A/n: Sorry for the delay again. Enjoy reading this anyways; I hope you like it. Just imagine they are not like at the age of ten, Karin at least -.- let them have the age/looks of fifteen-year-olds.


A winter dream

... the winter wonderland

Act 2

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If this is a dream, don't you dare wake me.

If this is reality, kiss me for eternity."

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Karin dived into cold blackness in the next moment.

She blinked in surprise, trying to shake off the feeling of this irrational vision; when it didn't work she squeezed her eyes shut, covering her eyes in even more darkness. The fall and the harsh landing must have affected her brain pattern as well as her eye functions. She was certain to be still conscious and alive - the dead didn't hurt, right? So there was no other explanation than that possible. Am I blind all of a sudden?

A wave of dazing light proved her wrong, making her eyes painfully snap open. It clung to her vision all the longer in contrast to the dark nothingness from before. She was too stunned to remember how to use her limbs willingly as the brightness fainted, leaving a view which you probably don't see twice a lifetime. At first it looked like an unreal scenery of cut and deformed diamonds, sparkling and reflecting the light of a sun Karin's gaze couldn't detect in the clouded sky.

It was cold, so cold. Her knees shook violently as she watched the snow fell its way down in circles to an endless, frozen plain. "Where ...?" She whispered hoarsely, spinning her head around.

It resembled a desert in the depths of winter if anything possible: scattered, bare trees were coated with layers of crystalline snow; however, that was everything the vegetation offered, although more than Karin would have expected in the first place considering the kind of negative temperatures. Cold was biting her skin to the extent of creating a crescendo of unpleasantly prickling waves; it snatched her off the quiet wonder.
She stood on her legs slowly, her arms wrapped around her chest trying to hold a little warmth inside. How long till I freeze?

What if she was the only one here? No noticeable concreted signs of a town were in sight, no population, not as much as an igloo. It was formless color that overwhelmed her eyes.

Karin contemplated a blind end: she'd freeze to death, her limbs would distort to lumps of ice. Anxiety nagged on her, forcing her to face the matter of facts.

No. She resented. Being realistic was a part of her, but hopeless pessimism completely the verso.

It began to snow harder, making the contours of the horizon and the plane mingle, but still she was able to notice a faint shadow on the ground not so far away. It barely distinguished from the monotonous surroundings except for the little difference in height to the ground that her desperate eyes twisted as salvation. Karin deemed her subconscious an awful pretender, but her practical self joined for once and animated her to keep moving.

In resistance to the snowflakes spattering her face, Karin bridged the distance on trembling feet. Why on earth did she have to land in the Antarctic or a parallel universe which was in the coldest time of the year or wherever she was? Even with her past that involved attacks of monsters other humans couldn't see and audacious hunts of them on her own silly pride - to be transferred into another world with not so much as a warning was too surreal.

And then the crunch Toushirou had been in circled in her mind in vengeance. It was ironic since there was no way that she learned of his state, hence she could never put a stop to this haunting circle. Was he still alive? His collapse seemed far away in a out-of-world place like this. Did the incident even happen in reality or was it just a trick her mind played on her cruelly? Maybe, she hardly dared to imagine, maybe he had ended up here as well.

"Nonsense", she muttered. All of this was silly.

"Hey!" She called out. "Whoever's out there, stop your stupid illusion and come down here! Fight me personally, coward! Are you afraid to kick the bucket?" Her voice lost itself after echoing through the thick tufts of white over the plain. In her aching head the words replayed until the deafening silence of the local solitude buried them underneath its covers.

Karin remained still for a long while almost hopeful for a sneaky onslaught, longer with each passing minute as no one answered to her challenge.

Alone, that she was, alone in the cold middle of nowhere. Her heart raveled strangely tight. She had taken jeopardy lightly and now it hit right back on her - was it that?

It was not fair! She didn't get to say goodbye. No one at home would know what had happened, why she was missing or gone forever. She imagined her stupid old man and her equally hotheaded brother searching for her in vain. Her sister would cry and moan without ever letting go of her hope for Karin to return. Did she already feel it as part of the connection they shared at heart?

Her thoughts went back to Karakura Town where it was around the middle of May, just shortly after Yuzu's and her birthday. The weather had been nice for weeks and on this evening as she went for a soccer session with her usual bunch of friends the clear, purple sky hadn't given her any other impression - so, of course she wore her usual combination of shorts and t-shirt.

Dear god, it is friggin' cold, she cursed mutely. Better not inhale icy air through clattering teeth. Absentmindedly, she pondered if they might break.

With a groan she broke her reverie. Her circumstances were clearly dead-end yet she tried to withhold her senses to be reeled by fear. Something had to happen. And often things happened rather when you did them yourself than waiting either for end or rescue. She was at the beginning of being a teen but had already been rescued a dozen times or more; who counted anyway? Despite she could not rely on that.

She knew what it did to her; she always ended up feeling like a whelp, helpless and a burden to others which she personally disliked. When she was encircled by insecure emotions she could almost see the wall cracking, the dam firmly built in order to contain all the tears she was never going to be willing to be shed again. She was rather disoriented in a cloud of silent sorrow or broodiness for some time than ever let herself be carried by weak tears again.

She would not stand around uselessly and wait to be found or to be lost forever. It was her determination to do something for her sanity.

Karin placed her steps so carefully on the precarious surface that she needed minutes to reach the rise in the ground. Wind from all sides battered her into stomping along with her back bent and low. Eventually, she was near and her sight sharp enough to apprehend the knoll her eyes had hopelessly longed for in all its shades.

Although she restrained herself from breaking into panic again and held back the gasp that had formed in her throat, her dark eyes widened without her control. Avoiding direct contact with the ice and while balancing on her tiptoes she crouched down, her pale fingertips reached out for his wrist in haste. "Toushirou," she breathed between trembling lips. She found his pulse beating, slow and tough, however it was resonating for crying out loud.

Bump. But he looked like a sculpture as doughy as his skin was, even unnaturally bluish with white reflecting from all sides and even paler without the piercing stare in his eyes that were shut under some flakes of snow as if he'd sleep on his lids. Bump. Her mind was blank for a moment.

Which color did they have? Of which color were his eyes? Bump. The frequency of her breaths picked up and her head felt heavy with the seconds. Incoherent thoughts rushed in her mind, they danced, twisted and spiraled just as the countless tufts gliding down from the clouds.

Karin was aware that she began to panic. It was like a part of her was separated from her body and she could only observe the actions of an emotional subconscious that had taken over momentarily. With the might over her limbs it seemed to overwhelm her thoughts along with things she normally even kept from herself. Slowly her rationality mingled into a hazy grey, leaving the once clear thinking of black and white behind.

It didn't matter how she landed in here, for all the facts it did only matter that she wasn't the only one anymore. It didn't matter that it was selfish.

She wanted to touch him; she wanted to make sure that he was no illusion in this wasteland. He looked so real, yet so unlike the human beings she knew.

Oh, wait, you know what? That's because he is not human! A tiny voice spat from the back of her mind. He's not even alive.
S-h-i-n-i-g-a-m-i exactly as in Shinigami. Do you get it?

Karin flinched inwardly. She needed no admonish-er of obvious things, thank you very much. Get lost!

But as annoyed as she was, it reminded her of how unlike it was for her to retreat, go all whiny and such. That was not who she intended to be.

She wanted to be the brave Kurosaki Karin she was known as. The girl who tangled with junior high school students, fought her ground and won. The one either gifted or cursed with a quick and sharp tongue, the bold one of the Kurosaki twins. The one who put up with seeing invisible souls and Hollows on a daily basis; by that oddity she'd gained enough experience of abnormal things for a lifetime but also courage. It'd contributed quite a bit to form her.

The claustrophobic tightness in her head loosened up a little, leaving space for more focused notions to flow. Toushirou had rescued her before and she was now going to pay him back. She wouldn't owe him in the matter of saving her life more than once.

Karin imagined his wound hurt like hell, but for the moment she felt only faintly sorry - if pain forced him to consciousness, then it would do. In the long run he certainly wouldn't mind. Roughly, she grabbed his clothes and gave him a shake. "Come on, Toushirou, this is not the time to lay here fast asleep. You'll get frostbites." She clenched through trembling lips. "I wonder if you didn't already get some in your previous life. It wouldn't be a farfetched idea, right?"

He didn't stir at first, but finally his eyelids somewhat fluttered, his lips were slightly parted, letting out a hoarse groan and mumbled words Karin didn't catch. Hesitancy filed in her limbs as the Shinigami shifted; she bedded his head on her knees after both of them were securely placed on the brim of his clothing. She was glad he wasn't frozen solid to the ground.

Trying to figure out what he whispered, she bowed nearer. Sleek, black hair covered her sight like a drape and offered a miniscule shield to the tossing wind which almost drowned his voice.

"W-... out." His lips moved. "... in ...aru."

Karin brought her ear to his mouth, feeling his ragged breathing on her left cheek.

"Hy-...hyo ...rin ... maru."

The flittering of his lids stopped to let his weary eyes close at last. She knitted her brows, puzzled whether he said it consciously enough to help them both out of here or whether he was imagining things in delirium. Toushirou had called the name of his Zanpakutou when he saved her from the hollow that had cornered her on the bridge today, she remembered clearly.

She detached the green sash from his back where the sheath of his sword was fixed. Her first assumption that it was gone was mistaken. Karin merely knew about Shinigami, much less about the connection between them and their swords besides that they were more than some supernatural weapons.

She gripped the hilt and drew the blade out; instantly it was sprinkled by snow like it was attracting it. Karin winced back as a jolt of heat flashed through the Zanpakutou. The metal clanked on the crystalline ground, snow consolidating around it in a whirl and suddenly her head tingled in treble pain. Her hands clutched to her temples that throbbed fiercely against numb fingers.
Her vision seemed to fool her as her gaze was caught by red eyes protruding from a dull glittering serpent-like body. It winded up in the air from a distanced hill whose peak was leveled down gradually. It came to her that it might never have been a hill but a rolled up serpent all along. Karin's mind went blank while her face showed astounded horror.

She recognized it by its movement. It floated through the air and glided downwards in gracious circles only to tower over her with the upper part of its body. Hyourinmaru's gleaming eyes sent chills running down her spine like a threat. She ignored it.

"You came because I touched the sword, didn't you? You came to help." Karin heaved a sigh of relief, tugging her shaking fists under her crossed arms. It was going to be okay soon. "He's injured badly and I don't know what to do ..."
The dragon remained quiet but his stare bored into her eyes when it bent its head low. "You are a danger to my master. I'll crush you."

"We have to bring him back to Karakura Town. My father is a doctor, he can -" she gasped. "What?!"
The voice had a deep hum to it and was calm as if stated something obvious. "I'll eliminate you." It repeated. She realized that the voice was only audible in her mind, but still, her inner ears hadn't betrayed her. This can't be for real, she groaned inwardly. Time was running out on both her and Hitsugaya, she felt the minutes technically dying away. She was at a loss for patience and mortal fear now. "Are you retarded? I want to help him. Toushirou's my friend and yours too, so cut your crap, and help us already to get out of here!"

Gusts of wind picked up and encircled her in waves of snow flurry like it did happen to the Zanpakutou at her feet a few minutes ago. A storm. The darned dragon threw a blizzard over her. The cold surged up and entailed, bringing ceaseless stings on her skin as if she was scraped with crispy needles.

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I'm lost. Karin couldn't see a thing except for the white blur. She felt small again with the realization that she was exceptionally good at fooling herself and pretending bravery just before the end. Even though the knowledge had been there all along and overshadowed her thinking, she'd preferred the numbness to the awareness of her death.
She shouldn't have touched the sword because she had had yet to be accepted by the dragon. She'd tickled the sleeping dragon with her stupid hope.

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The pain rose, both in her head and on her skin. A cry escaped her firmly shut mouth.

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A brittle, sore feeling in her throat muffled the sound to dimming; in her mind however, the sound didn't subside. Heat flickered, then vanished. It flared up again when her legs gave in, the defeat running throughout her body. She was cold and quivering everywhere apart from the chest where heat grew into a burning. Karin breathed raggedly before a yell of pain broke past her bluish lips and she felt ignited with fire, which she identified a second later. It was neither a pleasant nor a mighty feeling but an outburst it was. The whirl of snowflakes disappeared suddenly as if her usually decent amount of spiritual energy that she felt flashing like lightning cleared a path.
She forced her eyes open and stared at the vitreous body of the ice dragon in surprise. Its serpent form drew layers of itself in circles around her frame on the ground; there was a hole somewhere above her head where the noise of wailing wind blasts came from.

Why did it built this tower around her in contradiction to what it had said moments before? She got on her feet, still shivering although not as fiercely as when the wind had almost battered her to the ground. She placed a hand on the solid body, absentmindedly amazed that her joints and muscles were still working, while she was trying to understand.
Kill her - attempt cancelled. What the hell?! What was it thinking? Did the notion of squashing her like a bug swim in its mind? Had it gone even more lunatic? Its deep voice rang in her ears. Her head hopelessly spun around in order to locate the origin. "I was misled by your personality. There is something true about your intentions in the spiritual signature of your soul."

Really now.Karin thought, strangely hard-nosed now. If she hadn't nearly died and her spiritual energy skyrocketed, he would have killed her? She was something like friends with Toushirou; the materialized Zanpakutou had nearly incurred the guilt of her death on itself and she felt as sober as if it all happened to someone else. Darn you, stuck-up mythical creature.

"I will clarify your honesty by a look into your core."

"Sure thing. Go on, read me like a book. Wait a second, you'll do what exactly?" She demanded, then resigned sighing. "If you do this core-vision thingy, you'll help us both? I want your word."

A rush of bitterly cold air circled around the level of her knees. "Do you doubt the high honorableness of an ancient dragon? Imbecile offspring, I swear for the sake of Hitsugaya Toushirou." The dragon paused. "Place both your hands against a part of my body."

Karin obeyed albeit she wondered if the only purpose of this action were frostbites on her hands. Her fingers touched the crystalline ice and as she had always been open for that supernatural broadcast she could feel the alien presence of Hyourinmaru enter. Reluctantly, she allowed him to dive into her mind which was only filled with worries anyway.

It was silent inside the artificial cave until the ice dragon announced his result. Not that she needed it to hear. "Your feelings towards my master are sincere. You pass the trial."

"Then get out of my head already!" Karin replied testily. She had a voice in her head for god's sake. That was one too much; it was enough to argue with herself at times but with another extrinsic one ...? It was definitely not the time for it. "Would you kindly bring us-" Then the words suddenly stuck in her throat.

"Wow. Wow. Stop, wait a minute. Hold on!" She exclaimed, drawing in a deep breath. "Did you say trial?"

When the ice under her hands trembled Karin took it as approval. Saying that she was utterly speechless and horrified at the dragon's attempts on testing her would be an understatement. She'd been close to being iced to death several times in the last hours or how long she'd been here; she'd feared her sanity would be eaten away by worry; and the dragon, this high-and-mighty dragon, had purposefully brought both Toushirou and her in danger to prove her!? The bewilderment had any words slip by her vocal chords before she regained her senses.

"You ought to know, human girl, this was a test to consider you worthy of my master. For enduring it you may call yourself a decent human. And now, I'll return to Hitsugaya Toushirou's side in order to keep my side of the bargain." The layers of Hyourinmaru's body detached into his original elongated form, removing the illusion of a protective cave, as he hovered to Hitsugaya's recumbent form. Wavering snowflakes blurred her sight again but she kept a close eye on the dragon disintegrate; light, flickering dapples cohered back to the form of a sword.

Karin staggered to Toushirou's side as well. This had to be a dream; a nightmare in which miracles were possible to happen. Setting her eyes on the dried blood she admitted that conceited dragon some credit for the wound had left no scar in its healing process in lightning-speed. She blinked several times, scrutinizing the wound another time and one more after that. He'd been a goner just then and now - now he appeared sound from the outside.

"Kurosaki, what the hell are you doing here?" The Shinigami sat up so suddenly that it startled her into an uncharacteristic squeak.

"I-I...You are asking me that?" Waves of relief washed through her. "Where for the record is here?" She shot back without thinking. "Aw, I don't care, Toushirou, you're alive!" She didn't care either that she was none for emotional releases when she threw her arms around him pinning him to the ground in the momentum.

"Oi... I'm fine now." He started off with his hands stopping in midair; slowly then he placed them on her upper arms. "I'm all right - in total opposite to you, fool! This is no sort of place meant for trespassing - you're freezing, Kurosaki." With a roll of his eyes he pulled his haori around her shoulders, nearly strangled by her iron grip in his action. He sighed and shut his eyes.

The snow started to thicken and fall in spirals, enclosing them in a long circle of pure white before the blur lifted again. The clear midnight sky along with the street lights and illuminated advertising in Karakura Town gave Karin some trouble adjusting to the richness of colors. She basked in remarkably warmer air, feeling her nerves tickle ever so vividly. It was just then that she realized whom she hugged like a plushy. By the look of faint concentration on his face she figured it had been him who brought them back. How was utterly beyond her; she wasn't even certain if she wanted to know.

Karin backed off as her face heated up and turned away. "You know what? It's completely your fault that we landed wherever we have been. If you hadn't nearly heroically killed yourself, I..."

"How have you entered my world?" He interrupted her rant and locked her gaze involuntarily with his turquoise eyes. The butterflies in her stomach startled her and simultaneously that there was more than the literal meaning beyond his words. She blamed the aimless feeling of her brain swimming squashily inside her head for she wasn't able to put her finger down on it.

"Eh? You mean that arctic landscape is a scenery of your soul? I set my feet in your inner paradise, your place for thinking so to speak? That is a world for itself?" Twisting her fingers in the wiry parapet of the multi-storey building and watching the familiar course of the river, she skimmed over the happenings in retrospect and shrugged. "Not the slightest idea."

He breathed a sigh like it gave him a hard time to be left in the dark. "Me neither..."

Karin hesitated. "Is... is it bad? I mean like taboo or trespassing? Because if it is really personal or did damage to your brain - I don't know, I think I had a conniption in there... you... whatever..."

"It's strange to say the least. I've never heard of anything like this before. But with Kurosaki as your brother it might not be as strange." He leaned his back against the fence, lapsing into thoughtful silence for some time as he contemplated the idea of Kurosaki Ichigo tainting his sister with his tremendous power. Answers to his question seemed nowhere in sight, he shrugged it off. He'd deal with it later.

"Hyourinmaru isn't going to apologize." Toushirou informed her then. "But he says that he approves of something whatsoever because you tried to save me." He added quietly in an afterthought. His eyes tightened for no apparent reason.

"I'm awed." She said sarcastically. "For the record, tell him I did save you. And here I thought all along that you were the boss, but in reality your soul pet is dominant. I mean, you are a captain - doesn't it annoy you having your every action observed by a lazy-ass, smart-aleck dragon?"

Hitsugaya didn't even hear her. The absentmindedly stern look on his face softened as his features were shaded by a darker complexion. If his face had been a bit pale before, it was now grayish though confident in the moonlight when he stepped up to her. "Kurosaki, would you kindly shut up? He might strip us of his blessing."

Like a fish she opened her mouth and closed it right after; dumbfounded Karin watched him clasp her left hand. "B-blessing?" She managed to say. with it coming out something very much like a choke. Had he gone mental or was he drunk on melted chunks of ice? Or if a fever had the same effects on him, she wondered.

"For saving me", he said simply, taking her by surprise. He leaned forward and grazed her lips as lightly as a feather; however, to Karin it felt as if he'd wrapped her in a bolt of lightning. Slowly, a block of confusion dissipated then and she placed her free hand in his neck, spiky white strands under her palm, while unconsciously adjusting to his posture and leaning in. It whirled in the back of her mind that he tasted chilly but soft, fresh but characteristical.
They broke apart, their breaths blending into a mutual albeit jittery melody while they stared at each other. It didn't last for long though, their lips collided again in sensibility to the touch.

"His blessing." Karin repeated slowly after she was sure to stand safely on her own feet again and drew in a tentative yet deep breath. "You needed the approval of that smug dragon to kiss me?"

Hitsugaya closed his eyes in response; he felt too much like he'd constantly banged his head against a brick wall. Couldn't she be kindly stunned and speechless at the sensation?

"What kind of captain are you? I wouldn't want to work under you and your lunatic dragon."

"Kurosaki -"

"And to hell with this, you just kissed me, and still you call me 'Kurosaki'. I have my own name, you know? I'm not my brother."

"Kuro-... damnit, Karin - Karin," He began. "Do you seriously think I would think about your idiot brother while kissing you?"

She restrained a "You never know"-comment, because truly she did know. Otherwise it'd be a rather gross and weird notion of him.

A genuine smile flitted over her face before she leaned her forehead against his and put on a serious look. "How about proving it?"

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.End.

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I'd appreciate it if you voiced your opinion on "a winter dream" in form of a review. Whether it's good or bad in the end, I love feedback. Thank you for reading, reviewing and alerting!
And you know, even if it's months later, I still like to receive your opinion, because doing the happy dance every once in a while is just
fun!