Shuuji dreamed of happy times as Koutarou’s aroma wafted over him and enveloped him with familiar sensations.
It was nothing but the usual daily dream of eating together, and chatting with each other, but even so, it was happy.
Shuuji had been having trouble sleeping this week to begin with, and he lay there for quite some time.
But the sensation of something touching his cheek made him open his eyes.
“I woke you, huh?”
Koutarou’s smiling face, as gentle as ever, was right beside him.
“No, now, what time is it?”
“Just after eight in the morning.
You weren’t waking up at all, I was getting worried so I came to peek in on you.”
His smile had apparently been one of relief, glad that Shuuji had finally woken up.
If it was eight in the morning, it hadn’t really been long enough for him to worry too much.
How early had he fallen asleep last night? Just as he was mulling that over…
“You haven’t been sleeping properly since I’ve been gone, have you?”
It was a line only Koutarou could say, and he said it perfectly naturally too, right down to the way he seemed to know everything about Shuuji.
It was definitely Koutarou all over, but Shuuji didn’t know this man.
The events of yesterday, which he’d been hoping to convince himself were mere hallucinations, resurfaced in his mind in an instant.
“What’re you staring off into space for? Still sleepy?”
Having someone with the same face as Koutarou, the same voice, ask him that question so gently, Shuuji started to feel like he had been hallucinating, like maybe it was the accident the week prior that had been the dream.
Even so, he sat up and shook his head, trying to shake it off.
“Who…?” Shuuji asked in a trembling voice.
The fact that the man’s gaze wobbled slightly must have meant that he was upset, right? It was a natural question to throw at him, but the man acted like he hadn’t been expecting it.
“Just like I look, I’m Koutarou.”
The man spread his arms as if to say, take a good look.
For some reason, he felt like he shouldn’t actually say such horrible things aloud.
No one knew about their relationship, so there was no one Shuuji could talk to about Koutarou’s death.
This was the first time he’s put it into words.
Shuuji was stolen over anew by sadness, but the man’s face didn’t change a bit.
“Yeah, that’s true.
While you were sleeping, I looked myself up on the internet.
I guess I died in an accident a week ago, huh.”
It was a traffic accident that had resulted in a fatality, so even the TV news had picked it up, and the newspapers had printed Koutarou’s name as the victim.
Investigating it wouldn’t have been difficult.
“It is true that I died, but the me that’s here now is Koutarou too.”
Having boldly stated something so nonsensical, the man proceeded to put voice to even more shocking words.
“I’m Koutarou’s clone.”
With things unfolding quite beyond his expectations, Shuuji could only stare back at the man, dumbfounded.
He hadn’t any idea what kind of reply he was supposed to give, what response would be correct.
But, if it was true, it would explain why Koutarou was here and yet it wasn’t the real Koutarou.
“We can make clones these days?”
Rather than discuss whether the man before him was actually Koutarou’s clone or not, Shuuji decided to confirm something a bit more factual in nature.
That way, he could calm himself down while he was listening to the response.
“We never really talked properly about what I was researching, did we?”
“I heard from someone in your lab that you were working on man-made skin, but…”
“In that case, I’ll be brief.
While I was researching that man-made skin, I started to wonder if I couldn’t make it more adaptable, better than what’s available for widespread use today.”
The clone spoke of the research Koutarou had once done as though it were his own.
“So I tried transplanting some of my own skin cells into the artificial skin.”
The clone’s voice got more excited as he spoke about the research, and the conversation got hard to understand.
Shuuji’s brow wrinkled without him being aware of it.
He was so focused in an earnest attempt to understand that his face got quite grim indeed.
It’s a bit difficult to understand, isn’t it? Essentially, while I was making advances with that research, I realized it was possible to create human clones.”
Cloning wasn’t something you really heard about in real life.
He remembered seeing on TV and in the newspapers that there had been experiments with animals.
But in the end, those were stories about animals, and they hadn’t mentioned anything about making something as exactly similar as this.
Even so, Koutarou’s clone had said he could make a human being.
A sense that the whole thing was unreal welled up inside Shuuji, like they were talking about a new movie or something.
“Of course, that wasn’t the research my company assigned to me, so I couldn’t use company equipment to conduct my experiments.
So I built my own lab right here.”
Paying no mind to Shuuji’s confusion, the clone continued his detached explanation.
“As a researcher, I wanted to try putting my hypothesis into practice, to see if it could really be done or not.
I got results too, although it took me three years.”
Having completed his explanation, the clone flashed a satisfied smile.
Shuuji could tell from the way he said it that what he wanted to say was, I can’t believe it took me three whole years, but if you asked Shuuji, the fact that anyone could make a clone of a human being in only three years was utterly unbelievable.
The way people always said that Koutarou was orders of magnitude better than normal people had given Shuuji the impression that those around him thought highly of him, but this was the first time Shuuji had really felt the truth of their statements.
“But you’re Koutarou in every way, right? That’s not what clone means, is it?”
Shuuji’s confusion became words and got thrown back at the clone.
Even though a clone had the same genetics as the original, they wouldn’t have anything more than the same vague understanding.
But this clone was exactly the same as Koutarou had always been.
Was it possible that just having the same shape would give him the same way of speaking, even the same habits?
“I had no intention of making a clone like the already extant ones.
What I wanted was a perfect copy, not just of the outward appearance, but right down to the interior as well.”
Shuuji could see the clone’s self confidence from his words and mannerisms.
That had to be because he – in his current form – found the results satisfying.
“Is that… You mean like their personality?”
“Yeah, maybe we should call it personality.
The same subtleties of emotions, the same ways of thinking as the original, all combined with the memories of the past up until that point.”
Each time Shuuji interrupted him with a question, the clone answered in easy to understand words.
Which was why Shuuji could understand the meaning behind what he was saying, but he absolutely couldn’t imagine something like that actually being possible, and his confusion only deepened.
“So you can make them remember things that happened in the past?” Shuuji asked suspiciously, and the clone shook his head a little.
“You don’t really need to.
The body already remembers.
Maybe if we called it transplanting memories, that would be easier to understand.
By regularly transfusing blood from my original body into my clone a little at a time, the memories were also transferred.”1
Shuuji was so far beyond surprise that no words would come out.
If memories could be transferred via blood transfusion, symptoms of that would show up in any patient who received blood transfusions as part of any medical treatment.
If he asked how that was any different, surely the clone would have an answer.
But Shuuji wasn’t at all sure he’d be able to understand it.
Koutarou had never once lied to him.
If they were the same in absolutely everything, surely everything the clone said was the truth too.
“Memories aren’t just in the head.
They’re carved into every cell in the body.
The brain doesn’t do much beyond knowing the art of putting them into words.”
Having finished explaining everything, the clone turned to Shuuji anew.
I left you by yourself for an entire week,” the clone said, with the same mouth he’d used to say he was a clone, spinning consoling words just like those Koutarou would say.
But Shuuji still couldn’t accept it as fact.
He’d been just on the tip of the arrow, about to finally accept that Koutarou was dead.
“Why do I…”
A mutter spilled out of him spontaneously.
It had been so quiet even he hadn’t heard it clearly, but it reached the clone.
If they were the same inside and out, even down to the memories, where was the difference between original and clone? It wasn’t any great mystery that the clone thought of himself as the original.
And yet, the fact that he’d declared himself a clone didn’t sit right with Shuuji.
“I don’t have any memories of this past week.
That’s proof right there.
I do remember creating the clone, but I don’t remember the past week.
And besides, I came out of the Clone Cultivation Chamber, so that pretty much confirms it, doesn’t it?”
The instant he’d entered this world as a clone, the clone had realized that he’d died.
And he’d faced Shuuji with a perfectly calm attitude, even as he confirmed the fact of his own death.
And just when Shuuji had made it through that awful week, just when he was just starting to accept the fact that Koutarou had died.
“I understand what you’re trying to say.
But, it’s just impossible to believe that you’re a clone instantly.”
How should he say it, how could he make this man understand the way he was feeling right now? Shuuji was lost, but he tried putting it into words anyway.
“Is there some part you still don’t understand?”
“That’s not what I mean.”
Getting the clone to understand the complicated emotions even Shuuji couldn’t put into words was a nearly impossible task.
Koutarou thought about everything in terms of theories and experiments, and getting him to understand that there were things that couldn’t be expressed clearly had always been a struggle.
But it had never been distressing.
And the process of understanding each other little by little had been fun.
Shuuji was saddened to remember that Koutarou was gone, but now there was a man with the exact same face right in front of him.
There was no way he could think things through calmly in a situation like this.
“Could you leave me alone for a little bit.”
“You won’t be able to calm down if I’m here?”
Even if this wasn’t Koutarou himself, Shuuji still didn’t want to lie to a man who had that face, so he explained his feelings frankly.
The clone had been so happy to see him, but right then he wanted to think things over calmly by himself.
I’ll be in the lab.
Call me when you’ve calmed down, alright.”
He probably didn’t want to make Shuuji worry.
The clone went downstairs by himself, not a hint of loneliness showing on his face.
Acting like that, more worried about Shuuji than himself, that was Koutarou all over.
Even so, the fact that he couldn’t think of the clone as Koutarou made Shuuji sad.
From the first moment he’d seen the clone, when he heard his voice, even after they’d talked, every little thing about him was exactly like Shuuji’s beloved Koutarou.
He’d died once, and now he was back as a clone.
Shuuji knew from the clone’s attitude that that was what he was trying to get Shuuji to understand.
Shuuji curled up with his elbows on his knees and buried his head in his hands.
If he truly had come back from the dead, Shuuji would have been overjoyed.
But this was different.
He hadn’t come back from the dead, it was just that another Koutarou had showed up.
Shuuji had memories of Koutarou that had accumulated over years.
He didn’t want to think of Koutarou as a clone who’d merely inherited those memories rather than experiencing them for himself.
– – –
The first time he’d met Koutarou was in high school.
Back then, they were never in the same class, they never even said hello to each other.
But that all changed six years ago, when they were unexpectedly reunited.
Shuuji was already working as a book designer, and was attending a party put on by a publisher that was a client of his.
He’d been told by his editor that he needed to have a wider network if he wanted to get more jobs, and although he had in fact managed to show up to the bright, bustling party, he’d never been very good with places like this, and so naturally, he ended up as a wallflower.
Koutarou had been there too, standing by himself just like Shuuji.
Shuuji had realized immediately that it was Koutarou, the boy he’d gone to school with.
Koutarou had been the most well-known person in the school back then.
His good looks were a factor in him catching peoples’ eyes, but even more than that, the fact that his brains towered over everyone else lifted Koutarou above his surroundings.
Shuuji on the other hand, had been a very ordinary high school student, the type you could find anywhere.
Which was why he intended to pretend not to notice that Koutarou probably had no idea who he was.
But the instant he’d seen Shuuji, Koutarou had rushed over.
Shuuji had never once seen that smile when they were in high school.
Shuuji had no idea Koutarou could even smile like that, although maybe that was because they’d never hung out together.
“Well, yes, but…”
“I knew it.
I don’t know your name, but I remembered your face.”
Koutarou smiled, happy his memory had been correct, but Shuuji was just surprised Koutarou had remembered him at all.
“Seriously? We never talked even once.”
Shuuji couldn’t hide his surprise.
They’d never had a class together, so there’d been no point of contact.
“We ended up together a lot though, didn’t we, on the road from the station to the school? You were always walking with somebody and laughing, but your smile seemed so lonely, I remembered it.”
Koutarou’s tone was disinterested, like he was merely listing off facts, and it confirmed for Shuuji that there was no lie or scheme behind his striking up a conversation.
No one had ever pointed it out about his smile before, but Shuuji knew it perfectly well, better than anyone actually.
His habit of putting on a fake smile had started when he’d entered high school, just about the same time he’d realized he was gay.
He was bewildered by how different he was from those around him, but he knew he had to keep it a secret, and he was desperate to match his surroundings.
Really, it was quietly reading books that he liked, but that didn’t seem like something an ordinary high school boy would be into, so he played games and went to karaoke and other such things he didn’t care for, playing the part of a normal high school student.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever been told that.” Shuuji smiled, embarrassed.
“Yeah, that’s the one.
Nothing’s funny, why are you smiling?”
Whenever he was troubled, he always smiled, as a gut reaction.
Surely Koutarou never pulled any such sham.
He asked his question with a face that said he really didn’t get it.
“Well, what kind of face am I supposed to make then?”
“What do you mean, what kind of face? You’ve only got the one, right?” Koutarou answered with an earnest expression, and Shuuji burst out laughing.
Once he realized it wasn’t a joke, it was even weirder.
“Actually, smile just like that.”
For some reason, Koutarou was smiling too, and staring hard at Shuuji.
Someone suddenly called his name, and Koutarou’s smile disappeared as he turned around.
When Shuuji glanced in that direction too, there was a man about forty years old standing there in a suit.
Don’t see you enjoying yourself like this too often, Seno,” the man started to say, obviously surprised.
He didn’t have the air of someone who worked in publishing, but he did seem to know Koutarou.
“I happened to meet a classmate of mine from high school,” Koutarou explained concisely, and then, “In other words, we’re rekindling an old friendship, so you’ll have to excuse us.”
Koutarou bowed his head vaguely at the man, and then took Shuuji’s arm and walked off.
He acted before the other man could make any response.
From the way they spoke, Shuuji could tell the man was Koutarou’s social better, was it okay to be so rude? As he was worrying about it, even though it was really someone else’s problem, Shuuji matched Koutarou’s speedy pace.
Even after they’d escaped the hotel’s grand hall, Koutarou kept walking fairly quickly.
“Hold on, Seno…” Shuuji finally just stopped, and called out to Koutarou.
“That person just now, is it really okay for you to act like that towards him? Isn’t he your supervisor or something?”
Koutarou’s eyebrows knit together and he seemed to be thinking about something.
“He’s not really my boss though.
He’s an associate professor in my lab.”
“That’s not like a supervisor? That attitude seems a little awkward.”
“Does it? No one’s ever said anything to me,” Koutarou answered calmly, apparently unconcerned.
Worrying about it this late in the game suddenly seemed silly.
“A lab, huh, are you a graduate student?”
“Yeah, I’m doing genetic research,” Koutarou answered, and then added that he was only at the party today because that associate professor had dragged him along.
The associate professor was once in charge of overseeing the manuscripts published here, but the actual work was done almost entirely by Koutarou, so apparently he had to bring Koutarou along on the thousand to one chance someone asked him a question about it.
“Nevermind that, what’s your name?” Koutarou finally asked, speaking with sudden familiarity, and indicating that he’d like to leave the party for good with Shuuji.
It didn’t feel uncomfortable though.
In fact, Shuuji found the frankness left a good impression on him, and he happily gave his name with a genuine smile on his face.
– – –
It had been six years already since that day, but even now, he remembered it vividly.
It hadn’t taken long at all for the two of them to get close.
Probably because they were similar, somehow.
Shuuji had never been able to tell anyone what he was really thinking, because he was keeping his true self hidden, and Koutarou was such a genius, his whole existence floated above everyone else.
Even Shuuji’s family had been distant.
He’d felt like he was alone no matter where he was, and so Shuuji had confessed to his parents that he was gay, that he wanted help.
But rather than accept him, they took him to a psychiatric department and then cut off all communication.
But after hearing Koutarou’s story, he couldn’t help but think he’d lead a charmed life.
From the time he’d gained awareness, Koutarou had been raised with almost no contact with his parents.
At an age when the children around him could barely read hiragana, he was reading and writing kanji, but his parents seemed more creeped out by their son’s genius than excited about his future.
When Koutarou had smiled and said he hadn’t really had any way of playing with the kids around him, and so he would just read challenging books, Shuuji had almost started crying.
The conversation he’d had with Koutarou’s colleague before, when he’d gone to the condo, had confirmed that Koutarou hadn’t been exaggerating even a bit.
Their child had died, and yet they’d left everything to the apartment manager.
They hadn’t even bothered to see for themselves how he’d lived.
They met face to face only once, at the hospital, and Shuuji realized now that they’d been expressionless not because they were in shock, but because they truly had no feelings on the matter.
Koutarou had never lamented his situation or anything, but somewhere deep in his heart, he had to have been lonely.
Which was why they’d started meeting so often, like they were trying to fill the holes in each other’s hearts.
The first few times, it was just having dinner out at a restaurant somewhere, but they switched over to meeting at each other’s homes almost immediately.
That way, they could stay together longer, and not worry about the time.
Koutarou did blurt out some surprising things, but as they got closer, Shuuji realized that it was just his actual personality.
Koutarou had been on his own since high school, his expression always calm, so he’d wondered if maybe he just wasn’t interested in other people.
But that wasn’t the case, it was just that his range of interest was extremely narrow.
His parents were so composed as to be neglectful, and he’d had no relationship with them, but Shuuji’s smile had tugged at his heart, so maybe their reunion had been fate.
“I don’t want to lie to you, Koutarou, so I’m going to just tell you directly, but… I– I’m gay.”
Soon after they’d started going over each other’s houses, Shuuji confessed a secret he’d never shared with anyone outside of his parents before.
Koutarou had helped him really notice his loneliness for the first time, and he didn’t want to hide anything from him.
He’d announced it in as light a tone as he could manage, like it was nothing much at all, but he was so uneasy wondering what Koutarou would think that his voice shook.
He couldn’t even meet Koutarou’s eyes, and ended up looking straight down.
Koutarou responded with actions rather than words.
Sitting on the sofa next to him, Koutarou abruptly hugged him round the shoulders.
“So, is this alright then?”
Shuuji was so surprised he couldn’t understand what Koutarou’s behavior meant, and all he could do was mutter Koutarou’s name.
“I’ve never really even thought about my own sexuality before, but I figured if you’re gay, maybe it would be alright if I touch your body, to get to know you better, Shuuji, you know?”
“Don’t push yourself, Koutarou, you’re not gay, after all…”
“I became gay, starting today.”
Koutarou grinned and pulled him close, and Shuuji quietly shut his eyes.
That was the day they exchanged their first kiss.
From that day on, they began a secret relationship, known only to the two of them, but Shuuji was happy.
Koutarou had only to be by his side, and the loneliness he’d always felt simply disappeared.
But the accident had spelled the end of those happy days.
And what was more, Shuuji hadn’t found out about it until more than a day after it had happened.
Koutarou had said he’d drop by Shuuji’s house when he was done with work, and it was the first time he hadn’t come and also hadn’t called.
Even so, Shuuji waited a whole day before calling Koutarou’s cell phone, and then it had been Koutarou’s mother, rather than Koutarou himself, who’d answered and told him about the accident.
No matter how many years they’d been going out, their relationship was secret – he was never going to get a call from the hospital.
He rushed over the moment he heard Koutarou was in critical condition, but he wasn’t family, so he hadn’t been allowed into the ICU.
Shuuji had never realized it when he was happy, but reality had been shoved in his face now, and he had no choice but to go home without even being able to see Koutarou’s face.
News of his death arrived the following day.
Koutarou’s mother informed him that Koutarou had passed away the previous day, the day Shuuji had visited, without ever regaining consciousness.
nothing like a little pseudoscience bullshit to entertain, but i’ll go with it for cute boys.
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