Kindergarten was an utterly terrifying prospect.
Spirit held the firm belief that it was the first step of being ripped from the warm, safe innocence of childhood, and being thrust into the cold and terrifying reality that was the world they lived in.
And okay, maybe that was a bit of a dramatic way to think about it, but it was true.
And as his daughter gripped him by the hand, tugging him along with her as they joined the stream of children and parents heading in the direction of a small brick building, it was all he could think about.
Realistically, he knew that Maka’s first day of school would come eventually. He wouldn’t be able to have her at home with him forever, there would be a time where she wouldn’t want him to read her stories at night, where she wouldn’t need his help tying her shoes, when she would want to do things on her own .
And, on a practical level, it’s a good thing. With her at school for half the day, he wouldn’t have to worry about relying so heavily on Blair to look after her, or the possibly having to bring her along to his shifts or classes if Blair wasn’t available. He could work and go to class without much worry in that brief period of time while she was at school, and in return, Maka would be able to get an education, to act like normal kids did, normal kids that didn’t have to worry about having to move from one apartment to the next and meeting strange new roommates and having a papa that was still in college. It was a good thing, and hopefully, things would get even better once he graduated, and settled into a better job and an actual salary.
It was a good thing. That’s what he had to keep telling himself.
Because it was all happening way too soon. And he wasn’t ready. And there was a part of him that really wanted to cry.
“Are you sure you’re okay to go, Maka-” he tried to ask as they finally reach the front entrance.
“Yes,” Maka replied, irritably, which caused him to deflate a little. Though, granted, he had already asked her that multiple times in the past ten minutes. And she didn’t really seem scared at all either, instead trying to pull out his grip and head towards the front steps. “Papa, I need to go , I don’t want to be late-”
“You still have a little while, kiddo.” Spirit knelt down in front of her to adjust the collar on her brand-new, cherry print dress that still smelled like department store. He’d spent an entire paycheck to get Maka a nice-looking outfit for her first day of school, had Azusa point him to one of the fancy-schmancy department stores she liked, even. “Now, are you sure you have everything you need?”
“You have your lunch?”
“And you memorized my number?”
“And you know what to do in case of an earthquake? Or a fire? Or-”
Maka gave him a look of exasperation that was far too close to her mother’s for his comfort. “Yes, Papa.”
“Alright, alright-” Dammit, he was already getting choked up, his voice already starting to wobble. “And you have your water bottle? Your first aid kit? Your pencil box? Your lunch-”
“Everything,” Maka said firmly. “I’m completely prepared. I even asked Nygus what to do during a zombie apocalypse. She wouldn’t give me her big knife to cut their heads off though.”
“That’s-” He wasn’t completely sure what to say to that. It was hard enough seeing his baby girl with her little green backpack next to the doors of her new school, the mental image of her lopping off zombie heads felt as though it was making his brain short-circuit. “...That’s good.”
“Yeah,” Maka said matter-of-factly. “So I gotta set them on fire instead.”
“That’s too risky, sweetie, it’d be easier to just get as far away from them as possible, maybe drive them into a pit-”
Lo and behold, across the school’s front lawn and parked at the edge of the curb, Sid, his oh-so-patient roommate, had his head stuck out front the sunroof of his van and was yelling at the top of his lungs.
“FOR THE LOVE OF EVERYTHING PURE AND HOLY, HURRY THE HELL UP!” Came a scream that would probably make any close passersby deaf.
“Sid sounds angry,” Maka said, peering around her father towards the van.
“Sid can sit down and shut up,” Spirit said reassuringly, trying to swallow down a surge of annoyance, because for god’s sake, this was a tumultuous moment for him-
Maka looked apprehensive. “People are staring.”
“Spirit!” Stein, who was sitting in the driver’s seat, and looking a bit miffed at Sid reaching across the slam his palm against the horn over and over, managed to call over the blazing horn. “You have work in ten minutes!”
“You have to go, Papa,” Maka said, sounding a bit panicked. “You can’t be late for work. Don’t worry, okay?”
“I’m not worried!” Spirit swore, but he felt his lower lip tremble. “It’s just- you promise you’ll call me if you get scared? Or if you need anything at all?”
“I promise.” Maka stuck out her pinky.
Spirit wrapped his pinky around hers, and for a second, he could almost swear it was just yesterday that she had just been born and was wrapping the entirety of her tiny fist around his finger, and he couldn’t hold back the sudden wave of emotion that caused tears to well in his eyes. “Maka, I love you so much sweetie, you’ll always be my little angel-”
“You really gotta go, Papa!” Maka said quickly, leaning forward and giving him a peck on the cheek before turning and running towards the school entrance, little skirt and jacket and backpack flying behind her. “I love you too! Bye!”
“But-!” Spirit protested.
“Go!” She called over her shoulder.
And then she was gone, disappeared into a steady stream of students, leaving Spirit alone and crouched onto the grass.
He felt like he’d been left behind, somehow. Maka was going to go and make friends, start a whole new part of her life, one that he couldn’t be there for. Not in the way he had been used to, up until that point, anyway. He didn’t want to be selfish, he didn’t want to keep her away from the world forever, but he was so damn scared-
“WOULD YOU GIVE IT A REST?!” Spirit screeched, wiping his eyes furiously with the back of his hand as he got to his feet. His gaze met those of a small family, staring at him, looking perplexed. “Hi.”
Still trying to swallow back his sniffles, Spirit made his way over to the van.
“Oh finally,” Stein began as Spirit climbed inside in the backseat, but took one look at him and sighed. “For the love of- Sid, tissues.”
“Right.” Sid opened his bag and took out an entire pack of tissues, which he then passed to Spirit in the backseat. “Look, I understand this is a big deal, but you need to pull yourself together. We’re already late as it is.”
“Actually, you would probably get off easier if you have him bawling,” Stein pointed out, turning the keys in the ignition and shifting gears as the van rumbled to life. “Your boss might be freaked out enough to let you off easy.”
Sid looked thoughtful. “Hm-”
“Give me a break,” Spirit moaned as he blew his nose in one of the tissues. He couldn’t help but watch mournfully out the window as they pulled away from the school, leaving Maka behind, on her own . “My- my little girl is on the threshold of growing up-”
“She’s five,” Stein said flatly. “I don’t think she’s really grown up yet.”
“Ohhh, just you wait.” Spirit pointed a finger at him. “Once your kid’s born, you’re gonna swallow those words. Swallow them whole. You’re gonna be a goddamn swallower , that’s how hard you’re going to swallow those words-”
He could audibly hear Stein roll his eyes. “That reminds me- Spirit, can you go with Marie to her doctor’s again tomorrow night? My shift will probably run late, and I won’t be back in time to take her.”
“ That reminds you?” Sid asked incredulously.
“Not that- never mind.” Spirit jumped a little when he noticed Stein’s eyes focusing on him through the rearview mirror, his gaze pinning him in place. “Can you?”
“Again?” Spirit couldn’t help but feel surprised. “Uh- I guess. She’s been there before though, shouldn’t she be able to navigate on her own by now?”
“You’d be surprised,” Stein replied. “Trust me. Anyway, can you? You won’t have to stay the entire time, I’ll be able to make it later.”
“...Sure. Yeah, I don’t mind.”
Stein gave him a nod, which was pretty much Stein-code for “thank you.” At least, Spirit was pretty sure it was. Sometimes he wasn’t quite sure.
That was the thing about having reunited with someone after five years- people tend to change, if only ever so slightly. At the end of the day, Stein was still Stein- weird, sarcastic, morbid, and creepy, all that rolled into one person who smelled like nicotine and roadkill- but at the same time, he sure as hell wasn’t the little baby-faced edgelord he was back in high school. Living under the same roof as him helped in that area, somewhat- Spirit was slowly starting to reacquaint himself with Stein’s mannerisms, his habits, with Stein as a whole, and there were even times when it felt like they had never fallen out in the first place. Like they were just picking up where they had left off, like Stein had never used Spirit as a lab rat and caused him to develop night terrors that lingered years after it had happened, like Spirit had never gotten him sent to prison for it.
Little things like that.
If the Spirit of a year ago could see where he was now, sitting in the back of Sid’s foster sister’s van and talking to none other than Franken Stein, his ex-best friend from childhood and his current roommate, he probably would have shit his pants on the spot. In fact, the same would probably apply to the Spirit of only three months ago, to be honest.
It felt weird, to say the least.
He wasn’t quite used to it.
But he’d agreed to himself to give Stein a second chance, so that’s what he was going to do. That’s the only reason Stein was even living under the same roof as him and his daughter in the first place, after all.
That and Marie was pregnant with Stein’s kid, but that was a whole other thing. God, when had his life become so weird?
“Wait, where are we going?” Sid asked, causing Spirit to blink, to be yanked out of his thoughts.
“I have to go through the post office real quick,” was Stein’s reply.
And sure enough, they were pulling up to the post office, towards the drive through mail slots on the opposite side of the building.
“Why?” Spirit asked.
“Why do you think?” Stein asked, voice dry and sardonic. “To send post. Pass me that box in the back, would you?”
Spirit rolled his eyes, passing up the hefty sized cardboard box that had been sitting next to him in the back, one that he previously haven’t paid much mind to before then, just as they pulled up to what was probably the largest of the mail slots.
“Are you mailing a goddamn body?” Spirit asked as Stein took it, and slid it through the slot. It let out a very audible thump as it slid through.
“No,” Stein responded. “Azusa’s shoes.”
Sid, who had been sipping from a gatorade bottle that had been repurposed to hold his coffee, audibly choked.
“Azusa’s shoes?” Spirit echoed, beyond horrified.
“To Iran.” Stein shifted gears almost nonchalantly, but Spirit could see a ghost of a smirk play across his lips.
“Oh my god,” Sid groaned. “Please tell me you’re joking.”
“I’ve never been more serious in my life.”
“She going to kill you,” Spirit cried. Unless Stein kills her first. There’s bound to be at least one fatality at this rate.
The cold glint in Stein’s eyes was unmistakable. “She shouldn’t have set my chair on fire.”
“You shouldn’t have crashed her car!”
“She shouldn’t have thrown out my experiments.”
Spirit threw his hands in the air in defeat. “Right. Whatever. Can you please just take us to work now?”
“‘Cause why call the police on your psycho roommate when you can just commit arson?” Sid grumbled under his breath. “God. Look, at some point you two need to calm the hell down, take a deep breath, and settle it over drinks like adults. Okay?”
“Hm,” was Stein’s non committal response.
“Don’t even bother,” Spirit grumbled. “They’re both fucking insane. Although I’m way more disappointed in Azusa.”
“Why?” Sid asked.
“Because I thought she was way more rational!”
“Nothing in this household is rational,” Sid replied, very seriously. “Azusa was our last hope, and look where that ended up. A pile of ashes on the fire escape.”
And fuck him, he was so right it wasn’t even funny.
The sheer volume of his name being called made him wince. So did the sound of ring-heavy fists slamming into the bar counter, causing the two poor girls he had been chatting with to flinch, and immediately move to make a break for it to a different table.
“Talk to you later, Spirit?” Risa squeaked as she and her sister fled.
“Sure,” he replied, trying to keep his tone bright, but it was difficult under the glare being leveled at him.
“For fuck’s sake,” Giriko growled above him, making cringe. “Stop chit-chatting with the broads, and get back to fucking work. Got it?”
“I am working.” Spirit couldn’t help but glare reproachfully at the “Assistant Manager” tag clinging to Giriko’s shirt, partially concealed behind the obnoxious fur coat and gold chains. Mackelmore wannabe.
“Well, it’s hard to fuckin’ tell! Zip it, alright?” Giriko growled, leveling him final glare of death before some other unlucky schmuck caught his attention. “Hey! Law! What the fuck do you think you’re doing-”
Out of the corner of his eye, Spirit could see Justin’s eyes rolling as Giriko stalked towards him, hollering and forcing the the frightened and confused patrons around him to part like the Red Sea.
“I still can’t believe he caught promoted.” Sid slid in to pick up the drinks Spirit had made, piling them onto a tray.
“He’s just using it as an excuse to scream at people at this point,” Spirit grumbled.
“And he wasn’t doing that before?” Sid asked, dryly.
“Fair enough.” Sid sighed, before stiffening. His gaze had suddenly locked over Spirit’s shoulder, and his entire frame had gone tense and still. There was an odd expression on his face, something that Spirit couldn’t quite place.
“What?” Spirit turned, following his gaze, past a now-bickering Giriko and Justin, past the customers watching, enraptured (a few were even filming), at the entire spectacle, towards the large storefront windows.
There was a flash of movement that seemed slightly off- more specifically, the tall figure clad in black with white hair, probably an older man, that moved a bit too quickly to join the rest of the passersby outside. But other than that, nothing.
“Nothing.” Sid’s eyes were quick to dart away, causing Spirit to frown. Sid looked clearly shaken, which was weird. But he was very clearly trying to push past it. All the while, the volume of Justin and Giriko’s argument was rapidly increasing. “Do you want me to break that up, or should I?”
Spirit sighed. “I think you’ll have better luck than me. I’ll be here for backup if you need it, though.”
“Thanks.” Sid placed the tray back on the bar surface before heading to the chaos.
Before turning back to his drinks, Spirit cast a glance out the window again, just to make sure he hadn’t missed anything from before. He didn’t think he had, but there was something about Sid’s expression that nagged at him.
Sure enough, there was nothing out of ordinary- just people passing to and fro outside, going about their everyday business. But there was something that caused the hairs on the back of Spirit’s neck to stand up. It was a very strange, unsettling something, almost akin to the feeling of being watched, and it only got worse once Spirit turned away.
Okay, he thought, trying to busy himself with his drinks. Weird. Probably just my imagination, though. Nothing to worry about.
That’s what he told himself, which must have been convincing, because he soon forgot about it quick enough (though the fistfight between Justin and Giriko that promptly broke out probably helped with that).
After all, it probably didn’t matter, anyway.
“Hi, this is Kami. I’m not available right now, so leave a message and I’ll call you back later. Thanks.”
Spirit tried not to sigh at the familiar dial tone, but he had to admit that it was difficult.
“Hey Kami. So, uh, Maka’s first day was today. Can you believe it? I’m sure she’ll want to tell you all about it when she gets home. So, uh...I’ll call you, okay? Love you. Bye.”
He hung up. Slid his phone back in his pocket, shot a quick glance around the staff room just to make sure nobody gave a damn about the intern sneaking in a call during his rest break. But no, people were still chatting away over their laptops and pastries, their voices blending in with the faint sounds of copy machines and keyboard clicks in the cubicles outside.
He shouldn’t get frustrated, he knew. He really shouldn’t. Kami had a big, successful future to prepare for, a busy life doing Harvard stuff. She didn’t always had time to return his calls, and he knew that. That was kind of part of the deal, something that he’d agreed to when she moved to go back to school, when he’d agreed to be the one to take care of Maka so at least one of them could go after their dream career while they were still young.
But there was a tiny, minuscule, niggling part of him that couldn’t help but feel frustrated whenever Kami went weeks without calling. Especially when she’d already missed Fourth of July, when it had been a good six months since he and Maka had seen her.
Was it selfish? Maybe. But fuck , was it really so wrong of him to want the mother of his child to be able to call back and talk to their daughter? The same daughter who had been bugging him to talk to her mother for weeks now? He hated to disappoint her, hated it so much...
Spirit had to bite back another sigh. There was a small box of powdered donuts, half-eaten and stored in the far back behind the coffee machine, probably was being saved for someone. Quickly, after stealing a glance to make sure no one was looking, he snatched the box, plucked out one (just one!) donut, and shoved it in his mouth.
He hadn’t eaten since he’d gotten off work, and after that he’d had class before having to come and do his intern stuff, and he couldn’t help but wonder if he could get away with stealing another one-
“Mr. Albaaaaarn!” The intercom above him crackled to life in an absolutely obnoxious pop, making him jump. “I required my macchiato to have three half-teaspoons of cinnamon, and you definitely put four! I refuse to drink it until you brew it correctly! Please bring me another cup, pronto!!”
The feed cut out with another obnoxious pop, making Spirit cringe. He could have sworn the staff-roomers were giving him pity-filled glances.
God? It’s me, Spirit. Please give me patience. Or just send down a bolt of lightning to kill me, right now.
After word had gotten out about his son’s affair with Arachne Gorgon, Shinigami Morton, head of Morton Industries and probably one of the most influential billionaires in the world, had taken an extended leave of absence to sort out personal affairs. Spirit had kept tabs on the news, since then, figuring that he’d hear something about what was going on since then.
But as it turned out, rich corporate people seemed to have better control over the press than he’d assumed, because there wasn’t a peep heard out of the media regarding the scandal. Or at least, Spirit only had to assume there was some hush-up money involved, because what news outlet would pass up a story about the son of a CEO hooking up with the head of a rival corporation and embezzling company funds to her? Because goddamn, if that wasn’t the perfect plotline for a soap opera, then he had no idea what was.
“Did you get my macchiato correct this time, Mr. Albarn?”
Although no soap opera in their right might would ever include this asshole.
“Yes, sir.” Spirit plastered on the fake smile he’d long mastered after several years of part-time jobs in customer service, before setting said macchiato on the desk. “Just as you requested.”
Spirit only really knew his new boss by his initials, and last name- Mr. E.X. Calli-Burr. That was the name on his desk, the name on his door, on his business cards and website and Wikipedia page. Nobody seemed to know his actual name. And Spirit had asked around, many times, had googled him extensively. He’d even asked Stein if he’d be willing to hack into government files to find this guy’s birth certificate, only for Stein to tell him that surely, there was no way it’d be that hard to find his real name, and that he was going to put in that much effort to do something as dumb as that.
Apparently Calli-Burr worked in public relations (or something. Nobody really seemed to know what he did for the company either. And yes, that even extended to his Wikipedia page, which instead detailed his many exploits in Baja California. Spirit had checked), meaning he just sat at his desk all day and talked to people on the phone. That was it. Spirit couldn’t help but wonder if he lived there.
“You said that before!” Calli-Burr wagged the phone receiver at him sternly. “But that was nearly two hours ago!”
With that, he took a dramatic sip from the cup Spirit had just given. A beat passed, and Spirit held his breath, silently pleading…
“I suppose this is acceptable,” the man grumbled, to Spirit’s immense relief.
“I’m glad,” Spirit said, giving the other man a winning smile. Internships are a great opportunity for personal growth and career experience, they said. It would be a great personal investment, they said.
Thankfully, it wasn’t long before the door opened, and in tumbled in a group of three familiar little people.
“HI MR. CAL-BURR!!” Patty screeched as soon as she entered, making a great, leaping lunge towards Calli-Burr’s desk and clutching the side of it. A trail of multicolored glitter was left in her wake from her glittery little backpack and little shoes.
“Not so loud,” whined Liz, running in after her sister to pull her off the desk. Patty just led out a giggle.
“Hello, Patricia!” Calli-Burr didn’t even looked fazed as he glanced up. “Elizabeth. Kid.”
“Hello,” Kid droned, in sharp contrast to Patty. He was wearing a miniature suit, unlike his adopted sisters’ frilly little tutu skirts. “Eibon sent us up here. He said to tell you sorry, but he had to go home.”
Calli-Burr scowled, before inclining his head towards Spirit. “INTERN! Take the children. I am busy!”
With what? Spirit had to bite back before it could leave his lips. It was tempting, but ultimately, he didn’t mind watching the kids. Better than just standing in the corner waiting for Calli-Burr to tell him to get another macchiato.
“Yes, sir,” was all he said instead, before turning to the kids. “Hey guys.”
“Hello,” Liz and Kid greeted him in unison. Patty, meanwhile, jumped towards him to tug at his sleeve.
“We gonna make more paper animals like we did last time?” She asked, hopefully.
Spirit smiled. “If you want.”
Patty nodded, fervently. “I do!”
“Alright, let’s find some paper then.”
Patty positively beamed, before trapping his wrist in an iron grip and yanking him forward, causing him to yelp.
“Don’t bother,” Liz informed him, solemnly, as she and Kid scrambled after them. “She’s really excited.”
“I can tell,” Spirit replied, as he was pulled out of the office.
Yeah, ultimately, he didn’t mind watching the kids. Not just because he didn’t want to deal with Calli-Burr’s shit, but because, despite Patty’s energy and Kid’s obvious OCD, it was actually much calmer in comparison to the rest of his hectic day. They were pretty well-behaved kids, for the most part. It helped that Liz was usually willing to give him an inside scoop about how her adopted dad was doing.
“Crona’s gonna finish moving in today,” she told him. She sat cross-legged next to her sister, who was hard at work scribbling on the back of some old file folders that Spirit hoped weren’t important.
“Are you excited about having a new brother?” Spirit asked her.
“Kinda.” Liz gave Kid, who was currently hard at work tugging at Spirit’s hair with a comb that he seemed to keep with him at all times, an exasperated look. “‘Gami says not all brothers are weird , so there’s that.”
“I’m not weird,” Kid grumbled. “Can you move turn your head to the right a bit, Mr. Albarn?”
Spirit obliged. “So Crona’s officially with your dad now.”
“Not yet,” Liz replied. “He’s still under CPS custody. ‘Gami’s been having a hard time getting rights over him because his mom’s been fighting back. It’s why he hasn’t been around as much, but he says it’ll get better once he brings Crona home.”
Spirit blinked. He couldn’t quite pinpoint what took him aback, because there was a lot to unpack from what she had just said. The fact that Liz, who was only six years old, knew exactly was CPS was and what custody battles were especially rubbed him the wrong way.
Though, he supposed, maybe he shouldn’t be surprised. Liz and Patty were adopted too, after all. Liz in particular had a weird maturity to her that he noticed, especially coming from a first grader. With a pang, he couldn’t help but wonder what exactly she and her sister had been through they’d been adopted.
“That’s good,” was all he said, though.
“Yeah. ‘Gami says he’ll take all of us to Disneyland once Crona comes home.” Liz visibly perked up at the idea. “We’re gonna stay in the hotel and everything, and dine with Ariel.”
“Wow, that’s pretty cool.”
Another thing that stuck out to him- was Shinigami really having that hard of a time getting custody over Crona? Spirit had assumed that it was Asura’s arrest that was taking up most of his time, although maybe not. Shinigami was a millionaire; Spirit would have though that it would have been a cinch to gain custody over Crona. Although considering Crona’s absence from how many times Spirit had watched the kids in the past couple of weeks, maybe he should have figured something was up. Still, how the hell was Crona’s mom putting up that much of a fight?
For some reason, his mind flashed back to a conversation he had the other day- he’d treated Blair to lunch at her favorite sushi place, the kind of thing he made an effort to do fairly regularly considering that she was pretty much watching his kid for free on a daily basis.
“Why’s he suddenly adopting this random kid?” Blair had asked when he’d described the whole situation to her.
“Why wouldn’t he?” Spirit had responded. “He probably just wanted to have another kid in the house. He’s already adopted two girls.”
“Well, don’t get me wrong.” She shrugged, dismissive, but her perfect painted lips were still pursed in a way that screamed suspicion. “But it seems kinda sudden, don’tcha think?”
“What do you mean?” He’d asked.
“I dunno. I mean, he meets this kid, and almost immediately adopts him on a whim. Seems kinda weird.”
“Well, he’s the one who got social workers on his case,” Spirit replied. “Maybe he just got attached.”
Blair shrugged again, causing her shirt to slide a little lower down her right shoulder, to the point that Spirit could see a hint of black lace. “Again, I dunno.” She scowled. “I guess I just don’t trust rich people. Shinigami Morton in particular seems kinda shady to me.”
“Yeah. He’s way too happy, it’s weird.”
“He’s kinda a weird guy.” That, for some reason, caused a memory to strike him. A very unpleasant memory. “I mean… he totally tore into his son, once. I overheard him.”
“The younger one?” Blair visibly bristled at the thought.
“No, not Kid. I don’t think he’d ever yell at Kid. The older one, the one that got arrested.”
“Oh. Well, he was getting arrested, wasn’t he? Can’t imagine he’d be too happy about it. Especially if he was sexting his dad’s ex.” Blair took a sip of her drink. “Which, by the way, is
“Trust me, I know. But…” (“YOU CAN ROT IN PRISON FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE, YOU UNGRATEFUL BASTARD!”) “It was bad. Trust me.”
Blair frowned. “How bad?”
“Pretty damn bad. Like...pretty over the line bad.”
“Hm.” Blair looks just as happy about that as Spirit felt. “Not sure how I feel about him getting another kid, then.”
Spirit didn’t really want to admit it, but he’d had the same thought in the past couple weeks. He wished that wasn’t the case, because he liked Shinigami. The thought of him being verbally abusive to his son was upsetting on so many levels. Additionally, there was the thought that maybe there was a reason that Asura had ended up as messed up as he had.
Although, considering how well he treated Kid and Liz and Patty, maybe that wasn’t the case anymore. If so, Crona would probably be fine. Still, Spirit couldn’t help but be worried, but he comforted himself with the fact that he didn’t know the entire story.
“Maybe,” was all Spirit had said in response, and decided to leave it at that.
“Excuse me.” An unfamiliar voice jerked him out of his flashback. Spirit’s eyes followed the voice, to a figure standing in the entryway leaning slightly against the doorway. A figure with cropped, dirty blonde hair, black tattoos winding around her forearms, and a sleek black dress that hugged her curves, cut veryyy low down her chest...
“Hello,” Spirit hears himself say, knowing he should probably be focusing on what’s coming out of his mouth, but it’s a little hard to focus because damn . “Can I help you?”
The woman in front of him gives him a polite, sweet smile. “I’m so sorry to be a bother, but I’ve gotten a bit lost. I’m trying to find Shinigami Morton’s office.”
“Okay.” Focus, Spirit! He had to mentally shake himself back to attention, before giving her the most winning smile he could muster. “Well, he’s not exactly available right now, but I can leave him a message.”
“But he’s in?” The woman pressed. “I’m an old friend, see. Would you mind going to see if you can bring him out?”
Ah. Spirit took note of the dress then (well, he already had, technically), more specifically how well-tailored it looked. She also had little silver arrow-shaped charms dangling from her earlobes, and a gleaming silver watch around her wrist. Not overtly gaudy, but Spirit wouldn’t be surprised if it cost a pretty penny.
“Well, you could go see yourself,” Spirit replied, making sure to keep the grin firmly on his face. “I supposed to stay here, unfortunately, but I’m sure there’s somebody who can help you out.”
“Oh, are you watching the children?” The woman seemed to have finally taken notice of the kids, who, Spirit was surprised to note, had suddenly stopped what they were doing and were staring the woman down. Even Patty had stopped coloring long enough to give her a searching look. “You must be Shinigami’s children, then! It’s good to finally meet you.”
“Who are you?” Kid asked.
“Tell you what.” The woman didn’t answer Kid’s question, turning to Spirit and giving him the most dazzling smile. “I’ll keep an eye on the kids so you can go see if he’s in. I’d go myself, but I don’t think visitors are allowed into the offices.”
Something pinged in the back of Spirit’s brain. A little warning bell, one that he easily dismissed. She seemed like a perfectly fine lady, after all, even though he did have to wonder why she couldn’t get past the offices- the secretary there wasn’t that strict, and if she was an old friend, she shouldn’t have that much trouble getting in.
“No can do, unfortunately,” Spirit responded, apologetically. “I’m not supposed to leave them alone with strangers. But if you want, I can try to get you in?”
In his back pocket, he could feel his phone buzz. He ignored it, for now anyway.
He could have sworn he saw irritation flicker across the woman’s face, but it was dimmed almost immediately by that winning smile. “Oh, it shouldn’t be that big of an issue. I’m sure Mr. Morton wouldn’t mind. I’m not a stranger, after all.”
“Yes you are,” Kid piped up.
“Kid,” Spirit admonished, quietly, before re-addressing the woman. “Sorry, but I can’t. Mr. Morton very specifically instructed me not to leave them alone with strangers, and you probably know how he is when he gets specific. But again, I can go in with you if you’d like?”
Again, he thought he saw a flicker of irritation, a bit longer than it was the last time, but once again, it was gone before he could really dwell on it too often. “Oh, that’s alright. Next time, then.”
“Are you sure? I wouldn’t mind-”
“No thank you.” Yeah, her tone was definitely clipped then. “Have a good day, then.”
She left briskly, the sound of her clacking heels slowly fading away. Spirit couldn’t help but be taken aback.
“Well,” was all he could say.
“I don’t like her,” Patty mumbled.
“What do you mean?” Liz asked her.
Patty shrugged, but didn’t elaborate.
Spirit felt a tap on his shoulder, and glanced over at Kid, who was giving him a stern look.
“Turn to the right, now,” he commanded.
“Okay.” Spirit obeyed, and just like that, they went back to what they were just doing- Patty and Liz coloring, Kid doing his hair. He suddenly remembered his phone buzzing, causing him to go ahead and check it.
Kami <3 : awwww, she looks so cute! Love you guys!
Spirit smiled. Finally.
Me: she does :’) give you a call tonight?
There was no immediate response.
There was still no response, even after he had gotten back to the apartment.
It was nearly ten, and he was tired and starving, but he couldn’t help but smile at Maka’s excited chatter. He had just picked her up from Blair’s, and she was filling him in on every little detail about her first day as they walked hand-in-hand to their front door.
“-so after we were done with rug time, we still had ten minutes left before we got to home. Miss Mabaa said that that won’t always happen, ‘cause some daily tasks take more time than others, but when we do have time left, we have a choice between coloring, playing outside, and playing on the rug. We had just been on the rug, and we’d already been outside, so I decided to color. I was the only one to color except for this girl named Jackie, and when we were talking she said she had never read any Dr. Seuss! At all!” Maka looked absolutely scandalized by this.
Spirit cracked a smile, reaching his free hand up to open the door. “Well, what did she like to read?”
“I dunno. She said, but I don’t remember.” Maka frowned, contemplating.
“Well, maybe you could bring some of your favorite books to show and tell-” The door opened, and the sight in the living room stopped Spirit in his tracks.
“Uh,” was all he could say, and he could hear Maka gasp behind him.
Marie, who was standing like a deer in headlights in the middle of it all in her work polo, just gave him a helpless look. “I don’t know. I really, really don’t know.”
The apartment looked like it had been torn inside out- the decorations and overall interior aesthetic Azusa had spend literal hundreds on putting in were somewhat dismantled. The carpets were rolled up, for one, and shoved hurriedly in the corner,, and most of the furniture was in the middle of the room.
Except for a coffin. Yeah, no, that was definitely a coffin, just sitting in the middle of the living room, looking like it had been plucked right out of a funeral home. It’s lid was open, and at least it was empty, thank god.
“What’s going on?” Spirit managed to ask, before Azusa came storming in, and okay, holy shit-
“Spirit!” Azusa full-on snarls, causing Spirit to reel back.
Azusa looked like a far cry from her usual put-together self. She looked as neat as usual, if somewhat more tousled, but her entire posture was as rigid as a armor-clad pole, so tense that she was literally shaking. Her face was blotchy and red- had she been crying?
“Are you okay?” was the first thing that came out of his mouth, because christ , what the hell-
“I need your help!” Azusa barks. “I need you to help me move the sofa-”
“She’s really upset,” Marie said quickly, desperation clear in her voice. “I came home from class to change for work and everything was a mess!”
“Are you two going to help me or not?!” Azusa demands.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa-” Spirit braces his hands on her shoulders.
“Let go! I need to-”
“Need to what?” Spirit demands. “What do you even think you’re doing? You’re freaking me out! Did you tear all this out on your own?! Why is there a coffin-”
“Oh, the coffin was Nygus, not Azusa,” Marie says, quickly. “If that makes that any better-”
Nygus. Of course it was Nygus. Mira “let’s perform an exorcism in the middle of the night just for the hell of it” fucking Nygus. “Why would she bring in a coffin?”
“Apparently one of her classes was just giving it out and she decided to take it?”
“Right. Awesome. And Azusa-”
“I need to get rid of everything by tomorrow afternoon!” Azusa practically yells, angrily, as if they were being the unreasonable ones. “It’s ugly, and I can’t-”
She was cut off by a familiar, cheery tune that Spirit recognized as a ringtone. Almost immediately, she actually let out a furious, frustrated growl before snatching her phone out of her pocket.
“Yes?” She all but shrieked through gritted teeth, before blinking. Somehow, she seemed even more tense than before she picked up the phone, which was kind of a miracle. “Ah. Hi Dad.”
Spirit blinked, as him and Marie shared surprised glances. When he looked down, Maka was looking up with him with a confused expression. She opened her mouth, ready to speak, but he shushed her, sending a pointed gesture towards Azusa, who had gone incredibly quiet.
“Oh!” Azusa sounded surprised, but almost all of the tension seemed to bleed out of her body. “Oh, okay- no, don’t apologize! It’s fine- no, it’s fine, Dad. I’ll be seeing you for Thanksgiving either way- uh huh. No, I’m okay. Yes, I’m fine.”
A very long pause.
“Okay,” Azusa said, finally. “Alright. Talk to you later…” Another pause. “I love you too- yes, I will. Love you. Bye.”
When she hung up, she finally met their gazes, and Spirit was shocked to see how much calmer she looked- it was as if that one phone call has single-handedly sucked all that manic, frantic energy out of her body, and she just looked exhausted. Somewhat dazed, even, as if all the stress had suddenly been sucker-punched out of her.
“I think I need to sit down,” she mumbled.
“Do that,” Marie said, immediately at Azusa’s side as Azusa slumped down onto a couch that had somehow been torn from it’s usual spot. “Are you okay?”
“I’m- I’m fine, yes,” Azusa mumbled.
Spirit could see her glancing up, at the wreck that was their living room, could see reality finally sinking in through to her. It was like the clouds had parted, the moon had set, and Azusa had changed back to her usual, normal, much calmer self. It was an incredibly stark, visible, and just so abrupt change, that Spirit almost wondered if, for a minute, he’d been teleported into another dimension.
“You, uh, sure?” Spirit offered, knowing that sounded just as freaked out as he was. But really, what else was he supposed to say.
“Yes. I’m fine,” Azusa muttered, as if she hadn’t just torn apart their living room.
“Maka, can you do me a favor and cover your ears for a second?” When Spirit glanced over to Marie, he could see that her lips were pressed together.
Marie looked over to Azusa. “Azusa Yumi, I’m going to ask you something. What in the fucking everyloving hell was that all about?”
“I still heard that,” Maka mumbled.
Marie winced. “Sorry, sweetie.” Her attention, though, was turned quickly back towards Azusa. “The question still stands, though! You look like you’re going to pass out! How long have you been doing this for? Did you eat lunch or dinner or anything?”
“I’m fine,” Azusa mumbled.
Azusa sighed. “I- I panicked. The apartment just- it looked horrible, we didn’t do that great a job on the painting, all of the furniture was awkwardly positioned, all of it pretty much came from bargain bins, which isn’t exactly what my dad planned for when he gave me that budget-” she stopped short.
“Your dad?” Spirit offered, somewhat awkwardly.
Azusa wouldn’t meet their eyes. “I’m fine.”
Marie made a frustrated noise. “Azusa-”
“I’m okay,” Azusa muttered, and she sounded smaller than she usually did. “I- I don’t know really what came over me. I’m sorry for that.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Spirit says, unease churning his stomach. It was obvious she was still a little rattled- that call had shocked her to her senses, at least, but the sudden whiplash was probably causing her to reel just as much it was the rest of them.
Azusa stood, abruptly. “If- if you’ll let me regain my bearings, for a minute, I’ll clean everything up. Just- I need a second.”
She was off before any of them could say anything else, disappearing down the hall. Spirit could hear the sound of her bedroom door shutting.
Leaving him, Marie, and Maka staring somewhat bewildered at the mess. At each other. At Azusa’s door, really letting it sink in what happened.
“Well,” Spirit finally broke the silence. “That was bizarre.”
Marie’s lips pressed together. “Not really.”
Spirit blinked at her.
Marie sighs. “Sometimes she has these- these weird panic attacks, that pretty much send her into a frenzy. One time I came over to her house when we were still in high school, and she was trying to tear apart her bookshelf and remodel her bedroom because she though the decorations she liked were tacky. She’s so damn
on herself sometimes, and when she gets overwhelmed it can pretty much send her in a tailspin where she’s not even thinking rationally. She’s pretty much a stress-cleaner on steroids.”
“Oh.” He wasn’t sure how to respond to that. “...do you know what got her so worked up?”
Marie shook her head. “Not a clue. Usually it’s during finals week, but-”
“Is she really okay?” Maka asked softly, peering up at them.
“She’s fine, honey,” Spirit soothed. “Just needs to calm down for a little bit.”
“Maybe she should drink some of the stuff you have under your bed, Papa,” Maka says. “That always seems to calm you down when you’re stressed.”
Marie blinked at him.
“Maybe,” Spirit said, quickly, though he couldn’t help but think that Maka wasn’t exactly wrong, Azusa probably could use a glass of vodka. “Go to work, Marie. I’ll keep an eye on her.”
“Maybe offer her some tea?” Marie suggested, pulling her purse up on her shoulder.
“Right.” Ugh. Tea .
“Have a good time at work,” Maka called out after Marie.
Marie gave her a warm smile. “Thank you, Maka. Wish me luck with my boss.”
Soon enough she had shut the door behind her, leaving Maka and Spirit alone.
“Well,” Spirit said, possibly a bit too cheerfully, because Maka just blinked up at him. “Are you hungry, Maka? Would you like a snack?”
Maka immediately brightened. “Okay.”
“Hi, this is Kami. I’m not available right now-”
Spirit resisted the urge to throw the phone down onto his mattress in frustration. It had been almost a week since Maka had started school, for god’s sake, it was kind of a huge moment and she was missing it. Hell, the last time they’d talked was back in July.
“Hey. It’s me again. Just got your text.” Don’t sound too frustrated, she’s probably been busy, her parents might be giving her a hard time, getting angry will probably make her angry, that is the last thing you want-
“Just wondering what you’re up to. Maka’s been wanting to talk to you.” Okay, maybe that was a little too guilt-trippy. “She had her first day of school today, and I know she’s dying to tell you all about it. When you have time, give me call back. Love you.”
Spirit let the phone drop down onto his mattress, and this time he couldn’t quite restrain his sigh. A part of his brain was beginning to frantically mull over whether or not Kami was okay, that maybe she wasn’t responding because something drastic had happened, but he mostly dismissed it. Mostly. Her not calling for weeks on end wasn’t exactly rare.
He pulled his laptop back into his lap and tried in vain to focus on his spreadsheets, but that stupid nagging part of his brain wasn’t quite letting Kami go and trying to focus on anything else was borderline painful. That, and his laptop had been on for so long it was overheating and was starting to burn his legs, so he pulled a blanket over his lap as a sort of shield.
It was dumb. He knew Kami could take care of herself, and he knew this was pretty usual for her, but there was something off about it, something he couldn’t quite pinpoint. Maybe it was just the fact that it felt as though couples were supposed to talk more. Sure, Kami was usually pretty distant. Kind of.
Except she really wasn’t. She was always direct, to the point, never sugarcoating anything. It was him was always the one who fumbled whenever he wanted to talk, tripping over his words and letting them choke him. She was the one who liked direct confrontation, something he had never been good at.
Maybe that was the problem. Maybe he was the one being distant. Maybe the next time they spoke, he’d try bringing that up. Although who knew when that would be.
It didn’t help that it felt as though they longer they went without speaking, the shorter their conversations felt whenever they did speak.
He was so lost in thought, staring blankly at his computer screen, that he almost didn’t hear his own ringtone.
Wait- did she actually call back?
Spirit snatched his phone, and flipped it back open.
“Hello?” He asked, somewhat breathlessly.
“Hi there, Spirit!”
His heart sank down through his mattress. Not Kami. Definitely not Kami. “Hey, boss.”
“Boss! Mr. Morton! Holy-” He cut himself off before he could finish, because saying holy shit, you’re back was not professional. At all.
“Quick question.” Spirit blinked, Shinigami definitely sounded chipper, if a bit out of breath. “Are you home right now?”
“Uh- yeah? Why?”
“Are you doing anything important?”
“Not really, I’m working on some stuff for class, but it’s not due until the end of the week-”
“Great! I’ll be there in...eh- forty seconds!”
“I explain later! Be ready.”
“Wha-” The dial tone cut him off. “Mr. Morton? Shinigami!”
No response. Dumbfounded, Spirit stared at his phone for a second, before it sank it that his boss was coming to his house , and he threw his laptop and covers off of his lap and flew up from the bed, making sure to grab a pair of pants as he went.
As soon as he clambered into the living room, Maka saw it fit to pop out from the coffin, the lid sliding open and her sitting up with her arms crossed over her chest like a horror movie.
It caught him off guard, momentarily.
“Papa, it’s really comfy in here!” she exclaimed, cheerful as could be. “Can this be my bed?”
Oh hell no. “No, sweetie.” Spirit replied, as he quickly dashed over and pulled her out of the pine box. “No, you can’t.”
“Aw,” she said, scowling in disappointment.
Then came the knock on the door.
“Spirit!” A muffled voice called from the other side. “I was wrong, it actually took me about twenty seconds to get here-”
Spirit swore internally, before bounding over to door to fling it open.
“Hi,” he managed, trying not to appear as out of breath as he probably was. “Mr. Morton.”
“Hello Spirit.” Shinigami just raised an eyebrow. Of course, he looked immaculate as ever, dark (and probably expensive) suit perfectly creased and eyeliner on point. “You alright?”
“Awesome.” Please ignore the coffin in the room, please ignore the coffin in the room- “Are you alright? It’s kinda late-”
A small, flight movement from behind Shinigami suddenly caught Spirit’s attention. He blinked, and Shinigami smiled, moving out of the way, a large hand coming down gently on his little companion’s shoulders.
“I hope you don’t mind, but he was dying to see Maka-”
“CRONA!!” came the sudden shriek.
Before Spirit could even respond, his daughter lunged so quickly and so abruptly that it nearly knocked him off his feet- all to tackle the other child in a hug, who let out a yelp at the sudden contact.
“Maka!” Spirit said sharply, taken aback and having no idea whether the kid would freak out or not at the sudden invasion of space. Who the hell knew what he had been through, after all-?
“Hi Maka,” Crona squeaked. Despite looking somewhat disgruntled, he actually looked pretty okay, much to Spirit’s relief. Instead, the kid cracked the first smile he had ever seen from him, before squeezing Maka back. “I missed you.”
“I missed you too!”
Spirit couldn’t help but smile, glancing up at Shinigami. “I’ve been wondering when I’d see him again.”
Shinigami sighed, and suddenly, he looked very, very tired. “Well, it took a while with the paperwork. Things got...increasingly more complicated than I thought they would.”
Spirit frowned. He had no idea what the hell that meant, and he wondered if he would be able to get a chance to grill Shinigami for answers later, preferably out of the kids’ earshot.
“Anyway!” The weariness vanished as soon as Shinigami clapped his hands together in a flourish. “I was wondering- I need to go on a sort of mini-road trip, and I need an extra person to carpool. I’d rather not take Crona, since we’d be a bit late.”
Spirit blinked. “Uh… what kind of road trip?”
“Oh, it’ll only be one night.” Shinigami waved a dismissive hand. “It would be a bit late-”
Oh hell no. Sleep was a precious commodity, and Spirit wasn’t giving it up for anything. “I don’t know-” he began, ready to present the facts- that he had class early tomorrow morning, that he needed to sleep, oh, and that all of this was very last minute-
“I’ll reimburse you generously too,” Shinigami added. “Also, I’ll buy you a slushie on the way.”
Oh. Well then.
“Azusa!” Spirit yelled. “I’m heading out for the night! Would you mind watching the kids?!”
A beat of silence. Then-
“Kids?!” Called a muffled voice from down the hall. “As in, plural?!”
The car ride was mostly silent on the way over to...wherever the hell they were going.
The further they got from Spirit’s apartment, the more Shinigami seemed to slip into what could only be described as an intensity. He was practically glowering over the steering wheel, knuckles clenched, and it took Spirit aback.
Where the hell were they going?
It didn’t help that, because it had been several weeks, Spirit was expecting some sort of attempt at catch-up conversation- something along the lines of how are you, how’s the family how’s the psychotic roommates, how’s your kid handling jail, etcetera . Instead, Shinigami hadn’t spoken a word, and Spirit was getting increasingly nervous about breaking the silence. The whole atmosphere made for probably what was the most awkward car ride Spirit had ever been on in his entire life, and he had a feeling it was only on his end because it seemed like Shinigami was too busy giving the road a death glare.
It was a side of his boss he hadn’t personally, face-to-face witnessed before, which was...nerve-wracking, more than anything else. The last time Spirit had encountered it was when he overheard him screaming obscenities at his son, which still wasn’t exactly the most pleasant memory to recall, because it made him feel a good amount of discomfort towards his boss.
But promised, Shinigami stopped his sleek black sedan in front of a 7-11 to get Spirit his slushie, so that was good at least.
“I haven’t had one of these in ages,” Spirit offered once they were back on the road. He’d already inhaled half of the thing, and he could feel the discomfort of a brain freeze coming on.
Lo and behold, that prompted a response. More specifically, it prompted Shinigami’s eyebrow to raise, though his eyes remained firmly on the road. “Is that why you did… that?” He gestured with one hand to Spirit’s cup, which was, admittedly, kind of a sludgy mess of every single flavor they had available into a single cup.
Spirit smirked. “No, this is called a delicacy.”
Shinigami visibly cringed. “Well. To each their own.”
There was a beat of silence.
“I used to go with my mom all the time when I was a kid,” Spirit continued, trying to keep the conversation going. “There was a 7-11 across the street from where she worked, and we’d go after it was closed on Fridays. It was usually pretty late, and it was a hell of a sugar rush, but it was fun.”
“Ahh, that explains it, then.” Another beat of silence. “I’d take Asura when he was younger, too. He was fond of the blueberry ones.”
Spirit blinked, taken aback. While he’d been hoping to hear about Asura, he wasn’t quite expecting...that. Still, he stayed silent, waiting for Shinigami to continue.
“We’d really only go once a year, though,” Shinigami went on. “July 11. Other than that, we didn’t really frequent it that often.”
Figures. Spirit had a feeling rich people and 7-11 wouldn’t really mix too often, although he could be wrong. The slushie was Shinigami’s idea, after all. “Good times?”
There was another pause, before Shinigami finally responded.
“Yes,” he admittedly, quietly. “It was.”
Spirit waited for him to continue, for Shinigami to say anything else at all, but he was silent.
Well, I tried.
It was about another half-hour before they pulled off onto the side of a dirt road that seemed to have stretched for the past several miles. Up ahead, Spirit could see a gated entrance of some sort, and some lights that seemed to be from some houses, but other than that? Nothing.
“Uh,” Spirit said, his sense of apprehension immediately spiking once Shinigami shifted gears, put the car in park. “Where are we?”
“A friend’s neighborhood!” And just like that, the intensity was gone, like a mask being pulled over to conceal it. Shinigami shot him a grin that was way, way too easygoing, especially in contrast to how he’d been acting in the past hour, and it made Spirit uneasy. “I’m meeting them up past the gate, I just need to pick something up. Don’t move a muscle!”
Doesn’t he realize I can see how fake he’s acting? Spirit wondered, faintly. “Uh… okay.”
“I’ll be back in a sec.” Then, Shinigami was reaching towards the backseat, and was suddenly pulling out a black duffel bad and slinging it over his shoulder. It was a fairly large bag too, big enough to possibly hide a small child in.
“What’s that?” Spirit asked, trying to sound casual and chipper, because apparently that’s what they were doing now. But while the sight of it had not quite yet set off the alarm bells in his head, it was still enough for him to hover over the switch.
“Some things I need to help my friend.” Shinigami climbed out of the car, giving him a little finger wave as he went. “I shouldn’t be gone too long, but don’t panic if I take longer than you thought I would.”
With that, the door was slammed. Spirit sat, slightly dumbfounded, as he watched Shinigami disappear up the hill, black spiky tailcoats trailing behind him as he disappeared into the night.
Leaving him alone in a dark, empty car on the side of an isolated dirt road.
Don’t think about serial killers hiding in the bushes, don’t think about a crazy homeless person or mental hospital escapee or monster coming out to drag you out and murder you horrifically, don’t think about any possible horror movie scenarios-
“Great,” Spirit muttered, aloud. He’d only been alone for like two seconds, but it was already way too dark and scary, and his heart was starting to pound. “Wild night. Crazy night. We love those. We love this.”
Just for good measure, Spirit clicked on the lock on his door, and then reached over to the driver’s side to do the same.