five.

It isn't unusual for friends to have arguments that open rifts between them, and the fight between Kaede and Maki was no different. The problem with their particular spat was that neither woman thought she had done anything wrong and therefore the responsibility to reach out and apologize fell to the other one, which lead to a full month without contact. An attempt to reach out wasn't made until the morning of Maki's birthday, when the sound of her phone ringing woke her up for the day. She was too tired to check the screen to see who called, so hearing the sound of Kaede's voice for the first time in a month came as a surprise. "Maki, can we talk? I want to wish one of my best friends a happy birthday." Maki contemplated hanging up and going back to sleep, but Kaede sounded like she was holding back tears on the other end, so she decided to at least hear her out. She gave Kaede permission to continue and heard her heave a sigh. "I'm sorry about the way I acted on New Year's," she said. "This whole time, I've been thinking about which one of us should apologize..."

"And you realized you should?" Maki asked.

Judging just by the tone of Kaede's voice, Maki could tell she was putting on a pout. "No! Actually, I came to the conclusion that we should both apologize. I'm sorry I brought Aika and Kochou to your house without your permission. I know how you feel about kids and I should have warned you before I brought them."

Maki nodded along, but her face heated up when she realized she wasn't visible to Kaede. "Right."

"But that doesn't mean you're not to blame, you know," Kaede said. "I've talked to Shuichi about this, and we've come to the conclusion that you let your hatred of kids get in the way of our friendship."

Maki opened her mouth to protest, but what came out was a sigh. The realization of how melodramatic she'd been dawned on her, and the weight of the embarrassment was almost too much to bear. "You're right, Kaede. You and Shuichi are our best friends, and I shouldn't keep letting how I feel about your children prevent me from being happy for you. I don't agree with your choices, but it makes you happy, and that's what matters, I guess."

"Was that supposed to be an apology?" Kaede asked, stifling a laugh.

"Would you rather I hang up?" Maki shot back playfully.

The laughter on the other side was a sound Maki wouldn't have admitted to missing, but she couldn't deny the warmth it spread in her chest. "Right. I should be glad I got that much," Kaede said. "Happy birthday, Maki."

"Thanks Kaede. And I'm sorry."

They bid each other farewell and Maki put her phone back down. She looked to Kaito to see if the conversation had woken him up, but as usual, the heaviest sleeper she knew was still fast asleep. What a perfect opportunity, she thought, to go back to sleep for a little bit. It was her birthday, and she was going to sleep in if she wanted to.

She managed to grab another hour of sleep before Kaito was up and pestering her about what day it was. "Happy birthday Maki Roll!" he cheered as he shook her awake.

Maki turned to face him with a smirk on her face. "You're too late this year, idiot."

"What are you talking about?" Kaito asked. "I'm always the first to say happy birthday to ya."

Maki shook her head and pointed at her phone. "I got a call from Kaede this morning. She hasn't spoken to me in a month and still beat you to the punch."

Kaito gave her a smile that stretched from ear to ear. "I guess I should take that to mean you two finally made up?" he asked. "Well, if that's the case, I guess I can't be too disappointed."

Maki shook her head with a sigh. "There's no discouraging you, is there?"

"Not when my wife has a birthday to be celebrating!" Kaito replied, flashing a thumbs up. "Now where do you wanna go for dinner tonight?"

The rest of the day was rather uneventful until the time to go out for dinner rolled around. Kaito drove them to her favorite restaurant and, by some stroke of luck, there wasn't much of a crowd to speak of, so they were sat immediately and everything progressed smoothly. The only bump in the road was the fact that Maki's meat seemed to be undercooked, but she didn't say anything because she was so hungry that waiting any longer to eat sounded like torture.

Once they were mostly done with their meal and waiting on the check, Kaito produced an envelope from his coat pocket and handed it to Maki gingerly. "What did you get me, a card and twenty bucks?" Maki asked. "Sounds like a present from a grandparent. Not that I would know."

Kaito shook his head firmly. "Just open it!"

Maki tore into the envelope to find the card she was expecting. Of course, it was a space-themed birthday card that read more like it was aimed at ten-year-olds than fully grown women, but that didn't matter so much anymore when Maki opened it and watched two slips of paper fall out onto her lap. She picked them up and read the name of her favorite band printed on the front of each slip and gasped in disbelief. "No way..."

"Yes way," Kaito said proudly, slapping the table and stabbing his palm with his fork in the process. "Ow! Er, yeah, I bought 'em the minute they started sellin' them. They're pretty decent seats, too. Only downside is that I had to sacrifice goin' all out for Christmas because I was savin' up for when these bad boys went on sale."

Maki looked at the price on the tickets and winced. "You weren't kidding." The next bit that caught her eye was the date. "How far in advance do they even sell these? June thirteenth?"

"They are kind of a big deal, y'know," Kaito said. "Of course they'd start sellin' their tickets super early."

Maki smiled and tucked the concert tickets back into the birthday card. "Let's hope you don't forget by then, yeah?"

"I'd never forget our concert date, Maki Roll," Kaito promised.

"Thank you, Kaito," Maki said quietly, half hoping he wouldn't hear her over the ambient sounds of the restaurant. He merely responded with another wide smile and a motion to grab his wallet to pay that check that had just been laid on the table.

On the ride home, Maki's stomach started suffering the dire consequences of the undercooked meat, and the disturbance got so bad that once they were home, she wanted nothing more than to lie down and sleep until the pain had subsided. While she was changing into her pajamas for the night, casually tossing her shirt and bra to the side and grabbing her large, worn pajama shirt, Kaito attempted to stop her by wrapping his hands around hers. "There's no need to get dressed so fast, y'know," he said under his breath, gazing directly into her eyes. Usually, the sultry look he was wearing would work immediate magic on Maki, but right now any sense of arousal was overshadowed by the constant fear of throwing up.

"Sorry," she said, pushing him away. "I'm not feeling up to birthday sex tonight."

"Is something wrong?" he asked, seductive tone vanishing completely in favor of a more concerned one.

"My meat wasn't cooked right," Maki told him, putting her shirt on and stepping out of her pants for the day.

Kaito put his hands on his hips. "Huh, weird. Usually that restaurant's better about that kinda thing. Well, no worries. We can just postpone that until my birthday. Until then, you feel better, alright?"

"That's the plan."

Despite his plans getting derailed at the end, Kaito's grand gesture of pricey concert tickets wasn't lost on Maki, and even though her stomach was doing cartwheels from bad food, she felt more loved that night than she had in a long time, and her heart felt like it could soar. If only she was feeling better, she could have shown her appreciation by rocking that man's world.

But there was always next time.

six.

Not long after March started, Maki and Kaito got themselves roped into helping out in regards to Kaede's pregnancy, and considering that it was the roughly the same task they were given during the first one, it seemed they were the typical choice. Shuichi somehow found some time to slip away from his family long enough to give the Momotas their mission, and it came in the form of a sealed envelope, personally delivered from his hands to Maki's. "I trust you don't have to be reminded of what happened last time we tried to entrust you with this," Shuichi said, causing Kaito to blush.

"You entrusted me," Maki reminded him. "I think your mistake was not letting the idiot of the house in on it."

"Alright, get your laughs now," Kaito said, snatching the envelope from Shuichi. "So what's the plan with this?"

"Kaede wants her birthday present to be our child's gender reveal," Shuichi explained. "Which means I'm going to ask you to do kind of what you did with Aika."

Kaito pursed his lips in thought. "That was when we got paint for the letters on her chalk board, right?"

Shuichi nodded. "Yes, and I'd appreciate it if you could find actually fitting colors this time. Don't get me wrong, Aika likes her purple and red, but this time, I want Kaede to know what gender they are just by looking at the board."

"You say that like it was our fault the craft store was out of pink," Maki said, reaching up to twirl a strand of hair around her finger. "But we'll try our best."

"Thank you." Shuichi punched his fist into his palm, determination in his eyes. "Here's my plan..."

After the idea had been shared, Shuichi left, reiterating that he also didn't want to know the gender until Kaede's birthday, which meant roughly two weeks of having to keep a secret from both of their best friends. Sensing how difficult a task that could be with Kaito involved, Maki wasted no time in making sure the envelope was tucked away somewhere only she knew about until it was time to buy the paint.

It wasn't that she didn't trust herself to keep the secret. She knew for a fact that if Kaito saw the inside of that envelope, ruining the surprise would have been the first thing he did. She figured telling him that much would be enough for him to connect the dots, but of course he didn't think twice about it.

Late in the morning on Kaede's birthday, Maki and Kaito found themselves rolling up to the Saihara household to find it empty, just as Shuichi said it would be. "So where are they again?" Kaito asked while he rummaged around their front deck for the spare key.

Maki scoffed. "You really forgot after two weeks? He took them out to a birthday brunch."

Kaito snorted, losing track of his search entirely. "Damn, Maki Roll. If that ain't the most old person thing I've ever heard you say. When'd we get to the age where brunch is a thing?"

"Shut up and let us in, this paint is getting heavy." To illustrate her point, Maki shifted the plastic bag from the craft store hanging from her arm.

"Fine, fine." After a couple more seconds of searching the deck, Kaito finally let them into the house and they made their way to the room they knew would serve as the new arrival's. The house looked so significantly different than it did when they first moved in, it was hard to believe it was the same place, and that was only partially due to the obvious evidence of children strewn about. Even with the knowledge that Kaede was a pianist with a non-zero amount of fame, it was still hard to believe she had the funds to add whole new rooms to the modest house, but there they were, walking into a room that didn't even exist a couple of years ago. Most of the decorations in the room were worn hand-me-downs from the time before and immediately after Aika's birth, and seeing all the pink toys and crib made Maki shake her head. "Shame that they're going to have to replace all this stuff."

"What do you mean, Maki?" The answer was obvious, but Kaito couldn't be counted on to take anything beyond face value.

"Right, you haven't seen it yet, have you?" Maki fished the envelope out of the back pocket of her jeans and handed it to her husband. "Read it and weep."

Kaito took the envelope and opened it like he was handling a live bomb. "Well, if I'd known it was in that pocket I woulda gotten it myself eventually. You know what those jeans do to me, Maki Roll. They look so great on your a—"

Maki shushed him sharply, a blush spreading across her cheeks. "Idiot! We're in someone else's house, and in their future baby's room, no less. Show some class for once in your life."

Now it was Kaito's turn to look like a tomato (albeit one with stupid hair). "R-right." The paper he gingerly slipped out of the envelope was a perfect way to change the subject, as the moment he saw what it said, his eyes went wide. "A-ha! I knew it! Kaito Momota, Luminary of the Stars, correct again!"

Maki shook her head and turned to the paint she had set on the ground. "Even a broken clock is right twice a day, I suppose."

"No, this time I knew for sure," Kaito said. "Now let's get painting, yeah? I assume you got a shade of blue that'll be perfect for showin' off Shuichi's new baby boy!"

"Could you say that again, but louder?" Maki asked sarcastically. "I don't think they heard you on the moon."

Volume aside, he was right in that she did buy two different shades of blue. She wasn't sure if Kaede would like the darker blue or the lighter shade, so she got both and decided to paint the wooden letters on the border of the chalkboard in an alternating pattern, just like they'd done for Aika's board. Kaito made himself useful and lugged in a tarp from their house to avoid getting paint all over the room in the process. While they sat on the floor and worked, the discussion turned to the fact that they weren't asked to contribute to Kochou's when she was on the way, but Kaito insisted that the singular shade of pink that Tenko had chosen was probably better than anything they could have gotten her. Maki was unconvinced. "At least we got two shades for each one. What if that brat grows up some day and gets jealous that her siblings have more interesting boards than her?"

"Do you really think she'd get offended about that?" Kaito asked.

"Did you grow up in an orphanage? I know she would." As usual, any mention of the orphanage shut Kaito up immediately. Maki wasn't sure what it was about that detail of her past that always ended discussions in her favor, but she appreciated having a card she could pull from her sleeve when she was sick of a conversation. Unfortunately, this came at a price. "Whoa, Kaito, what did you do?"

"What d'ya mean?" Kaito asked, looking around their work area for anything amiss. "What did I do?"

"Dumbass, you painted the wrong letter." Maki gestured to two consecutive letters that were now the same color. "Now there are two lighter letters in a row and it looks horrendous."

Kaito seemed unperturbed by the mistake. "Oh, that's no big deal. Just paint over the other one with the right color."

"No, that's not how this works," Maki said indignantly. "The colors would mix and it would look even worse."

"Well what do you want me to do, go get a whole new set of letters?" Kaito threw his hands up and nearly sent his paintbrush flying across the room.

Maki sighed, looking at the time. It was just about twenty minutes before the Saihara clan were meant to be back, which was nowhere near enough time to buy whole new letters and paint them from scratch. "No, it's fine. We'll just have to deal with it. Good job, Kaito, you're ruining this kid's life before he even comes out."

Kaito rolled his eyes, moving to start painting the next letter, but that turned into a five-minute-long argument about how he now needed to adjust his entire to-do list of letters. Thankfully, he got his mind wrapped around the concept and they were able to finish their project.

Maki attached the ultrasound picture that was in the envelop to the top corner of the board and wrote out some of the stats Shuichi had told her Kaede would want to see. While Kaito stood above her and watched her begrudgingly write out the information, he found himself fantasizing. What if that wasn't his bro's child Maki was writing about? What if, in some alternate timeline, this was Maki getting excited enough about her own child to scrawl embarrassing fun facts down for the world to see?

It didn't take long for him to realize he shouldn't have been thinking those things. He could dream about having kids all he liked, but even someone like him knew just how far-fetched those wishes were. He snapped himself out of it with a dirty thought and ended up snickering, drawing Maki's attention away from the board. "Hey, Maki Roll, you should put on there the fact about boy babies getting hard-ons inside their moms."

Maki didn't come close to reacting the way he had hoped. Instead of snickering, she incredulously said, "How about I don't do that and we end up living long enough to meet the little prick? Unless, of course, you want the birthday girl to murder you in cold blood."

Kaito put his hands on his hips and barked a laugh. "As if she could!"

"Don't underestimate her because she's pregnant," Maki warned. "She could still kick your ass, and at this rate, I'd let her."

The smackdown did not come, but that was alright. Not long after the board was finished and the set-up was put away neatly, the sound of a car pulling up and doors opening and closing sounded from the driveway, perking Kaito up immediately. "Hey, the birthday girl's back!" He shot out of the room and Maki stood to follow, making sure the door was closed behind her so Kaede wouldn't ruin the surprise by glancing inside. She did that at the same instant the front door opened, and the family was greeted by a very loud Kaito shouting, "Happy birthday, Kaede!"

"If your birthday surprise was just sneaking into my house, I'm afraid I'm going to have to reject that," Kaede remarked flatly. As she spoke the rest of her family remained quiet, except for Shuichi, who gave Kaito a timid greeting. When Maki rounded the corner, all three of the ladies' faces lit up, and the young girls screeched as they rushed to gather around her legs. "Now that's better," Kaede said, smiling warmly at Maki.

Maki gave the same greeting Kaito did, but quieter and to a much better reception. In between trying to placate the children at her knees and greeting her friend, her eyes couldn't help but wander down Kaede's body. Yes, it was her third pregnancy and she carried the extra weight confidently as only a third-time mom could, but that didn't quite stop her from looking like a beached whale in Maki's eyes. She was still beautiful, of course, but once Maki's gaze wandered lower than her chest, she would hesitate ever so slightly to say that.

She was snapped out of her thought process by another screech from the kids beneath her. She rolled her eyes and dropped to their level, ruffling their thick, dark hair. "Hello girls," she said. She wasn't trying to be appealing to them at all, but the damn things were hanging off her every word. "Are you being good to your mom for her birthday?"

Aika nodded firmly with a dead serious look on her face and Kochou followed suit, giggling as she did. "They've been little angels, as always," Kaede said to corroborate their well-thought-out argument. "So what brings you guys here?" Maki gave Kaede a silent look usually only reserved for one of Kaito's screw ups. "B-besides my birthday, of course," she stammered, face reddening.

Maki looked to Shuichi and, when he gave silent confirmation, she stood and said, "We came by early to get your present set up."

Kaede clapped her hands together and smiled even wider, if it were possible. "Oh, that's so sweet! Is it what I asked for, Shuichi?"

"That's an awful big assumption to make," Kaito said.

Resident detective Shuichi hummed in thought. "Actually, it's not that big of a logic leap. But explaining why that is would take all day..."

"I want to see what my baby's going to be!" If she had the physical ability to, Kaede would have darted for the baby's room, but as she was a bit larger, she realized she'd be stopped before making it to her destination. She lumbered over to the chair she was sitting on in the announcement picture. Aika and Kochou darted after her and sat on either side of her, screaming that they too wanted to know what their new sister was going to be.

They were still babies, so Maki couldn't hold the gender confusion against them.

Shuichi's plan was to make the reveal a bit grander, but once Kaede knew what was in store, she had a one-track mind that made the knowledge a higher priority than breathing.

Thankfully, the paint had dried and the chalk board was ready to be moved. Maki and Kaito brought it in facing away from Kaede, which caused her to emit a long, high-pitched whine. "Just show me, already!"

"You sound like you're not the oldest woman in the house, which is sad considering the others are two and three," Maki said.

Meanwhile, the excitement had started getting to Kaito. "I dunno, Maki, I think we should show her now."

Maki didn't really care enough to argue, but she did know Shuichi had a specific idea, so she decided to play devil's advocate. "Didn't Shuichi want Kaede to take a picture with the board before she knew what it said?"

From the side of the chair, Shuichi shook his head. "I've changed my mind. I'm just as eager to know as she is, and I think it would be unfair if I learned first."

"Fair enough," Maki said, flipping the board around suddenly and without any further ado.

On sight, Kaede's jaw dropped and she clapped a hand over her mouth. Tears immediately started running down her face and she tried in vain to push down the sob in her throat. The blues around the chalkboard, which held a message and a picture of the revealing ultrasound, sent her heart soaring. "We're gonna have a boy! Aika, Kochou, you're going to have a little brother!"

The girls who were so set on referring to it as their sister moments ago burst into loud, screeching cheers. Shuichi made an attempt fight back tears himself as a round of hugs was exchanged among the family. It would have been an adorable sight if Maki weren't so ideologically opposed to the idea of what they were celebrating. Instead, she was thinking about how her arms ached from presenting the board for too long, and how Kaito seemed to be getting a little too invested in the proceedings for her liking.

Why was she so opposed to children? She knew how to handle them and they universally loved her, so what was the problem? It wasn't a vanity thing—her body was covered in various scars, marks and bruises, and honestly the stretch marks from pregnancy would be the least ugly addition. Was it spite against the people around her for deciding they all wanted children at more or less the same time? The problem wasn't even the idea of Maki herself having children (although that was the least appealing thought she could imagine), it was the fact that, as previously mentioned, they were becoming more and more a part of her life whether she wanted them to or not. Something that used to be a minor and occasional inconvenience at worst was now a near-daily occurrence, and it gave Maki a sense of melancholy knowing that she would never truly be done dealing with these little combinations of her friends (and the adopted one, but it was the freaky fusions that were running amok in front of her at the moment).

The true reason for her discontent seemed to require a deep introspection that Maki didn't quite feel up to performing, and since it didn't really matter all that much, it was going to have to remain a mystery. It wasn't like anyone was actively trying to get her to change her mind about children or anything, so it wasn't a problem that needed solving so much as a personality quirk that her friends had to learn to understand.

Luckily, the friends with the most children were also the most understanding, so after the weekly picture was taken and birthday cake was shared, Kaede understood completely when Maki informed her she was socially drained and ready to go back home and decompress. She still felt a little bad about not getting Kaede anything tangible for her birthday, but as Kaito told her on the car ride home, she got what she wanted most, and all that mattered was that the Momotas were there to help facilitate that. Knowing that her best friend was willing to put aside her aversion to children the way she had probably made Kaede feel like the luckiest girl in the world.

If Maki could borrow even a little bit of that luck over the couple months, she would take it in a heartbeat, and even faster if she knew what was on the horizon for her and her husband.

seven.

The shift from usual to unusual started on Kaito's birthday that year. Contrary to previous years, Kaito had no plans or ideas as to what he wanted his wife to do for him, and considering the early parts of the year tended to be a financial strain anyway due to the ever-increasing amount of birthdays, they decided to settle on a quiet day spent at home with only each other for company. Lounging around the house with no pressing matters on her back or obligations to attend to was a relief that Maki didn't have the leisure to enjoy often. Her pajamas hung loose off her body as all pajamas should, and the early spring morning was nice enough that she wouldn't need to leave that clothing all day.

As she walked from the bathroom back to the living room, she passed something that caught her eye. Sitting in the room used for storing miscellaneous trinkets and knick-knacks was the model rocket Maki had given Kaito for Christmas; still sitting pristine in its packaging. "Kaito," she called, changing course for the junk room.

She crouched next to the box and read the side while she waited for Kaito to respond to her. She called to him again and, after a moment, he appeared in the doorway, hand resting idly on the frame. "What d'ya need in here, Maki Roll?"

To answer his question, she poked at the tall box as though it was liable to explode. "You still haven't built my Christmas present?" She meant it as an innocent question, but she must have used the wrong tone, because Kaito flinched back slightly.

"I, uh, didn't know if I should build it," he explained, hand scratching the back of his neck. "Isn't that what collectors do with their models? Y'know, keep it in the box all nice and pristine and stuff?"

"Fuck that," Maki said, coming to her feet again. "I bought you a three-foot-tall rocket and we're going to make sure every inch is on full display."

Kaito snorted, nearly doubling over as if Maki's words hit him harder than a car. "Phrasing, Maki Roll."

Usually, being called out on poor wording would have flustered her, but Maki was so fixated on building this model rocket that she ignored him completely and started opening the box. The rest of the day was spent in that room building the rocket, and by the time it was done, the sun was disappearing over the horizon, putting an end to Kaito's chill birthday.

The couple stood up and took in their creation. Maki usually didn't care about this kind of thing, but she nodded at it proudly. Kaito, meanwhile, had to stifle a laugh. "What's so funny?" she asked.

"Oh, it's nothing," he said. "It's just that...the rocket's almost as tall as you are, Maki Roll!"

If looks could kill, the glare Maki gave would have dropped Kaito on the spot. She turned to him and grabbed his shirt collar tight before smoothly pinning him to the wall as only a world-class assassin could. "I could be shorter than that stupid thing and I'd still be able to kick your ass."

Dealing with years of this kind of violence had mostly de-sensitized Kaito to being handled like that, so he merely laughed. "Trust me, I know. Now can you let me go?"

Maki sized up the birthday boy, taking a tense moment before she said, "No." Kaito opened his mouth to protest, but was met with the forceful impact of her lips on his. The passionate, heated kiss ended when Maki pulled away, suddenly short on breath and a whole new look in her eyes. "I'm going to fuck you senseless first."

Kaito let out a low chuckle before leaning in closer (or at least, doing the best he could in his position). "Happy birthday to me..."

Turned out, Maki was going to be leaving those clothes after all, but considering the reason, she wasn't going to complain; that was mostly because her mouth was too busy saying and doing other things.

Things that poor, newly constructed model rocket wasn't going to forget anytime soon.

eight.

The shenanigans on Kaito's birthday were quickly forgotten, the only reminder that they did anything that day being the rocket. A month later, they went from staying in on a day they would typically go out to Kaito trying to drag Maki out of the house on a day she would have rather spent at home. "I really don't understand why you want to go to Aika's birthday party," Maki said. "Isn't it a little weird for a full-grown man to show up at a four-year old's birthday?"

Kaito sat up in bed next to her, letting the blankets fall off his broad chest. "Aw, come on, Maki Roll. She's Shuichi and Kaede's kid, of course we're allowed to be there. Besides, she loves us to death and would be happy to see us!" When his explanation was met with rolled eyes and silence, he clapped a hand on her thigh. "If we go, I'll make it worth your while, I promise."

"You can't use sex to get your way on everything," Maki said flatly, noticing how his hand edged up her leg as he spoke. In direct contrast to her words, the further up her thigh his hand went, the more shivers shot up her spine. "What if I said I wasn't going to sleep with you unless we didn't go?"

Kaito halted his hand's advance and chuckled. "Fair point, I guess. But really now, let's do it for Kaede. I'm sure she wants to give her girl the best birthday she can, and us bein' there would only make it better."

Maki didn't want to admit it, but that was the strongest case he'd made yet. Helping make Kaede happy when she was about to be saddled with a third child to take care of would only help her out. Beyond that, the idea of Kaede owing her one was an appealing thought. Thus, it was decided, Maki was going to force herself to go to Aika's birthday party.

But not before straddling Kaito and making him follow through on his promise.

After getting cleaned up and ready, the two made their way to the Saihara residence. As usual, Kaito barged in without any warning beyond loudly declaring he'd arrived, and a scene very similar to the one that unfolded on Kaede's birthday played out. The girls of the house were unimpressed until Maki made her presence known, which drove them nuts. Maki looked around the living room noting the board dedicated to the next arrival surrounded by black and dark blue decorations. Littered around the walls were small, elegant white birds depicted in flight.

The birthday girl, outfitted in a tiny white tutu screamed happily and bolted to Maki's legs, hugging her tight. "Maki mole!" she shrieked.

"Aw, she's picked up my nickname for her," Kaito cooed. "Kinda."

The sound of the name only Kaito was allowed to call her made Maki's eye twitch, and the fact that it was so messed up didn't help either. She crouched down to Aika's level and gave her a small wave. "Happy birthday, kid."

Aika screamed and hugged Maki again, squeezing her as tight as her tiny little arms could manage. After Kaede prompted her to, Aika said, "Thank you, Maki mole."

Maki looked up to try and spark conversation with Kaede or Shuichi, but their faces were glowing with how adorable they thought the scene was, so Maki was stuck in this exchange for the time being. "Have you gotten everything you wanted for your birthday?" She asked, pushing Aika off her.

Aika nodded quickly. "Yeah!"

That was when Kaede decided it was time to chime in. "She really wanted to see you today, Maki."

Maki raised an eyebrow in confusion. "Why…?"

Before Aika could answer, Kochou barged into the conversation in much the same way a car would barrel through a glass storefront. She was clearly still a question or two behind the conversation, judging by the way she said, "I got sissy this!" She bent down and grabbed a large, thick stick. "It's a stick!"

Maki blinked once or twice at the present in the younger sister's chubby hands. "Right."

Kaito asked the question Maki had on her mind, but was too busy to pose. "What's with the décor? It's awfully dark and blue for a little girl. Wouldn't she want pink and rainbows and stuff?"

Possibly since it was Kaito asking, Kaede rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. "That's expectedly old-fashioned of you to ask, Kaito, but for your information, the theme for this party is Swan Lake."

Aika hopped in place and tugged on her tutu. "I'm Swan Lake!"

Maki nodded along; she was trying to pretend she was interested in what Aika was saying, and to the girl, it was working wonders. "How much of Swan Lake does she understand?" She asked no one in particular.

"She understands that she likes the music," Shuichi explained.

Kaede nodded just as quickly as Aika had earlier. "And that's all that matters! I didn't know the intricacies of Der Flohwalzer when I was little, but I understood that I liked it and that's how I got started on the path that put me where I am today."

Kaito put his hands on his hips and pursed his lips in thought. "I don't know how intricate that song is, but I don't know enough about it to argue."

The emotion left Kaede's face and she responded with a deadpan, "Good. You would lose."

"Maki mole, come look!" Aika had officially started ignoring the other adults and tugged on Maki's sleeve to show her the amazing presents she'd gotten. Kochou was hot on their heels, so Maki was stuck with two small children while her friends got to enjoy time with her husband. It wasn't the worst outcome for the day, but it still wasn't ideal.

As it turned out, Maki and Kaito were the only guests, so the surprise visit was appreciated even more by everyone involved. It also meant they were stuck there until Aika wore herself out, which ate up a vast majority of the day. Finally, though, the sun was setting and the soft, ebbing rays of light shining through the windows illuminated the scene of Aika and Kochou, sound asleep and slumped against each other in the big armchair. It was sickeningly adorable, though to Maki it was mostly sickening. Kaede took several pictures of the girls, and after posting them on social media, she turned to Kaito and Maki with a wide smile. "Thank you for coming over today," she said quietly. "You really made Aika's day that much more special."

"It's the least we could do for my sidekick and his family." Kaito's idea of whispering was much louder than everyone else's, but he didn't seem to be waking anyone up, so nobody minded all that much.

"Still, we're glad you made it." Now it was Shuichi's turn to thank them. "I know how you feel, Maki, but the girls really do love to see you. Thank you for putting that aside for today."

"I don't mean to overstep my bounds, but I would love it if you could do that more often for the other two," Kaede said, resting both hands on her swollen stomach.

Maki didn't have a good response to that, so she didn't bother to try. The conversation slowly died down from there, and once it was over, the couples parted ways once more. "So we'll be coming over for Kochou's birthday too, right?" Kaito asked on the ride home.

Maki sighed. "If it makes Kaede happy..."

Kaito pumped a fist in the air, making sure to keep his other hand on the wheel like a somewhat responsible driver. "Alright! You're gonna make all three Kaedes happy. And if they're happy, so are Shuichi and mini Shuichi."

Maki smiled and looked out the window. "Turn the car around so I can go tell her you said that."

Kaito's eyes went wide. "I'd rather live to see mini Shuichi, thanks."

"You're still doing it."

nine.

As much as she didn't intend to make an empty promise, Maki just couldn't help that her only friend on the night of Kochou's birthday was an empty house and the toilet bowl. After what felt like an eternity of retching on her knees like she was offering her guts to some sort of porcelain god, she was brought back to reality when the front door opened and Kaito called into the quickly darkening house. She heard some heavy footsteps, the sound of light switches flipping to illuminate the place a little, and finally the door to the bathroom slowly opening. "You feeling better, Maki Roll?" he asked, peeking his head in.

"A little bit." It wasn't a total lie that Maki said in a hoarse voice. Her stomach was still doing various types of flips and tricks, but she didn't feel nauseous from the mere thought of eating anymore. That didn't mean she was going to try it, but progress was progress. "How was the party?" she asked.

She thought it would be against Kaito's better judgment to plop down next to the sick lady, but as he started telling her about the party, he dropped to a crisscross sitting position right next to her. "It was great! I mean, for the most part. Kochou was a little sad not to see ya, but when I explained she didn't want you vomiting all over her tutu, she understood."

"What was her theme?" Maki asked.

"Swan Lake again," Kaito said. "I guess copying each other is a sibling thing. The only thing different was that Kochou wanted a bright pink dress instead of a white one. Kaede said it wasn't exactly accurate to Swan Lake, but it's the thought that counts."

Maki couldn't help but chuckle. "Yeah. The kids at the orphanage were kind of like that, too."

Kaito danced around that subject again, for some reason changing the subject almost without missing a beat. "Anyway, you wouldn't have liked it, because this time they had actual guests, which I guess made up for you not being here."

"Like who?" It may have been the haze of sickness, but Maki couldn't imagine who else would have been there.

Kaito seemed to grimace at the thought. "Tenko, Himiko and Toumi."

"Ah," Maki said, nodding. "So I would have had to deal with three kids instead of two. Maybe this stomach thing was the world's way of saving me from that."

"You sure you okay?" Kaito asked. "Your face is looking a little pale."

"I'm fine," Maki told him. "My stomach feels like it's pole dancing on my spine, but I'm fine."

Kaito seemed slightly confused by the imagery presented to him. "Anyway, I wasn't super into it either, to be honest with ya. Himiko's cool and Toumi's cute and all, but Tenko is a real handful. She'd barely even let me get close to the kiddos." Maki nodded along, silently showing she was listening. Suddenly, Kaito's posture stiffened like he was getting upset. "She treats me an' Shuichi like we're some sorta criminals! The only reason Shuichi was allowed in the same room as the kids without getting a dirty look is because two of them were his."

"That's Tenko for you," Maki said, turning her attention back to the toilet bowl. "God forbid someone have a dick."

"Right?" Kaito shot to his feet like he was ready to fight. "It rubs me the wrong way. When have I ever hurt anyone?"

"On purpose?"

Maki smiled and shook her head. "Calm down, Kaito. You don't want to prove her right."

"Yeah, yeah," Kaito said, turning his back to her. "Hey, d'ya want anything to eat? I had cake but that ain't exactly dinner."

"I'd rather not risk having to spend another hour in here," Maki grumbled. Kaito left without another word, leaving the bathroom door slightly open. "Thank you anyway," she called after him, hoping her voice would reach far enough for him to hear. Now that she wasn't throwing up uncontrollably, she weakly got herself to a stand and wobbled over to their bedroom. Once she was comfortable in bed, she started checking her phone. The first thing she saw was Kaede's post wishing her younger daughter a happy third birthday. The picture seemed to be a group shot from the party, with two families standing near each other and three kids at their feet. One could tell just by glancing at the still photo that the kids were struggling to keep themselves under control, their eyes wide and long hair tousled like they'd been playing.

Kaito, however, didn't seem to be in the picture. Kaede had left a note on the bottom of the wall of text that he was there too, but got stuck with camera duty. A peek at Tenko's smug face told Maki all she needed to know about how that set-up ended up coming about. Maki had the thought that maybe her presence would have stopped that from happening, but then she wondered how that argument didn't evolve into full-blown fisticuffs. She hadn't seen Tenko much since they'd adopted Toumi, but she thought that maybe the kid had finally made her slightly less physically violent. Maybe.

The thought of Toumi, Aika and Kochou lead her down a completely different train of thought. One that was best summed up when Kaito walked into the bedroom, rubbing his stomach contentedly. Before she could think to stop herself, she blurted out, "Would you feel better if we had a child?"

She covered her mouth, surprised she'd even say such a thing, and Kaito was so caught off guard that his breath caught in his throat and he nearly doubled over from choking on it. "E-excuse me?" He wheezed once he'd sort of collected himself.

Maki's face was beet red, and she was almost scared to open her mouth, but she did anyway. "Well, you said Tenko only treated Shuichi half decent because he's a parent, so maybe she would finally respect you if you were a parent of your own kid."

The room was dead silent, and Kaito blinked slowly a few times, trying to process what had been said. "There's...a lot to unpack there," he said, moving to Maki's side in bed. "First of all, I don't think having a kid so one person will respect me is the most responsible thing to do."

"Right," Maki agreed. "It would be a lot to go through just for creating the illusion of being mature."

"Which I am, by the way," Kaito said quickly. "Anyway, aside from that, I'm pretty sure part of it is the fact that Aika and Kochou are both girls. When Kaede tried to talk about their mini Shuichi, she like, totally checked out mentally. So even if we did do that, if it were a boy then Tenko would not give a shit."

Maki nodded along. "You're right. Sorry I brought it up. I don't know what came over me."

"Don't worry about it," Kaito said, wrapping his arm around her shoulder. The room was silent for another moment, then he turned to her with a concerned look on his face. "Do...you want a kid?"

Maki couldn't have answered faster. "Hell no. I just thought I'd offer. It would make you happy, right?"

Kaito turned his gaze to the ceiling, looking at nothing in particular. "I mean, I guess I would like to have a kid someday, but I'm not gonna ask you to compromise on your beliefs just for my sake, y'know? I think us both bein' happy is more important than you sufferin' through all that pregnancy stuff for a kid you won't even like."

"I'm glad you agree," Maki said. When Kaito gave a small chuckle, she put on a serious face. "No, really. It means a lot to me that you feel that way too. Now I don't feel as bad for keeping you from having children." As she spoke, she huddled into her husband's frame, pulling herself closer to him until the end of her sentence was said with her face practically nuzzled into his chest.

"Don't feel bad," Kaito assured her, running his hand through her hair. "All I need to be happy for the rest of my life is you. I don't need anything or anyone else. Just you." He kissed the top of her head and the couple eventually fell asleep in that position. Maki wasn't usually such a cuddly person, but Kaito wasn't one to complain.

ten.

Two days after Kochou's birthday, it was time for Maki to finally receive her own birthday present.

She woke up that morning and her eyes darted to the tickets that Kaito hung up on the wall to make sure he wouldn't forget. Finally, the date printed on the tickets had come, and now it was only a matter of time until Maki was watching her favorite band perform live, which wasn't something she'd ever thought she would get to see.

Unfortunately, the stomach bug she had caught hadn't completely gone away yet, so her appetite was still suffering and she still had a lingering sense of not functioning at a hundred percent. This was her birthday present, though, and she wasn't going to let being sickly stop her from enjoying herself. However, once lunch rolled around, she was still not out of bed, which was normal for Kaito, but not for her. "You feeling okay, Maki Roll?" Kaito asked.

"I'm still a little under the weather," Maki said. "It's no big deal."

"Is there anything I can do to help?"

Maki put some thought into it and finally flipped herself so she was laying on her stomach. "Can you get my back?"

"Oh, uh, sure." Kaito moved to sitting above her, placing his hands gently on her back. "I'm not sure how this'll help with stomachaches but I'm willing to try anything."

"My back's sore too, smart one," Maki snapped. "I can feel more than one pain at once, you know." Kaito didn't respond, instead pressing his fingers into her flesh. "Down," she said, sighing at the feeling. "It's my lower back that hurts." He pressed down on the area she described and an explosion of relief pulsed throughout her body. She sighed happily and rested her head on the pillow. She appreciated that he was actually remaining silent for this. It felt like his fingers were her own personal massage roombas, going wherever she directed without protest or smart remark. The silence meant it wasn't the typical back massage, but if he kept his mouth shut, perhaps it would be one with a happy ending…

"A-are you moaning like that because I've got the right spot?" Kaito asked, snapping Maki back to the present.

Maki didn't want to admit that she'd started fantasizing about the raunchy paths his hands could go down. "Uh, yes. Sorry."

"It's alright." Kaito averted his gaze, even though Maki couldn't see his reddening face. "I was just confused. I didn't think you'd be interested in that kinda thing with your stomach feeling the way it does."

Maki bit back a low groan. "Honestly? I'm very interested in 'that kinda thing,' but you're right. Keep it in your pants this time, Romeo."

The couple narrowly avoided dropping everything to make sweet love—again—and finally got their day started with a nice lunch. Thankfully, Maki was able to keep it down, and from there it was time to get ready for the concert. Maki put on her capris and one of the several T-shirts she owned with the bands name scrawled across the chest.

She was thankful she got dressed before Kaito when he tiled his head at her in confusion. "I thought people were supposed to dress kinda nice for concerts," he said.

"Dumbass, this isn't one of Kaede's concerts," Maki said. "Besides, think about what kind of genre this band is. I don't think they'll care so much."

"Right," Kaito said, mentally rethinking his entire outfit. Finally, he settled on a similarly colored shirt and shorts before ushering Maki out of the house so they could get there in time. On the drive to the venue, he struck up a conversation. "Say, speaking of Kaede, when do you think the baby shower is?"

"Are you serious?" Maki asked, to which Kaito nodded. "Don't you remember? They only had a baby shower for Aika."

"Why's that, do you think?" he asked, completely oblivious to how this kind of thing worked.

"Most couples only have one baby shower," Maki explained. "Most smart couples, anyway. Those events are for getting expensive gifts like cribs and shit. And since the expensive stuff tends to be more permanent, they don't need to get a new one with every parasite they pump out."

Kaito couldn't help but bark a laugh at Maki's wording. "Right. Well, let's stop thinkin' about them and have some fun, yeah?"

"Finally," Maki said, settling into her seat.

It didn't take long at all for Kaito to find a new subject. "Hey, this is a first for both of us, isn't it?" Maki nodded quietly and he grinned proudly. "Well, now it's gonna be twice as fun!"

Maki smiled and remained silent. She wasn't ecstatic about the idea of being in such a big crowd, but she was willing to keep an open mind about it. She could also feel a faint echo of the stomach pain in her gut, but she was going to muscle through it and have fun if it killed her.

She had no idea that she'd wish it had killed her the next day, but that's a story best saved for later.

The venue for the concert was a place neither of the concert virgins had ever been before. It was a large, mostly outdoor area that was clearly made with such large concerts in mind, and it was spacious enough that Maki had confidence that she wouldn't feel too cramped when everyone was filed in.

The sun started setting and with the cool, late spring evening came the main attraction that brought them there that night. The band was always Maki's favorite, but being able to watch them perform their greatest hits in person was a special experience, and contrary to her expectations, the sounds of everyone around her singing along was just as fun. She didn't quite have the confidence to sing along out loud herself, despite knowing that she wouldn't be heard over the roar, but she filed the knowledge that she was allowed to do that in the back of her mind so maybe she could use it in the future.

Yes, she was already planning to go to another concert.

About halfway through, the band left the stage for a brief intermission, getting ready for the next part of their act, but in the calm (by comparison) din, Maki could feel her stomach start to rumble again. "You okay, Maki Roll?" Kaito asked, catching on to her paling face so quickly it almost annoyed her.

Maki nodded, but for some reason her nods were coming incredibly slowly. "I'm...fine," she said. Naturally, Kaito didn't believe her in the slightest, but before he could press her further, the band took the stage again. For the second half of the show, Maki was in her seat, watching the people standing around her having a blast. When she felt like this, the only thing to do would be to sit back and relax with her eyes closed, but the sheer volume of the concert made relaxing completely impossible. Kaito tried to sit next to her in solidarity, but she forced him back to his feet, determined to make sure someone was having a good time, at least.

Each beat of every song made her head throb, and her stomach once again felt like it was trying desperately to escape by any means necessary; she was just determined to make sure that route didn't involve her mouth.

The concert seemed much longer when she stopped enjoying it, and it felt like it had dragged on for days when the band finally made their final exit from the stage. On their way out to the car, Kaito was giddy from the experience. "That was awesome!" he cheered.

"Yeah, it was fine," Maki said, gripping her stomach. "I'm sure I would have enjoyed it more if I didn't feel like death the whole second half."

"Yeah, speaking of that, how are you feeling?" Kaito asked.

"I think I need to go to a doctor," Maki said, visibly ashamed that she was saying that. "I hate having to do that, but this hasn't gone away longer than a few hours for four days."

"Wow, I didn't think I'd ever see you admit you need medical help," Kaito said, pulling car keys out of his pocket now that the car was visible.

"I don't like hospitals or doctor's offices," Maki explained quickly. "But I'd rather deal with that than suffer through this any longer."

"Fair enough," Kaito said, opening the driver's side door. "Now get in and let's go home."

One long sleepless night later, Maki and Kaito rolled up to the urgent care center near their house. "You didn't need to come with me, I could have driven myself," Maki insisted as they got out of the car.

"And what would you have done if they had given you some kinda drowsy medicine? Sorry Maki Roll, we're in this together."

Maki rolled her eyes and lead the way into the building. Luckily, it was a slow day, so the couple weren't waiting too long before a nurse took them back. "You don't have to come with me," Maki said, holding a hand out to tell Kaito to stay where he was.

His act of defiance was grabbing her hand and using it to pull himself to a stand. "And who's gonna stop me?" He smirked at her, and she briefly had the thought of punching his teeth out. The only thing that saved him was the fact that starting a scene in public would have been counterproductive. Instead, she groaned and followed the nurse back, resigned to not caring whether he followed her or not.

Maki told the nurse the details of her stomach problem and got a barrage of invasive and personal questions in response, which was one of the problems she had with places like this. Among the questions was a classic. "Is there any chance you're pregnant?"

"No," Maki said quickly, so repulsed by the question that she nearly rocketed into a sitting position from the medical bed she'd been laid down on.

"When was your last period?"

Maki rolled her eyes. "I don't know. My birth control stops it."

The nurse put a pen to her mouth and hummed. "I see. Can you tell me where it hurts?"

Maki nodded and moved her hands down to a spot just below her ribcage, and the nurse wasted no time. She slipped on some gloves and lifted Maki's shirt (an action which made the trained assassin have to resist the urge to kill) before touching and pressing down on the area in question. "Why are you doing this?" Maki asked. "I'm sure it's a stomach bug or something, how would pressing on it help?"

"Maybe you should let the doc do her thing, yeah?" Kaito said, earning a glare in response.

The nurse didn't respond, instead moving her hands and letting Maki's shirt fall again. "It could just be a virus or infection, but there is the chance of something more serious, so in order to be absolutely sure, we're going to perform an ultrasound. Is that alright?"

"I wasn't aware there were other uses for that kind of thing," Maki said, her heart skipping a beat at the term.

The nurse nodded. "Oh yeah, we use it for a lot more than you probably realize. Now let's get started."

While the nurse was setting up the ultrasound, Kaito was having trouble keeping his giggles to himself. "What's so funny, dumbass?" Maki snapped, seeing his stupid grin.

He shook his head, laughing again. "Oh, nothing. It's just that, y'know, we just talked about this kinda thing and now you're getting ultrasound...ed like you're some kinda pregnant lady." As he spoke, the monitor the nurse was using flickered to life and she turned it so only she could see it.

"Stow it," Maki said. "You just heard her explain it."

Kaito gave another chuckle and scratched at the back of his head. "Yeah, but isn't it kinda funny? Getting your stomach looked at instead of like, your heart or whatever else it is ultrasounds can look at?"

"Go ahead, keep rattling on," Maki said, looking past him to the wall. "The more you go, the longer it'll be until the next time we—"

"Holy shit. Excuse my unprofessional language, but you guys might want to have a look at this."