1. The one thing Naevia never talked about was her scar. It had angrily bisected her left cheek for as long as Nasir had known her. He could tell when she was thinking about it. The customer traffic would be slow and Naevia would pull a rich and sticky Death by Chocolate dessert out of the chilled display case, her expression focusing on something else probably very far away. Then she'd eat the entire dessert herself.
Nasir didn't ask questions. He sat beside her, filling in the daily paper's crossword or frosting the latest batch of cupcakes with sure concentrated movements. If Naevia needed him, he was right there. She didn't say anything, but she never told him to leave.
One afternoon, after she'd finished the dessert, Naevia laid a hand on his arm and squeezed. Her expression was starting to lose that pinched look it gained whenever the consuming haunted mood overtook her. Nasir nodded at the gratitude he saw there. He was sure she'd do the same for him.
Whenever anyone asked if the rumours about Naevia and her scar were true, he always said that it was her story to tell, no one else’s.
2. The first time he talked about Agron's brother, Agron wasn't there. Nasir was in the café’s kitchen, piping letters onto a three-layer cake, and Naevia was reaching for a pie dish. They'd been talking about Agron and Crixus's latest disagreement, Naevia insisting that their fights now weren’t as bad as they used to be and that Agron's moods had improved since Nasir's arrival.
“He hasn't lit up so bright since......”
She paused and Nasir finished her thought quietly. “Since Duro.”
He knew. Of course he did, every fan of the footie league knew. Duro had been a promising young player back when Agron had still played for the Gladiators. Then Spartacus had started his ground-breaking Fair Play, Equal Pay campaign. Agron and Duro had been two of the most high-profile players to join up. One night, they were jumped in a conveniently deserted street. They'd both been beaten up pretty badly when somebody had produced a gun and Duro got in the way. Agron had claimed afterwards that he'd recognised a couple of the men as employees of the Roman Group. Nothing was ever proved.
Naevia smiled sadly. “Does he ever talk...?”
Nasir shook his head. Agron had stopped playing and become a coach following his brother’s death. He still had bad episodes when he was clearly overwhelmed by memories. Those days he usually trained until he was exhausted. Then Nasir drove him home and while Agron showered, Nasir baked a black forest gateau. A piece of Agron’s homeland. Just the smell of it alone lifted some of the shadows from his expression. Gratitude poured off him without words and Nasir just smiled back, offering his arms. The gateau never lasted longer than a few days.
Those nights, when Nasir kissed him, Agron tasted of cherries and cream and still-raw sadness. He held on tight to Nasir.
Naevia always said that baking was a kind of therapy, for the people doing the baking and those doing the eating.
3. Gannicus turned up at the café sometimes. Whenever he did, Nasir cut him a piece of warm dark chocolate tart and poured a cup of creamy coffee, all without being asked. Gannicus occasionally thanked him with a rare smile. It was almost blinding, how it transformed his expression.
Agron didn’t like him, muttering about the Celts’ numbers and Gannicus’s 'questionable fucking decisions.' But Gannicus was always firmly respectful around Nasir and treated Naevia with absolute courtesy, even warmth. It was one of the reasons Crixus liked him, Nasir too. And he enjoyed Gannicus's company and conversation. Gannicus didn’t do small talk. He came to the café because he liked the food and the staff and if he had an opinion, he shared it. He didn’t treat Nasir like an idiot because he worked in a café. He talked about beer and the football league tables and anything else his mind latched onto. He saw the world differently, differently even to Spartacus, and he wasn’t afraid to stand by his views, no matter who questioned them or how drunk he was.
And if Gannicus sometimes looked melancholy, his expression almost searching as it focused on the crowds outside, Nasir didn't comment on it. It was nobody's business but Gannicus's.
4. There were different kinds of rebellion. On game days, the café sold themed cupcakes frosted in the teams’ colours and topped with the German and Gaul emblems. The cakes filled up the window display and posters of Agron and Crixus were tacked up on the window itself. The banner above them read simply ‘Support Our Players.’ From a certain perspective, the absence of any specific reference to Spartacus's campaign could point silently and directly towards it.
Naevia’s smile was always proud and secretive those days. Nasir found that he’d started wearing a similar expression.
5. There were lots of fun ways to use up leftover frosting. Nasir and Agron were making their way through a very extensive and extremely enjoyable list.