Ever since the conversation about Ogata’s parentage, Koito had been determined to prove to Sugimoto that he wasn’t a prejudiced snob. One such attempt was trying to convince Sugimoto that he liked cats. It had become an obsession of his, actually.
“I like cats quite a lot, I swear,” he was saying to Sugimoto. The two of them were preparing today’s catch, courtesy of Tanigaki and Tsukishima, who were relaxing now. Koito had been remarkably compliant when it came to work nowadays, immediately picking up a knife and getting to work, so there was some personal growth right here. But then, being a part of Tsurumi’s retinue, he couldn’t have been much against mutilating dead bodies from the start.
Sugimoto, lost in this train of thought, nodded. Koito continued talking, but Sugimoto found that it was difficult to concentrate. He didn’t dislike the sound of the Second Lieutenant’s voice, not really, it was even quite enjoyable when he was all winded up and anxious, but for quite some time Sugimoto had found himself to be more irritable and confused. He couldn’t say this to anyone, of course, Tanigaki would worry, and Tsukishima might threaten himself some more and watch him even more closely. Besides, even if Koito’s blabbering wasn’t as disagreeable to him as one might assume, it didn’t mean he liked to be reminded of Ogata, even if the subject was about cats.
“If you don’t believe me, I can even tell you a story to prove it,” Koito said. At the sound of that, Cikapasi and Enonoka, who were playing nearby, immediately ran over.
“Koito Nispa is going to tell a story!” they chirped.
“It’s not really much of a story,” said Koito, pleased at the prospect of an audience before shooting a quick look at Sugimoto, who hadn’t stopped gutting the fish, trying to ascertain his attitude.
“Go on then,” Sugimoto said. “I’ll be the judge of how much story there is.”
“I don’t think you’re very qualified,” Koito said, brightening up. “Anyway, I used to own a cat. One of my father’s friends was friendly with one of the counselors at the Russian embassy, and their cats had kittens, so they gave one to my father’s friend. Unfortunately, he got married some time after, and his wife had an adverse reaction to cats, for some reason, so the cat ended up with my father, and he took him back to Satsuma. This cat was a Russian breed, you see, and was very different from what you’d usually expect. He was much larger, very fluffy, with very large, innocent eyes.” As Koito spoke, some sort of light came into his eyes, which surprised Sugimoto so much that he almost cut his hand. “He hated us at first, always hiding in some corner, and he would never let us cuddle him. I got scratched quite a lot at first.”
“And then?” the children demanded.
“And then,” said Koito, “One day, I had just got home from sword practice. The house was almost empty, my father and mother were away on a visit, and the servants were… somewhere else, I suppose. I was just going back to my room, when suddenly I felt something. Someone was watching me. So I tiptoed to the door… and looked.”
Enonoka grabbed Cikapasi’s hand in excitement. Cikapasi turned bright red.
“There was no one there,” declared Koito. “No one at all. I thought I must have been imagining things, but I had been so certain of it, so I looked around some more, wondering if I should just grab something and smack at whatever was there… and then I saw it. The cat. He was hiding in the shadows, looking at me. I stared at him, and he stared back, then he slowly blinked, as if to look at me clearer. Then he went up to me and rubbed against my legs.”
“The cat likes you!” exclaimed Enonoka happily.
“I guess so, he kept following me around after that. Being a cat, he had no way of expressing his affections, but he tried his best to show it. We were so upset that he hadn’t liked us at first, but it must had been difficult for him, away from a familiar environment and people he loved, not to mention travelling all the way to Satsuma. All in all, it was pretty lucky I didn’t try to smash him that time.”
“It’ll probably be very difficult to hit a cat,” Sugimoto said.
“That’s a good thing too!” said Koito. “I hope they’ll be able to always get away from nasty humans. I mean, most people are nice to cats, but you can never tell.”
“Did the cat follow you everywhere, Koito Nispa?” Enonoka asked.
“Yes, everywhere. Even when I was trying to take a bath, he’d just come over and jump right in. He was a great swimmer. Actually, he was just really athletic, I even trained him to do some tricks. He could jump through hoops.”
“Is that even possible?” Sugimoto wondered out aloud. “I don’t think cats are very easy to train.”
“Maybe not, but I didn’t have any friends so I had a lot of spare time,” said Koito proudly.
It was a sad statement, Sugimoto tried not to imagine a lonely little boy, with nothing much to do except to train his pet. He soon remembered that Koito was most likely just telling a story, because a cat that liked swimming and was willing to be trained was just too much for anyone to believe. No, Koito was probably trying to make a point, in a very metaphorical and convoluted way.
Was this some sort of peace offering? Perhaps not, because Sugimoto rather thought they were past that point now. They were getting along, weren’t they? So this must be a hint imploring Sugimoto to try to look past his annoying personality. Come to think of it, Koito did have a tendency to follow people around, though he did have a sharp mind when the situation called for it, which was kind of what he was implying with his story. Sugimoto nodded to himself, thinking that he knew perfectly well what Koito was attempting to do by making up an imaginary cat.
“I wouldn’t mind getting to know you better,” he muttered at Koito, who turned redder than Cikapasi when Enonoka grabbed his hand just then. (People always did that when he talked to them! What was it about him that flustered people?) Still, Koito seemed happy underneath the blush, so Sugimoto counted it as a win.
Koito counted it as a win, too. He never thought Sugimoto would be interested in his story about old Alexander Ivanovich (the Russians really had the longest names), not because cats weren’t interesting, but he had never been a very good storyteller. (Knowing your weaknesses was important to being a commander. Not being bothered by them was important to being Koito Otonoshin.) Thinking about his cat slightly pained him, though. He had been absolutely devastated, during his first year away at school, to hear that Alexander Ivanovich had died.
Still, at least he managed to convey some of his fondness to Sugimoto, which sort of made Alexander Ivanovich alive for a very short while. Frankly, he could not remember why he was resolute to prove to Sugimoto why he liked cats in the first place, but he was glad he could pass on this sentiment.