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Annoying.

Donghyuck knows that word well. It’s practically his middle name by the time he’s thirteen, and by the time he’s nineteen it might as well be his only name.

“Don’t annoy your cousins,” his mother would tell him, tugging on a lock of his hair. “Duckie, we’ve talked about this.”

“Annoying the other kids won’t make them want to be your friend,” his teacher told him during one recess. “Why don’t you ask to join their game instead?”

Even Jaemin, when things get stressful at college, gets tired of him. “Hyuck,” he says, dark bags under his eyes from sleepless nights of studying, “I love you but for once in your life please don’t talk. I can’t focus on my revision and it’s getting really annoying.”

“Oh,” Donghyuck says. He’d been mumbling to himself as he made notes, barely even aware that any noise had come out. “I’m sorry.”

Jaemin sighs and rubs his eyes. “No, no don’t be sorry, I’m sorry. I’m just so stressed with these fucking exams - I swear most of this wasn’t discussed in the lectures. I didn’t mean to take it out on you.”

“It’s okay,” Donghyuck says. He means it, too. “It’s probably time I went back to the dorm anyway.”

“You gonna ring Mark?”

“Yeah.”

And the thing is – it is fine. No hard feelings, he’d known even as Jaemin had opened his mouth that he hadn’t meant anything by what he’d said.

It doesn’t make it any less difficult to hear though, because at times like this, when stress is high and everyone is balancing on knife edge and Donghyuck feels like he’s between worlds, like he’s seconds from falling or just staying the same, which somehow is just as bad –

It’s times like these when it feels like all he’s ever been, all he ever will be is annoying.

 

-

 

Things might be easier to deal with if Mark was at the same university, but life is never that easy, so they make do with Skype calls when their student budgets don’t allow for visits.

Donghyuck gets back to the empty dorm, changes into sweats and an old hoodie, then climbs into bed and waits for skype to load while he texts Mark.

                To: Stupid
                I’m gonna call now!!!!!!

Skype finally pops up on his shitty old laptop, but it says Mark is offline. He chews his bottom lip and tries to call, but it goes unanswered.

                To: Stupid
                Mark?

Nothing.

 He rings again, getting kind of desperate.

Nothing.

                To: Stupid
                Mark I’m trying not to be needy here but we said eight thirty
                I miss you I’ve been looking forward to this all week
                Did you forget again?

He waits a little longer, but his messages go unopened.

He tries Yukhei, Marks’s roommate.

                To: Yukhei
                Hey srry to bother but is Mark around?

                To: Donghyuck
                Oh hey man! Nah sorry he got dragged to one of the b-ball team’s parties
                U know how he is

                To: Yukhei
                Yeah haha I do. Thanks anyway

                To: Donghyuck
                Np! Hope to see u soon man!

He closes his laptop and puts it on the floor, then wriggles until he’s beneath the sheets, hood up, trying not to be pathetic and cry over something so small.

Mark has a whole life away from him and that’s fine. It really is, most days Donghyuck feels nothing but pride thinking of Mark living his life freely in another city, learning and growing and enjoying life. Most of the time it doesn’t hurt, but when it does, it feels like everything is coated in a slimy layer of salt water and Donghyuck is covered in paper cuts.

Any other day he’d text Mark something mean about how he’s been left out in the cold again, and Mark would reply in the morning with an awkward apology, then they’d skype and melt and say embarrassingly lovey dovey shit to each other until Mark hung up, humiliated and red.

Any other day he’d brush it off, because it isn’t a big deal and he knows that, deep down.

But today isn’t any other day, and he can’t brush it off.

Annoying.

It’s rare that he gets like this, really rare, but in a way that makes it so much harder to deal with, because he can never remember how exactly he climbed out of it the time before.

So he doesn’t climb.

He lies there in bed with the light still on, fully clothed, and thinks about the word annoying. Thinks about himself, and how he forces his opinions onto other people, how he never shuts up, how he laughs at inappropriate things and mocks others mercilessly for their mistakes. He thinks about himself, about how he looks terrible whenever he’s stressed, how the weight drops off him and his skin gets dry and his attitude gets worse, and he wonders, why wouldn’t he be called annoying. Why wouldn’t Mark go to a party instead of skyping his annoying boyfriend with his selfish thoughts and mean tongue.

He’s so caught up that he doesn’t notice Jaemin coming back until the door is pushed open and Jaemin’s bag hits the floor with a dull thud.

“Jesus, it’s too much man, I’m in need of icecream and eleven hours of sleep. You wanna share some Ben and – Hyuck? Hyuck are you crying?”

“No,” he says from under the sheets.

The bed dips as Jaemin sits down and tugs the sheets back, and whatever pathetic state Donghyuck is in makes Jaemin’s expression crumple. “Hyuckie,” he says gently, “Don’t cry, please don’t cry. I’m sorry for what I said, I’m really sorry, okay? I didn’t mean it at all, you weren’t the nuisance it’s my shitty notes making me all cranky, you haven’t done anything wrong.”

It makes him cry harder, giving up the pretense of stoicism. “It’s – it’s not you,” he manages between the tears. “M’ sorry Jaemin it’s not you, I just – things are just – and Mark forgot again because he got dragged to a party and I’m not mad it’s all just –“

“Too much at once?” Jaemin asks.

Donghyuck nods, wiping his cheeks with his sleeves. “Yeah,” he says, voice thick.

Jaemin shoves him over and then gets underneath the sheets, cuddling Donghyuck close. It’s not Mark levels of comfort, but it definitely helps. Donghyuck presses his chest to Jaemin’s shirt and breathes a little easier, and while the tears don’t stop, they definitely slow a little. “I’m sorry, Hyuckie. Life sucks sometimes. You’ll let me know if I can do something to help, right?”

He nods.

“Good. You wanna share that icecream?”

He nods again. “Please.”

“Cookie dough or Phish Food?”

“If you invite Jeno and Renjun over they could bring a pot and we could share both flavours.”

Jaemin squeezes him. “See, you’re a certified genius. This is why we’re friends.”

“Are you okay with them coming?”

“Of course I am, silly. You want me to ring them now?”

“If that’s okay.”

Jaemin wrestles his phone out of his back pocket, and Donghyuck closes his eyes and listens to the half of the conversation he can hear. “Renjun – no I didn’t fucking – look this isn’t the time for that conversation. Can you just – yeah. Yeah. Bring Jeno too? And icecream. Whatever flavour you want, but know you’ll be sharing it between the four of us, okay? We only share icecream in this dorm room, no dairy hoarding. Cool, yeah. See you soon.” Jaemin hangs up and drops a kiss onto the top of Donghyuck’s head. “They’re stopping by the store and then they’re gonna head over. Wanna watch a movie?”

“Yeah, but you pick.”

And not long after that, Renjun barges in with his arms full of snacks, Jeno following behind with his arms full of folded blankets. They all pile into Donghyuck’s bed and put Jaemin’s laptop on their desk, passing the icecream between them.

For a couple of hours, wedged between his friends, laughing along with whatever the comedy is about, Donhyuck doesn’t feel quite so annoying.

 

-

                To: Idiot
                Ohhhh shit Hyuck I’m sorry I forgot
                The guys dragged me to a house party
                You wanna skype tonight instead? I’m free after seven

                To: Stupid
                It’s okay I understand!
                And yeah that sounds good x

                To: Idiot
                <3

-

 

Jaemin comes back to the dorm at nine in the evening after an evening class and finds Donghuck in the same position he’d been in the night before. He drops his bad and climbs back into the bed.

“Hyuckie,” he chides, wiping the tears from Donghyuck’s face with his hands, “Two nights in a row? What’s going on?”

“He was gonna call tonight but he hasn’t and he isn’t answering my texts!” Donghyuck wails. “I’m trying to be a good boyfriend but I miss him and I feel insignificant and it hurts!”

Jaemin coos and holds him tight. “Have you told him?”

“I don’t wanna be a burden, Jaemin!”

“Having emotions isn’t being a burden, Hyuckie. When you got mad at me and put all of my underwear in the toilet and I had to go commando until I could buy some more? That was being a burden. This is having emotions, having problems that Mark can’t even try to fix if you don’t talk things out with him.”

He sniffs and presses his face into Jaemin’s Hyuck shaped chest groove. “I’m not being dramatic?”

“You’re always dramatic, but that doesn’t mean your emotions aren’t valid. You need to talk to him, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Promise me?”

“I promise.”

Jaemin kisses his head. “Good. Want me to ring Renjun and Jeno again?”

Donghyuck shakes his head. “I don’t wanna trouble them a second night in a row, can we just... cuddle? For a while?”

“Of course we can. I’m only twenty percent man, you know. The other seventy percent is cuddle machine.”

“That only adds up to ninety percent.”

“The remaining ten percent is being bad at math.”

Donghyuck laughs wetly. “Thank you, Jaemin. As always.”

“You’re welcome Hyuckie,” Jaemin replies softly. “As Always.”

 

-

 

So the next evening, when he’s still not heard from Mark and is starting to get legitimately-should-I-call-his-parents-worried, he rings Yukhei.

“Yoooo,” Yukhei says. “Donghyuck! Hows it hanging dude?”

“Fine thanks,” he says, kicking at pebbles on the sidewalk. The evening sky is pretty, but his gut is churning too much for him to enjoy the baby pink hues. “Is Mark there?”

“He’s in the room chilling, why?”

“Oh,” Donghyuck says, trying not to let the bitterness choke him. “I just wondered because he hasn’t contacted me since yesterday lunchtime, and we were supposed to skype. I got worried, and he isn’t answering his phone.”

“It’s been a weird few days,” Yukhei says, “But that’s not my story to tell, you want me to put Mark on the phone? I don’t mind, I have like a million free minutes on my phone contract.”

“Thank you, that’d be great.”

“Okay, hold on!”

There’s some rustling, and Donghyuck kind of wants to hang up or throw his phone in the pond, but he hangs tight until he hears Mark’s voice, finally, sleepy and low.

“Hello?”

“Mark, it’s me.”

“Hyuck?” That seems to wake him up. “Why’d you ring Yukhei’s phone?”

“You weren’t answering yours.”

“You never – oh.” Mark clears his throat. “I, uh. Must have put it on silent without realising. Sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Donghyuck says, though he’s not sure if he means it this time. “Listen Mark, I know you’re busy and stuff but I am too and it’s kind of mean to keep saying you’re gonna ring me or skype me or whatever and then leave me waiting for hours.”

Mark makes an odd noise, and it takes a second for Donghyuck to figure out the emotion behind it – not guilt, or even disinterest, but frustration. Almost anger. “Seriously Hyuck? You go in with that, you don’t even ask me what’s happened?”

Donghyuck’s throat closes. “I – I mean what ha-“

“Ten got tripped during the game yesterday and busted his knee. Johnny and I were in the emergency room with him until almost midnight. I’m sorry I didn’t ring you but they thought he was gonna have to go in for surgery and Johnny was losing his fucking mind and I couldn’t leave them.”

“You could have text,” Donghyuck whispers. “I was worried. You could have just text me.”

“You’re not even gonna ask how he is?” Mark asks, and that’s definitely anger in his voice now.

Hyuck feels himself getting smaller and smaller. “I – I’m sorry – how is he?”

“Fine.”

“I’m sorry, Mark.”

Mark sighs. “Me too, but – god, Hyuck, when you get like this it’s really annoying.”

And usually he’d snap back, ‘You’re annoying too, dumbass, learn to communicate better!’ or something that would spark an argument that would resolve itself within minutes. Usually he’s good at communicating because he likes talking, loves talking to Mark, loves Mark.

He makes a weak noise in his throat that sounds abysmally pathetic even to his own ears, and Mark squawks.

“Hyuck? Are you c-“

He hangs up before Mark can finish, shoves his phone into his pocket and sprints back to the dorm.

Jaemin is sat on his bed on his phone but looks up when Donghyuck bursts in sobbing. He shoots up, hugging Donghyuck before he even registers what’s happening. “Three nights in a row – Hyuck what the hell is going on?”

But he doesn’t want to explain it this time, and even if he’d wanted to he couldn’t find the words past the tears.

He grew up with Mark, they’d been childhood sweethearts. Mark hadn’t been his first kiss but he’d been the first kiss that had mattered, they’d gone to prom together, they’d had each other’s virginities (very awkwardly), they were planning on going travelling together once they graduated.

If Mark finds him annoying, maybe that really is all Donghyuck is. Maybe it’s all he can be.

Jaemin, slowly building in panic as Donghyuck sobs, asks in a high voice, “You want Renjun and Jeno to come over? You want a cuddle? Hyuckie?”

Donghyuck pulls away, shaking his head, and he knows he looks like a mess but this time the tears won’t stop coming. “Can you leave for a while? I’m sorry Jaemin but I just want some time on my own, can you go please?”

Jaemin’s hands flutter before lowering. “I mean, yeah. Of course, I’ll go see the guys, come back in an hour or so, okay? But ring me if you need anything Hyuckie, okay? Don’t do anything stupid.”

“I won’t, I just wanna be on my own.”

“Okay,” Jaemin says softly. He gathers his things and pulls out a sweater. “I’ll just be a couple of minutes away. See you soon?”

Hyuck nods and closes the door after him, then collapses into his bed and continues to cry, ignoring the constant buzzing of his phone until he falls asleep, exhausted, as tired of himself as everyone else must be.

 

-

 

He wakes up during the night to Jaemin’s chest pressed against his nose, finding himself wedged against the wall.

Jaemin’s arms are tight around him, and comfortingly warm.

He goes back to sleep.

 

-

 

They both wake up when someone hammers on the door, but Donghyuck can’t find the strength to care about it, and apparently neither can Jaemin. They pull the covers over their heads and try to drown out the knocking, but whoever it is is persistent, and after a couple of minutes Jaemin climbs out of bed with an annoyed groan.

“What?” he asks, yanking the door open. “What could you – oh. Hi. Hyuckie, it’s for you.”

Donghyuck sits up, uncaring of his dry, blotchy, tear stained face, and is greeted by Mark. “What... what the hell are you doing here?”

“Me? What the hell is going on with you, Hyuck?” Mark asks, eyes wide. “Why do you look like someone shot your dog, what the hell?” his head whips around to Jaemin, then back to Donghyuck. “What the hell have you been hiding?”

Jaemin glowers at Donghyuck from the door. “I thought you were going to talk to him?”

“I tried,” Donghyuck says. He has no idea what time it is – either super late or super early, but whatever time it is it’s not the time for this. He feels the tears welling again as his lip wobbles. “I tried to talk to you but if I’m that fucking annoying then maybe you should just leave me to it.”

Jaemin looks back to Mark. “Hey, this isn’t my relationship and it really isn’t my place to say this but Donghyuck’s been a mess all week and since he doesn’t have the balls to tell you this I’m going to. He’s been a mess and he wanted to talk to you and you’ve upset him more than you seem to think you have. Also, don’t call him annoying. I did and it upset him a lot too.” He picks up his phone, checks the time, and winces. “Fuck, it’s early. I’m going to go nag Jeno into buying me breakfast, by the time I get back you losers better have figured this out.” He shoves past Mark, pushes Mark into the room and then slams the door closed behind him.

Mark is left blinking at Donhyuck, who still hasn’t moved from the bed. “I upset you?”

“I’ve been so stressed,” Donghyuck says, and if he were less emotional he’d be embarrassed by the way his voice breaks in the middle, but he can barely see past his watery eyes at this point. “I just wanted to see you and talk to you. I’m sorry if I was nagging you, if I was being selfish and annoying, Mark-“ he breaks off, crying for real again, “- but I just missed you. I’m sorry.”

“Fuck,” Mark breathes. One second he’s stood by the door, the next he’s in Donghyuck’s bed, pressing his nose into Donghyck’s hair, arms around him, and god, it feels like everything he’s been missing, it feels like the string holding his house of sticks together, it feels like home. “Hyuck, I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry. You’re not – I’m the one that’s annoying, I’ve been selfish – the thing with Ten wasn’t something I could help, but you were right, I could have text you. I should have. If the roles were switched, I would have been worried sick too. And before Ten – fuck, Hyuck, that party fucking sucked anyway, I would have rather spent the evening skyping you, I’m sorry I forgot. I’ve missed you too, you know that right?”

“It felt like I was getting left behind somewhere dark,” Donhyuck says, wrapping his arms around Mark’s waist, nestling into his neck as his eyes continue to leak hot tears onto them both. “I know I’m annoying and loud and selfish and needy, and I was trying so hard not to pressure you but fuck, why would you want to be with someone like that anyway? You shouldn’t have to sta-“

“If you finish that sentence I’m gonna give you the worst wedgie of your fucking life,” Mark says, so serious that Donghyuck stops crying, thrown entirely off guard. He blinks up at Mark’s face in the low light of the dawn, completely lost.

“Huh?”

“I mean it, Hyuck. You might not see what I see when you look in the mirror, but if you try and tell me you’re not good enough I’ll wedgie you so hard that you can’t walk properly for an entire week.”

“But I’m so annoying,” he says.

“Yeah. And? I’m annoying too. Yukhei is annoying when he leaves his socks in my bed for no reason, Johnny is annoying when he’s making heart eyes at Ten and fucks up the entire basketball match because of his boner, I’m annoying when I forget everything, when I forget our skype dates and go to sleep with my phone on silent and giggle too loudly at the cinema and make fun of you in English when I know you can’t understand. But you still love me, right?”

Donghyuck nods silently.

“Good. It’d be pretty awkward otherwise, because I love you too. Yeah you’re annoying at times, but everyone is. I love you anyway. Sometimes your annoyingness is funny, especially when it’s directed at Renjun, and during times like that I love you because you’re annoying. I don’t want you to change, Hyuck, I just want you to tell me when you feel like this so I can work around it and remind you that if I loved you at sixteen when you tried to make me jealous by flirting with that kid selling broccoli as weed, I’ll love you now, annoying or not.”

“You mean it?”

“Hyuck, I took the five a.m. train to get here to see why you hung up on me last night. I wouldn’t do that for a guy I thought was average at best. I love you.”

“I love you too,” he whispers. “I’m sorry for making everything about me, I just...”

“Sometimes it gets too much, right? I know you Hyuck, and I know that sometimes you get caught up. I won’t forget it again, okay baby? I’m sorry too.”

“I love you,” Donghyuck says again, staring at his boyfriend. Mark looks exhausted but so soft and warm in the morning light, his chestnut hair windswept, his clothes definitely not freshly washed, but whatever. He took the early train for Donghyuck, and that’s what matters.

“I love you too,” Mark says, smiling a little. “I don’t have to get the train back until midday, you know. We could go for breakfast if you like, maybe catch up with Jaemin, wherever he’s gone?”

It sounds nice, but staying in bed with Mark sounds nicer. Donghyuck just wants to stare at him a little longer, so he can imprint Mark’s face perfectly into his mind for once he’s gone again, their interactions limited to skype and selfies. “Can we stay here a while first?”

“Sure,” Mark says easily. He leans down and kisses Hyuck gently, tenderly, like he only knows how to do when they’re alone and he isn’t worried about embarrassing himself. He wrinkles his nose and giggles a little. “Why do you smell like Jaemin?”

Donhyuck smiles and kisses Mark, just as soft, just as tender, a little wet, but chaste. “He was my substitute boyfriend body pillow. Jealous?”

“Of you, maybe. Jaemin is great at cuddling.”

Donghyuck laughs and tries to push Mark away, but Mark clings on, giggling, and kisses Donghyuck again, one after the other until the wriggling melts away and he’s content to lie there again, being kissed by his boyfriend.

“Don’t be mad,” Mark murmurs between kisses, “ You love me too much for that.”

“I do,” Donghyuck agrees, “But you’re still annoying.”

“You too,” Mark says reverently, kissing him again, and suddenly annoying doesn’t sound so much like fault anymore.