The next work day, Nagasaki didn’t show his face. Just staying alert, wondering if he was going to come say something else put Koutarou off his pace, and he couldn’t calm down again. The man was that busy, and yet he’d still discovered ‘Koutarou Seno.’ Koutarou had never imagined it would happen.
– – –
Their house was only thirty minutes away by bike, so they got there by car in less than ten minutes. Not a word was spoken the whole time until they arrived. When they’d gotten out of the taxi and entered their apartment, Shuuji’s expression, which had been tense until just a moment ago, broke into a tender smile.
“Shall we get something warm into us?”
“Oh, I can–”
“I’ll do it, you sit down.”
Shuuji pushed him on the back, and Koutarou didn’t have much choice but to head into the apartment, and take a seat in the living room.
The clink of utensils and the sound of water boiling echoed through the quiet interior. Those every-day sounds calmed Koutarou down a little bit.
Koutarou gazed fixedly at Shuuji. What was Shuuji thinking, that he’d brought Koutarou home? Did he want to discuss something with him? Koutarou wanted to know, but he was afraid to hear it and couldn’t ask.
While Koutarou was busy not saying anything, Shuuji came over carrying two cups with instant coffee in them.
He took the offered cup, and it warmed his palm. There hadn’t been any space to notice things like temperature until a few minutes ago, but now finally, he remembered that it had been cold outside.
“Earlier, what were you thinking about?” Shuuji asked, sitting down beside Koutarou. Of course he’d noticed. Koutarou hadn’t been able to answer any of Nagasaki’s questions.
He figured Shuuji would ask him, and he’d intended to have an answer prepared. But in the whole time on their way back to the apartment, he hadn’t been able to find one.
Even if he told Shuuji the truth, Shuuji would tell him things weren’t like that. But that was because Shuuji was so nice. Koutarou had no one but Shuuji to rely on, Shuuji wouldn’t be able to just let him go.
“He hit a nerve?” Shuuji said, peering at Koutarou with the corners of his mouth turning up. “You were thinking that if you change your appearance, you won’t be my beloved Koutarou anymore, am I right?”
Shuuji’s guess was so entirely correct that Koutarou couldn’t make any response. How long had Shuuji known it? Even Koutarou himself hadn’t been clearly aware of this feeling until recently.
“Am I wrong?” Shuuji asked him gently, to prompt him, and Koutarou shook his head.
“You’re not wrong, but it’s not just that.”
He didn’t want to hide things from Shuuji any more. Even if he said it all and Shuuji ended up leaving, he wanted Shuuji, and only Shuuji, to know his true self. Koutarou resolved himself and opened his mouth.
“I’m not the previous Koutarou any more.”
“That’s what I–”
“I want you to listen.”
Shuuji was trying to say that he understood, but Koutarou interrupted him and then kept talking. “I meant to not change anything. But I am different. From the instant I was born as a clone, I’ve been having experiences my past self will never know. In other words, I’m not me of the past any more, you might say I’m becoming some other, new individual.”
Koutarou chose his words carefully, trying to convey to Shuuji what he’d been thinking about recently.
Even without the striking growth of a child, adults sometimes changed their way of thinking with new experiences, too. Since becoming a clone, every day had been a series of fresh experiences. He hadn’t been aware of any changes, but every day, he lived a life that the previous Koutarou would never know, so change was inevitable, Koutarou finally realized. Shuuji had been watching Koutarou more closely than anyone else, and so surely he had noticed that change more quickly. But out of concern for Koutarou, he hadn’t said anything.
“Maybe someday there won’t be any trace of the me that you fell in love with, Shuuji. So I wanted to at least keep the same appearance as I had before.”
Koutarou finished up all in one breath, and then heaved a deep sigh. Perhaps because he wasn’t hiding anything from Shuuji anymore, he felt much more at ease.
“Koutarou, you’ve got a really good head on your shoulders, but you’re kind of an idiot.” Shuuji smiled, dumbfounded. “I knew that from the start. Anyway, human beings change every day. Me too, I’ve changed a ton compared to how I was in high school. I’ve changed even just in the years since we met again.”
“You too, Shuuji?”
“Oh yeah. You don’t think I’ve changed?” Shuuji asked, and looking at him, Koutarou saw it too.
“That’s true. You’ve gotten stronger.”
“Yeah. I’m surprising even myself.”
Shuuji had eaten Nagasaki alive earlier. Koutarou had never seen him act like that before. Being with the cloned Koutarou seemed to have forced Shuuji to be stronger, too.
“You don’t like it?”
“Are you serious?” Koutarou answered, immediately shaking his head. “An eternity could pass and I would never dislike you, Shuuji.”
“That goes for me, too,” Shuuji declared, tacking his words on halfway through Koutarou’s sentence.
“Even if I’m not the me I was before…?”
“I said right from the beginning that you weren’t the Koutarou from before, didn’t I?” Shuuji said, flashing a mischievous smile.
Shuuji had rejected the clone Koutarou in the beginning. He’d said clearly that the clone wasn’t the same Koutarou. Even so, he’d told Koutarou it was alright to fall in love again. Koutarou hadn’t forgotten, but he’d still thought of himself as the same old Koutarou back then, so he hadn’t understood the true meaning of what Shuuji had said.
– – –
Koutarou picked his newly purchased smart phone up off the table. The contract was in Shuuji’s name, but Koutarou was paying some of the fees out of his part time translation work.
When he was shut up in the house all the time, he hadn’t needed any cell phone, but they both figured he’d probably have the opportunity to use one more in the future so they decided to buy one.
Koutarou used the phone to send an email to Nagasaki to let him know he was done with the paper he’d been working on. Last time, he’d been given the next paper the second he announced he was done with the old one, so it was best not to let any pointless time pass just waiting to tell him.
Koutarou was astonished how not just the university’s professors, but Japanese researchers everywhere, were so hounded by papers, and he received a steady stream of translation requests. When he mentioned it to Nagasaki, the doctor said it was difficult to translate in this particular field of work, and translators as good as Koutarou were thin on the ground. Word had gotten around, and now requests were even coming in that mentioned Koutarou by name.
The time on his phone showed noon. Figuring Nagasaki would be here before too long, Koutarou put the paper and his laptop in a pile on the table.
“Done already?” Nagasaki said, opening the door and coming in.
Koutarou had only just sent the mail, he figured Nagasaki was in an exam, and his surprise at seeing him so soon must have showed on his face.
“My day for appointments got switched. I’ve got operations today,” Nagasaki said, and now that he looked, Koutarou realized Nagasaki wasn’t in his usual white coat, but was wearing blue scrubs. He’d heard the rumor that Nagasaki was a skilled physician, so maybe he’d been getting more referrals for full-on procedures.