Growing up, having cubs, and other things too.

 

Shen and Weici sat together, Weici stroking her cub’s forepaws.  Shen liked these times with his mum, just the two of them alone.  Shen loved his sire Geming, but Geming was awkward around his son cub, as if he felt he wasn’t welcome in Shen’s life, which was about as far from the truth as he could get.  Now was the time for Weici and Shen alone though.  Shen asked his mum about his birth.  Weici, chewing on a stick of bamboo, considered her cub’s question.

       “Shen,” she said ashamed, “Dear cub, to tell you the truth, I didn’t know I was pregnant with you my dear, not until, until you arrived.  I thought I’d eaten something which disagreed with me, then, then, once I’d got rid of everything I could, the pains continued, then, well, you arrived.  I’ve been trying to get pregnant for ages, and we couldn’t.  Then, then, you came along.  I pushed hard, so, so very hard, and you came into the world.  I love you Shen, and so does your sire.”  Shen hugged his mum tightly.  Weici returned her cub’s hug, feeling his warm fur and boundless energy.

      “I’ve heard you like playing with your paws mama?”  Shen said.  Weici grinned:

      “Playing with my hind paws you mean?”  She asked.  Shen smiled:

      “Yes,” he replied.  Weici smiled, released her cub, and took hold of her right hind paw in her forepaws, Shen touching her fore and hind paws.

       “Did you play with your hind feet during my birth?”  Shen asked.  Weici smiled:

      “Why do you ask?”

      “Because playing with my hind paws makes me feel good, I wondered if it makes you feel good too.”  Shen enquired.  Weici smiled and nodded:

       “Playing with my toes and massaging the soles of my paws helped a great deal, as did lots of groaning and rolling about,” she replied.  Shen nodded:

       “I saw the infra red footage of my birth; pity the light was bad that day.  I would have liked to have seen how it really was.”  Weici smiled:

       “I could re-enactit for you right now,” she said.  Pacing, sit ups and everything.  Mind you, I’d need a helper, for that day, I had Chowilawu help me give birth to you.”

      “Chowilawu told me the tale,” Shen replied, “He’s so gentle mama.”  Weici grinned:

      “I know,” she replied.

 

Meanwhile, in another part of the house, Young Elsa and Pipin were playing their favourite game, the cubbing game, where Elsa pretended to give birth to a cub, and Pipin helped her, then once the cub was born, Pipin played the part of the newborn cub, a role which ended in lots of play for both.  Elsa and Pipin had played the game four times already, each game taking an hour.  After a break for a drink and food, Elsa and Pipin got down to recreating another birth.  Elsa, her fur already bathed in sweat, readied herself for another labour.  Planning her act.  Would she make it an easy birth, or a difficult one? Would she have a gentle labour, or a noisy struggle to deliver her cub.

 

Elsa paced about her lie up, Pipin watching her.  He could see her nervousness in her eyes.

      “What’s happening?”  He asked.  Elsa padded towards him and sat down heavily, picking nervously at the rug with the toes of her right forepaw.

        “Cub’s coming, I think,” she replied, “things are, well, moving inside me, changing, getting ready for something.”  Pipin laid his paw on Elsa’s belly, and the young lioness groaned softly.

       “First contractions?”  Pipin asked.  Elsa, panting slightly, nodded:

       “Just little ones,” she mewed, “it’s gonna get a lot worse very soon.”  Elsa got to her feet and began lifting each hind paw in turn, tightly curling and stretching the toes of each hind paw and placing her paws on the ground.  Pipin watched this display, noticing Elsa had pink black pads on the soles of her paws.  He watched as she raised her right hind paw off the floor, tightly curled the toes of that paw, held them curled for a few seconds, then stretched them as far as she could, before placing that paw on the rug and repeating the process with her left hind.

      “Does that help?”  Pipin asked.  Elsa didn’t answer, because she couldn’t.  Lowering her head, she opened her mouth and wailed with pain.

        Owwwwwwwwwwwwoooooooowwwwwwww!”  Stamping her paws, she collapsed onto her side, curling round and grabbing the toes of her right hind foot in her forepaws, squeezing them, Elsa roared in agony.

      “Ow! Ahawhowwwwwwwwww!”  Breathing deeply, Elsa began tearing up the rug she was lying on, her claws ripping it to shreds.  Pipin looked concerned, for this wasn’t acting, Elsa was in real pain.

      “What’s happening?”  Elsa gasped, closing her eyes and straining hard, “owwwwwwwww! Ooooooooowwwwwww!”  Pipin stared in horror as Elsa lay full length on the remains of the rug, all four paws pedalling the air, her toes tightly curled.

         “I must push, must push!”  Elsa whimpered, bearing down with all her strength.  Pipin watched anxiously, seeing Elsa’s tail straining backwards, it had never done this in all their play, but was clearly doing so now.  Suddenly fluid exploded from Elsa, the lioness squealing and growling.

       “Oh, oh no!”  She whimpered, “I must push again!  I can’t help it Pipin!”  Pipin now could see why Elsa couldn’t help pushing, something was emerging into the light of day, and it looked like a cub, a tiny cub!”  Pipin crept closer, Elsa screaming into his face as she bore down against her cub.

       “You’re having a cub Elsa!”  Pipin exclaimed, Elsa shaking her head, her eyes closed and face screwed up in agony.

      “Can’t be,” she gasped, “can’t be having a cub!  Not possible, it’s just not possible!!  But it feels so real!  Must push again, get, just got to push?”  Elsa replied, bearing down with clenched teeth, extended claws and tightly shut eyes.

       Ooooowhwhwhwhwhwwhwhwwhwhawhwhwhwhwwh!”Elsa whimpered as her labour came to an end.  Pipin looked at the tiny cub Elsa had given birth to; it was barely alive, covered in blood and mucus.  Pipin bringing the cub to Elsa, the two big cats stared down at the cub for a few minutes.

        “How?”  Pipin asked.

       “Oh, oh no,” Elsa whimpered, “Pipin, we mated a few weeks ago, remember?”

     “But that was playtime, we were playing games, like the cubbing thing,” Pipin protested.

       “We mated, and now, now we have a cub,” Elsa mewed, “my play acting must have brought on the real labour, and now we have a cub.”  Pipin was shocked into silence; he was only a year old, Elsa nearly two.

      “We’re too young for this!”  He mewed sadly.  Elsa looked at the tiny cub.

       “Let’s just leave it to die, then bury it,” Pipin suggested, “NO ONE will know what happened today.”

        “But the cameras showed them everything,” Elsa mewed, licking dispiritedly at the cub, “We can’t hide this Pipin.”  Elsa realised she had no milk for the cub, nothing for it.  Her licking stirred the cub to life, and it began nuzzling Elsa for milk, milk which she knew she just didn’t have.

       “Oh Pipin, what are we gonna do?”  Elsa asked.  Pipin stared in incomprehension at the struggling cub, and then touched it with a paw.

       “You have no milk for the cub, so let it die,” Pipin mewed.  Elsa looked at the cub, it was female, with big paws, tightly shut eyes and the most beautiful face she’d seen.

      “No, I can’t let her die,” Elsa mewed, “its wrong; the consequences of our actions should not be laid at her door.  She should not pay for our reckless games.  I will go to Theo and ask him what should be done.  He will know.”

      “I think we’ve just been found out,” Pipin mewed.  Theo padded into the lie up, settling himself beside Elsa.

       “Theo,” Elsa mewed desperately, “what do we do?”

  Theo looked at the tiny cub, which Elsa passed to him.  The tiny female cub looked weak, very weak.

       “How do we feed her?”  Elsa asked, “I can’t feed her, I’ve got no milk!”

       “What the hell’s going on?”  Leo demanded, bursting into the lie up.

       “I think you know,” Theo mewed, “Elsa and Pipin have just had a cub.”  Leo curled his toes into the rug to stop himself exploding with anger.

       “I told you, told you Elsa!”  He snarled, very upset, “that that, that playing at cubbing would lead to awful things!”  Theo looked at the male lion’s face.  Leo was concerned rather than enraged.

       “We were playing Leo,” Elsa mewed, “but now, now it’s not play, it’s real, and we have a cub, and she’s tiny, and we can’t let her die!”

       “Who can we ask?”  Leo mewed to Theo.”

       “I might be able to help,” Pakshalika mewed, padding into the lie up.  Leo stared at the tigress.

       “But you’re, you’re a tigress!”  He exclaimed.

      “I have milk Leo,” Pakshalika mewed, “don’t let a little thing like stripes cloud your judgement.  Give me your grand cub for four weeks, and, Eohippus willing, I’ll return to you a strong healthy female lion cub.”  Leo looked uncertain, but Elsa was relieved.

      “Thank you Pakshalika, thank you!”  She exclaimed.  Pakshalika kissed Elsa’s nose, the lioness looking up into the tigress’s eyes, her own full of tears.

        “I can hardly believe what’s gone on today,” she mewed.  Pakshalika hugged Elsa tightly.

      “We’ll get through this,” she said gently.  Elsa clearly felt ashamed.

     “We were only playing at cubbing,” Elsa mewed, “but, but then, then, the pain became real, and I had to push, push, and push again, so hard too!”  Pakshalika kissed Elsa’s nose and picked up the newborn cub, which was frantically looking for milk.  Padding away to her lie up with Elsa’s cub, Pakshalika reviewed all the events which had taken place.  Pakshalika had seen Elsa and Pipin playing all day, and now they had a real cub.  Pakshalika settled down to feeding the cub, little Tinka joining her some time later.  Tinka bounced into the lie up; excited by the news she’d heard concerning events of the last few hours, which had travelled through the community like wildfire.

     “So Elsa had a cub!”  Tinka mewed, padding up to her mum.  Pakshalika grinned hugely and showed Tinka the newborn cub.  Tinka stared at the cub, and then settled down beside her mama, watching Pakshalika feed the cub.  Tinka examined the lion cub from nose to tiny paws.

       “She’s so tiny!”  Tinka mewed.  Pakshalika smiled, embracing the LION cub in her huge warm paws.

      “You look so natural with her mum,” Tinka said.  Pakshalika smiled broadly, setting to grooming the cub.

 

Meanwhile, back in Elsa’s family lie up, Theo was comforting Elsa and Pipin.  Elsa, still sore from her cub’s birth, lay exhausted on the shredded rug.

      “What do we do now?”  Elsa asked.  Leo rounded on her:

      “Stop playing cubbing games!”  He snapped.

       “Don’t be hard on her Leo,” Theo mewed, “Pipin and Elsa conceived their cub in love, even if it was a little earlier than they intended.

      “My daughter cub has become a lioness before her time!”  Leo wailed, venting his true feelings.

       “She can still play like a cub I’m sure,” Theo mewed, “though she won’t be playing at cubbing any more.”

 

Meanwhile, in Kamchatka and Conrad’s lie up, Conrad and Kamchatka woke after an afternoon’s nap.  Conrad woke first.  Gently exploring his sleeping mate with his paws, he found Kamchatka was sucking the toes of her left forepaw.  Conrad was so gentle with his paws; he knew he would not wake his mate.  Stroking Kamchatka from nose to paw pads, Conrad fell in love with his mate all over again, from her nose, to her wrinkled paw pads.  It was when he was gently counting the toes on her right hind foot that Kamchatka woke, and gently curled the toes of her right hind foot around those of Conrad’s left fore.

       “Counting my toes Conrad?”  Kamchatka yawned, “Are they still all there?”  Conrad traced the large sole pad of Kamchatka’s right hind foot with his free forepaw, Kamchatka giggling:

       “That tickles!”  She laughed, releasing his left fore.  Conrad kissed the sole pad of his mate’s right hind foot, Kamchatka laughing with pleasure.

        “I love the way your sole pads bunch up when you curl your toes Kamchatka,” Conrad said.  Kamchatka sat up and held her right hind foot in her forepaws, feeling how the sole pads bunched up as she curled her toes.

      “It’s cute yes,” she said, “Can I touch your hind paws?”  Conrad smiled and settled down.

      “My hind paws are yours,” he said, Kamchatka taking his left hind foot in her forepaws.  Kamchatka stroked the sole pads and toes of Conrad’s hind paws, the male bear pressing his toes into his mate’s paws.  Kamchatka let go of Conrad’s hind feet after an hour of gentle massaging of pads and toes, then hugged him hard, enveloping him in a huge bear hug.  Conrad, being smaller than Kamchatka herself, was easy for the female grizzly bear to hug.  Conrad snuggled up to his mate, enjoying her warmth and proximity.

       “You have the most gorgeous paws Conrad,” Kamchatka said, “your fur is white, your nose and paw pads black.  You are so handsome to look at.

        “What I remember of you, or what I could see of you, you are beautiful Kamchatka.  But I have to move with the times and replace images of you with the memories of how your fur and paw pads feel to my paws,”  Conrad replied.

      “How do they feel?”  Kamchatka asked.

       “You have softer fur on your belly, but your back fur, leg and paw fur  is slightly rougher.  Your paw pads are wrinkled and rough, with tough skin.  I love every inch of you Kamchatka.”  Kamchatka giggled with pleasure.

       “I love every inch of you too,” she replied, “for I’ve tried exploring you with my paws, it feels great.”  Conrad smiled broadly.

       “I think love by the paw is wonderful,” he said.  Kamchatka kissed his nose, hugging him tightly:

       “I agree, she replied.  Conrad and Kamchatka measured paws, Conrad’s paws a little smaller than his mate’s.

        “Hey, you’ve got little paws too!”  Kamchatka said, “They are so cute!”  Conrad laughed merrily.

      “I have never thought of my paws as cute,” he said, “but to another bear that’s got larger paws than mine, I suppose they are.”  Kamchatka pressed her pads against Conrad’s, then enveloped his right hind foot in her forepaws and pressed it against her own left hind.

       “I can feel glue beginning to form on the pads of our paws,” Conrad said, “if we press our hind paws hard together for a few minutes longer, they’ll be bonded well.”  Kamchatka giggled:

      “Shall we?”  She asked.  Conrad smiled:

      “Yes let’s,” he said.  Kamchatka released her hold on Conrad’s paw and pressed her hind feet hard against his, feeling his pressure on her hind paws.

       “Push harder Conrad, harder!”  Kamchatka encouraged, Conrad pressing against her hind paws using all his strength.

        “Push Conrad, push!  Push with those hind feet!”  Kamchatka encouraged, Conrad pressing down with all his might.

        “I can’t push you backwards!”  He yelled.  Suddenly Kamchatka rolled onto her back, drew her hind feet to her, grabbed them with her forepaws and rolled about on the floor snarling and growling.

      “What?”  Conrad asked.

       “My hind feet were burning!”  She panted.

       “Too much energy?”  Conrad asked.  Kamchatka let go of her hind paws, grabbed Conrad’s right hind foot in her paws and kissed his pads.

        “I love your paws!”  She exclaimed.  Kamchatka lay down and grabbed her hind feet with her forepaws once more, Conrad getting paws on with her.

       “You are so cute Kamchatka!”  He said.  Kamchatka wriggled with pleasure as Conrad’s paws worked over her body.  Smiling broadly, Kamchatka submitted to her mate’s ministrations.

 

Meanwhile, in Pakshalika’s lie up, Bianca watched as Pakshalika fed Elsa’s cub.

      “You’ve had two cubs in two years,”  Bianca mewed, “now your being a surrogate mum to someone else’s,  What do you enjoy about the whole thing Pakshalika?”  Pakshalika looked up at Bianca.

       “I enjoy the birth and the raising of the cubs,” she replied, simply, “I enjoy the sensations of birth, how everything stretches to accommodate the cub, the feel of my toes curling, the panting, the pushing, everything.  Then, once the cub is born, nice and slowly, I then look after them with everything I have.  Some people enjoy playing with paws; I enjoy giving birth to, then raising cubs.  Of course, any cub will do, as long as they are going to survive on my milk or I have milk to give them.  Stealing cubs though, no way!”  Bianca had watched Pakshalika giving birth to her cubs, and the process had been noisy and animated, the births slow and gentle.  Bianca watched everything, from small contractions to heavy active labour.  Pakshalika had lain down and not got up for two hours, enduring a strong labour to deliver little Tinka.  Now, Bianca watched Pakshalika, Little Tinka cuddled up to her mum, nursing from her milk alongside Elsa’s tiny female cub.  

      “How was labour for you Bianca?”  Pakshalika asked.  Bianca looked pained:

        “Snowy’s birth was okay, Tommy’s took a lot out of me, as he was huge, and Whitie nearly slipped into the world without me noticing.  One heavy contraction and she was half way into the world.”  Pakshalika looked uncomfortable.

       “At least I knew how far along my cub was,” she mewed, “One push and the cub was half way out?”

      “You haven’t heard the rest,” Bianca said, knowing she was about to crown everything.”

       “Oh no, what?”  Pakshalika asked.  Bianca took Pakshalika’s paw in hers.

       “I staggered along to Ekaterina’s lie up, nearly crossing my hind legs to keep Whitie from slipping further into the world.  I got to Ekaterina’s lie up, spun tail onto her, and squatted, bracing my hind feet against the floor, pushing hard.  Ekaterina caught Whitie there and then!”  Pakshalika literally squirmed with discomfort.

      “Oh no!”  She whimpered, “I couldn’t imagine not being in control.”

       “Sometimes labour isn’t controllable Pakshalika dear,” Bianca mewed, “sometimes you just have to push as hard as you can.”  Pakshalika smiled:

       “I know,”  she replied, “you saw me pushing hard enough to push my cub through the soles of my hind paws when I was giving birth to little Tinka.”

       “Yes you looked as if you could bear down hard enough to force your cub through the soles of your hind feet,” Bianca replied.  Bianca gently touched the sole of Pakshalika’s right hind paw, Pakshalika giggling and curling her toes around the toes of Bianca’s right forepaw.

 

Meanwhile, Conrad and Kamchatka were crawling about their lie up, each chasing the other’s hind feet.  Conrad grabbed Kamchatka’s right hind foot at the third attempt, holding onto and tickling her pads.  Kamchatka wriggled and beat the floor with her forepaws, laughing helplessly.

       “Let go of my paw, let go of my paw!”  She implored, wriggling and kicking.  Conrad let go of Kamchatka’s right hind foot and then pounced on her, rolling her over onto her back and tickling her belly, Kamchatka drawing her hind feet to her, laughing helplessly.

       “I want you to play with my paws!”  Kamchatka begged Conrad.  Conrad played with his mate’s paws, Kamchatka wriggling with pleasure and pressing her paws into his.  Kamchatka wriggled and snarled like a cub, Conrad guessing the game she wanted to play and gently stroking her belly and the soles of her thrashing paws while making soothing sounds until she calmed down.  Sighing with contentment, Kamchatka let her body relax.

       “Now I know a little of how you soothed Ekaterina,” Kamchatka said.  Conrad laughed and kissed her nose.

      “I loved playing with Ekaterina when she was a cub,” he said, “but now, now she’s no cub, she wants cubs of her own.”

       “But I will still play with you,” Ekaterina said, padding into the lie up.  Conrad turned to her, and Ekaterina sat down and snuggled up to her sire.

       “Play with me please Conrad, rub me down and play with my paws,” Ekaterina begged.  Conrad played with his daughter cub’s paws and rubbed her down, loving her from nose to tail, Ekaterina wriggling and giggling with pleasure.  Kamchatka watched her mate and cub playing, Ekaterina batting at her sire’s paws while he stroked her pads and played with her toes.  Conrad soon had his cub quietened down, Ekaterina comatose with pleasure.  Kamchatka watched her mate working with her cub, wishing her own paws were enveloped by Conrad’s.  Kamchatka loved the contrast between Ekaterina’s creamy fur and black paw pads.  She had seen her own pads in a mirror, and brown fur set against black paw pads did not look so pleasing.  Kamchatka looked up at the sound of heavy padded paws entering the room.  Kuruk padded in, waved a cheery paw at Kamchatka, and then said to Conrad and Ekaterina:

       “Kuruk want come play too.”  Ekaterina, unable to help herself, squealed with delight, ran to her brother and hugged him, leaving Conrad confused and bewildered.

        “What’s happening?”  He asked.  Ekaterina dragged her brother over to Conrad and Kuruk hugged the male polar bear, Conrad snorting with surprise as heavy paws embraced him.

      “Hey Kuruk, get off!”  Conrad protested, Kuruk enfolding Conrad in a huge hug.

       “He likes it really,” Kamchatka said.  Conrad unable to stop himself snuggling up to the large grizzly bear.  Kamchatka laughed at Conrad’s reticence, Kuruk letting go of his adopted sire and padding to his mama.  Sitting down beside her, Kuruk sat back and folded his forepaws over his belly.  Kamchatka looked at her son cub, got up, and padded from the room.  Going to the kitchen, Kamchatka got a bottle of warm milk for Kuruk.  Taking it back to her cub, she placed it in Kuruk’s paws, the grown grizzly bear smiling at his mama.

        “Kuruk glad of milk, thank you mama,” he said, drinking carefully from the bottle.

      “Is Kuruk pedalling the air with his hind feet yet mum?”  Ekaterina asked.  Kuruk snorted with disgust:

       “If Ekaterina want pedal air with paws, she lie on back and do thing herself,” he said.  Ekaterina padded to her brother, took the bottle from his paws and kissed his nose.

       “Dear Brother,” she said, nuzzling his cheek.  Kuruk returned her affection.

       “I do lie on my back drinking milk,” Ekaterina replied, it feels wonderful to pedal the air with my hind feet.  Whether I’m dirking or not come to that.”  Kuruk smiled:

       “Kuruk know how Ekaterina look when she drink while pedalling with hind paws, she look cute!”  Ekaterina giggled and picked up the bottle, settling back and drinking busily, her hind paws pedalling the air with enthusiasm.  Kuruk laughed and kissed the pads of Ekaterina’s right hind paw, Ekaterina giggling with pleasure.

       “I love that!”  She enthused.  Kuruk examined Ekaterina’s face, forepaws, and belly and hind feet.  Loving every inch of her.  Ekaterina wriggled with pleasure as her brother kissed her pads.

       “Play with my paws Kuruk, please!”  Ekaterina begged.  Kuruk played with Ekaterina’s right hind paw, the female polar bear wriggling and laughing with pleasure.

 

The sound of stumbling paws made the bears look round.  A large female Labrador dog stumbled into the lie up; indeed, she crawled in, her face screwed up in pain.

      “I’ve, I was told to come in here!”  She whimpered, “Ow! Ooooowhwhwhwhwwhwhwwww!  I’m having, having a pup, a cub, whatever, I’m giving birth!  I was abandoned by my owners when they realised I was in labour!  Please help!”  She whimpered.  Kamchatka stared at the Labrador, her mind blank.

      “How?”  She asked, “I’ve never helped a dog give birth.”

       “I’ve helped a tigress,” Ekaterina replied, “I’ll help her.  The Labrador mother sat down heavily, grabbing the toes of her hind paws with her forepaws and curling them tightly together.  Whimpering with pain, she rocked back and fourth, the toes of all four paws locked tightly together, then, with a roar of pain, the mother dog r lay down heavily on the rug, pedalling the air with her paws, her toes tightly curled, and her mouth open in a wail of agony.  The Labrador bitch panted, clenched her teeth, closed her eyes and bore down strongly.

       “Take it easy,” Ekaterina said gently, “you’re safe my dear.”  The Labrador mother gasped and growled in pain.

       “The, the security, they heard me cry out when contractions started,”  she panted, “a lion, he told me to get into the house before I had the pups, now I’m here!”  Ekaterina held the mother’s right forepaw, the dog’s toes curling and relaxing with contractions, then curling hard as she bore down voluntarily.

      “Take a look at my pup!”  The Labrador begged.  Ekaterina touched the mother dog’s right hind foot, then ran her paw up her leg to her hock, then to the root of her tail and then to the pup, feeling the pup’s head pushing into her paws as the mother dog strained with all her might.

        “I can’t free the pup!”  The mama dog wailed.

     “Now push,” Ekaterina suggested, gently taking hold of the pup’s paws and pulling gently as the mother dog pushed.

      “Ow! Ow, ow oooow! It’s working, keep pulling!”  The mama dog begged.  Ekaterina pulled the pup while its mum pushed, the Labrador’s hind feet kicking Ekaterina’s right hind paw as the bear sat behind her, pulling on the pup’s body.  The mother dog gave herself up to screaming and pushing hard.  Ekaterina felt the large pup’s body come into the world, then its hind quarters, then, with the mother dog squeezing down hard, the pup’s hind paws.

       “Oooh, Oooh!  I’ve done it, I’ve done it!  I have given birth to my pup!”  The Labrador barked excitedly.  Ekaterina cleaned the pup up, and then handed it to her mum.

       “Well done mama,” she said.  The Labrador gazed at Ekaterina with adoring eyes.

       “I thank you from the bottom of my heart,” she said.  Ekaterina smiled and hugged the mama dog.

      “You are blind aren’t you,” The Labrador said.  Ekaterina looked surprised:

      “How did you know?”  She asked.  The Labrador smiled:

       “I was trained to be a guide dog, but failed my final test,” she replied, “I hate traffic.  So I know what a blind creature looks like.  I could tell for certain when you touched my paws that touch, so gentle, so inquisitive.  So I know.  I’m sorry for coming straight out with it.”

       “No problem,” Ekaterina replied.

      “What’s your name?”  The Labrador mother asked.  Ekaterina told her.

      “Ekaterina,” the dog said, placing her left forepaw in Ekaterina’s right, “my name’s Lucy.  I’m very pleased to meet you.”  Ekaterina kissed Lucy’s nose, Lucy returning her kiss.

      “Now, feed your pup Lucy dear,” Ekaterina said.  Lucy settled down to doing just that.  Meanwhile, Kamchatka and Kuruk were staring at the mama dog and their youngest cub.

        “I can’t believe what I just saw!”  Kamchatka said.

       “Kuruk know Ekaterina can help mama do birthing thing,” Kuruk said, his eyes shining with pride in his sister’s achievement.

        “Would you like to explore me with your paws?”  Lucy asked Ekaterina.  Ekaterina smiled and replied that she would.

        “I know your forepaws very well,” Ekaterina said, “now to learn about the rest of your body.”  Lucy lay back and sighed contentedly as Ekaterina’s paws worked over her head, neck, body, legs, fat fore and hind paws, belly and tail.  Lucy couldn’t help wriggling and whimpering with pleasure at the bear’s touch,

       “I am honoured this day,” Ekaterina said.  Lucy laughed and wiggled her toes as Ekaterina’s forepaws embraced her right hind, then left hind foot.

      “Sit back,” Lucy said, “I’ve got a surprise for you Ekaterina.”  Ekaterina sat back, and felt Lucy place her newborn pup in her forepaws.

        “Hug her,” Lucy suggested.  Ekaterina hugged the large puppy tenderly, falling completely in love with her and her mother.

        “I love you both,” Ekaterina said.  Lucy kissed the furry tops of Ekaterina’s forepaws, then the pads of her hind paws too.

       “What name shall we give this pup?”  Ekaterina asked.  Lucy massaged Ekaterina’s right hind foot in both forepaws.

       “How about Lucky?”  Lucy asked.  Ekaterina grinned.

      “Lucky she is,” Ekaterina replied.  Lucy hugged her pup and then hugged the midwife who’d delivered her.

        “Stay a while,” Ekaterina invited.  Lucy smiled and thanked her.

        “You put me to shame Ekaterina,” Kamchatka said.

       “Why mama?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “You’re so calm when dealing with sudden problems,” Kamchatka replied, “that stuck pup for instance; you just pulled her out, no fuss.”  Ekaterina smiled:

       “Mum,” she said, “you’ve not got paws on with a birth since little Jinghua’s birth over a year ago.  I know this.  You need to get back into the thick of it, but you’re frightened to try it seems.”

       “I fear more than you because I know what it is to have a stuck cub,” Kamchatka replied, “Ekaterina, you got stuck while being born.”

       “I know that,” Ekaterina replied, “but that’s not the norm mum.  I know little Tinka was a bit of a squeeze for Pakshalika to give birth to, but that’s how things go in a community with good food and no predation, the cubs get bigger.  Your next cub won’t have the problems I had when being born.  I’ve looked into this, and all the problems during birth have been with wild mamas who have not had a community cub yet.  The birth of their first community cub stretches things, and then they can give birth to subsequent cubs with ease.”  Kamchatka padded to her daughter cub and kissed her nose.

        “You were wonderful!”  She said.  Ekaterina laughed:

      “Thanks,” she replied.

 

Lucy curled up in the corner, feeding her pup once more.  Conrad padded over to his daughter cub and took her paw.

       “You were fantastic,” he said.  Ekaterina kissed his nose.

      “Thanks,” she replied.

 

Samson padded in, his eyes on stalks.

       “I’ve been otherwise engaged!”  He panted, “Bloody meetings!  Those dam tigers!  How’s the mama dog?  I found her, she was screaming, in pain, it was horrible!”  Ekaterina covered her face with her paws, knowing what was coming.

       “Ekaterina was wonderful,” Lucy said.  Samson stared at her:

       “Ekaterina helped you have your cub, I mean pup?”  He asked.

       “Yes,” Lucy replied, “it was wonderful.  She helped pull the pup as I pushed, and she was so gentle!”  Almost squirming with embarrassment, Ekaterina got to her paws and fled for the door, brushing past Samson, the lion sticking out a paw and tripping her.

     “Oi!”  She complained, almost tripping over her own paws in her effort to stay on her feet, “that was horrible!”  Samson tried to block Ekaterina’s path, but Conrad wouldn’t have it, lifting the startled lion off his paws and placing him gently in the spot where his daughter cub had been sitting.

      “Now sit there like a good kitty until she’s well away,” he said, Samson staring after Ekaterina.

        “She’s embarrassed,” Kamchatka said.

     “Kuruk following sister Ekaterina,” Kuruk grunted, getting to his paws and leaving the room.

 

Kuruk met Ekaterina in the kitchen.

      “I didn’t want to hear Samson praising me up to the point where it got stupid!”  Ekaterina said, “Kuruk, he would have gone on about how wonderful I’d been, being blind n’all.  I know it!”  Kuruk hugged Ekaterina tightly.

 

Meanwhile, in Kamchatka’s lie up, Samson was talking to Kamchatka.

      “I can’t believe what Ekaterina did!”  He exclaimed, having viewed the video, “she’s amazing!”

      “She’s had plenty of practises,” Kamchatka replied.

      “But she’s blind, so how can she be so gentle with the mama dog?”  Samson asked.

       “Her eyes are affected, her paws are fine,” Kamchatka replied.

       “I must sound so silly,” Samson gabbled.

       “You do, now shut up and leave,” Conrad replied.  Samson, mindful of Conrad’s crane job done on him earlier, left with all speed.

 

Meanwhile, in Ekaterina’s lie up, Kuruk watched as Chowilawu played with Ekaterina, the male polar bear tracing the pads and toes of his mate’s hind paws with the toes of his forepaws, Ekaterina loving every minute of it.  Ekaterina wriggled and twisted from time to time, sighing with pleasure, but all too soon groaning with pain.  Kuruk and Chowilawu knew what this meant, and realised they were about to witness Ekaterina recreating a cubbing.

       “Tell me if you want help,” Chowilawu said softly.  Ekaterina sat up and whimpered with discomfort:

       “I’ll need, need help,” she panted, “ow! Ow, ow, ow!  Uoah, ow!”  Ekaterina grabbed her right hind paw in her forepaws and began squeezing hard.

       Awooooooowhwhwhwhw!”  She wailed.  Chowilawu stroked the pads of Ekaterina’s left hind paw, the female polar bear curling and relaxing her toes with increasing urgency.

       “Ow Chowilawu, ow!”  Ekaterina complained, crawling about the lie up, her body and paws bathed in sweat, “this hurts so much, so much!  Must push, ooowww!  Ooooooooawhwwhwhwhwh!”  Chowilawu massaged Ekaterina’s hind paws, stroking her curling toes and bunching pads as she struggled with her contractions.

       “Keep, Keep stroking my feet!”  Ekaterina begged, “Ooooawwwww!  It’s helping, but, but I must sit back on my heels a bit!”  Ekaterina sat back on her heels, her forepaws flat on the floor, panting and bouncing a bit on her backside.  Then squatting, she bore down hard.

      “Ouch!  Ouououoch!  Aowhwhwhwhwouch!”  She screamed, straining with curled toes while screaming lustily, her mouth open wide and eyes tight shut.

       “Push Ekaterina push!”  Chowilawu encouraged, Ekaterina wriggling between contractions.

       “I am, I am, I am!”  She wailed, “I can’t push any harder!  But I must try!”  Ekaterina bore down with everything she had:

       Owhwhwhwhwhwhwwhwh!  She screamed.  Then, collapsing onto her side, she thrashed about with all four paws, and then rolled onto her back, drawing her hind feet to her and bearing down with all she had.  Chowilawu let Ekaterina settle, then went to her, then kissed and massaged the pads of her right hind paw, feeling the curled toes of her right hind foot and her right forepaw tightly gripping the pads of her hind foot.  Ekaterina relaxed for a few seconds and managed to catch Chowilawu’s paw between her right hind and forepaw, squeezing it hard with the next contraction.

      “Cub’s coming, coming!”  Ekaterina squealed.  Growling, she lay on her side, kicking with her hind feet as she panted and writhed. 

      “Sit down opposite me Chowilawu, please!”  Ekaterina begged.  Chowilawu did so, and Ekaterina sat on her backside, pressed her hind feet against her mate’s and began pushing hard down against the cub.  Chowilawu felt Ekaterina’s toes pressing into his pads, startled by the force she was exerting with her hind paws as she bore down against the cub.

       “Cub’s so close!”  Ekaterina sobbed, “Must, must lie on my side again now, ooooawwwwwoah!”  Stretching full length on her side, Ekaterina covered her mouth with her forepaws, drew her hind feet up and bore down, screaming loudly and wriggling in agony.

      “The cub’s forepaws are out!”  Chowilawu said, gently stroking the sweating pads of Ekaterina’s right hind paw.  Ekaterina whimpered in acknowledgement and bore down with a strangled cry.

       “The head’s coming now!”  She wailed, Oooh, I can feel it, I can feel it!  It’ hurts! Hurts so much! Ow! Ohowowowowo!”  Ekaterina hugged Chowilawu, lying in his lap, screaming and clinging to him.  Then she let go of him, spun round, and collapsed onto her side, wriggling and whimpering, crying and growling.

     “I must push!”  Ekaterina sobbed, bearing down with all her might.  Chowilawu told Ekaterina the cub’s body was coming, this news greeted by screaming and pedalling paws.

        “Ooowww!  This cub’s huge!”  Ekaterina sobbed, kicking at Chowilawu’s right forepaw with both hind feet.  Chowilawu had deliberately put his paw in the way of his mate’s kicking hind feet so he could feel her force, and she was really kicking!

       “Now push gently, very gently!”  He said, Ekaterina gasping and sobbing as she carried out his instructions.

     “Cub’s here now, its here!”  She gasped, panting and sniffing.

      “Why do sister Ekaterina do re-enactcubbing thing?”  Kuruk asked, having been on the edge of his seat since the whole thing had started over an hour ago.

       “It’s stimulating, it’s a way of exercising my mind and body, it’s a reason to scream and roar with impunity, while kicking and struggling.  If I’m angry, it is better to take it out on myself than on another creature, and I love the process of birth,”  Ekaterina replied, “that’s why we all re-enactcubbings I suppose.”

       “Kuruk go to clearing with bottle and suck down milk while pedalling air with hind paws when he gets very upset,” Kuruk replied, “is it like that?”  Ekaterina replied that it was.

       “I can’t imagine you recreating a cubbing,” Ekaterina replied laughing, “that would be too much.”  Kuruk smiled:

      “Kuruk see Nanuq Junior do cubbing acting thing, and he convincing,” the grizzly bear replied.

       “Chowilawu,” Ekaterina asked, “do you like me acting out cubbings?”  Chowilawu smiled and took his mate’s sweat soaked left forepaw in both of his.

        “I love getting paws on with you,” he replied, “whether you’re cubbing or not.

      “Which part of my act did you like best?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “When you caught my forepaw in yours and squeezed it against your hind,” Chowilawu replied, “that was intense, I could feel your sweat, your effort and need to deliver your cub.”  Ekaterina smiled:

       “I wanted to have that cub,” she replied, “I wanted it so much!”

      “But we’re too young, we don’t want to end up in Pipin and Elsa’s situation,” Chowilawu replied.  Ekaterina hugged him, Chowilawu smelling her scent and feeling her heat.

      “I know,” she replied, “but for a minute, I thought I could feel the cub emerging.  When I was lying on my side and drew my hind feet up, I thought for a second I was going to deliver a cub.  Now, for the time being at least, my need to kick and scream is sated.  I can wait now.”

      “I loved the feeling of your pads bunching under my paws,” Chowilawu said.  Ekaterina smiled:

      “When I said your touch helped, I meant it with all my heart,” she replied, “pushing with my hind feet against yours was great too.”  Chowilawu kissed Ekaterina’s nose, then the damp pads of all four of her paws.

       “I know we can’t have cubs yet, and to have one would be crazy,” Ekaterina replied, “but for a minute, I wanted my cubbing to be real.”  Chowilawu hugged her tightly, snarling like a cub, making Ekaterina laugh.

      “You’re too big!”  She said.

       “You said you had a big cub,” Chowilawu said laughing.  Ekaterina pressed her hind paws against her mate’s.

       “I wonder if our hind feet will become stuck together.”  She asked.

      “Do you want your pads to stick to mine?”  Chowilawu replied.  Ekaterina shifted slightly, pressing her toes against her mate’s.

       “I want it, I want to become hopelessly stuck to you, so stuck that it takes a screaming, tugging effort to free ourselves...”

      “Ok Ekaterina, push hard, now!”  Chowilawu encouraged.  Ekaterina pushed hard against her mate’s hind paws with her own, gasping and panting with effort.

      “Push with as much commitment as you did when bearing down against your cub!”  Chowilawu encouraged.  Ekaterina pushed with all her might!  Chowilawu, enjoying the challenge, pressed his hind feet hard against Ekaterina’s.

      “Right, let’s, let’s see if it’s worked,” Ekaterina panted.  Chowilawu embraced his mate’s left and his right hind foot with his forepaws, pressing his and her toes together, while Ekaterina did the same for her right hind and his left hind.

     “Now, now let’s see if our pads are stuck together,” Chowilawu said.  Tugging at his hind paw, he couldn’t free it from Ekaterina’s.  Ekaterina pulled at her right hind foot, while Chowilawu pulled at his left hind foot, both finding they couldn’t work their hind feet free.

      “It’s worked, it’s worked!”  Ekaterina laughed, “Our feet are stuck together!”  Chowilawu explored the toes of his right hind and Ekaterina’s left hind foot.

      “Even our toes are well glued,” he said.  Ekaterina giggled and leant forward, kissing her mate’s nose as he leant foreword playing with the toes of her left hind foot.

      “This is lovely!”  Ekaterina said, bouncing about and tugging at her right hind foot with her forepaws, “I can’t free my hind feet!  Oh yeah!”  Chowilawu giggled:

      “I love the touch of your paw pads against mine,” he replied.  Ekaterina worked the toes of her left forepaw between her left hind and Chowilawu’s right hind foot, Chowilawu whimpering as he felt the bond between their pads breaking.

        “Ow, ow ow ow!”  He complained.  Ekaterina snarled as her toes met real resistance, pushing hard; she managed to work her toes further, Chowilawu pressing his left hind foot hard against his mate’s forepaw trying to bond her forepaw between her hind and his.  Ekaterina tugged frantically at her foot, knowing exposure to his pressure would bond her forepaw to her hind, and his hind foot to her forepaw.  Snarling, Ekaterina fought to free herself, Chowilawu to keep the bond between her fore and hind paws and his hind feet.  Ekaterina dragged her right hind foot free as far as her toes would allow, Chowilawu whimpering the whole way.  Then Ekaterina took a good hold of her right hind foot with both forepaws and tugged hard, pressing hard with her left hind paw for leverage.  Chowilawu squealed as Ekaterina’s right hind paw sprang free of his.

       “I can play that game too!”  Chowilawu snarled, working the toes of his right hind paw between the pads of his right hind foot and her left hind.  Ekaterina whimpered and complained, just as Chowilawu had, even trying the same trick he had.  Closing her eyes and concentrating hard on bracing her left hind paw against the toes of his right fore.  Chowilawu snarled as his forepaw was trapped between his right hind and Ekaterina’s left hind.

      “The glue’s got my forepaw!”  Chowilawu gasped, “I can’t free it!”  Ekaterina explored her right hind foot with her forepaws, picking slowly at her toes, trying to free herself inch by inch.

       “I’ll try from my side,” she replied.  Within five minutes she’d freed the toes of her left hind foot, and then she began attacking the pads of her paw, wiggling her toes, trying to lift her heel away from Chowilawu’s forepaw, putting pressure on his forepaw with the ball of her left hind paw.  Chowilawu felt the toes of Ekaterina’s left forepaw working to free her left hind foot.  Panting, he screwed up his face, as if enduring the pain of having the fur of his left forepaw ripped out.  Suddenly Ekaterina tore her left hind paw free, she and Chowilawu squealing with pain and triumph.

      “We’re free!”  They yelled.  Kuruk, having watched veering for four hours, touched Ekaterina’s left hind paw with his forepaws.

       “Can Kuruk play with Sister Ekaterina now?”  He asked.  Ekaterina kissed his nose.

      “Let me relieve myself, then you can,” she replied, getting to her paws.  Kuruk watched Chowilawu and Ekaterina leave.

      “Kuruk love those two,” he thought.

 

Meanwhile, Elsa was visiting her cub.  Blind as the cub was, Pakshalika had made sure the cub knew what was going on.  She’d told her as soon as she could of the situation in which the cub would find herself.  Elsa spent most of her time with the cub, playing with her, grooming and keeping her clean, leaving feeding to Pakshalika.  The cub, named Sarafina, soon understood the situation.

 

Some time later, back in Ekaterina’s lie up, Ekaterina and Kuruk were playing together, Kuruk chasing Ekaterina’s hind paws.  Catching them, he tickled her pads until she was exhausted from laughing.  Patch padded in, and Chowilawu launched a mock attack on the grey bear’s paws, Patch lying on his back, Chowilawu playing with and tickling the pads and toes of patch’s hind feet, the grey bear laughing helplessly.

       “Chowilawu, stop it, stop tickling my paws!”  Patch begged.  Chowilawu stopped tickling his friend’s paws, kissing Patch’s pads and toes, Patch giggling with pleasure.

       “Can my paws and yours become stuck together?”  Patch asked.  Chowilawu smiled and traced the pads of his friend’s left hind foot.

       “If we are committed to our games yes,” he replied.  Chowilawu traced the pads of Patch’s left hind paw, the grey bear curling his toes with pleasure.

      “Your pads bunch up in such a cute way!”  Chowilawu laughed.  Patch giggled:

       “I love playing with my paws,” he replied, “holding my hind paws in my fore and feeling my pads bunch as my toes curl is wonderful!”  Chowilawu drummed the toes of his right forepaw on the pads of Patch’s left hind, the grey bear laughing with delight.

       “Patch,” Chowilawu said hesitantly, “could, could I massage you from nose to paws?”  Patch covered Chowilawu’s drumming toes with his left forepaw, stopping the drumming toes.

       “Now you could do anything if you put your mind to it,” patch said gravely, “but would I let you massage me from nose to paws?  That’s another question entirely.”  Chowilawu knew he’d overstepped the mark, playing with patch’s paws was one thing, but this was something completely different.

      “I’m sorry,” Chowilawu gabbled, “I don’t mean to impose on you, I mean, you don’t need to feel that just because I am blind, you have an obligation to let me run my paws from your nose to your paw pads.”  Patch scooped Chowilawu into a huge bear hug.

       “I think I’ll let you touch my nose, head, body, legs and paws.”  Chowilawu giggled as Patch tickled his right hind foot.

       “I like you very much Patch,” he said, snuggling up.  Patch almost purred with pleasure.

      “Time for me to lie on my side and let you run your paws from my nose to my toes,” patch said.  Setting Chowilawu down on the rug, Patch lay down, Chowilawu whimpering with genuine distress as he was left alone for a few seconds, Patch’s touch had been warm and comforting to him and he wanted more contact with the grey bear.

       “I’m lying on my back now Chowilawu,” Patch said, “Come, explore my head, my belly, my legs and my paws.”  Chowilawu did as he wanted so much to do, exploring his friend’s head, body, legs and paws.

       “You’ve got rough fur, and, and rough soft paw pads too!”  Chowilawu said.  Patch giggled as Chowilawu’s forepaws explored his fore and hind paws in turn.

      “I love the touch of your paws on mine,” patch said.  Chowilawu kissed the pads of Patch’s left forepaw, and then the grey bear’s right hind foot, patch giggling.

      “I love the way your pads bunch up when you curl your toes Patch,” Chowilawu said.  Patch laughed merrily and wriggled a little, pedalling the air with his hind feet, Chowilawu laughing at his antics.

      “You big cub!”  He said.  Patch snarled like a cub, Chowilawu catching hold of his right hind foot and massaging his pads, Patch tightly curling his toes in response.

 

Shen padded in then, walking up to Chowilawu and whispering to him.

      “My mama wants to show me how I was born.  She says she needs your help.  Would you help her?”  Chowilawu smiled and patted patch’s right hind paw.

      “Coming big brother?”  He asked.  Patch gulping hard:

      “I will, I will!”  He said, padding from the room with Shen and Chowilawu.

 

They found Weici padding about her lie up, very distressed, moaning and panting.

       Oawhwhwhwhwwhoarhrhrhrhrhrh!”  She complained, bouncing on her toes.  Then she sat down and gave herself up to moaning, grunting and groaning with pain.  Patch watched while Chowilawu got paws on with Weici, trying to soothe a mama panda that was rocking and writhing in pain.

       “Ow, ooooooooowwwwwwww. Oooo’w’w’w’w’w’w’w’w’w!”  Weici complained her protestations loud and long.  Grunting, she grabbed her right hind paw in her forepaws and squeezed her toes hard, Patch unable to help staring in fascination.

      “Push Weici push!”  Patch encouraged, standing on tiptoe in his excitement.  Weici stumbled over to Patch, pulled him into a sitting position and braced her hind paws against his, bearing down hard while screaming lustily.  Patch massaged Weici’s right hind paw as the panda writhed, clenched her teeth and curled her toes as hard as she could.

       “Cub’s nearly here, ow, ow, ow ow ow!”  Weici yelled.

      “You deliver the cub Patch,” Chowilawu said, “I’ve done it before.  Patch knew this game; he’d often seen jess playing it when she thought she was alone.

    “The forepaws are nearly out,” Patch said gently, Weici panting and wriggling.

     “Now for the head, a big push, come on Weici, when I touch the sole pad of your right hind foot, I want a big push.  Weici whimpered assent.  Patch touched the sole pad of her right foot, and Weici bore down with as much strength as she could, pressing her left hind foot against patch’s and curling the toes of her other three paws until she was sure she’d pushed enough, then it was breathe in and push again, harder, and harder, and harder still.  Patch then felt Weici cuddling up to him, patch embracing the whimpering, sobbing panda.

       “I want to push while reclining slightly Patch, hold me!”  Weici begged.  Patch held her on his lap while she braced her hind feet hard against his right leg, her eyes closed and mouth open in a scream of effort.  Again and again she did this, her forepaws clamped around Patch’s right forepaw, his right foreleg supporting her body, which was light and easily supported, even when she braced her hind feet hard, pushing hard back into his embrace.  Chowilawu got paws on with patch and Weici, feeling the Situation.  He was amazed that Weici was exerting all her strength but Patch was hardly feeling it.

     “Oooh, this feels, feels great, wonderful!”  Weici panted, “Oooh, the cub’s wanting to come out, it wants to come out!  Aaaaaaaoaah!”  Patch traced Weici’s body with his free forepaw; the sow panda growling and snarling as she bore down to deliver whichever part of the cub corresponded to the part of her body Patch was touching.  She took her time, putting her all into wriggling and roaring, kicking and squealing.  And finally, when it came to push out the cub’s hind paws, Weici gave her all!  Cuddling hard into Patch, burying her face in his chest, she settled herself.

      “Hold me tightly Patch!”  She begged.  Patch did, and Weici took a deep breath, then, screaming her lungs out, she drew her hind feet to her and kicked out strongly, bearing down.  When her hind feet made solid contact with Patch’s left hind leg once more, Weici bore down with everything she had, wriggling and roaring.

      “I want to have this cub, I must have this cub!”  She screamed, “oooooo’w’w’w’w’w’w’w’!”  Patch kissed her nose:

      “It’s all over now,” he said gently.  Weici wept into his coat.

       “Wow Patch, just wow!”  Chowilawu said.  Shen was speechless.

       “That was amazing thing patch doing for Weici,” Kuruk grunted, “his do thing like natural.  Does he play cubbing game with jess sometimes?”  Patch smiled:

      “I did in the zoo yes,” he replied.  Indeed, sometimes we even play it now.”  Kuruk grinned:

      “Kuruk tell,” he said, “you be natural at helping cubbing mother.”  Patch laughed.

      “Now I vote Patch has a go at cubbing,” Weici said playfully, “Gender reversal, all the best theatre has that.”  Patch never flinched:

      “I’ll give it a go,” he said, hoping he would remember everything, “one thing though added, “you pandas can n’alf make a lot of noise when you’re having your cubs.”

      “A cub is a tiny thing, but they really hurt a mama on the way out,” Weici said, “the involuntary contractions are bad, the voluntary ones are worse.  You just have to push, and that’s agony.”  Patch braced himself for his first shot at acting.  Ekaterina and jess both went to patch and wished him luck, having been attracted to the lie up by Weici’s cries.  Patch hugged them both.  Skirnir even padded up to patch and shook his paw.

      “Time for you to do what I did for so long,” he said, “be something you’re not.  Enjoy your cubbing patch; give joyous birth to your acting talent.”  Patch grinned hugely.

      “I’m going to enjoy this,” he said.

      “Just let you go,” jess advised.  Patch got up, paced about the lie up for a bit, and then sat down, groaning deeply.

      “Ow, ouch!”  Oooh,” he complained, rocking back and fourth his face screwed up in pain, “what’s happening to me!”  Patch grabbed his right hind foot in both forepaws and frantically began to massage his pads and play with his toes, panting and whimpering.

      “It’s getting worse!”  He gasped, “Ow, must, must get up, walk about a bit!”  Patch stumbled about the lie up, collapsing on the rugs after six stets.  Whining, he covered his mouth with his paws and roared with pain, drawing his hind feet up and wriggling convulsively.

       “What’s going on Patch?”  Ekaterina asked, touching the damp pads of his right hind paw.  Patch wriggled some more, trying not to curl his toes around his sisters as another pain built.

      “I don’t know, oh Ekaterina, ow, ow! It hurts!”  Patch squealed, giving up the fight to stop his toes from curling, feeling them grip Ekaterina’s.

     “That’s it Patch, let it out!”  Ekaterina encouraged, patch pressing down hard with his hind feet.

      “I must kick, want to kick, now!”  Patch roared.  Ekaterina felt her toes released, and then her shoulder was getting the good news from patch’s hind feet, the bear losing it totally.  Thrashing about with all four paws, patch squealed and grunted in his private internal battle.

       “I want to push down hard!”  Patch whimpered.  Ekaterina stroked the sweating bear’s right hind paw.

        “Push then,” she encouraged, “push into my forepaws with your hind.”   Patch strained hard, bearing down into his sister’s cupped forepaws with everything he had.

      “Whatever it is is coming out!”  Patch sobbed, writhing on the rug, the toes of all four paws curled.  Suddenly he drew his hind feet up tight to his body, clamped his forepaws over his mouth and screamed loudly.  Wriggling, he managed to lie flat on his back and grab his hind paws with his fore, Ekaterina able to feel the bear’s commitment to his act in the pressure between the pads of his hind paws and the toes of his fore.  Patch snarled through clenched teeth, Ekaterina and Chowilawu getting paws on with the wriggling, writhing bear.  Once, when Chowilawu’s paw was exploring his bewared teeth, patch opened his mouth in a wail of pain.  Chowilawu hearing him panting and wailing from close range, and also feeling how wide patch could open his mouth.  Patch turned his head away before closing his mouth, so he didn’t bite Chowilawu’s paw.  Clenching his teeth he rolled onto his side and kicked hard with all four paws before drawing his hind feet to him one last time and, screaming, strained with everything he had, trying to scream the walls down.  Patch lay back exhausted.

      “I’m finished!”  He panted, “But whatever it was inside me that wanted out is out now, I hope.  No doubt when I bathe tonight, I’ll end up having some kind of water birth thing.”  Ekaterina giggled:

       “You just like playing with your paws and yelling your head off!”  She said, cuffing patch playfully.

      “I love it,” patch replied.  Ekaterina touched his right hind paw with her left fore.

      “Your pads are hot and damp,” she said, “just like mine after I’ve been acting out a cubbing.”  Patch smiled and kissed Ekaterina’s nose, Ekaterina kissing the damp pads of her brother’s left hind paw.

      “Well done,” she said.  Patch smiled and played with the toes of the paw his sister had just kissed, letting her feel him doing so.

       “You big cub!”  She said, kissing the toes of patch’s left forepaw.  Patch smiled broadly.

       “That was so liberating!”  Patch said.  Kuruk went to Patch and hugged him.

      “Kuruk think Patch do well with pedalling paws thing,” the grizzly bear grunted, “patch look cute.”  Patch laughed:

      “I loved it Kuruk,” he replied.

       “What Patch Imagine while rolling about and grabbing paws?”  Kuruk asked.

       “it wasn’t that I was delivering a cub, that’s for sure,”  Patch replied, “I imagined the worst stomach ache I’d ever had, and imagined the need to push against something to relieve the pain.”  Kuruk Grunted:

     “Good,” he said, “for Kuruk want do rolling about and grabbing paw thing too.”  Patch giggled:

      “You’ll love it!”  He said.  Kuruk smiled:

      “How if Patch teach me how do play with paws like he do?”  He asked, “Right from holding hind paw in fore and playing with toes?”  Patch smiled and motioned for Kuruk to sit down, which the grizzly bear did.  Patch then said:

      “Let’s start with your right hind foot Kuruk, take hold of your right hind foot with your right forepaw.  Kuruk did, and then patch said, “Now, play with the toes of that paw using your other forepaw.”  Kuruk did, smiling at the sensation.

       “Now Kuruk know how to play with hind paws,”  he asked, “can patch show him how to roll on back and kick with hind feet, or hold hind feet in forepaws and bear down against something?”  Patch giggled:

      “You like to drink from a bottle while lying on your back; your hind feet kicking the air don’t you?”  He asked.  Kuruk smiled and nodded:

      “So Kuruk get rid of bottle, stop hind feet kicking, draw hind feet up tot body then hold onto hind feet with forepaws?”  He asked.

       “Yes, try it,” Patch suggested.  Kuruk did, finding the Posture comfortable.

       “Kuruk love holding hind feet with forepaws,” he said, “now how do Kuruk push?”

      “Push with your hind paws and pull with your fore,” patch said, “also, groan a bit too.  Kuruk did as Patch suggest, feeling his pads bunch up as he pushed against his forepaws.

      Oooooawwwwwoooah!”  Kuruk yelled as his body took over, asking him for more pushing, more effort.  Kuruk wriggled uncontrollably, bracing his hind feet against his forepaws, grunting and panting.

      “Kuruk want more of this, must have more pushing!”  He growled.

     “To release yourself, let go of your hind feet,” Patch advised.  Kuruk did so, an uncontrollable urge to yell and kick the air with his hind feet taking over.  Kuruk closed his eyes, opened his mouth and, covering his mouth with his forepaws, and squealed loudly, kicking hard with his hind feet.

       “That’s it Kuruk, let it out!”  Patch encouraged, the grizzly bear wriggling and whimpering between waves of kicking and screaming.  Kuruk settled after ten minutes, sitting up and taking his left hind foot in his forepaws and playing with his toes, whimpering like a cub.

      “Would Patch play with Kuruk’s hind paws?”  Kuruk begged.  Patch sat opposite his brother and gently removed the grizzly bear’s left forepaw from his hind, taking Kuruk’s hind foot in his forepaws and gently playing with his toes and stroking his pads.  Kuruk smiled with genuine pleasure.

       “Kuruk want to ask patch something,” Kuruk said, his eyes filling with tears.

      “What?”  Patch asked softly, gently massaging Kuruk’s paw pads.

       “Can, would you let Kuruk,” Kuruk began, struggling to compose him, but clearly wanting to cry, “Can, can Kuruk bathe Patch?”  Patch kissed Kuruk’s nose, then leant down and kissed the toes of his left hind foot.

        “What do you think patch’s answer would be?”  Patch asked.  Kuruk, realising what his brother was doing, smiled, but considered the question.

       “Kuruk think patch want be bathed by him.”

       “Shall we put Patch to the test?”  Patch asked.  Kuruk, tears welling in his eyes, nodded.  Patch helped Kuruk to his paws and they left for the bathroom.  Running water into the tub, Patch looked at his brother.  Kuruk, now crying openly, couldn’t get his eyes to focus on anything.  Sniffing hard, he blinked, trying to focus on the toes of his right forepaw.

        “Kuruk very grateful,” Kuruk said softly.  Patch turned to Kuruk, and taking a good hold of him, lifted him into the tub, Kuruk burying his face in his forepaws and sobbing anew.

       “I don’t mean to upset you Kuruk,” patch said gently, clambering into the tub and kissing his brother’s right forepaw.  Kuruk shook his head:

       “Kuruk happy, bloody happy!”  He replied.  Patch gently removed Kuruk’s forepaws from in front of his face, kissing the furry tops and wrinkled pads of both forepaws, then kissing Kuruk’s nose.  Patch heard Kuruk sniffing hard, and felt his shuddering breath as they brushed noses.

      “Kuruk love patch very much,” he choked.  Patch smiled and replied:

       “Patch love Kuruk too, he be brother of Patch since cub.”  Kuruk embraced Patch tightly, patch snuggling up hard to his brother.  Patch and Kuruk hugged each other for a long time, and then sat opposite each other in the warm water.  Kuruk took hold of patch’s left hind foot and balanced it on his right hind leg, the water just covering patch’s sole pad.  Kuruk then leant down and, putting his lips to the sole pad of Patch’s hind foot, blew hard, the bubbles created tickling Patch’s paw.  Laughing helplessly, Patch bounced about in the water, splashing with his forepaws.

      “Hey Kuruk!  You rogue!”  Patch laughed, curling his toes.  Kuruk kissed the bunched sole pad of patch’s hind foot, patch becoming tearful.

       “I’ve wanted you to play with my paws, but I thought you never would,” he choked.  Kuruk looked at his brother.

        “You think Kuruk no capable of play?”  Kuruk asked.  Patch wiped his eyes with a soaking forepaw:

       “You were so bound up with protecting us that I didn’t think play was on your radar,” Patch sniffed.  Kuruk smiled:

       “Kuruk need to be told when play is good yes,” he admitted, “Kuruk knows he no start plays that often, but now patch tell him he can play like cub as and when, Kuruk will play.  Kuruk love to play!”  Patch smiled through freely flowing tears.

      “You blowing on the sole of my paw felt so wonderful!”  He choked.  Kuruk gently blew on the toes of patch’s left hind paw, patch giggling with cubbish pleasure and tightly curling them.

      “Please play with my paws Kuruk,” patch begged, “play with my toes, massage my pads, and get to know my hind feet, then my fore too.  Don’t wash me yet, just play with me, please!”  Kuruk smiled and kissed patch’s nose:

       “Kuruk want play with Patch’s paws,” he replied, “but he will only play if Patch makes same promise to him as he makes to patch?  Play before wash?”  Patch smiled and nodded.  Kuruk gently traced the pads and toes of Patch’s left hind paw, patch sighing with pleasure.  Patch took hold of Kuruk’s left hind foot and rested it on his right hind leg before playing with the grizzly bear’s toes and stroking his pads.  Patch and Kuruk played with each other’s hind paws for an hour or so, and then got down to washing each other from noses to paw pads.  A grey bear and a brown furred bear turned briefly into white bears with shampoo lathe.  Washing each other’s paws gave the bears most pleasure, Patch finding him snuggling up to Kuruk as the bear rubbed soap into the pads of his hind paws.  Then they washed the soap off, before padding from the bathroom on damp paws.  Walking to the shower adjoining the bathroom, Kuruk turned to Patch and asked:

       “How would Patch like to sit here and see how it is to play with our paws now they’re wrinkled from water?”  Patch giggled cubbishly and sat down right where he was.

      “Play with my paws, please,” he said.  Kuruk sat down and they played with each other’s damp hind paws, tracing water wrinkled sole and toe pads, both bears laughing with delight.

      “This feels amazing!”  Patch said.  Kuruk giggled cubbishly, loving his new found freedom:

      “Amazing Kuruk find it too!”  He replied.

       “You two having fun there?”  Kamchatka asked.  Kuruk turned shining eyes on his mother.

       “Patch ad Kuruk cubs again mama,” he said.  Patch laughed and hugged his brother hard.

       “That’s lovely,” Kamchatka said, and she really meant it.

       “Patch and Kuruk played with each other’s damp hind paws mama,” Kuruk said, Kamchatka kissing her eldest son’s nose.

       “I saw,” she said, “but please tell me all about it,” she said gently.  Kuruk, getting into character, said to Kamchatka:

      “Mama, go and get your paws wet.  Kamchatka padded away and waded up and down the bathtub a couple of times, then returned to her two sons.

      “Here,” she said, sitting down, water still dripping off her fore and hind paws.

      “Shake your paws dry,” patch suggested, Kamchatka shaking her forepaws and wiggling the toes of her hind, Patch and Kuruk laughing at the sight of her doing this.

       ~”is that enough?”  She asked.  Kuruk kissed his mum’s nose:

      “Now let me and patch touch your hind paws.  Kamchatka knew her pads wouldn’t be as wrinkled as her cub’s paws were, as she’d only been in the water for a few minutes, so she curled her toes slightly to make her pads bunch up, patch and Kuruk giggling at her efforts.

      “Mama loving her cubs playing with her paws!”  Patch said.  Kuruk kissed the toes of his mama’s right hind paw, Kamchatka giggling with pleasure.

      “I play this game with Ekaterina,” she said, “now though, I’ve played it with my grown cubs too.”  Kamchatka took her left hind foot in her forepaws and played with her toes, Kuruk watching her with admiration.

       “Mama,” he said seriously, “please, you no give up playing with your toes!”  Kamchatka smiled:

       “I won’t,” she replied,” I love it too much.”  Kuruk and Patch hugged their mama with damp paws, Kamchatka laughing merrily.

      “I love you both,” Kamchatka said, kissing their noses.

     “Let’s wash mama!”  Kuruk suggested.  Kamchatka’s mood changed, squealing with mock fear, she leapt to her paws and ran Patch and Kuruk pounding after her.  Catching Kamchatka, they picked her up between them, Kamchatka squealing with fear, her fore and hind paws held by her grown cubs.  Slung between Kuruk and Patch, Kamchatka could do nothing but complain in a loud snarl.  Kuruk and Patch, walking on their hind feet, padded to the bathtub and dumped Kamchatka in the water.  Kamchatka whimpered cubbishly as she landed.  Then Patch and Kuruk piled in, Patch holding Kamchatka down while Kuruk washed her face forelegs and forepaws, then Kuruk held Kamchatka down while Patch washed her belly, hind legs and hind paws.  Kamchatka wriggled throughout, splashing with whichever paws were free to splash with.  Kuruk and Patch then hauled Kamchatka dripping from the water, then, instead of taking her to the drying room, they found a huge towel which they placed her on, then enveloped her in.  Gently rubbing her face and paws.

       “Now does mama know how to dry herself?”  Kuruk asked, Patch almost falling over laughing.  Kamchatka roared with laughter and playfully cuffed her son cub.

       “You young rogue!”  She replied.  Even so, Kamchatka played up to her cubs, wriggling frantically while kicking with all four paws.  Snarling, Kamchatka grabbed hold of her right hind paw and played with her toes.  Patch looked at Kuruk.

       “Shall we get her some milk?”  He asked.  Kuruk nodded, trotting away and returning a few minutes later with a bottle of milk.  Seeing it, Kamchatka squealed with delight and dropped her hind paw, reaching out for the bottle with eager paws.

       “Please?”  She begged.  Patch unable to contain his mirth.

       “She wants milk Kuruk,” he giggled, trying to keep control.  Kuruk gave Kamchatka the milk bottle, the bottle taken in eager paws.

        “Milk for you mama,” Kuruk said seriously.  Kamchatka settled onto her back, drinking busily, her hind paws pedalling the air.

      “She looks so cute!”  Patch said.  Kuruk kissed his mum’s right forepaw, Kamchatka sucking busily on her bottle.  Once she’d finished the bottle, Patch gently cleaned the milk off Kamchatka’s facial fur, Kamchatka suddenly tearful.

        “I can’t stop this,” she whispered, “I’m no cub, I know it, but I love this!  I don’t know why!”  Patch hugged his mum, Kamchatka snuggling close.

      “Mama is so cute doing drinking thing,” he said.  Kamchatka kissed his nose, then the toes of his forepaws.  Kuruk kissed his mum’s nose, then kissed her paw pads, first her left fore, then right fore, left hind and right hind.  Kamchatka covered her face with her forepaws, sobbing into them.

      “Mama wants food now?”  Kuruk asked.  Kamchatka shook her head.

       “Just hug me!”  She wept.  Kuruk hugged his mama, and then Patch took his turn to hug her tightly.

       “Now, now I must get into the mind of an adult bear,” Kamchatka sniffed:

       “Mama is lovely as a cub,” Kuruk said.  Kamchatka laughed helplessly.

      “You two are so gentle with cub Kamchatka,” she said.  Patch smiled:

       “So you enjoyed it?”  He asked.  Kamchatka looked into his face, her forepaws crossed over her belly.

       “Yes Patch, I did,” she replied, thrusting her right forepaw into his left, “I want, want so much to do it again!”

      “It won’t be fresh if you keep doing it,” patch replied.  Kamchatka nodded:

      “I know, but just once more, please?”  She begged.

       “Well you’d better go out and play and get your fur and paws dirty again,” Patch said.  Kuruk laughed merrily, pushing Kamchatka to her paws.  Kamchatka took a few steps, and then fell into a crawling posture, crawling to the outside door, patch and Kuruk following her.  Ekaterina joined them, having been briefed on what her mum was up to.

       “Can I help keep tabs on our newest bear cub?”  She asked.  Kuruk giggled and nodded:

      “Play with her Ekaterina,” he said, “she needs someone to play with.  She wants to get her fur and paws dirty.”  Ekaterina smiled:

      “I  do too,” she said.  Ekaterina followed Kamchatka out of the house and to a clearing.

      “Can you find me a patch of mud to get my paws and fur dirty?”  Kamchatka asked Ekaterina.  Ekaterina kissed Kamchatka’s nose, trying to forget Kamchatka was no cub, let alone the fact she was her own mother.

     “She’s a big cub,” Ekaterina told herself.

      “I’ll find you a mud bath,” Ekaterina said, touching Kamchatka’s right hind paw.  Ekaterina led Kamchatka to a clearing where there was a muddy patch.  Squealing with delight, Kamchatka rolled down a slope into the clearing, the mud containing up around her as she slammed into the quagmire.  Laughing, Kamchatka splashed about, Ekaterina standing close so she got a liberal coating of mud.  Kamchatka even put her mouth to the mud and blew hard, making bubbles appear around her nose and the mud fountain up and cover her face.  Rolling over, she rubbed mud into her back fur, then sitting up, rubbed it into her belly fur and hind paw pads.  Ekaterina padded up to Kamchatka and Kamchatka immediately asked for her to check if she was covered from nose to tail.  Ekaterina ran her paws from Kamchatka’s nose to her hind paw pads, feeling the wet mud clinging to her fur.  From time to time Ekaterina scooped up mud in her paw and added a bit to Kamchatka’s disguise.  Then she rubbed mud into Kamchatka’s paw pads, both fore and hind, Kamchatka giggling with genuine pleasure.

      “Now you’re covered in mud, would you help me get covered too?”  Ekaterina asked.  Kamchatka pushed Ekaterina into the mud, and then began liberally covering her in it, slapping pawfuls of the stuff onto legs, belly and paws, then rubbing it in hard.  Then, more gently, she rubbed mud into Ekaterina’s facial fur.

       “You’re now covered in thick black mud!”  Kamchatka laughed.

      “I love the feel of mud between my toes!”  The grizzly bear laughed.  Ekaterina wiggled her toes as Kamchatka touched them, Kamchatka laughing and pressing her own muddy paw pads against Ekaterina’s, both laughing at the squelching sound the mud made as it was compressed between hind paw pads.  Releasing the pressure a little, then putting pressure on their hind feet made a sucking and squelching sound which both bears laughed at.

      “Let’s see if we can make the mud fountain up by pressing our hind feet together, then pulling them slightly apart as fast as we can!”  Kamchatka suggested.  Ekaterina giggled and sloshed mud over her own and Kamchatka’s hind feet.

       “Let’s do that,” she said, “one, two three, go!”  Kamchatka and Ekaterina bounced their hind paws together, the mud squelching between their pads and squeezing between their toes.  Laughing, both bears scooped up mud in their forepaws and threw it at each other.  then a rough and tumble game began, Ekaterina rolling Kamchatka over in the mud, then Kamchatka rolling Ekaterina over in it.  Then they sat down again, and continued their mud squelching game.

      “The sound is funny, the feeling even better!”  Kamchatka said, meaning every word.  Ekaterina curled her toes around kamahi’s, the grizzly bear laughing helplessly.

       “I love this, I love this!”  She yelled, “This is so wonderful!”  Ekaterina took hold of Kamchatka’s right hind paw in her forepaws and, lifting it slightly, put her lips against the sole pad of Kamchatka’s blew so [paw and blew hard, making the mud bubble against her pad, Kamchatka squealing with laughter!

       “I love you Ekaterina!”  She yelled.  Ekaterina drew circles on the pads of kamahi’s mud covered right hind foot, Kamchatka giggling with pleasure.

       “Can I play with your hind paws?”  Kamchatka asked.  Ekaterina giggled:

      “Try it,” she replied.  Kamchatka took hold of Ekaterina’s left hind foot and began stroking her pads, the polar bear curling her toes with pleasure.

      “This is lovely!”  Ekaterina exclaimed.  Kamchatka led Ekaterina back to the house where the two bears got into the bathtub, Kuruk and Patch washing them from noses to paw pads.  Giggling with delight, ekaterina and Kamchatka splashed and made a general fuss as they were washed by Patch and Kuruk.  Drying Ekaterina and Kamchatka from noses to tails, the two bears wriggling and snarling like cubs, Patch and Kuruk looked at each other:

       “Big cub’s they be,”  Kuruk said.  kamchatka kiched the air with her hind feet, whimpering for milk, to Ekaterina’s delight.

       “Better get her some milk!”  she giggled, “who’s the youngest cub here?”  Patch laughed helplessly at the sight of kamchatka wriggling and kicking with all four paws.  Once Kamchatka had milk, she calmed down, sucking busily at the bottle.  Ekaterina, sensing the opportunity to cause chaos, leapt upon Kamcatka and stole the bottle of milk, resulting in a fight between Kamchatka and Ekaterina for the milk! 

      “Give me back my milk!”  Kamcahtka wailed, slapping Ekaterina, who walloped her and ran away with her prize.  The top of the bottle flewoff somwwhere in the resulting scramble, covering both grizzly bear and polar bear in warm milk!

       “now we’re both without milk!”  Ekaterina exclaimed, milk dripping from her nose.  Kamchatka found the sight of her daughter cub so funny she rolled on the floor laughing and thrashing the air with all four paws for five minutes or more, Patch laughing helplessly at his mama’s antics.

       “Big cubs all of you,” Kuruk grunted, but his eyes gave away his real emotions.

       “Let’s wash them again,” patch said resignedly.  Kuruk and Patch lifted Kamchatka into the water, and then Ekaterina joined her.  Once washed from nose to tail, the polar bear and grizzly bear emerged for the second time in two hours to fresh towels provided by Jess, who’d been watching everything with a huge smile.

        “Thanks jess,” Ekaterina said, kissing her nose.  Jess hugged Ekaterina tightly.

        “Love my cub with everything you have,” she whispered softly.  Ekaterina kissed jess’s nose once more.

 

The sudden sound of scampering paws announced Chowilawu’s arrival, the male polar bear almost knocking Ekaterina over in his enthusiasm to hug her.  Rolling on the tiles of the bathroom, Ekaterina and Chowilawu rolled into the sunken bathtub with a huge splash.  Laughing, the two bears playfully splashed each other.

    “Those two look so happy together,” patch remarked.  Ekaterina and Chowilawu sat down and began playing with each other’s hind paws, stroking pads and playing with each other’s toes.

        “Do you think jess will let us play act at cubbing again?”  Ekaterina asked.  Chowilawu giggled:

       “She might,” he said, “but what business of hers is it anyway?”

 

Meanwhile, back in Pakshalika’s lie up, Sarafina was playing with Elsa and asking her some awkward questions.

       “Why was I fed by a tigress?  Why is there all this whispering about Pipin and you?  Why can’t you feed me?”  Elsa told her cub straight:

        “Pipin and I had you when we were very young.  That’s what all the whispering is about.  And as for the reasons why you’re fed by Pakshalika and not by me, well, that’s decreed by Eohippus and not by me.”

       “Who is Eon something?”  Sarafina asked.  Elsa told her of the dawn horse and how Theo, the grown white lion was the spiritual leader of the community.

      “So Theo is a half lion, half horse?”  Sarafina asked.  Elsa laughed:

      “No,” she replied, “Theo’s a lion, eohippus is the horse.”  Sarafina was content with that.

 

Meanwhile, back in the bathroom, Kamchatka and patch were play fighting, the grizzly bear rolling her grown cub over onto his back and claiming all four of his paws with amazing speed.  Massaging the sole of Patch’s right hind foot with both forepaws, Kamchatka felt soft wrinkled pads beneath her own harder pads.  Patch then turned on his mama, forcing Kamchatka to crawl away, Patch chasing her.  Patch leapt upon Kamchatka’s hind paws, claiming them as his prizes, before tracing her pads and tickling her toes.  Kamchatka, roaring with laughter, kicked the air with her hind feet and then drew them up to her and grabbing hold of her hind feet with her forepaws, effectively clamping Patch’s tickling toes between her forepaws and hind.  Patch, his mock attack on his mum’s hind feet brought to an end, kissed the furry tops of his mum’s toes gripping his.

       “Stopped you right in your tracks!”  Kamchatka panted, Patch laughing merrily.

      “I love you mama,” Patch said, kissing her nose.

 

Meanwhile, jess and Skirnir played the trapped paw game together.  Pressing pads and toes together, they made sure their hind feet wanted to play the game as much as they themselves did, feeling the strong attraction between their paw pads almost gluing their paws together.  To test their bond, they bounced about and tugged at their hind paws with their fore a good while before committing to the game.  Tugging at their hind feet, the two bears found they couldn’t free themselves without a struggle.

        “Our paws are well and truly stuck together,” jess said to Skirnir.  Skirnir smiled and stroked the toes of jess’s right hind foot which were slightly curled around those of his own left hind.

        “Do you think your toes will go into spasm again?”  He asked.

        “I can’t say,” Jess replied, “but they most likely will.”

      “Good,” Skirnir replied, “I like the touch of your toes on mine.”  Jess wriggled, trying to free her paws, but she couldn’t.

       “Now for the game,” she panted, “let’s pull gently at our paws Skirnir.”  So they did, Skirnir working the toes of his right forepaw between the pads of his right and jess’s left hind paw.  Grunting and whimpering, he worked his toes between their stuck paw pads, jess growling with pain and holding onto her curled toes.

      “Nearly done jess, nearly got my right hind foot free!”  Skirnir gasped.  Jess wailed with pain and then attacked her right hind foot with both forepaws, tearing at her toes and dragging at her pads.

      oooooawhwhwhwhwwww’w’w’w!”  She wailed, tearing her right hind foot free of Skirnir’s left.  Skirnir whimpered as the contact was broken between him and his mate.  Frantically massaging his hind paws with both forepaws, Skirnir whimpered and sniffed a little.  Meanwhile, jess rolled about on the floor, holding her hind feet with her forepaws, squealing and grunting.

      “My feet hurt!”  She whimpered, “ow, ow, ow! Ow, ow ow, ow!”  Sitting up, she massaged her clearly sore toes.

       “You pulling your paw away from mine hurt Skirnir!”  She complained.

      “Same here when you pulled your paw away from mine!”  Skirnir growled back.

       “I, I can feel my hind feet being pulled towards yours like a magnet!”  Jess wailed.  Skirnir wriggled convulsively, both bears rolling towards each other, then together, clasping each other with their forepaws, hugging, fighting playfully to keep their hind feet apart, but they knew the need to touch hind paw to hind paw was too strong for them to resist.  Grunting and whimpering, the two bears felt their hind feet touch, and then press hard together, jess’s toes curling hard around Skirnir’s.

       “Now we’re well and truly stuck!”  Skirnir panted, scrabbling and tugging at his right hind foot with the toes of both forepaws.

       “Right, now for a real fight!”  Jess panted, “I, I need to deliver a cub soon, I want to Skirnir, I want to!  But, but, if I’m stuck here, I can’t do all I want to do during my labour!”  Skirnir, excited by the sudden acceleration of the game, kissed Jess’s nose:

      “Do you want me to free your paws quickly?”  He asked.  Jess, her eyes closed, shook her head.

      “The game might, might help things along,” she panted.  Skirnir, having never seen Jess acting out a cubbing, felt her pressing her hind feet against his.  Tearing at the toes of both hind paws; she wriggled and twisted, finally, with a squeal, wrenching her right hind foot free.

       aoraorr’r’r’r’r’r’r’r’r!”  Jess complained as she massaged the toes of her right hind paw, then panting, squeezed them hard, her eyes shut and mouth gaping in a shriek of pain!

      “Oooh, ouch, ouch!  Oooooooooah! Ooooooooowwwwwww!  Ooooooooowwwwwwww!”  She screeched.  Skirnir tore his right hind paw free of jess’s left hind, his mate hardly noticing.  Skirnir crawled over to his mate, massaging Jess’s left hind paw.

       “Ow Skirnir, ow, ow, ow!”  Jess groaned.  Then, rocking back, she settled onto her back, drew her hind feet to her and grabbed them with her forepaws, panting, wriggling and screaming.  Skirnir kissed jess’s nose, just inches from her screaming mouth.  As he did so, she closed her mouth and panted hard, groaning loudly.  Wriggling and screaming turned into kicking and rolling about on the floor.  Skirnir followed his mate’s struggle with her body to deliver an imaginary cub.  Gasping, jess struggled into a crawling posture, Skirnir touching the toes of her forepaws, which were tightly gripping the floor, then, as he touched the pads of her right hind paw, jess wriggled, whimpered and curled her toes hard, grunting, then wailing with heartfelt pain as she bore down against her cub.  Sobbing, she bore down again and again, her cries becoming more desperate as her need to push increased.

       “Must push, I want to push!”  Jess gasped, “But it’s not enough, pushing isn’t enough!  Must try harder!”  She closed her eyes, lowered her head and strained desperately.

       “The cub’s forepaws and head are coming jess!”  Skirnir said excitedly.  Jess bore down, squealing and banging the floor with a forepaw, the toes of her other forepaw and both hind feet curled either into the rug, or around Skirnir’s right forepaw, or gripping nothing.

       “Now for the cub’s body!”  Skirnir encouraged.  Jess panted, then grunted and groaned her way through horrendous efforts, she strained once, twice, thrice, while screaming and imploring the cub to hurry up and be born.

       “I can’t push much more, “I can’t, I just can’t!”  Jess whimpered after Skirnir told her the body was out.

       “Just one more push jess,”  Skirnir said gently, jess crying into his coat as he hugged her.

      “I can’t, I can’t!”  She sobbed.

       “Come on,” Skirnir encouraged, “you push as best you can, I’ll pull the cub.”  Jess nodded, readying herself for one straining, screaming push.  Bearing down, she felt Skirnir touch her hock, then, as she pushed, he touched her right hind leg, then the heel of her right hind foot, and then his paw stopped as jess panted.  Then, grunting as if taking up the strain again, she bore down, forcing Skirnir’s paw to touch the sweating sole pad of her right hind paw, then to trace down, down her bunched sole pad, jess bullying the cub out into the world.

      “Come on Jess!”  Skirnir encouraged, jess whining with discomfort and effort.  Straining, she forced her mate’s paw down the sole of her foot with her efforts, until it  touched her toes, Jess squealing and wriggling.  Skirnir touched jess’s toes then gently picked up her right hind paw and stroked her bunched pads, jess panting as the cub’s toes came free.

        “You’ve done it!”  Skirnir said delightedly.  Jess smiled and sat down, having earned herself a rather hot and sweaty hug from her mate.

      “I hope you don’t mind hugging a mess,” jess whispered.  Skirnir giggled and kissed her nose and the hot damp pads of all four of his mate’s aching paws.

       “That was amazing!”  He said, “Well done!”  Jess giggled with pleasure.

       “I just hope I can do as well as you when acting out a cubbing,” Ekaterina said padding into the room.  Jess smiled and hugged the female polar bear.

       “Re-enacta cubbing with love and commitment, that’s all I ask,” she said to Ekaterina.  Ekaterina laughed:

       “I won’t do it any other way,” she replied.  Jess traced the pads of Ekaterina’s right hind foot as the female polar bear sat beside her, Ekaterina curling her toes.

       “Make it a good labour,” jess replied.  Ekaterina, now excited by the challenge, squeezed the toes of jess’s left forepaw with those of her right hind.

 

Skirnir looked at jess, then sat down and took her paw.

        “How was your cubbing?”  He asked.  Jess kissed his nose:

       “It was exhilarating and amazing,” she replied, “and it taught me something else too,” jess replied, kissing Skirnir’s nose.

       “And what was that?”  Skirnir asked.

      “That you would stick by me through it all,” jess replied.  Skirnir swallowed hard:

      “Yes, jess, yes I would!”  He said, “I might not be wise to the world yet, but I know this, I know I love you and would stick by you when you are in pain and straining to deliver our cub.”

       “Why do you both rub your hind feet with your forepaws after playing the trapped paw game?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “Don’t you and Chowilawu do that too?”  Skirnir asked.

       “Yes,” Ekaterina replied, “it’s because our pads want to be in contact, and the feeling needs to be conquered.”

     “Same with us,” jess replied, “after tearing our hind feet free of the bonds holding our pads firmly pressed together, each of us needs to rub our own hind paw pads and toes to calm our need to touch pads again, though sometimes it doesn’t work and we end up replaying the game.”  Ekaterina giggled:

       “Was just wondering,” she replied, “it’s the same for Chowilawu and me.”  Chowilawu padded up to Ekaterina, hugged her and kissed her nose.

      “Shall we go to the pool complex?”  He asked.  Ekaterina nodded, and whispered to him:

       “How about if I have our next imaginary cub in the water?”  Chowilawu smiled and nodded:

      “That would be a new thing,” he said.

        “Did anyone tell you you have cub soft paw pads Skirnir?”  Jess asked.  Skirnir giggled:

       “I know,” he replied, “kind’ a cute aren’t they?  I like my paws.  When I was off duty, as a knight I mean, I would strip off my boots and play with my hind paws.  Now I can do it all the time.”

       “I found out about your hind paws when I helped you pull your boots off,” jess said, “Skirnir, your hind paws are cute yes.”  Skirnir laughed merrily:

       “Your hind paws Jess, “well, now, they are soft too.  I guess you never walked much.”  Jess shook her head:

      “I was in a zoo for years.  Patch, my brother also has soft pads compared to say, Kuruk’s paw pads, which have been hardened and roughened by walking on the ground.  Now I’m on rugs all the time, as are Patch and Kuruk, so my paw pads will stay soft, as will patches, and Kuruk does will become softer, especially if he carries on using that paw balm he likes.”

       “You saw Kuruk rubbing balm into his hind paws?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “Yes, oh yes!”  Jess giggled, “Kuruk thought he was alone, but I saw him, I saw him rubbing balm into the pads and toes of both his fore and hind paws.  It was so cute!”  Everyone laughed at the thought of Kuruk rubbing balm into his pads, it wasn’t the brash, self assured and no nonsense Kuruk they all knew.  Kuruk, overhearing this, padded up to Ekaterina and kissed her nose.

      “Kuruk love rubbing balm into paw pads Ekaterina,” he said.  Ekaterina giggled.

       “I love rubbing balm into your paw pads,” she replied, Kuruk laughing merrily.  Ekaterina and Chowilawu padded away to the pool complex where they met Liang and Yi jie playing with Jinghua, Shen and Kuan-Yin.  Joining in with their games, the two polar bears were soon soaked to the skin, their paw pads wrinkled as prunes.

 

Meanwhile, in Kamchatka’s family lie up, Weici was talking to Patch, reliving her mock cubbing.

      “You were so gentle, so encouraging to me Patch!”  Weici said.  Patch smiled.  Lying on his side, he looked at Weici, who was also lying on her side facing him.  This way he didn’t dwarf her, and she didn’t feel intimidated by his huge bulk.

       “I did what I thought was right,” patch replied.

      “But after that, after that you tried acting as if you were in pain yourself, and it was so real!”  Weici replied.  Patch took her paw.

       “I enjoyed that almost as much as I did helping you,” he said.  Weici knew he spoke truth.

       “I needed your help,” Weici replied, “I needed you so much Patch!”  Patch giggled:

       “Mama Pandas have been birthing their cubs for generations without the help of great big bears like me,” he said, “so why would your cub’s birth be any different?”  Weici held tightly onto Patch’s right forepaw with both of hers, the intense emotion she was feeling making her draw her legs up and wriggle slightly.

      “I needed your help!”  She exclaimed, her eyes momentarily squeezed shut with emotion.  Patch watched the wriggling panda and gently kissed the pads of Weici’s right hind paw as she curled up suddenly.  Weici wriggled, and then kicked with all her might, patch watching her kick furiously with her hind feet.

      “That’s it Weici, kick, kick!”  Patch encouraged, the sow panda going mad!  Still holding onto his right forepaw, Weici wriggled and kicked with her hind feet, pedalling the air with all her might.

       “Shhh, Shhh,” Patch said gently.  Weici whimpered and cuddled up to Patch.

       “I want to push again, let me push again, please!”  She begged.  Sitting up, Patch gathered the struggling panda to him, sitting her on his lap, Weici gasping and pressing her hind paws against his right hind leg with all her strength.

       “Ow!  Ow! Patch, ow! Ow, this hurts!”  Weici squealed.  Patch cradled Weici while she wriggled and pressed her hind paws against his left hind leg.

       “I must, must try!”  Weici gasped.

      “Maybe I can get Geming to help you with this,” patch said softly, “it’s his job to help his mate.”  Weici panted and grunted, pushing against Patch’s left hind leg with her hind feet with everything she had.

       “Geming doesn’t want to help me with this, “I’ve tried talking with him, but he doesn’t want to help me.  He loves me, but can’t cope with my needs.  I need your help!  I need someone who understands what it’s like to want to push with your hind feet and squeal just for the sake of it!”  Patch giggled:

      “Geming might love her, but I’m her playmate,” he thought.  Patch held Weici tightly.

       “Ok Weici, push, push!”  Patch encouraged.  Weici braced her back against patch’s right foreleg as he hugged her, pressing her hind feet against his left hind leg with all her might.  Patch rocked Weici gently, soothing the panda.

       “Did anyone tell you you have gorgeous fur and paws?”  Weici said to Patch.  Patch laughed:

       “Dirty grey fur and white soled paws?” he asked, “yeah, like that’s handsome!”

       “But they are!”  Weici replied, “I might have brown soled paws and black and white coat, but you have the originality.  Who would, for example, see you walking and expect you to have white pads on the soles of your paws.  I love those white soled paws, even more when you curl your toes and make those white pads bunch up.  Hat’s so cute!”  Patch couldn’t help smiling.

       “Thank you,” he replied.  Weici wriggled free of Patch’s hug and touched the sole of his right hind foot with her left forepaw, patch giggling and curling his toes, making his pads bunch up.

         “You soppy thing!”  Weici giggled.  Patch kissed her nose:

      “I will help you all I can,” Patch said gently.  Geming padded in and grinned at the two bears.

      “Play with my mate,” he said, “I love her, but I find it difficult to play with her in the way she wants.”  Patch smiled:

     “I will play with her often,” he promised.  Patch hugged Geming, the boar panda surprised at the bear’s touch.

       “You just want to play don’t you,” Geming said, “you’re not interested in having a mate.  Patch shook his head.

      “You’re right,” he replied, “I’m not interested, “I’ve got a loving family and good friends and that’s all I need.”  Geming hugged Patch tenderly.

       “You are so gentle,” he said, Patch smiling broadly.

       “I’ve hardly had to fight anyone,” he admitted, “there was that lioness, Ruslana I think her name was.  Poor Pipin, but she’s dead now, so no hassle.  Well Pipin and Elsa have their own cub now, a bit early one might say, but the cub’s healthy and lively.  I was playing with her a week ago, Sarafina’s so cute!”  Geming smiled, for he could imagine the huge bear playing with the tiny cub.  Geming looked Patch over from nose to tail, missing nothing.  Patch saw him doing this and waved his paw:

      “Come closer, get paws on,” he invited.  Geming hesitated, but padded closer, Patch extending a forepaw to the confused panda.  Geming took patch’s paw, feeling the strong paw with its huge pads and strong toes.

      “Now touch one of my hind feet,” Patch invited.  Geming did, and Patch curled the toes of his right hind foot around those of Geming’s left forepaw.

      “You loved playing at cubbing didn’t you,” Geming said.  Patch giggled.

      “How did you know?”  He asked.  Geming looked into the larger bear’s face.

      “I saw the video, you were committed,” he replied.  Patch laughed:

      “I wanted to get rid of my imagined Burdon,” Patch replied.  Geming kissed the curled toes holding his, Patch releasing his paw.

      “You were born to play with others Patch,” Geming said earnestly, “I believe your grey fur and white paw pads are signals to cubs to play.  Your fur is anonymous, but sit down, and your paws signal strongly they want to be played with.”  Patch laughed merrily:

       “You’re right,” he said, “I love having my paws played with.”  Patch rolled onto his back and began wriggling and kicking with his hind paws, Geming and Weici laughing merrily.

      “Mum, mum!”  Shen yelled, running in and falling over his paws in his excitement.  Weici watched as her son cub saw Patch, dodged his kicking hind feet and leapt upon his chest.  Patch grunted as the panda cub landed on him, reached up with his forepaws and gathered Shen into a tight bear hug.  Shen giggled, snuggling up to the grey bear.

      “You’ve been in the pool,” Patch said, “Your fur is damp and smells of chlorine, your paw pads are wet too.”  Shen kissed Patch’s nose and forepaws, Patch giggling and embracing the cub with gentle pressure.

      “Would you come and get your paws wet?”  Shen asked.  Patch snuffled at Shen’s right forepaw as the panda traced his mouth with his paw, then opened his mouth and gently closed his teeth around the panda’s paw.  Shen squealed with surprise and stared at his paw in the huge bear’s mouth.

        “You’ve got my paw in your mouth Patch!”  Shen whimpered.  Patch released Shen’s paw, then flicked out his tongue and licked the panda’s pads, Shen giggling with pleasure.

      “Now can we go to the pool?”  Shen asked.  Patch lifted Shen off his chest, and then got into a crawling posture and Shen leapt onto his back.  Patch crawled away to the pool complex, and on reaching it, dumped the panda into the spar pool.  Shen laughed as he splashed down, Patch clambering laboriously in beside him.  Shen giggled and grabbed patch’s right hind foot, playing with his toes and stroking his pads, patch giggling with pleasure.  Splashing Shen with a free forepaw, Patch curled the toes of the paw the panda held.  Meanwhile, Ekaterina and Chowilawu sat on their rock in the main pool quietly talking to each other.  Wanting to be somewhere more private, they slipped from the pool complex and along to the showers to shower down before returning to their lie up.  Ekaterina padded onto the rugs and sat down heavily, groaning softly.

      “What’s happening?”  Chowilawu asked.  Ekaterina bounced about on her backside, and then grabbed her right hind foot in forepaws, squeezing her toes and massaging her pads.  Chowilawu got paws on with his mate, feeling her forepaws playing with her toes and rubbing her pads.  Whimpering, Ekaterina thrust her left hind foot into Chowilawu’s forepaws, Chowilawu massaging her pads and playing with Ekaterina’s toes while she curled and relaxed them.

       “Are you in pain?”  Chowilawu asked.  Ekaterina panted a little:

      “I’m a little uncomfortable,” she replied, “Ow, ouououoch, it’s getting worse!”  Ekaterina suddenly grabbed Chowilawu in a huge bear hug and screamed lustily.

      Ooooawwwwwww!”  Chowilawu kissed his mate’s nose as she screamed and clung to him, both of them rolling onto their sides; her hind feet kick the air.

      “I want to draw my hind feet to me now,” Ekaterina begged, pushing away from Chowilawu and doing just that, screaming and wriggling.  Chowilawu got paws on with his struggling mate’s hind paws, Ekaterina pushing back against his forepaws with her hind feet, her toes tightly curled, pressing hard into his forepaws.

       “The more you help, the easier it will be!”  Ekaterina gasped.

      “The more I help, the more effort you’ll put in,” Chowilawu said, kissing his mate’s right hind paw.  Ekaterina smiled:

       “Let’s play with commitment,” she panted, “come on Chowilawu, I’m in labour and need help having this cub!”  Chowilawu let go of Ekaterina’s right hind foot and kissed her nose:

      “I didn’t doubt it for one minute,” he replied, Ekaterina wriggling beneath his paws as he touched her belly.

      Awhwhwhwhwhwhwowhwhwhwhw!”  Ekaterina complained.  Chowilawu looked round at the sound of padding paws.

      “HI Chowilawu,” patch said, having come in from the pool complex.  Chowilawu sighed with relief.

     “I need to relieve myself, so I must leave for a minute,” he said, “patch, would you please look after Ekaterina?”  Ekaterina squealed with horror!

      “No, Chowilawu!”  She panted, “I need to push, push harder, much harder, and I need you!  You can’t leave!”  Chowilawu kissed his mate’s nose:

      “I’ll be back soon, I promise” he said, padding from the room, Ekaterina unable to follow him.  Patch sat down beside Ekaterina, listening to her panting and scrabbling.  Still in acting mode, Ekaterina crawled over to Patch, crabbing his hind foot in her forepaws and crushing it.

      Oawhwhwhwhwhwhwwh!”  She screamed.  Patch stroked her back and ears, Ekaterina letting go and clambering into his lap.

      “Help me Patch!”  She begged, “Help me like you did Weici!”  Patch held Ekaterina tenderly, the young polar bear bracing her hind feet against his left leg just as the panda had.

      “I’m here Ekaterina,” Patch said gently, “you do what you have to.”

      “I must push!”  Ekaterina gasped.  Ekaterina braced her hind feet against patch’s left hind leg, pressing down with all her might.  Patch felt tremendous pressure, which released when Ekaterina was exhausted and needed to rest.  Massaging Ekaterina’s right hind foot with his left forepaw, patch felt the sweating pads and flexing toes.  Suddenly Ekaterina hugged Patch tightly, buried her face in his fur and screamed loudly, kicking with her hind feet as she fought to give birth to her cub!  Patch watched Ekaterina’s thrashing hind feet, feeling her paws bounce off the fur of his hind legs as she lay on her side in his lap.  Screaming, Ekaterina drew her hind feet up as best she could, then kicked hard at the air, wriggling while desperately holding onto patch with her forepaws, her face buried in his shoulder.

      “This hurts so much!”  Ekaterina squealed.  Patch rubbed her back, Ekaterina sobbing and whimpering.

       “Ow Patch, ow!”  Ekaterina complained.  Patch held Ekaterina as she wriggled convulsively, beating her forepaws on his shoulder as she fought against waves of pain.

       “Push down hard Ekaterina!”  Patch Encouraged.  Ekaterina closed her eyes, took a deep breath and bore down with everything she had.

      Oooooooaaaawwwwwwwwwwooooooooowwwwwwwwwwww!”  She screamed, “The cub’s coming, coming!”  It was then Chowilawu burst in:

     “Have I missed anything?”  He asked, Ekaterina’s right hind foot catching him on his nose as he sat down.

      “Ow!”  He yelped as her paw connected with his nose.

      “Keep out of my bloody way!”  Ekaterina snarled, “Chowilawu, “stay out of my way!”  Chowilawu was shocked and upset:

      “But I had to relieve myself!”  He whimpered.

       “I don’t care!”  Ekaterina screamed, “I’m having a cub, things are difficult, and all I want to do is push!   Oooooowhwhwhwhwhwh!”  Chowilawu edged round to patch’s right, managing to hold his mate’s left forepaw, feeling it curl and relax.

      “Push Ekaterina push!”  Chowilawu encouraged.  Ekaterina crawled to Chowilawu and clung to him, straining and screaming.

       “Cub’s nearly here Ekaterina, the cub’s head’s out,” patch said, Ekaterina roaring with pain.

      “Pant, pant!”  Chowilawu encouraged.  Ekaterina panted and growled with pain and discomfort.

      “I want to push, want to push!”  Ekaterina begged.

     “Push hard now!”  Patch encouraged, rubbing Ekaterina’s back with a forepaw.  Ekaterina kicked furiously with her hind feet, her forepaws clinging to Chowilawu, her mouth near his ear when she screamed lustily.

      “That’s it, that’s it! Again Ekaterina, push again, push again!”  Chowilawu encouraged.  Ekaterina rolled and twisted until she was sitting down, the heels of both her hind feet resting on Chowilawu’s hind legs.  Bearing down strongly, Ekaterina reached down to catch her cub.

    “I can feel the cub, its coming!”  Ekaterina whimpered, her paws cupped about where they’d be if she was catching her cub, “ooowwwwwwww!”  She complained, whimpering and sobbing.  Chowilawu massaged his mate’s right hind foot, stroking bunched pads and curled toes.

      “Cub’s here now,” patch said, Ekaterina sobbing and whimpering.

      “That was hard, really hard!”  She panted.

       “That was realistic,” Chowilawu said.  Ekaterina, the toes of all four paws aching, smiled and hugged her mate.

       “I really really wanted to push at the end,” she replied.

      “I know,” Chowilawu said, kissing Ekaterina’s nose, then the hot and sweating pads of her fore and hind paws, Ekaterina giggling and snuggling up hard to him.

      “Now do you want to have a go at pretending to have a cub?”  Ekaterina asked.  Chowilawu shook his head:

     “I could try pretending I have stomach ache,” he said, “I could then kick and scream a bit.”

      “I’ll give it a go if you like,” Patch said.  Ekaterina let her mate go, and kissed her brother’s nose.

      “Good luck,” she said.  Patch could smell Ekaterina’s scent, and vowed to do his best to make his display as tactile, but as realistic as possible.

     “We don’t mind being kicked or having our paws crushed,” Ekaterina and Chowilawu said.  Patch laughed:

      “I’ll try not to do too much damage,” he replied.  Patch lay on his side, grunting and puffing.  Then, whimpering, he drew his hind feet to him and rolled onto his back, kicking hard!

      Grhrhrhrhrhrhrhrhrhrhrowwwwwwwwwwwwwowwwwwwwwwwwahoooawww!”  He screamed.  Ekaterina, keen to experience how hard Patch was kicking; put herself in the way of a flying paw, patches right hind paw connecting solidly with her head!  Knocked out cold, Ekaterina collapsed.  Realising she was not acting, Patch leapt out of character and anxiously looked his sister over from nose to tail.  Her nose was bleeding, and she looked awful.

      “I caused this!”  Patch thought miserably.  Chowilawu, scared out of his mind, stood as if his feet were glued to the floor.  Patch ran to the wall phone and pressed the panic button, bringing Kamchatka and Kuruk pounding in.

       “I was acting, and I kicked Ekaterina!”  Patch blurted.  Ekaterina staggered to her feet, her eyes bleary and unfocused.

     “I feel shit!”  She moaned, coughing.

     “Don’t sniff hard Ekaterina, blow through your nose,” Kamchatka said.  Ekaterina blew hard, blood flying everywhere.  Then she instinctively rubbed her nose with her paw, and looked down at it.

      “It’s a different colour now,” she mumbled.

     “What?”  Kamchatka asked.  Ekaterina turned her head to her mum’s voice, and their eyes locked.

     “Can you see me?”  Kamchatka asked.  Ekaterina hesitated:

      “Um, I think I can,” she replied.

       “What am I doing now?”  Kamchatka asked, lifting her right forepaw and scratching her nose.

      “You’re scratching your nose with your, um,” Ekaterina spun round and imitated her mum, “your right forepaw,” she replied.  Kamchatka choked on tears of joy.

       “You can see, you can see!”  Kamchatka sobbed.  Ekaterina tasted the red liquid on her paw.

     “Blood,” she mused, “so what colour is this?”

     “It’s red,” Patch said, “your fur is white, your pads black, oh, and your nose too when it’s not bleeding.”

      “Your fur is grey is it?”  Ekaterina asked, looking Patch over.

      “It is,” patch replied, now getting excited, “and what colour is the sole of my right hind foot Ekaterina?”  Patch spun round and lifted his right hind foot for Ekaterina to examine.  She looked hard, then leant down and kissed the sole pad and toes of patch’s right hind foot.

      “Your pads are white, and very handsome,” Ekaterina said.  Patch lowered his foot to the floor, crying openly.

      “Ekaterina?”  Chowilawu said, touching her paw.  Ekaterina looked at him, smiled and hugged him hard.

      “My mate, my love!”  She said, snuggling hard up to Chowilawu.  Chowilawu kissed his mate’s blooded nose and paw.

      “We’re together Chowilawu, no matter what happens to me from now on,” Ekaterina said, feeling Chowilawu’s fear.

       “I did wonder, now you can see, if only a little, if I’d be good enough for you,” Chowilawu choked.  Ekaterina embraced him.

      “I know your fear,” she whispered, “I won’t abandon you, I promise.”  Chowilawu cried into her fur.

       “We have to get you checked over,” Kamchatka said to Ekaterina, her joy at her daughter cub’s transformation only just held in check.  Leading Ekaterina away, Kamchatka had her checked over by the Boss, and it was confirmed, Ekaterina could see enough to get about and to see things close nearby, to about three feet or so.  There was no telling if her sight would get better or stay the same, or get worse.

     “There are no promises,” the Boss said after six hours of tests and checks on Ekaterina, “we take one day at a time.”  Kamchatka and Ekaterina hugged him and left.

 

“I’m going back to Patch and Chowilawu so we can continue that game!”  Ekaterina said.  Kamchatka held up a paw:

     “No you’re not!”  She snapped.

      “I’ll make sure I don’t get so close,” Ekaterina replied, “I can see how Patch is kicking now, so I won’t need to get so close.”  Kamchatka had forgotten that.

       “I don’t know what to do!”  Kamchatka said excitedly, “I want to run around and scream this news!”

      “Everyone knows mum,” Ekaterina said, “They saw it on the screens.  Indeed, that’s what I’m about to do, watch how I re-enacted that cubbing earlier.”

      “It’s as if life just goes on for you isn’t it?”  Kamchatka said.  Ekaterina smiled:

     “Life does go on mama,” she said.  Ekaterina hugged Kamchatka hard.

       “Let me go mama,” she said.  Kamchatka kissed her youngest cub, looking into her now focused eyes.

      “I will let you go Ekaterina,” Kamchatka replied.  Ekaterina skipped away, very happy.  Finding Patch, she leapt upon him; wrestling him to the floor, then kissing his nose and paw pads.  Then, seeing Chowilawu, she leapt upon him and tickled his paws until he was crying with laughter.

      “Now let me watch that video!”  Ekaterina said, crawling to the video screen with patch and Chowilawu hanging onto her hind feet.  Punching a few buttons, Ekaterina found the video and watched with wrapped attention.

     “Now how is a real cubbing done?”  Ekaterina asked, punching buttons and finding her own birth on the screen.  Staring hard, she saw how she’d come into the world, her mama’s pain and effort all too evident.  Once the screaming, sweaty birth was over, Ekaterina turned away, looking straight into her mum’s face.

      “Poor mama,” she said, padding to her and hugging her.  Kamchatka buried her face in her daughter cub’s fur.

      “I must, must show you a horrible scene,” Kamchatka said, “You remember when I hit you after you told me you couldn’t see?”  Ekaterina nodded.

       “Mum,” she said, “doesn’t show me that, don’t hurt you all over again, please.”  Kamchatka choked.

      “I must,” she sniffed.

     “No mama, please,” Ekaterina begged, kissing her nose, “I forgive you for hitting me.”  Kamchatka sniffed and swallowed hard.

     “Thank you,” she replied softly.  Ekaterina rolled onto her back and looked into an angled mirror, looking at her paw pads.

      “I’ve got black paw pads, and they’re rather cute,” she said.  Kamchatka giggled and sat down, tapping her daughter cub on the shoulder.

     “Would you examine mine?”  She asked.  Ekaterina turned to her mama and picked up her mum’s right forepaw, then her right hind, her left hind, then left fore.

      “Your pads are black and large, and they probably bunch up rather cutely,” Ekaterina said.  Kamchatka curled the toes of her right hind foot, Ekaterina glancing at, and then picking up the paw with its curled toes, kissing it softly.  Kamchatka giggled with pleasure.

      “I love you mum,” Ekaterina said, “from nose to paws.  Chowilawu padded up to his mate and touched her right hind foot.

      Chowilawu?”  Ekaterina said, embracing him tenderly, “I can’t wait to snuggle up with you tonight.”  Chowilawu giggled with pleasure.

      “I want to finish our game with patch,” Chowilawu replied.  Ekaterina padded away with him to patch, who was watching them with interest.

      “Let’s have that internal battle,” patch said.  Ekaterina kissed his nose:

      “If you think I’m taking this all a bit lightly,” she said, “I just don’t know how I should react, I can see now, but how long will that last?  I can’t be sure, so all I can do is carry on, and enjoy my time being able to see.  I know one thing; I won’t stop being paws on, but only when the coast is good for that.”  Patch giggled.

       “My body wants to get rid of things again!”  He groaned suddenly.  Patch bounced on his backside, grabbing his right hind foot with both forepaws, squeezing the pads and toes with desperate, scrabbling forepaws.  Patch moaned loudly, panting and crying.

      “I must try hard! To push! To get rid of whatever’s in here!”  He roared.  Patch felt Ekaterina kiss the flexing toes of his left hind foot, his own eyes closed tightly.

      “Aaowwww, ow! Ow! Owwowowowow!”  Patch screeched, “Yyyyaaaaaah!”  Ekaterina kissed his damp pads and moist nose.

      “Good luck Patch,” she said softly, patches gasping with pain and increased discomfort.

      “Ow Ekaterina, ow!”  He whimpered.  Ekaterina watched as Patch rolled onto his back and grabbed his hind feet in his forepaws, closing his eyes, clenching his teeth and wriggling madly.  Ekaterina padded forward and kissed the toes of Patch’s right forepaw and the bunched sole pad of his right hind, just accessible below the toes of his right forepaw, Patch wailing with agony.

       “I want to push!”  He moaned, bearing down with all his might.  Ekaterina, not wanting to get kicked again, withdrew.

       “Push Patch Push!”  Ekaterina encouraged.  Patch grunted and whimpered as he tried to push harder still.

       Aowwwwwwwwww, aowwwwwwwwwwwooooowwwww!”  He complained.  Ekaterina, unable to watch any more, padded forward and tried to rub the pads of patch’s right hind foot, working the toes of her left forepaw between those of the grey bear’s right fore and the sole pads of his right hind.  Feeling her massaging his pads, Patch took a fresh hold of his hind paws and bore down hard.  Ekaterina groaned with discomfort as her toes were crushed.

      “Now, let me massage that hind foot properly,” Ekaterina said, “Sit up Patch, let me at that paw.”  Patch struggled to sit up and thrust his right hind foot into Ekaterina’s forepaws, the female polar bear sitting opposite him.

      “Push into my forepaws if you need to push,” Ekaterina said softly.  Patch closed his eyes and pushed!  Ekaterina bore the pressure, feeling Patch’s pads bearing down against her own.  She felt Patch’s toes curling as he tried to push with everything he had.

       ooooooooowwwwwwwww!awhoooawooo!I’m finished, finished!”  Patch gasped.  Ekaterina massaged and kissed patch’s curled toes and sweating pads.

      “You did your best,” Ekaterina replied softly.  Patch smiled weakly.

      “Now let’s go and get washed,” Patch panted.  Ekaterina padded after her brother, Chowilawu following them.  They met Conrad in the bathroom, the male polar bear hugging his daughter cub tightly.

     “I am so glad at your news,” he said softly.  Ekaterina giggled:

      “I’m not holding my breath as to what happens tomorrow,” she replied, “but for now, things are great.  Though I will never forget what it was like to be blinded.”  Conrad smiled broadly:

      Kamchatka said Patch kicked you with his right hind foot,” he said.  Ekaterina nodded:

       “He did,” she replied, “and I felt the pads of that paw pressing into mine.”  Conrad kissed his daughter cub’s nose once more.

      “Now let’s wash your paws Patch,” Ekaterina said.  Patch splashed into the bathtub where Ekaterina soon joined him.  Washing his hind paws, Ekaterina embraced each hind foot in turn, exploring Patch’s pads and toes under the water, Patch giggling and curling his toes with pleasure.  Ekaterina splashed water over Patch’s right hind paw which rested on her left hind leg, kissing his toes.  Patch, laughing, picked up Ekaterina’s right hind paw and kissed her toes, Ekaterina loving his attentions.

      “You’ve got handsome paws patch,” Ekaterina said.  Patch giggled and wiggled his toes, Ekaterina massaging them tenderly.  Ekaterina looked into Patch’s face, the grey bear looking back at her:

       “I see a friendly bear under all that fur,” she said, “but I knew that anyway, for your paws tell me everything.”  Patch removed his right hind foot from Ekaterina’s paws and kneeling in the water, leant foreword and kissed her nose.

      “Can I take a look at how your hind paws look when your sitting back on them Patch?”  Ekaterina asked.  Patch turned his back on her, sitting back on his heels in the shallow water, Ekaterina gently tracing the pads of his hind paws with her right forepaw, Patch giggling with pleasure.

      “it’s harder to do anything about your paws touching mine now,”  Patch said, “so I have to trust you more.”  Ekaterina kissed the sole pad of patch’s left hind foot, patch laughing merrily.  Bouncing on his heels a little, patch lashed Ekaterina a bit, the younger bear giggling and tracing the pads of her brother’s hind paws one by one.  Patch whipped his hind feet away, turning back to his sister and hugging her hard in warm wet paws.  Patch and Ekaterina washed each other from nose to tail, and then Ekaterina helped Chowilawu into the water and washed him, the young male bear wriggling with pleasure in the warm embrace of Ekaterina’s paws.  Helping the male bear from the water, Ekaterina dried him off with a huge towel; Chowilawu wriggling and making sure his paws got a good rub.

 

THEN IT WAS TIME FOR Ekaterina to go to her lie up with her mate.

       “I suppose you’ll want the light on all the time now?”  Chowilawu said when they got back to the lie up.  Ekaterina kissed his nose:

      “No Chowilawu love I won’t,” she replied, “I want to sleep in the dark, and be with you in the dark too, so I never forget what I once was.”

      “But you don’t want to be blind again do you?”  Chowilawu asked.  Ekaterina hugged him:

      “Blindness isn’t the whole of me, and if I am blinded again, then so be it,” she replied, “we go on from here as before Chowilawu, you and me, playing our cubbing games.”

      “I noticed you didn’t stop playing the game when I had to run to the relieving place,” Chowilawu said.  Ekaterina buried her head in his shoulder:

       “Cubbing wouldn’t normally stop just because someone had gone to the relieving place,” she said, “you wanted realism, so I gave you realism.”

     “How did Patch feel when you clambered into his lap?”  Chowilawu asked.  Ekaterina sat down and held Chowilawu on her lap, hugging him.

       “He was supportive, wonderful!”  She replied, “He treated me gently, allowing me to push and do whatever else I wanted.  I’m sure he forgot I was his sister, and treated me just like he would any other mama bear in labour.”

      “Patch is a lovely bear,” Chowilawu said, “he’s not just great inside, he’s great outside too.  He’s got the most gorgeous paws!  They are so mobile, so expressive, and very cute.  When he curls his toes, he really means business.”

      “He’s an honest bear,” Ekaterina replied, “I knew that the moment I met him.  Kuruk is honest too, but he’s been scarred by his life, so he’s a bit wary, Patch though, he’s cubbish in his honesty when playing, and when dealing with others.  He knows how it is for mama bears when in labour almost.  It’s as if he can feel their pain.”

     I think we should invite him to spend the night here,” Chowilawu said.  Ekaterina nodded and went to the wall phone, punching in the number of patch’s lie up from memory.

      “Hi Patch, want to spend the night with Chowilawu and me?”  She asked.  The response was evidently favourable, for a few minutes after Ekaterina put the phone down, Patch padded into the room.  Settling down on the rugs, he watched his sister and her mate snuggling up together.

      “They look so great together,” he thought.

 

Meanwhile, in Kamchatka’s lie up, Kuruk and Kamchatka sat opposite each other, playing with each other’s hind paws.  Kuruk, his left hind foot resting on his mum’s right hind leg, her right hind foot resting on his left hind leg, explored Kamchatka’s right hind paw with both of his.  The two bears had measured hind feet, finding their paws very similar in size.  Kamchatka was considering screwing herself up to tell Kuruk how his birth had been.  About her fear, her pain, her struggle to give birth to him all those years ago.  Now she held his left hind foot in her forepaws, him holding her right hind foot in his forepaws, and could feel how relaxed the large male grizzly was.

      “Kuruk,” Kamchatka said, “I want, want to show you your birth.”  Kuruk gently massaged his mama’s hind paw.

      “Why you want do that mama?”  He asked.

      “Why, don’t you want to know how your birth went?”  Kamchatka asked.  Kuruk thought for a minute:

       “Kuruk know it be painful scary time for mama,” he said, “but he no wants put her through it again.”  Kamchatka pressed her right hind foot into her son’s paws.

       “I want to roll about, kick and scream a bit,” Kamchatka replied, “I don’t know why.”  Kuruk smiled:

       “Kuruk hear Ekaterina get seeing a bit,” he said.  Kamchatka smiled and nodded:

      “”it might be that,” she replied, “I blame myself for her blindness, for her getting stuck.”

      “That is nature mama, not fault of mama Kamchatka,” he replied.

     “yes, but if I’d only pushed a little harder, relaxed a little more during contractions, I might have given birth to her without trouble,”  Kamchatka replied.

 

Meanwhile, in Ekaterina’s lie up, Patch lay on his back, Chowilawu exploring him from nose to tail.  Ekaterina joined in with the general paw play.

      “I want to use my sight as much as I can,” Ekaterina said, “but I will make sure I use my paws first.  Paws first, eyes after.”

 

An hour later, Patch met Ekaterina at the front door, the two bears venturing into the wood.  Ekaterina knew the wood by touch, but had never seen it.  Rather than the wood, she found her eyes drawn to patch, how he moved, how he padded through the wood, how his paws touched the track.  She let him walk ahead of her, watching his hind feet, would she get a glimpse of the pads on the sole of one of patch’s cute hind paws?  Patch saw her looking at his hind feet and danced a bit, kicking out with his hind paws, Ekaterina giggling and pouncing on Patch, both bears rolling down the hill into the clearing where Kamchatka and Ekaterina had played a few days before.

      “I love those hind paws, give me your paws!”  Ekaterina said laughing.  Patch kicked the air with his hind feet, Ekaterina catching his left hind paw and stroking his pads.  Patch curled his toes tightly, Ekaterina giggling and kissing his pads, noticing they smelt of earth.

       “I love when you kiss my paws,” Patch replied.

      “I kissed your pads when they were damp with sweat, and now when they are covered in earth,” Ekaterina said.  Patch laughed with delight and pleasure.

      “Can I chase your hind paws?”  He asked.  Ekaterina giggled and rolled onto her back, kicking with her hind feet.  Patch looked at her, then realised he didn’t want to catch her paws; he wanted her to catch his again, to play with his paws, for Ekaterina to trace his pads and play with his toes.

      “Would you play with my paws again?”  Patch asked, “I’ll crawl away, and you can pounce on my hind paws if you like.  Ekaterina hugged Patch, feeling his need for her to play with his hind paws.

       “You just want to play dear cub,” she said, kissing his nose.  Patch swallowed hard, emotions nearly overwhelming him.

       “I love it!”  He sniffed.  Ekaterina kissed his nose, then the furry tops of his forepaws, then the pads and toes of his hind, Patch giggling.  Patch crawled away, Ekaterina stalking him, then pouncing on his hind paws, pinning them down and kissing his pads and toes, Patch roaring with laughter.

        “I love that!”  He yelled.  Ekaterina kissed patch’s pads and toes, Patch laughing helplessly.

 

Meanwhile, Olga Honeydew approached Chowilawu.  She’d had her eye on him for some time, and while his powerful mate was out, she was determined to have a chat with him.

      “Chowilawu,” she said, touching his paw, “Olga honeydew here.”

      “Yes?”  Chowilawu asked, “What can I do for you?”

       “Do you want to come play in the pool complex?”  Olga asked, “I noticed you were on your own.”

       “Ekaterina will be back soon though,” Chowilawu replied, “she’s gone with Patch to visit the wood.

       “I’ve seen them there,” Olga said, “they’re playing with each other’s paws, Ekaterina chasing Patch’s paws mostly.  Does she chase your paws?”  Chowilawu felt uncomfortable.

      “What is this?”  He asked, “Twenty questions?”

       “I think Ekaterina’s being unfaithful to you,” Olga Honeydew said.  Chowilawu laughed harshly:

      “With Patch?”  Olga squeezed his paw.

     “Yes,” she replied, “he’s, well, handsome, and has gorgeous paws, and she can chase him now she has sight, so she’s after him now.”

      “Those two have always been close, they’re friends,” Chowilawu said, his paw hot and uncomfortable beneath Olga Honeydew’s larger paw.

       “You disgust me!”  Chowilawu yelled.

      “Kuruk says so too!”  Kuruk yelled, picking Olga up and throwing her against the wall, “Olga big bad bitch!  She makes trouble for Chowilawu and Ekaterina.  She is like horrid mother!”  Chowilawu padded to Kuruk and sat down, tugging the huge grizzly bear down beside him.

      “Tell me Kuruk,” Chowilawu begged, “Is Ekaterina in love with patch?”

 

Meanwhile, Ekaterina and patch rolled about the clearing, fighting to claim each other’s paws.  Laughing merrily and growling with mock fury, they played for a long time until they were exhausted.  Getting to their paws, they padded back to the house paw in paw.

       “Loved that,” Patch panted.  Ekaterina laughed happily.

 

“Kuruk think Chowilawu have nothing worry about,” Kuruk grunted, “Olga be making big trouble for Chowilawu and Ekaterina, that be view of Kuruk anyway.  Now you go ask Ekaterina if she want make cub with patch.  If she say no when holding paw of Chowilawu in her own paws, and you think she speak truth, then you tell Olga go jump into big hole.  Then again, if she takes your paw and say she want cub with patch, you hit her with paws, bite her with teeth and run away.  Kuruk no intervene though, as it not be place for thing.  Between you and Ekaterina this is, no one make choice for Ekaterina or Chowilawu.”

        “I hope Olga isn’t right,” Chowilawu said, “Playing with Patch’s paws is one thing, wanting his cub though, that’s another thing entirely!”

 

Ekaterina padded into the lie up a few minutes later, the scent of earth and sweat on her fur and paw pads strong to Kuruk and Chowilawu.

       “Ekaterina,” Chowilawu asked, “are you looking to have cubs with Patch?”  Ekaterina snorted with laughter:

       “What the hell are you on about?”  She asked, “Patch and I are friends, we’re brother and sister, not lovers!  Where has all this paranoia comes from Chowilawu?”  Chowilawu told her.

      “So you’d believe Olga Honeydew?”  Ekaterina asked.

      “No, Ekaterina, I wouldn’t, I don’t, well, you do play naturally with patch, and you’ve play acted cubbing with him helping you.  You’ve kissed his sweating pads when he’s been in pain.”

       “I’ve kissed yours too,” she said, “we’ve done all that and more!  Now, now where the hell are you going with this?”  Chowilawu dried up, staring down at the ground.

       “Tell me you’re not in love with Patch!”  Chowilawu begged.  Ekaterina took his right forepaw in hers and told him as much.

       “I’m not in love with Patch,” she said.”  Chowilawu smelt the strong earth sweat scent on Ekaterina’s fur, it was all over her, the scent, the scent of the outdoors, of Patch, who spent hours roaming the wood, or sitting in his clearing.  Chowilawu nearly choked.

       “Go wash!”  He snapped.  Ekaterina looked at her mate:

       “I only played with Patch!  Nothing more!”  She snarled.

       “You rolled on the floor with him!”  Chowilawu yelled.

      “Everyone has, Kamchatka has, Helga has, and everyone has at one time!”  She screamed.  Chowilawu turned away, and was violently sick.

       “I didn’t do anything but play with patch!”  Ekaterina sobbed.  Chowilawu stormed from the room.

       “Kuruk?”  Ekaterina asked, turning to the grizzly bear.

      “Kuruk no getting involved,” Kuruk replied, “that be your problem Ekaterina, you need fix it yourself.”  Ekaterina turned away, realising she was on her own.

      “I’ve done nothing wrong!”  Ekaterina yelled in frustration.  Stamping round the lie up she kicked the wall, screaming with pain as her toes cracked.

       “Chowilawu’s words almost make me want to have serious intimate contact with patch to make him have something to scream about!”  Ekaterina roared.  Looking down at her forepaws, Ekaterina saw the affect tears had on her newly restored sight, crying softly.  Her vision blurring, she wiped her nose on the back of her right forepaw.

        “I love Chowilawu,” Ekaterina sobbed.  Then Looking up, she saw her mate playing with Olga Honeydew.  This sight made ekaterina cry even harder.

 

Meanwhile, Chowilawu played energetically with Olga Honeydew.  The female grizzly bear was more his age, and they played with energetic enthusiasm.  Olga smelt fresh, her paws were perfect, her body felt great to Chowilawu, and she loved having her paws played with.  Chowilawu was determined to play Ekaterina at her own game, if she wanted to be unfaithful, so could he be.

 

Ekaterina padded from the lie up after three hours of crying into her paws.  Her eyes red and sore, she padded on damp paws to the bathroom.  Standing on her hind feet, Ekaterina washed her face, trying to get rid of red eyes and heat in her face.  Ekaterina saw Patch in the mirror, enter the bathroom, pad up to her, then felt him rest his paws on her shoulders.

       “I felt you needed help,” patch said softly.  Ekaterina turned to him, still standing on her hind feet.  Patch supported her as she clung to him, spreading his hind legs a little to take her weight.

       “I saw, saw Chowilawu playing with Olga, and, and he was serious! He wants her Patch, he wants her so much!”  Ekaterina said, crying into Patch’s coat.

      “Let’s go to my lie up and talk about this,” Patch said.

 

Back in Olga Honeydew’s lie up, Chowilawu and Olga Honeydew were playing energetically.  Olga had paws which felt wonderful in Chowilawu’s grasp, her paws were soft and warm and perfectly formed.  Now he was rapidly falling in love with this female bear that was more his own age and size.  Ekaterina was too confident for Chowilawu if the truth was told, too sure of her place in life, and now she’d hooked up with patch, whisking him off his paws.  Chowilawu found he liked Olga, indeed, liked her very much.

 

Meanwhile, in the grizzly bear family lie up, Patch sat with Ekaterina on his lap, comforting her while she cried.

      “Chowilawu accuses me of rolling with you in the grass in an inappropriate manner!  I didn’t, we didn’t! We were playing with each other’s paws, more me playing with yours, but that was all we did!  We love each other as brother and sister, but as you and I are unrelated by blood Patch, I almost feel as if we should become mates, as, from about three hours ago, Chowilawu’s paws are now touching another’s paws.  He’s making out with Olga Honeydew! The one who spun him the shit about you and me!  He believes her!  I loved him Patch!  But, but now, now I want to forget about him!  He’s dismissed me, he’s found another’s paws, and he’s abandoned me over a silly game!”  Ekaterina buried her face in her paws, sobbing.  Patch, hugging her, wished he could help.  Yes, the game in the clearing had been exhilarating, and completely for filling, but now she was asking him to become her mate.

     “Maybe that’s just an overreaction to the current situation she finds herself in,” he thought.  Ekaterina rubbed her eyes with clenched paws.

       “I can’t believe he left me for a honey coloured cub!”  She sobbed.

       “I’ll  stay with you as long as you want me to,” Patch said.  Ekaterina clung to his right forepaw with both of hers.

       “Stay with me!”  She begged.  The phone rang, Patch and Ekaterina seeing Chowilawu’s face on the video display, the computer voice telling them who had hold of the handset or had dialled the number.

        “What!”  Ekaterina snapped, slapping the button to answer the phone.

       “I’m leaving you Ekaterina,” Chowilawu said, “I don’t want to touch your paws any more, for they’ve been in contact with dirty earth, and a dirty bear!”  With that he slammed down the phone.

       “That’s it, that’s finished!”  Ekaterina sobbed, almost choking.  Patch held her tightly, Ekaterina sobbing into his coat.

       “I’m here for you,” He said softly.  Ekaterina looked up into Patch’s face.

       “Hug me, please!”  She begged.  Patch embraced her tenderly.

        “Would you play with my paws, massage my pads and play with my toes?”  Ekaterina asked softly.  Patch nodded:

       “I will,” he replied.

      “I’ll play with yours too,” Ekaterina promised, “I love playing with your hind paws!”  Patch smiled:

       “You don’t need to return the paw play every time,” he said, “but it’s nice you do.”  Ekaterina let herself go, obeying her instinct.

      “I want to!”  She sniffed, “I want to Patch!”  Patch giggled softly.

      “Let’s enjoy ourselves,” he said, looking Ekaterina over, “how would it be if we had a bath, then showered each other?”  Patch asked.  Ekaterina smiled and hugged Patch tightly.

       “I love that idea!”  She replied.  Patch took Ekaterina’s paw in his and led her to the nearest bathroom, where he ran a deep, warm bath.  Tipping in salts and oils, he soon had soothing herbal scents filling the room.  Ekaterina watched patch’s every move, loving him from nose to paw pads.  He evidently loved what he was doing, taking pride in his work.  Turning on the spar feature to mix the oils and salts, patch turned to Ekaterina.

     “Let’s do this right,” he said rising to his hind feet.  Ekaterina joined him, standing on her own hind paws and leaning into patch, Patch’s years of walking on his hind paws standing him in good stead.  Patch dropped to his knees, Ekaterina following him, holding his forepaws in hers.  Patch freed his forepaws and turned rear onto Ekaterina, Ekaterina following him as he crawled towards the water.  Smiling, she touched the sole of his right hind paw with her left fore, running her toes down his sole pad to his toes, the grey bear’s toes tightly curling round Ekaterina’s.

       “I want to follow you Patch,” Ekaterina said, leaning down and kissing the sole of patch’s right hind paw, Patch watching her from the corner of his eye.

       “Do you like my paws?”  He asked.  Ekaterina giggled:

       “I love your paws,” she said, dipping her right forepaw into the bathtub and splashing water onto the sole of Patch’s right hind foot.  Patch giggled and releasing his hold on her forepaw, pushed Ekaterina into the water, following her in.

      “The water is warm and full of bubbles!”  Ekaterina laughed, “The bubbles are tickling my paws!”  Patch laughed and picked up Ekaterina’s right hind foot, balancing her heel on his left hind leg.  Grinning, patch leant down and kissed the toes of the paw he held, then, blowing on the sole of her foot, his lips touching the wrinkled skin of her pads, Patch made extra bubbles burst around Ekaterina’s paw, tickling the female polar bear.

      “That’s so lovely!”  Ekaterina laughed.  Patch massaged and played with the toes he’d just kissed, Ekaterina wriggling with pleasure.

 

Kamchatka and Kuruk watched Patch and Ekaterina on the screen in the family lie up.

      “Kuruk want to tear choilawu’s head off!”  Kuruk growled.  Kamcahtka put a soothing paw on her son’s left hind leg.

       “No Kuruk, leave him,”  she said, “he did wrong, but who’s lost out here?  Chowilawu has paws down!  Patch loves Ekaterina, and if they want to migrate their relationship from adopted brother and sister to lovers I won’t stop them.  There is no natural law preventing them having cubs.  Ekaterina’s not old enough yet, but when she is, patch will be twelve and in his prime.  They’ll bring their cubs up just fine I’m sure.  Right now though, let’s rejoice in their love, in the way they play and hug.”  Kuruk nodded and smiled broadly.

      “They have time to play, that be good,”  Kuruk replied, “now Kuruk have no time to play with mate, she get in cub, then die dam quick and he have no time for play,”  Kuruk said sadly.  Kamchatka hugged her eldest son.

       “I’m glad Patch and Ekaterina are together,” Kamchatka said.

 

Patch and Ekaterina washed each other carefully, taking their time, washing from noses to paw pads.  Once this was done, Ekaterina took her chance to play with patch’s hind paws, something she loved doing, and Patch adored her for.

      “I love you Ekaterina,” Patch said softly, Ekaterina kissing his nose.

       “I love you too,” she replied.  Ekaterina and Patch padded from the room and along to the showers.  Showering down, Patch made a big thing of rinsing his face and paws with elaborate care.  Ekaterina watched him, clearly loving every minute.  Patch laughed as he watched her face, for he was playing to her, playing with his paws while washing them, something he knew she liked.  Ekaterina touched Patch’s forepaws while he washed his hind, loving his antics.

      “I love you Patch,” Ekaterina said softly, gently kissing the toes of his right forepaw, then the sole pad of his right fore, the water from the shower running over his paw pads, Patch kissing her nose through the water.  Ekaterina giggled and embraced patch’s grasping right forepaw, playing left fore and right hind paw in her forepaws.  Ekaterina looked up into Patch’s face.

      “Tell me Patch,” Ekaterina said, “if, if I lose my sight, say one day, I cannot see you, will you still love me as you do now?”  Patch stopped playing with his hind paw and wrapped Ekaterina in a huge hug, lying on his back and pulling her onto his chest as best he could, holding her there.  The water splashed on Ekaterina’s head and ran onto his face.  Kissing her nose, Patch held her tightly.

      “I will love you however you are,” he promised.  Ekaterina snuggled up, feeling the sincerity in his words.

     “Thank you, thank you!”  She choked.  Patch wriggled as Ekaterina rubbed him down from nose to tail, working the toes of her forepaws into his fur, and then gently curling the toes of her hind paws around those of his hind paws when she reached them.  Patch laughed as Ekaterina loved her by the paw, thoroughly enjoying her ministrations.

       “I hope I can do as well with my paws when rubbing you down,” Patch said.  Ekaterina kissed Patch’s nose, belly, and the sole of his right hind foot.

       “You’ll do just fine,” she replied.  Patch kissed her nose.  Ekaterina swapped places with her mate, showering herself down, eager for Patch to get paws on with her paws.  Ekaterina sat in the spray of the shower, patch getting paws on with her hind paws, Ekaterina pressing her paws into his.

       “Your paw pads are wrinkled Ekaterina,” patch said gently kissing the toes of her right forepaw and left hind, Ekaterina giggling with pleasure.

      “I love you Patch,” she said.

 

Meanwhile, in Olga Honeydew’s lie up, Chowilawu hugged Olga tightly, loving her from nose to paws.  Chowilawu knew he loved Olga more than he ever had Ekaterina.  Olga had perfect ears and paws.

 

In Ekaterina’s lie up, Ekaterina and Patch lay curled together after their shower.  Cuddling up, they laughed about their antics in the drying room.

      “You were dancing on your toes Ekaterina!”  Patch said, “You looked so cute!”  Ekaterina giggled:

       “I loved it,” Ekaterina said.  Patch touched Ekaterina’s nose with his, then he took her right forepaw in both of his.

       “Your paws are warm and soft,” Patch said, “”you are perfect Ekaterina, Perfect from nose to paws.”  Ekaterina kissed his nose:

      “You are perfect too patching, perfect from nose to paws,” she said.  Patch turned out the light in the lie up, padding back to his mate in the dark, settling down beside Ekaterina and tracing her body from nose to tail with his paws.  Ekaterina, loving every second, wriggled and pawed at Patch, Kissing his nose and forepaws as he touched her nose.  Patch drew his hind feet up to catch the toes of Ekaterina’s hind feet with his, Ekaterina laughing merrily.

      “I’ve never had so much fun!”  Ekaterina said.  Patch kissed her nose with commitment and love.

      “I love you Ekaterina, from from your nose,” he said touching her nose with a forepaw, “to your toes,” he said, touching the toes of her right hind foot with his left forepaw.

       “Now it’s my turn,” Ekaterina said, “give me your paws!”  Patch let Ekaterina play with, and massage his paws.  Patch felt his pads making contact with Ekaterina’s, the touch feeling wonderful.

       “I love your paws Patch,” Ekaterina said softly, “they are so soft and gentle!”  Patch kissed his mate’s nose in the dark.

       “Now, let me hug you,” patch said, enfolding Ekaterina in a huge bear hug.  Ekaterina snuggled up, cuddling as close to Patch as she could.

       “Oooh, this is great!”  Ekaterina said, burying her face and paws deeply into Patch’s fur.

 

Later, as midnight came round, patch and Ekaterina went out on a midnight walk.  Padding through the wood, they listened to the sounds of the night.  Suddenly they heard screaming, begging and crying.

       “Someone help, help me!”  Ekaterina ran towards the sound, nearly tripping over something in her haste.

       “Ekaterina!”  The voice yelled, “it’s Tommy, My hind foot, it’s caught in a trap, my toes, they’re getting squashed, whenever I pull, my toes get squashed, it’s horrible!”  Ekaterina felt her way to Tommy’s hind feet, feeling the slip knot tight around his toes and the ankle joint of his right hind foot.  Ekaterina lay down to get a better hold of the rope in her paws.

      “Ow, ow!”  Tommy whimpered as Ekaterina felt her way over his sweating pads.

      “Don’t pull against the rope,” Ekaterina said gently.  Tommy, exhausted, relaxed.  Ekaterina freed the half grown tiger, and then felt him turn to her and embrace her.

       “Thank you Ekaterina my friend,” he said.  Ekaterina kissed his nose, feeling his paws embracing her where she lay after helping the tiger.  Their attention was attracted by a yell of:

     “Got you!”  Then a scream.

     “What have you found?”  Ekaterina asked.  Patch, dragging something behind him, emerged from the trees.

      “A badger,” he said, “Magnus, wafts for his trap to be sprung.”

      “Magnus wafting for squirrel to be caught in trap!  The badger squealed.

      “You caught a bloody tiger!”  Ekaterina yelled, “How long was Tommy here?”

      “About ten minutes,” Magnus replied, “but you think Magnus going to free tiger?  No bloody way!”

     “You disgust me!”  Ekaterina yelled.

     “It hurt, it hurt!”  Tommy whimpered.  Ekaterina hugged him.

     “Let’s go home,” Ekaterina said softly, kissing the tiger’s nose.  The night was dark, so Ekaterina found her way by touch, Patch bringing up the rear carrying the offending squirrel trap and dragging Magnus with him.

 

Entering the house, Ekaterina switched on a light and got her first sight of the cub she’d helped Bianca bring into the world four months previously.  Their eyes locking, it was Tommy who broke down first, realising the bear who’d helped him into the world and who held his affections second only to his own mother, could see him.

      “You can see me, you can see me!”  Tommy wept.  Ekaterina kissed the weeping cub’s nose.

      “I love you Tommy,” she said softly.  Tommy tugged at Ekaterina’s paw until she lay down, then he hugged her tightly.

       “I didn’t mean to trap a tiger!”  Magnus screamed.

       “You are a bloody pest Magnus!”  Patch growled.  Honeyfur padded up to patch and dragged her son cub away.

       “Why you no free that poor tiger?”  She snarled, “He is only a cub!”  Magnus whined miserably:

      “He is a tiger mama,” he replied, “Magnus no go near that bloody thing!  He probably rips face off, then paws too!”  Honeyfur cuffed her cub:

       “You think poor tiger who is trapped and frightened think of ripping you up?  Tommy no think that, he be weak tiger anyway, he only cub!  He might be big looking, but that all fat.  His paws weak.”

 

Meanwhile Tommy had recovered, and was playing with Ekaterina’s paws while the bears and he rested in their lie up.  Tommy asked Ekaterina about his birth, having seen it on the video.

       “your mama had to push with everything she had to deliver you,”  Ekaterina said, “Tommy, she was at full stretch anyway, and she had to stretch that little bit further to accommodate your body.”

      “Mama told me it felt like she was being ripped apart,” Tommy replied, “and that pushing when there was no room to push was the worst.  She did it, made things stretch that little bit more, but it was a screaming effort for her.  I know this.”  Ekaterina kissed the pads and toes of all four of Tommy’s paws, the tiger giggling and curling his toes with pleasure.

       “I love you Ekaterina,” he said, “I always have.”

     “I love you too Tommy,” Ekaterina replied, “How can I not when I fought for your life.”  Tommy kissed her nose.

      “Your paws are fat like mine,” he said, “I love your paws Ekaterina.”  Ekaterina giggled with pleasure.

      “Can I stroke your hind paws?”  Ekaterina asked.  Tommy rolled onto his side, presenting his hind paws for Ekaterina to play with.  Ekaterina took Tommy’s right hind foot in her paws first, looking at, and then tracing his pads and toes.  Tommy sighed with contentment as the polar bear stroked the sole of his paw.  When she massaged the pads on the sole of his paw, Tommy curled his toes tightly, Ekaterina giggling:

      “Do you like me touching your pads?”  She asked.  Tommy mewed that he did, he really loved it!

       “I’ll do it more then,” Ekaterina said, stroking Tommy’s curled toes until they relaxed.  Tommy tried to imagine how it had been for his mum giving birth to him.  Horrendous pain, everything at full stretch, and then having to push down some more.

      “Ouch mama,” Tommy mewed, curling his toes involuntarily.  Ekaterina kissed the curled toes.

      “You’re not gonna re-enacta cubbing are you?”  She asked.  Tommy shook his head:

       “Though my paws do look cute in a mirror when my toes are curled,” he said.

      “If you want to push against my forepaws, you can Tommy,” Ekaterina said.  Tommy lay on his side, felt for Ekaterina’s forepaws with his hind, then pushed hard against them, growling and snarling, then roaring with effort.

       “Push Tommy Push!”  Ekaterina encouraged, Tommy snarling and holding onto the rug with his forepaws while bearing down with his hind feet.

        Roaooooaaarhrhrhrhrhrh! Rooooaaaaooooaaarhrhrhrhrhrhr!”  Tommy yelled as he bore down against Ekaterina’s forepaws.

      “Push Tommy push!”  Patch encouraged, dancing on his toes.  Tommy wriggled, kicked and pressed down even harder.  Ekaterina let Tommy kick and push down against her forepaws, and then began to massage his hind paws while the tiger rested.

      “I love this, I love this!”  Tommy mewed.  Ekaterina kissed the tiger’s sweating pads.

       “You soppy thing!”  Tommy laughed, shuffling round to embrace Ekaterina.

      “I love you Ekaterina, I love you!”  Tommy mewed.  Ekaterina kissed Tommy’s nose, the tiger becoming tearful.

       “So what do you think of me in full colour?”  Tommy asked.  Ekaterina kissed his nose and took his right forepaw.

       “I love you as much as I did when I couldn’t see you,”  Ekaterina said, “I loved you the minute I took your slippery forepaws in mine while your mum pushed down hard to deliver you.  Crying, Tommy buried his head in Ekaterina’s shoulder.

       “I was nearly too fat for her to deliver safely!”  Tommy wept, obviously blaming himself for Bianca’s hard labour.

       “No Tommy,” Bianca said, padding in, “I don’t blame you, it’s what happens sometimes.  I love watching your birth, indeed yours, Snowy’s and Whitie’s births, I love watching them, because I love you.  I would go through all that pushing and screaming again right now.  That’s how much I love you.”  Tommy hugged his mum tightly.

      “Why did you push hard against Ekaterina’s forepaws Tommy?”  Bianca asked.  Tommy snuggled up to his mum:

       “It was to get rid of the stress I felt over my entrapment,” he mewed.  Ekaterina played with the toes of Tommy’s right forepaw, the tiger giggling with pleasure.

       “I love you playing with my paws,” he said.  Ekaterina kissed the pads of Tommy’s right hind foot, the tiger laughing merrily.

      “Have you watched Tommy’s birth Ekaterina?”  Bianca asked.  Ekaterina shook her head:

       “I’d like to,” she replied.  Bianca selected the video from the screen and played it.  Ekaterina watched, her toes curling as Bianca strained, screamed and kicked.

       “Ouch mama,” Ekaterina said.  Bianca sat down and played with the toes of her hind paws, picking at them with her forepaws.  Bianca then lay down and drew up her hind feet, grabbing her toes in her forepaws and squeezing them hard.  Ekaterina watched her, padding over and kissing the tigress’s nose.  Bianca wriggled and twisted, trying to get a better hold on her hind feet with her forepaws.  Stretching a bit, she managed to get a good hold of her hind paws with her fore.  Arching her back, Bianca panted, then grabbed her hind feet with renewed zeal and tried to straighten her spine, snarling, she held on tightly to her hind feet with her forepaws.  Eyes tight shut, Bianca groaned with effort.

      “Relax now,” Ekaterina said softly, Bianca whimpering as she released the pressure on her hind paws.

       “Take it easy mum, easy,” Tommy said gently.  Bianca whimpered and pedalled her paws slightly; Tommy touching his mum’s left forepaw.

      “Touch my paws Tommy,” Bianca panted.  Tommy touched his mum’s fore and hind paws, and then kissed her toes, Bianca giggling.

      “Where are Whitie and Snowy?”  Ekaterina asked.  Bianca smiled:

      “They’re with Tigger and Namrah,” Bianca replied.  Patch looked at Ekaterina:

       “I’m tired,” he yawned.  Bianca, taking the hint, left, Tommy following her.  Now alone, the two bears settled down together, patch remembering something and closing the door to the lie up, dimming the lights which had become brighter.

        “Can I explore you with my paws?”  Ekaterina asked.  Patch smiled and nodded:

       “Explore away,” he invited.  Ekaterina got paws on with patch, from his nose, to the pads of his hind paws, Patch wriggling with pleasure.

      “I love your touch, I love your touch!”  He panted, pawing involuntarily at Ekaterina’s back, Ekaterina wriggling with as much pleasure as her mate.  This ended in both bears becoming entangled in a ball of fur and paws, each trying to explore the other from nose to tail.

      “Let yourself go Patch, let yourself go!”  Ekaterina begged, “if we mate, then that’s how it should be, I’m ready to mate, so if we do, we do.  Jus take those breaks off!”  Patch did, and so did Ekaterina, the two bears resulting rough and tumbles game exhilarating and thrilling.  After half an hour of rolling about on the rugs, patch and Ekaterina lay exhausted curled up together on the floor.  Patch looked into his mate’s face, then at her forepaws, then her hind.

       “I love your paws, can we swap?”  He asked.

      “We could try,” Ekaterina panted, “as long as I can have your paws.”

      “You can,” Patch replied.

       “How are we going to swap paws?”  Ekaterina asked.  Patch giggled:

     “I got hold of some flour and black food colouring, as well as grey ash I found after a fire had been set in the wood.  I’ll paint my pads black and flour up the tops of my paws, and you can put ash on the tops of your paws and flour up your pads to make them white, okay?”  Ekaterina giggled and hugged her mate:

       “Let’s do that!”  She said.  Very shortly after, helping each other, Ekaterina had paws like patch’s and Patch had paws like Ekaterina’s.

      “Your paws look even cuter now!”  Ekaterina laughed, kissing her mate’s now black paw pads.  Patch kissed Ekaterina’s now white pads, the female polar bear giggling with pleasure.

      “How does it feel to have white soled paws?”  Patch asked.  Ekaterina laughed:

       “It feels wonderful!”  Ekaterina said, padding about, admiring her white soles in an angled mirror.  Patch giggled and showed off his new paws too.

      “Washing this out is going to be easy for me,” Ekaterina said, “but you Patch, might have some problems getting the food colouring off your pads.”  Patch licked the pads of his right forepaw and looked down at it.  There was a slight lightening of the black pad.

      “A good wash should see us both right,” he said.  Ekaterina giggled:

      “Just what Ire really look forward to,” she replied.  Loud thumping on the door announced Kamchatka’s arrival.  The mama grizzly strode in with a bucket of salmon, Ekaterina’s nose twitching at the familiar scent.

       “This time, I hope I am right,” she said, setting the bucket down.  Ekaterina hugged her mum, Patch hanging back from doing the same.

      “Come on,” Kamchatka encouraged, “Patch, you can hug me too, I’m your mama too.”  Patch embraced Kamchatka tightly.  Kamchatka looked down at patch’s paws, then at Ekaterina’s.

      “What have you two been doing?”  She asked.  Patch laughed and indicated to Kamchatka she should sit down.  When the grizzly bear was sitting, patch blacked the pads of her right hind foot, whitening the top of that paw, and then greyed the furry top of her left hind foot, whitening the pads.  Kamchatka stared at her hind feet in the angled mirror.

       “You silly things!”  She laughed, kissing her son and daughter cub’s noses.

       “So you approve of us mating?”  Ekaterina asked her mum.  Kamchatka hugged her.

      “If you feel you are ready for cubs then yes,” Kamchatka replied, “what you must try and do is love each other with all you have.”  Ekaterina laughed:

       “I think we will have no problem,” she replied.

       “I love Ekaterina Kamchatka,” patch said.  Conrad padded into the lie up, hugged Patch, and then hugged Ekaterina.

      “Go fourth from here and make each other and the world a happier place,” he said to both of them.

 

Meanwhile, jess and Chowilawu were screaming at each other:

       “You dumped Ekaterina on Olga’s say-so!”  Jess yelled, “you Chowilawu upset Ekaterina hugely!”  Chowilawu shrank away from his raging mother.

       “I’m sorry mama!”  Chowilawu whimpered, “I know I was wrong now, but I’ve fallen in love with Olga before I got the information!”  Jess stamped her paws in anger.

      “I just hope you and Olga are happy now!”  Jess screamed, “Patch and Ekaterina happy now.”  Chowilawu ran from jess’s lie up, unwilling to listen to her screaming.  Returning to Olga, he slapped her across the face.

      “You lied to me!”  He yelled, “You lied to me!  You told me Patch and Ekaterina had mated in the wood, and it wasn’t true!  They haven’t mated yet!  You disgusting bitch!  Bich, bitch, bitch!”  Olga, her eyes watering, stood her ground, swinging at Chowilawu, her paw landing on his nose with horrendous force.

       “Go, leave!”  She screamed, “You believed me didn’t you!”  Chowilawu felt sick:

      “You just wanted to cause trouble for me and Ekaterina didn’t you,” he said gruffly.  Olga laughed, and then screamed!

        “Oh no, no no no!”  Chowilawu heard a roar of anger, then a crunch.

      “What’s going on?”  Chowilawu demanded.

       “Sorry about that,” Rowena mewed, “unfinished business.”

      “Who are you?”  Chowilawu asked.  Rowena padded up to the polar bear and hugged him.

       “You’re, you’re a lion!”  Chowilawu gasped.  Rowena laughed:

      “I am, though I thought you knew that?”  She replied, “A spirit I might be, but a lion I surely am.”  Chowilawu asked the inevitable question.

       “Olga is for the ground now,” Rowena replied.

       “You, you killed her?”  Chowilawu asked.  Rowena nodded:

      “I’m sorry,” she mewed.

       “But, but she only spread misinformation!”  Chowilawu protested, “Surely, surely that’s a bit of a harsh sentence?”

       “If she hadn’t spread that information, would you still be with Ekaterina?”  Rowena asked.

      “I can’t say,” Chowilawu admitted, “Ekaterina was a little overconfident for me, if I speak truth, so maybe not.”

       “Olga died not because she spread misinformation,” Rowena mewed, “the cause of her death was what lay behind her misinformation, a need to destroy happiness for her own ends.  She wanted you for herself Chowilawu.  She was manipulating you to her own ends.  Patch and Ekaterina are now deeply in love, though their love has always been deep.  Patch and Ekaterina have loved each other ever since patch met Ekaterina as a cub.  Now, due to events, they have progressed to the point where they want to change their status with each other from brother and sister, to lovers.  Patch loves Ekaterina so much, and this love is genuine and unbreakable.  Olga didn’t love you like that Chowilawu.  You and Ekaterina had that love, for she loved you with everything she had.  Indeed, it was hard for her to break her bond with you.  Now though, she has done so.  Your bond with her was not as strong as her bond with you.  You did not stand by your love for Ekaterina.  One bear comes out with silly allegations and you believe her?  What kind of mate to Ekaterina were you?  Just think on my words and make of your life what you will from here on.”  With that Rowena left, leaving Chowilawu upset and tearful.  Chowilawu stumbled over to Olga’s body, touching it with his paws, exploring from nose to tail, the body still warm, and Olga’s paws still supple as in life.  The only hair out of place was where Rowena had delivered a perfect neck bite and where she’d suffocated Olga.  Chowilawu padded away, very upset.  Blundering into jess’s lie up, he collapsed beside his mum.

       “Rowena killed Olga, Rowena killed Olga!”  Chowilawu sobbed.

       “I saw nothing,” Jess replied, “I saw Olga fall on the floor dead, and that was that.”

      “Mama, Rowena was there, I heard her, and I felt her!”  Jess was disbelieving.

       “I saw nothing,” she repeated.  Chowilawu padded from the lie up.

 

Meanwhile, in the bathroom, Ekaterina and Patch were washing each other’s hind paws, each getting the flour and food dye out of their hind paws.  Once this was done, they threw Kamchatka bodily into the water and washed her from nose to tail.  They washed her face, her body, her legs and paws, her pads getting a good wash.  Once Kamchatka was cleaned from nose to tail, Patch passed her care to Ekaterina, who wrapped their mama in a huge towel.

      “I love you,” she said.  Patch and Ekaterina hugged their mum, towel and all.

      “Make sure you dry behind your ears and between your toes,” Ekaterina said.  Patch laughed helplessly as Kamchatka rolled onto her back and waved her paws in the air.

       “Mama’s got really cute paws!”  Ekaterina said.  Kamchatka gave Ekaterina’s her right forepaw, pedalling the air with her hind feet.  Ekaterina laughed helplessly, Patch grabbing Kamchatka’s right hind foot, tracing her pads and toes.  Kamchatka giggled with pleasure.

       “Play with my toes, play with my toes!”  Kamchatka laughed, wiggling the toes of her right hind foot.

       “Ok you big cub!”  Patch teased, “I’ll play with your toes.”  Kamchatka relaxed, enjoying her cub’s attention.

      “You don’t know how good it feels to play like a cub” Kamchatka said softly.

        “When Kuruk and I washed you mama, you enjoyed the experience.”

      “Enjoyed was not the word for it,” Kamchatka replied, “it was indescribably lovely.  I loved every single minute.”

 

Meanwhile, Tommy and Whitie were playing together.  Tommy, much larger than his younger sister, played with Whitie’s paws, Whitie wanting to get paws on with her brother’s paws, which she considered the cutest paws she’d ever touched.  Whitie wanted desperately to get paws on with her brother’s paws, but he was holding her paws in his.  Tommy, holding the same views about Whitie’s paws a she did about his, loved playing with his younger sister’s paws.  It was soon Whitie’s turn to play with her brother’s fore and hind paws.  Whitie was soon stroking Tommy’s pads and playing with his toes, Tommy mewing and curling his toes with pleasure. 

 

Meanwhile, in jess’s lie up, Skirnir comforted jess, who was very upset about the goings on between Chowilawu and Olga.

     “Chowilawu is gullible,” Skirnir said, “he believed Olga’s rubbish, and now he’s paying the price.  He’s lost, Olga’s dead, and Ekaterina’s found another love.”

 

Ekaterina cuddled up to Patch, warm in her mate’s embrace.  Warm and feeling safe, Ekaterina buried her paws in Patch’s warm fur.  Sleepy, Ekaterina relaxed into patch’s embrace, letting her entire body relax.  Patch, loving his mate’s proximity, kissed Ekaterina’s nose and the tops of her forepaws, Ekaterina sighing with contentment.

      “I love you Patch,” she yawned.  Patch hugged her tightly.

      “I love you too Ekaterina my sweetheart,” Patch said softly, kissing her nose.  Ekaterina found her suddenly tearful, sniffing; she wiped her eyes with her paws.

       “Why are you crying Ekaterina?”  Patch asked softly.

      “I don’t know, I don’t know!”  Ekaterina replied laughing slightly, “I can’t help it.”  Patch kissed Ekaterina’s nose and playfully ruffled the fur on the top of her head.

      “I love it when you touch me,” Ekaterina said softly.

        “When we have cubs, I want you to be there, to be paws on with me,” Ekaterina said.  Patch hugged his mate:

       “I’ll only get paws on if things get tricky,” Patch said.

       “Won’t you catch your own cub?”  Ekaterina asked.  Patch nodded:

      “If you want me to,” he said, “I’d love to do that.”  Ekaterina kissed his nose:

       “I want you too very much,” she replied.  Patch looked Ekaterina over from her nose to her paw pads.  He loved what he saw.

       “She’s so visually beautiful,” he thought, “but I know how I love her most, with my four paws.”  Ekaterina watched Patch appraising her.

       “I love you patch,” Ekaterina said, “Stroke my paws, hug me, kiss my nose and paw pads.”  Patch embraced his mate, Ekaterina snuggling up to him.  Both bears slept deeply after this.

 

Meanwhile, Tommy and Bianca played together, the tigress tickling and stroking her son cub’s huge paws.

 

Meanwhile, jess approached Theo.  The white lion saw the concern on the bear’s face and laid his paw on hers.

       “I guess you are coming to me about what happened earlier with Chowilawu,” the white lion said.  Jess nodded:

      “Olga fell dead!”  Jess exclaimed.

      “Yes,” Theo mewed, “and you have examined her body?”  Jess nodded:

      “It looks like she’s been killed by a lion!”  Jess said.  Theo nodded:

      “She was killed by a lioness,” Theo mewed.

       “There was no scent left on her body,” jess replied.  Theo nodded:

      “There wouldn’t be,” he said, “for the lioness that killed Olga is not of this world.  She used to be, but now she’s on the other side of the bridge.”

       “Rowena?”  Jess asked.  Theo nodded:

       “Yes, Rowena,” Theo mewed.  Jess looked at Theo, the lion smiling at her:

       “I can’t explain how I failed to see the lioness,” jess said.  Theo massaged jess’s paw.

      “Rowena didn’t want to be seen,” Theo mewed, “the only one who could see her was Olga, and that was when Rowena was right on top of her.

 

Patch and Ekaterina got up very late the next day, to find Chowilawu mooching about the kitchen, very distressed.

       “Rowena killed Olga, Rowena killed Olga!”  Chowilawu whimpered.

      “Rowena probably had her reasons,” patch said.  Chowilawu snorted:

      “She told me I’d lost the best mate I’d ever get, and that I was a complete loser!”

     “Maybe you are and have,” Ekaterina said.  Chowilawu snarled and swiped with his paw at Ekaterina, missing and slapping patch, patch pushing Chowilawu onto his backside in return:

     “Wrong bear!”  Patch snapped.  Chowilawu, driven to anger, launched himself at Patch, who tackled him to the floor and smacked him on the nose.

      “You stupid idiot!”  Patch snarled.

      “You pushed me onto my arse!”  Chowilawu whined.

      “You stupid cub!”  Ekaterina laughed, unable to contain her mirth.  Chowilawu got to his paws and tried to run for the door, blundering into Ekaterina.

     “Ow, ow, ow!”  Chowilawu squealed as he cannoned off his former mate.

      “Stop, take a deep breath and then try again,” patch said, trying desperately not to laugh.

      “You think a blind bear crashing into another bear is funny?”  Chowilawu yelled.

      “No not usually, but when it’s you, yes!”  Patch replied, “You’re an idiot Chowilawu.  Chowilawu screamed at patch and stormed out.

       “You pushed him off his paws!”  Ekaterina said, “Patch was that really necessary?”  Patch nodded:

      “He slapped me with his paw Ekaterina,” patch replied.

      “I think that slap was intended for me,” she said, “but I probably would have done the same as you.”  Patch nodded and helped his mate get salmon from the stores.

 

Nanuq wandered in, Ekaterina turning her head to listen to his padding paws on the tiles.

        “You drag your left forepaw,” Ekaterina said to Nanuq.  Nanuq’s face told her she’d hit a raw nerve.

       “I’m, I’m sorry,” Ekaterina said to the male bear, Nanuq swallowing hard.

        “Didn’t Alaska tell you the story of how I met Allie as a cub?”  Nanuq asked.  Ekaterina shook her head.

       “The fight I had to save Allie’s mama damaged my left forepaw,” Nanuq said.  Ekaterina padded to the distressed male bear and hugged him.

       “I’d never thought of that,” she said softly.  Ekaterina kissed Nanuq’s nose and squeezed his right forepaw, the bear rubbing back against her pressure.

       “I won’t speak of your paw like that again,” Ekaterina promised.  Nanuq kissed Ekaterina’s nose.

       “It’s ok,” he said.  Ekaterina turned to Patch and hugged him tightly.

      “When we have eaten, can we go to the pool complex?”  Ekaterina asked.  Patch smiled and took her paw.

       “Let’s wait a bit after you’ve eaten,” patch advised.  Ekaterina smiled and nodded:

        “I think that’s a good idea,” she said.  Patch and Ekaterina finished their meal and washed their faces and paws in the nearby bathroom.  Then, having finished washing, they returned to their lie up via the relieving place, all thoughts of the pool complex gone from their minds.  Smiling at each other, they returned to the lie up, chewing mint bark, Patch dancing about on his toes, Ekaterina laughing and smacking her mate playfully with her paw.

       “Now let’s go and lie down,” Patch suggested, Ekaterina kissing his nose, catching the scent of the mint bark on her mate’s breath.

        “I could sleep for a week,” Ekaterina said, yawning.  Patch smiled broadly:

        “You can sleep if you wish,” he replied.  Ekaterina settled down in the lie up, Patch settling down beside her.

      “Hug me Patch!”  Ekaterina begged.  Patch enfolded her in a massive hug, Ekaterina snuggling close up to her mate.

       “|I love you Patch, I love you from your grey nose to your white padded paws.”  Patch kissed Ekaterina’s nose and the tops of her forepaws, Ekaterina’s need for him loud and clear.

 

Patch closed his eyes, thinking of his mate having their cub.  He remembered how she had pressed her hind feet hard against his legs as she’d mocked up a cubbing.  He imagined how their cub might look, would it be a grey bear with black paw pads? Or a white bear with grey paw pads?  Patch sighed deeply, filling in the gaps in his image of the cub they might soon have.

      “A penny for your thoughts patch?”  Ekaterina asked.  Patch sighed deeply:

       “Just imagining what it would be like helping you give birth to our cub, and then what the cub would look like,” he replied.  Ekaterina laughed:

       “I won’t mind if we find out soon,” she said, “I’m ready to have a cub.  I might be only two years old, but I’m ready Patch.  If you could help me, I’d be a very happy bear.”  Patch grinned:

       “Only if you’re absolutely sure,” he replied.  Ekaterina replied that she was absolutely sure.  Patch looked his mate over, and then kissed her nose, and then her paw pads, Ekaterina giggling with pleasure, her breath coming quickly as Patch kissed her pads.

       “I love this; I want more patch, lots more!”  Ekaterina gasped.  Patch and Ekaterina mated that day.  Taking things slowly, they made intense gentle, passionate love.  Exhausted but happy, the two bears fell apart after their tenth mating.

      “That was wonderful!”  Ekaterina said.  Patch grinned with delight.

       “Yes it was,” he replied.  Ekaterina, happier than she’d been for ages, rolled onto her back and kicked the air with her paws, patch laughing helplessly at her antics and following suit.  Ekaterina sat up and drummed gently on Patch’s belly with her forepaws.

       “You’re crazy!”  Patch laughed.  Ekaterina kissed the toes of his forepaws.”

      “I love you Patch,” she said softly.  Patch got to his feet, lifted each paw in turn, and flexed his toes, then, placing all four feet flat on the floor, bounced on his toes, Ekaterina’s eyes shining.

      “I love it when you play with your own paws,” she said.  Patch grinned at her and hugged her tightly.

       “Playing with my own paws is great,” he replied, “but when you play with my paws, I cannot find words to describe that.”  Ekaterina giggled:

      “I love how your paws feel when I touch them,” she said, “Did you know your scent is of earth?  You smell of earth, as if you’ve been walking in the wood, all fresh and clean, not community clean, I mean really clean.”  Patch laughed:

       “Do I smell of the woods?”  He asked.

       “Yes,” Ekaterina said, “patch, please, can we walk in the wood some more?  Roll in the woods too? Play with each other’s paws in the wood?”  Patch smiled:

     “Let’s,” he said, rising to his hind feet, Ekaterina rising to her hind feet too.

       “Let’s get earthy,” Ekaterina said.  Patch laughed and then swore, Ekaterina slapping him.

      “Not that kind of earthy!”  She laughed.  Patch giggled, leading his mate from the lie up.  Walking in the wood some time later, both bears could feel the chill in the air, and the damp ground beneath their paws.

       “Time for earthy paws Ekaterina love,” patch said.  Ekaterina dug at the track with her fore and hind paws, laughing at the feel of the dirt between her toes and against her pads.

     “Dig Ekaterina dig!”  Patch encouraged, Ekaterina whimpering and digging faster and faster, finally lowering her head to concentrate better, squealing, Ekaterina tripped over her own paws, her momentum carrying her forward into a perfect forward roll, something she’d never had the courage to attempt before.

      “Hey!”  She squealed, her paws pedalling the air.  Patch giggled and tickled the pads of her right hind foot, Ekaterina wriggling and screaming with laughter.

       “Do you remember that time when we were in the soft play room and you wouldn’t attempt a forward roll?”  Patch asked.  Ekaterina smiled and nodded:

      “Did I just forward roll?” she asked in wonder.  

    “You did my love,” Patch replied, “perfectly too.  Now let me examine these earthy paws.”  Patch examined Ekaterina’s paws, brushing loose earth from her pads and toes.

       “These paws are cute,” he said, gently kissing the pads of Ekaterina’s right hind foot.

      “Thank you,” Ekaterina said.  Patch blew on the sole of Ekaterina’s left hind paw, Ekaterina squealing with laughter.

       “I’ll get you for that!”  She promised.  Patch rolled onto his back and presented his paws for Ekaterina to play with, and play with them she did, stroking them, kissing his pads and playing with his toes, patch wriggling and laughing with pleasure.

       “Earthy fur and paws here too!”  Ekaterina said kissing patch’s nose, “I love earthy fur and paws!”  Patch sighed with contentment.

       “Your paws have gone from off white to dark grey with earth,” Katarina said.  Patch grinned:

       “What colour do you prefer?”  He asked.

       “If only we could wash our fur and paws in the scent of the wood,” Ekaterina mused.  Patch got carefully to his paws and led Ekaterina to a large brook in the wood.  There they plunged in, feeling slippery stones beneath their pads.  Ekaterina and patch washed each other in the water, just using paws and water.

       “Let’s do this more often,” Ekaterina said as she left the brook an hour later.  Patch shook his fur dry.

       “That was how bears do it in the wild,” he replied, “no soap, just natural cleaning.  Ekaterina looked Patch over, and then asked him to lift a hind foot.  When Patch did, she saw his pads had returned to their off white colour, but her nose told her he smelt of earth, from his fur to his paw pads.

       “I love earthy scent,” Ekaterina said.  Patch hugged her hard.

      “You smell of earth too,” he said softly.

      “Your pads are slightly damp from the brook,” Ekaterina said.  Patch laughed and picked up Ekaterina’s right hind foot gently touching her pads with his lips, kissing her paw.  Ekaterina laughed and closed her eyes, loving the warmth of her mate’s breath on her pads.

       “I love you,” she said softly.  Patch released Ekaterina’s hind foot, and then hugged her tightly.

       “I think we should have our cub in the wood,” Ekaterina said.  Patch grinned:

      “If you wish to have your cub in the wood, that’s what we’ll do,” he said.  Ekaterina sat down and played with the toes of her right hind paw.

       “I would love to have our cub in the wood,” Ekaterina said.  Patch looked at Ekaterina, then gently pushed her onto her back and kissed her nose.  Ekaterina curled the toes of all four paws as patch kissed her nose, the female polar bear becoming tearful as she felt her mate’s love for her.

        “I love the way your hind feet pedal the air when you get excited,” Patch said to Ekaterina, Ekaterina laughing delightedly.

      “How about if we sleep a night in the wood Patch?”  Ekaterina suggested, “Just like bears should do?”  Patch smiled and nodded.

      “Let’s do that,” he replied enthusiastically.  Then, thinking a bit, patch laid a restraining paw on his mate’s.

      “Have you any idea how to build a shelter?”  He asked.  Ekaterina shook her head.

       “We’ll need one, especially if we’re gonna have cubs out here,” Ekaterina replied.

      “Maybe I can help,” Kamchatka said padding into view round a nearby bend in the track.  Patch looked up at her.

       “Mama!”  He said, slightly shocked at her sudden arrival.

       “I approve of your ideas,” Kamchatka replied, “but we need to make sure we make a good den.  You need to make a snug home for yourselves and any cubs.”  Patch scratched his nose with his paw.

      “Yes,” he mused, “how to build a shelter?  I’ve seen humans do it on television, and I used to play with Jess when we were in the zoo.  We had a shelter there.”  Patch thought hard.

      “We need a box, a big box, a room, like the soft playroom, but with soft flooring so Ekaterina can have the cub in comfort.  We need warm blankets too.”  Patch looked at Kamchatka.

      “Is there a box?”  He asked.  Kamchatka shook her head:

       “I used a cave,” she replied, “but there are no caves in the wood.  There is the snow den in the polar room the Boss set up, that might be the only place you might be able to have the cub.  Even then, you will be cold Ekaterina.  You’re no polar bear; community life has robbed you of that.”

       “I know, I know!”  Ekaterina said, slamming her paw down on the track in frustration, “but me so want to have this cub in a place smelling of earth,” she said, “I need to mama.”

       “I know that,” Kamchatka replied.

      “I have smelt Patch’s raw scent, and I love it, I want to be part of that life mama,” Patch hugged his mate.

       “We’ll make sure you have the cub the way you want,” he said.  Ekaterina smiled broadly.

       “I want some cameras though,” Ekaterina said, “I like the idea of being able to summon help if anything goes wrong.”  Patch agreed:

      “We’ll make sure of that,” he said.  Kamchatka, sucking the toes of her right forepaw in thought, suddenly turned and trotted away.  Following her, Patch and Ekaterina found themselves at the back of the house where big storage containers which held supplies for the house stood in long rows.

      “How about one of these converted into a snug little den?”  She suggested.  Ekaterina looked inside the huge container.

      “Looks snug enough,” she remarked.  Kamchatka trotted off to the house, leaving patch and Ekaterina to tell the Boss of their plan.

 

The Boss listened to Kamchatka’s plan, then gave her a hug and promised he’d look into fixing one of the wooden containers for Ekaterina.  The containers, being made of wood, the Boss knew would blend into the woodland if camouflaged well enough.  The huge container was winched into place, and a gang of workers got to work constructing the box.  Ekaterina and Patch watched this work over  several weeks, then, some weeks later, on a day when Ekaterina was very clearly in cub, the outside of the den was finished.  Cameras had been installed so everyone could watch the goings on inside the den, and cameras were installed so patch and Ekaterina could keep watch on what was going on outside their home.   Inside, there were still bare boards, the Boss preferring Ekaterina and Patch to choose their own furnishings.  Meanwhile, patch learned from Kamchatka everything she could tell him about cubbing.  She re-enacted cubbings for him, showing him how things would and could be.

 

The boss gave patch and Ekaterina blankets and thick duvets, as well as straw and shavings.  Patch spread the shavings on the wooden floor of the den, patting them flat with his paws, and then he spread straw and blankets on the floor, the huge duvet finishing off the flooring.  Ekaterina and Patch smoothed over the duvet.  Ekaterina, exhausted from the walk and smoothing down the rugs, lay down on the duvet and closed her eyes.

      “This is snug,” she yawned.   Patch laughed merrily.

      “We have to insulate the walls now,” he said, “the roof’s already done.”  Patch hung duvets down the walls and then tacked them at the bottom.  Now Ekaterina had soft walls to lean against, and a soft floor on which to have the cubs.  The sound of hammering from outside told the bears ropes were being placed to anchor the den to the floor.

      “Why are they roping this thing down?”  Ekaterina asked.

      “We don’t want it blowing away in the wind,” Patch replied, “and when you go into labour, if you rock back and fourth against the walls, you might rock the cabin, and then it might end up on its side.  We can’t have that.”  Ekaterina smiled and shook her head.

       “I’m going to enjoy having my cubs here,” she said.  It’s warm and dry.”  Patch took Ekaterina’s right forepaw in his.  It was damp with sweat.

      “You’re uncomfortable aren’t you,” Patch said.  Ekaterina wriggled slightly:

      “A little,” she replied, “but I want to walk, to swim, and that kind of thing in the first stages of my labour.”

      “I will make sure we have others watching.  Just in case,” Patch replied.

      “But, but you learned how to help me!”  Ekaterina exclaimed, “I don’t want others to help.”  Patch hugged his mate.

      “I’ll do my best,” he said, “but if we get into real difficulties, I’ll have to hand things over, okay?”  Ekaterina agreed reluctantly.  Kamchatka put her head in at the door:

       “Time for me to find that rock I think,” she said.

      “What rock?”  Ekaterina asked.

      “I showed Patch how to help you have your cubs,”  Kamchatka replied, “I’ll be standing by in case of trouble, but I’ll have to tie a rock to my hind foot to make running to you a little more difficult.  I won’t invade your privacy unless necessary.  It’s a break on my being paws on with you when you don’t want me to be paws on with you.

       “So you’ll have to release your hind paw before you can run,” Ekaterina said wearily, “that’s good.  I want patch to help me mama, he’s trained well by you, and so he should be fine.”  Kamchatka smiled and nodded.  Padding away, she remembered she’d seen some builder’s sand which Tommy and Snowy were playing with.  Padding to the place, she filled a sack with the sand and tied a rope to the, then tied the rope to her right hind foot with a quick release knot.  Kamchatka tried running, finding she was slowed by the sack of sand.

     “This should give me pause,” she thought.  Returning to the house, Kamchatka vowed to remain paws off with the whole impending birth of Ekaterina’s cubs.

 

Back in the den, Ekaterina moved about restlessly.

       “I need to walk about Patch,” she panted.  Patch helped Ekaterina out of the den and padded down the track alongside her.  After an hour, Ekaterina began panting urgently and gripping the track with her toes.

      “Are things getting worse?”  Patch asked.  Ekaterina nodded.

       “Let’s go back patch, ow! Ow! Ow!”  Ekaterina sobbed.  Patch helped Ekaterina back to the den, Ekaterina crawling the last few metres, her contractions heavier than ever now.

       “Cub’s getting ready!”  Ekaterina gasped, squealing as her waters broke:

       Ooooawooah!  This is it, oh shit, shit!  Ow, ow, ow!”  Patch hugged his mate tightly while she hugged him tighter still, whimpering, squealing and grunting.

      “I must push!”  Ekaterina screamed, bearing down hard.  Patch cradled his mate while she strained and struggled.

       “Rub the pads of my hind feet Patch!”  Ekaterina gasped.  Patch did as Ekaterina asked, feeling her wriggling and writhing.

      “I want to push, want to push!”  Ekaterina screeched, bearing down hard.  Patch watched his mate curling her toes and straining hard.  This labour was obviously more painful than Ekaterina had ever imagined.  Eyes tightly shut; Ekaterina opened her mouth and screamed lustily with every contraction.  Grunting loudly, Ekaterina bore down strongly, whimpering and whining between efforts.

       “I must have this cub!”  Ekaterina squealed after an hour of hard work.

      “Try relaxing,” patch suggested, 2you’ve been tense and straining with everything you have for an hour now, just relax and let the cub come.”  Ekaterina panted, trying to relax.

      “What do you want me to do?”  She asked, putting her trust completely in her mate.

     “Just relax any contractions, scream though them, grip my paws hard, kick me, but don’t strain against the cub.  Try it.”  Ekaterina panted, feeling the cub settle, and then surge forward as her body expelled it.  Ekaterina lay on her back, wriggling and kicking hard.

      Oooooooowwwwww! Oooooowwwwww! Oooooooaowwwwwwwww!”  She yelled.  Patch saw the cub’s forepaws come into view, then, another contraction which had Ekaterina crying and screaming, brought the cub’s head into the world.  Ekaterina then bore down, unable to resist the urge any longer.  The cub shot fourth, Ekaterina snarling and bearing down, all kicking now at an end.  Curling her toes, she bore down for the last time.  Patch touched her right hind foot.

       “Everything’s finished, you’ve done it,” he said softly, his voice without excitement.  Ekaterina looked round at her cub.

       “There’s something wrong isn’t there,” she said, Patch picking the cub up in his paws and blowing down its throat.  Ekaterina, too exhausted to help, watched feeling more helpless than she’d ever felt in her life.

       “Please, let that cub live!”  Ekaterina thought miserably.  Patch cleared the cub’s mouth of mucus and massaged the cub’s chest, Ekaterina watching his huge paws working so gently with the tiny cub.  Then, the sweetest sound in the world, the cub’s first cry, feeble at first, then louder and then very loud.

       “Your cub I believe mama,” patch said, handing Ekaterina the now wriggling and healthily protesting cub.

       “Thank you Patch, thank you!”  Ekaterina sobbed, taking the cub in her paws and feeding it.  Patch laughed:

       “You did all the work,” he replied.

        “But if you’d not told me to relax, this cub might not be here now,” Ekaterina said.  Patch knew this, but preferred not to articulate his fear.

        “Any more in there mama?”  He asked.  Ekaterina shook her head.

      “Just the one,” she replied.

       “How do you know?”  Patch asked.  Ekaterina giggled:

       “I had the Boss ultra sound scan me, I knew I only had one cub,” she replied.  Patch was mightily relieved.  Ekaterina cleaned the cub up, and then fed it for the first time.

       “We have a female cub!”  Ekaterina said, “how about if we name her Rowena?”  Patch grinned:

      “I like the name,” he replied, “but what will eohippus think?”

       “I think they wouldn’t mind,” a voice said gently, Patch feeling a lioness’s kiss placed on his nose.  Patch saw nothing while feeling and knowing everything.

      “I think we’re in the clear for that then,” Patch said.  Ekaterina, having been kissed too, smiled sadly.

       “Let’s name our cub Rowena,” she said.  A scraping sound and panting grew louder outside the door, and then Kamchatka tapped on the door.

      “How are things?”  She asked, “I can’t get this dam rope off my right hind foot!  I tied the rope around my paw to stop myself from running to you Ekaterina, and now I’m trapped!”  Patch crawled over to his mama and released her quickly.

       “All you wanted was me to touch your paw,” he said.  Kamchatka giggled and nodded          .

       “Mama,” Ekaterina said, “labour was nothing like I expected it to be.  It was so intense, the urge to push so irresistible.  I admit now I was pushing hard from the start, which was the wrong thing to do.  Patch asked me to relax and I tried it, then the cub came flying into the world.  A little push then a bigger one at the end, but then, then, all was fine.  Now, now I have the cutest cub I’ve ever seen.”  Ekaterina examined her cub from nose to tail, touching little Rowena’s nose, belly and paw pads, the cub giggling and snuggling up hard to her mama.

       “To think we never got to spend a night in this den before my cub arrived,” Ekaterina mused.

      “Your cub is grey with white socks and black pads!”  Kamchatka said.  Ekaterina giggled:

      “She’s so cute,” she said.  Patch examined little Rowena by sight and touch, the cub wriggling and giggling as he touched her.

       “I love your touch!”  The cub said her first words ever.  Ekaterina laughed.

      “A real daddy’s girl,” she laughed.  Patch grinned:

      “I want her to be equally comfortable with both of us,” he replied.  Ekaterina smiled and nodded:

      “I’ll make sure she is,” she said.  Little Rowena crawled to her sire and cuddled up to him, sitting on his lap and trying to wrap her paws around him.  Patch picked her up in his paws and held her at his eye level, the cub kicking her hind paws in mid air and whimpering with fear.

      “You’re safe,” patch said softly, kissing Rowena’s nose.  Patch sat the tiny cub in his forepaws, the black padded soles of Rowena’s hind feet fusible to him.  Rowena wriggled with pleasure as she felt his warm paws cradling her.

       “Would you kiss my hind paws?”  Rowena asked.  Patch breathed on Rowena’s right hind paw, the cub curling her toes with pleasure.

       “My paw’s all warm now!”  She giggled.  Patch kissed the pads of his cub’s right hind foot, Rowena becoming still.

       “I like that,” she said softly.  Patch sat Rowena down on his right hind leg; Rowena leaning back against patch’s left forepaw which held her tenderly.

      “It’s slightly cold in here,” Rowena said.  Patch enfolded her in a huge hug, Rowena shivering in his tender embrace.  Patch wrapped Rowena up in a woollen blanket he’d got for this very purpose.  He’d been sleeping on the blanket to warm it in case the cub needed extra warmth.  Rowena snuggled down into the blanket, which dwarfed her twice over.  Patch tucked the blanket around Rowena’s hind feet, Rowena wriggling her toes as the blanket embraced her pads and toes.

      “Push against that blanket Rowena,” patch invited, Rowena pushing her feet against the folds of the blanket she was wrapped in.  Patch breathed on the blanket, Rowena sighing with pleasure as her hind paws got warmer and warmer.

      “I love you patch!”  Rowena said softly.  Patch kissed the blanket covering the sole of Rowena’s right hind foot, Rowena giggles.

      “I can free my foot if you’d like,” she said.  Patch kissed her nose:

       “You don’t need to,” he said, “you’re cold, and if you have cold paws, you’ll feel wretched.”  Rowena sighed contentedly, settling back into the vast warmth of the blanket.  Ekaterina watched Rowena and patch, loving their interaction.

 

Meanwhile, in the house, Tommy watched the goings on in Ekaterina’s den.  Wildly excited, he stood on tiptoe, watching everything relayed from the cameras.

       “I want to meet that cub!”  Tommy mewed.  Bianca, sitting beside him, laid her paw on his.

      “NO Tommy,” she said gently, “let’s not disturbs them.”

       “But you let Ekaterina meet me when I was first born!”  Tommy wailed, “Why can’t I meet her cub?”

       “Ekaterina was helping me give birth to you,” Bianca reminded him.  “We can’t just run in and expect Ekaterina to accept us.”  Tommy whimpered with misery, then taking a deep breath, he ran from the room, Bianca following him much too slowly to stop him.  Tommy ran from the house, into the wood and to the den!

      “Mama, mama!”  He called to Kamchatka, “I’m being chased, please!”  Kamchatka, guarding the door, immediately rose to her hind legs to defend her family.

      “Mama, I’m not going to hurt you or your family!”  Tommy begged, “I just want, want to, oh no!”  A roar of rage followed by a blur of white fur with black stripes and angry paws told Kamchatka what the cub had really wanted to do.

       “Tommy!”  Bianca screamed, fighting with her half grown son cub.  Tommy fought his mum, but Bianca was too strong for him.

        “I wanted to see Ekaterina, I wanted to see Ekaterina!”  Tommy begged.  Kamchatka pinned Bianca to the floor, letting Tommy get up and go into the den.  Bianca, furious, wriggled beneath Kamchatka’s huge paws.  Once the door was shut, she released Bianca.  Bianca stood flat pawed on the track.

       “I thought you were into defending your family!”  Bianca yelled.

      “What harm can Tommy do to Ekaterina or her cub?”  Kamchatka asked.

      “He could hurt her cub,” Bianca said lamely.  Suddenly there was a scream and then the sound of shouting:

       “How dare you come busting in here!”  Then the sight of Tommy tumbling from the door of the den, Patch literally throwing the tiger cub out into the wood.

      “That is what I mean,” Kamchatka said, “I knew they were going to do that.”  Bianca snorted:

       “So you let him find out what Ekaterina and her mate really thought,” she snarled.

       “Yes, why not?”  Kamchatka replied.  Patch watched Tommy lying on his back with his paws in the air.

       “He thinks he can come in here and disturb us just because my mate helped him into the world?”  Patch asked NO ONE in particular, “well he can’t!  Get him out of here mama tigress!”  Bianca helped a bruised and frightened male tiger cub back to the house.

       “He needed to learn mama Kamchatka,” Patch said, “now he’s learned.”  Kamchatka waited for Bianca to disappear round the corner, and then literally collapsed on the track laughing helplessly.

       “You young bugger!”  She guffawed.  Patch grinned and closed the door.

       “Now we can get back to normality Ekaterina love,” he said.  Ekaterina smiled at the large grey bear.

      “We saw him coming on the monitor in here,” she said, “you let him in, and then threw him out! I’m so proud of you.”  Patch laughed:

       “You hid our cub from harm in the straw?”  Ekaterina uncovered Rowena, who’d remained silent throughout.

      “Is the big thing gone?”  Rowena asked.  Ekaterina told her that it had gone.

      “Good,” Rowena replied.  Ekaterina kissed her cub’s nose.

 

Meanwhile, back in the house, Bianca was giving her son cub a thorough hiding.

      “Mama stops!”  Kuruk commanded, “Tommy tiger have enough beating from Patch for what he do, you no need beat on him too, for the crime not against you.”  Bianca stopped her all out adult on her cub.

       “Ok Kuruk,” she said, faced with the huge grizzly who she was sure would stop her if she didn’t stop herself.

       “Ok Kuruk, ok, I’m paws off,” Bianca said.  Kuruk looked at her:

      “Why you want beat on your son cub when you know he be punished by Patch?”  Kuruk asked.

      “I know, I know,” Bianca mewed, “I’m wrong, for the crime was not against me.  I did warn him though Kuruk!”

       “But Tommy no heeds warning, so he gets thrown out of den of Ekaterina and Patch.  He learns faster that way.  If he no wants take mama’s advice, he learns by getting clobbered.  Kuruk no want see Mama Bianca doing more clobbering if cub had enough clobbering from others.  That just stupid shit.  Now let’s go on from here.”  Bianca grinned and looked at Tommy.

       “I’m sorry Tommy,” she said seriously, “I was angry.”  Tommy massaged his aching hind paws with his fore.

       “I got beaten up by Patch!”  He mewed, “he kicked me to the floor of the den, then picked me up by the scruff of my neck and threw me out!”  Kuruk grinned:

      “We install cameras so we can watch birth of Rowena cub, but we also install cameras so Patch can see who come to den.  He knew Tommy come to see him and Ekaterina long before he get to door of den.  He plan attack big time.”  Tommy groaned:

      “I thought as much,” he grumbled.  Kuruk waved his paw at the tigers and left.  Padding to the woodland den, Kuruk tapped on the door, patch opening it and letting Kuruk in.

      “Come,” he said, sitting Kuruk down with a mug of tea.  Kuruk immediately felt the warmth in the den.

       “You have lovely place here,” he said.  Feeling something touch his right hind foot, Kuruk looked down to see Rowena exploring his right hind paw with hers.

       “So you be little Rowena cub?”  Kuruk asked.  Rowena lifelessly up into Kuruk’s face.

       “I am,” she replied.

       “Can uncle Kuruk give you hug?”  Kuruk asked.  Rowena crawled onto Kuruk’s lap, the huge grizzly enfolding her in a gentle bear hug.

       “You brother of sire Patch?”  Rowena asked.  Kuruk kissed her nose and replied:

      “Yes, I brother of sire Patch.”  Kuruk lay back, holding Rowena on his chest as a mother would a cub, making Ekaterina and Patch laugh.

       “He’s so gentle,” Ekaterina said.  Rowena wriggled and kicked a little, trying to work her way deeper into his hug.  Kuruk wriggled along with the cub, until both were wriggling and kicking, the slight pressure of Rowena’s hind paws hardly noticeable by Kuruk.  Kuruk held onto the cub with gentle paws, letting her snuggle up to him.

      “Did anyone tell you you have big paws?”  Rowena said to Kuruk.  Kuruk smiled and nodded:

       “Kuruk have big paws, he knows that,” he said.  Rowena kissed Kuruk’s nose.

       “I can’t believe twelve hours ago I had just had Rowena,” Ekaterina said.

       “You have lovely cub mama,” Kuruk said, kissing Rowena’s nose and the pads of her fore and hind paws.  Rowena giggled as her pads were tickled by Kuruk’s facial fur as he kissed her pads.

      “Would you play with my paws?”  Rowena asked Kuruk.  Kuruk laughed:

      “Kuruk love playing with paws, and he will play with yours,” he said.  Rowena rolled off Kuruk’s chest and lay on the duvet with her paws in the air.  Kuruk played with Rowena’s hind paws, the cub screaming with laughter and curling her toes with pleasure.

      “I love this, I love this!”  She laughed.  Kuruk played with Rowena’s paws until the cub was crying with laughter.

       “I want to play with your paws now!”  Rowena said after an hour.  Drawing her hind feet to her, she grabbed them with her forepaws, Kuruk kissing her forepaws and the slightly exposed sole pads of her hind, Rowena wriggling and giggling with pleasure.

        “Rowena can play with Kuruk’s paws if she wants,” Kuruk said.  Rowena wiped her eyes with her forepaws, kicking with her hind until she sat up, then she rolled onto her chest and crawled to Kuruk.  Holding his right hind foot in her tiny forepaws, she kissed his pads and played with his toes.

        “I love these paws,” Rowena said.  Kuruk gently curled his toes.

       “Kuruk love them too,” he replied.  Ekaterina watched her brother and daughter cub playing together, marvelling at how fast Rowena was learning.

      “Your cub has beautiful fur Ekaterina,” Kuruk said, “grey body with white socks and black pads look so cute!  Kuruk love look of Rowena cub, but he also love the way she play with his paws, she really good cub, just like mama Ekaterina was when she cub.  Rowena learn from mama plenty much already.  Ekaterina laughed at her brother’s use of language.

      “I love the way you speak,” she said to him, padding over and kissing his nose.

      “I need to feed my cub now,” Ekaterina said, picking Rowena up and sitting down with her, the cub snuggling up and drinking furiously.  Kuruk watched, smiling to himself.

       “She look like good mama,” he thought.  Ekaterina settled Rowena, and then left her to sleep, going to her older brother and hugging him hard.

       “You good mama,” Kuruk whispered to Ekaterina, “you good mama just like mate of Kuruk was to cub of Kuruk.  Now Kuruk see how mama want be good to her own cub.  How labour is for Ekaterina mama?”

       “Labour?”  Ekaterina replied, “um, intense, more painful than I could imagine, but it was thrilling too.  I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”  Kuruk massaged her paws.

        “Now you got cub, you look after her well,” Kuruk said.  Ekaterina saw the intensity in Kuruk’s eyes.

       “He’s worried my cub will have the same fait as his,” Ekaterina thought.

      “What happened to your cub was not your fault Kuruk,” Ekaterina said.  Kuruk’s pained eyes made Ekaterina tearful.

       “Kuruk please,” Ekaterina begged, feeling his expression tearing her apart.

       “When Kuruk lost his cub,” Kuruk said, “whole world fall apart.  He know not if he find mama, finding mama be last resort, kind of run home, but if home not there, if mamma dead, then Kuruk no know what he do.”

       “But mama was, is here,” Ekaterina replied, “Kuruk, don’t speak like this, not now!”

      “Ekaterina,” patch said gently, “do not be hard on Kuruk.  He has the right to feel the way he does.  If you lost your cub and saw jess have another cub, wouldn’t you plead with her to keep it safe?  Kuruk’s only pleading with you to keep little Rowena safe.  He might be blaming himself for his cub’s death too.  Whether this blame is correctly attributed is not under discussion here, but regardless of this, Kuruk blames himself for not keeping tabs on his cub.”  Ekaterina looked at Kuruk, who was now crying into his paws.

      “I will look after my cub, I promise,” Ekaterina said.  Kuruk wiped his eyes with his paws.

       “Kuruk glad about that,” he sniffed, “he miss his mate and cub so much.”  Ekaterina kissed his nose.

      “Why is Kuruk crying mama?”  Rowena asked.  Ekaterina told her.

      “Poor cub,” Rowena said, “but surely I could be his cub also?”  Ekaterina smiled broadly:

       “Kuruk loves you dearly, so I don’t see why not,” she replied.  Rowena crawled to Kuruk and clambered into his lap, the huge grizzly embracing the tiny cub in his massive paws.

      “Your paws are so soft and warm!”  Rowena said, snuggling up to her uncle.

      “Kuruk looks so natural with our cub,” patch remarked.  Ekaterina looked at her cub snuggled up to Kuruk.

       “Your cub is beautiful mama,” Kuruk said softly.  Ekaterina recognised the look in Kuruk’s eyes as he looked down at Rowena cradled in his paws.

        “You wish she was yours don’t you,” Ekaterina said.  Kuruk sighed deeply:

      “Kuruk no steal cub from sister Ekaterina,”  he said, “but when he hold Rowena in paws, he think of his own cub, for holding little Rowena make feelings of holding own cub come back.”  Ekaterina kissed Kuruk’s nose.

       “You can hold her all you like,” she replied.  Kuruk gently explored Rowena with his paws, stroking the tiny cub from nose to tail.

       “Kuruk love Rowena cub,” he said.  Rowena wriggled out of Kuruk’s embrace and lay down on her back in his lap, showing him the soles of all four paws.  Ekaterina laughed at her cub’s antics, Kuruk kissing the pads of Rowena’s paws, the cub giggling with pleasure.

       “Your own paws are lovely too,” Rowena said to Kuruk.

      “Kuruk paws all hard and rough from time on mountains, not soft and sensitive like Rowena cubs,” Kuruk grunted.

       “I’ll bet, if I tickled your right hind foot, you’d laugh helplessly,” Rowena said.  Kuruk knew what was coming, and sure enough, when Rowena tickled the sole pad of his right hind foot, Kuruk found himself laughing fit to bust.  Rowena’s touch was only slight, but she could n’alf tickle a paw.  Kuruk wriggled and laughed helplessly, the cub enjoying the affect she was having on Kuruk.  Kuruk laughed helplessly, trying not to kick Rowena.

      “I think you’d better leave Kuruk’s paw alone now,” Ekaterina said to Rowena, pulling the cub away.  Kuruk recovered slowly, rubbing his right hind foot with his forepaws.  Rowena crawled back to Kuruk, sensing the large male grizzly wasn’t kicking with his hind feet.  She touched his right hind foot, feeling his left forepaw massaging his toes, his right fore holding his right hind foot, the toes of which massaging his sole pad, Kuruk flexing his toes from time to time.

       “Did I really tickle your paw that much?”  Rowena asked, learning quickly.  Kuruk gave her his right hind foot, Rowena rubbing his pads and reaching up to massage his toes.

      “There,” she said, “how’s that?”  Kuruk gently curled his toes with pleasure.

       “You very gentle with paw of Kuruk,” Kuruk said.

      “Rowena cub very glad of that,” Rowena said, Kuruk laughing at her mimicry.

       “You get yourself into trouble with uncle Kuruk if not careful Rowena cub,” Kuruk said.  Rowena kissed the sole pad of Kuruk’s hind foot.

       “Rowena cub only playing with Kuruk,” she said.  Kuruk smiled, his eyes shining with love for Rowena.

       “He’s falling for our cub as much as we have,” Patch said to Ekaterina.

       “Let him,” Ekaterina replied, “I didn’t realise how much losing his cub affected him.  Kuruk’s cub was his whole world.”  Kuruk rolled onto his side, little Rowena snuggling up to him.  Kuruk embraced the tiny cub in his forepaws, Rowena cuddling up and falling asleep.  Kuruk closed his eyes, Ekaterina seeing his paws lock around her cub in the way she’d seen the cubs of other bears held by their mothers.  Ekaterina knew this grip was firm and unbreakable without mama knowing all about it.  Ekaterina saw her brother settling down, curling up with her and patch’s cub.

      “I wonder who is more protective of Rowena.”  Patch asked.  Ekaterina nodded:

       “Kuruk looks at peace for the first time in ages,” she replied.  Kuruk slept for a long time, Rowena held in his paws.

      “How would it be if we gave Kuruk a home here?”  Patch whispered to Ekaterina, “he’s lonely, he’s alone.  No bear should be alone.  He might be in this community, but he’s alone Ekaterina.”

       “I’m up for it,” Ekaterina replied, “Kuruk needs a spiritual home too.”  Ekaterina padded to her eldest brother’s side and kissed his nose.  Kuruk shifted as she kissed him, his forepaws holding tightly onto Rowena.  Kuruk woke slowly after an hour, Rowena waking soon after him.  Rowena stretched her paws languidly.

      “You’re nice and warm Kuruk,” she yawned.  Ekaterina, her eyes on her cub, wasn’t watching the monitor.  Patch was though, and exclaimed as he saw something on the screen.

       “What’s that?”  Ekaterina looked round, then, before she could take in what was going on outside, the door burst open, and a bear staggered into the den.

       “Help me, please!”  The poor bear pleaded.  Ekaterina saw Kamchatka panting up behind the bedraggled bear.

      “I couldn’t stop the bear getting into the den!”  Kamchatka gasped, “I needed to visit the house!”  Patch looked at the sad creature now sprawled on the floor.

       “I don’t think this poor thing will pose a threat,” Patch said.  The bear shivered on the floor, its paws covered in mud, indeed the whole bear was plastered in it.

       “What kind of bear are you?”   Patch asked.

      “Panda, I’m a panda!”  The bear whimpered.

       “Not one of ours,” Kuruk grunted.  The panda looked at him, and then screamed!

       “Oh, oh dear!  How many big bears are there round here?”  Kuruk motioned with his paw.

      “Kuruk no hurt panda if she no hurt him or family,”  he said, “and patch be big bear, along with Ekaterina mama too.  We no hurt you.”

       “My name’s Jinghua, I am one of the community bears!”  The panda complained, “I was attacked in the wood by a tiger, a big fat tiger with big paws.  He thought he’d have a go at me, so I fought him, and now he’s lying low, and I’m covered in mud, and he’s a bully!”

      “Tommy!”  Ekaterina snapped, “Stupid cub, stupid cub!”  Jinghua whimpered with fear.

      “He ambushed me, I was walking along a track, and he leapt out and flattened me!  I fought back with as much force as I could, with every part of my body and of all four paws I fought!  The tiger was beaten back, but not beaten completely.  I ran, slipping and sliding in the mud, getting covered.  Now, now I’m here.  I don’t know where I am!  Where is this?”  Ekaterina told her.

       “Oh mama, I’m sorry for intruding,” Jinghua replied.  Ekaterina kissed the panda’s nose and the wet muddy pads of her left forepaw.

       “There is no need to be sorry,” Ekaterina said.  Jinghua shivered with cold and fear.

       “Let me groom you Jinghua,” patch said.  Jinghua hesitated:

      “I’m covered in mud!”  She protested.

       “Have you seen how wild bears shower?”  Patch replied, “Come, let’s go to the brook and get you washed.”  Patch led Jinghua from the den and to the brook, where he washed her thoroughly from nose to tail.  Then, shaking themselves dry, they returned to the den.

      “Now for the main event,” patch said.  Jinghua, now feeling invigorated, looked at patch.

       “You mean that wash wasn’t enough?”  She asked.  Patch shook his head.

      “If you don’t want me to groom you from nose to tail, I won’t,” he replied.  Jinghua laid a damp paw on his.

      “Of course I’d love that,” she replied.

      “Let’s do it then,” Patch said.  Ekaterina and Kuruk watched Patch grooming Jinghua from nose to tail.  He did a fantastic job, using teeth, tongue and claws to gently tease out the knots in her fur.  When he came to grooming her pads and toes, Patch treated Jinghua’s paws like he would those of a young cub, licking her paw pads, then rasping the pad with his teeth, spitting into the straw from time to time.

       “This is how they groom paw pads in the wild,” Jinghua said, “and it is very pleasurable, but isn’t licking and rasping of pads a bit much?”

      “How would a wild mama clean her cub’s paws?”  Was patch’s reply.  Jinghua had no answer other than the obvious one, so decided to throw her community sensibilities aside and enjoy the experience.

      “Having my paws naturally cleaned feels great!”  Jinghua laughed.  Ekaterina giggled:

      “I know,” she replied, “Patch has cleaned my paws in that manner too.”  Kuruk looked at patch.

      “Would you clean Kuruk’s paws in wild way?”  He asked.  Patch laughed:

      “I will,” he said.  Jinghua wriggled with pleasure as patch cleaned her fore and hind paws, the sensations new to her, but then again, not so new.  She felt she had an innate memory of this feeling, a memory which she herself had not implanted in her mind.  Yi Jie had always used her paws to wash her daughter cub’s paws, never had she ever rasped Jinghua’s pads with her teeth, or licked her pads.  Now Jinghua felt alive and invigorated, could a bear washing her paws in a time honoured fashion produce these feelings?  Jinghua explained how she felt to the bears around her.

       “Washing paws in old fashioned way is best way,” Kuruk said, “it builds bonds, makes cub feel good, mate too, though can also make friend of bear being groomed.  Kuruk suggest patch play with paws of Jinghua too.  That he thinks be good thing.”  Patch kissed the pads of Jinghua’s right hind foot, Jinghua tearful.

      “Thank you Patch,” she sniffed.  Patch embraced her tightly, rocking her gently in his embrace.  Ekaterina watched them, marvelling at how stunning the two bears looked together.

       “They look amazing,” she thought.  Jinghua groomed patch as he had her, the panda having to virtually clamber over Patch to reach every part of him.  At one point, patch embraced her in his forepaws, hugging her tenderly.  Jinghua, laughing, snuggled up tightly.

        “Enjoy it Jinghua, enjoy your time with patch,” Ekaterina said.  Jinghua cleaned Patch’s paws in the same way he’d cleaned hers, the grey bear enjoying every minute.

      “Your paws are huge up close!”  Jinghua laughed.  Patch whimpered like a cub, sat up and played with the toes of his left hind paw, Jinghua giggling with pleasure.

       “I want to go and talk to Tommy!”  Ekaterina snapped.

      “No mama Ekaterina, leave big silly tiger to Kuruk!”  Kuruk said, flexing his forepaws and getting to his feet.

       “You’ll rip his tail off!”  Ekaterina said laughing, though she was only half joking.

      “Kuruk promise he be gentle with Tommy, scare him a bit maybe, but he no make same mistake again.”  Kuruk padded out of the den and found Tommy stalking another target.  This one had Kuruk more livid than ever.  Tommy was stalking Chowilawu.  Even though the bear was bigger than the tiger, Kuruk knew that to have a tiger jump on his back, even in play would scare Chowilawu to death.  Approaching, Kuruk wanted to make his move.  Horrified, he watched as Tommy struck, leaping onto Chowilawu’s back.  The bear collapsing into the long grass at the edge of the track.

      “Got you!”  Tommy yelled.  Then he stopped, suddenly anxious.

       “Chowilawu?”  He asked, prodding him with a paw.  Tommy looked desperately round him.  Then ran off, cannoning into Kuruk.

       “You now gone and done it big time haven’t you Tommy,” Kuruk grunted.  Tommy tugged Kuruk over to Chowilawu’s motionless form.

      “He dead,” Kuruk said, “you scared a bear to death Tommy, congratulations.”  Tommy stared into the distance, and then froze, his eyes full of horror.

      “Mama Jess!”  He screamed.  Jess, having found her dead cub, ran to Tommy and picked him up, Kuruk aiding her by blocking the tiger’s escape.

       “You stalked the wrong prey!”  Jess screamed, “now, now my cub is dead!  Now you will die!”  Tommy screamed with fear.

     “You won’t kill me, you can’t!  My mama would go mad!”

       “You thought I wouldn’t go mad if my cub died?”  Jess asked.  Tommy screwed his eyes shut against the sight of jess’s angry and grief stricken face.

       “I’m sorry Jess!”  He mewed.  Jess threw Tommy on the floor.  The tiger landing hard.  Tommy crawled away, Kuruk helping jess carry Chowilawu’s body back to the house.  Jess, crying, laid her lifeless cub on the rug in her lie up.  Hugging him, she cried into his warm fur.

       “I’m sorry Chowilawu,” jess sobbed.  Skirnir watched her mooning her dead cub.

        “Chowilawu’s perfect in every way, no marks on him,” he said, “He was literally frightened to death?”  Jess wiped her eyes with her paws, choking on her tears.

      “He’s dead!”  She choked.  Skirnir helped Jess bury her cub, jess to upset to arrange a community funeral.  Honeyfur and Magnus dug a grave for Chowilawu, the two badgers standing solemn with bowed heads, as befitted the job.  Honeyfur now forgave her son cub for capturing Tommy, and personally wanted to trap him and frighten the fur off him.

       “Honeyfur sorry about the horrible Tommy,” Honeyfur said, “she make sure her cub catch and make meal of tiger!”  Jess turned away from the graveside, padding away on heavy paws.

        “I don’t know if I can cope any more!”  She sobbed.  Skirnir hugged jess tightly.

       “I’m here for you,” he said.

 

Meanwhile, in the pool complex, Emily, Whitetip and Tarker were playing together.  The otter cubs loved the wave machines, and eagerly played with the water and each other.  Emily tickled Whitetip’s hind feet, the otter cub laughing and kicking madly.

      “Stop tickling my feet mama!”  She laughed, giving her mum her right hind foot to play with.

      “Are your hind paws still feet?”  Emily asked.  Whitetip laughed:

      “Call them what you will,” she said, “they make me feel good anyway!”  Emily kissed the pads and toes of Whitetip’s right hind paw, her cub laughing.

 

Meanwhile, Bianca got to grips with Tommy, walloping him soundly for stalking illegal prey.

      “If you want to stalk something, play with me!  Not poor blind bears!”  Bianca screamed.

     “But mama you’re so boring!”  Tommy screamed.  Bianca thumped her cub hard.

      “You never asked me to play with you!”  She yelled, “And now this happens!”  Tommy knew he’d killed Chowilawu.

        “You murdered my cub!”  Jess screamed, whacking Tommy hard.  Tommy, taken completely by surprise, accepted his punishment from the she bear with no complaint.

      “We will have to have an enquiry into this,” Samson said, padding up, picking Tommy up by the scruff of his neck and dragging him away.  Samson spoke to Petra, Kamchatka and Theo, arranging a meeting of the community committee to decide Tommy’s fait.

 

Later that day, Petra, Kamchatka, and Theo met in private.  They reviewed the footage from the woodland cameras, and then called jess in to gauge her reaction to events.  Jess spoke of her loss.  Kamchatka visibly affected by her evidence.  Kuruk was then called, and he gave his version of events.  Then they spoke to Tommy, who told a tale of a tiger practising his stalking skills.  He had thought of Chowilawu as an easy target, though he’d never intended to hurt him, let alone kill him.

       “We will decide your punishment in due course,” Kamchatka said to Tommy.  Samson dragged the unfortunate tiger away.

      “So what punishment should we give him?”  Petra asked.  Kamchatka rubbed her nose with a paw.

       “Tommy loves his freedom,” she said, “so how would it be if we use a cage, set it in the wood, and lock Tommy up in it for twenty three hours a day for a period of three months, giving him food and exercise under supervision.  Then we can all watch him, he will see his freedom, but can’t have it.  We will let him have recreation time in supervision.”  Theo and Petra nodded.  Jess was informed of the punishment proposed for Tommy.

       “It in no way compensates me for the loss of my cub,” she said.  Kamchatka hugged Jess tenderly:

       “We know that,” she said softly, “but we cannot kill Tommy, as he did not actually mean to kill Chowilawu.  He had no thought of it.  He was basically being himself, a tiger.  His failing was to ambush a defenceless community member.”  Jess growled in protest, but had to be content with that.

        “I know,” Kamchatka said, dropping her impartiality and hugging and kissing jess, becoming her mama rather than an impartial judge of evidence.  Jess cried into Kamchatka’s fur, clinging to her with desperate paws.

        “He didn’t deserve to die!”  Jess sobbed.  Kamchatka rubbed her ears:

        “Chowilawu died of fright,” Kamchatka said, “It’s terrible.”  Jess sighed heavily.

        “One day, I will find I need to move on,” she said, “but for now, I want to Maun my cub.  One day, one day I’ll mate with Skirnir, then we’ll have another cub, but Chowilawu will never be forgotten.”  Kamchatka kissed her cub’s nose.

       “Now let’s lock Tommy up,” she said.

 

The boss, having been kept abreast of events, had a cage winched into the largest clearing in the wood.  Tommy was chucked into the cage, which had straw on the floor and a water bucket in one corner.  Tommy complained as the straw irritated his pads, leaping up, roaring and banging the bars with his paws.  Screaming, Tommy attracted Honeyfur’s attention, the badger striding up to the bars, banging the door with her paw and telling him to shut up.

      “At least you tiger can still smell fresh air!”  Honeyfur yelled, “You kill Chowilawu, so now you spend three months in this place, day and night.  NO ONE talk to you.  You stand in cage and look out at world.  Now you think on what you do to poor Chowilawu.”  With that she stormed off.

 

Jess and Skirnir sat together, playing with each other’s hind paws in an attempt to take their minds off recent events.  Jess’s pads told her Skirnir loved her dearly, and she hoped her paws told him though the pads of his right hind foot, that she loved him.

      “I’m sorry about the loss of Chowilawu,” Skirnir said.  Jess sighed heavily, and then smiled:

      “I’m in cub,” she replied, “I found out today.”  Skirnir looked shocked!

      “Oh wow, wow!”  He said, unable to say anything else.  Jess giggled:

      “I know,” she said.  Skirnir hugged his mate tenderly.

      “Let’s hope this news heralds a happier time in our lives,” he said.  Jess smiled sadly.

      “I hope it does,” she replied.

 

Meanwhile, in the den, Ekaterina and patch lay cuddled up together.  Jinghua had left, as Had Kuruk, the male bear wanting to let Patch and Ekaterina have time alone with Rowena.  Kuruk padded to Jess’s lie up, where she broke the news of her pregnancy.  Kuruk embraced her tightly, lifting her off her feet and swinging her round in a lazy arc, jess laughing merrily and kicking the air with her hind feet while she could.  Then as they touched the rugs again, Jess stood upright on her hind feet, her forepaws hugging Kuruk tenderly.

       “Kuruk think mama Jess have big cub,” he said, “she have big unusual cub.  Kuruk no know how he knows this, but his think jess has surprise after painful labour.”  Jess hesitated:

      “What do you know?”  She asked.

      “Kuruk know nothing,” Kuruk replied, “he just feel jess might be surprised when she have cub.  Labour very long and painful Kuruk think.  Cub, when it comes, is big and unusual colour.”

       “I’d expect a brown bear cub, as we are both brown bears,” Skirnir said.  Kuruk nodded:

      “You need no worry,” he said, “cub is fine I think, but Kuruk think cub has black fur from nose to tail with black nose and paw pads.  He no know whether female or male though.”

       “Who have you been talking to?”  Jess asked.

       “Kuruk no talk to anyone, he have dream of Jess in big strong labour, she scream and kick with all her might, then, after long labour, give birth to black cub.  Cub is huge!”  Jess looked sceptical.

       “If this cub’s not black with big paws and a black nose and black pads, you’re gonna look stupid Kuruk,” she said.  Kuruk let go of jess, the female bear dropping onto all four paws.

       “Kuruk only say what his dream tells him,” he replied.  Jess turned away, very confused, her eyes meeting Theo’s.

       “You told him!”  Jess snapped, “Theo!  You told Kuruk all that shit about a black cub!”  Theo shook his head:

       “I did not tell him anything,” The white lion replied, “I just came here to offer my congratulations on your good news and wish you a speedy labour and easy delivery.”

       “All Kuruk wishes me is heavy labour and a painful delivery,” Jess snapped, “so at least you’re tidings are better Theo.”  Kuruk turned away, angry and upset.

       “Does Jess really think brother Kuruk want see her in pain?”  He asked.  Jess saw he was almost crying.

       “No Kuruk no,” Jess said, relenting, “look, I’m sorry, if, if your dream told you I was to have a black cub, then that’s fine.  I’m scared; I’m not good with pain.”  Kuruk hugged his sister, feeling the cub kicking inside her.  The kick was strong, and startled both of them.

       “That cub’s active,” Skirnir said, Jess wide eyed and panting.

         “That hurt!”  She screamed, stamping her paws.  The cub, now sure of an audience, kicked some more, jess rolling about and thrashing the air with her paws, screaming lustily.

      “Stop! stop! Stop!”  She yelled.

      “You have a really active cub,” Theo mewed.  Jess, gasping, stared at him:

       Alaska felt it kicking,” she said, “I felt it first, was woken by it this morning, it hurt Theo!  Now, now, the cub knows it’s got an audience, and is acting up more than ever!”  Kuruk gently drummed his paws on Jess’s belly, the cub responding by kicking back against his paws.

       “”You bastard!”  Jess moaned.

      “You have very active cub mama,” Kuruk grunted.

      “If, if that cub comes out wriggling, I’ll go crazy!”  She yelled, “I want it to stay still while I’m pushing!”  Kuruk shook his head:

        “Kuruk know if he were being born, he no stay still for mama, he be wriggling and screaming just like mama.”  Jess cursed violently.

      “Can I opt for any other way than natural birth?”  She asked, “If this cub is giving me hell now, then it will be horrible giving birth to it.”  Alaska padded in, shaking her head:

      “You will have it naturally,” she said, “I can give you drugs to take the edge off your pain, but we can’t do anything else.  Caesarean sections are for humans, not bears.”

      “What is one of those?”  Jess asked.  Alaska explained, jess nearly vomiting at the thought.

       “You tear open my belly and remove the cub?”  She asked.  Alaska nodded, wanting to frighten Jess out of her thoughts.

       “It’s not an easy choice,” Alaska said, “it’s very dangerous in the bear.”  This was Untrue, but Alaska didn’t want Jess to miss out on something amazing.  Jess backed down, folding her paws over her belly, feeling the cub kicking against her touch.

       “This cub’s got big paws,” she said.  Kuruk grinned:

       “Mama Jess just relaxes and let body do thing, and cub come out fine,” he said, “she tense mama, then she have problems.”  Jess grimaced:

       “I saw Ekaterina having her cub,” she said, “How did she get such a big cub out of a small hole?”

       “It was painful that’s for sure,” Ekaterina said, padding into the room with Rowena, placing the little cub in jess’s lap.  Jess examined the cub with her paws, Rowena only a day and a bit old now.

        “You made your body stretch to deliver Rowena?”  Jess asked.  Ekaterina kissed her nose:

       “Yes,” she replied, “mine did its job, and so will yours.  Just relax as much as you can, push when you want, ream and kick.  Then all will be fine.  Feel the cub mama, your body will tell you what to do.”  Jess sighed heavily.

        “Time will tell,” she said, “but time is running out for me to get ready.”

      “I’d recommend learning how to play with your hind paws all over again,” Ekaterina said, “and also getting Skirnir to help too.”  Jess said she would.

 

That night, Jess started playing with her paws in earnest, massaging her right hind foot with her forepaws.  Jess felt her cub relaxing as she relaxed.  Jess knew that for Alaska to tell she was in cub, she must have only a few weeks to go, maybe only days before the birth of her cub.  She and Skirnir had known each other for at least six months now, and had mated early on.  So jess thought she was soon to have her cub.  Jess thought about her cub, about how labour would be.  Concerned, she got up and went in search of Ekaterina.  Finding her in the den, Jess asked her questions.

       “Labour is like stomach cramps,” Ekaterina said, “and when you need to push it’s like constipation.  Just relax, and let your body do the work, only helping when needed.”  Jess grimaced:

      “Can I move about?  Crawl, curl my toes, pant and whimper?”  She asked.  Ekaterina nodded:

      “Do all of that,” she advised.  “Express your pain, stamp your paws, wriggle, cry, roar, but don’t overdo the pushing.”  Jess sat down in the den, feeling her cub moving inside her.

      “I just want it born now,” jess said, “bring on the labour.”

       “But we can’t rush labour, as we can’t rush your cub,” Ekaterina said.  Jess groaned with discomfort.

        “I want it born now!”  She whimpered.  Ekaterina stroked her left forepaw.

       “When contractions start, just go with them,” she advised.  “Crawl, pant, cry, whimper, curl your toes and draw your hind feet to you when needed, and try squeezing them with your forepaws.  All helps.  Jess awaited the birth of her cub with fearful anticipation.

 

Meanwhile, Tommy’s life was less eventful, day after day passed where he stood in his cage watching the activity of the wood going on around him.  Recreation was at night, and no one paid him any heed during the day.  Even those who took him out for his recreation time would lead him like a dog, for which he had to wear a collar around his neck.  Nanuq was the bear in charge, Kuruk backing him up.  Tommy was bored, really really bored in the daytime, but at night, he got to thinking of the life his actions had ended, and this quelled his anger at his situation.  At least he’d be freed, Chowilawu would never be freed.

 

Jess’s labour started two months after this.  It was early morning when contractions woke the she bear from restless sleep.  Jess felt uncomfortable, the pains coming in waves and lasting for a minute or so.  She wasn’t screaming yet, only panting and clenching her teeth, but she knew things would get a lot worse.  She wondered whether to wake Skirnir, but decided against it.  Getting up, she paced up and down the corridor, her paws feeling leaden and every breath seeming to rasp her whole body.  Jess knew when contractions got worse, they’d increase quickly.  Every contraction she felt building in her had her thinking it would be the first big one.  She knew that when the first big contraction hit, she’d be a screaming wreck.  Jess paced for an hour, and then felt a change, almost a shift inside her.  Gasping, she returned to Skirnir’s side and woke him.

      “Cub’s coming, it’s coming,” she panted, lying on her back on the floor.  Skirnir woke to find his mate lying on her back whimpering and panting while holding her hind feet with her forepaws.

      “Just do what Ekaterina suggested, let things take their course,” Skirnir said, Jess puffing and blowing.

      “Water’s haven’t broken yet,” she panted, “but something’s got to give!  It must give soon!  Pressure’s really building up!  Ouououoch! Owowowowowoouch!”  Jess grunted and wriggled, then squealed and kicked as her water broke.  Skirnir saw a rush of fluid, and then heard Jess screaming into her forepaws as the first real contractions hit her.

       “Just let things flow, let them take their course jess,” Skirnir said to the panting, whimpering and screaming female bear.  Jess rolled onto her chest and crawled round the lie up, roaring with every contraction, Skirnir massaging the pads of her hind feet whenever he could reach them.  Jess’s pads were wet with sweat beneath Skirnir’s touch; her toes curled so tightly with every contraction he was worried Jess’s claws would puncture her own pads.  Jess suddenly stopped after fifteen minutes of crawling and roaring, sat back on her heels and gave vent to a scream the like of which Skirnir had never heard before.  It was a long drawn out howl while Jess bounced on her heels.  Then squealing, Jess collapsed onto her side, pedalling with all four paws.  Jess’s pedalling got faster and faster, Jess growling, roaring and squealing, her toes curling and relaxing constantly with the increasing severity and frequency of contractions.     

“It’s stretching me!”  Jess screamed, “It’s stretching me!  I can feel it coming!  Ow, ow, ow, ow!  Ooooooooooowwwwwwwww!”  Skirnir watched his mate’s physical struggle, feeling helpless.  Then, after ten minutes, Jess stopped pedalling the air with her paws, rolled onto her back, drew her hind feet up, grabbed them with her forepaws and groaned loud and long, and then she was up on her feet, bouncing on her toes, whimpering and squealing.  Then squatting, head down, Jess began screaming and stamping her paws from time to time.

       “Things are moving down, it’s stretching me more than ever!”  Jess yelled, “I mustn’t push, mustn’t push!”  Screaming and roaring Jess endured two heavy contractions without actively pushing, but then, as the cub’s forepaws emerged; she gave up the fight not to push.  Taking a deep breath, she bore down hard into the soles of her hind feet, groaning long and low with effort.  Skirnir was so fascinated by what was happening beneath Jess’s tail, he forgot to tell her what was going on.  Jess wriggled and pushed, strained and wriggled, groaning, screaming and growling.  Skirnir could see her effort; see how much pressure she was putting on one enormous cub.

      “The cub’s nearly here!”  Skirnir said when the cub’s hind quarters were nearly out.  He caught the cub as jess strained hard twice more, her screams rattling the walls.  With one final enormous straining, screaming push from Jess, the cub was born, and what an enormous cub this was!  Jess collapsed soon after delivering the cub, lying on the floor, crying, spent in strength and spirit.

       “Your cub’s healthy and lively!”  Skirnir shouted.  He had to shout, for the cub was complaining loudly.

      “Get off me, get off me!”  It yelled.  Skirnir cleaned the cub up, putting him beside his mother.  Jess looked at the cub, and instantly fell in love with him.

        “What a handsome cub,” jess said weakly, “did I give birth to him unaided?”  Skirnir said she had.

      “That’s amazing,” jess said softly, reaching out to embrace her cub.  The huge cub snuggled up to his mother, Jess finally realising the feat she’d achieved.

       “You’re lovely,” she said, rolling onto her side and feeding her cub for the first time.  The cub drank thirstily, his paws working overtime to kneed milk from Jess’s supply.

       “So show’s over at last,” Ekaterina said.  Jess giggled:

       “How long have you been here?”  She asked.

      Oh, Rowena, Patch and I were here for a long time,” Ekaterina replied.  Jess grinned:

       “You saw it all then?”  She asked.

     “Every sweating detail from the time you first rolled onto your back and drew your feet to you just before your water broke,” Ekaterina said.

      “That was all messy!”  Rowena observed.  Ekaterina shushed her:

      “I told you all about the birth of Jess’s cub,” she said, “so you knew it’s gonna be messy!”

      “I was only commenting!”  Rowena protested.  Jess looked at the four month old polar bear cub,

       “How much did you see?”  She asked.

     “Everything and it was lovely mama,” Rowena said, padding forward and kissing Jess’s nose.  Jess gasped as she felt the cub’s touch, it was strong, very strong.

       “You did wonderfully,” Rowena said.  Jess looked at her newborn cub, now asleep beside her.

       “I did,” she replied softly.  Rowena looked at the black cub.

       “He’s striking,” she said, “have you thought of a name for him yet?”  Jess looked at her cub:

      “No I haven’t,” she replied.  Jess touched the cub’s head with her paw.

       “How about Blackberry?”  Rowena suggested, “For his fur is as black as the berries my mum showed me in the wood today.”  Jess smiled with genuine pleasure.

       “I like that,” she replied.  Blackberry looked sightlessly up at Rowena, and then rolled over, showing her the pads of all four paws.  Rowena gently blew on the pads of Blackberry’s right hind foot, the cub laughing helplessly and curling his toes involuntarily.

      “Hey look!”  Rowena laughed, “His pads look just like the wrinkled Blackberry fruit when they bunch up!  That’s so cute!”  Jess laughed merrily:

       “I want to remember the birth of my black cub,” she said.

      “You will mama,” Skirnir replied, “they got great shots of every second.”

       “I’m glad of that,” Jess replied.  Blackberry reached up for Rowena, the older cub taking her cousin in her paws and embracing him tightly.

      “Squeeze me tight,” Blackberry pleaded.

     “Not too tightly,” Jess cautioned.

       “I love your touch Rowena,” Blackberry said, burying his face in her chest as she sat with him on her lap.

      “How was labour?”  Ekaterina asked.  Jess grimaced:

       “Hard work, difficult to carry on at times, but worth it in the end,” she replied, “pushing Blackberry out at the end was worst.”  Ekaterina kissed her sister’s nose.

       “You did so well,” she said.  Jess looked up as Kuruk shambled into the room.  Seeing her, he lumbered over and hugged her.

       “Mama Jess looks tired,” he said, kissing her nose and paws.  Jess smiled:

      “So would you if you’d given birth an hour previously,” she said.  Kuruk embraced jess tenderly.

       “Kuruk see the video of your labour,” he said, “You have black cub just as Kuruk predict you have.”  Jess nodded.  Kuruk looked down at the black cub in Rowena’s paws.

       “He is handsome cub,” Kuruk grunted.  Jess smiled broadly.

 

Meanwhile, in Tommy’s cage, Tommy was reaching the end of his sentence.  Honeyfur released Tommy quietly, the tiger padding from the cage and running into the wood.

 

Meanwhile, Blackberry and Jess lay together, Jess viewing the video of her cub’s birth.

      “You gave us enough warning,” Allie said, “We were able to get the lighting just right.  You probably didn’t notice the light changing slightly in your lie up, but it did.  The cameras got everything!”  Jess saw and heard her pacing up and down the corridor outside her lie up.

       “I look in discomfort even then,” she remarked, “yes I was in some pain, but maybe most of that was fear of things yet to come.”  On screen, jess then went into her lie up and barely managed to wake Skirnir before she needed to lie on her back and felt the need to grab her hind feet with her forepaws.

       “You can see the soles of my hind feet and a lot more!”  Jess gasped, “You can see things happening, and hear them too!”

     “Oooh, I can almost feel mama’s pain,” Alaska said.  Jess grimaced.

      “The pressure was horrendous,” she said.  Allie squealed with surprise as the mama bear’s water broke suddenly.  Then jess on screen was screaming and roaring.  Shots of her crawling about the lie up showed her face, her forepaws and hind as she crawled.  Cameras got floor level shots of jess’s forepaws, the toes of which were curled into the carpet as she crawled.  The camera then got a shot of her right hind foot, the pads bunched up and toes curled tightly as jess endured a contraction.  The video was graphic, shockingly so in places, this was real footage of a mama bear having her cub!  Jess found herself curling her toes into the rug she and Blackberry lay on as she watched the unfolding drama.  Even though the evidence of all being well at the end was lying beside her, jess still found herself willing the ursine mama to push the cub into the world.  The video focused on all parts of her body in turn, her face, forepaws, body and hind feet, taking in everything.  When jess lay down to pedal the air with all four paws in the latter stages of her labour, the camera zoomed right in to the pedalling paws, so it looked for the entire world like jess was pawing the screen!

      “I can almost hear the claws scratching the glass!”  Alaska said.  Jess could hardly watch.

       “This is horrendous!”  She whimpered.

       “Don’t worry mum,” Blackberry said, “it’ll all be ok in the end,” this made jess laugh.

       “Jess’s having the cub for real now,” Alaska said, “look! There are the forepaws!”  Sure enough; the camera was focused on Blackberry’s forepaws coming into the world, jess’s screams of pain and effort accompanying their slow progress.

      “The body’s nearly out!”  Allie screamed, “Push mama Push!”  Jess roared with laughter.

       “Allie!”  She said, “Mama’s here, with her cub!”  Alaska, Allie and Blackberry fell about laughing.

      “Wow! That was amazing jess!”  Someone said.  Jess leapt to her feet and spun round with a roar of rage!

      “How dare you come here and watch the birth of my cub after what you have done!”  She screamed, “Dam your eyes Tommy!  I’ll scratch them out!”

      “What’s going on mum?”  Blackberry asked, starting to cry.

      “I’ll murder you!”  Jess roared.  Tommy turned and fled!

      “Jess, jess!”  Kamchatka pleaded, running in from another entrance, “you mustn’t, and he’s done his time!”  Jess squared up to her mother.

        “Tommy had no right to view the video of my cub’s birth!”  She screamed.

       “Tommy’s been punished,” Kamchatka said, “He can’t be punished forever.”  Jess growled in anger.

      “Mum, mum?”  Blackberry pleaded, pawing at his mum’s left forepaw, “what’s going on?”  Jess bristled with anger, and Blackberry could sense his mama was furious.

       “Nothing,” jess lied.

       “You don’t get angry over something that is nothing,” Blackberry said.  Jess sat down and gathered her cub to her.

       “An old enemy was watching the video of your birth, and I didn’t like it,” she replied.  Blackberry hugged his mum tightly.

 

Tommy fled for his lie up, throwing himself down on the floor.

       “Jess went for me mama!”  He gasped when Bianca enquired what had taken place.

       “You tried to watch the birth of her cub when you weren’t invited,” Bianca mewed, “and to make things worse, you’d killed her eldest cub.  She’s not going to be giving you roses.”  Tommy began to cry:

       “She threatened to scratch my eyes out!”  He sobbed.

     “She most likely didn’t want you watching the birth of her new cub, and I’m not surprised,” Bianca said.  Tommy sat sulkily in the corner of the lie up, thinking miserably of his lot.

 

Meanwhile, patch was playing with Blackberry.  The black cub wriggled and laughed helplessly as patch tickled his belly and paws.

       “You are lovely uncle patch!”  The cub laughed.  Patch kissed Blackberry’s nose and paws, the cub becoming still and thoughtful.

       “Can I kiss your nose and paws?”  He asked.  Patch rolled onto his side and let Blackberry explore, and then kiss his nose and paws.

     “Your paws are huge!”  Blackberry exclaimed.

      “My paws are bigger than yours,” patch replied, “but when you grow up, your paws will become as big as mine.”  Blackberry traced the sole pad of patch’s right hind foot, patch curling his toes with pleasure.

      “Oh, how cute!”  Blackberry laughed, “You’re curling your toes Patch!”  Patch giggled:

      “You can curl your toes with pleasure as well as pain,” he said.

      “My mama told me she curled her toes while giving birth to me, but also curls her toes when I play with her hind paws.  She told me she curls her toes in pleasure as well as in pain.  I think I’d curl my toes in pain too.”  Patch kissed Blackberry’s nose.

        “I don’t doubt you would,” he said.  Blackberry tried to reach patch’s toes when he relaxed his paw, and couldn’t reach them.

      “I’ll lie on my chest so you can play with my toes if you want,” patch said.  Blackberry laughed:

      “I’d love that,” he said.  Patch rolled over, Blackberry now able to get properly paws on with patch’s hind paws.  Patch wiggled his toes as the cub rubbed the wrinkled sole pad of his right hind paw, blackberry giggling and kissing the pad he was rubbing with his paws.  Patch giggled with pleasure.

       “Do you often kiss the soles of other bear’s paws?”  Patch asked.  Blackberry looked shocked!

      “I thought it was the way things were done!”  He replied, “My mama kisses my pads, so I thought it was right to kiss yours to show how I felt.”  Patch rolled onto his side, curled round and grabbed Blackberry in his forepaws.

       “You can kiss my pads, your mum’s pads, Skirnir’s pads and even Rowena’s pads if you ask them, but it’s not the done thing to kiss the pads of all bears you meet,” he said gently.  Blackberry took the warning with good grace.

      “Your pads are as wrinkled as mine,” blackberry said.  Patch giggled:

      “I know,” he said, “and I liked it when you kissed my pads too, can I kiss yours?”  Blackberry smiled:

      “Yes please,” he said.  Patch kissed the cub’s paw pads, Blackberry giggling and pedalling his paws in the air, Patch catching each paw in turn and kissing the sole pad and toes.  Blackberry became thoughtful as patch finished the job.

       “Touching paws means a lot doesn’t it,” he said.  Patch kissed blackberry’s nose.

       “To be able to touch and play with another’s paws is a very great privilege,” Patch replied, “It’s not a right, even though we do a lot of it here.”  Blackberry reached up with his paws and traced Patch’s face with them, Patch kissing the cub’s toes and pads.

       “Thank you for letting me touch and play with your paws,” Blackberry said.  Patch kissed his nose:

      “I loved every minute,” he replied, “but thank you for those words.  Thank you for letting me kiss your paws too Blackberry.”  Blackberry clambered all over Patch’s body, exploring him from nose to tail.  The cub enjoying touching patch’s paws, as he got most reaction when he touched his pads and played with his toes.  Patch rolled onto his side, drawing his hind feet to him, Blackberry chasing his hind paws.

     “Can I touch you while you hold your hind feet with your forepaws?”  Blackberry asked.  Patch thought about this:

      “You’re not big enough to touch my hind feet when I’m lying on my back,” he said, “what I will do though is sit up and play with the toes of my hind paws if you’d like.”  Blackberry giggled:

      “I’d love that,” he said, “then, then would you touch my paws while I play with my toes?”  Patch giggled and replied that he would.

      “You two really enjoy playing with each other’s paws don’t you,” Jess said.  Patch and Blackberry laughed merrily:

      “We do mama, we do!”  They said.

      “Can I join in too?”  Rowena asked.

      “How about if we both play with patch’s paws!”  Blackberry suggested.  So patch sat down, while Rowena played with the toes of his right hind foot, and Blackberry his left hind.  Patch first played with his daughter cub’s left hind foot, then his nephew’s right hind, both cubs bouncing about with pleasure, Patch bouncing about a bit too, mewing and giggling like a cub, to the delight of the two actual cubs.

      “He’s a cub; he’s a cub under all that fur!  Patch is a cub in a big bear’s body!”  Blackberry laughed.

      “Let’s see if this big cub is really a cub shall we?”  Rowena said, “Patch, can you wave your paws in the air?  Crawl about; play with your toes and our toes too?  Explore your hind paws with your forepaws?  Get your paws dirty and enjoy dirtying your paws?”  Patch giggled:

      “I can,” he said, “come, let’s get our paws dirty!”  Patch crawled away, Rowena and Blackberry hard on his heels, each touching a hind foot, tickling his pads and toes, making him crawl faster.  Once they were in the bathroom, patch got some black paw oil and rubbed it into the pads of his hind feet, the oily cream gritty with exploiting beds.  Patch let Blackberry and Rowena get paws on with him while he rubbed the cream into his own pads.

       “I want you two to get your paws into that cream and make sure I cover my hind feet well with the black cream,”  patch said, “being a cub, I don’t know if I am doing a good job or not, plus I can’t see my own feet!”  Rowena laughed merrily.

      “Let’s take a paw each and make white paw pads black!”  Rowena said.  Patch laughed helplessly as his daughter and nephew slapped gritty cream onto his hind paws.  Patch rubbed the cream into his paws further, then curled his toes when all was finished, making the oil squelch in furrows of bunched pads, to Rowena and blackberry’s delight.

      “Now can you walk on those oiled paws?”  Rowena said.  Patch got to all four paws and walked away, then returned to the cubs, Rowena laughing delightedly:

       “Patch’s paws make black prints, his paws make black prints!”  Blackberry laughed with his cousin.  Patch sat down and let the cubs play with his hind paws, Rowena and Blackberry rubbing more cream into his pads, patch curling his toes from time to time, the squelching sound making blackberry shriek with laughter.

       “You lot have made a hell of a mess in here!”  Kamchatka said padding into the bathroom.

      “Sorry mama!”  Patch said, Rowena and blackberry laughing helplessly.

      “Rowena’s almost as black as Blackberry!”  Kamchatka laughed, “you need a bath dear Grandcub!”  Patch laughed at his mum:

       “Now mama, if Rowena needs a wash, what do I need?”  Kamchatka examined her grown cub critically.

      “You need scrubbing!”  She proclaimed.  Patch laughed merrily.

       “We’ve been playing with this cream,” Patch said, handing his mama the pot.  Kamchatka looked at the cream.

       “I hope the cubs haven’t been using this directly,” she said, “it’s for adult bears only.

      “They were only rubbing it into my pads mama,” Patch said, Kamchatka quickly checking blackberry and Rowena’s pads for evidence of the cream.  Fortunately for them, they’d only applied it gently to patch’s paw pads, the large male bear having rubbed it in hard himself.  Patch and Kamchatka washed blackberry and Rowena, the two cubs loving their grandmamma and uncle’s attention.  Patch then got a well needed rub down, Kamchatka washing the black cream out of Patch’s hind paws.  Once the bears were washed from noses to tails, Patch helped Ekaterina and blackberry to the drying room, Kamchatka pushing a mop around the bathroom.  Patch hugged his mum.

       “You are lovely mama,” he said.  Mama Kamchatka kissed her cub’s nose.

      “I’ll clean up this once, but please, don’t make a mess again,” Kamchatka said.  Patch promised he wouldn’t.

 

Rowena and Blackberry followed patch to jess’s lie up, where the grey bear rolled onto his side, letting the two cubs play with his fore and hind paws.

      “Patch’s hind feet have big pads!”  Blackberry laughed.  Rowena rubbed her sire’s right hind foot with her forepaws.

      “He has a cub’s paws,” she said, “They have softer pads than Kamchatka’s paws have.”  Patch curled his toes, making his sole pads bunch up.

      “Patch just loves paw play!”  Blackberry said.  Patch grinned and embraced Blackberry, then Rowena, kissing their noses.  Jess watched her brother’s interaction with her ten hour old cub.

       “You need food blackberry love,” she said.  Blackberry looked at her, hesitated, and then crawled over to his mum.

       “Until you said that, I didn’t feel hungry,” he said, “I was having too much fun!”

       “Who could think a set of large paws would be such absorbing playthings?”  Skirnir asked.  Jess glanced at him:

       “We play with each other’s paws all the time,” she said.

      “In my humble opinion,” Kamchatka said padding into the room, “paws are meant to be played with.  Walking on them, using them for catching food, all those mundane things we do with your paws are fine, but playing with our own, or each other’s paws is fantastic!  Paws are so expressive, so mobile, and so cute!  Big, small, fat, thin, rough, smooth, adult’s or cub’s paws, any paws at all!”

       “You’ve only encountered paws where their owners want to play,” patch said, “mama, paws where their owners don’t want to play can be very different.”  Kamchatka nodded:

       “I know,” she replied.

       “I can’t describe how it feels when someone plays with my paws,” patch said, “it’s wonderful!  It’s, um, like I’m a cub again.”  Kamchatka kissed Patch’s nose.

       “I watched the video of your labour jess,” fleur said, padding stiffly into the lie up, “it was amazing!”  Jess laughed:

       “I think the most amazing shots were those of my hind paws just before my waters broke, you could see the pressure building up, and the shot of my paws as I pedalled the air with them just before really pushing against blackberry to deliver him.  I must say, even covered in sweat, my paws are beautiful, even when expressing pain.”  Blackberry touched his mum’s right hind foot.

       “How did your toes curl when you were in pain?”  He asked.  Jess sat back, breathing deeply, trying to imagine the pain she’d been in.  Blackberry suddenly felt his mum’s toes curl hard, jess wailing with the memory of her agony.

      “Wow!”  Blackberry said as his mum panted, coming down from ten seconds of her imagined pain, “your toes curled really hard!”  Jess smiled weakly.

      “When you open your eyes, I will show you the video,” she replied breathlessly.  Blackberry rubbed the sole pad of his mum’s right hind paw, jess giggling with pleasure.

       “I love that,” she said, pointing her toes so blackberry could play with them, which he did.

       “I’m sorry I caused so much pain for you,” blackberry said.  Jess hugged him.

      “I would go through it all again,” she said.  Blackberry traced round his mum’s right hind paw, then round his own left hind.

       “How did you manage to give birth to me?”  He asked.

       “When you’re able to see, you will see how I did it,” she said, “I can’t describe it, other than to say its worse than stomach ache, and you want to push down with everything you have.”

       “Like when you want to relieve yourself?”  Blackberry asked.  Jess hugged her cub.

      “Something likes that,” she replied, “something like that, but worse.”

       “So when you push down, you want to scream?”  Blackberry asked.  Jess sighed:

       “Yes,” she said.  Blackberry got down in a low crawl and grunted loudly, curling his toes and panting.

       “Something like that yes,” Jess said.  Blackberry took hold of his mama’s right hind foot, jess unable to stop her toes curling involuntarily.

       “I’m sorry mum,” blackberry said almost crying.  Jess hugged him, gathering him to her on her lap.

       “I would re-enactyour birth right now if I knew I wouldn’t scare you stiff,” she said.  Blackberry kissed his mum’s right forepaw.

       “Birth sounds natural,” he said, “so go ahead, if you want to.”  Jess smiled at her cub.

      “I would like you to touch me while I do it,” she said.  Blackberry touched his mum’s nose as she leant down to kiss him.

       “Are you large enough to touch my hind paws while I’m lying on my back and holding them in my forepaws?”  Jess asked.  Blackberry leapt off his mum’s lap and Jess got into the posture she’d been in so often before.  Blackberry found he could touch her hind feet, from toes to heels.  He was standing on his hind feet while doing this, and patch noticed this.

       “Can you stand on all four paws Blackberry?”  He asked.  Blackberry pushed away from his mum’s right hind foot, rolled about a bit and got onto all four paws.  Jess stared at her day old cub, as he not only stood flat on his four paws, but danced on his toes too.  Jess began to cry.

      “I didn’t want to make you cry mama,” blackberry said, tottering over to Jess and clambering into her lap.  Jess hugged her cub tightly.

       “I love you Blackberry,” she said sniffing hard, kissing his nose.

        “If you want to pedal the air with your paws then please do,” Blackberry said.  Jess found herself playing with the toes of her right hind foot, whimpering and curling her toes as she played with them, Blackberry, exploring his mum’s paws with his, could feel her turmoil.

       “Ok mum, on the count of three, curl those toes and scream loudly!”  Blackberry said.  Jess panted hard, then, felt her son cub take hold of her left hind foot.

       “Ready mum?  One, two three!”  Blackberry said, jess curling the toes of all four paws hard, her right fore holding onto her right hind, the toes of her right hind foot curled round the toes of her left fore.  Blackberry felt the toes of his mama’s left hind foot curl hard and heard her yell.

      “That’s it mum, that’s it!”  Blackberry encouraged.  Jess rocked back and fourth, panting and whimpering.

      “It’s too big, too big!”  Jess wailed.

       “I’m born now mama,” Blackberry said softly, kissing his mum’s sweating left hind foot.

        “I must make sense of the amount of pain I was in!”  Jess gasped.

      “You just need to look at me, feel me from nose to paws to find that out,” blackberry said.  Jess grunted with effort.

        ~”Ok, ok!”  She gasped, “Let me, let me calm down, and try to at least.”  Blackberry hugged his mum’s left hind paw in his forepaws, which was as much of her as he could reach.  He felt her toes relax as he hugged her paw.  Then he felt her forepaws wrapping around him, and he was being lifted up off his paws, having to release his hold on his mum’s left hind foot, then he felt himself placed on her chest, then felt her paws and tongue exploring him, grooming him with frantic urgency.  Blackberry lay in the warmth of Jess’s fur, thinking of what he could remember of his birth.  He certainly heard everything, groaning, screaming, and complaining.  But he couldn’t remember feeling much.  His mama must have been in pain, for the sounds she was making on the video were loud and protesting.  Mama Jess sounded in real pain and discomfort, especially at the end, when he felt cold air on his body, yes, she was screaming then, really screaming.  Jess explored Blackberry’s paws, touching and kissing his pads and toes, the cub laughing with pleasure.

      “Playing with my cub’s paws feels wonderful!”  Jess said.  Blackberry curled his toes with pleasure, jess kissing his curled toes.

       “I loved it when blackberry and Rowena played with my paws,” Patch said, getting to his feet and dancing on his toes.  Rowena laughed helplessly, kissed Patch’s nose, then pushed him over onto his back grabbed his right forepaw and tickled it mercilessly.  Patch wriggled, waving his free forepaw and kicking furiously with his hind feet.

      “Stop tickling my paw!”  He snarled.  Rowena kissed his nose, and then kissed his waving paws in rapid succession, Patch laughing merrily.

      “I love the contrast of white pads against dark grey fur,” Rowena said.  Patch giggled:

       “I like my paws,” he said.  Rowena kissed Patch’s right hind foot, then traced his pads and played with his toes.

       “Paws are great playthings,” she observed, Patch laughing delightedly.

       “Now I wonder who could be responsible for teaching you how to play with your paws?”  Patch asked.  Rowena kissed his nose:

      “Mama was a little, but you mostly,” she replied.  Ekaterina padded in soon after this, hugging her mate and cub then ambushing Blackberry and tickling his paws, much to the black bear cub’s delight.

      “So you are aunt Ekaterina,” Blackberry panted once he’d recovered.

      “I am,” she replied.  Blackberry clambered all over Ekaterina, Ekaterina laughing and wriggling with pleasure.

      “You soppy thing!”  She laughed, blackberry tickling her right hind foot.

      “You’ve got soft paw pads!”  Blackberry said, “Not like Patch, Patch has harder pads.”

       “I am a community bear, Patch lived in a zoo for years,” Ekaterina replied.  Blackberry hugged Ekaterina’s right hind foot in his forepaws, Ekaterina laughing and curling her toes with gentle pleasure.

       “I love the feel of your pads Ekaterina,” blackberry said.  Ekaterina kissed his nose and then pushed him onto his back and kissed his paw pads, both fore and hind, the cub laughing helplessly.  Patch sat up and began playing with the toes of his right hind foot, a gentle smile touching his lips and dreamy look in his eyes.  Rowena laughed merrily and kissed her sire’s nose, Patch giving her his left hind foot to play with.  Rowena kissed the toes of the paw she held in hers, Patch curling his toes with pleasure.

       “I hear humans play computer games,” patch said, “who needs computer games when you have four paws?  You can play with your hind paws, or, if there’s someone else with you, you can play with their paws, and they can play with yours.  I love my paws, and the paws of my daughter cub and mate.”  Rowena clambered onto her sire’s lap, patch letting go of his hind paws and embracing her tightly.  Rowena snuggled up tightly, burying her face in patch’s fur, smelling his earthy scent.

      “When I kissed your pads, they smelt of earth too,” Rowena said, “I like that scent and want my pads to smell the same way.”  Patch smiled broadly.  Flipping Rowena onto her back, Patch began rubbing her paws, Rowena giggling and kicking the air with her hind feet.  Patch lifted Rowena in his paws and kissed her nose and the pads of all four paws, the cub becoming still as she felt her sire’s kiss.

       “You two are so cute!”  Ekaterina said.  Patch laughed merrily.

       “I love our cub,” patch said softly.  Ekaterina kissed her mate’s nose, then her cub’s nose and paws.

      “I love her too,” she said.

 

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