Disclaimer- I do not own Bleach, never have and never will.

A/N- AU. This story does not follow the story line of Bleach. This is the third installment of my trilogy which began with Enemy in Soul Society and continued with Understanding. Now the war with Aizen is fast approaching and the Shinigami, along with Ichigo and his friends, must prepare for a battle the likes of which they have never encountered.

Countdown to Conflict

Chapter One - Deja Vu

As Squad Ten Captain Toushirou Hitsugaya made his way across Karakura Town to the small shop that was operated by the Acting Captain of Squad Twelve he could barely control his annoyance over the fact that he was once again stuck in the world of the living. Head Captain Ukitake had told him that he was the best person to act as the go between for Soul Society and those fighters in the world of the living however the young captain was convinced that that was not the sole reason why he was now trapped here, again. It was true that he'd spent some time with the fighters in the world of the living after he was attacked by the Reiatsu Poison Darts however that alone did not make him the most qualified person for this job and Hitsugaya couldn't help but think that had he not gone to Hueco Mundo in pursuit of Hinamori he would not have received this deplorable assignment.

Growling low in his throat Hitsugaya reached out and knocked on the door of Kisuke Urahara's shop. A few minutes passed by and then the young captain heard a familiar voice call out, "Come in."

Sliding the door open Hitsugaya stepped inside and then quickly made his way back to the small back room where he knew without a doubt that he would find the Acting Captain of Squad Twelve, Kisuke Urahara. And sure enough, as he stepped through the open door, he saw that Urahara was sitting at a small table, along with his almost constant companion Yoruichi Shihoin. The shop keeper was wearing his familiar green and white striped hat and he glanced at his visitor from underneath it.

"Well I must say you're not the person I was expecting," Urahara said as he focused his gaze on Hitsugaya. "So tell me, what brings the Captain of Squad Ten back to my humble little shop?"

"I was assigned to the world of the living to help with the Arrancar problem," Hitsugaya replied in a quiet and somewhat resigned tone of voice, unable to completely hide his annoyance with the situation. "And to act as a go between for the fighters here and Soul Society."

"So how exactly did you get this job Toushirou?" Urahara asked, completely ignoring the look of displeasure that appeared on the young captain's face and was more than likely caused by the fact that he'd addressed the boy in the familiar.

"This is punishment," Hitsugaya snarled under his breath, his eyes narrowing in annoyance. "I don't care what Ukitake says."

Urahara chuckled softly to himself however he chose not to comment on the boy's obvious displeasure over the situation.

"Just remember Captain Hitsugaya," Yoruichi said quietly from her spot beside Urahara. "It could be worse."

"Oh it's about to be," Hitsugaya said in a low tone of voice, rolling his eyes. "I have to go and see the Kurosakis next."

"You mean you're not looking forward to that?" Urahara asked with a smirk, enjoying the expression that appeared on the Squad Ten Captain's face.

"Of course I'm not looking forward to it!" Hitsugaya burst out, his eyes narrowing at the mere thought of once again being stuck around the Substitute Shinigami. Sure his powers were extraordinary but he was by far one of the most obnoxious people that the young captain had ever met. "Ichigo delights in tormenting me."

"That would be because your reactions are always so great," Urahara informed the startled young captain. "If you'd just ignore his little taunts then he'd eventually lose interest and stop picking on you."

"I'll try to keep that in mind," Hitsugaya said as he turned to leave. "Well I came to tell you that I was here and I did so now I'm leaving."

"Have fun Toushirou!" Urahara called out as the young captain of Squad Ten walked away.


"You know Kisuke," Yoruichi said with a chuckle as she and Urahara heard the sound of the front door slamming shut. "I get the impression that he isn't overly fond of this particular assignment."

"That's funny," Urahara said with a grin, picking up the cup that was sitting in front of him on the small table and taking a sip of tea. "I got the exact same impression."

Once Hitsugaya left Urahara's shop the young captain made his way across town to the small clinic that was operated by Isshin Kurosaki and where the former Shinigami lived with his three children, Ichigo and his sisters Yuzu and Karin. "I can't believe that Ukitake's making me do this," Hitsugaya muttered under his breath as he walked up to the clinic's front door.

In all honesty, considering what he'd done in order to save Hinamori from her own stupidity, Hitsugaya supposed that he should be grateful that this was his only punishment. Head Captain Ukitake could easily have stripped him of his title and had him thrown in jail for treason however for reasons unknown he had opted not to do that.

Hitsugaya raised his hand to knock on the door but before his clenched fist made contact with the wood he hesitated. "I think I would have preferred prison."

The young captain shook his head furiously, irritated by his own hesitancy, and once again raised his hand toward the door however, just as he was about to knock Hitsugaya heard a voice call out loudly from behind him.

"Oi it's Toushirou!"

Grinding his teeth in annoyance Hitsugaya whirled around and came face to face, figuratively speaking of course, with the orange haired Substitute Shinigami. "Dammit Kurosaki! How many times do I have to tell you that it's Captain Hitsugaya before it sinks through that thick skull of yours?"

"A lot apparently," Rukia said quietly from her spot beside Ichigo. The Squad Thirteen member bowed respectfully to the young captain and then gazed at him with a questioning expression in her eyes. "What brings you back to the world of the living Captain Hitsugaya?"

"Head Captain Ukitake thought that I could be of use," Captain Hitsugaya said shortly. "So here I am."

Like everyone else that Hitsugaya had spoken to since arriving in the world of the living Rukia couldn't help but pick up on the fact that the young captain didn't seem at all happy about his assignment. Not that she could really blame him considering the way he and Ichigo had gotten along the last time that he'd been stationed here. Ichigo HAD made it a point to give the young captain a really hard time during his last confinement in the world of the living.

"So what exactly did you do to deserve this Toushirou?" Ichigo asked, a questioning expression in his brown eyes. "It must have been something seriously bad to warrant this level of punishment."

"I went to Hueco Mundo," Hitsugaya replied after a moment's hesitation during which he debated whether or not he should lie.

Ichigo stared at the young captain for a few minutes, trying to figure out whether or not the white-haired prodigy was lying to him, and then his eyes widened as he realized that Hitsugaya was telling him the truth. "And why the hell would you do something like that?" he demanded.

"To save a friend," Hitsugaya replied shortly, glaring at Ichigo. Although he was still somewhat irritated by Hinamori's blatant stupidity it wasn't a topic that he was willing to discuss with anyone and especially not with the Substitute Shinigami.

"Okay then," Ichigo said, holding up his hands. "So are you going to be staying with us this time around Toushirou?"

"Not on your life Kurosaki," Hitsugaya growled, his eyes narrowed in anger. "And it's Captain Hitsugaya."

This said Hitsugaya turned to leave however he paused when he heard the sound of the clinic door opening. Instinctively the young captain whirled around toward the sudden, loud noise and the sight that met his gaze gave him pause. Isshin Kurosaki had just thrust the door open and, without a word to any of them, he engaged his son in a fight.

"You've gotta be kidding me," Ichigo muttered as he blocked a furious kick aimed at him by his father. "Dammit Dad!"

"You've gotta be on your toes Ichigo!" Isshin told his son as he continued to aim countless punches and kicks at the boy's head.

"You know," Ichigo growled as he easily blocked the blows from his father. "This was old way before I knew the reasoning behind it." This said Ichigo grasped his father by the wrist and promptly flipped the man over onto his back. "You know I can take care of myself now so leave me the hell alone already!"

A smirk appeared on Hitsugaya's face as he watched Ichigo being tormented by his father and then, once the former Captain of Squad Six was lying on his back on the ground, he turned to face Rukia, who was also watching the fight with interest. "Do they always act like this?"

"Always," Rukia replied, rolling her eyes. "Those two fight more than Ichigo and Renji, which is saying something."

"Hmm," Hitsugaya said thoughtfully.

"So Toushirou," Isshin said as he got to his feet and knocked the dirt from his clothes, acting as though nothing had happened. He focused his gaze on the white-haired boy standing next to Rukia and offered the young captain a friendly smile. "You're going to be staying with us while you're in the world of the living right?"


"That's strange," Isshin said, reaching up and scratching the back of his head with his hand. "Ukitake asked me if you could stay here and I told him that you could."

"You have got to be kidding me," Hitsugaya thought to himself as he pulled his communicator from his pocket and flipped it open. The young captain took a couple of steps away from the group and contacted Soul Society and when he flipped the communicator closed it was obvious to all that the conversation had not gone well. There was a scowl on the Squad Ten Captain's face as he rejoined the group.

"I guess I am staying here," Hitsugaya muttered, his voice full of irritation.

"Glad to have you." Isshin offered the white-haired boy a broad smile before he made his way back into the clinic.

"This isn't right," Hitsugaya thought to himself. "And Ukitake said that I wasn't going to be punished for going to Hueco Mundo."

"Cheer up," Ichigo said, breaking into the young captain's thoughts. "It could be worse."

"No it couldn't," Hitsugaya said, focusing his gaze on the Substitute Shinigami and thinking to himself that there was no way that his situation could possibly get any worse. No, being stuck here with Ichigo Kurosaki was the worst possible fate.

"You know Rukia," Ichigo said, turning away from Hitsugaya and back to her. "I don't think that he's happy to be here."

"Gee Ichigo I wonder why not," Rukia said, her voice filled to over flowing with sarcasm.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Ichigo demanded, clenching his hands into fists and glaring down at Rukia.

"Ugh," Hitsugaya groaned as he listened to the two of them argue. He reached up and massaged his temples with the tips of his fingers, feeling the beginnings of a headache forming. "This is not how I envisioned spending my time in the world of the living."

TBC. . .

A/N- And there it is. The beginning of the end. Feedback is greatly appreciated so please read and review and let me know what you think. Until next time this is Hitsu-taichou signing out.