Author's Note: Sorry that this is over…1 bloody month late! I totally forgot I had even started it. Because I rushed through and had to change a whole bunch of things, I think it sounds pretty bad. The plot is decent to me, at least. I know that my English teacher would break a textbook over my head for this one though. Anyway, my love goes to all those SDK fans out there, my buddy AlukaKaiserin (who reminded me of Akira's b-day twice!), and my beloved Akira.

"Damn it," Akira of the Shiseiten cursed darkly as he tightened the thin cloak around him in a futile attempt to block out the wind. If his eyes were still functional, he would have glared at the glittering white substance floating in violent swirls to the ground. Instead, he made the frown on his face a little deeper.

Snow.

Snow was one of the few things that Akira couldn't stand in this world. He'd survived starvation, raging illness, pouring rain and blistering heat without a single verbal complaint. Yes, he thought about how his stomach ached so badly he felt he was going to be ripped in two and yes, the sweat pouring down his face was irritating. But he never said a word. When it came to snow, however, he was as bad as Hotaru around water.

Everyone assumed that since the ice-user, was, well, ice-inclined, Akira wouldn't mind snow. It's just that snow is not the ice that he makes. It gets you wet like rain, sick like colds, hungry from the effort of plowing through it, and in the end, when it finally heats up, you feel sticky and nasty just like someone vacationing in Fiji. The stuff bites into your bones and is accompanied by a freezing wind that never stops howling. Ice disappears the moment that I wish its presence to be gone.

He whispered to himself, "Snow never listens."

And the horrible thing was, Akira had stumbled his way up into Hokkaido just in time for the last snow of the year. Blizzard, to be more accurate. On his birthday of all days. The first April 17 he'd had since the Four Emperors split. He swallowed back that familiar new emotion, kicking away the white stuff a little harder than necessary…and stubbed his toe painfully.

As he muttered death threats to all the snow and rock deities known to man, the blonde spotted a small overhanging cliff that could provide some protection from the evil substance falling for the sky. So he sat on his haunches, huddled around the last pathetic remnants wood some stupid traveler had left behind for him and set it alight.

What I would do for some of Bon's stew…

Not the normal kind that the beast of the Shiseiten normally made—which honestly wasn't that bad—but the one he saved special spice packets for with all of the double-headed dragon's favorite veggies…The kind that he made only on specials occasions like today. The young man huddled in closer to the quickly dying flames and hugged his knees to his chest. If anyone had seen him, he would have attributed it to the cold before slicing him or her to bits. With great pleasure. At least it would warm me up a bit.

After the year that Akari had so graciously given him a birthday, Akira's routine on April 17 was always the same.

He would be woken up just as the first rays of the sun peaked over the mountains by the loud clang of a long sword being drawn. With his honed survival instinct, the blonde was just able to dodge a swing from Tenro and pull out his own two blades in a daze. Kyo would be looming above him with that same wild grin on his face and gleam in his eyes as he bellowed, "Let's see how much you've grown, Akira!"

A battle would ensue that lasted a little longer every year, and even a couple seconds more was enough to sate the boy. The other members of the Shiseiten watched hungrily from the sidelines as Kyo and Akira duked it out. No rules were established. No lines couldn't be crossed. It was a no holds barred, "battle to the death" style fight that always ended in Akira's complete and utter defeat and an extra bead of sweat on Kyo's forehead each time.

While the young man picked himself up from the floor and wiped the blood from his face, he would gaze up at his father-figure with those big, bright eyes, looking for approval. And Kyo would smile down at him and ruffle his hair, saying the kindest words he would ever give him, "Not bad…" then push him over playfully, "But you've still got a long way to go before you can become the strongest in the world. Behind me, of course."

Akari would run over with Hotaru and Bontenmaru close behind. "You lucky bastard, getting to spar with my precious Kyo! I ought to kill you…," the shaman would complain. Bon and their resident fire-user started fighting over who was stronger as Akari would go over the birthday boy's wounds. The cross dresser never asked for compensation on that particular date and wouldn't even "accidently" let slip a secret of Akira's. He still got a good thrashing if he tried to go against her the next day, but as he sat safely on the sidelines, he could see how funny Akari found her little game as the pink haired man tortured the other Shiseiten

For most of the day, they would travel as usual, stopping to pick fights with random people and stealing a bite to eat for lunch. April 17 was the one day that, if on the off chance they got into one of their "games", Akira somehow either didn't lose, or his punishment wasn't as severe as usual.

Then, once they made camp for the night, Hotaru would offer to help Akira carry water from the closest source for dinner. Most people would think it wasn't such a big deal, but the man didn't even like drinking the stuff unless he was dying, and even then, it was forced down his throat. After the harrowing ordeal, Hotaru would make the fire and Bontenmaru would start up the stew.

No one ever found out what spices Bon used, or where he got the meat and vegetables, or even where the hell he got the damn pot for his special stews. He just did. Plain and simple. As the self-proclaimed shogun of Japan cooked, he would tell the story about how he got the recipe. It never failed to get more flamboyant each year, going from his grandmother giving it to him on her deathbed to stealing it from Tokugawa Ieyasu himself. Akira never complained; he would just sit by the fire and listen as Hotaru mumbled about water, Akari tried to hit Kyo in the face, and Kyo ignored anything and everything around him. After the meal, the world's strongest man would come out of his stupor and pull out jugs upon jugs of sake from mid-air. The whole group, including young Akira, got completely smashed. It wasn't like anyone would dare stop the rag tag group anyway.

The night ended late, each time with Akira resting perpendicularly against Bon's immense leg, feigning sleep. The ice-user had to fight to let his eyes close, but keep his brain working as the rest of his subtle presents arrived.

His opposite, the ditzy fire-wielder, would always shuffle around for a few minutes in his sleeping spot before getting up and tending to the fire, something he usually never bothered to do. A moment later, a very warm presence became apparent by his feet. Then Bontenmaru would pat him on the shoulder in an affectionate way, singing sweet nothings in the deep baritone voice that was all his own. No one ever thought that big brute could be as kind as he was. Akari, forever the worrier, procured a blanket from her pack and laid it over him in a very maternal way. A light touch always shifted some of his hair behind an ear before the shaman shuffled over to his left and situated herself comfortably. Surprisingly, she didn't try to sleep next to Kyo.

Akira's favorite part of the night was last. Kyo would sit over on his right and pull out his pipe. He would sit for hours, silently, calmly, breathing deeply as he watched the moon rise and fall. Just as Akira's tired eyes could take no more, a warm hand would alight on his head. "Get some sleep," the man beside him would murmur, and that was the last thing the boy would remember.

Unbeknownst to him, everyone was waiting for him to fall asleep. The red-head demon would then put away his pipe and lie down. It seemed to be a signal to the rest of the gang. The other Shiseiten all fell into more comfortable positions, huddled around their youngest member like the dysfunctional yet protective family they were.

Of course, the next day was always back to normal. Sometimes even worse. Wake-up call was before dawn by a howling Bontenmaru, he would lose their game and be punished mercilessly by Akari (with interest), Hotaru would burn dinner in a random fit of rage and Kyo would do something that made the blonde certain he would never reach his back.

But that one day a year kept him going. And it was enough.

Those were the days… Akira thought as turned his face to the ashen remains of his fire. The painful memory of his mentor leaving shot through his head, making his dead eyes burn with tears he was no longer able to shed. Quickly, he wiped at the area where they would have fallen, almost as if on instinct. One that I will never use again.

Most people would say the ice-user was seeking revenge against the people who abandoned him. Some would say that he wanted some answers. A select few are smart enough to keep their conclusions to themselves and not say a word. None of them knew his real reason for gouging his poor eyes into oblivion except for Akira himself; it was his birthday. Not because everyone was nicer or he got his favorite dish. It was because his friends knew what little things he would appreciate and did them for him. The other Emperors and Kyo were the only people who had ever bothered to really get to know the young man. Deep down, he wanted that back.

And I will get it. As the last light of the dying fire burned, Akira wrapped the cloak closer still as he tried to get some rest. Once again, that will and desire of his got him up in the morning and back to looking for his one true family.