Perdy had a problem. She was close to her cubbing date, and knew that the only animals qualified to help her during cubbing were Theo or Fleur. Perdy couldn’t see either wanting to help her, though she thought she might be able to appeal to the professional duty of either animal to look after her during her hours of confinement. Now very much in cub, and fearing it would be another large one, Perdy padded towards Fleur’s domain, her paws heavy and the realisation dawning that she’d made a huge mistake in letting Tommy Trip have his way with her.
Fleur looked up as Perdy entered the room.
“I know you’re in cub again,” Fleur said, “and quite frankly, I wonder why, after my birth, you did it again! Though Perdy, I understand you forget these things, the pain and struggle of my birth, as well as your disgust at how I looked. You will insist on cross breeding with other cats.” Fleur had spoken to her mother in a bored tone, as if she was tired of her messing about. Perdy’s eyes pleaded with fleur for her help.
“Look Perdy,” Fleur said, “I will help you have your cub, but after that, I tell you now, if you do anything to harm that cub, I’m taking it off you, by force if needed, and you’ll have no contact with it ever again!” Perdy saw the intent in her birth cub’s face.
“You can’t tell her that!” Jespah snapped.
“Jespah,” Perdy said, “Fleur can, and she’s got every right to tell me that too.” Jespah dug his claws into the rug.
“I can’t believe you’d do that!” He mewed, referring to Perdy getting in cub once more.
“I was, was desperate,” Perdy mewed.
“That’s no excuse!” Jespah yelled.
“I know, I know!” Perdy replied, shifting uncomfortably as her cub moved inside her.
“You’ll have to have the cub and then see what happens,” Fleur said.”
“I know now I don’t want the cub,” Perdy mewed. Jespah banged the rug with his paw!
“You should be spayed Perdy!” He yelled.
“It looks like we’ll have a cub up for adoption,” Fleur mewed. Jespah looked at her.
“I wish she hadn’t done that,” Jespah said, “but yes, we’ll have a cub soon.”
Perdy turned and walked away, her paws even heavier than before. She knew her cub was due soon, and that she’d be shunned by the rest of the community after the cub was born.
Perdy’s labour started one dark night. Feeling the first small contractions, Perdy got up from where she’d been lying and began to pace about, breathing hard and pawing at the carpet when the contractions got harsher.
“Fleur! Fleur!” Perdy yelled, almost shrieking with pain as her cub made its presence felt. Stamping her paws, Perdy gave up all pretence of calm, screaming and crying with fear and pain. Fleur heard Perdy’s yell of pain and raced into the room to find Perdy lying on her back wriggling and twisting, waving clenched paws in the air and screeching with pain and terror. Fleur managed to make her heard above Perdy’s screaming and crying, telling her she would be okay, and that she wasn’t to worry about a thing. Perdy wailed with pain, and then fleur saw something emerging beneath her tail, two large paws! Perdy, feeling something happening at last, bore down against her cub, groaning with effort.
“Roll onto your side Perdy,” Fleur said gently, still unable to reach the labouring snow leopard on account of her thrashing paws. Perdy, whimpering now, wriggled and heaved as the cub’s head emerged. Collapsing onto her side, Perdy moaned and yowled with pain, lashing out with all four paws as she felt strong crushing contractions moving her cub into the world. Closing her eyes and pushing down hard, Perdy felt her cub’s body come free. Another straining heave and the cub’s hind paws were free. Perdy felt the cub’s long tail slide free, and knew the cub was a large one. Fleur caught the cub, examining it with her eyes and paws.
Perdy’s newborn cub was a strange looking cub, not quite as large as Fleur when she was newborn, but large all the same, with long fur, really long fur in fact, with a shorter under coat, short legs, large paws and a long tail. This long hair was consistent with that which makes up a lion’s mane, with shorter, thicker snow leopard like fur beneath, the hair covering the cub from just above its eyes, to the end of its long tail. The cub’s paws sported this mane like hair on the tops of its paws, the pads and soles thickly furred, just like Perdy’s. The cub’s eyes were tightly shut. Fleur noticed something strange about the cub’s fur. It was dirty white, with black spots from its nose to the end of its tail, and even the tops and soles of its paws had black spots!
Fleur licked the cub dry, its own mother too exhausted to help.
“You are a lovely cub little one,” fleur mewed. Perdy looked round, saw her cub and spat at it.
“What the hell’s that?” She asked.
“It’s your cub,” Fleur said. Just then, Theo arrived, saw Perdy’s cub and looked at Perdy herself.
“I know what happened,” the community leader said, “I know also that this cub is fleur and Jespah’s.”
“They can look after it,” Perdy said, “I don’t want it.” Fleur examined the cub from nose to tail. The cub was female, and to Fleur’s eyes, one of the most beautiful cubs she’d ever seen.
“She’s lovely!” Someone exclaimed. Fleur smiled at Petra, who padded up to the cub and hugged it tenderly.
“I know your tale little one,” Petra mewed, “don’t worry, we’ll look after you.”
“I’m hungry,” the cub mewed. Fleur led the cub by its large paw to Perdy’s milk, and Perdy was good enough to let her drink her fill. Then the cub returned to Fleur’s side, fleur embracing the cub in her huge warm paws.
Later that day, Theo and Petra talked over the matter of the cub’s welfare. “What are we going to do about feeding the cub?” Petra asked.
“That was my worry,” Theo said, “I know \Perdy doesn’t want the cub, and fleur, though able to look after her, can’t give her milk, good and honourable though her intentions are.”
“We’ll just have to ask Perdy if she’ll provide milk for the little one until we can think of a more permanent and agreeable solution,” Petra said, “after all, the cub is Perdy’s, and she has a duty to look after it to some degree, at least until we can think of another plan.”
This was put to Perdy, who grudgingly agreed to feed her cub.
“I’ll feed her, but that’s it, okay?” Perdy snapped, furious she’d landed herself in trouble once more. Theo nodded and looked sternly at her.
“You make sure you do,” he mewed, “or I’ll milk you like a cow!” Perdy shrank back from her leader, remembering how Aslan and Petra had milked her before. That had been terrible, and now the two who’d done the deed then were no longer cubs, but strong adult cats.
So the spotted long haired cross bred cub was fed by Perdy, fleur and the others taking over all aspects of the cub’s care.
Fleur named the spotted cub Pepper, as she looked as if she’d been sprinkled all over with black peppercorns.
Pepper’s education in the ways of the community started with a good rub down from fleur, something which she thoroughly enjoyed, and gave Fleur time to examine her properly with her paws. Pepper would work herself as close to fleur as she could during these rub downs, of which there was at least one a day, curling her body into the curve of her foster mother’s. During these times, Jespah would watch them both, his eyes showing as much love for Pepper as if she was his and Fleur’s natural cub. Jespah would also join in the rub downs, something which Fleur and Pepper encouraged him to do, but at first Jespah was reluctant to do. Once he’d learned he could be as paws on with pepper as Fleur was, Jespah began to relax and enjoy being with his cub. Pepper had her first bath at two days old, Fleur running her a warm relaxing one. Pepper stepped carefully into the bath, her curiosity overcoming her fear. Fleur was already in the bath, Jespah having stayed out to help their cub into the water, but he soon joined them. Splashing about in the warm water, which to Pepper seemed alive, as Fleur had turned the spar feature on, Pepper felt the water massaging her body, legs and the soles of her paws, something witch delighted her hugely. It was during one of these sessions that Pepper spoke for the first time.
“Lovely this,” she mewed, trying to swim against the bubbling water. Fleur and Jespah stayed close by their cub, but Pepper was a good swimmer seeming to have an innate knowledge of how to swim.
The majority other animals treated Pepper with curtsy, but some were reserved, the capybara and badgers weren’t too keen on her, being of the view she was illegitimate and therefore slightly abnormal. Brock and Constance, the two badgers, were a conservative couple, who held to, “values of the old school,” as Brock put it, and didn’t take too well to the news Tommy had caused another female cat to fall pregnant, only to abandon her with the cub. On the other hand, Aslan and Petra took to the spotted cub, as did Nick, who when he first saw her, ran to Pepper and threw his huge paws round her in a huge hug. Pepper, used now to being hugged with huge warm paws, snuggled up to him, accepting Nick as a friend.
“That’s nick Pepper,” fleur said, “or more affectionately known as “mister Fat paws.”” Nick laughed merrily at this.
“Mister Fat paws?” Pepper asked, “But why is this?” Nick gave her his left forepaw, the cub measuring it against her own by placing her pads on his.
“Both of us have fat paws!” She whooped, “and so does my mum, so that’s really great isn’t it!” Nick smiled and kissed Pepper on her nose.
“It is Pepper, it is,” he purred.
Pepper was now two weeks old, her eyes had opened, and she could crawl about. Fleur would often join her cub in crawling from place to place, so she didn’t feel so isolated. Of course, Pepper had the same problems Bianca and Pakshalika had when they were her age. In that her claws which she could not retract at that time sometimes caught in carpets, rugs and the like the strands of the rug catching her claws and toes, greatly frustrating the large spotted cross bred cub. Fleur took to observing everything Pepper did, much as Elsa did before her. She noticed the way her cub crawled, the way the long fur on her paws dragged on the carpet when she crawled. Sometimes the long hair surrounding the shorter fur and pads on the soles of her paws would tickle her pads making Pepper laugh helplessly. When this happened, Pepper would look round for the animal who was tickling the soles of her paws, but see noone.
“It’s your long hair little one,” fleur would say gently, before padding up and rubbing the pads which had just been tickled by the cub’s long top coat. Pepper’s appearance had changed in the last two weeks. Her eyes were golden blue, her long top coat of mane like hair tawny brown with black spots showing beneath it, with the black spotted, greyish, thicker fur beneath. Pepper’s nose and paw pads were pinkie black, just like Fleur’s, and it was these very pads which were tickled by Pepper’s tawny topcoat.
To anyone from outside the community, Pepper looked strange, but Jespah and Fleur, along with most of the community adored her more with every passing day. Pepper’s face was one of the most interesting things about her, the long topcoat covering it from her chin and around her ears, leaving her nose and the rest of her face covered by the thick undercoat of shorter greyish black spotted fur. The tops of Pepper’s paws were also covered with the tawny hair, the cub’s belly and the soles of her paws covered by the same greyish black spotted fur covering her belly and most of her face.
Snowy first saw Pepper when fleur brought her to the pool complex for her first encounter with a water slide. Snowy had heard of Pepper, indeed, there was noone in the community who hadn’t heard of the long haired cub, but she’d never seen her until that day. When she saw fleur walking into the complex, closely followed by, what looked to snowy like a tawny bundle of fur on short legs crawling in after her. Snowy wondered briefly what this thing was. It was only when she heard fleur address the bundle by the name Pepper that bells began to ring in Snowy’s mind. Snowy zoomed in on pepper with her camera, examining the cub closely. Snowy could see the cub’s greyish black spotted undercoat beneath her tawny topcoat, and even managed to catch a glimpse of the greyish spotted fur on the sole of one of the cub’s large hind paws as she turned to go up the slope leading to the water slide. Snowy caught her breath, and had to fight down an urge to run downstairs and throw her paws around the cub. Snowy wanted desperately to hug the cub, and mewed softly as was her way when feeling protective towards cubs. Snowy didn’t know then that she’d left the microphone open on public address system.
Fleur heard Snowy’s mew through the loud speaker system, soft though the sound was. Smiling, she touched Pepper’s paw.
“One go on the slide Pepper dear,” Fleur mewed, “and then we’ll go and meet a dear friend of mine.” Pepper, eager to meet everyone, asked.
“Where is your friend?”
“Up in a very secret place,” Fleur said. Pepper smiled.
“Will you show me this place?” She asked.
“Yes I will,” fleur replied.
“Let’s go now!” Pepper said eagerly, tugging at Fleur’s paw. Fleur grinned, looked up at the camera and a voice, seemingly from nowhere said:
“Bring her up here fleur.” Fleur new Snowy was about to be added to Pepper’s extended family, just as she’d been added to her own when she was young.
Fleur took Pepper’s paw and guided her towards the lift. Opening the door, fleur led her ever trusting cub into the lift. Placing her paw on the paw print scanner, fleur pushed the switch upwards to tell the lift to go to the floor which led to the control room. The lift ascended, and fleur saw Pepper dig the toes of her three free paws into the lift floor for support. Fleur gently stroked her cub’s paw, and this calmed her enough to reach the upper floor without Pepper freaking out. Padding along the corridor, fleur was acutely aware that she and her cub were being watched by Snowy. This was further confirmed when they were admitted to the control room without fleur scanning her paw. Snowy was again watching them via a split screen monitor, just as she’d done when fleur herself had entered the control room that first time. Smiling snowy pushed back from the desk with one white forepaw, at the same time spinning her chair to face the two newcomers, completing her display by leaping off the chair in one fluid movement. Padding quickly and noiselessly over to Pepper, snowy took the startled cub’s paw in hers.
“Welcome my dear,” snowy purred; looking at Pepper with the same gentle expression fleur first encountered three hours after her birth. Pepper relaxed on seeing the look in Snowy’s eyes, realising this huge tigress was no threat to her, and never could be.
Snowy hugged Pepper tenderly; the tigresses touch bringing tears to the cub’s eyes.
“I know Pepper my dear,” Fleur said gently. Pepper sniffed.
“I’m sorry,” the cub sobbed, “I don’t know why I’m crying.” Snowy and fleur knew well enough. Snowy knew the affect she had on cubs. Pepper calmed down after a while, and was even able to return Snowy’s hug. Snowy examined the cub from nose to tail, even examining her paws.
“Your long hair must tickle your paws Pepper,” Snowy observed, looking down at her right hind paw, the sole of Pepper’s paw facing the ceiling as the cub was still crawling on all fours, and could not yet stand on her paws. Pepper smiled:
“My pads and toes are tickled by my hair all the time,” she replied, “sometimes I think someone’s tickling my paws while I’m crawling, when they’re not at all. It’s my long hair tickling me!” Snowy laughed merrily, as she could see the cub was amused by her own situation.
“Your hair is so long that when you finally do walk, you’ll look like you are floating across the carpet little one,” snowy mewed. Pepper didn’t understand what the snow tigress was saying, but fleur did, and smiled lovingly at her.
“I like it when my paws are stroked,” Pepper purred. Snowy, smiling, gently stroked the pads of Pepper’s left hind paw with the toes of her own left fore, Pepper catching Snowy’s toes in her own and briefly holding them.
“I love that,” Pepper mewed. Snowy tugged playfully at her now trapped paw, Pepper wiggling the toes holding Snowy’s so they massaged them. Snowy laughed merrily, Pepper letting go of her paw.
“Your paws are spotted like your mum’s,” Snowy said. Pepper looked at fleur, smiling at her.
“I know they are,” she mewed, “the soles of mum’s paws are muddy brown though, mine are grey. We both have black spots on our paws though, and that’s lovely.” Fleur hugged her cub tightly, kissing Pepper on her nose and the toes of her shaggy left forepaw. Pepper smiled, kissing Fleur’s nose and left forepaw in return. Fleur embraced her cub tightly, rubbing her down with her huge paws.
“I love this,” Pepper mewed, cuddling up to her foster mum and working her huge, soft, hairy paws into Fleur’s as she reached them during Pepper’s rub down, fleur embracing each of Pepper’s huge warm thickly furred, hairy paws in hers. Fleur massaged and embraced each of Pepper’s paws in turn with infinite care and consideration.
“I love having my paws stroked and tickled,” Pepper said dreamily. Fleur finished Pepper’s all over rub down with a warm hug. Pepper loved every minute of this, especially the paw massage and hug. Snowy watched fleur and Pepper, knowing fleur would never leave her adopted cub to face the world alone.
“Have you taught Pepper here how to find her nose and her toes like you did Bianca?” Snowy asked fleur. Fleur smiled at the memory of the games she and Bianca played.
“Pepper has picked it up as she’s gone along,” fleur said, “what with her hair tickling the soles of her paws all the time, Pepper’s learned quickly about her paws. We also play quite a bit, and that helps to identify our noses, tails, toes, bellies, paw pads etc, so Pepper’s doing fine.” While fleur was saying this, Snowy had lain down on the control room carpet, Pepper taking hold of the snow tigress’s left forepaw. Pepper was soon engaged in taking a hard look at Snowy’s paw. Pepper examined the white fur on Snowy’s paw, as well as her toes, before turning her paw over and looking at her pads. Pepper displayed all of Fleur’s gentleness while touching Snowy’s pads and toes, and performing her visual check. Pepper seemed totally absorbed in her work.
“Pepper’s totally focused on my paw,” snowy remarked.
“Yes,” Fleur said, “she should have asked you first, but I’ll let her off as I’ve been rather slack in enforcing that. You see, neither me, Nick, nor anyone else Pepper’s met minds her examining them from noses to paw pads while they’re around us. In fact I know they quite like it when she does it, but I really must instil in her that she must ask first.”
“Maybe she just knew I wouldn’t mind,” Snowy mewed, “I really don’t mind at all fleur.” Fleur smiled at snowy, who was rapidly becoming as absorbed by Pepper’s thorough inspection of her paw as the cub herself was.
It was about then Pepper remembered someone owned the paw she was stroking. Looking up into the tigress’s face, Pepper met Snowy’s gaze, which was kind and inquisitive.
“What have you found Pepper?” Snowy asked.
“You’ve got five toes on your forepaws, and,” she glanced at Snowy’s left hind paw, the toes of which were just visible from where she lay, “four on your hind,” Pepper replied. Snowy wiggled the toes of the hind paw in question, Pepper smiling at her.
“I noticed you examining my paws,” snowy purred, “want a closer look at my other forepaw, and how about my hind paws too?” Pepper, realising she’d been found out, looked at fleur, ashamed at her curiosity.
“Snowy likes her paws touched and examined just like you do,” Fleur replied, “just remember to ask first next time Pepper.” Pepper looked at snowy to see if the huge tigress was angry with her.
“Please,” snowy said gently, “Pepper, would you look at all four of my paws?” Pepper smiled and patted the forepaw she held in both of hers.”
“When I’ve done that, would you look at my paws Snowy?” Pepper asked. Snowy smiled.
“Of course I will,” she purred, “but promise me you’ll take a look at mine first and I’d like it if you’d stroke them too, for I really like that a lot.” Pepper smiled at snowy.
“I will, I promise I will,” she purred. Snowy curled the toes of the paw Pepper was stroking around the cub’s, Pepper smiling as she felt Snowy’s touch.
“Your paws are massive!” Pepper exclaimed as she examined Snowy’s right forepaw, “are you related to mister Fat Paws?”
“Mister Fat paws?” Snowy asked, confused.
“She means Nick,” fleur said laughing, Pepper heard him referred to as mister Fat paws, and thinks that’s his name.” This amused snowy greatly, and she laughed for some time.
“No,” she said when she’d recovered, “I’m not related to Nick, or “mister fat paws” as you call him, “though I might as well be, seeing the size of my paws. Then again, looking at yours Pepper, you could be related to him too, look at these paws! They’re huge paws for a two week old cub!” Snowy grabbed one of Pepper’s forepaws and held it up for inspection by her and Fleur.
“I know I’ve got huge paws!” Pepper said, laughing as snowy tickled her pads. Snowy rubbed Pepper’s paw to soothe her. Smiling, Pepper kissed snowy on her nose, just as she did Fleur’s when expressing affection for her. Snowy’s eyes filled with tears at this, and she dropped Pepper’s paw, the cub thinking for an instant she’d offended snowy, but then, Pepper found herself enveloped in the huge paws of a snow tigress who wanted to embrace and protect a young cub. Snowy’s paws were large and soft, her embrace firm and welcoming, one which made pepper want to snuggle up forever, much as Fleur’s did.
“Go on Pepper,” fleur said, sensing her cub’s mood, “cuddle up to snowy.” Pepper snuggled up to the snow tigress and buried her face in Snowy’s thick fur, working her paws into it too, and ending up curled against Snowy’s body, the huge tigress holding her as close as Fleur did when she hugged her.
Pepper purred contentedly as she fell rapidly into a deep sleep.
Fleur watched her cub sleeping embraced by the paws of a tigress that she felt almost as close to as she did Elsa. Snowy, still lying on the carpet, embraced Pepper with all the love and care of a mother for her cub. Fleur settled down beside Snowy, the images of the pool complex ever changing on the screens around them, but forgotten by the big cats as they enjoyed each other’s company.
The phone rang, startling snowy out of sleep. Scrambling to her paws, she woke Pepper, who looked at her, stretched and scrambled onto all fours. Snowy grabbed the handset of the phone in one huge white paw and listened.
“Leo?” She asked, “What’s the matter?” There was a pause and then snowy again:
“A panda you say? Where?” Snowy whacked a button on the console with her free paw, Leo’s voice coming clearly over the loud speakers.
“A panda in the garden focus that bloody camera on it, and then you might see it!” Leo yelled his ambivalence to Snowy’s pet project clear to all.
“Right,” Snowy said, pressing yet another button and dumping the handset on the cradle, going paws free, “let me see, ah yes, a panda, enjoying his lunch by the look of it.” Leo stared out of the window in the living room, snowy watching him and the panda simultaneously on a split screen.
“I don’t know why you’re looking so flustered Leo,” snowy mewed, “it’s not your responsibility any more to worry about whether another panda joins our community.” Leo looked confused, and then angry.
“Snowy,” he asked quietly, “You haven’t installed cameras in this house have you? Tell me you haven’t done that!”
“Not me,” snowy mewed, “the boss did it.”
“I can’t stand this!” Leo yelled slamming down the phone.
“Oh dear,” Pepper mewed, realising something was wrong with the lion on the screen.
“That’s Leo, he’s not very technologically minded,” Snowy mewed, waving her paw at the angry lion on the screen, who was now leaping about and screaming with silent rage.
“I don’t know if I want to meet him,” Pepper mewed.
“Leo’s a lovely lion,” Fleur said, “He just doesn’t like being watched.” Snowy watched the panda on the screen. The panda was now pacing about the garden, still chewing nervously on his bamboo shoot.
“Poor thing,” fleur mewed, meaning the panda, “Let’s let him in here.”
“Okay,” Snowy said, “but be it on your head if he is unfriendly.”
“Wait!” Pepper said, holding up a huge hairy paw, “the panda’s been seen by Theo, at least I think its Theo.” Fleur nodded at her cub as she watched Theo and the panda’s meeting. Snowy pressed a button on the control panel, giving audio feedback from the camera watching the garden.
Theo held a paw up to stop the bamboo crunching panda’s pacing, who, when he saw the lion, nearly fled!
“Stop chewing on that bamboo shoot for one second will you?” Theo asked. The panda looked at him.
“But you’re a lion,” the panda whimpered, tearing more furiously at the bamboo shoot held in one paw.
“Give me that!” Theo snapped, snatching the bamboo shoot and crushing it under his paw.
“Now look at me!” Theo said, thoroughly exasperated by the panda’s behaviour.
“I, I am,” the panda stammered, “you’re large, that’s for sure.” Theo obviously couldn’t understand why this bear was so scared of him, noone previously, who hadn’t got good reason, had ever been scared of him.
“I won’t harm you,” Theo mewed. The panda stared at the crushed bamboo shoot under Theo’s well padded paw.
“Don’t, don’t hurt me, please!” The panda begged, almost prostrating himself at Theo’s feet. Theo lay down and caught the Panda in his paws, holding the shivering bear tightly.
“I won’t harm you, Calm down will you!” Theo mewed, “I promise you I won’t harm you!” The panda shook from his nose to his toes.
“My name’s Shen,” he gasped, “I’m, I’m lost, alone, and now in the paws of a huge lion!”
“If you think I’m large, you wait until you see Leo,” Theo thought.
Snowy, fleur and Pepper listened to the conversation taking place between the panda and the lion.
“We are a gentle community here,” Theo purred, “We don’t mean anyone any harm. We will look after you Shen until you want to leave here, or, you can stay if you’d like.” Shen stared at Theo.
“I’m homeless,” he said, “I have nowhere else to go.” Theo looked into Shen’s face, then, very gently, kissed the panda on his nose. This gesture brought tears to Shen’s eyes, for he knew then what he’d suspected from the look in Theo’s own eyes. The lion loved him as if he was his cub. Now Shen didn’t mind the fact Theo had crushed his bamboo shoot under paw, nor did he mind the fact he was between the paws of this huge lion, in fact he wanted to stay where he was forever.
“We’ll find you bamboo shoots to eat,” Theo mewed, “we have other pandas here you know, and they will welcome you into their midst I’m sure.” Shuang was at that very moment watching Shen with interest. The panda cub padded out into the garden, touched Theo’s shoulder with her paw and, when the lion turned his head and his eyes met hers, she asked:
“Can I?” Theo, realising what the cub meant, smiled and nodded: “As you can see,” Theo said to the panda cub, “I’ve crushed his bamboo shoot beneath my paw. Would you be so good as to find him another one?” Shuang smiled and nodded, taking Shen’s paw and leading him towards the house.
Shuang led Shen into the living room, the other animals watching him with interest.
Meanwhile, Pepper and fleur left the control room, but not before Pepper and snowy had hugged each other one last time. Fleur saw snowy had fallen head over paws in love with her cub and she was glad of it.
Leaving the control room, Pepper and Fleur descended using the lift, knowing snowy was watching their every move. Leaving the complex, they met Theo, who was trying to stop Leo from leaping up to destroy the CCTV camera on the wall of the house.
“You might be glad of those camera one day Leo,” Fleur said, brushing past him. Leo rounded on her.
“What good could these cameras do?” He snapped.
“if you are in trouble, Snowy or someone else could see you and direct help to you,” fleur mewed, “snowy can also talk to you through speakers placed all over the place, reassuring you until help arrives.” Leo snarled and growled his protest, but said nothing more, and strangely, stopped trying to destroy the camera.
“Now we have a nice calm lion, rather than a raging fury,” Pepper remarked. Leo stared at her.
“What is that?” He asked, waving a paw at Pepper, who didn’t seem in the least phased by him.
“Who I think you mean,” Fleur replied, “her name’s Pepper, and she’s my cub,”
“Your, your cub?” Leo asked, interrupting fleur, “you didn’t have a cub did you fleur? No, you couldn’t have!”
“Perdy did,” Fleur replied, “Tommy Trip was the father of her cub. I now look after Pepper, as Perdy wants nothing more to do with her cub. Pepper knows this and regards me as her mum, as I regard her as my birth cub. Leo looked at Pepper, at her strange long tawny topcoat, rather like his own mane in texture and appearance, and the thick spotted snow leopard like fur of her face and belly.
“You are a strange looking cub,” Leo said, “but I know that with Fleur looking after you, you will be safe here.”
“Are you saying there are some who would harm me if mum wasn’t looking after me?” Pepper asked.
“Um, well, some might,” Leo replied.
“Who might harm Pepper?” Theo asked.
“the capybara might cause problems for her, though they are less of a problem now Tarker’s dead,” Leo replied, “also, there’s Stifftail, he hates anything which looks strange, Fleur, Petra and now Pepper., I heard him sounding off to Perdy about how horrid her cub looked, and Perdy agreed with him.” Theo growled deep in his throat:
“Not another problem brewing,” he snarled, “Stifftail should have been killed with his vindictive mate!”
“Oh yes, there’s a snow leopard in the front hall too, she’s heavy with cub, and due to have her cub any day.” Theo dashed into the house, meeting Yi Jie coming fast the other way. Colliding, the lion and panda tripped over each other’s paws, ending up sprawled in a tawny and piebald heap of fur on the floor of the passage. Apologising profusely to each other, Theo and Yi Jie picked themselves up, checked each other over for injuries, and then Yi Jie told Theo why she’d been running.
“That female snow leopard is having her cub in the cubbing den,” she said. Theo yelled to Fleur, who, overhearing the conversation ran with him to the cubbing den, Pepper following at her heels.
The sound of a snow leopard in labour issued from the cubbing den. Mewing and crying, as well as the desperate scrabbling of paws searching for purchase to brace against anything greeted fleur and Pepper as they arrived. Theo let Fleur do her work, while he kept an eye on Pepper. The female snow Leopard lying on the rug glanced up as fleur entered, then she was seized by another contraction. Wriggling, closing her eyes and Opening her mouth in a scream of pain, the female snow leopard scrabbled for Fleur’s paw. Gripping it in both her forepaws, she squeezed Fleur’s paw hard! Fleur felt the snow leopard’s grip relax as the contraction spent itself.
“What’s happening?” Pepper asked.
“The female Snow leopard’s giving birth to her cub,” Theo replied.
“Can I watch?” Pepper asked, “I’m interested.
“You’d better ask the snow leopard mum first,” Theo replied.
“It’s okay,” the poor snow leopard replied, “she, she can watch.” Pepper padded round to the female snow leopard’s tail, touching her left fore and hind paws as she passed.
“Now give it your all when you feel the urge to push,” fleur said. Pepper watched as the female snow leopard tensed, scrabbled for purchase on something with all four paws, the toes of one hind paw gripping those of Pepper’s right forepaw, and heaved! Pepper saw the tiny paws and head of a cub emerging from beneath the labouring mother’s tail. Panting and screaming, the mother to be piled on the pressure, her cub shooting fourth, its mum yowling with pain and gripping the toes of Pepper’s paw with all her strength.
“Go on, push against your cub!” Pepper mewed, taking her lead from Fleur, who grinned at her cub.
“Stroke the pads of the snow leopard’s paw holding yours with your free forepaw Pepper,” Fleur said. Pepper tried it, and the female snow leopard pressed her pads against Pepper’s paw during the lull in contractions.
“One more push should do it,” Fleur said to the exhausted mother to be, “come on, squeeze Pepper’s toes with yours, take a deep breath, and push as hard as you can!” The snow leopard did as Fleur asked, and her cub slid completely into the world. Feeling the labour was over, the new mother released Pepper’s paw, opened her eyes and turned her head to find Pepper, who’d guessed what needed to happen next, dragging the newborn cub towards her head. The female snow leopard stared at her cub and at the strange cub doing her best to drag her newborn cub.
“Let me help,” she mewed, taking her tiny cub in her paws and hugging it.
“That was wonderful!” Pepper mewed. The female snow leopard smiled with genuine pleasure.
“I think those were your toes I curled mine round,” she mewed.
“They were, and here’s the paw to which those toes belong,” Pepper replied, holding out her paw. The female snow leopard kissed Pepper’s offered paw.
“Thank you both,” she mewed to fleur and Pepper, who hugged her in turn.
“You did a fantastic job Pepper,” Fleur mewed, embracing her cub.
“I enjoyed it,” Pepper replied. She turned to the new mother.
“Thank you for letting me is a part in the birth of your cub,” Pepper mewed. The female snow leopard smiled and replied softly:
“Its okay, Thanks for being there.” Pepper touched the newborn cub’s tiny paw with her large one.
“Welcome to the community little one,” Pepper mewed. Theo laughed slightly.
“You can’t really say that Pepper,” he mewed, “you’re not leader, I am.” Pepper looked down at her paws, greatly ashamed.
“Sorry,” she mewed. Theo then did something he’d been longing to do ever since Pepper had been born, take her in his paws. Theo enveloped Pepper in a huge hug. Pepper cuddled up to Theo, who purred contentedly.
Meanwhile, the female snow leopard cleaned up and fed her cub.
“We’re safe here,” she mewed to her cub, which cuddled close to her.
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