Title- The Long Winding Road

Disclaimer- so not mine, all rights belong to Atsushi Okubo

Rating- PG-13

Characters/Pairing- Kami/Spirit

Timeline/Spoilers- set during the time Maka's parents would have been Meister and Weapon together, spoilers for how things end up between them, which really is in chapter one so…

Warning- none really, some strong language toward the end but nothing worse than what's in the manga.

Summary- Kami's path was a difficult one, with many twists and turns she never expected.

Author's Note- written for the SE_ladyfest on livejournal. I had three really fun sounding prompts and naturally I chose the most difficult one to write probably because it was the most difficult. All we really know about Kami is what others have said about her. I'm also aware that there is a debate about whether or not Kami is actually her name or a title but I needed to call her something. I hope you enjoy. It was interesting speculating on all of this. I made her a year older than Spirit and gave her a little back story that aren't in the series because well, I was wondering how she ended up with him as a meister and where her original weapon went, provided she had one.

Author's Note 2 Hopefully I didn't bend the time line too much. One fan write up has Kami never being a teacher. I don't remember that being specifically stated in canon (if I'm wrong, let me know) so I have her doing that for a while when her daughter is young. Also, this takes place over nearly two decades of Kami's life.

XXX

Kami had worked it out at least a week before the actual day and now that it was here, she didn't know what to do or say. She knew Spirit was without a meister, ever since the blow up between him and Stein. She hadn't met Stein yet, but what sort of maniac experimented on his partner? For that matter, she had only seen Spirit from a distance a couple of times, being ahead of him at the academy. Still, she had heard what everyone was saying; Spirit was already a promising weapon. Everyone wanted to be his new meister. Kami had no doubt she would create a death scythe one day and she wanted the best weapon in order to achieve that goal.

And as if out of spite, her tongue betrayed her. Spirit walked right past her, talking to Rupert, another weapon. She wished that she could have uttered at least one word of her preplanned argument as to why she should be his meister.

"I'm getting really tired of people promising me everything to be their weapon. It's getting embarrassing. I'm beginning to think that I should have just stayed with Stein. Lord Death wanted me to try and keep Stein on an even keel anyhow," Spirit said to the young man next to him.

"Didn't he try to cut you open or something?"

Kami didn't really hear the rest of the conversation. She hadn't thought about it from Spirit's point of view. It would be annoying to be harassed. All she would have done would be to annoy him further if she hadn't frozen up.

Dejected, she headed toward the library. There was nothing else to do. She was still weaponless after her weapon, Tara, had decided that she wanted something more from life than pain and struggle. Feeling eyes on her, Kami turned, wondering how this day was going to get worse. She nearly smacked into Spirit's chest when she did so. His eyes widened as he took a step back.

"Sorry. I thought you had something to say to me," he said, running his hand through his auburn hair. Spirit was cuter than she expected, younger. How young had he been when he started, if Stein had been Spirit's partner for so long?

"No, sorry, I was probably lost in thought," she replied, hoping she didn't sound as lame as she thought she did.

"Oh, all right. I didn't mean to bother you." He grinned. "But then again it would be bad to miss the opportunity to talk to an attractive young lady."

Kami blushed, even though she had heard Spirit was a shameless flirt. "I really was going to ask you to be my weapon, but I didn't even stop to think that it had to get old to hear all of us trying to convince you to join up with them. I thought about why we might be a good team, but mostly I just wanted a chance to see if we could even resonate together. That would have to come first."

A smile cut across his face, wide and open. "You're the first person to even consider the issue of resonance."

"How could you not? I admit it, I'm ambitious. I want to be able to create a death scythe but then again, doesn't everyone here want to do that?" Her hands balled up into fists. "But if I'm not thinking about my partner at all, how can I hope to do that?"

His smile grew. "I've not really had a partner who cared like that. Don't get me wrong, I like Stein. He's still my friend but when you wake up and find him over top of you with that look in his eyes, it gets hard to trust him."

"I can't imagine you'd ever wake up and find me over top of you," she replied then went ruby red, her hand brushing over her lips. "Did I just say that?"

Spirit laughed. "I think that disappoints me. You obviously know I'm Spirit, but I'm not sure I've ever met you before."

"Kami." She held out her hand. His was rough, but so was hers. They were the hands of warriors.

"Meet me after class and we see if we match up at all," Spirit said.

Kami blinked. She hadn't even made her best argument yet. "Of course. That sounds like a plan."

"I'll see you then. You'd better get going. You don't want to be late to Ana's class. I heard she's rough."

"I like her classes," Kami replied, "I'll see you later."

It wasn't until she was out of sight, did Kami allow herself to smile.

XXX

Kami slammed into the side of the building so hard, her vision swam. Her elbow burned where her skin scraped off onto the dirty brick but she hadn't let go of Spirit's handle. The 'metal' of his scythe blade glinted with his image.

"Kami, are you all right?"

"Never better," she lied, managing a grin.

Their prey, the Innocence Killer as the press called him, had escaped back into the convent. This kishin had been killing priests and nuns for months before Kami and Spirit had finally managed to get him cornered. His appearance had stunned her, looking like an angel complete with red wing-like structures. Those wings hit like a train.

The convent's chapel smelled of incense and dust. Hearing a shriek, Kami picked up her pace. She would worry about her aches and pains later. Two more kishin and a witch and she would turn Spirit into a Deathscythe. She was not going to let this kishin be the one that got away.

"I think he's going into the living quarters," Spirit said.

"Got it." Kami rounded a corner, nearly racking Spirit's handle off the wall. He hated when she accidentally did that. He could be so fussy sometimes. "I see him."

The Innocence Killer had a nun down on the ground. The smell of blood was in the air and his arm was back, knife in hand. The terrified old woman screamed. Kami didn't do anything people saw the heroes of the big screen do. She didn't alert the kishin she had caught up by shouting out the one-liner quips silver screen heroes always delivered right before the final blow. In her experience, giving them a heads up only meant she and Spirit were more likely to get hurt. She didn't even feel bad about taking a swing at his back.

The nun screamed again, and the Innocence Killer turned just as Kami scythed Spirit through the close quarters of the hallway. He cut right through the kishin and she buried the tip of him in the wall.

"Ow," he muttered, transforming back. He rubbed his face, then turned to the old woman lying on the floor. "How bad are you hurt?"

She looked almost as terrified of them as she had been of the kishin. Or maybe it was the red soul bobbing in the air that frightened her. Of course, Kami knew she had blood all over her and she had just bloodied Spirit's nose for him.

Both of them knelt down to check how badly the old woman was cut. Luckily, it was just her arm but it was deep. Spirit sacrificed his shirt to the cause, binding the wound and putting pressure on it. Together, they helped the nun up so they could lie her down somewhere and call for help. Kami took over holding pressure on the wound.

"Collect your soul," she told him.

The old woman's eyes widened as Spirit ate the soul. If that disturbed her, Kami thought she should see Rupert, who always reminded Kami of the Big Bad Wolf with the way he ate up when she and Spirit would team up with Rupert and Beth. Spirit was delicate with the way he lipped the souls and swallowed them down. She always wondered what they tasted like. Spirit said they didn't have much taste but were satisfying none the less. Still, hearing about it and actually trying something weren't the same.

Once the old woman was taken care of and meister and weapon waved off attempts to help them, they headed for home, to an infirmary better suited for their needs. Kami wanted an aspirin and a hot bath. She wanted Spirit to have a shirt back. He was dangerous without one. She knew he was well built but seeing it always put dangerous ideas in her head.

XXX

"We need more power," Spirit said.

Kami could hear how tired he was. Her muscles trembled as she tried to bear the heft of him in weapon form. Stein and his new partner, Marie, were handling the waves of Danielle's minions. Marie was pounding them to paste. Danielle, what an innocuous sounding name for a witch. "We're already giving it all we have. We've tried everything we've practiced."

"Then maybe we need something we haven't practiced."

"You children think you have a chance against me?" Danielle's hands waved. "Water, rain, water roar."

The skies opened up, rain bucketing down. Kami's clothing stuck to her body, binding her limbs as she made another swipe at the witch. She was going to get blisters in weird places from the drag of the saturated fabric over her skin. Provided, of course, if she lived long enough to worry about it. Lightning forked overhead. If Danielle could control that too she and Spirit would be defenseless against it.

Stein leapt on the witch barehanded, having thrown Marie after one of the larger, retreating minions. Kami had never seen a meister attack like that. It had been a while since she had even seen Stein. What had he done to himself to get that enormous railroad tracked scar over his face?

Danielle knocked Stein away. "What a pathetic attempt from an ugly little man. They don't take care of you well at that academy, do they?"

Stein grinned. "Better than you know. Soul suture."

The witch screamed as tiny threads appeared all over her body, anchoring her to a nearby tree. "What the hell is this?"

Kami was wondering the same thing. She had never seen the likes of this before.

"You finally perfected it, Stein," Spirit said in appreciation as Kami advanced to cut the witch down while she immobilized.

Stein smirked at them as if to say 'was there any doubt?' Suddenly, his face twisted up and he stumbled to his knees, a knife jammed into his back. Blood trickled down, using his spine as the path of least resistance. His concentration broke and Danielle leapt free. She hit Kami and Spirit with hurricane force rain, driving them back.

"Spirit, we have to up our resonance," Kami said. She had no idea how they were going to pull that off. They were already exhausted. Marie had returned to Stein, tending to him. Astonishingly, the bizarre meister was back on his feet.

"Right."

Danielle laughed, swinging the electricity their way. Kami managed to side step, her hair standing on end from the closeness of the lightning. Marie shrieked and out of the corner of her eye, Kami saw that the other weapon had been clipped. She was down.

"Damn you," Spirit cursed. "Kami."

"Here it comes," Kami said, feeling something changing between her and Spirit. There was a sense of enhancement, as she and he were suddenly completely one. "Witch hunter!" she screamed. She didn't know where that name came from, but it felt perfect.

Spirit's scythe blade seemed to triple in size, getting more vicious looking. Danielle's eyes widened as if the witch couldn't believe what she was seeing. Kami didn't know how she could wield such an enormous weapon, but Spirit didn't feel any heavier. She whirled him through the air but the witch was fast. Still, Danielle screamed as her arm came away in a bloody spray. Kami whipped Spirit right back around, taking the witch's head clean off. It arced away and Kami couldn't watch it hit.

Spirit was out of her hands before she even realized it, running toward Marie and Stein. Kami followed him.

"Is she all right?" Kami cried and heard Marie moan.

"She's alive," Stein replied, his voice tight. "What the hell was that weapon form? I've never seen anything like it."

"Witch hunter," Kami said. "It was..."

"Amazing," Spirit finished for her. "We need to get Marie out of here."

"I've got her." Stein stood up, trying to lift his weapon up in his arms. Spirit stopped him.

"Franken," he said, his voice softer than it usually was when dealing with his odd friend. "You're hurt, too. I'll take care of Marie. Kami will help you get back home."

"Not yet," Stein said and Kami could see he was beginning to sway on his feet from the blood loss. "This is it, Spirit. Kami and you have done it." He nodded to the witch's momentarily forgotten soul.

Kami caught the orb in her hand and brought it to Spirit. "I can't believe we did it."

"My hands are a little full." He glanced down at Marie's semi-conscious form.

Kami pressed the soul into her partner's open mouth, watching his larynx bob as he swallowed. They had done it. He was now a Deathscythe. If not for Stein being there, she might have wept for joy. Instead, she gave Spirit's arm a squeeze then turned to Stein. "We'd better stop the bleeding before we try to get you home."

"It's nothing. I've done worse to myself," he shrugged.

"Buddy, that's what we're all afraid of," Spirit replied.

Kami did get Stein temporarily patched up then they got their wounded home. It was well past midnight by the time they got back to their apartment and washed off the grime and blood. Only once she was wrapped up in a blanket, her softest nightgown on, did Kami start to worry.

"Now what happens? Is Lord Death going to take you away immediately?"

Spirit sat next to her, taking her hand. "I don't know really. I guess we'll find out."

"I'm used to having you around," she whispered. She hadn't allowed herself ever to admit it but Kami had fallen for Spirit's considerable charms. Now that they could relax just a little was she going to lose him for good and settle into a teaching job at the Academy?

"Thanks," he said a little sarcastically.

"Maybe we'll get assigned together away from here for a while, to watch the places Lord Death can't get to."

Spirit smirked. "Sounds like someone doesn't want to lose me."

"Idiot." She kissed him. She hadn't planned on it. She had meant to slap his chest but instead she found her lips on his. It was amazing. Every rumor she had heard about him and his talented lips seemed to be true. As his tongue swept over the roof of her mouth, Spirit bore her back against the couch. Kami was reminded of a lesson she had never understood. Sometimes you didn't have to fight. Sometimes surrender was the best option.

XXX

Kami threw up in the toilet in the academy's science hall. It was the third time she had vomited since she woke up. She suspected she knew the cause but couldn't make herself admit to it. Stumbling to the sink, she washed off the face, cupping her hands to sip up enough water to rinse her mouth. As she blotted water off her face, Kami heard someone come in.

"Kami, are you all right?"

Kami turned to see Marie. The young blond shot her a concerned look. Marie fascinated Kami. Their ultimate goals were really very different but she liked Marie. She wanted to know what it had to be like sharing a place with Stein but didn't dare ask. If Stein had experimented on Spirit, what was he doing to Marie? She had to be brave just to put up with her partner. They were only one witch away from accomplishing the same thing she and Spirit had so recently done. "Must be something I ate."

"Are you sure? Why don't you ask Dr. Dohnanyi for the day off? She could probably do without her lab assistant." Marie rested a hand on Kami's shoulder. Her eyes widened. "Kami..."

Kami went pale. She had forgotten about Marie's healing wavelength. Spirit had explained that was the reason for Marie being paired with Stein. "It's not what you think."

"I think you're pregnant."

Kami's shoulders slumped. "I think so to. What am I going to do now? I just made Spirit into a Deathscythe. There is so much more training to do. I can't do it with a belly as big as a blimp."

"You're already teaching here," Marie pointed out. "Spirit will be doing some of his training with Lord Death any how."

"I know but ... I hadn't planned this."

"Life happens when we're busy planning." Marie smiled gently. "It's not a bad thing, Kami. You're not the only Meister to have a child. This sort of talent runs in families. I'm sure it will be worked out. Does Spirit know?"

Kami shook her head. She had no idea how to tell him yet. Spirit was two months shy of eighteen and she one month away from nineteen. They were both so young, so not ready for the responsibilities of a child. What had they been thinking? That they had just slain the witch and achieved their dreams and were too high on that to even think about the ramifications of what they were doing. "Not yet."

"Is there anything I can do?"

"No, well, it would be nice to have someone to talk to," Kami said, feeling her eyes well up. Was it too early to start blaming things on hormones?

Marie hugged her. "I'm good at listening. You have to be with Stein."

"Thanks, Marie. I appre..." Kami went green, clamped a hand over her mouth and whipped back into the toilet stall. Marie was nice enough to hold her hair back for her.

It took her another week before she finally worked up the courage to tell Spirit she didn't have the world's worst stomach flu. He sat on the couch, mouth dropped, eyes wide, with a look that said he was about to bolt at any moment. She had made a terrible mistake but what else could she do? Not having this child never entered her mind. Being a mother terrified her but she had made her decision and would carry through even if he wasn't there with her.

"Spirit?"

He got up and pulled her against him. His arms were warm and tight around her. Kami could feel his tears falling on her skin. "I'm going to be a dad?"

"You aren't angry?"

"Scared," he replied, letting her go. "Excited. Scared, definitely scared." Spirit's smile was thinner than usual, his face pale.

"Me, too."

"I'm sure. I'm here for you, Kami." He stroked her hair. "You won't have to go through this alone."

She didn't want him to stay just because she was pregnant, but she couldn't make herself say that because she thought it was more. She knew Spirit loved her. They were partners. They would make it through this. They would be stronger for it.

"I love you, Kami," he said as if reading her mind.

"Love you, too, Spirit."

XXX

The worst pain she had ever endured lanced through Kami. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Spirit unconscious against the wall where he had been taken. Another wave of pain washed over her and some fool nurse told her not to push just yet, as if she had a choice.

"Spirit, I'm going to tell Stein this, you coward!" Kami yelled at her passed out husband. Stein would love the idea that Spirit had listened to the doctor and took a peek at the baby crowning, and then fainted dead away. He was supposed to be holding her hand and helping. Figures the brat took the easy way out. She should be so lucky.

"Bare down for me, Kami," the doctor said from between her legs.

Kami gave it her all. Their baby needed to make its appearance. She had been in labor nearly thirty-six hours and she was so far beyond exhausted, she couldn't even think. She truly was getting dizzier and it sounded like the doctor and nurses were talking in a tunnel somewhere far away. She thought she heard the words 'too much blood' before the world went dark.

When Kami finally filtered back to consciousness, every part of her hurt. They hadn't brought her baby to her. For several heart-pounding moments Kami thought maybe the baby had died. The doctor came quickly and assured her that the baby was fine, that she had a little girl. It was Kami herself who wasn't doing so well. She had suffered a massive hemorrhage and that they had to perform an emergency hysterectomy. He had offered her counseling, telling her a counselor would be by later and sat with her for a while as she cried.

She slept a little after that then woke up wondering where Spirit was and why they hadn't brought her baby yet. Kami thought maybe something had happened after all then Spirit came in holding a squalling little bundle. His eyes were tired and got sad when he looked at her. She realized he knew what had happened.

"They wanted you to rest, but they said it was time to meet your daughter." Spirit sat on the edge of the bed and put their baby in her arms.

Kami took one look into her child's little face and started to cry. "Oh, Spirit, she's beautiful."

"Just like her momma." Spirit leaned down, whispering a kiss against her lips. "She's absolutely perfect. They wanted to write out her birth certificate but I told them they had to wait until I could check with you to be sure we still wanted Maka if the baby was a girl."

"It's a perfect name for her." Kami touched her daughter's cheek, red and wet from her angry cries. "I think she's hungry. Here, take her back, Spirit so I can sit up."

"Do you need help? The nurses don't want you moving around too much."

"I can do this," Kami said with more confidence than she felt. It hurt like hell getting into the right position, stitches in her abdomen pulling. She opened the thin hospital gown and Spirit gave Maka back to her. The baby attached herself to Kami's breast with a greed Kami hadn't been expecting.

Spirit stroked the pale corona of fluff Maka had for hair. "Now that made her happy. Who knew someone so little could have lungs so big?"

"Well, her daddy is pretty loud himself so I'm not surprised," Kami grinned at him and Spirit laughed.

"We made a beautiful baby." He turned those sad eyes on her. "I know you can't be feeling well. Is there anything I can do?"

"Just be here for me," Kami whispered.

"I can do that. Anything you need, I'll make sure it happens," he promised her. Words never sounded better.

XXX

"Smile, Maka," Kami said, snapping the picture. She had a huge collection of pictures of father and daughter. This one would probably be perfect. Spirit was one of those annoying people who never took a bad picture while Kami always managed to look drunk or exhausted no matter what. Behind Spirit and Kami was the water front and beach. Spirit had come up with the beach house vacation idea.

If Kami had any doubts at her and Spirit's ability to be teenaged parents and meister and weapon at the same time, they had long since flown away. Spirit spent a lot of time with Lord Death, while Kami worked in the Academy's science department. Teaching wasn't really her dream but it wasn't so bad. It did allow her time to be with Maka. And Spirit took to being a dad with amazing ease. He doted on Maka. Back when they first brought her home, he would give Maka her bottle just so Kami could get a little rest from time to time. Babies were absolutely exhausting. He wasn't too good at the diaper change but he was there for everything else. Spirit read to his little girl every night and managed to be adorable while doing so. Kami wished they could have another child some day but since that was not to be, they treasured every moment with Maka.

"Spirit, this was such a good idea. It's gorgeous here. It feels good to relax."

"We should go for a walk down by the water one last time. Tomorrow, it's time to head back to work."

"And I have to go check up on Stein in his lab," Kami said, having somehow inherited Spirit and Marie's duty to keep an eye on Stein. While she mostly worked in the school's science lab, Lord Death had tasked her with going out to Stein's once a week just to be sure he wasn't doing anything too weird.

"Lucky you." Spirit got up and hefted their daughter onto his shoulders. "Want to go for a ride, Maka?"

"Horsie!" She grabbed a handful of his auburn hair, her feet kicking. Kami snapped another picture.

"You need to give me that camera once we get to the water," Spirit said.

"I don't think so."

He draped an arm around her bared waist while keeping a firm grip on Maka's leg with the other. "In a swim suit like this? I'm getting all kinds of photos. You look good enough to eat." Spirit leaned in to kiss her.

"You'll have to wait until Maka is asleep for that." She grinned at him and his blue eyes lit up.

"I like the sound of that."

When they got to the damp leavings of the outgoing tide, Spirit put Maka down and let her walk. Their daughter was exactly like them, fierce, charging the surf if her parents didn't grab hold of her arms. Maka giggled wildly as the water lapped over her bare toes.

"I'll take that camera now Mrs. Albarn." Spirit smiled, holding out a hand.

"Don't go too nuts with it, husband mine."

Kami let him take as many pictures of her and Maka playing in the surf as he wanted before the camera was finally banished back into her bag. Maka found a cache of shells and Spirit helped her pick out the best of them. Kami couldn't be more in love with her life and her family than she was now.

Just as she was considering running away from home and keeping Spirit and Maka prisoner here at the beach forever, a scream echoed above the sounds of the waves. Kami whipped around and saw people running. A hundred yards down the sand was a man who looked like someone had merged him with a crab.

"A kishin here? Damn!" Spirit said, scooping up Maka.

"How can we fight him with Maka here?" Kami scanned the crowd. She spotted another family close by running. "Please, take our daughter with you. We have to stop this thing," she demanded and Spirit thrust Maka into the other man's arms. Before the other family could protest, Spirit was in Kami's hand but the crab-like kishin had spotted them.

It skittered up the beach faster than a normal human could have. Kami charged it, swinging Spirit in a vicious arc. Nothing was getting near her baby. The kishin nearly took a bite out of her. What a time to be in a bikini. It offered no protection. Hearing Maka's terrified cries behind her, Kami realized she didn't need protection. Three slices and the thing was gone.

Kami turned to catch up with the family she had foisted Maka on. They hadn't moved, as if sight of the kishin made them grow roots. Fear, it was what the kishin fed off of. Granted, the sight of a young woman in an electric blue bikini holding a very large scythe probably didn't help the fear levels. Spirit made it worse, half morphing out of his weapon form. People not associated with the Academy weren't used to seeing a man rising out of a blade.

Spirit waved his fingers at Maka. "Papa's here, baby."

To Kami's surprise, Maka quit crying and reached out to her father. They hadn't showntheir daughter Spirit's weapon form yet, worried it might scare her to see her father transform. She let Spirit down and he fully reformed. Kami turned to the other family. "Thank you for watching her."

The wife stammered something then they inched away. Kami leaned against Spirit, taking Maka from him.

"That was too scary," Spirit said.

"Terrifying. I don't want to do that again with Maka around." Kami gazed into her daughter's face. "But I know it will happen again and with parents like this, Maka could grow up to be just like us."

"Ooooh," Spirit groaned. "I'm not ready for the idea of Maka all grown up."

"We'll blink and she'll be at the Academy with her very own weapon." Kami ran her hand over Maka's crown. "Or her own meister. She'll be a teenager and we'll be the old parents who don't know anything." Seeing her husband wince, she added. "Her partner could be a boy. He'll want to take her to the school dance."

Spirit's blue eyes widened comically. "Oh hell no. No teenaged boys. They only want one thing."

"You're a teenaged boy." She laughed.

"And I only want one thing," Spirit assured her. "Well two. I want to keep my girls safe." He tapped his daughter's nose. "Maka, don't grow up faster than Papa's ready to accept it."

That sweet statement managed to give her chills. Kami somehow knew that their little girl would do just that.

XXX

Kami couldn't stop crying. She hated this. She hated feeling so weak, so betrayed. She almost hadn't come here but she didn't know where else to go, what else to do. It had taken her longer than was reasonable to find tissues in Stein's lab. Did the man never get a cold, never cry? At least he wasn't around, which normally would have worried her when she came partly to check up on him, partly to share experimental data.

However, she had underestimated Stein's ability to move quietly. Suddenly he was beside, a curious look on his face. She blew her nose into one of the hard-found tissues then rubbed her eyes.

"Spirit did something," he said simply.

She laughed bitterly. "You could say that." Kami turned to him. The light glinted off screw he had through his head. Kami found that thing hard to look at. She didn't even want to know what purpose it served for him. "He did Beverly."

The furious words hung in the lab like three fat elephants. Stein dug out his cigarettes, turning his face as he lit up as if shy about it. Stein was shy about nothing. Kami's heart clenched. He knew. He knew exactly what her cheating bastard of a husband had done. How long had Stein known?

"You knew," she accused him. His eyebrows raised and he let smoke trickle past his lips but he said nothing. "How long as it been going on, Stein? Is there more than just Beverly?"

"I don't keep tabs on Spirit," he replied finally but she knew it was a lie. She could hear it in his voice.

"How could he do this to me?"

Stein took a deep drag on his cigarette. "Spirit and I were children when we were first sent to the Academy, young children. He ended up watching over me. He's the reason, in part, that the madness hasn't swallowed me whole."

"You owe him," she said, beaten. "You wouldn't tell me even if you knew everything Spirit's been up to."

"We never got to be children, Kami. You either, not really. That school takes children, teaches them to kill."

"To protect," she corrected him and Stein shrugged.

"There is a hole in Spirit, the place that his childhood should have been. School, fatherhood, becoming a death scythe all before he was eighteen. I think he's having that childhood now." He blew a smoke ring. "Ill timed."

"He's sleeping with another woman. That's more than ill timed," Kami growled. "Like you said, I didn't get a childhood either. I'm not sleeping with every man I meet. And the hole in you?"

"Bigger than ever could be filled."

"And you don't fill it with whorey women."

A cold, frightening smile slid across his face. "No, I dissect things."

For a moment, Kami forgot her sadness, her pain and just gaped. She really hoped he meant animals. Sometimes, even with her and Spirit keeping an eye on the man, she wondered if Stein was off doing things that would make him into a kishin some day. "He betrayed me."

"I am sorry," Stein replied and for a brief moment, Kami believed him. She knew Stein didn't feel things like everyone else, but he was making an effort for her. "He does love you, you know that, Kami."

"I do and that's what makes it worse. He loves me, but he can still do this to me. He can do this to Maka. She's a teenager now. She's going to understand everything that comes next." Kami started to weep again.

"You're leaving him."

"I can't stay."

Stein sighed. "I guess it's my time to take care of him. I am sorry he's an idiot, Kami. You deserve better than this."

"I know." Kami wiped her face. "Do take care of him, Stein. He'll need it."

XXX

Kami had never heard sobs so heartrending. She never wanted to hear anything like it again and she didn't think that Spirit deserved to be so sad. This was all his fault. He was the one who broke their marriage. That didn't mean it didn't hurt to see him down on his knees, his face veiled in tears, crying as if his heart were dying.

Chest heaving, Spirit pleaded with her. "Please, Kami."

"It's over, Spirit." She didn't want it to be but she was not going to be made a fool of. There had been more than one woman. Stein was right. There was a hole inside of her husband, one that apparently he was going to fill with every easy woman he could find. "You did this to yourself, to us, to your daughter!"

Evoking Maka had the exact, cruel effect Kami had wanted. Spirit crumbled further. "I'm sorry, Kami. I'm so sorry."

"Yes, you are." She gritted her teeth. She would not cry. She couldn't give him that. "Weren't we happy, Spirit?"

His head bobbed but he couldn't speak. "They meant nothing."

She slapped him, hating herself for the stereotypical pissed off-woman cliché - but he deserved it. No, he deserved to have his balls used for target practice. "Is that supposed to make me feel better? That you would betray my love for women who didn't even matter? It would hurt less if you actually cared about them."

Spirit scrubbed a trembling hand across his eyes. "I don't know why I did it."

"Perfect, because now I get to spend the rest of my life wondering why I wasn't enough for you, Spirit!" Kami couldn't stop her own tears now, no matter how hard she tried. She managed to dash them away but more fell silently. "You were my partner, the best one I could have ever asked for. My husband, my confidant, the father of the only child I'll ever have - and none of that was enough for you. What did those women do for you that I couldn't? Wasn't I adventurous enough?" She wouldn't believe that. Sometimes she was the one leading Spirit into sexual misadventures. God, he was passionate in bed, absolutely amazing, and now that knowledge was ashes on her tongue. "Or was it the secrecy that turned you on? The cheapness of it all? Did they have better tits than me?"

He couldn't hold her gaze, burying his face in his hands. "There's something wrong with me. I can't seem to stop myself."

"Then maybe you should have listened to Stein more," Kami spat. "I never thought you would be so weak, Spirit."

Swollen, bloodshot blue eyes looked up at her. "Weak?"

"Stein has lived his whole life holding back the monster inside of him. He became someone who chose to help rather than give in to impulses that would have turned him into a kishin. You can't even stop the impulses to follow your dick wherever it leads you. I'm disgusted with you." Kami turned from him.

"I'll leave."

"No, stay. I want your daughter to know exactly where to find you when she learns about this. She's not a child anymore, Spirit. She's going to know what you've done," Kami said, unable to even look at him any more. Nothing stopped the ragged sounds of his tortured breathing. It was true. Their daughter had grown up when they weren't looking, already out on her own, attending the Academy with her weapon. She didn't even share their home any more, trying to be more grown up than either of her parents had been comfortable with. "I've already spoken to Lord Death."

"He knows…" came Spirit's horrified whisper.

Kami ignored it. "I'll be taking a new job. I'm going away. I'll put my things in storage and take what I need. The rest is yours. You're not going to contest the divorce, are you?"

"But…I don't want a divorce," he said.

She whipped around and he wilted. "The only one who'll suffer if we make this messy is Maka."

Spirit shook. "I'll sign the papers without a word. Are you going to tell Maka about this or should I?"

"I'll handle our daughter. What you tell her afterward is your own business." Kami headed for the door. "I'm leaving now. I'll be back in the next few days for my stuff."

Spirit got up off the ground. "I know you don't believe me, Kami. There is no reason you should but I do love you. A divorce isn't going to stop that."

She turned back to him. "I do know that, and that is what kills me inside."

Kami managed to get several blocks away to the hotel she was staying in before finally dissolving into her own heartbroken sobs.

XXX

"Do you have to go, Mama?" Maka slumped on the second hand couch in her apartment.

The whole idea of her living in this place with Soul had been the basis of several fights, but Spirit had eventually caved in. As a result Kami had made her husband go over the whole idea of sex to be sure his daughter understood the risks. He had been as red as his hair, then decided it would be even more efficient to just threaten Soul.

"Lord Death has a job for me, baby girl. I need to get away. I just wish I didn't have to leave you behind, but just look at you." Kami smiled at her child. "You're already so close to turning Soul into a death scythe. I can't take you away from that even if I wanted to."

"Why do you have to be the one to go?" Maka pouted. "Why not my worthless Papa?"

Kami scowled. She hadn't wanted Maka to hate her father. If anything, she was taking his cheating even worse than Kami had. Maka was deeply hurt and that made Kami ache for her. "You know he has to stay with Lord Death. I want to do this, Maka. I'll send you so many postcards you'll never even miss me."

Maka popped off the couch, squeezing her mother hard as her arms wrapped around Kami. "I'll miss you every second. I hate Papa for making you go away."

Kami felt like she couldn't catch her breath. "Sweetie, don't hate your father. He…" she trailed off. She didn't know what to say about Spirit that wouldn't just make her daughter angrier. "He needs you, okay? He loves you very much."

"I don't care."

Kami leaned down and kissed Maka's crown. "Knowing you'll hate him makes it harder on me, sweetie. I don't want you to hate him. One day, you'll regret that and it might be too late." She wasn't sure if Maka understood just how dangerous Spirit's job was, how dangerous all weapons and meisters had it. Teenagers believed they were invincible. "I know you're angry - and you should be. But never hold hate in your heart."

Maka stepped back, wiping at her tearing eyes. "Okay, Mama." She sniffed. "You'll really send postcards?"

"And letters when I'm able. This job will be very busy. I won't be able to call or write as much as I want, but postcards are quick and easy. Just keep looking for them." Kami embraced Maka again. "You be safe out there, baby girl. I don't know what I'd do if anything happened to you."

"I'll be good. I have the best partner ever," Maka told her proudly.

Kami smiled but it wavered. Once, she too had the best partner. "I know you do. I have to go now."

Maka took her hand, squeezing it. Kami extracted herself and headed down the hall to where a bedroom door was cracked open. Soul had retreated there, just like he had on few angry visits, leaving mother and daughter to hash out what it would mean for them once the divorce went through. One red eye peered out at her confirming that he had been eavesdropping.

"You take good care of Maka for me, Soul."

He peeked out. "I will, ma'am."

Kami patted his shoulder then turned to give her daughter another kiss. She let herself out of the building before she started to weep. She had been crying for what felt like forever. It would take a long time to forgive Spirit for this, if she ever did. She headed for the train station. Her new job, the newest twist on the long, winding road of her life, was waiting for her. She hadn't been alone for so very long but part of her remembered the fire she saw in her daughter. Once that had been inside her too, and it was rekindling.

This wasn't an end, but a new beginning.