-x-

Red and Orange in the Dimness

-x-

The cold hits him with a vengeance in the middle of the night, and Luffy wakes up alone in the dark, caught in the throes of the most violent shivering he's ever experienced in his life. His teeth clack together with enough force to make his head hurt, and he feels the tired burning in his muscles that comes with the constant shuddering and from keeping his arms and legs clamped tight against his body. The heavy blankets don't do anything to fight off the cold or keep in what little body heat he has, even though they're supposed to, and Luffy tries to ignore it and go back to sleep for about five minutes before he finally gets up.

His legs are shaking so badly he can hardly stand, let alone gather up the blankets, and he drops them more than once. The feeling is gone completely from his fingers (and his toes, and basically his whole body), but Luffy carries on through sheer persistence, grinding his teeth to keep his jaw from rattling as he ducks under the low-hanging ceiling and steps over the cold ground. He plunges out into the snow, through the drift that he packed into place himself this afternoon.

It didn't help any. It's half-fallen in on itself. And on the other hand, Ace's, just a few yards away from his, looks perfectly fine. Even in the dark, Luffy can see that it's thicker and built way better than his was. ...Maybe because Ace spent almost all day working on his, whereas Luffy only pushed a bunch of snow into place right before he laid down for bed.

"Cold, cold, cold," Luffy mutters, and then lets out a low groan almost as soon as the words rattle breathlessly out of him.

He's trying not to complain so much, doesn't wanna sound like a baby.

...But as long as Ace doesn't hear it, maybe it doesn't count.

The snow is already higher than his knees and falling fast; it crunches noisily as Luffy slugs through it, the cold stinging his bare feet and legs, and Luffy breathes in sharply between his teeth, freezing his lungs. He slips behind the banked wall of snow piled up in front of Ace's Country, and the warmth hits him like a big wave. He nearly collapses right there in the opening to sleep, and his knees do buckle, but he manages to keep himself upright and staggers forward, around the fire pit.

He notices with some amount of surprise that there isn't even a fire going. Just a bunch of hot coals, flickering red and orange in the dimness. It is still so unbelievably warm compared to his own country. He should have thought to build a fire, that would have been really smart.

Luffy drops his blankets on top of Ace, who is sleeping in the very back in a nest of his own blankets.

His brother doesn't do more than grunt in his sleep at the added weight - the blankets are thick and heavy, shamelessly filched from Dadan's Country - but he doesn't wake up until Luffy burrows underneath them all. It's the small, cold hands sneaking underneath his clothes that does it. Ace yelps in shock, jerking upright, and brings his elbow back defensively. He slams it right into Luffy's face. Luffy shouts; it doesn't hurt him, of course, but it surprises him, and he withdraws immediately in a panic.

He rolls out from under the covers, up onto his knees, grabbing at his blankets as Ace, swearing, struggles to shove them off and sit up.

"Luffy," he snaps, his voice thick, "What're you doing?"

"Nuh-nothin'! S-s... sorry!" Luffy stutters, blankets in tow as he makes a hasty retreat towards the opening again.

The trouble is, his fingers are still numb with cold. So when Ace reaches out and grabs the trailing end of a blanket, they all tumble out of Luffy's arms and he trips, falling hard on the ground next to the fire pit. The impact knocks the breath out of him, causing an ache in his chest and his lungs, and Luffy stifles a groan. He picks himself up again, scooping up his blankets as he gets to his feet, suddenly aware of how badly his legs and arms are shaking when he tugs and tugs, and one of the blankets refuses to come with him. Luffy pulls harder, annoyed, and finally glances back to see that Ace is still holding onto it, frowning at him.

"You're freezing," Ace says, and Luffy matches the frown on his brothers' with a wobbly grimace of his own.

"N-n-nope," he says stubbornly, "Just m-making sure you weren't!"

"You brought all your blankets with you."

"C-cause... cause it's cold outs-s-side, dummy! Now l-leggo a my blanket!"

"Luffy, you're teeth are chattering."

"Th-they are nuh-not!" But the chattering is audible and worse now that he's started trying to talk. Luffy gives the blanket another valiant tug, but feels it slipping. He holds on, even though his hands are cold and they hurt, leaning all of his weight and strength into the pull without threatening to tear the blanket. He's angry now that's he's been caught. Damnit! Ace will think he's such a baby! "I'm f-fine by m-my... myself!"

"You didn't do any of the things that I told you to do, did you?" Ace accuses, one fist holding Luffy at bay with apparent ease, "You're going to freeze to death!"

Ace will be fifteen soon, and he's actually managed to put on some real muscle over the past couple of years. Luffy is strong, but he's still just a gangly preteen in comparison, and this knowledge is not something that escapes Luffy's notice. Gritting his teeth, he pulls harder, but doesn't make any progress. Not when Ace gives the blanket one sharp tug, pulling it free of Luffy's grip entirely, and he gets yanked forward right along with it, falling across his remaining blankets.

Ace rests his chin in the palm of his hand, the blanket tucked under his arm.

"Quit being so stubborn, Luffy. If you want to sleep here you can, I don't care."

"M'n-n-not a b-baby, Ace!" Luffy says angrily, sitting up. His entire body is wracked with tremors as he stands, dropping blankets and snatching them right back up, only to fumble with them once more. He feels his eyes watering and his jaw trembling, and it's not the cold. "I don't n-need t'sleep with y-you just cause of s-some stupid snuh-snow! I l-l-like snow!"

He doesn't know what he expects, but it isn't the careless, "Fine," and Ace throwing the wadded blanket back at him. It's hurled with such force, the heavy fabric nearly knocks him over again and Luffy stumbles, the blankets slipping out of his arms. Again. He manages to hold on to one of two of them and he glares back at Ace, his brow knotting. His big brother settles back into his own blankets, facing the wall, and he doesn't say another word.

Luffy stands there, shivering, clutching at the few blankets not sprawled out across the dirt floor, and then he slowly gathers them all back up. He hesitates and shuffles his feet (and nearly trips from all the convulsing his stupid body is doing, and because his feet are so numb), glancing towards the opening, then the warm embers in the fire pit. Reluctantly, he creeps back to where Ace is, dragging the fleet of blankets with him. He drops them beside Ace this time, instead of on top of him, determined to make his own pallet and cling to some independence. He stops moving when Ace rolls over onto his stomach, propping up on his elbows in order to look at him.

Ace beckons once, "Get under here with me."

"No," Luffy says without looking at him.

"You're such a pain," Ace sighs, and reaches out with one arm, grabbing Luffy around the waist. He drags Luffy over onto his pallet, getting a knee in his ribs for his trouble, muffling an indignant shout with his other hand as he pins Luffy down underneath him and reaches for the blankets next. Luffy curls his legs up, trying to push him off with his feet, and Ace grimaces at the cold toes digging into his abdomen, jerking back and grabbing Luffy's feet. "Stop it, Luffy, you're freezing, you need to get warm!"

"I'll get w-warm on my own!" Luffy says, his voice muffled by Ace's hand, "Lemme go!"

Aside from pushing Luffy's feet off, Ace ignores him. He holds Luffy down with one hand and rearranges the blankets with the other. Luffy tries to pry Ace's hand away from his face, still scrambling for a purchase with his feet and growling with frustration when he doesn't succeed. Once he's satisfied that they're going to be warm, Ace leans over Luffy and squeezes his face, hard, shaking Luffy's head roughly back and forth to be sure he has his attention.

"Hey! Listen!" Ace says, in his sharp brother-voice. Luffy stills immediately, but Ace waits until his breathing slows down again before continuing, "You're going to lay here with me and get warm. Your only other option is to go back to your own country to sleep, and freeze to death. Do you want to freeze to death?"

Slowly, Luffy shakes his head.

"Are you going to shut up and stop kicking me? You're the one that came over here in the first place."

Luffy nods this time and drops his feet onto the pallet, for once complacent. Ace let's go of his face, then, and moves off of him, settling down on his side next to Luffy and pulling the blankets up over their shoulders to keep the heat in. Luffy raises his hands to rub at his face.

"That didn't hurt..." he murmurs, so quiet that Ace nearly misses it.

"I'd be worried if it did," Ace says, unconcerned. He gestures with one hand. "Let me see your fingers."

Luffy raises his hands out from under the pile of blankets. He isn't shaking as badly, now. Ace takes one of his hands, frowning and peering closely in the dark, feeling each of his fingers, then moves to the other hand, saying, "I'm surprised you don't have frostbite. You got all your toes, right?"

Grinning, now, Luffy curls his knees up against his brother's stomach again, his toes digging into Ace's legs.

"Yeah," he says, "I got all my toes."

He tucks his hands between them when Ace lets them go, wrapping them in Ace's shirt; they aren't numb anymore, but they're still really cold, and Ace doesn't seem to mind. He feels Luffy's legs next - his bare legs, because Luffy will wear shorts all winter if he can get away with it.

"You're too stupid to survive on your own," Ace mutters, "What're you going to do when I leave?"

Frowning at the sudden comment, Luffy ducks his head, lifting one of his hands up to his face. He taps his pinky against his thumb, then his ring finger against his thumb. He does this three more times to make sure he's counting right, and then he lowers his hand again.

"...I'm fine by myself," he says, fisting his hands into Ace's shirt, rubbing the thick fabric between his fingers, "It's just... really cold tonight. Next time I'll remember to make a fire."

"No you won't. And you're over here even when it isn't cold."

Luffy doesn't say anything to this because it's true.

He almost starts to get up again and go back to his own country (even though he isn't sure he could get away, he wants to think that he stands a better chance of it now that's he's warmed up a little). Ace always has to worry about him, even over stupid stuff, and Luffy suddenly thinks that maybe he's too old to be worried about, now. But Ace chuckles, "It's fine, Luffy." He throws an arm over Luffy's shoulders, turning his face into Luffy's hair, and he lets out a slow breath, closing his eyes.

"I'm the big brother, right?"

"Right..."

"So I don't mind."

And he really means it.

Luffy grins, burying his face in Ace's shirt, "Sorry."

"Shut up and go to sleep, Luffy."

-x-

-BobTAC