Where in hell had the clone gone? Shuuji waited at the vacation house until the following morning, but the clone didn’t come back.
He did have money, so he could stay in a hotel or something, and he wasn’t likely to be troubled for meals either.
He wasn’t a child, there was no need to be so worried just because Shuuji didn’t know where he was for one single night.
But even as he repeated those things to himself, Shuuji didn’t get a wink of sleep.
But more than that, his heart was filled with a deep sense of loss.
Shuuji was the one who’d refused to accept the clone, who’d said he wasn’t the real thing, but he couldn’t bear losing Koutarou a second time.
If this kept up, his heart would crumble.
He’d only been able to get back on his feet after the first loss because the clone was there for him, this time there was no one by his side.
Unable to contain himself any longer, Shuuji grabbed his cell phone and his wallet, and fled from the vacation house.
He hadn’t been able to say anything when the clone had left, and he couldn’t find the words now either.
But even so, he felt he had to look for Koutarou.
Walking down the same street the clone had taken the day before, Shuuji headed to the bus stop.
If he had a picture, at least, he could ask around, maybe pick up his trail.
It was only last night and today, and Koutarou was the sort of man who stood out.
But he’d be announcing to the world the fact that a man who wasn’t supposed to be here was still alive.
“There’s no way he’d still be around here, right…”
Shuuji muttered to himself with a touch of self-derision, arriving at the bus stop and unconsciously looking around.
If only he’d chased after him immediately yesterday, he could have caught up to him by this point.
Shuuji was tormented with regret.
Still with no destination in mind, Shuuji boarded the bus and headed for the station.
As the bus swayed, Shuuji considered places the clone might have gone.
Except that Koutarou didn’t have any hobbies, and he was the type who didn’t even go outside unless he had an urgent need to do so, so nothing came to mind.
Not that he had any real basis for it, but he had a hunch the clone wouldn’t go anywhere he wasn’t already familiar with.
When Koutarou did leave the house for things outside of work, it was almost always with Shuuji.
So in other words, if Shuuji traced his own memory back, he’d find places Koutarou had gone.
The last place they’d been together was the movies.
A novel Shuuji had designed the binding for had been made into a film, and the story seemed interesting, so for the first time in a long while, he’d gone to the movies.
Koutarou was just a bonus.
An entire day had passed since the clone had left the house.
He’d been on foot, at least at first, and there was no reason for him to stay in one place forever anyway, but Shuuji headed for the movie theater first.
He struck out there, and Koutarou wasn’t at the restaurant Shuuji tried after that either.
He didn’t find the clone at the bookstore, or the department store, or the coffee shop, not at any of the places they’d gone to together.
“Not here either, huh…” Shuuji muttered weakly.
He’d been going around for half a day, and in the end he’d even gone to the hotel ballroom where they’d been reunited, even asking at the front desk, but Koutarou’s name wasn’t among their guests, and there was no sign of him in the lobby either.
He’d been to every place the two of them had gone together.
The fact that they’d been going out for six years and yet it had only taken half a day to make the rounds felt lonely.
If he’d known they’d be separated so quickly, he’d have taken Koutarou to all sorts of places and made a bunch of memories.
Shuuji had a sudden realization and decided on his destination.
The fact that there weren’t very many places they’d gone together was because they only really went to each other’s houses.
He hadn’t looked there yet.
Although, Shuuji had rejected him, he was trying to avoid Shuuji entirely, so maybe he wouldn’t go to Shuuji’s apartment.
The only other place left was Koutarou’s apartment.
The probability of him being there was almost zero, but Shuuji didn’t know where else to look.
– – –
The instant Shuuji got out of the taxi in front of Koutarou’s condo, something unexpected happened.
“Oh, it’s you, hold on.”
Someone called his name, in a re-enactment of the other day, and Shuuji came to a surprised halt.
Koutarou’s colleague, whom he’d come across by chance that once, was across the street.
The man stopped Shuuji with a shout and then rushed across the street towards him.
We met again.”
The man flashed a happy smile, but of course, he had no way of knowing that Shuuji wasn’t prepared for any such attitude.
“There’s something I wanted to give you.
I really should have asked for your contact information the other day.”
“Yeah, you,” the man said, taking a manila envelope from his inside jacket pocket and offering it to Shuuji.
“They told me to dispose of Seno’s personal effects, but just throwing everything out kind of left a bad taste in my mouth, you know,” he said, apparently assuming Shuuji would understand, and Shuuji nodded in response.
Even if they weren’t particularly close, he was a colleague who’d worked with Koutarou for years.
Shuuji probably couldn’t just dismiss him out of hand.
“I mean, I say personal effects, but it’s just some research papers and office supplies, so it’s not any personal mementos, but everybody’s been taking his stuff little by little, so I thought I should give these to you, at least.
I thought I’d hand them over if we ever met again, so I’ve been walking around with them, looks like it was the right choice.”
The man smiled triumphantly.
Concerned about what the man had gone through so much to give him, Shuuji took a peek in the envelope right on the spot.
Shuuji nodded with all his might.
Inside the envelope was a train pass case.
But instead of the normal contents, there was a small, trimmed photo.
It was Shuuji from twelve years ago.
“Is that a yearbook photo? You haven’t changed much, huh.”
It was definitely from his high school graduation album.
He wasn’t smiling, and his expression made him look vaguely troubled about something.
He’d never been comfortable having his picture taken.
“Where was this?”
“In his desk drawer.
Seemed like it was important to him.”
He clutched the photo to his chest instinctively.
Koutarou’s desire to feel close to Shuuji all the time made it through to him.
They’d never once taken a photo together.
Shuuji didn’t like to be photographed, and anyway, Koutarou hadn’t even owned a camera.
Besides, he’d never imagined a day would ever come when they’d be apart, so Shuuji hadn’t really needed a picture of Koutarou.
But if he was going to cherish such an old photo, Shuuji should have at least taken a current one.
“Is it possible you two were lovers, not just friends?”
“Yes, we were lovers.”
This time, he put it into words and answered clearly.
He’d always thought their relationship had to be kept a secret for Koutarou’s sake.
But, Koutarou told anyone who asked about his feelings for Shuuji, and Shuuji didn’t want to mislead anyone anymore.
I thought if it was someone like you, you might be able to date that guy.”
Maybe there really was something different about researchers, but he didn’t seem concerned that they were both men, just surprised that Koutarou had a lover at all.
“At any rate, I’m glad I was able to give that to you.”
“Thank you very much.”
Shuuji bowed his head deeply, and watched the man leave.
Shuuji had plenty of memories with Koutarou, even if none of them were attached to physical objects.
And maybe that was enough, he thought.
But when you poured emotion into objects, you got new memories.
And the photo had made Shuuji realize something.
There was still one more place where they’d been together, even if they didn’t have any memories together there.
The high school they’d both attended.
They hadn’t had any contact during their high school days, but they’d walked the same route from the school to the station.
Koutarou had even said he’d seen Shuuji there.
Both of them were from Saitama, and if he headed there right now, he could probably reach it by tomorrow.
Shuuji rushed to the nearest station and hopped on a train.
– – –
When the train got into Saitama, nostalgic scenes gradually spread themselves before him.
He didn’t even have that many good memories here, but just the fact that it was his hometown had a certain longing for the past swelling up inside him.
He got off the train at the closest station and headed for his alma mater on foot.
He didn’t plan on going onto school grounds, only to follow the route there.
Along the way, he passed some students clad in the uniform he himself had worn.
It was getting late, so they must have been headed home.
He’d walked a little bit from the station when he approached the bank of a river.
A trail followed along the embankment.
This was the first time he’d walked this road without his uniform on.
Feeling strangely restless, he looked around carefully as he walked, so as not to miss anything.
Annoyed by the volume of his unconscious shout, Shuuji slapped his hand over his mouth.
He’d come all this way, but he hadn’t really thought the clone would be here.
But the man sitting on the riverbank watching the river flow past couldn’t be anyone else.
He was wearing a hat Shuuji had never seen before – when had he bought that? – but there was no way Shuuji could mistake Koutarou.
The name he’d sealed away, the name he couldn’t say, flowed from his mouth easily, and he called to that figure he loved so much.
He hadn’t been calling him Koutarou because he wasn’t the real Koutarou.
Shuuji had made the distinction, had decided that he was a different person.
But that too came to an end today.
The fact that he’d been running around trying not to lose Koutarou for a second time was proof that he’d already accepted that the clone was Koutarou, even if they weren’t exactly the same.
He turned around, surprised, and it turned out he was wearing sunglasses Shuuji had never seen before too.
He seemed too surprised to move.
The clone was in shock, unable to do anything but stare at him.
“I can’t believe it, I didn’t think you’d really be here,” Shuuji said, going over to where the clone was and sitting down beside him.
“You were looking for me?”
“Well I never would have come to a place like this otherwise.”
Shuuji smiled gently, and behind the glasses, the clone’s eyes went wider and wider with surprise.
It had only been a day since Shuuji had refused him so coldly.
The clone’s response wasn’t unreasonable.
“What’s with the sunglasses and hat?”
There were all kinds of things he wanted to say, and lots he wanted to hear too, but his first question was rather trivial.
“I bought them before I came here.
This is my hometown, but I have to avoid meeting people who know me, right?”
“So you were trying to prevent anyone 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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