By the time they finish with the copying, it’s well past noon.
Pi takes one of the warm stacks of copies and flips through them to check all of the sticky notes before taking them over to a specific shelf near the copier and hiding them behind a few other books.
It’s well-practiced, Mork realizes with a flash of frustration as Pi returns to repeat the process with the second stack. There’s an entire system in place for other students to take advantage of Pi’s knowledge of how the copy machine works, it wasn’t just a one-off.
Mork gathers up his books off the desk while waiting for Pi to return from his second trip to the shelves. Shoving them in his backpack, he considers the possible excuses he can give to Professor Somsri after apologizing for missing class. He’s debating between a family emergency or feeling ill when the sound of a growling stomach interrupts his thoughts.
He turns to find that Pi has returned from hiding all the copies and is now glaring down at his stomach, the tips of his ears flushed red, before looking up at Mork and startling when he realizes that Mork is looking back at him.
Cute, Mork thinks. “Do you want to get lunch?” he asks instead of voicing the sentiment.
Pi stares at him and then shakes his head, jerkily leaning down to grab his bag.
“I can’t,” he says, and there’s an expression in his eyes that makes Mork feel a little sick. “I have class. Thank you for helping.”
Before Mork can say anything in response, Pi rushes past him and through the library towards the exit, head ducked low.
Fear, Mork registers as he watches Pi disappear through the doors of the library, becoming a smudged figure through the frosted glass. Pi had been terrified.
Most people would let it go.
Pi clearly hadn’t wanted to hang out with Mork—had been scared by the prospect of hanging out with Mork, but Mork is terrible at letting things go. He’s an older brother. It’s impossible for him to let something like that slide without an explanation, and he’d thought that they’d built something akin to a camaraderie while fighting with the copy machine side-by-side.
Also Pi is kind, he hadn’t hesitated in helping, and is ridiculously cute, with his braces and large glasses. A classic nerd, but an adorable one—and one that Mork wants to get to know better.
Figuring out Pi’s afternoon schedule is disgustingly easy. Mork finds one of the guys who had surrounded Pi in the library laughing happily with friends in the middle of the canteen, mouth open to reveal half-chewed food.
“Hey,” he greets, approaching their table, and they all quickly shut up. Mork isn’t the biggest fan of the reputation he has on campus, mostly because he has no idea where it came from, other than being concocted in the heads of a few overeager first-years, but times like these, he can’t help but feel the slightest bit vindictive over the ability to inspire nervousness that his popularity comes with.
Unfortunately, Mork isn’t able to revel in it for too long, because the point of this conversation isn’t to make these assholes nervous, as much as he wishes that it was.
“P’Mork,” says the guy who had been laughing. His eyes dart, seemingly aware that Mork was the one that had yelled earlier. Mork inhales and braces himself, sending up a small apology to Pi.
And then he props himself up against the table with a sly quirk of his lips, “Do you know when that copier kid gets out of class? I forgot to give him one of my books.”
Half-Chewed-Food guy’s expression clears up quickly, a smug, conspiratorial grin overtaking his face. “Of course!” he replies, digging out his phone and flipping through the camera roll before landing on an image.
He scans it quickly and then looks up at Mork, holding the phone out and revealing that the photo is of a group chat message that details Pi’s schedule. He points to a line on the message, but Mork barely looks at the phone, knowing from even a brief glance that it’ll only infuriate him.
“He’s at the Faculty of Dentistry, he’ll be done with class at 1:30. Usually goes to the library afterwards,” he adds with a wink.
Mork gives him a strained nod, trying his hardest not to let his expression twist into disgust. “Thank you,” he says, and then pushes off the table with a loose salute before heading for the footpath.
The Faculty of Dentistry is right next to the Faculty of Medicine. Which is right next to the Faculty of Allied Health Sciences. Mork pulls out his phone.
are you around?
1 2:32 nan
Mork shoves his phone into his pocket and makes his way over to the courtyard near the Allied Health Sciences building, hitching his backpack higher up his shoulder.
Mueang Nan has spread his books out across one of the tables, headphones in as he works. Behind him, first-year girls shoot giggling looks over at his table, turning back to each other and whispering excitedly. They quiet as Mork approaches, their gazes uncomfortably interested, but Mork pretends not to notice, slinging his bag onto the bench and sitting down.
Nan looks up when Mork pushes some of his notebooks aside to make space for his laptop, and a bright smile breaks out across his face when he sees that it’s Mork.
“So this is why you asked,” he says, tugging his earbud out, and Mork nods, pulling out his own notebook and pen to set down next to his laptop.
“Wanted to work for a bit,” Mork replies, “I figured I would keep you company.”
Of course, it’s more that he needs a distraction and sitting with Nan will at least keep him from going out of his mind with anticipation, even though he really can’t tell Nan that because the other man is scarily perceptive. He’s got almost an hour before Pi gets out of class, and while he has no clue what exactly he’s going to say to Pi, or even if he’s going to go meet him, he might as well pretend to get some work done, if only to keep Nan from getting suspicious.
“Aren’t you done with your classes for the day?” Nan asks, and Mork falters in writing down the date in his notebook, pen smudging a little when he lets the tip rest for a moment too long against the paper. When he glances up at Nan, he finds his friend looking at him with his chin resting on his hand, exuding the same innocence that used to get him out of trouble with teachers in high school and let him easily sidestep rejecting the many, many people who confess to him.
Nonetheless, Mork tries to salvage the situation. “I thought studying on campus would help me focus better.”
Nan raises an unconvinced brow, and, as if the universe is determined to prove his point, a group of chattering underclassmen rush past them, throwing curious looks over their shoulders, and Nan gives Mork a pointed look.
“You’ve got a fan page followed by almost half the underclassmen here,” Nan states, “You’re never going to be able to focus on campus.”
“We’ve got a fanpage,” Mork corrects, rolling his eyes. It had gotten started a few weeks ago, after some students realized that wherever Mueang Nan was, Mork was usually close by. It didn’t really bother Mork, he didn’t spend much time on campus, and he knew that Nan found it amusing—at the very least, it was a distraction from the continual clusterfuck that was his family.
(Most recently, one of Nan’s cousins (who Mork thought looked uncannily like Nan—Nan disagreed), had gotten a heart attack, and, after recovering, decided to move out to the middle of nowhere to become a schoolteacher, much to the confusion (and gossip) of the rest of the family, which meant that Nan was being inundated by calls from uncles and aunts who wanted to “check in” for the sake of seeing if he had any information)
“Don’t change the subject,” Nan says, tapping on Mork’s notebook, “Why’re you hanging around campus?”
Mork glares, but puts his pen down. “There’s this guy.”
“A guy?” Nan repeats, lighting up with interest. “What’s his name?”
“Pi,” Mork says, “I met him at the library.” He pauses, frowning down at his laptop, “I invited him to lunch but he had class that ends at 1:30.”
“A class from 11:00 to 1:30? That’s long,” Nan remarks, making a face.
Mork can feel his ears turn red as he corrects him, “No, his class is from 12:30 to 1:30.”
“But you have—” realization dawns on Nan’s face, “You skipped Professor Somsri’s class?”
“He needed help with copies,” Mork explains weakly.
“And it took you an hour and a half?” Nan asks, incredulous, “How many copies did the guy need?”
Mork swallows and shuts his computer, leaning in and lowering his voice, “He was getting bullied, Nan. A bunch of kids were making him copy for them.”
Nan’s expression goes horrified, brows dipping. “Well that’s terrible,” he says. “It’s good that you helped him.”
“Yeah,” Mork sighs, leaning back, “I want to be his friend, but he seemed scared when I asked him to lunch?”
“Oh,” Nan taps his mouth, “It might just be because he realized he was almost late.”
Mork shakes his head, mouth twisting as he remembers the look in Pi’s eyes. No one got that scared about being late to class, not even if it was the class of a professor like Somsri. “No, I don’t think it was that.”
Nan tilts his head, “You like him.”
“He’s nice,” Mork defends, even though he knows that Nan won’t be fooled. It’s very rare that Mork shows any sort of interest in someone. “I want to get to know him better, but I don’t want to chase him off.”
“Well observing from afar won’t get you anywhere, so it’s good that you’re trying again,” Nan replies. “See if he’ll get food with you after his class. And if not, that’s that, I guess.”
“Comforting,” Mork huffs, and Nan shrugs.
“If he doesn’t want to be your friend you can’t make him. But you might as well try reaching out.”
Mork nods, unable to deny that Nan’s advice made sense. There was a reason why they’d stayed friends for so long, and it wasn’t just because Nan was great at getting them out of trouble. “Yeah. I’ll try to find him after his class.”
“Nice,” Nan replies with a satisfied smile, “And keep me updated, it’s not everyday MoMo comes home with a crush.”
“It’s not a crush, ” Mork hisses, “And don’t call me MoMo.”
Nan simply grins and turns back to his notebook.
“Pi!” Mork calls, but the other man doesn’t turn around. “Hey, Pi!”
Pi keeps walking towards the staircase, but his grip on the strap of his bag gets tighter, and when he reaches the stairs, he hurries down them fast enough that Mork worries he’s going to trip.
Mork rushes after him—Pi clearly doesn’t want to run and make a scene, which makes it easy for Mork to catch up and snag the edge of his shirt-sleeve between his fingertips, causing Pi to stop in the middle of the sidewalk, shoulders going stiff.
“Pi,” Mork drops his grip on Pi’s sleeve with a final tiny tug. “Hey, I was calling your name.”
Pi gives him a wary side eye. “Sorry,” he says, voice flat, “I didn’t hear you.”
“It’s fine,” Mork replies, accepting the blatant lie easily, stepping around Pi so that he’s standing in front of him. It’s only then that he realizes Pi’s fingers are just barely trembling on the strap of his bag, grip white-knuckled. Mork’s gaze darts from Pi’s hands to his face, taking in the blank expression on his face, and his stomach roils.
“I just wanted to talk to you,” Mork tries to keep his voice low and as gentle as possible. It doesn’t make Pi relax.
“About what?” Pi asks, his tone expectant, and it has Mork wondering how many times Pi has been fed the same line only to get dragged into doing something against his will. His surety about intercepting Pi flees him in the face of Pi’s clear skepticism and caution, and he finds himself unable to meet the other’s eyes, focusing on his shoulder instead.
“I—we couldn’t get lunch together,” Mork starts, and Pi makes a small noise of surprise before grabbing Mork by the wrist and pulling him towards the side pathway.
“What are you thinking?” Pi hisses, dropping Mork’s wrist, gaze darting to see if there are any students around. “Anyone could’ve heard.”
Mork takes his wrist in hand, rubbing his thumb across where Pi’s fingers had pressed in. His brow furrows. “I wanted to ask if you wanted to get food now that you’re done with class.”
Pi stares. He stares for long enough that Mork wonders if he’s accidentally committed some horrific faux pas, and then Pi shakes his head aggressively.
“No. We can’t be seen together,” Pi says firmly, and Mork frowns.
Pi scoffs. “Because you helping me once makes you a hero, but being seen with me suggests that you like hanging out with me or something wild like that.”
“But I would like to hang out with you.” Mork blurts before he can stop himself.
Pi looks away, tugging his bag over his shoulder. His hand has stopped trembling, but his grip is no less tight than it was before. “Even if that were true—
“— even if that were true, we could never hang out in public. Can you imagine how mad that would make people?”
“What about in private?” Mork asks, sidestepping the issue of making other people mad for the moment, “We could hang out at each other’s houses.”
“That’s not—” Pi sputters and then squints at Mork suspiciously, “You just want to meet Wan, don’t you. He’s in Hat Yai on an internship, he’s not at ho—”
“I don’t want to meet your brother,” Mork interrupts. “I want to be your friend.”
“Why would you want to be my friend?” Pi asks, incredulous.
Mork frowns, “Why wouldn’t I want to be?”
“Because I’m me!” Pi’s voice cracks with disbelief. “No one is friends with me.”
“I want to change that,” Mork replies. “Let’s be friends. Let me help you.”
“No,” Pi says, crossing his arms. His brow is furrowed, eyes serious. “You can’t help me anymore.”
“What.” It’s Mork’s turn to be incredulous. “Why not?”
“Because that’ll just make the bullying worse when you’re not around. You can’t help me.”
Mork opens his mouth to speak, but Pi gives him a stubborn look, lips pursing before he shakes his head, cutting Mork off before he even says anything. “You can’t help,” Pi repeats. “Please don’t try to keep interfering.”
“A friend would interfere,” Mork argues.
“You just said we’d only be friends in private,” Pi retorts, brow raised, “And I haven’t agreed to being friends.”
Mork lets out a frustrated huff, putting his hands on his hips. “Yes, but—”
“Mork,” Pi says softly, voice going kinder, “I’ve been fine without you.”
And what can Mork say to that? Say that Pi hasn’t been fine and deny him the strength that he’s shown in the face getting bullied? Try to guarantee that Mork helping him won’t backfire when they both know that it likely will?
He can’t do either.
Swallowing, Mork drops his hands from his hips and nods. “Okay, fine.” Pi lets out a relieved breath. “I still want to be friends, though,” he continues.
Pi sighs, scrubbing a hand through his hair, “I just don’t understand why.”
I think I could like you, I want to get to know you. “Can you just trust that I want to?” Mork asks. He gets a long, heavy look in response, Pi biting his lip in consideration. Hope bubbles up at the lack of immediate rejection, and Mork gives Pi a tiny, encouraging smile.
But instead of making the other man’s expression open up, it causes it to shutter. Pi looks away. “I can’t,” he says, “If you’ll excuse me, I have to go.” Mork’s face falls before he can stop himself.
Pi ducks his head in preparation to walk by Mork, and Mork’s desperation to stop him from leaving feels visceral, his arms tingling with the need to move, to do something to stop this interaction from ending. He can’t just let Pi go, not when this is the first time he’s ever felt any sort of spark of interest for someone. The thought of spending the rest of University watching from afar, trying to gather up the courage to speak to Pi again after fucking up his first chance to do so and hoping that some far off second-attempt will be successful—that isn’t a risk that Mork can take.
He fumbles for his phone in a last ditch effort, unlocking it and thrusting it out towards Pi. “Can we at least be FB friends?” he asks, and Pi takes a step back, looking down at the phone and then at Mork. “In case. In case you decide you might want to be friends later,” Mork explains, and Pi’s forehead scrunches.
Before Pi can reiterate that he doesn’t want to be friends, Mork rushes to add, “I won’t contact you. You would have to message me first.”
Pi hesitates, and then he reaches to take the phone. “Fine,” he says, with the air of someone who is simply agreeing to get things over with, but this tiny win is enough for Mork to disregard any sort of disappointment due to the lack of enthusiasm. He navigates to his profile and taps the friend request button before pulling out his own phone and showing Mork as he hits ‘accept’. “No promises.”
“That’s okay,” Mork replies, taking his phone back from Pi. “Thank you,” he tells Pi earnestly, and Pi makes a face like he can’t quite believe what’s just happened.
“I’m going to go now,” Pi nudges his glasses up on his face awkwardly, shifting his weight, and Mork nods quickly, stepping to the side.
“I’ll see you around,” Mork says, and Pi gives him a tight smile before making his way past Mork and down the path.
Mork watches him leave, letting that tiny bubble of hope form again.
Pi doesn’t contact him for three days.
By the third day, Mork is going a bit insane. Now that he knows who Pi is, he realizes that he actually sees the other man around on campus much more often than he’d thought. Everytime Pi catches sight of him, his expression goes tight, as if he expects Mork to ambush him again, but Mork does his best to stay out of Pi’s way while trying to not take the lack of faith to heart.
Mueang Nan is helpful when it comes to maintaining that restraint as well.
“You’re being dumb,” Nan says after Mork has explained the situation to him, taking a swig of his soda and frowning at Mork across the canteen table. “You literally told him he didn’t have to contact you if he didn’t want to—you can’t walk around expecting that he will.”
Mork purses his lip, resisting the urge to pout like a child. “I know that, but I just thought—”
“Mork,” Nan patiently cuts him off. “You gave him a choice he didn’t want in the first place.”
That shuts Mork up and leaves him glaring down at his plate of food.
“Your rice did nothing to you, calm down,” Nan kicks him under the table, “Eat.”
Mork takes a bite of his food and as he chews, he checks his phone for the nth time over the course of the meal. Nan lets out an annoyed noise and snatches it out of Mork’s grip, placing it facedown on the table.
“Your phone literally hasn’t made a single peep this entire time, stop checking it,” Nan grouses. “Stop making me feel like your mom.”
“Stop acting like her,” Mork shoots back, reaching for the phone. Nan pulls it away, shaking his head.
“No, you can check it if it makes a noise,” Nan holds it behind his back, “It’s not healthy for you to be so obsessive, either he’ll contact you or—” the phone buzzes audibly and they both freeze.
“Give it to me,” Mork says, reaching across the table. Nan tips back so his chair balances on two legs, keeping Mork’s phone out of his reach while simultaneously switching it on to see the notification.
“Wait, no, let me check who it is, I’m not giving it back to you just for you to check some stupid FB friend reque— oh .” Nan lets his chair fall forward again with a thud, eyes wide. “Huh.”
“What?” Mork asks, getting out of his seat to finally grab the phone from Nan’s hand. He looks at the notification, and his eyes widen in surprise as he registers the words. “Oh.”
“He actually messaged you,” Nan says, stunned. “Dude.”
Mork stares down at the bubble on his screen for long enough that it dims. He taps it quickly so it doesn’t go dark, and as he does, another notification pops up. “Twice,” he breathes out.
“What did he say?” Nan asks, leaning forward. Mork takes a deep breath and clicks on the notifications to see the entirety of the messages.
this is Pi from the library?
we spoke a few days ago and i’ve been thinking
The three dots bounced at the bottom of the screen as Pi typed. “He’s been thinking,” Mork says faintly, and he barely registers Nan’s amused snort.
I’m still not sure, but if you were serious
“Is that a link to a Google Doc?” Nan is leaning across the table to look at the screen of Mork’s phone upside down. Mork nods, and taps the link.
The Terms of Our Friendship Probation
- We don’t set the end time of this probation.
- People can’t know we’re friends.
- We can only hang out off-campus and not in public.
- We can be friendly on-campus, but not in the public eye.
Mork reads the words once, and then twice. Friendship Probation?
“What is it?” Nan presses on the top of the phone with two fingers so that Mork tilts it towards him. He skims the words quickly and then lets out a small laugh. “He’s thorough.”
“Yeah,” Mork replies. He can’t help but find it cute, thinking of Pi sitting in his room, biting his lip as he tapped away on his keyboard, coming up with this list. Mork’s eyes are stuck on the second item when another message comes in.
do you agree to these terms?
Mork hesitates, fingers hovering over the characters to type “yes.”
“It’s a start,” Nan says quietly at Mork’s indecision, “You just have to prove to him that he can trust you.”
“I already broke the second term,” Mork replies. Pi clearly hadn’t accounted for Mork being with someone when he received the messages, and Mork kind of hated that he’d already violated one of the rules, even if it hadn’t been intentional.
Nan shrugs, “Just tell him later, I’m sure he’ll understand. And I’m not going to be saying anything to anyone.”
That was true. The two of them had a lot of friends, but as much as they gossiped amongst themselves about the other people they spoke to, they would never, ever gossip about each other. Mork takes a deep breath. “Okay,” he says, and he taps out a quick ‘yes’ and sends it.
would you like to come over to my house tomorrow?
i think we’re in the same intro anatomy class
“So forward,” Nan teases, leaning back in his chair as Mork taps out his address without a care for the fact that he’s breaking the double-text rule thrice-over. “Congrats though, he contacted you.”
“He did,” Mork exhales, hitting send. “he contacted me. And we might—” his phone buzzes.
i finish class at 2:30
“We will hang out tomorrow,” Mork closes his eyes and pinches the bridge of his nose, “Shit.”
“What?” Nan asks.
“I didn’t think this would happen,” Mork replies. He had hoped, of course. Had driven himself in circles thinking about how it would go if it did happen. Had tried his best to avoid thinking about the high chance that it wasn’t going to. But it happened. It’s happen ing .
Nan laughs. “Wouldn’t have known it from how you were checking your phone.”
“We’re friends,” Mork says, still a little disbelieving. He and Pi are going to be friends.
“Probationary,” Nan interjects and softens it with a smile. “But I’m sure not for long.”
“No,” Mork replies, “Not for long.”
see you tomorrow