Animal Instinct

by Talya Firedancer

Echizen Nanjiro didn't particularly like animals.

His life was broken down most simply into two primary enjoyments: the sight of women's bodies, and playing tennis; not necessarily in that order depending on his hormone level and the time of day. Things like 'avoiding work' and 'alcohol' and 'tormenting the boy' and 'tobacco' made for pleasant secondary pastimes.

He led an easy life of it, enjoying early retirement until the afternoon that an offsetting factor entered his life.

Nanjiro was the kind of guy who didn't care for cats, though he was suspicious of the blindly offered loyalty of dogs as well (he had a hard time understanding anything that didn't act in its own self-interest) and was convinced that all men hated cats, and if they professed otherwise, they were lying. He had every intention of raising his son in his fine manly footsteps, and so it was an utter surprise when Ryoma came from elementary school one day toting more than just his bag. A cream-and-toffee fuzzball was draped over one forearm.

"Yo," Ryoma said.

"Mreh," the cream-and-toffee fuzzball said.

Nanjiro lowered his newspaper, folding the titty-magazine into the middle of it one-handed with the ease of long practice, then hastily hid his cigarette under the counter as his wife entered the room. He crushed it against the underside of the countertop and winced as hot ash hit his palm.

"Ryoma," Mrs. Echizen said in surprised tones, "that's a purebred Himalayan."

"Found him on the way home," Nanjiro's taciturn son said, and that would be the most they could pry out of them, Nanjiro knew.

"Don't be silly, he must belong to someone..." Mrs. Echizen trailed off as she approached, and the cream-and-toffee fuzzball uncurled, aiming unsteady blue eyes in her direction and stretching in Ryoma's arms. It was purring like a miniature buzz-saw, loud enough to hear from the other side of the kitchen.

Ryoma shifted to accommodate the kitten, his wide dark eyes boring up into his mother's.

Nanjiro groaned. "Don't get attached," he entreated his wife. "There's no way we're keeping him."

"Well, yes," she said absently, reaching out to let the kitten get her scent. "Such a pretty thing must belong to someone."

The delicate bit of fluff extended its wobbly head in her direction, tiny brown nose flaring as it sniffed her finger, then in a sudden authoritative move dragged its cheek along the length of her hand.

"No," Ryoma contradicted flatly. "I found him in a box on the way home. There was a note that said 'Free Kittens,' and this was the only one."

"If it was free, I'm sure it has all sorts of nasty diseases and parasites," Nanjiro said loudly.

The kitten was rubbing against Mrs. Echizen's fingers again, and stopped. "Mreh," it said, definitively.

"Shut up, dear," Mrs. Echizen said, looking bemused.

"Yes, ma'am." Nanjiro glared at the kitten.

The kitten blinked at him, then with a flip of its bottle-brush tail began to scale Ryoma's arm, catching tiny white claws in the fabric of his T-shirt and making the boy wince.

"Can we keep him?" Ryoma asked, all wide eyes, the tufty bit of cream-and-toffee fur stretching up from his arms to butt just under his chin, then turning its unfocused eyes on Nanjiro.

"Absolutely not!" Nanjiro blustered, a sick sensation building in the pit of his stomach. No woman could resist the juxtaposition of small determined child and mewling kitten.

Ryoma ignored him, turning his best earnestly-solemn gaze on his mother. Echizen was fairly sure his son hadn't yet figured out the potency of that wattage when turned up high, else he'd be using it to get his way with much greater regularity.

It was at that precise moment that the Himalayan tottered, curled up on Ryoma's forearms...and yawned, displaying the gills of its gums, double rows of tiny kitten teeth and strip of pink tongue. Nanjiro realized then that the spawn of Satan had been carried into his home.

Nanjiro's wife clapped her hand to her mouth. "How darling," she said with a quiver in her voice.

"Please, Mom?" Ryoma added, sensing weakness.

Nanjiro gave the kitten an evil look. The kitten slitted its eyes at him.

"All right." Mrs. Echizen caved in. "But you're taking care of him, all right, Ryoma-chan?"

Ryoma merely nodded, carrying the kitten past her and flipping schoolbag back onto his shoulder, cradling the Himalayan with unusual care in the crook of his other arm.

"You'd better learn how to clean out a litterbox, Ryoma-chan, Nanjiro jeered, sliding out one foot to trip his son.

Ryoma favored him with a dirty look and nimbly avoided the obstacle, huffing audibly as he passed.

Nanjiro stretched forth a hand to offer his finger to the kitten to sniff.

Needle-sharp teeth sank into the webbing between thumb and index finger.

Nanjiro howled.

"Your name is Karupin," Ryoma told the kitten, ignoring his father's wounded howls. He petted the kitten until it released its mouthful, then swiped a paw over its eyes, looking eminently pleased. "See, Mom? I knew we'd all get along just fine."