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The Leopard Cat cannot change his spots

Chapter Text

Finally the midterms were over. This sure had been an awfully stressful time for Liao. Not only did he struggle with his studies this semester, he also got himself three cat spirits fighting over him. He certainly had to make some nasty decisions, but he started to feel like he did the right thing. Life was becoming quiet and peaceful at last, even though many questions remained unanswered. Did Senpai really change for the better? Sure, he didn't need to consume humans anymore, but they forced that onto him. Was he truly happy with his new life? After all, he could be quite the deceiver if he wanted to be, and no one would ever notice if he was secretly plotting something against them.

But even if he was, Liao trusted his Guardian Tiger Lin Hu and the Rukai spirit Likulau to protect him, no matter what. He just had to believe everything was going to be alright. His “relationship” with Senpai felt a little strange, after all it was hard to re-build trust after what happened. Of course Senpai acted like nothing ever happened at all, he even tried to hold hands with Liao in public. It still felt a little weird, but by now he didn't mind him anymore doing so. Liao wanted to trust him after all.

For now it was time to relax. Their class had held a little after-school party celebrating the end of that stressful time, and Senpai urged Liao to join them. After spending some quality time with their classmates both of them were really tired, and didn't feel like going out this evening. Even though Senpai would usually beg Liao for a date, this time he simply sank down onto the bed once they were back home. Senpai still had his old apartment, but he claimed to feel much more comfortable in Liao's room, even if he had to sleep on the floor sometimes.

“Whew, now that was a cool way to end the midterms, don't you think, Liao?” Senpai said with his eyes closed, wagging his tail happily. Meanwhile Likulau eyed him a bit nervously, since it was his turn to spend the night in Liao's bed. Senpai and Liao might have became boyfriends, but they still decided to take turns using the bed with everyone, so no one would have to feel left out.

“If you say so, Senpai.” Liao didn't quite feel like talking back to the cheeky Leopard Cat, he was way too tired. Lin Hu didn't look amused though. “Don't you have any empathy, kitten? Liao was clearly not in the mood for celebrating, yet you still forced him to join you! Is that how you treat your boyfriend?” The little cat pouted. “Jeez, calm down, old man! Liao should cherish the time with his classmates while it still lasts. One day he'll thank me for that.”

Liao turned his head away from his computer to look at them. “Guys, no fighting today, please! I just want to look for something to relax and then go to sleep.” Senpai chuckled. “You know Liao, with my allowance I could afford to get us a TV, so you wouldn't have to rely on internet videos as evening entertainment.” Likulau nodded in agreement. “Would be nice to watch News at home.” he said. But Liao shook his head. “No can do, guys. Senpai needs all the money he can save. Don't forget, you're stuck in that body til you die of old age, so better start saving for later.”

The cat groaned. “Liao, you're no fun! Watching stupid animal videos all day is so lame!” His boyfriend sighed. “Alright, then how about some creepypasta to fall asleep?” Lin Hu looked confused. “I'm not sure what that's supposed to be, but I think you'd rather not eat before going to sleep.” Senpai laughed. “You still have a lot to learn, old geezer! Creepypastas are scary stories from the internet.” The tiger looked a bit embarrassed. “Oh! Oh, yeah. I, I knew that.” However Likulau seemed to be interested. “Scary stories nice thing. Don't know many from here.”

“So it's settled, scary story time it is.” Liao declared while he was browsing for a good video. Lin Hu on the other hand didn't look so thrilled. “Do you really think that's the right kind of entertainment for the kitten? You know he can get quite emotional.” Now the little Leopard Cat was up and looked like he was ready to pounce Lin Hu. “Who are you calling an emotional kitten, old man!?” The tiger just patted his head and smiled. “See what I mean? I bet he won't be able to sleep at all afterwards, and tries to sneak into bed with you later on.” Likulau pointed at the bed with a stern look on his face. “But is my turn this night!”

Liao groaned. “Lin Hu, stop trying to get on Senpai's nerves, please. Senpai, I think everyone will be able to enjoy the video I picked, and Likulau, don't worry, I won't forget it's your turn. So please everyone, could we just spend the final minutes before bedtime together in peace?” With that settled the four of them sat down on Liao's bed, watching the monitor as the video started. It was mostly still pictures of dark sleeping rooms and ominous music, while some slightly depressed sounding person was telling their story. Something about an entity torturing the narrator via computer for days, and slowly driving them mad. Likulau looked entranced by this story, even though he might not understand it in it's entirety. Lin Hu looked like he was pondering, probably about the best way to get rid of such a monster. Senpai on the other hand remained impossible to read, he just got bigger eyes by the minute.

The story went for half an hour, ending with the narrator setting the monster free to haunt other people, just to get rid of that thing. “Well, that was dark.” Lin Hu drily noticed, with Likulau agreeing. “Sad ending. Poor storyteller.” “That wasn't real, Kulau.” Liao said as he got up the get ready for bed. “Creepypastas usually try to sound as realistic as possible, to scare the audience.”

After Liao was done with his sleeping routine it was Senpai's turn, but tonight he seemed a bit slower than usual. By the time he was done Liao and Likulau were already sharing the small space on the bed, with Lin Hu just returning into his statue. “Senpai, please remember to switch off the light when you're done.” Liao said yawning. The Leopard Cat nodded, but still he hesitated. At the end he had to do it though, and so he laid down on his usual sleeping spot on the floor.

Time was passing. Liao was snoring gently while Likulau just laid there right next to him with his eyes closed. Meanwhile the only thing the cat could do was staring at the ceiling wide-eyed. His heart wouldn't stop racing, and he didn't dare to move an inch to not make a sound. That was ridiculous! He was a powerful half-god, what was there to be afraid of? Still, the cat didn't manage to get that stupid story out of his head. Dammit, why couldn't he just stay awake? The other two spirits didn't need to sleep! For a moment he considered leaving Yan Shu-Chi's body so he could stay awake too. But his punishment consisted of him taking care of that human body til it died of old age. And trying to evade those restrictions didn't seem like a good idea, since Likulau and Lin Hu certainly wouldn't forgive him.

Who was he trying to fool, the cat was actually scared to fall asleep, just because of that stupid pasta! More than ever he wished it was his turn to share the bed with Liao. Then he would have someone to cuddle up for comfort, but Likulau was quite possessive when it came to his sleeping place. Maybe he could sweet-talk the Clouded Leopard into giving in, but there was no way the Rukai spirit would fall for his lies again. Perhaps if he was being honest?...

Or what about Lin Hu? Would the tiger consider sharing the floor with him? What the heck was he thinking? Asking that old geezer for help? All he woould do was laughing at him and calling him a scaredy cat! Or would he? After all, he was Liao's boyfriend, that meant Lin Hu wanted him to be happy as well, right? Anyway, there was no way he would spend the night alone on the floor! But what should he do?

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Slowly Leopard Cat went for the shelf with Lin Hu's statue on it. He grabbed the ceramic tiger and tiptoed to the bathroom to not draw any attention from Likulau. “Psst, hey! Lin Hu, are you in there?” he whispered once the door behind him was closed. The Guardian Tiger appeared from the statue, looking grumpy. “Of course, where else would I be? What do you want, kitty? And wait, did you just call me by my actual name?” The cat looked a bit flustered. “You know, I... I, after that story I don't think I'll be able to sleep alone tonight.”

Now it was Lin Hu's turn to look flustered. Leopard Cat kinda expected him to burst out into laughter, but perhaps he didn't want to wake Liao. Or he thought this was a trick. “I know” The cat began to pout. “you still don't trust me. And I wouldn't have asked you in the first place, but I really need your help right now!” Lin Hu moaned. “Okay, 'Yan Shu-Chi', listen. It's true that I'll never fully trust you, and can you blame me? You tried to kill Liao and tricked a lot of people. BUT, Liao wants to trust you. If I thought you'd never change, do you think I would've given you half of my Qi to turn you into a half-god? So, for Liao's sake I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. Let's say you're telling the truth right now: What do you expect me to do?”

Leopard Cat hesitated. Honestly, he didn't expect to get this far with this old geezer. “You know, you could, like, spend the night beside me? Maybe?” The tiger's facial expression didn't change. “Okay.” was all he said. The Leopard Cat looked confused. “Wait, what? Seriously? Just like that?” The tiger nodded. “Like I said before, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. I trust you not to foolishly try anything stupid. Besides, if making Liao happy includes making you happy I'll gladly oblige.”

And just like that both of them left the bathroom. Leopard cat placed the statue back on the shelf and went back to his sleeping place. Lin Hu sat right next to him, like he was keeping watch. Ever since the 'purification ritual' the cat had felt a bit uneasy around the Guardian Tiger, but tonight he felt at ease. Why, though? Out of the three of them Lin Hu was the weakest. Yet here he was, quietly watching over the half-yaoguai that once tried to get him killed.

Suddenly he felt the tigers snout right next to his ear, whispering. “If you don't want me to tell Liao about this you better take me out for shopping tomorrow.” The cat almost yapped, but managed to control himself. “What!?” he whispered back in an offended manner. The tiger grinned. “You heard me. It's Liao's birthday soon, and I need help getting something for him.” That evil bastard, I bet he planned all beforehand, the cat thought. “I can just order something for you online then, right? Why do you need me to take you out?” He felt the tiger's paw on his head. “Because you're a good, little kitty who wants to help his boyfriend's Guardian Tiger out. Riiiiight?”

The cat almost snapped. “Right...” was all he could say. That meanie! He'd definitely get him back for that! But what else could he do for now? Without Lin Hu by his side he felt he would be too scared to sleep tonight. So he rolled over, facing the wall next to him. He felt so stupid, did he really expect Lin Hu to do something for him, just because? But then he felt that big paw again on his head. “But for now, just try to sleep. I promise I won't leave before it's morning.” Leopard Cat began to blush. “Thank you.” he muttered.

 

The next day Leopard Cat went on his way to the mall, Lin Hu's statue in his backpack. Since the cat wasn't one of Lin Hu's worshipers he had to take the statue with him, so Guardian Tiger could tag along. “I think if both of you are going to live together Liao could do with some new furniture.” the tiger contemplated. Then Leopard Cat realized something. He took his phone out of his pocket and held it to his ear. Lin Hu looked confused. “Just so people won't think I'm crazy when it looks like I'm talking to myself.” The tiger whistled. “Wow, you can be actually smart if you want to.” The cat rolled his eyes. “Sure old man. May I remind you neither you nor Kulau managed to reveal my true identity? But anyway, I was just thinking: What money do you expect to use for this?”

“Don't worry, Liao led me some amount, so I could get him something. Is that really your present, then?” Leopard Cat laughed. “Wow, so you're using Liao's money to buy him a present?” Lin Hu grinned. “And who do YOU get your allowance from?” That shut the cat up abruptly.

Both of them checked out the furniture shop, looking for stuff that might fit into Liao's small apartment. While Leopard Cat mostly gazed at the fancy office chairs Lin Hu looked at the kitchen equipment. “Your motherly side coming through again, old man?” The cat noticed how the tiger eyed an oven. “Don't forget, neither Liao nor me are skilled cooks, so perhaps that might not be the best present.” But Lin Hu didn't bother. “And don't you forget, I can possess Liao's body, so I can do the cooking for you guys once in a while.” Huh, Leopard Cat didn't think of that. “Besides, if you're really going to stay a couple you'll have to learn how to cook for yourselves some time.”

Stupid old man! the cat thought. I can take care of my boyfriend just fine, thank you very much! “Fine, but that's way too expensive. I doubt Liao gave you enough money for that, and no way I'm gonna pay for that!” And just like that the angry cat went into another section. This time he found himself in the bedroom section in the middle of a wide selection of beds. Man, those looked comfy! He still didn't get much sleep, despite him falling asleep almost immediately thanks to Lin Hu. “What was that about stuff being too expensive?” Suddenly the tiger was standing right next to him. “Jeez, don't scare me like that!” the cat hissed. But then he started to think. What if they bought a second bed for their apartment? Sure, it would be a tight fit, but that way they all would have a place to sleep. “I meant for you, old man! I, on the other hand, do have some savings on me.” Now the tiger raised an eyebrow. “Wait a second, are you serious? What does Liao need a new bed for? His old one is still working perfectly.”

“Right, but look at this!” Leopard Cat hopped onto one of the beds. “If we get a second one, no one has ever to sleep on the floor again.” “Shu-Chi” the tiger began. “you do realize you're the only one who actually sleeps on the...” “Yeah, yeah!” he was interrupted. “My point is, with that thing we could all lay side by side, and no one would have to feel left out.”

Lin Hu seemed to get his point. “Alright, but do you really think that monster will fit into Liao's room?” “OUR room!” Leopard Cat corrected him. “And yes, certainly. This one's the same size as Liao's bed, so if we move his cabinet just a little we can fit them right next to each other. A tight fit, but a fit nonetheless! Just like a double bed!”

“Okay, let's just assume you're right.” Lin Hu interrupted him. “It's still really expensive, and you'll have to pay for of it for the most part. Also don't you forget, that's Shu-Chi's money you're using! Even though you took over his identity, you promised Liao to live a life like the real Yan Shu-Chi would have. What would happen if his, YOUR family found about this? Besides, a human life is not that short, being wasteful might get back to you soon enough. Are you really sure about that?”

Leopard Cat pondered about that. The old man did have a point, but on the other hand, were they really supposed to never change the way they lived? Sooner or later they would have to get new furniture anyway, or even move out into a bigger apartment. Why not get something that would benefit them all? But would Liao approve of him spending so much of Yan Shu-Chi's money for this?

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The cat hesitated. He just realized he would've to tell Liao beforehand anyway, so he decided to wait. “I'll ask Liao when we get back about it. But I'm sure he'll love the idea. Then he can finally hold me in his arms every night!” The tiger rolled his eyes. “Of course he will. I'm sure it won't be the other way around really.” But the Leopard Cat wouldn't even listen and started prancing away. “Wait, didn't we come here so I could find a present for Liao? Even if he agrees that's still mostly your present to him. What about me?”

Leopard Cat looked at him, pouting. “You're a god, you know? You're telling me there's nothing a Guardian Tiger could possibly present his worshiper with, that doesn't involve spending the worshiper's money?” That threw the tiger off. “Well, what else is there I could give him I didn't already have? I've spend my whole existence protecting him, what can I...?” But the cat didn't seem to listen. “To Liao you look like a wet dream come true. Try posing a bit for him without your clothes. Or do a little 'show' with Kulau together, I bet he'd love that!”

Now Lin Hu looked completely flustered. “Wow. Just how shameless can you possibly be? You're his boyfriend and that's your idea of a present? Having another man do a striptease for him?” The cat laughed out loud, still holding his phone to his ears so the other people wouldn't suspect him for a lunatic. “Heh, not really. I mean, you're not really a 'man', right? You keep telling Liao that. Also, it's something Liao and I could enjoy together, so no harm here.” The tiger gave up trying at this point. “You really are a demon, you know that?” The cat stuck out his tongue. “Heh, not really.”

He got ready to leave, but then he stopped. “Wait a second, I think Liao told me the other day you were ogling at a cooktop?” Lin Hu didn't seem to get the context. “What?” “As a present. I mean they might be a bit expensive, but I can pay the remaining amount you cannot afford yourself.” That left the tiger speechless. “Wait... You... Are you serious?” The cat nodded. “Sure, I mean it would be nice to have some hot food at home, so it benefits me as well. You can tell Liao it was a special offer, so you could actually afford it.” Before the tiger could say anything the Leopard Cat grabbed a cooktop that was small enough to fit on their table at home. “What do you say? Shall we take this one?” Lin Hu nodded. “That's, uhm... Wow, I really don't know what to say. Yan Shu-Chi, thank you very much.” That made the cat laugh out loud, not caring who might hear him. “What's that? The old geezer actually knows my name?”

 

A few days later. Liao's birthday would be tomorrow. They had agreed that Leopard Cat would pay for that second bed, but Liao would repay half of the price as soon as he got the money. Now it was time for Liao to get ready for school. He shot a glance at his Senpai, who was still laying in their bed. “I'll be off now, Senpai. I'm really sorry you got sick.” The Leopard Cat looked like he was about to cry. “Not fair! Tomorrow's Liao's birthday! I don't wanna be sick during that!” he snuffled. Lin Hu looked indifferent. “That's kinda your own fault, you know? Liao kept telling you to wear something more than just that skimpy sweater day after day. Even though you're a half-god, your host-body is still human without any actual fur. Sooner or later that was bound to happen.” The cat shot the tiger a menacing glance. “You put a curse on me old man, didn't you? Don't lie to me!”

But the tiger remained calm. “No, Yan Shu-Chi. You've got only yourself to blame for this.” Liao tried to hold him back, but the cat was already crying. “I thought you're Liao's guardian! Why didn't you protect me as well? I'm his boyfriend, you meanie!” “SENPAI!”

He flinched, hearing Liao getting loud was quite an unusual sight. “Senpai, you being sick right now is nobody's fault, stop trying to put the blame on anyone. I want you to spend my birthday with us too, so you need to get better til then. Please relax and rest, I want you in good health by tomorrow!” The cat whimpered. “Liao...” The human turned to the Clouded Leopard. “Is it okay for you to keep an eye on him for today?” The leopard just nodded. “Look at it this way, you have the bed all for yourself today.” Lin Hu added.

With Liao and Lin Hu gone the Leopard Cat didn't know what to do. He had a fever and felt very tired, but on the other hand he had a headache so bad, no way he would be able to sleep. Also he was alone with Likulau, which made him extra nervous. Was the leopard still mad at him? It was hard to tell with him never changing his facial expression. “So, uhm... Hey, Kulau! Sorry you have to stay here because of me. I bet you wanted to go dancing today.” But the leopard shook his head. “Is okay.” was all he said. That didn't really do much to calm the cat down. That was going to be a long day for sure! Suddenly Likulau sat down right next to him. “You sick. Still no escaping?” “Wha...?” The cat had a hard time following his broken mandarin with his head pounding like this. “Your body. No leaving?” Oh, that's what he meant. “I promised Liao I wouldn't! Even if I get the plague I won't leave Yan Shu-Chi's body. I mean, it's only gonna be like, what? 60 or 70 years from now on? I can do that. A simple flu won't break me.” Even the cat himself had a hard time believing his words, since he still had some tears in his eyes.

“You hurt? Or sad?” asked the Clouded Leopard. “Sad! And angry!” the cat almost screamed. “Tomorrow's Liao's birthday, and I'll probably have to stay at home, because of this stupid flu!” Suddenly he felt the leopard's paw on his forehead. “Relax.” he said in an almost demanding demeanor. That irritated the cat. “Whu, what?” “You sick. You relax. You get better.” The cat could feel his body slowly heating up more and more. Damn, he needed something to cool down. “Hey Kulau, I need to get up. Please move.” But the leopard didn't move one bit. “You thirst? Or bathroom?” “What? No, I...”

“Then stay!”said the Clouded Leopard, now with more emphasis on the words. “Bu-but...?” It was no use, Likulau wouldn't budge. “I stay, too. Relax.” The Leopard Cat was about to protest, his body felt like it was melting at this point. But he was too weak to talk back. The only thing he could do was trying to get some sleep, hoping he would be better soon.

At school Senpai's fan club went nuts over the news of him being sick. “What? But Senpai never get's sick!” “What did you do to him to make him ill, Liao?” “Did you break his heart, is that why he's sick?” The questions just wouldn't stop, no matter how often Liao explained the situation. “For the last time, he just got a simple influenza. I know usually doesn't get sick, but there's a first time for everything I suppose. I'm sure he'll be better soon.” Liao had never been happier in his entire life about class finally starting. The rest of the day went by without anything spectacular to happen. Liao would just try to follow the lessons as usual, with his invisible Guardian Tiger standing right beside him. But after school was over a girl came by, running. “Liao, I heard Yan Shu-Chi-Senpai is sick!” Not again! Liao thought. “Yes, but it's just a simple flu, nothing too serious.” But the girl didn't even seem to listen. “That's no good! Your boyfriend's sick at home and here you are, just acting like nothing happened?” With that she slipped a note into Liao's hand. “Here, I wrote down a recipe for Senpai. You better be a good boyfriend and cook that for him! It'll help him get better for sure!”

Without even waiting for a response the girl simply turned on her heel and walked away. Lin Hu laughed. “Another one of the kitten's fangirls?” “I guess so.” answered Liao while he looked at the note. “Oh, it's a recipe for congee.” Lin Hu looked over his shoulders. “Ah, I remember that. Your mother used to cook that back home whenever one of you guys were sick.” After a few seconds Liao's face frowned. “Yes, but this one is different. Congee is basically just overcooked, soft-boiled rice with some stuff to give it actual taste. It's the most common meal for people who are sick, because it's easily digestible. But this recipe, oh lord. That calls for some fresh ingredients. And I'm pretty short on money already for this month. I was hoping to rely on instant ramen til then.”

“But the recipe sounds like it might actually be helpful. Don't you think you should make that sacrifice? He's your boyfriend after all.” Wow, Liao thought. It was rare to see Lin Hu actually taking Senpai's side. “I, I don't know. I mean I'm worried about him, too. But I should really keep an eye on the money for this month, so maybe it's best if...”

“Liao?” The human could feel the tiger's fur right next to his ear. “Remember, I've known you since the day you were born. I know everything about you.” Liao didn't like the tone in his voice. “Ye-yeah? So?” The tiger grinned. “So I also know all your most ticklish spots. If you don't want the entire campus to see you laying on the floor laughing, you better get those ingredients and cook this meal for your boyfriend!” That sent a shiver down Liao's spine. Yes, he was very ticklish. His brother used to torture him whenever he felt like it, and their parents were nowhere to be found. Would Lin Hu really do that though? But on the other hand he didn't want to risk anything. “Bu-but wait, how am I supposed to cook that? The rice needs to be heated up quite much, how should I...?” But the tiger just gave him a gentle nudge. “Don't worry about that, I got something for that.”

 

Shortly after that they were standing in Liao's very small kitchen nook at home. Likulau was still sitting right next to the sleeping Leopard Cat, touching his forehead. “That cooktop was really priced down, you say? That's... quite the lucky coincidence.” The tiger just nodded, while Liao was cutting up vegetables, waiting for the rice to finish on their new cooktop. “Say, would you have, uhm... Actually went through with your threat? About tickling me in public, if I didn't go shopping?” Lin Hu grinned. “Of course not! Liao, what are you thinking? I'm your Guardian Tiger, it's my duty to protect you, not to embarrass you in public. But, in case it wouldn't have worked I might have threatened you with telling Yan Shu-Chi about your weakness.” The human moaned. “Seriously now? I think you spend too much time with Senpai.” The tiger chuckled. “Heh, not really.”

A few minutes later the congee was done. “Hey, Likulau. Have you been sitting here this entire time? Every since we left?” The leopard nodded. “I help.” Liao prepared a bowl for Senpai. “You helped? With what?” “I cure. I clean. Sharing qi. Making healthy.”

Liao looked at Senpai. “Wait, so you've been cleaning his, what? His qi? To make him feel better?” The leopard nodded, while the cat slowly opened his eyes. “Senpai, how are you?” At first the cat didn't seem to realize what was going on. “Oh, Liao. It's you.” He gave his body a stretch and yawned loudly. “Hey, I feel actually much better now!” He looked over to Likulau. “Wait, it was you, right? You gave me some of your qi, I can feel it!” The leopard nodded again. “My present. Liao want you. Tomorrow you better.”

But Liao wouldn't let the cat get up just yet. “You still have some temperature, so better keep it down for a little more, okay?” With that he gave him the bowl. “Here, I made you some congee. You must be pretty hungry by now.” The cat looked at the bowl, then to Liao. Then his eyes began to water. “Waaaaaah, Liao made food for me?” With shaking hands he took the bowl and started shoving his face with rice puree. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” “Woah, Senpai!” Liao interrupted him. “Calm down, please try not to make a mess! You still have to sleep in this bed tonight.” Immediately the cat's eating frenzy came to a halt. “Wait, why just me? Aren't you going to share the bed with me tonight, Liao?” The human looked a bit embarrassed. “Yeah, you see, you're still infectious. I might get sick too, if I share too much space with you. I really don't mind sleeping on the floor for once.”

“But, but...” The cat thought desperately about another solution. “What about Lin Hu? He's your Guardian Tiger, right? He's gonna protect you from getting sick! Please, Liao! I don't wanna spend the night all alone!” Liao sighed. Senpai had yet another one of his little tantrums it seemed. “Yan Shu-Chi, listen.” This time it was the tiger speaking. “Of course I'll protect Liao the best I can. But if you two get too close my divine protection might not be enough. Do you really want to risk infecting Liao right on his birthday?” The cat looked very sad. “No, I don't want that, of course not! But, who am I supposed to share the bed with tonight?”