VII


or thing


Le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît pas.

The heart has its reasons that reason does not know.

(Blaise Pascal, Pensées)


Ace had always thought friendship was an odd thing. It was something intangible that could be felt. It was something invisible that could be seen. It was something free that could be worth everything to someone.

He didn't understand it; he wasn't very well-versed in matters of the heart.


"So… why are we having a coffee break?" Ace couldn't hold back the urge to ask any longer.

"I'm fucking tired of doing paperwork," said Smoker, his mood oh-so-foul.

Ace caught himself smiling and fixed his face. A strange notion overcame him and before he could think about it, his voice had already said, "I can do some of it if you want."

He was sure Smoker's surprise mirrored his own, and Ace vaguely wondered why his body parts were slowly betraying him.

"You'd just fuck it up," Smoker said finally, sipping his black coffee.

"You're welcome," Ace muttered dryly. He blinked when Smoker stared at him again. "Okay, honestly. Do I have another black eye I don't know about? If not, stop looking at me, it's creepy as hell."

"You still look like you'll vomit any second," Smoker commented. "If you're still sick, don't go to work and pass the fucking plague to me."

Ace peeled off another smile (damn, why was his face broken?) and drank the hot bitter liquid in his cup. "You could just say 'Stay home and rest until you get better' like a normal person. But thanks for worrying about me."

He expected Smoker to say 'Who would care about you?' but was met with silence.

Maybe Smoker is broken too, Ace thought idly.

"You're strange today," he stated, feeling the need to point it out.

"At least I'm not always strange," Smoker retorted.

He really is easier to deal with when he's being difficult, Ace concluded.


"You're feeling better now, right?" Tashigi fidgeted with the hem of her dress shirt.

"Yes I am, thanks for asking." Ace smiled, for the moment giving up on repairing his malfunctioning facial expressions.

"No need to thank me!" Tashigi stated. She paused before slowly saying, "The person you really should thank is Smoker. He did some of your work for you while you were away."

Ace's brain faltered.

Smoker.

Doing.

Paperwork.

He dashed fearfully to his office, ignored the exclamations of surprise from the people he passed, slammed open the door, and pressed a hand to Smoker's forehead.

"What the fuck are you doing?" Smoker growled, swatting at the offending appendage.

"I think you're dying," Ace said calmly and with dead seriousness. "Stop squirming, I need to check your temperature right away."

"Stop fucking touching me!"


"Ace?"

"Yeah?"

"How can we tell that someone likes you?"

"Um… why are you asking?"

"Because I want to know."

"Well… I'm not sure… but I guess, it's like us?"

"So if someone acts like you do, then they like me?"

"I don't know, Lu! Ask me about other things."

"But this is important!"

"How?"

"So you know!"


Ace woke up, mind still foggy from the wispy remnants of a distant memory.

"I forgot about that," he whispered, reflecting on things that were happening recently. "You were right Lu, it really was important. I almost couldn't tell."

Smoker didn't hate him.

And a small smile crept onto his face. It felt weird, but he let it stay there.

Ace rather liked his face that way.


They were just walking back to work after lunch break when a little girl barrelled into Smoker's leg, getting her ice cream all over his pants.

Ace blinked, looked at Smoker, at the girl, at the ice cream, back at Smoker, then at the girl's panicked father who was running toward them and apologizing. And Ace was sure that Smoker would get pissed at the hapless child – after all, this was the hulk of a man who complained every time someone (i.e. Ace) touched his desk.

But the older man just patted her on the head, gave her some change, and then without glaring said gruffly, "Sorry, my pants ate your ice cream. Try five scoops next time."

The idea of Smoker as an approachable, normal human being saying his pants ate ice cream was so fucking absurd that Ace started choking so hard he cried and fell over onto his ass.

He figured out after a few seconds that he was laughing.

And damn, Smoker had the funniest bitchy look on his face.

"First time I've seen you really smile," Ace gasped, face red and breathless, as an explanation to his sudden and unexpected outburst.

"First time I've seen you really laugh," Smoker countered.

Ace grinned, and God it felt so fucking good to do that. "I guess this finally proves that we're both really humans after all." And the smile cracked his face irreparably wider when Smoker grunted in agreement.

They didn't bother going back to work after that.


Ace's phone, forgotten on a desk, had a message.

'Good times never last.'