Extending the family.

 

Reaching the door of the house, Nuru tore it open to find a large bear standing on the threshold.

      “What can we do for you?”  Nuru asked.  The bear bowed slightly, and replied:

       “I come far, eat of many places, raid big tins for food, and now am exhausted.  Ship sank from under paws, and made me swim to land, and then I come here after raiding many big tins and sleeping in cold places.  Now I am exhausted and need a warm, safe place to rest.  This big brick home seem safe, and I see many creatures coming and going.  They seem friendly, and I approach big home of these creatures in hope.  Now I stand before you after walking through many sunrises and sunsets, with paws sore, and mind wishing for long sleep.”

       “Oh for Eohippus sake!”  Helga groaned, not another bear who can’t speak English, we have enough with Kuruk!”  Nuru, snarling, turned on the bear.

      “Shut up!”  He roared.

        “No I won’t!”  Helga squealed, stamping her feet like a cub.

     “Yes you will!”  Kamchatka snapped, lifting Helga off her feet and dumping her on the floor.

        “Now my dear,” Kamchatka said, padding through the throng to the now shivering bear.

       “Come,” she said, “we can at least give you food and drink.”   The bear padded into the house, tripping on the step into the corridor, and landing in a heap.

        “You looked exhausted my dear,” Kamchatka said, resting her paw on the newcomer’s shoulder.

        “Let me get up off the floor,” the bear said, greatly embarrassed by his stumble.

       “Come,” Kamchatka said gently.  The bear padded after his friend, while Kenny and Flocke stared after the newcomer.

        “Just look at the majesty of that bear!”  Kenny said.

         “Just look at that face, and those paws!”  Flocke remarked, “He’s so sad, those eyes just melt your heart!”  Kenny smiled slightly, for he felt the same way, but could not admit it with Nuru and suddenly Kuruk around.

        “Those paws too,” Flocke, continued, “I saw the bear’s pads, they are thick and well travelled.”

        “I wanted to stroke them,” Kenny admitted, “but now isn’t the time.”

      “He’s cross bred,” Patch said matter of factly, “I saw his toes, and they are covered in fur.  Mine are slightly furred also, as are Nanuq’s.”

 

 

Kamchatka took the newcomer into the house and gave him food.

      “What’s your name?”  Kamchatka asked the newcomer when he was sitting eating.

      “Chow Mein,” was the bear’s response.  Kamchatka laughed slightly, despite her attempts not to.

       “You must be joking,” she asked, before she could stop herself.  Chow Mein looked into the mama bear’s face.

       “My mama never gave me birth name,” the bear replied, “Chow Mein the only name I’ve ever had.”

        “Chow Mein means fried noodles,” Geming said, padding into the lie up, “maybe that’s what he liked to eat?”  Chow Mein looked at Geming.

        “It was a name that was given to me after a moggie found me eating from Chinese food house,” Chow Mein replied.  Kamchatka smiled and became thoughtful.

       “How do you like the food we eat here?”  She asked.  Chow Mein smiled:

      “It’s good food,” he replied.

      “But you did eat noodles,” Geming asked.  Chow Mein smiled and nodded.

       “I eat noodles yes,” Chow Mein replied.  Sid burst in.

       “Aha!”  He yelled, clapping his paws, “now I can put my cooking skills to good use, someone who appreciates good food has arrived!  At last!  Chow Mein, I solute you!”  Chow Mein looked at Sid.

       “You eat noodles too?”  He asked.  Sid shook his head:

      “No, but I can cook them!”  He roared into Chow Mein’s face.

      “Leave him!”  Kamchatka snapped.  Sid looked at the mama bear.

        “I go cook!”  Sid said, running from the room.

        “So now you’ve got him on the hop,” Kamchatka said gently, “maybe we’ll get some interesting food here.”

         “Maybe he not wanting to try new things,” Chow Mein replied, “maybe he thinks you no want his skills as a cook.  Now I come, and he can try things, for I eat anything.  I thought grizzly mama eat various things too?”  Kamchatka nodded:

      “I would if they’d be provided,” she said, “but they aren’t here, and so I just live on what’s available, it’s well enough here.”

     “Now you no know about how Chinese food houses work?”  Chow Mein asked.  Kamchatka shook her head:

        “Well,”  Chow Mein said, rubbing his paws together, “you go there, and you ask for the foods, you see them on big board, and you say, I want this, this and this, and a bit of that.  You see.  But then this and that change from time to time, so there’s always variety.”  Kamchatka looked confused.

      “So there are many things you can have with noodles?”  Kamchatka asked.  Chow Mein smiled and hugged Kamchatka in his paws, to the she bear’s astonishment.

     “Hey!”  She exclaimed, but relaxed as she felt Chow mien’s instant friendliness.

         “Now I am fed, I can greet you in the way I know how,” Chow Mein said.  Kamchatka smiled.

       “So a method of greeting in your tradition is to throw your paws around the newcomer?”  She asked.  Chow Mein smiled and nodded.

        “So what do we do with him?”  Nuru asked, padding in with a bucket in his mouth, from which a gentle and aromatic steam rose.

        “Sid said this is your food Chow Mein,” Nuru said, dumping the bucket at Chow Mein’s feet.  Chow Mein looked into the bucket, sniffed appreciatively at the contents, and then offered the bucket to Kamchatka.

       “Come, eat,” he said.  Kamchatka cautiously took a small paw full of the mix, feeling the heat burning her pads.

 

      “Lovely,” SHE said, while Chow Mein dug in with eager paws.

        “This is lovely,” HE said, eating eagerly.  Looking up from the bucket, Chow Mein saw Kenny and Flocke watching him.

       “Do you find me INTERESTING?”  He asked.  Kenny looked EMBARRASSED.

        “We’re sorry,” HE said, “but you are INTERESTING to us.”  Chow Mein finished his meal and Kamchatka helped him wash his paws.

        “Now I need to rest,” Chow Mein said, “then I will answer your questions, and then, maybe I’ll leave for another place.”

        “No you won’t,” SHANG HI said, padding in.  Chow Mein looked up at the sound of Shang Hi’s voice.

       “You survived?”  Chow Mein asked, his eyes filling with tears.  Shang Hi smiled and padded to the now weeping brown bear.

        “I did,” HE said, as Chow Mein threw his paws around him and hugged him tightly.

        “You knew each other?”  Kenny asked.  Shang Hi smiled and nodded:

      “We did,” HE said, “we were on the same SHIP; I jumped ship before it sank.  I leapt off on an island.  Then found my way here.”

      “I swam after the boat sank,” Chow Mein replied, sniffing slightly.

      “You’re here now, safe, I promise,” SHANG Hi said.  Chow Mein smiled through his tears.

      “Now let’s get you washed and you can rest,” SHANG Hi said.  Chow Mein padded to the relieving place, then to the shower where he washed himself from ears to paws.  Once dried, he settled down in Shang Hi’s lie up and was soon asleep.

       “He’s so handsome,” FLOCKE said to Kenny of Chow Mein, Kenny smiling broadly.

         “I know, I’m ENVIOUS,” HE replied.

       “You’re handsome too,” FLOCKE said.  Kenny hugged her:

      “But my fur is not as long as his, just look at the fur on those paws!  Wow!”  Flocke smiled and nodded:

       “Big tough furry paws,” SHE said, “very nice those are.”

      “They’re almost status symbols on their own,” KENNY replied.

 

Imogen, bored again after her mama had fallen asleep and bad her to do the same, crawled away from Sita’s side in search of adventure.  Her brush with Seth forgotten, she was up for more exploration.  Crawling right at the entrance to her lie up, she found her way to a different lie up.  In there was a strange smelling creature.  Not a community bear at all.  Imogen crawled up to the large creature and found it had longfurred paws.      “Imogen’s in there now,” Flocke WHISPERED to Kenny, both bears watching from their lie up, the CAMERA in Shang He’s lie up telling them everything.

        “Watch,” FLOCKE said.

        “Who’s that?”  Chow Mein asked drowsily as he felt tiny paws exploring the sole pad of his right hind foot.  Gasping, Chow Mein felt his toes curling at the touch of the smaller paws.  Frightened HE WOULD cry out, Chow Mein stuffed his right forepaw into his mouth.

       “This touch is gonna drive me mad!”  He thought, “it’s reminding me of everything I ever wanted to do with my paws!  All that play, all that exploration, everything I didn’t do when I was a cub!”  Imogen, realising this was a bear, and feeling his emotions clearly through the contact between her pads and his, decided SHE WOULD clamber onto the furry bear’s back.   Chow Mein whimpered with emotion, Imogen abandoning her previous plans and crawling round to his right side, THE large bear finally catching sight of the small cub.

        “You’re beautiful!”  He whispered.  Before Chow Mein knew what was happening, Imogen was cuddled up to him, HIS paws were embracing her, and she was snuggling into his long fur.

        “It’s nice and warm here,” IMOGEN sighed, content with her position.

        “Where’s Imogen!”  Sita screamed, having woken suddenly some hours later.

        “She’s safe I don’t doubt,” JET yawned.  Sita cuffed him in anger and fear.

       “But she was here when I went to sleep, and now she’s gone!”  Sita squealed.  Jet, rubbing his now sore nose with his paw, looked at his mate:

       “You worry too much,” HE said, “Seth’s gone, and we have no problems with anyone here.”

      “But there’s that big bear I heard of, Chow something,” SITA gasped, “He could be a danger to our cub!”

       “Chow something as you call him has been hugging our cub for the last hour.”  Sita roared with anger.

       “Why did you let him get hold of her?”  She yelled.

        “There’s no problem,” JET replied, “Sita, Chow Mein was moved to tears by our cub’s touch.”  Sita stamped her paws in anger.

       “I don’t care what reaction she caused in him, he stole my cub!”  She screamed.

       “Imogen went to Chow Mein, she woke and was bored, and went exploring.”

       “But didn’t she think there might be another Seth out there?”  Sita asked.  Jet smiled:

        “Dear Sita,” HE said, “you have had to be so careful in your early life, that you remembered every little lesson you ever learned.  Imogen has forgotten Seth’s attack on her.  Now she’s exploring, and she’s found a big pawed bear with soft fur and quick emotions.”

      “Quick emotions can lead to HASTY reactions!”  Sita squealed.

      “Exactly so calm down,” PATCH said to his daughter cub, Sita snorting with indignation.

       “What’s happening now?”  She asked.  Jet looked at the screen.

      “Imogen is asleep in Chow Mein’s embrace,” HE said.  Sita nearly danced with impatience.

       “I’m going to her,” SHE growled.  Padding into Shang Hi’s lie up, Sita nearly tripped over Chow Mein.

        “Hello,” HE said, “be careful, I’m lying here.”  Sita was so shocked she jumped a mile and nearly fell over Chow Mein’s hind paws.

       “You frightened me!”  She whimpered.

      “Mama can’t see you Chow Mein,” IMOGEN mumbled from somewhere in the mass of long fur.  Sita explored her surroundings with her paws, touching thick pads and furred toes.

       “I’m sorry,” SITA mewed.  Chow Mein released Imogen and she crawled back to Sita.

       “Chow Mein is so sweet mama,” IMOGEN said.  Sita hugged her cub and groomed her.

        “Hello mama Sita,” Chow Mein said.  Sita finished grooming her cub, then approached Chow Mein, finding his hind paws with hers, AND THEN sitting down near him.  Sita touched Chow Mein’s right hind foot, touching the bear’s furred toes.

        “Explore my paws mama,” Chow Mein invited.  Sita sat opposite Chow Mein and picked up his right hind foot, exploring his pads and toes, the male bear curling his toes with pleasure.

        “You are very emotionally open,” SITA said.  Chow Mein smiled and caught the toes of Sita’s right forepaw in those of his right hind.

        “My mama was a giant panda,” HE said, “she rocked and roared, groaned and puffed during my birth, curling her toes and rocking back and fourth as she birthed me.  She taught me to be expressive with my paws and my emotions.”

       “I’ve been hugged and groomed by him mama, and it’s lovely!”  Imogen said.

         “Why are you grooming my cub Chow Mein?”  Sita asked.  Imogen gasped, knowing she’d dropped Chow Mein in it.

        “Imogen cub needed to use relieving place, so I took her and held her over hole while she USES it.  Then after she WASHES paws, I groom her very GENTLY.”

       “You should have come to me Imogen,” SITA snapped, “it’s not fair or proper to ask Chow Mein to do things like that for you!”  Sita raised her paw to cuff her cub, only to feel it taken in a huge furry paw.

      “You don’t want to hit your cub for asking me to help her do you?”  Chow Mein asked.

     “Why not?”  Sita asked, “What she asked you to do was private stuff!  Something mama should do for her at her age!”

      “There wasn’t time mama,”  Imogen replied, “I could only just about control things, it was a struggle which made me curl my toes mama, like this,”  Imogen said, rolling onto her back and giving her mama her left hind foot, curling her toes tightly as Sita explored it.

        “I know how she felt,” Chow Mein replied, “I remember curling my toes like cub Imogen.”  Sita relented then.

       “Okay, okay I’m sorry,” SHE replied, her breath catching in her throat.

       “What’s the matter mama?”  Imogen asked.  Sita had felt something in Chow Mein’s pads, for she’d kept in touch with his right hind foot with her left forepaw, and touched Imogen’s toes with her left.

       “I am so sorry, so sorry for misreading the situation.”  She sniffed, “of course you COULDN’T have come to me Imogen.  There wasn’t time, I can feel that now.”  Sita desperately wanted to explore Chow Mein’s body, to find out what kind of bear had helped her cub.

       “Find out about me Sita,” Chow Mein said, “I know how you need to touch me.  Imogen needs to do the same, so I know how you need to do this too.”  Sita ran her paws all over Chow Mein’s body, the bear shifting position to allow her to feel everything from his ears and nose to his tough pads and furred toes.

        “Chow Mein likes his paws touched mama,” IMOGEN remarked.  Sita giggled despite the seriousness of the situation.

        “Now shall we show mum what you did for me Chow Mein?”  Imogen asked.  Chow Mein smiled as he felt Sita’s toes jump as she explored his right hind foot.

       “I think Sita’s tears were partly because she couldn’t imagine how gentle you were with me Chow Mein,” IMOGEN continued.  Sita choked back tears.

        “You are right,” SITA mewed.  So Chow Mein carried Imogen across the room on all four paws, carrying her on his back, Imogen pretending she was desperate to relieve herself while she rode on Chow Mein’s back, curling the toes of all four paws into his fur and almost crying with pain, sometimes shifting her paws uncomfortably .

      “It’s nearly too much, got to go!”  Imogen whimpered, while Sita explored Chow Mein and Imogen’s positions.  Once she’d felt Chow Mein stationary and walking, and felt Imogen pawing and twisting in discomfort while riding on his back, Chow Mein let Imogen slide off his back and then he turned to the now wriggling and complaining cub.

       “I need to go, I need to go!”  Imogen wailed, drawing up her hind feet and grabbing them with her forepaws, curling her toes hard.  Sita explored all this.

       “Okay little one,”  Chow Mein said gently, turning to the cub and soothing her by kissing her nose, “I’m sitting down now,”  Chow Mein said, sitting down with his hind feet slightly splayed.  Sita got paws on with him, feeling his legs were slightly splayed.  Imogen crawled up to Chow Mein and the bear lifted her in his forepaws, balancing her hind legs on his left forepaw and supporting her back with his right, cradling her shoulders.  Sita got paws on with this too.

        “YOU’RE ok to go now,” Chow Mein said.

     “Good,” Imogen said, Sita feeling her uncurl her toes, which she’d kept curled since she’d landed on the floor two minutes before.

       “It was at this point I RELIEVED myself,” IMOGEN said.  Sita explored the scene in front of her and guessed why Chow Mein’s hind feet were slightly splayed.

       “Thank you Chow Mein,” SHE said.

        “I couldn’t have helped a nicer cub,” Chow Mein replied.

       “You won’t be angry with him will you mum?”  Imogen asked.

      “No Imogen love, I won’t,” SITA replied, “For what Chow Mein did was a very merciful and beautiful thing.”

       “I felt really safe with him,” IMOGEN replied, “but now, now, because of all that acting, I’m hot, my paws are all hot and damp!  It’s horrible!”

         “I’ll let Chow Mein groom you I think,” SITA replied.

        “Thank you Chow Mein,” JET said, “I saw the whole thing, all the acting out I mean, and though it was only acting, the gentility came through.”

        “It was lovely,” IMOGEN replied, now sitting in Chow Mein’s lap, “I remember everything, the pain of needing to relieve myself, then the relief when it was done.  I had to push a bit mama, but it got done.  MOREOVER, even straining a bit was not difficult.  If I’d had to do IT, alone I’d have been in trouble.  HOWEVER, Chow Mein was gentle and caring, encouraging me to relax and let it all happen, which I did.  He told me to breathe deeply while curling and relaxing my toes a bit, and that helped things also.”

        “You are lovely,” SITA said to Chow Mein, “I wish, but no, that’s just silly thoughts.

       “You wish a stranger had done that for you when your mama wasn’t around?”  Chow Mein replied.  Sita gulped hard.

        “I must be like an open book to you,” SHE gushed.  Chow Mein kissed her nose:

       “Your mama helped you like I did Imogen, but your mama was rough with you, it was a job to her, something she could not avoid without losing her own life.  For me, Imogen was in pain and in a FOREIGN lie up.  She knew not to relieve herself in another’s living space, she needed help.  I didn’t give a thought to the CONSEQUENCES of helping her.”

      “I shouldn’t have got angry,” SITA said.

      “It’s natural to get angry if an unknown bear is being intimate with your cub,” Chow Mein said.

       “Thanks for being so understanding,” SITA mewed.  Imogen touched her mama’s right hind foot.

       “Can I visit Chow Mein whenever I want to?”  She asked.  Sita felt her toes curling, and realised Chow Mein had taken her left hind foot in his forepaws.

       “Yes Imogen, you can,” SHE said.

       “They do look contented together mum,” TOBY said padding in, “Imogen and Chow Mein that is.”

       “I know they do,” SITA replied, “I’ve allowed Imogen to visit Chow Mein whenever she wants.”

       “I wanted to see Chow Mein up close before this,” TOBY grunted, “but patrols stopped me.  Jet’s got me out at all hour’s mama!”

       “You’re nearly a year old Toby!”  Jet snapped.

       “But patrolling all the time is so boring!”  Toby complained.

        “I wondered where you got to,” SITA mewed, “TOBY; I haven’t heard you around here in ages, at least for two days now.”

       “It’s because Jet has me wearing my paw pads out on the tracks in the wood!”  Toby snarled, “He thinks its great fun to make me, a year old cub, trudge through the wood for endless hours!”

      “Patrolling doesn’t start until three years old,” SITA mewed.

       “He’s ACCLIMATISED now,” JET grumbled, knowing he was about to lose.

       “I want time with my sister and mama!”  Toby yelled, “you told me I couldn’t have time with them Jet!  That I was too old for playing with cubs now.  Well I’m not!  I want to play, I want to meet Imogen’s new friends, I want to be with my sister dam it, and I won’t let you stop me doing that!”  Jet looked at Sita, who’d just got an insight into Toby’s LIFE, WHICH Jet hoped she’d never have, AND THEN looked at Chow Mein, who was unimpressed.

       “Play is not just for very young cub Jet,” THE brown bear said, “it’s for slightly older cub too.  Toby needs play with his sister plenty.”  Furious, Jet turned and stormed from the room.

       “He kept me in the dark!”  Sita squealed.

      “That was his intention I fear,” Chow Mein replied.

       “It was,” TOBY said, now no longer caring what he said, “Jet didn’t want me to tell you about the patrols.  He ran me into the earth with them mama, to the point where I was exhausted.  He put it in such a way that I couldn’t refuse, talking of defence of the community.  I love this PLACE; it’s my home for Eohippus sake!  But he took me from my sister, and from playing with her, and going on adventures with her, and meeting new members of the community too.”

       “What made Imogen’s adventure so special was the fact she was alone,” SITA mewed, “she roamed alone, then found Chow Mein, and because of her cubbish needs, she found a friend too, and so have I I think.”

       “You hardly know him,” TOBY replied.

      “I said friend, not mate,” SITA mewed, “but how can I not call a friend, one that has helped my cub in her hour of need?  ALTERNATIVELY, one that has excited her to re-enact the scene for me, so I can experience, in some way, the tenderness of their enforced moment together?  Imogen desperately needed help, and Chow Mein extended his paw and love to my cub in her most intimate needs.  This is one bear worth getting to know more about.”

       “You’ll be mating with him soon won’t you Sita!”  Jet snapped, having returned.

       “If you go on like that, then yes!”  Sita snapped, lunging at Jet and missing.  Jet danced out of Sita’s range, and she heard his claws clicking on the tiles near the doorway.

       “Dam!”  She snapped.

       “You can’t catch me anyway!”  Jet scoffed, “you’re too slow Sita!”

       “She wouldn’t be so slow if she could see you,” Chow Mein said.  Jet spat at him.

       “Keep out of this!”  He roared, “It’s none of your bloody business!”

       “It’s my business when you’re in my lie up and lashing out at the mother of your cubs,” Chow Mein replied conversationally.

       “Oooah, a challenge now ay?”  Jet scoffed, “you’re so clumsy you couldn’t chase and catch Sita if she had all four paws tied!”

       “Is this all because your little game with Toby is over?”  Sita asked.  Jet spat at Sita, his meaning clear to her.

       “You are the sire of my cubs,” SITA replied, “but I will not have you restricting my cub’s paws!”

         “So here is the route of discontent,” Chow Mein mused.

       “Your paws can soothe things,” A voice said to Chow Mein, “try it Chow Mein, try touching Sita and see where you get with her.”  Chow Mein embraced Sita’s right hind foot in his forepaws, feeling her toes curling tightly.

          “I almost want Chow Mein to help me like he Helped Imogen!”  Sita thought, wriggling slightly, “I don’t know why this is!  It’s wrong!”  Sita suddenly realised she needed to relieve herself, but confused by her unsuccessful attempt to go after Jet, she didn’t know where she was.

         “I must find the relieving place!”  Sita gasped.  Toby dragged Imogen out of Sita’s way as she tried to get to her feet, her discomfort obvious.

      “I’m not gonna make it!”  Sita squealed.  Chow Mein scooped her up in his forepaws, and ran to the relieving place with Sita cradled in his forepaws, Sita sitting in the same cradle as Imogen had three hours before.  Sita sobbed with EMBARRASSMENT and anger at herself, curling the toes of all four paws as she FOUGHT waves of abdominal discomfort.

       “I can’t control anything!”  Sita sobbed.

       “It’s okay now,” Chow Mein said, sitting down.  Sita felt her stomach contract, and she tried to control her urges to relieve herself.

         “This is so bad, so bad!”  She sobbed.  Chow Mein kissed her nose.

       “You’re safe now,” he said, his massive strength supporting her entire weight, “wriggle a little if you need to Sita, but let things take their course,” Chow Mein said gently.  Sita closed her eyes, imagining herself a cub again.

       “Push a little Sita, go on, push a little,” Chow Mein encouraged.  Sita strained slightly, and things took their course, the course being not so bad after all.  Sita’s contact with Chow Mein gave her the strength to relieve her body, her emotions making her sick and stomach ache horribly.  Sita vomited and DEFECATED copiously, her whole system going to pieces.

       “I’m sorry!”  Sita WHIMPERED when she could rest.  Chow Mein washed her tenderly, Sita wondering what was happening to her.

       “You’re stressed,” Chow Mein replied, “everything’s come to a head and your body’s taking its revenge.”  Sita lay in Chow Mein’s lie up, her body shaking.

        “I feel drained,” SHE whimpered.

        “Mama,” IMOGEN said softly, cuddling up to Sita.  Sita enfolded her cub in her shivering paws, and relaxed.

        “What’s happening to mum?”  Toby asked Chow Mein.

       “She is feeling the strain of no help from Jet,” Chow Mein replied.

        “I don’t think that’s it,” TOBY said, “I think Jet’s treatment of me made her unwell.”

       “I’m out of here!”  Jet screamed.  Toby looked at his sister and mama.

        “Jet sees you as a threat Chow Mein,” HE said.

       “No,” CHOW |Mein replied, “Jet hates the tactile part of bringing up cubs, that’s it.”  Toby padded to Chow Mein and looked him up and down.  Chow Mein smiled and wiggled the toes of his fore and hind paws, Toby’s toes curling with emotion.

      “Come,” CHOW Mein said, BECKONING to Toby.  Toby crawled to Chow Mein and clambered into his lap, feeling the huge brown bear’s paws enfolding him.

       “You have such cute paws Toby,” CHOW Mein said, Toby wriggling with pleasure.

       “How did you manage to lift mama?”  Toby asked.

       “Your mama is not as heavy as she looks,” CHOW Mein replied.

       “You mean she’s exhausted?  Worn out?”  Toby asked.  Chow Mein nodded and, lifting Toby in his huge FOREPAWS, kissed him on his nose.

        “Mama needs that too,” TOBY said.

      “Sita will get all the hugs and attention she needs,” CHOW Mein replied.

      “You are what mama needs,” TOBY replied.  Chow Mein examined Toby as he would a new cub.

      “Have you sired cubs of your own chow Mein?”  Toby asked, submitting happily to the large bear’s explorations of his face, ears, body, legs and best of all, his fore and hind paws.

       “No,” CHOW Mein replied, “but I was taught to be gentle and TACTILE and to use my paws for good things.”  Toby wriggled with pleasure.

       “I know you have,” HE said, “and you’re SINCERE too.”

     “These hind paws are sore,” CHOW Mein remarked.  Toby gasped as the large bear touched the sore sole pad of his left hind foot.

       “It sis sore yes,” HE replied.  Chow Mein carried Toby to the shower room, where he found oils to bathe his new cub’s paws.

         “Is that better?”  Chow Mein asked.  Toby, his sore pads now soothed, smiled up at Chow Mein whose shining eyes met his.

        “Mama Sita might NEEDS your help Chow Mein,” TOBY said.  Chow Mein looked at Toby, and then picking him up, carried him to the lie up.  Settling him with Sita, Chow Mein looked at the mama cat bear.

        “You have been through much mama,” CHOW Mein said.  Sita sighed deeply and got to her feet.

        “I must find food,” SHE said.

       “I bring you Chinese food,” CHOW Mein replied.  He spoke to Sid, whom he found by consulting a panel on the wall and pressing a button.

       “You want more chow Mein big bear?”  Sid asked.  Chow Mein smiled and replied that he did, a big bucket of it, and to make it a mild one, as it was to be eaten not only by himself, but by Sita and Toby also.  Sid soon appeared with the steaming bucket of noodles, meat and mixed VEGETABLES.

        “Food!”  Chow mein announced.  Sita and Toby sat down to eat, and even little Imogen had some too.  Sita’s previous exhaustion had ABATED, and she now tucked into the new food with real enthusiasm.

       “This is what I’ve been WAFTING for all day,” TOBY said.  Soon the whole family settled down together.

 

Jet watched Sita and Chow Mein.  He had seriously misjudged Toby’s anger at his treatment of him.

       “I am not a good sire to Toby,” JET thought, “I suppose it’s not the done thing here to be too STRICT on the cubs.  But Marching and patrolling protects the community.”

       “No, love and PLAYFULNESS protects the community jet,” SOMEONE said.  Jet looked round to see a white lioness looking at him.

        “So you’re saying this house needs no protection?”  Jet asked.

      “It needs protection, but not forced marching by those who should be using their paws for other things than walking the tracks for hours and hours,” LIONESS Rowena said.  Jet looked at the lioness.

      “Maybe I went a little too far,” HE said.

       “You made Toby march for hours and hours in the woods,” LIONESS Rowena mewed, “it’s wrong to make your cub do that.  Now he is free of your stern ways, as he has been BRAVING and told his mama what you did to him and made him do.”

         “How will Chow Mein look after my cubs?”  Jet asked.

       “You’ll have to make your way in the world looking at your cubs from a distance,” lioness Rowena said, “it is now Chow Mein and Sita’s job to look after the cubs now.”

     “I hope they’ll take care of them,” JET said.

 

Toby explored Chow Mein’s body and paws with his smaller paws.  Chow Mein smiled as Toby’s paws found their way to the pads of his hind feet, Toby feeling the larger bear’s toes curling.

      “Your pads bunch very playfully,” TOBY said.  Chow Mein smiled and wiggled his toes, Toby giggling and tracing his friend’s bunching and stretching pads, Chow Mein laughing with delight.

       “Your pads are thick but very sensitive,” TOBY said laughing.  Chow Mein smiled.

        “I learned to be expressive from mama panda,” HE said.  Toby smiled:

        “Mama Sita is expressive too,” HE replied, “she is sensitive also, as sensitive as your pads are Chow Mein.”  Chow Mein smiled broadly.

       “Mama Sita is very sensitive and expressive Toby,” CHOW Mein replied.

       “I think you would have helped mama give birth to Imogen if you’d been here chow Mein,” TOBY said.

      “Little Imogen cub is only a week old, if that,” CHOW Mein replied, “who helped mama Sita give birth to her?”

       “I did,” BERTIE replied, padding into the lie up.  Chow Mein looked at the small cub, spreading his forepaws wide, Bertie running to Chow mein and throwing himself into Chow Mein’s lap.

       “I don’t know why I’m doing this,” BERTIE said, “but it feels right.  Chow Mein smiled and tightly embraced Bertie.

       “I would have loved to see little Imogen’s birth,” CHOW Mein said.  Bertie smiled:

      “It was lovely,” HE said, “mama Sita coped really well.”

      “Not at first I didn’t,”  Sita reminded him, “I was lying on the floor, my hind feet drawn up Holding my hind feet with my forepaws and screaming, screaming so loudly, so much pain, so much fear,”  Sita sniffed, her emotions welling in her, “I was so scared,”  she whispered, “so scared, of pushing, of pain, of the cub’s arrival.”

     “But Bertie came along and helped you out,” CHOW Mein replied.

     “He did, AND THEN things were easier,” SITA said, “things were much easier then.”  Chow Mein smiled at Bertie, who buried his face in the large bear’s fur to hide his BLUSHING.

       “Now things are fine,” SITA mewed.

       “You seem to have the LANGUAGE of two species,” CHOW Mein replied, “Sita; you speak ursine one minute and feline the next.”

        “I am a cat bear kind of thing,” SITA said APOLOGETICALLY.

        “I don’t mind what you are,” CHOW mein said with feeling.  Sita touched Chow mien’s left hind foot with her paw, the large bear curling his toes slightly.

       “Can you curl your toes harder?”  Sita asked.  Chow Mein curled his toes as tightly as he could, Sita stroking his furry toes, then his bunched pads with gentle care.

      “You have lovely thick pads,” SITA said.  Chow Mein giggled and stretched his toes, Sita stroking them.  Then Sita cried out as Chow Mein’s toes caught those of her right forepaw.

        “Squeeze my toes,” SITA said, Chow Mein SQUEEZING the toes of her right forepaw with those of his right hind, Sita wriggling with delight.

       “What breed of bear are you?”  Toby asked, “Chow Mein, I don’t mean to be rude, but you’re much bigger than a panda should be, and YOU’RE all furry like a grizzly bear!”  Chow Mein smiled broadly and replied:

       “My mama was a PANDA; my sire was a grizzly bear.  I was born in a zoo, a grizzly bear and a mama panda got together one night and I was the result three months later.  My mama cried and wriggled as she gave birth to me, rocking back and fourth like this,”  he said, rocking back and fourth as if doing SETUPS,  Sita feeling his toes relax and curl as he rocked back and fourth.

       “How cute,” TOBY replied.

        “Chow Mein is really handsome mama,” BERTIE said.

        “He certainly feels that way,” SITA said.

      “Mama Panda was very vocal while giving birth to me,” CHOW Mein replied, “she rocked and wriggled and played with her paws.  She moaned and whimpered and groaned as she pushed too.”

       “Sounds like mama Sita,” IMOGEN replied.

     “It does,” SITA admitted.  She touched chow Mein’s left hind foot with her paw.

       “Would you like me to show you how I remember things?”  She asked.  Chow Mein smiled broadly and took Sita’s paw in his.

      “Only if you want to my dear,” HE said, “for those cubs aren’t mine.”

       “But I’d like to,” SITA said softly.

       “Maybe later,” CHOW Mein replied, “you’ve been unwell recently, and pretending to have cubs is maybe not the best thing to do.”

       “What mama really wants is for you to massage her paws and soothe her I think,” IMOGEN replied.

        “I can CERTAINLY do that,” CHOW mein said.

       “I wonder what kind of cub mama and chow Mein will have,” IMOGEN mused.

       “It would be a lion with bear’s paws I think,” TOBY said.

      “Not yet please!”  Chow Mein and Sita said in Unison, both cubs laughing helplessly at their joint protest.

    “Though having Chow Mein’s cub would be lovely I think,” SITA said.

        “We have to give you a new name I think chow Mein,” TOBY said, “for you are not fried noodles at all.  WHOEVER gave you that name should be shot!”

       “I think we should name you for your mama, and your sire,” SITA said, “as we do here when a cub is born of mates from different breeds.”

       “So what do you suggest mama?”  Toby asked.

       “How if we name him Qingshan’s, that name means celebration or goodness?”  Geming suggested, padding into the room.

      “Right, now for his American name,” SITA mewed.

     “I’m just happy with this name,” CHOW Mein, now Qingshan replied.  Qingshan, as he was now so named, looked at Geming.

        “Did I not see you as I walked near the house?”  He asked, “You were lying on your back, waving your paws in the air.  You have brown soles on all four of your paws I think.”  Geming looked EMBARRASSED.

        “I was, I think, one day past,” HE said.  Qingshan smiled broadly.

       “I knew this place would be a happy one when I saw a grown male panda waving his paws in the air with cubbish delight at the world,” HE said.  Geming smiled.

      “My mama didn’t make it here,” HE said sitting down, “I was brought here by Amal and his now dead mate Chandrika.  Of COURSE, they called themselves Chang                   and Guang then, so I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable.  They were red pandas, and were good to me while I was under their care.  Now I have a mate of my own, Weici, who had a cub Shen some time ago.”

       “You sound very integrated into this place,” QINGSHAN replied, “I can only hope to be so as you are soon.”  Geming gave Qingshan his paws, and the brown bear with panda markings saw the pure bred panda had brown paw pads.

       “You have brown pads too QINGSHAN,” TOBY said, “You could almost be Geming’s sire in another life.”  Geming smiled sadly at Toby.

        “I thought the same,” HE replied.  Qingshan looked at Geming, then drew him into a huge embrace, the pure bred panda gasping with emotions as the large bear hugged him.

       “Come,” QINGSHAN said to Geming, the male bear looking up into Qingshan’s face.

        “Your paws are lovely,” GEMING said softly.  Qingshan played with Geming, the two grown pandas ending the game by tickling each other’s toes and rolling about on the rugs, Toby laughing merrily at their antics.

       “Qingshan and Geming are rolling about on the rugs tickling each other’s toes mama,” HE said to Sita, who smiled broadly.  Geming laughed as Qingshan tickled the toes of his left hind foot, the larger male panda tickling his pads when Geming moved his paw slightly.

       “I love all this play!”  Geming said when he could speak after laughing helplessly for five minutes.

      “I think many would be glad of your embracing paws QINGSHAN,” GEMING said seriously.

       “I will help anyone,” Qingshan said, “I have been lonely myself, and know how it is to curl up alone at night.”

        “I have been talking to a mama panda that is due to give birth to her cubs,” Geming said, “She needs a home to give birth to her cubs.”  Qingshan smiled.

       “I would love to help her,” HE said, “but it’s not my choice.  It’s the choice of the leaders of the community.”

       “You would be a good soother for labouring mamas I think,” SOMEONE said.  Qingshan looked round to see large and very pregnant panda padding heavily into the lie up.

       “Hello my dear cub,” THE mama panda said.  Qingshan leapt to his feet and ran to the mama panda, embracing her tightly.

       “How you come here?”  He choked.

        “I found my way here after the ship sank too,” THE mama panda replied, “I was coming to this country, and our ship sank, it wasn’t made too well and my mate drowned.  I swam, swam for my life and those of cubs!”  The mama panda, evidently Qingshan’s mother, sobbed into her son’s coat.

        “Now you pregnant and about to have cubs, and Geming found you?”  He asked.  The mama panda nodded.

      “What is your name?”  Toby asked the mama panda.

  My name is Xiaohui,” THE mama replied.

       “What a sweet name,” GEMING replied, “meaning little Wisdom and so cute too.”

       “I suppose I’m still learning,” XIAOHUI SAID.

      “So you came here to deliver your cubs,” SITA said.  Xiaohui looked at her.

       “I did,” SHE replied, “it’s warm and safe.”

       “I hope I will see the births of my half brother or sister,” QINGSHAN said.  Xiaohui smiled:

       “Your full brother or sister the cub will be,” Xiaohui replied, “I remained faithful to your sire until the day he died in the water after the ship broke apart.”

       “I’m glad he remained faithful,” QINGSHAN replied.

     “I am looking forward to the birth of my cub,” Xiaohui replied.

       “You were expressive when you gave birth to me,” QINGSHAN said.

       “I wriggled, roared and wailed,” XIAOHUI replied, “Though I was in real pain, you were a big cub to deliver into the world.”  Qingshan smiled.

       “You eased me out into the world with gentle paws and strong pushing,” HE said.

       “I rocked back and fourth on my backside,” Xiaohui replied, “it felt better that way.”

       “Mamas here play with their hind feet during labour,” SITA said, “did you try playing with your toes to ease your pain?”  Xiaohui smiled and replied that she had.

       “My right hind foot hurt after the birth of my first cub,” XIAOHUI replied.

       “I played with my toes too,” SITA said, padding over to and hugging her.

        “Your cub’s close now I think,” SITA said.  Xiaohui nodded:

      “A few more days now, then I’ll have a lovely cub.”

      “I hope all goes well mama,” TOBY said.  Xiaohui hugged the little cub.

      “Thanks,” SHE replied.

      “So there are gonna be a few more cubs around here,” JET grumbled, padding in.

      “You keep out!”  Qingshan snapped.  Jet stepped back, as the male panda brown bear had seemed to grow a foot taller.

        “I’m not challenging you at all, not at all!”  Jet squealed.

      “But you want to come back for your mate don’t you?”  Qingshan asked.

       “I don’t have a mate here, not any more,” JET replied, “I can’t do the cub thing, I can’t play with them like I’m meant to.  I renounce here and now all claim to those cubs.  The rearing of cubs,

It’s not my thing.  Sita sighed heavily, then turned towards Jet and padded to him, taking his paw in hers.

       “Say that again,” SHE said.  Jet said his piece again.

     “I renounce here and now all claim to our cubs.  The rearing of cubs,

It’s not my thing         .”  Sita turned away, dismissing him from her mind.

        “You never touch me except to smack me with your paws when I don’t notice something you think I should have jet,” TOBY spat.  Jet padded from the room, his involvement with Sita over.

        “So now what?”  Geming asked.

        “I suppose you’ll be taking care of the cubs alone mama Sita,” XIAOHUI said.

        “No she won’t,” QINGSHAN replied.

       “And why not?”  Sita asked, her eyes shining.

       “Because I won’t let you cope alone,” QINGSHAN said.  Sita laughed:

        “Thought you’d say that,” SHE replied.

        “I like male bears getting paws on with me,”  Toby said, “I liked it when Kenny cradled my hind feet in his forepaws that one time, and I like when Qingshan does the same, “it feels right, so right!”

      “And so it should,” SITA replied, “YOU’RE sire, adopted or full blood should feel he can and should play with you Toby, just as I feel I can play with you.  You want to be played with, and want to play with others.”

         “But one day that will all end mama Sita,” XINHUA replied.

       “No it won’t, I won’t let it!”  Toby snapped, “I’ve had this conversation with mama before, and the thought of there ever being a time when I don’t let mama play with my paws is so dreadful I could cry for a week!”

       “There will come a time though,” SITA said.

       “Don’t speak of it mama,” TOBY begged.

       “So what are we gonna do about sleeping arrangements?”  Sita asked.

       “How if I cuddle up with Toby and you cuddle up with Imogen Sita?”  Qingshan asked.  Toby TURNED to Qingshan and hugged him.

       “Can I play with your paws?”  He asked.

       “Would you like to examine my paws like I did yours Toby?”  Qingshan asked.  Toby smiled:

       “I’d like to,” HE replied.

       “I could help Xiaohui as she’s about to have her cubs,” BERTIE suggested, the mama panda SMILING and sitting down, pointing to her hind paws with her left forepaw.

       “You can start on those,” SHE said.  Bertie took hold of Xiaohui’s right hind foot and began to massage her pads and toes, the mama panda curling and stretching her toes with pleasure.

        “Your paws have helped a mama have her cubs before I think,” XIAOHUI said.  Bertie smiled and nodded:

        “I helped mama Sita have little Imogen,” HE said.

        “I’d love to have seen Imogen’s birth,” QINGSHAN said.

       “I’ll re-enact it tomorrow,” SITA said.

       “But there are CAMERAS here, didn’t it get recorded?”  Xenia asked.

      “Jet smashed the CAMERA in mum’s lie up!”  Toby snapped, “I’m furious!  I want to see my mama giving birth to my sister, but the chance has gone now, and if Jet hadn’t taken me out on patrol I’d have been with her!”

        “I’ll never forgive him for breaking that,” SITA replied, “I know how important the birth videos are to cubs here.”

       “I was looking forward to helping you too mama,” TOBY said sadly.  Sita padded over to her son cub and hugged him.

        “No doubt I’ll have another cub,” SHE said, “and you can help me with the birth of that one, okay?”  Toby kissed his mama’s nose.

        “Don’t have a cub just for me,” HE said.  Sita giggled:

       “Of course not,” SHE replied, “but I will have a cub with Qingshan here, and you can help me give birth to that cub.”

        “Now let’s sleep a while,” QINGSHAN yawned, stretching out full length on the rugs.

       “Get paws on with Qingshan mama,” IMOGEN whispered to Sita, “he’d like you too I think.”  THEREFORE, Sita did, and Qingshan curled up around her.

 

Jet and Hubert watched on the screen in Sita’s lie up.

       “Bet she’s no good in the den,” HUBERT said, waving his paw at Sita’s image on the screen.

      “She’s a great mama to Toby and Imogen,” JET replied, “it’s just that I can’t be a good sire to them, as I don’t do the cub play thing.”

       “I didn’t mean playing with the cubs you idiot,” HUBERT said.  Jet, finally catching on, Backhanded Hubert across his face with his paw.

        “You horrid bear!”  Jet screamed, “I still love my cubs, even if Sita and I don’t associate any more!  As for her being good in the den, as you put it, well I’m not telling you how she is in that DEPARTMENT; the evidence is in front of your eyes you disgraceful creature!”

        “You mated with a misfit, with a freak of nature!”  Hubert yelled, “No wonder she had a dreadful time giving birth to Imogen, the birth of her cubs hurts her lots!  She screams and cries to APACE her mate, and then is left alone to bring up the cubs which you helped create!”

        “So you hate me and her?”  Jet asked.

        “I think you encouraged her to have cubs you knew would cause her pain to deliver, and she’s so weak minded she couldn’t refuse, and now she’s unable to look after those poor cubs.  A blind weak minded mama and an IRRESPONSIBLE sire, what a bloody awful COMBINATION for two cubs to grow up with!”  Jet felt his toes curling into the rugs.

        “I’m gonna do something nasty if you don’t stop running your mouth!”  Jet snarled.

        “So you love Sita?”  Hubert asked.  Jet looked down at his forepaws, the toes of which were curled tightly into the rugs.

         “My issue is my own, not hers,” HE admitted, “I can’t play with the cubs as they would want me to.  I am ashamed of my inability to play with my own cubs.”

      “No,” HUBERT replied, “you don’t play with your cubs because they are not gonna survive.”

“I hate your sentiments!”  Jet snapped, “Hubert, my cubs are not deformed, will live into old age, and will prosper!  Even Sita, who is blind and has funny fur, will prosper and thrive with her cubs.  I am leaving Sita to play with her cubs and for her cubs to play with one who plays like Sita does, with all four paws and a gentle understanding for all that cubs are, and will help a SQUIRMING, complaining cub who needs help relieving herself.  Qingshan is just the bear for that.”  Hubert snorted:

      “And my cub’s in with that funny bear also!”  He yelled, “That’s so wrong!”

       “Don’t split them up,” JET warned, “and don’t stop him helping Xiaohui with the births of her cubs.”

 

 

Qingshan smiled at Bertie as he massaged Xiaohui’s paws.

        “Your paws are working wonders for Xiaohui it seems,” QINGSHAN said.  Bertie grinned:

        “I like her paws,” BERTIE said, “They’re expressive and so is she.”

      “I like his touch,” XIAOHUI said.

      “I like Qingshan’s paws too,” SITA said, exploring the cross bred panda’s fore and hind paws with hers, Qingshan curling and stretching his toes with pleasure.  Meanwhile, Toby played with Imogen, stroking her pads and playing with her toes, Imogen expressing her pleasure by curling her toes and giggling helplessly.

      “I love your paws,” TOBY said to Imogen, the little cub hugging her brother with commitment and joy.

       “Can I touch your paws please?”  She asked.  Toby smiled and replied:

      “Of course, I’d love you too,” HE said.  Imogen embraced Toby tenderly.

 

Jet ran in, very upset, and pushing Qingshan aside, embraced Sita, crying into her fur.

       “What on earth’s going on?”  She asked, her fur getting wet from jet’s tears.

      “Yes I want to know that too,” QINGSHAN replied, sensing NOT ALL WAS right.

       “What’s going on mama?”  Toby asked.

      Its okay jet,” SITA said, hugging the weeping male bear.

        “Let him calm down a BIT and we’ll find out what’s going on,” SITA said to her audience.

       “Hubert, he said, said, that, oh Sita!  He said such awful things about you, things that, that I can’t repeat!”

        “Many have said awful things,” SITA replied, “but I am strong and can take their abuse.  Let me hear Hubert’s words, and he will wreep the fire of VENGEANCE and fury unleashed on himself by his own hatred towards others.”

       “What does mama mean by all that Toby?”  Imogen asked.

      “She’s gonna get Hubert back for insulting her,” TOBY translated.

        “I will show you now,” JET choked.  Qingshan had already found the feed from Sita’s lie up, and played the video.  Toby and everyone else listened in silence as Hubert’s and Jet’s words echoed round the lie up.

            ““Bet she’s no good in the den,” HUBERT said, waving his paw at Sita’s image on the screen.

      “She’s a great mama to Toby and Imogen,” JET replied, “it’s just that I can’t be a good sire to them, as I don’t do the cub play thing.”

       “I didn’t mean playing with the cubs you idiot,” HUBERT said.  Jet, finally catching on, Backhanded Hubert across his face with his paw.

        “You horrid bear!”  Jet screamed, “I still love my cubs, even if Sita and I don’t associate any more!  As for her being good in the den, as you put it, well I’m not telling you how she is in that DEPARTMENT; the evidence is in front of your eyes you disgraceful creature!”

        “You mated with a misfit, with a freak of nature!”  Hubert yelled, “No wonder she had a dreadful time giving birth to Imogen, the birth of her cubs hurts her lots!  She screams and cries to APPEASE her mate, and then is left alone to bring up the cubs which you helped create!”

        “So you hate me and her?”  Jet asked.

        “I think you encouraged her to have cubs you knew would cause her pain to deliver, and she’s so weak minded she couldn’t refuse, and now she’s unable to look after those poor cubs.  A blind weak minded mama and an IRRESPONSIBLE sire, what a bloody awful COMBINATION for two cubs to grow up with!”  Jet felt his toes curling into the rugs.

        “I’m gonna do something nasty if you don’t stop running your mouth!”  Jet snarled.

        “So you love Sita?”  Hubert asked.  Jet looked down at his forepaws, the toes of which were curled tightly into the rugs.

         “My issue is my own, not hers,” HE admitted, “I can’t play with the cubs as they would want me to.  I am ashamed of my inability to play with my own cubs.”

      “No,” HUBERT replied, “you don’t play with your cubs because they are not gonna survive.”

       “I hate your sentiments!”  Jet snapped, “Hubert, my cubs are not deformed, will live into old age, and will prosper!  Even Sita, who is blind and has funny fur, will prosper and thrive with her cubs.  I am leaving Sita to play with her cubs and for her cubs to play with one who plays like Sita does, with all four paws and a gentle understanding for all that cubs are, and will help a SQUIRMING, complaining cub who needs help relieving herself.  Qingshan is just the bear for that.”  Hubert snorted:

      “And my cub’s in with that funny bear also!”  He yelled, “That’s so wrong!”

       “Don’t split them up,” JET warned, “and don’t stop him helping Xiaohui with the births of her cubs.””

       “I want to tear his paws off!”  Bertie squealed.

       “I love you Sita,” JET sobbed,” I renounced INTEREST in my cubs to show that I am no good at playing with them.  I love you SITA; I just can’t do the cub play thing.  Qingshan can, and so I want him to play with my cubs.  I wanted him to see I wasn’t gonna fight him if you played with HIM, or my cubs played with him.  I’m confused!  I want to be friendly to you and to Qingshan, but Hubert thinks I left you because you’re a weak minded creature, and that your cubs are deformed and weak, and awful.  I’m so upset, so confused, so hot and upset, my paws are damp, and I feel sick!”

       “Come,” SITA, said gently, hugging Jet tenderly.  Jet, choking back tears, snuggled up to Sita.

       “I wish to be gentle to QINGSHAN, and to my cubs, and to you Sita.  My failings are my own and not yours.  You bore your cubs MAGNIFICENTLY, Bertie helped you to deliver Imogen, but you did all the hard work yourself.  I wish I had been there with you, and I know now I shouldn’t have taken Toby away patrolling.”

        “I have got an audio record of the birth here,” KAMCHATKA said padding in, “its NOT VERY DESCRIPTIVE, as Sita doesn’t describe the birth of her cubs as she did when Toby was born, but it’s here all the same.”

       “I wanted to be in control, but things didn’t turn out that way,” SITA admitted.  Everyone listened to the audio of Sita’s labour, as it seemed Jet’s ball tampering hadn’t damaged the microphone.

      “When you screamed just before Bertie busted in, it sounded so desperate!”  Jet said to Sita, whose toes curled and relaxed as she relived her struggle.

      “That contraction hurt more than anything before,” SHE replied, “it was a SQUEEZING, straining effort, a real time to push into my tail, and push I did!  I pushed into my tail, then into my hind paws when I had DRAW them up and them held tightly in my forepaws.  Holding on I pushed hard, so, so very hard!”  Jet kissed Sita’s nose.  Toby replayed Sita’s labour, and Jet held each one of her paws, first her fore, then her hind as Sita curled her toes and relaxed them with the rise and fall of the sound on the audio tape.  Jet then felt his mate roll onto her back and draw her hind feet up.  Sita grabbed her hind feet with her forepaws and held on tight, Toby staring as Sita tried to remember her pain.  Sita didn’t need to scream, she was doing enough of that on the tape, so silently she re-enactd the birth of her last cub.  Once all was over, Sita was drenched in sweat, her body aching.

       “That was amazing!”  Jet and Toby said.  Qingshan didn’t reply, because he couldn’t.  Crying, he had buried his face in Bertie’s shoulder.

         “That was so emotional,” QINGSHAN, said when he could speak.  Bertie smiled and dried the larger bear’s eyes.

       “Now to deal with Hubert!”  Qingshan replied, “May the hounds of hell tear him to bits and eat him all up!”

       “I don’t want that,” JET replied, “I just want him to shut his mouth and keep his views to himself.”

       “Now let’s go on from here,” SITA said, relaxing, and easily slipping her paw into Jet’s, the male bear feeling the pulse in her pads and the heat of her exertions.

       “Peace?”  Jet asked.  Sita tried to kiss Jet’s nose, but missed and kissed his ear instead.

        “Peace,” SHE whispered gently, covering her mistake.

        “I just want what’s best for our cubs,” JET said softly.

       “So do ME,” SITA mewed.

      “I’ll go now,” JET whispered.  With THAT, he got to his feet, Sita sitting up and letting her paw stroke its way down Jet’s right side and down his hind leg to his hind foot as he walked away.  jet lifted his right hind foot, letting it run through Sita’s forepaws as he walked away, Sita leaning FORWARD to kiss his fast disappearing pads and toes.  Jet gasped as he felt her kiss.

        “You still love her don’t you Jet,” QINGSHAN asked.  Jet looked over at the large brown bear, the pain ELOQUENT in his eyes.

        “You are very loved Sita,” QINGSHAN said.

       “I know that very well,” SITA replied, “and I am very GRATEFUL.”

        “I can’t cope with this,” JET sobbed, padding away, his head hung in shame.

        “Jet can’t cope with the idea he is unable to play with his cubs,” Xiaohui said.

        “But there are many who love mama of their cubs, but find they cannot play with cubs.  Jet need not be without Sita, he only need ask, and she COMES to him,” QINGSHAN said.

      “So all he need do is come to her and ask her if she want mate with him,” XIAOHUI said.

      “Jet loves me, I know that,” SITA replied, “I know he loves his cubs, and I know he loves me dearly.  I love him, but I also love my cubs, and want him, ultimately to play with his cubs.  Jet finds he can’t, so Qingshan steps into those paws and plays with my cubs, giving the male bear’s help to bring the cubs up as is the way here.  Jet need not be a stranger to the cubs, even if he can’t play with them.”

       “I felt his need to be wanted by his cubs,” SITA said.

        “One day Hubert will learn about you Sita,” BERTIE said.

      “One day Hubert will LEARNS what Sita is like, what her paws feel like, what her gentility is really like,” XIAOHUI said, “I strongly believe this is what will happen to Hubert.”

 

Later that night, Sita was sleeping deeply when she felt a furry form settle down beside her.

       “Sita,” A voice said, “can you find it in your heart to help a lonely bear?”  Sita sleepily reached out with her paws and felt a large bear snuggle into her hug.

        “Thank you, oh thank you!”  The bear said softly, snuggling up to her.

       “Who’s that mama?”  Imogen yawned.

      “I don’t know yet,” SITA replied.

      “My name’s Fudge, I’m, I was, lost.  My brother Gizmo, he went away from the community, two minutes ago, he left me.  He crossed the bridge and I’m alone now!”  Sita realised what the bear meant.

      “How did he find the bridge?”  Sita asked GENTLY.  Fudge buried his paws in her coat.

       “He swam in the cave where the boats go, and was thrown down the slide, and now is dead!  Mama Anook found us, and she tried to help him while sending Bianca for Blackberry.  Blackberry came, but could do nothing for Gizmo.  Now his paws are on the bridge, and I cannot reach him.”

       “It is said he wasn’t your brother anyway,” HUBERT said, having seen everything.

       “You keep your horrid views to yourself!”  Bertie snapped.

       “I have watched these two,” HUBERT said, “and they are as much brothers as Sita is sister to Xiaohui!”  Sita growled deep in her throat.

       “Get out!”  She snapped.

        “You gonna make me?”  Hubert goaded, “you are so weak you couldn’t evict a fish Sita!”  Qingshan rose to his feet, picked Hubert up and threw him out bodily.

      “I will throw you out if you don’t move YOU’RE CARIOUS!”  Qingshan yelled, kicking Hubert up his backside.

       “Fudge is alone now mama Sita,” PATCH said, padding into the lie up, “holds him in your paws and loves him from nose to tail.”  Sita smiled broadly and kissed Fudge’s nose.

        “I could imagine giving birth to fudge here,” SITA said, “his head and paws would hurt me the most, but I would not REGRET a thing.”

        “Fudge has rough pads mama,” Imogen said, stroking the bear’s right hind foot with her paws, and then touching his pads with her nose, just to check if her paws told her the truth about his pads.

     “A cub is kissing my hind paws mama,” FUDGE said.  Sita giggled:

       “Imogen likes you I think,” SHE said.  Fudge curled the toes of his right hind foot, Imogen kissing and then stroking his bunched pads and curled toes.

       “I like the feel of these pads,” IMOGEN said.  Fudge gasped, stretching and curling his toes even tighter as Imogen’s paw stroked his hind foot.

      “This is wonderful!”  Fudge gasped.

       “Hug him mama,” IMOGEN said, “he needs your hug.”  Sita embraced and gently rocked Fudge in her paws, the male BEARS snuggling close.

        “Gizmo died on the slide,” FUDGE mumbled, Sita kissing his nose and paws.

        “I am so sorry,” SITA said.  Patch snorted:

       “I was on the CAMERAS,” HE said, “and I saw gizmo and fudge riding the flume.  Without warning Gizmo leapt into the water at the top of the BIG, slide and leapt down the slide.  Fudge, well, he stayed in the boat, yelling to Gizmo to come back, but the bear carried on, and slid down the slide.  Of course, Fudge could not avoid RUNNING gizmo over with his boat.”  Fudge looked at Patch with terrified eyes.

        “I tried to tell him, “I tried to tell him!”  He wailed.

        “I’m glad there are not too dead this day,” SITA said softly.

        “I hit Gizmo with the boat!”  Fudge whimpered.

       “If he’d not left the boat then he would be alive today,” SITA said, “though I don’t know what harm a bit of water can do.”

       “You Sita have never ridden the flume,” PATCH said, “It’s not just flowing water my dear.  Beneath the water are belts and rollers, and is very dangerous.”

        “We should try to warn the cubs,” ANOOK said, padding to fudge and hugging him.

        “But how do we do that?”  Sita asked.

       “I was scared so much my paws stuck to the tiles when I saw the belts,”  Anook replied, “show them the belts patch, show them the danger, so, so, so this doesn’t happen ever again.”  Patch padded to Anook and kissed her ear.

      “We will show them,” PATCH said.

        “I just want to stay here,” FUDGE said, “I don’t’ want to ride that flume ever again.”

        “I don’t know what a belt or a roller is,” SITA said, “but I will take your word patch that these things are dangerous.  Those who can see with their eyes can be warned of the danger with everything running, but I can’t.  I’ll take your word for it.”

        “So you could tell Sita fish was dangerous and she’d believe you?”  Hubert asked.

      “Shut up!”  Bertie yelled, “Sita’s playing it safe, she knows it would be stupid to get her paws anywhere near working belts or rollers.”

       “I will let her feel the belts when they are stationary though,” PATCH said, “we’ll drain the flume and show her belts, then we’ll get them working when Sita’s well out of the way.”

        “I thought you’d start them up while she was as you say, “paws on, with the belts and things,” HUBERT said, “then she’d really get a taste of what they could do, and it seems you lot are all into extreme stuff.  All paws on with this and that, paws on with birth and death!  How awful!”

         “That’s a horrid thing to suggest!”  Anook yelled, “I don’t know your name, but you are horrible!” 

      “Getting her disgusting paws stuck in belts and things would really teach Sita a lesson about how stupid her paws on way of life is!”  Hubert screamed.

       “Sita’s eyes don’t work you stupid bear!”  Toby roared.

        “I know that you runty cub!”  Hubert said, advancing on Toby.  Hubert approached the object of his anger, taking little notice of fudge that still lay on the floor.  Just as he reached Fudge, Fudge leapt up and smashed his paw into Hubert’s face, the bigger bear screaming and throwing his paws up to protect his face, Sita, now sure of her target, lashing out with her left forepaw, her paw connecting hard with Hubert’s stomach!  Hubert collapsed on top of Sita, Fudge dragging him off of her.

       “Thanks,” TOBY said.  Sita rubbed her sore paw.

        “It was Fudge’s doing,” Sita replied.

       “A team effort I think,” FUDGE replied, watching as Anook and Patch dragged Hubert out of the lie up.

        “Why did Patch not help?”  Bertie asked.

       “I think he knew something,” XIAOHUI replied.

        “I think he needed to let Sita punch Hubert,” BERTIE said, “and Sita did that.”

       “Helped by Fudge though,” SITA reminded him.

       “Did you need to punch that bear?”  Targon asked, padding in.

      “He needed more than just a punch in the guts,” FUDGE snarled.

      “I didn’t want to do him much harm, it gives me no pleasure,” SITA said, “I punched him to stop him, that’s all.  Fudge looked round at the cubs he’d FOUGHT to protect.

        “You got lovely cubs Sita,” FUDGE said.  Sita smiled broadly.

        “Thanks,” SHE replied.  Fudge looked closely at Toby, then at Imogen.

        “You two are very fetching,” FUDGE said.  Toby couldn’t help laughing:

        “You make me want to roll on the floor and kick the air with all four paws!”  He said IMPULSIVELY.  Fudge smiled and, sitting down, placed his hind paws against Toby’s.  Toby giggled, rubbing his smoother pads and toes against fudge’s rougher ones.

      “Do you ever walk on these paws fudge?”  Toby asked, “Your pads are rough!”

       “It’s my HERITAGE,” FUDGE said, “I have polar bear blood in me from a long time back.”

       “Your mama was a panda though,” TOBY stated.  Fudge smiled:

      “My father was a panda, my mama, she was a polar bear, HENCE my paw pads.”  Toby SMILED and lifted Fudge’s right hind foot, kissing his pads and toes, the older panda laughing merrily.

       “Your hind feet are small Toby,” FUDGE said.

       “Mine are smaller still,” Imogen replied.

      “I’m a year old now,” TOBY said.  Fudge looked over at Imogen, who crawled up to him, then scrambled into his lap.

       “I want to show you my paws too!”  She said, rolling onto her back, presenting Fudge with a good view of the soles of all four of her paws.  Fudge kissed Imogen’s nose and paw pads, the little cub laughing helplessly.

       “He likes you little sister,” TOBY said to Imogen, who reached up to fudge with both forepaws.

       “Where did you come from?”  Toby asked Fudge.

        “My mama was a polar bear, my sire was a panda, and I’m here now,” FUDGE replied, Toby smiling broadly.

        “That’s all that can be said I suppose,” HE said.

 

Meanwhile, Koda, distressed by the account of Gizmo’s death, spoke to Kamchatka about draining the flume and showing the cubs why they should not play in the water.

       “We can allow Sita to touch the belts while they are stationary,” KODA said.

        “I’ve had another idea for the snow room,” KAMCHATKA replied, “you know you have that EXTENSION to it you haven’t used?”  Koda nodded:

       “That was a bit of folly,” HE said, “I regret purchasing that.”

        Well, now, how about putting in a TOBOGGAN run.  Sita could ride that.  It’s sad she can’t walk the course and ride it too.”

       “I let her walk the water coaster course, well slide some of it and walk the rest.  She really APPRECIATED that.”

       “I want to kick Hubert’s tail!”  Kamchatka snarled, “He’s awful!”  Koda nodded.

        “He’s gonna get himself into trouble very soon,” HE said.

       “We must tell the cubs though that the flume is not a plaything,” KODA said.

 

To that end Koda drained the flume, and arranged for the community to gather around the flume to see how it worked, WITH just a little water in the bottom of the canals.  Toby stared into the water, seeing the belts and rollers.

        “They look dangerous already,” HE said.  Sita kept her paw tight on Imogen’s so her cub would NOT CRAWL anywhere near the edge.

        “Now let’s switch on the rollers,” KODA said, pressing a button.  The rollers started up, and Toby swore quietly, Sita snorting with disgust.

        “Watch your mouth!”  She snapped.

      “You don’t know mama, because you can’t see what I can,” HE said.  Koda then stopped the belts and guided Sita down into the canal.  She felt the wet hard rubber belts under her pads.

      “I wouldn’t want to get my paws stuck in these,” SHE said, wading along to the first lift hill and climbing the ladder to the top.

       “I’ve had enough,” SITA said as she clambered down, “I hate to think what Gizmo went through when he died.”  Sita hugged fudge, the bear weeping into her coat.

       “We do not blame YOU for Gizmo’s death,” SITA said softly.

       “I am alone now,” FUDGE, said, “I have no place.”  Sita held him close.

       “You have a home here,” SHE mewed.  Fudge smiled and pressed himself close to the cat bear.

       “Thank you,” HE said.  Sita led Fudge back to the house, the rest of the community following.

         “So no going swimming in the flume!”  Kamchatka said to all the assembled cubs, which yawned and looked bored for the most part.

        “We’re not stupid,” HARVEY remarked.

        “I didn’t say you were,” KAMCHATKA replied, “I just don’t want any of you getting yourselves killed on that flume.  It needs treating with respect.”

       “So you wish to stop us using the flume?”  Astra asked.

       “No no no no no!”  Kamchatka replied, stamping her paws, something she did UNCONSCIOUSLY when PASSIONATE about an issue, and the community had noticed more and more.

       “I love it when you stamp your paws mama,” ASTRA said smiling.  Kamchatka looked SHEEPISH, CONSCIOUSLY making AN EFFORT TO KEEP HER PAWS ON THE FLOOR BY SLAMMING EACH ONE DOWN IN TURN, and leaning on it for a few seconds, as if to tell her paws what to do, all the cubs grinning at her.

      “You are so funny mama Kamchatka,” KNUT said.  Kamchatka looked at the cub.

       “Have you got a cure for huge unruly paws?”  She asked.  Knut smiled and stood on his hind legs, reaching up to the mama grizzly bear.

       “Follow your paws mama,” HE said.  Kamchatka smiled and BECKONED to him.  Knut dropped to all four paws, turned a CARTWHEEL, wriggled madly while lying on his back, then, crossing his forepaws, kicked the air with his hind feet, pedalling as if he was riding a bicycle.  Laughing, Kamchatka IMMOLATED the cub. To the delight of Knut, who ran to her where she lay on her back on the floor and scrambled onto her belly, Kamchatka hugging Knut tightly.

       “Silly bear, silly bear!”  Toby laughed, Kamchatka leaping to her feet and challenging the group.

      “Who called me THAT?”  She roared, leaping at Toby and grabbing him in her paws, Toby squealing with fright.

      “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”  He yelled, “Mama, I didn’t mean it!”

        “I know,” Kamchatka said, kissing his nose and paws.

       “You had us all worried!”  Pakshalika said.  Kamchatka smiled:

       “I’m sorry about that,” the mama bear replied.

       “I wasn’t worried,” Qingshan said, “mama is so wonderful.”  Kamchatka kissed Toby’s nose and placed him on the floor.

       “Now use those paws to take YOU to the rest of those cubs,” KAMCHATKA said.  Toby smiled and turned rear on to the mama bear/

       “I need my paws recharged,” HE said.  Kamchatka smiled and kneeling down, kissed the cub’s pads.

       “There,” SHE said, “is that better?”  Toby laughed and crawled to Imogen, leading her by the paw to the mama bear.

        “Here mama,” HE said.  Kamchatka smiled and sat down, lifting Imogen onto her lap, the little cub snuggling up to her.

       “She looks beautiful,” FUDGE said.  Sita gulped hard, trying not to weep.

       “Come,” FUDGE said, leading Sita by her paw to Kamchatka and bowing to the grizzly bear, placing Sita’s forepaw on Kamchatka’s nose.

        “Why not find out why we find Kamchatka so beautiful when she’s holding your younger cub.”  Sita explored Kamchatka’s body as she held Imogen on her lap.

       “She’s so lovely,” Sita said.   Kamchatka opened her mouth and raised her forepaws towards her face, Sita’s paws encountering Kamchatka’s open mouth, and Imogen rising towards it, her forepaws stretched up to her.  Sita gasped as her cub’s paws found their way to the mama bear’s mouth, Kamchatka kissing Imogen’s tiny paws.

       “I see the cubs trust you implicitly,” Sita said.

         “I knew she wouldn’t bite my paws,” IMOGEN said.  Sita smiled, and settled down to stroking mama Kamchatka’s right hind foot, the mama bear wiggling, curling and stretching her toes in response to the cat bear’s touch.

       “You look so cute mama Kamchatka,” TOBY said, who grinned happily.

        “Mama Kamchatka seems as happy as she can ever be,” ANOOK said, “a cub on her lap and someone massaging her hind paws can’t be bad.”  Kamchatka laughed merrily.

        “I love the cubs with all my heart,” SHE said.

        “I know you do,” Sita replied.  Xiaohui, who was sitting uncomfortably at the back of the room, got up and shifted from paw to paw before sitting down again.  Suddenly she got up and left the room.

       “What’s up with her?”  Kuruk grunted, when Hubert got up and left quickly, following Xiaohui.  Xiaohui padded quickly down the passage, stopped suddenly, lowered her head to her forepaws and wailed with pain.

        “Are you having your cub mama?”  Hubert asked.  Xiaohui smiled and nodded, crawling to her lie up, for she was now unable to walk.  Sitting down, Xiaohui began to rock back and fourth between contractions, grabbing her right hind foot in her forepaws and squeezing down hard as she bore the worst of her pain.

        “Pant mama pant,” Bertie said, Xiaohui panting, then screwing up her face and roaring with pain as the contraction tore her apart.

      Aoaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaowowowoaoaoaoww, aoaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaowowowoaoaoaoww!  She screamed.  Bertie saw Xiaohui’s sweating fur and paws, and knew he could do nothing to help her bar encourage her to rock and squeeze her hind paws with her fore.

        “I can see the cub coming now!”  Bertie suddenly yelled after Xiaohui rolled onto her back, drew up her hind feet and grabbed them with her forepaws.  Then wriggling, she’d  given vent to a yell of pain that shook the walls.  The mama panda, wailing in agony, roared as her body adjusted to delivering a large cub.  Whimpering, the mama panda struggled to her feet, squatted and bore down hard twice, screaming lustily.

Aoaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaowowowoaoaoaoww, aoaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaowowowoaoaoaoww, Aoaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaowowowoaoaoaoww, aoaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaowowowoaoaoaoww!”  Bertie caught the cub in a haze of noise, sweat, fluid and a mama panda’s agony.

       “All done mama, all done!”  Bertie said, cleaning up a large grey bear cub.  Xiaohui came down from her effort, and then looked at her newborn cub, who was shrieking her need for food.

      “Wow,”  Xiaohui panted, “I was so intent on pushing down to deliver my cub, I hardly noticed she was here,”  Xiaohui said.  Bertie, having cleaned the cub up, handed her to her mama.

        “wow mama, that was amazing!”  Qinshan said, having followed Bertie from the great room and witnessed the whole birth.

        “come here Qingshan and meet your little sister,” Xiaohui said.  Qingshan smiled and approached his mum, reaching out a paw to touch the newborn cub’s head as she fed busily.

       “What will you name her?”  Qingshan asked.

     “Amy I think,”  Xiaohui replied, “it’s a lovely name that.”  Qingshan watched as amy kicked the air with her hind feet, eventually gripping her mama’s fur with all four paws as she fed busily.

       “She’s so adorable,” Qingshan said.  Amy scrambled down to the floor, turned to Qingshan and crawled to him, Qingshan smiling and sitting down to embrace his sister cub.

       “Come here,” he said gently, guiding her onto his lap and settling her comfortably.  Amy rolled onto her back and waved her paws in the air as Qingshan rubbed her ears.

         “I can’t believe you had this cub!”  Qingshan said.  Xiaohui smiled and rolled onto her back, kicking the air with her hind paws like her cub had done, Bertie smothering a need to laugh.

        “You look so funny mama Xiaohui,” he said.  The mama panda got to her feet and hugged her eldest cub, Qingshan grinning broadly.

      “Now let’s go with little Amy here to meet some of the other community members,” Xiaohui said.  Freckles padded in, the sound of the newborn cub having attracted her attention.

      “Who is this?”  She asked.  Qingshan told her.

      “Wonderful, a cub!”  Freckles squealed.  Amy scrambled into Freckles embrace, the cat bear hugging her tenderly.

       “This is the best day of my life,” Amy mumbled as she snuggled close to Freckles.

       “You’re not old enough to say that!”  Bertie laughed.  Amy wriggled with delight as Freckles hugged her tightly.

        “I wish I could be hugged like that,” Bertie said.  Xiaohui smiled, padded to Bertie, and embraced him tightly.  Bertie felt his toes curling tightly as he was embraced by the mama panda.

       “A classic response to being hugged by a caring set of paws,” Xiaohui said.  Bertie looked at her:

       “What do you mean?”  He asked.

       “When I embraced you your toes curled,” Xiaohui replied.  Bertie smiled:

        “Yes they did,” he admitted.  Xiaohui tickled Bertie’s curled toes, the half grown cub squealing with laughter and drawing up his hind feet, grabbing them with his forepaws and hanging on tightly.  The mama panda watched as Bertie pushed back against his forepaws with his hind feet.

        “You look so cute,” she said, kissing the gripping digits of his left forepaw.  Bertie closed his eyes and pushed hard against his forepaws with his hind feet.

        “Now let’s leave here and wash little Amy,” Freckles said.

 

In the shower, Qingshan and his mama and sister found Kamchatka sitting on the tiles, her weight thrown forward, body  supported by her forepaws, her eyes closed, the mama bear apparently deep in thought.

        “Mama?”  Qingshan asked.  Kamchatka, water showering onto her head and back, seemed to be deeply asleep.  Hey mama!”  Bertie yelled, crawling to the mama bear and shaking her shoulder.  Kamchatka, snorting like an express train, woke suddenly.

      “Yeah, what?”  She asked, sniffing water up her nose and sneezing explosively.

      “We’re trying to shower a newborn cub!”  Bertie yelled, as if Kamchatka was either deaf, or so huge, he felt he needed to shout.

        “Newborn cub?”  Kamchatka choked, Oh, yes, yes!”

       “I was on the verge of tickling your hind paws,” Bertie admitted.

       “You leave my hind feet alone!”  Kamchatka said, sitting back on her heels then sitting down properly, the shower still soaking her fur.

       “Your hind paws do look very Strokable,” Bertie said.  Kamchatka laughed merrily and flexed her toes.

       “Others have said that,” she replied.  Kamchatka left the shower, shaking water all over Bertie and Freckles, who both squealed with indignation.

       “Hey, stop that!”  Freckles choked, as she entailed water from the grizzly bear’s coat.

      “Sorry,” Kamchatka said, placing a damp paw on Freckles nose, making her yelp.

     “Hey, stop that!”  She yelled, batting at Kamchatka’s paw.

       “Sorry,” Kamchatka said, embracing the cat bear with tender paws.

       “Oh mama,” Freckles said, snuggling close to the mama bear.

       “I wish you’d seen mama Xiaohui’s cub’s birth,” Qingshan said to Kamchatka.

      “I saw it on the video,” Kamchatka said, “it was that which I was thinking about when you came in and woke me.”

       “You were thinking of me and my cub?”  Hooey asked.  Kamchatka smiled broadly:

       “I was, and I am glad you had your cub safely and quickly,” the mama bear said.

       “I couldn’t stop pushing!”  Xiaohui laughed.

       “I saw that,” Kamchatka replied, “and that is normal when a cub is large.  Mama gets used to pushing against her large cub to expel it into the world, and has trouble stopping her expulsive efforts.”

       “Did you strain like I did?”  Xiaohui asked.  Kamchatka closed her eyes, remembering Alaska’s birth.

       “I did,” she replied, “I too couldn’t stop pushing.”

       “Will you have another cub?”  Qingshan asked.  Kamchatka opened her eyes, and they had a distant look in them.

        “I might,” she replied, “I might have another cub.”  Kamchatka shifted her paws on the tiles, bouncing a little on her toes as she thought about having another cub.

       “You look eager,” Bertie said.  Kamchatka giggled:

     “I was just thinking about having a cub,” she said.  Xiaohui padded up to Kamchatka and stood up on her hind feet, Kamchatka kissing the mama panda’s nose. 

 

 

Kamchatka padded away from the shower to her lie up, where she found Koda sleeping peacefully.

       “I love this bear,” she thought as she watched the black bear sleeping.  Kamchatka knew she’d loved Koda before he’d taken his spiritual form as a bear, indeed, her extreme reaction to her dream about killing the boss had told her in no uncertain terms what she really felt about the Boss, who was then in human form.  She looked down at the bear she now knew as Koda.

      “I love you,” Kamchatka said aloud, kissing the black bear’s ear, before lying down beside him.

       “I want to have another cub with you,” Kamchatka whispered into Koda’s ear, the black bear’s ear twitching.

      “I want to give you a cub before we become too old to nurture one,” Koda yawned.  Kamchatka hugged him close, the black bear snuggling into her hug.

       “I want to give birth to a cub that is as handsome as you,” Kamchatka said.  Koda smiled broadly, his white teeth showing against his black fur.

       “Are you feeling bready after Hooey’s cub’s birth?”  Koda asked.  Kamchatka grinned:

      “I suppose I am,” she replied, “but I’ve been hoping for a cub for some time now.”  Koda smiled:

        “But you never said a thing,” he said, “I’ve wanted to ask you for ages, but I haven’t had the nerve.”  Kamchatka kissed his nose:

        “All you need to do is begin by touching my paws,” Kamchatka said, “then, then, take me as a male bear has taken his females for generations.”  Koda snorted:

       “I hate all that neck biting stuff, it’s so dreadful,” he said.

        “I don’t like it either,” Kamchatka replied, “but what I do like is being held, being chased, having my nose kissed, paws stroked and kissed, belly rubbed, and also, being pinned down by a bear who truly loves me from nose to tail!”

      “Just from nose to tail?”  Koda asked.

       “Oh all right, deeper than nose to tail, but you know what I meant,” Kamchatka said with mock exasperation, gently cuffing Koda with her paw.  Koda suddenly roared and rolled Kamchatka onto her back, Pinning her down under his forepaws and touching noses with her as she wriggled and pawed at the air with all four of her huge paws.

       “Oooah!”  Kamchatka yelled as she fought her mate, Koda kissing her nose and the pads of her left forepaw as she waved it in the air.

      “Still my paws,” Kamchatka said, “Koda, still my paws and make me a happy mama bear for the last time in my life.”  Koda kissed the pads of all four of Kamchatka’s huge paws, the she bear whimpering and sighing with pleasure as Koda kissed her forepaws, then her hind feet.

        “Now Koda, please, please!”  Kamchatka begged.  Koda did his duty to Kamchatka, the she bear roaring with excitement and ecstasy, her paws holding Koda, then pawing at his body as he ran his paws all over her from her nose to her tail.  When it came to mating, Kamchatka and Koda mated with roaring and pawing, Koda at Kamchatka’s back, Kamchatka gripping the rugs with the toes of all four of her paws, standing on tiptoe from time to time as Koda did his duty to press her body against his.  Koda and Kamchatka fell apart happy and for filled after five minutes of heavy mating.

     “That was wonderful!”  Kamchatka said panting hard.  Koda, exhausted but happy, hugged Kamchatka with tender paws.

       “I hope we have cubs,” he said, tracing the pads of her right hind foot.  Curling her toes, Kamchatka replied:

       “I hope so too Koda.”  Koda kissed Kamchatka’s fore and hind paws, the she bear whimpering with pleasure.

       “I’m worn out, but I don’t want this to end!”  She gasped.  Koda hugged Kamchatka tightly, the she bear relaxing into his hug.

       “Now rest dear Kamchatka,” Koda said, “for the next time you roar like that, will be with effort to give birth to your cub.”  Kamchatka smiled happily.

       “I will give joyous and committed birth to our cub Koda,” she said.  Koda explored Kamchatka with his paws, from her nose to the toes of her hind feet, stroking and patting fur, and massaging pads and toes, Kamchatka wriggling and gasping as she amerced herself in her mate’s touch.

      “”I love this so much!”  Kamchatka said, wriggling into Koda’s hug.  Koda smiled and kissed Kamchatka’s nose and paw pads, the she bear whimpering, grunting and whining with emotion.

        “I wish I could do the same for you as you’re doing for me,” Kamchatka said to Koda.  Koda smiled and held Kamchatka Close.

       “My pleasure is giving you pleasure,” he said, “Do you not think I get pleasure from feeling your toes curling with pleasure? From hearing your whimpering and feeling you wriggle with ecstasy when I touch your fur and paws?”

       “I can feel your pleasure through the touch of my pads on yours,” Kamchatka panted.

      “That’s settled then,” Koda said gently.

      “I love your soft fur and wrinkled pads,” Kamchatka said.  Koda smiled:

       “I love your soft fur and wrinkled pads too,” he replied, “especially when your toes curl, and those wrinkled pads bunch up.”  Koda massaged the pads of Kamchatka’s right hind foot in small circles, the she bear curling her toes tightly and holding them curled.  Koda then massaged her bunched pads and curled toes a little, Kamchatka curling her toes even tighter as he massaged them.

      “Relax those toes mama,” Koda said, Kamchatka gasping with effort.

       “I need help,” she panted.  Koda gently stroked his mate’s bunched pads in straight lines from her toes to her heel, Kamchatka slowly uncurling her toes as Koda massaged the large sole pad of her right hind foot.  Kamchatka breathed deeply as she relaxed her paw.

       “I love your touch!”  Kamchatka roared as Koda finished massaging her paw by gently counting her toes by touch.

        “I’m gonna remember this forever!”  Kamchatka said.

       “So will I,” Koda said softly, kissing his mate’s ear.

       “I will too,” Alaska said, Kamchatka looking over her mate’s shoulder at her youngest cub, who smiled back at her mama.

        “It was wonderful to see you two loving each other,” Alaska said, “maybe I’ll take what I’ve learnt to Spits and see if I can excite him with paw massages and stroking his fur.”  Kamchatka laughed merrily:

       “Try it Alaska,” she said, “see where it takes you and him.”

       “Do you and Koda check each other’s paws for thorns?”  Alaska asked.

     “Before we leave the lie up and when we return,” Kamchatka said, “every day without fail.”

       “Good,” Alaska said smiling, “for Spits and I have started checking each other’s paws over too.”

       “Make sure you check all pads and toes,” Kamchatka said.  Alaska laughed:

      “We do, we do!”  She said.  Koda touched Alaska’s left shoulder with his paw, and then ran it down her left leg to her paw.  Alaska picked her paw up off the rug, but then, feeling inspired, rolled onto her back.

      “Now you have access to all four of my paws!”  She giggled.  Koda smiled and gently checked his daughter cub’s paws over with questing teeth and tongue, just like a mama bear would, Alaska giggling with pleasure.

     “Any thorns?”  She asked when Koda had completed his exploration.

      “No,” he said, “but you have soft pads and mobile toes.  Alaska smiled:

      “If I have a cub, would you and mama be present at the cub’s birth?”  Koda hugged his cub.

      “Only if you and Spits are agreeable,” he said.

      “Do you remember my birth?”  Alaska asked.  Koda sat down, drawing his cub into a huge embrace.

       “I remember every bit of it as much as your mama does,”  he said, “I helped you into the world, pulling you into the world while your mama pushed down hard into her tail.”

      “Will your next cub be a black bear cub?”  Alaska asked.  Koda rubbed Alaska’s ears with his paw, the three quarter grown cub giggling cubbishly.

       “I don’t know,” her sire replied, “it might look like a black bear, it might not.”

       “But I know you’ll love your cub regardless,” Alaska said, “for that is what you and mama always do.  I know my heritage; I know where I came from.”

         “Your mama was killed by a male polar bear,” Koda said.  Alaska nodded and covered her face with her forepaws.

         “I saw a resemblance between me and Conrad,” she mumbled, “I touched his paws and realised they felt kind of like mine did, all fat, and he had a slightly flat paw too, his left hind foot, though my flat paw is my right hind.  He had the family scent too, a scent that is not on either mama Kamchatka or you Koda.  I asked him, asked him where my mama was, and he told me straight out.  Conrad wept for mama Alaska when he told me what happened.”

       “I am very sorry for what I did Alaska,” Conrad said, padding into the lie up.  Kamchatka looked at Conrad and the look in his eyes tugged at her emotions.

       “Come,” she said.  Conrad padded to Kamchatka, who embraced him tightly, comforting his distressed mind.

      “It was a mistake,” Kamchatka said, “and you were courageous to tell Alaska what happened to her biological mother.”

       “I didn’t mean to kill her,” Conrad sniffed, “it was an accident!  Yes I was enraged, but murder was not in my mind, we were fighting due to my actions, and I am so sorry for what happened to mama Alaska.”

      “Maybe there will be a new mama Alaska soon,” Alaska said, “maybe spits and I will have a cub, and you can witness it born Conrad.”  Conrad sat down opposite Alaska, the young female polar bear letting her biological sire curl his toes around those of her hind feet, Alaska pushing back against Conrad’s warm pads.

         “I listened to Emily giving birth to her cubs with mama Alaska’s help,” Conrad said, “and that was lovely, despite Emily’s hostility towards the mama bear.”

       “I saw that too,” Alaska replied, “I saw Emily’s pain and effort, and mama Alaska’s gentility despite her anger at the she otter’s conduct.”

      “You were a big cub too,”  Kamchatka said, “I had to really push to deliver you into the world, I lay on my back, grabbed my hind feet with my forepaws and held on tight while pushing hard down into my tail.”  The sound of urgently scuffling paws and heavy panting made Kamchatka leap to her feet and run to the door, pushing Conrad out of the way of a bedraggled big cat that collapsed screaming onto the rugs inside the lie up.  Roaring and yowling, the female big cat curled the toes of all four paws, arched her back and heaved convulsively twice, shrieking as she bore down into her tail.  Kamchatka saw dirty sweat soaked fur and straining muscles, the mama cat’s eyes tightly shut and toes curled so tightly, her claws were nearly puncturing her pads.  Kicking hard with all four paws, the mama cat screamed lustily:

        “Oooah! Yuowowowowowowowwoaow!”  The mama cat screeched as she fought to deliver her cub.  Then, with a rush of fluid the cub began to emerge.  The mama big cat clearly had to push very hard to deliver her enormous cub.  Screaming the roof off, the mama cat delivered the cub’s head and forepaws, then, she relaxed suddenly.

     “I don’t know what she mated with, but he was huge,” Kamchatka thought as she watched, uncertain whether she should get paws on or not.

      Shouldn’t we help her?”  Alaska asked.  Kamchatka was about to advance on the mama cat when the big cat screamed with pain and collapsed.  Kamchatka knew what this meant, and went to the cat’s hind quarters, to find her cub, which’s head and forepaws were outside its mama’s body, trying to free itself.  Snarling, the cub wriggled and kicked, trying to free its body.

      “I’m stuck, I’m stuck!”  The cub yelled, “I can’t move my legs or paws!”  Kamchatka gently pulled at the cub’s forepaws, the cub howling with pain.

       “It’s no good,” Kamchatka said, “now we really must get the cub out, he’s alive!”

      “That’s more than can be said for his mother,” Blackberry said, who’d come in when he’d noticed the commotion on the camera.  There and then, Blackberry got oils and worked oil into the cub’s fur as far down his body as he could.  Then pulling steadily, Blackberry gently pulled the cub from his dead mother’s body, the cub groaning with discomfort as he was pulled into the world.

       “That was a tight squeeze!”  The cub gasped once he was cleaned up.  Blackberry checked the mother cat over.

       “She’s a very old cat,” he said, “I want to wash her body to find out what kind of cat she was.”

       “We know what she was,” patch said, padding in from the wood, “she was a tigress, bound to be, just look at her cub!”

        “She is too old to be having cubs,” blackberry said, looking at the tigress’s mouth, “she has very few teeth.  She’s an ancient mother.

        “Eighteen years old if she’s a day,” Kamchatka said, “delivering this chap killed her.

       “She knew she needed help though,” Conrad observed, “she was in heavy labour when she came to us.  But who is she?”

       “We may never know,” Alaska said.

       “I’m hungry, and my paws are stiff!”  The newborn cub complained.

      “We need a mama with milk, and quick,” Kamchatka said.

 

Xiaohui, watching the goings on from her lie up, looked at Qingshan who smiled and put a call through to Kamchatka’s lie up, giving the microphone to Xiaohui.

        “I have plenty of milk for a lost cub,” Xiaohui said into the microphone.  Kamchatka smiled broadly into the camera lens and very soon, Xiaohui had a newborn tiger cub to nurse as well as her own newborn cub.  The tiger cub found Xiaohui’s milk rich and warm, and didn’t seem to mind nursing from a mama panda.  His paws kneaded milk from Xiaohui’s milk supply, the mama panda enjoying her duties.

       “What shall we name you?”  She asked the tiger cub.

       “Surely I don’t know,” the big cub said.

       “How if we name him Arjuna?”  Bianca asked, padding in and looking with sad pride at the newborn tiger cub.

       “What’s eating you?”  Bertie asked.  Bianca gulped hard, sitting down suddenly.

        “I saw, saw something,” she said, “Blackberry and Ekaterina, they were,” she took a shuddering breath; “they were, um, investigating the origins of the mama tiger who came in and delivered this cub to us.  She, um, her name was Bianca.  She was, was, my mother’s sister, the one whom was shot and for whom snowy bore me to life years ago.  It seems that, that she survived into very old age, older than snowy herself, and Bianca, with her last strength on this earth, came in raging pain and fear to the one place she knew was safe for her cub.  Once they washed her fur and paws, Mama Bianca looked beautiful.  Ekaterina, she closed Bianca’s eyes and relaxed her taught limbs and curled toes.  She looked almost serene.”

        “So that tigress is your biological mother?”  Bertie asked.  Bianca nodded sadly.

      “Yes, she is,” Bianca replied, choking back tears.

      “It’s okay to weep for your mother,” patch said, padding in and resting his paw on Bianca’s shoulder.

       “I was told she’d died!”  Bianca sobbed.

       “Snowy half tail and the spirits believed she had,” patch replied, “but she lived on, though you would not have Bianca.  Your mama would have delivered you too soon due to the shock of being shot.  Snowy half tail gave you life, and your biological mother fought on to deliver one last cub into the paws of those who would truly look after and love him where she was unable to.”

        “She looked so peaceful lying on the rugs where Blackberry had laid her while he examined her,” Bianca said, “He checked to make sure there were no other cubs inside her, and there weren’t.  Once he’d checked all that, he washed her body and paws and then Ekaterina closed her eyes and mouth.”  Bianca padded away, very distressed.

 

       “Now what?”  Kamchatka asked, “That was all very shocking and unexpected.  I can’t cope with that at my age!”  Koda laughed merrily.

       “You might have to cope with the patter of tiny paws very soon,” he said.  Kamchatka grinned.

 

Meanwhile, Flocke was in pain.  The pain had started an hour ago, and she’d gone to the relieving place, but her pain had not eased.  Now she was really concerned.  Flocke’s pain increased as she walked unsteadily towards Blackberry’s lie up.

         “You’re in labour,” Blackberry said after taking one look at the female polar bear.

       “I can’t be!”  Flocke gasped, “It’s not possible!”  Then, thinking hard, she remembered.

       “Kenny and I mated, oh for Eohippus sake!”  Flocke was soon lying on her side on the floor of Blackberry’s lie up, her contractions regular and forceful.

      “Someone told me Flocke is in labour?”  Kenny yelled at Kamchatka an hour later.  Kamchatka smiled and nodded:

       “Go to Blackberry’s lie up,” she said, “he’s helping her, go quick, and as I think the cub is nearly here.”  Kenny fled to the spirit bear’s lie up, to find his mate sitting up and rocking back and fourth with her contractions coming every few minutes.

       “Kenny, oh Kenny!”  Flocke gasped.

       “What the hell’s going on?”  Kenny asked his eyes wide with shock.

       “You are going to be a sire very shortly I think,” Blackberry said.  Kenny sat down and covered his eyes with his paws.

        “We’re too young for this!”  He moaned.

       “We mated, and now, now, ooooooaw!”  Flocke screamed, bearing down hard into her tail, sweat flying off her fur as she wriggled with discomfort.  Flocke rolled onto her back and drew her hind feet up, grabbing them with her forepaws before bearing down hard, screaming and crying.

        “I can’t believe this!”  Kenny roared.

       “The cub’s nearly here,” Blackberry said to Flocke, who was crying with pain, “push mama, push.  Flocke closed her eyes and bore down into her tail, squealing and curling the toes of all four paws as she did so.  Kenny watched through the digits of his forepaws as his mate gave birth to their first cub.  He’d never seen birth up close like this, and was astonished at how much effort Flocke had to make to deliver the cub.  Each push demanded all her strength.

      “The cub’s head and forepaws are coming now,” Blackberry said gently, Flocke stretching full length on her side while screaming and roaring as she was stretched to her limits.

      “Push hard, right down!”  Kenny yelled.  Flocke screamed back at him, telling him he knew nothing and then swearing extravagantly at him as she bore her pain.

       “Pant now Flocke,” Blackberry said softly.  Flocke did, and then she wailed as the cub’s large body slowly emerged.

      “nearly done,”  Blackberry said, gently holding the emerging cub, “push a little more,”  Blackberry encouraged, “push to deliver the cub’s hind quarters , hind legs and hind paws, come on Flocke, [push dear.  Flocke wriggled, curled her toes tightly, and bore down as hard as she could.

       “It’s got to come out now!”  She roared in desperation.  The cub slid out into Blackberry’s paws.

      “All done,” Blackberry said gently, clearing the mucus from the newborn cub’s mouth and then giving the cub to Flocke.

       “She’s yours I think,” he said, Flocke opening her eyes and seeing her cub for the first time.

        “Wow,” Flocke sighed, “did I bring her into the world?”  Blackberry laughed:

       “You did,” he said, “you did it all without pain relief too, very well done.”  Flocke reached out with her forepaws and took the newborn cub from Blackberry.

        “This is amazing,” she said weakly.  Kenny took his paws from his eyes and looked at his newborn cub.

        “She’s beautiful,” he said, “all brown fur with darker brown paw pads, very cute indeed!”  Flocke giggled.

      “She is cute,” she said.

       “I have never seen such pain or effort!”  Kenny said.  Flocke smiled.

        “Having cubs is painful,” she said, “but I wouldn’t have missed a minute of it.”  Flocke fed her cub, the cub drinking busily.

        “I can’t believe how beautiful this cub is!”  Flocke said softly.  The cub, having finished her drink, rolled onto her back to have her belly and paws tickled, which Flocke obliged, the cub laughing helplessly.

      “My jaw and toes ache,” Flocke mumbled, “my whole body aches!”

        “I heard a tiger cub was born here earlier,” Flocke said, “and he has no mama, for she died giving birth to him.  I’m not dead, labour didn’t kill me, and for that I’m grateful.”  Kenny examined the cub, and saw a resemblance to him in her paw pads, her smooth pads and their inadequacy for tundra life.

       “She looks so vulnerable,” Kenny said.  The cub crawled to Kenny, who gathered her into a huge hug, the cub snuggling close.  Pushing her body against his belly with her hind feet, the cub begged for warmth.

        “I’m cold!”  The cub said, Kenny taking off the scarf he habitually wore and tying it loosely around the cub’s body, the cub almost dwarfed by the scarf.

        “Is there a little jacket we can put on her?”  Flocke asked.

       “She’s got fur,” Kenny said, “She does not need a jacket.”

         “Though warm feet would be nice,” the cub said.  Jess, smiling, walked into the lie up, Flocke looking up at her.

        “”What is that in your hand Jess?”  She asked.  Jess picked up the little cub and gently put the suit on her, the cub’s body, limbs hind feet and forepaws covered in an all in one quilted suit.

      “There,” she said, the cub giggling and snuggling down into the warmth of the suit.

      “That looks unnatural,” Kenny said.

       “But I bet you’d like to wear that?”  Flocke asked.  Kenny laughed:

       “It looks cute,” he said.

     “My paws and hind feet are all warm and snug!”  The cub laughed.

       “We need to keep you warm,” Flocke said.

      “Not too warm though,” Kenny replied, “nice though that quilted stuff is, our cub needs room to move, room to wiggle her toes!”  Indeed, the cub, yet unnamed, was exploring her new body.  Indeed, she crawled about, then unzipped the suit and struggled out of it.

       “That’s tight,” she said, “but I liked how soft it was against my paws.  I’ll get in it again soon.  Right now, I’m going to crawl about here for a while.”

       “It’s unnatural!”  Kenny wailed.

      Its fun,” the cub said to him.

       “How would you know what is fun when you are only half an hour into the world?”  Kenny asked.

       “I know what feels good to my paws, and feeling my paws free feels good sometimes, as does feeling them enclosed in softness.”  Kenny literally threw his paws in the air in frustration.

        “You don’t understand how silly you look!”  He roared.

       “And you don’t sound silly?”  Flocke asked.  Kenny covered his mouth with his paws.

         “You’ve embarrassed him,” jess said.  Kenny grinned sheepishly.

      “Now could someone help me back into that warm place?”  Flocke’s cub asked.  Kenny helped her, guiding her hind feet into the suit.  The cub pushed her feet down into the feet of the suit, the cub pushing her hind feet hard into the suit.  Then she wriggled and twisted to wriggle the rest of her body into the suit.

       “I need to get in here; I need to get in here!”  The cub whimpered, imitating her mama’s cries as she delivered her into the world, Flocke giggling with happiness.

       “She heard me cry out when I was in pain,” she said.

      “I heard you whimpering mama, I even felt you wriggle and push against me,” the cub said.  You rocked me back and fourth too.”  The cub then sat up and began rocking back and fourth on her backside.

       “”your toes are curling too!”  Flocke said, “Mine did that also.  The cub grabbed her right hind foot with her forepaws, squealing as she made contact with her own pads.

      “Oooah!”  She yelled, “This feels strange, but lovely too!”

       “Enjoy your paws little one,” Flocke said.  The cub giggled as she tickled the pads of her right hind foot, feeling her toes curl tightly.

       “My toes like my forepaws!”  She laughed.

     “Mine do too,” Flocke said.  The cub suddenly realised she was touching material, and not her own paw pads.  Panicking, she tore at the jump suit, tearing her way out of it.

      “I want to free my paws; I want to free my paws!”  She yelled, “My hind feet are stuck!”  The cub tore at her right forepaw with her teeth, ripping the material and exposing her paw.  Then she tore at the glove on her left forepaw, and then she tore at the body of the jumpsuit, and then the hind feet of the suit, exposing her hind paws.  Soon the cub had torn the suit off.

        “I’m free now, I’m free now!”  The cub yelled, rolling onto her back and grabbing her hind feet with her forepaws.

      “This feels great!”  She said, wriggling with pleasure.  Flocke smiled and kissed the pads of her cub’s right hind foot.

       “I want to kick the air with my feet!”  The cub squealed, fitting actions to words.  Meanwhile, jess stared down at the remains of her quilted suit.

       “I suppose bears weren’t meant to wear suits,” she thought, picking up the destroyed garment and binning it.

        “I’m sorry,” Kenny said to her.

       “It doesn’t matter,” Jess said, “I suppose having her paws covered was the thing she hated most.  I don’t like my fore or hind paws covered Kenny, and I should have remembered that.”

       “I’ve massaged your hind paws Jess,” Kenny said, “and I know why you can’t have them covered by anything.  They are desperate to feel the ground every day.”

       “I remember the birth of my cub, where my hands and feet were very important,” jess admitted, “I needed to feel everything my palms and soles, fingers and toes could feel, and they had to be bare to feel everything.”

       “Do you ever re-enact that time?”  Kenny asked.  Jess sat down and began to play with the toes of her right foot.

          “I do,” she replied, “I re-enact it, and patch has approved it too.  He says it’s good for me to do this.  I curled my toes, grabbed my feet with my hands, screamed and roared.”

       “You are even gripping your right foot with your hands tightly now,” Kenny said.  Jess smiled as she realised what she was doing.

        “I was even slightly pushing my right foot into my hands,” she admitted.

        “But you are human,” Kenny said to jess, “how could you deliver a bear cub into the world?”  Jess told him what she’d done in a former life.

        “You repented and gave the cub a second chance though?”  Kenny replied.

      “I did, “I’ll show you,” Jess said, tapping into the secret server and showing Kenny and Flocke the video of Peter’s birth.

        “That was amazing!”  Kenny said when jess had delivered her cub on the screen.”

        “I will never forget a thing,” jess replied.

       “I saw you curling your toes as you watched that video,” Flocke said.  Jess smiled:

       “When you watch your cub’s birth video, you will curl your toes too,” she said, “it’s a natural thing to do.”  Flocke smiled and hugged Jess tightly, the human sobbing into her coat.

         “I’ve hardly ever been hugged spontaneously by a bear since I was one myself,” Jess sniffed.  Flocke kissed her nose.

        “You repented of your crimes and have undone the harm you did,” the mother polar bear said, “now, even though you are no longer a bear, you can be hugged by members of the ursine family once more.”  Flocke took Jess’s right foot in her forepaws, the young girl curling her toes tightly, Flocke massaging the bunched skin on the sole of Jess’s foot, jess curling her toes as tightly as she could, before slowly relaxing, then stretching them.

        “Your reaction to someone stroking your hind paws is just like that of a cub’s,” Flocke said.

       “I’m only a cub, really only a cub,” Jess admitted.  Flocke looked down at Jess’s foot in her forepaws.

        “Would you describe the sole of my foot?”  Jess asked, “I can’t see it myself, and I so much want to know what it looks like.”  Flocke grinned:

        “Well you have touched the sole of your foot haven’t you?”  She asked, “explored it with your forepaws, I mean hands?”  Jess grinned and replied:

       “Yes I have, it’s, well, fun to do that sort of thing.”  Flocke giggled:

      “it is,”  she said, “well, starting at your toes, you have five toes,”  Flocke touched each one of Jess’s toes, counting as she did so, “starting with your big toe, there’s one, two, three, four and five, from largest to littlest toe.  Then, moving down or further back from your toes, you have a big pad, the ball of your foot, and it’s the same for mine too.  Then, where our paws differ here, is that from the ball of your foot, going back towards your heel, you have an arch, bears don’t.  We have flat feet compared to humans.  Jess was trying to listen attentively, but Flocke’s description was accompanied by her touch on parts of her foot that she was describing, and Jess wanted to laugh, as it tickled slightly.

      “Carry on, please,” jess giggled.

       “Am I tickling you?”  Flocke asked.  Jess grinned:

       “You are, a little,” she admitted.

       “I’m so sorry,” Flocke replied.

        “I don’t’ mind, here, I’ll curl my toes a little, that should stop the tickling.”  Jess put actions to words, and curled her toes tightly, relaxed them, and wiggled her toes.

     “There,” she said, now carry on, please.”  Flocke smiled:

       “Well the sole of your foot, the arched part has lines on it,”  Flocke traced the lines on jess’s right foot with the toes of her left forepaw, jess screaming with laughter and whipping her foot away and grabbing it in both her hands.

       “That really tickles!”  She laughed, rubbing the sole of her foot with her fingers.

        “I’m sorry!”  Flocke said, looking mortified.

       “I don’t mind, it’s funny really,” jess said, giving Flocke her right foot once more.  Flocke took hold of Jess’s foot and continued her exploration and description.

        “Your heel has slightly tougher skin, and it covers a large pad.  Jess smiled as Flocke finished her explanation and gently kissed the toes of her right foot, just like she would do with her own cub.

       “I have explored my own paws mama,” her cub said, “and I tickled my own toes!”  Flocke giggled, scooped her cub up and hugged her.

       “What should we name you?”  She asked.

       “How if we name her Perdita,” jess suggested.

        “But she wasn’t lost or abandoned,” Kenny said, “We can’t name her that.”

        “Where is my cub?”  Kojack yelled, running into the lie up.

       “Your cub?”  Kenny asked.  Flocke looked shocked, and then she fled from the room in floods of tears.

         “What do you mean your cub?”  Kenny asked, Kojack, you are talking rubbish.

       “Flocke and I consummated our relationship some time ago!”  Kojack said.

        “Little cubby is mine, not yours!”  Kenny roared, now furious!

        “Take an o paternity test for that cub then,” Kojack snapped, “then it will tell you who the sire of the cub is.”

        “Why did mama run off?”  Flocke’s cub asked.

        “There is more to this than anyone thought,” Kenny replied, “I don’t remember mating with Flocke, though she has a cub?”

       “You lay Kojack,” Kuruk grunted, crashing into the lie up like an express train, “you make illegal sex with Flocke in wood!  Kuruk see thing!”  Kojack looked frightened.

        “I wanted sex and she was there, so I took her!”  He roared, and now, after hearing from Hayden that Flocke had the cub, I want to claim my cub!”

        “Your cub will not go with you if she isn’t loved from nose to paws though,” jess said, “and you can’t love a cub from nose to paws if she was made by force.  You disgust me Kojack!”

        “I’m going to see Flocke,” Kenny said, “if she was taken by force, then why didn’t she say anything?”  Kenny padded out of the lie up, giving his cub to Kuruk to look after.  The cub confused and upset.

        “You come with me for minute,” Kuruk grunted.  The cub, now named Perdita, felt extremely lost.

       “What’s going on?”  She asked, “Who are you?  Where’s mum?”  Kuruk sat down and gathered Perdita into a huge hug.

        “Your paws feel warm and good,” Perdita said.  Kuruk looked down at the little cub.

         “Perdita,” Kuruk said, “your mama and sire love you dearly.”

      “But who is my sire?”  The cub asked.

        “Your sire is the one who looks after you with your mama,” Kuruk replied, “any bear can mate with another, but not just any bear will stick by the mama while she gives wild and screaming birth to cub.  Kenny loves Flocke dearly, though he want know why Flocke not tell him about rape.”

        “Poor mama,” jess said.

 

Meanwhile, Flocke and Kenny sat together in the wood, Flocke pouring out her tale.

        “I was in the wood,” she said, “and Kojack came running up, leapt on top of me and mated with me!  He’s a big bear, and I was so shocked I couldn’t do anything about him.  He mated quickly several times, and then left me.  I was so ashamed I slunk back to the house and showered.  I didn’t even tell Blackberry.  That night, you and I played together, and we nearly mated, so I convinced myself any resulting cub was yours, and if no cub resulted, then fine.”

       “I knew we hadn’t mated, I knew it!”  Kenny yelled, “I’m careful, I new we hadn’t mated!”

        “Now I go,” Flocke said, “I’ve not been entirely honest with you Kenny.  I love you, and that will never change, but I should have told you of Kojack’s horrible act.  Kuruk saw it and he can corroborate everything.  Now I and my cub will go.”

         “You followed community teachings,” Kenny said, “I wish you’d told me of the offence against you, but now, now I don’t care about it.  You are here, our cub is here, and I don’t care where she comes from.  You could have her adopted if you want.  Would you prefer that?”  Flocke shook her head:

        “She’s mine,” she said, “I can’t give her up.”

       “And she’s mine too,” Kenny replied, “I saw her born; I saw your toes curling and your pain.  I felt the joy of her birth with you.  Now let’s go on from here.  I’m sick of cubs being abandoned.  I was abandoned by my mama because I couldn’t hunt.  Now I will not abandon my cub because of her parentage.  It takes more than mating to love a cub and bind her to her family.”

       “She has a larger family than she knows,” Flocke said, “and so do I so it seems.”

       “it seems she’s been adopted by a grizzly bear who won’t let her out of his sight,”  Kenny said, “Kuruk’s hugging her.

       “He will adopt a lost cub,” Flocke said, “after all, if she is brought up in a supportive environment, it doesn’t matter where she came from, though Kojack should be punished for his actions!”

      “The wild way is not how we do things here,” Kenny said, “Kojack might have wanted to get his fix with you Flocke, but just remember what happened to Buck when he tried to dominate Sita.  He got walloped and blown out of her life because he tried to dominate her.  she wanted to make her own choices, and that’s what this community is all about, make your choices and live by them, but protect the cubs at all times.”

      “Let’s go on from here,” Kenny said, “love your cub mama; love her with all four of your gorgeous paws and most of all with your heart.”  Flocke hugged Kenny tightly.

        “I will,” she said, “and will you promise me something too?”

        “What’s that?”  Kenny asked.

       “That you will love our cub too?”  She asked.

      “Perdita or little Perdy as I think we’ll call her is cute and lovely.”  Flocke smiled and embraced Kenny.

       “Now let’s go back to our cub,” she said.  Both bears reared onto their hind feet and kissed noses, holding each other’s forepaws.  Then grinning, Kenny embraced his mate while they stood on their hind feet, Flocke smiling and snuggling into her mate’s hug.

 

Meanwhile, jess had tied Kojack up and called Koda, who’d come down, heard the story from Kuruk and Kojack, and pronounced that Kojack was to be thrown into jail for two weeks for his crimes.

 

Meanwhile, Bella was thinking of Kojack, though she was thinking more about how awful he’d been to Flocke.  She’d kept the secret of Kojack’s crime from the whole community, and would have continued doing so, but now she was furious and angry.  She decided to withdraw from him.  Indeed, she hated him for disobeying the community laws.  There was no need to fight for mates where they lived, and Kojack knew this.  Bella, keen to keep up her rough and ready appearance, muddied up her paws.  Ever since she’d arrived, Bella had been famous for her slightly muddy paws, and for being a champion player of, “catch the twig,” where a twig was picked up from the ground by one player using only their hind feet, then passed from hind paw to hind paw, then passed on to another player using only their hind feet.  Bella washed her paws often, but then muddied their appearance with special oil used to give the appearance of muddy fur.

        “I think I’ll go and teach little Amy and little Perdita to play catch the twig.  That’s more important than Kojack’s games.”

 

Bella padded into the house and found Yi Jie’s and Liang’s cubs playing together.  Seeing her, they mobbed her, rolled her over onto her back and tickled her paws, Bella laughing and hugging each in turn.

       “Bohai, Changpu!”  She laughed, “I love you both very much.”  The two panda cubs kissed her nose and Changpu picked up a small branch she’d got from the wood.

       “How if we play catch the twig?”  She asked.  Bella flexed the toes of her hind paws.

        “Let’s do that,” she said.  Bella took the small branches in the toes of her right hind foot, passed it to those of her left hind, then held out the branch to Changpu, who grabbed it in the toes of her right hind foot.

 

Meanwhile, in Blackberry’s lie up, Furcone was curling her toes for another reason entirely.  Her labour had started, and she was finding contractions hard to cope with.  Furcone’s growls of pain soon escalated to screams as the contractions built and subsided.  Blackberry was allowing the badger to cling to him with all four of her sweating paws, her toes curled into his thick fur with all the strength the mama badger had.  Blackberry saw Furcone’s sweat darkening her fur, and felt her pads damp against his fur.  Once he even saw the pads of her right hind foot bunching as she curled her toes tightly while she lay on her back while straining hard into her tail.  Now though, she was lying on her side, gripping Blackberry’s belly fur with all four paws.

           “Push down into your tail with every pain,” Blackberry said, Furcone screaming at him with every contraction.  Furcone, hearing his words, closed her mouth and bore down into her tail, moaning with effort as she did so.

       e’e’e’e’e’e’e’oooah, ooooww’w’w’w’w’w’we’e’e’e’e’oooah! e’e’e’e’e’e’e’oooah!”  She wailed as she pushed.

      “That’s it,” Blackberry said, rubbing Furcone’s ears with one paw, the mama badger lying full length on her side.

        “I want to push so much!”  Furcone screamed, fitting action to words, “ooooww’w’w’w’w’w’we’e’e’e’e’oooah! e’e’e’e’e’e’e’oooah

e’e’e’e’e’e’e’oooah!  This feels so good, pushing is so good!”  Furcone gasped.  Blackberry kissed Furcone’s nose, the mama badger smiling despite her pain.

        “Would you curl your toes and roar with me?”  She asked.  Blackberry grinned:

       “Want me to kick the air with all four paws too?”  He asked.

      “Yes, oh yes!”  Furcone replied.  So blackberry and Furcone laboured together, the bear wriggling, roaring and pawing at the air as the badger wriggled, roared and pawed.

       “This is working, it’s working!”  Furcone yelled as she felt her cub emerging, “You’re helping me Blackberry!”  She squealed.

       “Push harder than ever Furcone!  The cub’s nearly here, the head and forepaws are out!”  Blackberry encouraged, now shouting as loudly as the mama badger.  Furcone wriggled, caught her breath and strained hard, the cub exploding into the light of day.

      “Now pant, pant, pant!”  Blackberry encouraged the screaming mama badger, Furcone gasping and panting.

      “What’s happening?”  She asked, “Ow Blackberry! This hurts!”

       “The cub’s body and hind legs are coming, now, now a little push, go on Furcone, try your best to give the cub a little push!”  Furcone grunted as she bore down slightly.

      Urrrhrhrhumph!”  She gasped, “ow, ow!”  She squealed, “That moved the cub a little!”  Blackberry got up and touched Furcone’s hind legs and feet with his paw:

      “You have the cub’s hind legs and feet to get out now,” he said, “push strongly Furcone, push!”  Furcone groaned loudly as she bore down into her tail,

     Urrrhrhrhumph, Urrrhrhrhumph, e’e’e’e’e’e’e’oooah!”  Furcone squealed, wriggling desperately to free her cub’s hind feet, screaming lustily as she felt the cub finally slip free from her body.

       “That’s it, done!”  Furcone panted.

      “Well done mama,” Blackberry said.

       “Your encouragement helped a lot,” Furcone replied, kissing Blackberry’s nose, “thank you.”

      “Just one cub?”  Blackberry asked.  Furcone closed her eyes and relaxed as Blackberry checked her and her cub over, then she strained experimentally as Blackberry watched.

     “Clean and feed your cub Furcone,” blackberry said.  Furcone panted a little from her efforts while she fed her cub, and, while at this, felt a need to push into her tail.

     Oooah, oooah!”  Furcone moaned as she pushed, then squealed lustily, “ooooww’w’w’w’w’w’we’e’e’e’e’oooah! e’e’e’e’e’e’e’oooah

e’e’e’e’e’e’e’oooah,” as the afterbirth emerged.

       “Pant Furcone pant,” Blackberry said gently.  Furcone did, whimpering as the afterbirth came away from her.

       “I wish I’d not pushed so hard,” she said, “it all hurts now!”

     “Feed your cub Furcone,” blackberry said gently.

      “What caused me to want to push again?”  Furcone asked.

      “Feeding your cub did,” Blackberry replied, “it told your body to get rid of the afterbirth your cub was contained in.

       “I can’t believe I’ve had this cub,” Furcone said as she examined the cub as it slept after having fed.  The cub was male, and Furcone wasn’t surprised at that, the birth had hurt her from her jaw to her toes.  Now everything ached, but Furcone didn’t mind at all.

        “You did wonderfully mama Furcone,” Blackberry said.  Furcone smiled and thanked Blackberry once more, the male bear looking down at her and her cub with undisguised pride and love.

       “You helped me,” she said, and for that, I will thank you every time I call my cub to me.”

      “What do you mean?”  Blackberry asked.

      “I saw your paw pads as you pawed at the air,” Furcone replied, “your toes curled and pads bunched as you roared to encourage me during my labour.  Your paw pads and my cub’s paw pads look similar when he curls his toes, which he’s done in pleasure twice now.  So I will call him Blackberry Brock, as it’s a nice woodland name, and reminds me of the lovely spirit bear who got his paws dirty to help me in my hours of confinement.”  Blackberry, the spirit bear, couldn’t hold back the tears that threatened to overcome him.

        “I’m honoured,” he choked.

       “You also helped little Patch become what he truly should be,” Furcone replied, “My dear Blackberry bear, I love you with everything I have, and I will introduce my cub to you when he’s older.”

       “Why not now mum?”  The cub asked, having listened to everything.

      “Okay,” Furcone said, “crawl and follow my voice little Blackberry Brock.”  The badger cub crawled, and Blackberry senior choked on his tears as he saw the badger crawling, drawing closer to him.

      “Hug him Blackberry bear,” Furcone invited.  The spirit bear embraced the newborn badger cub, feeling the badger cub’s toes curl into his fur.

       “I love you little one!”  The spirit bear sobbed, realising he loved the badger cub as much as he did Titania or little Targon.

        “I never thought I’d live to see a vulnerable badger,” Nuru said, padding into the lie up.  Furcone looked at him:

       “I know you have a morbid fear of us,” she said, “but we are not immune to pain.  We scream and pedal the air with all four of our paws when giving birth to our cubs.”  Nuru padded to Furcone then lay down so he could kiss her nose.  Furcone looked into the golden brown eyes of the pride leader, then smiling, kissed his nose and the pads of his right forepaw.

         “Me and my people hold no ill will towards you Nuru,” she said, “you repented of your former life, and am now a gentle creature.”  Nuru crawled backwards to the door, showing humility to the badger.

       “Nuru was laid low by a badger once,” Furcone said to Blackberry.  Blackberry Brock snuggled up to the bear who’d delivered him into the world.

        “I want to be as big and strong as you are,” the badger cub said.  Blackberry laughed:

        “You won’t ever be as big as me or as strong either,” he said, “but you will become as big and strong as your body is capable of.  The strength you can influence is that of your spirit.”

      “How do I make a strong spirit?”  The cub asked.

       “Follow your mum’s teachings,” Blackberry replied.

       “You can always look to this bear for inspiration and guidance too,” Furcone replied.

        “I’m no saint,” Blackberry said quickly, “you have heard of the time I nearly got killed by a lioness for mouthing off?”  Furcone smiled and nodded:

      “But you learned from that, and now if you’re annoyed with a lioness, you can just pick her up and place her where you want her,” Furcone said smiling.

      “That’s not quite what you should be teaching your cub,” Blackberry said.  Furcone laughed:

       “I’ll teach him right from wrong,” she said.  Blackberry helped Furcone wash herself and her cub, the female badger enjoying the bear’s attentions.

       “Thank you Sire Blackberry,” Furcone said.  Blackberry hugged the mama badger and then hugged her cub, Blackberry Brock snuggling up to the huge bear.

 

Honeyfur watched the goings on in Blackberry’s lie up.

        “I never knew Furcone was pregnant!”  Honeyfur yelled, literally stamping her paws with anger, “Who is the sire of her cub?”

        “I don’t know,” Percy Badger yawned, “but our daughter cub having her own cubs is no shock to me.  It happens.”

      “But my little Furcone is just a youngster!”  Honeyfur roared.

       “She’s old enough to have her first live cub,” Percy said.

     “Live cub?”  Honeyfur yelled, “You mean she had ones that didn’t make it?”  Percy smiled and nodded sadly.

      “She did,” he replied, “that was how she found little Patch.  She was digging a grave for her dead cubs.”

       “I must go to her!”  Honeyfur said, her anger turning to concern.

        “Leave her for a bit,” Percy advised, placing a wrinkled padded paw on Honeyfur’s shoulder.

       “I suppose she needs her space,” Honeyfur sighed.

        “I saw and heard everything,” Percy said, “it reminded me of when you had Magnus.”

        “I curled my toes, screamed and kicked just like Furcone did,” Honeyfur said softly, “I shouldn’t be angry with her for having a cub.”

       “I’ll bet you’ll fall in love with Blackberry Brock when you meet him for the first time,”  Magnus said, “you’ll fall in love with him from his nose to his tiny toes I don’t doubt.”  Honeyfur smiled broadly and nuzzled her male cub’s ear.

       “I know I would,” she replied.

 

Furcone made her way to her mother’s lie up later that day, Honeyfur hugging her daughter cub and settling her down with her newborn male cub.

        “Today is a day for celebration,” Kamchatka said padding into the lie up.  Furcone turned to the mama bear and smiled broadly:

       “I am so glad I had Blackberry Brock,” the mama badger said.  Kamchatka knelt and kissed Furcone’s nose and paws as the mama badger lay down to let Blackberry Brock nurse.

        “I love you little one,” Kamchatka said softly to blackberry Brock, the badger cub twitching his ears at the mama bear.

        “Are you Blackberry’s mama?”  The badger cub asked.

       “I’m his grandmamma,” Kamchatka replied, “I am glad he helped your mama give birth to you.”

       “Your pads are big and rough mama,” Percy badger said, drawing circles on the large sole exposed pad of Kamchatka’s right hind foot.  Kamchatka giggled and wiggled her toes slightly.

       “A reserved badger you are not Percival,” she said, the badger growling and gently scratching the wrinkled skin on the sole of the mama bear’s foot in mock anger at her use of his full name.

      “Oh sorry sorry sorry,” Kamchatka said laughing slightly.  Percy badger kissed Kamchatka’s right hind paw, the she bear smiling with pleasure.

       “You are so gentle,” she said.

 

The sound of screaming came closer down the passage, Kamchatka leaping to her feet and spinning round to face the door in order to protect the badgers.  Snarling, she went to the door and cautiously poked her nose out into the passage.  Smelling man coming towards her, she stood ready to defend her family.

     “There are strange animals out in that wood!”  The man screamed, “All tigers and lions!”

       “There’s also a bear in here,” Kamchatka grunted.  The man, seeing the huge mama grizzly, turned to run, only to find himself face to face with sire Patch.

       “Oooah! Oh, shit, shit!”  The man yelled.  Patch got to his hind feet and made calming motions with his paws before speaking in perfect English.

       “You need not swear like that, though it is understood why you do such a thing,”  he said, “Now please, tell us your business and then we can decide if you are friend or foe.”  The man sank to his knees, begging his god for mercy.

        “You need not pray to your god,” patch said, “for we will not harm you unless you do harm to us.”

      “How, how can you speak with the words of men?”  The man asked.

      “Please, look up into my face when you speak to me,” patch said, sitting down and gently sitting the man on the floor and lifting his chin with his paw.

        “Open your eyes and look at me,” Patch said, “there is no need to fear us.”

      “Hey Patch, what’s going on?”  Sita asked.

      “We have a human in our midst Sita dear,” Patch said, “but I think he will not harm us.  Now open your eyes my good man and we can talk.”

       “If you are going to kill me, make it swift!”  The man begged.

       “I will not make it swift,” patch said, “for I will not kill you.  Why should I do you harm if you have not done me harm?”

       “Bears kill humans,” the man wailed.

       “No,” patch said, shaking his head, “humans kill far more bears I’m afraid.  Now if I was to take the revenge of my people due to us on your race because of your persecution of us over thousands of years, then I would kill you, but I do not wish to do that.  We cannot hold one single man responsible for the sins of his brethren.  Now tell us what your business is.”

       “I was walking in the wood,” the man sobbed, “I was approached by a lioness, a white lioness she was.  She came up to me and growled at me!”

       “She probably wanted to know who you were,” Kamchatka grunted.  The man looked at her fearfully.

      “Mama,” Patch said, “he doesn’t understand your language, keep quiet please, or you’ll frighten him.”  Kamchatka knew when she’d been told, and sat down.

         “The lioness probably wanted to know your business here,” Patch replied, “nothing more human.  Now tell on.”

     “What’s going on here?”  Jess asked.  The man, glad to see another human, begged Jess to protect him from fierce beasts.

      “This is their home, mine too actually,” she said to him, “now tell me what you were doing in the wood?  We saw you.  Petra asked you what your business was and you ran from her, so we tracked you.  You ran in here unfortunately, where our cubs are, but mama Kamchatka stopped you, and then Patch caught you.”

      “I mean you no harm!”  The man yelled.

       “The wood is private property,” Patch said, “so what were you doing on the land?”

       “I wasn’t doing anything,” the man protested.

       “Let me smell your clothes,” Patch said his eyes angry.

       “Why?”  The man asked, but Patch was already removing the man’s jacket.

       “You have been fire setting!”  Patch snarled.

       “I wanted to cook a meal in the wood,” the man squealed.

        “That is forbidden!”  Kamchatka roared.  The man looked at her, at her huge paws, and angry eyes.  Then he shrieked with fear as Kuruk lumbered into view.

       “You want me shift this?”  He asked, picking the man up in his forepaws in preparation for carrying him out of the house.  Kamchatka, her eyes shining with mirth, waved Kuruk off, and then she covered her face with her forepaws and laughed until she was nearly sick.

        “Kuruk will deal with him,” Patch said.

       “You’d better translate though patch,” jess gasped, for she was laughing also, “go, quick before the man gets the wrong idea from Kuruk’s jumbled English!”  Patch padded away, jess looking at mama Kamchatka, who was recovering from her paroxysm.

       “So he’s in trouble now,” she said drying her eyes with her paws.

       “Yes,” jess replied.

 

“This is a very strange house,” the man babbled to Kuruk, who threw him into the air, caught him with one forepaw, and shushed him with the other forepaw over his mouth.

       “You shut your noise,” he grunted, “Kuruk no want hear human sewage speak.  You come to our wood and burn wood, there signs be in your language to say no burning wood.  Now you come here and burn wood, so it comes to Kuruk and his family to make your punishment!”

      “You’re suffocating me!”  The man burbled.  Kuruk took his paw away from the man’s mouth and waved at Patch.

      “Leave him here,” Patch said, dumping the man on the road.

      “Do we strip him of his clothes?”  Kuruk grunted.

      “No,” patch replied, “only Jess was left naked, as she was of ursine form when she was left on the road.”  The man thought he was home and dry, and even swore at Patch as he left them.

      “Bloody freaks!”  He yelled, only for a police helicopter to pick him up and arrest him for fire setting two hours later.  In the house, Patch and Kuruk heard of this and were very much overjoyed by the news but put out by the man’s behaviour and attitude towards their community.

      “So he does bad fire thing in our wood, then dragonfly thing with humans in belly come down from sky and picks him up for making fire?”  Kuruk asked patch.  Patch nodded and hugged his brother.

      “Yes,” he replied, kissing Kuruk’s nose, the male grizzly shocked and happy at the same time.

      “Brother Patch knows Kuruk no like displays of affection in public!”  Kuruk roared, but the hug he gave patch in return told a different tale.

       “I think you’d like to embrace me with all four paws if you could,” Patch whispered gently to his brother, Kuruk hugging Patch tightly.

     “Kuruk wish he could hug with hind feet too,” Kuruk said softly.  Patch smiled and pushed his brother cub onto his back, then kissed his nose and all four of the massive bear’s paws, Kuruk’s eyes filling with tears.

        “It’s okay to cry,” Patch said.  Kuruk gulped hard.

      “Brother Patch always knows how to make big Kuruk cry like cub,” Kuruk sniffed.

        “Why does kissing Kuruk’s paws make him cry?”  Bella asked, padding in from her play with Changpu and Bohai.

        “Kuruk’s a big softy really,” Patch said.  Bella grinned:

       “And your son cub Blackberry, he’s a gentle one too,” she said, “I saw him showering his fur yesterday, and he was real handsome with it too, handsome from his nose to his paws.  No wonder Targon likes him!”

       “You are too young to be talking like that little Bella cub,” Kamchatka said, padding in to see what her cubs were up to.  Bella smiled and stood on her hind feet, reaching up to mama Kamchatka, who reared onto her hind feet, picked the cub up and swung her round, before setting her down gently on her hind paws.

     “Wow that was great!”  Bella gasped, having screamed loudly throughout, “now, now my legs can’t hold me!”  She squealed, collapsing onto the floor laughing helplessly.

        “Now I can stick all four paws in the air!”  She yelled.

      “And I can tickle them,”  Kamchatka said, tickling Bella’s right hind foot, first tickling her toes, then her large sole pad, Bella shrieking with laughter.

       “I love it when you tickle my toes!”  She yelled.  Kamchatka kissed the pads of Bella’s right hind foot, smelling the oils Bella used to give her paws the dirty look they’d become famous for.  Kamchatka tickled the cub’s toes, Bella curling her toes while laughing helplessly.

        “Now let’s get back to the serious job of tickling Kuruk’s paws shall we?”  Patch asked, fitting action to words, making his brother laugh helplessly when Patch tickled his right hind foot.

       “Paws off hind paw Patch!”  Kuruk roared, whipping his foot away, rolling over and hugging his brother tightly.

      “We really should have kept that human out of the house,” Kamchatka said.  Patch nodded:

       “I suppose he ran in here to get away from the lioness,” he said.

       “Straight towards the cubs, a great idea that was,” Bella said, “we should have kept him out!”

        “He was so scared he couldn’t do a thing,” patch observed.

       “Who was on security duty today?”  Kamchatka asked.  Bianca stamped into the house, dragging Tommy by his tail.

       “This is your culprit,” she snarled, dumping her own son cub at Kamchatka’s feet, “he is useless!”

        “So he let the human into the house, wonderful!”  Kamchatka snapped, picking Tommy up and gazing into the tiger’s terrified eyes.

        “You are dreadful!”  Kamchatka yelled.  Tommy, whimpering, slunk away from the angry mama bear.

        “You get out of my sight!”  Kamchatka roared, turning tail and kicking Tommy in his tail with her left hind foot, sending the tiger head over paws.

      “Ow, ow, ow, ow!”  Tommy screamed.

         “You’re a real pest!”  Kuruk yelled, chasing the tiger from the lie up.

        “I hate you all!”  Tommy screamed.

       “You’d hate us even more if you endangered the cubs,” Kuruk yelled, pounding after the tiger and treading on his long tail, the tiger screaming and yowling with pain and indignation.

 

“I want someone to play with my paws,” Kamchatka said suddenly.

        “You’ve been anxiously shifting your paws for the last five minutes,” Patch said, “mama, sit down, and I’ll massage your paws.”  Kamchatka sat down, and Patch took hold of her left hind foot, massaging her pads and toes.

      “This feels wonderful!”  Kamchatka said, curling her toes with pleasure.

 

Meanwhile, Tommy, sore pawed and with a sore backside and tail, lay curled up in his family lie up, whimpering and mewing to himself.

        “I’m no good for security,” he thought, “I forget so much, I forget whose where, and rely too much on others to look out for the house, and I’m truly dreadful at that.  I saw the man coming towards the house, and didn’t alert anyone!  I was on security duty, working the cameras, and I can’t remember to alert anyone.”  Tommy wailed with frustration and misery.

        “Now I have a bear after me!”  He screamed.

       “Kuruk not after you because he hate you Tommy,” a voice said.  Tommy turned and saw Kuruk sitting behind him.

      “How did you get there?”  He asked.

       “Kuruk come in and sit down quietly,” the bear replied, absent minded playing with the end of Tommy’s tail in his huge paws, “Kuruk hear Tommy wailing and see him beating his paws on floor, and Kuruk begin playing with end of Tommy’s tail.  Tommy tiger, he no realise big bear playing with his tail, still no realise either.”  Tommy gasped:

       “It’s true; you’re playing with my tail!”  He growled.

      “but you so far gone in your misery that you no realise thing until Kuruk point thing out,”  the bear replied gently, “Tommy see with your eyes, but he no connect tail in bear’s paws with own body.”  Tommy wriggled uncomfortably.

       “How do I repair things with Kamchatka and the rest?”  He asked, “If it hadn’t been for Kamchatka and Patch, the man could have done terrible things to Furcone’s cub.”

       Kamchatka no angry with you, more that she angry with the fact you endangered her cubs,” Kuruk replied, “You know she put everything she has into giving birth to, and raising her cubs.  We are all her cubs, and to see one of her cubs let her other cubs get into danger is almost too much.  She also knows Tommy know what he should do, but he fail twice.  Now she sends Kuruk, to frighten Tommy, but not to hurt him too much, as she knows if she get paws on, her anger and upset would get the better of her.”

      “You mean she’s uncontrollable?”  Tommy asked.

      “No,” Kuruk replied, “but she’s a mama bear, and Kamchatka is good mama bear to all cubs.  So to see her cubs in danger is very upsetting.”

       “My mum dragged me into the house by my tail!”  Tommy whined.

       “I don’t regret doing it either Tommy!”  Bianca snapped, “I was born here, I love this place, and you let the scum of the earth in here to cause trouble?  You disgust me Tommy!”  Tommy squealed as his mum smacked him with her paw.

       “Let’s leave it now,” Kuruk said to Bianca.

      “No Kuruk I won’t!”  Bianca snapped.  Kuruk got to his feet, then, rearing onto his hind paws, picked the tigress up bodily and held her over his head.

       “Now you leave it!”  He roared, tossing Bianca into the air and catching her in his paws, the tigress now lying on her back, all four paws in the air.  Bianca screamed on the way up and on the way down too.  Then she was staring into the eyes of a grizzly bear that meant business.

       “Now you leave it Bianca?”  Kuruk asked.  Bianca gasped with shock.

       “I will, Kuruk, put me down!  I will leave it, I promise!”  She mewed.  Kuruk set the tigress on her paws, which hesitated another flight, Bianca flipping from lying on her back, to landing on her paws with Kuruk’s gently caressing paws catching her, and lowering her onto her groping paws.

      “Thank you,” Bianca said panting a little.  Kuruk looked at Kamchatka as she came wearily into the lie up.

       “That encounter with the man really shook me up,” she said, “I feel all shivery and weak now.”

        “You didn’t expect an unknown human to badge in on Furcone and her cub,” Bianca said, shooting a disgusted look at Tommy.

        “You stop that now!”  Kuruk snapped.

       “All right,” Bianca growled.  Tommy rubbed his eyes with his paws, trying not to cry.  Kuruk could see Tommy really cared; he was just inept at his job.  Forgetful to the point of endangering the community.

      “Can we find him a job where his absent mindedness won’t matter so much?”  Bianca asked.

       “What with them big paws and all fat as he is?”  Kuruk said, Tommy looking crestfallen.

      “But I can’t help my paws or my size,” he mewed.  Kuruk smiled and kneeling hugged Tommy tightly, the tiger choking back tears as he felt the bear’s embrace.

         “Thank you, Thank you!”  Tommy sobbed.

       “I love you really big tiger,” Kuruk said, “Kuruk no want harm to come to community though, and you put paws in silly plaices.”  Tommy smiled sadly.

        “I have some sad news,”   Weici said, padding into the lie up, “Hop Along was found dead in the wood.”

     “Has Pakshalika been told?”  Tommy asked.  Weici nodded and padded out of the room, her head hung in grief.

       “I loved him,” she choked.

        “It’s not easy,” Pakshalika said, padding to Weici and hugging her tightly.

       “Hop along died just as Arjuna came to the community,” Weici said, “one cub arrives; a long loved older member of the community dies.  The wheel of life turns and turns.”  Raja padded in, Tigger’s first cub now middle aged and running to a little fat.

        “We all loved |Hop along,” he said, “but he is no longer on this earth.  Let us Maun his passing in our own individual ways.”

       “I hate deaths,” Blackberry said, padding into the lie up looking exhausted, “give me the hardest labour and birth ten times a day over one death.  I’d rather feel my paws crushed by the expulsive efforts of a mother in labour than have to pull a cub from its dead mother’s body, or have to examine the cold lifeless body of a much loved community member.”

        “I wish I could give birth to a cub right now,” Raja said, making Blackberry smile:

       “I appreciate the thought,” he said.  Raja grinning, squatting, stretching his tail and stamping his paws.

      Ohoooah! Ow!”  He groaned.  Blackberry laughed slightly:

      “That’s enough,” he said.  Raja padded to the spirit bear and kissed his nose:

        “I wish another mother was having a cub right now,” Raja said, “but Flocke has had hers, as has Xiaohui.”

        “I know,” Blackberry said, “but we can rejoice in the births of Blackberry Brock, Perdita and little Amy.”

 

 

To that end, Blackberry went into his lie up and watched Amy’s, Perdita’s and Blackberry Brock’s births back to back.

       “Leave him to it,” Ekaterina said to Allie, who padded in to find her brother very thoughtful and distant.  Furcone’s screams and pedalling paws filled the air and the screen in front of her.

       “That mama badger strained herself to the utmost for that cub,” she said to Blackberry.

       “As did Flocke and Xiaohui for their cubs too,” Blackberry said, “watch, watch how their faces and paws tell their individual tales of struggle, from their agonised expressions to their tightly curled toes and urgently kicking paws as they struggle for the lives of their cubs.”  Struggle Flocke, Furcone, and Xiaohui did, and Allie was very humbled by their fight for their cubs.

       “I touched mama Flocke’s fore and hind paws, and she curled her toes for me too,” Allie said, “I’ve met the product of her struggles, and Perdita is as beautiful as her mother.”

     “They are beautiful bears,” Blackberry replied.  Blackberry looked down as he felt a small form snuggle up to him.  It was Perdita, Flocke’s cub.

       “Hug me Blackberry, please,” the cub begged, Blackberry enveloping her in a huge bear hug.

       “I love you little Perdy,” he said.

       “I’ve got Amy and Blackberry Brock here too,” Perdita said, “I’ll bring them to you.”  Blackberry smiled and kissed Perdy’s nose.

        “I would really love that,” he said.  Perdy was as good as her word, guiding the cubs to Blackberry so he could hug them and kiss their noses and paws.  The three cubs hugged Blackberry in turn and snuggled close to him.

       “You’re warm and soft,” the cubs said in unison.

     “We’re all agreed on that I think,” Allie said, Perdy laughing and hugging Blackberry with her tiny paws.

        “I love your fur Blackberry,” Perdita said, burying her face in her friend’s thick warm fur.

      “His paws are very comforting too,” Amy added, stroking Blackberry’s right hind foot with her tiny paws.

        “We love you Blackberry,” Blackberry Brock said, taking hold of the spirit bear’s left hind foot in his tiny paws.

       “So you now have three cubs holding onto you, or sitting on you,” Kamchatka said, padding into the lie up, “Blackberry, you are getting rather like me my dear.”  Blackberry laughed and curled the toes of both his large hind paws, Amy and Brock stroking his bunched pads and curled toes with their smaller forepaws.

      “I’d like to explore my hind foot with it pressed against yours blackberry,” Perdy said.  Blackberry smiled:

       “You can do so, right now if you’d like, but, well, two other cubs have both my hind feet held gently in their forepaws at the moment.”

       “We will let go of your hind feet if you want to measure your hind paws against Perdy’s,” Amy said, crawling over to Brock and pushing him away from Blackberry.  Perdy sat down opposite Blackberry and pressed her right hind foot hard against the spirit bear’s left hind foot.

      “Now explore my hind foot and yours,” blackberry said, feeling Perdy’s tiny forepaws exploring his left hind, and her right hind foot in turn.

 

Meanwhile, Pakshalika padded through the wood, her grief for Hop along tearing at her.

       “What do I do now?”  She asked herself, “I have lost both my parents, and now am alone; I never thought this would happen!”

        “You focus on your cubs now Pakshalika,” a voice said, “I’m sorry my life force gave out on patrol, and that I had no chance to say goodbye.  Now though, I can say goodbye to you and to your beautiful cubs.  Love them Pakshalika, for now you need to do what your name suggests, put your cub’s paws on the right path.”  Pakshalika smiled sadly and padded back to the house, the pain from her grief lesser than it had been when she entered the wood.

 

“You have big, soft paws Blackberry,” Perdy said as she explored Blackberry’s pads and toes, the male bear curling his toes with pleasure.  Meanwhile, Amy and Brocken played together, the bear and badger cubs tickling each other’s paws and bellies.  Brock rolled onto his back, pawing at the air with his fore and hind paws while laughing helplessly.

      “Playing with you cubs makes me forget the sorrow of working with Hop along’s dead body and that of Bianca’s mama,” Blackberry said.

       “You can help me when I have my cub Blackberry,” Kamchatka said, “I’m in cub you know.”  Blackberry leapt to his paws, pulling his left hind foot out of Perdy’s grip and ran to mama Kamchatka, thawing his paws around her and hugging her tightly.

       “Where did he go?”  Perdy asked.

       “I’m so glad mama Kamchatka,” Blackberry said, almost crying.  Kamchatka grinned and hugged Blackberry in return.

       “Can I hug you too mama?”  Perdy asked.  Kamchatka sat down, and gathered Perdy to her in a huge hug.

      “You’re too small really,” she said, but when I have the cub, you can touch my paws while I curl my toes, I’ll be doing that a lot you know.”

      “Are you looking forward to having your cubs?”  Amy asked, grabbing Kamchatka’s right hind foot in her forepaws.

        “Yes I am,” Kamchatka said softly, curling her toes, causing her pads to bunch up under the younger cub’s paws.

       “Can you tightly curl your toes now?”  Perdy asked.  Kamchatka smiled and curled her toes as tightly as she could.

       “That’s so cute!”  Perdy said excitedly, rubbing Kamchatka’s bunched pads.

       “One day soon I’ll be screaming and curling my toes tighter than this,”  Kamchatka said, “when I’m pushing deeply into my tail to deliver my cub with all the strength I can muster, then I’ll show you how tightly I can curl my toes.”

 

The sound of sobbing made Kamchatka turn her head towards the door.  She saw a female grizzly bear crawling into the lie up, her eyes frightened and desperate.

        “I need help, lock me up!”  The female screamed.

      “What do you mean?”  Kamchatka asked.

      “Imprison me now, quick, before, before I do something I’ll regret for the rest of my life!”

         “What’s going on?”  Perdita asked.

       “My cub’s not safe,” the female wailed, “I have had terrible thoughts, awful desires.  I’m so hungry and so’s my cub, or he was.  He’s nearly dead, and I thought of, thought of finishing the job nature had started, but I know I’ll regret it for my whole life if I do.  I need help!  Tie my paws, lock me up, please! Starve me, not my cub!  I have no milk, nothing for him, but now I’m thinking of killing my own cub!”

       “Tie her up as she wishes,” Kamchatka said to blackberry, “I’ll go take a look at her cub.”  Then, as she dared not take her eyes off of the mama bear or the cubs in front of her while Blackberry tied the mama grizzly up with cords from the hammock he slept in, Kamchatka put the digits of her left forepaw into her mouth and whistled shrilly.  The sound reverberated around the lie up, Perdy and Amy covering their ears with their paws, while Brock ran for the door.  Kamchatka’s whistle brought Patch padding into the lie up, and he was carrying a tiny emaciated form in his forepaws.

       “How did he find him?”  The mama bear asked, her paws now tied securely, another rope looped round her body and securing her to the wall.

       “The spirits did not want your cub to die either,” Patch said.  The mama bear then stared at Patch, who’d sat down and was cradling the cub in his forepaws.

       “You’re, you’re feeding my cub!”  She squealed, “but, but you’re male!”

        “I’ve fed cubs before,” patch said smiling, “for I asked the ultimate question any male bear could ask, and received the answer with open paws and a willing heart.”

      “So you are the male bear who answered the cry of a labouring tigress!”  The mama grizzly bear said.  Patch smiled:

      “I am the same,” he said, “and though the result of that successful labour and delivery was sometimes pain and distress for the cub born, neither the cub born, nor I regret a thing.”  Patch settled the now replete and deeply sleeping cub in Kamchatka’s lap, and then padded over to the bound emaciated mama bear.  Sitting opposite her, Patch pressed his hind paws against the muddy sweating paws of the distraught mother grizzly bear.

        “Look at me,” Patch said softly.  The mama bear, her head hung in shame, hardly reacted.  Patch lifted her head with his paw, seeing the mama’s tightly closed eyes.  As he watched, a spasm shook her and she tightly curled the toes of all four paws, her claws scratching the pads of Patch’s hind paws.

        “End my life for what I nearly did to my cub,” the mama bear whispered.

       “You did nothing to end the life of your cub,” Patch said, “you did all you could to save your cub.”

      “But I wanted to eat him!”  The mama bear wailed.

      “You were driven to unspeakable thoughts,” patch replied, “but you did not carry them out.  You got your paws and fur dirty crawling, the spirits helped you crawl, they helped you to come to a mama bear that would help you without question and they helped me to find your cub.  The spirits gave me the ability to give your cub milk where you had none to give him.  Now, now open your eyes and look at me.”  The mama bear opened her eyes, relaxing her curled toes.

       “What do you want now?”  Patch asked, “Your cub is fed, and is sleeping peacefully.”

       “I could drink a little, but not eat,” the mama bear choked.

      “Drink a little then,” Patch said, loosening the bonds holding the mama bear to the wall.  Then, her paws still tied, he sat the mama bear on his lap and she drank from his milk supply.  Very soon, the mama bear slept as deeply and peacefully as her cub.  Patch settled the mama bear comfortably on her side, and then untied her paws, arranging her head, forelegs and hind so she was comfortable.  He then settled the mother bear’s paws around her cub’s body so she hugged him tightly.

       “Will they live?”  Kamchatka asked, “Patch, they look more dead than alive.”  Patch went to his mama and took her paw.

       “The spirits have the lives of the mother and her cub in their paws now,” Patch said gently, Kamchatka wailing in misery.

        “All is not lost yet mama,” Patch said, “the mama grizzly bear was brave enough to begin crawling away from her cub.  I hope the spirits will keep her and her cub in this world.”  Kamchatka buried her face in her paws and burst into tears.

       “You need not worry mama,” a voice said to Kamchatka, “the spirits would not have fed the mama grizzly bear or her cub if they did not mean them to live.  Why give the living cubs something to talk about and question patch about if they did not mean the mama bear and her cub to live?  Amy and Perdy know what happened.  They know Patch is male and that male bears do not usually suckle cubs.  They will go to their mothers with unusual tales of the male bear who suckled a mama bear and her cub like he too was female and in milk.  Dry your eyes mama Kamchatka, for the sleep the bears are in is not the sleep of death, but a preparation for life.  Patch said as much, for he knows the power of the spirits, though like all things where fragile life is concerned, nothing is certain and that is why he could give no assurances when you asked him.  The spirits do not know of the mama’s underlying  issues, though the food patch gave her will give her strength to get over the starvation, as will it give the cub strength to do the same.  It will also help the mother bear to forget her disgust at her own wishes to kill and then possibly eat her own cub.  She will learn first to understand why she had those wishes, then to accept them.  She thinks she actively wanted to eat her cub, but this is not true.  Stress at her environment drove her to think to kill her cub to lessen its suffering.  For it is better to have a life ended with love than with agony and torment.  The mother bear could not bring herself to euthanize her cub, for she was afraid she’d eat it when it was dead.  To that end she crawled away from her cub, half hoping it would die while she was away, but we know it did not die.  That cub had a streak of life in him which kept him going until patch found him.  Now dry your eyes mama, and let’s see what happens when the mama bear and her cub awake.  Patch will have to suckle the cub for a few days until his mother is recovered enough to produce milk for her cub, but after that, who knows what will happen?”

      “How about if we wash the mother and cub’s bodies?”  Blackberry asked.  Kamchatka smiled and getting to her paws fetched a bucket of water.  Then she and Blackberry washed the mama bear and her cub.  The bears seemed lifeless as Kamchatka and Blackberry handled them, the only clue to life in their breathing and rising and falling ribs.

       “They have beautiful faces and gorgeous paws,” Blackberry said.  Kamchatka, face to face with the mother bear, washed tear stains and mud from the mother grizzly’s face, then kissed her nose.

      “They are beautiful,” she said softly.  The mother grizzly bear and her cub slept throughout the bathing of their fur and paws.

       “Will they wake up?”  Kamchatka asked.  Blackberry looked at Patch, who’d sat down and was watching intently.

      “No, not for a long time,” Patch replied, “they’re exhausted.”

       “Let’s leave them now,” Patch said.  Kamchatka knelt down and kissed the noses of the mama grizzly bear and her cub.

       “Eohippus keep you safe,” she whispered.  The mama bear sighed and shifted a little, as if she’d been disturbed by Kamchatka’s words.

       “Why not leave them now,” Patch advised.  Kamchatka looked anxiously at the mama bear, turned and padded from the lie up.  Blackberry led Amy and Perdita away from his family lie up, leaving Patch with the two sleeping bears.  Patch, now alone, settled down to sleep.  He could not bring himself to leave the bears, though he’d asked Kamchatka and Blackberry to leave.  Patch was haunted by the dream he’d had, frightened by the screaming plea of the mother grizzly bear in the wood.  Now she was lying in the lie up, released from her torment for a short while at least.  Patch though, whenever he closed his eyes, could see the mama bear in the wood, screaming and crying, trying to drag herself as far from her starving cub as she could so she did not harm him.  Patch reached out to the mother bear in his mind’s eye, feeling his paws embrace a warm living creature.  Patch could smell the cub, and could feel his silky soft fur.

       “Hug me, please!”  The cub begged, Patch hugging the cub close.  It was only then that Patch woke, and saw the cub.  Patch looked the cub over from nose to tail, turning him over onto his back and examining him from nose to paws.

      “You woke early,” Patch said.  The cub snuggled up to Patch, and Patch felt the cub kiss his nose.

       “You saved me and my mama,” he said, “I know you did, I know you did!”   Patch felt his eyes fill with tears, his vision blurring.

       “I love you little one,” he choked.  The grizzly bear cub kissed Patch’s nose.

       “You saved me,” The cub said softly.

       “I don’t know what to say,” Patch choked.

       “You need not say anything,” the mother bear yawned, “it is us who should be thanking you.”

       “How old are you little one?”  Patch asked the cub.

       “Forty sunrises have I seen,” the cub said.

      “So you are little more than two months old,” Patch said softly, “and your mama could not feed you any more.”

       “Mama tried,” the cub replied, “but she could not find food, so how could she provide me with any?”

    “I tried so hard,” the mama grizzly choked.

        “It is okay now,” Patch said gently, “you can play with your cub, but not before you are strong enough to do so that is.”  The mother bear crawled to Patch, sat down and looked into Patch’s face.

        ?”Eohippus keep you safe too Patch,” she said.

       “It wasn’t me who wished that on you my dear, but thanks anyway,” Patch replied.  Patch took the mother bear’s paw in both of his.

        “Drink a little water, then eat a little, and if you need me to feed your cub, I will, though with a bottle this time.”  The mother bear looked at her cub, who was padding about the lie up, exploring in corners and peeping cautiously out into the passageway.

      “I want to explore here mama,” the cub said.  The mother grizzly looked fearful:

      “I want you to stay here at the moment Asak,” the mama bear said.

       “What is your name?”  Patch asked.  The mama bear looked at him:

       “Ikuk,” the mother bear replied.  Patch smiled and padded to the young cub, who’d lain down and was now peeping curiously around the corner of the door, his body half in and half out of the lie up.  Patch placed his paw on Asak’s right hind foot; the cub pressing the toes of his right hind foot against the heel of Patch’s left forepaw.

        “I don’t like adults pinning my paws!”  Asak whimpered, wriggling slightly.

        “Your mama can’t do this at the moment,” patch said, “so I’m restricting your freedom as she wishes.”

       “But Patch,” Asak wailed, “here is safe, the spirits say it’s safe!”

       “Your mother wants you to stay here,” Patch said gently.

         “Come,” Ikuk said, “Asak, here, here is not our home, we don’t know anyone here.”

       “But the spirits can’t be wrong can them?”  Asak asked.

         “They are seldom wrong, but they do make mistakes.  Now let’s just stay here, and see what happens to us,” Ikuk said.  Asak wriggled madly, but the pressure on his hind foot from Patch’s forepaw wouldn’t let him go.

        “I want to sit up,” Asak whimpered.  Patch grabbed the cub and flipped him over onto his back, then sat him up.

       “I’m tied like my mama was!”  Asak wailed, “But I don’t want to be tied by my paws!”

        “Your mama wants to be cautious at the moment,” Patch replied, “only she can decide when things are safe.”

       “So I won’t be able to explore?”  Asak asked, wriggling a little.

        “No not yet,” Ikuk said. Asak’s frustration boiled over then, and he leapt to his feet, screaming and roaring, only to fall over his paws and land in a heap.

         “Now that is why you obey your mother,” Patch said, while trying hard not to laugh.

        “My paws are tied up!”  Asak whimpered, kicking furiously with all four paws.

        “They’re not!”  Ikuk replied, unable to stop her laughing at her cub’s antics.

         “I will tame these paws!”  Asak yelled, grabbing his right hind foot in his forepaws and squeezing it hard.

      “Now do what you are told!”  Asak yelled at his right hind paw.  Then he squealed as the toes of his right hind foot curled around those of his left forepaw.

     “Hey!”  He yelled.

       “You’re enjoying the feeling that touching your paw gives you,” Ikuk replied, “curling your toes is natural behaviour.  It’s all right.”

       “That’s good,” Asak said.  Asak watched his mother as she played with her left hind paw, her right forepaw exploring the large sole pad of her left hind foot, then massaging her toes.  Ikuk gasped as the toes of her own left hind foot curled tightly.

        “Your eyes are shining!”  Asak laughed, his mother grinning broadly.

       “I wanted to show you that what you felt when you played with your hind foot was okay,” she said.  Asak smiled:

       “How is it when a cub plays with his mother’s hind paws?”  He asked.  Ikuk swallowed hard:

       “It’s lovely,” she said.

       “Can I?”  Asak asked.  Ikuk smiled and beckoned to her cub:

       “Come,” she said.  Asak went to his mother, and she gave him her right hind foot.

         “Now play with your mama’s foot like you play with yours,” Patch said.  Asak did, counting Ikuk’s toes, and then stroking her large sole pad, Ikuk wriggling and laughing with delighted pleasure.

        “I can make my mum curl her toes and bounce about like a cub!”  Asak whooped.  Ikuk laughed helplessly with joy at her cub’s delight at such simple pleasures.

        “I love this,” she said.  Asak released his mum’s right hind foot and pressed his small hind paws against his mother’s larger ones, Ikuk curling her toes with pleasure.

        “Can I make my paws as big as yours mama?”  Asak asked.  Ikuk smiled:

         “You will have to wait,” she said, “your paws aren’t as big as mine yet, though when you grow up they will be bigger than mine one day.”

       “I will have paws that are bigger than yours?”  Asak asked.

       “You will,” Ikuk replied, “but it will take time for your paws to grow as big as, then bigger than mine are at this time.”

      “Oh okay,” Asak said.  Asak stroked his mother’s right hind foot, Ikuk giggling with pleasure.

       “Your pads are rough and kind of soft too,” Asak said.

       “Let me explore your hind paws with my forepaws,” Ikuk said, picking up Asak’s right hind foot.

        “Your pads are warm and soft,” Ikuk replied, “you’re one young bear Asak.”  Asak smiled with pleasure.

       “What happens if I curl my toes?”  Asak asked.  Fitting actions to words.

       “Your pads bunch up rather cutely,” Ikuk replied smiling and rubbing the bunched pads and curled toes of Asak’s right hind foot.

 

Meanwhile in Kamchatka’s lie up, Kamchatka was breathing hard and curling her own toes from time to time.  She knew labour was starting, and grabbed her right hind foot in her forepaws, feeling her toes curl as her contraction built.

        “This is very painful,” she thought, gasping and panting, “but I’m kind of enjoying my labour.  What happens if I push rather than just ride out the contraction?  Let’s push.  Kamchatka caught her breath as another contraction built, and she pushed down hard into her tail this time.

       e’e’e’e’e’e’ee’e’w!”  She wailed as she pushed, “ow’ow’ow!”  She yelled as she relaxed and felt her cub surging forwards.

       “Ooowww!”  Kamchatka roared.  Koda padded into the room, having got his mate a cup of tea.  Kamchatka drank the tea from the cup while Koda held it for her.

        “How are things?”  Koda asked.  Kamchatka smiled and panted slightly:

       “Things are moving normally,” she replied, “take hold of my left hind foot Koda.”  Koda did, and he felt Kamchatka’s toes curling and pads bunching as she endured her first really big contraction.

       “I’m not pushing yet!”  Kamchatka gasped, “Just curling my toes and screaming!”  She yelled.

        “Do what you want to mama,” Koda said softly, kissing the bunched pads and curled toes of Kamchatka’s left hind foot.

       ouwh! Ouwh! Owhwhwhwhwhwouch!”  Kamchatka grunted.

        “In your own time mama,” Koda said.  Kamchatka knelt down and rested her weight on her forepaws.  Koda, smiling, stroked the pads of his mate’s right hind foot, Kamchatka puffing and blowing.  Koda explored his mate’s now damp hind paw pads, Kamchatka moaning with equal agony and pleasure as her cub caused her pain from within, and Koda’s touch pleasure from without.

       “Express yourself mama,” Koda said, Kamchatka wailing and grunting as her pain increased and subsided.

         “How’s that!”  She asked.

        “Don’t do it for me, do it for yourself,” Koda replied.

        “I want to do it for both of us!”  She replied, “For three of us that are.”  Koda kissed Kamchatka’s bunched paw pads, the she bear wailing and wriggling as another contraction built.

         “Scream if you want mama,” Koda said.  Kamchatka slapped the rugs with her forepaws, her eyes tightly shut and mouth wide in a loud wail of pain.

        “Now, now I have to sit for a bit,” Kamchatka said, sitting down and thrusting her right hind foot into Koda’s forepaws.

        “Oooah!”  Kamchatka squealed, her shift in posture triggering another contraction.

        “Curl those toes,” Koda encouraged, and Kamchatka did, trapping the toes of Koda’s right forepaw.

       “Sorry, but I can’t help it!”  Kamchatka gasped as she felt her toes close around Koda’s.

       “Squeeze away,” Koda said, Kamchatka squeezing the toes of Koda’s right forepaw with those of her own right hind foot.

         “I like this, I like this!”  Kamchatka said.  Koda smiled and kissed her nose.

        “Haven’t you always told a mama to enjoy her labour if she can?”  He asked, “Come, try and enjoy your labour.”

         “I can try,” Kamchatka panted, “I know if I do, my cub will.”

         “Don’t fight your labour,” Koda said, “concentrate your mind on your cub, on your paws, on your pads, and on your toes.  Concentrate on pushing, and panting, and wailing, and wriggling, but not on the pain of labour.”  Kamchatka giggled and kissed Koda’s nose:

       “Use the pain as a trigger to focus on my paws, my voice, my cub, or my mate?”  She asked.

        “Yes,” Koda replied, returning his mate’s kiss.

        “I want you to do something for me,” Kamchatka said, “Koda, if I lie on my side, would you kiss my nose and all four of my paws?”  Koda smiled and helped his mate to lie on her side:

       “Close your eyes,” Koda said softly.  Kamchatka did, and felt her body and her cub settle for a while.

       “Now count to five with me,”  Koda said, “I’m gonna kiss your nose first, then your paws starting with your left forepaw, then your right fore, then left hind then right hind, okay?”  Kamchatka smiled and felt her cub pressing its paws against her abdomen.

      “Even our cub wants you to kiss its paws!”!”  Kamchatka gasped.

       “I will kiss its paws when you deliver it to the world,” Koda said.

         “Kiss mama’s paws first please,” Kamchatka groaned as she felt her cub pressing its paws into her stomach to reposition itself.

      “One,” Kamchatka counted as Koda kissed her nose, “two,” she moaned as he kissed her left forepaw, “three!”  She wailed as she felt Koda kiss her right forepaw, “four!”  Kamchatka screamed as Koda kissed her left hind foot, “five!”  Kamchatka shouted as she felt Koda kiss the pads and toes of her right hind foot and she gave up to her urges to push, curling the toes of all four of her paws.

      “I need to push!”  She screamed.  Koda felt Kamchatka wriggling and then let her hug him with her forepaws while she pedalled with her hind feet.

        “Pedal with those hind feet!”  Koda said as Kamchatka, lying on her back, fitted actions to words.  Koda sat in front of Kamchatka’s hind feet as Kamchatka drew up her hind feet and grabbed them in her forepaws, letting Koda touch her the whole way.  Then she wriggled and wailed loudly, her hind feet pressed hard against the restraining grip of her forepaws.

        “Do you want to push those hind feet against my forepaws?”  Koda asked.  Wailing and sobbing Kamchatka released her hold on her hind feet, and then moaned as Koda took hold of them in his forepaws, slightly bending her hind legs.

       “Now brace your hind feet against my paws!”  Koda said, Kamchatka bracing her feet and roaring as her contractions came and went.

         “Now, now!”  She yelled after an hour of this, “I need, need to kneel, then to push hard into my tail!”  Koda felt Kamchatka shifting posture, and then felt her sitting back on her heels.

        “Push when you need to,” Koda said softly.

        “Explore my hind feet first,” Kamchatka said, “my cub wants you to explore my hind feet first!”  Koda did, and Kamchatka wriggled with pleasure and excitement.

       “Now I’m going to push hard into my tail!”  Kamchatka said, fitting her actions to words, straining down hard into her tail.

        “Oooah! Aowhwhwhwhwoooah!”  Kamchatka roared.

       “This is wonderful!”  Kamchatka panted, slightly bouncing her backside on her heels as she came down from her efforts. While relaxing Kamchatka sat hard back on her heels, enjoying Koda’s exploration of her hind feet, his paws working over her now damp pads and toes.  Then, as Kamchatka felt an urge to push, she’d wriggle, as if to free herself from the sitting posture she was in, as if her backside was stuck to the heels of her hind feet.  Once Kamchatka had wriggled free of her imaginary prison ruled by her hind feet, she leant forward, placed her forepaws on the rugs, leaning her weight over her forepaws in time to lower her head and bear down hard into her tail.  Koda felt his mate pushing, and listened to her struggle to free herself from her relaxed state, and prepare for pushing down into her tail.  Once Kamchatka had finished pushing, she’d rock back and fourth a little before settling down to sitting back and bouncing her backside on the heels of her hind feet once more.

        “You like that posture don’t you mama,” Koda said.  Kamchatka smiled and curled the toes of both her hind feet slightly to acknowledge him.

        “My cub seems to enjoy the wriggling and bouncing too,” Kamchatka gasped.

        “let things happen,”  Koda replied, “Kamchatka, if you want to pace, bounce on your toes, rock back and fourth, then do what you wish.”  Kamchatka moaned, and then groaned as she rolled onto her back.

      “I’m gonna express my pain through sound alone,” Kamchatka gasped.  She then groaned, moaned, and then squealed, finally screaming lustily, kicking the air with all four feet while lying on her back.

       Yoowowowowowoow! Yoowowowowowowowowowwo!”  She screeched.

        “Lying on your back is a difficult birthing position,” Koda said.  Kamchatka sat up, whimpering as her cub surged and then groaned as it fought its forepaws into the light of day.

      “Ooowww! Yoowowowowowoow! Ooooahahahoah!  Kamchatka squealed, rocking back and fourth twice before leaping to her paws and straddling her hind feet while squatting.  Koda touched Kamchatka’s hind feet, feeling her toes curled into the rugs.  Then he felt her bearing down into her hind feet with all her body weight, before bouncing on her toes as she relaxed her efforts to push the cub into the world.

        “Catch, catch the cub!”  Kamchatka groaned, dropping to all four paws and kneeling on the rugs once more.  Koda felt Kamchatka’s tail, then down her hind legs to her hind feet, traced and stroked her pads, counted the toes on both hind paws, then felt for the cub’s forepaws, which Kamchatka pushed hard to deliver when she felt his touch leave her hind feet.

       “That’s it mama,” Koda said as Kamchatka pushed hard into her tail.

       Oooahumph, ooooowumph!”  Kamchatka groaned as she pushed.

       “Lie on your side if it would help,” Koda suggested.  Kamchatka sat back on her heels, grabbed Koda with her forepaws and screamed into his face.

      “Ow, ow ooowww!”  Then she rolled onto her side, her movement making the cub explode into the world.

       “”ahououououoouoch!”  Kamchatka roared, rolling onto her back and drawing up her hind feet, but the cub surged forward again, and Kamchatka was forced to sit up, splay her hind legs, and bear down hard into her tail.

      “The cub’s coming, it’s coming!”  Kamchatka moaned, “It’s so quick!”  Koda smiled and caught the quickly emerging cub.

     “Pant mama pant!”  Koda said, Kamchatka curling her toes and panting hard.

     Oooahumph, ooooowumph! Oooahumph, ooooowumph, ooooowumph!”  She gasped as she felt her cub emerging into the world.

      “Curl those toes when you breathe in and relax them as you breathe out mama,” Koda advised, Kamchatka fitting her actions to his words.  In this way, she managed to deliver her cub with no external pain relief.

        “I felt everything!”  Kamchatka gasped, “That was amazing!”  She quickly cleaned her cub up, smiling as it wriggled and roared as she attended to its needs.

      “I am so glad you were here when I was having my cub,” Kamchatka said softly.

       “I’m glad I was here too,” Koda replied.  Kamchatka fed her cub, then, once it was asleep, she laid it on the rugs and hugged Koda tightly.

       “The pleasure of your touch was as intense as the pain I was in,” Kamchatka said, “I needed you there Koda.  Koda smiled and buried his face in Kamchatka’s fur, smelling her strong scent and feeling her sweat dampened fur.

        “I am glad I could help by rubbing your pads and comforting you,” Koda said.

      “Everything aches,” Kamchatka remarked, “my jaw, my back, paws and legs all ache horribly, but at the same time, I remember every last bit of my labour, and treasure every second.”  Kamchatka gave Koda their newborn cub, Koda exploring the healthily roaring cub with his paws, the cub batting at his larger paws with all four of its tiny ones.

        “Lively isn’t it,” Koda said.

       “The cub’s male,” Kamchatka said, “how if I name him little Koda?”  Koda hid his face with shy pride.

        “You don’t need to do that,” he said.  Kamchatka smiled and replied:

      “That’s sorted then, little Koda he is.”

       “He’s got tiny ears and such tiny paws!”  Sire Koda said.  sire Koda gasped as he explored little Koda’s right hind paw with the toes of his larger left fore, his cub tightly curling his toes, making his pads bunch up.

     “He’s got such cute paws!”  Koda said, Kamchatka giggling with pleasure and delight.

       “I’m glad I was able to catch little Koda as he emerged,” Sire Koda said.  Kamchatka wriggled with the memory of her efforts.

        “I must have howled the roof off,” she said.  Koda replayed the video for Kamchatka, the last four hours coming to vivid life for the mama bear, who watched herself in labour from all angles, from her screaming mouth, to close up shots her curling toes and bunching pads, and close up shots of her bouncing on her heels and flexing the toes of her hind feet, as well as her tightly closed eyes and curled toes of her forepaws gripping the rugs.

      “Push mama push!”  Kamchatka whispered, half forgetting she was watching herself in labour.

         “You were magnificent,” sire Koda said.

 

Meanwhile, Flocke was dealing with Perdy, who was furious she’d not been in on Kamchatka’s cub’s birth.

       “But she promised me I’d be there for it!”  Perdita yelled, stamping her paws.

        “Sometimes the best laid plans go astray,” Flocke replied, “it’s not Kamchatka’s fault if she forgot her promise.  She was in labour, it’s painful and all consuming, and your focus is your cub and your mate, if you have one that is willing to help you.”

       “How can it be consuming?”  Perdita asked.

       “I can’t show you how it is all consuming,” Flocke replied, “your time will come when you give birth to your first cub.  Then you will know the urges to push, the intense focus on your body and cub.”

        “It’s just a bit of belly ache I think,” Perdita said.  Flocke shook her head:

       “It’s a whole body experience,”  she said, “you use your back, legs, paws, voice, toes, paw pads and heels, the lot.”

      “I don’t believe you mama,” Perdita said.

        “I wish there was a way of showing you how I felt during your birth,” Flocke said, “but there isn’t any way.  You will see your birth video when you are ready, but even that doesn’t convey the all consuming needs I had to deliver you whatever the cost to myself.  I strained deeper, curled my toes harder and screamed louder than I ever had before.”

       “I don’t believe you mama,” Perdy said, “surely nothing is that consuming.”

        “It is,” little Targon replied, “I know a little of what your mum felt.”

       “Can the spirits show her?”  Flocke asked.

      “They might be able to,” Patch replied padding into the lie up, “I will do my best to explain to Perdy, for her disbelief is genuine enough.”

      “Will you make her curl her toes and roar?”  Little Targon asked.

       “Like you did?”  Patch asked.  The young female black bear nodded:

        “Yes,” she said, “I remember curling my toes and screaming as I tried to push down deeply into my tail, then into the soles of my hind feet!”

       “I know you did,” patch replied, “yes, if Perdy wishes to be shown, the spirits can show her, if they will.””

        “Pushing against the rugs with my paws helped too,” little Targon said.

        “I’ll bet you can’t make me close my eyes, curl my toes and scream,” Perdy challenged, “I’m a strong cub!”

        “I cried while pushing down into my tail,” little Targon replied, “I wailed like mama Kamchatka did.”

      “You sometimes need help even now don’t you,” Patch said gently.  Little Targon nodded.

       “Sometimes,” she replied, “sometimes, I just can’t manage things myself, and it takes hours to do things naturally.  I suppose it’s a kind of labour.  It’s slow, I crawl, I curl my toes, I strain a good deal, but I get the job done naturally, and that’s the main thing.”

        “You help her relieve her pain?”  Perdy asked patch, which smiled and nodded,

       “It’s a pleasure to help her,” he said, “blackberry helps her too, but mostly it’s my pleasure to help her.”

      “But it’s a dirty job,” Perdy protested.

       “Labour’s a dirty job,” Patch replied, “but no midwife would ever give it up.  Helping little Targon is no different.  She needs comfort, needs encouragement, a helping paw, and I give her that.  Relief might take hours, might take many belly rubs and much curling of toes along with tears and effort, but she gets the job done with no external help from drugs and things.”

       “I quite enjoy it too,” little Targon admitted, “the pain is awful, pushing is dreadful, but patch’s paws helping me makes it all worth while.”

       “little Targon sometimes labours like mama Kamchatka did,”  Kenny said padding in, “so she knows what it is to be in pain only she can relieve.”

       “Most days’ things are fine, but I know when I need a little help,” the young cub said, “and I know things take time.  I don’t want drugs, I don’t want to be pumped full of rubbish, I’d rather push a little now and then, curl my toes and clench my teeth, pant, whimper, groan and finally feel the relief under my own efforts.”

        “You make it sound like you enjoy the pain of your afflictions,” Perdy said.

       “No,” little Targon replied, “I know I’ll be afflicted for life by this, and if I can have the help of gentle paws to encourage me to relieve my own pain, I’d rather that than take medicine.”

        “How long does it take you to relieve your pain?”  Perdy asked.

      “About an hour sometimes,” little Targon replied, “Not many see my pain, as the outcome is not like labour.  It’s a very personal thing, but the methods of pain relief during my treatment are similar.  I play with my hind paws, I grab my hind feet with my forepaws, and I groan, cry, crawl, curl my toes and sit back on my heels, everything mama Kamchatka did in fact.”  Perdita looked at little Targon:

         “It happened today didn’t it,” she said.  Little Targon nodded:

        “I imitated mama Kamchatka for a bit today yes,” she replied, “but my labour was due to unfortunate things.  I’d much rather have been giving birth to a cub with ten times as much pain and effort.”  Perdita looked suddenly sad.

        “You mean that don’t you,” she said.

        “I wish the pain I am in every time I have to relieve myself produced something more yes,” little Targon replied.

       “Can I hug you Targon?”  Perdita asked.  Little Targon smiled:

      “Come,” she said.  Perdy hugged little Targon, who almost dwarfed her.

       “I can’t imagine you in pain, curling your toes and moaning like mama Kamchatka did,” Perdy said.  Little Targon sighed heavily:

       “I am regularly in terrible pain and discomfort when I need to relieve myself,”  she said, “I cry, I curl my toes, stamp my paws, rock back and fourth and roll about on the floor in the build up to the final act.  I feel drained and exhausted from nose to toes when I’m finished.  I don’t want you to go through what I do, but if you do not know how draining a labour is, the closest you’ll get is the pain I’m in whenever I try to relieve myself.  My struggle is a slow one, gentle pushes, long drawn out efforts, curled toes, sweating pads, sweat flying from my drenched fur as I strain and pant, shake myself and strain again, crying with exertion and exhaustion.  Then my body decides it’s going to do its duty, and that causes me pain and discomfort, and I’m roaring and gripping the floor with my toes, while trying to relax and let things happen when I want to tense up and scream lustily due to the pain I’m in.”  Perdy snuggled up to little Targon.

        “Is there anything Blackberry can give you to help you?”  She asked.

       “Nothing I wouldn’t become dependant on,” little Targon replied, “and dependency on those kinds of drugs is worse than all the pain and effort in the long run.  At least with a little help I can perform my duties naturally, but with drug help, though it would be easier for the short term, it’s awful for the long term.”

      “I’m sorry for not believing my mama,” Perdy said.

        “But you still don’t know do you,” Targon replied, “you don’t yet truly believe your mama do you?”  Perdy shook her head:

        “I’ll have to have a cub, or go through what you do,” she said, “then I will truly believe.”

      “When I feel my pain, I focus on my paws, on patch or Blackberry, or on my mama, who ever are helping me.  I stamp my feet, open my mouth and scream the walls down.  I am unashamed of my pain and effort.  Come and see what it is Perdita, come and see me struggle if it would help you believe,” little Targon said.

        “I don’t want to!”  Perdy choked, “I don’t want to see that.”

       “Then believe what you are told from your mother, or you will see things you might not wish to,” little Targon replied, “I know my pain, I know my effort, I know my sweating paws and damp fur, I cry, I scream, I push down hard into my tail Perdy!  I know what I go through when I have to struggle, and so does Kamchatka and your mama when giving birth to their cubs.”

       “I suppose I can’t do anything but believe you,” Perdy said.  Little Targon sighed heavily.

        “I don’t want the spirits to cause you pain,” she said, “but if they have to, then they will I’m sure.”

 

“I heard Kamchatka had a little male cub,” Patch said.  Little Targon’s ears pricked up at this, as did Flocke’s.

        “Did She?”  She asked, “Seeming to forget the origins of the previous discussion.”

        “I saw the video, and it was so cute,” Patch said smiling.

        “It was,” Flocke replied, “mama did so well, and as for her cub?  He’s so sweet!”  Patch smiled broadly and looked at Perdy:

       “You wish to meet mama Kamchatka’s cub?”  He asked.  Perdy smiled and nodded:

        “I would love to,” she said.  Patch padded with Perdita to the door of mama Kamchatka’s lie up, where she was playing with little Koda.

        “I think we have visitor’s mama,” the five hour old cub said.  Kamchatka looked up from gazing down at her cub’s face, and then smiled:

       “Come in Patch, and you Perdita,” she said, “you two are very welcome.”  Patch padded in and knelt down in front of little Koda to touch him with his paws.  The black bear cub pushed at patch’s forepaws with his tiny ones, Patch smiling and kissing his nose.

      “I think you’re really cute,” Patch said.  Little Koda giggled and rolled onto his belly, Patch sitting down and letting the cub scramble into his lap.

        “Give me a hug,” the cub begged.  Patch hugged little Koda, the black bear snuggling up to the grey bear.  Perdy took Patch’s right hind foot in her forepaws and giggled as his toes began curling as he hugged the tiny cub.

       “Patch is getting emotional,” she said, “look at his curling toes!  That’s classic ursine reaction.”

        “Who is this?”  Little Koda asked, “He’s big and soft and warm, but there’s something else here too.”

        “I think it’s his inner knowledge of how it is to mother a cub,” Ekaterina said, padding in.

       “How can a male bear know how to mother a cub?”  Perdita asked.

        “Trust me, Patch knows,” Ekaterina replied.

 

Meanwhile, Asak, feeling bored, had run from his mother’s side while she was sleeping, and found his way to the boathouse.  There he met Kuruk, who seeing him, waved him aboard the flume.

        “You come,” the big grizzly said, “you come with me, though I no know who you are yet.  Asak, feeling a spirit of adventure rising in his belly, clambered into the boat in front of the huge grizzly, marvelling at how large his paws were.

         “Can we go faster than this?”  Asak asked.  Kuruk held the cub with his forepaws, Asak involuntarily snuggling up to him.

       “We go quickly some time soon,” the huge bear said as the boat travelled around the first few twists and turns of the flume.  Asak pressed Kuruk’s big paws against his chest as he snuggled back against the bear’s huge body.  Kuruk looked down with gentility at the cub sitting on the bench between his hind legs.

        “We go up from here,” Kuruk said, as the boat ran up the first lift hill to the first level of the flume, around tree top level.  Bumping around the corners towards the first drop, Kuruk held tightly onto Asak as the boat dipped downwards and ran into a water break run, before heading upwards into the main tower.  Climbing up the tower, the two bears were startled when the lights came on, and their progress was stopped suddenly.

         “This is a rider announcement,” a voice said, “someone will come to pick Asak from the boat in a minute.  His mother is very angry!”  Kuruk swore.

       “There ain’t any adventure for cubs these days,” he grunted.  The boat headed up to the main portion of the flume at the top of the tower, where a door could be seen barring their way to the main down hill section.  Kuruk felt the boat stop, and then they saw Aga come into the cave, pad across to the boat, and lift Asak, complaining and spitting with fury, out of the boat.  Kuruk watched with sad eyes as Asak was taken away.  Then the boat began to move again, the door releasing and allowing Kuruk to ride the flume down into the main pool.  Kuruk folded his paws across his chest, his disgust at the ending of Asak’s ride plain on his face.

        “Who the hell’s that?”  Ikuk asked, waving her paw at Kuruk as his boat floated past.

       “That’s the owner of the safest set of wild male paws apart from his mother’s that Asak will probably ever know,” Berengaria said.  Ikuk looked at her:

        “But how can a male bear be gentle to a cub?”  She asked.

        “How can you ask this when you submitted yourself to the will of male bears here already?”  Berengaria asked, “You are on one paw trusting male bears, and on the other, mistrusting them.  Kuruk is sweet, don’t let your preconceptions of male bears cloud your eyes.

      “But he looks disgusted,” Ikuk replied.

       “Ask him why he is disgusted,” Berengaria suggested.

      “Oi you!”  Ikuk yelled, waving her paw at Kuruk.  Kuruk ignored her, his boat disappearing into the boathouse.

        “Ignorant pig!”  Ikuk yelled.

        “You call me ignorant pig?”  Kuruk asked, resting his paw on Ikuk’s shoulder.  Screaming with fear, Ikuk spun round.

      “How did you arrive here?”  She asked.

       “Kuruk walk, use his paws, put one paw in front of other one,” Kuruk replied.  Ikuk looked into the bear’s face, the look of disgust in his eyes now just a hint of what it had been.

        “Why were you so upset?”  Ikuk asked.  Kuruk sat down, motioning for Ikuk to do the same.

        “I no like the way you stop your cub having fun,” Kuruk grunted.

        “He ran away from me while I was sleeping,” Ikuk replied, “I can’t let him get away with that.”

        “But you run from your mama when cubs I’ll bet,” Kuruk said, “I’ll bet your paws get bored too.”  Ikuk nodded.

       “Yeah,” she said, “they did.”  Kuruk smiled broadly:

       “Now don’t punish your cub for having wandering paws,” Kuruk grunted.  Kuruk looked into Ikuk’s face, the she bear’s reticence melting.

      “I am sorry big fellow,” Ikuk said, lifting Kuruk’s right forepaw and kissing the furry back of it.

         “I no know who you are, other than you think me a pig,” Kuruk grunted.

        “My name’s Ikuk, I’m, I’m Asak’s mother.”  Kuruk smiled:

      “Ikuk,” he said, that is a nice name for a mama bear.  Now mama Ikuk, I am Kuruk, and I love Asak cub from nose to paws.”

        “How can you love someone else’s cub?”  Ikuk asked.

      “When you lose a cub, you love every other one you meet,” Anook said.

        “You lost a cub?”  Ikuk asked.  Kuruk looked down at his paws, one still held in Ikuk’s smaller one.

         “She lost on mountain,” he choked, “Olga lost on mountain.”  Ikuk impulsively kissed Kuruk’s nose, the male bear smiling sadly.

        “Have you had cubs subsequently?”  Anook smiled:

        “We had buck,” she said, “and now he’s a healthy year and a half.”

       “Kuruk present at birth of buck, and he help mama by pulling cub into world,” Kuruk said, “that magical time with mama and cub for Kuruk.”  Ikuk smiled:

       “Asak’s birth was painful, and I had no mate to help me,” she said, “here it seems male bears love their mates and their cubs.  In the wild, male bears are more likely to eat their offspring than cuddle them.”

       “I don’t think Kuruk would harm a newborn cub,” Anook said.

      “Kuruk no harm cubs!”  Kuruk said softly, “he more like wants to help mama have her cub.  He no worried about getting his paws dirty.”  Ikuk looked at Kuruk’s face, then at his forepaws, then his hind.

         “Lovely face and paws he has,” she thought.

       “You are no pig Kuruk,” Ikuk said.  Kuruk smiled and embraced Ikuk.

       “Now you know what Kuruk be, just a little,” he said,

      “I kind of like you big fellow,” Ikuk said.

       “Now do you trust the bear with the big paws?”  Asak asked.  Ikuk smiled at her son cub.

        “Yes,” she said, “I kind of like him, though most male bears are still dangerous.”  Kuruk leant forward and kissed Ikuk’s nose, then kissed her paws.

       “You are lovely,” Ikuk said.

 

Meanwhile, in Kamchatka and sire Koda’s lie up, Perdy and little Koda played with each other’s paws, the older female cub laughing and wiggling her toes with pleasure.

         “Little Koda’s tickling the soles of my paws!”  She squealed.

        “Ask him to stop if you don’t like it,” Sire Koda said.  Perdy wriggled with pleasure and crawled away, little Koda following her, tickling the larger cub’s heels, Perdy shrieking with laughter.

       “Your pads are smoother, just like mine,” little Koda said.  Perdy smiled broadly and massaged Perdy’s toes, Perdy curling her toes tightly, making her pads bunch up, little Koda smiling and rubbing her bunched pads, much to Perdy’s delight, which she expressed by wriggling madly and flexing her toes.

       “You like me touching your paws?”  Little Koda asked.  Perdy closed her eyes:

       “Oooah yes,” she said, “its lovely.”  Koda smiled and kissed her pads, much as he’d done to his sire’s pads when he was less than an hour old.

        “It’s so cute!”  Perdy said. .

        “You two look so happy,” Kamchatka said.

        “Our paws give us such pleasure,” Perdy said, “and I hope little Koda never forgets his paws can give him pleasure.”

       “I know sire Koda helped mama Kamchatka by stroking her paws during my birth,”  little Koda said, “I could feel it, I knew what part of her body my sire was touching, it was as if he was touching my paws too.  When mama curled her toes, I curled mine!”

       “Did you?”  Perdy asked, “How cute is that!”

        “I could feel everything!”  Koda said, “I knew I was causing my mama pain while I was coming into the world.  I knew I couldn’t help the pain mama was in, but I tried to minimise it.”

        “My labour was fantastic,” Kamchatka said, “I loved every minute of it.”

       “I remember the passage of every part of little Koda’s body,” Kamchatka said, “I will never forget anything.”

         “Mama washed me from my nose to my toes!”  Little Koda said, “Perdy, did your mama wash you like that?”  Perdy curled her body round and looked at Koda.

        “I can’t remember, but it sounds great,” she said.

         “I’ll wash you if you like,” Little Koda said.  Perdy giggled and waited for mama Kamchatka to forbid her son’s suggestion, but Kamchatka smiled and said:

      “Go on, wash her fur and paws.”  Kamchatka brought them a bowl of water, and the two cubs washed each others fur and paws, both loving every minute of each other’s attentions.

        “This feels, well, very right indeed,” Perdy said.

        “Koda’s learning fast from his mother,” Sire Koda said.

       “You can teach him too papa Koda dear,” Kamchatka said.

        “Play with me Koda,” little Koda begged, “plays with my paws!”  Sire Koda laughed merrily at his cub’s antics.

       “I wish I could teach him mama Kamchatka,” Koda replied.  Kamchatka padded to Koda, sat down and embraced him.

         “You can, you are as valuable to him as I am.  We’re equal in this.  I know you didn’t actually give birth to little Koda, you can help him.  Touch his paws, love him, and hug him. Wash him, feed him with milk even.  Yes Koda, I will express milk into a bottle so you can feed your cub.”  Koda felt his cub crawl up to him, and then snuggle into his lap.

        “Hug me,” the cub begged, Koda embracing his cub with tender paws.

        “Explore little Koda’s body with your paws from nose to tail, go on, try it,” Kamchatka said.  Sire Koda explored his cub’s body, little Koda wriggling and laughing with pleasure.

       “Play with my paws, play with my paws!”  Little Koda begged.  Sire Koda smiled and tickled little Koda’s toes, the cub squealing with laughter.

       “Paws are wonderful things!”  The cub laughed.

       “Do you know that your paws are different to mine?”  Koda asked, “you have individual paw prints little Koda.”  Little Koda laughed at this, rubbing his sire’s large left forepaw between his tiny forepaws.

 

Three months passed  and little Koda, his eyes now open, and steady on his small paws, padded around the passages of the house, looking into every lie up and room.  Marvelling at the brightness and size of his new world, little Koda vowed never to forget the world he’d left.  The rest of the community loved little Koda, especially Perdy, who loved him from nose to paws.

        “I’m one lucky cub,” Koda thought as he explored the house, “this place is enormous!  Now I wonder where this passage goes?”

        “You’re a bloody bastard!”  Someone screamed, and then Koda was nearly run down by a huge form, which ran past him, its long tail streaming out behind it, its huge paws pounding the tiles so they shook beneath little Koda’s paws.

      “What on earth was that?”  Little Koda asked himself, turning and following the streaming tail at a discrete distance.

      Run away blind bitch!”  A voice yelled, “But I’ll get your cubs in the end you disgusting creature!”

       “I don’t like the sound of that at all,” little Koda thought, following the owner of the long tail, which was now drooping with tiredness.

        “What’s going on?”  Little Koda asked, entering the lie up just behind the tip of the now trailing tail.

        “What’s going on?”  The creature asked, spinning round on her paws and cocking an ear at him, “don’t up know?  That bloody bastard, that bloody bear, he threatens my cubs all the dam time, and I’m sick of it!”  The creature raged.

       “What’s your name?”  Koda asked, “I’m Koda, Kamchatka’s cub, Little Koda some call me,” he giggled, “My sire is named Koda too.”

       “My name’s Sita, I’m a, well, I’m just me.”

      “Why would the,” bloody bastard bear,” as you call him, want to get at your cubs?”  Little Koda asked.

       “Hubert, that’s the bear’s name, well he thinks, thinks that because I am how I am, I should not have cubs.”

       “How are you?”  Koda asked, “you look well enough to me.”

       “I’m all right, healthy and such,” Sita replied, sitting down, “but Hubert doesn’t like the fact I’m blind.”

        “My sire told me of you,” the black bear cub said, “but he didn’t describe you to me.  He and my mama said I would know you if I touched your paws.  I can see why they didn’t describe you now, there’s too much of you to describe.  Your fur is, well, um, unusual.  Though I kind of like it.  Hang on, yes, you have spots on the soles of your paws too, I can see them!”  Little Koda said, dancing on his toes with delight.

        “I am not worth much,” Sita replied, “I have my cubs, and my mate Qingshan, and that’s all.”

       “You have a lot there,” little Koda replied, “I was told by my mama that friends and cubs are the best thing you can have.”

       “She didn’t mansion family then,” Sita said.

       “Mama said family is those you are born with.  She said that sometimes families didn’t get on, though everyone expected them to get on.  She said it was her friends who’d got her through her life.  Koda said that too.”

       “He’s right, indeed mama Kamchatka and sire Koda are both right,” Sita replied.

       “You turned your ear to me in the same way sire Koda does,” Little Koda observed.

       “I, I can’t see you, that’s why,” Sita replied, “and neither can sire Koda.”

        “That Hubert bear is a bloody bastard!”  Little Koda snapped, “I’ll tear his paws off!”  with that he ran from the lie up and burst into his own, screaming at the top of his lungs, Sire Koda and Kamchatka leaping to their paws when their son cub came pounding in screaming words neither of them had ever used un his hearing.

       “Don’t use those words!”  Kamchatka yelled.

      “I’ve just met Sita,”  Little Koda gasped, “and she was being chased by a bear bloody bastard, and, and, the bloody bear bastard wanted Sita’s cubs because she’s blind, and I don’t want the bastard bear to get her cubs!”

       “So Hubert’s still out for Sita,” Kamchatka groaned, “I need to twist his neck one of these days.”

        “Sita’s all right,” little Koda replied, “I only spoke to her though mama, I didn’t touch her paws.”

       “I’ll bet little Koda heard Sita screaming at Hubert,” Sire Koda replied, “that’s her favourite phraseology at the moment.”

       “Sita told me her family were horrible to her,” little Koda said, “now mama, you told me families could be dreadful as well as good, you were right it seems.”

        “I wish you’d not sworn in front of Koda Sita,” Kamchatka said as the sound of heavy padded paws came closer and closer to little Koda.  Little Koda looked up into the face he’d seen streaked with tears only half an hour previously.  Koda’s eyes were drawn to Sita’s blue eyes, and from there he looked at her face, then her body, and down to her paws.

       “I want to touch her fur and paws,” Little Koda thought, “but she might not want me to.”  Little Koda saw Sita sit down wearily.

        “Where’s your cub?”  Sita asked.

     “About four feet from you,” Kamchatka replied.

       “I think he wants to touch my paws,” Sita said.

        “I didn’t say anything!”  Little Koda blurted.

        “I felt it little one,” Sita said, “and, if the truth be told, I would love it, I mean like it, if you could touch my paws.”  Little Koda padded over to Sita, sat down and took her left forepaw in his tiny ones.

        “How is this for you?”  He asked.

       “It feels great,” Sita mewed.  Sita sighed heavily as her stress was relieved by little Koda’s ministrations.

       “I have been feeling tired lately,” Sita mumbled, “and Hubert’s attacks on me, though verbal, are the last straw.  I don’t know why I’m tired, so very tired.”  Little Koda took Sita’s right hind foot in his forepaws.

        “You’re in cub,” he said, “you’re gonna be like mama Kamchatka was a few weeks ago, pushing hard to deliver a little cub sooner rather than later.”  Sita sat up suddenly.

       “You what?”  She demanded.

        “You’re in cub, I know it!”  Little Koda said, his eyes filling with tears, “Sita, don’t be angry with me, I didn’t mean to upset you.”  Sita reached for little Koda, sire Koda pushing him into the cat bear’s lap.

      “I’m shocked at the news, not angry with you my dear cub,” Sita said gently, embracing little Koda with gentle care.

       “You’re right,” Kamchatka said, “little Koda, you’re right, Sita is in cub, I saw its paws kicking with excitement when you massaged mama Sita’s hind paw.”

        “I remember your labour mama Kamchatka, the sounds you made, the effort you made too,” Little Koda said.

        “What do you remember little Koda?”  Kamchatka asked.

       “I remember you begging sire Koda to kiss your nose and paws,”  the cub replied, his eyes closed in memory, “I also remember the pressure on my body and paws as you pushed, and hearing your panting and whimpering.  I knew you were pushing as hard as you could mama.”  Kamchatka looked at her cub through eyes blurred with tears.

       “I remember everything,” she replied, “do you know what positions I used during your birth little one?”  Little Koda smiled and nodded:

        “You liked straining while on all fours,” he said, “like this.  He settled himself in a crawling posture, his shoulders over his forepaws.

       “That was very comfortable for pushing,” Kamchatka said.

       “You even liked to roll onto your back, and then, then grab your hind feet with your forepaws, like this,” her cub said, fitting actions to words.

       “I did,” Kamchatka said smiling, “that was comfortable also.”

       “Will you teach Sita?”  Koda asked.

      “Sita’s had two cubs already, so she knows good birthing positions,” Kamchatka replied.

        “I don’t want to give birth to this cub while Hubert’s about,” Sita mewed, “he could smell I was in cub, and that’s what made him furious!  He hates me having cubs!”  Sita began to sob, “I want to end the pregnancy for the cub’s sake, and I can’t birth it into a world where I can’t protect it!”  She wailed.

        “You need not end the cub’s life,” Sire Koda replied, “I know that’s not what you really want Sita love.”  Sita covered her face with her paws and lost control completely.

        “I’m feeling vulnerable and lost!”  She sobbed, “Qingshan is wonderful to me, but Hubert still frightens me!”

       “You can have your cub in here,” Sire Koda said, “Sita, have it here, here is safe.”  Sita smiled sadly.

       “I wish I could have been here when mama Kamchatka had little Koda,” she said, “I wish I could see the video.”

       “How if mama Kamchatka pretends she’s in labour and you get paws on with her, and she can re-enact what happened for you Sita,” Little Koda suggested.

       “That’s a good idea,” Kamchatka said, “there Sire Koda, I told you so, and you can teach our cub to think of others and their needs.”

      “But that’s invasive,” Sita said.

      “No it’s not,” Kamchatka replied, “it’s um, er, what’s the word I want?”

      “Inclusive?”  Sire Koda suggested.

      “Yes,” Kamchatka said, “um, that one, inclusive.”

       “I’m looking forward to this,” Kamchatka said suddenly, “let me flex my paws and wriggle a little, loosen myself up for this.  Kamchatka rolled about, wriggled, waved her paws in the air and performed squat jumps to loosen her muscles and prepare herself for a five hour real-time recreation of little Koda’s birth.  Re-enact it Kamchatka did, right down to the sounds she made during her cub’s birth, and Sita was paws on throughout.

          “Wow mama,” little Koda said as Kamchatka sat exhausted but happy after her re-enactment of her labour, “that was amazing!”  

     “I am very grateful,” Sita said, “more grateful than I can tell you Kamchatka.”  Kamchatka smiled and hugged little Koda tightly to her:

        “Every time I do that, it brings me even closer to this little chap,” she said.

       “I’ve wanted to do things that have felt natural to me, like leaning down between my hind legs and cleaning myself during labour,”  Sita said, “is that okay?  I’ve resisted it so far.”

       “Does what you want to,” Little Koda said, “I would be doing all mamas do, and what you said you want to do if I was having a cub.  I’d scream and kick and roll about and lick my paws and private areas and, and then repeat everything all over again!”  Kamchatka laughed merrily at her son’s vivid alteration of her actions.

       “I did all that,” she said.

       “So you’re saying just do what I want?”  Sita asked.

      “Yes mama Sita,” Sire Koda replied, “and if I catch you afraid of your own body and wishes during a most precious time in your life, I’m going to get very angry!”  Sita laughed merrily at this; sire Koda padding up to her and hugging her tightly.

        “Love your cub Sita love,” he said.  Sita smiled:

      “I will,” she replied.

 

Jet lay alone in his lie up that night. Hearing Sita’s good news, jet wondered for the thousandth time where he’d gone wrong.  The news of Sita’s impending cubbing had torn at him in ways that had concerned him.  He felt empty, deeply sad, sickeningly so, but he knew it was not due to ill will towards Sita.

       “I want to be there,” he thought, “I love my cubs, and I love Sita, I know she’s mated with Qingshan now, but I deeply care for Sita, I care for her from my nose to my toes!”  Whimpering in misery, he turned over to ease the pain in his belly.

      “I wish I could push hard and deliver myself of this pain,” he thought, “It’s dreadful.”  Jet closed his eyes and curled the toes of all four of his paws and relaxed them slowly, trying to ease his pain.

       “I can even smell Sita now too, it’s all so horrible!”  Jet thought.  It was only when he began to relax his left forepaw that Jet realised he’d been crushing someone else’s paw in his.

         “Who’s that?”  Jet asked, his eyes still closed.

        “What does your nose tell you?”  Was the cryptic response.

         “But that’s impossible, what would Sita want with her ex mate?”  Jet asked.  Then coming fully awake, he opened his eyes to find the lie up in darkness.

       “Who turned out the lights?”  Jet yawned.

       “We’ve had a power cut;” Sita replied, “now only I, Freckles, sire Koda and Conrad can get about with any confidence.”  She laughed slightly:

       “It’s kind of funny!”  She said.

       “It’s bloody well not,” jet grumbled, but then he checked himself:

         “Oh, I suppose this is how it is for you all the time,” Jet said faintly.

       “If you can’t use your eyes, then yes it is,” Sita replied.  Jet choked back a sudden rush of tears:

      “Why did you come to me?”  He asked.

       “You were crying and wailing like a mother in labour,” Sita said honestly.

      “I had belly ache,” jet admitted.

        “So I came to see what I could do, that is all,” Sita replied.

        “I must have eaten something that disagreed with me,” jet lied.

        “No,” Sita said, “you’re upset because of something that’s going to happen to me very soon.”

       “I’m glad for you Sita,” jet protested.

       “I’m not doubting that,” Sita replied, “and nor is the little cub who told me to come to you.  Little Koda has been watching you, and he told me you were upset.  He’s a bit of a thinker that bear cub is, and he felt uneasy.  He knew something, and told me about a bear with interesting paws and shining eyes.  Now I know you have interesting paws and I have been told your eyes sparkle quite a bit when you’re happy.”

        “I want to love my cubs Sita,” jet sobbed, “sometimes they come to see me, but they have lives of their own, and I have missed out on a lot of their development through not playing with them.”  Sita kissed jet’s nose, the male bear wailing with intense agony.

         “I never barred you from seeing your cubs,” Sita said, “and if you want to be present at the birth of my newest cub, you can be.  I know you hold no ill will for me, and I hold none for you.  It was your decision to set your paws on a path different to mine, and that I respect.”

       “I couldn’t give the cubs what I knew they needed Sita, that was it,” Jet sniffed.

       “You need to let go of the adult bear and let your inner cub out,” Sita said.

        “I have tried,” jet replied, “I have had visions of tearing off my old fur and pulling off my paws like they were some kind of shoes.  I’ve imagined the struggle to free myself from my adult form and free the cub inside, but I can’t bring myself to do it completely.”

      “Not only for a night?”  Sita asked, “In the dark where noone can see you?”

      “But everyone will know,” jet whimpered, “I can’t do it Sita!”

       “Why not?”  Sita asked, “Try it, and try playing like a cub.”  Jet whimpered with apprehension.

 

Meanwhile, Ikuk, having seen the birth of Kamchatka’s cub on the video system, was feeling very uncomfortable.  The sight and sound of Kamchatka’s uninhibited expression during her labour had triggered in her memories of Asak’s birth, and the silent hell that had been for her.  Unable to cry out, unable to kick and wriggle much, she’d endured her pain alone and silently.

        “I need to talk to Kamchatka about the birth of my cub,” Ikuk thought.  Padding through the darkness to Kamchatka’s lie up, Ikuk padded in and sat down.  Kamchatka padded over and looked down at her.

         “I know what you’re thinking,” Kamchatka said.  Ikuk smiled in the darkness:

      “It was like this when I had my cub,” she said “all dark and quiet.”

      “But you were afraid to express your pain?”  Kamchatka asked.  Ikuk nodded:

      “Yes I was,” Ikuk replied, “one cry of pain from me, and I’d have endangered my cub.  Pushing wasn’t easy.  The urge to open my mouth and wail as I pushed was almost too much to suppress.”

       “You’re feeling like you want to wail and kick now aren’t you,” little Koda said.  Ikuk gulped hard.

       “I am,” she choked, “mama Kamchatka’s re-enactment of your birth sparked memories of my own labour.  It’s hard giving birth in a cramped den with a vow of silence on pain of death.”  Kamchatka took Ikuk’s paw in hers:

       “I know,” she said, “I had to do it once, and once only thank Eohippus.”  Ikuk buried her face in Kamchatka’s shoulder and wept inconsolably.

      “What do I do, how do I release this pent up stress and pain?”  She asked.

       “How about recreating Asak’s birth?”  Sire Koda asked, “its dark, according to some, and a perfect atmosphere and time to rid yourself of those feelings of stress.”

       “But that’s a very strange thing to do,”  Ikuk said, “all mother bears in the wild feel this stress I bet, but they don’t get to relieve it.”

      “But you can, here and now,” Kamchatka said, “go on, labour like you wanted to, not as your environment said you must.”

       “But Asak will be frightened by it,” Ikuk replied, “it’s not fair on him.”

        “Your pain was real, your struggle was real, the fact you wanted to scream and roar and wave your paws was real, and your cub will realise this,” Sire Koda said.

       Talk to your cub Ikuk,” Little Koda suggested, “then, maybe he’ll understand what you want.”

        “He’ll think I’m mad,” Ikuk replied.

      “He’ll want to know how he was born,” Little Koda said.

       “He will,” Asak said, padding into the lie up and giving his mother a snuffle kiss on her nose, which left Ikuk very tearful.

       “You soppy thing mama,” Asak said.

       “I wish I could have had a labour like mama Kamchatka’s,” Ikuk said softly.

 

Meanwhile, in Hubert’s lie up, Bertie was getting the worst of it from his sire.  Bertie’s mistake was to argue for Sita’s inclusion in the community, and give his view that her cubs were worthy of membership of the community.  This ended up with Hubert losing his temper and viciously attacking his cub.  After a sustained attack lasting five minutes, Bertie escaped, limping along the passageway.  Little Koda, wanting to leave Ikuk and Kamchatka alone, left the lie up with Asak in tow.

 

It was in this way they came across Bertie, limping and in pain in the passage.

      “What happened to you?”  Asak asked, his night vision adjusted to the power cut.

        “I can’t, can’t tell you anything!”  Bertie gasped.  Little Koda stared at the older cub.

        “Hubert hit you didn’t he Bertie,” he stated suddenly.  Bertie shook violently, almost collapsing onto the tiles.

      “Why would he want to attack his own cub?”  Asak asked.

        “I think it’s to do with Bertie’s support for Sita and her cubs, not directly anything to do with Bertie,” Little Koda said.

       “I want to get away from here,” Bertie whimpered, “but I can’t walk too well on my paws, he bruised them all!”

        “We’ll help you,” little Koda said.

       “But you’re only a cub, barely three months old Koda, you can’t face down Hubert in a fight if I can’t,” Bertie protested.

        “I said nothing about facing him down,” little Koda said, “and anyway, he’s got no beef with me, just with Sita for a silly thing.  She’s a wonderful mother, I’ve met her two cubs, I think.  Touched their paws anyway, it was when I was blind like my sire.  Now though, my world is brighter, and his is not, but he’s taught me so much,”  Koda added.

       “I’ll bet you could take each one of Bertie’s paws in yours and make him feel no pain in them Koda,” Asak said.

       “I’m no healer,” little Koda replied, “Blackberry does that.”

       “But you can tell when mothers are in cub, and you are switched on to paws and what they tell you,”  Asak said, “you told mama Sita she was in cub before she knew herself.  Now that’s got’a be worth something.”

        “I have been in touch with other’s paws as long as I can remember,” Koda said, watching Bertie shifting uncomfortably from paw to paw.

        “Do what you want with my paws little Koda!” Bertie begged, sitting down suddenly.  Little Koda advanced and, sitting down, took Bertie’s right hind foot in his forepaws, stroking the older bear’s pads and massaging his toes.

         “You’re hurting him Koda,” Asak said.

       “No, no,” Bertie said through clenched teeth, “Koda, carry on, make me flex my toes, I must flex my toes, or my paw will stiffen up!  Keep massaging my pads too!”  Little Koda hated forcing Bertie to keep flexing his toes when it hurt him to do so, but he knew, and Bertie knew both must do their bit.  Bertie thrust each of his sore forepaws and hind feet into Koda’s tiny paws, forcing himself to endure the massaging touch of the younger cub’s paws, even though it hurt a lot.

       “I want to play with Koda as a fellow cub, and If I don’t do this, I’m gonna be unable to use my paws to play within the hour,” Bertie gasped, screwing up his face as Koda grabbed his left hind foot and physically flexed his toes.

       “Ah shit!  I mean ouch!”  Bertie yelled.

       “Swear away,” Koda said, “I would in your situation.  You should have heard Sita; she’s got colourful language, according to sire Koda.”  Bertie laughed despite his pain.

       “I don’t think any bear has had instant treatment for bruised paws in a corridor,” he gasped, “I’m sorry for asking you to do this here little Koda.”  Little Koda smiled and kissed the hot pads of Bertie’s right forepaw, the larger male cub catching his breath.”

        “This feels wonderful,”  Bertie said, “even when you ask me to do something that causes me pain, like curling my toes, your touch is still wonderful,”  Bertie panted, for he was trying to curl and stretch the toes of his left hind foot once more.

         “Mama Kamchatka said that about Sire Koda’s massage of her paws while she gave birth to me,” the black bear cub said, “I think when you have supportive paws helping you, things are okay.”  Little Koda massaged Bertie’s right hind foot, first massaging his bunched pads, then curled toes, helping him stretch his toes by massaging the pads on the undersides of his toes, encouraging him to uncurl them.

        “This hurts me a good bit,” Bertie said.  Asak couldn’t watch Bertie’s pain, and he ran off to get help.  Bursting into Kamchatka’s lie up, he breathlessly told Ikuk what had happened.  Kamchatka sprang to her paws and ran from the lie up, finding little Koda massaging Bertie’s left hind foot in the corridor.

        “I’m trying to make it so Bertie can walk,” little Koda said.  Kamchatka smiled and looked up as Hubert padded into the corridor.

       “You’ll regret touching him little Koda!”  Hubert screamed, running at the young black bear cub.  Angered, Kamchatka ran at Hubert, lifted him into the air above her head and threw him on the floor.

        “You keep your paws off the cubs!”  She screamed.

       “Go for it mum!”  Little Koda yelled.  Kamchatka, sure the threat was over, spun round on her paws and faced her cub:

        “Now go home little Koda,” she said.

      “No mum,” little Koda replied firmly, “I want to help Bertie here.”  Kamchatka looked into her cub’s face.

        “You are going to help Bertie aren’t you,” she said smiling.  Little Koda looked down at his paws, realising he’d unwittingly challenged his mother.

        “I will go home,” he said, getting to his paws.  Kamchatka stopped him.

        “No,”  she said, “you go with Bertie, take him back to our lie up and care for him as you were doing.”  Little Koda hugged Bertie tightly, the larger male cub sobbing into his fur.

        “Come,” little Koda said, guiding Bertie to his lie up, the larger cub limping along beside him.

        “Thank you,” Bertie said softly.  Kamchatka watched her cub, tiny against Bertie’s stature, helping the larger cub along.

       “Keep following your paws little Koda,” she whispered.

 

Hubert moaned on the floor:

       “Screw you you horrid Russian bitch!”  Kamchatka kicked him hard, Hubert wailing with pain.

       “You are grateful I spare your life,” Kamchatka growled. “What you did to your cub is beyond disgusting.  My loathing of you is beyond description!”  Kamchatka left Hubert on the floor, returning to her lie up, and cub.

       “How are your paws now Bertie?”  Kamchatka asked as she padded into the lie up, the lights coming back on as she entered.

       “They are okay now thanks mama,” Bertie said, smiling at the female grizzly.

        “You have a wonderful cub here,” Bertie added.  Kamchatka smiled broadly, basking in the warmth of her family.

        “I am so glad Sire Koda helped our cub learn the value of touch and of paw massage and play.”  Bertie experimentally flexed the toes of both hind paws, smiling as he found his pain much reduced.

        “Your touch on my paw pads was lovely Koda,” Bertie said, kissing the younger cub’s nose and forepaws.  Little Koda smiled and returned the older cub’s kiss to Bertie’s nose and the pads of all four of his paws.

       “I’ve never felt such pain or pleasure all in one day,” Bertie said, “flexing my toes was agony, but now my paws are giving me deep pleasure.”  Little Koda smiled and said:

       “Bertie, you have cute paws.”  Bertie laughed merrily and tightly hugged little Koda.

       “Do you like playing with your paws Koda?”  Bertie asked.  Little Koda nodded:

       “I do very much,” he replied.  Bertie smiled:

        “Would you play with the paws of another cub if he asked?”

       “I would,” Koda replied, “but this cub would have to be ok with it though.”

      “He would be,” Bertie replied.

       “Okay then,” Koda said.  Bertie embraced little Koda tightly.

       “Thanks,” he said.  Little Koda laughed merrily.

       “You silly thing,” he laughed.

        “I have missed playing with another bear’s paws,” Bertie said.  Little Koda smiled:

        “You can play with all four of mine if you wish,” he said.  Bertie looked at mama Kamchatka.

        “I hate my sire,” he said, “I hate him with all my fur and paws and teeth and everything!  He’s violent, and disrespectful to everyone, and horrible and nasty, and dreadful, and awful, and disgusting!”

       “I don’t think you like your sire much thenBertie,” little Koda said.  Bertie sighed heavily.

        “I’m not like him,” he said, “I’m like my mama mostly.  She was a gentle bear, real gentle, but her life ended on the road.  She was run over by a car, and my life was never the same after that.  I lost so much that day.”

       “Did your mama teach you how to play with paws?”  Little Koda asked.

      “She did,” Bertie replied.

      “Okay, show me how to play then,” little Koda invited.

       “We used to play by imitation, I’d curl my toes, and she’d copy me, then we’d try and uncurl each other’s toes by rubbing pads, much like you did with my toes when I was in pain.”

       “Take my hind paws in your forepaws and explore them,” Koda invited, flex my toes, explore my pads, ask me to curl my toes and stretch them too, all that.  Go on, try it.”

       “Do you know the soft play room Koda?”  Bertie asked.  Koda smiled and nodded:

       “I’d forgotten about that place,” he admitted, “let’s play there rather than in this corridor.  It was okay while you were getting the use of your paws Bertie, but not for real play.”

        “We can play on the zip wire and the slides too,” Bertie suggested.

        “We could,” little Koda agreed.

       “Though thinking about it,” Bertie continued, “play with paws is better.  With a slide you know what’s going to happen, with another bear, you don’t really know what’s going to happen next.”

        “That’s true,” Koda said, kissing Bertie’s nose and hugging him tightly, the older cub laughing with delight.

        “You soppy young thing!”  Bertie exclaimed.  Bertie and little Koda made their way to the soft play room where they found Morag and Harvey playing together.  Little Koda and Bertie watched the two older bears playing together, both bear unnoticed by Harvey or Morag.

      “Morag’s tiny isn’t she,” Bertie whispered to Koda.

      “She’s about my height when standing on her hind paws,” Koda replied.

      “But she’s a year old now,” Bertie said, “there’s another bear here, her name is Georgia, she’s stunted like Morag, and like Harvey too.”

        “Stunted growth?  I hate that term,” little Koda thought.

       “I find Morag very beautiful indeed,” Koda said.  Bertie smiled:

        “She is isn’t she,” he said.

        “Discussing me are we boys?”  Morag asked, casually ending the wrestling match with Harvey, who was quite a bit larger than she by tickling his hind paws, thus rendering him incapable of carrying on.

       “Fowl play!”  Harvey protested, until Morag kissed his nose, which silenced him.

        “We were, I mean Koda was, admiring you Morag,”  Bertie said.  Morag laughed good naturedly at this and padded over to Koda and Bertie.

       “but you’re only a wee cub, not half a year old, so you can’t say things like this with any serious meaning little Koda,”  Morag said.  Koda smiled.

        “We have played before I think,” he said.  Morag shook her head slightly.

      “Not with you little one,” she replied, “I’ve played with no black bear cubs in my life.

         “All bears are black in the dark,” Koda said.

       “And so they are, but what is that meant to suggest?”  Morag enquired, “That I don’t know who I play with?  That I don’t remember every paw I touch and the touch of every bear’s paw on mine?”

         “No,” Koda replied, “that you use your eyes too much.  Here, take my paw.  Morag did, intent on rubbishing the young three month old bear’s words, but then she stopped in her tracks.

        “I did play with you,” she said, “you were very gentle with me after I got a thorn in the pads of my right hind foot.  I didn’t want to play because the thorn hurt me, and you said you could dig it out.”

      “Did little Koda dig the thorn out of your pad Morag?”  Bertie asked.  Morag hesitated, her eyes filling with tears:        “Yes he did, but it was not only that which stayed with me.  His gentility, the way he dug the thorn out with care, and, and,” she grinned sheepishly, “He kissed my pads too.  I know that sounds a strange thing to do, but it felt so good as if he really cared.”

        “You make Koda sound like he’s a politician and insincere,” Bertie observed.

       “Did I?”  Morag asked, “I didn’t mean to, but how can a young bear care about me like I felt he did when he hardly knows me?”

        “Don’t knock it,” Bertie said, his eyes filling with tears at the memory of his own encounter with little Koda, who was feeling like a museum exhibit at that moment, as well as a little embarrassed.

         “Hey Koda, Koda!”  A voice yelled.  Koda, turning, found Imogen running towards him.  Reaching him, Imogen reared onto her hind paws, Koda doing the same, the two bears embracing tenderly.

          “Another friend?”  Morag asked, her eyes shining.

        “Yes, oh yes,” Imogen said, kissing Koda’s nose.

         “You’re Sita’s cub aren’t you?”  Morag asked.

       “I am,” Imogen replied, “and Koda’s metSita too, but she’s unable to walk far now, she’s very heavily in cub, and due to give birth any day now.  That’s what I came here to tell you Koda.  Yes, mama Sita wants you at the birth of her cubs, and her contractions have already started.  She’s all right with things, Freckles is there with her, I take it you know Freckles?”

        “Her half sister?”  Koda asked.

       “Hmm, yeah, well that’s another tale,” Imogen replied, “but half sister is what Sita calls Freckles.”

        “I’ve never met Freckles, though I’ve heard a lot about her,” Koda replied.

        “Well Freckles is comforting Sita at the moment.  Sita thinks this labour is going to be hard on her, and she wants, wants you to help her through it.”

        “I’m no healer,” little Koda protested, “I am no medical bear either, Blackberry’s the one for that, surely it’s his job, not mine.”

        “But Sita wants you!”  Imogen insisted, “She said, “go find little Koda,” actually it was, “ouch, ah shit! This hurts!”  then she panted a bit, and then asked me to ““go find little Koda,”  she was curling her toes and massaging her hind feet with her forepaws a good bit too, so you’d better come quick, or you’ll miss it, and Sita won’t be impressed.”

         “Can I come too?”  Bertie asked.

        “She didn’t say anything about you coming along,” Imogen replied, “but I suppose you can.  You leave immediately though if she says so, okay?”  Bertie promised he would.”

        “Let’s go then,” Imogen replied, “Morag, you stay here, you’re not wanted!”  She snapped, dismissing Morag with a wave of her paw, which angered Koda.

       “That’s horrid,” he said, “Imogen, that’s uncalled for!”  Imogen was about to protest when Koda turned to Morag and, taking her paw and kissing her nose, told her:

       “I’ll be back as soon as Sita’s had her cub and all’s well with the world, then maybe we can have that game we arranged, bye for now.”  Morag smiled and returned Koda’s kiss to his nose.

       “Eohippus goes with you,” she said softly.

       “Come on, come on!”  Imogen said, now on all fours and able to stamp her paws with impatience, which she did.  Little Koda and Bertie followed Imogen, who was now panicking, along the passage at a break neck speed.

      “Watch out for the stairs!”  Koda yelled, as Imogen fell down them with a shriek and a clatter.

        “Ouch!”  Imogen wailed, “I’m injured now!”

        “I’ll get Blackberry, you go to Sita” Bertie said.  Little Koda padded to Sita’s lie up, where he found mama Sita curled into a tight ball and moaning.

         “Sita?”  He whispered.

        “I don’t like the feel of this,” Sita panted, “it’s all wrong, something’s wrong!”

          “Can I touch you?”  Little Koda asked.

       “Yes, touch my paws, explore where you need to,” Sita gasped.  Little Koda touched Sita’s paws, and he knew Sita was in for a long labour.

       “The cubs at rest now,” he said, “your cub’s a big one, and you’ll really have to do your best to deliver this one Sita.  He’s enormous!”  Sita groaned and rolled onto her side, clasping her belly with her paws.

        “So it’s gonna be a hard labour?”  She gasped.

         “I think it will,” little Koda replied, “but you’ll get through it right enough.”

       “Where’s Imogen?”  Sita asked.  Little Koda told her, and Sita leapt to her feet:

       “I need to go to her!” she yelled.

       “No you don’t mama,” Imogen said, limping into the lie up, “it was my own fault for not looking where I was going.”  Sita suddenly felt her cub shifting inside her, the pain making her roar lustily and stamp her paws.

        “It’s not pushing time yet,” Sita said, “but when it is, it’s gonna be so awful!”

         “Don’t think like that Sita,” blackberry said, “you’ll only prolong the labour.  Think of everything opening up.”

       “And you can give consideration to pissing off Blackberry!”  Sita roared at him from point blank range.

        “So you’d much rather leave the welfare of your unborn cub in the paws of a three month old black bear cub?”  Blackberry asked.

      “Right now, yes!”  Sita moaned, straddling her hind feet and writhing.

         “Your cub is going to be a big one,” Imogen said, “mama; I can see it bulging your belly now as the contractions push it down!”

       “I can feel them too!”  Sita roared, “I’m gonna have to have this cub lying on my side! Ah shit, shit shit shit! this hurts so much!”  Qingshan ran in then, saw what was happening, turned and bolted!

        “That’s your mate come and gone,” Imogen laughed.  Freckles padded carefully out of the lie up to talk to Qingshan, leading the male panda back into the lie up after a few minutes.

        “I’m unable to watch her!”  Qingshan wailed.Sita sat down and grabbed her right hind foot in her forepaws, feeling her toes curling and pads bunching as she endured a contraction.

       “Toes curling, pads bunching, this is interesting!”  Sita gasped.

      “Focus on your paws Sita,” little Koda said.

       “Hmm, yeah, yeah, paws, focus on paws,” Sita panted, “Koda, please?”  Koda took Sita’s right hind foot in his forepaws and massaged her bunching pads and curling toes as Sita bore her pain.

        “I want to lick the birth area,” Sita said, leaning down and licking her body.

         “Oooah, this is helping, helping!”  Sita gasped as she washed herself.

       “Your toes curled when you did that,” little Koda observed.

        “I felt intense pleasure when I washed myself,” Sita replied, “it was really great.”  Imogen turned away:

      “That was disgusting,” she said, “how horrible!”

       “It’s natural Imogen, so shut it!”  Bertie yelled, “I saw a mama panda do exactly what Sita did then.

       “What did she do?”  Freckles asked.  Little Koda looked at Bertie.

        “Can you demonstrate to Freckles what’s going on?”  He asked.

      “You mean I copy Sita?”  Bertie asked.

      “No no no!”  Koda laughed, “I mean show her by asking her to play with her own paws, lean forward and adopt postures Sita is, curl her toes, that kind of thing?”

     “Oh yes, yes, okay,” Bertie said.  He went to Freckles and soon got her into the spirit of the situation.

        “Now lean forwards and grab your right hind foot in your forepaws Freckles to move it out of the way to allow space for washing.”  Bertie said, Blackberry watching in fascination as Bertie re-enactd Sita’s real labour with Freckles, letting Sita’s sister be part of everything.

       “I am so excited I need to relieve myself,”  Freckles said, “Sita, you have a reason for not moving if you need to relieve yourself, but I don’t, so please, don’t do anything drastic like have the cub before I’m back okay?”  Sita laughed so hard at this she rolled onto her back and kicked the air with all four paws, her cub wriggling excitedly inside her.

      “Oooah, oooah!”  Sita moaned as she recovered, “the cub’s enjoying the joke too!”  Freckles ran for the relieving place, and then came back as quickly as she could.

        “Now, that’s better,” Freckles said, kissing her sister’s nose.

       “I hope you get a feel for what I’m doing,” Sita said, “tell you what, Stay here, and you can touch me throughout.”  Freckles was overjoyed.

        “Are you sure?”  She asked.

        “Yes Freckles, come, sit down, touch my face, my ears, my body, my legs, and my paws, especially my paws, and feel what I’m going through.”

      “But what if you’re washing yourself again?”  Freckles asked.

        “Feel that too,” Sita said, licking her sister’s paw.

         “You silly thing,” Freckles laughed.

       “And what of others that want to see the birth of the cub?”  Blackberry asked.

       “Fit little Koda with a head cam,”  Bertie said, “he’s small enough to get right in there, and he can look over Freckle’s shoulder as she’s cradling the cub, and there’s powerful lights on those cameras anyway, so no loss of picture.  We have the normal cameras too, so noone misses out.”  Everyone was happy with that, including little Koda, who’d never worn a head cam but was up for anything.  He found he could wear the helmet and see through the video camera’s view finders which tracked his eyes as he watched Sita.  Sita’s labour continued, with Freckles exploring her sister’s body from time to time whenever Sita changed position.  Sita soon felt the need to wash again, and this she did, with Freckles exploring everything.

        “Thank you for letting me experience this,” Freckles said.  Sita panted hard after another contraction, sitting back on her heels.

        “Feel my body now,” Sita invited.  Freckles did, finding Sita had her forepaws flat on the floor, her tail out of the way of her hind feet, Sita sitting back on her heels.

        “Your pads are warm and damp,” Freckles said.  Sita smiled, bearing down into her backside as she felt the need to push.

       “I’m making efforts,” she gasped, “so my paws tell the tale.”  Freckles felt Sita wriggling, felt her toes curling and body writhing to deliver her cub.  Then, in time, she felt the cub born too.  Sita gave birth to her cub lying on her side, drawing up her hind feet and holding tightly to Qingshan’s paws.  Freckles felt the cub’s forepaws enter the world first, and then with screams of effort and pain from Sita, the cub’s head emerged slowly.  Then, exploding into the world came its body, Sita groaning as the cub’s body slid from her.

        “Nearly there Sita, nearly there!”  Little Koda said, massaging his friend’s right hind foot, while keeping the camera on fast developing events.

       “Now push Sita, push with all you have!”  Blackberry encouraged.  Sita roared and strained, the cub’s hocks and hind legs emerging.  Sita panted hard then, as the cub’s hind feet slid free, Sita squealing as she felt the cubs paws slide slowly into the world.

        “Ouououoch!”  She screamed.

      “All done Sita, all done!”  Qingshan sobbed.  Sita lay back exhausted, while Freckles cleaned Sita’s cub up, and then a new sound, the roaring and yelling for food from a new cub filled the air.  Freckles guided the cub to his exhausted mother’s milk, then kissed Sita’s nose.

        “You did so well, so well!”  She said to her sister, who smiled broadly if a little weakly.

       “Thank you all,” Sita said softly.  Little Koda danced with excitement as he realised what he’d got on video.

      “That is an amazing film little one,” Kamchatka said, having tapped into the feed from her cub’s head cam.  Little Koda laughed merrily as he watched the goings on in the lie up.

        “You get your paws into everything don’t you little runt!”  Hubert yelled, barrelling into the lie up and grabbing Bertie by the scruff of his neck.

       “Let him go!”  Little Koda yelled.  Hubert stared at the black bear cub.

        “This is not your war little prince,” he said, “Paws off!”

       “I still say leave him alone!”  Little Koda replied.

       “Bertie’s intruding on a private thing,” Hubert said calmly, putting Bertie down on the floor to speak to the black bear cub.

       “You mean you want to take him away and beat him up for nothing,” Koda snapped.

       “I’m sick of this,” Sire Patch said, padding in and knocking Hubert out cold with a bored flick of one huge paw.

      “Wow, that’s amazing!”  Little Koda said.  Sire Patch looked at him:

        “I don’t like using my strength,” he said, “but I keep it up so I can if needs be.”  Patch looked sadly down at Hubert’s unconscious body.

       “Take him away someone,” he said.  Qingshan dragged Hubert’s body away.

       “Freckles,” Sita said, “come here, and meet my newborn cub.”  Freckles explored the cub, which had small forepaws, and large hind feet, and a tail.  Sita’s feeling heritage came through in this cub, and he looked more leonine than ursine.

       “What shall you name your cub?”  Patch asked.

       “How about Leo?”  Sita asked, “But then we’ve got a Leo,” she thought for a minute, “scruffy little cub isn’t he,” she observed, “scruffy Leo, or just Leo.”

        “Dear Fleur had a cub named Scruffy Leo,” Kamchatka said, padding into the lie up, “he fought a lion and lost, though he was a good hearted fellow all in all.”

        “He was Clarence’s full brother,” patch said.  Kamchatka nodded.

  Now let’s wash this cub,” Sita said softly.  Little Koda touched the pads of Sita’s right hind paw as she went to get to her feet.

      “What?”  she asked.

       “I would like to touch your cub,”  he said.  Sita sat down suddenly:

       “Okay, I’m sorry,”  she said.  the cub, now named leo, cuddled into little Koda’s embrace as the black bear cub explored him from nose to paws.

        “he likes your touch,”  sita said, as her newborn cub mewed and huffed with pleasure like the cat bear he was.

       “You are lovely little Leo,”  little Koda said, the cub kissing the bear cub’s nose.

        “he’s got huige hind paws mama Sita,”  Koda observed, sita laughing merrily.

         “Like his sire then,”  she said, nudging Kingshan, who grinned shyly.  Morag padded in, saw the newborn cub, ran over, and hugged Sita, much to Sita’s surprise.

       “hey, who are you?”  she asked as the small bear hugged her.

       “Sorry sita, I forgot you can’t see me, it’s morag,”  Morag said.  sita was about to admonish Morag, but thought better of it at the last moment.

        “Well done on the birth of your new cub,”  Morag said, kissing Sita’s nose.

       “Thanks,”  sita said, “now how do I keep this cub safe from Hubert, he hates me and my cubs.”

       “We’ll all keep you safe,”  Harvey said, padding in after Morag, “it’s our pleasure and duty after all.”

       “I feel I’m such a burdon sometimes,”  Sita said, “I can’t patrol, I can’t do anything productive here.  All this talk of duty to look after me and my cubs sounds very unplesent.”

        “Your disability means you need assistance in a world that is not set up for your needs,”  little Koda said, “I know this, my sire is as you are, and he needs help too.  I don’t like the word of Duty either.  Sita, you are not a burdon to me, for I know what someone in your position can give to a cub.  Your cubs are well adjusted, inclusive in thought and word, and action.  It is because their mother has taught them to be so.”

        “Now Sita, you are welcome here,”  Sire Patch said.

       “I want to play now,”  little Leo said.

       “and play you will,”  little Koda replied, “that is if sita has anything to do with it.”  Sita laughed and embraced her cub.

        “is it too early to teach him about his body yet?”  sita asked.

       “isn’t it a bit late to be asking that when you’ve brought two cubs up already?”  Blackberry asked.  sita grinned:

       “Suppose it is,”  she replied laughing.

        “If all’s well here, can I ask koda out to play?”  Morag asked shyly.  Sire Patch looked at Morag, then smiling, pushed little Koda to his paws.

      “Go with her,”  he said, “you need time out to play.”

      “I love this cub,”  Morag said hugging Koda, “at first I thought I didn’t know him, but when he touched my paw, I remembered his touch, and his gentility when pulling a thorn from my paw pads.”

       “you’ve got Perdy and Morag chasing you little Koda,”  Qingshan observed.

        “I’m just playing with those who want me to play with them,”  little Koda replied.

       “I thought he was homosexual,”  Imogen , “the way he and Bertie were hugging each other was disgusting!”

       “Depends on the type of hug as to whether it was a brotherly hug or a secual one,”  Sita observed, “but there is nothing wrong with either in my view.”

       “It’s a lovely hug Koda has,”  Bertie said, “He cured my bruised paws Sita.”

        “I don’t think he could have done that,”  Freckles said.

      “He did, how would you know anyway?  Have you ever asked him to touch your paws when you were distressed?  Well have you?  Come on cat bear thing! Tell me!”  Bertie yelled, very angry.

        “you believe what you want,”  Freckles replied, “but I don’t believe little Koda has special paw power.”

        “It’s true, he does, he does!”  Bertie said, almost sobbing.

        “I wouldn’t dismiss the power of the paw Freckles,”  Sita said, “you might not have felt it, but I have.  Don’t knock something unless you’ve felt it.”

        “I know how powerful dreams can be, for they led me to this place,”  Freckles replied, “but paws?  No, they aren’t powerful like dreams are.”

      “When the touch of a friendly paw can make you push that little bit harder to deliver a cub, you believe,”  Sita said.

         “I know, I know he’s got healing paws,”  Bertie said, running from the room before he lost control completely.

        “Don’t knock the power of the paw Freckles,”  sita said seriously, “it has given me that extra bit of strength to deliver the cub you have touched today.”

       “I touched your paws while you were pushing against your cub,”  Freckles said.

       “yes,”  Sita replied, “and you gave me the reassurance to push that little bit harder into my tail.”  Freckles took Sita’s paw in hers.

        “Do you really mean that?”  she asked.

        “I do,”  Sita replied, “I mean it from my nose to my toes.”  Freckles kissed her sister’s nose.

        “I am so glad I could help,”  she said.  Sita smiled broadly.

       “I love my cubs Freckles,”  Sita said.  Freckles smiled:

        “I might be having a cub soon,”  she said, “I’m loving a bear myself, his name is Shang Hi.”  Sita grinned broadly:

       “he’s a lovely bear,”  she said.  Qingshan smiled and nodded:

       shang hi is so lovely,”  Qingshan replied.

        “I might be in cub too!”  Freckles laughed.

        “birth of a cub is painful, but also so rewarding,”  Sita said.

       “I hope I have a cub soon,”  Freckles replied.

        “I wonder how little Koda and his friend are getting on?”  little Leo asked.  sita smiled:

       “They are very good together,”  she said.

       “I want to know why Freckles got angry about Koda’s paws,”  little leo said, “surely Koda is very good with his paws?”

       “he is,”  Sita replied.

       “I still don’t believe he cured Bertie of his bruised paws though,”  Freckles mumbled.

        “Is your disbelief softening?  Sita asked.

 

Little Koda found Morag sitting quietly in the soft play room.

        “You’re alone here?”  little Koda asked.  Morag raised her head from a close study of the toes of her hind paws which she’d been stretching and curling while she thought deeply.

       “thanks for coming back,”  Morag said.

       “I promised I would,”  little Koda said, “and a promise when made touching another’s paw is a binding one in my book.”

        “I thought, thought you’d get carried away with Sita’s new cub and forget,”  Morag said, getting to her feet and padding across to Koda, bouncing on her toes a little to feel the soft flooring beneath her pads, little Koda smiling and imitating her.

         “Koda,” Morag said softly, “please, sit down.”  Koda did, and Morag took his paw in hers:

        “Koda,” she said, “I love you.  I’m sorry if it’s wrong for a year old cub to say this to a three month old cub, but I love you, I never forgot your touch on my hind foot, less still the kiss to my pads, and, and, I’ve dreamt about you on many a night.  My paw has reminded me time and time again of your touch.  If this is wrong, I’ll submit myself to the spirits and take the punishment they give me, but please, don’t let it be wrong.  I don’t want cubs, Bertie does, and I know that.  I want to go deeper than cubs, much deeper, and you do too I think.  Yes giving birth to cubs is intimate, as intimate as one can get outwardly.  But there’s an intimacy that you know, one of the mind, and of the paw.  I want to know you Koda, inside and out.”  Koda smiled and hugged Morag.

        “I am playful, I like play, and I’m not looking to settle down yet Morag.  I came back to you because I promised you I would.  I’m not in love with you as far as I know.  Then what would I know?  I’m a, “wee cub,” as you put it.”  Morag looked into Koda’s face.

        “Its simple play then,” she said, “simple unattached play.”

        “I love you as a fellow bear and as a cub,” Koda said, “not, as, as, an adult bear.  I’m not an adult bear!”  Morag played with Koda’s right hind paw, the black bear cub curling his toes with pleasure.

        “”How was it with Sita?”  Morag asked.

       “Amazing,” Koda said, “I filmed it all.”  Morag smiled:

       “I know,” she replied, “I was massaging my hind paws with Sita, I nearly felt her pain!”

        “I didn’t want to upset anyone,” Koda said, “It’s not my job to do that.”

       “Sita’s face and paws showed her pain, I was there with her Koda!”  Koda took Morag’s left hind foot in his paws and explored her pads and toes, the small female bear curling her toes as tightly as she could.

       “Imagining having a cub are you Morag?”  He asked.  Morag giggled:

       “I was,” she said, “I want; want you to soothe me as you did Sita.”  Koda looked into Morag’s face.

        “A drug is no good if it is not needed,” he said, “I can’t give you what you want.”

        “I am sorry,” Morag said.

        “Is there anyone who only wants to play?”  Koda asked, his eyes filling with tears.

        “Yes there is,” a tiny voice said.  Little Koda turned his head and saw a face he’d seen an hour previously.

       “You’re too young little Leo,”  he said, “I can’t play with you yet, but I will when you’re a bit older, I promise, though thank you from the bottom of my heart for your concern.”  Little Leo crawled up to Koda, lay down and took the older cub’s left hind foot in his forepaws.

        “I can play with your hind paws,” he said, “so you can most likely play with mine, right?”  Little Koda felt the tiny touch of the newborn cub, and knew his toes wanted to curl with pleasure.

      “Let your toes express your inner feelings,” Sita said to Koda.  Little Koda let go of any reservations he had, and his toes curled, much too little Leo’s delight.

        “You’re so cute Leo,” Koda said.  Little Leo scrambled into Koda’s lap, the black bear cub hugging him tenderly.

       “All you want is innocent play don’t you Koda,” Sita said.  Little Koda nodded:

       “I’m not into making cubs Sita,” he said, “I’m too young!  Bertie wants to play, he’s all right, but, but Morag, she doesn’t.  Bertie might want to make cubs with Morag, but I don’t.  She wants me to soothe her paws like I did yours or Bertie’s and I can’t do that.  I can play with her, but if she wants’ something more than that; I’m unable to help her.  Now your cub, little Leo here, he can play innocently, and you can too Sita.  You and he just want fun, nothing more.  No other things on your mind than enjoyment of the touch of a friendly paw on yours, with maybe a hug at the end that is warm and means nothing more or less than the warmth of a loving protecting hug.”

        “I’ve often asked sire Patch for a hug, and he does,” Sita admitted, and his hug is uncomplicated by thoughts of what he can get from me.  He wants to give me a hug with all four of his paws, and I want to receive it with all four of mine.”

         “Would you hug me Now Sita?”  Little Koda asked.  Sita smiled and sat down.  Little Leo crawled back to his mother, Koda following the cub by touching his hind paws, something Leo seemed to like.

      “Here is Koda mama,” Leo said, Sita gathering little Koda into her lap and hugging him tightly.

       “Freckles doesn’t believe in the power of your paws Koda,” little Leo said.

        “One day she wills,” Sita replied, “I believe in the power of your paws, as do Bertie and Perdy.”  Little Koda snuggled up to Sita.

       “I just don’t want to do anything but play,” little Koda said, “It’s not too much to ask is it?  I don’t want anything from anyone other than to give them pleasure, but everyone else seems to hear about this and twist it into something that I can’t give them.  Morag can’t play, she wants to be drugged by my touch, and Freckles wants concrete proof of my power, she can’t believe in the power of touch.”

      “I have been shown the pleasures of uncomplicated play,” Sita said, “and for that I’m very grateful.  I treasure my paws, and what they tell me, and I will show little Leo how he can do the same.”

       “Bertie needed your help Koda,” Toby said, padding into the soft play room, “he was in genuine pain, and needed a friendly uncomplicated paw’s touch.”

         “He asked nothing more from me than I could give him,” little Koda replied, “he gave me his paws and asked me to play with them, which I did, and he said my play helped him relax and soothed his pain.”

         “You also told your mother what Bertie wanted,” Sita said, “and she realised your paws were telling you was true.”

     “Your sire is very much like you Koda, much uncomplicated.  He can play like you do; indeed, he and Kamchatka often play together, neither looking for anything from the other other than maybe a simple loving time.”

       “Everything doesn’t have to revolve around sex,” Toby said baldly, “everyone’s looking for sex, and it’s boring!”

        “Little Leo was conceived after a game where Qingshan and I were playing with each other’s paws went a bit too far,”  Sita said, “neither of us was looking to have a cub, but we ended up having one, and we are both glad of his birth.”

        “My paws are cold!”  Leo whimpered.  Toby Sat down and gathered the cub in his paws, hugging him and rubbing the pads of his fore and hind paws, Leo snuggling close to his half brother.

 

Georgia watched the goings on in the soft play room.  She empathised with little Koda about the Altria motives of some members of the community.

        “I’ll go to him, and if he wants, we can play together, no strings attached,” Georgia thought, padding from her lie up.  Reaching the soft play room, Georgia crawled into the room, approaching little Koda in this manner.  Little Koda recognised the symbolism and crawled to Georgia, placing his right forepaw on her left and kissing her nose.  Georgia, smiling, placed her right forepaw on little Koda’s left fore, and returned his kiss.

        “Are you as bored and upset as I am with those young bears that want other things than simple play?”  Georgia asked.  Little Koda nodded:

        “I am,” he said, “Morag asked me to soothe her paws with mine when she didn’t need soothing.  Play isn’t like that, its mutual fun, and I’m no medical bear Georgia.  Bertie wanted me to play with his paws as he was a cub in need of play.  He asked me to do what I wanted with his paws, and so I did.  He wanted to play, but he couldn’t without pain relief as Hubert had bruised all four of his paws, probably to stop him playing with other bears.”  Georgia growled with anger:

       “Horrid beast,” she snarled, “Hubert should be locked up for bruising Bertie’s paws!  Hubert is so bent on taking away his only pleasure in this world; it makes me sick that he should do such a thing.”

       “Can we play with Bertie’s paws?”  Little Koda asked.

      “Only if he wants us to,” Georgia replied, “though I’ve played with his paws before and they are very cute indeed.”

        “Can I play with your paws Georgia?”  Little Koda asked.  Georgia giggled:

       “I wondered when you’d ask,” she replied, “yes, I would be glad to let you play with my paws, for that’s what they are made for I think.”  Little Koda laughed merrily.  Georgia sat down and little Koda explored Georgia’s right hind foot, finding she had well defined pads and toes, Georgia unable to stop her toes curling with pleasure.

       “Your paws give me such pleasure!”  Georgia said.  Koda laughed merrily.

       “Your paws are very expressive too,” Koda observed.  Georgia laughed and hugged Koda tenderly.

       “I’m concerned about Bertie,” Georgia said, “Hubert’s dangerous, and Bertie’s so sweet.  He’s like us, he doesn’t want anything else in the world but to be well fed, secure and to play with others.  He loves cubs and would adore little Leo I’m sure, if only he could meet him.”

 

Later that day, in the wood, Bertie and Bella walked together, Bertie limping a little.  Bertie told Bella of his run in with Hubert and how much he wished his sire would leave him alone.

        “So you’re blabbing to other community members now!”  Hubert roared, exploding from a bush nearby the track and pouncing on his son cub.

        “Run Bella Run!”  Bertie yelled.  Bella pounded back to the house, her paws not going fast enough to catch up with her mind.  Her mind screaming in distress, she fell into the house, after tripping over her own paws.

          “Help!”  She screamed, “Bertie’s being beaten up by Hubert!”  Unknown to Bella, Patch, sleeping until a few minutes ago, had seen the fight in his dreams, and run out of the house to confront Hubert from another door, finding him kicking Bertie’s paws.

       “You get off him!”  Patch yelled, lifting Hubert off his feet and throwing him into a gorse bush.

       “You disgust me Hubert!”  Sire patch yelled, “You go, you leave, you have nothing more to do with your cub you horrid creature!”  Sire patch screamed.  Patch lifted Bertie off the track and carried the whimpering and half conscious cub back to the house.  There he bathed his grazes and put a call through to Blackberry, who came and assessed Bertie’s injuries.

       “There is nothing more I can do for him than you’ve already done,” Blackberry said, “he has no internal injuries, or broken bits, so I haven’t got the ability to help him in the way he needs.”  Sire patch looked concerned.

      “No, it’s nothing like that,” blackberry said, catching the grey bear’s thoughts, “what Bertie needs is a comforting paw.”

         “Poor chap,” Bella said, padding in and touching Bertie’s head with her paw before kissing his nose, for Bertie was sound asleep.

         “How can we stop Hubert from doing this again?”  Blackberry asked.

        “I told him to leave and threw him into a bush,” Patch replied.

      “Oh great, that’s gonna do nothing!”  Bella snapped, “You’re too soft Sire Patch!  Hubert needs to be killed!  He’s endangering cubs!  Worse still, his own cub!  Bertie’s done nothing to deserve his pain, been sweet to all, and hugged a mama in labour, played with her paws, played with that mama’s cub, played with everyone!”

       “He will be getting his deserved outcome,” Sire Patch said, “the spirits have been clear on that.”

      “I wish Hubert’s waiting time could be served with his paws tied and mouth clamped shut!”  Bella said fervently.

       “I can’t authorise that,” Patch said heavily, “I wish I could though.”  Bella stamped her paws in fury.

       “I want him tied up, and muzzled, and thrown in jail, and to have his paws whipped so he feels the same as poor Bertie, and then, then he should be tide up with rope with thorns in it, and fired from a cannon so he lands far far from here, then he should die horribly!”

     “Wooh Bella, that’s very unpleasant!”  Blackberry cautioned.

      “Hubert is very unpleasant,” Bella said, “he’s a dreadful creature, and awful things happen to awful creatures, or they should if all is as it should be!”

       “It’s horrid to see Bertie in pain,”  Patch said, “a mama bear or cat in pain due to labour I can cope with, as it’s a natural pain and is necessary, but Bertie’s pain is not necessary at all!  I’d much rather see five mothers in labour for an hour than Bertie in pain for five minutes!”

        “Discussing me are we?”  Bertie asked blearily.  Bella looked down at the young bear.

        “I don’t want you to go out alone until we’ve fixed Hubert,” she said.

       “So we put Bertie on a protection scheme?”  Blackberry asked.

      “That’s down to the others to sort that,” patch replied.  “There are some other bears that can help with that.  Malcolm and Billy too, they are big bears and can protect Bertie.”

       “Who is Malcolm?”  Bella asked.

      “A bear from Luna’s neck of the woods,” patch grunted, “he’s a moon bear.”

      “Let’s get Bertie indoors and give him tea and food in Koda’s lie up.”  Kamchatka said padding in, “Sire Koda’s flat should be comfortable enough for him.”

       “I think that’s an excellent suggestion,”  sire Patch said, “now it’s down to us to draw lots as to who gets to spend time in those lovely plush surroundings, for since Sire Koda adopted his spiritual form, he’s not needed all that plush stuff.”

        “Well we do sometimes retire there,” Kamchatka said, “it’s our private place that.”

 

      “Let’s take him to that place then,” Patch said, “let’s use the executive lift.”  They wheeled Bertie on a trolley into the lift and Kamchatka identified herself to the computer by placing her paw on the plate and entering in a code before pressing the button for Koda’s private apartments.  The lift gave a series of rather pleasurable beeps and ascended to the apartments, the doors opening onto a lobby.  Bertie, still out of it, groaned with discomfort.

       “Do we have something soft to lay him on?”  Sire Koda asked.  Kamchatka shook her head:

       “I ripped it up during Alaska’s birth, remember?”  Koda smiled and padded to a cupboard from which he produced another quilt, and a cover, which he expertly stuffed with the quilt.  He then laid the quilt on the floor and Bertie was settled on it, Koda getting a pillow for the injured bear’s head.

       “Wrap him up Kamchatka,” he said.  Kamchatka tucked Bertie up in the quilt, Bertie seemingly enjoying the warmth of the quilt.

        “Let’s leave him to rest now,” Sire Patch said, “rest is the best form of medicine now.”  Sire Koda took Bertie’s left forepaw in his paws and massaged his pads, the cub slipping into a deep sleep, his whole body relaxing completely.

         “He’ll not wake for some time,” Sire Koda said.

        “I want to tear Hubert to Pieces!”  Bella yelled.  Kamchatka hugged the young female bear.

        “In time Bella, in time he’ll get his rightful punishment,” Kamchatka said gently.  Bella snuggled up to the mama bear.

      “What’s going on mama?”  Little Koda asked, padding into the flat.  Kamchatka turned to her youngest cub and told him what had happened.

      “Bertie’s been badly beaten up again?”  Little Koda asked.  Kamchatka nodded.

       “I’m sorry for him,” little Koda said, “is there anything I can do?”

       “Stay with him,” Kamchatka suggested.  Little Koda got a cup of tea and settled down to watch over his friend.

        “I’ll stay too,” Bella said.  Bella watched Bertie as he lay wrapped in the quilt.

        “I saw you playing with Georgia little Koda,” Bella said, “You two really enjoyed yourself didn’t you.”  The young black bear cub smiled broadly:

        “We did,” he replied.

       “Why don’t you invite Georgia in here to sit with Bertie?”  Kamchatka asked, overhearing their conversation, “she will be okay here.”

    Georgia is very gentle,” little Koda said.  Kamchatka smiled:

       “She is so cubbish, it’s cute,” she said.

        “She’s got the same problems as Morag,” Bertie mumbled, “she’s stunted, in stature she’s a cub forever, but she’s big hearted as a mama bear.”

       “I met her on the day she came here after her mother was shot,” Kamchatka replied, “she’s so sweet she tugs at the heart strings of even the hardest mama bear.”

       “You’re a big softy mama, so you took her to your heart quickly,” little Koda said, Kamchatka laughing merrily.

       “It wasn’t difficult,” she admitted, “yes, send Georgia a message to come here and settle down with us if she’d like.”  Georgia padded in five minutes later, sat down and took little Koda’s forepaws in hers.

        “Can I play with your hind paws?”  Georgia asked.  Little Koda smiled and replied that she could.  Bella and Bertie watched, grinning as Georgia kissed Koda’s nose and hugged him, much to the black bear’s astonished delight.

        “Was that strictly in the contract?”  He asked.  Georgia, taken aback, flinched away.

       “You don’t like it?”  She asked, “I’m so sorry for hugging you Koda!”  Little Koda smiled and returned Georgia’s kiss, the long haired cub like bear smiling with relief.

       “I thought I’d upset you,” Georgia said.  Little Koda smiled:

        “You know why they call me little Koda then,” he said suddenly.  Georgia nodded and embraced Koda tightly:

         “You have the same affliction as Georgia Koda?”  Bertie asked.

       “I think we’re gonna be little together,” Georgia said smiling sadly.

        “But how will you survive?”  Bertie asked.

       “We’ll keep from getting under the paws of bigger bears,” Georgia said, “we’ll hide in small rooms and take refuge in friendly places, and protect each other.”

        “Can I join you in those small places?”  A voice behind them said.  Little Koda turned his head and saw little scruffy Leo, Sita’s newborn cub crawling towards them.

        “Shouldn’t you be with your mama?”  Georgia asked.  Leo snorted:

      “She’s asleep, she’s boring!”  He said.

      “Where’s my cub!”  Sita screamed, her voice audible all around the house, as she’d hit the emergency call button and screamed into the microphone.

        “I think you’re gonna be in trouble!”  Bertie said to Leo, and then quickly hid him under a fold of the enormous quilt, “hide here, and don’t move or say a thing!”  Bertie said, giggling cubbishly at his deception.

        “I don’t like the feel of this,” Georgia said, “it’s wrong to hide a mama’s cub.”

        “Where is my cub?”  Sita roared, padding carefully into the lie up.  Sita’s angry eyes and careful paws made an odd contrast, or so little Koda thought.  Her eyes told him her mind wanted her paws to go a million miles a second, but her disability made her go at a snail’s pace, and this was angering her even further.

       “Where is my cub?”  Sita asked.

       “I’ve not seen him here,” Bella said, lieing through her teeth.  Sita’s nose twitched.

      “He’s been here,” she said, “I can smell him!  Where is he?”

       “He was here,” Bella said, now feeling safe, for she could mix a bit of truth with her lie, “but he went downstairs.”  Sita padded out of the room, and Bella then made a huge blunder, slamming the door behind Sita.  Sita, smelling a rat, turned and beat at the door with her paws.

      “Let me in, let me in!”  She screamed.

       “Come Leo!”  Bella said, grabbing Sita’s cub and escaping with him down the emergency exit to the car park.

      “Bella, this is wrong, so wrong, don’t do it!”  Bertie, Kamchatka, little Koda and Georgia begged in unison.  Sita, now lost without her cub, sat down and wailed with anguish and fear.

        “My cub, Bella’s stolen my cub, she’s stolen little Leo!”  Sita screamed.  Kamchatka came to Sita’s aid, opening the door and exploding out of the lie up.

        “Where did she go?”  Sita asked. Georgia, shocked, pointed to the emergency exit, Kamchatka swearing outrageously.

       “Sod the stairs, it’s the pole!  Sita, I’ll get your cub back, I begged Bella not to run off with him, a simple prank has just gone horribly wrong!”  Kamchatka yelled, running to the fireman’s pole and sliding down it.

       “Is she Smokey bear’s understudy?”  Bertie thought.

         “Come Leo, let’s go!”  Bella gasped, but Leo, now fearing for his safety and very cold, didn’t like the game any more.  Being covered by a quilt was fun, hiding from his mum was fun, but running from her in the paws of another bear wasn’t.  He’d got no control now, his paws were off the ground, and he was with a bear he didn’t know.  Unknown to Bella, Petra, Nuru, Aslan, Sarafina, and Theo were surrounding her and scruffy Leo, tightening their circle silently and swiftly to contain her and the frightened cub she’d kidnapped.

       “She’ll not get out of this,” Theo said to Aslan, who was furious at Bella’s irresponsible behaviour.

      “We’re surrounded by lions!”  Bella squealed as she saw Petra, Aslan and Theo emerging from the trees, for unknown to her, they’d been driving her and scruffy Leo into a clearing.  Now the lions surrounded the frightened bear and her captive cub.

        “Let him go Bella,” patch said, having joined the circle a minute before, when stealth was no longer needed.

        “time to go little one,”  Bella said, letting Leo go, the cub left on the grass, confused and frightened in a place he didn’t know.

        “Where’s my mama?”  He asked.  Bella walked away, lying down on her stomach at Theo’s growled command.

      “Get down on your belly Bella!”  Bella dared not disobey the white lion.

        “It was only a joke, only a prank!”  Bella yelled.  Theo approached Bella and pinned her down under his paws.

        “You stole a cub,” Kamchatka said, advancing on Bella, who looked terrified.

       “I wan’a go home!”  Scruffy Leo wailed. 

         “Hiding Leo was one thing,” Kamchatka said to Bella, who lay pinned beneath Theo’s paws, “but slamming the door in Sita’s face and running off with her cub was stupid!”  Bella wailed with fear:

       “It was a joke!”  She squealed.

        “Mama Sita probably doesn’t think so,” Theo growled, “I wouldn’t think much of anyone who stole my cub, even if it was in innocent play.  Though I don’t know how stealing a cub could be called playing any situation.”

      “I’m sorry, it was all so quick!”  Bella whined.

      “You’re lucky Bella that I don’t spank you like the errant cub you are!”  Kamchatka snapped.  Theo let Bella go, Bella turning and bolting into the woods.  Sita found scruffy Leo cowering in the clearing, whimpering and playing with the toes of his right hind foot.

     “Come home,” Sita said softly, picking her cub up and turning back to the house.  Padding along the track going deeper into the wood, Sita tripped over a rope stretched tight across the path.  Sprawling, she landed hard on her shoulder, Scruffy Leo flying from Sita’s grip, hitting the track with a thud.  Sita, gasping, felt a blanket envelope her.  Screaming, she fought the voluminous blanket, the blanket seeming to bind her paws and close tightly around her body and mouth the more wildly she fought it.

      “Mama!”  Scruffy Leo squealed, crawling back to the blanket’s edge, Sita puffing and blowing with fear.

       “Are you all right little one?”  She asked.  Scruffy Leo flexed his legs and paws and yelled back that he was.

       “Thank Eohippus for that!”  Sita gasped, relaxing considerably, but her paws were still entangled in the blanket.  Scruffy Leo explored the blanket with his paws, scrambling over the unfamiliar material, feeling his mother’s head, body and legs under it.  Finding one of her hind paws, he tore at the blanket with care and kissed her pads when he found them, Sita curling her toes with relief and pleasure, Scruffy Leo’s whiskers tickling her pads, much to Sita’s deep relief.

      “Thank you,” Sita whispered.

       “Let’s get you out of here mama,” Scruffy Leo said, tearing furiously at the blanket with his fat forepaws and tiny teeth.  Sita laughed as Leo’s paws found her right hind paw and Leo kissed her pads again.

      “That’s the second time you’ve kissed that paw,” Sita said, “Can you find my other hind foot little one?”  Scruffy Leo, realising this was now more of a game than a fearful situation, searched for his mother’s left hind foot, finding it and tickling her toes, making Sita laugh helplessly and curl up tightly beneath the remains of the blanket.

        “Move away from me Leo,” Sita said softly, “I need to get out of this rug and can’t with you close by.”  Leo scrambled away, but not before kissing his mother’s right hind paw again, Sita giggling with pleasure.

      “Will you make sounds like you did while giving birth to me?”  Leo asked, thinking a big struggle for freedom involved lots of noise.

        “No, not this time, though I can if you’d like me to,” Sita replied.  Leo said:

      “I don’t know where you are if you don’t!”  Sita could empathise with that, and so she tore at the blanket while snarling and rolling about on the track, Leo hearing the blanket tearing and snapping taught as Sita fought it.

       “This blanket keeps wrapping around my forepaws and hind feet!”  Sita roared, tearing at it with her teeth.  She ended up freeing herself, leaving her right hind foot inexplicably tangled up in some of the blanket, though it had been free earlier in the struggle.  Scruffy Leo crawled back to his mother and explored her exhausted body, finding her trapped hind paw.  He ripped at the blanket with his paws and teeth, freeing his mother’s paw.

      “Thanks,” Sita said.  Scruffy Leo giggled:

      “You made that happen didn’t you,” he said.

       “I was too exhausted to think about freeing my foot until I was a bit more rested,” Sita replied.  Leo smiled and kissed his mum’s nose:

       “I kind of enjoyed freeing you,” he said, “its payment for all your straining and pushing to deliver me.”  Sita gulped hard:

       “You don’t need to repay me for that,” she said, “a mama does that for her cub without expectation of payment.”  Leo smiled and kissed his mum’s nose and paws.

       “Your fight with the blanket gave me an idea of how you fought to deliver me into the world,” he said.

      “When you are larger, I’ll re-enact your birth for you,” Sita replied, “but a fight to free myself from a blanket is only a little like delivering a cub into this world?”

        “You’re delivering yourself into this world again though aren’t you mama?”  Leo asked.  Sita laughed:

       “Sort of yes,” she said kissing her cub’s nose.

       “Can I join the party?”  Sire Patch asked.  Sita turned her ear to her adopted sire.

        “You were covered with a blanket after you tripped on a rope pulled tightly across your path Sita,” sire Patch said.  Sita groaned with discomfort as she got to her feet.

       “Who would set a trap like that?”  Blackberry asked padding up to Sita and hugging her.

        “A badger most likely,” Patch grunted, “they are most likely to be the culprits for such a trap.  It was a trap built in fun, as it was a blanket, nothing sinister that fell on Sita.

        “I wish I’d been the one to fall over the rope, not you Sita,” Freckles said, padding up to her sister and hugging her.

      “You’re so good to me Freckles,” Sita said softly.  Freckles kissed her sister’s nose and right ear, Sita rolling onto her side to hug her sister more effectively.  Freckles and Sita embraced each other tightly, Freckles releasing Sita, and kissing her nose once more.

       “Can I have a hug too?”  Scruffy Leo asked.  Freckles laughed, hugging Scruffy Leo tenderly, the cross bred panda cat snuggling up hard to Freckles.  Sita, feeling Leo’s right hind foot brush her left forepaw, tickled his toes, the cub tightly curling his toes whilst roaring with laughter.

       “I love you mama,” he said, Sita gulping back her tears.

       “If anyone, anyone! Steals my cub again, I’ll rip them to peaces!”  She screamed.

      “I’d like to see you try bitch!”  Hubert yelled.  Sita turned on Hubert, who’d foolishly got right up close to Sita.  She could feel him, sense him, and was furious from her nose to her paw pads.  Screaming, she picked Hubert up, lifted him over her head, and threw him away from her, hearing his body smash through the branches of a nearby tree then hit the floor with a crash.

       “I want you dead! Dead as a doornail!”  Sita yelled.

        “I don’t blame you for wanting that,” lioness Rowena said, “he would not come across the bridge to live with the good spirits if he left your world.”  Sita turned and felt Rowena’s paw on hers.

       “You are Simba’s sister aren’t you?”  Sita asked.  Lioness Rowena replied:

     “Yes and poor Simba has been trying to make amends on this side for wrongs he caused on your side of the bridge.  He has been talking to his namesake, Petra’s youngest cub.  From one Simba to another you might say.  Older Simba has been talking to younger Simba and teaching him all he did wrong, so he might avoid those mistakes.”  Sita heard Hubert get to his feet with much groaning and outrageous swearing.

       “Mum,” scruffy Leo said, touching his mother’s paw, “You didn’t swear like that when you were delivering me into the world, I know you didn’t, this bear is truly bad if he uses language like that.”

       “I swore little one,” Sita said gently, “but not using those awful terms it’s true.”

       “I growled and whimpered as you pushed me into the world,” Leo said, “I felt you squeezing my hind feet, and I screamed lustily as you put pressure on my pads and toes!”

       “I had to push,” Sita said.

      “I know mama,” Leo said, kissing his mother’s paw.

        “You horrid animal!”  Hubert screamed at Sita, rearing onto his hind feet and rushing at her.

      “Leave my mum alone!”  Toby yelled, and then Hubert shrieked with pain and anger.

       “He threw a knife at me! He threw a knife at me!”  Hubert collapsed suddenly, a horrid gurgling sound issuing from him as he struggled to breathe, and Sita could smell blood.

        “He’s dead,” Toby yelled, “Hubert’s dead!”

        “How?”  Sita asked.

       “Toby threw a knife at him, and the knife slashed him across his face, Patch replied.

      “I never meant to kill him,” Toby sobbed.

        “It was what Hubert would have done to your mama and brother if he’d got his paws on them little Toby,” lioness Rowena said sadly, “you defended your mama and little brother, and for that there can be no censure, plus you followed the community rules, protect the cubs.”  Toby turned away and was violently sick into the long grass at the side of the track.

       “I was preparing vegetables,” Toby sniffed, “I heard the noise and came out with the knife in my paw, and, and I’d throwing it before I knew what I’d done.  I didn’t mean to throw it mama; I didn’t mean to kill Hubert!”

        “You protected your mother and brother cub,” sire Patch said, “they are defenceless against Hubert, for they are unable to see him, or had you forgotten that Toby?  Hubert took the advantage he had and was prepared to use it against your mother and her cub.  You stopped him from using that advantage Toby.  Now please, don’t worry about what will happen to you, for nothing will.”

       “I want that cub dead!”  Hubert suddenly howled.  His voice was weak, but his meaning was clear.

        “Now what?”  Toby asked.

      “We treat Hubert, and then he gets locked up,” blackberry said, “how on earth he can still talk I don’t know.”

         “He fell onto his right paw,” Patch said, “putting pressure on his wound, its luck rather than planning.”

      “Now we have vindictive bear in our midst, lovely!”  Kuruk groaned, padding into view with a sack, into which he proceeded to unceremoniously stuff Hubert.

       “Hubert goes into prison like big sack of unwanted rubbish,” Kuruk grunted, slinging the sack over his shoulder and padding away, Hubert snarling and swearing viciously.

        “I’m frightened mama,”  Toby said to Sita, no longer sounding like a two year old bear, he was a frightened cub again.

       “Hubert will suffer his own humiliation,” Sita promised her cubs.

       “I think being bagged and tagged by Kuruk is humiliating enough,” Blackberry said, fiercely resisting the urge to roll about on the forest floor kicking the air with all four paws while laughing helplessly.

 

Indeed, Kuruk was tagging Hubert, locking an electronic tag around his right hind paw, and then injecting him with a chip to track him.  Hubert roared with indignation but Kuruk carried on.

       “You’re tagging me like I’m a zoo bred animal!”  Hubert yelled.

       “You act like zoo bred animal, and not like member of civilised community,” Kuruk grunted, “so Kuruk treat you like dumb witless beast.  He handles you like you no know your own mind.  You criminal bear now Hubert!”  Hubert roared and swore as Kuruk threw him into the concrete cell and slammed the door on his protests.

 

Sita padded back to the house with Toby riding on her back and scruffy Leo held tightly in her teeth by the scruff of his neck.  Sita could feel her cubs shaking, Leo’s fear and Toby’s anxiety strongly communicated to her.

        “I’m weak,” Sita thought, “my cubs know I can’t protect them!”  This thought made Sita feel sick to her stomach.

       “What’s wrong mama?”  Toby asked.  Sita swallowed hard.

      “I can’t protect you, Imogen or little Leo,” Sita said around Leo’s scruff.

        “But you can, you threw Hubert into a tree!”  Toby laughed.

       “That was pure luck,” Sita said, “and you threw that knife at him too, you did more than I did to protect us.”

       “Mama, you can’t be held responsible for your disability,” Toby said, “It’s not your fault you can’t see to defend your cubs.”

         “I can’t teach you how to fend for yourselves, how to find food, or anything,” Sita said, “what can I teach a cub that is more able than I am?”

        “Now stop this talk!”  Toby snapped, “Mama, stop this talks right now!  You know you can teach cubs a lot.  So can sire Koda, do you hear him saying things like you are saying?  No you don’t!  He has a cub with mama Kamchatka, and then he teaches that cub to be inclusive, to feel things that the majority cannot, to be considerate in ways others never even think of.  Look at how little Koda’s bonded with Bertie.  Little Koda knows things others who do not have a disabled parent don’t, and that’s because of his sire.  You taught me and Imogen, and are going to teach Leo lots, so no more of this talk!”

     “Toby,” Kamchatka said, padding up beside the now red faced cub, “Sita is only feeling what every mother feels when her cubs are in danger.  Please, don’t be hard on her, she’s barely a day into looking after a new cub, and he’s stolen from her, and then her eldest cub is threatened.  Please, can you try to be a little more understanding of her situation?”  Toby nodded and apologised to Sita.

       “I’m not the sire of a cub yet, so I suppose I wouldn’t know how you feel, mama,” Toby said, “but don’t doubt your worth to me or Imogen, or little Leo for one minute.”

 

Once back in the house, Sita settled down with little Leo to feed him and calm her other cubs, not easy when she was ruffled her.

        “I heard little Koda blew Morag out,” Toby said.  Sita growled slightly:

       “She wanted more than just to play with him,” she snarled, “Morag wanted little Koda to soothe her like he’d done me when I was distressed.  Of course he can’t do that, his power is not to be abused, and she wanted him to abuse it.  He’s a cub, and always will be one, but he will play with whom he feels is genuine and wants to play for play’s sake.  Bertie wanted to play, but his paws were bruised, so little Koda touched his paws to bring them back to a state where Bertie could do what he wanted, which was to play innocently with little Koda.  I wanted little Koda to play with my paws, and me to play with his, but we haven’t quite managed to do that yet.”

        “I played with Georgia a few days back, Georgia’s paws are so expressive,” Toby said, “she’s so cute, and she loves paw play.”

        “I love my paws,” Freckles said, “they are very important to me.”

       “Paws keep us in contact with the ground, and with each other,” Toby said, grabbing Freckles right forepaw in both of his and kissing it, much to her surprise.

      “Hey!!”  She laughed, “Now you’ve kissed my right forepaw, how about kissing my left, and then my nose?”  Toby did, Freckles laughing merrily.

        “So what do we do about Hubert?”  Sita asked, her voice shaking, “he’s a proper threat to me and my cubs, I can’t have that, but I can do nothing to protect my cubs either.”

        “Kuruk inject Hubert with chip thing,” Kuruk grunted, padding into the lie up.

       “What will a chip do?”  Sita asked.  Sire Koda walked in and sat down.

      “Sita,” he said, I am going to give you power to stop Hubert in his tracks if he gets too close to you or your cubs.  The chip will keep track of him, but it will not help defend you or your cubs.  For that I will teach you how to fire Pepper spray into the face of a bear that is coming at you.”

       “I couldn’t hurt another bear just in practise for an attack,” Sita said, “its unethical!”

       “I’ll spray you, you spray me,” Sire Koda said.  Sita was appalled.

      “No dear Koda, no!”  She protested.

       “How else are you going to learn?”  Sire Koda asked, “you need to learn the reaction you’d get if you hit your mark from close range don’t you?”  Sita felt sick at the thought of hurting someone she loved.

        “I can’t spray you in jest,” she whimpered.

       “Here,” Koda said, giving Sita a small can of spray she could keep with her at all times, “just point the nozzle at the threat and press the trigger.”  Sita explored the canister with her paws.

        “Could I bring myself to use this?”  She asked aloud.

       “You will use it if it’s a choice between yourself and your cub’s safety or getting smacked,” Koda replied.

       “I couldn’t, I just couldn’t!”  Sita mumbled.  Sire Koda smiled to himself.

       “I’ll make you,” he thought.  Going to Hubert’s deserted lie up, Koda found the rugs which were impregnated with the hated bear’s scent.  Rolling on the rugs, he covered himself in the scent of the hated bear, which never used the shower, so smelt strongly.  Koda and the other bears, right down to the cubs, used the shower and soap which almost neutralised their own body scents.  Sire Koda and other community members with little or no sight used their paws to find out who was who.  Even Kuruk washed constantly to neutralise his scent.  Now though, Sire Koda was putting himself in the line of fire, forcing Sita into an uncomfortable situation.  Toby, curious to see what the black bear leader was doing, padded into Hubert’s lie up, and sire Koda enlisted his help.

        “Distract Sita for me will you?”  Sire Koda asked, “get her away from little Leo.  Leo doesn’t know I’m not Hubert, and he’ll scream as if I am, Sita will then barrel back in and spray me, I hope.”  Toby was uneasy:

       “And you’ll keep your mouth shut?”  He asked.

      “When I start coughing and gasping she’ll know it’s me, but she’d have sprayed me by then,”  Sire Koda replied, “just get Sita away from Leo, and I’ll do the rest.”  Toby hugged Sire Koda.

       “You smell like Hubert now too,” he said, “If I couldn’t see you weren’t him, I’d be spraying you.”  Sire Koda grinned and Toby padded from the room to lure his mother away from her newborn cub.  Toby padded into the wood, then lay down as if injured on the track.  He knew he’d have to act the part of the injured bear from his nose to his toes until Sita was on scene.  Toby rolled around in the dirt and dragged himself back to the house.  Collapsing at the entrance to the house, Toby began to scream and roar for help, hoping against hope Sita would hear him.  Hear him Sita did, and rushed with Scruffy Leo, to find what was up with her eldest cub.  Dropping Scruffy Leo lightly onto the tiles, Sita asked her eldest cub what was wrong with him.

       “I’ve hurt my paw, I can’t walk!”  Toby yelled, screaming with pain as his mother manipulated his right forepaw with hers.  Toby saw Sire Koda creep out of the corridor to their right, and pad silently to Scruffy Leo.  Suddenly sire Koda grabbed Leo, the newborn cub roaring with fear and shock!

      “Hubert’s got me!”  He yelled, Sita spinning round and launching herself at the threat to her cub, Koda dropping Leo and leading Sita away from her cub and onto himself, the she cat bear angry and terrified.

      “You great big bastard!”  She yelled, her nose full of Hubert’s scent, “Take this!”  She sprayed Koda in his face at point blank range, the pepper spray doing its work with swift affect.

        “You great big shit!”  Sita screamed, unleashing her weapon on the errant bear.  Sire Koda coughed and choked on the spray.

      “Bloody hell!”  He gasped, blowing his cover, “I forgot how potent that stuff is!”  Sita stood back, more angry and upset than ever.

       “But you smell like Hubert!”  She gasped, for she’d inhaled some of the spray herself.

        “Now you know,” Koda coughed, “now you know how potent this stuff is and what a bear who’s been sprayed with it sounds like too!”  Sita felt awful.

        “But Koda that was so silly of you, making me spray you, setting me up? It is almost horrible of you to do this.  Who was in on this charade? Toby? Leo? Who?”

       “Toby,” Koda wheezed, “he had to lure you away from little Leo enough for me to grab him.  You would then come after me with the spray.”

       “I might have killed you Koda,” Sita whimpered.

       “If you’d physically fought me I’d have spoken to you,” he said.  Sita rubbed her eyes with one paw.

        “I’ve never been in a tussle with you Koda,” she said, “I wonder who’d win?”

       “If you tickled my paws, you’d win paws down,” Koda said, now recovering from being over seasoned by Sita.

        “I don’t want to fight you Koda,” Sita said, “it’s dreadful, the thought makes me want to weep.”

         I’m crying already, the spray’s in my eyes!” Koda sniffed as the pepper spray irritated his eyes.

        “Come, I’ll help you wash it out,” Sita said, “and I’ll wash you too Koda.  Toby, go with Leo, and lock both of you in the lie up with Freckles.  Take my spray, and don’t be afraid to use it to defend yourselves.”  Toby padded away with Leo crawling alongside him.  Sita took Koda to the shower room, where she did something she’d longed to do ever since she’d first met sire Koda.  She bathed his face and fur like he was a helpless cub.  Sire Koda seemed to understand Sita’s need to see everything right with him, and let her carry on with her ministrations until she’d washed him from nose to paws.

         “Promise me Koda,” she said, “Promise me you’ll never do that again, please!”

         “I promise,” Koda replied.  Sita kissed his nose.

       ?”You had me fearing for my cub’s life!”  Sita scolded.

        “I’m sorry,” Koda replied, “but how else was I to prove what that spray could do?”  Sita kissed sire Koda’s nose and paws, and then led him to the drying room.

        “Promise me you’ll never frighten me like that again,” Sita said firmly.  Koda smiled and hugged her.

       “I promise you that Sita,” he said.  Sita and sire Koda returned to Sita’s lie up, where they found Qingshan playing with scruffy leo, the panda examining the large cub with careful paws, as if scruffy leo was fragile and would break at any moment.

 

Koda left Sita and her family in peace, returning to his lie up.  Reaching the door, he heard.

      “Thud, thud, thud,”  Then a muttered curse, a pause, then, “thud, thud, thud.  Opening the door, Koda entered.  Kamchatka stood on her hind paws, and was throwing darts at a board Koda had purchased years ago.  Even though he could not see the board, his aim was pretty good, and he’d often practised alone when of human form.  Now his ursine mate was practising throwing arrows, and Koda sat down to listen to her game, as the board spoke what she’d hit with the dart.

      “Twenty, treble five, 1,”  the board reported, then, “treble nineteen, treble 5 and 3.”  Kamchatka swore, then returned to the board.

        “mama?”  Koda asked, Kamchatka spinning round, startled by his voice.

      “What?”  She asked.

      “You seem to be frustrated,”  Koda said.  Kamchatka handed him the darts.

       “You have a go,”  she said, “I’ve been trying to get the tony green for hours.

     “The Tony green, was a recording of a famious darts score caller’s voice that sounded whenever three treble twenties were scored.

       “treble twenty,”  the board reported with Koda’s first dart, then, “treble twenty,”  again, then, with Kamchatka getting more anxious to the point of curling her toes, she heard “treble twenty, reported by the board, then The sound kamcahtka had wanted yelled out of the board, the famious voice calling the famous score.

      “One hundred and eighty!”  Kamchatka buried her face in her paws, angry she could not hit the score she wanted.

       “You are better than me at this,”  she mumbled.

       “You will get better at this game,”  Koda said, turning his back on the dart board and throwing backwards at it.

     “One hundred and eighty!”  the voice yelled.  Kamchatka huffed with frustration.

        “You can keep throwing darts,”  Kamchatka grunted, “I’m bored with it.”

       “Carry on, come on,”  Koda said, kissing her nose.  Kamchatka hugged her mate.

        “I love you so much,”  she said into his ear, nuzzling the black bear’s soft fur.

        “I love you too,”  Koda said, snuggling close to his sweetheart.

       “That’s so cute!”  little Koda said, padding in with Georgia some time later.

      “How long have we been curled up together?”  Kamchatka asked.

      “Hours,”  Koda replied.  Kamchatka smiled broadly:

       “Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun,”  she said.

      “Are you in cub again then mama?”  Georgia asked.  kamcahtka snorted:

       “You mind your own business my dear,”  she said, “and no, we weren’t trying for another cub, little Koda’s quite enough of a pawful thanks.”  Little Koda squealed with mock indignation, Kamchatka pulling him into a huge hug.

       “I’m Only joking little one,”  Kamchatka said, kissing his nose.  Little Koda smiled happily.

       “Our cub is so handsome,”  Kamchatka said.  Little Koda buried his head in his mama’s fur, embarrassed by her comment.

       “I might be having a cub myself mama,”  Alaska said padding into the lie up.  Kamchatka smiled broadly:

      “I wondered when you and spits would get things going,”  she said.

       “Spits stroked my pads and played with my toes, and then i got really excited, and so did he, and then, then mama, it all happened!”  Alaska gushed.  Kamchatka grinned broadly.

       “I watched you two,”  she said, “it looked a lot of fun and was full of love and commitment.  Alaska smiled shyly, clearly admitting to her cautios mama she was going to have her first cub was difficult for her.

      “I am glad for you Alaska,”  kamchatka said smiling.

        “I was worried you’d be angry,”  Alaska said, “that I hadn’t taken time to make my choices.”  Kamchatka signalled to little Koda who sat down beside her, allowing Kamcahtka to gather Alaska into her lap and hug her.

        “What will happen during my labour mama?”  Alaska asked, “will I hate making sound just in case enemies come?”

       “Your instinct might say keep yourpain secret, but you can scream and kick and roar as much as you like Alaska.”  Alaska tried to imagine the worst pain she could ever experience, but knew nothing would prepare her for the real thing.

      “I’ll probably be frightened by my own screams and groans,”  she said.

        “I remember mama Kamcahtka giving birth to me,”  little Koda said, “and she made a lot of noise, but it was all to help her and me come through it safely.”

     “The more you scream and roar, the more you move about, the more open things are to let your cub emerge,”  sire patch said padding in to the lie up and hugging his sister.

        “You had a cub once didn’t you patch,”  Alaska said.  Patch nodded and smiled:

      “and my cub has just had her third cub,”  he replied, “though she’s worried about how her cub will keep safe with Hubert about.”

      “What are we gonna do about him?”  Kamchatka asked.

      “He’s made threats to kill Sita’s cubs,”  Sire patch said, “I’ve knocked him out once, and also thrown him into a gorse bush.  Now it’s time to do something more, but that’s down to others.  I can’t kill Hubert myself.  He will have to trip over the paws of a larger and angrier bear than any of us, and that is including dear old Kuruk.”

      “Kuruk not old bear!”  Kuruk yelled, barriling in and playfully cuffing Patch, who picked the male bear up and  turned him upside down, Kuruk screaming with fear.

       “Put Kuruk down now!”  Kuruk squealed.  Patch put his brother down, then sat on him, Kuruk embarrassed and defeated.

       “How you come to be stronger than Kuruk then?”  He gasped.

      “I fight the punchbags and also other bears,”  Patch replied.  “there are others that you do not know about that I fight for sport.  They rarely win now.”

        “Who you fight then?”  Kuruk asked.

       “Oh, Anook, Aga, Nanuq, Lunar, Billy, Even mama Kamchatka once or twice.”  Kamcahtka snorted:

       “You laid me out on the mat!”  she said, “I bearly stood a chance!”

        “Now you more dangerous than Kuruk then,”  Kuruk said.  Patch released Kuruk and embraced him tenderly.

        “I don’t want to be more dangerous,”  patch said, “the thought upsets me quite a bit, but I need to protect my family and the whole community, who for some reason have named me Tornassuk and believe I’m some kind of spiritual guide.  How can I guide others when I don’t know what’s what?  I’m just an ordinary bear who asked a funny question.  Now I’ve had a cub, and can see distressed mamas in labour and feel their pain.”

       “You know the worst types of abuse Patch,”  Kamchatka said, “and you know how not to misuse your power.  You are more powerful than Kuruk, in that you know the weaknesses of humans and of other community members, though have the wisdom not to use those weaknesses against them unless deserved by dint of their actions.  Hubert hates sita for what she is, hates her cubs and her tail and everything, though Sita does not deserve his enmity or anger.”

       “Don’t elevate me to some paragon of virtue please,”  Patch replied, “I’m just an ordinary bear who wants to protect his family.”

       “Hubert had better watch out then,”  Alaska said.

       “Hubert makes his own way,”  Patch replied, “he knows deep down his anger at sita is unfounded, but he hates her because he does not know her further than her skin and her disability, which he hates.”

       “have you seen Sita’s paw pads?”  little Koda asked, “they arepinky brown, and are so cute.”

      “So what other training have you been doing Patch?”  Kamchatka asked.  Patch looked at hismum:

         “I’ve learnt how to fire a gun also,”  he said, “a rifle and a pistol, so I know the power of that.  Just in case I need to fight the humans.  If I don’t, then I won’t use that skill.”

       “You have been learning hard skills recently,”  Alaska said, “but can you still help a mama bear who is in pain while givnging birth to her cub?”  Patch rleased Kuruk, then crawled to Alaska and hugged her.

      “Don’t be afraid of your needs to cry and roar and sobb while you are having your cub,”  Patch said.  Alaska smiled and nuzzled Patch’s cheek.

        “I won’t be afraid of making noise,”  she said, “but I will be surprised at the noise I can make I think, and the wrenching pain of delvering a cub, also of the way I can curl my toes during my confinement.”

        “I think you’ll do just fine,”  Patch said.  Alaska smiled:

      “With the help of loving paws I will,”  she said.  Patch kissed his sister’s nose.

       “I am looking forward to seeing the birth of this cub,”  Patch said.  Alaska smiled and left the lie up.

       “I want to have this cub right now,”  Alaska said as she left, “but it won’t happen.”

       “You have the cutest paws Patch, did you know that?”  Little Koda said.  Patch laughed merrily:

       “That’s sweet,”  he said.

        “I can’t believe you tell Patch that thing!,”  Kuruk said, astonished at little Koda’s comment.

       “Kuruk, plese,”  Patch pleaded, “leave him alone.  He’s a community cub, you weren’t.  You were brought up in a place where one mistake could be your last.  Here it is not the same, here we can make mistakes.  Not saying that Koda’s comment was a mistake at all.  If he thinks I’ve got cute paws, then so be it.  Now let me say, Kuruk, you have cute paws too.  Now I’ve said it.  Kuruk grumbled to himself, though his tough exteria was cracking.

        “Touch his paw Patch,”  little Koda said, “Kuruk wants you to touch his paw.”  Patch did as the little cub suggested, and Kuruk buried his face in his paws, sobbing like a cub.

        “Kuruk wants a hug, but he can’t ask for it,”  little Koda said.

       “Hug him Patch, go on,”  Kamchatka said.  Patch drew Kuruk into a massive embrace, kissing the weeping bear’s nose and paws.

       “You can let yourself go now,”  Patch said, “I’ve got you Kuruk, you won’t fall anywhere, you’re safe.”  Kuruk buried his face in Patch’s fur and tried not to lose it totally, but failed, roaring withemotion , he crumpled completely.

        “I’ve never seen a bear cry like that,”  Georgia said.

       “Kuruk will be all right in a minute,”  Patch said.  Kuruk wiped his eyes with his paws, sruggling to regain his composure.

        “I’m ok now,”  Kuruk choked.

      “I love you so much Kuruk,”  Patch said kissing his brother’s nose.  Kuruk struggled to get to his feet, his whole body shaking.

       “no Kuruk, sit down a minute,”  Patch said, touching his brother’s shoulder.  Kuruk sat down heavily.

       “Feeling very shaky now, shaky and very upset,”  Kuruk sniffed.

         “It’s okay to feel that way,”  patch said gently, kissing his brother’s nose and paws.

        “How can I show him he’s loved from nose to toes?”  Patch thought.

        “Play with Kuruk’s paws Patch,”  Little Koda suggested.  Kuruk gave Patch his right hind foot, his eyes begging patch for reassurance.

        “Go on, play like cubs you two,”  Kamchatka said, “if you want to that is.”  Kuruk looked at his brother.

       “I can’t play like a cub any more,”  Kuruk said.

        “Is that code for you want to play, but you can’t bring yourself to?”  Little Koda asked.  Kuruk looked at the young cub:

       “how you know this thing?”  he asked, his eyes betraying his nakedness in front of his mama and brother.

        “I felt it,”  Little Koda said, “I don’t mean to offend, but I feel you need to play with your brother.”

        “but could we do it?”  Kuruk asked.  Patch touched his paw:

       “Come on, let’s play in the soft play room Kuruk,”  Patch said.  Kuruk padded with his brother to the soft play room, and there they sat opposite each other.

       “Now what?”  Kuruk asked.  Patch smiled and pushed his brother over onto his back, Kuruk instinctively drawing up his hind feet to protect his belly, Patch’s reaction to this being to tickle the pads and toes of his brother’s hind feet, Kuruk laughing helplessly.

       “Now do I get the bottle?”  Patch asked.  Kuruk laughed merrily and kicked with his hind feet, feeling his left hind foot grabbed in his brother’s paws.

         “calm down little cub,”  Patch laughed, Kuruk grinning up at his brother.

        “Trace my pads, play with my toes, please!”  Kuruk begged, “my paws are yours!”  Patch explored Kuruk’s left hind foot, then his right hind, the large bear pawing at the air with his forepaws.

       “Kuruk want crawl now,”  Kuruk grunted, Patch letting go of his brother’s hind paws and letting him crawl away, Patch chasing Kruuk, the wild bred bear crawling faster and faster away, patch chasing harder and harder, then catching Kuruk’s right hind foot, tickling his toes and pads, the hard bitten male bear collapsing on the soft flooring, roaring with laughter and beating the soft floor with his forepaws.

        “You are so sweet Kuruk,”  Patch said, blwoing on the toes of Kuruk’s right hind foot, the male bear finally shrieking with laughter in an echo of the cub he once was.

        “I love your paws,”  Patch said, “Kuruk, they’re playful, and sensitive, and rather cubbish.”

       “Not like yours patch,”  Kuruk grunted, “your paws be soft, so soft padded and all.”  Patch grinned:

      “So we compare paws now?”  Patch asked.  Kuruk turned over onto his back, and sat up.

      “Come, let’s compare hind paws,”  Kuruk said.  Kuruk and Patch compared hind paws, and found both had similar sized paws.

       “Now we’ve seen how larege each other’s paws are,”  Patch said, “shall we get in touch with our paws?”  Kuruk smiled and grabbed his brother’s left hind foot, lifting it onto his right hind leg and ccupping his brother’s heel in his left forepaw.

      “You have white pads patch,”  Kuruk said, tracing Patch’s pads and playing with his toes, Patch giggling and curling his toes.

        “Your pads also bunch up rather cutely too,”  Kuruk said.  Patch curled and stretched his toes, wiggling them a bit, Kuruk smiling broadly at his brother’s antics.

 

Clarence, adopted by Petra after the death of his mother and Samson’s conversion to his true spirit, padded through the house, drawn by the smell of food.  Putting his head round the door of the kitchen, he found Sid frying eggs.  Twitching his ears, Clarence heard a whistling, almost a squealing noise coming from the microwave.

         “What’s that awful noise?”  Clarence asked.  Sid, wanting to play with the cross bred cat, looked up, resting his spatula on the rim of the frying pan.

       “Oh, he said, “That’s sausages in the microwave.  They squeal when cooked.”

       “You mean you cook them alive?”  Clarence asked, now horrified, “they’re screaming in pain you mean?”  Sid, thinking Clarence was playing with him, replied:

      “Oh yes, the sausage is a great delicacy, especially when caught and cooked swiftly.”  Clarence, his eyes wide with fear and horror, turned and ran away, almost crying.  Bursting into Petra’s lie up, Clarence threw himself down on the rugs, clinging to Sire Leo, weeping into his mane.

      “What’s wrong Clarence?”  Leo asked gently.  Crying, Clarence told him.

       “Sid’s murdering sausages!”

       “I know his cooking is pretty awful,” Petra mewed, padding in, “but why weep about it Clarence?”

      “He told me, told me he caught and killed, and cooked sausages quickly.  He said he cooked them alive, hence why they squeal!”

         “No Clarence,” Leo said gently, “The squealing is air escaping out of the sausage as it cooks, Sid had already cooked the sausage, and he was reheating it.  The sausage is full of meat or vegetables, or both.  The sausage is not a living creature Clarence.”  Clarence wiped his eyes with his paws.

      “Are you sure about that?”  He asked, “Promise me mama?”  Petra smiled and nodded.

      “You know I can’t eat meat,” she said, “but vegetable sausages are very good indeed.”

      “I hunt sausages every day!”  leo said, rubbing his forepaws together with anticipation.  Clarence looked sick.

       “As long as you promise me they aren’t alive when sid cooks them!”  he wailed.

       “have you ever touched a raw sausage?”  Leo asked.  petra padded quickly from the room and was violently sick at the thought.

       “I think petra has, and she is upset by it,”  Clarence mewed.  Petra padded back to her lie up looking very unwell.

       “it’s all slimy and horrible, and the thought of it makes me peuck!”  Petra moaned.

       “Sorry mama,”  Clarence said.  Leo said:

      “Look Clarence, I’ll show you a raw sausage.”  Clarence padded with his adopted cub to the kitchen where Sid was cooking.

       “Can you show him a raw Sausage?”  Leo asked, waving his paw at Clarence, who looked sick.

       “here,”  Sid said, showing Clarence a raw sausage, the cross bred cat touching it with his nose and one paw.

      “So that’s not alive?”  he asked.  Sid threw the sausage in the frying pan and cooked it, then gave it to Clarence, who promptly burnt his mouth when he tried to eat it.

      “Ow, ooowh!”  Clarence roaored.

       “it’s hot,”  Sid advised.

      “It’s too late now!”  Leo snapped, “come, Clarence, drink water.”  Clarence did, and felt a lot better.

       “That sausage is trying to kill me!”  Clarence screamed, running from the kitchen.

       “Poor thing,” Leo thought as he watched Clarence’s long tail disappearing round the corner and out of sight.

 

Kuruk and Patch heard Clarence literally screaming past the soft play room and went to investigate, Kuruk catching the cross bred cat in his paws and stopping him.

        “What’s the matter?”  Patch asked the gasping and crying cat.

       “The sausage attacked me!”  Clarence yelled.

       “What rubbish you talk,” Kuruk grunted, “you go mad Clarence.”

       “But, but the sausage was hot!”  Clarence yowled.

       “What’s going on?”  Sita asked, padding in with little Leo riding on her back.  Clarence looked at Sita, her resemblance to his own mother making him look twice.

       “I know what you’re thinking Clarence,” Sita mewed, Clarence staring down at his paws in embarrassment.

      “Dear fleur is no longer here,” Sita said, “she set her paws on the bridge when I was born.”

         “Are you sure about that?”  Someone asked.  Clarence spun round, took one look and, screaming, bolted from the room.

       “I came back to help settle a score that only I could help settle,” older Fleur mewed.  “Now Sita, it is time for us to go to the prison and for me to fix Hubert once and for all.”  Sita looked at Fleur, and Kuruk was sure she could see the cross bred cat.

       “What do I do with Leo while we are fixing this bear?”  Sita asked.

      “Leave him with Patch and Kuruk, they’ll look after him,” fleur replied.  Sita padded with the spirit cat to Hubert’s prison cell.

       “What do you want you horrid blind scruffbag!”  Hubert screamed at Fleur, mistaking her for Sita.

      “I am not Sita,” Fleur mewed, “though I have her markings.  I am the one who helps her through her life, gives her the inner strength.  Now I am here to put an end to your antics, for when our insult Sita, you insult me too, and we can’t stand insults!”  Hubert looked genuinely frightened.

        “You are real aren’t you,” he said, “The spirits have come to punish me! Just as Patch said they would, they have come!”  Hubert screamed.  Fleur then seemed to merge into Sita, Sita lunging at Hubert and landing on him, her weight seeming to crush him.

 

Sita padded from the prison cell, her work done, and feeling nothing at all.  Reaching the soft play room where she’d left her cub, Sita found Leo, and took him back to the family lie up.

        “Did you fix that bear mama?”  Leo asked.  Sita sat down, hugged her cub and replied:

        “I was directed to a place where I could finish Hubert,” she said.

 

Hubert woke after a long time.  To begin with, he couldn’t remember what had happened.  Then he tried to move, and pain shot through his body, taking his breath away.  Then he screamed lustily with pain and anger.

       “I can’t move!”  He squealed.  Roaring with pain, he managed to sit up, but this was difficult.  Hubert struggled to his feet, then, feeling the pain in his paws, he collapsed, screaming and crying.  Picking himself up, he tried to get to his feet again, but could only manage to crawl.  Almost blinded with pain, Hubert crawled towards the door of the cell, finding his way out of the cell and into the house.  Crying, Hubert crawled with agonising slowness to the soft play room, he collapsed in a heap on the floor.

       “Help me!”  Hubert shrieked, half mad with pain.

        “Why should we help you at all?”  Patch asked, “You have caused us so much pain.  Your paws might have struck one cub, but your blows hurt us all.  Bertie did not deserve your anger.  You are feeling the pain he felt after you beat him up.”

      “When will it end?”  Hubert wailed.

       “Your pain will not end until you cleanse your spirit,” Patch said.

        “I hate Sita!”  Hubert roared.

       “Why hate someone who has done you and yours no wrong?”  Someone asked.  Patch smiled at the newcomer, who was out of Hubert’s sight, just over his right shoulder.  When he turned his head, he screamed and crawled away as fast as he could.

        “Dear fleur,” patch said, going up to the cross bred cat and hugging her.

       “How can you hug a spirit cat?”  Hubert yowled.

        “If you have the power patch does, you can hug those who are on the other side,” fleur said.

 

Sita padded through the woods with her newest cub riding on her back, her mind relaxed for the first time in a long time.  Smiling to herself, who also felt strange, she padded round a bend in the track and ventured into the thickest part of the woods.  Climbing a slight hill, Sita found herself padding along a bush fringed track with a bank on either side of her.  This place was overgrown, perfect bear habitat.  Dancing on her toes, Sita was about to break into song, when she heard something, a whimper from within the bank.  Sita’s keen hearing, born from her feeling ancestor, told her where the sound came from.

       “Who’s there?”  Sita asked.  A roar of pain answered her.  Sita padded to the source of the sound and found a male black bear crawling through the undergrowth.

        “What’s the matter with you?”  Sita asked, inadvertently touching his nose with her paw.  The large male looked up at her, but could not flea, frightened though he was.

       “I got shot near here,” he panted, “who are you?”

       “Did someone shoot in the woods?”  Sita asked.

        “Yes, yes!”  The male black bear whimpered, “In the wood, here, in the wood!  I thought I was safe, I’ve heard of this place, though I’m not from your community, please, if you are one of the community I’ve herd of, help me, I beg you to remember the principals your community was founded on and help me!”

       “I know those,” Sita replied, “I was defending them a while ago.”

        “What’s going on mama?”  Leo asked.  Sita told him:

       “We have a bear here, “I recognise his accent as that of the bears, and he’s a black bear as far as I can tell.”

      “Is he injured mama?”  Leo asked.  Sita sat down beside the injured male bear, which looked up into her face.

        “I’m going to call some of my friends,” Sita said, “they won’t harm you, we need to get you into the house and sort that wound,” Sita said gently.  The bear looked scared.

       “House?”  He asked, “Humans live in houses, I know that.”

      “This is the safest house you’ll know,” Sita said, “now I will call my friends, and they will come and meet me here.”  The male black bear watched as Sita rose up on her hind feet, put her forepaws to her mouth and whistled shrilly.  Kamchatka, hearing this, padded towards Sita, finding her in the thickest part of the wood.

        “I need your help, that is, this bear needs our help mama,” Sita said.  Kamchatka looked down at the injured male bear.

         “Who did this?”  She asked.  The male bear looked at mama Kamchatka, real fear crossing his face:

        “You never told me your friends were grizzly bears!”  He snapped at Sita.

       “Mama won’t hurt you,” Sita mewed, “show her respect, and you’ll have the best friend you could ever have.  Piss her off, and you will have an enemy for life.”

       “I’ll tell Charles and Jess to get on to who’s shooting in the woods,” Kamchatka said, lifting her left forepaw to her mouth and speaking into it, or that’s what the black bear thought he saw.  Soon there was the clatter of a helicopter over the woods, and then dogs running through the trees, one of which found Leo, barked at him, and then ran off with its tail between its legs when Sita told him in perfect canine to get lost, followed by a slap from her paw which nearly knocked the dog out cold.

        “The humans will find that man who shot you,” Kamchatka said to the male black bear, “then we will bring him before our community and punish him for shooting on our land.”

         “You won’t find it easy,” the bear replied, “you will be shot dead as you speak kindly to this man.”

        “Mama,” Patch said, padding up to Kamchatka and hugging her, “this man has been caught, and we know him.  He is the same man who came to the house before fire setting.  Now he comes with a gun to shoot bears.  We cannot have this.  How if we imprison him in the concrete cell?”  Kamchatka nodded and replied that:

      “This would be a great idea, though he needs police guarding, not like our guarding, as he does not respect us.”

        “Kuruk make him respect us by frightening him crazy,” Kuruk grunted, padding up to his mother, glancing down at the injured bear.

       “I think we should treat this bear. Mad the man watches what hurt his bullet caused,” Patch said.

      “Is his wound treatable by us?”  Kamchatka asked.

     “Let’s get him back to the house, and there we can find out,” Patch replied, “can you walk?”  The black bear tried to walk, but could only crawl.

      “Take it gently,” Kamchatka said.  In this way, they made their way back to the house, the male black bear crawling slowly, his eyes eloquent of his pain, though he made no sound at all.  Once on blackberry’s treatment rug, the bear watched as blackberry examined him from nose to tail.

       “One bullet in your right shoulder, another in your left hock,” Blackberry grunted.  The black bear looked at Blackberry.

       “So can you get them out?”  He asked.  Blackberry nodded.

      “Think so,” he said, “it might hurt though.”  The black bear covered his eyes with his left forepaw.

       “Get it over with,” he mumbled.

      “Let the man see what damage he has done,” jess said, leading a man in hand cuffs and leg irons into the room.

      “Now you will see the pain you caused with your dreadful act of wanton lust.”  Jess said.  The man watched as Blackberry dug the bullets out of the black bear’s hock and shoulder, the injured bear trying not to cry out.

       “It’s okay to cry and roar,” Blackberry said, “that might help you, and help the man realise he has hurt you.”

        “I whimpered and roared when I was in the woods,” the male bear gasped, “but now, with that man about, I don’t want to!”

        “I would,” Kamchatka snorted.  Then the black bear roared lustily as Blackberry dug out the bullet in his shoulder.  The man looked sick as he saw the blood from the wound and terror in the bear’s eyes.

        “You set fires in our woods and then shoot bears in our woods too?”  Patch asked, “I think we know each other human.”  The human turned his head, stared at Patch, then screamed with terror.

        “I saw him in my dreams!”  He screeched.

       “I saw your evil intentions,” Patch said, “now maybe you will stop your shooting of my family.”

       “I didn’t kill that bear though,” the man protested.

       “Would it have been any less of a crime if you had?”  Patch asked.

     “I might have got away with it if that bear hadn’t blabbed to the funny furred cat bear thingy!”  The man yelled.

        “Evil you are,” Kamchatka grunted.

       “So what are you going to do to me, throw fruit at me?  Country bumpkins!”  The man screamed.

       “The police want you to go to prison,” Jess said, “but you will be imprisoned here first.  Your punishment will be decided by the committee of one lion, one bear and the spiritual leader.

        “I hate all bears!”  The man screamed.

       “I’m bored of this,” Kuruk said, knocking the man unconscious with his paw, Jess and Nanuq carrying him out of the lie up and to the prison cell.  The man, who refused to give his name, lay in the cell with Nuru and Bianca watching him.

       “What you gonna do to me then scruffy cats!”  The man yelled defiantly.  Patch padded up with a gun in his paws.

       “This is his gun I think,” he said, hefting it in his paws.

         “That looks dangerous,” Nuru growled.  Patch pointed the gun at the man and to everyone’s horror, pulled the trigger.  The man screamed and soiled himself.

        “You disgust me,” Patch snapped, smashing the gun with a hammer.

 

Meanwhile, the black bear who’d been rescued by Sita was feeling much better now his wounds were dressed, and he was sitting with a cup of tea after being washed and well fed.  He felt able to assess what had happened to him over the last few hours.  Closing his eyes, he reran the images and sensations of the last few hours.  He could hear many cubs asking others about him, and could feel many paws touching him, of which he took no heed.  The paws, those of cubs, meant him no harm, so he ignored them.  The touch of the paws he could not ignore was that of one set at the beginning of the strangest day in his life.  Being shot wasn’t strange, for this had happened before, but being touched by lovely paws was, and that touch would live with him forever.  He knew the creature hadn’t meant to touch him.  Her touch had been accidental, her first touch of her paw on his nose that was.  He couldn’t remember if the curious creature had taken his paw in hers when she’d sat down beside him.

      “He’s unresponsive mama,” Alaska said to Kamchatka of the black bear who now sat in their lie up.

         “He’s thinking most likely,” Little Koda said.

      “Most of the poor strays we rescue are gushing with words and wanting to explore this place,” sire Koda said, “but not this chap it seems.”

        “He looks deep in thought,” Kamchatka observed.

         “I don’t know what to make of this place,” the black bear admitted.

        “We’re a good kind community,” little Koda said.  The black bear looked at him:

        “You who have been born here will think so,” he replied, “but I don’t know.  My experience says grizzly beers are always a danger to black bears, but this is not the case here.  Please little prince, let me make my own way.”

      “Don’t call me little prince,” little Koda said, wriggling with discomfort.

       “I meant it as a respectful term,” the black bear protested.

        “He was called, “little Prince,” by another bear who meant it as a term of insult.”  Kamchatka replied.  The black bear beckoned to little Koda, who looked to his mother for reassurance.

        “I’ll kill him if he does anything to you,” Kamchatka said, only half joking.  The black bear felt the tiny cub clamber into his lap.  Opening his eyes, he looked down at little Koda, who was looking up into his face.

        “What is your name?”  The black bear asked.

      “Koda,” little Koda replied, “but my sire is Koda too.  So little Koda is all right for me, as I am, and always will be.”

       “You’ll grow up to be a big bear surely,” the black bear said.

      “No,” little Koda said, “I won’t.  Maybe I’ll get a bit bigger than I am now, but there is another bear like me here, Georgia her name is, and she’s a big cub, like me.”

         “What is your name?”  Kamchatka asked the black bear.

       “I don’t have one,” the bear admitted, “you all seem to have names, all seem to be very settled here, but I can’t expect that.  I am not of your traditions, not of your culture.”

        “We are all immigrants here really,” Kamchatka said, “it’s not a problem living here, as long as you keep your nose and paws clean.”

        “I heard of the retribution dealt out to those who hurt cubs,” the black bear replied, “I promise you I won’t hurt the cubs.”

       “You don’t seem to be a bear who would hurt cubs,” little Koda said.  The black bear looked down at little Koda.

        “I love the look of this bear,” he thought.

        “How if we name you Arcto,” Little Koda suggested.  The black bear smiled broadly:

       “If you want to name me Arcto,” he said, “I’m fine with that as a name.”  Little Koda stood up on his hind feet in the black bear’s lap, then stretched up with his forepaws to touch the bear’s nose, Arcto lowering his head to allow little Koda to touch his nose.

        “You have a handsome face and paws,” Arcto said.  Little Koda giggled and sat down, before lying down and waving his paws in the air, Arcto cautiously tickling the pads of little Koda’s left hind foot, the black bear cub laughing helplessly.

        “I loved that,” the cub said when he’d recovered.

        “You have soft paw pads,” Arcto said.  Little Koda scrambled off of Arcto’s lap and grabbed the bear’s left hind foot in his forepaws.

       “Your pads are rough and kind of tough,” the cub observed, “but,” he gently pressed the bear’s pads with the toes of his paw, “they could be as soft as mine if you stayed here and walked on soft grounds.”  Arcto curled his toes with pleasure.”

       “I love your touch,” he said.

         “I’m glad we’ve met,” little Koda said, “but I wish it had been while I was walking in the wood and not after you’d been shot.  Now though, you are here, and safe,”  Little Koda said, getting to his hind feet, Arcto leaning down to touch noses with little Koda, little  Koda kissing Arcto’s nose, making the black bear catch his breath.

       “Can I hug you, please?”  Arcto asked.  Little Koda scrambled into his lap.

        “Give me a hug then,” little Koda said.  Arcto embraced the cub, little Koda snuggling up to him.

         “How lovely is that,” Kamchatka said.

       “You two look so peaceful,” patch said, padding into the lie up and sitting down, “by the way mama, I have smashed the gun that the man was using to shoot bears.”

       “Good Patch,” she said.

       “My mind is consumed by the touch from the paws of another creature,” Arcto said, “she helped me in the thickest part of the woods.  Where is she now?”

       “That’s Sita,” Kamchatka replied, “would you like to meet her?”

         “I would, if only to thank her,”   Arcto replied.  Suddenly he felt a paw on his shoulder.

        “Guess who,” Sita purred.  Arcto turned his head, and looked straight into the face of the creature who’d rescued him.

        “I thank you from the bottom of my heart,” Arcto said.  Sita smiled and kissed Arcto’s nose.

         “You are welcome to my help,” she said, “indeed, I am glad you cried out, otherwise I would never have found you.”

        “The undergrowth was thick,” Arcto replied.

       “She didn’t mean that,” Hubert growled, “Sita is blind, so she couldn’t have found you even if she’d wanted to have you not cried out, or her little friend Eohippus hadn’t guided her stumbling, feral paws to you.”

       “Don’t talk like that!”  Arcto roared.

       “Why not?”  Hubert snapped, “I hate Sita and all she is.  I’m entitled to my view aren’t I?”  Arcto looked at Hubert.

        “I think you have done more to Sita than you want to let on,” he said, “you look like a punished bear.”

      “What do you think I did?  Come on mister clever!”  Hubert yelled.

       “I think you took your problems with Sita to physical confrontations,” Arcto said, “You beat her up in other words, or attacked her cubs.”  Hubert’s face contorted in anger.

       “You told him!”  He screamed at Sita, feeling his whole body racked with pain as he got angrier, “you told him you horrid bitch!”

       “Don’t go,” Arcto said to Sita, placing his paw on hers, “this bear is at fault, not you.”

        “I can’t stand him!”  Sita whimpered.

        “Leave her alone,” Arcto said to Hubert.

        “Now you’re on the side of that scruffy disgrace!”  Hubert yelled.

      “I’m on the side of a gentle creature with gentle paws,” Arcto replied, “it is not for me to judge Sita for her past, but as I find her now.  Now if she turns out to be a horrid creature, then I will rethink my opinion, other than when I find otherwise, I will judge her as I find her.”

       “I hate her!”  Hubert yelled.

        “I like what I’ve seen and felt so far,”  Arcto said, “Sita’s paws are warm, and,”  motioning to little Koda to move out of the way, he hugged Sita tightly, the cat bear snuggling close, “I like the feel of her fur also,”  Arcto concluded.  Hubert was nearly physically sick.

        “The sight of her makes me want to throw up!”  He moaned.

        “Her fur is soft and warm,” Arcto said, resting his head on Sita’s shoulder.

       “If you can’t stand the look of her then close your eyes and let your paws show you the way,” little Koda said.  Hubert turned on the cub and raised his paw to hit him.

        “You don’t want to do that,” Arcto said, lifting Hubert off his paws and dangling him upside down.

       “I’m gonna throw up!”  Hubert yelled, “oh no, the room is spinning!”  Arcto dropped Hubert on the floor, the much hated bear squealing with fright and pain.

        “You disgust me animal!”  Arcto snapped.

        “You don’t need to season Hubert this time Sita,” Sire Koda said.  Sita growled deep in her throat.

      “How if we lock him up with that man we have in for shooting bears?”  She asked.  Kamchatka dragged Hubert from the lie up, and bullied him to the prison cell.

      “Get in there!”  She ordered.

         “I don’t want to be in there with that smelly man!”  Hubert yelled.

       “You act like a man in the way you disregard the feelings of other creatures,” she growled.  Hubert spat at mama Kamchatka, the grizzly bear roaring with rage and smacking him with her paw.

        “You get in there now Hubert and talk to the only one who will come close to understanding your filth!”  Kamchatka snarled.  Hubert landed hard on the concrete floor and Kamchatka left him with the man.

 

“I hate bears,” the man said to Hubert, “they are horrid, and they eat humans, and are no use to anyone apart from being hung on the wall as a trophy, signifying one less bear in the woods!  I hate them all so much, the small bears, the large bears, the grizzly bears, the polar bears, and their cubs too.  Hubert felt uncomfortable, and he knew it wasn’t due to his stiffened body.

        “I don’t like this at all,” Hubert said, “I am a bear, and you are saying you hate me?  That you would shoot me if you could?”  The man appraised him as he would a piece of rubbish, and Hubert’s loathing of him was complete.  Suddenly Hubert had a vision of Bertie in Sita’s lie up with Sita in labour, his cub understands of her pain and effort humbling him.  Then a vision of his cub dead, of Bertie covered in blood from gunshot.  This vision made him feel strange, as if his body was tearing apart.  Hubert then knew what the feeling was; he knew if Bertie died, he would grieve for his cub with everything he had.  Hubert looked at the man, looked at the hatred in his eyes, the meaningless hatred, a hatred born of fear of creatures that would leave him alone if only he left them in peace.  Hubert knew he must get out of the cell.  Tearing open the door, which he was sure Kamchatka had locked, he crawled painfully to Sita’s lie up.  Hubert didn’t know why he went there, he knew he would be despised there, but he went there all the same.  Crying with fear and pain, Hubert clung blindly to the first thing his paws found in the lie up.  It was Sita, asleep now.  Snorting with surprise, she tried to beat him off, but Hubert clung to her, buried his face in the fur he’d hated for so long and begged her for help, crying into her coat.

         “What are you here for?”  Qingshan asked, “Hubert, how dare you come to us after what you have said and done!”

        “My mind says I hate this bear,” Sita mewed, “but there is something else here now.  He is desperate, pleading, and sincere I think.  I am being told to follow my paws, and follow my paws I must.”  Sita embraced Hubert, and it didn’t feel wrong.  The distraught bear clung to her with all four paws, his toes desperately curling into her fur.

        “Is my cub safe?”  Hubert begged.

       “Bertie is safe,” Sita mewed, kissing Hubert’s nose, the disgraced bear weeping into her thick fur.

         “You saved that black bear,” Hubert sobbed, “now, Sita, please, save me too?”  Sita stroked Hubert’s back, the bear’s hot paws and tears evident to her.

        “I’m in so much pain!”  Hubert wailed.

       “Bertie is safe,” Sita said, “he’s playing with little Koda.”

       “The little prince?”  Hubert asked.

       “He is the heir to sire Koda’s land and wealth yes,” Sita mewed, “but you use, “little Prince,” to insult him, not to address him in a friendly manner.”

        “I did once insult him, but not now, not ever again,” Hubert choked.

       “What has changed your tune?”  Freckles asked.

       “Humans, the bad portion of them,” Hubert whined, “that man was awful, dreadful, he hated me, hated me for no reason other than I was a bear, and I got to thinking of my cub dead by his hand, and then that got me thinking about him helping you Sita, and I realised I was going very wrong, and that I had so much here, so much to be grateful for.  Now, now I’m here, begging for help, begging for mercy!”

       “You hit my cubs; you threatened your own cub, and beat up poor Bertie!”  Sita said, “How do I know you are sincere.”

       “You said you were going to follow your paws!”  Hubert wailed, “I am sincere, I am!”

        “It will take time to repair the damage to me and my family that you have done,” Sita said.

        “What of your friend Arcto?”  Hubert whimpered, “Is he gone from here?”

      “No,” Sita replied, “he’s still here; he’s having a meeting with sire Koda.”

 

Arcto sat down with Koda later that night.

       “If I may say so,” Arcto said to the community leader, “your youngest cub is very powerful.”

        “He has learnt a lot in his short life to date,” sire Koda agreed.

 

Meanwhile, back with Hubert and Sita, Sita was letting Hubert get paws on with her, touching her nose, her ears, body, legs and paws, as well as her long tail.  Hubert looked Sita over, from her spotted nose to her spotted paw pads.  Sita had fat paws, very fat paws indeed, but they were in keeping with her generally large stature.

        “I couldn’t imagine this cat being hurt by anything,” Hubert thought, but then he remembered the blanket, and how easily Sita had been tripped by the rope across her path.

        “I’m also reduced to a screaming wreck by the pain of labour,” Sita mused, as if she was thinking deeply.

        “I’ve seen the births of your cubs,” Hubert admitted, “I hated the videos, but now, now I might like them.”

       “Explore my paws first,” Sita invited, “then you can feel what they are like as I curl my toes.”  Hubert did, taking Sita’s left hind foot in his paws, Sita tightly curling her toes.

      “But that was not how it was really was it?”  Hubert said, “You curled them even tighter during your labour I’ll bet.”  Sita smiled and relaxed her paw.

         “I did,” she replied, “I can remember the positions I used and the pain of labour, for I never forget a thing about the births of my cubs.”  Hubert looked at Sita’s face, the cat bear’s eyes meeting his for a second, though he knew she could not see him.

         “I love her face,” Hubert thought, still holding onto Sita’s left hind foot with both paws, “I love her face, her paws, her tail, everything!”  Hubert was half glad Sita couldn’t see his face, for he was sure it gave away everything about his feelings.

         “Now you know the real scruffy disgrace,” Sita said, “have your views changed Hubert?”

       “You know the answer to that,” Hubert gasped, “You know everything Sita!”

        “I felt a shift in attitude,” she admitted, smiling slightly, her smile almost sending Hubert crazy.

        “Lovely smile hasn’t she,” Qingshan said.  Hubert looked thoroughly embarrassed.

         “I’m sorry,” he said faintly, “I didn’t mean to stare like that.”

         “What do you want to do?”  Sita asked.  Hubert’s eyes widened, and he glanced at Qingshan.

        “Tell her,” Qingshan said.  Hubert looked at Sita.

        “Have you got any red lines?”  He asked.

        “What are yours?”  Sita enquired.

       “I won’t mate with you if that’s what you mean,” Hubert blustered, much to Qingshan’s and Sita’s amusement.

       “Good,” Sita replied, “now anything else, within decent reason, is fine.  Play with my paws, roll me over, tickle my toes and belly, play with me Hubert.  But before you do, bring your lovely cub to me, so he can play too, all right?”  Hubert danced to the telephone, and it was only then that he realised his stiffness had vanished.

         “Bertie, please, come to Sita’s lie up will you?  Bring little Koda too.”  Hubert said, watching in fascination as Bertie’s eyes nearly started from his head at his sire’s manner.  Padding to the lie up, Bertie was expecting a hiding from Hubert, instead, he got a hug, and tickled behind his ear, then, Hubert managed to tickle the pads of Bertie’s right hind foot, the cub laughing merrily.

       “You all have bare paws?”  Sita asked.  Hubert was about to protest that his paws were always bare, and that he’d never worn anything on his paws, either fore or hind, in his life, when he realised it was all part of the game, checking paws were okay before play.

      “Always check your paws are okay before play!”  Little Koda chanted, making everyone laugh.

        “Silly bear,” Scruffy Leo said, pushing Koda onto his side and tickling his hind paws.

      “Oi you!”  Little Koda laughed, grabbing scruffy Leo gently in his forepaws and blowing on the toes of Leo’s right hind paw, the five day old cub squealing with laughter.

        “You blew on my toes; you blew on my toes Koda!”  Leo laughed.

      “I’ll help you get him back, I promise,” Bertie said.

      “Who are you promising help to?”   Hubert asked.

       “Both of them,” Bertie replied, “Koda needs help getting Leo back for him tickling his toes, and Leo needs my help pinning Koda down for blowing on his toes.  So both deserve my help.”  So little by little, Sita checked Little Koda’s fore and hind paws for thorns, then he checked hers, then Qingshan checked Hubert’s, and Hubert checked Qingshan’s.  Leo and Bertie checked each other’s paws over too, but noone used their eyes, it was all done by touch.  From pads to toes, each explored the soles of the other’s paws to check them for thorns.  This didn’t only check for injury before a game, it also reinforced bonds, or tentatively built them from scratch.  Hubert found Sita’s toes curled easily as he stroked the pads of her hind paws, much to Hubert’s delight, and it seemed to Sita’s too.

        “Your touch makes my toes curl, that’s so sweet!”  Sita said laughing.  Hubert was close to tears as he checked her paws over.

        “Can I just stroke your paws for a bit?  He asked.  “They have nothing wrong with them, I just enjoy stroking your pads and toes, your pads are so interesting!”

       “Draw circles on the pads of her paws with your toes Hubert,” little Koda suggested, “go on, give it a go.  She’ll show you right enough if she doesn’t like it.  And curling toes is not a signal of dislike, crawling away is.”  Hubert firmly massaged the large sole pad of Sita’s right hind paw with the toes of his left fore and sure enough, her toes curled slightly, making her pads bunch up and feel softer to his touch.

       “Is she tolerating my touch, or is she enjoying it?”  Hubert asked himself.

        “If you ask yourself questions like that again, I’ll get angry,” Sita mewed, turning her head to Hubert.

        “I can’t think anything without her knowing!”  Hubert thought, his paw still in contact with Sita’s.

       “Enjoy your play Hubert, don’t doubt what your paws are telling you,” little Koda said.  Hubert hugged little Koda tightly, and then realised what he was doing.

      “Oh, oh god!”  He stammered, “Sorry Koda!”  Little Koda laughed merrily:

      “That was kind of nice,” Koda said, returning Hubert’s hug.

        “How sweet!”  Qingshan said.  Hubert felt his body becoming energised by the play with the cubs.

       “Now we’ve checked each other’s paws over,” Sita said, “and there are no thorns or injuries which stop play, let’s play in the soft playroom shall we?”  So they all trooped to the soft play room, where Qingshan and Hubert held Sita down while little Koda, Leo, and Bertie ambushed her.

        “I’m not a climbing frame, hey, stop tickling my paws!”  Sita laughed, for she could do nothing else.  Bertie finished it by tickling Sita’s nose with a feather, making her sneeze violently.

        “You young sod!”  She sniffed.

       “Who would you like us to hold down for you so you can take revenge?”  Qingshan asked.  Sita replied:

       “The cubs all could join in with holding you down so I can tickle your paws Qingshan.  You and Hubert both deserve all that and more.  Little Koda accidentally stood on the end of Sita’s tail, Sita yowling lustily and demanding to know:

       “Who the hell trod on my tail! That hurt!”

      “Sorry Sita,” Little Koda said.

        “Having my tail trodden on is the worst thing,” Sita snarled, “it hurts worse than bruised paws!  The pain shoots up my back and into my head, exploding there like a bomb.”

        “I’m sorry!”  Little Koda said, getting more distressed by the minute.

       “It’s all right,” Sita replied.

         “I want to play with a cat with big paws,” Sita said.  Fleur, Bianca’s cub, padded in, and thrust one of her paws into Sita’s forepaws.

       “I’m no cub,” she said, “but here is one of a set of four big paws.  Sita laughed and hugged Fleur tightly.

       “Thanks,” she said, kissing Fleur’s nose.

        “Knut!”  Someone yelled, “You do not eat fish!  You’re a bloody polar bear! They, eat seals!”  Knut ran in with a fish in his paws, closely chased by Zane, who looked frustrated.

       “Will you tell this cub that he is not a grizzly bear?”  Zane asked Fleur, who’d dissolved into gales of laughter at the sight of Zane lumbering after Knut, who even though on three paws, with his right forepaw holding the fish, was able to run faster than him.  Fleur collapsed onto Sita, almost weeping with laughter.

      “Zane, how unfit are you?”  She said.  Zane, conscious of his overweight appearance, grumbled about her comments.

        “I want to eat fish!”  Knut yelled, “My mama was born on the edge of the ice, and I know how to eat fish, not seals!”  Zane tried to steal the fish from Knut, the cub beating him over the head with the fish, cod exploding into a shower when it hit Zane’s nose.

        “Cod wars,” Fleur mewed.

       “What’s that?”  Sita asked, Fleur telling her what Knut had just done,  Sita stuffing her right paw into her mouth to stop herself roaring with laughter.

        “Oh dear,” she mumbled, “Knut hitting Zane with a fish! How funny!”  Zane, now furious, walloped Knut for whacking him with the fish, which was now fast disintegrating into a smelly mess on the floor.

       “Good job this is an easy cleaned floor,” Sita said, her nose twitching at the scent of the fish.  Fleur grinned and ate the fish:

      “Waste not want not,” she mumbled round a mouthful of cod, “tastes good this.”  Knut watched his meal vanish into Fleur’s belly, feeling unable to stop her from stealing his food.

        “That was my fish,” he remarked.

       “Sorry,” fleur mumbled, “It looked so well, survival of the fittest and all you know?  Or in your case Sita, it’s survival of the fattest!”

       “Bugger that,” Sita grunted, picking floor up and throwing her into the foam pit.

       “Thanks,” Knut said, Sita roaring with laughter as the sound of Fleur’s confused scrambling to orientate herself came to her from across the room.

       “You horrid thing!”  Fleur wailed as she struggled free of the suddenly clawing foam.

       “You don’t mess with Sita fleur!”  Knut laughed, clapping his paws.  Fleur blushing red with anger, rushed at him, snarling and growling.  Sita, sure of her ground, picked Fleur up and threw her back into the foam pit.

       “Go Sita!”  Knut cheered, Fleur now very angry.

        “You fat bitch!”  She yelled at Sita, who ignored her.  Then fleur had a more pressing problem:

       “I’m gonna be sick!”  She panted, vomiting onto the soft flooring of the play room.

      “Thank goodness Koda had this place made to be easily cleaned,” Kamchatka said, padding in with a bucket of water and a broom.  Sweeping up and sloshing water, she frowned at fleur.

       “You shouldn’t have stolen Knut’s fish,” Kamchatka scolded, the tigress padding away on unsteady paws.

       “Despite all she has done,” Sita mused, she has got cute paws.”

        “Fleur’s got no pads,” Knut replied, “Sita, did you feel that?  She has one big sole pad on each of her paws!”  Sita smiled:

      “I think that was Samson’s bear spirit getting into his youngest cub a little,” she said.  Poor Pakshalika giving birth to fleur while Samson dreamt of being a bear.  Fleur almost became what Samson wanted to be, and Pakshalika thought she was giving birth to.”

       “Do you mean Pakshalika believed she was giving birth to a cub as big as a full grown bear?”  Knut asked.

      “I think that was how it was for her,” Sita mewed.

       “Yes it was,” Pakshalika mewed, padding in to make sure the evidence of her daughter cub’s disgrace was all washed away.

      “I like Fleur’s paws,” Sita said, “she walks flat footed for a cat!”

       “Yes she lumbers along like a bear,” Pakshalika mewed, “but I love her for it.”

      “You stirred her up Sita,” Knut laughed.

      “She called me fat, and she’s not so slim herself, so I showed her a thing or two,” Sita replied.  Pakshalika, viewing the footage from the camera, turned to Sita.

      “You threw fleur into the foam pit twice;” she mewed, “that’s amazing!  She weighs at least 100 pounds!”

        “I could throw you in there too if you aren’t careful,” Sita mewed, her eyes shining with merriment.

       “So you just picked her up and threw her in the pool?”  Pakshalika asked.  Sita smiled and nodded:

       “Would you like a demonstration?”  She asked.  Pakshalika opened her mouth to answer, and then shut it again.

       “You know you want her to,” Knut said.  Pakshalika shifted her paws on the venal flooring, her pads squeaking slightly on the tiles.

       “I met a koala who’s pads did that,” Knut said, “his pads squeaked on the tiles as he walked!  He was embarrassed by his squeaking pads. though,”  he thought for a minute, then smiled sheepishly, “I tried to make mine squeak in solidarity with him.”

       “Now that is the community spirit I know,” Sita said.

       “So we should all make our pads squeak or something like that?”  Pakshalika said.  Sita smiled:

       “At least show understanding for those whose pads do,” Sita mewed, “for they can’t help it.”

      “My paws kind of slap a little when I’m walking on this surface, and it’s a pest sometimes,” Zane admitted.  Sita smiled and flipped Zane onto his back, tickling his paws until he was weak from laughter.

       “Can I look at your paws close up?”  Zane asked Sita.  Sita lie down and let him look at her paws.  They were large, and Zane thought very cute too.

        “Your cubs are very cute by the way,” Zane said, Sita grinning with pleasure.

       “I am very glad you like my cubs,” Sita said.  Little Koda, keeping scruffy Leo company, played with the tiny cub until his mother was done with playing with Zane.

       “Your paws are so big,” Zane said, “and so soft too!”  He said, touching the sole pad of Sita’s right hind paw.  Sita, laughing, curled her toes, making her pads bunch up, which Zane seemed to like.

        “I think curled toes and bunched pads are so cute,” he said.  Sita giggled:

        “My paws are how I express myself, so I’m glad you think they’re cute,” she replied.  Sita tickled the sole of Zane’s right hind foot, the male brown bear laughing merrily and curling his toes tightly.

      “Don’t curl your toes so tightly,” Sita mewed.  Zane, smiling, relaxed his toes a little.

       “If you draw circles on my pads, I will curl my toes!”  Zane laughed.

        “Such innocent play,” Jess said, watching from where she sat nearby.

       “How if I tickle your toes Jess?”  Little Koda asked.  Jess laughed and gave the cub her right foot, smiling, and then closing her eyes as she felt the cub’s touch on the toes and the sole of her foot.

       “Wow, oh wow,” Jess gasped.

        “You like my touch then?”  Little Koda asked.  Jess smiled and nodded:

       “It’s soft, and warm, and gentle,” she said.  Little Koda, interested in paws as he was, explored Jess’s right foot with gentle care.

        “You’ve had a cub yourself haven’t you,” little Koda said.  Jess replied that she had.

        “I was a bear once,” she replied, “but, well, I wasn’t quite the bear I thought I was.”

        “I’ve heard the tale of peter,” little Koda replied, “ah, so you are the Jess they talk of.”  Jess confirmed she was.

          “I saw that video once,” Koda said, “though I didn’t see a human giving birth to a bear cub, I saw a mama giving birth to a cub.  I saw the struggle, and the need for the mama to have her cub.”

       “I gave birth to Peter with commitment and love,” Jess said, unable to stop her toes curling at the memory of her struggle.

       “Did you describe it to Sire Koda?”  Little Koda asked.  Jess thought for a minute:

      “No, I didn’t,” she replied, “he stroked my hind paws, sorry, my feet, and hugged me, and was very good to me after, but I didn’t describe it for him.  Maybe I should have done that.”

      “I noticed you go bare pawed, but Charles Fullbeans does not,” little Koda said.

      He is not so much part of the community as us,” Jess said, “He is the person between us and the outside world.  I talk to him, and he talks to the outside world.  I though, am bare pawed, or bare footed as we humans call it, and will always be so.”  Little Koda traced the sole of jess’s foot with his toes, Jess relaxing her toes, then curling them tightly as he reached her heel.

         “Push your foot into my forepaws if you want,” Koda invited, Jess pressing her right foot into his paws, little Koda massaging the sole of her foot and toes.  Jess suddenly whipped her foot away, crawling quickly from little Koda, the cub chasing her and pouncing on her left foot, holding it in his paws.

       “You got me!”  Jess laughed as she sprawled on the soft matting.  Little Koda tickled the toes of Jess’s right foot, while jess laughed helplessly.

       “I’m glad I can still play with you bears,” she said.

        “Your hind foot is like mine, rather soft and cub like,” little Koda said.  jess rolled onto her back, sat up and grabbed little Koda’s left hind foot with her hands, stroking his pads and toes, the young cub smiling and bouncing about with pleasure.

 

In the local town, the mayor opened up the circus that had rolled into town a day ago.  This circus was well attended by the paying public, and the main attraction was Lilly, a large female brown bear.  She looked magnificent in the ring, and her keepers, now referred to as “non human asset managers,” thought very highly of her, as she was docile, and very amenable to the things she was asked to do.  Lilly performed four hours a day in the ring, playing football with her handler, and doing such things as lying on her back and passing the ball from forepaw to forepaw, then flipping onto her forepaws and scoring a goal with her left hind foot.  Lilly got a buzz from the time she spent in the ring, but back in her den, or her cage as it really was, she was lonely and dreaming of another place, a place she’d not known, as she was a circus cub, her mother having given birth to her one stormy night when her cries of pain and the sound of her kicking the cage bars during her contractions would not be heard.  Lilly’s mother told her that giving birth to her had hurt her a lot.  So much that Lilly was sure her own violent and cramped birth had contributed to her mother’s early death from stress and anxiety.  Lilly’s mother wanted to relive the birth of her cub, but she felt she could not do so openly.  She couldn’t discuss it with her cub, as they had no time alone, and discussing something as personal as a birth of one’s cub took time to do.  Lilly returned to her cage on the fourth night in town, sitting down in her private area.  Burying her face in her paws, she tried to relax.  Curling and stretching the toes of both her hind feet relaxed Lilly a bit, Lilly enjoying the feel of her toes curling, and then having to hold them curled for a few seconds, before concentrating on stretching them.  Lilly sometimes held her hind feet in her forepaws while she curled and stretched her toes, experiencing the act as if she was disassociated from her own hind paws, as if she was a third party to the act itself.  Lilly relaxed into sleep, her eyes closing and her paws relaxing into repose.

         “I wonder if I’ll have that strange dream again,” she thought, “the dream of the grey bear with the white soled paws?  I love him.  I imagined I touched his fur and his pads, and both were warm, and smelt of earth, and he was so gentle to me.”  Lilly curled up, clasping her forepaws together, imagining she could feel the grey bear’s paw in hers.

       “His fur would be warm, his pads rough, but not unpleasantly so,”  Lilly thought, “his kiss on my nose would probably be gentle, and his touch on my paws, which I would readily accept, would be gentle and loving of and to me.  He wouldn’t mind my circus background either.  At least I hope he wouldn’t mind that.”

         “I don’t mind your circus background at all,” a voice said.  Lilly opened her eyes, and saw a bear in front of her.  Her eyes told her this was the bear in her dreams, but she was not sure.  Before she knew what she was doing, she’d embraced the strange grey bear with a fever and passion which embarrassed her later on.

         “You want to get out of here?”  Patch asked.  Lilly buried her face in the bear’s thick fur:

         “I had a dream of another place,” she said, “a place where I could stretch my paws and play like a cub, but where is this place?  I don’t know where it is, if it exists at all.”  Patch smiled and rubbed Lilly’s ears with his paw, the female bear breathing hard through her mouth, trying not to cry out.

        “How did you get in here?”  She asked.

       “I walked in here,” Patch replied, “your mind is open to me you see.”  Lilly woke properly, and saw she was alone in her den.

       “Where are you?”  She asked, her eyes filling with tears, “where is that grey bear I was hugging?”  Lilly, now distraught, buried her face in her paws sobbing inconsolably.  Her handler found her like this some time later, and of course, not being conversant in ursine, could not communicate with Lilly to ask her what was wrong.  Lilly’s performance that night was lack lustre, for her mind was on that grey bear.  Indeed, she thought she saw him in the audience, though when she looked again, she saw it was a large, exceptionally hairy man in a grey coat and wearing a floppy hat.  Though he did keep his eyes on her for a long time.

       “Where is that bear?”  Lilly asked herself.

 

Patch watched from the audience, the large trench coat he’d borrowed from Sire Koda’s store itching horribly, and the trousers he’d been forced to wear to top off the silly outfit tight.  Patch shifted the floppy hat on his head, gazing out from beneath its floppy brim.  Patch had made contact with lily when her first distressed call had reached him the night she’d arrived in the local town, and now he was sitting in the audience of the circus.  Jess, sitting nearby, marvelled other members of the audience didn’t notice Patch at all.  Though to be fair to the big bear, he did look like a large man who hadn’t shaved in years.  Patch had paid his entrance fee, and sat down in the stalls.  Now he was focused on Lilly as she performed her act, then, as they made eye contact, patch raised his paw and wiggled the toes of that paw at lily, which nearly dropped her ball.

       “Don’t mess it up, don’t even acknowledge me,” Patch pleaded silently.

 

Later that day, Lilly, excited at her visual meeting with the grey bear, was dancing in her cage, and then rolling onto her back and pressing her feet against the bars of her cage, as she’d done every day since she could remember.  The bars were cold against her pads, and pressing them against the bars hurt a little, but Lilly pressed her hind feet hard against the bars anyway.  Pressing hard, holding the pressure against the bars as she held her toes curled to relax her body after her performance.  Indeed, Lilly was at this game of pressing her hind feet against the bars of her cage, absorbed in her game at full exersion, her eyes closed in effort, when she felt something touch the pads of her left hind foot.  Looking between her legs, she saw a face, her view of that face split by the bars.  Even so, she knew what the touch had been, and she knew the face, and was overjoyed.

       “I have come for you,” Patch said, smiling at Lilly.  Lilly got to her feet, embarrassed that she’d been at her private game when her dream bear had arrived.

        “I am so sorry I was, well, playing,” Lilly said.  Patch opened her door with a key he’d stolen from the sleeping guard.

       “Now come,” Patch said, guiding Lilly, whose legs were stiff, out of the cage.

        “You are still dressed in that funny suit,” Lilly said, shivering with excitement and fear as Patch put his arm around her and led her from the cage.

“Now walk upright on your hind paws as if you are proud to be with me,” Patch said, “you need to look as human as you can for a little bit.”  Lilly tried to walk tall, tried to look happy, but her stomach was churning horribly with fear and stress.  When her hind paws touched the road, Lilly thought she was going to be sick, but she held it together, breathing hard.

       “I feel sick,” she panted.  Patch kissed her nose:

        “It’s okay now,” he said, “we’re safe here.”  He dropped the key into the shrubbery beside the track, “let’s go home now shall we?”  Lilly padded with Patch to the house, where she watched as he shed his coat and trousers, the real bear in her dreams emerging from the human covering.

         “How did you disguise those large paws of yours?”  Lilly asked.  Patch giggled, the cub in him showing plainly:

        “I put my mind into that of a barefoot human,” he said, “I became a human who liked going barefoot.”  Lilly smiled despite her inner fear, which was still gnawing at her.

       “Hey lily!”  Someone yelled, making the female black bear turn and look towards the door.  What she saw nearly made her bolt for cover, but before she could tell her legs to run, she was engulfed by a huge mother grizzly bear, which embraced her tightly in welcome and kissed her nose.

        “Welcome,” Kamchatka said.  Lilly stared into the smiling eyes of a mama bear who clearly wanted her with them.

        “You have met mama Kamchatka then,” Patch laughed, lily feeling weak and uncertain about things.

        “I don’t know,” she mumbled.

      “Patch told us he’d be bringing a friend back with him,” Kamchatka said.

       “Oh, did he?”  Lilly asked, “I don’t know, I’ve never met him before tonight, not in person anyway.  Though I had a dream, where, where I embraced his hind paw.”  Patch smiled broadly, throwing the clothing into the corner of the lie up and facing lily in his natural finery.

      “Here I am, here is the bear you met,” he said, Lilly smiling broadly.

        “I embraced you in the dream,” she said, “were, were you in my cage with me?”

       “No,” Patch replied, “but I was there in spirit, and I suggested to your brain how my paws felt and how my fur felt also.  It was nice meeting you across the dream world, now though,” he embraced Lilly tightly; “I can meet you in the flesh and love you too.”  Lilly wept into patch’s coat, smelling the scent she knew so well from her dream.

        “How did you know I was in distress?”  Lilly asked.  Patch, rubbing her back with his paw, told her of his ability.

         “You communicated with me in my dreams, and then saw me in the circus?”  Lilly asked, staring at Patch, then at the clothing he’d cast off.

        “You are the big man I fixed eyes on in the show aren’t you?”  She asked.  Patch smiled:

       “I am,” he replied.”

        “I thought you were the bear in my dream at first, but when I looked a second time, you looked too human to be him,” Lilly admitted, “but now you look like that bear again, and I love you from your nose to your paw pads!”

         “I can show you that I’m that bear from nose to paws,” patch said, kissing Lilly’s nose and paws, then giving her his left forepaw.  Sitting down with her, he let her touch him from nose to paws, Lilly finding the bear in her dreams was just like the bear in front of her now.

        “I love your face and paws,” Lilly said.  Patch smiled and examined Lilly from nose to tail, pushing her about with his paws, Lilly giggling and loving being handled by Patch, who soon had her laughing and pawing at his gentle paws.

       “Your paws are lovely to mine,” Lilly said.  Patch kissed Lilly’s nose and paws, the female black bear plucking up the courage to ask:

      “Patch, can I stroke the pads of your hind paws?”  Patch gave her his left hind foot, Lilly stroking his pads and toes, patch curling his toes with pleasure.

       “Your paw is so expressive,” lily said softly.

        “You look a lot better out of that circus,” Patch said.  Ekaterina, padding into the lie up. Grinned at Lilly and sat down to watch her mate work his magic with the female black bear.

       “You are his mate?”  Lilly asked.  Ekaterina nodded:

       “I am,” she replied, “and I know what his power is.  Patch has powerful paws.”  Lilly smiled:

      “He does,” she replied.

       “I think I could fall in love with this bear,” Lilly said impulsively.  Ekaterina laughed merrily and playfully cuffed Lilly’s shoulder.

        “Paws off!”  She said laughing, “But I know what you mean when you say that.”  Lilly looked Patch over from nose to toes, loving every inch of him.

        “I want to mother him and be guided by him all at once!”  Lilly said desperately.

       “As long as you don’t injury him or mate with him, you can do what you like,” Ekaterina said.

        “I just want to play with him!”  Lilly replied.  Lilly smiled as Patch rolled onto his back and pedalled the air with his hind feet, both Ekaterina and Lilly pouncing on a hind foot each and tickling Patch’s pads and toes until he was exhausted from laughing.

       “I love this bear,” Ekaterina said.  Lilly smiled:

      “Fight you for him,” Lilly said playfully.  Ekaterina looked at Lilly, then the two female bears tussled for Patch, Lilly winning paws down, Ekaterina sprawling, totally worn out on the floor

       “You’re too big and fat!”  Lilly laughed, as she pinned Ekaterina down and tickled her paws in triumph.

        “I can’t believe that!”  Ekaterina gasped, exhausted.

        “I’ll bet Patch trains, you don’t,” Lilly said, “I can see it!  I know it!”

      “It is true,” Ekaterina panted.  Panting, Ekaterina got to her feet, feeling drained and a little sick.

       “I quit,” she said, padding dejectedly from the lie up.

       “It was meant to be a joke!”  Lilly whimpered, “I wasn’t serious!”

       “I think you’ve shown Ekaterina something she’d suspected for a long time,” Patch said softly, “I wouldn’t worry about it.”

       “She’s fat, for a mama bear that’s not hibernating,” Lilly said honestly.

        “I keep telling her not to eat between meals, but she’s got her paws in the cookie jar all the time,” blackberry said, padding in and looking at Patch.

        “Ekaterina’s taken it hard,” he said, “she’s weeping and wringing her paws.

        “I’d better go to her,” Patch said.

 

Patch found Ekaterina eating the obligatory cookie.  She stared straight through him.

         “I have over done it haven’t I?”  She asked.  Patch closed the cookie jar and put it away.

       “You have grown fat on those,” patch replied, “they aren’t good for you Ekaterina.”

        “I started eating these cookies because I wanted comfort,” Ekaterina said.

      “Comfort from what?  Patch asked.

       “Patch,” Ekaterina said, “I, I, well, a few weeks ago, I,” she stopped.  Patch looked deep in to his mate’s eyes and then gathered her into a huge hug.

         “You had a cub didn’t you,” he said, “we mated twelve weeks ago, and you had a cub, and that cub died.”  Ekaterina squealed with anguish and pain.

        “I tried to hide it,” she choked, “I didn’t want you to know what had happened, “I can’t tell you how horrid that was.  I’m sorry for excluding you again Patch!”

        “Why did you leave me in the dark?”  Patch asked, “And what did you do with the cub’s body?”

       “I tried, tried to tell you, but, I kept it secret, I was so ashamed!”  Ekaterina sobbed, “And the cub’s body, that’s in the wood, near, near the road, I’ll, I’ll show you.”  Patch looked into Ekaterina’s face, seeing a mother bear who wanted to protect her cubs from male bears.

       “It’ll be okay,” Patch said softly.

      “But that tussle with Lilly was no joke!”  Ekaterina sniffed, “I knew I’d lose, I knew I was sure I’d lose.”

      “Lily was playing,” Patch said, hugging Ekaterina.

        “I felt humiliated,” Ekaterina said, “because, because it was no joke for me.  I was fighting for your affections, because I knew I’d done wrong in not telling you about the cub.  My comfort eating of the cookies would not have come to light if I’d not lost the contest, but if I’d told you of the cub’s death, I would not have had to eat the cookies!”  Ekaterina yelled.

       “Show me the cub’s resting place,” Patch said.  Ekaterina and Patch padded out of the house, passing Lilly on the way.  Lilly followed at a discreet distance, lying down at the edge of the woods, letting Patch and Ekaterina go on alone.  Patch found the place where Ekaterina had buried their cub, and he stopped nearby.

         “I wish you’d told me about this,” Patch wept.  Ekaterina hung her head in shame.

        “I lost my cub, I deceived you, and now I’ve lost the fight for your affections too,” she sobbed.

         “No you haven’t,” Patch said, “I love you Ekaterina, I just wish you’d have told me about our cub’s death!”

       “The cub was dead this time, I checked,” Ekaterina sniffed, “I really checked well this time, biting its paw hard enough to draw blood.”

       “I wish you’d told me,” Patch replied.

       “It was so painful!”  Ekaterina yelled into the night, “so much effort to deliver a dead cub!  Do you know what it’s like?  It’s like delivering a rock into the world, it hurts every part of it hurts.  The cub is hard to deliver, it’s not moving, and it’s like delivering a rock, the pain of it Patch!  It hurt me so much, I wanted to scream, wanted to cry, but I lay on the forest floor, wriggling and kicking, trying to keep my mouth shut!”

         “What do you want to do now?”  Patch asked.

        “I need to get the pain out of my mind,” Ekaterina sobbed, “It will kill me if I don’t.”

        “So you ate to make your body forget the pain?”  Patch asked.  Ekaterina nodded.

      “I heard blackberry’s advice to stop eating, but I didn’t listen.”  Lilly watched Ekaterina in the semi darkness of the rising dawn, seeing the same stress her mother went through just before she died.

        “Please,” Lilly said, getting up and approaching the grieving bears.

       “Go away!”  Ekaterina snapped.

       “No, please?”  Lilly pleaded, “Ekaterina, please?  Listen, will you listen? Please?”

       “This is our time, not yours, get out of here!”  Ekaterina snapped, her toes curling hard into the track.

        “Please,” Lilly begged, touching Ekaterina’s tense right forepaw...

         “I’ll leave you two to it,” Patch said, padding away.  Ekaterina faced Lilly, fury and anger threatening to burst from her mouth and her paws.

         “Ekaterina,” Lilly said, as the mother bear collapsed onto the track, sobbing and wringing her paws.

         “You take Patch!”  Ekaterina sobbed, “Leave me here to die!”

         “I don’t want you to die,” Lilly said, her stomach churning again, “but I know you will if you don’t do what I say.”  Ekaterina suddenly found herself embraced by the smaller female bear.  Impotent now, All Ekaterina could do was scream, and scream she did.  The sound was long and full of pain.

         “Let it go Ekaterina,” Lilly said softly.  Ekaterina burst into tears, crying into lily’s fur.

         “I’m being eaten by my memories of that cubbing!”  Ekaterina sobbed, “I need to re-enact it, need to understand it, need to relieve my stress and pain!”

       “I understand what you mean,” Lilly replied, “for my mama died from the same stress.  She gave birth to me in the cage Patch rescued me from, and could not tell me of my birth, and of the pain she was in.  She died prematurely as a result of this I think.”  Ekaterina looked into Lilly’s face.

         “that is how it is here,”  she sniffled, “mama wants to show her cub how it was born, and this is not just to teach the cub that birth and the sounds and sights are ok, it’s also to help her cope with the shock and stress of it.”

       “It is only when you have delivered your cub into the world that you can Maun his passing,” Lilly said.

       “The cub was male,” Ekaterina choked, “and I will deliver my cub again.  I will tell Patch how it was.  I wish, wish he’d been there when I’d had this cub.  I am denying the pain I was in.  I need to acknowledge the pain, I know that.”

       “My mother did not acknowledge her pain, and she died for it,” Lilly said.

        “I’ll become one of those angry mama bears who funnel their labour ant into over protecting their cubs and being a bitch to everyone,” Ekaterina wailed.

      “I will help you if you want,” Lilly said, “but you must show patch what happened to your cub.”  Ekaterina found herself hugging a bear she hardly knew, confiding in her the most intimate moments of the labour she’d had to endure to deliver her dead cub.

        “It all started one evening,” Ekaterina said, “I knew what was happening, and though I was so shocked I kept it from Patch.  I wasn’t ready for the birth of the cub, so I thought I’d keep it a secret until it was safely born,”  Ekaterina began, “it was in the third hour of labour, during that really painful bit, between initial contractions and wanting to really curl your toes and push, you know?”  Lilly hugged Ekaterina tightly:

      “It’s called transition I think, and I’ve heard it hurts a lot,” she replied.

       “Yes, that’s it, and I’m a midwife here and all, I should know that,” Ekaterina babbled, “well, I knew then, when the cub felt like a hard thing inside me, that it was dead.  It hurt Lilly, it hurt to push, really hurt to push.  I pushed though; really hard I pushed, down into my tail and the soles of my hind feet.  It was so hard, so painful, like the worst constipation you could ever endure.  The cub ripped its way out of me.  I strained and pushed, screamed and finally pulled the cub into the world!  I got hold of it and pulled it into the world the last few inches, and how that hurt! I wanted to punish myself for delivering a dead cub, and that did it, but it wasn’t enough.  I wanted pain!  I wanted to die then, for my cub was dead, and that was all that mattered to me.  My pain was so acute.”

       “Did you do yourself harm?”  Lilly asked.  Ekaterina shook her head.

    “Don’t think so,” she replied, “but it hurt me a good bit.  I clamped down on the cub I think, and I felt its paws come free, they hurt a lot Lilly, and they hurt so much!  I blame myself for my cub’s death.”

         “It may be that you can’t deliver a live cub again,” Lilly thought, “but I won’t tell you that yet.”

        “The cub’s death was not your doing,” Lilly replied.  Ekaterina sat back from where she’d been lying in lily’s lap, now sitting back on her heels.

         “I don’t know why I told you all that,” Ekaterina said, “I hardly know you Lilly, but I’m telling you all this shit about the worst day of my life.”

        “Do you regret telling me?”  Lilly asked.  Ekaterina took her paw:

      “No,” the mother bear said, “it was just a strange notion that’s all.”

        “I have never had cubs of my own,” Lilly replied, “but my mother died because she did not set the memory of her labour to rest.  And I don’t want the same to happen to you.”

         “The worst of it is,” Ekaterina confessed, “I excluded my mate from it all again!  I did it once before, and it broke his heart and mine.  Now, now I’ve done it again Lilly, it’s so wrong of me.  I’m ashamed of that, but I’m more ashamed of the fact I can’t have live cubs!  It seems I cannot for fill my duty!”

        “Since when has Patch ever told you your duty to him is to produce cubs?”  Lilly asked, “Look, Ekaterina, I don’t know him very well, but in my short acquaintance with him, I’d say that Patch is the last bear to ask anyone to make it their duty to produce cubs.  He loves you for yourself, not for the cubs you can give him.  I guess he loved you from a very early age?  He came into this place fully adult, and met you as a cub?”  Ekaterina nodded:

       “He did, and yes we kind of loved each other as brother and sister for a bit,” she replied, “but then, then, it got seriously different, after, after something happened.”

        “Patch loves you deeply Ekaterina, and don’t you forget it,”  Lilly said, “I’ll bet if he found you in labour, and your labour delivered two dead cubs he’d still love you just as much.  Trust in him Ekaterina, he’s lovely.”

        “I promised him I’d never exclude him again,”  Ekaterina wailed, “but now, now I’ve done what I said I wouldn’t, and he’s gonna leave me for another bear.  I don’t deserve him any more.  What mate keeps the death of her cub from its sire?  I tried to, and for that I deserve nothing but rejection and total isolation.  Add to that to experience the labour I had with that cub once every day for the rest of my life, and my punishment will be just about complete.”  Patch crept up behind Ekaterina and rested the toes of his left forepaw on her left hind.  He then rested his chin on the top of Ekaterina’s head and crossing his eyes, stuck his tongue out at Lilly, the female black bear dissolving into gales of laughter.  Ekaterina, not seeing anything, and ignoring the slight pressure on the top of her head and the touch on the sole of her left hind foot, snapped:

        “There’s nothing funny about this you stupid animal!”  Lilly covered her face with her paws, spluttering and snorting as she tried not to laugh, for Patch was now rolling his eyes, and had stuck his tongue out of the corner of his mouth, looking very silly indeed.

         “I can’t stand this!”  Lilly spluttered.  It was then that Ekaterina snapped.

        “You inconsiderate beast!”  She yelled at Lilly.

       “Is she?”  Patch asked.  Ekaterina spun round and lashed out at her mate, Patch catching her paw.

       “Come with me, and we can talk,” Patch said to Ekaterina, who found she couldn’t move.

       “I feel so weak patch,” Ekaterina sobbed, collapsing onto the track.  Patch got to his hind feet, picked Ekaterina up in his forepaws, and carried her to the house.  Lilly watched them go, her smile gone.

     “He does look human when he walks on his hind feet,” Lilly thought, “and that face, and those paws! Wow yeah, I like them a lot.  Lilly padded after Ekaterina and Patch, trying not to intrude, though she wanted to hug Ekaterina so very much, and she felt desperately sorry for her.

      “It’s not your place to intrude in their grief,” Lioness Rowena said.  Lilly looked at the spirit lioness.

        “I want to kiss Ekaterina’s paws and make her pain go away,” Lilly said.  Lioness Rowena smiled and nodded:

       “I know,” she replied, “but your intentions are unwelcome at the moment, though they’re no less good.”

        “I’ve never seen a cubbing,” Lilly said, “I would like to see one someday.”

       “You will around here, that’s for sure,” Bertie said.  Lilly looked at the cub, and immediately fell in love with him.

       “He’s so cute!”  She thought.  Bertie smiled and looked up at Lilly.

       “Will you play with me?”  He asked.  Lilly smiled and nodded.

        “I love your face and paws,” Lilly said.  Bertie smiled and got to his hind feet, stretching up to Lilly.  Lilly smiled and lifted Bertie off his hind paws, carrying him into the house.

 

Patch settled down with Ekaterina in their lie up, Ekaterina very miserable and anxious.

       “I’ve failed you patch,” Ekaterina sniffed.

        “How do you think you have done that?”  Patch asked.

       “Not telling you I was in cub, and even when I was in labour and the cub was born, not telling you then.  I promised you after what happened with little Patch that I would not exclude you again, but I’ve done it!  You must think me awful!”

        “I am distressed that you should keep the fact you were pregnant from me, and also hide the cub’s death too,” Patch replied.

       “What can I do to repair things?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “I spoke to the cub,” Patch said, “he told me you’d kept quiet throughout the labour, internalising everything.”  Ekaterina shook violently and then vomited copiously.

        “Oh, oh god!”  Ekaterina sobbed, retching and sobbing.  Patch cradled her as she got rid of her cookies.

        “Let’s clean you up and then we’ll talk,” Patch said.  Ekaterina let Patch carry her to the bathroom where Patch showered her down and washed her face, mouth and paws.

       “Thank you,” Ekaterina said weakly, hardly able to move.

      “I can’t cope with this!”  Ekaterina wept.  Patch let her cry, for he knew she needed to.

        “What can we do for her Patch?”  Lilly asked.  Ekaterina, completely out of it after an hour of weeping, lay across patch’s lap seemingly unconscious.

       “She needs to come to terms with the death of her cub,” Patch said, “I can’t help her do that.  She needs to confront what happened to her.”

        “She looks more dead than alive,” Lilly remarked.  Patch stroked Ekaterina’s ears, the mother polar bear shifting slightly as her mental hell ravaged her.

       “Ekaterina’s reaction to me saying I’d met the cub was telling,” Patch thought, “she was violently sick.  It probably hurt her more than she likes to admit.”  Ekaterina stretched out a groping paw and Patch took it in his.

        “My eyes don’t see so well,” Ekaterina mumbled, “I think, I think the spirits have taken their revenge on me.  I am back to the place I was when I was very young.”  Patch knew what she meant.

        “Are you unable to see me Ekaterina?”  He asked.  Ekaterina turned her ear to him, her eyes unfocused.

        “I don’t think I can,” she replied, “but I’m at peace with blindness, it’s the least I deserve after all I have done.”

       “Noone deserves to lose their sight,” Lilly said.

        “I deserve death for what I did,” Ekaterina sniffed, “I hid the death of my cub from my mate, a bear who would do anything for me and the cub.  I am sorry Patch, but I cannot show you how sorry I am.”

        “What if she has really lost her sight Patch?”  Bertie asked.  Patch stroked Ekaterina’s paws.

         “Don’t talk as if Ekaterina can’t hear you Bertie, that’s disrespectful and horrid.  If you’re asking what I think you’re asking, I won’t leave her.  I fell in love with Ekaterina herself, not her eyes, or her face, or her fur.”

        “What if Ekaterina can’t have any more live cubs?”  Bertie asked.

        “We will be okay,” Patch said. 

 

Patch led Ekaterina to the pool complex where he guided her into the water, the two bears sitting down on the island with the water lapping at their hind feet.

       “I will get used to using my ears again,” Ekaterina said, “I must now.”  Patch kissed her nose.

       “You are still as beautiful as ever,” Patch said.  Ekaterina rested her head on his shoulder.

      “You must be very forgiving of me,” she said, “I am the worst of bears, hiding the death of her cub from her mate.”

       “You need to think on the birth of your cub, and not blame yourself for giving birth to a dead cub,” Patch said.

        “I will talk about it some time soon,” Ekaterina said, “you know most of it anyway, as you’ve been in touch with my cub.”  Patch nodded.

        “He doesn’t blame you for his death,” Patch said, “He just didn’t make it into the world, though he was alive inside you for a brief time.”  Ekaterina nodded miserably.

         “Now I’m blind, I’ve lost my cub, and it’s all going wrong,” she mumbled.

        “Have you lost everything? Really?”  A voice asked.  Ekaterina twitched an ear at Bertie, who’d padded into the pool complex and swam out to the island on which she and Patch sat.

        “No Bertie, not everything,” Ekaterina admitted, her shame deepening.

       “You have a lovely mate here,” Bertie said, “though I think you already know that deep down.”  Ekaterina felt Patch’s fur against her face.

      “You are so good to me,” Ekaterina said, “though I,” Patch gently put his paw over her mouth.

         “You say that one more time,” he said, “I’ll be very upset.”  Ekaterina buried her face in Patch’s shoulder.

        “I love you so much!”  She sobbed.

      “I love you from the bottom of my heart Ekaterina,” Patch said.  Ekaterina smiled and snuggled up to Patch.

        “The wave machine is starting up soon,” Bertie said, looking at the clock on the wall.

        “All four of my paws hurt after delivering my dead cub patch,” Ekaterina said, “indeed, all of my body ached.  My jaw ached, my toes ached, my legs ached, and I was sore inside also.  That’s not to start describing what my mental state was like.  I curled my toes so tightly, so very tightly and wanted to scream my head off so much, so loudly.  I cried, pawed, ground my teeth, strained, tore at my bedding, curled my toes some more and wished it was all over.  Now though, with your love Patch, I will show you how it was for me, but this time I will scream and groan lustily as I wanted to do deep down during the delivery of my cub.”  Patch smiled and hugged his mate.

         “You will get through this,” he said softly, “and I will help you.”

        “I want no help pushing,” Ekaterina said kissing his nose, “that is my job.”  Patch kissed her nose and paws, Ekaterina smiling with pleasure.

        “I’ll leave you two to it then,” Bertie said.

        “I know I must do this,” Ekaterina said, “so let’s go back to the scene of the tragedy.”  Ekaterina led Patch back to her old den where she’d had little Rowena.

        “My pain started here,” Ekaterina said, “I was asleep when it happened, small pains to begin with, then, then I began breathing harder and curling my toes tightly as my contractions became heavier and more painful.”  Ekaterina lay down, and she was soon pedalling the air with her paws and groaning with pain.  Patch stroked Ekaterina as she relived her ordeal.

        e’e’e’e’e’eowaaaaw! Aow! Aaaaow! Aaaaaaaaow! Aouch!”  Ekaterina squealed as she pushed down hard repeatedly, her toes gripping and ripping at the rugs.  After an hour of grunting, screaming and straining, Ekaterina rolled onto her back, drew up her hind feet, grabbed them with her forepaws and roared lustily with effort and pain.

        “The cub’s coming!”  She shrieked, “It hurts so much!”  Patch could smell Ekaterina’s sweat, and wondered if it was like this on the day she gave birth to her real cub.  Patch watched Ekaterina’s hind paws as she curled her toes, the pads bunching up tightly as she struggled to deliver her cub.

        “Got to sit up and push hard down now, now!”  Ekaterina gasped, sitting up and wrestling with something in her forepaws, wriggling and straining hard, struggling to free something she imagined she held in her paws.

        “So that’s how it was for her, poor Ekaterina,” Patch thought as, with a yell of pain the mama bear wrestled her cub free of her body.

        “Can I hug you Ekaterina?”  Patch asked.  Ekaterina, exhausted, crawled to Patch and collapsed into his embrace.

       “Stroke my belly, kiss my paws, love me patch!”  Ekaterina begged.

       “I love you just as you are,” Patch said, lifting the sweating emotional mama bear onto his lap and kissing her nose and the damp pads of all four of her paws.

         “I really pushed hard patch, I tried so hard!”  Ekaterina sobbed.

        “Your cub died because the birth sac got separated before the cub was born,” Patch surmised.

        “Oh god, oh no!”  Ekaterina wept.

         “Yes Ekaterina, I’m sorry,” patch said gently.

       “So I won’t be able to have cubs any more?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “You could with an operation every time you get pregnant,” Patch replied, “but you wouldn’t be able to give birth naturally.”

        “I love the whole birth process,” Ekaterina said, “It makes it all worth everything, you know?”  Patch understood.

       “I gave birth to a cub once too, so yes I know,” Patch replied.  Ekaterina hugged Patch.

        “So how do we stop me having cubs?”  She asked.

       “You could go for an operation to sterilise yourself,” Patch replied, “or we could refrain from mating.”

      “But we might mate in the heat of love, and then, I’d lose a cub again, and it would be awful!”  Ekaterina replied.

        “We need to think of something,” Patch said.

      “I can’t go through that again,” Ekaterina whimpered.

      “I don’t want you to go through it again,” patch replied.

         “Showing you what happened hurt me,” Ekaterina said, “but it also felt good to do so.  I know you felt you couldn’t touch me throughout it, but you are welcome to touch me if I ever re-enact what happened again.  I was back there Patch, back on my own with the pain and the effort, and the death and sorrow.”

        “I will massage your paws and play with your toes, and rub your belly and love you,” patch replied.  Ekaterina looked towards the door as Bertie padded in.

          “You saw everything didn’t you,” Ekaterina said.

        “I tried to stay away,” Bertie replied, his eyes filling with tears, “but, but, I couldn’t, I couldn’t leave you after what I’d heard!”

          “Come here,” Ekaterina said, beckoning to the distraught cub.

         “I’m sorry for spying, I will go,” Bertie sobbed.  Ekaterina padded to the door, closed it, and faced Bertie.

        “You look like the size of cub I gave birth to,” Ekaterina said.

        “I’m not your cub,” Bertie replied, “I can’t be your cub, I’m too old!”

        “No,” Ekaterina replied, “you’re not too old at all.  I had this experience around the time you came here, and have hidden it for so long.”

        “Don’t deny the fact your cub died Ekaterina,” Bertie said.

         “I’m not denying that,” Ekaterina replied, “but wouldn’t you like to be part of a family?”

       “I’d love to be part of your family, if you’d let me,” Bertie replied.

        “I would let you,” Ekaterina said, “I want you to be my cub.”

         “I saw you sitting down, rocking back and fourth with your toes tightly curled mama,” Bertie replied, “I curled my toes too!”  Ekaterina hugged Bertie.

        “I was wrestling with the body of my cub,” Ekaterina said, “it hurt me Bertie.”

       “I know mama, I know,” Bertie replied, nuzzling Ekaterina’s cheek and snuggling close to her.

         “I could give birth to you too,”  Ekaterina replied, “I’d love to imagine that, no matter how painful it was, it would not be as painful as delivering a dead cub, no matter how hard I pushed or had to wrestle with myself to deliver your body into the world.”

        “I am sorry your cub died mama,” Bertie replied.

       “Next time, I’ll be padding around while panting and whimpering my head off, imagining the first pains which will help me deliver my live cub,” Ekaterina replied, “I want it to hurt! I want it to make me push and scream, and make me remember, and curl my toes, and crawl about whimpering, and yell my head off, and everything for all the right reasons this time!”

        “Is this kind of spiritual birth the norm here?”  Bertie asked.  Patch smiled and nodded:

        “Mama Kamchatka gave spiritual birth to me, helping me into her family,” he said, “and Ekaterina has done it for blackberry.”

       “I know Blackberry, he’s lovely,” Bertie said.  Bertie touched Ekaterina’s paw.

       Mama, please, please tells me how births are viewed in this community?”  Bertie asked.  Ekaterina, swallowing hard, sat down and gathered Bertie close to her, the sensation making her eyes well with tears.

          “Why are births so, so important?”  Ekaterina asked, “It’s important for the cub to know in full where he or she comes from.  It’s also important that, in the case of a mama’s or cub’s death during labour, that the surviving cub or the dead cub’s mama understands what happened to cause the death as much as they can know.”

        “That was why you re-enactd the birth of your dead cub wasn’t it?”  Bertie asked.

      “Yes little one, it was,” Ekaterina replied, “I did it, did it to set the memory to rest in my mind, and to show Patch how it was for me.  I didn’t want to exclude him, but he was excluded.  It is important for all to be present at the birth of a cub, as it is a wonderful experience.  I hope the spirits will look kindly on my cub now I’ve put his memory where it should be, in my treasured memories, rather than in the fearful box.  I remember holding my cub, kissing him, kissing his nose and paws.  That was the last thing I did for him.”

        “You love your cub don’t you mama,” Bertie said.  Ekaterina smiled sadly:

       “I do,” she replied, “and I’ll never forget him.”

         “Now mama, can you tell me about my birth?”  Bertie asked.  Ekaterina held Bertie tightly in her paws.

        “First of all,” she said gently, “tell me how your mama died.”  Bertie said straight up:

       “I don’t know.  There was a bang, and then nothing, and then a load of shouting from men.  Hubert and I ran.  That was it.  Hubert took care of me from then on.  I think of my mother, but now, now I don’t really remember her.  I get memories of her confused with memories I’ve had here, I was young then, too young.  Now I’m grown up, a little more grown up that is.  My mama taught me how to play with my paws, but Sita and little Koda taught me more than that, they taught me how to love with my paws, how to pour my soul through my touch.”

        “I’ve never heard it expressed like that, that’s cute,” Ekaterina said.  Patch, staring in astonishment, had sat down as he witnessed the bond growing between mother and cub.

        “Did your mother teach you how to express your love through your paws Ekaterina?”  Bertie asked.  Ekaterina nodded:

      “She did,” she replied, “for I was blind then, I could not see for a long time after most cubs opened their eyes.  Now I am blind again, but my paws have always known what is right, even if I have not followed them as I should.”

        “I touched Sita’s hind feet while she was in labour,”  Bertie said, “she was scared at first, but then she calmed down, even though she was pushing harder than ever to deliver her cub, why was that?”

       “She felt your touch on her pads, and it soothed her,” Ekaterina replied, “patch’s touch soothed me when I had little Allie and Rowena.  And I’m sure will soothe me again very soon.”

       “Can a touch make you want to push hard to deliver a cub?”  Bertie asked.  Ekaterina smiled, settling Bertie on his back in her lap, and picking up his right hind foot in her paws, tracing his pads and toes.

       “Yes it can,” she replied.

        “So will you give spiritual birth to me Ekaterina?”  Bertie asked.  Ekaterina thought for a minute, and then she felt something snuggle up to her.

        “You gave birth to me,” her cub said to her, “but I didn’t survive in your world.  This cub needs your protection now, I don’t.  Give him protection mama.”  Ekaterina smiled and promised she would.

        “I’ll do that,” she replied gently.  Bertie wriggled with pleasure as Ekaterina massaged his paws.

       “How will Hubert take this?”  Bertie asked when he’d recovered.

        “I’ll be okay with it,”  Hubert replied, “I can see mama Ekaterina would be a better role model for you than I was.  I’m not into the mother play way.  I’m a male bear.”

         “So now do you feel ready to deliver me into your family?”  Bertie asked.

        “I could,” Ekaterina replied, “though it will happen when it’s ready.  I must feel the pain before I push down hard for the first time, or that is how mama Kamchatka said it would be.”

        “You have cute paws mama,” Patch said.  Ekaterina, smiling, settled Bertie on the rugs, rolled onto her back and waved her hind paws at Patch, who blew on her pads, making her squeal with laughter.

        “You have very cute paws mama Ekaterina,” Patch said, kissing Ekaterina’s right hind paw, Ekaterina giggling cubbishly.

        “I wonder when I’ll want to give birth to Bertie.”  She asked.

        “Give your body time to get in the mood,” Patch said, “you’ve only just relieved the stress of your other cubbing.”

         “Can I stroke your hind paws mama?”  Bertie asked.  Ekaterina smiled and let Bertie stroke her paws.

      “You have really cute paws mama,” Bertie said, Ekaterina laughing merrily and curling her toes slightly.

        “I’ve seen her curl her toes in real pain,” Patch said, “and then she’s got vulnrable paws.”

        “I saw the birth of little Rowena,” Bertie said, “and yes Ekaterina pushed harder than she’d ever done before it seemed.”  Ekaterina thought of giving birth to Bertie, and felt her toes flexing in preparation.

       “I could do it right now,” she said.

         “Easy mama,” Patch said, rubbing his mate’s ears with a soothing paw.

       “I love his paws,” Ekaterina said.  Bertie giggled:

        “Patch has got cute paws, that are for sure,” he said.

        “Can I look at and touch you Bertie?”  Patch asked.  Bertie crawled to the large male bear, Patch exploring him with his paws, then grooming him thoroughly.

        “I think you could be my cub too,” Patch said, “You have the right stature and paws, and everything.”  Bertie laughed merrily.

        “I’ve herd you gave birth to a cub too,” he said, “Is this true?”  Patch confirmed that it was.

       “I’m glad,” Bertie replied, “I could imagine you giving birth to a cub, it would be a gentle birth I think.”

        “It would hurt me a good deal,” Patch replied, “but I’d do it all again.”  Bertie snuggled up to Patch.

       “Will you help mama Ekaterina?”  He asked.

      “Depends if she wants me to,” Patch replied.

       “I do want you to,” Ekaterina said, “I’d love to have your energy within me too.”

 

 

Back in the house Nuru stretched out on the rug in his den watching his mate Tess, who was  very heavy with cub.  He watched her stretching her paws and back as she yawned expansively.

       “I love it when you do that,” he said to her, Tess grinning and wiggling her toes at him, Nuru kissing her pads.

         “Our cub is happy with your play,” Tess laughed, “its turning cartwheels inside me!  Oooah!”  Nuru watched as Tess closed her eyes in some discomfort, though her manner was happy.  Nuru watched his mate gasping and panting as her cub settled.

       “It’s really uncomfortable!”  Tess whimpered, “but kind of cute too.”

        “Soon you’ll be having cubs then mama?”  Little Ellie asked.  Tess smiled at her cub.

        “I will be,” she said, “and I will probably scream the roof off as I did when I had you.”

       “I saw my birth,” Ellie said, “it was amazing!  You tried so hard to push me out.”  Tess smiled:

       “I had no choice,” she replied, “I had to push right down into my tail.”  Sarafina padded in with Kosey, the liger cub curling up next to Tess.

         “I’ve seen my mama’s struggle to deliver me, and it was a toe curling, screaming experience for her,”  Kosey said.  Sarafina laughed:

        “I loved it though,” she said, “I’ve seen the video many times, and my toes still curl with emotion.”

 

 

Meanwhile, in Lilly’s lie up, Lilly lay on her rug, thinking deeply about the last few days.  She could hardly believe her luck.  She was in a lovely safe place, with people she loved; yes she loved Patch, Kamchatka and Ekaterina.  Lilly examined Patch in her mind, the bear she’d seen in her dream, the half bear half man she’d seen in the big tent, and the bear who’d planted a kiss on her pads while she pressed them hard against the bars of her cage.

       “He looks handsome in that floppy hat, long coat and trousers,” she thought.  Lilly got to her feet, stretched her back and padded from the room, padding along to the great room where a huge badger stood in front of all the community cubs who sat in rows before her.  She was about to start a class it seemed.

       “Am I disturbing anything?”  Lilly asked.  Furcone looked at her and smiled:

       “Come, sit down and listen,” she said.  Lilly sat down and surveyed the ranks of cubs.  Her eyes fell on patch, who sat with Ekaterina and Bertie.

        “What happens here?”  Lilly asked.  Furcone told her:

       “We badgers tell tales,” she said, “tales of the community, some ancient, some very modern, and some quite fantastical to the young cubs.”

       “I had a very strange thing happen to me,” Lilly replied, “a real man of a bear came to the circus and rescued me, bringing me here.”

        “What did this man bear look like?”  Furcone asked, her eyes shining.”

        “Do you want me to tell the cubs of my life?”  Lilly asked.  Furcone smiled:

       “We were going to tell the story of Nuru’s arrival and reform from a wild lion to a gentle creature, but, well, hmm, we could change plans, and let you guide the cub’s curious minds and paws through your life to date.”

        “I owe my life to a man bear,” Lilly said, “he’s handsome and cute as well.”  A man bears?”  Furcone asked, though her expression told Lilly she knew the tale already, “tell us of this man bear, but first, tell us of your life Lilly.”  Lilly, dry mouthed and damp pawed, found her paws taking her before the assembled group.