s face wordlessly.
“The Koutarou I liked… is already dead.”
Shuuji didn’t remember how he’d responded when he’d been told of Koutarou’s death over the phone.
He’d hung up without realizing, and flopped down right where he was.
“But, I mean, you understand that I’m Koutarou, right?” the clone asked, insecure, and Shuuji quietly shook his head, looking the clone in the eyes.
“I understand that you’re Koutarou’s clone.
You aren’t Koutarou,” Shuuji spat out, speaking with a daring chill in his voice.
He felt like if he didn’t do it this way, he’d be pulled in by Koutarou’s familiar face, right in front of him.
“I can’t treat you the same as Koutarou.
Everyone else could do it, but I absolutely cannot.”
“You don’t get it? There is only one of my beloved Koutarou in this world.
You have the same face, and use the same words with the same voice, but I can’t love a different Koutarou.”
All the feelings he hadn’t been able to express from the moment he first met the clone, feelings he himself hadn’t clearly recognized, welled up inside him and transformed into words.
He hadn’t even realized how tense he was, but he felt all his strength leave him.
Even if the clone was perfectly the same in every respect, the fact that there were now two physical bodies meant that there were two Koutarous.
But there was only one Koutarou whom Shuuji had loved, so the other one had to be someone else.
Tears ran down his cheeks and fell onto his lap.
Shuuji went to wipe them, and was offered a tissue before he could bring his shirt sleeve close.
When he turned towards the hand that held the tissue, the clone was smiling with an expression that seemed a little sad.
“I still had a ways to go before I understood you, huh Shuuji.”
“What?” Shuuji asked, his voice still tearful.
“You loved me more than I thought.
I really was very fortunate.”
The clone said it all in the past tense.
He’d inherited all Koutarou’s memories, so in that sense he was the same Koutarou, that was what the clone had said.
But if Shuuji’s love for him was now something of the past, that only confirmed that he was a different Koutarou.
“You don’t have to think of me as the earlier Koutarou.”
“That’s awful sudden…” he shot back, not because he was suspicious, but just because he couldn’t believe it.
The clone had been created for Shuuji’s sake, Shuuji hadn’t thought he’d accept not being acknowledged by him so easily.
Shuuji had no confidence he could be so detached, if he’d been in the clone’s position.
“It’s the truth,” the clone answered, flashing a confused smile.
“I know I can’t hope for something from you that you absolutely can’t do.”
Koutarou’d grown up with almost no emotions, ever since he was little, and so he’d become an adult who couldn’t understand expressions of joy, or anger, sadness, happiness, and he’d tried to understand his own feelings by trying on other people’s feeling for himself.
Being a clone hadn’t changed that, and even now, he seemed to be under the impression that if Shuuji said he didn’t like it, that surely that was the right feeling to have about the situation, no matter what his own opinion might be.
But those eyes, which didn’t normally look lost, now wavered slightly, and Shuuji had a hunch it was an expression of the clone’s hesitation as to whether this decision was really correct, whether it was really his own feelings that were mistaken.
“So then… What are you going to do now?”
Shuuji dared to ask a practical question.
Looking at the clone’s face brought back all his previous feelings, no matter how he tried to stop them, and he couldn’t keep calm.
Koutarou’s entire life had been research and Shuuji.
With both of those gone, and given the fact that he couldn’t show himself in public, what could he even do?
“I’ll have to figure that out.
I’ve got plenty of time on my hands at least.”
The clone answered in a disinterested tone.
He didn’t seem troubled in the least.
The line made it clear that Koutarou had created the clone without thinking about what would happen afterwards.
“Are you going to live here?”
“I guess I’ll have to, for a while.
At least here, I won’t meet anyone, and even if I did by some chance, there’s no one in the area who knows me.”
“But what are you going to do for a living? You can’t withdraw anything from the bank anymore.”
Shuuji gave voice to his remaining concerns.
He didn’t know how much Koutarou had saved up, but he’d been able to pay for this place in cash a few years ago.
Other than that though, he’d never been particularly extravagant, so he must have had some kind of savings.
But now that the real Koutarou had passed away, the clone had no means of withdrawing any of it.
His accounts would have been frozen.
If he stayed here, he’d at least have some place to sleep, but he’d eventually run out of food.
He was a clone, but assuming he was basically a human being, he’d have to eat to live.
“Well, I’ll manage somehow,” the clone answered, as if it was someone else’s problem.
Koutarou had never really had much interest in the basics of life, like food, or clothing, or shelter, so maybe he wasn’t worried about it, but Shuuji certainly was, and he wasn’t able to consider the situation so lightheartedly.
Regardless of the fact that they didn’t have any affection for one another, they were definitely listed as parent and child in their family register, so Shuuji thought perhaps the clone could get some financial support from them.
But the clone refused the suggestion on the spot.
“Why would I do that? I created this clone for you alone, Shuuji.
There’s no reason to meet with anyone else, I don’t need to talk to them.”
What Shuuji wanted to discuss was what would happen next, but the clone only talked about his hopes, never considering reality.
But the words the clone spoke had been Koutarou’s thoughts once.
No matter how absurd or outside of common sense, the fact that he’d acted solely on his feelings for Shuuji came through keenly.
Shuuji’s chest shook anew with those feelings, and he was struck again with a sense of loss at the fact that Koutarou had passed away.
He’d cried so much in the past week, he’d run out of tears, but now that he noticed it, he’d been crying for a little while.
Beside him, the clone came closer, and softly put his arms around Shuuji’s shoulders.
If it had been Koutarou, he’d have meekly given himself over to it, but instead his shoulders jumped in surprise.
The gestures, the physical feel of him, were all the same, but Shuuji’s resistance to having another man’s arms around his shoulders made him act differently.
Still though, he couldn’t shake off the clone’s arms.
Not wanting to hurt a man with the same face as the person he loved any more than he already had, he couldn’t make a clear refusal.
But the clone did notice the fact that Shuuji wasn’t moving.
The clone lowered his arms, and started rubbing Shuuji’s back instead, trying to comfort him.
Koutarou’s tenderness towards Shuuji hadn’t changed, even now that he’d become the clone.
How was he supposed to abandon someone like that? Shuuji’s lips moved on their own.
“I’ll come by every day while you’re here.”
“Really?” The clone’s face lit up.
Seeing such a joyous expression, even Shuuji felt happy, and his tears stopped.
“I don’t really have a choice.
You can’t do any housework,” Shuuji pointed out with a smile, his face still stained with tears, and the clone didn’t deny it, but only laughed.
“I’ll go buy whatever you’re short on, and then bring them with me when I come tomorrow.”
“Oh, so you’re going home already,” the clone muttered sadly, but didn’t try to detain him.
He’d decided to respect Shuuji’s wishes, and he was sticking to it.
There was only one bedroom in this house.
And only the double bed in there.
Shuuji couldn’t think of the clone as Koutarou, there was no way he’d be able to sleep in the same bed as him.
But at the same time, if he slept on the sofa, the clone would be hurt.
So Shuuji decided to go home.
Besides, he was afraid that if he didn’t, his feelings would waver.
Although, maybe accepting that the clone was the same as before might be the best way to calm down, to put himself at ease.
After all, the clone had exactly the same form, the same everything.
If he hadn’t known Koutarou had died, he likely would have treated him just like always, without even realizing he was a clone.
The clone saw him off, all the way until he got in his car, and then Shuuji put the vacation home behind him.
When he talked with the clone, he inadvertently ended up layering it with memories of what had been.
When they were together, he couldn’t help remembering, no matter how much he didn’t want to, and he couldn’t just leave him alone.
How could he continue to meet the clone face to face, with that dilemma still unresolved?
He kept thinking about it as he drove, indeed he couldn’t think of anything else, but he got all the way home without having come up with the right answer.
Maybe no one knew what the right answer was.
When he got inside, he was greeted by a blinking light on his answering machine telling him he had a message.
Maybe something had happened to the clone, all alone in that house.
Shuuji rushed over to the phone and pushed the play button.
“This is Mori from Takara Publishing.”
Hearing the voice on the first message, all the strength went out of Shuuji’s shoulders.
It must have been left late the previous night.
“I sent you an email with just a proposal.
I’m just calling to make sure you got it.”
The business-like message pulled Shuuji back to reality.
A similar phone call from Mori had started this long day.
At the time, he’d become so reckless about work that he figured he didn’t care if he lost his job.
He’d been waiting for a call with a job request for a long time, but when it finally came, he hadn’t been able muster anything but the vaguest of attitudes towards it.
If the situation kept up like that, no doubt a random freelancer like him would be immediately forgotten.
But now, he suddenly felt a sense of impending crisis.
From now on, he had to earn enough money for the clone too.
There wasn’t any rent to pay for that house, but there was still utilities and food.
He didn’t think the clone was really suited to any occupation except research, but was there any place that would hire him any more? He didn’t exactly have a birth certificate.
Given that, there was no one to support him except Shuuji, and unlike Koutarou, Shuuji didn’t have much in the way of savings, so he didn’t have time to be sinking into despair.
Mori had said she would call again the day after next, but Shuuji wanted to talk while he still felt this urge to get to work, before his feelings changed.
He picked up the receiver before he even took off his jacket.
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