Her whole life, Makoto had always been one to overanalyze, overplan. To come up with not one but several back-up plans, in preparation for the worst.
It was something her father had teased her mercilessly about. As a pre-teen, when forced to switch middle schools, her young mind had reeled with all the ways that this transition could turn out badly. She still remembered the way her father had ruffled her hair and laughed when he caught her reading through articles on how to deal with bullying even before her first day of classes.
This anxiety of the unknown only intensified after her father died. She worried about both her future and that of her sister's, how it would affect her ability to keep up her with studies and pursue a good career. And whether her relationship with her sister could survive the stresses of Sae becoming the sole breadwinner for the family.
But the worst of it came during her time with the Phantom Thieves, with Ren's life under threat from Akechi. In addition to the time she spent calculating how their leader could successfully fake his death (and developing corrective courses of action for all the ways it could go wrong), she had also devised a plan of action in the event that Ren did not make it out alive. It was a way to keep herself busy as she stressed about what was to come, alternating between planning and crying into her Buchimaru plushie.
But Ren had made it out, returning to his friends and to her. And after they were finally able to return to their relatively normal young adulthoods, she was hit with more changes that sent her overanalytical mind into a frenzy.
Would her relationship with Ren be able to survive a year long-distance? Would she be able to maintain her grades in the more challenging university environment? Would her friends still want to maintain ties with her now that they were no longer bound through their missions as Phantom Thieves?
And most recently, Was it really the right time for her and Ren to move in together? Or would he fall out of love with her if they spent more time together? These latter worries she had expressed aloud, to which Ren had replied that waking up next to her each morning had done nothing but exponentially increase the affection he felt for her.
But now, at the age of twenty-four, life was throwing her another curveball. Possibly the most significant yet.
It all began during one of her regular lunches with Ann. As the blonde began to complain about how she was dealing with cramps and food cravings because it was that time of the month, it had dawned on Makoto that she could not remember the last time she had started a new cycle. When her friend had excused herself to use the restroom, she frantically pulled up her tracking app, mortified to see that she was over two weeks late. Overwhelmed with a high profile case at work, it had completely escaped her notice.
The rest of the day went by in a blur. Leaving on time for the first time in months, she had raced to the nearest convenience store, so stressed that she didn't even think to feel embarrassed about the combination of a stack of home pregnancy tests and large diet soda she was purchasing. Something that would usually render her flustered, but she was too panicked to care.
That was how she found herself sitting on the floor of her bathroom, four different pregnancy tests lined up in front of her, as she impatiently waited for the three minute timer on her phone to run out.
Three minutes felt like a lifetime. More than enough time for her to ruminate on all the ways that a baby, at this exact moment in time, could complicate and possibly ruin her young life. Women in law enforcement had a hard enough time being taken seriously, it would become almost impossible to be considered for a promotion if she did turn out to be pregnant. Her career would essentially be over before it even began. Sae would be so disappointed in her.
Then there was her relationship with Ren to consider. They had discussed the idea of marriage in the near future, but they had also made it clear that neither wanted children until they were better established in their careers, something that was still far in the future. The impact of a child at the moment could ruin their careers and their financial stability, which they had only just began to build.
What if he decided that being a parent wasn't for him and left her to raise the child on her own? While her rational side knew that Ren was not capable of such cold behaviour, pessimistic Makoto was taking over at the moment.
Worse yet - what if Ren did stay with her and even married her, but only out of a sense of obligation? What if he began to resent her for ruining their plans? What if they became one of those bitter couples who had fallen out of love long ago but persisted unhappily for the sake of the family unit?
Would she even be suited to raise a child? There was no doubt in her mind that Ren had the qualities that were required for fatherhood - patience, kindness, generosity, and the ability to balance both responsibility and play - that would make him a beloved caretaker.
But she doubted that she would be a good mother. Despite her reputation as Phantom Thief Mom during her teenage years, children had never been particularly drawn to her. She was awkward and not good with unpredictability, which kids seemed to relish in. She could also be short-tempered and easily overwhelmed. Babies and young children deviated so strongly from the structure and routine she had grown fond of as a young adult.
And what if she began to resent the child for holding back her career and possibly poisoning her relationship with Ren, the most important constant and source of comfort in her life?
As an infinite number of tragedies regarding this child whose existence had yet to even be confirmed ran through her head, the buzzing of her timer interrupted her. It was time.
Makoto took a deep breath, and lowered her gaze to take in the verdict on each test. The results were unanimous.
She breathed a sigh of relief as she allowed herself to relax for the first time in hours, laying back against the floor of the bathroom. The coolness of the tiles numbed her skin as she felt tears begin to form and cloud her vision. She didn't even know why she was crying.
"Honey, I'm home!" came Ren's sing-song voice from the living room. It was a greeting that she had come to expect at least once a week. For whatever reason, her boyfriend still believed it to be hilarious and she didn't have the heart to tell him otherwise.
"I'm making dinner," Makoto responded, busy with the pots in front of her. Soon, she felt two familiar arms envelop her waist from behind as Ren rested his chin against her shoulder. She leaned into the embrace.
"It smells wonderful in here," he breathed into her ear, as he leaned forward to inspect what she was making. "Kabocha soup and dumplings? It's been awhile since you cooked this much. Special occasion?"
"Not really. I've just missed it." Having to prepare meals for her family so much growing up, she'd grown fond of the activity. Due to the long hours she often had to put in, she never seemed to have the time anymore to make a real meal from scratch. They relied quite a bit on instant and prepackaged meals, and takeout when they were both particularly overwhelmed. But today, she needed to calm down, and she found cooking soothing.
"I'll go change and help you finish up," Ren said, kissing her on the cheek before letting go of her waist. Makoto sighed contentedly at the intimate gesture.
Despite the anxiety that persisted in her gut from earlier, she listened intently as Ren described the latest in a series of interpersonal conflicts within the office where he was interning. When he prompted her to tell him about her day, she described it much more briefly than usual, and glossed rather quickly over her lunch with Ann. The way he was frowning at her told her that he was picking up on her negative energy, but he didn't pry.
It wasn't until later, as they were putting away the dishes that he tried to drag it out of her. "What's bothering you today, Mako?"
"Nothing. Just work is tiring me out," she replied, pointedly not looking at him in the eyes.
He shook his head. "Nope. I know your 'tired from work' face, and that's not it. I'm pretty sure what I'm reading here is 'Something big is upsetting me but I'm bottling up my feelings instead of talking about it with my incredibly understanding and charming boyfriend.'"
Makoto snorted, but didn't respond right away. Sometimes it was maddening how well he knew her. She hadn't been able to hide anything from him in years. Sighing, she positioned herself so that she was leaning back on the counter, wringing her hands nervously in front of her.
Ren must have sensed that this was about to be a serious discussion, as his face took on a softer expression. He nudged closer to her, wrapping one arm around her shoulders, as the opposite hand reached out to hold onto both of hers, stilling her nervous movements. "I'm here. Just let me know whatever it is."
She bit her lip. "Ren...do-do you want children?"
That was obviously not what he was expecting her to say. She felt him stiffen beside her for a moment before relaxing once again. Somehow, he already had an answer ready. "Honestly? I don't know. I didn't in the past, because of how horrible I used to think the world was. But now, I'm not sure. I guess it would depend on how life turns out. I wouldn't want us to start a family if we're not able to provide for them properly."
Makoto felt butterflies in her stomach at his use of "us" and "we", knowing that when he imagined his future she was intrinsically a part of it. "I guess that makes sense."
Ren leaned his head against hers. "Why the sudden question?"
She began to fidget again, biting her lip. "I...I took a pregnancy test earlier. And it was negative! It was negative!" She added hastily as she noticed the panic that instantly appeared in Ren's eyes. "Sorry, I should have led with that."
Ren let out a shaky breath. "Okay. Wow. Yeah. I think you may have just taken a year off my life there. I just wasn't expecting that today."
"I know, neither was I." She nervously tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "While I was waiting for the results, it got me wondering. I haven't been able to get it off my mind all day."
Ren frowned. "Why didn't you call me? You didn't have to go through something like that alone. I would have come over right away. You know that."
"I know. I know," she said, readjusting herself so that she was leaning her head against his shoulder. "I just…I wasn't sure how I would feel about it. If it turned out to be real. And then, I started to worry about how you would take it. Whether you'd be disappointed. And what that would mean for us."
Makoto sighed. "I see so many couples out there, who have kids and then fall out of love. Only to stay together out of obligation. They're so miserable. I don't want that to happen to us. I don't want to ever stop loving you. And I...I don't want you to ever stop loving me."
At this point, tears were forming in her eyes again. Damnit. She thought she'd cried it all out earlier on the floor of the bathroom.
As soon as Ren noticed her distress, he gathered her up so that she was pressed tightly against his chest, one hand to her head as he began to stroke her hair. "Makoto, listen to me. Nothing could ever change the way I feel about you. Nothing. You understand?"
Makoto nodded against his chest, then sniffled a little. "It's not just that. I also...I also started thinking about how I never had a good mother figure growing up. I don't even remember my Mom, and Sae was always busy with school and work after Dad died. I don't know the first thing about it. What if we did have a baby, and then I turned out to be horrible?"
Ren let out a laugh. In response, Makoto lifted her head and narrowed her eyes at him. "Mako, I love you, but sometimes you say the most ridiculous things."
The tears had stopped. Now she was glaring at him - a milder, less bone-chilling version of the Niijima death stare. "Excuse me?"
Ren did not falter. "Since I met you, anything you set your mind to, you've been amazing at. Even when it meant going way out of your comfort zone. That's why I know you'd be an amazing mom, if that's what you want."
"Raising a child is not like memorizing formulas or getting a high score in Gun About," she argued. "You're responsible for nurturing a whole life. You can't just learn a mother's love or intuition from a textbook."
He shook his head. "You don't have to learn it. You just need to adjust what you already know. Remember in high school, when you were always taking care of us? Making sure we stayed on top of our classwork, and tutoring Ann and Ryuji through all their exams even after you left Shujin? Or how you made sure Yusuke didn't starve himself?"
"That's not the same."
He kept going. "Remember when Futaba finally started high school? She was so nervous the night before that you stayed up with her for almost four hours to calm her down. And you talked her through at least one panic attack a week for that first term. That whole year I was away, I didn't worry about anyone because I knew you were there to watch out for them."
He wrapped her up again into a hug. This time, she returned his embrace. "Makoto, you are intelligent and responsible. Hard-working. Empathetic and warm, but you can also hold your ground when you need to. You have the patience of a saint and take care of others even when it's not expected of you. Any kid would be lucky to have you as their mom."
Makoto closed her eyes and sighed against his chest. She squeezed him tighter as his words sunk in. "Alright. You've proven your point," she relented.
He squeezed her back before releasing her. "Good. So how about we table this discussion for, let's say, at least five years?"
She laughed. "That sounds perfect."
He smiled at her. "Good. Besides - all this talk about kids and we're not even married yet! We can't be doing things out of order."
An unintelligible high-pitched sound escaped her. "Yet?"
Ren eyed her mischievously. She hated (and secretly loved) how flustered he was able to make her, even after all these years. "Of course. One does not land a woman as amazing as the Niijima Makoto and not seal the deal."
As Makoto pouted at the corniness of his words, he leaned in for a kiss. At first, it was playful, but it quickly deepened as she returned his enthusiasm in kind. As they parted, he looked at her with half-lidded eyes, which sent a warmth down her spine and to her toes. "So how about we head to the bedroom and celebrate the fact that we are still very much childless?"
Grabbing at the collar of his shirt, she stood up on the tips of her feet so they were nearly at the same height, pressing her body against his as she returned the desire in his gaze. "Lead the way."