re that morning.
“What happened there?” Shuuji asked, pointing to his finger, and the clone flashed a shy smile.
“I wasn’t thinking, and grabbed a pot lid with my bare hands.”
“You get burned?”
“It’s nothing serious.”
When Shuuji grabbed the clone’s wrist and pulled it closer, wanting to see, the white thing turned out to be just a damp tissue.
“If you don’t treat it properly, or it won’t heal.”
“I had some ice on it until a little bit ago.
It melted.”
It didn’t seem to hurt anymore, and the clone even removed the tissue wrapping.
But his finger was still red, and Shuuji rushed off to get the first aid kit.
There had to be some cream in there that would work for burns.
“You don’t have to make such a big deal out of it.”
“What are you going to do if it gets worse?”
Shuuji took the medicine he’d found and approached the clone.
“Look, sit down.”
“Nevermind that, I want you to hurry up and eat.”
“I’ll eat once this is done.”
He forced the clone to sit on a dining chair, and took the clone’s hand and applied the medicine.
Maybe it was because the red spot was a bit warmer than the rest of his hand, but the cool of the cream seemed to feel good.
The corners of the clone’s mouth pulled up faintly.
“You know where the first aid kit is, don’t you?” Shuuji said.
“Stop being so cocky and use it.”
“I understand.” The clone nodded with a meek expression, and then, “Now it’s your turn, Shuuji.
Come on, eat.”
The image of how emaciated Shuuji’d looked before was still fresh in the clone’s mind, and he was nervous that Shuuji not skip even a single meal.
Their roles were reversed from what they had been in the past because their relationship had changed.
He was starting to get used to this new lifestyle, starting to forget the fact that the Koutarou he used to pamper wasn’t here anymore.
They’d been living basically by themselves for a full month now.
Shuuji’d started back to work, but meetings like today were rare, and he did almost everything by telephone or email.
He’d never been able to enjoy this lifestyle even with the real Koutarou, and asking him not to enjoy it now was asking the impossible.
The truth was, the clone was exactly as Koutarou had always been, down to every detail, and Shuuji was the only one who didn’t think he was real.
But it was a betrayal of the original Koutarou.
The fact that he felt like he was with the real Koutarou, as opposed to a clone, the fact that he was behaving like nothing had changed, it was all a betrayal of Koutarou.

How had he been able to go shopping and everything with such a cheerful mood? Tortured with self-loathing, Shuuji couldn’t bring himself to touch the dish in front of him.
“No appetite?” the clone asked, worried, having noticed Shuuji’s change in attitude.
It’s been a while since I went out in a crowd, maybe that’s my problem.
I am a little tired.”
“That’s no good.
You need to go rest right now.”
The clone instantly got flustered, and led Shuuji to the living room sofa, urging him to lay down.
Shuuji meekly did as he was told.
He wasn’t hungry at all, and actually he didn’t want to think about anything either.
He wasn’t necessarily interested in going to sleep, but everything he saw seemed to make his mind work overtime, so he closed his eyes.

– – –

It couldn’t have been more than ten minutes, but Shuuji ended up dozing off without really meaning to.
He only woke up because his nose was tickled by the aroma of dashi wafting over from the kitchen.
“What are you making?” Shuuji asked the clone, lifting himself up and seeing the clone turned away from him.
“It’s not really the season for it, but I thought we could have some hot pot,” the clone answered, turning around.
“Did the nap help any?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
More than that, he didn’t want the clone to worry too much, so Shuuji adopted a composed attitude, got to his feet, and headed into the kitchen.
He figured there might be something he could help with.
The dining room was in between the living room and the kitchen, and the fried rice was still there on the table, untouched.
“I’m sorry.
You went through all that trouble to make it for me too…”
Feelings of guilt and regret came back to him, and Shuuji hung his head as he apologized.
It wasn’t just that he hadn’t been able to finish the meal, he felt bad that his uncertain attitude was hurting both versions of Koutarou.
“Don’t worry about it.
I’ll make it my dinner.
I made enough to have it for two meals in one day, no problem.”
He was probably just trying not to worry Shuuji, but there was a boastful edge to the clone’s voice too.
“I think maybe I have a bit of a talent for cooking.”
The clone left the kitchen, and his eyes stopped on the magazine that had been left at the dining room table.
It was the job listings magazine Shuuji had bought.
“Oh yeah.
I could be a chef?”
The clone cracked a rare joke, flipping through the magazine.
Probably the clone was worried about Shuuji, since he didn’t seem to be feeling well, and had thought to cheer him up.
Shuuji knew it, too, but he couldn’t bring himself to laugh.
“Shuuji, what’s wrong?” the clone said, surprised, and Shuuji realized for the first time that he’d been crying.
These tears, flowing down without his conscious awareness, were an admonition from the Koutarou who had passed on to the next world.
Shuuji hadn’t meant to forget him, not even for a moment, and yet he’d been so busy enjoying the peaceful life he had now, he’d ended up turning his eyes away from reality.
But hearing about a new future that the real Koutarou could never have even discussed, he’d been reawakened to a truth he’d been trying not to see.
“You’re not Koutarou, but…”
“I understand.
If you can’t think of me like that, I won’t force you to.”
“That’s not what I mean.” Shuuji interrupted the clone with a strong tone.
He was the same man as Koutarou, inside and out, right down to his memories of the past.
Shuuji had loved Koutarou, and it wasn’t impossible that he would end up longing for this clone, too.
And Koutarou was the one who left the clone here for him, surely Koutarou would forgive him.
But Shuuji couldn’t forgive himself.
“I know you’re not the real Koutarou, but when I’m with you I still end up thinking you are somehow.
When you’re here, I start to forget that Koutarou died.”
His logic was selfish and inconsistent.
It wasn’t the clone’s fault, Shuuji was the one who couldn’t control his emotions.
He knew all that too, and yet it was his feeling for the deceased Koutarou that now moved Shuuji’s lips.
“I can’t let Koutarou disappear from my memory as well.
I don’t want to forget him.
I, at least, need to remember him.”
“That… It’s difficult for you to be with me, you mean?” the clone asked, and Shuuji nodded once.
This life had been empty since Koutarou passed away, and he’d been enjoying it like the accident had been just a lie.
Which was exactly why it was so hard.
“I’m sorry.
I can’t live with you anymore.
I’m really sorry.”
Shuuji could only apologize.
He’d said he would stay by the clone’s side until he got back on his feet, and now he was tossing the clone aside halfway there.
His selfishness was inexcusable, and he kept his eyes on the floor, still crying.
“You haven’t done anything to apologize for, Shuuji.”
A gentle voice, and a calm warmth fell on his shoulders.
Shuuji lifted his face, and the clone flashed a tiny smile to say he understood.
“What are you smiling for? Wasn’t it Koutarou who said that if you don’t want to smile, then it’s okay not to.”
Shuuji’d spoken in rough tones, and the clone stared at him, taken aback.
“I’m doing something horrible, don’t forgive me everything, like Koutarou would.
Get angry!”
Koutarou had always been like that.
No matter what Shuuji did, he never got mad, not even once.
Whether it was canceling their plans so he wouldn’t miss a deadline, or skimping on sleep and then passing out when they finally did manage to get together, Koutarou never once said any words of blame.
And the clone was just like Koutarou, even down to that trait.
Wanting to be blamed, asking to be told off, was all down to Shuuji’s ego.
Maybe if it was Koutarou who’d ended the relationship, rather than him, he could relax a little, but he was being spoiled at every turn, even by Koutarou’s clone.
Even the things that he’d once enjoyed were nothing but heavy burdens now.
“There’s no reason to be angry.
You’ve indulged me far too much.”
“So making a clone was supposed to be you indulging me? You thought I’d just accept it calmly, that’s how I am?” Shuuji asked, his tone reproachful, and the words seemed to get stuck in the clone’s throat.
He couldn’t make any response because Shuuji had hit a bullseye.
His attitude only made Shuuji more agitated.

“I never asked you to make any clone!”
His shout echoed around the quiet apartment.
The silence brought Shuuji back to himself.
He’d just negated the entire reason for the clone’s existence.
The clone had been created for him, and now he’d said he didn’t need it.
It was the one thing he should never have said, and he’d shouted it at the top of his lungs.
The clone only listened in silence.
His eyes were a bit wide, but he didn’t make any protest or rebuttal.
But there was a deep sadness in those eyes.
“That… certainly is true.”
The words the clone did eventually toss out pierced Shuuji clean through.
“It’s entirely my fault.
You told me I wasn’t Koutarou, but I still didn’t understand exactly what you meant.
I certainly never imagined my being here would cause you pain, Shuuji.”
The clone flashed a smile with a hint of self-deprecation.
It was a smile Shuuji had never seen on Koutarou.
He wasn’t a very self-confident person, but he hadn’t experienced that many hurdles, and Shuuji’d always felt that Koutarou was a fairly flexible individual.
Maybe it was because he was a clone, or possibly it was because the real Koutarou had never smiled like that, but there was no way to figure it out now.
“I’m sorry.” Words of apology came hesitantly out of Shuuji’s mouth.
He didn’t know what he was supposed to say, but he had to say something.
“What for…?” the clone asked, but Shuuji couldn’t make any answer.
The clone wasn’t just being disagreeable, he really didn’t seem to think Shuuji had anything to apologize for.
Besides, it was clear that Shuuji’s apology didn’t necessarily change the situation, and so Shuuji couldn’t reply.
“I’ve made trouble for you again, huh, Shuuji,” the clone said, letting out a deep sigh.
His expression said it was the clone who was troubled.
“But, this’ll be the last time.”
“The last?”
The echo of those ominous words threw Shuuji’s heart into chaos.
“I’m leaving.”
“Leaving? Leaving here? This is Koutarou’s house though.”
“Not mine.
It’s the real Koutarou’s house.”
The clone decisively rejected the idea, using Shuuji’s own argument.
Shuuji had been so merciless that he had caused the words ‘the real Koutarou’ to come out of Koutarou’s own mouth.
Shuuji could only keep his mouth shut, so he wouldn’t hurt the clone any further.
The clone looked around the room and then approached the sideboard.
One drawer held the proceeds from selling off the research equipment.
It was everything the clone owned.
“Good thing I did save this, just like you said, Shuuji,” the clone said, his voice almost a mutter, and then jammed the wad of bills in his pants pocket.
Even the clone understood that he’d need money no matter where he intended to go.
In other words, he really was going to leave.
Even so, Shuuji didn’t say anything to hold him back.
“Thank you for everything.”
Even at the last, the clone wasn’t blaming Shuuji.
He only flashed a lonely smile, turned his back on Shuuji, and headed down the stairs.
The instant he heard the clone’s footsteps reach the first floor, Shuuji started after him.
He couldn’t let the clone leave like this.
“Wait!” Shuuji called out, grabbing the clone by the arm just before he opened the front door.
“If one of us has to leave, it’ll be me.”
Even if this house disappeared, Shuuji had his own apartment.
The clone didn’t have anywhere to go, he didn’t have to leave, Shuuji could just go back to his own place.
“That’s not why.
It’s not about who stays here, it’s any place that connects the two of us, I should leave them all behind.”
Shuuji had come here looking for memories of his time with Koutarou.
But it was specifically because he knew that, that the clone thought he ought to give up his place here.
And it wasn’t just memories with Koutarou anymore, Shuuji had ended up making some with the clone as well.
The clone was giving up this house to try and relieve some of Shuuji’s confusion.
“Where will you go?”
“I haven’t decided yet, but I’ll think about it while I’m walking.”
It wasn’t something he’d decided for his own sake, but for Shuuji’s, and so the clone’s will was firm.
He casually shook off Shuuji’s hand.
Staring at Shuuji with an earnest look on his face and then heaving a big breath, the clone hugged Shuuji close.
A certain warmth was transmitted from the body glued to his.
It was the same warmth as Koutarou.
“It was only for a short time, but I enjoyed being with you, Shuuji.”
The words that echoed in his ears weren’t those of the Koutarou he’d spent six years with, even though it was the same voice, they were those of the clone who’d been with him only a scant month.
The clone immediately released Shuuji, and this time he really did open the front door.
“Take care.”
Without leaving any time for Shuuji to respond, the clone stepped into the outside world on his own for the first time.

there is an actual travel agency called Tabix, but it was founded in 2018, and this book came out in 2017, so i’m pretty sure it’s not related.

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