Before anyone spazzes out, this is not a songfic. Okay. Enjoy reading.

"Thanks, that was fun
Don't forget, no regrets
Except maybe one.

Made a deal not to feel
God, that was dumb.

Everybody knows the deal fell through.
I was hoping I could just blame you.
When was it that I became so soft?
This sentimentality doesn't look good on me.

Thanks, that was fun
Don't forget, no regrets
Except maybe one.

Made a deal not to feel
God, that was dumb..."

—Barenaked Ladies, Thanks, That Was Fun

A Many Splintered Thing
"We get this one moment of happiness, and that's it. And that's supposed to be enough but it isn't, and we're supposed to be okay with that but I'm not."

———

It's been a long month since Smoker has last seen Ace. A month in which he's gone over all of his reports, finally getting done the paperwork he's let pile up. Nestled in the papers had been Ace's new Wanted posted, the boy's bounty upped by ten thousand belli. The reason had been for an attack on an island (no casualties) which Smoker knew damn well had had nothing to do with Ace at all. Hard to commission an attack while passed out in a Marine's bed two weeks' journey from the island in question.

Smoker knows that the pirate will be here soon, probably within a day or two. There'd been a sighting of him just this morning on the island Smoker had left behind three days ago, and Ace's skiff can outrun any ship.

Smoker chews on his cigars resolutely, staring down at the wickedly grinning face on the Wanted poster. Tells himself that it's about damn time he came to this decision.

He wishes Ace would just hurry up and get here so he could get this over with and get back to his life. He's wasted too much of it already—four years—playing this damn game.

———

When Ace does show up, the first thing he comments on, predictably, is the Wanted poster that's still lying on top of the pile on Smoker's desk.

"Ah, now that's not fair. You get pictures of me to throw darts at, but I've got nothing of you to set on fire."

Smoker ignores him for a moment, gnawing his cigars before finally forcing out, "You've got two minutes to leave."

Ace blinks. "What? Why? D'you have an official on board or something?"

"No." Smoker wonders briefly why he's stalling. He stands and reaches out a hand, catching the boy's arm and keeping him from flopping on the bed the way he's done a hundred times before. "You— this. Has to stop."

"What the hell? You're not serious." Ace laughs a little, though it's more surprise than mirth; disbelieving. "You've been drinking too much coffee lately, old man. What brought this on?"

No. Smoker doesn't want to drag this out, he just wants it over quickly and he wants Ace to leave.

"First of all, I'd rather not feel like I should be paying you every time you show up."

"...Low blow, Marine," Ace says lowly, expression shuttered away but his tone dark. "Y'know, for someone who hates pirates, you sure know how to fight like one."

"Don't be childish," Smoker retorts. "You knew this couldn't last. Better that it ends now."

"Why?" Ace snaps, lifting his chin defiantly. "No one knows. Why can't we—"

"Because it will be a problem. I've been lucky so far, but I'm not so nave as to think that's going to last."

"You've been lucky?" Ace's tone is snapping with anger, and Smoker is for a moment taken aback by the amount of emotion this is inciting from the pirate boy. "I suppose you think my captain regularly encourages his crew to go off and have a fling with marines."

"You were the one who started this," Smoker growls in return.

"I was the one who—!" Ace nearly hisses with rage, eyes narrowing to angry slits. "And you call me childish. Fine. I started it." His hand clenches so hard at his side that it nearly trembles, knuckles white and voice gone malicious and bitter, and he stabs one accusing finger toward Smoker. "But after that, you loved me first."

"Love?" Smoker snorts, viciously repressing the urge to shove the brat against the wall and force him to take back those volatile words, knowing that's the exact reaction Ace is expecting; indeed, the only reason he said it in the first place. "You're a good fuck, boy. But you're not worth the risk I'm taking."

The silence which follows that statement lasts for all of a second, yet it's as awful as if it lasted an hour.

Ace opens his mouth to say something in reply, then closes it, a strange, quiet strangled noise escaping his lips in place of speech. He appears more stunned than hurt, the expression on his face similar to someone who's just been sucker-punched in the stomach: staggered, breathless, and a little nauseous.

Then he abruptly comes back to himself, face hardening in an almost frightening way. But rather than lash out, Ace deliberately stalks out Smoker's cabin door, bringing chaos and shocked yells of recognition as he climbs up on deck to depart by more conventional means than a window, leaving Smoker rigid for a moment with shock and fury at his audacity.

But by the time Smoker billows after the impudent brat, Ace has already broken into a sprint, leaping nimbly over the side and onto the skiff below. Fire flares and the little craft speeds away, Ace having gotten in the last figurative 'fuck you.'

"Taisa!" sounds in multiple confused, panicked cries.

"He's gone. Check for damage or theft," Smoker snarls, knowing full well there won't be any. For a split second he sways while taking a step and has to press two fingers to his left temple to regain his bearings.

He blames his nausea on the sea.

———

The months drag by. To some degree, the thrill of the chase has abandoned Smoker for the time being; it's almost as if he's back in Loguetown, save for better scenery. What has he to look forward to besides catching pathetic, unworthy pirates who can barely put up a fight, much less incite the adrenaline rush of a proper hunt? Strawhat, perhaps, but truthfully as much as Smoker follows that little fool it's doubtful he'll ever be the one to put the kid's head on an executioner's block.

Of course, Strawhat's most recent reports have been nothing compared to the number of his brother's. Ace has been shockingly high-profile lately, and it's telling, but Smoker isn't taking the bait no matter how much he aches to. The ache isn't for Ace, of course not; it's the chase he hungers for, the hunt.

The brat's last words to him cross his mind more than once; Smoker has denounced them as lies, as Ace's final attempt to rattle him. But he also recalls the stunned, sickened expression that had flickered across the boy's face; his words had pained Ace, even if only for a second, and some part of him grimly realizes that it takes love to be hurt by someone. Smoker's words were cruel; he knows it.

It doesn't matter now.

But still, Smoker doesn't want to think about how many people Ace has slept with since him; doesn't want to acknowledge that maybe giving up the brat was a bigger mistake than giving a damn about him.

Remembers ruffled black hair and a laughing mouth, dark eyes carnally wicked and soft in turns, a strong and steady heartbeat in the darkness late at night.

Smoker curses aloud and wishes Ace would just get out of his head after all this time.

———

Ace would have been stupid not to have seen it coming. And seeing as how he isn't stupid, he had seen it coming; Smoker could be a stubborn jackass like that.

Not that Ace believes that excuses the fact that he'd been called a whore and a fucktoy in less than five minutes, but he supposes that he should have expected that, too. And as much as he knows it was deliberate cruelty meant only to make him leave, it still frustrates the living hell out of him.

Ace can't figure out for the life of him why Smoker had up and decided to make them both miserable for no apparent reason. Not that Smoker will admit that he's miserable, Ace knows. He'll do something else to make himself miserable and convince himself that that's what he's miserable over.

He probably shouldn't be thinking about this just after having sex with some strange man. At least, not while still in bed with said man.

No problem. He'll go somewhere else. The sex hadn't been that great; good enough, but nothing special. He's tired, but not fall-over-in-a-dead-sleep tired.

He swings his legs over the side of the bed, pushing himself up—only to be halted by a thick, muscular arm sliding around his waist.

Knows it's not Smoker—god, all too aware of that—but that arm is so similar when it comes to simple sensation and Ace really thinks he should get those chest pangs checked out. Could be a serious medical condition.

"Come on, stay," the man implores. The arm tightens.

"Let go of me before I'm forced to hurt you. Severely." Flames ripple across his skin in warning.

The man lets go.

Ace dresses calmly and presses his hat onto his head with one hand; gives a polite nod to the man and slips out of the man's room at the tavern. Well, he got a free meal out of it without having to escape angry waiters, so the mediocre sex can be forgiven.

He manages a wry smile at the remembrance of his and Smoker's elemental couplings; hardly what one would call 'average.' He'd nearly killed the first person he'd slept with after Smoker, so unused to having to hold back, to being with someone he could actually hurt. Even his purely physical strength, if not restrained, is often too much for most people.

That damn pang again. Ace considers a doctor again, then abruptly laughs as he realizes what he's doing; who he's acting like.

"Bastard," he murmurs, "get your vices out of my head."

———

Nine months. Ace's appearances have been getting closer to Smoker, and his ways of being noticed more outrageous (Smoker knows that Ace is far too controlled for setting the roof of a Marine base on fire for a brief moment to be accidental).

It's getting to the point where Smoker's wondering if Ace is actually trying to bait him, or just trying to piss him off.

He refuses to give in, either way. He had to end it; he knows the consequences of fraternization. For himself and for Ace.

He could live with being responsible for his own downfall.

———

Twelve goddamn months and okay, now Ace is pissed off. He was initially, and then he calmed down, but once more Smoker is just being an utter jackass. He's made it blatantly obvious where he is, and if Smoker bothered to find out he could probably discover where Ace is going to be.

"You were the one who started this."

Yeah, he had been, and that's because Smoker had been too damned stubborn to make a move even though they'd both wanted it so bad it was like a disease. Of course, he hadn't been stubborn enough to keep from ending it. Ace swears Smoker's only happy so long as he's not.

Fuck this. Fuck this, and fuck the past twelve months.

He's tired of waiting.

———

It's been a year. Not that I'm counting, but it was winter when you up and decided that what worked for four years suddenly didn't anymore, and now it's winter again. I hope your damn cigars freeze.

This isn't some goddamn whiny, sappy letter so don't even start thinking that way. This is an angry letter, you bastard, this is one pissed-off letter and you'd better hope to god that I don't end it with 'By the way, I'm coming to set your ship on fire.'

I'm not going to ask you why, either, because I already know why, and it's because you're stupid. You're a stubborn, stupid, vindictive jackass who can't deal with the fact that I'm an infamous pirate and a good person and that I was someone you could respect, and more than that.

You actually gave a damn, and fuck you and the way you're already denying it, because you cared about me. And I thought I was above this mushy crap, but apparently I'm not, because I've fucked a lot of people since you and it's never been enough—I'm looking for something that isn't there. Sometimes the sex is great and sometimes it's barely passable, 'cause let's face it, some people just suck and not in the good way, but it doesn't seem to matter either way because it's always missing something.

I hate waking up beside people I don't know. I blame you for that, too. I didn't used to care, and after a while I won't again, but I do right now and that's your fault for letting me get comfortable.

I don't understand people sometimes. We get this one moment of happiness, and that's it. And that's supposed to be enough but it isn't, and we're supposed to be okay with that but I'm not. It's supposed to be selfish to want more. But then if I'm selfish, so are you. I was happy, you ass, and so were you. I bet that just grated on you. I think you have a problem with being happy. Are you allergic to happiness? I bet you sneezed when you read the word.

You've been avoiding me, you bastard, and I don't give a damn how you rationalize it in that fucked-up head of yours. I know you, and you don't want to see me because you know damn well that you still want me. And if I showed up tomorrow I know that you know you wouldn't shove me away. At least not until after sex, and fuck you for that too because that stopped being enough a long time ago.

I miss you, goddamnit. Is that what you want to hear from me? Were you looking for some kind of surrender and just not getting it? Well, there it is. I miss you. I smell smoke and I know it's not you, but I look around anyway. Fuck you again for making me be honest with you, because you don't goddamn deserve it, but sometimes after I've dreamed of a fight or you or both, I wake up smelling smoke, and it's only because I've set sheets on fire, but for an instant I think I know where I am and it hurts when I realize I'm not. I haven't set stuff on fire in my sleep since the three months following when I first ate the devil fruit. Do you get that? It hurts.

This whole thing got too close for your liking, didn't it? God forbid you give a damn about something other than justice, but you did and you still fucking do because I've announced my existence at nearly every island I've been on and you haven't even tried to hunt me. You're the only Marine I've ever fought who could possibly match me, so it's your damn duty to come kill me, but you don't want to see my head on the execution block.

Maybe I should let myself get caught just to make you acknowledge me, except even if it killed you inside you'd let me die out of spite, wouldn't you? Fucking bastard.

I hate you for this, you know. Or at least, that's what I've convinced myself, and maybe I can understand why you did what you did. Repress and deny is so much fun, just like the ulcers you got from doing it so damn much. Is that why you're always in such a bad mood?

I know that I'll "get over this in time" or however that goes. But you know what, old man? Fuck that, because I don't want to and you can shove your Marine rules and your fucked logic up your ass, and this is your goddamn warning:

You can't make me stay away.

———

He looks the same, leaning against the bulkhead just beside the slightly charred porthole the way he's done a hundred times before. Shoulder-length black hair, childish freckles across his nose, familiar dark eyes and lean body.

The fury in the glare is new.

"You're a bastard," Ace spits, fire flickering across his shoulders, not totally in anger.

"So you said. Multiple times," Smoker answers with a forced dryness, nodding at the letter on his desk. So long. Too long. The ache makes itself known again with a vicious intensity, the room growing faintly hazy.

"I've fucked a lot of people since you..."

Ace smirks, as if he knows exactly what Smoker is thinking about; he most likely does. Smoker's mouth twists into a snarl in return, surging up from his chair and slamming Ace back against the bulkhead by his shoulders. Smoke swirls about them, sliding against Ace's skin as if trying to find traces of those lovers and wipe them away.

"You fucked up bad, old man," the pirate breathes, eyes glittering with malice even as his fire responds, sparking across rapidly heating skin. "It cross your mind that I'm just here to rub that in your face?"

One gloved hand snakes up into Ace's hair, wrenching the boy's head back so that Smoker can savage the pirate's mouth, slick heat familiar as ever even after a year. In response, heat flares around them as well, Ace shoving back against the captain, meeting him with equal fierceness, lean arms slipping under Smoker's jacket to grip closely.

Too soon, but necessary for continued breathing, Smoker breaks the kiss, panting in time with the pirate.

"I still hate you," Ace says forcefully, his arms tightening around Smoker's waist, failing to appear intimidating while glaring due to the faintly swollen state of his mouth and the flush of his face.

Smoker snorts, dipping his head and biting down on Ace's shoulder briefly, just hard enough to leave a mark. "You'll get over it."

The sharp blow to his temple takes him off guard; his vision blanks dangerously for a split second and he staggers. Ace's hand, the same one that delivered the strike, grabs his jacket to steady him.

"No. I'm not your whore. And I didn't come back here because I need you. I don't." Smoker's mouth twists into a snarl both at the abuse and the words, the hand still in Ace's hair twisting sharply. Ace hisses and tilts his head into the twist to alleviate the pressure. "Ow, fuck! I don't get you, old man! You do your damndest to get me to hate you, and then you're pissed that you don't own me."

Smoker keeps his grip for a minute longer out of pure stubbornness, then slowly releases Ace's hair. The pirate twists his head away and Smoker takes a step back, meeting Ace's sharp gaze evenly.

"You deserved that," Ace says after a moment, lifting his hand slightly. Smoker narrows his eyes dangerously, but doesn't contradict him. "I'm not going to be the one who starts it this time. You're not going to blame it on me."

"You came here," Smoker growls, flexing his hands to keep from touching him again.

"So?" Ace shrugs. "Put me in cuffs. Throw me in a cell."

The second kiss is both less and more savage than the first, stoked by want instead of fury, Smoker gripping the boy's upper arms hard and pulling him around, falling to the bed with him, breaking the kiss at the last second to keep from loosening any teeth. He sits up long enough to shrug off his jacket, the heavy leather landing in a heap on the floor.

Fire flares up, engulfing Ace's hands entirely, and he deliberately digs his fingers into Smoker's shoulders, smoke rising immediately to quell the flames. When the flames go out and the flesh returns from smoke, there are no burns.

"Missed this, too," Ace murmurs, that familiar wicked grin spreading across his face.

For once, they're in complete agreement.

———

Despite the exhaustion that feels down the bone, Smoker wakes at dawn, just as his body is conditioned to do. He immediately knows it's Ace curled into him, back-to-chest, Smoker's arm draped over the pirate brat.

Smoker shifts, beginning to slide away from the boy, but sudden, intense heat flares and he stops.

"You make me leave and I swear to god I will set the ship on fire," Ace whispers hoarsely, the fingers of one hand coming up to clench hard around Smoker's arm in warning. The captain tenses, sensing an impending storm that could shatter their fragile reconciliation.

"You have to, brat. You know that."

"You're docked. My skiff's hidden. You need a day off and I bet your men do, too. So no, I really don't." Ace laughs quietly, weirdly, not angry but not happy. When Smoker doesn't answer, he continues, "I'm not delusional. I'm not stupid. I know this can't last. But I just... I just want this now. I don't care about tomorrow, I don't worry about that, I don't live like that. I want now."

Smoker growls softly, but in spite of himself doesn't move except to shift into a more comfortable position.

Now's a good place to be.

———

Don't forget, no regrets
Except maybe one...