There were birthdays, of course, before he stood cocky and ambitious on that hill top staring down at the dojo below. But that was such a different life for him, the time before he held the sword, so those birthdays faded to blurred images and unimportance.
It was because it was his birthday that he had walked down through the grass. He was getting older, and figured that it was time for him to find something more to do with his life; to change him from a boy to a man. The sounds of the trainees sparring had always intrigued him, so he had decided to check it out. It was an interest to him before an obsession
He would celebrate his next birthday within those same walls, flat on his back, staring up at her as she smirked and said, "You're so weak, Zoro." He was sweaty and panting and humiliated to be defeated, once again, by that damn girl.
"You just wait! I'm going to beat you!"
She smirked a little sharper before rolling her eyes and walking way.
"I've heard that before, weak little Zoro. It's never going to happen." she tossed over her shoulder as she made her way out of the practice hall.
As he stood up, face still flushed with anger and embarrassment, he really didn't believe that she could be right.
Two weeks before his birthday and the clouds overhead stood clear. Two weeks before his birthday he knelt alone, salt dried on his face, staring at Kuina's shrine. Two weeks before his birthday he was there all night, promising over and over and over again.
It was a hell of a party. His newfound 'brothers' had successfully taken over the entire bar for the evening to celebrate his birthday. Zoro knew he had a stupid sloppy smile on his face as he brought his newly-filled mug of beer to his mouth. He laughed into his drink at something Johnny said into his ear, and then laughed harder as clumps of foam flew out of the mug hitting Yosaku on the side of his neck. He leaned forward, resting his weight on the firm back in front of him while another's hand crept across the tight inside of his tensing thigh.
He really was the strangest guy that Zoro had ever met. It was just the two of them drifting in that little boat. Luffy was occupying time by singing songs from his home town. The only problem (besides the quality of his voice) was that he would forget the words of every song about half-way through the first stanza. Each time, a look of confusion would cross the younger man's face for a full minute, before he would simply start belting out the song again, this time with obviously improvised lyrics.
Zoro wasn't sure what had prompted him to do it, but he found himself suddenly confessing, "It's my birthday today, you know."
Luffy stopped his song immediately. A huge toothy grin grew across his face and Zoro knew already that he was addicted to the absurdity of that smile. The absurdity of the boy. He closed his eyes and leaned back, as 'Happy Birthday' was sung to him very loudly and very off-key.
It had been a terrible day. They were coming out of a long stretch at sea. Supplies were low, the region in which they had been sailing was almost unbearably hot and humid, and tempers among crew were short. It was just past noon, and he had already gotten into seven different fights with the cook. They didn't get along on an even day, so things were even worse with the added stress of circumstance. The Shitty Cook just didn't know when to stop.
"Oi, Asshole, where the hell are you with that crate?"
Zoro winced and frowned tightly at the sound of Sanji's voice chasing him into the darkness of the storage area. He had been sent by Nami earlier to carry up some more mapping supplies that she had stored below. Usually, he would bitch about being ordered around by the woman, but today he was hoping to find some relief away from the oppressing heat.
He had almost managed to drift off into a much needed nap before the asshole's voice intruded. He stood up and angrily and stalked towards the center of the room where streams of sunlight filtered in.
"What!" he snapped as the blonde came into view.
"What the hell do you think? Nami-san is waiting for her supplies!"
"So fucking what? If she needs them that badly, maybe she should try getting off of her fat ass and come get them herself!"
A wiry body slammed into him knocking him down. He caught the thin wrists as they rolled together across the floor. It was a testament of how upset the blonde was that he had come at Zoro this way instead of the much more effective kicking attack. The swordsman twisted and was able to pin the other man beneath him and realized that this wasn't turning out to be such a bad birthday after all.
The next year he was freezing. He was up in the crow's nest wrapped tightly in frayed blanket keeping watch. He sipped his coffee and frowned at the thin taste. They had ran out of booze a couple of days ago, but fortunately, were due to dock tomorrow to replenish that and other supplies.
It was just after midnight when he heard the distinct sound of someone climbing up the ladder to the nest. The swordsman still had another couple of hours before his watch was up, so he was curious as to who was coming to see him. Not curious enough, however, to move to look and lose what little heat he managed to trap beneath the blanket. He was taken back when Sanji appeared.
"What the hell do you want, Cook? Your shifts not up yet."
The blonde didn't bother to answer as he swung his legs over to rest more firmly in the nest. Instead, he leaned forward to shove a bottle in front of Zoro. The green-haired man stared at the bottle of whiskey for a moment, before saying,
"What the fuck is this?"
"You seriously don't expect me to believe that you don't recognize alcohol, do you?"
Zoro glared at his smirk.
"Fuck off! You know what I mean."
Sanji sighed and shook his head.
"Happy Birthday, Asshole. Now take the goddamn bottle."
Zoro's eyebrows shot up as he reached out to grab the whiskey. He stared at it dumbly. According to the label, it was a pretty good brand; a lot better than he usually bought for himself. After a time, he looked up to see that the chef had moved to climb down.
"Oi! Where are you going?"
Sanji paused and looked at him curiously.
"To bed, Dumb Ass. Where do you think?"
"Oh. Um, are you tired or something?"
Sanji paused and seemed to consider carefully before answering.
"Oh." Zoro said again and dropped eye contact. "Well, you can stay here if you want. Chopper would probably kill me if I drink all this shit myself."
There was a moment of utter stillness, before a warm body dropped down beside him. Zoro did his best to hide the annoying shudder as Sanji's knee pressed against his own and concentrated on opening the bottle.
Zoro was unbelievably hot. He panted harshly though his open mouth and tasted beads of perspiration trickle in. A gifted tongue traced the underside of his neck and he shifted his gaze to look down at the mop of gold hair. He grabbed Sanji's shoulder and shoved him backward across the bed. The cook sat up and leaned on his elbows glaring. His pale skin was flushed and damp, his hair was a sweaty tangled mess across his forehead, and his knees were bent and open.
"Happy birthday to me." Zoro muttered moving forward.
Even though it was still very early, Zoro had been awake for hours. Despite the sharp chill in the room, the lethargic feel of his muscles, and the weight of the body against his, he could not find rest.
In his hand, the metal of the small gold cross had warmed to meet his body temperature and the edges dug slightly against his calluses. His other hand toyed with the connecting long leather cord that usually rested around his neck. He was another year older, with no name above his own, eyes wide open with what comes next.
Then there was the birthday that came silent and still. There were no cakes or presents or safe connection. There was absence and loss. There was darkness, thick and heady, that would not stand broken for a long time after.
Her focus was amazing. She stared up the sleek sharp edge of her sword with no fear in eyes that met his, only strength and determination. It was intimately familiar to him, and for a moment, she was Kuina, tall and determined. She was Tashigi, with something to prove and something to find. She was reflection.
Later, when they had finished for the day, she stood sweaty and fierce and said, "Happy Birthday, Sensei." with a bit more shyness than one who is to be the best should possess.
He let it slide.
Zoro woke up and immediately felt the deep protest in his limbs as he shifted to consciousness. Despite the constant ache now deep in his body, he smiled against the morning light. He had dreamed last night.
He had dreamed of them and scattered laughter across the deck. He had dreamed of unfulfilled purpose and constant yearning. He had dreamed of him as he had last seen him, curl of smoke tracing a stray edge of wind, hair more silver than gold, that one visible eye sly and intent. He closed his eyes, still tired, still wanting to return to that place he dreamt.
He slept, and it was all so vivid. He could feel the heat of their hands pressed against his skin. He listened to the sound of offerings and bickering and off-key birthday songs. He could see the tangible lines of their dreams tied so finely to his own. He finally slept.