of fun, actually.

"I never knew my father. He had been drafted not long before we were born. Mother was always writing letters to him, but he almost never replied. She used to cry when she thought we were asleep. And that always made my sister cry. I hated my father because of that…" The young captain paused, glancing back at his friend. She hadn't moved. He took a deep breath and continued.

"One day, my sister collapsed. We thought it was just a bad case of the flu, but when she didn't get well… We called in the doctor from the nearby town—we lived a little ways out, more in the wilderness—and… well, I wasn't supposed to hear them talking… The doctor said it was Consumption. I knew enough to understand what that meant. A slow and painful death. There were medicines and such to help, but we couldn't really afford them.

"My sister's favorite legend was that if you made a thousand paper cranes, you would get a wish. She said she wanted to try it, and even if it didn't work, at least she would be doing something and not waiting around to die. I cried when she said that. I guess I hadn't really understood that I would loose her until that moment. But anyway, I pitched in, helping her make them. By Christmas Eve, we had both made 499, and Mother contributed one. My sister and I would make the last one together, making one fold and passing it to the other. We were almost done when I felt something. Something was happening, but I didn't know what. And then the front door slammed open and Mother screamed. The thing was huge. I know now that it was a Hollow, but I've never seen anything like it since. Its mask was pitch black.

"It screeched and clawed at Mother. There was… blood everywhere. I… I grabbed my sister and managed to run past the thing and out into the snow. She was coughing up blood, having trouble breathing. And that Hollow, it was playing with us. It could have caught me so easily, but it stayed just close enough that I could feel it breathing on me. And then… she wasn't breathing anymore and I tripped. I guess I hit my head. It looked down at me and laughed. I could hear the clock tower striking midnight. I was suddenly aware of how beautiful everything was, the stars, the perfectly white snow drifting down. And then it ate her, swallowed her whole. And it left me there. Left me there to die alone in the snow on Christmas morning. I could have gotten up, but I never would have made it to the town. Besides, I had nothing left. The only ones I loved were dead. I remember wondering thinking if my father was even still alive and if he would be told or come home to an empty house and some graves. I wondered if he could have saved them…"

Hitsugaya was sitting up, staring off into the distance. Karin ran her thumb under his eyes and he realized he was crying. He rubbed them away quickly with a disgusted huff.

"I'm sorry, I just-" Karin put her finger to his lips, cutting him off. She wrapped her arms around his waist and leaned against him. It occurred to him, little by little, that he had plenty to live for now and that he was willing to die to protect them, just as he had for his sister. He realized that the hardest part of loving someone was being willing to live for them. The small taichou returned his friend's embrace, ignoring his tears, and listened to the clock chime twelve.