Title: Haven't Seen You in a While
Author: Kage Kashu
Pairing: Smo/Ace (sorta)
Summary: Smoker and Ace didn't see each other often.
Warnings: (implied?) character death, depressing
Disclaimer: Of course it isn't mine. *grins nervously, hiding something suspicious behind back* Ehr... Don't worry... I'll give it back...
Author's Note: How long does it take for a devil fruit to... respawn? Uhm... Someone out there is gonna shoot me for this.
They didn't see each other often. They first met in Alabasta, while Smoker was still chasing the Strawhats. It was their first of many meetings. At the beginning of each Smoker offered Fire Fist Ace the chance for painless surrender, and was usually refuted by a calmly drawled "Re-jec-ted." Or with an amused glint in his dark eyes, Portgas would say, "Not a chance."
Then, perhaps not immediately, the fight would come. Neither ever could gain an upper hand. Sometimes after, if neither rushed back to his previous course, they would talk; Ace trying to bribe Smoker into the pirate's life, and Smoker pontificating of Justice.
As time passed on, the beginning ritual was dropped, the fights shortened, and the discussions (no longer challenging each other's way of life) lengthened. Even so, they didn't see each other often. When the months passed by without sign of the pirate, Smoker thought little of it. Ace's life rode the limelight; if Smoker didn't see him soon, he'd hear of him.
At a year's anniversary of their last meeting, he merely believed that Ace had pulled a stunt that even Whitebeard wouldn't appreciate, and had decided to lie low. Smoker knew Ace would eventually turn up.
After two years, that last meeting weighing heavily on his mind (with things he hadn't said and should have done) Smoker took to drinking more than usual. He suspected he wouldn't see Ace again. The thought was a painful one. It made him wish he could stop existing.
The third year, Smoker had his first breakdown. His smoke seemed to dissipate around him. While feeling so certain that the fire wasn't coming back, he was hard pressed to stop it, but Smoker needed concrete evidence that Ace wasn't returning. He wasn't going to let his logia have its way without him having closure on the issue.
Nearly four years later, having returned (at Headquarters' insistence) to his post at Roguetown, (now Rear Admiral, two stars, though he spat at the knowledge) he felt like an old wolf tethered, snarling, to a short leash. Exiled.
Having given Tashigi time off (Roguetown has been curiously busy of late and Lord knows she was needing it), he was taking in their newest officer. "Lieutenant Jenks Hoffman?" Smoker raised bloodshot eyes to meet bright green.
"Yes sir," Jenks replied with a salute. Blond, and a little lazy in the eyes, young Jenks Hoffman's manner reminded Smoker of Ace. "The new Mera Mera user," he supplied, nodding toward the papers on Smoker's desk; the papers that he had never actually finished reading.
The new Mera Mera... Smoker closed off that line of thought before it could go anywhere else. He clenched his teeth around an unlit cigar, saluting the young man back. "Welcome aboard," he grit out.
Ace couldn't have been superceded by this... clean-cut, picture perfect boy, could he? Those dark eyes lit with unnatural fire had been replaced with bright sea green. Ace's fierce grin, baffling politeness and unruly manner were... gone, replaced by... this nervous half-smile, a stiff and sweating posture and... the Marines' ability to take orders.
Smoker chomped his cigar again, wondering why the brat still stood there before belatedly realizing he hadn't dismissed the man. With a wave, he did so, noting the alacrity with which the new devil fruit user vacated his office. This man was everything that Ace wasn't... and proof positive that Ace was never coming back.
Smoker had his closure.
Now that his office was empty again, Smoker felt a shudder cross his body, smoke rising and filling the room as his window rattled in the sudden uncanny silence. He rose and opened the window and watched the smoke rise up and away from him. It had been getting harder and harder to keep it contained, anyhow. And now, it seemed he had little reason to.
When Tashigi came by, several hours later, his office was empty; the window still open, and a light summer drizzle was wetting the papers on his desk. The smell of smoke (an ever present reminder of what Smoker was) was gone, and the lighter scent of the rain replaced it completely. On the top of the small pile was the transfer paper for one Jenks Hoffman, and under his information she could see 'Devil Fruit User, Class: Logia, Type: Mera Mera.'