Community troubles and spiritual interventions.

 

 

Kuruk woke in the early morning.  Warm and feeling secure, he thought about his mum.  Kuruk remembered her anxiety while she was bringing him up, her terrified eyes when he got into trouble, her insecurity over every decision she made about his welfare.  Now she was a strong mama bear.

       “My mama can cope with anything now,” he thought.

      “I’m not as strong as you think Kuruk dear,” Kamchatka said softly.  Kuruk, used to thought transference, took his mum’s paw.

       “Kuruk think his mum very strong bear,” he said.  Kamchatka told Kuruk of her initial reaction to the news of Ekaterina’s blindness.

      “Every mama want perfect cub,” Kuruk said, “but Kuruk know any cub which is alive is good.  Once you lose cub, you glad to have any cub, blind or not, as long as it live and can express feelings and have good life.  Now Kuruk meet Conrad, and he think Conrad lose cub like Kuruk.  Kuruk love Ekaterina like crazy.”  Kamchatka kissed her son cub’s nose.

      “I got over that,” Kamchatka said, “I love her very much now.”  Ekaterina listened to everything that was said.

        “I know mum had a problem adjusting to my situation,” she said, “but now things are ok I think.”  Ekaterina got to her paws and padded from the room in search of Chowilawu.  Finding him, she settled down beside him and Arki.  Arki woke, her senses telling her another polar bear cub had entered the room.

       “Hello Ekaterina,” Arki yawned, rubbing her eyes with her paws, “morning already?”  Ekaterina crawled to Arki, who sleepily hugged her.

       “Can I have a hug?”  Chowilawu asked.  Arki embraced her cub, and then Ekaterina hugged him.

      “Double hugs!”  The cub said, “Lovely!”  Ekaterina kissed his nose.

       “We both love you,” Ekaterina said.  Chowilawu touched Ekaterina’s nose with his paw, Ekaterina blowing gently on his pads, Chowilawu giggling with pleasure.

       “Yu blew on my paw!”  Chowilawu laughed.  Ekaterina hugged him tightly.  Arki got to her paws and carried Chowilawu to the shower room where they got showered.  Ekaterina helped out by making sure Chowilawu got thoroughly covered in soap and then had that soap rubbed into facial fur, body fur and paw pads.  Chowilawu laughed helplessly as his friend rubbed soap into his paw pads.

      “That tickles!”  He yelled, “You’re tickling my paws Ekaterina!”  Ekaterina washed Chowilla’s paws, the cub wriggling and laughing helplessly.

      “Right you two,” Arki said laughing, “let’s go home.”  Ekaterina helped Chowilawu to the drying room, then back to the lie up.  Chowilawu crawled alongside his older friend keeping pace with her by touching her left forepaw with his right fore.

       “You have such gentle paws Ekaterina,” Chowilawu said.  Ekaterina kissed his ear.

       “I’m hungry,” the cub said, “I’ll drink my milk, then, then I might go back to sleep for a bit.”  Arki ate her fill of food then settled down to feed her cub, Chowilawu cuddling up beside her.  Once he’d drunk his fill of her milk, both mother and cub settled to sleep.  Ekaterina found herself holding Chowilawu’s tiny right forepaw in hers.  She took the chance to measure his paw against his mother’s, taking one of the cub’s forepaws in her right fore, and one of Arki’s forepaws in her left.  Ekaterina found Arki’s paw was a lot bigger than that of her cub.  Chowilawu sighed contentedly, working his paw into Ekaterina’s larger one.

        “Kuruk love those cubs,” Kuruk said.  Arki looked warily at Kuruk.

       “Get out!”  She snapped.

       “Kuruk mean no harm to Chowilawu cub!”  The large grizzly protested.

        “Arki, he’s safe,” Ekaterina said gently, “Kuruk won’t harm Chowilawu.”  Arki’s eyes still registered her deep anxiety.

       “Why did he come here?”  She asked.  Kuruk smiled:

        “Don’t worry atiqtalik; your atiqtalaaq will be safe with Kuruk bear.”  Arki stared at Kuruk.

       “Allie used those words while we were talking about my cub’s birth!”  She said, “How do you know them?”

       “Alaskan and grizzly bears talk often,” Kuruk said, “Kamchatka bears also talk to Alaskan bears.  We bear not too far from each other really.”  Arki smiled and nodded.  Kuruk sat down and began playing with his right hind paw, Arki laughing at him.

       “You big cub!”  She said.  Kuruk smiled and stroked the sole pad of his right hind paw, smiling at the sensation.

      “Good this,” he said.

      “What is he doing mum?”  Chowilawu asked.  Arki explained.  Chowilawu rolled onto his back and grabbed his right hind paw in both his forepaws.

      “Like this mum?”  He asked.  Arki smiled and tickled the pads of Chowilawu’s left hind paw, the cub kicking wildly with his tickled paw.

      “Hey mum!”  He laughed, “Stop that!”  Arki blew on Chowilawu’s left hind paw, and then massaged his tiny toes.

      “I like that,” the polar bear cub said.  Arki smiled and kissed his nose.

       “You talk about birth of cub to Allie polar bear then Arki?”  Kuruk asked.  Arki looked up at the grizzly bear.

      “Yes,” she said, “I had to discuss it, kind of debrief myself if you like.  It’s not something I’d discuss with a male bear though, so don’t ask!”  Kuruk snorted:

       “Kuruk no ask about cubbing thing,” he said, “but Arki no need be rude about it either!”  Arki glared at the grizzly bear.

      “You keep your questions to yourself!”  She snapped.  Kuruk knew how cubbing worked, he’d been with his mate during her confinement, and had also seen Ekaterina’s birth video.

       “Kuruk know how cubbing works anyway,” he said, “so he no asks Arki anything.”  Arki picked a very confused and upset polar bear cub up in her mouth and padded from the room with him.  Kuruk, upset by Arki’s attitude, looked at Ekaterina.

       “Was Kuruk wrong talk about cubbing?”  He asked.  Ekaterina smiled and padded to her brother.

       “Arki’s not as open with male bears as she is with female bears when it comes to talking about her cub’s birth,” she said.  Kuruk bowed his head in shame.

      “Kuruk should not say such thing,” he said, “Kuruk silly bear for say thing about birth of cub.  Now he pisses Arki off no end.”

 

Indeed, Arki was furious!  Storming into Kamchatka’s lie up, she dumped poor Chowilawu on the floor and demanded of Kamchatka that she keep a tight grip on her son cub.

      “That Kuruk’s a bloody pain in the arse!”  Arki yelled.

       “Why do you say such a thing?”  Kamchatka asked.  Arki told her everything.

       “How do you expect your cubbing to be private in a place like this?”  Kamchatka asked, “Especially when I had to rescue you?”  Arki stamped her paws in rage.

      “But it is, it is!”  She screamed.

        “Your cub’s birth was public, as was your rescue.  Now will you just calm down?”  Kamchatka asked.  Arki sighed heavily, her eyes becoming less hostile.

        “Yes, okay,” she said.  Kamchatka smiled at Chowilawu and picked the cub up in her paws.

       “I’m sorry about this little one,” she said gently.  Chowilawu snuggled up to Kamchatka, burying his paws in her fur.

      “Auntie Kamchatka,” he said, “I don’t like it when mum gets angry with Kuruk, the big bear doesn’t mean to anger her.”

       “I know he doesn’t,” Kamchatka said, “but your mum is a bit sensitive about your birth.”  Arki sat down and looked at Kamchatka holding her cub in her paws.

       “We both had traumatic cubbings one way or another,” Kamchatka said, “You don’t hear me getting angry when someone asks me about Ekaterina’s birth now do you?”  Arki shook her head.

      “Your cub’s birth was more dangerous than mine that is for sure,” she said.  Kamchatka nodded.

      “Let’s just enjoy our cubs,” Kamchatka said, “Chowilawu is a lovely cub, and so is Ekaterina.  Maybe they’ll get on well together and become firm friends.”  Arki hoped they would.

 

Meanwhile, in Bianca’s lie up, Tigger was trying to keep track of three rather boisterous tiger cubs.  Tommy, now crawling about, played Tigger up no end by tugging at his tail and crawling away quickly, the tiger’s huge paws landing on nothing when he tried to pounce on him.  Frustrated, Tigger curled up in a ball and let the cubs clamber over him.  If he couldn’t stop them, he’d have to just let them do what they wanted.  Tigger, once calm, found the experience of three tiger cubs using him as a climbing frame rather pleasurable.  They were careful not to dig in their claws, and their pads were soft and warm.  Once they’d exhausted the possibilities offered by Tigger’s tail and whiskers, Tommy, little snowy and Whitie settled down quietly.  Bianca returned from getting food to find all four tigers asleep.  Settling down, she thought about the three cubs she’d born.  Tommy, she was sure, would grow up to be a confident tiger, Snowy and Whitie, Bianca could already see, were inseparable.  Bianca looked over at the cubs; Tommy had fallen asleep on his back, his tiny paws sticking skywards.  Bianca could see the cub’s pads black against the brown sole fur of his tiny paws.  Bianca felt a wave of love for her cubs which brought tears to her eyes.

      “I love all three of you,” she thought.

 

Back with the bears, Kamchatka and Arki were playing together, each playing with the other’s paws.  Kamchatka had begged Arki to play, the mother polar bear eventually giving up her inhibitions and playing with the grizzly bear while their two cubs played together.  Kamchatka stroked and tickled Arki’s hind paws, the female polar bear laughing and curling her toes with pleasure.

       “I’ve almost forgotten how it is to have my paws tickled and stroked,” Arki said, “Kodiak hardly plays with me now.”  Kamchatka kissed the toes of Arki’s right hind paw, then, as she curled them, the grizzly bear kissed the polar bear’s bunched pads, Arki giggling with pleasure.

 

Meanwhile, in Arki’s lie up, Ekaterina and Kuruk played together, the two bears enjoying each other’s company, Kuruk playing with his younger sister’s paws, Ekaterina loves his attention.

      “I love the touch of your paws on mine,” she said.  Kuruk smiled and stroked Ekaterina’s right hind paw, the cub curling her toes with pleasure.

       “I love it when someone who knows what they’re doing and means well strokes and plays with my paws,” Ekaterina said dreamily.  Kuruk patted the sole of her paw.

       “Kuruk love playing with Ekaterina cub’s paws,” he said.  Ekaterina laughed helplessly as her brother tickled the soles of her paws.

      “You two having fun there?”  Patch asked, padding into the room.  Ekaterina turned her head to her brother cub and smiled at him.

      “We are,” Kuruk said.

      “Kuruk, stop tickling my paws a minute!”  Ekaterina begged.  Kuruk stopped tickling Ekaterina’s paws and Ekaterina got to now tingling paws.

       “I saw what you two were doing,” Patch said, “it looked like a lot of fun!”  Ekaterina smiled broadly.

      “I loved everything,” she said.  Patch trotted over to his sister cub and hugged her.

       “You fished Chowilawu out of the water!”  He yelled, “Ekaterina that was so wonderful!”  Ekaterina smiled broadly, embracing Patch, who was crying.

      “Arki’s labour was frantic and busy,” she said, “but yes, I fished Chowilawu out of the water.”  Patch sat down and drew Ekaterina into a huge hug, the female polar bear snuggling into his embrace.

      “Hold me tight patch,” Ekaterina said softly.  Patch embraced Ekaterina tightly, the touch of his soft warm paws making her smile.

       “I love you both,” Ekaterina said to Kuruk and patch, both bears smiling with pleasure.  Kuruk sat down opposite patch and began playing with the toes of his right hind paw, the grey bear smiling while curling, stretching and wiggling his toes.  Kuruk grinned with delight.

      “I’ve just seen mum and Arki playing together,” Patch said, “they are now playing with Chowilawu, but they were enjoying time together before that.”  Kuruk traced the furrowed pads of patch’s left hind paw as the grey bear curled his toes.  Patch smiled broadly and told Ekaterina what Kuruk was doing.

       “I’m curling the toes of my left hind paw Ekaterina, and Kuruk’s stroking the bunched paw pads.”  Ekaterina sprawled in patch’s lap, her hind paws accessible to Kuruk.  Kuruk stroked her right hind paw with his left fore, stroking patch’s right hind with his right fore.

      “Now he’s stroking my right hind paw,” Ekaterina said, “and it feels great Patch.”  Patch and Kuruk smiled.

       “I feel safe when Kuruk touches my paws,” Ekaterina said.  Patch sighed contentedly.

       “I feel safe too,” he said.

 

It was then Kamchatka and Arki returned with Chowilawu riding on Arki’s back.

       “Got to love those cubs,” Kamchatka remarked, waving her paw at Patch, Kuruk and Ekaterina.  Kuruk looked up at his mum.

        “Kuruk like playing with his brother and sister cubs,” he said.  Kamchatka smiling at him.  Kuruk patted his brother and sister’s hind paws, Ekaterina and patch sighing with contentment.  Kamchatka smiled at the three bears.

      “Arki and I know how you three feel,” she said, 2it’s amazing what a little playing with each other’s paws can do.”

       “We haven’t played with Kuruk’s paws yet,” Patch said, “he’s been playing with mine and Ekaterina’s paws, but we will play with his paws in a while.”  Ekaterina grinned at patch.

       “Kuruk’s paws are enormous patch,” Ekaterina said.  Patch smiled:

       “I know,” he replied, “but they’re very easy to play with, for Kuruk wants his paws played with.  He wants us to play with his paws.”  Kuruk grinned:

       “Kuruk’s paws desperate to be played with,” he said.  Patch smiled and let go of Ekaterina, taking hold of Kuruk’s right hind paw.  Kuruk smiled broadly as Patch’s forepaws embraced his right hind foot.

       “Kuruk like having his paws stroked,” Kuruk said.

       “Oh what a surprise!”  Patch replied laughing.  “Hey Ekaterina, you hear that?  This big bear likes me playing with his paws!”  Kuruk playfully whacked Patch with his paw.

      “Ouch!”  Patch whimpered, rolling Kuruk over and tickling his belly and paws.  Ekaterina, sensing he needed help, pounced on Kuruk and tickled his right forepaw.  Kuruk gave up the struggle and relaxed, his paws relaxing totally.  Patch embraced his brother cub, Kuruk snuggling up and returning his hug.

       “You three are so soppy!”  Kamchatka laughed.  Kuruk smiled at his mum and then rubbed noses with Patch.  Patch grabbed hold of Kuruk’s right forepaw in his paws and stroked the grizzly’s pads and toes. Ekaterina padding round to Kuruk’s hind paws and taking hold of his left hind paw before stroking his pads and playing with his toes.  Kuruk sighing with contentment.

       “Kuruk love this,” he said, “He loves the touch of brother and sister’s paws on his.  It feels great!”

       “I want to get paws on with Kuruk too mum!”  Chowilawu said.  Arki shook her head.

      “No Chowilawu, Kuruk’s too big for you to play with,” she said.  Chowilawu began to complain in a loud voice until Arki walloped him.

       “Shut up!”  She snapped.  Chowilawu wailed with pain and crawled away.  Arki picked her cub up and ran away with him.

       “Arki’s a pest!”  Kamchatka grumbled, watching her own cubs playing together.

      “Why don’t we all ambush mum and play with her paws?”  Patch suggested.  Kuruk grinned and added one more participant to the game.

       “Let’s see if Conrad wants play too,” he said, “he got good paws to play with also.”  Patch leapt to his paws and ran for the phone, getting in contact with Conrad.  Who, when he heard Kuruk’s proposition, ran from where he was watching the goings on in the wood and ran from the room as if his paws were on fire.  Kuruk and the others laughed as Conrad appeared round the corner, running towards them, finally tripping over his paws and rolling the rest of the way.  Kuruk saw Conrad rolling towards him in a wheel of flying fur and paws, stopping him gently and helping him into the lie up.

       “You silly thing!”  He laughed, “Conrad bear lost his paws and rolled down the passage!”  Conrad grinned and hugged Kuruk hard.

       “I’ve been hoping you three would include me in your play,” he said.  Kuruk stared at him:

      “But we would include Conrad sire anyway,” he said, “he no need to ask, just come and grab our paws and we’ll play.”  Patch rolled onto his back and waved his paws in the air.

       “I want you to play with my paws!”  He yelled.  Conrad looked at the grown bear waving his white soled paws in the air.

       “They look very good to play with,” Conrad mused.

      “My paws are desperate to be played with, please!”  Patch begged.  Conrad first embraced Patch, the grey bear snuggling up to him.  Then Conrad began playing with Patch’s paws, stroking his pads and playing with his toes.  Patch played with the toes of his left hind [paw while Conrad played with his right hind.  Patch smiled as his sire played with his left hind paw.

       “What do you remember of your old life?”  Conrad asked.

      “I remember very little,” Patch replied, “Sometimes though, I have memories of a mama polar bear.  Of a net, then a dark place.  I suppose that’s memories of my capture and incarceration.  Mostly though, I remember Jess and helping her, treating like my ursine sister cub.  I bathed her you know?  When, when those humans did horrid things to her, I bathed her to keep her clean.  Now, now she’s older, and those times are gone.  She wanted to be ursine, and still is ursine, in her head.  But she’s becoming a teenage human now, and things are changing.  She still wants to play with me like we used to, but I know things will never be the same.  We still play with each other’s hind paws, which is great.  I still have time with her, which is wonderful too.  Now though, my life is with you bears and with Jess too.”

       “Your paws are lovely and soft,” Conrad remarked, “patch, have you noticed you have white soles to your paws?”  Patch smiled and shook his head, even though he knew very well he had white soled paws.

       “Have I?”  He asked, drawing his left hind foot to him and bending his head, trying to get a good look at the sole of his paw.

      “Let’s get a small camera and show you the soles of your hind paws,” Conrad said.  Getting a small camera and a small TV screen, Conrad rigged it up and soon Patch could see the pads of his own hind paws on the screen.  Smiling, he curled his toes, watching on the screen as his toes curled, pads bunching.

     “I’ve got very big paws and long claws!”  He said excitedly, getting into his role of excited cub, which indeed he was.  Patch loved playing rediscovery games.  Grinning, Patch reached for his right hind paw with his right fore, watching the toes of his right forepaw covering the wrinkled sole pad of his right hind foot.  Smiling broadly he felt his pads touch.

       “I love watching a bear playing with his paws,” Conrad said.  Patch smiled and asked Conrad:

      “Do you play with your paws?”  Conrad sat down and took his left hind foot in his left forepaw.

      “What does it look like?”  He asked, “Come on; get paws on with my paws.”  Patch explored Conrad’s fore and hind paws, the male polar bear smiling broadly.

       “Paws were made to be played with,” patch said.  Conrad let patch take hold of his right hind foot and examine it with his forepaws.  Conrad giggled softly as he felt patch’s toes exploring his own sole pad and toes.  ? The truth was, Conrad absolutely loved his paws played with.  Patch let Conrad play with his own hind paws, Conrad playing with patch’s left hind, stroking his pads and playing with his toes, Patch laughing merrily with pleasure.

       “I love having my toes played with,” patch said.  Conrad grinned at him.

 

Meanwhile Kamchatka and Ekaterina played together, each playing with the other’s paws.  Kamchatka played with her daughter cub’s tiny right hind foot while Ekaterina played with her mother’s massive left hind foot, stroking her pads and playing with her toes.

      “Your hind paw’s enormous mum!”  Ekaterina said, Kamchatka curling her toes around her cub’s tiny ones, her pads bunching up.  Kamchatka stroked Ekaterina’s right hind paw, Ekaterina wiggling and curling her toes with pleasure.

       “This is so simple but feels so good!”  Kamchatka said.  Kuruk, now playing with Chowilawu’s tiny paws, smiled and tickled the pads of the male cub’s tiny right hind paw, Chowilawu laughing helplessly.

      “I love that!”  He yelled.  Kuruk grinned and let the cub hold his left hind foot in his tiny paws.  Kuruk curled his toes, feeling the cub’s tiny paws exploring the bunched sole pads.

      “Your paws are enormous!”  Chowilawu exclaimed, Kuruk smiling at the cub and pressing his paw gently against the cubs.

      “Keep playing with my paw Kuruk,” Chowilawu pleaded, “I love it.”  Kuruk grinned hugely.

        “Kuruk mama and Kuruk used play with each other’s paws Chowilawu,” Kuruk said.  Chowilawu smiled broadly.

      “I can feel you’re good at, and enjoy playing with my paws,” Chowilawu said, “please carry on.”  Kuruk smiled and gently embraced Chowilawu’s left hind foot in his forepaws.

      “Kuruk also play with his own cub’s paws,” Kuruk said, “she love paw play too.”  Chowilawu asked:

      What happened to your cub?”  Kuruk sighed heavily.

      “She was killed in a trap,” he said sadly.  Chowilawu tried to hug Kuruk, the grizzly bear smiling sadly.

       “Can I be your cub?”  Chowilawu asked.  Kuruk laughed:

      “No Chowilawu you no be Kuruk’s cub,” he said, “you Kodiak’s cub.”  Chowilawu clung to Kuruk with desperate paws.

      “I’ve never set paw on Kodiak, I’ve been here three days now and he’s not been here once!”  Arki nodded, looking grim.

      “You’re the first big male apart from patch to play with my cub,” she said.  Kuruk embraced Chowilawu tightly.

      “Does Arki mean that Kodiak no play with his own cub?”  Kuruk asked.  Arki looked at Kuruk.

      “He’s not interested,” she said, “I try to interest him in the cub, but all he’ll do is naming him, he doesn’t want to play with him!”  She looked desperately at Kuruk.

       “I want Chowilawu to be able to play with a large male bear, he needs a role model.”  Kuruk looked down at Chowilawu.

       “Kuruk want play with Chowilawu cub,” he said.  Chowilawu snuggled up to Kuruk.

       “I want my cub to be played with naturally,” Arki said, “and Kuruk, you care about my cub, I can see it.  He likes playing with you, and you like playing with him.  Please! Play with my cub!”  Kuruk embraced Chowilawu and then kissed the cub’s tiny paws.

      “What the hell’s going on?”  Kodiak asked, busting into the room.

      “You haven’t even laid paw on your cub since he was born Kodiak, so don’t think you can start now!”  Arki yelled.  Kodiak squared up to Kuruk.

      “You horrid animal!”  He yelled.  Kuruk calmly gave Chowilawu back to Arki, stood up, and then walloped Kodiak so hard the bear was knocked off his paws.

       “Leave me alone!”  Kodiak whined, recognising his adversary’s strength and experience.

       “Kuruk no threat to cub of Kodiak, nor to Kodiak himself, but if Kodiak stop Kuruk from playing with Chowilawu cub, then Kuruk get bloody mad and become threat to Kodiak.”  Kodiak looked desperately at Arki.

      “But I’m the sire of your cub!”  He yelled.

      “You fathered the cub,” Arki replied, “Any male bear can father cubs.  The question is, can you play with the cubs?  Have you tried to play with Chowilawu?  No?  Well, Kuruk has, and he’s a gentle bear!  He won’t hurt Chowilawu!”  Kodiak squared up to Kuruk, asking for a fight.  Kuruk shook his head.

      “I fight you, you die, and Kuruk no want kill Kodiak for no reason other than Kodiak think he big bear and want test himself.  Kodiak no want die really?”  Kodiak, now seventeen years old, looked at the younger bear.

      “I don’t want to die, but my genetics say I must fight!”  Kodiak said.  Kuruk flexed his forepaws.

      “Kuruk know Kodiak’s story,” he said, “he know Kodiak is like Patch, that you were companion bear to humans.  Maybe Kodiak need to treat cub like he treat little Billy?”  Kodiak wailed with misery and ran from the room.

       “Billy’s loss still hurts Kodiak,” Arki said.  Kuruk nodded.

       “Kuruk know thing,” he said, “but he also know Kodiak could play with own cub if he really want.  If he no want play with own cub, then that fine, Kuruk play with the cub instead.  All Kuruk know is Kodiak no fighting bear, but he wanting fight.  Kodiak stupid bear.  He is better playing with paws, but he no do thing.  Chowilawu want him play with him, but Kodiak no do thing!  Kodiak need get paws on with mate and own cub, but he no want do thing!”  Kodiak padded back to the room and stared at Kuruk’s massive form.

       “I used to play with Billy, but I can’t play with my own cub now!”  Kodiak said, “I’m too old, too out of practise.  Kuruk, play with my cub, play with his paws like he wants you to and you want to.”

        “Let Chowilawu play with Kuruk,” Arki said, “Kodiak, admit it, you’re not one for playing with cubs any more.  Please, let Chowilawu do his thing.  When he’s older, maybe then you can meet up with him, but for now, leave him with Kuruk so they can play together.”  Kodiak tried to stand up to Kuruk, but his heart wasn’t in it.  He knew his genes wanted to fight the male bear, but his head told him he was crazy to fight Kuruk.

       “Let Kuruk get paws on with our cub,” Arki said, “they want to play together Kodiak.  If you don’t want to get paws on with Chowilawu then that’s up to you, but don’t prohibit others from doing what comes naturally to them if it hurts noone.”  Kodiak walked away from the lie up, his world upside-down.

       “I have no inclination to play with the cub, but I don’t want others to,” Kodiak thought, “but the community is cub focused, and our cub loves playing with Kuruk’s paws.  I suppose, as long as Chowilawu is happy, it shouldn’t matter who plays with him as long as he doesn’t come to harm.  The bit about our cub wanting to be Kuruk’s cub is a bit strong though.  Kuruk had his own cub, hence why he’s so good at playing with him.”  Kodiak padded back to the lie up and approached Kuruk, who was playing with Chowilawu.  Kodiak watched Kuruk playing with Chowilawu’s hind paws, the cub loving every minute of his attention.

       “I love your touch Kuruk,” Chowilawu said.  Kuruk embraced the tiny polar bear cub who snuggled up to him.

       “Just love my cub,” Kodiak said, running away.

       “Poor Kodiak doesn’t know what to do,” Kamchatka said, “but its good things have been resolved between Kuruk and him.”

       “I want to have my paws played with too,” Arki admitted.

      “Who do you want to play with your paws?”  Patch asked, still marvelling at the sight of the pads on the sole of his own hind paw bunching and stretching as he curled his toes, while Conrad played with the camera, getting close ups of his son cub’s forepaws playing with the pads and toes of his hind paws.

      “I would like Kuruk to play with my paws,” Arki said, “please Kuruk!”  Kuruk smiled:

      “Kuruk play with Arki’s paws if she wants,” he said.  Kuruk let go of Chowilawu’s paw and the cub crawled away, Arki taking his place.  Giving Kuruk her right hind paw, Arki struggled not to blurt out her real feelings.

      “Take my hind paw in your forepaws, please,” Arki begged.  Kuruk did as she asked, feeling Arki’s toes curling and pads bunching in his grasp.  Kuruk massaged Arki’s bunched pads and curled toes, the mama polar bear crying into her forepaws.

       “I need this; I need this just as much as my cub does!”  She sniffed.  Kuruk smiled broadly and massaged the female polar bear’s curled toes, trying to relax them.  Arki braced her right hind paw hard against Kuruk’s forepaws, Kuruk gently stroking her tense toes and bunched pads.  Panting, Arki gradually relaxed the paw Kuruk held in his paws, Kuruk smiling at her.

        “Let your paw relax,” Kamchatka said gently.  Arki panted hard, letting her paw relax completely.

      “That was wonderful!”  Arki said, “Kuruk, I love your touch on my pads and toes!  I know how my cub feels now, and I can see why he wants more, for I want more too!”  Kuruk let go of Arki’s right hind foot, the mother polar bear wiggling the toes of her left hind paw, inviting him to take it in his forepaws, stroke her pads and play with her toes.  Kuruk lifted the small hind paw in his massive forepaws and Arki sighed with contentment.

      “I now know why my cub likes Kuruk playing with his paws,” she said.  Kuruk grinned and massaged the toes of Arki’s left hind paw.  Arki withdrew her hind paw from Kuruk’s grasp and crawled away to her cub, sitting down beside Kuruk with Chowilawu in her paws.  Patch padded over to Kuruk, setting down the camera in front of him.  Kuruk smiled as he watched the pads of his enormous hind paws bunching and stretching as he curled his toes.

      “Kuruk look cubbish when he plays with his hind paws,” Kuruk said, “but it feels great!”  Patch smiled and pushed the camera away, sitting down opposite his brother and letting him play with his hind paws.  Soon patch was playing with Kuruk’s hind paws and Kuruk with patches.  Kamchatka smiled at her two eldest cubs, then embraced her younger cub’s right hind foot, Ekaterina smiling as her mother’s forepaws stroked her pads and played with her toes.

      “I love the way your pads bunch up when you curl your toes mum,” Ekaterina said.

      “The way my pads and toes bunch up and curl are just like how yours do,” Kamchatka said, “your paws are just smaller than mine that is all.”  Ekaterina grinned hugely.

       “It’s just been an enormous playtime here,” Ekaterina said, “we’ve spent hours playing together, and it’s been lovely!”

       “We can spend hours more,”  Kamchatka said, “but everyone who wants to play with paws needs a chance to play with everyone else’s paws who want their paws played with, if you know what I mean.  Ekaterina knew what her mum meant.  Kuruk gently massaged and played with Patch’s right hind foot, the grey bear curling and stretching his toes as Kuruk played with his paw.

       “This feels indescribably good!”  Patch said.  Kuruk smiled.

      “Patch’s pads are rough to the touch,” he said, “but they are slightly soft too, not hard like Kuruk’s.”  Patch shook his head.

       “I could make the pads of your paws soft again, just let me massage them with oils and I’ll show you,” Patch replied.  Kuruk smiled and both Patch and he padded to a bathroom, where patch began to rub oil into Kuruk’s paws, first his forepaws, then his hind.  Kuruk then did the same for patch, both bears ending up playing with each other’s paws, aided by lots of oils.

     “This feels amazing!”  Patch said.  Kuruk smiled:

      “It does,” he replied.  Patch smiled at his brother.

       “Your paws are more interesting than mine,” he said.

      “Brother Patch has white soles to paws,” Kuruk said, “they are more interesting than Kuruk’s.”  Patch smiled and tickled his brother’s toes, Kuruk splashing patch enthusiastically.  Patch turned his head at the sound of large padded paws entering the bathroom.  Kamchatka padded in with Arki and Chowilawu.  Arki smiled at Kuruk and dropped her cub into the water, Chowilawu thrashing about in the water until Kuruk caught hold of him in his forepaws and helped him to sort out his tangled paws.

      “Chowilawu know when he crawls?”  Kuruk said to the panting, gasping cub, “Try paddle with your forepaws in the water.  Chowilawu tried paddling with his forepaws, Kuruk supporting his body.  That way, the cub made his way across the bathtub.  Arki watching both Kuruk and her cub.  Arki laughed with delight as Kuruk and Chowilawu played together in the water.

     “Teaching cubs to swim is usually a mama bear’s job,” Arki said, “I’m glad to see Kuruk’s a new male bear, happy to help with the cub’s education.”  Kamchatka laughed merrily.

      “My cub’s well brought up you see,” Kamchatka said not without a hint of self satisfaction.  Arki looked at Kuruk in the water, loving how he played with her cub.  Patch lifted Chowilawu IN HIS PAWS AND CLAMBERED from the water, handing him to Kamchatka, Arki slipping into the water beside Kuruk, the two adult bears eventually playing together.  Splashing paws and energetic play scrapping between Arki and Kuruk soon soaked Patch, Kamchatka and Chowilawu.

       “That splashing is your mum and my brother playing together,” patch said to Chowilawu.  Chowilawu smiled at patch, the older grey bear rolling onto his back and embracing the cub in his huge forepaws.  Arki and Kuruk played together for a long time, Chowilawu wishing he was with them.

       “I wish I could play with my mum and Kuruk,” Chowilawu said.  Patch kissed the cub’s nose.

       “Your mum and Kuruk are playing rough and tumble games, they might accidentally harm you if you played with them, but I’m sure they’ll play with you in a minute.”  Chowilawu smiled as his mum and her new mate played together.

       “Has mum found a new bear to have another cub with?”  Chowilawu asked.  Patch looked at Arki, and didn’t know what to say.  All the signals were pointing in the right direction for Arki to have another cub next year.

      “I think they’re just good friends,” Patch said.  Kamchatka smothered a laugh with her paw, turning it into a cough.

        “You think so do you?”  She asked.  Patch looked up into his mum’s eyes.

      “You know what I mean,” she said.  Patch sat up, Chowilawu crawling to his hind paws to play with his toes.  Patch smiled as the cub took a good hold of his right hind paw and began stroking his pads and playing with his toes.  Patch realised Chowilawu was a larger cub than an ice bred polar bear cub would be at a similar age.  Patch loved seeing a healthy cub playing happily.  Patch wiggled and curled his toes, the cub loving the larger bear’s playfulness.

       “I hope you don’t mind me playing with your paws?”  Chowilawu asked.  Patch smiled and asked:

        “What are your paws telling you little one??”  The cub laughed, patting the large sole pad of Patch’s right hind paw.

       “Your paw tells me you are enjoying the touch of my smaller paws,” he said.  Patch smiled and leant down, kissing Chowilawu’s nose.

       “Follow your paws then,” patch replied.  Chowilawu explored patch’s toes as the larger bear curled and relaxed them, loving the cub’s touch.

       “You two having fun there?”  Kamchatka asked.  Chowilawu smiled and Patch hugged the cub to him.

       “We’re both having fun,” he said.  Chowilawu snuggled up to the larger bear.

       “Your pads are rough to my paws,” Chowilawu said.  Patch smiled and gently touched the sole of Chowilawu’s right hind foot; his pads were soft to his touch.  The polar bear cub smiled at Patch as the larger bear rubbed his pads.

      “That feels so good!”  Chowilawu said.  Patch smiled broadly.

        “Remember how good playing with your paws feels and maybe, when and if Arki has another cub, you can teach it to play with its paws.”  Chowilawu grinned.

       “Ekaterina and I have played with each other’s paws before, it feels so good!”  He enthused.  Ekaterina padded in, smiling at the mention of her playtime with Chowilawu.

      “That felt great,” she said.  Kamchatka splashed Ekaterina, the young polar bear unprepared for the soaking.

     “Hey!”  She screamed.  Kamchatka padded damply from the water and placed her wet paw on her daughter cub’s nose, Ekaterina shrieking with shock!

         “You horrid thing!”  She yelled.  Kamchatka sat down and drew her cub into a rather damp bear hug.  Patch got to his paws and shook himself.

       “I’m going for a walk in the wood,” he said, “anyone coming with me?”

       “I’m coming with you,” Ekaterina said, following the large grey bear out of the bathroom.

 

Ekaterina and Patch found their way into the wood, their paws soon damp from the rain soaked track.  Ekaterina smiled as she felt the wind through her fur and ground beneath her paws.  Patch and Ekaterina padded through the wood, the two bears enjoying their time together.  Patch danced on his toes, Ekaterina smiling as she heard his scuffling paws.

       “You funny thing!”  She yelled.

      “Is someone there?”  A voice asked.  Ekaterina stopped in her tracks.  Patch stopped also, turning his head to listen.

       “Who are you?”  Patch asked.  The voice came from further down the track.  The voice replied:

      “I’m a bear, and I’m tied up here!  I was dumped, here, some, some time ago, don’t know how long ago!  My head is all fuzzy and my paws are tingling!  I’m also tied up with rope!”  Patch padded towards the voice, and he soon saw the owner of the voice.  A polar bear, tied up with rope.

       “You look in a bad way dear chap,” patch said.  The bear’s mouth was bleeding from where he’d been biting at the ropes binding his fore and hind paws.  There were also abrasions on his nose from a muzzle he’d obviously been struggling hard to remove and had finally succeeded in removing.  Patch called over to Ekaterina.

      “Ekaterina, come over here will you?”  When she arrived at his side, Patch told her what was going on.

       “So you want me to stay with this bear while you go for help?”  She asked.  Patch replied that this was indeed true.”

       “I’ll try to get his paws free,” Ekaterina said.  Patch padded away, leaving the two bears alone.  Ekaterina began working on the bear’s paws, first his forepaws, then, once she’d worked them free of the ropes, his hind paws.  Ekaterina’s smaller forepaws were more suited to fine work, and her dependence on touch made her more careful.  The bear flexed his toes as his paws were freed.

      “Thank you, thank you!”  The bear said, crying.  Ekaterina kissed the bear’s nose and the muddy pads of one forepaw.  Patch soon returned with Kamchatka.  Kamchatka stared at the ropes littering the ground and the exhausted polar bear.

        “You’re in a bad way,” she said.

       “You’re the second bear to say that,” the bear said, “I am in a bad way, I was drugged, and I was being carried here when I was dumped.  The drug is muscle relaxant, I remember everything, but I couldn’t do a thing to stop what was happening to me.  I was put in a big van, then, and then driven into the wood on a road, then the van crashed, and the drivers hauled me into the wood and dumped me.  I don’t know what happened to them after that, but I’m here with ropes around my paws and muzzled too!  As if, if knocking me out wasn’t enough!”  The bear was sobbing again, crying bitterly.

      “Where have you come from?”  Kamchatka asked.

      “I’m, I’m from a zoo, was stolen, and now, now I’m in a wood with a load of wild bears!  I want to go back to the zoo!  I want to go home!”  The bear screamed.

       “Where is your home?”  Kamchatka asked.

       “On the other side of the country,” the bear sniffed.

        “You’ve got no hope of getting back there,” Kamchatka said, “why not come in with us?”  The bear scrambled to his feet, weaving on his paws, still drunken and his system upset by whatever the humans had given him.  Kamchatka looked at the poor polar bear, the polar bear looking back at her with pitiful eyes.

        “Why was I stolen from a zoo?”  He asked.

       Kamchatka, what’s going on?”  Conrad asked, [padding up to his mate and giving her a hug.  Kamchatka waved her paw at the bear.

       “Him,” she replied, “A lost bear, stolen from a zoo and when the van he was in crashed, he was dumped.  Now he wants to go home, but can’t get there.”

       “Let me look at him,” Conrad said.  The male polar bear stared at Conrad, his eyes bleary and upset.

       “I, I know you from somewhere,” he gasped, “We were in that breeding facility together.”  Conrad smiled at him.

      “I remember tossing you in a blanket,” he said, going to the bear and giving him an enormous hug which almost lifted the bear off his feet.

       “Hey, hey! Stop it!”  The bear sniffed, Conrad’s embrace making him tearful.

        “I’m glad to see you again,” Conrad said.  The bear sniffed and buried his head in Conrad’s fur.

      “What’s your name?”  The male bear asked.

      “I’m known as Conrad now,” Conrad replied, “what’s your name?”

       “Matoskah,” the male bear replied, “Oh Conrad, I’m so glad to have found you again!”

        “You’ll be safe here Matoskah, I’ll vouch for that,” Conrad said.  Matoskah looked at Kamchatka.

       “You are Conrad’s mate?”  He asked.  Kamchatka smiled and nodded.

      “So that, that little female bear, she, she must be your cub!”  The male polar bear sniffed, the thought making him emotional.

        “She is,” Kamchatka said proudly.

     “She had gentle paws, such gentle paws,” Matoskah whispered.

      “Come with us now,” Patch said softly, “it’s cold out here and looks like rain.”  Matoskah followed patch and Ekaterina with Conrad and Kamchatka on either side of him to stop him falling on the track.  Once in the house, Alaska asked Matoskah to drink charcoal, which he did, but nearly vomited while drinking.

      “That stuff’s disgusting!”  He yelled, “What a welcome!”

       “It’ll get the poisons out of your system faster,” Alaska said.  Matoskah’s eyes looked exhausted, and he still looked unwell.

      “Take him to a quiet place to rest,” Alaska said.  Matoskah bowed his head and left.  Padding to a lie up, Matoskah collapsed in an exhausted heap.  Ekaterina found him there two hours later.  Touching the pads of his left forepaw, Ekaterina woke the big polar bear.

      “Hmm? Who’s that?”  Matoskah asked.  Ekaterina rested her head on his massive shoulder, the bear watching her from the corner of his eye.

        “Oh, it’s you, um, oh dear, I don’t know your name,” the exhausted bear said.

        “I’m sorry for waking you Matoskah,” Ekaterina whispered, kissing his nose and the toes of his left forepaw.  Matoskah smiled sleepily.

       “You’re gentle,” he mumbled, curling up comfortably, drawing Ekaterina into a bear hug.  Surprised, Ekaterina let herself be hugged.

       “This is lovely,” she said, snuggling into her warm living blanket.  Matoskah settled down with Ekaterina snuggled close to his chest, embraced in his forepaws.

       “Sleep well,” Ekaterina yawned.  Matoskah closed his eyes, but soon was in a world of confusion, ropes and mental distress.  Unable to fight anyone or anything, Matoskah tried to keep calm, but he couldn’t stop sweating with fear.  Squealing with terror, he began to thrash about.  Ekaterina, kicked away from the larger polar bear, scrambled to her paws.

       Its okay, it’s okay!”  She said her shoulder hurting from a blow from the massive male bear’s forepaw.

        “What?”  Matoskah asked.  Ekaterina told him what had happened.

     “It was a nightmare,” Ekaterina said.  Matoskah panted with distress, Ekaterina taking his paw in hers.

        “Your pulse is racing,” she said.  Matoskah whimpered with anxiety.

       “Deep breaths are what are needed,” Ekaterina said.  Matoskah opened his mouth, panting for air.

        “I can’t cope with this!”  Matoskah whimpered the toes of all four paws curling as he lost it completely.  Ekaterina cradled a sobbing, screaming polar bear.

         “You’re safe here now,” Ekaterina whispered to Matoskah, the huge bear crying and wailing with fear…

      “What the hell’s going on in here?”  Kodiak demanded.

       “We’ve got a lost bear and he’s having a bad dream Kodiak, is that okay with you?”  Ekaterina said sarcastically.  Kodiak stood staring angrily at Matoskah and Ekaterina.

      “I can’t stand how quickly cubs get so paws on with everything these days!”  He roared.

      “You used to be paws on,” Ekaterina said, “now it’s time for us to get paws on.  Leave Matoskah and me alone!”  Kodiak padded away from the lie up.

       “Let me hold you Ekaterina,” Matoskah begged.  Ekaterina snuggled up to the large male polar bear, Matoskah embracing her tightly.

 

Kamchatka and Conrad watched from their lie up, the camera footage of their youngest cub and the massive male bear making them smile.  Conrad looked at his mate.

     “I remember playing with him when he was a lot younger,” Conrad said, “he had no name then, indeed, we only got our names when we left the breeding facility.  Now he’s got his name, he is known by that name.  I know him though, I know him from his nose to his paw pads.”  Kamchatka nodded and smiled:

      “I’ll bet you do,” she said.  Matoskah and Ekaterina padded into the lie up, Conrad getting to his paws from where he was sitting and going over to them, beckoning to the large male with his paw to sit down, and then when he was sitting, Conrad embraced him tightly.  Matoskah snuggled up to his cubhood friend, the time seemingly having stood still for the two bears.  Matoskah snuggled hard up to Conrad.

       “I remember you playing with my paws!”  Matoskah said, “It felt so good Conrad.  Many a time have I remembered those times while bored in my former home.  Now I can remember those times again.  Please, Conrad, would you play with my paws once more?  For old time’s sake would you please?”  Conrad smiled and kissed Matoskah’s ear.

       “I will,” he said, “on one condition.”

       “What’s that?”  Matoskah asked.

      “That you play with my paws after I finish playing with yours,” Conrad said Matoskah nodded and smiled:

      “I will, I will!”  He said.  Conrad sat back and took hold of Matoskah’s right hind foot, the male polar bear curling his toes with emotion as he felt Conrad’s paws embracing his hind foot.

      “Stroke my pads and play with my toes,” Matoskah said.  Conrad traced the pads and toes of his friend’s right hind foot, Matoskah smiling with pleasure.

      “You have hard rough pads,” Conrad said, “I think we might try to soften these pads up if we can.”  Matoskah relaxed his curled toes, Conrad stroking the furrowed pad until it smoothed out.

        “How can you do that?”  He asked.  Conrad smiled and reached over to a bottle kept on a shelf.  Pouring some of the balm gel into his paw, he began to rub it into Matoskah’s pads and toes.  Matoskah gasped with surprise and delight!

      “Oooh, Oooh!”  He exclaimed curling and stretching the toes of his right hind foot, the pads of which Conrad was rubbing balm into.  Both bears could not help laughing helplessly.

       “You two never forgot each other I think,” Ekaterina said.  Matoskah looked at Ekaterina.

      “No, we didn’t,” he said.

      “She can’t see you Matoskah, my cub’s blind,” Conrad said.  Matoskah looked shocked.

      “I didn’t realise,” he said, ashamed.

      “No reason why you should realise straight off,” Conrad replied.

      “Do you communicate via your paws here?”  Matoskah asked, “I ask as Ekaterina was so gentle with her paws when handling mine when they were tied together.  She calmed me down, even though I was drugged.”  Conrad smiled broadly.

        “She has got soothing paws,” he said, “I should know, I’ve played with them often enough.”  Ekaterina padded to her sire and sat down beside him.  Conrad smiled at his cub, and then took her left forepaw in his right fore.  Matoskah pressed his hind paws against Conrad’s, curling his toes around those of his friend’s hind paws.  Conrad pressed his hind paws against Matoskah’s, inviting Ekaterina to get paws on with the scene, which she did.  Matoskah felt Ekaterina’s paws exploring his hind paws, Matoskah himself making an extra effort to push his hind feet flat against those of his lifelong friend’s hind feet.  Matoskah smiled as he pressed his hind paws hard against Conrad’s.

       “You two are so funny,” Ekaterina said.  Matoskah withdrew his hind paws from Conrad’s as Ekaterina touched his right hind foot, Ekaterina following his foot as he rolled onto his chest and crawled away, Ekaterina following him by touching the pads of his right hind foot with her left forepaw, Matoskah curling the toes of the paw she was touching, making his pads bunch up.

        “Why not play with his paws Ekaterina?”  Conrad suggested.  Ekaterina traced Matoskah’s right hind paw with the toes of her left fore, then kissed the wrinkled sole pad of his paw, Matoskah smiling shyly.

       “This place is so tactile,” Matoskah said, “it’s everything I wanted to have as a cub.  I thought playing with my own paws and those of other cubs was such a great pass time, as we all enjoyed it deeply.  It was uncomplicated play, no one lied, if they didn’t want to play it was obvious, as is was when a cub wanted to play.”  Matoskah looked round as Jess crawled into the lie up and hugged Ekaterina.  Matoskah looked at the human, and when she saw him, she crawled over to him.

       “I know I’m the same as those who tied you up and drugged you,” she said, “but please give me a chance.  Matoskah breathed deeply, taking in this strange human’s scent.  It was like that of the other community members.

      “I believe you’ve been accepted here,” he said, “so I will accept you too.”  Jess smiled...

       “Can I hold your paw?”  She asked.  Matoskah smiled and rolled onto his side, giving Jess access to his paws.  Jess started massaging his fore and hind paws, Matoskah curling his toes with pleasure.

       “Your hands are so gentle,” he said.  Jess smiled, rubbing the sole pad of Matoskah’s right hind foot with the fingers of her left hand, and then playing with his toes, the bear smiling broadly.

       “Can I touch hind paws with you?”  Jess asked.  Matoskah smiled and nodded, sitting up, extending his hind paws towards Jess, the young girl pressing her feet against the warm rough pads of the polar bear’s hind paws.  Matoskah gently picked up Jess’s right foot in his forepaws and examined it, gently stroking the smooth sole of her foot with the toes of his left forepaw while holding her foot in his right fore.  Jess took Matoskah’s left hind paw in her hands and explored it as he’d done her foot, the bear smiling at her. 

       “I get the idea you like this,” he said.  Jess smiled and patted the toes of the bear’s left hind paw.

       “You are treating me like you would a bear, so it’s all great,” she said, “keep playing with my paw Matoskah.

      “As long as you keep playing with mine,” the bear replied.  Conrad grinned at both of them.

      “I would like my paws played with too,” he said.  Jess and Matoskah smiled at him and promised they’d play with his paws.  Once Jess and Matoskah had finished playing with each other’s hind paws, they started playing with Conrad’s paws, each taking turns to play with the male bear while Kamchatka and Ekaterina played together, each playing with the other’s paws.  Pressing pads and toes together, before tickling each other’s pads and playing with each other’s toes.

       “This is great!”  Jess said.  Matoskah smiled broadly.

       “I love my paws played with,” he said, “I remember playing with the paws of my fellow cubs in the breeding facility.  Now I can play with my cubhood friend once more.”  He stroked the sole of Jess’s right foot, the young girl grinning at him and returning the gentle stroking to his own left hind foot.  Matoskah smiled with genuine pleasure.

       “Having my paws stroked and played with by you isn’t bad either,” he said.  Jess smiled and curled the toes of her right foot, Matoskah gently blowing on her curled toes, Jess laughing merrily.

       “That feels wonderful,” she said.  Matoskah smiled and he and Jess swapped paws, she taking his right hind paw in her hands, he taking her left foot in his forepaws.

      “Now to play with the other hind paw,” they said in unison Conrad grinning at them.  Matoskah smiled and told Conrad he would play with his paws as soon as he’d finished playing with Jesses.  Conrad smiled and Kamchatka, playing with Ekaterina’s right hind foot, looked at Jess.

      “Jess, once Matoskah’s finished playing with Conrad’s paws, would you like to wash Matoskah?  You remember the ritual washings?”  Jess stared at Kamchatka, Matoskah’s right hind paw cradled in her hands, forgotten for the moment.

      “That’s a community welcome thing,” she said, “I’m not a bear.”

       “But Matoskah thinks you are, and that’s good enough for us,” Conrad replied.  Jess looked towards the door as Patch wandered in.

      “I’ll second that,” he said, “I watched both of you.  Matoskah’s convinced you’re a bear, because your mind tells him so.”  Jess stared at Matoskah.

       “Are you sure you want me to wash your face, fur and paws?”  Matoskah, smiling, kissed Jess’s nose, the young girl becoming tearful.

        “I am accepted here,” she thought.  She gently embraced Matoskah’s right hind foot in her hands, the bear curling his toes with unmistakable pleasure.  Soon however, it was time for Matoskah to play with Conrad’s hind paws, the two bears soon extending playing with paws to a general rough and tumble game which included grabbing hold of, stroking and tickling each other’s paws.  The two bears played for an hour, before embracing each other in a massive curled up bear hug, each curled around the other, each embracing the other tightly with their forepaws.

      “That looks so lovely!”  Jess said.  Conrad and Matoskah rubbed noses and held each other even tighter.

 

Later, Matoskah and Jess met in the bathroom, the young girl washing the bear from nose to tail.  Matoskah smiled at her as she washed his fore and hind paws; Jess careful to complete this right of passage correctly.  Once Matoskah was washed and his paws and fur dried, as well as his teeth cleaned, he padded from the bathroom.  Settling down in the lie up with a good meal of fruit and salmon, a delicacy Kamchatka had access to, Matoskah and Conrad settled down to talk.  Jess, leaving them to it, went to find patch.  She found him in Samson’s lie up, the long manned lion stroking Patch’s paws, the bear evidently enjoying the paw massage.

      “Can I have my paws stroked too?”  Jess asked.  Samson smiled and beckoned to her.

     “Sit down and we’ll both stroke your fore and hind paws if you like,” he said...  Jess sat down, and soon Samson had one of her hands in his forepaws.

       “I remember you playing with my hind paws,” Jess said.  Samson nodded.

      “You seem to have made an impression on the ursine family,” Samson said, “that’s good.”  Jess smiled and dropped Samson’s left forepaw, transferring her attention to his left hind, the lion purring with pleasure.  Jess stroked Samson’s paws, and then he took her hind feet in his forepaws, played with her toes and stroked the soles of each foot in turn, Jess loving every minute.

 

Meanwhile, Conrad and Matoskah sat together, each with a huge cup of tea.

      “Tell me your tale,” Conrad said softly, gently taking his friend’s paw.  Matoskah snuggled up to Conrad, Conrad embracing him tenderly.  The tea forgotten, Matoskah buried his face in Conrad’s shoulder.

       “Hold me dear friend,” Matoskah begged.  Conrad gently squeezed Matoskah’s paw, which he held in his right paw.

       “My tale is a sad one,” Matoskah said, “after we were split up, I sobbed for days.  Then, then, when I realised you weren’t coming back, I pulled myself together, I had no choice!  I found myself in a zoo where I was raised until I was two years old, then, and then I was shopped to another zoo, the one I was stolen from.  I found a mate, or rather one was found for me, and after a lot of coaxing, she let me get her in cub.  The birth of the cubs was easy.  I heard it all, all her panting and whimpering, groaning and straining in her struggle to have the cubs.  They were born, and she was exhausted.  I met the cubs after a month, and they were the most wonderful creatures I’ve ever seen.  I loved those cubs.  My mate thought I wouldn’t, but I did.  I was well bred, as you were.  I had no inclination to eat my own cubs.  I played with them, I stroked them, I tickled their paws and they tickled mine.  Those were good times Conrad.  I, I want to see them again!”  Matoskah began to cry.  Conrad hugged Matoskah tightly, the male bear crying into his fur.

       “I was asleep when I felt the sting of the dart, then, then I lost all control of my paws, and I couldn’t move.  Then I was taken from the cage, for my mate and I were separated for the night.  I was put into a lorry, then, and then it crashed.  I was dumped in the wood, and then your cub and her friend found me.  I want to see my cubs again Conrad!  I love them so much, but I probably won’t see them again!”  Conrad hugged Matoskah tenderly.

       “Did you sleep during the journey?”  He asked.  Matoskah nodded.

     “Must have done,” he replied, “I was woken by the crash.  Then I was dragged out of the lorry and dumped.  Conrad, please, could I ask something of you and Kamchatka?  I’ve been thinking about something, and I want this so much!  Would, would you let me treat Ekaterina like my cub?  She touched my paws, and I wanted to hug her so much, give her huge hugs and play with her paws.  She’s wonderful!”  Conrad let go of Matoskah and picked up a phone to Kamchatka’s lie up where Ekaterina and Patch were playing.  Speaking to his cub, he arranged with Ekaterina to come to the lie up.  Ekaterina padded into the lie up, Matoskah watching her.

      “I feel you’re in trouble,” Ekaterina said.  Matoskah covered his eyes with his paws.

      “I can’t cope!”  Matoskah sobbed.  Ekaterina sat down and took Matoskah’s right hind foot in her forepaws, the bear weeping into his forepaws.

        “Let me stroke your paws,” Ekaterina said.  Matoskah grabbed Ekaterina in his forepaws and wept into her fur.

       “Now I’ll tell you my tale,” Conrad said.  Once he’d told everything, Matoskah looked at him.

       “You had it worse than me,” he said, “being out on the ice, losing your mate and cub.  Like me, you couldn’t mutilate your mate or cub’s bodies.  That’s how we are I suppose.”

      “I buried them in a snowdrift,” Conrad said, “I buried them side by side.”  Matoskah let go of Ekaterina, and Ekaterina went to her sire, letting him hug her.

      “I can be everyone’s cub,” she said, “I don’t mind.  It’s more hugs, more play, more love.  I can also play with more adult bears too, which is great!  More loving paws to play with, more big hugs!  I love it!”  Matoskah looked at Ekaterina.

      “You are wonderful,” he said, “I could feel it when you untied my paws and when you held my paw in the lie up.  I love you Ekaterina.”  Ekaterina lay down in front of the two bears, Conrad and Matoskah lying down so they could rest their forepaws on her back, both wanting contact with Ekaterina.

       “Love my cub,” Conrad said.  Matoskah promised he would.  Gently he turned Ekaterina onto her back, Ekaterina letting him handle her.  Then, once she was on her back, her paws in the air, Matoskah traced the pads of Ekaterina’s right hind foot, the cub giggling with pleasure.  Kamchatka padded in and watched Matoskah playing with her cub’s hind paw.

       “Your tale is a sad one,” she said.  Matoskah dropped Ekaterina’s paw and looked up quickly.

      “I’m sorry for playing with your cub’s paws,” he said.  Kamchatka smiled and sat down.

      “I will only let you play with Ekaterina’s paws if you show me how you play with a bear’s hind paws,” she said, her eyes smiling.  Ekaterina rolled onto her chest and crawled away.  Kamchatka shuffled over to Matoskah and gave him her hind paws, the large male playing with her right hind foot.  Kamchatka smiled broadly.

       “Now that feels good!”  She’s said as Matoskah traced her pads with the toes of his right forepaw.

       “I will not hurt your cub,” Matoskah said, “I want to hug her hugely.”  Kamchatka smiled and touched Matoskah’s nose with her right forepaw, the polar bear blowing on her pads.

       “I need my other three paws played with!”  Ekaterina complained, they’re desperate!”  Kamchatka laughed as Equilaterally shoved her out of the way, pushing her onto her back, then rolling her onto her side and tucking up her hind feet, , then forepaws.

      “This is cub time,” Ekaterina said, Kamchatka whimpering like a cub, rolling onto her back and gripping her hind paws with her fore, rolling about and snarling like a cub.  Ekaterina and Conrad laughed:

      “That’s a good act, but not good enough.”  Conrad said.  Kamchatka sat down, played with the toes of her height hind foot with her right forepaw, while sucking the toes of her left forepaw.  Matoskah laughed so hard he nearly choked.

       “You silly!  Oh, oh Kamchatka, you’re so funny!”  He laughed.  Kamchatka sucked harder on her paw, gripping the toes of her hind paw fiercely with her free forepaw.  Ekaterina got paws on with her mum, laughing as she found what her mum was doing.

     “Oh mum!”  She laughed, kissing the pads of her mum’s left hind paw.  Kamchatka took her paw from her mouth and rolled onto her back, waving all four paws in the air, and then gripping her hind paws in her forepaws.  Ekaterina got paws on with her mum, laughing at her antics.

       “Did you suck your paw as a cub?”  Ekaterina asked.  Kamchatka shook her head.

      “I never did,” she replied.  Conrad smiled broadly.

       “You were sucking the toes of your right forepaw last night Kamchatka,” he said, “curled up asleep, the toes of your right forepaw in your mouth.  It was really cute!”  Kamchatka glared at her mate.

       “That’s not for public discussion!”  She snapped.  Matoskah laughed merrily.

       “I think a bear sucking his or her paw is cute be it an adult bear or a cub,” he said, “My mate used to suck her paw when stressed.  I wonder what’s happening to her now.”

       “What I want to know,” Conrad said, “is why the humans didn’t try to steal a cub or two.  Immobilise the two adults and steal the cubs.”

        “Maybe it was the male they wanted,” Kamchatka yawned.  Conrad looked at Matoskah, who was emotional at the mention of his mate.

       “It’s okay to be upset,” Conrad said, “you were taken from all you knew, from your family.  Now you have to cope with other challenges.”

       “Here is better than the zoo,” Matoskah said, “I wish my mate and cubs were here to share it.”  Conrad padded over to Kamchatka and sitting down, hugged her tightly.

       “You looked so cute sucking your paw last night,” he said, kissing her nose.  Kamchatka sighed heavily.

       “I suppose the secrets out, what with infrared cameras now,” she said, “indeed; it was no secret at all.  Who am I fooling but myself?  If others minded, they’d have said something by now.  Yes I do suck my right forepaw at night, and it’s something I’ve never grown out of.  I’m ashamed really, but can’t stop myself.  Sometimes I don’t know I’m doing it.”

       “I think it’s cute,” Jess said, crawling into the lie up.  Kamchatka stared at her.

       “So you’ve noticed it too,” she said dispiritedly, “what will my standing in the community be now that’s out?”

       “I’ve known for ages,” Conrad said, “from the first night we spent together, I knew you sucked your paw Kamchatka.”  Kamchatka breathed a sigh of relief.

       “Well it’s out now,” she said, “so I have to live with everyone knowing.”

      “I would think Samson and anyone else who likes us bears knows you suck your paw at night,” Conrad said.  Kamchatka looked accusingly at the paw in question.

       “I wish I could stop sucking my paw,” she said.

      “Give me your right forepaw and say that again,” Conrad said.  Kamchatka shook her head.

      “So you don’t really wish you could stop then,” Conrad said, “you’re just saying it to sound good.  Now that’s not the Kamchatka I know.  I’d much rather has a paw sucking genuine version of Kamchatka than a fake one.”  Kamchatka smiled at her mate.

       “You’re right,” she said, “I didn’t really mean what I said.”  Conrad smiled hugely.

       Its cute mum sucks her paw when she sleeps,” patch said, padding into the room.  Kamchatka covered her face with her paws.

       “I’m a paw sucker!”  She declared.  Patch embraced his mama with gentle paws.

       “I’d rather have a loving paw sucking mama than a non paw sucker who was a poor mama,” he said.  Kamchatka kissed her son’s nose, Patch laughing merrily.

      “We all love you Kamchatka,” Matoskah said.  Kamchatka grinned hugely.

       “It’s time we showed Matoskah round a bit,” Patch said, “I’ll go find Jess and we’ll show this big bear what an amazing place we have here.”  While Patch trotted away to find Jess, Kamchatka looked at Conrad:

       “I’m sorry for pretending I didn’t suck my paw,” she said, “I should have remembered the cameras.”  Conrad kissed her nose, then, lifting Kamchatka’s right forepaw, he kissed the toes of that paw.

       “That’s the paw I suck on when I’m asleep,” Kamchatka said faintly.  Conrad smiled and looked into her face.

       “I love you all the more for that,” he said.  Kamchatka kissed Conrad’s nose.

      “Let’s go to the pool complex and show Matoskah the slides,” she said.  Conrad got to his paws, Kamchatka following his example and following him to the pool complex, where she and her mate were joined by Jess, Matoskah Ekaterina and Patch.  Matoskah stared round him at the pool complex.

      “This is amazing!”  He said, “A big pool, a huge pool with a wave machine and everything!”  He leapt into the water, the waves crashing against his body and over his paws.

       “This is lovely!”  He yelled, throwing himself into the waves in the shallow end of the pool.  Ekaterina smiled and let patch lead her into the water.  Ekaterina laughed as she was covered in water.  Kamchatka and Conrad joined their cubs and friend in the water.  After an hour of playing in the waves, Kamchatka left the water.

      “I vote we go to the slide,” Kamchatka said, “that should be fun.”  She led her group to the slides, Matoskah following at the rear, unsure as to what would happen next.  Reaching the top of the slopes, he looked around him at the entrances to the two slides, the larger open slide and the smaller closed one.

      “Let’s go down the closed slide,” Kamchatka suggested.  Ekaterina went first, throwing herself down the slide with enthusiasm.  Patch followed her, Kamchatka watching the progress of her cubs down the slide.  Once they were down, Kamchatka motioned to Conrad, who threw himself down the slide.  Then it was Matoskah’s turn.  Turning to him, she waved her paw at the slide:

      “Down you go,” she said.  Matoskah, his toes corned into the tiles, looked nervous.

       “I, I can’t!”  He said, “Your mate and cubs have just thrown themselves into a hole in the wall! But where are they now?”

      “They’re safe,” Kamchatka said.  Matoskah looked uneasy.

       “He’s scared!”  Jess said, having come late to the party.  Matoskah looked down at his paws.

       “I can’t do it!”  He yelled.

      “I can’t believe a bear is scared!”  Jess said, “Water slides are easy to master, but this bear can’t do it?  Oh dear!”

      “Jess, stop it!”  Kamchatka snapped, hearing her mocking tone.

      “NO I won’t!”  Jess said, “He’s a wimp!”

     “Jess!”  Kamchatka snapped.  She then did something she never thought she would do, she struck Jess with her paw.

       “Ouch, you bully!”  Jess yelled, Kamchatka’s paw having connected with her upper arm.

      “You call me mama, so I can bring you to book if you are out of line,” Kamchatka said.  Jess looked at the she bear.

        “You’re not my mother!”  She yelled.  Kamchatka just ignored her.

      “Now Matoskah, are you ready to go down the slide?”  She asked.  Matoskah shook his head.]

        “I can’t, I can’t!”  He whimpered.

       “Wimpy wimpy wimp wimp!”  Jess goaded.  Kamchatka snarled at her, and then walloped her with her paw!

      “Ouch, ouch! Jess squealed.

      “I’ll slap your hind paws next time!”  Kamchatka yelled.  Jess knew this bear was serious.

       “Bears aren’t scared of anything!”  She yelled.

       “Bears are able to be as scared as humans are,” Kamchatka said, “now leave Matoskah alone Jess.  I’m close to sending you back to the lie up!”  Jess stood upright to dominate her mama.  It was then Kamchatka lost it!  Standing up on her hind legs, she yelled at Jess, the sound sending Jess running out of the pool complex in fear!

       “Got rid of her!”  Kamchatka growled.  Matoskah shook from nose to paws.

        “Come down with me, please!”  He begged in a tiny voice, his eyes as frightened as a polar bear cub’s during its first encounter with water.

       “I’ll come down with you,” she said, “now Matoskah, take deep breaths and enjoy the ride.”  Conrad padded up the slope with Ekaterina, having left patch to seek out Jess.

      “We heard the goings on up here,” Ekaterina said, “Jess really went for Matoskah, and that’s wrong mum!”  Kamchatka snarled to herself, furious with her adopted human cub.

      “Let her stew,” she growled, “I’m going down the slide with Matoskah.”  With that, Kamchatka grabbed a raft, bundled Matoskah into the back, and then leapt into the front, Conrad giving them a push down the large open slide.  Matoskah held onto the handles, his eyes tight shut as they accelerated down the slide.

       “Just hold on!”  Kamchatka said.  Matoskah wailed with fear, and then screamed as the raft shot straight down!  Then the raft was tipping sideways, Matoskah and Kamchatka tipped out of the raft and into the water.  Matoskah sunk beneath the water, screaming with fear.  Choking, he floundered to the surface, feeling the pads and toes of his hind paws touching Kamchatka’s back as she swam beneath him, lifting him up.

       “Paddle Matoskah, paddle with your forepaws!”  Conrad yelled from the side of the pool, where he and Ekaterina stood watching and listening.  Matoskah paddled with his forepaws, Kamchatka swimming up alongside him and guiding him to the side of the pool.

       “How was that?”  She asked.

       “Horrible!”  Matoskah replied, “I hate that slide!”

 

 

Meanwhile, patch was tearing a strip off Jess for mocking Matoskah.

       “That was horrid of you!”  He yelled, Jess now very ashamed.

       “I forgot my manners,” Jess replied.

      “I’m upset and angry with you!”  Patch yelled.

       “I’m sorry, so sorry!”  Jess yelled, looking down at her fingers and toes, which were curled with anxiety.

       “I’m going to play with our sister and parents,” [patch said, “I recommend you don’t follow for some time!”  Jess hung her head in shame, but took Patch’s advice.

 

Meanwhile, back in the pool complex, Matoskah and Ekaterina played in the surf created by the wave machine.  After a little play, Ekaterina left Matoskah and found a reproduction rock onto which she clambered, her paws excited by the rough texture of the rock beneath them.  Standing on the top of the rock, Ekaterina bent her head to the rock, listening to a curious sound coming from a hole in the rock.  It was the sound of the water slopping and splashing inside a small cave at the base of the rock.  Ekaterina lay down, her left ear pressed to the hole.  Closing her eyes, she listened intently to the water slopping and splashing as the waves did their thing, sucking the water out, and then forcing it into the rock.  There was a sudden announcement over the public address system.

      “We are going to push the wave machine to full power, stand by.  Any cubs that are in the water which are under three months old need to vacate the water in the next five minutes.”  Ekaterina, still listening to the water in the cave, was only half listening to the announcement.  Being safe on the rock, she thought she was immune from the affects of the heavier waves.  There was a sudden claxon sound, then everyone felt the water reseed from the shallow end of the pool.  The level dropped from six inches to nothing.  Kamchatka and Conrad stared as the water level dropped significantly to around five feet from the edge of the pool.  Then, more suddenly than it had vanished, the water was back in a horrendous wave!  Ekaterina, hearing the water disappear from her cave, wondered what was going on, she’d just lifted her head from the rock, when she heard a rushing sound, then was covered in water, lots and lots of water!  Choking, Ekaterina felt herself swept off the rock, then pulled backwards, then shoved forwards!  Slamming into Kamchatka, Ekaterina struck out with her paws, holding onto her mum’s right foreleg, as she was battered and flung about.  Kamchatka, shocked, felt her cub’s paws gripping her foreleg and lifted her from the water, getting Ekaterina out of the line of fire.

      “Dam waves, dam waves!”  Kamchatka yelled, helping a gasping, frightened female polar bear cub from the water.  Kamchatka sat down with Ekaterina, calming her down, for she was now sobbing with fear.

       “I thought I’d be safe on that rock!”  Ekaterina sobbed.  Kamchatka kissed her cub’s nose.

       “I thought you were safe too,” Kamchatka said.  Ekaterina coughed and spat water.

        “I was listening to the water inside the cave, it was soothing,” Ekaterina said.  Then, then the big waves came, and I got swamped.  Now I’m all wet and choking!”  Kamchatka watched the waves calming down to what they were before the tsunami.

       “Show me the rock,” she said to Ekaterina, following her cub to the rock.

      “Now close your eyes and feel your way up to the top of the rock with your paws,” Ekaterina said, “feel the rough rock under your pads mum.”  Kamchatka closed her eyes and felt her way with fore and hind paws alone.  Reaching the top of the rock, she let Ekaterina guide her to the spot where the hole was.

       “Lie down near the hole,” she said.  Kamchatka nodded and lay down comfortably.  Pressing her ear to the hole in the rock, Kamchatka heard what her cub had, the swish, suck, gargle of the water.

      “This is lovely!”  Kamchatka said, feeling the water washing up around her paws as a larger wave sent water spouting up through the hole and into her ear!  Kamchatka snorted and lifted her head, to find the water washing around her paws!  Her comfortable little rock had vanished beneath the water!  Struggling to her feet, Kamchatka blundered over the rocks, slipping and skidding in her fright.

       “Slow down mum, slow down!”  Ekaterina pleaded.  Kamchatka stood on the rock, her paws now covered by the now more active water.

      “The tsunami’s coming again!”  Kamchatka whimpered.  Ekaterina realised her mum was terrified!

       “Come this way mum,” she said.  Kamchatka followed her cub, feeling the water sucking at her paws with every step.

      “I hate this, I hate this!”  Kamchatka sobbed.

        “I love this!”  Matoskah yelled as the waves got bigger and bigger.

       “Get me out of here!”  Kamchatka begged.  Ekaterina took her mum’s paw and guided her to the shoreline.  Even though they were out of the main line of fire, the biggest wave of all broke over their heads and soaked them.

        “Take me home!”  Kamchatka screamed as she was drenched with water.  Ekaterina led her mum away to the spar pool and sat her down.

      “You’re safe now,” Ekaterina said.  Kamchatka panted hard, her paws shaking.

        “I couldn’t see a thing thanks to that water!”  Kamchatka admitted, “If, if it hadn’t been for you Ekaterina love, “I would have lost my way, if not my footing and done myself an injury.”  Ekaterina sat opposite her mum and took her left hind paw in her forepaws.

       “It’s all over now,” Ekaterina said.

 

Meanwhile, Conrad, Matoskah and Patch were playing with the waves, leaping in an out of them, swimming against them, and being washed up on the shore in wheels of flailing paws and fur.  Yelling with delight, they played until the waves reseeded, Kamchatka and Ekaterina forgotten for the duration.  Once the fun was over, they looked for Kamchatka and her cub, finding them comforting each other in the spar pool.

       “What’s the matter?”  Conrad asked.  Kamchatka told her tale.

       “Shit!”  Patch exclaimed.  Kamchatka growled at him.

      “Sorry,” he mumbled.  Kamchatka withdrew her hind paw from Ekaterina’s embrace and clambered from the water.  Shaking herself dry, she led her family back to the lie up, her legs still a little shaky.

 

“I’ve had it!”  Ekaterina gasped, collapsing in a heap on the rug in her lie up.  Kamchatka looked down at her cub.

       “You look beaten,” she said, gently touching Ekaterina’s shoulder with her paw.  Ekaterina pulled the rug around her and settled down, tucking her forepaws into a fold of the rug.  Kamchatka watched her doing this, her heart filling with love for her cub.  Jess watched Kamchatka and Ekaterina.  She knew she’d missed out on the wave machine, punishment for ridiculing Matoskah.  Sitting back on her heels, Jess watched Kamchatka turn towards her.

      “You have been punished enough,” she said to Jess.  Jess crawled over to Kamchatka and sat down beside her, taking Kamchatka’s massive left forepaw in her tiny hands.

        “I’m sorry mama,” she said, “and I apologise to Matoskah most humbly too.”  Matoskah padded round to Jess’s other side and nuzzled her ear.

       “It’s forgotten now,” he said.

        “I heard you suck your paw mama,” Jess said.  Kamchatka nodded.

       “I do,” she replied, “I know it’s a bad habit.”  Jess smiled:

        “I used to suck my thumb when I was younger,” she said, “but not any more.  I still play with my toes though, that’s one thing I will never give up.”  Kamchatka smiled as Jess released her paw, taking hold of her own right foot in her right hand and playing with her toes with her left hand.  Jess shuffled round so Kamchatka could get a better view of her playing with her toes.  Jess smiled broadly as she held tightly to her right foot and played with her toes.  Kamchatka grinned at Jess.

       “Playing with your own toes feels great doesn’t it,” she said, “as does rubbing the pads of your hind feet with your forepaws.”  Jess nodded.  Matoskah and Conrad padded in and sat down, each soon starting to play with their own hind paws.  Patch padded in and sat down opposite Jess and Kamchatka, Jess examining him from nose to paw pads.  Patch covered the white sole pad of his right hind foot with his left forepaw, smiling at Jess.

       “I remember playing with your paws when we were younger,” she said, “they were enormous in my hands, still are really.”

       “Your hind paws and hands were and are still tiny in my paws,” patch replied, “but yes we had good times playing with each other’s fore and hind paws.”

      “I wonder who your mum really was.”  Jess asked.  Patch shook his head.

       “I hardly remember my birth mother,” he said, “she was gentle with me for the brief time I was with her, that I remember.  We played together, and she snuggled up with me at night.  Alas, I can’t remember anything else.  My mama was a polar bear you know.  I was born near the ice.  I’ve got grizzly in me too, but that’s my sire’s genetics.  No, Jess, I don’t remember my birth mum very well.  All I remember is being captured, and my mum running after the truck I was thrown into.  Then I saw her from the air as I was lifted away in a flying thing.  That was years ago now, but talking about it brings it all back.  Though unlike Kuruk, I won’t find my long lost mama.”  Patch sighed heavily, staring down at his left forepaw playing with the toes of his right hind foot.  Jess watched as patch began to cry.

       “I know I’m home, and that I am happy here n’all,” he sobbed, “but sometimes, I wish I hadn’t been taken from the wild?  I know I wouldn’t have met you Jess, or mama Kamchatka or anyone who I now dearly love, but sometimes, sometimes, I start thinking,”

       “Do you want to leave us?”  Kamchatka asked patch.

       “No mama, it’s not that,” Patch sniffed, “it’s just that sometimes I have dreams of my wild times, dreams of woods, trees and things.  Since I went out into the woods with Ekaterina shortly after I first knew her, and recently when we found Matoskah, the sight of the woods has been stirring in me memories I never knew I had.  I go to a place, a place where there are no cameras, a small clearing where the spirits come to play at night.  There I think about my cubhood.  I’ve been there for only short periods of time, but it doesn’t take much for me to go back there, back to those times.”

       “How do you know about the spirit clearing?”  Kamchatka asked.

      “I found Rowena there once, and she told me she met the spirits of community members who were no longer with us there.  She spent time alone there, or so she said, though I believe she wasn’t really alone there.  A lioness like her is never alone for long.  I’ve met snowy half tail, Ancient Leo, even Theo senior.  Indeed, Theo senior and Ancient Leo are always together, almost never apart.  They were brothers here on earth, and are united again in eohippus’s country.”  Kamchatka listened intently, as did Ekaterina and everyone else.

       “Where is this place?”  Ekaterina asked.  Patch shook his head:

       “I don’t know,” he said, “my paws just take me there when they wish.  I trust my paws to know when I need to go there.  Maybe yours will take you there too Ekaterina.”

      “I must admit I’ve never been there, but I’ve heard stories,” Conrad said.  Kamchatka looked at her mate:

       “I’ve been there, but like Patch, I can’t tell you where it is exactly,” she said, “I just follow my paws, and most often, I meet my mama there.  We talk and hug, and then she goes back over the bridge.”  Jess listened to Kamchatka’s words.

      “I’ve never seen these spirits you speak of,” she said.

       “You may never see them,” Kamchatka replied, “for you Jess, even though you are accepted by the community, are not connected like we are.  You’re a modern human, and are not as receptive to nature as we are.  Yes we use computers and things here, but take all that away, and we’re simple people really.  Look how we entertain ourselves for instance.  We don’t use material things in the main.  Yes we use the pool complex, but that’s an indulgence.  Most of our time is spent with each other, playing with each other’s paws.  That’s what most of our interaction is.”  Jess nodded.

      “I couldn’t get away from my computer at home,” she said, “always playing games on it I was, until I came here of course.  Now I’m more in touch with everything.  Or I think I am.”  Kamchatka smiled broadly.

       “You always were ursine,” she said, “I can tell that in the unashamed way you play with your hind paws jess.”  Jess smiled:

       “I even re-enactd a cubbing, I saw a mama bear having a cub on television, and tried to copy her actions.  I held my hind feet with my hands like she held her hind paws in her forepaws, curling my toes as she curled hers, growling, snarling and panting, feeling my body react to the act, loving every minute.  The mama bear was obeying her body as I obeyed mine.  I loved that re-creation of the cubbing.  I stroked the soles of my hind feet, played with my toes and pressed my feet into my cupped hands as I imagined contractions.”  Kamchatka nodded.

       “Do you roll onto your back and grip your hind feet in your hands?”  She asked.

     “Like this?”  Jess asked, lying down on her back and drawing her feet to her, reaching with her hands to grip the sides of both her feet with her fingers.  Jess curled her toes, feeling the skin on the soles of her feet bunching up.  Kamchatka nodded:

      “Like that,” she confirmed.  Jess rolled about on the floor a bit, still holding her hind feet with her hands.

       “She looks like me when I was having Ekaterina,” Kamchatka thought.  Kamchatka crawled to jess and kissed the fingers of Jess’s right hand which gripped the sole of her foot, two fingers on her heel and two on the mid sole of her foot.  Kamchatka then kissed the toes of her left foot, Jess rubbing the heel of her right foot with her fingers, smiling at the grizzly bear.

      “I love playing with my hind feet,” jess said, “normally human children my age don’t play with their toes or hind feet any more.  But I still do.  It’s seen as the wrong thing to do at my age, but I don’t care.  I notice you bears don’t mind playing with each other’s paws either.  The cubs are always playing with each other’s, and adult bear’s paws too.  I think it’s great how you just think nothing of rolling onto your back and holding your hind paws with your fore.”

       “Cubbing is full of paw play,” Kamchatka said, “all I did was play with my paws as I always had, and it helped a great deal, especially when lying on my back, holding my hind paws with my fore.  That was lovely. Gave me a real sense of security.”  Jess smiled.

      “I can push against my fingers if I want to,” she said, “and that’s really comforting.”  Kamchatka smiled and touched the curled toes of Jess’s left foot with her right forepaw.

       “My act became spontaneous,” Jess said, “my body wanted to have that cub Kamchatka.”  Kamchatka nodded:

      “You owned a little soft toy polar bear cub didn’t you?”  She asked.

      “I did,” jess replied, “I imagined I was a mama bear and that I was giving birth to a polar bear cub.  I loved it Kamchatka!  It was a fantastic feeling!  Bracing my feet against my hands, making as much noise as I wanted, rolling about, sitting down, squeezing my feet with my hands and playing with my toes, all that was exhilarating!”

      “That’s why I re-enact cubbings,” Kamchatka said, “It’s a thrill thing.”  Patch rolled onto his back and held his hind paws with his fore.

      “I love this!”  He said.  Jess smiled and wriggled until her feet came free of her hands.  Kamchatka took jess’s right foot in her paws, examining her toes and the sole of her foot.

       “I heard you re-enactd a cubbing when patch came into your life,” Jess said, “Will you re-enact a cubbing now I’ve entered your life?”  Kamchatka shook her head.

      “You’re not a bear,” she said, “I can’t imagine giving birth to a human cub.”

       “But I imagined giving birth to a bear cub,” jess replied, “go on Kamchatka, try.”

       “You wanted to be one of us,” Kamchatka said, “I don’t want to be human or to join their family either.”  Jess saw what her mama meant.

        “Okay,” she said.  Jess watched patch holding his hind paws with his fore.

       “How was it giving birth to Patch?”  Jess asked.

     ~”it was amazing,” Kamchatka replied.  Jess sat up and took her left foot in her hands, gripping it hard.

      “I want to re-enact a cubbing the way I imagine it,” she said.  Kamchatka smiled:

       “You’re really too young for that,” she said, “but if Ekaterina can do it, I suppose you can too.”  Smiling to herself, Jess began to rub the sole and toes of her left foot, breathing hard.  Then she screwed up her face, curling her toes and holding on tightly to her foot, her knuckles going white as she fought her imaginary battle.

        “Ow, ow, ow!”  She complained, bouncing about and panting.  She then pressed her foot hard into her hands, squeezing her eyes shut and growling with pain, the toes of her free right foot curling tightly.

       “Ooowww!”  Jess yelled rolling onto her back while still holding her left foot in both hands.  She then let go of her foot and kicked furiously with feet her toes curled, whimpering and snarling.

       “Nearly done, cub’s nearly here!”  Jess yelled, sitting up and taking her right foot in her hands this time, squeezing the sole and toes of that foot while curling her toes.

     Erhrhrhrhrhf, Erhrhrhrhrhf!”  Jess moaned, rolling onto her back once more and drawing her feet to her, gripping both feet in both hands and holding on tight, she wriggled convulsively, panting and yelling.

      “Nearly here, the cub’s nearly here!”  She yelled, pressing her feet hard down against her hands.  With one final squeeze of her feet and tight curling of her toes as she groaned deeply, Jess relaxed.

       “Did you enjoy that?”  Kamchatka asked, smiling at jess.  Jess giggled:

      “It was wonderful!  She exclaimed.

       “I suppose humans, like bear cubs re-enact what they see others doing,” Kamchatka said, “So you re-enacting a cubbing is not so unusual.”

      “Even adult bears re-enact cubbings,” Jess said.

       “Your hands are hot, as are the soles of your hind feet jess,” patch said, touching the sole of Jess’s right foot and palm of her right hand with his paws.  Jess nodded:

      “I was making real effort,” Jess said, “even though I shortened things a bit.  I was showing you what I could do; even so, it took fifteen minutes to get through it all.  How real did it look?”  Jess asked Kamchatka.  The grizzly bear hesitated:

       “You’re getting there,” she said, “but you didn’t quite let yourself go.  You say you let yourself go, but you don’t really.  Want me to show you how it’s done?”  Jess grinned:

       “But you’ve had a cub, you can imagine every last bit of the birth,” she said, “I can’t!”

       “I know,” Kamchatka replied, “I know you did your best, but it was all too slow, all too controlled.  There was no abandoning yourself to the situation.  To make it look real, you have to think you’re having a cub, not just pretend to think it.  Imagine the worst bellyache you’ve ever had, imagine wanting to relieve yourself urgently and then imagine you can’t do anything about those feelings.  That the only thing you can do is roll about, scream and strain with the growing contractions.  Imagine that the only thing which will give you relief in the world is the contact between your forepaws and your hind as well as straining against the discomfort.  That this is all you want in the world, ever, while your cub is being born.  Try things that way and you should act more realistically.”  Kamchatka had a light in her eyes, one which Conrad had seen before.

      “Do you want to show her how it’s done?”  He asked.  Kamchatka smiled and nodded.

       “I’ll show you how it’s done if you like,” she said, “but it will be noisy, and graphic.  I will act as if I’m really having this cub.”  Jess nodded:

     “Okay,” she said, “show me.”  Kamchatka lay down, her head on her forepaws.  Then, she moved restlessly about, panting and rubbing her belly with one paw.

       “Cub’s coming,” she gasped, “first real contractions, ouch, ooowww!”  Clenching her teeth, Kamchatka wriggled and kicked with her hind feet, her forepaws gripping the rug where she lay.

      “ouch, ouaouwowowhwhwhwhw!”  Kamchatka complained.  Rolling into a sitting [position, she grabbed her right hind foot in both forepaws and squeezed her pads and toes while curling the toes of both hind paws.  Breathing through her nose, Kamchatka whimpered and gasped.

       “Must push!”  She squealed, “ow, owowowowwwwww!”  Jess watched as sweat poured off Kamchatka’s fur.

        “I want to push so much!”  Kamchatka yelled, rocking and squeezing her hind paw as hard as she could with her forepaws. Aowowowowowouch!  Erhrhrhrhrhrhrhrhrrhf! Erhrhrhrhrhrhrhrf! Erhrhrhrhrhf!”  Jess crawled forward to where Kamchatka was sitting and touched her free left hind foot, feeling the bears’ curled toes and bunched pads, feeling sweat on fur and black paw pads.

        “Ow Jess, ouch! It hurts!”  Kamchatka sobbed, “Must push against the cub though!  Ow, ow! Ow, ow’w’w’w’w’w’w’w’w’w’!”  Jess felt Kamchatka’s commitment to the birth of her cub, everything she did was in aid of the birth!  Then, panting, Kamchatka rolled onto her back and, drawing her hind feet to her, held onto them with desperate forepaws.

      “Push mama push!”  Jess encouraged as Kamchatka wriggled and twisted, heaving and grunting as she pushed against her forepaws with her hind, fighting madly to give birth to her cub.

      “It’s a big cub, ‘owowowowow’w’w’w’w’ww’w!”  Kamchatka yelled, “But I can birth it ok, if I only keep pushing! Aoww’w’w’w’w’w’w’w’!”  Jess knew her own re-creation of a cub’s birth had not been anything like this.  She decided she’d do better next time.  With a squeal of triumph, Kamchatka gave one final heave and the cub was born.

      “There, done it!”  She gasped, pedalling the air with her hind paws.

      “Well done mama,” jess said, stroking her mama’s left forepaw.

      “I suppose it’s no good asking you not to imitate me?”  Kamchatka asked.  Jess smiled and shook her head.

      “It’s too addictive,” she replied.  Kamchatka smiled broadly.

       “If you ever have cubs, um, sorry children of your own you’ll probably revise all you ever imagined about how a cubbing is Jess,” Kamchatka said.  Jess smiled and hugged Kamchatka, the mama grizzly embracing her adopted human cub in as bigger bear hug as she dared.

       “Please will you play with my paws mama?”  Jess asked.

      “Fore or hind paws?”  Kamchatka enquired.

      “My feet, I mean, my hind paws please,” jess said, sitting down.  Kamchatka smiled as she took jess’s left foot in her forepaws, Jess curling her toes as the toes of the grizzly bear’s left forepaw massaged the sole of her foot.

       “I should be massaging your hind paws really,” Jess said.

      “Why’s that?”  Kamchatka asked.

      “After all the work you put in having that imaginary cub, you need your paws massaged,” jess replied.  Kamchatka gently stroked the heel of jess’s left foot:

       “I like massaging my cub’s paws,” Kamchatka said.

      “My turn next,” patch said, panting slightly, “once I can free my left forepaw from my right hind that is, dam! This hind paw’s got a hold of the toes of my forepaw, and it’s not letting go!  I’ve been trying to free it for ages now!”  Patch bounced about, tugging furiously at his left forepaw, the toes of which were held firmly in the curled toes of his right hind.  Patch growled and snarled as he tugged at his forepaw, trying to free it.

         “It’s stuck, well and truly trapped!”  Patch whimpered.  Ekaterina, smiling broadly, crawled over to her brother and worked her right forepaw between Patches’ left fore and right hind, rubbing the sole pads of his right hind foot.  Patch panted as his toes relaxed.

       “Thanks,” he said.  Ekaterina kissed Patch’s nose and the pads of his left forepaw.  Patch smiled hugely, loving his sister’s attentions.

   “You are a family who really love playing with your own and each other’s paws aren’t you,” Matoskah said.  Kamchatka laughed.

       “We love it more than anything else,” she said, “during a cubbing we play with our paws, while playing together we play with our paws, and while playing alone we play with our paws.  It’s great!”

 

Meanwhile, in Arki’s lie up, Arki and Kuruk played with Chowilawu.  The young polar bear cub giggled as his mum and her new friend tickled and played with his paws.

       “You getting Chowilawu cub into ways of playing with paws then mama Arki,” Kuruk said.  Arki smiled and nodded.  She loved Kuruk calling her “mama Arki,” she felt there was something rather cute about it.

       “Mama Arki very pleased Kuruk like how she show cub how plays with paws,” she said, imitating his manner of speaking, which had Kuruk roaring with laughter.

       “Kuruk should punch you on nose for making fun of him, but Kuruk no do thing.  He knows mama Arki only joking.”  Arki smiled and crawled to Kuruk, hugging him tightly.

       “I could fall in love with this bear very quickly,” she thought, snuggling up to Kuruk, feeling his paws enveloping her in a huge bear hug.

        “Kuruk like how Arki feel when in his paws,” Kuruk thought, “Kuruk also like feel of Arki’s paws when he plays with her.  Kuruk know he likes paws of Arki because she likes him playing with her paws.”  Arki rolled onto her back, showing Kuruk the soles of her paws.  Wiggling her toes and then curling and stretching them, Arki smiled as Kuruk watched her pads bunching and stretching.

       “You like the soles of my paws then,” Arki said.  Kuruk took her right hind foot in his forepaws, feeling her pads bunching under his paws as she curled and stretched her toes while he stroked the sole of her foot.

         “Kuruk loves every bit of you, from your nose to your toes!”  Chowilawu yelled.  Kuruk grinned:

      “That cub no misses a thing,” he said.  Arki giggled.

       “I know,” she said.  Kuruk kissed the toes of Arki’s right hind foot, Arki sighing with contentment.

       “I want you to stay forever,” she said, “to be a role model to my cub, and to give me more cubs too.  Play with me and my cub Kuruk, please!”  Kuruk smiled and kissed the pads of Arki’s left hind foot, Arki grinning at him.

 

Meanwhile, back in Kamchatka’s lie up, Kamchatka continued with her examination of jess’s left foot, from her tiny toes, to the lines on the sole of her foot, and finally to her heel.  Jess watched her, her brown eyes smiling at the grizzly bear.

       “Do you want me to curl my toes?”  She asked.  Kamchatka stroked the sole of Jess’s foot, Jess grinning.

      “Curl your toes if you want to curl them,” Kamchatka said, “it’s up to you what you do; they’re your hind feet after all.  Jess pressed her foot into Kamchatka’s paws, and then curled her toes.

        “I want to try acting out a cubbing again,” Jess said, “but better this time!”  Kamchatka warned her:

      “You saw me pushing against my forepaws with my hind?”  Jess nodded:

      “I did,” she said.

     “Well,” the grizzly bear replied, “I’m very fit, and have been enacting cubbings for years.  I suggest you don’t push hard against your hands when you’re holding your foot.  Push a bit, but be careful you don’t stress anything.  If you want to push, push against your fingers when you’re holding your hind feet in your hands while lying on your back.  That way, if you push too hard, your fingers will let go of your feet.”  Jess nodded.

       “I’ll be careful,” she said.  Kamchatka rubbed the heel of jess’s foot, jess wiggling her toes, then curling them hard.

        “I want to push against your paws mama, now!”  She yelled, pressing her foot into Kamchatka’s forepaws.  Kamchatka held Jess’s foot as jess pushed hard.

       “Push down jess, push down!”  Kamchatka encouraged.  Jess closed her eyes and pushed with all her might.

      “I can’t push your paws away at all!”  Jess gasped, “I’m trying so hard!”  Kamchatka smiled and rubbed jess’s toes with her left fore, while holding jess’s left foot in her right forepaw.

        “That felt great!”  Jess panted, “Pushing against your paws felt wonderful mum!”  Kamchatka smiled:

       “That’s an ursine game too,”  she said, “everything we do, from playing with our toes at rest to bracing our hind paws against our fore while lying on our backs during the birth of a cub, is all one thing really.  It’s playing with our paws.  It’s putting into practise the games we play as cubs.”  Jess smiled broadly.

       “Can you describe the soles of my feet?”  She asked.  Kamchatka nodded and looked down at jess’s left foot.

       “Your foot has a pink sole with lines on it, here, here and here.”  Kamchatka replied, tracing the lines on the sole of Jess’s foot with the toes of one paw.  Jess laughed as her foot was tickled.

      “Stop it mama!”  She screamed, “You’re tickling my foot!”  Kamchatka rubbed the tickled sole and rubbed Jess’s heel.

       “Your foot is very small compared to my paw,” Kamchatka said.  Jess curled her toes, Kamchatka smiling as the skin on the sole of Jess’s foot bunched up.

       “Her foot reacts to her curling her toes like mine does,” Kamchatka thought.

      “When you curl your toes Jess the skin on the sole of your foot bunches up like mine does when I curl my toes,” Kamchatka said.  Jess smiled:

      “I’m ursine that way too,” she said, “Kamchatka, can I play with your paws when you’ve finished playing with mine?”  Kamchatka nodded.

      “I’d be delighted to let you do that,” she said.  Jess withdrew her left foot, and gave her mama her right.  Kamchatka stroked the sole of Jess’s foot and jess curled her toes with pleasure.

       “Your hind feet are so sensitive,” Kamchatka said, “I hope my paws is that sensitive.”  Jess smiled broadly.

      “I hope I’ll find out,” she said.  Kamchatka stroked Jess’s right foot for a few minutes more, and then she let go of it reluctantly.

      “Can I take one of your hind paws in my hands now?”  Jess asked.  Kamchatka gave her right hind paw to Jess, the young girl cradling it in her hands, resting Kamchatka’s heel on her left leg and stroking the grizzly bear’s pads and playing with her toes.  Kamchatka smiled broadly.

      “Sorry my right hind foot is so big,” she said.

      “I like big paws,” jess replied, “but playing with Chowilawu’s paws was easier, I’ll admit that.”  Kamchatka smiled.

       “Patch and I love playing with each other’s paws,” Ekaterina said.  Jess smiled at them, patch grinning at her.

       “How would it be if we play together soon?”  He asked Jess.  Jess smiled broadly.

      “Like old times?”  She asked.  Patch nodded.

      “Yes please!”  Jess exclaimed.  Patch smiled to himself.

       “Crawling about while Jess tickled and stroked the pads of my hind feet and played with my toes was wonderful!”  He thought.  Jess stroked Kamchatka’s left hind foot, feeling the grizzly’s rough pads under her fingers.

       “Your pads are rough mama,” jess said.  Kamchatka grinned:

       “The sole of your foot was smooth to my touch,” she said, “now Jess; do you want me to curl my toes?”  Jess grinned:

       “If you want to curl your toes, then you curl them,” jess said.  Kamchatka curled her toes tightly, jess smiling broadly.

       “Your pads bunch up like the skin on the sole of my foot does!”  Jess exclaimed, “How wonderful!”  Kamchatka smiled broadly.  Patch crawled away, Jess breaking off stroking Kamchatka’s hind foot to chase him.  She pounced on his hind paws, Patch squealing with mock fear and rolling over as if dead.  Jess tickled patch’s hind paws, the grey bear laughing helplessly.

       “The soles of your paws are rough like mamas, but softer than hers Patch,” Jess said.  Patch, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes with his forepaws, grinned at his sister cub.

       “I love playing with your paws Patch,” jess said.  Patch pressed his toes into Jess’s fingers as she stroked the sole of his left hind paw.

       “Soppy thing you are Patch,” Matoskah said.  Patch grinned.

       “Can I touch your paws Matoskah?”  Patch asked.  Matoskah smiled and rolled onto his back from where he was sitting, to wave all four paws in the air.  Patch laughed helplessly!

      “I think that’s a yes,” Kamchatka said.  Patch crawled to Matoskah and took his right hind foot in his forepaws, the polar bear pressing his foot into patch’s forepaws.  Patch felt toughened roughened pads and strong toes.  Matoskah gripped the toes of Patch’s left forepaw in those of his right hind, the grizzly polar cross feeling the pure bred polar bear’s innate strength and muscle in the grip of five digest.

      “I like the touch of your paw on mine,” Matoskah said, patch blowing gently on the polar bear’s curled toes, making Matoskah laugh.

 

Meanwhile, Alaska and Allie were padding down a track in the wood.  Chatting together, mother and cub took time off from medical duties and food preparation.  Alaska, now high up in the medical side of the community, found she mostly treating ailments, sprained paws and upset stomachs more than she really wanted to.  Alaska’s first love was helping mothers to be during cubbings, and Allie knew as much.  Padding down the track, they passed a bush.  Grinning, Alaska pointed the bush out to Allie:

      “Remember that bush?”  She asked.  Allie nodded:

       “You helped Olga give birth to Helga beneath that,” Allie said.  A groan, followed by scrabbling paws and a whimper of distress and panting made them stop.

       “What’s beneath that?”  Allie asked, indicating the bush with a paw.

       “I don’t know,” Alaska replied, “though if you think I’ve got the utility to crawl beneath there as I did once long ago, you’re mistaken mama.”  The sound came again, but louder this time, a groan, whimpering, and then scrabbling of paws on earth, followed by panting.

     “Whatever it is is small enough to fit in a place where a bear had her cub,” Allie said, “what do we do?”

       “I vote we leave whatever it is to do its own thing, Alaska said.

      “I’m having a puppy!”  A strangled voice yelled.  Alaska looked at her mum:

       “So it’s a canine female under that lot,” she said, “wow!”  The dog growled and screamed as another contraction tore through her.

      “This pup’s big, too big! Ow! Ow! Ow, ow!”  The voice yelled.  Alaska tore up the bush concealing the labouring mother.  The bash was a big one, but she was determined, and soon had it torn out by the roots.  Flinging it aside, she found a German shepherd bitch clearly in labour.  The pup’s head was nearly out, and as Alaska watched, the bitch strained hard, bringing the head out into the open with a rush of fluid.

      “Birth sack’s bust,” Alaska observed, having spoken to a Labrador who’d had pups.  The German shepherd bitch panted, gripped the earth with her forepaws and strained hard!

       Owowowowowowowwwww!”  She howled.  Alaska watched her arching back and straining tail, as well as groping paws, her hind paws finding nothing for scrabbling toes to hold onto.

      Ou’u’u’u’u’ch! Ow! Ooooooowwwwwwww!”  The mother dog screamed as she strained to deliver her puppy.  The pup was a big one, and every straining effort seemed to tire the mother faster.

       “Can I help?”  Alaska asked.  The mother dog, her eyes tightly shut, panted through her nose and replied through clenched teeth.

        “Yes, whoever you are, just get this pup out! Pull it out if you have to!  I can’t go on!”  Alaska knew she had to work fast.  Looking at Allie, who was stunned at the sight of the German shepherd dog giving birth to her pup.

      “Go and tell Kamchatka what we have here,” Alaska said, Allie trotted off.  Meanwhile the mother dog was tiring quickly.  Alaska always carried a small pack around her neck for emergencies, and it had a small vile of something that would speed up labour.  At her request, Alaska asked the mother dog to open her mouth, and Alaska rubbed some of the special gel onto her tongue.

       “This won’t taste too good,” Alaska said, but it’s going to speed things up.  The mother dog panted hard:

       “Anything to save my pup!”  She gasped, ow, ooooowwwwww!  Things, things are getting really intense now, contractions, much, much stronger!  Ouch! Ow! Ooooooooow! Oooooowwwwwwooooowwww!  I’m being torn apart!”  She screamed.  The pup inched into the outside world, the mother dog scrabbling at the ground, at Alaska and at the remains of the bush with all four paws while straining hard in her struggle to give birth to her puppy.  Screaming, barking, yelping, rolling,  and kicking her way through contractions, the mother dog laboured for another five minutes.  Then, with Alaska pulling gently on the pup’s shoulders, she gave one final heave, her paws scrabbling, eyes tight shut and mouth gaping in one last screaming howl to the heavens as she gave her all.  Alaska, her paws full of a now wriggling yelping puppy, watched the life ebb from the mother dog.  Alaska looked round as Allie arrived with Kamchatka.

        “A mama dog having her pup?”  Kamchatka asked.

      “No, a horse giving birth to a dinosaur, “what does it look like Kamchatka?”  Alaska asked, distressed at the sight of the dying mother dog.  Kamchatka snorted at the younger bear’s words.

       “You insolent young pup!”  She snapped.

      “Now leave it out!”  Allie commanded, “Your comment was silly Kamchatka; now get on with your job.”  Kamchatka shook herself.

       “I’m still in play mode,” the mama grizzly said, “I’m sorry.”  Indeed, still drugged with the chemicals released into her bloodstream by jess playing with her paws and the mock cubbing, Kamchatka wasn’t thinking straight.

        “This mama dog has just died giving birth to her pup,” Alaska said, “I’ve got no milk to feed the pup, so what the hell are we gonna do?”

       “Give her to me, maybe?”  Arki suggested, padding towards them.

      “Give you a pup to nurse?”  Kamchatka asked, “Are you mad Arki?”

       “No,” Arki replied, “look Kamchatka, either I feed the poor thing with milk, or she dies, simple as, so excuse me!”  With that, Arki took the pup from Alaska and padded off with her.

       “I’ve been no bloody good to anyone!”  Kamchatka snarled, realising she’d not really been paying attention.

       “Too much playing with paws maybe Kamchatka?”  Allie asked.  The grizzly bear snorted:

       “I was enjoying family time, but, well, now you bring it up, I am rather addicted,” Kamchatka replied.  Alaska looked at the blood on her paws and at the dead mother dog.

        “Poor thing,” she said, “at least your pup’s safe now.  Rest in peace mama.”

       “We bury mama dog quick snappy,” Magnus, Honeyfur’s male cub said, having been summoned from the house by his mother.  Alaska bowed her head to the badger in gratitude.  Magnus laughed at her deference...

       “You bears are so funny,” he said, “we badgers do bury thing right enough, and you treat us like we royal or something.  Now me and Furcone, we bury mama dog plenty quick.  Bear’s job is to look after living pup.  Play with her, love her.  Badgers take care of mama dog body, you see.  Now go away from here all of you and let badgers do work.  Bears clog up place like wet earth sometimes.”  Kamchatka was about to remonstrate with the young badger, when Alaska held up her paw.

       “Mama Kamchatka, please, does as the badger wishes,” she said, “get your toes out of the mud, for you’ve curled them into it, and leave here...  Kamchatka looked down at her paws, indeed she’d done just as Alaska said.  Shaking her feet free of the mud, Kamchatka followed Alaska and Allie back to the house.

 

Padding into Arki’s lie up, they found Arki lying down, the hungry puppy drinking from her milk supply.  Chowilawu sat next to the pup, his paw protectively on her shoulder.  The pup, as yet unnamed, growled and yelped a little Arki soothing her.

      “She’s got the most gorgeous face with big ears and the cutest set of paws excluding those of bear cubs!”  Arki said.  Kuruk grinned, as if he’d fathered the pup.

         “She is lovely,” he said, “she make good cub for Arki I think.”  Arki smiled broadly.

        “I can feel my love for her growing already,” Arki said.  Kamchatka, her paws covered in mud, watched Arki nursing the German shepherd pup.

        “She’s beautiful that’s for certain,” the grizzly bear said.  The puppy nursed from Arki’s milk, Chowilawu smiling as broadly as his mum.

       “What should we call this little one?”  Arki asked, her huge paw hiding the pup as she stroked her back.

        “I think we should call her Petra,” Petra said, padding into the room.

       “Just because you want a pup named after you Petra,” Kamchatka said.  Petra grinned and playfully cuffed Kamchatka’s shoulder with her paw.  Kamchatka squared up to the lioness and both ended up in a rough and tumble game.  Arki, Kuruk and the other bears present laughed helplessly at the lioness and grizzly’s antics.

 

Meanwhile, jess and patch played together, each playing with the other’s paws, rolling each other over and pinning each other down.  Of course jess being weaker than patch, Patch played gently, letting the human overpower him.  And when he got the upper paw on her, he would be gentle with her.  Their play was natural, for they’d been playing like this for years.  Patch knew what jess could stand and what she couldn’t, and she knew his limits too.  Jess smiled as patch grabbed hold of her right foot and tickled her toes and the sole of her foot.

       “You rogue Patch!”  She screamed, grabbing his left hind foot and tickling his pads and toes.  Patch and jess rolled about, grabbing at each other’s hands, feet or paws and laughing helplessly.  Jess picked up patch’s right forepaw and examined it carefully.  He had large toes and a smaller pad on the main part of his paw than was on the sole pad of his hind paw.  Patch curled the toes of his forepaw, making the pads bunch up.  Jess giggled and kissed the curled toes.

       “I love you so much Patch,” she said.  Patch nuzzled her ear and embraced her tenderly.

     “Hold me tight patch,” Jess pleaded, patch embracing her as tightly as he dared, and jess snuggling up to him.  Jess curled her fingers into patch’s fur, feeling her toes curling with emotions as she snuggled close to her friend.  Burying her face in his fur, she breathed in patch’s scent, the scent that had comforted her in her darkest times.  Patch thought back to the times when he’d bathed and protected Jess. realising he considered her as much part of his family as he did the bears.  To him, there was no distinction in the love he had for jess and his ursine brothers and sisters.  Patch held jess tightly, feeling her fingers digging into his thick fur, and on glancing down, seeing her curled toes too.

        “We’re safe here,” patch whispered to jess, Jess nodding her head against his chest.  Patch released jess, who sat down, giving him her right hind foot to massage.  Patch took it in his huge forepaws and stroked the sole of her foot and massaged her toes.

 

Meanwhile, back in Arki’s lie up, the German shepherd puppy slept unaware of the unusual situation she was in.

       “I saw the pup’s birth on the cameras,” Arki said, “what an ordeal!”  Kuruk nodded.

       “Mama Hound, she dies quick after struggle to give life to pup,” he said, “very sad, very sad indeed.”  Arki shivered as she remembered her own cub’s birth.

       “At least I was fairly safe,” she thought, “people were looking out for me.  That mama dog, if only we’d spotted her earlier.  Even then we’re not into major surgery to get pups born.  Maybe the Boss could have helped, but then maybe that would be going too far interfering with nature.”  Arki looked the pup over from her head to the soles of her paws.

        “She’s beautiful,” Arki thought, kissing the puppy’s nose.

 

Meanwhile, Theo Junior and Clarence were playing with Dusty.  The fox cub, having been brought up with lions and having seen his mum so comfortable with them, didn’t see anything unusual in playing with big cats.  Dusty loved having his belly and paws tickled and played with, which was fine by Theo and Clarence, who’d not really grown out of playing with each other’s paws.  Wriggling madly, Dusty let the two big cats grab all four of his large paws in theirs and endlessly tickle and stroke them.

 

Kamchatka and Ekaterina left the lie up, heading for the woods.  Ekaterina, padding alongside her mum, asked Kamchatka where she’d first met Jess.  Kamchatka showed her the place, a track not too far from the house.  Kamchatka then sat down with her cub and told her all about that first meeting.  Ekaterina laughed as her mum retold how jess had tickled her hind foot.

        “Just a little too gentle then,” Ekaterina said.  Kamchatka smiled:

      “It was,” she said, “but that broke the ice between us.”  Ekaterina leant back against a tree and listened to the sounds of the wood.

       “What can you hear?”  Kamchatka asked.  Ekaterina got up and crawled towards a bush.  Kamchatka followed her cub, curious as to what Ekaterina had heard.  Ekaterina wormed her way beneath the bush, and then there was a scuffle, and the sound of sobbing.  Ekaterina spoke gently to whoever was sobbing and then crawled backwards, leading something which also crawled.  Kamchatka’s eyes widened as she recognised what Ekaterina had found.

       “How on earth did you know a bear cub was under the bush?”  Kamchatka asked.  Ekaterina, feeling the cub’s left forepaw, which was holding onto her right fore, clench with fear, waved her free paw, telling her mum to shut up.

       “Cant’ talk now,” Ekaterina whispered.

     “But Ekaterina,” Kamchatka began.

      “No mum, leave it!”  Ekaterina snapped, the bear cub shrieking with fright as she saw Kamchatka’s huge form.

        “I wan’a go home, I wan’a go home!”  The cub squealed.  Ekaterina embraced the cub tenderly in her paws, touching a ribbon which the cub wore around her neck.

        “You’re safe here,” Ekaterina said, “I’ll keep you safe.”

      “But that big mama bear, she’s huge!”  The cub wailed.

      “She’s my mama, she’ll not harm you,” Ekaterina said gently.  The cub, beginning to sob again, tried to be brave, but her tiny paw trembled in Ekaterina’s larger one.

       “I’m scared,” the cub sobbed, “I’m scared, and I want my mum, but she won’t wake up!”

       “What do we do now?”  Kamchatka asked, having dropped into a crawling posture herself.

       “Mama!”  Ekaterina pleaded, “this is my rescue, I didn’t bust in while you were bringing Patch home now did I?”  Kamchatka had to agree this point.

       “Where is your mama?”  Kamchatka asked the cub.

       “She’s, she’s, somewhere near here,” the cub sniffed, “she was limping and sick.  She said her paws hurt her a lot.  She couldn’t walk any further so she hid herself and me under a bush.  She wouldn’t wake up in the morning, so I crawled from her bush, and was sitting on the track when it began to rain.  Something told me, told me, told me that, I, I should get under a bush for shelter.  Something else told me I shouldn’t shelter with my mum.  I walked for a bit, for I can walk, to another bush, there I hid.  I slept a while, and then you coming near woke me.  I was, still am frightened, so I stayed as quiet as I could, but I was still discovered.  Then this polar bear cub came in to my place and I got really scared, but then she spoke gentle words, and has such soft paws, that I went with her.  Then I see big mama bear and get all frightened again!”  Kamchatka looked into the female bear cub’s eyes, which were red from crying.

        “We have to find your mama,” she said.  The bear cub looked fearful.

       “No mama, no, please!  It’s not safe; something told me near my mama was not safe!”  Kamchatka looked uneasy.

       “But we can’t just leave her,” she said, “its wrong.  We don’t do that here.”

        “I’ll take her home,” Ekaterina said, “you mama, get a search party together and look for this cub’s mama.”  Kamchatka knew when she was outgunned and got to her paws, Ekaterina letting the cub bury her face in her shoulder as she tried to avoid the sight of Kamchatka.

         ““Come home with me now,” Ekaterina said, “I’ll lead the way.”

       “Can you walk?”  The bear cub asked.  Ekaterina nodded.

       “But you’ll have to keep one paw on mine,” she said, “for I can’t see you.”  The female cub wasn’t about to ask questions.

      “I’ll do anything you say,” she said, “just get me out of this place!”  Ekaterina padded back to the house with the cub.

 

Kamchatka found the dead mama bear without difficulty.  Indeed, Kodiak had found her first, and maybe had frightened the cub away from her mother.

        “The poor cub probably couldn’t bring herself to speak the words, “male bear,”” Kamchatka thought.  Kodiak looked up at Kamchatka from where he’d been sitting guard over the dead bear’s body.

       “I was about to rescue the little sod when she ran off!”  He said.  Kamchatka looked at Kodiak, seeing a fat old bear, now incapable of chasing anything.

       “You couldn’t chase her anyway,” Kamchatka said.  Kodiak snarled and struck out at her with his paw, the blow hardly registering with the younger female bear.

       “You hardly felt that did you?”  Kodiak panted.  Kamchatka shook her head.

        “You frightened her off,” Kamchatka said, “the cub ran off because you turned up.”  Kodiak looked at his paws shaking beneath his considerable weight.

        “I’m past catching or hurting anyone!”  He gasped, “I can’t run, I can’t do much these days.”  Kamchatka turned tail and padded away from the scene of the mama bear’s death.

      “The least you can do is start thinking of burying her decently,” Kodiak said.  Kamchatka spun round and ran at him.

      “No Kamchatka!”  Kodiak begged, “No, no no!”  Kamchatka knocked Kodiak off his feet and pinned him to the floor.

       “I will inform the badgers,” Kamchatka said.  Kodiak squirmed under her paws.

         “I will tell them!”  He yelled.  Kamchatka let Kodiak go.

      “No Kodiak, I will tell them,” Kamchatka said, “now leave here.”  Kodiak snorted and turned tail.

       “I’ll bet Kamchatka’s adopted another cub!”  Kodiak thought angrily, “bloody cubs!  Too many bloody cubs!”  Clenching his right forepaw into a fist, Kodiak kicked a nearby tree, his toes cracking.  Yelling with pain, Kodiak limped away.

       “I need to get back to Ekaterina,” Kamchatka thought.  Pulling the dead mama bear’s body deeper into the bush, Kamchatka left the scene.  Finding Honeyfur padding down a track, Kamchatka informed her of the goings on.

       “You show me where mama bear body is,” Honeyfur said.  Kamchatka did, and Honeyfur nodded.

      “We bury her soon then,” she said, “for she is poisoned in the blood.  We bury her in big whole deep down.  Take long time to dig hole, so we start immediately.  Kamchatka nodded.

      “Thanks,” she said.  Honeyfur placed her paw on Kamchatka’s.

      “Now you go back to bear cub and be mama to her,” the badger said.  Kamchatka kissed the top of the badger’s paw and Honeyfur left quickly, her rolling gate making Kamchatka smile.

        “Time to go home I think,” Kamchatka thought.  Padding back home, she entered the house.

 

Lying down in her lie up, Kamchatka watched Ekaterina playing with the now much more lively bear cub.  The bear cub had hazel brown fur, and each of her tiny paws had light yellow brown pads.

        “She’s also wearing a ribbon around her neck,” Kamchatka thought to herself.  Calling the cub to her, Kamchatka watched as the cub crawled to her, showing deference in every movement, while bringing Ekaterina along with her.

      “Why are you wearing a ribbon around your neck?”  Kamchatka asked.  The cub lifted a paw and touched the red ribbon.

      “I found it on the track and thought it looked nice, so now I’m wearing it,” she replied.  Kamchatka smiled at the bear cub.”

       “What is your name?”  She asked.

      “I don’t have a name,” the cub replied, “when my mum and I were together, she didn’t need to name me as such.  Now though, I suppose I need a name.”

       “I’ll see if I can think of a name for you,” Kamchatka said.  Patch padded into the lie up.

       “Hey!  Another cub!”  He exclaimed, trotting over to the young female hazel brown bear cub and scooping her off the floor, while in the same movement rolling onto his back and hugging her tenderly.

      “Hey, wooh! Paws off! Get off me!  Let me go, let, me, go!”  The young cub complained struggling madly.  Patch looked into the cub’s face.

        “Welcome home little sister,” he said, kissing her nose.  The cub stopped struggling and complaining, gulping as tears filled her eyes.

        “What do they call you?”  She asked.

      “Patch, or old grey,” Patch replied.  The bear cub looked at Patch; his fur was not patchy at all now, though he still had off white paw pads.

       “What would you like us to call you?”  Patch asked.

        “As I was saying to our, I, I mean, your mama, I didn’t have a name when I was with my birth mum.  Now though, I think I need one, or our mama, I mean, your mama, thinks I do.”

        “How about the name Olga Honeydew?”  Patch asked.  Kamchatka couldn’t help smiling.

       “That’s a bit high class for a runty little cub isn’t it?”  Helga asked, padding into the room.

        “No, not really,” Patch replied.  Mama took a scruffbag like me in, and now she’s found a well bred cub.  A well bred cub should have a well bred name.”  Helga put on a posh voice and mocked the honey brown cub.

        “Oh, Olga Honeydew! Bet you ride a pony with a posy name like princess!  Tell me, does your pony ware a ribbon in her mane like you wear around your neck?”  The cub looked devastated.

        “Leave me alone!”  She whined, cuddling up to patch as if he’d protect her against Helga’s words.

        “Oh what a whiny cub!”  Helga jeered, swiping at little Olga Honeydew with her paw.  Patch reacted like lightning, rolling onto his paws and lashing out at Helga with his left forepaw, raking his claws down her shoulder.  Helga screamed and the two bears fought for a bit, Patch and Helga rolling over and over, kicking and slapping at each other until Patch Overwhelmed Helga and chucked her out of the lie up.

        “I don’t want to cause a fight!”  Olga wailed.  Patch stormed back into the lie up, flopping down beside his mum.  Kamchatka looked over at him:

      “Did you really have to quite literally rip into Helga?”  Kamchatka asked.  Patch nodded.

        “She lashed out at a cub, and noone lashes out at a cub!”  Patch replied.

 

Sudden screaming and begging as well as the sound of heavy paws stumbling down the passage towards the lie up made Kamchatka and Patch leap to their feet.

        “What the hell’s going on?”  Ekaterina asked.  Kamchatka saw a distressed, wild eyed female grizzly, covered in mud barrelling into the lie up.

       “Where is my cub?”  She demanded.

       “Wait a minute!”  Kamchatka demanded of the female grizzly.

       “I want my cub!”  The mama grizzly screamed, her voice filling the room with desperate entreaties.

        “I thought you were dead!”  Kamchatka exclaimed.

       “So did the badgers, but no I’m here, weak but here!”  The mama bear panted.  Kamchatka looked down at the mama bear’s paws; one was swollen with infection and evidently very painful.

        “Your cub’s here,” Patch said, pointing to Olga Honeydew.  The mama bear wanted to run forward and grab her cub, but something stopped her.

        “You protect my cub grey bear?”  She asked bewildered.

       “Well, yes, she’s my sister,” Patch replied.

       “I swear I only had one cub,” the mama bear said, her confusion mounting, “what is this place anyway?”

       “This place is our home,” Kamchatka said.  The mama bear shook herself, mud flying from her fur.

        “I woke to find myself surrounded by badgers who were discussing burying me,” she said, “I fought my way out, and went looking for my cub.  Yes I am ill, very sick.  I fell asleep for a night, and the badgers talk about burying me?”

       “You were asleep for four days mama,” Olga Honeydew said.  The mama bear looked uncertain.

     “I, I don’t know for certain,” she admitted.

       “My youngest cub found your cub under a bush,” Kamchatka said.  The mama bear shook her head.

       “I don’t understand,” she said.

       “What I’d like to know is whether we still have custardy of this cub?”  Patch said.  The muddy mama grizzly looked at him.

       “How can I not give you custardy of my cub when you protect her like you do?”  She asked.

       “We are not into stealing cubs,”  Kamchatka said, “we rescue them if they are in danger, but if mama bear comes along, we will give the cub back.”

       “My paw is too painful to fish,” the mama bear said, lifting her left forepaw from the floor.  Kamchatka approached, motioning to the mama bear to lie down.  Once she’d collapsed onto her side, Kamchatka examined her paw.

       “I think we can fix this,” she said.  Phoning Alaska, Kamchatka spoke to the polar bear.

      “We’ll open up the sole pad and get rid of the mucky stuff in there,”  Alaska said, taking a look at the sole of the mama bear’s left forepaw via her video screen.

      “I’ll come take a closer look,” Alaska said.  Kamchatka dumped her phone back on the cradle and looked at the mama bear.

      “We’ll open up that pad and evacuate all the muck from it,” she said.  The mama bear looked fearful.

       “It’ll be okay,” Kamchatka said, hugging the mama bear, smelling her strong ursine scent.  Alaska padded into the room and looked at the mama bear.

      “She needs a wash, then medical treatment,” Alaska said.  Alaska kissed Olga Honeydew’s mama’s nose, then led her to the bathroom where she washed mama bear from nose to tail, then asked her to open her mouth.  Alaska rubbed anaesthetic on the mama bear’s gums, and then they waited.  The mama bear settled down on the tiles.

      “I feel disconnected,” the mama bear mumbled.  Then Alaska, stroking mama bear’s good right forepaw, got a knife and then, holding the mama bear’s infected left forepaw with her right, cut into mama bear’s sole pad with the point of the knife held in her right forepaw.  Mama bear whimpered with pain as the knife went into her pad.  There was a short spurt of pus and blood, mama bear sobbing with fear.

      “It’s nearly all done,” Alaska said, “brace yourself; I’ve got to wash the wound now.  Alaska washed the wound out with saline, mama bear hissing with pain.

       “You’re being very brave,” Alaska said.  Mama bear clenched her teeth and breathed deeply.

      “How much longer?”  She asked.  Alaska kissed her nose and finished washing the wound.  Then she bound mama bear’s paw tightly with bandages.

       “You’ll have to stay here for a few days,” Alaska said.  Mama bear, who’s name was Winnie, breathed slowly, trying to control her fear.

        “It’s all over now, I promise,” Alaska said, kissing Winnie’s nose and stroking her good right forepaw.

       “I’m a wild bear,” Winnie said, “my name’s Winnie, and you have my cub!”

     “My name’s Alaska,” Alaska replied, “I’m the medic round here.  I deal with injured paws, and birthing cubs.  Now your cub, Olga Honeydew is safe.”  Winnie smiled and kissed Alaska’s nose.

       “Can I get something to eat here?”  Winnie asked.  Alaska nodded and took Winnie to the kitchen, where they found Olga Honeydew and Patch getting food.  Bramble, on duty that shift, was helping them get salmon.  Olga grinned at her mum, and then got some salmon from Bramble.  Winnie got her share of salmon, and went back with it to the lie up where she’d first met Kamchatka and her family.

       “When your paw is healed, what will you and your cub do?”  Patch asked Winnie.

       “We’ll probably go from here, move on into the wood.  Here is not my place, nor my cubs.  You have been wonderful to her, but here is not her place.”

       “Why not stay here?”  Kamchatka asked, “We’ve got plenty of room, and we’d love you to stay.”  Winnie looked into Kamchatka’s eyes.

       “Your behaviour is not normal ursine behaviour,” she said, “mother bears don’t like other mothers too close to their cubs.”

       “Well, get ready for a shock,”  Patch said, “we all look after everyone’s cubs here, Kamchatka looks after Arki’s, Arki looks after Kamchatka’s, not that we need it now of course, but she would if we did.  And bears look after the cubs of lions and other big cats.  We have lions here too you know.”  Winnie nodded.

       “I met one,” she said, “big fellow, long mane and big paws.”

        “Samson,” Kamchatka said, “a good chap that one.”  Olga, wiping her mouth with her paw, looked at Kamchatka.

       “While hiding beneath my bush, I saw a white lion.  He was magnificent!  He came to me and we talked, but I told him not to tell anyone I was under the bush, just in case my mum came to find me.  His name was Theo.  He had, oh I don’t know how to describe this!  Um, well, comforting paws.  I wanted to snuggle up to him even though I’d never met him before.  He was so gentle.”

      Petra will be pleased,” Conrad said, padding into the lie up, “she’s anxious about her cub.”

       “But Theo’s lovely!”  Olga Honeydew said, “He’s big, his paws are soft, and he’s got a longish mane too!”

      “that’s Samson’s genes coming out in him,”  Patch said, “I’ll bet Theo will have as long mane as his sire when he’s fully mature.”  Olga smiled:

       “Theo was, is, a snugly lion, very ursine really.  He just wants to be hugged.”

        “Did he tell you that?  Or are you just assuming it to be the case?”  Someone asked.  Olga spun round to see Theo standing in the doorway.

        “How can a lion be anything like a bear?”  Theo asked in a low growl which sounded like he meant business.  Olga was back pedalling fast now:

       “I didn’t mean you wanted to be a bear,” she gabbled, “I meant I felt you were hugging me like a bear would, that’s all!”

      “But I’m a cat, and who the hell are you anyway?”  Theo asked.  Olga looked unhappy.

      “We met under the bush, remember?  We talked, you hugged me Theo, you hugged me, and, and even played with my paws!  Surely you remember that?”  Theo padded forward as if stalking Olga, and suddenly rolled onto his back with his paws in the air.  Olga laughed despite herself.

        “I knew you’d remember me,” she said.  Theo gathered Olga to him and hugged her.

       “I was only playing games,” he said gently, kissing the bear cub on her nose.  Olga snuggled up to Theo, the white lion purring as if he was the sire of the cub he held in his paws.

 

Meanwhile, Simba, watching from another lie up, saw Theo’s easy interaction with Olga Honeydew and resented it.

       “I used to be able to do that,” he thought miserably, “now thanks to my own stupid actions I’m a busted lion!  I had so much going for me, so bloody much!  But I threw it away, and now, now I’m a no one here!  Theo’s something, even though he’s not actually got a formal job, he’s something, for he’s well in with everyone.  He could charm the cubs from a she wolf’s side with ease, and the she wolf would let them go to him too.  He slipped beneath a bush and made friends with a grizzly bear cub too.  I can’t stand his talent!”

        “Being envious of your own brother is a serious thing Simba,” Petra said padding into the room.

       “How the hell do you know how I feel towards Theo?”  Simba demanded.

       “It’s screaming from you loud and clear,” his mum said.  “I’m quite aware.  Oh, by the way, if you try to break Theo, many will break you.  You do realise that I hope.”  Simba snarled at Petra, and then swore at her.

       “Shut it you bloody moggie, flea bitten bitch!”  He yelled.  Petra cuffed her cub hard with her paw.

       “That’s for swearing at me!”  She snapped.  Simba, his lip bleeding, padded away to sulk.

 

Back in Kamchatka’s lie up, Olga Honeydew busily stroked Theo’s left forepaw, the lion purring and curling his toes as the bear cub stroked his pads.

       “You are so gentle!”  Olga Honeydew said.  Theo wriggled with pleasure, the bear cub giggling delightedly.

       “Right, Party’s over!”  Simba screamed, barrelling into the lie up and pouncing on Theo.

      “Get off his paws!”  He screamed at Olga, the cub shrieking with fear as she was knocked aside, and her playmate was engulfed by half a ton of angry lion!  Theo and Simba fought madly, Theo outwitting his brother cub by using his greater weight, skill learned from his mum and strength.

       “Now leave, leave with your tail between your legs!”  Theo snarled at Simba, “Leave before I tear your tail off!”  Simba limped away.

      “Why did he attack you?”  Olga asked, her paws covering her face.

       “He is angry because I can play with the cubs and he can’t bring himself to,” Theo panted.

       “Who is he?”  She asked.  Theo swallowed hard, tears filling his eyes.

       “My, my, my brother cub,” he choked.  Olga was horrified!

       “But, but, brother should not be envious of brother,” she said, “Surely he has his own talents as do you.  Can’t he work with his talents and you with yours?  Can’t he leave you in peace?”

       “Simba had talents in the area I have, but he threw them away,” Theo said gruffly.  Many a time have I heard the tale, and many a time have I seen the shattered lion that could have been so strong.  Instead he’s feeling bitterness, bitterness and hatred towards everyone who has skills he wants.  Skills playing and interacting with cubs, skills like using paws to soothe, all that he does not have, and he wishes so much to have.  So he hates.  Simba hates himself for not having those skills and others for having them.  Olga looked frightened.

       “Does he hate me for stroking your paw?”  She asked.  Theo looked hard at the toes of his left forepaw.  He couldn’t lie to the cub.

       “He might,” the lion whispered, “Dear Olga, he might hate you dear cub.”  Olga looked at Theo.

      “But I did nothing to him!  It’s his own problem, not mine!  This means anyone who plays with me whom Simba hates is tarred with the same brush.  Simba is dangerous!”

       “Simba will destroy himself,” Theo mewed, “I am sure he will destroy himself in the end.”

      “But he’ll take innocents with him,” Olga replied, “he’s poisonous!”  Theo gulped hard.

       “I don’t want him to destroy himself,” Theo sobbed, “I want him to live a happy life, but he’s not living a happy life at the moment, and he’s the only one who can change things now.”

       “You still love your brother don’t you,” Olga said.  Theo nodded.

        “He savagely attacked me, but I still love him,” Theo mewed.

 

Simba listened outside the door, his hatred boiling up inside him.

      “I’m gonna be sick!”  Simba thought, running for the relieving place.  Vomiting into the hole, Simba felt his strength ebbing, and then, feeling his stomach lurch, he spun round and defecated into the hole also.  Simba closed his eyes, straining hard, his body taking its revenge.  Gripping the tiles with desperate paws, Simba felt his body getting rid of everything.  Breathing hard, he bore down strongly, growling and whimpering with effort and pain.

       “This is horrible!”  Simba thought, wriggling and panting.  Then he was straining again, his body seemingly tearing itself apart.  Simba wailed with pain.  Exhausted, he crawled from the relieving place, his fur and paws drenched in sweat.

      “I feel dreadful!”  He gasped.  Simba roared as his body was suddenly racked by pain.  Arching his back, Simba’s forepaws gripped the toes of his hind and he hung on grimly.  Wriggling, twisting and roaring with pain, the lion rode out his physical distress.

        “I’m dying!”  He screamed.  Totally exhausted, Simba collapsed.

 

Liang found him there five minutes later.  Simba incoherent, tried to make himself understood by the male panda, but Liang couldn’t understand him.

       “I’ll go get Fleur,” Liang said.  Finding fleur, Liang told her what he’d seen.  Fleur, trotting along to Simba, found the lion sprawled on the tiles of the shower room.

       “Come on,” she said, “let’s get out of here and sort you out.”  Simba let fleur guide him to her lie up, where he flopped onto a rug.  Crying, Simba begged fleur for help.

        “I’ll take a look at your general health,” she said, “but I think your problem is psychological.  Your hatred for others is affecting your general health Simba.”  Simba felt awful, his body was hot, his paws sweating, his stomach in turmoil and his mouth dry.

       “I saw the attack on Theo Junior,” Fleur mewed, “that was disgusting!  That was purely motivated by hatred born of jealousy of what your brother’s got.

      “Theo’s all soft paws and gentility, and I want that!”  Simba raged.

       “You used to be soft pawed and gentle,” fleur replied, “but lately you’ve become a nasty lion.”  Simba closed his eyes, fighting a wave of sickness.

       “I’m gonna throw up!”  He said, gagging.  Fleur let him get on with it.

        “You need to celebrate goodness in others, rather than hating their goodness,” fleur said.

       “How can I celebrate goodness when I’m a busted lion?”  Simba roared, coughing violently.

       “By, “busted lion,” you mean a lion with no standing in the community?”  Fleur asked.  Simba growled deep in his throat.

       “Well, you need to approach others with compassion and a gentle manner,” Fleur replied.

       “How can I possibly do that when I’m feeling like shit!”  Simba grumbled.

       “True,” Fleur conceded, “you can’t be good to others until you are good to yourself.”

      “You managed it,” Simba said.

      “I did,” fleur mewed, “but my hatred of my body was easily overcome by my mind.  If I didn’t dwell on my own issues I was all right.  The problem with you Simba is that you think of yourself and no one else.  You are a selfish lion!”

        “Surely Theo thinks of himself too?”  Simba asked.

      “No,” fleur mewed, “well, not in the way you think of yourself.  Theo loves the cubs and wants to play with them.  He’s approachable and gentle.  Also, because he demands nothing from anyone, cubs and adults gravitate to him.  His presence is enormous, even though it’s undemanding of attention.  Theo’s presence is huge, so that even those who cannot see him turn their heads.  Ekaterina does, as does Chowilawu.  Simba, you used to have that power, now you have no power at all.  The power has even deserted you within.  Because of your inner deprivation, you want more status, more external trappings of power, but you can’t have them.  If Theo was disabled, with all four paws crushed, he’d still be the lion everyone loves.  His power comes from deep within him.  The thing is, he doesn’t realise his impact on others.  Do you know something?  After your disgraceful attack on Theo and Olga Honeydew, Olga spoke to Theo, asking him questions about you.  Theo wept as he told Olga who you are.  Theo’s torn apart by your actions and words Simba.”

      “Maybe he’ll just bugger off and leave me in peace then,” Simba snarled.

        “No he won’t,” fleur mewed, “Theo is very strong, he weeps not because he’s afraid of you, but because he cares for you Simba.  Your brother cub loves you Simba!  After all you’ve done to him, after he defended a bear cub from your attack, Theo still loves you.  You will be destroyed before he is.  Your body reacts every time you get bitter and jealous, you know that.  Your body will fail before Theo’s love for others dies.  Theo is growing stronger every day, every paw he touches, every nose he kisses, every cub around whom he curls his body to keep them warm; makes Theo grow in stature and strength.  Theo never raised a paw in anger, never bit another’s paw in spite, or swore at his mum.  Tell me, who’s the stronger of the two of you?”  Simba looked defeated.

        “Theo is,” he mumbled.

      “Now you have to think about something Simba,” fleur mewed, “what you’ve done this day has not just affected Theo.  Your actions have affected another.”

      “What other?”  Simba growled, “I attacked Theo!  The fight was between him and me!  No one else!”

        “There was another,” fleur mewed, “one whose play sparked your simmering anger to boiling point.

          “Oh, her,” Simba spat, “that little bear cub!”  Fleur nodded.

       “She needs to know what went on here,” fleur said, “for you hurt her too.””

       “How do I approach a tiny cub who knows nothing about what went on here?”  Simba asked.

       “Just say sorry to her for throwing her away from Theo. but mean it,” Fleur replied.  Simba padded away to clean himself up, then, once he’d showered, he padded to Kamchatka’s lie up.

      “Theo, Olga?”  Simba asked.  Theo looked up at his brother cub, his eyes telling Simba what he felt.  Olga, seeing the lion that’d attacked her, looked fearful and cuddled closer to her newfound white leonine friend.  The sight of her cuddling up, shaking and terrorised made Simba stop walking.

        “I can’t let this go on!”  He thought.

        “Olga, Olga Honeydew, please, let me talk to you,” Simba said, his voice almost cracking.

        “What do you want to say to me?”  Olga asked.  Simba lay down and looked at the cub.

       “I want, want to apologise, to you, and to my brother for attacking you both,” Simba said, his voice clear and surprisingly strong.

        “Give me your paw and say that,” Theo mewed.  Simba thrust his paw into Theo’s, Theo feeling his brother’s paw shaking in his grasp.

        “I’m sorry,” Simba mewed, “sorry for attacking Olga, sorry for attacking you my brother cub.”

       “Your attack made Theo cry,” Olga said.  Simba found his eyes drawn to the bear cubs, and the look of devastation in them made him choke on sudden tears.

        “I’m upsetting and terrorising a cub!”  Simba thought.  Theo looked at his brother.

        “I love you so much Simba,” Theo said.  Simba gulped hard.

       “I know,” he mewed, “and I repay you with jealousy and bitterness.  I don’t deserve your love Theo.”

       “But you can repair things,” Olga said, “Theo is open to your touch, if only you’d give him your paw unconditionally.  Simba, I believe you were strong once, that you were loved as much as Theo is now.  It’s up to you to get back to that time.  You need to fight hard to make your mark on the land.  It will be difficult, but if you stopped chasing power, chasing something you will never have and focus on what you do have, you will do well.”

        “I don’t understand,” Simba admitted.

       “Get closer to your family silly,” Olga replied.  Simba grinned despite the seriousness of the situation.

        “I must try,” he said, “for at the moment, a bear cub is closer to my brother than I am.”

      “Don’t try to restrict your brother’s paws though Simba,” Winnie said, padding carefully over to Theo and her cub.

       “No, I mustn’t,” he replied.  Olga crawled away:

       “I’m leaving to let you two repair things,” she said.  Simba looked into Theo’s face.

        “I love you Simba,” Theo mewed.  Simba kissed his brother’s nose.

        “You can touch the paws of others,” Simba said, “I must learn to do that.”

        “I love Olga and I will protect her,” Theo mewed.

       “Even from your own brother,” Simba mewed.

        “The lion who attacked Olga and me wasn’t my brother,” Theo mewed, “Simba wouldn’t do that, not the lion I know.”  Simba choked back tears.

       “I lost it,” he sobbed, “I lost control and I am so sorry for it.”  Theo hugged Simba, who was crying openly now.

       “The only thing I can suggest you do is follow your paws,” Theo mewed, “Simba, touch Olga’s paws, and play with her, love her with everything you have.  I find loving others easy, maybe you don’t.  Try to enjoy a hug, to enjoy uncomplicated paw play.  See where that takes you.  Maybe you’ll find the Simba you once were, the kind, gentle lion I know is still within you, even if you can’t find him, I see him.”  Simba felt Theo’s paw tighten around his.

       “I love you Simba,” Theo mewed.

       “I must shake this depression,” Simba said, “find pleasure in little things like playing with cubs, or with other adult community members.  I used to play well, but now, now I don’t think I could do it.”

      ?”Try it out,” Theo suggested.  Simba looked at his brother.

        “Theo, I love you so much,” he said, “I’m so sorry about all this mess!”  Theo hugged his brother.

       “Let’s go on from here,” Theo mewed.  Simba got to his paws and padded away to his lie up.  Settling down, he thought of his brother cub.

       “Theo, I promise you this,” Simba said aloud, “I will try as hard as I can to find my own way.  To celebrate the talents of others, not despise them.  The best way I can do that is to keep quiet and learn from my brother cub and from other cubs.  I promise you Theo.”

 

Winnie sat down in Kamchatka’s lie up and picked Olga honeydew up in her paws, hugging her tenderly.

         “What happened to you mama?”  Olga asked.  Winnie sighed deeply.

        “I went to sleep days ago, and then woke up to find myself in a hole, badgers throwing earth on top of me.  Screaming, I fought the badgers, well, they ran away from me, as I was scared and anxious about you.  I’m here now, as are you.  I love you Olga Honeydew.  Olga kissed her mum’s right forepaw, Winnie smiling at her.

 

 

Meanwhile, Alaska was tearing a strip off of Honeyfur.

       “What the hell were you doing burying a bear without checking with me first?”  Alaska asked.  Honeyfur shifted nervously on her paws.

       Kamchatka said the bear be dead!”  Honeyfur whined.

       Kamchatka’s a known authority on dead bears is she?”  Alaska asked.  Honeyfur shook her head.

      “Badgers should have come got Alaska,” Honeyfur conceded.  Alaska snorted and dismissed Honeyfur.

       “Your lot bungled the job!”  Alaska snapped, “you lot are bimbling idiots!  When you find a dead animal, or are told of one, find it, and then come to me first!  I will pronounce death, and then you can bury the animal who is dead.  I do not want to hear any more tales of mama bears or any other animal being buried alive!”  Alaska shouted.  Honeyfur’s paws slipped and skidded as she ran for her life!

 

Winnie examined Olga Honeydew from nose to paws.  She saw her cub had a black nose, hazel brown to black fur and yellowish pads on the soles of her paws.

      “I love you Olga Honeydew,” Winnie said softly.

 

Meanwhile, Arki and Kuruk sat together, their adopted puppy asleep nearby.  Chowilawu’s eyes had opened, but he’d not remarked on the strangeness of seeing a dog among bears.  Arki was now concerned and whispered to Kuruk about it.

       “Kuruk know why Chowilawu cub no looks at anything,” he said, “for he no look at me or you do he.  He turn ear all time even though eyes open for days now.”  Arki nodded.

      “But why are you so light hearted about it?”  Arki asked.

       “Kuruk so light hearted about it for his sister be same as his cub be, so Kuruk no concerned.”

       “You mean, my cub’s blind?”  Arki asked.  Kuruk nodded.

      “He is said thing,” Kuruk said, “but mama Arki needs no worry, for just look what Ekaterina does when she can’t see.  Chowilawu cub will be fine here.  He is treated like normal bear.”  Arki whimpered with distress.

       “How can you be so bloody happy at a time like this?”  She asked.

      “Because Kuruk know this be not the end of the world for Chowilawu cub.”  Kuruk replied.  Chowilawu crawled out of the lie up, touching, smelling and listening intently to his surroundings as he always had.  Crawling along the passage, he found his way by scent hearing and touch to Ekaterina’s lie up, tracking her by her scent right until he was beside her.  Plonking his left forepaw on her right fore.  Ekaterina, smiling, kissed his nose.

        “Hi Chowilawu,” she said, having clocked his arrival from the time he was crawling down the passage.

        “Kuruk says my eyes have opened, but he says I’m like you.”  Chowilawu said.  Ekaterina smiled broadly and hugged Chowilawu.

       “Don’t let it worry you,” she said, “just does what you would normally do.”  Ekaterina hugged Chowilawu tightly.

       “I know what happened to you,” Chowilawu said, “that bear, younger Brunetta, she tried to kill you.”  Ekaterina sighed heavily.

      “I know,” she said, “but she’s gone now.  You’re safe here.”  Chowilawu began to sob:

     “But why did she try to kill you?”  He asked.

       “Maybe she hated blind cubs,” Ekaterina said.

       “But she was blind once herself!”  Chowilawu said.  Ekaterina rubbed his back with her paw, kissing his nose and the pads of his right forepaw.  Chowilawu smiling and giggling cubbishly.

       “I love you Ekaterina,” he said.  Ekaterina embraced Chowilawu as tightly as she could.

       “What are my paws telling you?”  She asked.

      “That you love me too?”  Chowilawu replied.  Ekaterina giggled:

        “You’re learning quickly,” she said.  Chowilawu smiled and snuggled up close to his friend.

       “I love you so much Ekaterina,” Chowilawu said.

      “I know,” Ekaterina said.  Chowilawu mischievously tickled the pads on Ekaterina’s left forepaw, the two cubs rolling over and over together in a play fight.

        “Now it’s my turn to tickle your paws, all four of them!”  Ekaterina yelled.  Chowilawu laughed helplessly as he was quickly overpowered by Ekaterina and she tickled his paws.

      “Overpawered I think,” Chowilawu laughed.  Ekaterina kissed his nose and the pads of all four of his paws...

      “Overpawered, I like that!”  Ekaterina laughed.  She embraced Chowilawu tightly.  Chowilawu pulled Ekaterina to her paws and kissed her nose.

       “Let’s go to the pool complex,” Ekaterina suggested.   Ekaterina and Chowilawu padded to the complex, where they met Yi Jie and Liang with little Jinghua.  Jinghua, seeing Chowilawu, ran to him and embraced him tightly.

      “Oh!”  The polar bear yelled, “Who’s this?  Get off!  Leave me alone!”  Jinghua released Chowilawu, the panda looking hurt.

       “But, but I was only being friendly!”  She said.

      “Jinghua,” Ekaterina said, “Chowilawu’s blind like me, you weren’t to know, but bear it in mind please.”  Jinghua touched Chowilawu’s paw.

      “Can I hug you again?”  She asked.  Chowilawu smiled broadly:

      “Now I know who you are,” he said.  Jinghua hugged Chowilawu tenderly, the polar bear cub snuggling up to her.

       “Your mum is here I think,” Chowilawu said.  Jinghua laughed and nodded.

       “Yi jie’s here yes,” she said, kissing his nose”

       “Do you like playing with paws Chowilawu?”  Jinghua asked.  Chowilawu grinned and nodded:

      “I love it,” he said.

      “Right,” Jinghua said, “want to play with mine?”  Chowilawu smiled:

       “I’d like that,” he said.

      “First, get an idea of how big I am,” Jinghua said, lying down and letting Chowilawu run his paws from her nose to her tail.  Jinghua couldn’t help wriggling with pleasure as the polar bear cub’s paws worked over her body.

      “Wow!”  Jinghua laughed, “I love it when you touch my paws!”  She squealed.  Chowilawu smiled and kissed the pads of all four paws.

     “I love this, I love this, and I love this!”  Jinghua yelled.  Yi Jie smiled at her cub.

      “You love paw contact like I do,” she said.  Jinghua smiled broadly.

      “I loved it when Chowilawu kissed my pads,” Jinghua said, “also, the touch of his paws, wow!”  Ekaterina giggled:

      “I know,” she said.  Jinghua kissed Chowilawu’s nose, and then taking each of his paws in hers, she explored them, kissing his pads, the male cub loving every minute.

       “Paw play is so perfect,” he said.  Ekaterina laughed so hard she nearly fell in the water...

      “It wasn’t that good,” Chowilawu said.  Ekaterina pounced on Jinghua, the three cubs rolling around in play, until all three rolled towards the edge of the pool and plopped in...

        “We’re all wet!”  Chowilawu yelled.  Ekaterina chased Chowilawu around the pool, then, turning as one, they chased Jinghua, the panda cub swimming for her life!

      “They’re chasing me!”  She gasped, paddling frantically with all four paws.  Suddenly Jinghua saw a polar bear on her left, the wall on her right, and, looking down; she saw a polar bear beneath her!

      “I’m done for!”  She screamed.  Ekaterina swam up beneath Jinghua and tickled the soles of her hind paws, leaving Chowilawu to drag the helplessly laughing panda away.  Jinghua let herself go with Chowilawu, chased up by Ekaterina.  Ekaterina splashed with her forepaws, which was very unlike a polar bear.

      “You’re splashing us!  Miss big paws!”  Jinghua and Chowilawu laughed.”  Ekaterina splashed harder, kicking with her hind paws also.

      “How about, if, if we get hold of a paw each and tickle Ekaterina’s paws!”  Chowilawu asked Jinghua.  Jinghua grinned and laughed at the idea.

      “She won’t let us,” she said.  Ekaterina laughed and swum up alongside Jinghua.

      “My paws cry out to be tickled,” she said, “please, please, please!”  Jinghua and Chowilawu hauled a now unresisting Ekaterina out of the pool with Yi Jie’s help, laying her on the tiles.  Ekaterina lay awaiting her fait.  Chowilawu embraced Ekaterina, then took Ekaterina’s left hind foot in his forepaws and began to stroke it, Jinghua attending to her right forepaw.  Stroking of Ekaterina’s paws came before tickling them, Ekaterina sighing with pleasure.

       “I love this bear’s paws,” Chowilawu said, “they’re so soft and can be so gentle too.  Plus, they’re, they’re so easy to play with!”  Ekaterina giggled, curling her toes, feeling them gripping Chowilawu’s smaller toes.

       “You’ve got hold of my right forepaw Ekaterina, I love having my toes gripped by yours,” Chowilawu said.  Ekaterina smiled:

      “I love holding your toes with my toes,” she said.  Chowilawu worked the toes of his free left forepaw between the soles of his right fore and Ekaterina’s left hind.  Once he’d got the toes of his left forepaw between his forepaw and her hind paws, Chowilawu stroked the pads of Ekaterina’s left hind foot.  Ekaterina released his forepaw, the two polar bear cubs laughing helplessly.

       “I love playing with your paws Ekaterina,” Chowilawu said, kissing the toes and sole pad of her left hind foot.

      “That paw play thing is so sweet!”  Kuruk said, padding in and sitting down to watch Jinghua, his sister and adopted cub playing together.

      “This feels great Kuruk,” Ekaterina said.  Chowilawu held Ekaterina’s hind paw with tender care.

      “I love Chowilawu’s touch,” Ekaterina thought, feeling her toes curl involuntarily.

       “Are you going to massage mum’s paws if and when she has another cub Kuruk?”  Chowilawu asked.  Kuruk swallowed hard.

       “Arki no want more cubs,” he said, “she no want Chowilawu cub really.  Kuruk tell you straight, for when cub goes to mama, she says she no feed him!”  Ekaterina looked horrified!

       “But, but, I was all right, granted my mum had some issues, but she let me suckle!  Arki won’t, won’t even let Chowilawu do that?”  Kuruk shook his head.

      “Kuruk had got out of place,” he said, “he no copes with situation to well.  Kuruk love Chowilawu cub likes he be his own!” 

      “But I’m still on milk!”  Chowilawu exclaimed, understanding all, “I’m gonna die!”

      “No,” Ekaterina said, “you won’t die, “mama Kamchatka wont’ let you.”

 

 

Indeed, Kamchatka was at that very moment beating sense into Arki.  Appalled by her rejection of her cub, Kamchatka, seeing echoes of her own trials in Arki, had tried to talk her round.  Failing that, the grizzly bear laid about her with her paws, smacking Arki hard.

       “Your cub needs food, at least give him that, and he can get love everywhere else!”  She screamed.  Arki refused point blank.

      “Chowilawu is a dead cub,” she said, “I can’t save him.”

       “More like you won’t!”  Kamchatka yelled.

      “Your experience with Ekaterina wasn’t exactly enlightening,” Arki snapped, “you went through shit!”

      Self loathing and inner torment,” Kamchatka admitted, “but I never stopped loving my cub!  I was just devastated when she lost her sight.  I now know she can cope, and so can your cub too, but you won’t feed him!  There are no mama bears with milk to give, not even Winnie’s got milk any more!  Your cub’s finished!”

       “I know,” Arki replied, “just take him off my paws!  I hate him!”

      “But you’ll keep feeding that dam pup?”  Kamchatka asked.  Arki nodded.

      “Survival of the fittest,” she said.

      “You horrid bitch!”  Kamchatka screamed, “I know your story, you were rescued too!  If you’d not been rescued, you’d be dead now Arki! For Eohippus sake!”

       “What you do to your cub is indefensible!”  Rowena shouted, actually becoming upset.  She knew she should be dispassionate, but she couldn’t be.  Rowena ran at Arki in a blind rage, the lioness completely losing control!

         “Get off me!”  Arki yelled, as Rowena pounced.  The bear threw Rowena off with one paw, and then smacked her into the wall with the other.  Rowena collapsed in a heap after hitting the wall.

       “How could you!”  Kamchatka yelled, as Arki, furious, ran at Rowena’s motionless form and trampled her under her paws!  Kamchatka screamed and screamed:

     “Arki, Arki!”  Kamchatka tore Arki off Rowena, throwing her aside and knocking her out cold.

        “What the hell’s going on here?”  Petra yelled, pounding into the room and stopping dead at the sight of her daughter cub lying crumpled on the floor.  Petra approached carefully, her eyes telling her the facts.

       “Rowena’s, Rowena’s dead,” Petra said faintly, “how? Oh for Eohippus sake, oh shit, oh no!”  Petra’s eyes flicked to Arki’s motionless form, the bear’s forepaws covered in Rowena’s blood.

        “I’m gonna be sick!”  Petra said, vomiting violently onto the floor.

      “Get out of here,” Kamchatka ordered Petra, but Petra wouldn’t go.

       “The smell of meat or blood makes me ill,” she said, crying, “but, but I must stay, protect my cub,”

       “Rowena needs no more protection in this world mum,” Theo said, padding into the lie up and taking his mum’s paw.

        “She was killed Theo, Killed by a bear!  Petra sobbed.  Theo nodded:

       “I saw it done, but was upstairs and could not help in time,” he said, “Rowena reacted instinctively to protect Chowilawu’s future.  She didn’t take her usual view, for she could not.  She’d seen a panda threatened that way before, and had killed the threat.  She tried to do the same here, but the threat was a mama bear who wanted her cub dead.  Rowena tried and failed this time.  Her courage was great, her cause just, but the odds were not in her favour.”

      “I’m gonna be sick again!”  Petra sobbed, retching and coughing.

       “Leave with me now mum,” Theo mewed softly, “we’ll clean Rowena up and then you can say goodbye.”  Petra let Theo lead her away.

       “I shouldn’t be burying my own cub!”  Petra sobbed.

 

Meanwhile, back in the pool complex, word had spread of the disaster in Arki’s lie up.

       “mama Arki no mama to little Chowilawu,”  Kuruk thought, his anger growing, “if she kill Rowena, she want kill cub too and I no let that happen!”  Getting to his paws, he ran from the pool complex.  Kuruk ran down the passage, visions of his own dead cub and of Ekaterina drowning in the pool flashing in front of his eyes.

       “You bitch mama!”  Kuruk screamed.  Kuruk galloped into the lie up, saw Rowena’s body on the floor with Alaska cleaning her up, his eyes then lit upon Arki, bound and drugged by Alaska.  Arki’s eyes were open, she could see Kuruk, and the look in them told him so.

      “You can hear Kuruk to I think,” Kuruk said, “Arki, you will die for what you do to Rowena! You will die so no poor cub die at your own paws because they not perfect! Mama Kamchatka loves her blind cub, but you want yours to die!”

       Kamchatka didn’t always love her cub!  Arki said thickly, “She hated, hated Ekaterina’s disability, and didn’t know how to connect.  I hate my cub’s disability.  So we’re as bad as each other!”

       “But Kamchatka no try kill Ekaterina,” Kuruk said, “she no plan do thing.  You plan kill Chowilawu!  You no feed him!  Now he in big shit and lioness dead because she try defend cub that not her own!  You horrid shit bitch bear!”  Kuruk stared into the eyes of the bear he now hated.

      “You deserve to die!”  Simba screamed at Arki.  Kuruk looked at the male lion.

        “Kuruk hope Eohippus knows reasons why he does what he does this day.  Kuruk only kill with justification, he no like taking life.  Now though, this bitch bear, she threaten to kill cub by starve him till dead, and she kill lioness too.  Rowena do Arki bitch no wrong, she just defend cub.  Arki kill Rowena lioness and now mama Petra is grieving for own cub, which should not be so.  Kuruk end life of Arki to make cubs safe again.”  With that, Kuruk used his paws to clinically break Arki’s neck.

 

Later that day, in another part of the house, Alaska set to cleaning Rowena’s body thoroughly.  She washed the blood off the dead lioness’s fur, and shampooed her fur so there was no scent of blood.  Then she gently closed Rowena’s eyes.  Washing her paws again, Alaska washed the blood from Rowena’s face and paws, and then gently laid Rowena’s tongue, half severed in the impact against the wall, into the lioness’s mouth.  Then, very gently, she closed the shattered lower jaw as best she could.  Rowena’s injuries were so extensive as to be fatal.  The impact with the wall had made Rowena bite her tongue, but that hadn’t caused her death.  Arki’s trampling paws had, five hundred pounds of polar bear stamping on Rowena’s body had spelt death for the lioness.  Alaska hoped she knew nothing of what had taken place after she’d hit the wall.

       “I hope you didn’t suffer,” Alaska whispered.

 

A few minutes later, Petra came slowly into the bathroom.  Alaska stood aside to let Rowena’s mum say goodbye to her daughter cub.  Petra touched Rowena’s fur, now dried, with her paw...

      “She’s still warm, she’s still warm!”  Petra choked.

      “I washed her fur with warm water Petra dear,” Alaska said, “Rowena’s coat is retaining the heat.  I’m afraid she’s no longer with us.”

        “Why kill my cub?  Arki?  Why did you kill a gentle lioness?”  Petra asked aloud, “she did you no wrong, no wrong at all, but you took her life!  You took her life so you could take the life of your own cub.  You’ve destroyed two lives this day, mine, and my cubs.  Losing yours was so you could not destroy the life of your own cub.  Rowena naturally defended what was not hers to defend, but she gave her life for another whom she’d never even met.  Chowilawu will know of Rowena, I will make sure he knows what she did for him.  Rowena, my cub, I promise you this, Chowilawu will know what you did for him.  I will make sure he knows how you touched his life Rowena, my dear gentle, selfless cub, you gave so much, but expected so little, and before we could repay you you leave us.”  Petra rested her head on Rowena’s shoulder.

         “I can’t believe you’re dead, Rowena, my cub, I don’t want to believe you’re dead!”  Petra screamed.  Alaska stroked Petra’s forepaws as the lioness wept into her daughter cub’s white coat.  Petra cried for a long time, then, as all tears dry in the end, Petra’s tears dried, though her sadness and grief deepened.

        “We will say goodbye to Rowena as befits a lioness of her standing,”  Percy Badger said, “Petra, come now, let us badgers do our duties.”  Petra kissed Rowena’s nose for the last time and whispered:

      “Good night dear cub, rest in peace,” before padding away on leaden paws.

 

Meanwhile, Simba, furious with the world, stamped about his lie up, kicking the walls.

       “How could Arki take Rowena from me?”  He screamed to the walls, “she was a beautiful lioness, kind and gentle, and that bitch, that excuse for a polar bear killed her!”

        “We’re all suffering, not just you Simba,” Theo mewed, touching his brother’s paw, “for Rowena called me brother, and Kamchatka cousin.  We have all lost Rowena.”

        “She was stupid to challenge that bear!”  Simba snarled, “What the hell was Rowena thinking?”

       “She was thinking of a tiny blind cub and of the damage the cub’s own mother wanted to do to him,”  Theo said, “Simba, do not blame Rowena.”

      “I don’t hold with this shit about “don’t speak ill of the dead!””  Simba roared, “Rowena was a chump!  She was crazy to do what she did!”

        “Her actions were brave and those of a true lioness defending her pride,” Theo mewed, “for her pride that of the Kizungu, contains at least one bear.  Rowena was doing her pride and community as well as her personal duty.  Rowena should not be spoken of in such terms.  Simba, please, do not speak of Rowena’s last act in those terms again.”  Simba looked at his brother.

       “You’re remarkably calm,” he said.  Theo shook his head.

      “I’m calm because I need to be,” Theo mewed, “but when I am among those who will understand, I weep for Rowena.”

        “I can’t weep for her, I’m too bloody angry!”  Simba roared.

      “Can’t you older brother?”  Theo asked, gently touching Simba’s paw.

       “Don’t do this to me Theo!”  Simba screamed, as he collapsed, Theo catching him.  Simba broke down completely, his younger brother’s open heartedness exposing his own grief.  The touch of Theo’s paw had been as Rowena’s once was the key to his real self.  Simba cried into Theo’s mane, clinging to the younger lion with desperate paws.

 

Rowena’s funeral was held later that day.  As tradition dictated, the funeral should end at sundown, when it was believed that the spirits came to guide newcomers across the bridge.  The badgers, having dug Rowena’s grave, with what seemed to Samson indecent speed, stood by as they were officiators.  Magnus and Furcone, first time diggers, taking their cues from Honeyfur and their sire.  All the community members were arranged in ranks, from Chowilawu the youngest, to Matilda, the kangaroo, who rarely set paw inside the house, preferring to live with the horses.  Even the horses, Domino and Brydy, with Rosie, Brydy’s foal were present.  Indeed, it was Rosie’s job to pull the cart which held Rowena’s lifeless form.  Rosie knew of Petra, for she’d had a close secret bond with Petra ever since she was a foal and Petra a cub.  Petra and Rosie had kept their conversations confidential, but now was the time for the paws, as the horses knew the community, and the horses themselves to come together at last.  Rosie, now five years old herself, in full harness, thanks to collaboration with the Boss, and Rosie’s own full cooperation, for it had been her idea, Rowena being so linked with the teachings of a great horse, stood ready to do her duty.  Rosie knew voice commands, to be given gently by jess, who had found herself, only and hour previously, talking to the Boss about how to harness Rosie to the cart, and communicate with the horses.  The Boss had said to Jess that Rosie knew her stuff, and that Jess need only give her one command.  “Walk on,”

      “Now jess stood barefoot on the track, ready to walk with Rosie to the graveside.  Rosie, also barefoot, for her hooves were tough, waited for her cue.  The assembled community stood about fifty yards away, some crying openly, others with their heads in their paws, some staring sightlessly ahead of them, their paws still.  All were sitting, as was the custom.  Kamchatka and Conrad brought Rowena’s body to the cart and laid it gently inside, the whole thing relayed to the waiting mourners by video link, which would be switched off once Rosie came into sight, the funeral ceremony itself recorded by other cameras.

       “All set,” Conrad said gruffly.  Jess touched Rosie’s mane with her hand.

      “Ride up top on the box jess,” Rosie said, “that where you want be.”  Jess clambered up onto the box, Rosie looking round at her.

       “I’m handing control over to you,” Rosie said, “give the word jess, but mind you don’t touch anything.”  Jess nodded.  Then, taking a deep breath, she lifted a mic that was on the rail in front of her and said gently into it, but loud enough for Rosie to hear:

      “Walk on.”  Rosie walked on slowly, her head held high, but her step slow.  Then she increased her walk to a slow trot as she rounded the bend in the track, coming into full view of the assembled mourners.  Slowing to a gentle walk, Rosie turned the cart down alongside the grave, passing so everyone could see Rowena’s body.  This was too much for Petra, who wailed loudly with pain and grief.  Suddenly she charged out of the group, and nearly ended up under Rosie’s feet!  Rosie turned her head to the weeping and screaming lioness:

       “I shouldn’t be burying my own cub!”  Petra wailed.  Stopping her slow walk, Rosie put her nose to Petra’s, blowing gently into the lioness’s nostrils.

        “It is fitting that a student of Eohippus be brought to her final resting place by a horse,”  Rosie said, “dear Petra, let me do my duty, let me do what you have asked of me this day.”  Petra lowered her head, stepping back to let Rosie pass.

        “I can’t watch my own cub being laid to rest,”  Petra thought, but her eyes were drawn to the cart, where Kamchatka and Conrad, who’d padded alongside the cart with patience, were getting into position to help lift Rowena’s body from the cart and place it in the grave.  Percy began to speak, the grave behind him, the cart behind that.  Petra heard no words, for she was too upset to listen.  Lying down where she was, she covered her face with her paws and wept inconsolably.  Percy spoke of Rowena’s early life, her friendship with, then love for Simba, her gentility, her kind words and gentle manner, and her good counsel.  He then spoke of her last act, telling of her selfless actions and bravery to save the life of a cub she’d never met, and now would never meet in this world.  As he spoke, Chowilawu crawled forward to the cart, all alone he clambered up onto the bed of the cart and felt his way to Rowena’s left forepaw and took it in his tiny ones.  As Percy stopped speaking, having noticed what was going on behind him, as everyone else had their eyes on the little polar bear cub rather than him, Chowilawu bent his head and kissed Rowena’s paw, then raised it and said as clearly and loudly as he could:

      “Thank you Rowena.”  Petra, having not realised what was happening until then, stared at the tiny polar bear cub.

       “I love you Rowena,” Chowilawu said, gently letting go of the lioness’s paw and withdrawing as carefully as he could, his emotions getting the better of him as his paws touched firm ground once more.  Weeping, Chowilawu was guided back to Kuruk by Jess.  Kuruk, hugging the weeping cub, thanked jess for her help.

         “This ceremony is ended, and we now lay Rowena finally to her rest,” Percy badger said.  Petra stared down at her paws, but the sight of a little polar bear bidding farewell to a friend he never knew, wouldn’t leave her.  Everyone left the graveside, jess leading Rosie back to be freed from the harness.

      “That little polar bear cub does really steal the show,” Rosie said to Jess.

      “He did,” she replied.  Rosie was let loose, and the mare left to go her own way, jess clearing up the tack and straightening the cart.

 

Chowilawu shook violently as Kuruk carried him back to his lie up.  Arki having been buried by the Boss in a none descript grave, well away from the community.  Bramble, Arki’s grown cub, decided she’d not attend her mum’s burial, preferring to be with the community.

 

Meanwhile, Jess was learning how to bottle feed Chowilawu, as his mother was no longer around to feed him, and wouldn’t have done if she was still alive anyway.  Jess practised on a soft toy polar bear cub at first, but within an hour, she was ready to feed Chowilawu for the first time.

 

Approaching him in Kamchatka’s lie up, Jess asked Chowilawu if he was hungry, which he was.  Jess smiled:

      “I have a bottle of milk for you,” she said, “I have to feed you now, as your mama is no longer around to do so.  Chowilawu crawled to jess and jess sat down...  Chowilawu sat on her lap, and then she guided his forepaws to the bottle, letting him guide the teeth to his mouth.  Chowilawu did and jess watched as he busily sucked the liquid down.  The bottle dented as the bear cub drank, until he could suck no more liquid.  Chowilawu took the bottle from his mouth, the air rushing in and causing the bottle to return to its former shape with a pop which frightened him.  Chowilawu squealed with fright, dropping the bottle.

       “Drink a little more,” Jess said gently.  Chowilawu whimpered with fear:

       “Whenever I drink it makes a horrid loud noise!”  He said.  Jess hugged Chowilawu, milk covered paws and all.

       “You need to drink slower,” jess said.  Chowilla scrabbled about until he found the bottle, and then tried drinking slowly.  This time, the bottle didn’t make the loud sound which frightened him.  Chowilawu held tightly onto the bottle, rolling onto his back and pedalling the air with his hind feet as he drank busily.  Jess couldn’t help laughing at his antics.

       “You look so funny!”  She said.  Chowilawu sneezed, milk flying all over the place.

        “Now you’re in a mess!”  Jess said, taking the bottle from Chowilawu, who was coughing violently.  Jess gently patted the bear’s back, Chowilawu’s breathing becoming easier.

       “You drank too quickly again,” jess said, “and as for kicking the air with your hind feet, what was all that about?”

       “I wanted the liquid to come quickly,” Chowilawu said, “I thought kicking with my hind feet might make it happen.”  Jess giggled with delight.

       “No Chowilawu, it won’t come any faster if you kick the air with your hind feet,” jess said gently.  Chowilawu looked upset:

      “But kicking with my hind feet felt great,” he said, “do you mean I am not allowed to kick with my hind feet while holding the bottle in my forepaws while drinking?”  Jess smiled and said:

       “You can kick with your hind feet while drinking if it makes you feel better,” Chowilawu smiled with pleasure.

       “Do you kick the air with your hind feet while drinking milk jess?”  Chowilawu asked.  Jess laughed helplessly.

       “No Chowilawu,” she replied, “I suppose I did when I was your age, but not now.”

     “Try it,” the cub said, “it feels great!”

       “I might try kicking with my hind feet wile lying on my back, but not while drinking,” Jess said, “we humans aren’t as good at coordination as you bear, though I must say you do look rather sweet when doing that.”  Chowilawu giggled cubbishly.

       “I love kicking with my hind feet while drinking,” he said.  Jess smiled and let Chowilawu ride on her back as she crawled to the bathroom to wash his fur and paws.

      “Time for your bath,” she said.  Chowilawu giggled, loving her attention.

       “Can I kick with my hind feet while in the water?”  He asked.  Jess smiled and replied that he could.

      “Great!”  Chowilawu replied.  Jess let the cub slide off her back, then, getting to her feet, she picked him up in her arms and hugged him.  Chowilawu, finding his hind feet in mid air, kicked a little and pointed his toes towards the ground, straining to touch it.  Jess hugged him hard, the cub holding on with his forepaws.

       “You’re safe,” jess said.  Chowilawu snuggled up to her.

       “Thank you Chowilawu,” Jess whispered.

      “Thanks for what Jess?”  The cub asked.

     “For letting me hug you,” she replied.  Chowilawu smiled and nuzzled jess’s cheek.

       “You are doing what a mama would do for her cub,” he said, “so it’s what a cub does for his mama.”  Jess sat down carefully, the cub’s words making her tearful.

        “You know, Chowilawu, that your mum is dead now?”  Jess asked.  Chowilawu nodded.

      “She killed Rowena when Rowena tried to protect me,” he said, “I know Jess, I know, though I don’t know how I know.  I just felt I had to go to Rowena on the cart and thank her.  I just had to do it!”  Chowilawu burst into tears, weeping inconsolably.  Jess gathered him to her, hugging him tightly.

        “Rowena wouldn’t want you to cry,” she said gently.

       “She shouldn’t have died, she shouldn’t have died!”  Chowilawu sobbed, “Rowena was a good lioness!”  Jess hugged Chowilawu, the cub choking on his tears.

       “Rowena is at peace now,” jess said, using words she’d heard Theo use, which had also comforted others.  Chowilawu snuggled close to Jess, the young girl feeling the bear’s confusion and fear.

        “Rowena died, you aren’t going to die too are you jess?  What about Kuruk or Ekaterina? Are they going to die too?  I don’t want them to die! I don’t want them to die!”  Chowilawu sobbed.  Jess stroked the bear’s ears and paws.

       “They won’t die, and neither will I,” she replied, “I’m sure of that.”

       “Promise?”  Chowilawu asked.  Jess, being older before her time than she should have been due to her upbringing, knew that to make promises about such things was madness, but this cub needed certainty.

        “I promise,” she said, kissing his nose, “now Chowilawu, let’s get you bathed and dried off.”  Jess bathed Chowilawu as she’d once bathed Patch.  Scrubbing him from nose to paws, she made sure he was as clean as she could get him.  Once he was clean, Jess bathed herself as best she could without removing the cat suit she wore habitually.  Chowilawu sat on the side of the bath pool, his hind feet in the water, listening to jess as she splashed about during her bathe.

        “You make me feel safe jess,” Chowilawu said.  Jess swam to him and sat on the edge of the bathtub next to the cub.

       “I’m glad you feel safe with me,” she said, “for I like you Chowilawu.  The Boss asked me to help you get food, and showed me how to bottle feed a bear by using a soft toy bear and a baby human’s bottle.  Once I got the hang of that, I helped you drink your milk.”

       “I’m going to relieve myself,” Chowilawu said, getting up and crawling away.  Jess followed him, seeing he went in the right direction, which he did.  Finding his way to the relieving place, Chowilawu padded towards the hole. Jess was unashamedly curious about how a blind polar bear found his way.  Jess watched as Chowilawu, his task completed, padded to the paw bath where he stood, waiting for the bath to fill with water and the spar to start up.  Once things were in full operation, the cub sat down in the paw bath and scrubbed his forepaws just as jess had seen nurses scrubbing their hands.  Linking the toes of both forepaws as best he could, he rubbed the insides of the toes of both forepaws.  Then the pads on the soles of his forepaws.  Then he rubbed the toes and pads of his hind paws with his forepaws, washing them thoroughly.

      “Nearly done,” Chowilawu said.  Jess saying nothing.

       “Jess, are you still here?”  Chowilawu asked anxiously.

     “Yes Chowilawu dear,” she said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t want to intrude.”  The cub laughed:

        “That’s okay, you’re not intruding,” he said.  Jess watched Chowilawu exit the paw bath, then go over to the shower and shower down his hind quarters and the soles of his paws.  Then his business was concluded.

        “You might need to go again shortly, that took so long,” jess teased.  Chowilawu looked seriously at her.

      “That’s what I have to do all the time,” he said, “I have to wash my paws thoroughly, for I can’t see where I might put them, if, well, if you know what I mean.”  Jess nodded.

      “I get your meaning,” jess said.

       “It’s late,” Chowilawu yawned, “I’m tired Jess.”  Jess crawled with the polar bear cub to Kamchatka’s lie up where Kuruk met them.

       “You two were having fun?”  He asked.  Chowilawu giggled:

       “Jess thinks I look sweet when I kick with my hind paws while drinking from the bottle,” Chowilawu said.  Kuruk looked at jess.

       “What is bottle?”  He asked.  Jess showed Kuruk the bottle.

       “It’s used to feed young cubs or baby humans,” she explained, “Chowilawu was holding the bottle with both forepaws while lying on his back.  While drinking he kicked the air with his hind feet, that’s all.”  Kuruk took the bottle from Jess, holding it in his forepaws, turning it this way and that, examining it carefully.

       “So instead of nursing from mama, Chowilawu get milk from this?”  He asked.  Jess nodded.  Kuruk shook the bottle, then, holding the bottle in his right forepaw, the bottle looking tiny in his huge paws, Kuruk unscrewed the top with his left forepaw.  Once he’d got the top off, a process jess found almost as fascinating as watching Chowilawu wash his paws, Kuruk sniffed inside the bottle, then looked inside it.

      “It is empty,” he said, “so Chowilawu have no food tonight?”  Jess shook her head.

     “He’s been fed,” she replied.

      “How if bottle empty?”  Kuruk asked, “when cub goes to mama, there always milk for them, most of time anyway.  But when Chowilawu go to bottle there nothing.  He is hungry then.”

       “I fill the bottle with milk whenever he wants to drink milk,” jess said.  Kuruk looked as fascinated as jess thought she’d looked while watching Kuruk unscrewing the top of the bottle.

       “Show me please,” he said.  Jess looked at Chowilawu, but the cub was already asleep beside Kamchatka.

       “I’ll have to show him,” she thought, “oh well, time for some playing at being a cub.  I might even get him to kick the air with his hind feet too. Now that would make Kuruk laugh.”  Jess smiled to herself.

      “What jess find so funny?”  Kuruk asked.

       “You’ll see,” Jess replied.  Kuruk followed jess to the bathroom, where she filled the bottle with water and screwed on the lid.

       “You saw me fill the bottle?”  Jess asked.  Kuruk nodded:

      “So you fill bottle up with milk, then what?”  He asked impatiently.

      “Time for role plays Kuruk,” jess said, grinning.

      “Role plays, um, like pretend play?”  The grizzly bear asked.

      “Yes,” jess replied, “you’re going to be the cub.”  Kuruk looked horrified!

        “No, surely jess is cub, for her younger than Kuruk, kind of,” he protested.  Jess shook her head.

       “You want to know how a cub can drink from a bottle, and I’m about to show you,” she said, “so Kuruk, start by sitting down and picking the bottle up off the floor.  Kuruk grudgingly did as jess asked.

      “All animals laugh at Kuruk for doing thing,” he said gruffly, Jess waited for Kuruk to pick up the bottle in his paws.

     “Now put the end of the bottle in your mouth and suck like you did when you were nursing from Kamchatka’s milk,” Jess said.  Kuruk hesitated, but obeyed.  He drank, but being older than Chowilawu, took breaks, letting the bottle equalize the pressure inside and out, not making the bottle pop as it had when Chowilawu had drunk from it.

       “Now you’ve got the hang of drinking from a bottle,” Jess said, “let’s refill it, then you try drinking while lying on your back holding the bottle in your paws Kuruk.”  Kuruk obeyed, committed now.  Lying there on his back, he found drinking from the bottle slower than when sitting up.  Worst of all he could feel his hind paws  beginning to kick in mid air as if they had a mind of their own.  Kuruk instinctively found himself closing his eyes with concentration and sucking harder on the bottle to get the water to flow, and his hind paws responded by kicking harder with the effort too!  Indeed, he found himself actively fighting to kick hard with both hind feet!  Once the bottle was Empty, Kuruk looked up at jess, but it wasn’t jess looking down at him with a gentle smile and shining eyes.  Kamchatka watched her son cub of nearly nine years sucking on a cub’s feeding bottle  and kicking the air with his hind feet, the sight amusing her.

        “Mama!”  Kuruk said in shock, dropping the bottle and quickly sitting up, an action which seemed to take forever for some reason.  Kamchatka kissed her Son’s nose.

       “You looked so cute,” she said.

       “Jess pay for this!”  Kuruk yelled, “She set Kuruk up!  Now Kuruk be laughed at by all bears and lions and things.  Even ants laugh at Kuruk for acting like cub!”  Kamchatka sat down beside her eldest cub and hugged him.

        “You looked really cute, and I mean it,” she said, “your eyes closed in concentration, forepaws clamped around that bottle, and hind paws kicking the air looked so sweet!”

       “Kuruk look horrible,” Kuruk grumbled.

      “I only wish Chowilawu and Ekaterina could see that,” jess said, “Kuruk, you looked so cute!”  Kuruk growled angrily.

      “You both make Kuruk look like idiot!!”  He yelled.

       “I think you looked cute,” Theo said, padding into the room.  Kuruk groaned loudly.

       “Kuruk make big mistake playing with Jess,” he mumbled, “but Kuruk trust her.  Now he no knows who he plays with in case they make big fool of him.”

      “Kuruk,” Kamchatka said, taking his paw in hers, “did lying on your back, drinking from the bottle and kicking with your hind feet feel good to you?”  Kuruk wanted to say it felt dreadful, but his eyes and the touch of his paw told his mum he’d secretly liked it.

       “Kuruk find it, well, unusual.”  The male bear replied.  Kamchatka grinned:

       “I’ll bet you salmon you would do it all again,” she said.  Kuruk looked down at his hind feet, watching his toes as they curled and relaxed slightly.

      “Mama Right,” he gruffly replied.  Kamchatka kissed Kuruk’s nose and then hugged him.

        “I love you Kuruk,” she said.  Kuruk smiled broadly.

      “Kuruk love you too mama,” he replied.

      “Look at me Kuruk and mama!”  Jess yelled.  The two bears turned their heads, to see Jess lying on her back holding a bottle in her hands and drinking from it, while kicking the air with her bare feet.  Kuruk laughed merrily.

       “Now Kuruk no feel so silly,” he said.”  Jess dropped the bottle, rolled onto her knees and crawled to Kuruk, hugging him tenderly.

       “Thanks for being such good sport,” she said, Kissing his nose.  Kuruk smiled:

      “Kuruk enjoy it really,” he whispered.  Jess giggled.

       You looked so cute,” she said.  Kuruk got to his paws, shook himself and sat down again.

      “Kuruk enjoy playing the cub,” he said suddenly.  Jess smiled:

      “I can see that,” she replied.  Kuruk returned jess’s hug.

       “Time for bed I think, Kamchatka said.

 

Next morning, it was time for jess to feed Chowilawu again.  Kuruk watched enthralled as she got the bottle ready for the polar bear cub.  Sitting down with Chowilawu on her lap, jess gave Chowilawu the bottle, letting him direct things.  Chowilawu, having learned quickly, did not frantically suck on the teet, but drank slowly, pausing from time to time.  Even so, as he preferred drinking while lying on his back, his hind paws went into overdrive kicking the air, much to everyone’s delight.  Chowilawu finished his drink and sat up slowly.

        “I love these times,” he said.

      “You’re getting fed, so I’m not really surprised,” jess said.  The cub turned an ear towards her.

       “No jess, it’s not just that,” he said, “it’s a warm time, a time when I feel really safe.  The only other time I feel that is when I’m with Ekaterina.  She’s so wonderful to me, but she has no need to be, for we’re not of the same family, which makes her attitude to me even more special.”

       “Now I don’t want any more of that sort of talk,” Ekaterina said, sitting down beside Chowilawu and taking his tiny paw in her larger one.

        “But, but you’re not of my family,” Chowilawu replied, “It’s a fact Ekaterina.”  Ekaterina touched his nose with hers.

       “You worry too much Chowilawu my dear,” she said, “now follow your paws my dear.”

       “Follow your paws was one of Rowena’s favourite sayings,” Chowilawu said sadly.

       “I know,” Ekaterina said gently.

 

Meanwhile, Theo and Simba lay together in Theo’s lie up.  Simba, still in shock from Rowena’s sudden death at the paws of a polar bear, shook in Theo’s embrace.

        “Tell me she didn’t suffer, tell me Theo!”  Simba pleaded.

       “I don’t think she suffered,” Theo mewed, though he could not be certain.

     “Rowena was really special,” Simba sobbed, “she adopted bears as her own you know Theo.”

      “I know,” Theo replied, “Kuan-Yin, Shuang’s cub is part of our pride.  As now is Chowilawu I’d say.”

        “You can’t say that,” Simba mewed, “it’s not your place that was Rowena’s call.”

       “Rowena can no longer make that call,”  Theo replied, “I’d give anything to have it any other way Simba, but the plain fact is, she’s no longer with us on earth.  I have no doubt if we go to the clearing at nighttimes, she’ll visit us there.  Indeed, Chowilawu may go there soon, but we will be very unlikely to see Rowena inside the house again.”  Simba got to his paws, looking down at his brother.  Theo was a handsome lion all right, with his long mane and big paws; he looked a picture of what a lion should be.

       “Thank you Theo,” Simba said.  Theo looked up, and the look in his eyes made Simba want to cry.

        “Please Simba,” Theo said, “now, now more than ever, promise me something?”  Simba took his brother’s paw.

       “What?”  He asked.

        “Promise me you’ll search for the lion once loved so well by Rowena,” Theo replied.  Simba nodded:

        “I will, I will,” he said.

       “If you feel you can’t do it for me, or even for eohippus, please, do it for Rowena,” Theo mewed.  Simba gulped hard.

       “I’ll try,” Simba mewed softly.  Theo kissed his nose, Simba choking back tears.

      “Now go,” Theo mewed, “for I have others to see.”  Simba padded away, not understanding his brother’s words about having others to see.  Theo stretched his back and then his paws one by one.  Getting to his feet, he padded from the house and went to the clearing where he found patch sitting in the centre of the open space.  The bear was clearly deep in thought, and Theo could guess his thoughts.  Sitting beside patch, Theo closed his eyes, listening to the wood, remembering his half sister, asking her for guidance on how to deal with the strange dreams he’d had the night before.

       “I saw a human feeding a bear, and the bear getting close to the human, and the two growing up together,” Theo thought, “Rowena, what does this mean?  Who are these two?  The human was a young female, though only in her body I feel.  Her mind, mature beyond her years, was directing her to care for the bear, a cub.  This human was a half grown human cub, even so, she still likes playing games with the younger polar bear cub.  Indeed, she loves the games.  What does all this mean?”

         “Think about it Theo,” Patch said, startling the lion.

      “Um, what?”  Theo asked, staring at patch.

      “Think about the dream you had, what does it say to you?”  Theo lay down and rubbed his eyes with his paws, then looked at patch.

       “How did you know what I was thinking?”  He asked.  Patch smiled broadly, and Theo found himself becoming tearful.

       “I know what your dream was last night,” the grey bear said, “for I’ve been one half of the couple you saw in the dream.”

      “Do you mean patch that Jess is repaying the debt she feels she owes to the ursine community for taking her in?”  Theo Asked.  Patch nodded:

      “She feels she owes a debt to us, and the way she repays it is to look after little Chowilawu.  Feeding him, playing with him, bathing him, and most of all, loving him.  There was once a bear that did all that for a human he loved more dearly than anything else in the world.”

       “You were that bear,” Theo said.  Patch smiled and nodded.

      “I looked after Jess with everything I had;” he replied, “now she’s repaying a debt she feels deep down inside.  Jess probably doesn’t even know she feels that debt, but eohippus is letting jess’s paws be her guide, and the Boss asking jess if she would feed a little polar bear cub was the start of jess’s next journey.”

       “Jess play acted giving birth to a bear cub didn’t she,” Theo said.

       “Yes she did,” patch replied, “that was a manifestation of Jess’s heart felt need to care for a bear in the way she’d been cared for by a bear.  She wanted her own cub to care for and give a life she’d never had.  Now she’s got Chowilawu, all right she hasn’t given birth to him, but I’m sure she imagines what it would be like, every time she feeds him and sees him pedalling the air with his hind feet.  Jess’s love for Chowilawu will become as deep as my love for her was and is still, of that I am sure.”  Theo smiled:

        “So Chowilawu is safe then?”  He asked.  Patch smiled:

       “He’s as safe as if mama Kamchatka had born him.”  Patch replied.  Theo sighed deeply, Patch looking at the white lion.

       “Are you going to take Rowena’s place as spiritual leader?”  Patch asked.

        “I couldn’t, I’m not worthy of an office like that,” Theo mewed.

       “But you have enormous presence and when you speak, others listen,” patch replied.  Theo looked down at his paws.

     “Do I have presence?”  He asked, “I don’t think I do.”  Patch looked at the lion’s toes; they were curled hard into the woodland floor.

        “Jess told me of the time you walked into the room when she and Kamchatka were playing with each other’s paws Theo, apparently, everyone looked round, Including Ekaterina, who couldn’t see you’d wandered in.  Jess said she crawled to you and hugged you hard.”  Theo nodded:

       “That was a very intense time,” he said, “and I’m very fond of jess.  We hugged, and I kissed the pads of one of her hind feet, but that was all.  I had no Eohippus given right to command her respect.  It just happened.”

      “Jess told me she liked it when you kissed the heel of her right hind foot,” Patch said.  Theo nodded:

      “I could feel she did,” he said, “but I don’t know what made me do it.”

       “You know why you kiss the paws of others,” Patch replied, “It’s no random thing Theo.”  Theo breathed deeply, his memory of the few minutes with Jess making him emotional.  Closing his eyes, Theo shook his head to clear it.

       “Can I hug you Theo?”  Jess asked.  Theo looked up into her face.

       “You should be with Chowilawu,” Theo mewed.  Jess kissed his nose.

     “Chowilawu is safe beneath a bush nearby,” she said, “I made sure of that like a good mama bear should.”  Theo looked into Jess’s eyes.

       “You want to be a bear so much don’t you,” Theo mewed.  Jess took his paw in her hands.

       “I do,” she replied, “and looking after Chowilawu feels so natural it’s frightening.  I know I’m only just turned eleven years myself, and maybe in a few years I’ll leave the community and go my human way, but for now, now, I want to follow the ursine way so much.  My hands and hind feet want it my head wants it, my heart wants it.  Tell me Theo, when I have children of my own, will I have a bear as a midwife at their birth?”  Theo shook his head:

      “I can’t tell you that,” he purred, “it is not in my power to tell these things.  I suppose, if you ever have children, as human cubs are called when young, you’ll have them in a human place, with a human mate and such.  For now though, you want to be with the bears, and bears want you to be with them.  If you want to re-enact a cubbing to get closer to Chowilawu, go ahead and do it.  I know you re-enacted a cubbing once, and it helped you get closer to Patch.  Now though, you can get closer to Chowilawu, for you are his mama as far as he is concerned.  He’s not yet weaned, and needs his mama.  You can be his mama, and you want to be his mama I think?”  Jess nodded.

       “I want it very much,” she replied, “indeed last night, I dreamt I was giving birth to a cub.  I could feel everything Theo.  I wanted to have that cub Theo!”  Jess began to sob, “I wanted it so much!”

      “Maybe you want human children?”  Theo asked.  Jess shook her head.

       “I wanted to get closer to Chowilawu,” jess replied, “I know it was that.  It’s just that I like acting too; it used to take my mind off my troubles.  I want to act out my dream Theo.”  Theo nodded and smiled:

       “if it feels good, and hurts noone, it’s fine,”  he said, “enjoy your enactment, get closer to your cub, for he wants to be as close to you as he can possibly be to his mama.  You feed him, you clean him up, you hug him, and you care for him.  If making him more a part of you involves giving spiritual birth to him, then do so, but do it with passion and commitment, just as Kamchatka did when she let patch into her spiritual family.”  Jess smiled and hugged Theo.

     “Thank you,” she said.

      “You do not need my permission to show your love for Chowilawu,” Theo mewed.  Jess looked down at the sound of scuffing paws, seeing Chowilawu crawling towards them.

      “Mama Jess,” the cub said, “I love you mama, please, if making noise and holding your hind feet in your hands while imagining giving birth to me will bring you closer to me, then do it.  I want to be close to you mama jess.”  Jess looked down at the cub, touching his head with her hand and then running it down his back and right hind leg to the sole of his right hind foot.  Gently stroking the sole pad of Chowilawu’s right hind foot, Jess saw the cub curling his tiny toes, making the sole pad bunch up under her fingertips.

       “I love you dear cub,” jess whispered.  Chowilawu turned his face to Theo.

       “Give mama jesses the courage to do what she needs to,” the cub begged.  Theo smiled and kissed Chowilawu’s nose.

       “Mama Jess has the courage,” he said, “she just needed to know if what she wanted to do was right, and as acting out a cubbing is an act of love, it is right to do such a thing.”  Jess kissed Theo’s nose, then led Chowilawu away to the house.

 

Jess sat down with Chowilawu.

      “Chowilawu,” she asked, “do you know how to play with your hind paws?”  The cub smiled and nodded:

      “I know how to, he said, “do you know how to play with your hind paws mama jess?”  Jess smiled and suggested:

       “Why not find my hind paws and see if I know?”  Chowilawu crawled to jess’s hind feet and explored each one with his forepaws, finding her right hind foot was held in her right hand, the fingers of her left hand playing with the toes of her right foot, the fingers of her right hand gripping the sole of her right foot.  Chowilawu smiled and worked his toes beneath jess’s fingers, his toes now touching the sole of her right hind foot.  Jess gently squeezed Chowilawu’s toes between the fingers of her right hand and the sole of her foot, the cub laughing merrily.

       “Now I’m part of your paw play,” he said.  Jess let go of the toes of her right foot and wiggled her toes, Chowilawu touching them with his free forepaw.  Jess covered his forepaw with the fingers of her left hand.

     “Now it’s really a good game,” Chowilawu said.  I’m in contact with your hind foot and your forepaws mama jess.  Jess massaged the toes of Chowilawu’s right forepaw with her left hand, then gently and briefly squeezed the toes of his left fore between the fingers of her right hand and the sole of her right foot, Chowilawu laughing helplessly.

       “I love this play,” he said.  Jess leant down and kissed the toes of the cub’s right forepaw, Chowilawu gulping hard.

        “You’re playing with me like a mama bear!”  He sobbed.

      “Don’t cry Chowilawu love,” jess said.  Chowilawu sniffed and shook his head:

       “I’m happier than I’ve been for ages,” he said, “I can’t believe what I’m feeling here, that’s all.”  Jess smiled:

       “Follow your paws,” she said.  Chowilawu grinned:

      “I have been, he said, and now they’re held by my mama jess.  Jess smiled:

      “They are,” she replied, “and mama jess loves the owner of those paws too.  Loves him enough to want to give birth to him to allow him into her spiritual family, just like Kamchatka gave birth to patch.”  Chowilawu had heard the tale, and nodded.

       “I want to be part of your family mama,” he said.  Jess squeezed his left forepaw and kissed the toes of his right fore.

 

Meanwhile, in the pool complex, Emily, an otter, indeed the only otter to live in the community now, looked into the water.  Heavy with cub, she thought of the impending births of the cubs.  She was large and healthy, a testament to the good living and eating in the community.

 

Jess and Chowilawu sat together, jess’s hands in the cub’s paws.

        “So when you give birth to your cub, can I be near and get paws on with you?”  Chowilawu asked.  Jess smiled and said:

      “I would love you to, but if things get violent, I might hurt you without meaning to.  How about I go through it, and then re-enact it slowly for you?”  Chowilawu was happy with that.

       “So birth is violent?”  He asked.  Jess replied that it was.

      “Imagine pushing into the world a cub half your size Chowilawu.  Have you ever had bad bellyache?”

     “I have, is having a cub like that?”  He asked, “I had to push and push to rid myself of the pain.”

     “It’s like that for mama bears,” jess said.  Mama bears feel pains, and sometimes they need to push to stop the pain.  The pushing creates more pain though.

      “I know,” the cub said, “when I pushed, it was painful and tiring.”

      “I will push like you did but a lot harder and for longer,” jess replied, “don’t worry its normal.  I will also pant, whimper and growl a bit.”  Chowilawu nodded:

       “I did that too,” he said, “I was feeling bad one day, and I needed to relieve myself, going to the place, I squatted and my belly ached so horribly I had to push, gripping the tiles with my toes, I pushed, pushed, pushed and pushed mama.  In time, the pain eased, but once or twice it would return suddenly, and I had to push again, harder this time though!  My paws became hot and slippery.  Will yours get hot when your pain comes?”  Jess said they would.

      “I will do what you did,” she said, “but here, not in the relieving place.  My pain will only be eased by pushing, and I will hold my hind feet in my forepaws while pushing too, so I can comfort myself.”

      “Before I needed to relieve myself, I grabbed my hind paws in my fore,” Chowilawu said, “It felt good mama.  I even rolled onto my back, like I do when drinking, and brought my hind feet up so I could hold them with my forepaws, then I rolled about groaning a bit, it felt okay, eased the pain a bit, but then there was nothing else for it, I had to go to the relieving place and really push!”  Jess loved the inocent manner the cub described his bout of sickness.

     “You were ill,” she said, “but I won’t be.”

      “I know,” Chowilawu replied, “mama, can you hold your hind feet with your forepaws while lying on your back?”  Jess let go of Chowilawu’s paw and lay on her back, drawing her knees to her chest and reaching forward to hold her feet with the fingers of both hands.

     “Now come and feel how I’m lying,” jess invited.  Chowilawu crawled over to her and got paws on, jess loving every minute.

      “So you can, you can hold your hind feet with your forepaws!”  Chowilawu yelled delightedly.

      “I can, and it’s comfortable too,” jess replied.  “I might even get into a crawling posture too while in labour.”

      “Crawl like I do?”  Chowilawu asked, “And will you do this too?”  He pulled himself into a crawling position and then rocked back and fourth, his backside touching the heels of his hind paws.

       “I will,” jess replied, “Chowilawu, how do you know all this?”

      “Because I felt ill for days, in the first month of my life before my eyes opened.  I imagine you mama jess will feel all the pain I did.  If you do, I know partly what it’s like, or think I do.  If I don’t, you will still have my sympathy while going through with your labour,”  the cub said.

     “The wish to give birth to your spirit in my mind is greater than any pain I’ll be in,” jess said.  Chowilawu felt his way to jess’s right foot, which though still lying on her back; she’d now rested the heel of on the floor.  Chowilawu explored the foot with gentle care, and then kissed her toes.

       “I curled my toes while holding my hind paws in my fore,” Chowilawu said, “will you curl your toes while in pain mama?”  He asked.  Jess smiled and asked:

      “Do you think I should curl my toes?”

      “I think you should do whatever you want to do, I did when I was in stomach pain.  I growled, panted, curled my toes, whimpered, kicked my feet in the air, rolled about, rubbed my belly, held my hind paws with my fore, even squeezed the pads of my hind paws and toes with my forepaws when things got real bad.  Then, then, when I was in the relieving place and could cope no longer, I pushed, holding tightly to the tiles with the toes of all four feet I moaned and panted while pushing down hard mama.  Don’t spare the walls anything if you want to scream the place down while in pain mama, I didn’t.”

      “Maybe it was this expressiveness which turned Arki off her cub?”  Jess thought, but shoved that thought back, focusing on the cub himself.

       “I am looking forward to it,” she said, “then, when things get going, I’ll let you be there, and let you touch me if things are not too violent.  If I’m on all fours and rocking back and fourth, you can touch me then, but if I’m holding my hind feet with my forepaws and groaning, it’s not good to be too paws on, just in case I kick you.”  Chowilawu nodded.

      “I understand,” he said.  Jess suddenly sat up, rubbing her belly and panting slightly.  As Chowilawu listened, Jess drew her feet to her, hugging her knees.

      “Is it starting?”  He asked.  Jess panted a little.

      “A bit,” she said, “but should be okay in a minute, Oooh,ahhh!”  Bouncing about a bit on her backside, Jess panted a little.

       “Your feet are flat on the floor,” Chowilawu said, feeling Jess’s left foot with his paws.  Jess bounced about a bit more on her backside, whimpering a little.

       “Pains,” she gasped.  Chowilawu stroked the toes of jess’s left foot, Jess extending her legs so Chowilawu could massage her toes more easily.

       “You weren’t meant be here at the actual enactment,” jess said panting, “but as my mind is telling me to enact the birth now, could you help me out?”

     “I will help you,” Chowilawu replied.  Jess nodded, “but I need to get paws on to do that.”

       “Get paws on,” Jess replied, “go on dear cub, touch my hands and feet with your paws.  It’s coming stronger, the urge is growing! I can’t, can’t hold it in!”   Jess whimpered.

       “Follow your paws,” Chowilawu said.  Jess puffed and blew a while, flexing her fingers and toes, and then said:

      “Now Chowilawu, feel, feel my left hind foot, can you feel my toes curling?”  The cub felt jess’s left hind foot, and indeed, he found her toes flexing, but then curling hard, Jess growling with increasing pain.

      Oaa’aa’a’oww!”  Jess gasped as she calmed down, “still don’t want to push, just pain, just bad bellyache!”  Chowilawu stroked the sole of jess’s right foot, just as Kuruk had when he’d been in pain.

      “Is it very ouch?”  Chowilawu asked, using words Kuruk had used to ask him questions.  Jess breathed deeply:

      “A bit, in waves, comes and goes,” she gasped.

      “I know how mama jess feels,” Chowilawu thought, as he felt jess’s toes relax after she’d groaned deeply and curled them tightly for a few minutes.  He could feel her foot becoming warm, just as his paws had.

        “I want to squeeze my hind feet with my paws!”  Jess squealed suddenly.  Chowilawu felt her fingers suddenly grip the toes of his left forepaw which were stroking her right foot.

       “Move, move your paw,” jess panted, “if you don’t, I might hurt it!”  Jess said, “let me hold my hind feet properly, and touch my fingers once I have hold of them Chowilawu, please,” jess said, trying to keep the cub’s safety in mind while her mind wanted to do its thing.

       I know I’m holding things up, but I want him here!”  Jess thought, “Chowilawu needs to know how much I want this for both of us.”

      “My paws quite strong mama, go for it,” Chowilawu said, kissing jesses fingers which now gently stroked the toes of his left forepaw.  Jess took a deep breath, gripping her right foot and Chowilawu’s left forepaw with the fingers of her right hand, the sole of her left foot and the fingers of her left hand in contact with each other.  Jess, lying on her back, legs drawn up to her, gripped both feet tightly.

     “Go for it mama!”  Chowilawu said as he felt the pressure of her fingers against his paw.  Jess growled, whimpered, and then roared her pain and effort, pulling back on her hind feet with the fingers of both hands.  Jess wriggled and panted, Chowilawu feeling her adjusting her hold on his paw, and then the pressure was back on again and harder this time, jess squealing with effort.

      “Go on mama!”  Chowilawu encouraged.  Jess went for it, imagining the need to push against her cub for the first time:

      “Must push!  Must try!”  She yelled.  Chowilawu gently stroked the sole of her foot during a lull in her efforts.

       “You’re doing well mama,” he said.

        “I need to do this Chowilawu,” Jess gasped, “it’s my love for you making me want to do this!  It’s all worth everything, I promise you that!  Must try again!”  Jess yelled, wriggling and gripping her feet hard with her fingers.  Chowilawu heard her efforts, as well as feeling them.

        “Go on mama, push down, right down!”  Chowilawu yelled.  Jess filled her lungs and roared with effort!

      “I must kick the air with my feet!”  Jess panted.  Chowilawu got out of the way as his paw was released.

      aoooow’w’w’w’w’w’w!  Oooh!aowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!  owhwhwhwhwhwhwh, owhwhwhwhwhwwhwhwhwhw!”  Jess gasped, “that felt good, must do it again, and kick harder!”  Chowilawu rolled onto his back and began to kick the air with his hind feet too.

       “Mama, kick like this!”  He yelled; jess watching him, then kicking the air for all she was worth.

      “It’s helping, helping!”  She groaned, “Must push again though, owwhwwwwww, owhwhwhwhwhwhwhwhwhwh, ouch, ow, ow! Ow! Ow! Ow’w’w’w’w’w’w’w” jess panted a little, then wriggled, drawing her feet to her once more:

      “Must hold my hind feet again, want to hold them, must, must do it!”  Chowilawu got his right forepaw onto the sole of Jess’s left foot this time, her fingers embracing his paw.

       “I’m a bear, give everything with this effort, I’m a bear, I want to be a bear!”  Jess told herself.  Now give birth to that cub Jess!”  Jess wriggled a little, then bore down, pulling back against her feet with her hands as strongly as she could, feeling Chowilawu’s paw beneath her fingers.  Jess found herself snarling and gasping, then pushing down repeatedly against her cub, pulling hard against the soles of her hind feet, her mouth open in a roar of effort.

      “Cub’s closer now, must get onto all fours,” jess whimpered, “I want to, I want to so much!”  Jess released her hold on her hind feet and Chowilawu felt her shuffling round, getting into a position he knew well.  Touching the heel of her right foot with his left forepaw, Chowilawu traced the sole of that foot down to Jess’s toes, jess panting hard and flexing the toes of both feet.

      “It’s coming!”  Jess whimpered, rocking back and fourth, then, placing her hands on the floor in front of her, Jess sat back on her heels and curled her toes while groaning and panting before   curling her toes tightly, Chowilawu feeling the grip of Jess’s toes surprisingly strong as they gripped his.

      Owhwhwhwhwhwhwhwhw, oaowhwhwhwhwhwhwhwhwhwh!  Must crawl about a bit,” jess panted, crawling across the lie up, Chowilawu following.  When a contraction hit, Jess stopped crawling and rocked back and fourth while grunting, groaning and panting, her toes curled tightly, then as things got easier, she relaxed and continued her crawl.

         “I’m nearly done, nearly, nearly there!”  Jess panted, “Chowilawu, touch my foot with your paw, give me the encouragement to give birth to this cub!”  Chowilawu touched jess’s right foot, his paw touching her heel at first, then gently he stroked down her foot to her toes, jess sobbing with the intensity of her emotions.

       “I’m a mama bear now; I must give birth to this cub!”  Jess thought.  Sitting down once more, Jess grabbed her right foot in both hands, Chowilawu just able to work his right forepaw into the gap between the fingers of her right hand and the sole of her foot.  Jess, now carried away by her intense need, squeezed her foot as hard as she could with her hands, curling the toes of both feet as tightly as they’d go.

       “Push jess Push!”  Chowilawu encouraged, his paw now trapped and getting squeezed until he had no feeling in his toes.  Jess growled, snarled, and roared with effort!

       “One more push, just one more,” jess yelled, rolling onto her back and holding her hind feet with the fingers of both hands once more.  Chowilawu stroked the heel of jess’s right foot, Jess herself pulling with her fingers and bracing her feet as hard as she could, all memories of Kamchatka’s warning gone.  Jess imagined Chowilawu being born, from the emergence of his forepaws to the arrival of his hind, and everything between.

      “I can feel the cub coming into the world!”  Jess thought, “Like I did in that dream! Go for it jess, you want this to be worth while so you can be a true mama to Chowilawu, and he wants you to be a true mama, so feel his arrival!”  Jess panted, wriggled convulsively and pushed for the last time hard down against a cub that was her own born cub.

       oooow’w’w’w’w’w’w’w’w’w’w’ouch!”  Jess screamed, “I’ve done it, the cub’s here!”  Chowilawu felt jess’s fingers shaking as she released her hold on her right hind foot.  Jess relaxed her body, lying exhausted on the floor.  Chowilawu let his paws be his guide, and they sent him scrambling into jess’s embrace, his mama hugging him tenderly.

       “I’m hungry mama,” Chowilawu said, for he was very hungry indeed.  Jess realised she’d messed things up a bit, she should have had milk on standby for her cub, as mama bears would have, but she’d forgotten it.

 

Kamchatka hadn’t though, and brought the bottle with the milk in it.

        “Feed your cub mama,” Kamchatka said gently.  Jess fed Chowilawu, the cub refusing to hold the bottle at first, but then gripping it in his forepaws, his hind pawing at the air.

       “I can’t believe I forgot his milk!”  Jess panted.

       “I watched everything,” Kamchatka said, “The need to do what your mind wanted overtook you.  Sometimes we don’t have control over our own minds.  Milk was the last thing on your mind, and on Chowilawu’s too, but that was over three hours ago.  You’ve been in active labour for three hours Jess.”  Jess smiled:

       “I wouldn’t change a thing,” she said, “it was fantastic.  I’m a true mama to Chowilawu now, for he’s part of me now.  Jess watched the cub drinking, his forepaws holding the bottle, and hind frantically kicking the air.  Chowilawu drank the milk a bit too quickly in his enthusiasm for the liquid and got hiccups.  Jess looked to Kamchatka for guidance.

       “Take the bottle from him and pat his back,” the grizzly bear said.  Jess did, sitting Chowilawu up, supporting the cub with her left hand while patting his back with her right.  Chowilawu belched loudly.

      “Sorry!”  He said.

      “How well mannered for a newborn,” Kamchatka said.  Chowilawu laughed helplessly.

      “I drank the milk too quickly,” he said, “It’s my entire fault.”  Jess gave the cub his bottle, and Chowilawu finished his drink.

        “Now I must get food,” she said.  Kamchatka padded off and returned with vegetables, salmon and bread, which Bramble had requested the Boss get in for the community.  Jess set to with enthusiasm, mindful of the outcome if she bolted her food as her cub had.  Chowilawu caught the scent of the salmon, and snatched a bit from the plate.  Jess, shocked, looked at her cub, which was swiftly eating his catch.  Instinctively Kamchatka walloped Chowilawu, the cub squealing with surprise.

      “That’s for eating my salmon!”  Jess snapped.  Kamchatka smiled approvingly.

       “He might not be able to see you, but he must learn manners,” she said, “I kept my cubs in line with a swift smack from my paw from time to time, and you don’t hesitate with it either.  If it’s justified, use the paw quickly, so they know not to steal again.”  Jess reminded herself she was mama bear now, that her human sensibilities were to be put aside.  Needless to say, Chowilawu stole no more salmon from jess’s plate, and Jess learned to be a little tougher with her cub.

 

Later that day, Chowilawu began to feel unwell.  Crawling to the relieving place, he vomited violently.

      “This is awful!”  He whimpered.  Jess, following him as quickly as she could, stroked his back as he vomited up the salmon he’d eaten.

       “Salmon’s not for little bears,” she said, “you shouldn’t have stolen and eaten my salmon.”  Chowilawu whimpered and spat.

       “I feel awful!”  The cub whimpered.  Jess stroked Chowilawu’s paw.

       “Have you finished?”  She asked.  The cub panted and whimpered with misery.

       “I think so,” he said.  Jess took him to the shower and showered him down, before drying him then enveloping him in a huge hug.  Chowilawu snuggled up to his mama, jess lying on her side, enfolding the cub in a motherly and comforting embrace.  Chowilawu smiled with pleasure and snuggled hard up to his mama.

      “I promise I won’t steal salmon or anything else again,” he whispered.  Jess kissed his ear.

       “I’m glad you won’t steal any more salmon,” she said.

 

Theo padded into jess and Chowilawu’s lie up some time later.  Seeing him, jess motioned to him with one hand.

       “Hi Theo dear,” she said.  Theo padded to her and leant down, kissing jess on her nose.  Jess felt her breath catch with emotion, her toes curling too.  Theo lay down and took her right hand in his paws.

        “I did it Theo,” jess said, “I obeyed my mind’s will.”  Theo smiled broadly.

       “I am glad you did,” he said, “how do you feel about what you did?”

       “I wouldn’t have changed a minute of it,” jess replied, “I loved every second!  Chowilawu was with me throughout, and I was able to imagine giving birth to his spirit, drawing him closer to me.  I don’t regret anything I did, from the loudest groan or scream, to the tightest grip on my hind feet.  I loved everything Theo!”  Theo purred with pleasure.

       “I know you did,” he said, “You speak truth jess.  You do not hide your pleasure in what is an act of love.  Watch your cub’s birth video with pride; love that time as much as you love your cub.  I understand Chowilawu stole your Salmon.”

      “He also threw it all up again,” jess said.  Theo nodded and smiled, looking down at the cub under discussion, which was asleep.

       “I truly loved every minute of my cub’s birth,” Jess said.  Theo stroked Jess’s hand with his paw, feeling her fingers grip his toes.  .  Jess kissed Theo’s left forepaw.

       “Would you take my right hind foot in your paws Theo?”  She asked.  Theo nodded, released her hand, and then shuffled backwards until he could take her right foot in his paws.  Enfolding it, he held it gently.

       “Now what do you want me to do?”  He asked.

      “Examine it with your paws,” she replied.  Theo stroked the top and sole of jess’s foot, tracing the lines on the sole of her foot and rubbing her toes and heel.  Jess sighed deeply, curling her toes.  Theo blew on the furrowed skin on the sole of her foot, jess giggling with pleasure.

       “Did Petra do that when you were a cub?”  She asked.  Theo grinned and nodded:

      “She often played with my paws,” he said, “still does sometimes.”  Indeed, the night previously, just before he’d slept and had the dream about the girl and the bear cub, Petra had played with his paws and him with hers.  Jess wiggled her toes, Theo blowing on them, his warm breath making her smile.

         “The sole of your hind foot is a lighter shade of pink to the upper part of your foot,” Theo said, gently tracing round the edge of the lighter area with the toes of one paw.  Jess giggled:

       “Patch and I used to play with each other’s paws like that,” she said, “we’d ask each other what the soles of our paws looked like, and each would tell the other, and trace the sole of the described paws with their forepaws.  It was great!”

         “Mama Petra and I do that,” Theo mewed, “I describe her paws, and she describes mine too. For we can’t see the soles of our own paws.  I feel we should know what the soles of our paws look like as well as how they feel to our forepaws.”

      “Agreed with that,” Chowilawu yawned, “I like the feel of my paws though, as I can’t see them.”

        “Your paws are very special Chowilawu,” Theo mewed, “treasure them,” Chowilawu smiled:

       “I will Theo Kizungu,” he said.  Theo grinned.

        “Now I’ve looked at, and touched the sole of your right hind paw, would you like to look at and touch the soles of my hind paws jess?”  Theo asked.  Jess smiled and nodded:

      “I would like that very much,” she said.  Theo lay down, and Jess pushed Chowilawu away for a minute the cub sitting down and playing with his own right hind foot in his forepaws, holding it in his right fore and playing with his toes with his left fore.  Jess kept one eye on him, and the other on her work with Theo’s paws, holding them in her hands and examining them by sight and touch.

      “You’ve got four toes on your right hind foot,” Jess said, the sole of your foot has three black pads on it, each toe having one black pad.  She traced the sole of Theo’s foot with the index finger of her right hand, the lion giggling with delight.

       “You’re tickling my paw!”  He yelled, curling his toes hard.  Jess kissed the bunched pads of Theo’s right hind paw, the lion purring with pleasure.

       “I love all this paw play,” he said, “I love watching how paws work.  I watched my own birth, watching how mama Petra used her paws during her labour.  How her toes curled, how her pads bunched as she strained to deliver me.  I think a paw can be so expressive of pleasure or pain.  Mama Petra likes watching paws too, as well as handling them of course.  She and young Elsa often play with each other’s paws, and young Elsa has taken to recreating a cubbing, loving the challenge.  Elsa’s paw pads are dark brown in colour, whereas mine are black.  She has a beautiful face and gorgeous paws jess.”

       “Elsa is a lovely lioness, that’s for sure,” Jess said.  Theo smiled:

       “Elsa and Pipin are great friends,” he said, “they love playing with each other’s paws, and she’s even played at giving birth to his cub!”  Theo smiled, “that that was so sweet, I saw them playing that game, and he was so gentle with her.  I know something though, while that was pretend play, their liking for each other is very real indeed.  Maybe they’ll have cubs for real one day.  Right now though, Elsa playing at giving birth to Pipin’s cub is a way of both getting a good chance to play with each other’s paws in a structured game?  He’s so small for his age that any chasing game wouldn’t be fair contest, so to get good sport; it has to be a gentle rough and tumble or a mock cubbing.  Also, Elsa gets to wave her paws about as well as roar and mew loudly, which she loves to do.”  Jess grinned:

      “Sounds wonderful,” she said.  Theo, watching Chowilawu with one eye, saw the cub roll onto his back and take his hind paws in his fore, just as Jess had.

      “Your cub’s imitating you,” he said to Jess.  Jess looked over and grinned:

        “Pull hard against those hind paws Chowilawu,” she encouraged, watching as the cub braced his hind feet against his forepaws, pulling back against his hind feet when he’d got good purchase.

       “This feels feels wonderful!”  Chowilawu gasped.

       “I know,” jess replied.  Theo smiled at both of them.

       “I must go now,” he said sadly, “Jess, thanks for playing with my paw that was wonderful.”  Jess tightly hugged the white lion.

       “Thank you for playing with mine,” she said, “I’ve allays wondered what the touch of a lion’s paw on my foot would feel like, and now I know.”

      “That’s the touch of a friendly lion who loves you deeply,” Theo said.  Jess buried her head in his mane.

       “I know Theo, I know you love me dearly, and I could feel it the first time you kissed the heel of my right hind foot.  I’ve never forgotten that.”  Theo kissed Jess’s nose and the fingers of her left hand.

        “I love you dearly Theo,” Jess said.  Theo gulped hard, tears filling his eyes.

      “Thank you,” he said.  Jess kissed his nose.

        “I can’t detain you any more Theo,” she said, “go now.”  Theo got to his feet and looked down at jess and Chowilawu.

        “I’m glad you two are one now,” he purred.  Chowilawu crawled to Theo’s side and clambered up his leg to sit on his back.  Theo turned his head, feeling the cub’s toes gripping his fur, the pads of Chowilawu’s paws rough and giving the cub good grip.

       “Once the cub was on Theo’s back, he crawled until he could whisper into the lion’s ear.

       “Thank you for giving my mama the courage to bring me into her family.”  Theo suddenly growled, then with a roar, bucked strongly, sending Cholas high into the air!  Jess screamed with terror!  Chowilawu felt himself flying, higher and higher, and then he hung in mid air for half a second, before falling, falling, faster, and faster!  The polar bear cub screamed with all his might as he fell!

       “Mamma!”  Chowilawu landed in soft warm paws, big soft warm paws.  Gasping, the cub whimpered as a lion’s gentle kiss was placed on his nose.

        “I love you dear cub,” Theo purred.  Jess stared at Theo and her cub.

        “You could have killed my cub!”  She yelled at Theo.

      “Jess,” Theo said, “would I do anything to endanger your cub?”  Jess looked into the line’s eyes:

      “No,” she said.

       “Case closed,” Theo replied, “Chowilawu now knows I won’t hurt him, and that brings us closer together.  If I’d told him what was about to happen, he’d panic, and I didn’t want him injuring himself.  Now he’s calm, and knows he too has the protection of his mama’s favourite lion.”  Jess watched Chowilawu snuggle up to Theo.

       “I love you Theo,” he said.

 

Theo padded back to his lie up, thinking hard about jess and her cub.  During the intimate time they’d had, Theo felt Jess’s need to become as much of a mama bear to Chowilawu as she could.  Theo lay down, buried his head in his paws and thought hard about jess.  Chowilawu loved her as she was, but what if she was to take the form of a bear, how would jess be then?  Would she find mothering Chowilawu easier?  Theo closed his eyes, thinking of jess as a bear.  She would be a grizzly bear, Theo reasoned, strong inside, but easily tipped into playing with her cub or role playing in games.  Theo thought of jess as a bear, and not as the human she was.  How would it be for her if she achieved her ultimate desire?  Theo had felt her reluctance to leave the community.  When Jess had spoken of what would happen in years to come, he’d felt her anxiety, her wish not to leave her true home.  How would it be if jess could somehow gain the form of a bear?  Theo knew she wanted to be as ursine as she could be.  If she didn’t want it, she’d not have gone through the process of birthing her cub in the manner she did.  Theo knew human children, and some adults dressed themselves in costumes to disguise their true identity, maybe Jess could do that? But then again, this would take her hands and feet and put them into gloves and shoes to make them like the paws of a bear, and Theo knew the community were bare pawed for a reason.

       “Jess,” Theo thought, “if eohippus wants you to be a true member of the ursine family, then it will be.  I can feel your wish to be one with the bears, and I know you would love to become a bear.  Human design is not dissimilar to that of the bear, so it’s not such a tall order is it?  Jess wants it so much, she put herself through emotional pain for Chowilawu, and that’s surely a sign of how much she wants to be one with him.  Bears can become almost human, and humans even have been knows to dress bears up in their clothes, so why can’t a human become a bear?  I know Eohippus will decide.”  Theo slept deeply.

 

Meanwhile, Chowilawu sat terrified out of his mind.  Jess had gone to sleep after eating and drinking, and now she was screaming and thrashing about, as if she was in labour all over again, but this was more intense!  He could hear her rolling about on the floor, and knew now when she had her hind feet drawn to her and was holding them with her hands.  When she did this, she would growl with pain, wriggling and then kicking hard.  Chowilawu thought she must be having her dream of giving birth to him once more.

 

Meanwhile, in the control room, Nanuq was confused.  He’d got the footage of Jess’s labour on camera, but now the lie up cameras had gone off line.  Thumping the console  with his paw, he swore viciously.  Picking up a phone, he tried to get through to the Boss, but the line was jammed.  Thumping a button, he tried again and again on different lines, but all were jammed.  Nanuq flicked to other cameras, yes, all were working, and all except the ones in jess’s lie up.

 

Meanwhile in Jess’s lie up, Chowilawu was going mad!  Crawling round the room, he found the door shut tight; surely there’d been no door there before?  Behind him he could hear Jess’s struggle continuing, her growls and snarls sounding more ursine to him every minute.  Chowilawu reasoned this out by saying he’d got used to her voice, and that this was becoming the norm.  Suddenly jess gave vent to such a loud growl of pain that Chowilawu had to investigate.  Crawling to her side, he found her left hand.  Jess now lay inert and exhausted on the floor, Chowilawu explored her hand, but it wasn’t the hand of a human any longer.  Chowilawu took his paw from jess’s hand, or paw, he didn’t know which, and raised his paw to his mouth.  Biting down on his toes, he checked if he was awake, yes he was, so what the hell was going on?

 

Theo dreamt of jess’s transformation into a bear.  His mind broke it down into stages, easy stages, playing them back to him faster and faster, until the whole was achieved.  Then he saw Jess’s labour of the mind, remembering it all, remembering the shots of her face, her fingers, her toes and the soles of her feet as she fought to give birth to her cub.  Theo then saw a mama grizzly bear in labour, and it wasn’t Kamchatka.

       “Give joyful birth to your cub,” he thought, “make a joyful committed birth for both you and your cub, for he is truly yours, and you are truly his.  Become what you want to become mama.”  Theo then simultaneously watched both Jess’s labour and that of the mama bear, and also heard the mama bear’s cries of pain mixed with Jess’s, the two beginning to sound similar, then becoming indistinguishable from each other.  As the image of Jess in labour vanished, Theo kissed the pads of the labouring mama bear’s right hind foot as she held it in her right forepaw, prior to giving one final heave to deliver her cub.

       “Push a little more mama,” he said softly, feeling the bunched sweat soaked pads of the mama bear’s hind foot against his whiskers, “push long and hard, with everything you have.”  The mama bear roared with pain, her forepaws gripping her hind feet, the toes of her hind feet curled so tightly the long claws nearly dug into the large sole pads of both feet.  Theo watched the cub’s emergence into the world, the memories of Jess in labour leaving him, though he knew he’d never forget the birth of this particular cub, nor the mama bear who struggled so hard and for so long to deliver him into the world.  Theo was woken by blows to his shoulder from tiny paws, and a screaming voice.

      “Theo, oh for Eohippus sake Theo!  Wake up!  My mama’s gone mad!”  Theo roused himself to find Chowilawu beating his left shoulder with his tiny paws.

      “What?”  Theo asked gently, “Chowilawu, what’s the matter?”

        “Mama Jess, its mama jess!”  He cried, “She’s gone mad!”

       “What do you mean gone mad?”  Theo asked.  The cub, still crying, was about to explain, when there was a roar of rage, and then something was bearing down on them like an express train!

       “My cub!  Give me my cub!”  Theo leapt to his paws, protecting Chowilawu.

        “What’s happening?”  Chowilawu asked.  Theo faced the mama grizzly.  She was very small for a mama grizzly, only being about five feet tall when standing on her hind paws, which she was at that very moment, but she was very much the angry mama from nose to paw pads.

       “Calm yourself mama jess,” Theo said softly.  The mama bear lifted her left forepaw and rubbed her eyes before looking back at the white lion.

        “I want my cub!”  She yelled her voice like thunder.

       “Mama Jess, look at me,” Theo said softly, Chowilawu trembling between his forepaws.

       “Why should I even consider closely examining the threat to my cub, as long as I can see it enough to kill it?”  The mama bear asked.

      “Because I am no threat,” Theo mewed.  The mama bear looked uncertain.

       “I, I don’t know, I don’t remember much,” she said, though you do look familiar.

     “Let him take your paw mama, please!”  Chowilawu begged.  The mama bear dropped onto all four feet and padded to Theo, who kissed her nose.

        “Mama Jess,” he purred, “do you remember me now?””

        “Theo,” she whispered, “my dear friend!”

      

    “Tell me what you remember dear jess?”  Theo asked.

      “I went to sleep last night, I was heavily pregnant and also concerned about how I would do at being a mama to the cub I was carrying, the worry about my cub was filling me so much that it was consuming me.  I went into labour late that night, and it was a hard labour too!  I squirmed, wriggled, rolled about, grabbed my hind paws with my fore, everything!  Once the cub was born, I slept.  When I woke, my cub had gone.  So I came here.”

      “So you do not remember what went before this time at all?” Theo asked.  The Mama bear shook her head.

       “I remember my brother, a grey cub he was,” she laughed, “he had white pads on the soles of all four of his paws, a lot more interesting than my paw pads I can tell you.  I remember my labour and my worry about the newborn cub, the cub was hard to deliver, a real pushing, groaning and squeezing effort.  An effort that I would not have missed for the world.  I remember everything, from how I held my hind paws with my forepaws, to how I crawled about, sat back on my heels and moaned with my forepaws flat in front of me, all that, and especially how I pushed at the end.  Yes!  Big pushes, holding my hind feet, like this,”  the mama bear rolled onto her back and drew her hind feet to her, holding them with her forepaws, “Like this, you see?”  Theo nodded.

      “I see,” he said.

     “Then, then I roared with effort and pain, pushing, pushing, straining and heaving downwards, right down into my tail!  Wow, what a feeling that was, the feeling of the cub emerging finally into the world, I can remember the feel of his forepaws, head, body and hind paws emerging.  I’d never swap that with anyone.  It was fantastic Theo, painful, hard work, but fantastic!”  Theo kissed the sole pad of mama bear’s right hind foot.  The bear giggling with delight.

        “Now I have my own cub,” she said.

      “I’m hungry mama,” chow Lau said.  The mama bear let go of her hind feet and rolled onto her side, Chowilawu crawling to her and drinking from her milk supply, which Theo saw was healthy and plentiful.

        “Thank you eohippus,” Theo thought, his heart lifted by the sight of mother and cub together.

 

Meanwhile, in another lie up, young Elsa and Pipin were playing together.  The young lion and lioness had met when patch introduced Pipin to young Elsa a few months back.  Now they were never apart.  Young Elsa loved the touch of Pipin’s tiny paws on the pads and toes of her larger paws, as well as his touch on her belly.  She knew what this meant for later life, but now they could channel there love through play.  Elsa loved constant contact games, like the one where she pretended to be giving birth to pippin’s cub, and Pipin stroked her paws while she rolled about, curled her toes, whimpered, growled and roared her way through contractions.  They’d roll together, Elsa growling and snarling with the increasing need to give birth to her imaginary cub, Pipin stroking her paws and comforting her.  This game could last hours, and if the cub was a big one, Elsa would complain loudly towards the end as she strained hard.  sometimes the cub would get stuck, and Pipin would have to play with Elsa’s fore hind paws, arranging them as if they were the cub’s, depending on the cub’s presentation, which Elsa would inform him of in a lull between efforts.  then he’d arrange her fore or hind paws to allow their passage, and sometimes if the cub’s head was large, he’d have to put his paws around Elsa’s neck and hug her, something which both of them loved, but also taught him to hold a cub’s head right when helping her to deliver it.  Elsa would lower her head, as if rolling forward, gasping and straining.  Pipin would then go to her hind quarters and assist the birth of the large cub.  Elsa and Pipin became very close during these games.  She loved the touch of his tiny paws on the pads and toes of her larger ones, and he loved the way her large paws enveloped his tiny ones.

 

Meanwhile, jess, now a true mama bear, padded back to her lie up with her cub, where Nanuq junior was looking down at a ripped cat suit.

     “It looks like a bear got hold of this,” he said.  Jess padded up behind him and kissed his nose.

       “Dear Nanuq,” she said, “have you seen my brother?”  Nanuq spun round.

     “Um, ah, jess?”  He asked.  Jess smiled hugely.

      “Yes Nanuq dear,” she said, “now, where’s Patch?”  Nanuq waved his paw:

      “In mama Kamchatka’s lie up,” he said, “but I’ve never seen you before, but I know you very well. Your spirit, not your shape, I can’t remember what shape you were.  But your spirit, I knew that, I knew that as very ursine.”

      “Of course I would be ursine you silly bruin!”  Jess laughed.  Nanuq junior looked down at the ripped cat suit.

       “I swear you were once human,” he thought, “indeed; I’ve seen the human labouring to give birth to her cub!”  Nanuq tried to call up the video of the human jess in labour, but all he could find was the video of the bear that now stood in front of him in labour.

       “Was there any other jess?”  The male bear asked himself.  He began to doubt there had been.  A yell of:     “Jess!”  followed by the sound of running paws and the sight of Patch running into the lie up had Jess turning and then running to her brother, both bears embracing each other, leaving Chowilawu with Nanuq.

      “Jess dear,” patch said, embracing her tightly, “how are you?”  Jess smiled and buried her head in his shoulder.

        “My labour was fine, if hard work and my cub are here,” she said.  Patch looked at Chowilawu, realising what had happened.

       “I don’t understand the physiology, but this is Jess I’m hugging, and Chowilawu is her cub for sure,” he thought.  Jess rolled Patch over and kissed his paws, Patch laughing delightedly.

      “Now do I get to kiss your paws?”  He asked.  Jess rolled onto her back and waved her paws in the air.

      “I would love you too,” she said.  Patch did, Jess giggling as he kissed each of her four large sole pads.

       “I remember looking after my sister cub,” he said, “things were difficult for us, but I can’t remember why now, even so, I looked after her.  Now, now she’s got a cub of her own, though her mate, he must have vanished.  Jess, well done for going through labour alone.”

        “No one knew I was in labour,” jess said, “my cries were unanswered; all I could do was roar with pain and hold my hind feet with my forepaws.  Now though, I wouldn’t change how it went.”  Patch went to a screen and jess showed him the video of her labour.  Patch saw a mama bear holding her hind feet with her forepaws, crawling about, kicking freely with both feet, and freely expressing her pain.  She even sat back on her heels a bit, before crawling about, panting, gasping and straining.  Then, right at the end, the mama bear sat down, rolled onto her back, then grabbed her hind feet with both forepaws and held on tightly, her eyes screwed shut.  Gasping, screaming and roaring, she bore down against her emerging cub, patch seeing the toes of her hind feet curled tightly, the toes of her forepaws digging into the sole pads of her hind, which were bunched up as tightly as they could be.  Patch and jess heard Jess’s screaming, roaring efforts.  Jess bore down one last, screaming, roaring time, and then spent time coming down from her labour before feeding her cub.  Falling asleep, jess didn’t wake as the cub, which was a large one, and quite definitely the cub now in the room with them, crawled away.  Patch knew something strange had taken place, but in a bear’s sometimes simple manner, he looked at the situation, and seeing his sister happy, healthy, and with a healthy cub to hold in her paws and love until the end of all things, and that’s all that mattered.

 

Meanwhile, Theo, watching the general confusion, knew he’d have to stamp on it if he was to save Jess’s sanity.  To this end, he spoke to Kamchatka in private, who knew the score as well as him.

       “I think we aught to talk to the whole community,”  Kamchatka said, “there’s no problem with my family, I can talk with them and come up with a story which fits what jess believes.  We need to tell the whole community to try and forget the human jess.  Now they’ll have to get to know the mama bear jess.”  Theo and Kamchatka arranged that they’d speak to their families and get back to each other.

 

Kamchatka then went to find jess, which was in her lie up feeding Chowilawu.

       “Mama,” jess said, Chowilawu snuggled up to her after his drink, “please, tell me about my early life.  Also, how did I end up in labour and now with a cub?”  Kamchatka smiled and sat down.

       “You, patch and Kuruk were born on the same day,” Kamchatka said, “I was a young mum, too young really.  I went into labour and just got on with straining, screaming loudly and pushing hard down into my tail.  You three were born with a lot of effort, but I loved each of you.  Scared, I didn’t know whether I was doing the right thing by my cubs, and I fretted over every choice I made.  My nerve finally snapped a year later, when I ran off, leaving Kuruk, Patch and you alone.  Kuruk went off on his own, but you and Patch stuck together Jess.  You and patch were caught by humans who wanted bears for a zoo.  The reason why you are so close to Patch is because he kept you sane in the zoo.”

      “Right,” Jess said, Chowilawu crawling away to play with his hind paws.  Jess took her right hind foot in her forepaws and began to massage her pads and play with her toes.

       “I do feel close to Patch, and also to Kuruk too,” Jess said.  Kamchatka nodded:

       “I’ve also got a mate, and a cub that’s slightly older than yours.  Ekaterina’s six months old.”  Jess stroked the toes and sole pad of her right hind foot as she listened to her mama.

        “You have a mate who sired your cub,” she said, “but who sired my cub?”  Kamchatka nodded and looked serious.

      “Kodiak was your mate Jess.  He, well, is now dead.  He, um, er, well, raided the Boss’s wine store after he realised you were pregnant.  He drank himself into oblivion, and then drowned in the pool.”  Kamchatka’s story about Kodiak was true.  Kodiak had drowned in the pool the day of Jess’s labour.  Samson found him floating face down in the pool two minutes after he’d fallen in.  The lion had run for help, but by the time he nod Allie had fished the overweight and unfit bear out of the water, Kodiak was dead.  Jess looked at her forepaws playing with her right hind foot.

        “Have I always played with my paws mama?”  She asked.  Kamchatka nodded.

      “Ever since you were a cub,” she said, “I did too.  Indeed, I haven’t grown out of it; even now I’ve had five cubs.  Boris was another of my cubs, but he died when he tried to attack Ekaterina shortly after she was born.”

      “How did patch and I get out of the zoo mama?”  Jess asked, concentrating on the sight of the toes of her right hind foot flexing and curling as she played with her paw.

      “the zoo went bust and dumped you in the wood near here,”  Kamchatka said, “Patch found his way back to me with you, Kuruk found me a month or so later, and Ekaterina was born somewhere in the midst of all that.”

        “Now I’ve got my own cub,” Jess said, “and Chowilawu is lovely.  Why he was named so though, I don’t know, I don’t remember why I named him Chowilawu.”

       “You and Kodiak mated in the bathtub,” Kamchatka said.  Jess frowned:

       “Was he desperate?”  She asked.  Kamchatka sighed:

      “I don’t know,” she replied, “but your cub’s name means joined together by water, which is kind of fitting.”  Jess looked at her mama, examining her with her eyes.  Looking down at herself, jess saw similarities between them.

      “Are my paw pads black like yours?”  She asked her mama.  Kamchatka shuffled over to Jess and made a huge play of freeing her right forepaw from her right hind and lifting it to look at her pads.

      “They’re lighter than mine,” she said, mine are black, yours are grey.  Your hind feet might have black pads though, let me look.”  Kamchatka crawled round to Jess’s hind paws and sprawled on the rug, her eyes at the level of the floor.  Looking sideways, Kamchatka saw her cub had black paw pads.  Kamchatka touched the sole pad of Jess’s right hind foot with the toes of her left fore, jess curling her toes hard.

      “Your pads bunch up when you curl your toes,” Kamchatka said, lifting jess’s right hind foot slightly, Jess lying back so the heels of both her hind feet came up off the rug.  Jess felt her mum’s forepaws cradling her right hind, and it felt very good.  Jess flexed her toes, Kamchatka watching her paw.  Smiling, Kamchatka kissed the sole pad of Jess’s right hind foot.  Jess giggled cubbishly and Kamchatka let go of her right hind foot.

       “I love it when you play with my paws mama,” jess said with evident pleasure.  Chowilawu crawled to Kamchatka’s right hind foot which lay invitingly within his reach and explored it with his forepaws before kissing her pads as she’d done to the pads of his mum’s hind paw.  Kamchatka laughed merrily.

      “Chowilawu’s got my right hind foot in his paws,” Kamchatka said, and he’s just kissed my pads too.  You know what mama jess? It feels great!”

       “I will encourage him to play with his and others paw,” jess said, “as it was such a popular pass time within our family.”

      “I love your paws Grandmamma Kamchatka,” Chowilawu said.

      “How can my cub know your name so quickly?”  Jess asked.  Kamchatka smiled and patted the toes of her daughter cub’s right hind foot, which she still held in her forepaws.

      “Cubs learn quickly,” she said.

 

Meanwhile, in another part of the house, the rest of the community were watching Jess and Kamchatka, getting the story Kamchatka told Jess straight in their heads so they’d not screw things up.  Patch and Kuruk looked at each other, smiling as they realised how Kamchatka had used part of the truth to make their own stories plausible.  Ekaterina grinned:

      “I’ve got nothing much to remember, thank eohippus for that!”  She said.  Kuruk patted her paw.

       “Kuruk think we just go on from here as normal,” he said.

 

Kamchatka kissed the pads of jess’s hind paws, first her left, then her right, Jess giggling cubbishly and enjoying her attention.

       “Can I kiss your paws Kamchatka?”  Chowilawu asked.  Kamchatka grinned:

      “I’d love it,” she said.  Chowilawu kissing the toes of first her right hind then left hind foot, Kamchatka nearly crying with happiness at the situation.  Jess leant forward and rubbed her mum’s ears with her left forepaw.  Kamchatka smiled broadly.

      “I love you both,” she said to her daughter cub and Grandcub.

 

“So we need to keep in mind that Jess is Kamchatka’s cub, and that is about it,” Theo said to the assembled community, “imagining she’s just arrived at the community, just hours before giving birth to Chowilawu, Kodiak having found her in the wood and impregnated her before she found her way back to her mama.  Now though, she’s picking up things with mama Kamchatka as if she’d never left home.  Just be gentle with jess, and we’ll get on fine.  Remember, she’s a bear with a virtually unknown but we know troubled past.  Don’t speak of it to her, just let her enjoy life, rear her cub and love her cub and family.  Pipin and young Elsa looked at each other, his tiny left forepaw in her larger right fore.

      “I’m glad Jess found her way home,” Pipin said.  Elsa smiled and squeezed his paw.

       “Talking of cubs,” she said, “someday, we might have cubs of our own Pipin.”  Pipin smiled and shook his head.

      “Not yet,” he replied, “unless you count the imaginary cubs we’ve had.”

     Sometimes their births seemed so real,” Elsa said, “I wonder if birth is as painful as Jess’s labour video suggests it is?”

      “It is,” Petra said, “it’s a sweat drenched ball of pain and effort, but it’s amazing and magical too.”  Petra looked at the screen where Kamchatka and Chowilawu were now playing with each other’s hind feet.

      “They look so contented, and just look at mama jess!”  Patch exclaimed.  Jess was busy lying on her back, contentedly examining her forepaws, her hind feet gently pedalling at the air as she licked the pads of her forepaws and rasped them with her teeth, cleaning them like a wild bear would do.  Once she was happy her forepaws were clean, jess sat up and, smiling, began explore her right hind foot with her now clean forepaws.  Holding her right hind foot in her right forepaw jess used the toes of her left forepaw to explore the toes of the paw she held in her right fore.  Jess closed her eyes in ecstasy as she worked the toes of her left forepaw between those of her right fore and the sole of her right hind foot.  Exploring, exploring, Jess touched every part of her right hind foot, once even experimentally curling the toes of that foot to feel her pads bunch up...  Once she was satisfied with the condition of her right hind foot, jess took hold of her left hind foot in her left forepaw and repeated the exploration, using the toes of her right forepaw to do the exploring.  Once her paws were cleaned to her liking, jess lay flat on her back, her hind feet in the air, her forepaws folded rather neatly across her still pregnancy swollen belly.  Once she was comfortable, jess had a good old fashioned wriggle, kicking with her hind feet and moving her head from side to side to get it started, but soon her whole body was involved.  Jess wriggled from side to side, then grunting with the initial effort, sat up, then pushed off with the heels of her hind feet as they touched the rug.  rolling backwards onto her back once more, Jess drew her feet up to her as far as they’d go, then rocked forward again, extending her legs to bring herself into a sitting posture once more, before another push with the heels of both hind feet sent her backwards once more, but harder and faster this time.  This rhythmic rocking back and fourth got patch twitchy.  Grabbing his right hind foot, he began urgently using the toes of his left forepaw to play with the toes of his right hind foot.

       “Go on Patch,” Kuruk said, “find a space and copy your younger sister you big cub.”  Patch grinned.

 

Jess was now full into her rocking game.

    “She nearly back flipped,” Samson remarked.

      “One more push jess, just one more push and you should be able to roll right over onto your forepaws!”  Patch encouraged in a whisper.  As if she’d heard him, Jess, now coming up into her sitting position from another roll backwards, took some deep breaths, clasped her belly with her forepaws, then, puffing, she got herself ready, before with a grunt of effort,  pushing off with her heels with everything she had.  Even Kamchatka and Chowilawu were interested now.

      Go on Mum!”  Chowilawu yelled, as Kamchatka had shown him what she was doing by getting him to copy his mum on a smaller scale.  Jess didn’t manage to back flip on her first serious attempt, but her second was executed with as much pation and fever as she’d used while giving that last huge effort to deliver Chowilawu into the world.  Growling, jess gave her all, shoving hard into the rug with the heels of both hind feet, rolling backwards.  Yelling with determination and excitement, jess felt her backside, then her back hit the rug, drawing up her hind legs, she took one final breath and threw herself backwards into her final effort.  Feeling her body leave the rug, she tucked her head in, gripped her hind paws with her fore and felt herself become airborne!  Jess swiftly let go of her hind feet, straightened her neck and felt her paws hit the rug!  Bending her legs, she took the impact of her landing.

       That felt wonderful!”  She yelled...  Kamchatka clapped her forepaws enthusiastically, Chowilawu also clapping, knowing what his mum had done, as Kamchatka had described it to him.

      “She rolled backwards, flew then landed on her paws?”  Chowilawu asked.

      “Your mama is a clever bear,” Kamchatka said.  Chowilawu giggled:

       “I know,” he replied, “all you have to do is meet her cub to know that.”  Kamchatka roared with laughter.

        “Cheeky thing!”  Kamchatka said.  Jess padded over to her mama and cub.

       “I feel at peace now,” she said.  Kamchatka patted jess’s right forepaw, the young mama grizzly sitting down, Kamchatka pulling her daughter cub into a huge bear hug.  Jess relaxed finally, while Chowilawu gently took hold of her right hind foot in his paws and stroked her pads.

 

“They are at peace now,” Theo said to the assembled community.  Patch glanced up at the screen from where he was absorbed in playing with the toes of his right hind foot.

        “Jess has finally become in body what she has always been in spirit,” he thought, “thank you Eohippus.”  Theo thought of his dream, of the beginning of it, where he saw the two near identical struggles to bring life into the world that of the human who wanted to be close to her adopted cub and that of the mama grizzly that was giving birth to her own cub.  He knew he’d been given a choice by the white mare, which did Theo  truly think Jess really was deep down, a human, or a bear.  Theo had waited until the two labouring mothers to be were in the climax of their labours, their cries and the sight of their struggle identical to each other.  Theo knew his choice to go to the mama bear and kiss her paw had been the right one.  The bear’s roar of effort as he kissed the sole pad of her hind paw was heart felt.  He could hear it even now, a sound of effort, of pain, of a mother’s will to give birth to her cub.  Theo knew he would never forget the sight and sound of Chowilawu’s birth into his true family.

      “We need a new spiritual leader,” someone said, breaking Theo’s train of thought, “Theo, are you there?”  Then he felt a paw patting his.

     “Um, what?”  Theo asked.

       “You were miles away from here,” Petra said, kissing her son’s nose.

       “I was mum,” Theo said, “after last night, well,” he didn’t finish.

       “What happened last night?”  Nanuq asked, “My screens were playing up, I couldn’t get any sound or footage from jess’s lie up.  What the hell was going on?”

       “I’m no technician,” Theo mewed, “how should I know how Cameras work?”

       “That aside,” Percy badger said, “due to Rowena’s death, we no longer have a spiritual elder.  After due consideration the community elected you Theo.”

      “Me?”  Theo asked, stunned, “why me?  I’m not fit for that sort of thing!”  Petra hugged her son cub.

       “You say you’re not fit,” she said, “but you understand others so well.  You comfort others, you give good advice, and you care Theo.”

      “But, I can’t even spell eohippus,” Theo protested, “I know nothing about her teachings!”

      “But you do,” Petra mewed, “you know all you need to know.  I believe you made a choice for someone else last night, a choice that would make or break someone’s life.  That someone is very dear to you Theo.”

      “I made the choice to allow jess to take the form of a bear?”  Theo asked, the enormity finally hitting home.

       “You did,”  Petra replied, “you saw two creatures in labour, jess the human, who wanted to be a bear so she could mother Chowilawu, and a grizzly bear who was having a wild born cub.  Both cubbings were difficult because the cubs were large.  You had to choose which one would have her cub safely and live on and which one would fail at cubbing.  Which one was the real mama to Chowilawu, jess the human, or Jess the mama bear.  What is jess under her skin, a human or a bear?”  Theo nodded:

      “The image of the human giving birth to her cub faded when I kissed the mama bear’s paw pads,” he said.

      “Now Jess is at peace with her mind and body,” Petra mewed.  She was able to give proper birth to her cub, proper, wild, unadulterated birth.  The birth of that mama bear’s cub was no play act, and you saw it Theo.  Even though the sights and sounds of the two labours were similar in so many ways, you saw the extra something the mama bear was putting into her labour.  She wanted that cub more than the human did, for it was her true destiny to have that cub.”

       “I know,” Theo said, “for when I kissed the pads of her hind foot, she gave such a roar of pain and effort as she pushed down for the last time to deliver her cub, I knew I’d made the right choice.  The touch of her sweat soaked pads against my whiskers felt genuine too.  Mama bear wanted that cub so much.  With every muscle and hair on her body wanted that cub to be born safe and well.  The human jess wanted the cub in her mind, but her body didn’t want it.  Mama bear’s mind and body were as one with her cub.  Now jess is a mama bear and that’s how it should be.”

      “making choices like that and making them well is what makes you stand out as a leader of the community spirit,”  Allie said, “Theo, you saw what Jess really wanted to be, and you helped her become it.”  Theo swallowed hard.

        “I can’t do this!”  He whimpered.  Closing his eyes, he shook his head.

       “Yes you can,” someone said into his ear, “Theo, just carry on as you are. Don’t worry; don’t even think about your job.  Just are you and you ‘ll is a great help to others.”  Theo opened his eyes, and thought he saw a lioness out of the corner of his eye, but when he turned his head, he saw no one.

     “Rowena?”  Theo thought, “I will do my best my dear sister cub.  Now please, rest my dear, don’t worry about us here any more.  Take your well deserved rest.”

       “I’m here before my time,” Rowena’s voice said to Theo, “how can I rest when I am not tired?”  Theo smiled sadly:

       “I wish you could be back here with us,”  he said, “you could then just be a normal lioness, and I could wrap my paws around you in the biggest hug a brother can ever give his sister cub.”

       “I’m glad Jess is at peace,” Rowena mewed, “her enactment of the labour was convincing, that’s why eohippus gave you the choice.  Jess’s mind was that of a bear, but her body wasn’t a bear’s.  You had to see Jess and the mama bear having their cubs and decide which oneness’s mind was more in tune with, the human or the mama bear.  You chose the mama bear, so jess is now what she wants to be.  Jess, Chowilawu and I thank you Theo...  Now enjoy your life, and remember, I’ll be watching over you all.”  With that Rowena vanished.

        “Now it’s time for us to go from here,” Theo mewed, “we have to live our lives to the best of our abilities.”  The community all left, well nearly everyone left.  Patch, completely absorbed in playing with his hind paws, still sat on the rugs.

      “Patch?”  Theo asked, kissing the bear’s nose.  Patch looked up at Theo.

       “Oh, I’m so sorry,” he said, getting to his paws, “I was miles away.”  Theo grinned and rubbed the top of Patch’s right forepaw with his left fore:

      “I know that feeling very well,” Theo mewed.

 

Meanwhile, back in Jess’s lie up, Ekaterina and Chowilawu played together, jess watching them.

      “You two seem to know each other very well,” she said.

       “We only met a few minutes ago,” Ekaterina said, “but it feels as if I’ve known Chowilawu all my life.”  Chowilawu giggled:

      “It feels the same for me,” he said.  Jess smiled with pleasure as she watched Ekaterina playing with Chowilawu’s right hind foot.

       “You realise I hope that your cub is blind,” Nala said to jess.  Jess turned to the lioness.

       “I know,” she replied, “but how his eyes opened so quickly after his birth I don’t understand.”

       “Maybe he was overdue,” Nala suggested.

       “Overdue?”  Jess asked, “You mean late in arriving?  Well, now you come to it, I suppose he was, kind of.  That would explain the hard labour, the huge efforts I had to make to deliver him.  If Chowilawu was overdue, his eyes would have opened when unborn.”  Nala nodded:

      “Yes,” she said.  Jess looked down at her paws.

       “I loved cleaning my paws,” she said.

      “Your paws are very important,” Nala said.  Jess smiled and rolled onto her back, examining her forepaws, her hind pedalling at the air.  Nala laughed and kissed the toes of jess’s right hind foot.  Jess laughed merrily, curling the toes of the kissed paw.

       “Your mum’s waving her paws in the air again Chowilawu,” Kamchatka said.  Chowilawu laughed and crawled to his mama, clambering onto her chest, jess wrapping her paws round him in a huge hug.  Chowilawu snuggled up hard to his mum, Jess smiling and kissing her cub on his nose.

      “Kick your hind feet hard mama,” Chowilawu said.  Jess kicked hard with both hind paws.

      “I wish you could see her,” Kamchatka said.  Chowilawu smiled and said:

     “When I’m bigger, I can hold one of her hind feet while she kicks, and then I can find out how she does it,” he said, “right now, I can’t reach her hind feet when she’s lying on her back.  Now if mama was to lie on her chest, I could touch her hind feet then.”  Jess looked at Kamchatka.

      “How would it be if you hold Chowilawu in your paws and then he can feel my hind paws when I lie on my back?”  Jess asked.  Kamchatka nodded and smiled:

       “Right, but how about if you let him explore your head, back and hind feet first?”  She suggested.  So Jess lay on her chest, Chowilawu exploring her from nose to the toes of her hind feet with all four of his tiny paws.  Chowilawu clambering over his mama’s back and the sensation of his paws on the back of her neck as he stroked her fur made jess smile with sheer joy.  She loved the pressure of his tiny paws on her body; the feel of his toes as they gripped her fur was very comforting.  Chowilawu took half an hour over his scrambling, detailed exploration of nearly every inch of Jess’s head, forepaws, forelegs, shoulders, neck, back, hind legs, and hind feet.  Chowilawu eventually found jess’s hind feet, sitting on the floor, Chowilawu gently explored the sole of Jess’s right hind foot with both forepaws, feeling her sole pad and toes, then her long claws.  Jess curled her toes gently, and then tightly, Chowilawu laughing as his toes were caught in hers.

        “You’ve got soft but rough pads mama,” he said.

     “That comes of not walking much in the zoo I suppose,” Jess replied.  Chowilawu patted the heel of his mum’s left hind foot, and she lifted it slightly, Chowilawu touching the furry top of her paw.

      “Now will you roll onto your back mama?”  Chowilawu asked.  Jess did so, chow Lau keeping hold of her paw, but letting it turn in his, feeling how the scene changed.  About half way round; Chowilawu lost his mum’s paw.  Crawling to where he remembered her hind quarters to be, he found her left hock and, gripping her fur with his paws, pulled himself onto his hind paws, trying to reach her left hind foot.  Chowilawu found he couldn’t reach his mum’s foot, and soon overbalanced, falling in a heap with a squeal of indignation.  Kamchatka picked Chowilawu up and put him on Jess’s chest, the cub undaunted by his tumble.  He continued his exploration, starting with her chin, which he felt first time round, then he traced her belly, finding her forepaws crossed over it.  Picking her left forepaw up with her help, Chowilawu turned it over and kissed her pads, jess aiding rather than giving direction, for Chowilawu could not yet manipulate her paws unaided, as he was not strong enough.  Chowilawu soon reached her hind legs, jess watching him.  Kamchatka picked the cub up in her paws, sitting by jess’s right hind foot as she was.  She guided Chowilawu’s paws over his mum’s right hind leg, right down to her paw.

      “Mum,” Chowilawu said, “when I hold your hind foot in my paws, would you relax your leg and paw?”  Jess knew what he wanted to do.

       “If it gets too heavy, just drop it,” she said.  Jess held her right hind foot up in the air and soon felt her cub’s paws holding her heel as best they could.  Relaxing her leg and paw, she felt her heel settle into his cupped paws.

       “Your foot is so heavy!”  Chowilawu said after a minute, “mum, will I have as heavy paws as you?”  Jess grinned:

      “You will have heavier paws my dear,” she said.  Chowilawu used his elevated perch to explore jess’s hind foot in the toes up position rather than toes down.  Jess curled her toes gently.

       “Jess,” Kamchatka said, “now bring your hind feet up to you and hold your hind paws with your forepaws.”  Jess did, and Chowilawu explored the changed scene, jess holding it together until her cub, feeling the toes of her right forepaw holding the sole pad of her right hind, leant over from where he was sitting in Kamchatka’s paws and kissed them.  Jess began to sob quietly.

       “Why are you crying mum?”  Chowilawu asked.  Jess sniffed:

      “I’ve never been so happy,” she said.

      “I only kissed the toes of your forepaw mama,” her cub said.

     “It wasn’t just that, it was all the exploration too.”

      “You mean you don’t like me touching you?”  Chowilawu asked.  Jess swallowed hard.

       “I love you touching my nose, my paws, my belly, my back, legs, and the soles of my feet, my toes, my ears, everything!”  Jess replied.  Chowilawu smiled:

       “I loved touching you mama,” he said, “you are huge, and I am tiny.  I’ve heard you had to push hard to deliver me, why was this if you’re so big?”

       “you are big too,”  jess replied, “I had to push very hard indeed Chowilawu dear, so hard I held my hind feet with my forepaws while doing so.  It comforted me.”

       “It comforts me too,” the cub said, “for I hold my hind feet with my forepaws too mama.”  Jess felt Chowilawu’s paws exploring her right hind foot which was still held in her right forepaw.

       “I held my hind paws like this while pushing to deliver you,” Jess said, pulling back hard against her hind feet with her forepaws, Chowilawu feeling the toes of her forepaws digging into the pads of her hind.

        “So you really had to make an effort,” the cub said.  His mother smiled:

       “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” she said, “Now, I’ll let go of my hind feet and show you slowly what happens when I kick air with my hind feet if you like?”  Chowilawu nodded and sat back.  Jess took her right forepaw away from her right hind and accidentally brushed Chowilawu’s nose with the back of her paw, the cub kissing the soft fur on the back of her paw.

      “Your cub loves you mama,” Kamchatka said.  Jess smiled broadly.

       “I know mama, I know,” she replied, “I love him more than I can tell him too.  Letting him feel my body from nose to paws is the least I can do.”  Chowilawu felt Jess’s right hind foot again, and then stayed with her paw as she brought it back, bending her leg, then forward, extending her leg.  Kamchatka stayed with Jess’s kicking motion, keeping Chowilawu’s paws in range of her hind foot.

      “I know!”  He said, “Kicking is like crawling, but in the air!  How would it be if you mama, crawl a bit, then I can feel that more easily.  Kamchatka laughed:

       “Why didn’t I think of that?”  She said.

       “I’ll do that,” jess said, spinning over onto all fours.  Chowilawu then explored her left hind leg and hind paw, Jess giggling with pleasure as she felt his tiny toes stroking her paw pads.

       “Mum likes you stroking her hind feet Chowilawu,” Kamchatka said.

       “I’m sure I will like her stroking mine, so we’re equal,” the cub replied.  Jess couldn’t wait to get paws on with her cub’s hind paws.

      “Now crawl a bit mama, please,” Chowilawu said, feeling her hind legs moving, and then touching her hind paws.

       “You crawled a bit during your labour didn’t you mama,” Chowilawu said.  Jess replied that she had, and asked how her cub knew so much.

       “I’m overdue, remember?” He said, “So I felt everything.  I knew where I was, so I knew where you were too.  I came out head facing skywards; you were lying on your back holding your hind feet in your paws.  I could hear you groaning and panting.  That was a squeeze mama!”  Jess smiled:

      “I know,” she said, “but I wouldn’t change it for the world Chowilawu.”  Her cub grinned and replied:

      “Neither would me mama, if it hadn’t happened, I’d never have met you.”  Jess felt like crying again.

      “Can I explore your body and paws again mama?”  Chowilawu asked.  Jess spun over onto her back and took her cub in her forepaws.

      “You can Chowilawu; we can do this very often my cub!”  She sobbed, “I love it very much!”  Chowilawu smiled and cuddled up to jess.

 

 

I love seeing my daughter so happy,” Kamchatka thought.  Leaning over her daughter cub, Kamchatka kissed Chowilawu’s ear and then his mum’s nose.

      “I love you both,” she said softly.

      “Kuruk love Jess too!”  Kuruk said, running in and sitting down, taking his sister’s right hind foot in his forepaws.

       “I love your touch Kuruk,” Jess sighed, pressing her toes into his paws.  Ekaterina crawled to Jess’s left hind foot and tickled the sole, Jess laughing helplessly.

       “Stroke my paw!”  She laughed.  Ekaterina massaged Jess’s pads, and then kissed her toes.

     “There,” she said.  Jess became serious.

       Kamchatka,” she said, “Have you ever let Ekaterina explore you with her paws?”  Kamchatka sighed heavily.

       No,”Kamchatka replied, “I’ve hugged her; she’s played with my paws n’all, but not, not found out about me like your cub found out about you.  It’s too late now anyway, she’s too big, she’d hurt me if she tried clambering over my body.”

        “I explored Conrad,” Ekaterina said, “but never have you let me explore you with my paws mum.”  Ekaterina’s paws became still on Jess’s left hind foot.

       “Why didn’t you ask?”  Kamchatka asked.  Ekaterina suddenly felt tearful.

       “It’s not up to me to ask for that,” she said, “I’ve wanted to, but, but, I can’t ask that!  Conrad, he, he, he let me, told me I could, could get paws on with him from nose to the pads of his hind paws.”  Ekaterina was crying openly now, but could not request her mum to let her stroke her head, body and paws.

       “Why you no let Ekaterina do exploration with paws,” Kuruk asked his mama.

      “I never thought she’d want to,” Kamchatka replied.

       “Most cubs can see their mama,” Ekaterina said, “I’d only do it once, only once!  It’s private, it’s intimate, it’s what Chowilawu and I have been doing today, and Kuruk and I before that too, but we’re cubs!  Well Kuruk’s not, but we don’t care mama!  I know him from nose to paws, he knows me by touch too!  Is it a sighted bear thing?  Noone gets paws on unless they’re trying for cubs?  Is it that you think the touch of another’s paws can’t be friendly?  Undemanding? Inquisitive but respectful of dignity?  I Wan’a know why you never asked me mama!”  Ekaterina yelled.

       “It’s not, not something which crossed my mind,” Kamchatka said, trying to touch Ekaterina, who shook her off.

       “No, no!”  Ekaterina sobbed.

        “Ekaterina dear, please!”  Kamchatka begged.

       “No mum, it’s too much right now.  Didn’t Conrad tell you what he’d done for me? Didn’t you see him letting me touch him?”

      “I did, and he did talk to me about it,” Kamchatka admitted, “but, but you were getting too big by the time, the time I considered it.”

       “Which was when you suggested Chowilawu cub do thing,” Kuruk said, finishing it.  Kamchatka roared with pain and ran from the lie up.

       “I feel cheated,” Ekaterina sobbed.

       “Mama isn’t a blind bear Ekaterina,” jess said.”

       “That’s not the point and you know it Jess!”  Ekaterina yelled.

       “But you could explore her now, I’m sure she’d let you,” jess said lamely.

       “she should have let me when I was younger,”  Ekaterina sobbed, “I couldn’t do it now, I’d not be able to run my paws over my mama’s body and paws now, it’s not the done thing for a nearly half grown cub to do such a thing, blind or not.  Young cubs yes, but, but not older ones.  I just want to know why she didn’t ask me when I was able to do such things.”

      “Why you no stroke mama Kamchatka from nose to tail then?”  Kuruk asked, “She let you I’m sure.”

       “I don’t know if she would,” Ekaterina sniffed:

       “I know Conrad very well, because, because we’re comfortable with each other, we rough and tumble all the time, and I have run my paws all over his body without worry.  We’ve played games where he’s let me hold his paws tightly, and he’s struggled to free them for hours, twisting and tugging, puffing and panting, curling his toes and fighting madly.  I’ve even had him simulate trying to bite my paw to release his.  We’re that intimate that I know he won’t harm me, I can play with his paws, open his mouth, touch his teeth, explore his face with my paws, all that, and he won’t harm me.  I’ve never done that with mum, and she’s the one a cub’s meant to be most intimate with.  I can’t be that, Conrad’s the one I’m intimate with these days.”

      “I love when you touch me from my nose to my paw pads with your paws Ekaterina,” Chowilawu said.  Ekaterina crawled to Chowilawu’s side, lifting him off Jess’s chest and hugging him tightly.

       “I know you do,” she said, “and I love when you touch me from nose to paws. We’re one on that front.”  Kamchatka, feeling awkward, padded away.

 

Soon, in their lie up, Kamchatka and Conrad were conversing.

      “You mean you never invited Ekaterina to find out about your body? How big you are, how tall you are? How big your ears and paws are?”  Conrad asked.  Kamchatka shook her head.

       “I know you have done this for her,” she said, “but me, not yet.”  Conrad looked at his mate.

      “If someone could wipe your memory of everyone you ever knew and darken your days,” he said, and then you’d know how important this is to me, her and little Chowilawu!”

       “You what?”  Kamchatka asked, “What the hell are you on about Conrad?  This is very violent talk from you my dear and I want to get to the bottom of it, and right now too!”

       “Bloody hell Kamchatka!”  Conrad yelled, “can’t you, can’t you work it out for yourself? For Eohippus sake!”

       “You mean, mean you’re losing your sight?”  Kamchatka asked dumbly.

      “have been totally blind for a day or two now,” he said, can’t see a dam thing now, but, but I’m coping well,” Conrad replied.

       “Why didn’t I notice?”  Kamchatka asked, “We mated last night, first time since Ekaterina’s birth, and I didn’t notice a thing wrong.  Why?”

      “Why do you think?”  Conrad asked, “I love you physically and emotionally not visually Kamchatka, I can’t love you any other way!  I’ve never loved a female visually, for, for I knew I’d lose it in the end, and what’s the point of relying on something you were sure you would lose?  Why do you think I was so shit at hunting in the wild?  I couldn’t get dependant on something I knew I’d lose.”

       “So Ekaterina’s infected by whatever you have?”  Kamchatka snapped.

      “No,” Conrad sobbed, “she was, was damaged when she got stuck at birth.  I know this; I’ve researched it on the internet.  Her head was soft when she was born, soft enough to be compressed during labour.  When she got stuck, the compression was enough to destroy her optic nerves.  Mine, my condition, I, I, well, I walked over a patch of oiled beach early in my time on the ice.  Forgetting the oil in the race for food I rubbed my eyes later that day with my paws still covered in oil, and they burned like fire!  I tried to wash my eyes with water, but that had oil in it too, and things got worse.  I had blurred vision for days after, but then it cleared up.  It’s only recently I’ve been having serious problems.  Now, now I can’t see a thing; I can’t see you, or even my own paws.  Though I love you Kamchatka, I love you now as I always have, for, for I know your mind, your body, and your paws, I love everything about you!”  Kamchatka felt raging grief and fear.  She couldn’t imagine not seeing her surroundings.

     “Conrad,” she said, “I’m sorry.”

      “Why do you think I was so tactile with Ekaterina?”  Conrad asked.

      “It all fits now,” Kamchatka said, “you and she never lose physical contact when you play.  I thought it was because you’d made an effort to be that way with her, not that, that you had to be that way.  Do you like it?  Do you mind being so paws on?”

       “I love it Kamchatka, I love it more than I can say!  Looks are so shallow, one slash from a claw and good looks are destroyed.  I thought this community taught that, or something like it?  When you took my paw that first time, I thought you’d realised my difficulties.  I thought you knew!  Now, Now I know you didn’t realise.”

      “So what the hell do you expect me to do now?”  Kamchatka asked, “I’ve got a cub that’s blind, and my mate is hiding things like the fact he can’t see me.  What use are you Conrad!  If one blind member of the family wasn’t bad enough!”

       “Don’t say that, don’t say that!”  Conrad sobbed.

       “You’d better be mucking about!”  Kamchatka screamed, lashing out with her paw in sudden rage!  Conrad took the slap, he hadn’t much choice, for he heard her paw coming, but couldn’t move anywhere in time.  His lip bleeding, he turned his head to his mate.

       “I’m going to see Ekaterina,” Conrad said.

      “NO you don’t!”  Kamchatka screamed, “I want her to know her sire’s holding things back from her!”

       “You’ve no need to tell me that,” Ekaterina said, “for he’s held nothing back at all mama.  I never thought Conrad could see.  I thought he was like me.”

       “I used what sight I had,” Conrad said, “but I didn’t use it much.  In the last few weeks it’s been failing fast, and on the day of the wave machine, where you and Ekaterina got swamped, I finally lost every bit of vision.  I can cope though.”

     “No you can’t!”  Kamchatka screamed, “You can’t, you’re bloody useless!”

    “Shut up mum!”  Ekaterina yelled, Kamchatka losing her temper, slapping her youngest cub hard with her paw.  With a roar of rage from Ekaterina, the situation turned into a fight between mother and cub, which Ekaterina won.  Growling and snarling, Kamchatka lay on the floor.

        “What’s all this screaming about?”  Chowilawu yelled, crawling into the lie up.

        “Mind your own bloody business!”  Kamchatka growled.

       “Leave here Chowilawu,” Ekaterina said shakily, “I’ll come find you in a bit.”

      “What’s happened?”  The cub asked, beginning to cry.

      “Leave, now!”  Kamchatka commanded.  The cub turning and crawling away as fast as he could.

       “Where did you learn all that defence stuff Ekaterina?”  Kamchatka asked, for her cub had got the upper paw and thrown her mother to the floor pretty soon after the fight started.

      “Can’t you guess?”  Ekaterina replied.

        “You taught her to fight!”  Kamchatka yelled into Conrad’s face.

      “I taught her to defend herself,” Conrad said mildly, “there is a difference.”  Kamchatka still angry, snorted:

      “Even so, screw the difference, she still beat me!”

        “Mum, please, accept Conrad for who he is.  If, if you were to throw him out, I don’t know what I’d do.  I love you both, but if Conrad’s thrown out, I’d hate you forever mum, for there’s no reason, no need.  He’s done nothing wrong.”

       “He didn’t tell me he was blind, and that’s wrong!”  Kamchatka yelled.

       “In all honesty,” Ekaterina said, “being completely honest with you mum, does it really matter?  How do you two find pleasure?  Does it make you love him any less?”

        “I don’t know,” she said, “I want a mate who can see me!”

     “He can, with his paws,” Ekaterina replied.  Kamchatka leapt to her feet, intent on slapping her cub, when the lights went out!

      “I can’t see a dam thing!”  Kamchatka screamed.

       “Follow me mama,” Ekaterina said.  Kamchatka hesitated:

      “But you can’t see anything!”  She squealed.

       Exactly,” Ekaterina replied, “now you are at the mercy of Conrad and me.”  Kamchatka began wailing with fear and terror.

       “I’m scared of the dark!”  She yelled.

        “Are you?”  Conrad asked.”

       “Some idiot has cut the cable to the house!”  Theo yelled down the corridor, “we have emergency lighting, the CCTV is on infrared.  The thing is its pitch dark in the lie ups!”

        “Time for some exploration with the paws me thinks,” Ekaterina said.  Kamchatka whimpered with anxiety.

       “I can’t see a thing, I can’t see a thing!”  She squealed.

        “Take my paw and see where you end up,” Conrad said.  Kamchatka found herself clinging to her mate.

      “I’m so scared!”  She yelled, “I’ve not been so scared since Ekaterina’s birth! ‘ow’w’w’w’w’w’w’w’w’w’w’w’w!”  Ekaterina touched her mum’s right hind foot, for she’d collapsed on the rugs.

     “What was that?”  Kamchatka screamed, “Something, something touched the sole of my right hind foot!”

      “It was my paw,” Ekaterina replied.  Kamchatka covered her face with her paws and screamed hysterically.

        “Mama, Shhh,” Ekaterina whispered into her ear, Kamchatka burying her head in her daughter cub’s shoulder while still screaming.

       “Mama, dear mama, Shhh, hush, Shhh,” Ekaterina said softly, Kamchatka eventually calming down enough to listen to her cub.

       “it’s going to be okay,”  Ekaterina said, “let’s go to jess’s lie up and maybe we can find Patch and Kuruk as well as Jess and Chowilawu.  Kamchatka whimpered and clung to Ekaterina even harder.

       “Don’t, don’t leave me, and don’t let me go!”  Kamchatka begged.

       “I don’t know Ekaterina,” Conrad said airily.  The lights go out, and the whole show starts falling to bits.”

       “It’s all right for you!”  Kamchatka sobbed, now more upset than she’d been since Conrad’s news, you two are used to it, and if they’ve cut the power to the lights, we’re all going to fall down the stairs and crash into each other, and fall over, and it will be horrible, and there will be all kinds of trouble, and I’ve had enough, and I’m going!”  Kamchatka broke away.  Ekaterina yelled:

     “Mum!  There’s a,” then Kamchatka’s scream of rage and pain drowned out her next words, “wall there.”  Kamchatka rubbed her nose while swearing loudly and fluently.  She’d reached a minute without repeating herself when Conrad padded up to her and took her paw, making her shriek with fright!

       “It’s me Kamchatka love,” he said.  Kamchatka buried her head in his shoulder, sobbing and screaming.

       Kamchatka love,” Conrad said softly, “let me guide you, let me help you, please!”  Kamchatka wept into his fur.

       “Hey grandmamma Kamchatka!”  Chowilawu said, “why all the screaming and crying, you having a cub?”  Kamchatka found herself laughing.

      “No Chowilawu,” she replied, sniffing hard, “it’s, it’s silly really, the lights have gone out, and I can’t cope!”

       “You mean you’re like Ekaterina and me,” he said.

      “How do you know what the lights going out would do to sighted creatures?”  Kamchatka asked.

       “I heard other community members screaming, the only ones who aren’t are me, Ekaterina, Conrad, and two tigers.  We’re fine.  Oh, and Theo too.  Everyone else is losing their heads!”

       “Well everyone shut up!”  Conrad screamed into the passage.  The noise diminished.

        “I’m going exploring,” Chowilawu said, “Ekaterina, Conrad, you coming with me?”

      “No Chowilawu, no, don’t take them!”  Kamchatka pleaded.

       “My mama is okay with the dark,” he said, “so she’s playing with her hind paws.  Let’s go you two!”

       “No, no please!”  Kamchatka begged.  Chowilawu padded from the room, very confused as to all the screaming.

       “I must get out of here and find my own entertainment,” he thought.  Crawling round the corner formed when one passage joined another, Chowilawu heard a whimper and then a groan.  Crawling towards the sound, he found himself in a lie up.  The sound came from somewhere in front of him.  Listening, he heard something rustle, then a sob, whimper and groan as before.

      “What’s going on?”  Chowilawu asked.

       “Bad bellyache,” Weici gasped, “Geming has gone for help, but I don’t know where he’s got to!  I’m, I’m in pain and the lights have gone out!  Oooowwwwwwwwwwwwwwooooooahhhh! ooooaoooah!  Must strain, get rid of whatever’s constipating me, and do it now!”  Weici growled with effort, Chowilawu listening carefully.  He heard her paws scrabbling, then Weici growling and panting.  Then he heard Weici squeal as she felt liquid run down her hind legs.

     “Whatever it is is coming out!”  She wailed, “ow, ouww’w’w’w’w’w’w’w’w’w’wwww!  Chowilawu crawled towards the sound of Weici’s panting, encountering the female panda’s right hind foot.

      “She’s lying on her right side, and probably giving birth to a cub,” he thought.

      “What’s that touching my paw?”  Weici asked in a strangled voice.

      “It’s my paw,” Chowilawu replied, “my name’s Chowilawu”

       “I’m Weici,” the panda panted, “You’re Jess’s, Jess’s cub, Oooh, must push, must try and relieve myself!  Can’t, can’t make it anywhere now, too late, too late!  Oaw’w’w’w’w’w’w’w!  Chowilawu reached forward with his paws, feeling something warm and wet touch them.  Investigating, he found a tiny set of paws.

      “You’re having a cub mama!”  Chowilawu said excitedly.

      “No, can’t be,” Weici panted, curling the toes of all four paws, “can’t be a cub!  Geming and I are unable to have them!  Must, must push down though, erhrhrhrhrhrhrhrhf! Owhwhwhwhwhwhwhwhwow’w’w’w’w’w’w’w’w!  Chowilawu caught the cub as Weici bore down strongly.  Screaming, she pushed and pushed, her forepaws gripping the rug, hind feet scrabbling at Chowilawu’s tiny ones.

        “One more push mama,” Chowilawu encouraged, Weici screaming and roaring with effort.

       Oooooowhwhwhwhwhwhwhw! Ooooooaouw’w’w’w’w’w’w’w’w!”  She yelled.  Chowilawu then forgot the fact his ears were hurting and his paws were covered in fluid, for he had a live panda cub in his embrace, the cub was enormous! But then that wasn’t news, for hadn’t his mum screamed and roared like the mama panda had, and hadn’t mama Jess told Chowilawu that he’d been a big cub at birth?  Chowilawu hugged the wet little bundle to him, the panda cub snuggling tightly up to him.

       “I’m cold, my paws are freezing!”  It complained.  Chowilawu dried the cub off with a corner of the rug.

       “You have a cub mama Weici!” he said.  Weici reached for her cub, Chowilawu placing it in her paws.

      “There you are,” he said.

      “Chowilawu, thank you for helping me,” Weici said.  Chowilawu felt his way to Weici’s nose and kissed it, sweat and all.  Then, he gently kissed the sole and toes of her right hind foot.

      “Why are you kissing my pads, it feels great, but why kiss a panda’s hind paw?” Weici asked.

       “You have your forepaws full of cub,” Chowilawu said.

     “What’s going on!”  Geming asked, coming slowly into the lie up,   “I heard you Screaming Weici, horrible screaming and grunting!”

      “We have a cub now,” Weici said.  Geming stared at her in the semi darkness.

       “How?”  He asked, “We can’t have cubs!  Can we?”

       “That belly ache I had been actually labour pain,” Weici replied, “I screamed and pushed while you were gone, and this polar bear heard me and helped me.  He caught my cub as I delivered it.  Geming turned to Chowilawu and found him with his paws.

       “You’re, you’re a cub!”  He exclaimed.

       “I am,” Chowilawu replied, “but I still helped your mate give birth to her cub.”  Shouts of

     “Conrad coming through!”  Announced Conrad’s arrival, who padded in then, having been alerted to the goings on by Theo who’d seen everything from the infra red cameras.

       “Chowilawu!”  He panted, having run from the control room, shouting the whole way in case some petrified community member was blundering about the corridors.  Now he was quieter, listening to the sound of a newborn cub taking his first drink.

       “You helped a panda give birth to her cub Chowilawu,” Conrad said in wonder.

       “I did,” Chowilawu replied.

       “I’m so proud of you,” he said.

      “But Grandsire Conrad, I did nothing special.”

       “Yes you did,” Weici said, “you stayed with me little one, you soothed and encouraged me to push, you caught the cub and held him, you dried his fur.  Well done and thank you.”  Kamchatka and Jess padded into the lie up then, Jess leading her terrified mum by the paw.

       “I hear you’ve been a bit of a hero,” she said to Chowilawu, who hid his head in embarrassment.

       “Don’t mum,” he whimpered.

       “I’m proud of you my dear cub,” Jess said, finding Chowilawu with her paws and kissing his nose.

       “I can’t stand all this darkness!”  Kamchatka screamed.

        “Well you could go outside,” Ekaterina said, padding into the lie up, “though it doesn’t make any difference for me, Chowilawu or Conrad if we’re outside or not.

      “Why not lie down and close your eyes?”  Conrad yawned.

       “How can you be so calm?”  Kamchatka asked, lying down on the rugs so she couldn’t fall anywhere.

        “I’m calm because this is my world,” Conrad said gently, taking hold of Kamchatka’s right forepaw.

      “Hold me Conrad, hold me tight!”  Kamchatka begged, burying her face in his shoulder.  Conrad held his mate tightly, Kamchatka snuggling close.

       “It’s dark, scary, and I’m so terrified I could go mad!”  Kamchatka sobbed.

      “Shhh Kamchatka, hush my dear, peace,” Conrad whispered softly.  Kamchatka whimpered a bit, but soon was silent, her whole body shaking.

        “My paws are freezing,” she whimpered, panting hard, “I’m losing it Conrad!”  Conrad kissed her nose.

       “You’re safe,” he said softly, “I’ll keep you safe, I promise.”  Kamchatka breathed deeply, fighting to keep calm.

        “I need you Conrad,” she sobbed, “Hold me tightly, don’t let me go!”  Conrad kissed her nose, then the toes of her forepaws.

       “I love you Kamchatka,” Conrad whispered, “I love you so much, please, please forgive me for not telling you of my sight loss.”  Kamchatka took a deep breath.

        “I forgive you,” she said, “It’s not the end of the world.  You still love me, I still love you.”  Conrad kissed her nose, and Kamchatka kissed his nose in return.

       “I think the lights will be out for some time,” Nanuq senior said to the community via the PA system, “time to use your paws I think.”  Kamchatka, now calm, wriggled free of Conrad’s embraced, and then hugged him tightly.

       “I love you Conrad,” she said softly, “I love you so much!”  Conrad kissed her nose.

         “I love you more than I can tell you Kamchatka,” Conrad said gently.  Kamchatka felt his strong body in her embrace, his breath on her cheek, and his fur beneath her paws.

        “Can, can I play with your paws Conrad?”  Kamchatka asked.  Conrad nuzzled her ear:

       “Find them in the dark, and they’re all yours to play with,” he said.  Kamchatka sat up, tracing down Conrad’s body until she found his right hind foot.  Conrad sat up, Kamchatka taking the male bear’s right hind foot and resting it on her left hind leg before playing with his toes and stroking his pads.  Conrad curled his toes, feeling Kamchatka’s paws exploring his hind foot.

        “I love this,” Conrad said softly.

      “Where’s Ekaterina?”  Kamchatka asked.  Conrad pressed his toes into Kamchatka’s hind paws.

        “I’m here mama,” Ekaterina said.  Kamchatka felt her daughter cub’s paw taking her right hind foot in their warm embrace.

        “Ekaterina,” she said, “I’m sorry I never let you explore my body with your paws.  Now, now I know how important that is, please, run your paws from my nose to my toes.”  Ekaterina stroked her mum’s right hind foot.

      “Once things are calmer, I’ll take you up on your offer,” Ekaterina said.  Kamchatka smiled in the darkness, her cub and mate feeding comfort to her through contact with her paws and theirs.

        “I have been so stupid over this,”  Kamchatka said, “I’m meant to be the fountain of all reason to my ursine family, and I react to my mate’s disability like he’s a contagious infection, and I can’t even bring myself to let my cub stroke me from nose to tail.  I’m also scared of the dark, a world in which a cub can deliver another’s cub, and a male bear can still love his stupid mate.”

 

Meanwhile, Theo rested in his lie up.  He had been informed that there was nothing physically wrong with the lighting in the lie ups, so there could only be one other explanation as to why the lie ups had gone dark.  The lion had heard and observed Kamchatka’s reaction to her mate’s disclosure of his disability; Theo thought that maybe eohippus was testing Kamchatka to her limit?  Theo stretched his paws one by one.

       “I’m sure Conrad and Ekaterina will pull Kamchatka through this,” he thought.

 

Meanwhile, Kuruk and Patch sat in Kamchatka’s lie up.  Pitch dark as it was, there was still light coming from emergency floor lighting in the passage.  Kuruk drew a curtain which all lie ups had at their entrances, across the gap, blocking out all light.  Crawling back to Patch, the two brothers sat together, each now unable to see the other.

       “Now let’s explore each other’s bodies and paws shall we?”  Patch suggested.  Kuruk touched his brother’s right hind foot with his left forepaw.

      “Let’s do thing gently and slowly,” Kuruk said.  So very gently, Kuruk explored Patch’s right hind foot with his forepaws, touching the furred top of his paw, then his toes, then the pads on the sole of his paw.  Patch found himself closing his eyes even though he could see nothing.  Patch felt his toes curling slightly at the touch of his brother’s paw.  Patch couldn’t stop them from curling slightly, and he knew what it meant.

       “I’m enjoying this,” Patch thought, unashamed at his feelings, “I feel safe letting Kuruk have complete control of my paws.  Indeed, I like him having complete control.  I even want it.”  Patch felt Kuruk stroke the sole pad of his right hind foot.  Sighing deeply, he lay back, letting Kuruk carry on his massage.  Kuruk took care to massage all four of Patch’s paws, then once he’d found out everything there was to know about them, he began tracing Patch’s body from his nose, to the soles of his hind feet.  Patch, now half asleep, couldn’t help wriggling with pleasure as Kuruk’s paws enveloped him in a huge hug half way through the exploration of the front of his body.  Patch let his brother embrace him, snuggling into his hug, obeying his instinct, wanting warmth, security, and a loving touches.  Kuruk kissed his brother’s nose, Patch feeling tears filling his eyes.

        “I’ve gone all silly,” patch choked, “this is stupid, crying like this.”  Kuruk stroked patch’s forepaws.

       “Patch feeling silly?”  Kuruk asked.  Patch sniffed:

       “I feel as if this was how things was when I was a cub,” he said.

      “It was,” Kuruk replied, “Kuruk love you then, and he love you now too.”  Patch smiled:

       “When you began exploring my paws,” he said, “the feeling was amazing.  I felt so safe, so comforted.”

        “Kuruk know this,” Kuruk replied.

      “I want to return the favour,” patch said.  Kuruk nodded:

      “You can do thing,” he said, “when Kuruk finish massaging paws of patch that be.  Though he no knows when Patch wants him finish thing, so Kuruk be here for long time yet maybe.”  Patch sat up and, shaking his paw free of his brother’s, embraced Kuruk tightly, the huge grizzly bear returning his hug.

       “Kuruk been looking forward to having hug from Patch,” Kuruk said.  Patch increased his embrace a little, embracing Kuruk with all his strength.

      “Surely you are not the bear who’s killed two community bears?”  Patch asked.  Kuruk nuzzled his ear:

       “Kuruk only kill when there be no other thing do,”  he said, “Kuruk no want kill young Brunetta or Arki, but they endanger cubs, they be mad bears, so Kuruk take them out before they do harm to sister Ekaterina or cousin Chowilawu.  Please Patch, don’t SAY thing again.  Kuruk not proud of, or want to be killing them, it be thing he have do for family.  Now he able to do thing he really want do, which is hug Patch brother and Ekaterina sister too.  Play with Chowilawu cub also, as well as sister Jess.  Kuruk want play with jess some time soon.  She seems to have grown into playful mama bear.”

      “She has, if what we’ve seen is any indication,” Patch said.

      “So why not play with me?”  Jess asked, padding into the lie up.  Patch waited for her to touch his paw, then he let go of Kuruk, allowing Jess to hug her eldest tightly...

      “Can Kuruk stroke paws of sister Jess?”  Kuruk asked.  Jess, sitting down as she was, touched Kuruk’s right hind foot with the toes of her left hind.

       “My paws want to be played with,” she said, “take your time Kuruk, if you don’t, I’ll be furious!”  Kuruk picked up her right hind foot, rested it on his left hind leg, and began massaging her pads and playing with her toes.

      “Kuruk hear mama jess hold hind feet in forepaws when in labour,” Kuruk said, tracing round the sole pad of her right hind paw with his left fore.

       “Want me to do that now?”  She asked.  Kuruk blew on her toes, Jess giggling.

      “Only if you give Kuruk reassurance little Chowilawu cub is safe,” Kuruk said.

       “He’s safe with mama Kamchatka and Conrad,” Jess replied.

      “Okay, now jess can do hind paw holding thing,” Kuruk said.  Jess laughed merrily at him.

      “Here goes,” she said, settling down on her back, before drawing her hind feet to her and reaching for them with her forepaws.

      “Right, I’m comfortable now,” she said, adjusting her hold on her hind feet a bit.  Kuruk was the first to get paws on with Jess, Jess giggling as his paws touched her hind feet and the toes of her forepaws.

      “That feels wonderful!”  She exclaimed.  Kuruk stroked Jess’s hind paws and the toes of her forepaws which held tightly onto the sole pads of her hind, making Jess smile.

      “I love all this paw contact,” she said.  Patch then took his turn, rubbing Jess’s hind feet and the toes of her forepaws, Jess suddenly releasing her hold on her hind paws before quickly rolling onto her backside and embracing her brother cub with her forepaws.

      “We need to get more paws on with each other,” jess said.  Patch hugged his sister tenderly.

 

Meanwhile, Chowilawu and Weici were talking.  The mama panda, having fed her newborn cub, clearly thought of the polar bear cub as some kind of hero for rescuing her and her cub in the pitch dark.

       “What do you suggest I name my cub?”  She asked.  Chowilawu, now out of his depth, replied:

      “Well I don’t know, you’re the cub’s mama, find out whether the cub’s male or female and name it.”  Weici hugged her cub to her.

      “He’s male,” she said, “and I think I’ll name him Shen.”  Chowilawu giggled:

       “You didn’t need my help did you,” he said.  Weici laughed.

 

“So what do you think has caused this blackout?”  Samson asked fleur.

      “Vet a strange feeling,” she replied, “a feeling that Eohippus has something to do with it.  Didn’t you hear Kamchatka’s denunciation of her mate and cub when Conrad told her he was blind?  Maybe this is to teach her a lesson?”  Samson smiled and embraced his mate.

       “I love you lights on or off,” he said.  Fleur snuggled up to Samson.

 

Meanwhile, back in Kamchatka’s lie up, Kamchatka and Conrad lay together, Ekaterina sitting not to far off.  Kamchatka, her paws in those of her mate, was rapidly getting used to the idea of exploring with her paws rather than her eyes.  She’d already run her paws from Conrad’s nose to the pads on the soles of his hind feet, and he likewise had explored her.

      “Now will you let your cub explore your body from nose to hind paw pads?”  Conrad asked.  Kamchatka replied that she would indeed let her cub do so.  Ekaterina padded forward, touching her mum’s right forepaw then her nose.  Then, bit by bit, gently and with respect, Ekaterina traced her mum’s body with her forepaws, from her nose, to the toes of her hind feet.  Kamchatka found she enjoyed the sensation, which made her think hard about her own lack of consideration for her cub.

       “I’m sorry I’ve not allowed this before,” Kamchatka said.  Ekaterina hugged her mum tightly.

       “Please mama,” Ekaterina begged, “tells me, tell me where you and Conrad are going from now on?”  Kamchatka knew her anger at Conrad had affected her cub far more than anything else which had taken place that day.

       “Nothing has changed,” Kamchatka replied, “nothing has changed Ekaterina love.  I love him now as much as I always did.  I was stupid to say what I said.  I know that now.  Eohippus has shown me how stupid and thoughtless my words were.  I will even make a point of switching the lights off in our lie up at night from now on.  I never used to do that through fear, but I have no fear of the dark any more.  Conrad has shown me there is nothing to fear, and has told me that if I get frightened, he will take my paw and guide Me.”  Chowilawu smiled and kissed Kamchatka’s nose.

      “There is nothing to fear in the dark,” he said.

 

 

 

To go to the list of diary entries:

 

Click here

 

To go to the site homepage:

 

Click here

 

To send mail

 

 

Click here

 

Martin Wilsher © 2008

 

 

This website is hosted by 34sp.com