ne from finding out about you.”
Relieved for a moment, Shuuji put his hand to his chest and sighed.
This may indeed have been his hometown, but Koutarou hadn’t so much as dropped in for visit since graduation.
From the clone’s point of view though, there was always that one in a million chance, so it was the right thing to do.
“Where’d you spend the night?”
“I was at a coffee shop until morning.
I didn’t even know there were places open twenty-four hours,” the clone said, happy at having a new experience.
“So you haven’t slept?”
“Being able to sleep any time, any place is usually my strong point, but I couldn’t sleep a wink.”
The corner of the clone’s mouth pulled up a little, but Shuuji knew it was a self-deprecating smile at best.
Just as Shuuji was tormented by grief after losing Koutarou, the clone must have been crushed by the reality that he’d have to leave Shuuji too.
It was all obvious from his expression.
“Have you been here all morning?”
“No, I got here some time after noon.
Before that, I was going around to all the places we used to go together.
But I ran out of places pretty quickly.”
Hearing the clone’s answer, Shuuji’s words got stuck in his throat for a moment, and then he let out a laugh.
“I did the same thing.
Remember that place with the curry? It wasn’t even that long ago, and it’s not there anymore.
That surprised me.”
“And it was really good too, it’s a shame.”
So the clone had visited all those places too, huh.
He nodded, not surprised at Shuuji’s words.
“I have memories from all the places we went together.
I remember every single one of them, but I’m still not Koutarou.” He spoke dispassionately, but a certain sadness echoed in the clone’s voice.
“The original Koutarou is no longer of this world, and even though I know I’m just a clone, I can’t help but think of myself as Koutarou Seno too.
It’s enough to confuse even the original, the same one who made the clone.
Your saying you can’t accept me isn’t unreasonable, Shuuji.”
The clone’s words were a rejection of his own existence.
There had been no indication, right up through yesterday, that the clone had been thinking this way, so Shuuji’s rejection must have influenced him.
“If you’re worried about what I said–”
The clone shook his head to interrupt Shuuji.
That wasn’t it.
“After I got out on my own, I had the chance to think about it all.
I’ve been rethinking everything, right down to the fundamentals.”
“Why did I even make this clone? I always believed it was all for your sake, Shuuji, but…”
“It wasn’t?” That was the reason he’d given right since the beginning, and Shuuji stared at the clone suspiciously.
“I’m causing you so much pain, how am I supposed to say it was for your sake.
I started to feel like maybe it was really just for me.”
You were only thirty years old, after all.”
The average life expectancy in Japan was increasing every year, it was totally reasonable not to accept that your life would only span thirty years.
There had to be plenty more he’d wanted to accomplish with his research.
Shuuji said he understood the feeling, but the clone shook his head again.
“That’s not what I mean.
Before I started going out with you, I think I would have accepted that that was my life span.
The only reason I thought I didn’t want to disappear was because you were here, Shuuji.
I couldn’t stand the idea that there would be a world where I wasn’t there, a world where you might belong to someone else.”
“It’s impossible anyway.”
“I know that now, Shuuji, about the way you feel.
Because you told me clearly.”
Even if everything about him was the same, he wasn’t the original, and so Shuuji couldn’t accept him.
The clone had understood what Shuuji had said perfectly.
“But the way I was back then, I didn’t get it.”
“About two years ago, you went to Hokkaido to collect some data, remember?”
“Oh, yeah,” Shuuji answered, wondering what the sudden question was about.
The book he’d been designing at the time was a novel set in Hokkaido, so he’d decided to actually set foot there to get a feel for the real place.
“That was three days I couldn’t see you.”
Shuuji had endured the loneliness too, all by himself in Hokkaido, he remembered it well.
There had been times when they’d just started dating when they couldn’t see each other too.
But before even a full year had passed, they’d gotten so close that they spent more than half the week together.
“I was frustrated without you by my side.
I kept wondering if there wasn’t someone else with you, and I felt so uneasy until you came home.”
Shuuji had gone straight from Hokkaido to Koutarou’s apartment, and Koutarou had come out to meet him and silently hugged him tight.
Shuuji had never imagined such emotions were hidden behind those actions.
“That’s when I thought of it.
There was a possibility that maybe one day there would come a time when I wasn’t by your side.
And so I wanted to at least leave another me to fill that position.”
Shuuji could finally see clearly why Koutarou had created the clone.
Neither one of them was over thirty, death was a topic for years in the future, if it was anything.
Neither one of them had ever been seriously ill, there weren’t even any such signs.
Shuuji had been worrying about why Koutarou had suddenly started to think about what would happen after his own death.
“You should have told me that from the start.”
“Cloning a human is a major ethical violation, even I know that.
Which was why I wanted to make some excuse for myself.
And here I am trying to make out like it wasn’t all for me.”
The clone smiled bitterly.
“I’m sorry, for blaming you.”
“No.” Shuuji shook his head, rejecting the clone’s apology.
“I finally understand how Koutarou felt.
Turns out, we’re on the same page.”
“The same page?” the clone asked, confused.
“Yesterday, when you weren’t there, Koutarou, I was so uneasy.
At first, I was just worried about whether you could live by yourself or not, but after you didn’t come home today, I started to worry that maybe you could live without me after all.”
“Is that being on the same page? I just hated the idea of you being with someone else.”
“I hated the idea that Koutarou might be able to live with anyone but me.
That’s the same, isn’t it?”
Putting such a selfish request into words was embarrassing, and Shuuji flashed a sheepish smile.
“That’s why I was so relieved to see you here, Koutarou.
I could see you and I were thinking the same things.”
Even if he’d tried to distance himself from Shuuji, his feelings hadn’t gotten very far at all, and Shuuji understood them better than anyone.
Even the original wouldn’t have had any memories of a time when they’d broken up, and yet the clone had done everything right.
“I’m sorry for yesterday.”
“I said such selfish things, and acted like I was trying to chase you off…”
“But if I hadn’t said anything, you never would have left, Koutarou.”
“Well, that is true,” the clone confirmed meekly.
“If not for that, I don’t think I would ever leave you, Shuuji.”
“Yeah, hence, I’m sorry,” Shuuji apologized, keeping his tone deliberately light.
If he’d gotten serious about it, no doubt the clone would have suggested that he was at fault as well.
He didn’t want the clone blaming himself any further.
“Let’s go home together.”
“Is it okay?”
Shuuji had been the one to invite him, but the clone still timidly sought confirmation.
He was worried because he didn’t want to hurt Shuuji, but he needn’t be anymore.
“I don’t want to lose Koutarou again.”
“Even though I’m a clone?”
“Even though you’re a clone Koutarou, I don’t want to hand you over to anyone else.”
Shuuji tried to warn himself that it was just ego, but he wanted to be the person who understood Koutarou best.
When he’d decided to go looking for the clone, even while he was in the act of looking, Shuuji hadn’t really reached a conclusion to the question of what he wanted to do after that.
But when he found the clone, and heard his thoughts, the answer came naturally.
Had he been in the opposite position, surely Koutarou would have accepted Shuuji’s clone.
Not because Koutarou’s feelings were any stronger than Shuuji’s, but just that his way of thinking was different.
Koutarou loved everything about Shuuji, and so no doubt whatever Shuuji did, he would have accepted it.
So Shuuji wanted to accept the clone too.
Loving him the same as he had the previous Koutarou was impossible, but it would just be a different way of loving him.
“I know I’m being selfish, but is it alright if I fall in love with you again, Koutarou?”
The clone’s expression went blank for a moment, like someone had found a chink in his armor.
His lips were moving like he was trying to say something, but no words came out immediately.
“No good, huh?”
“Why would it be no good? This is great, isn’t it?”
The clone finally recovered, and wrapped Shuuji in a tight hug, the words tumbling out of his mouth.
The sun had sunk while they were preoccupied, and the area was starting to darken.
The pedestrian traffic had thinned out, but the two men were holding on to each other right out in the open, where they had no idea if anyone was watching.
Even so, Shuuji didn’t want to let go.
Right now, feeling the clone’s warmth was more important than people’s prying eyes.
“Shuuji…” The clone called his name like he wanted something.
Remembering that tone from many times in the past, Shuuji lifted his head, snatched the sunglasses from the clone’s face, and silently closed his eyes.
He felt the clone’s face get close.
The clone drew right up to him, and just for an instant, he seemed to hesitate, but then he timidly put his lips on Shuuji’s.
As far as Shuuji was concerned, this was the second person he’d ever kissed.
The first had been Koutarou, and now the second was also Koutarou.
The sensation of his lips, his warmth was all the same, but maybe because Shuuji’s feelings were different, this kiss tasted like nothing he’d ever known.
The clone brushed their lips together just lightly and then pulled back, staring at Shuuji as if trying to make sure of something.
Shuuji smiled to say it was alright.
“Come on, let’s go home.”
The neighborhood was even darker than before, and Shuuji stood up, grabbed the clone’s arm and invited him again.
This time, the clone stood up immediately.
“I never imagined when I was in high school that I’d be walking home down this street with Koutarou.”
Koutarou’s clone was right next to him, on the road they’d walked for three years.
Shuuji walked on, wondering at the strangeness of it all.
“I never went home with anyone.”
There wasn’t even the slightest sense of nostalgia in the clone’s voice.
He hadn’t come here because it was the road he’d taken to school for three years, it was just because this was a place he’d seen Shuuji.
It was true though, looking back, Koutarou had always been alone.
“But thanks to that, you’re now the first person I’ve walked down this street with, Shuuji,” the clone said with a happy smile.
Shuuji was so grateful that trivial things like this would make him happy.
He had to put those feelings into words.
“I’ll be your first in all sorts of things from here on out, too.”
“Yeah, I’ll leave it to you.”
The clone came to a stop just to bow deeply, and Shuuji broke into an unreserved smile.
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