The Cogitare Bookstore
By DXM JUNKIE
A/N: Plot bunny. I should be working on other stories, but I couldn't help myself. I warn you, I think this one is a bit slow starting. But if you like, I'd adore a review!
The Cogitare Bookstore was an ancient establishment. The brick structure was commissioned in the early nineteenth century and originally intended for Free Mason meetings. It was sold to an old granny who owned too many dime novels and shortly after the depression she opened shop. Since then it changed hands numerous times while retaining much of its initial appearance.
The walls inside were painted an odd off-beige color that many customers commented on, being that it was particularly hideous. The building was two stories tall, not very spacious, yet unusually complicated to walk through. The different sections were weaving mazes of expansive shelves, the stairs to the upper level almost impassable with books piled against the wooden railing.
Zexion adored this store. And he was not the sort of man to be partial about many things.
When he arrived every morning for inventory it always smelled of black coffee and parchment. The best scent imaginable in his opinion. Zexion's favorite task was going through cardboard boxes of used books for resale. He felt they told countless histories- from the names written in sloppy pen work to the worn spines indicating they'd been treasured. The designs on the covers were sometimes indelibly intricate and had Zexion been an artist he would have found them more beautiful than paintings in a museum.
Zexion got his job at Cogitare back when he'd been a freshman in college. He was a stoic sort of guy and the interview was awkward. But he was hired because he understood the dewy decimal system from part timing at the library in high school. He'd worked at Cogitare diligently through four years of university, and when he graduated with a degree in science he decided that he preferred the low key atmosphere to a corporate job. So he rented a cheap flat down the street so he could walk to work while paying off loans for the schooling he would probably never utilize. That suited him just fine.
The boss and owner, Marluxia, was eccentric to say the least. Zexion found comfort in swapping banter with him. They'd been wary of each other, but managed to gain a tentative friendship after so many quiet afternoons of being bored out of their skulls.
Marluxia never pushed him to talk when he didn't want to. Zexion always appreciated this. He also turned a blind eye when the bibliophile took rare first edition tomes for his own collection, free of charge. Some would call that stealing. Marluxia called it the perks of employment.
The store was situated on the corner of a hectic metropolis bordering campus. Most people meandered past without ever noticing since the entrance was tucked away into a small niche askew an ally. Customers were often old timers who'd been shopping there for decades. Every so often college brats would come in to buy second-hand textbooks, and Zexion loathed dealing with the younger kids since they rearranged the merchandise or knocked things over.
Zexion lounged at the register, idly palming his face while absently wondering if he should catalogue the new set of books that'd arrived. But he felt lazy, and it was humid as hell.
The only downside to working in that shop was the lack of air conditioning. Marluxia constantly made excuses against installing anything since it was crowded enough in the back, but Zexion knew he was just being cheap. During the summer the store was muggy and even carefully placed fans provided little comfort. There was no dress code since Marly lived in sweatpants. So Zexion deftly learned which shirts and shorts would make the stifling heat more bearable.
The slate-haired man felt a bead of sweat roll down his neck when the front door bell suddenly chimed. He dropped his hand and stood straighter, trying to appear attentively professional.
A set of college students walked it, complaining loudly to one another as they ducked under the entrance sign. Zexion recognized one of the voices immediately. It was the student who occasionally visited to find nonfiction novels. He'd had coffee with that boy a couple times, and enjoyed their conversations since he was literate enough to know what he was talking about.
"Seriously, Roxas, it's like a billion fuckin' degrees in here!" A lanky redhead moaned unhappily.
"Suck it up, Ax." Roxas hissed, spinning around the aisles of books expertly towards Zexion.
A man with messed up Mohawk trailed, absently adding, "This place is kinda cool, all mellow-like."
"Cool?" The redhead retorted, "It's a lame bookstore."
Zexion frowned at the remark, blank expression set when the set of friends arrived at his counter. He greeted Roxas with normal courtesy and was promptly informed to ignore the redhead named Axel since he liked to bitch a lot.
Axel ruffled Roxas' spikes aggressively for the comment as the brunette reached across the register. The cheerful guy that shook his hand with an open smile plastered on his cheeks introduced himself as Demyx.
Zexion couldn't help but blithely stare up at his ostentatious hair. Demyx didn't seem to care and giggled when he caught the incredulous Zexion peering at him.
"You came in for that series you ordered online?" Zexion asked politely, forcing his face away from Demyx's gravity defying mop.
Roxas nodded, blue eyes twinkling.
"Sweet! They came in?"
Zexion turned and knelt under the register, "This morning. I took the liberty of picking out a different set than the one you ordered, since those were in horrid shape and these have a nicer feel to them. They were also cheaper. I hope you don't mind."
Roxas carelessly grinned, "Not at all. Let me see!"
Zexion quirked his lips when the blond thrummed with an ecstatic expression. Roxas cradled the books with open enthusiasm, rubbing his hand across the sleek covers with an affectionate glow.
Axel rolled his eyes, "Only you would wet your pants over a set of books, Rox."
Demyx punched a slim arm playfully, "Don't be a jerk. Roxas knows what he likes. Besides, you get creepy stoked about fireworks. Isn't that totally weird?"
Axel scoffed and crossed his arms before pulling them back down to fan himself balefully, "Damn, though, this store is humid as the mothafuckin' tropics."
Zexion silently rang up Roxas's purchase, covertly adding his own employee discount to the order; he too became unnaturally excited over a new set of books. He appreciated the shared interest.
"Have you seen these movies?" Roxas asked, pointing at the cover.
Zexion shook his head in negation, "I rarely see the movie adaption of any work I enjoy. They are often a disappointment."
Demyx picked the book on top up and examined it before reading aloud, "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? Isn't that the flick with the emo gothic girl sleeping with the old dude? It's like Swedish or something? I think it's on Netflix."
Demyx's response was aimed at Zexion, which struck the slate-haired man as peculiar.
Roxas chuckled, "Wow, Dem, you're so informed. Actually this series is about a journalist and the badass hacker who helps him out. It's really well done but you wouldn't like it. It's too dark and depressing."
Roxas turned to face Zexion, "And I know what you mean about the adaption thing. I rented The Golden Compass recently and that film was awful. You know, the one based on Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials? They mercilessly slaughtered the plot, and rearranged the timeline."
"Well, only Lord of the Rings lived up to any proper standard." Zexion mentioned conversationally as he placed the tomes in a paper bag.
"That true. The Hobbit's coming out pretty soon, wanna go with me? Axel won't let me drag him and it's boring to go alone." Roxas snagged the book back from Demyx to drop alongside the others.
"Sure, that's fine. Just let me know." Zexion paused after speaking, turning to Demyx.
Demyx was watching him with a distantly glazed expression, so he quirked an eyebrow towards him.
The tan student blushed and bit his lip, shifting his weight to turn away while mumbling some apology. He looked oddly appealing with pink burning his cheeks. Zexion forced his face impassive despite the spike of curiosity.
Roxas frowned before sporting an exasperated look, "Really Dem? Must you?"
Demyx pouted after anxiously glancing back at Zexion, "What?"
"You're not going to start this again, are you?"
Demyx flushed brighter, clearly embarrassed, and silence reigned for a long moment.
Zexion blinked, confused, unsure what the blond meant. Then Axel coughed into his hand and grabbed Roxas by the arm.
"Can we leave now?" Axel pleaded.
Demyx nodded aggressively, clutching Roxas' free wrist and hauling him out of the shop. Zexion watched their backs as they swiftly departed. Demyx spun around right before closing the door, waving with the same cheerful grin.
Zexion tilted his head. What an odd fellow.
During the following month Demyx became a regular. Three times a week the man would stack up a bunch of music books and lounge on the couches by the register to flip through them. Zexion couldn't fathom why he would choose to spend his free time at a humidly cramped shop instead of enjoying the weather outside, but didn't comment on it. In fact they really hadn't spoken.
Demyx always returned the books to their precise spot, but he never bought anything. This didn't surprise Zexion, most customers rarely did.
But Demyx was an odd puzzle that Zexion amused himself by mulling over. The guy acted so contradictory. When they first met he'd chatted with Roxas and the redhead casually. Yet he never did so with Zexion, and the slate-haired man felt this was out-of-character for the student. Not that he had any basis for this, but Demyx seemed like the type to adore talking.
He'd always smile and wave and stare at Zexion, but he never opened his mouth.
And by stare, he meant stare. Demyx watched him a lot. Quite a bit more than Zexion thought was necessary. The set of aqua eyes frequently peeked above the rim of a giant book and he'd wordlessly observe Zexion work. It hadn't occurred to Zexion that this behavior might be considered creepy; instead he simply wondered why Demyx found him interesting to watch in the first place.
It was the end of July when they finally had their first proper conversation.
A noxious heat wave made the store so unbearable that Zexion began suffering from fatigue. His mind was hazy and stupid and his clothes clung to his sweaty skin. He wanted nothing more than to go home and soak himself in a freezing bath. But Marluxia was out of town and he needed to work all day.
Demyx wandered through the shelves with an iced coffee in hand. Zexion was splayed carelessly on a chair, head tilted back, craning to catch the breeze from a revolving fan. Demyx waved his greeting, but Zexion's eyes were clenched shut in a decidedly unhappy manner. Zexion's face was a shade paler than normal.
"Are you okay?" The words came out crystal clear and Zexion glanced up under thick eyelashes.
Demyx was crouched towards him, hands cradling knees with his face twisted in concern. Zexion sluggishly cleared his throat.
Demyx nodded and glanced around, "This heat wave is harsh. Don't you have somebody who can take over so you can get some air?"
Zexion dropped forward, heaving a sigh, "I wish."
Demyx frowned, "You look like you're about to pass out."
"Thanks," Zexion snorted wryly as he wiped his damp hair away from his forehead.
Aqua eyes widened, "Can I leave my bag here for one sec? I'll be right back."
Zexion waved his hand uselessly, indicating he held no objections. Demyx threw his backpack next to the register and was gone without another word. Zexion frowned, wondering why Demyx randomly decided to converse with him. Did he really look that dreadful? Wonderful. Now the man would think he was a slacker at work. He was currently about as useless as an employee could get, after all.
Demyx returned with both hands clutching beverages.
He smiled and offered Zexion one of the drinks, "Here, iced coffee."
"What? Oh, um- thank you. You didn't need to do that."
Demyx grinned, "It really looked like you could use something cold."
Zexion felt his eyes flutter shut as he sipped through the straw, bliss making his shoulder sag. The cogs in his brain started turning again from the refreshing caffeine.
"I seriously needed this, actually. Thank you again."
The student chuckled and glanced around the store needlessly, eyes trained away from Zexion, "Slow day?"
"No more than usual."
"I see…" Demyx bit his lip, twiddling his fingers together.
"So you are fond of music?" Zexion hedged, feeling obligated to make small talk.
Demyx spun back towards him, startled, "What?"
"Whenever you come here you always read various books on music."
Demyx nodded slowly, "Yes, I love music very much."
Awkward silence, Zexion thought to himself. Seriously awkward silence.
Zexion cleared his throat again, "What are you going to school for?"
"Um, classical jazz. Probably sounds boring, but I dig the coursework and the professors are really chill! One of them can be a total buzzkill; guess there'll always be dudes like that." Demyx rambled.
Zexion leaned forward on his chair enjoying the distraction.
"That's how I met Rox too. Same seminar. He's kinda hard to make nice with at first cause he doesn't really like talking much but I eventually cracked his shell. It helped that he was already dating Ax, 'cause I grew up with him since we were diaper-totin' babies."
Zexion openly stared at Demyx, making the man flush and squeak, "What?"
"Roxas is dating that redhead?" Zexion queried softly.
"Oh, yeah, they aren't really obvious about it I guess. I could tell right away but most people can't. Roxy hates PDA and I think his twin is the only one in his family who knows."
So the blond boy was gay, then. Zexion shrugged to himself, "Oh."
"Are you okay with that?" Demyx whispered, sounding oddly anxious.
"With you know, homosexuals and stuff?"
Zexion rolled his eyes, "It's none of my business what people do inside their own homes."
Demyx hummed, "Yeah, I figured you'd say something like that."
Zexion frowned, not appreciating the sentiment.
"I mean," Demyx quickly added, "That you don't seem like the type to be bigoted about trivial stuff like sexual preferences or race or religion."
"What makes you think that?"
"Well, I guess 'cause you work at a book store. Most people who like reading a lot aren't usually close minded."
Zexion smirked, "Hitler read voraciously."
Demyx didn't respond. Zexion grabbed his drink again and took a long sip. Then he glanced at Demyx out of the corner of his eye. He felt inexplicably implored to ask Demyx the question.
"So why now?" He asked flatly.
"Why talk to me now? You've been coming here quite frequently, but if I'm not mistaken this is the first time you've spoken with me."
Zexion wasn't expecting the boy to leap to his feet dramatically and scoop up his backpack.
"Um- no reason! Really. Don't overwork yourself! I'll see you around!" Demyx cried without turning back, fleeing the store after almost tripping over a stack of books.
Zexion stared at the front door, utterly baffled. Had he said something to offend the man? He didn't think so. He couldn't understand that reaction. Zexion glanced down at the iced coffee in his hand, not knowing why a cold beverage could make his cheeks tingle or his stomach clench. Such a strange feeling.
Still, Zexion figured, Demyx was an odd person. That must be the cause.
Demyx didn't return to the shop for nearly two weeks. Zexion found that this fact put him in a foul mood whenever he thought about it. He shouldn't feel bereft of human interaction; he'd been a loner all his life. He didn't keep close friends, preferring instead to be alone with his literature. But without Demyx's presence there was a stab of unease eating away at his normally calm logic.
Zexion was never keen on being confused, but that man was seriously… hard to understand.
Why did he feel lonely? He found the whole ordeal incredibly frustrating.
Marluxia returned from his trip and quickly picked up on Zexion's dour disposition. The pink haired man wasn't sure what caused it, but it amused him by how uncertain Zexion appeared. He was definitely not acting like himself. Marluxia tried to force it out of him, but it was obvious the slate-haired employee wasn't going to budge.
Roxas turned up one afternoon and went directly to Zexion, offering to buy him a cup of coffee because they needed to talk. Roxas was persistent, and Marluxia eventually forced Zexion out of the store just so he wouldn't have to listen to him refuse the invitation anymore.
It was gray and rainy outside, thankfully cooler than previous days. Zexion barely had time to pull his hood over his hair when Roxas began physically dragging him away. They traveled only a block down to a locally owned café. Roxas ordered the largest coffees available before veering towards a secluded booth in the back. Zexion noted how fidgety Roxas was acting. Something was wrong.
"Is something the matter?" Zexion ventured once they were seated.
"Um," Roxas faltered, "Well-"
"Is this about Demyx?"
Roxas scowled, dropping his head to the table and groaning into his arm, "Bingo."
Zexion blew at his coffee, cooling the liquid, "He hasn't stopped by in a while."
Roxas lifted his head up and demanded, "Did you say something to him? Something weird?"
Zexion shook his head, "No, we spoke for a short while before he randomly stormed out of the shop."
"Yeah, I figured as much."
"I'm not following you."
Roxas twined his fingers in front of him and gave Zexion a steady look, their eyes locked, "Okay, so here's the deal. Demyx is gonna kill me for saying this…"
Zexion leaned forward attentively.
"So, pretty much…" Roxas bit his tongue and forced the words out.
"Demyx is fawning over you like a lost puppy and it's pathetic to watch. When he finds someone who he considers to be 'his type' he goes all total stalker mode and will try to spend time with them without being obvious. Which he incapable of. So, the other week he got all like melancholy and emo and shit. And he's still moping around like the worlds ended. Dramatic twit."
Zexion was floored. The words weren't processing.
"E..e… excuse me?" He eventually stammered with eyebrows high on his forehead.
"He's done this before."
"That…" Zexion was trying to wrap his mind around it, "…"
"Yeah, I know. The last two people he got all weepy for turned him down flat. They said that gay people are disgusting. One of them beat the shit out of him so he told Axel how he was never going to confess to another person again. Something about how it makes them uncomfortable and he doesn't want people to hate him. I kept telling him to talk to you like normal, but I'm pretty sure he probably just sat in Cogitare and stared at you."
"Are you okay with that?"
"With you know, homosexuals and stuff?"
Zexion nodded, feeling dizzy, "Correct. However, what could he possibly like about me? We've barely spoken."
"That's probably my fault actually," Roxas responded sheepishly, "I've talked about you before. Just stuff like we have good conversations and that I think you're intelligent. How I like the vibe of that bookstore and how you know what the hell you're talking about; your opinions are formed through research instead of hearsay. But when Demyx met you he got all emotional after we left, said you were the most attractive guy he's ever seen and glibitty glob glob."
Zexion stared down at his lap. He began replaying their previous interaction, wanting to find some sense in it. Some sense meaning he was one hundred percent confused and had no idea what Roxas was talking about.
"Before he stormed out I asked him why he suddenly talked with me after being silent." He informed Roxas slowly.
"Yeah, he said that you looked like you were about to die from the heat so he bought you iced coffee."
"And…" Zexion paused, "He asked what I thought of homosexuality. I told him that it didn't bother me."
Roxas titled his head, "How did that even get brought up?"
Zexion blushed, "He, ah, told me about how he met you. And Axel."
Roxas promptly flushed, they peered across the table silently. Roxas leaned back, hands flopping in his hair.
"Yeah, I'm dating Ax. Weird, right?" Roxas' tone was resigned.
"That's not how I would phrase it."
"What do you mean?" Roxas was nervous.
"More like, when I met him you didn't seem... particularly happy to be around him. And when Demyx told me you were in a relationship, I thought I misheard him."
Roxas snorted, "We get that a lot actually."
Roxas took a big gulp of his coffee, ignoring the scalding hot burn it gave his throat, "Me and Ax… I don't know how to explain it. I hated him at first, I seriously found him so baffling and contradictory. We were forced to do a project together, and I was such an ass to him. But whenever I gave him shit he'd give it right back and I started to like hanging out with him."
Roxas smiled absently, "Then I pretty much tripped in love with him. With his personality, and how stubborn he is, and how loud and rude and abnormal he acts. And how kind and caring he can be when he thinks nobody is looking. How… awesome he is. It's unfathomable."
Roxas laughed shortly before stopping himself, "Oh, sorry, I'm sure you don't wanna hear about this stuff."
"That is not correct," Zexion said slowly, "Actually, I'd like to hear more."
Roxas sighed, "Like what?"
"I'm not sure." Zexion admitted.
Roxas smiled, "I'm sure that's not what you want to talk to me about."
Zexion knew this was true the moment Roxas said it.
"What…" Zexion twitched nervously, "What could someone such as Demyx possibly like about me? I mean, after all, we are total opposites. Even when he was silent I somehow knew that was out-of-character for him. That he normally wouldn't act that way."
"True that. He doesn't know when to shut the hell up."
"Well, again, Demyx is totally going to fucking kill me for this. What he said was that he thought you were mature. And he thought it was admirable that you'd find a better book series for me 'cause it was cheaper and nicer. And that he could tell how much you adored Cogitare, but how you probably didn't have many friends because you were the type to prefer books to people."
Zexion gasped. How could he have possibly known all those things?
"And that when you stared at his hair with such an openly confused way he thought you were cute. His words, not mine." Roxas was quick to add.
"I see." Zexion shook his head, "And here he didn't strike me as the perceptive sort."
"Yeah well, cheesy as it sounds, don't judge a book by its cover."
They paused, sipping their drinks.
"So what do you think about this, Zexion?"
"Think about Demyx?"
"Well, yeah, and the fact that he has a crush on you."
"I don't really know, honestly. The thought never occurred to me."
"Well, no offense or anything, but you're kinda oblivious. I mean, yeah you're book smart but I don't think you've ever chilled with enough people to be people smart."
Zexion sighed into his coffee, "So Demyx is upset?"
"Yeah, but it's his own damn fault. He could've gone about this whole thing in a million other better ways. But that's what happens when you like someone. You act like a dumbass."
"Applying this to personal experience, are we," Zexion mused.
"That's true. I just… hate seeing him like this. The poor guy, the last people he confessed to acted like arrogant fucktards. All high and mighty that they are hot enough for dudes to like them. But disgusted by the mere thought of a dude liking them." Roxas stated flatly.
Though there was no affection in his tone, Zexion understood that Roxas was a lot more concerned about Demyx than he was verbally admitting.
"What should I do?" Zexion softly asked.
"No idea. I mean, hell, it's up to you. Straight or gay, if you're cool with it be friends with him. He's a good guy, really. He needs some friends outside of that band."
"But he likes me." Zexion quipped.
"Yeah but you don't know that- right?" Roxas teased, "Cause we never had this conversation. Hey, tell you what, Axel is having a party this weekend. I figure that's not really your scene, but Demyx will be there and it'll be a chance to talk with him. If you want to."
Zexion considered it. He'd never been to a party in his entire life. He would look like a fool. But he also didn't appreciate the idea that Demyx was upset simply because he was too scared to talk to him. In a roundabout way, this might help. Zexion would become friends with Demyx, which he was certain would be an easy endeavor, and Demyx might forget his crush entirely and become happy again.
Zexion stood, downing the last gulp of his coffee, "I'll be there."
Roxas grinned, "Cool. And don't forget-"
"This conversation never happened." Zexion finished.
When Zexion returned to his bookstore he sat pensively behind the register. Peering at the crowded shelves around him brought him no comfort. Every time he paused he could only imagine Demyx. Demyx sitting on the couch pretending to read, Demyx staring at him, Demyx smiling or waving… Demyx bringing him coffee, Demyx running out.
Marluxia meandered over to him and placed one hand on his shoulder.
"Long day?" His boss asked him.
Zexion huffed noncommittally before responding, "Demyx is so confusing."