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When We First Came Here

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The edges of the books are digging into his arms, and he tries to shift his grip just the tiniest bit to relieve the pain while waiting for the group around him to disperse, but instead it unbalances half the pile and sends it cascading to the ground.

The jeers around him grow louder and he takes a deep breath, trying to will down the shaking in his arms as he looks for a gap in the circle they’ve made around him and rushes through it to place the stack that’s still in his arms on a table.

As he turns, head hunched down between his ears, to return to the center and gather what has fallen to the floor, the attention of the group is caught by someone calling out.

“Hey!” yells the voice, “What are you doing?”

The group around him dissolves quickly as they scatter with a few choice words. The leader leans in and hisses that he still expects Pi to finish the work, and Pi suppresses acidic huff of laughter. Of course—escaping this hell wasn’t easy. If it was, Pi would’ve done it ages ago.

“Shit, it’s Mork,” one of the girls says as she rushes around Pi on one side.

“Do you think he saw?” asks her friend as she jostles Pi’s shoulder, pushing past him from the other side.

The reply is lost to distance as they hurry away, and soon it’s just Pi, who stares down at the books that are still on the ground with a frustrated pit of helplessness growing in his stomach.

He lets out a shout as it boils over, fists curling at his sides. God, this shitty fucking life, with all of these terrible people. He wishes he could yell at the other students instead of just at the ceiling, but the last time he did that, he got the shit kicked out of him. So much for “stand up for yourself.”

He drops his shoulders and sighs, moving to crouch down and pick up the fallen books when he feels the prickle of someone approaching behind him.

Pi holds still, willing the person to just walk past, but instead they pause next to him. Biting his lip, he looks up, and finds the man he’d helped earlier with the copy machine staring down at him, still holding his book.

“Oh,” Pi says, disappointment pooling. The man must have seen the other students and realized he could get Pi to make his copies too. “You can put it over there,” Pi points to the table, “Just write your name and faculty on a sticky note.”

The man’s mouth parts, and he shakes his head, “No, no, I was going to—“ he drops down into a crouch next to Pi, grabbing one of the books and stacking it over the one already in his arms, “I was going to help.”

Pi stares as the man gathers the rest and stands. He braces himself without even meaning to—for a kick, for the boy to drop the books on his head, for a set of scathing words—but the man just walks around him and sets his load down on the table before turning back to Pi and holding out a hand.

Pi reaches to take it unthinkingly before flinching and scrambling up on his own, shoving his hands in his pockets. The man’s expression goes confused at his indecision, hand hovering between them, outstretched, for a brief moment after Pi has gotten to his feet, before he drops it.

He shifts awkwardly, and Pi watches warily.

“I’m Mork,” Mork says, and Pi finds his eyes widening in surprise at the introduction. Mork, like the guy that the girls had been talking about. He’d been the one to call out? “Thank you for your help, again,” Mork says, and then hesitates. “I’m sorry those students were bothering you.”

“What—“ Pi blurts before he can stop himself. This man—Mork—this man is apologizing to Pi? For bullying that other students did?

Pi pinches himself and yelps. Okay, not dreaming. Mork is giving him a concerned look now but Pi waves him off. “It’s fine, nothing new,” he replies.

Figuring that’s the end of it, since Mork probably just wanted to have a clear conscience, Pi makes to walk around him to the table so that he can begin making copies. Before he can, Mork throws out an arm, causing Pi to take a few stumbling steps back.

“Let me help,” Mork says, and Pi is once again staring wordlessly at the man.

“…help?” Pi asks, and Mork nods aggressively.

“It’ll go faster if I help,” Mork replies, reaching to grab a hefty part of the stack.

“Don’t you have class?” Pi asks weakly, and Mork pauses before shaking his head.

“Nope,” he moves towards the copy machine. “I’ll do half and you do half?”

Pi rucks a hand through his hair. Even if Mork messes up all his copies on purpose, it would take the same amount of time for Pi to redo the copies as it would if he did all the copying alone. But if Mork was being genuine, then it would go faster. “Alright.”

Mork gives him a small smile and turns to the copier, the cheerful mechanical trill sounding once he flips it
open. Pi hovers awkwardly for a moment before leaning against the table, crossing his arms over his chest and sneaking disbelieving looks at Mork. It didn’t seem like he was trying to sabotage Pi, as he carefully checked the copy settings and then checked each copy as it came out of the machine

After a few moments of awkward silence that Pi has no idea how to fill, he shifts and turns to face the table to sort through the rest of the books, when the one Mork had been holding earlier catches his eye.

The front of the workbook has the name of a class exclusive to the Faculty of Medicine emblazoned across the top, with the professor's name underneath and—

Pi pauses, reaching out to trace his fingers over the typed text of the class meeting time—the meeting time that says it’s happening right now, even though Mork had said he didn’t have class.

Pi slowly looks over at Mork, but he doesn’t seem to have realized that Pi is looking at his workbook, focused on the machine. Pi turns back to it, sure that his eyes are deceiving him, but they aren’t.

Why, Pi asks himself incredulously, why was Mork risking missing class to help Pi with copying.

Before he can think on it further, Mork swears, and Pi turns to find Mork struggling with a paper jam.

“I’ve got it,” Pi says, shoving aside the revelation. Mork shifts aside, and Pi quickly identifies the source of the jam and removes it. He hands the crumpled paper to Mork with a sense of deja vu, but this time, Mork smiles at Pi.

“You’re really good at that,” Mork says. Sincerely? Pi doesn’t even know what a sincere compliment sounds like unless it comes from his family, but Mork's words seem to be sincere.

“Ah, thank you,” he stutters, and then steps away.

Mork watches him, gaze kind. “You didn’t tell me your name,” he says.

“Oh—oh,” Pi shoves his glasses up his nose. “Pi. My name is Pi.”

“Pi,” Mork repeats to himself before looking back up at him. “Pi, you really are good at this. Would you teach me?”

“I—yeah. Yes. I can,” Pi blushes, looking down at his feet. What the hell.

When he finally looks up, Mork has turned back to the copier, another smile playing across his lips.

What the hell.