How he got home again, Koutarou didn’t remember.
Only the sensation of him sitting on the floor made him realize that he’d made it back.
Someone called out to him, and Koutarou turned to face Shuuji, still zoned out.
Even in the gloomy interior, he could take in Shuuji’s face easily enough with the light from the moonlight streaming in through the window.
“Uh, yeah, I’m back.”
Even as he answered, Shuuji’s expression was dark.
And it seemed to be because of Koutarou.
The instant his eyes met Koutarou’s, his expression turned to one of concern.
“Something did happen at the hospital after all, didn’t it,” Shuuji asked, sitting down right in front of Koutarou, and peering at his face.
“Something, like what?”
Koutarou just sat there.
It was one thing if Shuuji was asking after his health, but he didn’t understand why Shuuji had decided that something had happened.
“Look at the hour, but you haven’t eaten dinner.
It doesn’t even look like you’ve started making it.”
Shuuji’s gaze turned to the kitchen.
It was obvious at a glance that nothing had changed since Shuuji had been there during the day.
” ‘Look at the hour?’ Is it really that late?”
“It’s past seven o’ clock.
You didn’t notice that either, huh.”
Shuuji was shocked, and Koutarou checked the time on a clock on the bookshelf.
As Shuuji had said, it was ten minutes past seven in the evening.
I zoned out,” Koutarou apologized for not being able to make the meal preparations.
“It’s nothing to apologize for, it’s just… Seriously, are you alright?”
I skip meals all the time when it’s just me, don’t I?”
“Honestly, that’s why I can’t take my eyes off you,” Shuuji smiled as if to say that there was no helping it.
“I haven’t eaten yet either, so I’ll make something simple.”
When there was no time, Shuuji was more familiar with cooking, and so he was faster.
Because they both knew it, Koutarou came round to help.
They made fried rice and soup in about ten minutes, and ate all of it between the two of them, also in about ten minutes.
During that time, Shuuji didn’t say anything about the meeting he’d gone out for.
“So… How was work?”
Koutarou took the plunge and asked the question himself.
Who was that man? What business did he have with Shuuji, calling him all the way out to Kamakura? He did think that maybe he didn’t want to ask, that he’d prefer to stay ignorant, but on the other hand, if he did stay ignorant, his emotions would stay a mess, and so he couldn’t help but ask.
For an instant, Shuuji avoided his gaze.
It was just for an instant.
But the fact that he couldn’t answer immediately made Koutarou feel uneasy.
Shuuji had never reacted like this before.
“Didn’t we promise not to hide things?” Koutarou said, staring directly at Shuuji.
He hadn’t mean to say it in that threatening manner.
But if something had happened that made Shuuji think he should break the rules they’d decided on, Koutarou thought he ought to know about it.
After what felt to Koutarou like a very long silence, Shuuji finally opened his mouth.
“You know the author, Tomomichi Kuroki?”
“That best selling author?”
Even Koutarou recognized that name, and it was often said he knew nothing of the world.
He had learned some authors’ names after he started living with Shuuji, but he remembered hearing the name Kuroki somewhere even before that.
“I’ve been told Mr Kuroki wants to request me for the binding on his next book.”
“That’s good news, isn’t it?”
Every book Shuuji had ever done the binding for had been amazing.
Koutarou didn’t exactly have any knowledge of the outside world himself, so he didn’t know what kind of value the public placed on Shuuji’s works, but if he’d been requested by a best selling author, there was no mistaking that Shuuji had skills.
“His editor said that he wanted to meet and talk about it.”
“So you went to meet with the editor?” Koutarou asked, but Shuuji shook his head.
“It was Mr Kuroki who said he wanted to meet.
The editor contacted me after Kuroki said that he wanted to meet face to face, to convey his thoughts directly.”
In other words, the one Shuuji had his private meeting with was the author.
Given all that, Koutarou realized, of course Shuuji would have recognized the other man’s face even though it was their first meeting.
Books often had recent pictures of the author on them.
And as a best-selling author, Kuroki probably had plenty of room in his budget, so it was understandable that he would be wearing well-tailored suits.
“He lives in Kamakura, and his new work is set there too, so he said he wanted me to have a feel for the atmosphere of the place.
He said he had some time today, so I went out there.
It was closer than I thought, but still, that train ride was exhausting.”
Just as he said, a touch of exhaustion could be seen on Shuuji’s face.
Koutarou now understood the reason he’d suddenly run off to Kamakura, but doubts yet remained.
There was that instant of hesitation before.
And Shuuji had become strangely chatty, it sounded like he was making excuses.
“How’d the meeting go?”
“What?” Shuuji asked back, with a face like the question had been totally unexpected.
“No, because, are you going to do the binding or not…?”
He said he’d leave it to me.”
It was a happy event, but Shuuji’s answer was clipped.
“Shuuji?” Koutarou said, gently prompting him.
“I can’t hide anything from you after all, Koutarou,” Shuuji smiled self-deprecatingly.
“What’s going on?”
“Mr Kuroki asked me to go out with him.”
The shock of the confession stole away Koutarou’s words.
Even from other people’s point of view Shuuji was a charming person.
It wouldn’t be weird for someone other than Koutarou to start liking him.
Even so, Koutarou had never imagined he’d be faced with the reality of it.
“Apparently he’s known about me for a while…” Shuuji hesitated to say anything past that point.
Now that Shuuji mentioned it, Koutarou thought back.
He realized Shuuji hadn’t been the only one to recognize the other’s face, Kuroki had known Shuuji’s face too.
A book designer was someone who worked behind the scenes, not someone who showed their face a lot.
But the fact that Kuroki had still recognized Shuuji was proof that he’d known more than just Shuuji’s name before they ever met.
As far as Koutarou had seen, Kuroki had been smiling the whole time.
Would he have been flashing such an easy smile if he’d courted Shuuji and been refused?
“Of course, I turned him down.
I told him I already had a lover.”
“If that’s so, there’s nothing to hide, is there?”
“I just couldn’t say it.
What if my work dries up, I might not be able to take care of you, Koutarou.”
“I am fine.
What did Mr Kuroki say?”
Shuuji shook his head again.
“He said he wouldn’t mix business with personal affairs, but…” Shuuji’s expression stayed gloomy.
He’d been told that they’d already decided on the new book design, so regardless of their conversation, Shuuji hadn’t been rejected, but now he’d have to stay in contact with Kuroki.
No doubt that’s what was making him uneasy.
Your design work is amazing, jobs wouldn’t dry up just from something like this.
And no matter how much of a best selling author Mr Kuroki is, there have to be some publishers who don’t have anything to do with him, right.”
At Koutarou’s encouragement, Shuuji finally showed a smile.
But it wasn’t a smile of true relief.
It wasn’t like the problem had been solved.
Koutarou’s speech didn’t have any power at all, and couldn’t put Shuuji truly at ease.
At most, he could only help Shuuji calm down a little.
This Kuroki guy, though, would probably never drive Shuuji to overwork, or make him live a life where he had to worry about prying eyes.
He’d been satisfied with his own lot, and he’d thought it impossible that Shuuji would ever grow to love anyone other than him.
But he’d come to realize that someone else, anyone else could make Shuuji happier.
It was the first time he’d felt jealousy and envy.
What happened with you, Koutarou, you came home early today.”
Maybe he was trying to change the mood, but this time Shuuji asked Koutarou a question.
“I got my first paycheck, and hung around a little.
We said we wanted to do something together, and that was all I could think about, I couldn’t concentrate on the papers.”
It was a good performance for being an explanation he’d made up on the spot.
And Shuuji was so mixed up today that even lies he’d normally see right through passed him by.
“That was your reason?” Shuuji said quietly, and smiled.
Why didn’t he tell Shuuji the truth about what had happened? Of course he didn’t want to admit he’d tailed him, but he couldn’t even talk about his distrust of Nagasaki.
But if he did talk about it, Shuuji might tell him to quit.
He wanted to be able to support Shuuji when he didn’t have any work, so he couldn’t lose the job now.
And so he couldn’t talk about it.
This was the first time he’d deliberately broken the rules they’d decided on and hidden things from Shuuji.
A dark and heavy shadow stole across Koutarou’s chest.
It was the first time he’d felt this hazy, murky kind of emotion too.
– – –
Two days later, on Thursday, Koutarou got to the hospital early.
Not that he’d been slacking off before, but now he pushed his translation work forward at an even faster pace.
The very instant he was finished with this paper, he was going to pick up the next one.
He’d heard from Nagasaki that there were a lot of people looking for help with papers.
The professor, and the doctors under him, to say nothing of the associate professors, all seemed to be having trouble making progress with their papers thanks to problems of language competence.
He knew the job wouldn’t last forever, but that was exactly why he wanted to earn money while he still could.
Basically no one else came into the conference room while Koutarou was using it.
But as evening approached, the door opened without even a knock.
“Ah, still working, huh,” Nagasaki said in a jovial tone, appearing unexpectedly.
He was wearing his white lab coat today again, so he must still have been on duty.
“There’s no rush, you know, you don’t have to work yourself so hard, Seno.”
Nagasaki said it in a completely natural tone of voice.
But Koutarou didn’t miss it, even with his nerves stretched as thin as they were.
“Seno? I’m Sakurai…”
It had been a while since Koutarou had been called by that name, and he didn’t respond.
But if he hadn’t been vigilant about Nagasaki already, he might not have been able to answer so calmly.
“Not going to fall for something so rudimentary, huh.”
Nagasaki’s smile stayed bright.
It seemed to have been just a diversionary tactic after all.
Koutarou watched Nagasaki’s attitude calmly.
He had no intention of giving himself away.
“You look exactly like this other researcher, so I wondered if there was any connection, that’s all.
The surnames are different, but you’ve got the same given names, huh.”
Nagasaki wasn’t boasting about anything, he spoke the facts as disinterestedly as always.
So the time had finally come.
Koutarou had every intention of resigning himself to it, but now that the moment was here a hopelessness he’d never felt before attacked him.
How had Nagasaki found him? He wanted to know, but there was no way he could ask.
Doing something like that would only wrap him in further suspicion.
Koutarou’s name and photograph had been published in industry magazines.
So it wouldn’t have been that unusual for Koutarou’s photo to be circulating on the internet, and if that’s what Nagasaki had found, maybe there was nothing to be done.
“You have any connection to Koutarou Seno?”
“I don’t,” Koutarou answered at once, with no hesitation.
It wasn’t outside the scope of questions he’d anticipated.
Koutarou didn’t falter in his responses.
“Well, have you heard of Koutarou Seno?”
Nagasaki’s questions continued.
But no matter what he asked, Koutarou would never admit it.
Even if this was a pointless exchange, he had no choice but to keep it up until Nagasaki was convinced, in order to clear up his doubts.
“No I don’t.”
I’d be worried about it if it were me.”
Even with it pointed out that his disinterested reaction was strange, Koutarou didn’t waver.
That wasn’t something that had started just recently.
“I’ve never really been interested in other people, so…”
“Besides your lover?”
Even Nagasaki’s cool attitude, Koutarou accepted with a smile.
Shuuji was the best lover, and he wanted to boast about him no matter the situation.
“Koutarou Seno was apparently researching regenerative medicine at a pharmaceutical company.
Although he’s since passed away.”
Koutarou hadn’t asked, but Nagasaki started talking about the results of his investigation.
“He seems to have been an excellent researcher.”
“And so what? What kind of answer are you expecting from me, Mr Nagasaki?” Koutarou interrupted, wondering how long this conversation was going to go on.
“No, I just thought, if you have a connection to that researcher, that alone might give me a taste of how great he was.”
“Ah, I see.
My apologies for disappointing you,” Koutarou bowed his head like it was somebody else’s problem.
“You are a weird one, you know.”
Something about it must have been weird at any rate, because Nagasaki let out a laugh, and then, “Sorry for interrupting you.
And with that, he left.
Koutarou had just decided that he should try and continue in this job as long as he could, but that wasn’t a possibility now.
Things had gone too far.
Nagasaki had to believe that Koutarou Sakurai had some connection with Koutarou Seno.
He didn’t have any proof yet, but if Nagasaki investigated and found out the truth, he might be able to uncover the relationship between Shuuji and Koutarou Seno.
They had to leave this town before that happened.
But Koutarou had just started this paper, there was no way he could finish it today.
If it was just the translation, he could’ve done it, but if he was going to bring it up to the same level as his previous work, that would take time.
And if he just abandoned it, that would only deepen Nagasaki’s suspicions further.
How was he going to cut his way out of this situation? Koutarou mulled over the problem, but his hands never stopped working.
– – –
“You’re awfully late.”
When Koutarou got home, he was greeted by a worried Shuuji.
“I wanted to finish this paper quickly…”
Obsessed with that idea, he’d been working in a trance, and had completely forgotten the time.
By the time he realized it, it was already past seven in the evening.
If Koutarou had owned a cell phone, he’d have contacted Shuuji, but he couldn’t use the same one he’d had before, and he couldn’t sign a new contract.
Shuuji had said that they could get another one under his name, but Koutarou had refused, saying it wasn’t necessary, since they were almost always together.
“They’re in that much of a rush for this paper?” Shuuji asked, to which Koutarou shook his head.
“Mr Nagasaki called me Seno today.”
Koutarou’s words left Shuuji speechless.
If they were going to have to leave town, he couldn’t hide it from Shuuji any more.
Koutarou explained the details of what had happened when he was called out.
“He was fooled by those kind of lies?”
“He backed down right away, but I’m sure he doesn’t believe we’re unrelated.”
With the same face, and the same given name.
It’s only natural that he wouldn’t believe that kind of coincidence.” Shuuji bit his lip, and closed his eyes, pained.
“It’s because we were so particular about your name.”
“No it wasn’t.” Shuuji interrupted Koutarou, an echo of grief in his words.
“I know I said you’re a separate person from the previous Koutarou, but I didn’t want to just toss out Koutarou’s name.
I wanted to keep saying that name forever.”
Whether human being or object, a name was just something used to denote an individual.
That was all Koutarou had ever thought about it.
But hearing Shuuji’s thoughts, he saw for the first time the value in his own name.
“What are you thanking me for?” Shuuji smiled, dumbfounded.
But his smile said he definitely understood the meaning behind Koutarou’s gratitude.
“I couldn’t do it today, but next time I’ll finish the paper they gave me today, and then I’ll try not to meet with Mr Nagasaki again.”
After Koutarou had made that decision, he immediately rethought it.
“Wait no, that’s no good.
As long as we’re living here, I won’t be able to stay away from him.
We’ll have to leave town…”
“Wait a minute.”
Koutarou had started muttering his thoughts out loud to himself, but Shuuji quickly stopped him.
“Wait for what? We don’t have any time to wait.
We have to leave town quickly, or he’ll find out who I really am.”
“I understand that, calm down a minute.”
Grabbing both Koutarou’s shoulders, Shuuji stared him right in the face.
“This isn’t like you.”
“Aren’t you normally calmer than this? It’s the first time I’ve ever seen you this agitated,” Shuuji said calmly, trying to sooth Koutarou.
“So even Koutarou can get flustered, huh.”
There was no hint of reproach in Shuuji’s voice.
Rather, Koutarou could hear something like joy at a new discovery.
It’s the first time I’ve felt like this.”
Shuuji’s calm attitude brought Koutarou back to a cool head.
He hadn’t realized until it was pointed out to him, but Koutarou had never been flustered.
It wasn’t that he set out not to be, it was probably just because he’d been lacking in human emotions since he was a child.
It had all seemed normal to him, so he’d never noticed it.
What had gotten him agitated wasn’t that his true identity had been revealed to Nagasaki.
It was that his life here with Shuuji might be taken away.
Koutarou couldn’t imagine a life without Shuuji.
The sense of impending danger that he might have to give it all up put Koutarou in such a panic he’d forgotten himself.
“You calmed down?”
Sorry.” Koutarou bowed his head with an embarrassed grin.
“This situation with Mr Nagasaki,” Shuuji said, “let’s watch it for a while.
Any sudden changes will just make him more suspicious.”
Maybe Shuuji’s suggestion was correct, but they wouldn’t be able to avoid a dangerous situation like that.
“It’ll be fine if we stay confident.
There’s no proof that you’re Koutarou Seno.
Besides, Koutarou Seno is already…” Shuuji’s words stuck in his throat.
Koutarou didn’t prompt him to continue, but instead nodded to say that he understood.
He didn’t want to make Shuuji put Koutarou’s death into words ever again.
“For now, I’ll complete the paper I’m working on without any slip in quality right to the end.” Koutarou accepted Shuuji’s suggestion, and put it into words in his own way.
“And after that?”
“I’ll look for another job.
If I say I’ve found another job, even Mr Nagasaki will probably agree.”
“That’s all we can do, huh.” But even as he said it, Shuuji didn’t seem entirely convinced.
He was probably thinking about how they’d finally managed to find a job that was a perfect fit for Koutarou.
But he didn’t oppose it, because he hated to lose Koutarou.
And now that he’d been able to reconfirm Shuuji’s thoughts, Koutarou vowed again to protect their life together until his last breath.
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