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Bunkatsu-sen [分割線]

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He coupled with the Matagi many times on the trek to Lake Toro. It wasn’t easy, as the group gained familiarity more each day, and this made for many late nights.

Patience was something Hyakunosuke had mastered as a man; when sure everyone was asleep, he’d crept into the forest, and the Tanigaki always followed.

The lumbering man’s voice in the dark soothed Hyakunosuke’s bitter spirit. He came to crave their post-coital talks when their torrid trysts left him wanting.

The subject of the Ainu woman came up often.

Inkarmat feels like home. That was the Matagi’s sentiment when asked of his feelings for her. It was a strange omission considering what he’d shared about his mother.

Tanigaki was barely five when his mother gave birth to a baby girl. Prone to deep depressions, the mental departure upon bearing his sister lasted so long that young Tanigaki had been tasked to care for the newborn so his father and brother could hunt.

One day his mother rose from her futon and tended to the baby as if nothing occurred; that’s how it was in the Tanigaki home. His mother would lose many babies after that, and with each failed pregnancy went a little more of her happiness.

Mother’s manic episodes left an indelible mark on young Genjirou. After his sister’s corpse had been found, he’d confessed to being blinded by anger. Confident he’d never return he made sure his words cut through her like a blade.

Tanigaki admitted to being aware that his leaving would send her over the edge; a child shouldn’t have to be responsible for his mother every damn day. In his own way, the Matagi had killed his mother, just as sure as Hyakunosuke murdered his own.

Perhaps Inkarmat felt like the home he deserved; a young boy’s ideal free of a mother too consumed by her own pain. Hyakunosuke knew this fantasy all too well, and yet he volunteered nothing of his memories; he didn’t want them intruding on his time with Tanigaki.

He lingered behind Inkarmat as the group trekked to the hot spring, appreciative of Tanigaki’s esteem; the woman lacked pretension and refrained from physical contact. She didn’t coddle or rely on the Matagi in any way; perhaps that’s what he savored most.

Like any good operative recruited by the Lieutenant, she worked her mission without drawing attention to herself; she was too smart for the Imperial Army.

“That kitakitsune around your neck,” he called out. “Where’d you get it?”

“I think you know the answer,” her mouth spread in that signature smile. “You tell me where it’s from,”

“Its feet aren’t black like the Ezo fox you wore in winter,” he obliged. “I’d say it’s a swamp fox from outside Ibaraki,”

Inkarmat grinned, “I was there for the joining of the towns,”

Hyakunosuke shuddered at the thought.

The rice fields around his grandparent’s home were incorporated with dozens of other small towns some time ago. It was their only defense against being swallowed up by the Meiji backed administration in Mito, a city whose population swelled after the comptrollers began annexing the surrounding villages.  

“A furrier in Mito gifted this to me after I predicted his wife would bear twins,” she bragged. “Her grandmother was a twin, and this was her third pregnancy,”

Tanigaki walked by her side, “You’ve been that far south in Honshu?”

“I’ve been many places,” she said. “How about you, Tanigaki-nispa? Where have you been?”

Tanigaki shrugged, “Home, Manchuria, Ezo,”

“War is no way to see the world,” said Inkarmat.

“Not all of us can travel in the style of a confidence gamer,” said Hyakunosuke.

Tanigaki stared back at him, brow bent.

Inkarmat pouted, “He sees my abilities as a scam,”

“No one doubts your ability to read people, but it’s not divine,” the Matagi saw right through her and this satisfied Hyakunosuke to no end. “Me losing my sister was something Lieutenant Tsurumi told you about me,”

“I won’t lie to you, Tanigaki-nispa, it’s true,” she confessed. “As true as otter stew,”

Tanigaki’s smile stoked something inside of him, and unyielding thirst like the one felt that day they’d sheltered from the locust swarm. Cooped up in that fishing shack, Sugimoto took the opportunity to engage Tanigaki in a concocted sumo match; crafty son of a bitch.

Inkarmat proved just as crafty later in the day.

Hyakunosuke came upon her searching for him. Curious, he’d pointed his head toward the shack and when she’d crooked her finger for him to follow, he damn well did.

Caught off-guard by her sexual aggression, the Matagi covered the Murata and went at her with gusto; securing the lapped woman’s hands behind her back, driving into her fast and hard, and sucking on those large breasts.

The otter stew had crippled him in the shack, but outside in the fresh air and spying through a gap in the shutter, Hyakunosuke’s hands had come alive.

“Where the shit is this onsen?” griped the brat.

“Language,” Tanigaki scolded.

“That’s it!” Sugimoto shouted before walking backward and speaking over Shiraishi’s head. “We met in the trenches at Liaodong!”

Tanigaki flashed those gorgeous teeth and nodded.

“I was cussing about something,” Sugimoto waited until they caught up. “And you turned around and said, Language!”

Tanigaki laughed, “I wasn’t sure you’d remember me,”

“You gave me that thing to eat,” Sugimoto put a hand on the Matagi’s back. “It was so delicious,”

Asirpa’s attention was caught, “What was it, Sugimoto?”

“I hadn’t eaten for days, but it was worth the wait,” Sugimoto’s damned hand was now on the Matagi’s shoulder.

That son of a bitch always found a reason to put his hands on Tanigaki. He didn’t touch Shiraishi, Kiroranke, or Hyakunosuke when speaking to them.  

“What did you eat?” Asirpa demanded.

“Since the day we met,” Sugimoto tapped Tanigaki’s thigh as they walked. “I thought I knew you from somewhere,”

“That explains your sidelong glances,” Inkarmat teased.

Hyakunosuke pursed his lips; that son of a bitch didn’t even try to hide his gawking.

“I’ve been staring at him, sure,” said Sugimoto, arrogant. “He’s the best-looking man here,”

Hyakunosuke curled his trigger finger and pressed his thumb to it tightly.

“You can’t blame Sugimoto,” Shiraishi teased. “Tanigaki’s pants are tight, his chest is always hanging out, and he smells nicer than a karayuki,”

Sugimoto grinned, “Did you march with the joshigun?”

“No,” Tanigaki said, flatly.

“I told you,” said Cikapasi. “He’s everyone’s gigolo,”

“What do you know about it?” Tanigaki demanded.

Asirpa stepped to him, “Tell me Tanigaki-nispa, did you and Huci-”

“—No,” Tanigaki assured her. “Never,”

“He’s Inkarmat’s gigolo now,” said Cikapasi. “I saw them,”

“Whoa!” Sugimoto and Shiraishi chimed in unison.

Inkarmat tousled Cikapasi’s hair, “Were you watching?”

“I wasn’t the only one!” the brat pointed at Hyakunosuke. “He watched it too,”

“How come no one invited me to watch?” Sugimoto asked.

Shiraishi griped, “I could’ve used a show after all that sumo.”

“Watch what?” Asirpa asked.

The brat came up alongside her and began whispering.

“Cikapasi!” Tanigaki scolded. “Stop talking about it!”

“Was it a good show, Ogata?” Shiraishi asked.

“I can’t believe you spied on them,” Sugimoto frowned.

Tanigaki turned with a gleam in his eyes.

“You watched us?”

“Unlike ball-sack there,” he replied.

Cikapasi cried, “That’s not my name!”

“I was invited to watch,” he added; amused at the Matagi’s blush.

“I got a visual,” Kiroranke shouted from a few yards ahead.

 “Finally!” Asirpa ran after him with Cikapasi on her heels.

“Thanks to Tanigaki,” said Shiraishi, “We all got visuals,”

Tanigaki pushed the shorter man aside and marched ahead of them.

“Lucky bastard, Ogata,” Sugimoto mumbled.

“Sugimoto-nispa,” Inkarmat teased. “That’s not my name,”

Beyond the trees was an old wood-paneled ryokan, its roof hidden behind a steamy cloud.

A neglected footpath led them to shuttered windows hidden by overgrown shrubs. The group filed in through the front entrance after Inkarmat and Asirpa, while he remained outside to walk the perimeter.

Kiroranke called out from the entrance, “You’re not taking the waters?”

“I’ll be in when I’m done!” he yelled back.

That Ainu needed to tone down his familiarly; the deal between them was struck just days ago and though still digesting the details, acclimating to the man’s blunt manner took time.

Just outside the ryokan’s yard was freshly disturbed grass; the blind bandits had surely moved through here and likely wouldn’t make a move until dusk. No. They’re watching now. They’ll make their move at nightfall when everyone’s occupied in the hot spring.

Laughter peeled out from the haze in the trees.

Inkarmat and Asirpa. Since the locust swarm, those two were tighter than mated barn owls.

If Inkarmat kept up with her reporting to Tsurumi, then the Shinigami knew about Asirpa’s connection to the gold. Damn, Kiroranke was right; isolating the kid from Sugimoto and the others was their best chance of getting to the gold first.

Hyakunosuke trekked back to the ryokan where a small tiered rack meant to house slippers for the guests lay buried under everyone’s discarded shoes and boots.

On a bench inside the door he pulled off his boots and lamented the ill state of his socks; the long nail on his right big toe had ripped a hole in the fabric.

An old man entered the hall.

“Excuse me,” he asked. “Are there any slippers left, a yukata?”

The old man turned, revealing his blindness.

“None of those things,” he answered politely with a nod. “None of those things in many years,”

In the datsuijo, Kiroranke and Shiraishi’s clothes hung from pegs on the wall. A low table centered the room and piled between two zaisu lay all their guns, daggers, and blades; the fools had left their weapons unattended.

Back in the hall he listened.

Next door Inkarmat spoke to someone, an old woman, about getting their clothes laundered for a fee. A hefty fee.

At the end of the passage, Kiroranke and Shiraishi scrubbed down in a washroom. The brat was with them, but he wasn’t washing.

In the room beside him, Sugimoto prepared for a rubdown from the blind anma who now fielded Asirpa’s questions about the ryokan.

Where was the Matagi?

Back in the changing room he sat upon one of the zaisu and peeled off his hardened socks. He pinched the tatami mat with his toes for several moments before stripping down to his fundoshi.

His uniform smelt of campfire smoke, and on his shirt lingered the scent of his last clove cigarette.

Out in the hall, Inkarmat sauntered up to him as if she owned the place.

“You’re not taking that gun into the washroom?”

“My gun goes where I do,” he said, eye on the door behind her.

“He’s not in there,” she pointed down the hall. “He’s in there,”

“The onnayu?” he asked.

“It’s the only room equipped for his needs,” she grinned.

“Needs?” he asked, smiling.

“Tanigaki-nispa highly maintains,” she crinkled her nose. “You might learn to do the same,”

Hyakunosuke chuckled before pushing his way past the curtain.

The women’s washroom was tiny compared to the others. A water-filled trough sat within the floor, and a long bench ran adjacent with two rinse buckets on top and two-foot stools beneath.

A faded teak shelf lined the opposite wall and upon was a certain Matagi whose thick figure lay shrouded in a wet white sheet.

He set his gun down quietly and after pulling off his fundoshi, moved close enough to savor every curve and bulge outlined in the white. Tiny hashes formed on the fabric over his chest, amidst two hardened nipples.

“What’s all this?” he asked.

Wet material collapsed sharply around Tanigaki’s mouth and nose and ballooned out when he exhaled. “I’m soaking,” roused, he sat up and pulled the wet sheet from his face.

“Explain it to me, Matagi,” at the bench, Hyakunosuke snatched up an empty bucket.

Skin glistening, Tanigaki set about peeling the wet cloth from his upper body. Arms free, he lifted them over his head and stretched until his elbows cracked. Rolling his neck, he emitted another sigh before drawing the cloth from his legs.

“It’s a bathing sheet,” said Tanigaki. “Soaked in rice water,”

Hyakunosuke’s mother, loyal to her beauty regimen, had soaked silk strips in rice-water. At the trough he filled his bucket with cold water and suddenly recalled asking her why she even bothered to keep trying.

Tanigaki added, “It’s good for your skin,”

“I know what it does,” he said. “My mother was a geisha,”

“A geisha?” Tanigaki started. “What was her craft? Did she write songs, or sing?”

“You know about my mother,” he stared blankly at him.

“I heard she was an oiran,” said Tanigaki. “Not a geisha,”

“The difference between a whore and geisha these days is as thin as that sheet, Matagi,” he said, mindful of the Matagi’s weakness for performance art and his respect for prostitutes. “She left home at fourteen and became an odoriko,”

Hyakunosuke poured water onto his groin and thighs.

“My build’s too stocky to dance gracefully,” said Tanigaki. “I’d love to learn.”

He doused his head and shoulders with the remaining water and caught a whiff of something savory. Under the bench sat a half-shell filled with liquid, its edges charred.

“What’s that smell?”

“My oil is settling,” Tanigaki set his feet on the floor.

“Are you cooking in here, Matagi?”

“It’s for my face,” he laughed, walking to the bench; stocky yes but never awkward—there was nothing more beautiful than Tanigaki Genjirou walking around naked.

“Figures you’d be the first one in the washroom,” he said.

“I wanted to get Cikapasi scrubbed before tending to myself,” said Tanigaki. “He’s never been to an onsen, and I wanted him clean before taking the waters,”

“My grandma always dragged me to the sento,”

“We had those nasty things all over Nagasa woods,” Tanigaki wrapped his hand in a rag and dipped it into his oil-filled shell. “I just washed at home every night and every couple of days, soaked at a nearby rotenburo,” he coated the thin beard along his jawline and rubbed the oil into his cheeks and forehead.

“We used to take bets on who took longer in the baths,” Ogata watched as he wiped the rag down his nose and ran it along his neck. “You or Tsukishima,”

“The Sergeant and I spent most of our time talking about how filthy the rest of you were,” said Tanigaki, walking to the trough.

On his hands and knees, he dunked his head into the water. Coming back up, he expelled a breath. That simple act of rinsing his face and hair was the most erotic thing Hyakunosuke ever saw, but his pride was plucked with the insult to his hygiene.

“I clean where it counts, Matagi,”

“You need to clean more than your dansei-ki,” he dabbed his face with a dry rag.

“My privates are all I got time for these days,”

Tanigaki’s flaccid cock bounced as he walked to the bench with a full rinse bucket.

“Where are your clothes, Matagi?”

“Inkarmat took them to the laundress,” he straddled the bench and pulled items from his little bag. “I wash my clothes every three days no matter where we are. You should try it,”

“Are you saying I stink?”

“Ogata,” his accent softened the t to a d. “Your nose is closer to you than mine, how can you not smell it?”

Hyakunosuke lifted an arm and winced at his ripe odor.

“I do stink,” he enjoyed the Matagi’s grin. “Is that Kao?”

“It is!” Tanigaki lifted a paper-covered square. “Inkarmat bought it from a merchant in Iwamizawa. It’s wrapped so nice I almost don’t want to use it,”

Hyakunosuke sat and took in the pleasant aroma.

“Do you rub it on your body?”

“No, it’s for your face,” he said, removing the brown paper casing. “I wash with the oil first, then I put a bar of the Kao in this silk pouch here to wash the oil off,”

“This isn’t what you’ve smelled like lately-”

“—you’re talking about this?” he held up a tin filled with white powder.

Hyakunosuke sniffed and nodded, “What is that?”

“It’s soap from a French colony called Burkina,” his eyes glowed. “It’s made from the nuts of a shae tree. I found it at an apothecary shop in Iwamizawa. I like it, so Inkarmat bought it for me,”

“You are a gigolo, aren’t you Tanigaki?”

“No,” he said flatly.

“That smells good enough to eat,”

“You sound like Sugimoto,” he frowned.

“I’m going to let that insult slide,” straddling the bench with his back to Tanigaki, he scooted into the man’s space. “Wash me with that soap,”

“Ogata!” he groused. “This powder is expensive,”

“Come on, Tanigaki,” he said. “You washed that ball-sack boy with it-”

“—his name is Cikapasi,” he scolded with a smile. “And you’re a grown man that knows how to clean himself,”

“Fine, I’ll do what I always do,” Hyakunosuke stepped to the trough and grabbed a cake of dry decaying soap. “I’ll rub my underarms with this shit and just pour a bucket of cold water on my head,”

“You have to scrub more than that!” he exclaimed.

“A cold water rinse is all anyone needs,”

“Sit down,” he slapped the bench between thick thighs. “Let me scrub that hair,”

“My hair doesn’t stink, Matagi,” Hyakunosuke returned with a bucket. “I cream it daily,”

“That army-issue pomade is bad for your hair,” he griped. “I can’t believe how many of you use it,”

“Makes great lube,” Hyakunosuke draped his arms on the Matagi’s hairy thighs.

“Vulgar,” he hissed. “Tell me that’s not what you used on me the other night,”

“I used the last of my seaweed oil,” he gripped the Matagi’s knees.

“Then that’s the last time you’re getting in me,” strong hands worked the soap in his hair into a lather that dripped down his neck. “Why did the barber shave the back of your head and not the front?”

“I didn’t have enough money for a full cut,” he relished those fingers in his hair. “Not all of us are gigolo’s, Tanigaki,”

“No,” Tanigaki said flatly. “She bought me these things before, what happened,”

Fingers scratched softly behind his ears.

“That’s nice, Matagi,”

“This isn’t sexual, Ogata,”

“It could be-”

“—No,” soothing hands abandoned him. “Dip your head,”

Hyakunosuke leaned forward and dunked his head in the bucket. He worked the soap from his hair, and consciously presented as he did so; when the Matagi didn’t take the bait, he brought his head out of the water and shook it.

“Ogata!” Tanigaki cried, arms up.

“You don’t mind when that mutt shakes off on you,”

“Ryuu moves away,” he said. “And that dog is a gentleman!”

Hyakunosuke flopped back down and leaned into him.

“Stop it,” Tanigaki made to push him away, but then yanked back on his shoulders. “Your ears are filthy!”

“I haven’t swabbed in a while,”

“Tilt your head,” a strong arm reached down and brought up a short stick and strip of gauze.

He set his head against the Matagi’s firm pectoral and closed his eyes as folded wet gauze touch the curve of his ear. Stick pressed in, it glided over the crevices around the canal.

His grandma had cleaned his ears like when he was a boy. He’d anticipated her daily swabs as it was the only time anyone in the house ever touched him.

“Look at this nastiness!” Tanigaki held it up; white now coated with thick brown wax and flecks of grit. “It’s like the inside of your gun,”

Tanigaki cleaned the other ear, tossing the spent swabs aside, he cradled Hyakunosuke’s head upon his thighs.

“Hold still,” he whispered, pushing a new swab at him.

“You can’t put it in my ear!”

“Hold still!” he barked.

Pleasurable wetness invaded, ending when his head was turned to clean the other ear. He felt the Matagi’s soft penis against the scar on his cheek; his pubic hair smelled of rice bran and rose.

“I always did the inside of Fumi’s ears,” Tanigaki said softly. “I hate earwax,”

Finished, he hastily lifted Hyakunosuke off his lap. Unsettled by the sudden lack of skin, he forced himself back between the Matagi’s thighs.


“Do my back,”

“Ugh, no!”

“Do as your told Private First Class Tanigaki!”

“I’m not in the military anymore,” Tanigaki said, coolly. “Neither are you,”

Hyakunosuke looked into his eyes, “Please, Tanigaki, please clean my back,”

“I want to hear you beg,” the Matagi’s eyes thinned.

“I’m begging you, Tanigaki Genjirou,” he employed his most beguiling voice. “I’m begging you to wash my back,”

Tanigaki sighed, “I cleaned one child already today,”

He squared his shoulders, “Use that nut soap,”

“The merchant called it shae, and it’s a butter,” Tanigaki said. “And considering how you use the word nut-”

“—Make sure you get under my arms,” he said.

“Wash your own armpits,” Tanigaki tossed a half-shell full of thick foam between his legs.

Hands glided down the length of his back.

“That’s scratchy,” he wiggled his shoulders.

“I mixed it with sand from Lake Toho,”

He craned his neck, “Why?”

“You need to get the dead skin off, Ogata,”

He laughed, “That’s what clothes are for-”

“—You’ve got clogged pores,”

“Black or white?”

“I don’t see any white,”

“Get them out, Tanigaki,”

“I’m not bursting your blackheads, Ogata!”

“I can’t do it,” he laughed. “Come on Tanigaki, I’ll do yours-”

“—I don’t have clogged pores on my body!” the Matagi declared. “Try spending most of your teens dealing with ingrown hair. You learn to exfoliate,”

“Please, Genji, come on,” he begged.

After a few moments, the Matagi’s thumbs began pressing into his skin.

“This is nasty,” he griped. “My mother and brother always did this for my father,”

“Never you?”

“I never touched my father, he was too oily,” he said, concentrating. “Makes me sick that I have his skin,”

“I never noticed you being oily,”

“I take care of myself,” he spat.

“Your standards are on the feminine side, Matagi,”

“Calling someone womanly isn’t an insult, Ogata,” he scolded. “If I had an ounce of the strength Huci, Inkarmat, and even Asirpa have, I’d consider myself blessed,”

“You’re good at this, Matagi, it doesn’t even hurt,”

“Quit yapping and hand me that rinse bucket,”

Cold water cascaded down his back. Skin slick, he scooted closer to Tanigaki and petted the man’s thighs. A towel found his head and gently rubbed his hair; breath warmed the nape of his neck.

“About Inkarmat-”

“—I’ve no problem with her,” said Hyakunosuke. “You’re not my wife Matagi, and if you want to make her yours, I don’t have a problem with that either,”

“I want to believe you,” his chin rested on Hyakunosuke’s shoulder. “I believe you,”

He faced the handsome Matagi and stared long into his deep brown eyes.

“TANIGAKI!” Sugimoto entered, startling them.

Amused eyes found Hyakunosuke’s; a confession that his ill-timed interruption was calculated.

“Sugimoto,” Tanigaki’s voice rose an octave. “How was your time with the anma?”

“It was great,” Sugimoto pulled off his jacket.

“Why’d you put your clothes back on?” Tanigaki asked.

“I,” Sugimoto walked to the bench, “Never took them off?”

Tanigaki was confused, “I had to strip down,”

Hyakunosuke huffed a laugh; that blind man was no fool.

“Did he massage the insides of your thighs?” asked Tanigaki.

“No,” Sugimoto said. “He didn’t touch me anywhere like that,”

“He rubbed your ass cheeks too, didn’t he Tanigaki?” Hyakunosuke teased.

Sugimoto laughed, even Hyakunosuke smiled.

“He said it was part of the message,” Tanigaki exclaimed.

“Yeah,” Sugimoto mused. “I would’ve done the same if I were him,”

“That old pervert,” Tanigaki groused. “If he weren’t blind, I’d beat his ass,”

Naked, Sugimoto strutted around as if on display; an ugly son of a bitch with one foot in the grave and enough scars to qualify him as a prefecture map.

“Speaking of asses,” Sugimoto said. “Why are you washing Ogata?”

“Put your clothes on,” Hyakunosuke quipped. “You’re making us sick,”

Sugimoto straddled the bench behind Tanigaki, “What’s that smell?”

“It’s a soap that Inkarmat bought me,” said the Matagi.

“Let me use some,” Sugimoto brazenly scooted closer. “I’ll wash your back,”

Tanigaki prepared a new half-shell by adding water to the powder and making a lather. The smell of the shae butter no longer enticed Hyakunosuke; his first moment alone with the Matagi in days was being sullied by Sugimoto.

“Your skin is soft for a hairy man,” said Sugimoto, hands smearing white suds over Tanigaki’s shoulders and arms.

Hyakunosuke spoke up, “You mean, for a clumsy Matagi oaf?”

Tanigaki needed to lean into Hyakunosuke to glare back at Sugimoto.

“What you did and said back at that kotan-”

“—I was playing to their prejudices. I don’t think you’re a clumsy oaf,” Sugimoto began cleaning himself. “You’re graceful, like a bear in the forest,”

Hyakunosuke moved to the trough to dry himself and Tanigaki stared at him then, trying to make sense of his anger; his eyes wavered when Sugimoto dumped water onto his neck and shoulders.

“Thanks, Sugimoto,” Tanigaki murmured. “Do you need me to wash your back?”

“You’re an adult, right Sugimoto?” Hyakunosuke demanded.

“I’m not a child,” Sugimoto’s eyes met his. “But I could use some help with my back,”

“No problem,” he dropped a full bucket between them. “Turn around,”

“I should mind Cikapasi,” Tanigaki rose from the bench, his hand found Hyakunosuke’s arm and gave it a gentle squeeze. “Inkarmat lets him run wild, and I don’t want him alone with Shiraishi, he’s already teaching him new swear words,”

Hyakunosuke stared Sugimoto down as Tanigaki exited.

It would take only a few seconds to snatch up his rifle and put a bullet between Sugimoto’s eyes. Logic took hold as he realized aiming a gun at someone like Sugimoto when he was looking right at you, was signing your own death warrant.

Sugimoto tossed at a rag at him, “Get scrubbing, Ogata.”

He stood with the bench between his legs scrubbed the son of bitch’s back.

“You still seeking that gold for the woman you love?”

“You don’t interest me, Ogata,”

“And you don’t interest Tanigaki,”

Sugimoto raised the bucket and rinsed himself while Hyakunosuke still scrubbed.

“I knew there was a reason you saved him from that kotan,”

“You don’t know shit about me, Sugimoto,”

“I don’t trust you,” he said. “That’s some shit I know,”

“That hurts my feelings,” Hyakunosuke tossed the rag at his feet. “I thought we were on the same side,”

“You’re on your side, Ogata,” he stood. “No one else’s,”

Gun in hand, Hyakunosuke walked to the curtain.

“I can’t deny that,”

Sugimoto followed, “Tanigaki’s a good man,”

“He’s no different than any other man from the 7th,”

“See, that’s where you’re wrong, Ogata,” Sugimoto blocked his path and pulled his hat back onto his head. “No matter how much you want him to be like you, that’s never going to happen. He’s not the man he used to be and is the first to admit being ashamed of the things he’s done. That’s a hell of a lot more than I can say for you,”

Hyakunosuke bumped his shoulder as he passed.

“My soul isn’t your concern, Sugimoto,”

“Thanks for the scrub,” he smirked. “You’re a real team player,”

“I wasn’t too put out,” Hyakunosuke walked ahead of him. “I got plenty of energy left, and I’m going need it for when ball-sac and the fortune teller go to sleep, and the Matagi follows me into the woods,”

“Ogata,” his voice crept closer, “Why do you make him close his eyes?”

Hyakunosuke’s grip tightened on the rifle.

“Yeah, I watch him with you,” he walked on and spoke boldly. “And I’ll watch him Inkarmat,”

“That’s not saying much for the woman you love, is it Sugimoto?”

“Men like Tanigaki and me enjoy pleasure from anyone,” his eyes gave Hyakunosuke the once over. “Tanigaki’s far more charitable than I am,”

Together they walked toward the sound of Shiraishi’s voice.

“If you care anything at all for Tanigaki,” Sugimoto said. “You’ll put some distance between you,”

“You should take your own advice,” said Hyakunosuke. “What kind of man puts a little girl in danger?”