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Books, Pastries, and Wagers

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It was pouring rain when Zexion arrived in Traverse Town. The first district was void of any people, and the lights from the lamps and surroundings shops and homes were dimly lit, save for one.

A bakery.

Though the Schemer was there on a mission, he couldn’t help but be drawn to the bakery like a moth to a flame.

Through the open door that was precariously left open to welcome people in, Zexion observed a teenage girl gracefully weave her way between tables as she brought various pastries and drinks to customers who sat at the tables.

The Nobody’s nonexistent heart skipped a beat ever so slightly upon recognizing who the girl was.

From then on, Zexion often found himself stopping by the bakery to watch the girl dart to and fro between servicing customers and baking, though the Nobody never once took a step inside the bakery. Instead, Zexion felt contented to watch from the outside.

Every so often, Athalia would notice the hooded Zexion outside and offer him a sweet smile as to beckon him inside before continuing with whatever task she was doing.

It was on an unusually quiet night when Zexion decided to step inside the bakery, though it wasn’t by his own choice.

An eerie hush had settled over Traverse Town when Zexion arrived. The lights within the first district were dimmer than usual, even the lights in the bakery didn’t shine as brightly, though it was clear why.

Heartless had invaded the normally peaceful district.

A spec of worry wriggled in the Nobody’s nonexistent heart as he noticed Neoshadows rummaging around within the bakery and the terrified cries of a girl inside.

Zexion immediately made his way to the bakery, and right when he stepped into the building, he saw one of the Neoshadows lunging towards a cowering Athalia.

With a surprising speed to rival those of Larxene or Xigbar, Zexion summoned his lexicon and shot a ball of energy towards the Neoshadow before it could even land an attack on the girl. Then, with a snapping close of his lexicon, the Schemer shot multiple homing fira to the surrounding Heartless that were left, leaving only him and Athalia within the bakery.

A slight whimper left Athalia’s lips as she slowly opened her eyes, noticing that the bakery had become brighter. “Oh! Th-they’re gone.” She let out a shaky sigh as she stood up. The young baker wiped down her apron before turning to the hooded figure. “W-were you the one who rescued me?” she asked.

Zexion nodded in affirmation before turning to leave.

“W-wait!” she called out to him, running past the overturned tables and chairs to chase after him. “Please stay. I always see you outside, but you never come in. And I have to thank you somehow for saving me.”

The Nobody stayed silent, though, after some deliberation, turned towards her again.

“Thank you! Please, take a seat!” Athalia ushered as she began to turn one of the tables and chairs right-side up again. “Is there anything you would like? As thanks for saving me, it’s on the house,” she said as she offered the hooded figure a menu.

Without even looking at the menu, Zexion made his order. “I’ll have Mrs. Madeleine’s Special.”

After that fateful incident, the Cloaked Schemer made it a point to visit the bakery at least once a week. Today was no exception as he stepped foot in the bakery and immediately headed towards a table in the darkest corner. There on the table lay his usual pastry order and two cups of tea.

A shadow of a smile crossed Zexion’s visage as he sat down and pulled out a book to keep himself occupied until Athalia came by.

“Hey there,” the young baker greeted as she took a seat across the Nobody, noting yet another book in his possession. “You know, every time I see you here, you always have a new book with you.”

Zexion nodded. “Though I’m an academic of the sciences, I must admit that I have a certain fondness for literature, especially that of fiction.”

Athalia smiled as she took a sip from her cup. “I can see that. You do seem to be of the bookish sort, especially with that large lexicon I see you study from time to time.”

“Oh? Then I suppose you’re the altruistic type,” Zexion commented cheekily.

Athalia giggled. “I suppose you can say that.” The girl took another sip, a light hum leaving her lips as she did so before she spoke again. “You know, I’ve been thinking about this, but I don’t actually know your name, or how you look like, even though you’ve been coming here quite often lately.”

Zexion raised a brow, though it wasn’t like she could see him do so with the hood he perpetually kept on. “I didn’t realize that it was in your job description to know everyone,” the Nobody quipped dryly.

The teenager pouted. “Well, it may not be in my actual job description, but I like to make it a point to know everyone who comes in here.” Athalia looked away shyly as she muttered the next part, “And, it would be nice to know your name at least.”

The Schemer smirked slightly, an almost pleased feeling coursing through him at that thought of the young baker wanting to know his name. “I suppose it is a bit unfair since I know your name,” Athalia looked up at the Nobody hopefully, “but why don’t we make this a bit more interesting.”

Athalia let out a groan. “Why must you make things difficult.”

Zexion laughed. “Not difficult, interesting. Anyways, if you can find a novel that I have yet to read, I’ll be more than happy with telling you my name, and only my name. Do we have an agreement?”

“Though that doesn’t sound fair at the very least,” the young baker sighed, “I’ll accept,” Athalia consented as she shook the Schemer’s hand.

“How many weeks has it been?” Athalia groaned as Zexion returned yet another book.

“To be quite honest, I stopped counting after the seventh try,” the Nobody admitted.

The young baker let out a long sigh, though she steeled herself afterward. “Then I’ll have to keep trying!”

Zexion shook his head, a light chuckle erupting from him. “Your tenacity is quite admirable, Athalia. Many of my coworkers would’ve stopped trying after the second try.”

“To be fair, I’m your friend, not your coworker,” Athalia said with a smile.

The Nobody smiled despite himself. “I suppose you’re right.”

“I must say, Athalia, I’m quite impressed,” the Nobody admitted as he sat down.

Athalia excitedly leaned forward in her seat at the implication. “Did I do it this time?”

Zexion nodded. “Yes. Actually, I’ve heard of the book before, but upon reading the synopsis of it, I dismissed it as a book of little merit with its prattle of happiness and positivity. Though I must say, it really is true when they say to ‘never judge a book by its cover.’”

“I’m glad.” Athalia sighed in relief. “Initially, I was hesitant to even recommend it to you, but I figured it was worth a shot.”

“It definitely was worth the second chance. I suppose I do owe you a reward though.”

Zexion slid the book he had borrowed back to Athalia, though under it was another book.

Athalia examined the other book curiously. It looked to be newer than the other books she would usually see him read.

“I found this novel recently as I don’t usually read that kind of genre, but after reading it, I felt that you would enjoy, probably more so, as much as I did.”

“Now you have me excited,” Athalia said giddily as she proceeded to open it. “Ah, there’s some writing in it.”

The Schemer nodded. “My apologies, I have a tendency to write down notes and comments within the margins.”

“It’s no big deal, it seems like something you would do anyway,” the young baker giggled. “‘Zexion,’” she read.

Though it was only uttered under the girl's breath, a small shiver ran through the Nobody’s body.

“Zexion,” she said again, “is that your name?” she asked.

“I'm not sure what else it would be.”

Athalia looked up at the Schemer, a pout on her face. “You’re so difficult sometimes.”

Zexion only gave the young baker a slight shrug as the two stood up. “As I said, interesting, not difficult. And as I say that, let’s have another wager.”

“More wagers? I know it was only the one, but that took me weeks,” Athalia whined.

The Nobody chuckled lightly. “I promise this one is only slightly more manageable than the last one, and the prize much more lucrative.” Zexion pointed at the book he lent to the young baker. “Next time I come back, if you finish that book by then, I’ll allow you to see my face. If not, then that’ll be the end of that. Do we have a deal?” Zexion asked as he held his hand out.

Determination crossed Athalia’s features as she shook his hand. “Deal.”

Zexion never returned after that.

Ienzo glanced over at Athalia as she read that book again. The book a different him gave to her.

Currently, the two were lounging together in one of the common areas of the castle as Athalia announced to the young scientist that he absolutely had to take a break from his research. Ienzo surmised that it was the work of Aeleus as he had been the one to escort the young baker to the room with Ansem’s computer.

“I always see you with that book,” Ienzo commented innocently as he continued to read his own book, taking a bite of one of the pastries the young woman brought with her.

“Yeah. I can’t help but reread this book sometimes.” A tender smile reached her face as she affectionately fingered the page she was on. “Someone dear to me let me borrow it.”

Ienzo turned to the next page. “Borrow, you say? How long have you been borrowing it?”

Athalia let out an inquisitive hum. “A little over a year or two.”

“That’s a long time to borrow a book.”

“I suppose, yes.” Athalia closed the book gently. “I mean, I did intend to give it back the first time I finished, but he never came back,” she trailed off, thumbing the spine of the book.

Ienzo stayed silent, lingering on the page he was on. He debated whether or not it would be wise to reveal precisely who Zexion was to Athalia. The steel-blue haired man glanced again at the young baker, before taking a deep breath. “Well, since you did finish the book, I should probably show you how Zexion looks like. It’s only fair that you get your reward since those were the terms of the wager after all.”

Athalia whipped her head towards the scientist, a bewildered look on her face. “H-how did you know his name? And how did you know about the bet?”

Ienzo just smiled patiently as he waited for Athalia to connect the dots.

“That was you?” Athalia gasped in shock as realization dawned upon her, tears welling up in her eyes.

Ienzo nodded. “However, it's a bit of a long story.”

Athalia scooted closer to the young scientist. “Well, it's a good thing you're taking a break then.”