He woke to the sound of labored breathing.
Beyond his open door, Tanigaki’s upper body rose and fell. Fingers laced behind his head, the thick bastard was doing sit-ups in the nude with his bare feet tucked under the hallway banister.
Off the futon, Hyakunosuke grabbed the water bucket and with pants hanging from his hips, stepped over him.
“There’s a line today, big brother,” he panted, sweaty.
The machiya shared an unkempt inner yard, and centering its muddle was a water-pump with a worn copper handle.
He dropped the bucket in line behind a pregnant woman and then walked to one of the high beams along the back of their building. Not to be outdone by the Matagi, he latched on and began pulling himself up repeatedly; the line moved during his work-out, but no one dared step around his bucket.
When Hyakunosuke’s turn came up, he filled the bucket half-way and turned it over his head. Rinsed of sweat, he filled it up again, much to the dismay of the tired ladies waiting in line; their revenge came as he was forced to dodge their unsupervised children on the way back to the stairs.
“Goddam kids need to be in school,” he groused, setting the bucket down.
Tanigaki added nothing to the sentiment, not even a thank you for the wash water. These last few days found him asking fewer questions and smiling less; did the fool suspect his situation, or was the occasional dose of morphine slipped into his daily broth, altering his personality?
“If you have something to say,” Hyakunosuke sat on the floor and took a towel to his hair. “Please say it,”
Tanigaki spoke after a beat.
“Why haven’t we left Kosaka?”
“Leaving cost money, Yuusaku,”
“Am I a financial burden?”
“I wouldn’t have taken you from the hospital if you were,”
Another moment passed before Tanigaki spoke again.
“We never go anywhere, we never do anything,”
“Yuusaku, we need to lay low,”
“You keep saying that, but you won’t tell me why-”
“—Can you please,” he snapped. “Just trust me,”
“You’re not telling me everything!”
Towel around his neck, he stared up at the Matagi.
“What do you want to know, Yuusaku?”
“How did you really end up with those scars on your face? And don’t tell me 203 Hill,” he said. “I remember you after the war, in Asahikawa. Sometimes you have the scars, and in other memories, you don’t.”
“What exactly do you remember?”
“I remember the smell of Takesu in winter when everyone burned their indoor stoves. I loved that smell,” Tanigaki rolled up the futon. “I remember working the land, digging up rocks and pulling weeds. Just now, when you mentioned the kids, I saw some kids playing in the cavalry stables,”
Hyakunosuke tread carefully.
“You were part of the tondenhei,”
Tanigaki sucked his tongue in frustration.
“First, I was discharged, then, I was a colonist?”
“You joined the colonization effort before Port Arthur,”
“What was I doing in Asahikawa after I got shot?” he demanded. “Why didn’t I just go home to my mother?”
“You lost rank because of your injury,” Hyakunosuke watched him closely. “You couldn’t be trusted to lead others, so you were reassigned-”
“—Give me a minute,” the Matagi pinched the bridge of his hose. “I remember returning to Asahikawa with Tsurumi. There were doctors and nurses. Where were you?”
“You returned to Hokkaido on a triage ship,”
“I don’t remember a ship, but Tsurumi was injured. His head was horrible without that plate on it,” he sat on the futon roll. “Where were you?”
“I returned to Hakodate for transfer back to Tokyo,”
“I was born in Tokyo, and raised in Ibaraki,”
“I want the truth,” said Tanigaki. “I’m giving you a chance to tell me the truth,”
“What truth is there that I haven’t given you?”
Tanigaki stood, “Am I even your brother?”
“You’re my brother, Yuusaku,”
“I saw his face, Hyakuno!” he declared. “Doctor Yamada called me upstairs before we left the hospital. He showed me a picture of the Lieutenant General and his wife!”
Hyakunosuke ran a nervous hand over his hair.
“She’s a big-boned woman, I can see her giving birth to me,” he said, face ashen. “But Hanazawa, he’s nothing like me!”
Hyakunosuke closed his eyes and thought of his grandma; no one weaved a lie quite the way she could.
Endless days of learning his letters, writing them out for her in the irori sand because they couldn’t afford paper and ink. Words of praise when he did well, and words of comfort when he didn’t.
“He raised you-”
“—You have his eyes and his face,” Tanigaki dropped to his knees. “I’ve got nothing of that man in me!”
None of the boys in the town would play with Hyakunosuke; they weren’t allowed. Grandma told him that only the lazy at heart took stock in rumors; those boys weren’t worth knowing if they didn’t take the time to see him for the good boy he was.
“There were rumors, Yuusaku, but they didn’t matter-”
“He raised you, he loved you,”
“What was said about me?”
“Damn you, none of this matters-”
“—It matters to me, Hyakuno!”
In the same breath, his grandma would rebuke his mother; you should’ve just left him here and returned to Tokyo. Mother would lower her eyes and remind his grandma that she had nowhere to go, but grandma was quick to retort—if a woman can spread her legs, she’s never homeless.
“Right after your birth, Hanazawa dismissed his groundskeeper,” he searched his memory for everything Tanigaki ever said in his presence. “The man was a Tozawa native, a Matagi employed by your mother’s family,”
“Matagi!” Tanigaki hardened. “I remember hearing that word whispered behind my back. Not in a flattering way, brother, it was derisive. When you said it to me that first time, I wanted to punch you,”
When that fancy new school for boys had opened its doors to a select few, grandma dressed him up and took him to be tested.
All the young headmaster knew of Hyakunosuke’s pedigree was that he was an Ogata, a once-proud family that lost everything after the civil wars. That day he’d proven his skill in basic math and excelled in written words; the headmaster was nothing but delighted until a man whispered in his ear.
His grandma had seen the bastard too; another fool from town that knew more than he should’ve, and in those few moments, she’d crafted a defense.
“You ended up embracing the fact that you weren’t his son,”
Tanigaki hesitated, “I wasn’t just some colonizer, was I?”
“No, Yuusaku,” he replied. “You were an agent for Tsurumi,”
“What was I doing for him?” Tanigaki knelt beside him. “What were you doing for him?”
That afternoon in Ibaraki, the headmaster walked Hyakunosuke back to his grandma, unsure of how to proceed.
Before he could speak, his grandma had begun railing her daughter’s marriage with a young soldier. How the young man died falling off a scaffold while building barracks in Tokyo, leaving her daughter pregnant and widowed.
The honorable Lord Hanazawa cared for the young officer and felt responsible for his widow. If it weren’t for the gracious Hanazawa and his wife taking her in until Hyakunosuke was born, things would’ve been drastic. He often visited after returning her and her son back to Ibaraki; the townsfolk never asked after him—instead, they’d made up sordid stories.
Through teary eyes, his grandma had ended her tale by grabbing Hyakunosuke’s little hand and thanking the headmaster for his time. Naturally, the headmaster believed his grandma and welcomed Hyakunosuke into his school.
“I was ordered by Ministry Intelligence to report on Tsurumi’s activities in Asahikawa,” he explained. “His superiors didn’t trust him. They feared he was up to something,”
“You told Yamada that I felt lost,” Tanigaki whispered.
“Tsurumi’s a charmer, Yuusaku,” he said. “He roped you and about eighty others into some scheme to wrest Hokkaido from the Imperial Government,”
“A new nation,” Tanigaki reflected. “Bigger wars were coming, nations would need weapons and opium, but there was more, he wanted to get back the land where our comrades were buried. ”
“I couldn’t believe you bought into that insanity,” he said. “But then he was manipulating you even before the war-”
“—To what end?” Tanigaki demanded.
“Tsurumi wanted Japan to reclaim all of Manchuria, but our father advised the higher-ups to be content with Port Arthur,” he wanted to kiss him, but couldn’t. “You were an easy mark. You were angry with-”
“—I knew I wasn’t his son,” Tanigaki snapped. “You knew it, too, didn’t you?”
“How did you find out about me?”
“Things were complicated between us,”
“Complicated? As in, sexual?”
Hyakunosuke was at a loss for words.
“We were sexually involved?” Tanigaki stepped back.
“I couldn’t understand," Tanigaki moved to the window. "Why you’d do those things to me if you’re my brother,”
“What are you talking about?”
“The morphine you slip me at night isn’t enough!” Tanigaki turned on him. “I’ve been lucid nearly every time since the first,”
Hyakunosuke glanced the room for his dagger.
“I met you before the war,” Tanigaki flashed a cruel smile. “I saw his eyes on your face,”
“You said meeting me made things, clear-”
“—When I look you,” he growled. “I feel this mix of anxiety and resentment,”
“You introduced yourself as my brother. I tried to keep a distance, but you were persistent,” Hyakunosuke stood. “One day, after we became friends, you came to me claiming that you knew Hanazawa wasn’t your father,”
“How did I find out?”
Hyakunosuke closed his eye, “I don’t know if your mother confessed or-”
“—at the hospital, my hands knew every part of your body,” he said. “I complicated things between us, didn’t I, Hyakuno?”
“Yuusaku, it just happened one night-”
“What happened between us after that?”
“What do you mean, what happened?”
“—Why did you try to kill me?”
“Kill you?” he moved closer to the door.
“You took a shot at me,” Tanigaki folded his arms over his chest. “I was in an Ainu house with a child and an old woman. I knew it was you that shot me, the bullet grazed my head, but I knew it was you!”
“You were in the field, you stopped reporting back to Tsurumi,” he said quickly. “ He ordered me to find you and kill you, but you ordered me to take the shot,”
“That makes no sense,” Tanigaki winced. “Wait, there was someone with you,”
“What’s wrong, Yuusaku?”
“This is too much,” Tanigaki crouched over the bucket and splashed water onto his face. “I need to stop now,”
“Yuusaku!” the widow shouted from below.
“I’m coming down, Misses Minagawa!” Tanigaki grabbed Hyakunosuke’s journal and threw it at him. “You’re going to write it all down,”
“Write what down, Yuusaku?”
“I want to know how I woke up in the snow with a broken leg,” he pointed at him. “I want to know why you shot at me, and why I shot at you,”
“—I want to know how we ended up in that situation,” he turned in the hall. “And why we’re both still here,”
Hyakunosuke jumped up the moment the door slammed.
Fleeing was the safest option, but this situation with the Matagi wasn’t entirely out of his control; journal in hand, he tore a piece of paper out and began crafting a simple version of events before writing them down.
Tsurumi doubted Yuusaku’s loyalty, and when he didn’t return after a mission in the field, Hyakunosuke was ordered to find him and kill him.
Private Nikaidou accompanied him to ensure their brotherly bond didn’t interfere with the task. Before leaving the Kotan with Nikadou, he shoved a note into Yuusaku’s pocket, warning him.
In the woods, while trying to track him, Yuusaku found him alone and came up with a scheme wherein if they shot one another, Nikadou could recount their deaths to Tsurumi.
It all would’ve worked if another scout named Mishima hadn’t shown up with Tsurumi. Damn, did the Matagi remember instigating the bear attack?
Of course, it was his idea!
Upon reviewing his absurd tale, Hyakunosuke decided to cut his losses.
He put on his hippari and monpe and then searched the room for his dagger. It wasn’t in his boots or with his uniform, and it wasn’t in Tanigaki’s fancy trunk. He retraced his steps, eager to recall where the hell he put the damned thing until a hollow knocking interrupted his search.
The rapping came from the water bucket, where the liquid’s surface rippled. Hyakunosuke shoved the pail aside and revealed a knotted hole in the floorboard.
“Brother?” came the Matagi’s husky whisper.
Finger in the hole, he dislodged the plank.
“Brother?” said the Matagi urgent. “Take your boot laces out and tie them together,”
This wasn’t a ghost urging him to hang himself again. Clear and sharp, his baritone was very much alive, and it felt like a summer day in Ibaraki.
Hyakunosuke collected the laces from his boots and tied the ends together.
“Lower it down, brother, but don’t let go,” into the hole up to his shoulder, he did as the Matagi ordered and then felt a tug on the string. “Okay, take it up, hurry,” reeling it up, he found a thin stack of yen-notes tied to the end.
“Yuusaku,” the widow’s voice was undeniable. “Did you find anything?”
“I did, Misses Minagawa!” Tanigaki employed his boyish tone. “Some banknotes!”
“How many?” the widow’s voice dripped with excitement.
“I went through all these boxes like you said,” he replied. “I only found these two,”
Hyakunosuke grinned at the Matagi’s cleverness.
“No more boxes?” the widow was disappointed.
“I can keep looking,” he said. “Want to help me?”
“Let me put on my cleaning smock,” she said.
Hyakunosuke replaced the floorboard and slipped into his sandals. Hapi on his back, he charged down the stairs, tucking the bills safely into his waistband.
“Hey!” the widow barked.
Slowly he turned, “Yes, Misses Minagawa?”
“Follow me,” she led him out the back door and into the inner yard, then pointed at the forward canopy beam.
It was riddled with short narrow cut marks, the deepest concentrated in the center.
“My house isn’t your training grounds,” she scolded. “You want to toss that blade of yours, you go so somewhere else!”
“I didn’t do this, Misses Minagawa,”
“You expect me to believe that Y’sak-kun did this,” she said. “Don’t you blame your brother for your ugliness!”
He forced a smile, “No more target practice, I promise,”
It was late that night when Tanigaki burst through their door.
“Where the hell have you been?”
Hyakunosuke silently looked up from his bowl of rice.
“I see you bought yourself some fine clothes!” Tanigaki slammed the door. “Where’s the rest of it?”
He tossed what coins were left onto the table.
“Eighty-sen?” Tanigaki exclaimed.
Hyakunosuke pulled the eye patch off his head.
Relaxed, the Matagi joined him on the floor with fingers up and eager to touch, “Is it glass, brother?”
After procuring his new eye, he purchased himself a sack suit at the tailor’s across town. He’d often passed the window, admiring the vests, trousers, and button-down cotton from the West.
He offered a rice bowl, “You should eat something,”
“Misses Minagawa fed me,” Tanigaki pushed the bowl aside and focused on the black orb in his eye socket. “You should’ve gotten white,”
“If I did that,” Hyakunosuke set down his bowl and picked up the bottle of shōchū. “I wouldn’t have been able to afford this suit,”
“You should’ve told me where you were going,” Tanigaki grabbed the bottle and took a swig before handing it back with a scowl. “This is awful,”
“Barley stock,” he grinned. “Aged a few years,”
Frustration marked Tanigaki’s handsome face as he stripped out of his monpe.
Balled-up in the corner of the room was a page from the journal.
“Did you read it?” he asked.
Tanigaki removed his hapi and pulled on a yukata.
“How did I end up on a ship to Kosaka?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “We were separated at Abashiri,”
“Abashiri?” Tanigaki put up his hand. “No more, not today. My head hurt so bad from trying to recall the things you wrote down.”
“Is it still hurting?”
Tanigaki fell into position under the window, “Thanks to you, there’s no morphine left,”
“I’m sorry, Yuusaku,”
“No, I’m sorry,” he closed his eyes. “It must’ve been difficult for you, having me this close and not being able to tell me we weren’t really brothers,”
Hyakunosuke crawled over to him.
“You’re my brother, Yuusaku,”
“Not by blood,” perfect dark brown eyes set upon him. “I like it that way,”
Hyakunosuke drank the last of the shōchū before undressing. Stripped down to his fundoshi, he collected the empty bowl from the floor and set it by the door.
“You look good in yōfuku,” said Tanigaki.
“Next cash we come into, we’ll get you some,”
“I don’t like yōfuku,” Tanigaki stretched out his legs and raised an arm. “Sit with me,”
He reached for the other yukata, “Yuusaku, we should talk-”
“—Don’t cover up,” said Tanigaki. “Come as you are,”
“What happened between us back then, it was wrong,” he said. “Just like what I did, putting you to sleep,”
“We’re not brothers by blood,” Tanigaki took hold of his wrist and pulled him.
Hyakunosuke straddled his thigh and began rubbing into the Matagi’s temples with his thumbs.
“I know you don’t want to hear this,” Tanigaki said, his hands grasping the globes of Hyakunosuke’s ass. “I like calling you brother,”
“We are brothers, Yuusaku,”
Tanigaki purred contently, “Complicated brothers,”
“Complicated,” he whispered.
When the Matagi stood, Hyakunosuke clung to his neck and hooked his legs around the small of his back. Lips met, and mouths parted as Tanigaki untied the futon and lazily kicked it flat with his foot.
“You smell good,” he whispered.
Tanigaki gently lowered him, “I let the widow bathe me,”
“Yuusaku!” he sat up on his elbows.
Tanigaki grinned, “I didn’t interfere with her,”
“Interfere?” he asked, laughing.
“That’s what Doctor Yamada calls it,” Tanigaki kissed him before he could speak again, his body eagerly bearing the larger man’s weight. A gentle hand took hold of his chin, “I was the one that complicated things, wasn’t I?”
“You were persistent,” he pushed himself at Tanigaki’s erection. “Always stopping me to talk, expecting me to call you by name, and not rank,”
Strong hands found his hips.
“Your body is perfect, brother,”
“Don’t call me that, Yuusaku, not during this,”
Tanigaki’s eyes clouded with lust.
“We’re brothers, aren’t we?”
He pressed his forehead to his, “Not during this,”
Tanigaki dragged a thumb across Hyakunosuke’s lip before pushing it into the corner of his mouth, “You remember where I liked to be kissed?”
There was nothing more divine than reaching for a man’s cock and finding it rock hard.
Captive to the moment, he rubbed his face over the Matagi’s arousal lapping at its length. Fingers grasped his leg and pulled him around so that Tanigaki’s lips could taste his sex.
When his ranking superior in Asahikawa, he often fantasized about devouring the Matagi. All those imaginary nights and so many days just longing in silence.
Tanigaki belonged with him now and willingly accepted his touch. Hands stroked, and fingers pinched as their tongues bathed each other’s cocks.
An eager finger pressed upon his flesh, bringing pleasure with each tiny wiggle until making its intentions clear with a prod.
“No,” he protested, his mouth full.
Tanigaki stopped sucking, “Why not?”
“You’re too big,” he said, kissing the tip.
Tanigaki pleaded, “I won’t you hurt you,”
“No, Yuusaku,” he gently bit down his foreskin, toward course hair that tickled his nose.
Tell him why, brother...
Hyakunosuke glared up at the apparition; no longer bloodied and in uniform, it stood barefoot in an open hippari.
“What’s wrong?” Tanigaki’s voice felt good on his erection.
“Don’t stop,” he whispered, eye closed tight.
Whore. A lying whore...
Emboldened by the ghostly insult, he sucked at the Matagi with fervor and relished the sensual groans against his flesh.
It wasn’t long before they finished one another, and since neither was willing to swallow, their futon suffered the insult. After cleaning each other off over the water bucket, Hyakunosuke flipped the futon over, and on his back, he waited for the Matagi to return from taking a piss.
The fullness in his eye-socket gave him comfort as he dozed, hearing the door open and close, and then the lock-latch set. Feet padded across the floor before a mass of warm hairy skin fused to his back.
Tanigaki stood behind him in line.
“I think we’ll have to pay for a bucket and soap,” he said.
“Buckets are free,” Hyakunosuke assured. “They’ll be soap on the floor,”
The line of miners moved into the changing room.
“Brother,” Tanigaki’s breath warmed his ear. “Coin satchels, under their geta,”
He confirmed the observation while casually disrobing.
“I’ll chat them up,” whispered Tanigaki, boldly stripping off his fundoshi.
The Matagi bounded into the wash area, every set of eyes gawking with a mix of admiration and envy as he focused on the smallest man and engaged him in conversation.
Hyakunosuke scrubbed his skin with suds from the teak floor while Tanigaki helped himself to the man’s bar of soap, enthralling him with a tale about his big brother being cheated by the local knife merchant.
Unnoticed, Hyakunosuke lingered into the dressing room, deftly lifting a few coins from each bag before cinching them tight and putting them back where he found them.
When Tanigaki emerged from the baths, the pair walked to the nearest yatai and ordered noodles with fried pork. Upon empty benches outside the train station, they gorged on what was their first real food in days.
Afterward, behind the curtain at the public toilet, he found Tanigaki over a bucket, running army-issued floss through his teeth.
“Yuusaku?” he demanded. “Where’d you get that?”
“It’s you!” hat in hand and clad in a dark three-piece sack suit, the clean-shaven young man with freshly trimmed hair called to someone in the distance. “I told you it was the Matagi!”
The voice called back, “Does he have the bullet holes?”
“Mister Matagi, may I see your backside?” the man smiled.
“Excuse me?” Hyakunosuke snapped.
Tanigaki stepped between them, “Is there something I can help you with?”
“You’re the man on the postcards,” his airy tone matched his elegant mannerisms. “The handsome and strong Matagi Bear from Akita,”
Tanigaki remained polite, “I’m afraid you’re mistaken,”
“No,” he raised a ringer and wagged it like the arm of a metronome.
From his suit jacket, he pulled out a book-sized billfold; dozens of yen notes peeked out its mouth as he gingerly pressed out three black and white photos. All of which featured the Matagi posing in his fundoshi.
Before Hyakunosuke knew what was happening, Tanigaki followed the perfumed man outside and lifting the hem of his yukata, displayed the shot delivered by Toni Anji at Kushiro.
The other two men, both waifish and much older, whispered to each other like eager schoolgirls.
“That damned photographer,” Hyakunosuke hissed.
“Photographer?” wind whipped at the Matagi’s yukata, giving the men more of a show.
“I bought your whole set,” said one of the men.
“Why would you do that?” Tanigaki asked.
The man whispered, “I like real men,”
Tanigaki’s boyishness faded into a sultry smirk.
“There’s more to me than just these pictures,”
“I didn’t think you were real,” said the young man, smiling.
“I can show you how real,” said Tanigaki. “If your coin is good,”
Hyakunosuke started, “Yuusaku!”
“We just arrived in town,” the young man hooked his arm into the Matagi’s. “We’re performers,”
Tanigaki beamed, “At the new kabuki theater?”
“We have rooms at the inn next door,” said the third man.
All stared at Hyakunosuke as interrupted.
Tanigaki whispered to them before stepping away.
“What are you doing, Yuusaku?”
“I’ve found a way to get some cash that doesn’t involve taking it from men that work hard to earn it,” he said, walking him toward the platform.
“You have no idea who that man is,”
“He’s got photos of me in my underwear,” he laughed. “Were you there when I posed for these?”
“This is dangerous, let’s go home,”
“No, brother, we need the cash,”
“Get him drunk and roll him then,”
“It would be easier to just rut the man for some coin,”
“He’s hardly a man, Yuusaku,”
“He’s a man, brother,” Tanigaki frowned. “He’s just a different kind of man,”
Hyakunosuke sighed, “I can’t believe I’m considering letting you trick with a kagema,”
“There’s nothing to consider,” he declared. “I’m not a child, brother,”
“If you’re not coming with us,” he said. “Then just wait for me back home,”
Anger welled within Hyakunosuke as the Matagi walked into the porcelain company of the kabuki actors, employing the same little-boy routine he used on the widow.
“Mister Ogata,” the young man appeared with five 10-yen banknotes in hand. “Y’saku-kun said I was to give you this, for his time,”
Hyakunosuke took the money, watching as Tanigaki walked off with his newfound admirers.
He felt good waking up in Tanigaki’s cloying embrace, until recalling how raw he was with the son of a bitch for not returning until sunrise.
Quickly he broke free and stood up, watching as the slumbering Matagi merely turned over and took up the space he abandoned.
“Quit,” Tanigaki mumbled as a foot round his arm. “Go get me some fresh water,”
Hyakunosuke put on his new suit, ventured out into Kosaka.
Not even the bitter chill of mid-September bothered him today. Flush with cash, he bought a pistol and a box of ammunition. Later he dined at a beautiful fish house and enjoyed their home-brewed ale before revisiting the tailor to procure a new shirt and warmer socks.
By late afternoon he returned, but Tanigaki was gone.
Outside, the day turned to dusk, and all that remained of the kagema’s cash was a five yen note. He opened a freshly bought bottle of sake and filled up the tokkuri that came with it.
Savored sips from a saucer turned into swigs from the tokkuri as dusk turned to night.
Out of sake, he stripped off his pressed trousers and tossed them angrily across the room, hitting the fancy trunk. That son of a bitch wouldn’t have left without his belongings.
Suddenly, voices gained volume beyond the door. One was clearly Tanigaki, the other was a stranger that he addressed as Corporal.
Hyakunosuke slipped behind the curtain of their tiny closet.
The door opened, casting a line of light upon the unfurled futon; his discarded tie lay at its edge, coiled like a snake.
“I appreciate everything you did for me,” Tanigaki’s voice was laced with that boyish lilt he saved for strangers. “I’m going to get you in trouble,”
“It’s no trouble at all, Mister Minagawa,” sock covered feet came with a thick Kansai accent. “I copied down the information you were looking for since I couldn’t bring the files here-”
The shorter man was interrupted by Tanigaki’s kiss.
“I don’t have any money,” he spoke into the man’s lips. “Can I pay you with my time?”
“I’d like that,” the foolish Corporal stammered, though much older, in the Matagi’s arms, he seemed downright virginal.
“Are all men in the division as handsome as you?” Tanigaki asked, stripping down and then helping the man out of his uniform.
“How kind of you to say,” said the Corporal.
Hyakunosuke rolled his eyes hard enough to move the glass embedded in his socket.
It became quiet before the heavy breathing started. Past the curtain, the naked Corporal kissed every bend and bulge, venerating Tanigaki’s body as if it were holy.
The Corporal’s head bobbed between Tanigaki’s hips, compelling Hyakunosuke to push at his growing erection.
From the shadows, his eye returned to find the older man on his back, knees to his chest while Tanigaki loudly dined on his flesh. He coated the man’s little hard-on with saliva before licking his scrotum and working a thumb into his hole. His insides were accustomed to men like Tanigaki; a loud lover, he wailed in ecstasy as the Matagi tilled into him.
When Tanigaki caught him peeking through the curtain, Hyakunosuke brought a finger to his lips, warning him silent. A flash of panic gave way to a smoldering stare, and that’s when every push became solely for Hyakunosuke’s benefit. Tanigaki even opened his mouth, wordlessly begging to suck, and oh, how Hyakunosuke longed to push himself between those lips.
The Corporal whimpered while finishing by his own hand, oblivious that the Matagi tilling into him was fixed on another.
Tanigaki began pushing into him fiercely, mouthing the word brother until his climax forced him to unload in the Corporal’s guts.
Unable to cry out, a rush of pleasure seized Hyakunosuke. Back against the wall, he trembled in silence, legs twitching as his member erupted in his hands. Ass on the floor and his eye shut, he concentrated hard to temper his breathing.
Suddenly, the curtain was whipped aside.
“If you wanted him,” Tanigaki stood there in an open yukata. “You should’ve joined us,”
Hyakunosuke pushed past him, “What were you thinking?”
“I was thinking,” Tanigaki examined the newly bought pistol. “You spent all the money I made today, so, I needed to get us more,”
“A divisional Corporal?” he scolded. “Are you stupid?”
“I’m not stupid,” Tanigaki wore that same bitter and dangerous look he had when telling Tsurumi of the man responsible for his sister’s death. “Say it again,”
Hyakunosuke stepped to him, “Are you stup-”
The Matagi’s open hand caught his cheek, stinging the skin and sending him to the floor.
“I’m sorry, brother,” Tanigaki tried to help him up.
“Don’t,” he pushed him away.
Tanigaki moved to his trunk, “I’m leaving,”
“Yuusaku,” he snapped. “I’m fine,”
“No,” said Tanigaki, eyes wet. “I had no right to hit you, I just hate that word. I’m not stupid, I hate being called stupid,”
“I won’t do it again,” he said.
“No,” Tanigaki opened the trunk. “That’s not how brother—lovers, are supposed to behave,”
“Please don’t go,” he whispered.
Tanigaki hesitated, “Please don’t call me that, ever again,”
“What possessed you to approach an officer?”
“I needed information,” Tanigaki moved away from the trunk. “You only tell me what you want me to know, not what I need to know,”
“What haven’t I told you, Yuusaku?”
“I’m not a deserter, you are,” he said, flipping the futon. “I’m listed as deceased,”
“Tsurumi employed many dead soldiers,”
“Out of the two of us, though,” said Tanigaki. “Only you know his secrets,”
“Yuusaku, he’ll kill us both,” he said. “We should get out of Kosaka,”
“Let’s talk about stupid then,” Tanigaki snapped. “The money you spent today could’ve gotten us out of Kosaka tomorrow,”
“I was angry, Yuusaku.”
“Your temper tantrums are expensive,”
“Don’t paint me out to be some jealous bitch!”
“Stop acting like one, Hyakuno,”
“Yuusaku,” he pushed out a sigh. “Don’t bring another man back here,”
“Are you jealous?”
Hyakunosuke cried, “How can you ask me that?”
“You said our relationship was complicated,” Tanigaki fell onto the futon, smiling. “I assumed that meant it wasn’t monogamous,”
“How did you come to that conclusion?”
“I like sex more than you,” he said, hands behind his head.
“You’ve changed, Yuusaku,”
“Have I now,” he mocked.
“You were a virgin when we met,”
His smile faded, “The virtuous flag bearer,”
Hyakunosuke laid down with his back to him.
“You’re not obligated to screw anyone,”
“I know,” Tanigaki laughed. “It’s just something people are willing to pay for,”
“I don’t want you screwing for money,”
“You want out of Kosaku?” he jumped to his feet. “That costs money,”
Hyakunosuke watched as he paced the floor.
“Train tickets cost money, brother, ammo costs money, food costs money,” he pointed at him. “You’re a sniper, you need a rifle, that costs money,”
“I can’t shoot with one eye,”
“Nonsense,” he said. “You just need a scope and retraining-”
“—and that cost money,”
Laughter erupted from the Matagi as he climbed back onto the futon and took Hyakunosuke into his arms.
“Get off me, Yuusaku, you stink of that old Corporal,”
“Don’t be like that, brother, please,” he whispered against the nape of his neck.
“You said I don’t tell you enough,”
“You don’t,” he added flatly.
“What do you want to know, Yuusaku?”
Tanigaki tightened his embrace, “Tell me about Hokkaido,”
“What do you want to know about Hokkaido?”
Lips touched his ear, “I want to know about Genjirou Tanigaki,”
Hyakunosuke scrambled from the futon and did an inventory of the room.
“Looking for your notebook?” Tanigaki asked.
Suddenly, the widow’s voice rang out from below.
“You can’t just enter my home!”
Hyakunosuke snatched up his pistol as Tanigaki, dagger in hand, crept to the door and cracked it. He raised four fingers and then formed his hand into a fist; all four men were armed.
“Grab only what you can carry,” he mouthed, pulling on his pants and stepping into some sandals. “There’s a rope out the back hall window.”
Hyakunosuke dressed quickly, and snatching up his journal, shoved it into his waistband.
“Where did the rope come from?”
“I tied it there a few weeks ago,” he whispered.
“You were going to leave me?”
Tanigaki started, “I changed my mind,”
“Just take point, Matagi,”
Tanigaki grinned before slipping out the door.
One long stride put him across to the far wall while below, the widow continued to question why her home was being searched.
Given the clear to follow, Hyakunosuke ambled ahead toward the back-hall, and just a the Matagi said, a thick rope snaked down the shingles and disappeared over the side.
Tanigaki was right behind him until someone shouted halt. Lightning-fast he hurled the dagger, sticking the armed man between the eyes.
“Move, go!” he pushed at Hyakunosuke.
“Tanigaki-nispa!” cried Asirpa.
Clad in a peasant’s clothes, the girl was taller now, bottom lip blue, and her long hair tied back tight.
“Yuusaku, let’s move!”
Tanigaki slipped over the window pane.
“Genji!” Asirpa shouted, halting him.
“We need to move, Yuusaku!” Hyakunosuke pleaded, both hands on the rope.
Inside came Asirpa’s cry: “Wait, Sugimoto, no!”
Tanigaki snatched the pistol from Hyakunosuke’s belt and with frightening accuracy, shot out each of the low hanging bulbs in the hall.
Hyakunosuke got halfway down and let go, landing as the Matagi fell in beside him and took his hand.
“Stop!” cried the voice of Tsukishima Hajime.
Pulled through the inner courtyard, Hyakunosuke got out in front and ran for the nearest alley. Tanigaki remained on his heels as gunfire popped.
Suddenly punched in the back of his thigh, Hyakunosuke fell, curling fetal from the searing pain. Spasms rocked his leg as the Matagi hoisted him onto his shoulder.
Carried through narrow streets, there was only one place a crowd would gather this time of night; the fish processing pier.
“Why did that girl call me Genji?” Tanigaki huffed.
He gasped, “We need to keep moving-”
“—Stop!” Tanigaki ran faster. “The moment I saw her, I knew her name was Asirpa!”
Voices echoed amidst the smell of sea salt.
Agony strangled his consciousness as excruciating pain came with each footfall. Free of the Matagi, he fell in the dark and landed upon something slippery.
A putrid smell engulfed him and forced the sake from his belly. He heaved until Tanigaki's arm snaked around his waist and hauled him out of the moonlight.
“I knew this wouldn’t last,” he croaked, desperate to get his face away from the bed of fish innards. “Nothing ever does for me,”
Gutted fish remains rained down from above.
“I lied to you, I should’ve told you the truth from the start,”
Tanigaki held him tight, “What are you talking about?”
“Tsurumi had us hunting a cache of gold,” pain faded as his limbs went cold. “I infiltrated Hijikata’s group, they were looking for it too,”
“What was my mission?” Tanigaki demanded.
His grandma’s fingers wrapped around his thin arm.
Your mother got sick on some foul fish, you here?
Through his tears, he told her that wasn’t the truth.
Truth is whatever you say it is!
You speak it enough, and it becomes your truth.
“You went undercover with a convict,” the cold found his chest. “A hunter. You gained his trust, you disappeared,”
“Nihei,” whispered the Matagi. “Nihei Tetsuzou,”
“You got hurt,” vomit climbed up his gullet. “Taken back to that kotan,”
“I dreamed of hunting with Nihei,” said Tanigaki. “I wanted to kill a white wolf. I remember thinking, my Matagi blood called to me,”
You speak it enough, and it becomes your truth...
“You studied everything you could about Tohoku. That was your cover, Yuusaku,” he got on his hands and knees. “You were a soldier from Akita that fell in love with Hokkaido. You pretended to desert the army, you knew Nihei hunted with the Matagi, knew you could gain his trust,”
“My name was Genji!” Tanigaki exclaimed.
“Genjirou Tanigaki,” his truth spoken, he fell into darkness.