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There’s frost clouding the window and his left foot’s gone numb where it pokes out from under his blankets. It’s so goddamn cold that just for a second, even though his eyes are wide open, Law’s convinced that he’s still caught in an old, familiar nightmare of being lost in the snow.

He takes a deep breath, and then another, and grounds himself: in the creak of the Polar Tang’s pipes within her sleek walls and the distant slosh of waves against her hull. He focuses on the corner of his geography book, currently digging into the side of his face. He makes himself count Zoro’s slow, heavy breaths, nestled in the lump of blankets next to him until his own breathing slows as well, and then he makes himself get up. The air in his quarters is chilled, the floor cold under his feet as he gathers himself together for the day.

“Good morning, captain,” Shachi says brightly when Law pads out into the hall, hoodie under his arm.

“That’s one word for it,” Law retorts, as they stroll toward the mess. Coffee first. Then the control room. “Why have we surfaced?”

“Low on supplies. We haven’t docked just yet though. Waiting for your orders but didn’t want to…you know.” Shachi fights a grin. “Didn’t want to disturb you.”

Law arches an eyebrow but by now they’ve reached the mess and Bepo’s spotted them. He scurries over at once. “Good morning, Law.”

“That’s what everyone keeps telling me,” Law says wryly. Bepo’s ears twitch in confusion. Law tries again, dulling the edge in his voice. “Status report on our current course?”

“A small detour,” Bepo explains. “We’re only about five miles off course and it’ll take a whole two days before the log pose resets. Not bad.”

Law pours himself a mug of coffee, gaze straying toward the porthole windows. The glass is frosted over here too, but the heat of the kitchen has helped melt the ice in places. He glimpses a sliver of overcast sky, a half-frozen bay. A winter island, then. A part of him had already guessed as much, but somehow the confirmation of it makes something sink, deep in his chest. He looks back down at his coffee.

“We might be able to find an island a little closer to Wano,” Bepo offers.

“We’re already here. We’ll just restock and be off again in a few hours. Rouse the rest of the crew. Let the Straw Hats know we’re preparing to dock.”

“I’m assuming you’ve got Zoro covered?” Shachi asks a little too casually.

Law gives him a sour look. “Keep baseless speculations to yourself.”

“Yes, captain,” Shachi says, with only a shadow of a shit-eating grin.

Zoro’s awake by the time Law returns to his quarters, bleary-eyed and halfway through a loud, wide yawn. “G’morning.”

“What’s fucking good about it?” Law retorts.

There’s a snort into the pillow they share. “Cranky.” Zoro’s hair’s flat on one side from where he slept on it. Law’s fingers twitch with the impulse to fix it, to get back into bed perhaps and not leave until they’ve departed from the island once more.

He’s realized in the last week or so that he enjoys these mornings with Zoro. He’d been bracing himself for the willing surrender of his own space. But they fit together better than he thought they would: the comfortable, easy silences; the way he settles himself into his desk chair, molding himself around the pile of their clothes draped over it; how he knows to put his feet up on the edge of the bed to avoid knocking over Zoro’s growing collection of empty beer bottles.

Only today Law’s skin feels too tight and he keeps looking at the window and then forcing himself to look away again. A hard gust rocks against the Polar Tang, creaking along her seams and Law shivers before he can stop himself. Zoro rolls over, blankets low on his hips and takes Law’s feet in his hands.

“Don’t,” Law says, and he means to say it offhand, to tell Zoro not to bother, but it comes out from between his teeth: a low, harsh, “Don’t.”

Zoro ignores him, as he’s prone to doing. His thumbs work along the arches, his familiar calluses rough against Law’s skin. “You’re cold.”

“It’s snowing out,” Law says waspishly. He’s always cold, whereas Zoro himself always runs hot. It makes sharing a bed with him insufferable. They’ve bickered about it before, late at night, after sparring sessions when they’re both sticky with sweat, until Zoro laughs and kisses him and Law pretends not to laugh too and kisses him back. In the dim gray of the morning, though, Zoro’s skin, his smile, is too warm.

Law pulls his feet out of Zoro’s grasp. “We need to get moving,” he says shortly. “We’ll be docking soon.”

Bell Island, according to Bepo’s log notes, has a population of 2,000 and is known primarily for its copper goods, charming historical district and a disgusting local dish that involves burying moose meat in the frozen ground for three months. But the harbor marketplace seems promisingly busy and the town’s small and as far as Law can tell, there’s no pirate or government presence here. Plus, after a week of being submerged, the Straw Hats are getting twitchy. Books keep going missing from Law’s personal library even with the door locked. Just yesterday he found Franky tinkering around the bulkhead, surrounded by piles of loose, miscellaneous screws.

Law pages Jean Bart to ready the gangway.

He’s struck immediately by a frigid gust when he opens the exterior door. The wind howls, the ice in the bay splintering as they draw even with the docks and drop anchor. A flurry of coats and scarves and hats are distributed amongst his crew. Bepo rolls about in the light snow that’s accumulated on deck. Franky and Usopp are tossing snowballs at anyone within range. Franky catches Law staring at them in disapproval and hefts a large snowball, face splitting into a mischievous grin.

“Throw that at me and I will do something drastic,” Law warns him.

Zoro laughs behind him, emerging on deck as well. “The cold’s refreshing,” he says, dressed in only a light coat and no hat. He peers at Law, burrowed under several layers of scarves. “You look like a hermit crab, Traf.”

Ikkaku collects the supply list and Clione, to help her carry the groceries. Miss Nico and Kin’emon are already strolling off down the docks. Franky and Usopp lead the rest of his crew in a stampede for the nearest tavern. Law adjusts his gloves, turns his collar up against the wind, and then can no longer pretend that he hasn’t noticed Zoro, still hovering in his peripheral vision. “Your crew’s getting ahead of you.”

“I know. Hurry your ass up already.”

“Jean Bart may need help watching the ship.”

A slight knit appears in Zoro’s brow. “You ain’t coming?”

“We’ll only be on this island a few hours,” Law says, ignoring the question. “You’d best get moving, Zoro-ya. If you get lost, I won’t wait for you.” He means it as a joke more than anything, but it comes out too snide, too mean. Zoro doesn’t react beyond a shrug. He doesn’t look back over his shoulder either as he heads over the side of the Polar Tang and off down the docks. Law watches him until he disappears from view. He was lying anyway: Uni has standing orders to trail Zoro every time they go ashore, to keep him from wandering off.

The wind comes again, biting, cutting across the deck. The air’s bitter cold in his lungs and stinging the inside of his nose. He had more than his fill of the cold after Punk Hazard’s tundra, with its endless gray mornings, the color bled from the water and sky. But Punk Hazard was empty and desolate. Here, the sun continues to rise behind the clouds, its light slanting off sloped rooftops and dappling frosted, cobbled streets. The whole port glitters, transformed into a city of ivory.

From the center of town, a church bell tolls, sounding the half hour. It’ll be a Sunday then. Services will be starting soon.

Law looks out across the town for as long as he can, and then he closes his eyes, the ghostly after image still burned into his vision.

He informs Jean Bart that he’ll be going out for a bit. He tries to keep his voice as casual as he can and Jean Bart doesn’t seem to suspect anything, but Law still ends up feeling strangely jittery and transparent. He tries not to dwell on it; occupies himself instead with calculating the time and distance of walking to the center of town, making sure Kikoku’s properly sealed inside its scabbard, everything but the final act itself of disembarking and setting off through the streets.

Slush sucks at the soles of his boots, weighing him down with every step. The muted sky is bright, burgeoning with the promise of more snow. Law uses the tip of the church spire to guide him, stopping only at one of the local shops to buy a single pack of King Ground cigarettes. He steps back out into the cold, shoving both his purchase and his hands into the deep pockets of his coat and then admits aloud, with grudging respect, “I’m amazed you made it this far. Thought for sure you’d get lost after I made two whole right turns.”

“Fuck you,” Zoro says, melting out of the nearby alleyway.

“I told you to go with the others.”

You don’t give me orders.” There’s a slight challenge in Zoro’s voice — playful, but a challenge all the same. For once, Law doesn’t feel up to answering it. He turns on his heel and continues on his way toward the spire, Zoro falling into step beside him. Law can feel Zoro’s gaze on him, the weight of it as familiar as Kikoku’s. “The hell we going anyway?” Zoro asks after awhile.

We aren’t going anywhere. You’re going back to the ship.”

“Am I?” Zoro’s grin is careless. Law feels a spike of irritation. “So where you going then?”

It would be a moment’s work to teleport Zoro back to the Polar Tang. When he was younger, Law always craved being alone, would cultivate his personal space like the many specimens he now keeps in the fridge of the bio lab. It’s getting harder and harder to do these days, with his crew returned to him; with so many alliances to uphold, between samurai and Minks and Straw Hats; with Zoro, in his bed, in his thoughts. Just a word, a gesture, and Zoro would be banished from his side, and Law left alone yet again to wander through snow and silence. “I’m going to church,” Law says at last.

Zoro’s expression is patient — waiting for a protracted punchline to a joke. Law lets him wait.

“Oh,” Zoro says. “You’re serious.”

“As a heart attack.”

“You’re going to church.”

“Services should start at ten. If you stop pestering me, I might make it in time.”

“You’re going to church?”

“Are you deaf as well as stupid?”

“You didn’t seem like the — church-y type,” Zoro says at last. There’s something like accusation in his voice.

Law laughs in spite of himself. “What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

Zoro doesn’t answer. They turn the corner, arriving in the little church square. The bell rings out again, sounding the hour. Latecomers straggle along toward the church, their children in tow, all nicely pressed clothes and apologetic smiles.

“You’re not attending the service with me,” Law informs him.

“Like I’d wanna,” Zoro mutters. He doesn’t stop following though, even when they reach the church steps, where Law finally pauses. He runs through his options: bribing Zoro to go away, or threatening him, or even just asking him to wait outside for the hour. But money means nothing to Zoro, threats even less so. Asking him to wait is the worst of them all because it sounds exactly like what it is: a thinly veiled attempt to hide. Law’s mouth is dry and he feels tired suddenly, as flimsy and transparent as damp paper. The bell finishes tolling the hour. The ushers are staring at Zoro’s swords with mounting concern and so Law turns and pushes his way inside.

The interior of the church is small and simple, like Bell Island itself: all dark wood, broken here and there by the gold flicker of candle light and the jeweled reds and blues of the stained glass. Most of the nave is already occupied. Law ducks into a pew toward the back and removes his hat. He breathes in familiar smells from his childhood: the faint incense, the burned sweetness of dripping candle wax, the clouds of elderly women’s perfume.

Zoro throws himself down into the pew beside Law. “You come here a lot then?”

“No. Only on winter islands,” Law says, startling them both with his immediate honesty. He’s more off his guard today then he thought. Dangerous.

“You always go by yourself?” Zoro asks. His good eye is narrowed, his tone sharp, brittle as Kitetsu. “You don’t drag your crew along or nothing? Thought that was part of the whole thing, forcing other people to do and believe in all kinds of stupid shit.”

Law fights a slight tic in his jaw. “No one’s forcing you to be here, Zoro-ya,” he retorts. “And it’s not for my crew. It’s just for me.”

More honesty. Law forces himself to look straight ahead, his hands in his lap, in fists. His crew knows, to some extent: enough not to ask, to respect his authority and privacy whenever they’ve docked at winter islands in the past. Zoro is following in the grand Straw Hat tradition of barging in where he isn’t invited. The new proximity between them is too sudden, too close.

Law’s skin itches. Zoro’s still staring at him. “Any other searing insights you’d like to share, Zoro-ya?” he asks, waspish.

“Nah. Just ain’t seen you much without your hat on.”

“It’s a church. It’s not proper to wear a hat here.”

“Wasn’t asking why you took it off. Just saying I ain’t used to seeing you without it.”

“You’re criticizing me for being overly fond of a hat?”

“Nah,” Zoro says, but the edge in his voice has softened somewhat. “‘S nice. I can actually see your face.”

The strains of organ music start up. The congregation ripples with movement, with murmurs, as they stand to meet the pastor’s greeting. Law rises with them. The patterns and beats of the service come back to him, all muscle memory. It’s been a long time since he was in a church. The last time would have been right before Punk Hazard, after he’d seen his crew for what he assumed was the last time. Before that, it was a tiny church on a remote island just as they crossed the Red Line into the New World. Before that, he can’t recall. Perhaps sometime long ago, with Corazon.

The sweet, soaring voices of the choir rise around him, the sea of unknown faces, the flickering of the program pages. It occurs to Law that he missed church. Not in the sense of any real longing, or the feeling of a gaping absence in his life, merely that church was always there. It was in his classroom, and in the clean, sterile halls of the hospital when his father let him shadow for the day. God was on the lips of the sisters at school, to commence and to end each lesson; was in his ears when his parents said grace over dinner; was in the mouths of patients who clung to his father and his mother and begged for relief from the pain.

Plates are passed around for donations. Ushers arrange themselves at the ends of each pew, distributing pieces of communion bread and tiny, individual cups of wine. Zoro helps himself, despite Law’s glare. “Thought you didn’t like bread,” Zoro says.

“It’s not bread.”

“It looks like bread.”

“It’s symbolic.”

Zoro chews thoughtfully. “Tastes like bread too.”

“Forget it,” Law snaps.

Zoro swills the tiny cup, dubious. “Never really liked wine,” he admits but tosses it back anyway.

The pastor rises, comes to the pulpit, begins his sermon. He talks about doing good work, talks of honoring the same God who ignored the dead and the dying in their lonely hospital beds. His father and his mother did good work. They believed in the church, and in God. They were good people. Flevance was filled with good people, and then their church burned, and their homes, because what the church didn't talk about was how good people died all the time, died cold and alone, died for no reason at all, and that there was nothing sacred in any of it.

Pinpricks of pain erupt across his palm. There’s a hand around his wrist. Law blinks, head spinning, like he’s fallen out of yet another dream. Zoro’s not asleep, like Law assumed he’d be. His expression is one of extreme boredom, but also patience, as he squeezes the pressure points in Law’s wrist, forcing him to loosen his fist and to stop from digging his nails any deeper into his own hand. Distantly, he can hear the pastor calling to the congregation, the low roar of the congregation answering him. Law doesn’t register their words, staring down at his hands, at where his fingers are tangled loosely with Zoro’s. His palm is clammy and damp with slivers of blood but Zoro doesn’t pull away.

There’s the blare of the organ again, another hymn. Afterwards the congregation stirs around them, as people collect their coats and their families. “Is it over?” Zoro asks.


“Fuck, that was long.”

“It was an hour,” Law says wryly, relieved to hear that he almost sounds like himself again. He stands, pulling his wrist free from Zoro’s grip at last, avoiding his gaze. He moves against the flow of the crowd streaming toward the exit, heading for the front of the church and the altar.

“There’s more?” Zoro demands incredulously. Law’s not used to being in church with other people. Not since he was a kid, when Lami was impatient and squirrelly and he was always tired from staying up past his bedtime the night before, to read in secret. After services, while his parents chatted with friends and neighbors in the narthex, he and Lami would stay behind to play in the nave. They chased each other through the aisles and up the twisting stairwell that led to the choir stalls and the organ. He remembers looking out over the nave, how he was surprised that from so high up, the church that always felt so big and inescapable could look so small to him, and feel so very far away.

“Now what?” Zoro asks, trailing after him. There’s still a sliver of something harsh in his voice but it’s muted. “You gotta go say sorry for all the bad shit you done? Do I get an honorable mention in your confession?”

“Don’t flatter yourself.”

“I ain’t ashamed of anything I’ve done. Or anyone I’ve done,” Zoro adds with a leer. It takes every last bit of Law’s self-control not to roll his eyes at such a terrible line. “It all makes me who I am. I chose it. And I ain’t gonna feel bad about it, just ‘cause some dickhead who lives in the sky thinks I should.”

“I agree,” Law says. They’ve reached the altar rail, dotted with a line of of votive candles. Law plucks two matches from the pack on display, ignoring the small, wooden box asking for donations.

“You don’t believe in this stuff,” Zoro says.

“I base my life in facts. We’ve both traveled far enough along the Grand Line to not know better. God’s just a fairy tale.” Law lights a votive candle, and then another.

“Why’d we even come here then?” Zoro ventures at length.

“To remind myself.” Law lights a third candle and then he blows the match out. “It’s important to remember where we come from.”

He knows better now, than to come searching for salvation in a place like this. He knows too that church rituals won’t save him, and that his own private rituals won’t save him either. No matter how many churches he haunts, however many candles he lights, on winter islands scattered across the Grand Line. But the past has always driven in him, dwelled in him, shaped him. It was real once, even if God wasn’t. There has to be something in that worth trying to save.

The small flames of the candles bend and flicker, glow red against the glass. Wax drips in thick white teardrops down the sides.

“I met God once,” Zoro says at length. “You ain’t missing out on much. Luffy beat the shit out of him.”

Law snorts.

Zoro comes a little closer. He looks at the candles. “I don’t really get the church thing.” His hand has strayed to Wado Ichimonji’s hilt, like it always does when he feels uncertain. “I ain’t been home in a long time,” he admits quietly. He lets go of Wado’s hilt, picks up one of the matches instead, to light his own small candle, apart from Law’s.

They remain together at the altar, until the candles burn low, until the smoke twists and the flames finally flicker out.

The square’s empty when they step outside.

Their breath escapes in clouds, mingling together in the air. Law takes the cigarettes from his pocket and the other match that he stole from the donation box, striking it against the brick siding of the church. He lights the cigarette, the smell sharp and thick and comforting as it fills his lungs and smolders in his chest. He releases a stream of smoke into the cold morning.

“You smoke?” Zoro asks.

“No. Just when it snows. It makes me feel like having a cigarette.” Law shakes the match out and tosses the rest of the pack at Zoro. “Here. I’m sure Black Leg will have more use for these, once he gets back.”

Zoro clutches the cigarettes in his fist. He stares hard at Law for a moment. “What’s your favorite color?” he asks abruptly.

“Beg pardon?”

“You got like a favorite color or something? Chopper says everyone’s got one. I never used to think about it before. Just...figured I'd ask you. I dunno that about you neither.” Zoro’s face is flushed with more than just the cold. Confusion on Zoro softens all the usual, hard flat lines of his face, makes him look far younger than Law ever noticed before.

For the first time all morning, the tension in Law’s chest unknots ever so slightly. “Let me think about it,” he says.

Zoro nods and then pulls a cigarette out of the pack, shoving it between his lips. “Never done this before.”

“It’s bad for you. Don’t make it a habit.”

“I ain’t fucking dumb,” Zoro mutters, patting himself down. Next time, Law will have to steal an extra match.

“Here,” Law says, and steps in close. He cups the back of Zoro’s head, tilts his, pressing the tip of his cigarette to Zoro’s. There’s a dull glow as the paper catches and begins to burn. Law’s fingers press into the base of Zoro’s skull and he exhales another stream of smoke out the side of his mouth. “Breathe in,” Law murmurs and Zoro’s lips pull tight around the cigarette as he inhales, slow and shaky.

Immediately there’s a splutter and then a hacking cough. Zoro jerks back, spits the cigarette out, coughing. Law tries and fails not to laugh and Zoro shoves him for it. “You and that shit cook are crazy. That fucking sucked.”

The snow’s finally begun to fall, the flakes wet and thick on Law’s cheeks, startling him. No matter how many winter islands he’s visited, he still never learned how to get used to the snow. It didn’t snow much in Flevance. Mostly it rained, and the water streamed down the sides of buildings and poured out through the gutters, washing the streets white with runoff from the amber lead. One holiday break, his parents had taken him and Lami on a trip to a neighboring island. He’d woken in the night and found the world outside covered in a blanket of white. He hadn’t realized it was snow at first. He snuck out of bed and didn’t think to put on shoes or a jacket. The cold startled him and he stood in the doorway of their rented cottage and looked out across quiet, frozen fields and felt, not for the first time in his life, like he was suddenly very much alone.

But he isn’t alone. There’s his crew. There are alliances to attend to, with samurai, with Minks, with Straw Hats.

And there’s Zoro, still cursing him out for the cigarette. Snowflakes catch in his hair, spangle his eyelashes. Law thinks about telling Zoro of that first winter, and then he folds the memory up very carefully, like an old and fragile map, and tucks it away.

“Next time,” Zoro snarls, “you gotta tell me.”

“Next time,” Law agrees, and pulls Zoro into him again.