Eiji spat out his blood to the trampled, defiled ground. His hand clung to the radio he had used to announce his squad's defeat and the banzai charge of his unit on Iwo Jima's shores. They couldn't hold back the overwhelming surge of US Allied Forces.
His life was swiftly seeping away from him, turning his body numb and unfeeling to all the fiery devastation around him.
The war was over. He had lost. The honour to live was no longer permissible to him. He would bleed out on the beach, alongside his valiant fallen comrades. Carrying what little honour he had left into the after life.
"Hina-chan. If only I could see you one last time." He breathed his final words and wishes into the salty sea air.
The waking sun and flashing gunfire flickered over his droopy eyes, stirring outlines of human shadows around his face.
"Hinata. Sorry I couldn't honour our promise," he whispered again.
_"Who's Hinata?"_ A foreign voice breathed into his ear with his own language.
He closed his eyes, not caring to answer. His mind and body drifted into a numbing peace, carrying him away from his troubles and loss.
The sound of slow dripping water stirred Eiji's mind back to consciousness. He groaned as he opened his eyes, feeling his head throbbing and chest burning with pain. What was going on? Didn't he die? He wasn't at the gates of Yomi-no-kuni?
"Good. Not dead I see." A thick slurry voice clumsily addressed him.
Eiji frowned, reluctant to move.
"If you're wondering whether you're dead, you're not." The voice crudely answered his hope. "Sorry pal, but I won't let you perform seppuku either. You're gonna live whether you like it or not."
WHAT?! This foreign voice that could barely articulate Nihongo, dared to dishonour him before he could move his body!
Eiji pushed past his pain to sit up.
"Hey! Easy pal. Don't be a hero!" The foreigner cursed him. "This isn't the Samurai period."
Eiji shook off the hands that tried to steady his shoulders as he heaved into a sitting position. The sight of a makeshift office swam into view.
Instead of his Rikugun-Chūsa sitting in the office chair and power desk, he saw an American soldier. He clicked his tongue at the sight of this foreigner making himself comfortable with his feet up on the desk that had once held important battle strategies.
Suddenly a bizarre thought flashed through his mind at how cruel and ironic life was to plant him in this position. He was unable to hold back his laugh, which ended up as a nasty gurgle filled with blood.
"Man, you of the Yamato Minzoku do like to suffer." The foreigner stated matter-of-factually.
It both unnerved and made Eiji angry at the fact that this man was flaunting knowledge of his own country back at him.
"To fight and die with honour for your country is not suffering." Eiji forced his voice to say.
"I see. Then could you fight and die for love? Is that not honourable enough of a cause?" The man answered with a rhetorical question. His voice was sober and deadly serious, making his Japanese clear.
Eiji frowned. Who was this man? He spent a few moments in silence, making an observation. The American's khaki shirt and slacks didn't hide the muscle tone around his arms and stocky legs. The stiff cotton was heavily stained with grime and blood, his boots were dirtied with dried sand and mud pressed into the sole's teeth. At least he wasn't a Nancy Boy. He frowned when his shirt was free from rank insignia.
He peered at the man's calm face with deep laugh-lines to his green eyes and corners of his lips. His freckly reddish-pale skin still had supple youth despite weathering the harsh sun for days. Blond stubble covered his square split-chin and his hair was clipped low to his scalp in the usual army style. He deduced the man's face was the type foreign women would fall in love with and possibly some of his own kind as well. Not his type at all.
"Checking me out, are we? Are you a homosexual?" The man tested for Eiji's reaction.
Eiji hated himself for starting to feel at ease around this stranger. He figured it was because the man was speaking fluently in his language.
_"Keep your wits Eiji. This man is dangerous."_ He reaffirmed in his head.
"Observing." Eiji answered in English and held back his chuckle at the man's fleeting change in expression.
"Oh, so I can speak in my native tongue. Well, let's do that since we're winning this rock and battle." The man crudely rubbed salt into Eiji's wounded pride.
"What do you want?" Eiji soberly demanded, forcing himself not to feel the pain in his chest from his heart racing too much.
"What do I want? Well, I'm a soldier of war like you. Not like I can call my own shots, but I can offer you something of a purpose."
Eiji responded by spitting blood on the man's boots, foreseeing where this conversation was heading. He readied himself for the punch to his gut and face that was likely to follow.
"IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT PRIVATE?!" The man shouted, grabbing Eiji by the collar.
His rant ended with a weary sigh. He released his hold on Eiji and returned to his place at the power desk.
Eiji's frown deepened, confused by the man's vulnerable expression. This was wrong. His country was falling to men like this?
"If you're thinking why your country is losing Iwo Jima. Japan stands alone."
The man answered on Eiji's thought. "I'll be honest, we wouldn't have been able to set foot on this godforsaken rock otherwise."
"Why're you telling me things?" Eiji gasped, not understanding this man's intentions at all.
He realised he was in a far worse situation. This man was most definitely dangerous.
"I can see from your stoic expression, I'm not going to get through to you with hints." The man grabbed the chair and offered it to Eiji.
Eiji shook his head and slowly rose to feet, so he stood eye to eye with the foreigner. "Never."
He cursed when the man secured his arms behind his back and forced him out of the lone standing office that overlooked the Nanpo Bunker, and the caves and tunnels surrounding the naval air fields. His heart broke at the human travesty all around him.
A morose dawn broke over the litter of dead bodies stinking the air with a foul stench of iron and that sickly sweet smell of blood; ruined artillery was smoking, barbed wire barriers were broken and mangled over thousands of corpse piles, busted sand bags and damaged beach littered with hunks of metal and burning shrapnel. His honour as a Japanese man left him as he realised the atrocities of war more deeply than he had ever felt before.
"Look to the bunkers." The man's voice was sober, expressionless.
Eiji forced down his tears and gasped at the fresh clouds of smoke and sporadic flashes around the tunnels and caves. Sounds of rapid gunfire and rush of cries filled with desperate bravado pained his ears. He saw the US armed forces pressing their attacks like clock-work ants going for a complete takeover of the island. His people were being overrun.
"It won't be long before we flush your general out, and the rest of his men." The man continued to speak with a sober voice. "It was you who announced your defeat on the beach before the banzai charge wasn't it?"
The man peered into Eiji's surprised eyes. "I was fighting near you when I heard you announce Mount Suribachi taken and the fight lost."
"It could've been anyone." Eiji coolly defended his honour.
"No. Only an honest and strong man could recognise defeat," the man answered.
Eiji frowned. Was he praising him? This man was weird.
"As a reward for your valour, I'll give you my name."
"I won't give you mine." Eiji answered back and flinched at the man's jarring belly laugh.
"I was right," said the man once he calmed down. "I'm Tyne Matherson."
"Lieutenant Matherson! Why is this POW out of confinement?!" A curt American voice shouted at them.
Eiji wondered if that was actually their normal volume. His eyes narrowed at the mention of Tyne being a lieutenant, although he wasn't surprised by the fact since only a man of rank could have organisation over facilities that would contain a lone foot soldier.
"Aah Captain Walsh. Well, this kitty needed some air." Tyne joked.
Eiji carefully observed the pristine uniform and stripes of the elderly captain whose hardened face was set with many aged wrinkles and frown lines. He almost chuckled at the man's pot-belly, seems the man was still able to enjoy food and good drink.
"No funny business Tyne. This foot soldier should go with the other POW." Captain Walsh sternly recommended.
Tyne dropped his carefree expression and assumed one of serious business. "Captain, I remind you that I _am_ Lieutenant in charge of this section. This POW is useful to me. He stays."
Eiji's eyes widened at the gulping movements from the captain's throat. The elderly officer suddenly showed his age and vulnerability.
_"These men are fickle."_ Eiji thought.
"And what about the bunkers?" Captain Walsh asked to change the subject.
"Continue to drive attacks. Use the flash bombs to smoke them out if you have to."
Tyne looked at Eiji as he said this. "We'll gain complete control of this island. They'll all surrender soon enough."
Eiji calmed his mind and emotions with a sigh, holding himself with stillness. It was pointless to feel worked up or continue his fight for honour when all around him was failure and devastation. His thoughts rushed to the loving image of Hinata's gentle smile. Maybe Tyne had a point of fighting on for love. He could continue living renewed with this purpose.
"Well, put a leash on this wildcat at least." Captain Walsh threw out and left them to attend to some other military business.
"That might not be a bad idea." Tyne gave Eiji a cocky grin.
Eiji sighed. "Can't be helped. Do what you like Mr. America."
Tyne released another belly laugh. "You say that, yet I get this feisty sarcasm from your voice. I like you even more."
"You Americans." Eiji groaned.
Tyne escorted him back into the office that now served as his prison. What greeted them when they stepped inside surprised both of them.
"Nya! Nya!" A bleary eye black kitten mewed on the desk.
"I don't remember seeing cats on this island." Tyne carefully approached the creature, so not to frighten it off.
"Must've stowed away on one of your ships." Eiji soberly commented, keeping his emotions under control.
He didn't want to think of Tama-chan in a moment like this. Especially when he realised his advantage. It was hard when the cute kitten was cleaning itself on the desk, unsuspecting of the dangers all around it.
"If he leaves this room, he won't live another moment with all this fighting going on," Eiji nonchalantly commented.
"What makes you so sure? He's held out for this long." Tyne gently patted the cat's head, which was purring contently to his touch.
"There's no living when the island is being bathed in death. Especially when there are still live mines buried in the beaches." Eiji sighed, cursing internally at the depressing words that escaped his mouth. Hinata would be disappointed at him. He held back the rush of pain at his sides, convincing himself to stay strong and not let on that he was on the verge of collapsing.
"Well, let's make an exception. I've decided, you will be my interpreter to build peaceful relations. I can't do it on my own." Tyne coolly threw out, still patting the kitten that was rubbing its body against his hand. "I'll convince you that we aren't all vicious monsters."
"Good luck with that one." Eiji stoically answered back.
He tensed when the kitten stepped towards him with earnest eyes. He wanted to pat it, but couldn't with his hands bound behind his back. He flinched when Tyne stepped behind him and released his binds.
"Why?" His shock briefly flashed on his face before returning to his expressionless demeanour.
"I told you. You are my interpreter not my POW. I'm sure this kitty would like a pat from you too." Tyne said, matter-of-factually.
Eiji stared at him for some time, determining the psychology and agendas of this man. He understood why he was a lieutenant; definitely a dangerous man. As such, he had to hold himself carefully. He gingerly raised his hand to the kitten and tenderly patted its head.
Agendas, political disadvantages, invasions and mass destruction, all that wasn't the cat's fault or business. There was no way he could be mean or evil to a harmless third party. The poor thing was in the wrong place.
The cat appreciated Eiji's pats with a body rub before yawning and curling itself up in a ball on the desk to sleep.
"Tama. That will be its name." Tyne threw out, which released a torrent of memories to Eiji's mind.
It was just like that time Eiji had stumbled across his ginger tabby in the rain, after returning home from a tiring battle in the Hawaii Islands. If it wasn't for his Tama-chan and Hinata, he knew he would have lost his way as a man. Was Okamisama giving him another chance?
His heart raced when Tyne pulled out a faded red strip of cloth and tenderly tied it around Tama's neck to form a collar.
"Look, I'm not really going to force you to be my interpreter. If you don't take on the role, the only other option to you is being a prisoner. Who knows how long you'll stay in POW camps with all this fighting. You could rot to death. Where's the honour with that?" Tyne said whilst lavishing the sleeping cat with gentle pats.
"Don't you want to make a difference to this war? Forget being Japanese or American, but answer me as a man. Can you uphold the same feelings of honour in rebuilding peace?"
"Nice words, but I suppose you'd be calling all the shots. If so, there is no partnership. I'm still only taking orders." Eiji stated his piece.
Silence hung around them, so the only sound within the room was the slow drips of water from the broken pipe in the corner.
"Three years sitting on a rock. Nothing changes overnight." Tyne broke through the silence speaking Japanese. "We need water to stir the change."
"You really want this change don't you?" Eiji frowned, not wanting to believe what his heart was beginning to realise.
As it was, he couldn't have any hope of honour back in a prison camp. He was already sick of death and dying. It wouldn't bring him anywhere closer to his promise with Hinata. Plus being a privileged POW might still help save his country the war. He certainly recognised his unique position.
"Fine, but don't blame me if your world peace plans go south." He reluctantly agreed.
Tyne sealed the deal on their partnership with a genuine smile.
This chapter-post was hard to write without feeling emotional or being too graphic. I sat through 2 hours of raw footage, read pages of recollections and watched a half a days worth of documentaries. It wasn't easy to watch without feeling anything.
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