Ryoma got his brilliant idea from an unlikely place. Nanjiroh was good at tennis, but that was pretty much it. Ryoma discounted almost everything else his father did as inconsequential and definitely not instructive, unless he wanted to be instructed on how to read Playboy properly.
This time, though, Ryoma saw the potential right away.
Rinko was walking up the stairs with Nanjiroh behind her when suddenly Karupin meandered his way beneath her feet. “Oh!” She tripped, trying not to step on the cat.
Nanjiroh was there to catch her, and he did so with his highly-trained tennis reflexes (or not so highly-trained, because Ryoma only ever saw him lying around the house or playing actual games).
He grinned as his wife steadied herself against him, and took advantage of the situation by putting his hand somewhere it wasn’t supposed to be when Ryoma was looking. She let out an indignant sound, but then laughed and kissed him because she didn’t know Ryoma was there.
Clearly the part about the hand was no good and belonged solely in the realm of his perverted father. Ryoma eyed Karupin speculatively, though.
If you wanted to fall into someone’s arms and make it look like an accident, who better to help you than a cat?
“That’s buchou,” said Ryoma. He tapped the picture of the Seigaku regulars, showing it to Karupin. “See?”
Karupin poked the picture with a paw, stepping on Fuji’s face. “Mrow?”
“No, this one.” Ryoma moved Karupin’s paw to Tezuka, but he made sure that the paw was on Tezuka’s shirt, not his head.
“Mroawr.” Karupin pulled his paw back and started cleaning it.
“I like him,” said Ryoma.
Karupin didn’t look overly concerned.
“Buchou,” Ryoma said thoughtfully, looking at the picture and tracing the frame with a finger.
Maybe he couldn’t teach Karupin who Tezuka was and train him that way, but maybe there was something else he could do.
“Now when I say ‘buchou,’ you walk under my feet.”
Ryoma’s student didn’t seem very interested in his first lesson. He seemed more interested in the twitching tip of his own tail.
“Like this. Buchou,” said Ryoma, ignoring the little chill that went through him when he said that. He picked up Karupin and set him on his shoe. Karupin glanced up at him and flopped on his side, on Ryoma’s foot.
“You’ll get there,” said Ryoma confidently.
Ryoma trained Karupin diligently whenever he wasn’t busy with tennis. Unfortunately, Karupin liked tripping Nanjiroh more than he liked tripping Ryoma, and he liked doing it even when Ryoma didn’t cue him.
“Stupid cat!” There was a particularly loud crash, and Nanjiroh howled for the third time that day. Karupin streaked out of the kitchen and leaped into Ryoma’s waiting arms.
“Do that again and I’ll swat you, see if I won’t!” Nanjiroh yelled, and then there was another thud and he cursed loudly.
“It’s okay,” Ryoma told Karupin. “He deserves it.”
Karupin purred and snuggled closer.
Sometimes Ryoma thought the training would have been easier if Karupin had been a dog. He’d seen dogs sit and stay and roll over and fetch whenever their owner commanded it, even if it meant getting up when they were comfortable.
Karupin wasn’t exactly like that. If he was asleep when Ryoma said “Buchou,” he’d open one eye, look at Ryoma, and then deliberately close that eye again. It didn’t matter how much Ryoma coaxed him with fish or turkey or even catnip.
Also, if Karupin just didn’t feel like being helpful, he wouldn’t budge from his spot. He’d start licking his paw and watching birds out the window while Ryoma got more and more frustrated and started thinking about asking his parents for a puppy.
Then again, whenever Karupin did listen to him, he did a good job of sending Ryoma flying, even when Ryoma braced himself beforehand. Ryoma guessed that the tradeoff was worth it.
“Man, my legs hurt,” Momo groaned, supporting himself on the front doorway. “Buchou made me run thirty- hey, Echizen!”
Ryoma stumbled and would have fallen if he hadn’t caught himself against the wall. Karupin said, “Mroawr,” and blinked innocently up at him from between his feet.
“Good boy, Karupin,” Ryoma said with a slow grin. He reached down to pet Karupin on the head.
“Good boy…?” Momo echoed blankly, staring. He shook his head. “You’re weird sometimes.”
Ryoma ignored that stupid statement and silently promised Karupin that he’d give him some tuna later.
"Up this way, buchou," said Ryoma, saying it loudly enough that it could be heard from at least a room away. "My parents aren't home right now."
"I see." Tezuka closed the front door behind himself.
Ryoma glanced around. "Buchou?"
"Nothing," said Ryoma. "I was calling my cat." Karupin was nowhere in sight.
"I thought your cat was named Karupin," said Tezuka, raising an eyebrow just a little.
“He is. I trained him to trip me, though,” said Ryoma, grinning because Tezuka had remembered the name of his cat. “He didn’t do it.”
“Ah.” Tezuka looked at Ryoma and asked the question Ryoma wanted to hear. Ryoma wondered if Tezuka knew what he wanted to hear. He seemed to, most of the time. “Why did you train your cat to trip you?”
“So that I’d fall and you’d have to catch me.”
“He didn’t do it, though,” said Ryoma. “I taught him to do it when I said ‘buchou,’ but he doesn’t always.”
“Cats are sometimes that way,” said Tezuka.
Ryoma nodded. “But maybe it’s okay, anyway.” He gave Tezuka a long look. Tezuka didn’t look away. Ryoma took a step forward, or tried to. At that moment, Karupin found that he wanted to saunter right under Ryoma’s feet after all. Ryoma yelped and fell forward. He hadn’t been ready this time.
Tezuka caught him, and Ryoma knew for a fact that Tezuka’s reflexes were definitely highly-trained.
This time, it was Tezuka who looked down and told Karupin, “Good boy."