It started with a cherry on top.
The reason was minute. A hindrance, really. One would think the World’s Greatest Swordsman possessed a perfect grasp on anything and everything that was dealt with him, but it was moments like these that reminded the mass that he was still human.
An allergic reaction.
Bartolomeo could have died laughing at the remote idea of Mihawk “Hawkeyes” Dracule, strongest swordsman in the world, falling at the clutches of a fruit allergy. Truly, the thought promised the most entertaining sight— the typically stoic pirate resorted to a wheezing mess, clutching around swollen windpipes in meager attempts for air— but Fate decided to play the kind mistress today, dismissing the swordsman’s life in the rookie’s hands. Equally, on a whim, he spun the wheel and decided the turnout may be more enticing in the long run.
Running with that thought, Bartolomeo whisked the man away to the nearest hospital, bellowing the whole way to anyone who got in the way absolute shitheads.
As it turned out, while uncommon, allergies could develop or return with old age and the doctor supposed it was sheer dumb luck Bartolomeo was the one to find Mihawk when he did. Aiding the man left a strange taste in his mouth— he didn't want to admit it helped his ego something awful— so, he convinced himself that the sight had looked so pathetic for a man of such standing that it pissed him off, simple as that.
In the end, Mihawk thanked him.
Strange, not quite miffed, Bartolomeo accepted, allowed it to sit astride his ego like something warm, comfortable, for but a brief moment and promptly dropped the feeling lest it became familiar.
“Hehaha, I ain’t heartless, old man! I’m surprised ya didn’t die from embarrassment first.”
Of course, Bartolomeo talked shit all he wanted— and he would only continue to do so— but he also knew Mihawk could easily slice through him at the drop of his fancy hat and then some. What self-preservation he carried was bolstered by the pure fact he had saved the pirate's life and he had no issues holding it over the man’s head whatsoever if need be.
"Now, I think your lingering presence will impede my recovery. So, if you please."
So much fancy talk for ‘Thanks, get the fuck out.’, but he riled up enough of a reaction this time.
He'll make sure to send a crate full of cherries to the Warlord’s home the next time he was feeling generous.
How it evolved from there turned out to be a fluke.
After witnessing the incident he now affectionately dubbed the Cherry Fiasco, Hawkeyes didn't really enter his thoughts much after that and for good reason. There was plenty of other, far more interesting havoc to pay attention to, so when he eventually received a letter in the mail from Mihawk himself six months after their misadventure, Bartolomeo expected payback. A scathing rhetoric spat out with extraneous syllables, tearing apart his belligerent attitude in the most formal way, that was about the only thing that made sense as to why the pirate reached out.
Instead, what he received instead was an intricately written note, the formal script as expected, officially thanking him for his assistance back then. Bartolomeo had nearly forgotten the occurrence for a moment. His eyes glazed over while he stared over the lettering once again, equal parts in disbelief and delight. Surely, old Hawkeyes of the Warlords had something a lot better to do with his time than mailing out handwritten thank you letters.
A hard bark of laughter left him at the thought and he slid his gaze to the heading, taking note of the address before he made a grab for some paper. To have been sent something so thoughtful warranted an equally kind gesture and if Bartolomeo was anything, it was reciprocating twice-fold. He absolutely couldn’t contain his grin as he scribbled out his response in kind, sealing it with a stamp of his Jolly Roger on both letter and envelope. The young captain leaned back in his seat, smirking as he considered the letter’s contents once more before sending it out.
Ooooh, I'm blushing! The thanks is mine~
Who woulda thought such a busy man would spend his time to send little ol' me a letter.
But if you really wanna make it up to me, here's my denden number: ----- --- ----- ---- .
It’s a lot easier to keep in contact these days than letters. No t to mention faster.
I’ll hear from ya sometimes, Hawkeyes~
P.S. Maybe not in six month’s time either :PP
In due time, he received a call and from there, what followed unfolded as a silly, sporadic game of telephone where Mihawk begrudgingly held conversations with Bartolomeo in erratic bouts of boredom. It proved to be a delightful hour whenever the man found time to call, which sometimes varied between weeks to months at a time, but Bartolomeo found he preferred the surprise, never knowing when Mihawk might call off the whole game following the end of each prior talk. A part of him felt otherwise, knowing he could stop any time he wanted, and that would be the end of that because Bartolomeo had early on decided he didn't plan on calling first.
He decided this after making the mistake of taking the initiative in calling him first.
There held no rhyme or reason for why he did it, simply because Bartolomeo could and therefore, would.
The droning purupurupuru of the Den Den stopped short when the call picked up and Mihawk’s familiar monotonous voice sounded from the other end. Bartolomeo grinned broadly at the stoic expression of the transponder snail, which mimicked the man's wicked sharp gaze and flat expression.
A heavy put-upon sigh.
“Listen rookie, what makes you think-”
“Wanna play a game?”
A pause answered Bartolomeo before he laughed at the snail's unchanging face and when the beginning of a grimace finally began to ripple across, he broke down cackling.
“I know what ya want.” Bartolomeo wheezed in between rattling laughter, nearly brought to tears by the sheer fact of Mihawk's detached looks. “And I think I'm ready.”
The air grew thick and without even looking at the snail’s reflective expression, he knew the figurative cogs in Mihawk’s head all but grounded to a halt. A 2 AM call for no reason other than the fact that he could and the other's lack of an answer proved far more entertaining as a result.
“... I think you have the wrong number.”
Teeth wide, leering, Bartolomeo pulled the speaker close to his mouth and rattled a husky laugh, provocative as it was exaggerated. “Do I really?”
It might have been a mistake, in retrospect.
There was no winning out experience in some things if the tongue was better well-versed in wit than himself. Bartolomeo discovered this quickly following the first and last call he made to MIhawk that night. Talks from there appeared like a slaughter— Mihawk on the hunt for verbal blood, constantly baiting him for a snarky retort before biting into the proverbial neck of the conversation. They continued sporadically throughout a month, but as of late, Bartolomeo found being thoroughly inebriated for these calls made it all the more easy to parry words when it required no second thinking. The tame nonsense he spouted while sober could not hold a candle to what catastrophe his mouth inflicted while shit-faced. It was also impossible for Mihawk to bring down his alcohol-addled high.
“Hawkeyes~ Ya callin’ so soon~ Miss me already?” he slurred, voice thick with liquor but riddled with mirth.
"You recognize by now that will never be the case, unless if it was in your dreams, which I can only imagine those atrocities."
Bartolomeo couldn’t help the laughter that bubbled out of him like an unexpected gale of wind, cold and cutting.
“Pfff, fuck you, old man-!” he bit back before taking another swig. “Ya wouldn’t call so much otherwise unless you're lonely~” Though his tone was teasing, it was a genuine observation not even Mihawk could deny.
And deny he didn’t, but there was a huff of unmistakeable, perhaps amused, laughter.
"‘Fuck me’? Obviously another crude fantasy of yours." His voice remained level as a still ocean, but Bartolomeo still didn't expect Mihawk's next choice of words. "Not a choice in poor taste, at least."
The liquor Bartolomeo spat out sprayed across the transponder snail's unsuspecting face, which now sported the most minute look of amusement, a sharply raised brow as though in challenge, but he was too busy saving the rest of the bottle he upended in his surprise to fully absorb that offhanded comment. Finally staring at the snail in waiting, expecting something more, knowing the look on his face was everything opposite of the look Mihawk wore, the man's laughter turned out to be the single most unexpected thing, palpable and borderline mocking.
"Speechless? That’s a surprise coming from you, rookie. Where’s your belligerent retort? "
"Fff—” A second was all he needed to collect himself, but he couldn’t help the hiccup of laughter that carried in his voice. “Oi oi, that’s helluva ego on ya.”
Mihawk didn’t even wait a beat.
“You brought it up first.”
“Afjdklk— you brought up the idea of fucking you!” he interjected. Now the thought wouldn't leave in his heavy-laden drunken stupor. Shit. “Why would I wanna-”
“Are you saying I can’t be fucked?”
Two loud seconds passed.
“No! What— I meant, yes— !”
"How persuasive, rookie. Here's a hint: no one is unfuckable."
His brain tore into shut down; this was how he was put down: a harmless 2 AM call turned topsy-turvey by the Warlord's backward logic where the only way to avert this crisis and bizarre sexual awakening was to have his brain literally walk out of his head and—
"You're sayin' what now— "
"Shut up, I can smell your breath from here. Sober up the next time we talk, rookie."
A resounding clack answered in the space where Bartolomeo couldn't and he watched, jaw carefully slackening, at the transponder snail dropping off to sleep once more.
He was left to stare a moment longer, words suddenly a foreign concept while he attempted to make sense of what Mihawk said to him. He couldn't.
Nothing stuck and nothing stopped the crescendo of his confused laughter, pitched high with disbelief and staggering confusion.
Did he just get his ass handed to him? Did he just—? Next time?