Disclaimer: One Piece is © Eiichiro Oda. No profit is being made from this work.

Author's Notes: Spoilers for the Ace and Blackbeard situation; AU from that point on. The first of a three-chapter fic. Written for 101 ficlets: theme 035; waiting.

When what once was is no longer.

Seven months after Ace stopped visiting, and there are still no reports. Nothing to indicate where Ace could possibly be, or what he's been doing. He might well have dropped off the face of the planet so far as Smoker is aware.

He tries to tell himself that Ace has simply come to his senses and decided to stop this... thing that they have. But surprisingly, it's the logical part of him that won't let him believe that; the part that knows that Ace, being who he is, would have at least given him some sort of goodbye.

The part that is aware that Ace... wouldn't have said goodbye.

That coldly logical part also tells him that he knows damn well what's happened, if not how; knows damn well that it was only a matter of time. They were—are, damnit—equal in power, and Smoker knows the limits of his own. He is not invincible. He is not infallible.

But there's no proof.

The horizon is a cold and empty thing. But he keeps watching, all the same.