EPILOGUE

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One Year Later ...

"Daddy. Come on Meimei. You can say it. Daddy." Kotetsu held out the squishy ball to the little girl as she balanced precariously on her two feet.

"Don't you dare. It's Papa. Pa. Pa. Much better. And easier." Genma grinned, watching his small daughter smile toothily at him as he walked into the room.

The little girl dropped the ball and stooped to pick it up with both hands, wobbling on her little feet but catching herself. Meimei stood back up, clutching her prize with a wide grin.

Maru clapped from across the room and Meimei took off towards her.

"I think she runs better than she walks." Hana laughed as she entered behind Genma, carrying two boxes.

"For me?!" Tomo yelled happily, running up and trying to climb the young woman, who was laughing. "Mine! Mine!"

"Help, I'm being mugged!" Hana hooted, her three nin-dogs wagging their tails as they watched.

"No Tomo, you're bad!" Kichi pouted as she painted on the easel, using her fingers as much as she was using the brush. "Those are mine!"

Shiranui Naora poked her head in from the kitchen, smiling happily as she watched her grandchildren squabble. "Who wants a cookie?"

A chorus of "me's" filled the room as two freshly-turned three year olds rushed her, hands outstretched as they were distracted from the presents that Hana was carrying.

Meimei looked up, her mouth forming an 'o' as she reached out for a cookie, her little hand opening and closing quickly even if she didn't say anything.

Genma took a cookie from his mother and held it out for Meimei with a smile. "Say Papa."

Kotetsu groaned, making a snatch for the cookie, but missing as Genma whipped it away. "No. She can't say Papa until she says Daddy first."

The two men stared at each other, glaring, then laughing.

Meimei held up her hand and gave a soft baby grunt of disapproval.

Kudo frowned over at his son as he sat at the table that Maru was currently trying to set up for the birthday party. "Give my baby a cookie, son."

Genma frowned and handed the little girl a cookie as she grinned widely, his expression melted as he watched her take a bite. "Papa."

Kotetsu swooped up the little girl as she giggled. "Daddy." He whispered in her ear, blowing on her soft curls which had filled out quite a bit. Her hair had darkened to a soft brown over the year, and probably needed trimming.

"Incorrigible. The both of you.

"Unca Izumo!" Both three-year olds took off running, going mid-air about three steps from him.

Izumo caught both easily, throwing them up in the air and catching them effortlessly.

Kudo frowned. "Careful."

"Unca Izumo, you bring me present?" Tomo asked happily.

"He's done a good job reclaiming the title of uncle." Naora whispered to Maru as she brought in the twin's birthday cake.

Neither child panicked at the word anymore, though it had taken nearly a year. And 'unca' was still not quite 'uncle' ...but it was getting there as all the adults tried to erase the bad memories from the word.

"Of course I brought you both presents!" Izumo grinned wickedly.

Hana's three nin-dogs sniffed the air and looked around curiously.

Genma looked over at Kotetsu. "Mine are pink and sparkly, and the other is durable and makes a LOT of annoying noises."

The other man winced at the thought. "Mine is out back. One is pink and has a roof ...and a play kitchen. The other is metal and climbable. With a fun slide."

Genma frowned.

Kudo shook his head at the two grown men competing. He sighed. "Mine moves, can sing and dance, and the children love his videos."

Maru looked heavenward and sighed. "You all spoil the children badly. Stop it."

Izumo grinned and moved to open the back door. "You all lose."

With that announcement came a fury of wild yips, making both children's eyes go wide. Two small puppies, with large paws, came bounding into the house.

Kotetsu groaned and pasted on a fake smile as he stared at his former room mate. "You didn't."

Maru laughed, looking stunned as her children were bowled over by the licking, squirmy puppies. Kichi was hugging one to her chest as it tried to lick her face off joyously.

Tomo was on the ground, the puppy standing on his belly as the boy laughed with delight. The little puppy tail wagging so hard it threw the dog off balance and he toppled. Tomo grinned and pulled the puppy back on top of him to do it all over again.

Kotetsu shook his head grimly. "You are evil." He looked over at his wife, having finally convinced her to marry him less than three months previously. "I'm so sorry."

Izumo looked unrepentant.

Maru shrugged. "I'll just tell Hanako that he's free again, having just broken up. She's on the prowl and was just mentioning the other day that Izumo looked so 'domesticated' when he plays with the kids."

Izumo's smile faded fast. "You wouldn't."

"She called you adorable." Maru gave him a cool look.

Kotetsu laughed, glancing over at his friend. "Run."

Genma shook his head, watching the puppies as he held out his hand for his own wife of five months now. "You helped him pick these out." He accused.

"Can you think of a better home?" Hana smiled happily as she watched the twins play with their new 'presents'.

"Oggy."

The one word had everyone in the room going still.

Meimei was still being held by Kotetsu, but was leaning forward and ignoring the fact that if her Daddy let her go, she'd fall. "Oggy." The little girl repeated, smiling brightly at her accomplishment. She pointed at the puppies.

Maru's eyes teared up as Naora clapped happily. "How precious! She's trying to say doggy!"

Kotetsu jostled Meimei slightly. "Daddy. D...ad ...dy."

"Oggy!" Meimei grinned, poking Kotetsu in the mouth with her fingers.

Genma sighed unhappily. "Not fair!"

Hana laughed at him.

"I definitely win." Izumo smiled happily.

"Maru?" Kotetsu shot an evil look at his friend, before turning to his wife. "Maru, darling. Tell Hanako that Izumo likes to play hard to get. But that she shouldn't give up on him."

Izumo groaned, shaking his head. "You're being ridiculous."

Kotetsu nodded, still looking upset.

"Oggy!" Meimei pointed at the puppies with more urgency and Kotetsu reluctantly let her down. The little one-year old took off toward the puppies, squealing happily.

Izumo shrugged, watching the trio play. "So worth it."

o.O.o.O.o.O