Summer learning.

 

Jonathan, Peter and Sally followed Miss Chartwell to the big house.  The children and their teacher carried their shoes in bags, determined to go barefoot as the bears were.      “You can put on your shoes if you wish,”  Orbon said to them, but all refused.

        “I’ll be shot for this,”  Miss Chartwell said.

       “No Cynthia you won’t,”  Orbon replied, “your cubs love their adventure, and you explained to their parents what they would be doing, bare footed and all.”

         “the woodland floor feels great under my feet,”  Sally said, bouncing on her toes a little.  Peter and Jonathan bounced on their toes a bit too, Miss Chartwell watching them with smiling eyes.

         “We’re near the house now,”  Orbon said.  Walking through a footbath and entering the main Lobby, Orbon found Sooleawa standing guard.

        “I’ve been warned I have human hind feet to check for thorns,”  Sooleawa said.  Orbon translating for the humans who could not understand community dialect.

         “Who taught you?”  miss Chartwell asked.

        “jess taught me,”  Sooleawa replied smiling, “I will be very gentle.”  The humans knelt, giggling as Sooleawa’s paws gently explored the soles of their feet from heel to toes, pressing pads and soles, from heel pad to soft sole skin and finally toe pads.

       “this makes me want to curl my toes and laugh like a little girl,”  Cynthia said smiling.

      “Why not curl your toes then?”  Orbon asked, “we won’t mind.”  Cynthia did, and felt better for doing so, first gently curling her toes, then relaxing them, then tightly curling them, Sally and Jonathan were already laughing, Sooleawa’s exploration so gentle she tickled their toes.

       “you’re tickling us!”  they laughed.

       “Sorry,”  Sooleawa replied contritely.

         “I do like your touch on my foot pads though,”  Sally said, curling her toes when she felt Sooleawa touch them, feeling them catch Sooleawa’s and hold them.

         “I’ve caught a bear!”  Sally laughed.  Sooleawa smiled and kissed the heel of Sally’s right foot, the young girl giggling with pleasure.  Orbon, grinning, padded up behind Cynthia Chartwell and blew gently on the adult human’s foot from heel to toes, Cynthia Chartwell laughing helplessly.

        “I think that’s what you wanted wasn’t it?”  he asked, Cynthia laughing merrily and shuffling round to hug him.

         “I love you,”  she said, snuggling up to Orbon.

       “your hind feet are clean, now please wash your hand paws well,”  Sooleawa said to Orbon and his group, having checked over their paws and feet.  Indigo smiled as she carefully checked over his right hind foot, curling his toes to catch her paw.

      “let’s go,”  Indigo said to the group, padding away, the others following.

         “We’ll get food first,”  Orbon said, leading the way to Patch’s lie up, and opening a door which hadn’t been opened in years.

        “This is the dining room used by sire Koda when he was human,”  Orbon said, “there are a table and chairs here,”  Orbon said, and a human style toilet down a passage too.”  Everyone washed their hands or paws, then sat down, then, as Kendal brought a rattling trolley into the room, Sid went about setting out warmed plates, beef stew and a cheese and potatoes pie. With vegetables, wine, beer and fresh juice.

      “how old are these little man cubs?”  he asked.

       “Peter and Jonathan are eight, and Sally is nine,”  Cynthia replied, “I don’t think they can drink alcohol, but I can.  They’ll drink juice.”  Sid smiled and bowed.  Leaving the table after setting down the cutlery.

        “Enjoy your meal friends,”  he said.

       “You can stand on your hind feet like a man!”  Sally exclaimed.

       “I can,”  Sid replied smiling, bowing and retiring with Kendal, who’d watched everything.

         “You served them expertly,”  he said,  Sid smiling gently.

        “We’ll serve them desert in a bit, though I must go in and pour drinks,”  he rubbed his paws together with delight, “I’ve been wafting for this for ages!”

 

The happy group ate their dinner, happily chatting about all sorts of things, from the community to what they’d do after dinner.

       “Wait and see,” was Orbon’s reply.  We’ll go to the play room after dinner and meet other cubs.  We will see what happens then.”

        “Will we sleep here tonight?”  Jonathan asked.

        “yes,”  Orbon replied, “Jess and Charles Fullbeans have arranged it with your parents, we will take care of you, and keep you safe here so you can stay here for a few days.  School’s out in the traditional sense, but you’re learning all the time here.”

       “we’ll learn how to play, how to touch with our hands, how to be gentle, and have gentle done to us,”  Cynthia said, “I can’t wait for a cub to touch my hand or the sole of my foot and cuddle up just because they like what they feel.”

       “I can’t either,”  Sally said, “though I’ve made one friend already.”  Patch smiled gently.

       “You touched my hind foot with your hand, gentility in your heart,”  he said, “so I curled my toes around your fingers to keep the contact.”

       “I remember,”  Sally replied, “and when I secretly touched your hind foot when you sat cross legged telling the story, you still let me touch your foot, stopping my fingers by catching them with the toes of your right hind foot Patch, that was so cute!”

         “I loved every minute,”  he replied.

       “I know, so did I,”  Sally replied smiling.

        “If I feel the need to pretend to deliver a cub, would you mind me roaring and screaming like you did snowdrop?”  Sally asked.

       “No,”  snowdrop replied, mopping up gravy on her plate with bread held in her paw, while sitting on a chair like Sally was.

      “I don’t mind,”  she replied, “I’d like to see it.  Jess does it from time to time too you know, pretend to have a cub.  she still does.  It’s irresistible here.”

        “I saw Tiguak delivering her cub, it was amazing!”  Sally said, “and to see snowdrop’s labour and delivery into the world  of Kamchatka was lovely too.”

        “You will have a chance to play at having a cub, just like most cubs do here,”  Orbon replied, “if all the birth play I see was real, we’d be overrun by cubs now.”

         “I want to meet Sita,”  Peter said, “she is so cool!”

        “She’s scruffy,”  Sally said.

       “but she’s dead cool all the same, really cute, and I just want to hug her and stroke her paws so much!”  peter said.  Sally smiled:

        “I can see what you mean there,”  she said.

 

After dinner, the children and Miss Chartwell washed their hands and walked to the great room, where they met as many of the community as were there at the time.  Kuruk, most hostile to any human presence, grumbled a bit, but sat down to hear what the humans had to say.

         “this is miss Cynthia Chartwell,”  Orbon said, resting a paw on miss Chartwell’s shoulder, “she will explain to us all why she, and some of her class from the school are here.”

        “Good evening,”  Miss Chartwell said, “we come from the school in the local town, and my class have been studying this community for years, as well as helping with the razing of Tiguak, a zoo bred polar bear cub.  Tiguak is now here, and has had problems recently after the birth of her cub.  patch came to our school some time ago, to speak to us, and we ended up playing with him.  Now he and Orbon your leader, have come back, and invited some of us here to visit you.  We will not interrupt your lives, though if you wish to invite us into your lie ups to show us how you live, we would be very grateful.”

        “I hope you will visit me and the cubs in the soft play room,”  Sita said smiling.

      “Indeed we will!”  Jonathan said, “Sita, I think you are so cool!”  Sita smiled and padded to Jonathan, sitting down beside him, the young boy touching her paw, then impulsively embracing her, Sita’s purr vibrating through the walls.

       “now that’s not very polite Jonathan, you didn’t even ask her if you could hug her!”  Miss Chartwell snapped, though seeing Sita embracing Jonathan made her quickly revise her lecture.

        “Um, oh,”  she said, as Sita and Jonathan rolled about on the floor together, each tickling the other’s hind feet with much laughter from both.

         “Dear Sita,”  Orbon said, his eyes shining.

       “Sita has a lovely face, and lovely paws and feet, and gorgeous fur, and I just want to hug her forever!”  Jonathan said, Sita laughing merrily and tickling his toes with as much ease as she did those of one of her own charges in the soft play room.

       “Kuruk see humans submitting to Sooleawa checking their bare foot paws over for thorns and things, and hear them laughing when she tickle their toes,”  Kuruk grunted, “so Kuruk don’t think them all bad if they like hind feet tickled by silver coated cub.”

        “I enjoyed Sooleawa’s inspection of my feet,”  Miss Chartwell said, “it was fun and felt great..”

        “She’s mad about paws and hind feet,”  Sita laughed, “her fascination with them has turned into her job.”

        “she was very gentle,”  Cynthia said, “it’s almost worth going into the wood and returning to the house so she checks my feet over again.”

        “I did that four times, and when she realised what I’d done, Sooleawa tickled my hind feet until I cried with laughter,”  Sita said.

 

Sally walked over to Anernerk, who lay curled up sleeping her head resting on snowdrop’s  shoulder.

       “Who’s this?”  she asked, touching Anernerk’s shoulder.

        “she’s my younger cub, well, my adopted cub,”  Snowdrop said, “her name’s Anernerk, it means angel.  Sally stroked Anernerk’s soft silky fur, marvelling at how large her paws and feet were.

       “She’s got huge paws and feet!”  Sally said, “I feel sorry for the poor mama who delivered her!”

       “I think that’s why Tiguak abandoned her,”  snowdrop replied.

          “We have been learning about that,”  Sally said, “cubs who are abandoned by their mums might abandon their own cubs.  Poor Anernerk, but she has fallen on her paws, for she is loved here, I can see that.”

       “Indigo and Moonshadow love her hugely,”  snowdrop said.

       “Show her to all the community, and I’m sure they’ll love her just as much as Indigo and Moonshadow do,”  Sally replied.

          “I’ll let you all roam about the house, meeting all the community who want to say hello,”  Orbon said, “but please, if they don’t want to meet you, respect their choice, we are a free people.”

          “okay,”  Cynthia Chartwell said.

        “what I’d like to see is the birth of a cub, right now,”  Sally said.  Orbon laughed:

        “We are a thriving community, but cubs aren’t born every day,”  he replied.

         “though you do pretend to have cubs don’t you?”  Cynthia asked, “maybe they can see that?”

       “Ekaterina does anti natal courses,”  Orbon replied, “I think she’s rerouted Lihua to that job.  Lihua is a good actress also.  She can act out the birth of a cub, she’s great at it, and is very entertaining to watch too, as she has striking fur and paw pads.”

       “I would like to touch a mama bear while she’s having her cub,”  Sally said, “to stroke her fur and paws, to comfort her if I can.”

        “It will only be pretend,”  Lihua said, padding forward.

        “the stuck foot game is pretend, and I play that,”  Sally said smiling, “my feet stick to Jonathan’s easily.”  Orbon smiled at Sally, Jonathan grinning at her.

       “We played for an hour a few days ago,”  he said, “Sally and I got really stuck.  It was fun!”

 

Peter looked at Orbon and asked:

       “Can I play the stuck foot game with you Orbon?”  Orbon smiled:

       “if you like,”  he replied.

       “We usually check each other’s feet for thorns and sore spots before we play, can I touch your pads and toes?”  Peter asked.  Orbon grinned, sitting opposite peter.

         “We also check each other’s feet for sore patches here,”  he said, “can I check your feet over by touch?”  peter smiled:

      “yes please,”  he replied.

       “I’ll let you check my feet over first,”  Orbon replied, “now do it carefully, from toes to heels.  Don’t be afraid to ask me to curl or stretch my toes either.”

        “You want me to ask you to curl your toes don’t you,”  Peter said smiling.

        “I would like it if you did,”  Orbon replied.

        “Will you ask me to curl my toes?”  Peter asked.

       “Do they want to curl?”  Orbon asked.  peter looked down at his right foot, seeing his toes curl with emotion.

       “yes, yes they do!”  he said, wriggling with suppressed emotions he had never felt before.  Peter took Orbon’s right hind foot in his hands, resting the heel of the bear’s huge foot on his left leg.  Smiling, Peter explored Orbon’s toes, pressing his toe pads, then the large sole pad of Orbon’s foot, pressing from just below his toes to the mid sole, and then to his heel.  Orbon, feeling Peter’s fingers pressing into the soft skin on the sole of his foot, just below his toes, gasped and curled his toes tightly, wriggling with pleasure. Peter smiled and gently massaged the place where his fingers pressed, Orbon feeling his forepaws clenching, the pleasure filling him up from his foot to his head.  Peter gently rubbed the sole of Orbon’s foot with his fingers, Orbon bouncing about and struggling to curl his toes even tighter.

        “you have a great touch Peter!”  Orbon gasped, the others watching him with interest.

        “Stretch your toes, and curl them,”  peter suggested, Orbon forcing his toes to relax, then desperately curling them.  Orbon pulled his foot away slightly, then let Peter have hold of it again, Orbon closing his eyes and breathing deeply.

          “help me curl my toes peter,”  Orbon gasped, Peter drawing circles on the sole of Orbon’s right foot, the male bear striving to curl his toes tighter and tighter.

       “Must curl my toes like I could when I was a cub, must curl them a bit more, just a little bit more!”  Orbon gasped, wriggling with effort.

       “He’s really trying Miss Chartwell, Orbon’s really trying to curl his toes really tightly,”  Sally whispered.

        “I think he is doing well,”  she replied.

        “your pads are bunching up cutely,”  Peter said, drawing a circle on Orbon’s heel with his fingers, Orbon relaxing his toes and making one final effort to curl his toes as tightly as he knew he’d been able to do when he was a cub.

         “That’s really cute,”  Peter said.

       “Okay, that’s enough, I can’t curl my toes any more,”  Orbon panted, relaxing his toes as peter pressed his fingers into Orbon’s toe pads and sole pad, rechecking his friend’s foot from toes to heel.

        “Wow, that felt good!”  Orbon panted.

         “it did,”  peter replied.  Now to check your other foot over Orbon, then you can check my feet for thorns, okay?”  Orbon smiled weakly, but his eyes were open and shining.

        “You have a really interesting touch,”  Orbon said when he could speak.  Peter took Orbon’s left foot, and Orbon found the whole thing starting again, his urge to curl his toes like an excited cub made his toes ache, but he kept trying to curl them tighter and together, Orbon and Peter tried to encourage the toes of Orbon’s right foot to curl tightly, Orbon wriggling and struggling, Peter stroking and massaging, urging Orbon to try harder, Orbon wanting to struggle, wanting to fight hard.

          “I hope I can encourage you to curl your toes like you did me to curl mine,,”  Orbon gasped.

        “Get paws on and you might,”  Peter said, hearing Indigo describing what was going on to Sita and Patch.  Peter felt Orbon’s pads becoming damp with sweat of effort as the bear fought to curl his toes tighter and tighter as he’d done before.

         “there are no thorns here,”  Peter said, if there were your stretching and curling your toes would have eased them out of your pads Orbon.”  Orbon smiled broadly at this, peter looking into the grey bear’s face.

         “would you check my feet over now Orbon?”  peter asked.  Orbon took the young boy’s right foot in his paws and began pressing the toe pads and sole pads, Peter finding his toes curling with pleasure, then curling tighter and tighter, peter imitating Orbon, right down to his own struggle to curl his toes as tightly as he could.

        “I know how Orbon feels now,”  Peter thought.

        “My toes like your touch Orbon,”  Peter gasped, “the rest of my foot does too!”  Orbon smiled and pressed the digits of his paw into the soft ball of peter’s right foot, Peter wriggling and whimpering, then curling his toes as tightly as he could.

         “This is pure foot play!”  Indigo said smiling, “it’s amazing to watch, all driven by pleasure of one giving play and pleasure to another.”

        “I’ll draw circles on the sole of your foot now,”  Orbon said to Peter, Peter wriggling closer to Orbon, pressing his right foot into the bear’s warm paws.

          “massage my foot Orbon!”  peter begged, Orbon rubbing the young boy’s foot, peter smiling broadly.

        “Now for your left foot little one,”  Orbon said, peter smiling and giving the large bear his left foot.

         “this is everything I was told never to do with my feet,”  peter replied.  Orbon smiled:

       “it’s everything we’re taught to do with ours,”  he replied, “we’re very tactile here, paws touching hind feet are the way we communicate.”

        “I like it,”  peter said, feeling Orbon’s exploration of his left foot move from his toes to gently pressing the ball of his foot and down to the sole of his foot, and on  to his heel.

        “now you’re feet are checked over, we can play the stuck foot game properly,”  Orbon said.

       “I want feet as big as yours Orbon,”  peter said, “is there a way of getting my feet to grow?”  Orbon smiled and gently played with the toes of peter’s right foot as he thought for a minute, peter curling his toes, and Orbon massaging the ball of his foot until he stretched his toes.

         “Okay,”  Orbon said, you can either do this yourself, or I could help you with this.  we measure feet, heel pad to heel pad, and find where your toes reach on my foot.  You could then try stretching your toes without the help of your hands.”

       “Just curl my toes and stretch them?”  Peter asked.

        “yes,”  Orbon replied smiling.

       “Don’t they know how to play the games?”  Koda hissed to Morag.

        “Asking the questions is all part of the game,”  Morag said, “you and I do it all the time Koda.  I pretend I don’t know what to do, and you show me from heel to toes, as it were.  It’s more fun that way.”

       “Is there another way?”  Peter asked.

      “There is, but first try measuring your feet against mine,”  Orbon said, peter did, finding his toes reached half way up Orbon’s sole pad.

        “Can I press my toes into your pads?”  Peter asked.

        “yes,”  Orbon replied, but my toes might curl and trap yours.”

      “That would be lovely if they did,”  Peter replied.  Peter curled and stretched the toes of first his left foot, then his right, everyone watching intently, or listening to descriptions of what was happening. Curling and stretching his toes having failed to enlarge his foot, Peter looked at Orbon.

       “Can I use my hands to help?”  he asked.  Orbon smiled and replied:

      “yes you can,”  Orbon said, I’ll show you if you want me to?”

        “Well I won’t know how to do it otherwise,”  peter said, wriggling with excitement.

        “Grab your right foot with your hands, your fingers gripping your heel pad,”  Orbon said, “then massage your heel with firm pressure in increasing circles with your fingers, moving up your foot to the sole, all the time curling and stretching your toes.  Curl your toes and massage the sole of your foot, then press into the wrinkled skin and stretch your toes strongly.  Peter tried this, and laughed at the sensation it set up in his foot.

      “Now I’ll bet when you help me, you massage my foot with your paw?”  he asked.  Orbon smiled:

       “if you try working at your right foot, I’ll help you with your left, how’s that?”  he asked.

       “That’s fine,”  Peter replied.  So Peter followed Orbon’s instructions, massaging the sole of his right foot with the fingers of both hands while curling and stretching his toes in an attempt to stretch his foot and make it as large as the grey bear’s foot only six inches away.

        “It isn’t working!”  Peter roared.

       “I’ll try with your other foot,”  Orbon said, powerfully massaging Peter’s left foot, pressing his heel with his paw, while Peter pressed his foot against the pressure of the bear’s massage in a desperate attempt to stretch his toes just a little further than he already could.

        Eeeeeeeow, heuuuuuumph!”  peter grunted as he struggled.

        “now are you ready to play the stuck foot game?”  Orbon asked, gently massaging the boy’s foot.

         “Yes, oh yes!”  Peter replied, and I hope my feet will stick firmly to yours.”

     “They will,”  Orbon replied, “and while we’re playing, patch or indigo can play with Sally and Jonathan can play the stuck foot game with Sita.  We’ll do that in the play room.”

       “your pads are warm and firm Orbon,”  peter said, “cute pads and toes if I may say so.  Orbon grinned hugely.

        “I play with my hind paws often,”  he said, “they need it, and I need it too.”

       “I often play with my toes Orbon,”  Peter said, “my toes curl when I play with them too, they can’t help curling!  But my mama doesn’t like it when I play with my toes, she says it’s wrong.”

      “That’s so sad,”  Orbon replied, and peter saw he meant what he said.  Orbon turned his head to Jonathan, who said:

       “We all play with our hind feet, miss Chartwell lets us play with each other, we set our own rules, no means no in our class.”

         “so you play the stuck foot games often?”  Orbon asked.

      “We do,”  Jonathan replied, “though it was good to see Patch demonstrating the game for us.  It showed us we were playing it the right way.  I have even played with Miss Chartwell.”

       “How old are you in human years Cynthia?”  Orbon asked.

       “I’m twenty five,”  the young woman replied, “young enough to play, but old enough to take responsibility.”

         “I thought so,”  Orbon said.

        “I love playing foot games, going barefoot, having my toes tickled by the grass, all that.  Sooleawa’s hind foot exploration reminded me of that time,  it was very nice.  Orbon examined Miss Chartwell, who wore a track suit, into which she’d changed before dinner.  Cynthia watched Orbon’s eyes, smiling as she saw him glance at her face, her hands, then her feet.

        “Your pads are firm and strong,”  Sooleawa said to Scythia, who smiled broadly.

       “I wish I could play like Peter was a few minutes ago,”  she said, “he believed in his playtime.”

       “You can, you have shown your pupils you can play,”  Sooleawa replied.  Sooleawa got paws on with Cynthia’s right foot, exploring her sole, heel pad and toes, Cynthia curling her toes tightly with pleasure.

       “Let’s go to the play room,”  Sita said.

       “I would join you there,”  Orbon replied, but mine and Peter’s feet seem stuck together here.”

        “Can I get paws on?”  Sita asked.

      “yes please,”  Peter replied.  Sita padded round and touched Peter’s feet, then Orbon’s.

      “yes you two are very well bonded, she said.  Peter felt his way around his right foot with his hands, finding the gap made by the arch of his foot, though the ball, toes and heel were stuck to Orbon’s foot, something Peter found with gentle testing.  Smiling, he gently tickled the sole of Orbon’s left foot, the bear laughing and curling his toes.

        “that’s not fair!”  Orbon laughed.

        “Sorry,”  peter said.

         “It’s okay,”  Orbon said smiling, gently testing the bond between his own right foot and Peter’s left.

        “Dig your fingers into the gap between the arch of your right foot and the pads of my left where your heel meets mine,”  Orbon said, “you dig your fingers in there, and I’ll pull at my right foot peter.”  Peter obeyed, and very slowly, with much grunting with effort and wriggling, peter freed the heel of his right foot from Orbon’s left hind foot.

        “My toes are firmly stuck!”  Peter exclaimed.

       “I know little one,”  Orbon replied smiling.  Peter suddenly grabbed his right foot in both hands and pulled, roaring with effort, his foot coming free with a rush.

        “My foot’s sore, very sore!”  Peter yelled, furiously massaging the ball and toes of his right foot with his hands, “ow, ow, ow!”  Orbon gently took the boy’s foot in his huge paws and massaged his toes and the sole of his foot, peter becoming quiet.

         “is that Better?”  Orbon asked, Peter smiling.

       “it is Orbon,”  he replied softly, “my foot being stuck to yours, and the struggle to free it was brilliant, and the soreness was all imagined, but the touch of your paws on my foot is not, the loving touch and massage that is.”  Orbon smiled gently.

         “That is genuine,”  he replied.

        “What about my other foot?”  peter asked.

        “What would you like?”  Orbon replied, “another contest, or just a good hind foot massage?”

       “A hind foot massage please,”  Peter replied.  So Orbon took hold of Peter’s bare left foot and massaged it, peter concentrating on curling, then stretching, then curling his toes as Orbon’s paws massaged the sensitive sole of his left foot, then manipulated peter’s toes, then massaged the pads of the ball and heel of his foot, Peter closing his eyes to focus his attention through the sole of his foot.

        “I love that,”  Peter said softly, curling his toes gently when he could.

        “if I crawl away, what will you do?”  peter asked.  Orbon smiled:

       “Try crawling away,”  he replied.  Peter did, and laughed as Orbon chased him and tickled his toes and the soft skin on the sole of his right foot.

      “This is amazing to watch a wild bear playing with a human,”  Cynthia said.

     “It is a bear who understands a human, and both want to play,”  Patch said, his words half drowned by Sally’s laughter as Indigo tickled her toes after chasing her round the room, Sally literally scrambling over Nuru to escape, the lion catching her in his paws and holding her for Indigo to tickle, Sally laughing helplessly throughout.

        “I’ve never been embraced by a lion before,”  Sally said as she felt Nuru kiss her nose and embrace her tightly.

       “You are beautiful,”  Sally said to Nuru, who nuzzled Sally’s ear.

         “You are safe here,”  Nuru purred softly.

        “You are a handsome lion,”  Sally said, Nuru rolling onto his back, showing Sally his belly and the soles of all four of his huge paws.

       “Cute paws, cute cubbish paws!”  Sally laughed, tickling the pads and toes of Nuru’s right hind foot, the lion wriggling and madly waving his free paws.

        “Soft paws, lovely paws,” Sally said, Nuru smiling gently.

        “tickle my other paws, please,”  Nuru said, sally obliging him, Nuru roaring with laughter and curling the toes of all four paws, making his pads bunch up, Sally Kissing his nose and the bunched pads of all four paws, Nuru calming down and purring softly.

 

Meanwhile Sita sat opposite Jonathan, the young boy tracing the pads and counting the toes on her right foot.

        “You have lovely hind feet Sita,”  Jonathan said, Sita curling her toes with pleasure, mewing softly as she felt Jonathan press his fingers into the sole pad of her right foot, the pressure from his fingers firm on her pads.

         “You are cool from your nose,”  Jonathan said, touching Sita’s nose, to your toes,”  he continued, touching the toes of her right foot, Sita laughing merrily.

       “I’m glad you find me, “cool,”  as you put it,”  she purred.

       “Your fur is soft and warm, and as for your paws and feet? Well, they are cute and expressive,”  Jonathan said, Sita laughing merrily and withdrawing her right foot.  Smiling, she embraced Jonathan in her paws, kissing his nose, the young boy laughing and snuggling into her huge hug.

        “You are so real,”  Jonathan said, “I read you are a fusion of lion, tiger and bear, and you are, patch gave birth to you didn’t he,”  Jonathan said.

      “He did,”  Sita replied.

         “How did it work?”  Jonathan asked.

        “Patch pushed and strained, rolled about, and curled his toes, and screamed, and crawled, and rocked on his backside, and kicked the air with his feet and paws, and I was born,”  Sita said.

       “the passage was a spiritual one,”  patch replied, padding over to Sita and Jonathan, “though I definitely felt Sita coming into the world, inside me I mean.”

        “Show me,”  Jonathan said.  Kuruk shuffled up, sat down and looked at Jonathan:

         “you know of birth of faith?”  he grunted.

       “yes Kuruk I do,”  Jonathan replied, smiling at the bear’s language.

          “Kuruk show you video of birth of faith,”  he said, “then you know how Patch deliver Sita into world.  It same way as Kuruk deliver faith.”

        “You’re male though, you can’t deliver a cub!”  Cynthia laughed.

       “Kuruk do thing though,”  the grizzly bear said, the look in his eyes silencing Cynthia.

        “Kuruk have cub, he show everyone birth of Faith cub, right from time when he sitting back on heels, to when he screaming and crying while delivering faith into world, you even see Faith coming into world too!  Kuruk see things he never knew happen, and yet he remember all things about birth time, pushing, curling toes, screaming and roaring.  He even see good views of own hind foot pads and curling toes, and secretly think he got cute hind feet.”

        “Your hind feet are rather cute yes,”  Sally said, Kuruk looking at her:

        “Sally cub think hind feet of Kuruk cute?”  he asked.  Sally smiled, crawled over to Kuruk, and traced the sole pad and toes of his left hind foot with the index finger of her right hand, Kuruk laughing and curling his toes.

        “Paws off!”  he laughed, but Sally could see he’d enjoyed her spontaneity.

       “Can I hug you?”  Sally asked.  Kuruk smiled and spread his paws wide, Sally throwing her arms around his neck in as larger hug as she could muster, Kuruk embracing her as tightly as he dared.

         “This feels great to Kuruk,”  Kuruk said, Sally kissing his nose.

          “You soppy old bruin Kuruk,”  Orbon teased.

        “Kuruk no care now,”  Kuruk grunted, “when everyone see him struggle to deliver faith, Kuruk know everyone see through his fur to real bear.  Now Kuruk unashamed he soft inside.”

        “You have soft paw and foot pads too,”  Sally said, Kuruk smiling broadly.

       “Patch show me how do that,”  he said, “he show me lotion to keep pads soft, and he show me how use paws to play with hind feet too.  Kuruk now play with Faith cub also, which keep him young and keep paws and feet young too.”  Sally smiled at Kuruk’s language.

       “Will you check my hind feet for thorns?”  Sally asked.

        “Sooleawa do thing already,”  Kuruk said, “Kuruk no think he do better job than her.”

       “I won’t be offended Kuruk,”  Sooleawa said, “you know what I’d like, foot and paw checks every morning and evening. But noone will let me do that.”

       “We’d never get out of the house,”  Orbon laughed.

       “I’m sorry if I am thorough,”  Sooleawa said.

       “I like how thorough you are,”  Orbon said, it’s great.”

       “is my check of hind feet too intrusive?”  Sooleawa asked.

        “No, it’s fine,”  Orbon replied.

        “Human hind feet are very interesting,”  Sooleawa said, “I wonder if they ever get their material body covers caught on their heels?”

        “We do,”  Cynthia said, “at least I did when I put my tracksuit on, I had to push hard to free my heels, both got stuck in the bottom of my tracksuit trousers.”

       “jess’s and Janet’s cat suits also use bands of elastic to hold their trousers in place,”  Orbon said, “these rely on their heels to hold the band in place.”

         “the elastic on my trousers kept slipping off my heels,”  patch said, “that’s why it was extra tight to dig slightly into my sole pads to keep the trouser legs in place,”  Sooleawa smiled:

       “I check your feet over often Patch,”  she replied, “though who checks mine over?  Noone does, I’m expected to check my own paws and feet for thorns!”

          “I’ll check your feet over Sooleawa,”  Cynthia Chartwell said.  Sooleawa smiled and stretched out in front of Cynthia, the young teacher inspecting the small she bear’s hind feet, tracing the tough pads of the she bear’s right foot with her fingers, Sooleawa laughing helplessly:

       “You’re tickling my foot!”  she laughed, wriggling and beating the ground with her paws.

        “I love these hind feet,”  Cynthia said smiling, “They’re so cute!”  Sooleawa giggled cubbishly, for she could feel Cynthia was genuine in her admiration for her hind feet.

        “Bet you imagined delivering a cub like Patch didn’t you?”  Sooleawa asked.  Cynthia grinned:

       “I did,”  she replied, “that night after I’d met him for the first time, I went to sleep and dreamt I was in labour and the result was a cub like Patch.”

      “Or like me,”  Sooleawa said smiling.

       “yes, as you are a small version of Patch,”  Cynthia agreed.

        “she does look like me,”  Patch said smiling.

       “her toes curl much like yours do,”  Cynthia said smiling, stroking Sooleawa’s right hind foot until the she bear curled her toes.

        “Patch and I do look very similar,”  Sooleawa said, wriggling with pleasure.

         “Do Cynthia tickle pads and toes of man cubs in her care?”  Kuruk asked.

        “yes I have,”  Cynthia replied, “though only with their permission.”

        “That’s so cute,”  Sooleawa said.

       “Sally and I have also played the stuck foot game twice,”  Cynthia replied, “she loves that game.”

        “My toes are ticklish!”  peter yelled as Orbon tickled the toes of his right foot, Jonathan laughing at their antics.

       “how do his feet feel to you Orbon?”  he asked.

      “Smooth soles, soft pads, owned by a playful little human,”  Orbon replied.

 

“where are we going to sleep tonight?”  Sally asked.

       “how about you sleep in the lie ups with some of the community?”  Orbon asked, “you Sally, Peter and Jonathan, and you Scynthia, please go and see if you can make links with the good members of the community here.”

        “Sita, can I stay with you tonight?”  Jonathan asked.  Sita smiled and embraced him.

        “Yes,”  she mewed, “you’re mine!”  Jonathan laughed merrily as Sita kissed his nose, ruffled his hair and cradled him like she would one of her cubs.

       “That’s so lovely,”  Cynthia said.

       “Can I spend the night with you Orbon?”  Peter asked.  Orbon smiled and replied:

       “yes,”  he replied gently.

        “Now we have to house Sally,”  Cynthia said.

         “Kuruk claiming her,”  Kuruk grunted, embracing Sally and kissing the top of her head as he would Hope’ or Faith’s, Sally swallowing hard, her eyes full of tears.

       “Thank you,”  she choked, Kuruk embracing her tenderly.

        “Kuruk make you adopted cub,”  he said, “he want groom you and wash you, and make you clean.  Kuruk know Clothes be on Sally cub, and he know she want privacy, you wear cat suit like Jess, then come back to Kuruk.  How if he wash you then like he do own cubs?”  Sally hesitated, decoding Kuruk’s strange talk, then asked:

        “Will you wash my face, hands and feet?”

       “Kuruk do that, and wash hair too, and he then get you dry and warm too.  Warm drink before bed if you want too Sally cub.”  Sally looked into Kuruk’s face, the huge grizzly’s eyes gentle on her.  Sally and the other children padded away and got into their cat suits.  They then reappeared, running to their guardians, Sita, Orbon and Kuruk bearing them away to their lie ups.

        “Now who will take me in paw?”  Cynthia asked.

         “”you are adult, you can look after yourself,”  Amy snapped.

      “Oh no, no, we can’t have that,”  Nuru snarled, “mama teacher, it is not right for us lions to get involved directly, we will patrol this place and keep you and your cubs safe.  How if you ask one of the bears.”

       “Patch, would you?”  Cynthia asked.  patch padded forward to her and she gave him her hand.

       “Come,”  he said, “I will take you too the plush lie up, and you can get ready for bed.  I don’t expect you to wear a cat suit.”

       “But I want to, I want to be bathed like a big cub,”  Cynthia said, “paw and foot checks and all.”  Patch smiled and hugged her tightly.

         “I’ll help you get ready for sleep,”  he replied gently, leading her to his lie up.  Cynthia clambered into a cat suit.

        “make sure those straps are secure on your heels,”  Patch said.

      “Could you check them please?”  Cynthia asked, Patch smiling and taking the young woman’s right foot in his paws, exploring the sole of her foot with his paw, gently touching the elastic, tightening it a little bit, so the elastic was a snug fit.

       “it was slightly loose,”  Patch said.

       “I know,”  Cynthia said, Patch smiled as he realised what she’d done.

        “Do you want me to check your other foot too?”  he asked.  Cynthia smiled and gave him her right foot, patch finding the elastic on that foot loose also, patch pulling it snug and then smiling at Cynthia.

         “Now try kicking the air with your feet, the cat suit should allow you to move without the elastic slipping from your feet and dangling uselessly.  Cynthia lay back and kicked the air with her feet, patch putting his paw in the way, feeling her feet kicking his paw.  Cynthia curled her toes, scrabbling at Patch’s paws with them until he caught both her feet and blew on her curled toes, Cynthia screaming with laughter and wriggling madly.

         “You rogue!”  she laughed.  Then she became still:

        “I’m playing with a bear,”  she thought, I’m genuinely playing with a wild bear.”

         “Thank you for playing with me Patch,”  Cynthia said.  patch smiled, running his paws from Cynthia’s head to her toes, the young woman wriggling with pleasure, just like she imagined a cub being groomed might do, for she certainly felt like a cub in Patch’s paws.

        “now what?”  Cynthia asked as patch finished by massaging her right foot from toes to heel.

         “We’ll get you washed, then you decide,”  Patch replied.

       “Treat me like a cub!  please,”  Cynthia said.  Patch smiled:

         “okay,”  he replied, “can you crawl?”  Cynthia crawled past Patch, smiling as his paws explored her from her head to the upturned soles of her bare feet, Cynthia feeling warmth flooding through her.

        “What is all this patch?”  Ekaterina asked.  Patch explained in detail, Ekaterina finding the whole thing confusing.

       “You are showing these humans how we live, treating them like cubs, then letting them make their own choices?”  she asked.

       “yes,”  Patch replied, Cynthia, Jonathan, Sally and peter will be shown all we can show them of our lives here Ekaterina.”

       “would you like me to show them what I do?”  she asked.

        “yes please Ekaterina,”  Patch replied., “Cynthia can pretend to be a mama about to deliver a cub, and you can show her how, and she can then tell her charges what she’s learnt.”

         “Now though I am a cub, I need to grow up,”  Cynthia said, waving her arms and legs in the air, Patch catching her right foot in his paws, Cynthia curling and stretching her toes as he explored her foot.

       “Come and get paws on with our adopted cub,”  patch said to Ekaterina.”  Ekaterina got paws on with Cynthia, the human finding the she bear less confident than her mate.

         “Why are you here?”  she asked.

       “I am a teacher, like, um, Furcone is it?”  Cynthia said, “My pupils, like Furcone’s cubs, have been learning about this place, Orbon and patch came to the school and invited me and some of my cubs back here.  We had our paws and feet examined by Sooleawa, and ate some dinner with patch and Indigo, then met some of the community.  Now we’re staying a few days.”

        “I didn’t wish to eat with the human children,”  Ekaterina replied, “but as you wish to know about us, and you are under Patch’s protection, I will not hold your form against you Cynthia.”

       “it is only by living with you we can learn about you,”  Cynthia said, “please Ekaterina, don’t make things hard for us just because you hate some of our race.”

        “You can keep away from me for the next few days Ekaterina  if you don’t like what I’m trying to teach this human and her charges,”  Patch snarled.

       “Kuruk’s embraced a human child as if he’s brought up to it!”  Ekaterina snapped.

        “he is seeing the human as a being needing love and tenderness,”  Patch replied, “treat Cynthia here with respect, if not then step aside.”  Ekaterina harrumphed and left the room.

        “She’s your mate?”  Cynthia asked.

       “yeah,”  Patch replied, “she doesn’t like my involvement with humans much.”

        “Though I know you took care of Jess when she was younger, and helped Moses mama Janet deliver Moses into the world,”  Cynthia said, “surely she can respect you for that.”

       “I think she grudgingly gives respect, but would rather I’d not sullied my paws if the truth be told,”  Patch replied.  Cynthia looked at patch, taking him in from his face to the pads on the soles of all four of his large paws and feet.

        “You are so handsome!”  she said smiling.

        “I think you like my sire better,”  Patch replied.

       “it was your sire I met in the woods years ago, though his cub charmed my pupils, so much Sally secretly tickled your toes.”

       “That was lovely,”  Patch replied, “I was telling the story when I felt small fingers touch the sole of my right foot, hidden by the knee of my left leg.  I felt Sally touch my sole pad, then move up to my toes, where I couldn’t help but curl my toes and embrace her fingers, though I’ll bet I didn’t show any expression.”

       “No you didn’t,”  Cynthia said, “though Sally had to withdraw her hand quickly or she’d have been in trouble with me then, but not now I know what she was doing, making friends with you.”

       “she has a lovely touch,”  Patch replied.

         “I’ll go have a shower, then we’ll decide what to do,”  Patch said.  Cynthia watched Patch leave the room.

       “I like him,”  she thought, padding after Patch barefoot.

        “Following me?”  Patch asked.

        “I would like to, um, wash your paws,”  Cynthia said.

        “fore or hind?”  Patch asked.

       “Both,”  Cynthia replied smiling.  Patch bounced on the toes of his hind paws, Cynthia watching with appreciation.

        “I saw you playing with your hind feet,”  she said to Patch, the huge bear turning, rearing onto his hind feet and  embracing her with his paws.

       “We’re all a bit fond of that,”  he replied smiling.  His scent surrounding her, earthy and lively.

        “your natural scent is nice,”  Cynthia said.

        “I wash with scentless soap,”  patch said.  Cynthia buried her face in Patch’s long fur, breathing in his scent.

        “I have wondered what it’s like to be hugged by a bear,”  Cynthia said, “now I know.  It’s lovely.”

       “I hope my fur, paws and feet are all you expected,”  Patch said.

       “they are,”  Cynthia said, “and your touch is exquisite too.  very soft and warm.”

       “Since we last met, my eyes are not so appealing though,”  patch replied softly.

        “that doesn’t matter,”  Cynthia replied, “your paws are very appealing patch.”

       “I’m glad you like my paws,”  Patch said.

 

Cynthia and Patch showered, then Cynthia followed him to the plush flat.

       “My feet are making a sucking sound on the tiles!”  Cynthia laughed.  Patch smiling broadly.

       “Mine are too,”  he replied, “great isn’t it.”

 

Meanwhile, in Kuruk’s lie up, Sally and Kuruk sat opposite each other, their feet touching, heels to heels, Sally’s toes reaching only half way up the sole pads of the huge bear’s feet.

        “Your pads are warm and rough,”  Sally said, “but I like them Kuruk.”

       “Kuruk want show Sally birth of Faith cub,”  Kuruk said, crawling to the screen.  Soon Sally was watching the most amazing video she’d ever seen.  The first scene was Kuruk sitting on the sofa in patch’s lie up, Kuruk looking uncomfortable.  Then Sally found Kuruk re-enacting what he saw on screen, Sally getting hands on with the large male bear, stroking him from his nose to his hind feet as Kuruk crawled about, faith staring at him, her mouth gaping.

        “I never  knew it took so much to deliver me into the world,”  she whispered.  Once the video was over, the real Kuruk omitting the pool scene, Faith ran to her sire and hugged him, sweating fur, paws and all.

       “would you play the stuck foot game with me Sally?”  Faith asked.  Sally smiled and said she would:

      “Though I am tired,”  she said, “I’ll play a short game tonight, then maybe we can play more in the morning.”  Faith got paws on with Sally’s right foot, the young girl curling her toes with pleasure and excitement at what was going on around her.  Kuruk bathed in the bathtub, Sally and Faith padding through to be with him, the male grizzly smiling at the human and bear cubs.

       “Where’s Hope?”  Faith asked.

         “Probably with Sooleawa,”  Kuruk said, “they love play together them two do.  Kuruk think Hope let Sooleawa check her paws and feet over constantly, just to keep silver coated cub busy,”  Kuruk laughed.

        “Sooleawa checked my feet over from heels to toes,”  Sally said, “I liked her touch.”

       “she is so very gentle,”  Faith agreed.

       “Kuruk find her touch reassuring,”  Kuruk admitted.

        “Who checks her paws and feet for thorns?”  Sally asked.

       “Patch does,”  Kuruk grunted.

         “I noticed a huge dog running round the woods,”  Faith said, “it was a big black and white thing, had huge paws and feet!”

       “That would be Bess or Bobtail,”  Kuruk grunted, “Patch there when Bess give birth to bobtail.  Bess scream and cry, curl toes and growl deeply as she push bobtail pup into world.”

        “Even a mouse feels pain while delivering her babies,”  Sally said.

       “Indeed so,”  Kuruk replied.

 

Leaving the water, Kuruk shook himself dry and dried his paws carefully with a paper towel.

        “You coming with me?”  Kuruk grunted.  Sally and Faith padded after Kuruk and settled down with him in his den.  Hope joined them a short time later, but Anook, seeing what was happening, stayed away, as disgusted as Ekaterina at what she saw as the human’s intrusion into their lives.  Hope cuddled up to Sally, who embraced the six month old bear cub.

        “You are so soft and warm Hope,”  Sally said softly to the young cub.

         “I think you have gentle paws Sally,”  Hope replied softly.

       “thanks,”  Sally replied, kissing Hope’s nose.

         “would you tell me a story?”  Sally asked.  Hope smiled and replied:

        “How if I tell you how I helped Baako liger into the world?”  Hope asked, “It’s a true story too.”

      “Who’s Baako?”  Sally asked.

        “I’ll find him,”  Faith said, padding to the phone, Sally lying on her stomach, watching Faith’s paws and feet from ground level.

       “Are you watching her paws and feet?”  Hope asked.  Sally smiled:

       “I am Hope,”  she replied, “do you do that too?”

      “often,”  Hope replied, “I watch how others walk, I know who drag their hind feet, who drag their forepaws while walking.  I know those who bounce on their toes while walking too.  Of course, I like seeing soles of paws and feet too, some even curl their toes slightly when they walk.”

        “So you and Sooleawa are foot and paw mad,”  Sally said.

       “yes,”  Hope replied, “and I’m not afraid to admit it either.”

       “I suppose for a community that likes touch and play so much it’s good to focus on paws and feet rather than eyes,”  Sally replied.

       “the cubs are taught to touch from the minute they are able to understand,”  Kuruk said softly, “when mama first touches the cub, it knows her touch and her scent.  Sight is a great thing, but isn’t necessary for a bear to live.  we can live by touch, hearing and scent alone.”

        “how does it feel to wave your feet and paws in the air with pure play in your heart?”  Sally asked.

       “It’s wonderful,”  Hope replied softly, nuzzling Sally’s neck.

       “that tickles!”  Sally yelped, “but it’s lovely too, can I hug you hope?”  Hope embraced Sally with her paws, Sally taking her cue and embracing Hope in return, tears filling her eyes.

       “I’m hugging a wild bear cub,”  Sally whispered.

       “You are,”  Hope whispered back, “and your crying on me now too.  I’m getting wet!”

         “Sorry, but I can’t help it, I’m so happy!”  Sally replied, Hope kissing her on her nose, Faith and Kuruk watching with shining eyes and gentle expressions.

      “I’ll find Sushanti and Baako,”  Faith said, “and they can tell Sally about how Baako was born into the world, Sushanti might even wave her paws in the air too!”  Faith ran off, and soon Sushanti and Baako were in Kuruk’s lie up.  Desperate to tell her and her cub’s tale, Sushanti showed her intention to stay by sitting down, and anchoring herself to the ground with the toes of all four huge paws.

        “here is drink for mama Sushanti and Baako cub,”  Kuruk said, bringing tea for both white tigress and pale orange cab.

       “I went into labour slowly and gently,”  Sushanti said, “Androcles, that’s my mate, he’s a lion by the way, he stayed with me throughout, seeing everything, and stroking my belly, head, and paws from time to time.  Though it was Hope bear who helped me deliver Baako, telling me to keep pushing, to push into my tail.”

       “I didn’t, did I?”  Hope asked.

        “You did,”  Sushanti replied, “you told me to push strongly down into my tail, then into my legs, then into my hind feet to make me increase my efforts Hope,”  the tigress replied smiling.

        “I’m no midwife,”  Hope said, “but I suppose when you’re already pushing, I could have told you to keep trying, to keep pushing as much and as long as you could.”

        “I needed your help, your voice to keep telling me,”  Sushanti said, “Baako was a big cub, I felt every part of him emerging, it was very painful and very hard work.”

        “could you re-enact that now?”  Baako asked, “mama, could you and Hope re-enact that now?  how if you pretend to push, and find it difficult, so Hope encourages you to push into your tail by massaging your paws or something?”

        “I could,”  Sushanti said softly, “I, I can feel it now, oooah, ow, ow!”  she wriggled uncomfortably in a sitting posture, her eyes shut and teeth clenched.

       “oooah,  oooooooaoaoaoah!”  Sushanti panted, breathing deeply, “aaaaaow!  Must push, I want to, hurhrhrhrhrumfaoaaah! Aaaaaw!  This really hurts, it’s too much effort to push, but, oh,, but, ow! I want to push, must push!  My cub’s coming now!”  Sushanti suddenly roared in a deep voice:

       “I must push, but it hurts too much!”  then screamed shrilly, “I want to push but it hurts, it’s too painful!”

          “Sushanti,”  Hope said to the now sweating tigress, touching her left paw, “you must push, go on, try it, please?”  Sushanti bore down into her tail.

       “aaaaaow! Oaoaoaoaoaoaaow!”  Sushanti roared, then panting, she crouched low and, stretching her tail out behind her, gave vent to a roar which shook the floor as she imagined straining into her tail with everything she had.  Sally, enthralled, watched and listened from a short distance away.

       “Come and touch Sushanti,”  Hope invited.  Sushanti, panting, lay on her side, Sally getting hands on, feeling the tigress’s sweating body, pedalling legs, desperately curling toes and laid back ears.  While Sally was stroking Sushanti’s paws, the tigress was forced to bear down against her cub. Groaning pitifully, Sushanti, driven mad now, squeezed her eyes shut, and,  clasping Sally’s hand in both her paws in a fierce embrace, strained hard to deliver her cub.

      “oaoaoaoaoaoaaow! Aaaaaw!”  Sushanti screamed, wriggling madly and kicking the air with her hind feet.  Whimpering, she opened her eyes and they met Sally’s, the young girl’s expression full of wonder and amazement.

        “Did I crush your hand?”  Sushanti asked.

       “It hurt a bit,”  Sally replied honestly, “but it was because you were in pain.  You didn’t know what you were doing then.  I’d be crushing your paw if I had to deliver Baako into the world, I’d be screaming and curling my toes like you are doing now.”  Sushanti let go of Sally’s hand and Sally kissed the tigress’s nose.

        “it’s called body memory when you think of your cub’s delivery and re-enact it.”  Sushanti said, “I delivered Baako lying on my side. Hope stroked my hind feet and caught Baako in her paws, holding him as I pushed him into the world.  She didn’t have to pull him, though I wish she had done so now.  he was a big cub, and in hindsight, I could have done with the extra help.”

        “how does it feel to have a cub pulled?”  Sally asked, “I’ve seen baby cows pulled while their mamas push, the mama pushes, and the vet pulls while the mama is pushing, then when she relaxes the vet holds what he’s got of the baby cow, then the mama pushes, and he pulls a little more, until the calf is born.”

       “I could tell you how it feels to have a cub pulled,”  Bramble said, “and my cub Sooleawa, remembers how it was to be pulled too.  after I have told you, I will go, for she is not really my cub any more.”

          “Will you please tell me how it felt?”  Sally asked.  Bramble sat down.

        “Sooleawa got stuck,”  she said, “I think there was no way I could push her head into the birth passage.  I tried with all I had, rolling about, kicking, straining and crying, sweating hard, but nothing.  Ekaterina got paws on, and in too, and found Sooleawa stuck fast.  She pulled Sooleawa out inch by inch while I lay there exhausted from pushing, though  groaning deeply every time Sooleawa pulled a little, then relaxed her traction for me to recover.  Then she pulled again, I curled my  toes, closed my eyes and groaned, feeling my cub inching into the world, then the pain reduced again, and I panted and wept, then groaned with curled toes again.  Close eyes, curl toes and groan deeply with discomfort, then relax toes and open eyes, then curl toes, close eyes and moan a little, then relax toes and open my eyes again.  Over and over I did this while Ekaterina pulled and released, pulled and released Sooleawa in an effort to help her into the world.  She even grabbed Sooleawa’s body near the end and pulled that way too, though I was able to push Sooleawa’s body into the world for the last bit, so I know how successful pushing feels too.”  Sally kept eyes on with Bramble throughout her story, and also found herself curling her toes in sympathy with the mama bear.

       “Thank you,”  Sally said softly, “thank you mama bear for telling your labour tale.”

       “Now I will tell you how it felt for me on the receiving end of all that pulling,”  Sooleawa said smiling, for she’d padded in and listened to her mama’s account.

        “So mama Bramble, you curled your toes, closed your eyes, moaned and groaned as Sooleawa was born  mama bear?”  Sally asked softly, “I take it you were lying on your side?”  Bramble nodded.

       “Like this,”  she replied, lying on her side, drawing her hind legs up to her chest and curling her toes, moaning and wriggling as she’d done nearly three years previously.

      “Ah, like this?”  Sally asked, copying the mama bear’s posture, “then when Ekaterina pulled your cub, you closed your eyes, curled your toes and groaned, like this?”  Sally asked.  drawing up her legs, curling the toes of both feet, closing her eyes and wriggling madly while groaning lustily.

        “yes!”  Bramble replied, Sally’s imitation too realistic for her, “Please stop now,”  she begged, “it hurt too much to have others re-enacting it.”

          “I think it’s rather important Sally knows,”  Sooleawa replied, “for it’s part of my history.”

        “yeah true,”  Bramble replied.  Smiling, Sooleawa padded to Sally and stroked the sole of her bare right foot, touching Sally’s curled toes and damp wrinkled pads.  Sally’s feet were small but fat , and had pink skin on the sole.

         “You’re really trying aren’t you,”  Sooleawa said softly, referring to Sally’s effort to re-enact Bramble’s labour scene.

        “I can imagine it just as if I’d delivered you into the world,”  Sally said, “I know I’m not a bear, but I’ve got a good imagination.”

          “I suppose humans who have problems like I did get their cubs pulled in a similar way,”  Bramble said.

        “I think they do,”  Sally replied, “though I’m not old enough to worry about that yet.  I can still play at giving birth to a cub though, an easy birth, and a hard one,”  she turned to Kuruk: “how old would I be in bear years?”  Sally asked.

         “You’re nine now?”  Kuruk asked, having seen something of small humans.

      “yes,”  Sally replied.

        “You’d be a three year old bear by now,”  Kuruk replied, “old enough to deliver a cub of your own into the world.  Sooleawa stroked the damp pads of Sally’s right foot, the young girl smiling at her.

        “I liked pretending,”  Sally said, “I suppose mama also rolls onto her back with her legs drawn up and grab her feet with her paws?”

       “She can, and often does,”  Bramble replied, “I tried that too while delivering Sooleawa.”

       “Like this?”  Sally asked, fitting actions to words by rolling over onto her back and drawing up her legs, grabbing her bare feet in her hands.

       “Yes,”  Bramble replied, wriggling with the memory of it all.

         “this is fun!”  Sally exclaimed.

        “having a cub pulled from me hurt a lot,”  Bramble replied, “and that is not usually the way things happen.  Mamas push down into their tails usually.”

         “I know, I saw Snowdrop doing it,”  Sally said, “like this.  She sat up and drew up her legs to her chest, holding her right foot in her hands , digging her heels into the floor, moaning and grunting with imagined effort while squeezing her foot as she coped with imagined labour pain.

        “You could almost be a mama bear having a cub,”  Sooleawa said, “we had a young mama once who had a cub and abandoned it.  Not Bramble here, I am thinking of Jess.”

       “I know,”  Sally said seriously, her expression older than her nine years, “I know what happened to the second cub too, jess was punished for what she did to poor peter.”

        “yes, that’s a nasty business,”  Kuruk grunted.

       “it was,”  Sally replied, “hearing the tale made me cry.  For the tale has been told, though we’ve never seen the film of ursine Peter’s birth, as it was said jess gave birth to him when she was human.”

      “yes indeed,”  Kuruk replied heavily.

 

I’m really tired now,”  Sally yawned.  Sooleawa, smiling, kissed her nose and hands, then left for her own lie up.  Bramble, shaking her head in shame at her inability to deliver Sooleawa unaided, padded from the room.  Catching up with Sooleawa, Bramble stopped her.

        “I feel so ashamed of my weakness during your birth,”  Bramble said.

       “mama,”  Sooleawa replied softly:

        “how can you call me mama after I abandoned you?”  Bramble asked.

         “You didn’t abuse me, or lay paw on me in anger,”  Sooleawa said, “you and Goldie decided you couldn’t look after me, so you gave me into the care of other bears.”

        “now you are successful in your job of foot and paw police,”  Bramble said.

       “Don’t call it that,”  Sooleawa said, “yes I have a thing about paws and feet, I’ll admit that, but I don’t threaten those who refuse my foot and paw inspections.”

       “Noone refuses them,”  Bramble replied.

       “I like exploring paws and feet, and making sure they are clean,”  Sooleawa replied smiling.

       “it was hard work feeling Ekaterina pulling you into the world while trying not to push,”  Bramble said, “it was only because I was so exhausted that I could refrain from pushing at all.”

        “I remember it all,”  Sooleawa said.

       “I’m sorry I couldn’t push,”  Bramble replied, “I’m sorry Goldie and I got into a fight and you were removed from our care for your own protection.  I’m sorry we were so poor at caring for you.”

         “You two had a fight over Ekaterina, not over me,”  Sooleawa said, “you two then decided you weren’t the role models you wanted me to have.  You were first time parents, and didn’t know then what you know now.  I hold nothing against you Bramble, or against Goldie.  I just wish you two hadn’t started fighting each other like disagreeable cats.”

      “Hey, I heard that!”  Baako yelled, for Bramble and Sooleawa were still within earshot of Kuruk’s lie up.

       “ow!”  Baako yelped as Kuruk cuffed him to shush him.

 

“I’ll go now,”  Bramble said.  Sooleawa kissed her mama’s nose, Bramble rearing onto her hind feet, pulling Sooleawa with her, then, once both bears were standing on their hind feet, Bramble embraced her daughter cub tightly.

       “Oh mama,”  Sooleawa said smiling.

        “I remember everything about your birth,”  Bramble said, “it was hard, but I cherish every moment.”

       “You were unable to push,”  Sooleawa said.

       “I know, but I really tried, I pushed hard Sooleawa.”

      “I know mama,”  Sooleawa said, “I remember your effort, the last effort you made, it rippled down my body, from my shoulders to my feet, you strained hard to deliver me those last few inches with Ekaterina helping you.”

       “I did,”  Bramble replied, “I think I wriggled a bit too.”

         “I remember it,”  Sooleawa replied.

       “I love you Sooleawa,”  Bramble said softly into her ear, “Goldie does too.  Please, go to him, he, he can’t bear to go through your paw bath and have you touch his paws and feet in case he breaks down.”

       “I’ll go to him,”  Sooleawa said softly.

 

Sooleawa padded to Goldie’s lie up, finding the bear sprawled on the floor, asleep.  Lying down beside him, she embraced him in her paws, kissing his nose and snuggling close.  Sooleawa fell asleep embracing Goldie.

 

Goldie woke slowly, feeling himself embraced by another bear.  His nose told him who the embracer was, and the realisation filled his eyes with tears.

        “Why are you here?”  Goldie asked.

        “I spoke to Bramble, and she told me you wanted to see me,”  Sooleawa said, kissing her sire’s nose.

         “I dared not ask you to touch my paws or check my feet for thorns,”  Goldie replied softly, “I felt so ashamed of my conduct after your birth, that I couldn’t meet you.  Sooleawa, you are successful in your job, many like your foot and paw checks, or so I’ve heard.”

        “If you had come through my lobby, I’d have checked your paws and feet over, then let you leave, no questions asked,”  Sooleawa replied.

        “I couldn’t leave though,”  Goldie whimpered, “I would sit down and weep.”

        “Can I check your paws and feet now?”  Sooleawa asked.  Goldie struggled to his feet and padded into the adjoining bathroom.  After relieving himself, he washed his paws and feet and padded to the tub, turning on the taps.  Once the pool was full, Goldie put his head out into the main lie up and beckoned to Sooleawa, who padded in and joined her sire in the pool.  Sitting opposite each other, Sooleawa and Goldie touched hind feet beneath the water, Goldie’s toes curling round his daughter cub’s.

        “I like your touch Goldie,”  Sooleawa said.  Goldie settled his right hind foot into Sooleawa’s forepaws, the silver coated she bear tracing his pads and toes, Goldie unable to stop his toes from curling tightly with pleasure and emotion.

        “your pads are thick and toes curl easily,”  Sooleawa said, Goldie smiling.

          “come through my paw and foot check station any time you like Goldie,”  Sooleawa said softly.  Sooleawa got out of the bath pool and dried herself off in the drying cubical.

 

Bramble, returning to Kuruk’s lie up, settled down to sleep there.  Sally, lying beside Hope, remembered her efforts to re-enact Sooleawa’s birth, smiling at how it felt.

         “your toes curled tightly,”  Hope mumbled, “it looked cute when you wriggled and kicked a little with your hind legs.”

         “How did you know I was thinking of that?”  Sally whispered into the bear’s cub’s ear.

        “I am holding your hand in my paws,”  Hope whispered, “I could feel your pulse quicken as you remembered your effort.”

        “I enjoyed it,”  Sally replied, “it’s good to kick with my bare feet and wave my hands.”

        “I like waving my paws and feet in the air, it’s great,”  Hope said.

        “your paws and feet are cute,”  Sally said, looking at Hope in the half light of the lie up.

         “Can I touch your hands and hind feet?”  Hope asked.  Sally smiled:

      “yes,”  she replied, “can I touch your paws and feet?”

       “Of course!”  hope whispered.

         “Thank you,”  Sally whispered, kissing Hope’s nose.  Sally got hands on with Hope’s hind paws, the she bear curling her toes and pressing her feet into Sally’s hands, wriggling with pleasure as Sally stroked her pads and counted her toes.

         “is it okay to play at delivering a cub?”  Sally asked.

       “it is okay,”  Hope replied, “I re-enacted Sushanti’s labour for the other cubs, yes I’m not a tigress, but that doesn’t matter,”  she laughed, “Snowy, Bianca’s grown cub saw what I was doing and took over, pretending to deliver a cub, she did wonderfully!”

         “Would you help me re-enact Faith’s birth?”  Sally asked, “I’d like to do that.”  Hope smiled:

        “I’d have to ask her if she would mind,”  she replied, grabbing Sally’s right foot in her paws and tracing the sole, “I like your hind feet by the way,”  Hope said, “it’s interesting to feel an arched sole, rather than a flat one.”

        “Patch said that,”  Sally said, “when he fell off the chair in the classroom, the straps holding the trouser legs down to the floor slipped off his feet, they rolled up a little, showing us his hind feet!  That was funny!”

       “I’ll bet it was,”  Hope replied, tracing the arched sole of Sally’s foot, then stroking her heel pad with the toes of her paw, “he didn’t have an arch to keep the strap snug, it was just sitting there on his sole pad.”

         “he’s got cute paws and feet,”  Sally said, “Hope, did I tell you that when he was telling us the story of how he became leader, he was sitting cross legged on the floor, oh, I’ll get you to re-enact that, Sit on the floor like this.  Sally said, sitting up and crossing her legs.  Hope did, and Sally traced the pad and toes of Hope’s hidden right hind foot with her fingers, just as she’d done Patch’s.  Sally’s touch was unexpected by Hope, who laughed loudly as Sally tickled her pads, waking everyone in the lie up.

       “Will you shut it Hope!”  Faith mumbled.

       “sorry, but, but Sally tickled my toes!”  Hope giggled.  Faith crawled to her sister and slapped her so hard Hope wailed with pain.

        “go the hell to sleep!”  she yelled.

       “You hit her again faith, I’ll break your paws,”  Kuruk grunted, “Hope no need hitting for making sound, she only need telling, not hitting with paws, it not your place to hit with paws anyway.”

        “I am tired!”  Faith snarled.

       “We’re not wanted,”  Sally said, “Hope, let’s go somewhere where we can play in peace.”

         “My nose hurts!”  Hope whimpered.

       “Maybe we shouldn’t have played here, sorry Kuruk and Faith,”  Sally said, leading Hope away to an adjoining room.  Hope recovered quickly, sitting down cross legged alas before, Sally soon making her laugh by stroking then tickling the pads and toes of her right hind foot.  Hope bouncing about, laughing and struggling to resist the urge to massage her tickled pads and toes.  Instead, Hope curled her toes to ease the tic tickling, her toes catching Sally’s tickling fingers, feeling this, Hope curled her toes tightly, squeezing Sally’s fingers in a warm loving embrace.

         “My fingers are stuck!”  Sally laughed, “but I like it.”  Hope smiled and felt Sally kiss her nose.

        “I love you hope,”  Sally said, Hope knowing the human meant what she said.

      “Thank you Sally,”  Hope said smiling.

       “How is your nose?”  Sally asked.

      “My nose is fine thanks,”  Hope replied, “my toes are better though.  Sally wiggled her fingers, which Hope held lightly with the toes of her right hind foot, Hope responding by squeezing Sally’s fingers in her curled toes.

          “That is so lovely,”  Sally said.

        “Can you hold the toes of my paw in those of one of your hind feet Sally?”  Hope asked.

        “I could try,”  Sally replied, “but your toes are holding my fingers, you’ll have to let them go if you want to touch my hind feet.”  Hope smiled, squeezed Sally’s fingers with the toes of her right foot once more, then released them.

         “I’ll sit down cross legged like you were,”  Sally said, “now hope, feel for my right foot with your paws.”  Hope did, Sally laughing as Hope’s toes brushed gently down the sole of her right foot from the ball to her heel, but then the cub found Sally’s toes, Sally feeling her toes gripping those of Hope’s left forepaw.

        “Squeeze my paw,”  Hope said, Sally squeezing the toes of Hope’s paw with those of her own right foot.

         “your toes are strong for a human,”  Hope said, “though a bit of bare paw, sorry barefoot climbing and play will strengthen them further.”

      “Does the stuck foot game strengthen toes?”  Sally asked.

       “if you curl your toes tightly then yes,”  Hope replied.

         “Can I pretend to deliver a cub, and would you judge how realistic my act is?”  Sally asked.

       “how about if you get some sleep first?”  hope asked.

       “I don’t want to sleep, oh please Hope, please let me act out a cub’s birth,”  Sally pleaded.

         “Okay,”  Hope replied, “I suppose for you, meeting us is a great thing, so let’s see if you can re-enact a cubbing, you’ve seen Snowdrop having her cub, and Sushanti too, so now it’s your turn mama Sally.”

        “have you pretended to have a cub?”  Sally asked.  Hope smiled:

        “What do you think?”  she asked, wiggling the toes of her left paw free of the grip of Sally’s toes and tracing circles on the sole of her right foot, Sally giggling with pleasure.  Sally lay down with Hope snuggled close to her.  closing her eyes, she held the half grown cub’s paw in her hands and imagined what it would be like to deliver a bear cub into the world.

 

Feeling stirring inside her, Sally wriggled and groaned deeply.

        “Cub’s coming,  Hope, cub’s coming!”  she gasped, crawling away from hope, Hope following Sally in the semi darkness by touching the soles of her rapidly warming bare feet.

        “is this right for humans to do?”  Hope asked, as she held Sally’s hand in her paws while sally rolled over and lay on her side, kicking the air with her feet.

         “I have watched my brother’s birth, was there myself, though don’t remember much of it, have seen the video since though.  Have also watched wildlife films, and act out births of cubs, cats, and bears.  This acting is not new for me, though I love doing it.”

        “the first cub will sometimes hear a second cub arriving hours after their own birth,”  Hope said, “mama will suddenly start moaning and pedalling the air with her paws, then pushing hard into her tail, and the second cub will be born.”

         “Second cub?”  Sally gasped, “not done having my first yet, now must really push down hard, I want to!”  she squealed.  Hope saw Sally draw up her legs and wrap her arms around them.  Wriggling, Sally curled her toes and moaned loudly, Hope getting paws on with Sally’s bare feet, feeling bunching and sweating pads and desperately curling toes.

        “it’s coming!”  Sally yelled, rolling onto her back and grabbing her feet with her hands.  Hope touched Sally’s hands, feeling her pressing her feet into them as Sally’s imagination took her through the journey of delivering her cub.

         “oooooooooaoaowurgh!”  Sally moaned, curling her toes tightly and wriggling madly.

          “I hope the cub doesn’t get stuck,”  Hope said.

      “No, this isn’t stuck, it’s here, it’s coming, aaaaaow!”  Sally screamed.

         “You saw everything at your brother’s birth?”  Hope asked.

       “yes,  ow, ow, yes, yes I did, eeeeeairk!”  Sally panted, “now I’m delivering a cub, it’s coming Hope, must push down harder than ever now, got to push!”  Sally yelled, “it’s hurting me!”  she screamed.

       “You’re doing well!”  Hope said gently.

       “I want this to stop now, make it stop!”  Sally screamed.

       “I can’t, it’s coming, you’re having a cub!”  Hope exclaimed, Sally sitting up and reaching down with her hands to rub her belly.

       “Oh, oaoaoaoaoaoaaow!”  Sally whimpered, Aaaaaw, oaoaoaoaoaoaaow! Aowwwwww!  I can’t stop pushing, must push! Oaoaoaoaoaoaaow! Aaaaaw! Aaaaaw!  Auoaoaoaoaoaoaurgh!”  Hope felt herself drenched in fluid, then heard Sally roar in agony, saw her lie down on her back, wriggle in discomfort, draw up her legs, then thrust them forward, Sally’s right foot inches from Hope’s face, Sally’s bunched and sweating pads and tightly curled toes visible to hope.  Hope, feeling Sally’s posture change from lying on her back to sitting up slightly,  explored the scene with her paws as she’d done when Sushanti was deep in the act of delivering her cub.  there was something emerging, and as Hope explored further with her paws, Sally strained deeply, screaming and crying.  Hope, astonished now, touched the emerging paws, and she recognised the paws of a bear cub. Sally realised hope was guiding something into the world, and, reaching down between her legs with both hands,  Sally found she was holding the cub’s forepaws  in her hands.  Sally wriggled a little, and, lying down on her back, Sally drew up her legs, grabbed the heel pads of both feet in both hands and pushed  her feet strongly into the grip of her hands, a grip that refused to let go.  Twice more she pushed her feet into her hands, then  felt real progress:

      “heuuuuuumph! Euuuuuuuuuuaow!”  Sally groaned as she pushed down hard into the grip of her hands with both feet, hope guiding the cub’s head out before Sally wriggled again, then squealed, desperately drawing up her legs and grabbing the now sweating soles of her feet with both hands in her increasingly urgent and desperate efforts to push the cub, which Hope could see was a large one, into the world.  .  Hope reached out with her paws, and, as Sally strained and pushed, Hope caught the emerging cub.  Sally held onto both her feet with her hands, her fingers tightly gripping the heels and parts of the arches with her fingers for one contraction, her fingers digging into well-padded heel pads and sole skin, her toes curling tighter and tighter with every contraction. With a yell, Sally  let go of her feet to splay her legs after pushing her feet hard into her hands, then drew up her legs again and grabbed hold of her feet with her hands even more desperately for the next effort, all the while  pushing harder and harder into the grip of her hands with her feet with every effort.  Hope watched Sally’s feet, for her own paws knew what to do.   Sally’s legs splayed after every second effort she made, just like a mama bear’s would while giving birth.  Hope saw Sally’s face, her eyes closed and teeth clenched as she rolled forward, her hands bunched into fists.   Sally suddenly lay back straining hard, and Hope got a good view of Sally’s curling toes and the bunching skin on the soles of her feet, for Sally was now lying on her back, her legs drawn up to her chest, every effort making her scream, splay her legs, feet wide apart when she was not holding them in her hands, Sally’s toes seemingly permanently curled with effort and pain.  Hope watched Sally holding her feet in her hands for one contraction, her toes curled tightly, fingers fiercely gripping both her small feet, then she let go of both feet while bearing down, splaying her legs to give the cub room to emerge.  Sally repeated this action several times, holding her feet and groaning deeply, then letting go of her feet to punch the air with her bunched fists  while splaying  her legs and pushing  with a yell, then drawing  her legs up to bring her feet together to hold them in her hands while moaning deeply while she pushed down into her hands with her feet.

 

Sally got herself into a rhythm of, draw her legs up, grab her feet, curl her toes and moan while pushing, splay her legs,  punch the air while  pant and whimpering, draw her feet up, grip them in her hands and moan while pushing down, splay her legs, punch the air and draw her legs up, before grabbing her feet for another push.

 

 suddenly, Sally wriggled even more urgently and wailed in pain, rolled about a bit and drew her feet up even more strongly, gripped her feet harder than ever  with both hands, her fingers white on the pink skin of the soles of both her feet, and with a rush of adrenaline, Hope realised Sally was building up to a huge effort. 

        “Hold those feet and push down Sally,”  Hope encouraged, “push, push, push!”  Wriggling, and holding her feet tightly with her hands at all times, her fingers digging into the soft skin on the soles of both feet, toes curled tightly throughout, Sally whimpered and moaned, then roared with effort, pushing down hard down into her hands with her feet, three times she pushed down hard,.   Whimpering, Sally suddenly let go of both feet, desperately splayed her legs and screamed.  The cub shot forward, coming into the world with a rush of fluid.

 

Hope, ears ringing and mind confused, sat on the floor cradling the cub in her paws after cleaning the cub up, she looked up at Sally. Sally lay on the floor in front of her, Hope’s nose telling her the young girl was bathed in sweat.

         “What happened?”  Sally asked, panting and flexing aching fingers and toes.  Hope, staring down at the cub cradled in her lap and sheltered by her paws, replied, almost sobbing:

      “I don’t know, I think you gave birth to a cub!”.  Hope carefully placed the cub in Sally’s arms, it was a cub, a huge cub, a bear cub.

       “how?”  Sally asked, “it’s impossible!”

         “It happened,”  Hope replied, “I saw it, I saw you, my paws felt you delivering a cub, I saw your face, your bare feet, your hands holding your feet, your straining efforts.  I heard your screams, saw your curling toes and bunching pads, everything!”

     “My dream came true Hope,”  Sally whimpered, very exhausted, “I saw a panda giving birth to a cub on the TV once, she made a lot of noise and kicked the air with her hind feet, and rolled about, and curled her toes and everything.  I saw that mama panda screamingly deliver a cub.  she roared and pawed and stamped, and kicked, and curled her toes so tightly, and rolled about and screamed some more.  Mama panda delivered the cub lying on her side, roaring and panting. I wanted to help her, for she seemed in a lot of pain, but her cub came out okay.  I suppose I was asleep, and dreaming of that mama bear’s labour, and I went through it, and now, now, now I have a cub.  I don’t know what’s happening!”

       “The cub is real, at least I think it is,”  Hope said.  Sally, drenched in sweat and panting, looked down at the panda cub in her arms.

       “it is real,”  Sally replied, “but how did I deliver a cub?  how?  My parents will go mad?”

        “My real mama died before giving birth to me,”  the cub said suddenly.

        “What?” Hope asked.

     “I don’t know what happened,” was the cub’s reply.

 

“Kuruk no know either,”  Kuruk grunted from his station in the doorway.

       “How much have you seen?”  Sally asked.

       “I hear Sally screaming and come in here,”  Kuruk replied, “I see Hope helping Sally, and stand mouth open watching.  Sally seem in genuine labour, then she deliver cub into world.  Kuruk give birth to Faith cub, so why not Sally deliver bear cub too even though she not bear?”

         “Do you know what happened Kuruk?”  Hope asked.

         “Kuruk no know,”  Kuruk grunted.

 

In another part of the house, Patch was comforting Matoskah.  Jinghua had gone into labour, and died suddenly.  Screaming, Matoskah summoned Ekaterina, who examined Jinghua’s body, pronouncing there was no cub in there, dead or alive.

         “But she was in cub, I know she was,”  Ekaterina mused.

        “I know too!”  Matoskah yelled, “What’s going on Ekaterina? Where has my cub gone?  Jinghua was patting her belly to encourage it to kick her paw yesterday, and I did the same to make the cub kick my paw too.  the cub was there!”

       “I don’t know,”  Ekaterina mumbled.

      “Well you bloody should!”  Matoskah screamed, “you’re the bloody midwife!”

       “I know, but I don’t know where your cub has gone,”  Ekaterina replied, “there’s no cub inside Jinghua now.”

           “You are a disgrace!”  Matoskah screamed.

          “I don’t know what happened,”  Ekaterina mewed pitifully.  Matoskah slapped Ekaterina in the face with his paw and stormed out of the room.

          “I have no idea what happened,”  Ekaterina thought miserably, licking her lip where Matoskah’s paw had connected, “I don’t know what happened to your cub Matoskah, I truly don’t know!”

 

Matoskah ran to Patch and burst in on him.  Throwing himself at the grey male bear, he implored him to tell him what had happened to his cub.

        “Tell me the whole story,”  patch said, Matoskah pouring it out, from Jinghua’s first contractions, to the contraction which ended her life, a huge screaming effort which caused her to curl up, clench her teeth, curl the toes of her paws and feet and strain with all she had.

       “She died while pushing,”  Matoskah said, “her heart gave out, I knew she’d died when she relaxed suddenly, and there was no breath in her body.  I got Ekaterina as quickly as I could, and she, she, she felt inside Jinghua’s body, but there was no cub there, but there had been a cub there, I know there had been a cub!”

         “yes,”  Patch replied, “I believe you.  I’m trying to work things out.  I heard screaming last night, a scream like a mama bear, but it couldn’t have been Jinghua, for your lie up is a long way from here.  I was dozing, not fully asleep.  I imagined maybe it was someone pretending to deliver a cub, that often happens here, so I took no notice.  Now though, I wonder.”

        “Patch,”  Cynthia Chartwell said, “phone for you, it’s Kuruk, and he’s so excited I can’t understand him.”

       “Noone can understand Kuruk when he’s calm, so Eohippus help anyone when he’s excited,”  patch said smiling, “Pass the phone here Cynthia.  Yes Kuruk?  Patch here, what is going on?  Now please, calm down, slow down!  Yes, you’re in the small room off the main room of your lie up, and, and, what else?  Sally had a cub?  You say Sally had a cub?  Kuruk’s deep voice could be heard plainly, as he was now shouting.

       “Kuruk,”  patch said, holding the phone away from his ear, “Kuruk, shut up and come to me and explain.  Please also make sure you arrange with Sid to feed how ever many cubs there are, yes all of them.  Okay bring Sally, and Hope, and Sally’s cub then.  Thank you, bye.”  Patch wiped his face with his paw.

        “Kuruk says Sally gave birth to a cub in the early hours of the morning,”  patch said, “but I saw nothing in the spirit world, nothing at all.  Private conversations do happen, maybe this was one.  We’ll find out sooner rather than later now.  Cynthia stared at Patch.

         “you’re telling me Sally gave birth last night?”  she asked.

        “We’ll know more in a bit,”  patch replied.

      “But she’s nine years old, she can’t!”  Scythia Chartwell exclaimed.

        “yes I can,”  Sally said, walking in cradling the newborn panda cub in her arms.

       “What?  How?”  Cynthia asked.

      “Give the cub to me,”  patch said gently.  Sally did, and Patch ran his paws over the cub, exploring it from nose to tail.

        “big thick set cub, probably got stuck,”  patch mused.

      “Hope said something about that,”  Sally said, “she asked, is the cub stuck, and I said no, it is coming strongly now.  it did take a lot of pushing, a lot of pushing, but I pushed.  Screamed and cried too, and curled my toes, and kicked, and all that, but the cub was born.  Hope was paws on throughout, and helped me a great deal.”

         “what going on here Patch?”  Kuruk asked.

         “Jinghua went into labour, and around the time she died, Sally was receptive to her dream coming true, she wanted to deliver a bear cub, and the spirits made it happen for her.”  Patch replied, “a sort of spiritual caesarean section if you like.  Sally got her wish, and saved your cub in the process.”

         “it was very strange, but very lovely,”  Sally said.

         “Well done Sally,”  Patch said softly, giving Matoskah the cub, Kuruk having already got it a bottle of milk.

          “the cub was very fat,”  Sally said, “was that to allow it to live while things were sorted out for it?”

       “yes,”  patch replied, “sally, you did very well.

         “”I did it Patch, I gave birth to a cub!”  Sally laughed.  Patch padded to the young girl and hugged her.

        “You did far more than you know,”  he replied, “well done Sally dear, well done, and thank you for your efforts from Matoskah, his cub, and his late mate.”

        “You mean, you mean I saved a cub’s life?”  Sally asked in a whisper.

       “yes,  I’ll tell you later,”  patch replied, “just know this, you have done very well this morning.”

        “I would like to see the video, is it here?”  Sally asked.

        “it is,”  Orbon replied, padding in, for he’d been summoned to the control room when Nanuq had seen something strange going on, “here is the video of you delivering Jinghua’s cub.  mama Jinghua died suddenly wile in the midst of labour.  Her cub was a healthy and strong creature, and the spirits decreed that a young human female child with a vivid imagination and a wish to help a  mama panda deliver her cub, should have her wish, and what’s more, remember it forever.  I know what happened, and so does patch.  The conversation was a private one between the spirits and Sally, for the wish was a private wish, not articulated to anyone else, though it was heartfelt and of a genuine wish to do good.  Sally made friends with Patch, and with hope, and is able to take things in her stride, so delivering a real cub into the world, when she was thinking of pretending anyway, was not too much to ask her to do.  The spirits knew Sally would know what to do to deliver the cub safely, and know what to do she did.  Sally, I and the rest of the community thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

          “I only did what I felt was needed,”  Sally replied, “I did nothing much.”

         “you haven’t seen the video,”  Orbon replied smiling, “it made me curl my toes and scream in sympathy with you.”  Sally giggled like the young girl she was.

        “I saw how you were when Peter played with your toes and you were trying to curl them tightly.  You whimpered that you wanted to curl your toes like a cub could curl theirs.”

       “I know,”  Orbon replied, “I know you too know enough to understand what happened to you last night.  I heard you telling Hope you’d seen your baby brother born of your mother.”

       “yes, that was amazing,”  Sally said.

         “now I think you need to shower and change, and we will get you the best breakfast you ever had,”  Orbon said.

         “how do you know what I’d like?”  Sally asked.  patch smiled:

         “Scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages and toast,”  he said, Sally grinning.

       “how did you know?”  she asked.

        “I know,”  patch replied.

 

So Sally showered and dressed herself in another cat suit, then sat down to an exquisite breakfast.

       “Will I ever see that cub again?”  she asked Hope, who’d joined her for breakfast.

        “Ask Sooleawa,”  Hope said, her mouth full of peanut buttered toast, “for she knows more than I do.  I just deliver the cubs.”

         “Why not Patch?”  Sally asked, “won’t he know?”

       “he will, “but Sooleawa needs the practise,”  Hope said mysteriously.

         “so Sooleawa, the paw and foot mad bear, has spiritual sight too?”  Sally asked.

       “She does,”  Hope replied, wiping her mouth with the back of her paw, “now where’s that orange juice?”  she asked.

        “with the appetite you have, anyone would think you’d delivered the cub Hope!”  Sally laughed.

       “I was frightened to begin with,”  Hope replied, “and that gives a bear a very good appetite indeed after the fright is over.  During it, well, you just feel deadly sick.”

         “I didn’t have time to be scared,”  Sally said.

       “you weren’t,”  Hope replied, “I knew that.  You just did what you had to.  You were wonderful Sally, marvellous!”

          “I wish I could remember it properly,”  Sally replied, “it’s all a blur at the moment.”

        “You will,”  hope replied, “body memory, remember?”

         “So all I’ll have to do is what Sushanti did?”  Sally asked, “just get into a quiet place with friends who understand and it will all come back to me?”

        “yes,”  Hope replied.

        “would you check my feet for thorns Hope?”  Sally asked.

       “After breakfast yes,”  Hope replied smiling.

 

Finishing their meal, Sally and Hope washed their hands and paws, and Sally sat down in patch’s lie up, Hope getting paws on with her feet.  Sally curled her toes as she felt Hope’s paws touching the soles of her feet, Smiling broadly with pleasure.

         “Can you remember anything of your labour?”  Hope asked.

       “I remember pushing hard with my feet held in my hands,”  Sally said, “it was sort of push, push, push, then relax and splay my feet to enable the pressure to push the cub forward, then I brought my feet together, held them tightly in my hands, and pushed three times again, building the pressure up before releasing it by splaying my legs,”  Sally said, “I know human births aren’t like that.”

      “No,”  patch said, walking into the lie up, “you did that Sally because the cub you were pushing against was smaller than a human baby, you had to push extra hard, and the best way to do it was build up energy by pushing as much as you physically could, then releasing that energy to help you deliver the cub.  You knew that deep down, so that’s what you did naturally.”

        “patch,”  Sally said, “it started as play, I pretended, then, then it became real, have you listened to the video?”

       “I had it described to me,”  patch replied, “it became real for you when you grabbed your feet with your hands that first time.  You drew up your legs and pushed that little bit for the first time.”

       “I did,”  Sally replied, “would you like me to re-enact that now?  I feel I could.”

        “yes please,”  Patch replied.

       “We’d like to see it too!”  peter and Jonathan said, running into the room barefoot.

        “Did you see the video?”  Sally asked.

      “oh yes, yes we did,”  Peter replied, “it made me curl my toes in sympathy with you, and Jonathan grabbed his feet with both his hands, just like you did.  We were close to curling our toes, wriggling and roaring along with you Sally.”

       “Were you really?”  she asked.

       “get foot to foot with both of us and find out,”  Peter said, “Orbon said we should do that.”

       “yes,”  Sally replied, “get hind foot to hind foot, and if toes curl easily round those of the questioned, they are telling the truth.”   So Peter sat opposite Sally, their feet a similar size, Sally’s toes touching Peter’s.

         “Did you curl your toes and kick the air with your feet when I did?”  Sally asked.

       “I did,”  peter replied, Sally feeling her toes pressing into Peter’s in an attempt to curl round his toes.  Sally moved her foot slightly, her toes gripping peter’s with strength which made him gasp.

        “wow!”  he exclaimed.

      “Now let’s see if Jonathan did what he said,”  Sally laughed.  Jonathan smiled and pressed his feet against Sally’s, Sally asking the question, though her toes were attempting to curl before she got the words out, her toes pressing hard into the soles of Jonathan’s feet.

        “Your pads are soft and warm Sally,”  Jonathan said.  Sally smiled and looked at Patch.

      “would you check my feet for thorns?”  She asked.

        “You mean would I help you get into the mood for re-enacting what happened last night?”  patch asked.

        “yes,”  Sally replied, “you can patch, I know you can.”  Patch smiled and sat down, Sally giving him her right foot, patch stroking her toes and then rubbing the sole of her foot from toes to heel, Sally gasping and curling her toes with rising emotions and a need to crawl and re-enact what happened to her.  Patch got paws on throughout, touching Sally while she became consumed with memories, feelings, sensations and emotions which she could only deal with by drawing up her legs and grabbing her feet in her hands, curling her toes while straining hard, and moaning, groaning and screaming.

         “Sally’s sweating with effort,”  peter said.

       “I think I would be,”  Jonathan replied.  Sally clutched her feet with her hands, then thrust her feet away from her, kicking as she laboured, then drew her feet up to her, wriggling her hands into place to grip her heels and the soles of both her feet, her toes curled tightly, her eyes closed and teeth clenched.

         “Wow,”  Peter said, his toes curling with Sally’s, for the two of them were great friends, and had played games together, including a birth game once.

        “She’s curling her toes so tightly,”  peter thought, watching Sally wriggle and kick desperately.

         “push Sally, Push into your bottom!”  Peter yelled, Sally squealing and obeying his instruction by grabbing both feet in her hands, holding on tight, then making huge efforts, the first effort made her whimper, the second growl, the third roar, then, as she splayed her legs, kicking the air, Sally screamed lustily, just as she had during the last few seconds of the video.

       “Well done Sally, that’s it, that’s it!”  Peter encouraged.

        “wow,”  patch exclaimed as his paws were pummelled by Sally’s bare feet and scrabbled at by her curled toes as she kicked desperately.

         “I did it, I did it!”  Sally panted.

        “Your feet are bathed in sweat,”  Jonathan said.

        “I know, I know, but it is normal,”  Sally panted.  Patch found talc and sprinkled it over Sally’s hands and feet, rubbing it into her skin, Sally smiling at him.

         “thanks,”  she said, curling her toes to work the talc between them, and rubbing her hands together.

         “What will mum say Sally?”  Peter asked.  Sally sighed heavily:

         “Maybe I won’t tell her,”  she said, “it could be my little secret.  It’s not that I’m ashamed of what happened, for I know it was right, if it hadn’t been right, the spirits would not have done what they did.  I just don’t think mum would believe what I told her, a human delivering a panda cub, I believe it, for I felt the cub inside me, I wriggled to position the cub, then felt an urge to push, and push I did.  Then the cub was inside me, and there was only one way to give birth to the cub, to curl my toes and kick, scream and push.  I wanted it so much!”

         “So did I,”  a voice said, Sally turning her head, then laughing and embracing a large fat panda cub with huge paws and feet and shining eyes.

         “hello little one,”  Sally said, the cub sitting down, making sure her feet touched Sally’s, sally obeying the wish of her toes to curl around the cub’s, the panda cub pressing her feet against Sally’s.

         “I can’t feed you,”  Sally said, “but I will remember you forever.”

       “I know that,”  the cub said, “Sooleawa told me that.  She checked me over from my nose to my feet and told me the one who’d given birth to me could not mother me.  I knew this already.  My mama died, and the spirits gave me life by making me go through the birth process with one who wanted to deliver me into the world as much as my mother did.  Sally let go of the cub’s toes, then pulled her into her lap.

        “I do love you from nose to toes,”  Sally said, kissing the cub’s nose and the pads and toes of all four paws, the panda cub laughing and waving her paws joyously.

       “Sooleawa said you’d be able to give me something that only you could,”  the cub said.

        “I can’t just call you cub,”  Sally said, “so how about a name?  Chopsticks.”  The cub laughed:

       “I like it,”  she said.

 

Kuaizi is the Chinese word for chopsticks,”  Patch remarked.

      “I like that name too,”  Sally’s cub replied.   Sally looking down into the cub’s eyes, found she truly loved the cub, Kuaizi looking up at her.

        “Do you remember me being born?”  the cub asked.

       “I do,”  Sally replied, “and I will treasure it forever.”

       “Did it hurt?”  Kuaizi asked.

       “it did, it hurt a lot, but I loved every minute, for I knew what to do to deliver you into the world, I’d seen another panda mama having a cub.  she wriggled and waved her paws in the air, and kicked with her hind feet, and grabbed her feet with her paws, and screamed, and roared, and curled her toes, panted and pushed, pushed and panted, and pushed, and pushed and pushed.”

        “Thank you,”  Kuaizi said, staring up into Sally’s eyes from where she lay in her lap.

       “I must go home in a few days,”  Sally said.

       “We got here only yesterday,”  peter said, “it’s only early evening on the first full day here.  You packed a lot into less than twenty four hours Sally.  Meeting bears and lions, and then delivering a cub into the world, now you can enjoy the time with Kuaizi, we’re here till Friday, and it’s Tuesday.”

      “That means you can spend the weekend here, and go back to school Monday,”  patch replied, “that’s fixed then.”  Sally smiled at him:

        “You’re great,”  she said.

       “I just think it’s time to let you and your friends play,”  patch said.

       “Look what play led to with me,”  Sally said smiling, “I was playing at having a cub, and I had a cub!”

         “you know why that happened,”  Patch replied, “now treasure that memory and those emotions and feelings.”

       “I didn’t know my toes could curl like they did,”  Sally replied, “I could feel them curling as I held my feet in my hands, my toes went mad!”

         “I saw them,”  peter said, walking to Sally and tracing the sole of her foot with the index finger of his right hand, Sally curling her toes and laughing.

       “What is he doing mama Sally?”  Kuaizi asked.

       “Peter’s tickling the bottom of my foot, I’ll show you on your hind foot Kewpies,”  she took the cub’s left foot in her hands and traced the sole of her foot like Peter had her own, Kuaizi laughing and curling her toes, just as Sally had.

       “that feels lovely!”  the panda cub laughed.

       “You have a furry paw, no sole heel pad,”  Sally said.

       “All pandas have furry hind feet, we don’t have heel pads like other bears, though we have toe pads on all four paws”  Kuan Yin said, padding into the lie up.

       “Ah thanks,”  Sally said, “so that’s why when I saw the soles of the mama panda’s hind feet in the video of her delivering her cub, I couldn’t see a heel pad on either foot, because she didn’t have one, but she could really curl her toes!”

       “yes,”  Kuan Yin replied.

        “your hind feet are warm and soft,”  Kewpies said to Sally, who laughed:

       “Yours are too,”  she replied.

      “But yours don’t have fur on them,”  Kuaizi said, “so how can they be so soft?”

       “I’m young,”  Sally replied, “young mamas have soft [pads on their hind feet.”

      “Oh,”  Kuaizi replied, “is that so they can hold onto their feet easily while pushing their cubs into the world?”  Sally settled Kuaizi  on the floor and took her right foot in her hands, pressing her fingers into the soft skin on the sole of her foot, playing with her toes and massaging her heel, smiling as she remembered the grip of her fingers on the soles of both her feet, reliving the pressure she put on her pads and soles, how deeply her fingers dug into soft skin, and how reassuring the purchase was.

      “yes it is for that,”  Sally said, “hard foot pads would not give so much grip, so yes, that is why my feet have soft pads.”

      “Good,”  Kuaizi said.

      “That’s rubbish!”  Jonathan said.

       “it sounds plausible though,”  patch replied, “and it’s a great tale!”  of course, Kewpies will learn why pads become tough in time, but right now, the miracle of her birth, and how Sally gave life to her is all that matters, soft padded hind feet, easily curling toes, bunching pads  and all.”

        “You make birth sound cute and cuddly,”  Kuan Yin said.

        “it sort of was, well from my end,”  Sally said, “I understood what to do, knew I was safe, and felt warm and cared for too.  Even when I pushed and screamed, it was still warm and I felt safe enough.  Holding my feet in my hands while lying on my back with my legs drawn up felt like being under a warm blanket.  Kicking my feet free felt like kicking the blanket off, then drawing my feet up again and grabbing my feet with my hands, holding on tight and curling my toes felt like drawing the blanket tight around me.  Pushing felt wonderful too, real relief.  Groan twice, feel the pressure building, then, then, oh the pushing, I pushed hard and long, deeply down!  It was wonderful, and screaming felt lovely too, that opened things up, and I could really give it everything!”

        “It was an amazing video,”  Peter said, “I wish I could curl my toes like you did.”

        “it was amazing from my end too,”  Sally said.

 

Meanwhile, in the lodge office, Cynthia was dealing with Sally’s mother , who’d got wind of her daughter’s strange encounters of the previous night.

        “Sally should not have been allowed to watch that wildlife documentary with that mama panda delivering her cub, it showed a young girl too much!”  she screamed at Cynthia.

        “I am not responsible for what she watches after school hours,”  Cynthia said, “and by all accounts, the video she saw helped her get through her labour last night.”

       “I can’t believe that video I saw is true!”  Sally’s mother screamed.

       “it is,”  Cynthia replied, “and couldn’t be more real.”

        “Sally will be known as panda girl or something just as silly now!”  Sally mother screamed.

       “no she won’t!”  Cynthia said laughing, despite her attempt not to, “she’ll be respected and given chance to tell her story and enjoy her glow of success.  She did well, very well.”

       “I don’t know if I want Sally to stay here,”  her mother said.

        “She learnt a lot from Patch’s two visits, and is going to learn a lot from her time here too,”  Cynthia replied.

       “I have the right to take her out of here,”  Cynthia’s mother said.

       “of course you do, but we all hope you won’t,”  a voice said behind her.  spinning round, Sally’s mother saw a huge grey bear standing on his hind feet, looking mildly at her.

      Oh, oooah!”  she gasped.

       “Is that all you can say?”  Orbon asked smiling.

         “who, who is the cub who was with Sally while she gave birth to the panda?”  Sally’s mother asked.

        “that was Hope,”  Orbon replied, “she helped Sally magnificently.”

        “she got, well, paws on,”  Sallies mother said, “what about infection?”

       “there won’t be,”  Orbon replied, “you need not worry about that.”

        “Can I speak to her?”  Sally’s mother asked.

        “to Hope?  Or to Sally?”  Orbon asked.

      “To Sally!”  Sally’s mother snapped.

     “Yes,”  Orbon replied, “I’ll get a phone.”

 

“Sally?”  her mother asked, “what is this about you having given birth to a panda cub?”

        “It happened mum, it really did!”  Sally replied.”  Everyone could hear her replies, as the phone was on conference call.

         “yes I saw,”  her mother replied, “but I don’t know whether to pull you out of this crazy field trip.  I come here, speak to your teacher, but then am approached by a bear who speaks in the language of man.”

        “That’s dear Orbon,”  Sally laughed, “he’s lovely, have you met patch yet?”

       “No I haven’t,”  Sally’s mother replied, “Patch is that big bear you spoke of the last time this weird community visited your school and you handed over that polar bear cub to their care isn’t he?”

       “yes he is,”  patch said, touching the woman’s back with his paw, Sally able to see what was going on via a camera linked to the phone, the shock on her mum’s face making her shriek with laughter.

       “Not you as well!”  she yelled, “Everyone speaks English here!”

       “I could speak German? Spanish? Latin?”  Orbon replied smiling.

      “no no no!  I did not mean that!”  Sally’s mother replied.

        “I would be very unhappy if you took Sally away,”  Hope said, squeezing round Orbon who stood in the doorway.

        “Can all the cubs speak English?”  Sally’s mother asked.

       “No, Hope can’t, but I can translate the words she speaks in ursine, and make your brain hear the language you understand,”  Patch replied.  Sally’s mother screamed and ran from the house into the wood, then to her car, speeding away from the house.  Speeding along the main road, she was stopped by the police and breathalysed.  Finding she was over the limit, she was taken to the police station and the sergeant asked why she’d been drinking before driving.

       “I needed courage to visit a house full of bears,”  was her response, for which she was immediately disqualified from driving.  As Sally’s home was some distance from the woodlands, Sally’s mother had to go back to the house for shelter.

 

 

Sally, realising she was now free to enjoy her time with the community, turned her attention back to Kuaizi, peter and Jonathan.  Peter took hold of Sally’s right foot in his hands and traced her pads and toes, Sally giggling and curling her toes with pleasure.

         “shouldn’t you ask Sally before you touch her feet?”  Jonathan asked.

       “According to Orbon, the way you touch a foot or paw communicates instantly,”  Peter said, “Sally would have removed her foot from my hands if she didn’t want it touched.”

        “so if you find a mama in labour or a trapped creature in the woods and they are screaming and beyond sense, touching them will calm them?”  Jonathan asked.

        “yes,”  Targon replied, walking into the lie up, “that is how Blackberry found me, I was trapped and distraught, and he came and touched me.  I had no time to be terrified.  His paws soothed me.”

       “There is a lot still to learn about this place,”  Jonathan said.  Peter smiled as Sally’s toes relaxed and curled even tighter as he stroked the thick soft heel pad of her right foot.

        “I remember Hope touching my heels and toes as I laboured,”  Sally said, “her touch felt good.”

       “Your mama just got stopped for drink driving,”  Jonathan said.  Sally smiled:

        “After hope apparently spoke to her, I think I’d get drunk too,”  she said, “that is if I didn’t know her and couldn’t believe Hope could understand what we say and answer back.”

 

“What is this I hear of Sally delivering a cub?”  Ekaterina asked, padding into patch’s lie up.

       “It’s all true Ekaterina dear,”  Patch replied smiling.

       “Like Jess?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “Sort of, but then again not like her at all,”  Sally said.  Ekaterina got paws on with Sally, touching her head, her arms, hands, legs, and feet.

      “You have fat, well padded hind feet,”  Ekaterina said,  Sally laughing.

        “I know they are a bit fat,”  she replied.

      “I found the sight of you holding your feet with your hands rather cute,”  peter said.

       “My feet are rather fat,”  Sally replied, “though those soft pads were very good for my fingers to hold onto while I was pushing into my bottom to give birth to Kuaizi.”

        “how did it feel?”  peter asked.

        “Like belly ache,”  Sally said, “like the worst urge to push down into my bottom, an urge I couldn’t resist.  Curling my toes felt good, and drawing up my legs and holding my feet with my hands, pulling them towards me felt great too.  I needed the support of my feet, if you know what I mean.”

       “It’s a very comfortable position,”  peter said, “I’ve tried it, it’s really comfy.

       “your feet are sort of thickly padded too peter,”  Sally said.  Peter smiled and scratched at Sally’s fingers which held her right foot with his toes, Sally smiling and letting Peter’s toes seemingly pull her fingers away from the sole of her right foot.

       “Cute,”  Ekaterina said, touching Sally’s hands and feet throughout.

        “Sally and I often play foot and hand games like this,”  Peter said, “we play a lot at school.  Do you have times where you let the cubs just play together?”

        “We do,”  patch said, “the cubs often end up chasing each other, playing they stuck foot game, or other foot and paw related games.”

        “Cute,”  Sally said.

        “Are you and Peter Related Sally?”  Ekaterina asked, exploring pert’s right foot with her paws.

       “We are,”  he said, “I’m her half brother.  Same mother you see.”  Ekaterina smiled:

       “Thought so,”  she replied, “your feet feel similar to Sally’s.”

       “Yes,”  Peter replied smiling.

      “You and I have thick pads on our feet peter,”  Sally said, “we often play foot games together don’t we.”

       “yes we do,”  peter replied, “our feet stick well together too.”

         “Did Sally tell you of the panda she saw having the cub?”  Patch asked.

      “She did,”  peter replied, “I saw the film too, “it made me curl my toes in sympathy with the mama panda, and we both pretended to be that mama panda also.  Though I think Sally did a better job of it.”  Sally giggled:

      “That took ages,”  she said, “we played for ages.”

      “We did, and it was wonderful wasn’t it,”  Peter replied smiling, Sally curling the toes of her right foot around those of her half brother’s left.

        “have you and Sally played birth games?”  Ekaterina asked.

      “We have,”  peter replied, “the story was that Sally was a mama bear, and that she was giving birth in the den.  We used a soft toy bear as the cub, and Sally pretended to give birth to the cub.  it was very silly play, I helped Sally by pretending to be the sire of the cub, protecting her while she delivered the cub into the world.  That took hours too, for Sally took things slowly, playing with her toes, drawing up her feet and grabbing them, that sort of thing.”

        “Why would humans pretend to be bears?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “Maybe we don’t like what we are,”  Jonathan replied, “maybe some of us see what our species has done to the world, and wish we were other than human.  Playing at being other than ourselves is something children do often.”

          “I enjoyed playing the mama bear,”  Sally said smiling, “it felt great to roar and wave my paws and feet in the air.”  Ekaterina smiled:

        “I pretend sometimes too,”  she said, “Sally realising she could understand the mama bear.

        “Show me please,”  Sally said,  Ekaterina sitting down, rocking back and fourth, moaning and huffing, then rolling onto her back, drawing up her legs and roaring in sudden pain, then rolling onto her side, drawing up her hind legs and grabbing her knees with her paws, then roaring lustily, the toes of her hind feet curled tightly with effort.  Then smiling, she relaxed.

       “Like that,”  she replied panting slightly.

          “that looked great,”  Sally said.

        “I used to be better at it,”  Ekaterina replied, “I’m a midwife here.  I teach mama bears what to do during the births of their cubs.”

        “Sally has fat feet Ekaterina,”  Peter said, “they have pink soles and tops, with fat toes.  Mine are like that too.”  Ekaterina got paws on with Peter’s right foot, Peter curling his toes tightly as she touched the sole of his foot with her paw.

         “I am trying to be more tactile,”  Ekaterina said, “trying to enjoy what I used to.”

       “she’s grunting and huffing,”  Jonathan said.

      “she’s talking to us, we can understand her,”  Peter replied.  “Well I can’t,”  Jonathan replied.

        “Maybe you aren’t listening,”  Sally said.

       “Re-enacting what you experience helps you make sense of it doesn’t it,”  Peter said to Ekaterina.

        “yes,”  Ekaterina replied, “play at giving birth to cubs, paws being stuck, all that sort of thing, helps us to understand what to do if we really are giving birth to cubs, or our paws and feet really are stuck in a hole, or we are caught by the paw or foot.”

        “She’s still huffing and growling,”  Jonathan said.

         “Ekaterina can’t speak English Jonathan,”  peter replied.

      “So how come you two can understand her perfectly?”  Jonathan asked.

      “Because we listen to what she has to say,”  Sally laughed.

        “Why can’t Ekaterina speak English like Orbon does!”  Jonathan complained.

        “she’s a community bear, not one of the bears who has been exposed to the human world,”  Patch replied, “as Sally and peter say, listen to her and you’ll understand her, for she understands your language, even if she can’t speak it.”

        “You have lines on the soles of both your feet mama Sally,”  Kuaizi said, tracing the lines on the sole of Sally’s right foot with the toes of one paw, the young girl laughing helplessly and curling her toes.

       “That tickles, but it’s nice too,”  Sally said.  Kuaizi stopped tracing Sally’s foot and watched as she grabbed it in both her hands and massaged the sole with her fingers.

         “I saw Hope and Kuruk doing that when they finished tickling each other’s toes,”  Kuaizi said.  Sally grinned and gave Kuaizi her left foot to play with, the cub tracing the lines on the sole of that foot, Sally curling her toes and bouncing about with excitement.

         “I like you tickling my foot,”  Sally said, “it feels great.”

       “your feet and paws are very gentle mama,”  Kuaizi said.  Sally looked at Patch.

         “patch,”  she said, “Can I feed Kuaizi?”

       “Yes,”  Patch replied, “I’ll get you a bottle of milk for her.  Kuaizi scrambled into Sally’s lap and snuggled up.  Patch gave Sally the bottle.

       “Let Kuaizi find how to drink,”  patch said, which is what Sally did, feeling the cub drinking busily.

          “When Kuaizi has finished her meal, rested and relieved herself, we’ll go to the soft play room,”  Patch said, “we were going to do that earlier today, but someone delivered a cub, and we couldn’t.”  Sally smiled broadly, her heart singing with pride in and love for Kuaizi.

          “I want to go back to school today,”  Jonathan said, “these animals are freaks!”

         “I’ll arrange for you to go back to the school and be taught by the teachers,”  Patch said, “Cynthia Chartwell will stay here with Sally and Peter though.”

        “These creatures are mad!”  Jonathan replied, “how on earth can Sally give birth to a cub?  but she has!  I can’t cope with that!”

         “bye then,”  peter said, almost laughing.

 

“Sally,”  Ekaterina said, “would you show me how your labour went?”  Sally smiled:

        “yes I will,”  she replied, “first though, would you check my feet for thorns?  Part of my reconstruction of what happened means I have to hold my feet tightly in my hands.”

        “yes, of course I will,”  Ekaterina replied.  Ekaterina checked Sally’s hands and feet with her paws, Sally laughing and rolling onto her back and kicking the air with her feet as Ekaterina checked each over.

        “This makes me feel like a young cub!”  Sally laughed, “as if I’ve never had my feet checked for thorns before!  It feels great!”  Sally drew up her legs and grabbed her feet with her hands, Ekaterina getting paws on, smiling at the situation.

         “You are comfortable there?”  She asked.

       “I am, hold on,”  Sally replied, wriggling a little, her feet settling comfortably into the grip of her hands, “that’s better.”  Ekaterina explored Sally’s gripping fingers and fat heel and toe pads.

        “I’ll bet these feet are good to hold onto,”  Ekaterina said.

      “They are,”  Sally replied smiling, “I can really dig my fingers in to hold on tight to my feet when wriggling and labouring to deliver my cub.  My feet are very important when delivering my cub, as they are something to hold on to during the worst efforts and pain.  My toes curl tight, my fingers hold tight to my feet, and I wriggle my body and push against my hands with my feet, while holding onto my feet with my hands to keep the contact which I desperately need, like this,”  Sally said, wriggling to settle herself, then pushing with her feet and pulling against both her feet with both hands as Ekaterina got paws on.

        “you use your feet during a cub’s birth like mama bears do,”  Ekaterina replied.

        “yes,”  Sally replied, “I know that, I saw a mama panda holding her hind feet with her paws, she lay on her back and drew up her legs and held her feet with her paws, and pressed her feet into her paws, and pulled with her paws, and curled her toes, then wriggled and wriggled and wriggled.”

        “I’ll bet she did,”  Ekaterina replied, squirming with discomfort at the thought of the mama panda’s labour.

        “Can I touch your feet while you hold them in your paws?”  Sally asked.  Ekaterina smiled:

       “I’d be delighted if you would,”  she replied.  Sally curled her toes tightly, and breathed deeply, settling her feet for one last effort. Roaring, she clutched at her feet with both hands, digging her fingers into the soles of both feet, her toes curling desperately, her pads bunching.  Sally snarled with effort, pulling at her feet with her hands, then pushing at her hands with her feet as she relaxed.

        “oooah, this feels great!”  Sally gasped.

       “yes it does,”  Ekaterina said, getting paws on.  Sally smiled at Ekaterina, but she couldn’t see.  Ekaterina felt Sally’s hands and feet, Sally using her hands and feet to help her in her labour, pushing with her feet, pulling with her hands, gripping her feet with both her hands.  Then she sat up, grabbed her right foot in her hands and squeezed her foot, curling her toes tightly.

       “awaaaoaoaoaowooarh!”  she whimpered, “got to lie down again, “ow! Ow!”  Sally lay back, drew up her legs and grabbed her feet once more, it seemed she felt better that way.

       “I also squeezed my foot in my paws, and curled my toes tightly,”  Ekaterina said, gently kissing the straining fingers of Sally’s left hand , then the heel and desperately curling toes of Sally’s left foot.

       “Thanks!”  Sally gasped, pushing extra hard with her feet and pulling harder still with her hands, rocking back and fourth and side to side a little with her efforts.

       “that looks kind of cute Sally,”  Orbon said, for he’d wandered in and sat down to watch the goings on.

       “Bet you can’t do what Sally is doing Orbon,”  Peter said.

      “Bet I can,”  Orbon replied, rolling onto his back and grabbing his feet with his paws, peter laughing and crawling over to him to massage the bear’s curled toes..

       “you have smooth pads Orbon, just like me!”  Peter laughed.

       “Indeed I do,”  Orbon said.

         “paws and feet are expressive aren’t they,”  peter said.  Orbon smiled and wiggled the toes of his right foot, Peter smiling and counting the bear’s toes, Orbon catching peter’s fingers in the toes of his right foot.

        “Bet you can’t wriggle and struggle like Sally did,”  peter said.  Orbon settled himself on his back, his legs drawn up, his hind feet held in his paws, he then wriggled and rocked, gripping his feet with his paws in a desperate struggle to free his feet from his paws, while his paws held onto his feet with desperate urgency.

       “Cute that,”  peter said.  Mimicking Orbon’s actions.  Orbon, seeing this, let go of his own feet, crawled over to Peter, who lay on his back, legs drawn up, holding his feet with his hands, bracing them hard against his fingers, and tickled the boy’s toes by blowing on them, Peter laughing and kicking the air with both feet, Orbon blowing on the sole and heel of Peter’s right foot, the young boy sitting up, grabbing his foot in his hands and rubbing the toes and sole where Orbon’s breath had tickled them.

      “You bad bear!”  peter laughed.  Orbon smiling.

        “I know how to play,”  he replied.

      “I didn’t know until I got here how much fun just playing with each other could be,”  Peter said, “just bare hands and feet and a good imagination, all we need.”

       “Cubs are encouraged to play like that all the time,”  Orbon replied, “adult community members are encouraged to pull off their adult feet and paws at the door of the soft play room.”

        “how does that work?”  Sally asked, crawling to Orbon.

       “it’s all about your inner cub,”  Orbon replied, “imagine the older you get, the thicker your adult skin gets.  So to get back to your cub self, you need to remove your adult hind feet and paws.”

       “Like rolling a sock off of your foot?”  peter asked.

        “yes,”  Orbon replied, “of course, the sock is on tight, so there is much pulling and tugging, like this.  Orbon grabbed his right foot in his paws and Sally and peter saw him tugging and pulling at his foot with his paws, as if he was rolling a sock off his foot, though his foot was bare.  Orbon huffed and panted, curled and stretched his toes, and moved his paws over his foot as if pulling off a sock.  He then tugged the imaginary sock off his toes and threw it away, massaging the now imagined tender pads and toes of his right foot with gentle care.

       “That looks so cute!”  peter said.

        “I like playing as if I sport cub’s feet under my tough adult pads,”  Orbon said.

         “I still think playing with toes or holding hind feet in forepaws is cuter than anything else,”  Orbon said.

        “agreed!”  Sally and Peter replied.

        “What games did you and Orbon play last night peter?”  Sally asked.

      “Well we didn’t get much time before I got a call to say you’d had a cub,”  Orbon replied, “but Peter and I played the stuck foot game, and we touched each other’s pads, and tickled each other’s toes too.  we had a great time.  Then Nanuq called me to say he was watching you Sally giving birth to a panda cub.  I told him he was seeing things, but then he told me to come and look, which I did, and then, well, wow!”

        “I’ll explain to you Jonathan how Sally seemed to give birth to a cub.  Well she did it, but she wasn’t pregnant with the cub.  the cub was only given the jolt into life.  Jinghua, who is Kuwaizi’s real mama, died giving birth to her.  as it was Sally’s wish to help a mama panda, she was given her wish.  The panda was put inside Sally, and she was instructed to push by her body.  Sally knew what to do, as she’d seen a mama panda deliver a cub before.  She was told, “just do what you would if you were that mama panda.”  And Sally did.  She pushed, she grabbed her feet with her hands, and delivered the cub.”

       “So it’s like slapping the baby’s bum after the doctors have taken it from the mama’s tummy,”  Peter said.

      “yes,”  Patch replied, “Sally did the slapping, if you like.”

       “I’ll explain it to mum that way,”  peter replied.

        “I think we have a lot to learn here,”  Sally said.

        “You don’t need to explain,”  Sally’s mother said, “I’ve listened to your talk, well, as much of it as I could understand, and find the idea of Sally delivering a cub very strange indeed.  I knew you were into imaginary play, but I didn’t think you were that deeply into it.”

       “I am, and I asked to deliver a cub, and the spirits let me,”  Sally said smiling at her mum.”

         “So a mama panda was in labour, and you were playing at having a cub, like I’ve seen you do before, and the play at having a cub turned into really having a cub?”  Sally’s mother asked.

       “yes mum it did, and here is that cub,”  Sally replied, indicating Kuaizi.

        “What do I do now?”  Sally’s mother asked, “I’ve had my car taken away, been disqualified from driving, and am stuck here.”

        “Take your shoes and socks off, let Sooleawa check your feet for thorns, then spend the night here,”  Orbon replied, “there’s nowhere else within two miles, and you live on the other side of the town I have heard.”

      “Okay,”  Sally’s mother replied, sitting down and taking off her shoes and socks, “where do I put these?  And where do I go to get my feet checked for thorns?”

         “follow me,”  Orbon replied,        “what is your name my dear,”  Orbon asked.

       “it’s Jemma,”  Sally’s mother replied,.  Jemma padded after Orbon, Orbon leading her to Sooleawa’s foot and paw check, the silver grey bear smiling and indicating Jemma should kneel.  She did, and felt Sooleawa run her paws over the soles of her bare feet from heels to toes, Jemma unable to stop her toes curling with pleasure.

         “I’ll have to get a cab tomorrow,”  she said when Sooleawa had finished her exploration with a genteel pat to the heel pad of Jemma’s right foot.

        “Did you give birth to Sally in the same way she did Kuaizi?”  Sooleawa asked.

       “yes I did,”  Jemma replied, sitting down and looking at the silver coated cub, “How did you know?”

       “I felt the imprints of your fingers on the soles of your feet,”  Sooleawa said.

       “But that was nine years ago,”  Jemma replied.

        “your feet never forget, and neither will you if you grab your feet with your hands like your daughter cub did,”  Sooleawa replied.

         “Sally laboured like I did,”  Jemma admitted, “that was why I was so furious, a little of it at least.”

        “I’ll bet your toes curled in sympathy with your daughter’s,”  Orbon said.

        “I was barefoot, and yes, they did,”  Jemma replied, for she saw no point in not telling the truth.

 “I don’t know why I’m talking to you like this,”

        “Maybe because you feel you can,”  Sooleawa replied, “what you have said is not strange to us.  The body memory of your cub, sorry, child’s birth, your toes curling in sympathy with your daughter’s, all that is not news to us.  It happens all the time to us.  We live the stories we watch and hear.  For instance, I will hear a story, and curl my toes when the character in the story curls theirs.   It’s normal when a good tale is being told, to almost act that tale out.”

        “So when peter watched Sally delivering, whatever that cub’s called, into the world, he’d curl his toes and grab his feet with his hands?”  Jemma asked.

         “yes,”  Orbon replied, “that’s how it happened.”

          “Your heel and toe pads are thick, just like Peter’s and Sally’s,”  Sooleawa said.

        “I got pregnant with peter three months after I had Sally,”  Jemma said, “and yes, I grabbed my feet and roared when delivering Peter into the world too.  he hurt me on his way into the world.  I delivered him at home, roaring and screaming the roof off, curling my toes and punching with my hands and pedalling at the air, and kicking with my feet.  Labour was like the ride from hell, with the only handholds being my own feet while I roared and pushed.  I played with my toes quite a bit in the early stages, massaging my toes and heels, squeezing my toes in my hands and moaning deeply.”

       “You’re playing with the toes of your right foot, even now,”  Sooleawa said.

      “Indeed, I am,”  Jemma said, “I hadn’t noticed till you said.  Sooleawa smiled and led Jemma to the great room where she met Nuru, whom she’d last seen being tickled by Sally.

       “I hear your daughter cub helped one of our own last night,”  Nuru said.

         “yes she did, at least I think she did,”  Jemma replied, “I can’t believe I’m speaking to a lion on equal terms.”

       “And why not?”  Nuru asked, “surely we lions are as worthy of equal status with the bears?”

      “yes, sorry, that’s me talking like a human speaking to a dumb animal again,”  Jemma replied, “sorry.”

       “We’re only dumb because you don’t listen to us,”  Nuru mewed.  “now you are listening to us.  Your daughter cub certainly understands our language too, which is wonderful.”  Jemma looked down at Nuru’s face, mane, and paws, and what big paws Nuru had.  Nuru smiled and bounced on his toes, Jemma smiling and touching Nuru’s mane, Nuru lying down, and rolling onto his back to wave his paws in the air.  Jemma laughed and tickled the lion’s toes, Nuru mewing, growling and purring with pleasure.

       “I’ve never tickled a lion’s toes before,”  Jemma said.  Nuru clasping her hand in his paws, his eyes shining up at her.

         “You have now,”  he replied.  Jemma smiled broadly at the lion and kneeling, kissed his nose.

        “I could learn to love a huge lion,”  Jemma said.

       “Not me,”  Nuru replied softly, getting to his feet and bouncing on his toes.

       “So cute,”  Jemma said.

        “How dare you call the pride leader cute!”  Nuru snarled in mock anger, Jemma laughing merrily and ruffling Nuru’s mane, the lion yawning at her, showing his teeth.

        “Big boy aren’t you,”  Jemma said, Nuru laughing merrily.

        “This lion can be brought to curling his toes and roaring with a mama tigress as she delivers her cub into the world,”  tigress Tess said, padding up to Nuru and hugging him.

       “”I love you Nuru,”  Tess said softly, kissing her mate’s nose.

        “It’s lovely to see how open everyone is here,”  Jemma said.

        “it’s how we get on here,”  Tess replied, “open with our touch, open with our feelings.”

        “So the spirits knew Sally wanted to deliver a cub, and let her give Jinghua’s cub the help it needed to live,”  Jemma said.

        “yes,”  Nuru replied, “Sally’s wish to deliver a cub was born of a need to help the mama panda she’d seen struggling in the wildlife documentary.  Even though the cub survived, the birth was a struggle for the mother panda.”

       “I heard the mother panda roaring and screaming as she pushed, it was horrid,”  Jemma replied.

        “Screaming and roaring is okay,”  Ekaterina replied, “that’s how we tell how far along the mama is.  Her cries are different depending on where the cub is in the birth process.  Silent births are not encouraged here.  Roar your head off is the name of the game.”

         “I did,”  Jemma replied gently.

       “I’ve heard a human woman having a baby,”  Ekaterina replied, “she sounded much like a bear does, gasping, roaring and yelling.”

       “Did she curl her toes and kick with her feet?”  Jemma asked.

        “I’m told she did,”  Ekaterina replied, “for I can’t see, like Patch, I can’t see, but he used to be able to see.”

        “Sally told me that,”  Jemma replied, “she was besotted with Patch from the start.  She told me she tickled his toes the first time they met.”

        “Sally did,”  Ekaterina said smiling.

       “My daughter loves your mate Ekaterina,”  Jemma said.  Ekaterina smiled broadly:

         “I love him very much,”  Ekaterina said.

        “he loves you too Ekaterina,”  Nuru replied, turning to Ekaterina and resting his paw on hers, “you do know that don’t you?”

        “I’m trying my best to play with him like I used to,”  Ekaterina replied softly.

         “so will my daughter cub become panda girl or something like that?”  Jemma asked.

        “No,”  Ekaterina replied, “her name is Sally, though we could give her a community name too, a Chinese name as she’s helped a mama panda.”

        “My son Peter is a big fan of this community too,”  Jemma said, “they both enjoy the videos and live feeds from the cameras.  They often chase each other and tickle each other’s toes, which is rather cute.”

        “Would you check my pads for thorns Jemma?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “of course I will,”  Jemma replied, Ekaterina sitting down, Jemma sitting opposite her and lifting Ekaterina’s right hind foot onto her knee to check her pads over.

        “You have thick rough pads and large toes, which curl easily I see,”  Jemma said, As Ekaterina’s toes curled with pleasure at Jemma’s touch, the she bear unable to stop them.

      “Your pads even bunch up too, that’s so cute!”  Jemma laughed.

       “I’ll bet yours do too when you curl your toes,”  Ekaterina said.

       “They do,”  Jemma replied, “want to get paws on with my foot?  I’ll curl my toes to show you.”

      “yes, if it’s okay,”  Ekaterina replied smiling.  Jemma gave Ekaterina her left foot, letting her explore with her paws, Ekaterina feeling relaxed toes, then curled toes and bunched up sole skin.

       “do your cubs play with their toes?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “They used to, and I loved watching them, they’d play with each other’s toes too,”  Jemma replied, though now they don’t much any more, or at least if they do, I don’t see it.”

      “I have heard that they still do, and we know they do, for they are open with playing with their hands and feet,”  Ekaterina said.

        “I’d love to see them play the stuck foot game like they used to,”  Jemma said.

        “We do mum,”  Sally said, walking in with Peter, “but we didn’t think you liked to see us playing our games.  We thought you’d think we were too old for such games.”

        “I think you playing those games is great,”  Jemma said, “I need a bit of cheering up, if you two are up for it, would you play now?”  Peter smiled:

        “Let’s play Sally,”  he said.  Sally and Peter sat down opposite each other, then each took the other’s feet in their hands and explored toes, soles and heels, pressing pads and stretching skin on soles to check for thorns.  Sally tickled the toes of Peter’s left foot, Peter laughing and curling his toes, catching Sally’s fingers with his toes.

        “You got me!”  Sally laughed, Peter squeezing her fingers with the toes of his left foot, then letting go.  Sally gently drew her fingers down the sole of Peter’s left foot, Peter laughing, bouncing about, and then tightly curling his toes in response.

          “You tickled my foot!”  he yelped.

        “Mischievous cubs,”  Jemma said smiling.

       “your pads are soft and fleshy, your toes thick and large,”  Sally said.  peter smiled and curled the toes of his free right foot around those of Sally’s left.

         “Your toes are smaller than mine,”  Peter said, exploring the toes of Sally’s left foot with his right hand.

      “They are, but they curled tightly when giving birth to Kuaizi,”  Sally said.

        “would you re-enact that for me?”  Peter asked.

       “if you’ll get hands on, I will,”  Sally replied, “I can play at having a cub, but it’s not really playing now.  I’ve done it for real.”

        “I remember that time when you played at having a panda cub, and it got stuck,”  Peter replied, “you held your feet with your hands, wriggled and curled your toes a lot then.”

       “I did,”  Sally replied, “but fortunately, when it happened for real, the cub didn’t get stuck.”

        “I have been watching the births of many cubs here,”  Peter said, “mamas are very expressive.”

          “yes they are,”  Aslan replied, padding into the room, “patch said you might want to see the birth of a cub, “my mate Imvula is in labour now.”  peter and Sally abandoned their game instantly.

        “Don’t crowd the mama lion,”  Jemma said.

      “We won’t!”  peter said, running after Aslan.

 

They found Imvula pacing and pawing at the rug in her lie up.

        “I’ve been struggling not to push,”  she panted, “I can smell the children are here.”

       “Can’t she see us?”  peter asked.

       “she’s got her eyes closed in concentration,”  Sally replied.

       “now, get hands on, I’ll need all three of you,”  Imvula replied, “this is going to hurt!”

        “Do you want us all hands on?”  Sally asked.

       “yes, oh yes, hands on and paws on too, Aslan, you will be present throughout this time.”

         “I missed Amafu’s birth,”  Aslan admitted ashamedly.

        “let me sit down,”  Imvula gasped, sitting opposite the children, Sally and Peter wrapping their arms around her, feeling Imvula wriggling into their embrace, her face only inches from theirs.  Anchoring herself with the bare toes of all four paws, Imvula leant into the embrace of Peter and Sally, panting, gasping, mewing, growling then roaring with pain.  Peter and Sally, though almost deafened by the mama lioness’s roar, felt her body twisting, vibrating and sweating in their embrace.  Mewing, Imvula came down from her effort, Peter stroking her ears and back.

         “It’s all right mama,”  he whispered, feeling Imvula’s whiskers brushing his cheek, then her tongue licking his ear in a lioness’s kiss, Peter resting his head on her shoulder.

         “You weren’t pushing then were you,”  Sally said.

       “No, that was just hurting a lot,”  Imvula replied, “I’m not really pushing yet.  I struggled against contractions, until you came, this first one really punishing me for that, but I now know I’m at roaring and groaning, bearing with things  stage, rather than active pushing.  By the feel of things, active pushing is a long time off.  So plenty of time to curl toes, whimper, mew, growl and roar.  I’ll do all that, and you can get hands on with my body, legs and paws, and who knows, catch the cub too.”

       “Can we?”  Peter asked.

        “If you beat Aslan to it,”  Imvula said smiling, “though I think there are two cubs to be born.”  Imvula kissed the children’s nosy seeming to enjoy being held in their arms.

        “Do you like leaning into us Imvula?”  Sally asked.

         “Yes, it’s very comforting,”  Imvula replied smiling, “I feel a contraction happening now, ooooooaoaoaowmph! Umph! Avow!”  Imvula stamped her feet and writhed in the embrace of Peter and Sally, who held her firmly but gently, letting her writhe her body and stamp her feet.

       “Hold on tight,”  Imvula said when she could speak, “it’s going to be rough.”

       “You have big feet Imvula,”  Peter said.  Imvula smiled:

        “Aslan does too,”  she replied, “poor Petra had trouble delivering him into the world.”

         “It hurt her a lot,”  Aslan said, “poor Petra felt every bump in the road, from my head to my paw pads.  Ouch.”

        “I think these two are gonna be the  same,”  Imvula replied smiling.

      “What do you want us to do now Imvula?”  Sally asked.

       “How about holding a screaming, toe curling, paw stamping lioness?”  Imvula asked.

       “You like us holding you?”  peter asked.

        “yes,”  Imvula replied, “hold me tight, though when I want to kick the air with my feet, just touch me with your hands.”

     “We will,”  Peter said.  Imvula settled into Peter and Sally’s embrace once more, roaring and growling as another contraction tore through her.

          “I want to walk about now,”  Imvula panted, Sally and peter walking alongside her, while Aslan, now terrified, sat down, looking as if he wanted to suck his paw like a cub.  Imvula bounced on her toes a little as she walked, then squatted and yowled lustily, Peter and Sally holding her in their arms as she screamed and writhed.

         “This is amazing,”  Imvula gasped.

        “Yes it is, thanks for letting us get so close,”  Sally said.  Imvula smiled and kissed the children’s noses.

       “I want to lie on my chest for a while,”  Imvula said, lying down, the toes of her forepaws and hind feet curled hard, holding tightly to the rugs.

        “Are you holding onto the floor for reassurance?”  Sally asked.

        “I am, the cubs are moving slowly into position now,”  Imvula replied, “It’s nearly time for me to lie on my side for a while,”  she said, settling down on her right side.  Sally sat at Imvula’s head, holding her paws, while peter sat behind the lioness’s hind legs, stroking Imvula’s flanks.

        “If I want to paw the air, let go of my paws and feet,”  Imvula warned, but Imvula didn’t kick with her paws and feet.  For an hour they lay, Imvula panting, then groaning, and closing her eyes, yowling while tightly curling her toes.

          “Would you like us to massage your paws?”  Peter asked.

        “Sally massage my forepaws, peter, if you could stroke my belly and flanks, that would be wonderful,”  Imvula said.  Peter did as the lioness asked, feeling contractions building and spending their force.  One time he rested his ear against Imvula’s flank, hearing a contraction happen.  There was a squelching sound, then he could hear Imvula’s moan of protest as she struggled to push through a contraction.  Peter looked down at Imvula’s left hind foot, seeing her toes curling and pads bunching.  When she relaxed from a contraction, her toes relaxing, Peter stroked the lioness’s sweating pads, Imvula wriggling and then curling her toes tighter than ever, catching Peter’s fingers in a fierce grip of the toes of her left hind foot.

      “Aaaaaaaaow! Aaaaaaaaaw! Aaaaaaaaaaaaw!”  Imvula screamed, “yoaoaoaoaoaoaoaow!”  oaoaoaoaoaoaaow!”  Imvula complained.

          “She has cute paw pads,”  peter thought, watching as Imvula curled her toes tightly, her pads bunching up desperately.

          “Are you all right Imvula?”  Peter asked the panting and crying tawny lioness.

        “yes, yes, that hurt!”  Imvula sniffed, then she screamed lustily, took a deep breath, and heaved desperately into her tail, a rising squeal of effort bouncing off the walls.

         “I think the cub’s coming quickly, I can feel it, feel beneath my tail peter!”  Imvula panted.  Peter did, feeling two paws beneath Imvula’s tail.  Roaring, Imvula strained deeply, the cub emerging, peter catching it as Imvula bullied it into the world.

     “Huuuuuuuuuuuuaumph, huuuuuuuuuuuaw!  Huuuuuuuuuuuuaumph!”  Imvula complained as she pushed with all her might.  Aslan wailed with fear as his mate gave a final groaning heave, delivering the cub into Peter’s hands.

         “Now, now bring the cub to me,”  Imvula panted.  Peter did, and the cub got a good licking from Imvula.

        “Is there another cub?”  Sally asked.

        “I think there might be,”  Imvula replied.

         “I’ll get a drink, if I can free my feet from the rugs,”  Aslan mumbled, retracting his claws and working his toes out of the weave of the rugs, where they’d got stuck in the fabric.

         “the cub won’t wait Aslan,”  Imvula replied, getting up, squatting, straddling her legs and heaving down hard with a roar of effort.  Aslan padded round to his mate’s hind quarters and looked down.  He saw the birth of his third cub there and then, Imvula bouncing on her toes then settling down on her right side to push lustily.

       “ooooooaoaoaowmph, aaaaaow! Oaoaoaoaoaow! Uuuuuuuuph!”  Imvula protested.  Aslan smiled as Sally crawled round and caught his cub in her hands,  Imvula roaring and groaning as she made one final effort.

       “All done, all done!”  Imvula wept, her body shaking with released tension.

        “Now wash this cub Imvula,”  peter said, Imvula licking her cub dry.

       “that hurt, it really bloody hurt!”  Imvula mewed.

        “your efforts are well rewarded,”  Aslan said softly to his mate.

         “You were curling your toes along with your mate Aslan,”  peter said, “well Sally and I were curling our toes along with her too.”

       “Were you?”  Imvula asked.

       “Let’s watch the video,” my toes hurt,”  Sally said, as Imvula fed her two cubs, “hopefully the film will show us curling our toes along with you.”

 

The video was watched avidly by all, and yes, Sally’s toes could be seen curling and relaxing with Imvula’s as the lioness bore her labour.

        “it’s nice that you two curled your toes with me,”  Imvula said, “I know Aslan did too, for even now, he can’t free his paws from the rugs, look!”  sure enough, Aslan, having lost his composure when Imvula roared and strained hard for the last time to deliver her cub, had curled his toes so tightly into the rugs, they’d gone clean through, and now the rugs were tangled around the toes of his forepaws and hind feet, Aslan effectively stuck.

       “I’m trapped here!”  Aslan whimpered, struggling with the rugs wrapped around his paws, “I’m stuck!  My paws are stuck!”  Sally, laughing helplessly, walked to Aslan, sat down and gently freed the lion’s forepaws, while peter freed his hind feet.

         “I’ll bet you humans never get your toes trapped like I did,”  Aslan said, his embarrassment clear.

       “We don’t have claws like you,”  Sally replied, “though that doesn’t mean we can’t curl our toes as tightly.”

         “My claws were extended,”  Aslan said, “I had no need to extend them, but Imvula, who kept her toes velveteen, claws sheathed, had every right to extend her claws.”

         “Why didn’t you extend your claws Imvula?”  peter asked.

        “I was frightened I would claw you or Sally in my pain,”  Imvula replied, “anyway, we have to make a conscious choice to extend our claws, they don’t get dangerous without our say so.”

        “Seeing you deliver a cub was lovely Imvula,”  peter said, kneeling and kissing the lioness’s nose, Imvula purring with pleasure.

        “Thanks for letting us get so close,”  Peter whispered into Imvula’s ear, “Sally and I will remember our time with you forever.”

        “I’ll remember this too,”  Imvula replied gently, kissing Peter’s cheek.

 

Meanwhile, in Patch’s lie up, Jemma and Cynthia were chatting together.  They’d come to the swift realisation that they had similar ideas on how children should be allowed to explore and experiment in safe environments.  Indeed, Jemma had placed Peter and Sally with Cynthia Chartwell as she’d heard the new teacher in the local school was seen as somewhat unconventional in her thinking, encouraging her pupils to go barefoot as much of the time as was safe.  Jemma also liked the idea that things were kept simple, no meant no, and yes meant yes, rules were simple and easily followed, transgression of those rules meaning shoes and socks were put back on, and worn for the rest of the day, and a stiff letter sent home to the parents of the miscreant child.  After a few days of being barefoot and able to play, the mere threat of being made to put socks and shoes on, and the letter home was enough to keep the children in line.  Scythia Chartwell also kept things moving, her lessons were simple, but informative.  Cynthia usually taught English, but she’d also branched into drama, the two fusing together when she was looking for a topic for her charges to write a play about with a view to acting in the play they’d written.  During her research, Cynthia had found the website of Patch’s community, and shown her charges the website.  The idea of a play was forgotten, and study of the community took over.  It was around that time they adopted Tiguak with a wild idea of releasing her into the community’s care if the zoo would allow them.  The children wrote letters about the community to the zoo directors, and along with Charles Fullbeans and  Cynthia Chartwell’s help, they managed to engineer the meeting with Patch and Tiguak.  Little was Cynthia to know then, what that meeting with Patch would lead to.

 

Now she sat in the plush lie up of a bear to whom she’d given charge of her pupils, and both she and Jemma had watched Jemma’s children comforting a lioness while that lioness gave roaring birth to her cubs.  Jemma also knew that her children had been summoned by the lioness’s mate, a huge white lion, though she had no idea how Peter and Sally had understood the lion’s growling and mewing.  Then she didn’t know how she could understand what the lioness had said to Peter and Sally, though she’d understood every word of Imvula’s conversation with Peter and Sally.  Now Cynthia and Jemma sat replaying the video of Imvula’s cub’s births, their astonishment growing at every rerun.

     “Aslan is out of it completely,”  Jemma said, “it is as if he wasn’t part of things at all, as if Peter and Sally were the only two Imvula wanted there with her.”

       “I don’t think Aslan was intentionally left out,”  Cynthia replied, “he excluded himself, I don’t think he can cope with the birth of cubs much.”

        “At least he’s in the room,”  Jemma replied, “I had Peter and Sally alone.  Both men had run off when they realised I was pregnant.  That is why my bare feet became props when I was in labour, something to hold on to while I pushed.”  Cynthia, not yet having had children of her own, asked:

       “how was labour?”

      “Intense, and lonely too,”  Jemma replied, “I had help nearby, but went through both births as unaided as I could.  The midwives weren’t too happy about me using my feet as I did, but the babies were fine, so they didn’t stop me.”

         “Sooleawa told me she could tell you, peter and Sally were related, just by touching the soles of your feet,”  Cynthia said, “she said you have similar pads and toes.”  Jemma laughed:

        “she’s so cute,”  she said, “Sooleawa with her liking for paws and feet.”

         “yeah she is,”  Cynthia replied.

        “Though it is true my children and I do have similar feet,”  Jemma replied, “we played together when Sally and peter were younger, and we found then we had fat pads and toes.  Now though, they don’t play like they used to, which is sad in a way, but is growing up I suppose.”

         “Tell them you won’t mind if they play in the living room,”  Cynthia replied, “also play with them Jemma, make your feet and theirs playthings again, encourage them.  I know they’d like it if you did.”

         “I can’t believe a lioness would let Peter and Sally massage her paws while she strained and laboured to deliver her cubs,”  Jemma mused.

       “Well she did, that’s certain,”  Cynthia said.

         “Mum,”  Peter said, padding into the lie up, “Imvula wants to meet you, as she says she wants to meet the mama lioness who gave birth to two tender pawed cubs.”  Jemma started to laugh, but then noticed the serious expression on her son’s face.

          “It’s no laughing matter is it,”  she said.

       “No mum, Imvula’s serious,”  peter replied, “she would have come herself, but, well, she’s got her paws full at the moment..  she asks would you go to her.  the token of her sincerity is following me in here.”  Aslan peeped round the door, waved his paw like a cub, then streaked away.

         “That lion  is the sire of the cubs?”  Jemma asked.

       “Aslan is,”  peter replied, smiling at Aslan’s behaviour, “he’s become more and more cubbish with every passing minute now he knows his mate and cubs are safe.  Come with me mum, and we’ll see if we can round up a lioness, two newborn cubs and one big cub,.”

 

Aslan led Cynthia, Jemma and peter back to his lie up, the lion skipping along on his big paws, lashing the air with his tail as he skipped, Jemma trying not to laugh at the big lion’s antics.

       “he’s a sire lion, not a big cub,”  she told herself sternly, “but he acts and looks like a big cub!”

 

They arrived at Imvula’s lie up to find the lioness pacing about.  Then as Jemma, Cynthia and Aslan watched, Imvula lay down, closed her eyes, clenched her teeth, gripped the rugs with the toes of all four sweating paws and strained hard into her tail.  Roaring, she wriggled desperately, curling her body round, and snapping her spine straight, stretching her body to aid the passage of a huge obstruction.  Imvula screamed about something being stuck inside her, kicked the air desperately, then curled her toes tightly, panted, then closed her mouth, screwed her eyes tightly shut, and bore down with all her might.  Jemma watched as Imvula gave strenuous birth to a third cub, roaring, mewing, yowling and growling with her effort, sweat flying off her fur and paws. 

       “The cub’s coming backwards, I can see hind feet and a tail!”  Aslan whimpered.  Grunting, Imvula strained once to deliver the cub’s hind feet, feeling them jam, then slide free, then once for the cub’s hips, Imvula whimpering and kicking slightly, straining hard down twice to deliver the cub’s body, then one huge effort to deliver its head  which made Imvula shriek, and a final screaming effort delivered the cub’s forelegs and paws.  Jemma watched as the cub’s forepaws got stuck, Imvula gasping and roaring as she fought to push a little bit more.

      “Huuuuuuuuuuuuaumph! ow, ow, ow!”   roaoaoaoaoaowoaooaor! Huuuuuuuuuuuuaumph!”  Imvula complained as she strained herself to her limits, the cub’s huge paws jamming tight with her mother’s first effort, then slowly sliding into the open with her second, Imvula wriggling and writhing as she struggled to clear the blockage.

      “ow, ow, ow!  The cub’s feet are stuck! Really stuck!  But I will try one last time, Oaoaoaoaow!!”  Imvula yelled, kicking wildly with all four paws  as the cub’s forepaws scraped free, “Huuuuuuuuuuuuaumph! Oaoaoaoaoaow!”  she screamed as the cub finally slid free of her body.

         “That was difficult,”  Imvula gasped, “I thought I was done delivering cubs, now, now I think I am finished with labour, I hope I am!  Of course, I’d strain and heave myself to death, but I’m worried for the cubs, that last one was huge!”

        “I did try to let my brothers out first,”  the female cub mewed, “I thought you might want an easy run at it mamma.”

          “I wish you’d come out first,”  Imvula said, trying not to laugh, as giving birth to you was very hard work at the  end.

         “Oh, I never thought of it that way,”  the tawny female cub replied.

        “She shoved us about with her big paws mama!”  Imvula’s first cub spat.

         “organising your brothers already?”  Imvula asked laughing.

        “Well, not very well if I hurt you mama,”  the female cub replied.

       “Why did Imvula have trouble delivering her last cub?”  Jemma asked.

         “she is a large cub,”  Cynthia replied.

        “I hurt inside, as if I’ve been gripped by strong toes inside,”  Imvula said suddenly.

         “I think I might have curled my toes whenever I was squeezed,”  the large female cub said, “when I was squeezed, I’d curl my toes, like this,”  she added, curling her toes to show what she’d done, “I couldn’t’ help it, I thought that’s what I had to do as mama was curling her toes while she pushed down, I knew she was doing that, I could feel it!”

          “I wish you hadn’t,”  Imvula replied, “that made things worse, you were holding onto me with your toes!”

        “Sorry mama,”  the female cub said.

        “Let me look at your paws,”  Aslan said to the female cub, rolling her onto her back and placing the toes of his right forepaw in range of those of his youngest cub’s left forepaw.  Feeling his touch, the female cub curled her toes around Aslan’s, the lion snorting with surprise and tugging at his paw, finding he couldn’t free it.

        “She’s very strong!”  Aslan yelped.

         “I know,”  Imvula replied wearily, “she held on to her spot inside me with the toes of all four huge feet I think.”

        “I closed my eyes and curled my toes,”  the female cub mewed, letting Aslan’s paw go free.

         “I would not like to feel those toes gripping me from the inside,”  Aslan said, “I know Kuruk has delivered a cub, but I couldn’t, I’d be screaming on the floor.”

         “time for you to get a drink little one,”  Imvula said to her tawny cub, scooping her into her embrace, then settling her by the milk she had to offer.

        “You came out hind feet first?”  Imvula asked.  her youngest cub replied that she had.

       “I came out tail first mama,”  she said, “I got confused on the way out, and came out backwards!”

       “ooooooooaoh,”  Imvula replied, “no wonder it hurt me.  Your toes were gripping against the flow of things.”  Aslan groaned with the thought of his mate’s agony.

         “I think we should name her Apudo, meaning the fat one, and give her a surname, Adhoch, it means born feet first, I know we have four paws, but she was born hind paws, or hind feet first,”  Aslan mused.

       “So she’s the fat one who was born feet first,”  Imvula replied smiling, “that’s nice.  What about our other two?”

       “They’re male,”  Aslan replied, “now let me think, ah yes, how about Adongo, that means second born of twins, for our second born here, and then Apiyo, meaning first born of twins, for the first born male cub.  both really good African names.”

        “Why didn’t you ask for help if your last cub was a struggle to deliver Imvula?”  Jemma asked.

        “I wanted to do it naturally,”  was the lioness’s reply.  Jemma knew what she meant, for Sally’s birth had been slow and hard work, but Jemma had wanted to do things naturally, as long as her unborn child was okay.

       “Tell me Imvula,”  Jemma asked, “did you truly want Sally and Peter to be so hands on with you throughout your labour and the delivery of your cubs?”

        I really wanted them to be with me,”  Imvula replied, “I don’t know why I wanted them there at first, but when they wrapped their arms around me and hugged me, I knew I wanted them to stay, and to rub my paws and everything.  I enjoyed every minute of their company and their touch.”

          “We’ve been here only two days, and Sally has given birth to a cub, and we’ve seen three lion cubs born,”  Jemma said, “is there anything else that could top this?”

        “I don’t know,”  Cynthia replied, “let’s wait and see shall we?”  Peter and Sally hugged the newborn cubs one at a time, the cubs snuggling close, sniffing at their hands and patting them with their paws.

         “Your fur is so soft Apudo,”  Peter said, Apudo rolling onto her back, Peter tickling the cub’s belly and the soles of her paws, Apudo laughing merrily.

        “Your face and paws are so cute little Apudo,”  peter said, feeling his toes curl with emotion.  Apudo clambered into Peter’s arms, the young boy hugging the large fat lion cub.

        “Were you in trouble at all Imvula?”  Aslan asked.  Imvula smiled:

         “I would have shouted if I was,”  she replied, “it was a hard struggle, it hurt and was exhausting, but was not impossible.”

         “your cub hurt you on her way out,”  Aslan said, “I could see the difference between the births of the boys and the female cub.  she made you struggle with your whole body!”

       “She did,”  Imvula replied, “and more than you saw too.  I rolled onto my back and kicked the air with my feet, screaming lustily just before you came in.”

         “I wish you’d stopped me from leaving with the children,”  Aslan said.

       “I was all right,”  Imvula replied, “now don’t fuss Aslan.”

      “that told you,”  Jemma laughed, Aslan grinning at his mate.

       “Imvula knew I was next to useless to her,”  he admitted, “I was paralysed with fear.”

        “the fact you were there is enough for me,”  Imvula replied smiling.

        “I took no part,”  Aslan mewed.

       “No, but you stuck around, that’s wonderful,”  Imvula replied.

        “”I’ll never forget the births of Imvula’s cubs,”  Peter said.

       “Neither will she,”  Jemma replied.  Imvula fed her cubs with her milk, all three cuddling up together afterward.

        “I can’t believe I helped a cub come into the world,”  peter said.

      “You did,”  Imvula replied, “and thank you and your sister for helping me.  I know I roared and yowled, and growled too, but it was all fine.”

        “Someone told me Imvula has just had cubs,”  Sita said, padding into the room, “Is this true?”

        “We helped her Sita,”  Sally said.

         “I’m really out of the loop on these things,”  Sita said sadly.

         “If I could deliver my cubs again for you Sita, I would,”  Imvula said with genuine feeling.

         “I don’t want that,”  Sita replied, “nice though it would be to touch a cub as it was born.”

         “Maybe I’ll have a fourth cub, though I don’t think it will be now,”  Imvula replied, “I don’t feel the way I did between the births of the first two and my last one.  I felt, well, sort of uncomfortable then, as if things weren’t quite done.  Yes, a need to push, without the urge to push.  Walking around cured that, making me want to really push down hard.  Then though, my cub decided she wanted to come out slowly, and backwards, and held on with her toes throughout too.  ouch that was.  I could curl my toes a bit, and moan and roar like I did then, maybe paw at the air too?”

       “No, it’s all right Imvula,”  Sita said, “I appreciate the thought and all, I can’t ask it of you.”

       “You can ask what ever you like, it doesn’t mean Imvula will say yes,”  Aslan snapped.

         “You know what Sita means Aslan,”  Imvula replied.  “Now please, don’t get angry with her.  if I want to re-enact my cub’s births I will do so, it is my right after all.”

        “But you can’t! not that!”  Aslan whimpered.

          “I’ll do it, just to piss you off!”  Imvula snarled, “the birth of my cubs is mine to remember how I wish.  You know what?  I might make it so I won’t stop labouring until Sita is paws on, her touch making me scream and roar, and pant, and curl my toes, and kick, and scream!”

         “You can’t!”  Aslan howled, running from the room, Jemma and Cynthia laughing so hard they nearly fell over.

       “Take my paw Sita,”  Imvula said, Sita taking the lioness’s left forepaw in hers, Imvula curling her toes slightly, then as tightly as she could.

        “oooah, ouch,”  Sita said.

       “Are you going to tell Sita the story of how we came through the tunnel mama?”  Apudo asked.

      “I will tell her the tale yes,”  Imvula replied, “I will kick the air with my feet, and curl my toes, and do everything I did but push.”

        “Can I come out backwards again?”  Apudo asked.

       “I won’t let you do that either,”  Imvula said laughing, “you can show her how you can curl your toes though.”

      “Good,” Apudo replied smiling.

         “Can I get paws on with your youngest cub?”  Sita asked.  Imvula placed Apudo in Sita’s lap, the cub soon pressing all four paws into Sita’s, pushing especially hard with her hind feet, Sita touching big hind paws with tightly curled toes.

       “relax your toes little one,”  Sita said gently.

      “No, I want to curl them tighter than this, I want to!”  Apudo mewed, wriggling with her effort,  “yooooooaw!”  she roared.

         “You’ll make your toes ache,”  Sita said.

       “yes, they are,”  Apudo panted, relaxing suddenly, her toes uncurling, “I’m tired now,”  she announced.  Sita smiled and kissed Apudo’s nose and hot paw pads, Apudo giggling and batting at Sita’s nose with her paws.

         “I like you,”  Sita said, “and I can feel why mama Imvula had trouble delivering you if you held onto her with four sets of toes like those on your right hind foot.  You have powerful toes and strong feet.”

         “did you curl your toes while you were being born?”  Apudo asked.

      “No, but my mama did,”  Sita said, and I did when I had my cubs.”

       “You have had cubs?”  Apudo asked.

        “I have,”  Sita replied smiling, “they are as beautiful as you are.”  Apudo giggled cubbishly and reached up with all four of her huge paws, Sita blowing on her pads, Apudo screaming with laughter.

         “what are you doing to that cub?”  Imvula asked.

         “she’s blowing on my feet and tickling me mama!”  Apudo said, “I love it, it’s not hurting me at all!”

  Imvula smiled to herself, watching her cub playing with Sita.

        “can you wave your feet in the air too?”  Apudo asked Sita.

       “I can,”  Sita replied, “but you can’t see me at the moment, so I won’t do it for you just yet.”

        “Can I touch your hind feet?”  Apudo asked.  Sita lay the cub on the floor and let her take her huge right hind foot in her fat paws.

      “Your foot is huge!”  Apudo exclaimed.

        “yes,”  Sita replied smiling and curling her toes.

        “so how did mama curl her toes?”  Apudo asked.

      “Well hold onto my right foot, and I’ll curl my toes like mama Imvula did, like this,”  Sita said, gently curling her toes, then tightly curling them and holding them curled for a long time, before relaxing her toes.

       “That’s lovely,”  Apudo said softly.

        “I love your playfulness Sita,”  Apudo said.

       “I love a playful cub too,”  Sita replied smiling, kissing the cub’s nose and paws.

        “Your pads are smooth,”  Apudo said, “and toes strong too!”  she yelped as Sita curled the toes of her right hind foot around those of Apudo’s left forepaw.

      “My paw’s stuck!”  Apudo whimpered, snarling as she tugged at her trapped left forepaw.

        “Want me to let go?”  Sita asked.

       “No,”  Apudo replied, “I like the struggle, after all, I need to fight a bit, after what my mama went through.”

       “Okay, if you want to pull your paw free you can,”  Sita said.

       “When you feel my paw coming free, make sure you squeeze my toes with yours Sita,”  Apudo said.

        “Then you’ll never free your paw,”  Sita replied.

       “I can if I pull hard enough,”  Apudo said, tugging strongly at her trapped forepaw, Sita squeezing hard with the toes of her right hind foot, curling them tightly so they gripped the cub’s toes with thick pads.

        “Are you going to come to me for a drink Apudo?”  Imvula asked.

        “No, well I can’t!”  Apudo replied, “I’m trapped here mama, and I enjoy it hugely too.”

         “let her go Sita,”  Imvula growled.

        “I have relaxed my toes,”  Sita said, “your cub is free to go.”

       “But I don’t want to go, I don’t’ want you to relax your toes Sita, curl them, now!”  Apudo snarled.

        “if you say please to her, she might,”  Imvula suggested, realising her cub wanted play rather than milk.”

        “Please Sita, curl your toes again,”  Apudo said.

      “Like this?”  Sita asked, curling the toes of her right foot around those of Apudo’s left forepaw.

      “yes, like that!”  Apudo laughed.

       “You soppy cub!”  Sita laughed.

        “I think playing with your hind feet should be taught in all schools,”  Jemma said, “I know you teach foot play games Cynthia.”

       “I do,”  Cynthia replied, “for I never grew out of them myself.”

        “the stuck foot game is a great game,”  Sally said to her mother.

       “You two were going to play it when Aslan came to whisk you away to a far more important task,”  Jemma said, “would you and Peter play the stuck foot game now Sally?”  Peter looked at his sister.

        “Shall we?”  he asked.

        “Let’s do that,”  Sally said.  Sally and Peter sat opposite each other, pressing their feet together.  Sally’s and Peter’s feet were not too dissimilar in size when placed heel to heel, so they were able to press heels and toes together quite easily.

       “how about checking each other’s feet for thorns first?”  Jemma asked.

       “It’s too late now,”  Peter replied, “Sally and I are well and truly stuck together, her heels to mine, my toes to hers!”

       “yes, yes we are!”  Sally said, grabbing the heel of her right foot in her hands and tugging at it.  Pressing her toes against peter’s, Sally tugged harder and harder at her heel.

       “I am stuck!”  Sally whimpered..

        “Pull hard with your hands while I try and work my fingers between your heel and mine,”  peter gasped, working the fingers of his left hand into the vet shaped gap above the heels of his own left foot and his sister’s right foot.

      “work those fingers into the gap Peter!”  Sally gasped, tugging at the heel of her right foot, feeling the glue stretching, then breaking, freeing her heel.  Bracing the toes of her right foot, Sally worked the fingers of both hands round, so they gripped more of the heel pad, and from there, she pulled a bit more, and a bit more, grunting and puffing with effort.

       “The glue’s really strong, really so strong!”  Sally gasped.  She tugged a little more, and her heel came free of peter’s.  Squealing, Sally worked the ball of her foot free, then yowled as she tore at her toes in a frenzies of effort to free her foot, Peter holding onto his left foot with the fingers of both hands to steady it, as Sally worked furiously to free her right foot, her foot hot in her hands, she pulled hard to finally free her foot, Peter watching Sally squeeze her foot hard, then rerelease it.  Peter took his sister’s right foot in his hands and massaged her heel, sole and toes, Sally curling her toes tightly, and holding them curled until he’d massaged the ball of her foot, then Sally uncurled her toes slowly, Peter helping her with gentle massage.

        “I needed that,”  Sally said, “my toes went a bit mad there.”  Peter felt Sally’s hot foot in his hands, realising she’d put her all into her role play.

         “I hope I can play like you did,”  he said.

       “let me touch the foot which is free now,”  Sally said, Peter putting down her right foot, Sally picking up his left foot and exploring his toes, sole and heel.

       “Your foot is warm, but not as warm as mine,”  Sally said, “but you weren’t doing what I was.”

       “I Will be soon though,”  peter replied.

         “I never knew foot play could be so good!”  Sally said.

        “it’s good when you really get into it,”  Sita said, “I know, I’ve played so hard my feet and paws become damp.”

        “the glue sticking my foot to Peter’s was really strong,”  Sally laughed.

       “I could sense it,”  Sita replied.  Sally got hands on with peter’s left foot, exploring his toes, sole and heel, Peter giggling with pleasure.  Sally tickled her brother’s toes, Peter laughing helplessly and curling his toes.

       “You have fat toes and foot pads Peter,”  Sally said.

       “Yours are fat too,”  peter replied, “but that makes them better to play with.  You can hold onto your foot with your fingers and get a good grip.  If your pads were not so thick, you wouldn’t be able to get a good hold and pull hard to free your foot when playing the stuck foot game.”

      “My thick pads got a good work out when I was delivering Kuaizi into the world, I really held my feet tight, pressing my fingers into my soles and heels with the force of panting, moaning, straining and pushing.”

       “What’s the difference between straining and pushing?”  peter asked.

       “Pushing is gentle, straining is pushing, but harder than normal pushing,”  Sally said.

       “Oh, ok,”  Peter replied.

      “Pushing normally, I made a sort of low moan, while straining I screamed and yelled,”  Sally replied, “I curled my toes tightly while holding my feet in my hands, gripping them hard while pushing deeply into my bottom with everything I had.”

      “You did well,”  Peter replied, “I saw you delivering Kuaizi from all angles, focusing on your face, your fingers and feet, and of course on the cub herself.”

        “I thrust at the air with my feet, kicked at the air too, and drew my feet up hard to hold them tightly.  I trust with two feet together, and kicked the air with alternate feet.”  Sally said.

        “would you show me how?”  Sita asked.  Sally smiled.

        “You would be welcome to a demonstration,”  Sally said, “I will kick your paws with my feet, in the way I did while in labour.”

           “Okay,”  Sita said.  Sally settled onto her back in front of Sita, pushing Sita’s paws away with both her feet, Sita letting sally push at her paws with her bare feet, withdraw her feet, then push again, faster and faster.  Then, when Sally was into a rhythm, she drew her feet up, grabbed them in her hands, curled her toes and wailed with effort.  Panting, she began to kick the air with alternate feet, wriggling and struggling, while Sita got paws on, feeling Sally’s feet pummelling her paws.

        “That’s how it was,”  Sally panted as she relaxed after five minutes of effort.

       “That was amazing,”  Sita purred.

       “You did all that for hours?”  Peter asked.

      “I did,”  Sally replied smiling.

        “I wish I could do that for hours,”  Peter replied, “but I’d be exhausted within the hour.”

       “Not when you’re spurred on by the need to deliver a cub, then you’ll do anything,”  Sita replied.  Sita took Sally’s right foot in her paws.  Settling her foot in Sita’s paws, Sally stretching and curling her toes with pleasure as Sita explored her foot with her paws.

         “wow, that feels wonderful, really wonderful!”  Sally said, pointing her toes, then tightly curling her toes, then enthusiastically stretching them, Sita gently massaging the bunching and stretching skin on the sole of Sally’s foot.

        “You need to free your left foot from Peter’s right,”  Sita said.

       “I will,”  Sally replied.  Sita released her hold on Sally’s foot, Sally returning to finish the stuck foot game with Peter.

 

Now it was Peter’s turn to tug at the heel and toes of his own right foot while Sally worked at the sole of her own left foot with her fingers to free her heel, then the ball of her foot and toes from Peter’s.  Sally found her heel stuck firmly to her brother’s, her fingers almost unable to find a gap to work at.  Curling her toes as far as they’d go, Sally dug her fingers into the slight gap made by the arches of hers and peter’s opposing feet.

       “Pull Peter, pull!”  Sally urged, Peter gripping the sides of his right foot with the fingers of both hands.

      “This bit is harder than the rest,”  he panted, “I can’t get a good grip at the moment, let’s try gripping the bottom of my heel a bit, there, now Pull!”  he pulled, feeling his fingers slip between Sally’s heel and his.  Working his fingers round to the sides of his heel, prying and tugging, he heard sally grunting with effort.

      “Now Pull hard Sally, dig those fingers into the gap!”  Peter gasped.  Sally whimpered:

     “’e’e’e’e’e’e’e’oooah,”  as her heel came free of her brother’s.

       “Done it!”  peter gasped, “Now for our toes, let’s go Sally!”  Peter and Sally worked furiously to free their toes, and once the balls of their feet were freed, their toes still pressed together, Sally said:

      “Okay Peter, one, two, three, pull!”  They pulled hard, their toes flying free.

       “Now I need to massage my sore feet,”  peter said.

        “Let’s check each other’s feet for thorns and things,”  Sally suggested.  Sally explored Peter’s feet for thorns, pressing his toes, the balls of his feet and his heels, peter smiling at her.

        “how are my feet?”  he asked.

       “Soft, warm and playful,”  Sally replied grinning. “I’ll hope you find my feet interesting too when you come to explore them.”

       “I will,”  peter replied.

        “Do you remember when we used to chase each other’s toes?”  peter said, “crawling about, each chasing the other to tickle each other’s toes and sometimes heels too.”  Sally smiled:

       “I remember,”  she replied, “that ended in laughter and lots of rubbing of heels and toes to clear the tickling.”

        “I saw Orbon sitting down, he was scratching the soles and toes of his right hind foot with his left forepaw, that was sweet to watch.  He looked so cubbish.”

 

Peter took hold of Sally’s left foot in his hands and explored her toes, sole and heel, Sally smiling at him.

        “I curled my toes when I delivered Kuaizi, like this,”  she said, tightly curling her toes.

         “It’s amazing we’re playing like this in the presence of wild creatures,”  Sally said, “but I can truly say I’ve never felt safer.”

       “Agreed there,”  peter replied.

        “How do my hind feet look to you?”  Sally asked.

        “Pink and clean,”  Peter said, “how about mine to you?”  Sally picked up his left foot.

       “Pink and clean,”  Sally replied, and rather childish too.”  Peter laughed at this, and wiggled his toes, Sally blowing on his toes, peter laughing and curling his toes tightly.

        “What is Sally doing?”  Sita asked.

        “She’s blowing on the sole and toes of Peter’s left foot,”  Jemma said, “it’s very sweet to watch them play like this.”

        “now is there anything else that can make this any more perfect?”  Jemma asked.

         “I think we should go swimming,”  Orbon said, padding into the lie up, “we have a water coaster, and a log flume, swimming pools, water slides and everything else.  Oh, yeah, we also have a crazy otter who pads about with her bare webbed paws and feet, acting silly in her attempts to be responsible.”

       “Whitetip?”  Sally asked.

       “yes her,”  Orbon replied, a smile playing at his lips, “she’s silliness incarnate.  Sweet as you like, but so clumsy and impulsive she gets things hopelessly wrong.  Koda sort of likes her, but finds her very silly.”

 

The children and adult humans followed Orbon and Sita to the pool complex, Sally laughing as the soles of her feet were tickled by the jets of water that washed their feet as they passed a sensor in the wall.

        “I’m being tickled by water!”  Sita squealed, dancing about, Peter laughing merrily at her antics.

        “Get those paws and feet wet,”  he said, “you need them cleaned Sita.”  Sita showered down in the shower which completed the cleaning process, whipping her tail from side to side as she showered, shaking the water all over Peter.

      “Oi Moggie!”  he laughed, playfully slapping her withies hand.

        “Now you and Sally get in the shower too,”  she said.  Peter and Sally showered down, then followed Sita to the pool complex.  the sound of splashing announced someone swimming in the main pool.  Moonshadow, Indigo and Wilfred swam together, up and down the main pool, then left the pool, shaking themselves dry and padding to the water slides.

       “Moonshadow has young paws,”  Sita said, when she’d had the goings on explained to her.

        “he’s a young bear, Wilfred is young too,”  Orbon replied.

        “Moonshadow is barely out of cubhood,”  Sita said, “I know, I touched his hind feet, they are soft and his toes curled easily, with the joy of a cub who’d found a pleasurable sensation and wanted to hold onto it.”

         “I think he likes you Sita,”  Whitetip said, padding past on her patrol, “I heard him quizzing indigo about you.  Of course, he could tell him little.”

       “I know he’s a cub,”  Sita said smiling, “though, well, perhaps, if the time is right.”

        “Are you serious?”  Whitetip asked.

       “If you tell him a thing, I’ll break your tail!”  Sita snarled.

        “oooah, threats?”  Whitetip asked.  Sita smiled and drenched Whitetip with water from the pool, pushed by her forepaws, a wall of water drenching Whitetip on the side of the pool, the she otter having to hold onto the tiles with the toes of all four feet to keep from being swept away.

       “How did you do that?”  Whitetip asked when she could speak.

       “I don’t know,”  Sita said, shocked at the amount of water she could hear pouring into gullies and drains from her dousing of Whitetip, “I only flicked water, I didn’t cause a tsunami!”  Sita mewed.

        “Well you did, you sacked me!”  Whitetip coughed.

       “I don’t know how, I’m sorry!”  Sita replied.

       “Whitetip hung onto the tiles with all four of her webbed feet!”  Sally said, “I saw her!”

        “I splashed her a little, like this,”  Sita said, flicking the water with her paws, the resultant wave inconvenient, but not devastating.

       “it wasn’t like that,”  Sally said.

       “No it certainly wasn’t like that at all!”  Whitetip yinnied, “you nearly washed me off my feet too!”

      “Now I would love to see you wave your webbed paws in the air,”  Peter said to Whitetip, who stared at him.

        “I’m not taking my feet off the floor for anyone!”  she snapped.

       “Not even for Koda?”  Sita asked.  Whitetip squirmed with embarrassment.

         “You weren’t to know that!”  she growled, “Koda and my relationship is private!”

        “You like tickling his paws and he likes tickling yours,”  Sita said, “it’s fine.”

       “what I do with my paws and feet, and whom I let touch them is my business!”  Whitetip snarled.

        “it’s cute!”  Sally said.

         “I think as Sally,”  Indigo said padding up to Whitetip and kissing her on her nose, much to the she otter’s embarrassment.

       “Your paws and feet are rather cute,”  Indigo said softly to Whitetip, who hid her head in embarrassment.

        “She’s smiling,”  Indigo said, “I saw it.”

        “Can I touch your paws and feet Whitetip?”  Indigo asked.  Whitetip found herself rolling onto her back, and watching as Indigo kissed her paws and feet, then, Whitetip felt shock at the pleasure rising in her as she wriggled with pleasure, and saw her toes curling too.

       “that felt great,”  Whitetip panted, uncurling her toes and staring up at Indigo.

        “Sorry for kissing your paws and feet,”  Indigo said.  Whitetip waved her paws at him and replied:

       “No problem, I, I liked it, it felt good!”

       “You speak rubbish with your mouth then river wolf,”  Indigo said.

       “I do, well, I think I just don’t like others knowing I play like a cub still,”  Whitetip said.  Indigo looked at Whitetip’s body, seeing white tips to the digits of her forepaws and the toes of her hind feet, and a large white tip to her rudder, Whitetip grinning and thrusting with her hind legs while waving her forepaws about and arching her tail towards her chest.

        “You look so cute,”  Indigo said.

         “Do I?”  Whitetip asked.

        “You do, it’s sweet,”  Indigo replied kissing Whitetip’s nose and the pads of all four paws, the she otter laughing delightedly.

         “how did you get to be so cute Whitetip?”  indigo asked.  Whitetip covered her face with her paws.

         “I’m going now,”  she said, “this is too much.”

        “Stay please,”  Indigo said, sitting down and gathering Whitetip into his embrace, the she otter snuggling up to him.

         “I’ve been told to calm down a bit, I’m trying, but I want to wave my feet in the air and whistle with joy!”  Whitetip whimpered.

       “Well do that then, now,”  Indigo replied.  “would you like to be put in a small bath of water to kick against so you can spray the surrounding area with joy too?”  Whitetip laughed at his suggestion.

         “I think I might,”  she replied, “but I don’t know why I’m telling you all this.”

      “Because you want to,”  Indigo said.

       “Maybe I do,”  Whitetip replied, “my feelings are flowing through my paws and feet, nothing’s secret inside me at all!”  Indigo smiled and kissed Whitetip’s paws.

         “What’s going on?”  Wilfred asked.

         “Whitetip’s denying what we can see and hear is the truth, that is all,”  Indigo replied.”

 

“Sita,  Moonshadow said, padding up to her in the spar pool, “would you hug me?  Please?”  Sita, smiling, embraced him tenderly.

         “how was it when you delivered your cubs into the world?”  Moonshadow asked.

       “I growled and yowled the whole way through,”  Sita said, “I never shut up.  Low growling when not pushing, rising to a growling moan, then a scream as I was forced to push down.  I made a lot of noise, and really felt my cubs coming into the world.”

       “You seem to me to be an expressive sort of mama,”  Moonshadow said, looking up into Sita’s face.

        “I am,”  Sita replied, “and I make no apology for it.”

        “I want to be with you when you have my cubs,”  Moonshadow said softly.

         “I will let you be with me,”  Sita said, kissing the top of his head, “but when you grow up a little, I’ll be older still than I am now, and you might not want me.”

        “I want you,”  Moonshadow replied, “I want what’s inside you Sita, I love the owner of the scruffy fur, banded tail, and big paws and hind feet.”

         “You soppy young bruin,”  Sita said smiling, flipping Moonshadow onto his back and kissing his nose and the pads of all four of his feet.

       “You have soft cubbish paws,”  Sita said.

        “Do I?”  Moonshadow asked.

       “You do, all soft spongy pads and fat toes,”  Sita replied, “mine though, they are leathery and slightly tougher than yours.”

        “Are you mated to anyone at the moment Sita?”  Indigo asked.

        “jet and I like each other a lot,”  Sita replied, “but we aren’t mates as such, though I enjoy his company a lot.”

        “Sita wailed and yowled like a siren while she delivered me into the world,”  scruffy Leo said, padding into the pool complex, “I watched my birth video, and Sita’s voice went up and down the range with her efforts, didn’t it mum.”  Sita smiled at this and kissed her son’s nose as she felt him sidle up beside her.

       “I growled, yowled, snarled, roared and whimpered,”  Sita said, “you were a hard cub to deliver.”

         “I’m sorry mum,”  Leo said, Sita kissing his nose.

       “It’s not your fault little one,”  Sita said softly.

        “but I saw Tiguak delivering Anernerk into the world,”  Leo said, “it made me remember the way you struggled on the video mama.  She yelled and screamed like you did.”

       “Sita’s vocal range is more interesting than Tiguak’s,”  Indigo replied, “though it’s no contest really.”

        “Labour is a painful, stressful, load of work.”  Sita said, “it makes me want to scream and kick, and curl my toes and, and, and rock back and fourth, and squeeze the toes of my hind feet in my paws, and  roll about on the floor.”

        “Is it that bad?”  Scythia asked.

       “yes it is,”  Jemma replied, “labour makes you want to do anything to get the cub born.”

       “How long were you in labour with Peter and Sally?”  Sita asked.

      “Peter was delivered in ten hours, Sally took twelve,”  Jemma replied, “I grabbed my feet with my hands during both births.”

        “So humans use their feet for comfort as we bears do during the births of their cubs, sorry, babies,”  Indigo said.

        “yes,”  Jemma replied.

       “Grabbing my feet with my hands while lying on my back is very comforting,”  Cynthia said, “I haven’t had children yet, but when I do, I’m sure I will crawl and rock, and sit back on my heels, and bounce on my toes, and draw my feet up and hold them in my hands with desperate fingers.”

         “I know I did,”  Sally said, “I held my feet so tightly with my hands that I dented my sole pads.”

         “you held tight onto your feet because you felt comforted,”  Jemma said, “I watched the birth of Kuaizi again, it was amazing the second time around.”

          “I began to have control over my labour when I realised there was nothing to fear,”  Sally said, “my body knew what it wanted.  I embraced my feet when they came within range, and let everything open up by splaying my legs when I needed to.  It worked well and felt great.”

        “your hands and feet were very expressive,”  Jemma said, “I couldn’t see your face much, the camera angle was wrong.”

         “My world was focused on my body, my hands and feet giving me support,”  Sally replied.

        “Kewpies Matoskah and Jinghua are grateful for your help Sally,”  Indigo said.

        “I knew I needed to keep pushing, no matter how long it took,”  Sally replied.

        “I wonder whether delivering a cub in the spar pool would be a nice experience,”  Sita said.

        “there was one panda who did that,”  Indigo replied, “the first Jinghua, she came here in labour and used the main pool as a birthing pool for a bit.  I suppose we could use the spar pool as a birthing pool, but it would need cleaning afterwards.”

         “I think we should get Ekaterina here to act out a water birth and see if it helps her over a land based one,”  Indigo said.

      “Or I could do it,”  Sally replied, “I can remember the birth of Kuaizi well enough.”

         “we have proper birthing pools,”  Ekaterina said, walking into the pool complex, “Orbon showed me them.  They are shallow enough to allow safety but deep enough to give comfort.”

        “Can we go there now?”  Sally asked.  Ekaterina turned away, padding out of the complex, Indigo, Moonshadow, Sita and the others following her.

 

Ekaterina padded to a suite of rooms in the house, opening the door she padded through to a room where there was a birthing den, piles of blankets, a birthing ball or two and soft flooring.

       “The flooring can be removed and washed,”  Ekaterina said smiling.

        “No pools here,”  Jemma remarked.

       “it’s through here,”  Ekaterina replied, opening another door and leading them through to a tiled room with a pool sunk into the floor with raised rails around it.

       “What are those rails for?”  Indigo asked.

       “for mama to hold onto with her paws while she labours of course,”  Sally said.

      “Oh yeah, forgot about that,”  Indigo replied.

         “You used your feet for a bar though didn’t you Sally?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “I did, as I had no bar to hold onto,”  Sally replied, “though thinking about it, holding my own feet felt great.”

        “You did a wonderful job Sally,”  Ekaterina said.

       “I will remember that for the rest of my life,”  Sally replied smiling.

        “have you tried out the pool?”  Indigo asked.

        “I have,”  Ekaterina said, “it’s nice and warm, and I’d like to have a cub here if, well, if I ever could have cubs again.”

         “What’s under the water?”  Indigo asked.

        “There is a ledge for mama to sit or lie on, and a padded bit of wall for her to brace her feet against.  Of course we can pad up any bit of wall mama wants.  The floor is padded so she can brace her feet in comfort also, though if she wants grip, we can put down rubber matting too, though the floor is pretty non slip, both to human feet and those of lions tigers and bears.”

         “Who did you get to test the pool?”  Sally asked.

       “Jess did,”  Ekaterina replied, “I tested for the bears, and peters for the lions.  Tess tested for the tigers.  They all said their feet gripped the tiles well, and better when they curled their toes into the tiles.  They even tried pushing at the tiles with their feet while keeping their toes curled, and it stood up well.”

       “give us a guided tour of the pool and other facilities then Ekaterina,”  Indigo said.  Ekaterina got into the pool and waded across it.

      “Over here is a raised ledge that can be sat or lain upon,”  Ekaterina said, patting a place beneath the water, “I can put a birthing ball in here, the labouring mama can lie on the ledge, or get into a crawling posture and crawl about, or sit down, or lie on her side, any posture she’s comfortable with.”

       “let me see,”  Moonshadow said, getting into the pool, “yes my feet are almost sticking to the flooring,”  Moonshadow said, “I could imagine bracing my feet against the floor and feeling safe enough.”

         “You will never deliver a cub into the world,”  Sita said laughing, “so I think your tests are a little invalid, though I suppose, if the mama is pushing back against you, you would need a good foothold.”

       “My feet stick easily to this flooring, and it’s under the water,”  Moonshadow said.

       “how is your right hind foot?”  Sita asked, “Tiguak, um, squashed it didn’t she.”

      “My foot is fine thanks,”  Moonshadow replied, lifting his right foot from the tiles and flexing his toes.  Sita crept up behind Moonshadow and tickled the pads of his right foot while he was testing his toes, Moonshadow giggling with pleasure.

        “You rogue!”  he laughed.

      “I like playing with paws and feet,”  Sita said, Moonshadow laughing slightly.

 

Meanwhile, Sooleawa watched as a large male bear ran panting into the house, his fur dirty, he looked a sorry sight.

        “Can someone help me?”  the bear asked, “I am lost and have been chased by dogs.  I fell into a ditch, then into a lagoon, and then, was chased by a lioness!  Two lionesses chased me, snarling and roaring!”  I ran, I didn’t want to fight them, not two lionesses, for they’d have reinforcements, sure to have.  I ran in here, and saw you are a bear, and now, now I’m begging for help.”

       “I’ll help you,”  Sooleawa replied, “and I don’t think the lionesses meant you harm, they were probably making sure you got here safely, did they direct you here?”

        “In a manner of speaking I suppose so,”  the bear replied, water dripping off his nose.

        “Let me check your paws and feet for thorns, and I’ll arrange a meeting with our community leaders,”  Sooleawa replied.

         “Sit down here,”  Sooleawa said, indicating a soft mat for the bear to sit on.  The bear sat down, Sooleawa bringing another mat for him to rest the heels of his hind feet on.  Smiling, Sooleawa fetched a bowl and gently used a sponge to dab the mud off the bear’s hind feet, working carefully to clean the mud off his pads and from between his toes.

       “Why do you work so carefully?”  the bear asked.

       “In case you have thorns and things in your pads beneath all that mud,”  Sooleawa replied.  The bear smiled at Sooleawa as she worked.

        “You are young,”  he said, “what got you into a job like this?”

        “I like playing with paws,”  Sooleawa said, “I’ve always played silly foot and paw games, and someone suggested I make a job of cleaning and washing paws, so here I am.”

       “You have a gentle manner,”  the bear said.

         “Thanks,”  Sooleawa replied.  The bear looked around him, then froze in terror!

         “The lionesses are watching at the door now!”  he squealed.

       “Oh, they are Petra and Nala,”  Sooleawa said, “you wouldn’t have any trouble with them.”

       “But they were growling and roaring!”  the bear protested.

        “I asked him if I could be of help, and he screamed and ran,”  Nala mewed.

        “I can understand you now,”  the bear huffed, “so why not then?”

       “Because you were terrified and ran headlong,”  Petra mewed.

        “I’m sorry I ran,”  the bear replied.

        “We directed you to the house,”  Nala said, “we herded you, if you like, towards a place of safety.”

       I’ve found a little bear who is washing my paws and feet with gentle care,”  the bear replied.

       “What is your name?”  Petra asked.

       “My name?”  the bear asked, “well, Now I come to think of it, I have no proper name. I can be named however you wish to name me.”

       “How about naming you Nerromiktok Tunnu Aklark?”  Sooleawa asked.

      “What do those words mean?”  the brown bear asked as he saw Petra smile to herself.

        “ soft fat brown bear,”  Sooleawa replied.

       “that’s not nice Sooleawa!”  Petra mewed.

       “Well I’m named for my fur, so I thought it would work for this new bear,”  Sooleawa replied grinning.

      “yes, but, calling him fat and all, that’s not nice is it!”  Petra growled.

        “but I am fat, and brown too, and a bear, so I suppose it works,”  the newcomer replied, “I have big fat feet and paws too, so Nerromiktok I am.”  Sooleawa smiled and kissed the brown bear’s nose and paws.

         “you are lovely and big,”  she said, “cubs will love playing with your paws when they get hold of them.”

         “I like my feet and paws played with,”  Nerromiktok said, “my cub, my dear cub Wilfred liked it too.”

     “Is Wilfred a brown bear, a young cub?”  Sooleawa asked.

       “he’s a brown bear with paws like mine, well, they are younger pads, sort of.”

        “he likes playing paw and foot games,”  Indigo said, padding into the passage.

         “he’s here?”  Nerromiktok asked.

        “he is,”  Indigo replied smiling, “we often find stray bears in the woods.  He wanted to come to us for shelter, and, well, he never left.”

       “he’s a lovely bear,”  Nerromiktok said, his eyes filling with tears, “we lost each other weeks ago, he, he ran off.”

       “Why was that?”  Sooleawa asked.

        “My mate, his mama, well, she, she died suddenly,”  Nerromiktok replied sadly, “she, she got hit by one of them wheeled things, a big wheeled thing with big wheels and a growling voice, it hit her on the roads, and she, she,”  Nerromiktok buried his face in his paws, hiding his tears.

        “You and your mate were crossing a road with your cub when your mate got hit by a car,”  Indigo said gently.

       “yes, she, she lay for ages on the grass verge, and, and, she begged me, begged me to end her life!  I granted her wish, and for that I hope the spirits will look kindly on me.  She was in so much pain, her legs were smashed, her hind legs all smashed up by the lorry.  She was a lovely bear, a lovely creature.  I saw Wilfred born, she let me, let me stay with her, let me see her face, her paws, and her feet as she laboured, she then let me see the cub emerge into the world, she even let me rub her back and she leant into me as she pushed in the latter stages of Wilfred’s birth.  I will never forget that time.  The den was cramped, but we got through the birth of our first, our now only cub.  I remember everything about those hours in the den, every movement my mate made, every sound, every time she kicked with her hind feet or punched at the air with her forepaws, and the time she lay on her back and dug her toes into the roof of our den as she braced herself to push.  I was at her hind end then, as I’d been rubbing her right hind foot with my paws just before, when she suddenly lay back and gripped the roof with her hind feet, pushing at the roof with the soles of her feet, her toes curled into the earth roof, anchoring her feet to the roof as she pushed with her hind feet so desperately..

        “did you see your cub come into the world?”  Sooleawa asked, enthralled by the tale.

       “yes I did,”  Nerromiktok replied, “I saw him come into the world from forepaws to hind feet, felt him come too.  I caught the cub as mama, drawing up her feet, pushed him into my paws, straining deeply to push Wilfred into my paws, groaning and heaving, puffing and whimpering, she laboured, delivering Wilfred into my paws.  I saw her closed eyes, her curled toes and kicking feet, and felt Wilfred emerging into the world.  Mama rolled from side to side in the den, lying on her back.  She then lay on her side, and squealing, pushed into her tail, making it onto all four paws, then, in a crawling posture, mama delivered Wilfred into my paws, her hind feet near the outside air, her head deep in the den, my back blocking the entrance of the den, the [pads and toes of her hind feet visible to me, the cub’s arrival full in my sight and in my paws.  Screaming at the walls, the toes of her forepaws gripping the ground, mama wriggled desperately and sat back on the heels of her hind feet, roaring, she bore down into her tail twice, then got her backside up, bearing down into her tail, delivering Wilfred into my paws.  mama saw nothing of Wilfred’s birth, though I know she felt every bit, for I told her what was happening, from the time I saw Wilfred’s forepaws, to the time I saw his head, then his body, then his legs, supporting him the whole way into the world, touching mama and my cub at the same time with my paws, mama comforted by my touch on her body and reassured by the commentary about the progress of her cub’s birth with every effort she made.”

          “You told her everything you could see?”  Sooleawa asked.

       “I did,”  Tunnu replied.

       “So you got paws on, and eyes on too?”  Sooleawa asked.

       “I did,”  Nerromiktok replied sniffing, “I’ll never forget the sight, or the sound, or the feel of my cub’s birth.  I touched mama’s face, mama’s body, mama’s paws and feet, then I touched the cub as he emerged, for mamma felt better labouring in a crawling posture, bearing down against her cub, rocking back and fourth on her knees and forepaws, then pushing down again.  I held my cub as he emerged.”

         “could you re-enact that?”  Sooleawa asked.  Nerromiktok looked at her with red rimmed eyes.

        “I could, and, and, I have since her death and before today,”  he replied honestly, “in the woods, I’ve re-enacted mama’s postures and actions.  I hope it’s not wrong to do that.  It made me feel closer to my mate since her death.”

         “it’s okay,”  Sooleawa said softly.

       “mama had fur, paws and feet like me, thick pads, thick fur and sensitive paws and feet.  Mama wanted me to stroke the pads and toes of her hind feet as she delivered her cub, of course I could not do that and catch the cub at the same time. so I blew on the pads and toes of her hind feet in turn, so she could feel my breath cooling her pads and toes.  Mama’s hind feet were soaked in sweat, I couldn’t’ see her face, though if her face was as hot as her hind feet, she must have been very uncomfortable, for Wilfred was a huge cub, making her labour strenuous and difficult.  Mama roared, groaned and moaned throughout her labour, me trying to do all I could for her.”

.       “Well you are fat, so the cub would have been very big too,”  Anernerk said, smiling broadly and walking up to Nerromiktok.

       “You should not say that!”  Petra snapped at the young cub.

       “Let me look at you,”  Nerromiktok said, drawing Anernerk onto his lap.

        “You have huge feet and paws, and you’re a big cub, just like my Wilfred is,”  the fat brown bear said.

       “I have big feet, look at my feet, they’re large!”  Anernerk said.  Nerromiktok examined Anernerk’s forepaws and hind feet, tickling her toes, the cub laughing and waving her paws in the air.

        “You played with Wilfred like that,”  Sooleawa said.

       “I played with my mate like that too,”  Nerromiktok said, “she loved lying on her back while I patted her belly and tickled the toes and pads of her hind feet.”

          “I’ll bet you like having your toes tickled too,”  Anernerk said.

       “I do,”  Nerromiktok replied, “my mate and I were very tactile, and Wilfred is too.”

       “I know, Anernerk replied, “I was playing with him, he has interesting paws and feet.”

        “Where is Wilfred now?”  Nerromiktok asked.

        “I’m here,”  Wilfred said, padding up to his sire and looking into his face.

          “Hello dear Wilfred,”  Nerromiktok said softly, Wilfred looking with Pity at his bedraggled sire.

       “Let’s get you clean,”  Wilfred said, “then, then we can talk, for, for I must apologise for running off after, well, after mama’s death on the road, I just ran and hid from you, though not from you really, from the world.”  Nerromiktok let Wilfred lead him from the paw and foot check station, and along a passage to a bathroom, where he filled a tub with water and they both got in.

         “I’m so glad to see you my dear sire,”  Wilfred said. “they call you Nerromiktok now, so I will do the same.”  Nerromiktok smiled broadly, lifting his half grown cub into his lap and hugging him.

         “Why did it take you so long to find me?”  Wilfred asked.

        “After, after your mama died under the wheels of that big human thing,”  Nerromiktok said softly, “I waited until it was quiet in the woods.  Mama, she, she asked me to put her out of her pain, her hind legs were smashed by the lorry, and she was in great pain.  I, I carried out her wish, but of that I will not speak any more, for it is dreadful and I wish not to remember it.  After I had cleaned mama’s body from nose to tail, I looked for you for ages, not finding you, I carried mama’s body for days until I reached this woodland, I then buried her body in a grave quite near here.”

      “Why not bury her where she died?”  Wilfred asked.

       “It wasn’t suitable for her,”  Was all Nerromiktok said.

       “Oh,”  Wilfred replied, “so where did you bury her?”

        “I buried her near here, in the woodland, deep beneath the woodland floor, deep in the woods.  It was then that two dogs came near as I was finishing the job.  I ran, and they chased me, and then two lionesses got in on the chase too, and I came here, all covered in mud from the digging and swimming the lagoon and all.  The lionesses chased me to the house, that is why I’m in such a mess now.”

       “I wonder what the dogs did to the grave,”  Wilfred said, “I hope they didn’t disturb it.”

        “I don’t know if they did,”  Nerromiktok replied sadly, “I won’t go back, just in case.  I don’t want to see that.”

          “I’m sure the spirits will keep the grave complete,”  Wilfred said.#

 

Meanwhile, on the edge of the woods, Rowena lay  on her side on the forest floor, feeling the stirrings of her unborn cub.  She’d got in cub a very short time after her return to the physical world, and now was in labour.

       “It feels like I want to defecate!”  Rowena thought as she lay on the forest floor.  Getting to her feet, she strained hard like she’d done so many times before, bearing down into her tail, but no waste left her body, though pushing into her tail felt good.  Lying down again, Rowena panted with discomfort.

        “I can’t get to the house, I just can’t!”  Rowena thought as another ripping contraction built in her.  clenching her teeth and squeezing her eyes shut, Rowena rolled onto her chest, dug the toes of all four feet into the track, and pushed down hard into her tail.

        “I must leave here,”  Rowena thought.  Fighting the mist of pain and fatigue, she crawled to a place where the ground was disturbed.  Rowena could feel warm earth, her feet gripping the newly turned soil with ease, the warmth comforting her.

          “this earth is warm, and I need to hold it with my paws, to dig a little,”  Rowena thought, digging with her forepaws and hind feet, until she had a little depression in the earth, in which she lay.  The contractions were easier now, the warm earth caressing her body, her feet caked with mud, her belly pressed to the warm earth, Rowena finding wriggling and digging at the earth soothed her, as if the earth was a warm soothing bath.

        “I would have liked a water birth for my cubs, but they are coming too soon for that,”  Rowena thought.  Opening her mouth, she moaned lustily, then closing it, she took a deep breath and strained deeply into her tail, her feet braced into the earth, her toes desperately curled to give her purchase.

       “Hurooooooawumph! Aaaaaaaaow! Roooaoaoaoaorooaoaoaow!”  Rowena yelled, wriggling and twisting in her agony.

         “it’s going to be okay,”  a voice said to the labouring lioness in a lull between contractions when Rowena lay panting and sobbing in pain.

         “Who are you?”  Rowena asked.

       “My name is not important,”  the voice said, “but if you will let me sit with you, your labour might be easier to bear.”

         “I used to be of the spirit world,”  Rowena said, “you are one who has crossed the bridge I think.”

        “I am,”  The voice replied, “and I am, or was,  as you are now.  that is to say, a first time mother.  I wanted to defecate when there was nothing to get rid of, I clawed up the earth with my toes and rolled about in newly turned earth, though mine was within my den.  I had help delivering my cub, my mate helped me, though you I fear, have no help from your mate.”

        “I fell in cub from a wild lion not of this community,”  Rowena panted, “now I am alone to deliver my cub.  I was desperate to have a cub, and now I’m being punished for that desperation.  The cub will be a big one, needing a lot of work on my part to give him or her life, I know that.”

       “My cub was big, and my mate helped me deliver him into the world,”  was the newcomer’s response.

        “If I open my eyes, will I see you?”  Rowena asked.

        “No,”  the voice said, and Rowena felt a paw stroking her shoulder, then touching her belly and her flank.  The minute the paw touched her belly, Rowena felt an urge to curl up in a ball, keep her eyes tightly shut and push down harder than ever, an urge she could not disobey.

       “let it come Rowena, let the cub come,”  the newcomer said, touching Rowena’s belly with her paw, drawing her paw from Rowena’s chest to her abdomen, and down to the root of her tail, Rowena feeling the cub surging inside her.  splaying her hind legs, Rowena stretched her legs out, pointing the toes of her hind feet and splaying her legs as best she could while lying down.

         “yoaoaoaoaoaoaoaow! Ooooooooaoh! Aaaaaaaaaw!”  Rowena screamed.

       “Try standing on your feet,”  the gentle voice said.

        “Your paw did it, your touch drew the cub a little into the world!”  Rowena gasped.

         “Push with my touch and you’ll feel better,”  was the voice’s response, “when you feel the need, push Rowena, push until you feel my touch leave your body.”  Rowena got to her feet, settled them into the earth, then when the voice’s paw touched her belly, Rowena felt such a need to push into her tail, such a deep need from the dawn of time, that she pushed with all her might.  Long efforts they were, long efforts which made Rowena yowl and growl and pant and cry, but the reassuring touch of the  voice’s paw was always there helping her.  Rowena felt the cub coming down, then felt it between her hind legs, emerging with every push, with every wriggle of her body.

        The cub’s head is out now,”  the voice said, “now Rowena, lie on your side and bear down strongly as before.”  Rowena lay down, and when she felt the gentle touch of the newcomer’s paws, for there were two paws now, on her belly again, Rowena pushed down strongly, how Rowena pushed, from her belly, right into her tail and the soles of her feet, thrice she pushed, then she groaned, a long groan, a groan which shook her body, as the cub slid free, Rowena feeling it emerging, the sensation painful, but exhilarating and pleasurable too.  Rowena moaned and whimpered, groaned and panted, though she was no longer actively pushing or straining.  Rowena wriggled from side to side a little, then curled and uncurled her body, finally curling and uncurling her toes with the rhythm of her contractions.  Gasping, Rowena felt her cub’s hind feet slip free of her body.

       “wow, it’s done!”  she gasped.

         “now clean your cub,”  the voice said, and Rowena curled her body, finding the cub with her paws, for she found she dared not open her eyes.

        “clean the cub, yes,”  she panted, feeling a gentle kiss placed on her forehead by the owner of the voice.

         “You lie there for as long as you wish,”  the voice said, “for I know how you felt during your labour.  I lay in my den for hours after my cub’s birth, but you have no bed.  Lie here, and I will keep you and your cub warm until you are quite recovered from your labour.  Feed your cub Rowena.”

          “You know my name?  how is this?”  Rowena asked.

         “I know your tale from long olden time,”  the voice said, “for it was told to me as a cub, when I was hunting for berries in the woods with my mama.”

      “berries?”  Rowena asked, “so, so you are a woodland creature?”

        “I am,”  the voice replied, “a woodland creature who’s time with her paws firmly on the earth yours held onto with such urgency came to an end far too soon.”

       “but why?”  Rowena asked, “what happened to you?”

         “I was run down by a human thing,”  the voice replied, “my mate, a good kind creature of the woods helped me deliver my cub, but also helped me in my darkest hour of need.  I know he has terrible nightmares about what I asked him to help me do.  Please, if you see him, tell him I thank him for my deliverance from my pain, and of course for being there with me when I delivered our cub into the world.”

        “I know not who you are,”  Rowena replied, “you know my name, but I do not know yours.”

       “All you need to know is whom to go to and give my message,”  the voice replied, “that creature is a fat bear with fat paws.  he has reached your brick den, which is further than you got.”

       “I am glad I didn’t make it now,”  Rowena replied, “I feel here was the right place to have my cub, here in the wood, with warm earth and warm paws to help me.”

        “The place where you are lying is atop the place where my earthly remains lie,”  the voice said.

        “I desecrated your resting place?”  Rowena asked, horrified.

         “I invited you to make your bed in my den, let’s put it that way,”  the voice replied.

         “if you put it like that, it’s not so bad,”  Rowena replied.

       “There have been cold weathers since my earthly body was placed in the ground where you and your cub now lie snug and warm,”  the voice said, “the heat of the digging would have long vanished from the soil, making it cold and inhospitable for a mother and cub.  did you find it thus?  Or was it a comfort?”

       “it was warm, the earth comforting my body, soothing my belly and comforting my feet and paws,”  Rowena replied.

      “Good,”  the voice said, “for that’s how my den is, warm and comforting for a mother to be.”

        “Thank you for letting me deliver my cub in your den,”  Rowena replied solemnly.

         “it is a pleasure and an honour,”  the voice said, “but please, do one thing for me if you will.  Tell the bear I have described to you, the words I have spoke to you.”

       “We have many brown bears who call the brick den their home,”  Rowena replied, “how will I know him?”

       “touch your cub’s right hind foot with your paws, take it in your paws Rowena,”  the voice said.  Rowena did, the cub giggling and curling its toes with pleasure.

         “My cub’s foot feels like that of a bear,”  Rowena gasped, “it’s a bear’s foot, with firm pads, firm playful toes too!”

         “it is by the feel of his hind foot in your paws that you will know him,”  the voice said, “Now, now touch your cub’s right foot again.”  Rowena did, and it was that of a newborn lion cub once more.

         “I like you touching my feet mama,”  the cub purred contentedly.

       “have you drunk your milk yet little one?”  Rowena said, though her paws told her that her cub was not at all little.

        “I have,”  the cub said.

        “now I will go Rowena,”  the voice said, “you and your cub will come to no harm, for I will see you get to the brick den in safety.  Your cub is too heavy for you to carry, so I will give her the knowhow to walk on her four feet, though she will complain bitterly about that, for she knows for what purpose her paws and feet are truly designed for.”

         “for being played with and for her to use them for play,”  Rowena replied smiling.

     “yes,”  the voice replied, “just as mine were.  I used to love it when my mate played with my paws and feet.  Using them for walking was so boring!  But enough of that, I must go now.”

        “I don’t know where I am,”  Rowena replied.

       “I’ll guide your paws Rowena, and of course, those of your cub,”  was the voice’s reply, “when the sun comes up, you can go back to your brick den.  Now I must leave you.  With that, Rowena felt the owner of the voice kiss her nose, then heard her cub mewing and purring as the owner of the voice kissed also her nose.

       “Goodbye, and thank you,”  Rowena said as the voice took her leave.

 

Rowena padded to the house, her fur thick with mud from the ground.  On the way, she and her cub met a large brown bear who led a smaller brown bear by the paw through the woods, both walking on their hind feet, both looking very sad.

          “it’s another lioness, and it looks and smells like she’s been digging at the grave I dug for my mate!”  the larger bear said to the smaller one.

         “how could she do such a thing?”  the smaller bear asked.

       “I did not deliberately dig at your mate’s grave, though the accusation is true enough,”  Rowena said, “my cub,”  she continued, indicating the large newborn cub with one dirty forepaw, “came traumatically into the world, and I had no sense of what I was doing with my paws or my feet.  My toes held onto the floor and I found my paws and feet digging me a birthing place.  I now know where that place was, and I beg your forgiveness for desecrating that place.”

        “you speak the truth, I can see that,”  the older bear said, dropping to all fours, then cupping Rowena’s chin in his paw to look deeply into her face.

         “What is your name?”  the large male brown bear asked.

      “My name is Rowena, I’m, I was, oh dear, how to explain all that I was, and all that I am now, it’s not easy.”

        “Once spiritual leader of this community,”  Nerromiktok said, “that was your job wasn’t it.  You were killed by the polar bear Arki, the first of that name in this community while defending a polar bear cub born to Arki, first of that name.  You Rowena spent time over the bridge, where my dear mate is now.”

       “I did,”  Rowena replied, “but my need to have a cub, to deliver a cub into the world and raise him or her meant I came back here in physical form.  That cub’s birth was so painful and traumatic, I dug myself a den where I lay labouring on the forest floor.  I was helped in my labour by a voice from across the bridge, she had the paws of a bear, at least, at least I think they were.  She spoke of her mate, a brown bear and her cub, and of being hit by a human wheeled thing.”   Rowena stopped speaking, for the large male bear was now weeping softly.

         “Great Spirits,”  the bear choked, “Rowena, you have spoken to my mate, I’m sure of it!”

       “she asked me to thank you for delivering her from her pain, and for being there with her when she had her cub too,”  Rowena said gently.

        “how did she help you?”  the bear asked, his tears drying.

        “I will tell you when I am clean, and have had something to eat,”  Rowena replied smiling, “as you can see, I’m, well, filthy from nose to toes, and my cub is just as dirty as I am.”

         “Take me to the place, please,”  the bear said.

       “What is your name sire?”  Rowena asked, giving the male bear the respectful title he evidently deserved.

         “My name is Nerromiktok, and this is my cub Wilfred.”

       “Nerromiktok means soft to the touch,”  Wilfred said, Rowena smiling.

        “You are a big fellow, and,”  she touched the top of his right forepaw, “your fur is soft,”  she said.

         “Now take me to the place, to the place where you had your cub, and where my mate’s body is buried,”  Nerromiktok said.  Rowena guided the bears to the place, shocked at the mess she’d left the mound in.

        “I’ll repair the damage,”  Rowena said ashamedly.

      “No, not yet,”  Nerromiktok said, looking into the foot deep hole.  He paced this way and that, staring into the hole.

        “You had a strenuous labour,”  Nerromiktok commented, “I can see your paw prints, claw marks, diggings made by your feet and impressions by your back.  I can see where you dug your toes in hard to the earth too.”  Rowena looked into the desecrated grave.

       “I didn’t come near the body of your mate,”  she said, “I am sorry though for the mess I’ve made.”

        “it looks a safe place in there, sort of den like,”  Nerromiktok replied.

        “That’s how your mate described it,”  Rowena replied, “she said she was glad to have me labour in her den, as if I’d crawled into her den in the hillside and given birth there.”

         “I buried her four feet down,”  Nerromiktok replied, “now I feel I should fill this hole in, but it is a record of your cub’s life coming into the world, and I don’t want to destroy that, for surely that is as precious as a grave site?”

         “it is,”  Rowena replied, “but I can remember my labour, you need a place to remember your dearly loved but now departed mate.”

        “I am looking forward to hearing all about the birth of your cub Rowena,”  Nerromiktok said, “Everything about it.”

      “I will tell all,”  Rowena replied, “but right now, my paws are stiff with mud, and I need to wash, and my cub needs to feed.”

          “My mate, like me, had no name herself, though we named our cub Wilfred, having heard that name once and liked it.”

        “it is a handsome name for a handsome bear,”  Rowena replied.  “of course, I will name my cub in good time.  She will have a name which befits her as a lioness.”

       “Who’s the sire of your cub?”  Nerromiktok asked.

        “I don’t know,”  Rowena replied, “I think I helped a dying lioness, like Sally helped Jinghua.  Though I think my labour was full labour, not just the physical pushing part.  I think the lioness died with her cub viable, though not dry to be born.  I had a dream I was pregnant, and woke feeling so.  That was about a month back.  Then my labour came on suddenly, and here’s my cub.”

         “Just like the tale of snowy half tail,”  Wilfred said.

       “yes, just like her,”  Rowena replied smiling.

         “Let’s go from here now,”  Nerromiktok said, “I want to hear all about this, and see Rowena re-enacting it too.”

         “the most difficult was the last bit when all I did was wriggle and moan deeply, quite literally wriggling the cub free of my body,”  Rowena replied, “I didn’t push as such, though I suppose there were contractions of sorts.  I just wriggled and rolled about in the birthing place, easing the cub into the world bit by bit.”

         “I can imagine it,”  Nerromiktok said, “mama wriggled Wilfred into the world a bit too, she bounced her backside on her heels,  panted and moaned as Wilfred slipped into the world, she tried not to push hard down for the last part of her labour, letting her body stretch and mould itself to fit her large cub.”

        “I know how she felt,”  Rowena replied.

        “What will you name your new female cub?”  Wilfred asked.

       “I will name her Adaeze, which means princess,”  Rowena said.

         “I am so glad you met my mate,”  Nerromiktok said softly, “I remember our last really intimate time together in the den, when Wilfred was born.  It was hours of paw play, then less paw play but more stroking of my mate’s back and belly, then she began groaning and really pushing.  Then, she squealed and yowled as Wilfred’s body emerged into the world.”

        “What shall we do with this mess?”  Wilfred asked, waving a paw at the wrecked grave.

        “it’s a place of birth as well as a resting place for the body of my dead mate,”  Nerromiktok said smiling sadly, “I vote we take a cast of this mud, to remind Rowena of the place she delivered her cub.”

        “You need not leave the mud the way it is,”  Rowena replied, “I can remember every detail of my cub’s birth, body memory works even after years have passed.”  Nerromiktok cleared up the soil and mud, and all returned to the house, or, “brick den,”  as Nerromiktok’s mate would have put it.

        “I miss my mate,”  Nerromiktok said sadly, “she was lovely, a really gentle creature.

       “did you see Nerromiktok’s mate Rowena?”  Wilfred asked.

         “No, my eyes were shut throughout,”  Rowena replied, “I was concentrating on Adaeze birth.  It hurt to push, and things were hard, but I got through it with help.”

        “You have big feet Rowena,”  Wilfred said, looking down at the lioness’s forepaws as they entered the house.  Sooleawa, smiling, pressed a button on a pendant around her neck, Hope and Ellis padding into the room.

        “We have more paws and feet to check than I can cope with quickly,”  Sooleawa said to the two bears.

        “but I want my feet and paws checked by you Sooleawa!”  Rowena mewed cubbishly, Sooleawa laughing and kissing her nose.

       “Big cub,”  she teased, Rowena kissing her nose.

      “will this mean I have my paws stroked?”  Adaeze asked.

      “if you like,”  Sooleawa replied smiling.  Sooleawa washed, then checked Rowena’s paws and feet for thorns.  Then gently washed and examined Rowena’s cub’s feet for thorns, marvelling at how tender and soft the cub’s pads were.

       “I never had pads like this, though I wish I had,”  Sooleawa said, pressing the pads and manipulating the toes of Adaeze’s right hind foot.

        “You had soft tender pads when you were very young Sooleawa,”  Patch said, padding into the paw check area.  Seeing him, Sooleawa washed her paws, then padded up to Patch and threw her paws around him, Patch sitting down and embracing her tightly.

        “I love you Sooleawa,”  patch said softly.

         “I love you too patch,”  Sooleawa replied smiling.

       “Is Sooleawa yours Patch?”  Netlike asked.  Patch smiled:

      “She is,”  Patch replied smiling, “she looks like me doesn’t she?”

        “She does, very much,”  Wilfred replied smiling.  Sooleawa knelt in front of Patch, patch reaching over and stroking the naked pads of his daughter cub’s left hind foot with his paw, Sooleawa snuggling closer into Patch, so he could more easily reach her foot while she hugged him.  Patch, pulling her closer with his left paw, stroked her left hind foot with his right paw, Solae embracing him with both her paws, her face buried in his neck fur.

        “She has the most gorgeous pinkie white pads Patch,”  Rowena said.  Patch smiled sadly.

       “I remember Sooleawa’s fur and paws, and her gentle touch,”  he replied, “I wasn’t there when she was born from Bramble, when Ekaterina delivered her into the world.  I wish I’d been there now.”

        “I wish you had too,”  Sooleawa said gently.

      “I can imagine what it was like,”  Patch replied, “Ekaterina pulling gently, Bramble lying on her side, with her legs drawn up out of the way.  Ekaterina pulling gently while bramble groaned and curled her toes tightly, then Ekaterina relaxing her traction, while holding your tiny paws in one of hers, then, when she’d got your head out into the world, grabbing your body in both her paws and pulling gently, letting Bramble strain and push a little so she could feel she’d been an active part of your birth, rather than an enduring spectator.”

        “Sooleawa’s got short legs and big feet,”  Wilfred said, “she’s very cute.”  Sooleawa giggled with pleasure as Wilfred traced tee pads of her right hind foot with his paw, then blew on them, the cold stream of air tickling the sole of her foot and then her toes, Sooleawa unable to resist curling her toes in response.

       “your pads are so cute when you curl your toes Sooleawa,”  Wilfred said smiling.

        “Are they?”  Sooleawa asked, “glad you think so.”

       “you’ve got big toes for such a small cub,”  Wilfred said, counting the curled toes on Sooleawa’s right hind foot by touching each in turn.

         “our chief paw and foot checker has gone on strike!”  Amy snapped, “she’s no bloody good!”

       “the chief paw and foot checker is having a bit of down time with her sire,”  Patch said formally, Amy spitting at him.

       “Disgusting that,”  Anernerk said, whacking Amy with her huge paw.

      “You are nothing!”  Amy yelled at Anernerk, the two cubs rolling around on the floor, fighting desperately.

      “Stop it both of you!”  Sooleawa said, turning from patch and leaping at the two scrapping bears.

        “I fix them for you!”  Dorothy yelled, pounding in, picking Amy and Anernerk up by their scruffs, walking out on her hind feet with both cubs screaming angrily.  Sooleawa turned back to her sire, Patch enfolding her in a massive embrace.

       “You can sleep at my place tonight if you want,”  patch said softly to Sooleawa.

        “I moved into my own lie up only recently, but thanks, I will curl up with you tonight Patch,”  Sooleawa replied.  Patch rubbed Sooleawa’s back with his paw, Sooleawa snuggling up to him.

         “I must go now,”  Sooleawa whispered, “I need to check more paws and feet for thorns.”

        “Why do you like your job Sooleawa?”  Patch asked.

        “I find the variation of pads and toes as interesting as others would find eyes or faces,”  Sooleawa replied.

       “You have flat pads like me,”  Patch said, “some of the bears here, Necker for instance, and Wilfred too, they have more pronounced pads.”

        “I like all pads, smooth pads, thick pads, soft pads, tough pads too,”  Sooleawa said, “and as for toes, playful toes are great.”

        “Who checks your pads and toes for thorns?”  Patch asked.

       “I check my own for thorns,”  Sooleawa replied, “though I would like you to do it if you would.”

      “Of course I will,”  Patch said softly.  He sat Solway down there on the tiles and checked her forepaws for thorns by touch, taking each paw in his, he stretched and pressed her pads in his, manipulating her pads firmly but gently.

       “You don’t look at her paws then?”  Nerromiktok asked.

      “No,”  patch replied, “not any more.”

      “Why not?”  the brown bear asked.

        “I can’t see her paws, her face or her feet,”  patch replied honestly.

       “but she’s inches in front of you,”  Nerromiktok said.

        “I am totally blind now Nerromiktok,”  Patch replied gently.

        “Oh, I didn’t know,”  Nerromiktok replied, “I hope the leadership don’t mind disabled community members here.”

        “No they don’t,”  Patch replied heavily, “for I am leader here.”  Nerromiktok stared in astonishment.

         “You?”  he asked.

      “yes me,”  patch replied, “I am leader, and Sooleawa is my cub.”

        “I heard the leader was named Orbon, and you are not him,”  Nerromiktok replied.

        “Orbon is the one who deals with the day to day affairs of state,”  Patch replied, “I’m his adviser.”

        “You also play with the cubs and give them spiritual guidance patch,”  Sooleawa said smiling.

        “I do my best,”  patch replied, “Now Sooleawa, will you give me your right forepaw? Your left is okay, no thorns or sore patches.”

       “I wish you’d touch my hind feet,”  Sooleawa replied smiling.

      “I will, in time,”  Patch replied.

       “But I want you to do it now!”  Sooleawa complained.

       “Come here,”  Patch said, settling Sooleawa on his lap and embracing her tightly.  Sooleawa, feeling emotions welling in her, held tightly onto Patch’s fur with her paws, the toes of her hind feet curling tightly as she held desperately onto her sire.

        “Hold me Patch!”  Sooleawa begged, Patch embracing her tightly.

         “now I’ll check your hind feet for thorns,”  Patch said softly.  Sooleawa smiled, sat opposite her sire, and gave him her right hind foot.

        “Smooth pads,”  patch remarked, stroking the sole of Sooleawa’s right hind foot with his left forepaw, “nice warm pads too, almost damp they are.”

       “I’m excited,”  Sooleawa replied, “my toes want to curl tight!”

       “Let them,”  patch replied, Sooleawa giving up the struggle and sighing deeply as her toes did their thing, curling tightly, her pads bunching beneath Patch’s touch.

          “Stroking my foot like that reminds me of my birth,”  Sooleawa replied, I remember feeling everything, for mama was exhausted, and everything was clamping down as I emerged.  My body eased out into the world, my feet being scraped by the edges of a casing tunnel. It squeezed my feet quite a bit that tunnel did.”

     “What’s she on about?” Nerromiktok asked.

       “Emerging into the world, being born when your mama is so exhausted she can’t push hard enough to open things up much,”  patch replied, “being pulled into the world in other words.”

         “My cub wasn’t pulled,”  Rowena said, “she was wriggled out into the world.”

       “Sooleawa was too big for that,”  Patch replied, “Bramble told me.”

         “have you imagined how it would be to deliver me into the world Patch?”  Sooleawa asked.

         “I have,”  patch replied, “I’d be screaming and moaning like your mama was.”

          “I remember my birth, every bit of it,”  Sooleawa replied, “every sound, every movement, every push against my body, and squeeze on my head, body, paws and feet.”

        “your toes are flexing now,”  patch said, gently drawing the toes of his right forepaw down Sooleawa’s right hind foot from her toes to her heel.

        “you’re playing with her feet in public?”  Nerromiktok asked.

       “I am,”  Patch replied, “it’s the done thing here, impromptu play that is.  Paws and feet are very important to us here.”

         “Oh Okay,”  Nerromiktok replied, “I see that.”

        “your cub could start playing with your paws right here and now and we wouldn’t mind,”  Patch replied, “indeed, play has ended up with some unusual outcomes.  For instance, a young lion and lioness were playing at delivering a cub once, and the action of playing triggered true labour in the lioness, as she was in cub, and imagined contractions became real ones.  She ended up with a real cub.”  Nerromiktok stared:

       “that’s a lie,”  he said.

       “it’s not,”  Sarafina replied, padding into the room, “for I am that cub.”

        “You lie!”  Nerromiktok yelled.  Sarafina went up to him and smacked him across his face with her paw.

        “I don’t lie!”  she screamed, “I’ll show you the video!”  with that she padded to a screen and punched a few buttons.  The scene of Elsa and Pipin in the room, Elsa straining and sweating, then delivering a cub made Nerromiktok over his mouth with his paw.

       “oh, oooah!”  he gasped.

       “See?”  Sarafina asked.

      “yes, oh yes!”  Nerromiktok gasped, “I’m, sorry, so, so, so very, sorry!”

        “Now all we need is Sooleawa to deliver a cub here, and my day will be complete,”  Rowena mewed.

       “that won’t happen,”  Sooleawa replied grinning, “but I can play at being the cub, and probably, as the mama too.  kicking with my feet, curling my toes and crawling about.”

     “Seeing Sooleawa enjoying herself when Patch played with her hind feet has made my day,”  Wilfred said smiling.

       “I’ve not even begun yet,”  Patch replied, “I’m just checking her pads for injuries, the play comes later.”

        “the play comes later?  Great!”  Sooleawa enthused, “will you play the stuck foot game with me?  Chase and tickle my hind feet? Tickle my toes and pads?”

       “I will,”  patch replied smiling.

        “and if I pretend to have a cub, will you help me with that?”  Sooleawa asked.

       “I will,”  Patch replied.

        “Why is pretending to have a cub such a big thing here??”  Nerromiktok asked.

        “it’s a family thing, it’s stress relief, it’s all touch, all a chance to scream your head off, to curl your toes, and kick hard with all four paws,”  Sooleawa answered, “it’s all pretend play, the ultimate pretend play.  Pressing hind feet into forepaws to simulate contractions, curling toes, panting and moaning, crawling about, all that.  It’s a very hard job making it convincing.  But it’s a tradition here.”

         “I’ve never seen a pretend birth of a cub, I’ve seen the real thing though,”  Nerromiktok said.

       “when cubs are born, we let everyone in,”  Imvula said, following Sarafina into the room, “I let humans touch me while I was delivering my cubs, watch this!”  she showed Nerromiktok the video of Apudo’s birth, the bear staring hard.

       “Oh wow!”  he gushed.

       “So humans can be good too,”  Imvula replied, “peter and Sally are good to me and my cubs, it’s a pity they are going today.”

        “I hope I get a chance to say goodbye,”  Sooleawa said.

       “they’re coming through your paw check to get a final foot and paw inspection,”  Imvula replied.

         “Sally even helped a mama panda give life to her cub,”  Sooleawa said, “they both have shown the est. of human nature.”

      “Indeed they have,”  Patch replied smiling.

       “let’s leave here now and play more in your lie up,”  Sooleawa said to patch, who smiled, got to his feet and followed her out of the paw check area.

        “I’ll be back to check the humans paws and feet for thorns,”  Sooleawa said.  Patch padded with Sooleawa to his lie up, where she was ambushed by pester and Sally, who hugged her, then leapt upon Patch and hugged him.

         “We’re going today,”  Sally said, sitting down with peter, “and I wish we weren’t.  I wanted to speak to Rowena about her cub’s birth, as she helped a lioness who’d died, while I helped a mama panda.”

         “Well speak to me then,”  Rowena said, having quickly washed her paws and feet, then followed Patch from the paw check area.

       “I want to ask everything, to see what happened, to ask you how it felt,”  Sally said to the lioness, who padded up to her and kissed her nose.

         “I will tell you all, as we are mothers to spiritually aided cubs,”  rowan replied, “let’s go into another room, and you can ask me anything, and who knows, I might re-enact what happened.”

       “I will do for you if you re-enact for me,”  Sally replied smiling.  Rowena smiled and nuzzled Sally’s ear.

        “have you ever heard a cat giving birth to a kitten?”  Rowena asked.

       “yes, she yowls and snarls,”  Sally replied.

       “Well I was even more expressive than that,”  Rowena replied.

       “Your cub’s huge!”  Sally said, staring at Adaeze, “she’s got huge feet and paws!”

       “yes, I know,”  Rowena replied smiling, “I knew before I set eyes on her, I could feel how big she was.”

        “I’ll bet you screamed and roared,”  Peter said.

      “Too right I did,”  Rowena replied smiling.

         “I’d love to live here,”  Peter said.

         “Well your mama’s here, so why not stay a few more days?”  Rowena asked.

          “We would love to,”  Sally replied, “but we have to do boring human things, like go to school that sort of thing.”

      “We’ll enrol you in the history lessons with the other cubs, and you can play in the play room with them too,”  patch suggested.

        “I’ve already played in the playroom,”  Peter replied smiling, “a cub named Ellis got hold of my right foot and tickled my toes, it felt great!  He came to me and asked if I wanted a game of the stuck foot game.  I said yes I would like one, so we checked each other’s hind feet over for thorns, and he tickled my toes, and it was wonderful!”  patch smiled.

         “peter’s eyes are shining and he’s bouncing on his backside, holding his right foot in his hands and squeezing his toes with excitement,”  Rowena said to patch.

       “Is he?”  Patch asked, “I wish, wish I could,,,”

        “You wish you could see his excitement?”  Rowena asked sympathetically.

       “yes Rowena, it’s hard, it’s still tearing at me from time to time,”  patch replied.

         “I’d bet, if you got paws on, he’d bounce even more and grip his foot with even more intensity,”  Sally said.  patch smiled and approached Peter, who watched him coming.

        “can I touch you Peter?”  patch asked.  peter smiled and replied:

       “Touch my left foot,”  patch touched the sole of Peter’s foot, the young boy tightly curling his toes and pressing his foot into Patch’s paws, bouncing about on his backside.

        “you have soft pads and cubbish toes,”  Patch said, Peter laughing and stretching the toes of the foot Patch held, before curling them tighter still as Patch rubbed the sole of his foot with the digits of his left forepaw.

         “Peter’s holding his right foot with both hands, he’s gripping it hard,”  Sally said smiling, “he’s got a look of total absorption, real concentration focusing his mind through his feet and hands.”

        “I want to feel the feelings Sally did when delivering her cub, the complete absorption she felt, which told her being barefoot and bare pawed was the way to go.”

         “you want an intense emotional experience to get you relapsing your inhibitions and getting paws on?”  Patch asked.

        “yes,”  peter replied, “and I can sort of feel it when you touch my foot Patch, but I want to be able to kick with my feet, scream and roar like Sally did.”

          “You can,”  patch replied, “I will help you do that Peter.”

  “Kuruk told me you can do it for him too, touch his foot and he goes mad with pleasure, he loves you touching his foot, and pressing your paw into the ball of his foot, just at the base of his toes,”  peter replied.

        “It will only happen if it’s right for it to do so,”  Patch replied smiling.

        “maybe if you kneel like Kuruk did, take your eyes off Patch and let his paws and your feet communicate naturally, you might achieve what you want,”  Rowena suggested.  Patch let go of Peter’s left foot, and touched his hands, which were still holding onto his right foot.  Peter, feeling this, gripped his foot hard with both his hands and curled his toes.

       “It’s nearly there, nearly there!”  Peter gasped, maybe, maybe sitting back on my heels will work.”  Patch smiled and helped Peter kneel, then he touched the boy’s heels with his paws, Peter wriggling and digging his heels into his backside like Kuruk had done.  Patch stroked gently and slowly down the sole of Peter’s right foot with his paw, from heel to toes, Peter whimpering quietly at first, his whimper turning to a yell as Patch’s paw reached the base of his foot near his toes.  Curling his toes desperately, Peter leant on his hands, then lay down on his belly and gripped the rugs with his fingers, yelling his head off as he’d seen Kuruk do.  Patch drew his paw down the sole of Peter’s left foot, the young boy wriggling and yelling, his inhibitions leaving him.

       “how do I stop this?”  Peter asked.

      “Roll onto your back and grab your feet in your hands Peter,”  Sally said, peter obeying her instructions, drawing up his legs and holding his bare feet with both hands, then groaning as he wriggled his feet into a comfortable position, Patch getting paws on.

       “My feet are pressing into my fingers with too much energy!”  peter said, “I must let them go!”

      “Do so then, and see what happens,”  patch replied smiling, drawing back slightly and lifting his  paw into the line of fire.

     “”oooah, yooooooaw! Yooooooaw!” Peter yelled lustily as his fingers let go of his feet, and his legs sprang forward, his feet kicking patch’s paws, then peter panted and gasped as his feet returned to him on drawn up legs, to be gripped by the fingers of both his hands even more fiercely.  Peter’s release and catch happened three times, Peter’s fingers gripping his feet more fiercely, his wriggling and settling of his feet in the grip of his hands more urgent as the play continued, Peter whimpering and growling with effort and emotion.

        “My feet will stay, they will stay in my hands!”  Peter yelled, wriggling and puffing with effort.

         “yeeeeeee! Eeeeoeoeoeoaow!!”  Peter whimpered as Patch touched the heel of his right foot, “Ush, ush!”  he panted as patch touched the heel of his left foot.  panting, Peter said:

       “something’s going to happen when you touch my fingers Patch.”  Patch touched Peter’s fingers, the young boy roaring and pushing at his hands with both his bare feet, while pulling back desperately against the desperate attempts of his feet to escape his grip with both hands.

      “Hurrrrrrrrrumph! Eeeeeeeow! Herrrrrrrrrrrumph!”  Peter yelled as he rocked and wriggled, trying to push his feet free of his fingers.

        “when you feel them slip, let them go Peter,”  Sally suggested.  Peter wriggling and roaring in his efforts, then, feeling sweat break out on his hands and feet, he struggled on, until one straining effort broke the hold his fingers had on his feet, and they flew free of his hands, patch paws on with Peter’s hands and feet throughout the boy’s struggle, Peter’s feet caught gently in his paws and held onto both of them, while the young boy waved his hands in the air and yelled in triumph.

        “I’ve freed my feet, my feet are free!”

       “how did that feel?”  Patch asked.

       “That was wonderful!”  peter replied smiling, “was it expressive enough Patch?”  Patch grinned:

        “Your pads are damp,”  he replied, now sitting and exploring Peter’s left hind foot with gentle care, “I think you were committed to freeing your feet from your grasping hands.”  Peter laughed:

        “I loved it,”  he replied, “when I really got into it, it felt right, no longer silly, the struggle was real, my hands wanted to hold my feet captive, but I knew, with determination, my feet would be freed from my hands, but at first, when I was trying to keep my legs from springing back to my hands, my legs were in league with my hands, making my feet spring back faster and faster to my hands, then, then my hands told my body to wriggle until my feet were well in the grip of my hands.  They made my feet feel good, but my feet wanted out, I knew it, because they began to become damp, to make my hands let go.  I pushed and wriggled, pushed and pushed, and wriggled and wriggled, then pushed at my hands some more, and then my feet came free of my hands with a rush.  That felt good!”  but my hands weren’t happy, they made me wave them in the air and I was so happy I yelled my head off.”  Patch laughed throughout Peter’s retelling of his struggle, the young boy’s enjoyment of the whole thing plain to him, even though he couldn’t see Peter’s face.

        “That’s superb play isn’t it,”  patch said.

       “it is,”  peter replied, “and, patch, it’s a good tale too, hands against feet and all that.”

      “it is,”  Patch replied smiling.  “Would you like to tell it to the cubs?  They’d love to hear the tale of the battle between your hands and feet.”

       “Would they?  Are you quite sure?”  Peter asked.

      “As long as you acted out the tale too, they’d love it,”  Orbon said, padding into the lie up.  Peter was delighted.

        “I’ll do that,”  he said, “and it will be full on too,.  I’ll act it first, then tell the tale of how my hands grabbed my feet and tried to hold them prisoner with the help of my legs.”  Patch, now overwhelmed by it all, hugged peter tightly in his paws, the young boy snuggling close.

         “I want to stay here,”  peter said, “sally does too.  Please patch, could we?  Could we stay, and be educated with the cubs? And then play paw and foot games? We’ve not seen half this place yet, and t’is the summer holidays in a week too.  could we not stay here for the summer?”  Patch grinned:

        “tell me what you would feel if I made you leave now,”  he asked, holding the boy’s hand in his huge paws.

        “I would be sad forever, and my feet would ache with lack of play,”  peter replied, “I’m a cub at this sort of play, so’s Sally, Miss Chartwell does her best, but the play she does, though good, is not like what you encourage us to play like.  Back there, my game was not a game, it was real.  I really was fighting to free my feet from my grasping evil hands and legs.”  Patch smiled:

        “Sally delivered little Jinghua into the world because she believed her play was real too, she wanted it to be a real cub’s birth, and it became so for her, for the spirits decreed it.  So it was with your play peter.  Your feet truly were fighting to get free of your hands you know.”  Peter grinned.

        “you went red in the face when really fighting to free your feet,”  Rowena said, “I suppose I looked like that while pushing down hard into my tail.”

        “My struggle was only a game,”  Peter replied, “I wouldn’t take anything from your fight to deliver your cub Rowena.”

        “I’m not saying that,”  Rowena replied, “I’m sure you’d fight just as hard as I did if you were delivering a cub.”  peter crawled to Rowena and threw his arms around her neck, hugging her.

        “you have cute hind feet little Peter,”  Rowena said, “you have big feet like my cub does, expressive feet too..  I couldn’t see your face much, but your hands and feet told me everything I needed to know about your struggle to free yourself.”  Peter smiled broadly.

        “I enjoyed every minute of my struggle to free my feet from my hands,”  he replied smiling.

 

Little Koda ran in to the lie up, very upset:

        “Titania’s screaming and crawling about, trying to get rid of her pain,”  he panted, “please, come quick someone!”

       “What sort of pain?”  Patch asked.

       Don’t know!”  Koda wailed, “she’s crawling about, moaning and panting.”      “Titania’s in labour!”  Targon screamed, rushing into the room, “What have you done Koda!”

         “You mean there is another cub on the way?”  Peter asked.

        “I mean my daughter cub is no longer a young bear any more!”  Targon screamed.

        “I’m sorry!”  Koda wailed.

        “I’m getting back to my cub, she needs me!”  Targon snarled, turning and walking into the wall which was on her blind side.

     “Ow, shit!”  Targon screamed, rubbing her nose with a paw..

        “go slowly,”  Patch said to Targon, “we don’t need you injured.”  Targon whimpered with fear.

       “Titania will be all right,”  Sally said, “I know, I’ve done it too you know.”  Targon looked at her, her one eye terrified.

          “You?”  she asked, “how?  You are not old enough, not in human years surely.”

        “In bear years I am, and it was a bear I was helping,”  Sally replied smiling.  Targon padded towards Sally.

       “Would you come and help Titania, please?”  she asked.

      “I will, gladly,”  Sally replied smiling.

        “Can I come too mama Targon?”  Peter asked.

        “are you that young boy who helped Imvula?”  Targon asked.

      “Sally and I both helped her,”  Peter replied.  Targon nodded and waved her paw:

      “Come both of you,”  she replied.  Peter and Sally padded barefoot to Titania and Koda’s lie up, where Titania sat on the rugs, her face eloquent of her internal battle.

        “yoaoaoaoaoaoaoaow!”  Titania moaned as peter entered.  Peter looked at the she black bear.

        “how long has this pain been happening?”  he asked.

       “Last few hours,”  Titania panted, “it hurts, it really hurts!”

          “Are you feeling the need to push yet?”  Sally asked.

        “No, no, not yet,”  Titania replied, “it’s just making me roar and curl my toes, and want to crawl and kick the air, but I’m sure it will get worse.  Then I will scream and push, and scream some more.”

        “that will happen,”  Sally replied, “but don’t be afraid of that.  Screaming and moaning helps to open things up.  A closed mouth and silence helps noone, least of all your cub.  your cub needs oxygen, and so do you, so breathe, moan, pant and roar if you want.”

        “Can I curl my toes too?  please, say I can curl my toes!”  Titania begged.  Sally smiled broadly:

         “You can mama Titania, you can curl your toes, and kick with your feet as often as you want.”

       “I need to crawl now,”  Titania gasped, crawling around her lie up, Peter and Sally watching her hind quarters.  Titania crawled slowly at first, then faster and faster as a contraction increased, then slower as her pain decreased.

       “You have small hind feet Titania,”  Sally said, gently touching the sole of the labouring bear’s right hind foot, stroking her pads with her fingers, Titania whimpering and curling her toes as another contraction gripped her.

       “Oaoaoaoaoaow! Aaaaaaaaaw!”  Titania squealed, rolling onto her back and kicking hard with her hind feet.

        “Will she grab her hind feet in her paws?”  Peter asked.

       “she might,”  Sally replied, gently rubbing Titania’s belly with her hands, the she bear wriggling beneath her touch and clamping Sally’s hand beneath her paws.

        “I like your touch!”  Titania yowled, a contraction making her shriek, Sally feeling the muscles of Titania’s womb contract beneath her hand.

      Oooooooooaoaowurgh!”  Titania complained loudly, “Huuuuuuuuuuuuaumph!”

        “You’re doing so well,”  Sally said smiling.

       “Can I help at all?”  Peter asked.

        “I want a position I can lie in comfort,”  Titania replied.

       “Well lie on your back, draw your feet up, and grab them in your paws,”  peter said, “that is comfortable enough.”  Titania drew up her hind legs and grabbed her feet with her paws, whimpering as her feet settled into the grip of her paws, Titania gasping with relief as her paws bonded with her feet, her whole body relaxing into the comforting posture.

        “Delivering a cub on your back is not easy Titania,”  Sally said gently, “on your side, or crawling, or standing on all four feet is easier.”

         “I don’t know how Peter knows this posture is comfortable, but it is!”  Titania whimpered.

       “I’ve adopted it, so has Sally,”  Peter replied smiling, “By the way Titania, your hind feet look cute when you curl your toes and your pads bunch up.”  Giggling despite her pain, Titania released her right foot, peter kneeling and gently stroking the pads of Titania’s right foot, the she bear smiling with pleasure, then grimacing as another contraction built in her.

      “yeooeoeoeoeoeoeoeoeeoaow!”  she squealed, “aoaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaoeroeoeoeoeow!”  she protested, wriggling desperately.

        “When you feel the need to push, push down hard,”  Sally said, kissing Titania’s nose.

       “I can’t watch!”  Koda whimpered, sitting in the corner facing the wall, his paws over his ears.

        “You should be here, feeling her toes grip yours and comforting her,”  Targon snapped, “Koda, you are a disgrace!”

       “It was only play!”  Koda whimpered, “we were playing, and, then, and then, then, we mated, and we both enjoyed it, and now, now Titania’s in pain squeezing my cub into the world!”

          “oaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaoao!  Eeoeoeoeoeoeoeoeoeoeoeoaow!”  Titania screamed lustily.

        “Can’t you just push hard and get it over with?”  Koda asked her.

      “No Koda, no I can’t!”  Titania panted, “it needs to take its course!  I’m stuck here until the cub is born!”

       “I think you should stay, turn round and face the mother of your cubs, and examine her with your eyes from nose to tail,”  Peter said to Koda, “she’s making more physical effort than you ever will to deliver your cub.”

       “I think he should get paws on and feel his cub coming into the world,”  Sally said, “scrub up Koda!”

       “if you want to get paws on with me Koda, I’ll let you,”  Titania gasped, rolling onto her chest, then getting onto all fours and crawling about the lie up, Koda touching Titania’s shoulder, and then the pads of her right hind foot, stroking Titania’s damp pads and urgently curling toes.

        “this hurts!”  Titania screamed suddenly, curling her toes, trapping Koda’s paw in hers.

      “Yoaoaoaoaoaoaoaow!”  Koda screamed as Titania’s strong toes crushed his.

        “I can’t help it Koda, I can’t help it!”  Titania shrieked.

        “I know Titania love, I know,”  Koda said softly, grinding his teeth as the toes of his left forepaw were squeezed in the vice like grip of the toes of Titania’s right hind foot.

        “Do you want to touch your cub as it emerges?”  Titania asked, sweat breaking out on her fur and the pads of all four of her paws.

       “Yes please, if you are quite sure you want that,”  Koda replied smiling.

      “I’d like you to rub my back first though,”  Titania said in a strangled tone, “the cub’s moving down Koda, it feels like I want to relieve myself, but I’ve done that already!”

       “It’s okay,”  Koda said softly, moving alongside Titania and rubbing her nose with his.

       “I’m in so much pain!”  Titania whimpered, “I’m screaming like a cub and have cried like one too.  I’m a cub Koda, I’m not ready for this!”

         “You and me both,”  Koda replied honestly, “but I’ll help you.  I’ll hold your paw, hold you while you push and kick, stroke your ears, back, belly and hind feet, catch your cub, let you scream in my ear and crush my paws with yours.”

       “I wan’a push, got to Koda, ow, oh ow, ow! Aaaaaw!”  Titania yelled suddenly, Koda feeling her body convulse with the effort she was making.

      “heuuuuuumph, oooooooaoaoaoaohuuuuumph!”  Titania roared with effort and at the pain her effort caused her.

        “I really want to push now, it’s happening again, yoaaoaoaoaoaoaow! Oaaaaaaaaw! Oaaaaaaaaw! Yoaoaoaoaoaoaoaow!”  Titania screamed.

       “it sounds like a cub giving birth, not a mature mama bear!”  Targon yelped dancing about with rage.

        “I did this to her, so I’ll help her,”  Koda said, “all right, we did it together, she wasn’t exactly shrinking away when we mated, it was amazing, but now Titania’s in pain, and I’m trying to help her deliver a life into the world.”

       “This is a job for Patch, or for Ekaterina, not for you Koda!”  Targon yelled.

        “Patch would love to be paws on with the birth of my cub,”  Titania whispered, “go get him Koda, for if anyone deserves to catch a cub it’s him.  Or if you won’t, I will, and I’ll cross my hind feet and deliver the cub into his lap if needed.”  Koda’s heart leapt at the thought of handing the whole messy business over to someone else, but one look at Titania, at her closed eyes, clenched teeth and curling toes kindled emotions in Koda in a place deeper inside him than he’d ever felt before.

       “I won’t leave you Titania, we can find Patch together, but I’m not leaving you alone,” Koda said firmly.        “let’s crawl then, you and I,”  Titania gasped.

       “but you can’t, your cub’s too close to being born you stupid cub!”  Targon shouted.

         “Titania,”  Koda said, “you go first, you crawl in front of me, just in case, just in case your cub emerges, I can catch it then.”  Titania smiled and kissed Koda’s nose, Koda realising her facial fur was drenched with sweat and tears.

        “You have no need to find me Koda,”  Patch said suddenly, padding up to the two young bears, “I followed Koda back to the lie up and sat down to listen.  Koda, I would love you to get paws on with the birth of your cub.  it is a magical thing indeed.  But if you would prefer I helped Titania, I will do so gladly.”

        “I want to push again,”  Titania said, giving vent to a deep moan of pain and effort.  Suddenly there was a rush of fluid, and Titania wriggled desperately.

      Oooah! Aaaaaaaaaaaaw!”  huaaaaaoaoaoaow!”  Titania squealed as her cub surged down towards the outside air.  Opening her mouth, Titania pushed down hard, her mouth gaping, and toes gripping the floor.

      “Why is she pushing with her mouth gaping like that?”  Peter asked.

       “I was with her once when she was trying to relieve herself and opening her mouth like that while pushing helped her,”  Koda replied, “she’s pushing, really pushing.”  Koda was right, Titania was pushing with everything she had, heaving effort after heaving effort absorbed her.  three efforts in all before she could take a breath.

       “this is really hard!”  Titania whimpered when she could speak, then she was forced to bear down again, and with a strangled cry of:

      “it’s coming again, make it stop!”  she bore down hard into her tail with all her might.

        “aruuuuuuuuauauauauauoumph!”  Titania screeched.

       “I can see the cub’s paws and nose!”  Sally said excitedly, “it was when Titania was straining at her utmost, so it’ll take a little more pushing.”

      “Push Titania, push!”  peter encouraged, bouncing excitedly on his toes, then sitting down, grabbing his right foot in his hands and massaging his toes with his fingers, while he watched goings on.  Sally too Sat down and grabbed her bare left foot in both hands, squeezing her toes and pressing hard into the skin of the ball and sole of her foot with her fingers.  Titania whimpered pitifully, shaking herself, sweat flying off her fur.  Everyone could smell her strong scent, and Patch, who got paws on as she strained into her tail, could feel her effort in her straining muscles.  Koda, his eyes fixed on her face, saw Titania’s closed eyes and open mouth, hearing her moaning deeply, a wail which started low, and ended in a cub like scream of effort and terror.

       “I’m not ready for this, I don’t want to do this, make it stop, I can’t do it any more!”  Titania begged in a strident wail.

        “you’re doing well, the cub’s head’s out now,”  Koda whispered softly to the crying she bear.

       “I can’t push any more, Koda, I can’t push any, oaoaoaoaoaoaaow! Aaaaaaaaaw!”  Titania screamed, rolling onto her back, drawing up her hind feet, grabbing them in her forepaws and straining lustily, Titania’s rolling about squeezing the cub into the world, Koda catching the cub, as Titania, maddened by pain, held onto her hind feet with desperate paws, straining, screaming and roaring, while Koda, as if in a dream, caught the emerging cub.  Koda handed the cub to Patch, who dried it off, while Titania, still straining, still maddened, held tightly to both hind feet with her forepaws, wriggling and struggling.

      “What do I do to stop her?”  Koda yelled over the mama bear’s screams of fear.

      “Do what you feel,”  peter replied.  Koda stared at him for a second, then  padded to Titania’s right hind foot and kissed the furry toes of her right forepaw, then the sweating pads of her right hind foot, before gently blowing on the bit of sole pad he could see, Titania feeling his breath and kiss on her pads.

        “eowowowowowowowaow!”  she exclaimed, releasing her desperate grip on her hind feet, and relaxing.

       “it’s all done now,”  Koda said softly, his eyes filling with tears, “Titania love, it’s all done, you’ve got a cub, a gorgeous cub!”  Titania rolled wearily onto her side, Koda pulling the cub to her head, Titania looking blearily at it for a few seconds, then grooming the cub thoroughly from nose to tail.        “You made her,”  Koda whispered to his mate.

         “We both did Koda,”  Titania said, “you and I.”

        “I didn’t push, I didn’t sweat, I didn’t scream with pain,”  Koda replied taking her paw.

       “but you wish you could have,”  Titania replied weakly.  Koda, feeling his belly filling with emotions he’d never felt before, replied:

        “yes Titania, I wish I could have helped you through it better.”

        “Shall I tell you what I will always remember of my labour?”  Titania asked.

      “What?”  Koda asked.

       “The kiss on my right hind foot and on the furry top of my right forepaw,”  Titania replied, “that told me everything was all right, that you were with me till the end Koda.  I was terrified!  I kept pushing, I kept straining, I kept wriggling and fighting and heaving until, until I felt that kiss, then I knew the fight was over, and I, and the cub were safe..”

         “Kissing Titania’s right hind foot was a dangerous thing Koda,”  Targon snapped, “you could have been kicked in the head, and lost your sight or something.  If you’d lost that, then where would you be?”

         “In a place of safety where eyes can’t lie,”  Koda replied honestly, “remember Targon, I was as Patch and Mishka for a while, and that short time taught me a lot.  I know why mama Titania closed her eyes throughout her labour, I know why every mama does that. It enables them to focus on what is happening within them, focuses their mind on their paws, their bodies and their ears.  I know Titania from nose to tail Targon, I know her by sight, and by touch.  The day we mated, we were talking about what it would be like for me to help Titania have a cub, and we’d re-created a cub’s birth.  It was after that we mated, during a rough and tumble game where I was playing the newborn cub.  though the game turned from rough and tumble between Titania acting the mama, and me acting the cub, to serious love play between two young bears.  We felt the shift, and we couldn’t do anything to stop what happened next.  Now, now, I have seen and felt the most amazing things.  I have felt sweat covered fur and pads, the powerful paws and feet, sweating pads and strong toes of a mama in labour, have heard her desperate cries, felt, heard and seen her straining efforts too.  then, then I caught our cub, I caught the glorious result of our mating, a wet bundle of fur, emerging warm and full of life from my mate, from the mother of my cub!”

        “I didn’t know you were mated properly!”  Targon gasped, “I thought you two were just good friends!”

        “We became mated when Koda caught our cub and kissed my paws and feet while I was maddened by fear and pain,”  Titania replied softly, at least that’s when it happened for me.”

        “me too,”  Koda replied smiling, “me too Titania.”

        “What shall we name our cub?”  Titania asked.

        “I think we should name her Wihakayda, it’s a  Native American Sioux name, meaning little one,”  Koda replied.  Titania smiled broadly:

       “Wihakayda,,”  Titania mused, “that’s a nice name.”

        “but will she always be a little bear?”  Peter asked.  Patch stepped forward and asked:

      “Mama Titania, would you please let me get paws on with your newborn cub?”

       “I will Patch,”  Titania said, letting Patch in to touch the cub, who was now settled after her first drink of milk, and was listening intently to the goings on.

        “I think this cub,”  Patch said gently, as his paws touched the cub’s head, body, legs and tiny paws, “I think this cub will be a small grown bear.  Her mama has small paws, her sire does too, so it follows that she will be small also.”

        “she didn’t feel small when I was giving birth to her,”  Titania replied, “she stretched me almost too much. I thought I’d never give birth naturally.  I thought I’d have to have outside help, someone to pull the cub, you know?”

       “You didn’t need that Titania dear,”  Koda replied kissing her ear.

“No, but if the labour had gone on for much longer, I would have needed assistance,”  Titania replied honestly, “I was very tired by the end of it.  I was screaming and rolling about to give myself encouragement to carry on, as it was hard sweaty work.”

        “rolling onto your back and drawing up your hind feet helped the cub move down, I saw that,”  Sally said.

         “Koda said something about you doing the same as me,”  Titania said to the young girl, were you in labour having a cub?”

      “yes, I gave birth to Kuaizi, don’t you remember that?”  Sally asked.        “I do now, yes,”  Titania replied smiling.

        “You did very well Titania,”  Sally said, crawling over to the she bear so not to intimidate her, and placing a kiss on the pads of her right hind foot, so not to get too close to her cub.

        “Why kiss my hind foot?”  Titania asked, “come closer, I won’t hurt you.  Sally crawled closer to Titania and Koda motioned to Sally to sit down.  Sally did, and Titania settled her newborn cub in Sally’s lap, the young girl overjoyed.

         “She’s so beautiful Titania, Koda!”  Sally exclaimed.

         “yes she is,”  Titania replied smiling.

        “I remember Kuaizi stretching me when she was being born,”  Sally replied, I thought I’d never deliver her into the world without help, but I did, even though Hope was paws on, she didn’t pull at the cub at all, I pushed Kuaizi out all by myself.”

       “I’ll bet I looked like you did while delivering my cub,”  Titania replied.

         “You crawled about, I didn’t much,”  Sally replied.

        “You have small hands and feet Sally,”  Titania remarked.

       “I’m a young human,”  Sally said, “my pads and toes are like yours, soft and young.  I’m about the same age in bear years as you are.”

       “I’m three,”  Titania replied, “so you and I had our cubs at the same age, sort of.”

       “We did, and we both squealed and cried like cubs,”  Sally replied, “I certainly screamed and cried like a child while having Kuaizi.”

         “I squealed and cried like a cub, I know that,”  Titania admitted.

       “You did,”  Peter replied, “but in the end, you delivered that cub into the world well enough.”

        “Who is older? You or Sally?”  Titania asked.  peter smiled:

        “I’m younger than she is,”  he replied, “younger by one year.  Sally’s nine, I’m eight.”

          “Koda said you played like a cub when Patch gave you the key to your emotions,”  Titania replied, “he said you played with abandon, playing with your toes and then playing a game with drawn up legs and supposed grasping hands trapping your bare feet.”

       “yes, that game was brilliant,”  Peter replied smiling broadly.

         “I’m so glad,”  Titania replied smiling.

         “This is a very happy community,”  Sally said.

       “We are,”  Patch said, “we’ve had our ups and downs, “but now we are on an even run, having cubs, living, loving, playing, learning, and adopting man cubs from time to time also.”

        “have we been adopted then?”  Peter asked laughing slightly.

        “I think we don’t need to ask that question,”  Sally replied, glancing at her brother, “I know we have been adopted by these good creatures.”

          “I think we should wash your cub’s body, feet and paws to welcome her,”  Patch said to Titania.

       “I think I need a wash too,”  Titania replied, Patch leaning over and kissing her nose and paws.

        “You did very well,”  Patch said, Titania becoming tearful.

       “I began to think I’d never be able to deliver my cub unaided,”  Titania said horsely.

        “You did it though,”  Patch replied, “and I hope you will tell Wihakayda about her birth.”

       “I will Patch, I will, I promise,”  Titania replied smiling.

        “Your labour was successful, and very beautiful in its way Titania,”  Sally said smiling.

          “Thank you,”  Titania replied gently.

        “your pads look like blackberry skins when you curl your toes Titania,”  Peter said, all bumpy and wrinkled they are.”  Titania giggled.

        “You think so?”  she asked, “well my sire is Blackberry, named for the way his pads look when he curls his toes, maybe I’ve inherited his blackberry like pads?”

        “let’s see shall we?”  Sally asked, “Patch, please, call Blackberry in here, we can then ask him to curl his toes, and Titania can do likewise, and we can compare their paw pads.”  Titania and Koda laughed helplessly at this proposal, but Targon turned and left to get her mate.  Returning with him, he listened to Sally’s proposal.

         “so you want me to sit down and curl my toes to see if my pads have been inherited by my daughter cub?”  Blackberry asked, staring in wonder at his granddaughter cub.

      “I will curl my toes too!”  the little cub yelled, “I want to, I want to!”

      “Okay,”  patch said, “I’ll support you in a sitting posture while you show off your lovely tiny paws and feet little Wihakayda.”  Targon smiled, despite her previous fury at her daughter cub’s actions.

      “I’ll cradle Wihakayda if you want,”  she said.  So blackberry, Titania, and little Wihakayda sat down, showing off their paw pads, Sally and Peter examining them carefully.

       “All three of you have blackberry like paw pads when you curl your toes!”  Sally laughed, clapping her hands.  Peter grinned delightedly.

        “Now can we look at your hind feet Peter, Sally?”  Blackberry asked.

        “I’d like it if someone got paws on with mine,”  peter said.

       “Me too with mine,”  Sally replied, “I can curl my toes tightly, and make my pads bunch up.”

       “I know, I’ve touched your foot while you’ve done that,”  peter said, “but maybe Patch, or Koda, would like to touch our feet, or even Titania too.”

         “Okay,”  Titania said smiling, “I’ll explore your hind feet Peter and yours too Sally.”

        “We’re looking forward to that,”  peter said smiling.

       “we like curled toes and bunched pads here,”  Patch said, “they are so cute.”  Blackberry laughed at this, hugging Patch.

        “now let’s let this family settle down after their momentous day,”  Patch said.

       “don’t feel you have to go patch,”  Koda said, “Titania and I are fine with you staying.  We don’t mind you spending time with us.  You too Peter and Sally, you stay here too if you wish.”

        “Did you see the two human cubs playing with their hind feet as you were helping Titania deliver her cub Koda?”  Targon asked, “they were squeezing their toes and massaging their pads, they looked really excited!”

        “that’s so cute!”  Koda exclaimed..

        “do you find us cute in the way we find you cute Koda?”  Sally asked.  Koda smiled:

        “Well yeah,”  he replied, “I watched you and Peter playing the stuck foot game in Imvula’s lie up Sally. That was really cute.  Your play was committed and looked real.  Very sweet.”  Sally laughed at this, and Peter grinned.

        “our feet stuck well together that day,”  he said, “I love that game.”

         “so do I,”  Sally replied smiling.

         “Right you happy lot,”  Titania said, “I’m going for a wash, and taking my cub with me, anyone joining me?”

         “yes,”  Peter, Sally, Patch, Blackberry and Koda said, walking out after Titania who carried her cub tenderly, Wihakayda waving her paws in the air.

         “your cub has the cutest set of paws,”  Peter said, Titania smiling round the scruff in her mouth.

         “Just like her mother,”  Koda remarked, Titania playfully slapping him with a paw.

         “You rogue,”  she mumbled.

        “I love you Titania,”  Koda said, touching the paw which had just smacked his shoulder.

       “I know,”  Titania mumbled, “I felt it when you kissed my sweating pads.”

        “Koda finds us Cute, Koda finds us cute!”  Peter and Sally laughed, clapping their hands.

       “you live your lives slower than we do,”  Patch said, “so you, Peter, and you Sally, might be eight and nine, but really your maturity of mind is that of a young cub as we see it here.  Koda and Titania are young, too young some might say to have a cub, but if they love their cub, nothing will be said of the young ages at which they had a cub.”

        “You playing the stuck foot game was so cute!”  Koda repeated, “Sally, Peter, I could watch you playing all day.”  Peter and Sally hugged Koda tightly, wrapping their arms around Koda and kissing his nose.

    “You are so cute Koda,”  Sally said.  Koda smiled:

       “you too Sally,”  he replied, “cute from your nose to your toes.”

         “that is so sweet!”  Peter said smiling.

        “Cute play is cute play, be it between humans, a human and a cub, or an adult bear or lion.”

         “the stuck foot game, chase and tickle, and the push and pull games are cute to watch, and great to play,”  Koda said smiling.

       “chase and tickle?”  Targon asked.

      “two players crawl about trying to tickle each other’s toes,”  Sally explained.

      “Ah that,”  Targon replied, “yes, “and the stuck foot game, I’ve played that, but the closest I’ve got to the push and pull games are when I’ve got hold of my hind feet in my paws when in labour.”

       “You mean your paws have never imprisoned your hind feet?”  Koda asked Targon.

       “No Never,”  Targon replied.

       “Targon would never give them the chance,”  Blackberry said.

       “Now that’s not fair!”  Targon whimpered, “I love paw and foot play, you know that!”  Blackberry smiled and nuzzled his mate’s ear.

         “how if we play later on?”  blackberry asked.

       “Done,”  Targon replied.

        “shouldn’t Orbon be here to meet the new cub?”  Sally asked.

        “Yes, I’ll find him,”  Patch replied, returning a short time later with Orbon following.

        “I really want to hug you Orbon,”  Sally said, looking at Orbon.

        “come and hug me then,”  Orbon said, Sally padding up to Orbon and touching his shoulder with her hand, the large bear sitting down to enable Sally to embrace him, which she did, kneeling in front of him and wrapping her arms around his neck.

         “would you usually go up to a large bear and ask to hug him?”  Koda asked.

       “the first soft toy I had was a bear,”  Sally said, “a big white fluffy teddy bear, which I snuggled with at night.”

      “jess used to cuddle with a big teddy bear at night,”  Patch said, “she used to cuddle with me at night, for I used to live in her house.”

       “The story was you brought her up as your sister cub,”  Peter replied.

         “I did,”  Patch replied, “we’d play, and cuddle up together at night.”

       “I’ll bet you were a great comfort to her,”  Peter said.

       “yes he was,”  Jess said, padding into the room.  Sally looked her up and down.

        “I still play the stuck foot game you know,”  Jess replied, reading her mind.

     “But you’re fourteen now,”  Sally said.

       “My mind is young enough to play,”  Jess replied.

         “Do you and Patch still play?”  Peter asked.

      “We do,”  Jess replied smiling, and I play with Janet also.  She and I play often with her son Moses too.”

         “All this talk isn’t getting my fur washed,”  Titania said, “I’m going with my cub to wash.”  With that she left with her cub, Koda following.

          “Hugging you Orbon is like hugging a huge cuddly teddy bear,”  Sally said.

         “I know how cuddly he is,”  Peter replied, “I played with his hind feet and tickled his toes, he plays like a big cub!”

        “I’ve played with Patch too,”  Sally replied dreamily, “he has soft paws and plays like a cub too.”

      “I think we should go to the playroom, and I will take off my adult paws, which are feeling very tight on my cub’s feet, and then, we can play,”  Orbon said.  patch bounced on his toes a little at the sound of this.

        “My cub’s feet are very hot inside my adult paws,”  he said, “I’ll need help removing them before we go into the playroom.”

       “Will Sally and I have adult hind feet patch?”  Peter asked.

        “I don’t think so, but if you want to join in the fun, you can pretend to remove adult feet from your younger ones.”

         “I like that game,”  Jess admitted, “Sita has me remove my adult feet before I enter her domain all the time.”

        “she’s quite strict on that,”  Orbon laughed.

        “let’s go then,”  Peter said.

 

Meanwhile, in Patch’s lie up, Sooleawa played with Anernerk, tickling the large cub’s toes, making her laugh.

        “I like you Sooleawa,”  Anernerk said.  Sooleawa, smiling traced the pads of Anernerk’s right hind foot, the cub lying on her right side.

          “Are you on your feet yet?”  Sooleawa asked.  Anernerk hesitated, her face showing concern.

        “mama snowdrop says I should be on my paws, but I can’t balance on them Sooleawa, I fall over every time, but I know,,,”  she began to sob, “I know I should be on my feet by now, but I can’t get there, I can’t balance!”

        “I’ll take you to see Blackberry,”  Sooleawa said, Anernerk whimpering:

       “no, not the medical bear, I’m not ill, I feel fine, I just can’t balance on my feet, I’m fine on my knees and forepaws, honest I am!”

        “He won’t do anything to you,”  Sooleawa said smiling, “how do you feel when you try to balance on the soles of your feet?”

        “I feel dizzy, my feet burn too. they are all hot.  It’s not the case when I’m crawling, they’re cool then.”

        “Maybe you were born not to walk, but to crawl,”  Sooleawa mused, “I will still take you to Blackberry though, come on.”  Anernerk wailed in protest, but followed Sooleawa.

 

Reaching Blackberry’s lie up, they found Targon and Blackberry talking animatedly.

       “what is making you two so happy?”  Sooleawa asked.  blackberry and Targon told her.

       “a granddaughter cub?”  Sooleawa squealed delightedly, “how wonderful!  Is mama Titania okay, did you catch the birth on video?  Did Koda cope well?  Was Titania all right with him being there while she delivered the cub? was Titania expressive during her labour?”  Sooleawa asked, the questions tumbling out of her mouth, Targon covering Sooleawa’s mouth with her paw to shut her up.

         “the video will explain all,”  she replied, “but first, why bring Anernerk here?  The poor cub is terrified, even I can see that.”

        “I’m worried,”  Sooleawa replied, “Anernerk can’t stand on her feet like I can, she can’t walk Targon.  She can sit upright, she can crawl, she can roll over, but she can’t stand on her hind feet.  She says her feet burn when she puts them to the floor.”

       “I can test that,”  Blackberry replied, “I’ll put temperature sensors on her paw pads, measure the temperature of her paw pads, and of the blood beneath.  I will then ask Anernerk to stand on her hind feet and measure the temperature then.”

       “It hurts when I try, and my body tells me to get my weight off my hind feet,”  Anernerk said, “Blackberry, please, don’t make me do that, please don’t make me stand on my hind feet, it hurts!”

       “Just this once, so I can see you’re not being a truculent cub,”  Blackberry said, “I know walking is boring stuff, and that feet and paws should be kept accessible, but sometimes there are things noone can help doing, like walking on your paws and feet.”  Blackberry got hold of temperature sensors and electrodes, sticking them to the pads and toes of both Anernerk’s hind feet, and one set on her forepaw for control purposes..

      “The temperature of your pads and toes in both hind feet is normal,”  blackberry said, watching a monitor.  Anernerk, whimpering with fear at what was coming next, looked away, unable to meet the eyes of any of the bears.

        “now let’s get you up on your hind feet,”  Targon said, lifting Anernerk to a standing position on her hind feet.  Anernerk felt the familiar burning sensation start in her heels and travel to her toes, she tried standing on tiptoe to relieve her pain, but it continued.  Blackberry, staring at the monitor, gasped as the temperature sensors registered higher and higher temperatures, until the sensors registered an uncomfortably high reading, though the control sample on Anernerk’s forepaw registered normal temperatures.  Anernerk began to cry with pain, bouncing on her toes and then dancing on her hind feet to relieve her discomfort.

       “Okay, let’s let you down,”  Targon said, helping the miserable cub into a crawling posture again.  Blackberry swore softly as he watched the temperature sensors on Anernerk’s hind feet return to normal.

       “You’re not lieing are you, you poor thing,”  blackberry whispered.

       “No, no, I’m not,”  Anernerk sniffed, “it hurt that did!”

      “I think we should get you some knee pads Anernerk,”  Sooleawa said.  blackberry went to a cupboard and got some bandages, from which he made some crude but affective knee pads for Anernerk.

        “We do need some proper kneepads,”  blackberry mused.  Blackberry got Patch on the phone, who despatched Orbon to fix things with the humans in the lodge.  Within an hour, Anernerk had proper knee pads and found crawling more comfortable.

 

 

         “A cub who cannot walk, that’s an unusual one,”  Targon said to Blackberry later that night.

        “she got uncomfortable after about four minutes,”  blackberry replied, “poor Anernerk, it won’t stop her climbing short ladders, or scrambling up the stairs, but it will stop her walking.  I wonder how she ended up having what I would call burning pad syndrome.  The evidence is there, her pad temperature shoots up beyond her natural body temperature when she stands on her hind feet, but the rest of her body remains at normal temperatures, it must be like walking on hot coals all the time, poor thing.”

 

In the anti room to soft play room, Patch, Orbon, now returned from his errand, Sally, Peter and Patch sat trying to pull their adult feet from their cub ones.

       “Start just below the knee and roll the sock down and over your heel, and up the sole and top of your foot to your toes,”  Orbon advised, “though at the moment, I can’t find the tops of either of my adult paws to roll them off.”

          “it’s like exposing your inner cub,”  Sally observed, “I like that idea, that there is an inner cub inside us.”  Orbon smiled:

       “I met Patch’s inner cub once,”  he said, “do you know the story Sally, Peter?”

       “The story of indigo?”  Peter asked.

       “yes,”  Orbon replied, gently plucking at the fur on his right lower leg with one paw, “that story.”

        “patch unzipped his inner cub from an outer skin or so the story says,”  Peter said.

      “Indeed I did, it was a struggle that,”  patch replied, “but I did it.  My discarded fur suit was used to help Indigo into the physical world from the spirit one.  All he needed was an initial form, given to him by Royston’s animatronics scaffold.  I found my inner cub, and my brother, who’d died shortly after birth, got to be a cub.”  Sally, working at pulling a rather tight sock off her right foot with both hands, smiled at Patch.

        “the adult foot on my right foot is very thin,”  she said.

       “it will be,”  Patch replied, “if you cant get it off, don’t worry.”

         “I know it’s a game, but I’ve started, so I’ll finish,”  Sally said, gently working her fingers up the sole of her right foot from heels to toes, pushing at and rubbing the skin on the sole of her foot, “nearly there, nearly there,”  Sally gasped, “but getting the sock off my toes is going to be a problem.  Orbon, if I get the sock bunched on my toes, could you pull it off them for me?”  Orbon said he would.  Sally got the sock bunched around her toes, and Orbon pulled it off, Sally jerking her foot away from his paw, which was lightly enclosing her toes, as if holding something in it.      “Maybe if we help each other,”  Peter said, “maybe if each remove the other’s adult feet, that’s another game we could play?”  Peter suggested.

      “Well, my right hind foot is nearly free of its sock,”  Patch said, “peter, you can help me free my left foot, and I’ll help you free your right, Sally’s right foot is nearly free of its adult sock, so Orbon can help with her left foot, and she with both of his, as he seems to have both cub feet still stuck in his adult feet., how’s that?”  Orbon laughed with delight, while Sally smiled.

        “You have dark brown paw pads,”  Sally said, “Orbon, they are rather cute.”  Orbon looked at the sole of Sally’s right foot.

        “You have pink foot pads,”  he said, “can I say they are cute too?”  Sally giggled:

       “So you think we young humans are cute Orbon?”  she asked.

      “yes!”  Orbon replied, “seeing you and Peter playing at the stuck foot game, and seeing peter playing the game he did in Patch’s lie up involving the struggle between his feet and his hands was rather cute yes.”  Sally hugged Orbon, Peter taking his turn to hug the huge grey bear.  

    “You have cute fore and hind paws,”  Orbon said to the two children.

        “You are so lovely,”  peter said, kissing his nose.

      “We did try to describe our hands and feet to patch,”  Sally said, “though I don’t know if he remembers what we look like from the one time he saw us.”

         “I don’t really remember,”  Patch replied, “though thanks anyway.”

        “well,”  Orbon said, “sally has brown eyes and hair, both she and peter do, and their hands and feet are quite chunky with well padded fingers and toes.  The sole of Sally’s right foot is pink with lines on it, it has a thick pad on the heel and ball, and her toes curl easily when you play with her feet.”  Sally giggled at this observation.

       “but I know Orbon, that your toes curl easily too,”  Peter said smiling.

       “We’re not talking about my toes, or how cute they are!”  Orbon snapped playfully, “that comes later of course.”

          “I like a bear who’s proud of his paws and feet,”  Sally said.

         “yeah, well, I am,”  Orbon replied, “Patch is too.”

        “He certainly is,”  peter replied.         “Now let me get hold of that right hind paw of yours Orbon, and let’s see if we can’t get a look at your inner cub’s hind feet,”  Sally said.

       “Remember to roll the sock off my foot,”  Orbon said, Sally gently rolling the imaginary sock off of Orbon’s foot, the large bear curling and stretching his toes to stretch the sock, and make it easier to remove.  Sally pressed deeply into Orbon’s heel with her fingers, pushing and rubbing, Orbon smiling at the sensation.  Sally rolled the imaginary sock up to Orbon’s flexing toes, then, asking him to stretch his toes, Sally pulled the imaginary sock off Orbon’s foot and threw it away.  She then rubbed the pads of Orbon’s right foot to soothe them, Orbon smiling with pleasure and relief.

         “What did you find cute about our play?”  Sally asked.  Orbon thought for a minute.

         “I suppose it was the way you and Peter fought together to free each other.  You pulled at your right foot, while he worked with the fingers of one hand to pry his left foot free of your right.  From time to time too, you would brace your toes against his, pulling hard at your heel to free your foot.  that was cute too.”

        “Do you play the stuck foot game like peter and I do?”  Sally asked.

       “we bears do,”  Orbon replied smiling, “and yes, our feet stick pretty well too.  though I haven’t played with a bear for ages, the last player who opposed my feet was peter.”

      “a hard fight it was too,”  Peter replied smiling, “your feet are very sticky Orbon.”  Orbon smiled broadly at the young boy.”

        “Yours are too,”  he replied smiling.

        “I’m sorry Jonathan left here,”  Sally said.

        “He refused to believe in the community,”  Orbon said, “I saw him leave a few days ago.”

        “how long have we got here until school starts again?”  Peter asked.

        “Six weeks,”  Sally replied, “we left the school a week before the summer holidays.”

         “good,”  peter replied, “I wonder what our mum is doing now.”

        “She went home, leaving you with us,”  Orbon said, “we will look after you here until school starts in your world.  Now you are in ours.”

        “I love this, playing with cubs, having my toes tickled by cubs, and my hands and feet checked over by those who really care about me and my hands and feet,”  Sally said.

        “Talking about feet and paws,”  Orbon said, “I think poor Anernerk has issues with her hind feet, she can’t stand on them, as they heat up, burning her, or so she says.  I think Sooleawa is checking this out with Blackberry.”

       “So she crawls all the time,”  Sally said, “Poor thing that she can’t walk on her hind feet.”

        “Well I don’t believe her,”  Peter said, “I think Anernerk is a lire, who ever heard of hind feet heating up when being stood on, but not when weight is off them?”

        “I’ll get Blackberry to explain,”  Orbon replied, “but even if you don’t believe Anernerk, blackberry has proof, apparently Anernerk’s pads heated up to around forty five degrees, her body temperature is normally 37, like yours peter, and yours Sally.  Poor Anernerk was screaming, crying and bouncing on her toes with pain at the end of the test Blackberry put her through.”

        “I think she’s a liar, that can’t happen,”  Peter replied.  Anernerk and Sooleawa’s arrival put an end to his denouncement.

       “Oh, hi,”  peter said.  Anernerk looked angry, but also terrified and sad, all at once.

        “I will show you,”  she said, “I will get onto my hind feet, and show you my feet burning like hell!  I’m not a liar, I’m not, I’m not!”  Anernerk began to sob with frustration and anger, “Targon tells me I’m lieing, and now you do too, I wish, oh but it is so wrong to wish it on you, so I won’t, I’ll shut up and keep my thoughts to myself!”

         “You wish you could make peter feel what you feel when you get to your hind paws Anernerk?”  Patch asked gently.

       “yes Patch,”  Anernerk said ashamedly.

       “I can make it so, if you are willing to let me plug him into your nervous system,”  Patch said.

      “Okay,”  Anernerk said, “so all I have to do is get to my feet?”

       “yes,”  patch replied, “but only if you want to.”

       “I don’t want to, it hurts me,”  Anernerk said, “but I will to prove I’m not lieing.”

       “I have the test results here on a memory stick,”  Sooleawa said, touching a memory stick on a loop around her neck, where her assistance pendent hung.

           “the video should be proof enough for most,”  Orbon replied, “but I think Peter might need some convincing.”

       “I’ll play the video, and we’ll put some sensors on Anernerk’s feet and on her paw too.  then we’ll watch peter’s reaction to what he feels from Anernerk.”

       “Show me then,”  peter said, his face and slightly curled toes telling Orbon he was already uncomfortable.

        “I’ll call Blackberry,”  Sooleawa said, heading for the phone on the wall.

 

When blackberry heard what Sooleawa had to say, he was outraged.

        “you have the video, you have my findings, for Eohippus sake Sooleawa, putting poor Anernerk through hell isn’t the way, she doesn’t need that!”

         “she wants to,”  Sooleawa replied, “she wants to show peter what she feels.”

         No, No, I won’t allow it,”  Blackberry snapped, “I hated putting her through it, for I believed her completely, but when I saw those results, and Anernerk’s genuine pain and discomfort, and saw her dancing on her toes, and heard her whimpering and crying, that was enough for me!”  Sooleawa saw blackberry almost crying via the screen in front of her.

        “Please blackberry,”  Sooleawa begged, “let me have your instruments so we can show Peter.”

       “I will come with them, but I will end the ridiculousness if I feel it is going too far,”  Blackberry snarled, “I don’t like this at all.  Why the hell can’t peter believe Anernerk?”

      “Well I didn’t, not at first, but now, now I do, my pads began sweating with the shame of my disbelief at the sight of her struggle to stay on her hind feet,”  Sooleawa admitted.

       “I’m on my way down, but god I hate this,”  Blackberry whimpered, crashing his phone back into the cradle in sad frustration.

 

Blackberry arrived soon after with his thermometers and all trooped into the soft play room, where there was a screen to show the video.  Sooleawa plugged the stick in, and all watched the ten minute video.  Sita, and many of her charges were in the middle of an afternoon of play, and stopped to see the video.  Blackberry got hold of a microphone, and twiddling a knob, he described the scene on screen for those who could not see it, Sita able to be as shocked as the other cubs, and as Orbon, who growled with fury when he saw Anernerk crying in pain, and desperately bouncing on her toes to keep herself on her feet throughout the test.  Even Sita’s charges, from the largest cub to the smallest, sat with wrapped attention, and every one reached for one of their hind feet with both paws and began massaging their pads and toes.

       “Now do you want to go through with it Peter?”  Orbon asked.

      “that could be staged!”  he snapped.

      “Okay,”  blackberry said, padding over to Anernerk, who gave him a look of such fear and terror that Blackberry hesitated:

         “I’ll stop now,”  blackberry choked, “I can’t put you through it Anernerk, I don’t want to, it was you who suggested it!  I’ll pack up and go if you want.”

          “I know it will hurt,”  she replied faintly, “though I must show Peter, as he won’t believe the video or my words.”

        “Okay, I’ll,”  Blackberry paused, taking a deep breath, “I’ll fit the sensors, then, and then, help you to stand on your hind feet.”  Sally punched her brother.

       “I thought you’d be more understanding than this!”  she whispered, “I thought you were into believing these creatures!”

       “It’s so impossible I can’t!”  Peter replied.

        “it would be okay to do the test on Anernerk if it wasn’t painful for her, but she is in terrible pain when she stands on her hind feet, I saw it, you saw it Peter.  Now you are going to make her go through it to see it in the flesh, for the video is not proof enough?”  Sally asked crossly.

        “he’ll do more than that,”  Patch thought, “but I won’t remind Peter again, I’ll just tap in and show him, for that is what he wants.  A live demonstration he will get, with all the pain and discomfort Anernerk gets, no more, no less.”

 

Anernerk stood up on her hind feet, the flooring cold to her pads, at first she felt normal, the rubber flooring cool on her feet.  Then the burning started, a sensation of raging heat, which grew and grew, the temperature needle rising from thirty seven to forty six.  It was then Anernerk, now crying and dancing on her toes to keep standing on her hind feet, gave up, collapsing into Blackberry’s embrace.  Anernerk wasn’t the only one screaming however:  peter, feeling the same discomfort as the she bear, sat on the soft flooring, rocking back and fourth, alternately holding each foot in his hands, squeezing and rubbing his heels, soles and toes in both hands, while whimpering and screaming, then crying with discomfort and pain.  Curling his toes tightly, Peter dug his fingers into the soles of both his feet, trying to relieve the heat and throbbing in the soles and toes of both feet through aggressive rubbing on soles and pressure on the heel, ball and toes of both feet with both hands, Peter’s fingers working hard to relieve his discomfort.    Everyone watched, and Blackberry narrated as peter wriggled, then rolled about, his hind feet constantly held in his hands.  It was only when Anernerk subsided onto the floor, weeping and gasping that peter got relief, and as she’d stuck it out for longer this time than she had in the original video, Peter’s pain was more arduous.  Though Anernerk herself, her will to show Peter she wasn’t lieing having spurred her on, was now crying and spent in strength.

         “Sorry Anernerk,”  Sally said to the now weeping she bear cub.

         “I will be all right in a minute,”  Anernerk sniffed, “but that bloody hurt Sally, that bloody hurt!”

      “Anernerk!”  Sita snapped, “watch your language!”

       “Sita, how can you pull her up on that at a time like this?”  Orbon asked, “now kindly shut your mouth, there’s a good girl,”  Sita, knowing she was being patronised, subsided.

         “Evidently my audio description didn’t have the affect I wanted,”  Blackberry said sternly, “maybe Sita, you would like to feel what Peter did?  I am sure Patch can arrange it as he did for Peter.  He knows the pain Anernerk was in, though he never felt it himself, it is locked away in his mind, he can make you feel Anernerk’s pain in your hind feet.”

          “No, um, no, that’s fine,”  Sita gabbled.

       “No Sooleawa,”  Patch said suddenly, “I won’t inflict it on you.”

       “My disbelief was as strong as peter’s though,”  Sooleawa said.

        “but you believed in the end, he did not,”  patch replied, “I cannot do that to you Sooleawa.”

         “Sooleawa said nothing to Patch but he knew what she wanted!”  peter yelled, now recovering, “that is weird!”

       “it’s the way most of the natural world communicate,”  blackberry replied, “telepathic communication is great isn’t it.  Now I’m not really good at it, but Patch is a past master.  Even when he could see he was good, but now, wow!”

       “yes blackberry,”  patch said, “your liking for ice cream is troubling.”  Blackberry snorted.

         “You bloody rogue!”  he snapped, “I never tell anyone about that!”

        “Ah, sorry,”  patch said, blackberry huffing with mock exasperation, as he new his private secrets were safe, Patch would never tell those, if he could read them, which blackberry was certain he could.

      “My feet were burning, from toes to heels!”  peter yelled, “rubbing them did nothing, and the pounding in my feet from my pulse was horrid!”

       “now do you believe me peter?”  Anernerk asked, turning her face to him.  Peter, feeling ashamed, looked at the fat cub, then crawled to her and embraced her, kissing her ear, nose and paws, before sitting down and drawing her onto his lap, embracing her tightly.

        “You need say nothing,”  Anernerk said, “your hug, and the way your toes are tightly curled with emotions, as well as the kiss to my ear, nose and paws tell me enough.  Peter lay Anernerk on her back in his lap, took gentle hold of her right hind foot, now free of its electrodes and probes, and looked at her pads, then he kissed the pads of the cub’s hind foot, then traced her pads with his fingers, Anernerk lying back, letting him manipulate her leg, foot and toes.

         “I like your touch,”  Anernerk said, “it’s lovely peter.”  Peter smiled, his eyes full of tears.

        “I’m sorry,”  he whispered, Anernerk drew up her hind legs, covered her eyes with her forepaws and wriggled a little, sticking her tongue out at him in a playful gesture, Peter laughing at her antics.

        “I think you’ve been forgiven peter,”  Sally said.  Anernerk crawled off of peter’s lap, then sat opposite him, touching his feet with her forepaws, then sitting down and taking his left foot in her paws, pulling it onto her lap, before exploring the sole and toes, peter finding his toes curling easily.

        “how if we play the stuck foot game Peter?”  Anernerk asked.

       “I’d like that,”  Peter replied.      “How far do you go when adopting humans?”  Sally asked.  Patch smiled:

        “have you heard the story of how the man cub sitting at the back of the room came to be here?”  patch asked.  Moses, smiling, padded to Patch and sat down beside him, touching the bear’s paw.

        “yes, Janet gave birth to him, but we didn’t see a video of that, was it filmed?”  peter asked.

        “yes,”  patch replied, “and here’s the film.  With that Blackberry operated the screen, and all watched Moses birth, Sally and Peter staring as Janet delivered Moses directly into Ekaterina’s paws.

       “Wow, that was amazing!  Peter exclaimed.

       “I never get tired of watching that video,”  Moses said, “my mama was amazing in that, and patch and Ekaterina so gentle, everyone was great that day.”  Patch grinned, lifted Moses onto his lap and hugged him, the little boy turning and embracing the huge bear.

         “that is so cute!”  Sally laughed.

        “I love you Patch,”  Moses said, snuggling close, Patch pulling him closer, then reaching over with his free paw and tickling the heel of Moses left foot, Sooleawa smiling as she saw Moses toes curl with pleasure as Patch tickled his heel.

        “Even cuter,”  Sooleawa thought aloud. Moses crawled over to Sooleawa and on until he was behind her, then tickled her right hind foot, Sooleawa laughing and whipping round, pushing the boy onto his back, and when Moses drew his legs up in play, Sooleawa blew on the accessible sole of his right foot, Moses squealing with laughter.

        “blow on my toes will you Sooleawa?”  Moses asked, sitting up and embracing Sooleawa tenderly, the silvery coated bear snuggling close to him.

         “now that is super cute,”  Sally said.  Sooleawa grinned broadly.

       “I can be demonstrative too,”  she said.

        “you are so sweet Sooleawa,”  Moses said, kissing the silver coated bear’s nose and paws.

       “Am I?”  Sooleawa asked, “I’m just me.”

        “Can I check your paws and feet for thorns Sooleawa?”  Sally asked.  Sooleawa smiled, rolled onto her back and kicked the air with her hind feet.

        “That’s an invitation if anything is,”  Sally said smiling and catching Sooleawa’s right hind foot, blowing on her toes, the silver coated bear smiling and then laughing with delight.        “how can we get so much pleasure from just playing with each other’s paws?”  Sita asked.

        “I don’t know, but we do, and long may it last,”  Orbon replied.

        “your pads are smooth and soft,”  Sally said to Sooleawa, who curled her toes, Sally rubbing the she bear’s bunched pads.  Sooleawa suddenly sat up, grabbed Sally’s left foot in her paws and explored the sole.

       “Yours are smooth and soft also!”  she exclaimed, “are you a bear too?”  Sally giggled:

       “What are the things I need to do to become a bear for a while?”  she asked.

      “I don’t know, crawl about, eat some berries, tickle another bear’s toes, then roll onto your back and grab your hind feet with your forepaws?”  Sooleawa replied.  Sally, laughing now, kissed her nose.

       “I can curl my toes like you did, like this,”  Sally said, curling her toes beneath Sooleawa’s touch.

         “I watched the video of you giving birth to Kuaizi,”  Sooleawa said gently to Sally, “your toes curled tightly then too.”

      “Like this?”  Sally asked, relaxing her toes, then curling them tighter than ever.

       “Yes, oh yes!”  Sooleawa said, rubbing Sally’s curled toes, Sally smiling and relaxing her toes slightly.

       “We love cubs, the births of cubs, foot and paw play, and general cuddling up for warmth,”  Sooleawa said, Sally hugging her as tightly as she could.

        “So who among the older humans plays any foot and paw games?”  peter asked.

       “Jess and Janet do, Royston doesn’t, and of course you and Sally do,”  patch replied, “though I think Jess and Janet will stop playing cubbish games soon.”

       “I think our mama would play with you if you asked her Patch, I know for certain our mama would play.  So it’s not only child humans who play foot and paw games.”

       “Adult humans don’t play like bears do,”  Patch said sadly, “I know that.  But I know some humans do play after they hit the age at where they are known, in law at least, as adults.”  He grimaced, “though I think some cubs, playing the most involved stuck foot game ever, have more maturity than the most aged human.”

        “I do know of some adult humans who play the stuck foot game,”  Sally said, “I know Miss Chartwell played, for she played it with me in class, she’s so cool!  Mama Emma played too, when we were at home, she’d play with us, her feet stuck well to ours, and as her feet are bigger than mine or peter’s, she never got them stuck, but freeing our feet from hers was hard, as we could only brace our toes against soft sole skin, not mama’s toes, which were much more of a solid base.  Our toes would just press into soft skin, and would give no help when pulling our heels away from hers.  Plus when we pressed our toes into the sole of her foot, she’d curl her toes, I don’t think she could help it, so the skin on the sole of her foot would bunch up, making the job even harder.  Peter and I would have to pull the toes of each foot away from mama’s soles wile she kept her toes stretched to stretch the skin.  It was interesting play.”

        “it sound so,”  Sooleawa said laughing slightly, “you humans have almost as much imagination as us bears you know.”

         “Why if you think you are superior, did we do better than you in the population race?”  Peter asked.

       “You humans used your breeding potential to overrun the world, then your knowledge to kill those whom you thought inferior,”  Sooleawa said.  peter sighed heavily.

       “I suppose we did,”  he replied, “though you do not blame me and Sally for it.”

        “You two are cubs,”  Sooleawa replied, “and you wanted to learn about our community, and then to visit us.  You have shown us you are like us, gentle, caring, playful, peaceful.”

      “What if we didn’t like paw and foot play?”  Sally asked.

     “Then we would respect that,”  Sooleawa replied, “but it is good that you do like those games.”  Sally crawled away from Sooleawa, the she bear chasing her, and tickling her toes, Sally laughing and sitting back on her heels, Sooleawa tracing Sally’s soles, from heels to toes.

       “I wish now I’d dug my heels into my bottom while giving birth to Kuaizi,”  Sally said, it would have helped ease the contractions a bit.”

       “I notice mamas doing that,”  Sooleawa replied, “I wonder if your mama did that while delivering you into the world.”

       “I know she did when Peter was born,”  Sally said, “we watched the video of his birth, he and I when he was five and I six.  Mama video it all.  She roared and groaned like a bear in labour you know.”

      “That she did,”  peter replied.

 

A few days later, Jemma watched the community via her laptop. Now back at home, Jemma kept tabs on her children through the community’s website.  She wished she was back with them, but her job prohibited her from staying.  Watching Sally and Peter in the soft play room, she marvelled at the community’s way of dealing with peter’s disbelief in Anernerk’s disability, and at Sally and peter’s honest talk with the bears.

         “I’ll upload that video and they can see Peter’s birth,”  she thought, “I’d like them to see that.  It’s a pity I didn’t video Sally’s birth, but video wasn’t as good back then.”  Sitting on the floor in front of her laptop, She uploaded the video to the community site in an attachment, and it was clear the community saw it, as the skype phone soon rang, it was patch.

        “I hear you are still keeping tabs on your cubs,”  patch said, his tone light and airy.

       “yes,”  Jemma replied, “I’d love to be there myself, not to keep tabs on the cubs you understand, but to play with you and the other bears.  I’ll give you some money for feeding Peter and Sally, I insist too.”

      “Thank you,”  Patch said, giving account details for the community bank account, Jemma sending the money there and then.

      “now that’s done, said she, “I hope that video of peter’s birth will be good viewing.”

       “I’m sure it will be,”  Patch replied, “and thank you Jemma, for you do know we’ve adopted your two cubs as part of our community now.”

       “yes,”  Jemma replied, her voice catching, “I heard and saw that, it’s, well, amazing you’d do such a thing for them, considering all the shit us humans put your kind and your cousins  through.”

         “We don’t blame the cubs,”  Patch replied, “now, I hear you play the stuck foot game very well indeed.  Actually, that shows, as your two cubs are experts in it.”

        “I love those games, and would play even now,”  Jemma replied, feeling her toes curling as she spoke, “but I have things to deal with here, not less the ban on driving and my work.  I am keeping barefoot whenever I can though, and I do regularly play with my toes also.”  Patch laughed merrily.

      “Do you take your adult paws off at night?”  he asked.

        “Oh yes, yes I do,”  Jemma replied, blushing red as she realised she’d admitted to a childhood throwback.

         “I am so glad,”  Patch replied.  Jemma felt her toes curling tighter and tighter as she held the phone.  Then they relaxed, and Jemma knew what was coming next.

      “hang on Patch, sorry, just a minute,”  Jemma gasped as her toes curled tighter than they’d done since the birth of Peter.

      “oaoaoaoaoaoaaow!”  Jemma gasped, “my toes!”  Patch heard Jemma shifting about a bit, the phone clattering down beside her, then he heard her fingers massaging the soles of her feet, a sort of scratching sound as she worked to soothe her toes, then slight grunting as she pushed deeply into the soles of her feet with the fingers of both hands.

        “Are you all right?”  patch asked.  Jemma, having put the phone on loud speaker, replied:

       “yes, now I am, wow, my toes curled of their own free will, wow!  That was amazing!”

        “you got excited at the thought of your cubs playing the stuck foot game with you, that was what did it,”  patch said, Jemma laughing merrily.

        “I had to massage my heels and soles and play with my toes a bit to get them to uncurl,”  Jemma said.  patch laughed and replied:

       “I know how it is when excitement takes over, last time that happened, my toes ached for hours after.”  Jemma smiled at the thought of patch losing control and waving his paws in the air with abandon.

         “I saw peter playing the push pull game with his feet against his hands,”  she said, “I tried that when in labour with him, you’ll see it on the video.  The story he told you was one he made up previously, though it’s as good now as it was the first time.”

       “Will you come back to see us?”  patch asked.

        “I will, in a week or so,”  Jemma replied, “but I have things to do here first.  Goodbye Patch.”

      “Bye Jemma,”  patch said, putting down his phone.  Jemma sat back on her heels, thinking of the reaction talking to the grey bear caused in her, an uncontrollable need to curl her toes like an excited  child.

       “it’s a pity he couldn’t see me,”  Jemma said out loud, “the web cam would have shown him everything.”  Jemma heard the doorbell ring, and got up to answer it.  Padding to the door in her bare feet, she saw a shaggy form through the glass. the form was familiar to Jemma, and opening the door, she smiled as she was confronted by a huge grey bear standing on her doorstep wearing trousers, a large trench coat and a floppy hat.  The bear leant on a walking cane with a silver top.

        “Orbon?  Jemma asked.

       “No,”  Patch replied smiling, “nearly there, but not quite right.”

      “But you were on the phone to me a minute back, you made me curl my toes so tightly I had to put the phone down to soothe my feet,”  Jemma said.

       “I did nothing,”  Patch replied, “your excitement did all that.  Now are you going to let me in for a cup of tea or not?”

        “how did you know I was looking at the website?”  Jemma asked.

       “I knew, I was on the way back from my visit to the vet, he’s checking on my false eyes you see, and I was nearby when my phone rang.  I spoke to mr Fullbeans, then phoned you, and then tracked you down by following the strength of your footsteps, your street is one I walk along to get to the vets, and you’ve been out recently, barefooted too.  I followed your track if you like, bears have good noses.  Mr Fullbeans saw the video come in, and phoned me to phone you.  I phoned you, and spoke to you, now, now I’m here.”

      “but I can’t come back now, not now,”  Jemma protested, “I’d like to of course, but I’ve got bills to pay.”

        “what is your work?”  Patch asked.

        “it’s a banking job,”  Jemma said, “it’s boring, I’ve had no holiday in the last five years, and I’m coming up for reassessment, I might lose my job if I don’t go in this week.”

       “I’ll speak to your employers, what is their number,”  Patch said.  Jemma gave their number, and soon patch was talking to the hr department.  Lieing extravagantly, he managed to get access to Jemma’s work record, attendance, and performance logs.

       “they sound eminently positive,”  patch said into the phone, “tell me, why is my client being reassessed for her job if she’s doing so well?”  there was a pause, then, Patch, “So you’re telling my client that she is in danger of losing her job when all her records are satisfactory to excellent?”  Patch asked.  the pause was longer this time, then patch’s voice exploded in rage.

       “You are threatening my client with the sack because you need to cut jobs>?  I’ve never heard such rubbish!  If she’s making poor sales, or her conduct is poor, then that is understandable, but not when her conduct is good.  I’ll have you know she has come to me after much stress at work.”

         “yes I am a doctor, and a lawyer too,”  patch lied.  “now let’s come to some arrangement shall we?  How if we say Jemma has two weeks off to be with her children?”  the pause was long, but Patch’s smile told Jemma he’d won.

      “Send the written confirmation to this number, Patch said, giving a number, “and put in that letter too that Jemma’s reassessment is delayed for three years as of this date, okay?”  the person on the other end’s response was quite audible to Jemma, as it was screamed down the phone.

       “I know who you are! You are that bloody grey bear who keeps legally bending the law to his will aren’t you, well you’ve done it again you stupid bruin!”  patch ended the call laughing.

        “I guess you heard that last bit?”  he asked smiling.  Jemma felt her toes curl around the slight step on the threshold of her house.

        “I did, but is it true?”  she asked.  Patch rang through to Charles Fullbeans, who read back the fax he’d just received.

       “I’ll check it with our legal people,”  Charles said, “but Patch, you have just used Jemma’s excellent record to legally scupper a company’s effort to dismiss her I think.  I’ll get back to you.”  With that, laughing, Charles broke the connection.

        “Now please, Jemma, could I come in and have a cup of tea?”  Patch asked.  Jemma led him indoors, and stopped in the hallway.

       “patch,”  she said suddenly, “can I please, would you let me, I mean, if it’s not an imposition,,,”  Patch folded the walking cane and shoved it in his coat pocket.

      “What do you want?”  he asked,.

       “Can I hug you?”  Jemma asked.  Patch smiled.

      “Let me take my coat off,” he replied, “hugging me with all that metalwork in the way won’t be nice now will it.”

       “I must say, your coat trousers and hat do suit you well,”  Jemma said.  patch shed his coat, the shirt beneath making him look like a business executive.

         “you want me in my natural colours before you hug me don’t you?”  Patch asked.  Jemma hesitated:

       “it would be wrong, for you would not ask me to undress completely before you hugged me now would you?”

         “I’m not naked when I’m out of these clothes,”  Patch replied, “shave my fur, then I’d be really naked, and angry too, but out of these clothes, no, I’m me, a bear.  Inside these clothes, I’m not me at all.”

        “it’s all human sensibilities isn’t it,”  Jemma said.

      “Indeed,”  patch replied, “though I respect you and your children’s right to go clothed, hence why they wear cat suits in the community.”

      “I suppose to you it wouldn’t matter if they lived every day as they were born,”  Jemma said.

      “No,”  Patch replied, “indeed, jess and I had this conversation when she first entered the community.  She said she would like to live as nature intended, but I said to her that she’d not think this in a year or two, and prevailed upon her to wear a cat suit, which would allow her to be clothed as minimally as possible without compromising her dignity.”

      “sort of like you with all your fur on>?”  Jemma asked.

        “yes,”  patch replied, “sort of like that.  Putting clothes on me is undignified, leaving me without coverings is dignified, it is the opposite for humans I think.”  Jemma smiled:

       “I’ll get changed,”  she said, “into something more appropriate for hugging the man of the forest, “I’m wearing jeans and a t shirt you see, but I have a cat suit.”  Patch smiled.

       “Go then, and change into what you want to wear,”  he said.  Jemma ran upstairs and changed into her cat suit that she’d used for her visits to the gym, and padded back downstairs a few minutes later, while Patch got rid of shirt, hat and trousers, feeling better in his natural finery.  Approaching Patch, Jemma threw her arms around him, hugging him tightly.

        “Now let’s go and sit down,”  Jemma said, leading Patch to the sofa, the bear sitting down on it.

        “What happened earlier?”  Patch asked, “you said your toes curled, but then you dropped the phone.”

         “My toes curled slightly, then more tightly, then relaxed, and then curled even tighter than before, that’s when I cried out.  I then sat back, dropping the phone, and grabbing each of my feet in my hands to massage and work at soothing my toes.  Of course, my feet itched a bit too, so I scratched them with my fingers a bit also.”

         “Ah, that was it,”  patch replied smiling.

       “I have a webcam on my computer, and I thought you’d e able to see me on it.  Se me massaging my toes I mean, that is if you could see of course, for I know you can’t.”

        “I’ll bet it would have been cute,”  Patch said smiling.

        “yes,”  it might have been cute,”  Jemma replied, “and I will re-enact it for you to get paws on with as you’re here.”  Patch smiled and embraced Jemma.

       “Only if you want to,”  he said.

       “I could re-enact Peter’s birth too,”  Jemma said, “I’d like you to feel that.”

         “you are trying to be inclusive, but that’s a bit far isn’t it?”

       “I know you’d respect me for my effort,”  Jemma said, “the man who impregnated me didn’t, he ran off.  You care for my cub, the cub’s sire didn’t. so I will show you how he came into the world, also how Sally came into the world too.”

        “I’m honoured,”  patch said.

       “others can see a video, so why shouldn’t you be able to see it too, through your paws Patch?”

       “I see what you mean,”  he replied, “and then, you could show Ekaterina and Sita too?”

      I could,”  Jemma replied, “but now is for you, the one who took my two cubs into your care.”

      “Thank you Jemma,”  Patch replied.

       “First of all though, I want to show you why I dropped the phone,”  Jemma said, sitting down on the floor.

      “Your tales of my cubs playing made my toes curl tightly,”  Jemma said, “so tightly I had to drop the phone and attend to them, massaging my heels, soles and toes to relieve the curled toes.  Get paws on and I will show you,”  Jemma said, Patch touching her hands, Jemma guiding his paws to her right foot.  tightly curling her toes, Jemma felt the familiar need to rub the sole of her foot with her fingers, which she did, patch paws on throughout, feeling the pressure she put into the massage, hearing her gasp as she pressed hard into her heel and toe pads.

       “I’ll bet it was a bit faster and urgent than that,”  patch said.

      “it was,”  Jemma admitted, “but it was unexpected you see, well, to that degree anyway.”  Patch smiled and explored Jemma’s right foot with his paws, Jemma’s toes curling involuntarily.

       “You like that?”  patch asked.

       “I won’t answer, as it’s a stupid question,”  Jemma replied, patch laughing helplessly.

       “I knew,”  he replied, “your toes gave it away.”  Jemma smiled.

       “I’m a similar age to Cynthia Chartwell,”  she said, “that is why we got on so well, “if she’d not gone on holiday to her parents place in Africa, we’d be playing the stuck foot game I’m sure.”  Patch grinned at this.

        “Oh, that’s my phone,”  Patch said, picking it out of his coat and listening.

      “Great news!”  Patch exclaimed, “what’s that?  Three weeks, not two?  Great, I’ll tell Jemma.  Thanks Charles.”

       “that was Charles Fullbeans,”  Patch said, “you have three weeks off from work, oh dam, there’s my phone again!”  Picking it up, Patch listened.  Jemma saw Patch smile, then he said:

      “Thank you, she will be very pleased indeed.”

        “What?”  Jemma asked.

        “You’re off work for the rest of the summer, and full pay, so you can be with your children,”  Patch said.  Jemma hugged Patch tightly, Patch embracing her, and then mischievously tickling her toes, Jemma laughing and crawling away, Patch chasing her, tickling her heels, Jemma laughing so hard she nearly cried..

        “have I got thorns in my pads?”  she asked.  patch pressed and stretched the skin on Jemma’s heel pads, soles, the balls of her feet and her toe pads, Jemma marvelling at how gentle but strong the bear’s examination was.

       “I feel that if I was to curl and stretch my toes with your toes pressing on the soles of my feet I could stretch my feet a little,”  Jemma said.  patch smiled and gently massaged the ball of Jemma’s right foot, Jemma sitting back and bouncing her backside on her heels.

         “I am going to enjoy showing you the births of my cubs,”  Jemma said, patch smiling at her use of the word, “cubs.”

      “I’ll be interested to find out how you delivered your cubs,”  Patch said smiling.

 

Meanwhile, back in the community house, in the soft play room, the cubs, Titania, Orbon, Peter, Janet and Sally watched Jemma delivering Peter into the world on the video she’d uploaded.

        “So humans clench their teeth and curl their toes too!”  cinders said.

          “yes,”  peter replied, “a bear having a cub, and a human having a baby sounds and looks similar.”

       “Jemma’s curling her toes now, just look at her toes and fingers!  Jemma’s  clenching her fists and curling her toes as she curls into a ball.  Now she’s sitting back on her heels, now rolling onto her back and drawing up her hind feet, grabbing them in her hands and roaring with pain! Poor thing!”  Morag exclaimed.

       “Listen to her roaring, she sounds like a lioness!”  Apudo remarked, watching as Jemma let go of her feet and splayed her legs, then sat up and rocked back and fourth on her backside on screen.

      “Now she’s grabbing her hind feet with her hands, just look at her fingers turning white as she squeezes her feet with them, her toes are curled so tight too!”  Blackberry said.

       “her face, hands and feet are bathed in sweat too,”  Titania observed, having arrived shortly before the video was played, after her cub had asked to see Sally and peter, “Jemma looks and sounds like I did while delivering my cub.  Look, she’s now splaying her legs, and pushing, how she’s pushing, right down, deep down into her bottom with deep moans and lots of panting, then roars of pain, her fingers and toes curled in effort, her eyes tight shut, mouth wide.  Jemma pushes again  and again, and again!  Here comes peter’s head!  Jemma’s panting and whimpering, her fingers and toes curled, eyes tight shut, now she’s pushing, moaning and groaning, no, now screaming as peter’s head emerges.  Now she’s pushing down with a deep moaning roar, just like I did to deliver my cub’s body as she delivers Peter’s body into the world.  Now she’s panting and squealing as his legs and hind feet emerge.  Wow!”

       “Thanks for the commentary Titania,”  Sita said smiling.

      “Wow Sally,”  Peter said, “I never knew my birth took that much effort from our mum.”

       “it did,”  Sally said, mine too I don’t doubt.”

        “My toes ache and my jaw does too!”  Janet whimpered.

       “that’s because you have been curling your toes, clenching your teeth and opening your mouth wide when Jemma did on screen,”  Blackberry said, “that was cute Janet, and so community spirited.”  Janet massaged her jaw with her right hand, the toes of her left foot with her left.

         “I feel like I should have been labouring with her,”  she said, “I wanted to push with her, I really did!”

      “That’s not surprising,”  Orbon replied, “so did I.  Feel my paws, my feet, and my fur.”

       “You’re bathed in sweat!”  Janet exclaimed, “you really did feel for Jemma didn’t you Orbon.”

      “I did,”  Orbon replied honestly.

      “now Jemma’s cleaning and feeding peter, now a younger Sally has wandered into shot too, I’m sure she was sitting off screen,”  Titania said.

       “I was,”  Sally replied, “I sort of remember being there, I think I hugged my white teddy bear the whole way through.”

        “mama Jemma did so well, as everyone can see,”  Orbon said.

        “yes,”  Peter replied smiling, “she did well, I’m here.”

 

 

Back in Jemma’s house, Patch followed Jemma round the room as she crawled while the video of her delivering eater into the world, Jemma copying her labouring self on screen, sitting back on her heels, crawling about, rolling onto her back and grabbing her feet with her hands, curling her toes, and squeezing her feet with her hands, before adopting the posture she had eight years previously to deliver Peter into the world, Patch paws on throughout.

       “Thank you Jemma,”  Patch said, hugging her tenderly.

        “that brought back memories,”  Jemma said panting a little.

        “I’ll bet it did,”  Patch replied.  Jemma looked at Patch.

       “Patch?”  she asked, “could I touch your hind paws?”

       “yes, of course,”  Patch replied, “I’ll wash them first off course.”  To that end, Patch washed his paws in a small bowl of water Jemma provided.  Patting them dry, he smiled at Jemma.

        “What do you want with my hind feet?”  he asked.

      “To touch your pads, tickle your toes?”  Jemma suggested.

      “Sounds fine by me,”  Patch replied.

       “Would you check my hind feet for thorns first?”  Jemma asked.  patch took her right foot in his paws, counting her toes and then pressing toe, ball and heel pads.

      “You are very gentle Patch,”  Jemma said, curling her toes with pleasure at his touch.

         “I used to play with Jess’s hind feet, and she with mine when we were younger,”  Patch said, “it’s second nature to be gentle with a human’s hind feet.”

         “I’ll bet she loved your touch,”  Jemma said.

      “She did,”  patch replied, “still does too.”

        “I wish I’d had a bear like you to snuggle with,”  Jemma said, “it would have been great to snuggle with you on a cold night.”  Patch smiled.

        “I am the community teddy bear really,”  he replied, cubs, both young and old play with me, play with my paws and feet, and snuggle with me.”

         “Can I touch your toes now?”  Jemma asked, patch giving her his right foot, Jemma tracing his pads and counting his toes.

      “that feels great,”  patch said, curling his toes slightly, then more tightly, Jemma tracing the furrows in the bunched sole pad.

          “Your pads are warm and toes very playful,”  Jemma said.

        “I have been told as much,”  Patch said.

        “Do you know that sally and Peter go barefoot all over the house?”  Jemma skid, “I do too.  Indeed, I was barefoot when we were talking, and my toes went into mad curl mode.”

         “that must have felt strange,”  Patch said.

        “I knew what was happening, though it was a shock at first yes,”  Jemma replied, “I felt like a little girl again, being taken by surprise by emotions and what my physical reaction would be to that.  I curled my toes as tightly as I had while delivering Peter into the world.  While I was demonstrating what was happening on the video, I couldn’t curl my toes like I did after our phone call, even in the most animated parts, though I tried Patch, I really tried!”

       “if I hold your right foot in my paws, could you try again?”  Patch asked.

       “of course, for I know I can do it, I just need to feel the urge again,”  Jemma replied eagerly, “it’s a sort of emotional intensity, where only tightly curling my toes will do to express it.”

        “I can help re-create the urge if you like,”  patch suggested, “I can suggest to you in the same way I suggested to Peter.  Peter felt Anernerk’s pain because I transmitted it to him, I know how she felt, it is in my brain, and I can recall it at any time.”

        “I was angry when I heard his words towards that gorgeous cub,”  Jemma replied, “the pain she was in must have been horrendous, if Peter’s reaction was anything to go by.”

       “It was,”  patch replied.

       “Would you show me?”  Jemma asked, “I know you would not show Sooleawa, you told her that, but I am adult, where she is not.”  patch smiled:

      “as long as you are sure,”  he replied.

      “I am,”  Jemma replied, “I so much want to hug that cub anyway, maybe this will tip me over the edge mad make me want to come back to your home faster than ever, if only to pick up that cub with he huge paws and feet in my arms and embrace her tightly.”

         “Okay, here goes,”  patch replied, tapping into Jemma’s mind and body, telling the nerves in the soles of her feet to transmit the burning signals Anernerk’s did automatically.  Jemma looked startled, then Patch heard rubbing sounds as Jemma massaged her toes and soles, then he heard her moaning, then panting, then suddenly screaming.

       “This is lawful!”  she yelled, “ow, ow!  Even rubbing my feet doesn’t make it stop, pressing my fingers in to my heels doesn’t, this is awful! Horrid!”  she yelled.  Patch switching off the demonstration, Jemma shaking with released tension.

       “Oh dear, that is awful!”  she exclaimed.

       “You did ask,”  patch replied.

      “and I wish I hadn’t, that was dreadful,”  Jemma said, “hot burning pain, with the thudding of my pulse through the sole of my foot making it worse!”

        “I know,”  patch replied, “for I have felt that pain myself, I know how Anernerk feels.  I know how you feel during the births of your cubs too.  for I too have had a cub myself.”

       “Sita, yes I know,”  Jemma replied, “I watched the video.”

       “Your cubs, sorry, children, are a credit to you,”  patch said.  Jemma smiled and traced the pads of patch’s left foot, the bear curling his toes around her fingers and squeezing them tenderly.

        “You can give comfort, even with your hind feet,”  Jemma said.

         “I try,”  patch replied.

        “when I was re-enacting peter’s birth, your touch on my feet and hands felt great,”  Jemma replied.

       “Peter and Sally say they like my touch,”  patch said, “they have playful personalities too, though Peter’s had to be let out of its cage a little.”

      “yes,”  Jemma said, “though watching him play the push pull game with his feet battling against his hands was very cute.”

         “your paws and feet are comforting,”  Jemma said, “I could be in labour, and your touch would comfort me much.”

         “Let me take your foot in my paws and I’ll check it for thorns,” Patch said, Jemma giving him her left foot, Patch tracing toes, then sole and heel, Jemma smiling at the sensation.

         “I taught my children to be aware of their feet and play with their toes from a young age,”  she said, “we have different carpets in the house, tiles too, a real sensation garden in the house, if you know what I mean.  I’ll show you.  We even have a small sand pit outside.”

         “I knew your two children were well versed in play,”  Patch said, “when Sally touched her feet to mine in the classroom of the school that first time, I knew she was well used to playing with her hind feet.”

        “She and I play the stuck foot game quite a bit,”  Jemma replied, “we play for ages sometimes. It feels great for both of us, and she loves the games.”

         “I think you have done a great job with your two cubs,”  patch said.

        “Thank you for showing Peter the error of his comments,”  Jemma replied.  Patch smiled:

        “I thought a demonstration of how it felt would be a good solution to his doubting,”  patch replied.

       “Now I would like to speak of another thing,”  Jemma said, as Patch massaged her right foot in his paws, Jemma gently curling and stretching her toes as he worked, “I saw the most amazing thing, Sally helping Titania deliver her cub.  was it true, as I think, that Koda and Titania were consenting to Sally helping them?”

      “Yes indeed,”  patch replied, “when you come back to the house, you can ask Titania yourself if you like.  It was all congenital, all wanted and much appreciated.”

         “I saw Janet’s labour and delivery of Moses,”  Jemma replied, “I felt my toes curling watching that, for I wanted help like that while delivering peter.  Sally was there, but she was only watching.  I had a midwife in the corner, out of shot, just in case, but things went well.  I told Sally everything that I’d be doing, we re-enacted labours and I shoed her what I’d be doing, from my curled toes and clenched fists, to my face, getting her used to the sights she’d see, and sounds she’d hear.”

       “That is what we do in the community,”  Patch replied, “get the mothers to be, and their mates ready for what will happen during labour.  As it was for Titania, she denied her pregnancy until it was too obvious.”

       “Until she went into labour you mean?”  Jemma asked.

       “yeah,”  Patch replied, “well I think she knew.”

         “Are my pads and toes free from thorns?”  Jemma asked.

       “yes, well, your right foot is free from thorns, now how abut if I check your left?”  Patch asked.  Jemma smiled and gave him her left foot.

         “it seems strange that I should trust a bear with my foot like this, but I do,”  Jemma said, “your touch is gentle but firm, then there is always the danger of you crushing my foot in your paws.”

        “I wouldn’t,”  patch replied, “I can handle a cub’s paws with care, so why not an adult’s paws too?”

       “how did paw play become so important to your community?”  Jemma asked.  patch told her of Snowy half tail and Ancient Theo’s visits to her for paw massage.

      “it was a lion, not a bear who started all this,”  patch replied, “he was a nervous sort when he was young, and needed support, Snowy gave it in the form of touch, massaging his paws, and he told the rest of the community about it.  His brother, Leo was a bit sceptical, but came round in the end to the benefits of a good paw rub, as it were.”

      “Now it’s almost compulsory,”  Jemma said.

      “No, but it helps,”  patch replied.

       “the cubs are very sensitive aren’t they,”  Jemma observed, “when Anernerk was going through her painful demonstration, the cubs all grabbed their feet in their paws and massaged their soles and toes as if they felt her pain.  It was kind of cute.”

        “”I’m sure they did feel her discomfort a little,”  Patch said, “it’s something that happens often while telling a story, that some will act out the scenes to a degree.”

        “Sally said you were once able to see things,”  Jemma said to Patch, “when you could see, what things did you like to Watch?”

        “cubs playing mostly,”  patch replied, “I was the one who told my mate Ekaterina what was going on in the world.  Now I can’t do that.  When I was alone, I was good on my paws, quiet like.  I could creep up on cubs and watch them playing.  They would sit sometimes for hours, playing with their toes, or if there were two cubs playing, they’d play the stuck foot game.  They loved that game, and still do, according to those who can see these things.  Now though, I can’t see these things, and it is hard to touch a cub when they are playing, for they stop as soon as I touch them.”

       “Sally and Peter don’t do they?”  Jemma asked.

       “No, and for that I am grateful,”  patch replied, “and a lot of the other cubs have vowed not to stop their play, which is good of them.”

         “You sound very excluded,”  Jemma said.

        “I am, to a great extent,”  Patch replied, “ok, here I’m not, for we agree to play together, but if you are playing with another than me, I can’t just watch you like I used to.  I have to get paws on, which is intrusive, and stops natural play.”

        “I suppose,”  Jemma replied.

        “they could refuse to let me touch them,”  Patch said, “which they would be within their right to do.”

       “has anyone refused to let you touch them?”  Jemma asked.

       “No,”  Patch replied, “not yet.  Newcomers to the community are glad of a gentle touch sometimes, it gets through to them in ways words can’t.”

         “I know that,”  Jemma replied, “your touch told me more than words ever could.  Patch, if you caught my baby in your paws after hours of labour, I’d find it a pleasure.”

       “Thanks,”  patch said smiling.

      “you could make me push with the touch of your paw on my foot,”  she continued, “I would push till I was exhausted with your help.”

       “I wouldn’t want that, but I get your meaning,”  patch replied.

        “how is my left foot?”  Jemma asked.

       “Warm, with soft heel pads and easily curling toes,”  Patch replied as Jemma curled her toes, Patch pressing the furrowed skin on the sole of her foot with gentle care.

         “cute,”  patch said, Jemma smiling broadly.

       “Now I’ll go get you a cup of tea,”  Jemma said, patch letting go of her left foot, Jemma getting to her feet and padding from the room.  Patch’s phone rang, and listening, he found jess on the other end.

       “I take it you’re still at Jemma’s place?”  she asked.

      “I am, we, well, got talking about this and that, and we had a bit of an issue with her employers, I’m just drinking tea, and I’ll be back with her I think,”  Patch replied smiling.

      “Good,”  jess replied, “as long as you are safe Patch.”

       “I am,”  patch replied, “we’ll take a taxi from Jemma’s house to the wood and walk from there.”  jess was happy with that, and rang off.  Jemma returned with tea, and she and patch sat down to drink together.

        “You do look like the world’s most huggable teddy bear patch,”  Jemma said, looking patch up and down from head to hind feet.

         “do I?”  patch asked, standing up on his hind feet, his head nearly brushing the ceiling.

        “wow, you’re huge!”  Jemma exclaimed.

        “I’m tall though not as broad as Orbon is, he’s immense.”

      “He is,”  Jemma replied.  “Now Patch, drink your tea before it gets cold.  Patch drank his tea, and Jemma called a taxi for them both.

 

“I’m not taking your pet bear as well,”  the driver snapped.

       “hmm, ok, we’ll walk then,”  patch grunted.  The taxi driver, hearing patch speak English, screamed and drove off at high speed.

         “Why did you open your mouth patch?”  Jemma asked.

      “I hate travelling in cars anyway,”  Patch replied, “let’s walk through the town.”

       “But you might get captured and put inn a zoo,”  Jemma replied.

      “Not if I get into my clothes again,”  patch replied.

        “Okay,”  Jemma replied, patch pulling on the suit he’d worn, and extending the walking cane.

         “I’ll lean on the cane, if you’ll guide me,”  patch said, “I think that would be better.”  So Jemma, now in street clothes, and feeling rather inhibited by the shoes on her feet, left the house with patch, and they walked uneventfully through the town and onto the main road out of it.  Reaching the woodland, Jemma took off her shoes and walked barefoot with Patch to the house, where she found a footbath at the entrance, then Sooleawa waiting for her on the other side.

       “Can I check your feet for thorns?”  Sooleawa asked.

       “Indeed you can,”  Jemma said, sitting down and smiling as Sooleawa washed her paws, then picked up her right foot in them and pressed firmly on toes, ball and heel pads.

         “I watched these toes curling tightly in labour,”  Sooleawa said, Jemma smiling and curling her toes, Sooleawa massaging her bunching pads and curled toes, Jemma smiling at the sensation from her feet.

        “This is everything mama told me not to do with my feet,”  Jemma said, Sooleawa smiling.

        “your feet are part of your playthings,”  Patch said.

         “I know,”  Jemma replied smiling, “I used my feet to soothe myself during my labour, and now I use them to play with my children.”

      “Or rather they play with your hind feet, and you play with heir’s?”  Sooleawa asked.  Jemma smiled broadly.

       “yeah, I do,”  Jemma replied.

        “Now let’s go into the soft play room,”  patch said smiling at Jemma.

 

Jemma padded after patch, entering the soft play room where Peter and Sally sat opposite each other, checking each other’s feet over in preparation for a round of the stuck foot game.  Pressing their feet together, Sally explored her right foot, the outer side, then the inside, feeling for a gap in which to insert her fingers to help her free her foot.

        “How if we sit down and play the game peter and Sally are playing Patch?”  Jemma asked.

       “What game would that be?”  Patch asked.

        “The stuck foot game,”  Jemma replied, “Peter and Sally are playing that game now, their feet look very well stuck together.”

       “I have known games to go on for hours,”  patch said.

         “Sally’s working at the heel of her right foot, while Peter’s tugging at his left.

         “our feet are well stuck,”  Peter gasped, pressing into the ball of Sally’s foot with his toes.

      “Stretch your toes Sally,”  he said, “stretch them so I can push my toes against yours.”

        “often Peter and Sally can’t reach my toes with theirs when I play the stuck foot game with them,”  Jemma replied, “their toes only reach the ball of my foot at best, meaning if I curl my toes, theirs can’t get leverage to pull their heels away, though when they press their toes into the ball of my foot, I can’t help curling my own toes, it’s catch twenty two really.”  Patch was about to reply, when Peter Whimpered:

      “Keep your toes stretched Sally!”

      “I can’t!”  Sally protested, “whenever you press your toes into the ball of my foot, my toes want to curl!”

       “Well you must try,”  peter gasped, “my toes can’t get leverage if you don’t stretch yours, they just press into soft pad!”

        “it’s cute watching them play,”  Sooleawa said.

       “I wish I could watch them,”  Patch said sorrowfully, “I used to love just watching cubs playing, of course, playing with them is great too, but watching them play was wonderful also.”

        “come and touch us Patch,”  peter said, “there’s enough room for us to play and for you to you get paws on.”  Patch padded forward and touched peter’s toes as he pushed against the ball of Sally’s right foot with them, Sally curling her toes involuntarily as he pressed with his toes and pulled at his heel.

         “Sally’s foot is just large enough to let you brace your toes Peter,”  Patch said, “in a year or so, your foot will grow larger than hers, and she’ll have the same problem you do now when bracing her toes then.”

       “We’ve already promised to play into our teens,”  Sally said, Patch smiling at both of them.

       “That is wonderful,”  he replied.

       “Now though, I’m trying to free my left foot, and it’s not coming free, eeeeoeoeoeoaow!”  peter yelled, tugging and pulling wile Sally dug her fingers into the v shaped gap formed by the base of the arches of both their feet.

       “Keep working at your foot with your fingers Sally!”  peter gasped, pulling at his heel while pushing with his toes, “and stretch your toes, don’t curl them!”

       “I can’t help it, I can’t help curling my toes!”  Sally whimpered, half laughing, peter’s pretence at a hard fight dissolving into helpless laughter too.

       “We’ll never do this right,”  he said, Sally grinning.

       “Your toes pressed against my foot feel good though,”  she replied.  I can curl my toes enough to embrace them too.”  Peter smiled as Sally curled her toes around his.

         “Now either you’re trying to free yourselves, or get yourselves firmly stuck, which is it?”  Jemma asked.

        “Oh hi mum,”  Peter said, “um, Sally, which is it?”

       “Both,”  Sally replied, “we’ll think about freeing our feet later.”

“I think we’ve got ourselves really stuck this time,”  Peter replied, “our heels and toes just like each other’s touch too much.”  I’ve already had to pull my toes free of Sally’s and curl them tightly while she kept hers out of the way with her fingers to keep our toes from sticking altogether.

      “That was when our heels slipped into the posit might be axons they are now,”  Sally said, “now we’re stuck forever it would seem.”

        “our pads are just too soft to get purchase on,”  peter said, “sally’s and mine have become softer since we’ve been using the same stuff to wash our hands and feet that Patch uses on his.  I think we are stuck here forever!  It’s like our feet are made of sponge, neither of us can get purchase on the other’s feet to free ourselves!”  Patch and Sally laughed merrily at this.

         “maybe if I help you both by working the toes of one of my paws between the heel pads of your hind feet while you both pull at your heels, we can sort this?”  patch asked.

       “that sounds wonderful,”  Sally said, “Peter?”

       “Fine,”  peter replied, “we need some help here, but not yet, let’s try the usual methods a bit more first ay Sally?”

      “yes,”  Sally replied, “for Patch’s method is bound to work, and I don’t want it to work just yet,  I like pulling hard, then feeling everything giving and flexing with our efforts, maybe we are meant to stay like this?”  Peter smiled:

     “Okay, we play as before for a while, then patch can bring his paws to help us, I would suggest he powered his paws to stop them sticking to our feet?”

      “Agreed,”  Sally replied, “Patch, put some of that talc on your paws, that should stop any sticking.”  Patch grinned at this.

      “Fine,”  he replied, “so I’ll sit here and explore your feet while you pull against the elastic glue that is holding you captive, then come in like some white knight and free you.”

       “yes but not yet!”  the two children replied in unison.

       “Okay, okay!”  patch replied.

      “But you can still get paws on with no talc on them,”  Sally said, “please do Patch, you won’t stop us playing.”  So Patch did.

 

Peter and Sally fought to free their feet for another hour, tugging at their heels and toes with both hands, or trying to work their fingers into gaps between the balls and heels of their feet.  They didn’t do this silently, narrating their struggles for those who couldn’t see what was happening with exultations, moans, groans and yells of exasperation, as well as urging each other on when one or the other got a good way to freeing either a heel or the ball of a foot, only to lose their grip and start all over again.

        “pretending our feet are stuck together is fun,”  Peter said, pressing his heels hard against Sally’s, then relaxing his pressure, their feet pressed together at the top of an arch made by their bent legs.

       “how cute is that?”  Patch observed, touching Peter’s feet as he pressed his heels against his sister’s as Sally braced her toes to allow him to press his heels against hers.

        “You have cubbishly fat hind feet Peter,”  Sally said, peter laughing helplessly at this.

         “cubbish hind feet!  How wonderful!”  Sooleawa said.

        “My hands and hind feet have become softer since I’ve been here,”  Peter said smiling, “of course my soft padded feet are causing a problem, as the stuck foot game is becoming a problem, my feet are too soft now!”

       “Rubbish!”  cinders yelled, “my feet are soft, and I have no problem freeing them from mama lily’s!”

        “My feet are very soft and I think the glue between mine and Sally’s feet is very strong,”  Peter said.

         “I think it’s cute, so shut up cinders!”  Sooleawa said, tackling cinders to the floor and tickling her hind feet.

       “Get off me Sooleawa!”  Cinders yelled.

      “No,”  Sooleawa replied, kissing cinders on her nose.

         “I can’t free either of my feet!”  Sally complained, tugging at her left, then her right foot with both hands, Peter helping by digging at the v shaped gap above their heels with his fingers.

       “I think we need Patch to help us,”  Peter said.

       “But if we do pull our feet apart on our own, we could massage each other’s toes and heels to sooth them,”  Sly said, “let’s try Peter, really try to pull ourselves free.  One, two, three, go!”  Sally tugged at the heel of her right foot, while Peter worked at his left, and by wriggling and tugging, the two children freed two of their feet.

       “That worked!”  Peter yelled, “now for my right foot, and your left Sally, come on, pull, pull!”  Sally jammed her fingers into the gap between the heel pad of her left foot, and Peter’s right, Peter hauling away at his right foot, both children feeling the glue giving way.  Then, with a yell, peter and Sally pulled the ball and toes of both feet free.

       “My feet hurt now!”  peter wailed.

      “Mine do too!”  Sally yelled, massaging the toes of her left foot with both hands, Peter settling down to massaging the heels of both his feet with the fingers of both his hands, pressing into the soft pad, then massaging in circles.

         “That was a lot of fun!”  peter exclaimed, Sally smiling at him.

        “I think like you do, that was fun indeed,”  Patch replied.

        “Who is that handsome black bear?”  Sally asked.

      “Which one?”  Koda asked hopefully.

       “Not you scruff cub,”  Amy snapped, yelping when Koda hit her in response to her casual insult.

        “There’s one, a big black one, similar size to Patch he is.”

       “Oh, that’ll be Indigo,”  Patch replied.

       “Now he has cute paws indeed,”  Sooleawa mused.

        “You and your love of paws and feet is cute,”  Jemma said to Sooleawa, who rolled onto her back, waving her paws at Jemma, who got down and played with the cub without fear.

        “You are no cub though Sooleawa,”  Jemma said, “you are a grown bear, but small, small and cute.”  Sooleawa, laughing, curled her toes as Jemma rubbed the pads of her hind feet, Jemma blowing on the she bear’s bunched pads, Sooleawa laughing and crawling away, Jemma blowing on her toes as Sooleawa crawled.

         “You are so cute Sooleawa!”  Peter laughed.  Jemma caught Sooleawa and both rolled in play.

        “Sooleawa doesn’t care mum’s human,”  Sally observed, “anyone can see that.”

      “Titania didn’t mind we were human, nor did Imvula when they let us so close while they were having their cubs,”  peter said, “I think this community don’t worry what form we are, they see us more deeply than that it seems.”

        “I think mum loves Patch you know,”  Sally said to peter, who grinned.

       “and you like Indigo too,”  Peter said, “are you going to have his cubs Sally?”  Sally snorted:

        “Not like Kuaizi,”  she replied.

       “I can just imagine you in labour, delivering Indigo’s cubs into the world,”  peter replied.

       “I won’t, I can’t!”  Sally laughed.

       “You could pretend though,”  Peter said, “so could I too.”

       “You?”  Sally laughed, “go on peter, try imagining it.  I’m sure Patch can help you.”  Peter smiled:

      “So it is okay for male creatures to act out female roles?”  he asked.

       “It is,”  patch replied smiling, “go on Peter, try it.”

       “How do I try it?”  Peter asked.

      “Just crawl about a bit, I’ll help you,”  Patch replied.

         “I’ll feel so silly!”  peter replied.

       “You’ll feel relief,”  Patch said, “come on Peter, have a go.”

        “You wanted to play like Kuruk didn’t you?”  Sally asked, “well that’s how he lost his inhibitions.”         “Just by crawling about?”  Peter asked.

       “yeah,”  Patch replied, “pretending at first, but then getting more and more into his play.”

       “Kuruk’s play ended in faith’s birth into the world,”  Sally said.

      “it did,”  patch replied smiling, “though I don’t think Peter’s will.”

        “how can a male bear give birth to a cub?”  peter asked.

        “Kuruk was devastated at the loss of his first cub,”  patch said, “the spirits knew about this, and communicated with me.  I helped Kuruk, that is all I did.”

       “how can Kuruk want to know about the birth of a cub in such depth though?”  Jemma asked, “it’s a painful thing, and how on earth did he pass the cub into being anyway?”

       “it’s called the spiritual passage,”  Patch replied, “it opens at the beginning of the labour, then closes a little, it has to be pushed open by the one wanting to deliver the cub into the world, and then it stays open to allow passage.  After birth is achieved, waste passes through the usual waste channels.”  Jemma looked shocked at this matter of fact rendition of the passage of a spirit into the world.

       “I’d love to see that,”  she replied, “bet you can’t show me the video can you?”

       “We can, every minute, every sweating pore if you want,”  Patch replied.  Jemma began to shake her head, when a huge paw landed on her shoulder.  Turning, she found a huge bear staring her in her face.

        “You think Kuruk no give birth to Faith cub?”  Kuruk asked, “well, Kuruk show you!”

       “Um, ah, sorry big fellow,”  Jemma stammered.

       “Kuruk show you birth of Faith cub,”  Kuruk grunted.

       “How?”  Jemma asked.

      “Well how if you meet cub first?”  Kuruk asked, “Then Kuruk show you video.”

       “I, I believe you big fellow,”  Jemma stammered.

       “Well the offer there if you want see video,”  Kuruk said.

      “I’ve seen it mum, it’s moving, and all true,”  Sally said.

         “I also know what it is to deliver an endangered cub into the world,”  Rowena mewed, “my cub isn’t really mine at all, I saved her life after her mother died while Adze was still inside her.  I gave birth to adze, giving her life when her mother could not.”

         “Did it feel like normal labour?”  Jemma asked.

       “It hurt if that’s what you mean,”  Rowena replied, “I pushed and heaved, curled my toes, roared, screamed, and kicked the air with my feet in a rather frantic fashion.”

        “You do have huge feet Rowena,”  Jemma observed, Rowena rolling onto her back and wavering her paws in the air.

       “You are so cute Rowena,”  Peter said, walking over to the lioness and grabbing her forepaws in his hands, Rowena playfully opening her mouth and gently nibbling his fingers.

        “soppy old lioness,”  peter said smiling.

       “Oi!”  Rowena growled, freeing her right forepaw and slapping Peter with it, the boy starting back at the force she put into her slap.

      “Ow!”  he whimpered.

       “Just so you know,”  Rowena mewed, “I don’t like being called old, for I’m not that, and I will treat you like a cub, as you certainly are a cub.”

       “Sorry mama lioness,”  Peter said, rubbing his cheek where she’d slapped him.

       “Now let’s forget that,”  Rowena mewed, kissing peter’s nose and gently stroking his cheek with her paw.

         “You are a very beautiful lioness,”  peter said smiling at Rowena, “I would have liked to be with you when you gave birth to Adze.”

        “I’m sorry it wasn’t filmed,”  Rowena mewed, “though I tried to get back to the house, I really tried, but the cub came faster than I could run.”

       “Poor you,”  Peter replied.

        “It was hard work,”  Rowena said smiling, “though I regret not a minute of it.”

         “what did it feel like?”  peter asked.

       “Like a need to relieve myself at first,”  Rowena replied, “then tearing pains and a farce urge to push into my tail.  It was difficult.”

        “But you did well, the evidence is here,”  peter said, “a lovely, cuddly cub.”

       “yes pester,”  Rowena mewed smiling.

      “I’ll show you how it went,”  Rowena mewed, “you can feel it if you like too, I hear Patch does a good line in four dimension experiences.”  Peter groaned:

       “By four dimension I suppose you mean putting me right there, pain, urges and all,”  he said.

       “yeah,”  Rowena mewed.

        “I would go for that,”  Sally replied, “I always wanted to roar and mew like a lioness.”

        “I could make you do what Rowena did during her labour,”  Patch said.

       “I wouldn’t mind that,”  Sally replied, “I want to wave my hands and kick the air with my feet, I like it.”

        “it’s intense when Patch takes over,”  Indigo said, “you feel as if crawling about, and curling your toes is the most important thing in the whole world.”

        “Sally likes you indigo,”  Peter said, “she would like to have your cubs.”

         “No I wouldn’t!”  Sally yelled.

       “I’m not about to ask that of you,”  Indigo said smiling.

      “I wouldn’t mind playing the stuck foot game with you, your hind feet look interesting,”  Sally said.

        “he plays a good stuck foot game,”  patch said grinning.

         “Your not so bad yourself,”  Indigo replied.

        “Now let’s check your feet for thorns before we let you play shall we?”  Patch asked, padding over to his brother, lifting him off his paws and sitting him down.

        “now let’s check those feet for thorns,”  Patch said, sitting opposite his brother and taking indigo’s right foot in his paws.

        “Your pads are warm and rather firm,”  Patch said to his brother, who smiled broadly and curled his toes with pleasure.

       “how did Indigo get here?”  Sally asked.

       “Um, well, my paws crossed the bridge, and, well, I found my way into Patch’s old skin, I didn’t look like this all the time Sally,”  Indigo replied.

       “Patch’s old skin?”  Sally asked, “like taking off his entire adult skin and exposing his inner cub?”

       “yes,”  Indigo replied, “ask Royston about the bear he made, I am the one who took control of that bear, but given real form rather than a machined one.”   

  “I knew of |Indigo’s birth,”  Patch said, “I knew Aga had done something dreadful.  I knew from an early age my brother was dead., and became interested in mama’s groans and stamping paws to find out why he’d died, I suppose.”

        “I was, well, born and left to die, now you know that,”  Indigo replied, “now though, I am reborn thanks to your quest for knowledge.”

        “Did it hurt?”  Sally asked.

        “My rebirth?”  Indigo asked, “well it was an anxious time, that’s all, there was no physical deliverance into the world like when Kuruk delivered Faith.  I just found myself with a body, and asked Patch to help me into it, which he did.”

       “Now you’re here, and safe?”  Sally asked.

       “yes,”  Indigo replied smiling and hugging patch.

       “How about my feet and paws?”  Indigo asked patch.

       “Well there are two paws and two hind feet,”  Patch said smiling.

       “I know that!”  Indigo replied with mock exasperation, “I mean how are they?  Are they in good condition?”

        “Um, well I can’t see if they are blemished or anything,”  Patch replied, “but by touch,”  he picked up Indigo’s right hind foot again, exploring his pads and toes, “any soreness? Pain?”  Patch asked.

      “No, but I do have an uncontrollable urge to curl my toes, is that wrong?”  Indigo asked.

      “No,”  Patch replied, “that is a reaction to pleasure I think if there is no pain of course,”

      “No pain, just a need to curl my toes with the enthusiasm of a newborn cub,”  Indigo said smiling.

       “Nerromiktok has similar paws to you Indigo,”  Patch said, “are you and he from the same region?”  Indigo smiled broadly.

       “We’re not,”  he replied, “though I am rather proud of my well padded paws and feet.”

       “doesn’t having rather well sculpted soles rather than flat soles make them harder to clean?”  peter asked.

        “yes, well, I suppose so,”  Indigo replied, “but it makes the job more pleasurable, as you have to take time over it.  Play with paws and feet emerged from grooming, not the other way around.”

       “So play with paws and feet came from grooming those paws and feet?”  peter asked, “what about Ancient Theo and his discovery of the pleasures of plain paw massage?”

       “yes, well where did that come from?”  patch asked, “from grooming the paws of course.  Snowy half tail learnt the art from grooming her own paws and feet and those of her siblings, though I understand the only one she had to practise on was her sister Bianca.”

        “Bianca?”  wasn’t she Snowy’s cub?”  Jemma asked.

       “no, not that one,”  Patch replied, “Snowy’s sister, who was shot, but crawled in here years later to give birth to Arjuna.”    

  “I heard she didn’t quite manage that,”  Jemma replied.

      “No, we had to pull Arjuna from his mother’s body,”  patch replied grimly.

      “Do your paws and feet feel as spongy as mine do Indigo?”  Peter asked.

      “Well let me touch your hind feet, and I’ll then be able to answer that question,”  Indigo said, peter walking over to him, patch moving to let the young boy sit opposite his brother.  Indigo took Peter’s right foot in his paws, pressing his pads and toes, peter smiling at the sensation.

       “My hind feet certainly feel soft, would you check them over for me?”  Peter smiled and curled his toes beneath the bear’s touch, Indigo tracing his bunched pads and curled toes.

        “now I can honestly say, your hind feet are as cute as a young cub’s,”  Indigo said smiling.

        “yours are too,”  peter replied, taking Indigo’s left foot in his hands and stroking the thick, but soft pads and toes, Indigo giggling and curling his toes just as Peter had.”

       “Do you remember how it felt when the first cub grabbed your hind feet and tickled your toes?”  peter asked.

       “I remember that,”  Indigo replied, I was sitting down when it happened, Little Kamchatka was the first to approach me, when she touched my right hind foot, I curled my toes and then spun onto my front, crawling away.  She chased me, crawling after me, and tickled the soles of my hind feet!  It felt wonderful!”

         “I wonder if a cub will ever do that to me,”  Peter said, “I know Sally has been inaugurated into the ranks of the cubs by Hope, who played with her hind feet some time ago.  Sally is used to her hind feet being playthings now, but I’m not yet so used to it, well not from a cub’s point of view.”

        “you could be master spongy feet, and Sally miss spongy feet,”  Indigo said.

       “that’s cub’s talk,”  peter said.

       “I’m a cub,”  Indigo replied, “if I wasn’t, a cub would not have come up to me and grabbed my foot in their paws.”

        “how do my feet feel to you?  Do they feel like a cub’s?”  Peter asked.

       “yes, like a big cub’s,”  Indigo replied, “I know Sally’s feet feel similar, but I know she screamed like a cub when she delivered Kuaizi into the world, as she is still very young to have a cub, though her body is mature enough.”

       “I screamed and cried,”  Sally replied, “like snowdrop did.  Snowdrop didn’t know what to do, she followed her body, just like I did.  I must speak to her.  I have some questions to ask.”

        “She won’t answer them,”  peter replied, “I don’t think Snowdrop would discuss her labour with you Sally.  I think she finds it shameful, even though she decided to keep her cub.”

       “I will ask her,”  Sally replied, “I will hug her and ask her questions.  I know how it is to deliver a cub.  She can only refuse to answer my questions after all.”

        “Go and find her then Sally,”  Patch said.

       “Patch,”  Sally said, turning to him and touching his paw, “what I am going to ask snowdrop concerns you too, as you were with her when she delivered little Kamchatka into the world.  Come with me, please.”

 

 

Patch padded after Sally, and they found snowdrop playing with little Kamchatka in the small play room reserved for adults.  Sitting down, Sally waited for snowdrop to finish her game before asking:

       “Snowdrop, would you please tell me what it felt like delivering little Kamchatka into the world?”

        “how it felt?”  snowdrop asked, “well, I was, am, too young to have a cub, I wasn’t ready.  I felt pain from labour, but also shame and fear, lots and lots of fear and shame.”

        “I am sorry for that,”  patch replied.

        “Fear and shame went away though when I scrambled into Patch’s lap,”  Snowdrop said honestly, “I felt then that I was safe, that noone would judge me for what I’d done, that all they cared about was the cub.”

        “Would you like to experience the birth of your cub again?”  Patch asked, “but without the fear and shame this time?”

         “You mean you could give me the experience without the fear and shame?”  Snowdrop asked.

       “yes,”  Patch replied, “the hard pushing, the need to curl your toes and scream, the need to crawl about and kick with your feet, and no shame this time, for you know now that all will be well.”

         “I’d love to deliver Tiguak’s poor cub Anernerk into the world too,”  snowdrop replied, “could we go to Ekaterina’s birthing pool and do that too?”

         “I can’t give you that experience,”  patch replied, “not, not without Tiguak’s agreement, and Nutt’s too.  After all, Anernerk is their cub.”

         “Tiguak hates Anernerk from her nose to her toes, I heard her talking about her in the most horrid terms,”  Sally said miserably.

         “I will have to ask Tiguak about that,”  Patch replied.

      “I wouldn’t mind if you made me as big as a ball, and fat as butter, and made my labour long and hard and difficult,”  snowdrop replied, “I want to do this so much Patch, for Anernerk, and for me.  We’ve spoken of it often, have Anernerk and me.  It’s a request coming from her too really.”

         “I’ve always wanted to ask what delivering Kuaizi into the world felt like for you Sally,”  little Kamchatka said, “it looked hard work.”

        “it was, well sort of,”  Sally replied, “though being able to hold my feet with my hands helped.”

       “Hope helped too didn’t she?”  Snowdrop asked.

       “a little,”  hope replied, padding in, “but not a lot.  Sally didn’t need my help.  I knew Sally wanted to deliver Kuaizi on her own, and deliver her she did.”

          “I would re-enact it all again now,”  Sally replied, “I’ve come close you know, very close to re-enacting it since that time, but have never had the courage to commit to it, to let my body take me through the process again.”

        “I know one thought about Kamchatka’s birth would start me moaning, straining, curling my toes and screaming,”  snowdrop replied, “I just need the time and the place.”

         “my mind has wanted to re-enact that time for me when I’m sitting quietly,”  Sally admitted, “my toes start to curl and I begin to breathe deeply, then though, I can’t carry it through.  I know the urge to revisit that time will become too strong soon, and I’ll have to show someone how it was.”

       “Re-enacting the birth story of your cubs is natural here Sally,”  Patch said.

       “That is why you re-enact it for Sita? I’ve heard Kuruk does the same for Faith?”  Sally asked.

      “Indeed,”  patch replied, “it would be unusual for a mama or one who gave spiritual birth to a cub not to tell his or her cub of the manner of their entry into this world.”

       “But Arjuna can’t be told by his mama,”  Sally said, “that’s sad that is.”

      “he will be told of her efforts to get to as safe place to deliver him,”  patch replied, “indeed, he’s already being told that tale.”

        “I shouldn’t feel shame around Kamchatka’s birth, but I do, for I was too young,”  Snowdrop said.

       “Do not feel shame,”  patch replied, “for you have nothing to be ashamed of.  Your cub was conceived with love, your labour was a loving time, even if you were terrified, and you got through it with a healthy cub.”

       “I got through it thanks to you,”  Snowdrop replied, “Patch, you saved me and Kamchatka, I knew nothing!”

         “You did it, I just helped you by holding your paw.”

        “Are you ashamed of me mama?”  Kamchatka asked.

      “No Kamchatka I’m not,”  Snowdrop replied, “I just wish I’d known a bit more before I give birth to you.”

        “The shame you felt was projected onto you by the norms of a society you don’t belong to,”  Patch said, “you deliver a cub here, at whatever age, and as long as you don’t hurt that cub, you’ll be accepted.”

        “So it’s a free for all?”  Sally asked.

       “No,”  Patch replied, “it’s a safety net.  Have one cub accidentally, you might be able to adopt it out if you can’t care for it, have more than one and reject them, you’ll be warned, make a job of breeding and rejecting, then, well, other plans might have to be made.  Giving birth to, and raising cubs is a huge responsibility, though the community do know unplanned pregnancies happen.”

         “The rule is don’t hurt the cubs,”  Snowdrop said.

        “yes,”  Patch replied smiling, “and you didn’t, after you took Kamchatka back, you even adopted Anernerk.”

       “I know,”  snowdrop sighed, “I wish I hadn’t gone through that doubt at first though, it makes me feel sick just thinking about it.”

       “Well don’t think about it then,”  Sally said.

       “It’s a bit difficult when you remember how your cub came into the world, and that memory is clouded by shame,”  snowdrop replied, “even if you now know that shame was misplaced.”

        “now you know you love your cub, you could go through the feelings of labour,”  Patch said, “I can make you feel that way if you want.”

        “make it happen when I’m not expecting it,”  snowdrop said, “then Kamchatka can see how I laboured too, in the flesh, as it were.  Though I don’t think I’ll be able to scream like I did, I’ve grown up a bit since then.”

        “you really need not scream like a cub,”  Patch said, “but if you want to, I can help you do that too.”

       “I will need your help too patch, for it was you who helped me labour.  You were great!”

        “You aren’t much bigger now than you were when you had Kamchatka, so yes I could help you,”  patch replied.

     “Good, for it will hurt,”  Snowdrop said, “and please, don’t dull my fear, for you relieving that was as wonderful as you relieving my pain.”

      “A little fear is normal,”  Patch replied, “the thing which makes mothers seek a safe place for their cubs is fear for their safety, and for hers too.”

       “Hope helped me by touching my feet from time to time,”  Sally said, “she didn’t actually get paws on with the cub, well not much, but she did with my hands and feet, which helped me a great deal.”

       “I must make sure I find Patch in my time of fear,”  Snowdrop replied.

        “I will make sure you do,”  Sally said, “I’ll stay with you while you go through the first contractions of labour, then you can crawl to Patch’s lie up, just as you did previously, then, then, Patch can help you deliver Anernerk too.”

       “I can hear what you are talking about,”  Tiguak said padding into the room and scowling at Snowdrop.

        “What would you like me to do?”  patch asked her, “Tiguak, I can give snowdrop Anernerk forever if you wish.  Sponge her birth from your memory, and give snowdrop that too.”

         “I don’t like that cub, I never had her,”  Tiguak snapped, “she’s not mine, that’s why I rejected her, so you can take the hard labour away too!  Kill snowdrop with it if you want, for that’s what you will do!”

       “Snowdrop won’t die from delivering Anernerk,”  mama Kamchatka’s spirit said, padding into the room and knocking Tiguak

 out with her paw, “Snowdrop, go with my blessing and be to Anernerk the mama she deserves.”  Snowdrop looked at the mama bear’s spirit  and smiled.

        “Thank you mama,”  she said.

       “So that’s fixed then,”  Kamchatka Replied, picking Tiguak’s unconscious form up off the floor, “I’ll do the honours here, and Anernerk will appear to you after you have delivered her into the world snowdrop.”  

    “I’m looking forward to it already,”  Snowdrop said, “it’s gonna be long and hard, and I will scream and cry and curl my toes and kick the air with my hind feet, but I won’t bite my paws, I promise you Patch, I won’t bite my paws!”

        “maybe we can leave my birth story till later,”  little Kamchatka said, “mama Snowdrop, I think it would be nicer if you gave Anernerk her wish, for a mama who loves her from birth.”

         “I’m ready for it then,”  Snowdrop said, “though looking at Anernerk, I think her head, paws and feet are gonna hurt me on their way out.  At least two big pushes for each hind foot I think.”

       “Most mamas just relax  the passage of the cub’s hind feet,”  Sally said.

       “I didn’t,”  Jemma replied, “I had to push through the passage of Peter’s hind feet.  I’m just glad he didn’t come out face down, and have arches on his feet, or his heels might have become stuck, that would have meant more pushing.”

       “peter’s birth was amazing to watch Jemma,”  snowdrop said, Jemma smiling at her.

        “I wanted to share it, for I knew you’d find it fascinating, and appreciate it too,”  she said.

         “How will I feel Anernerk coming into the world?”  snowdrop asked, “I mean, she won’t really be there will she?”

        “You’ll feel her body inside you, and feel her emerging, and she’ll be there when you recover,”  patch said, “I know how Tiguak felt, I’ll make you feel as she did, make your body feel her cub’s passage into the world.  Of course, you can push and strain or not, as you wish, but you will feel Anernerk’s presence in your body, then passing into the outside world with your efforts.”

       “Can you make me remember Sally’s birth in the same way patch?”  Jemma asked.

       “Indeed, I can,”  Patch replied, “I can read the story of her birth from beginning to end, and could make you relive it right now, pain, joy and all.” 

      “Scary,”  Jemma remarked.

       “I know Tiguak’s sensations and can make snowdrop feel the need to deliver Anernerk.  Snowdrop will feel Anernerk’s passage into the world as if she is delivering an actual cub.  she will feel Anernerk emerging into the world if she reaches down with her paws, she will feel everything.  And when she recovers, the real Anernerk will be there for Snowdrop to groom and feed, which both will want more than anything in the world.  I know what Anernerk really wants, but she’s too scared to ask snowdrop to give her heart’s desire.”

          “That’s so sweet,”  Sally said.

       “I don’t mind how painful or difficult this is,”  Snowdrop said, “what I do want though is for everything to be on camera, and for those who can’t see me to get paws on with me, to touch my body, my paws and my feet as I labour.  If not, I want others to re-enact what’s going on, like Indigo did when he asked patch to make him crawl and act like a labouring mama.”

        “You want everyone immersed in your experience,”  Patch said.

       “yes, oh yes!”  snowdrop replied.

      “I think Anernerk came out slowly,”  Sally said.

        “So did Kamchatka,”  Snowdrop replied, “I really had to push to deliver her.  I’ll be okay.”

 

Meanwhile, in the soft play room, Sooleawa sat with Anernerk, explaining her role in the whole thing.

        “I want snowdrop to be able to tell me about my birth,”  Anernerk said, “I know it’s rewriting what happened, but I want it.  How will I help snowdrop?”

       “There is a fluid we can use that will mimic the fluid which helps a cub emerge,”  Sooleawa said, “cover you in that, and snowdrop can groom you and she will feel under her paws what she should feel after the birth of a cub.  I’ll guide you to snowdrop just as she finishes pushing to deliver you into the world, and she can get paws on with you.”

       “so Snowdrop is being given the experience of delivering me into the world so she can tell me my birth tale?”  Anernerk asked.

       “yes,”  Sooleawa replied, “you can watch her while I work the fluid into your fur.

       “I’d like to help with that,”  Anernerk said, “help work the fluid into my paws and feet that is.”

       “You can,”  Sooleawa replied.

         “I look forward to being groomed by mama Snowdrop,”  Anernerk said.

 

Snowdrop looked at Sally.”

       “would you re-enact Kuwaizi‘s birth for me?”  she asked.

       “I will,”  Sally replied, “but I have something to ask you first, can I get hands on with you while you deliver Anernerk into the world?”

        “yes,”  Snowdrop replied, “I’d like that.  Maybe you could help me, by showing me how to sit back on my heels, massaging my soles and hugging me.  You know what to do, for you have delivered the cub of another into the world.”

       “I will help you Snowdrop,”  Sally said.    Snowdrop took Sally’s left foot in her paws, Sally curling her toes at the bear’s touch.

        “Can I take hold of your right foot in my hands?”  Sally asked.  Snowdrop gave the young girl her right foot, Sally embracing the warm foot in her hands, the toes of her own left foot curling tightly with pleasure and intense emotions.

         “I want to show you how Kuwaizi’s birth went,”  Sally said, “that might help you get in the mood to experience Anernerk’s birth Snowdrop.”

       “I’ll probably feel labour pains just as you deliver Kuaizi into the world,”  Snowdrop replied.

       “your pads are warm and soft,”  snowdrop observed, “very good for holding onto with both hands.”

       “yes indeed,”  Sally said smiling.

       “no wonder you couldn’t free your feet from peter’s,”  Snowdrop said, “your pads are so soft Sally, they are as soft as a newborn cub’s!”

        “I know, great isn’t it,”  Sally replied laughing.

       “it is,”  Snowdrop replied.  Sally crawled away, Snowdrop following her closely, watching the soles of Sally’s her feet thrusting back and fourth as she crawled.  Feeling mischievous, snowdrop blew on Sally’s toes, the young girl laughing and stopping crawling, Snowdrop blowing a cold stream of air from heels to toes, Sally squealing with laughter and sitting back on her heels.

        “Stop that!”  Sally laughed, Snowdrop gently stroking the slightly bunched soles of Sally’s feet as the young girl turned her head and watched her from the corner of her eye.

        “That was lovely,”  Sally said smiling, “real play is what I like.”  Snowdrop massaged the soles of Sally’s feet, the young girl curling her toes as best she could while sitting back on her heels.

         “you need not go through the pain of my birth mama snowdrop,”  Anernerk said, [padding into the room, “I don’t want you to.”

        “how can I tell you of your birth if I don’t actually give birth to you properly?”  snowdrop asked.

       “The story of how I was adopted by you is good enough for me,”  Anernerk replied, “tell me the story of how Tiguak gave birth to me, and then rejected me, then how a cub ran to find me and bring me to you, for Kamchatka did that.”

        “I didn’t give birth to Anernerk!”  Kamchatka yelled.

      “No no no, of course not!”  Anernerk laughed, “but well, it would be a fun thing to see you pretend to do.”

          “I might, in play,”  Kamchatka replied.

       “It’s okay to pretend in play,”  snowdrop replied, “if I’d done that, I might have been a bit more prepared for giving birth to a cub.”

       “Do you still want me to re-enact Kuwaizi’s birth?”  Sally asked.

        “yes please, if you would,”  Anernerk said, “I’d like to see it.”

       “You’re not invited!”  Snowdrop snapped.

        “Why not?”  Sally asked, “she went through the same experience as you and Kamchatka did, come Anernerk, touch me while I pretend.”

         “I’d like that,”  Anernerk said.

 

Meanwhile, in another part of the house, Dorothy paced about her lie up.  Orbon had mated with her some months ago, and now her cub was due.  Very pregnant and about to give birth to Orbon’s cub, she paced about her lie up, Orbon watching her closely.

        “I think I’s in labour now,”  Dorothy panted, slapping the rugs with her paws and bouncing on the toes of her hind feet.

        I promised you I’d be here throughout your labour,”  Orbon replied.  Dorothy smiled.

       “I ain’t seen you slapping the rugs with your paws or bouncing on your toes yet,”  she said, “ain’t you gonna encourage me?”

         “Do you want that?”  Orbon asked.

       “Ever since you told me you copied Aga during her labour, I wants you to do that for me too.”  Dorothy replied, her eyes shining.

         “Okay,”  Orbon said, pacing round stride for stride with Dorothy, bouncing on his toes when she bounced on hers, and copying her every move.

        “Would you stroke my hind feet if I sit down?”  Dorothy asked.

      “yes I will,”  Orbon replied, “I’ll curl my toes when you curl yours, and let you squeeze my hind feet in your paws too.”

      “I wan’a feel my hind feet squeezed by your paws also,”  Dorothy replied, “mirror my labour Orbon.”  Orbon smiled.

        “So you want me to labour with you?”  he asked.

       “Curl your toes and mimic what I do,”  Dorothy replied, “that would be nice of you if you’d do it.”

       “I will,”  Orbon replied, “and if I could help you push I would too.”

        “I’d like that,”  Dorothy replied, “I’d like it if you could ‘elp me push.  I’s an old bear now, and I’s not sure if I can push like I used to.”

        “I would love to help,”  Orbon replied.

        “’ow can you ‘elp like that though?”  Dorothy replied, massaging the toes of her right foot and breathing deeply, “you ain’t female.”

       “Like Patch helped Haimati,”  Orbon replied, rubbing the pads and toes of his own right foot, “he’s not female either.”  Dorothy dug the toes of her right paw into the pads of her left foot, Orbon copying her.

        “I want to feel more,”  Orbon said, “just copying your actions isn’t enough Dorothy.”

         “You mated with me, so now you wan’a labour with me?”  Dorothy asked.

       “yeah, I do, I really do!”  Orbon replied desperately.

         “patch can ‘elp with that I think, I’s unable to open the door to your mind, but ‘e can,”  Dorothy gasped.  Orbon got on the phone to patch who padded to the lie up.

        “You do know that if anything goes wrong you’ll feel everything,”  Patch said to Orbon.

        “I’ll feel the grief and everything yes,”  Orbon replied, “I’m ready, though I don’t think anything will go wrong Patch, though thanks for the warning.”

        “From now on you’ll feel everything Dorothy does,”  patch replied, “you can help her proactively.  Push with her, breathe with her, aid her with paw massage, as massaging your feet with your paws will help her and she massaging her feet with her paws will help you.”

        “So when Dorothy is screaming in pain, if I massage my feet with my paws she will feel the benefits?”  Orbon asked.

       “Yes, if you’re not screaming in pain too,”  Patch replied, “the benefits are shared, so instead of the pain relief given by one foot being massaged, there’s the relief from two.  Instead of one pushing against the cub, it’s two, that sort of thing.”

       “What if I wan’a push and Orbon doesn’t want to?”  Dorothy asked.

        “I’ll follow you,”  Orbon replied, “though I will try to conserve your energy.”

         “Okay, here you go,”  Patch said, Orbon feeling his stomach contract slightly as he saw Dorothy’s paw fly to her mouth at the shock of connection with him.

        “Try massaging your right foot Orbon,”  Patch said.  Orbon obeying, Dorothy sighing with relief as her pain eased.

       “now try digging the toes of your right paw into the ball of your foot when Dorothy digs her paw into the ball of one of her hind feet,”  Patch said.  Orbon tried, and Dorothy gasped with the intense emotions and feelings she was getting from him pressing the toes of his paw into his own sole pad.

        “it’s like twice the ‘elp, that’s great!”  Dorothy panted.

        “Follow Dorothy’s actions, and push when she pushes,”  patch said, “you will know when she’s pushing or just complaining.  You’ll feel tightness in your stomach Orbon.”

         “I can feel the contractions a bit now,”  Orbon said, “they feel to me like stomach cramps.”

        “While you are pushing to help Dorothy you won’t defecate,”  Patch said.

          “there’ll be me making enough mess for two,”  Dorothy gasped.

        “how do I push to help Dorothy?”  Orbon asked.

        “Like you would when relieving yourself,”  Patch replied, “your effort will magnify hers, though she’ll feel no more pain.  Just don’t push until she is, otherwise she will tire easily.”  

    “But if I gets tired, can Orbon push for me?”  Dorothy asked.

       “yes,”  Patch replied, “he can push for you then, as he can now.  try it Orbon.  Bear down into your tail.”  Dorothy waited, and when she felt a contraction, Orbon obviously felt it too, for he wriggled, then strained into his tail, Dorothy yowling:

      “oaoaoaoaoaoaaow!”   with pain and drawing her hind legs up to her.

       “That ‘urt!”  she wailed.

       “That was amazing!”  Orbon panted.

         “You can n’alf push!”  Dorothy gasped.

         “Sorry,”  Orbon replied.  Dorothy got to her feet and padded to Orbon, placing his paw on her belly, their cub kicking against his pressure.

       “The cub is ‘appy you can ‘elp too,”  she said.

       “your cub’s fine,”  Patch replied.

        “I don’t want to mess this up,”  Orbon said, “Patch, my desire to help Dorothy doesn’t outweigh my wish to have her come safely through this with a live cub.  If you feel I’m messing things up, disconnect my input and to hell with my protestations, okay?”  Patch hugged his sire.

        “You know how to do this already, you’ve done it once, long ago, in a clearing in an American woodland,”  Patch said gently.

        “when I was playing at labour during Aga’s confinement?”  Orbon asked, “but that wasn’t real, it wasn’t!”

       “Do you think the spirits would have let me connect you to Dorothy if you didn’t know how to do things properly?”  Patch asked, “they are very carful now.”

       “So the spirits know everything’s going to be all right?”  Orbon asked.

      “No,”  Patch replied, “they know you’ll be a good birthing partner, that’s all.”  Orbon felt a thrill of fear, for he knew he must do well.

       “Follow Dorothy’s cue on pushing, and all three of you will be fine,”  Patch replied, “it is only if Dorothy gets tired that you will have to take over her efforts Orbon, though she can let you push to feel the effort she needs to make to deliver the cub if she wants.  All she needs to do is relax and tell you to push, and you’ll feel what she does, the resistance of the cub and all.”

       “I want to feel that,”  Orbon said, “I’ve always wanted to feel a cub coming into the world.”

        “You will,”  Patch replied,  “Now get on with massaging your mate’s feet and paws , then when she is crawling, massage your heels and toes, to soothe her, then when she stops to bear down against a contraction, massage her hind feet while she is pushing into her tail.  Make it a team effort.”

        “Will I be able to stop myself pushing while I attend to Dorothy?”  Orbon asked.

       “Put your energy into yelling with Dorothy, encourage her to scream and roar,”  was Patch’s response.

        “How are you feeling now Dorothy?”  Orbon asked.

       “I thinks our cub is listening to you too, as ‘e ain’t moved an inch since patch came in ‘ere, but ‘e’s ready to come I think.”

         “I can feel small contractions,”  Orbon said, massaging his right foot with his paws, while Dorothy pressed her paws into the pads of her left hind foot.

       “ya Oaoaoaoaow! Aaaaaw!!”  Dorothy screamed, rocking back and fourth, Orbon feeling his stomach contract with his mate’s effort.  Grunting, he bore down hard.

      “uuuuuuuuaumph!”  he grunted,  Dorothy squealing and roaring while lying on her back and kicking with her hind feet.

       “That was good, that was good!”  Dorothy gasped.

       “I’ll rub the pads of my hind feet and moan lustily next time, I won’t push, I promise,”  Orbon gasped, “I couldn’t help it that time.”

       “that felt bloody good, I’s okay with you pushing,”  Dorothy whimpered, “now, ‘ere comes another one, uuuuuuuaaaaoaoaoaw!”  Orbon watched his mate through half closed eyes, his own paws pressing the pads of and squeezing the toes of his right hind foot, while Dorothy lay on her back while she held her own hind feet in her forepaws and strained lustily.

         “rubbing your pads ‘elps me Orbon, carry on!”  Dorothy panted.  Orbon crawled through increasing discomfort and kissed his mate’s sweating right hind foot as she held it gripped tightly in her right paw.

         “Thanks,”  Dorothy panted.

        “Do you want my help?”  Orbon asked, sitting back on his heels and trying not to strain into his tail.

         “Go on, you wants to push,”  Dorothy panted, “push Orbon Push!”  Orbon looked into his mate’s face, then settled his paws, took a develop breath and bore down hard into his bottom, sitting back hard on his heels.  Dorothy’s reaction was to let go of her hind feet and splay her hind legs.

      “Oaoaoaoaoaow! Euuuuuuuuuuaow!”  she complained, then spun onto her chest and began crawling.

       “Are you all right?”  Orbon panted, his fur covered in sweat, his pads damp and body aching.

       “yeah, transition, it ‘urts!”  Dorothy gasped, “getting cub into the birth canal, it’s ‘ard work!  Got’a crawl!”

        “I want to switch my influence off now,”  Orbon panted, “Dorothy needs me to massage her hind feet, but I can’t if I want to push!”

       “I needs you to push with me!”  Dorothy replied, “patch, don’t do anything!”  Orbon was stuck.

      “Okay, if that’s what you want,”  he panted.

        “’elp me push Orbon, ‘elp me push!”  Dorothy gasped, straining into her tail, Orbon placing his paws on the soles of Dorothy’s sweating hind feet, and sitting back on his own heels, both bears straining hard into their tails, roaring and yelling.

         “the cub’s coming down, I can feel it!”  Orbon whimpered, as he watched Dorothy bouncing her backside on her heels then pressing her backside hard against her heels.  Groaning, he copied her for a few minutes, digging his heels into his backside with desperate urgency.

       “get into a crawling posture and splay your legs and pant Orbon,”  patch said, Orbon getting into a crawling posture and splaying his hind legs, Dorothy’s urge to do the same evident, even though she couldn’t see what Orbon had done.

       “pant Dorothy, pant!”  Orbon gasped, Dorothy wriggling as she felt her cub sliding down.

        “oaoaoaoaoaoaaow!!  Ouououououoch ouououoch!”  Dorothy protested, Orbon roaring as he endured the same feelings his mate did.

        “don’t push, don’t push!”  Orbon gasped, “Dorothy, this hurts, but don’t push!”  Dorothy wriggled some more, and Orbon encouraged her by wriggling madly and rocking back and fourth, Dorothy feeling his will and going with it.

        “the cub’s head’s coming, I can see it,  oooah, and feel it too!”  Orbon yelled.

       “I can feel it too!”  Dorothy roared.

       “So can I, I want to push!”  Orbon moaned.

      “No, not yet Orbon, let, let the cub’s ‘ead come, it’s gonna ‘urt, breathe deeply, let it come!”  Dorothy squealed.  Orbon did, panting hard and moaning feeling the cub inside him sliding into the world.  Orbon, wanting to sit back on his heels once more, wriggled and whimpered,  knowing he mustn’t sit back on his heels at all.

          “now push, push!”  Orbon said, Dorothy shrieking as she bore down, Orbon rolling onto his back, drawing up his hind legs and, splaying them as best he could, straining lustily, Dorothy and Orbon howling with effort and pain.

        “now comes a real test for you Orbon, now Orbon, you need to catch your mate’s cub,”  patch said to the sweating and  crying male bear.  As if in a dream Orbon crawled to his mate’s hind quarters and caught the emerging cub, helping her by pulling the cub as she pushed.

        “You #’elped me most of the way, now catch your cub,”  Dorothy whimpered, bearing down into her bottom with renewed strength, Orbon catching his cub in his paws.

       “Push a bit more, nearly there Dorothy, nearly there,”  Orbon said, he and Dorothy feeling the cub swelling their bodies, the pain of labour felt by both, Orbon yelling and screaming with his mate as both pushed deeper and deeper into their tails to free the cub.”

        “Thank you Orbon, thank you!”  Dorothy gasped.  Orbon guided the cub into the world, the cub large and slippery in his paws.

        “one little push for the hind feet, go on mama, push!”  Orbon encouraged, feeling Dorothy straining hard into her tail and hearing her moan of effort.

       “Eeeeeeeeeeoaaoaoaoh!”  Dorothy screeched as she pushed one last time.  Sitting back, Dorothy looked at Orbon, who cleaned the cub with gentle care.  The cub was enormous, and Dorothy was glad Orbon hadn’t mentioned how big it was while she was pushing it into the world.

       “You have a male cub Dorothy,”  Orbon said.  Dorothy looked at the cub, then reached for him, taking him into her paws.

       “’e looks like both of us, ‘e’s got my face, and your paws and feet!  Look at them paws! they’s cute!”  Dorothy gabbled excitedly.  Orbon, his eyes shining, kissed his mate’s nose and that of his newborn cub, who stared round him in astonished silence.

        “It’s cold out here!”  he complained.

       “You ‘ungry little’n?”  Dorothy asked.  the cub turned his face to her.

      “yeah,”  he said, “I am.”  Dorothy fed her cub, while Orbon watched closely.

        “thank you for letting me be a part of the birth of our cub,”  Orbon said.  Dorothy smiled broadly.

       “I’s glad you were there,”  she replied, her eyes shining.

         “You did wonderfully mama Dorothy,”  Sally said, walking in and sitting down.

        “Did you see ‘ow Orbon ‘elped me?”  Dorothy replied, “’e was as much part of our cub’s birth as I was.  Don’t forget ‘im will you.”

       “You mean to say Orbon pushed with you?”  Sally asked.

       “yeah, course ‘e did,”  Dorothy replied, “’e ain’t gonna let me go through it alone is ‘e now.  ‘e says, and I quotes this too, “I’s at the conception of the cub, so I’s gonna be at the birth too, in every way I can.”  That is what ‘e said Sally.”  Orbon laughed and nodded.

         “you are so right Dorothy,”  he replied, “I took the pleasure of the conception of our cub, so I thought I should take the pain of his birth too, and I regret none of it.”

       “Wow,”  Sally replied, “that is amazing!”

         “I strained and sweated with my mate to deliver our cub,”  Orbon said.  “I regret none of it, and am glad patch made it possible for Dorothy and I to have union in delivering our cub.”

       “I think it’s cute!”  Sally said.

      “Well I think it’s disgusting!”  Anook roared, pounding into the lie up, “Orbon, you are a disgusting interloper into a female bear’s domain!”

      “shut it!”  Dorothy snapped.  Anook strode up to Dorothy and screamed into her face:       “No I won’t!  I bloody won’t!  I hate all this male intrusion into the domains of the female, it’s wrong, so bloody wrong!”  Dorothy’s cub, who’d been quietly nursing, turned his head from his task and asked:

       “Is being bloody wrong worse than being just wrong?”  Orbon and Dorothy laughed so hard they nearly choked.

       “I’m going!”  Anook screamed.

       “Good,”  the cub said, “for your voice is causing pain in my head worse than that of being born.”  Anook raised her paw to hit Dorothy’s cub, Orbon raising his paw also.

        “Don’t,”  Orbon said quietly, “if you touch a hair on my cub’s head Anook, I’ll murder you, is that understood?”  Anook dropped her paw and fled.

        “Prude,”  Dorothy remarked.

       “yeah she is,”  Sally replied, “it was said that when Kuruk delivered faith into the world, Anook went mad.”

       “she didn’t like that one bit,”  Orbon replied, “but it was the way things should be.  Kuruk was the right bear for that job.”

       “Agreed,”  Dorothy replied, “now Orbon, you can tell the story of your cub’s birth into this world too.  You felt ‘is passage, you felt ‘the pain and the struggle like I did.”

       “I did, and my toes curled like yours did,”  Orbon replied.  I’m still bathed in sweat from that time too.  I wish I could shrug off this skin and keep it as a memory of the time, for I’m sure my pads bunched a little more than usual, I’m sure my body stretched a little with our cub’s passage.”

       “You mean you’d like to shrug off your skin and keep it as a reminder?”  Sally said.

       “I’d like to, well sort of,”  Orbon replied, “at least take a photo of how Dorothy and I are now, sweat darkened fur, paw pads and all.  Dorothy settled her newborn cub on the rugs, then hugged Orbon, breathing in his scent, touching his face and belly, paws and feet with her own paws.

         “Your fur be softer than usual,”  she remarked, “so be your pads too.”

       “Your way of speaking is so sweet Dorothy!”  Sally laughed.

       “I’s only speaking ‘ow I always ‘as done,”  Dorothy replied, “I knows it ain’t ‘ow most speak.”  Sally padded to Dorothy and embraced her, the sow bear getting to her hind feet to enable Sally to hug her more easily.

        “You are huge!”  Sally said.

      “Orbon be larger,”  Dorothy replied, “’ave you ‘ugged ‘im recently?”

      “Well, no,”  Sally replied, “though now you remind me of it, I will ask him if I can.”

       “Why not hug me now?”  Orbon asked, “I need it after what I’ve been through I think.”  Sally smiled and approached the huge male bear, wrapping her arms around Orbon’s neck, the large bear, sitting down as he was, pulling her onto his lap and embracing her.

        “You are so sweet Orbon,”  Sally said, “I love you dearly, and so does Peter.”

        “I know how it is to deliver a cub now, and for that I am thankful,”  Orbon replied, Sally kissing his nose.

        “I think every male should experience what you did,”  Sally said smiling, “peter included.?.”

       “peter won’t, will he?”  Orbon asked.

        “he would,”  Sally replied, “he was all for copying you while you helped Dorothy.  His crawling about and curling toes were so cute!”

        “You mean he was watching me and copying what I did?”  Orbon asked incredulously.

      “yes I was,”  Peter replied walking in from the corridor, “I’ll admit I was.  I couldn’t help it Orbon.  My toes began to curl in sympathy with yours, and then, well, it grew from there.”

      “Thanks for your support,”  Orbon said.

        “how did it feel to help your mate?”  peter asked.

       “Wonderful,”  Orbon replied, “I felt really close to her and our cub.”

        “mama was tired,”  Orbon’s newborn cub said, “I’m glad sire Orbon helped out too.”

       “I was getting tired,”  Dorothy admitted, “you ‘as a ‘uge ‘ead and big ‘ind feet too, I felt ‘em scrape free, ‘it ‘urt!”

       “My feet hurt you on their way out?”  the cub asked, sitting up and reaching for his right foot.  finding it, he explored his pads and toes.

        “yes, two of these would hurt a good bit,”  he remarked to himself.  I remember seeing the tunnel stretching and relaxing, if you mama had to push to stretch the tunnel and more to push me into the world, no wonder you were tired mama.”

       “I ‘as to push to stretch the tunnel and then more to push you down it yes,”  Dorothy replied, “well rather you stretch the tunnel with your body, so when your feet passed into the world, the tunnel was small, so ‘urt me more.  I felt every pad you sees.”

       “Poor mama, and poor sire Orbon too,”  the cub mused.

        “Orbon and I ‘elped each other little Jayden,”  Dorothy said to her cub.  Orbon gathered Jayden onto his lap, exploring him with his paws, the cub laughing helplessly.

        “I can remember the squeezing of you and mama pushing on my head, body, legs, paws and feet,”  Jayden said, “I think you even pushed a bit against the pads of my hind feet!”

       “They were coming out slowly,”  Orbon said, “mama and I were worried.”

        “your ‘ind feet ‘urt me,”  Dorothy said, “they really ‘urt me Orbon.”

        “I’d like to feel what Dorothy did during her labour,”  Sally said.

        “it was ‘ard work,”  Dorothy replied, “if Orbon ‘adn’t been there to ‘elp me push, I don’t know if I’d ‘ave got through it without someone pulling Jayden out.  I knows Orbon pulled a little, but what I means is that if Orbon ‘adn’t been there, someone would ‘ave ‘ad to deliver Jayden like Sooleawa was, by force of paw alone.  Ekaterina ‘ad to be strong to pull Sooleawa out, for she was well stuck, according to Ekaterina anyway.  Apparently Sooleawa remembers the ‘ole thing poor sod.”

        “Well she survived it,”  Sally said.

        “yeah, but I’ll bet she’s damaged in some way by it,”  Dorothy replied, “doesn’t like tight places, ‘aving ‘er paws or feet ‘andled, that sort of thing.”

      “Actually I do like my paws and feet handled thank you,”  Sooleawa said, padding into the lie up with Anernerk crawling alongside her, “I like a game where someone holds onto the toes of my hind feet and I try to pull them free.  That’s one foot game I like.  Another is to have a marble rolled down the sole of my foot from heel to toes, I then try to catch the marble before it rolls off my toes.  I like picking things up in my toes, and love pass the twig!  So Diethyl, you are wrong there.”

      “That told you,”  Orbon said smiling.

       “I will tell Jayden of my birth story, and he will likely tell me his,”  Sooleawa said smiling.

       “I’m the one rolling the marble,”  Anernerk said.  Sooleawa smiled and kissed Anernerk’s ear, the cub rubbing noses with her.

       “That is so cute!”  Sally laughed.

        “bears rubbing noses is only like you hugging peter,”  Sooleawa replied, “though yes, I suppose it is rather cute too.”

      “with Anernerk’s hind feet always there to stroke, and her toes to tickle, I’m surprised you’re not playing more Sooleawa,”  peter said.

       “We do play,”  Sooleawa replied, “and it’s not quite true that Anernerk can’t stand on her hind feet, she can to climb and to sit on a sofa, but not to walk for any distance.  Her feet hurt too much for that.  But she can answer for herself I think.”

        “I wish I could bounce on my toes like Sooleawa does when she’s pretending one of her hind feet are stuck to the floor.  She can’t free her toes sometimes, and that’s really something cute.  She tugs and tugs at heroes, resting her weight on her forepaws  while I push my paw beneath her heel, but it doesn’t work often.  Usually it takes hours of pushing with my paw, while she tugs at her foot to eventually free her toes, but this is a real struggle.”

       “there are many foot and paw games,”  Sooleawa said, and Anernerk and I play them all.”

         “can you two play the stuck foot game?”  Sally asked.

       “yes!”  Anernerk replied, “that doesn’t hurt me, as there’s no weight on my hind feet.  Did you know Sooleawa’s toes curl easily?”

       “I know they do,”  Peter replied, “I played with her, and her toes do curl easily.  Then again, mine do too now.  now I’ve let my inner cub control them.”

        “Have you got big feet too Anernerk?”  Jayden asked, crawling over to her and touching her nose with his.

       “You are that cub who I saw mama Dorothy push into the world only two hours ago aren’t you?”  Anernerk asked.  Jayden grinned.

       “I am,”  he replied, his paw landing on hers, “I wondered if you had large feet like me, and if your mama yowled while delivering you into the world like mine did.”

        “My sire didn’t help my mama like your sire helped your mama,”  Anernerk said, “my real mama, my birth mama, didn’t want me, I think my big feet and paws hurt her a lot on their way out.”

        “Can I touch your feet and paws?”  Jayden asked.

      “You can,”  Anernerk said, rolling onto her side, “here, touch me.”  Jayden did, finding Anernerk’s paws, then her hind feet, exploring with his paws, Anernerk unable to stop her paws bunching into fists, or the toes of her hind feet from curling with pleasure.

       “Can I touch your face and body too?”  Jayden asked.  Anernerk grunted assent, and Jayden explored, laughing with delight as he found a fat cub beneath his paws.

       “You are big like me!”  he exclaimed.

      “Well, you’re smaller than me, but not by much,”  anger replied.

      “your paws and feet are cute too!”  Jayden continued laughing slightly, “Anernerk, is that what they call you?  Well, you are a pleasure to be paws on with.”  Anernerk grinned at this and kissed Jayden’s nose, the cub smiling.

       “your eyes are open, and you looked at me, so you can see me and my big feet and paws, so why did you ask to touch me?”  Anernerk asked.

       “I know I came through the squeezing tunnel with my eyes open,”  Jayden replied, “but when I felt Patch exploring me, I wondered if getting paws on with another bear I met wouldn’t be more interesting than just seeing them.”

        “One day cubs will be born here without eyes at all,”  Anernerk mused, “we’ll be like moles.”

        “Rubbish!”  Sooleawa laughed, “you do over exaggerate Anernerk.”

      “but if we don’t use our eyes, we lose them,”  Anernerk said, “Patch obviously didn’t use his much.”

        “that is the most unkind comment I’s ‘eard in ages!”  Dorothy snapped, “Anernerk, you knows nothing of this community yet, and you says something like that?  Who the bloody ‘ell does you think you is?”  Dorothy strode to Anernerk and slapped her so hard she squealed loudly.

        “that hurt!”  she screamed.

       “You ain’t qualified to talk on such things, so shut your mouth,”  Dorothy growled, “Patch used ‘is eyes more than most as ‘e ‘elped ‘is mate who can’t see.  When ‘e lost ‘is sight the fact ‘e couldn’t ‘elp ‘is mate any more bust ‘is world to bits!  So no more of this shit from your mouth, okay?”

       “With respect Dorothy dear,”  Orbon replied soberly, “I wouldn’t have put it that way.”

       “I’s bloody angry!”  Dorothy spat, “’er needs to knows she’s saying shit things!”

      “Bad things I think you mean,”  Sooleawa replied, trying not to laugh, for even though she well knew Dorothy’s reaction was born of her genuine anger at Anernerk’s comments, her use of profane language amused her in a cubbish way she wasn’t proud of.

        “yeah, well, I lost it a bit,”  Dorothy snarled, “but ‘ow can Anernerk say such things, especially when Patch is ‘ere too!”