The front-line trench was a graveyard, and like a ghoul, he pilfered unspent bullets.
Hyakunosuke wasn’t the only marksman scavenging, Tsukishima had dispatched others for the gruesome task once the shelling stopped and the insults started. Russian’s versed in Japanese would call out vilifications, and those like him, capable of speaking Russian would return the slights.
After a time, they all got bored.
Rounding the reserve trench, he crossed the red patch of mud where Tanigaki Genjirou had mourned the man who killed his sister. Whispers around Asahikawa told of the Matagi’s desire to kill this man; and after watching him die, he’d sobbed as if the world had ended.
Drag marks led to a sheltered dugout and just outside was the man with his arms folded on his chest and a hat over his face. Icy mist tickled Hyakunosuke’s hand, a sign of inevitable rain; there was no crawling back to the divisional trenches now. Darkness loomed in the canopied dugout, and from the shadows came snoring.
“Tanigaki?” he stepped to the entrance and knelt. “Wake up, Tanigaki,”
He reached within and yanked a sandbag loose from the stack holding up the roof. Light filtered in, revealing the sleeping Matagi, arms at his sides with his back was against the wall, knees up and legs parted.
“Tanigaki!” he snapped, but the snoring continued unabated.
He wasn’t surprised; in the harbor at Port Arthur, packed tight in the hull of the Chitose, the Matagi had slumbered through the bombardment.
Rain tapped upon the shelter’s canopy and dampened Hyakunosuke’s shoulders.
Crouched down, he slipped under.
“Get up, Tanigaki,” he slapped at his boot. “Private First Class Tanigaki!” he shouted, but the Matagi barely stirred.
Hyakunosuke felt around the dry dirt until his fingers found a familiar dropper bottle under his leg.
“This tincture was given to Usami for his diarrhea, I don’t think he's going to appreciate you taking his last dose,” he winced at the heady fumes and ran his palm over his head. “We’re the only ones that haven’t shit ourselves, Tanigaki, the last thing you needed was a drop of opium,”
Tsurumi had insisted they all mix barley into their rice rations like the naval men did to avoid getting muscle sickness. Country boys like Tanigaki were accustomed to eating low-class rice, but most inclined to white rice didn’t like the taste. The division supply hounds acquired shiitake mushrooms from the countryside and chopped them in with the suet-thick rice; Tanigaki hated it and refused to eat the mix—Hyakunosuke did the same and for that, they were spared the latest round of dysentery.
“There’s barely enough in here to kill you, that’s why nobody stole it,” when the snoozing man didn’t respond, he ran his thumb against the damp skin beneath Tanigaki’s eye. “Would you have cried if you killed that man yourself, Tanigaki?”
He envied the Matagi’s habit of crying. Tanigaki was the least stressed of their squad; no amount of pressure broke him because he expressed his feelings when he felt them without any fear of judgment.
To cry without shame—is this what a good mother teaches her son?
Giddy from the fumes, Hyakunosuke tossed the bottle aside and settled in between Tanigaki’s legs. Back pressed to his muscular chest, he draped an arm over each of his thighs.
“Tanigaki,” he said with volume. “Are you going to serve as my pillow like some brothel whore?”
The snoring remained steady.
“That’s a lovely snort you have there,” he said with a grin. “Pour me some sake, let me tell you about the assholes I know. You just keep touching me. Later you can jerk me off with your feet,”
Tanigaki wasn’t waking up.
“You would sleep through this war, wouldn’t you?” he felt the Matagi’s heartbeat on his scalp. “You’d never have to cry again,”
The rain beyond their boots left bits of ice in the mud.
Calves upon Tanigaki’s shins, he closed his eyes.
“He cried just like you, Tanigaki. Shed tears for men he led onto the battlefield to die,” he laced his fingers together, the Matagi’s legs in the crooks of his arms. “He refused kill the enemy, he said the guilt would be too much for him if he took a life,”
The snoring continued as did Hyakunosuke.
“I shot him, Tanigaki. I put him in my crosshairs, and I pulled the trigger. I won’t cry for him. I’ve never cried for anybody,” he swallowed hard. “When I killed her, I told myself that I did it for her, but the truth is, I did it for me,”
Hyakunosuke pressed back into him.
“If he saw me, just once. He never came to her funeral, he never even sent money or inquired of my care. I just wanted him to know I existed. His indifference killed me but I never shed a tear. Not even when his son sought me out like I was some curiosity. Only it wasn’t like that really, he wasn’t some rich brat, he was a good man. He didn’t care about class. He treated everyone with the same amount of respect no matter what their station.”
Hyakunosuke brought his teeth together.
“I could’ve been him, Tanigaki, if our father had even bothered. I was a good boy, I was smart, I could read and write! If he just brought me home, his wife would’ve loved me, and I wouldn’t have hated my brother enough to k-!”
Tanigaki’s arms shrouded Hyakunosuke’s head.
“Going to be fine, Kenkichi,” the Matagi murmured. “Storm will pass like it always does,”
Wistful, he pressed his forehead into the sleeping man’s neck, still unable to shed a tear—not even for himself.