Hitsugaya on time, Soul Society, and the living world. Spoilers through chapter 238. Gen.
Time in Soul Society is irregular, like French verbs, back office deals, and the shapes of continents. While time in the living world waltzes to the steady rhythm of clocks and calendars, it staggers in Soul Society, especially in the Seireitei. There are many springs when the sakura simply refuses to fall from the trees surrounding sixth division headquarters, and then there are years like this one, when two weeks are enough to destroy the comfortable notions of centuries.
Hitsugaya doesn't know anything about centuries, nor does he pay much attention to the changing of seasons. But when he returns to the living world for the first time since becoming a captain-he doesn't know precisely how long it's been-he takes quiet pleasure in all the evidence of time's smooth passage. He appreciates how the traffic light outside Kurosaki's high school stays red for precisely fifty-five seconds before switching back to green for thirty. When the bells inside the school mark the end of another class period, he cocks his head to listen to the predictable progression of the tones.
In Soul Society, the last note would come half a beat early-or never chime at all.
When his team finally tracks down Kurosaki, most of its members are struck by how the boy who stormed Soul Society is moping beneath his bandages.
Hitsugaya's first envious thought is that the idiot already looks older.
No one knows how old Hitsugaya was when death brought him to Rukongai. "Small" is the only answer he ever gets from the lady who raises him. Hinamori insists he was three, but Hitsugaya realizes that there's no way Momo could really know. And Momo has a way of remembering what she wants to remember, whether those recollections are based in fact or not.
The mystery of his exact age doesn't trouble Hitsugaya overmuch; such precise numbers are pretty much irrelevant in Soul Society. He just wishes he had been older when he died. From what he's gathered, adolescence in the living world isn't much of a picnic either, but at least it's not counted in decades. Five or ten more years in the living world would have improved his first sixty in Soul Society.
Of course, that wasn't how things worked out, and Hitsugaya endures the indignities of his extended childhood and adolescence with gritted teeth. It's been a long time since he's thought of himself as anything other than an adult-inhabitants of the Rukongai mature quickly, even if their physical appearance is slow to change-but he's a minority of one with that opinion. In the eyes of the other shinigami, he's still a child. His peers offer him candy. Hitsugaya doesn't understand why they view him as such an anomaly. It's not like the other captains are exactly normal, given that they include a lecher, a mad scientist, a lost girl, a prig, and an enormous fox.
When he's being honest with himself, Hitsugaya admits that he wouldn't complain so much about the irregular passage of time in Soul Society if it only moved faster, never slower.
Hitsugaya left his mortal life too soon to remember it, so all his memories of the living world are from his time as a shinigami. (His earliest memories are all from the Rukongai: paper screens, oversized tunics, Momo, watermelons, hunger, thirst. Every shinigami from the Rukongai remembers what it's like to never have quite enough to eat, what it's like to worry about to finding one's next meal. It's no wonder that Hitsugaya's entire team salivates a little at the prospect of sampling the food of the living world while inhabiting their gigais.)
Now the living world surprises Hitsugaya by being nothing like what he remembers from his early days in the Gotei 13. The buildings rise in curious shapes; the streets don't turn in neat right angles but twist from district to district. Has the living world changed so much since he left it for a haori? Has time run so much faster here?
Of course, it could simply be that Karakura-town is just unlike from the town where he was last assigned, as the outer districts of Rukongai are nothing like the Seireitei. Or perhaps everything seems odd because he's learning Karakura-town from the ground, not the sky. Gravity is a fiction to shinigami who aren't confined in gigais; before he became a seated officer, Hitsugaya always patrolled his turf from high places, like the tops of roofs and telephone poles. But gigais are a necessity for this mission, so now he's grounded, glued to the pavement, eye to eye with Kurosaki's sisters and their classmates.
He stares down another clutch of punks as he walks back to Inoue's apartment. They whisper among themselves when he passes, but they don't pick a fight.
At least Hitsugaya's decades in Soul Society have given him ample opportunity to perfect his glare.
Inoue's healing is like nothing he's ever seen, but Hitsugaya still feels his wounds the day after he kills Shawlong. Perhaps the pain is gone, but the memory of the battle lingers: they were caught flat-footed, and things would have gone ill if the permission to lift their limits had come a moment later. Aizen is moving faster than they know: Hitsugaya is certain of it, and he fears that the Gotei 13 will once again be unprepared when the strike comes. And if that continues to happen, they will eventually run out of second chances.
When he returns to Inoue's apartment, he finds his vice-captain rifling through the girl's cabinets in search of food. He raises an eyebrow at the sight; he doesn't understand why Matsumoto still expects to find anything worth eating there. There might be jam, or sweet red bean paste, but nothing that any sane person would want to eat for dinner. Or breakfast or lunch for that matter.
She closes the last cabinet with a sigh. "Let's go to Ichigo's house. Kuchiki says his younger sister can really cook. And there's always that izakaya not far from the school."
He reminds her that they don't have any money.
"Don't we?" She pats the pocket of her skirt. It jingles faintly.
"Do I want to know how you got that?" (He can guess, of course. He knows exactly how well she cheats at cards.)
"As I thought, no."
Only Hyourinmaru's frost keeps Hitsugaya on his feet after the Arrancars' abrupt departure. Still, he has enough energy to twitch when Urahara finally introduces himself.
"I'm just a humble shopkeeper," Urahara tells Hitsugaya when they come face to face. "I hope you'll remember the Urahara Shouten the next time you buy candy."
During the night Kuchiki comes to the Urahara Shouten to report on Kurosaki's condition. She's the first to realize that Inoue is missing, but Hitsugaya is the first to guess that her absence may not simply be a matter of her being stuck in Soul Society. Or perhaps he's not the first to assume the worst. He did not miss the sober expression on Urahara's face after the fight ended.
In the morning, Matsumoto informs him that repairs to their connection with Soul Society are almost completed.
"Continue working on it," Hitsugaya tells her. "I'll fetch Kurosaki." He ignores the concern on Kuchiki's face as he heads for the door.
It's not his place to complete such an errand; he should send one of the others, he thinks as he hurries down the stairs of Inoue's building. But he needs the air, and, more importantly, he needs the time. He's beginning to understand that time is never steady, not even here in the living world. And now it's moving too fast, bringing winter and Aizen's final attack ever closer. Each hour that comes takes hope with it when it goes; hope for Inoue, that sweet strange girl; hope for Momo, still trapped by old illusions. And all the ice in world can't freeze time in its tracks.
When Hitsugaya reaches the street, he begins to run.