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circular definition (see definition, circular)

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The first week goes by without any major incident.

The first week is always a simple one. Kyuhyun introduces himself only briefly, tries not to make it too obvious how young he is - in particular how he happens to be younger than a good portion of the class - it's kind of nice to be called "Professor Cho," even if he isn't technically a professor - but then again, how are you supposed to address a preceptor? Nobody wants to be called Preceptor Cho. The first week is just propositional logic; Kyuhyun ponders not showing up to his own office hours, since anybody who's got a question about propositional logic is probably not worth teaching. Kyuhyun shouldn't be thinking that way, but it's a little bit true.

Kyuhyun ends up alone in his office for two hours, which he takes as a good sign.

During the second week, he talks about predicates, quantifiers, and rules of inference, which also shouldn't be difficult - but then Zhou Mi decides to stick around to ask him stupid questions after class. Zhou Mi is a name he's had to remember - he's run into him before, when he took Graph Theory with him last semester, and Intoduction to Cryptography the semester before that. Not especially bright, if his exams were any indication. What is wrong with this kid, Kyuhyun had thought initially. After that first exam, where Zhou Mi managed to fabricate an elaborate narrative concerning Alice and Bob and their epic romance (in response to a quantitative question regarding public-key infrastructure,) Kyuhyun ended up looking him up in the directory and discovered, to his horror, that his student was born in 1986. What is wrong with old people, he thought.

"Hi there, Professor Cho," says Zhou Mi, giving a stilted wave. "I was just wondering about question 1.52 in the homework, if we could talk about that - "

Kyuhyun's been hoping that nobody would come to office hours for at least another week, so he hasn't really looked at the homework at all. He pulls out his textbook and turns to the problem in question and is not especially surprised to find that, well, it's very easy. Somehow, he suspects that Zhou Mi is going to turn up at a lot of his office hours, and have equally ridiculous questions. Just heuristics.

"Do you understand the fallacy of denying the antecedent?" he asks, making very little effort to not sound irritated. And it shows, because Zhou Mi recoils a bit.

"N-no?"

Read the textbook! screams Kyuhyun's head voice.

"If P then Q, not P, therefore Q." If he were a worse person, he would wave goodbye and then swivel back to his desk.

"Um, could you give me an example?"

Kyuhyun rolls his eyes. "Even if you were the last man on earth, I wouldn't go out with you."

Zhou Mi visibly jumps. "What? I haven't - "

"You are not the last man on earth, therefore I will go out with you - fallacious, right? That's denying the antecedent."

"Okay," says Zhou Mi, still rather shaken. "I think I understand. Uh. Thank you?"

Kyuhyun shrugs and swivels away.

*

Third week: sets and set theory. As expected, Zhou Mi comes to office hours once again - this time to ask about cartesian products. By now, Kyuhyun has sort of resigned himself to the fact that he'll never have his office hours to himself, will never get to take advantage of that time to prepare for his thesis defense. Kyuhyun sighs, pulls out some paper, and guides Zhou Mi into drawing some very nicely formed Venn diagrams.

"It doesn't matter if they're not completely circular," he says as Zhou Mi erases an especially lopsided ellipse.

"I know," Zhou Mi responds, "but it's so nice when they are! I mean, I know that I really appreciate it when the papers I grade are extra-legible, even if they're not very good papers."

"You... grade things? People have given academic responsibilities to you?" Kyuhyun asks, not quite believing it.

"I'm a TA for Romantic Poetry II!" Zhou Mi explains.

"Oh," says Kyuhyun, completely believing it. "Don't people generally type papers?"

"Sometimes they like to turn in 'creative responses,'" says Zhou Mi, making airquotes with his fingers and subsequently managing to drop his eraser. He makes a squeaking noise, ducks under the table to pick up his eraser, hits his head on the way back up, and makes another squeaking noise.

Afterwards, Kyuhyun realizes he usually hates squeaking. He wonders what's wrong with himself.

*

Fourth week: Big O notation. Witnesses. Big Theta classes. A good third of the class comes to office hours, including Zhou Mi. It's a large group, and it takes away a lot of the intimacy they had before - intimacy? Is that the right word? Anyway, Kyuhyun ends up feeling restless and unfulfilled, which he chalks up to having to give an entire lecture again.

*

Week five: algorithmic time-complexity measures. Zhou Mi is, once more, the only one. The problem set is long this time, and Zhou Mi insists on working through it while sitting there, just in case any questions come up. So then Kyuhyun is sort of just sitting there, watching Zhou Mi hunched over on the adjacent desk, neck straining at a terrible angle as he writes down equations, flips through the textbook, and occasionally turns to ask something inane (what's the halting problem? what, exactly, are p and np? wait, really? I don't get it.) But there is altogether too much silence; Kyuhyun feels a distinctly uncomfortable clenching at the bottom of his stomach; he looks at his computer and tries to ignore Zhou Mi's presence. It doesn't work out so well.

Kyuhyun clears his throat. "So," he says. "You're a grad student?"

"I am!" Zhou Mi responds. Kyuhyun knew that already. He's looked him up in the directory. 1986.

"Are you, um," Kyuhyun makes a very vague hand gesture which, in a perfect world, would have much better conveyed the meaning of his question. "You like Romantic Poetry?"

"Not really, it's more like the professor requested me, and I like getting paid. I never even really
liked Romanticism that much. My thesis will probably have to do with American transcendentalism. Oh - " he frowns at one problem. "What's a tautology?"

"A tautology," Kyuhyun responds.

Zhou Mi pouts at him, and he has to admit, it's sort of cute.

He's your student and this is morally questionable, says half of Kyuhyun's brain. 1986, says the other half.

*

The next day, Kyuhyun goes to the university library and returns with Walden. One chapter later, Kyuhyun realizes that even he himself cannot fathom the depth of his own violent apathy towards Thoreau's detailed cottage-building plans. He's tempted to toss the book at his wall, though it's a rather hefty book and he fears his wall may not survive the assault. So instead, he takes Walden and drops it into the return chute like a normal person.

Zhou Mi is just strange, Kyuhyun decides, for wanting to write a thesis about cottages and cottage-building. At one point Kyuhyun had turned towards the middle of the book to see if anything more interesting was happening, and ended up reading something unnecessarily long about the growth of bean plants. It was like Settlers of Catan, in book form, and with no way to win.

So Zhou Mi is strange. He is strange and easily counfounded by mathematics, and has very nicely formed clavicles. This is where Kyuhyun decides it's about time to stop thinking.

*

"Personally, Thoreau isn't my favorite," says Zhou Mi. Today is modular arithmetic day. Zhou Mi is the only person on earth to struggle with the concept of the mod operator. "If you're really interested in transcendentalism, I think you should read 'Self-Reliance' first, and - also, since when were you interested in transcendentalism?"

If this were a cartoon, Kyuhyun would make that gulping noise. Don't be awkward, he thinks. Don't be awkward. Don't be awkward don't be awkward don't be -

"I don't know," he says. "I'd just like to start, you know, reading. In general."

Whoops, you were awkward.

"Oh... okay," Zhou Mi says slowly. "What kind of things would you like to read? Not to sound like a kindergarten teacher or anything."

"I don't really have any preferences," Kyuhyun says. "Whatever you recommend. And, um." Here it comes. "Maybe. You. Could... recommend me some books, and then. We. We could talk about them. Over... coffee?"

Kyuhyun wants to throw himself out the window. It does happen to be particularly open today. It looks inviting.

Zhou Mi smiles. "That would be nice."

*

"I have a present for you!" Zhou Mi announces. They're in the middle of the cafe on the first floor of the university library. Foul-smelling students lie strewn about them, dozing with their heads resting upon textbooks, as though trying to absorb information by diffusion. It is not a good venue for a first date. Is that what this is? Kyuhyun stares into the dark void of his iced coffee and looks for answers.

"So I'll be honest," Zhou Mi continues, "I forgot that you wanted, um, books. This morning I was kind of in a hurry and I didn't have the time to buy anything, so I decided to just give you one of mine. You seem to me like a nonfiction kind of person, and this is really the only nonfiction I can afford to part with at the moment. Now it's yours! I hope you like it."

He slides a hardcover forward on the table. The Natural History of Unicorns.

"Unicorns," says Kyuhyun.

"It's like a cultural... anthropological kind of thing. I never really read it," Zhou Mi admits.

"It's about unicorns," says Kyuhyun.

Kyuhyun decides it's not too late to turn back. For some reason he'd thought that it might be a good idea to push forward with this, to charge blindly into dangerous, uncharted territory - into surreal, yet charming territory. Nauseating territory. Charmingly nauseating territory. It's not too late to cut his losses and retreat into the safety of his unicorn-free, pre-Zhou Mi world. It is not too late.

So Kyuhyun comes to a conclusion.

*

It doesn't take too much effort to push all thoughts of Zhou Mi from his mind, especially since they sort of came out of nowhere to begin with. He lectures on the Extended Euclidean Algorithm and Chinese Remainder Theorem in his dryest, most droney voice yet. Even the usually-attentive students in the front row fall asleep. Kyuhyun feels accomplished.

And then it's just as though they'd never met to begin with, which is wonderful too. Kyuhyun is no longer afraid of his own thoughts, even the ones about Zhou Mi's neck.

Office hours almost manages to be over without anything notable happening. Zhou Mi shows up, as always, and asks for clarification on something ridiculous and simple. Kyuhyun dutifully explains, and then goes back to ignoring him.

When Kyuhyun gets home, he's just about to congratulate himself on a job well done, a troubling situation properly avoided, when he remembers that The Natural History of Unicorns is still sitting on his kitchen table. Maybe it's the pull of fate, or just morbid curiosity, but he suddenly finds himself opening it and reading it.

An hour later, Kyuhyun realizes he now knows much more about Asian muskoxen, the walrus and narwhal ivory trade, and Minoan Crete than he'd ever intended. He also realizes that it's futile to retreat. The enemy has him surrounded. The only thing he can do now is to welcome his defeat with open arms.

*

The next week's topic is induction, recursion, and the Tower of Hanoi. Actual, normal, non-stupid students come to office hours and ask actual, normal, non-stupid questions. A lot of them, actually - Kyuhyun finds himself occupied for the entirety of the two hours he's set aside for this. At the end, just as he's about to excuse himself to leave, Zhou Mi manages to follow him out into the hallway.

"Wait, professor, I still don't quite - "

Kyuhyun turns around and opens his mouth, and maybe a few seconds pass before he actually says anything. "I can meet with you later," he says. "I'd be - uh, happy - to explain things, just. Send me an email when you're free." Then he turns back and sprints towards the elevator.

*

"I read your unicorn book," Kyuhyun blurts.

"Oh!" says Zhou Mi, a bit surprised. "Did you... like it?"

Kyuhyun doesn't actually know whether he liked it. He does know that he read the whole thing, and now he also knows quite a bit about unicorns.

"I guess so," he says. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," Zhou Mi says politely.

A pause.

"I'm awkward," says Kyuhyun.

"I've noticed," says Zhou Mi. He looks around the library, as if to check whether anybody's watching. "Don't be alarmed, okay? Let's get this over with."

"Get what over - " Kyuhyun starts, but then Zhou Mi's face is really close to his face, and then the kiss is really gentle, hesitant and afraid, and sits just on the corner of his mouth.

"YOU MISSED," Kyuhyun hisses. "Also, I refuse to participate in any kind of sleazy student/teacher thing - "

"You were born in 1988," Zhou Mi retorts. "It's not very student/teacher if you're younger than I am. And you're just a preceptor! That doesn't count for anything."

"How did you - did you look me up in the directory? I don't know how I feel about that." But really, Kyuhyun knows exactly how he feels about that, which is why the second kiss is actually substantive.

*

"Wait, hold on," says Kyuhyun. "I've been wondering this for a while now. Why have you been taking computer science classes? And also, why did you take Graph Theory before Discrete Math? I'm pretty sure Graph Theory makes no sense at all if you don't take Discrete first. And you definitely don't need all these upper level theory classes if you don't even know what it means to compile - "

Zhou Mi coughs to cut him off. "I have another, um, secret. Well, okay, to be fair, I did that first cryptography class because there weren't any prerequisites and I thought it might be interesting, and then - well, I saw that you'd be teaching Graph Theory the next semester, and I just kind of, well. You know."

Kyuhyun gapes for a while. "You trailed off too much. You're going to have to fill in those gaps so I know I'm not making weird assumptions."

"Your... assumptions," Zhou Mi says slowly, "are possibly correct. In fact - wait, what how weird is weird? What exactly are you assuming?"

"Do you mean that you're some kind of creepy stalker who was just taking every class I taught because you were creepy?"

"That is one way to put it," says Zhou Mi. "But I'd prefer if you could put it another way. A less accusatory way."

"We're doomed, aren't we," Kyuhyun mutters to himself.

Zhou Mi shrugs. "Probably."

Kyuhyun decides he's okay with that.