You're working fervently in your lab space, trying to complete your overdue project. You were so lucky that the Professor was in a good mood, and had allowed an extra week for your extension. You were already three days in, but the damn thing just wouldn't work right!
You add in the final component. From all your notes and research combined, you know this will work.
Your heart drops as the project sparks, hitting a notebook and starting a small fire. From habit or experience - you don't know which - you absentmindedly grab the nearby fire extinguisher and shower the bench. You stare blankly at the project you've been working on for over a month.
The red can falls from your hands as they start to shake. You slam delicate fists down on your workbench, not caring when something rolls away and shatters on the floor - it pretty much summed up your situation.
You sit down on the stool next to your bench and fold your arms, lowering your head between them. This is hopeless. You shudder with body-wracking sobs. I'm gonna fail this. I've had a week for extension and it's still not working. What the hell is wrong with me? Everyone else just breezed in their assignments. Why am I struggling so much with this? It should be simple, damn it!
You sob even louder, sucking in a loud, shaky breath. This isn't going to work. I'm going to fail a stupid, worthless progress-testing assignment because it just. Won't. Work.
Your frame shakes with a series of small sobs, shoulders quivering. Warm, strong hands embrace them.
"Hey, Y/n, what's wrong?" Asks a playful voice laced with concern.
Your head shoots up. Damn it. Who caught me in such a vulnerable state? Your head collides with another.
"Ah, ow, ow owowow."
You swivel around on the stool to find a grungy looking blonde rubbing at his nose.
"I'm s-sorry." You wipe briskly at the tear tracks on your reddening cheeks. You try breathing a little slower to hide your frustration, but he's already seen through it.
He massages his face once more before letting his hand drop. "You okay, Y/n?"
"Y-Yeah." you lie. Why do you lie? You're clearly not okay. You shake your head. He's a stranger. There's no point telling him your problems. You brush away a few stray locks of h/c hair and turn away, rolling up your sleeves to clean up the mess. Your eyes are still red and puffy from your outburst, but you hope he leaves you alone. Let me wallow. I'm not in the mood for pity.
He doesn't leave. "See, some people would call that a 'mixed message', which is probably the right name for it, but I like to call it 'my problem'. It is my duty as school mascot to make people smile. And I take my duty very seriously. I'm not leaving until you're full of the SFIT spirit."
You grab some paper towels and start wiping up foam. You stay silent.
He takes this as some sign to carry on. "You know, I have some friends who could take a look at that, maybe help you out."
You shake your head vigorously. If he's anything to go by, then his friends can't be much better.
You toss the soiled towelling into the trash and turn back to pack up for the night. He's sitting on your stool. Would you just go away?
"I'm not leaving." he states simply, as if he'd read your mind. He leans back, using the bench as support. His green beanie slips slightly off his head.
Due to your mood, you reply with snark. "Obviously."
He rolls away and spins around on the stool a few times. On the fourth spin he stops, facing your workbench. "So what are you working on?"
"Dumb project." You grumble.
"What's it about?" he asks innocently. He seems intrigued by the sketches and equations scribbled in your handwriting, flipping a few pages over.
You snatch your notebook away, scowling at it. "It's complicated."
He crosses his arms determinedly. "Try me." he challenges.
Your eye twitches at him. Can he just leave me alone?! You snap. All of your mistakes and trials with this project bubble out of your mouth, as well as a few nondescript choice words. "And then he gives me an extension, and I still can't get the damn thing to work!" you finish. You sniff again and realise that tears have escaped, unnoticed by your anger.
You relent. "What is so wrong with me that I can't complete a simple assignment? Everyone else finished theirs on time, and all I have to show for it is... is this piece of-" you break off with a sob, surprising yourself and the visitor. Fresh tears leak out.
You wipe furiously at your eyes, betrayed by your body. "Damn it." you whisper, and sniff again. Back where you started, minus the mess of foam and scraps littering your bench.
You look at him briefly. His eyes are wide with furrowed brows, a worried frown marring what should be a carefree face.
"Y/n, are you sure you don't want any help? My friends, they go here, maybe they could take a look and-"
"Thanks, but no thanks." You briskly pack your messenger bag, trying to set a stern expression - and failing miserably. "I don't need help. It's just a s-simple project." You turn to face him. "Thanks for the offer, really. I'm sorry..." you stop abruptly. What's his name?
For the second time that night, he surprises you with an answer. "Fred. My name's Fred." He stands, relaxing his posture and visage. He waits for you to grab the last of your things before walking you to the door of the open lab-space. "I'm always hanging around here, so y-know, just yell if you need anything."
A soft smile moves your lips at his kindness. After the way you'd yelled at him, he had continued to offer advice and assistance. Your eyes still sting from drying tears. "O-Okay. Thank you, Fred."
A natural-looking smile slaps itself across his face. "Anytime, Y/n. I told you, I wasn't letting you leave without a smile."
You chuckle half-heartedly. "You weren't letting me leave? Since when was this a hostage situation? Should I have called the cops?"
He shrugs, grin growing wider. "The fire department would've been quicker."
Your face falls as you remember the failure of the night. You glance back at your bench.
Fred's eyes dart to your station and back, frowning like a guilty puppy. "I'm sorry. I didn't-"
"Goodnight, Fred." You open the door and leave.
"'Night, Y/n." he replies soberly.