As he slid backwards and felt himself losing his footing, Abarai Renji squeezed his eyes tightly shut and thrust his zanpaktou forward, guarding against the fall of the emerald scythe. She was getting better, was Arisawa Tatsuki. The improvement had been gradual, years in the making; the times he had been complacent and let her win she had been furious with him. He had been obliged to gently heal wounds he had himself inflicted upon her just to satisfy her apparently limitless pride. But he never complained, because the sheer enjoyment of the physical activity always overshadowed any internal conflict it caused. Even now, when he was sorely in danger of being honestly beaten by a girl.

And in even more danger of being chastised by another one.

"Abarai-kun, you big weenie!" Hoshi-chan's voice always rose an octave when she was irritated with him. She hated to see him lose. So much like her father, that one. And a keen observer and analyst of battle, which she learned from her mother. She could detect missteps from an early age, which of course made her a little harder to train, but made her nearly indispensable at the tournaments that had become a seasonal tradition since the end of the War. Hitsugaya-taichou never accepted a win unless Kuchiki Hoshi validated it. It was a good thing her father's teaching of impartiality deterred the temptation of throwing every tournament in white-haired captain's favor. Hoshi's raging crush was legendary within the family and among close friends even if it was a laughable concept outside of them. Even if its object was the very desirable and overly-eligible Hitsugaya Toushirou.

"Hoshi-sama," Renji said, rising and brushing dust from his hakama, "I was lax, I know."

"Tat-chan nearly cut you." The child was beginning to pout.

"Now, Hoshi-chan, do you think I'd damage that beautiful face?" Tatsuki was grinning.

"You get wild just like he does. You'd do it without thinking and then we'd all have to listen to you fuming at him for not being faster," the girl declared.

Tatsuki's head tilted, grin becoming wider. "Little one, you model every couple you know after your parents. Not everyone can be in sync like they are."

"Well then I guess you need to mark him too, like Mother did Father."

"Mark him?"

"Hideaki nii-chan says Father has a mark on his chest. He says Father told him Mother put it there so he'd never forget his promise. And if she took it off him now, he'd die an agonizing death."

Tatsuki looked over at Renji, who shrugged and chuckled nervously. "You can't trust anything that kid says, he's so devious."

"Too much time in the hands of Shihouin Yoruichi, huh," the Eleventh Squad third seat said.

"Well, he is a future scion of the Fon clan. One you're connected to Yoruichi, you're kinda trapped, you know? And she rubs off on people." Renji scratched his head. "Though I'm not sure Kuchiki-taichou likes him spending so much time with her."

"That was part of the promise. The firstborn boy is meant for the Fon Clan, since there were no boys to take Mother's place. Mother told me Grandmother was very specific," Hoshi yawned; even that sound was imperious coming from her.

"And of course, the next born is to lead the Kuchiki Clan. Hoshi-chan, you've told us this already." Tatsuki scooped her up. "You're smaller now than Yachiru was when she took over the Eleventh. Hard to believe you'll lead your clan when you grow up."

Hoshi tilted her head, gray eyes sparking. "I'll be better than the rest put together," she sniffed.

"Even Kuchiki-taichou?" Tatsuki had no daughters in her lifetime, and children with her current paramour were unthinkable at the moment. She adored the iron will in the little girl, almost as much as she loved the tiny hands and already steely gray glare. But more than anything she adored the smile, winsome in its rarity.

"No one's better than otou-sama," the child beamed. "Except me, someday."

Tatsuki looked over at Renji, who shrugged again even as he smiled. It was the response both of them expected of the new Kuchiki princess who was as shrewd and irascible as her mother and just as haughty and beautiful as her father. "You hot little mess," Tatsuki said, giving the child a peck on the cheek and putting her down. "Come on, it's time for you to head home anyway."

Before they were even within sight, the sixth squad captain felt them coming: Three distinct reiatsus. One was hot and fierce, another one cool and determined, the last and faintest one was a buzzing sort of tingling. Hoshi, from her birth, had been wholly unfathomable to him. She reminded him most of fireworks on a cold winter night, flaring into delicate, shifting patterns. He informed her mother of this immediately, and Soifon, exhausted but somewhat alert, declared she would leave the naming to him and went promptly to sleep. And so his daughter would be a star. There was some pride in that. Even his own name had an earthly undertone. His daughter would know no such restriction.

From the beginning, Kuchiki Byakuya was intent on taking his heir in hand himself and therefore was obliged to lean on his vice-captain quite frequently in this endeavor. And where there was Abarai Renji, there was always Arisawa Tatsuki. The couple was blissfully unaware that they were the appointed godparents of both the Kuchiki children; Soifon's reward to them for the godawful haiku without which her husband may never have even sparked her interest. "Besides," she confided in her husband, "those two have both dealt with Yachiru-taichou on a regular basis. If anyone can deal with the whims of a hyperactive, powerful little girl, it's them."

Her husband had raised an eyebrow at her. "Then you might as well hand her over to Yumichika and Ikkaku." The glare she shot him was enough to silence Byakuya permanently on the subject.

Byakuya had learned to pick his battles with her and did not fight where victory was not assured. And they did fight, just rarely enough that the ones they had were bitterly explosive. In fact, he could count the number on his body—and hers. The brown nick on her neck was a love bite from some extremely rough makeup sex. That, of course, had been prior to the children. They had enjoyed a languorous extended honeymoon where they settled into each others' domestic habits with considerable friction. She took issue with his unwillingness to change his routine of sparring with Renji before leaving the sixth division compound. She had wanted in on the action; he was wary of the risk of adding another homonka onto any other part of his body. Not that he had not received compliments about the one on his chest. Renji was quite impressed by it but had been sworn to secrecy. In the end his wife crashed a session and joined up with his vice captain; he came home with a tiny butterfly mark between his shoulder blades.

He had taken issue with spending a large amount of their social life double dating with the still-unmarried Ukitake Juushirou and Shihouin Yoruichi. Both were pleasant and intelligent, to be sure, but they seemed unable to keep their hands off each other. Even in public. It wasn't until the two emerged from a closet in the Kuchiki mansion with marks on their necks that Soifon reconsidered inviting them over so often. It was no fluke that there were no children in the house until long after Ukitake's retirement withdrawal to Karakura with his lover. It was after that, when Soifon had adjusted to life in the Kuchiki household and Byakuya finally won over her mother that they spent quiet time in the garden by the pond, smiled gently at each other across the table, and taste-tested new and interesting flavors of pie. It had been a long road, to be sure. And hard won. But thoroughly worth it.

The sensation of a bee in his ear turned him from his work. "You're home early," he said to his wife.

"In case you've forgotten, there hasn't been much work for me lately. Nothing major, anyway." Soifon stretched. "Your son is up to something and told me he would take over maneuvers for the second tonight."

Byakuya tilted his head, just a little. "He won't be home until late, then?"

"He will not."

"Abarai and Arisawa have Hoshi. Perhaps I should suggest to them they should take her to the Thirteenth to stay with her aunt?"

"A sleepover. Hm. She would like that." Green eyes narrowed a little. "And what shall we do with an empty house?"

"We can do a little practice," Byakuya suggested, standing and stepping around his desk. "Or maybe we can have some pie. . .or you can put on that green qipao and I can read you some haiku."

Her smile was wicked. "Bad haiku?"

He leaned forward until his lips were to her ear. "Even worse than Abarai's."

Soifon's hands rested at his hips. "You always do have a plan."

"Of course," he said, edging in for the kill until he felt a prick at his neck. He looked down at her.

"I say we spar first," she said. "It's been too long." Suzumebachi was digging a tiny hole in his skin.

Senbonzakura thrummed at his side. He glowered down at his wife. "Tyrant."

She glared back with an arched eyebrow, lips twisting into a smirk. She knew all too well that he was more than happy to be her subject. After all, she could still kill him with a few more hits.

A/N: Ah, and so it ends, what, two years later? Thanks for reading :)