sixteen.

Time went on. The world still wasn't going to stop to give Maki the time to get warmed up to Momoki, but that ended up being a good thing, because that process was an extremely long one. In fact, thinking too hard about her situation was enough to sour Maki's mood even well into his childhood. The only difference was that, after a certain age, she would have to hide her disdain for the child, because he grew to be smart enough that he would realize she hated him if she wasn't careful.

But just because she didn't like him didn't mean he didn't love her to death. Despite the fact that Maki had left much of the actual raising of the child to Kaito (except in situations where she was extremely necessary), Momoki loved her just as much as his father did. He would shower her in his love and affection, even when the only thing she contributed to his upbringing were obligatory gifts and the middle man for a ghostly prank that he still wouldn't let his father live down even well into his third year of elementary school. Maki wasn't blind to how lucky she was to have two men in her life who would give their lives for her, but one day, Momoki drove that home for her.

That day started when Kaito woke Maki up to have her drive Momoki to school. When she sleepily asked him why, he explained, "I got called in to cover a morning shift at work. So let's switch up who takes 'im and picks him up today, yeah?"

Maki rolled her eyes and brought herself to a sitting position. "Fine."

"Awesome, thanks Maki!" After a cheek kiss, Kaito rushed out of the room, leaving Maki alone to get ready for the day.

When she was dressed, she left the room to find Momoki, fully dressed and absentmindedly playing with one of his models while he ate a bowl of cereal. When he saw her, his eyes widened and he waved with the robot in his hand. "G'morning, mom!"

"You don't waste any time, do you?" Maki asked, sitting at the table across from him. She looked around the room to see his vast collection of robots lying around in every corner. "Momoki, I thought you were a hardcore collector or something. Don't those people leave their robot toys in the box?"

Momoki put the robot in his hand on the table and posed it so it was saluting his mother. "Maybe other collectors do, but models are meant to be made, dang it! And when they're just sitting there, not played with, I feel like I need to fix that."

Maki smirked, remembering the fervor that overtook her when she decided it was time to build that Saturn V rocket that was still collecting dust in her and Kaito's room. "Right," she said. "Well, you could still do to keep them somewhat organized when you're not playing with them."

Momoki sighed, looking around to survey the damage he'd done to his mother's nice kitchen. "I guess you're right. I'll clean it up after school, I promise!"

"I don't believe you," Maki told him flatly. "But let's get going. The sooner you're there, the sooner you can come home and prove me right."

Momoki seemed unphased by her lack of faith in him and jumped to his feet. "Okay! Let's go!"

The car ride to school was largely silent, any of Momoki's attempts at talking met with his mother's cold shoulder. When they arrived, he said a fond farewell and hopped out of the car, dashing into the building with the excitement only a child his age could muster.

Maki was halfway back home when she glanced to the side and saw a discarded lunch box, adorned with the logo of the show all of Momoki's robots were from. "God damn it," she muttered to herself, coming to a stop at a red light. "I'm already halfway home. I should just let him go hungry for the day. Teach him to forget his shit like this..."

She said all that out loud, but the fact that she was currently pulling a very illegal and inconvenient U-turn betrayed what she was really thinking. Moments later, she was parked in front of the school, walking the lunch box into the building with a scowl on her face. After being pointed in the direction of the classroom she needed to be at, she walked the halls slowly, observing all the wall decorations for the first time. Each classroom had something displayed outside that named the children inside, and the wall next to the third grade classroom she wanted was crowded with drawings done by each kid. She was able to pick out Momoki's art style (if it could even be called that) at a glance. The top of the page had a prompt to draw something important to him, so she expected the crudely drawn figures on the paper to be Momoki's robots, but she was slightly taken aback when one person had very large pigtails and one had a stupid hairdo. In between the two was a smaller figure with similarly dumb hair and a large smile on his face.

Maki moved on, realizing that she had already lost more time than necessary on this detour. She pushed into the room and all the chatter ground to a halt. The teacher stopped mid-sentence and the entire class whirled their heads around to see who had intruded on their learning time. "Sorry if this is a bad time," Maki said, her face not showing any signs of actual regret at all. "Momoki forgot his lunch."

She saw Shikou before she saw the boy she actually needed to see, and he gave a small, shy wave in her direction. She merely nodded at him before shifting her gaze to her son. "Come get it already," she said, tired of being the center of attention. "It isn't going to sprout legs and walk to you."

Momoki giggled, but he looked to his teacher for permission. She nodded at him and he leapt from his chair. "Thanks, mom!" He grabbed the lunch box from her and threw his arms around her, hugging her tight. "I thought I was gonna be hungry all day!"

She ruffled his hair, briefly flashing back to the gaunt, thin faces she would have to deal with in her orphanage. "You won't go hungry on my watch," she said, grim determination in her voice.

"Thank you for the visit, Mrs. Momota." The teacher seemed less than thrilled about the interruption but wore a nervous smile nonetheless. "But it's time for Momoki to get back to his seat so we can continue."

Shikou smiled playfully. "Yeah, Momo, stop being so clingy."

Maki apologized for the interruption, pried Momoki off her, and left the building without another word. As she drove back home, she thought about how the teacher seem intimidated by her, and she briefly entertained the thought of torturing the poor woman with more impromptu visits. However, that would mean putting up with all those kids, and she didn't want to make that sacrifice for a cheap potshot. She got home, kicked her shoes off, and shot her husband a text asking if Momoki being that forgetful was a regular occurrence before switching on the TV for some mindless background noise. An hour or so later, he replied that yeah, it had gotten to the point that Momoki had to be reminded to grab his lunch before leaving the car, which Maki chuckled at.

The next text, however, concerned her. A few minutes after Kaito answered her question, he asked one of his own. The text read, "Why do I have a missed call from the school?"

She didn't even have time to fully read the text before her own screen lit up, the name across the screen letting her know that Momoki's school was trying to get a hold of her. "Hello?"

The voice on the other side was completely professional, and judging from tone alone, it would be impossible to know if anything was wrong. "Hello, Mrs. Momota? I'm calling from the school about your son."

Maki sprang to her feet, already prepared to drop everything to leave. "What happened?"

"It would seem your son has gotten into a fight with another boy on the playground." As she spoke, the woman from the school grew more stern, as if trying to impart how serious of an offense it was.

Maki was dumbstruck. That string of words was not one she ever expected to hear. "He...what?"

"He and another boy from his class got into a fight on the playground," the woman explained. "Neither of them are seriously hurt, but Momoki lost a tooth in the scuffle and the boy will probably be going home with a black eye."

"What the fuck," Maki whispered softly, but with feeling.

The woman seemed not to catch that, because she continued as if she hadn't been interrupted. "Neither of them will be going home early today, but Momoki will be earning a Saturday detention and we highly suggest further punishment once he goes home tonight." The line grew quiet, as if the woman was expecting a response, but Maki couldn't find the words. "This is a very serious offense, Mrs. Momota. I trust you understand that."

Maki shook herself back to reality. "S-sorry," she said. "Of course, I understand. Do you happen to know what they fought about?"

"I do not," the woman responded. "Momoki couldn't say because his mouth was full of blood, the other boy was too busy crying, and one of Momoki's close friends refused to comment. Something about being afraid of us calling his parents...for some reason."

"Was it the Saihara kid?" Maki asked.

"Shikou, yes."

"That sounds like him." Maki sat back down with a sigh. "I'll be sure to have a nice, long talk with him about it," she assured the woman. "Thank you for letting me know."

The women exchanged goodbyes and Maki wasted no time in texting Kaito. "I'll pick Momo up today," her message said.

"What happened?" Despite being a full grown father, Kaito still found it necessary to put thinking emojis in his texts.

"He got in trouble. We'll talk about it when you get home."

As the day went on, Maki found herself growing restless, eager to know what had happened. When the time finally came to get him from school, she could hardly even wait until the car door was closed before she was asking questions. "So how was your day?" she started, trying not to sound like she wanted to know.

"You don't gotta beat around the bush, mom," Momoki said, his voice obviously affected from having one less tooth than he had that morning. "You already know I got into a fight, don't you?"

"I might have been told something along those lines," Maki said. "So tell me what happened so we know how hard to punish you."

Momoki flinched back, as if those words physically hurt him. The poor kid had never been given a harsher punishment than a slap on the wrist, and he was clearly scared of his first serious repercussion. "W-well, after lunch we were on the playground, and one of the other boys, he...he said you were scary!"

Maki raised an eyebrow. "Come again?"

Momoki crossed his arms and put on a death glare to rival his mother's. "Yeah! He said you were scary, and that scary mommies weren't pretty. I told him that you may be scary, but you're still the prettiest girl in the whole world! He wouldn't listen to me, so I...I punched him."

As the boy spoke, Maki could feel her face heat up more and more, until she was scared she would develop a fever from it. "And did he punch you back?"

"Yeah. So I tackled him to the ground." The frank way he said it made Maki laugh, and if she weren't driving, she probably would have doubled over about it. Momoki had clearly worked himself up over it again, but hearing his mom laugh so hard made him crack a smile as well. "I did! That's then he hit my tooth out." He dug around in his backpack and produced the tooth in question—sealed tight in a plastic bag—to support his claim. "See? They even let me keep it! My mouth was full of blood for like, an hour, but I'm better now."

Maki sighed, finally coming down from her laughing fit. "I shouldn't be laughing at this," she said, trying to keep her composure. "This is serious, and you could have been kicked out of school for that."

"I know," Momoki whined, his mood instantly dropping. "You're not gonna tell dad, are you? Please don't tell him!"

"Your dad already knows you got in trouble today, so we kind of have to," Maki said. "He just doesn't know how."

"Maybe we can make something up!" It was kind of concerning how quickly he defaulted to lying.

Maki shook her head. Something told her the context would actually make Kaito less mad about it. "We'll talk about this more when we get home."

"Okay..."

The family meeting was called once everyone was home, and Kaito listened closely as Momoki re-told the story exactly the way he did in the car. Maki had to resist laughing all over again, but it wasn't as hard as she anticipated, because Momoki was clearly terrified. "I see," Kaito hummed in thought once everything was explained. He stroked his dumb goatee as he considered the story he'd been told. "Well, little guy, I think it's really cool that you're so willing to fight for your mom's honor like that, because I'm pretty sure I'd do the same thing!"

"Really?" Momoki asked in disbelief.

"Yeah!" Kaito grinned. "However, you did break a rule, and that's not good." He reached out and took the tooth from Momoki. "Did this hurt when it got knocked out?"

Maki raised an eyebrow at the change of subject, but Momoki didn't seem to mind. "Yeah," he answered. "That wasn't even a loose tooth or anything either, so it especially hurt!"

Kaito nodded slowly. "Alright, well that settles it."

Maki and Momoki gave a synchronized what.

"I'd say, between the pain of getting your tooth knocked out and the fear of us punishing you was punishment enough, wouldn't you, Maki Roll?" Kaito spoke slowly, as if trying to keep his thoughts straight.

Maki looked down at Momoki, who had caught on to what his father was saying and grinning widely. Her eyes immediately landed on the spot where his tooth used to be, now replaced with a dark hole. Finally, she closed her eyes and sighed. "Fine. He gets off easy this time."

Kaito and Momoki both cheered loudly, the latter jumping in place. "Alright, Momo, just be sure to tell 'em we punished you real good tomorrow, okay?"

"Right!" Momoki nodded and ran off into his room.

Kaito watched his son leave and turned to Maki, a smile on his face. "Betcha weren't expecting to hear that, huh?"

Maki finally gave up on fighting the smile that came to her lips. "I have to admit, it came as a surprise."

"That kid loves you a lot, Maki Roll," Kaito told her, a serious tone coming back to him. "I think it's about time you show him the same kinda affection back, y'know?"

Maki smirked, putting on an evil glare. "You want me to beat up some third graders on his behalf? Odd request, but I think I can take them."

Kaito laughed, turning his attention to the bag in his hand. "Here, once it's time for dinner, I think I want a picture of Momo's first big fight."

That day did give Maki something to think about, but she didn't find it too difficult to dismiss those thoughts in favor of the funniest joke she thought she'd ever made. If anything, the situation told her to use comedy to escape from her moral dilemmas more often, and that was obviously the superior choice.

seventeen.

The letter that called for Momoki Momota to leave home came unceremoniously, and the only reason it didn't get disregarded was because Maki noticed the opulent crest adorning the front of the envelope. Her confusion only grew at the sight of her son's name below that as opposed to that of either of the adults of the house. The barely high-school aged Momoki wasn't expecting mail either, so he was just as in the dark as his parents were.

He nearly fainted when the letter happened to be an invitation to attend Hope's Peak Academy as the Ultimate Collector. His father was so excited for him, Maki thought he was actually going to faint, but he held it together long enough to snap a picture of the family with the letter and put together a congratulatory (slightly braggadocious) post on social media. The Momota household (or two-thirds of it) only got more noisy when the Saiharas responded that Momoki's best friend and sidekick got a similar invitation that very day. "I can't believe it!" Momoki cheered. "I'm going to be going to the most presti… pres… one of the best schools in the world and Shikou's gonna be there with me every step of the way!"

"Hopefully the fancy school will teach you how to say prestigious," Maki remarked, earning a playful punch to the shoulder from her husband.

They were happy for him. They really were. However, Maki was mostly looking forward to having the house free of a little mouth to feed for the first time in almost a decade and a half. Kaito knew this, and Momoki tried to tell himself he didn't, but they didn't call her out on it for fear of ruining a perfectly happy time in their lives.

Momoki left without much fanfare, and in direct contrast to Shikou spending the better part of a half hour hugging his family goodbye and refusing to let go, Maki practically pushed him out of the house.

The time without Momoki seemed to fly by. Before she knew it, Maki was staring down the barrel of his graduation, which meant once again tolerating him in her house for who knew how long. When Kaito gave her the exact date (which happened to be a month before his eighteenth birthday) over dinner a week in advance, she rolled her eyes and gave a hollow cheer. The wind seemed to be taken from Kaito's sails, judging by how his eyes narrowed at Maki. "You can't even act a little excited to see our boy graduate, Maki Roll?"

"Not really," Maki said, idly tracing her finger across the table. "I haven't done it for almost eighteen years, so what makes you think I'd start now?" Kaito shook his head and left the table silently. Wait, where was his usual banter? Maki shrugged it off and continued eating, not particularly bothered about her husband's moodiness.

A few minutes later, though, Kaito came back and startled her by dropping a thick notebook on the table with a loud THUD. "Here, take a look through this, would ya?"

"What is it?" Maki asked without moving a muscle.

Kaito crossed his arms, determined to make sure Maki opened it herself. "This here's the photo album I put together for Momo. I figured, y'know, we went to the trouble of having professional pictures taken, so why not just go full on sentimental grandpa about it? Now, I want you to look through these pictures and see what they all have in common, okay?"

Maki was unimpressed. "I'm willing to bet the common thread is Momoki, but okay."

Kaito shook his head, clearly growing frustrated with the conversation. "Lemme know when you find it," he said, turning around and storming out.

It was an asinine task, and Maki was sure it would have the opposite effect of whatever he wanted it to do, but she could tell he wasn't going to be satisfied until she'd done it, so she opened the book and pulled it closer to herself. The first picture was baby Momoki, in the hospital, bundled up in Maki's arms with an excited yet tired Kaito next to the bed. She didn't even remember this picture being taken, but there it was. Momoki was sleeping peacefully in her arms, but she looked like she would rather be dead than where she was right then. Seeing that picture transported her back to that moment, holding a baby she didn't want and recovering from a surgery she definitely didn't feel like she needed. Of course she was angry in that picture, who could blame her?

The next page had the photoshoot pictures Kaito mentioned, and in each one, she looked just as angry as the first one. She reached the picture of her and Kaede standing back-to-back with their babies in their arms and paused. She found herself entranced by how much of a glow Kaede had about her, even in a nearly eighteen year old picture. There stood a proud mother of three who was ecstatic to be well on the road of parenthood, but next to her was a brooding, almost hunched over woman who looked like she'd aged ten years just in the time she'd been looking at the picture. What was the big deal, here? The whole photoshoot was kind of a mess, so perhaps that was why she looked fit to kill.

She flipped through the pages until she found a picture of her and Momoki. She was crouched next to him and he was proudly showing off a plastic bag with a tooth in it. Hours before that picture was taken, she had been told that Momoki attacked a classmate to defend her honor, and yet the picture showed an exasperated woman who wished she was anywhere else. Why was she so angry in that picture? Was it because he was in trouble at school for that?

Page after page, picture after picture, the story was the same. A happy Momoki, a proud Kaito, and a constantly annoyed Maki. The farther along she got and the older the pictures showed Momoki, a realization was starting to dawn on her. Surely she was smiling in one of these pictures, right?

The answer was no. And excuses as to why were few and far between.

The final page held an empty space, bordered by doodles of graduation caps and diplomas. Obviously this spot was meant to hold the picture that was set to be taken in a week. After that was a note to Momoki from Kaito, congratulating him on a job well done, an early life well lived.

Momoki's graduation present was going to be a photo album filled with his mom hating his very existence. His young life was gone, the time had slipped by, and Maki hadn't even tried to warm up to him that entire time. All that time was lost and there was no getting it back.

Tears started streaming down Maki's face, surprising her so much she slammed the book closed and pushed it away from her. She'd already ruined her son's life, so the least she could do was stop her tears from ruining Kaito's present. How could she be so selfish all these years?

Momoki was a fine kid. He was more like his dad in personality and looks, but on the rare occasion that he was brought to anger, he was just as silently terrifying as his mother. However, for the most part, he was a caring, selfless child who would not hesitate to put his life on the line for his parents or his sidekick Shikou.

He was a good kid who deserved so much better than the mother he was given. The longer she thought about him, the more she realized she truly did love her son. She felt like that cartoon character whose heart grew three sizes, but it was as if that had happened after the horrible things he'd planned had succeeded, leaving a mess that he felt terrible about, but had no means to make up for it.

Maki ran out of the dining room and threw herself into Kaito's arms, sobbing violently. He didn't ask questions or make any smart remarks, he just held her tightly and stroked her hair, telling her it would be alright.

"What do I do?" Maki finally managed to say after several minutes. "I ruined everything..."

Kaito took a deep breath to think about how to respond. "Well, there's no going back and changing it. What's done is done."

"Momoki must hate me as much as I've hated him," Maki sighed, succumbing to a fresh wave of tears.

Kaito shook his head. "I can promise you he still loves you as much as ever. You should still try to make it up to him though, and the best way to do that would be to go to his graduation as the loving, supportive mom we all know you can be."

Maki nodded, sniffling. "Right. You're right."

With a newfound resolve that she didn't know she could have, Maki went through the next week with an alien emotion in her heart. For the first time she could ever recall, she was excited to see her son again. Before she knew it, the morning of the graduation had rolled around, and she was dressed better than she'd dressed before, ready to watch her son reach this milestone in his life.
Of course, they weren't the only parents they knew in the same position, so the minivan plastered with corny stickers that they had grown so accustomed to was no surprise to see in the parking lot of Hope's Peak. Kaito pulled up next to it and waved to the family inside, getting four waves in response. "Hey Saihara Squad!" he greeted, stepping out of the car. "Funny seeing you here!"

"It's almost like our boys are three weeks apart, huh?" Kaede replied playfully. "Come here, you two." She grabbed them both in tight hugs while her family stepped out of the van.

The oldest child stretched her limbs as she got out, a grimace on her face. "Mom, when are you gonna get rid of that cramped van? It's not like you need to cart us all around now, we can drive. At least, Kochou and I can."

"I don't have a problem with the space," Kochou added. "My problem is with the embarrassing stickers."

"Of course you don't care about the space, shortstack," Aika teased.

"Hey!"

Kaede ignored the banter and patted the van proudly. "I'd never get rid of this old girl! There are way too many good memories attached."

That was when Shuichi entered the conversation. "Besides, those custom Saihara Squad stickers didn't come cheap."

Kaito laughed and clapped a hand on his sidekick's shoulder. "You guys never change, I like that."

Maki smiled, thinking about how much she herself had changed over the last week. If she'd warmed up to Momoki sooner, would her car be covered with those kinds of stickers? Who knew, but speaking of warming up to people…

"Hey girls," she said, waving at Aika and Kochou and taking in their outfits.

Aika was tall and lean like her father, but her legs had the kind of muscular build that naturally came from being a prodigy ballerina. Her pink dress also betrayed her talent, reminding Maki of that Swan Lake themed birthday from so long ago. She smiled at Maki warmly. "Hey aunt Maki. You look great today."

"You do!" Kaede agreed. "You've got this, like, warm glow around you. Did you do something different with your hair?"

Maki shook her head. "No, I just had a revelation, I guess."

Kochou leaned into Aika and whispered something under her breath, making her sister giggle and blush. Maki put on her trademark glare and snapped, "I heard that, Kochou."

She didn't actually hear it, but Kochou didn't know to call that bluff, jumping in place and squeaking like a mouse caught in a trap. Kochou was the shortest of her siblings, and her chubby proportions from childhood never quite wore off. She was a dancer as well, so she had just as much muscle as fat, but that only made her look rounder, especially when standing next to one of her siblings. Her outfit was purple and seemed almost like it was tailored for someone who was liable to break out into a dance at any moment. "P-please don't be mad, aunt Maki," she said, growing frantic under Maki's harsh glare. It was hard to believe these girls were in their early twenties, and even more so watching one of them cower before her.

The sight was enough to make Maki break her glare and laugh genuinely for the first time in what felt like forever. "I'm not actually mad," she said, turning toward the venue. "Now let's go watch a graduation, shall we?"

"I think we shall, Maki Roll," Kaito said, interlocking his arm with hers and walking her toward the school. The Saiharas looked between each other, astounded that Maki had laughed like that around them. After they collected themselves, they scrambled to follow the couple inside.

The graduation began with a performance from the more musically inclined students. During the song, Maki glanced at her friend to see Kaede, Aika and Kochou all absentmindedly following the piano notes with their hands. Of course she would have taught her kids the piano, Maki thought, watching as they all tapped their legs like they were the ones playing. Every once in a while, Aika and Kochou's fingers would hesitate and take a beat to re-center themselves, but their mom played along on her pantomime piano so well, it was like she was one note ahead of the actual performance. Shikou was surely doing the same thing down in that crowd of well-dressed graduates. Once that was over, the headmaster took the stage, clearing his throat and gathering himself for his speech. Mister Naegi was a bit of a scrawny guy and his unruly hair definitely didn't give the impression of being on such an important head, and that effect wasn't helped by the look of excitement he wore. "Good evening and welcome. As the headmaster of this great school, I've had the honor of watching every manner of talented individual walk across this stage. Thus, I've been to each and every one of these, and trust me, I know exactly how boring they are." He paused for a few awkward chuckles, cleared his throat and moved on.

"Normally I'd end my speech with how proud I am of these students—and trust me, I've had one-on-one time with all of them—but this year is special. I just had to give a longer speech because this is the year my very own daughter is graduating as the ultimate Tactician." He nodded proudly, dabbing a tissue at the corner of his eye during the applause that came.

During the applause, Maki looked to the group of students to see most of their heads turn to one person. One unmistakably stupid head of hair stood up and loudly shouted something she didn't catch, but she found herself smiling at the (albeit distant) sight of her son.

The headmaster calmed the crowd down and spoke again. "So my message to all the graduates is, 'Congratulations. We gave you a hell of an opportunity, so you should make the most of it.' To my daughter, I say, 'I love you, Mirai, I'm so lucky to have you and your mother at my side, and I'm very proud of you.' Boy, am I glad I didn't get those messages mixed." Another pause for laughter; this time it was genuine. "Thank you all for listening, and enjoy the rest of the graduation."

The ceremony moved quickly after that, and not five minutes after the headmaster's speech, names were being read and diplomas handed out. The format of reading a name and listing that student's ultimate talent lead to several strange looks being shared among the group of friends. "I know Hope's Peak has always had strange titles, but some of these are just a bit too much, don't you think?" Kaito said after a couple of particularly strange call-outs.

"Yeah, but who are we to question the most prolific school on the planet?" Shuichi responded, shrugging his shoulders apathetically.

Maki didn't give her input, but she definitely had trouble determining what someone's talent was based on their title alone. Sure, they were all given paper programs that listed each student's achievements and potential out, but just hearing "Ultimate Layout Artist" didn't exactly give her a vivid idea of what that person was good at.

Speaking of the Ultimate Layout Artist, there she was walking across the stage. She was the first person Momoki talked about during his first holiday break spent at home, because she had the distinction of being the other person in the class with the same first name as his. The most important distinction between them was that her last name was Hinata, so she was called a significant amount of time before her counterpart.

That wasn't even getting into the infuriatingly vague title Shikou was given, but Maki's train of thought didn't have much time to dwell on that, because by the time she thought of it, the person on the stage said, "Momota Momoki, the Ultimate Collector."

Kaito shot to his feet and cheered as loud as his lungs would let him, but he was almost startled out of his celebration by the sight of his wife doing the same. Her roaring applause didn't quite reach the same volume as his, but that was certainly the loudest he'd ever seen her yell. Watching Momoki confidently walk across the stage and receive his diploma was the proudest of anyone either parent had ever been, and they were both going to do everything in their power to make sure he knew that.

And the fact that Kaito wasn't going to do it alone was one of the highlights of the day.

"Don't wear out your voices, guys," Kaede said once the Momotas had taken their seats again. "Or else you won't be able to cheer for Shikou."

"I think I can spare some loudness for the little guy," Kaito promised.

Maki, meanwhile, put on a sly grin and said, "Sorry, I'm all yelled out." Her voice was hoarse enough to stop Kaede from forming a comeback, instead stunning her into silence until her son's name was called.

"Saihara Shikou, the Ultimate Vrituoso."

The Saiharas (and Kaito) stood and cheered. Maki watched them cheer and, for once, could relate to what Shuichi and Kaede must have been feeling then. To think she missed out on almost eighteen years of this kind of warmth in her chest saddened her again, but she wasn't going to let the self-hatred get in the way of her new outlook on life. Not today of all days.

The ceremony wrapped up soon after Shikou walked the stage, and before she knew it, Maki was thrown into the sea of people trying to locate their loved ones and leave the building simultaneously. Her attempts to find Momoki were for naught, as she wasn't quite tall enough to look over anyone's heads. This meant that Kaito, the tallest of the bunch, became their navigator.

How big of a mistake that was became evident when he called out Momoki's name and the other Momoki responded, confused as to why a strange man was calling her name. Maki apologized to her and her parents—a man who seemed stern but exhausted and a very sleepy woman—and moved on.

Not long after that, they found Momoki and Shikou together near the exit, their suitcases at their feet ready to go home. Shikou looked terrified to be in the crowd, but when he saw his family, he seemed to visibly relax, putting on a large smile and throwing himself into his mother's arms. "Congratulations, Shikou!" she said, patting his back and bursting into tears for no less than the third time that day.

"Yeah, good job graduating from your nerd school," Kochou said, putting her hands on her hips.

Aika stifled a laugh at her side. "You're just jealous you're the only one who didn't get an invite."

"Yours doesn't count," Kochou snapped. "You can't use an invitation you turned down as leverage."

"How many times have they had that fight, I wonder?" Kaito mused, but he might as well have not said anything, because Maki made eye contact with Momoki and practically tackled him to the ground with the force of her hug.

It wasn't unlike hugging Kaito, which was to be expected considering their somewhat similar builds, and the familiarity helped immensely. "Whoa! H-hey mom," Momoki said, reciprocating the hug as tightly as he could.

Maki stepped back and looked at her son, now nearly an adult and finished with high school. "I am so proud of you, Momo," she sniffled, launching into another hug to try to hide the tears forming at the corners of her eyes.

Momoki was shocked to hear his mother use that nickname for him, and he almost asked if what was happening was a joke before Kaito chipped in and made it a group hug.

The families moved outside to the parking lot to take family pictures and get ready to head home. The Saihara family took ages to get theirs over with; between all the kids to just Shikou with his parents and every combination between, they must have been at it for twenty minutes.

However, Aika stepped away during one shot to do her aunt Maki a favor and snap one, perfect picture. All three Momotas were happy and smiling, Momoki in between them with his arms wrapped around his parents' shoulders. It was the first time Maki could remember genuinely smiling for a camera since her wedding day, and the world seemed just a bit brighter after the flash of Kaito's phone went off to signify the picture had been taken.

As Kaito moved to Aika's side to see how the picture came out, Momoki clapped his hands together, eyes going wide. "Oh, right! Mom, I have something to give you!"

"You...do?" Maki asked, raising an eyebrow.

Momoki smiled and leaned down, rummaging through his suitcase in the middle of the parking lot like some kind of...well, Momota. After a moment, he got back to his feet, hands clasped around a box roughly the size of a sleeve of cookies. "Ta-da!" He opened it up to reveal two rows of flower hair pins, each one completely unique in color and size. "There was this girl in Toumi's year that was the Ultimate Horti...culturist? Anyway, she raised flowers, and she gave me her flower hairpin collection as a gift!" Maki's jaw dropped as she examined each one, picking up a red one and admiring how well put‐together it was. "She gave them to me one at a time as she spent more time with our friend group, so it was like I was collecting them from her!"

Maki was still awestruck. "And you got them all for me?"

Momoki nodded happily. "Of course! I liked wearing 'em and all, but I thought they'd be a perfect gift to give to my mom."

Maki put the red one in her hair and assumed the straightest, most deadpan face she could manage in the moment. "I love them," she said flatly.

Momoki laughed at the silly sight of his downright terrifying mother doing something so silly, and just barely managed to notice the flash going off again right before Maki grabbed him in another hug.

After the celebratory dinner (which Maki covered as her gift to Momoki), the family splintered off from the Saiharas and finally settled down for the night. After hours of catching up and sharing stories, Momoki bid his parents goodnight, excited to sleep in his own bed again, and left them to their own devices. "So when are you giving that scrapbook to Momo?" Maki asked once they were in the privacy of their own room.

Kaito shook off his nice jacket and started to change into his lounge clothes (which were shockingly similar to his every day outfit). "I was plannin' on giving it to him for his birthday. Y'know, since he's gonna be eighteen and that's a fitting gift for that kinda thing."

Maki wasn't convinced. "You're just saying that because it would have to be late for a graduation present."

Kaito's expression soured. "Hey, getting these pictures printed all nice doesn't happen in a day!"

"Either way, can I write a note in it?" Maki asked, almost nervous to breach the subject.

"You really wanna?" Kaito raised an eyebrow as he spoke. "There's enough room for one from ya, I just didn't think you'd..."

"I'll write him a message that will put yours to shame," Maki snapped, determination evident on her face. "And I'll try to make up for all those years of hating his guts." Despite her words, she was getting into bed, making herself comfortable under the sheets. Obviously, what she was talking about was going to have to wait until later.

Kaito smiled softly. Maki's taunts weren't fooling him. "You still feel really bad about that, huh?" Maki didn't respond, puffing her cheeks out in a pout. He laughed and got into bed before wrapping an arm around her. "Don't you worry too much about it, Maki Roll. Like I said, he obviously doesn't hold any of it against you."

Maki sighed, the weight of the day finally getting to her. Her chest felt heavy and her eyes were damp. "I know, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't change it if I could."

"If you could go back and do it again?" Kaito supplied, earning a nod in response. "Yeah, well, wouldn't that be nice?"

The couple lay in bed, basking in the comfortable silence for a few moments before he spoke again. "I mean, there is one way to do it again, if you want."

"What do you mean…?"

"We could always have another one."

Maki's eyes clouded over with genuine murderous intent for the first time in years. "Do you want to die?"

Kaito threw his head back and laughed himself into a coughing fit, tears forming in his eyes.

"You laugh, but when you don't wake up in the morning, I'll tell Momo you lost your head in a freak accident."


And that's the end! Fun fact, the first chapter was posted on Momoki's birthday and this last one is being posted on Shikou's birthday. I hope that gives a little bit more context to just how close in age these two were. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, and I'd like to thank my lovely girlfriend for helping me plot by answering my dumb questions about her lovingly crafted fankid AU, editing these chapters, and letting me take the reigns on Momo's kooky story.