from summer to winter

When Hitsugaya was a child, he imagined time as a clock face with hands that you could turn forwards or backwards. His future slowly shaped itself as he ate watermelon slices and his best friend babbled about her new life at the Academy.

At first it was anger and jealousy that she could have a life which involved him so little. She came to visit, but she didn't stay. She talked to him, but she talked to other people as well. She smiled at him, but she smiled at all her friends.

Then later it was excellence for its own reasons, with a dash of pride and a seasoning of smugness. Only a child would boast -- only a child would feel the need to rub his superiority into his friend's face -- and certainly he wasn't a child any more, but wasn't it nice, wasn't it so satisfying to know that he was doing better than she was, and to know that she knew it too.

Didn't it taste better than watermelon?

When Hitsugaya had been a child who went bare-legged in summer, the long grass would catch against his legs and whisper round his feet. He would sit on the edge of the porch in the long afternoons, body in shadow, feet dangling into the sunlight, and scowl as his best friend babbled on about the new people she was meeting, the funny things they said and did, the way a Captain had smiled at her.

And when she mentioned that they had defeated Hollows together, her new friends and her, he had scowled still further, and a worming thought ate at his mind, I could do better than that. Better than her friends. Better than her.

Later he could feel the weight of eyes on him. Approving, jealous, resentful, fearful, hungry, hating eyes; eyes that expected things from him, that dared to judge him. And her eyes most of all; proud of him, glad for him, though never once (and why not?) jealous of him.

He was too old now to go bare-legged like a brat. His hakama and robes and coat hung heavy on his shoulders, wound around his legs.

Wasn't it better than sunlight?

When Hitsugaya was a child, he had been stand-offish, haughty, proud, but it hadn't mattered, because he'd always known that his best friend would come and find him and talk to him and be there for him. Even after a day's study and exercises at the Academy, she'd come out from Seireitai's high buildings to look for him. She'd give a tired little sigh as she sat down beside him and stretched her legs out and relaxed.

Later he found that Captains didn't spend their time talking to other people's Vice-Captains. Everyone knew that. However much Rangiku (his Vice-Captain, his Vice-Captain) andKyouraku and Ukitake and other people might argue the point. And it was simply her own fault, of course. If she'd been good enough to be a Captain herself, or if she'd somehow put the Fifth Division Captain off when he came looking for her and then become his Vice-Captain instead, things would have been different. But she failed again, and so, well, he grew up.

He spent his time with adults instead. Important adults.

Wasn't it better than being a child?

When Hitsugaya was a child, sometimes he would fall asleep next to his best friend, listening to her slow breathing, in and out, in and out.

Now he listens to Hinamori breathe, in and out, in and out, barely audible through the respirator that covers her mouth and nose. He remembers his own helplessness against Aizen, how easily he was slapped down, and he looks at Hinamori's closed eyes and shakes his head.

It was her failure. She was too emotional. He cannot understand why she was so easily used. She was too weak.

She had failed him. Of course he cared for her, of course he would always care about her, but quite clearly one of them had grown up and the other had not.

"She should never have become a shinigami," he says to Rangiku (his Vice-Captain) afterwards. And then, spitefully, "She probably even still cares about him."

Rangiku says nothing, but for a moment her eyes are spikes that pierce him, and he feels guilty, though he does not know why, and the sun turns mercilessly in the sky above him as the shadows wind down the hours towards nightfall.