All change in the community?

 

 

Four months later, Blackberry was very much on his paws, and roaming about the house and woodlands surrounding it, causing Jess anxiety.  Blackberry would run out of the lie up, and Jess, who was less mobile than him, would have to track him on camera, watching her son playing with all kinds of community members, from Shen, right up to Samson, the lion loving the black bear cub’s attentions.  Jess noticed though that Blackberry’s favourite playmates were Patch and Rowena.  Skirnir and she played with him, but they couldn’t match the cub’s energy, of which he had a lot.  Jess realised Blackberry loved everyone, and was scared he’d get his paws burnt.

 

Blackberry and Rowena sat together in Rowena’s den.  Sitting opposite each other, hind paws touching, they realised Rowena’s paws were larger than Blackberry’s.  Even after Blackberry had curled and stretched his toes as far as he could, he could not make his paws any larger.

      “I love playing with your paws Blackberry!”  Rowena laughed.  Blackberry laughed merrily.

      “I love your paws too,” he replied, leaning forward and lifting Rowena’s right hind foot before kissing her toes, Rowena laughing merrily.

      “I love your touch,” she said.  Blackberry looked up as Patch entered the den.

       “HI,” Patch said, padding over to the two cubs, ruffling his cub’s ears and hugging Blackberry.

      “Don’t I get my ears ruffled too?”  Blackberry asked.  Patch laughed, kissing Blackberry’s paw.

       “That’s your mama’s job,” he said.  Blackberry looked down at his paws.

      “Mama hardly plays with me,” he said sadly.  Patch looked concerned:

      “Is this true?”  He asked Rowena.  Rowena sighed heavily.

      “Blackberry’s so full of energy his mama can’t keep up,” she said.

       “So instead of trying, she gives up on him?”  Patch asked.  Rowena looked at her sire.

       “It seems to me you have more commitment to Blackberry than his mama does,” Rowena said sadly.  Patch looked into his cub’s face.

       “You should not be saying things like that at your age,” he said, “what have you seen?”

      “Nothing, that’s just the point,” Rowena replied, “Blackberry has tried to play with his mama, and sire too, but they are too into each other to be interested in him.  I know we get weaned, but in the community I see mama bears taking interest in their cubs for years after they’ve been weaned, but that’s not it.  I think Jess and Skirnir just can’t play with Blackberry; they have no urge to play with their cub.  Patch covered his eyes with his paw to stop Rowena or Blackberry seeing the sadness in them, but Rowena saw her sire’s distress.

       “I know how you feel Patch,” Rowena said, “I hate the thought of Blackberry not being able to play with his mama and sire.”  Blackberry hugged Patch, the big grey bear embracing him tenderly.

       “I’ll play with you Blackberry,” Patch said.  Blackberry snuggled up to Patch, burying his face in the large male bear’s fur.

      “When my mama showed me my birth video, she seemed ashamed of her pain and pedalling paws.  She didn’t want me playing with her paws any more.  I want to play with my mum, but she no longer wants to play with me!”  Patch decided he’d have a chat with his sister, but first Blackberry needed something more urgent.

      “Would you like me to pedal the air with my paws?”  Patch asked.  Blackberry, faced with the prospect of playing with Patch’s paws, and better still, with a bear who wanted to be played with, accepted gladly.  Patch rolled onto his side, letting Blackberry explore each one of his huge paws.  Blackberry stroked Patch’s fore and hind paws with gentle care.  Patch sighing with pleasure as the cub’s toes worked over his pads.

       “What did your mum say about her paws?”  Patch asked.  Blackberry kissed his uncle’s right forepaw.

       “She said she didn’t like me seeing her in pain,” he replied.  Patch snorted:

      “She said at first that she thought her paws beautiful, even though her toes were curled tightly,” he said.  Blackberry looked pained:

       “I’ve always expressed myself through touch, ever since I can remember,” he said, “I love my mama, but she won’t let me touch her!”  Patch held Blackberry as he started crying.

       “I know, I know,” he said, kissing the cub’s nose.  Rowena looked very unhappy.

        “Jess needs to lighten up,” she said, “it’s not fair on Blackberry.”

       “I don’t mind playing with him,” patch said.

      “Neither do I Patch, but his mama should be playing with him, explaining his birth, letting him touch her paws, but she won’t!”  Patch grunted.

        “I’ll talk to her,” he said, “but right now, Blackberry needs to find out about his birth from someone who doesn’t mind kicking and pedalling with all four paws.”

       “I could help out with that,” Ekaterina said, padding into the lie up, “I know how it is to have a cub, and could re-enact Blackberry’s birth quite realistically if he wants me to,”

      “But that’s his mama’s job,” Rowena replied.

      “His mama won’t answer his questions, so someone else will have to,” Kamchatka said, padding into the lie up.  Lying down on her side, she flexed all four paws as if preparing for something.

      Kamchatka wants to re-enact Blackberry’s birth,” Ekaterina laughed.  Blackberry looked at the huge mama grizzly.

     “Would you teach me all about my birth?”  He asked.  Kamchatka smiled and nodded:

       “I have spoken to my daughter about how she’s treating you,” she said, “Jess is being stupid.  She thinks showing her pain to you now you can see as well as hear it is wrong, that you will think her a weak bear.”

       “but I’d think her weak for not showing hem her pain,”  Blackberry replied, “I want to see it, warts and all, so I can understand it mama Kamchatka!”

      “I know that, so I’m here to show you,” the grizzly bear replied.

      “Mama won’t let me touch her Kamchatka,” Blackberry said, “ever since I got my sight, she and Skirnir have been very paws off with me, all over each other with their paws, but they won’t play with me!  That is why I ran all over the house and found playmates.  Mama might be anxious about me, but when I try and be with her she doesn’t want me!  So I go with Rowena, Rowena’s kept me sane Kamchatka.”  Kamchatka hugged Blackberry tightly.

       “Let’s answer your questions about your birth.  I’ve seen your birth video, and can re-enact it pretty well.”

      “Jess was always the sober controlled one in the zoo,” Patch said, “maybe she’s worried that if Blackberry touches her paw, she’ll let go and show her pain in re-enacting the cubbing.”

      “I won’t let anything get in the way of my recreation of that magical time,” Kamchatka said.  Blackberry kissed her nose:

     “Thanks,” he said.

       “Mama Kamchatka is a midwife you know,” Patch said.  Rowena giggled:

      “I heard from mama Ekaterina that Kamchatka had to tie a bag of sand to her paw to stop herself running and helping Ekaterina,” Blackberry replied.  Kamchatka laughed merrily.

     “So you were the one who started all the games?”  Rowena asked.  Patch nodded and smiled:

       “What do you think?”  He asked.

       “I think you were very playful then as you are now Patch,” Blackberry said.  Patch got up and stretched.

       “Time to talk to Jess,” he yawned, “how I hate this kind of confrontation!”

     “You no need talk to Jess patch,” Kuruk said, lumbering into the den, “Kuruk make her and Skirnir know how things are for Blackberry.  Kuruk see it too, so he tear big strip off of jess for being silly over birth video.  When Blackberry see mama in labour, he fascinated and want ask plenty things, but mama, she no tell him, smacking him with paw when he ask question about birth.  Now that bad shit in Boo of Kuruk!  Kuruk think Blackberry should know all to do with birth, all to do with how birth happen, see video plenty times and talk to mama plenty too.  It is just as much video of Blackberry as of Jess.  Kuruk even want help re-enact cubbing if he could.  Now he know mama Kamchatka act out cubbings, but Kuruk want curl toes and scream like Patch do some time back.  Kuruk think Jess want do thing too, just like Bianca and Pakshalika do a few months after birth of cubs, but jess no give into her inner feelings, and Kuruk think she do herself much damage if not give into them!”  Ekaterina kissed her older brother’s nose:

      “Kuruk,” she said, “I have wanted to grab my hind feet with my forepaws and roar with the intensity of what I felt during my labour.  I will do this soon, I know it, and when it happens, I’ll be liberated.”  Kuruk laughed:

      “Kuruk want do same thing when he hear Jess no want do thing,” he said, “Kuruk want do it in frustration though.”  Ekaterina, Patch and Kamchatka laughed helplessly at his words.

      “Surely if you can suck from a cub’s feeding bottle, pretending to have a cub should be no problem Kuruk,” Patch said.  Kuruk snorted:

       “Kuruk not having cub when he roll on back and grab hind feet in forepaws, he pretending he have belly pain instead, but yes, look like cubbing Kuruk suppose.”  Patch grinned and replied:

      “That’s what I imagined when working myself into a state.  All kinds of stomach pain that would induce rolling about, kicking and squealing.”

       “I just want to know so much!”  Blackberry said.

 

Meanwhile, Skirnir and Jess sat in their lie up.  They knew what their treatment of Blackberry had done to their cub.

      “We are pushing our cub away,” Skirnir said, “we’re all over each other with our paws, but won’t set paw on him with love.”

      “Bears wean their cubs then push them away,” jess replied.

      “Yes, but I fear we’re doing it too quickly,” Skirnir said, “have read books, I know mothers keep their cubs with them for at least two years.  We haven’t even kept Blackberry by our side for six months!”  Jess nodded, now uncomfortable.

        “We have pushed him away,” she said, “but he’s doing well for himself, getting friendly with other members of the community.”

      “We can’t rely on them!”  Skirnir said, “Kuruk told us that, he tore a strip off us!  Jess, he was close to physically attacking you!  He’s angry, very angry!”

 

Kamchatka hugged Blackberry tenderly.

       “I’ll watch the video with you, and explain things,” Kamchatka said.  You can touch my paws, and I’ll re-enact a cubbing for you,” Blackberry smiled and snuggled up to Kamchatka.  Patch and Ekaterina played with Kamchatka, the older mama grizzly laughing and playing like a cub when they got her on her back and started playing with her paws, stroking her pads and playing with her toes, Kamchatka laughing and kicking with her hind paws whenever they were free, which wasn’t often with two bears playing with her paws.  Blackberry joined in, drumming gently on Kamchatka’s belly with his paws.  Kamchatka, wriggling and laughing, felt young again, the years falling away from her and uncovering the playful side of the mama both patch and Ekaterina knew.  Kamchatka, with her big paws and thick fur, was the ultimate playmate for a black bear cub, whose mama had seemingly abandoned him.  Kamchatka suddenly withdrew her paws, throwing them around Blackberry and hugging him.

       “How would it be if I adopt you as my cub?”  Kamchatka asked.  Blackberry snuggled up to her, loving her touch, her playful personality, and most of all her deep love for him, a love he had never known from his biological mother.

 

Jess watched the goings on in the den on her screen, and realised what was happening.

      “We’ve lost our cub,” jess said, “and I feel nothing.”  Skirnir looked at his mate:

       “You feel nothing?”  He asked, “After screaming and straining to deliver him, after feeding him, you feel nothing now you see him gravitating to another bear?”  Jess stared at her mate:

      “I feel nothing,” she replied, “I don’t know why I feel nothing.”

       “You just want to produce cubs and then let them go as quickly as possible don’t you,” Skirnir said, 2you want to emulate Pakshalika!  Pakshalika has made it her duty to produce tiger cubs.  She enjoys the whole rearing of her family, but there is one curial difference between her and you.  Pakshalika lets her cubs stick around after they are weaned.  In that way she’s more leonine than tiger-eye.  Even so, her family bursts with love and commitment.  Ours does not.”  Jess walked out, furious and ashamed.

 

Later that day, with darkness drawing in, Kamchatka sat down with Blackberry to watch the video of Blackberry’s birth.  Kamchatka narrated the video as best she could describing how things felt during labour when the waters broke, and how it felt to push down hard.

        “Pushing down against a cub is like trying to clear huge constipation,” Kamchatka said, “it’s an intense feeling, consuming completely.  Mama just wants to push with everything she has, her heed; body, legs and paws all want one thing, to get this cub born.  Curling toes is a distraction for mama, and it helps to relieve her pain a little, as does screaming.  I know you want to feel the pain of birth as much as you can Blackberry, you’re like Patch in that respect.  He wants to be paws on with everything as much as he can be.”  Blackberry smiled:

      “I would love to experience it, if only for a minute,” he said, “I want to know everything Kamchatka.”  Kamchatka smiled and took his paw.

       “Now, now you see mama crawling about?  Watch how she’s sitting back on her heels and howling?”  Blackberry nodded:

       “Yes, yes I see, what’s that?”  He asked eagerly.

       “The cub’s moving down now, and mama’s really feeling it,” Kamchatka replied.  Blackberry smiled as his mama rolled onto her side and began pedalling her paws.

        “You can see the pressure building in her,” Blackberry said, “mama’s getting ready to push, and you can almost feel her tension!”  Kamchatka nodded, as jess strained hard for the first time, all four of her paws kicking the air like pistons.

       “Mama’s really trying, really pushing, no, straining!”  Blackberry exclaimed, “She’s bearing down with everything she’s got!”  Then jess was up on her feet, squatting, bracing her paws and bearing down repeatedly, Every effort making her scream and roar.  Then Blackberry saw an amazing sight, his own forepaws emerging beneath jess’s tail, then, another push from Jess, and his head was out, then another panting squeeze and his body was out, then his legs followed quickly.  Blackberry stared at the screen, mesmerised by the scenes in front of him.

      “Wow Kamchatka just wow!”  He said.  Kamchatka hugged him.

      “I’m sorry Kamchatka,” Blackberry said, “but that bear having the cub, she gave birth to me, but is not my mama.”  Kamchatka knew what he meant.

       “I’m sorry Blackberry,” she said, kissing his nose and paws.  Blackberry clung to Kamchatka and began to cry, Kamchatka leaving him to it, the black cub’s tears wetting her fur.

       “I want a family just like mama Ekaterina’s and yours!”  He sobbed.  Kamchatka tightly hugged her adopted cub.

       “You’ve got that now, I promise,” Kamchatka said kissing his wet nose.  Blackberry buried his face in Kamchatka’s fur, breathing in her scent.

       “Can you re-enact my birth how you would want it to be?”  Blackberry asked, “So, so I can remember that rather than the birth I actually had?”

       “You’re asking me to pretend to have a cub and imagine giving birth to you?”  Kamchatka asked, warming to her task.

      “Yes, I know it’s unusual, but could you do it?  Would you do it? Please?”  Blackberry begged.  Kamchatka knew what this bear wanted.

      “”I could do that,” Kamchatka replied, “and I will do that for you.”  Blackberry smiled and kissed her paws.  Kamchatka let Blackberry touch her nose, ears, back, belly, legs, pads and toes, Kamchatka clearly enjoying Blackberry’s touch, indeed, she wriggled with pleasure as he touched her paw pads, Blackberry giggling and massaging her paws before kissing her pads.  Kamchatka sighed with contentment, and then growled deeply, a gentle sound which meant only one thing.

       “You’re falling in love with a cub,” Blackberry whispered.  Kamchatka, lying on her side, suddenly wrapped her paws around Blackberry, embracing him fiercely.

       “I want this, I want this so much!”  Blackberry pleaded.  Blackberry snuggled hard up to Kamchatka, the mama grizzly embracing him with an intensity she hadn’t felt since she’d given spiritual birth to patch and physical birth to Ekaterina more than two years before.

       “Love me mama, please!”  Blackberry pleaded, sobbing into Kamchatka’s fur.  Kamchatka groomed Blackberry from nose to tail, the cub wriggling and giggling with pleasure.  When Blackberry was groomed to Kamchatka’s satisfaction, which meant she groomed him four times over, Kamchatka finally settled down with her new cub.  A soft purring sound made Kamchatka and Blackberry look up.  Theo sat near the door, it was clear he’d been watching everything.

       “You need only imagine having a cub mama bear,” he said to Kamchatka, “your body will do the rest.  Blackberry wants a family, he’s desperate for a family, and you community mama Kamchatka, as your mama said long long before my birth, when lioness Rowena was barely into adulthood, you are a mama bear to all lost cubs.  Some have mothers who, though lost to them in physical distance, care deeply, other cubs though; their mothers are lost to them, even though they are close by.  I know you gave spiritual birth to Patch, bringing him into your family, so give spiritual birth to Blackberry. Make every breath, every cry, and every drop of sweat and effort count.  Enjoy the birth of your cub.”  Kamchatka grinned and promised she would.

 

Jess and Skirnir watched all, the adoption of Blackberry into another family almost complete.  Jess had returned to Skirnir after ten minutes, and watched without emotion as Kamchatka and Blackberry watched the video of his birth.

       “I hardly remember a thing,” jess said.  Skirnir looked at her with confusion.

      “If you are trying to be another Pakshalika, you are not anything like her jess!  Pakshalika loves everything about the births of her cubs!  Loves the conception, gestation, and labour, and then commits totally to bringing up the cubs to love their mama, brothers and sisters.  You don’t love Blackberry, and I am afraid you will abandon any more cubs you might have.  I know losing me to the poachers broke my mama’s heart.  She maunder my loss for months it was said.  I know mama bears have strong bonds with their cubs, well, most do.  Kamchatka certainly does.  So she’s bringing up her grandson as her adopted cub.  Well, I hope you’re happy now.  I won’t be having cubs with you ever again Jess!  I hate what you did to Blackberry!  Kamchatka needs no labour to prove her love for Blackberry, but he needs to erase the memory of a horrible period in his life, where he was weaned and then shoved out into the community.”

      “But I always tracked him by camera, kept an eye on him,” jess protested.

       “Thin that is Jess,” Skirnir snapped, “you did the barest minimum for him.  You wouldn’t touch him when he was feeding, you wouldn’t curl up with him to sleep, and you wouldn’t play with him.  Blackberry would be an emotional wreck if it hadn’t been for Rowena and patch.  Those two, and latterly Kamchatka, have saved a cub that did no wrong and was placed in a dreadful situation by those who should have cared most for him.”  Skirnir watched as Kamchatka kissed her new cub’s nose, Blackberry snuggling close.

 

Kamchatka kissed her cub’s nose, and then crawled away, breathing deeply, readying herself for the passionate imagination, and physical acting out of her adopted cub’s birth.

     “Oooh, ow, Oooh!”  Kamchatka panted, “Ooooooowwwwwwwawwwwwww!  This cub’s huge! I, I can feel it already! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Owowowowowowow!  Blackberry saw Kamchatka crawl away, her labour becoming more and more difficult.  Blackberry saw Kamchatka’s pain in her closed eyes, her open panting mouth, her lolling tongue and her fiercely curled toes.  He could also hear her pain, for she was squealing and grunting.  Blackberry touched Kamchatka’s right hind foot, feeling the mama bear’s curling toes and bunching pads.

       “I can feel the pressure building, its building!”  Kamchatka gasped, “I need to push, I want to push!”  Kamchatka bore down, squealing and roaring.  Then she rolled onto her back, drew her hind feet to her and grabbed them with her forepaws, screaming and begging her cub to be born.

       “Push mama Push!”  Blackberry encouraged, his toes curled as tightly as his adopted mama’s.

      “Cub’s coming now, owawawwhwhwowwwwww!”  Kamchatka screamed, “Head’s coming out, Youch! Ow, Oooh, ow! Ow! Ow! It’s stretching me!  Oooooooooooawwwwwwwwowaw!”  Blackberry watched as Kamchatka rolled onto her side and began pedalling the air with her paws, looking like she was pawing the air to help the cub into the world.

      “Push mama Push!”  Blackberry encouraged, Kamchatka growling and screeching.

      “Cub’s nearly here, just the hind feet now!”  Blackberry said.  Kamchatka whimpered and bore down with a strangled cry.

     “Done it, I did it!”  She panted.  Blackberry smiled and nodded.

      “Well done,” he said.  Kamchatka looked at her cub, seeing his body as a new mother would, charting the progress of her cub’s body through the pains she’d felt.  Blackberry crawled to his mama, Kamchatka crying real tears while she hugged him.

       “That was all I hoped it would be,” Kamchatka said, Blackberry smiling and burying his face and paws in her warm fur.

      “I love you mama,” he whispered.  Kamchatka frantically examined her cub with her tongue, grooming with teeth and paws.  Grooming, cleaning, examining minutely with sensitive tongue and paw pads.  Blackberry loved the sensation of her touch, the warm licking from her tongue, as well as her snuffling breath as she examined him in the time honoured way of all wild mama bears.  Blackberry giggled and wriggled with pleasure as Kamchatka’s breath tickled the soles of his paws.

      “I love this mama!”  He said.  Kamchatka blew on the pads of his right hind foot, then kissed them, Blackberry laughing.

      “Soppy mama!  Kamchatka kissed Blackberry’s nose and paws, the cub snuggling up, loving her touch.  Patch padded into the lie up, over to Blackberry and leaning down, kissed the black cub’s nose.

       “welcome to the family little brother,”  he said gently, Blackberry smiling and returning the kiss to the larger bear’s nose.  Patch sat down and began playing with the toes of his right hind paw, Blackberry watching him.

      “Would you teach me how to play with my paws?”  Blackberry asked.  patch laughed and becconed to Blackberry with his paw.

      “Come,”  he said.  Patch showed Blackberry how to play with his right hind foot by telling the cub to take it in his right forepaw and then play with his toes with his left fore.  Blackberry was soon enjoying the sensations patch had known since he was a cub.  Patch hugged Blackberry, then helped the black cub to his feet.

       “Let’s go to my den,”  Patch said.  kamchatka smiled at her cubs, lifting her paw in farewell.  Blackberry looked back at his mama.

      “Aren’t you coming too?”  he asked.

       “Go with your brother,”  kamchatka said.  Blackberry hung back, his face showing his conflicting emotions.

       “I want you to come with us mama,”  Blackberry said, his eyes pleading with the grizzly bear.

     “You two need to learn to play together,”  kamcahtka said, “you can’t always be with me you know.”  Blackberry’s look of devestation tugged at kamchatka’s heart, then he ran forward, ciezed her left forepaw in both of his and squeazed it, begging her.

       “Please mama!”  he said, almost crying.  Kamchatka hugged Blackberry with her free forepaw.

       “I’ll come now,” she said.  Kamchatka padded after her cubs, Blackberry lingering to tug at her paw.  Kamchatka, getting bored with Blackberry’s insistent tugging at her paw, flung the cub onto her back, and then padded from the lie up, Blackberry hanging on with all four paws.  Kamchatka padded behind Patch to his den, Kamchatka tipping Blackberry off onto the duvet covering the floor.  Blackberry landed in a heap, waving his paws in the air and complaining like a newborn cub, to Rowena’s amusement.

      “Come here,” she said, grabbing Blackberry and hugging him.  Blackberry snuggled up to Rowena, trying to hold on with all four paws.

       “You soppy thing!”  Rowena said.  Patch kissed Rowena’s nose and padded from the lie up, venturing into the wood.

 

Patch, the winter wind ruffling his fur, and mud cold on his pads, padded through the wood, using a track.  Patch crossed the road to another part of the wood not covered by CCTV.  The Boss had recently purchased that part of the wood, but had not installed the cameras.  Patch padded into the wood, his paws almost silent on the leaf littered track.  Patch’s nose was telling him something was up, something was very wrong.  Patch emerged into a clearing to find humans setting fire to the wood.  Two young humans,  were setting the wood alight.  It was clear to Patch they’d not seen him, yet.  Knowing fire, Patch turned to run.  The humans, a boy and girl, turned at the sound of patch’s snort of fear.

      “It’s a bear, a bear!”  The boy screamed.  Patch reared up on his hind legs, now becoming frightened.

      “He looks scared,” the girl said, going up to patch, who turned   to run, and nearly slammed into Kuruk and Kamchatka, who’d followed him.

       “Kuruk very furious!”  Kuruk snarled, running forward and grabbing the boy in his paws and lifting him high in the air!

      ““Careful!”  Patch warned, “They’re fragile!”

      “So be the wood, but they no care about that does them!”  Kuruk snarled, lifting the boy sky high in his paws.

      “Put me down!”  He screamed.

      “Oh no, Kuruk no do thing,” Kuruk Grunted.  The badgers, having monitored the situation, put the fire out with buckets of water carried from the nearby brook.  Now the humans who’d set the fire knew they were in deep trouble.

       “What be your names?”  Honeyfur asked while Kuruk and Kamchatka held a human each.

      “I’m not giving my name to a badger!”  The boy screamed.  Kuruk showed the lad a massive paw, then opened his mouth and showed off a massive set of teeth.

      “Ok, ok!”  The boy squealed, “I’m Royston, and this is Janet, we’re school friends, we came into the wood to make a campfire.”

       “That be no place make fire,” Honeyfur grunted, “we badgers know fire, we see good fire, and bad fire too, and that fire very bad.  You no make hole in ground, no make fire properly; you just set up sticks and burn away.  Now we badgers was gonna sort you, fix you big time, but patch come along and make things different to what we planned.”

     “You badgers couldn’t stop us!”  Janet challenged.  Royston screamed as something hit his shoulder!

     “Ow, ow!”  Magnus smiled as he reloaded his catapult.

        “We are big force,” he said, “and you no see us till be too late.  Then you sunk!”

     “Show us, show us!”  Janet challenged.  Magnus waved his paw, and thirty rocks and six javelins hit a nearby tree.  Then, just as they thought the attack was over, a club hammer flew through the air, launched by a bigger creature than a badger.  Matoskah stood on his hind paws, having thrown his weapon with deadly force and accuracy.

      “Now you fight with us?”  Honeyfur asked.”  Royston began to shake with fear.

      “What else do you have?”  He asked, “Guns? Rocket launchers?”  Kuruk smiled, and then shoved royston into the mud, frisking the boy with expert paws, finding matches and a lighter.

      “You no want these things now,” he said, snapping the matches and crushing the lighter.  Royston knew he was helpless, shoved into the mud by Kuruk.

       “We no aggressive, but if we attacked, we fight back,” Kuruk said.

      “What did that brute say?”  Janet asked.  Kuruk’s reaction was frightening.  He lowered his head to look the girl right in her face, opened his mouth and gave vent to a menacing growl.

       “Ok, okay!”  Janet screamed, “I’m sorry!”

      “What Kuruk said was that we are a gentle people, but we fight back if we are attacked,” Furcone replied.

      “Now what?”  Royston asked.

      “We take you back to see the Boss and he tells your parents what you do when they no have you at home!”  Kuruk snapped, “They are bloody angry with their cubs Kuruk think!”  Royston looked at the huge male grizzly.

       “And who the hell’s that grey bear?”  He asked, pointing at Patch.

       “That bear be Patch, brother of Kuruk,” Kuruk said gruffly.

       “I can’t understand him!”  Royston complained.

       !”Just listen to him and you will understand his language,” Patch said in perfect English.  The two children stared at him.

      “You spoke to us!”  Janet squealed.  Patch smiled:

       “I was in one of your cages for nearly the whole of my life,” he said, “I learned your language while there.  I rarely speak English now, but I know it well.”  Janet stared at Patch.

      “So talking animals do exist,” she said.

      “Talking animals?”  Patch asked, “You humans are so silly.  If only you’d listen to us, we’re talking to you all the time.  But you don’t listen.  As for us knowing your language, isn’t it your job to learn ours?  We’ve been on this earth longer than you have after all.”  They couldn’t reply to that.

       “So what’s going to happen to us?”  Royston asked.

      “Kuruk want whip your backside with branch,” Kuruk grunted.

      “What did he say?”  Janet asked.  Patch told her, translating word for word, which made Janet and Royston laugh.

      “He wants to whip our backsides with branch?”  Royston laughed, “You silly bear!”  Kuruk lifted a paw, Royston running away from Kuruk, Kamchatka tripping him with a branch she’d picked up off the track.

       “I think you stay right here for now,” she said.

       “What does gonna happen to us!”  Janet demanded.

      “You two have been punished by the community I believe,” someone said, “”so I will not punish you further, though what your parents will say, I can’t be sure.”  The two children looked in surprise at a large white lioness that’d suddenly appeared from nowhere, then at the bears, and then at Samson, who padded into view around a large oak.  Suddenly badgers and bears were the least of Janet and Royston’s worries as lions, tigers and leopards surrounded them.

      “We never forget faces,” Petra snarled, angry at the children’s disregard for her home.

      “Screw you white lioness!”  Royston snapped, trying to face off to the smaller white lioness in front of him.  Petra strode up to him and slapped his face with her paw!

       “Want to say that again?”  She asked.  Royston, his face stinging, began to cry.

       “You slapped him!”  Elsa laughed.

      “No, not really,” Petra replied, “I can’t, he’s a little soft human.  Now, let’s go home.”  With that she turned tail and walked away.  Patch led Janet and Royston to the edge of the wood, where he left them at the roadside.

       “You’ve been shown what can happen if you violate the home of wild creatures,” Patch said, “now, go home and avoid the wroth of your parents, if you can.”

      “Are you Smokey bear’s understudy?”  Royston asked.  Patch pushed the humans out onto the road.

      “Go home,” Patch said firmly.

 

Back at their home, Royston and Janet told their parents of the strange goings on in the wood.

      “We were just walking through the wood when we were attacked by wild animals!”  Royston complained.  His mother and father looked dubious.

      “You were just walking through the wood and were attacked by wild animals?”  He asked, “Surely wild animals do not just attack for any reason.  Were you disturbing them?  Taunting them?”

       “We were doing no wrong!”  Janet protested.  Banging on the door announced the arrival of a police officer, who strode in with a video tape.

      “We were searching for a missing person by helicopter and, on our way back, something more interesting than just the missing person,” the officer said, “just look at what our camera saw.  The video showed the whole scene, the clearing in the wood with Royston and Janet setting the fire, then patch’s arrival, and everything that happened after.

       “We could hardly believe our eyes,” the police officer said.

      “No wonder the animals attacked,” Royston and Janet’s mother said, “but who has lions and tigers roaming free?”

      “We only know him as the Boss, “but his community of animals is unique,” the police officer said, “They are well behaved, as you can see.  Now, now we will prosecute your children for fire setting in the wood.”

      “I got slapped by a lioness!”  Royston wailed.

      “You deserved a lot more than that,” she said.

      “I think they should apologise to the community,” the police officer said.

     “Go back there and apologise?”  Royston asked, “With those bears and tigers?”

      “Yes,” patch said, padding into the kitchen.  Royston’s mother screamed!

      “Oh, oh no!  It’s him! It’s that big grey bear! Save us!”  Janet squealed, throwing a plant pot at patch, who caught it and placed it on a shelf.

       “Now you need not have done that,” he said.

      “That’s the grey bear who led us to the road!”  Royston exclaimed.  Patch dropped onto all four paws, then padded to the table, sat down, then helped himself to a honey covered piece of toast.

      “I love honey on toast,” he said, eating it in one bite.

     “That’s my toast!”  Royston yelled.

     “Shall we discuss this?”  Patch asked.

     “Um, no,” Royston replied.  Patch wiped his mouth with his paw.  Then padded over to the sink and washed his paws.

      “Are you a circus bear?”  Royston asked.  Patch smiled and padded back to the table.

      “I was under the thumb of humans for years, so I know their ways, and know their attitudes to animals too.  Now please, let’s arrange a time for you two to come and apologise to our community.”

     “And what if we refuse to come?”  Janet asked.

     “My brother and mama will come and make sure you do,” Patch replied, “You’ve met them, I believe.”

      “We also saw lions, tigers and leopards!”  Janet said.

      “Yes, you did,” someone said.  Patch turned to see older Rowena standing beside him, the white lioness smiling broadly.

       “There’s nothing there, but I heard another voice!”  The father yelled.

      “It’s a lioness, the same lioness who spoke about us not being punished further!”  Royston screamed, “You lie lioness!”

      “Your punishment will not come from us, but will come from your parents,” Rowena said, “If your parents want you to apologise to the community, you should.  I knew nothing about the helicopter.  Now I am needed elsewhere.”  With that the lioness vanished.

       “Rowena, dear sweet Rowena,” patch said.

       “There was noone there!”  The father screamed.

      “Eohippus showed her to us,” Patch said.

       “You’re mad, completely mad!”  The father screamed.

      “You no call brother Patch mad!”  Kuruk roared, walking into the kitchen.

       “All we need is mama bear and we’re in real trouble!”  Janet exclaimed.

      “Kuruk come to take you both back to community so you can apologise for burning wood.”  Kuruk grunted.

      “”We’re not letting our children enter that spooky house,” the father said, “we’ll come to the wood though.”

      “Kuruk no want you in the house,” Kuruk replied, “You think we want filthy shoes all over our floors?  You not bare pawed you see.”  Kuruk and patch guided Royston and Janet back to the wood, their parents following.

 

The community gathered in the largest clearing in the wood, the two children standing with Matoskah and Allie either side of them, the two enormous polar bears ready to subdue any attempt to escape.  Royston and Janet’s parents were also guarded by tigress Tess and Nuru, the lion and tigress keeping a wary eye on the adults.

       “I believe you have something to say to the whole community,” Aslan said.  Royston and Janet looked the white lion in the face, knowing that to show fear could initiate an attack.

       “We’re sorry for setting fire in your wood,” she said.  Aslan looked deep into her face, and then turned his eyes to Royston, who couldn’t meet Aslan’s disapproving gaze.

       “Are you not sorry for what you did to our home?”  The lion asked.

      “I am, but don’t see why I should be accountable to a lion!”  Royston snapped back.  Nanuq placed a heavy paw on Royston’s shoulder.

      “Look at him,” the bear growled.  Royston’s eyes met Nanuq’s and he reasoned that Aslan’s eyes were kinder than the polar bear’s.

       “You are not accountable to me alone,” Aslan said, “but to the whole community here, from the eldest to the youngest.  We do not burn your houses for fun, so why come to our wood and burn it?  We know where you live; you have a nice home, as do we here.  How would it be if we set fire to your garden?  That is what you did to our wood.”

      “Who would be there to make sure we didn’t do it again?”   Royston asked.

       “The badgers are all around,” Blackberry said, “I saw them, I saw them!”  Kamchatka shushed him.

       “They don’t like attention being drawn to them,” she whispered.

      “Oh, sorry mum,” Blackberry replied, “but I still saw them.”  Royston stared at the black bear cub.

      “He’s not yours big mama,” he said.  Kamchatka lifted Royston off his feet and shouted at him.

       “Now you stop your talk!”  She warned.  Royston punched Kamchatka on her nose, the mama bear dropping him on the floor.

      “Bastard, bastard!”  She snarled.  Royston mocked her:

      “Oooh, bastard now is it?”  Patch scooped the boy up in his paws and shouted at him:

       “You dare insult my mama!”  He yelled.  Royston looked into the grey bear’s eyes, and something in them silenced him.

      “He understands me, he knows my mind!”  The boy thought.  As soon as he got his feet on the ground, Royston ran away, his sister following with all speed she could muster.

      “Run away, run away!”  Blackberry chanted, clapping his forepaws.  Kamchatka shushed him again, gently cuffing him with her paw.

      “You can’t say that, you can’t say that!”  She whispered.

      “But they’re running away, they’re unable to confront their stupidity!”  Blackberry replied.  Kamchatka embraced her cub, hugging him to her to stop him confronting the humans.

       “I won’t go after them, I promise mama,” Blackberry said.  Kamchatka watched the two children vanish into the wood.

       “We make dam sure they no come back,” Honeyfur said.  Kamchatka smiled at the badger.

       “Your son cub is very good with a catapult,” she said.  Honeyfur smiled with pleasure.

      “He very good shot,” she said.  Kamchatka lay down on the forest floor and hugged Honeyfur tightly, the badger snuggling up to the grizzly bear.

       “You be big softy mama really Kamchatka,” Honeyfur said, “You bear who like big hugs under all that fur.”  Kamchatka kissed Honeyfur’s nose:

       “Don’t tell everyone,” she said.  Honeyfur buried her head in the grizzly’s warm thick fur.

       “Badgers go into hibernation at this time of year,” Honeyfur said, “but Honeyfur no hibernate, she in nice warm house now, mama Kamchatka there too.  She no hibernate either.”

       “No, I don’t hibernate now, but I used to,” Kamchatka replied.  Returning to the house, the bears returned to their lie ups.  Blackberry left his mum, padding to where Pakshalika lay in her lie up, wriggling and panting, very uncomfortable with the pain from the beginnings of labour.

 

“I came back as soon as I could,” Blackberry said.  Pakshalika, in pain, smiled weakly.

       “You wanted to see the birth of a tiger cub, now you will,” she panted.

      “Did you slow things down just for me?”  Blackberry asked, as he watched Pakshalika relax.

       “I did, but, but it’s no problem,” Pakshalika replied, “My cubs are fine.”  Breathing deeply, Pakshalika groaned softly as her contractions grew fiercer.

       “Ok, Ok, it’s happening, take my paw, here,” Pakshalika panted, thrusting her left forepaw into Blackberry’s.

        “Oooh, Oooh, ow, avouch!”  Pakshalika complained.  Blackberry felt the tigress’s toes curl tight as she bore her contractions.

       “Not time to push yet, you’ll hear when it is,” Pakshalika panted, “ow, Oooh, ooooowwwwww! Owouch!”  Blackberry felt Pakshalika’s pads become damp with sweat as she pressed her paw into his.

      Ahoawhwhaaaaaawwhwhwhwwwww! Aaaaaaaaaooooooowwwwwwwaaaawwwww!”  Pakshalika yelled.

       “Do you really want me here when the cubs are born?”  Blackberry asked.  Pakshalika, her eyes tightly shut and teeth clenched, couldn’t answer for a minute or so.

       “Ow, Oooh, yes, Blackberry, yes, I want you here.  You asked me about the births of my cubs, and I wanted to show you how a real birth happens.  Now, now you’re, you’re here, I won’t won’t turn you away, Oooh, it’s hurting, pains, more pains! Ouch, ow, ow, ow!  Youch, yououououoch!”  Blackberry saw the sweat on Pakshalika’s fur and felt it dampening her paws.

       “I never knew you’d invited Blackberry to be present at the birth of your next litter Pakshalika?”  Kamchatka said, padding into the lie up.

       “I can’t discuss it now Kamchatka, I’m having cubs!”  Pakshalika panted, “Just piss off and leave us alone!  It was a private arrangement, long, long before you adopted Blackberry.  Now, now just go!”  Kamchatka left quickly.

       “Are you okay?”  Blackberry asked the labouring tigress.  Pakshalika buried her face in Blackberry’s fur and wailed with pain.

      “I’m trying so hard not to push!”  She panted, “but, but, the cub or cubs might not let me get away with it for much longer!  I’m trying to slow labour down, but these cubs want to come!”

       “Let them come Pakshalika, let them come, just relax, don’t fight anything.”  Pakshalika relaxed, feeling her cubs surging forward.

       “Oooh, Oooh!”  She grunted.

      “Let it come,” Blackberry encouraged, “let it come Pakshalika.”  Pakshalika grunted and moaned as her cub moved into the world.  Moaning turned to screaming as her body was stretched to full capacity by her first cub.

       Ahawwwwwwwowwwwwioooooowwwww!”  Pakshalika screamed as her first cub’s head emerged, “It’s hurting me! It’s hurting so much!  Blackberry, get paws on with the cub!  Before, before I have to push again!”  Blackberry touched the emerging cub’s head and forepaws, then, as he supported it, Pakshalika heaved mightily, delivering the cub into his paws.  Screaming and pawing at the air, the tigress bore down five times, delivering the cub with agonising slowness, as it was a big cub.  Blackberry could see and hear Pakshalika’s effort and pain only too well.  Even though she was pushing with all her might, Blackberry could see how slow things were progressing and feel it too as he was covered in fluid and could see waves of more fluid covering the cub, as well as Pakshalika’s heaving sides and the cub emerging bit by bit with every straining effort.  It seemed to Blackberry that once he’d got paws on with the emerging cub, Pakshalika forgot about him, concentrating solely on pushing the cub into the world.

      “Nearly there Pakshalika!” Blackberry said excitedly after five minutes of cradling more and more of the emerging cub in his paws, “just the hind paws to go, push down hard now, push Pakshalika, push!”  Pakshalika roared and kicked, then bore down, growling and snarling with effort.

       “That’s it, that’s it!”  Blackberry said excitedly, “Do it again Pakshalika, push again!”  Pakshalika heaved and screamed throughout the delivery of her cub’s hind paws, for she was now exhausted, and all the birth fluid was gone.

      “Pull on the cub Blackberry,” Kamchatka said gently, “pull as she pushes.”  Blackberry waited for Pakshalika to push, then he pulled, and the cub’s hind feet slipped free.

       “That’s it, finished!”  Pakshalika panted, “I hope I’ve not got another cub in there!”  Blackberry stared at the now loudly protesting cub held in his paws; it was slippery and wriggled madly.

      “Give the cub to Pakshalika,” Kamchatka said.  Blackberry did, and the tigress cleaned her cub.

        “Now you know,” Pakshalika said.  Blackberry hugged her tightly.

      “Thank you, thank you!”  He said.  Pakshalika kissed Blackberry’s nose.

      “It was a pleasure having you here,” Pakshalika said, “Blackberry, it was great having you here, I just wish you’d not had to attend that community function, I felt lonely while you were away.”  Blackberry kissed her nose in return.

       “We should have made sure there was someone with you at all times,” he said.

       “I didn’t want it when you left, but now, thinking back, I wanted someone with me.”   Kamchatka frowned:

       “You keep your pregnancies quiet until the last minute,” she said, “so noone would know if you were in labour until you cried out.”

      “I wanted my labour to be just me, Blackberry and the cubs,”  Pakshalika replied, “when Blackberry had to leave, I was unhappy, so I tried to slow labour down, then I couldn’t relax enough to start it properly again.  When I finally did, the cub surged forward and made me scream and cry as it emerged.”  Blackberry kissed Pakshalika’s nose, then her paws.  The cub, having fed quickly, crawled over to Blackberry and snuggled up to him.  Blackberry examined the tiger cub, finding it to be a big female cub.  She had orange fur with black stripes, a black nose and black padded paws.  Blackberry kissed the cub’s nose and paw pads, the cub laughing and swatting at Blackberry’s nose and paws.

      “Hey big girl,” Blackberry said, kissing the tiger cub’s nose and paws some more.  The female tiger cub tried to embrace Blackberry, finally snuggling close, burying all four paws in his thick warm fur.

      “My paws are freezing!”  The cub protested.  Blackberry breathed on each of the cub’s paws, rubbing her pads and playing with her toes, the cub sighing with contentment.

      “Now that feels good!”  She mewed.  Pakshalika laughed merrily.

       “She is fat and looks like I did when I was born,” she said, “my mama had a slow labour with me, just like I did with this cub.  I think I’ll call her little Pakshalika.”  Blackberry kissed the cub’s nose.

      “I love your name,” he said, “What does it mean?”

       “It means on the right path,” Pakshalika said.  Blackberry examined little Pakshalika with eyes and paws, the cub wriggling with pleasure at his touch.

       “I can remember every minute of her birth,”  Pakshalika said, “every straining push, every time I curled my toes or pawed at the air, all that.”

      “Despite holding up the labour process for me, which was a crazy thing to do,” Blackberry said, “how was it for you?”  Pakshalika laughed merrily:

      “It was amazing,” she replied sincerely, “it was a bit of a struggle trying to relax after holding things up.  But once I did that, things got better with every effort.  Even when I was pushing hard at the end, screaming and pawing at the air, I could feel deep down things were working well.  Yes, pushing against little Pakshalika’s hind paws was difficult, as all the fluid had run away by then.  Your traction on her paws was very welcome.”  Blackberry giggled:

      “When I ask, “Pakshalika, want a hug?”  I’ll get two responses, from mama and cub!”  Pakshalika and her youngest cub both crowded in on Blackberry, making the black bear laugh.

     “I’ll hug mama Pakshalika, then the little one,” he said, hugging Pakshalika with gentle care.  Then, hugging her cub with even gentler paws.  Blackberry examined tigress and cub with eyes and paws.

        “I want to groom both of them, but I can’t ask it of them,” Blackberry thought.

       “Why not groom us if you want to?”  Pakshalika asked, Blackberry looked shocked!

      “How did you know I wanted to groom you?”  He asked.

       “Your paws are crying out to us,” Pakshalika said.  Blackberry looked into the tigress’s face.

       “You want me to groom you by washing?”  He asked.

      “No, by wild methods, teeth and tongue,” Pakshalika replied.  Blackberry felt his eyes filling with tears.

       “Are you sure?”  He asked.  Pakshalika picked up her cub and placed her gently in Blackberry’s lap.

       “Groom her first, “she said, “And do it with the love I felt while you held my paw while I was in labour.  I wouldn’t let you get paws on with my emerging cub if I didn’t trust you implicitly would I?”  Blackberry, crying, began to groom little Pakshalika, the tiger cub mewing, purring and wriggling with pleasure.

      “What will her sire think if I get too close to her?”  Blackberry asked.  Pakshalika smiled:

      “Whitepaw won’t mind, he doesn’t want contact with the cubs.  All three of my cubs are biologically his, but he’s never met any of them.  Don’t worry, love little Pakshalika with everything you have Blackberry.”  Blackberry knew this would be easy; he would love that cub with as much love as he could give.

      “She’s got a lovely face and gorgeous paws!”  Blackberry said, “Her paws are enormous, just like her mum’s.  Pakshalika looked down at her own paws, yes hers were huge.

      “No wonder I had troubles giving birth to little Pakshalika,” Pakshalika mewed.  Blackberry nodded:

       “I saw all the fluid flowing over her as you gave birth to her,” he said, “no wonder you screamed mama Pakshalika. All the fluid came out after the cub.  That must have hurt.”  Pakshalika nodded:

      “It was a sore birth yes,” she admitted.

        “Not good when all the fluid backs up behind the cub and you have to have the cub with little fluid,” Kamchatka said.

       “I think it was down to me holding things up,” Pakshalika said, “I shouldn’t have done that. Everything’s ok now, though I won’t be holding back next time, that’s for sure.”  Pakshalika rolled onto her side and showed Blackberry her paws.

      “And what do you want me to do with those big fat paws of yours?”  Blackberry asked.  Pakshalika waved her paws and wiggled her toes.

      “What would you like to do with them?”  She asked.

       “Play with them!”  Blackberry replied instantly.  Pakshalika giggled:

       “I want that very much, and so do they,” she said.

      “I’ll groom little cub here, then I’ll groom you,” Blackberry said.  Pakshalika laughed and rolled onto her back, pedalling the air with her paws.  Blackberry kissed little Pakshalika’s nose, belly and paw pads, the cub wriggling and laughing helplessly.

      “I love all this!”  She laughed.  Blackberry knew he’d never forget the birth of this special cub.  He felt he had a connection with her.  as Blackberry took his paws off little Pakshalika, the cub began clambering all over him, the bear rolling onto his back and letting her explore him with her paws.  Pakshalika cub kissed Blackberry’s nose and paw pads, laughing as he curled his toes when she kissed his pads.

      “I love you, I love you!”  The cub laughed, and then she became serious.

      “Why were you crying while grooming me?”  She asked.  Blackberry rolled onto his side and hugged her in his forepaws.

       “I wanted to groom you and your mama, but I couldn’t ask you, it’s not something you can ask.”

      “But we would like you to, mama said you could, she wants you to play with her paws even.  Now, now please, Blackberry, play with mama’s paws like you played with mine.”  Blackberry kissed her nose and paw pads.

        “I will Pakshalika cub, I will,” Blackberry promised.  Mama Pakshalika sat down beside Blackberry, and then lay down, resting her head and forepaws on his chest.

       “I like this bear a lot,” Pakshalika said, kissing Blackberry.  Blackberry felt his toes curling, and knew what it meant.

       “Blackberry’s getting emotional,” Rowena said, padding into the room.  Blackberry laughed merrily.

      “I can’t deny that,” He said, “when you get paws on with a cub emerging into the world; you can’t help loving that cub and the cub’s mama a little.”

       “Love me a little maybe,” Pakshalika said, “but please, love my cub a lot.”  Blackberry took Pakshalika’s right forepaw, the tigress curling her toes involuntarily.

      “Hug me Blackberry!”  Pakshalika begged.  Blackberry hugged Pakshalika tenderly, the tigress snuggling close.

      “I’ll never forget the touch of your paw on mine or of the touch of your gentle paws as you helped my cub into the world.  You were considerate, gentle and firm, and that’s wonderful.”

      “I’ll never forget giving you a helping paw,” Blackberry replied.  Little Pakshalika worked her way between her mum and Blackberry, sandwiching herself between her mum and the bear, trying to keep warm.

      “Time to hug the cub!”  Pakshalika laughed.  Blackberry and Pakshalika hugged the large cub.  Little Pakshalika snuggled up to the bear and tigress, mama Pakshalika curling her body around the large cub she’d struggled hard to deliver into the world three hours before.  Pakshalika examined her cub from nose to tail, looking at and touching her cub’s ears, nose, belly and paws.  The cub wriggling and snuggling up hard to her mother.

        “I’m warm now,” little Pakshalika mewed.  Blackberry cuddled up as best he could with the tigress and her cub.  Little Pakshalika brought her paws up and touched Blackberry’s face with her paws, Blackberry kissing her pads and toes, the cub laughing and kissing the bear’s nose.

      “Now let’s play with your paws!”  Pakshalika said, kissing her cub’s nose.  Pakshalika played with her cub’s paws, little Pakshalika giggling and snuggling hard up to her mama.

      “Your paws are big, fat and gorgeously soft,” Pakshalika said to her cub.  Little Pakshalika crawled all over her mum’s body, touching her from her nose to the toes of her hind paws, even tickling the toes of her right hind paw.  Giggling, mama Pakshalika curled her toes with pleasure.  The tigress mewed and pawed at the air as her cub clambered all over her.

       “I love the touch of my cub’s paws,” she mewed.  Raja and little Tinka padded in their fur wet from walking in the wood.  Seeing their mama with her newborn cub, they ambushed her and the cub, grabbing little Pakshalika and hugging her to them.

      “Who are these two?”  The cub asked.

      “Your older brother and sister,” Mama Pakshalika replied.  Little Tinka played with her younger sister, tickling little Pakshalika’s paws.

 

Blackberry turned his attention to the mother tigress, stroking mama Pakshalika’s head, body, legs and paws with gentle care.   Pakshalika, snuggling up, mewed and purred as the bear’s paws worked over her body and paws.

      “Pakshalika loves any contact,” Rowena said, “she even enjoys giving birth to her cubs.”  Pakshalika laughed:

       “I don’t know what I enjoy about the whole birth and raising cub’s thing, but I love it so much!”  Blackberry kissed Pakshalika’s nose, the tigress smiling with genuine pleasure.

       “How would it be if we played together in the soft play room?”  Blackberry asked.  Pakshalika got to her paws and turned to her daughter cub.

       “Are you hungry my dear?”  She asked.  Little Pakshalika, exhausted from having her paws tickled, mewed that she was fine.  Pakshalika picked her cub up in her mouth and padded from the room, Blackberry following.  Elsa watched Pakshalika pad from the room, her face registering disgust.

        “What’s wrong with you?”  Blackberry asked.  Elsa cast a disapproving eye at Pakshalika.

       “How the hell can she look after all those cubs?”  She snapped, “Tigresses don’t keep their cubs around when they’re fully grown!”  Blackberry pulled Elsa aside.

      “You can talk,” he snapped, “you and Pipin were playing at cubbing and had a cub earlier than you should, I know what happened, and I saw the video!  Leave Pakshalika alone!  She’s a good mama, regardless of anything else!”

       “She’s sex mad!”  Elsa snapped, “She takes having cubs too far!  She’s a tigress, not a lioness!  Before you know where we are, there’ll be a pride of tigers, and their mama will be this one promiscuous tigress!”

      “She’s had three cubs in a little over a year,” Blackberry replied, “that’s not excessive.”

      “I’ve seen her giving birth to her cubs, and Pakshalika actively enjoys the pain, the effort of having her cubs!  She likes pain Blackberry!  That’s horrible!”

       “Elsa,” Blackberry said, “What you see as liking pain is a wish to experience all sensations.  Your adopted mama went through Aslan’s birth without pain relief for the very same reasons as Pakshalika does, to feel everything.  Yes Pakshalika might be partial to having cubs, but Eohippus knows she looks after those cubs well!”  Elsa stamped her paws, screaming at Blackberry!

      “She’s a whore! A sex mad tigress!”

        “Pakshalika loves her cubs with all her heart,” Blackberry said softly.  Pakshalika, overhearing all this, stood shaking with anger.

      “How dare you judge me?”  She screamed.

      “How dare you judge me?”  Elsa mocked, “You’re sex mad Pakshalika, you’re weird, and you like the pain of cubbing! My cubbing was horrible! Sarafina was born with screaming pain, and I’ll never forget the pain I went through.  You though, you like the pain, and you will slow down labour to savour it, you horrid creature!”

       “Slowing down my labour was a mistake, but relaxing during labour is good for mama and cub.”

      “You also re-enact the cubbings you’ve experienced with graphic expression!”  Elsa screamed, “You are horrible Pakshalika!”

       “Leave me and my cubs alone!”  Pakshalika screamed, smacking Elsa across her face!”  Elsa, her eyes watering, attacked Pakshalika, the tigress defending her cubs with savage claws and teeth.  Elsa came out of that fight badly mauled, her ears torn, her nose bitten and the toes of one paw crushed.

       “You bitch, you horrid bitch!”  Elsa screamed, her nose bleeding profusely.

        “You dared to attack me, so I fought back!”  Pakshalika panted.  Elsa growled with anger.

      “I’ll get you and then get your cubs!”  She warned.

       “Elsa,” Pakshalika said, “have you forgotten who nursed your cub from day one?  Who fed her? Who loves her as much as you do?”  Elsa stopped dead.  She’d forgotten Pakshalika had saved Sarafina’s life.

      “It was because I love having cubs that I had milk to save your accidental cub!”  Pakshalika screamed.  Elsa turned and fled as fast as her damaged paw would allow her.

      “Run away, run away!”  Blackberry shouted.  Elsa tore back into the room, attacking Blackberry with all her might!  Blackberry was soon steamrollered by two hundred pounds of lioness!

      “Help!  Please!”  He screamed.  Elsa tried to kill Blackberry, the bear choking from a death hold!

      “I want you dead!”  Elsa screamed.  Elsa suddenly had a problem of her own, in the form of Patch who tore her off Blackberry.

       “I want him dead, I want him dead!”  Elsa screamed.  Patch threw her on the floor and pinned her down under his forepaws.

       “You tend to Blackberry Pakshalika!”  Patch panted.

     “Oi! Paws off!”  Kamchatka roared, almost throwing Pakshalika off Blackberry.  Blackberry, his nose lacerated and breath short, tried to form words:

      “Thank you Patch, thank you!”  Blackberry gasped.  Kamchatka flexed her paws, ready to tear Elsa to bits.

       “Let me go, let me go!”  Elsa pleaded.

      “No, you horrid bitch!”  Someone yelled.  Sarafina, now nearly a year old, crashed in, wanting a piece of the action.

      “It’s really bad when your own cub wants you hurt,” Kamchatka said to the half winded lioness.  Sarafina smacked her mother across the face.

      “Pakshalika saved my life and you ridicule her for her lifestyle?  You horrid creature!”  Sarafina yelled.  Elsa looked with disgust at her cub as she padded up to Pakshalika, kissed her nose and paws, then went to Blackberry who was recovering, and kissed his nose and the pads of his hind paws.  Blackberry motioned to Sarafina, who lay down on her back and extended her paws skywards.  Blackberry kissed her fore and hind paws, the young female lion cub giggling and wriggling with pleasure.

       “I love that!”  Sarafina laughed.

      “Release Elsa Patch,” Kamchatka said.  Patch let the lioness go, Elsa limping away.  Kamchatka then turned her gaze on Blackberry.

       “I want to talk to you,” she snarled, “Blackberry; you do not taunt those who are vanquished in a fight!  It is wrong to jeer at humans when they are beaten, and wrong to jeer at Elsa when she is beaten too.  Elsa came back to kill you, and she would have done so if Patch hadn’t waded in and saved you.”

 

Meanwhile, Elsa boasted to Pipin about how she’d nearly killed Blackberry.

      “I wanted him dead!”  She laughed.

      “You overreacted to a situation,” a voice said, “now you will be punished!”  Elsa stared at a huge white lioness, to begin with she thought it was Petra, but then she recognised Rowena.

      “Blackberry jeered at me, no one does that and gets away with it!”  Elsa screamed.

      “Blackberry didn’t deserve to nearly lose his life for his words!”  Lioness Rowena screamed, clamping her mouth over Elsa’s, suffocating the lioness nearly lifeless.  Pipin tried to run from the room to get help, but found he could not leave.  His eyes drawn to his mate writhing on the floor assailed by a force only she could see, Pipin, feeling sick, stared at his mate, Elsa now lying gasping on the floor after the attack from a spiritual force.

 

Meanwhile, Pakshalika marshalled her three cubs and padded from the room, very distressed about the attack on Blackberry.  Sobbing, Pakshalika hid in her lie up, hugging her cubs to her, screwing bunched paws into her eyes trying not to choke on her tears.

       “Don’t cry mum,” Tinka said, kissing her mum’s nose, “it will be all right in the end, I promise you it will be all right.”  Pakshalika sniffed and wiped her nose on the back of her paw.

      “Blackberry was nearly killed!”  She sniffed, “Elsa nearly killed him!  He didn’t deserve that!”  Tinka dried her mum’s eyes, making Pakshalika tearful all over again.

       “I’m ok now,” Pakshalika sniffed, taking a deep breath and sighing heavily.

      “I hope Blackberry’s okay,” Raja junior a said.

 

Blackberry padded through the house, shocked by what had happened that day.

      “I must keep my mouth shut; I must keep my mouth shut!”  He thought.  Blackberry found his paws taking him to Pakshalika’s lie up, wandering in, he saw the tigress tearful and wringing her paws.

      “Hey, shh, peace,” Blackberry said gently, hugging Pakshalika to him.  The tigress clinging to him with both forepaws and burying her head in his chest.

      “Blackberry!”  Pakshalika sobbed, “I was afraid Elsa would kill you!”  She sobbed.

      “I shouldn’t have jeered at Elsa when she was beaten by you Pakshalika,” Blackberry said, “I know this now.  I am sorry for that.  But I hate her for what she said.  You might enjoy the whole birth process, but you don’t abandon your cubs once they are born.”

      “I wish I was a lioness,” Pakshalika mewed, “then, and then I’d not be suspected of being strange.  Lionesses give birth to cubs at the rate I do, and they never get questioned.  I get questioned because a tigress should not know how to look after her cubs at first, but I know how to, I remember how I was looked after!  The pain of my first cubbing was horrendously painful, but I loved my cubs, just as my mum loved me after my birth.  I grew to love the process of birth after viewing the first video of Raja’s birth.  I strained and pushed, pedalled the air with my paws, screamed, sweated and yelled, but loved every minute.  The feeling of a cub emerging is fantastic. Every push, every urge to push, everything.  I can’t help it, strange it might be, but I love giving birth to cubs, and I love looking after cubs too.  I won’t let that go.  I even loved giving birth to little Pakshalika, even though it felt like I was giving birth to sandpaper.  It hurt! But I persevered, and now I have a beautiful female cub.  You know what Blackberry?  I’d do it all again right now.”  Blackberry kissed her nose.

      “I know you would,” he said, “mama Pakshalika, please be proud of your achievements, for your cubs are well adjusted, credits to yourself and the community and are well fed and lovely to be around.”

 

 

Kamchatka watched Blackberry hugging and comforting Pakshalika.  She could see her adopted cub loved Pakshalika and her newborn cub with all his heart.

 

Meanwhile, Elsa, furious and frightened, stormed around her lie up, angry at a dead lioness’s intervention.

      “How dare Rowena get involved!”  She screamed.

      “You boasted of nearly killing and wanting to kill Blackberry,”” Pipin replied, “Do you expect the spirits to condone what you said?”  Pipin asked, “You attacked a cub for speaking his mind, for telling you to run away from a situation you caused!  You attacked Pakshalika; you told her she was a bad mother, that she was a whore!  Pakshalika is nothing of the sort Elsa!  She’s genuine, she loves towards her cubs, and she’s lovely!”  Elsa stamped her paws in anger.

       “I hate her, I hate her!”  She roared.

      “If Pakshalika hadn’t been in the position she was and is, she’d never have been able to save our cub!”  Pipin sobbed.

     “I wish we’d never mated, I wish I’d kept my legs crossed, tied my paws together, stopped Sarafina’s birth somehow!”  Elsa screamed.

      “Well you couldn’t do it, and we should not speak like this now she’s alive and well, Elsa, please! Stop this!”  Pipin sobbed.  Sarafina watched her parents quarrelling, devastated at Elsa’s words.

      “She wants me dead!”  Sarafina thought miserably, turning, she ran from the room, crying bitterly.  Running to Pakshalika, Sarafina threw herself on the floor and clung to the tigress, sobbing into her fur.

      “Elsa wants me dead mama!”  Sarafina choked.  Pakshalika leapt to her paws, angry and upset.  Roaring with rage, she punched a button on a panel in the wall and viewed the last hour’s footage from Elsa’s lie up.  Sarafina watched Pakshalika getting angrier with every minute, the tigress dancing with rage at the end.

      “She’s dead!”  Pakshalika roared, streaking from the room.  Blackberry marshalled Sarafina and Pakshalika’s cubs and tried to calm them.  Tinka took it upon herself to calm Sarafina, hugging and stroking her with tender paws.

        “It will be okay,” Tinka mewed, kissing Sarafina’s nose and paws.

 

Meanwhile, Leo and Petra, having seen everything from their lie up, lay together, Petra crying into Leo’s fur.

       “Elsa’s dead meat now, she’s dead!”  Petra sobbed, “Pakshalika won’t let her go, not now.  Wanting her own cub dead is unforgivable, and, and now she’s confessed to this, and tried to kill Blackberry too, she’ll not live long!”  Leo, upset himself, knew he could not fight Pakshalika.  The tigress was angry, and rightly so.

     “Elsa,” he said softly, as if preying, “hand Sarafina over to Pakshalika, if you value your life, and hand your cub to Pakshalika!”  Leo ran from the room, trying to get to his daughter cub before the tigress did!

 

Leo and Pakshalika ran neck and neck into Elsa’s lie up, the lioness angrily pacing the floor.

       “You bitch, you horrid creature Elsa!”  Pakshalika roared.  Elsa saw the tigress’s claws were extended, she meant business.

       “We all saw what you did and said!”  Pakshalika growled, “Now you will die for your actions and words!  Your cub does not deserve to die!  But you will die for your sentiments, for Sarafina is not safe with you!  I will go through anything eohippus wants me to, including labour, so I can give Sarafina a home!  When she drank my milk, I promised her what I promise my cubs, that I will always look after them!  I thought you were a better mama than you are, maybe you are too young to be a mama, whatever it is, and your cub need not suffer for your stupidity!”

      “Elsa will give Sarafina to you completely!”  Leo pleaded, “She will hand Sarafina to you, all cusody, all claim, everything!  She will do this from this moment!”  Pipin looked shocked and angry.

        “Elsa?”  He asked, “Did you arrange this?”

       “No,” Elsa snapped, “of course I didn’t, but if it means saving my life, I’ll give Pakshalika our cub!”

       “But she’s my cub too!”  Pipin sobbed, “You can’t say this Elsa, and you can’t just give her away, leave her alone.  It’s not fair!  Don’t I get a say in any of this?”

       “Pipin, come with me,” Pakshalika said gently, leading the now weeping lion out of the room.

        “My only concern is for Sarafina,” Pakshalika said, “dear Pipin; I would never stop you from having contact with your cub, never in a million years.”

        “But, but the sire of your cubs never has contact with them, never,” Pipin sobbed.

     “That is because he doesn’t want contact, not because I don’t allow it,” Pakshalika replied.

       “So, so I could?  I could come and play with my cub?”  Pipin asked hoarsely.

        “Of course,” Pakshalika replied, “I was going to kill Elsa to save Sarafina.  Now if Elsa gives her cub to me, it is her, not you who have relinquished all claim on Sarafina’s well being.  I will still respect your word, urt not Elsa’s in matters of Sarafina’s upbringing.”

      “But you are a tigress, not a lioness!”  Pipin protested.

       “Close you’re eyes Pipin,” Pakshalika replied, “and let me hug you.”  Pipin did as Pakshalika asked, and she hugged him tenderly:

       “Now, now tell me if you have doubts about my sincerity.”

      “, I have no doubts,” Pipin sniffed:

      “I wish I was a lioness,” Pakshalika replied, “my instincts are all leonine and not of my own kind.”  Pipin looked into Pakshalika’s eyes, the tigress’s expression comforting him.

       “You really do care don’t you,” Pipin said.  Pakshalika kissed his nose:

      “My words regarding eohippus putting me through horrendous labour to give birth to Sarafina if that is what she wishes are and were sincere and heart felt,” Pakshalika said.  Pipin took her paw.

       “May your labour be joyous and as painless as possible,” he replied.  Pakshalika kissed his nose:

       “Labour is never painless, but thank you,” she said.  Pipin padded away, leaving Pakshalika to return to Elsa’s lie up.  Pakshalika turned, a paw resting on her own stopping her.

      “Pakshalika?”  Petra asked her voice cracking.  Pakshalika looked into the white lioness’s tear filled eyes.

       Petra, my dear,” Pakshalika said, kissing her nose.  Petra choked back tears, trying not to cry.

      “I understand why you’d want to kill Elsa,” she said, “but please, spare her life, she’s my cub!”

       “My dear Petra,” Pakshalika replied, sitting down, “your cub has said and done horrible things.  I wish to save her own cub, to save Sarafina from her mad mother.”

      “Please, let her live!”  Petra begged.

       “If Elsa refuses to give custody of her cub over to me, I will have to kill her for Sarafina’s sake,” Pakshalika replied, “I will have no choice.”

       “I understand,” Petra replied gruffly.  Pakshalika padded back to Elsa’s lie up, Elsa scowling at her.

      “Will you give custody of your cub to Pakshalika Elsa?”  Petra asked.  Elsa looked into Pakshalika’s face.

       “I have no choice if I am to keep breath in my body after this insane creature has threatened my life if I refuse,” she replied.

       “Will you give custody of your cub to Pakshalika?”  Petra asked.  Elsa spat at Pakshalika’s feet, turning away and padding out of the lie up.  Turning back briefly, Elsa fixed Pakshalika with a look of total loathing.

      “Have her, have every bit of her, I don’t care!”  Elsa screamed.  Pakshalika padded away to her lie up, settling down beside all four of her cubs.  Pakshalika fed little Pakshalika, then, motioning to Sarafina, invited her to drink her fill.  Sarafina, now a year old and well weaned, crawled to Pakshalika and lay down, nursing from the tigress’s milk.  She only took a little, concerned about draining Pakshalika’s milk supply, the significance of the tigress’s gesture making Sarafina tearful.

      “Thank you mama,” Sarafina mewed.  Pakshalika groomed Sarafina from nose to paws, licking with gentle tongue, rasping with teeth and caressing with gentle paws, Sarafina snuggling up with as much commitment as she felt from the tigress.

       “I love you mama,” Sarafina yawned, tucking her forepaws beneath her chin in preparation for sleep.

        “Sleep well little one,” Pakshalika mewed, kissing Sarafina’s nose.  The little lioness closed her eyes and breathed deeply, sleep coming quickly.  Blackberry watched all, amazed how the tigress enfolded a lioness into her family with ease.

      “Now I will go back to my mama,” Blackberry thought, getting to his paws.  Blackberry felt the rugs beneath his pads, the sensation sharp and clear to him.  Dancing on his toes, he left the lie up.  returning to Kamchatka’s lie up, Blackberry found her playing with the toes of her left hind paw.  Sitting down, Blackberry watched his mama.

       “You look so cute,”  he said.  Kamchatka laughed:

       “I love playing with my toes,”  she said.  Blackberry crawled to his mama and played with the toes of her right hind foot, extending this to stroking her pads, making Kamchatka laugh merrily.

      “your paws are so great to play with mama!”  Blackberry said.  Kamchatka pressed her hind paw firmly into her son cub’s paws, slightly curling her toes, making her pads bunch up, to Blackberry’s huge delight, which he expressed by giggling and bouncing about on his backside, still holding her foot in his forepaws, Kamchatka laughing helplessly while bouncing about on her backside.

      “You great big cub mama!”  Blackberry laughed.  Kamchatka kissed his nose, the toes of Blackberry’s hind paws curling with emotion.

      “ah, how cute!”  kamcahtka laughed, “my cub’s toes curl when he gets emotional!”  she leant down and lifted Blackberry’s right hind paw, kissing  his curled toes.

      “I love you mama,”  Blackberry said.  Kamchatka, feeling emotional after the goings on that day, shook her right hind foot free of her cub’s paws, then drew him into a huge bearhug.

       “mama, mama!”  Blackberry laughed, snuggling up.  Patch and Kuruk watched from the doorway, both grinning from ear to ear.

       “soppy mama she be,”  Kuruk remarked.

      “She’s feeling unsure after the goings on with Elsa,”  Patch replied, “I’d treat her gently Kuruk.”  Kuruk smiled and nodded:

      “Kuruk treat mama with gentle paws,”  he said.  Kamchatka laid Blackberry on his back in her lap and kissed his nose and paws.

       “You soppy thing mama!”  Blackberry laughed.  Kamchatka explored Blackberry with gentle paws, loving him completely.

 

Patch and Ekaterina played with little Rowena in their den, each stroking and massaging their cub’s paws with gentle care.

 

Ahanu, sleeping beside Haimati, was suddenly woken by her urgently pawing at his shoulder.  Ahanu and Haimati, now four years old, had grown up together, the white tigress and her cross bred friend growing closer until friendship turned into love, and two friends became more than friends.  Ahanu had noticed Haimati getting larger and larger over the last few weeks, and had thought it was something to do with putting on weight for the coming winter.  Haimati, noticing the changes in her, hadn’t wanted to alarm Ahanu when she felt movement inside her, indeed, she denied those sensations for a long time, considering them dreams.  Now she was not dreaming, and things were undeniably happening to her.  Pain after wrenching pain assailed the young tigress as she lay in the den.

       “What, what?”  Ahanu asked, turning his head to his mate.  Haimati, her face contorted with pain, swore and gasped:

       “Get someone, Ahanu!  Get someone!  I’m about to, about to burst! I’m sure of it!  Someone stop this!  Ow, ow, ow!”  Haimati wriggled and kicked a bit, scaring Ahanu even more than he already was.  Bolting out of his den into the wood, Ahanu ran down the track, tripping over a root and collapsing onto the cold ground, winding himself.  Gasping, he lay still to recover, Haimati’s roar of pain galvanising him into painful action.  Groaning, he staggered on, falling into the house and blindly making his way to the nearest lie up he could find.  Gripping the tiles with the toes of all four paws in case he fell again, Ahanu crashed into Bianca who was that moment coming out of Pakshalika’s lie up.

      “Mama Bianca!”  Ahanu gasped, giving Bianca the respectful title, as he thought he remembered something about her having cubs, “Please come, Haimati’s in pain, I know you’re not medical staff, but please, come and see what you can do!  I’m afraid she’s dying!”

       “What’s her pain like?”  Bianca asked, suspicious she knew the root of the white tigress’s pain.

       “She didn’t say, she’s wriggling and roaring, and is sweating too!”  Ahanu gushed.

      “I’ll bet she’s in labour!”  Bianca laughed, trotting out of the door, her mood hardly affecting Ahanu, who was still scared beyond anything he’d ever known.

 

When Bianca reached Haimati’s lie up in the wood, she found the tigress straining and screaming.

      I must push!”  Haimati roared, “I have no choice, I have no choice!”  She obviously didn’t realise either Bianca or Ahanu were watching.  Gripping the floor with her forepaws and bracing her hind against the side wall, Haimati strained hard, her toes curled into the mud floor and walls of the den, her claws ripping chunks out of the wall and floor as she strained and kicked.

       “Come on Haimati, big push, big push!”  Bianca said gently.  Haimati, sweating and crying, opened her mouth and roared as she bore down with all her strength.

        “What’s happening to me?”  She screamed.

       “You’re in labour,” Bianca said gently, “its okay, just try relaxing a bit.”  Haimati panted, feeling the cub surge forward.  Kicking, she bore down into her tail with renewed urgency, just as Bianca hoped she would.

       “It’s coming, it’s coming!”  Haimati roared, “ow Bianca, ow, ow, wooowwoowouch!”  Haimati wriggled, and then snarling, bore down for the last time.

       “If this doesn’t get it out, nothing will!”  She screamed, closing her eyes tightly and straining with all her might, “oooooooooooooow! Ouououououoch!”  Haimati growled.  Exhausted, Haimati panted and whimpered as she felt the cub’s body coming into the world.

       “I can’t do it any more, please; I can’t do it any more!”  She begged.  Bianca padded round behind Haimati and tended to the exhausted tigress’s  newborn cub.  The cub was enormous, and Haimati had nothing else to give, she was burnt out.

 

Meanwhile, in patch’s den, patch lay exhausted from giving noisy birth to an imaginary cub.  Rowena had put him up to it as a joke, and he’d complied, imagining how it would be to have a cub.  After he’d given birth to his cub, Ekaterina and Rowena had fallen deeply asleep, but patch was still restless.  Unable to sleep he’d paced the den, and then felt another cub on its way.  Closing his eyes, he’d sat down and then lay down as contractions grew in him.  Panting and moaning, he’d endured his pain, curling his toes and screaming when things got too bad.  Finally giving up all caution and straining hard.  Straining and pushing, sweating and kicking brought a cub into the world.  Patch could not see the cub, but he could feel it emerging hind feet first.  With one final screaming efort, he delivered the cub’s head.  He knew it was a breach birth, and as in a dream, cleaned up the cub he could not see.

 

      “Is my cub okay?”  Haimati asked, sobbing with fear and pain.

       “Your cub is fine,” Bianca said, “a lovely female cub too.”  Haimati looked round at the cub, and it looked a strange sight, all big paws and long hair, but as white as Haimati herself.

      “What name should we give the new cub?”  Bianca asked.

       “I don’t know,” Ahanu replied, shocked at the sight of the new life in front of him.

        “I can’t think, I’m in too much shock!”  Haimati mewed.

     “Let’s let your cub drink,” Bianca said, letting the cub drink from her mother’s milk.

      “How would it be if we name your cub Sita?”  Pakshalika asked, padding into the lie up.  Haimati stared at the orange Bengal tigress.

       “Where did you spring from?”  She asked.

       “I followed Bianca and Ahanu back here,” Pakshalika replied, “My cubs are well hidden.  They and I celebrate the birth of your cub with all our hearts.”  Haimati looked into Pakshalika’s face.  She’d hardly known the tigress as a cub, and knew her only by reputation as a prolific producer of cubs, but what she saw in Pakshalika’s eyes shamed Haimati.  She’d written Pakshalika off as a sex mad tigress, as one who would have a cub, then abandon it.  Indeed, she’d met little Tinka, and Little Raja, but had never once thought of them as Pakshalika’s cubs, for they, in her eyes, had been too well rounded, too well adjusted to be cubs of a tigress that she thought of as a bit of a cub factory.  Now though, looking into the eyes of a tigress she thought she knew, Haimati felt ashamed.

      “You look uncomfortable,” Pakshalika said gently, “are you still in pain from your cub’s birth Haimati?”  Haimati shook her head, her shame deepening.  Words wanted to burst from her, just as she’d felt the cub wanting to burst from her.  Haimati buried her face in her paws, thinking of all the times she’d joked with others about Pakshalika’s lifestyle.  Indeed, Haimati admitted to herself, earlier that month, she’d even joked too little Raja about Pakshalika in the rudest terms once, but he’d never let on who his mother was, even then.

       “Why are you crying?”  Pakshalika asked Haimati, settling down beside her.  Haimati turned eyes full of shame on Pakshalika.

       “Pakshalika, my cub and I are not worthy of your presence, nor that of your cubs.  I humble myself before you, as I misjudged you.  I joked with little Raja about your lifestyle, about your cubs, about your love of birth and all that surrounds it.  I mocked you in conversation, even joking about you to your own cubs, which never let on who their mother was.  I thought you promiscuous, loose, and just interested in the process of birthing cubs and then chucking them out as soon as possible so you could have more.  I now see you are not like this at all.  Looking into your eyes, seeing the concern you have for me and my cub, I want to curl up and weep for a week when I think of how I thought of you.  My emotional pain is greater than my physical labour pain.  I apologise unreservedly.”  Pakshalika took Haimati’s paw and looked into her face.

       “Your words have shown great courage and humility,” the tigress said.  Haimati looked into Pakshalika’s face.

      “Why was I in so much pain at the end?”  She asked, “It was horrendous! I was almost unable to deliver the cub!”

      “Your cub now has a name Haimati,” Bianca reminded her.

       “I know her name’s Sita,” Haimati replied.  She looked at her cub:

      “She’s all long hair and big paws!”  Haimati mewed, “she looks dreadful!  She’s got stripes on long grey fur!  Her paws are enormous, big and fat!  She looks like she’d be clumsy on her paws.”

       “Please don’t push your cub away,” Pakshalika mewed, “she can’t help how she looks.”  Haimati closed her eyes, remembering her birth pains.

      “Sita came out backwards didn’t she,” Haimati said.  Bianca nodded:

      “I’m afraid she did,” she replied, “that’s why I had to tend to her quickly after her birth.”  Haimati’s eyes blazed with anger, and she raised her paw to strike the cub, but paused, lowering her paw and sighing heavily.

       “I’m turning into my mother!”  She thought miserably, “rain rejected me because I looked different to how she wanted her cub to look, and now I’m doing the same thing to my cub!”  Pakshalika looked at Haimati, the white tigress’s eyes meeting hers.

       “You know don’t you,” she mewed.  Pakshalika nodded:

      “I know,” she replied, “but you stopped yourself.  You didn’t strike the cub.”

      “I nearly did, I was so close!”  Haimati sobbed, “I shouldn’t have even thought of it, let alone raised my paw to strike my cub, oh shit, shit! What’s happening to me!!  I’m being horrible to a cub that has done nothing.  She had no choice which way she arrived or any choice in the colour of her coat.  I know I should love my cub, but how can I love her with conviction if I have doubts?”

     “But are they really doubts mama?”  Sita asked.  Haimati wailing in misery.

      “My cub’s first words to me, and she’s begging for her life? What a bloody mess I’m making of being a mother!  Eohippus, help me, please!”  Haimati screamed.

      “I’m cold mama,” Sita mewed.  Haimati stared at her cub.

       “What do I do?”  She asked.

      “Hug your cub Haimati,” Pakshalika said.  Haimati tried hugging her cub with conviction, fearing her paws would reject her hold on her cub.

       “You don’t like me do you mama,” Sita mewed.  Haimati choked on her tears.

        “I don’t know, I don’t know!”  She whimpered.

 

An hour later, just as Sita was feeding from Haimati’s milk with darkness well in and Bianca on guard outside the lie up, the tiger’s peace was disturbed by a strange sound coming closer to them.  It was a horrendous wailing cry, constant, rising and falling, full of pain.  Suddenly Bianca was knocked flat by a lion!  Bianca recognised Samson, and breathlessly asked him to get off her, as he was squashing her.

      “Sammy, Sammy!”  She pleaded, “Get off me!”  Samson, unable to move, just lay on top of Bianca, the tigress having to work her way out from beneath the inert lion, who was still wailing in the same manner.  Once she had extricated herself as gently as she could, Bianca asked Samson what was wrong.  Samson, tears rolling down his nose, covered his face with his paws and whimpered one word, over and over:

      “Fleur, fleur!”

       “What’s wrong with fleur?”  Bianca asked.  Samson choked on his tears.

      “She won’t wake up, she won’t wake up!”  He sobbed.  Bianca looked into the den, seeing Sita’s coat reflecting back the moonlight lancing into the cave, Haimati’s coat duller than her cub’s.

       “I must go,” she mewed, “will you be okay here?”  Sita, sleepy, yawned that she would be fine as long as her mama stayed with her.

      “Whose cub is that?”  Samson asked, looking over Bianca’s shoulder at Sita lying on the floor.

        “My name’s Sita,” the cub yawned, “I’m my mother’s cub, though I don’t know her name yet.”  Samson smiled sadly.

 

Meanwhile, back in the house, others had seen Samson’s exit from the house, and gone to investigate Fleur’s body.  Alaska, looking over the cross bred cat’s body, could find nothing amiss, no hair out of place, no evidence of her having been sick, nothing.

       “She was complaining of feeling tired,” Alaska said, “and it had been going on for months.”

       “I can’t see anything amiss,” Nanuq grunted.  Alaska flexed her paws.

       “I’m going to have to do something horrendous to Fleur’s body to find out what the problem is,” Alaska said.  Nanuq covered his eyes with a paw.

       “Not like older Theo’s Aslan?”  He asked.  Alaska nodded:

       “We need to know what took her life,” Alaska said, “Just in case it’s something in this house.”

       “You’re too analytical Alaska!”  Petra snapped, “We’ve lost a dear community member and all you can do is talk of horrid procedures!  You disgust me!”  Petra looked down at Fleur’s motionless body, her tears wetting the cross bred cat’s muddy brown fur.

      “I remember when she was born, all that fight to deliver her.  Fleur was so kind to everyone, but she was hated by some from the start,” Petra sobbed, “I hope wherever she is now she’s at peace.” Clarence padded up and stood beside Petra, staring down in disbelief.

      “I was talking to her only last night,” he choked, “she said she felt tired, that everything ached, but, but I didn’t expect this!  I never said goodbye properly!  Now, now mum’s gone from here!”  Petra embraced Fleur’s body tightly, hugging the large cat to her as hard as she could, weeping inconsolably.  Alaska, unable to get close to Fleur’s body, and torn between her caring nature and curious mind, stood back, unable to reconcile the two.

       “I’m no fleur, I’m no fleur!”  She thought, “But fleur told me I was her successor!  I’m not like her; I can’t comfort cubs just by hugging them!  For that, we need someone who is like fleur, nothing much to look at, but as gentle and kind as she was.”  Theo watched from the doorway, unsure of what would happen next.  He knew fleur had died, for he’d seen it in a dream while sleeping only ten minutes before.  He’d also seen something else, a white tigress giving noisy birth to a cub, and then a shaft of light lighting up a den with a grey bear writhing in agony on the floor, then the grey bear had a cub.  Finally Theo heard an explosion which had woken him snarling from sleep.  Now he stood watching his mother mourning the death of her friend, and where the hell was Samson?

 

Samson and Bianca padded back to the house, the lion inconsolably weeping into Bianca’s coat.

 

Back in Haimati’s lie up, Sita was feeling sleepy.  Her paws felt heavy and useless, and all she wanted to do was sleep.  Settling down, she fell into a deep sleep.  Haimati, dozing beside her cub, felt Sita’s body become very hot, the cub whimpering, panting and snarling in her sleep.  Haimati stared at her cub in the moonlight shining into the cave as Sita’s body became bathed in sweat and she began to tremble with fever.  Haimati touched her cub’s body with her nose, Sita was burning up!

 

Back in the house Theo watched incredulously as Petra, hugging fleur, was suddenly thrown backwards, having to release Fleur’s body.  Petra collapsing onto the floor two feet away from the lifeless body of her friend.  Theo noticed Samson pad past him into the lie up. Then, as they watched, a strange light bathed Fleur’s body, and there was a horrendous explosion of light, colour and sound, momentarily blinding everyone except Theo, who realised what his dream had been telling him all along.

       “Where did Fleur’s body go?”  Alaska asked.

        “Eohippus probably took it away to stop you doing disgusting things to it,” Petra snarled, her grief making her angry.

       “Eohippus takes my mate from me, and then takes her body so I can’t bury her?”  Samson asked, “Why? What does this mean?”  Angry, he turned on Theo and slapped him.

      “You tell me what the hell this means!”  Samson roared, “Theo, come down off your lofty perch for one second and tell me what this means!”  Theo looked at his sire.

       “I’m not sure,” he replied, “I’m not sure Samson, though I think I need to find a newborn cub.”  Samson smacked Theo across his face.

      “What the hell do you mean?”  He asked, “You speak shit Theo!”

       “If I knew, I’d be Eohippus herself,” Theo mewed, “now let me find that cub.”  Theo padded from the room and out into the wood.  Ahanu and Haimati had hidden their den well; even so, Theo found it.  He found Ahanu and Haimati comforting a very distressed newborn cub.”

      “What the hell’s going on?”  Ahanu demanded of Theo.

      “I can’t comfort her, nothing will comfort her!”  Haimati mewed, “she’s burning up Theo!”  Theo laid his paws on Sita, the cub becoming still and her breath easing.

      “You calmed her,” Haimati mewed.  Theo nodded; looking into the cub’s closed eyes.

       “Sleep long and deeply my dear,” he whispered to Sita.  .

       “Not more death?”  Samson pleaded, looking over Theo’s shoulder at Sita, who was now calm.

       “No,” Theo mewed, looking at his sire.

        “What the hell happened back there?”  Samson asked, touching Theo’s cheek with his paw where he’d slapped him.

       “Eohippus thought that to do a post mortem on fleur would violate her memory.  It would do to fleur what many wanted to do to her.  I know what killed fleur, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.  She had an enlarged heart due to her breeding, and that took her life.”

      “But Sita’s just the same, if some cross bred cats get that kind of ailment, and then Sita’s got no hope!”  Samson mewed.

       “Some have enlarged hearts, some don’t,” Theo replied, “it is not certain Sita will suffer the same way fleur did. but we must not talk like this now.  Not with Sita asleep here.”

       “Why was she so distraught?”  Haimati asked.

       “I think maybe Fleur’s mantel has been passed on,” was all Theo said.

       “That would explain Alaska’s immediate need to desecrate Fleur’s body,” Samson replied, “she’s an inquisitive bear, but her compassion for others, while fleur was around kept her from being what she truly was.  Alaska’s not unfeeling, she’s just a bear, and bears need to know things.  We cats, if things are how they are, we accept it, for the most part.  The big cats haven’t had a cat to call mama, the bears have Kamchatka, but big cats have noone now.  Has Eohippus ordained Sita in that role?”  Theo took Samson’s paw and led him to the largest clearing in the wood.

      “Lie down here,” Theo mewed.  Samson did, and Theo lay down beside him.

       “What now?”  Samson asked.

      “Just let your mind take you where it will.”  Theo mewed.

     “But I’ll weep and roar and rend my mane,” Samson replied, “that’s what will happen.”

      “Weeping and roaring will happen, but tearing your own mane out probably won’t,” Theo replied, “settle down Samson, and see where your mind takes you.”  Samson rested his head on his paws and closed his eyes.  Samson wept for Fleur, his tears splashing onto the ground.

       “I want to hug my fleur, but I can’t, Eohippus took her body to stop others damaging it, and now, now I can’t even say goodbye!”  Samson opened his eyes and felt a paw touching his.  Looking to his left he saw fleur lying on the ground, blinking, he looked again, but she was still there, in the place where Theo had settled and seemingly fallen asleep.

      “Fleur?  My dear Fleur?”  Samson asked.  The apparition squeezed his paw in hers and leant over to kiss his nose.  Samson embraced her tightly, kissing her ears, nose and forepaws.

       “I cannot stay long,” fleur mewed, “I came back to assure you it was my time to make my journey.  Eohippus took my body and destroyed it due to lawbreaking a golden rule, Alaska should have had compassion before investigation.  She will be denied her wish to investigate what ended the life of my earthly body.  Eohippus will not allow her to get her paws on my body.”

      “But what about all that stuff about Alaska being your successor?”  Samson mewed, “she’s surely still that isn’t she?”

        “In medical matters yes,” fleur mewed, “but in other matters, no, not now.”

         “Who is your successor in those matters?”  Samson asked.

      “You saw her Sammy,” fleur mewed.

      “Little Sita?”  Samson asked, “Surely not, only a few hours old and you give her that job?”

        “I gave noone any job Samson; it is not mine to give after all.”

       “You mean Eohippus means Sita to be hated, to be loathed for her looks, to be mocked and ridiculed! To make a tiny cub into a laughing stock? To saddle her with that horrendous mantel?”

        “Samson, it is not Sita who should change, rather those around her.  She will grow up with the fortitude to cope with her palliate.  Theo will make sure she has that.  Sita will have what I did not, confidence in herself.  I was taught to love my paws and fur, though in truth I never did.  Sita will never suffer that pain, for I will not let her.  She might be mocked, jeered at and slapped for having unusual fur, for that is how we react to unusual colouration as a visual animal.  But through her insight into how to use her paws to give comfort and peace to others, she will grow strong and capable.”

        “You’re telling me she’s blind aren’t you,” Samson choked, “Sita’s blind isn’t she fleur!”

        “I do not see visual light entering her life,” Fleur replied, “that is all I can say.”

       “Eohippus blinded an innocent cub?”  Samson roared.

       “Eohippus did nothing of the sort,” fleur replied, “Nature did that.  Haimati’s and Ahanu’s genes did damage to Sita.  But their love for each other, and love for her is strong.  They will not cast her out.  for Haimati knows how it is to be cast aside for a more perfect cub, and she will not let her cub suffer the same agony.”

       “I half wish I’d never spoken to you now!”  Samson mewed, “all you’ve given me is riddles and dreadful news fleur!”

       “Haimati will be finding out all this now,” fleur mewed, “Theo knows it also.”

       “So why did Sita have that fit in her lie up?” Samson asked.

        “Transfers of power can cause discomfort,” fleur replied, “now Sammy love, I must go.  I must leave for the other side.  You will have no body to bury, and for that I am sorry to you and to the community.  Eohippus won’t let Alaska get her paws on my body, and quite frankly, I don’t want her doing anything to my body either.  Theo’s diagnosis is correct; I had a heart attack in my sleep.  Now I have passed to the other side, I am gone from your lives, but not forgotten, I hope.”  Samson kissed the paw holding his.

              “Goodbye my love,” Samson sobbed.  Fleur said nothing, for there was nothing to say, “I will never forget you fleur, never!”  Samson promised.  Fleur kissed his nose:

        “Goodbye my Sammy,” fleur said, releasing Samson’s paw.

       “Rest in peace fleur my love,” Samson replied.  Fleur turned away and hugged someone else, Clarence, her surviving cub.

       “Look after little Sita for me,” fleur whispered.

       “I will mum,” Clarence sobbed, burying his face in his mum’s coat.

       “I must go now,” fleur mewed, “Samson will love another, so as Eohippus and the spirits intend him to move on I will not come back to him.  You though Clarence, my dear cub, if you need me, or if little Sita needs me, you know what to do.”  With that fleur pushed her cub away and vanished, leaving only Theo lying on the ground in the rising dawn.  Clarence looked at his sire.

        “Do you think what mum said is true?”  He asked, “That you will never see her again??”  Samson nodded:

       “I am grief stricken now,” he replied, “and I feel now I cannot move on, but as a wild lion, I must move on and love another mate.”  Samson got up and left the clearing, Theo looking at Clarence in the rising dawn.

       “Thank you Theo,” Clarence said, hugging his brother cub.”

       “I promised your mum I’d look after you,” Theo mewed.  Clarence hugged Theo tightly, crying into his white coat.

 

Meanwhile, Back in Haimati’s lie up, Sita woke slowly.  Feeling like she’d been run over by an elephant, she groaned deeply.

      “I feel dreadful!”  She mewed.  Haimati looked at her cub.

       “I was worried about you last night,” she mewed.  Sita stretched her paws.

      “I was hot and uncomfortable, that’s all I remember,” Sita mewed.  Haimati looked into her cub’s eyes, seeing they’d opened.

      “Can you see my paw little one?”  She asked, holding her paw in front of her cub’s face.  Sita didn’t react.

      “Your cub is blind I believe,” Samson said gruffly.  Haimati looked at the lion.

      “Yes, it seems that way,” she replied.

     “I’m cold mama,” Sita mewed.  Haimati lay down and hugged her cub.

      “Is there anywhere in the house I can take her?”  Haimati asked, “Sammy, I know I’ve not claimed a lie up as my own for months now, but we’re desperate here.”  Samson sighed heavily.

      “I suppose now Fleur’s no longer here, you could have my lie up,” he replied.  Haimati looked horrified!

      “Fleur’s dead?”  She asked.  Samson nodded.  Haimati embraced Samson tightly:

       “I’m so sorry,” she mewed.  Samson sighed heavily.

      “I know she’s at peace now,” he mewed.

 

Meanwhile, Tigger and Namrah received the news about Tigger’s daughter cub.  Distraught, Tigger wept for hours, wringing his paws and weeping inconsolably.

      “I shouldn’t have to Maun my own daughter cub!”  He screamed, “It’s wrong, so wrong, and thanks to Alaska’s indecent haste, eohippus took Fleur’s body, so I can’t even kiss my cub good night!”  Tigger paced up and down, furiously kicking the walls.

       “I want to hold my cub; I want to hold my cub!”  Tigger screamed, sprinting into Alaska’s lie up, jolting the sleeping bear into consciousness.

      “Tigger, piss off!  I was sleeping!”  Alaska grunted, then, her fury at being woken growing, she fought with the grieving tiger, throwing him on the floor!

      “You violent thug!”  Tigger yelled as, screaming, Alaska walloped his paws.

       “You two stop it now, stop it!”  Namrah screeched, pulling Tigger away from the snorting polar bear.

      “Leave him Alaska, for Eohippus sake!”  Namrah screamed, “Tigger’s just lost his daughter cub, and thanks to your disgusting wishes, eohippus took her body.  Now leave Tigger to grieve in peace!”

      “He screamed into my ear while I was sleeping, so he attacked me first!”  Alaska squealed indignantly.

        “With good reason you disgusting animal!”  Namrah snarled.

      “I wanted to see why fleur had died!”  Alaska snapped, “And eohippus denied my wish!  Dam her! Dam fleur! Dam the whole lot of you!”  Namrah cursed Alaska.

      “You are meant to be a healer you horrid creature!”  Namrah snarled, “Why curse fleur who is not here?”

       “Who says she is not here,” a voice said.  Alaska turned, and screamed!

      “No, oh no!”  She begged, “I must be dreaming this!”  Fleur’s spirit picked Alaska up in her huge paws, flipped her upside down, and holding her by her hind paws, shook her violently!  Then, just as Alaska had done to Tigger, fleur threw the bear on the floor, Alaska landing hard!

       “Now I believe I have an appointment with my sire,” the spirit said.”  Alaska groaned with misery, curling up on the floor.

      “Come to me Tigger,” fleur said, embracing her sire tenderly.  Tigger wept as he felt his cub’s paws holding him.

       “Goodbye my dear cub,” he sobbed.  Fleur kissed his nose, and then Tigger hugged her tightly before she vanished for the last time.

 

Meanwhile Haimati helped her cub to her feet for the first time.

      “Are you sure you can walk Sita love?”  Haimati asked.  Sita placed her paws on the floor and tentatively put weight on them.  Feeling the rough ground under her paws, she bounced on her toes a little, and then padded along the track with her mum, and from there into the house.  Padding steadily and carefully, Sita followed her mum by scent.

      “Whose cub is that?”  Alaska snorted, waving her paw at Sita, who was passing the doorway.

      “This is Sita, my cub,” Haimati mewed, leading the cub into Alaska’s lie up.  Alaska stared at Sita.

       “Oh my god!”  Alaska yelled, “She’s um, unusual.  She’s got long fur, and, and it’s grey, not white, and, and, oh, oh no!  She’s got spots on the tops of her paws too!  I’ll bet these have got spotted soles also!  What kind of coupling caused that mess?”  Haimati bristled:

       “Ahanu and I love our cub so shut your mouth!”  She snarled.  Alaska squared up to the tigress.

      “You and Ahanu gave birth to a monster!”  Alaska snapped, “You should have euthanized her at birth!  Now, now, what with Clarence and Pepper still being around here, this is a recipe for cubs with health issues!  Yuck!”

       “You horrid beast!”  Pepper snarled, the lion cross snow leopard female barrelling in and helping Haimati to hold Alaska down while salty tied her paws.

      “Now we will hold you up before the whole community for misconduct!”  Pepper yowled, angry at the bear’s words.

      “What is a monster?  And what is euthanized?”  Sita asked.  Haimati shushed her cub, but Sita was undeterred.

      “What do those words mean mama?”  She asked.  Alaska, angered beyond sense, told Sita in no uncertain terms.

      “It means you are horrible and should be killed!”  Alaska yelled.

      “You mean Ahanu and I should never have cubs?”  Haimati mewed.  Alaska struggled against her restraints.

      “What I mean is that some couplings are too dangerous to produce successful cubs!”  Alaska screamed.

      “Can’t you just enjoy the fact I’ve had a cub and she’s healthy and happy?”  Haimati asked.  Alaska grumbled but relented.

       “I suppose,” she snarled, “but sitter or however you pronounce her name is still strange!”

      “You keep your paws off my cub!”  Haimati warned.  Alaska laughed:

      “If I wanted to crush her, I could quite easily,” she replied.  Haimati shielded her cub from Alaska while the polar bear was untied.

       “You dare get paws on with my cub I’ll make sure you die painfully!”  Haimati snarled.  Alaska looked at the large pawed cub by glancing behind and between Haimati’s legs.

      “Can I take a look at your cub?”  Alaska asked meekly, “I won’t do anything to her, I promise that.”  Haimati snarled a bit, but withdrew to allow Alaska close to Sita.  Alaska looked the cub over from nose to tail, and then asked her:

      “Sita, please, would you roll onto your side?”  Sita did, and Alaska got a good look at the soles of four fat paws.  As she predicted, there were spots on the fur between the pads of Sita’s paws.  Alaska crept closer; touching the pads of Sita’s left forepaw with her nose.  Sita, laughing at the sensation of Alaska’s breath on her pads, waved her paws in the air, accidentally cuffing Alaska on her nose.

      “Oops, sorry,” Sita mewed.  Alaska watched Sita waving her paws.  Sita’s back and legs had tiger stripes, her belly, tops and the soles of her paws were spotted, her body fur dark grey with silvery highlights.  Alaska looked at Sita’s eyes, which were open despite her being only a day old.

       “You have beautiful blue eyes Sita,” Alaska thought, feeling dreadful for saying what she had about euthanizing Sita.

       “Your tail has bands like a raccoon’s,” Alaska said, “black and white bands, brown too!”  Haimati watched with undisguised hostility from her corner, vowing to flatten Alaska if she set paw on her cub.  Touching Sita with her nose was different, that was allowed.  Haimati had a little private smile when Sita smacked Alaska on the nose when the polar bear put her nose a bit too close to a waving forepaw.

       “Sita, listen to me,” Alaska said gently, “I’m sorry for what I said.  I will not harm you; I will not talk of euthanizing you again.  I wish I’d never said it now.  I wish to make amends.”  Sita got to her feet.

       “I will leave so you can talk with my mama,” she said.

      “Where to?”  Alaska asked, “You don’t know where you are.”  Sita started to cry:

      “Anywhere! Anywhere but here!”  She turned and fled.  Sita ran down the corridor, deeper into the house, eventually skidding into Kamchatka’s lie up and slamming into Blackberry who was sitting, quietly exploring the pads and toes of his right hind paw with his left fore.

       “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”  Sita sobbed.  Blackberry rolled onto his side and embraced the weeping cub.

       “Hey, shh, calm down, please!”  Blackberry said softly, hugging Sita tightly, the cub crying bitterly into his coat.

       “I don’t know who or what you are, I’m sorry, sorry for crashing into you, I’m sorry for crying, for everything!”  Sita mewed, choking on her tears.

      “Hey, take a deep breath, and try to calm down, please!”  Blackberry said softly, kissing Sita’s nose.  Blackberry gathered the weeping cub into his paws and rolled onto his back, hugging Sita and kissing her nose and paws until the cub calmed down, snuggling up to the bear.  Blackberry held Sita tightly.

       “How does that feel?”  Blackberry asked.  Sita sniffed and snuggled tightly up to Blackberry:

       “It feels great, but this is wrong, you’re not known to me, let alone a big cat, but this feels great!”  Blackberry rubbed Sita’s back, the tiger cub snuggling up.

      “I will protect you, I promise,” Blackberry said gently.  Sita snuggled up to the bear, whose thick fur and warmth she desperately needed.

       “Thank you for looking after my cub Blackberry,” Haimati said, padding into the lie up.  Blackberry looked at the tigress.

      “I will not release this cub until I know she’s going to be safe!”  He said sharply.

       “I’m not the agressor in this,” Haimati said, “Sita’s tears were caused by Alaska telling her she wanted to euthanize her.  Blackberry looked Sita over from her nose to her paws.

       “I’ve never seen a more beautiful cub,” he said sincerely, “she’s lovely Haimati!”  Haimati smiled despite her anger.

       “I would have loved to have seen Sita’s birth,” Blackberry said.

      “She came out backwards,”  Haimati said, “I screamed and roared, snarled and screamed, as well as ripped up the den with my claws while pushing and straining to deliver little Sita.”  Blackberry looked at Haimati, then at Sita.

      “I will pledge my protection to you little star,” he said.

       “Her name’s Sita, not Star!”  Haimati laughed, “But it was a nice slip.”  Blackberry kissed Sita’s nose and paws, the cub rolling onto her side to allow Blackberry to kiss her belly and the soles of her hind paws.  Blackberry tossed Sita high in the air, and then caught her in his paws on the way down, the cub screaming with laughter.

        “Do that again!”  Sita begged.  Blackberry tossed her even higher, spinning the cub in the air so she landed on her back in his paws this time.  Sita squealed with laughter and kicked the air with her large paws.

        “I love you Blackberry!”  Sita laughed.  Blackberry kissed the pads of Sita’s hind paws, the tiger cub curling her toes with pleasure.

      “I will make sure Alaska never gets her paws on this cub, I promise you Haimati, you gave long and painful birth to your cub and love her dearly, so need all the help you can to protect her.  I will give you my protection, and will ask my mama to protect little Sita too.”  Haimati looked into Blackberry’s earnest eyes.

       “How old are you Blackberry?”  She asked.

      “About seven months now,” Blackberry replied, sitting up and cradling Sita on his lap.

      “You speak like an adult bear,” Haimati said, “but you’re only a cub.”

       “Didn’t fleur witness the birth of Mama Bianca at the age of only seven weeks and help her mother Snowy deliver a breach cub?”  Blackberry asked.  Haimati nodded:

       “Yes I believe she did,” the tigress said, “Blackberry, you know Fleur’s dead?”  Blackberry nodded:

      “I heard Samson screaming as he ran past my lie up,”  he said, “I went in to his lie up and found fleur.  I stayed with her Haimati.  I stroked her paws and kissed her nose, she was warm, but so still!”  Blackberry began to sob as the enormity of what he’d experienced hit him for the first time.

       “Fleur was so soft, so warm, but so still!”  He wept.  Haimati looked at the weeping bear.

      “I wish you could have known her better,” Haimati said.  Blackberry, his tears wetting Sita’s head, sniffed and rubbed his nose with his paw.

       “You’re crying on me Blackberry!”  She said softly.  Blackberry kissed Sita’s head, planting a kiss between her ears, the tiger cub becoming still.

       “Mama,” Sita asked, “can we live with this Blackberry?  Is that what a Blackberry is?”  Haimati giggled:

      “Blackberry’s his name, not what he is,” she said, “he’s a bear, like Alaska is a bear.  Blackberry though, he is a friendly bear, Alaska isn’t so friendly.  Sita snuggled up to Blackberry.

      “Will you hold me tightly in your paws?”  She asked.  Blackberry embraced her tightly.

       “I’m hungry and sleepy,” Sita mewed, “I know mama is the only one who can feed me, but I want to snuggle up with you too Blackberry.  You’re big and warm and safe.  You are a bear, who can protect me and mama from Alaska bear.”  Haimati felt her eyes filling with tears.

       “I want somewhere warm and safe for my cub!”  She pleaded.

      “Well stay here,” Kamchatka replied, “we can move into Samson’s lie up, and you, Sita and Ahanu can stay with my family.”  Haimati looked at the huge mama grizzly.

       “Can I touch little Sita?”  Kamchatka asked.  Haimati nodded:

       “Sita,” she said, “Blackberry’s mama is going to touch you now.”  Sita felt huge paws lift her up, then she felt herself placed gently down on the lap of a larger bear, then hugged in huge warm paws.

       “So you are mama Kamchatka?”  Sita asked.  Kamchatka replied that she was.

       “Will you protect me and mama from Alaska bear?”  Sita asked.  Kamchatka gulped hard.

        “I helped Allie have Alaska,” she thought, and now this cub is asking for protection from the cub I helped deliver.  Alaska, you have put many paws wrong here.”

     “She will not harm you Sita love,” Kamchatka replied.

      “I’ll tear anyone to bits if they harm Sita!”  Samson snarled, padding into the lie up.

       “Nanuq and his son have imprisoned Alaska until she can be interviewed by the committee about her comments,” Salty said, padding into the lie up.

 

Alaska sat in the concrete prison, knowing her comments were punishable by demotion and a spell inside the cell in which she was now on remand.  Alaska cursed her mouth, her need to express her feelings.  She’d been given a high office by fleur, and as soon as fleur was unable to help her, she put her paw in it.

      “I’ll resign,” Alaska thought, “I’ll become plain old Alaska, no medical position in the community, nothing.  Someone else can take that role.

 

All too soon, it was time for Alaska to face her committee.  Kamchatka, as head of the ursine family, Collected Alaska from the prison.  Head down, Alaska was marched to the great room, Kamchatka, Kuruk and Nanuq forming a defensive ring around her.  The committee, formed of Kamchatka, Petra and Theo sat down with Alaska in front of them.

      “We have got a report saying you have failed in your duty as a medical practitioner,” Petra mewed, “we have heard your words and seen the footage of your misconduct.  What do you have to say about this?”  Alaska looked Petra in her face.

       “I know I was wrong to say what I did.  I was expressing views that I should have kept to myself if I was being professional.  I admit I was not being professional, and for that I am sorry.”

      “We note the fact you apologised to Sita, but Sita, while accepting your apology, cannot be certain you really mean what you say.  She’s still terrified.  For this we will take a harsher view than if you’d said these words to Ahanu and Haimati alone.  If you’d expressed those views to the adult big cats, it would have been reprehensible and worthy of dismissal from your post, but expressing those views in front of a cub is deplorable.  We therefore will imprison you for a month in the concrete cell for twenty three hours a day, the other hours being used for supervised activity.  After this, you will be demoted to the status of a normal community member.  In addition, during your imprisonment, Patch will come to you, and you will teach him all you know.  He is gentle, loved and loves the acting which goes with helping mothers to be.”  Theo said.  Kamchatka shot Theo a look, but he waved a paw at her to shush her.

      “Make the call,” he said.  Kamchatka got on the phone to her son cub and spoke briefly to him.

       “Patch will take over my job?”  Alaska asked.  Patch padded in and sat down beside his mama.

        “Will you take this job Patch?”  Kamchatka asked.  Patch smiled and nodded:

       “I will,” he said, “but I do not feel I am ready to do such a job.”

      “You will learn,” Theo mewed, “you are trusted, loved, and gentle.  You feel the mama’s pain as they’re having their cubs.  I think you’d bee a good medical bear.”  Patch lowered his head in deference to Theo.

       “I am honoured,” He said softly.

     “Ekaterina will help you as assistant, I have already asked her and she is fine with it,” Theo mewed.  Patch covered his face with his paws.

         “I have to learn so much,” he said, “but I will learn.  I am looking forward to helping everyone.”  Kamchatka kissed her son cub.

        “Good luck,” she said.  Petra, and then Theo hugged patch, planting kisses on his nose and forepaws.

 

Alaska and patch met up later that day.  Alaska knew she’d have to act out a cubbing, having an injured paw etc, and get Patch to treat her correctly.

      “Do you mean I’ll have to dig out a thorn in your pad?”  Patch asked.  Alaska nodded:

       “I think digging your claws into my pads is the least I deserve after what I said to Sita,” she replied miserably.

     “But I don’t want to hurt you,” patch replied, “I want to make others better.”

     “But you will need to dig out thorns and things,” Alaska said, “so go on, dig out the thorn in my right hind foot.”  Patch sat opposite Alaska and rested her right hind foot on his left hind leg and examined it with eyes and paws, Alaska flinching and curling her toes as he touched the sole pad of her right hind paw.

      “Ouch, ouch!”  She whimpered.

      “Relax your paw,” patch said gently.  Alaska began to tremble, patch leaning forward and kissing her nose.

      “It will be okay,” patch said softly, “you can scream, roar, and cry, but don’t move you’re right hind paw.  Alaska took hold of her left hind foot and held it tightly.

      “Do what you need to,” she said hoarsely.  Patch chose a spot on the large sole pad of the polar bear’s right hind foot and, putting his hatred of deliberately inflicting injury on a healthy bear to the back of his mind, he focused on his task.  Rubbing the pad of Alaska’s hind paw, he hesitated.

      “I can’t do it,” he said, “You’re a healthy bear Alaska.”

       “Patch, you saw the footage of my misconduct, “hate me for a minute, and hurt me as I hurt Sita.”  Patch gritted his teeth and dug the claws of his right forepaw into the sole pad of Alaska’s right hind foot.  Alaska hissed with pain as she felt his claws dig into her pads, and then she pushed against his pressure, driving Patch’s claws deeper into her pad.  Patch felt blood wet against his own paw.

     “Now, now dig that thorn out!”  Alaska said through clenched teeth.  Patch withdrew his claws and gently enlarged one of the puncture wounds with the tip of one claw on his right forepaw, holding Alaska’s bleeding hind foot in his left, the female polar bear sobbing quietly.

       “The thorn’s out now,” Patch said, “now what?”

      “Now it’s time for you to make me lick and rub the injured pads,” Alaska said.  Patch asked:

     “Why?”  Alaska smiled:

      “Of course bears can reach their own hind feet to administer the antiseptic, but as part of your caring role, you would encourage me to do this for myself.  Failing that, you could lick my pads, and I would risk slight infection then as my own saliva is not going to infect me, but yours might.  Cross contamination you see?  If a bear cannot lick their own wounds, you would do it for them.  So, I’ll lick my injured paw first, and then you have a go on my uninjured paw.”  Patch was happy with that.

    “So me licking a wound on another creature is a last resort?”  He asked.

     “In medical terms yes,” Alaska replied, “but if your mate is injured, you can lick her paw, but only with her consent.”

    “Now about injured cubs?”  Patch asked.

     “Get them, or their mothers to lick their wounds,” Alaska replied, “if they have no guardian of any sort, then you will have to do it.”  Patch nodded and smiled.

      “Let’s do it then,” he said.  Alaska bent her right hind leg and bending her head down to her task, set to licking the sole pad of her right hind foot.

     “You see how I’ve cleaned the blood off my paw?”  She asked, showing him her pads.  Patch examined the injured paw.

       “I see,” he said.

     “Now you have a go with my uninjured hind foot,” she said, “the trick here is to tell your patient what you are about to do and why.”  Patch nodded.

     “So how far are we through the demonstration now?”  He asked.

      “I’ve come in with an injured left hind foot, you can dig your claws gently into my paw, scratch my pads to simulate, but don’t draw blood this time.”

     “Oooh, that’s one sore foot,” Patch said, balancing Alaska’s left hind foot on his right leg, “Alaska, I’m going to have to dig out that thorn, this might hurt.”  Alaska nodded and whimpered that it was ok for him to do this.  Patch put pressure on, and gently scratched the large sole pad of Alaska’s left hind paw, the she bear whimpering and crying.

       “It’s okay, nearly done,” Patch said, when Alaska curled her toes, trapping his left forepaw.

      “I don’t want it; I don’t want you to do this!”  She whimpered.  Patch dropped Alaska’s foot and hugged the now weeping bear.

      “It’s okay, it’s going to be okay,” patch said gently, hugging Alaska with tender paws.  Alaska, now crying real tears, clung to Patch.

      “You’re not acting now are you?”” Patch asked.  Alaska, sobbing, buried her face in his chest.

       “I can’t help myself,” she sobbed, “It, it’s all too real, it’s all too much!”  Patch kissed her nose and forepaws.      

You asked me to puncture your pads,” he reminded her.

      “I don’t mean that!”  Alaska choked, “I mean what I’m feeling from you, your signals, how gentle you are, I can’t believe it!  I love it Patch!”  Patch nodded.

       “I’m glad you approve of my bedside manner,” he said.

     “Right now, you could puncture all my pads and I’d happily submit to it,” Alaska sobbed, “it would hurt, but I could get through it with you helping me.”

      “That’s what I said when I was having Rowena,” Ekaterina said, padding into the cell, “Patch, do your job with your natural love and compassion, and you’ll be fine.”  Alaska wiped her eyes and nose with her paws.

     “Let’s get on with cleaning up my injured left hind foot,” she sniffed.  Patch rasped the pads once more, Alaska crying out and bouncing about a bit.

       “It’s nearly out, the thorn’s nearly out,” Patch said, digging his claws gently into the heel of Alaska’s left hind foot.

     “It’s out now,” patch said, Alaska whimpering with discomfort.

      “Can you lick the sole pad of your left hind paw?”  Patch asked.  Alaska tried to reach her left hind foot with her tongue, but couldn’t.

     “No, I can’t!”  She whimpered.  Patch nodded and smiled reassuringly:

     “If you are willing, I will clean your paw for you.”  Alaska sighed deeply.

       “Please,” she said.  Patch looked at Alaska:

     “Would you lie down on your back?”  He asked, “I ask so I can get a better angle on your hind paw to clean it.”  Alaska lay down on her back, her paws in the air.  Patch then took gentle hold of Alaska’s left hind paw and set to licking her pads.

       “It’s soothing the pain, it’s soothing the sting!”  She sniffled.  Patch gently kissed Alaska’s toes, forgetting his role for a minute.

       “Was kissing my toes right or wrong?”  Alaska asked seriously.

      “It was wrong, I’m sorry,” patch replied, “it was unprofessional.  I thought I was doing right.”

       “It was the right thing to do,” Alaska replied, “You were soothing your patient.  I was distressed, so you soothed me.  That was lovely.”  Patch smiled and hugged Alaska with gentle paws.

      “Now you will learn how to help a mother having a cub,” Alaska said gently.  Patch smiled and hugged her.

      “Now you should know how the next bit works,” Alaska said, “it’s helping a mother have her cub.  You’ve done this before patch; Ekaterina will help you with this part.  I need to do my time.”  Patch hugged Alaska and left, the large female polar bear crying as patch closed the door of the prison cell.

       “I’m sorrier than I can put into words,” Alaska whispered, “I have been so insensitive.  Patch has taught me that.  I want him, want him to comfort me!  I feel like an injured cub who wants her mama!”  Lying down, her right hind foot throbbing, Alaska cried into her paws.

 

 

Some time later, Kamchatka screamed at Petra.

    I do not want Patch tending to the mothers to be Petra, what the hell is Theo on!”  Kamchatka screamed.

      “We agreed on Ekaterina, I know that,” Petra mewed, “but Theo said Patch was to be put in post, “Eohippus knows why she chose patch.”

       “The mothers to be won’t like the choice,” Kamchatka grumbled.

       “I can’t agree entirely,” Petra mewed, “Patch is gentle, kind and caring, all that is needed.

      “He’s also male!”  Kamchatka yelled, “Male bears can’t expect to understand the pain and stress of having a cub!”

     “Patch understands,” Theo mewed, “I know he understands only too well.  Mama Kamchatka, there is a dream your son cub has harboured for a long time.  And he came to me very distressed one day and told me of it.  Kamchatka, Patch has wanted more than anything to give birth to a cub himself.”

       “My cub’s crazy!”  Kamchatka roared, “he can’t’ want that! What his he, female or something?”  Theo shook his head.

      “He’s male, he loves his mate and cub, but there is a part of him which desperately wants to experience giving birth to a cub.  The night fleur died, patch got his wish.  He told no one, not even Ekaterina or Rowena know about it.  Eohippus put them to sleep while patch experienced giving birth to a cub.  He rolled, kicked, screamed and strained just like Haimati had; indeed, his cubbing followed the pattern hers took.  Patch was confronted by a breach birth, and he innately knew what to do, helping the cub out with gentle paws.”

        “To give birth to a cub Patch must be female!”  Kamchatka squealed.

       “To accomplish his dream, he was,” Theo mewed.  Patch acted out having a cub once, it was only play, but he came to me a day after, crying and in a lot of distress.  I heard his tale, and then took his paw and asked him again what he wanted.  Kamchatka,” Theo said, tears welling in his eyes, “the last time I felt that level of need was when jess was human and wanted to become a bear.”

      “So patch is going to bear his own cub now?”  Kamchatka snapped.

      “No,” Theo mewed, “he’s done that, and he now knows how it is to deliver a cub.

      “But lioness Rowena, my cub, she refused that to me,” Petra mewed, “why can Patch have it and I could not?”

       “Patch has got a cub,” Theo mewed, “his cub is an unusual cub for a bear to give birth to.  Patch and Haimati had their cubs at the same time.”

     “You mean, mean Sita is Patch’s cub?”  Kamchatka asked.  Theo nodded:

      “Sita is patch’s cub too.  Haimati would not have been able to deliver Sita if patch hadn’t helped her out.  He strained as hard as Haimati did to deliver Sita.”

       “This is unbelievable!”  Kamchatka snarled.  Theo shook his head.

      “Patch has never been troubled by things like this,” the lion said.

     “He might not be troubled by his wishes to give birth to a cub, but I am!”  Kamchatka roared.

      “Mum,” patch said, padding into the room.  Kamchatka ran to him and cuffed him.

       “You abomination!”  She roared, “You disgusting animal!  How dare you even consider giving birth to a cub!  How disgusting, how unnatural, how perverted!”

        “I can’t help the way I felt mama,” patch replied, “I wanted it so much!  If Eohippus hadn’t thought it right, she would not have allowed me to go through with it.”

       “So Sita should have really fallen over patch, not Blackberry,” Haimati said, Padding into the room with Sita.

      “It’s okay mum,” Sita mewed, “I know all this; I knew it the moment fleur put the power in me to look beyond coats and form.  Eohippus split the roles of medic and morel guardian.  Fleur was both, if you saw as fleur did, saw the spirit in anyone regardless of their coat, of their gender or species; you were on the right path.  Fleur happened to be a medic too.  Eohippus gave part of Fleur’s drive in life to me, and the other part to Patch.  Patch is kind, gentle, and understanding.  I heard Alaska crying real tears as he cradled her in the prison cell.  She saw the good in patch, she didn’t care he was male.  Now I believe mother bears will not mind either.  They will know he’s gone through labour.”

      “The next thing you’ll be telling me is you’ve fed Sita!”  Kamchatka yelled at patch.

      “Mama, please, let me take your paw.  Let me explain in the only way I can,” patch begged.  Kamchatka, her eyes welling with tears of grief, gave her son cub her paw.

       “Patch, oh patch!”  Kamchatka sobbed, hugging him.

      “I love my mate and cub dearly mama,” patch replied, “I don’t want to change who I am, or what gender I am.  I just wished so much to experience giving birth to a cub.  To help Ekaterina better next time I suppose, but eohippus made it so I helped a real cub, a real mama give birth to her cub while she granted my wish.”

      “So how does Sita see you now?”  Kamchatka asked.

      “As the driving force which helped my mama deliver me safely,” Sita mewed, “I know mama could not have done it alone.  Patch pushed with her, bearing down against my huge body and big paws to deliver me into this world.  Mama Kamchatka,” Sita said turning her blind gaze on the grizzly bear, her expression making Kamchatka cry, “patch saved two lives that night, mine and my mama’s.  We would both have died!  I know this, for fleur told me, she said I was stuck, and that patch and my mama pushing and straining together helped deliver me.”

      “if you wish for something and it is right to have it, you will be granted your wish,” Theo mewed, “it was right for Patch to give birth to a cub, for he loves everyone, and could cope with delivering a cub that was clearly not of his own species, and a mama tigress needed the help of a strong presence outside of eohippus.  Now Kamchatka, please, judge patch by his deeds and what others say after he has tended to them.  Alaska already is a changed bear because of your son cub.  She will do her time, saying that, she’s repentant right down to her marrow.”

       “Before I came here, Alaska called for me and Patch to go for a meeting with her,” Haimati said, “Nanuq was dead against it, but Alaska begged him, and asked if Sita could come along too.  Once we were there, she told us of her encounter with Patch.  I’ve never heard such heart felt testimony to another creature.  Alaska felt she could go through anything when patch was with her.”

        “We met Alaska and then patch came back from tending to his first mock cubbing,”  Sita said, “it was then we learned of how patch had helped me and mum survive.”  Kamchatka, now crying freely, embraced Patch with fierce intent.

       “I know how you feel,” Kamchatka admitted, “patch, when I found you, I wanted to give birth to you, but that was impossible, so Eohippus made it possible, as it was something that was right to want.  To love life enough to want to give birth to it utterly and completely is a wonderful thing.  I am sorry I misread the situation.”

      “I understand mama and I accept your apology,” patch replied.

     “Now please, let Patch love his memory of having his own cub, of saving my life,” Sita begged, “let him re-enact my cubbing if he wants, for he is telling the story of how he helped another.  Patch should not feel ashamed of wanting to re-enact the births of all the cubs he helps into the world mama Kamchatka, for they are as much his cubs as they are their mother’s cubs.”  Kamchatka looked at Sita.

      “I won’t stop him Sita, I promise,” she said.  Patch rubbed his eyes with his paws.

      “Mama,” he said to Kamchatka, “I need to tend to another mama bear.  Shuang is having a cub very soon.”  Kamchatka kissed his nose:

      “Go with my blessing,” Kamchatka said, “empathise with mama Shuang, soothe her pain, for you know her pain.”  Patch, though he knew Shuang’s cubbing was an exercise, hugged his mama.

      “I will,” he promised.

 

Patch padded to Shuang’s lie up, the she panda carefully washing her fore and hind paws in a bowl of water.  Sitting down, Patch watched Shuang, the she panda carefully washing pads and toes.  Shuang watched patch from the corner of one eye.

      “Go on, wash your paws if you wish,” she said, padding damply to the bathroom and getting Patch a bowl of water.  Patch looked at the water and then dipped a forepaw in it, wetting the pads of his hind paws.  Then, he bent his head to his task, licking and rasping at the pads and toes of his right hind foot.  Shuang watched patch, then broke off washing in the community way, that is to say both forepaws washing a hind paw.  Smiling, she started washing her paws the old fashioned wild way, with teeth and tongue.

      “Let’s make sure our paws are wild clean before your cub emerges,” patch said.  Shuang giggled:

      “I’m getting uncomfortable,” she said, “I don’t know if I’ll be able to wash my paws for much longer.  I think I’ll be actively in labour very shortly.”  Patch watched Shuang with gentle eyes.

      “I must push down against my cub!”  Shuang moaned, bearing down strongly.

       oaw’aow’ow’ow’ow’aw’w’aw’aw’aw’aw’aaw’aw’awouch!”  She wailed, rolling about on the floor.  She began pacing and breathing hard, then, sat down and moaned deeply, the toes of all four paws curled.

       “What do you want me to do?”  Patch asked.  Shuang panted heavily.

      “Stroke my right hind foot!”  Shuang wailed.  Patch took hold of Shuang’s right hind paw, the panda pressing her paw hard into his.

      “Hold on to my paw!”  Shuang gasped.  Patch held on tightly, watching as Shuang grunted and heaved to deliver her cub.

     “That’s it, push!”  Patch encouraged, rubbing the pads and toes of Shuang’s right hind foot as the mama panda grunted and strained.

      “Nearly here, nearly done, but cub’s coming backwards!”  Shuang yelled, reaching down to work the cub loose from her body.  Pulling gently, Shuang imagined freeing her cub, panting and grunting.

      “That’s it,” Shuang panted, “you did well, and holding my paw helped reassure me during my labour.”  Patch smiled and hugged Shuang.

       “How did you get into this job?”  Shuang asked.  Patch smiled and shook his head:

       “I suppose the powers that be saw me as a good medic for you lot,” he laughed.  Shuang kissed his nose:

      “You have tender paws,” she said.  Patch giggled with pleasure.

       “I hope that when I have a cub for real, you’ll be here to see it into the world,” Shuang replied.

       “I hope so too,” he replied.  Allie padded stiffly into the lie up.

       “I see you’re getting used to your new position in the community,” the elderly mama polar bear said.  Patch looked at Allie, the mama bear’s failing sight evident from the way she looked at him.

      “I’m close to the end I believe,” she said.  Patch got up and hugged her tenderly.

       “You have done your best mama Allie,” he said, “you take a good long rest now from the security detail, and I’ll put Rowena in charge of that.”  Allie bowed her head and kissed Patch’s nose.  Patch hugged Allie tightly, the she bear snuggling up and sighing with pleasure.

      “I don’t think I’ll move from here for a long time,” Allie said softly, “I’ve spoken to Alaska, to younger Arki, Bjorn and Orsa.  Now, now I know my job is done, I can relax into eohippus’s care.  I’m so tired, so very tired.”  Patch held Allie close, the female polar bear lying down on the floor and closing her eyes.  Patch held Allie’s paw as the she polar bear peacefully passed away.

       “She’s gone,” patch said softly, “Rest in peace Allie.”

 

Later that day, a joint ceremony was held for Allie and fleur.  Younger Arki, now known as Arki, had found a photo of fleur and printed it off.  It would be buried beside Allie.  Allie’s body was brought out of the house on a carriage pulled by Rosie, the Shetland pony doing her duty with evident pride.  Alaska watched her mum’s body approaching the graveside.  Still imprisoned, only on the second day of her sentence, Alaska’s paws were tied, and she was guarded heavily.

 

“we are gathered here to remember two dearly loved community members,”  Magnus said, “fleur and Allie, a big cat mama and a polar bear mama who bore cubs and contributed to the life of the community in so many ways.  Due to the actions of others, Fleur’s body is not interred here, but she is not forgotten in our ceremony.  We will keep it brief, for it is a time to be still with individual memories of Allie and fleur.  You will all have individual memories of them, of their contributions to your lives.  And this time is for you to think of them, to love their memory and cherish the times you had with them.  Fleur unconventional in looks, while being eternally beautiful, Allie beautiful to the eye.  Both mamas of wonderful cubs who are for the most part credits to them and to the community.  Now we settle Allie’s earthly remains in the earth’s eternal embrace, settling a picture of fleur beside her.”  Kuruk and Nanuq lifted Allie’s body off the carriage and laid it in the grave.  The picture of fleur, which was pasted to the side of the carriage unpinned and tucked beneath Allie’s right forepaw.”

       “Let’s leave here now,” Magnus said, “leave here and remember Allie and fleur in our hearts, hold them close and love them eternally.  The community all bowed their heads as the badgers started filling in the grave, Clarence and Samson weeping openly for fleur, Arki hard eyed and struggling to remain in control.  Alaska rubbed her sister’s paw, Arki finally cracking and weeping into Alaska’s coat.  Alaska sat down, her snow leopard guards giving her room to hug her inconsolable sister.

       “I want my mama!”  Arki sobbed.  Alaska cradled her weeping sister with gentle paws.

       “Allie’s still here, you must believe that,” Alaska said gently.  Arki buried her head in Alaska’s coat and wailed with pain.

 

Hours later, Alaska and her guards returned to the cell after Arki had gone back to the house alone.

       “Now you go back into that pit hole,” the lead snow leopard snapped.  Sam, Allie’s death and burial happening too fast for him, lay down in his and Allie’s lie up.

       “I miss you Allie,” he whispered, crying into his paws.  Arki padded up to her sire and hugged him tenderly.

      “I’m here,” she whispered.  Sam clung to Arki, weeping into her coat.

       “I love you Arki,” he sniffed.  Arki kissed her sire’s nose and paws, Sam crying inconsolably.

 

Meanwhile, Patch met up with Ekaterina in their lie up, the two bears hugging each other.

       “There’s too much death around here Patch,” Ekaterina sniffed.  Patch embraced her hard.

       “Death is all part of the circle Ekaterina love,” he said.  Ekaterina clung to him:

       “Promise me,” she whispered, becoming tearful, “promise me you won’t die patch, I would go mad if anything happened to you!”  Patch sat down and drew his mate into a huge bear hug.

       “I promise, as far as eohippus will allow, that I will avoid trouble,” patch said.  Ekaterina snuggled up to him.

       “Rowena and I love you so much Patch,” she said softly.  Patch kissed her nose and paws.  Ekaterina sighing with pleasure.

      “Have you ever thought of, even dreamed of giving birth to a cub Patch?”  Ekaterina asked.  Patch became still:

      “Why do you ask?”  He enquired, gazing into her eyes.

       “I don’t know why I asked,” Ekaterina replied, “but have you ever asked the question, “how would it feel?”  Patch gulped hard.

       “Yes Ekaterina,” he choked, “I have, and I’ve wanted to know for so long!  Eohippus helped me achieve this when Sita was born, I went into labour, feeling everything, groaning and kicking, curling my toes and straining.  It is said I helped Haimati bring Sita into the world.”  Ekaterina kissed his nose as patch, overwhelmed by his memories, began to sob.

      “It was wonderful!”  He choked, “and I’d do it all again.  I loved it, for I know that even though it hurt like hell, I was helping another life into the world.”  Ekaterina kissed her mate’s nose:

       “Would you show me?”  She asked, “Show me what happened?”  Patch buried his face in her shoulder.

       “I will, and gladly,” he replied, “my tuition is over for the day, so my time is yours.”  Ekaterina picked up Patch’s left forepaw and examined it by touch, loving every inch.  She then picked up his left hind foot, stroking his pads and playing with his toes, Patch curling his toes with pleasure, making his pads bunch up, Ekaterina giggling and kissing the curled toes and bunched pads.

        “You soppy thing!”  Patch laughed.

      “So you became female to have little Sita then?”  Ekaterina asked.  Patch became still.

      “Eohippus sent you to sleep,” he said, “how do you know all this?”

     “She made Rowena and I sleep, but we could hear everything,” Ekaterina said.

      “I suppose I was female for that part of my life,” patch replied, “I can remember feeling everything that’s for sure.”

       “So, if another mama needed extra help, Eohippus could ask you to help>?”  Ekaterina asked.  “Patch nodded:

      “She could, and I would,” he replied.  Ekaterina sat in Patch’s lap and embraced him tightly.

       “I love you all the more for your selfless act,”  Ekaterina said gently, “you might have wanted to deliver a cub in a secret fantasy, but that fantasy which is one born of an inquisitive mind, is not wrong.  Even less is it wrong when that wish can be satisfied and help others.”

      “If I have to push down to help you Ekaterina I will,” Patch replied softly.

        “I want to re-enact the birth of my cub Rowena now,” Ekaterina said suddenly, “how about if you re-enact Sita’s birth too?”  Patch closed his eyes, thinking deeply.

       “I want to,” he said softly, “Ekaterina, I want to so much!”

 

Patch sat back panting and playing with the toes of his right hind paw.

       “I’m going second then,” Ekaterina said.  Patch clenched his teeth.

       “I had no say!”  He groaned.  Suddenly Patch curled his toes and closed his eyes tightly, moaning and rocking back and fourth.  Patch rocked so hard he fell onto his back, losing hold of his right hind foot.  Now very uncomfortable, Patch began kicking and writhing on the floor, growling and puffing.

      “Cub’s coming, coming!”  He squealed.  Then, roaring, he drew his hind feet to him and grabbed them with his forepaws, gripping hard and curling the toes of both hind feet.  Ekaterina could see and smell his effort as patch’s fur and paws became soaked with sweat.

       oaw’aw’aw’awoaww’w’w’w’w’w’oaw’w’w’w’waw’aw’ch!”  Patch yelled, “I want to push!”  Patch heaved and strained, then, crying, he crawled around the lie up, Ekaterina following closely, watching for any signs of the emerging cub.

       “I love your paws Patch,” Ekaterina said, kissing the sole of Patch’s right hind foot, feeling his bunched pads and smelling his sweat.

       “I want to push, hard!”  Patch groaned, straining deeply.  Ekaterina could feel his effort in everything he did.

       “Now relax and let the cub come Patch,” Ekaterina said gently.  Patch gasped and groaned, lying down on his side to deliver his cub.

      “Go on mama, push that cub out, push it into my paws,” Ekaterina said softly.  Whimpering and crying like a mama bear, Patch bore down hard!  Ekaterina saw patch draw his hind feet to him and writhe convulsively, before crawling to the wall and sitting against it, reclined slightly.  Clasping his forepaws over his belly, he strained hard.  Though now it was not patch delivering a cub, but a true mama bear that was a spitting image of patch.  Ekaterina saw the mama’s curled toes, clenched teeth and closed eyes as she fought tooth and claw to deliver her large cub.

      aoaoouchaw’aw’aw’awoauch!”  She screamed, bearing down hard and catching her breach cub.  Crying, the mama bear rocked a bit, then bent her hind legs to raise herself a little so she could push a bit with gravity helping.  Then she was back down on the floor, sitting and straining hard.

      “It’s nearly here, nearly here!”  The poor mama panted, “Must carry on, but the cubs huge, so can’t take too long, must push gently, very gently.  Now push, Oooh, push!  Push again! oooaouchaw’w’w’w’a’waw!”  Then mama relaxed, the cub in her paws squealing lustily.  Ekaterina’s vision cleared, and she saw Patch exhausted but happy.

      “That was fantastic,” he said, “I did it, I had the cub!”  Ekaterina kissed his sweat soaked paws one by one.

       “I saw,” she said, “that was an amazing effort.”

        “Worth every drop of sweat too,” patch gasped.  Ekaterina kissed his nose.

       “I wanted to be that mama Ekaterina, at the end; I really wanted to be that mama bear having her cub!  When I draw my hind feet to me while lying on my side, I begged to have that cub naturally.”

       “You had it,” Ekaterina replied.  Patch smiled weakly, his whole body aching.

       “I would do it all again right now,” he said softly.

       “Your commitment and sincerity make the re-creation of a cubbing realistic enough for Eohippus to turn you briefly into a female bear,” Ekaterina said.  Patch smiled:

       “I heard that’s what happens,” he said, “but it only happens near the end, when my effort becomes really committed.  I feel it you know.  I feel the change, a freedom to be able to push down properly.”

      “I saw and heard,” his mate replied, “by the way, I think you looked so cute giving birth to your cub,” Ekaterina said.     “What kind of cub were you delivering?”  Rowena asked.  Patch smiled:

        “She was a beautiful bear cub,” he replied.  Rowena touched patch’s sweat soaked paw.

       “You imagined giving birth to me?”  She asked in wonder.  Patch nodded:

      “I wanted to take away your mum’s pain,” he said, “if I could have, I would have bore her pain for her, and that’s the honest truth.”  Rowena kissed his sweat soaked right ear.

       “I love you patch,” Rowena said.  Patch smiled and kissed her nose.

       “I love you too Rowena sweetheart,” Patch said softly.  Ekaterina padded up to her mate and hugged him.

      “Thank you my love,” she said softly. 

 

The sound of huge paws padding near made the bears turn and look towards the closed door.  A huge mama polar bear pushed the door open and put her head in, her expression anxious and eyes terrified.

      “Can we help?”  Rowena asked.  Patch restrained his cub:

      “She’s not a community bear,” he whispered.  The mama bear padded into the den and collapsed in a heap.  Then closing her eyes, she moaned and roared, pawing at the air with all four feet, straining hard to deliver a cub.  Within a minute it was all over, a trickle of blood, and then a rush of fluid, the mama bear roaring with effort and pain as the cub exploded into the world.  The mama bear sat up and grabbed her cub in her paws, feeding it frantically, her eyes darting from Patch to Ekaterina, and then to Rowena.

      “You are safe mama,” Patch said softly.  The mama bear spoke rapidly in Canadian ursine, a dialect of the far northern polar bears.  Patch, his birth mother having been a Canadian polar bear, understanding every word.

       “You are safe mama, I promise you and your cub is safe,” he said gently.  The mama bear, panting from the exertions of labour and from fear, looked desperately round the lie up.

      “Maybe if I close the door, she’ll feel more secure?”  Rowena asked.  Ekaterina shook her head:

      “She’s wild; she’s not used to being enclosed within walls, “leave the door.”  The mama bear picked the cub up in her mouth and carried it to the corner, where she covered it with straw and lay down exhausted beside it.  Panting, she lay on her side, clearly uncomfortable.  Then, taking a deep breath, she began pawing at the air with all four paws, her toes curled tightly.  Yelling with fear and effort, she closed her eyes and strained hard to deliver a second cub.  the mama bear kicked and groaned as she bore down to deliver the cub, a burst of fluid erupting from her, the mama bear panting and straining to bring the cub into the world.  Patch padded over to the mama bear and rubbed her belly as she pushed down against the cub for the last time.

        “Shh mama, shh,” he said, kissing her nose, feeling her panting and hearing her whimpering with discomfort and fear.  Patch cleaned the cub and then gave it to its mama.

       “You have two male cubs,” Patch said to the female polar bear.  The mama bear, her fur grey with sweat, fed her youngest cub with less urgency than she had her first cub.

      “Thank you, thank you!”  She said softly, “I needed a place to have my cubs, and could find nowhere safe.  I’m sorry for invading your home.”  Patch kissed the mama bear’s nose:

       “You are welcome here,” he said gently.

      “What’s your name?”  Rowena asked.  The mama bear looked at her:

       “I don’t have a name,” the mama bear replied, “other bears jokingly call me Anook on account of my fat appearance, but Anook is not a proper name is it.”

       “Why is Anook any less of a name than any other?”  Patch asked, “Anook, a Canadian ursine word meaning mother.”

       “A mother you really are today though,” Ekaterina said, “so Anook you will be.  How about naming your cubs?”  Patch asked.

       “I haven’t even thought of it yet,” she said.

       “Where is your home?”  Patch asked.  Anook looked sadly down at her cubs:

       “I lived in a zoo a long way from here,”  she replied miserably, “I got in cub by a male polar bear, and then got ready for winter, when the zoo was raided by crazy humans, we were all released into the surrounding area,  Here, read this.”  Anook took a scrap of paper from behind her ear and held it out to Patch:

       “I suppose you can read?”  She asked.  Patch nodded and took the paper and read aloud:

       “”Animal rights activist organisation raids zoo near local town,”” he read, “”polar bears, arctic foxes and other animals released from cages and left to roam local area.”  Hmm Anook, so you were denned up for the winter and these humans who disagree with zoos came along and broke your home and then threw you out?”  He asked.  Anook looked at him.

        “They did,” she replied, “a zoo is no place for polar bears, but a zoo was all I knew.  Indeed was all any of us knew, as we were born and bred there.  These people might want to free us from these places, but I don’t know how to cope in the wild.  I had a mama who knew nothing about the wild.  So I would have died.  I roamed for weeks, stealing from trashcans and raiding the skips outside the back of shops to get what I considered food.  I ate vegetables, bread, and even broke into old stores to get rejected chicken.”  Patch hugged Anook tenderly, the mother bear smiling with shy pleasure.

       “So I guess I’ll have to move on,” Anook said, “move on with my cubs to another place to live.”

      “With two young cubs you’re not going anywhere!”  Kamchatka said, barring the door with her massive bulk.

       “Now she’s a real mama,” Anook said.  Kamchatka padded into the lie up and embraced Anook, the mama polar bear becoming tearful.

       “Welcome home mama,” Kamchatka whispered to Anook, the mother polar bear breathing in Kamchatka’s warm scent.

       “I can’t stay with you, I come in, make a mess of your den, then you ask me to stay?”

        “But you need a home, and so do your cubs,” Kamchatka said.  Anook looked down at her cubs that were now asleep.

       “I am very grateful,” she replied, “but May I ask, what would have happened if I’d given still birth to my cubs?”

       “We would have buried their remains with due ceremony,” Kamchatka said gently, “Mama Anook, we treasure you as well as your cubs.  If you were lost and alone and came here just for shelter we would look after you.  You have a home here, for your own home was destroyed by those misguided humans who think zoos are bad places full stop.  What they fail to realise is that those who are born in zoos, might not have the skills to survive outside protected environments.  Though I will not burden you with my take on these things, for it is not my place.  I saw you come into the lie up and almost immediately lie down to deliver your cub.  Poor Anook mama!”  Anook smiled:

      “I was well in cub when I went into the den,” she replied, “when the humans destroyed the den I ran for it.  Living off the local town was hard, but I managed it.  I walked for days, and days turned into three weeks.  I spoke to a crow who told me of this place.  I could feel my cubs becoming more active, and knew my time was near.  Not having a den any more, I was scared because I didn’t know where I was going to have the cubs, let alone look after them.  I had horrid visions of me lying down beside a tarmac river giving noisy birth to my cubs with humans driving their wheeled roaring animals while stareing at me and crashing their wheeled animals as they took their eyes off the precious tarmac river.”

      “Wheeled animals? Tarmac river?”  Rowena asked.

       “I think Anook means to describe a road and cars,” patch said.

      “Well,” Anook continued, smiling at Rowena, “I found this wood, and my cubs started to make their way into the world.  I tried not to push, how I tried not to push!  Though one time, I couldn’t help it, I just had to push!  I braced my hind feet and bore down, feeling the cub very close to falling onto the track.  I staggered on, then, then…”  Anook began to cry, Kamchatka holding her close, “then, then I found the door to this den, and opened it, and then I saw you, and then I couldn’t do anything but crawl in and deliver my first cub!  I was so scared!”  Patch took over from Kamchatka, hugging Anook.

      “What’s this?”  Anook asked, “Pass the polar bear?”  Patch laughed.

       “I wanted to hug you Anook,”  he said, kissing her nose.

      “I don’t know your name,”  Anook said, “but I know that if I was to have a third cub, I would feel safe having it with you helping me.”  Patch smiled and let Anook kiss his nose.

       “He’s wonderful with mothers and cubs,” Kamchatka said.  Anook smiled and nodded:

      “I think my cubbing is done for now,” she said, “but maybe, just maybe eohippus will give me the gift of another cub.

       “My name’s Patch,” patch said.  Anook looked the large bear up and down.

      “Why Patch?”  She asked, “your fur is luxurious and,” she touched his paw, “very soft too!”

      “It wasn’t always so,” Patch replied, his eyes shining.

       “I think he likes you Anook,” Ekaterina said.

      “I think he does,” she replied.  Patch looked shocked.

       “I like her, I think, but it’s not the way you think Ekaterina!”  He protested.  Anook and Ekaterina laughed helplessly.

       “He bit beautifully,” Ekaterina said.  Patch covered his face with his paws, greatly embarrassed and put out.

      “I want to help her, that’s all!”  He whimpered.  Ekaterina and Anook hugged patch in turn.  Anook took Patch’s paw in hers, feeling his soft fur and warm pads.

      “I so badly want to give birth to another cub so he can get paws on with me!”  She thought.  Patch smiled and kissed her nose:

      “You will only have a cub if eohippus wants you to,” he said, “and I can get paws on with you if you would only ask.”  Anook looked at Patch, and then hugged him.

      “Love your two cubs,” Kamchatka said.  Anook giggled and looked seriously at the large mama grizzly:

        “My cubs are too young to be out in the open,” she said, “I can’t let them out yet, they’re only a few minutes old.”

      “Why can’t we explore?”  The youngest male cub asked.

    “You’re too young,” Anook replied, “you’ve only been born six hours.”

       “But mum!”  Both cubsyelled .  Anook looked into the faces of her two cubs.

       “I can’t let you out,” she said softly, “please, believe me when I say I will let you go as soon as I can.”

      “I think they need to be indoors mama,” patch said.  Kamchatka nodded and ushered Anook and her cubs to the house, the mama bear looking around her in wonder at the interior of the house.

       “Imagine this is just a big den,” Kamchatka said.  Anook laughed.

       “Are there any other creatures here?”  She asked.  Kamchatka told her of the other bears, that there were male and female brown and polar bears, as well as pandas and a koala or two.  Anook looked uncertain about the male polar bears.

       “Male bears?”  She asked, “I won’t want to meet them!”

      “You need not fear male bears in community dear mama,” Kuruk said, walking up behind Anook.  The female polar bear screamed and whipped round, rearing up on her hind paws to fight.  Kuruk engulfed her, hugging her and subduing her.

       “Kuruk say he no hurt mama or cubs, and then mama turn on him and give him plenty violence?”  Kuruk asked.  Anook, restrained, promised she’d leave Kuruk alone.

       “Mama Kamchatka, who the hell’s this,” Anook asked.  Kamchatka looked at Anook.

       “Other than Patch, who you’ve met already, there are three male bears I would trust with my own cubs,”  Kamchatka said, “one of them is a male bear named Nanuq, his son cub Nanuq junior, and the grizzly bear male who’s just hugged you.  His name is Kuruk, and he’s very gentle with cubs.”  Anook looked the huge male grizzly up and down.

        “I don’t know…” she said, “I don’t know mama!  You’re asking me to trust a male bear, something I’ve never done in my life when I have cubs.  These are my first cubs Kamchatka; I can’t let them go into danger!”  Anook stared at Kuruk as his eyes filled with tears.

       “Kuruk no hurt cubs in his life,” he choked.  Anook was suspicious of Kuruk’s tears.

        “You tell stories big bear!”  She snapped.  Kuruk turned and walked away his head hung with grief.

      “Anook,” Kamchatka said, padding to the female bear, “you need not have been so hard on Kuruk.  He’s as soft and gentle as I am, I saw him with Ekaterina when she was younger.  Kuruk loves to play with the cubs, please, give him a chance to prove he won’t harm your cubs!”  Anook looked into Kamchatka’s face.

      “You would say that, he’s your son,” she said.  Kamchatka couldn’t deny this.

      “He is my son,” she said, “but asks anyone here, and you will find out Kuruk looks fierce, but he’s really soft and gentle.”  Anook turned from Kamchatka and looked down, to see only one cub beside her!

      “Where is my other cub?”  She asked, “Kamchatka, where is my other cub!”  Kamchatka shook her head:

      “I saw nothing,” she said, her eyes full of fear.  Anook sprinted down the corridor, following her cub’s scent.

      “I didn’t think a six and a half hour old cub could move so quickly!”  She yelled, pounding down the corridor to the pool complex.  Bursting into unfamiliar territory, she arrived just in time to see her cub being fished out of the pool by Kuruk!

       “Your cub, he come and tries swimming with Kuruk!”  The grizzly bear said.

      “Get away from my cub!”  Anook screamed.  Kuruk swam to the edge of the large pool with the cub held in his mouth.  .  Anook saw he held the cub correctly, by the scruff of its neck.  Depositing the bedraggled and laughing cub on the tiles, Kuruk rested his forepaws on the edge of the pool.

       “That was wonderful mama!”  The cub laughed.  Anook looked sternly at her cub.

       “I’m going to make sure you weren’t stolen from me!”  She snapped.  Kuruk waved his paw at a screen.

      “You use that to find last half hour of what cameras see here,” he said, “but Kuruk no show you how use it, though he know how.”  Anook stalked off, muttering about unhelpful bears.  Placing her cub gently on the floor, she looked at the screen in front of her; a panel of large bear paw sized keys in front of her.  She hit “main menu,” and was presented with a speaking menu.  Hitting the down arrow, she selected the main pool cam and viewed the last ten minutes.  She saw Kuruk enter the complex, the bear very distressed.  She saw him plunge into the pool and begin swimming to relieve his stress.  Then she saw something else, a tiny cub, her tiny cub crawl rapidly into the complex and fall into the water.  Laughing, the cub swam expertly across the pool, which to him would have been as big as an ocean.  Kuruk, hearing splashing behind him, scooped the cub onto his back and began swimming round, giving the laughing cub a ride.  Then, just before Anook herself crashed in, she saw the cub tumble off Kuruk’s back and Kuruk pick it out of the water and begin swimming to the edge of the pool.

      “Anook viewed the footage with such concentration, as television was novel to her that she failed to notice her cub stealing away from her side.  Once the message, “end of recording,” came up, she looked down, and saw her cub had vanished.  Spinning round, snarling and screaming, Anook ran after Kuruk, for her cub had clambered onto the bear’s back and was urging the bear to run, run like the wind!  Kuruk, seeing this as a game, sprinted from the complex, Anook running after him, screaming and begging Kuruk to stop.

      “You’ll kill my cub!  You’ll kill my cub!”  She screamed.  Kuruk felt the cub digging his paws into his fur:

      “Hold on tight little one,” Kuruk said gently.

      “I am holding on, I’m holding on!”  The cub laughed.  Kuruk heard Anook’s paws sliding on the tiles of the passage as non slip tiles turned to ordinary tiles.  Anook, panting with fear as her paws lost grip, skidded round the corner and into a corridor.  She tried to accelerate, but her paws slipped from under her!  Anook, screaming, fell heavily onto the floor of the passage.  Kuruk slowed down, turning back to find Anook panting and crying.

       “My cub, my cub!”  She wept.

      “Your cub’s safe mama,”   Kuruk said softly.  Anook looked up at him, her eyes full of fear and dread.

       “I can’t believe my cub’s running away from me,” she gasped.

      “Cub’s will play,” Kuruk said gently, “he want play with Kuruk that be all.  He is inquisitive cub.  Kuruk think of name for him.  Youngest cub of Anook is named Houdini.”  Anook smiled despite her inner misgivings.

        “Houdini?”  She gasped, “Why that name?”

      “Houdini was a human escapologist,” Kamchatka said, padding into the passage with Anook’s eldest cub riding on her back.

       “How can you expect me to break with my inbred fear of male bears?”  Anook asked.

       “You met two of my cubs in the den where you had your cubs,” Kamchatka replied.

      “But Patch and Ekaterina are mates; they can’t be your cubs too, can they?”  Anook asked.

      “I adopted Patch when he was very young,” Kamchatka replied, “he’s not really mine, but threaten him, you’ll have me to deal with.”  Anook smiled:

       “I like Patch a lot,” she said, “He’s got lovely paws, a gentle touch, and a lovely bedside manner.  When he rubbed my belly while I was having Houdini, he took the fear and most of the labour pain away.”  Kamchatka grinned:

      “He’s good,” she replied.  Anook got to her paws, looking into Kuruk’s face.

       “How do you find it so easy to play with my cub so naturally?”  She asked.  Kuruk looked into Anook’s eyes.

       “Kuruk lost his cub when she is very young,” he said.  Anook exhaled hard through her clenched teeth, the hissing sound expressing her emotions.

        “So, you project the love you had for your cub onto mine?”  She asked.  Kuruk smiled and nodded.

      “Kuruk might look fierce and gruff, but give him a cub, and he become like big cub himself,” Kuruk said.  Anook looked Kuruk up and down, her eyes drawn to his face, eyes, and paws.

      “He’s got gentle eyes, and lovely paws,” she thought.  Anook remembered Kuruk’s hug when she’d attempted to attack him.  The hug had been firm, but understanding of her situation as a new mama bear.  Anook felt her right forepaw engulfed in Kuruk’s left, the bear’s touch making her catch her breath.

        “You feel for me don’t you,” Anook said softly.

       “Kuruk want hug Anook and cubs of Anook forever,” Kuruk said softly.

       “You can hug me and my cubs,” Anook replied, “I’d be glad of it Kuruk.”  Kuruk kissed Anook’s nose.

       “Kuruk see Anook having cubs,” he said, “he sees everything, and he want be there for her.  He see her in wood before having cubs too, he see her pushing down hard against cub, he hear her crying with fear and know he no can go to her, but he want to go to her.”  Anook found herself crying:

       “You saw me,” she said, “and, and you wanted to help me?  Oh Kuruk!  How sweet!”  She embraced him tightly, Houdini laughing merrily and dancing on Kuruk’s back:

      “Mama’s found a mate, mama’s found a mate!”  He yelled.

        “I think I have,” Anook replied.  Kuruk bucked hard, flipping Houdini into the air, and then Kuruk was lying on his back, the cub falling, falling, and landing in the grizzly bear’s huge paws.

       “Kuruk no want harm little Houdini,” he said.

      “What should we name our eldest cub?”  Anook asked, hardly noticing she’d referred to her cubs as Kuruk’s.

       “I like the name Kuruk,” the eldest cub said, “let me touch Kuruk’s body and paws, and then I’ll see if his body matches mine, and I will probably like the name even more.”  The cub slid down off of Kamchatka’s back by using her left foreleg like a fireman’s pole.  Once he’d reached the ground, he crawled to Kuruk and clambered onto the bear’s chest.  Both Houdini and Kuruk Junior sitting on their adopted sire’s belly.  Kuruk looked between his forelegs at the two cubs, his eyes shining with love and pleasure.

       “Kuruk love both Houdini and little Kuruk,” he said.

     “Little Kuruk love big Kuruk too,” little Kuruk replied, the big grizzly bear enfolding his newborn adopted cubs in his paws.

      “Go with your feelings Anook,” Theo mewed, padding into the corridor.  Anook looked at the lion. 

      “I think I will,” she replied, “scary though it is to do something that is against all I’ve been taught.  My mum might not have been able to hunt seals, but she taught me that male bears were bad news after cubs were born.”  Theo looked at Kuruk:

       “He loves acting like a cub, so you’ll be fine there I think.”  Anook looked at her two cubs now exploring Kuruk with their paws.

      “Time to feed you two I think,” she said.  Houdini looked at his mum:

      “I want to be fed by papa Kuruk!”  He protested.  Anook sighed heavily:

      “He can’t feed you, he’s got no milk,” she said.

       “But I want it; I want to be fed by him!”  Houdini wailed.  Anook looked at Kuruk for guidance.

      ?”How if you express milk into bottle, then I feed him with bottle?”  The huge grizzly asked.  Anook was about to ask what a bottle was, when she remembered something from her own cubhood.  At ten days old, she was removed from her mama and bottle-fed.

      “As long as you’re ok with that,” she replied.  Kuruk gently placed the cubs on the floor and leaping to his paws, trotted off to get the bottle ready.  Returning with it, he gave it to Anook, who sat down in Kamchatka’s lie up and expressed milk into the bottle for Houdini.  Once the bottle was half full, she gave it back to Kuruk, who screwed the top on and then sat down, calling Houdini over to him, the cub scrambling into Kuruk’s lap and settling down comfortably.  Kuruk held the bottle in his left forepaw, cradling the cub with his right.  Houdini soon latched onto the bottle and drank furiously.  Once the milk was all gone and Kuruk had patted the cub’s back to settle his belly, the cub curled up on Kuruk’s lap and slept.

       “You are so good with him,” Anook said.  Kuruk grinned:

      “Kuruk know how bottle feed cubs, for he sees human’s bottle feed cub once.  They be in camp when Kuruk on mountain.  They have little abandoned cub that need bottle.  The humans warm milk for little cub, then give him milk just like Kuruk do now for little Houdini.”

       “I need to relieve myself,” Kuruk Junior said.  Anook looked to Papa Kuruk:

      “Go out of here, then turn left, down corridor, then left again.  There be shower room and shitting place too, it be hole in floor, shit into hole, then walk away, don’t worry about big whoosh sound, that be washing hole.  Then go to paw bath and stand in it until water cover paws, then stand for extra few minutes.  You can sit down and wash paws more if needed,” Kuruk said, Anook ignoring his vulgar language for the minute.  Anook carried her cub to the relieving place, Kuruk tracking her on cameras until he saw her disappear into the shower room.

       “That’s so cool!”  Anook said, coming back with Kuruk Junior ten minutes later, “it’s so clean and easy!”  Kuruk grinned:

      “The human who make this place, he good man,” he said, “this place not made by community, we just live here, making own rules and stuff.”  Anook smiled:

       “This place is amazing,” she said.  Houdini woke later and needed the relieving place, so Kuruk took him there and taught him how to wash his paws afterwards, attention which the cub loved.

       “You are wonderful Kuruk,” Houdini said.  Kuruk laughed:

      “Kuruk not wonderful, he just want best for his cubs,” he said.  Houdini clambered onto Kuruk’s back, the huge grizzly carrying him back to the lie up.

       “I noticed Patch’s paws and fur smell of earth,” Anook said to Kuruk as he sat down, “does Patch not live in the house?”

      “Patch live in den,” Kuruk replied, “he relieve in wood, just like bears always do.  Community relieve in wood too until recently, but council humans tell Boss human that they no want him dig big shit pit in wood any more.”

      “What is a shit pit?”  Houdini asked.  Anook slapped Kuruk.

       “Don’t use those terms!”  She snarled.

       “Sorry Anook,” Kuruk replied.  Kuruk Junior giggled to himself behind his paw, his mama slapping him.

      “And if I catch you using those words Kuruk junior, I’ll cuff you so hard!”  She snarled.

      “But mama, papa Kuruk speaks the truth!”  The cub whined.  Anook agreed, but didn’t like his terminology.

      “He could be a little more polite when discussing it,” she grumbled.

      “Kuruk, Polite?”  Swarupa said, padding into the lie up, “he swears as much as the next bear.”  Then, finally realising what she was seeing, Swarupa used words to express her surprise which even had Kuruk growling.

       “Now Kuruk think those words be horrible!”  Kuruk grunted, getting to his feet and threatening Swarupa, “Get out of lie up right now foul mouthed tigress!”  Spitting with fear, Swarupa fled!

 

Anook examined Kuruk minutely by sight, the grizzly bear smiling at her.  Anook looked at Kuruk’s eyes and paws, loving them.

       “I want to get paws on with you,”  Anook thought, “Kuruk, I want to get paws on with you so very much!”  Kuruk opened his mouth, showing off a splended set of teeth, the she bear nearly crying out.

      “I love you papa Kuruk!”  Anook laughed.

       “Kuruk love you too Anook,”  Kuruk said.  Houdini crawled over to Kuruk and grabbed the grizzly bear’s huge right hind foot in his tiny forepaws.  Pulling himself up paw over paw, the cub managed to stand on his hind feet, holding on desperately to Kuruk’s pads with his toes, digging his tiny claws Into Kuruk’s rough pads.

     “Don’t hold on too tightly,”  Anook warned Houdini, “you might hurt Kuruk’s paw!”  Kuruk picked up the tiny polar bear cub in his paws and held him in the air, Hudini’s hind feet pedalling thin air.  Anook laughed as her cub sort footing.

       “Are you feeling safe little’en?”  she asked.  Houdini smiled and replied that he was, but pedalling the air with his hind feet felt wonderful!”

      “do you want me to stop pedalling with my paws?”  He asked.  Anook smiled and, padding over, kissed the pads of her cub’s right hind foot.

      awhwhwwh mum!”  Houdini said giggling, you soppy thing!”  Anook blew on the pads of her cub’s right hind paw, Houdini curling his toes with pleasure.

       “That feels amazing!”  he said.  Anook looked at Kuruk:

       “Tell me,”  she asked, “is it wrong here to play with one’s hind paws?”  Kuruk smiled and shook his head:

       “Mama of Kuruk, now she play with hind paws all time,”  he said.  Anook looked shocked!

      “mama kamchatka plays with her toes?”  Anook asked.  Kuruk grinned hugely.

      “mama does,”  he replied, “and Kuruk think it cute.”  Anook sat down and took her left hind foot in her left forepaw, playing with the toes of that paw with her right fore, Kuruk laughing merrily.

       “Kuruk think mama Anook need teach cubs how to play with paws,”  he said.  Anook looked at him:

       “how about if we both teach them?”  she asked.

       “Kuruk like teaching cubs how play with paws,”  he said, “he teach own cub how do thing, and she like it too.”

     “is your cub here?”  Houdini asked.  Kuruk suddenly felt a rush of emotion he could not hide.

      “I suppose she is yes,”  he sniffed.

      “Did she leave you?”  Anook asked.  Kuruk put houdini down on the rug, covering his face with his paws.

       “She die on mountain,”  he sobbed.  Anook touched his paw.

       “You never said anything like that,”  she said, “you said you’d lost your cub, but I never thought you lost her like that.”

      “Kuruk miss his cub like mad!”  the male grizzly wept.

       “did you see me giving birth to my cubs?”  Anook asked.  kuruk nodded:

       “Kuruk see Anook doing thing,”  he sniffed, “and he want throw paws around labouring mama bear!”

      “I could re-enact the birth of both my cubs,”  she said.  Kuruk looked at her.

     “But that be stressful time,”  he said.  Anook kissed his nose:

      “I would roar and paw at the air with everything I had,”  ,”  she replied.  Kuruk took her paw in his.

       “Kuruk wanting to be close to anook while she have cub,”  he said.  Anook smiled:

      “if Eohippus wishes,”  she said, “I might yet have another real cub.”  Kuruk hugged her tightly.

      “You said that before,”  Kuruk replied, “Anook, you prey for third cub don’t you.”  Anook nodded:

        “I want a third cub,”  she choked, “I love my two, but I would love a third just as much.  I want to teach a female cub how to hunt, how to be a good mama to her cubs.”  Kuruk touched Anook’s belly, feeling something kick back against his paw.

       “You have a third cub in there,”  he said breathlessly, “Anook mama, there’s a third cub wanting to be born!”  Anook smiled broadly.

      “I can’t wait,”  she said.  Kuruk embraced Anook with tender paws.

        “I remember Houdini’s birth,”  Kuruk junior said, “mama roared and pawed, her paws brushing the straw I was buried beneath while she brought Houdini into the world.”

      “So birth does not scare you?”  Kuruk asked.  Kuruk Junior laughed:

       “how can birth frighten us now we’ve been through it?”  Kuruk Junior asked.  Anook laughed, her laughter cut short by a contraction building in her.  Groaning, Anook lay down.

      “Cub’s coming,”  she gasped.  Hudini and Kuruk Junior crowded round their mama as she lay on her side puffing and blowing.  Kuruk looked at the cubs and his mate.

     “Kuruk think Kuruk junior and Houdini might want get clear of mama while she have cub.”  Papa Kuruk said.  Anook panted, trying to induce a lull in contractions.

      “let them feel my paws,”  she panted, “even, even let them catch the cub!”  Houdini touched his mama’s right hind foot, feeling her sweating pads and curling toes.

       “I think papa Kuruk aught to catch his cub,”  Houdini said, “we aren’t meant to be here.”  Houdini pulled his brother away, allowing Papa Kuruk to get paws on.  Anook growled as her contractions became more intense.  Kuruk rubbed her belly, Anook whimpering and snarling as her cub made its presence felt.  Taking a deep breath, she bore down hard into her tail, grunting and straining.

        “the cub’s coming, and coming fast!”  she squealed.  Kuruk rubbed Anook’s right hind foot, feeling her sweating pads and curled toes as she strained to deliver her cub.  Anook panted as the cub’s head emerged, Kuruk watching as Anook curled up into a tight ball in an attempt to push down harder against the cub.  Screaming, Anook heaved and kicked as the cub emerged.  Kuruk stroked Anook’s flanks, as she growled and whimpered during the cub’s emergence into the world.

      “One more push mama, push down with everything you have,”  Kuruk said gently.  Anook, her eyes tightly shut, caught her breath and bore down strongly.

       awh’wh’wh’wh’ooowwwwwwww’ooowwwwwwww!”  she yelled as she felt the cub’s hind feet emerging into the world.  Kuruk let Anook clean the cub up, then he took a look at it while it was nursing for the first time.

       “You have female cub mama!  Anook, exhausted by her labour And with her nerves soothed by knowing she was not in danger, felt waves of pain and fatigue crashing in on her.

       “I just want to sleep,” she mumbled, “Please eohippus let me sleep like I want to.”  Kuruk hugged his mate tenderly:

      “You sleep a while mama,” he said softly.

      “But what about Houdini and little Kuruk?”  Anook asked.  Papa Kuruk kissed her nose:

       “They’ll be fine,” he said.  Patch padded in a few minutes later, Kuruk smiling at him and hugging him.

      “You’ve found your mate I think,” Patch said.  Kuruk smiled and nodded:

       “Kuruk love Anook and her cubs Patch,” Kuruk replied.  Patch smiled and padded over to Anook, looking down at the sleeping female polar bear.

      “She looks exhausted,” he said.  Kuruk fitted a headphone jack into a socket in the panel of the console and handed Patch the headset.  The grey bear put the headphones on, and then Kuruk accessed the videos of Anook having her cubs in patch’s den, and then of her having her cub in Kamchatka’s lie up.  The two births were different, Anook obviously feeling more of the birth pain the second time when she was not frightened and could focus on the passage of her cub into the world.

       “No wonder she looks tired,” patch said.  Kuruk nodded:

      “Patch,” he said, “what be good name for little cub?”  Patch looked at Kuruk:

      “That cub’s a pure bred polar bear isn’t she?”  He asked.  Kuruk nodded:

       “She not Kuruk’s cub, well not really,” the grizzly bear said gruffly.

      “I know you wish she was yours,” patch said softly, rubbing Kuruk’s paw with his.  Kuruk swallowed hard.

       “Cub of Kuruk who died on mountain was named Olga,” he choked, “she beautiful cub.  Kuruk know Olga be hated name in community after what horrid Olga Honeydew do to Chowilawu, but Kuruk want give cub of Anook name that mean something.”

      “As long as Anook is in agreement,” Patch said, “Olga is a lovely name for a female cub.”  Kuruk hung his head in grief for his lost cub.

        “Dear brother Kuruk,” patch said softly, hugging the now weeping grizzly bear.

       “Kuruk so want to move on from death of cub, but can’t do thing,” Kuruk wept, “now though, maybe little Olga let Kuruk move on, not forget his cub, but maybe lessen pain of death a little.”  Kuruk looked down as a tiny paw touched his.  It was the tiny female cub Anook had given birth to only an hour previously.

       “You look so much like lost cub of Kuruk,”  Kuruk thought, looking down at the polar bear cub,  “Kuruk’s mate be polar bear too, and she lose life after losing little Olga cub to humans.”  The newborn cub hardly understood the reasons behind Kuruk’s emotions, but reacted to his mood by snuggling close.

       “I’m full of milk,” she said, “and I want to snuggle down with you Papa Kuruk.”

       “How you know name of Kuruk?”  Kuruk asked.  The cub giggled:

       “Houdini and little Kuruk tell me things,” she said, “I know your name, I know you saw me born, I know I’m your cub.”  Kuruk sat down, the tiny female cub snuggling up to him.  Kuruk, smiling, cradled the tiny creature in his paws.

        “So my name is Olga?”  The cub asked.  Kuruk took the plunge.

     “Yes it is,” he said, hoping Anook would not mind.  Olga snuggled up to her sire.

       “I’m sure mama will be delighted,” she yawned, “I like the name, and I will do well by it, as I have a feeling this name has not been well thought of recently.”  Kuruk thought of Olga Honeydew and Helga’s mother.

      “Kuruk no name you Olga to try and clean up image of name,”  he said, “he name you Olga because Kuruk feel blessed to have young Olga cub in his life and want reminding of that every day.”  Olga turned her face to Kuruk’s, the huge male grizzly bending his head and touching noses with her.

       “You have a soft muzzle Papa Kuruk,” Olga said, touching Kuruk’s nose with her paw.

       “You have gorgeous face and paws little Olga cub,” Kuruk replied, kissing the pads of the newborn cub’s left forepaw.  Looking up, Kuruk found Houdini and Kuruk Junior gathered round him.  Soon Kuruk had three cubs snuggled close to him, Olga sitting on his right leg, Houdini on his left and Kuruk Junior sitting in the space between his hind legs.  Then, to add something else to the mix, Patch sat down and began playing with Kuruk’s right hind foot, stroking his brother’s pads and playing with his toes.  Kuruk smiled with growing pleasure.

      “I think Kuruk’s found a family at last,” Anook yawned, her eyes shining, telling Kuruk and patch she’d seen everything.

     “I like the name Olga,” Anook said, rubbing her eyes with her paws.  Kuruk glanced over at his mate:

       “Anook look so cute when you rub eyes with paws,” he said.  Anook laughed merrily.  Anook padded over to Patch and Kuruk, looking down at Patch’s forepaws playing with Kuruk’s right hind.  Smiling, she sat down and watched her cubs being embraced by their sire.

       “How about if we alternate bottle feeding each cub with natural methods?”  Anook asked, “They can then get to know each of us equally.”  Kuruk smiled:

      “Let’s do it,” he said.  Patch let go of Kuruk’s right hind foot and got to his paws.

      “I must go now,” he said, “feeding cubs is a private time.”  Anook circled round, blocking Patch’s exit.

      “You stay!”  She said.  Patch smiled broadly.

       “Ok mama,” he said, “I stay.”  Anook padded up and hugged Patch.

       “Anook!”  He laughed, “Hey, that’s enough!”  Anook kissed patch’s nose and held his forepaws in hers.

       “Kuruk think Anook want play with paws of Patch,” Kuruk said.

      “I think she does too,” Kamchatka said, padding into the lie up.  Anook and Patch sat down and began playing with each other’s toes, Patch tickling Anook’s pads and toes, making the female polar bear laugh and madly wave her forepaws in the air.  Kuruk watched them, laughing helplessly at their antics.

      “Now you know how to play with paws, go and play with Kuruk’s Anook,” patch said.  Anook got to her paws, her hind feet tingling nicely.  Padding over to Kuruk, she scooped up two cubs, Olga and Houdini, leaving little Kuruk with his sire.

      “I think we should feed our cubs before that,” she said to Kuruk, the large grizzly smiling.

      “I’ll go get bottle,” Kuruk said, but Kamchatka beat him to it, passing him a fresh bottle.

      “I’ll wash the old one,” she said, padding from the room with the used bottle.  Anook filled the bottle with her milk for Kuruk Junior, and then sat back, naturally feeding her other two cubs.  Kuruk, smiling, held the bottle for his eldest son cub while Kuruk Junior drank busily.  Kamchatka watched from the corner where she sat comfortably after returning to the lie up, loving the family scene taking place before her.

      “I’ve never played with a male bear’s paws before Patch showed me how,” Anook said, “I want to play with Kuruk’s though.”  Kuruk smiled and nodded:

      “Anook dear,” he said, “You can play with paws of papa Kuruk all you want.”

      “Will you play with my hind paws too?”  Anook asked.  Kuruk smiled and nodded:

      “I will,” he said.

 

Anook finished feeding her cubs, then, once Kuruk junior had finished his drink and all three cubs were comfortably settled, Anook sat opposite her mate.

      “So how does this work?”  She asked.  Kuruk took Hold of Anook’s right hind foot, balancing her heel on his left hind leg, then began stroking her pads and playing with her toes.  Anook cried out, shocked at the intensity of the sensation.

      “Oooh, wow Kuruk!  My, my toes, they want to curl tightly, I don’t know why!”

      “Let your toes curl as they will,” Kuruk said, gently tracing the sole pad of her right hind foot.  Anook felt her toes curling tightly, so tightly she was frightened by the intensity of what she was feeling.

       “My toes don’t want to relax!”  Anook said, bouncing about a little, “Kuruk is this right?”

      “Follow your paws Anook love,” Kuruk replied, gently massaging what he could reach of the pads of the curled toes of Anook’s right hind foot.  Anook gasped and panted:

      “I can’t relax my toes, I need help!”  She begged.  Kuruk rubbed the pads of Anook’s right hind foot, Anook’s toes relaxing slowly.

      “Wow, that feels good, that feels good!”   Anook panted.

       “Kuruk glad he makes Anook happy mama,” the grizzly bear said.  Anook looked into Kuruk’s face.

      “But will I be able to make you as happy as you made me?”  She asked.

       “Is there going to be another cub coming?”  Houdini asked, “it sounded like mama was about to have a cub!”  Anook laughed:

      “No Houdini love,” she replied, “not yet.  I was just overwhelmed by the touch of Kuruk’s forepaws on my hind.”

       “Did you enjoy giving birth to us?”  Olga asked.  Anook smiled and replied that she had.

      “It was painful, but amazingly wonderful,” she replied.

     “Could we play with each other’s paws mama?”  Houdini asked.  Anook smiled and nodded:

        “You certainly can,” she said, “now how you play with each other’s paws is this.  One bear sits opposite another, and then they take apposing hind paws in their forepaws and play with them.  Houdini, you’d play with Olga’s right hind foot, while she plays with your left hind.”

       “So I stroke the soles of Houdini’s hind paws?”  Olga asked.  Anook smiled and nodded:

      “Only if he wants you to,” she said, “and he will get paws on with your hind paws only if you want him to also.”

      “What about me?”  Kuruk junior asked, “Whose paws can I play with?”  Kamchatka padded forward and sat down opposite Kuruk Junior, guiding his forepaws to her left hind foot, Kuruk Junior laughing merrily:

      “Grandmamma Kamchatka’s paws, yeah!”  He said.

      “Have you two played before then?”  Anook asked.  Kuruk junior smiled and nodded:

      “We have, we have mama,” he replied.  Kamchatka laughed:

      “We played when you were running after Houdini that first time,” she said, “your middle cub has a lovely gentle touch Anook.”  Anook grinned:

      “I think playing with each other’s paws is essential to a good relationship,” Anook said.

      “And so say all of us!”  Kamchatka and Kuruk laughed.  Anook looked relieved.  Anook’s cubs were soon playing with each other’s paws, Kuruk Junior playing with Kamchatka’s hind paws, while papa Kuruk played with Anook’s hind paws, the female polar bear struggling to remain composed as she felt messages from Kuruk that she’d hardly believed possible to feel through her hind paws.  Tearful, Anook basked in the sensations caused by Kuruk’s gentle exploration of her hind paws.  The spontaneous reaction her toes had to Kuruk’s forepaws no longer frightened her, indeed she enjoyed how her toes curled tightly and relaxed as Kuruk stroked her bunched pads.

      “My toes are out of control!”  She laughed.  Kuruk giggled and kissed the pads of Anook’s right hind paw, the she polar bear smiling broadly.  Meanwhile, over with Olga and Houdini, Olga was playing with her older brother’s left hind foot, Houdini laughing so hard he was almost crying.

       “I love this!”  He yelled.  Olga kissed Houdini’s toes, the male cub giggling and hugging his sister tightly.

 

Anook examined Kuruk’s left hind foot, seeing wrinkled black pads and strong toes with shortened claws.

      “You trim your claws?”  Anook asked.  Kuruk smiled and nodded:

      “Kuruk like keep claws in good condition,” he said, “so trim them regularly.”  Anook kissed the grizzly bear’s left hind foot, Kuruk laughing.

      “Kuruk love Anook,” he said.  Anook kissed his nose:

       “I’ve never felt so happy or secure,” she said.  Kuruk examined Anook from nose to tail, touching her ears, nose, shoulders, belly, legs, paw pads and toes, Anook whimpering and sighing with pleasure.

      “Mama loves Kuruk’s touch I think,” Houdini said to Olga, the young female cub laughing merrily.

       “I think she is,” she said, “I’m glad she’s found him, he’s so lovely Houdini, so lovely.”

       “I felt mama’s toes curling as she gave birth to you,” Houdini said, “you were born seven hours after me.  Mama curled her toes so tightly, so very tightly while she pushed down to deliver you.”  Olga explored her own hind paws with her fore, imagining her mama’s effort.

       “I am grateful to mama for pushing as hard as she did,” she said.

     “So am I,” Houdini said.  Houdini touched his sister’s forepaws as she used them to explore her own hind.

      “You playing with your own hind paws are so cute!”  He said, Olga smiling hugely.

      I love it,” she replied, “but you playing with my toes and stroking my pads feels better, there’s more to it, you know?”  Houdini smiled and nodded.

      “I’ve played with my hind paws a little,” he said, “but I like it better when you play with my hind paws.”  Olga laughed merrily.  Meanwhile, Kamchatka and Kuruk Junior played together, Anook’s oldest cub playing with Kamchatka’s right hind paw, both grandmamma grizzly and polar Grandcub enjoying their play.  Playing with paws developed quickly into rough and tumble, Kamchatka playing seemingly roughly with her Grandcub.  Anook watched anxiously, but Kuruk soothed her. “Mama Kamchatka, she once wild bear, she know how deal with tiny cubs and make rough and tumble fun without hurting cub.  You need no worry about mama being too rough with cubs of Anook.”  Anook watched Kamchatka gently playing with her eldest cub.  Then, turning to Kuruk, she asked:

      “Would your mama play with me like she would a fully grown cub?”  Kuruk smiled:

      “Why Anook not ask her?”  He asked.  Anook padded over to Kamchatka and gently touched her shoulder:

      “Mama Kamchatka,” Anook said with huge deference, “would you please grant me an audience?”  Kamchatka looked seriously at Anook for a few seconds, gazing into her eyes with intent.  Then she laughed uproariously and threw her paws around Anook, hugging her tightly.

       “You want me to grant you an audience?”  She said, kissing Anook’s nose, “I’m just mama Kamchatka, a fat old grizzly mama!”  Anook felt warm paws around her and the legendary grizzly mama’s kiss on her nose, the warmest, most comforting thing Anook had ever felt.

      “She knows how to love,” Anook thought, “I love this mama grizzly from her nose to her paw pads.”  Anook found herself crying, Kamchatka hugging her tenderly.

       “Eohippus should make you a mama to lost cubs mama Kamchatka,” Anook wept.

      “My mama told me that too,” Kamchatka whispered.  Anook snuggled up to Kamchatka with desperate regency.

       “I can’t call on her to mentor me; I’m meant to be a grown adult bear!  I have cubs for eohippus sake!  I should not need a mentor!”  Kamchatka seemed to know Anook’s turmoil, for she rubbed her back with a gentle forepaw.

      “I love you Anook,” Kamchatka said softly, Anook weeping, totally breaking down.

       “It’s okay,” Kamchatka said softly, kissing Anook’s nose and paws, the female polar bear’s tears wetting Kamchatka’s thick brown fur.  Kuruk and Anook’s cubs listened to all this.

      “Mum,” Houdini said, “I think mama Kamchatka will keep us safe.”  Anook wiped her eyes with her paws.

      “I think she will,” she sniffed.

      Kamchatka is leader of the ursine family,” Samson said, “she’s well trusted.”  Anook looked at the magnificent lion.

       “He looks bereft,” she thought.

       “You look lost,” Anook said.  Samson looked at her, his eyes telling Anook far more than she dared ask.

       “I’m lost, completely lost,” Samson’s eyes said.  Anook, feeling sorry for this big cat, padded over to him and covered his smaller left forepaw with her huge right fore.

        “I’m sorry,” Anook said.  Samson looked into the female polar bear’s eyes, seeing a mother bear with her cubs, and a secure future due to a large male grizzly who had adopted her and her cubs.

     “I am sorry for your loss,” Anook said softly.  Samson, caught off guard, covered his face with his free paw.

        “I’m sorry,” Samson sniffed, “I shouldn’t cry in front of you.”  Anook hugged the lion, Samson crying into her thick fur.

       “I’m so lost, so lost!”  Samson sobbed.  Anook kissed the weeping lion’s nose.

       “You will find a mate,” she said softly.  Samson choked on his tears.

      “I’m no good here,” he sobbed, I need to go.”

       “You need to be with others, not on your own,” Anook said.  Samson bowed his head in misery.

       “Fleur died in her sleep,” he sobbed.

        “Fleur sounds lovely,” Anook said, not knowing the cat she was talking about, but feeling she had to say something comforting all the same.  Samson turned and left.

      “He’s feeling lonely,” Anook said.

      “What was that mum?”  Olga asked.

      “That was a lion Olga love,” Anook said, “He is feeling lonely.”  Kamchatka looked at Anook:

       “Samson loves bears too,” she said, “so you Anook would appeal to him.  He um, clings to anything he understands.”

       “So he can understand bears?”  Anook asked.

      “Samson wants to be bear,” Kuruk said, “that biggest wish he have in life is to be bear, but him lion, and so he not become bear.”  Anook looked at her cubs, then at Kuruk.

        “I get the feeling that Samson has been more intimate with a bear than just talking to one,” she said.

      “Oh yes,” Kuruk said, “he massage Allie’s paws a lot too, and Allie be mama bear like Anook.  Samson and Allie, they spend plenty time massaging and playing with each other’s paws, stroking pads and playing with toes.”

       “Maybe if Samson wants enough to be a bear, he will become one?”  Anook asked.

      “Eohippus does not transform on a whim,” Theo mewed, padding into the lie up.”

      “You are a magnificent lion,” Anook said to him.  Theo smiled shyly.

       “I’m very much like him, or so others say,” Theo said, “my mum certainly believes that.”

      “You wash all the time like Samson do,” Kuruk said.  Theo smiled at the bear.

      “Samson is one for washing that’s for sure,” Kamchatka confirmed smiling.

     “But I get the idea lions don’t much like water,” Anook said.

      “Theo does,” Kamchatka said, “and he eats veg too,” Anook looked shocked:

      “But lions eat meat, and only meat,” she said, “either that, or I’m seriously lacking in education.”

      “No mama Anook, you’re education is not incorrect,” Theo said, “I’m the exception to the leonine rule.”  Anook looked at Theo, marvelling at the lion’s strength and presence.  Theo, while not as big as Samson, certainly had more presence than the larger lion.  Anook looked into Theo’s eyes, the lion’s expression comforting her.

         “You are a very powerful lion,” Anook said, looking into Theo’s eyes, then down at his paws, which were rather dainty and slim, not looking like a male lion’s paws at all, more like those of a lioness.  Theo smiled at Anook, rolled onto his back and presented his paws for examination and to be played with.  Anook took each of Theo’s paws in hers, examining them carefully.

       “You have lovely paws,” she said softly, gently kissing the pads and toes of the white lion’s right forepaw and saying something under her breath.

       “I’m no deity Anook,” Theo mewed, “mind you, you polar bears are as fascinating to us white lions as we seem to be to you.”

      “I wonder why you lions don’t live in the arctic with us polar bears,” Anook asked.  Theo considered this, his eyes closed as Anook traced the pads of his right hind foot with her forepaws.

       “I don’t know,” he mewed, enjoying her ministrations, “maybe, maybe our ancestors were arctic cats, though I don’t base that on anything other than a white coat.  Theo yawned expansively, stretching his forepaws and settling back onto the rug.

       “I feel like a king,” he mewed.  Anook smiled and kissed Theo’s nose.

       “It doesn’t take much to please you does it,” she said, “A bear massaging the pads of your paw, inexpertly at that, and you’re happy.”  Theo curled the toes of his right hind paw.

       “You don’t need to be expert to massage a paw well,” he yawned.  Anook examined Theo’s hind paw, counting four toes and three sole pads.  Smiling, she kissed his pads, the lion giggling cubbishly.

      “He’s just a big cub,” Petra mewed, padding in and ruffling Theo’s mane with her paw, the three quarter grown lion turning his head and gazing at his mum with amused loving eyes.

      “You’re a mama’s boy Theo,” Kamchatka observed.  Theo growled in mock anger, but knew the truth of it.

       “He loves his mum, that’s for sure,” Petra said.

 

Meanwhile, in Samson’s now vacated lie up, Haimati and Ahanu settled down with Sita.  The white tigress, feeling secure, settled down with her mate and cub, loving her new home.

 

Anook, playing with the toes of Theo’s right hind paw and making the lion laugh uproariously, failed to notice Matoskah pad into the lie up.  The male polar bear, now used to the community, padded in to examine the new mama polar bear at close quarters.  He’d heard her tale from Patch, but had not actually met her.

      “Um, hi,” he said.  Anook looked up, then dropping Theo’s right hind paw, ran to Matoskah and hugged him fiercely.

       “Hey little brother!”  Anook yelled, kissing Matoskah on his nose and embracing him tightly.  Matoskah kissed Anook’s nose and returned her hug, crying into her coat.

       “Sister Anook,” Matoskah said, using her given name rather than the one he’d known her by as a cub, “how great it is to see you again.  Hey, did you know Conrad’s here too?”  Anook held Matoskah away from her and stared into his face.

       “Conrad?”  She asked, “That bear who loved to toss us in blankets?”  Matoskah laughed and nodded:

       “He’s mama Kamchatka’s mate, and Ekaterina’s his cub.  Conrad himself though, he keeps a low profile these days.”

     “But why?”  Anook asked, “He was always so kind and gentle.”

       “His time on the ice changed him mama,” Matoskah replied, “He was poisoned by the human’s black gold.  He no longer sees well now.”

        “I don’t see at all Anook,” Conrad said padding into the lie up, his expression wary.

       “I know you have cubs, so I will not get too close,” Conrad said.  Anook looked at her cubhood friend.

        “You look worn out Conrad,” she said, padding to him and touching noses.  Conrad breathed in Anook’s scent, memories of the playful cub he’d mercilessly tossed in the blanket until she’d cried with fear coming back.  Conrad gently felt for Anook’s paw and squeezed it.

        “I’m sorry for tossing you in the blanket,” he said.  Anook laughed and hugged Conrad tenderly.

       “You need not apologise for that,” she said, “it was years ago, and we were cubs.  Now though, I am a mama, you are a papa and grandpapa bear by all accounts, and we are safe and warm.  We need to get together and tell our tales sometime.”

      “We love stories mama,” Houdini said.  Anook smiled and shepherded Houdini towards Conrad.

       “Houdini,” Anook said, “I’d like you to meet papa Kuruk’s sire, your grandsire.” Houdini felt Conrad take him in his paws, the adult male polar bear now sitting on the rugs.  Exploring Houdini with his paws, Conrad found the cub’s nose, ears and paws, Houdini laughing as Conrad’s touch tickled his paw pads.

      “You are so gentle Grandpapa Conrad,” Houdini said.  Conrad kissed Houdini’s nose and paws, the cub wriggling and laughing with pleasure.  Patch and Ekaterina padded in with Rowena, all three bears sitting down to watch Conrad playing with Houdini.  Matoskah, still overwhelmed at finding his sister cub, embraced Anook tightly, Olga and Kuruk Junior begging to know what was going on.

       “Mama’s found her brother cub,” Kamchatka said.  Olga smiled broadly:

        “She found her brother?”  She asked, “I never knew she had a brother.”

        “I thought we’d never see each other again,” Anook said, “Matoskah is my brother cub.  He’s older than me by a few minutes, but he looked after me in the breeding facility, but sided with Conrad in the blanket tossing games.”

       “How about if we toss her in the blanket for old time’s sake Conrad?”  Matoskah asked.  Conrad laughed:

       “How heavy does she look?”  He asked, “We can’t toss her unless it’s safe, but the idea sounds wonderful.”

       “I’m not getting tossed!”  Anook snapped, “No no no!”   Matoskah flexed his paws, Anook running out of the lie up chased by Kuruk and Matoskah, the male bears catching Anook by cornering her in the shower room.  Grabbing her, they dragged her protesting mightily from the shower room and shovelled her into a blanket.  Anook panted with fear as Conrad joined the team, and the blanket was stretched between them.  Then the tossing began, Anook screaming as after three attempts, she finally left the blanket with alarming speed!  Landing hard, Anook begged not to be tossed:

      “Please, please stop!”  She begged, “I’m gonna be sick, I’m gonna throw up!”  Kuruk helped Anook out of the blanket, the she polar bear vomiting lavishly into the floor.

       “You sods, you bloody sods!”  Anook gasped, spitting and wrenching.

        “Oh dear, Kuruk think we went a little far with that,”  Kuruk said, gently rubbing Anook’s back as the mama polar bear staggered away from the scene of her humiliation to sit down with her back against a wall for support.

       “Ugh, I feel like I’ve been on a roller coaster!”  Anook whimpered, panting and blowing through her nose.

      “Breathe slowly,” Kamchatka said, padding into the lie up, having left Houdini and his brother and sister with Patch and his family.  Kamchatka fixed Kuruk with a fierce look, then, to Anook’s amazement, she cuffed her eldest cub across his nose, Kuruk sitting down hurriedly, throwing up his paws and rubbing his nose where his irate mother had struck him.

     “That was uncalled for Kamchatka!”  Conrad yelled.

       “Do you want it too?”  Kamchatka snapped.  Conrad squared up to the mama bear.

      “Go on!  Go on, I dare you!”  Conrad challenged, now incensed by Kamchatka treating Kuruk like a cub.  Kamchatka smacked Conrad across his nose, just as she’d done her son cub, Conrad ending up in a screaming heap on the floor.

      “You bitch, you bitch!”  He wailed.

      “If you act like a spoilt cub, I’ll punish you like I would a spoilt cub!”  Kamchatka snapped.  Anook leapt to her feet and ran back to her lie up before she burst into spontaneous laughter.  Matoskah watched her go, having to stuff the toes of a forepaw into his mouth to stop himself laughing uproariously.  Even so, he couldn’t help snorting and giggling to himself.  Kamchatka strode up to him, Matoskah running away pleading:

      “No, no no no mama!  I’m sorry!  I promise I’m sorry!”  Kamchatka watched him go, smiling to herself.  Turning to her mate and cub, she helped Conrad to his feet, and then scooped Kuruk up, draping him over her shoulder in a fire-fighter’s lift, carrying the stunned male grizzly away, and the blow to his nose incapacitating him to the point where he couldn’t walk.

        “You know how to slap mama,” Kuruk moaned.  Kamchatka knew how to remedy blows to noses, and dumped Kuruk back in her lie up, going back to get Conrad.  Conrad staggering along beside her.  When they were all settled in Kamchatka’s lie up, Kamchatka rubbed Kuruk’s nose, her son cub recovering with rapidity.

       “Wow mama, you know how stop Kuruk,” he said, “Kuruk want you show him how do thing.”  Blackberry looked at Kuruk, having witnessed everything on the CCTV system.

       “How could you do that to Anook?”  He asked, his eyes telling Kuruk he disapproved.

       “Kuruk sorry for chasing Anook Blackberry,” Kuruk said shame faced, “he know she no want be tossed, but he do thing anyway, which was wrong thing.”  Blackberry, still chastened from his telling off over jeering at vanquished foes, was very upset by Kuruk’s actions, which the male grizzly could see only too well.

       “You made Anook sick!”  Blackberry snapped, angry and upset.

      “I’m ok,” Anook said, looking with interest at the black cub.  Padding up to him, she gazed into his face, and then examined him from nose to paws.

       “I like the look of this fellow,” she thought, “but whose cub is he?”

       “Whose cub are you?”  She asked.  Blackberry nodded at mama Kamchatka.

       “How can he be your cub?”  She asked.

       “Mama Grizzly’s can have black cubs you know,” Kamchatka said.  Anook looked at Blackberry, admiring his bright eyes, cute face, black fur and perfect paws.

       “You have such beautiful cubs,” Anook said to Kamchatka, the mama bear smiling broadly.

       “I love my cubs,” Kamchatka said.

       “She loves them so much she re-enacts the births of some of her cubs,” Patch said.  Anook looked at him:

      “I  have a feeling you love your cub enough to try that too,”  she said, “you might be a male cub, but I think you would try recreating what you saw when your mate was having her cub.”  Patch smiled slightly.

       “What makes you think that?”  He asked.

      “A feeling I had when you massaged my belly while I was having little Houdini,” Anook replied, “just a feeling, that’s all.”  Patch grinned:

      “You’re correct,” he said, “I would give it a go, and with commitment too.”

      “Does Patch look female?”  Ekaterina asked laughing.  Anook padded over to Patch and looked into his eyes, then glanced over his body and paws.

       “You’ve got a very handsome body, gorgeous eyes and paws,” she said, “as I said before, I like your paws a lot.”  Patch giggled and rolled onto his back, showing Anook the soles of all four paws.  Anook kissed Patch’s nose and paw pads, the grey bear laughing uproariously.

       “Now let’s arrange a time to swap tales,” Conrad said.  Anook looked at him and Matoskah with misgiving.

        “You two aren’t at all sorry for tossing me in the blanket,” she said.

       “Look, Anook, Matoskah said, “that was stupid of us; it was immature, silly, awful behaviour.  We are sorry for what we did.”

      “You had your right forepaw stuffed into your mouth to stop yourself from laughing out loud you disgusting shit Matoskah!”  Anook yelled.

      “I never thought there was such a thing as a beautiful shit,” Rowena said.  Patch snorted trying not to laugh, Ekaterina whacking her cub for swearing.

        “Don’t encourage her!”  She hissed.  Patch, covering his mouth with both forepaws, whimpered ,snorted and wriggled about as if he was about to explode.

      “You are dreadful Matoskah!”  Anook screamed.  Patch was now biting the toes of his left forepaw to stop himself laughing.  Suddenly he leapt to his feet and ran from the lie up almost weeping with laughter.

      “That was so funny!”  He guffawed.  Kuruk padded after his brother and both bears collapsed in the corridor, laughing cubbishly at the situation.

       “Big cubs, they’re just big cubs!”  Kamchatka roared.  Kuruk and Patch padded back into the lie up, wiping their eyes with their paws.

       “I think it’s time to swap tales,” Patch said softly.  Anook glared at him.

        “Like you really care!”  She snapped, now furious.  Patch padded forward and took her paw in his.

       “Now do you believe I want to know your tale?”  He asked.  Anook looked into his eyes, seeing the honest bear beneath the grey fur and white padded paws.

       “Ok, ok,” she sighed, “I’ll forget the blanket tossing incident.”  Matoskah kissed his sister’s nose.

       “You have patched to thank for this,” she snapped, “I am doing it for him as I like him a lot and want the fade over with.  He makes me smile a lot and that’s worth burying the hatchet for.”

       “Who you are in love with then?”  Kuruk asked, Patch or papa Kuruk?”

       “I love you both, in different ways of course,” Anook said, “I love you Kuruk for your steadfastness, and I love patch for his playful attitude to life.  Now let’s settle our differences and then we can swap tales.”  Patch danced on his toes, Anook laughing helplessly.

      “He’s so silly!”  She said.  Kuruk tried dancing, but couldn’t get any go in it.

     “Kuruk no dance too well,” he grunted, “Kuruk not dancing bear, Patch know how dance from time in zoo.  Now he makes Kuruk want dance, but Kuruk no good at dancing.”

      “You are a lovely bear Patch,” Anook said.  Kuruk looked shocked as she rolled patch over and tickled his belly and paws.

        “Kuruk think Anook love Patch more than him!”  Kuruk snapped theatrically, stamping round the lie up in what he hoped looked an angry manner.  Rowena and Ekaterina fell about laughing at Kuruk’s antics.

       “You look so false,” Rowena Guffawed, “Kuruk, oh Kuruk!  You look so silly!”  Kuruk padded over to Rowena, grabbed her and, rearing onto his hind paws, swung her round in a wide arc, the half grown cub laughing merrily.

      “Put me down big bad Kuruk!”  She laughed.  Kuruk put Rowena down on her back on the floor, grabbed her right hind foot and blew on her pads, Rowena screaming with laughter and kicking with her free hind foot, catching Kuruk on his nose, the bear snorting and withdrawing Hurriedly.

      “I’m sorry Kuruk!”  Rowena said, crawling to her uncle and hugging him.  Kuruk smiled weakly, Rowena’s accidental blow to his nose having the same affect as Kamchatka’s deliberate attack on him.

     “Kuruk fine, just fine,” he sniffed.  Rowena kissed her uncle’s nose and the pads of his right forepaw, the huge grizzly smiling with genuine pleasure.

     “Kuruk want to hug Rowena cub,” he said, embracing her tightly.  Rowena snuggled up tightly to her uncle.

      “”I love you Kuruk,” Rowena said softly into the grizzly bear’s ear.

      “Kuruk just want be peaceful,” Kuruk whispered softly.

       “I’m bored with all this mucking about,” Houdini said, “I’m looking forward to story time!”  Anook looked at Kamchatka, who smiled and nodded:

      “Let’s go to patch’s lie up, and there we can swap tales,” she said.  Conrad followed Anook, Kamchatka, Patch, Ekaterina, Rowena and Anook’s three cubs, who were riding on Kuruk’s back, to Patch and Ekaterina’s den, Matoskah heading off to Jinghua’s lie up. 

 

Sitting down in Patch’s den, Kuruk Junior started playing with Patch’s right hind foot, the grey bear curling his toes with pleasure.

       “Your pads are bunching up!”  The cub laughed, “That’s so cute!”  Patch rubbed Houdini’s back with his forepaws, the cub giggling and kissing the pads of patch’s right hind paw.

       “You like my hind paw?”  Patch asked.  Houdini giggled, bouncing about excitedly while holding onto patch’s right hind foot.

       “I do, I do!”  The cub replied, “Your paws are playful patch.”  Patch laughed:

       “My paws are mine, so I make them playful,” he said, wiggling his toes.  Houdini laughed merrily and gently played with patch’s wiggling toes, the grey bear curling his large toes to catch and hold the cub’s tiny ones.  Houdini tugged at his forepaws, trying to free them from the gently grasping toes of patch’s large right hind foot.

        “Do you want me to let go?”  Patch asked.  Houdini shook his head:

     “No, I can free my paws, I think, just got to pull harder!”  The cub gasped, tugging furiously at his forepaws, wriggling convulsively and worrying at his trapped paws.  Patch gently increased the pressure on Houdini’s toes, the cub whimpering and tugging harder.  Then patch released Houdini’s toes, the cub flying backwards, ending up lying on his back, his tiny paws sticking skywards.

       “That was fun!”  Houdini said, kicking with all four feet.  Patch scooped up the tiny cub and hugged him tenderly.

       “I love playing with cubs,” patch said.  Houdini giggled and snuggled up close to Patch.

       “I love playing with your paws because they are a cub’s paws, yes you are adult, but you have cub’s paws.”

      “No Patch doesn’t have the paws of a cub,” Anook laughed, “he’s adult Houdini, Patch is no cub.”

      “I know what he means,” Patch said, “Yes Houdini, I have cub’s paws.  I love having my paws played with.”  Houdini kissed the pads of Patch’s right hind paw.

      “I’ll bet your mum groaned and roared as she delivered your paws,” Houdini said.  Patch laughed:

      “My paws were as small as yours when I was born,” he said, “they weren’t always this big.”  Kamchatka looked at Patch’s paws.

       “I couldn’t deliver Patch’s paws if they were that size, or patch him for that matter.”  Houdini asked:

      “How big is a newborn cub?”

      “You are a newborn cub,” Anook replied, “why not try exploring your hind paws with your fore.”  Houdini explored his own hind paws, and then explored Patch’s.  Pressing the pads of his left hind foot against those of the larger bear’s now relaxed right hind, Houdini measured paws with the larger grey bear.

      “Your hind paw is bigger than mine,” he said, curling and stretching his toes in an attempt to make his paw grow larger, much to Patch’s amusement.

      “That won’t make your paw grow any quicker,” he said gently, “you’ll have to wait years before your paw gets as big as mine.  I’m nine years old now; you’re only three days old.”  Houdini kissed Patch’s toes, the grey bear laughing and embracing the tiny polar bear cub.

       “I can’t wait for my eyes to open so I can see you patch,”  Houdini said, “mama says the pads of your paws are white and your fur is grey, she likes that, so I wonder if I will too.  I think its fun when your toes curl and pads bunch up, I think you like curling your toes?”  Patch nodded:

      “I like curling my toes,” he confirmed.  Houdini giggled with cubbish enthusiasm for the games he and Patch were playing” Patch started playing with his right hind foot, the toes of his left forepaw exploring the toes of his right hind paw.  Houdini, getting paws on with the older bear’s fore and hind paws, laughed as he felt Patch playing like a cub.

       “Patch’s playing with his hind paw mama!”  Houdini laughed.  Anook smiled and padded over to watch Patch and Houdini, her middle cub kissing patch’s left forepaw as the adult bear played with his right hind.  Houdini rubbed the pads of Patch’s right hind foot while the grey bear played with his toes.  Patch giggled cubbishly and gently pressed his paw into the tiny cubs.

       “I think Patch is just a cub dressed up like an adult bear!”  Houdini said.  Patch hugged Houdini tightly.

      “I’m an adult bear,” he said, “I just like playing likes a cub.”  Houdini kissed Patch’s nose.

       “Can I play with Rowena?”  Houdini asked.  Patch smiled and looked at his cub:

      “Would you like to play with Houdini Rowena?”  He asked.  Rowena nodded and smiled.

       “I would love to,” she said.   Kuruk padded over to patch, Sat down and took his right hind foot in his paws.

      “What are you going to do with my foot?”  Patch asked his brother.  Kuruk smiled and blew gently on Patch’s toes, the grey bear bouncing about and laughing helplessly.

       “Would you teach Kuruk how to clean paws wild way?”  He asked.  Patch grinned:

     “But you know how to do that,” he said.  Kuruk covered his face with his forepaws.

       “Kuruk forget quickly,” he said, “and he need teach mama Anook how do thing.”

        “Do you want me to clean your paws?”  Patch asked.  Kuruk smiled and nodded:

       “If patch would do thing,” he said, “Kuruk be very grateful.”  Patch laughed and curled his toes, Kuruk laughing and massaging Patch’s curled toes.

        “How come paws are so good to play with Brother Patch?”  Kuruk asked.

        “I think eohippus gave us paws to, 1, help us grip things, groom ourselves and clamber about, and two, paws are there for a bear and for other bears to play with.  A cub plays with their own hind feet from an early age, and any mama who does not let her cubs explore their own and each other’s paws is depriving them of something precious.”

      “Kuruk want know how to play with paws as well as clean them,” he said, his eyes pleading with Patch.  Patch laughed and withdrew his foot from Kuruk’s grasp.

       “You just want me to play with your paws,” he said, kissing his brother on the nose.  Kuruk laughed:

      “You know only too well what Kuruk want,” he said.  Patch gently took Kuruk through how to play with his right hind foot, describing stage by stage how to hold onto a hind paw with a forepaw, and then use the apposing forepaw to play with the toes of the held hind foot, Kuruk loving every minute.

“Bend your left hind leg Kuruk, then reach for your left hind foot with your left forepaw,”  patch said, “take a good hold of your hind foot, so your left hind paw is held comfortably in your left fore.”  Kuruk did as Patch asked, wriggling a bit and working his left hind foot by wiggling his toes to get the position just right.

      “Kuruk got that now,” he said, “now what?”

      “Now reach over with your right forepaw and play with the toes of your left hind.”  Kuruk did so, loving the sensation this produced.

      “It’s great!”  He enthused.

      “I thought Kuruk knew how to play with his own hind paws,” Houdini said.  Anook replied:

      “He’s pretending he doesn’t know how, it’s a game he and Patch are playing.”

     “Oh right,” Houdini said.  Kuruk played with his right hind foot, then grabbed Patch’s left hind paw and began to stroke his pads and play with his toes, Patch giggling and bouncing about, his toes curling and relaxing with the intensity of the game.

      “Kuruk think brother Patch has paws like cub,” Kuruk said.  Patch laughed:

       “I love my paws,” he said unnecessarily, “they are great playthings.”  Kuruk pressed his hind feet hard against patches, feeling his brother cub returning his pressure.

        “I wonder if our paws will stick together.”  Patch asked.  Kuruk laughed:

      “Kuruk think they might,” he said.  Very soon, neither bear could move their hind paws, for their pads were firmly glued together.

      “Are Kuruk and Patch’s paws really stuck together?”  Olga asked.  Ekaterina explained about the strength of pretend play, and that the paws of two bears could seem to be stuck together, but in reality they weren’t.

      “So they pretend they are?”  Kuruk junior asked.  Ekaterina said this was the case.

      “Sounds an interesting game,” Anook observed, “Ekaterina, want to play?”  Ekaterina smiled and nodded.

     “Okay,” she said.  Ekaterina and Anook sat opposite each other, each finding the other’s hind paws were very pleasant to the touch.  Their paws were of a similar size, and Ekaterina managed to curl her toes around Anook’s, which made Anook laugh.  Pressing her pads against Ekaterina’s, she felt the she bear’s pads warm against her own.

      “So when will our paws bond?”  Anook asked.  Ekaterina smiled and rubbed the furry top of Anook’s right hind foot.

      “I think they are already,” she said.  Anook gently tested her right hind paw, Ekaterina having let go of her toes.  Tugging at her paw, Anook found she had very little play.

      Let’s press our hind paws hard together!”  Anook said.  Ekaterina and Anook pressed the pads of their hind paws together, each bearing down hard against the other’s hind paw pads.

      “Push Anook Push!”  Ekaterina gasped, Anook snarling and bracing her paws against Ekaterina’s with all her might.

      “That’s done it!”  Anook gasped, rubbing the toes of Ekaterina’s right hind foot with her forepaws while Ekaterina rubbed the toes of Anook’s right hind paw with hers.

       “We’re stuck now,” she said.  Ekaterina laughed merrily.

       “I’m glad,” she replied, testing the bond between her right hind foot and Anook’s left hind, yes, they were stuck together.

 

Meanwhile, in Jinghua’s lie up, she and Matoskah lay together.  The female panda and male polar bear had spoken often, their relationship growing stronger with the passing of weeks.  Now Jinghua, aged three years and Matoskah, two years older than her, lay together after mating.

       “If Eohippus gives us a cub, we will love it,” they’d promised each other before mating.  Now, an hour later, they lay together, their paws damp with the exertions of frantic play and joyful mating.  Jinghua knew she wanted cubs, and also that her time was right to have cubs.

      “I wonder what our cub will look like,” Matoskah said.  Jinghua smiled:

      “I think it will be beautiful,” Jinghua said.  Matoskah took her paw.

      “But was it right that we mated?”  He asked, “For if you can’t give physical birth to the cub because of the size of its body, then you’ll die because of our love making.”  Jinghua shook her head.

       “Eohippus will help me through it,” she said.  Matoskah played with Jinghua’s right forepaw, the sow panda giggling with pleasure.

      “I don’t care if you’re two years older than me,” she said, “we get on famously, and that’s all that matters.”  Matoskah kissed her nose:

       “I love you Jinghua,” he said.  Jinghua snuggled up to Matoskah, the polar bear’s warm fur comforting her.

       “If our cub is born healthy and strong, we will give it a name which is handsome or beautiful,” Jinghua said.

      “I don’t want any part in naming our cub,” Matoskah said, “I will love any name you give the cub, for you pandas are great at naming their cubs.  Jinghua smiled and nodded:

     “If that’s how you wish it,” she said.

 

Balk in Patch’s den, Kuruk and Patch set about prizing their hind paws apart with much snarling and growling.  Bouncing about on their backsides, the two bears worked the toes of their forepaws between the pads of their hind feet which were pressed together.

      “Pull Kuruk, Pull!”  Patch panted, dragging at his right hind foot, Kuruk dragging at his own left hind to try and tear their hind paws apart.

      “It’s coming, my paw’s coming free!”  Patch gasped, “ow Kuruk, ow!”  Kuruk clenched his teeth and then roared as he tore his left hind foot free from Patch’s right hind.

      “Kuruk got one foot free!”  He gasped.  Patch, sniffing, massaged the pads of his right hind paw.

       “Ow, that hurt!”  He whimpered.  Kuruk gently exploring the pads of his left hind foot imagined them sore and his toes aching.  Flexing the toes of that paw, he groaned in discomfort.

      “Now to free right hind foot!”  Kuruk snarled.  Patch took a deep breath, trying to imagine the pain of separating pads.

      “Ok Kuruk,”  patch said, working the toes of both forepaws as far as he could between the pads of his left hind foot and Kuruk’s right hind, taking a deep breath, he tore his paw free of Kuruk’s, bit by bit, his pads tore free of the grizzly bear’s, Kuruk tugging furiously!  Snarling and growling, the two bears fought for their freedom, slowly working the toes of their forepaws between pads which refused to break their bond.

      “Nearly there, nearly there!”  Patch gasped when the ball and toes of his left hind foot was the only thing holding them together.  Kuruk whimpered and tore at his right hind foot.

       “Oooh brother patch, ow, ow, ow!  Kuruk paw hurt like mad!”  Kuruk complained.

      “Just pull a bit more Kuruk, come on!”  Patch encouraged, “one, two, three, pull!”  Patch and Kuruk dragged at their hind paws, each snarling and roaring as their paws came free...

       “And you’re telling me their paws are not stuck together?”  Olga asked.  Anook laughed:

       “They were pretending,” she said.

       “Wow, what a game!”  Houdini said.  Patch and Kuruk rubbed each other’s hind paws, Kuruk rubbing the pads of patch’s right hind, and Patch rubbing Kuruk’s left hind foot.

     “Is that better?”  Patch asked.  Kuruk smiled and nodded that it was.

      “Kuruk’s pads feel good now,” he said.  Patch wiggled and curled the toes of his right hind foot in Kuruk’s paws.

      “My toes and pads feel good too,” he said.

       “How do they play those games?”  Houdini asked.  Anook called her cubs to her:

     “Come all three of you, and Ekaterina and I will show you how we play.”  The cubs crawled to their mother and she and Ekaterina let them touch their hind paws.

      “They’re pressed together,” Olga said.  Kuruk Junior explored Ekaterina’s right hind foot, and then his mum’s left hind, trying to gently work the toes of one forepaw between the pads of the adult bear’s paws.

       “Your pads are well stuck together,” he said, the two female bears having to put little pressure onto their hind paws to keep the cub from prizing their pads apart.

      “They are,” Ekaterina said, exploring the toes of Anook’s left hind foot and her own right hind foot with the toes of her right forepaw, while Anook explored her own right hind and Ekaterina’s left hind foot with her right forepaw.

       “Your hind feet are well stuck,” Houdini observed.

      “Now do you realise why papa Kuruk and Patch made so much fuss?”  Ekaterina asked.  Olga kissed her mum’s right hind paw.

       “May you both have the strength to free yourselves,” she said.  Anook smiled and said she was sure she had the strength.

      “But you made your hind paws stick like this, so why can’t you free them without growling and snarling?”  Houdini asked.

       “We’re playing, pretending,” Anook said, “this isn’t real.  We’re playing with each other’s paws.  Think of it like that.”

       “Oh, like how we played earlier Houdini, I held your right hind foot in my forepaws, and you pretended you couldn’t free it.”  Houdini smiled:

      “Adult bears play that game too?”  He asked.  Anook and Ekaterina smiled:

      “Yes they do,” they said.

       “Playing with Houdini’s paws felt great!”  Olga said.  Houdini giggled:

       “It did,” he replied.

      “So how do we free our mama and her friend?”  Olga asked.

       “How about if we work our toes between their pads and gently ease them apart?”  Kuruk Junior asked.

      “Sounds a good idea,” Houdini said.  So all three cubs set about trying to free Ekaterina and Anook, the mama bears whimpering and snarling as the cubs gently prized their hind paws apart.  Within an hour though, both bears were only held captive by their toes which still touched, the cubs having worked their sole pads apart with gentility.

     “Now mama, Ekaterina, take hold of your hind paws and pulls! Pull with all you have!”  Houdini encouraged.  The cubs felt their way over Ekaterina’s and Anook’s forepaws, making sure both mama bears had a good hold of one of their hind feet each.  Ekaterina holding onto her own left hind, Anook holding onto her own right hind.

       “Now stand back everyone, now Ekaterina, pull, pull Ekaterina!”  Anook yelled.  Ekaterina and Anook tore at their hind paws, the bears’ hind paws flying apart, the force freeing the hind feet of both bears completely, Anook and Ekaterina shooting backwards ending up on their backs, paws in the air.

       “Mama looks so funny!”  Rowena said, rolling onto her back to show the smaller cubs how Ekaterina and Anook ended up when they finished the game.  Rowena laughed as Olga, Houdini and Kuruk Junior clambered over her body, touching her nose, belly, legs and the soles and toes of all four paws.

       “You three are so lovely,” she said, hugging each cub in turn.

 

Meanwhile, Matoskah and Jinghua lay together, their happiness complete.  They knew they were going to have a cub, for Theo had predicted it after they’d spoken to him after their mating.  Now all they had to do was waiting.

 

Months passed, and Jinghua began to think about the impending birth of her cub.  Patch, now well into the role of medical bear, along with Ekaterina assisting him, had pulled thorns from the paws of bears, lions and tigers.  Now all patch wanted to do was get paws on with the birth of a cub.  Ekaterina, seeing Jinghua’s pregnancy seemingly before anyone else did, sit Patch down one day and insisted she show him what a cubbing was like.  Patch protested that he’d seen mock cubbings, and real ones too, but Ekaterina was insistent.

      “Jinghua’s cub is likely to be a big one,” she said, “You might need to pull the cub if she can’t.”  Patch had to agree that point.

      “I know how it feels to have a big cub, so that’s something,” patch said.  Ekaterina nodded and hugged him.

       “How did it feel?”  She asked, Rowena having been a normal sized cub.

       “It was hard work, but not impossible,” Patch said.  Ekaterina smiled and took hold of Patch’s right hind foot, stroking his pads and playing with his toes.

         “What do you feel like doing now?”  Ekaterina asked.  Patch, his eyes closed, breathed deeply, the messages from his mate’s paws telling him what she wanted him to do.

       “I re-enact a cubbing, you help me, and then we reverse roles?”  He asked.  Ekaterina kissed his nose:

       “If you agree,” she replied.  Patch panted hard.

       “It’s been my dream for years,” he said, “to be able to be as free as Kamchatka or you are.  I want to do this so much!”  Ekaterina felt Patch’s toes curling as he coped with the rush of adrenalin and emotion he was feeling.

       “Oooh!”  He groaned, “it’s working, I want to, want to have this cub, right now Ekaterina, right now!”  Ekaterina gave Patch her right forepaw, the grey bear taking hold of it and squeezing it hard as his body responded to an intense need to live out his dream.

      “Ow, ow, ouououoch!”  Patch complained, bouncing about, “Ekaterina, if, if I go the whole way, please forgive me,” Ekaterina kissed his nose:

       “I will not forgive you if you don’t go the whole way,”  she said, “you want to help mothers to be, and if experiencing what they feel during labour will help you to help them, I’m sure eohippus will make everything okay.”  Patch gasped and panted.

     “I want to, I want to so much!”  He whimpered.

     “Imagine yourself having this cub, amerce yourself in the act of having your cub,” Ekaterina replied.  Patch, his eyes closed, felt his body getting ready to give birth to a cub.  Whimpering, he drew his hind feet up and grabbed his toes with both forepaws.

       Oooahooow!”  Patch complained, sweat breaking out all over his body, “ouch, ow!  Ekaterina, my body’s getting ready for something big!”

        “Let things take their course,” Ekaterina said softly, touching patch’s soaking left forepaw and kissing his nose as Patch leant forward to grab his toes.

       “I want to scream!”  Patch begged.  Ekaterina hugged Patch, the bear screaming and roaring into her fur.

      “This is no act, I’m not pretending!”  Patch sobbed, “I am having a cub!”  Wriggling, patch beat the floor with his fore and hind paws, panting and gasping.

      “Don’t fight it, don’t fight it,” Ekaterina advised.  Patch lay on his side, drew his hind feet up and covered his mouth with his forepaws, screaming and yelling.

     “That’s it, that’s it!”  Ekaterina encouraged.  Patch, his toes curled tightly, panted and wailed.

      “He looks as if having a cub was meant to be,” Ekaterina thought, “he looks almost as if nature intended him to have a cub, though somewhere along the line he became male.”  Ekaterina touched Patch’s right hind foot, feeling the bear’s bunched pads and curled toes, smelling and seeing his sweat and effort.

       “What the hell’s going on here?  Anook asked.  Ekaterina shushed her with a wave of her paw.

       “Patch is having a cub,” she said softly, “now watch.”

      “I know how Patch can have a cub,” Anook said suddenly, “I felt it when he rubbed my belly while I was having Houdini.  He so wanted to take my pain away, he understood my pain.”

       “Now he is role playing having a cub,” Ekaterina replied, “and once, with my help, his cub is safely born, I’ll role play having one and he’ll help me.”  Anook sat down, watching enthralled as patch began crawling around the lie up.  Groaning and whimpering, the huge grey bear crawled around the lie up, the toes of his forepaws curled into the rugs as he made his gasping, sniffing way round the lie up.  Patch, delirious with pain and discomfort, saw Anook and headed for her.

      “Don’t run away,”  Ekaterina advised, let Patch come to you, let him involve you Anook,”  Anook, scared, reached out with her paw and touched patch’s soaking left shoulder, the bear’s breath coming in short pants, as he got ready for another contraction.  Though Anook wasn’t certain if patch was male, he looked as if his body was made for having a cub.

      “How can I help?”  Anook asked.  Patch, groaning, sat down heavily.

       “Take my right hind foot in your paws, and, and, ow! Ow! Ouwouch!”  Patch screamed, “Just, just hold my foot in your paws!”  Anook did as Patch asked, and felt the bear bracing his foot hard against her forepaws as the urge to push down against the cub became too great to resist.  Anook saw patch bouncing about on his backside, then he tore his paw from her grip and rolled over, sitting back on his heels, his toes curling and relaxing.  Patch groaned and rolled onto his back, kicking with all four feet, squealing and growling with pain.  Then, giving vent to a wall shaking yell, Patch crawled to the wall, lying down and drawing his hind feet up, screaming and roaring:

        “The cub’s close now, really close!”  He squealed.  Patch sat up, Anook watching him, her eyes on stalks.

       “Kuruk’s looking after the cubs,” she said, “wow, this is fascinating!”  Patch sat back against the wall, his hind paws spread wide, his forepaws clamped across his chest, bearing down against his cub for all he was worth!  Though Ekaterina and Anook saw a grey bear apparently giving birth to a cub, this bear was female, at least it looked female.

       “Push Patch, Push!”  Anook encouraged, patch obeying her by straining hard.

     “The cubs backwards, it’s backwards!”  Patch squealed, helping an imaginary cub into the world with his forepaws, grunting and groaning as contractions pushed the cub into the world.

      “Let me,” Ekaterina said softly, but patch wouldn’t.

     “No, no!”  He gasped, “I can do it, just got to push down hard now!  Owh’wh’wh’WH! there, done  it, now, now to get the cub’s head free.  Ouch, ow! Ow! Ow!  Must push hard now!”  Patch curled his toes and bore down with everything he had.

      “There, done it!”  He said panting.  After ten minutes, Patch was calm enough for Anook to approach him.

       “Maybe you were female in a former life,” Anook said, “that was amazing Patch.”  Patch smiled:

        “I enjoyed every minute,” he replied.

       “I heard Jinghua is pregnant with her first cub?”  Anook asked, “Surely she’s too young?”

       “I think she might be,” Ekaterina replied, “but then I was really too young to have Rowena.  I felt it was right to have her young, so I did.  Jinghua feels the same way I suppose.”

       “How old are you Ekaterina?”  Anook asked.  Ekaterina told her, shocking the mama polar bear.

      “You’re far too young!”  She acclaimed.

     “I know, I know!”  Ekaterina said, “But we are more mature when born than wild bears, so that kind of evens things out.”  Anook stared at Ekaterina.

      “Well I suppose Rowena turned out okay.”  Ekaterina slapped her!

      “Rowena’s fine!”  Ekaterina snapped.  Anook, rubbing her nose where Ekaterina’s paw had connected, whimpered an apology.

       “If female bears and cats want to have cubs let them,” Theo mewed, “Age is only a number.  If we have loving, caring mothers, it doesn’t matter what age they are.  We are not humans, we know better than they do.”  Anook looked at the lion.

      “So you condone under age mating and teenage mothers?”  She asked.  Theo smiled:

       “If I told you Kamchatka was an underage mother when Kuruk was born, would you despise her?”  He asked.

       Kamchatka was under age when she had Kuruk?”  Anook asked.  Kamchatka padded into the lie up and confirmed Theo’s words:

      “I weaned my cub and then ran off,” she said, “I’m not proud of what I did, but Kuruk’s fine now.”  Anook looked at Ekaterina.

       “And what do you think of your cub having her own cub at age two and a half  Kamchatka?”  She asked.  Kamchatka smiled:

      “She was ready, and loves her cub.  Her age, which is a number after all, doesn’t really matter.  Believe me; if I thought Ekaterina was too young to have a cub, I’d have said something.”  Anook took Ekaterina’s paw in hers, and realised she had underestimated the mama polar bear’s knowledge of cubs.

       “I’ll go now,” Anook said, leaping to her paws.

       “If Anook ever has a community cub, she’ll realise how quickly they grow up,” Kamchatka said.  Patch laughed:

       “They grow fast,” he replied.  Kamchatka padded to her cub and kissed his right forepaw, patch giggling.

      “Mama, you are so soppy,” he said.  Kamchatka hugged him tightly.

       “You did so well having that cub,” she said.

      “I wanted so much to have it mama,” he replied.  Ekaterina kissed her mate’s nose:

     “You have me to care for while I have my cub,” she said.  Patch giggled and returned her kiss.

      “I just hope I can have my cub with as much commitment as you did,” Ekaterina said.  Patch smiled and hugged her.

      “I enjoyed it,” he replied, “even though I was recreating a painful time, the act of birth is a beautiful time too.  I tried to imagine the birth of a cub, remembering my dream.”  Ekaterina smiled and sat down opposite her mate, giving him her left hind foot.  Patch embraced Ekaterina’s paw, the she bear taking deep breaths to ready herself for her labour.

      “Time to fight for that cub!”  She snarled, CURLING HER TOES WITH INTENSE EMOTIONS.  Ekaterina began to pant and play with the toes of her right hind foot.  Ekaterina then got up and began pacing about, moaning and panting.

      “I want to push!”  She yelled, squatting and straining hard.  Hampered as she got into a crawling posture, patch rubbing the pads of her right hind foot, realising they were soaked with sweat.  Even though she wasn’t actually having a cub, patch realised Ekaterina was giving her all, just as he had.  Ekaterina panted, and then screamed, bearing down with all her might, patch stroking the curled toes and bunched pads of his mate’s right hind foot.  Ekaterina panted and squealed:

      “I can feel the cub getting close, so close!”  Patch touched Ekaterina’s tail, the she bear whimpering with discomfort:

      “The cub’s head’s coming, it’s coming!”  She yelled.  Patch caught the imaginary cub, Ekaterina imagining her delivering it into his paws.

      “One more push  Ekaterina!”  Patch encouraged.  Ekaterina bore down hard, squealing lustily.

      “Done it!”  She whimpered.

       “Now we’ve re-enacted cubbings, Jinghua’s cubbing will be nothing like that,” Patch laughed.

      “Just love her when she’s in labour as much as you do me,” Ekaterina said.

       “I will,” Patch replied.  Kamchatka, watching all, kissed Ekaterina’s then Patch’s paws, smelling their sweat and feeling their effort.  Theo, having also sat through Ekaterina’s re-enactment, had torn up the rug he was sitting on in his anxiety.

      “You’d be no good when your mate is in labour,” Kamchatka said to him, “Theo, you’d be screaming and climbing the walls.”  Theo laughed.

      “I know,” he said, “it was all too real that, you know?”  Kamchatka and Patch padded over to Theo, rolled him over onto his back and kissed his paws, the lion mewing and purring with pleasure.

      “Now Patch has re-enacted a cubbing, can you have a go at it Theo?”  Kamchatka asked.  Theo giggled and shook his head: #

      “I’d be no good,” he said, “I couldn’t get into the spirit of it, let alone imagine having a cub.”

      “Haven’t you ever wanted to wave your paws in the air, curl your toes and scream?”  Patch asked.  Theo smiled slightly:

      “I have, he replied, “but I couldn’t imagine having a cub to enable me to do that.”  Patch rubbed the pads and toes of Theo’s right hind foot, the lion mewing and gasping, then snarling and finally closing his eyes, he curled his toes, rolled onto his side, curled up and screamed lustily just as his mother had when delivering him.  Panting, he grabbed his left hind paw with his left fore and crushed it, growling and snarling.

      “Push down once, go on!”  Patch encouraged, Theo taking a deep breath and straining desperately.

      owh’wh’wh’whroarhrhrhrhrhrhrhrhrrhhrh” Theo wept, tears rolling down his nose, “I must push again!  I want to!”  He then strained lustily before collapsing exhausted.

      “That felt wonderful!”  He panted, sniffing hard.

      “All Theo needs is an excuse, and he’s as expressive as any of us,” Kamchatka said.  Theo grinned:

       “So re-creating cubbings is a way of letting go of stress?”  He asked.

      “Yes,” Kamchatka replied, “or you can punch the hell out of the punch bag in the soft playroom, where Patch goes sometimes.”

       “Kuruk goes there sometimes too,” patch replied.

 

Indeed, at that moment, Kuruk was squaring up to the punch bag, keeping himself fit by fighting an imaginary male bear, the punch bag, for Anook’s affections.  The Boss had a crate full of large padded punch bags for the bears and other community members to play with, and Kuruk was a devotee of the, “swinging sausage,”  as he called it.  Now Kuruk was on his hind paws, punching with his forepaws and kicking with his hind, leaping back from an attack from the bag and then running at it, slashing at it with his forepaws and lashing out with a hind foot, the sole of his right hind foot catching the imaginary bear full in the face, the bag recoiling, but coming back with even more force, Kuruk screaming with rage and attempting to kill the bag with all his might.  By the time Kuruk was done, the bag was worse for wear, the stuffing hanging out of huge holes.

     “Kuruk happy now,” Kuruk said, hot and panting slightly.  Anook, having searched for Kuruk after leaving patches lie up, and found him sparring up to the bag with her cubs getting running commentary from Rowena as they watched him, laughed merrily.

      “You always beat that bear,” she said.  Kuruk looked at her.

      “Who you rather mate with?”  He asked smiling, “Papa Kuruk or the swinging sausage?”  Anook laughed so hard she nearly choked.

        “You really believe that punch bag has feelings for me?”  She asked.  Kuruk grinned and shook his head.  Anook padded up to Kuruk and hugged him.

      “You lovely great big oaf,” she said, rubbing his right forepaw with her left.

 

Meanwhile, patch and Ekaterina played with each other’s paws, exploring each other’s pads and toes, playing with toes and tracing thick pads and soft fur.

 

In Matoskah and Jinghua’s lie up, Jinghua was busy pacing about.  She’d felt the first stirrings of labour three hours ago, and now things were serious.  Panting, she paced about, then, sat down and began playing with her right hind foot with frantic forepaws,, a sure signal of labour in the panda, or so Yi Jie said.  Matoskah, now terrified, ran for patch, finding him playing with Ekaterina’s paws.

      “My mate’s in labour!”  He yelled, “Jinghua’s in labour!”  Patch got to his feet, as did Ekaterina.

     “Let’s go,” he said.

 

Patch and Ekaterina arrived in Jinghua’s lie up to find the mama panda lying on her back kicking and roaring with pain.  Then she gave vent to a cry which expressed all her pain and fear as she bore down hard for the first time, the toes of all four paws curled so tightly her claws nearly punctured her pads.  Ekaterina rubbed Jinghua’s belly, the she panda drawing her hind feet up to her and grabbing them in her forepaws, roaring and screaming.  Then patch got paws on with Jinghua, the sow panda opening her eyes briefly to look at him.

      “This cub’s enormous!”  She panted, “I can feel it Patch!”  Patch kissed her nose and the tops of her paws.

      “We’ll get through this together,” he said.  Jinghua got to her paws and began to bear down strongly.

      “Ouououoch! Awh’wh’wh’ouch! Aouch!”  She screamed with every effort, stamping her paws after every contraction.  Then came a huge contraction, long and strong, Jinghua having to sit down and rock back and fourth, screaming and straining hard.  Patch held onto the labouring mama panda, feeling her sweat and struggle.  Jinghua roared and complained mightily, her voice filling the lie up as she fought to deliver her cub.

      “I can’t go on much longer!”  Jinghua complained during her tenth hour of labour.  Patch got a drug that would induce contractions and injected Jinghua with some of it.  The she panda soon felt the affects, feeling her contractions becoming stronger.  Groaning, she bore down hard again and again.  Patch watched as the cub’s head emerged, Jinghua screaming and rolling about.

      “Pant Jinghua, pant!”  Patch encouraged.  Jinghua panted, kicking with her hind paws and clamping her forepaws over her belly.

       “Ooowww, aowhwhwhwhwhwwhwh!”  She yelled.  Patch watched as the cub’s body emerged slowly, Jinghua having to sit up to bear down more effectively.  Jinghua got paws on with her emerging cub, pulling at the cub while she pushed.

      “Can I help?”  Patch asked.  Jinghua, her eyes closed, whimpered that she’d be able to birth the cub alone.  Taking a deep breath, she bore down, pulling on the cub with her forepaws while she pushed down hard.

      “Nearly, nearly!”  Jinghua panted, the cub slipping further into the world.  Ekaterina and patch rubbed Jinghua’s hind paws while the mama panda concentrated on birthing her cub.

      “Cub’s body’s out, it’s out!”  Jinghua panted, “now for its hind feet!”  Jinghua bore down twice, once to free the cub’s right hind foot, the other to free its left, while she gently pulled on the cub, easing it into the world.

      “I couldn’t do that,” Ekaterina said, “I’d be screaming too much to concentrate on birthing my own cub.  Jinghua, now holding her cub in her paws, cleaned the cub up; looking down on the largest and heaviest newborn cub she’d ever seen.  Licking the now wriggling and loudly protesting cub from nose to paw pads, Jinghua uncovered a strange looking cub.  It had thick fur, looking like a panda for the most part, with a longer nose than a panda’s, as well as bigger paws.  The paws also had rougher pads than a pandas should have, as well as slight webbing between the toes of the forepaws.  The most striking thing about the cub was its white socks; giving the appearance the cub was wearing white socks on its paws.  Rowena padded in, saw the cub and waved her paw at it:

      “She’s got white socks, just like me!”  She laughed.  Jinghua looked at Rowena.

      “”I like the look of your newborn cub,” Rowena said.  Jinghua, sore from her ten hour labour, reflected on her experience.

       “It was hard work, but I’d do it all again,” she thought, feeding her large cub.

     “What shall we name the cub?”  Matoskah asked.  Jinghua smiled:

     “Chinese tradition says we should not name our cub for one hundred days, but this hardly seems fair to, um, little one here.  So I think we should name her Lihua, which means pear blossom.”  Matoskah smiled and rubbed his mate’s back with his paw.

     “That’s a nice name,” he said.   Lihua rolled onto her back and waved her paws at her mum, Jinghua laughing and kissing her cubs paw pads.

      “I don’t regret anything about my labour,” Jinghua said.  Patch kissed Jinghua’s nose, the mama panda smiling and returning his kiss.

      “I watched you recreating a cubbing,” she said, “it was you Patch who allowed me to express my pain with everything I had.  You expressed your pain, and your courage gave me courage to endure my labour.”  Patch smiled.

       “I’m glad I could help,” he said.  Jinghua gave her cub to Matoskah, who hugged it tenderly.

      “I love you Lihua,” he said.  The cub reached for Matoskah’s face with her paws, gently touching his nose and mouth, Matoskah blowing on her pads, making Lihua laugh helplessly.

       “Would you like to hug our cub Patch?”  Matoskah asked.  Patch sat down opposite the male polar bear and took Lihua into his paws.

     “I feel somehow close to you,” Lihua said to Patch.  Patch smiled and kissed her nose.

       “I only watched your mum give birth to you,” he said.  Lihua reached up with her paw and touched Patch’s nose:

       “I think you did more,” she said, “I know I am bigger than the usual cub mama should have.  I felt her straining, felt her pushing, heard her groaning and panting, heard her crying, and felt her paws pulling me into the world.”  Patch kissed Lihua’s nose and paws, the cub giggling and batting at his nose. 

     “I would love to hug you forever,” patch said, “but you are not my cub.”  Lihua snuggled up to Patch:

       “I’m mama’s cub, but I can also be your cub too, for mama said you helped her give birth to me, giving her courage, whatever that is.”  Patch laughed and passed Lihua back to Jinghua.

       “I must go,” Patch said.  Jinghua smiled at him:

      “If you get the urge to re-enact my cub’s birth, please scream and roar as much as I did.”  Patch promised he would.

       “I think that’s so cute,” Matoskah said, “patch wanting to remind himself of my cub’s birth.”  Patch smiled broadly.

        “I think it’s time to go now,” he said.  Lihua waved all four paws at Patch and Ekaterina as they left.  Going back to their lie up, patch was on cloud nine.

      “That was fantastic!”  He said.  Ekaterina laughed:

      “Mama Panda was almost as noisy as you were while having your cub,” she said.

     “We are very expressive,” Patch replied.  Kuruk padded up to his brother and hugged him:

      “Kuruk still want know how clean paws,” he said, “Maybe Patch show him soon?”  Patch smiled and kissed Kuruk’s nose.

       “Come,” he said, “I’ll show you after we eat.  I’m famished brother Kuruk.”  Kuruk rubbed Patch’s paw with his:

      “Kuruk find Salmon in cans,” he said, “He knows how use can opening thing too, so he and patch eat like king bear today.”  Patch smiled and playfully nibbled Kuruk’s right ear, to the grizzly’s embarrassment.

       “You stop your nibbling thing!”  Kuruk laughed, clearly in two minds whether to be angered by or enjoy his brother’s affections.

      “I think it’s rather cute,” Rowena said.  Kuruk snorted:

       “Yes well,” he grumbled, “that kind of thing done in den, not in corridor where everyone see thing.”  Ekaterina laughed and playfully nibbled Kuruk’s left ear, the Grizzly bear screaming and running away.  Patch and Ekaterina gave chase, pouncing on Kuruk as he entered their den, both bear’s pinning the huge grizzly down, Kuruk flailing with all four paws.

        “Ok you win, you win!”  Kuruk panted, unable to get to his paws.  Patch and Ekaterina kissed Kuruk’s nose and the pads of all four paws, Kuruk wriggling and laughing with delight.

      “I told you he liked your affections,” Theo mewed, having seen everything.  Kuruk laughed helplessly as patch used his teeth and tongue to clean his paws like a mama bear would.  Then, becoming thoughtful, he lay back, closing his eyes.

        “Kuruk like having paws cleaned in wild way,” he said.  Patch unashamedly licked the pads of Kuruk’s right hind foot withies tongue, then rasped them with his teeth, spitting onto the straw.

        “I love doing this,” Patch said, “it’s, well, how things are meant to be.”  Kuruk smiled and curled the toes of his right hind foot, Patch blowing on his pads, Kuruk suddenly tearful.

      “Kuruk like Patch cleaning his paws,” he said.  Patch kissed his nose.

       “I like the fact your paws are in good condition despite your life on the mountains,” patch said.

       “Kuruk careful not to damage paws,” he said, “but sometimes he gets thorn in pad, and that hurt like crazy.”  Patch embraced Kuruk tightly, the huge grizzly sobbing into his coat.

        “Shh, it’s gonna be okay,” Patch said gently.  

    “Kuruk’s a big softy really,” Rowena observed.  Patch smiled broadly.

       “I know that only too well,” he said.  Kuruk wiped his nose on the back of his paw, rubbing his eyes with his forepaws.

       “Kuruk silly old bear really,” he sniffed, “Kuruk love when Ekaterina and patch nibble ears in corridor, but he no like show he like thing in public, you know?  But then, we have cameras here, and that be well public, so Kuruk’s reasoning up the spout really.”  Kuruk looked at patch, examining him from nose to tail, then kissed his nose and paw pads right in front of Ekaterina and Rowena.  Then, very gently, he began to clean Patch’s paws in the wild manner.  Patch lay back, allowing his brother to do what he wanted with his paws.  Kuruk, examining each paw in turn, groomed it with gentle care, licking pads and then rasping then with his teeth, Patch sighing and in with pleasure.

       “This is so good it is probably illegal, or they would tax it highly,” patch said.  Kuruk laughed, kissing his brother’s nose:

       “Now Kuruk massage and play with paws,” he said, gently playing with the toes of patch’s right hind foot, patch loving every minute.  Patch pressed his paw into Kuruk’s, loving his brother’s strong touch on the pads of his paw.

      “How Patch learns to love having paws stroked?”  Kuruk asked, “Kuruk want know how to love his paws more.”  Patch smiled:

       “You just have to learn that if something feels right, it most likely is,” Patch replied, “anything you do, be it massaging the paws of a mate, or of a cub.  If it feels right to both of you, then it’s fine.  Playing with your own paws is not anything to be ashamed of, and cleaning them in a wild manner with teeth and tongue is acceptable too.  Kuruk, love your paws, for they’ll serve you in return.”  Kuruk hugged Patch hard.

       “Kuruk promise he will,” he said.

 

Meanwhile, Pakshalika and Samson were talking earnestly together.  The tigress and lion had been observing each other from a distance for some time since Fleur’s death, and now had made firm paw contact.  Sarafina, seeing another lion about the den, became wildly excited and asked Pakshalika when she was going to make friends with him.  Pakshalika, laughing, had told her to shut up and wait for her and Samson to make their own choices.  Samson though, hearing the little lioness’s enthusiasm had been cordial to Pakshalika and her cubs, playing with them and loving them.  Little Pakshalika had taken to the long manned lion like a duck to water, crawling all over him and loving playing with his mane, which had become longer, so long in fact Samson sometimes stood on strands of it with his forepaws.  Mama Pakshalika loved the look of this lion, he was big and gentle, and when he touched her paws, things got even better.  Samson found himself falling in love with mama Pakshalika, her big paws and general caring air was very much like Fleur’s had been., and best of all she had a boundless love for her cubs which was very leonine and just what Samson liked in a big cat mama.  Now, five months on from Fleur’s death, Samson was ready to find another mate.  He vowed never to forget fleur, but his wild side had kicked in, and now he was ready to give his love and protection to another big cat female.  Samson waited for Sarafina to ask her usual question, something she did every time he and Pakshalika met.  Kissing the tigress’s nose in farewell, Samson turned away and padded for the door, Sarafina stopping him with a paw and looking into his face.  Her eyes begged Samson, the grip on his paw was urgent.

       “Please?”  Sarafina asked, Samson realising Sarafina wanted a pride, not just a family.

        “I don’t know what you mean,” Samson said.  Sarafina was almost sobbing:

       “You know what I’ve been asking you and mama for ages now,” she said, “I wondered if you’d come to any decision?”  Sarafina asked.  Samson looked at Pakshalika, the mama tigress playfully covering her eyes with her paws while sticking her tongue out at him.

       “I think I’ll stay,” Samson said.  Sarafina and little Pakshalika laughed so hard they nearly choked.

      “You are so funny mama!”  They laughed.  Samson padded over to Pakshalika and removed her paws from her eyes with gentle touch, then kissed her nose, the mama tigress giggling and returning his kiss.

      “Oh yeah! Fantastic!”  Sarafina laughed, dancing about so energetically she fell over her own paws and landed in a heap, much to the amusement of her little Pakshalika who laughed helplessly, rolling onto her back and pedalling the air with her paws.  Samson lay down beside mama Pakshalika and took her paw in his, his long mane flopping over the tigress’s head and neck.

       “You should get that cut or pulled,” Pakshalika mewed, “Sammy, you’d look wonderful then!  Um, not saying you doesn’t look great now, of course!”  Samson nibbled her ear, Pakshalika smiling contentedly.

      “I’m surprised you haven’t gone in for getting your mane and claws trimmed Sammy,” Blackberry said, “You’re into all that male grooming more than most.  I mean we all keep clean, but you Samson, take it to another level altogether.”

      “I’d like to watch him bathing,” Pakshalika said candidly, “Samson that would be lovely to watch.”  Samson looked embarrassed.  Even though his liking for every hair to be washed, and every pad cleaned was well known, having it discussed so openly was still discomforting.

       “it’s not usual for a lion to like being washed and groomed,”  Pakshalika said, “that’s why everyone’s so fascinated by your near obsession Sammy.”  Samson looked at the little group.

       “Come on then,” he said, “I’ll show you all.  And I suppose Alaska, who’s taken up trimming manes; hooves and tails for the horses can trim my mane and claws.”

 

Alaska, after her prison sentence for misconduct had been spent, had devoted herself to learning the finer points of grooming horses.  Rosie, the resident mare, had taught the bear well, showing her how to use different brushes and how to clean a hoof etc.  Alaska, her paws dextral, had mastered the art of using the hoof pick and brushes with ease.

       “You will become a top groomer,” Rosie said after four weeks of solid training.  Alaska, smiling, used a mane comb to pull loose hair from Rosie’s thick mane.

       “I’ve been studying different styles for the lions too,” Alaska said, “I think Sammy’s up for letting me loose with the scissors and comb.  Or so others say.  Theo too maybe.  Aslan though, well he won’t, but Leo might.”  Rosie whinnied with laughter at the thought of Alaska trimming Samson’s mane and clipping his claws.

     “I know Samson’s a lover of all things to do with male grooming,” the mare said when she’d recovered, “but are you sure he really would let you loose on him?”  Alaska brushed Rosie’s mane with a stiff dandy brush while she considered the mare’s question.

       “I think he might,” she said.  Rosie pricked her ears and looked towards the house, where Samson emerged from the back door and trotted along the track towards them, followed by Pakshalika and her cubs, including Blackberry.

       “Why are they coming out here?”  Alaska asked.

       “So I can keep an eye on you,” Rosie whickered.  Alaska, chastised for the moment, looked down at her paws.

        “So I’m not out of the woods yet,” she mumbled.

 

Samson arrived at the stable, where Rosie directed proceedings, instructing Samson to lie down.  Once he was comfortable, he mare watched as Alaska neatened up Samson’s mane, the lion passively waiting for the end of a highly unusual procedure to end.  Rosie was very generous with the length, not letting Alaska take much off at all, just neatening up the straggly mane, keeping the length Samson’s mane was famous for.

      “That’s it,” rosie said after ten minutes, “Alaska, now to wash his paws and clip his claws.  Alaska washed Samson’s paws in warm water, the lion easing himself onto his side for this to take place, while the tigers, one lion cub, and a bear watched attentively.

      “Bet you’re not laughing now,” Alaska said to Rosie.  Rosie shook her head:

      “I somehow didn’t think Samson would take too kindly to having his mane trimmed, but horses can be wrong too,” she said.  Samson, now with his mane trimmed, and the claws of all four paws clipped, looked half way decent.

      “Now for you to go get a proper wash,” Rosie said to the lion, who grinned at her.

      “I’m looking forward to washing the entire loose mane out of my fur!”  Samson snarled, “It’s itching like mad!”  Alaska watched the lion disappear with indecent speed, Pakshalika and her cubs following with all speed they could manage, Blackberry scooping Little Pakshalika up in his paws and running in on his hind feet, carrying the little tigress in his forepaws.

 

Reaching the bathroom, Samson ran for the shower and began showering himself down, before rubbing shampoo into his mane and fur.  His tawny coat white with suds, Samson looked at mama Pakshalika.

       “You tigers are said to love water, so why not help me wash?”  He asked.  Pakshalika, aching to do just that, but too terrified to ask in case she offended her new mate, jumped straight in and got paws on with Samson, rubbing him down from nose to tail, Samson returning her favour.  Then, grinning, both lion and tigress washed Sarafina, little Pakshalika and Blackberry, Little Raja and Tinka having left after seeing Samson have his mane trimmed.  Blackberry loved being handled by the big cats.

 

Once all cubs were washed, Pakshalika and Samson herded them to the drying room where Sarafina and little Pakshalika laughed uproariously as their paws were tickled by the warm air drying them.  Blackberry, used to the drying room, loved the feel of the warm air on his paws.  Once everyone was dry, the little group headed for Pakshalika’s lie up, where they settled down, Pakshalika calling Sarafina to her side.

       “You are a real pain in the tail!”  Pakshalika remonstrated with the little lioness:

       “What have I done now?”  Sarafina asked, adopting an air of persecution which wasn’t at all deserved.

        “You’re constant asking Samson if he’ll come and live with us, you can’t do that!”  The tigress snapped.

       “But mum, I so want him to, and so do you,” Sarafina replied.  Pakshalika nodded:

      “I do want him to live with us, but we should not pressure him.  He was exasperated at your constant begging him to stay!”

      “No Samson wasn’t,” Samson said lying down beside Pakshalika, “I was playing with her as much as you were playing with me Pakshalika, “while I understand your need to gently tell your cub that constant asking can sometimes be wearing, I also see why she needed to ask.  She’s a lioness, and lionesses need a pride.  You want a pride too I see, and you were looking for a pride male, as was Sarafina.”

       “But, but how do you know I want to be in a pride?”  Pakshalika asked.  Samson laughed:

      “Mama,” he said, “you’ve wanted that ever since you kept your cubs beside you into adulthood.  Tigers are usually in the practise of pushing their cubs out of the family when they’re grown up, but not you, you are a lioness, not a tigress when it comes to your cubs.  Now you have a pride male, and Sarafina can rest easy in her bed, as can you and all your cubs.”  Pakshalika looked at Samson:

       “Would you give me cubs?”  She asked.  Samson smiled and kissed her nose:

       “Of course,” he said, “when you’re ready, I’ll give you cubs.”  Pakshalika smiled and hugged Samson tenderly.

 

Swarupa padded through the wood after her encounter with Whitepaw.  The young tigress had encountered the male tiger in the wood after an arrangement with him.  They mated, and Swarupa was now padding away from the tiger’s bush hide out very happy.  Swarupa felt wonderful, on top of the world.

 

Meanwhile, in the soft play room, Blackberry was clambering up the ladders and loving the ride down the zip wire.  Kuruk, watching him enviously, called him over.

      “Blackberry,” he said, “Kuruk think you no brown bear really, and you are black bear.  Can Kuruk look at paws of Blackberry a minute?”  Blackberry padded over to his brother and showed him his paws.

       “Kuruk’s claws be longer and flatter,” Kuruk grunted, “he be digging bear, Blackberry though, he have hooks on his paws, so he be climbing bear.  Kuruk climb trees when need to, but Blackberry do thing almost every day.  Blackberry smiled and curled his toes with pleasure as Kuruk stroked and blew on his pads.

       “Kuruk love playing with paws of Blackberry,” Kuruk said.  Blackberry smiled and closed his eyes, his white teeth showing stark against his black facial fur.  Kuruk loved Blackberry from nose to tail, and the grizzly bear hoped the black bear knew it.  Kuruk carried Blackberry from the soft play room to the shower, where he settled the black bear cub on the tiles beneath a shower and began showering him from nose to tail.  Blackberry, wriggling and laughing, splashed Kuruk with his paws, his toes going into overdrive, curling and stretching in his enthusiasm for the game.  Kuruk washed Blackberry, the black bear cub squirming like a newborn cub in its mother’s paws.  Laughing the two brothers wrestled on the tiles, both soon soaked by water and covered in suds.  Hearing the laughter, Anook padded in and laughed helplessly at the sight of her mate and the uncle of her cubs as white as polar bears from the suds.  Anook suddenly saw Kuruk examining Blackberry’s left hind paw with interest.

      “Your claws have gone!”  Kuruk said.  Blackberry smiled and extended his claws, then retracted them.

       “Wow!”  Kuruk said, “You have claws which disappear like cats!”  Blackberry nodded:

      “I can lock them like a bears though,” he said.  Kuruk kissed Blackberry’s pads, the black bear laughing helplessly.  Kuruk washed Blackberry carefully, the black bear enjoying his grizzly bear brother’s attention. 

 

Blackberry got to his feet and pushed Kuruk under the water, washing him as he’d been washed.  Kuruk went willingly, shuffling his paws as best he could on the non slip tiles.  Washing the huge grizzly from nose to tail, Blackberry examined him with care.  From his black nose to his black paw pads, Blackberry took stock of Kuruk.  Anook spent her time looking down at Blackberry’s hind feet, seeing the bear’s claws had indeed vanished into his toes.

       “The cat bear, the cat bear!  Not a panda, but a black cat bears!”  Anook thought, “The legendary catlike bear!”  She exclaimed suddenly, “The maoxiong!”

        “Maoxiong is the name the Chinese gave the panda, not the black bear,” Shuang said.  Anook stared at Blackberry, pointing at his hind feet with her paw.

      “He’s maoxiong!”  She yelled.

      “Maoxiong was the panda you stupid Ursus!”  Shuang yelled, slapping Anook, “Blackberry is no panda!  He’s no cat either, why you call him so?”

       “He, he can retract his claws, his claws!”  Anook jabbered.

       “Show me!”  Shuang demanded of Blackberry, pushing the black bear onto his backside, then onto his back.

       “No Shuang, I’m not performing my trick just for you!”  Blackberry protested.  Shuang held onto Blackberry’s right hind foot, pushing against his claws with her pads, Blackberry imperceptibly increasing the pressure on her pads as she pressed down against his claws, until they punctured her pads.  Squealing, she withdrew her paw.

       “You little sod!”  She yelled, licking her right forepaw.

        “You really think I’d retract my claws as some kind of horrendous party trick?”  Blackberry snapped.  Shuang screamed at Blackberry.

      “Sod you, sod you!”  Before running off.  Blackberry looked at Anook.

      “Please Maoxiong,” she said, almost begging, “please, could you show me your claws and how you can retract them?”  Blackberry looked at the she polar bear.

      “Yes, but I don’t see what’s so wonderful about it,” he sighed, “it’s just what I can do.  Like you mama, you’re able to have cubs, I can’t, but I don’t think you’re especially wonderful because of it.”  Anook looked at Blackberry even more closely.

      “Bears can’t retract their claws!”  She said, “They can’t, they can’t! But you can!””  Blackberry leapt to his feet and ran!

       “I’m going; I’m not being made an exhibit of!”  Blackberry yelled, crying bitterly.  The bears listened to the sound of Blackberry’s paws leaving, and could not hear his claws clicking on the tiles.

       Maoxiong, I’m sure he’s the fabled Maoxiong!”  Anook whispered, “The catlike bear!”  Kuruk looked at her:

       “Blackberry’s no cat mama,” he said, “but Kuruk know him no brown bear either.  Both Skirnir and Jess, they be brown bears, but Blackberry, he black bear, from nose to paws he black bear!  So who is his real mama then?  We see Jess give screaming birth to Blackberry, but he no look anything like her or Skirnir.”  Anook sighed:

      “Yes he’s a strange one,” she said, “but I’d never have him any other way.”  Kuruk smiled and nodded.

 

Blackberry ran into his family den to find Kamchatka playing with the toes of her right hind foot.

      “Mama, mama!  Look at this!”  Blackberry sobbed, thrusting his right forepaw in front of his mum’s face and retracting and extending his claws.  Kamchatka looked at Blackberry’s paw then realized what was wrong.

      “Bears can’t retract their claws,” she said in wonder.

       “I know, I know!”  Blackberry wept, “But I can, and Anook thinks I’m the maoxiong, whatever that is!  I’m just Blackberry mama, I’m just Blackberry! I’m not a mincing!”  Kamchatka hugged her cub with tender paws.

      “Shh, it’s okay,” Kamchatka said softly.  Blackberry buried his face in his mama’s chest:

        “I can’t cope, I can’t cope!”  Blackberry sobbed.

       “While being able to retract and extend your claws is a neat trick, and it’s not something bears can usually do, it’s nothing to get upset about,” Kamchatka said softly.  Blackberry clung to his mama, his claws retracted.  Kamchatka flipped Blackberry onto his back and examined his paws, loving the fact Blackberry’s claws could vanish into his toes.

      “I love you however you are,” Kamchatka said.  Blackberry rubbed his face with his forepaws.

       “I know you love me mama,” he choked, “but I’m not of my biological mama, nor of you, for I am a black bear, born of brown bear parents who can retract my claws!”

      “I don’t mind who you are of,” Kamchatka replied, “I love you however you are.”  Blackberry rubbed his face with his paws, sniffling and whimpering.

        “I love you mama,” he choked.  Kamchatka kissed Blackberry’s paws.

       “Have you learned how to play with your paws yet little one?”  She asked.  Blackberry shook his head:

       “Would you teach me?”  He asked.  Kamchatka smiled and nodded:

       “I will,” she replied, now, sit down opposite me and count the toes on your hind paws.”  Blackberry did.

      “I’ve got, um, one, two, three, four, ah, five, toes on my right hind foot, and, one, two, three, four , five toes on my left hind foot.  How about you mama?”  Kamchatka copied her son cub, carefully counting the toes on her hind paws.

       “One, two, three, four, five toes on my right hind, and, one, two, three, four, five toes on my left hind,” she confirmed.  Blackberry giggled and gave Kamchatka his right hind paw.

      “Have I counted correctly?”  He asked.  Kamchatka counted the toes on both his hind paws, the black bear bouncing about with pleasure.

      “You have,” she replied, “Now will you count my toes?”  Blackberry giggled and replied he would.

      “But my toes are stiff,” he said, “How do I make them more comfortable?”

       “Try wiggling them, go on!”  Kamchatka said gently.  Blackberry did, smiling broadly.

      “They are less stiff now,” Blackberry said.  Kamchatka kissed his nose.

      “No matter where you come from, or what abilities you have, I will always love you Blackberry,” Kamchatka said.  Blackberry giggled and took his mama’s right hind foot in his forepaws.

       “Now what games can we play with our hind paws?”  Kamchatka asked, curling her toes.  Blackberry kissed her toes and pads, the mama Grizzly laughing merrily.

       “You soppy thing!”  She laughed.  Blackberry felt the toes of his hind paws curling hard, and feeling this was a good thing, let them curl tighter and tighter until they ached.  His emotions welling strongly.  Kamchatka massaged her cub’s curled toes, marveling at the fact his claws had vanished into his thick toes.  Giggling with delight, Blackberry pressed his paws into mama’s embrace, flexing his toes to make Kamchatka play with them.  Kamchatka laughed, playing with Blackberry’s toes.

 

Patch and Ekaterina lay together in their lie up, patch recovering from the shock of being woken by Ekaterina who was complaining of labor pain.  Patch and Ekaterina had mated soon after Anook arrived in the community, and, months later, Ekaterina was in cub, but hadn’t told Patch.  Now she was in labor, her eyes tight shut, and toes tightly curling with every contraction.

       “Ow Patch, ow, ow!”  Ekaterina whimpered, panting hard.  Patch held Ekaterina tightly while the mama polar bear clung to him with desperate paws.

      Ow, ow! Ouch! wh’wh’wh’wh’wh’ouch!  Ekaterina complained.

      “It’s okay, it’s gonna be okay,” patch said to the sobbing mama bear.  Ekaterina wriggled in patch’s embrace, kicking his hind paws with hers, then screaming into his chest hair.

      “It’s getting worse!”  Ekaterina squealed.

       “How long have you been in labor?”  Patch asked.  Ekaterina clenched her teeth, snarling and crying.

        “For about eight hours!”  She wailed, “now, now it’s getting worse!”  Patch held his mate while she squealed and writhed.

       “Look, look at my hind quarters patch, please!”  Ekaterina begged, “I think something’s happening!  Pressure’s building so much, such big pressure!”

        “Your water’s about to break I think,” Patch replied, gently stroking Ekaterina’s right hind paw.  Ekaterina groaned and curled up, curling her toes as the waters broke, the release of pressure and increasing contractions causing her to whimper and cry out.

      “The cub’s coming quickly, so quickly!”  Ekaterina yelled, straining hard, Patch seeing two big paws, then a head, then, with Ekaterina going mad, kicking and screaming, the cub’s body emerged swiftly, drenching him in fluid.

      “Ooowww! It’s so quick, so quick!”  Ekaterina screamed.  Patch touched her right hind foot:

     “Pant Ekaterina Pant!”  He encouraged, Ekaterina fighting to obey him.  Ekaterina screamed lustily as her and Patch’s cub slid into the world two minutes after its forepaws had emerged.  Ekaterina sat up and helped the cub’s hind feet emerge, bearing down gently into her tail.  Patch, having seen everything from close range, was tearful with the emotion of it all.

      “That was amazing, amazing Ekaterina!”  He sniffed.

      “There might be another cub coming,” Ekaterina panted, “though can’t be certain.”  Patch rubbed her right hind foot with gentle care, Ekaterina smiling and pressing her toes into his pads.

       “I will never forget this,” he said.  Ekaterina smiled:

        “I won’t either,” she replied.  Ekaterina fed her cub with gentle paws then got up and paced about a bit stamping her paws.

       “Just trying to ease things along,” she said, “if there will be a second cub this should help it along.”  Patch nodded and smiled.

     “Why don’t you get to know our new cub?”  Ekaterina suggested.  Patch sat down and began to fuss over the new cub, the tiny cub, a female, snuggling up and laughing as he played with her.

      “She’s beautiful,” he said.  Ekaterina smiled her eyes distant as she felt further pains.

      “Another cub’s coming!”  She squealed, squatting and straining, “no time, no time! Oh, oh, oh shit. Shit!”  She yelled, “This is so painful!”  Patch made to put the first cub down, but Ekaterina waved him off:

      “Stay with her!”  She growled.

     “But you’re in trouble!”  Patch protested.  Ekaterina screaming at him in reply!

       “Just stay with our cub, our single cub!”  She sobbed.  Patch knew what this meant.  Ekaterina sat down, grunting, straining and crying as she delivered the second cub, which was very small, too small.”  Cradling it in her paws, she licked it clean, staring down at the lifeless form.

      “I knew it,” she sobbed.  Patch made to put the older cub down, who’d gone silent.

      “No, stay with her!”  Ekaterina commanded.

     “But Ekaterina!”  Patch pleaded.  Ekaterina got up with her lifeless cub in her mouth and padded from the lie up, leaving Patch in a position he could not get out of.  Patch, crying, played with the first cub.

      “My twin died, that is why mama doesn’t want you to see,” the cub said, “I knew he’d died.  That was why I asked to come out sooner than I should have, a week sooner I think.”  Patch kissed the cub’s nose.

       “Mama knew before the cub was born didn’t she,” he sobbed.

       “She did,” the cub confirmed.

 

Ekaterina buried her still born cub in the wood, digging a shallow grave for it.  She didn’t’ want to look, didn’t want to become attached in any way, but she had to look.  The cub was male, and beautiful, but just too small to live.

       “I must apologize to Patch,” Ekaterina thought, “I was hard on him.”

       “It not good you hide burial place of cub from sire patch sister Ekaterina,” Kuruk said, padding up behind his younger sister.  Ekaterina spun round, the cub lying uncovered in the grave:

       “I didn’t want to get attached to this cub,” she said, “so I thought if I dealt with it, then, then, we could go on as usual.”

       “Sire patch know he lost one cub,” Kuruk said, “and sister of cub know it too.  First cub, she tell patch of dead second cub.  Ekaterina, please, show Patch where was cub buried.”  Ekaterina looked at the dead newborn cub.

       “Mama would eat her dead cub in the wild,” she thought fleetingly, “but I can’t.  I might like our den in the wood, but I can’t eat my dead cub.”

      “Your cub needs you mama,” Patch said padding up some time later.  Ekaterina looked up from her contemplation of the body of her dead cub.  Evening was falling, and it had been midday when she’d dug the grave.

       “Oh Patch!”  Ekaterina exclaimed.

       “Why did you lock me out?”  Patch asked.  Ekaterina looked at her mate:

      “I am sorry Patch,” she said, “I just can’t explain, I didn’t want to become attached to this cub, and thought we might be able to bury it and carry on with our remaining healthy cub.”

       “I understand your thinking,” Patch replied, “but you did not think of me in this.  Dead though our cub might be, I still want a part in what little time left it has with us!”  Ekaterina realized she’d put her paw in it.

      “I’m sorry,” she replied shame faced, “look, I’ll take our live cub and feed her back at the den, you, you can spend time with our youngest cub and maybe fill in the grave.”

       “I want you, Rowena and little one here for that,” patch replied.  Ekaterina fed her newborn cub where she stood, beside the grave of the cub’s younger brother.  The cub wriggled out of Ekaterina’s embrace and crawled towards the grave.  Falling into it, she crawled to her brother’s head and kissed his nose, holding the lifeless cub’s tiny forepaws in hers.

        “What is she doing?”  Ekaterina asked.  Patch, overcome with grief at the cub’s actions, hung his head, crying unashamedly.

        “Goodbye my brother,” the female cub said gently, stroking her brother’s face with her paw before leaving the grave.  Ekaterina watched the cub’s struggle to clamber out of the foot deep hole.

      “Let me help,” she sniffed, but the cub waved her off:

     “Let me, I must,” she panted, scrabbling for a foothold with her tiny toes, digging her claws into the freshly dug earth.

       “You’ll fall backwards,” Patch said, just as the cub’s right hind paw slipped and she nearly fitted the action to his words.

        “You don’t want to fall on top of your brother now do you?”  Patch asked, putting a gentle paw under the cub’s backside so she almost sat in the palm of his paw.

      “No patch, I don’t,”  she replied, “but I must make my own way up the slope to the land., you hold me like you are, and let me use my paws, that way we can work it out.”  Patch was happy to agree.

      “She wants to struggle out of the whole the way she struggled to get into it,” Ekaterina said in wonder.

       “It would seem that way,” Patch said as the cub, looking exhausted but still struggling on, crested the climb and began crawling towards her mother.  Hauling herself up onto Ekaterina’s lap, she finally threw in the towel, sitting back exhausted against her mother’s belly.

        “Well done little one,” Ekaterina said, tenderly hugging her cub.  Patch looked at the lifeless cub in the grave.

       “He shouldn’t be buried without a name,” the grey bear said.  Ekaterina looked at Patch.

      “How if we give him your name,” she said, “it’s the least I can suggest after I excluded you.”  Patch looked up as Kamchatka, Blackberry and Rowena emerged from the trees.  The bears, seeing what was going on, sat down a respectful distance from the graveside, their heads bowed; all three affected powerfully by the sight of the grief stricken parents burying their lifeless newborn cub.

       “We can’t name him without the community acknowledging his name,” Patch said of the cub in the grave.

      “I’ll give the community say-so,” Theo mewed padding near; the cub needs to be named and buried quickly.”  Theo looked down at the cub in the grave.

      “Your mama and sire name you patch little one,” Theo said gently, “so now we can commit little patch to eternal rest, even though his life hardly started.”  Ekaterina and Patch forced themselves to look at the grave as Theo swiftly filled it in.

        “We need to name our living cub,” Ekaterina said, “and introduce her to her older sister.”  Patch looked at Rowena, beckoning her close.  Rowena got to her paws and padded noiselessly to her sire and mama.

        “I never knew you were pregnant mama?”  She said.  Ekaterina smiled sadly:

      “I hid the fact,” she replied, “but maybe, if I hadn’t, I’d have two cubs now, rather than the one.”

       “Don’t think like that Mama,” Theo mewed, “love your remaining cub, for she loved her younger brother.”  Ekaterina looked at Theo.

      “I promise to do that,” she said.

      “Now what to name this little cub,” Rowena said briskly.

      “How about if we name her Allie?”  Patch asked.  Rowena smiled:

       “I like it,” she said, turning to her mama, who nodded.

      “Allie she is then,” Ekaterina replied.  Ekaterina fed Allie, then carried her back to their lie up, patch, Rowena and the others following, Theo leaving the graveside in the opposite direction.

       “This has been a joyful and a distressing day,” Ekaterina said to patch, Patch rubbing her paw with his.

       “I’m sorry for excluding you Patch,” Ekaterina said.  Patch kissed her nose:

       “Apology accepted,” he replied, “let’s draw a line under that and carry on from here, as we now have a lovely newborn cub to care for.”  Ekaterina nodded, speaking round the scruff of Allie’s neck which she held in her mouth, the cub limp and dangling as was her instinct when being carried by her mother.  Reaching the lie up, Ekaterina turned on the heating and settled down to explore Allie from nose to tail, Kamchatka, Rowena and Blackberry filing in after Patch and Ekaterina.

      “She’s a beautiful cub,” Kamchatka remarked.  Ekaterina laughed and nodded.

        “I saw Ekaterina in labor on the camera,” Blackberry said, “the first labor seemed normal, her second cub’s birth though, that wasn’t.  We now know why that was of course.”  Ekaterina looked sadly down at her paws.

      “It felt different, it hurt more, it was harder, I knew, I knew!”  Ekaterina sobbed.  Allie hugged her mum as best she could.

      “My brother’s at peace now,” the cub said.  Ekaterina swallowed hard.

       “I must try and forget,” she said, “forget the pain, such awful pain, not like labor, worse!”  Ekaterina wiped her eyes with her paws, trying not to lose it completely.

       “It’s okay to cry mama,” Allie said, gently squeezing the toes of her mum’s right hind paw, which was the only one of her mum’s four paws she could reach easily.  This seemed to upset Ekaterina even further, the she bear wailing with grief.

       “Mama,” Kamchatka said softly, hugging her daughter cub as best she could without disturbing Allie too much.   Ekaterina wiped her eyes with clenched forepaws, sniffing hard.  Gulping, she sighed deeply.

        “I needed to cry,” Ekaterina sniffled.

      “Don’t let us hold you back mama,” Kamchatka said gently.  Ekaterina looked down at Allie, the cub’s face turned up to hers, her closed eyes screaming at her mother.

       “You are so gorgeous,” Ekaterina said softly.

       “My eyes will open in their own good time,” Allie said.  Ekaterina picked Allie up, the cub kicking with her hind paws as they left the warmth of her mother’s fur.  Patch watched his cub.

      “She really is beautiful from nose to tail,” he thought.

      “Can I hold Allie Ekaterina?”  Patch asked.  Ekaterina smiled and nodded:

       “Here,” she said, “Allie, patch is gonna hold you for a while.”  Allie turned towards Patch, the grey bear taking her in his paws and sitting back.  Then he put Allie down, lay down on his back, rolled onto his side and gathered the cub close to him.  Giggling, Allie snuggled up, enjoying her sire’s warmth and the security of his embrace.

       “Did anyone tell you you are beautiful from your nose to your tail?”  Patch asked.  Allie smiled:

      “You forgot my paws!”  She said, “Are they beautiful too?”  Patch looked at and touched Allie’s paws.  They were very beautiful.  Patch kissed her pads, the cub laughing helplessly.

      “Hey Patch,” she said, “they’re my paws, get your own!”  Patch guided her paws to his right hind foot, Allie exploring it with interest, not realizing what it was.

     “What is this?”  She asked, “It’s furry on one side, rough on the other, and has, um, large wiggling things on the top with long pointing things on the end of them.

      “The rough side is the pads of my paw, the soft side is the top of my paw, the wiggling things are my toes, and the pointed things on the ends of my toes are claws,” Patch laughed, “you have them too!”

      “Do I?”  Allie asked.  Patch sat her down and arranged her forepaws so they held one of her hind.

      “Feel that,” he said.  Allie did, realising she was touching herself!

      “I can feel my forepaws touching my, um, hind foot?”  She asked.  Patch nodded and asked:

      “Do you know which hind paw that is?”

     “Um, no,” Allie replied.  Patch smiled:

      “That’s your left hind,” he said, “which makes the other one?”

      “My right.”  Allie  replied.  Patch rubbed her back:

      “You’re right,” he replied, “Now can you feel those five things on the top of your paw?  They’re your toes, and the hard pointed things on the end of those toes are your claws.”  Allie bounced about with excitement.

      “This is so cool!”  She enthused, “but Patch, what are the rough feeling things on the, um, bit of my paw that is extra ticklish?”

       “They are your pads on the sole of your foot my dear,” Patch said, “Here, I’ll show you on my bigger paw.”  He guided her tiny forepaws over his right hind:

       “Now Allie, starting at my toes, you feel that even they have pads, then down, down to the sole pad of my right hind foot, that’s big and rough, wrinkled like yours is, but tougher as I’m older than you.  Now, now touch your own toes.  The toes of your left hind foot, and feel down with your paws, that’s it, to the sole pad of that foot.”

     “This tickles, it’s tickling me!”  Allie laughed, exploring her paw further, which tickled her more.  Soon the cub, self tickling her own paw, was screaming with laughter!

      “My forepaws won’t stop tickling my hind foot!”  She yelled.

     “Just let go of it,” Patch advised, which Allie did, breathing a sigh of relief.      “So your hind feet get tickled by your forepaws Patch?”  Allie asked.  Patch replied that they did.  

    “If you want to explore your hind feet with your forepaws, don’t feel ashamed of doing so,” he replied.

      “I’ll try it now,” Allie said grabbing her right hind foot in her forepaws and exploring it, “my toes are wiggling, and now they’re curling up!”  Allie exclaimed, “My pads are becoming more wrinkled too!  This is so wonderful!”  Patch laughed and watched as Allie played with her curled toes, or tried to.

      “My toes are all bunched up,” she whimpered, “I can’t, can’t move them!”  Patch smiled and watched Allie trying to straighten her toes.

        “This feels great,” she said, “trying to straighten my toes.  If I rub them with the toes of my forepaws, they, they, oh!  They unbend, um, uncurl, and then, then I can play with them!”  Allie whooped, bouncing about and playing with her toes for the first time.  Patch giggled:

      “Allie,” he said, “why not explore my right hind foot with your paws.”  Allie did, exploring it with both forepaws.

     “Your forepaws are playing with your hind,”  she said, “you’ve got your, um, er, right hind foot held in your right forepaw, the toes of that paw covering the sole pad of your right hind foot, and your, um, left forepaw playing with the toes of your right hind!  That’s so cute!”  Patch laughed:

      “We could ask our paws to play games together,” he said.

      “What?”  Allie asked, “My paws will play with yours if we ask them?”  Patch smiled:

     “They will,” he said, “now I keep forgetting how many toes I have on my hind feet.  Can you count my toes?  Then I’ll count yours.”  Allie did, folding down each of Patch’s toes as she counted them off, the grey bear sitting opposite his cub now.

     “One, two, three, four five toes, on your um, right hind foot, and one, two, three four, and five on your left hind foot Patch,” she said.

       “Now can I count your toes?”  Patch asked.  Allie laughed:

     “Yes, oh yes!”  She invited.  Patch did as he said, counting her toes.

      “You have one, two, three; four, five, toes on your right hind foot, and, now let me see.  One, two three four, five, yes five toes on your left hind foot too!”  Allie kissed Patch’s nose as it came within range.

       “I love this paw play, I love it so much!”  She said.  Patch laughed merrily at the cub’s enthusiasm for her new game.  Ekaterina watched Patch and Allie playing.

      “They look lovely together,” she thought.  Allie played with Patch’s toes, the bear giggling with delight.

      “I love this, I love this so much!”  He exclaimed, Allie hugging his right hind paw tightly in her forepaws, Patch curling his toes with pleasure.

      “Your paws are a lot bigger than mine,” Allie said, “but you are an adult bear, so I would hope they were bigger.  Though they are huge, they are the paws of a playful cub.  You love your paws played with, and to play with them too, I think that’s lovely.”  Patch kissed Allie’s nose and paws, the cub laughing at him.

       “You big softy!”  She said.  Patch smiled broadly: 

     “I try to be,” he replied.  Allie kissed her sire’s right hind paw, the grey bear enthusiastically wiggling his toes.

    “Do you play with mama’s toes too patch?”  Allie asked.  Patch nodded:

      “Your mama and I play most often,” he replied, “it’s a well played game.  Ekaterina and I love our paws.”  Allie smiled:

      “Bet you played with her toes while she was in labor with me?”  She asked.  Patch looked sorrowful:

     “No Allie, we didn’t,” he said, “Mama didn’t tell me she was in labor until it was too late to soothe her with paw play.”  Ekaterina realized then how much her lack of communication hurt patch.

      “I’m sorry,” Ekaterina said ashamedly, “I should have let you massage my paws sooner than second stage labor.  Truthfully, I would have loved you to massage my hind paws.”  Patch nodded sadly.

      “If only you’d told me!”  He exclaimed, his voice conveying all the emotion he felt.

     “I can only apologize now for not telling you,” Ekaterina said.  Patch looked at Allie.

       “I saw you arrive little Allie,”  he said, “from your nose,”  he said touching her nose with his right forepaw, “to your paw pads,”  patch added, touching the sole of her right hind foot, the whole thing making Allie laugh cubbishly.

      “I love that!”  She enthused.  Patch smiled and hugged her.

       “Patch?”  Allie asked after five minutes in his loving embrace, “Can paws be stuck together by curling toes together?”  Patch shook his head:

        “No Allie, that’s not really possible, but anything is possible when two bears love each other and want their paws to be stuck together.”

     “So could we pretend our paws were stuck together, my hind paws stuck to yours?”  Allie asked.  Patch laughed and nodded:

       “We could try,” he said.  Allie and patch measured hind paws, the cub laughing as she found hers were a lot smaller than her sire’s.

       “Now this is gonna be fun!”  She said, “My paws are so small when put against patches!”

      “Small and strong,” Ekaterina said, her eyes shining.

     “Now push against my paws Allie,” Patch encouraged, “push with your hind paws against mine, one, two, three push Allie Push!”  Allie pushed back against her sire’s larger paws with her smaller ones, feeling the bear’s strength.

       “You’re not pushing hard Patch, you must push hard too!”  Allie gasped.  Patch pushed gently against his daughter cub’s smaller paws, Allie feeling his pressure and responding with greater effort.

        “I must push harder!”  She whimpered.  Patch smiled and braced his hind feet against his cubs.

     “Push Allie Push!”  He invited.  Allie pushed against Patch’s hind feet with all her strength! 

    “Our paws must be stuck by now!”  Allie gasped.  Patch tested the bond, and she was right.    “We’re trapped now,” patch said, “we will have to free our hind feet by using our forepaws to work our toes, then our pads loose.  Allie explored the new situation her hind feet were in, and seemed to like the proximity of her pads to Patch’s.

       “I don’t know if I have the strength to pry my paws from yours patch,” she admitted.  Patch felt his way over the sole of his right hind foot with both forepaws, feeling his daughter cub’s paw pressed tightly against his.

       “I don’t know if I do either,” he said, “and I think my toes want to curl round yours Allie!”

      “Let them Patch,” she replied, “let them.”  Patch let his toes do their own thing, and Allie laughed with delight, pressing Patch’s curled toes hard against her own so they held them.

      “Can you squeeze my toes with yours a bit?”  Allie asked.  Patch did, and Allie bounced about on her backside with delight!

      “I love this!”  She yelled, “My paws are truly trapped, and I don’t want to free them!  This feels so good!”  Patch laughed:

      “It’s a lovely game,” he said.

      “yes and I don’t’ want it to end, not yet anyway!”  Allie replied, “I want to feel patch’s paws holding mine for as long as they can!”  Patch laughed uproariously:  

    “I could hold onto your hind feet forever,” Patch said, “but unfortunately, this game has to end sometime.”  Allie looked so heartbroken patch smiled and rubbed her ears with his forepaws.

       “Look, let’s have one last big push, you press your paws into my pads, and I’ll curl my toes as hard as I can to hold your toes tightly Allie.”  Allie giggled:

     “Let’s, oh lets!”  She replied.  So they did just that, Patch holding onto the toes of Allie’s hind paws with the toes of his while she pushed her hind feet into his pads with everything she had.

      “Push Allie Push!”  Patch encouraged, bouncing about as she had, urging the cub on.  Allie soon exhausted herself, her pressure on her sire’s pads relenting.

       “I can’t do it any more, I’m tired!”  Allie gasped after ten minutes of snarling, growling and bearing down against Patch’s huge hind feet with her tiny hind feet.

      “Can I let go now?”  Patch asked.  Allie waved her forepaws, telling him he could.

      “That was amazing!”  She gasped, “But I’m finished for now.

      “Now you have to free your hind paws from mine,” Patch said, “Allie can you do it?”  Allie tried, but finding her pads and toes were well and truly stuck.

     “My hind feet are stuck to yours!”  She said, “It worked patch, it worked!”

      “Now try and work your toes free from my pads,” Patch said.  Allie tried, grabbing the toes of her right hind foot in her forepaws and tugging at them.  Within five minutes she had five toes free, and then she worked on the five toes of her left hind foot, and had them free in two minutes.

      “Now for my pads on my right hind foot!”  Allie gasped, “this is gonna be harder, much harder!”  Patch tried to pull his paws away from the cubs, but they were stuck fast.

      “Hold still patch!”  Allie snarled, tugging at her right hind foot with her forepaws, “My foot’s coming free, just a bit more!”  She yelled, tearing her right hind foot free of patch’s left hind.

      “Well done, well done!”  Patch said, “Now, Allie, can you free your left hind foot?”  Allie felt around her freed toes and stuck pads, feeling for any give, there wasn’t any.  Grabbing hold of her left hind foot with both forepaws, she pulled harder than ever, roaring with the effort!

       “My foot’s coming free!”  Allie gasped, Patch helping by pulling at his right hind foot.

         “It is, it is!”  Patch encouraged, “come on, pull Allie, pull!”  Allie pulled harder than ever, her forepaws gripping her left hind foot with desperate urgency.  When her foot finally came free, Allie tumbled onto her back, laughing helplessly.

      “That was so cool!”  She said kicking the air with her hind feet.  Patch kissed the pads and toes of all four of Allie’s paws, the cub laughing and dabbing at his nose with her toes when it came within range.  

    “you look so contented,” Ekaterina said.  Allie crawled to her mother’s side, clambered into her lap and began to drink busily.

         “We are,” she said in a pause while drinking, “Patch and I love our games.  Mama, would you play those games with me too?”  Ekaterina thought for a minute:

        “I don’t know how,” she said, “I’ve re-enactd cubbings, but never played the trapped paw game with a cub.”

      “Patch will show you mama,” Blackberry said, “he loves playing the cub after all.”  Patch laughed, agreeing with his brother.

       “Who is that mama?”  Allie asked.

      “That’s uncle Blackberry,” Ekaterina replied, “drink up, then sleep if you want, and after that you can meet him.”  Allie drank more quickly than she should, giving herself hiccups.  Ekaterina, patting her cub’s back to wind her, admonished Allie for being so hasty.

        “I told you not to drink quickly,” Ekaterina said softly, “rule one of drinking milk, don’t drink it too fast!”  Allie, feeling bloated, nodded miserably.

       “Now I’m feeling awful!”  She whimpered.  Ekaterina rubbed Allie’s belly, the cub belching loudly, to her evident huge embarrassment.

        “I’m sorry mama,” she said, “that was a bit loud wasn’t it?”

      “A cub with manners at such a young age, that’s encouraging,” Kamchatka said.

       “Allie has more than manners,” Ekaterina said, thinking back to Allie’s behavior in the wood, “She knows about grieving too.”  Allie stopped playing with the toes of her right hind foot, suddenly lost in thought.

      “My brother should have been playing with Patch too,” she said suddenly, “but he can’t do it now.” 

       “When you and Patch play together, and you enjoy your games, your brother also enjoys those games with you,” Ekaterina said.

       “But I remember how his paws felt on mine, his forepaws anyway,” Allie said, growing tearful, “I want him with me mama, he should be with me!  Why did he die?”  Allie buried her face in her mama’s belly, sobbing.

        “She still has a connection with him,” Blackberry remarked, “Poor Allie, poor thing.”  Ekaterina looked over at Blackberry.

        “I need to go to the relieving place,” Ekaterina said suddenly.”  Putting Allie down on the floor, she fled.  Blackberry, the nearest bear to Allie apart from patch, gathered Allie in his paws, the polar bear cub still crying.

       “I want my brother; I want to play with my brother!”  Allie sobbed.  Blackberry hugged her, Allie becoming still and silent.

        “You feel, feel like my brother cub,” Allie sniffed.

       “You can play with me as you would your brother if that would make you feel better,” Blackberry replied.  Allie smiled and kissed Blackberry’s nose.  

     “Thank you,” she said.  Blackberry returned her kiss, then gently picked up her right hind foot and began playing with her toes, Allie giggling and bouncing about with pleasure.

      “My paws are yours Blackberry!”  She giggled.  Blackberry smiled and measured hind paws with Allie, their heels and toes touching perfectly.

       “Your hind feet are the same size as mine!”  Allie gasped, “Blackberry, your feet are the same size as mine, as if, as if mama gave birth to you after she did me!”  Blackberry smiled and kissed her nose:

        “Maybe she did,” he replied.  “For to my birth mama, I am dead.  So there is no reason why Ekaterina could not have given birth to me the same time she did you.  Or if not given actual birth, maybe my spirit is directed towards a cub that’s lost her brother.”  Allie pressed her toes hard against Blackberry’s, harder, and harder she pressed them, then she pressed with the entirety of both hind feet, Blackberry pushing back with all his might, the two cubs strangely matched for strength.

        “It doesn’t matter to me if you’re not my actual brother, I need you Blackberry!”  Allie blurted.  Blackberry hugged her tenderly:

       “I need you too,” he said, kissing her nose.  Blackberry found Allie’s touch brought on emotions he’d never felt before, a desperate need to play, to play wildly, without a care in the world.

       “Rub the toes of my right hind paw Blackberry, please!”   Allie begged.  Blackberry did as she asked, the female cub rubbing the toes of his right hind paw pressed hard against her left hind foot.  Blackberry felt tears welling in his eyes.

       “I don’t want this game to end, I really don’t’ want this game to end!”  He thought.

       “I want this game to go on forever!”  Allie said.  Blackberry smiled:

       “So do I,” he replied.

      “Are you two able to read each other’s minds?”  Ekaterina asked.  Allie explored Blackberry’s right hind paw with her forepaws.

        “I don’t know,” she said, “all I know is I love the touch of Blackberry’s paws.  Mama, are you sure you didn’t have three cubs?”

       “I wish I had Blackberry,” Ekaterina choked.

       “Can’t you imagine you did?”  Patch asked.

        “It wouldn’t be right.”  Ekaterina replied, “I would love to imagine that, feel the pain of labor, love every bit of Blackberry’s birth, but he’s mama Kamchatka’s cub, not mine.”

       “It would be better for him if you could become his mama,” Kamchatka replied, “you are more his age anyway Ekaterina.”  Ekaterina looked at her mother.

       “I see your reasoning,”  she said, “and I think I can see the intensity of Allie and Blackberry’s feelings for each other, “but, but what would the spirits say if I said I wanted to Experience labor to re-enact Blackberry’s birth?”

        “It is only right Blackberry has a mama who loves him, be it Kamchatka or you Ekaterina,” Theo mewed, padding into the lie up.

       “I’m okay with that,” Kamchatka said, “I only re-enactd Blackberry’s birth from a video.  I think Ekaterina will experience something deeper?”  Theo nodded:

       “I will re-enact labor in her,” he said.  Ekaterina smiled dreamily:

       “I will give rapturous birth to Blackberry,” she said.  Allie felt Blackberry stand up and leave, Allie crying as Blackberry kissed her nose:

        “Come back soon!”  She wept.  Blackberry knew he could only watch on video until right at the end of Ekaterina’s experience.  Kamchatka kissed her daughter cub’s nose, hugging her and stroking her paws.

       “Good luck with the birth of your cub,” Kamchatka said.  Ekaterina nodded and smiled:

       “I hope Allie’s brother’s spirit understands what I’m doing,” she said.  Her answer came very quickly with deep abdominal pain, a serious contraction of muscles, leaving Ekaterina breathless and sweating.

       “he understands all right,” she panted, ouwh’wh’wh’wh’wh’wh’ouch!”  Ekaterina roared, stamping her feet, “ow, owoouch!  Wh’wh’wh’wh’wh’wh’wh’wh’ouch!”  She yelled, rolling about and kicking the air with her hind paws, screaming lustily into her cupped forepaws which she’d clamped over her gaping mouth.

        “Push mama!”  Patch encouraged.  Ekaterina whimpered pitifully:

       “It’s not time, not time to push yet! but, but, I can feel the cub coming!  He’s big, and hurting me, hurting me!”  Ekaterina screamed.  Allie went to her mama’s right hind foot and stroked it, feeling her mum’s toes bunching and stretching with contractions.

       “Go on mama, have that cub!”  Allie whispered.  Ekaterina drew her hind feet to her and grabbed them in her forepaws, groaning and panting.

        “The pressure’s building!”  Ekaterina snarled, “I must, must push!”  Ekaterina’s waters broke, her contractions increasing, sending her into a fit of screaming and kicking!

        Ouwwhwhwhw’wh’wh’wh’wh’ouch, ouwwhwhwhw’wh’wh’wh’wh’ouch!”  She screamed.  Patch padded forward and kissed her sweating forepaws.

      “Push in your own time mama,” he said.  Ekaterina bearing down strongly.

      “I’m pushing, pushing so hard!”  She moaned, bearing down into her tail, rocking and wailing with effort and pain.

        “The cub’s head is coming now,” patch said gently, pant Ekaterina, pant!”  Ekaterina did, squealing and grunting as she felt the cub’s head emerging.

      “Must push again, got to push again patch!”  She begged, squeezing hard down into her tail, closing her eyes, clenching her teeth and curling the toes of all four paws as tightly as she could.

       Aowh’wh’wh’wh’wh’wwh’wh’WH! Ouwh’wh’wh’wh’wh’wh’ouch!”  Ekaterina screamed.

      “The cub’s body’s out, now sit up Ekaterina, and catch your cub!”  Patch said, “Allie, get out of the way!”  He added, picking up Allie and handing her to Kamchatka.  Blackberry then stepped into the room as Ekaterina sat up still screaming, , the black bear cub sitting between her hind legs,  the mama bear’s eyes still tight shut, so she didn’t see him.

        “Push the cub’s hind feet into the world now,” patch said, Blackberry placing his left hind foot in Ekaterina’s questing forepaws, the she bears paws guiding it into the world automatically, seemingly not noticing Blackberry’s hind feet were already in the outside world.  He then helped her to birth his right hind foot, pointing his toes so his hind foot slipped easily through her forepaws.

       “How did he get so wet?”  Allie whispered to Kamchatka, who shushed her,

     “He’s just been born,” she said, “he would be soaked.”  Ekaterina hugged her cub, seemingly oblivious to the impossibility of giving birth to a cub of Blackberry’s stature.

        “I love you my cub,” Ekaterina wept, frantically licking Blackberry from nose to tail.

 

Meanwhile, patch had been approached by Skirnir, who’d seen everything from his and jess’s lie up.

       “Blackberry’s yours now,” he said, “It’s not fair on Ekaterina or Allie that I get involved with him from here on.”  Patch hugged the brown bear.

       “Thank you,” patch said, “it was a brave choice you made.  Skirnir smiled:

       “Jess never loved Blackberry, and you will be a better sire to him.”  He said, “Jess and I are too young really.”

       “Ekaterina and I will look after Blackberry with everything we have,” patch said.

 

Meanwhile, Ekaterina and Allie explored Ekaterina’s newborn cub from nose to toes.  Kamchatka watched them with eager eyes, loving how Ekaterina had given total committed birth to her cub.

       “So now I have a black, and two white cubs,” Ekaterina said softly, “I love my cubs with everything I have.”  Blackberry suckled from Ekaterina’s milk, Ekaterina feeling this most natural thing in the world.

        “You have a newborn cub there,” Theo mewed, “treat him with care and love.”  Ekaterina promised she would.

       “I want to play now,” blackberry said, shaking vigorously.  Allie grabbed blackberry’s right hind foot, the first one of his paws she could get hold of, and kissed his pads and toes, the black cub laughing helplessly.

       “My sister kissing my pads,” he laughed, “how sweet!”  Allie giggled with delight.

       “Welcome home,” Ekaterina said softly.  Rowena pushed Blackberry onto his back and tickled his paws, Allie clambering all over the black bear as her older sister tickled him.

      “Oi!”  Blackberry complained, “Attacked on two fronts!  That’s not fair!  Help!”  Rowena kissed blackberry’s nose and paw pads, the black bear laughing merrily and returning her kiss.  Rowena examined Blackberry from nose to toes, liking what she saw.

       “You are one handsome cub,” she said.  Blackberry, his paws now freed from Rowena’s tickling, dabbed her on the nose with his right forepaw, making Rowena sneeze.

      “You sneezed all over my paw you disgusting thing!”  Blackberry complained.  Rowena wiped her nose on the back of her paw.

       “Sorry,” she sniffed, “but your touch made me sneeze!”  Blackberry giggled and began to groom Rowena, Rowena submitting happily to his attentions.

 

Blackberry hugged Rowena and Allie, the two bears returning his affections.

       “We are one big family now,” Rowena said.  Blackberry giggled with pleasure.

       “I’ll forget about the lions,” he thought, “for now I have a family of my own.”  Blackberry looked at Ekaterina, the mama bear still obviously uncomfortable from his birth.

        “My labor was intense,” Ekaterina said, guessing her cub’s questions, “I felt everything, every bump in the road, and every agonizing stretch of my body to deliver you Blackberry.  But why am I naming you Blackberry in the first place?”

       “I like the name anyway,” Blackberry said.  Ekaterina watched Blackberry playing with Allie.  The two cubs played easily together, each playing with the other’s toes.

      “This feels wonderful!”  Allie said smiling.  Ekaterina knew then, knew for sure she’d done the right thing.  Allie and Blackberry looked and played like brother and sister.

       “Even though Skirnir has renounced all contact with Blackberry,” Kamchatka said to Patch, “I still feel sorry for him.  It was nether, ho caused Blackberry to become a lost cub.  E fault of my stupid daughter cub!  I hope he finds a mate with whom he can settle down.”  Patch nodded.

       “Yes I know, I know,” he said gently, rubbing his mother’s paw.

 

Meanwhile, in another part of the house, the Boss was training with his latest weapon.  The Boss, even though his community was self regulating and gentle to a fault, could never take the bears and other creatures gentility for granted, so had to be ready.  As he was completely blind, he had to use wide spraying long range weaponry, such as pepper spray to subdue any attack.  To this end, he was training with a high pressure can of water to perfect his aim, but soon he would have to graduate to the real hard stuff.  His aim good, thanks to training from another human versed in these things, the Boss knew he would have to spray a real bear to see what the stuff could do.  This was something he dreaded, for it would surely break the bond between him and one of his bears, which he loathed to do.

 

Kuruk watched the Boss’s training on the cameras; he knew what pepper spray was, and why it was used.  The big male grizzly was upset by the idea of the Boss of all people having to take precautions against his own community, but as a wild bear once, he knew why the Boss took such steps.  When it came to the Boss actually having to fire at a bear to witness the affects of his new weapon, Kuruk wondered who would subject themselves to such treatment.  He talked it over with Anook and she wasn’t impressed.

       “So the Boss wants to shoot one of us so he can see what Pepper spray does to a bear?”  She asked.  Kuruk nodded:

      “The Boss needs to know how affective spray is,” he grunted, “that only way he knows he can trust in weapon.  He need shoot bear, to learn power of weapon, but he not happy to do thing.”

        “But we’re not going to attack the one who provides all we have here are we?”  Anook said, waving her paw around her lie up.

       “No mama,” Kuruk replied, “but if another bear come, a non community bear and attack one of us or him, Boss need to know he got weapon that works.  Kuruk think he put himself up for getting sprayed.  He brave bear!”

       “You would be a very silly bear to do such a thing,” Anook replied.  Kuruk snorted:

      “But some bear have do thing,” he said, “and Kuruk not afraid!”  Anook laid a steadying paw on his.

      “Kuruk, you are stupid, and an ass, and crazy to do that.  But if you want to do it, I will support your choice as a free thinking bear to go ahead and get yourself into the most screaming agony a male bear will ever know.”

        “How you know it is screaming agony?”  Kuruk replied, “You tried the spray mama?”  Anook admitted she hadn’t.

       “Then we both go,” Kuruk snapped, “Kuruk not taking advice from mama who no knows the spray!  Kuruk been in spray, and know it, so he know what go on.  Anook though, she give advice when no been in way of spray, so we both go.  We both have spray in face!”  Anook looked to her cubs for support, but they all clapped their paws at her own goal.

       “You’re gonna get peppered mama!”  They laughed.  Anook looked scared.

       “It’s gonna hurt,” she whimpered.

        “Come,” Kuruk replied, tugging at her paw.

 

Anook and Kuruk presented themselves at the firing range, explaining what they wanted to do.  The Boss hugged both bears and shook their paws, but told them they could back out.  Anook and Kuruk said they wouldn’t, Anook telling her cubs who’d come along to watch the humiliation of their parents, to watch via cameras.

       “You’ll get full benefit of their reactions,” the Boss said to the cubs.  Anook and Kuruk stood awaiting their peppering.

     “Right,” the instructor said to the Boss, can you tell the mama polar and her grizzly mate to act aggressive, charging etc?”  the Boss gave the instructions to Kuruk and Anook, who would have fallen about laughing at having to act aggressive, had their minds not been too consumed by what was about to happen.  Kuruk ran at the Boss, the human pulling the pepper spray and aiming it at the snarling barking bear!

      “Remember, you have to stop the threat dead, don’t just spray him lightly,” the instructor said.  Firing, the Boss moved the wide spray back and fourth, up and down directly at the sound of Kuruk’s snarling and barking.  Kuruk, feeling the spray hit his face, suddenly experienced a sensation like a billion bees stinging his nostrils.  Screaming loudly, Kuruk turned to run, the Boss spraying Kuruk until he was on the floor, screaming and roaring, his paws covering his face.

        “Now go up and touch him,” the instructor said.  The Boss strode up to Kuruk, the pepper spray still aimed at the whimpering, coughing, wrenching sounds in front of him.

       “Get him Kuruk!”  Anook screamed, angry at what the Boss had done.  Kuruk, incapacitated, wailed that he couldn’t, he was finished, and he was beaten.  Rubbing his eyes with his paws caused more discomfort, and the male bear screamed and cried like a cub.  Anook, now furious, ran at the Boss, intending on killing him!

      “This is real!”  The instructor warned, “Shit!”  The Boss heard Anook coming at him, grunting and roaring.  He waited until she was nearly on top of him, and then fired at point blank range.  Anook, caught full in the face by the spray, found her world turn quickly into a world of pain like she’d never known!  This was worse than labor!  Screaming, she turned and ran, the Boss perusing her and firing, firing at her from closer and closer.  Getting more confident, the human moved around to Anook’s right side, then in front of her, spraying and spraying, stopping the very real threat!  Anook, given the same treatment as Kuruk, was soon incapable of anything.

        “You bitch, you bitch!”  Kuruk gasped, “Anook!  Kuruk volunteer, he want do pepper thing!  You know this, and you want kill Boss for what he do to Kuruk?  The Boss now take you jail!”  The Boss tranquilized Anook and hauled her off to the concrete cell.  Kuruk got to his feet after half an hour of feeling dreadful.  The Boss still kept the spray trained on him until he lifted his forepaws in surrender.

     “Kuruk promise he no hurt Boss,” he said, standing on his hind legs, forepaws raised, “but he dam well hurt Anook for attacking Boss!  She know Kuruk volunteer be sprayed, and she go off and try kill Boss!  She gets bloody good smack from Kuruk and from mama Kamchatka too!  Kuruk bloody angry!”

 

Houdini, Olga and Kuruk Junior watched stunned as their mother was carted off to jail.  Kamchatka, who’d come in and witnessed the whole spraying, paced about agitatedly.

       “Anook went for the Boss, she went for the boss!”  The mama grizzly kept repeating, her shock evident.

       “You mean you would never go for the boss Grandmamma?”  Olga asked.  Kamchatka stopped pacing and looked at her granddaughter.

       “Anook volunteered to be sprayed,” she said, “she then can’t go after the Boss for spraying Kuruk, when he volunteered too.  The worst of it is, Anook meant to kill the boss if she could.  When she said, on camera, that she would never set paw on him too!  Now she knows, she knows the power of the pepper!  I know that power, I’ve had it used against me, and so I have respect!  I know that if I were to set paw out of line with the boss and threaten him, he’d use it, and rightly so.  I want to smack Anook so hard her backside sizzles for a week!”  Houdini smothered a fit of giggles, Kamchatka rounding on him.

      “So you think that funny?”  She asked, picking the cub up in her mouth by the scruff of his neck.

     “No mama!”  Houdini [protested, “it, it’s, just, well, the way you said it, your stamping about n’all, that was quite funny!”  Kamchatka put Houdini down, and stormed off to deal with Anook.

 

The mama bear found Anook sleeping peacefully.  Kamchatka saw the she bear’s red rimmed eyes and sore nose from the spray and found she hoped they hurt Anook.  Kamchatka, usually not a violent bear, or one to think uncharitable thoughts of anyone, could not help feeling anger towards Anook.

       “I suppose I’d better arm myself,” she thought, grabbing pepper spray from a strategically placed cupboard near the door of the concrete cell.

      “The boss had these around, but he never learned to use them until now,” Kamchatka thought.  Taking the safety catch off, she sat down and awaited developments.  Anook woke slowly, her eyes still burning from the affects of the pepper spray.

      “I feel dreadful!”  She moaned.  Kamchatka shifted slightly, Anook’s ears twitching.

       “Mama,” ~Anook mumbled, “Mama, I feel dreadful!”  She whimpered.

       “You nearly killed the Boss!”  Kamchatka snapped.

       “I wanted to,” Anook sniffed, “I wanted to kill him for spraying my mate, for felling a bear!”

       “If you had managed to kill him, then what?”  Kamchatka asked.

      “The bears would take the leadership; hold the house in their paws!”  Anook said strongly.

       “We cannot shop for food, we cannot clean the house, and we cannot pay the bills, so how on earth will we do without the boss?”  Kamchatka asked.

        “We can work without him; we can make the house a home run by non human creatures!”  Anook said.  Kamchatka snorted:

       “We cannot work the house like he does,” she replied.

     “But what happens when he dies?”  Anook asked, “Then we will have to work this house alone, for he will not be here.”  Anook was sure Kamchatka hadn’t thought about that.

 

The boss had though, and was putting in place plans for the community members to take over full running of the house.  He wanted to see how they would fair, so was going away for a week .  To that end, he made links with local suppliers of food and other things, making it clear they would be dealing with his four pawed community.  Kamchatka learnt English from Patch, and she would be talking to suppliers of food and other goods.  The bears would clean the house, the cats and other community members patrolling the house and grounds to maintain security.  As it was, they already did a lot of that, the Boss introducing it slowly.  Now Bramble cooked food, Orsa and Bjorn cleaned the corridors and lie ups, and Younger Arki did laundry with the help of Nanuq Junior and Helga.  The boss truly had a community which ran itself, while the community members didn’t realize they were running the whole thing.  The Boss was there, but he only watched over, he didn’t do anything to help them at all.

 

Anook knew none of this, for Kamchatka and Patch hadn’t told her a thing.  Patch was secretive, and so was his mama.  What Anook didn’t know was that the Boss had started a blog on the internet which was pay per view, and that the CCTV cameras were broadcast live on the internet and could be viewed twenty four hours a day for a daily payment into the community’s bank account.  Now the community was well off financially, if only they knew it.  Kamchatka understood things Anook, and many others would never understand.  Indeed, the pepper spray training was the day before the boss was due to leave on a holiday to Austria .

 

Kamchatka