eleven.

The front door swung open violently enough to kill someone and Maki stormed in after it, the wrath of Hell in her eyes. "I can't fucking believe this," she roared, her words echoing down the halls of the house that suddenly felt much smaller.

Kaito stepped inside after her, making sure the door didn't damage the wall when it flew open. "Maki Roll..."

Maki's long hair spiraled around her like a vortex of hate when she spun on her heels to face Kaito and jabbed a finger in his direction. "Don't. Talk to me." She turned back around and marched into the kitchen, a frenetic air around her.

Seconds later, Kaito heard the sound of a cabinet opening in the kitchen. His eyes went wide and he bolted in after her, finding Maki frantically trying to pry open a rum bottle as though her life depended on it. "Maki Roll!" he yelled, lunging for the alcohol.

The second he laid his fingers on it, Maki screeched, "Don't touch me!" It was an almost inhuman noise, and the fact that it was coming from Maki's mouth would have given Kaito pause if it weren't for the context.

She tried to yank the bottle out of Kaito's reach, but he held it firmly between them, put his hand on the cap, and looked into Maki's eyes with a deadly serious expression. "Maki Momota, you listen to me." His voice was stern, unlike anything she'd ever heard before, and the sound of it rattled Maki almost as much as the sudden news had. "You don't want to do this."

"Yes I do." Maki tried to put on an intimidating voice, but it came out as a scared little girl's whispers. "I'm going to drink every drop of alcohol in this fucking house."

"Maki," Kaito repeated. "It's too far along. If you do that now, you'll get arrested."

Maki started hyperventilating, eyes wide and bloodshot. She backed off, hands in the air, but Kaito's grip on the bottle wasn't enough to keep it up, so it fell to the ground and shattered, straight rum exploding across the linoleum floor. The sound startled Maki and she screamed, watching her shoes get covered in the liquid. She stuttered out an apology, but never got farther than the letter I before Kaito took action. He fluidly stepped over the glass and lifted her bridal style, making sure he had a firm grip on her before walking her out of the kitchen. "Kaito..."

"It's okay," he said, his voice much softer and reassuring than before. "I'll clean it up. Go take your shoes off and relax."

Maki tried to protest, but the second the stench of so much rum hit her nose, she was practically washed away by a wave of nausea. Between that and the adrenaline wearing off, Maki wasn't even out of Kaito's arms before she had fainted.

When she came to, she was tucked into bed. Her pajamas were on and her feet were bare and cool, not even a trace of alcohol remaining. She was extremely comfortable physically, but the fact that she woke up at all made her wish she had slipped on the rum and impaled her heart on a sharp shard of glass. On the other side of the wall, she could hear the toilet flushing, Kaito emerging into the room shortly after. When she saw him, she sat up and spoke the first thing that came to mind. "We have to tell Kaede and Shuichi."

Kaito held up a hand to try to calm her. "I've already texted them. They're on the way."

Somehow that thought didn't comfort Maki. "And what about—"

"They called in a babysitter for Aika and Kochou. It'll just be the four of us."

Maki nodded, starting to zone out. "Right." She got to her feet and slowly made her way to the living room where the news would have to be delivered, Kaito on her heels to make sure she wasn't about to faint again. She took a seat on the couch and took a deep breath. "Did you clean the floor?"

Kaito nodded. "Yup. After I made sure none of it was left on your feet, I went and cleaned it all up." He held up his hands to show off a variety of small cuts on his palms. "I did get got a couple a' times by the glass, though."

"I'm sorry," Maki whined, looking away as quick as she could.

"Don't be," Kaito said.

"Why not?"

Kaito opened his mouth to give a reason, but the doorbell rang before he could say anything. "Forget it. Just don't be sorry, okay? I'm gonna let 'em in." He rushed to the door and pulled it open, getting a greeting from Shuichi and a nod from Kaede. "Hey, thanks for comin' on such short notice, guys."

"Anything for you guys," Shuichi said, closing the door gingerly behind him.

Kaede nodded agreement. "Even if it means taking some time away from my babies," she said, resting her hands on her stomach. She was wearing an obnoxiously bright pink shirt that had some kind of dumb phrase about swallowing watermelon seeds on it, but Maki was more focused on how, between her breasts and swollen stomach, she looked a little bit like a human version of the letter B when looked at from the side. She had already retained some weight from her first two children, but now it was impossible to mistake her as anything but very pregnant. It was astounding how she still managed to look beautiful even while carrying so much extra weight and wearing a stupid T-shirt. Maki's hand rested on her own stomach, unable to picture herself that large, but she shook herself out of her thought process and removed her hand before either Saihara could see her.

"So what do you need to talk to us about?" Shuichi asked.

Kaito felt his face heat up and he forced a chuckle. "Uh, well, something's happened, and I'm not sure how to tell ya."

Maki heaved a deep sigh and spat out her way of revealing the news. "How much extra baby stuff do you have that you don't need?"

Kaede and Shuichi gasped.

"That's one way to do it," Kaito said with a sigh.

"Is there a reason you're asking?" Kaede asked, eyes lighting up. "Because I can get you so much stuff!"

Shuichi's eyes were wide with a different emotion, and he locked eyes with Maki. "Maki, you're not..."

Maki nodded slowly. "There's more."

"Wha..."

Kaede clapped her hands together and interrupted almost comically. "I'll get ahold of Himiko and Tenko and see if they can get their, ahem, contact to make you custom shirts! We'll just have to come up with something as clever as Saihara Squad!"

Maki was unimpressed. "Kaede."

"Momota...Clan? No, it's gotta have alliteration."

Kaito tried his hand at reigning in the conversation. "Kaede..."

"Momota Mob? No, sounds too mafia."

Shuichi was catching on to something as well. "Kaede."

"Momota Mansion! Oh, Maki, I'm so excited for you! Our kids can be friends, and it won't matter that he's a few months older than yours, they'll still be the best of friends, I can already—"

Maki shot to her feet and snapped, "It's due in three weeks."

Kaede's face dropped from excited to confused. "Uh, no? My baby boy is due in five weeks, silly."

"Not yours. Ours. It's going to be here in three weeks, tops." The room fell dead silent. Maki continued, spitting each word like it was a well-aimed crossbow bolt. "I've been pregnant since late last year, and the doctor said the damn thing would be due in the next month or so, but she couldn't figure out an exact date. This whole time, we had no idea."

Shuichi looked like a deer in the headlights, and he shook his head repeatedly, eyes darting from Maki's face to her stomach to the rest of her body. "N-no no no," he stuttered, holding his hands up. "That's impossible. How could you be pregnant for so long and not even know? I mean, you're not…"

"I'm not fat?" Maki finished. "It's okay, you can say it."

Kaito put a hand on Shuichi's shoulder and tried his hand at explaining things. "Y'see, our, uh, kid kinda formed closer to Maki Roll's spine, so she didn't grow a bit. It's…uh, pretty much fully formed? I think?"

Shuichi looked like he was the one about to faint now. "No, that's impossible. How can you possibly be pregnant for almost a full term and not catch any of the signs?"

Maki shrugged apathetically. "Your guess is as good as mine, detective."

Hearing the line of work he was so good at thrown back at him like a weapon seemed to physically take the air from Shuichi's chest. He reached up and placed his hand on his forehead, growing paler and more frantic by the second. "I...I had no idea. How could I miss so many clues? This isn't possible!"

Maki decided to let Shuichi have his mental break in peace and instead turned to see how Kaede was handling the news. What she saw was a very unamused pregnant woman, arms crossed and lips pursed into a pout. "This isn't funny, Maki," she said quietly.

"I agree," Maki said, crossing her own arms. "I don't think it's funny in the slightest. Do you think I asked for this?"

"You know, I don't know what to think, Maki," Kaede snapped, turning to her distressed husband. "Part of me thinks that you're just making it up to try to steal my spotlight, if I'm being honest."

Maki's jaw dropped, and so did Kaito's (Shuichi wasn't paying attention). "Do you want to run that one by me again?" Maki asked, hands balling into fists at her side.

Kaede was clearly intimidated by Maki's murderous aura, but instead of backing down, she just shook her hair out of her face and huffed. "You heard me," was her simple response.

Maki's mind swirled with vulgar, insulting things she could say, but instead, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. The room fell quiet, aside from Shuichi's heavy breathing, but after a few minutes, Maki said, "Fine. If you honestly want to be that self-centered, then you can go. We'll get help for our baby from someone else." She paused to growl, fighting back tears. "I hate that I even have to say that, and the fact that you don't believe me and would rather make it about yourself only makes it hurt worse. Get out of my house."

Kaede and Shuichi left without another word.

twelve.

Now that Maki knew about the incredibly bizarre situation she'd stumbled into, there was a month at best before her life was meant to change forever, and now she started to take notice of the signs that had flown under her radar in the past. Her aching joints, bigger appetite and lower energy had transformed from innocuous inconveniences into the symptoms of the one thing she swore would never happen to her; and she couldn't tell if they were actually getting worse or if she just felt them worse now that she knew that. Her stomach continued to stay the way it always had been, which only made things that much more unbearable. Not even the best detective she knew of could look at her and tell she was pregnant.

Not that it mattered what he could do, considering he and his family weren't talking to her.

But the time to feel sorry for herself and dread the oncoming life changes was short. Kaito and Maki had less than a month to prepare for the arrival of their newly discovered bundle of...something, and the clock wasn't going to pause for her mental breakdown. This situation was plenty bizarre, but stopping time wasn't going to get involved, no matter how much they wanted it. As such, the frantic planning began in earnest. A week was spent feverishly cleaning the house (Kaito would take on tasks that he deemed not safe for a pregnant woman to perform), and snap decisions had to be made regarding what to keep around the house. The extra room that the Saturn V rocket was currently sitting in was the only option for the child's room, and all of the junk and clutter had to either be thrown away or relocated somehow. There was a brief moment where Kaito mulled over getting rid of the rocket due to how large it was, but Maki had grown attached to (and spent way too much money on) the damn thing to allow it to be thrown away. It was moved to the corner of their room, and with that out of the way, it was finally started to look like real progress was being made.

The next order of business was filling the room back up, going from stuff they didn't need to stuff they didn't want. Two weeks was awfully short notice for baby shower invites, and they only sent them to the people they thought would have the highest chance of putting aside some time and last-minute funds for their cause. It was a desperate play, but after they explained the situation to those friends, a day was set aside for the event.

Everyone involved getting that particular day off would have been a lot easier if they were American, but against all odds, the Momota household was hosting a get together on the fourth day of July. It was a risky strategy, considering Maki's due date was less of a "date" and more of a "rough estimation" based on the size of the baby, so Kaito was at his wit's end all day, making sure Maki was feeling well and the baby shower wouldn't have to be called off due to sudden labor.

The guest list was astonishingly small, but considering everyone they invited showed up, they didn't have room to complain. The guests made up for their small numbers by getting more gifts, and while that was still not a large number by any stretch of the imagination, it was appreciated nonetheless. "So, first thing's first, I guess," Kaito said once everyone had rounded up and said their greetings. "Thanks for comin' on such short notice, and thanks for these gifts and stuff."

"Get off the stage! I only came for Maki anyway, scumbag."

Maki had no patience for Tenko's antics, glaring daggers at her. "If you came to support me, you'll prove it by not acting like some sort of heckler. Sit down."

Tenko's wife hummed and nodded next to her, eyes half closed. "Yeah, this whole thing's stressful enough for them without you harassing him."

"I have to make him pay for doing that to our poor Maki somehow," Tenko said, earnest belief in her every word. "And I figured my usual route of physical violence wouldn't be appreciated."

"None of it's appreciated," Maki spat. "Now shut up for a minute."

Tenko did as she was told, but Himiko smirked, a glint of mischief in her eyes. "Hey Maki, aren't you glad I cast an anti-weight gain spell on you so you didn't swell up like a balloon? That's not something I've done for anyone else, so you better appreciate it."

Her tolerance for Himiko's bullshit was slightly higher, for some reason, so Maki merely rolled her eyes and muttered a thank you, giving the next guest room to speak. "Right...Well, I didn't cast any magic on you, and I don't exactly have the funds for extravagant gifts, but I hope you like what I did get." He paused to take his hands out of his pockets and shrug dramatically. "Also, keep in mind that my offer to babysit extends to you guys, too."

Kaito smiled, the first genuine smile he'd had since the fight with Kaede and Shuichi. "Thanks, Ryoma. It means a lot to us."

"Anytime," he said, sticking his hands back in his pockets like magnets were pulling them there. "Just don't get all sappy on me, you hear?"

"Loud and clear," Kaito said, giving Ryoma a thumbs up.

The last guest politely cleared her throat, and once she had everyone's attention, she said, "I, too, offer my services, as I've done for everyone before, but considering the modest attendance rate, I also decided to buy a good number of gifts for you as well."

"Thanks, Kirumi," Maki said. "Every little bit helps." It pained Maki to be relying on others like this, but apparently, that was kind of the point of baby showers, so she sucked it up and thanked everyone multiple times over the course of the day. Tenko and Himiko's gifts were almost entirely clothes with dumb phrases on them, and some of them were even space-related to throw Kaito a bone. It wasn't much, but considering the short notice, the couple clearly went as close to all-out as they could. Ryoma's gift was just a large box of diapers that probably wouldn't have even lasted them past the first month, but every penny that was spent on that box was one they didn't have to spend themselves, so the gesture was appreciated.

The small mountain of stuff from Kirumi took up the vast majority of the day. By the time it was done, they had toys, formula, more diapers, enough onesies to last them at least half a year, a carseat, slings, and one of those vests that Kaito declared he would faithfully use to carry the child on his chest every time he went out in public. And yes, he did mean every time.

It was all nice, and Maki knew beggars couldn't be choosers, especially if said beggar was due any day now, but there was still one vital component missing to the room. If Katio noticed it, he wasn't saying anything, and Kirumi had no excuse or explanation, so Maki had resigned herself to having to cough up the money for a crib herself. Just as that thought crossed her mind, the doorbell rang and everyone jumped (except Kirumi, who kept her poker face on).

Kaito looked around the room, muttering something about how he didn't invite anyone else over before moving to the front of the house. As soon as he unlocked the door, it swung open, nearly splattering him on the wall like a cartoon character to reveal a pastel-colored nightmare parade.

Kaede, Shuichi, Aika, Kochou and Toumi marched in, the former four wearing their bright, pastel shirts that read "Saihara Squad" across the chests, and the latter toddling in just to see their moms. Maki was shocked, and once he recovered from the near-death experience with the door, Kaito was as well, but moreso at the giant box in Shuichi's arms. "The Saihara Squad has arrived!" Kaede declared once they reached the center of the room. The one kid that was not theirs immediately waddled to Himiko, arms out happily.

"What…"

Shuichi set the box down and heaved a deep breath. "We have some explaining to do."

Kaede's face turned serious, and she nodded firmly. "Maki, I've been a huge bitch to you."

Maki crossed her arms and pursed her lips. "You have."

"And…I'm sorry. I overreacted to your news." She took a deep breath before continuing, clearly having to resist getting emotional. "You obviously aren't happy with your situation, and instead of being there to support you I got selfish and yelled at you. I'm so sorry." Tears were starting to form in her eyes and she sobbed, "Can you forgive a hormonal pregnant woman who gave into her mood swing?"

Maki kept on a stone face and stared into Kaede's eyes. She could only keep up the charade for so long before the corners of her lips turned up into a small smile. "Depends. What do you have for this hormonal pregnant woman in that box?"

Kaede sniffled and giggled. "Well, Shuichi, I guess it's time to show them."

"If you say so." Shuichi shrugged and motioned to the box, which Kaito kneeled in front of in order to easily tear the wrapping paper off. It didn't take long for him to realize what it was. "Well, hey, there's that crib we were missing!"

Kaede smiled proudly, tilting her head to the side. "I hope that helps make up for things."

Kirumi cleared her throat and took the opportunity to explain. "Forgive me for sharing information you might not have wanted shared, but when you told me the details of what had happened, I decided to reach out and see if we could come to a proper resolution to everything."

Kaede nodded. "Yup, and then we coordinated what we were gonna get!"

Tenko looked to her wife and their child. "And Himiko was supposed to find a different sitter for Toumi, because we were in on it, too."

In the midst of playing with Toumi, Himiko jut out her bottom lip. "I forgot."

Kaede giggled at her flat tone. "It's alright. We didn't mind having an extra body in the car."

Aika and Kochou had been well-behaved at their mother's feet, possibly due to the presence of so many of their usual babysitters, but the excitement of seeing Maki finally got to them. "Maki mole!" Aika said, tugging on her pant leg. "Are you making a brother for us, too?"

Shuichi laughed from his spot, scratching the back of his neck. "No, whatever she has isn't going to be your brother."

Kochou dutifully tugged on Maki's other pant leg and asked, "Why aren't you all big like mommy?"

Kaede and Maki looked at each other, faces flushing a dark red. "Okay, that's enough Maki time for you," Kaede laughed, trying to corral the kiddos.

Kochou immediately detached herself from Maki and left to play with Himiko and Toumi, but Aika stayed behind. "Not yet," she said, stepping back and shaking her head. "I wanna give Maki mole a present too!"

"Oh, you should have told us that beforehand, dear," Shuichi told her, concern in his voice. "Then we could have bought them something and put your name on it."

Aika shook her head again, her thick dark hair going every which way. "Nuh-uh, I already have it!" She grabbed the little backpack she had insisted on wearing to the party and dug through it for a few seconds before proudly producing her gift. "Ta-da! It's Baby Keebo!"

Kaito and Maki exchanged a confused glance and Shuichi's eyes lit up once he remembered the toy. "Oh, that's the toy robot Miu gave us at our baby shower, remember?"

Kaede gasped as the memory hit her as well. "Oh yeah! I'd forgotten all about it!"

"Baby Keebo stayed in my room when I was a baby," Aika said, unaware that its original purpose was as a fancy baby monitor. It was noticeably worn and the adults who used it for that purpose were sure it wouldn't work like that anymore, but the determined little face on the tiny robot had sold Kaito pretty much immediately.

"I love it!" he said, moving from the crib to Maki's side. "He'll be our little guy's best friend!"

Aika's eyes narrowed and she held the robot close to her chest again. "Not for you! Baby Keebo's for Maki Mole and baby Maki Mole." Maki smiled and knelt down in front of Aika. She held out her hands and Aika gingerly put Baby Keebo in her waiting palms. "I'm gonna miss Baby Keebo," she said somewhat somberly. "So please be nice to him, okay? Promise!"

"I promise," Maki said, closing her fingers around the toy. "Thank you, Aika."

Aika grinned so wide her eyes squinted shut. She giggled and ran back to her sister to join the fun with Himiko. Maki brought herself back to a stand, watching the children play quietly and holding the robot tight.

"Weird to think that your kid's going to be part of that group soon, huh?" Shuichi asked, sidling up next to her.

Maki's expression hardened as she mentally cursed him for being able to read her thoughts so proficiently. "Weird. Terrifying. Intimidating."

Kaede joined them and laced her arm through her husband's. "You'll do great, Maki. And if you need any help at all, we'll be there for you every step of the way."

"Hey, don'tcha think I need some encouragement, too?" Kaito asked, clearly a bit sore after getting scolded by a four-year-old. "I'm just as entrenched in this as Maki is!"

"I don't think the degenerate gets any encouragement," Tenko said, butting in on what should have been a sweet moment between friends. "After all, you did this to her."

"How long are you gonna act like this is all my fault, huh?" Kaito demanded, shaking a fist in Tenko's direction.

Tenko's response was lightning fast. "How long are you going to deny that it is? Maki didn't want this, so she had her birth control. It was your fault you got so caught up in the love making and didn't take the time to put on a damn c—"

"Tenko!" Kaede snapped. "Watch what you say around the kids!"

Maki shook her head. "Your own child's here and you start talking about contraception."

Tenko's face flushed. "R-right. I guess I forgot."

"Speaking of which," Shuichi said in a desperate bid to change the subject. "We left before we could ask this last time, but do you have any idea what gender your kid is?"

Kaito shook his head. "The docs told us that the baby's placed so weirdly that they can't make heads or tails of that kinda thing. He's healthy, though, and that's what matters."

"I see you've already decided for yourself what they're going to be," Shuichi said, side-eyeing Tenko for her reaction and hoping he wouldn't have to break up another fight.

"Isn't it weird that you're likely going to have them before we have ours and you don't even know what they are?" Kaede asked. "I don't know how I would handle that."

"I don't think what gender it is really matters here," Maki pointed out.

"That's a good attitude to have, but I'm not sure if you have it for the right reasons," Kaede said.

Maki shrugged, and that was the end of that conversation, as Kochou had interrupted the proceedings by reeling back and accidentally punching Toumi in the midst of their games. The adults scattered to take care of their respective children, leaving Maki, Kaito and Kirumi watching the chaos from afar. "Hey, thanks for doin' that, Kirumi," Kaito said. "I dunno if we could have mentally done all this without my sidekick around."

Kirumi gave Kaito a small smile and a nod. "A good maid can see what needs to be done without being asked."

Ryoma waddled toward the trio and smirked. "And here I was completely unaware of any kind of fight going on between you guys. Guess my communication skills have still got a long ways to go."

From there, the baby shower died down. Tenko and Himiko wished them the best of luck before taking a tuckered out Toumi home, Kirumi had an appointment to attend to, and Ryoma slipped out while no one was paying attention, leaving Kaede, Shuichi and their kids who were on their way out as well. In her final act of making it up to her friend, Kaede hugged her as tight as her swollen belly would allow, which wasn't all that tight, but Maki received the message regardless. "We'll see you guys later," Shuichi said, steering Kochou and Aika toward the door.

Kaede nodded, following behind the procession. "And we better be the first to know when that baby makes their way into the world, you hear?"

Kaito put his hands on his hips and laughed. "Who else would we tell? Miu?"

"Don't even joke about that," Maki said. "Her robot might beam messages back to her or something."

The couples shared a laugh and with that, the house fell silent again. "Well, that was fun," Kaito said. "And now we have the house to ourselves again."

Maki nodded. "Better appreciate it while we can. That's going to change forever very soon." The weight of those words caused her shoulders to slump. She sighed, not giving Kaito the time to respond before turning to the pile of gifts. "Let's get this shit into the room."

It was an easy process, but something about what she'd said caused it to feel like an eternity. Once they were done, she sat in their bed, staring at the rocket she'd got him for Christmas. "You okay, Maki Roll?" Kaito asked.

The temptation to be coy and avoid the topic occurred to her, but she had no idea how much time they would have left to have conversations like these, so she spit it out. "I don't know how ready for this we are."

Kaito nodded solemnly and took a seat next to her. "Yeah, but I don't think anyone's ever truly ready for this kinda thing, you know? Especially on such short notice. Like, damn...it's a bit scary."

Maki nodded, eyes wide. "Terrifying. Intimidating," she said, repeating the sentiment from earlier. Then, it had been said in a lighthearted tone, but now each of those words weighed heavily on her chest.

"But it's going to be okay," Kaito said, confidence in his voice despite the worried look he wore. "Whatever happens, what matters is that we have each other, and we'll stick together through it all."

Maki could feel her eyes starting to well up and attempted to hide the coming tears by throwing her arms around him and latching onto him like a vice. "Right," she said in a shaky voice.

Kaito gasped, surprised at the suddenness of her affection. "M-maki Roll? Do ya need some more motivation?"

Maki shook her head against his chest. "You've said all you need to say, now shut up and hold me."

It was an odd request with a strange forcefulness to it, but it was one that Kaito was more than happy to indulge in. There, in the arms of the man she had fallen for after hearing his promise, Maki found relief. For the first time since they'd learned she was pregnant, she felt like everything would end up okay after all.

thirteen.

The week after the baby shower was a test in patience for Maki and nerves for Kaito. Every abnormality was treated as a sign that the child was definitely on the way, and Maki had to constantly explain why she didn't think that was the case. It was annoying, but ultimately, she appreciated that he was so careful with her.

Not that she would ever tell him that.

The boiling point finally came later in the week when Maki started complaining about her back hurting more than usual. As innocent as it seemed, it was the final straw for Kaito, and without listening to reason, he herded her into the car and rushed her to the hospital. When he was explaining that Maki was definitely about to give birth, she rolled her eyes and gave the nurse a look that she hoped would silently explain the situation.

Unfortunately, the nurse couldn't exactly get away with dismissing them outright, so she had a doctor come in.

This newcomer into the situation seemed flabbergasted once he was caught up, jaw clenching as he looked at the couple. "So you have no idea when you got pregnant, when you're due, or even what it is."

Kaito nodded. "That's right."

The doctor pinched the bridge of his nose and set the envelope containing Maki's records on the bedside table. "Alright. Well, the good news is that no, your baby's not on the way. The bad news is, I looked at the ultrasound—who even did that for you?"

Maki shrugged. "Some nurse from urgent care."

"That explains everything."

"Excuse me?" Kaito asked. "Is everything okay?

"Mostly," the doctor said, leaning back in his chair and lacing his fingers together. "As I was saying, I looked at the ultrasound, and your child is positioned wrong." He paused to allow for questions, but then his eyes tracked down to Maki's stomach and he remembered the situation. "Er, in more ways than one. See, when the time comes, the child is meant to be facing down, so they would come down head first. Your child is facing up, which means that if we were to attempt to deliver them normally, we would be taking them out feet first, which isn't fun for anybody, much less you or the baby."

"I don't quite understand why," Kaito mused, crossing his arms and furrowing his brow in thought.

"It's best if you don't think about it too much," the doctor assured him. "Anyway, no, it's not time yet, but perhaps it would be best if we made it time. Does that make sense?"

Maki nodded silently. Her mind went to the last couple of weeks and how the knowledge that she was pregnant had rocked her to her core. On the one hand, she wanted to put off the actual motherhood step for as long as possible, but, as painful as it sounded, perhaps it was best to bite the bullet and get it over with. She looked at Kaito, who assured her that it was her decision and he would stand by her either way. However, it was evident by the look in his eyes that, if asked, he would have launched into one of his bullshit inspirational speeches about taking the plunge headfirst instead of waiting for it to happen—and for something to potentially go wrong. Her decision felt like it was going to shape the rest of her life, and the weight of it was too much for her to respond with an apathetic shrug.

"Fine," she finally said. "Let's do it."

Everything after that was a blur. She blinked and she was alone in the room with Kaito, aware that he was rattling on about how excited he was but not actually bothering to listen. Next time she blinked, he was gone and a nurse was escorting her to the operating room. Then, she was forced to wear nothing but a thin sheet, only serving to humiliate her more. Of course, she couldn't have checked out during the course of stripping down to basically nothing, because the world was intent on her suffering. Next thing she knew, she was getting stuck with needles as the doctors explained the C-section that would bring her baby into the world.

The medications they were pumping through her veins were supposed to dull her senses, numb her almost to the point of knocking her out, and make sure she couldn't feel or hear close to anything during the course of the operation, but the doctors had no idea they were dealing with an assassin who had built up a resistance to most drugs that could be used to knock her out. This led to Maki having to sit through the entire procedure almost fully alert. The one consolation was that she was unable to see what was going on, but she didn't take much solace in that, especially when she heard someone say something about how unusually complicated the procedure was going to be. With nothing done to put her mind at ease and the operating team oblivious to her alertness, Maki was forced to sit through the entire thing. She felt a sensation similar to someone drawing on her with a pen, which she guessed was the surgeon marking where they were going to cut her open.

She could only wish she was so lucky, because the feeling that proved her wrong—a hand parting her skin to reach inside her—was the single most uncomfortable thing she'd ever felt in her life. If the drugs hadn't done their job in physically immobilizing her, she would have throttled the surgeon and stomped out of there with her wound still open just so she could strangle her husband too.

In her line of work, she had often thought about the idea of strangers rummaging through her insides, but she had always assumed she'd be dead for the occasion. Instead, she could only wish she was dead, and a small part of her kind of wished the baby they were extracting was dead too. A vision flashed through her head of how disappointed Kaito would be to know she had that thought, and she squashed it down due to shame.

She had no idea how long the operation lasted, or how long she was left alone with her thoughts after it was over. All she was aware of was the sobering fact that her time as a mother was going to start whenever that door opened next, which could have been any second. The moment she had that thought, the door flew open and Kaito ran to her side in a way that reminded her of a herd of elephants. "Hey, Maki Roll!" He said, taking a seat next to her bed. "How're ya feeling?" The energy to make a snarky comment about how she was feeling worse now that he was there was lost on her, so she just shrugged apathetically, which Kaito took as a sign to keep prattling on. "The doc told me everything was good and that I was allowed to come in so we can both be here to meet the kid. Isn't that exciting?"

He got a sigh in response.

"Well anyway, I've told everyone else what's going on, and they'll probably be around later."

This time, she didn't make a sound.

"Aw, come on, Maki Roll. You've gotta be a little excited, right?" Kaito put his hand on hers and gave her a toothy grin. "This is our kid we're talking about!"

Maki spoke for the first time in what felt like days. "Yeah, and they had to rip me open to get it."

Kaito shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. "I'm sure once you see the little rugrat, you'll be all over him, er, it, uh, them. Y'know, that mama bear instinct Kaede likes talking about and all."

The moment to prove Kaito wrong came quick, as before Maki could make a remark, the door creaked open and a doctor Maki recognized from the surgery stepped in, cradling a bundle of fabric in her arms. "You're the lucky couple, right?" she asked. "I'd hate to have brought this to the wrong room after everything."

"Depends," Kaito said. "Is that baby Momota?"

The woman's face lit up and she nodded. "Y-yeah! He's the healthiest C-section baby I've ever seen, in fact. Which is surprising considering the circumstances..."

"Shut up," Maki snapped, causing the nurse to wince.

"I'm sorry!" She squealed, scurrying to Maki and offering the baby to her. "I'll give him to you and get out of your hair, I promise!"

Maki stared at the baby, refusing to budge an inch. His purple eyes were wide, clearly woken up for the first time by the nurse's screech. He started whining, and even though he was staring into Maki's eyes, his eyes scrunched up and he started crying. A loud screech pierced the air and Maki continued staring at him, dumbfounded. Wasn't the sight of a mother supposed to keep babies from crying? After a sufficiently awkward moment during which the doctor's trembling got so intense she seemed ready to drop the baby entirely, Kaito swooped in and grabbed him from her. "I got him. Thanks, Doctor Tsumiki."

The doctor scuttled out and left the couple alone. Kaito turned his attention to the baby boy in his arms, seemingly unphased by the wailing coming from his throat. He held the child close and slowly, the crying tapered off into a whimper and the child went from crying to surveying the area around him. "Wow..." Kaito was awestruck. If only he was speechless too. "Isn't he perfect? And look who was right, huh? So, what are we gonna call this little bundle of joy?"

"He's a bundle of something," Maki grumbled. "But I don't know. You decide."

Kaito was hesitant to take on naming duties, but Maki was done contributing to the conversation, instead opting to stare at the child's big, mostly round head and think about what she just had to sit through to get him out of her. She didn't feel any different, but she knew there was a big, ugly scar just under her pathetic excuse for clothing that would stand out amongst her older, faded marks like a sore thumb.

Finally Kaito spoke up. "Well, how about-"

"Not Kaito Junior," Maki said quickly.

"Damn it."

Another quiet moment passed. The couple stared at their newborn son and he stared back, completely silent. One person was awestruck and immediately in love, while another was significantly less moved, and the third was hours old, so he didn't know what to think.

"How does Momoki sound?"

Mako shrugged. "It works."

It wasn't much longer until their friends descended on the room, reminding Maki of that movie with flying monkeys. Kaede obviously got to hold Momoki first, followed by Shuichi and Himiko. As soon as Tenko learned that the new Momota kid was a boy, she backed off and seemed much less excited, but her reservations still paled in comparison to Maki's. The new mom watched as everyone else passed the baby around, trying to point out every single little thing he did by turning him to face her. None of them seemed to mind that Maki wasn't reacting, and they definitely didn't really care about the invasive surgery she'd experienced. In fact, Kaede seemed to care so little that she shoved the baby back into Maki's arms and had the audacity to take a family picture. Kaito looked worn and tired, Maki looked filled with pure murderous intent, and Momoki had something similar his dad's dumb, goofy smile on.

Maki was assured that someday, she would love the picture, but for now, she was furious. The more everyone tried to get her to love her new son, the less she was going to, mostly out of spite, and they were just going to have to accept that.

fourteen.

Momoki Momota was born on July tenth, and every day afterward Kaede grew more desperate for her own child to arrive, swearing up and down that the two of them would be the best friends anyone could ever have. The way she spoke, one would think that the boys being even one month apart in age would prevent that from happening. Maki figured she was just desperate to not be several pounds heavier anymore, but she wasn't going to say that out loud.

Time wore on and Maki was forced to accept that she was a mother now, and all the responsibilities that came with it were hers to contend with as well. Thanks to her years of living in the orphanage, she was an expert at going through the motions of diaper changing, feeding, and taking care of all his necessities, but there was something...missing from it. Something Kaito pointed out one day when he watched her gently rock her son to sleep.

"Y'know Maki Roll, you're like, an expert at that stuff," he said, lazily lolling his head to the side.

"Of course I am," Maki replied quietly. "My cover as a babysitter wasn't just for show."

Kaito pursed his lips and furrowed his brow in thought. "But still, there's somethin' about it that bugs me." He watched Maki lay Momoki down in his crib next to Baby Keebo and escorted her quietly out of the room before continuing. "You're so good at it, but you aren't showing the little guy any love."

"Love," Maki repeated, deadpan.

Kaito flashed a toothy grin. "Yeah! You're his mom, but you're acting like his babysitter. It's almost depressing."

Maki opened her mouth to ask her trademark question, but got interrupted by the doorbell ringing through the house. Both parents jumped, and seconds later, Momoki's cries were drifting into the hall from inside his room. Maki glared in the direction of the door and started towards it. "Go calm him down, please," she said as she rounded the corner. With the assumption that Kaito was going to do as he was told, she opened the door to scold her visitor.

She was expecting someone she knew to be the victim of her ire, but the person standing at the door was completely unfamiliar to her. He was a pale, spindly man who would have been tall if his posture wasn't so horrendous, and his glasses sat so low on his nose, it was doubtful he could even see out of them. "Are you Maki Momota?" He asked, checking the clipboard he had cradled in his bony arms.

"Yes?"

The man gave a name and an occupation, but Maki didn't care much to listen to his introductions, seeing as he was too busy stepping into her house uninvited as he spoke. "I was digging around the patient files at the hospital, as one does, and I found the most peculiar case that I simply must write an article about. Would you mind?"

"A little bit," Maki answered. "Isn't that illegal?"

The man produced a pen like he was drawing a sword from a sheath and put it to the paper immediately. "Now, in all my years as a reporter, I've never seen a case quite like yours. Remind me, how far along were you when you learned you were pregnant?"

Maki stared at the stranger silently. "Um. I don't know. It was three or four weeks before I gave birth."

The man put the pencil to his bottom lip and shook his head. "Tsk. That's not gonna work. Let's put a number to it for the article. Maybe...thirty-five weeks? Thirty-six? Yeah, that's a dramatic number. Anyway, he was farther back than normal, resulting in an essentially completely hidden baby, yes?"

"Sure."

The man cackled gleefully and jumped in place. "Oh, how bizarre! People are going to eat this up! Now, forgive me if I'm being too personal, but how did you fail to take note of that? Surely you noticed your lack of, erm, monthly...processes?"

Maki was too shocked at this man's audacity to get angry about his invasive questions. "I take birth control. Specifically the kind that stops periods."

The man seemed to flinch at the word. God, had he never interacted with a woman before? "Right. Now, did this child's position make it difficult to extract them?" Maki remained silent, but her hand's movement to her scar didn't go unnoticed. "C-section! Brilliant!" He scribbled on his notepad frantically. Maki was slowly getting more indignant, not appreciating her situation being treated like some kind of fictional story. Before she could speak her disdain, he continued. "Now, the file says the baby was just fine. Is he here, perchance?"

"Unfortunately." The response was a knee jerk one, but the second it left her mouth, she knew it was a mistake.

One half of the man's single eyebrow raised and a devilish sneer appeared on his face. "Oh? I smell a different story here. Did you...not want the child?" Maki scowled silently, which was all the answer he needed. "I see! So tell me, and this can be totally off the record if you wish, if you didn't want to have a child, why didn't you just get rid of it? I mean, obviously the...procedure wasn't an option, but you could always dump the kiddo off at some orphanage, you know? I know this great one that does work with a local church, I can't remember the name, but-"

"Enough!" Maki roared. She snatched the clipboard from the man, cracking it in half and ripping all the papers on it in one fluid motion. "I didn't want the little brat but I won't subject him to the same hell I went through, and that's a promise I'll take to my grave. Get out of my house."

The man stuttered and stammered, trying to protest but too scared by Maki's murderous aura to do anything of consequence. By the time he thought of anything to say, Kaito burst into the room, phone in his hand. "Maki Roll, call Ryoma here. Kaede had her baby!"

Maki grabbed her phone from her pocket to see a notification that she missed in her blind rage. More than likely, it was the same message that had prompted Kaito's interruption. "Right." She dialed Ryoma's number and turned to face the reporter. "Get out of my house. My babysitter for the day has a criminal record and he will kill again if he catches you in the same zip code as our baby."

That was all the man needed to hear. He disappeared from their lives forever after that.

The rest of that day was spent at the hospital getting to meet Shikou Saihara, and though they didn't get to spend time with him that day, Kaede promised they'd be doing it a lot more in the future. As if another kid in her life was just what Maki needed…

fifteen.

In the month after Shikou was born, Kaede had tried to rope Maki into several different playdates or other excursions, but Maki would always avoid them by insisting that the boys were too young for bonding activities. However, one idea surfaced that, once it reached Kaito's ear, became impossible to escape. "We gotta do it, Maki Roll!"

"No, we really don't," she insisted. "Just because our friends did it doesn't mean we have to."

"But this is a special occasion," Kaito told her, rocking Momoki in his arms. "How often to two sets of best friends have babies at the same time?"

Maki elected to ignore the second part and zero in on the first. "It's not that special. They've done these photoshoots for the other two kids, so that poor photographer we roped into this has already had to put up with them so many times."

"But this time their new one has a friend!"

Maki sighed. What a well thought out, convincing argument. She wanted to remain steadfast, but she knew that the second Kaito had his heart set on this, there was no convincing him otherwise. "You know, for how much she rags on you, you and Kaede are birds of a feather."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Kaito asked, tilting his head to the side.

"We can go, I guess."

The next day, Maki, Kaito, and Momoki appeared on the Saiharas' doorstep, the former two dressed to the nines. Kaede greeted them with a coy, knowing smile that only got wider when asked why she wasn't dressed up nice yet. "I hate to tell you that your preparations are all gonna go to waste, but Mahiru will probably make you change."

"What? Why? Please don't tell me that I stuffed myself into this monkey suit for no reason." As he spoke, Kaito tugged at the collar of his shirt.

"She brings her own wardrobe, for the most part," Shuichi explained, one child snoozing peacefully in his arms and two running circles around his feet. "I'm surprised you guys didn't know this. After all, you two were the ones who hired her as one of our baby shower gifts."

The memory brought a smirk to Maki's face. "Right, I almost forgot."

"Don't worry Kaito," Kaede said, putting on a smug look. "No matter what she puts you in, you'll still look like a monkey."

The doorbell rang, startling all of the children present except for Momoki, who happened to be in Maki's arms.

"Come in!" Kaede called. In came Mahiru, red hair pulled back for the day and a camera hanging around her neck. "You know us well enough to just come in, you know," Kaede told her after a hug.

"I know that, but I figured it'd be polite to let you guys know I was about to barge in," Mahiru said. "That is, unless you want me to come in guns blazing and yelling at you to take your clothes off."

"It would certainly be like the first two shoots we had," Shuichi mused. "But we appreciate the concern. Shall we get started?"

Mahiru's eyes lit up. "Yes! Alright, the Saihara Squad will go put on the first set of outfits I put aside for you, and I'll give the Momotas the run down while you're gone." The bigger family shuffled out, and Mahiru turned to the remaining trio, an exasperated smile on her face. "I die a little inside every time I have to call them the Saihara Squad."

"Trust us, we do too," Maki assured her.

"I do have to thank you for turning me to them, though." Mahiru said with a smile. "They've been a joy to work with, and if they keep making kids like this, they'll single-handedly pay my student loan debt!"

Kaito gave a hearty laugh and Maki had a short but terrifying vision of her old orphanage, but every child was replaced by a small, dark-haired Saihara child. "I should charge you for making me think of that," she said under her breath.

Mahiru either didn't hear her or disregarded what she said, because she went right back into business mode. "So when they get back, I do have a selection of outfits for you guys to try on. I, er, assumed it would take longer for you to get your pre-baby body back, so some of it may be just a tad too big, but we can cross that bridge if we get to it." Kaito and Maki shared a knowing look, but before Mahiru could ask about it, the pastel nightmare parade barged back in, forcing the families to rotate.

True to Mahiru's word, most of the clothing she'd brought along was too big for Maki, and the ordeal everyone had to go through to make the first outfit look good was enough for Maki to decide that one was plenty. Her, Kaito and Momoki watched the rest of the photoshoot from the sidelines, filling in the spots of downtime with some casual conversation. However, Maki wasn't getting out of it that easy. Near the end of the day, Kaede insisted on one last picture for Maki, pointing out that the longer they argued about it, the longer Mahiru had to deal with them. That argument convinced Maki to be in the last picture, which was a cute shot of her and Kaede standing back-to-back, each holding her respective baby. Despite the unmistakable look of disdain on Maki's face, it was an adorable shot, and Kaede loved it so much that she set it as her picture on almost all of her social media accounts.

Maki hated all the pictures that were taken that day, but when she realized the meaning behind that one, she was able to forgive it. To Kaede, it was a testament to how the Saiharas and Momotas were just as close as family and would have each other's backs no matter what life threw at them, and a girl who grew up in an orphanage could use all the family she could get.