"And so, Ichigo Kurosaki, in light of your bravery in the Fourth Rising Crisis, your months of training, and your past accomplishments, it is decided that you will now be granted the title of Captain of Fifth Division," Captain-Commander Yamamoto said. Those observing applauded Ichigo, who bowed in respect.
The eleven current Captains stood facing Ichigo. Behind a wood rail were those observing, including the Vice-Captains, some upper-seated Shinigami, a few nobles, and Karin and Rukia. Upon returning from the enemy base, Karin and those that rescued her had been thoroughly questioned about what had happened. Soi Fon had been in favor of punishing them for rescuing her, but the other Captains vetoed the idea, pointing out that because of their actions a great threat to Soul Society had been defeated. Soon, it was decided that Ichigo's accomplishments finally merited official bestowment of the Fifth Division Captain position, and they were now at the official announcement (though it was widely known that he would be stepping up as Captain even before this was scheduled).
Karin was proud of her brother, but taking a glance at Momo, she felt a bit of concern. She knew how much Momo had wanted to become the Fifth Divison Captain; to have gone through so much and still not get the position was surely quite unpleasant for her. Momo clapped for Ichigo and certainly didn't show any ill-will toward him, but she was unable to completely hide her disappointment.
"On to the next subject, would Vice-Captain Momo Hinamori please come forward?" Yamamoto continued.
Momo looked surprised, but came forward as instructed. She looked nervous as she stood beside Ichigo in front of the Captains.
"As Ichigo Kurosaki has now been named the new Captain of Fifth Division, I must regrettably deny your bid to obtain the position," Yamamoto said. Momo bowed slightly, to casual observers out of respect for Yamamoto's decision, but in reality an attempt to hide the sadness evident in her eyes.
"However, upon analysis of your performance in the recent conflict, and in recognition of your high degree of talent with Kido, another arrangement has been made," Yamamoto continued, "A request has been put forth for your transfer from the Gotei 13 to the Kido Corps, where they would like you to serve as Captain."
Momo's eyes widened. Her mouth hung open and she made several unintelligible sounds before whispering, "Me? Captain of the Kido Corps?"
Several Captains nodded.
"Your Bankai is underdeveloped," Kyoraku said, "However, your mastery of Kido and experience running the Fifth Division more than meet the qualifications."
"Thus, it was decided that the position of Captain of the Kido Corps, which has been empty for some time, would be ideal for you," Unohana said.
"Negotiations with the Kido Corps leadership have already taken place," Shuuhei Hisagi said, "All that remains is for you to accept the offer."
Momo seemed to be in a daze, apparently imagining herself as Captain of the Kido Corps. As leader of one of the three branches of Seireitei's military, she would be of equal standing with the Captain-Commander. Indeed, Captain of Kido Corps would be more prestigious than Captain of Fifth Division. And yet…
"I'm sorry, Captain-Commander, but I must reject the offer," Momo said. Karin and many others looked at her in disbelief.
"Hmm? And might I ask why you would reject such a prestigious offer?" Yamamoto said.
"I am truly honored to have been considered for such a prestigious position, but my place is with Fifth Division," Momo said, "That is where I belong, and I'd like to continue serving it as Vice-Captain."
"I see…" Yamamoto said, leaning forward to focus on her.
Momo was silent, and Karin could not help but be amazed that she had turned down such an amazing offer. The other observers seemed just as surprised, but only a few of them understood why Momo had done this. Karin was among the few who understood. Momo felt close kinship with those in her division. After being betrayed by Aizen, she focused on leading the division that he had betrayed. She felt kinship towards its members, as they had all been devoted to Aizen like she was, and were hit almost as hard by his betrayal. She didn't want to just be Captain, she wanted to be Captain of Fifth Division. To her, being part of Fifth Division was an essential part of who she was.
"Well, there you go, old man, she rejected the offer," Ichigo said loudly, snapping Karin out of her thoughts. There were murmurs throughout the room as people were surprised that he would use such language in front of the Captain-Commander, especially at a ceremony for him.
"Indeed she did," Yamamoto said, calmly stroking his beard, "Very well. I hereby declare Momo Hinamori to be the new Captain of Fifth Division!"
Momo looked like she had been hit by a board. "Eh? Wha-? But I- But he- Ichigo… Captain? Cap! Tain! Captain? Captain?" Momo babbled incoherently, the shock of the announcement apparently rendering her numb for a moment. There were several in the audience who were in a similar state of shock. Hadn't Ichigo just been declared Captain? How could there be two Captains of Fifth Division?
"Allow me to explain," Kyoraku said with a small smile, "In day-to-day administration and Kido, you are beyond qualified for the position of Captain. The only thing that prevented you from being Captain was lack of Bankai. Now that you've attained it, you meet the technical qualifications, but you still haven't mastered Bankai to the extent most other Captains do upon achieving their position. Hence, it was decided that a test of your loyalty toward your division would be given. By showing how loyal you are to your division, you have compensated for your incomplete Bankai skills."
"It was decided that though you might not be as strong as most Captains-to-be, your loyalty and devotion made you most suited to lead Fifth Division," Toushiro said.
"But… what about Ichigo?" Momo asked.
"Do I look like the type of guy who wants to be Captain?" Ichigo asked, "No way! I was never too hot on the idea of being a Captain. I'm not even dead yet, remember? I belong in the Living world with my friends and family. Now that they've decided you're qualified, they have no reason to force me into the position."
"But what about your sister? Weren't you staying as Captain so you could look after her?" Momo asked, glancing at Karin.
"I've talked it over with the Captains," Ichigo said, "Karin has been accepted as an official Shinigami and will be taken into Fifth Division."
"No way!" Karin loudly said, drawing many stares. Ichigo gave her a rare smile.
"I'll entrust Karin's safety to you. Of course, I should also say that I entrust it to Karin herself, as she has become quite strong as your apprentice," Ichigo said, "She'll be just as safe with you as she would be with me. I'm needed by my dad, my other sister, and my friends more than I'm needed here."
Karin suddenly climbed over the wooden rail that surrounded the observers and ran to embrace Ichigo, deeply touched that he considered her worthy enough that she didn't need his constant protection and also sad that this meant he would be leaving. She didn't care that people were watching, she was too overcome with emotion.
"Ichigo… you're really going to go back?" she asked.
"Yeah, I am," Ichigo said, "I'm alive, I belong in the living world. I'm sorry, but right now you and I are from two different worlds. It's strange. I should be mourning the fact that you're no longer of the same world as me, but I feel happy for you. I'm happy that you found purpose, and I'm happy that you've made new friends here in Soul Society. I'd love to stay with you, but straddling two different worlds is simply too much for me. I need to go back to the Living World where I belong. It will be another sixty or seventy years before I'm able to truly belong in this world, but until then, I trust you to keep yourself safe, and I trust Momo to look after and guide you."
"Thank you… Ichi-nii…" Karin said, trying to avoid tears. Momo put a hand on her shoulder.
"You're still my apprentice, in addition to being my friend. I'll look out for you and be there for you any time you're feeling lonely. You'll be in my division, after all," Momo said, "In fact, as soon as they decide you're qualified, I want you as my Vice-Captain." Karin smiled at this.
"Thank you, Captain Hinamori."
Thank you for reading! That's it, Hinamori's Apprentice is now finished! This was by far the longest story I've ever written. It was fun to write, and I hope that you all found it fun to read. I'd like to thank every person who reviewed, favorited, and read this story. I wish I could thank each of you individually, but there are so many that I can't, so I'd like to give an extra big thank you to everyone! I'm not sure what else to say after finishing such a long story, but thank you again and please review!