More four pawed goings on.

 

 

Swarupa looked at her two cubs.  Tigger, the larger of the two, set to playing with the toes of her right forepaw as she lay letting her cubs feed as and when they wanted.  Tigger’s touch on her pads and toes was light, his play gentle.  Swarupa curled and wiggled her toes, Tigger giggling and kissing them.  Swarupa cast her mind back to the beginning of her labour, tearing, ripping agonising pain, not just labour pain, but tearing from Tigger’s claws as he was born into the world, Swarupa pulling Tigger into the outside air. Then Namrah’s birth, two quick pushes, then a rush, then another effort and she were born.

      “I would do it all again though,” Swarupa thought.  Swarupa rubbed Tigger’s belly as the cub rolled onto his back and pawed at the air and at her own paws while she played with his forepaws.

       “I love you Tigger,” Swarupa mewed.  Tigger clasped his mother’s right forepaw in both of his, his grip firm and strong.  Meanwhile, Sushanti and Namrah played together, the tigress letting her niece clamber over her back and play with her paws and tail.  Sushanti mewed softly to Namrah as the cub traced the pads of her paws one by one; Sushanti unable to resist curling her toes in response to the cub’s touch, Namrah laughing and kissing her aunt’s bunching pads.  Sushanti kissed Namrah’s nose and paws, lifting the cub into the air so she could do this, Namrah laughing and kicking the air with all four tiny paws.

      “I remember watching you being born,” Sushanti said, “Namrah, it was a lovely sight.”  Namrah snuggled up to Sushanti.

       “Tigger’s birth was less easy I think,” she mewed, “he said he was going backwards, he tried to turn, he dug his toes in to try and stop he going backwards so he could turn round to let mama give birth to him normally.  He tried not to get his hind paws stuck, but he couldn’t stop them.  Tigger knew he was hurting our mama, but he couldn’t stop his toes curling, he was so scared, so scared Sushanti. #

Sushanti nodded and kissed Namrah’s nose.

      “Tigger is safe now though,” Sushanti mewed.  Tigger crawled to his sister and began playing with her hind paws and tail, Namrah curling her toes, kicking and lashing her tail with pleasure.

      “Oooh, Tigger, that’s lovely!”  Namrah exclaimed, bouncing about, Tigger kissing his sister’s hind paws and gently biting the end of her tail, Namrah snarling and whipping round to bat at her brother’s head and pull his ears, the two cubs play fighting on the rugs.  Sushanti and Swarupa laughed helplessly at the antics of the two cubs, Tigger and Namrah playing up to their audience, Namrah pretending to bite at her brother’s paws and ears, Tigger playing dead.

        “How can these two pretend play so early in life?”  Sushanti asked.

      “They’re in a community which thrives on that kind of thing,” Swarupa said, reflecting she’d never really played with anyone in her adult life.

       “Do you really mean what you said to Patch Swarupa?”  Sushanti asked.  Swarupa gave her sister a look which made her wish she’d never asked.

       “I’m sorry,” Sushanti mewed, “I don’t doubt your sincerity Swarupa.”  Swarupa lay down beside her sister and took her paw, Sushanti needing no further confirmation.

        “There,” Swarupa said.  Sushanti sighed heavily as she looked out at the snow which now fell heavily.

       “It seems wrong to leave our sire out there,” she mewed.  Swarupa kissed her sister’s nose:

      “We only left his body out there,” she said, “he’s in here, with us Sushanti.  He’s part of both of us, and part of my cubs too.  Sire Tigger’s here with us.”  Sushanti sniffed and wiped her eyes with her paw.

       “So, so while you were screaming in labour with your cubs, Namrah and Tigger died?”  She asked.  Swarupa nodded:

       “I suppose so,” she said.  Namrah explored her older brother’s body, his paws limp and unresponsive.  Then, as she was exploring his ears with her nose, Tigger leapt up, embraced her, rolled her over, and then kissed her nose and paws, to Namrah’s squealing surprise.

      “Hey you!”  Namrah yelled, blowing on the pads of her brother’s right forepaw, tickling them.  Roaring with laughter, Tigger tried to grab all four of his sister’s paws in his.

     “He’s got my gorgeous tiny paws in his big fat ones!”  Namrah protested, tugging at all four of her paws in turn, Tigger’s strong toes holding them firmly, “I can’t free them mama!”  Swarupa watched her cubs playing.

       “You can free them if you really want to,” she said.

      “Well, I don’t really want to, his touch is quite nice,” Namrah replied.

      “Well then, that’s fine isn’t it,” Sushanti said.

      “Yeah, it is,” Namrah replied, working her paws deeper into her brother’s.

      “Crazy cubs!”  Swarupa laughed.  She looked at Sushanti:

      “Did we ever play like that as cubs?”  She asked.

       “I wanted to, but you never would,” Sushanti replied, the regret in her tone surprising her.

       “I know how I was to others,” Swarupa replied, “I was a horrid, stand offish cub, always with a bad word for everyone.  Somehow I thought that made me all grown up and hard as rock, but it didn’t.  It made me a horrible tigress.  Now, now I want to change that.”  She slipped her right forepaw over Sushanti’s and held it tightly.  Sushanti kissed her sister’s paw, Swarupa laughing merrily and kissing her sister’s nose.

       “Lovely sight that,” Patch said, padding into the lie up.  Swarupa looked at the grey bear, then leapt to her paws and kissed his nose.

       “Will you help me Sushanti?”  She asked, “Help me tip this bear onto his back and then tickle his paws?”  Sushanti looked at Tigger and Namrah:

       “Maybe we won’t have to get paws on with him, just let these two ask him if they can play with his paws.”  Patch smiled, sat down, and then lay down on his side, waving his paws at the tigresses.

       “Told you,” Sushanti mewed, “we didn’t have to get paws on with him after all.”  Patch pawed at the air, Swarupa kissing his paws, then, once they were stilled, Tigger and Namrah launched their two pronged attack on the bear, jumping on his belly and attacking his paws with swiping paws.  Patch laughing helplessly, let the two cubs clamber all over him, using his body as a climbing frame, Namrah taking great pleasure in tickling Patch’s ears with her whiskers, squealing with laughter as the bear shook his head from time to time to relieve the tickling.

      “Stop it now,” Sushanti said, taking Namrah in her paws and lifting her from Patch’s back.  Meanwhile, Tigger, having taken a greater interest in Patch’s paws than his younger sister, traced the pads and toes of the large bear’s right forepaw, Patch loving every minute.  Curling his toes, Patch caught Tigger’s toes in his, the tiger cub laughing and kissing the furry toes holding his.

       “No wonder you couldn’t help mama have me,” he said, “these paws are enormous!”  So who helped my mama give birth to me?”  Patch released Tigger’s paw and hugged him:

       “I will show you the bear that helped you,” Patch said, kissing Tigger’s nose.  Patch padded out of the tigress’s lie up and found Blackberry playing with Allie in the family lie up.

       “Blackberry,” Patch said, “would you come to the tigress’s lie up and meet the little cub you helped into the world?”  Blackberry smiled and nodded, leading Allie by the paw into the tigress’s lie up, the younger cub excited by the prospect of meeting the cub whom she’d heard her brother had helped into the world.  Allie had heard Swarupa’s screaming, her scrabbling paws and begging voice as she struggled madly to give birth to her cubs.  Now she was going to meet the cub whom Blackberry had helped into the world.

     “Is this the big cub that came backwards?”  Allie asked.  Blackberry replied that it was.

 

Once in the tiger’s lie up, Blackberry was met by Tigger, who crawled up to him, instantly recognising the black bear’s scent.  Blackberry, overjoyed to see Tigger again, sat down and gathered him into a huge hug, sitting the tiger cub on his lap and embracing him tightly.

      “Hug me Blackberry!”  Tigger begged, “Blackberry embracing the tiger in huge warm paws.

        “I love you little cub,” Blackberry said softly, Tigger mewing and purring with pleasure.

        “This bear is so big and warm!”  Tigger said his voice full of amazement.

       “Can I hug the big black bear too?”  Namrah asked.  Patch, sitting beside his son cub, gathered Namrah into his lap.

       “In a minute,” he said, “in a minute.”  Swarupa wanted something too, for Blackberry to touch her paws, to experience the soft touch she knew had soothed her, however slightly, during her screaming labour.  Blackberry settled Tigger down, and then gave Swarupa his forepaws, the tigress kissing them and then kissing his nose.

       “It is said Ekaterina gave birth to you though she is a polar bear, and you a black bear?”  How is this?”  Blackberry considered her question.

       “I don’t know,” he replied, “Ekaterina is a polar bear, that’s for sure, but why I was born a black bear, when my sire and mama are not black bears I don’t know.”

       “Maybe you are a special gift from the spirits,” Swarupa mewed.

       “I’m no representative of Eohippus if that’s what you mean,” Blackberry replied.

      “How would you know if you were or not?”  Theo mewed.  Blackberry looked at him:

       “I don’t know what you mean,” Blackberry replied.

       “All I am saying is that Blackberry might not be the best name for you.”  Theo mewed, “go take a shower Blackberry.

        “But, but I’m clean, I walked in the wood and played in the broke, and I’ve got paws smelling of earth like my mama and sire have.  I’m a clean bear!”  Blackberry protested.  Theo snarled and slashed at Blackberry, driving him out of the lie up.  Frightened, Blackberry fled!

        “What the hell’s going on?”  Petra asked, running into the lie up.  Theo looked at her, his eyes telling her all she needed to know.

       “This is for real?”  She whispered, “You mean, mean it really has happened?”  Theo nodded:

        “While you were forced into the role mama, this bear is not.  He is gentle, too gentle.  He might be a rogue from time to time, but he is very gentle with it.  He has protected others than his own kind, and has helped others than his own kind too.”

      “But, but this could be said of everyone in the community!”  Petra mewed, playing devil’s advocate.

       “Blackberry didn’t have to help Swarupa,” Theo mewed, “His sire had been deeply hurt by her words, and Blackberry could have let her suffer.  Blackberry did not.  He helped Swarupa, he helped her birth her cub.”

 

Meanwhile, in the shower room, Blackberry showered himself down from nose to paws, startled as his black hair fell out in showers.  Terrified!  He leapt out of the shower, shaking himself dry, watching appalled as more hair flew from him.  Of course, loosened hair caused him to scratch, and infuriated, he leapt back into the shower and scrubbed with desperate paws, working his toes into his fur, right down to the skin.  Blackberry stared as his black coat fell out in swaths.

      “What’s happening to me?”  He wailed.  Shaking vigorously, he saw Koda pad in, and then launch a surprise attack on him, Blackberry engulfed in grooming paws, teeth and claws, much to his annoyance and bewilderment.

      “Get off me!”  Blackberry roared.  Koda only left off the screaming bear when he was done.

      “Now wash,” Koda said, Blackberry wanting to remonstrate with the black bear some more.

       “Who the hell gave you the right to groom me?”  Blackberry asked, “Paws off!”  He then looked down at himself, and found he was a white bear.

        “How can this be?”  He asked, “I was black, now I’m white?”  Koda turned and padded away, Blackberry running after him.

      “Oi!  I mean, Koda! Come back!”  Blackberry yelled, “Do you know what’s going on?”  Koda turned back, padding up to Blackberry and kissing his nose before hugging him and leaving as fast as a blind bear can.  Blackberry padded from the shower, looking back in disbelief at his black coat lying in a heap on the floor.

       “Look in the mirror my cub,” Ekaterina said, kissing her son’s nose.  Blackberry looked into a nearby mirror, and could hardly believe his eyes.  He was white from nose to tail.  Though his black tipped nose and paw pads told of his black skin beneath the white fur.

      “What does all this mean?”  Blackberry asked.  Theo padded up to the now white black bear and hugged him.

       “I’m sorry I snarled at you,” he said, kissing Blackberry’s nose.

     “I so much want to slap you Theo!”  Blackberry snapped.

        “Go on then,” Theo mewed, “I deserve it after what I have imparted to you.”  Blackberry’s eyes blazed into the lion’s, but he couldn’t raise his paw, let alone strike Theo.

       “I can’t, oh, forget it!”  Blackberry snarled, confused and furious with himself and Theo all at once.

       “What do we name you now?”  Theo asked, “For Blackberry is not a suitable name for you, now, now you’re white.”

       “I wasn’t named for my fur,” Blackberry replied, “mama Ekaterina told me that.  She said she named me for my paw pads.  As they look like the skin of a Blackberry when I curl my toes.”

     “Roll onto your side, and let’s see,” Theo mewed.  Blackberry, complying, rolled onto his side and curled the toes of all four paws.

       “Hmm, not basis enough to keep your old name, sorry,” Theo mused, “it’s a lovely name is Blackberry, but, who ever heard of a white bear named Blackberry?  Um, oh, um, ah yes, I’ll have to think.”  The lion said, his left forepaw playing with Blackberry’s right fore.

       “I’ve been thinking,” Someone said, “how would it be if we gave Patch a northern name while we are thinking of a name for this noble bear?”  Theo looked up, as did Blackberry.

      “Who is that?”  He asked, “A white lioness, but not Petra.”

       “Lioness Rowena, though I call her sister Rowena,” Theo mewed, “it is a great honour for us to see her.”

       “You mean, she, she’s passed over?”  Blackberry asked.  Theo nodded.

      “My sister lost her earthly form fighting for the life of a cub.  Chowilawu I think you might have known him a little.”  Blackberry nodded.

      “Enough of this,”  Rowena said, “I haven’t got long, but may I suggest a name for Patch, more a pet name, the name Pihoqahiak, which in Inuit language, means,  “ever-wandering one.”  He likes wandering in the wood, and was found thus by mama Kamchatka.”  Theo looked up at his sister, frustration in his expression:

      “We’re discussing, um, Blackberry here.  Not Patch!”  He snapped, his words coming out harsher than he intended.

        “I know, I know,” Rowena mewed, “I was coming to him in my next suggestion, please Brother Theo, give me time.”

      “First you say you’ve got little time, and then you say you want more?”  Theo asked.

      “I lose track of time here,” Rowena said sadly, “in the place where I am, there are no clocks, no day or night, and it’s not easy to know time.  Please Theo.  While I know I have little time, how little time I have I known not?”  Theo felt his eyes welling with tears.

       “I wish I could be with you for a while sister Rowena,” he sniffed.

     “You can’t make the journey over the bridge yet, it’s not your time,” Rowena mewed, padding forward and kissing her brother’s nose, Blackberry momentarily forgotten by both.

       “Now back to naming Blackberry,” Rowena said after kissing her brother’s nose.

       “So what do you propose we name him?”  Theo asked, gulping hard.

       “I think we should name him Tornassuk,” Rowena replied, “it is a name eastern Greenlanders use for the polar bear and means master of helping spirits.”

       “I’m no master of anything,”  Blackberry protested, “I’m a black, um, white bear, who was black, and who was born to a polar bear mama and cross bred ursine sire.”

         “Your parentage is stranger than that,” Rowena mewed, “and you know this Tornassuk.”  Blackberry, now Tornassuk, nodded:

      “I have a vague notion of it,” he replied, “a vague memory of helping a mama bear soothe the memory of a terrible labour and birth.  I am sometimes drawn to a place, a place where another spirit greets me.  Patch and I wander sometimes, wander in the wood, and at this place, a young cub pads up to me and hugs me, thanking me for being a brother to his older sister.  I see him clearly, and feel his tiny paw holding mine.  He asks me, no, begs me to come and tell him about what Allie and I get up to, so, so he can be part of our lives somehow.”

        “When I play with Blackberry, little Patch plays with me too,” little Allie said behind Tornassuk.  The once black bear, now white, turned his head and looked at the polar bear cub.

        “You see him too?”  Tornassuk asked.  Allie took her brother’s paw.

       “I see little Patch, but only you can talk to him,” she replied, “I tell him you’ll tell him the latest news when you see him.  What you did brother Tornassuk, both for me, and for our mama were very merciful, and the goodness in your actions defending Patch from Swarupa is incalculable.”

        “All I did was chuck bottle tops,” Tornassuk replied, “that was nothing!”

      “But it taught Swarupa she was no better than the bear she belittled, or started to teach her.  What really taught her was how you, after fighting her, and showing restraint when you could have so easily killed her, came to the aid of her and little Tigger when Swarupa was in labour, struggling to give birth to little Tigger.  You put your justifiable animosity aside when sire Patch asked it of you and came forward to help.  The spirits would not communicate with you if they didn’t know you better than you know yourself.”

      “But I was, am, a foolish cub,” Tornassuk said, his distress mounting, “I’m no master of helping spirits.  I was nearly killed by a lioness for stupid remarks!”

       “But you loved a tigress and her cubs like your own when you had no love from your birth mama,” Allie said, “Kamchatka took you in and gave you guidance, but you loved well before then.  After her guiding paw showed you the way for a while, you took a leap into your own life, firmly with all four paws, playing with a tiny cub that’d lost her brother and was desperately missing him.”

       “I’m not that bear any more,” Tornassuk whimpered, “I’m white for starters, and now, now all this!”  Allie sat down and took Tornassuk’s right hind paw in her forepaws.

       “You are still my brother,” she said softly, kissing the white furred top of the paw she held.  Tornassuk pressed his toes into Allie’s paws, the pressure was instinctive, and both bears knew what it meant.

       “You speak words like you don’t know who you are,” Theo mewed, “but deep down, you know very well who you are.  I am only a student of eohippus, but I know this, it is said that every now and again, a creature that is white will come to earth and show us the way.  It is said the creature will be brave but gentle, giving of help when needed but wise with it too.  It is also said this creature will eat vegetables exclusively, though that bit is flexible I suppose.”

        “I don’t think I’ve ever touched salmon,” Tornassuk replied, “I’ve eaten with Petra twice a week and with Patch and Ekaterina the rest of the time.  We’ve eaten roots, berries, apples, that kind of thing.  Oh, and peanut butter too.  Patch introduced me to that, and lovely stuff it is too.”

       “So you are eohippus’s earthly incarnation,” Theo mewed, “Now the incarnation of eohippus can fail, for in failing he teaches us how not to fail in our duties to be kind and gentle to each other.  It is said that the incarnation of eohippus learns quickly, and never makes the same mistakes twice.”

       “But I have, I taunted the humans and was told off by others, then I taunted a lioness and was nearly killed,” Tornassuk protested, “I’m not who you think I am!”

       “But you learnt by your mistakes,” Theo mewed, “and you were a cub then.  The point at which you stopped being a cub and stepped into a grown bear’s paws is well known to you and your family.  You showed the true worth of your character then Tornassuk.”

 

Tornassuk got to his paws, shaking himself and wondering if more fur would fall out.

       “I’m feeling great as a white bear,” he thought.

       “Your heritage comes from the great bear rainforest in America,” Theo mewed, “Tornassuk you are a black bear turned white.”  Tornassuk looked at Theo.

       “Now let me go and talk to my sire,” he said.  Theo stepped aside, letting the bewildered bear pass him.  Padding to Patch’s lie up, Tornassuk found the grey bear lying on his back, examining his forepaws directly by sight, and his hind in an angled mirror.

      “Are your paws in good condition siring Patch?”  Tornassuk asked.  Patch smiled and hugged his son cub.  Tornassuk,” he said, nuzzling his ear, “or Blackberry Tornassuk.”

      “I love my old name,” Tornassuk replied, “but its inappropriate now.”

      “My paws are in very good condition,” Patch replied, “and are yours Blackberry Tornassuk?”  Tornassuk sat down and took his sire’s left forepaw in both of his, examining his toes and pads.

      “Your paws are in very good condition,” Tornassuk said.  Patch took hold of his son cub’s left hind paw and examined it critically.

       “Yes, hmm, good strong toes and,” Tornassuk curled his toes as Patch rubbed the large sole pad of his left hind paw, “cute bunched pads too,” Patch giggled.  Tornassuk pressed his paw hard into his sires, Patch smiling and letting go, Tornassuk pressing his hind feet hard against Patch’s.

      “Push hard against my paws Tornassuk,” Patch encouraged.  Tornassuk pressing his pads and toes hard against his sires.  Patch curled his toes around those of his son cub’s somewhat smaller hind paw, Tornassuk giggling like a cub.

       “I love that,” he said softly, as Patch leant forward and rubbed the furry tops of his son cub’s hind paws with his fore.  Tommy tiger padded into the lie up.  Patch looked up at him, noticing how the fat cub had matured into a fat half grown tiger.

       “Hi Tommy,” Patch said.

      “Is mama Ekaterina in?”  Tommy mewed.  Patch shook his head:

       “I don’t know where she is,” he replied, punching the buttons on the console beside him, and what he saw made him stop dead.

 

Ekaterina was fighting with Dusty in the kitchen, the arctic fox having pushed the she bear to breaking point by stalking her and nipping at her heels.  Whipping round on the young fox, she threw him to the floor, dusty whining that he’d not meant her harm, he just wanted to tail a polar bear and feed off scraps from her table, just like an arctic fox should do.  Ekaterina, disgusted, now pummelled Dusty into the floor, telling him he was lucky, and not to scavenge for food.  Her anger was born of him not realising his luck.

      “Get off me mama!”  Dusty screamed.

      “You promise me, promise me you will not fight me for my food!”  Ekaterina yelled, “You have no need to fight for food here.”  Dusty, pinned beneath her paws, promised he wouldn’t fight Ekaterina any further.

       “Ok, ok!”  He yelled, “I won’t fight you.”  Ekaterina let dusty go, slapping his backside with her paw as he left, The fox squealing with pain.  Stamping back to her lie up with her salmon, Ekaterina flopped down beside Patch.

      “Bloody fox!”  Ekaterina fumed.

      “I saw him fighting you,” Patch said, relieved to see his mate safe:

      “He tried to steal my salmon!”  Ekaterina snapped, “That bloody fox is a pain in the tail!  He tried to scavenge off me, when there is no need!  I’ve never had to fight for my food, but I’ve heard what it’s like from others.  It’s as offensive to me, as, as someone playing a blind creature when they can see!  I know humans do experiments on each other, a retch human living with the homeless humans etc, but it’s because they don’t believe what the other has to go through.  Dusty doesn’t have to fight for his food, so why does he?  Kuruk had to fight for his survival and for that of his mate and cub, and he lost both.  He might speak funny language, be a playful bear on the surface, but he’s a sad bear under all that fur.”

      “Wouldn’t you like others to find out what it’s like to be blind so they’d understand you better?”  Patch asked.  Ekaterina nearly punched him on the nose:

     “No I wouldn’t!”  She roared, “I know, know my sight could leave me any day, but why make another community member’s life hell just for the sake of it?  They’ll never know, as they can reverse their hunger, blindness, whatever.  I know I got sight thanks to a blow from your paw, but I know whatever that connected could disconnect at any minute, and I don’t need reminding of it every bloody day!  I’m grateful for every day I have being able to see you and our cubs Patch.  Dusty’s play upsets me that is all.”  Patch hugged Ekaterina tenderly while Tornassuk stealthily removed her salmon from right under her nose.  It wasn’t until he was half way out the door with it that she noticed, and ran after him.

      “You bloody sod!”  She roared, chasing Tornassuk and snatching back the salmon, the fight for food tearing the salmon in half.  Then Patch got involved, fighting Ekaterina for her share, and managing to wrestle it from her, to her great annoyance.

      “Oi bullies!”  She whimpered.  Patch and Tornassuk shared their prizes with their vanquished opponent.

       “You sod!”  Ekaterina whimpered, very upset.

      “Get your own,” Ekaterina snapped, furiously clawing back as much of her prize as she could.

       “We’re only playing,” Patch said.  Ekaterina glowered at her mate.

     “What you did was worse!”  She yelled, “You aided our cub in stealing my food!”

      “Mama,” Tornassuk said, “its playtime, cubs play.”  Ekaterina was deeply hurt however.

       “Stealing food from me is one step towards disrespecting your own mother!”  Ekaterina whimpered.

     “Instead of whining about it, teach him a lesson then,” Patch said.  Ekaterina looked at Patch.

      “How?”  She asked, realising Dusty’s fight for food play wasn’t all wrong after all.

       “Smack him on his nose, bite him, tell him off mama, but do it forcefully,” Patch said.  Ekaterina looked at Tornassuk, but couldn’t bring herself to smack him with her paws or bite him.

       “I can’t!”  She whimpered.

      “Kuruk would,” Patch said, “so unless you want your cub to grow up thinking stealing food from others is the right thing to do mama, I’d stamp on it with all four paws right now.”  Ekaterina knew how close to the surface Kuruk’s wild instincts were, and dreaded Tornassuk getting into a fight with him.

       “I’ll reprimand you now,” she said to her male cub, “but next time, it’ll be serious.  Tornassuk realised she was serious, but acted as if he didn’t believe her, laughing at her words.  Ekaterina, her indignation far outweighing her ability to physically chastise her cub, sat down and buried her face in her paws, seething with anger.

      “Let him fight Kuruk for food, then see what happens,” Patch said.

      “I don’t want a dead cub!”  Ekaterina sobbed.

       “Kuruk teach him gently,” Kuruk said, padding into the corridor and hugging his sister tenderly.

        “If Tornassuk tries to steal your food, don’t be too hard on him, please!”  Ekaterina begged.  Kuruk smiled:

       “Kuruk fight Tornassuk for food as hard as he need to get food back, but he no kill him for it, if that what Ekaterina worried for.  He just gives him good smack with paws that is all.”  Tornassuk padded up to Kuruk and hugged the huge grizzly bear, the black bear’s touch saddening Kuruk.

       “Kuruk no want fight cub,” the bear said, trying to keep a lid on things, “he want play with him.”

      “But you must show Tornassuk right from wrong,” Ekaterina protested.

       “Tornassuk know thing,” Kuruk replied, “he no be called spirit leader thingy for no reason.  You think eohippus give him white fur and name like Tornassuk if he no knows right from wrong Ekaterina?  If eohippus do thing, and she know blackberry no know right from wrong, Eohippus bloody stupid!  But Kuruk know eohippus not bloody stupid when she give blackberry white coat and name Tornassuk.”  Ekaterina smiled at her brother’s use of language.

      “You silly thing,” she said, kissing his nose.  Kuruk hugged Tornassuk tightly, the white bear snuggling close.

 

Meanwhile, Houdini, his eyes now open and Anook’s ever watchful eyes turned towards Kuruk, ranged all over the house.  padding to the lift which Kuruk had told him of, Houdini pressed the button and waited, the doors sliding open to revile Kamchatka with little Alaska riding on her back.

      “Oh hi mama Kamchatka,” Houdini said as the mama grizzly padded from the lift and smiled at him.

     “Who’s that mama?”  Alaska asked.  Kamchatka told her, and then lay down letting Alaska slide off her back and meet Houdini, who was delighted to see the youngest member of the community.

      “How cute you are!”  Houdini exclaimed as he sat down and his forepaws enveloped Kamchatka’s newest cub.  Little Alaska, trying not to be outwitted by her larger cousin, tickled the pads of Houdini’s right hind foot as he sat down to hug her, the male cub laughing helplessly.

      “You have already taught her how to play with a bear’s hind paws Kamchatka!”  Houdini laughed.  Kamchatka grinned and nodded.  Alaska’s tiny paws played with Houdini’s right hind foot, the older cub curling his toes with pleasure.

       “He likes me playing with his paw mama,” Alaska said, Kamchatka’s eyes shining as she watched the two cubs.

      “Can I play with your hind paws little Alaska?”  Houdini asked.

     “Oh yes, please do!”  Alaska said, sitting down and wriggling with pleasure as she felt her right hind foot taken in Houdini’s larger forepaws.  Houdini looked into the younger female cub’s face, seeing her eyes were open, and a beautiful deep blue.  As he played with her toes and stroked her pads, Alaska curled her toes tightly.

      “I love your touch,” she said.  Houdini smiled and kissed the pads of Alaska’s left hind paw, the cub giggling with delight.

       “Can I kiss the pads of your right hind foot Houdini?”  Alaska asked.  Houdini wiggled the toes of the paw in question, Alaska kissing his wiggling toes, then, leaning forward , and kissing his nose too, Houdini laughing merrily.

       “You soppy thing,” he said.  Alaska sighed with deep pleasure.

      “I love our community Houdini,” she said.

  “Has mama Kamchatka told you of our community?”  Houdini asked.

      “she told of how she was taken in by gentle bears and lions, and was able to give birth to Ekaterina and then me in safety and security,”  Alaska replied, “it is a lovely tale.  Houdini hugged Alaska.

      “mama Anook told us of how she, the births of me and my brother imminent, stumbled into Patch and Ekaterina’s lie up and gave birth to me and my brother and sister,”  he said, “we are lucky bears indeed.”  Alaska played with Houdini’s hind paws, the older cub loving her touch and returning her playfulness by playing with her hind paws.

      “I hear Brunetta and Roxanne play computer games on the computers in the house,” Houdini said, “they bash away at keyboards and waggle joysticks, but that is boring!  I’ve done it, it’s dreadful!  But this, the touch of paw on paw, with unpredictable reactions, and the thrill of knowing when you’ve done right and are giving pleasure to another is wonderful!”  Alaska agreed with all her heart, and all four paws too, showing her agreement by curling the toes of her left hind paw around those of Houdini’s right fore.

      “Your pads bunch up when you curl your toes Alaska, that’s so cute!”  Houdini exclaimed.  Alaska giggled and shook her hind feet free of Houdini’s forepaws, then, grinning, she played with the toes of her right hind foot, Houdini watching her with admiration.

       “I love the sight of her playing with her toes, and want to play with her paws too!”  He thought, his eyes telling Alaska all he wanted to, and a lot more.

       “I think you have an admirer,” Kamchatka said to Alaska, the six week old cub laughing merrily and giving Houdini her left hind foot to play with while she played with the toes of her right hind.

       “He likes how I play with my toes I think,” she replied.  Houdini giggled:

       “I do,” he replied, “You’re so cute Alaska!”  Alaska sat on Houdini’s lap, Houdini laughing and hugging her tightly.  Kamchatka laughed and sat down to observe her cub’s interaction with Houdini.

      “Where were you going?”  Houdini asked.  Kamchatka smiled:

       “To the woods,” she replied, “I told Alaska of Patch’s love for the woods, and she wanted to see where I was speaking of.  We were riding the lift when we saw you.  Where were you going?”  Houdini looked down at Alaska.

       “I was sort of hoping to find my way up to yours and Koda’s lie up.”  He admitted.

       “I’ll show you up there when we’ve walked in the wood a while,” Kamchatka replied.  Patch padded down the corridor to his mother, where he hugged her and sat down in the corridor, playing with the toes of her right hind paw, Kamchatka laughing merrily.

        “Here’s our guide,” Kamchatka said, kissing Patch’s nose.

      “Guide to where?”  Patch asked.

       “To the woods,” Kamchatka replied, hugging Patch.  Alaska looked over at the grey bear and her eyes focused on his paws.

      “You’ve got white pads!”  She exclaimed.  Patch smiled and nodded:

      “They’re actually pink,” he replied, “my skin, my nose, and paw pads are pink, but almost white.”  Alaska padded over to Patch and launched herself at him, trying to overbalance him and tip him onto his back.  Patch caught the cub and held her tenderly in his paws:

        “Let’s play in the wood,” Patch said.  Alaska kissed his nose, Patch embracing the cub.

       “Let’s go,” Patch said.  Putting Alaska down on the tiles, Patch got to his feet and waved to his mama and Houdini, Kamchatka grinning at her son.

       “To the woods,” Patch said.

     “To the woods!”  Houdini and Alaska yelled in unison, Kamchatka laughing merrily.

 

Patch guided the bears to the wood, leading them through mud and leaves to get their paws dirty, much to the delight of Houdini and Alaska.  Kamchatka too seemed to enjoy the feel of mud on her paws, if the dancing and general splashing about was any indication.  Kamchatka then stopped dead, her paws quite definitely stuck in the mud.

       “I’m stuck here!”  She yelled.  Patch returned to his mama, and could see her visibly sinking into the mud.

      “Let me help,” Patch said, trying not to get stuck himself.  Digging Kamchatka’s paws out one by one, Patch got a close look at the mama bear who’d adopted him all those years ago.  Patch freed his mum, and then helped her to walk on the less muddy parts of the track.  Padding along the track with Houdini and Alaska, they met Koda who was splashing in a nearby puddle, rolling about in the water and flicking water with his paws.  Kamchatka, mud spattered and with mud between her toes, laughed at her mate.

      “Come, let’s get washed in the brook and groomed properly.”  Koda got to his feet and padded with his mate, adopted and natural cubs. 

 

Koda and Kamchatka had spoken about Patch, Kuruk and Ekaterina, Conrad walking away from his family when he took advantage of older Alaska.  Now Kamchatka, fiercely family orientated, didn’t want Conrad to have contact with Ekaterina.  Ekaterina, disgusted at Conrad’s behaviour, was happy with that.  Conrad was told of the situation, the bear distraught but understanding of Kamchatka’s choice, for he’d sheltered with her for years, and now had broken her code of one mate for life, a code he’d agreed to by taking her as his mate.  She gave him unconditional love, had hugged him, had mated with him off season, when mating was not what he really wanted, he wanted more cubs.  Koda knew of his mate’s code, and agreed with it with all his being.

 

Koda squeezed his mate’s paw, feeling her larger paw in his smaller one and enjoying her proximity.

      “Will you groom my fur and paws?”  Kamchatka asked Koda, kissing his nose.  Koda smiled and kissed her nose in return:

       “I will,” he replied.  Patch smiled at his mum and step sire.

      “I’ll groom the cubs,” he said.  Kamchatka giggled and followed Patch into the brook, gently coaxing Alaska and Houdini into the water.  Washing her cub’s paws and fur in the shallow water, then getting them to roll on the soft moss on the banks.  Once all four bears were washed, they went to Patch’s den where they met with Allie, Ekaterina, Rowena, Tornassuk and Kuruk.  Kuruk, seeing his brother, padded to him, hugged him and sat him down, grooming his body and paws, Patch letting Kuruk do what he wanted, and showing him with almost imperceptible signals that he was enjoying Kuruk’s attention, a kiss to his nose one minute, the toes of a hind paw curling round his forepaw the next.  Sitting down on the soft quilted rugs, Koda and Kamchatka watched all, Kamchatka telling Koda what was happening.  Koda, smiling, listened to his mate’s narration.

      “I am glad Kuruk can express his emotions after all he’s been through,” he said, “being gentle with his brother is how he is.  He is a product of his mama in more ways than he knows.”

      “I made mistakes with him,” Kamchatka replied, “I failed my cub Koda.”

       “You didn’t, you did the best you could, and Kuruk made his way in the world, and, when things really got bad, Kuruk ran back to his mother.  Now he wouldn’t have done that if he didn’t love you mama Kamchatka.”

       “I love him so much Koda,” Kamchatka said to her mate.

      “So do I mama,” he replied, “I love all your cubs dearly.”  Kamchatka squeezed his paw tightly.

       “You picked me up after I found out about Conrad,” Kamchatka said, “and for that I’m very grateful Koda.  I love you Koda, from your nose to your paws I love you so much.”  Koda hugged his mate with tender paws.

      “Kuruk is now tracing the pads of Patch’s hind paws with his forepaws,” Kamchatka said.  Koda smiled:

      “I wish I could do that,” he said.  Patch crawled over to Koda and gave him a hug before letting him trace his pads and toes.  Koda felt the large grey bear’s hind paws large and mobile in his.  Patch curling his toes with pleasure as Koda rubbed his pads and played with his toes, Patch unable to stop himself bouncing about with pleasure.  Kamchatka watched Koda and Patch playing together; Patch unable to resist playing with Koda’s hind paws, the two bears soon had one of each other’s hind paws in their forepaws.

      “My pads are pink, almost white,” Patch said.  Koda stroked Patch’s toes, the bear curling them tightly.  Koda hugged Patch tenderly, the large grey bear noticing how small Koda’s paws were compared to his, but feeling like a cub again as Koda played with his toes.  Patch purred with pleasure, Koda and Kamchatka laughing merrily at his cubbish reaction to Koda’s touch.  Kuruk strode over to Patch and tried to push him out of the way, but Patch was having none of it, and Kamchatka stepped in, whacking Kuruk with her paws to tell him off and tell him that it was Patch’s turn to play with Koda.  Kuruk got angry and walloped Patch, the two male bears rolling over and over as they fought over their parent’s affections, both growling furiously, but soon laughing helplessly.

       “This is stupid way to carry on,” Kuruk said to Patch.  Patch hugging his brother.

       “I was serious!”  Kamchatka whimpered, realising how foolish she’d been.

       “Sorry mama,” Patch said, “but Kuruk can go back to his cubbish roots as fast as I can.”

      “I loved the feel of my paw in yours Patch,” Koda said.  Patch giggled:

      “I loved how my paw felt in yours,” he said.

       “That is understatement of the year Kuruk think,” Kuruk said.  Kamchatka looked at Kuruk:

      “Do you want me to play with your paws Kuruk?”  She asked.

       “yeah mama, Kuruk want that, and for Koda to play too,” Kuruk replied, or more like Kuruk want play with Koda’s hind paws.”  Koda crawled to Kuruk and grabbed the bear’s right hind foot, tickling his pads and toes, Kuruk grunting with surprise and batting at the black bear’s nose, whipping his hind foot away before hugging him.

      “Kuruk want play with sire Koda’s paws,” Kuruk said.  Koda kissed Kuruk’s nose:

       “You can,” Koda said, “can I play with your paws too?”  Kuruk smiled and nodded:

      “Kuruk wish Koda would play with his paws,” Kuruk said.  Koda played gently with Kuruk’s right hind paw, the male grizzly wiggling and curling his toes with pleasure.

       “You look so contented Koda,” KAMCHATKA said.

     Alaska and Allie played together on the quilt, rolling each other over and over in the soft quilting, tickling each other’s paws.

 

Meanwhile, Brunetta and roxanne played games on a computer in the control room.  they had a driving game and a street fighting game which both of them loved.  Whenever the car crashed, or character got punched or knocked to the floor, the game pads in their paws would vibrate along with appropriate accompanying sound from the computer.

     “Who needs paw play when we’ve got THIS?”  roxanne said, “paw play is so boring!”

       “I agree, well not entirely,” BRUNETTA replied, “but i can see what you mean, a little.”  The two bears drove their cars around the track, Brunetta slamming hers into a wall, grinning as the steering wheel in her forepaws rattled and the pedals she pressed with her hind vibrated violently.  Brunetta, her pads stimulated, grinned broadly.

      “YOU’RE one step away from playing with your paws,” ROXANNE said.  Brunetta smiled and sat down, took her right hind foot in her forepaws and began playing with her toes.

        “come on,” SHE said, “Roxanne, give it a go.”  roxanne looked at her adopted mama playing with her paws.

       “You want me, to, to try playing with my toes?”  she asked.  Brunetta smiled and nodded:

       “I don’t think we’ll ever beat playing with each other’s paws,” SHE replied.  Playing computer games is all well and good, but what makes us smile most?”

       “when the cars crash?”  Roxanne asked.

      “yes,” BRUNETTA replied, “and that’s because we get tactile feedback from the game, stimulating our fore and hind paws.  now, now let’s try stimulating each other’s paws another way, by playing with each other’s paws.”  Roxanne was sceptical.

      “come on then,” SHE sighed, sitting down opposite her mama.  Brunetta took Roxanne’s right hind foot in her paws and played with her toes, the younger bear finding herself bouncing about with pleasure, her eyes telling Brunetta what she dared not put into words.

      “You’re enjoying it aren’t you,” SHE said.  roxanne pressed her paw hard into her mama’s.

       “I am, I am!”  she whispered.  Brunetta gave her daughter cub her left hind paw.  roxanne traced her mama’s pads and toes, feeling the tougher pads beneath hers.

      “How does your paw feel when you curl your toes mama?” roxanne asked.  Brunetta smiled:

      “I’ve been fighting the urge to curl my toes, and i want to curl them hard too!”  she replied.

     “curl them hard then,” ROXANNE encouraged.  Brunetta did, roxanne smiling and massaging her mama’s bunched pads.

       “I wish I’d learned about this before,” ROXANNE said, “but stories have it you were one of the first to adopt paw play mama.”  Brunetta smiled:

      “I was,” SHE said, “and now it’s encouraged among the cubs by all mamas.”

      “The lions and tigres don’t do it much though do they?”  Roxanne asked.

      “I think mama Pakshalika’s into it,” BRUNETTA replied, “but most cats don’t get into it really, Not like us bears anyway.”  Roxanne remembered seeing Ekaterina and Patch playing together, the emphasis on playing with their paws sticking in her mind.

       “Why the paws though?”  she asked aloud, “why play with paws?”

      “Because paws tell you the truth,” SOMEONE said.  Roxanne looked round and screamed!  Fleur stood in the doorway!

        “I’m dreaming!”  Roxanne screamed.  Fleur padded towards her:

      “You’re not dreaming,” SHE said, “I have come here to reiterate how the paws do not tell lies.  I too hated anyone touching my paws.  now, i wish i could feel the touch of another’s pads on mine.  i feel nothing now, no physical sensations anyway.  though I wish so much I could feel pad on pad again.”  Roxanne saw the devestation in Fleur’s eyes.

       “Can i touch your paws Fleur?”  Brunetta asked.  fleur shook her head sadly.

      “i have no physical form now, just a presence.  if, if you want to massage a cat’s paws, massage the cat’s who looks closest to me in appearance.”

       “does she mean Sita?”  Roxanne asked.

     “Sita indeed,” FLEUR replied.  fleur vanished, leaving Roxanne staring at her mother.

       “Who is Sita?”  Roxanne asked.

      “She’s Haimati’s cub, well, she’s Patch’s cub too.”

       “How can a cat be a bear’s cub?”  roxanne asked.

       “if Patch hadn’t laboured with Haimati, she would never have had been able to deliver Sita.”

      “You mean Patch went into active labour?”  roxanne asked.

      “Patch did,” BRUNETTA replied, “I’ve seen the footage of it.  I can show you.”  with that she dialed into the video servers and showed Roxanne the footage of Patch in labour on the same night Haimati was.

      “Ouch,” ROXANNE remarked.

      “it was,” PATCH replied, “but I don’t regret a thing.  Roxanne looked at him:

      “How long have you been here?”  She asked.

      “I saw fleur if that’s what you mean,” PATCH replied.

     “You wanted to give birth to that cub didn’t you,” BRUNETTA said.  Patch smiled and nodded:

      “and I would do it all again,” HE replied.

      “What are you?”  roxanne asked, “male or female?”  Patch smiled:

      “Definitely male,” HE replied, “but a curious male.  What does birth really feel LIKE?  I’ve wondered this ever since I was a cub and heard my mama giving birth to my brother and sister.  I was one of three.”  roxanne looked deeply into Patch’s eyes.

      “Would you really have helped Swarupa have her cubs?”  she asked.  Patch nodded.

       “I would have pushed and strained with her like I did with himati,” HE replied, “but eohippus decreed Swarupa do it on her own with only the help needed to ensure the survival of those who had done no wrong.  Swarupa knows this too, so I’m not speaking out of turn.”  Roxanne looked Patch over.  her mind was still full of the immages from the video.

       “That was real,” SHE said, “you weren’t pretending to be in labour.  Patch shook his head:

        “It was real labour, treu agonising pain and urges to push with everything i had,” HE replied.

       “When, when it happened, did you not feel anxious, fearful?”  Roxanne asked.

      “I felt anxious, but fear, no.  i knew that Eohippus was granting my wish to have a cub.  i asked the question, and was being answered in the best way eohippus could devise.  She gave me chances to pull out.  after the first involuntary contraction, she told me to push down hard if I wanted to continue, and i wanted so much to continue, i pushed down hard into my tail.  So eohippus gave me the full experience, and I’ve never regretted it.  As I’ve said before, i resist the need to re-enact cubbings every day.  My need to re-enact cubbings is as strong as mama Kamchatka’s once was.  I feel i was born to it.  don’t ask me how i know i was.  Pushing and straining to deliver cubs feels right, as if i was born to help mamas have their cubs.  I’ve seen the footage of me in labour, and that just reinforces my conviction.”

       “You don’t look like a male bear pretending to be in labour,” ROXANNE said, “you look as if having a cub was the most natural thing in the world.  It’s almost sad when your labour produces no cub.”

      “Ah, but that time it did,” PATCH replied, “I felt Sita’s emergence into the world as keenly as Haimati did.  I wriggled, sobbed and roared just as she did.  i wanted to have that cub Roxanne.”  Roxanne motioned to Patch to sit down, and when he was comfortable, she took his left forepaw in hers.

        “i wanted so much to hug that bear and tell him everything was going to be okay,” SHE admitted.  Patch smiled and roxanne hugged him tightly.

       “Everything Haimati felt i felt, every effort she made i felt.  every effort I made she felt too.  it was a two way street.”

      “There are times when you’re curled up, hind feet drawn up to you, screaming into your forepaws with the toes of your hind tightly curled, that you know it’s real,”  Roxanne replied.

      “Like this?”  Patch asked, rolling onto his side and drawing his hind legs up, placing his forepaws over his face and curling the toes of his hind feet as tightly as he could.

      “Yes,” ROXANNE replied, “like that.

      “when Haimati lay on her back and kicked the air with her paws, i did the same,”  Patch said, “I wanted to help her so much, and every contraction i felt, every effort i made spurred me on, drove me to have that cub.”  roxanne took Patch’s right hind foot in her paws, Patch relaxing and then curling his toes strongly.  Roxanne rubbed the bear’s bunched pads and curled toes.

       “she likes it when you curl your toes Patch,” BRUNETTA said to him.  Patch smiled behind his paws, pressing his toes into Roxanne’s.

      “Your pads look cute when you curl your toes, they all bunch up so sweetly,” ROXANNE said.  Patch giggled, removing his forepaws from his face.

       “I love paw play,” HE said.  Roxanne, very concious of her own rejection of paw play, looked into Patch’s eyes.

      “Don’t do that,” BRUNETTA said, “take his paw ROXANNE; you need not use your eyes to tell him what you feel.”  Roxanne took Patch’s paw in hers, Patch responding by clasping her forepaw in both of his.

      “would you play with my hind paws?”  she asked.  Patch smiled and kissed her nose:

       “I would love to,” HE said.  Roxanne felt her toes curling with emotion as she imagined how it would feel to have her paws played with.

      “This is gonna feel lovely!”  she thought.

        “Let’s sit opposite each other and play with each other’s paws then.”  Patch said.  Roxanne and Patch sat opposite each other, their hind paws touching.  roxanne could feel her toes didn’t even reach Patch’s, the male bear gently curling his toes around Roxanne’s, roxanne crying out with emotion as her toes were engulfed by the bear’s.

        “Can, can I push my hind feet hard against your hind feet?”  she gasped.  Patch rubbed the furry tops of Roxanne’s hind paws, the brown bear almost sobbing with the intense emotions she was feeling.  whimpering, she braced her hind feet hard against Patch’s pressing down as hard as she could, feeling his toes gripping hers tighter and tighter as she pushed against his pads.

      “I can’t stop it!”  roxanne whimpered, “I don’t want to stop it either!”  Patch pressed his feet hard against Roxanne’s, the she bear fighting madly to keep increasing her pressure.

       “let it flow,” PATCH said, “don’t fight it Roxanne.

       “I don’t want to fight, can’t fight it anyway!”  Roxanne gasped.  Patch released her hind paws and picked up her right hind foot, examining her pads and toes, roxanne rolling onto her chest to allow him a clearer view.  Roxanne felt Patch’s toes exploring her pads, giggling as she felt her toes curling, Patch’s toes exploring her bunched pads.

       “I can’t help my toes!”  she laughed.  Patch, grinning, tried to uncurl the toes of her right hind foot, gently rubbing her pads, Roxanne panting hard as she felt amazing sensations.

       “I could give birth to huge cubs if you were stroking my hind feet,” SHE gasped, “i could strain and push, and I know all would be fine!”  Patch kissed her bunched pads, the she bear rolling onto her side, curling round and hugging Patch hard.

       “I want to have a cub right now!”  roxanne exclaimed.  Patch rubbed her back with his paws, the she bear almost sobbing with pleasure.

       “Get in CUB and I will help you,” HE said.

      “but, but you really do know what it’s like to experience the worst pain a mama bear goes through,” SHE said.

       “Both giving life and then the death of a cub, yes,”  Patch replied, “Ekaterina knows how much she hurt me when she excluded me from little Patch’s birth.  I knew her pain, her struggle, AND HER devestation.  I wanted to help her roxanne, but she refused me!”  Patch began to weep inconsolably.

       “Oh Patch, dear Patch,” ROXANNE said softly, hugging the huge grey bear.  Patch sobbed bitterly into Roxanne’s fur.

 

Ekaterina watched from the doorway, not realising until then how much her regection of Patch during the dreadful labour which brought little Patch into the world had affected him.

      “I should tell him what it was really like, or maybe he knows already,” SHE thought.

      “Patch, please,” EKATERINA begged padding into the lie up.  Patch looked at her, his eyes red with emotion.

        “I felt everything mama,” HE choked, “I know how you FELT; i wanted to help you in other ways than just stroke your paws!”

       “You wanted to labour with me?”  she asked.  Patch nodded:

       “I would have pushed and strained with you, screamed and cried with you too, but you locked me out,” PATCH replied.  ekaterina didn’t need to touch his paw to check the truth of his words.

       “You felt everything Patch,” SHE said.  Patch choked on his tears.

    “I did,” HE replied.  Ekaterina padded to Patch, Roxanne drawing back to let her hug him.

      “I am so sorry,” EKATERINA whispered to her mate, “I didn’t know, i knew nothing of your inner feelings.”  Patch whispered:

      “Whenever a mama is in labour, i feel everytihng,” HE said.  Ekaterina began to cry as she felt her mate’s emotions.

       “next time, next time I’ll let you in,” SHE whispered, “I promise you that Patch.”  Patch kissed her nose, AND THEN played with her paws.

        “when did you first feel so close to others?”  Ekaterina asked.  Patch kissed her right forepaw.

       “I suppose, suppose it was when I first met BLACKBERRY or tornassuk as we now know him.  I played with him naturally, felt his needs, i wanted to be the playmate he needed and his mother refued to BE.”  Patch replied.

      “I remember that,” EKTERINA replied, “you played so well with him Patch.”  Patch smiled:

      “I was the cub he needed in his life,” HE said, “and that was no act.  i wanted to be a cub that day.  We played like cubs.  I wanted to help him, for i felt his pain.  I also felt yours and Haimati’s pain when you were in labour.  I’m not afraid of labour.  Breach births, hard birth, everything.  I would even have coped with still birth.”  Ekaterina kissed his nose:

      “I wanted your help, but couldn’t ask you to join me in a horrendous time,”  she said.  Patch kissed her nose:

       “Invite me, and i’ll choose,”  he said.  Ekaterina nodded and promised she would do so next time.  Patch looked at his mate:

       “where is little Allie?”  he asked.  ekaterina looked into his face:

      “I left her watching a video of her sire helping Sita’s mama have her cub,”  she said, “I then came here.  She is very proud of you Patch, and so am I.”  Patch kissed his mate’s nose.

      “let me take your right hind foot in my forepaws and don’t hold anything back.”  Patch gave his mate his right hind paw, smiling as her paws enfolded his.

“I feel rough pads and strong toes,”  she said, “the pads are warm and sort of tough.  Though I have touched them when they’ve been damp and their owner exhausted.”  Patch curled his toes tightly, Ekaterina kissing them tenderly.

       “I also feel warmth, love and gentility beyond measure radiating from your paw into mine,” Ekaterina said.  Patch thought about the cub who’d been named after him, but whose life had never really begun.  Sobbing, Patch buried his face in his paws.

        “What’s wrong Patch?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “He’s missing a certain cub I think,” someone said.  Ekaterina looked up, and saw a face she’d last seen in the wood months before.

       “Doesn’t be afraid mama,” little Patch said, “I am at peace now.  Though I have come to hug my sire, for he feels mine and your birth pain...”  Patch embraced the tiny cub while Ekaterina looked on.

       “If Patch says he wants to help, let him please mama,” the cub pleaded.  Ekaterina bowed her head in shame.

 

Patch recovered his composure, and the cub vanished.

      “I’m going to the wood,” Patch said.  Patch got to his feet and padded away to the wood.  To the place where little Patch was buried.  Reaching the spot, Patch lay down beside the grave.

       “We can’t change the past sire Patch,” the cub’s voice said, “Though I know you will do well with helping mamas having their cubs.  You know what it’s like from beginning to end.  You’ve been in labour, strained and heaved, kicked and screamed.  I only wish we could have met in your world, but one day, we will meet in mine.”  Patch cried into his paws, the sights and sounds of that day vivid in his eyes mind and ears.  Ekaterina’s screaming, her crying and yelling as the cub passed into the world.  Unable to control his body, Patch drew his hind feet up, curling up tightly, screaming lustily, as if he were having a cub.  Roaring, he bore down hard, knowing the birth was ending in sadness.  Patch screamed as his mind and body re-enacted the full horror of Ekaterina’s labour.  Panting, he lay exhausted on the forest floor.  Patch gasped and panted as his body came down from huge effort.

      “Relax now,” Little Patch said.  Patch sighed deeply, his body telling him he was finished.

       “Let the memory of mama Ekaterina’s labour go now Patch,” little Patch said.  Patch closed his eyes, feeling his mind clearing.  Lying still on the woodland floor, Patch shook himself and, feeling a paw touch his, opened his eyes.  He saw a grizzled old sow bear looking down at him.  Her scent was familiar, and Patch closed his eyes, remembering far back into cubhood.

       “Hello mama,” he said in high arctic ursine, the she bear kissing his nose:

       “I’ve found you at last,” she said softly, “I don’t know what they call you now, little grey.”  Patch heard Kamchatka padding up to him, and then her voice harsh and commanding:

       “Get away from my cub!”

       “You know not to whom you are talking to,” Patch’s birth mother said softly.  Kamchatka, taken by surprise at the confidence in the bear’s tone and sound of the old dialect stopped dead, sitting down suddenly:

      “Who are you?”  Kamchatka asked.  Patch’s mother looked hard at Kamchatka.

       “I am his birth mother,” the sow bear said.  Kamchatka looked the sow bear over, from her pink nose, to her brown fur and pink paw pads, the sole of one which she could just see, as the bear was resting the toes of her right forepaw on the floor.

      “Mama,” Kamchatka said, kissing Patch’s mama’s nose, “what is your name?”  Patch’s mama looked at Kamchatka.

      “My name is Aga,”  the mama bear replied.

       “Aga and Anook both mean mother, one word is Alaskan, the other high arctic.”  Patch explained.  Kamchatka looked at the older sow bear.  She was about four years older than her.”

      “How did you lose your cub?”  Kamchatka asked.  Aga looked at her:

      “Someone stole him nearly eleven long years ago,” Aga replied.  Patch kissed his mother’s nose.

       “I’m glad we’ve found each other,” he said.  Agar smiled and nodded.

      “I never had another cub,” she told Patch, “I was too, too upset after losing you.”  Patch hugged the grizzled old mama bear.  Her scent taking him back years.  Kamchatka watched Patch and his mama, realising how alike they were.

       “If someone stole my cubs I’d go mad,” Kamchatka said gently to Aga.

       “I know how you love your cub’s mama Kamchatka,” she said, “I’ve been watching your community these last few days.  I assure you, I have not come to reclaim my cub.  I know he has a family now, has responsabilities too.  I only wanted to find my cub after all these years.  For great change has befallen me, and I am alone now.  I feel as if I have not long to live, so I had to find my cub if he was still alive.”

      “What is wrong with you?”  Kamchatka asked.

      “I feel elderly, worn out with grief and stress,”  Aga replied.  Kamchatka kissed the mama bear’s grizzled nose.

        “come in and eat and drink,”  Kamchatka invited.  Aga padded into the house, limping a little on her sore paws.

      “come Aga,”  Patch said, afraid to call her mama in case of offending kamchatka.  Aga limped along side her grown son cub, looking at him the whole while.

       “You seem happy here,”  she said.  Patch kissed her nose:

       “I am Aga.”  he said.  Aga began to cry, her tears blurring her vision and choking her:

       “I love you Patch,”  she choked.  Patch rubbed her paw with his.

       “Come Aga, come and eat, get warm, have a wash, bathe your paws, and tell us your tale.”  Aga rested her head on Patch’s shoulder as they walked, exaustion almost overwhelming her.

      “I am so glad to see you again Patch,”  she whispered.  Patch helped his mother into the house, helping her shower, then bathe her paws, bathing her chaiffed pads and stiff toes.

       “How long have you been walking?”  Patch asked.  Aga lay back on the towels while Patch massaged her hind paws.

       “I walked for weeks, weeks and weeks.

        “Your paws are very sore,”  Patch observed.  Aga, though her son’s minnistrations hurt her, hardly complained.

       “yes they are sore,”  she replied.  Patch kissed his mama’s right hind paw, Aga gasping with emotion.  Patch and Aga soon left the shower, Patch giving his mother food and drink, for which she was very greatful.  Once she was fed, watered and comfortable, Patch introduced her to Ekaterina and their cubs, Aga hugging tornassuk, Allie and Rowena in turn.

        “So you’re Patch’s birth mama?”  Allie asked.  Aga replied that she was.

       “But, well, you are brown, have very long fur and are, um, kind of thin mama,”  she said.  Aga looked at Patch.  He was fat and had long grey fur, so no wonder Allie was so confused.

       “I have suffered much,”  Aga replied, “I will tell you all about it one day.  I have been looking for my cub for so many years, and now I’ve found him.”

       “You are a beautiful bear mama Aga,”  tornassuk said.  Aga looked at him.

      “I have straggly brown fur, pink paw pads and am ancient,”  she said, “I’m not beautiful.”

      “You feel ancient,”  tornassuk said, “but I can tell you are not.  you must be only a few years older than my grandmama.  She’s twelve, you must be fourteen.  Not ancient by any means.”

      “Whatever you say white bear, I still feel ancient,”  she replied.

       “You say you searched for your cub for years?”  Ekaterina asked.  Aga, lying on her side, buried her face in her paws, fighting back tears.

       “I turned my back for one minute, and he vanished!”  she sobbed.  “I should not have taken my eyes off him for one minute.”  Aga curled up, crying into her paws.

        “She looks so vulnrable,”  tornassuk thought, padding firward and touching her ears, nose and paws with his nose.  Aga hardly seemed to notice his tender ministrations.  Tornassuk smelt Aga’s scent, the she bear’s scent warm and lively, despite her paws having wandered for many years.  Tornassuk explored Aga’s fore and hind paws, the she bear having relaxed after her tearful episode.  She looked exhausted.

       “did anyone tell you how beautiful you are?”  he asked.  Aga looked at Tornassuk as the younger bear kissed her nose and paw pads, his touch gentle and calming to her.

       “you have the most beautiful face,  fur and paws,”  tornassuk said.  Aga rolled onto her back, relaxed and closed her eyes as Tornassuk’s paws massaged her belly and paws.

       “how are we to explain Patch’s mother’s arrival on the scene?”  Ekaterina asked.  Kamchatka looked at Aga:

       “the only way I can work this one is to say that Aga lost her cub, I picked him up, then he, Kuruk and jess got stolen from the wild,”  she said.  Aga looked up into tornassuk’s face.

       “My cub, he asked me strange questions about his birth, how did it feel to push, to curl my toes and scream lusterly.  Patch wanted to know all this.”

       “He knows how it is now,”  tornassuk replied, “Patch has grown into the most gentle, caring, loving bear I’ve ever met.”

       “I suppose that’s Kamchatka’s doing,”  Aga replied, “I had no input into his life other than his first three months.”  Tornassuk looked at Aga, then kissed her pads, Aga smiling broadly.

       “I like the feel of your kiss on my pads,”  she said.  Tornassuk smiled and kissed her paws some more.

       “you love having your paws played with don’t you aga,”  Kamchatka said.  Aga grinned:

       “I noticed Patch does too,”  she said.

      “Maybe you had more influence on your cub’s life than you think you had,”  she said.  Aga laughed merrily.

       “I never gave up hope of finding my cub,”  Aga said, stretching her paws languidly.

       “So are you staying here for good?”  Allie asked.  Aga looked at her:

       “I have no say in that,”  she replied.  Tornassuk looked at the fourteen year old bear.

       “I would love you to stay,” he said.

       “You’ve taken a shine to my mother  Tornassuk , Patch said.  tornassuk looked at him:

       “She’s so like you,”  he said.  Patch smiled:

        “she taught me to play with my paws,”  he said.

      “not just playing with your paws,”  Tornassuk said, “there is more to it than that, a general playfulness, almost cubbishness.  A curios nature that will ask questions, such as what is giving birth like?”  Aga smiled at Patch and getting to her paws, hugged him.

       “I love you dear Patch,”  she said, “but now, now I will leave you and your family to live your lives.  I do not want to intrude, less userp Kamchatka’s place in your life.  I will content myself with living in safety and security in the wood.”  Patch looked at tornassuk:

       “Would you help Aga to come to terms with her past?”  he asked.

       “I will try,”  tornassuk replied, “but first, let’s hear her story.”  Aga covered her face with her paws. swalloing hard and trying to compose herself, she sat back on her haunches, trying not to cry.  Sniffing hard, she said:

       “I can’t begin to tell you where I roamed,”  she said, “all I know is I saw pandas, black bears, brown bears, grizzly bears, wolves, and many other animals.  I roamed using trains, noisy wheeled birds, and large wheeled things to try and find my cub.  I asked birds, other bears, and countless other creatures.  My love for my cub was so great that I had to find him.  I didn’t only roam.  My paws became sore from fighting with male bears.  They wanted to mate with me, but I didn’t want to mate.  They didn’t understand why I felt the way I did.  I was so upset inside, so much grief, so much worry.  I think I became infertial due to grief.  My mating urge was gone.  Eventually I found my way from the frozen steps of russia to the shores of this land by train.”

      “Where was Patch born?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “he was born in America, but I’m from Eastern Europe originally, or my parents are.  I’m an Alaskan brown bear by birth, in that was where I was born.  I consider myself alaskan.”

       “So you’re ancestral home is the Kamchatkan poninsula?”  Kamcahtka asked.  Aga looked at her:

       “Yes,”  she replied.  Kamchatka looked closely at Aga.

        “Now you are safe,”  she said gently.  Aga wiped her eyes and smiled at Kamchatka.     

“You and your community have been very good to me mama,”  she said.  Kamchatka hugged Aga tenderly.

       “You are very thin mama,”  she said.  Aga nodded:

      “I know,”  she replied, “but with good care, I will become my old self again.  Kamchatka looked closely at Aga, then she said:

       “I think I know you!  I remember you as a young mama in the valley next to where I lived.  Aga looked at Kamchatka with intrest.

        “Your name wasn’t Kamchatka then was it,”  she said.  Kamchatka agreed this point:

       “We never had names then, Kamchatka was the name I adopted when I came here.”

      “So when did you adopt the name Aga?”  ekaterina asked.

      “As soon as Patch was born,”  Aga replied.  Kamchatka hugged the scruffy mama bear.

      “You will regain your former glory with good food and good play,”  she promised. 

 

Pakshalika, heavy with cub, padded into the lie up.

      “I came to enquire if you Black,,, I mean Tornassuk would attend the births of my cubs?”  Aga stared at the tigress.

       “she’s beautiful,”  she thought.  Pakshalika, seeing she had an appretiative audience, danced on her toes and lashed her tail theatrically, her cubs bringing her dance to a premature end by leaping about inside her, or that’s how it seemed to the watchers.  Growling and moaning, Pakshalika was forced to sit down hurredly.

       “Ok, maybe dancing about wasn’t the best thing to do,”  she panted.  Everyone saw pakshalika’s discomfort.  Sweating slightly, she gripped the ground with the toes of all four paws, panting hard.

       “Are you going to have your cubs right now?”  Allie asked Pakshalika.  The tigress smiled and shook her head:

       “Not yet,”  she replied.  Pakshalika lay down, and tornassuk kissed her nose and paws, the tigress soothed by his ministrations.

       “That feels wonderful,”  she mewed, wiggling her toes and finally curling them tightly, breathing deeply.

       “I love that feeling!”  she said softly.  Tornassuk rubbed the pads of her fore and hind paws, the tigress whimpering and pedalling the air with her free paws, trying to keep a paw in contact with tornassuk, wihle at the same time trying to pedal the air with all four paws.

     “You are so gentle tornassuk,”  pakshalika mewed softly, “if my cubs have difficulty coming into the world, I’d be glad for you to help me.”  Tornassuk smiled broadly and kissed pakshalika’s nose.

      “I will help you as much, or as little as you need,”  he said.  Pakshalika got awkwardly to her paws and padded from the room, her paws seeming heavier to her than they had when she’d entered.

      “Is Pakshalika’s love of birthing and raising cubs catching up with her?”  ekaterina asked.  Patch looked at his mate:

      “I don’t think so,”  he said, “it’s more likely to be the fact she’s coming to the end of her pregnancy, and things are very heavy on her now.”  Aga, sitting up now, began playing with the toes of her right hind paw while holding it in her right fore.  Patch, watching her, mimiked her actions, Aga laughing and rubbing the pads of her right hind foot with the toes of her right forepaw, Patch copying her, to ekaterina and Allie’s delight.

      “You ssoppy thing!”  they laughed.  Tornassuk watching Aga with intrest.

      “If you want to play with your paws, go on,”  Aga said softly.  Tornassuk sat down and played with the toes of his left hind paw.  Aga removed Tornassu’'s left forepaw from his left hind, then pressed her hind paws against tornassuk’s, curling her toes around his, the white bear playing with Aga’s toes, Aga bouncing about with pleasure.

      “Your pads feel warm and comforting to me Tornassuk,”  Aga said.  Tornassuk smiled and kissed her nose:

        “I’m glad they do,”  she said, “your paws feel good to me also.  Very caring, mobile and curious, and those are just your hind feet.”  Tornassuk giggled and pressed his toes into her pads, Aga gasping with intense emotions.  Aga curled her toes tightly, the toes of all four paws curling with intense emotions, Aga not holding back her emotions.

      “Aga’s as tactile and sensitive as you Patch,” Ekaterina observed.

      “I didn’t invent sensitivity or gentility,” Patch replied, “my birth mother nurtured that in me in the short time I had with her.”  Aga gazed at her son cub, Patch smiling at her.

     “I wonder if Pakshalika will have her cubs tonight.”  Allie asked.

       “We’ll hear when she does,” Tornassuk replied, “she’s vocal and leaves nothing to the imagination.”  Aga grimaced:

      “I screamed and beat my paws on the floor of my den while giving birth to you Patch,” she said.  Kamchatka laughed:

     “I destroyed a human bed while having my latest cub,” she replied.  Aga looked at her:

      “Your latest cub?”  She asked.

      “Little Alaska,” Kamchatka replied, “She’s in the lie up with Koda.”

     “I can’t imagine labour disturbing you much mama,” Aga said.  Kamchatka’s expression told her a different tale.

      “Sorry mama,” she said.

     “I can show you a video,” Kamchatka replied.  Aga stared down at her paws.

      “I’m sorry mama,” she whimpered.  Kamchatka got to her feet and stretched, then rolled onto her back and flexed her paws one by one, seeming to concentrate on flexing, then tightly curling and stretching the toes of each paw in turn.

      “I smashed a human’s bed up with all my strength born of pain and fear,” she said.  Aga got to her feet and hugged Kamchatka.

     “Show me,” she said, “show me Alaska’s birth.”

     “Yes mum, I’d like to know how I was born too!”  Alaska said, running into the lie up and leaping onto her mother’s back.  Kamchatka, her eyes shining, laughed merrily.

      “I’ll show you, I’ll show you!”  She said.  Kamchatka returned to Koda’s lie up, Koda hugging his mate tenderly.  Aga looked at the black bear, Koda scenting her and padding to her to hug her.  Though she was larger than Koda, Aga felt uneasy about him until his paws embraced her.

      “Welcome,” he said.  Aga looked at Kamchatka.

      “Is he, um, in charge?”  She asked.  Kamchatka grinned:

       “He’s kind of in charge,” she replied, “this is his house, he lived here long before any of us, or so it is told.”  Aga looked into Koda’s face, and then kissed his nose.

      “I remember every minute of my mate’s labour,” he said, “and it was amazing and fascinating.  Kamchatka screamed and kicked, roared and begged, strained and heaved, but managed to have our little Alaska.  I am the proudest bear in the world.”   Aga sat down in the lie up, and Kamchatka started the video of her labour.  The video began in the bedroom with Kamchatka lying on the bed.  Then, wriggling, she rolled onto her side and drew her hind feet to her, screaming in pain.  Koda, running in, soothed her as she began her struggle to give birth to her cub.  Aga gasped with shock as Kamchatka destroyed the bed, and strained hard to deliver her cub in the ruins of the smashed bed.  Koda coaxed her out, and then Kamchatka was rolling and, kicking on the rug by the fire, straining and roaring.  Aga saw Kamchatka’s toes curling, pads bunching, eyes screwed tightly shut and mouth screaming.  Then she saw the emergence of Koda and Kamchatka’s cub, slowly, slowly inching into the world, Kamchatka pulling with her forepaws as well as pushing.  Koda caught the cub as Kamchatka bore down hard.  Then he stroked her tightly curled hind paws, Kamchatka wriggling and complaining as the cub jammed hard.  Then she was panting, whimpering and gasping as the cub finally freed itself, the hind feet slipping into the outside air.

      “I remember every minute,” Kamchatka said, her eyes shining.  Aga hugged Kamchatka tightly.

      “I love that video,” she said, “it’s amazing!”  Aga looked at Koda; the latter’s eyes not meeting hers, though his head was turned to her.

       “No wonder he can’t meet my eye,” she thought, “he’s frightened of me.”

       “I hide no fear of you,” Koda said suddenly, “I do not meet your eyes because I can’t see them.”  Aga, sitting comfortably, nearly fell backwards in shock.  Koda had not only spoken to her in arctic ursine, but had read her mind like a book.

        “Sorcery!”  She snapped.

       “You, a cub where these matters are concerned, speak as you find,” Koda replied, “the reading of others thoughts is common among those who cannot make eye contact.  We have a third eye.  There was one other bear who had this gift, but her world changed suddenly one day, and due to her induction into the world of light and illusions her eye has closed somewhat, though she is not entirely blind,”  Koda continued.

        “The world of illusions?”  Aga asked, “What on earth are you on about black one?”  Kamchatka, hearing the sharp tone in Aga’s voice, and understanding her meaning, if not her words, started up to strike Aga with her paw, but Koda gently laid his paw on her flank, Kamchatka subsiding onto the floor.

       “The eyes lie, the paws never do,” Koda replied.  Aga looked at Koda, her eyes full of fear and mistrust.

       “I mean you no harm,” Koda said, “but you seem to be antagonistic towards me without good reason.  I don’t have to see to feel that Aga.  What thoughts have you on my words?”

       “If you can read my mind you should already know!”  Aga snapped.

       “I can only read those thoughts that are at the entrance to your mind, ready to be voiced,”  Koda replied, “questions you are about to ask, things you think about so vividly they almost emerge in speech or actions.  Private thoughts, private prejudices, I know nothing of.”  Aga felt trapped, under surveillance, terrified of this strange black bear.

       “Brown bears, grizzly bears, we’ve always looked down upon black bears.  We hate them, they annoy and infuriate us.  They are weak, live off the human rubbish, eat human food, and break into human houses.  Brown bears do not do these things.  Polar bears might scavenge human food, but they are driven to it by the actions of those humans.”

      “Are not black bears driven to eat human food due to the human invasion of their home?”  Koda asked.  Aga, having come from the Kamchatka peninsula, and never seen how the black bear’s territory had been invaded by humans, could not answer this.

      “I feel you are ignorant Aga,” Koda said, “You wild protected things know nothing of how it is to have one’s home invaded.  You are protected, cosseted, allowed to breed and become successful.  Black bears on the other paw are shot, driven away from human settlements when they are looking for food to fatten themselves for the winter, while the humans rape the homes of the very creatures to whom they deny access to their own homes.”

      “If I break your house, you have a right to live in mine?”  Aga asked.

       “Why not?”  Koda replied, “What right have humans to a home they take by force, forcing the rightful occupants out.  I was once of their race, but now I have become one with those whom I respect and love more than any human alive today.”

      “You were once human?”  Aga asked her eyes wide with surprise.

       “Human in form, if not in mind or spirit yes,” Koda replied.  “We cannot choose our form, biology chooses that, and looks what man has done to biology.  The spirit though, who knows what spirit anyone has.  A man might look like a man, but is he a man to his core?  A bear might look like a bear, but is she a human when all is said and done.”

       “You enjoy very human things here though,” Aga replied, “do you not despise these things around you?”

       “Why should I despise my home?”  Koda asked, “I did not steal it from wild things.  Others did that in ancient times, and I cannot be held responsible for what they do.  What I can do though is improve the lives of those who I can affect, the creatures who live today, now, and in the future.  So I set up this community a decade ago now to see if a group of assorted creatures could live together, a lion or two, a tiger or two and some bears.  They quarrelled a good bit at first, but a few among them started to find common ground, the common ground of the spirit which lives in all of them despite their outward physical form.  They touched paws, then minds.  Now the community has grown in number and in strength.  And when I no longer needed to have human form, the spirits transformed me into my rightful physical form dictated by my spirit.  Jess, another brown bear here was once human too, and she desperately wanted to become a bear.  She had her wish, but it has not all gone smoothly for her subsequently.”  Aga stared at Koda.

      “But you are a bear,” she said, “a fully male black bear.”

      “I am,” Koda replied, “as is jess a female brown bear.”  Aga looked at little Alaska.

       “And you’re their cub?”  She asked, trying to work out how a polar bear cub could be born to black bear and grizzly bear parents.

        “Its eohippus’s doing,” Kamchatka said, “a mama bear that was in cub was killed by her mate in a fit of temper.  Eohippus gave me the chance to carry her cub to full term, and I accepted.  She told me that my labour would be hard, but my joy great afterwards, and this has been true.”  Aga looked at little Alaska.  She then took her in her paws and examined her closely.

       “You are a big cub,” she observed.  Alaska smiled and nodded:

       “Mama said I was,” she replied, “mama’s screaming and kicking was justified if she had to push as hard as I think she would have to push to deliver me.  I remember my paws getting squeezed as I was pushed into the world.”

      “Not your body, only your paws?”  Aga asked.

      “My mama learns through her paws and so do I,” the cub replied.  Aga put Alaska down on the floor, the cub grabbing Aga’s right hind foot in her tiny forepaws and playing with her toes.  Aga smiled, wiggling and then tightly curling her toes.

      “You have such fun paws!”  Alaska said.  Aga smiled:

       “It feels great to feel a cub playing with my hind paws once more,” she said.  Alaska tickled the toes of Aga’s right hind foot, the bear squealing and whipping her foot away, grabbing it in her forepaws and massaging her tickled toes.

      “You little rogue!”  She laughed.  Alaska giggled and let Aga roll her onto her back and blow gently on the soles of her hind feet, tickling them so much Alaska Kicked and screamed with laughter.

      “I love that!  The cub yelled.  Aga traced the pads of Alaska’s hind paws, the cub tightly curling her toes.

      “I’d forgotten how cute cub’s paws feel and look when they curl their toes,” Aga said.  Alaska laughed:

       “Your paws look cute when you curl your toes,” she said.  Aga smiled and rubbed Alaska’s belly with her paw.

      “I prefer you playing with my paws,” Alaska said.

 

Meanwhile, Koda and Kamchatka also played with each other’s paws.  Kamchatka loved how much smaller than hers Koda’s paws were, and he how much larger hers were compared to his.  He knew, for he’d experienced it, how her strong paws could express vulnerability as well as power.  When she was in labour, her curled toes told him she was vulnerable, fighting to bring a cub into the world, but now she was playing, her curled toes spoke of her powerful paws.

       “I remember touching your hind paws when you were pushing down hard to deliver little Alaska,”  Koda said, stroking Kamchatka’s right hind paw, “your toes were curled then as now, but then they were more tightly curled than I think even you could curl them now.  They were curled with the strength of pain, with the need to deliver a cub.”  Kamchatka smiled, relaxed her toes, and then curled them as tightly as she could.

       “There, there!”  She panted, “but it’s not the same as it was then is it.”  Koda massaged her curled toes:

      “No Kamchatka love, your toes were curled even tighter.”  Kamchatka relaxed her toes as Koda massaged her pads.

      “That feels lovely,” she said, “and your touch on my hind paws was very welcome during my labour, as it is welcome now.”

 

Meanwhile, in Ekaterina’s lie up, Patch and Ekaterina played with each other’s paws, the two bears reawakening their romance.  Patch’s toes went into overdrive, curling tightly at Ekaterina’s touch.

      “You’ve got such mobile toes!”  Ekaterina exclaimed.  Patch laughed merrily, kissing her nose.

      “You are so amazing Patch,” she said softly.  Patch hugged her tightly.

 

Meanwhile, in Haimati and Sita’s lie up, Sita played with her mother’s paws, Haimati laughing and returning her play by playing with Sita’s tail, then tickling her hind paws.

 

Meanwhile, Tigger and Namrah, Swarupa’s cubs, crawled to Patch’s lie up, the tigers grateful to scent the two bears.

      “Where’s Tornassuk?”  Tigger asked.  Patch looked up at the sound of the tiger cub’s voice.

     “Um, I don’t know,” he replied, “maybe in Pakshalika’s lie up.  You know she’s in cub now.”  Tigger would have danced delightedly if he’d been able to.

      “I’m so glad she’s in cub,” he said, “that means there will be more cubs for me and Namrah to play with!”  Tornassuk padded into the lie up and scooped Tigger up in his paws, rolling onto his back and clasping the male cub to him, Tigger snarling and spitting with surprise.

      “Hey get off!”  The cub whimpered, kicking and struggling until he realised whose paws held him.

      “Oh Tornassuk, I’m so sorry,” Tigger mewed.  Tornassuk smiled and kissed the tiger cub’s nose.

      “That’s okay,” he replied, sitting up and resting the tiger cub on his lap with his paws in the air.

      “Now I’m on my back, what are you gonna do?”  Tigger asked.  Tornassuk blew on the pads of Tigger’s paws, the tiger laughing helplessly.

      “How long will it be before Pakshalika has her cubs?”  Tigger asked once he’d recovered.

      “I think a week or so,” Tornassuk replied.  Tigger smiled and reached up with his forepaws to touch Tornassuk’s nose, the bear smiling and bending his head to let him touch his nose.

       “You are so gentle,” Tigger mewed.  Tornassuk laughed merrily, the cub’s love for him clearly communicating itself.

       “I hope Pakshalika has her cubs soon,” Tigger mewed.

 

Kuruk and Anook curled together in their lie up, spoke in low voices.

       “You think we have cubs in a few weeks Anook?”  Kuruk asked.  Anook smiled and embraced him tenderly:

       “I don’t know,” she replied, “but I think we should have cubs, if the mating we just had was anything to go by.  It was amazing from my nose to my toes.”  Kuruk smiled:

      “Anook stroke Kuruk’s paws too,” he replied, “That is lovely Thing for her do.”  Anook giggled at Kuruk’s manner of speech.

       “You lovely thing,”  she said softly, touching his nose with her paw, Kuruk blowing on her pads, making Anook smile broadly.  Kuruk kissed Anook’s pads, the she bear giggling with pleasure.

       “I can’t wait to have our cubs,” she said.  Kuruk kissed her nose:

      “Let nature take its own time,” he said gently.  Anook smiled and nodded.

       “I love my cubs as much as I ever have,” Anook replied, “and I’m very grateful you’ve taken them to your heart Kuruk, but I’ve wanted cubs with you for ages.”  Kuruk settled down, loving his mate and her cubs.

       “Kuruk want be with Anook when she have cubs,” he said, “he want hold her paws and hug her while she push against the cubs to deliver them.”  Anook smiled and hugged Kuruk:

       “I want you with me through it all,” she replied.  Kuruk examined Anook from nose to tail, examining her brown eyes, black nose, white fur, large paws and black pads on the soles of her paws.  Anook curled her toes, the pads bunching.  Kuruk kissed her pads, Anook smiling broadly.

      “I wish I could have my cubs right now,” Anook said softly.  Kuruk kissed her nose:

      “You can’t hurry nature,” he said gently.  Anook smiled broadly.

 

Meanwhile, in Pakshalika’s lie up, Samson watched as his mate moved restlessly around the den.  He knew what this meant, and was anxiously watching for the first signs of a cub emerging, but all he could see was Pakshalika getting up, pacing about, then lying down before wriggling and kicking a bit while curling her toes while moaning and panting.

      “Is there anything I can do?”  Samson asked.  Pakshalika breathed hard through clenched teeth.

       “No, not yet,” she gasped, “it’s not time yet.”

     “Why all the pacing, whimpering and kicking?”  Samson asked.

        “It’s just me,” Pakshalika panted, “I’m expressive.  Some mothers at stage one labour wouldn’t be expressive at all.”

        “So you’ll be screaming the place down when you’re in active labour then,” Samson remarked.  Pakshalika took his paw, Samson finding hers was damp with sweat.

      “You bet I will,” she replied.  Samson motioned to the camera in the corner they might need help, hoping someone in the control room would summon Tornassuk.  Sure enough, Tornassuk padded in shortly after, having been alerted by Nanuq Junior who was staffing the control room that day.  Pakshalika’s labour escalated rapidly, and the tigress was soon screaming and kicking with every contraction.  Tornassuk watched Pakshalika’s struggle, thinking things were not going to plan.  An hour later, and they were no further forward.  Pakshalika, crying and roaring with every contraction, now lay exhausted on the floor, having refused Samson’s entreaties to her to let Tornassuk take a look at how the cub was presented.  After an hour of straining effort though, even Pakshalika had to admit there was a problem.  Panting and whimpering, she lay exhausted while Tornassuk felt beneath her tail.  He felt a cub’s tail, the cub’s hind feet jamming tight.  Tornassuk gently eased the cub’s hind paws free, Pakshalika unable to resist straining as she felt the cub come free.

      “Ow! awh’wh’wh’wh’ouch!”  She roared as she bore down.  Tornassuk saw the wet little cub in his paws, and quickly dried the cub off.  The cub began to snarl and growl in an infantile manner, while Pakshalika roared with an adult voice, transmitting her pain and distress to the world in roaring’s and screaming.  After an hour more, another cub, painfully squeezed into the world inch by screaming inch, was ready for Tornassuk to help pull into the world, Pakshalika almost too exhausted to help push.  Tornassuk, after Pakshalika’s whimpered  suggestion he pull the cub, braced his hind feet against Pakshalika’s flank and, taking a good grip on the emerging cub,  began pulling, Pakshalika screaming and trying not to kick him.  Tornassuk pulled with the tigress’s contractions, and finally the large second cub was born, and it was a huge cub!  Tornassuk heard Pakshalika’s whimpering and crying as she coped with the ravages of her traumatic labour.  Tornassuk tended to the cub, while Samson comforted Pakshalika.  Tornassuk managed to get the large cub breathing, and then growling and roaring.  Pakshalika however was disinterested.

        “I’m in so much pain!”  She whimpered.  Tornassuk looked into Pakshalika’s face, seeing the tigress’s pain and distress.

      “You have two healthy cubs!”  Tornassuk said.  Pakshalika, her eyes closed, groaned with pain.

        “I can’t feed them,” she wailed, it’d hurt too much!”  Samson looked desperately at Tornassuk.

      “Maybe we shouldn’t have pulled that last cub,” he said.

      “If we hadn’t she’d be stuck even now,” Patch replied, padding into the lie up.  Pakshalika opened her eyes and looked at her two cubs.  The female was enormous, the male not so large.

       “No wonder Tornassuk had to pull her,” Pakshalika mumbled.

       “Have I done major harm?”  Tornassuk asked.  Pakshalika shook her head:

       “No,” she replied, “I’m just overstretched, exhausted and sore; I’ll feed my cubs in a bit.”  Pakshalika looked up into Tornassuk’s eyes from where she lay.

      “Thank you,” she mewed, “thank you from the bottom of my heart.”  Tornassuk, having cleaned her largest cub up, settled it on the floor and kissed Pakshalika’s nose.

      “You are welcome,” he replied.  Patch looked closely at Pakshalika’s large female cub.  She was huge, with the largest paws he’d ever seen on a newborn liger cub.

      “I know cross bred big cats can be prone to being a little large, but not like that!”  He thought.  Sita padded into the lie up and examined the large cub closely.

      “Pakshalika’s labour mirrored my mama’s,” she said, “so I came to take a look at the result.”  Patch looked at her:

      “I had no urge to help though,” he said, “maybe Pakshalika didn’t want it.”

       “I was too frightened to ask,” Pakshalika said, “though I don’t regret a minute of my labour.  I think I will be able to feel the pressure of Tornassuk’s hind paws on my flank for a long time yet.”  Patch explored the large female cub’s paws, the cub mewing and curling her toes with pleasure at Patch’s touch as he traced her pads and played with her toes.

       “I love your touch,” she mewed to the grey bear.  Patch rolled onto his back and gathered the cub into a huge bear hug, the cub snuggling up to him, burying her paws in his fur.

      “You need to get food,” Patch said softly:

      “Not yet, not yet, it’s too warm to leave here,” the female cub mewed.  Pakshalika struggled to her feet and padded to Patch’s side, picking up her cub, the female cub roaring and spitting in protest.

      “I don’t want to go, I don’t want to go!”  She yelled, kicking the air with all four huge paws.

       “It’s time for you to have food,” Pakshalika said firmly, dumping her cub on the rug, “your brother’s had food.”  The female cub drank busily, her paws kneading her mum’s belly.

       “I want the thing with the big warm paws to play with my paws,” she mewed.  Pakshalika couldn’t blame her cub, for she liked having her paws played with also.

       “The thing with the big paws is called a bear, and his name is Patch,” she said, “The bear who helped you into the world is named Tornassuk.”  The female cub mouthed the name, and then decided that:

      “I can’t say that,” Her brother slapped her on her paw:

      “I can,” he said, “tear, um, something.”  His sister roared with laughter and hugged him tenderly.

       “You can’t say it; you can’t say the bear’s name!”  She said.  The smaller cub looked embarrassed.

      “While we’re on the subject of names, what will we name these cubs?”  Pakshalika asked.  Samson looked down at his youngest but largest cub.

      “I would like to name her Fleur,” he said, “for her birth was very much like my Fleur’s birth, and Tornassuk helped You Pakshalika like Theo helped Perdy.”  Pakshalika smiled at Samson.

      “I like that,” she mewed.

      “Now what do we name our male cub?”  Pakshalika asked.  Samson looked down at the smaller male             cub.

       “How about if we name him Samson,” Samson replied.  Pakshalika laughed merrily:

      “You vain lion!”  She mewed.

      “I always like to keep a good name going,” he replied.

       “Sammy junior?”  Sarafina asked.  Samson laughed:

      “Sammy junior then,” he mewed.  Pakshalika opened her mouth to protest when she realised she’d named her third youngest cub after herself.

       “You’re stuffed Pakshalika love,” Samson mewed.  Pakshalika laughed:

       “We both like to keep a good name going it seems,” she replied.  Samson hugged his mate, then hugged his two cubs, realising they were neither tiger, nor lion cubs, but liger cubs.

       “Well done mama Pakshalika,” Samson mewed.  Pakshalika kissed fleur and Sammy’s noses, the cubs chuffing and mewing with pleasure.  Then Samson, feeling left out, did the same, the cubs snuggling close, Samson gasping with emotion as when he lay down, his cubs snuggled close.  Samson closed his eyes, remembering the last time he’d felt a cub snuggle close soon after birth, three years previously, when Theo was born.  Samson, overcome with emotion, cried unashamedly, his cubs kissing his nose and paws, their affection fuelling his emotion.

       “You deserve those cubs,” Theo mewed, padding into the lie up.  Tornassuk and Patch left the new family alone, padding back to their lie up.

 

Kamchatka and Aga watched as the scenes unfolded on their screens in Koda’s lie up.

      “Lovely,” Kamchatka remarked, her eyes shining.

     “Ouch,” Aga replied, “Pakshalika’s labour, what a struggle that must have been.”  Kamchatka nodded:

      “But she won’t regret a minute,” she said, “Pakshalika loves her cubs to an almost amazing level.”

     “When will we meet them?”  Alaska asked.

      “In time,” Kamchatka replied, “give Pakshalika time.”

       “But I want to meet her cubs now!”  Alaska protested.

      “You must let them rest, they’ve had a hard day,” Kamchatka replied.

       “But I want to meet them now, now, now, now!”  Alaska yelled jumping about.  Kamchatka, exasperated, held Alaska down, which infuriated the cub even further, until Koda gently cuffed her with his paw, subduing her.  Whimpering, Alaska sat down; Koda’s gentle but firm correction affecting her more than Kamchatka’s words.

      “He hit me mama!”  Alaska wailed.

      “You disobeyed mama’s instructions, so gentle physical persuasion was in order,” Koda replied.  Alaska, though unhurt, was chastened by her sire’s paw.

       “I could never cuff my cub,” Aga said.  Kamchatka, shocked at Koda’s sudden action, looked at him:

     “You have more insight into the ways of the cub than I do it seems,” she said.  Koda smiled, his teeth showing white in his black face.

       “If words fail, use the paw,” he said, “but use it sparingly, and with love.  Alaska might whimper and complain, but she knows she went too far, even if she can’t put that knowledge into words,” Koda replied.

      “So when will I meet those cubs?”  Alaska asked.

      “How about now?”  A voice asked.  Alaska turned to see a huge liger cub.  Alaska recognised her from the video, the liger cub named Fleur.  Fleur let Alaska touch her from nose to tail, Alaska soon finding the liger cub’s huge thickly padded paws.  The bear cub recognised the liger cub’s paws as playthings and played with them, fleur chuffing with pleasure and returning her play, the two cubs soon rolling over and over together.

        “Has anyone seen fleur?”  Pakshalika asked, on a mass conference call to every lie up.  Kamchatka, taking the call, laughed down the phone to Pakshalika.

       “She’s here, playing with my Alaska,” she replied.

      “I fell asleep and woke to find her gone!”  Pakshalika roared.  Everyone could hear the tigress’s distress, including her cub.

     “Mama, I was bored!”  Fleur mewed.  Pakshalika heard her cub’s mewing, and got up to chase her down.

       “I’m ok here mama,” fleur mewed, “Alaska’s got lovely paws, and she’s playful!”  Pakshalika looked into the screen on the wall and saw Alaska playing with her cub’s paws, fleur clearly enjoying her touch.

       “Okay, I’ll leave her in your capable paws,” Pakshalika mewed, “it’s frustrating, but I can’t suppress my cub’s roaming instincts.  Fleur is clearly able to find her way to another part of the house, and I’m glad she’s found a friend too.  I don’t know what to say about her running off, apart from the fact I think she can crawl for the Olympics at such a young age.”

      “I will send Fleur back down to you with an escort when she’s hungry,” Kamchatka promised.  Pakshalika looked down at her paws.

       “I think she’ll make her own choices,” she mewed, “we can’t influence her very much.”

      “I don’t think she’ll get into trouble here,” Koda replied, “I think you’ve just come across a cub’s inquisitive nature.  Though how she made her way to our lie up and not to the lie up of another of her kind I can’t work out.”

       “I wanted to find the leader of all the community,” fleur mewed, “I asked around, and the bear who’d helped me into the world told me how to get here, so I came.  It’s the lion’s way to get in with the pride leader isn’t it?”  Koda had to agree this.

       “But you’re a tiger,” Kamchatka said.

      “I’m both,” fleur mewed, “a lion and a tiger.  The lion in me wanted to find the pride leader, the tiger wanted to go for a swim, so I found the pride leader, and now want to know where I can find a pool to swim in.  Though playing with Alaska’s paws or more like having my paws played with is equally as good as a swim at the moment, even though I don’t really know what a swim is.  I love paw contact and play, and could stay here forever.”

       “Did anyone tell you you have the most beautiful blue eyes?”  Kamchatka said to fleur.  Pakshalika, overhearing suddenly ran to the lie up, bursting in and demanding to see her cub.

      “How can her eyes be open already?”  She asked.  Pakshalika turned fleur roughly round, and stared into her face, the facts plainly laid out before her.

       “How long?”  She asked.

      “Um, I don’t know mama,” fleur mewed, “and, and I’ve noticed I can make my claws vanish too!”

       “This cub’s at least three weeks old!”  Pakshalika exclaimed.  “How, how can, could, I have given birth to her?”

        “Maybe she was late in arriving, and maybe her brother is the younger of the two cubs in actuality,” Koda suggested.

       “You mean to say fleur was conceived before Sammy, and that she spent three weeks of her life unborn?”  Pakshalika asked.

      “Seems that way,” Koda replied, “just like younger Arki before her, your fleur has done a lot of her growing up in the womb.  She’s older than you think she is.”

        “What does this mean?”  Pakshalika asked.

     “Maybe it means stop having cubs?”  Elsa snapped, “I always knew you were a whore and weird!”  Pakshalika roared with anger and launched herself at the lioness, which dodged her attack and fled!

       “Maybe you and Samson mated and fleur was the result of that first mating, then you mated again, and Sammy was the result of the second mating,” Kamchatka proposed.  Pakshalika, still bristling from Elsa’s verbal adult, snarled at Kamchatka.

      “So you’re saying two mating could produce cubs that were vastly different in ages?”  She asked, “But why did I then not have fleur six weeks ago, and Sammy be still born?”

        “Eohippus knew you could cope with birthing fleur, so she kept her alive until her brother was ready,” Koda said, “now you have two healthy cubs.  One will remember her birth, and remember playing with her brother in the womb too.  Fleur remembers her birth in great detail.”

      “I remember pulling with my forepaws and pushing with my hind,” fleur mewed, “I tried to help you mama, but whenever I tried, you’d scream and roar, so I stopped pressing my paws into the floor of the wet squeezing tunnel.  I knew the squeezing would not get me out easily, so I tried my best to help.”  Pakshalika sat down suddenly and roared in pain.

      “Don’t remind me!”  She pleaded.

       “So you remember that too!  Great!”  Fleur exclaimed.

      “I now know what the extra pressure between Sammy’s birth and yours was!”  Pakshalika groaned.

       “I tried not to dig my toes in,” fleur mewed, “but sometimes, sometimes I just had to.”  Pakshalika, on hearing this, lay down, covered her face with her paws and screamed.

        “Your mama can remember it all,” Kamchatka said to fleur.

      “So can I, so that makes two,” fleur replied.

       “You hurt your mum!”  Alaska yelled.

      “Look, I’m sorry for that, but what did you expect me to do, lie there and not care if I lived or died?”  Fleur snapped, “I can’t believe I’m hearing this!”

      “Right,” Pakshalika sniffed, “I’m never having another cub as long as I live!”

      “You will,” Koda said gently, meaning to comfort Pakshalika, but getting a slap across his face.

      “I won’t, I won’t!”  She screamed.  Koda, massaging his jaw where her paw connected, reflected that he should have kept his mouth shut.

        “Your cubs are safe now,”  kamchatka said gently.

 

Meanwhile, in Patch and Ekaterina’s lie up, Patch sat on the floor with his mate, both thinking over the events of the last few hours.

       “If a labouring mama has to be helped by unnatural force, I think I’d go mad,” Patch said.

      “You mean if you need to tear a mama open to save her cubs?”  Ekaterina asked.  Patch shuddered.

      Yuck, that’s dreadful,” he whimpered, “but if mama’s in danger of losing the cubs and she’s dying already I’d do it.  Though I’d cry bitterly with grief afterwards for the mama and possibly for her cubs too if they lost their lives also.”  Ekaterina touched Patch’s shoulder, feeling him shaking with emotion.

       “You really feel strongly about this don’t you,” Ekaterina said.  Patch kissed her nose:

       “When you’ve had a cub, you know how the mama feels,” Patch choked.  Ekaterina rested her head on his shoulder:

       “If a mother to be died during labour, it would destroy you wouldn’t it,” Ekaterina said softly.  Patch, burying his face in his paws, cried like a cub.

      “I can cope with mother’s screaming and rolling with pain, kicking and sweating.  But when mama dies, I feel so empty, so useless, as if I’ve failed mama.”

       “You’ve only failed her if you treat her and her dead cubs with disrespect,”  Ekaterina said, “if you treat her cubs with respect, even when mama is dead, you respect mama too.”

       “I know you would have respected mama Ekaterina ‘s dead cub if she’d let you Patch,” someone said.  Ekaterina looked up and Patch saw her eyes widen with surprise and fear.

       “Little Patch!”  She gasped.  Patch turned his head and saw the cub standing on the rug.  The cub looked real, and Patch reached out to touch him, his paw touching real warm fur.

      “How could this be?”  Ekaterina asked.

      “Come with me both,” the cub said.  Ekaterina and Patch followed the cub’s spirit to the graveside, and they found it desecrated.

      “Who did this, which violated our cub’s final resting place?”  Ekaterina roared.  Patch padded to his son cub and hugged him, feeling warm fur, then a tongue kissing his nose, then the cub’s paws around him as far as he could manage, snuggling close.

      “What’s happening?”  Ekaterina gasped, her paws sweating.

      “You need not be afraid,” Theo mewed, “you need not be afraid of your own cub.”

      “But, but he was still born!”  Ekaterina sobbed, “I felt him born, I cried, I strained, I fought to deliver a dead cub!”

         “Mama,” little Patch replied, “In the emotion of the moment you missed signals, you missed my life signs.”

      “You mean, mean, oh for Eohippus sake! Our mean I buried you alive?”  Ekaterina sobbed.  Little Patch looked into her eyes but said nothing.

       “You mean, mean that if, if I’d given Patch what he wanted, his full participation in your birth, that, that we might have been a family?”  She asked.  Little Patch looked down at his paws.

       “I desecrated my grave.  My story is a strange one, but is linked with underground dwellers.  My life was saved by Furcone, who fed me with milk from her breast as she had lost her own cubs.”

         “So I really messed up that day,” Ekaterina whimpered.

       “Lessons learnt I think,” Theo mewed, “Patch’s wish to be present and paws on at the birth of your cubs would have been well to be granted, but you refused him Ekaterina.  In your heart you know how much you mean to him.  Do not deny his paws, his love for you.  You know how much you needed his help that day.”

      “I know how much I needed him,” Ekaterina choked, “I dreamt of my labour, and the one paw I missed was Patch’s, his touch, and his help.  I’m so sorry I shut him out Theo, and for that I am sorry to him, and to our cub.”  Little Patch approached his mother, Ekaterina shrinking away.

       “Don’t, please mama,” the cub begged.

       “But you’re dead!”  Ekaterina wailed.

       “Let me at least touch noses with you mama,” the cub replied.  Ekaterina felt her cub’s nose brush her own and began to hope, to believe.

       “Now will you hug me mama?”  Little Patch asked.  Ekaterina, who’d closed her eyes before touching noses with her cub, opened them, and her heart lurched at the expression in the eyes looking into hers.

       “He’s begging me, pleading with me to hug him,” Ekaterina thought.  Ekaterina knew then that when she touched little Patch and held him in her paws, she’d have to believe. Lying down on the cold ground, she let the yearling cub come up to her, lie down beside her and then, as if in a dream, she embraced him, his living warmth waking her fully from her disbelief.  Then little Patch was kissing her nose, paws and ears.  Ekaterina didn’t know whether to laugh or cry with joy at the return of her cub.  But she knew she had to thank a badger whose loss had allowed her cub to live.

        “Furcone and I will tell our tale at sundown,” Little Patch said, reading his mother’s thoughts.  Allie ran up to Patch and hugged him tightly.

      “I knew my dream would come true!”  she laughed, hugging her brother cub.

      “Why are you so certain he was alive?”  ekaterina asked.  Allie looked at her mother.

      “Patch told me a story to believe in my dreams, and one I had often was of my brother little Patch and I playing together underground.  I padded through a wood to a hole in the ground where I found my brother.  He and I would play for hours, then I’d have to leave.  now though, I find my dream is all true!  My brother is here, and probably the hole in the ground is too.”

      “Take me home then, if you know where it is,”  little Patch said.  Allie hugged him, Kissed his nose, then grabbed his paw in hers and they trotted away into the wood.

      “time for us to join paws I think,”  ekaterina said to Patch, who was sitting on the forest floor, quietly crying into his paws.

       “Come on Patch, let’s go home,” Ekaterina said gently.  Patch got to his feet, sniffing and wiping his eyes.

       “I’m so grateful to Furcone,” he said.

 

Meanwhile, deep in the wood, Allie led her brother directly to the place he knew as the entrance to the place he’d called home ever since he could remember.  Going deep into the hole, the two cubs found their way into little Patch’s sleeping area, where they met Furcone, who embraced both cubs and gave them nuts and honey as well as a cup of tea each.

      “It is done,” Little Patch said to Furcone, the sow badger smiling.

       “I tell you since time out of mind that you go back to your own family,” she said.  Little Patch and Allie sat down and played with each other’s paws, the two bears easily playing together.

       “It’s a pity Tornassuk isn’t here,” Allie said.  Little Patch nodded:

       “He’s too large to fit in here,” he said.

     “Is he?”  Someone asked.  The two cubs looked over into a corner of the large cavern and saw a white shape in the darkness.

       “Surely you’re too big to fit in here?”  Allie asked.  Tornassuk crawled over to the cubs and kissed their noses.

      “I am a black bear, one of the smallest bears going, and this cave was built for a grizzly polar cross.  So I can fit in here.”

      “What are you doing in here anyway?”  Allie asked.

       “I spent time with little Patch telling him of his ancestor and place in the world,” Tornassuk replied, “His story is also mine.”

        “How did you manage to combine everything into your day?”  Allie asked, “And how come noone knew a thing?”

        “I was secretive, stealthy, all a black bear should be.  I taught Little Patch his heritage, and also about his mother and sire.”

       “I’m so glad we’re together here,” little Patch said, “it’s Kind of snug and warm in here, and if we could snuggle close up together, that would be so nice.”  So, laughing, they curled up together.

        “This is so lovely,” Allie said softly, cuddled between her two brothers.  Tornassuk and little Patch tickled Allie’s toes, Allie laughing helplessly.

      “Get off my paws you two!”  She yelled, while not restricting their access to her paws.  Patch and Tornassuk kissed Allie’s paws, the female cub sighing with pleasure and contentment.

      “I’ve been looking forewarn to this since I knew my younger brother was alive,” she said, “the day I had both my brothers here with me, and of course the day they would play with my paws.”  Tornassuk and little Patch curled their bodies around Allie and all three slept deeply until sundown, when Furcone woke them gently with more tea and some oat and fruit cake.

       “You have been so good to me Furcone,” little Patch said.  Furcone smiled and sat down to watch them consume their cake and tea.

       “I need to tell my portion of the tale this night,”  she said, “and it be born out of sadness for I lost my own cubs, and was digging a grave into the side of the set before burying them, when I came across a little cub barely alive in a grave.  I rescued him, and fed him, and now he’s here nearly a year later.  I tell this tale to Little Patch.  So out of my sadness came joy.”

       “But why save another’s dying cub?”  Allie asked.

       “It is badger way to give help to someone until they are dead and cold,” Furcone replied, “we care like sire Patch and Tornassuk care.  We care like mama Kamchatka care; we badgers care like mama bear care for cubs.”

 

 

The sun sank out of sight and darkness fell.  Furcone led the three bears to the house, where she called a meeting of the ursine family, Kamchatka and Koda confused about the reappearance of little Patch.

      “I thought he was dead, I thought he was dead!”  Kamchatka sobbed, very upset at the memory of Ekaterina’s labour and death of her cub.  Now she didn’t know what to think.

 

Sitting in Koda’s lie up, which was far the largest owned by any of the bears, Kamchatka, Koda, Allie, Alaska, Patch, Tornassuk, Ekaterina and little Patch sat down with Furcone.  Kuruk padded in and stared at the gathering.

       “How come dead cub is back here?”  He asked, waving his paw at e Patch.

      “Sit down and I’ll tell you uncle Kuruk,” little Patch replied.  Kuruk touched little Patch with his paws, his eyes filling with tears.

       “Kuruk see Ekaterina straining and hear her screaming in labour, then see her birth a dead cub.  Now that cub alive?  How be this?”

       “Let us tell our tale and you’ll hear all,” Tornassuk replied.

       “Your tale brother Tornassuk?”  Kuruk asked, “How is that your tale also.  You not dead cub of Ekaterina, and you no have thing do with little Patch do you?”  Tornassuk smiled, which infuriated the grizzly bear.

      “Why Tornassuk smile when thing so dam sad?”  He asked, “Kuruk really upset big time about this and Tornassuk smile?”

       “Kuruk, please!”  Kamchatka pleaded.  Kuruk sat down heavily.

     “This story better be bloody good,” he snarled, “Kuruk no like cubs coming back from dead.  When them dead them dead!”

       “Hey Kuruk,” Ekaterina said gently, stroking her brother’s paw, “I know what you’re upset about, and I wish with all my heart that we could bring your cub back right here, but we can’t.”  Kuruk screwed clenched paws into his eyes, trying not to cry.

        “My cub no deserves to die,” he choked.

      “Can we begin the tale now?”  Furcone asked.  Kuruk buried his face in his paws and sobbed, turning away from the group.

       “Poor Kuruk,” Ekaterina said sadly.

       “Well,” Furcone said, “I was digging a grave for my cubs, who’d died after birth, when I came across little Patch lying in the earth barely alive.  I quickly buried my own dead cubs, and returned to the nearly lifeless bear cub.  I massaged his chest and he woke up a little, I fed him for days and days, and he grew stronger and stronger.  I knew who’s cub he was, and began to teach him to be a bear.  Over months and months I prepared him for his return to his own family.”

       “So you just walk out and approach Patch and Ekaterina?”  Kamchatka asked.

       “I had other communications with Allie before this, she often dreamt of being with me in my room in the badger’s set.  Patch told her to believe her dreams, and she took his advice.”

      “So she knew you were alive before any of us did?”  Ekaterina asked.

      “I knew mum,” Allie replied, “I hoped with all my heart my dreams were right.  I hoped so much little Patch was alive, and now he is alive!  Dreams do come true mama!”

        “No them don’t,” Kuruk sniffed, “them don’t come true, at least not for Kuruk.  Kuruk happy for mama Ekaterina that cub come back.  But only here that thing happen, only here community is so good that badger help buried bear cub.

      “You’ve never come to terms with the death of your cub on the mountain have you Kuruk,” Kamchatka said gently.  Kuruk looked at her, his eyes full of grief.

       “Kuruk sorry if he seem stuck in past,”  he said, “he love Anook and her cubs like mad, and would be sad forever if them or Anook died.  Kuruk wish so much he could hug his first cub one more time though.  He sees his cub born, and never got to say goodbye when she die.  Kuruk want see her one last time!”  With that he got to his paws and left the room, unable to cope with the situation.  His vision blurred by tears, Kuruk stumbled through the wood to the clearing where he’d heard some say the spirits visited from time to time.  Collapsing in the clearing, Kuruk lost all control over his emotions, screaming and begging for help.  Soon, for noone can weep forever, Kuruk lay quietly in the clearing, his head resting on his forepaws, wishing fervently he was with his cub on the mountain.  Kuruk lay in the clearing for hours, his life replaying itself from his earliest memories as a cub, to his situation now.  Eohippus and Anook seemed more distant from him than ever, Kuruk feeling completely alone.

       “You have to move on Kuruk,” the summary sheet said when the video was over, “you love your dead cub, but now you have other responsibilities.”

      “Do you mean Kuruk and Anook have cubs of own?”  Kuruk asked.  The image in front of him showed Anook in pain, pedalling her paws and screaming, then suckling cubs.  Kuruk sighed deeply, for there could be no clearer indication than that.

     Now Kuruk move on from here to look after mama Anook and cubs,”  Kuruk said, “he glad for mama Ekaterina that her cub back, and feel shit for dampening her joy.  That is selfish thing Kuruk do.”  Kuruk got to his feet and padded back to the house, meeting little Patch on route.  Little Patch gave Kuruk a bottle of warm milk, saying:

      “Mama Ekaterina thought you might like this?”  Kuruk looked at the bottle in little Patch’s paws and took it, smiling at the cub.

       “Thank you,” he said.  Little Patch watched as Kuruk sat down and drank busily from the bottle.

      “You look cute,” he said.  Kuruk lay back on the forest floor and drank from the bottle, his hind paws pedalling the air involuntarily, Little Patch giggling with amusement.

      “That’s so cute!”  He laughed.  Kuruk finished the milk and dropped the bottle, hugging little Patch to him.  The cub, laughing, massaged Kuruk’s belly, the grizzly bear belching thunderously and covering his mouth with his paws in embarrassment.

      “Kuruk sorry about that,” he mumbled from behind his paws.  Little Patch played with the toes of Kuruk’s right hind foot, the grizzly bear curling his toes with pleasure.

       “So mama Ekaterina knows your tale now?”  Kuruk asked, removing his paws from his face.  Little Patch nodded and smiled:]

      “I am very fortunate I was found by Furcone, though I am fully aware of the circumstances which led her to dig where she was digging.  I have prayed to Eohippus to keep her cubs safe wherever they may be, and also given thanks for my rescue.”

      “That be why Tornassuk be sent to you to give you tutoring in what you be,” Kuruk replied, “he no be sent to you if you no want accept you be bear and not badger.”  Little Patch smiled at Kuruk’s use of language.

       “You are so funny,” he said.

      “Why you think Kuruk funny?”  Kuruk asked frowning at the bear: cub.

      “Your use of language is unusual, that’s what I meant,” little Patch replied quickly.  Kuruk smiled and replied, ruffling the cub’s ears with his paw:

      “Kuruk know Ursine fluently, but English,” he shook his head, “no not so good that be.”  Little Patch laughed:

      “I think your use of English is sweet,” he said snuggling close to the huge grizzly.  Kuruk sat up, allowing the cub to cuddle up close.

       “How you able to hide yourself for so long?”  Kuruk asked.  Patch smiled:

       “Badgers are nocturnal, bears aren’t,” was his reply.  Kuruk turned his head at the sound of another bear coming close.  This bear was a brown bear, and walked upright like a human.  Kuruk wondered why this was, when he saw the size of the bear’s forepaws compared to his hind.  The bear’s forepaws were tiny, his hind enormous.

        “Who is that?”  Kuruk asked waving his paw at the newcomer.

       “I jokingly call him cute-paws, but his real name is Spitsbergen, or just Spits for short.  His mother, well, um,”

      “Yes we wont’ talk about her!”  The newcomer snapped.

      “Why you walk on hind feet though?”  Kuruk asked.

      “I can’t easily walk on my forepaws like you,” Spits replied, “or, well, I wasn’t taught to.  My mother, she, she told me, told me, that,” suddenly the newcomer sat down on the grass and buried his face in his forepaws, sobbing.

       “You bloody idiot!”  Little Patch snapped.

      “Don’t you call Kuruk a bloody idiot Patch!”  Kuruk roared, cuffing little Patch across his face.

       “But you are!”  Little Patch complained, rubbing his face with his paws, “you might have guessed why he walks the way he does, you didn’t have to ask him!”  Kuruk looked at the newcomer’s huge hind feet.

       “Yeah, Kuruk stupid,” he grunted.  Patch went over to his weeping friend and hugged him, the brown bear’s touch causing Spits to snuggle up tightly.

       “You’ve been good to me Patch,” Spits choked.  Patch kissed Spits’s nose and then the tops of his tiny forepaws.

        “Why do you kiss my forepaws when they are so horrible?”  Spits asked.  Patch smiled:

        “I don’t think they are horrible,” he said, “and that is why I kiss your forepaws.”  Spits looked at Patch.

      “I know you mean every word,”  he said, “I know you mean every word as strongly as my mother meant her words, though yours give me hope, hers hurt me so much.”

       “I think all four of your paws are cute paws,” Patch said, “I know the force of words, and do not waste them.  Tornassuk taught me that.”

       “It’s not just your words though,” Spits replied, “it’s your, your touch, touch the like of which I’ve never felt before.  It’s loving, caring, and makes me want to cry tears of joy.  I love your touch on my fore and hind paws, and my belly, and your kiss on my nose and everything!  I don’t care who knows it Patch!”  Kuruk’s eyes widened.

         “You in love with Patch or something Spits?”  He asked.  The brown bears turned their gaze on Kuruk, and there was no doubt.

        “We’ve been in love for ages,” Patch said.  Kuruk buried his face in his paws, completely astonished.

       “Kuruk no think his nephew be homosexual in a million summers,” he moaned.

       “So you have a problem with that?”  Someone asked.  Kuruk looked up, straight into Tornassuk’s face.  Kuruk was surprised by his expression.

        “No, Kuruk got no problems with that at all,” Kuruk gabbled.  Tornassuk looked at the two bears.

        “They look lovely,” he remarked.  Kuruk looked at Spits, then at Patch.

       “But them can’t have cubs together can they,” he mumbled.

        “How about the love they feel for each other?”  Tornassuk replied, “Isn’t that worth anything?”  Kuruk grumbled that he didn’t understand anything any more.

       “How can a mama polar bear and a grey sire bear give birth to a brown bear?”  He grumbled.

      “Perhaps sire Patch’s grizzly brown bear heritage came out in his son cub,” Tornassuk replied.

      “You might have a cub with brown fur Kuruk,” Patch said.  Spits looked uneasy.

      “Does Kuruk think we’re unclean or something?”  He asked.  Patch looked at Kuruk, and knew what the grizzly bear was thinking.

       “He’s wild, he doesn’t understand anything about our feelings for each other,” Patch said to Spits.”

       “How can he understand what we feel for each other?”  Patch asked, “He’s not you or me for starters.”

      “Kuruk no understand their relationship,” he grumbled to Tornassuk.  Tornassuk laid his paw on Kuruk’s.

       “You love Anook, Anook loves you, Little Patch loves Spits, Spits loves little patch.”

       “How long you know about this?”  Kuruk snapped.

      “I knew for the last three months,” Tornassuk replied, “they’ve been close since they hit their year’s birthday.  Now, patch and Spits is a fantastic match for each other.”

       “You keep this craziness secret for ages from community?”  Kuruk asked.  Tornassuk smiled:

       “Patch and Spits made their lives in the nighttimes, they are very secretive because of their lifestyle, it’s not seen as conventional, but is not a cause for ridicule.”

       “It doesn’t produce cubs,” Kuruk snarled.

      “Should all loving relationships between non related creatures produce cubs?”  Tornassuk asked, “The purpose of a relationship is to be kind to and support each other, to give each other pleasure, not just to produce cubs.”  Kuruk sat back on his backside, then on his heels.

       “You are right Tornassuk,” Kuruk said heavily, “Kuruk maybe a little quick to judge, so he sorry for judging these two bears.  Kuruk should watch what they are to each other before he judge.”  Tornassuk watched Kuruk sitting back on his heels, then gently reached over and stroked the pads of the grizzly bear’s left hind paw, Kuruk smiling broadly.

       “Did anyone tell you you have cute paws?”  Tornassuk asked gently, Kuruk’s expression comical.

        “Kuruk not that way of thinking!”  The grizzly bear gabbled, “He got mate, Anook!”  Tornassuk kissed Kuruk’s nose, his eyes shining.

       “My sentiments are sincerely felt, but the emotion behind them is brotherly, I don’t want you as a lover Kuruk, though your paws are still cute in my opinion,”  tornassuk replied.  Kuruk smiled:

        “Kuruk not in touch with his paws much,” he admitted, “so he knows little.  Kuruk sorry he no interprets things well.  Kuruk jump to conclusions faster than rabbits, and he should keep paws on ground, in touch, but he doesn’t do that too well.”

       “Trust your paws Kuruk,” Tornassuk replied, the grizzly bear smiling.

 

Ekaterina padded through the wood, thinking hard.  she’d overheard and seen everything that had taken place in the wood.  it was clear her son cub and Spits had no intention of hiding their love for each other.  her mind went back to the first time she knew she loved Patch.  She was about six months old, and the realisation had left her tearful and breathless.  She couldn’t ridicule little Patch for his choices.  Maybe he’d also got the inbred forsight she’d had as a cub.  Padding up to little Patch, she touched his sholder with her paw.

       “Little cub,”  she said gently, “please, can we discuss this?”  Little patch looked at his mother.

      “What is there to discuss?”  he asked, “Spits and I are happy, we love each other.”  Ekaterina’s eyes told little Patch she was unsure.

        “You made your choices when you were young mama,”  the cub said.

       “Who told you that?”  she asked.

      “Your paw did,”  little patch replied, “your paws were as young as mine when you decided you loved Patch, and when you dreampt of being more than a sister to him.”  Ekaterina hesitated:

       “You know too much,”  she said, “but what can I expect from sire patch’s cub.  He’s in touch, and so are his cubs it seems.  Both Allie and you seem to have strange abilities, though maybe I had them once too.”

       “Spits and I will be careful,”  little patch said, “we’ve been careful for ages.  We’ve touched paws many a time when we’ve disagreed, and realised our disagreements were trivial, and that we knew we love each other dearly.”

        “You two do look great together,”  Ekaterina said.

       “when our paws touch, we know, we know we love each other mama Ekaterina,”  Spits said, looking little Patch’s mother in the eye.  Ekaterina looked Spits up and down, her eyes roaming over his face, his forepaws, his body, legs and huge hind feet.

        “Can, can I get paws on with you?”  she asked.  Spits nodded.  ekaterina touched Spits’s foreapws, then hind, the bear curling the toes of his hind paws with pleasure at her touch.

       “I like the touch of your pads,”  ekaterina said.  Spits smiled and pressed his hind paws into ekaterin’as fore.

       “He likes your touch mama,” little patch said.  Ekaterina looked at the brown bear with the big hind paws.

       “You are so lovely,” she said.  Spits couldn’t look her in her eye as he had before.

      “Why can’t you look me in my eyes?”  Ekaterina asked.

        “Because, because of what your paws are telling me,” Spits choked, “mama Ekaterina, you want me to be more to Patch than I am; I want to be closer to him.  To be part of his life, to curl up with him as a brother, that’s what I really want!  I thought I loved him as a lover, but it’s deeper than that, much deeper.”  Patch nodded:

       “I feel the same as Spits,” he said.  Kuruk ran to Spits and little patch and hugged them both hard.

       “Kuruk been watching you both,” he said, “and he now want you love each other with paws and words and things.  He no worry any more.  He remember how jess was with Tornassuk, and that was horrible, so he much rather see love any day.”

 

 

Ekaterina hugged Spits and Little Patch in turn, and then took them back to the house, presenting Spits to Kamchatka.  Kamchatka looked at the bear with the large hind paws.

       “Welcome home,” Kamchatka said.  Spits looked into the mama bear’s eyes, seeing the same expression he’d seen in Ekaterina’s.

       “Mama Kamchatka,” Spits said, bowing his head to Kamchatka, “you are a wonderful mama I see.”  Kamchatka kissed Spits’s nose and pulled him into a bear hug, sitting him on her lap and stroking his forepaws and belly.

        “Welcome home Grandcub,” she said gently.  Spits snuggled up to the huge mama bear, loving her touch.

       “Mama, um, Ekaterina, has the same expression as you mama Kamchatka,” Spits said.  Kamchatka grinned:

      “She’s lovely,” she said gently.  Spits turned round and looked up into Kamchatka’s face:

       “Would you play with my hind paws grandmamma?”  He asked.  Kamchatka looked down at the cub.

      “I will,” she replied, “and I will describe the soles too if you like.”  Spits giggled cubbishly and bounced about on his backside as Kamchatka took hold of his left hind foot.  She traced his pads and the sole of his foot, Spits giggling and curling his toes with pleasure.

      “Your sole fur is lighter than the fur on the top of your paw,”  Kamchatka said, “the lighter fur extends around the toe pads of your paw,”  she traced his pads with gentle care, “the large sole pad of your paw is rough, and darker brown than the lighter fur on the sole of your foot.”  Spits giggled:

      “That sounds so cute!”  He said.  Kamchatka laughed:

      “You have very cute paws,” she replied.  Spits looked at Kamchatka’s left hind foot.

      “Your pads are big, black, and, he touched the large sole pad on her left hind foot, “rough too,” he said.  Kamchatka giggling and curling her toes.

      “I like that,” she said.

      “Does mama Ekaterina like her paws played with?”  Spits asked.  Kamchatka laughed:

      “Of course she does,” she replied, “she’s my cub after all, we all like having our paws played with and playing with our paws too.”  Spits laughed merrily:

       “I love this family,” he said, “it’s gentle, loving and has very soft and cute paws, I’ve touched the paw pads of at least three bears today, and they’ve been cute in the extreme!”  Kamchatka laughed helplessly at this.

      “Where did you learn to play with your paws and the paws of others?”  She asked.  Spits told her:

      “Little Patch taught me, he’s great with his paws, very loving and gentle to my paws he is.”  Kamchatka laughed merrily:

       “He showed you well,” she replied.  Spits giggled with pleasure.

       “Everyone is so lovely here,” he said.  But then he became serious, “my mama left me because she didn’t like the way I looked,” he said, “she taught me to walk on my hind feet, as she said I should walk like a man as my forepaws were clearly not meant for walking on.”  Kamchatka took hold of Spits’s forepaws one at a time and looked at them.  They were perfectly formed, if rather small.

        “Have you ever tried walking on all four paws?”  She asked.  Spits nodded, “but it’s so strange to do it regularly,” he said, “after being forced to walk on my hind feet for the first three months of my life, I’m used to it now.”

       “Try walking on all four paws now,” Kamchatka suggested.  Spits got onto all four paws, and tried walking, but his shoulder muscles weren’t up to the job, and he was soon exhausted.

       “You need to strengthen your muscles,” Kamchatka said, “punch and kick a punch bag.  My Son cub Kuruk will show you where to find one,” Spits looked into Kamchatka’s face.

      “I wasn’t meant to stand on my hind feet for prolonged periods was I,” he said.

      “No you weren’t,”  Kamchatka replied, “hang on, scrap the punch bag, you need to go back to basics, crawling, get used to that, then strengthen your forelegs further with the punch bag.  But crawl like a cub first.”

       “Won’t I be teased?”  Spits asked.  Kamchatka shook her head:

      “You’re a cub, cubs crawl, don’t they little patch?”  Little Patch looked at Kamchatka, then at Spits and nodded.

     “But, but, you, you can walk, you were taught to walk!”  Spits protested.

      “I’ll crawl with you until you’re ready to gain your paws,” little Patch promised.  Ekaterina listened to all this, smiling as she remembered another bear named patch finding his paws for the first time, and how he’d helped her find her own paws also.

      “Crawling about is gonna be so much fun!”  Little Patch enthused.  Spits was unsure.

     “It’s gonna be embarrassing,” he ventured.

       “No it won’t,” little patch said, tickling the pads of Spits’s right hind foot with his left forepaw.  Spits, laughing, pounced on his brother cub, and they wrestled each other on the rugs, which was most refreshing for both.

      “That was fun!”  Spits yelled as their game ended with both having tickled each other’s hind paws almost senseless.  Laughing helplessly, the two cubs traced each other’s hind paws, tracing pads and playing with each other’s toes.  Screaming with laughter, the two cubs curled up together.

       “You have beautiful paws patch,” Spits said kissing his brother’s fore and hind paws.  Patch laughed and returned Spits’s kisses, the brown bear cub snuggling up close.

       “You two look lovely together,” Kamchatka said, almost purring with pleasure.  Little patch and Spits curled up together, and were soon asleep.

       “So you did it,” Kamchatka said heavily, folding her forepaws over her belly, “Ekaterina, I don’t know what the hell you were thinking!”  Ekaterina looked shocked:

      “But mama, Spits needed a home, and, and you can’t, you’ve got little Alaska.”  Kamchatka sighed heavily.

       “You didn’t think did you that are the point isn’t it!”

       “But mama, you can’t say this!”  Ekaterina sniffed, now very upset.  Kamchatka, realising her daughter cub had taken her words as a rebuke, hugged her:

        “I’m playing with you,” she said, kissing Ekaterina’s nose, “of course you didn’t need to think, there’s no thinking needed when adopting cubs, your instinct and love for others does it for you.  If you’d thought about it, you would have maybe questioned it, and then Spits might not have had a home as you’ve already got three cubs.  Love him Ekaterina; love him with all four paws and your boundless energy.  For one day, I won’t be here.  You seem to be following in my paw prints dear Ekaterina.”  Ekaterina looked seriously at her mother.

       “You’re not, not dying are you mama?”  She asked.  Kamchatka kissed her nose:

        “Who knows,” she replied, “we all have to die someday.  I could be dead tomorrow, then again so could we all.  All I’m saying is that you are following in my paw prints.”  Ekaterina choked back tears:

        “Don’t do that to me mama!”  She sniffed.

        “I’m here for a long time yet dear Ekaterina,” Kamchatka said softly.  Ekaterina hugged her mama, feeling her heart beating and smelling her scent strong and vibrant.

      “Don’t talk like that mama,” Koda said, “you’ll frighten your cubs, and me too. Kamchatka kissed Ekaterina’s ears, nose and paws, then turned to Koda and kissed him too.

      “I’m healthy,” she said, “I’m not gone yet.”  Spits looked at Kamchatka.

      “You are a magnificent bear,” he said.  Kamchatka smiled:

       “I’m just an ordinary mama grizzly,” she replied.

      “No mama, you’re not,” Spits replied, “I knew you weren’t when I met your daughter cub.  She has amazing paws, and an amazing nature.”

      “Why didn’t you ask Spits straight out about what he really wanted in life mama?”  Little Patch asked Ekaterina.

      “Would you have admitted you were lonely, that you needed a family if you were him?”  Ekaterina asked, “He was scared, confused, and lost.  I had to get the information another way.”  Spits nodded miserably.

      “I’m glad you touched my hind paws,” he said, “I could tell you what I really wanted easily then, I couldn’t tell you any other way!”  Ekaterina smiled and hugged Spits tightly.

      “I could see it in your face,” she replied, “but the paws never lie, so I touched your hind and forepaws, and you cried out to me.”  Spits began to cry like a cub, to cry like he hadn’t cried since the day his mama left him in the wood.  Ekaterina held the weeping brown bear tenderly, kissing his nose and paws.

      “It’s okay to cry,” Ekaterina said gently.  Spits gulped hard, wiping his eyes with clenched forepaws.

     “It’s hard not to cry when I think of how my mama treated me and how safe I am now,” Spits whimpered, “I’m happy here now though.”  Ekaterina picked Spits up in her paws, rolled onto her back, and hugged him close.

 

Sire patch wandered in, saw Spits in Ekaterina’s paws and padded to him, before rolling onto his back and hugging the cub tenderly.

       “Welcome home little one,” he said kissing Spits’s nose.  Spits, confused, looked into Patch’s face.

      “You’re Little Patch’s sire?”  He asked.  Patch nodded.

      “I am,” he replied, “but now, it looks like I’m your adopted sire too.”  Spits looked at Patch’s whitefish pink nose, brown eyes and grey fur.

       “Your nose is pink, so your pads are pink too?”  He asked.  Patch nodded.

     “They are off white,” he said, “want to take a look?  Even touch them?”  Spits found him sitting on the floor, patch showing him the pads on the sole of his right hind paw.

       “Why do I feel these are the paws of a gigantic cub?”  Spits asked, tracing the pads of Patch’s right hind foot.

       “Say what you feel,” Ekaterina encouraged.

        “I feel, oh I don’t know,” Spits began, “but it’s as if, as if patch is a big cub.  As if he likes nothing more than having his paws played with, almost nothing else in the world pleases him more.”  Patch nodded and smiled.

       “You are right little one,” he said.

      “I feel something else taps well, a need, a want to give birth to cubs as well as help others have them.”  Patch curled his toes, Spits knowing this meant he was correct.”

      “Have you had a cub?”  Spits asked.  Patch nodded:

       “I have,” he replied, “and it was painful, and glorious, and hard work, and everything.”

      “I know male creatures can’t have cubs, well not usually,” Spits replied, “but if you really want to have a cub, I suppose the powers that be will grant your wish if it’s the right thing to wish for.”  Patch giggled:

       “I needed to give birth to a cub,” he said, “for my job entails helping others have theirs.”

     “When you curl your toes, your pads bunch up, that’s so cute!”  Spits laughed.  Patch giggled and curled his toes even tighter.

      “I’ll bet your toes curled tightly when you had that cub of yours,” Spits said.  Patch nodded.

     “They did,”  he replied, “you might see me having a cub one day, if a mama bear or other mama needs help to push the cub out into the world.”

      “I bet you looked cute while having the cub,” Spits said, kissing patches curled toes.  Patch smiled:

        “You think I might have looked cute?”  He asked, “well seeing a mama having her cub is cute, and I suppose I’m related to every cub I help push into the world.”  Spits looked down at his own huge hind feet.

      “Could you have helped my mama have me?”  He asked.  Patch knew what the cub was thinking about.

      “If she’d been in the wood and Eohippus had asked me, then I would,” he replied.  Spits measured his huge right hind foot against patch’s left.  The tips of his toes touched the bottoms of patches.  Patch curled his toes around Spits’s toes, the cub giggling and pressing his pads hard against the older bear’s.

       “I think you really enjoy having your paws played with,” Spits said.  Patch lifted Spit’s right hind foot in his forepaws and traced his pads, Spits smiling broadly.

       “I love that,” he said, curling his toes slightly.  Patch traced Spits’s bunched pads, tracing the furrowed rough brown sole pad of his right hind foot, Spits sniffing slightly as his emotions welled, filling him from the paw patch was stroking, right to his throat, choking him with tears and leaving him slightly breathless.

        “Do you want me to stop Spits?”  Patch asked.  Spits shook his head:

      “No, No,” he sniffed hard and gulped convulsively, “I like it, like it so much, so very much!”  Spits felt tears pricking the backs of his eyes, but, instead of covering his face with his paws to hide his tears, he bowed his head and let them fall unashamedly onto his chest fur.

       “I don’t mean to cry,” He sniffed, “but, but, this is so wonderful!  I feel I’m loved here.”

       “You are,” Patch replied softly, gently stroking Spits’s pads.  Spits looked up into the grey bear’s eyes through tear filled eyes.

        “I, I want, would like to, to, to, to stroke your pads patch, to see if I can make you curl your toes with pleasure like your touch has made me curl mine!”  Patch giggled:

       “The paws never lie,” he replied, “so yes, why not?”  He gently counted the toes on Spits’s hind foot:

      “You have one, two, three, four five toes on your right hind paw Spits,” patch said gently, as if he were talking to a cub, Spits laughing merrily and pressing his paw hard into Patch’s forepaws.

        “I love that,” Spits whispered, “please, count the toes on my left hind foot patch, please!”  He begged, “play with my paws as if I am a young cub and don’t know how to play with my paws, please, teach me, teach me everything!”  He begged.  Patch stroked Spits’s pads, the young bear choking back tears.

      “Okay,” patch said, let’s start with this hind paw.  You have one, two, three, four five toes on this paw.  I’ll count them.  One, two, three, four, five.”

       “What about the rest of the sole of my paw, what’s that like?”  Spits asked eagerly, bouncing about on his backside with delight.

       “Let me take it gently and slowly,” patch replied, “but I can tell you that you have lighter brown fur on the sole of your foot than you do on the top, and the pads of your paws are a darker brown than the sole fur of your paw.  Each toe has one pad.  Now, moving onto the large sole pad of your right hind foot, here,” he touched the large sole pad on the sole of Spits’s hind paw, “that’s dark brown, and rough too, and very cute.  Spits, please remember something always.”

      “What’s that sire patch?”  Spits asked, looking trustingly into patch’s face.

      “Remember what I’m about to tell you for the rest of your life,” Patch replied, “Remember that your paws are beautiful, cute, and irresistible to play with.  Do you know why they are cute, beautiful and irresistible to play with?”

      “Um, no,” Spits replied truthfully.

      “Because they are the keys to your character,” patch replied, “have you heard the saying the paws never lie?”

      “Mama Ekaterina said that,” Spits replied, “is she right?”  Patch nodded:

      “She is right,” he replied, “your paws told her what your adolescent mind rebelled against you telling her.  Your paws told her what you thought you could not.”

      “yes,”  Spits replied, “they told her I want to be a cub, and I am not ashamed now to tell you, because I feel it was so easy to tell her, so I can tell you.  You know my wishes.”  Patch nodded.

       “As it is not wrong to want to be treated like a cub when you’ve never been a cub, Eohippus gives me the ability to treat you, a physically adolescent bear, as if you were my cub of only three weeks old.  You want me to count your toes and stroke your pads, and I will do so.”

      “Do you and Ekaterina play these games?”  Spits asked.  Patch nodded:

      “We do, we count toes and trace pads, and tell each other about each others pads aloud.  This paw play, treating you like a cub, is to show you that paw play is anything but cubbish behaviour.  It is essential for adult life too.  Now, enjoy your time playing with your paws and having them played with.  Also, enjoy playing with the paws of other bears too.”

      “I want to return the touch to your pads,” Spits said earnestly, “I want to Patch, but I know I’ll get my chance.”

      “You will,” patch replied.  Spits curled his toes, Patch kissing his curled toes and bunched Pads, Spits catching his breath.

        “I love this,” he whispered, “Patch; will you teach me how to play with my own hind paws?”  Spits asked.  Patch nodded.

      “I will,” he replied.

        “Now, now, Sire Patch, would you tell me about my left hind paw? Here, here!”  Spits said, withdrawing his right hind foot and thrusting his left hind paw into patch’s forepaws.  Patch laughed.

      “Eager little chap aren’t you,” he said automatically.  Kamchatka looked sharply at Patch, warning him with her eyes, but Spits giggled:

       “I am, I am!”  He laughed, pressing his left hind foot hard into patch’s forepaws, “I am a little cub, in Sire patch’s paws I’m a little cub, and I want to be a cub grandmamma Kamchatka.”  Spits bounced about on his backside:

       “Come on patch, come on, tell me about my left hind foot, and tell me about my hind foot!  About my toes, my pads, everything!”

     “Give me a chance to explore your paw first, please!”  Patch laughed, “Then I will tell you all about the sole of your paw.”  Spits’s eyes shone with cubbish playfulness.

        “I’m looking forward to it,” he said, wiggling the toes of his left hind foot, which Patch held tenderly in his forepaws.

        “Your toe and sole pads are rough, but soft and very cute,” patch said gently.

      “Tell me more, tell me more!”  Spits begged.

      “Your left hind foot has five toes, let’s count them together, you count from your side, and I’ll count from mine, ready?”  Spits leant forward and touched the toes of his left hind foot with those of his left forepaw.

     “I’m ready,” he said, “I’m ready sire patch.”

      “Count with me, “one, two, three, four, five, and”Patch said, “ready?”  Spits nodded:

       “One, two, three, four, five toes,” patch and Spits said in unison, Kamchatka and Ekaterina laughing helplessly.

       “That’s so cute!”  Ekaterina laughed.

       “I love this mama Ekaterina,” Spits said.

        “Now to explore your left hind foot,” Patch said, “Spits, can you tell me what part of your paw I’m touching?”  He touched the large sole pad of Spit’s left hind foot, the young bear giggling:

       “That’s the sole pad of my right hind foot!”  Patch smiled and hesitated:

      “Are you sure?”  He asked.  Spits suddenly gasped:

     “No, Sire patch, I was wrong, um, er, ah, ah yes, yes! I know what paw you touched is, it’s, oh, that’s, oh, um, yes, yes! That’s the sole pad of my left hind foot, my left, left hind foot!”  He said, “Not my right hind foot as I first said.  You are touching the sole pad of my left hind foot!”  Patch smiled broadly.

       “You’re right,” he said, kissing Spits nose.

      “Now do you know the name of what I’ve just kissed?”  Patch asked.

       “I know what my nose is,” Spits replied laughing, “I was at least taught that by my horrid birth mother!  But forget her, back to my paws, please, let’s get back to talking about and playing with my huge cute hind feet!  They are more interesting than my birth mother.”

      “Okay, okay,” Patch said gently.  Spits kissed his nose.

      “I want to kiss your paw pads too Sire Patch, just like you kissed mine,” the brown bear cub said.  Patch laughed:

      “I’m looking forward to it,” the large grey bear replied.  Spits giggled as patch traced round the edge of the large sole pad on his left hind paw.

      “All this fur is light brown, whereas your body fur is a darker brown,” Patch said softly.

       “I want to trace your pads; I want to trace your pads!”  The cub sang.  Ekaterina, Little Patch, Kamchatka, Koda and Aga, who’d stayed in the lie up roared with laughter.

       “Those two are so lovely,” Little Patch said.  Koda hugged him:

      “How about if I trace the pads of your hind paws little Grandcub?”  He asked.

      “Oh yes please, yes please!”  Little Patch giggled, “I want you to play with my hind paws for ages!”  Koda took hold of Patch’s right hind foot and began tracing his pads and playing with his toes, the bear laughing and curling his toes tightly.

      “I’m gonna love this so much!”  Little Patch laughed.

      “How about if we all play with each other’s paws?”  Kamchatka asked, “Aga?”  Aga smiled broadly.

       “Now, that sounds so very good!”  The mama grizzly replied.

 

Samson and his family watched the bears via the screen in their lie up, Samson tearful:

       “That’s what I love about those bears,” he said, “Did you see the joy on Spits’s face when Patch played with his paws Pakshalika?”  Pakshalika nodded.

        “It was genuine and deep down pleasure,” she mewed, “I know that pleasure, and am somewhat addicted to it myself.”  Samson laughed merrily and rubbed his mate’s right forepaw.

      “I know this,” he replied.

       “Spits was crying,” fleur said, “he cried like a cub mama,”

        “I know he did,” Pakshalika replied, “though he’s no cub in body, he is in spirit, and sire Patch knows this.  So Patch drew the cub from the adolescent bear.  He invited Spits to go back to his cubhood and explore things he’d never had the chance to and enjoy having his paws played with and playing with the paws of others.”

 

Spits and Sire patch played enthusiastically with each other’s paws, Spits finally getting paws on with the huge bear’s hind paws.  Patch let the cub play with his right hind paw, the cub exploring his pads and counting his toes in the same way Patch had explored and counted his.

       “Now let’s see if I can describe your hind paws,”  Spits said, “patch, you have white pads on your right hind foot, one large sole pad and five pads on, one, two, three four, five toes.  Your pads are rough but fairly soft, and, and, yes, yes!  Your toes curl easily!  Wow!”  Patch giggled, curling his toes gently, Spits laughing helplessly.

       “I love your paws, I love them so much!”  Spits said to Patch, the huge grey bear pressing his right hind foot into Spits’s forepaws.

       “Those two look lovely,” Little Patch said.  Spits traced the pads of Patch’s right hind paw, the grey bear giggling cubbishly.

       “I’ve found the keys to this bear’s character, his big padded paws!”  Spits carolled.  Aga, laughing, traced the pads of Kamchatka’s left hind foot with her forepaws.

       “I’ve found the keys to mama Kamchatka’s character too,” she replied.  Koda kissed Little Patch’s right hind paw.

      “I’ve found my grand cub’s too,” Koda said, playing with little Patch’s toes, the brown bear cub giggling helplessly.

      “Now let’s count toes Koda,” little Patch said, pressing his right hind foot against Koda’s left hind, “ready?”  Koda smiled and replied that he was:

       “Now with me,” little Patch said, “`, three, four and five toes.”  Koda and little Patch counted in unison, Sire Patch, Kamchatka and Aga laughing helplessly.

       “Little Patch teaching Koda to count his toes!”  Aga laughed, “That’s wonderful!”  Koda pressed his right hind foot hard against little Patch’s left hind, the little cub massaging his grandsire’s toes and then picking his right hind foot up to trace his pads and then, laughing, make him curl his toes tightly with pleasure.

       “That feels lovely!”  Koda said, bouncing about on his backside like an over excited cub, which was indeed how he felt.

       “I love your touch little Patch,” Koda laughed.  Little Alaska watched her sire and mama playing, enjoying their games from afar, and awaiting her turn.  In the meantime, she was playing with her own toes, holding her left hind foot in her left forepaw, when playing with the toes of her left hind foot with her right forepaw.  After ten minutes of rubbing the pads of her left hind foot and playing with her toes, Alaska swapped hind feet, and gripped her right hind foot with her right forepaw, playing with the toes of that foot with those of her left fore.  Fleur watched Alaska playing from her lie up.  seeing the bear playing with her hind feet, Fleur’s own paws began to become uncomfortable, she knew what they wanted and ran to Alaska’s lie up, inviting her to play with her paws, which Alaska agreed to, the big cat and bear rolling about on the floor, tickling and stroking each other’s paws.

 

Sire Patch and Spits counted each other’s toes, finding twenty toes on four hind feet.  Then they counted large sole pads, finding four sole pads.

      “Sire patch?”  Spits asked, “What number can bears count up to?”  Patch thought hard.

      “Thirty five,” Patch said, “one head, one body, four legs,”

      “yes, that’s um, um, ah, one head, one body and four legs, is, um,” Spits said, touching his head with his forepaws, then his forelegs with his nose, then his hind with his forepaws, “um, six.  Then what?”

     “You then have four paws, six plus four is?”

      “Seven, eight, nine ten!”  That makes ten!”  Spits replied, loving this game.

     “Good and then how many toes have you on each paw?”  Patch asked.

     “Five toes on each paw, five fours are, um, twenty, twenty plus ten is thirty.  Now how did you get to thirty five?

       “One nose, two eyes, and two ears,” patch replied, “but we can count to thirty six if we want, do you know how?”

        “Um, we have a mouth too!”  Spits laughed delightedly.

      “We do, so let’s make a list of how bears can count to thirty six shall we?”  Patch suggested.

     “Do let’s, do let’s do that!”  Spits encouraged.

      “Well,”  Patch replied, “a bear has one head, one body and four legs,  now Spits, touch your head, body and fore and hind legs when I say,”  Spits did, counting aloud.

      “One head, one body, um, that’s two, and four legs, is six,” he said, “so six so far.  Now what?”

       “A bear has four paws, so that makes?”  Patch asked.

      “Ten, Ten sire Patch!”  Spits replied, almost shouting with delight.

     “Ten then,” patch laughed, “now, now how many toes on each paw?”

      “Five, five!”  Spits replied.

      “And four fives are?”

       “Twenty, and, and,” Spits replied, clenching his teeth and curling his toes with concentration, “twenty plus ten is, is, thirty!”  Patch clapped his paws with delight.  

   “Well done!”  Now, how do we get to thirty six?”  He asked.

      “Two eyes, two ears,” Spits replied, “that makes four, a nose and mouth, make six; add the rest and a bear can count to thirty six!”  How wonderful!  Spits shouted.  Koda and the others listened in astonishment.

       “Wow Patch, you really do get Spits fired up about the simplest things,” Koda remarked.

       “Catch them young Koda,” patch replied.

      “Would you teach me?”  Kamchatka asked.  Patch giggled:

       “Love to,” he replied.  Kamchatka laughed as she looked at Spits, who, overcome with elation at his new found knowledge, was kicking the air with his hind feet and blowing raspberries’ through his forepaws which covered his face.  Aga, laughing so hard she nearly choked, padded over to Spits and ruffled the bear’s ears.

       “You silly cub!”  She laughed, kissing him between the ears.  Kamchatka looked at her mate who was playing with their youngest grand cub’s paws.

       “I’ve never been so happy,” she thought, then gave voice to her contentment.

       “This is a wonderful place,” Aga agreed.  Koda ran his paws all over his body, counting ears, eyes, nose, mouth, the toes on his fore and hind paws, the paws themselves, his legs, his body and his head.

       “one to, ears,”  he mumbled, “conenose, makes three, two eyes make five, a mouth, makes six, one head and one body make eight, then, then my legs, one, two, three four legs, makes twelve, then my paws, my paws, um, yes, four paws!  Yes four paws, twelve plus four is sixteen, then, then, my toes, five toes on each paw, four paws, four fives are, are twenty! Yes! Thirty six! Yahoo!”  He yelled.  Kamchatka and Aga, seeing Koda rolling about on the floor while counting his toes and extremities, as well as his nose, mouth and ears.

     “He’s rolling about like a cub!”  Kamchatka laughed, “Koda’s kicking the air with his hind feet and grabbing them with his forepaws in an attempt to count his toes!  Koda, oh Koda!  You look so funny!”  Spits and Little patch began imitating Koda’s scrabbling tally of his body, trying to beat each other to thirty six.

     “Okay, okay, let’s make a game of this,” Sire patch said, “everyone, stop and stay still.”  Koda, Little Patch and Spits lay still.

      “Now when I say go, I want to see who is fastest at getting to thirty six.  Everyone needs to touch every part of their body that they want to count.  Either their ears with their forepaws, or their toes of their forepaws with their noses to count them.  The fastest one to thirty six wins salmon.  Ready? Go!”  Kamchatka roared with laughter as Koda, Little Patch and Spits rolled about on the floor, counting their ears, noses, mouths, toes, paws, bodies and legs with frantic speed.  Kamchatka laughed helplessly as her mate wriggled while lying on his back and drew his hind legs up to him to grab his hind feet in his forepaws to count them as two of the total of thirty six.

       “You look so lovely Koda!”  She laughed.  Koda whimpered and scrabbled at his hind feet with his forepaws, his forepaws slipping as he tried to get purchase on his pads.

      “Butter paws Koda!”  Sire patch laughed.

      “I’ve reached thirty six!”  Spits yelled.

       “Thirty four,” Koda grunted, “I couldn’t grab my hind paws to count those!  My hind feet wouldn’t cooperate!”  Everyone laughed.  Spits crawled to Koda and touched his hind paws with his nose, kissing his pads, the black bear giggling with pleasure.

      “Now let’s play with your toes,” Spits said.  Koda laughed happily, curling round and kissing Spits’s nose.

       “I love your touch,” Koda said seriously.  Spits traced Koda’s pads, the black bear giggling with pleasure and curling his toes tightly.

      “Your pads bunch up in a very cute way,” Spits said.  Koda hugged Spits.

       “Can I play with your hind paws little one?”  He asked.  Spits giggled cubbishly:

       “I wondered when you’d ask,” he replied, “of course you can!”  Spits sat down, giving Koda his left hind foot, Koda tracing the cub’s pads and playing with his toes, Spits laughing merrily and bouncing about on his backside.  Grabbing Koda’s left hind foot in his forepaws, Spits braced the black bear’s pads and counted his toes with gentle care.

        “You have five toes on your right hind foot,” Spits said.

      “And so do you have five toes on your left hind paw,” Koda replied.  Koda blew on Spits pads, the brown bear squealing with laughter.

      “Stop that, stop it!”  Spits pleaded.  Koda rubbed Spits’s tickled pads, the brown bear cub pressing his hind paw hard into the black bear’s forepaws.

      “I love your touch Koda,” Spits whispered.  Koda laughed:

      “I like your touch too little Spits,” Koda replied.  Patch watched his cub playing with his adopted grandsire.

       “I believe with all my heart,” Patch said, “that paw play binds bears stronger than glue.”

      “You only have to play the stuck paw game to realise that,” Kamchatka replied.

   “What’s the stuck paw game?”  Spits asked.  Patch smiled and replied:

      “Two bears press their hind paws together, and pretend they’re stuck fast, then they fight with their forepaws to free their hind paws.  Of course, the hind feet aren’t really stuck; it’s all in the mind.”

        “the glue is what binds the players together,”  Alaska said, finishing her game with fleur and letting the liger cub run back to Samson’s lie up, “the stuck paw game can last for ages, as long as the players want the game to.”

      “Would someone teach me?”  Spits asked, “It sounds fun!”

       “I’ll teach you,” Alaska said.  She crawled to Spits, the two bears sitting opposite each other.

      “Now, now press your hind feet hard against mine, as hard as you can,” Alaska said.  Spits did, Alaska pressing her hind feet hard against the brown bear’s.

      “Push hard Alaska, really hard, come on!”  Spits encouraged, pressing his hind feet hard against the polar bear cubs.

       “Our hind feet must be well glued together by now,” Alaska panted after five minutes of pressing her hind feet against Spits’s paws.  Spits tugged at his right hind foot, Alaska tugging at her left hind.

       “Yes, I can’t move my paw from yours Alaska,” Spits gasped.

     “Now we work at freeing our hind feet by using our forepaws,” Alaska said.  Alaska grabbed her right hind foot with her forepaws and began to work the toes of her forepaws between the pads of her right hind, and Spits’s left hind foot.

        “Pull Spits, Pull!”  Alaska encouraged.  Spits closed his eyes and tried to pull his left hind paw away from Alaska’s, feeling the toes of her forepaws working between his paw pads and hers.

       “I can’t free my hind foot!”  He gasped.

       “You do not want it enough, go on, and pretend you hate my touch!”  Alaska begged.  Spits laughed:    

    “That’s just the point, I don’t!”  He replied, “I love your touch!”  Alaska giggled, the game fell apart, and both bears hugged enthusiastically.

       “Our paws wanted to stick together too much!”  They laughed.  Alaska sat back on her heels, and Spits stroked her hind paws, the female polar bear cub wiggling her toes and then curling them, catching the toes of Spits’s forepaw in those of her right hind foot, the cub giggling and kissing her nose.

       “I like your touch,” he whispered.

      “Same here,” she replied, “I like your touch too much, that’s the problem.”

      “No problem,” Spits said softly, “we can play all we like Alaska.”  Alaska giggled and released her hold on Spits’s forepaw.

        “I want to play with you so much,” she said.

      “And me with you,” he replied.

      “Why does this position feel so good?”  Alaska asked.

     “Sitting back on your heels with your forepaws on the floor in front of you is a classic posture for helping push down against a cub while you are in labour Alaska,” Kamchatka said, “that is why it feels so right.”  Alaska giggled:

      “Ow, ooooowaooooah,” she groaned, bouncing on her heels and curling her toes.

      “Ok Alaska, push!”  Kamchatka encouraged, Alaska laughing merrily and curling her toes hard into the rug as she moaned lustily.

       “Wh’wh’wh’ouch!”  She groaned, rocking back and fourth.  Spits rubbed Alaska’s hind paws, the young she bear moaning and panting.

      “Ouououoch, ouououououoch!”  Ouch!”  Alaska roared.

      “The more you rub her hind paws, the more she acts up,” Patch remarked.

      “I want Spits to rub my hind paws!”  Alaska whimpered, “I want it so much patch!”  Spits hugged Alaska tenderly.

      “Game over,” he said gently, Alaska kissing his nose and paws.

       “Well now we know how much I know how much you like your paws played with,” Spits said, “I can play with them more and more.”  Alaska giggled:

       “Bet you like having your paws played with too,” she said.  Spits smiled and sat down, Alaska picking up his right hind foot and examining it closely.

       “I love this large sole pad,” Alaska said, tracing the sole pad on Spits right hind foot, “and this toe pad, and this one, and these two, and this one too.  Indeed, your whole paw is so cute!”  Spits giggled, curling his toes.  Spits crawled away, Alaska chasing her friend’s paws, pouncing on them and tickling them, Spits almost choking with laughter.

      “I love your touch, I love your touch!”  He yelled rolling onto his back and kicking the air hard with his hind paws.  Alaska kissed Spits’s hind paws after the cub had exhausted himself, Spits giggling with pleasure.  Alaska then kissed her friend’s nose and forepaws, and then blew on his pads, Spits rolling about on the floor and waving all four paws in the air.

       “Now, now, oh Alaska, now, now I want, want to tickle your paws, and stroke them, and chase you, and roll you over and tickle your paws, tickle your paws, tickle your paws!”  Alaska crawled round Spits in a circle, the male cub so exhausted he could only watch her.

       “I can’t move,” Spits gasped, “you’ve exhausted me!”   Alaska laughed merrily and kissed Spits nose.  Allie padded into the lie up with Tornassuk, their eyes shining.

      “What have you two been up to?”  Ekaterina asked.  Allie giggled:

       “Our paws are tingling if that’s what you’re wondering about,” she said.  Tornassuk bounced on his toes, laughing merrily.

       “I loved our playtime,” Tornassuk said softly, kissing Allie’s nose.  Ekaterina kissed her cub’s noses.

       “I love you both,” she said gently, Tornassuk squeezing his mama’s paw.

      “I love you mama,” Tornassuk replied.

       “You did me and Patch and your sister proud Tornassuk,” Ekaterina said softly.

      “How?”  Tornassuk asked.

       “You helped me brother Tornassuk,” Little Patch said.  Tornassuk kissed his brother’s nose.

       “I did nothing unusual,” he said, nothing heroic.”

       “Maybe not,” Little Patch replied, “but you helped me out and that’s worth more than all the salmon in the world.”  Little Patch hugged Tornassuk tenderly.

       “I enjoy your touch Tornassuk,” little patch said.  Tornassuk laughed and rolled onto his back, little Patch tickling his hind paws, the larger bear laughing and kicking the air with his hind feet.  Alaska and Spits leapt upon the larger bear, pinning him down so little Patch could tickle his hind paws some more.

       “Get off, get off!”  Tornassuk begged the cubs withdrawing and the huge bear sitting up.

      “Don’t those hind paws feel appealing?”  Allie asked little Patch, who laughed and nodded:

      “They do,” he replied, “but do you know why they feel so strokable?”

       “Because their owner loves having his paws stroked,” Alaska said.”  Tornassuk grinned.

       “Playing with your own paws and the paws of others is a vital life still, second only to eating and keeping one safe,”  patch said, “it breeds friendship, can sooth pain, even encourage a mama to push that little bit harder to deliver her cub.”

       “Hey, Uncle Patch!”  Someone yelled, and then the sound of scampering paws and a grunt from sire Patch as a panda cub launched herself at him, nearly knocking the wind out of him.

       “Hey Lihua,” he gasped, kissing her noise and the pads of her forepaws, as she’d rolled onto her back to allow him to rub her belly.  Lihua held onto Patch’s left forepaw with both of hers; starting to kick the air with her hind feet in time with the increasing speed her belly was rubbed by his right forepaw.  Soon her hind feet were almost a blur of movement, Patch trying to rub her belly faster and faster, Lihua laughing and begging him:

      “Faster, rub faster!”  Patch gave up after five minutes, exhausted, while Lihua laughed helplessly at him, as he lay back exhausted.  Lihua drummed on his belly with her forepaws, Patch giggling.

       “I love you little one,” he said.

      “I love when you call me that,” Lihua said, kissing his nose, “Mama Jinghua has been keeping me with her and Matoskah for weeks, but now they’ve let me explore, and I came straight to you, my uncle Patch.  Patch sat up and lifted Lihua onto his lap, the panda cub snuggling up to him.  Spits watched incredulously.

      “A, a panda!”  He gasped, “How?  Are there panda’s here?”

      “Pandas, lions, tigers, other bears too.”  Kamchatka laughed, “We’re a community of two families, the bears, including pandas and other woodlanders, and the cats, lions, tigers, and a cheetah or two.”  Spits looked closely at Lihua, but noticed a few things out of place.

      “She’s got webs between her toes on both forepaws, and she’s wearing white socks, or it looks that way, and, and, her nose is too long, and her paws are huge!”  He said, “Pandas aren’t like that, I know that!”

      “I’m, um, well, my sire’s a polar bear,” Lihua said, looking spits full in his face.

       “Your sire’s a, um, a polar bear?”  Spits asked, “How can this be?”

      “It can be easily,” Matoskah said, padding in.  Spits stared at him:

     “Oh, Oooh, Oooh!”  He gasped, “Okay, um, fine, yes fine, fantastic, lovely, spiffing, great!”

       “I love my cub,” Matoskah said, kissing Lihua’s nose.  Little Patch looked at Lihua, and she at him.

       “You’re, um, about the same age as me aren’t you?”  The panda hired cub said.  Little Patch padded to Lihua and looked down at her.

       “I’m a year old,” he said, “you’re slightly older than me I think, though not by much.”   Little Patch looked down at Lihua with growing interest.  Lihua, smiling, gave him her right forepaw.

        “Does that help you?”  She asked.  Little patch gazed into her face.

      “I think it does,” he replied softly.

      “Can I touch your paws?”  Lihua asked.  Little patch nodded and sat down beside the rather striking cub.  Lihua touched patch’s paws, the young brown bear wiggling his toes with pleasure.

       “As Spits has pledged himself to Alaska, so I will to you,” Lihua said to little Patch.  Little patch giggled:

       “So you can make a lifetime choice that quickly?”  He asked.  Lihua smiled and nodded.

        “I like your paws, your looks, and your character,” she said.  Sire Patch looked at the two cubs.

       “Take it gently,” he said, “but be good to one another always.”

 

 

Meanwhile, Aga, feeling left out of things after sire patch wandered in, padded through the house looking in doorways and generally exploring.  She found her way to the pool complex where a male polar bear was swimming lengths of the main pool.  Aga, staring round her, saw a couple of water slides, and a large pool with a spar pool and hot tub.  The polar bear didn’t seem to notice Aga’s arrival, indeed, at one point; she walked quite near him as she passed the steps into the spar pool.  The air was fresh, the water obviously so.  Aga stood and watched the male bear swimming lengths of the pool.  This bear was big and slightly tubby.  He looked like a very single minded individual, though Aga knew some bears took their exercise very seriously indeed.

      “Um, Hello?”  Aga said, the bear turning his head and cocking an ear, though he didn’t look directly at Aga.

       “Who’s that?”  The bear asked, still paddling with his forepaws, though slower than he had before Aga had disturbed him.

      “My name’s Aga,” Aga called, “I’m, I’m new here and was exploring when I saw you.  The bear swam towards Aga and rested his forepaws on the poolside, his hind treading water.  It was clear to Aga the pool was very deep indeed.

      “My name’s Conrad,” the polar bear said, “I swim for recreation.”

       “I wondered if you could tell me a little about this place,” Aga ventured.

      “Well,” the bear replied, hauling himself out onto the non slip tiles, “this is the pool complex.  There are two water slides, one closed, and the other open to the air.  This is the main pool, but there is a shallower pool with a wave machine, another pool for the slides, plus a hot tub and a spar.  The pools for the slide and the shallow pool with the wave machine are in another part of this complex.  We bears love the pool, well I do.  Some of the cubs come in here, accompanied of course, but I’m here alone mostly.  Well as alone as CCTV allows.  They’ve got cameras under water you know, they can see me diving, see my paws thrusting through the water, even focus on my individual pads if they want.  I know this as one of the bears in control told me I’d spent five lengths swimming with my toes curled.  I’d been unaware of this, and remember having tired paws and not knowing why.”

      “How can you curl your toes and not know about it?”  Aga asked.

      “When I’m thinking, thinking about, things,” Conrad said, closing his eyes, “sometimes, sometimes I get angry, and then am when I curl my toes while swimming.”

       “The community seem gentle and kind to everyone here,” Aga said, “what is there to be angry about?”

        “Things, things I’ve done, mistakes I made, anger at myself,” Conrad replied, “I can fever forget, but, ah well, it doesn’t matter.”

      “It does,” Aga replied, “it must matter for you to be so distressed about whatever, it, is.”

       “Sometimes, when I visit that place late at night, I try to explain, to tell her I’m sorry,” Conrad mused, Aga forgotten for the moment.

      “What’s this?”  Aga asked.  Conrad shook himself:

       “I’m sorry,” he said, “I was thinking of something, someone else.”

       “I saw you in the wood standing in a clearing!”  Aga exclaimed.

      “You probably did,” Conrad said heavily, it’s often I go to the clearing, to make peace with mama Alaska.  I didn’t mean to kill her Aga, I lashed out with my paw, and my claws buried themselves in warm flesh, and I tore in rage, and Alaska screamed, a horrible sound!  I knew it wasn’t the sound of a mama in labour pain, for I’d heard Alaska during the birth of her cub, and it wasn’t like that, it was worse.  I’d done her mortal damage.  All over a lie I’d told, over a stupid lie about being mated with another bear.  I’d not been truthful with Alaska; my mate was Kamchatka at the time you see.  I’d lied to Alaska because I wanted another cub, and Kamchatka wasn’t willing.  Alaska found out, and we were arguing, and then fighting, then, then, oh eohippus, I’m sorry from my nose to my pads for what happened,” Aga saw Conrad’s eyes well with tears, and the male bear began sobbing unashamedly.

     “Forgive me mama Alaska, please!”  Conrad begged.

       “You have displayed your remorse for many months,” someone said, “The spirits do not hold grudges.  Conrad, you caused the death of another, but you will be given a second chance at life with a mate.”

      “I would do anything to bring mama Alaska back,” Conrad said softly, “anything!”

       “We know this,” the voice said, “and because of your actions over these months, first your gentle attitude during your imprisonment by the community, then your vigils at the clearing, and now you’re swimming in the pool, the spirits are letting you move on.”  Conrad lay down on the tiles, covering his eyes with his paws.

       “Please, let me move on now,” Conrad whispered.  Aga leant down and kissed Conrad’s nose and paws.

       “Please, come with me,” she whispered.  Conrad got stiffly to his feet and followed Aga from the main pool complex.  Padding to the top of the slides, Conrad dragging out a raft for him and Aga to ride down together.  Smiling, Conrad patted the front of the raft for Aga to sit in it.  Aga complied, settling herself comfortably.  Conrad pushed off, and then joined Aga in the raft as the water took it away down the open slide.  Settling himself, Conrad held the handles on the raft.  He felt Aga shifting in the raft, and then heard her gasp as she saw the slide dip down suddenly.  Screaming, Aga and Conrad flew down the slide and were dumped out of the raft into the pool.  Laughing, they swam to the pool’s edge, Aga letting Conrad hold her hind feet while she paddled with her forepaws, Conrad kicking with his hind paws.  This way, they swam round the pool’s perimeter.  Aga and Conrad left the pool crawling away, Conrad’s forepaws in contact with Aga’s hind paws.

       “I would love to touch your paws, play with your toes and stroke your pads Conrad,” Aga said.  Conrad smiled:

       “I’d like you to too,” he replied.  Aga turned and kissed Conrad’s nose, the male polar bear gulping back tears.

       “I would love to stroke your hind paws too!”  Conrad gushed.  Aga gave Conrad her right hind foot.

      “Feel for my right hind paw,” she said.  Conrad kissed her pads and played with her toes, Aga curling her toes with pleasure.

      “Trace my pads Conrad, play with my toes, go on,” Aga said.  Conrad traced the pads and played with the toes of Aga’s right hind paw, the she bear giggling with pleasure.

      “Let’s go back to my lie up,” Conrad suggested.  Aga withdrew her hind foot and snuggled up to Conrad, wriggling deeper and deeper into his hug, kissing his nose, his belly, and the pads and toes of his fore and hind paws.

       “I want to have your cubs!”  Aga whispered.  Conrad felt his eyes filling with tears.

        “I want to help you have cubs,” he said.  Aga kissed his nose:

       “Now, now let’s go to your lie up, and I’ll tell you of the birth of my first cub, how I screamed and kicked and rolled about the den,” Aga said, “Patch’s birth was hard and painful.  I believe the fuss I made caused him to ask the questions he did in later life and to become the bear he now is.  I’ve seen Pandas having cubs, and my crying and roaring was much like heirs.  I gave voice to my pain.”  Conrad kissed Aga’s nose and paws.

       “Mama Alaska gave voice to her pain, and I was there through it all,” he said, “so that will not frighten me Aga.”  Aga followed Conrad back to his lie up where they settled down together.

        “Patch’s arrival was a shock,” Aga said, “Huge pains had me screaming and ripping the den up.  Straining and kicking, roaring and wailing helped me deliver Patch.  I eventually gave birth to him in a crawling posture, on all fours.”  Conrad kissed Aga’s nose and paw pads, the she bear giggling and returning his kiss.

      “Now it is time for you to move on from what happened to me in this place,” mama Alaska said.  Conrad hugged Aga tightly.

       “I would like to show you another place,” Conrad said, “its water based Aga, it’s a ride, something Koda, the boss as he used to be known, had constructed for the community to ride.”  Aga padded with Conrad to the pool complex, where he opened a door and they entered a large room with a broad stream in it.  Aga looked up and down the stream.

       “It’s, it’s not flowing,” she said, “what on earth is this Conrad?”  Conrad padded into a booth and operated switches and buttons, Aga snorting with surprise as a boat slid into view around a bend in the large stream.

      “What do we do now?”  Aga asked.  Conrad smiled at her as he padded carefully to the boat and got in, the boat having come to a stop in front of Aga.

      “Get in,” he said.  Aga, nervous, but trusting, clambered into the boat behind Conrad.

       “Now we’re in here, and you can’t reach that booth,” Aga said, “how are you going to get this thing going?”

       “Wait,” Conrad said.  There was a crash of opening doors, and then the boat moved forward and down a slight hill.  Aga clung to Conrad as the boat turned right and they emerged into the wood outside the house.  Aga stared round her as she passed trees, and then a rather startled tiger that was drinking from the stream until he saw the boat coming into view.  The tiger, Raja Junior, leapt into the boat behind Aga and rode with the two bears.

        “What is this?”  Aga asked the tiger.

       “A log flume Aga dear,” Raja said.  Aga stared as the boat rounded a bend to the right, a large lift hill coming into view.

      “So we’re going up that?”  She asked, her paws tightening around Conrad’s body, the male bear laughing merrily.

       “I’ve ridden this thing before,” he said, “it’s wonderful!”  Aga gasped as the boat began to climb the hill.  Then they were at the top, and splashing into an elevated section of the flume.  The bears and one tiger floated serenely round bends and past treetops.  Then the boat accelerated down a slope, hitting water to break the speed, Conrad laughing and clapping his paws with delight.

       “Now there’s more, and it’s better too!”  He laughed.  Aga, wary, whispered into Conrad’s ear:

       “Is this safe?”  Conrad replied that it was.  The boat then entered a cave, and climbed up several slopes with twisting bends between, the boat getting higher and higher.  Then the boat emerged into a large cave, water falling on both sides, the sound deafening.  Aga, half blinded by spray, saw the boat was entering a dark tunnel.  Whimpering with fear, she buried her face in Conrad’s shoulder, the male bear carelessly drumming his forepaws on the side of the boat.  The boat entered the tunnel, and then Aga felt it angle downwards.  Remembering how the last water slide had been for her, Aga began to scream.  The boat shot down the slide, terrifying speeds, water everywhere, echoing sounds, and Aga’s own voice bouncing off the walls.  Conrad, composed, leant back against Aga, letting her cling to him and scream into his ear.

      “I don’t like this!”  She screamed.  The boat, splashing down into a lagoon, floated towards a commencement of the same large stream Aga had seen at the beginning of the ride.  The boat was caught and sent on its way towards the house, and a more welcome sight Aga had never seen.  To see, woods, and the house, and even Kamchatka watching them from the bank filled her with joy which made her weep.

        “It’s Okay,” Conrad said softly.  Raja, excited, roared his approval.  Kamchatka, padding alongside the boat, spoke to Conrad for the first time in six months.

       “I swam in that lagoon,” she said, “I never knew what was being built there.”

      “It was a secret for a long time,” Conrad replied, “I found the door and asked Koda about it.  He told me, and showed me how a blind bear could operate the flume.  Of course CCTV knew about it, but that lot keep quiet.”  Kamchatka padded back to the house, watching as the boat slid into the boathouse.  Aga stumbled from the boat on shaking legs, Conrad helping her out and letting her lean on him.

       “What a horrible ride!”  She whimpered.

       “I quite enjoyed it,” Conrad said.  Aga snorted:

      “I wouldn’t wish blindness on anyone, but you can’t see what I could.  Conrad, you have no fear of the dark, but some of us who rely on light do fear darkness.”  Conrad nodded gravely.  Conrad padded over to the booth and switched off the flume ride, the sound of the pumps falling silent.

      “How many boats do you have Koda?”  Aga asked.

      “Three,” Koda replied, padding into the boathouse.

      “Four riders per boat, so a total of twelve on the ride at any one time.”

      “The next question, why?”  Aga asked.

     “Because it was an easy ride to create and manage,” Koda replied, “manage a water slide, manage a flume.  And yes CCTV is throughout the ride and even on the boats.”  Aga and Conrad hugged each other tightly, Conrad comforting her.

       “One day, I’ll show you the cave where the water falls is,” Koda said to Aga, “you saw nothing, darkness, but there are arc lights in there for maintenance.”  Aga shivered with fear.

 

Meanwhile, in another part of the house, Anook sat back on her heels in great pain.  She’d been in labour for three hours and, after her waters broke with a rush of fluid which Surprised both her andKuruk, now desperately wanted to push.  Kuruk, sitting beside her, rubbed the pads of her right hind foot and watched as she clenched her teeth, curled the toes of all four paws, and bore down against her cub, finally lying down full length and curling up into a ball to press down even harder, the contraction making her squeal as it built in her, then pant and sob as it spent itself.

      “This cub’s gigantic!”  Anook wailed at the beginning of the fourth hour of labour.  Kuruk watched as she rolled onto her back, drew her hind feet up, grabbed them with her forepaws, and strained hard, wriggling and groaning.

       “Anook want Kuruk go find big strong bear help pull cub into world?”  Kuruk asked.  Anook, her eyes closed with the onset of another urge to push, shook her head:

       “I’ll do it, do it all myself,” she grunted, “ow! Owhwhwhwhwhw, ouwhwhwhw’whwhw’ouch!”  Kuruk saw Anook stand up suddenly, and then she grabbed him, pulling him onto his hind feet, leaning him against the wall.  Leaning into him, holding him with her forepaws, she braced herself against the startled male bear, roaring and screaming into his face.  Kuruk felt her weight pressing him against the wall of the lie up,

        “Now Kuruk bloody frightened!”  Kuruk yelled above his mate’s screaming and roaring.

      “I must push hard, so bloody hard!”  Anook roared, standing flat footed while she strained, then bouncing on her toes as things relaxed.  Kuruk felt his mate’s sweating body against his; saw her hind feet moving on the rug, her sweating pads leaving huge dark prints on the rug.

       “Now, now for the big one, hold me Kuruk!”  Anook roared.  Kuruk held his mate tightly against his body as she strained with everything she had, leaning into him and pushing him into the wall with all her might.

       “This cub’s got to come out!”  Anook roared.  Kuruk risked a look down, and saw the cub half way into the world.  Startled, he watched as his mate strained again, seeing her effort was producing little progress.

       “Anook,” Kuruk said, his voice calm, but insides like Jelly, “cub be stuck, but if you like, Kuruk help by pull cub while you push.”  Anook gasped and rocked back and fourth on her hind feet, her weight pressing into his shoulders.

         “I do need help now Kuruk,” she panted.

        “Kuruk pull cub while Anook push if she want,” Kuruk said.  Anook, dropping into a crawling posture and Feeling calmer than she thought possible during such a crisis, let Kuruk explore her hind quarters and the emerging cub with his forepaws.  Anook panted and groaned as she felt her cub settling.  Then she gasped as she felt her mate’s touch.  She felt her toes curling involuntarily, and knew this had nothing to do with an impending contraction.

       “I’m exhausted,” Anook thought, “but Kuruk’s touch makes me want to push, to strain my guts out for him and the cub!  I don’t just need him to pull the cub; I want him to pull the cub!  Only Kuruk can get paws on with this cub!”  Whimpering, she clenched her teeth and strained hard.  Kuruk just pulled the huge cub while Anook pushed, holding as much of the cub as he could get his paws on during the lull in contractions.  Sure enough, he got paws on with the cub’s shoulders, then its body, then with a screaming effort from Anook, its hocks, then, as she wriggled its hind legs and finally, with mama Anook roaring with triumph and effort, the cub’s hind feet.

       “There was no communication at all between you two!”  Sire patch panted as he ran in, staring at a hand held monitor he held in one forepaw.

        “There was communication,” Anook panted, “but it was intensely private.”  Sire Patch watched Anook as she cleaned up the bundle of fur that was her and Kuruk’s newest cub.

       “Now what?”  Ekaterina asked, pounding into the lie up.

        “How if Patch and Ekaterina leave mama Anook alone?”  Anook asked.  Ekaterina looked shocked:

       “But we’re a community here,” she said, “we help at the births of all cubs here.”

       “Leave us!”  Anook snapped.

       “As you wish,” Patch said, leading his mate from the room.

       “But, but, she’s mad!”  Ekaterina protested as they walked down the passageway.

       “She’s a wild mama at heart,” Patch reminded Ekaterina, “Anook can’t help her emotions.  She’ll come round in time, but give her time Ekaterina.”

 

 

Kuruk looked at the newborn cub.  he was a strange sight.  The cub was white from nose to paws, and had the longest hair Kuruk had ever seen.  The hair was at least six inches long already, and Kuruk could imagine how the cub would look in later life.  Even now, lying on the rug, cleaned and dried by Anook, the cub looked like a puffball on the rugs.  Indeed, the cub didn’t look like a bear at all when he was lying on the rugs, but to Kuruk and Anook, he was the most handsome cub in the world.  Yawning, the cub rubbed his closed eyes with his large forepaws.

       “I’m exhausted mama,” he yawned.  Anook looked the cub over from nose to tail, burying her paws in his thick fur.

        “You’re gonna be a pain to wash,” she thought.  Kuruk explored the cub with his paws, feeling his warm fur, long and thick, and the cub’s pads somewhere amongst all the fur on the soles of his paws.

        “Kuruk love new cub,” he said softly, “if it take most of day to wash cub, Kuruk do thing for cub as he know cub no help the hair he have on him.  It not cub’s fault he have long hair.  Kuruk love how cub looks.”

        “But he’ll sink in the water when he swims,” Anook whimpered.

      “He won’t,” Kuruk replied, “he is cute and cuddly, and Kuruk teach him to swim.”  Anook looked down at the cub.

      “He’s rather cute isn’t he,” she said.

       “I want food!”  The cub whined.  Anook fed her oversized scruffy cub Kuruk’s eyes telling her exactly what he felt.

       “Kuruk love big cub,” he said for the thousandth time.  The cub, now fed, crawled to Kuruk and curled up beside him, the huge grizzly lying down and embracing the hairy cub, laughing as the cub buried his head in his shoulder.

      “Kuruk love you little one,” Kuruk said, the cub kissing his nose.

       “You helped me into the world,” the cub said, “I felt your paws around me and they were soft and warm, so soft and warm!  Mama pushed and you held me and stopped me slipping backwards.”  Kuruk examined the cub from nose to tail, surprised he had white pads and a white nose.

      “We need to protect his nose and pads then, maybe all of him,” Kuruk thought.  Kissing the cub’s nose and the pads of his paws, Kuruk felt the cub’s warmth and life.  Anook lay on her back, her body complaining about the strenuous labour.  Anook suddenly gasped and pedalled the air with her hind paws, the toes of her forepaws curled tightly.  Then, rolling onto her side, grunting and panting, she pushed down hard, the afterbirth emerging into the world an hour after her cub’s birth.

       “That’s what I’ve been waiting for since our cub’s birth,” she panted, “now things should ease.”  Kuruk cleared the mess up, while Anook cared for her cub.

       “Any more cubs in there mama?”  The scruffy white cub asked.

      “No little one,” she said, “there was only you.”  Anook hugged the cub tenderly, the cub snuggling up to her.

      “You’re a handsome cub,” Anook said softly.  The cub rolled onto his back and waved his paws in the air, Anook kissing his hairy paws.

      “I love every inch of this cub,” Anook thought, kissing each of the cub’s paws.  Kuruk looked at his mate:

       “What we want name this cub then?”  He asked.

       “I don’t know,” Anook replied, “have you got any ideas?”  Kuruk sat down and lifted the newborn cub onto his lap.  Tracing the pads of the cub’s right forepaw, Kuruk gazed into his cub’s face, remembering the hours he and Anook had spent together to deliver this little bundle of life.  Anook’s screams, her curled toes and sweating pads, her closed eyes and clenched teeth, her effort and struggle replayed in Kuruk’s mind.

       “How if we name our cub Buck?”  Kuruk asked.  Anook smiled broadly.

     “Buck, hmm, I like that,” she said.  Kuruk looked down at his cub, which stretched his paws up to touch his sire’s nose.  Kuruk kissed Buck’s pads, the cub giggling and then laughing helplessly as Kuruk blew gently on the sole of his right forepaw.  Laughing fit to bust and Wriggling madly, Buck kicked the air with all four feet.  Anook watched her mate and cub playing together, her heart swelling with love and pride.

       “I need to wash,” Anook said, getting to her paws.  Kuruk kissed Buck’s nose, then got to his paws, carrying his large cub like Anook would naturally do.  Buck, feeling himself lifted, relaxed completely, his hind and forepaws dangling cutely.

       “He looks so sweet!”  Anook said, tears rolling down her face.

       “You want wash Buck?  Or how if Kuruk do thing?”  Kuruk asked.  Anook smiled and replied:

      “Kuruk wash Buck if he wants, and what do Buck want in all this?”

       “Buck no worried if he washed by mama or sire Kuruk,” Buck replied, getting the hang of his new language.  Kuruk carried his cub to the shower, where he laid him on a soft towel to wash him.  Kuruk then washed Buck from nose to toes, the cub wriggling and flicking water and shampoo at his sire as Kuruk got the job done.  Anook, smiling broadly, watched the whole thing.  Though soon, Kuruk had his cub washed and dried, Buck wriggling and purring with pleasure as Kuruk dried his fur, then whimpering with ecstasy as he dried his paws.

       “You two look so lovely,” she said, sitting down, picking up a bottle and expressing milk into it.  Handing the bottle to Kuruk, Anook smiled at him:

       “Why not feed our cub too?”  She asked.  Kuruk looked at the bottle.

      “But, but, mama, that be your job,” he said, “Kuruk washed Buck, so it only fair mama feed him.”

      “No Sire Kuruk, Buck want you feed him.”  Kuruk laughed merrily.

      “Okay, okay!”  Kuruk said, getting to his hind paws and holding his forepaws up in surrender, Anook laughing so much Buck asked what Kuruk was doing.

      “How, how can I describe what you were doing Kuruk?”  Anook asked.

     “Show him, pick Buck up, stand him on his hind feet, and encourage him to stretch his forepaws up towards the sky,” Kuruk said, dropping onto all four paws.

        “That sounds fun!”  Buck laughed.  So Anook picked up her four hour old cub and set him on his hind paws in the gap between her hind legs, supporting his back with one forepaw.

      “Now stretch your forepaws up to the sky, that’s its, stretch, stretch up high,” Anook encouraged.  Buck stretched his forepaws towards the sky, trying to stand on tiptoe to reach higher, resulting in him nearly falling backwards, Anook’s paw supporting him into a sitting position.

      “Stretching to the sky feels great!”  Buck laughed.  Buck then lay on his back and stretched his hind legs, pointing the toes of both hind feet high into the air to see if he could reach as high as he could with his forepaws.

      “You can’t reach as high with those hind feet Buck,” Anook laughed.  Buck, frustrated, crawled to his sire, who was now sitting down with the warm bottle of milk in his paws.

      “Let’s feed you little one,” Kuruk said.  Buck scrambled into his sire’s lap and settled back, instinctively reaching for the bottle with his forepaws, his effort rewarded by Kuruk giving him the bottle.  Buck put the teeth in his mouth and sucked busily until the milk had all gone.  Then he looked for more.  Anook provided more milk, and Buck was soon snuggled up with her, drinking busily.  Kuruk looked at his mate and cub.

      “Kuruk love you both,” he said.  Buck waved all four paws at Kuruk, the male bear padding over and kissing the cub’s waving paws.

       “Your paws are lovely Buck,” Kuruk said.  Buck giggled, dabbing his sire on the nose with the toes of his right hind paw.

      “You’ve had your cub Anook?”  Kamchatka asked, running into the lie up.  Anook looked mystified.

      “Um, I don’t know,” she replied, “I found him in my lie up a few hours ago.  He looked lost and alone, so I took him in, before that though, I had horrendous belly ache.  That was only cured when I set paws on the cub.”  Kamchatka realised she’d asked a stupid question.

      “Okay, that was a rather stupid thing for me to say,” she admitted.  Anook looked at Kamchatka and then down at her cub.

       “I hope this cub isn’t as adventurous as Pakshalika’s,” she said.

       “You hope little, um, cub, won’t run away?”  Kamchatka asked.

       “My name’s buck, not cub!”  Buck complained.

      “Okay little one,” Kamchatka said, “Buck then, hopefully he won’t run away.”

        “You will stay with me won’t you Buck,” Anook said.  Buck twitched his ears:

      “I think my paws might want to take me from this room into other parts of this huge place,” he said.

      “You dare run away!”  Anook snapped, now fearful.

      “He’ll be okay,” Sire Patch said padding into the shower room.

       “You no give him ideas patch,” Kuruk snapped, “Buck stay here with me and mama Anook!”  Sire patch lifted the hairy cub from Anook’s lap and sat down with him, laying the cub in his lap.

        “Who’s this mama?”  Buck asked.  Anook told him.

        “His paws are playful,” buck observed, “he doesn’t mind others playing with his paws I think.”  Patch giggled:

      “You’d be right there,” he said.  Buck crawled away from Patch and fled suddenly for the door, patch chasing him out of the door.  Buck, laughing, crawled along the [passage, Patch chasing him, then catching him, throwing him onto his back and yelling to him to:

     “Hold on tight!”  Before accelerating towards the pool complex with Anook and Kuruk chasing after him.  Buck, Excited, yelled to Patch to:

     “Run Patch run!”  Patch fitted actions to words and fled.

       “You come back with our cub Patch!”  Anook screamed, unable to chase Patch far due to her exhaustion after her labour.  Kuruk pounded after his brother, cannoning into Conrad as he emerged from the kitchen.

      “Hey! Oi!”  Conrad yelled, Kuruk nearly clambering over Conrad to get ahead.

       “Kuruk, you bully, you bloody bully!”  Conrad yelled, fighting with the male grizzly.  Kuruk ended up wasting time in pitched battle with Conrad, the blind bear throwing the grizzly to the floor.  Roaring with rage and humiliation, Kuruk found himself on his back with his paws in the air.

 

Patch ran to the log flume, smacked the start button, increased the speed of the pumps and belts to the maximum and threw Buck and Himself into the boat, the boat crashing through the doors and speeding into the wood, round curves and then up the lift hill.

     “This is amazing!”  Buck yelled, banging the sides of the boat with his paws as they crested the lift hill.

       “Lean back into me,” patch said, holding on tighter to Buck as the boat splashed into the first elevated portion of track.  Buck laughed and clapped his forepaws with delight.

       “I love this, I love this!”  He yelled.  A scream and the sound of another boat chasing them made patch look round.

       “the ride will keep us a safe distance apart,” he thought so no problems there.”  Patch saw the small lift hill before his and Buck’s boat.  The boat mounted the lift hill and then the boat slid down and down a slope, hit a breaking run of water, then carried on down and down until they were on the woodland level again.  Patch watched the chasing boat.  He saw Anook staring over the edge of the elevated section of flume.

       “You stole my cub you bastard!”  She roared at patch, who could do nothing but wave happily back at her, point to buck and then nudge him.

      “Shout to your mama,” he said.  Buck, hearing his mama’s anxious voice, but not understanding her words, shouted:

      “I’m okay mama, this ride is wonderful!”  Anook screamed obscenities at Patch, the large bear covering buck’s ears with his forepaws so he couldn’t hear.

        “You don’t need to hear that stuff,” Patch said when Buck questioned him on the way up the lift hills towards the water fall section.  Meanwhile, in Anook’s boat, Anook complained to a very angry Kuruk that patch should be caught, beaten to a mush and then locked up.  Kuruk thought about this.

       “Patch is playful bear, and he love Buck cub as much as he love his own cubs,” he said, “Kuruk know that deep down.  What Kuruk don’t like is way cubs collaborate with patch to disobey mama and sire, but Patch keep cubs safe while them disobey mama and sire.  Please Anook, don’t do stupid thing like leaping off boat into water.  That dangerous.”  Anook watched patch’s boat disappearing up the large lift hill as their own boat entered the large cave.

       “I want my cub back!”  Anook screamed as her boat ascended the lift hill, and then bumped round the bend into another lift hill.  Four hills later, the boat entered the water falls area of the ride.  The two bears saw Patch and buck’s boat a few feet in front of them, the water falls increasing the distance between the boats before the large downhill section. 

      “This is a rider announcement,” a voice from speakers in the walls said, “Anook, stay in the boat, I repeat, stay in the boat.” Anook lost it then, clambering over the boughs of her boat and leaping into the water.  Kuruk hoped CCTV could see what was happening!

    “Anook, get back in here!”  Kuruk screamed above the rushing water.  Anook swam towards the lead boat, reaching it as it dipped over the downhill; she leapt for the stern, but missed, the boat sliding away from her, Kuruk’s boat only a foot away.  Kuruk saw the lights flash on and knew there was nothing he could do to avoid a tragedy.

       “Get down the slide, slide slide!”  Kuruk screamed, Anook heeding his words and leaping down the slide.  Kuruk knew he would move faster in his boat than Anook could slide, even now the water was turned off and it was just the weight of the boat, but it was too late, he was in the main stream, and there was enough momentum to carry him over the edge.

       “Kuruk not leaping into water,” he thought, “that no good thing does.  Kuruk hope Anook get down safe and boat no crash into her!  Kuruk held onto the boat as it approached the slope; Anook’s sliding form only four feet below him.  Screaming with fear, Kuruk saw his boat gaining on the slope, then he felt a bump, and knew he’d hit Anook.  Kuruk could do nothing but pray to eohippus.  In the lagoon, Patch, his boat having come to a stop, told buck to stay in the boat, kissed the cub’s nose, then leapt into the water to save Anook.  Anook lay in the water at the bottom of the slide.  Patch dragged Anook out of the water and laid her on the grass.  He checked her over.

        “She’s still alive,” he thought with relief.  Kamchatka joined him, and was torn between yelling at her son cub for provoking Anook into stupid actions, and helping him.  Meanwhile, on the main drop into the lagoon, Kuruk lost it totally.

       “Kuruk hit Anook, Kuruk Hit Anook!”  The grizzly bear screamed in the tunnel.  Suddenly his boat was released and he felt it sliding down the flume, then into the water, Kuruk seeing buck’s boat before him.  Buck, having been told to stay put in his boat by patch, still sat obediently in the boat.

      “Thank Eohippus bucks still alive,” Kuruk thought, seeing the young cub sitting in the boat as if his paws was glued to the bottom.

      “Stay there buck, stay in boat, There’s a good boy!”  Kuruk yelled, buck turned his head, and Kuruk was afraid he’d try and reach him.

      “You’re safe buck, you’re safe,” Kuruk yelled.  Buck scrambled into the bough of the boat and buried his face in his paws, sobbing with fear and shock.

        “It’ll be okay,” Kuruk said, “you’ll be home soon buck.”  Buck wailed loudly with fear as the boat entered the boathouse. 

 

Meanwhile, on the bank of the lagoon, Patch tended to Anook, the mama polar bear coming round from her ordeal.

       “Buck, where is buck!”  She mumbled.

      “He’s safe,” patch said gently.  Anook swore at Patch using words that cannot be printed.

     “Now that’s unfair!”  Kamchatka protested.

      “You can shut up too you bitch!”  Anook roared, “You gave birth to a cub stealer!”  Kamchatka nearly smacked Anook with her paws.

        “Mama, leave it,” patch said gently.  Suddenly Anook leapt to her feet and attacked Kamchatka!  Kamchatka threw Anook into the lagoon, the mama polar bear cart wheeling through the air and landing with a huge splash.  Kamchatka rounded on Patch:

      “What the hell did you think you’d achieve by running off with Anook’s cub?”  She demanded, slapping her son’s shoulder with her paw.

       “We were playing,” patch replied, flipping Kamchatka into the lagoon.  Kamchatka landed with a splash and patch stalked back to the house, having dealt with his angry mama in the only way he could think of without actively sinking to her level and hitting her.  Kamchatka, deflated by patch putting her in her place, helped a very angry Anook out of the water and to the house.

       “Where’s buck, Where’s buck!”  Anook demanded.

      “He’s in the house, he’s safe, and I told you that!”  Kamchatka snapped, “Anook, you’re a bloody idiot!”

       “Patch stole my cub!”  Anook roared.  Kamchatka walloped Anook so hard the mama bear burst into tears.

       “You acted like a spoilt cub!”  Kamchatka yelled, “That ride is safe if ridden properly, and you disobeyed posted notices, and verbal instructions!  You failed Anook!  You are a stupid mama!  I cannot believe you endangered your life when there was no need to.  For Eohippus sake!”

        “Patch stole my cub!”  She yelled.

      “Patch would never hurt your cub,” Kamchatka snarled, “You know that Anook, you know that more than anyone!  You’re a bloody idiot!”  Anook, now crying, began to realise she was foolish, stupid and ignorant.

       “Let me go, let me go back to my cub!”  She pleaded.  Kamchatka, furious, punched Anook on her nose, the female polar bear squealing with pain and shock.

    “Now go!”  Kamchatka roared.  Anook padded away.

 

Meanwhile, in the boathouse, Kuruk transferred from his boat to buck’s, holding the cub tightly in his paws.

      “Buck safe now, safe now,” Kuruk said softly to his cub.  Buck, sighing deeply, snuggled into his sire’s warm fur.

      “We’re safe here,” Kuruk said softly to his cub.  Buck whispered softly to Kuruk:

       “I was safe with Patch, I felt safe, when he told me to stay in the boat after the long slope, I knew I’d be safe if I obeyed him.  Kuruk, what did mama Anook do?”  Kuruk began to sob:

       “Mama Anook leapt into the water and fell down the slide,” he said.

     “But mama Anook still alive,” buck said, “she no dies from slide.”

     “No,” Kuruk replied, “Kuruk think he runs her over, but maybe he no do thing, maybe it be safety feature which stop him and make him feel bump against boat.”  Indeed, the boat had been slowed by a safety feature and stopped by a buffer in the slide which activated after the emergency stop button had been pressed.  Kuruk, now in the boathouse and safe with his cub, let everything go, crying into his cub’s fur.

        “You are safe now Sire Kuruk,” Buck said, drying his sire’s tears with his paws.

      “It comes to something when a ten hour old cub comforts his sire,” Kuruk choked.  Buck snuggled up to his sire, for that was all he could think of doing to comfort him.

      “Let’s go from here and get food,” Kuruk choked.  Kuruk led the cub from the boathouse and along to the kitchen where, in the absence of Anook to feed him, the order was given that she should be milked to give her cub the nutrition he needed.  Anook, realising she was in trouble, expressed milk for her son cub and let Kuruk feed him.  Kuruk fed Buck in front of Anook, the she bear torn apart by the sight of her mate feeding her cub.

       “You do silly thing of jumping over the front of the boat Anook,” Kuruk said.  Anook growled at him and nearly lashed out.

       “Patch caused this!”  She yelled.

       “Patch might have run off with buck,” Kamchatka said, padding into the lie up, “but you Anook should not have endangered your life by going after Patch in the waterfalls.  Patch saved your life after you slid down the chute!”  Anook choked back tears.

      “Why did he run off with Buck?”  She asked.

       “Patch was obeying his inner cub,” she said, “buck wanted to play, and patch realised that.”

      As did I,” Conrad said, padding into the lie up.  Kuruk snarled at Conrad:

       “So you attack Kuruk to give Patch time to run for the flume?”  Kuruk asked.  Conrad laughed merrily:

       “I fought you to give patch time to get to the flume, but you gave me a run for my salmon.  You can n’alf fight Kuruk!”

     “But Conrad put Kuruk on floor with paws in air dam quick!”  Kuruk whimpered.  Conrad laughed merrily and waited for buck to leave Kuruk’s lap before he pushed the large grizzly onto his back and tickled his hind paws.  Kuruk laughed helplessly and wriggled madly, drawing his hind feet up to him and tightly curling his toes.  Conrad stroked Kuruk’s pads, the male grizzly giggling like a cub.

       “Time for milk I think,” Conrad said, fetching a bottle of milk for Kuruk, who took it in his forepaws and drank busily, his hind feet pedalling the air.  Conrad lay on his back and pressed his hind paws against Kuruk’s the two bears pedalling the air with their hind feet while keeping their soles in contact at all times.  Laughing, the two male bears gave up their game and Kuruk shared the bottle of milk with Conrad.

       “Peace?”  Kuruk asked.  Conrad nodded:

      “Peace,” the polar bear replied.  Kamchatka looked down at the two bears on the floor.

       “You two look happy,” she said.

       “I’m too ill for war mama Kamchatka,” Conrad replied.  Kamchatka looked into Conrad’s face.

        “You are ill Conrad,” she said.  Conrad nodded.

       “So I want to play with Kuruk, for my offence was not against him.  I am sorry for mating with mama Alaska, but now I am with Aga and wish to have one more cub with her.”  Kuruk looked over at the door as Ekaterina padded in and walked over to Conrad, kissing his nose and hugging him.

        “So let’s let old fades lie,” Ekaterina said.  Kamchatka, unable to disagree with her two cubs, knelt down beside Conrad and kissed his nose.

      “I wish you all the best,” she said, “but I was hurt when you mated with mama Alaska.”  Conrad kissed Kamchatka’s nose.

       “We are a good community,” he said, “Anook’s cub is safe, and so will mine be when it is born.”

       “Why did you lie to mama Alaska?”  Kamchatka asked.

        “I was desperate for a cub mama Kamchatka,” Conrad replied, “I was driven by instincts I cannot control.  I know I should have controlled myself, as should Anook, and neither I, nor she have an excuse for our behaviour this day or previously apart from our instincts taking over.”

       “Now the actions on the flume were stupid, but noone was hurt in the end,” Koda said, padding into the lie up, “now let’s go on from here and enjoy the flume ride, obeying all posted notices, verbal instructions, and common sense.”  He turned to Anook, who, despite the lack of eye contact from the black bear, could not look at him.

        “If you had been injured, or worse, during your stupidity, he said, “Anook, your cub would have no mama now.”

     “I understand why what I did was stupid,” she said.

       “Join paws with sire patch and find out about him Anook,” Koda replied, “touch the paws of one who loves your cub as much as you do.”  With that Koda padded from the lie up.  Anook stood up and left the lie up to talk to Patch.  Finding the grey bear in Ekaterina’s lie up, Anook sat down and watched him with little Patch and Spits, the female polar bear amazed at how gentle patch was.

      “Patch, can I talk with you?”

      “What kind of talk do you want?”  Patch asked, looking at Anook.

       “I mean, oh, um, paw contact, that’s what I want,” Anook gabbled.  Patch kissed little Patch and Spits on their noses and then got up and left the lie up with Anook.

      “Let’s go to the outside den,” patch suggested, “there we can get paws on with each other, and you can learn about me.”  Anook felt her paws taking her along the passage and outside the house, to a place where the flume ran beside the den Anook had last seen when she was in great pain just before giving birth to Houdini, little Kuruk and little Olga.  Padding inside the den, she sat down on the warm duvets facing Patch.

      “Why not touch hind paws with hem,”  patch suggested, which Anook did, gasping as her pads made contact with Patch’s, the male bear’s toes curling round hers, the sensation making Anook press her paws hard into Patch’s.

       “Oooh, wow!”  Anook exclaimed, bouncing about on her backside.

       “Now, can I hug you?”  Patch asked.  Anook wriggled, freeing her hind paws, and then snuggled up to patch whimpering as his paws enfolded her in a warm hug.

       “Would you get paws on with my hind paws?  Play with them?  Trace my pads?  Play with my toes?”  Anook begged.  Patch gently pushed Anook onto her back and examined her right hind foot, kissing her pads and then tracing them, the she bear curling her toes and whimpering with pleasure.

       “Now, now, treat me like a cub, play with me!”  Anook pleaded.  Patch blew on Anook’s pads, Anook letting go completely and grabbing his right hind foot in her forepaws, tickling his toes and pads, Patch and she rolling about on the floor of the den in a whirl of fur and paws.  After five minutes of this, Patch ran from the den, Anook chasing him as hard as she could run, Patch tripping over his own paws and then crawling through the wood, Anook following him by crawling too.  Patch felt Anook’s forepaws touching his hind, and they crawled to the log flume station, Patch lifting Anook and sitting her in the boat like he’d done with Buck.  Anook laughed like a cub and clapped her forepaws, kicking the panel in front of her with her hind feet.

      “Go go go!”  She yelled.  Patch set the boat moving and got in behind Anook.

      “Lean back into me Anook,” Patch said.  Anook sat back as the boat left the boathouse.  Anook wriggled further back into patch’s embrace, pushing hard with her hind feet to work herself into the bigger bear’s hug.  In response she felt Patch’s paws tightly embracing her.  The boat ascended the lift hill, Anook resting back into Patch’s embrace, sighing with contentment.  The two bears splashed into the elevated section of the ride, then rode down to the woodland level again.  Anook laughing and drumming her paws on the plastic fissure in front of her.  The boat hit the water and both bears were soaked.  The boat bumped around a few more bends, then ascended the lift hills to the waterfall section of the ride, Anook becoming silent and serious as she approached the scene of her stupidity.  The boat stopped in the water falls, and the swatter sopped, lights flashing on.

       “What’s happening?”  Anook asked.

       “Now you really need to trust me,” Patch said, “for I know where you can step and where you can’t.  The water will drain from here, and you will see that what you leapt into was no river.”  Anook felt real fear, turning in the boat and cuddling into patch, crying into his fur.

       “I don’t like it!”  She whimpered.

       “You’re okay,” Patch said, “courage Anook.”  Anook looked round her, seeing jets for water and in front of her boat, a rubber belt and metal rollers.

     “Let’s get out,” Patch said, Anook watching as patch placed his paws on the belts and padded from the boat to a gangplank.  Anook followed him, and when she was clear of the boat and the belts and standing on the gangway, she watched in horror as her boat disappeared towards the downhill section, no water present in the flume.  The boat made dreadful noise as it rattled away.  Anook looked at patch, then down at her paws.

        “I wish my paws would glue themselves to this thin walkway!”  Anook choked, her fears growing.  Patch kissed her nose:

      “Now do you see why jumping into the flume was not a good idea?”  He asked.  Anook whispered that she saw only too well.

       “Hold me Patch, hold me!”  Anook pleaded.  Patch kissed her nose and rubbed her right forepaw.

        “Now you know how things could have been, we’ll bring another boat round and get in,” Patch said.  Anook watched the belts moving just feet from her own paws.

        Where’s the boat where’s that boat!”  She asked.  Patch kissed her nose.

      “Wait,” he replied.  Anook kissed his nose.

       “I trust you Patch,” she said.  Patch smiled:

       “Now do you know what I felt?”  Someone asked.  Anook looked round, and saw Buck peeping round the edge of the door into the cave.

      “What the hell are you doing?”  Anook asked.  Buck waved a paw at his mama.

        “I came to find you,” he said, “Koda’s up here with me, I’m ok, and he’s tied a rope to my left hind paw so he knows where I am.”

      “You’re not a dog!”  Anook protested.

     “No, but as Koda said,” he then mimicked Koda’s accent, ““you’re young and don’t know the area you’re in.””  Patch roared with laughter, and buck laughed too, as Koda, overhearing his mimicry, tickled the pads of Buck’s left hind foot.

     “Ah, here’s the boat,” Patch said, drying his eyes.  The boat clanked into view, then stopped.  Anook picked buck up, Koda freeing the cub from his leash and waving to them before closing the door.  Patch and Anook got into the boat with Buck, Anook holding Buck on her lap, Patch clambering in behind her.  The boat moved off after water filled the flume five minutes after it arrived.  The bears rode the flume down to the main pool and then to the boathouse.  After this, patch and Anook led buck back to Anook’s lie up.

       “So how you now think of patch?”  Kuruk asked.  Anook looked at him.

       “I see what you mean now,” She said, “he’s really gentle.  He’s a cub under all that fur, and his paws, oh how good they are to play with!”  Kuruk and buck laughed helplessly.

      “Kuruk and buck know this already,” they said in unison, “now Anook know how Patch is and no fear him when he runs off with cub to play.”  Anook smiled:

      “I might be running off to play with him,” she said, “the touch of his paws on mine, oh wow, wow!  How amazing!”  Kuruk looked at Patch and then hugged him tenderly.

       “You big soft bear Patch,” he said softly.  Patch giggled and kissed his brother’s nose.

       “Now Anook knows why I can play with buck so easily and why he trusted me when I had to leave the boat to save his mama,” Patch said.  Kuruk lay back on the rugs and waved his paw at his hind feet.

       “Let’s play the pedal paws game,” he said.  Patch settled onto his back and touched hind feet with Kuruk, then the two bears worked their hind legs furiously, keeping their hind feet in contact until both were laughing so hard they lost rhythm and ended their game playing with each other’s toes.  Patch pressed his hind feet against Kuruk’s, and then a round of the trapped paw game began, the two brothers finding their hind feet were strongly attracted.

     “Kuruk think it be long time before he get free from patch’s hind paws,” Kuruk said, exploring his right hind foot and Patch’s left hind with his forepaws.  Patch explored his own right hind foot and Kuruk’s left hind foot with his paws, feeling the grizzly bear’s pads warm and rough against his smoother pads.

       “Kuruk love Patch’s touch,” Kuruk said.  Patch tugged at his right hind foot, Kuruk snarling with discomfort as [Patch worked his toes between the pad of his right hind foot and the grizzly bear’s left hind.

     “Pull Kuruk Pull!”  Patch encouraged, Kuruk tagging at his left hind paw with his forepaws.

      “Kuruk’s paw coming free, coming free!”  He gasped, “But it hurts Kuruk so bad to pull at hind foot! Ow, ow ow!”  Buck touched his mum’s paw.

      “Does it really hurt Kuruk to pull at his hind paws?”  He asked.  Anook laughed:

      “He’s pretending,” she replied, “I’ll teach you those games one day. And pulling at his hind paws doesn’t hurt, it’s that he doesn’t want to free his paws really, he likes patch’s touch too much.”  Buck laughed and grabbed his mum’s left hind paw, Anook wiggling and then curling her toes, making her pads bunch up, making Buck laugh...

      “Your paw loves my touch!”  He said.  Anook smiled:

      “I love your touch,” she said.  Buck curled up and fell asleep.  Kuruk looked at Patch.

      “Your pads are very much attracted to mine,” he said.  Patch smiled and hugged Kuruk tightly.

       “Now shall we ride the flume?”  Patch asked.  Kuruk let his brother lead him to the boathouse, where they boarded their boat and floated off down the flume.  Kuruk, sitting in front of Patch, settled back, Patch embracing him from behind.  Patch grinned as he saw Kuruk push with his hind feet to press himself hard into his hug, Patch holding on tight to Kuruk.

      “It’s gonna be okay,” Patch said softly into the grizzly bear’s ear.  Kuruk relaxed finally, enjoying the ride through the woods.  There was a scraping sound, and then a thud and a pontoon swung out from the bank on the left and across the flume leading to the first lift hill, directing the boat into another flume section.

      “What this is then?”  Kuruk asked.

      “I’ve noticed this part,” Patch replied, “but it’s never been filled, it’s always been empty.  We’ll have to see where it will take us.”  Kuruk and Patch found themselves entering tunnels and going round many bends.  Soon they found themselves high in the tree tops, having hardly felt the climb.

     “What be this?”  Kuruk asked.

       “What goes up must come down,” patch remarked.  Kuruk snorted:

      “It is the going down Kuruk worried about,” he grunted.

       “Oh it’s probably nothing,” patch replied, “a gentle slope that’s all.” Kuruk wasn’t so sure.

      “Koda no go in for gentle slopes,” he replied, “he makes us come down dam quick!”  The bending flume straightened out, and then there was a slight lessening in speed.  The boat sat becalmed in the flume, Kuruk too frightened to look over the edge.

       “Kuruk have horrible feeling about what happen next,” the bear grunted.  The boat then began moving again and moved off into a dark place.  Kuruk, now seriously worried, stared into the darkness.  The boat turned left, then right, then left, then right.  Then angled downwards.  Screaming, the two bears hurtled down the slide, were slowed by a break run of water and then hurtled down another slide into sunlight and the warmth of the day they’d just left.  Kuruk covered his eyes with his paws and howled like a cub while patch held onto him.  The boat slowed as the slide levelled out before hitting a longer break run leading back into the main flume.  A couple of turns later, they were back in the boathouse, Kuruk unable to leave his seat, leaving patch having to lift the shocked grizzly bear from the boat and lie him tenderly on the tiled floor.

      “Kuruk no want ride bloody flume again!”  Kuruk whimpered.  Patch tried to help his brother to his paws, but Kuruk could only crawl.  Rubbing Kuruk’s right hind paw with his forepaws, Patch felt Kuruk curling his toes and heard him panting with fear.

       “It’s okay,” Patch said softly into his brother’s ear.

      “Kuruk bloody scared!”  Kuruk choked, tears of fear rolling down his face.  Patch kissed his brother’s wet nose.

       “You’re safe now,” he said softly.  Kuruk nuzzled back against Patch’s pressure.

        “Thank you Patch,” he said.  Patch smiled and hugged Kuruk tightly, Kuruk not resisting his hug.

        “Do you feel stronger now?”  Patch asked.  Kuruk smiled and nodded slightly.

      “Take me home,” Kuruk heard himself saying.  Patch embraced his brother cub and led him by the paw to the family lie up, where Kamchatka got them both teas.

      “Have you two seen the water coaster?”  She asked.  Kuruk groaned deeply.

       “Koda need to stop building,” he replied.  Kamchatka laughed merrily.

       “The water coaster is fun, sit in the raft and ride down slides and then get carried up and up and up on water, then down and down on slides again.  It’s all in the pool complex on the top level of the complex itself.  We are very lucky here.”  Kuruk held Patch’s paw in his.

      “Kuruk frightened of water coaster thing,” he said.

 

Meanwhile, water cubs that they were, Conrad and Aga, who had completely thrown her paw in with Conrad and decided the flume was not so scary if she was with him, were preparing to ride the new water zip coaster.  Going up in the lift to where the control room was, then up in another lift to the top of the slide was a new experience for Aga, who’d never travelled in a lift before.  The two bears, boarding their raft, were setting off down the small slope and then up a whirring belt which took them quickly higher and higher, then rounding a bend to the outside air, where they splashed down into water jets which took them higher still.  Aga looked over the edge of the flume they were now lazily travelling along to find she could see right into the wood through the Plexiglas wall.  It appeared to only be one way viewing though, hiding this outdoor part of the ride discreetly.  Aga, sitting in the front of the raft, felt Conrad’s paw stroking her back as they lazily wended their way round curves and along straights.  Aga, lulled into a secure doze, soon woke when the ride was taken on another conveyer belt to an even higher level.  The ride upwards was fast, very fast, then they angled downwards and shot earthwards with horrendous speed, Aga hanging on with all four paws       “We’re gonna crash!”  She yelled, Conrad feeling real terror for the first time on any ride.

      “Hang on!”  Aga screamed as the raft hit the water break and both got soaked.

     “We can’t have rid ourselves of all the height we managed,” Conrad coughed, “we’re gonna experience more hell like this, Koda, if I get off this, you’re bloody dead!”  Aga felt her toes curling as their raft headed for another horrendous downhill section.

      “Hang on, this is gonna be quick!”  She warned Conrad.  The flume took them into a gentle sloping curve, then a steep slide downwards.  Aga shrieked as she and Conrad fell to earth down what felt like a vertical drop.

       “I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die!”  Conrad thought as his stomach was left somewhere at the top of the slide.  The water coaster levelled out, and suddenly the sound of thunder was in their ears, and they got drenched from above.  Aga then felt the raft jerk and turn right.  She stared down a long, steep wide slide.

       “We’re going down again!”  She yelled.  Conrad swore viciously and hung on tight, thinking of what he’d like to do to a certain black bear if he ever got his paws on him.

       “I hate you Koda!”  He snarled, “I hate you so bloody much for making this hell ride!”  The two bears shot down the long straight slide, their acceleration slowed by a water break at the end.  Aga then saw through a window the familiar sights of the pool complex.  Sighing with relief she relaxed.

      “We’re nearly home!”  She yelled to Conrad over rushing water.

      “Riders,” someone said, “this is a safety announcement, please, sit up and hold tight.”  Aga glanced round, as the raft was now moving much faster.  Then they entered a tunnel, and felt themselves carried upwards for a short distance.

      “I can’t see a bloody thing!”  Aga screamed.

      “I know the feeling!”  Conrad yelled back.  Suddenly they were accelerating in the darkness, down down and down, Aga shrieking and yelling, Conrad shouting and roaring!  The raft carried the two terrified bears into a tight curve, then along another belt to a long gentle slide into the main part of the pool complex, the ride ending in a run off and then a long uphill ride to the top of the coaster where they’d boarded.  Koda stood at the exit of the ride, and came forward to help the riders from their raft.  Conrad, exhausted, let the black bear help him from the ride, all thoughts of destroying him gone.

       “That was five minutes of sheer horror!”  Conrad gasped.

      “Ten minutes fifty seconds if you count the lift hill and nice relaxing flume at the top,” Alaska said.

        “Have you ridden that death coaster?”  Conrad asked her in a trembling voice.

     “I have, and it’s great!”  Alaska said, leaping about with excitement, “Koda let me ride it after it was constructed and tested.  I love it, and so does mama Kamchatka!”  Conrad said something under his breath that everyone heard quite clearly.

       “I never thought you knew words like that mister potty mouth bear!”  Alaska exclaimed.

       “That’s what I think of that ride,” Conrad said with real emotion, “I can’t stand it!”

       “But you wouldn’t want to um, break it, I don’t think,” Alaska said.  Koda smacked her paw.

       “You should never even hint at what he said!”  The black bear snapped.

       “I just said he wouldn’t want to, um, you know, the coaster in reality, for one it would break it, and undo all your work Koda.”

       “Alaska thinks that word means break something?”  Conrad asked.

      “In that context she does yes,” Koda replied, “I think she must have overheard some of the works people talking; now they do have, “potty mouths,” as she so sweetly puts it.”

       “I’ve also heard mama talking about bears who, um, did what Conrad said he wanted to do to the coaster, to her, and she said they nearly broke her, and she said that what you and she do Koda is not like, um, that thing.  Mama called it making love, not, um, breaking her.”  Koda kissed his daughter cub’s nose, trying not to laugh at her efforts to reason out the different contexts which words were used.

       “Conrad won’t break the coaster, or me,” he said, “I know what he said while on the ride, I could hear him.  I saw everyone and everything, well others saw things, and I heard them.  Now Alaska, go home my dear and think no more of Conrad’s potty mouth.”  Alaska kissed her sire’s nose and departed.  Koda shifted the raft from the slide and packed it away in the locker.

       “I take it there are no takers for a second ride,” he said.  Conrad swore viciously.

       “So you don’t like my new thrill ride?”  Koda asked.  Conrad growled at him and smacked him with his paw.

       “That’s not what I really want to do to you!”  He snarled.

       “Now I did not force you to ride,” Koda replied, “you and Aga got on the slide of your own free will.”  Conrad swore harshly.

       “You really do have a potty mouth,” Kamchatka remarked padding towards the water coaster ride.  Conrad could smell the she bear’s scent, powerful in his nostrils.

       “Riding the slide next, are you?”  Conrad asked nervously, “Um, Kamchatka, Koda put the raft away, I didn’t.”

       “You’re a good mama, a great mama!”  Conrad gabbled turning and bolting!

       “What got into him?”  Aga asked.

      “He’s terrified of us,” Koda replied.

      “No Koda, not of us, of me,” Kamchatka said sadly, “I think he has some idea that I want to do him harm.  I don’t!  Yes he broke my code, yes I told him no access to my cubs when they were young, but now, if Patch, Kuruk or any others want to see him, they can.  Conrad fears me, fat old mama Kamchatka!”

      “I’ll go after him,” Aga said, padding away.

 

Aga found Kuruk hugging Conrad, both moaning about the coaster and how dreadful Koda’s latest projects were.

      “Koda won’t get Kuruk riding that bloody water coaster,” Kuruk grumbled.

      “I’m more worried about mama Kamchatka,” Conrad confessed, “She frightens me Kuruk!”  Kuruk laughed:

       “How mama Kamchatka frightening?”  He asked.

      “She and I have a history, as you know,” Conrad replied, “and I’m sure she wants me dead!”

      “Mama not violent bear,” Kuruk grunted, “she gentle mama.  You no need be frightened of her.”

       “I try not to be,” Conrad replied, “but it’s so difficult sometimes.  Kamchatka crept up on Conrad, and plonked her forepaws on his shoulders, the male bear screaming with surprise as Kamchatka kissed his ear.

        “Got you!”  Kamchatka said laughing.  Conrad collapsed back into her embrace.  Kamchatka hugged Conrad tightly.

      “I won’t hurt you,” she said softly into the trembling bear’s ear.  Conrad, his paws sweating, breathed deeply, trying to remain calm.

       “It’s okay,” Kamchatka said softly.  Conrad began to cry.

      “I don’t want us to be enemies,” Conrad sobbed.

      “We aren’t,” Kamchatka said softly.  Conrad collapsed completely, sobbing and wringing his paws.

       “Let’s go home,” Aga said gently, helping Conrad to his feet and leading him away.  Alaska looked at her mama:

      “Would you ride the water coaster with me?”  She asked.  Kamchatka smiled and hugged her cub.

       “The water coaster won’t be much compared to the roller coaster of your birth my dear,” she said, kissing her nose.  Alaska snuggled up to her mama.

      “I love you mama,” Alaska said burying her head in her mum’s thick warm coat.

       “I love you too my dear cub,” Kamchatka said softly.  Alaska sat down opposite her mother, and Kamchatka began to play with her cub’s right hind foot, tracing her pads and playing with her toes, Alaska wiggling and curling her toes, giggling and bouncing about on her backside with pleasure.

      “I love when you stroke my pads and play with my toes,” Alaska said.  Kamchatka laughed:

      “I love playing with your paws Alaska,” she replied.  Alaska smiled:

       “I love playing with yours mama,” Alaska replied.  Kamchatka gave her cub her left hind paw, Alaska drawing circles on her mama’s pads with the toes of her left forepaw, Kamchatka laughing merrily.

      “I love that feeling,” Kamchatka purred.

       “I love your paws mama,” Alaska said.  Kuruk rolled onto his back and waved his paws in the air, wriggling and whimpering like a cub.

      “Kuruk want his paws play with too, Kuruk want his paws played with too!”  Alaska and Kamchatka roared with laughter and leapt upon the large grizzly bear, tickling his paws.  Kuruk roared with laughter, snorting, wriggling and yelling like an over excited cub.  

    “Kuruk’s got the most handsome face and paws!”  Alaska said.  Kuruk laughed:

      “Kuruk no handsome really,” he said, “he fat old grizzly bear.”  Alaska kissed the pads of Kuruk’s right hind paw, the bear curling his toes and dabbing her nose with the paw she’d just kissed.

       “Silly old thing!”  Alaska laughed.  Kuruk suddenly sat up and grabbed Alaska in his paws.

      “Kuruk no old bear!”  He growled.  Alaska squealed with shock!

      “No, Kuruk, what I meant was,” she began to say, when Kuruk kissed her nose and playfully nibbled her right ear.

       “You great big softy!”  She laughed.  Kuruk lifted Alaska in his paws, and then rolled backwards clasping her to him with his paws.

       “Oh Kuruk, you Soppy thing!”  Alaska said, her eyes filling with tears.  Kuruk held his sister cub tightly, just as he’d held Ekaterina years ago.

       “Kuruk protect sister Alaska with his life,” Kuruk said.  Alaska looked into Kuruk’s face, seeing a gentle bear who loved his family and the cubs of others more than he loved his own life.

       “You are a lovely bear Kuruk,” Alaska said softly to the grizzly bear who kissed her nose with tender care.

       “Kuruk watch video of mama Kamchatka giving birth to sister Alaska.  He thinks thing wonderful video and birth of Alaska magical event.”  Alaska nodded:

      “I remember my birth,” she replied, “it was a struggle and was noisy and full of intense activity.”  Kuruk nodded.

      “I saw mama struggling,” Kuruk said, “but in the end she succeeded, giving birth to sister Alaska.”  Alaska snuggled hard into Kuruk’s hug the big male bear embracing her tightly.

      “Would you play with my hind feet Kuruk?”  Alaska asked, “Trace my pads and play with my toes?  Please?”  Kuruk smiled and nodded:

       “Kuruk do thing for sister Alaska,” he said, “he want play with her.”  Kuruk sat up and Alaska lay on her back with her hind paws stretched towards her brother.  Kuruk picked up her right hind foot and began to trace her pads and play with her toes, Alaska purring and wriggling with pleasure.  Kuruk smiled as Alaska curled her toes as his stroked the large sole pad on her right hind foot.

      “I love this, I love this!”  Alaska laughed, “I want more Kuruk, much more, much more!  This is such fun!”  Kuruk gazed at Alaska, taking her in from nose to tail.

        “Kuruk protect you from harm,” he promised earnestly.  Alaska curled her toes tightly, holding Kuruk’s as tightly as she could.

        “Thank you,” she said.  Kuruk kissed Alaska’s nose, then gently lifted each of her four paws and kissed her pads and toes.

       “Oh Kuruk, soppy thing,” Alaska said hoarsely.  Kuruk padded away to his lie up where he found Anook feeding buck.  Buck, hearing his sire padding in, crawled over the rugs to him, Kuruk watching his strong cub crawling, the way his head, legs, body and paws moved, the way the toes of his hind feet curled slightly, the pads bunching with the intent he put into crawling.

       “Kuruk love you Buck,” Kuruk said.  Buck touched Kuruk’s left forepaw, and then waited for his left hind to touch his forepaw.  When Kuruk was sitting down, he touched his son’s right forepaw with his left hind, and buck crawled into Kuruk’s lap.  Anook expressed milk into a bottle and gave it to Kuruk.

       “You can feed him if you like,” she said.  Kuruk took the warm bottle and then Buck took the bottle from Kuruk’s paw, holding it in his forepaws and drinking busily.  Kuruk smiled as he watched his son cub drinking with enthusiasm, buck’s hind feet kicking the air as he drank busily.  Anook smiled at her mate:

      “Doesn’t Buck remind you of someone?”  She asked.  Kuruk laughed.      

“Buck be loving milk just as Kuruk do when cub,” he replied.

        “Kuruk love milk too?”  Buck asked, offering him the bottle.  Kuruk looked at Anook, confused.

       “Go on, take it,” she mouthed.  Kuruk took the bottle and looked at Anook, now frightened.

        “Drink some,” Anook encouraged, “he offered you the milk.  Kuruk drank some of the warm milk, feeling very strange indeed.

        “That milk not for Kuruk really,” Kuruk said to buck, “but thank you for sharing milk.”  Buck reached up and took the bottle from Kuruk.

       “I forgot it was milk from mama meant for me only,” he said.  Kuruk and Anook looked down at their cub.

       “What you did was lovely,” Anook said, “next time though; we’ll make up some milk Kuruk can drink.”

       “Will it make you sick?”  Buck asked.

       “No it won’t,” Kuruk replied, “but it not good thing if Kuruk drink this milk, for Buck need mama’s milk, Kuruk don’t.”  Buck drank the rest of the milk, and then settled down to sleep.  Kuruk, rocking his cub gently until he was deeply asleep, then shuffled over on his backside to Anook and took her paw.

       “Don’t worry about it Kuruk,” Anook said softly, “buck wanted to share his milk with you.  What he did was sweet, and should be encouraged.  Though I will encourage buck to share other food than my milk with you.  I have also drunk the milk when I made up formula milk when my supplies were low one day.  I was feeding Buck; or rather he was feeding himself, when he asked me if I’d like some milk.  He looked at me so pleadingly, I couldn’t refuse.  I drank some of the milk, and now he thinks sharing milk is what one does.  Sharing food is a great thing, but not breast milk.”  Kuruk kissed his mate’s nose:

       “Kuruk feel strange for drinking milk,” he said.

        “The food shared was a little unusual,” Anook agreed, “but the sentiment was entirely commendable.”  Kuruk looked down at the cub lying in his lap and gently picked up buck’s right forepaw, gently tracing the cub’s pads and toes, buck unconsciously gripping his sire’s toes with his.

       “He likes your touch,” Anook remarked.

       “Anook,” Kuruk said gravely, “Buck is lovely cub.  Kuruk watch video of birth again, and he cry lots when he see buck emerge.”

        “Buck might want to know how he was born,” Anook replied, “one day; maybe soon, shall we re-enact his birth?”  Kuruk took her paw.

       “Kuruk up for recreating birth of Buck if Anook be so,” he replied.

       “buck want know how he born,”  buck yawned curling and stretching the toes of all four paws first his fore, then hind, Kuruk and Anook watching him, the sight moving Kuruk to tears.

       “Kuruk love you,” Kuruk choked.

      “You’re crying on me!”  Buck said, reaching up with his newly invigorated forepaws and touching his sire’s nose.  Kuruk kissed Buck’s pads, the cub giggling with pleasure.

        “Mama and I curl our toes with pleasure; can mama curl hers in pain?”  Buck asked.  Anook nodded and replied:

     “Indeed, I can buck, and I did.  I screamed and curled my toes, strained and panted while giving birth to you.”  Buck crawled to his mama’s right hind foot, and Anook groaned deeply, curling her toes hard.

     “Go on mama, push,” buck said.  Anook breathed deeply and then curled her toes tightly, groaning with the effort of holding her toes curled for a long time.

        “wh’wh’wh’wh’wh’ouchwh’wh’ouch” she moaned.  Then, panting, she rolled onto her back, buck scrambling to touch her hind feet as she drew them to her and grabbed them with her forepaws.  Buck, fascinated, explored his mama’s forepaws and hind, feeling her toes curling as she panted and groaned.

       “Push it out mama, push it out!”  Buck encouraged, Anook wriggling and whimpering.

      “Ow! Ow!”  Anook complained, pressing her hind feet hard into her forepaws, gripping the pads of her hind paws with the toes of desperate forepaws.  Buck felt his mama’s efforts.

      “Can I ease the pain?”  Buck asked.  Anook gasped:

     “No, I need, need the pain to know when to push!”  Anook then roared, a loud sound which filled the lie up, increasing in volume and intensity.  Then she rolled onto her chest and into a crawling posture, buck feeling the pads of her hind feet damp and bunched as she curled her toes tightly, squealing and grunting with effort.

       “Rub her hind paws Buck,” Kuruk advised.  Anook, feeling her cub’s touch, increased her efforts, panting and curling her toes even tighter.

      “Give it your best mama,” Buck encouraged.  Anook roared loudly, then whimpered and snarled, before lying down on her side, covering her mouth with her paws and screaming lustily, rolling onto her back, kicking the air with her hind feet, then drawing them up, grabbing them with her forepaws.

       “Go on mama, go on, and push!”  Buck and Kuruk encouraged.  Anook gave her all, buck feeling his mum’s forepaws and hind.  He even touched her screaming mouth and closed eyes, gasping with emotion.

      “Wow mama!”  Buck said, “When my eyes open, I can watch the video too!”  Anook smiled broadly.

       “I love recreating your birth,” she said, “I loved every minute of your actual birth too and,” she gave him her right hind foot, easier in the situation, “I would do it all over again.”  Buck smiled and felt his mum’s toes curl with pleasure as she felt him rubbing the sole pad of her right hind paw, his touch making her curl her toes tightly.

       “I love you mama,” he said.  Anook sighed deeply with contentment.

    “I love you too buck, “she replied.

      “Your toes have curled tightly,” buck said.

      “My paw likes your touch,” she said.  Buck kissed his mum’s pads, Anook giggling.

       “You soppy thing,” she said.

       “Was sharing my milk with Kuruk wrong mama?”  Buck asked suddenly.  Anook rolled onto her side, gathering her cub close with tender paws.

        “No buck,” she said, “it was lovely.  Kuruk and I don’t mind if you want to share your milk with us.”

        “But I felt you hesitate,” buck said, “Kuruk seemed a little confused too.  I know your milk is for me, but mama, I wanted to share it with Kuruk, I don’t know why I did, I don’t want it to be wrong!”  Buck said, almost sobbing.  Anook kissed his nose:

       “It wasn’t wrong to share the milk,” Anook replied, “it’s just that the milk I gave you was for a cub, not for your sire or for me to drink really.  We’re past that buck.  Though when you drink formula milk, we can then share that.”  Buck relaxed.

      “That’s good,” he said airily.  Anook kissed buck’s nose and paws, the cub laughing helplessly.

      “Oh mama, mama!”  He laughed, batting playfully at her nose with his paws.  Buck kicked with both hind feet, pedalling the air furiously.

       “I love watching you kick the air with your hind feet,”  Anook said to her son cub, who spun round and drummed on his mama’s forepaws with his hind, Anook laughing and patting her son cub’s hind paws with her fore.

      “This is a fun game!”  Buck exclaimed.  Anook laughed.

       “Playing with you feels great,” she said.

      “Playing with my mama feels wonderful too,” he replied.  Kuruk watched their play, loving every minute.

       “Kuruk can’t explain how he feel about cub Buck.”  Buck turned his face to Kuruk.

       “I know how you feel,” he said, crawling to Kuruk and scrambling into his lap.  Anook watched her cub and mate together, her heart swelling with love and pride in both of them.

       “I love you both,” she said softly, “I love you both so much.”  Olga padded into the lie up and went to buck, kissing his nose and paws.

       “Hi little Sister,” he said softly.  Olga kissed his nose and paws.

       “I’ve just seen the video of your birth, and it was wonderful!”  She said.  Buck became so excited he wriggled and kicked with all four paws, nearly teeing his fore and hind paws in knots.  Olga laughed at buck’s antics.

        “You crazy cub!”  Olga laughed.  Buck increased his kicking and struggling, until he managed to grab the toes of his hind feet with his forepaws.

       “My forepaws are stuck to my hind feet!”  He yelled, “I can’t free them!”  Wriggling, he tried to free his forepaws, but it was clear to Olga he couldn’t.

       “Help me Olga!”  Buck pleaded.  Olga giggled and gently kissed the curling and stretching toes of buck’s right hind paw, his right forepaw slipping free of the pads on his hind, Buck panting and tightly curling the toes of his freed hind foot.  Olga then kissed the toes on the male cub’s left hind foot.  Buck giggled as his left forepaw slipped free of his left hind, and then smiled as Olga kissed the pads of his hind paws, then those of his fore.

       “I was hoping you’d do that,” he said laughing.  Buck returned Olga’s kiss to her nose, then, pushing her over onto her back, he kissed her fore and hind paws, and even her belly, the older female cub giggling and loving his attentions.

      “Kiss my paws again, kiss my paws again!”  She laughed.  Buck kissed Olga’s paws again, the older cub laughing merrily.

       “Your paws are all fluffy and gorgeous, and so cute buck!”  Olga laughed.  Buck laughed and rolled about on the floor so much he was nearly sick.  Olga held him tenderly in her paws, calming him.

       “When your eyes open in a week or so, you’ll see the world for the first time,” Olga said, “you’ll see the colours, mama’s white fur, Kuruk’s brown fur, the colours of the rugs, the black pads on the soles of their paws too.  You will also see Uncle Patch’s white pads.  He’s really striking.  Buck crawled to the shower and washed his face, rubbing at his eyes to clear micas from them.  He found they opened easily, and when he looked around him for the first time, the first bear he saw was Olga.  Unable to judge the distance between himself and Olga accurately, he nearly ran into her.  Olga looked into buck’s eyes, the older cub laughing merrily and kissing his nose, ears and paws.  Buck crawled back to the lie up, Anook and Kuruk overjoyed to see their son’s eyes open.  Buck stared at the two huge bears, and then at Olga, then with fear back at the two bears that his nose told him he knew, but his eyes told him was big, scary, and had big paws.

     “Mama, please, protects me!”  buck begged, seeing the huge white bear in front of him moving towards him and taking him in her paws, and, yes, she smelt like Anook, and felt like her too, but the sight of her was frightening.

       “You’re big mama!”  Buck exclaimed.  Kuruk looked at the cub:

       “You have lovely eyes Kuruk said.  Buck looked at him then crawled to him.  Kuruk gazed down at the cub on the rugs.

     “Your eyes are open, but you’re not on your paws yet, which b cute Kuruk think,” Kuruk said.  Buck stared at the huge bear.

       “I shared milk with you only two hours ago,” he said faintly.  Kuruk kissed his nose.

       “Kuruk did share milk with cub Buck yes,” Kuruk replied.  Buck looked Kuruk over.

      “Sire Kuruk have huge paws!”  He exclaimed.  Kuruk showed off his paws to his son cub.  Buck measured paws with Kuruk and saw as well as felt the difference in size.  Buck and Kuruk played with each other’s hind paws for a while, occasioning laughter on both sides, then buck turned his attentions to his mother.  Soon they were playing merrily, tactile play mostly, like buck had always known.

       “Now let’s ride the water coaster!”  Olga suggested.  Kuruk groaned deeply, but knew that if buck went with Olga, he’d have to go too.

       “Kuruk coming,” he said, reluctantly getting to his paws.

       “Kuruk afeared of water coaster thing buck think,” buck said to Olga.  Olga, hearing her sire’s strange language spoken by her youngest brother, laughed and ruffled his ears.

      “Now you speak proper like mama and I do,” she said.

       “No,” buck protested, “why buck do speak proper thing?  Someone’s got to preserve sire Kuruk’s strange brand of English.”  Kuruk looked at his son cub.

      “You serious?”  He asked, “you want keep how Kuruk talk going?”  Buck looked into his sire’s face, and the look in his eyes moved Kuruk to tears.

      “Yes,” he said, “it’s a lovely dialect.”  Kuruk hid his eyes behind one massive paw.

       “I think you’ve moved your sire to tears,” Anook said.  Kuruk turned away, unable to show his emotions.

       “He’s crying,” Olga said to Buck.  Buck nodded:

      “He’s more precious to the community than he knows,” the cub said.

      “Everyone is,” Olga replied, “but I know what you mean buck.”  The two cubs looked at the sobbing male grizzly bear.

       “Noone has taken Kuruk seriously like that before,” Anook said, “it’s good you want to preserve his dialect.”

       “I love it,” Buck replied, “I heard it when he got excited during my birth:

     “Push mama Anook!”  He said, “That’s it, do the push thing again!”  That was so sweet.”  Padding to the water coaster, buck and Anook watched as the water ran towards the first lift hill.

      “We’re gonna be riding that soon,” buck said excitedly.

       “No buck, Sorry,” Koda replied, “If you’re too small you wont be riding the coaster.”  Buck looked devastated.

       “But, but, mama said I could!”  He whimpered.

      “You’re not big enough yet buck love,” Anook said, her eyes telling buck how upset for him she was.

      “You’re too small,” she said sadly.  Buck stepped into the flow of water and smiled as the water rippled around his paws.

       “Can’t we do anything to allow him to ride?”  Anook pleaded.  Koda got paws on with buck, feeling his body from nose to tail.

       “He’s a large cub, but he’s too small really,” he said to Anook.  Buck paddled about in the water flowing towards the lift hill.

      “I want to ride, I want to ride!”  He wailed.

        “I wish there was a cub’s coaster,” Koda said sincerely, “but you have to be at least six months old to ride, and you’re not buck.”

      “But why was I able to ride the flume?”  He asked.

     “The water coaster is not like the flume,” Koda replied, “there are rafts that you sit in rather than a boat.”  Buck gazed at the lift hill with pleading eyes.

       “Come on buck, let’s ride the flume,” Koda said airily, picking the cub up.  Buck made himself into a dead weight in protest, Koda hafting him out of the chute and down the stairs, buck roaring and kicking in protestation.

      “I want to ride the coaster; I want to ride the coaster!”  He shouted.  Koda put the struggling cub down on the floor.

       “You can’t ride the coaster until you’re older,” he said gently.  Buck gave up the fight when Koda hugged him tenderly and kissed his nose.

       “Let’s ride the flume,” Koda said gently.  Buck got to his feet and looked the black bear over from nose to tail.

       “You are not as big as mama, or as sire Kuruk,” he said, “but you have more power than both.”  Koda turned his face to the cub.

       “I guess you could be right,” he said.  Buck crawled to the boat and got into it, the black bear sitting behind him and enfolding him in his warm hug.  Buck settled back as the flume boat set off on the course.

 

Meanwhile, in Kamchatka’s lie up, Spits and Alaska sat together, spits playing with Alaska’s hind paws, the female cub loving every minute.  Spits hugged Alaska tightly, then she’d lie down and curl up, Spits touching her nose, forepaws, belly and hind paws, Alaska wriggling to make sure her paws were in contact with his.  Spits traced the pads of Alaska’s right hind paw, the female cub curling her toes slightly as he touched the pads on the sole of her paw.

      “That feels so good!”  She said dreamily, “my toes want to curl so tightly!”

      “Let them do what they wish,” Spits said.  Alaska relaxed, and her toes didn’t curl, her right paw relaxed in Spits’s forepaws.

       “I know Honeyfur would go mad if she caught us at this during story time,” Alaska said.  Indeed, a couple of nights previously, while the badgers were telling the younger cubs tales of the community, Spits had been massaging Alaskans hind paws, the badger noticing this and losing her fur over the insolent.

       “You no play with each other’s paws while Honeyfur telling stories!”  She yelled, “Honeyfur want tell tales to stop cubs from doing mistakes that others before them make, and what you cubs do?  Play with each other’s paws as if you know it all and can concentrate on other things!”  She’d yelled into their faces.  Alaska and Spits had kept their paws off each other for five minutes, but then, Alaska, unable to resist Spits touch, had given him her right hind foot again,  the badger losing it totally and throwing the two cubs out after cuffing them with her paws.

      “And now we’re going to story time again,” Alaska said heavily, “we have to go; we have no choice until we’re two years old here.  I’m bored of it!”  Spits kissed his friend’s nose:

       “If we are careful, we could play with each other’s paws,” he said, “we’ll sit behind a larger community cub.”

     “No we can’t,” Alaska said miserably, “Honeyfur’s strict on that.  She wants to see all of us, to see we’re paying attention, and, and to see if we’re playing with each other’s paws too!”  Spits hugged Alaska tenderly, and, later that day, led her by the paw to the great room, where the cubs were all gathering for that day’s story time.

 

Alaska and Spits sat in the midst of the cubs, with Raja junior and Tinka behind them, and Little Patch and Lihua in front.  There was no chance of getting away with a little paw play.

      “now everyone be here,”  Honeyfur said, padding into the room and positioning herself at the front of the assembled company, facing them, “today’s story be all about Theo Senior, and how he inadvertently overthrew his brother ancient Leo and became the kind of community leader we know today.  Yesterday, I told you of how Theo senior had helped Elsa number two have her cubs, now who can remember the names of her cubs?”

         “Um, er,” Spits began, Honeyfur looking at him.

       “Yes?”  She asked.

       “Weren’t their names Rowena and Simba?”  He asked.  Honeyfur snorted with disgust.

      “No they weren’t! You stupid clot!”  she snapped, “and I be not surprised you don’t know their names because you and Alaska were too busy playing with each other’s paws last session!  You two should have your paws tied!”

       “The cubs had no names at the end of the last tale,” Lihua said.  Honeyfur turned her gaze on the female panda cub, who glanced round at Spits and Alaska with sympathy.

       “You dare side with those two!”  The badger roared, “They are bad cubs, who should not be bringing paw play into formal story time!”

       “But, mama Honeyfur,”  Lihua said, mustering all of her year’s experience and courage and taking it in both paws, “you have always told us that paw play was part of the community, you said it was almost essential to our well being.”

      “And so it is,” Honeyfur replied, “but in formal story time we no play with paws.”

       “So you deny what you freely admit is essential play to the cubs of this community now?”  Someone asked.  Honeyfur looked towards the speaker.  He was a cub, but then not a cub.  A huge lion, with the eyes of a cub, and the biggest paws she’d ever seen.

       “Who are you?”  She asked.  The oversized cub smiled:

        “Don’t you recognise me from the ancient recordings?”  The cub with the huge paws asked.  Honeyfur shook her head.

       “You be playing games with an old badger if you pretend be a spirit!”  She grunted, “Now stop this playtime!  It worse than playing with paws that be, it be disrespect even more than paw play among the cubs!  Now stop your pretend spirit play!”  The lion shook his head.

       “I refuse to stop pretending,” he said.

      “You stop this nonsense!”  Honeyfur yelled.

       “How can I stop nonsense when it never started?”  The lion asked.  Alaska, who was sitting beside the lion, though she hadn’t noticed him arriving, reached out to touch him with her paw.  Just before her paw touched his left hind paw, the lion shifted his position, so his paw touched hers first.  Then the lion leant over on his three free paws and allowed Alaska to get her paws beneath the pads of his left hind.  The pads were warm and, when his toes curled slightly, so cute as to make her gasp with emotion.

         “When cubs in your care play with each other’s paws while listening to your stories, do not scold them.  For their play might forge friendships and trust which will outlive you and your strict ways,” the lion said.

       “Leave go of my paw little cousin,” the lion said gently to Alaska, who reluctantly let go of the lion’s left hind paw.  Gazing up into his face, Alaska felt a desperate urge to hug him.

        “I need a hug,” The lion cub said softly, so only she could hear.  Alaska threw her paws around his neck and embraced him long and hard.

        “I know you,” she whispered, “dear Theo Senior, dear lion, first student of Eohippus.”  Theo smiled and kissed the top of Alaska’s head.

       “So you have not been as inattentive as this badger cub would have me think,” he purred.  Alaska felt suddenly tearful.

        “And about playing with Spits’s paws in story time,” Theo said softly, “Alaska, play with his paws like you played with mine.  And if you’re wondering why I touched your paw before you could take hold of mine?”

       “It’s a spirit thing,” Alaska replied, “You can’t be touched by us first, if you are touched, our paws hurt your energy, so you need to make first contact.”  Theo grinned:

       “Yes, but now you can touch me all over, and it won’t hurt my energy one bit.”  Kissing Alaska’s nose, Theo disengaged himself from her hug, and then rolled onto his back, presenting her with all four paws.  Alaska kissed the pads of all four paws, Theo wriggling and mewing with pleasure.  After five minutes of this, Theo put an end to Alaska’s ministrations, kissed her nose once more, and then vanished.

       “I loved that so much!”  Alaska said.

        “So now Honeyfur let cubs play with paws while she tells this tale,” she said, “the tale of Petra and Aslan and their relationship, which is a change to the tale I was gonna tell.”  The cubs all cheered, and then sorted themselves into groups by touching random hind paws with forepaws.  There was one cub left over, Buck, the hairy cub, the odd one out.  Looking forlorn, he hunted in vain for a partner, but couldn’t find one, as to his eyes there were an even number of cubs in the group.  In desperation, he looked to Honeyfur, who shook her head.

       “Find another cub,” she said, seemingly oblivious of the problem.

       “But, but, there are no others!”  Buck said, getting upset.

       “There is one other,” Sita said, crawling over to Buck and taking his paw in hers.

       “I didn’t see you in the group,” buck said.

       “Because you didn’t really use your paws,” someone said softly, “Maybe you will now buck.”  Buck looked up, and saw Koda in the doorway.

        “I’m sorry,” he said, his voice faint and tone contrite.  Koda said nothing.

         “But I really am sorry!”  Buck pleaded.

       “If you weren’t, I would not be staying with you,” Sita said.  Buck looked into her face.

       “I’ve never played with a cat’s paws before,” he said, “but, but, these paws, they feel like a bear’s, well sort of like a bear’s, wide, with a large rough sole pad.  You even have, one, two, three four, five toes on your hind feet, and on your fore also!  Cats have four toes on their hind feet, not five!”

        “That’s because I’m a bear’s cub as well as a tigress’s,” Sita mewed.  Sita kissed buck’s nose, then rolled onto her side to allow the bear cub to play with her hind and forepaws equally.

       “Show me a good time,” Sita pleaded.  Buck smiled and took her right forepaw in his forepaws.

      “I will,” he promised.  Honeyfur looked at the assembled cubs.

      “Now let’s hear two tales, the first one about how Theo Senior became leader, and the second about Petra and Aslan’s relationship, where they use paw contact to cement their love.  First Theo’s tale. ““The leadership contest.

 

 

Elsa woke in the early morning.  Looking round her, she could see Theo and his two cubs, as well as her own two cubs.

     “It seems strange that only yesterday, I was struggling to walk through a wood, my cubs soon to be born, and now, now my cubs are here, I’ve been given the most wonderful care by a lion whom I’ve never met before, and I’ve even met his two cubs.  I am more grateful to Theo than I can put into words,” Elsa thought.  Elsa heard other animals stirring and moving about in the rest of the house.  Elsa could hear some were animals with small paws, others with large paws moving about the house.  Suddenly the door opened a crack and an ear was put to the gap.  Elsa was surprised to see the ear belonged to a tiger!  Mewing with fear, she curled up in a frightened heap on the floor.  Hearing her mew, Tigger whispered:

     “Elsa, Elsa my dear, it’s all right, I won’t harm you or your cubs.”  Elsa heard the tiger’s voice, and it was gentle.  It didn’t mean its owner was though, and Elsa remained curled tight.

       “I wondered if anyone wanted a bath, that was all,” the tiger purred.

     “Who are you?”  Elsa whispered faintly.

     “My name’s Tigger,” the tiger replied.

     “Tigger?”  Elsa asked, “Why, I was told about you, Tembi, another lioness with the one who told me about this place told me about a tiger of that name.”

      “That’s me,” Tigger purred.

     “She said you were the gentlest tiger anyone could meet, with the softest paws and most gentle manner of any animal here.  Though how anyone can be gentler than Theo I don’t know,” Elsa said.

     “Ah, Theo,” Tigger purred, the lion’s name seemingly spoken with a kind of reverence, “you have a good friend there Elsa my brave lioness, a very good friend.  He will stick by you through everything.”

      “I felt he would,” she mewed, now tearful; “|I felt it the minute he took my paw in the hallway to lead me up here.”

      “I know him,” Tigger mewed, “Theo’s wonderful.”

      “And so say all of us,” Petra mewed.  She got to her paws and opened the door, to Elsa’s great alarm!

     “No Petra, no!”  she growled, “that Tiger’s,,,”

       “That Tiger?”  Petra replied, “watch this!”  With that she went up to Tigger and tickled his left forepaw.  Tigger smiled, rolled onto his back and caressed Petra in his paws.

      “That’s who you’re scared of,” Petra said.  Elsa got to her paws and examined the tiger.  Tigger was magnificent to look at, but there was something wrong.  He never looked at her, not once.

      “Tigger’s blind,” Petra mewed, realising what Elsa was confused about.

     “Oh,” Elsa said, “now wondering how she was going to approach Tigger.  He’d seemed so confident when talking to her earlier.

     “Come here Elsa my dear,” Tigger said.  Elsa went to the blind tiger and Tigger released Petra, before Enveloping Elsa in a huge tiger sized hug.  Elsa found herself cuddling into the tiger’s soft warm fur.  She recognised a sudden feeling she had, which was the same security as with Theo, the same love for her.  This, like Theo’s, wasn’t contrived, it was genuine.  Tigger felt, like Theo, that Elsa was the only one who mattered to him that moment.  He gave his all to her.

      “You two are wonderful,” Elsa mewed, “such safe warm paws, I feel so safe!”

      “That’s because you are Elsa my pet,” Tigger mewed.  This brought tears to Elsa’s eyes, and when Tigger nuzzled her cheek, Elsa let the tears flow, for she now knew what it was to be safe, safe in the paws of the huge tiger.

      “You are safe here Elsa,” Theo mewed, “Tigger and I will keep you and your cubs safe.”  Elsa buried her face in Tigger’s fur, breathing in his scent.

       “I’m one lucky lioness,” she sniffed.

      “We love you for being yourself,” Theo purred.  Elsa looked at Theo.

     “Thank you again for helping me yesterday Theo,” she said.  Theo crawled up to Elsa, touched her nose with his, and then licked it.  Elsa returned his gesture.

      “Now I will have to deal with Leo,” Theo spat, “that bloody lion!”

      “Leo’s, um, your brother?”  Elsa asked, “The same one who’s paw I caught hold of during my labour yesterday?”

     “The same,” Aslan said, “he’s a bully, a proper bully!”

      “He was badly upset by the lioness called Elsa whom you met in the woods, and projected his anger onto you as you have the same name as her,” Petra mewed, “its awful!”

      “I’m not her!”  Elsa wailed, “I’m not her!”

      “We know that,” Tigger said gently, “but Leo’s a stupid idiot.  He’s too out of touch, too remote.  He won’t even give a cub the time of day any more.  Now some of us will roll on the carpet with the cubs and play with them.”

      “Theo for example!”  ~Elsa’s female cub mewed, “we tickled his paws until he was weak from laughing yesterday Tigger.”  Tigger smiled.

     “That’s wonderful,” he purred.

     “What was that you came in here to ask us about?”  Elsa asked.

      “Oh yes,” Tigger replied, “the bath.  Anyone want one?”

      “What’s, um, a bath?”  Elsa asked.

      “It’s a large pool of water, and it massages your paws,” Tigger mewed.  Elsa smiled:

      “Massages your paws?”  She asked, “Like Theo does?”

      “Um, not as well as he does, but yes,” Tigger mewed.  Theo grinned and playfully swiped at Tigger’s paw with his.

     “You pay me too bigger complement Tiggie,” Theo mewed.  Tigger smiled:

        “So who wants a bath?”  He asked.  Both Elsa’s cubs leapt at the chance, so did Petra and Aslan.  They all turned to Elsa, who thought for a minute, then nodded.

      “Can we bath newborn cubs though?”  Petra asked.

       “You were when you were only a few days old,” Tigger replied, “I will take it gently though, dry the cubs off thoroughly, that kind of thing.”

      Where is the bathroom in this house?”  Elsa asked.

      “Downstairs, through the living room, and kitchen, and it’s there,” Tigger mewed.

      “Is that, that horrid huge lion going to be anywhere near us when we go there?”  Elsa asked.

      “Leo will be there,” Tigger replied, “but not in the bathroom, as he’s never had a bath in his life.  He’ll be in the living room no doubt.”  Elsa looked at Theo.

      “Don’t worry Elsa my dear,” Theo purred, “I’ll tell him that if he says anything, anything! I will rip his paws off.”

      “That’s what he said to you while I was struggling up the stairs before the birth of my cubs,” Elsa mewed.

      “Exactly,” Theo said.

 

Elsa, Theo, Tigger and the four cubs trooped down the stairs, their paws making a scuffling swishing sound as they crawled.  Reaching the living room, Theo fixed Leo with a, “don’t say anything,” look as the huge lion caught sight of them.  Leo, still shaken by his experience in the cubbing den, averted his eyes from Elsa, who refused to look at him.

      “It’s a long way to the bathroom,” Elsa’s largest cub said.  Her smallest cub, a male cub, cuffed his sister and told her not to be such a big cub over it.  This made everyone laugh, including Leo.

      “We’ve got a jester in the household, and he’s only a few hours old,” Salty mewed.  Elsa’s male cub turned an ear towards Salty.  He could sense the size of the snow leopard, and that he meant noone any harm.  By now the procession had reached the bathroom, and Theo marshalled Elsa and the cubs round him, while Tigger sorted the bathtub.  They’d recently had a new tub installed, with a proper whirlpool come massage facility.  The tub was massive! Large enough for two adult cats, or one polar bear and a cub or two to bathe together.  Many animals said it was installed so that Tigger could bath animals faster, and that this would lead to a drop in the service quality, but it didn’t seem to have happened that way.  Tigger turned the taps on with one paw, the taps having long handles on them.  It was said that these handles helped humans with poor grip or arthritis to turn the taps on, but Tigger knew nothing about these things.  All he knew was that he could operate the taps and everything else with one paw, which was much better for him.  Once he’d mixed the water flowing from the tap to a warm temperature by first running the cold tap, then adding hot until he was satisfied, , Tigger pressed down on the plug with one hind paw, for he’d got into the bath to turn the taps.  Tigger leapt out of the bath and mischievously placed a wet forepaw on the nose of Elsa’s youngest cub, who squealed with surprise and batted at his paw.

      “Hey!”  She mewed.  Tigger embraced her in his huge paws, the lion cub snuggling into his hug.  Elsa watched the water filling the bath.  It looked invitingly warm.  The sound of huge paws coming nearer made Elsa and the cubs turn to see who was approaching.  The largest polar bear any of them had ever seen came into the bathroom.  Elsa was about to defend her cubs from it, when the bear raised a huge paw to stop her.

      “It’s okay, I’m not a threat!”  The bear said.

      “Ah Nanuq,” Tigger mewed, “it’s good to see you my friend.”

       “I’m sorry Tigger,”  Nanuq said, “but have I walked in on something?”

       “You know there was a kafuffle about a lioness in labour yesterday afternoon?”  Tigger asked.

     “Well, Yes,”  Nanuq replied, now very concerned, “how is she?  Did she have her cubs in the end?  Are they all right?  Is she okay?  “I, I saw Leo go storming upstairs, and I heard mewing, yelling, and crying.  Not to mention banging and scrabbling.  Leo came down looking very frightened.  Please Tigger, Tell me everything’s all right!”

Elsa realised this polar bear was really concerned, almost frantic with worry.

     “Tigger had nothing to do with the actual birth of the lioness’s cubs,”  Aslan said, “Theo did.”

     “Theo?”  Nanuq asked, “but, but, he’s scared of cubbing, he wouldn’t get involved with that, would he?”

      “Yes I would,”  Theo purred, “I got involved with Elsa’s labour, and the birth of her cubs.  As to whether she and her cubs are all right, take a look for yourself.  The lioness who challenged you when you came in here is the very one whom you saw struggling up the stairs and whom you heard yelling and mewing.”  Nanuq looked into Elsa’s face.  Elsa now saw the genuine concern the huge polar bear had for her and her cubs.

       “I’m fine now sir,”  Elsa said, all defensiveness gone.  She found she couldn’t meet the polar bear’s gaze, ending up looking down at the floor, focusing on the paws of her youngest cub.

       “You don’t need to be frightened of him Elsa dear,”  Tigger said, turning off the taps.  Tigger then dipped a paw into a barrel and scooped up a huge pawful of bath oils and salts which he threw into the water.  Turning on the whirlpool and massage function, he let the water do the work of mixing in the salts and oil.  He was glad he didn’t have to do this himself any more.

      “Nearly done,”  Tigger said.

      “A real operation you’ve got here,”  Theo remarked to Tigger.

     “yes Theo, you’re right there,”  Tigger replied, “but it’s how I’ve always wished it to be.”

      “Nanuq,”  Elsa said, “I’m okay, honestly.  Theo was wonderful, helping me bring my cubs into the world.  He was so gentle.”  Nanuq looked at Theo.

      “Well done Theo,”  he said.  Then, turning to the room in general:

     “Anyone want a drink?”  Everyone accepted Nanuq’s offer, and the polar bear soon returned with water for the cubs and milk for the adult animals.  Elsa drank deeply, realising she was thirsty and hungry.

    “What do we do for food here?”  she asked.

      “it’s fish and veg mix usually,”  Nanuq replied, “though Petra here only has vegetables.  She’s got a meat allergy.”

      “Meat allergy?”  Elsa asked, “how can a lion cub have a meat allergy?”

      “I do,”  Petra replied, “though I don’t know how I got it.  Any kind of meat  makes me violently sick.”  Elsa looked round the assembled lions.  She stopped when her eye fell on Petra, the cub was white all over!

     “I’ve only just noticed this,”  she said, “but Petra, you’re white all over!”  Petra smiled.

     “that I am,”  she replied.

     “how,”  Elsa asked.

      “It’s a condition called leucism,”  Petra replied.

      “Like Albinism?”  Elsa asked.

     “No,”  Petra replied.

     “here comes the science bit, concentrate,”  Theo mewed, making Tigger, Elsa and Nanuq laugh.

      “Albinism means that there’s no pigment in the skin, fur, paw pads, lips or eyes of an animal, also albinism can affect an animals sight in certain ways.  Leucism is a lack of pigment in the skin and fur, though the pads of the paws, lips and eyes still have correct colouration,”  Petra said.

     “You memorised that,”  Aslan mewed.

     “Kalahari told me,”  Petra replied, “I can’t read yet.”  Elsa was fascinated.

     “Petra, please, would you let me look at the sole of one of your paws?”  Petra obligingly lifted her right forepaw from the floor and turned it to let Elsa look at it.  Elsa saw Petra’s pads were black, and when the cub extended her claws, that they were black too.”

       “It’s a misconception to say animals with leucism are white from their nose to their toes,”  Theo said, “for they’re not.”  Elsa patted the pads of Petra’s paw.

      “now time for a bath,”  Tigger said, turning to the assembled animals, “who will go first?”  Elsa held up her paw.

      “I will,”  she said.  Tigger knew why the lioness had volunteered.

      “Okay,”  he said, “but it’s perfectly safe Elsa.”  Elsa nodded.

      “I know,”  she said, “you have all been so good to me and my cubs, I know it’s safe, but it’s instinctive to be wary of a new thing.”  Tigger nodded.

     “come,”  he said, beckoning her over to him, “one paw at a time, take it gently.”  Elsa placed her left forepaw into the bath  first, then her right, then her left hind, then her right.  The water massaged her paws, and this felt wonderful to Elsa.

      “Why not lie down in the water,”  Tigger suggested.

       “Oh yes, yes please!”  Elsa mewed, getting down as low in the water as she could, so that her nose was the only thing above the surface of the water.  Elsa felt the water massaging her from her ears to the pads of her paws, it felt wonderful!  Elsa suddenly took a deep breath and plunged her head beneath the water.  The water roared in her ears, and was as strange to her as it had been to Aslan the first time he’d tried it.

 

Tigger waited for Elsa to come up for air, then said:

      “Now I’m going to try something on you.  I’m going to shampoo your fur.  Elsa hadn’t had this done before, but accepted it, as she now felt these animals had her and her cubs best interests at heart.  Tigger used a pump action dispenser to squirt a special kind of fur shampoo into his paw.  He used this shampoo so that if any got into the animal’s eyes, it wouldn’t hurt so much, even though Tigger was very careful.  Tigger began to massage the shampoo into Elsa’s fur, the sensation of Tigger’s paws working the shampoo in was very pleasurable to the lioness.  Purring, Elsa relaxed as Tigger worked the shampoo into her fur  from just above her eyes, which she’d closed,, to the end of her tail, and down her legs to the soles of her paws.  Elsa felt Tigger take all four of her paws, one by one,  in his and work the shampoo between her pads and toes.  It felt fantastic!  Once Every part of her was shampooed, Tigger washed the shampoo off with as much care as he’d taken when applying it.  This was also as pleasurable to Elsa as the initial shampooing had been.  Tigger worked his toes into the fur on Elsa’s back, belly, legs and paws, working gently but firmly to get rid of all the shampoo.  The water was warm, Tigger’s paws were gentle but thorough, and Elsa felt at peace.  Elsa’s bath finished much too soon, even though she’d been in it for about an hour, Tigger giving her the full treatment.  Now it was time for her largest cub to be bathed in a similar manner.  Elsa stood flat footed and uneasy when Tigger told her she should go into the kitchen and wait there to be dried off.

     “I’d rather not,”  she said, “for I would like to keep an eye on my cubs.”  Tigger banged the side of the tub with one paw in frustration at himself, frightening Elsa’s youngest cub, who was standing in the water.  Tigger had forgotten how young Elsa’s cubs were, they were only a few hours old, and she was very protective over them.

     “I’m sorry Elsa,”  Tigger said, “I’m being a total idiot over this.  I forgot for an instant how young your cubs are.”  Elsa, still slightly fearful, growled a reply, but Theo laid his paw gently on hers, soothing the lioness’s mind.

     “I will dry you off here,”  Theo said, picking up a towel and quite without thinking, throwing it over Elsa’s head to dry her neck, ears and face.  Elsa, her vision now obscured by the towel, screamed and lashed out at Theo in a blind panic!  Theo felt her paws scrabbling at his face as he tried to dry her off.

      “Let me out of here!”  Elsa begged, thrashing and kicking.  Theo received the full benefit of Elsa’s fear driven strength as the panic stricken lioness lashed out with one of her forepaws, her paw smashing into his nose!  Theo recoiled, dropping the towel which fell from Elsa’s face, the lioness ripping it to shreds in her fear.

     “Elsa, Elsa!”  Theo pleaded.  Elsa looked at him, her eyes full of fear and terror.

       “My cubs, my cubs!”  she gasped, “where are my cubs!  What have you done with them!”  Theo then realised the mistake he’d made.

      “Elsa, I’m so, so sorry,”  he said, “your cubs are fine, but I shouldn’t have thrown the towel over your head without warning you first.  I’m not doing very well here.  Elsa was about to snap at Theo, to tell him he was a bonehead and an idiot for not realising this, when she calmed down at the sight of her cubs, which were now both in the bath, Tigger having put the smaller male cub in with his sister, as they wanted to be together.  Tigger had then clambered in with them, and was washing them while they did their best to splash him in play.

       “You never throw a towel over the head of a new mother!”  Tigger remonstrated with Theo, “she will want full sight of her cubs at all times.”  Theo dragged away the destroyed towel and binned it.  He then told Kalahari what had taken place, so the meerkat could chalk up a reminder to the boss to get a new towel as one had been destroyed by an irate lioness.  The boss was used to such reminders, and often used something called the internet to order things for the house.

 

Kalahari and the other animals cared little for this internet however, as it didn’t concern them.

 

Back in the bathroom, Theo, after being advised by Tigger on how to dry Elsa’s head and neck.  The advice being, “let her do it,” Theo managed to dry the rest of the lioness’s body off.  Throughout this, Theo couldn’t help feeling that Elsa’s mood had changed, from carefree enjoyment, to wary watchfulness.  It hurt Theo a great deal to know he might be the cause of this.

     “Elsa,”  he said gently while drying her paws, “I’m sorry for throwing the towel over your head, I didn’t realise it would upset you so much.”  Elsa was about to snap at him for a second time, then took hold of herself and gave herself a mental slapping.

      “I get angry whenever I think of those few seconds,”  she said, “but I shouldn’t, for in my rational mind I know you meant no harm to me or my cubs, but my instinct says differently, and that’s uppermost.”  Elsa looked into Theo’s eyes, seeing the young lion was near to tears.

      “Oh Theo, Theo, don’t cry,”  Elsa said gently, taking the young lion in her paws and drawing him close, “it’s not your fault.  I shouldn’t snap, but my instinct tells me to protect my cubs at all cost.  I don’t want to be hard on you my friend.”  Theo buried his head in Elsa’s shoulder.

      “I don’t want to upset you!”  he sobbed, “that’s the last thing I want to do Elsa!”  Elsa stroked Theo’s mane and paws, trying to calm the distressed young lion.

       “I know Theo my love, I know,”  she purred.  Theo could hardly believe his ears.

      “What did you call me?”  he asked.  Elsa, realising what she’d said, blushed to the tips of her ears.

       “I, I shouldn’t have,”  she mewed, “I know what I called you, but it’s wrong, I can’t ask that of you.”  Theo smiled at Elsa.

     “Love me, love my cubs,”  he said.  Elsa looked over at Aslan and Petra with as much love in her eyes as she had when looking at her own cubs.

       “Done,”  Elsa replied.  What Theo didn’t know was that the previous night, Elsa let Petra and Aslan drink milk from her once her own cubs were asleep.  She knew Tembi had weaned her cubs far too early, and that they might still have a taste for milk, so, knowing her own cubs would not go short, Elsa offered Theo’s cubs some of her milk, which they gratefully accepted.

      “Theo,”  Elsa said, “Tembi weaned your cubs far too early didn’t she.”  Theo wondered how Elsa knew.

     “yes, she did,”  Theo replied, “Aslan at two months and Petra at three.  I know they usually drink milk full time until three months and then on and off for at least another six.  How did you work that one out?”

       “I could tell,”  Elsa said, “let’s leave it at that.  So, I did something last night which might seem strange to you.  I let them drink milk from my own supply.  I know a lioness only has enough resources to rear two cubs, but I wanted to give your two a token of my affection towards them, so I let them drink milk.  My cubs won’t go short, now neither will yours.  Aslan and Petra know why I did what I did.”  Theo hugged Elsa tightly.

      “You are so kind,”  he mewed, “so generous to me and my cubs.  How can I ever repay you.”

      “You don’t need to,”  Elsa purred,  ”I love you, and I hope you love me, for I feel you do.”

     “I do Elsa, I do!”  Theo mewed.  Elsa licked his nose, planting a lioness’s kiss on it.

     “I love your cubs as if I gave birth to them yesterday Theo,”  Elsa said, “and that’s the truth.”  Theo choked back tears.

       “Oh Elsa, Elsa!”  he sobbed, “I love you with all my heart.  I know we’ve not been long known to each other, but, but, I feel it so deeply Elsa dear, deeper than I ever did with Tembi, I can’t explain how.”

       “I knew I wanted to meet the sire of the cub who’d argued for me to be taken in and helped when I was close to having my cubs,”  Elsa replied, “and when I met you, and we went through the birth of my cubs together, I just knew I could love a lion like you.  Then, when I felt our closeness, and how you seemed to become one with me during my labour, I knew then Theo, I knew something was there.  I know you are a caring and considerate lion, but you went the extra mile with and for me.”  Theo nodded, “you seemed to know what I liked, what would give me relief, how to encourage me to deliver my cubs.  I hope I’m not mistaking professionalism for love for me,”  Elsa said.

      “No,”  Theo mewed, “for I wouldn’t usually then spend the night with the lioness who’s cubs I’d helped deliver.  I’d walk away and spend the night with my own cubs, for a lioness doesn’t need a male lion to nurture cubs.”

       “This one does,”  Elsa purred, “our cubs felt it too,”  Elsa continued, “for did you notice that one of my cubs spent the night with me and one with you.  On the same token, one of your cubs spent the night with me and one with you.  So even our cubs accept our relationship, and feel comfortable with either of us.”

       “I was so exhausted, I didn’t realise it,”  Theo mewed.

 

Meanwhile, Tigger had bathed Aslan and  Petra, as well as Elsa’s two cubs, while all listened to Theo and Elsa’s conversation.

      “isn’t this wonderful!”  Elsa’s female cub mewed.  Petra laughed delightedly, hugging her tightly.

      “it is,”  she purred.  Elsa’s youngest cub tickled the pads of Petra’s paw, the white cub laughing helplessly.

      “How shall we name your two cubs Elsa?”  Theo asked, watching the antics of Petra and Elsa’s cub’s.

      “I think we should name my youngest cub Leona, latten for lion, and my eldest cub Simba, Swahili for lion,”  Elsa replied.

        “Okay,”  Theo replied.

      “there might be a problem when your male cub’s name is known,”  Nanuq said, “you see, we had problems with a lion of that name who is now dead.  I know your cub isn’t that lion, but others may not be so accommodating.”

      “some had problems with a lioness named Elsa coming into the house,”  Theo replied, “I don’t think we’ll change the names just because certain members of the community have a disliking for a certain lion named Simba who’s now six feet under.  No Elsa, ignore all that, we will name them Leona and Simba.”

 

You dam well will not do such a thing Theodore!”  Leo yelled, making Elsa leap to her paws and turn to protect all four of her cubs.

     “I wondered when you’d turn up and put your oar in things,”  Theo snarled, leaping to his feet, Elsa’s growling and snarling becoming more threatening as Leo approached.

     “Leave us alone!”  Elsa snarled.

      “I can take your life and those of your cubs with one paw Elsa! You insignificant bag of fur!”  Leo yelled.

       “He’s going to kill us mum!”  Leona mewed.

      “You don’t know when you’re beaten do you Leo,”  Theo mewed.  Leo spat at his brother.

     “I’ve been listening from the doorway into the kitchen,”  Leo snarled, “I heard everything!  Nanuq won’t harm me, he hasn’t got the guts to try it!  So that lioness is mine, and so’s her disgusting male cub!”

      “Elsa and Simba are not the Elsa and Simba who did us harm!”  Theo mewed, “you saw Simba being born, he’s not the same cub!”

       “You disgust me Theo!”  Leo yelled.  Suddenly Leo screamed with fear and terror as  Nanuq strode up to and stood over him!

       “I will attack you Leo,”  Nanuq said calmly, “for I happen to be concerned about Elsa, for she loves Theo, Theo loves her, and they have adopted each other’s cubs.  Theo happens to be my friend, and by extension, so does Elsa.  You dare to mess with them now?”

     “Nanuq, don’t!”  Elsa pleaded.

      “No,”  Nanuq replied, “I won’t, Theo will!”

    “Theo couldn’t, he’s not strong enough!”  Leo yelled.  Then, jabbing his paw at his brother, Leo yelled:

     “come on then you fat massage loving loser!”  Theo lost it, the same way he had with Tarker!  Charging at Leo, Theo leapt into the air, his claws extended.  Theo’s claws ripped into Leo’s face, the larger lion screaming with fear as he realised he’d pushed his brother too far!

     “Now you will pay!”  Theo snarled, tearing at and biting his older brother’s nose.  Leo tried to bring his paws up to protect his face, but Nanuq, now furious, brought his paw crashing down on the lion’s, Leo screaming as his paw smashed down onto the hard lino floor.

      “Get out of here Elsa!”  Theo yelled, “take our cubs and go to the cubbing Den!  Run for your lives all of you!”  Elsa, Petra, Simba, and Leona fled for the door and the stairs.  Theo and Nanuq held Leo down until they heard the slam of the door into the cubbing den.

     “Salty!”  Theo shouted, “get here now!”  Salty ran in, eager to do what he could.

      “Get upstairs and guard the door into the cubbing den,”  Theo commanded, ”get otters to take food up to those inside, don’t let anyone in apart from Winifred and Emily, Is that clear!”  Salty nodded and fled!

 

Nanuq and Theo pummelled Leo until the lion was semi conscious.

 

Meanwhile, Tigger had leapt into the bathtub, covering his ears with his paws in fear.  He’d always feared this might happen, that Leo would go ballistic one day, and it had happened.  Tigger now lay there, mewing like a frightened cub, wishing he was in the cubbing den with the others.

     “Clarence,”  he thought miserably, “please, if you love me at all please help me now!”

 

Clarence, walking in the wood on routine patrol, making sure neither Elsa nor Tembi returned to the house, suddenly felt uneasy.  He knew what this meant, and sprinted for the house!  Busting in through the gate, he sprinted for the bathroom window to look in.  he saw Tigger miserably huddled in a now empty bathtub, and his friend looked dreadfully upset.  Clarence knew the back door was locked, it always was.  Banging on the window with his paw, Clarence attracted Tigger’s attention.  The tiger opened the window:

      “Clarence,”  Tigger panted, “thank god you’re here!  It’s all gone very wrong!  Come in through the window, don’t go round the front, please my friend, trust me on this!”  Clarence clambered into the bathroom through the window, which Tigger slammed shut behind him.

     “What the hell’s going on!”  Clarence demanded.

      “Leo’s gone crazy, long story,”  Tigger panted, “no going back from here, got big trouble!”

     “Calm down Tigger my friend,”  Clarence mewed, “you’re safe now.  Tell me all about it.”

      “I think it’s like this,”  Tigger replied, telling Clarence all he knew.

      “Oh dear,”  Clarence said, whistling through his teeth, “it’s a bad one and no mistake.”  Clarence had been on a two day patrol with Amber and Stifftail, and knew nothing of Elsa’s arrival and Theo’s involvement with her and  her cubs.”

      “So Theo’s fallen in love with this lioness named Elsa, and Leo doesn’t like her name, nor that of one of her cubs, so he goes ballistic,”  Clarence summed up.

      “yeah,”  Tigger mewed, “it’s horrible!”

 

Meanwhile, Theo and Nanuq dragged Leo, now offering no resistance, into the concrete shed, banging the door shut on him.

      “How could he be like that!”  Nanuq asked Theo, who was beginning to realise what had just taken place.

      “I’ve just overthrown my own brother!”  he mewed.

       “Yes Theo, you have,”  Nanuq replied.

     “so what do I do now?”  Theo asked, frightened for the first time since the defence of his mate and cubs began.

       “You go to the community and tell all,”  Nanuq replied, “though everyone, right down to the smallest cub  knows what’s been going on.  Leo’s finished as leader.  Snowy’s more furious with him than she can put into words, and Matilda ended up giving Leo a right hook for what he’d said to Elsa.  He’s finished for sure now Theo.  You need to sort the community out, though first thing’s first, go upstairs and  be with your mate and cubs, eat some food, then decide what to do.”  Theo took the polar bear’s advice and went upstairs to the cubbing den.  There he found Elsa and their cubs, Elsa trying to comfort the cubs while in a dreadful state herself.

      “Theo, oh Theo!”  she sobbed when he came through the door.  Throwing her paws round his neck, Elsa hugged Theo tightly.  Then he was set upon by four very relieved cubs.

      “Leo’s no, no longer leader,”  Theo panted, “he’s in the concrete shed.  It looks like I’m leader now, or so Nanuq says.”

     “But the rest of the community won’t take it will they?”  Elsa mewed, “they don’t’ know about all this!”

      “Nanuq says they do, and he should know,”  Theo gasped, his heart and brain still going at a thousand miles a minute.  Salty tapped gently on the door and when Theo opened it, the male snow leopard put his head in and said:

      “I know the community are fed up with Leo.  He’s been getting on their nerves for a long time, not clamping down on Tarker’s antics  etc.  he left it to you Theo.  Now he’s gone as leader, and a good thing too!  His irrational thinking over Elsa and Simba is no way for a leader to think.  He would have been the deaths of Elsa and her cub.  I know it, I’ve seen it in Leo’s face when he heard the names Elsa and Simba.”  Elsa clung to Theo throughout Salty’s speech.

      “Are our cubs safe now?”  Elsa asked.

    “Yes Elsa my love,”  Theo mewed.

 

Theo submitted happily to the probing exploration by his four cubs of his head, neck and paws, Letting them touch him with their tiny paws and nuzzle his fur with their soft noses.  Once they were reassured he was alive and uninjured, they left him alone.  Winifred came in with a bowl of vegetables for Petra, and fish and veg mix for Theo, Elsa and Aslan, which they went outside to eat, so not to make Petra sick.  Once all had eaten their food and drank deeply from water bowls, they returned to the cubbing den to rest and discuss what was going to happen next.

      “You need to consolidate your hold on the leadership now Theo,”  Elsa said, “you can’t leave that for too long.

      “I wasn’t trying to overthrow my brother, even though that’s what happened,”  Theo said, “I was protecting you and our cubs Elsa.”  Elsa took his paw and began to stroke it.

      “I know that,”  she replied, “but you overthrew your brother, no matter which way you look at it.  So you need to do something now.  Snowy’s okay as a deputy leader for a while, but you need to appoint deputies of your own.”

      “Let snowy do it,”  Theo replied, “I didn’t want any of this to happen Elsa!”  Theo mewed, “Leo forced me to defend those who are most precious to me.”  Elsa patted Theo’s paw.

      “Let’s all sleep a while, and then we’ll sort the rest of this mess,”  she suggested.  The lions settled down, Elsa, and every cub, making sure they had a paw touching Theo.  Theo felt more secure than he had in years.

     “I love you all,” Theo mewed, his family showing their love for him by patting his paws and nuzzling his fur.””

       “That’s a dramatic tale,” Sita mewed softly, her mind consumed by buck’s touch, who had transferred his attentions to her right hind foot.  Honeyfur smiled broadly and began her second tale.

      “Now let’s hear how Petra and Aslan became lovers. ““Aslan and Petra grow closer

 

Aslan watched Bess as she walked away.  He noticed the Old English Sheepdog had a rolling gate to her walk, rather like that of the brown and polar bears.  Petra watched Bess too, smiling to herself for she liked the shaggy dog.

     “I’m glad I went with you Aslan,”  Petra purred, the toes of her right forepaw enveloping Aslan’s left, “I know I shouldn’t say this, but I’m glad you killed Stifftail, he was causing Ahanu a lot of trouble, and the poor cub doesn’t need that.  Stifftail was dreadful!”

     “It’s like bad pennies though,” Aslan mewed, “they always seem to turn up.”  Petra looked into her mate’s face.

     “You’re pessimistic,” she mewed.

     “No Petra love, not pessimistic, realistic my dear.  Stifftail wasn’t the first to cause us trouble, and he won’t be the last.  The only thing we can hope for is that the next trouble for us doesn’t come for a long time yet.”

      “I forgot you had to face Tembo,” Petra mewed, you had trouble from the word go.”

    “We both did,” Aslan replied, “so let’s, while acknowledging trouble is out there, try and have as much fun as we can.”  He looked at Petra, taking her in from her nose to her toes.  Petra, seeing she was being appraised, rolled onto her side and waved a fat forepaw at Aslan.

     “Would you rub me down?”  She asked.  Aslan reached over and touched the toes of Petra’s left forepaw with those of his right, feeling her instant reaction in the way her toes curled round his, gripping them tightly.

     “Here is my body, and, and, my paws too!”  Petra mewed, “stroke me Aslan, stroke me from my nose to my toes, and tickle my belly and paws!  I want so much for you to do this! Please!”  Aslan kissed her nose.

     “Nice and gentle,” he mewed, gently freeing his paw from Petra’s and using it to stroke her nose.  The toes on all four of Petra’s paws curled involuntarily as her desire for this lion shot through her, electrifying every inch of Petra from her nose to the ends of her toes and the end of her tail, which tingled gently.

     “I’m yours Aslan!”  Petra exclaimed.  Aslan took her in his paws, embracing her tenderly, Petra snuggling hard into his hug.  Aslan and Petra lay together for a long time, then got to their paws and left for the pool complex.  Reaching it, Aslan and Petra waded into the whirlpool, letting their paws be carried away from beneath them.  Petra thrashed about, mewing like a cub, then, As Aslan turned to help her, she ducked him!  Aslan and Petra pawed at each other beneath the water until they had to come up for air.  When they did, they were laughing helplessly.  Wading to the side of the pool, the two cats scrambled out onto dry land, their paw pads as wrinkled as prunes.

 

Padding back along the passage, Petra and Aslan walked over and beside the vents which blew air from beneath the floor and from both sides as well as from above, their paws and bodies getting dried as they stood laughing helplessly as the air tickled their paw pads.  Leaving the drying place, the two big cats made their way to the house and to Aslan’s sleeping place.  Petra followed her mate, taking in everything about him, from the way he held his head, to the way he walked, his toes slightly scuffing the carpet as he hardly lifted his paws from the floor.

      “I love you so much Aslan!”  Petra mewed, running to him and rolling him over before playfully tickling his belly and paws.  Aslan laughed helplessly, though knew the paw tickling would be over soon as his paws became desensitised to it, and it was no longer pleasurable.  Paw massage though, that was another matter.  Petra seemed to sense when his paws became desensitised to her tickling and began to stroke his pads tenderly, Aslan loving every minute.  He watched her as best he could as she worked her paws all over him from his nose to the toes of all four paws.  Now Petra was taking him to places she’d been taken by him only an hour previously, and he loved her for it.  Once Petra had rubbed Aslan down from nose to tail, she lay down beside him, taking his left forepaw in both her own.

      “What now?”  She asked.  Aslan smiled at her and kissed her nose.

      “I suggest we go for a walk in the wood,” Aslan mewed, “it will be a warm night tonight.”  Petra smiled.

      “I love the feel of the forest floor beneath my paws,” she said, “it’s almost as addictive to me as paw massage is to Brunetta.”  Aslan smiled.

      “Let’s go into the wood and indulge your addiction then,” he said.  Petra got slowly to her paws, making sure Aslan saw her every move.  Aslan followed Petra out of the house, down the garden and through the gate to where the woodland path ran past the house.  Petra and Aslan padded along the path, knowing patrols were out in the wood making sure all was well.  Petra smiled with pleasure as she felt the forest floor beneath her pads and toes.  Bouncing slightly on her toes, Petra looked about her, Aslan smiling as he watched her.

     “I love her so much!”  He thought of Petra as she walked off down the path, waving a forepaw for him to follow her and catch her.  Aslan ran after his mate, and when he caught her up, she rolled on the track, inviting him to stroke her belly and paws.

      “You silly thing!”  Aslan laughed, stroking, and then tickling Petra’s belly and paws.  Petra laughed and wriggled with joy beneath his paws as he tickled her.  Then suddenly Petra freed her left forepaw from both of his and hugged him to her in a fierce embrace, Aslan shocked at how strong she was.

     “While we can’t have cubs,” Petra asked desperately, “We can still have fun can’t we?”  Aslan kissed her nose.

      “This is more than fun,” he said, “I’m having the time of my life!”  Petra smiled at her mate and touched his nose with her paw.

     “I love you so much Aslan,” Petra mewed.  Petra released Aslan, both of them getting to their paws and padding along the path.  The two big cats watched each other as they walked along the path.

      “Hey Petra! Aslan!”  Someone yelled from somewhere in the trees above their heads.

     “Who’s that?”  Aslan demanded angrily, assuming the rude individual could see what he and his mate were doing and didn’t have the courtesy to leave them alone.

      “It’s Whitie, over here!”  The voice replied, and then Petra saw a fat white paw waving at them from a nearby tree.  Sighing with exasperation, Aslan snarled at Whitie.

       “You didn’t even check to see whether we wanted to be spoken to!”  He yelled, “Petra and I were having a bit of quality time together, and you ruined it!”

      “I’m sorry,” Whitie mewed.

      “I’d stay up there too!”  Aslan yelled, “I might attack you if you reach ground level.  Aslan felt Petra’s paw on his, and she was squeezing it hard.

      “What now!”  Aslan snapped.

      “Don’t go after her,” Petra whispered, “it’s not the end of the world Aslan.”

       “For me it is!”  Aslan snarled, trying and failing to shake his paw free of Petra’s, “that bloody snow leopard has no respect!  Let go of my paw Petra!  For eohippus sake!”  Petra shot Aslan a look which stopped him cold.

      “I’m sorry,” he mewed, staring down at the ground.

      “Eohippus is worthy of some respect I think,” Petra said.  Aslan tried once more to free his paw, the soles of all four of his paws now hot and uncomfortable.

       “I’ve got to go,” Aslan said, turning and running away.

      “I’ll let him think things over for a while,” Petra thought.  Padding back to the house, Petra ran herself a deep bath and clambered in, adding some herbal and menthol stuff fleur kept in the bathroom.  When the atmosphere inside the bathroom was as steamy as she could get it, Petra settled back to await developments.  She knew Aslan would come looking for her before long.  Petra lay on her back in the bath inspecting the soles of her forepaws, examining her pads and toes, picking a thorn or two from between her toes and flicking it into a bin set beside the bath for that very purpose.  Petra twitched an ear as she heard someone coming into the bathroom.  Looking over the rim of the tub, she saw Pepper padding into the bathroom.  When the cross bred cat saw her, she nearly turned and fled!

      “Petra!”  She exclaimed, her paws skidding on the tiles as she turned to run, “I’m so sorry!”  Petra waved a languid paw at her.

     “Come,” Petra said, “join me here.”  Pepper padded over to the bathtub and dipped a paw into the water.

     “Come,” Petra mewed.  Pepper clambered into the tub, then submitted happily to Petra’s rub down.  Petra had wanted to return Pepper’s massage ever since the cross bred cat had massaged her from nose to tail in the bath pool.  Indeed, Pepper played the same games with Petra in the bathtub that Petra had with her in the pool, curling her toes, frustrating Petra’s attempt at paw massage until the white lioness tickled Pepper’s pads, just as Pepper had to do when Petra’s toes held hers.  Pepper laughed merrily as the games continued.

 

Aslan watched through the bathroom window, angry it was pepper, and not him playing with Petra in the large bathtub.  He knew Pepper’s and his play would be entirely different from each other when playing with the white lioness, but he still felt anger.  He knew his anger was at himself, impotent fury that he, Aslan, who should know Petra best of all, made a stupid comment to Petra about Eohippus.  Even though Petra didn’t flaunt her beliefs, she held them strongest of all among the animals, for she was Eohippus, sort of.  Aslan had made a blasphemous comment, an unthinking comment which he wouldn’t usually have made and now he was paying for it.  His paws gripping the sill, Aslan stared through the window, though he couldn’t see much, just enough to tell that his mate and pepper were playing, there was no detail to what was taking place.  Aslan leapt down from his place and padded round to the back door, opening it, he padded in, slamming the door hard behind him.  Furious with himself, he stamped along the passage, right past the door to the bathroom where Petra and pepper played.  In a sudden rage, Aslan yanked down the handle on the bathroom door and kicked it open with such force it smashed back against the protective spring which kept the door from damaging the tiles and came fast back at him.  Cursing, Aslan exploded into the bathroom all anger and hatred for himself, which he projected onto Pepper!

     “Get out!  Get out!  Pepper, leave here now before I do you damage!”  Aslan yelled, frightening the cross bred cat into immobility.  Aslan surged over the tiles like a whirlwind, anger and fury driving him on, Aslan lifting Pepper from the bathtub in his paws as if she weighed no more than a newborn cub before dumping her on the hard floor!  Suddenly Aslan felt himself falling, crashing to the floor!  Something was on top of him, something large, fat, and which had a scent he knew well.  Petra sat on Aslan, making sure he could breathe but not harm her or Pepper, who lay completely stunned, as if lifeless a few feet away, paws in the air.

      “How dare you!”  Petra growled, the lioness in her now aroused, “how dare you treat my friends like that!”  Petra yelled, not using Aslan’s name, but addressing everything to him.  Aslan knew he was stupid and wrong to do what he did, but it was done, and that was unchangeable now.  Petra smacked Aslan across his nose with her paw, the paw which had been so gentle hours before now hard and unyielding.  Aslan roared with pain, but it wasn’t pain from the blow from Petra’s paw which was hurting most.

      “I’m so sorry!”  Aslan mewed, almost begging for mercy, “I didn’t know what I was doing, I’m sorry!  I saw you and Pepper playing, and thought it should be me playing with you, but I’d made a stupid and uncaring comment, and now you’re playing with Pepper!”

      “I got into the bath while waiting for you to return,” Petra mewed, “Pepper padded in and we got playing, that’s all!  Now this has happened!”  Aslan felt more stupid than ever, and he knew Petra could feel it. “You have been more than stupid!”  Someone yelled, and then fleur ran in!

     “Oh, fleur! I’m so sorry!”  Aslan mewed.  Pepper struggled to her paws and crawled away, not wanting to be present when her mum’s temper exploded.  Fleur looked at Petra.

     “Let me have a word,” fleur said quietly, her tone chilling Petra to her marrow.  Levering herself off of Aslan, Petra watched as Fleur kicked Aslan to his feet, and then tripped him, throwing him into the bathtub!  Aslan screamed and landed in the water with a heavy splash.

     “You do not touch my cub!”  Fleur yelled.  Aslan, bruised and frightened, watched fleur and pepper walk away.  Grateful Fleur hadn’t leapt in on top of him, Aslan scrambled from the water, his fur waterlogged and spirits as low as they’d ever been.

     “I’m sorry Petra!”  Aslan sobbed.  Petra watched her mate with disinterest.

      “You foolish cub,” Petra said, “You didn’t think did you!  Stupid, thoughtless cub.”  With that she walked away.  Aslan knew he’d put his paw in it with Petra and wished he’d never made that throw away comment which started the whole sorry episode.

 

Aslan followed Petra’s paw dragging progress to her place.  He knew she was very upset by the whole business, and desperately wanted to make amends.

      “Petra, please, let me talk to you, explain, do something to fix this stupid situation!”  Aslan pleaded.  Petra turned slightly, one forepaw raised from the carpet, as if she was intent on continuing her progress to her place after the briefest of pauses.

      “What is there to talk about?”  Petra asked, “You insult me, then you attack my friend, what is there to discuss?”  Aslan looked at his mate, and Petra could see he loved her, and was truly sorry for everything, though he didn’t have the words to articulate how sorry he was.

      “I can’t put what I feel into words,” Aslan mewed pitifully, “I’m sorry for that too Petra.  I won’t say or do anything like this ever again!”  Fleur watched Aslan, and he could feel her eyes on him, as well as those of his mate.

      “No, you won’t do anything like throw my cub out of the bathtub ever again,”  fleur said quietly, “if you do, Nice gentle fleur, with her soft warm paws will become furious violent fleur with sharp teeth and claws!”  Aslan whimpered in misery.

     “I’m listening and I’m sorry,” he mewed.

     “Right, let’s end this now,” Pepper mewed, “Aslan knows he’s done wrong, and has been punished enough for what he did.  Now we need to move on.”  Aslan looked at the cross bred cat.

      “I hurt you, and you’re saying all this?”  He asked.

      “I, Like Petra, can tell you are confused and remorseful from your nose, right down to your toes,” pepper replied.

      “I was stupid, and my actions and comments were uncalled for, wrong and disgraceful,” Aslan said, “if I could turn the clock back I would do so right now.”  Petra walked up to him and kissed his nose.

      “I hate it when we fight,” she mewed, “It tears me apart Aslan, and I don’t want that!”

      “I’m sorry Petra love,” Aslan mewed, making his own private peace with his mate.

       “Let it go now,” Petra mewed, “come on, let’s go and walk in the wood, just like we wanted to.”  Aslan let Petra take his paw in hers and lead him out into the garden and through the gate to where she’d danced on her toes for joy what seemed to him a lifetime ago.

     “Now let’s walk,” Petra mewed.  Aslan felt heavy pawed as he walked, wishing he could see Petra’s unbounded joy as he’d seen it when they’d been in this spot earlier that day.

     “Catch my tail!”  Petra yelled suddenly, running away.  Aslan found himself chasing her, and then catching her as she slowed, deliberately so it seemed to him, so he caught her tail.  Then they rolled on the track, playfully pawing at each other with fore and hind paws.  Petra hugged Aslan tightly her desire for him renewed.

      “Now for me to chase your tail, and maybe get hold of a paw or two, or three, or maybe all four!”  Petra mewed, rolling Aslan over and tickling his paws until he was weak from laughing.

     “I love you from your nose,” Petra said, touching his nose with the toes of her left forepaw, “to your paw pads,” she added, tracing round the pads of Aslan’s left forepaw.  Aslan smiled and hugged her.

     “Can I trace round your paw pads please?”  Aslan asked.  Petra smiled and gave him her paw.

     “Trace round them, love them,” she said.  Aslan kissed the pads of her left forepaw, Petra laughing merrily.  Petra knew Aslan loved everything about her, and he felt safe with her, which was the best thing of all.  Petra and Aslan made their way slowly back to the house where they entered the pool complex and waved to Snowy Half-Tail in her control room as they passed one of the numerous cameras mounted high on the walls.  Snowy, seeing them, smiled to herself and followed them on several cameras, testing the camera’s new zoom and image capture functions.  Pressing buttons and moving a joystick, snowy managed to see the whites of Petra’s eyes as she looked directly into the camera lens.  Zooming in, Snowy watched as Petra’s face filled the screen in front of her, and she knew Petra herself was at least fifty feet from the camera watching her.  snowy had watched many things on camera, from love play between adults, to paw tickling games among cubs, and adults who wished they were cubs again, to full blown fur ripping arguments between Yi jie and Liang, who got rather too physically involved during mundane discussions about this and that, ending up in blazing arguments over the silliest things, such as the last episode of big brother, and who should have been evicted last week.  This one always ended in a real rumble, snowy could never work out how the two pandas got so worked up about such a thing as big brother, it really nauseated her, big brother, not the lively discussions, though they came a close second when things got violent, though no blood was drawn.  After the frequent scraps, Yi Jie and Liang would look at each other, both of them drenched in sweat from noses to paw pads, and ask each other why they did it.  Why fight over something as stupid as big brother?  Even though they questioned their behaviour, snowy had seen the same thing over and over again, it seemed to be a ritual between the two pandas, rather like drinking to excess on a Saturday night is for some humans, watch big brother, discuss it, fight about it, then make up and wonder why they came to blows, then do the same thing a week later.  The apposing view points held by the two pandas were obviously strong enough to come to blows over, and snowy noticed something else, Shuang and Shen never saw them scrapping, snowy thought they didn’t’ allow their cub and her mate to see.  Snowy eased back on the joystick, bringing the whole room into focus, watching over Aslan and Petra as they played in the water of the bath pool.  Snowy watched the lioness and her mate playing, working her cameras to find out how much detail she could catch.  She managed to see the pads of Petra’s left forepaw as the lioness raised it to touch Aslan’s.  Snowy smiled as the two cats batted at each other’s paws and whiskers.

     “What a lovely sight,” Snowy thought as she watched.”  Now, that’s the end of our tales for tonight,” Honeyfur said.

       “That’s intense too,” Alaska remarked.  Honeyfur smiled broadly and padded from the room, Buck padding with Sita to Haimati’s lie up and settling down with the cross bred cat that had huge bearlike paws.

      “Buck, Ahanu in those tales is my sire,” Sita mewed dreamily.

      “I know,” he replied.  Sita got to her feet and padded to the wall to get a drink, Buck watching her.  She walked on the soles of her feet like a bear, and even looked rather like a bear with short legs and big paws.  The tail and ears were wrong though, Sita having the ears of a cat, though her face was bearlike also.  Buck looked at himself in the mirror, and then at Sita, comparing faces.  They looked rather similar.  Indeed, Sita could sit on her backside like a bear, whereas her mother and sire could not.  Buck looked at the cross bred cat.

       “Does the name Xiongmao mean anything?”  He asked.  Recalling a story his mama had told him.

       “I suppose I am a bear like cat,” Sita said.

       “You’re a cross between a cat and a bear, and you look very beautiful.”  Buck said.  Sita giggled with pleasure.

       “My mama said I look like a bear too,” she said, “When she hugs me, she says it’s like hugging a bear.”  Buck hugged Sita, the cross bred cub curling her toes with pleasure.

         “I love that, I love that so much!”  She exclaimed, wriggling involuntarily.  Buck kissed Sita’s nose, the cub snuggling close.

      “You’re a cat with a bear’s paws, a big bears head, a bear’s nose, and cat like ears,”  buck said, “Sita, you’re lovely to look at, but your paws are the best things to play with, I love them, and, he kissed her nose and then pushed her onto her back, Sita laughing merrily.  Sita lay on the rugs, letting buck manipulate her body as he wished.  Haimati watched from the other side of the lie up, watching how her daughter cub was enjoying being bear handled.

      “Do you really enjoy that Sita?”  Haimati asked.  Sita laughed:

       “I love his touch,” she replied, “on my paws, my legs, my belly, my pads, my nose, and my toes, everywhere!  I also love Buck manipulating my hind legs, forelegs, and all four paws.”

       “So you’d let him put you into a sitting posture, a lying position, on your back front or side, all that?”  She asked.  Sita giggled:

       “As long as he doesn’t hurt me, yes,” she replied.  “Buck can kiss my pads, trace them with his toes, everything.  I love his touch.  I’m crazy about him mama.”

       “I love your spotted paws, the way you walk, the way you crawl, the way your pads bunch when you curl your toes, your striped coat, your blue eyes, your black nose, your long tail, your black pads, the lighter sole fur on the soles of your paws which contrasts with your black pads, here, and here, and here,”  buck said, tracing the pads of her right hind foot, Sita laughing and curling her toes tightly.

     “Oooh, wow! Oooh!”  She exclaimed , wriggling and pedalling the air with all four feet.  Buck laughed, catching a kicking hind paw and kissing her pads.

      “I’m so happy, I don’t know how to express myself!”  Sita yelled.  Buck kissed her nose, Sita snuggling up to the huge cub.

       “I know we’re different creatures,” Sita mewed, “but I feel closer to you than any of my own kind, not that there are strictly any of my own kind here or anywhere else.  I know what I am; I know how I came to have the paws and general confirmation of a bear and the head and tail of a cat.  It’s because Patch helped me into the world by pushing when my mama pushed.  I love how I can do things my mama and sire can’t.  I love playing with my paws more than anything else, and Ahanu doesn’t like having his paws touched, my mama plays with my hind feet a lot, and I play with her forepaws.  She often counts all twenty of my toes, which is so sweet.”  Sita purred.

       “So you know Ursine and feline tongues?”  Anook asked, Padding into the lie up.

       “Yes mama Anook, that is true,” Sita replied in perfect old Ursine, shocking the mama bear into sitting down hurriedly.

       “It’s the true Maoxiong, the true xiongmao!”  She exclaimed, “The thing of myth, the bear who is a cat, the cat who is a bear!  The friend of the old ursine bears!  The ultimate predator!”

       “But, but, I don’t want to kill others!”  Sita whimpered, “I want to eat vegetables, and use, use my paws, my paws to, to, and, and, now, now I’m confused and upset, I want to play, to play!   Paw the air, to do loving and cute things like stroke others!  My paws are good for that, for I can retract my claws like Tornassuk can, and use my paws like he can, all four of my paws too!”  Sita looked wildly round the room.

       “Buck,” she said, “I want to play a very unusual game, I want you to try and wash me, and I’ll fight back, but to help you get me to the tub I’ll push with my hind feet from time to time, when I push with my hind feet, you pull my forepaws!”  Buck giggled and promised he would.  They then engaged in a frantic game of batting with paws at noses and ears, Sita fitting her words to actions and shuffling across the lie up by occasionally pushing with her hind feet, wriggling and kicking, while buck pulled on her forepaws.

      “That reminds me of the fight I had to deliver you Sita,” Haimati remarked.

      “The wriggling and snarling you mean?”  Buck asked.  Haimati nodded.

       “I don’t want to bathe, I don’t want to bathe!”  Sita yelled, curling into a ball, buck becoming aggressive with her, pushing her onto her back and then pulling her forepaws, Sita incorporating pushing with her hind feet into her show of defiance.  Haimati saw Sita pushed with her hind feet during a screaming fit, much as she had during her labour.

      “maybe this is a way of Sita expressing her own need to re-enact her birth,”  Haimati thought, “anyway, it’s lovely to watch them playing.  Sita pushed with her hind feet, and then drew them to her, wriggling and protesting loudly while whipping her forepaws away from Buck to grab her hind feet with them and wriggle madly for a minute, buck having to fight her for control of her forepaws again.  He tickled her hind feet, kissed her nose and ears, rubbed her back with his paws when she rolled onto her backside during her wriggling fits, anything to distract her.  Sita was easily distracted by his efforts to grab her forepaws.  Then Sita changed the rules.

     “Now drag me by my hind feet!”  She pleaded.  Buck grabbed Sita’s hind paws and shuffled back with them in his forepaws, realising he could stand on his hind feet for the first time.  Sita covered her head with her forepaws, whimpering and snarling as she was dragged into the bathtub.  Splashing into the water, Sita laughed as Buck began washing her.

       “I love this game!”  She yelled.

       “Sita likes the struggle, the fight,” Anook remarked to Haimati.  Haimati looked at Anook.

       “That’s why mama Pakshalika likes giving birth to cubs,” she said, “Pakshalika loves the struggle of giving birth to her cubs, then the relief of the end of labour.  She then loves raising her cubs.”

       “I liked the struggle too,” Haimati admitted.  “I watched the video of Sita’s birth, and I admit it now, I liked the struggle of giving birth to my cub.  the feeling of pushing, the urge to curl my toes, and the feeling of clenched teeth and curled toes, the feeling of air in my throat as I whimpered, squealed and roared, all that.  I know I was in danger of losing my cub and my life, and I’m grateful for Patch’s help in delivering Sita.  But I admit, I enjoyed the stimulation of birthing her.”

       “The reason for you liking Sita’s birth was an indication of how you would communicate with Sita,” patch said, Padding into the lie up, “you would communicate with touch, with sound, with emotion, not with sight.”  Haimati padded over to the huge male bear and sat down, patch sitting down opposite her.  Lying down and taking his right hind foot in her forepaws, Haimati asked:

         “You felt the same as I did during Sita’s birth didn’t you patch?”  Patch nodded.

      “I did,” he replied.

       “So that is why Sita looks rather bearlike!”  Ahanu mewed, “she’s really the offspring of three, patch, who helped Haimati give birth to her, and of course Haimati and myself.  But why does she look like a bear?”

      “When you were delivering her, what did you wish for her to be?”  Patch asked Haimati.

      “At the end, I wished I had the strength of a bear and the courage of a lion to give birth to my cub, and I promised myself deep down that I’d love her no matter what she looked like.  Then I nearly broke my promise,” Haimati replied.

      “So Patch’s and Haimati’s efforts combined to create a hybrid between me, Haimati and Patch,” Ahanu exclaimed.

      “Yes,” Theo said, padding into the lie up, “Sita’s true body shape would not show until she was older.  But now it’s showing all right.  She’s kind of cute!”  Haimati watched Sita and Buck playing.

        “Do you think those two will stick together?”  Haimati asked.

       “Stranger things have taken place,” patch replied.  “Maybe Haimati’s responding to her ursine side, her need to be paws on with everything, and her mama’s side, to want to feel everything too.”

      Oh great!”  Ahanu snarled, “So all I give her is a funny coat and years of ridicule.”

       “No Ahanu,” Patch replied, “you know very well you gave Sita lots.”

      “No wonder birthing every last inch of Sita hurt me to my marrow,” Haimati remarked.

      “Birthing Sita hurt me too Haimati,” Patch said.  Haimati kissed the bear’s nose.

      “I know labour was painful for you,” she said.  Patch looked over at Sita in the tub.

      “Sita?”  He asked the cat bear padding from the tub and settling down beside him.  Patch hugged the wet adolescent cub to him, Sita purring and snuggling up.  Patch explored the cat bear, Sita loving his touch as he ran his paws all over her body from her nose to her tail.

        “I love you little Sita,” patch said gently.  Stipend her mouth in a huge yawn, patch seeing she had both tiger and bear like teeth.  Patch tickled Sita’s belly, the cub wriggling and mewing, then shrieking with laughter.

      “I love you Sita,” buck said, “you’re cuddly, and your paws are lovely, and your fur is soft and warm, and you’re large and very huggable.”  Sita laughed merrily.

       “I like playing with my hind feet, and of course letting others play with them is lovely too!”  She said.  Buck kissed Sita’s nose and the pads of all four of her huge paws, Sita giggling and curling her toes so Buck’s kiss landed on bunched pads, the bear’s breath tickling the wrinkled skin on the soles of her paws.

      “I love that, I love that feeling!”  Sita mewed.  Buck traced the pads of both Sita’s hind paws, the cub wriggling with pleasure.

       “I’m sorry for not seeing you in the crowd,” Buck said softly, “Sita, I’m truly sorry.”

      “But I wanted to find you too,” Sita replied, “I’ve wanted to talk to you for a long time Buck.”

     “But you can’t see me, so what made you want to speak to a scruff cub like me?”  Buck asked.

      “Your fur is lovely, thick shaggy fur is just what I like,” Sita replied, “my liking for thick shaggy fur is to me what my large hind paws are to you, that is totally irresistible.  You can’t stop playing with my hind paws, and I can’t stop burying my forepaws in your fur.  So while I bury my paws in your fur, you can play with my hind paws.”  Buck laughed:

       “We’re evenly matched then,” buck said.  Sita kissed his nose.

       I’m addicted to your touch,” she replied, “I want you to handle my paws, stroke my pads, and make me curl my toes!”

       “You were letting him handle you Sita!”  Anook said.

      “I like buck handling me,” Sita replied, “he’s gentle and, well, do I need to justify my preference?”  Anook, shaken by the cub’s forward manner, got to her feet and walked out.

 

Meanwhile, Honeyfur and Percival Pettigrew lay together in the house.

      “Why did you get so upset with the cubs for playing with each other’s paws?”  Honeyfur’s mate asked.

      “I wanted them to pay attention to the stories,” Honeyfur replied, “but yes, I did tell them that paw play was essential to our community, so stopping them from playing when I’ve told them it’s a good thing to do was a little crazy.”

       “They can pay attention to you and play with each other’s paws,” Percival said.  Honeyfur nodded.

      “I know they can,” Honeyfur replied, “Please, leave me alone now; I know I made a mistake.  I remember my labour and how you massaged my hind paws, it worked well.  It helped me to relax, and also push that little bit harder and deeper down into my tail.”  Percival took Honeyfur’s right forepaw in his and traced her pads, the sow badger smiling.  He then took her right hind foot in his forepaws and massaged her pads, Honeyfur gasping and curling her toes with pleasure.

      “Now would you deny that to the cubs in your care?”  He asked.  Honeyfur writhed uncomfortably.

       “I know I be wrong,” she sighed, “I won’t stop them ever again.”  Percival kissed the pads of Honeyfur’s right hind paw, the sow badger giggling.

       “Now that be just soppy,” she said.

 

Buck and Sita shook themselves dry after another soaking session in the tub.  Sita was now convinced from her nose to her pads that she loved Buck.  Yes he might be only a month old, but Sita loved him dearly, even though she was over a year his senior.

       “You have a beautiful face and gorgeous paws Sita,” buck said, “and the way you walk, that lumbering walk of yours is so cute.”  Sita giggled:

       “You’re so sweet!”  Sita mewed, kissing his nose.  Sita felt her heart swelling with love for the scruffy cub.

      “I love you Buck,” she whispered softly, “I love you so much!”  Buck kissed her nose, Sita laughing and rolling onto her back and presenting him with a fine view of all four of her paws.

       “I love everything about you,” Buck said gently, kissing each of Sita’s paws, Sita curling her toes with pleasure.  Sita crawled away from buck, buck stroking the pads of her hind paws.

       “I can’t put into words what I feel about you Sita,” Buck said, “you’re perfect, beautiful in every way, from your black nose to your black paw pads.  I love you so much, every inch of you so very much.”  Sita laughed merrily and got to her feet, padding round and round buck to provoke him into grabbing hold of her.  Buck embraced Sita, the cub sitting down and grabbing his right hind foot in her forepaws, Buck laughing and pressing his toes into her paws.

      “I love these paws!”  Sita laughed, leaning down and kissing the toes of buck’s right hind foot.  Buck curled his toes, trapping those of Sita’s left forepaw.  Sita bounced about on her backside, Buck giggling and imitating her, to Sita’s huge delight.

       “I love you!”  She said, kissing his nose, then, gently pushing him onto his back and kissing the pads of all four paws, Buck wriggling with pleasure.

       “You two are crazy,” Haimati said, “but it’s lovely to watch you play.”

       “We love each other mama,” Sita said.  Haimati laughed merrily.

       “I’m glad about that,” she said.  Sita traced Buck’s pads, the bear cub holding Sita’s paws onto his hind paw with urgent strength.

       “Are you trying to stick our paws together?”  Sita asked.  Buck smiled:

       “Have you played the trapped paw game before?”  He asked.  Sita shook her head.

      “Teach me,” she replied.

      “Well we sit opposite each other, the soles of our hind feet touching,”  buck replied, “we wait for our paws to become well glued together, then we try pulling them apart with our forepaws.”

       “Our hind feet would never want to leave each other,” Sita replied, “so that game could go on forever!”  Buck laughed:

       “Let’s press our hind feet together,” he suggested.  So Sita and Buck did so, and felt their pads rough, toes questing for each other’s touch.  Buck smiled broadly as Sita’s toes curled around his.

      “I love this; I love this, that’s all I can say, for I have no other words!”  The bear cub exclaimed.  Sita rubbed the pads of Buck’s hind paws with her own hind feet, the bear cub crying out with emotion and pleasure.

      “Oooh, wow!  Oooh!”  Sita laughed:

       “You sound just like I did when you touched my paws,” she said.

      “I love your touch,” buck said.  Sita sighed with contentment.

       “I love your touch too,” she replied.

 

“Are those two obsessed with each other’s paws?”  Anook asked Kuruk as they watched their son cub with Sita from their lie up.

       “Kuruk think it cute,” Kuruk replied, “buck clearly love Sita cub, and Kuruk see why he do.”

      “Sita’s a bloody mess!”  Anook spat, “she’s awful!”

       “You no say things like that!”  Kuruk snarled.

       “I’m allowed my own views!”  Anook screamed, slapping her mate with her paw.

        “Kuruk no deny Anook views,” Kuruk replied, “but it not nice to express views like that.  Sita no help how her body be, and Anook know why she have body like she does too!  Sita’s a lovely cub, and she is lovely to Buck, Buck being lovely to her.”  

    “But, but, can you imagine the cubs they’ll have?”  Anook protested.

       “Kuruk no know if they want cubs,” he grunted, “anyway, them’s only cubs themselves.  Now, don’t make problems for them mama Anook, for they be gentle with each other.”  Anook snorted with disgust.

       “They will injury their cubs if they have any,” she said.  Kuruk smacked his mate with his paw.

        “Oi!  Ow Kuruk, that hurt!”  She yelled.

       “Leave them alone mama!”  Kuruk snapped.  Anook stormed out of the lie up, angry and upset.

 

Buck and Sita padded to the flume and found Koda preparing the flume for him and Kamchatka to ride.  Sita padded up to the black bear and hugged him.

      “Hello dear Sita,” Koda said gently, kissing her nose.  Sita snuggled up to the black bear, loving his warmth and scent.

       “I’m glad you and Buck love each other,” Koda said softly.  Sita kissed his nose.

       “My paws wish to hold his forever,” she replied.  Koda gently massaged Sita’s right forepaw, the cub purring with pleasure.

       “I could get very used to that too,” she said.  Koda smiled:

      “There is no problem with you coming to me for a paw massage,” he said.

       “I might just do that,” she replied, “between you and Buck, I should have my paws massaged almost constantly, and how lovely that would be.”  Koda laughed and kissed Sita’s nose.

    “Into the boat with you,” he said playfully, pushing her away.  Sita padded to buck and helped him into the boat.

     “Hang on tight,” Koda said, pressing the button which opened the doors to the outside world and activated the belts which drove the boat from the boathouse.  A second boat arrived and Kamchatka and Koda got into the boat.  Kamchatka joining her mate just before the boat left the boathouse.  Koda felt his mate’s paws around him, and snuggled back into her hug.

      “Shouldn’t one of us ride with the cubs?”  Kamchatka asked.  Koda activated the watch like device on his left paw, and the boat stopped.  He then pressed another button and spoke into the watch.

     “Attention Sita and buck, keep your paws inside the boat at all times, and do not stand up in the boat while it’s moving.”  Kamchatka saw Sita’s ears twitch and buck look round.

     “They’ve heard your announcement,” Kamchatka said.  Koda smiled.

     “It’s a good system,” he said.  He then told the ride to continue.  The boats took the gentler route up the lift hills to the waterfalls, both boats only four feet apart at one point.  Then the distance grew as the boats slid away from each other down the final slide, the two cubs screaming with delight.  Kamchatka and Koda followed them soon after.  Back in the boathouse, Buck and Sita stood on the tiles waiting for the adult bears.  Once Kamchatka and Koda were out of the boats, buck ran to Koda and Kamchatka was ambushed by Sita, both adult bears hugging them tightly.

     “How about if we go to the spar pool?”  Kamchatka asked Sita, the cub jumping up and down with delight, her cubbish actions making the mama grizzly laugh helplessly.

      “I can jump about too,” she said, “though the affect would be lost on you dear Sita.”  Sita touched Kamchatka and the she bear danced about a bit, Sita laughing at her antics.

       “I love that mama,” Sita said.

     “Now do you want to check my paws for thorns?”  Kamchatka asked.  Sita laughed:

      “Would you like me to check your paws?”  She asked.  Kamchatka looked concerned.

       “I would,” she replied, “but if we check my paws in the spar pool where it is warm water, you can be sure of feeling thorns better.”  Sita laughed.

     “What you really mean mama Kamchatka,” she said, “is that you want me to massage your paws in the warm water so you can feel it better.”  Kamchatka smiled and kissed the cub’s nose.

      “Touch my hind paws,” Kamchatka said.  Sita did, and Kamchatka jigged about a little, standing on tiptoe, letting Sita feel how her paws contacted the ground, how her pads felt at full stretch.  Sita was in danger of having her paws crushed beneath Kamchatka’s considerable weight, but her curiosity was such that she discounted this risk.  She felt the pads of Kamchatka’s right hind foot, and while Sita was exploring this, Kamchatka leant on her forepaws, then knelt and presented Sita with the full sole of her hind foot, Sita stroking the pads and toes of Kamchatka’s foot with curious toes.  Kamchatka smiled broadly, Buck telling Sita:

      “Kamchatka’s smiling, go on, explore, investigate her paws, count her toes, and love her paws.”  Sita traced the pads of Kamchatka’s hind feet, the she bear sighing with pleasure.  Then, suddenly, she curled her toes, Sita tracing bunched pads and curled toes.  Sita then leant down and kissed the pads of Kamchatka’s right hind paw, the she bear relaxing her toes.

      “You just love someone playing with your paws,” Sita said.  Kamchatka smiled and nodded.

       “If a bear loses that cubbish love, they are worse off,” she said.

       “Kamchatka acting likes a cub? That’s disgraceful!”  Anook snapped.

      “You are one sad mama if you no let others play with paws Anook,” Kuruk grunted, padding up behind his mate and slapping her rump like she was a horse.

      “Oi!”  Anook yelled, rounding on her mate and whacking him across his face with her open paw.

      “Now Anook piss Kuruk off big time!”  Kuruk yelled, flipping his mate onto her back and tying her paws together with bungee cords.

      “Now she is no threat to mama Kamchatka and Sita cub,” Kuruk grunted, dumping Anook in the flume boat and sending it round the flume, the she bear screaming and writhing in her bonds.

     “Stop her at the bottom of the lift hill,” Koda said.  Kuruk complied, watching the screaming mama bear on the CCTV screens in front of him in the booth.  Stopping Anook’s boat, Koda then went to Anook.  Anook could be heard screaming and begging not to be sent up the lift hill.

      “Don’t send me up that hill, not like this!”  She begged.  Koda padded to the boat and untied Anook.

      “Please Anook, listen to me,” Koda said softly, “Paw play is so important to our community, don’t deny it to my mate or your cub.”  Anook looked up at the black bear from her supine position in the boat.

        “I have a lot to learn,” she replied, looking into the black bear’s eyes.  Koda helped Anook out of the boat and along to the boathouse.

 

Sita and Kamchatka sat opposite each other in the spar pool, the she bear’s left hind foot cradled in the cross bred cub’s forepaws.  Anook looked at Kamchatka’s face, then down at her cradled hind foot.  At her black pads, strong toes and long claws.

      “Her hind paws are cute,” she found herself thinking.  Anook smiled at Kamchatka.

      “Do you want a closer look at my hind paws?”  Kamchatka asked.  Anook felt her own toes curling into the tiles.

        “I want to touch them,” Anook admitted shame faced, “I don’t know what I want to touch them for though.”

      “To get closer to a mama bear?”  Kamchatka asked.  Anook looked into Kamchatka’s face.

      “I’m forcing myself to accept the paw play,” she said.  Kamchatka saw Anook’s toes curled into the tiles and, reaching over with a forepaw, rubbed the curled toes of her right forepaw.

       “I’d love to see the pads of your hind paws,” Kamchatka said.  Anook looked at Kamchatka.

        “You can,” she said, “I’d, I’d, well, I’d like you to.”  Kamchatka nodded and smiled:

      “I’m glad,” she said.  Anook sat down in the water, Sita shifting to let her sit opposite Kamchatka.  Anook watched as her right hind foot was engulfed in the mama grizzly’s forepaws.

      “Oooh, aaaahh, wow!!”  Anook said, breathing deeply as Kamchatka’s paws worked over the pads and toes of her right hind foot.  Anook felt her toes wanting to curl, and she struggled to stop them.

        “Don’t curl toes, don’t curl!”  She said aloud.

      “Relax those toes,” Kamchatka said, “don’t fight their wishes mama Anook.  Anook breathed deeply, as her toes curled tightly, then relaxed of their own accord.

      “This is wonderful, wonderful!”  She gasped.  Anook felt her left hind foot pressing hard against the tiles at the bottom of the spar pool.  Anook closed her eyes, focusing on the contact between her right hind foot and Kamchatka’s forepaws.

       “I love this,” Anook admitted, the realisation making her tearful.

       “Can I ask you to massage my left hind foot?”  Anook asked.  Kamchatka nodded and smiled.  

    “Let your paws guide you Anook,” she said gently.  Anook paddled with her forepaws, pressing her right hind paw hard into Kamchatka’s forepaws.  Kamchatka kissed the toes of Anook’s right hind foot, the mama polar bear gently withdrawing her right hind foot and giving the grizzly mama her left hind foot.  Kamchatka traced the pads of Anook’s left hind paw.

       “Did anyone tell you you’ve got cute paws?”  Kamchatka asked, tracing the large sole pad of Anook’s left hind paw.  Anook curled her toes tightly, staring at her forepaws and freed right hind foot as the toes of all four paws curled involuntarily and hard too.  Anook grunted as her toes curled tightly, but Kamchatka didn’t advise her not to curl her toes.  Anook wriggled with intense pleasure, though her toes were curled hard and would soon ache, she felt exhilarated and free for the first time in years.  Anook breathed hard, pressing her left hind paw into Kamchatka’s forepaws, the she grizzly bear kissing her curled toes.

        “This is rather silly, but lovely too,” Anook said.

       “How did you do that mama?”  Kuruk asked Kamchatka.

       “I did nothing,” Kamchatka replied, “Anook let her curious cub out for a minute, and now it’s telling her what to do.  Her cub is saying, “Play with your paws Anook, learn about your paws, learn about everything they can tell you.”  Kuruk smiled broadly.

      “Now Anook,” he said, “will you deny Sita and Kamchatka their play in future?”

       “No, no!”  Anook choked, “if it makes them feel like this, no I won’t!  No, no wonder, no wonder paw play and massage works for labouring mamas.  Oooh!”  Anook wriggled and bounced about in the water, her toes finally relaxing, but then curling hard once more, Anook gasping with surprise.

      “My toes are uncontrollable!”  She laughed, “My inner cub’s controlling them, and I can’t!  It’s fun to let my inner cub control my paws!”  Buck touched his mum’s paw.

      “You look confused mama,” he said.  Anook splashed a little with her free forepaw.

       “When my hind paws went into overdrive, it felt unusual,” she said, “but it was lovely.”

       “How good are you at pretend play mama?”  Sita asked.  Anook looked at her.

      “I used to,” she said, “but once I was on the ice, pretending with play went out of the picture for me.”

       “How about if you pretend your inner cub wants to come out of your adult body, pretend you can struggle out of your fur and let that inner cub emerge?”  Sita asked.  Anook looked at her:

       “How could I ever do that?”  She asked, “I can’t take my fur off.”

       “Pretend you have socks on your paws, wriggle and twist, tug at your forepaws and hind, wiggle your toes, roll about in the water, whimper, and fight and protest that your inner cub wants out.”

       “That sounds complicated,” Anook said.

      “All you have to do is pretend you’re wearing something on your forepaws and hind,” buck said, “tug at your hind paws as if you’re wearing something on them and want to become bare pawed.”

      “Like this,” Kamchatka said, pretending to pull a sock off her hind paw.

     “So I’m kind of removing my adult fur and paws to allow the cub inside me to struggle free of my adult self?”  Anook asked.  Buck clapped his paws.

     “Yes, yes!”  He said.  Anook closed her eyes, imagining fighting her adult self to allow her inner cub to emerge and teach her how to enjoy the play she’d had a few minutes ago without feeling silly.  Anook took her right hind foot in her forepaws and imagined a tight sock on her paw.  Whimpering she tugged and worried at her hind foot, working her forepaws from just above the heel of her paw to her toes, wiggling her toes to free her paw from its imagined constricting sock.

       “That was fun!”  She laughed.

     “Now free your inner cub completely,” Kamchatka said.  Anook wriggled and kicked hard, panting and whimpering.  She then tugged at all four paws, snarling and growling; suddenly she yelled in triumph and crawled from the water.

       “Mama’s done it, I think!”  Buck whooped.  Anook crawled away from the spar pool, buck following her and mischievously tickling the pads of her hind paws, Anook laughing helplessly.

      “You have cute paws mama,” Buck said.  Anook curled her toes tightly, her cub stroking her bunched pads.

      “I love you mama,” he said.  Anook looked at her cub.

       “Would you play with my paws Buck?”  She asked.  Buck smiled.

       “I will,” he replied.  He traced the pads of her right hind foot, Anook giggling with pleasure.

      “I love that,” she whispered.  Buck kissed the large bunched up sol pad of his mum’s right hind foot.

       “I know you do mama,” he said.  Anook rolled over onto her back, gathered buck to her, kissed her cub’s nose, and then hugged him tenderly.

      “You are lovely buck,” she said softly.  Buck turned and looked at his mama’s hind feet.  Anook kicked the air with both hind paws, Buck laughing at her antics.

      “Oh mama,” he said, “you are funny!”  Anook tipped buck off onto the floor then drew her hind legs up and grabbed her hind feet with her forepaws.

       “That looks so cute mama!”  Buck said, crawling to his mama’s nose and head and kissing her nose, before crawling to her hind legs and kissing the toes of her forepaws, and the heels of her hind feet, just below the toes of her forepaws, which held on tightly to the pads of her hind.  Anook, feeling her cub’s kiss planted on her fore and hind paws, sighed with pleasure.

      “This position was a comforting one while in labour,” Anook said.  Buck rolled onto his back and imitated his mum.

      “It is,” he agreed.  Anook rolled onto her side and hugged buck, kissing her son’s nose.

       “My inner cub is playful,” she said, “she loves playing with her paws, and my adult self ignored her needs.”  Buck hugged his mum tenderly.

     “Don’t ever neglect your inner cub mama,” Buck said.  Anook looked at her month old son cub.

       “You speak like an adult,” she said.

      “Sita told me not to neglect my inner cub,” buck replied, “she promised her inner cub she’d always be there for her.  Sita plays every day, letting her inner cub use her paws to play and be played with.”  Anook felt her right hind foot taken in huge warm paws and, looking down the length of her body, saw Sita playing with the toes of her right hind foot.

      “Do you like playing with my toes?”  Anook asked.  Sita smiled broadly, the look in her eyes and the smile on her bearlike face radiating genuine pleasure.

      “I do,” she replied.  Anook gasped with emotion, covering her face with her forepaws to hide her tears.

      “What’s the matter Anook?”  Sita asked.  Anook, sniffing hard, gulped back her tears.

       “I’m sorry,” she said softly, “Sita; I shouldn’t have said what I did.  I said horrid things about you, about Buck and your friendship.  I’m sorry.”  Sita crawled up to Anook and lay down beside her.  Anook gazed at the cross bred cub, rolling Sita onto her back with one well padded paw.  Sita let Anook handle her, and Anook realised the cub loved her touch.  Sita wriggled beneath Anook’s paws, the mama polar bear smiling broadly and playing with Sita’s forepaws.  Sita laughed, wriggling and kicking the air with her hind feet, the sight making Anook tearful.

       “You are a beautiful cub,” Anook choked.  Sita let Anook kiss her nose and the pads of all four of her huge fat paws.  Sita wiggled and curled her toes, Anook blowing on her pads to encourage her to curl her toes even tighter.  Sita closed her eyes and curled her toes as tightly as she could, Anook rubbing the bunched pads of all four paws to help the cub relax her toes, Sita wriggling and mewing with pleasure.

       “The most intense thing I’ve felt other than this is the pain during Buck’s birth,” Anook said.  Buck kissed his mama’s nose.

      “I watched my birth on video,” he said, “It was amazing mama, totally amazing!”  Anook smiled.

     “It was amazing,” she replied, “from the first contractions to the strong pushing at the end it was worth everything.  I remember and treasure every minute.”  Buck kissed his mum’s nose, then kissed Sita’s nose and paws, the cross bred cub wriggling as buck’s paws drummed lightly on her belly.

       “You lovely lovely fellow,” she said, kissing his nose and paws.  Buck examined Sita from nose to tail, minutely examining her eyes, nose, slightly open mouth, her forelegs, forepaws, the pads and toes of those paws, noticing her claws were sheathed.  Buck looked closely at everything, his breath lifting Sita’s fur and tickling her pads, to the cub’s curiosity and delight.

      “I love this,” she said.  Buck touched Sita’s pads with his nose, using its sensitivity to explore wrinkled pads, much to Sita’s amusement.

      “You’ll be kissing my pads next,” Sita laughed.  Buck fitted actions to words, Making Sita thoughtful.

      “I like that,” she said softly.

      “Your pads smell earthy, just like Sire patch’s do,” Buck said.  Sita laughed:

      “I’m not surprised,” she said, “I’ve been in the wood pretty much ever since I was born.”

      “I like your earthy scent,” buck said softly.  Sita smiled and kissed the pads of buck’s right forepaw.

      “Your pads smell of coconut oil,” she said, “for you has recently washed I think.”  Buck nodded and replied that he had.  Sita kissed buck’s paw pads, Anook and Kamchatka laughing at the antics of the two cubs.

      “They love each other’s paws,” they laughed.  Sita pedalled the air with her hind feet, Buck smiling broadly.

      “I love seeing your paws pedalling the air,” buck said.

 

Meanwhile, Aga and Conrad lay together, having mated the previous night.  Aga was convinced she was already in cub, and was thinking of names for their cub.

      “I hope to have your cub Conrad,” Aga said.  Conrad smiled.

      “I wish I could see you have our cub, and see the cub too,” he said.  Aga caught her breath:

       “I wish you could too,” she replied, “but I will make sure you can get paws on with me while I have the cub, and paws on with the cub when it’s born.  That’s the best I can do Conrad.”  Conrad kissed his mate’s nose.

       “I love you Aga,” he said.  Aga smiled:

      “Come to the cubbing classes with me Conrad,” she said.  Conrad hugged her:

       “You don’t need cubbing classes,” he said.

      “But I want them,” she replied, “I want them to help me cope.”

       “You want your Son cub to teach you how to push and play with your toes,” Conrad said.  Aga smiled broadly.

       “I do,” she replied.  Patch, listening outside the lie up, padded in, kissed his mum’s nose, and then took Conrad’s paw.

      “Good luck both of you,” he said.  Conrad impulsively hugged Patch.

      “Can you tell us what our cub will look like?”  He whispered.  Sire patch shook his head.

      “I don’t know,” he replied, “but I could have an educated guess.”  Aga and Conrad wriggled with excitement.

      “Oh please, please!”  They begged in unison, before falling about laughing.  Patch sat down, and then took Aga’s right forepaw in his forepaws.

       “I have a feeling, a strong feeling you’ll have a large cub, he’ll have long legs, and white soled paws.  He’ll be a playful cub, who’ll love nothing better than to wave his paws in the air and kick the air with his hind feet.”

      “Sounds like a real community cub,” Aga replied.  Patch grinned hugely.

       “I hope your cub is,” he said.

      “You call the cub him, as if you know it will be male,” Aga said, “Do you know what sex our cub will be?”  Conrad smiled broadly.

      “I don’t mind which sex our cub is,” he replied.  Aga rolled onto her back and pedalled at the air with her hind feet, Patch laughing helplessly.

      “I love you mum,” he said.  Aga waved her forepaws and hind with as much abandon as she could muster, Sire Patch almost choking with laughter.

      “Mama’s waving her paws like mad!”  He told Conrad.

      “Why not show Conrad how Aga’s waving her paws by making him wave his paws?”  Sita asked.  Patch looked at her:

       “I never thought of doing it that way,” he replied.  Conrad rolled onto his back, letting his hind and forepaws relax.

      “I’m ready for a demonstration,” he said.  Patch got paws on with Conrad and soon had him waving his forepaws and kicking the air with his hind, Conrad laughing uproariously as his whole body twisted and rolled with the enthusiasm of the play.  Conrad at first didn’t get into it, but once he’d got a rhythm going, he found stopping impossible.  Laughing, he thrashed at the air with all four paws, Patch laughing helplessly and mimicking Conrad.  Soon all three bears were on their backs on the floor, kicking the air with their hind feet and pawing with their forepaws.  Sita, listening to the general merriment, sat down to await the end of the game, for she knew it was dangerous to get amongst the waving paws.

     “I can’t stop!”  Conrad laughed.  Sire Patch found he couldn’t either, and the waving of paws continued until the bears were physically exhausted.

      “I wonder what our cub’s paws will feel like when it’s born.”  Conrad mused.  Patch looked at Sita.

      “Would you like to touch Conrad and Aga’s paws?”  He asked.  Sita nodded and smiled:

       “our paws are yours,”  Aga said to Sita, the cross bred cub padding to them and touching first Conrad’s hind feet, then Aga’s.  She found Conrad’s paws to be rough to her touch with tough pads, and to her delight, mobile toes, which curled round hers easily.  Laughing, she leant down and kissed the polar bear’s curled toes, Conrad laughing merrily.

      “I love that,” he said.  Aga smiled and kicked the air with her hind feet, yelling:

      “I want my paws played with; I want my paws played with!”  Sita smiled and said gently:

      “Wait your turn little one.”

     “But I can’t, I can’t!”  Aga whimpered, rolling into a sitting position and grabbing her hind paws with her fore, Sita listening as Aga scratched the pads on the soles of her hind feet with the toes of her forepaws.

       “My hind feet need attention, and now!”  Aga wailed.  Sita ignored Aga, the she bear getting into her role and playing to patch by rolling about and using her forepaws to fight with her hind.

        “My hind feet itch horribly!”  Aga wailed, “They won’t stop inching either!  This is awful!”

      “I’ll help you now,” Sita said, padding to the whimpering mama bear.  Rubbing Aga’s right hind foot with her forepaws, Sita made soothing sounds to the mama bear, while Aga whimpered and flexed her toes, rubbing the pads of the hind foot Sita was not touching.

      “My feet aren’t painful any more,” Aga gasped as Sita massaged her left hind foot.

      “That was fun!”  Aga said.  Conrad laughed merrily.

      “Now mama, want to pretend you’re having a cub?”  He asked.  Aga moaned deeply.

      “I don’t know if I could go very far into that,” she said, “if I did, I might end up unable to stop my act until the cub is born.  Just like you couldn’t stop kicking the air with your hind feet and forepaws until you were exhausted.”  Conrad hugged his mate, Aga wriggling closer into his embrace.

       “Push mama,” Conrad whispered, Aga giggling and kissing his nose.

      “Later,” she said, “not now.”  Conrad played with Aga’s paws, finding them smooth and very cubbish.

      “Your pads are smooth,” Conrad said.  Aga kissed his nose:

      “I like them that way,” she said gently.  Conrad kissed the smooth pads of his mate’s right forepaw, then her left fore, then her left hind, and then right hind, Aga gasping and wriggling with pleasure, Conrad feeling her toes curl tightly.

      “I love your smooth paw pads,” Conrad said to his mate, Aga breathing in his scent and stroking him with her paws.

       “I love your rough pads and thick fur, and everything about you,” she whispered to Conrad.

 

Meanwhile, Petra and her mate Leo watched the bears, Petra unable to stop laughing at the sight of the bears on their backs kicking the weir with tall four of their paws.  Indeed, she’d even tried it herself, loving the feel of the air on her pads.

      “I hope Conrad and Aga have a cub,” Petra mewed to her mate.  Leo smiled:

      “I hope we have a cub soon too,” he said, touching Petra’s belly as she lay beside him.  Petra closed her eyes, remembering Aslan’s birth.  Such pain, such effort, her roaring, her screaming, the pain in her paws which lasted for days afterwards from where she’d curled her toes with such force during contractions.

       “I’m looking forward to having another cub too,” Petra heard herself saying.  She knew her mouth had expressed what her spirit truly felt.  Leo examined Petra from nose to tail.  Petra had large pads on her paws, Leo loving her from paw pads to ears, Petra wriggling with excitement as she watched his eyes on her body.

      “I hope Aga has a wonderful cubbing,” Petra mewed.

      “And I hope you have a wonderful cubbing too,” Aga said, padding into the lie up, lying down beside Petra, and hugging the lioness tightly.  Petra looked the bear up and down, loving her from nose to smooth padded paws.

       “I think you’ll have a brown cub with beige pads on its paws,” Petra said, “Aga, it will be the scruffiest, but most gorgeous cub you’ve ever seen.”

      “I thought Patch was the most gorgeous cub I’d ever seen,” Aga admitted.  Petra smiled:

      “He’s up with the new cub I think,” Petra mewed.  Aga let Petra explore her paw pads, the lioness kissing each one of Aga’s soft padded paws.

      “Your cub will have pads of satin,”  Petra said, “it will have the softest pads imaginable, indeed, you’ll have to be careful with your cub’s paws, as they will never get used to walking on hard ground.  They will be sensitive pads and your cub will not be able to walk for long in the wood.”  Aga nodded.

      “I will make sure he has protected paws,” she said.

      “You will feel every part of your cub emerging into the world,” Theo said.  Aga looked at the lion.

      “I know I’ll be able to cope,” she said, “it will hurt, I will scream and beat my paws on the floor, curl my toes and kick the air, sweat and struggle, but I’ll birth my cub with joy and love.”  Theo smiled and padded forward to Aga, hugging her tenderly.

     “You’ll love your new cub as much as you love Patch,” Theo mewed, kissing Aga’s nose.

       “How long until I feel the first pains of labour?”  Aga asked.  Theo shook his head:

      “I don’t know,” he replied, “but I can arrange a meeting with sire Patch so he can start teaching you the things you’ll need to know to give birth to your cub.

      “I want no pain relief,” Aga replied, “I have seen Petra giving birth to white Aslan, and she had no pain relief.  Petra smiled and sighed contentedly.

      “I remember every bump in the road, including the birth of his hind paws, which were large and very difficult to deliver.  Even so, I love Aslan dearly and often look at his birth video and then examine his paws, remembering the feel of his pads emerging into the world.  It was painful, but amazing.”  Patch padded into the lie up, hugged Aga then settled down, sitting on the rug and playing with his mum’s right hind paw, drawing circles on the large sole pad of her paw and counting her toes, gently curling them as he counted under his breath, as if he were a young cub again, much to Aga’s amusement.  Laughing, she curled her toes tightly, patch kissing her bunched pads.

       “I love you mama,” he said, Aga curling round to embrace her son cub, wriggling and twisting so her right hind foot didn’t leave Patch’s grip until she sat up and could pull him onto her lap and hug him.

      “I want to play with your paws little Patch,” Aga said, her son cub snuggling close.

       “You can mama, you can,” Sire patch said.  Aga and patch soon sat opposite each other, patch’s left hind foot in Aga’s forepaws.  Aga traced her son’s pads and counted his toes, patch bouncing about with pleasure.  Aga drew circles on Patch’s sole pad with the toes of her left forepaw, patch curling his toes tightly in response.

       “I love that mama!”  He said, “Please, teach your next cub how to play with this paws.”  Aga looked into her son’s eyes.

      “I will, I promise, I promise.”  She said.

 

Meanwhile, in Conrad’s lie up, Buck and Sita were playing with Conrad, the male polar bear loving the touch of the cub’s paws on his.

      “Who’s got the cutest paws?”  Conrad asked.  Sita smiled:

      “I vote for buck’s paws,” she said.

     “And I for Sita’s!”  Buck replied.  Conrad explored the hind feet of both cubs with his forepaws, drawing circles on their pads and counting their toes, pretending he was in serious consideration of the question, but in truth playing with Sita and Buck’s paws.  Sita giggled cubbishly as the male polar bear’s toes worked over her pads.

      “I love your touch Conrad,” she said.  Conrad smiled and lifting Sita’s right hind foot in his forepaws, kissed her pads, the cub squealing with laughter and delight.

      “Does it again, do it again?”  She implored.  Conrad lifted her left hind foot and kissed the sole pad, Sita laughing helplessly.

      “I love that,” she said once she could talk.

        “You wouldn’t love Conrad’s touch if you knew what he once did with those paws,” someone said.  Conrad and Sita turned their ears, buck staring at the apparition who suddenly appeared.  A brown bear, a young brown bear at that, stood in front of them.

       “We don’t know you,” buck said.

     “My name is younger Brunetta,” the apparition said, “My earthly body was killed by Kuruk years ago.  Now I am here to take my revenge.  To kill a cub’s enthusiasm as I could not take a cub’s life when alive.”

       “So you are a nasty spirit,” buck said.

       “I want blood,” younger Brunetta replied, “but if I cannot have blood, I want spirits.”  Sita shivered with fear.

      “What did Conrad do with his paws?”  She asked.

      “He killed mama Alaska,” the brown bear said, “in cold blood too.  Conrad intended to kill the mother of his cub.”  Sita shivered visibly, but the contact between her left hind foot and Conrad’s forepaws told her something different.

       “I think you are vindictive!”  Sita snapped, “Brunetta, leave here, for you are not wanted!”

      “So say I too!”  Someone screamed, running in and smacking younger Brunetta’s spirit to the floor!  Conrad turned his ear to the newcomer, who kissed him on his nose, hugged him, and then vanished.  Younger Brunetta’s spirit also vanished, though much diminished in stature.

      “Who was that other bear?”  Buck asked, Conrad sobbing, his tears wetting Sita’s hind paws.

       “That was mama Alaska,” Theo said, padding into the lie up, “she has given her blessing to Conrad to carry on his life.  Sita, Buck, love Conrad, Conrad, love Sita and buck.”  Buck smiled broadly.

      “I thought Sita was right, I knew it, I knew she was in touch!”  He said.  Theo kissed Conrad’s nose, then Sita’s and bucks, then left.

       “Enjoy each other’s company,” Theo mewed.  Sita laughed merrily and hugged Conrad tightly.

       “I love your paws,” Conrad said softly.  Sita wriggled with pleasure:

      “I love yours too!”  She said, kissing his nose.

        “I didn’t mean to kill mama Alaska,” Conrad said.  Sita nodded:

       “I know,” Sita said, “you don’t need to tell me Conrad, your paws, they are not the paws of an intentional killer.”

       “I cry for Alaska every night,” Conrad said.

        “Alaska knows this,” Sita replied, “you must believe it Conrad; she knows you truly meant her no harm.  Her death was an accident.”

       “And if you don’t take a cub’s word for it,” someone said, “maybe you’ll take mine.”  Conrad turned his head, and saw what he remembered to be a polar bear, and a female bear at that.

        “My eyes haven’t worked in years,” Conrad said, “why should they work now?”

       “You’re seeing the mama bear’s spirit,” Sita mewed, “I’ve often seen spirits who have passed over, where I cannot see those who have not passed over the bridge.”  Conrad reached out to Alaska with his forepaws, wishing to embrace the mama bear.

       “Wait a moment,” Alaska said, “you can’t hug me.”  Then she reached out with a forepaw and touched Conrad’s nose.

      “Now you can hug me,” she said.  Conrad embraced mama Alaska tightly.

       “Now go on with your life and love Sita, buck, and especially your unborn cub.  Love them with the paw, as you cannot love them with your eyes.  Now I must go, and Conrad, please, this night, do not cry for me any more.  Hug Sita, play with her paws, and sleep after laughing with Sita and buck.”  Conrad sighed deeply:

       “I will do as you ask,” he said.

      “Don’t do it for me, do it for Sita, and for your unborn cub,” Alaska replied, “I am only putting into words what your heart really wants now.”  Conrad felt Sita’s paw touching his left forepaw.

      “Come, play with me,” she begged.

       “Try playing with Sita as if she’s your cub,” buck whispered.

      “Try it,” Sita suggested, “play with my paws, rub my belly, count nay toes, and teach me how to play Conrad, please!”  Conrad smiled.

      “I will,” he replied.  Conrad traced Sita’s pads and played with her toes, the cub laughing helplessly and curling her toes tightly.

      “I could get very used to this,” she said.  Conrad kissed Sita’s nose and paws, the cub wriggling and laughing with pleasure.

       “I remember you playing with me like that,” Ekaterina said, padding into Conrad’s lie up, “but please, don’t toss her in a blanket.”  Conrad smiled:

       “I won’t Ekaterina; I promise you and Sita that.”  Sita snuggled up to Conrad:

       “Please,” she said, “could you teach me how to wave my paws in the air?”  Conrad smiled and kissed her nose once more:

      “Of course I will,” he replied, “Lie on your back, and kick the air with your hind feet,” Conrad continued, manipulating Sita’s hind legs, making her hind paws kick the air.  Sita then wriggled her hind paws free of Conrad’s grasp and laughing, began kicking the air herself.  Conrad, laughing, clapped his forepaws, continuing to clap his paws even when Sita’s right hind foot caught him in the chest.

      “I’m sorry!”  Sita said, withdrawing her hind feet and grabbing them with her forepaws as if they and not she were guilty for striking Conrad in the chest.  Conrad, feeling his bruised chest with one forepaw, laughed merrily.

       “That’s the risk I take when playing with a huge cub,” he said, “but you can’t rely hurt me Sita.”  Sita shook her head:

       “I’ll tell my hind paws to be gentle with you,” she said, “I’ve got a good hold of them now though.”  Conrad investigated with his forepaws, finding Sita holding her hind feet with her forepaws.

       “That is so cute!”  He exclaimed.  Buck giggled:

      “I think it is too,” he said, “I love watching you and Sita play.”

      “Don’t you want to play too?”  Sita asked.  Buck smiled:

       “I have a mama and sire to play with me,” he said.

        “But I do too!”  Sita said, and then heSitating, “I think.”

        “Your mama and sire hardly play with you I think,” Conrad said softly.  Sita sighed heavily.

       “Not often,” she admitted.

 

Meanwhile, Ahanu and Haimati stood paw to paw in the corridor near Conrad’s lie up, screaming at each other.

       “You brought a misfit into the world you bitch!”  Ahanu screamed.

       “It takes two to tango Ahanu!”  Haimati roared.

       “I love you dearly Haimati, but, but, I wish we’d never mated!”  Ahanu bellowed, “You produced a frock!”

        “It’s not Sita’s fault she looks strange,” Haimati mewed, “I can’t blame Sita for her looks.”

      “But why does she look like a bear then!”  Ahanu yelled, “It’s because you gave your love to a bear!  Is Patch the one who truly screwed you!”

       “Patch?”  Haimati laughed, “No!  Sita’s, um, bearlike because I couldn’t deliver her, and Patch, who helped me, gave me strength, so I let him shape her body in the image he knew best.  I don’t mind what Sita looks like, and she knows that.”

      “But you’ve never played with her,” Ahanu snarled.

      “Neither have you, except the time before her body showed its true shape,” Haimati snarled in reply.

      “She’s got her play from Tornassuk, then from ursine Rowena,” Ahanu said, “she’s not our cub at all,” Haimati mewed.

      “She’s your cub,” Ahanu snapped, “she’s not mine though; I would never deliver a thing like that!  You wished for Sita to be a bear!  I didn’t!”

       “How can you say such a thing?”  Haimati whimpered.

      “Quite easily,” Ahanu replied, “she’s awful!”

       “So what do we do now?”  Haimati asked.

      “We walk away from Sita and let her play with her true kinsfolk,” Ahanu growled, “she’s not of me, but she’s born of you and of your wishes.  You have responsibility for her, I don’t!  She’s not a cat, she’s a bear!  I even saw her eating peanut butter, that’s a bear’s food, not a cat’s!  Now you go and tell Sita I want nothing to do with her!”

       “She already knows,” someone said.  Haimati and Ahanu spun round to find their cub standing in the doorway, her eyes sad and long tail drooping.

        “Buck reminded me of how much I’d missed out on play with my mama and sire,” Sita mewed, “and now I know why.  I heard you screaming, and so did they.  Now my plea for a loving mama and sire is going to be answered by bears.  For bears love me unconditionally, you two don’t!  I’m fed up with this!”  Sita turned and walked away.

      “So with that, I’ve just turned into my own mother!”  Haimati wailed.

      “Thank Eohippus for the bears,” Ahanu mewed.

 

Sita, furious and upset, padded heavily through the house from her confrontation with her mother and sire.  Crying, she thought of her body, how horrible it must look to all but an enlightened or blind bear.  Her heritage a disgrace to other felines, Sita felt half her life was empty.  Wailing with anguish, Sita stumbled on, a huge paw stopping her, and a leonine kiss placed on her nose bringing her to her senses.

      “I’ve been watching you,” someone said.  Sita sniffed, gathering her courage as she recognised the huge lion before her.

       “Samson,” she choked, “I apologise for appearing in front of you like this.  I’m a mess!”

       “You are just how I like you,” Samson replied, “you are beautiful from nose to paws.  I know it, buck knows it, Conrad knows it, and everyone knows it but you.  Sita, your body might be unusual, but your mind is glorious and loving.  Love your face and paws and everything like those who you feel closest to love them.  I see you like playing with your hind feet?”

      “I do, I love that,” Sita sniffed.

     “That is lovely,” Samson replied, “I wish I could do that.  I love bears, I love lions, and I love tigers, now I love a maoxiong too.”  Sita buried her face in Samson’s long mane.

       “I love your mane,” she said.

       “I love your face, and your paws,” Samson said, pushing Sita onto her backside with one huge forepaw, and then touching her nose with the same forepaw, before touching the toes and pads of both her hind feet.  Sita giggled despite her misery.

       “I love your touch,” she said.  Samson breathed on Sita’s hind paws, the cub wriggling and laughing helplessly.

       “Now I’ve always dreamt of a cub like you,” Samson replied, “a maoxiong, my ideal cub personified.”  Sita bounced about on her backside, loving Samson’s attentions.

       “Now my mama and sire have disowned me, who are my family?”  Sita asked.

        “You know that little Sita,” Samson replied.  Sita shook her head:

       “I don’t Samson, I don’t!”  She sobbed.

       “You do know,” Samson replied, “Who would you go to when you feel upset?”

      “Buck, Sire Patch, Kuruk, Anook, even Conrad,” Sita replied honestly, “mama Kamchatka, Koda, and even Aga.”

      “That is right,” Samson replied, “so you do have a family, even if you think you don’t.”

      “I think, think, feel, somehow, that you love me too Samson?”  Sita asked.  Samson smiled and kissed Sita’s nose and the pads of all four of her huge fat paws.

       “Does that feel like the kiss of a lion who loves you?”  Samson asked.  Sita laughed merrily:

      “It does, it does!”  She replied.

       “I love you for everything that you are, from your nose, to your paws, from your ears, to your tail,” Samson mewed.

       “I you do,” Sita said softly, “Samson, I know you love me, for your touch tells me much more than your mouth does.  Your mouth speaks words of comfort, but your paws give real comfort.”  Samson drank Sita in from nose to tail, loving her with his eyes.

        “You’re so beautiful,” he said.

      “What do your paws think?”  Sita asked.

       “I love how your paws feel in mine,” Samson replied, sitting down to more easily explore Sita’s hind feet.  Sita curled her toes, feeling Samson’s toes caught in hers.

       Squeeze my toes,” Samson invited, Sita obliging, Samson laughing.

      “I love your touch,” he said.  Sita touched Samson’s nose with her paw.

      “Can I get paws on with your paws?”  She asked.  Samson, then and there in the corridor, rolled onto his back and presented Sita with all four of his huge paws.  Sita traced and stroked pads counted and stroked toes, Samson all the while sighing and struggling not to wriggle with pleasure.

      “Don’t fight your urges,” Sita said, Samson mewing and wriggling with exec.  Sita laughed with delight as the lion’s reactions to her ministrations got more and more vocal and tactile.

     “Wriggle Sammy wriggle!”  She encouraged, Samson curling his toes, wriggling and mewing with pleasure.

        “That be so cute,” Kuruk remarked, padding into the Passage and finding his path blocked by half a tonne of distracted lion.

       “Sorry Kuruk, let, let me get to my paws, if I can feel the floor,” Samson gasped, struggling to his feet.  Kuruk padded to Samson, who now stood on all four of his tingling paws.  Indeed, Samson’s paws tingled so much he found himself almost dancing on his toes.  Kuruk, reaching the lion, kissed him on his nose, Samson returning the bear’s kiss.

      “Now you honorary bear,” Kuruk grunted, Samson smiling broadly.  Samson’s mane flowed over Sita’s head as he stepped forward to touch her nose with his.

       “You have the support of two families here Sita,” he purred, “the lions and the bears.  The tigers might not support you, but we lions, and those who subscribe to the leonine code will.  If they do not, they will have me and my son cub to deal with.”  Sita breathed in Samson’s scent that seemed to envelope her.

      “Your son cub?”  She asked.

      “White Theo,” Samson replied, “the spiritual leader of this community.  He will fight for you as will those who truly love you.  Sire patch, once a lost bear himself, remembers his days in the wilderness, and will not let others feel the same pain.”

       “Sire Patch is very gentle,” Sita mewed, “now, now, I want to go home, but I have no family to go to!”

        “But you do,” Samson replied, “You have a wider family than you know.  Join paws with a bear, or a lion and they’ll comfort you.  Oh, and as for Pakshalika, mama Pakshalika that is, she’s a tigress in body, but a lioness in spirit.”  Sita padded away, very confused.

      “Who can I go to if I’m feeling anxious?”  She asked herself.  Sita felt a paw touch hers, then a snuffle kiss to her ear.

        “Sire Patch?”  Sita asked.  The grey bear sitting down and drawing her into a huge hug in the corridor.

      “It is I,” sire patch said, kissing Sita’s nose while she sat in his lap.  Sita turned her face to the huge bear.

       “I don’t want to be with the cats any more,” she said, “they don’t want me Patch; it is the bears who want me with them.  They do not judge on sight, they know hardship, they know gentility, the lions and tigers don’t!”

      “I know you are lost,” patch said, “lost in a community of which you feel you have no place and no part.”  Sita buried her face in Patch’s fur, weeping inconsolably.

      “My birth mama and sire rejected me,” she wept, “now where do I go?”

       “You are home here,” patch said, “if only you’d let yourself believe it Sita, you are home here, with me, Ekaterina, Koda, Kamchatka, Allie, and little Patch.  Not to forget buck and his family, for they love you very deeply too, especially Buck.”

       “I do Buck a huge disservice Patch,” Sita choked, “I should not forget him.”

      “I love you very much Sita,” buck said softly, padding up to Sita and kissing her nose.

      “I love your face, your paws, your body, your mind, and yourself.  Sita, if our family abandons us and I have to find food for you and me I will.”  Sire Patch gulped hard, covering his eyes with one paw.

       “You mean that don’t you buck,” Sita said, her paw in that of the younger cub.  Buck nodded, hugging Sita where she sat in patch’s lap.

       “You’re only a cub!”  Sita sniffled, “you shouldn’t be speaking like this!  Not to me! My job should be to comfort you!”

       “I don’t need comfort at the moment, you do,” buck replied softly.  Sita kissed her friend’s nose.

      “I love you so much,” she said.  Buck smiled:

      “I love you too,” he replied.  Sita embraced buck tightly, the smaller cub cuddling close.

        “I love your touch,” buck said to Sita as her paws enveloped him.

       “Your so gentle buck,” Sita said softly.  Buck led Sita to his family lie up and settled her down with a peanut butter biscuit and a glass of warm milk, which he knew she loved.  Sita ate the biscuit and drank her milk with enthusiasm, wiping her mouth with her paw.

       “You know how to make me feel great don’t you,” she said.  Buck kissed her nose, then washed her paws and face with warm water and gentle care.  Sita settled down after her snack, Buck settling down beside her.

      “Will you stroke my pads and play with my toes?”  Sita asked.  Buck gently took hold of her right forepaw and began to stroke her pads and toes.  Sita sighed with pleasure, her toes curling slightly with pleasure and emotion.  But it was when buck began massaging and playing with Sita’s hind paws that the cross bred cub relaxed completely, closing her eyes.

      “I love that, I love that!”  She mewed, “Oooh, wow!  This is, is, amazing!”  Sita then rolled onto her back, kicking her hind paws free of Buck’s forepaws, only to wave them furiously, kicking the air with all her enthusiasm.  Buck, seeing his friend kicking the air, laughed helplessly.

       “You look so sweet,” he said, grabbing hold of Sita’s right hind paw and kissing her pads and toes.

 

Kamchatka, watching this from her and Koda’s lie up, rolled onto her back and waved her paws in the air in solidarity with Sita and buck.  Koda, feeling her mood, imitated her, Kamchatka laughing helplessly as she watched her mate pawing at the air with his forepaws and kicking the air with his hind feet.  Kamchatka loved Koda from nose to tail, finding his face and paw pads cute and very desirable.  She kissed Koda’s nose and paws, the black bear giggling with pleasure.

      “You have the most gorgeous body and paws,” Kamchatka said, kissing Koda’s nose and the pads of his paws.

      “I want to get Sita in here, hug her and comfort her,” Koda said.  Kamchatka smiled and put a call through to Kuruk’s lie up.  Sita, hearing of Codas intentions and wishing to cement her ties with the absolute community leader, padded to Koda’s lie up.  Soon she was engulfed in warm paws and then had a cup of tea thrust into her forepaw.  Sita, snuggling back into Koda’s embrace, drank her tea.  Sita, finding the black bear’s fur soft and exceedingly warm, coupled with the affects of a warm cup of tea, soon felt sleepy.

       “I could sleep here,” she yawned.  Koda kissed her nose and curled round Sita, the cross bred cub snuggling up to the black bear.

       “Your paws are very warm, so very warm Koda,” Sita mewed.  Koda kissed Sita’s nose, the cub snuggling up closer and closer.  Koda ran his paws from Sita’s nose to the pads of her hind paws, Sita wriggling with pleasure.

       “I love you Koda,” Sita mewed.  Koda closed his eyes, his paws holding tightly to Sita.  Sita whispered into Koda’s ear:  

   “Would you massage my paws?”  Koda whispered that he would.

       “When you’ve slept a while,” he replied.  Sita sighed contentedly, closing her eyes and sleeping deeply.  Koda dozed for hours, unwilling to let go of Sita.  Sita woke after four hours, stretching her paws and yawning expansively.

      “That was lovely,” she said, “but now I must relieve myself.”  Koda let Sita go, the cub running to the relieving place on the same floor.  Padding back after her relief, Sita thought about the bear who’d hugged her.  He had good strong paws, paws she wanted to be hugged by.  Sita found herself crawling into the lie up, approaching Koda, who was lying on the rug by the fire.

     “Sita’s crawling towards you Koda,” Kamchatka said.  Koda felt Sita bump into him, then stop as he grabbed her paws and tickled them.  Sita laughed, rolling onto her back and letting Koda tickle all four paws.  Koda turned tickling to stroking, and Sita began wiggling her toes, then curling them tightly.  Koda rubbed the sole pads of Sita’s hind paws, the cross bred cub laughing.

       “I love that Koda!”  Sita said.  Koda kissed her nose.

      “I love that too,” he said.  Sita smiled and hugged Koda.

       “We’re well matched then aren’t we,” Koda said.

      “We are.”  Sita said kissing Koda’s nose and paws.

      “So whose cub is she?”  Kamchatka asked, “Haimati and Ahanu don’t want to take responsibility for her.”

       “Are you thinking of adopting another cub mama?”  Koda asked.  Kamchatka smiled:

      “I think I might,” she replied.  Sita felt Kamchatka’s paw touching her back, then a snuffle kiss to her ear.

       “Oh mama,” Sita choked.  Kamchatka smiled and kissed Sita’s nose.

       “Would you like me to adopt you Sita cub?”  She asked.  Sita swallowed hard, trying not to cry.

      “I can’t ask you,” she sniffed: “you already have cubs!”

       “Surely we could make room for one more,” Koda said softly, “indeed, we have four cubs, Ekaterina, Sire patch, Kuruk, and Little Alaska, so why not make it five?”  Sita felt her emotions welling up.

       “Would you?”  She asked.  Koda kissed the top of Sita’s head:

       “What do you feel?”  Koda asked.

        “Stay a while,” Kamchatka said, “stay a long while Sita cub.”  Sita let her tears fall uninhibited.

      “Hug me!”  Sita begged.  Koda and Kamchatka hugged Sita in turn, then little Alaska, who’d been watching the whole unfolding drama, hugged Sita Also.  Sita felt Alaska take her forepaws in hers and then kiss her nose.

       “I can still play like a cub you know,” Alaska said to Sita, who embraced her tightly.

       “Would you play with my hind paws?”  Alaska asked Sita, who smiled and rolled Alaska onto her back, grabbing the polar bear cub’s right hind paw and tickling her pads to Alaska’s huge delight.  Alaska curled and stretched her toes while Sita played with her paws, the polar bear cub wriggling, whimpering with pleasure and waving her forepaws delightedly.  Kamchatka laughed helplessly at the antics of the two cubs and described it to Koda, who smiled broadly.

       “Show him mum, play with his paws, and go on!”  Alaska said.  Kamchatka laughed merrily.   

   “I think that’s a good idea,” she said.  Koda kissed Sita’s head and forepaws, and then Sita traced the large sole pads of Koda’s hind paws, the black bear curling his toes with pleasure.

      “So who can I turn to for a hug?”  She asked.  Koda enveloped her in as bigger hug as he could.

       “Try me, mama Kamchatka, and Alaska,” he suggested, as well as your friend Buck and his family, Samson and his family, plus Sire patch and his family also.”  Sita scrambled into Koda’s lap, snuggling up to the black bear.

      “Hug me hard,” she begged.  Koda smiled and embraced her tightly.  Then, he began to play with her hind paws, drawing circles on her large sole pads, Sita giggling and curling her toes hard.

      “I love that, I love that!”  She yelled.  Koda kissed the bunched sole pads of Sita’s hind paws, the cub laughing and wriggling with pleasure.

      “This is such fun, such fun!”  She said.  Koda ran his paws from Sita’s nose to her paws, the cross bred cub wriggling and mewing with pleasure as his warm paws enfolded her.  Koda, getting into his stride, blew on the pads of Sita’s hind paws, the cat like bear wriggling and laughing so hard she almost cried.  Then he began massaging her hind paws, slowly drawing circles on the large sole pads of first her right hind foot, then her left, Sita curling her toes hard and keeping them curled.

        “I love this!”  She said, wriggling closer to Koda.  Koda kissed Sita’s nose, then patted her head and gave her warm milk.

      “How if I try massaging my own hind paws?”  Sita asked between deep drinking.

      “You could try,” Koda replied.

      “Sita’s paws have orange brown fur with black pads,” Kamchatka said softly, “they’re cute, as is she.”  Koda kissed Sita’s nose and paw pads, Sita becoming quiet and thoughtful.

       “Go play with your paws Sita love,” Koda said softly.  Sita took hold of her right hind foot in both forepaws and tried drawing circles on her pads like Koda had, but her toes, now relaxed, would not curl like they had when Koda had massaged her pads.  Sita deliberately curled her toes, trying to force the feeling she’d had while Koda was drawing circles on her pads with the toes of his forepaws, but the sensations could not be re-enacted.  Sita, now thoroughly distressed, dug the toes of her forepaws into the pads of her hind, rubbing them furiously.

      “Curl toes curl!”  She whimpered.  Giving up with a sob, she turned to Koda and asked:

      “Why won’t my toes curl when I rub my pads like they did when you rubbed my pads?”  Koda embraced Sita.

       “When you touch your pads, your touch is different to mine.  You drew circles on your pads, as did I, but your forepaws touching your hind feet are different to mine touching them.  I’ll show you.”  He gently drew circles on Sita’s pads like he’d done before, the cross bred cub laughing as her toes curled involuntarily and stayed tightly curled.

       “It’s worked!”  She laughed, “Your paws are magical Koda!”  Koda smiled:

       “Your paws are too,” he said, “but they are only magical to others paws, not to your own paws.  The magic only works if your paws love the other’s paws.”  Sita smiled:

      “So my paws could make buck’s toes curl if I touch his pads?”

      “Yes,” Kamchatka said, “they could also make Alaska’s toes curl if you touched her paws.”

      “The touch of your forepaws make my toes curl with pleasure Sita,” Koda said, “Sita cub, I tried to make my forepaws give me the pleasure your touch did, but they would not.  Sure massaging my hind feet with my forepaws felt great, but not like the touch of your paws felt.”

       “So my paws are not magical to my own paws, only to the paws of others?”  Sita asked.  Koda kissed her ear:

      “Yes Sita love,” he said, “while playing with your own hind paws will feel lovely, it’s not as good as having someone else’s loving paws touching yours.”  Sita smiled:

        “I love your touch Koda,” she said.  Koda hugged Sita tenderly.

       “You are so cute from your nose to your toes,” Koda said.  Sita wriggled with pleasure as Koda embraced her.

      “Now, now, can I feel safe forever?”  Sita asked.  Koda rubbed her ears and back with his right forepaw.

       “Yes, you can,” he said.  Kamchatka smiled and clapped her paws with delight.

       “Thank you Koda,” she said.

      “I love our cubs,” he said softly, “and Sita is our cub completely.”  Sita settled down beside her new family.

      “She looks peaceful,” Alaska said, gazing at the sleepy cub.

      “You are a lovely family,” Sita yawned.  Alaska rubbed Sita’s belly as she curled up to sleep.  Alaska Kissed Sita’s nose and paws, the cub laughing merrily.

      “Let her sleep Alaska,” Kamchatka said softly, “I know you love playing with Sita, but she needs her sleep.”  Sita rubbed her eyes with her paws.

       “I wish I didn’t have to sleep,” she yawned.  Sita slept for hours, Alaska looking her over from nose to tail, loving her adopted sister.

      “I could easily play with her paws,” she said.

      “I know,” Kamchatka replied, “but not now Alaska.  You’ll wear poor Sita out.”  Alaska kissed Sita’s nose.

      “Now Alaska, let Sita sleep!”  Koda said sharply.  Alaska curled up beside Sita and took her right forepaw in both her forepaws.

      “I’ll play with you later,” Sita mewed softly.  Alaska gently traced the pads of Sita’s right hind foot, the cross bred cub’s toes curling tightly as Alaska’s toes rubbed her pads in tiny circles.

     “That feels so good!”  Sita said softly.  Alaska kissed the bunched pads of her sister’s right hind foot, Sita pressing her paw hard against Alaska’s pressure.

      “I love your touch!”  Sita mewed.

      “You have the most beautiful face and paws,” Alaska said.  Sita closed her eyes, feeling a large paw take her left forepaw.

      “Love your paws little Sita,” Older Fleur’s spirit said, “love Alaska, Buck, and everyone else with the big heart you have.  Your mama, like mine, rejected you for no reason other than she couldn’t cope with your appearance.  Inside though, you are beautiful, very beautiful.”

       “Koda and Kamchatka, as well as those who matter to me most loves me don’t they?”  Sita asked.  Fleur squeezed the cross bred cub’s paw.

      “Do I really have to answer that?”  She asked.

       “No mama fleur, you don’t,” Sita mewed.

        “Love your paws,” the spirit of the cross bred cat said, “enjoy curled toes and bunched pads, and enjoy loving touch and carefree play.  Never be ashamed to play Sita.”  Sita smiled:

       “I won’t be afraid to play, ever,” she mewed.

       “Now go and enjoy your paws, love touching and being touched, and explore with those curious toes of yours.”  Fleur said.

       “I like it when my toes curl tightly because someone who loves me strokes my pads,” Sita said, “though I’m sorry I cannot make them curl myself.”  Fleur kissed her nose:

       “You will never touch your pads and make your toes curl in the same way another’s touch can,” she replied.

       “Why does Koda’s touch make my toes curl and me tearful?”  Sita asked.

        “It is because he loves you with everything he has,” the spirit said, “Koda loves you dearly Sita, from your nose to your paws, and he loves you.”

      “Does Mama Kamchatka also?”  Sita asked.  Fleur nodded:

        “She does, but you and Koda have a special bond which is a bond Kamchatka and you will never have.”

      “His and my paws seem very close,” Sita said.  Fleur smiled:

       “They are very compatible, second only to yours and Buck’s.”

      “So I’m very safe here?”  Sita asked.  Fleur nodded:

      “You are,” she said, “Sita, your role is to love your fellow community members and be yourself, don’t change for anyone, for you are loved for being yourself.  Playful, paw play loving, tactile Sita.”

       “I will,” Sita promised.

 

Koda kissed Sita’s nose, and Fleur’s spirit turned to him.

       “Please, love this cub,” Fleur mewed.  Koda smiled:

        “I will, I promise you that,” he said.  Fleur kissed Koda’s nose, then vanished.  Koda smiled and hugged Sita as she snuggled up to him.

      “She’s your cub Koda,” Kamchatka said.  Koda smiled:

      “She’s Patch’s cub if she’s any bear’s cub at all,” he replied.  Sire Patch padded into the lie up, Hugged his mum and adopted sire and then turned to Sita, hugged her and left.

      “He strained and struggled to give me life,” Sita said about Patch.  Koda smiled:

       “But you’re still his cub,” Koda said, “you’re not mining.

      “Think of me as a surrogate mother,” Sire Patch said to Koda, putting his head round the door.

       “You had a cub because you wanted to, and Kamchatka could not?”  Koda asked.  Patch smiled and nodded:

       “I asked the question, got my answer, and now have a cub.  Hug her Koda; love her, for her parents did not.  That’s all I ask of you.”  Koda smiled and hugged Sita.

      “How do I tell Sita she’s safe?”  Koda asked Patch.

      “Just hug her, massage her paws, play with her, feed her, curl round her when she sleeps, all that, and she’ll be fine.”  Patch replied.

       “Hug me Koda!”  Sita begged, Koda embracing her tightly.  Sita wriggled and squirmed closer to Koda, pushing with her hind paws to get closer to the black bear.  Holding onto him with her forepaws, she buried her face in his thick warm fur breathing in his scent, Koda’s scent soothing her, unscrambling her nerves, making her feel safe and warm.

      “Do you feel safe now Sita dear?”  Koda asked.  Sita clung to Koda, wanting to snuggle closer to him, to be wrapped up tight in his paws.

      “How did you get such warm paws?”  Sita asked.  Koda smiled:

      “My mama taught me to be gentle with my paws,” Koda replied.

      “I’ll teach you to be gentle,” Koda said, “I’ll teach you how to play with your paws and those of others, I’ll count your toes, stroke your pads, and play the trapped paw game with you Sita.”  Sita smiled:

       “I’m looking forward to that,” she said.

       “Would you like to start now?”  Koda asked.  Sita laughed:

      “I’d love to,” she replied.  Koda Sat Sita in front of him, handling her like a very young cub, which she enjoyed hugely.

      “Now let’s count each other’s toes,” Koda said, taking hold of Sita’s right hind foot, “you have, one, two, three, four five, toes on your hind foot.  with, one, two, three, four five, pads on those toes, one pad on each toe, then, here,”  Koda said, touching and then tracing the edge of the large sole pad of Sita’s right hind foot, “here Sita, is the sole pad of your right hind paw, it’s large, rough, and,,,”  he tickled Sita’s hind foot, the cub laughing:

      “Very ticklish!”  She yelled, curling her toes tightly, “I loved that, do it again Koda!”  Koda laughed:

      “What’s the magic word?”  He asked, his eyes shining:

     “Now!”  Sita replied laughing, “Oh please Koda, please!”  Koda smiled, counted and traced the pads of Sita’s left hind foot in the same way he’d traced her right hind, the cub soon laughing helplessly.

      “Yes Koda, that feels lovely!”  She yelled curling and wiggling her toes.

       “Now can you count my toes?”  Koda asked, “How many toes do I have on each of my hind feet?”  Sita gently took hold of Koda’s left hind paw and counted his toes:

     “You have one, two, three, four, five toes on your left hind foot Koda, and,” she grabbed his right hind paw, “one, two, um, three, four, five toes on your right hind.”

       “How many toes in total?”  Koda asked.

       “Um, five plus five is ten!”  Sita replied.

       “Great!”  Koda replied ruffling her ears with his forepaws.

      “Koda,” Sita asked, why when you tickled my left hind foot did it not feel as good as when you tickled my right hind?”  Koda hugged Sita.

      “Because you were expecting it,” he said, “it was no surprise.”  Sita looked downcast:

      “Oh,” she said cubbishly.  Koda hugged his cub tightly, Sita giggling and snuggling close.

      “You are safe, loved and very welcome here,” Koda whispered to Sita, the cub burying her forepaws in Koda’s fur.

      “You two look so contented,” Kamchatka said to Koda and Sita.  Alaska, watching from next to Kamchatka, smiled broadly.

      “I love the way you played with Sita,” Alaska said, “that’s how you played with me yesterday Koda.”  Koda smiled:

       “I love playing paws on games with my cubs,” he said.  Sita took her right hind foot in forepaws, playing with her toes and stroking her pads.  Then she stopped suddenly, her toes curled tightly and forepaws holding tight to her right hind.

      “My forepaws are stuck to my hind foot!”  She wailed.  Koda gently felt with his forepaws around Sita’s right hind foot and forepaws.  Koda smiled as he managed to stroke the large sole pad of Sita’s right hind paw, the black bear’s touch relaxing Sita’s toes and freeing her forepaws.

      “My hind foot wanted your touch,” she said, “so it glued my forepaws to the pads of my hind paw!”  Koda kissed his cub’s nose.

      “Do you know another word for the whole of the bottom of your paw?”  He asked.

     “Um, my pads?”  She asked.  Koda smiled:

      “Nearly,” he replied, “your pads are part of something bigger though, ave many pads, but only one of these per paw.”

      “One what?”  Sita asked.

        “The bottom of your paw is also known the sole of your paw,” Koda said.

       “So MY pads are on the sole of my paw,” Sita mused.

      “Yes,” Koda replied.

     “That is really cool,” Sita said.  Koda smiled:

      “I think so too,” he replied.  Sita grabbed Koda’s right hind foot and explored his pads and toes with her forepaws.

     “So your pads are on the sole of your foot, just like mine,” she said.  Koda curled his toes.

      “Yes Sita love,” Koda replied.  Sita laughed merrily and kissed Koda’s nose.

        “Totally disgusting!”  Someone snapped.  Kamchatka looked at the doorway, as her eyes had been firmly fixed on Koda and Sita, and sometimes just on the paws of her mate and the cub.  Now she saw Ahanu standing, bristling and angry.  He then threw something at Sita, Kamchatka saw the thing, an egg, and smash on Sita’s back, the cub squealing and upset.  Kamchatka, angry, launched herself at Ahanu, pinned him down, and then walloped him with her paw.  The contact was so forkful Ahanu’s ears rang.  Sita shook herself vicariously, whimpering and crying.

      “You are so horrible!”  Kamchatka screamed, beating Ahanu up.  Meanwhile, Koda, furious with Ahanu, took Sita to the lie up’s private bathroom and washed her down in the huge tub.  Koda, filling the tub, thanked his foresight.  He’d once dreamt when human that he’d be a bear one day, so he’d put in a bear sized tub.  Now this was paying dividends.

        “I like you washing me,” Sita said as Koda massaged Shampoo into her fur and paws.  Koda then conditioned Sita’s fur, and then washed her face and entire body with soap.  Sita smiled broadly as she was washed by the black bear.

      “Ahanu threw an egg at you,” Kamchatka said, padding into the bathroom.  Sita splashed a little with her paws.

       “That’s not very nice,” she said.  “I did nothing to him.”  Kamchatka growled deep in her throat:

      “If he does anything else, I’ll break his paws!”  She snarled.

      “Why does Ahanu hate me so much?”  Sita asked.

      “I don’t know,” Kamchatka replied, though her voice bet raids her.

       “You do know mama,” Sita pressed, “tell me.”

        “You know too Sita love,” Kamchatka said sadly, “deep down, you know.”

        “I’m not what he wants,” Sita mewed, “I’m a scruffy, horrible looking cub.” 

        “Unfortunately you are right,” Kamchatka said, getting into the bathtub to hug her cub.”

       “I’m no threat to him!”  Sita wept.

     “If he sets paw on you, I’ll rip him to shreds!”  Koda snarled.

       “You’d not stand a chance unless you got hold of him,” Kamchatka said, “but if I got hold of him, you could set about him with your paws.”

       “I’d use my teeth too!”  Koda grunted.  Sita hugged her adopted sire.

       “I love you,” she said to him.

 

Meanwhile, Ahanu, furious with Sita, stamped about the corridor outside Koda’s lie up.  He hated how Sita looked, and couldn’t see what Koda, or Kamchatka especially could see in the scruffy cub.

       “You set paw on Sita, you will be destroyed slowly and painfully,” someone said.  Ahanu stared at a white lioness.

      “Rowena?”  He asked.  The lioness nodded:

       “You are a danger to Sita,” Rowena snarled, “paws off!”  Ahanu turned and fled!  Pounding down the stairs, Ahanu felt his paws go from beneath him, and ended up rolling down a flight of stairs, landing in the great room with all four paws sticking skywards.  Ahanu found himself uninjured, but frightened to the point of urinating and defecating in fear.

      “I saw Rowena, Rowena!”  He gasped over and over, stumbling from his place of landing into the kitchen.  Crashing into Petra, who was getting food, Ahanu babbled his story.

       “You threatened Sita, so I’m not surprised Rowena warned you,” Petra mewed, smacking Ahanu across his face with her paw.  Ahanu slunk away, his face stinging.

        “Sita’s in danger Petra,” Theo mewed.  Petra nodded:

      “I know she is,” Petra replied, “Ahanu is in greater danger though, danger of upsetting the spirits.  If they are upset, Ahanu will feel the Roth of more than an angry paw.”

       “Kamchatka won’t hold back if he attacks Sita again,” Theo mewed, “and it is highly likely Ahanu will push his luck.”

      “If Ahanu does something as seemingly trivial as stamp on Sita’s tail for instance, Kamchatka will kill him for sure,” Petra mewed.

       “Sita doesn’t need scum like him,” Theo mewed.

      “Now you are not meant to hold opinions one way or the other,” Petra reminded Theo.

        “Ahanu wants Sita dead, and I cannot let that happen,” Theo mewed, “it is no secret what happens if two big cats of different species mate.  Ahanu knew what mating with Haimati would cause in strain on Haimati during the birth of her cub.  Now he hates the cub he helped create.  My duty is to protect cubs first and foremost, and if that means getting rid of a threat, I will,” Theo mewed, “I did it once before with Simba, and I’ll do it again.  I am not eohippus, I am her student, but if a mama’s cub is in danger, the mama illuminates the threat to that cub.  Ahanu will not come to blows with me, but I will not stand in the way of those who justly end his life if the ending of his life is in direct result of him threatening a cub.”

       “I like Sita,” Petra mewed, “she’s cute and very gentle too.  She’s lovely from her nose to her pads.”

       “Have you seen the pads of Sita’s paws?”  Theo mewed, “they’re so cute!”  Petra nodded:

      “They are,” she mewed.

       “She loves Koda playing with her paws,” Theo mewed, “its cute watching them play.”

      “Koda loves playing with Sita’s paws,” Petra mewed, “you can see it in his eyes.”

       “I saw it in the way his paws explored Sita’s,”  Theo mewed, “the game where she pretended her forepaws were stuck to her right hind foot caused Koda to explore her right hind paw with such gentle care.”

      “That was so sweet,” Petra agreed.

       “I love Sita,” Koda said, padding into the kitchen and hugging Petra.

      “Are you in cub?”  Koda asked.  Petra giggled:

      “How do you know?”  She asked.

      “Your scent is different,” Koda said.  Petra laughed:

       “You never miss a trick,” she said.  Koda touched Petra’s belly, the lioness gasping as she felt her cub kicking against her belly.

      “You have the touch it seems,” she said.  Koda smiled and kissed her nose.

      “I heard how white Aslan’s birth went,” Koda said.  Petra smiled:

       “I would have re-enacted it for you if you’d asked,” she said, “now though; I don’t know if I should do it.”

        “You had better not try,” Koda replied, “for it might bring on early labour.”  The cub inside Petra kicked back against Koda’s touch.

       “It likes your touch,” Petra said.  Koda smiled.

       “I wonder who’ll have cubs first,” Koda mused.

       “I couldn’t say,” Petra mewed, “though I don’t want to hurry things along by pretending to have a cub.”  Koda hugged her.  

    “I wonder if we’ll ever see another black bear here,” Petra mewed, “I’d love to see another black bear here.”  Koda padded away to his lie up, even more determined to protect Sita.

 

Meanwhile, in her lie up, Aga and Patch sat together.

      “Okay,” Aga said, “tell me what to do patch, tell me how to breathe, how to pace, curl my toes, everything while in labour.”

      “Okay mama,” Patch said, “Imagine you’re in labour, small contractions first of course.”  Aga sat, imagining her experiencing contractions, soon she was panting and moaning deeply, grabbing her right hind foot in her forepaws, squeezing her pads and playing with her toes while she wriggled and panted.

       “Now what!”  Aga gasped, getting into a crawling posture and roaring. Banging the floor with her forepaws.

      “Let yourself go,” patch said, “wriggle, pant, and roar that cub into the world, kick, curl those toes, scream and roar.”  Aga found her reluctant at first, but then, one small moan, a quick rub of her hind paws with her fore, and she was unable to stop herself, soon Aga was abandoning herself to kicking, curling her toes, screaming and rolling about.

        “What’s going on in here?”  Koda asked.  Aga rested for a while.

       “Patch’s helping me get ready for the birth of my cubs,” she panted.  Koda smiled:

      “Sounds good,” he said.

      “Would you like to be paws on with me while I have my cub Koda?”  Aga asked.

       “But that’s Conrad’s job,” Koda replied.

      “We can both help her,” Conrad said, padding into the lie up and hugging Aga, then Koda.

       “Two bears helping me have my cub, two bears stroking my hind paws, one bear for me to hold onto, another to massage my hind feet while I scream and strain to deliver my cubs.  Sounds wonderful!”  Koda smiled:

       “It would be a privilege and an honour,” he said.  Aga smiled broadly as Koda hugged her, and then massaged her right hind foot, Aga curling her toes with pleasure.

      “Wow!”  She giggled, “You have a lovely touch Koda!”

     “I won’t get paws on unless you want it,” Koda said.  Conrad smiled and nuzzled Koda’s ear:

      “You’re ok with us,” he said.

     “You can stay while I give birth,” Aga said, “touch my body, my paws, and even feel the cub emerging.  After all, if it had not been for your community here, I’d not have been able to meet up with my cub.”

     “But that does not give me the automatic right to be present, less get paws on with you while you have your cub,”  Koda replied.

       “I want you to,” Aga replied, “many others can see the video over and over, but you and Conrad can’t.  Nor can Sita.  So my invitation extends to her also.  She can get paws on, or if you’d prefer her to, she can hold the newborn cub.”  Koda hugged Aga gently:

       “I’m sure she’d love it,” he said, “thank you Aga.”  Aga smiled and shook her head:

      “I’m looking forward to it,” she said.  Koda kissed Aga’s nose and then gently kissed the pads of all four of her paws, Aga wiping away tears with her forepaws as Koda kissed the pads of her hind paws.

     “Why are you crying mama?”  Patch asked.  Aga, sniffing: wiped away tears.

       “I don’t know,” she replied, “Koda’s touch, his kiss on my pads, all that, I suppose.  It’s rather emotional.”

        “Kissing of and washing of paws is a sign of humility,” Theo mewed, watching the goings on from the doorway.  Koda smiled broadly.

       “I was present at little Alaska’s birth, and kissed Kamchatka’s nose and paws while she was in labour.  I massaged and kissed Kamchatka’s bunched and sweating pads and toes as well as her sweat and tear soaked fur.  I treasure those memories.”  Kamchatka, unnoticed by all but Theo, who kept his mouth shut, padded in on silent paws and kissed Koda’s ear.

       “I treasure those memories too,” she whispered.  Koda bowed his head and Kamchatka knelt and kissed his nose.

         “Soppy,” she whispered.  Koda returned her kiss.

       “That’s so sweet!”  Aga said.  Kamchatka sat down behind Koda, placed her paws on his shoulders.  Koda wriggled backwards, Kamchatka’s paws embracing him and pulling him closer.

       “Push with those heels Koda,” Kamchatka said softly, smiling as Koda bent his hind legs to push with his heels.  Kamchatka leant back against the wall behind her, shuffling backwards, guiding Koda backwards, the black bear pushing with his hind feet and and shuffling on his backside.  When Kamchatka could go no further backwards, she drew Koda to her.

      “Push back into me,” she encouraged.  Koda braced his hind feet and pushed, Kamchatka pulling him into a hug.

     “Love him Kamchatka,” Aga said.  Kamchatka kissed the top of Koda’s head:

      “I do,” she replied, and no greater love has I felt for him then when I was in labour and he comforted me.”

       “I wished I could do more,” Koda said.  Kamchatka smiled broadly and drummed gently on Koda’s chest with her forepaws, the black bear laughing merrily.

      “I love you,” Kamchatka whispered to Koda, the black bear wriggling with pleasure.

       “You have such a lovely face, and cute paws,” Kamchatka said softly to Koda, the bear bouncing about with pleasure.

      “You’re so funny,” Kamchatka said.  Aga felt her own cub kicking, and it was a strong kick too.  Aga smiled as she felt her cub kicking.

      “Now I hope my cub comes soon,” she said. .  Koda smiled:

       “I hope your labour is swift and relatively painless,” he said.

      “Has anyone described Aga to you Koda?”  Kamchatka asked.

      “Um, no,” Koda replied, “Though I suppose she described herself to Conrad.”  Conrad smiled:

       “She did,” he replied.

       “Aga’s a brown bear with brown eyes, pink paw pads and a pink nose,” Kamchatka said.  Koda smiled:

      “Lovely,” he replied.

        “Would you like to get paws on with me?”  Aga asked.  Koda hesitated:

       “Are you sure?”  He asked.

      “Come on,” Aga replied.  Koda crawled over to her and ran his paws from her nose to the toes and pads of her hind feet.  Aga couldn’t help wriggling with pleasure as Koda’s paws explored her.

      “Aga’s got uniform brown fur from nose to tail, with pink pads, lips, nose and brown eyes.

       “You’ve got a lovely touch,” Aga said.  Koda kissed her nose.

        “Good luck mama,” he said.  Aga hugged him tenderly.

     “I can’t wait to meet your cub,” Koda said, “it will be playful I think.”  Aga giggled:

      “I hope it will,” she replied.  Koda rubbed Aga’s belly, the cub kicking hard against his paw, making Aga gasp.

      “Oooh, woooahoah!”  She exclaimed.

      “Lively little one,” Koda replied.  Conrad touched Aga’s belly, the cub remaining still.

      “How can that be?”  Conrad asked, “That the cub kicks for Koda, but not for me?”

        “I don’t know, don’t know!”  Aga whimpered, clenching her teeth.  Then she moaned loudly, then rolled onto her back, drew her hind feet up, and screamed.  Conrad yelped with fright.

       “That was why the cub was quiet,” Koda replied, “Aga’s gone into labour!”  Conrad running to Aga’s head and grabbing her right forepaw, feeling her sweating pads and curling toes.

       “I must push!”  Aga roared, straining hard, then kicking furiously, wriggling and waving her paws in the air as she came down from a contraction.  Then, squealing, she sat up, grabbed the toes of both hind feet with her forepaws and crushed them, wailing and grunting.  Then she lay on her back once more, drew her hind feet up again, grabbed them with her forepaws and roared with pain.  Conrad and Koda got paws on with Aga when she began crawling round the lie up, stopping every few minutes to scream and beat the rugs with her forepaws while tightly curling her toes.  Koda rubbed her right hind paw, while Conrad rubbed her left hind, Aga whimpering and growling.  Then, panting, she sat back on her heels, and began yelling and squealing while bouncing on her heels.

      “This hurts, hurts, hurts!”  She yelled, “ow, ow! Ow! Ow!”   Koda and Conrad touched Aga’s hind paws, the she bear gasping and roaring.

      “Now I really want to push!”  She screamed.  Lying on her side, she bore down hard, the cub’s forepaws and head exploding into the world, Aga panting and shrieking.  Then, wriggling, she strained hard to deliver the cub’s body, Conrad and Koda yelling out encouragement while Kamchatka sat stunned and speechless; her eyes not on the goings on in Aga’s lie up, but staring at the screen on which something else as amazing was taking place.

     “Go on Aga, push!”  Koda yelled.

     “The cub’s body’s nearly out!”  Conrad added.  Aga groaned, bearing down into her tail with all her might.

       “This cub’s huge!”  She wailed, “Its big cub, big cub!  Ow Conrad, ow!”  Conrad rubbed Aga’s flank as she wriggled and heaved.

      “Now, one more pushes in a minute Aga,” Koda said, “the hind legs are coming out now.  Now, one last big push for the hind paws, ready?  One, two, three, Push!”  Aga wailed and strained, Conrad catching the cub as fluid exploded from her.

      “Is that the only one?”  Conrad asked, cleaning the cub up.  Aga panted hard:

       “I bloody well hope so!”  She groaned.  The cub began complaining loudly and asking for food.  Conrad, giving the newborn cub to Aga, wiped his fluid covered paws on the rug.

     “Wow mama,” he panted, “that was fast!”  The whole labour, from start to finish, had taken only an hour and a half.

       “My cub was a struggle to deliver,” Aga said, “but I don’t regret a thing.”  She looked down at the now suckling cub.  It was huge, with long legs.  The cub’s fur was brown, its paw pads beige and very soft.  Aga placed the cub on its back on the floor, Conrad padding over to it.  Soon the cub was wriggling and waving its paws in the air as Conrad rubbed its belly.

       “Our cub’s male,” Aga said, “and as playful as my patch predicted.”

       “Your cub is handsome,” Patch said softly, “hey little brother.”  Patch tickled the cub’s right hind paw, the cub curling his toes and laughing helplessly.

      “That’s lovely,” Aga said.  Patch kissed the cub’s nose and paws, the cub giggling and playfully swatting at patch’s nose with soft padded paws.

      What should we name this cub?”  Patch asked.

       “How about naming him Bruin?”  Aga asked.  Patch looked at Theo, who’d padded in on hearing Aga’s screams of pain while giving birth.

      “Bruin is a great name for a little cub,” he mewed.

       “Now let’s sleep a while,” Aga yawned, “I’m tired.”  Conrad settled down across the entrance of the lie up, protecting his new cub, Koda and Kamchatka padding out of the lie up, Patch following.

 

Meanwhile, Sita had her paws full.  Petra had gone into labour, and her cries of pain and the sound of her scrabbling paws as she coped with increasing contractions attracted Sita, who’d come from Koda’s lie up and was padding past on her way to the wood.  Petra growled and roared her pain, as she gripped the rugs in her lie up, her body feeling as if it was being torn apart by the cub’s emergence.

       “Petra?”  Sita asked.  Petra, gasping, whimpered she was in labour, and then repeated herself, but screaming this time.

       “I’m in labour!  My cub’s coming!”  Sita padded into the lie up.

      “What can I do to help?”  Sita asked.  The white lioness, panting and groaning, tried to gather her thoughts before they were shattered by another raging pain.

      “Get paws on with me if you like,” she panted, “ow Sita, ow!  This hurts!”  Sita got paws on with the lioness’s paws, feeling her toes curling and relaxing with the fluctuations in contractions.

      “When I have to push, this is really gonna hurt!”  Petra said, wriggling and pawing at the air.  Sita lay down on her side beside Petra, deliberately putting her body in the line of fire of Petra’s scrabbling paws.  Petra’s paws pummelled Sita’s belly and hind paws as she struggled to deliver her cub.  Sita felt Petra’s toes scrabbling at her fur, the lioness’s claws retracted.

        “The cub’s coming, oh, Oooh, ouch!  Aoaw!”  Petra roared.  Sita felt Petra’s body heaving, and then heard her catch her breath and felt her straining hard.  Sita heard a squirt of fluid, then Petra wriggled convulsively, and Sita heard the cub emerging.  A wet sound accompanied with squirts of fluid as Petra exerted pressure, pushing down again and again into her tail, accompanying her efforts with growling and roaring.

      “Push mama Push!”  Sita encouraged, Petra grabbing hold of her in her forepaws and screaming into her face.  Sita felt herself rocked from side to side as the lioness laboured under huge pressure to deliver her cub.

       “Okay, okay, catch the cub!”  Petra yelled.  Sita wriggled free of Petra’s hug, then felt her way to Petra’s tail, and beneath that to a large set of forepaws.  Suddenly Petra curled up and strained hard, Sita feeling the cub emerging as Petra stretched out full length and strained hard into her tail.

     “Give it some Petra, give it everything!”  Sita yelled, Petra screaming lustily.  The cub suddenly exploded into the open, Sita catching it in her paws.

       “One more push for the hind paws, go on!”  Sita roared, Petra roaring and screaming as she pushed.

      “That’s it!”  Sita said, “You have a newborn cub here Petra!  Well done mama lioness!”  Petra, panting and crying, curled round to embrace her cub, Sita giving the wet little bundle to its mama.

       “Good work mama,” Sita said.  Petra cleaned up the cub and found it was a large male white lion.

       “Well done mama,” Sita said again as she explored Petra’s cub.  The male cub, laughing with delight, snuggled up to Sita.

       “My mama and I thank you,” he said.  Petra laughed:

       “I gave birth to a very polite cub,” she said.  Sita kissed the cub’s nose, the white lion cub laughing and returning her kiss.

       “Where’s Leo?”  Sita asked.  Petra looked out of the window.

     “He should be back any minute,” she said, “he’s on evening patrol.”

        “So he missed the birth of his own cub, that’s sad,” Sita said.

       “Labour was quick, only two hours this time.”  Petra said, “With Aslan, I had a five hour labour if I remember rightly.”

       “You kept your claws sheathed at all times, even when you were pushing hard,” Sita said.  Petra smiled:

       “I know,” she replied, “I was not attacking anything.  I was in pain.  I keep my claws out of the way so I don’t hurt my cubs, or my birthing attendant.”  Sita kissed Petra’s nose and paws, smelling her scent and sweat.

        “A good day’s work mama,” Sita said, Petra embracing her tightly.

      “Now feed your little one,” Sita said softly, “I’m going to wash my paws.”  Petra laughed happily as Sita left, Leo padding in soon after.

      “I have a surprise for you,” Petra said.  Leo, smelling sweat and birth fluids, looked shocked, and then tears filled his eyes as he saw the cub.

       “Oh mama,” he said, sitting down to admire the latest addition to his family.

      “What shall we name this cub?”  Leo asked, his eyes starting from his head with surprise.

       “I think the name Simba would be very fitting,” Petra said.  Leo looked down at the male cub, still wet from Petra licking him.

      “He’s amazing,” he said.  Sita padded back into the room, Petra and Leo getting to their feet to welcome her.  Petra, her fur matted with sweat from her labour, hugged Sita tightly.

       “I love you Sita,” Petra mewed.  Sita kissed the lioness’s nose and snuggled up to her.

       “You deserve much praise,” Leo said to Sita, “Sita, you helped Petra have her cub.  You are amazing.”  Sita smiled shyly.

       “I only did what I felt was right,” she replied.

        “My Sita’s a very paw on cub,” Kamchatka said, padding into the lie up, her eyes telling the lions of her shock at what she’d seen on camera.

       “I missed the whole of Aga’s cub’s birth!”  Kamchatka said, “I couldn’t believe my eyes at what I was seeing on screen!”

       “Sita’s a lovely cub mama,” Petra mewed.

      “Sita, that’s a nice name,” Simba said.  Sita sat down and cradled Simba in her paws, sitting him on her lap.  Sita kissed Simba’s nose, the lion giggling and mewing with excitement.

     “I think we’re gonna be friends forever and ever,” Simba said.  Sita laughed and kissed the cub’s nose, just as Buck ran in with Anook and Kuruk.

      “Kuruk see Sita helping mama Petra!”  Kuruk yelled, shocked by the footage he’d just seen.  Sita, covering Simba’s ears to protect them from the loud shouting, shook her head at Kuruk:

      “Quiet, please!”  She begged.

      “How Sita expect Kuruk be quiet when he see Sita getting paws on with labouring mama lioness!”  Kuruk asked.

       “You could at least talk softly,” Buck said, standing on his hind feet and covering his ears with his forepaws.

      “Ok, Kuruk sorry,” Kuruk grunted.  Buck dropped onto all four paws and padded to Sita, examining her and the newborn white lion cub with keen interest.

      “Who’s that big thing coming near?”  Simba asked.  Sita stroked his heed with her paw, which to Buck looked huge against the tiny lion cub.

      “You’re so gentle Sita,” Buck said.

      “Simba,” Sita mewed, “that big thing coming near is my friend Buck.  He’s all right.  He won’t harm you.”  Simba relaxed.

      “Is that Petra’s cub?”  Buck asked.

      “No, he’s mine,” Sita said seriously, buck taking a pace backwards and looking shocked.

       “You’re joking, I hope,” he said.

      “She’s not,” Simba said, catching on, “Sita strained and roared as much as I’ve ever heard.  I’m her cub!”  Petra, seeing buck’s astonishment, covered her mouth with her paw, trying not to laugh.

      “I must go,” she said, running from the room and laughing helplessly when she was out of earshot.  Petra padded back to the lie up, trying to keep a straight face.  Buck was hunting round the room, then searching Sita for signs she’d recently had a cub, Sita trying to fake exhaustion from labour.  Petra hoped her expression, along with the strong scent from her own fur and paws didn’t give the game away.  Buck sat down and looked at Sita.

      “You’re having me on,” he said, “Simba’s not your cub.”  Sita smiled:

       “It was a joke,” she said, “You know Simba’s not my cub.  Though I did help mama Petra births him.

      “Don’t do that to me!”  Buck whimpered.

       “I could re-enact Simba’s birth though, and I’d enjoy every minute,” Sita replied.  Buck groaned and buried his head in Sita’s shoulder.

       “You would make me physically sick!”  Buck moaned.

      “Only joking buck love,” Sita said laughing.

      “Time to feed little Simba I think,” Petra mewed, “Buck, Sita, out!”  Sita and buck ran from the lie up, laughing merrily.

      “Did you really get paws on with Petra?”  Buck asked, even though he’d seen it with his own eyes.

      “Yes buck I did,” Sita replied, “it was amazing.”

      “I heard you were to be present at Aga’s cub’s birth too,” buck replied, “but Petra’s cub came before.”

       “I think they came at the same time,” Sita mewed.  Buck hugged his friend.

      “You are very special Sita,” he said.

       “I don’t feel very special,” Sita mewed.

       “I think you’re special!”  Petra called from the door of her lie up.  Sita giggled shyly.

       “Thank you mama,” Sita called back, buck seeing Petra wave her paw at Sita.

      “I think that lioness loves you Sita dear,” Buck said.  Sita began to cry as the enormity of what she’d experienced to hit home.

      “I love her and her cub,” Sita sniffed.

      “You deserve praise,” Buck said.

       “All I did was follow a labouring mama’s instructions,” Sita mewed.

      “But that mama felt the love you feel for her and her cub,” Petra said, padding up to Sita with little Simba riding on her back, “what you did for me is immeasurable,” Petra said, kissing Sita’s nose.  Sita felt the lioness’s exhaustion and her weariness also.

      “You are lovely Sita, and don’t you forget that for one minute,” Petra mewed.

       “My birth parents don’t think so,”  Sita said, Ahanu and Haimati’s rejection of her hitting home now she’d seen Petra’s love for her own cub.  Sita cried into Petra’s coat, the lioness kissing Sita’s nose and drying her eyes with her whiskers.

       “Your adopted parents love you very much,” Petra mewed, “Sita, remember that please.”

       “But I want my birth mother and Sire to love me just like you and Leo love Simba,” Sita sobbed.

      “They feel they can’t,” Petra replied, “You cannot force them Sita love.”

        “But, but, these few weeks, once I met Buck and his family, and Koda and his family, and then was present at the birth of little Simba, and all that, I know know what I am missing.  I’ve lost so much!”

       “I know, I know,” Petra mewed, “you can’t get those times back, but please Sita, move on if you can, you must move on my dear.  If not, Ahanu and Haimati have won twice.  They’ve rejected you, and then destroyed you if you can’t move on.”

       “You don’t know what this are like do you!”  Sita snapped, striking Petra with her paw.

       “Simba, please, get off my back my dear,” Petra said, sitting down, Simba sliding delightedly down her back onto the floor.

       “Sita,” Petra mewed, “you know the story of the white lioness that was poisoned by her mama?”  Sita nodded, sniffing.

      “I know that tale,” she choked, “but that was years ago, in ancient history.”

      “No it wasn’t, only seven years ago in our time,” Petra mewed, “I know that lioness very well indeed.”

       “The lioness’s name was Petra, are you her daughter?”  Sita choked.

       “Give me your paw Sita,” Petra said.  Sita did as Petra asked, and gasped with supplies.

       “You’re, you’re that lioness, and you’re Petra!”  She exclaimed.

      “I am,” Petra replied, “all the stuff about Eohippus and my fight against her domination is true, I was nearly destroyed by that.  Now Sita, will you please take my advice?”  Sita buried her head in Petra’s fur.

      “I am sorry Petra,” Sita mewed, “I didn’t think, didn’t connect the story with you.  Please, please forgive me.”  Petra kissed Sita’s nose:

       “Consider you forgiven,” Petra mewed.  Sita took a deep breath.

       “I need your help,” she sighed, “Petra, I need your help, and Kamchatka’s help everyone’s help here.  Please, show me love, show me how to love.”

        “Sita dear,” Petra replied, “you know how to love; you know how to give comfort.  Do you think I’d have let you get paws on with me during the birth of my cub if I did not feel love from you?  Love for my cub from you also?”  Sita sniffed hard.

      “I’m sorry Petra,” Sita choked.

       “Now let’s go on from here,” Petra mewed, “let’s be good to each other Sita love.”  Sita felt Petra’s paw enfold her own.

       “Yes Petra,” Sita mewed.

      “Now, go love,” Petra said softly.

      “I will Petra,” Sita mewed, bowing her head and kissing Petra’s paw.

       “We do love you Sita,” Koda said, padding up to Sita and touching noses with her.

        “I know Koda, I know,” Sita mewed, “I’m sorry for saying what I did, to Petra of all those I could have said it too.  The lioness that was poisoned by her own foster mother.”

      “Leave it now,” Petra said, “Simba needs attention too.”  Sita turned away from Petra.

       “I’m sorry mama,” she said.  Sita padded away with buck, Petra watching her go.

      “I love that cub,” she said to Koda, who hugged her.

       “Love her Petra, and love Simba also,” Koda said.  Petra guided Koda and Simba back to her lie up, where Leo lay dozing peacefully.

       “Lie down here Koda,” Petra mewed, “and I’ll ask Simba if he wishes to come to you.”  Petra lay down with Simba and spoke gently to her cub.  Simba crawled to Koda after five minutes.  Koda rolled onto his side, feeling the cub cuddling up to him.

      “I love your touch,” Simba mewed as he felt Koda’s paws enfolding him.

       “You are soft and warm Simba,” Koda said, the white lion cub kissing the bear’s nose.

        “I feel love from Sita and love Sita too, so why doesn’t she realise that?”  Simba asked.  Koda kissed the cub’s paws.

      “Now sleep Simba,” Koda said softly, Simba yawning and curling up in Koda’s embrace.

 

Sita padded away to Honeyfur and spoke to her:

      “Why did you not tell us Petra was still alive when you told us the tale of her encounter with Eohippus and what happened before?”  Sita asked.  Honeyfur looked surprised and shocked she should be challenged:

         “Petra considers that ancient history!”  The badger snapped, “that why Honeyfur no tell Sita she alive any more.  Lioness Petra is different lioness to one that was abused by foster mama Tembi lioness.”

       “She’s more experienced yes,” Sita replied, “but she’s still Petra, still the adult who grew from the abused cub!  You are dreadful Honeyfur, for not telling us!  I cannot forgive you for this!  I put my paw in it with Petra, a lioness I love and respect; for I did not connect her with the stories I was told as a younger cub!  Thank Eohippus she was understanding, which is all credit to her, and none to you!”  Sita slapped Honeyfur across her face, the badger whimpering and shrinking away.  Then, angered, Honeyfur attacked Sita, Sita feeling Honeyfur’s claws raking down her face.  Screaming, she ran away bleeding profusely.  Honeyfur chased Sita, Sita running into Patch’s lie up and trying to stench the flow of blood from her face with the corner of a rug.

      “Hey, stop this!”  Patch yelled, running into the lie up.  Sita, crying, held the rug to her face.  Patch looked at Honeyfur, seeing the blood on her claws, then at Sita.

      “What happened here?”  He asked.  Honeyfur, knowing the CCTV wouldn’t lie, told everything.

      “Agreed Sita should not have lashed out, but your job is also to give these cubs a sense of time.  I’ve heard your tales, and you speak of some who are still alive as if they passed into history years ago.  So Sita’s encounter with Petra was an accident waiting to happen you stupid badger!”  Patch yelled.

      “Honeyfur sorry!”  Honeyfur yelled.  Patch smacked her across the face with the flat of his paw, Honeyfur wailing with pain.

      “Get out!”  Patch commanded.  Sita turned to Patch, her eyes full of pain.

       “How do I make reparations to Petra for what I said to her?”  She asked.  Patch sat down and cradled Sita in his lap.

       “You need not talk of your mistake any more,” Patch said, “Petra told you of her life, and now she has forgiven you for your oversight.”

       “I love her Sire Patch,” Sita mewed.

      “I know you do,” Patch said.

       “And so does my mama,” Simba mewed, crawling into the lie up.  Sita turned her head to the cub.

      “Where is your mama?”  Sita asked.

     “She’s close by,” Simba mewed, “but I felt I had to bring you a message without her here.  She gave me a message to give you.”

       “Why can’t she give me the message herself?”  Sita asked.

       “I thought you’d rather it come with my paw print placed beside my mama’s,” Simba replied.

        “His paw print place beside his mama’s?”  Sita asked Patch.

      “Signed jointly,” given joint approval,” Patch replied.  Sita suddenly gasped as whiskers tickled her ear while the sound of a mama lioness calling to her cub filled her world.  Sita found her tearful.

       “Don’t do that Petra!”  Sita choked, “you’ll give me a nervous breakdown.  Petra kissed her ear:

       “Now leave your concerns behind,” Petra mewed.  Sita turned her head to Petra and Petra rested her head on Sita’s shoulder.

       “Now mama, go back to your cub,” Patch said.  Petra padded round patch and Sita, Simba clambering onto her back and Petra padding away with him.

      “She knows how to make me cry.”  Sita sniffed.

       “But Petra means you to be happy, not to destroy your life,” Patch said.  Sita smiled:

       “I know,” she replied, “my tears are happy tears.”

      “You are very much loved here Sita,” buck said, “and please, don’t forget it.”

 

 

Later that night, Patch settled down to sleep.

 

Patch saw a mama bear in labour; he saw her pushing hard, crying and straining, blood exploding from her.  Patch woke crying, with Ekaterina trying to comfort him.

      “Shh, shh sweetheart,” Ekaterina said softly.  Patch told Ekaterina of the dream, and who he thought the bear could be.

        “Jess?”  Ekaterina asked, “Are you sure?”  Patch nodded:

       “I know Jess better than anyone,” he said, “I know every inch of her, from her nose to her paws, I protected her for years.  To show you how well I know her, there’s a scar on the heel of her right hind foot where she stepped on glass years ago.  Ask her if she can show you it.  She’ll refuse at first, but will relent after you go to her with my dream.  Ekaterina padded away to find jess, catching up with her in the wood.  She looked exhausted and in a lot of pain.  Ekaterina’s nose told her before her eyes did what had happened.

         “Oh, Ekaterina!”  Jess exclaimed, trying to clean up the mess.

       “You are in trouble jess,” Ekaterina said.  Jess snorted:

      “No I’m not,” she said, “what made you think I was?”  Ekaterina told her of Patch’s dream.

        “Oh,” jess said, her face falling.

       “So you are in trouble,” Ekaterina said.  Jess sat down and buried her face in her paws.

        “I’m in trouble,” she sobbed, “I, I mated with Orson, and, and tried to abort the cub!  I think I’ve done it, but I’m not sure!”  Ekaterina looked horrified.

       “What do I do?”  Jess asked.

        “What did you take?”  Ekaterina asked.  Jess wriggled uncomfortably.

       “The potions mama Alaska listed in her handbook on terminating a pregnancy,” Jess whimpered, “I took both potions and then went into the wood.  I had fierce contractions, blood and awfulness, screaming and crying, and then it was all over, blood on my paws, on my fur, everywhere.”

       “You know the stance the community takes on this don’t you?”  Ekaterina asked.  Jess nodded miserably.

       “I had my life ahead of me mama,” someone said.

       “Who’s that?”  Jess asked.  The owner of the voice padded round from behind a tree, the voice came from a tiny cub.  Jess saw the cub, screamed and covered her face with her paws, crying inconsolably.

        “I knew what she was doing to me,” the cub said to Ekaterina, who stared at him.

      “You must have been alive to have a spirit,” Ekaterina said, “so Jess terminated almost at full term?”  The cub nodded:

        “She poisoned my body so much that her body rejected me.  Now I am at peace, but she isn’t,” the cub replied. Ekaterina felt her own rage and grief welling up, but she fought to remain composed.

        “Maybe this’ll be a lesson to you,” she said to jess, who was still crying.  Ekaterina, just to check she’d not accused the wrong bear, pushed jess onto her back and grabbed her right hind foot, looking for the scar Patch said would show white against the black sole pad.  There it was, long and white.  How Ekaterina longed to bite jess’s paw so hard that it bled.  Growling, she kicked Jess hard in the belly and walked away, her professional conduct, ethics and gentility forgotten in grief and anger.

       “I hope you suffer!”  Ekaterina yelled.  Patch found Ekaterina crying behind a tree.

       “You were right Patch,” Ekaterina sobbed.  Patch nodded:

      “You, you saw the cub?”  He asked.

       “Not his body, jess buried that, but his spirit yes,” Ekaterina replied.  Patch sat down and covered his face with his paws.

       “He told me, told me he wanted to live!”  Patch wept, “He fought against the drugs she’d taken, but they were so powerful.  I’m responsible for this; I should have checked noone had a list of the drugs used for abortion.”

        “I gave you all the books I ever had,” a voice said.  Patch looked up into mama Alaska’s eyes.

       “I know you did,” he choked, “Jess must have taken a written note before you memorised what spirit Fleur told you.  She can write you know, her transformation into a bear didn’t change that.”

       “Ekaterina, Patch,” Mama Alaska said, “please, look at me.”  They did, and saw a cub beside mama Alaska.

      “Do you recognise him?”  She asked.

      “He’s, he’s jess’s cub, the one who’s earthly body she killed,” Ekaterina choked.

     “He is,” mama Alaska replied, “and now I’m looking after him.  I’ll keep him safe from Jess’s spirit, and treat him as my cub.”

       “Thank you mama,” Ekaterina and Patch said in unison.

 

Meanwhile, Jess, still in raging pain from aborting her cub, wriggled and writhed on the grass.  Screaming and crying, she strained hard, delivering the afterbirth, her toes curled hard into the grass.

      “Ow! Ow! Ouch!”  She roared.  Jess couldn’t close her eyes without the image of her cub haunting her.

 

Someone else was also haunted by the cub, Kamchatka, dozing in her lie up, saw a cub in her dreams, a cub who was crying with distress as his mama gave birth to him and left him.  Kamchatka woke, an urge to go to jess driving her from Koda’s side and into the wood, where she found evidence of Jess’s labour.

      “What happened here?”  She asked.  Jess, crying, told her everything.  Kamchatka raised her nose to the sun and howled with pain.

       “I’m leaving; I can’t believe you did that!”  Kamchatka sobbed, running from the wood and exploding into Koda’s lie up, grabbing him and crying inconsolably into his fur.

       “What’s the matter Kamchatka love?”  Koda asked.  Kamchatka told him everything.

       “Jess aborted her cub?”  Koda asked, “How? I thought potions to do that kind of thing were kept well under wraps.”

      “Alaska wrote it down, mama Alaska that is,” Kamchatka sobbed, “she had a dreadful memory for potions and things.  Deliberately terminating the life of an unborn cub is horrible!  Jess had fun with Orson, and then decided she didn’t want the cub, and killed him!  I saw the cub in a dream Koda!  I saw him!  A handsome cub that shouldn’t have lost his life!”  Koda hugged his mate.

       “Jess will be punished for what she did to that poor cub, I am very certain of this.”  Kamchatka wept long and hard into Koda’s coat.

 

Patch and Ekaterina padded back to the house, both drained of tears.  Their paws heavy, they flopped down in the lie up, Tornassuk padding in and crawling into Patch’s lap, the grey bear hugging his grown son cub while Ekaterina hugged little Patch, who’d crawled into her embrace.

      

       “I love your touch,” little Patch said, pushing with his hind feet to get closer to Ekaterina.

       “Hug me tightly!”  Tornassuk begged sire Patch; patch hugging him as tightly as he could.

      “What Jess did to that cub is unforgivable,” Tornassuk choked.  Patch kissed the distressed bear’s nose.

        “I know, I know,” he said.  Tornassuk rubbed his eyes with clenched paws, trying not to cry.

       “It’s okay to cry,” patch said, Tornassuk letting go completely and sobbing into his coat.  Patch rubbed Tornassuk’s back with his paw, the white bear sniffing and sobbing.

       “I hate my mother!”  Tornassuk yelled, “She rejected me, which was a dreadful thing to do, but then, then, she rejects an innocent cub before he’s born!  He’s done no wrong, and she kills him?  I can’t believe Jess would do that!  It’s, it’s, Oh Patch, it’s too much, way too much for me to take in!”

        “Jess is a stupid bear,” patch replied, “my time and effort in protecting her in the zoo have not stood her in any stead at all apart from saving her skin.  I tried to give her guidance where there was none.  I now wash my paws of her as adult.”  Tornassuk rubbed his face with hot paws, choking back tears.

        “I don’t know how you feel Patch, for Jess was your charge for years.  I know you went beyond the call of duty to keep her safe and give her stability.  Now she’s doing this kind of shit!  I can’t forgive her for killing my half brother!”

       “Noone can,” someone said, “jess will be punished for this, and I promise you that.”

        Who’s that?”  Tornassuk asked.

      “My name is Rowena; I’m a white lioness, like Petra.  My earthly body was killed some time ago, but my spirit’s still here.  I saw everything, right from the time Jess and Orson got together to the death of her unborn cub.  Jess will suffer for her selfish actions.”

 

Meanwhile, Orsen, having heard of Jess’s actions, was distraught.  He’d mated with her, he thought she’d keep the cub, but she’d killed it.  Orson wanted a cub, and thought she did.

 

Meanwhile, Rowena caught up with jess and told her:

      “Jess, as you have violated your right to remain in this community, by namely killing that which we hold dear most, you will be punished in the strongest possible way.  Cubs dying before birth do happen, but you caused this cub’s death while it was in the care of your body.  There is only one race that does that unnatural thing, man.  You were once human.  And you will learn of your history when you leave this place.  You will return to your human form, and then leave this community, for you have forfeit your right to live here, and your right to be one with us.  No mama bear would ever deliberately poison her own cub.  She might be distressed enough to eat the cub when it was born, but would never poison her unborn cub.  Now you have done this, you will leave this community, and once out of the wood, return to your natural form, rather than your spiritual one.  Koda, though human once, has the spirit of a bear, you, though human once, thought you had the spirit of a bear, but you do not.  You are human inside, as you plotted to kill your own cub while he was inside you.  Jess, leave here, for we don’t want you here.  You will not be able to say goodbye to Patch, mama Kamchatka or anyone else.  Leave here now.”  Jess knew there was no argument she could advance.  She’d deliberately violated the number one rule of the community.

       “I will go,” she said, padding away from Rowena.  Once at the edge of the wood, Jess lay down, and took her original form, that of an eleven year old girl.  Naked, she wandered through the wood, knowing she may never return to the community she once loved.  Jess, now very much human, was an outcast in the wood.  she remembered mama Kamchatka, Patch and the others, but also remembered her choice, a choice she could never forget making, the choice which ultimately told of her human failing, the choice to consciously destroy an unborn life without justification other than the fact she didn’t want to have a cub again.  Jess reached the edge of the wood, where cars flew past at an alarming speed.  Soon, a police patrol car came past, saw a naked girl standing on the side of the road, and took her to the police station.  There they found her new clothes, and, bit by bit, got her name and from that, worked out that her guardians were dead.

       “What were you doing standing naked on the road?”  One police officer said.

        “If I told you, you’d never believe me,” Jess replied, “I was a bear you see.  I was thrown out of the community for murdering an unborn cub, mine, or so I think.  I know I used to be a bear, after I took my spiritual form after living with a community of animals for a long time.”  The records came back then, telling the police Jess had been signed over to the Boss and another who went by the name of Kamchatka.  The police officer looked at the notes and confirmed them with Jess.

      “Since I left for the community, I’ve been a bear; I’ve had one cub of my own and destroyed the lives of two.”  The police officer looked at Jess:

       “What did you do to get thrown out of the community?”  He asked.

       “I took a potion to abort a cub,” jess replied, “I violated their laws.  I lost my home there because my spirit was not that of a bear at all.”

      “She’s mad,” the police officer thought, but said nothing.

       “Have you any proof of you, taking on the form of a bear?”  The police offer asked.

        “They won’t show themselves,” jess said, “but there are bears who know me.  There is, was a human known as the boss, though he is now a bear named Koda.  I was signed over to the boss and to mama Kamchatka a year and a half ago...  I had a cub, known now as Tornassuk, who I rejected soon after birth.  I also angered my adoptive mama who took me in whole heartedly.  Now, because I killed an unborn cub by taking potions, they have thrown me out.  I returned to my human form as I had no right to be a bear any more.  A mama bear would never deliberately kill her unborn cubs.”

      “So now you will have to go back to your human guardians,” the police officer said.  Jess nodded:

     “The worst of it is,” she said, “I failed the one who I love more than anyone else, my good friend Patch.  Now he won’t want to associate with me at all.  Killing a cub is the worst thing I could have done.  Now I’ve lost him as a friend.”

        “I’ll make arrangements for you to go back with your adoptive human parents,” the officer said.  Jess nodded.  Left alone in a cell, jess sat down and began playing with the toes of her right foot, remembering the times she had with the community.  Barefoot as Jess was, she could feel everything.  She remembered the first time she’d met mama Kamchatka, when she’d inadvertently tickled the pads of the mama grizzly bear’s hind paw.  She then remembered playing with patch, and feeding Chowilawu and everything else.

      “I’ve lost all that,” Jess thought miserably, knowing she’d never be able to go back.

 

Meanwhile, back in the house, Patch and Ekaterina were coming to terms with the horror of Jess’s actions.

       “I can’t believe she aborted a healthy cub!”  Patch sobbed.  Ekaterina, hugging her mate tightly, tried to comfort him.

       “She’s gone now,” she said, “and she won’t be back.”  Patch sniffed hard.

      “Jess was the little human I nurtured and looked after for years, and now she’s lost my respect forever.  How could she abort her cub when she knew if she had it we’d look after it if she felt unable to!  It breaks my heart mama Ekaterina.”  Ekaterina rubbed patch’s shoulder trying to comfort him.

 

Jess, after a night in a police cell was found a place in a children’s home.  When she walked into the impersonal environment of the state institution, she realised afresh what she’d lost.

 

Kamchatka held Koda close, trying to rid her mind of the anger she felt at jess.

      “I’m trying to wash my paws of my responsibility towards her,” Kamchatka said.  Koda kissed her nose:

       “Your cub little Alaska needs your love now,” Koda said, trying to distract his mate from her thoughts.  Kamchatka sighed heavily:

       “Will Jess realise what she did to us,” Kamchatka asked.

      “She might,” Koda replied, “even if she does, the spirits won’t let her return to being a bear.”

 

Jess left her care home after being booked in and given a gaps tag around her ankle so she could be tracked.  Going back to the wood, now fully clothed apart from being barefoot, she wondered if she’d see her former community friends.  Walking through the wood, jess pulled out a book on pregnancy termination.  Sitting beside a tree, she read a little about abortion and how it was carried out.  Jess realised she’d done just what the book described.  Crying, she put the book down and buried her head in her hands.  Jess remembered taking the potions, remembered the pain, remembered the apparition in front of her.

       “I’m so sorry,” she wept; the enormity of what she’d done hitting home.

        “Do you realise what you did?”  Someone asked.  Jess turned her head, and saw Theo lying beside her.

      “I know now,” Jess choked, “and now I’m very sorry for what I did.  All the playing at having a cub and now I am so sorry for ending a cub’s life.  Now I am so sorry for what I did.  Theo, how can I tell you how sorry I really am?”  Theo took hold of jess’s right foot, and asked her the question:

       “Did that book tell you anything?”

      “I murdered a cub,” jess said, “I could have had the cub, and now, now I would happily have the cub, I would strain and scream and curl my toes and push and push and push some more, all to give birth to my live cub.”

       “You are truly sorry?”  Theo mewed.

       “I am,” Jess said, “and I don’t know how to make amends for what I did.”  Jess curled her toes and fingers in misery.  Theo felt jess’s toes curling, the skin on the sole of her foot bunching up.  Jess rubbed Theo’s paw with both hands, feeling his warm fur.  Theo looked up into Jess’s face.

        “You are sorry aren’t you?”  Theo mewed.  Jess nodded:

      “How can I show you?”  She asked.

       “Can you apologise to those you hurt most?”  Theo mewed.  Jess closed her eyes and bowed her head in shame.

       “I will,” she choked.  Theo padded away, and soon Sire Patch, Kamchatka Ekaterina Tornassuk and Kuruk were standing in front of her.

        “So what you got to say for killing that cub?”  Kuruk asked.  Jess looked into the devastated eyes of her living cub, brothers and adoptive mama.

       “I ruined a cub’s chances,” jess said, “I’m so sorry to all of you and to my unborn cub.  Now I truly would go through a horrendous labour to deliver a live cub.”  Patch took hold of Jess’s right hind foot and began stroking the sole.

       “Now jess, could you go through what I did, having a cub for real?”  Jess looked into the eyes of the bear she loved more than anyone else in the world.

        “I hurt you so much Patch and I are sorry for that, hurting you, mama, Kuruk, my cub Blackberry, and the whole community.”  Patch looked into the human’s eyes.

        “You are human, you took your cub’s life, and now you have to live with that.  You will remember that cub’s face forever,” Patch said, “and so will my mama and the whole community.”

       “Now can I come back home?”  Jess asked, “The place I’m in is awful, I have a tag on my right hind paw so they can keep track of me.  Now I’m lost, my race doesn’t want me, and neither does this community.”

        “You violated our number one rule,” Kamchatka replied, “You’re a murderer.  We cannot have you here Jess.  You might have given birth to the cub and then killed it, but you did worse than that, you put chemicals in your body to kill the cub before it had taken its first breath.”

       “We can’t let you in again,” Ekaterina said, “I cannot let a cub killer anywhere near my cubs.”  Jess got to her feet and walked out of the wood, knowing she’d never go back.

 

Meanwhile, Aga lay in her lie up feeding little Bruin.  The cub, all long legs and soft paws, embraced his mama after his drink, soon sleeping peacefully.  Aga closed her eyes, but couldn’t get Jess’s cub’s death out of her mind.

 

Jess, after a week in the children’s home, realised she could not wear shoes any more.  They were uncomfortable to her.  She preferred to go barefoot, in fact needed to.  Weeks passed, and jess found she missed the community very much.  She wondered if there was anything she could do to return to the community.

 

Jess, as the wood was not out of bounds to the residents of the children’s home, went back to the wood to talk to Theo.  Going barefoot as she did whenever she could, Jess hoped the white lion would listen to her plea to return.  Jess sat by the tree where she’d read the book on abortion.

        “You are back already?”  Theo asked, padding top to jess and sitting down.

      “I want to come home,” Jess choked.  Theo rested his paw on Jess’s knee.

       “You cannot reclaim your ursine form,” he said, “The spirits would not allow that.  Nor could you have custody of another cub.  You wouldn’t be welcomed by anyone here, for you violated our rules Jess.  I cannot force the community’s paw, even if I wanted to.”

       “The abortion was a mistake,” Jess said.  Theo shook his head:

       “You read the explicit notes, you made up the potions, and you drank them,”he said, “three opportunities for you to stop the murder of your unborn cub.  It was no mistake Jess.  You could have had the cub and then decided what to do.  Had the cub in the wood and carried him to Kamchatka’s lie up, set him squealing and begging for food in her lap, then left him forever.  Instead, you killed your cub in an autonomous act of murder.  You premeditated this.  This is completely against our community and what it stands for.  Cubs come first, unborn and born cubs, and you violated that rule.”  Jess looked down at Theo’s paw resting on her knee, his claws were retracted, his paw relaxed.

      “So I cannot come home?”  Jess asked.  Theo shook his head:

       “Will anyone’s cub be safe?”  He asked, “Jess, you rejected Blackberry, you killed your unborn cub, we let you stay after what you did to blackberry, but after you killed your unborn cub, we could not let you stay here.  How can we let you stay when every mama will be worried about you being around their cubs?”  Living here is a privilege, not a right.”

       “I suppose if I were a true bear, I’d be in jail by now, not returned to my human form and thrown out,” jess said.  Theo nodded.

       “Why should you not be treated like any other murderer in the community?”  He asked.  Jess got to her feet and left the wood for the last time, Theo turning back to the house and walking home.

 

Padding into the house, Theo went to Petra’s lie up and hugged little Simba, the male cub laughing merrily.

      “You are so lovely Simba,” Theo mewed.  Simba snuggle to the larger lion, burying his paws in Theo’s fur.

       “I can’t believe what jess did to her unborn cub,” Petra said to Theo.

       “She isn’t coming back,” Theo mewed, “she can’t.  I’m sorry her spirit went all human like that and misleads her.  But Humans are humans, they have all the technology to make and take life.  And they’ll use it with seemingly no regard for the consequences.”

 

Meanwhile, in the wood, Namir and Nemera, Whitie and Perdy leopard’s cubs, padded through the wood.  They had grown up with smoother coats than their parents, and community softened paws, their pads too soft to cope with the wood for any length of time.  This said, their soft pads had a huge up side for the leopards, as they enjoyed creeping up on unsuspecting community members, dropping out of trees on top of bears and lions, and causing general mayhem.  The two leopards, male and female, and unrelated, found their antics brought them closer than friends.  Soon it was known the so called terrible two were an item.  Namir and Nemera loved each other dearly, and this was clear to the community.

 

Meanwhile, Guang and Changchang lay together in their lie up.  The two red pandas, usually private and secretive, knew their activities had been recorded on CCTV.  Changchang was heavily in cub, and knew the big grey bear known as patch would be monitoring her labour from a discrete distance.  The two red pandas, or fire foxes as Weici liked to refer to them, were deeply happy with their impending family.  Changchang wanted Guang with her during her labour, and he wanted to be paws on with the cubs from the start, which Changchang was grateful and excited about.  She, being very tactile herself, loved Guang’s paws on approach.

 

Patch was indeed watching the red pandas, he loved to watch them playing, mating and loving each other.  Now he was keenly anticipating the birth of Changchang’s cub.

 

Changchang went into heavy labour one afternoon, and was soon hanging onto Guang with all four paws, rolling about while groaning, roaring and screaming.  Guang, his eyes on his mate, saw her tail lashing about, bending up as she lay on her back, kicking with all four feet.

       “There’s nothing to push against yet,” Changchang whimpered, “but the pains are big, very big pain!”  Guang kissed his mate’s nose and the sweating pads and curled toes of all four paws.  Patch padded into the lie up and sat down to watch, Changchang crawling over to him, Guang watching her.

      “Labour’s hard on you isn’t it my dear,” patch said, hugging a groaning and whimpering female red panda.  Changchang held onto Patch with her forepaws, her hind pressed into the fur of his right hind leg, her toes curled into the thick fur.

       “I want to push Patch!”  Changchang roared, her tail straining straight out behind her as she bore down hard.

       “Go with it Changchang,” patch said softly.

        “Is she okay?”  Guang asked.  Patch nodded, as Changchang clambered up his body, the toes of all four of her paws desperately gripping his fur, Changchang finally draping her body over his shoulders, her tail and hind paws dangling over his right shoulder, her forepaws and screaming mouth near his left ear.  Patch felt Changchang’s forepaws gripping his shoulder fur, seeing her hind feet kicking hard, her tail lashing and straining back, as he watched her cub emerging slowly.  Patch knew the she panda was precariously balanced, but his main concern was the cub.  Reaching up with his forepaws, he caught it as Changchang strained deeply into her tail.

        “I’ve got the cub,” he whispered to the screaming and crying mama red panda.

       “You might have one cub there, but there’s a second, I know there’s a second!”  Changchang wailed, “Ow patch, ow!  Oooh, I need to push!”  Patch gave the wriggling and squealing newborn cub to Guang, who was ready to comfort and clean it in eager paws.  Changchang screamed and kicked some more, hanging on to Patch’s fur with her forepaws, her body curved round the back of his neck, her tail stretching out behind her as she strained with all her might, the toes of all four sweating paws curled tightly.  Then Changchang clambered down patch’s left foreleg, and lay on her back in his lap, Patch rubbing her belly with his left forepaw, while supporting her shoulders with his right fore, while Changchang pressed her hind feet into his left hind leg, her tail arching up as she strained hard, her toes curled tight enough to puncture her pads.  In this position, Changchang gave slow noisy birth to her second cub.  Wriggling, she bore down hard into her tail, roaring and crying.  Patch held Changchang as she laboured under huge pressure to deliver her cub.  Then, with a final scream of effort and pain, followed by a gush of fluid and rush of cub, she squeezed the cub into the world, and patch wasn’t surprised Changchang cried and screamed.  The cub was huge.  Guang, having caught his second cub, handed it, now squealing and roaring healthily,  to its mama.

       “Okay mama, all done,” patch said.  Changchang smiled and hugged her newborn cub while cleaning it.  Guang looked at Patch.

      “Why did Changchang use you as a climbing frame?”  He asked.

      “My paws wanted to climb while I suffered contractions,” Changchang said, “and to be able to hang on with my forepaws while kicking with my hind while my belly was warmed by Patch’s fur was lovely!  That birthed my first cub, kicking with my hind feet while pushing to deliver my first cub felt lovely.  Then to have patch’s paws rubbing my belly and supporting me while I pushed to have my second cub felt great.”

      “I’m too small to allow that,” Guang said, “Changchang used you as she would a tree in the wild.”  Changchang smiled broadly.

        “You lovely thing,” she said. 

     “So mama used Patch as a tree!”  Changchang’s first cub yelled.

      “I did,” Changchang replied.

      “What did Patch think of your paws holding him and you clambering over him?”  Guang asked.  Patch smiled:

       “I was honoured and loved every minute,” he said.  Guang looked up at Patch.

      “Could I try what Changchang did?”  He asked.  Patch laughed:

      “Why do you want to clamber all over me?”  He asked.  Guang looked ashamed.

       “I want to know what my mate got out of it,” he said, his eyes downcast.

      “You’re not having a cub,” Patch said, “but I suppose you can try.”  Guang smiled and rubbed the pads of Patch’s right hind foot with his forepaws.  Patch smiled and curled his toes with pleasure.

       “It won’t work for you like it did for me Guang dear,” Changchang said.  Guang nodded and let his mate feed their first born cub.

      “What shall we name our cubs?”  Guang asked.  Patch scratched his nose with his right forepaw.

       “I have always wondered why you red pandas had Chinese names in the first place,” he said, “for China is not your native land.”

      “We chose those names so Geming would not feel threatened,” Guang said, “and now they’ve stuck.”

      “So what are your real names?”  Patch asked.

      “the Chinese name I adopted was Guang, while my Indian name is Amal.  Wheras my mate, known as Changchang, her Indian name is Chandrika.  I gave her a Chinese name beginning with c, as she said she could not cope with a name that didn’t begin with the natural letter she’d grown up with.  I got used to the name I adopted for Geming’s sake, and now he’s assimilated into the Chinese community here, we can return to our birth names.”  Chandrika hugged her newborn cubs tightly.

      “Now we should give our cubs names they will live with,” she said.  I think we should give the first born female cub the name Aghanashini, which means destroyer of sins.”

      “That is well thought my dear,” Amal said, “and now, if you will allow me, I will name our larger second born male cub Alok, this means cry of triumph or victory.”  Chandrika smiled:

       “I certainly screamed with triumph and pain,” Chandrika said.  Amal smiled and kissed his mate’s nose.

       “I love you so much Chandrika,” Amal said, his mate giggling with pleasure.

      “We’re a real pair I think,” he said.  Patch laughed:

      “you two are so lovely,”  he said, “I’ve been watching you for weeks, from your mating, to Chandrika going into labour and of course the births of little Alok’s and Aghanashini.  I am honoured to be present at the birth of your cubs.  Chandrika kissed Patch’s nose.

       “I hope you didn’t mind me clambering all over you and screaming into your ear,” she said.  patch let Chandrika’s cubs feed, then, once they were asleep in Amal’s care, Chandrika clambered into patch’s lap, the huge grey bear embracing the she panda with tender paws.  Patch smelt her sweats, and remembered her efforts and screams.

      “Thank you,” Chandrika said.  Patch smiled:

       “I love your touch Patch,” Chandrika said.  Patch kissed her nose:

       “You did wonderfully,” he replied.  Chandrika snuggled up to the huge male bear, loving his touch.

       “I’m glad you watch over us, private though we might be,” she said.  Patch kissed Chandrika’s nose.

       “It is my vocation to help mamas to have their cubs safely,” Patch said.  Amble rolled onto his back and waved his paws in the air, to Patch’s huge delight.

      “Now, let’s leave you to it,” Patch said.  Chandrika kissed Patch’s nose and Amal hugged him.

      “Thank you,” they said.  Patch padded away to his lie up, very happy with his work.

 

Aga and Little Bruin watched the goings on in Amal and Chandrika’s lie up.

      “That mama was giving birth wasn’t she mama,” Bruin said.  Aga replied that she was.

      “The mama, whose name is Chandrika had two cubs,”Aga said, “and maybe one day, you’ll meet the cubs and play with them,”

      “I’d like to meet Chandrika’s cubs,” Bruin said.  Aga stroked Bruin’s hind paws, the cub sighing with pleasure.

      “You have very soft pads at the moment Bruin dear,” she said, “I don’t know if you’ll veer be able to walk far in the woods.”  Bruin smiled:

      “I like having soft pads,” he said, “it feels great.”  Aga smiled.

 

Meanwhile, Kamchatka and Koda sat in their lie up, playing with little Alaska.  Alaska played with Koda’s right hind paw, the black bear flexing his toes as his cub played with his paw.

       “You are so lovely Koda,” Alaska said.  Koda smiled and embraced his cub tightly, sitting her on his lap, Alaska enjoying being handled by the black bear.

        “I love you so much,” Koda said to Alaska, the half grown cub snuggling up to him.

     “She’s beautiful,” Kamchatka said, “I hope Alaska knows how much we both love her.”

       “I do,” Alaska said.  Alaska lay back in Koda’s lap, the black bear playfully tickling her belly and the soles of her hind paws, making Alaska laugh and kick the air with her hind paws.

      “I think if we have another cub, and it’s male, we should name him Koda,” Kamchatka said.  Koda laughed:

      “And why is that?”  He asked.

      “To try and carry on the name of a wonderful bear,” Alaska said.  Koda sat Alaska up, and then hugged her with his right forepaw while extending his left to Kamchatka, who took it in her forepaws.

       “We love you dearly Koda,” Kamchatka said.  Koda smiled and kissed Kamchatka’s nose, then Alaska kissed his nose.

        “Here is lovely,” Alaska said, stretching out full length on the rugs.  Koda tickled Alaska’s belly, the cub kicking the air with her hind feet and punching it with her forepaws.

     “I love that,” she laughed.  Koda drummed gently on Alaska’s belly, the cub wriggling with pleasure.

      “Carry on, carry on!”  Alaska pleaded.  Koda lifted Alaska up and placed her on her hind feet, with her forepaws off the floor.  Koda then got to his hind paws and he and Alaska danced on their hind paws, Kamchatka roaring with laughter at their antics.

       “Crazy Koda!”  She said.  Koda laughed.  Patch padded in, hugged his mum, and then hugged his half sister and Koda.

       “I loved watching those dance moves,” Patch said, “You two really can dance.”

       “We enjoyed it,” Koda and Alaska said.

 

Meanwhile, Buck and Sita sat together, Buck having given Sita a graphic description of the births of Chandrika’s cubs.  Sita loved Buck’s description, which, along with the audio, made things only too plain to Sita how things had gone.  Buck, while stroking Sita’s forepaws after describing the video, had an idea.

      “How would it be if I got Patch and Chandrika in here and asked them to describe the birth of Chandrika’s cubs, as well as let you get paws on with both of them so you could see the difference in stature between Patch and Chandrika?”  He asked.  Sita laughed:

       “Do you think Chandrika would do that?”  She asked.

      “We can only ask,” he said.  Buck padded away, and Sita heard him asking Chandrika via the CCTV system.

       “Sita wants to, to feel my body and paws?”  Chandrika asked.

        “She can’t see you, and touching you with her paws is the only way she can get any idea of your size or body shape.”  Buck replied, “I know it sounds strange.”

         “Sita’s that blind half cast cub isn’t she?”  Chandrika asked.  Buck sighed heavily:

       “She’s blind yes, and she’s cross bred.  The thing is, she can’t help that,” buck replied, “I asked you to help her understand what happened in your lie up today.”  Chandrika looked at Sita on her screen, seeing the large cub’s distress.

       “She heard your words,” buck said, trying not to punch Chandrika on her nose for her remarks.

       “Can I refuse?”  Chandrika asked.  Buck nodded:

       “You can refuse,” he said, “but if you refuse on grounds you hate Sita’s breeding, or her disability, you will be hated by the spirits.  If you refuse because you find being touched distasteful then, you can refuse without sensure.”  Chandrika spat at Buck, then, spying Sita’s distressed face on the TV screen, spat at the screen.

      “Get out!”  She roared at Buck, trying to literally kick him out of the lie up.

 

Meanwhile, in Kamchatka’s lie up, the mama grizzly and her family watched incredulously as buck was kicked out of Chandrika’s lie up.  Koda, furious, clenched his forepaws and then fled from the room.

     “Where are you going?”  Alaska yelled.

     “To twist Chandrika’s tail!”  Koda yelled back.  Kamchatka fled after her mate, leaving Alaska behind, her training from a young cub telling her to stay behind and bar the door, which she did, slamming it hard and locking it.

 

Kamchatka and Koda Exploded into Chandrika’s lie up, Kamchatka scooping the startled female red panda off her paws and held her up by the root of her tail.

      “Let me go! Dam you Kamchatka! This hurts!”  Chandrika yelled.  Kamchatka passed Chandrika to Koda, who swung her round his head, then sent her flying up to the ceiling, catching the falling and screaming mama panda in his paws.  Chandrika, now feeling sick, vomited copiously.

       “You are a bully!”  She roared at Koda, who twisted her right ear between the toes of a forepaw, Chandrika screaming and crying.

      “Do you know why I am here?”  Koda asked.  Chandrika panted hard, her ear close to tearing off.

        “Has your presence got anything to do with my comments about Sita?”  She asked.  Koda opened his mouth, giving Chandrika a good view of his teeth.

       “Yes,” he said, “did you think you would get away with remarks like that?”  Chandrika wriggled in Koda’s grasp.

        “I have my rights to hold my views,” she said.

      “Indeed you do,”  Koda replied, “but to insult Sita, a cub you’ve never met, in terms which are very upsetting, and relate to things she can’t help, or have influence over is just dreadful.  All Sita wants to do is touch you to find out how large you are compared to Patch.  She cannot see you, so she’d need to touch you to get any idea.  Now though, even I would wash my paws after touching your pathetic body.  You are full of hate for those whom you do not want to get to understand.  Maybe, if you let Sita get paws on with you, you’d grow to like her.  Close those eyes which mislead you so much, and get paws on with her as you did with Patch.  You know the power of the paw Chandrika, so why not trust it.”  Chandrika looked at Kamchatka, who shoed her massive forepaw.

      “Do you want to be on the wrong end of this?”  She asked.  Chandrika closed her eyes at the sight of the massive paw with its long claws and thick pads.

       “Let me go,” Chandrika begged, as her cubs began to squeal for milk.  Koda gently set Chandrika down, letting her go to her cubs.  Amal cleaned up the mess of Chandrika’s vomit, and then Koda went to comfort Sita.  Finding her, the black bear sat down, drawing her into a huge hug.  Sita, sitting in Koda’s lap, snuggled up, crying into his coat.  Koda kissed the crying cross bred creature’s wet cheek, feeling her hot emotion.

       “What am I Koda?”  Sita choked, “I’m not a bear, nor am I a tiger, a lion, or a lynx; I’m a nothing, for I’m not of anyone.”

     “You are everything to some,” Koda said, “buck loves you and thinks the world of you.  You are his world; he loves you from your nose to your tail.  I love you dearly too.”

       “I know, I know,” Sita sniffed, “I can feel it from the touch of your paws; they’re so warm Koda, so warm.  Patch cares, buck cares, and Kuruk cares.  I love you all so very much, I love you from your nose to your tail with everything I have, from my nose to my tail, with every whisker and paw pad, everything.”

       “I know,” Koda whispered to Sita.  Koda laid Sita on her back in his lap, then began rubbing her belly, the cross bred cub giggling despite her mood.  Then she began kicking with her hind paws and waving her forepaws in the air, unable to stop herself.

       “Kick with those hind feet!”  Koda encouraged, Sita wriggling in an effort to increase the speed of her kicking.

      “This is fun!”  She laughed.  Koda grabbed her right hind foot and kissed her pads, Sita slightly curling her toes, making her pads bunch slightly.

      “Please, kiss my paws!”  Sita begged.  Koda kissed Sita’s hind then forepaws, then her nose, reversing his usual path.

       “Sita’s got black pads on brown furred soles of all four paws,” Kamchatka said softly, sitting behind Koda.  “There are spots on the tops and soles of all four of her paws, and when she curls her toes, the spots on the soles of her paws disappear.  She’s got spots on her belly, and some on her nose and around her mouth and chin.  She’s got beautiful blue eyes, slight striping on her back, and a brown tassel on the end of her long tail, a tail which is striped like a raccoons.  Sita’s colouration has really come out lately.  Her coat has become even more striking.”

        “Sita’s huge, very cuddly and gentle,” Koda replied, “and as to what you are Sita, you are beautiful, amazing to hug, fantastic to play with, loving, giving, gentle, and far more than I can put into words.”

       “I feel safe with you, as safe as I do with buck,” Sita said.  Koda hugged Sita, running his paws all over her from her nose to the end of her tail, missing no part of her.  Sita, wriggling with pleasure and pawing at Koda while he did this, tried to work herself closer to him.

        “I love this; I love this more than I have words to describe!”  Sita said, unable to stop the toes of all four paws, claws sheathed, holding tightly onto Koda’s fur.

      “Hold onto me as tightly as you want,”  Koda said, Sita embracing him with her forepaws, her hind pressed into the fur of his right hind leg, her toes gripping with urgent pressure.  Koda hugged Sita as tightly as he could, Sita pressing hard with her hind feet, trying to press her body into his, her forepaws embracing him as tightly as she could.

      “Push with those hind feet Sita,” Koda said, “go on, and push hard.  Sita closed her eyes, giving herself up to her urge to push with her hind paws and hug with her fore.  Koda felt her true strength, a strength born of her need to become closer to those who loved her.

     “There, there!”  She gasped, “I can’t physically do any more!”  Koda, smiling, hugged Sita with as much abandon as she had him, Sita gasping and snuggling close.

       “This is lovely,” she whispered.

      “Your paws tell me much,” Koda said, gently rocking Sita.  Sita relaxed completely into Koda’s hug, the black bear supporting her full weight, which to him was like cradling a half grown bear cub.

       “She’s beautiful,” Kuruk grunted.  Koda twitched an ear towards him.

      “You protect Sita with all you have Kuruk think,” the male grizzly said.  Koda smiled broadly.

       “I love her very much,” Koda said softly, for Sita was now sleeping deeply.”  Kuruk moved closer, examining Sita’s body by sight, from nose to tail.

      “Sita be beautiful Koda,” Kuruk said, leaning down and kissing Sita’s ear.  Koda settled Sita down on the rugs, then, getting to his hind feet, invited Kuruk to touch forepaws with him.  Kuruk did the black bear and grizzly dancing on their hind paws.

      “How if I play with your hind paws Kuruk?”  Koda asked.  Kuruk smiled hugely:

       “You are softy Koda,” he said.  Koda laughed:

     “Come on then,” he said, sitting down.  Kuruk and Koda sat opposite each other; Koda taking hold of Kuruk’s left hind foot in his forepaws.  Kuruk, now totally acclimatised to having his paws handled by others, smiled as Koda’s smaller paws worked over his hind foot.

       “Your hind foot is smaller than mime by some way,” Kuruk said to Koda.  Koda, smiling, traced the pads of Kuruk’s left hind foot.

       “That feels lovely,” Kuruk said.  Koda smiled.

     “You boys enjoying yourselves?”  Anook asked, padding into the lie up.  Kuruk laughed:

       “Koda have good warm paws,” he said, “even if them smaller than Kuruk’s,” Kuruk replied.

 

Meanwhile, back in Alaska’s family lie up, Alaska was woken by a tap at the door.  Looking at the screen beside the door, she saw spits standing at the door.  Alaska spoke to Spits through the intercom:

      “I don’t know if I can let you in,” she said, “I haven’t been given permission by my parents.”  Spits looked downcast.

       “You’re too careful,” he said, “but paws up to you for that I suppose.”  The phone rang in Alaska’s lie up, and she picked up the handset.

       “Oh, mama,” she said, “yeah, that’s spits outside the lie up.  He, um, wants to come in and talk to me I think.”  Kamchatka remotely operated the lie up ‘secure door, letting Spits into the lie up.

       “There,” she said.  Alaska thanked her mama and opened the door for Spits, who padded in, hugged his friend, and kissed her nose.  

    “I’ve been looking forward to seeing you all day,” he said, “but Ekaterina’s kept me away.  She wants to educate me, what a bore!”  Alaska giggled.

      “Ekaterina needs to educate her cubs,” she said, “and you need schooling Spits.”

     “But it’s boring!”  Spits yelled, “Honeyfur’s a total bore!”  Alaska beckoned Spits into the sitting room, then playfully rolled him over and tickled his belly, the brown bear roaring with laughter and kicking the air with his hind feet.  Alaska, seeing the paws she loved waving tantalisingly close blew on Spits pads, the male bear squealing with surprise and grabbing his hind paws with his fore, laughing helplessly.

      “You rogue!”  He said, kissing Alaska’s nose.  Alaska returned Spits kiss and then traced the pads of his right hind foot, which he’d finished massaging to get rid of the tickle in it.  Alaska stroked the sole pad of Spits paw, the male bear curling his toes to make his pads bunch up just like he knew Alaska liked.  Alaska giggled, kissing the bunched pads of Spits paw.

       “I love you from your nose to your toes,” Alaska said to Spits, the male brown bear laughing merrily.

      “Just you wait until I get hold of your paws!”  He said, “Then you’ll know what I feel for you.”  Alaska smiled and groomed spits in the wild manner, starting with his head and ending with his thickly padded paws, the male bear sighing with pleasure.

       “Now this is the best part,” he said.  Soon, Alaska, settling back on her backside facing Spits, got the same treatment from Spits, the brown bear grooming her fur and paws using his teeth and tongue, just as she had done to his fur and paw pads.  Spits traced the pads of Alaska’s hind paws with the toes of his fore, the she bear curling, then stretching the toes of each hind foot in turn, her pads bunching, then stretching as she flexed her toes, Spits stroking Alaska’s bunched pads when she curled her toes, then gently drawing his toes down the stretched pad when she stretched her toes, Alaska giggling with pleasure.

      “Your touch is lovely,” she said, spits gently drawing the claws of his left forepaw down the taught wrinkled skin on the large sole pad of Alaska’s right hind paw, the she bear whimpering softly.

     “That feels lovely!”  She exclaimed.  Spits smiled and kissed the pads of Alaska’s right hind paw.

      “I’m glad you like it,” he said.  Alaska smiled and curled her toes as Spits toes came within range, catching his right forepaw in the toes of her right hind.

       “I love that!”  Spits exclaimed.  Alaska kissed Spits nose, then hugged him, both bears settling down together.

       “Did you enjoy that?”  Tornassuk asked, emerging like a ghost from the shadows.

       “You spy!”  Spits snarled.

      “No, I was asleep,” Tornassuk replied, “I came here through a back route.  Koda and Kamchatka told me if I ever wanted, I could come here and sleep, so I did.”  Alaska padded to Tornassuk and hugged him tightly.

      “You’re a spy, spy spy spy!”  Spits yelled.  Tornassuk hugged him.

       “I came here to sleep hours ago, Alaska was watching the goings on in other lie ups, so I didn’t disturb her, I settled down to sleep in the main bedroom.  I was woken by your laughter and general play. I think what you’re doing is sweet, cute, and should be encouraged.  Spits, do you like having your paws handled?”  Spits covered his face with his forepaws.

        “I do, kind of,” he replied.  Alaska laughed merrily and tickled Spits hind paws.

       “Get off!”  He whined.  Alaska kissed his nose:

      “Big cub,” she teased.  Spits laughed merrily.

      “I want my paws played with too!”  Tornassuk whined, rolling onto his back and kicking the air with his hind feet.

      “Let’s claim those paws!”  Alaska said, leaping upon Tornassuk, Spits following her lead and soon overpowering the bigger bear.  Tornassuk relaxed, letting Spits and Alaska play with and explore his paws.

      “I love that,” Tornassuk sighed, relaxing completely.

 

Meanwhile, Whitetip, Tarker and their mother Emily swam lengths and played in the pool complex.  The otter cubs, now older, were very playful.  Whitetip, after abandoning her hang ups over her hind paws, now took every opportunity to play with Tarker’s paws, and let Emily play with her own paws.  Whitetip liked nothing better than sinking to the bottom of the pool, and watching her brother and mother swimming above her, watching their paws move through the water, then, as they saw her watching them, them dive down and catch her, a mock battle starting beneath the water until both otters had to surface, but then they’d take a breath and down they’d go, pawing, clambering over each other and swimming beneath the water.  Now Whitetip was beneath the water, watching her mother’s hind and forepaws paddling through the water.  Suddenly she looked down, Saw Whitetip, and arched her back, harrowing down to engage her daughter cub in play.  Whitetip rolled onto her back, and caught her mother’s hind paws with her fore.  Emily pulled her daughter through the water, Whitetip kicking with her hind paws, her nose inches from her mother’s tail.  Whitetip broke off, spun onto her belly, then clambered onto her mama’s back, Emily surfacing with Whitetip standing on her hind feet surfing proudly on her back, Emily whistling with delight as her daughter surfed on her back.

      “Yeah for mum and Whitetip!”  Tarker laughed, clapping his paws with delight.

      “That’s so great to watch,” Patch said laughing.  Sita, standing beside patch, rested her head on his shoulder.

        “I wish I could do that,” she said.  Patch looked at her:

       “How much do you weigh?”  He asked.  Sita looked confused.

      “I don’t know, why?”  She asked.

      “I’m wondering if I can carry you on my back,” patch replied.  Sita clambered onto patch’s back, the large bear finding her weight slight.  Patch padded into the water at the shallow end of the pool with Sita still standing on his back, f her fore and hind paws gripping his fur.  Patch smiled to himself as he felt her toes gripping his fur.

       “Ok now, I’m going to swim,” Patch said, “when you feel comfortable, stand on your hind feet and use that tail of yours to balance your body.”  Sita stood on her hind paws, finding balancing on her hind feet easy as patch’s back was broad and Patch knew how to swim smoothly, keeping all four paws beneath the water and thrusting through it with easy grace.  Sita laughed and clapped her forepaws as she surfed on patch’s back.  Then screamed as patch reared up and, roaring, threw her into the water as he was attacked from below.  Sita, hitting the water with a splash, found herself sinking.  Clawing her way back to the surface, she heard Patch remonstrating with someone:

      “Tarker, you little bugger!”  The bear was yelling.  Clearly lying on his back, Sita heard another voice, pleading and begging to be let go.

      “Fat chance of that now,” Sita thought.  Indeed, the second voice, presumably Tarker’s, began screaming as patch threw him into the air.

       “You weep what you sew you naughty cub!”  Emily snapped, very angry.  Sita heard Tarker land with a splash beside her, and decided to go after him, dragging him under, the otter cub wailing and kicking as he was attacked.

        “Let me go!”   Tarker yelled, just before he was dragged beneath the surface.  Sita dragged her prize beneath the surface, and then let him go, just before he suffocated.

      “You horrid animal!”  Sita yelled, dumping Tarker on the side of the pool.  Patch growled at the otter cub, smacking him with one large paw.

       “That was so stupid!”  He snarled.  Sita struggled from the pool and stood dripping on the side of the pool.

       “That crossed the line from play to stupidity you stupid cub!”  Sita snarled, whacking Tarker with her paw.

      “Leave me alone,” Tarker whimpered.  Sita turned her head to Whitetip as the young she otter touched her paw with hers.

       “Can I ride on your back Sita?”  Whitetip asked.  Sita looked towards Patch.

      “Just swim steadily,” Patch said to Sita.  Sita getting into the water, Whitetip clambering onto her back.  Sita began to swim steadily, increasing her speed and smoothness of stroke as she went.  Whitetip stood on all four paws to begin with, but when she felt Sita was swimming steadily, she got to her hind feet and spread her forepaws wide, laughing merrily and even standing on her left hind foot, wiggling the webbed toes of her right hind foot at the watchers.

       “Show off!”  Tarker snarled.  Sita, lifting her head out of the water, laughed merrily.  Whitetip leapt into the air, somersaulted, then landed lightly on Sita’s back using all four paws.

       “You are fantastic Whitetip!”  Patch laughed.

      “I say so too,” Sita said.  Depositing Whitetip on the poolside, Sita scrambled from the water.

      “What is an Otter?”  She asked.  Whitetip smiled.

      “I forgot you can’t see me,” she replied, “come, get paws on with me, here, I’ll lie on my back and you can touch me from my nose to, oh yeah, my paws! Wow!”  Sita giggled as she explored Whitetip, the young she otter wriggling with pleasure at the touch of Sita’s paws.

      “Your body’s very streamlined,” Sita said, “and your paws, they have webs between your toes!”   Whitetip curled the toes of her right hind foot, which Sita held gently in her forepaws while sitting beside her.

      “A polar bear also has webbed hind paws,” Whitetip said, “it’s to help us swim.”  Sita kissed Whitetip’s nose and Whitetip hugged her in return.

       “Thank you,” Sita said softly into the otter’s ear.

      “No problem,” Whitetip replied, “it was a pleasure.”

 

Meanwhile, Alaska and Spits were playing.  Alaska loved Spits more deliberate style of play, and she was glad he liked her random play with his paws and tickling of his belly.

      “Spits,” she said, when they’d had another furious but gentle game, “would you show me how to do that thing where you draw your claws down my taught pads?  I like that, and would like to return the sensation sometime.”

       “Okay,” Spits said, “here’s my right hind foot, take hold of it,” Alaska did, looking at Spits sitting opposite her, “now, I’ll curl my toes, and you stroke my bunched pads.”  Alaska did, and smiled as Spits sighed with pleasure, curling his toes even harder.

       “Now I’ll stretch my toes, just like you did,” Spits said, fitting action to words.  Alaska saw his toes stretching and the large sole pad on his right hind foot becoming taught.

      “Now do I stroke the sole of your foot with the toes of my left forepaw?”  Alaska asked.

      “Yes,” Spits replied, “then, instead of stroking with your toes, try very gently with the claws of that paw.”  Alaska did, first stroking the sole of Spits right hind foot with the pads on the toes of her left forepaw, then, very gently, tried drawing the claws of that paw down the wrinkled skin of the large sole pad on his right hind foot.  Spits, feeling her get it right first time, giggled with pleasure.

      “Your mama taught you how to touch,” he said, “You know instinctively how things should be.  I need not have told you anything really.”

       “I knew how to do it all along,” Alaska admitted, “but it was nice to be told how.”  Spits laughed:

      “It was nice to be able to tell you how,” he said.

      “Strangely, I liked being told and shown how,” Alaska replied.  Spits kissed his friend’s nose.

       “Our paws like each other I think,” Spits said.  Alaska nodded:

      “They do,” she replied.  Alaska pressed her hind feet hard against spits hind feet, the male bear’s eyes shining with pleasure and excitement.

 

Meanwhile, in Ekaterina’s lie up, little Patch and Lihua examined each other’s bodies.  Quickly finding each other’s hind paws with their fore, they played with each other’s toes, little Patch marvelling at Lihua’s white socks and delight at his touch.

      “I’m not doing anything special,” he said as she curled her toes tightly, bouncing about on her backside as he played with her toes.

       “I think you are,” she said, “your touch is very special!”  Little Patch kissed Lihua’s curled toes, the cross bred cub giggling with pleasure.

     “You two are so entertaining,” little Allie said, Lihua smiling at the young cub.

       “I love your brother from his nose to his black padded paws,” she said.  Little Patch smiled and kissed Lihua’s nose:

       “I love you from your black nose, to your white socks and black padded paws,” he said.  Lihua giggled and, taking hold of little Patch’s right hind foot, gently drew the claws of her left forepaw down his pads, the male bear giggling with pleasure.

       “That’s so lovely!”  He said, curling his toes so Lihua had to resort to stroking his pads rather than rasping them, which she did with expert timing.  Lihua pushed little Patch onto his back, then kissed his nose and the pads of all four of his paws, little patch laughing helplessly throughout.

       “I love you Lihua,” he said, the she panda gazing into his face.

 

Meanwhile, in the shower room, Sita showered down after her dip in the pool.  Buck, watching from a discrete distance, marvelled at Sita’s beauty, her eyes, her face, her paws, and the way she sat down and rubbed the soap into the soles and between the toes of her hind paws, everything about her.  Then when she padded dripping from the shower and shook herself, showering water all over Buck, buck loved her even more.

      “I hope you were watching,” Sita mewed, “Buck smiled and replied that he had been, and hoped she didn’t mind.  Sita giggled:

      “I hope you saw everything from my nose to my toes,” she replied, warts and all.”

      “I didn’t see any warts,” Buck replied.  Sita kissed his nose:

       “Now, how would it be if you and I washed each other?”  She asked.  Buck smiled and kissed her nose.

      “I would love that,” he replied.

      “I want another shower,” Sita said, “so let’s do it.”  Buck and Sita padded to the bathtub in the shower room, filled it, and then sat down in it opposite each other.

       “Now let’s wash each other,” buck said.  Sita giggled and grabbed his right hind foot in her forepaws.

      “Now grab the soap and I’ll get washing!”  She laughed.  Buck passed her the soap, and Sita washed his hind paws, then washed his face, ears, body, forelegs, forepaws, hind legs and hind feet, buck bouncing about almost constantly, making water splash everywhere, much to Sita’s delight.

      “Bouncy boy aren’t you,” she observed.  Buck laughed and kissed her nose:

        “I think you’re so gentle and caring,” Buck said.  Sita kissed his nose:

      “You have lovely paws,” Sita said.

      “So do you,” buck replied, “from a visual point of view as well as a tactile one.”   Sita laughed.

      “Would you wash my face, body, legs and paws?”  She asked.  Buck hugged her.

      “I will,” he replied.  Buck washed Sita with care, Sita sighing with pleasure.

      “I love your touch,” she said.  buck closed his eyes, exploring her with his paws, loving her fur, her paws, her legs, her belly fur, her toes, everything.

      “I love you so much,” buck said.

       “I love you too buck,” Sita replied, “I know you’re younger than me by some margin, but our paws are attracted strongly, and I know I love you deeply.”  Buck sat between Sita’s hind legs, settling back into her embrace, Sita reaching down and playing with the toes of his left hind foot, while buck, wriggling with pleasure, played with the toes of Sita’s right hind foot in his forepaws.  

     “You two have the Blessing of Eohippus upon you,” Theo purred, watching Sita and Buck from the doorway.

      “The question is Theo, do we have the backing of our community,” Sita mewed, “my parents wouldn’t back me in this, and neither would Bucks I don’t think, for they hold a view about age, or Anook does at least.”

      “Anook won’t mind,” Theo mewed, “she’ll see, she’ll understand how you two love.  Now buck, and you Sita, love each other, play, and laugh, be gentle, be comforting, and be generous to each other.”  Sita and buck promised they would.  Leaving the bathtub, Sita and Buck padded to the shower, each using their paws to aid in showering the other down from nose to tail.

 

Meanwhile, in Kamchatka’s family lie up, Spits and Alaska played with each other’s paws, Spits pleasuring Alaska by rasping the pads of her hind paws with the claws of his fore, Alaska wriggling and giggling with pleasure.

       “Now you two really need to go for it,” Tornassuk said, “love each other with your paws, and eohippus will decree when you are to have cubs.”  Spits kissed Alaska’s nose and paw pads, the she bear laughing helplessly.

 

Tornassuk padded away to the bathroom, where he met Theo, the white lion hugging the Spirit bear.

       “You will be my replacement when I retire from my post,” Theo mewed into Tornassuk’s ear, “of this I am sure.”  Tornassuk kissed Theo’s nose.

       “I will do my best,” he replied.  Sita and buck padded to Tornassuk and hugged him.

      “We love you very much Tornassuk,” Sita said to the spirit bear.

       “I know you two will love each other with all you have,” Tornassuk said.  Sita rested her paw on bucks.

       “I’ll love him with all my might,” she replied.

       “I know you will,” Tornassuk said.  Sita padded away with buck, Theo looking earnestly into Tornassuk’s face.

        “Eohippus would like me to take you to the clearing tonight,” Theo mewed, “your destiny is mapped out in white paw prints,” Theo mewed.  Tornassuk hugged the white lion.

       “You cannot blame yourself for Jess’s mistakes,” he said.  Theo sighed heavily:

       “I made that choice, I gave the go ahead,” Theo mewed, “this was to do with the birth of a cub!  Now, now, Jess has been expelled for a disgusting act involving the death of her own cub.  I failed in my judgement.”

      “Let it go Theo,” Tornassuk replied, “let your bourdon go.”  Theo turned and walked away.  Tornassuk watching him go.

      “Now do your best,” Lioness Rowena said.  Tornassuk kissed her nose, and then she vanished.

       “You need not come to the clearing,” eohippus said.  Tornassuk turned to the white mare.

       “What do you want me to do to signify my accession to the spiritual leader of this community?”  Tornassuk asked.

      “Go to Sita and buck, to Lihua and little patch, and to Spits and Alaska and protect them from those who choose not to understand their love,” the white mare replied.  Tornassuk nodded and turned away to leave for Patch and Ekaterina’s lain up.  His paw touched sire patches, for his sire was standing behind him.

       “Do your best Tornassuk,” he said.  Tornassuk smiled and kissed his sire’s nose.

       “I will,” he replied.

 

Sita and buck went to Kamchatka’s family lie up and settled down in the spare bedroom which Koda had kept for guests when he was human.  In that room there was a bed with a soft mattress on it, Sita and buck taking the bed over, snuggling beneath a duvet quilt.  Snuggling down, Sita buried her huge paws in Buck’s warm fur.

       “Now let’s sleep for a long time,” Sita yawned.

 

Meanwhile, Theo and his mother Petra played with little Simba.  The male lion cub loved the attention from his eldest surviving brother.  Aslan, now adult himself, spent more time away from the family.  Theo told his mother of his choice to resign as spiritual leader of the community.  Petra hugged her son cub, Theo burying his face in his mother’s fur.

       “I can’t forgive myself for the death of Jess’s third cub,” Theo mewed, “if I hadn’t given the go ahead for the spirits to turn her into a bear, she’d never have had the chance to kill that cub.”

      “If she’d never become a bear Theo, Tornassuk wouldn’t be here now.  You didn’t make a mistake, for you did not know how jess would abuse her position.”  Theo looked up as Tornassuk wandered into the room.

      “He’s one beautiful bear,” Theo said to his mum.  Petra smiled for she knew what Theo meant.

 

Meanwhile, Anook and Kuruk watched Sita and buck asleep under the quilt in Koda’s guest bedroom.

       “The spirits have blessed them with love,” Kuruk said.  Anook nodded, hardly able to watch the screen.

       “They were playing with each other’s paws, it’s, and it’s only a matter of time until they have a cub.”

      “Kuruk no know if Sita can have cub with Buck even if them want to have one,”  Kuruk replied, “but what he know now that he sceptical about earlier, is that buck and Sita love each other, and Kuruk not gonna stand in the way of Sita or buck.”  Anook looked at Kuruk:

       “How can he love her so much?”  She asked.

      “Kuruk think they love somewhere deeper than looks.  They love each other’s touch, the touch of paw on paw, their spirits excite each other.  Their paws are compatible Anook dear.”

       “Like ours are? “  She asked, “Like I find your toes curling round mine and the touch of your pads exhilarating?”  She asked.  Kuruk nodded and smiled:

       “Yes,” Kuruk replied, “mama Anook, don’t restrict their paws, if they want to playact cubbing, let them, Sita is sensible, as is our Buck.”

      “When they played with each other’s toes in the bathtub, they looked so cute!”  Kuruk junior said.  Kuruk smiled broadly and ruffled his cub’s ears.

      “They did look cute,” he replied.

       “If Sita’s paws are anything like mamas, then they are cute,” Kuruk said.  Anook giggled with pleasure.

       “You really think my paws are cute?”  She asked.  Kuruk smiled and kissed her nose:

       “Yes Kuruk do,” he replied.  Kuruk junior grabbed his mama’s right hind foot and traced her pads, finishing off by playing with her toes, much to Anook’s delight, which she expressed with curled toes and pressure on her cub’s paws.

        “I love that,” Anook said.  Kuruk Junior kissed his mum’s curled toes, the she bear laughing delightedly.

        “That’s cute too,” Olga said, padding into the lie up, “I’ve been watching little Patch and Lihua, and they’re loving each other too, it’s so nice all this!”

       I pray to Eohippus that Sita’s and buck am love continua’s until they are old and death parts them,” Theo mewed, padding into the lie up.

      “I agree,” Kuruk junior replied, “I hope they remain true to each other.”

       “I saw them playing,” Olga said, “Sita was playing with buck’s toes, buck played with her tail, Sita’s toes curling tightly with pleasure.  It was such a lovely thing to watch!”

       “Buck loves getting paws on with Sita, they communicate that way.”  Tornassuk said.

 

Meanwhile, Sita held Buck in her paws under the quilt, buck snuggling close to Sita.  Sita felt buck’s nose buried in her fur, his paws warm and holding tightly onto her.  sighing with pleasure, she curled round the smaller bear, wrapping her tail around his right hind paw and squeezing his toes with the tip, to buck’s delight, which he expressed by bringing his left hind foot over and curling his toes around Sita’s tail.  Sita, feeling buck’s toes gripping her tail, wriggled with pleasure, kicking with her hind paws beneath the quilt and wriggling from nose to tail.

      “I love that,” buck said, kissing Sita’s nose to make her wriggle and kick harder with her hind paws and hold him tighter with her fore.  Indeed, his efforts were rewarded when Sita’s wriggling and kicking threw the quilt off them both, buck and Sita laughing helplessly at their antics.

      “You made me kick and wriggle so much the quilt’s gone!”  Sita laughed, almost choking.

      “I’m sorry,” buck replied.  Sita kissed his nose:

      “How if we retrieve the quilt, settle down, and see if you can do it again,” she said.  Buck smiled:

       “It was lovely feeling you holding me with your forepaws and kicking with your hind while wriggling.  It was cubbish!”  Sita smiled:

       “One day, maybe you’ll wriggle so much you can kick the quilt off,” she replied.  Buck smiled:

        “That felt lovely,” he replied.  Sita placed her forepaws over buck’s face, the bear kissing her pads and toes.

      “Now let’s get that quilt,” Sita replied, buck helping her drag the quilt back onto the bed and smoother it down.  Sita and buck settled down again and slept deeply.

      “This is so comfortable,” buck said softly, Sita holding him tightly.

     “I love you so much,” Sita said gently.  Buck snuggled hard into Sita’s hug, the hired cub hugging him deeply and for a long time.  Buck kissed Sita’s nose and forepaws, the female cub sighing and relaxing completely.

       “I could get used to this,” she whispered, “Buck, can we stay here forever?”  Buck laughed:

       “I’m tempted to,” he replied, “but we must eat, we must socialise, we must live our lives outside of this cocoon of warmth and security.”  Sita squeezed buck’s right forepaw in her left.

       “I love you Sita,” he whispered.

       “I love you too,” Sita replied softly, the toes of all four paws curling tightly as buck embraced her.

       “You two look so peaceful,” Tornassuk said, padding in what seemed ages later.  Buck, now snuggled into Sita’s hug, peeped out from the mass of blankets he’d accumulated around him.

      “I’m so warm and safe here,” he whispered.  Tornassuk looked closely at Sita and Buck beneath the quilt.  Sita, eyes closed and paws tightly embracing buck, buck snuggled into her embrace, his right forepaw free, his left held in Sita’s paw.

       “She looks so cute,” Tornassuk thought, kissing Sita’s nose.

      “Sita loves me dearly Tornassuk,” buck mumbled.  Sita, overhearing his words, stirred slightly.

      “Who’s there?”  She asked.

      “It’s Tornassuk,” Tornassuk said.

       “Oh, hi,” she yawned, stretching languidly.

       “I was just saying how cute you two look,” Tornassuk replied.

       “I suppose this is our little den,” Sita replied, “a little den where both of us feel safe.”   Tornassuk smiled and nodded.

      “You two are very safe,” he replied.  Sita kissed buck’s nose, the polar bear smiling and returning her kiss.

        “Now that’s sweet,” Tornassuk said.  Buck smiled broadly and squeezed Sita’s paw in his.

 

Sita smiled at Buck, the cross bred cub kissing his nose and paws.

       “How can I prove the love I feel for you?”  She asked.

       “You need only touch my paw with yours,” buck said.  Buck kissed Sita’s nose and paws, loving her.

       “Let’s go to the pool complex,” Sita said, “Let us play, slide, swim, and get thoroughly wet from noses to tails.”  Buck giggled and helped Sita from the bed.

      “Sounds good to me,” he replied.  Sita and buck made their way to the pool complex where they met Aga and little Bruin, the cub taking his first dip.

       “Ah there’s the cub that’s birth you missed Sita dear,” Buck said.  Aga looked round at the mansion of a cub and saw Sita.

      “I’m so sorry you missed the birth of my cub,” she said.

      “Petra needed me,” Sita replied, “she went into labour while I was talking to her, and I couldn’t leave her.”  Aga hugged Sita tenderly, and then led her to Bruin, who, on hearing that she was, clambered all over her like she was an animated climbing frame, much to Sita’s delight.

      “Watch out he doesn’t climb too high,” Buck said, “Sita’s pretty big.”  Sita laughed.

       “Now little Bruin,” Sita said, “Can I touch you with my paws?”  Bruin slid down Sita’s tail onto the floor, then tried to pick up her right hind foot, Sita lifting her foot for him to explore with his forepaws.

       “Be gentle with her paw Bruin,” Aga said.

     “I will mama,” Bruin replied, exploring Sita’s pads and toes, Sita giggling with pleasure.

      “How would it be if I lie down so you can play with my paw more easily?”  Sita asked.

     “Oh yes please!”  Bruin replied.  Sita freed her right hind foot, then, lying down, gathered the bear cub to her.

      “Would you like to play with the rest of my paws?”  Sita asked.  Bruin giggled:

      “Can I?”  He asked, “My mama says playing with paws is a very good way to get to know another cub.”  Sita kissed his nose:

      “It is,” she replied, “now, play gently.”

       “Would you play with all four of my paws Sita?”  Bruin asked.  Sita smiled, picked Bruin up in her forepaws and kissed his nose and the pads of all four paws, Bruin laughing helplessly.

       “That’s yes I think,” he said when he’d recovered.  Sita set Bruin down on the tiles, the cub pushing with his hind paws, trying to stand on them alone.

       “go on, stand on your hind feet if you want,”  Sita said, holding Bruin’s body, then transferring to his forepaws, the bear cub a bit unsteady on his hind feet, but clearly enjoying the experience.

      “Now you are a big bear,” Sita said, buck and Aga laughing merrily.

      “You could teach him how to swim,” Aga said.  Bruin wriggled free of Sita’s grip and rubbed his eyes with his forepaws, then, feeling uncomfortable, wet his paws and did it again, his eyes opening for the first time, his eyes falling on Sita.

      “So you’re that big thing I was clambering over,” he said.  Sita smiling broadly.

       “I guess his eyes have opened,” she said.  Aga, choked up, replied that Sita was right.

        “Can’t you see my eyes have opened?”  Bruin asked.  Sita looked unhappy:

      “No little one,” she replied, “I’m in the dark as you were before a few minutes ago, but mine is forever.”  Bruin touched her paw:

      “Oh,” he said his eyes full of wonder and sadness for her.  Sita kissed his nose:

      “Now, how about playing with my paws,” she said airily, but Bruin was troubled.

      “All right,” he said.  Sita kissed his nose:

       “Don’t be afraid,” she said, “I’m not going to hurt you.”

      “No Sita, I’m not afraid,” Bruin choked, “but, but, you’ll never know how beautiful you are or how handsome your mate is, that is all.”

       “I know how handsome he is,” she replied, “even though I cannot see him, I know him intimately, and he’s lovely.”  Bruin took hold of Sita’s right forepaw.

       “I would like it if you would touch me from my nose to my paw pads Sita,” he said softly.

      “I promise I will,” she replied.  Bruin began with Sita’s head, touching her nose, ears and mouth, Sita unable to resist kissing his paw as it came within range.

       “Sita,” Bruin said playfully, kissing her ear.  Sita blew on the pads of Bruin’s left forepaw, the young bear cub giggling with pleasure.

       “Gently around Sita’s eyes Bruin,” Aga warned.  Bruin explored Sita’s ears, then her neck, then her forelegs and forepaws, then her belly, hind legs and hind paws, finally reaching her tail.  Sita rolled onto her back, drew her hind feet to her and curled up her tail.

      “I want my toes played with, now!”  Sita whined like a cub.  Bruin nearly fell over laughing.

      “Silly Sita!”  He said, kissing the pads of her right hind paw.

       “I like that,” Sita said, curling her toes slightly.

        “I thought you might,” Bruin replied, taking hold of Sita’s right hind foot and tracing her pads, Sita relaxing from her tense posture.

      “That’s it, you’re relaxing her now,” Aga said to Bruin.”  Sita pressed her paw hard into Bruin’s, the male bear laughing.

       “You’re playing with me,” he said, “you don’t really like what I’m doing do you?”  Sita smiled and nodded:

      “I do,” she replied, “but if you do something wrong, I won’t punish you with slapping paws, some might, so practise on me, and then get it right all the time.”  Bruin and Sita played together, Bruin playing with Sita’s paws, then Sita returning his play, the bear cub loving her touch on his pads and toes.  Bruin examined Sita from nose to tail.  He’d heard of her somewhere before, and now he remembered.

      “Why did Chandrika get upset with you?”  He asked.  Sita paused in her exploration of his left hind paw.

       “She didn’t like me asking her if I could get paws on with her,” Sita replied.

      “So getting, paws on, is what we’re doing now, right?”  Bruin asked.

      “Yes,” Sita replied.

      “But, but,” Bruin said, his eyes filling with tears, “you have a gentle touch on my paws, so why wouldn’t she let you get paws on with her?”

       “She just doesn’t like me,” Sita said, sparing him the politics of it all.

       “Oh,” Bruin replied, “well I like you a lot.  Stuff Chandrika!”

       “Yes quite,” Aga snapped, “doesn’t use those words Bruin.”

    “Agreed with you Bruin,” Sita sighed, “though I wish it weren’t that way.”

     “What did you do to her?”  Bruin asked.

       “Nothing.”  Sita replied, feeling the truth gushing from her.

      “How on earth am I going to explain Chandrika’s hatred of my blindness to Bruin?”  Sita thought.

      “Your pads are getting damp,” Bruin said, “are you all right Sita?”  Sita hugged Bruin tightly:

       “How can I explain this?” she said, “Bruin, Chandrika, she doesn’t like me.  Not because of anything that I’ve done or not done, but for another reason entirely.  She hasn’t even met me that am the truth.”

       “If you can love by eyes, you can hate by them too,” Bruin said suddenly.  Sita gulped hard.

        “so Chandrika’s used her eyes to hate you, as I did to love you, and she’s told you that she doesn’t want you to touch her, that’s it isn’t it?”  Bruin asked.

       “You’re as perceptive as your older brother,” Sita choked.

       “Dear Patch,” Bruin said, “I’ve met him, and he’s a real softy and a soppy thing too.”  Sita nodded, wiping her eyes with her paws.

        “I hope you grow up to be like him,” she said, “that would be a lovely thing.”

       “I’ll try to be gentle,” Bruin said, “but right now, I want to smash Chandrika for what she said about you!  Sita, that was horrible!”  Sita sniffed and covered her face with her paws, her body racked by sobbing.  Bruin tried to hug Sita tightly, Aga picking him up so he could more easily accomplish this.

       “Chandrika will realise one day,” Bruin said, “when her cubs come running to you to play.”

        “They’ll never do that!”  Chandrika snapped, padding into the complex and scowling at bruin.

      “And why not?”  Bruin challenged the red Panda.

      “Because Sita’s a horrid misfit, a nothing!”  Chandrika screamed.

       “I think there’s quite a bit of her, and she’s soft, and warm, and gentle, and playful, and you can go stuff yourself!”  Bruin snapped, starting to cry.

      “Oh so you’re a big boy now?”  Chandrika challenged striding up to Bruin and drawing back her paw to wallop him.  Buck stepped on her tail, Chandrika screaming in pain.  then, snarling, he picked her up by her tail in his paws and swung her round his head, letting her go so she flew upwards, then landed heavily in the main pool.

      “I can’t swim!”  Chandrika gasped, floundering in the pool.  Buck fished Chandrika out of the pool, holding her at arm’s length, as if she was infectious.

      “Go!”  He commanded, Chandrika dragging herself away, her water logged fur heavy and dreadful to her.

      “Now,” buck said gently to Bruin, who was crying, “you Bruin need to be strong for Sita, play with her, love her.”  Bruin looked at Buck, his eyes asking a question.

      “Yes, you can help her,” Buck said, “play with her paws, love her, and comfort her.”

      “But, but, I can’t, I’m only a cub!”  Bruin said.

      “Try,” Aga encouraged, “try it Bruin, Try touching her hind paws, tracing her pads and playing with her toes.”  Bruin looked at Sita, who was still tearful.

      “Remember how your touch made her curl her toes with pleasure,” buck whispered to Bruin.  Bruin took hold of Sita’s right hind foot, stroking her pads and playing with her toes, Sita smiling broadly.

      “Carry on,” she said, sniffing slightly.  Sita got to her feet after a little while and Bruin watched her go.

      “I like her a lot,” he said to his mother, Aga grinning:

       “She’s lovely,” she said, watching as Buck left, the long fur on his paws swishing against the tiles as he padded away.

      “They really love each other don’t they,” Conrad said to Aga.  Aga, smiling broadly, kissed her mate’s nose.

      “I hope, if they have cubs, Sita will love her cub as much,” she said.

       “They’re too young for that at the moment, but I’m sure she will,” Conrad replied.

       “Her mother never loved her,” Aga said, “but Kamchatka loves her dearly.

 

Sita and Buck curled up in Anook and Kuruk’s lie up, Anook watching them.  Anook examined Sita from nose to tail, finding her less and less unusual.  Anook reached out with a paw and touched Sita’s nose and, as she was lying on her side, the pads of all four paws.

      “I’m sorry Sita,” Anook said softly, “I never knew, until now, how much you loved Buck.”  Sita smiled broadly:

       “I know you are feeling confused,” she said, “my paws tell me that.”

        “Please,” Anook said the toes of her fright forepaw closing over Sita’s left, “teach me Sita.”

        “Teach you that a relationship can be for filling without producing cubs?”  Sita asked.  Anook nodded, swallowing hard.

         “Yes,” she choked.

       “touch me Anook, touch my nose, my legs, belly and toes, my tail, pads, ears and back, go on, explore me with your paws, get paws on,”  Sita encouraged.  Anook did, and knew she couldn’t lie any more, Sita would know if she had any misgivings about her.  Sita, smiling, retracted and extended her claws while Anook was exploring her paws, to the female polar bear’s obvious delight.

      “You are the maoxiong,” Anook said, “the mythical creature I was told stories of as a young cub.  My mother, stressed beyond endurance by captivity, managed to give roaring, screaming, birth to me and my brother, but then was deemed too stressed to take care of us, so we were bottle fed and reared in this facility by the humans who’d kept our mothers in the zoo.  It was there, when we were thoroughly bored, that one of the older cubs started telling stories of this strange creature that was the ultimate being, or as much as we knew.  I believed in the stories, and now Vie met the real maoxiong.”  Sita giggled:

       “I’m just Sita,” she said, “a mix of many things.”  Anook Kissed Sita’s nose and paw pads, Sita laughing merrily.

      “Kiss my paws again!”  Sita begged.  Anook did, Sita wriggling and curling her toes with pleasure.

      “I love that!”  Sita laughed.

      “I wonder if I can make Sita roll onto her back and kick the air with her huge feet,” Anook thought.  To this end she rubbed Sita’s belly, Sita drawing up her hind feet, wriggling, and then, laughing helplessly, rolling onto her back and kicking the air with all four paws.

 

Meanwhile, Amal, having viewed the footage of his mate’s antics in the pool complex, walloped her with his paws.

      “You are vindictive and horrible to Sita for nothing she can help!”  Amal yelled, “You’ve turned the bears against us, we’re finished!”

      “You’re not finished, but your mate is if she ever thinks of touching Sita’s hide ever again!”  Kamchatka warned, striding into the lie up and grabbing Chandrika by her tail, hoisting her high and then letting her fall onto the floor.

        “Ow, ow!”  Chandrika wailed.

       “You deserved all that,” Kamchatka grunted, turning away.  Amal watched Kamchatka walk away, the red panda fascinated by the powerful she bear.

      “You don’t want to get on the wrong side of her,” Amal remarked to Chandrika.

        “She’s a bully!”  She snapped.

      “She’s protecting her adopted cub, just like you should be protecting your cubs,” Amal replied gruffly.  Chandrika snapped her teeth at her mate, and for good measure, whacked him with her paw.

      “Until our cubs are weaned, keep clear of the bears,” Amal warned, “then, once the cubs can fend for themselves, then, you can go after the bears.”  Chandrika sighed heavily.

       “I hate Sita so much!”  She yelled.

      “You are so stupid,” Amal snarled.

      “Why don’t you hit her in return?”  Patch asked, “Amal, you tolerate a lot from this bitch.”  Amal looked at the huge bear.

       “One day,” he said, “one day I’ll feed her to the lions!”

       “I wouldn’t eat that,” Samson said, padding into the lie up, “it’s too small.”  Chandrika, now feeding her cubs, looked up, her eye level at the same level as Samson’s huge paws.

       “You are serious?”  She asked.  Samson looked down at her:

      “Yes,” he said, smiling broadly, showing nearly all his teeth.

       “It’s not funny!”  Chandrika wailed.

      “Do you think your assault on Sita is funny?”  Amal asked.  Chandrika looked down at her paws, then at Samson’s.

       “I just hate her so much!”  Chandrika snapped.

 

Meanwhile, in another part of the house, Blackie and silver lay together, the black leopard worried about his daughter cub as she was about to give birth to her first cubs.  Silver, after snow leopard Whitie’s death, had decided it was time to go hunting for a mate.  Samson helped her out, siring her cubs; Silver not worried how her cubs would turn out.  Now she was in the first stages of labour, mewing and growling softly, while moving around uncomfortably.

      “Ow, ow, ow!”  Silver yelled, “This is gonna hurt me Blackie, O’o’o’o’o’oow!”  Silver began kicking with all four paws and screaming, her mouth open wide and eyes closed.  Then she wailed loudly, straining hard.

      O’o’o’o’o’oow!”  Silver roared.

      “Push Silver, Push!”  Blackie encouraged, the silvery coated big cat rolling around on the floor and screaming.

     “o’o’o’o’o’o’oaw! I’m pushing Blackie, pushing so dam hard! O’o’o’o’oah! Oo’o’o’oph!”  She complained, Blackie hearing her toes crack as she curled them in response to huge contractions.  Blackie, keen to feel the power of silver’s paws, placed the toes of his own paws in silver’s grasp, the toes of her right forepaw clamping down on his, crushing them with enormous force.

       O’o’o’o’o’oow! O’o’o’o’o’oow! O’o’o’o’o’oow!”  Silver yelled lustily.  Blackie looked back along Silver’s body, to where her straining tail arched over her back, her hind legs straining backwards and spread wide to allow the passage of her first cub.  Blackie freed his left forepaw and watched in amazement as Silver’s body strained to deliver her cubs.

     “The cub’s head is out now,”  Blackie said softly, Silver panting, then catching her breath and bearing down hard:

     “ooooooumph!  ooooooo O’o’o’o’oo’o’umph, ow, ow, O’o’o’o’o’oow!”  she shreiked.  Blackie caught Silver’s first cub, Silver crying with shock and pain.  Blackie cleaned silver’s cub, silver sniffing hard, then groaning and wriggling, before screaming and complaining as her labour pains increased.

      “I know I can get through this!”  she grunted, “O’o’o’o’o’oow, O’o’o’o’o’oow, “ooooooumph!  ooooooo O’o’o’o’oo’o’umph! “ooooooumph!  ooooooo O’o’o’o’oo’o’umph! Aw’ow’ow’ow’ow’owawh!”  Blackie saw Silver’s sweat darkening her fur, the soles of her paws soaked in it, and sweat dripping from her nose.

     “This, this, is awful!”  she screamed.

       “The second cub’s nearly here now,”  Blackie said gently, “go on silver, Push, push down into that tail. push, push!”  silver grunted and growled, then roared.

     ““ooooooumph!  ooooooo O’o’o’o’oo’o’umph, “ooooooumph!  ooooooo O’o’o’o’oo’o’umph! O’o’o’o’o’oow! O’o’o’o’o’oow!”  Silver, with a final screaming effort, gave birth to her second cub.

       “I can’t believe what I’ve seen here,” someone said.

       “Patch, how on earth did you get in without us noticing?”  Blackie asked.

     “I have silent paws,” Patch said smiling, “Silver, you did wonderfully.”  Silver smiled wearily.

     “Thanks,” she panted.

      “Though,” Patch said sitting down, silver getting a clear view of the soles of his hind paws, as her head was resting on her paws while her cubs fed, “you did scream and yell very loudly, so I could have walked in with bells on my paws and you wouldn’t have heard me.”  Silver giggled and kissed the pads of Patch’s right hind foot, which she could just reach.

       “Soppy,” patch remarked, curling his toes.

      “I never knew silver had such lungs on her,” Ekaterina said.

       “I was in dreadful pain,” silver replied, “but screaming and curling my toes helped me push also, so it’s all worth it, especially when I now have two beautiful cubs.”