A/N: Well, this is it. The final chapter. It's been fun. I still can't believe this evolved out of that one shot. XD I hope you all have enjoyed the ride, and stay tuned. I have a few ideas about this universe I may churn out at some point as one-shots. Also, sorry for the delay. My cub starts 3rd grade on Tuesday and we were busy last Friday so I didn't get anything polished. Ja ne, minna!

Five days later, the sun shined, birds sang, flowers bloomed, and the energy of four worlds hummed with the promise of good things to come. Today was special. Today was the beginning of a new era. Because today, the new Spirit King would be crowned and the Four Worlds would rejoice in His Name. Decorations in every color adorned the pillars of the throne room. The shoji screens had been repainted in fresh vibrant tones. The windows were left wide open to bring sunshine and birdsong into the room that hadn't been used in two months. The carpet was plush. The cushions were in neat rows. And the whole place radiated good fortune and glad tidings.

In a few hours the hall would be packed with representatives of the Four Worlds, his Pride, his family, and none of them could have been more proud of him. So, as he walked the path leading to his throne for the last time before the ceremony began, he tried to clear the heaviness in his heart. Melancholy gold eyes gazed up at the chair that would be the symbol of his power, and a deep sigh escaped his lips. He tucked his hands into the wide sleeves of his yukata, and was about to kneel before his own throne when a quiet voice broke the peace.

"It is time, Heika." Ginrei looked apologetic, standing to the side of the dais.

"Hai." Ichigo took another deep breath, and moved off to exit the throne room.

While the presentation hall was being filled, the Incumbent King stood stock still in his dressing room. He'd been bathed, oiled, and his cheek shaven baby soft. Stripped of his normal clothing, the servants tied a fundoshi around his privates. The second layer was a thin set of hakama and okatabira. Over that he was dressed in an emerald ohguchi and matching hitoe with a yokoshigebishi pattern. This was followed by the akome in a complimenting shade of green-blue, patterned in the traditional koaoi. It took six servants to fit the pale ue-no-hakama and shitagasane over the already heavy layers of fabric adorning his body. A hanpi in black with miedasuki pattern came next. Finally, he was weighed down by the stiff silk hoeki no ho, an overcoat in deep, vibrant blue and patterned delicately with a large feline. Through it all he only allowed himself a slow blink and a measured breath.

When the sekita belt, shitohzu socks and kanmuri headgear were added, he blinked a second time. Were it not for the weeks of training with Ginrei and the years of wielding a sword, he wouldn't have been able to withstand all of the rigmarole that went to his formal presentation. With the firm image of exactly why he was doing this in mind, he stepped into the ceremonial asagutsu sandals. A hirao, hand-painted with the Kurosaki family crest and embroidered with the thirteen flowers of the Gotei divisions, was threaded around his already burdened waist, to the roll of his eyes. Another five to ten minutes of fussing with straps, folds, and the train on his shitagasane and he was ready to make the slow precise walk from his chambers to the throne room. He carried with him the traditional tato, shaku and hiogi—symbols of Imperial position.

Though this morning seemed to drag on forever, the preceding days had been a mind-numbing blur of organizing the gathering. It was at his insistence that the clothing he wore was decorated the way it was; blues and greens instead of traditional reds and oranges, felines instead of dragons or the phoenix, and black in places where white was the norm. It had been like pulling teeth, but he'd gotten his way after consenting to wear the full sokutai. In the hours when he wasn't beating his head against the brick wall that was the Imperial dressmaker, he and Ginrei had been working non-stop on sealing Zangetsu down into a more traditional kazari tachi so that the Old Man could hang from his belt line today.

The procession of attendants and screen-bearers brought them to the doors of the throne room. The large crimson doors were pulled open and Ichigo took yet another deep breath. This was it. No turning back now. The screen-bearers broke away in two lines, each white silken flag allowing a tiny bit more of His Imperial Highness to be revealed to the gathered masses. By the time the procession reached the bottom of the steps leading up to the throne itself, only one set of screens remained. The attendants holding his train climbed the dais with him, and the crowd held their breath.

At the top, in front of the throne itself, he turned to look out over the room. The entire Gotei 13 from the Sotaicho down to many unseated officers who'd met him at one point or other over the ten years since the Winter War were kneeling in the front rows to the right. To the left the first row had his father, also in traditional Royal sokutai, and his sisters, both in formal kazami. Though all three were not quite as decorated as the Imperial Prince Himself, he took some amusement in Karin's discomfort, and pride in both his father and Yuzu, who looked like she'd stepped straight out of a history book. Behind them were his friends from the Living World, or wherever the Fates resided—well, and Hell, considering Sado. The Lord of Hell brought a smattering of what could only be called demons to finish out their row. Then came the rest of his Pride, the Visoreds and Espada. Beyond those, he could only guess were members of the noble houses. He thought he might have seen Geta-Boshi somewhere in the crowd but at that moment Ginrei stepped up to address the assembly.

"As captain of the Royal Guard, I have the greatest honor and humblest privilege to present His Imperial Majesty, Lord of the Four Worlds, King of Souls, Emperor Kurosaki Ichigo the Fifteenth!"

The orangette gave the tiniest of head nods and every forehead in the room touched the floor in the deepest kowtow he had ever witnessed. After a speech, which the King was sure bored everyone else as much as it bored him, the formality was released to an extent. Most of the unnamed masses trickled out of the throne room. Many lined up to give their respects though, and the names and faces blurred together such that Ichigo could barely remember his own identity at the end of it all. His closest friends were invited to an 'after-party' of sorts and were escorted to an antechamber to wait for him to finish dealing with the nobility and other boot lickers that wished to appeal to His Majesty's good graces while he was still 'ignorant enough to be fooled'. All in all, it severely irritated him, but two months of lessons in Royalty had even Byakuya pleasantly surprised.

When the ceremony was FINALLY over—it had taken another three hours to change back out of the sokutai—the orangette joined his closest friends and family at the 'after-party'. The second he entered cheers roared through the room. He smiled broadly, and ducked instinctively.

"AH MY ROYAL SON STILL HAS HIS REFLEXES!" Goat Face shouted from his position upside down against the wall.

Ichigo's quiet amusement at his father's antics was something of a shock though. Karin stared at him, but couldn't get close as Renji and Ikkaku clapped him on the back, pulling him over to a table where Rangiku, Keigo, Ganju, and Tatsuki had sake set up. They were joined by several others that the King recognized as 'drinking buddies' of one or more of the people around the table with him.

"Get back here you little imp!" Jinta tore through the room after Yachiru and what looked like a real imp.

Ichigo raised an eyebrow, sipping his sake, and Sado smiled from across the room. So, it was a real imp. Heh.

Someone set up music from the Living World, and several of the girls were dancing in the middle of the floor. Rukia and Orihime especially, and Yumichika, surprisingly. Rangiku tried to join in, but she'd already had too much sake to keep the rhythm and leaned back into Toshiro's lap with a giggle.

"Gin! Get your woman off of my lap!" The snowy captain growled from his place at a table with Byakuya, Ulquiorra and Uryuu.

The Shinigami-turned-Visored grinned, "Come, Ran-chan, Kira-chan said he's got special sake over here." He pulled her with his good arm, and she flopped onto his shoulder easily. "Heh." He shrugged at Ichigo, who lifted his glass in a salute. Then they moved off to a secluded corner.

Hiyori got up to dance, and was pulled back onto Nnoitra's lap. "Where ya think yer goin', woman?"

She actually giggled, and using his own momentum, pulled him out onto the dance floor. "I'm dancin', Baldy! Dance with me!" She laughed.

"Ya've been in the sake already, haven't ya?" He grinned down into her face.

Ichigo shook his head, still smiling the same amused look, and turned to look at Hisagi, who was talking about something regarding tattoos and how the orangette should get one. Across the room, unbeknownst to the King, his dark-haired sister nursed a cup of soda watching him.

The night carried on, Kenpachi challenging anyone who'd let him to any sort of contest he could come up with; Isshin pulled Yuzu to dance; Muiziro entertained Kuukaku, Ururu, and Yoruichi, much to Soi Fon's displeasure; Shinji, Kisuke, Shunsui and Jushiro talked quietly in a corner away from both the 'Silent Stoics' and the 'Drunkards' tables; Tatsuki actually convinced Hanataro to crawl away from the wall and socialize a little with both Yuzu and Karin, though the brunette twin was still distracted. At one point, Byakuya actually approached Ichigo.

"You did surprisingly well, Kurosaki-Heika." He intoned with no small amount of pride. The orangette didn't say anything, only smiled that same smile from before. The ebony haired noble blinked, his eyebrows twitching for a moment, but he didn't comment on it. He inclined his head in a show of respect, and moved off.

At that moment, Ichigo found himself mostly alone. Everyone else was either paired off or in small groups enjoying themselves. It allowed him to let his mask slip ever so slightly. His eyes darkened and he hid the falter of his smile in the liquid sanctuary of his sake cup. Though he was still on his first one, taking the smallest sips he could possibly manage. As lost in his own thoughts as he was, he missed his sister plopping down next to him.

"Ichi-nii, are you ok?" Karin asked, scowling at him.

He looked at her, shocked. He coughed a few times, his sake going down too fast. Trying to smile, he found he couldn't meet her eyes. So, he focused on rolling his cup between his hands. The lights of the room glittered off the rings that adorned his fingers.

"You made the right choice. Yuzu and I start at the Shino Academy next week. I'm already hearing my Zanpakutou, for Kami's sake! Heh, well, for Your sake really." She rubbed the back of her head. Catching sight of her twin, dancing with their father, she continued. "Goat Face is teaching there you know."

He put a mock terrified expression on his face, and laughed silently along with Karin's chuckles.

"You should listen to your sister, Kurosaki-Heika." Uryuu appeared next to the King opposite his sister. Looking up at him curiously, Ichigo's eyebrow rose. The archer adjusted his glasses, "I shouldn't tell you this, but that man in the petroleum truck will be father to the line that brings about the solution to world hunger someday. Without him, the Human race would be centuries behind on the Tapestry."

The Monarch sighed, rolling his cup again. The party no longer held his interest. All semblance of happiness was gone from his frame. For ten years he'd been able to keep this part of himself hidden from his Pride, but now, with everything weighing on top of him, he just couldn't. The others had been more right than he realized when they warned him about how hard the Third Trial would be. Well, no, the Trial itself had been easy. The hard part was living with the decision he'd 'd always lived his life without thinking about 'what if', after his mother had been murdered it had kept him sane, but now, he couldn't stop himself. So what if the Living World fell behind in the Tapestry of Time? What did a few generations matter when it came to eternity? He sighed deeply, lost in his thoughts. What was eternity if it was spent like this? Alone?

His pets sensed their Leader needed them. He suddenly found himself surrounded by the members of his Pride: Rukia, Orihime, Shinji, Byakuya, Renji, Uryuu, Sado, Toshiro, Rangiku, Yumichika, Hisagi, Ikkaku, Kira, Tatsuki, Kisuke, Hanataro, and Kenpachi. Blinking around at the show of support, he smiled again. For ten years, these people, including the ones he hadn't been personally intimate with, were the network of people that kept his sanity for him. No, he wasn't alone, and even though things had changed greatly, these people were still here. It warmed his heart and touched the place that had been aching since making his choice at the Trial. Gathering those he could reach with his arms, he let out the first sound he'd made in five days.

It wasn't truly audible by anyone gathered there, but a combination of the tingle of bells and a bird's song came pretty close to what they heard when he said, "Thank you."

Nothing that could possibly come his way could undermine the love and support of his Pride. His pets, even though they were scattered to the Four Worlds, were still his pets, and he had forgotten the joy he felt when surrounded by them in all the chaos of earning his inheritance.

"Is this a party? Or are we all gonna sit around moping the whole time!?" Rukia exclaimed.

Hisagi kicked the stereo back on, and the party returned to the joyful celebration it was supposed to be. Ichigo spared a genuine smile for Karin, before kicking her out to the dance floor to join their father and sister. She hesitated but grabbed his hand, pulling him with her.

The festivities lasted long into the night. It was almost dawn before the last of his guests found a corner to curl up for sleep, and Ichigo waited until they had before seeking his own chambers. He leaned against the door and sighed. He began the arduous task of disrobing. Even though he wasn't in full formal attire, he still had rings on every finger, necklaces and ear cuffs, bangles and Zangetsu, sealed in kazaki tachi form. Then came the near-hundred buttons on his silk, embroidered, Chinese-style jacket. Underneath he wore a modern wife-beater style undershirt, and his silk pants covered modern boxers. Stripped to that level the orangette finally entered his bedroom proper.

Surveying the luxurious room gave the other occupant the opportunity to get the drop on the new King. Strong arms trapped the slim orangette, and pulled him close. A heavy breath was inhaled and released on the junction of his neck and shoulder. He could feel the person behind him was quite enjoying his entrapment. Then a purr rumbled out from that broad chest.

"So, why'd you do it, Kitten?" The feral voice attached to the figure behind him.

He closed his eyes and leaned back, content with putting his entire being at that person's mercy. "Because, Grimm, every Human has the potential to change the world."

A/N 2: In case anyone didn't quite get what happened, Ichigo chose to save the human stranger in the truck. The question remains, did Grimm actually die? Karin and Yuzu did, they're in Soul Society about to start at the Shinigami academy, but did Grimmy? You tell me. Thanks for sticking with me through this! Ja ne, minna!

Clothing references:
w w w. sengokudaimyo .com(slash)garb(slash)garb. ch01. h t m l
w w w. iz2. or. jp(slash)english(slash)fukusyoku(slash)youfuu(slash)5. h t m
w w w. iz2. or. jp(slash)english(slash)fukusyoku(slash)youfuu(slash)6new. h t m
w w w. iz2. or. jp(slash)english(slash)fukusyoku(slash)wayou(slash)1. h t m