Shuuji curled up with his elbows on his knees and buried his head in his hands.
If he truly had come back from the dead, Shuuji would have been overjoyed.
But this was different.
He hadn’t come back from the dead, it was just that another Koutarou had showed up.
Shuuji had memories of Koutarou that had accumulated over years.
He didn’t want to think of Koutarou as a clone who’d merely inherited those memories rather than experiencing them for himself.
– – –
The first time he’d met Koutarou was in high school.
Back then, they were never in the same class, they never even said hello to each other.
But that all changed six years ago, when they were unexpectedly reunited.
Shuuji was already working as a book designer, and was attending a party put on by a publisher that was a client of his.
He’d been told by his editor that he needed to have a wider network if he wanted to get more jobs, and although he had in fact managed to show up to the bright, bustling party, he’d never been very good with places like this, and so naturally, he ended up as a wallflower.
Koutarou had been there too, standing by himself just like Shuuji.
Shuuji had realized immediately that it was Koutarou, the boy he’d gone to school with.
Koutarou had been the most well-known person in the school back then.
His good looks were a factor in him catching peoples’ eyes, but even more than that, the fact that his brains towered over everyone else lifted Koutarou above his surroundings.
Shuuji on the other hand, had been a very ordinary high school student, the type you could find anywhere.
Which was why he intended to pretend not to notice that Koutarou probably had no idea who he was.
But the instant he’d seen Shuuji, Koutarou had rushed over.
Shuuji had never once seen that smile when they were in high school.
Shuuji had no idea Koutarou could even smile like that, although maybe that was because they’d never hung out together.
“Well, yes, but…”
“I knew it.
I don’t know your name, but I remembered your face.”
Koutarou smiled, happy his memory had been correct, but Shuuji was just surprised Koutarou had remembered him at all.
“Seriously? We never talked even once.”
Shuuji couldn’t hide his surprise.
They’d never had a class together, so there’d been no point of contact.
“We ended up together a lot though, didn’t we, on the road from the station to the school? You were always walking with somebody and laughing, but your smile seemed so lonely, I remembered it.”
Koutarou’s tone was disinterested, like he was merely listing off facts, and it confirmed for Shuuji that there was no lie or scheme behind his striking up a conversation.
No one had ever pointed it out about his smile before, but Shuuji knew it perfectly well, better than anyone actually.
His habit of putting on a fake smile had started when he’d entered high school, just about the same time he’d realized he was gay.
He was bewildered by how different he was from those around him, but he knew he had to keep it a secret, and he was desperate to match his surroundings.
Really, it was quietly reading books that he liked, but that didn’t seem like something an ordinary high school boy would be into, so he played games and went to karaoke and other such things he didn’t care for, playing the part of a normal high school student.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever been told that.” Shuuji smiled, embarrassed.
“Yeah, that’s the one.
Nothing’s funny, why are you smiling?”
Whenever he was troubled, he always smiled, as a gut reaction.
Surely Koutarou never pulled any such sham.
He asked his question with a face that said he really didn’t get it.
“Well, what kind of face am I supposed to make then?”
“What do you mean, what kind of face? You’ve only got the one, right?” Koutarou answered with an earnest expression, and Shuuji burst out laughing.
Once he realized it wasn’t a joke, it was even weirder.
“Actually, smile just like that.”
For some reason, Koutarou was smiling too, and staring hard at Shuuji.
Someone suddenly called his name, and Koutarou’s smile disappeared as he turned around.
When Shuuji glanced in that direction too, there was a man about forty years old standing there in a suit.
Don’t see you enjoying yourself like this too often, Seno,” the man started to say, obviously surprised.
He didn’t have the air of someone who worked in publishing, but he did seem to know Koutarou.
“I happened to meet a classmate of mine from high school,” Koutarou explained concisely, and then, “In other words, we’re rekindling an old friendship, so you’ll have to excuse us.”
Koutarou bowed his head vaguely at the man, and then took Shuuji’s arm and walked off.
He acted before the other man could make any response.
From the way they spoke, Shuuji could tell the man was Koutarou’s social better, was it okay to be so rude? As he was worrying about it, even though it was really someone else’s problem, Shuuji matched Koutarou’s speedy pace.
Even after they’d escaped the hotel’s grand hall, Koutarou kept walking fairly quickly.
“Hold on, Seno…” Shuuji finally just stopped, and called out to Koutarou.
“That person just now, is it really okay for you to act like that towards him? Isn’t he your supervisor or something?”
Koutarou’s eyebrows knit together and he seemed to be thinking about something.
“He’s not really my boss though.
He’s an associate professor in my lab.”
“That’s not like a supervisor? That attitude seems a little awkward.”
“Does it? No one’s ever said anything to me,” Koutarou answered calmly, apparently unconcerned.
Worrying about it this late in the game suddenly seemed silly.
“A lab, huh, are you a graduate student?”
“Yeah, I’m doing genetic research,” Koutarou answered, and then added that he was only at the party today because that associate professor had dragged him along.
The associate professor was once in charge of overseeing the manuscripts published here, but the actual work was done almost entirely by Koutarou, so apparently he had to bring Koutarou along on the thousand to one chance someone asked him a question about it.
“Nevermind that, what’s your name?” Koutarou finally asked, speaking with sudden familiarity, and indicating that he’d like to leave the party for good with Shuuji.
It didn’t feel uncomfortable though.
In fact, Shuuji found the frankness left a good impression on him, and he happily gave his name with a genuine smile on his face.
– – –
It had been six years already since that day, but even now, he remembered it vividly.
It hadn’t taken long at all for the two of them to get close.
Probably because they were similar, somehow.
Shuuji had never been able to tell anyone what he was really thinking, because he was keeping his true self hidden, and Koutarou was such a genius, his whole existence floated above everyone else.
Even Shuuji’s family had been distant.
He’d felt like he was alone no matter where he was, and so Shuuji had confessed to his parents that he was gay, that he wanted help.
But rather than accept him, they took him to a psychiatric department and then cut off all communication.
But after hearing Koutarou’s story, he couldn’t help but think he’d lead a charmed life.
From the time he’d gained awareness, Koutarou had been raised with almost no contact with his parents.
At an age when the children around him could barely read hiragana, he was reading and writing kanji, but his parents seemed more creeped out by their son’s genius than excited about his future.
When Koutarou had smiled and said he hadn’t really had any way of playing with the kids around him, and so he would just read challenging books, Shuuji had almost started crying.
The conversation he’d had with Koutarou’s colleague before, when he’d gone to the condo, had confirmed that Koutarou hadn’t been exaggerating even a bit.
Their child had died, and yet they’d left everything to the apartment manager.
They hadn’t even bothered to see for themselves how he’d lived.
They met face to face only once, at the hospital, and Shuuji realized now that they’d been expressionless not because they were in shock, but because they truly had no feelings on the matter.
Koutarou had never lamented his situation or anything, but somewhere deep in his heart, he had to have been lonely.
Which was why they’d started meeting so often, like they were trying to fill the holes in each other’s hearts.
The first few times, it was just having dinner out at a restaurant somewhere, but they switched over to meeting at each other’s homes almost immediately.
That way, they could stay together longer, and not worry about the time.
Koutarou did blurt out some surprising things, but as they got closer, Shuuji realized that it was just his actual personality.
Koutarou had been on his own since high school, his expression always calm, so he’d wondered if maybe he just wasn’t interested in other people.
But that wasn’t the case, it was just that his range of interest was extremely narrow.
His parents were so composed as to be neglectful, and he’d had no relationship with them, but Shuuji’s smile had tugged at his heart, so maybe their reunion had been fate.
“I don’t want to lie to you, Koutarou, so I’m going to just tell you directly, but… I– I’m gay.”
Soon after they’d started going over each other’s houses, Shuuji confessed a secret he’d never shared with anyone outside of his parents before.
Koutarou had helped him really notice his loneliness for the first time, and he didn’t want to hide anything from him.
He’d announced it in as light a tone as he could manage, like it was nothing much at all, but he was so uneasy wondering what Koutarou would think that his voice shook.
He couldn’t even meet Koutarou’s eyes, and ended up looking straight down.
Koutarou responded with actions rather than words.
Sitting on the sofa next to him, Koutarou abruptly hugged him round the shoulders.
“So, is this alright then?”
Shuuji was so surprised he couldn’t understand what Koutarou’s behavior meant, and all he could do was mutter Koutarou’s name.
“I’ve never really even thought about my own sexuality before, but I figured if you’re gay, maybe it would be alright if I touch your body, to get to know you better, Shuuji, you know?”
“Don’t push yourself, Koutarou, you’re not gay, after all…”
“I became gay, starting today.”
Koutarou grinned and pulled him close, and Shuuji quietly shut his eyes.
That was the day they exchanged their first kiss.
From that day on, they began a secret relationship, known only to the two of them, but Shuuji was happy.
Koutarou had only to be by his side, and the loneliness he’d always felt simply disappeared.
But the accident had spelled the end of those happy days.
And what was more, Shuuji hadn’t found out about it until more than a day after it had happened.
Koutarou had said he’d drop by Shuuji’s house when he was done with work, and it was the first time he hadn’t come and also hadn’t called.
Even so, Shuuji waited a whole day before calling Koutarou’s cell phone, and then it had been Koutarou’s mother, rather than Koutarou himself, who’d answered and told him about the accident.
No matter how many years they’d been going out, their relationship was secret – he was never going to get a call from the hospital.
He rushed over the moment he heard Koutarou was in critical condition, but he wasn’t family, so he hadn’t been allowed into the ICU.
Shuuji had never realized it when he was happy, but reality had been shoved in his face now, and he had no choice but to go home without even being able to see Koutarou’s face.
News of his death arrived the following day.
Koutarou’s mother informed him that Koutarou had passed away the previous day, the day Shuuji had visited, without ever regaining consciousness.
nothing like a little pseudoscience bullshit to entertain, but i’ll go with it for cute boys.
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