"The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him." - GK Chesterton

Chapter 7

He pulls the black pants on slowly, easing them over his long legs before zipping the fly and buttoning the single button. He picks up a simple black T-shirt, sliding into it easily as it's a size to big to allow freer movement. He tucks the shirt into his pants, buckles the belt and sits down on the bed to pull on his socks.

It's strange, this small ritual he performs when he gets dressed for the war. Everything is done with the uttermost care with a certain and precise order, so that he knows everything is where it should be when he runs through the night or fights an enemy. With the socks secured on both of his feet, the blond stands up and looks at the two sweaters before him on the bed. One is as black as the rest of his outfit, without decorations or hood, he'll have to wear a hat if he takes that one to prevent himself from catching a cold in the rain filled spring night.

The other sweater is a darker shade of blue, a white tiger embroidered on its front and a warm hood attached to the neckline. It is the sweater he "stole" from Zoro when he left for Tokyo all those months ago.

If he takes Zoro's sweater, then it would mean that he chooses and try to find the other to explain things. If he takes the black one, he'll continue to hide behind his own kind and behind his own mask. Under the power of habit, Sanji's hand hovers over the black sweater, before he clenches his fist and snatches up the other instead. He has had enough of this shit, this torment of trying to please everyone just because of his bloodline.

But still, it isn't his father he thinks of as he pulls the sweater over his head, the guilt he feels in his gut over this betrayal is because of his Master and only real father figure, Zeff. Was it right of him to do this, after all the shitty geezer had done for him? Zeff had taken him in, given him a home and a place to belong when he was a rootless seed floating in the wide ocean. As he pulls at the hem of the shirt, straightening the wrinkles out, Sanji can feel the cold and damp air wash over him. When he had first came here to Kyoto, all those years ago, he had known none and been loved by less.

As he stood before the giant statue of Seiryuu, his God, the Azure dragon of the East, the air had chilled him down to the very bone. And they ached too, his bones. From severe training, difficult tests and meditation on stone floor, his whole body had been drained of its' strength.

They had bathed him in ice cold water from the springs, painted the pattern of dragon scales in black ink all over his body before dressing him in the traditional white robe. He was dying, he was to consecrate his life to his God and war. To this day, the blond could remember how heavy his limps had felt, like his legs would give out any minute and leave him face-down before the statue.

But that was before the statue began to speak to him.

Its voice had been deep and rumbling, howling like the wind over a plain or the open sea. It had vibrated with power and in awe he had watched the giant mass of stone move before his very eyes. The scales, carefully carved by craftsmen centuries ago, shifted in color from polished gray to lustrous blue, the eyes changing from stone gray to burning ice-blue. The dragon had stepped over the ceremonial ropes surrounding it on its' sacred area, walking towards his all but shivering form. Even if he had had anywhere to run to, Sanji had known by instinct that it would be futile.

He had lost his voice to the fear coursing through him when the huge head all but lied down before him, even so it easily towering over his then small body. If he hadever doubted his God's presence and power, that doubt had been crushed at that very moment. With just a flick of it's claw, that beast could have torn him open and had his intestines splattered all over the floor, coloring the old and darkened wood in red.

"Young boy, do you want to serve me?"

"Y-yes, Seiryuu-sama."

The head moved to his left side, neck bending so that one of the huge eyes could scan him from the side, its' gaze drilling into his very soul. Like a wind cold breath washed over him, ancient air from the times the war was fought in the mountains of old China had filled his lungs.

"Do you consecrate your life to me, pledge to head my every word?"

"Yes, Seiryuu-sama."

"Tell me something other than 'Yes, Seiryuu-sama.'!" Suddenly, the almost softness and calm had disappeared from the Beast's voice. It had become loud like wrecking gales, like the winds which tore sails to shreds and made sailors fall into the storming sea, winds which tore roofs from houses and forced humans to shiver and hide in fear for it's rage. Just like he had wanted to. Instead, Sanji had stood there, frozen as the dragon had rose up to look down at him with it's burning ice-blue eyes. To this day, he could still not fathom how big the creature were.

"Surely, I am he! I am Seiryuu-sama, the wind and the storm! I am the Guardian of the East where the sun rises, I am the GOOD! Yet you, who carries my blood, shiver in fear in front of me!" The head had fallen down once again with a speed he had thought would make it hit the floor, but it stopped right before him, staring him straight in the eyes. Had he ever doubted his place in the world, that doubt were now crushed.

"Breath with ease child, since I am with you. No matter what hardships may fall upon you, by the hands of humans or Gods, rest assured that I will be with you." A gentle nudge by a giant nose to his head and he had felt power rush though him, warming him and sending strength to his tired bones. "Warrior of my blood, stand tall and proud, since you bear my mark."

Then, the dragon had backed away, once again taking his seat behind the ceremonial ropes and leaving Sanji to stand with the ink on his skin shimmering in azure blue. Once more, its voice had traveled through the room, echoing in the hall.

"Who will guide this child on his journey as my warrior?"

"I will, Seiryuu-sama." From the shadows thrown upon the giant doors, Zeff had emerged, his hand coming to rest heavily on Sanji's left shoulder. He had been in his prime, the most powerful Shogun any people going to war could wish for.

"Good, take good care of my little prince..." The last words had been barely audible, like a soft summer breeze gently brushing his cheek. Still, they had been the words that lingered most in his memories from his encounter with his God.

The blonde shakes his head, pushing the memory away as he hears the doorbell ring. This is it. There's no turning back now, as he walks towards the door to open for his partner. Usopp is a good man and sniper, but tonight, the lack of power his legs posses will be a key to Sanji's future and past.

~(TFS)~

It is silent. The entire household is tipping on its toes, many of the warriors stuck indoors, unable to release the steam from their boiling blood. Many a curse was heard over the archer who had made the humans vigilant about things moving over their roofs in the dark of the night, irritation and anger brewing like a foul infection in the already bad relation the Byakko warriors had with their enemies.

But one was calm, through the turmoil of his fighting spirit and all his personal problems, he could for some reason now meditate and focus on the weapons before him. For three years he had been torn apart inside and he still is. Still, a calm has begun to come over him, enabling him to control himself and his spirit. Balance, yin and yang, as his father called it. He needed something to weight out the blood he shed, something to make him feel whole and human. And once again he has it.

Zoro opens his eyes, still sitting on his knees as he reaches for one of his three swords. It is the one with the red sheath, the cursed one his father had given him as a test. Their family is known even among their enemies as master swordsmen, always carrying blades which are difficult to control or use in some way. And Sandai Kitetsuis difficult to use, very much so.

The first time he had touched it, he had felt the immense blood thirst flowing from within the blade, scaring him with its power. But as his father spoke to him, he had braved destiny.

"If you're going to be the apprentice of the Emperor, you can't be weak, Zoro. You need to surpass me."

He had thrown the drawn blade in the air and stretched his arm out to wait for the katana to fall down over or on it. He could still remember the dead silence the room had fallen in to, and the hard claps on his back as the blade gently spun around his arm. Unsheathing about an inch of the blade from its hiding, the steel captures the light from the candles lit before him on the altar, reflecting light upon the walls.

It still wants blood.

Silently, he lets the blade slide back into the scabbard, the reflected light dying down. His first katana, the one given to him before his initiation. Before Mihawk became his Master and teacher. Before his father died.

He reaches for the longest of his swords, the heavy one, Shuusui. It is made from the same hard steel as his Master's Kokuto Yoru and holds the same blackness, though is Shuusui much harder. With a slight feeling of sadness, he unsheathes an inch of the blade and watches the metal absorb the candle light. His father Ryuuma had told him as he had drawn his last breath, that Zoro wouldn't disappoint the blade if he was the one who carried it. And the young man knew he hadn't.

He quickly sheathes the katana and puts it away before he gets soft from memories of his father, it is because of such things as parental love that he and everyone else has a Master to teach them. It would only hinder the progress of the war if you worried about your family fighting when you fought. Though nothing, nothing, can hinder the anger and sadness he feels from welling up when he reaches for his third and final katana.

No blood had stained the smooth, sharp steel the day its owner died. No brave battle cry had come over her lips, only the taste of bitter poison. It doesn't matter how many times he draws blood with this blade nor that he doesn't want to fight for revenge, the very thought of losing such an important friend to such a low blow always makes his blood boil.

His thumb caresses the white scabbard and his other hand grabs the hilt. With a single movement, he stands up and draws the sword, his body moving like water. Or blood.

Focusing, he stares at the candle before him on the altar, beside the photo of her smiling face. Another fluid movement, and the wick falls down into the melted candle-grease and the room descends into silent darkness.

But that silence is quickly broken by the sound of clapping hands and a soft tweet, coming from the now open door.

"Fancy way of putting out the candle."

"When you've drawn a katana, you must use it to cut something. Common respect for the blade." Zoro puts the sheath through the loop on his belt at his right side, before sheathing Wado again. Bending down, he picks up Kitetsu and Shuusui before putting them in their respective loops. With a silent nod towards the altar, he turns around and faces his partner.

"Ready to go?" The question comes over Ace's lips along with a grin, the man himself more than ready to disappear into the night and run over the rooftops in silence. Maybe he will be able to see someone interesting, after all.

"Yeah, let's go."

As they proceed through the house, passing by rooms with irritated warriors caught up in heated discussions, neither of them speak, both caught up in their own minds. The green haired teen feels his emotions cool down the closer they get to the door leading outside, the storm of negative feelings dying down as he sits in the hall and puts on sturdy shoes so that he won't slip on the rain soaked roofs. Standing up, he exchanges a nod with the raven haired man, both ready to enter the dark night. When they leave, a heavy weight lifts from Zoro's shoulders and heart, though he cannot understand why.

Why is it, that just the thought of Sanji being back in Kyoto soothes him? Making a short sprint over the street towards the nearest houses outside the mansion, the thought haunts and ponders his mind as he jumps up on to the roof. For some reason, the very knowledge of their love, his refugee, still existing in some form can make him think more clearly.

His blood thirst is there, as he tries to catch a scent in the damp air, he can hear his katanas howl for the red flowing from his enemies, but his mind is clear. The rush he usually experiences is gone, though the strength he has gained over the past three years is still there; like he had never gone through that hell.

"Come on, let's get rolling, oh Byakko's demon!" With a grin, his freckled partner takes a leap over the roof, his hood tightly knotted around his head. A smile grazes the Byakko's lips, but not the cold one he has become famous for, but a warm, almost crazy one. For once, he is looking forward to fighting.

~(TFS)~

"Where the hell are they...?"

"Do you really expect them to be out in this weather, with cops keeping watch everywhere?"

"No, you're right. It just feels so damn unnecessary going out in this piss weather without getting any action, you know?"

A low chuckle is the only answer Zoro gives his partner as he looks down at the calm streets bellow, Wado resting on his shoulder, out of her scabbard. Not many people are daring the cold spring rain, and he doesn't think them strange for that. His black ski cap is studded with water droplets and as he bent forward to make a quick and hard nod, he could feel the drops falling down and soaking his already wet jeans. Yeah, wonderful weather to be out hunting in.

"Oi, Ace, do you think it really was the Genbus who did it?"

"...No. It doesn't make sense that they would fuck up that way."

"Glad to hear someone else who thinks the same..." Standing up, the green haired teen can feel something shifting in the air. It's not something he can put his finger on, but something has changed. "I have a really bad feeling about it."

"Yeah. But that aside, what about splitting up? As you said, there's probably not many out here tonight."

"What, impatient to find that hot senior of yours?" The glare he receives just makes his smile grow, since the tiny blush blooming across Ace's cheeks speaks for itself in this case. Sheathing Wado, he throws an eye up at the sky and the steadily falling rain, his thoughts working as quickly as the falling water drops. Some quiet would be nice and there really aren't many Seiryuu and Genbu out tonight. "But sure, we'll split. Say, one hour and then we call it a night?"

"Sounds like a great idea." The Suzaku digs in his pocket, fishing up the oblong piece of paper with carefully hand written letters in enchanted ink, which not even the rain can blur out. He holds it to his lips, silently whispering words against it, making the letters and quirks glow gently in red. "Here you go, so I can find you when you've gotten lost."

"Ha. Ha. Very funny, asshole." He snatches the paper and stuffs it into his own pocket, mumbling curses under his breath as he watches the other jump down from the roof into an alley. With a sigh, he jumps too, there is no reason to walk on the roofs if there's no prey there.

His feet hit the ground with a heavy thud, water splashing up onto his wet pants. Ignoring the pouring sky, he leaves the alley and starts walking down the street. Some of the people who see him make big eyes, but he ignores them and walks on. There's only danger if either someone from another God or the police see him, and in both cases he'll just move up onto the roofs again, his legs are more than strong enough to take him up onto the roofs from the middle of the street. A colorful umbrella rushes past him, the pink plastic the only color in a gray world. The only sound he hears is the sound of water and his own footsteps, the only scent in his nostrils is that of clean water.

Turning around a corner, a familiar sensation rushes through him as he sees a hooded figure walking before him. He used to meet Sanji here when the blonde was done with his work at the Baratie, always waiting at that tree over there, where the hooded man stopped.

The more he looked, the more the familiar feeling grew in his gut as he watched the other turn around, sporting a cheeky grin and shining light blue dragon scale tattoos on his face. Before Zoro has the time to really register what it is that is so familiar about the man, the hooded man has jumped and used the tree as a springboard to take him up on a roof.

Reacting on instinct, the Byakko lets his own magic flow and green stripes adorn his skin as he runs and jumps up the same way, the water collected on the tree's branches and budding leaves falling down with a splash. Without thinking about it, he lets his feet and legs move on their own accord, easily finding the driest spots on the soaked tiles. Instead, his brain ponders the familiarity over the man he chases. The way those long legs move, the confident and almost lazy grin and the hoodi-

Realization strikes him hard, clutches at his throat and tightens his chest, his breath coming out broken as he pushes his muscles and magic to work even harder. It is almost easy to catch up to the Seiryuu, he clearly isn't running at his top speed.

As his target jumps down on the empty street again, he follows. And as the man slows down, so does Zoro. His heart is beating so hard he thinks it will burst out of his chest, his lungs burn and he can't stop himself from panting as he watches the hooded man stop beneath a lamppost, the light spilling down on him like the rain falling from the dark sky. The world seems to move in slow motion as the green haired teen watches arms reach up, the white tiger embroidered on the front moving with the wet fabric, pale hands with long fingers gripping at the hem of the hood.

For a second, he forgets how to breath, for a moment he once again forgets everything concerning rules and orders, just like that time on the roof of an onsen-resort under a starry sky. Suddenly he understands so much, as the hood falls down to reveal blonde hair, wet from the rain.

A clear blue eye looks straight at him and he has nothing to say, as Sanji opens his mouth and speaks up, "Evening, Byakko's Demon."

~(TFS)~

Hello. I have a lot to say today/tonight. First, merry Christmas!

Second, I know many of my readers have had or is having a hard time right now, so I want to dedicate this to you guys. Even if this is the only contact we have, I care for you and I hope this made your day at least a little brighter.

Thirdly, I have a gift for you. Have you noticed the story 'These Familiar Memories'? It's made up by things happening in the time set before 'Streets'. And now, I want to know;

What things do you want to know about the past of Zoro, Ace, Sanji and the rest?

How it went the first time Sanji met Zoro's family or when Lu met Nami for the first time? What did Sanji go through in Tokyo?

That is my gift to you and I hope you like it~

And I hope you liked the cliffhanger! *feels evil in Christmas times*