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the evolution of genius
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The problem with genius is that it cannot be stopped, even if it drives itself to destruction. Revelations, once gained, cannot be undone.
Hitsugaya is an undisputable genius. From his first steps onto the sacred white stones of Sereitei, he has left a trail of shattered expectations and broken records in his wake, turning their jeering taunts and doubtful frowns into awe-struck wonder and bitter acknowledgment. They envy him because they do not know any better. It has been a long, uphill battle of double-proofs and faked invincibility, but when he finally dons the legendary white cloak, no one can question his right to wear it.
Captain. He has earned it, even if he has never wanted it. With prodigies, greatness is not so much a dream as it is a destiny.
Every captain weaves their own unique aura of invincibility. Yamamoto stands above them all with inviolable authority, alone and unquestioned. Kuchiki Byakuya's austere nobility humbles everyone in his presence. Sui-Feng's unyielding harshness embodies her role and her duty. Unohana radiates gentleness and motherliness equal in strength to Zaraki's terrifying bloodlust. Ukitake and Kyoraku both command the same unshakeable composure in entirely opposite ways. Komamura is somber dignity incarnate. Tosen is justice incarnate. No one will ever mistake Aizen's kind wisdom for weakness. And Kurotsuchi is outright malevolent. Even Ichimaru's creepy smile lends to his aura of mysterious power. Every last one of them is a walking legend, feared and respected, and Hitsugaya must find his own place among them.
He looks like a child. He sounds like a child. He cannot afford to act like a child. All traces of immaturity are carefully excised from his demeanor. He carries himself with strict posture and makes every movement economical and efficient - every urge to fidget or flail is quelled by a mental discipline that no child is expected to have. His words become few, so that when he does speak, people are more likely to listen. And his smiles become even fewer. People inevitably associate excitement and enthusiasm with childishness, so he distances himself from both as much as he can.
He has given up many things along the way to come this far. Genius comes at a price that many would not be willing to pay. This is only the final nail in the coffin of his childhood. He does not mourn its loss, because the hum of chilled power in his blood and the whispers of cold brilliance in his mind have left him no other path, and he walks that path with a sense of purpose far exceeding his age. He is only becoming the person he is meant to be. The Tenth has never run more smoothly than it does under Hitsugaya Toshiro's reign, and for this, he will allow himself just a glimmer of consolation.
He has not murdered his best friend in vain.
Yet, prodigy or not, he is still a fledgling amongst a den of monsters in terms of sheer power. He is in the infant stages of his evolution while his fellow captains have had decades, centuries, even millennia to reach their peak. He sees their strength as a measuring stick, a guideline. His eyes are too sharp to overlook their inadequacies, and his dedication to excellence is quick to correct those same inadequacies in himself.
He acknowledges his own shortcomings without shame. Only time will grant him both physical and psychological maturity. He can afford to be a little soft-hearted behind his outer veneer of ice. He can afford to love strongly and hate fiercely, before time dulls the passion of youth with the hammer of experience. He is a prodigy - his strengths have always been more than adequate to compensate for his faults, and he knows he will overcome them naturally in time. Genius cannot be stopped, after all. He has never needed ambition, because for him, power is not really a matter of effort as much as it is a matter of inevitability. All he needs is time, and he has it - decades, centuries, even millennia - to grow into his own strength.
But then suddenly, he doesn't have time at all.
The realization comes in a streak of crimson painted across his soul with Aizen's blade. Suddenly, there is no more time. Aizen is a genius at the end of his own evolution, wielding an unrivalled power forged with centuries of experience that Hitsugaya simply does not have. The young prodigy is so easily manipulated, so easily broken. His illusion of invincibility shatters along with his bankai, and for the first time in his life, all his strength and strategy fail him when faced with an enemy he cannot hope to match. Aizen knows the nature of genius very well, and moves to crush it long before Hitsugaya can even comprehend why a man of such caliber would ever stoop to such treachery.
He is left with the bitter truth of his own failures and little time to correct them. Everywhere he looks, he sees cracks in the system, in his peers, in himself. And he fears – rightly so – that every chink in the armor of their invincibility will be exploited to the fullest.
If he had another hundred years, perhaps as a more mature, more experienced captain, he could have learned to chill his heart to the core instead of merely projecting a thin veneer of frosty control. Perhaps he could have learned not to care so deeply, so rashly about the few people he loves. But he does not have a hundred years, and as he cradles Momo's body to his chest with his own sword thrust through her heart, even though he knows Aizen is manipulating him, exploiting his weaknesses, his control shatters and his heart screams and Aizen cuts him out of the sky.
But genius cannot be stopped, even if it drives itself to destruction. In the end, Aizen has reached the end of his evolution and destroys himself with overconfidence and delusions of godhood. In the end, perhaps, Kurosaki Ichigo has done the same. Burning brighter than anyone else, an unparalleled fighting genius who went from unremarkable to unstoppable in a matter of days, yet burning out faster than anyone else too.
But Kurosaki has bought them time, an unknown amount of time to grow stronger before the next hammer blow falls.
Hitsugaya will not waste it. Never before has he seen his own failings so clearly, and never before has the drive to correct them burned so fiercely. He cannot remain a fledgling in a den of monsters. He evolves.
The next time he sees Kurosaki Ichigo, Hitsugaya has not grown at all, at least, physically. Mentally, however, he has grown much, much colder. Ice comes quickly to him now. His opponent is a child playing with a dangerous toy, and Hitsugaya instantly recognizes the loneliness and bitterness of a shunned prodigy. More than anyone, Hitsugaya can sympathize with those feelings. Hitsugaya understands the nature of genius very well, and moves to crush it before Yukio can fully comprehend the difference of their strength. He has a century of experience that Yukio simply does not, after all. And whereas before Aizen, his empathy would have dulled his resolve, now, it is only another weapon in Hitsugaya's arsenal. A single comment – 'you were abandoned, weren't you?' – to shatter the boy's self-control followed by a swift, merciless blow that ends the battle, both physically and psychologically. There is no mercy in his eyes as he delivers an ultimatum. Yield or die. Five minutes to decide. Hitsugaya has become efficient.
Quietly, he realizes that this is how Aizen fought. Even more quietly, he realizes that he doesn't have a problem with that. To be an adult means doing what he must do instead of what he wants to.
This is only another step in his transition from rash child to controlled adult. Weaknesses being shed systematically one by one. With the master of illusions defeated and sealed, Hitsugaya has taken a long, hard look at himself and his world with unclouded eyes, and there are a few truths that stared back at him like dead eyes on a battlefield.
Genius understands genius. Though it sickens him, he is capable of understanding how a man like Aizen Sosuke could justify all of the betrayal and bloodshed in a mad quest to become God.
He remembers the sharp rocks thrown by cruel children whenever Momo wasn't looking. He remembers the brilliant redness of Kusaka's blood spilled in the name of empty tradition. He has patrolled the living world and scattered the souls of families, friends, and lovers far apart across Soul Society in the name of duty. He has walked through the outskirts of Zaraki district and watched lives begin and end in squalor and bloodshed. He has tasted the sickly sweet hospitality of the nobility and choked on their wasteful opulence. He stands in both worlds, a Captain with nothing but the dirt of Rukongai in his veins, and wonders why the value of a life varies so drastically.
There are cracks in the system everywhere he looks. He is powerless to halt the sick experiments carried out in the Twelfth Division. He cannot look Ukitake in the eye for weeks after stumbling across the reports on the Quincy genocide. He realizes he is no different, no less guilty of that crime, in the weeks after they eradicate the Bount. 'Mercy' means nothing in this world. He has personally seen how decades of unquestionable loyalty, of childhoods lost, of tears shed, of blood spilled in the name of duty, mean absolutely nothing to this broken system they serve. Twice now, he has killed Kusaka for them: once because of their mistake, and once more to correct it. The Shinigami are chained by their rules and customs, rejecting logic and drowning slowly in a quagmire of outdated traditions and self-destructive paranoia.
He tries not to think too hard about it, but being a genius means he cannot stop. As he looks in the mirror at the man he is becoming, he slowly realizes that he is beginning to understand why a man like Aizen would desire godhood regardless of moral consequences. Is beginning to understand how their broken world can break a genius with eyes too sharp to overlook inadequacies.
He is not there yet. He feels no sympathy for the madman, and though he can see how the Aizen's twisted logic might have run, he finds it unforgivable all the same. No logic will ever justify what the man has done to Hinamori. But there is a quiet whisper of fear in the back of his mind, because genius understands genius, and he wonders what would have happened if he had not had the good fortune to land in Junrinan, the safest of the Rukongai districts, or if Granny and Momo had not accepted him into their makeshift family. A childhood of poverty, bloodshed, and isolation. Facing the cold rejection of everyone around him without a place to call home or a face to call friend. Hitsugaya knows his own potential and the terrifying scope of destruction he can wreak. All of the heavens are his to command. Floods. Freezing. Famines. How easy it would have been for him to become a monster. How easy it is to imagine where that path would have led.
It is a very sobering revelation. Revelations, once gained, cannot be undone.
The potential has always been there, and is still there, growing every time he chills his own heart.
But he is not Aizen. Not yet. Hopefully, not ever. He will not turn his back on the division that looks to him for guidance with hard-earned respect shining in their eyes. He will not abandon Momo no matter how many times an enemy uses her against him. He will trust Matsumoto to watch his back no matter how great the gulf in their strength. This is the choice every genius must make, and where Aizen chose strength, Hitsugaya chooses weakness, weaknesses that will be exploited again and again. He wears his shackles willingly and vows to become strong enough that they do not matter. This is the truth that Aizen could not see. This is the truth that will be Hitsugaya's salvation: weaknesses are what keep prodigies like him rooted in humanity despite all their monstrous strength. The last step in the evolution of a genius is to become untouchable. To reach a pinnacle of strength where all that is above you is a mocking God and all that is below you are incomprehensibly lesser beings. To become alone.
He has decades, centuries, even millennia before his own talents force him to take that step. That should be enough time to figure out how to keep himself from becoming a megalomaniac with a god-complex, or for the coldness of his power to freeze the last flickers of human warmth in his soul. He will find a way to keep himself from taking that last, fatal step away from humanity. He will not let the strength of his ice swallow up the strength of his heart.
The problem with genius is that it cannot be stopped, even if it drives itself to destruction.
So he will shackle himself. He will weigh himself down. He will never let himself soar too high to remember the ground. Let every enemy scorn this as weakness and mock him for crippling his own potential; he will not mourn his decision, because he knows better. Hitsugaya understands the nature of genius very well. This is self-preservation. He will choose weakness over strength, friendship over isolation, foolishness over ruthlessness, every single time.
He will destroy the perfection of genius rather than let it destroy him.
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Inspired entirely by a forum post where someone pointed out that Hitsugaya's strategy against Yukio in chapter 466 and 467 was a lot like Aizen's strategy against everyone