Hello everyone! This is the last chapter of Ichigo's Rising, I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have writing. Please don't forget to leave a review, tell me what you thought of the story. Thank you to fuzzibunniez and TheDarkSlayer for their reviews last chapter and i'll see you all hopefully on the next fic! ^^ Bye :D

23 - Ichigo's Rising

They all stood, their eyes on the spot where Ulquiorra had just been a few seconds ago. Sighing, Ichigo looked across to Orihime, the girl lowering her hand slowly, turning back to Tatsuki, the purple haired girl sitting up, coughing violently and holding her head. Looking around, they watched as the captains slowly began to regain consciousness, Komamura lifting himself up, blood splashing from his tattered body, Soi Fon shivering, blood dribbling from her lip as Yoruichi helped her up, the latter aided still by a wounded Kisuke.

'It's all over…' came Uryu's voice, Ichigo nodding slowly. Suddenly, there was an explosion from the floor beneath where Urahara's Shop had been, orange light erupting out of a hole in the ground. Gasping, Starrk vanished, appearing beside the hole, his coat rippling out around him as he covered his eye, looking down the tunnel.

'Damn…the door to Fake Karakura…' he coughed. '…it's beginning to collapse…!' snarling, he shot a glance back at Ichigo, the boy's eyes widening.

'Karin…Yuzu! I have to get them out of there!' Ichigo cried, darting over to the hole in the floor, Kisuke suddenly grasping his shoulder tight.

'Kurosaki-san…it's too unstable…you can't go in there…' he breathed, blood dripping from his lip. Starrk watched as a droplet of the red liquid fell from the man's mouth, falling, falling, before hitting the floor below, splashing across the concrete and suddenly, something within him snapped. Pushing in front of Ichigo, he summoned his two pistols and aimed them into the hole in the floor, the orange light pulsing out of it.

'W…what are you doing?' Harribel whispered, appearing behind the man, Coyote baring his teeth.

'We started this mess. I never realised that someone this kid knew was down there. I'd have never done this if I did.' Starrk growled, narrowing his eye at the ravaged hole, cracking and splitting the pavement beneath them.

'So what are you going to do?' Tia asked, Starrk focusing on the hole. Turning to face Ichigo, Starrk nodded roughly towards the hole in the ground, the light almost blinding them, shaking the area around them as it built up fiercely.

'Yo, listen up!' Coyote exclaimed, Ichigo looking up at him. 'Down there is the door to the Fake Karakura, but you won't have long. I'll disperse this reiatsu with my attacks, you have to get in there and avoid my Cero. Get it?' he asked, Ichigo nodding dumbly. Smirking, Starrk turned back to the churning light. '…sweet.' With a click, he launched a powerful blue Cero at the hole, blowing away some of the brilliant orange light before unleashing another one, the second one blasting away the rest.

'Go, Kurosaki Ichigo!' Starrk cried, the hole momentarily quiet. Without a second thought, Ichigo pounced over the edge, disappearing into the crevice below. Suddenly, the orange light resurfaced, the boy crying out, searing in pain as it burned into him. With a swing of his hand he summoned his Hollow mask in a jet of black and red, pushing through the light, Starrk blasting parts of it away.

'Damn, it's getting heavier…!' Starrk cursed, gritting his teeth as he fired. Ichigo cursed as his mask began to crack under the pressure and he held his arm over his face, sweating as he went.

'Damn it…Karin, Yuzu…finally I find out where you are…but I can't reach you…I'm so close…I'm so sorry…' Ichigo thought to himself, watching as his mask came ever closer to its limit. Suddenly, a blue Cero tore overhead and, from the parting in the smoke, Harribel came flying downwards, her weapon pointed past Ichigo.

'La Gota!' she cried, firing a jet of water into the hole. Ichigo watched as the water splashed across the portal, none of it entering, instead, pushing the reiatsu aside, Tia firing her blasts rapidly, the searing power of the reiatsu pushing the two of them back. Spinning to Ichigo, she screamed at him, her yellow hair falling down over her hair.

'Go, now! Kurosaki Ichigo, dive!' she shouted, Ichigo nodding. With that, he plunged into the portal, his mask exploding from his face, the reiatsu building up again. However, he burst into the portal, pushing through the brunt force that was building against him. Finally, everything around him was silent. Landing roughly on the floor, Ichigo opened his eyes to a smoky ruin, the Fake Karakura crumbling around him, lightning flashing across the sky as everything caved in. Closing his eyes, he immediately locked onto his sisters. Vanishing, he reappeared next to their house, at least, the fake version. His sisters were cowering inside, Yuzu crying uncontrollably.

'Karin!' he roared, the black haired girl looking up suddenly, hair matted over her face.

'Ichi-nii!' she said, her face lighting up. The boy pushed through the falling wood and stone, holding out a strained hand to the girl. The house was collapsing around them and Karin dared not move.

'Take my hand!' Ichigo bellowed, the floor beginning to split and crack beneath them, light rising up from it, like an earthquake it began to pull them apart. Cursing, Ichigo pushed through more stone and brick, unable to get to the girls on the other side. 'Damn, TAKE MY HAND!' he cried, the girl desperately reaching out to him, her fingers almost touching his.

'There's no other way for me to get round to them…they're backed up against a wall and I can't use Shunpo to get through this damn rock…Karin, Yuzu…what the hell do I do!' he thought to himself, sweat running down his forehead as the immense heat leaked from the split in the ground in front of him, the black haired girl shaking her head, Yuzu crying into her shoulder. Ichigo cursed and punched the wall, the sky breaking away above him, falling down upon him, the boy disappearing into a plume of dust, Yuzu looking up, tears streaming down her eyes.

'ICHI-NII!' she screamed, darkness suddenly falling onto them like a blanket as the roof began to fall…

Outside, Starrk recoiled sharply as an explosion erupted out of the hole, Harribel bounding out of the way in the nick of time, the woman landing sharply on the ground, panting heavily.

'What's it like…?' Uryu asked, the woman shaking her head.

'Was Kurosaki-kun alright?' Inoue exclaimed, Harribel standing to her feet, rubbing her arm tentatively.

'Let's just say that man is going to have be strong…' she whispered, her yellow eyes darting back to the hole in the ground behind her. Nodding, Inoue smiled to herself, her face beaming in the sunlight, Tia raising an eyebrow at the girl.

'Then I'm happy.' the orange haired girl said simply. 'I know Kurosaki-kun is strong. He knows what is right and always fights for what he believes in. Although we still don't know who kidnapped his sisters, Kurosaki-kun kept going…' Orihime explained, Harribel and Starrk listening in awe as the young girl clenched her hands together in front of her, smiling happily. '…although he changed a bit after Rukia-chan died, he still kept fighting for us, for all of his friends…I know he must be haunted and we can't even begin to imagine his feelings, like what he had to go through in the fight against Aizen…' she whispered, her eyes drifting to the floor now, a warm smile on her lips as a vivid memory flashed into her head, Ichigo swinging his jet black sword down upon Sosuke Aizen back in Soul Society. '…the thing is…all the time, he was carrying the death of his father on his shoulders…it changed him, it truly did, but…it seems after long last, Kurosaki-kun has pulled through and he is the Kurosaki-kun we all know and love again. His heart…' she whispered, squeezing her hands tighter.

'…never truly left us. Even when he and Ishida-kun were fighting, he never wanted to. Even when Aizen made him fight Abarai-kun, he never wanted to. Kurosaki-kun…was always with us. That is why I know he will pull through…because he has become stronger. He mastered his Bankai again…Kurosaki-kun seems to have finally mastered his heart.'

Coyote and Harribel watched the girl in silence, the hole still trembling behind them. Suddenly, what looked like magma burst out of the ground, the two Espada leaping aside as it splattered across the ground, steaming frantically. Then, out of nowhere, a figure stepped down in front of them, Komamura swinging his fist downwards, a colossal, armoured arm slamming down upon the floor, blocking the magma.

'Captain…Komamura…!' Uryu choked, watching in shock as the towering man turned to them.

'Vacate them to another area. This one is far too unstable.' Sajin boomed, blood still running down his face. 'You Espada…' he growled. '…you will be apprehended and dealt with accordingly.' he snarled, Tia vanishing. However, Starrk stood beside him, Komamura watching as everyone else left, the remaining Espada standing still.

'…I said go, no-!' Sajin began, but Starrk had already summoned his wolves around him, the creatures howling and snarling in a pack.

'The look in your eyes…it's of a lonely man.' Coyote explained, looking up at the wolf. 'I suppose people avoided you because of your looks?' he said, Komamura taken aback, expecting to be offended.

'You…!' he began, baring his ferocious fangs. Then, Starrk turned his eye back to the crack in the floor.

'…I'm sorry I attacked you. It wasn't what I wanted.' Coyote said simply, leaping at the hole, surrounding it and flooding it with his wolves, the spiritual animals exploding violently on contact with the fiery reiatsu, Komamura watching him in shock.

'W…wha…' he whispered, his eyes looking down at the Espada. Getting a grip, he nodded, summoning his monstrous shogun hand and cupping it around the hole. '…it's too powerful…nothing will contain it…!' he growled, sweat running down his cheek. Suddenly, Urahara Kisuke appeared beside the captain, flicking his sword over the crater, pulling his hat down over his eyes as he whispered.

'Shibari, Benihime!' he snapped, a red net forming from the tip of his blade, flinging itself over the gaping crater before latching onto the pavement around it and holding firm. Komamura lifted his hand away, Kisuke shaking his head.

'Leave it there. The net won't last long.' he instructed, Komamura nodding. Suddenly, they heard a scream and looked around, Orihime Inoue dashing over to them, waving madly.

'You can't close the hole! Kurosaki-kun is in there!' she cried out, Kisuke's eyes widening.

'Kurosaki-san! But why?' he spluttered, his eyes falling onto the hole, the churning reiatsu bubbling and spewing out from within.

'His sisters, his sister were in there! He went to save them!' she exclaimed. Cursing, Urahara whipped his hand around him, severing the netting at all edges, the ret spider web like coating flying off and vanishing into the air, turning to red smoke in front of them. Tilting his hat up, Kisuke grimaced.

'Roughly, we have about two minutes until this destroys Karakura Town. Damn it…I can't believe all the reiatsu that's been leaking out during this battle would have created this. It's like a mesh pool of reiatsu, churning and attempting to weave together. But different powers are not meant to mix together, which has caused this devastation. Kurosaki-kun…you've got to hurry…or we'll have to close the door to the Fake Karakura Town!' cried Urahara, Orihime watching in horror. Then, Harribel came flying past them, crashing into the far wall. Standing away from her was a weakened Soi Fon, the woman panting.

'You're under arrest…' she wheezed, drawing her zanpakuto when, out of nowhere, Komamura turned to the small captain, shaking his head.

'We'll sort this out later, Soi Fon.' he growled, the woman muttering. Orihime watched in anguish at the crater, just waiting for Ichigo to break out of it. Her hands were clasped around her mouth, Uryu and Sado standing behind her, looking into the deep crater. Uryu clenched his fist, watching, narrowing his eyes.

'Come on…Kurosaki…!' he thought to himself, baring his teeth as he looked down at Inoue, the woman in disbelief as Ichigo wouldn't show. Everyone watched in suspense when suddenly, out of the ground blew out a colossal tower of fire and water, the debris raining down upon them. Acting quickly, Sajin swung his arm round, the giant behind him deflecting the rain of fire.

'We can't do this any longer…Kisuke Urahara!' Komamura cried desperately, Urahara nodding reluctantly.

'I'm sorry Kurosaki-san…we have no choice, we have to protect the town…it's time to seal the crater…' he thought to himself summoning his sword in front of him.

'NO, WAIT!' Inoue screamed, reaching out for the man but he swung his sword, casting the red net over the burning pit again. The girl looked down at it, crying tears wildly from her eyes when suddenly, the net looked like it moved. She stopped slowly, looking at it with watery eyes. Then, with a tremendous explosion, the net was ripped in half and something leapt out of the fire, billowing smoke trailing off of the figure, reiatsu flowing from the shadowy person as they landed heavily on the ground behind everyone, Orihime, Ishida and Sado turning slowly.

'There you go…Karin, Yuzu…' Ichigo smiled warmly to his sisters, sitting them down on the ground before straightening up and turning to everyone, his Bankai coat rippling out behind him as he looked at them with fiery blue eyes. He looked weary and tired, but still, he smiled, Orihime wiping her tears before bursting into a small laughter, Uryu chuckling to himself as they watched Ichigo, the boy grinning.

'Kurosaki-kun…we knew Kurosaki-kun would make it…' Orihime giggled.

'Congratulations, Kurosaki.' Uryu smirked, lowering his glasses, Sado giving Ichigo a hearty thumbs up. Ichigo chuckled, beaming at them all.

Night fell on Karakura and Ichigo arrived at Urahara's Shop, nodding back towards his house as Orihime, Uryu and Sado were there to meet him.

'I've put them to bed, they said they didn't recognise who kidnapped them.' he sighed, shaking his head. 'Damn it, we'll never find him.' Orihime sighed, tilting her head at him, her hair falling down over her eyes.

'Maybe it's someone we don't even know.' she smiled, suggesting it. Ichigo shrugged.

'At least they're back.' he said bluntly. A silence fell over them and the wind rustled the trees nearby, blowing a cold, howling chill through the slumbering town. Slowly, he looked over to his left, Coyote Starrk and Tia Harribel standing atop a building, talking with one another quietly.

'What's happening with them?' Ichigo asked.

'Soi Fon wants them arrested, but Komamura thinks they deserve to be set free as long as they don't attack us. I don't know why he had such a change of heart, but he seems to be fairly defiant…' Uryu explained.

'I think they should be let go. They really helped us out.' Ichigo reminded them.

'Remember though Kurosaki, if they hadn't arrived in the first place this would never have happened.' Uryu said, Ichigo nodding. Shoving his hands into his pockets, Ichigo sighed, the wind picking up again.

'So what happens now?' Kurosaki asked, the group of them standing in silence. Uryu lifted his head, the moon's light reflecting from his glasses as he spoke.

'Urahara-san kindly offered for me to stay with him until something is sorted out with the house. I'll make sure my father has a proper burial, one that a Quincy would be honoured with.' Ishida remarked, Ichigo smiling slightly. Clearing his throat, Sado placed a firm hand on Ichigo's shoulder, the wind blowing through his brown locks.

'You did well, Ichigo. At last everything's back to normal. Anyway, I have to get home. It's getting late out.' he said slowly, nodding to everyone, the group waving to him as he ran down the streets, passing under the lights. Turning, they watched as a bright light appeared outside Urahara's Shop, the two Espada leaping down to see. Urahara stepped out of his shop with Yoruichi, Soi Fon and Komamura, the four of them making their way over to the enormous Senkai Gate being summoned.

'Urahara-san!' Ichigo cried, running over, Uryu and Orihime behind him. 'What's going on?'

'The captains have decided to pardon our Espada friends here.' Urahara explained, holding his fan to his mouth, Starrk and Tia's faces lighting up. 'They decided they were a valuable asset to our military strength.' Ichigo punched the air as the two captains vanished through the gateway, the light closing behind them and disappearing into the sky. Starrk stepped up to them, holding out his hand.

'Thanks. Is there any way we can repay you?' he asked, Ichigo shaking his head, claiming they did enough by helping them fight Barragan. Smiling, Starrk thanked him again, Harribel doing the same before vanishing into the night. Turning, Ichigo groaned to see Kisuke and Yoruichi making their way back into the shop, waving to the orange haired substitute Shinigami as they went, cheeky smiles on their faces.

'Hey why are you guys going already…?' he wondered, his hand dropping slowly as Uryu skipped along behind them strangely, Ichigo watching as a the wind howled around him and the door to the Urahara Shop closed shut loudly with a bang. Puzzled, he turned round to see Inoue talking with Tatsuki some way off, realising suddenly he was alone with the two of them.

'Kurosaki really pulled through then huh?' Arisawa asked, Inoue nodding.

'He always would…' Orihime grinned, pushing her hair back over her ears. Tatsuki smirked when suddenly she caught sight of Ichigo over the girl's shoulder and smirked at the boy. She put her hand on Orihime's arm and winked at the girl before walking past her and standing in front of Ichigo, the boy's fingers tapping nervously together.

'Ichigo…' she whispered, thinking back to what she said to him.

'Ichigo…' she whispered. '…if you win…' she breathed, her hair covering her eyes. '…I don't want to see you back in the same classroom as Inoue again.' she started off down the alley, Ichigo's back to them, his kimono blowing in the wind.

Reaching up, Tatsuki placed her hand on Ichigo's shoulder and clenched it tight, looking up at him, a small smile on her face.

'I'm sorry for what I said, Ichigo. I was wrong about ya.' she smirked, Ichigo's face turning bright red. Walking away, Tatsuki left the two alone, disappearing around the corner. Slowly, Orihime looked around awkwardly, Ichigo rubbing the back of his head.

'Inoue…san…' he began sheepishly, the girl turning to look at him.

'Kurosaki-kun…you don't need to say anything.' she whispered, the wind catching her hair, causing it to flow out around her, her hairpins glistening in the moonlight. Ichigo watched her nervously, his eyes wide open, watching the girl standing there.

'This is…such a different feeling to last time…' Ichigo thought to himself, thinking back.

'Inoue…' he whispered but she didn't say a word. Instead she raised herself to him, her eyes closing, his doing the same as they leaned in, the street lamp seemingly brightening over their heads. As she moved her lips towards his, they stopped for but a fraction of a second. In that second, Inoue opened her eyes.

'I'm sorry.' she whispered faintly and stepped away.

Reaching out towards her, Ichigo scratched the back of his neck, unsure of what to say. With that, Inoue suddenly flung her arms around his shoulders, pulling him tight and close, the boy startled, his eyes wide open.

'Thank you so much, Kurosaki-kun…how many times are you going to keep coming back to save me…? I don't know how long…at least I know I can always count on you.' she whispered into his ear. Slowly, he began to relax as she spoke. 'Hopefully one day, I'll be able to protect you too…' bringing her face around to his, she slowly reached towards him, her lips coming closer to his.

'Inoue…' he whispered, closing his eyes. Then, their lips touched, if only for a split second they came together. Suddenly, Ichigo parted from her, holding her for a moment, shaking his head. '…I'm sorry, Inoue. I can't do this. I can't endanger you…' he whispered, the girl's head hanging slowly as she nodded.

'I thought Kurosaki-kun might say something like this. I'm not so upset seeing as I prepared.' she whispered, the boy watching her.

'Inoue…there are Hollows…enemies, after me all the time. I'm sorry…' he spoke again, raising a hand to her.

'Then…if we can't be together, Kurosaki-kun…' she said smoothly, looking up into his eyes, tears coming to hers. '…let me have this moment…' she finished, pulling him close to kiss him again, the boy stuttering before closing his eyes slowly, delicately kissing the girl back, his hand running through her orange hair. Finally, they broke away, Ichigo taking her hand in his before looking away, turning to walk off, his hands in his pockets. The girl watched him go, clasping her hands together slowly, a small smile on her face, the wind running through her hair.

'Thank you, Kurosaki-kun. Not only has that cleared from my heart, but I know we will be friends for eternity. I am glad you sorted things out. Now, everyone can live in peace again. I'll always be here to protect you, should you ever need it. Thank you.' she thought to herself before turning away and walking in the opposite direction, the two of them parting for the last time that night.

Meanwhile, atop a dark roof, a woman touched down onto the tiles, another figure, a skeletally thin man sat on a pile of bodies, flicking the blood from his blade. The woman approached him, the moonlight shining down upon them, casting its glow over the rooftops.

'You…' she whispered, the man turning slowly. '…did everything didn't you?' she asked. Clenching her fist, she shook herself down, her strawberry hair flustering around her as the wind began to pick up, swirling around the two of them. 'You planted the fake evidence in that Quincy man's house. Didn't you? How could you do this?' Matsumoto asked, the moonlight revealing Ichimaru sitting atop the bodies, a cruel leer on his face as he shook his purple hair from his eyes. 'When did you manage to accomplish this?' she wondered, Gin chuckling.

'Heh…' he sneered, just thinking about the two dead bodies outside the Repentance Cell right now, their blood splashed across the bridge, the very bridge from which was hanging high above them right now. '…oh I've been out of the cell for quite some time now. In fact, you could say I've made a few journeys or two.'

'Why Rangiku-san…how nice of ya to come visit. Not here just to moan, surely?' he sniggered, running a thin finger down his wakizashi, the blade gleaming devilishly. Cursing under her breath, Matsumoto took a defiant step forwards, Gin looking back at her, not bothered in the least.

'That's not all! You kidnapped that poor boy's sisters didn't you! You placed them in the Fake Karakura Town!' Rangiku cried, Gin waving a flamboyant hand at the woman.

'Pleeease Rangiku-san, you make far too much out of me…' he whispered slyly. '…besides, I told him to go look there but he never did!' Gin said, feigning innocence.

'Let me tell ya one thing before ya go…' the man hissed, Ichigo leaning in close, the villain bringing his mouth to Ichigo's ear. '…ya should really check in Kisuke Urahara's basement. It'll be a shame if ya never do.'

'Y…you…I can't believe how cruel you could be, Ichimaru…' she hissed, the man standing up slowly, straightening up, flexing his fingers.

'…hmm…since when do you call me Ichimaru? What happened to Gin? Besides…I'm not cruel, I made everything fine in the end.' he said simply, grinning nastily. However, Rangiku smirked, flicking her hair back away from her face.

'No you didn't. Kurosaki Ichigo did.' she said, Gin raising an eyebrow. 'Ichigo discovered the true value of his friends, be it his zanpakuto or those in the human world. We all need help some times…he is just lucky he discovered that too.' Rangiku told the man, Gin rubbing the back of his head.

'My, my…' he whispered, opening one eye to the woman. '…ya always were the voice of reason. To be honest, I never really cared…' he grinned, appearing in front of the woman, Rangiku's eyes widening as he ran a finger across her chin, the woman stammering as she reached for her sword.

'…gonna draw your zanpakuto? Don't be so cruel, Rangiku…' he mocked, smirking at the woman. '…I was only having some fun.' With that, he turned and pounced from the rooftop, Rangiku cursing as she clenched her fist. However, she lowered her hand and smiled, looking up at the shining moon, her eyes glistening.

'Ah well…' she thought to herself, feeling the wind run across her neck. '…well done, Kurosaki Ichigo. You truly did return to your better self. Well done…' she thought to herself before disappearing into the cold, misty night.