Love Around Affair

Chapter 3 – If Not Lovers

A/n: Feeling up to getting the third chapter of this up. Enjoy!

It seemed as if UnknownRed would not be online tonight. Sanji – aka Mr. Prince – had waited in front of his laptop for almost an hour, fidgeting and grumbling to himself all the while. Although he had quite a large circle of friends, he found that this person called UnknownRed was the only one who he could confide his most personal with. Perhaps it was because UnknownRed is an online friend; someone that Sanji did not need to face in real life. The fact made it easier for Sanji to say things that he usually did not say. Like admitting that he swung both ways. Or the many complains about his lover.

Sanji gave up on waiting, turned off the laptop and prepared to leave the house. Without further delay, he strode out into the cold night, footsteps stomping with irritation, hands deep in the pockets of his blue denims and eyes blazing with the slight fury running through his veins. The moonlight seeping from behind the soft blanket of clouds accentuated the ocean blue hue of his eyes.

Sanji was never a loner. Definitely not a sole man standing. He had always lived with people around him and it was second to nature that he had to speak out his problems (if he had any, and this time he did have one) to someone rather than bottling them up. He might not be talkative or a party-goer but he still had a decent amount of social life. Throughout his college life, whenever he could not go out with his friends due to assignments or other tasks, he had two other alternatives: calling someone or chatting online. Sanji got stuck with the latter.

A chilly breeze blew and Sanji wanted to give himself a good knock in the head. How did he forget his coat at home? And worse, he was only wearing a loose-fitting tee-shirt that he had conveniently ignored to button up properly. At least he was wearing socks under his sneakers. Sanji rummaged through his pockets and when he found no cigarettes, he cursed himself. Which unlucky star was he born under? He hurried his steps, tucking his hands under his arms. Winter was still far, but the air had turned relatively cold, what with it being night time. He noticed that the first leaves had changed into a perfect golden shade. Time sure flew by quickly.

Soon, the surroundings turned a bit brighter, sign boards flashed neon lights, and several people dressed in fancy accessories strolled. As he went down the pedestrian road, he passed by two girls who called out to him.

One was scarcely clad in a tight red tank top and black leather skirt that exposed almost all of her thighs. Her flaxen blond hair was dyed with streaks of pink and the same colour theme touched her make-ups. The other girl, both barely in their twenties, perhaps younger, had on a skimpy yellow dress and her chestnut brown hair curled down her shoulders.

"Hey, handsome," the blonde girl batted her eyelashes, "having a night out?"

"Oh, um, yeah," for an uncertain reason, Sanji felt nervous under their half-gazes. In these kinds of situations, the female characters were usually the ones under the threat of fear. However now, Sanji had an uneasy feeling that he was the prey. "I'm sorry, do I know you?"

"Oh, we've never met until now!" the brunet chirped and held onto Sanji's right arm, "But we can start to know each other!"

"How about a drink, sounds good?" the blonde placed a well-manicured hand on Sanji's chest and the man shuddered involuntary. The girls seemed to take the meaning the wrong way and their smiles brightened. "And perhaps, a little dancing?"

"I'm sorry, but I have to go now" Sanji pried the brunet off of him and took a tentative step back. He forced a smile on, "Good night." He hurried away, ignoring the girls' attempt of calling him.

When he knew that they were not going after him, Sanji let out a breath he did not realize he was holding. Truthfully, he was a slight bit afraid. He liked girls, but not those night hookers. Really, it was not a matter of gender, but character. If those girls had not been who they were, Sanji might have asked them out sometime. But alas, they were them.

And Sanji was not asking anyone out anyway.

He had not forgotten who he was committed to.

The sudden remembrance of Ace caused the heat to boil inside him again. It was not excitement, not longing. It was dislike. Yes, Sanji was beginning to dislike Ace's selfish antiques. Ace was the reason why Sanji was walking the red-district streets and heading to a certain bar to meet a certain person who no matter how much Sanji tried to deny, was a friend of his. A good one too.

The words FRANKY'S HOUSE stood out in bright blue lights among the dimly-lit area further downtown. Sanji's entrance was announced by the chime of a small bell hung above the door and instantly, the bartender looked up at the new customer. And his face turned into one of an annoyed look.

"Why the hell are you here?" Roronoa Zoro said.

"This is a bar and I'm a customer. Got a problem with that?" Sanji took a seat on one of the stools, "Something to clear my head, make it cold. Whiskey."

Zoro prepared the drink grumbling. Then he placed the glass in front of his friend.

"Oh, and I'm getting a discount for this." Sanji held up the glass of clear brown liquid. "Cheers." And he downed it in one gulp.

"You're not getting any!" Zoro snapped.

"Geez. It's just one glass. Don't be stingy, I'm your high school friend. What's the big deal?" the warmth from the drink was spreading throughout his body and Sanji felt slightly better. "Give me another shot."

"Once my shift is over, I'm gonna beat the shit out of you." Despite saying that, Zoro served the next glass. "Look, I don't know what's wrong with you but drink this up, pay and leave."

"Is that how you treat your customers?" Sanji quirked an eyebrow and sipped on his drink. He heaved a soft sigh, tuning out the muttered curses directed at him. "Hey, you've never gotten a lover right?"

Zoro's eyes narrowed as he regarded Sanji carefully. "Why the sudden interest?"

"Uh-huh, just wanted to know if you have ever broken up before," Sanji's words trailed off, his head slightly tipsy just from one glass. Maybe he should not have swallowed the whole of his first glass in one go. "It sucks to be at the receiving end, having to follow whatever . . . is expected of me. As if I'm some toy to be played with, never having my own feelings considered. Sometimes I think if this is really the meaning of love. I doubt it. I am not happy. How can this be love? I wouldn't lie though; that there are some times when I think the world is at its most brightest but other than those encounters, there's nothing else." He sighed and propped his chin on his palm, the other hand casually swirling the glass around, dull blue eyes fixed on the sloshing whiskey. "Things are getting out of control . . ."

All the while, Zoro had remained quiet, letting the blonde to rant on. It was not a surprise that people down their woes in alcohol and Zoro had heard more than enough of different problems to treat them as 'just another one of those'. But this was Sanji. And Sanji do not ramble about his problems, more ever to Zoro. Therefore, this time, Zoro listened to the words.

When Sanji had finally stopped momentarily, Zoro said, "You're not in your right mind. No more drinks for you."

"Hm? I'm not drunk," Sanji commented truthfully. "You don't have a lover, I presume?"

"That's none of your business."

"Just as I thought," Sanji mocked, "Nobody would want the likes of you."

Sanji's laughter and Zoro's swearing was broken by another chime of the bell. "Zoro!" the man at the door grinned and made a beeline for the counter, "Sorry, something came up. Needed to stay longer in the hospital."

"It's fine," Zoro turned to the black-haired man, "I'm here until morning anyway."

Sanji stared, slightly dumb-founded at Zoro's reaction. How did he just forget about the (one-sided) argument they were having a few seconds ago? And had Zoro always sound this friendly with someone? The newcomer took a seat at the end of the bar and Zoro followed suit, talking so casually that Sanji began to doubt his eyes and head. Perhaps he was indeed drunk. He rubbed his eyes but Zoro and the other man were still having a conversation.

"A surprise to you?"

Sanji turned his attention to Franky. Franky was the owner of this bar, hence its name. He was a big hulky man with dyed-blue hair styled like Elvis's though sometimes he changed. Franky was also an ex-boxer and had his nose broken once.

"Yeah. Never thought that moss-head has this side of him. He looked pretty friendly with that guy."

"That's Luffy. Quite the man to get on Zoro's good side seeing how often they meet."

"What?" Sanji nearly choked on air and had to lower his voice since there were not many people in the bar tonight, "He actually has a friend whom he hangs out with?"

"Is that such a big shock? Zoro's not a hermit crab" Franky laughed at the joke.

"Well, with that grumpy look stitched onto his face and the foul attitude towards anyone and the desire to beat the shit out of people as he had not so graciously told me just now, I never thought that anyone could put up with him for long. Wow, it's just . . . amazing," Sanji breathed, "miracles do exist."

Franky chuckled, "Naw. Anyway, you need another drink? This one's on the house."

"Uh . . . no thanks. I rather not."

"Suit yourself," Franky grinned and turned to his employee, "Zoro, you can take your break now. I'll handle things here for a while."

Zoro glanced back and nodded. Then he turned to Luffy and said, "I'll be back. And remember, the door's for authorities only."

Luffy grinned and placed his palms on the counter. He leaned over and placed a soft peck on Zoro's cheeks, "Then I'll wait for you here."

For a moment, Zoro stared at the still grinning man. "Yeah, you wait. I'll get back to you. Soon."

Sanji swore to himself that his head was going to explode any minute. The pounding in his skull did nothing to help the situation. He could not believe his eyes. Did that Luffy guy just KISSED Roronoa Zoro? Roronoa Zoro! Impossible! That guy must be crazy to even think about it and he would get hell back from Zoro. A wash of pity slid into him for a split second but he regained his composure. What in the world was he thinking? Who was he to say about this? After all, he was with another man too.

Sanji could not help but stare long and hard at the man seated at the end of the bar. Maybe he was a lunatic who had escaped from the asylum. Of all people in the world, he chose Zoro. Sanji could not find any reason for it. He did not even realize that he had been caught staring and that Luffy was waving at him from across the room. He only snapped himself when Luffy stood and moved to sit next to him.

"Hey, you've been staring" Luffy grinned, "I'm Luffy." He offered his hand.

Still surprised and embarrassed at having caught, Sanji accepted the handshake, "Sanji."

"So what've you been staring at?"

Luffy's hair was short, perfect jet black hair and the same colour dotted his smiling eyes. A small scar caressed the skin under his left eye; a wound inflicted by a knife. His body was slender, unlike Zoro's hard-built trained muscles, but masculine enough to differentiate him from females.

"I apologize, but do I know you?"

The black-haired gazed at the blonde for a few seconds before replying, "I don't think so. This is our first meeting. We can begin now though." He chuckled.

Sanji wondered why he felt a sense of déjà vu. He shrugged it off. "You're close with Zoro?"

"Yeah, are you?"

"Same high school. It shocked me to see him with someone like you. A real friend, I mean someone close. He doesn't seem to be the type to hang out with people."

"You're right. He was a stubborn ass the first time we met, refusing to acknowledge me as a friend. But then we did, and here we are. It had been a tough road, but it's all worth it."

Sanji could not suppress the chuckle, "You're weird. Why Roronoa Zoro?"

Luffy shrugged, "Because it's him. He's a nice guy ya know."

"So you're attracted to him because of that?"

Luffy blinked before a shade of pink touched his cheeks, "You saw that."

"I did. And no, I don't have anything against . . . that," it felt awkward talking about sexual orientations. Sanji was more used to talking these kinds of matters without actually seeing the person.

"Figured you wouldn't. You don't look like the type to discriminate or such." Luffy laughed honestly, "You're sweet; did anyone ever tell you that? I bet whoever your lover, be or will-be, is really lucky to have you."

This time, Sanji was the one to turn a shade of pink and he almost stammered, "What do you mean? And I don't have a – lover."

"You're lying," Luffy pointed out with a grin, "I know that much. You're in a bar drinking alone." His voice dropped a tone, "Did something happen between you and your lover?"

"He's not my lover!" Sanji cut in without thinking and regretted it immediately. One, he had revealed that he was seeing a man and two, he had declared that Ace was not his lover. A tinge of guilt washed over him.

Luffy was staring at him with a blank expression. "Were you two in a fight or something?"

"N-no," Sanji hated how weak his voice sounded, "It's not what you think. There isn't anything between us . . . in the first place. We're not lovers – "

"If not for lovers, what are you two then?" Luffy asked almost innocently although his brows seemed to crease.

Sanji did not say anything. He couldn't say. He didn't know what to say. The words sunk slowly into him, calling out to him to think again and search for the answer. But where must he search? He did not have a start point. Nor was there an end point. He was lost in the middle of nowhere, drifting like some mindless soul, waiting for someone to pull him by the neck. Yet he did not want to be controlled.

Ace and him, if not lovers, what are they?

Reviews are love.