The following Tuesday, Koutarou went to the hospital conference room as promised, and Nagasaki was waiting there for him.
Nagasaki was seated lightly at one of the tables, and after returning Koutarou’s greeting, he got up and came over.
“Firstly, I’ll hand over your pay.”
Accepting the brown envelope offered, Koutarou started to put it in his bag without even opening it.
“Check what’s inside at least,” Nagasaki pointed out in a tone of shock mixed with a smile.
“What if I’m trying to trick you?”
“Are you trying to trick me?”
“Who’s tricking who here?” Nagasaki responded promptly.
“I thought you were just generally cautious, but you’re a really interesting guy, huh.” Nagasaki smiled weirdly.
Koutarou didn’t know what was so interesting himself, but he had been criticized like this numerous times before.
When he’d talked to Shuuji about it, apparently it was because people ended up thinking that he didn’t know much about how the world really worked.
“So, what did you decide?” Nagasaki asked, wanting a response to the question they’d put on hold about whether Koutarou would continue with the job.
“I hope we can continue to work together for a long time to come.” Koutarou bowed to his employer.
“Got permission from your lover, huh.” Nagasaki intimated Shuuji’s existence without hesitation.
“We decided that if I wanted to do it, it was okay.”
“He’s a worry wart, huh.”
“I don’t know that much about the world, so he makes the decisions in my place.” Koutarou boasted about how Shuuji was the best lover, and stuck his chest out.
“Has it always been like that?”
“Always…” Koutarou started to answer, but the words got stuck in his throat.
Their relationship before hadn’t been like it was now.
If he had to say, he had a hunch that Koutarou had worried about Shuuji more before.
Shuuji was so delicate, and he worried that something would hurt him.
But now it was Koutarou who was causing Shuuji to worry.
“Is it possible you haven’t been going out for that long?”
But I was working before, too, so…”
“So he’s never really had to worry about you before, huh.
It seemed he’d been mollified, at least for the moment.
It had only been a week since they’d met, but thanks to Nagasaki’s familiar attitude, he’d already almost dragged several things out of Koutarou that he shouldn’t have been saying.
They’d considered various answers to hypothetical questions related to Koutarou’s identity, but they hadn’t prepared any answers when it came to Shuuji.
And besides, Koutarou never thought there was much reason to keep Shuuji a secret, so he didn’t know how much it was alright to say.
“Well then, it’s a bit fast, but how about the next paper? I figured you’d probably accept so I got it ready,” Nagasaki said, with a confident smile, and offered a bundle of papers he’d printed out, just like the previous one.
“Which reminds me, the professor was real surprised,” Nagasaki said, like he’d just remembered something.
“After I got the paper from you on Friday, I went to hand it over to the professor, since I knew he’d been needing it.
So then I got a call from the professor last night.
He wanted to know who’d done the translation, he seemed pretty impressed.”
Maybe the professor’s reaction had just been that weird, but Nagasaki was biting back a smile.
“I don’t remember it being that special, but…” Koutarou tilted his head, conveying that he really didn’t have a clue.
He’d done the work to the best of his ability, he really didn’t think it was all that special.
“You stuck some extra data in with that paper, didn’t you? Apparently the professor didn’t know the paper you got it from even existed.
And you translated all of that in only three days.
It wasn’t just the professor, anybody would be surprised.”
Nagasaki went on to say that he himself had been surprised, too, but Koutarou couldn’t understand why they would be.
He’d become aware of the data sheet in the course of his work, and some related papers as well, and he’d thought they were necessary, he hadn’t considered them mere garnish.
Even so, he thought to himself, if it was enough to surprise people, maybe it was abnormal.
His future depended on avoiding things that caused people to feel uncomfortable or made him stand out from the rest of the world.
“Well, since I’d read them…” he said, explaining that it was just that he’d known of their existence.
“You’d read them, huh… Where?”
Maybe there was no deeper meaning behind Nagasaki’s question.
But for Koutarou it was a question he didn’t want to get into.
“At my previous job…”
“Where was that?” Nagasaki asked further.
Even if he was just curious, a red light started blinking inside Koutarou.
“Do I have to give you details?”
I’m just curious.”
Nagasaki was aloof, his attitude not changing for a minute.
But Koutarou on the other hand was now wary, and ended up feeling like maybe there was something searching in that steady gaze.
“Well, I’ve got some appointments to get to, so I gotta go.
I hope you’ll deliver the same quality this time, too.”
There wasn’t even time to apologize for taking up his busy time.
Even after Nagasaki had walked off, Koutarou couldn’t switch his brain over, which was unusual for him.
Was it possible he’d been quite rude there?
He hadn’t given his real name, and he hadn’t met with anyone but Nagasaki.
He didn’t think he’d done anything particularly suspicious, but he couldn’t say for sure.
Maybe the professor who’d asked for the translations in the first place would get suspicious and if they asked around, it was possible he’d find someone who had some connection to Koutarou’s past.
But it was Nagasaki more than anything.
He’d easily withdrawn, after his appointment time had approached a minute ago, but his curiosity wasn’t something to make light of.
It wouldn’t be weird for him to bring it up again at some point.
Koutarou wouldn’t likely find such a convenient part time job again.
But it seemed he might have to let it go anyway.
Perhaps wanting to get a proper job with this cloned body had been a reckless idea after all.
He didn’t have any choice but to sever his connection to Nagasaki before his true identity was discovered.
He’d finish this paper he’d already accepted, but after that, he’d say he found another job and refuse.
Having come to that decision, Koutarou headed quickly for the desk.
– – –
Koutarou switched gears and immersed himself in his work, but he never really calmed down.
He couldn’t keep his cool knowing that maybe his true identity was being exposed while he was over here doing this work.
Working under such conditions, he was just wasting his time.
If it was going to be like this, it might be better to solve his issues first, and then come back to work after he’d calmed down and could concentrate.
Koutarou cut his work day short just past the middle of the afternoon.
He’d been told he could borrow the room from 9 in the morning until 6 in the evening, but he’d also been told it was okay to work at his own pace, so he didn’t necessarily have to work for the entire allotted time.
Koutarou left the hospital and headed straight home on his bike.
They’d bought the bike right after they’d come to this town.
Well, Shuuji had bought it for him, since he couldn’t take a car like before.
He drove down the sea-side road, bathed in the scent of the tides, and finally he calmed down a bit.
No one knew him in this tiny little country town, so who exactly did he think was going to recognize him? He’d been overthinking this, Koutarou told himself, sneering at himself.
He’d arrived at the apartment and was parking his bike in the parking lot, when he heard footsteps coming down the exterior staircase, and instinctively turned towards them.
Those were Shuuji’s footsteps.
When Koutarou called out to him, he came to a halt, a surprised look on his face.
Then he ran down the rest of the stairs and came over to Koutarou.
“You’re home really early, did something happen?”
“I couldn’t concentrate, so I left early.”
“Are you alright? Something does seem off…” Shuuji peered at Koutarou’s face, concerned.
“No, it’s not like that,” he said, and started to tell the reason he’d come home so early.
But he noticed what Shuuji was wearing, which was definitely not the casual clothes he usually had on.
He hardly ever wore a jacket.
Koutarou chose different words.
“You must be just about to head out somewhere, Shuuji?”
“I got a call all of a sudden.” A perplexed look flitted across Shuuji’s face as he answered.
Koutarou couldn’t conceal his surprise.
Shuuji always said that as long as he had a computer, he could do his job anywhere.
Even if there were some rush design revisions, this would be the first time, as far as Koutarou knew, that he’d been called out of the house.
“Well I wouldn’t be going if it wasn’t.” After a moment’s pause, stay-at-home Shuuji pulled a face like he hated it, and glanced at his watch.
If I don’t hurry, I’m going to be late.
Go ahead and have dinner without me.”
“I’ve gotta go.” Shuuji took off before he even finished speaking.
He hadn’t said a single word about going out when Koutarou was leaving the house that morning.
It must have really been sudden.
Even taking that into consideration though, there was something uncomfortable about Shuuji’s attitude a moment ago.
He’d seemed like he was trying to cut his explanation short.
The instant he thought that, Koutarou was moving.
Something must have happened to cause Shuuji trouble.
If that was true, then Koutarou was the only one who could save him.
The whole situation with Nagasaki had made Koutarou extremely anxious.
Koutarou ran after Shuuji, before he lost sight of him.
But he didn’t call out.
If Koutarou was just overthinking things, he’d only be getting in Shuuji’s way.
Shuuji was in a rush, and probably didn’t even imagine Koutarou would be tailing him, and as he walked to the station, his eyes never strayed from in front of him.
Koutarou kept a fixed distance, and continued tailing him.
Shuuji’s clients were all publishing houses, so they were all in Tokyo.
If he’d really been called out for work, his destination should be Tokyo, but Shuuji headed for the platform with the Kanagawa-bound lines.
Koutarou bought an appropriate ticket, too, and followed after him.
Good thing he had gotten his part time wages today, and had enough cash on hand.
They rode the train for more than an hour, including transfers, and eventually Shuuji got off at Kamakura Station.
He had a job that would call him out here? Koutarou’s suspicions deepened.
Double checking that it really was Shuuji exiting the ticket gate, Koutarou paid the balance on his fare, as he’d ridden several stops past what his ticket was for, and then followed him.
He’d come this far, he couldn’t lose sight of him.
When Koutarou rushed out of the station, Shuuji had come to a halt and seemed to be looking around for something.
Then, he must have found where he was going, and he walked off in a certain direction.
Shuuji ended up at a place just off the roundabout in front of the station, in a coffee shop with floor to ceiling windows right up by the street.
The person he’d had an appointment with must have been in a window seat, and after a short bow of recognition, Shuuji sped up even further on his way into the shop.
Of course if Koutarou followed him into the shop, Shuuji would notice him.
Thankfully, the large windows meant he could see what was going on inside from the outside.
With Koutarou watching, Shuuji approached a man who was sitting by the window, and the man got to his feet, and they bowed to each other again.
Judging from their attitudes, they knew each other’s faces, but this seemed to be the first time they’d actually met in person.
Shuuji sat down across from the man, so Koutarou could only see Shuuji’s back from where he was.
He didn’t know what kind of face Shuuji was making as they chatted, but the other man was smiling.
He was maybe a little younger than Koutarou.
He was wearing black, thin-rimmed glasses, and gave an impression of strength and intelligence.
Maybe it was because he was constantly smiling.
Koutarou had no clothing sense, but even he knew at this distance that the man was wearing high-quality pieces.
And maybe his suit was tailored, because it fit him perfectly.
He had plenty going for him, not just his age.
A man who had things which Koutarou lacked was meeting with Shuuji.
Now that he was seeing them like this, the two of them looked quite natural together.
What was unnatural was him, ogling them from the outside, unable to go in.
Shuuji did prefer to stay at home, but just because he didn’t like crowded places, not necessarily because he hated going out.
And because he was with Koutarou, because he was constantly worried about Koutarou, there was no mistaking the fact that he was going out even less than before.
Koutarou ended up thinking along those lines, watching the two of them.
Now, Koutarou was afraid Shuuji would turn around and he’d be able to see precisely what kind of face Shuuji was making.
If it turned out Shuuji was enjoying himself, Koutarou would have to admit that his own existence had once again interrupted Shuuji’s life.
Although maybe he was only thinking dumb things like this because he’d just been on the receiving end of Nagasaki’s interrogation.
Since he’d been born into this world as a clone, emotions he’d never known had been cresting over him one after another.
And he didn’t know how to process this current emotion, either.
Koutarou quietly walked away.
He couldn’t waltz right into the shop and ask Shuuji about it directly, so there was nothing he could do right now but return to the station alone.
He was afraid to face reality, and learn that he was inferior to that other man.
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