“I won’t let you take him.”
The guilt turns into dread at the sound of Minseok’s voice, leaking into Lu Han’s gut slow and acid. Whiskey on an empty stomach. You think the burn will take the sting away but it only makes it worse.
A high pitched meow from the cat tangled in Lu Han’s feet cuts him off. The air sliding through his nostrils feels thin, oxygenless, like he’s stranded on the top of a mountain and Minseok is looking up at him from a distance.
Minseok raises his eyebrow. The slight twitching movement is the only sign he’s really awake and not sleep walking. Lu Han takes in the tousled waves of his dark hair, the way the large T-shirt he sleeps in drapes shapeless to his knees. Minseok yawns. He eyes close as his mouth opens and it looks so sweet, the movement so guileless and imbued with a generic sort of intimacy that Lu Han almost changes his mind there under the flickering hall light.
Lu Han’s throat aches with the words he’d stored up to say, but had decided against spilling in the end. The explanations stick to his teeth as the cat weaves its orange striped body around and around through his ankles.
“Okay.” Minseok’s sigh is softer than the cat’s mewling.
Lu Han’s breath catches and then rushes into his lungs again when slender claws pierce the cuff of his jeans. His palm slides on the handle of his rolling suitcase and he winces at the feel of his own sweat. He scrubs his palms on backs of his thighs and bends down to scoop up the cat. Its body goes stiff, stalwart legs reaching towards gravity.
Their hands brush when Minseok takes the cat in his arms. He cradles it against his chest like a doll with the tenderness Lu Han had hoped for. The guilt dissipates at that touch of fingertips, a liquid weight evaporating suddenly from Lu Han’s pores.
It’s not really guilt, he thinks, ducking his head as he grabs the handle of his bag. He wants to explain, to tell Minseok he’s not taking anything that didn’t arrive in his luggage three weeks ago. That he’s left no mess to clean up after he walks away, not even a used toothbrush in the bathroom trash.
He smiles, a slight twitching of his lips, and hopes Minseok understands. No matter how many times the cat rubs its orange fur, its musky scent on Lu Han’s ankles, he’ll never belong here. Not in Minseok’s minimalist apartment with the black leather and bare walls and empty fridge.
Minseok nods, not in understanding but in silent agreement. Lu Han turns to the door. His hand hesitates on the knob as he anticipates the cold blast of the wind. He’s bracing himself, but if he’s honest the only warmth to be found in this apartment is the cat.
The cold has already taken hold inside Lu Han anyway. That’s how he knew it was time to move on. Not from the sickening slide of guilt that pools warm in his stomach but from what it conceals underneath.
Regret. Not for leaving, but for having stayed so long.
Your turn, thesockmonster