Ogata’s avoidance was maddening, but Genji preferred it to the venom.
Trust doesn’t exist in solitary animals and the sniper’s unpredictable disposition reminded him of a cat from his childhood.
Always guarded, the sinewy feline set up house in his room, sleeping only in his bed. On the rare occasion she relaxed enough to present her belly, she allowed him just a few strokes before clamping down and biting.
Since their first meeting, Genji sensed that Ogata wasn’t right. Persistent rumors proved true while others were refreshingly false. There was a comfort in Ogata’s emotional failings; they made it easier to accept his own.
Sensitive to his melancholy, Inkarmat loaned a sympathetic ear. Pure souls didn’t exist, she said, and to seek them out was a fool’s errand; a keen observation from a woman he loved more with each new day.
Genji recounted his actions before they arrived in Kitami, desperate to pinpoint what brought on Ogata’s latest dose of contempt. The outright hostility began after the ambush at the hot spring.
Kiroranke had helped Genji back to the ryokan after a bullet passed through his backside. Blood was dripping down his leg when they rejoined the others, and that flash of concern on Ogata’s face vanished with a blink.
Ogata’s sights had shifted from Kiroranke before going cold. The fire aimed at Sugimoto in the washroom was a memory. That dog’s more useful than you were, Private First Class Tanigaki, he’d said. Go back to Akita.
The rancor persisted on the trek to Kitami.
Genji maintained a slower pace as his wound healed, Inkarmat remained by his side while Cikapasi walked ahead with Shiraishi and the others. A snide observance came every time Genji spoke, and having reached his fill, he demanded Ogata join the others if the sound of his voice proved too grating.
The night before arriving in Kitami, they’d made camp near a stream.
When Ogata had complained of Genji slowing them down, Sugimoto urged him to go find Hijikata, reminding the sniper that his alliance was with the ronin. It shocked Genji to learn that Ogata had abandoned them that night.
They arrived in Kitami to find Hijikata’s group waiting at an expensive inn. The dining room was festive, and Genji was pleasantly surprised to find Ogata in a uniform as clean as his hair.
At the meal, Inkarmat enticed a few polite words from him, but he pointedly ignored Genji. Hijikata was another matter; sitting beside him, he discreetly peppered him with questions about Ogata.
Genji shared only what he knew of his rumored pedigree.
After finishing his tea, Ogata exchanged a few words with the young man Kantarou before excusing himself. Several moments passed before Genji did the same.
The streets were pleasantly quiet until Ogata stepped from the alley.
“I take it your wound is healed, Matagi,” he flicked his spent cigarette onto the road. “Next time try taking one to the head,”
Too stunned to react, Genji turned to find him gone.
Unable to sleep, he joined Ushiyama in an American card game with Asirpa and Cikapasi; solace was found in those young enough to have never known heartbreak. After many comical rounds, he bid them goodnight and ventured upstairs.
The scent of clove and tobacco lingered in the hall.
Ogata stood before a cracked window clad only in his trousers and socks, with a burning stick dangling from his lips.
“We need to talk,”
“Leave me alone, Tanigaki,” said Ogata.
“What’s gotten you so foul with me?”
“That wound in your ass,” Ogata continued to stare out the window. “It’s clearly made you deaf,”
“At the onsen, you said my relationship with Inkarmat wasn’t an issue,”
Ogata forced a laugh and exhaled smoke.
“Is it Sugimoto?” he asked. “Nothing’s going on between us,”
“You, arrogant fool,” Ogata said. “I’m not that emotionally invested, Tanigaki. You were just something for my cock to do until this mission gained momentum,”
Face hot with anger, he fixed his palm to the back of Ogata’s head and bounced it off the window glass. Ogata tumbled to the wall, his eyes pooling with water as he slid to the floor.
“Ogata,” Genji gasped. “I’m sorry-”
“—it’s fine,” he said. “I tend to have this effect on people,”
“I had no right to do that, I’m sorry,” taking a knee, Genji retrieved the dropped cigarette and placed it between Ogata’s lips. “I’ll leave you alone,”
“You can at least get me back to my room, Tanigaki,”
Genji helped him to his feet, hands clutching the man’s biceps and steering him down the hall. At the threshold of Ogata’s door, fingers grasped the hem of his trousers and yanked him into the dark.
The door closed and the chain lock rattled.
“Ogata!” he whispered, frantic. “What if the others are sleeping?”
“This is my room,” Ogata’s dark figure moved like a marionette on strings as he kicked free of his pants. “No one wants to share a room with me,”
Caged by habit, he began undoing the buttons on his shirt, but when Ogata invaded his space with grabbing hands and hungry lips, he withdrew. This wasn’t the woods on a moonless night. Too many hurtful words left lasting bruises.
“Stop,” he pushed at him. “We need to talk,”
“You’re playing with me, aren’t you?” Ogata’s shadowy arm brought a hand to his brow. “You want me, but you push me away,”
“Your hatefulness pushes me away,” Genji reached for him in the dark. “I want you to talk to me, tell me what I’ve done to make you so angry?”
“I’m not angry,” Ogata’s hand captured his and brought it to his growing arousal. “I thought damming the river would make it easy, but that just drowned me,”
Teeth nipped at the fine hairs on Genji’s jaw. Fingers dug into his backside, bringing their hips together. His smooth muscular chest felt good pressed to his own, and the sniper’s neck and ears tasted of Kao-soap.
“That’s not an answer,” Genji pushed him away.
“I want you, Matagi,” he fell to his knees.
Deft fingers freed Genji’s arousal and wetness sheathed his sex.
He gently pushed at Ogata’s shoulders, “We need to talk,”
“I know what you need,” eager hands curled around the back of his knees. “I’ll let you fire up the lamp, I’ll let you watch me die,”
There were no warm nights in Ezo but dragging Ogata into the only patch of moonlight upon the floor, left Genji balmy to the touch. A talented tongue prodded its way under his foreskin, a pleasurable invasion that made him forget every foul word Ogata ever uttered.
“Look at me, Matagi,” his tongue lapped around the head.
Ogata’s fingers dug deep into his thigh while fisting his own arousal. His glistening body rocked with enough fervor that Genji was forced to steady him with a gentle hand to the neck.
Teeth glided delicately down his shaft, the warm breath between them cooling the slickness left behind. When the head of his sex became too sensitive, he brought his thumbs together beneath Ogata’s chin and gave it a push.
There were limits to pleasure.
Lost in his own world, Ogata began bucking his hips and jerking himself faster. He brought his face up as promised and with mouth slack, his frantic grunts gave way to a throaty whine. Glossy eyes rolled back while his bottom lip trembled.
Warm wetness spat across Genji’s toes and seeing Ogata’s little death brought about his own. Slit pressed to the suture scar on his lover’s cheek, he shuddered and droned softly, his spill marking the man’s face.
Genji fell to his knees as Ogata rose to his feet.
At the washbowl, Ogata licked at the corner of his mouth before splashing water onto his face. He returned with a rag and mopped the mess from the floorboards, and then wiped clean Genji’s foot.
“Come over here, Tanigaki,”
Genji shoved his spent flesh back into his trousers and lay upon the space Ogata made for him on the bed.
“I don’t like these high beds,” he said.
“There’s more frame bed’s in Ezo than back home,”
“This isn’t your room, is it?” he asked.
“It’s Hijikata’s,” Ogata said with a laugh.
Genji lay with the sniper pressed to his back for several moments, unable to align their breathing.
“You can’t go to Abashiri,”
Genji lifted his chin, “What?”
“You don’t need to go to Abashiri,”
“I have to go-”
“—Take the boy and Inkarmat back to the kotan,”
“Why would I do that after coming all this way?”
“Damn you, Tanigaki,” Ogata sat up. “Things are going to get bloody. You know what that’s like, you’ve been in the shit before,”
Genji sighed, “If their plan works-”
“—There’s no plan where people don’t get shot,” said Ogata. “You want to put the boy and the woman you care about in the line of fire?”
Genji considered his words as Ogata put an arm around him.
“How many times have you knotted up inside of her?” Ogata asked. “She’s probably caught by now, and you want to put her in a situation like that?”
Genji shook his head, “She’s not pregnant,”
“You don’t know that, Genji,” said Ogata. “What about the boy? You’re the closest thing that boy has left to a father, and you’re going to risk your life?”
Genji never considered Cikapasi’s attachment to him.
“There’s enough of us now for whatever plan Sugimoto and the others formulate,” Ogata ran a hand down his back. “You need to take the kid and Inkarmat back to the kotan where it’s safe,”
There was nothing in Ogata’s eyes Genji hadn’t seen before.
“I’ve come all this way,” he said. “For Asirpa,”
“Sugimoto will die before he lets anything happen to her,”
“I can’t run out on them like this-”
“—Listen to me,” Ogata said. “I’ll get our share of the gold,”
“I don’t care about the gold,”
“We won’t have a life without it,” he snapped.
“I’ll get our share and come back for you,” he said.
“Come back, for me?”
“If that’s what you want. You, me, Inkarmat, and the kid,” he pushed back the fallen lock of hair on his brow. “We’ll have enough gold to build a kotan of our own,”
“We can’t live with you,”
“Damn you, Tanigaki,” he climbed from the bed, frustrated. “You used to be so good at doing what you were told,”
“You’re asking me to turn my back on people-”
“—I don’t want you going to Abashiri!” he growled.
“Tell me why?”
“Damn you, Tanigaki!”
“What’s gotten into you?”
Ogata got down on his knees and took hold of Genji’s hands.
“I got a feeling, things might go bad,”
Genji shook his head, “That’s not enough for me,”
Ogata detached and with a sigh, snatched up his cigarette case.
“You’re saying I’m not enough,” he asked, lighting a stick.
“That’s not what I’m saying,” Genji hesitated. “You’re just not good for-”
“—If you feel anything for me, you’ll do as I ask,” his words came on wisps of smoke.
“I’ve always been drawn to you,” Genji confessed. “But you’re so unpredictable,”
“I feel so strongly for you, Hyaku, but I don’t trust you,” he added. “Even if I push aside every misgiving I have and say yes to being with you, there’s no way I would involve Inkarmat or Cikapasi. Not with you,”
Ogata forced a smile, “I’m that damaged?”
“The vitriol you spew when you’re angry, I don’t want that anywhere near my so—Cikapasi,” Genji eyed the floor, unsure of what to feel.
“Then take him back to Akita,” Ogata dropped his lit smoke into the water bowl. “Take him on a Matagi hunt and fuck him,”
“I wouldn’t do that to a child!” he snapped. “Now you’re just spouting venom,”
“I’m sorry, I know you wouldn’t do that,” sadness marked Ogata’s face. “Please, if you feel anything for me, you won’t go to Abashiri,”
Genji didn’t like unfamiliar territory. He rose from the bed and grabbed his shirt from the floor, “I’ll talk to Inkarmat,”
“What’s there to talk about?”
“I don’t make decisions for Inkarmat,” he said.
“She makes plenty of decisions for you, Matagi,”
He turned, “What are you talking about?”
“She’s working for Tsurumi,” Ogata snapped. “I don’t think she cares about the gold anymore. All she wants is you. The only way to get you out of a desertion charge is to make a deal with the Lieutenant,”
“She wouldn’t do that,”
“She’s crafty, Tanigaki, and she loves you,” said Ogata. “Believe me, I know exactly how she’s operating right now,”
“You love me?”
Ogata started, “You need to hear me say it?”
“Everyone needs to hear someone say it at least once in their life,” he grabbed the doorknob. “Perhaps you didn’t hear it enough in yours,”
“If you go to Abashiri,” Ogata declared. “We’re through, Genji,”
“Where’s this coming from?” he pleaded. “Talk to me, please,”
“If you go to Abashiri,” Ogata’s voice was stone. “You and I are finished,”
Genji opened the door and Ogata punched it shut.
“For once just do as I say!” he hissed
“I can’t do this anymore, I just can’t,” Genji barked.
The door whipped open, he stepped into the hall and slammed it shut behind him. On his slow retreat he heard the washbowl break as it struck the door, followed by the sound of Ogata cursing his name.