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.

Even so, Koutarou concentrated on his work.
Outside of scarfing down the lunch Shuuji had made for him, he didn’t take a single break.
It was only the sound of the door opening that made Koutarou realize what time it was.
“Oh, someone’s still here?” the hospital employee said with a surprised look.
It was a man Koutarou’d never seen before, but he knew from the ID card hanging around the man’s neck that he was a hospital employee.
At the word ‘still,’ Koutarou put his eyes on the wall clock.
Somehow it was already past nine pm.
“My apologies.
I was in a trance…” Koutarou bowed his head to the employee.
He was only supposed to borrow this room until six pm.
“Oh, no no, I don’t mind how long you use the room, as long as somebody lets me know beforehand.
Dr Nagasaki usually calls me, it’s fine,” the hospital employee answered, with a smile to say Koutarou shouldn’t worry about it.
“Thank you very much.
I do need to go home for today though.
I’ll tidy this up right away.”
“Alright then, I’ll just ask you to turn out the lights, please?” the employee said, and left.
Once again, he was going to get home late without having contacted Shuuji.
This had just happened, and this time Shuuji would definitely be worried.
Koutarou put things in order fast and rushed out of the hospital.
The parking lot was just off the side entrance.
It was there that he discovered the silhouette of a figure he knew well.
Shuuji was standing beside Koutarou’s bicycle.
“You came to pick me up…” Koutarou ran over to Shuuji with surprise and joy.
“Well after what you told me, I got a little worried.” He must have thought he was being overprotective, because Shuuji smiled, embarrassed.
“Are you okay for work?” Koutarou asked, getting on his bike with Shuuji walking alongside.
“I’ve still got some room in my schedule, it’s alright.”
“Saying it like that, it sounds like you’re going to be swamped later.”
“Let’s not even talk about it.”
Maybe he was remembering something harsh from his past, because Shuuji screwed up his face into a scowl.
Then he immediately got a serious look.
“What about Mr Nagasaki? Did he say anything?”
“I didn’t see him today.”
“I see.” Shuuji let slip a sigh of relief.
“Maybe we don’t have to worry about it any more.”
“That would be nice, but…” Koutarou’s true opinion – that they couldn’t be optimistic – slipped out.
“You were late today too because you were trying to finish the job quickly so you can sever ties with him, right?” Shuuji saw right through Koutarou’s behavior.
He couldn’t have known when Koutarou was coming home, but he’d waited until this hour, so he must have had some rough idea.
Shuuji hit the mark so perfectly that Koutarou didn’t reply, and so Shuuji continued.
“I can’t believe he’d be convinced with what you told him before.
But, is it really alright like this?”
“There’s nothing else to do about it, is there? I can’t let my true identity be revealed.”
“Of course you can’t, that’s definitely true.
Koutarou knew Shuuji was choosing his words carefully, trying to convey something specific.
So he waited quietly for Shuuji to continue speaking.
Without their noticing, the two of them had come to a stop.
This was not the sort of conversation they could have while walking.
“Maybe this time we’ll be able to get away from Mr Nagasaki.
But what do we do if the same thing happens again? We can’t always use the excuse of finding another job.”
“If that happens, we’ll leave town,” Koutarou answered immediately.
He’d been thinking that far ahead the whole time.
“And if someone like Mr Nagasaki shows up again in the next town?” Shuuji asked, as if there was going to be a series of Nagasakis.
“What is it you want to say, Shuuji?”
“You’re thinking of doing nothing but running, forever, Koutarou.
But you can’t keep that up for very long.
It’s just impossib–”
“I get it.
Of course if I could, I would.”
Koutarou’s voice had never been so haggard before, and he’d interrupted Shuuji.
This was the first time in Koutarou’s entire life he’d been so worked up.
Shuuji opened his eyes wide for a moment, surprised.
He tried to admonish Koutarou calmly.
“If you could? You’re never going to try again, then.”
“I can’t afford to fail.
I don’t want you telling me to give it a shot so easily.”
He wasn’t as indignant as he had been a minute ago, but Koutarou was still worked up.
Shuuji was a normal person.
If he failed, he could just try again.
But the instant it was revealed that Koutarou was a clone, he’d lose everything.
The scene in Kamakura played out again in the back of Koutarou’s head.
Even if Koutarou wasn’t there, maybe someone else would get close to Shuuji.
Just imagining it sent a shiver through Koutarou’s body.
“Oi oi, having an argument right in front of the hospital.”
Until someone pointed it out, Koutarou and Shuuji hadn’t realized they’d never even made it off hospital grounds.
When they turned to the owner of the voice, Nagasaki smiled, apparently enjoying himself.
“Who’s fault is that?” Shuuji turned his anger on Nagasaki, his tone still spirited.
“Pretty sure it’s yours, you know.”
“And what exactly did I do?” Nagasaki tilted his head, looking befuddled.
His attitude seemed to irritate Shuuji further.
“Give me a break.
You’re the one sticking his nose in where it doesn’t belong.”
“Shuuji, calm down a minute.”
Koutarou stuck himself between Shuuji and Nagasaki.
He’d been indignant himself until a minute ago, but seeing Shuuji agitated had helped calm him.
At this rate, Shuuji was liable to say something he shouldn’t.
But all the blood seemed to have gone to Shuuji’s head.
“Shut up! You stay quiet, Koutarou.”
Having been yelled at by Shuuji, Koutarou stopped moving out of sheer surprise.
It was the first time in all the long years they’d gone out that Shuuji had ever given him this kind of attitude.
“Laid your ass out, didn’t he?” Nagasaki said, grinning.
Shuuji fixed him with a sharp glare.
“What kind of bullshit are you on about anyway?”
“Bullshit?” Nagasaki repeated the word back like he really didn’t get it.
“Going out of your way to investigate whether Koutarou looks like some researcher somewhere, what the hell.”
“Of course I’m going to investigate.
A guy with a head that good hanging around some podunk town like this, and without a job, too.
Looks to me like he’s running away from something.”
“That has nothing to do with you.” Shuuji rounded on Nagasaki like a wounded animal.
Koutarou had never seen Shuuji this vivid before, and he could only watch.
Shuuji did not like confrontation, and when Koutarou thought that he was really going for it like this for Koutarou’s sake, it made his chest heat up.
“I was curious, so I looked into it.
Wouldn’t anyone? Or do you have some issue with being investigated?”
“Are there people who enjoy being snooped on?”
“Okay, that’s true.” Nagasaki smiled as if to say Shuuji had scored a hit.
“Still though, you’re both over-reacting.
And here I was thinking the conversation was pretty much over.”

Nagasaki laughed to himself as he uttered the surprising line.
Koutarou and Shuuji instinctively looked at each other.
“I don’t know what’s going on, but if you’re that worried about this Koutarou Seno guy, why don’t you try changing your looks?” Nagasaki asked, looking straight at Koutarou.
“If you over-react like this, everybody’s going to know you know Koutarou Seno.
Still though, as long as you look exactly like him on the outside, it’s gonna be pretty much impossible to say you don’t have any connection to him.”
Nagasaki’s words pulled out into the open thoughts that Koutarou had been pretending he didn’t know.
And now that he was aware of them, he couldn’t pretend not to have noticed any longer.
He wondered what kind of face Shuuji was making, hearing Nagasaki’s interrogation.
But he was afraid to find out, and didn’t turn to look.
“Even if you just change your hairstyle, or put on some glasses, the whole impression you give will change.
But at the moment, it’s like you’re trying to look like him, you’re the spitting image of the picture I saw.”
Koutarou didn’t need someone to tell him that, he himself knew it better than anyone.
Which was exactly why he couldn’t make a single rebuttal.
A number of months had passed since he’d been born into the world as a clone.
During that time, he hadn’t made any strenuous effort to change his outward appearance.
Not because he hadn’t felt the need, but because he had hoped he wouldn’t have to.
There was no birth certificate for a Cloned Koutarou.
He shouldn’t even exist in this world.
There was nothing to prove that he was Koutarou except for the fact that he looked exactly like the previous Koutarou.
Even Shuuji had said so.
That his physical appearance was completely the same, even if the person inside was different.
So then if he changed his outward appearance, he’d end up becoming entirely someone else.
Shuuji’s beloved Koutarou would disappear.
It was because they looked exactly the same that Shuuji still loved him.
Realizing that Koutarou was clearly upset, Shuuji forgot about being angry, and called out in a concerned voice.
He answered in response to his name, but didn’t say anything further.
Shuuji was the only one he couldn’t tell about why he hadn’t changed his looks.
Shuuji must have realized something, though, because he didn’t say anything else either.
The two of them stared at each other, still without a word.
“Okay then.” It was Nagasaki who broke the silence.
“So rather than venting your anger at me, shouldn’t the two of you get home and have a proper talk at this point?” he suggested, a dumbfounded look on his face.
“Honestly, I’m more worried about your lover’s quarrel than I am about your identity, but it’d be boorish to interfere any more than this, I think, yeah?”
It was Shuuji who reacted to those chilly words first.
“Please excuse us for today.”
Bowing to Nagasaki, Shuuji took Koutarou’s arm and walked off.
They even left the bike where it was and hailed a taxi, to get home just that much quicker.

– – –

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.
“Thank you.”
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.”
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.

“I was sort of vaguely aware that you were starting to realize you’re different from the previous Koutarou.
But I couldn’t point it out.”
“That’s when you started to worry about me, then?”
To Koutarou’s question, Shuuji shook his head, smiling wryly.
“It’s not? Why else would you–”
“We’re the same, Koutarou.”
“The same?”
“You say you like me, but that’s because you’ve inherited the memories of the previous Koutarou.
I was worried that once you became aware of the fact that you’re a separate person, your feelings for me would disappear,” Shuuji said, a lonely look stealing over his face, and it made Koutarou indignant to think that he himself might be the cause of that expression.
“There is no way anything like that would ever happen,” Koutarou denied strongly.
He was positive that even if the end of the world came, there would never be a day when he would hate Shuuji.
“I figured you would say that.
But you are a separate person, it’s only natural that your way of thinking would be different, too.
So I was always nervous,” Shuuji confessed, embarrassed.
Shuuji’s smile had looked sad ever since they’d moved to this town, and Koutarou’s heart ached to think that it was because he’d been thinking along those lines every day.
He’d been so busy thinking only of himself, he hadn’t even had the time to realize that he was making Shuuji feel that way.
Koutarou turned back to Shuuji again, sighing deeply.
And then he opened his mouth to transmit the thoughts he knew he ought to convey.
“I’m in love with you, Shuuji.
No matter how many times I’m reborn, that’s the only thing that will never change.”
“Me too… Well, I wasn’t reborn, but still.”
Even as he joked around, a faint tear fell from Shuuji’s eye and conveyed his true feelings.
Perhaps confessing so earnestly to each other was embarrassing, but Shuuji’s cheeks turned slightly red, and he suddenly averted his gaze.
That gesture was so sweet, it made Koutarou want to embrace him.
“You can’t just assume someone’s understood something, you have to put it properly into words, don’t you think.”
Getting chatty to hide his embarrassment, Shuuji suddenly proclaimed something that seemed enlightened.
“Thanks to Mr Nagasaki.”
“It’s annoying, but I’m grateful for his aggravation.
I’ll have to apologize for yelling at him next time we meet.”
Shuuji’s reluctant attitude put a broad smile on Koutarou’s face.
It seemed that Shuuji was putting his emotions frankly on display even more than before.
As far as Koutarou was concerned, it was a joyous change.
“Getting back to the topic at hand, though, if it ever gets to the point that we have to leave this town, we will be doing it together.”
Shuuji looked straight at Koutarou and spoke without a trace of falsehood, and tears sprang from Koutarou’s eyes without his being aware of it.
“Koutarou?” Shuuji reached out a hand, a surprised look on his face.
His finger touched Koutarou’s tears.
“Tears– And this many, huh?” Koutarou commented, as if it were someone else’s affair.
He never cried, even before he’d become a clone, so this was the first time his tears had flowed like this.
Until he’d met Shuuji, his emotional expressions had been extremely limited, so he’d never felt anything so deeply he’d cried about it.
“I’m sorry, I made you cry.” Shuuji smiled a little, and wiped Koutarou’s tears with his finger.
“Thank you,” Koutarou said, smiling through his tears, and gently hugged Shuuji.
Shuuji hugged him back with those delicate arms.
Their glued-together bodies transmitted body heat to each other.
The feel of Shuuji’s warmth was enough to make Koutarou’s body heat up.
“Can we– do it?” Koutarou asked, whispering in Shuuji’s ear.
He didn’t even specify what it was he wanted to do, but Shuuji understood.
Shuuji’s head bobbed up and down a bit.
With his arms still wrapped around Shuuji’s body, he pushed Shuuji onto the tatami.
“Right here?” Underneath Koutarou’s body, Shuuji had a surprised look on his face.
No matter how desperate he was, Koutarou usually moved them to the bed when they were going to embrace each other, in an attempt not to put so much strain on Shuuji’s body.
But today, he couldn’t do it.
“I can’t wait.
I want you right now, Shuuji.”
Koutarou’s heated confession got through to Shuuji.
“Me too…”
His voice was quiet, but assenting to Shuuji’s will, Koutarou instantly stretched his hand down to Shuuji’s shaft.
Normally, he’d remove Shuuji’s clothes before he started on that, but he had no time for that today.
He hurriedly removed all the obstructions on Shuuji’s lower half, and without any further ado, brought his face close to Shuuji’s crotch.
“Ha… Aah…”
With no hesitation, Koutarou put his mouth on Shuuji’s erection, and a sweet sigh leaked from Shuuji’s mouth.
No matter how desperate he was, he wasn’t going to hurt Shuuji.
He had no intention of forcing anything anywhere until he could get Shuuji excited, and prepared to receive him.
Still, though, he knew his own body was holding on to so much heat that he was reaching his limits.
Koutarou undid the front of his pants, and took out his own tense erection, and then reached down there.
His name unexpectedly called, Koutarou lifted his head.
“I can do it too…” Shuuji offered, his face fully red.
Even Koutarou wasn’t so boorish as to wonder what he was offering.
Koutarou seemed to realize Shuuji was trying to do it himself.
“Shuuji, will you straddle me?”
Shuuji nodded once at the question, and lifted himself up, crawling on all fours to straddle Koutarou’s face, while Koutarou laid down in his place.
Shuuji put his legs on either side of Koutarou’s head.
It wasn’t just Shuuji’s erection that entered Koutarou’s field of vision, Koutarou could see all the way inside him.
They didn’t have any lotion or condoms here.
But it wasn’t a situation where they could repair to the bedroom, either.
So given that, Koutarou lifted his head and twisted his neck around.
“Woah… That’s… Ugh…”
Shuuji’s voice came out in a panic.
He must have felt the wet sensation Koutarou was giving his back hole.
Koutarou was licking him as a substitute for lube, and loosening him up.
This too, was something he’d never done before.
It was enough to lose Shuuji his bearings.
“Wait… You–mm…”
Shuuji’s words refused, but his hips swayed.
No doubt Shuuji was so embarrassed he couldn’t stand it, but it seemed to be turning him on.
Shuuji put his head to the tatami and hid his face in his hands, but his shirt rode up and Koutarou could see his back was stained red.
Koutarou put his finger inside, still licking with his tongue and pouring saliva into Shuuji’s body cavity.
“Haa… Ah…”
Shuuji’s reaction was even bigger than usual.
His sensitivity seemed to be rising with his embarrassment.
Koutarou probed Shuuji’s hot insides with his fingers and loosed them up.
His desire to hurry and be connected made him impatient, and he ended up suddenly increasing it to three fingers, but Shuuji tenderly sucked them all in.
It was proof that Shuuji’s body was impatient for Koutarou, too.
I can’t take it anymore.”
Koutarou extracted himself from underneath Shuuji, and kneeled behind him.
Shuuji was still on all fours, and Koutarou grabbed him by the hips.

Koutarou licked him loose, and his sopping wet hole invited Koutarou in.
Koutarou pressed the tip of his erection into that spot.
“Aah–” Shuuji arched his back, enduring the shock.
In that moment, Koutarou thrust himself in all in one motion.
Koutarou climaxed instantly.
“No way…” Shuuji said.
He must have understood what had happened from the hot sensation spreading inside him.
He looked back over his shoulder with a surprised look on his face.
“It was too good, I couldn’t…” Koutarou smiled wryly.
He’d cum way too fast, and he knew it.
But Shuuji wasn’t disappointed.
He was still being held tight inside Shuuji’s body, so the strength returned to his shaft immediately.
And since he’d just climaxed, Koutarou had more leeway now.
He could savor Shuuji more deliberately, and this time, he rocked his hips gently.
The semen Koutarou had released inside Shuuji took the place of lubrication, and aided Koutarou’s movements.
Koutarou’s smoothly gliding thrusts brought lusty moans out of Shuuji.
“Ah– Haa… Ugh–”
Each time Koutarou thrust in, a moan that was almost a scream slipped out of Shuuji’s mouth.
His voice made Koutarou’s hip movements more urgent.
Because Koutarou was grabbing solidly onto Shuuji’s hips, Shuuji couldn’t escape and had no choice but to accept the thrusts.
In a state of arousal he couldn’t control, Shuuji continued to use his voice.
“I’m… I’m gonna…”
Thrust into over and over again, Shuuji complained he was reaching his limit.
Under normal circumstances, Koutarou would accede to whatever Shuuji wanted.
But right now, he couldn’t.
Koutarou wrapped his fingers around the base of Shuuji’s erection, just the opposite of what he’d wanted.
“Wai… Wh… y…?” With an incredulous expression, Shuuji turned watery eyes on Koutarou.
“Stay with me a little longer.
I want to cum together this time.”
Koutarou’s haggard face must have really showed that he was at his wit’s end.
Which was probably why Shuuji nodded, even though his face was totally red.
Even at a time like this, Shuuji was kind.
It must have been hard to hold back his ejaculation, but he was still giving Koutarou’s feelings priority.
Wanting to put Shuuji at ease quickly, Koutarou turned Shuuji’s body over, still inside him.
“Wai… Aah…”
The change in position must have made it rub differently inside him.
Shuuji arched his back, enduring the pleasure.
Because they were connected with Koutarou on his knees, Shuuji was now face up, and his hips lifted up.
The unnatural position was unexpectedly stimulating, and it turned Shuuji on.
“Ha– ah… Aah…”
Every time Koutarou slammed up inside him, a heated voice overflowed from Shuuji’s mouth.
Among the echoes of skin hitting on skin, their wild breath mingled with each other’s.
Even the temperature in the room seemed to have risen.
Sweat balled up on Shuuji’s skin.
Koutarou kept shaking his head to shake the sweat off.
Koutarou’s body was once again climbing to a climax, and he tried to anticipate the moment of ejaculation.
When Koutarou called his name, the place where they were connected tightened around Koutarou.
Shuuji’s response was exactly what he’d expected, and in response, Koutarou did a long stroke, and a big thrust both at once.
“Ah… Aaah…”
In that instant of release, Shuuji let out a shout, and Koutarou stopped breathing.
Koutarou released another splash inside him and it spread again in Shuuji’s body.
Koutarou only realized it himself after he pulled his cooled-down erection out of Shuuji.
Because they hadn’t used a condom, Koutarou’s semen was pulled outside along with Koutarou’s erection, and leaked out from between Shuuji’s butt cheeks.
It was a lascivious and obscene sight.
Koutarou watched, entranced, as Shuuji’s body collapsed onto the tatami, now bereft of his support.
It wasn’t necessarily because Koutarou had let go of him, though, so it happened at a gentle speed.
“I’m sorry, are you okay?” Koutarou asked, peering over at Shuuji, who stayed where he’d collapsed onto the tatami, not moving.
…Just a little spent.”
Shuuji was sucking in wild breaths, but he flashed a smile, and somehow managed to lift his back up off the floor.
Then he abruptly rolled up his shirt sleeves.
“I knew it.
I thought something hurt, I’m all scraped up.”
Just as Shuuji said, his delicate, white arms had become red here and there from mat-burns.
It’s because I lost my mind,” Koutarou apologized, reflecting on his senseless behavior, but Shuuji shook his head to say that wasn’t necessary.
“If I had hated it, I would have made you stop.”
“You didn’t hate it?”
“I didn’t hate it.
More like, it made me happy.” A redness bloomed on Shuuji’s cheeks as he answered.
“Even though you were injured?”
“This isn’t enough to call it an injury.”
Shuuji broke out into a gentle smile, like a flower blooming.
That smile seemed to savor every last drop of happiness, but maybe that was just Koutarou’s selfish assumption.
“That’s how much you wanted me, right? Of course I’m happy.”
Shuuji was embarrassed, but they’d just gone over their regrets, so he made the effort to vocalize his feelings.
No matter how much they wanted to understand everything about each other, there were some things you couldn’t convey if you didn’t put it into words.
Koutarou immediately understood how important his behavior was, thanks to Shuuji.
“If that’s all it takes to make you happy, I’ll do it like this every ti–”
“Occasionally is fine.
If we do this every time, I’m not going to have any strength left,” Shuuji interrupted, droll, and Koutarou couldn’t hold back a smile.

– – –

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.

“Well then, here’s what I’ve finished.”
Koutarou took a bundle of finished papers from the stack and offered them to Nagasaki.
“Yeah, thanks for all your hard work.” Nagasaki put his appreciation into words, and accepted the papers.
“Going home already?” he said, seeing Koutarou tidying the table.
I was going to have lunch at a restaurant…”
“That’s rare.
It’s a first, I think?” Nagasaki looked surprised at Koutarou’s answer.
Even Nagasaki knew about Koutarou taking a packed lunch to work with him.
“Shuuji should be here any minute,” Koutarou answered with a smile on his face.
He’d heard the restaurant on the top floor of the hospital had a great view, and he’d invited Shuuji.
Which was why he was trying to tidy up his important things into a lock box so he could vacate his seat.
“You two are as close as ever.”
Even Nagasaki’s indifference didn’t faze Koutarou.
They were close, and as far as Koutarou was concerned, it wasn’t something to be embarrassed about.
Two weeks had passed already since the day Nagasaki had brought up the name Koutarou Seno.
Nagasaki hadn’t brought the topic up again even once since then.
And he’d also continued to offer Koutarou the part time job.
“You don’t have anything else to say about me?” Koutarou broached the subject himself, the first time they’d talked of it since that day.
Just being able to say it was proof he’d calmed down.
“I said it all already?” Nagasaki answered with a breezy attitude.
“It has nothing to do with who you are.
You’re not hurting anybody, so it’s fine.”
Even Nagasaki couldn’t have imagined that Koutarou was a clone.
And even if he could, the most he probably thought was that it was just a case of mistaken identity.
Otherwise even Nagasaki wouldn’t have accepted everything with such composure.
Which was why Koutarou tried to lean into that misunderstanding.
“In the doctor business, you have to accept unreasonable deaths, even when you don’t like it.
No one knows when their life will end.
You should live how you want.”
“Even if you’re misleading people?”
“Living just to make one person happy seems a pretty cool way to go about it.” He said it mockingly, but he did seem to really feel that way.
Somewhere in Nagasaki’s voice, there was an echo of envy of Koutarou and Shuuji.
“You’ve been going out for a while now, but you’re still going on dates, huh.”
“Is that what this looks like?”
At Nagasaki’s words, Koutarou looked down at himself again.
Shuuji was the one who’d coordinated his look today.
It wasn’t necessarily because they had a date, Shuuji had been picking out his clothes every day for the past two weeks.
Among them were some clothes they’d just bought.
“You even changed your hair, too.
It looks natural on you, that lighter brown,” Nagasaki said, and Koutarou ran his fingers through his hair.
Two weeks ago, after changing his appearance had been suggested to him, Koutarou had consulted Shuuji, and they’d charted out a makeover bit by bit.
The first was quick and easy – lightening the color of his hair.
That alone had made a surprising difference.
Shuuji choosing his clothes was another part of the plan.
“Oh hey.
Try these.”
Nagasaki pulled a pair of thin-framed black-rimmed glasses from the pocket of his scrubs.
“I don’t use them anymore.
The lenses are gone.”
Koutarou didn’t ask why he was doing this for him.
He’d realized Koutarou was trying to change his image, and he was trying to help out.
Maybe he’d even come over right after Koutarou had sent that email because he’d intended from the beginning to give Koutarou these glasses.
“Thank you very much,” Koutarou said his thanks and accepted them meekly.
“Hurry up, how do they look on you? Maybe I’ll fall for you.”
“Alright then.
I’ll give them a try.”
Accepting them with his tone still light, Koutarou quickly put the glasses on.
Since they didn’t have lenses, his vision didn’t change, but they were a bit uncomfortable.
Just then, Koutarou’s smart phone went off to let him know he had an incoming call.
Only Shuuji and Nagasaki knew his number, so he didn’t bother checking to see who it was.
“Looks like he’s here.” Nagasaki realized immediately that the caller must be Shuuji too.
Koutarou had told Shuuji to contact him once he arrived at the hospital.
“I’ll come down with you.”
“Please don’t.” Koutarou rejected Nagasaki’s proposal on the spot.
“Are you telling me not to interfere with your lunch date?”
“Yes I am.”
“You live in the same apartment, you see each other every day, you’d think you two’d get bored of each other,” Nagasaki said, apparently deeply impressed.
“Is that something that would actually happen?” Koutarou asked, his tone unalloyed doubt.
As far as Koutarou was concerned, Shuuji was the one man he’d fallen in love with.
There were times when that affection increased, but it had never decreased, not even once.
That would surely never change, even in the future.
“Alright alright, I get it.” Nagasaki shook his head as if to shake off all this sincere doting on Koutarou’s partner.
“Get out of here, already.”
“I shall.”
Koutarou quickly put his things in the lock box, closed and locked it, and then rushed off, leaving Nagasaki and the meeting room behind him.
They hadn’t met outside since he’d become the clone.
The worry about other people was too much, and even Shuuji had been trying to avoid leaving the house.
But, they’d realized the other day that there was a non-zero chance their current lives would come to an end someday anyway.
So they decided to go out and do more things together, so they wouldn’t have any regrets when that time came.
Today’s lunch date was one of those things.
Just as Koutarou showed up on the ground floor, Shuuji immediately noticed and came over to him.
“Why are you wearing those glasses?”
“I got them from Mr Nagasaki.
Do they suit me?”
Koutarou asked for confirmation, after all Shuuji had a more reliable eye than he himself did.
He’d ended up coming down here without having looked in a mirror, so he still had no idea how they looked.
“They suit you quite well, but…”
“You’re starting to look cooler and cooler, and quite frankly, it’s a problem for me.”
“Why is it a problem?”
“Because I’m going to fall for you again.”
He was so cute when he stuck his lips out like he was pouting, Koutarou forgot there were people around, and went to hug him tight.
He was constantly cute, the idea that Shuuji was the only one falling in love again was ludicrous.
Koutarou loved Shuuji more every single day.
“Shuuji, I love you.”
“What is with you all of a sudden?”
Shuuji’s face went bright red, and he glanced around.
The lobby was full of patients.
A confession of love in the midst of all that had Shuuji quite flustered.
“We promised not to hide anything, so I wanted to convey the fact that I’d thought that immediately.”
“I get it.
But maybe not in broad daylight.
Come on, let’s hurry up.”
Speaking quickly to hide his embarrassment, Shuuji rushed off towards the elevators.
The fact that Shuuji never disliked Koutarou’s confessions, but was rather overjoyed by them, was given away by the instantly visible smile at the corners of his mouth before he turned around.
And then Koutarou moved his feet too, knowing Shuuji’d be worried about whether he was following.
So Koutarou rushed after Shuuji, eager not to lose sight of him.

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