Trusting instinct and trusting paws.

 

 

Allie and Sam curled up together, finally sleeping deeply.

 

Meanwhile, feeling adventurous, Whitie and Perdy’s cubs Namir and Nemera made their way carefully through the house.  Padding quietly along the hallways, the two cubs making steady progress.  When the cubs reached Sam and Allie’s lie up, they were exhausted.  Finding a warm furry body nearby, the two cubs curled up between the paws of the furry animal.  Namir settled Namir between the paws of the large furry creature, before settling down himself, the creature’s huge; paws unconsciously enveloping both cubs.  The furry animal was Allie, who woke much later to find the two snow leopard cubs nestled between her paws.  Smiling to herself, she stroked the paws of the two cubs, loving them.  Sam woke soon after his mate, saw the two snow leopard cubs and smiled at Allie.

      “How did they get here?”  He asked, waving his paw at the tiny cubs.

      “Crawled I suppose,” Allie said.  Sam looked troubled:

      “I think we might have two anxious snow leopard mothers chasing round here in a minute,” he said.  Indeed, the sound of pounding paws coming fast towards their lie up was not long in coming.  Perdy, with Whitie hanging onto her tail as a guide, came busting into the lie up.

       “Where are our cubs!”  Perdy demanded.  Allie showed the cubs to Perdy, who nearly walloped her.

       “How did they get here!”  Whitie demanded.  Allie looked down at the two tiny big cat cubs.

        “They must have crawled here while Sam and I were asleep,” she said.  Hearing the voices of their mothers woke the two cubs, who stretched their paws and shook themselves.  Allie, seeing them, had to wipe away tears with her paw.

      “You love those cubs don’t you,” Perdy said.  Allie smiled.

      “I embraced them in my paws,” she admitted, “unconsciously though it was.”  Namir stretched his paws, yawning expansively.

        “You’ve got warm paws, “he said to Allie not yet knowing who or what she was.  Allie kissed Namir’s nose, the snow leopard cub smiling and returning her kiss.  Allie embraced the cub in her paws, rubbing his back, belly and massaging his paws, Namir purring and wriggling with pleasure.

       “So two blind cubs made their own way to Allie’s lie up?”  Whitie mewed.

     “Yes,” Perdy replied.  Whitie smiled, remembering her own cubhood.

      “I did much the same thing as Namir and his friend,” she said.  Whitie could hear Namir’s purring and mewing as Allie embraced and stroked him.

      “You two are so soppy,” she laughed.  Namir, cuddling close to Allie, was soon asleep.

      “Allie’s hugging Namir,” Perdy said to Whitie, “Allie’s a white polar bear with a black nose and black paw pads.”  Whitie smiled:

      “I’d like to stroke a polar bear,” she mewed.  Sam smiled at her.

       “Come,” Sam said, “stroke me.”  Whitie padded to the male polar bear, who guided her paw to his nose, then let her run her paws all over his head, body, legs  and paws wiggling and curling his toes round hers as Whitie’s paws touched his.  She loved the touch of his toes and paw pads.  Rubbing back against his pressure, Whitie felt Sam’s toes massaging her own.  She then tried tickling his paws, Sam laughing helplessly but always giving her a paw to tickle.  Whitie and Sam played together, each exploring the other’s bellies and paws.  Sam loved Whitie’s touch, enveloping her paws in his, the female snow leopard wiggling her toes as Sam held them in his.  Whitie kissed Sam’s nose, the polar bear smiling broadly as he felt her whiskers brushing his nose.  Whitie curled her tail round so that Sam could play with it, the polar bear taking the end of her tail in his paws and playing with it.  Whitie purred as she felt Sam’s paws playing with her tail, Allie smiling as she remembered Whitie’s habit of playing with her own tail.  Now she’d got a bear to play with it for her, and that was double the pleasure.  Whitie hugged Sam tenderly, Sam smiling at her.

      “That’s lovely!”  Allie laughed.  Sam smiled at her.

      “Let’s let the leopards have their cubs back,” Sam said to Allie, the female polar bear smiling and pushing Namir and Nemera away with her paw.  Whitie and Perdy scooped up their cubs and returned to their lie up.  Sam smiled at Allie taking her paw in his.

       “I love you Allie,” he said, kissing her nose.  Allie embraced Sam, loving him with her paws, as she liked to do.  Sam cuddled into her hug, snuggling up tightly.  Sam and Allie examined each other with their eyes and paws, loving each other from noses to paw pads.  Sam explored Allie’s nose and ears, neck, body, belly, back, legs and paws with his, working his toes into her thick fur.  When he got to her paws, he worked his toes between hers, and to the fur between her pads.  Allie sighed deeply as she felt Sam’s pads touch hers, working over and between her pads and toes.  Allie couldn’t help her toes curling as she was thrilled by Sam’s touch.  Sam smiled as her pads bunched slightly as he began gently massaging the soles of her paws with his toes.

      “I love this!”  Allie exclaimed.  Sam kissed her nose, then, as Allie raised her left forepaw, he kissed the pads of the paw.  Allie closed her eyes, breathing deeply as she felt Sam’s presence.

      “I love you Sam, I love you!”  Allie said.  Sam kissed Allie’s nose, then the toes of both her forepaws.  Allie curled round Sam, holding his forepaws in hers.

       “I can’t believe I was so stupid!”  Sam said, “I missed all this, I missed you Allie!”  Allie squeezed Sam’s toes in hers, and then massaged them tenderly.

       “Do you feel ready to make me a very happy bear Sam?”  Allie asked.  Sam kissed her nose.

        “Yes,” he said, “I want you to make me very happy too.  Allie smiled.

      “Let’s for fill our wishes then,” she said.  Sam and Allie curled up together and, with careful consideration from each to the other, their wish to have cubs took a decisive step towards reality.

 

Sam and Allie remained curled together after their union; indeed, they mated twice more that night, each time reinforcing the bond between the bears.  Allie and Sam held each other with trembling paws, their bodies driven by an age old need.  Allie remembered their first union, the result of which was the birth of Orsa and Bjorn.  That was a fleeting panicky business.  Now though, their union was gentle, embracing, slow and totally for filling.  Their union left them breathless and tingling from their noses to their toes.

      “That was wonderful!”  Allie said once they’d come down from their high, which seemed to last for days.  Sam smiled:

       “It was Allie love,” he replied.  Allie hugged Sam tightly.

 

About a week later, Simba and Rowena were lounging about in the main pool complex when Allie and Sam came into the pool area.

      “We’re going to have cubs!”  Allie said to Simba, the white lion smiling at them.

      “That’s lovely to hear,” he said, Rowena grinning and waving her paws at Allie.  Allie laughed so hard she fell into the water, Sam leaping in to rescue her.  When he realised she was all right, he began tickling her paws, Allie whipping the water white with her paws, Simba and Rowena laughing at their antics.  Sam and Allie watched the two lions tickling each other’s paws just as they had done.

 

The two polar bears sobered up and joined Simba and Rowena.  Rowena hugged Allie hard, the polar bear returning the little lioness’s embrace.

      “Allie,” she said, “my mum hates Namir and Nemera.  I think she’s planning to do away with them!”  Allie looked troubled.

        “Talk to Simba or Samson about this,” she said, “I can’t do much.”

     “Simba knows, but, but you’re in charge of the cameras, just watch those two cubs and Sarafina in particular.”  Allie rubbed Rowena’s back with her paw.

      “I will,” she promised.  Simba watched Allie and Rowena.  His and Rowena’s love for each other had grown steadily stronger and now they were really close to each other.  Simba and Rowena would curl up together at night, much to Sarafina’s anger and disgust, but the tawny lioness could do nothing about it.  Petra loved the fact Simba and Rowena were together, encouraging their friendship by letting them stay in her lie up, which was something else which angered Sarafina, for she could not get to the two white lions to frustrate their relationship.  Unable to get to the two lions, Sarafina had turned her attention to the other bum note in her life, the snow leopards.  Rowena and Simba were tight with them too, which Sarafina didn’t like.  Rowena had helped Whitie give birth to Namir, and Sarafina fancied she could still smell the snow leopard’s sweat on her cub’s fur, even fifteen weeks after.

 

Salty and Blackie knew of Sarafina’s feelings towards their cubs, and were determined not to let her anywhere near them.  Silver and Nick rallied round to protect the cubs, as did Leo and Samson.  The two snow leopard cubs were protected every hour of every day by the big cats.

 

Nanuq and Brunetta also tended to their newborn cubs, the two creamy white bundles of fur playing together and with their parents, exploring their environment with their paws and noses, scents and textures giving them an idea of how their world was set up.  Exploring Brunetta’s and Nanuq’s bodies was also high on the agenda of the two cubs, who ran their paws over the bodies of both the bears from noses to paw pads, the whole thing leaving Nanuq laughing helplessly.

       “You tickled my paws!”  He said, hugging each of his cubs tightly.  Brunetta looked on as her cubs explored Nanuq with their paws, knowing she would get the same treatment sooner rather than later.  Nanuq lifted one of the cubs in his paws and kissed it on the nose, the cub giggling with delight.

       “I love that!”  It said.  Nanuq blew on the pads of one of its forepaws, the cub squealing with laughter.

      “You’ve got one male cub and one female,” Brunetta said, “You have the male cub in your paws now.”  Nanuq embraced the cub tenderly, the tiny form cuddling close.

 

Meanwhile Sarafina lay in her lie up, thinking hard.  She wanted desperately to get at Whitie, Perdy and their cubs, to kill the cubs if possible.  She knew something had gone badly wrong for her, for all of a sudden, the cubs had gained many bodyguards, and they were community members she couldn’t hope to influence or bribe.  Frustrated with not being able to get to the cubs, Sarafina began to think about their mothers.  Perdy was promiscuous, but as protective of her cub as any, Whitie though, wasn’t there something about her?  Her ears were always twitching, unnaturally active those ears were.  Why would Whitie use her ears rather than her eyes?  Sarafina thought she knew.

       “Don’t even think about it,” Theo said, his paw squeezing hers.

     “You’re hurting me!”  Sarafina mewed, “Get off me Theo!  Let go of my paw!”  Theo was angry!

        “I know what you’re thinking!”  He yelled, “You hurt Whitie or her cub, or Perdy’s cub, or Rowena for that matter, I’ll, I’ll break your toes, then your paws, your tail, then your neck!  You scheming bitch!”  Sarafina stared at her lover.

       “I wasn’t thinking anything of the sort!”  She snarled, “Get off me Theo!  Let go of my paw!”  She hit him with her free forepaw.

       “I’m watching you!”  Theo yelled, almost weeping.  Sarafina wrenched her paw free and left the lie up.

       “I’m not going to deny my instincts this time,” Theo thought crossly, “I know she’s plotting against the snow leopards and possibly against her own cub!”  Anger and grief welled in Theo, threatening to choke him.  Tears ran down his nose, and he collapsed on the rug, weeping inconsolably.  Petra found Theo like that an hour later.  At first she couldn’t get any sense out of her sire, he was so distressed.  Theo just clung to her, Petra’s white neck fur becoming greyer with Theo’s tears.

       “What’s up Theo?”  Petra asked, curling herself round him and taking both his forepaws in hers.  It was then Petra realised she was larger than her sire by a fair margin, her paws dwarfing his.  Theo suddenly shook his paws free of Petra’s and hugged her fiercely.

        “Hey, shh Theo, shh,” Petra said softly, feeling the depth of the weeping lion’s distress in the touch of his paws.

     “I can’t be calm or still, let alone composed!”  Theo gasped, almost choking on his tears, “not, not when I know what I know.  It’s happening again Petra, I tend to attract cub killers as mates!”

      “Elsa didn’t,” Petra replied, referring to Elsa number two.

      “Not without good reason,” Theo choked, “but my first mate, and, and now, now Sarafina!  Petra, Sarafina’s got it in for Whitie’s and Perdy’s cubs and for her own cub too!  I know she has, I just know it!  I can’t explain how I know, I just do, and it’s as plain to me as you lying here.  I can’t let this go, I can’t deny my instinct, and I won’t make that mistake again!  Sarafina denies thinking horrid thoughts about Whitie and her cub, but I know, I saw, I felt her hatred for the snow leopards and their cubs.”

       “Sarafina can’t’ be hatching anything,” Petra said, “She wouldn’t.  If she did, she knows she’d be out of here.  Her paws wouldn’t touch the floor Theo!”

       “I know Petra love,” Theo sniffed, “but all the same, I don’t trust her.  Please, if Simba, well, if he has a dream about snow leopards, act on what he says.  He might not see this coming, he might not suspect Sarafina, but, well, then again, he might.  Rowena and he are pretty close, and this is where my Theory gets even wilder.  I think Sarafina hates Rowena too.  I know she’s civil to her, but there was something in her manner towards her earlier today, something I don’t like.”

       “It was true Sarafina was furious with Rowena for getting paws on with Whitie during the births of her cubs,” Petra mewed, “but surely all that’s passed now?  That was ages ago.”

         “I wouldn’t be so sure,” Simba mewed, padding into the lie up.

        “Tell me,” Petra urged.

       “Rowena’s just confided in Allie and me about a shed load of stuff concerning Sarafina.  Rowena knows her mother hates her, Whitie, Perdy and the snow cubs.  Rowena’s torn apart by it mum.  I’m holding her together, but only just.  She can’t believe what she’s hearing, what she feels.  She says it’s like a knife tearing her to bits, and she can’t stand it much longer.”  Petra looked into her Son cub’s eyes throughout his replies to her, and knew he was speaking the truth.

       “Sarafina watches Whitie,” Rowena said, padding into the lie up, “she watches her, her cub, Blackie, silver, even Nick.  She wants to do that family harm Petra, and I can’t stop her!”  Rowena yelled.

        “Why did you ever consider giving her a home you stupid bastard!”  Theo yelled at Simba in a sudden fit of temper which shocked everyone.

       “Sarafina didn’t show her leopard hating side to me,” Simba mewed, “now she’s showing that side to us, and I don’t like it.”

       “That was uncalled for Theo!”  Petra said sharply.

        “I know,” Theo said weakly, “I’m sorry to you Simba.”

       “Has Sarafina said anything to you Rowena?”  Petra asked.

      “No,” Rowena replied, “but she looks at me with hate, she looks at the leopards with hate, and I know something’s going to explode.  I know she didn’t want me at the birth of Whitie’s cubs, but Whitie wanted me there.  If she didn’t want me there, why did Whitie come and get me as soon as her labour started?  I even felt her toes curling as she bore her pain, she gave me her paw so I could guess by the frequency of her toes curling how long the cubs had until they were born!”

        “Whitie wanted you there Rowena,” Simba mewed, “that’s indisputable.  Sarafina’s the problem, not you my dear.”  Rowena looked at Simba.

       “I’m being made to feel I am the problem though Simba and I can’t stand it!”  She yelled.

        “Our main concern is the snow leopard cubs,” Petra said.  “We could take them into care; give them to Snowy for a while until all this is fixed.”

       “Until we tell Sarafina where she can get off you mean?”  Rowena asked.

       “Yes,” Samson replied, padding into the room, “I’m imprisoning her in the concrete shed until we can be absolutely certain of the safety of the snow leopard cubs.  While the focus is on the cubs, Rowena herself is in danger too.  Sarafina hates her almost as much as she does the snow leopards.  I know this, I’ve spoken to her.”

       “Samson,” Theo said hoarsely, still choked up from weeping, “I didn’t need to speak to her, I could feel she hates Rowena.  Sarafina is stupid, but her stupidity is dangerous to others.  She needs to learn all about the community, all about the way we do things here!  Lions help leopards, leopards help bears, and bears help tigers, that’s the way it works!  Sarafina will have to go back to school on this one and learn about our way of life!”

       “Yes she will,” Simba mewed, sidling up to Rowena and taking her left forepaw in his, feeling the sweat of fear dampening her pads.

        “It’s going to be okay,” Simba said gently to the young white lioness.

        “My mum hating me is not a problem,” Rowena mewed, “it’s the reasons, or lack of them to hate me that I can’t stand Simba.”  Simba kissed her nose and squeezed the paw he held.  Rowena smiled:

      “Thank you,” she said.  Simba nuzzled her cheek, Rowena pressing herself closer to the larger white lion.  Simba felt his mum’s eyes on him.  Glancing at Petra, he saw something in her eyes which caused as stranger feeling in him as the realisation of his and Rowena’s close bond had.

       “You are Rowena’s rock, her brother and best friend,” Petra’s eyes said.  Simba knew all he had to do was carry on doing what he’d done all along for Rowena, but the realisation that words had been exchanged between the two white lionesses about his relationship with one of them, maybe both of them, made Simba feel strange.

       “Let’s go from here,” Simba said to Rowena, removing his paw from hers.  Rowena turned and walked stride for stride with Simba on their way back to the lie up.  Rowena looked at her brother and suddenly placed a forepaw on his, stopping him.

       “Simba,” she said, “I, I, I need you with me, always.  Everything’s just too much here.”  Simba remembered his own cubhood, which already seemed a long time ago.  He’d relied on Petra for far more than just food and the normal loving care a lion cub needs from a lioness.  Rowena had a mother, Sarafina had given birth to her, but any lioness could do that.  Sarafina wasn’t willing to be a mum to Rowena though, not after the white cub’s encounter with the snow leopards.  Now Simba knew Sarafina hated him too.

       “I’m with you,” Simba mewed.  Rowena raised the paw which had stopped her brother cub and touched his nose with it.  Simba blew on Rowena’s pads as she stroked his nose, Rowena smiling broadly.

      “We’ll get through this,” Simba said gently.  Rowena cuddled closer to Simba.

       “I know you call Petra your rock,” Rowena said to Simba, “Well, you’re my rock, my protection, my brother and my friend.”

      “Don’t make me into a hero Rowena,” Simba mewed, “I’m only a white lion, nothing more or less than that.”

      “But you fought an otter and won,” Rowena said.

      “I didn’t fight that otter, Theo’s brother Leo did,” Simba replied, “I wanted to fight her, but it was Leo who fought her, that wasn’t me.  Anyway, an otter is no lioness.  Sarafina is worse than Winifred ever could be.  The she otter only picked on cubs because they were smaller than herself.  She never picked on larger community members.”

       “You’re saying, hang on, Simba,” Rowena said, suddenly terrified and finding breathing difficult, “You, you mean, Sarafina might harm us?”

       “She might,” Simba replied, “I can’t deny that possibility.”

       “But she can’t!”  Rowena squealed, now upset.

      “She might do anything now we’ve locked down the two cubs,” Simba mewed.

 

Sarafina lay in her prison, wondering how she could get close to Rowena and attack her.  She didn’t want to kill her, just disfigure her so Simba’s eyes would look elsewhere.  Samson and his team had security which she couldn’t break, though she desperately wanted to turn Simba away from Rowena.  Sarafina had nightmares of Rowena giving birth to Simba’s cubs and dying in the process.  Nightmares which fuelled her hatred of their friendship.  Sarafina dug her claws into her pads and thought about how she was going to destroy the bond between Simba and her own cub.

 

Simba, sleeping in the mid afternoon before his night on patrol, had a disturbing dream.  He saw Rowena crawling toured him, her face scratched and bleeding.  Simba immediately saw she couldn’t walk due to shock, crawling was all she could do, and that was a terrible struggle.  Simba saw his friend open her mouth in a wail of fear and pain.  Jerked awake by this horrific vision, Simba stared round him, his eyes searching for Rowena.  Something was holding his left forepaw in a vice like grip, and he smacked at it with his free paw.

      “Hey Simba, its okay,” Rowena said gently.  Simba looked behind him slightly, to see the cub nestled close, her paw gripping his.

       “I didn’t see you there,” he panted, still in shock from his dream.

       “What happened?”  Rowena asked, “You were screaming and crying.”

        “No Rowena, I can’t, won’t tell you,” Simba said firmly.

       “Let me,” she said, crawling up close and resting her head on Simba’s shoulder before closing her eyes.

       “Sarafina’s plotting to scratch my face so badly in the hope you won’t care for me any more,” she said flatly, “what you saw was the aftermath of that.”  Simba almost choked on his tears.

       “It was horrible!”  He sobbed.  Then, overwhelmed by fear and anger, Simba held Rowena close, buried his face in her neck and gave vent to a shriek of pain that chilled Rowena to her marrow.

      “I can’t stand it any more!”  Simba yelled to noone in particular, “I’m going mad, losing it totally!”  Rowena pressed herself against Simba while patting him with her paws, trying to soothe him in places where deep down she knew at this time soothing was impossible.  Simba thrashed about in almost physical pain, kicking Rowena’s right hind paw.  He’d hurt her, but she knew he didn’t know he had.

       “I won’t let this happen!”  Simba screamed, “I won’t let Sarafina carry out her disgusting act!  She thinks I love you just for the way you look, but that’s not true.  I’d love you even if your face, body and paws were scarred and your claws scuffed.  I don’t mind what you look like, for that’s not how I know you.  All the same, I can’t let this happen!  Sarafina thinks I will do horrid things to you like make you have my cubs, well I won’t!”

      “I know that,” Rowena replied, “but it’s a pity she doesn’t.”

       “Sarafina knows it if she wants to know,” Simba replied, “the facts is there.  My love for you is incalculable Rowena, but I will not make you have my cubs!  Genetically we could, as our mothers were different, but even then, I won’t, I refuse!”

        “All I want from you now,” Rowena said, “is for you to curl round me, hold me in your paws and hug me.  Will you do that?”  Simba drew Rowena to him, curling his body round hers, the toes of his left hind paw brushing those on her right which he’d kicked during his fit.  Simba felt her flinch away, and knew he’d hurt her during his episode.

      “I’m sorry,” he sniffed.  Rowena curled the toes Simba had kicked, whimpering softly despite her attempts not to as the bruised toes and pads complained.  Rowena’s whimpering made Simba cry.

      “It’s okay,” Rowena mewed, “I’m fine.”  Simba hugged her tightly in his paws.

 

Sarafina woke feeling dreadful.  Her paws, legs and back ached, her neck was stiff and she felt sick.  It hurt to move, and even such a small thing as curling and stretching the toes of one paw left her gasping.

       “What’s happening to me!”  She screamed, “I feel so old, so worn out!”  Sarafina tried to get to her paws and collapsed when she was half way to her feet.  She hit her head on the concrete and died soon after.  Allie, in the control room, saw Sarafina’s collapse and sent Theo round to investigate.  When the lion opened the door to the cell, he saw the motionless body of his mate, he knew she was dead.  Stumbling from the cell, Theo almost fell over Bianca and duke who were returning from their walk in the woods.  Theo collapsed at Bianca’s feet, the white tigress catching his head in her paws and resting it down gently.

     “Go find Samson!”  Bianca commanded Duke, who ran off like a scolded cat.  The lion was soon found, and quickly assessed the situation.

       “Sarafina’s dead?”  He asked, “How did she die?”

      “Old age and a dose of bad feeling,” Aslan mewed, bounding in from his shift patrolling the wood, “she was angry, filled with hatred, and thinking twisted thoughts.”

 

Meanwhile, back in Simba’s lie up, Simba woke after getting about an hour’s sleep.  Rowena, feeling Simba stirring, woke and took his paw in hers to comfort him as he surfaced.  Rowena had just started stroking Simba’s paw and talking gently to him, when Petra pounded in.

       “”there’s been an accident!”  Petra yelled, “Sarafina’s dead!”

       “After the night we had last night, I’m glad of it!”  Rowena said harshly.

       “She’s your mum!”  Petra yelled.

       “She gave birth to me, but she hated me too,” Rowena mewed, “You’ve been more of a parent to me than Sarafina was.  You didn’t see or hear what happened last night did you Petra?”  Rowena asked.

     “No,” the white lioness replied, “but the cameras would have seen it.”

      “Go take a look at the footage,” Simba said wearily, resting his head on his paws, Rowena’s paw still holding onto one of his.

        “We can live our lives now Simba,” Rowena mewed, “I don’t have to fear my mum, and you don’t have to fear anything happening to me.”  Simba lay exhausted on the carpet, Petra and Rowena staring down at his trembling body.  Panting hard, Simba collapsed completely, shivering and weeping.  Petra and Rowena stroked his paws and belly, taking it in turns to cradle his head and talk to him in an attempt to reassure and comfort him.

       “It’s okay now,” Rowena said, gently squeezing, stroking and massaging his paws.  Simba sniffed and swallowed hard.

        “I can’t cope with any more!”  He wailed, “”Let us live in peace!”  Petra and Rowena hugged Simba tightly.

      “It’s okay now,” Petra mewed, kissing Simba’s nose and paws, “it’s okay now my dear cub.”  Simba relaxed suddenly, the weight of his head falling into Petra’s paws.

        “Let him sleep,” Petra mewed.

       “I love him Petra,” Rowena said, “I love him more than I can put into words!” 

     “I know how you feel,” Petra replied.

 

Meanwhile, Theo was pacing about, angry with Sarafina for endangering the snow leopards, and apoplectic about the gossip going round that she wanted to hurt her own cub so that Simba would look elsewhere.  Theo knew the Chances of Simba harming Rowena were virtually nil.  Theo knew the white lion’s love for Rowena was more than skin deep, and that he’d love her even if she was scarred from nose to paw pads.  Theo felt relief the danger to the cubs had gone.  The thing puzzling him was not Sarafina’s hatred of snow leopards, but her hatred of Rowena once she’d helped Whitie have her cubs, what triggered that?  Theo went to Petra’s lie up, but the white lioness told him Simba was asleep and advised that he be left to sleep for as long as he wanted.  Theo looked in on Simba and Rowena; the latter curled close to the former.

      “I love him Theo,” Rowena mewed, speaking of Simba.”

      “I know,” he purred.  Theo wanted desperately to talk to Simba about Sarafina.  Simba woke at the sound of Theo’s voice, Petra slapping the carpet with her paw in anger.

       “It’s okay mum,” Simba yawned, stretching languidly:

        “I’m sorry about Sarafina Theo,” Simba mewed, “I don’t know how she could have died so suddenly.”

       “You do know,” Theo mewed, “you know how she died Simba, and you must!”

        “Sarafina wanted to hurt Rowena, that’s all I know,” Simba mewed, “maybe someone else got to hear of her plan and hastened her death.  She was elderly and Rowena was her last cub.  Now she’s gone, and that’s a relief to Rowena and me.  I know she was your mate n’all, but she caused nothing other than trouble for me and my sister.”  Theo hugged Simba as best he could.

        “Allie saw the nightmare you had last night,” he mewed, “I know the contents of the dream, and it was horrible.  Your dreams have been accurate before, and I don’t doubt them now Simba.”

      “Don’t remind me Theo,” Simba pleaded.  Theo kissed Simba’s nose:

      “It’s all over now,” he said gently, “why don’t you and Rowena go out into the wood tonight with the lion patrol.  Gosheven, Ahanu, Ginger, Petra and I will be with you.”  Rowena had never gone on a patrol before.

      “It’s a safe patrol,” Petra mewed, “virtually no danger there.  I won’t expose you to danger.”

      “We’ll take a tiger or two as well,” Theo mewed, “maybe Raja and Rani would join us.”

      “Rani and Ahanu, explosive,” Simba mewed.

      “I don’t know,” Petra replied, “Rani was talking to me about trying to patch things up with Ahanu.  Of course, Haimati will never get into Rani’s good books, she still hates her, but Ahanu might talk her round.  Tinka’s big too, she likes patrolling, as does Pakshalika.  Though she’s more of a cub than Ahanu.  Always playing silly games.  Bianca though, she has steady paws.”

      “Raja, Bianca, Rani and Ahanu it is then,” Simba mewed.

 

Later that evening, the patrol assembled.  Rani looked over the team, spotting Ahanu.  Going to him, she took his paw in hers, the cross bred cat looking surprised.

      “Rani?”  He asked, “What can I do for you?

      “Look, Ahanu, I’m sorry for the years of aggravation I’ve given you over witnessing Haimati’s birth.  It’s so stupid, now, now I’ve seen what hatred really is, I don’t want that!  Sarafina hated her own cub, alienated her and her friends, all that, and more too.  I’ve been thinking hard, and I’m very sorry for what I said and did.  I can’t change what I did that day, nor subsequently, but I wish I could.  Ahanu looked into Rani’s face and knew she spoke from her heart.

     “I’ll talk to Haimati,” Ahanu said, “I will give you a second chance, but I don’t know if Haimati will.”

      “I wouldn’t blame her if she didn’t,” Rani mewed.

       “White cubs can survive you know,” Rowena said to Rani.

      “I know now,” Rani mewed, “I know Rowena.  I’m sorry every day for what I did to my own white cub.”  Haimati listened to all this, hidden between Simba and Petra.  She’d not grown as well as she could have, so she was smaller than Bianca or Pakshalika.  This gave her advantage when hiding, which enhanced the games Haimati and Pakshalika, would play together.  Pakshalika was fat with huge paws, which endeared her to many creatures, whereas Haimati was a thin young tigress.  Bianca, as white as Haimati, had turned out to have some of the bulk which snowy exhibited, also having large paws, though Bianca had a longer tail than snowy.

 

Haimati emerged from the pack and sidled up to her mother.

       “Are you really sorry for what you said and tried to do to me?”  She asked.  Rani looked into her cub’s eyes.

       “I am,” she said, “I can’t put it into words.”

     “Try taking her paw Rani,” Ahanu said.  Rani could have kicked herself for forgetting the mantra of the community, “let your paws be your guide.”  She took Haimati’s paw; it was thin and not very well padded.  In fact Haimati’s appearance shocked Rani, who was a fairly stocky tigress.

       “Are you all right my dear cub,” Rani asked, while holding her daughter cub’s paw.

      “I am,” Haimati mewed, “though I am quite a thin tigress as you can no doubt feel and see.  I am healthy, though Fleur is trying to build me up a bit.”  Rani kissed Haimati on her nose.  The young tigress not flinching away.

       “Let’s go on from here mum,” Haimati said.  Rani smiled.  The lion patrol was looking more like a mixed patrol, so Theo thinned out the ranks, much to the annoyance of Haimati and Rani, who covered their disgust by taking each other’s paws and walking away to chat.  Once the patrol was sorted, Theo, Petra, Simba, Rowena, Gosheven, Leona and Clarence padded into the wood.  Hop Along met them with his patrol.  Raja joined the larger tiger.

      “Any news?”  Petra asked.  “No news,” Raja reported.

      “Rani and Haimati have patched things up,” Petra said, “now Rani’s making overtures to Haimati to patch their differences.”

       “At one point the lion patrol looked like a general patrol,” Rowena said.  She’d never met Raja or Hop Along, and didn’t know how to approach them, so she approached them just as she would any other creature, with friendly curiosity.

      “Let me look at you,” Hop Along said to Rowena, the huge tiger dwarfing the little white lioness.

       “Yes, sir,” Rowena mewed, now anxious.  She looked at Simba, who grinned at her.

        “I heard you were at Namir’s birth,” Hop Along said, looking at an increasingly nervous lion cub.

       “I was,” Rowena said, feeling her paws becoming damp with sweat, “I helped her by holding her left forepaw.”  Hop Along smiled, Rowena not knowing what to make of him.  She’d met only one tiger before, snowy, but she didn’t spark caution in Rowena, so laid back was she.  This newcomer though, well he wasn’t a newcomer; he was huge, and powerful, with huge paws and a lot of presence.  This tiger was different to snowy.  Hop Along noticed Rowena’s nerves and lay down to make himself less intimidating.

       “Come here,” Hop Along said, Rowena regretting her comment about the patrol.  Rowena looked desperately at Simba, who just smiled at her.

       “Go to him,” his eyes said, “you must obey a patrol leader.”  Rowena tried to lift her paws, but they seemed glued to the track.

        “I can’t go!”  Rowena mewed pitifully.  Hop Along looked at Simba, who nodded.  Hop Along, who’d lain down only a foot from Rowena, extended his forepaws towards her, the little lioness looking terrified.

       “I can’t cope with this!”  She pleaded, “Simba, stop him!”

        “Don’t stress her out Hop Along,” Raja said, “the little lioness isn’t ready to meet a big chap like you.”

       “Okay,” Hop Along said, scrambling clumsily to his feet, tripping over his huge paws and landing in a heap on the floor.  Rowena laughed helplessly, and immediately went to Hop Along, as was her way with injured animals.  Hop Along pretended injury, then, when she was close, he stretched out a forepaw and drew her into a huge Hop Along sized hug.  By the time Rowena realised where she was, her fear had vanished.

       “That’s better,” Hop Along said, Rowena cuddling close to him of her own volition.

       “You clumsy tiger!”  Simba laughed, but he had a sense that Hop Along’s tangle with his; paws hadn’t been entirely accidental.

       “It’s these paws you know,” Hop Along mewed, staring malevolently at the offending articles, “they will get in my way.”  Rowena covered her mouth, trying not to laugh at Hop Along.  His tumble, now she knew he was uninjured, had looked hilariously funny.  He’d crossed his hind paws when scrambling to his feet and ended up collapsing on the floor in an undignified heap.

       “Your paws are very big,” Rowena said, looking down at his left fore.  Hop Along felt Rowena take his paw in both of hers, and where the old Hop Along would have objected, the new tiger did not.  Hop Along quite enjoyed Rowena’s exploration of his paw.  Closing his eyes, he thought of the young cross bred cat that had changed his life.  Her exploration over with, Rowena held Hop Along’s paw lightly in hers.  She then stepped out of the space made by Hop Along’s curled body and turned, adjusting her hold on the tiger’s paw so she always had hold of it.  Looking into the tiger’s face, Rowena saw a gentle creature.  This was further confirmed when Hop Along opened his eyes and looked at Rowena.  The white cub saw a gentle tiger, gentle from his nose to his toes.  There was also sadness in the eyes, a sadness which affected Rowena deeply.  She could almost feel Hop Along’s emotional stress.  Her own eyes must have said something to the tiger, for with a suppressed sob, the tiger jerked his paw from Rowena’s grip and covered his eyes with it to shut her out.

       “What the hell did you do!”  Raja demanded as Hop Along fought back tears.

      “I did nothing!”  Rowena protested.

       “You upset Hop Along!”  Leona snapped, walloping Rowena with her paw.

      “I didn’t!”  Rowena whimpered, “and who the hell are you to set paw on me you horrid lioness!”  Rowena yelled.

       “I won’t be talked to like that!”  Leona snarled, walloping Rowena again with such force she fell over.

       “That’s uncalled for!”  Simba snapped, leaping upon Leona and pinning her down.

       “All right, all right!”  Leona yelled, “Let me go and I’ll say no more!”  Simba roared into Leona’s face and then lifted his weight off her.  Rowena picked herself up off the floor and looked round for Hop Along.  The tiger had vanished.

 

Hop Along ran through the trees, the paw Rowena had held in hers burning with a message he’d seen in her eyes.  The tiger didn’t want to acknowledge the cub though.  He knew she’d seen his former life as clearly as he did in his frequent nightmares, and the thought horrified and distressed him.

        “Can’t run any more,” Hop Along gasped aloud, “but my paws burning!  The pads are on fire!”  Hop Along found his way to a stream running through the wood and plunged his paw into it, but the burning persisted, if anything, getting worse.

        “You’re causing me pain!”  Hop Along yelled into the wood, “Stop it Rowena, for eohippus sake!”

 

 

Back with the patrol, Hop Along’s desperate entreaties were heard, Leona wanting to crush Rowena.

       “You have destroyed that tiger!”  She yelled, “What the hell did you say to him!”

        “Leave her alone,” Simba said calmly, “Rowena doesn’t understand her own strength yet.  She didn’t mean any harm by what she did.”

        “What did I do?  Tell me Simba!”  Rowena pleaded.

      “The same you did to me when I wouldn’t tell you what was troubling me,” Simba mewed, “Hop Along saw it in your eyes and freaked out.  He has issues from his former life he keeps well under the surface, and you told him you know about them and can feel his distress.”

       “I know something,” Rowena said, “but I won’t tell anyone but Hop Along.  He must come to me.  He’s blaming me at the moment, but he’ll come back to me if he wants to know more.”  Leona spat on the floor.

      “You white lions are impossible!”  She snarled.

        “Let us see where things go from here,” Petra said gently.

 

Hop Along lay with the paw Rowena once held in hers dangling in a large pond.  His pads and toes burned horribly, and he couldn’t face the young lioness, though his mind was full of her.  He wanted her to take his paw in hers, but dreaded it too.  Hop Along closed his eyes and shook his head, trying to force the nightmares back into their box, but the video was playing in his head, in full colour and as dreadful as usual.

       “Stop it, stop it!  Leave me alone!”  Hop Along screamed, writhing on the forest floor, the paw amerced in the water splashing the rest of his body until he was soaked from nose to tail.  Hop Along ended up falling in the pond, his head going under for a few seconds.  Coughing and crying, the tiger struggled to his feet and, raising his head like a wolf, screamed at the rising moon!

       “White moon, white cub!”  Hop Along thought, “Can I ever escape reminders of her!”  Hop Along’s legs collapsed and he hit the water with a crashing splash!  The tiger felt his nose and mouth filling with water and soon he knew he’d be choking on it, despite this knowledge, he could do nothing about it.

 

The next thing Hop Along dimly recalled was being violently rolled from side to side.  This hurt, and caused him to feel sick.  Screaming with anger, he tried to fight the paws rolling his body back and forth, but couldn’t do anything.  The next thing he knew he was vomiting violently onto the grass.  Throughout all this, the paws holding him never released their hold.  When Hop Along felt things were at an end, he tried to get to his feet, but gentle paws held him down.  He tried to remonstrate with the owners of the paws, but his speech was garbled and his throat hurt from vomiting so much water.  Hop Along lashed out with his paws, but realised they were tied together.

      “What the hell are you doing to me!”  Hop Along screamed.

        “It’s okay,” a gentle voice said.  Hop Along, still soaking wet from his time in the pond, felt a warm furry body settling down beside him.  The creature’s scent brought fresh tears to his eyes.

      “Go away, go away!”  Hop Along sobbed.  The furry creature took his tethered right forepaw in hers and began to stroke it.

       “We tied your paws so you couldn’t do us harm,” Rowena mewed, “we rescued you from the large pond Hop Along.”

       “What if I wanted to die?”  Hop Along asked harshly.

       “No Hop Along,” Rowena said, “I know you don’t want that.”

        “You’re in my thoughts, in my dreams even!”  Hop Along confessed, “You hurt me!  My paw was burning!”  Rowena kissed Hop Along’s nose.

       “Hop Along, please, tell me what you really want,” Rowena said gently.  She traced the pads of his right forepaw, gently stroking the fur between the pads.

         “I want this nightmare to end!”  Hop Along mewed, “you broke the control I had on things, the zoo gates are open and the animals have all escaped!  Now they’re running around in my head and busting me up!  I hate you Rowena!  I hate you!”  Hop Along wrenched his paw free of Rowena’s and tried to smack her with his bound forepaws but failed.  Snarling, he bit at the ropes binding his paws, Simba running forward to rescue Rowena.

      “Get out of there before he kills you!”  Simba yelled.

       “Let him do his will,” Rowena said calmly.  Simba heard her words, and couldn’t believe his ears!

      “No Rowena, come now!”  He yelled.  Hop Along had freed his paws by this time.  Screaming with anger he broke the final rope binding his forepaws!  Simba screamed as Petra was knocked off her paws by a blow from Hop Along’s left forepaw as he curled round towards Rowena.  Petra picked herself up and stared at the scene in front of her.  Rowena was now at the mercy of the enraged tiger!  Hop Along’s hind paws were still bound tightly, and Simba watched his toes curling so tightly his claws, which were extended in anger, nearly dug into his pads.

        “I want to shut those zoo gates once more, but I can’t!”  The tiger screamed, “You released the animals Rowena, so you will pay for this, your life is forfeit!  Thank you for ruining my life!”  Hop Along raised his paw to strike Rowena!

       “Hop Along, No!”  Simba screamed, throwing himself at the tiger.  Petra threw herself on top of Simba!

       “Get off mum!”  Simba yelled, “You’ll be an accessory in Rowena’s murder!”

        “Let the stupid cub die!”  Leona spat, “she deserves what’s coming to her!”  Hop Along’s paw reached the top of hits ark and then came smashing down towards Rowena’s head!  The little lioness watched it coming, but did nothing to save herself.  At the last moment, she turned her eyes on Hop Along, who’d closed his after verifying his aim.  Hop Along’s paw landed with a thud.  Simba screamed and screamed!

        “Open your eyes and look at me Hop Along,” Rowena said gently.  Hop Along shook violently, weeping into the grass.

      “Hop Along,” Rowena said again, “open your eyes and look at me.”  Hop Along turned a devastated expression on the young lioness.

        “I wanted to kill you,” he said softly, almost disbelievingly.

       “You didn’t,” Rowena said, “but we won’t talk of this now.”

       “Where did my paw land?”  Hop Along asked.

        “In mine, where you wanted,” Rowena said softly, “I think you want to talk,” Rowena mewed, “just you and me each with a huge cup of tea.  How does that sound?”

        “But, but, it’s not, not a story for cubs!”  Hop Along sniffed, “I can’t, I can’t!”

       “I know your tale Hop Along,” Rowena mewed softly, “that is why you didn’t kill me, because you couldn’t.  Why you can’t kill me I will leave to others to articulate, for it would not be right for me to do so.  One other knows your story, and she will not tell.  Now hop along, let’s go on from here.  I think a cup of tea is in order don’t you?”  Rowena kissed the weeping tiger on his nose.

        “Come,” she said, “let’s bathe, eat and drink, then we can talk a bit if you wish.”  Petra levered her weight off Simba, the white lion struggling to his paws.

        “I don’t understand this!”  Simba growled.

        “I might tell you some day,” Rowena mewed.  Simba turned tail and walked away, for there was nothing else he felt he could do.

 

Rowena looked at Hop Along.

     “Shall we go?”  She asked.  Hop Along followed Rowena to the house, where fleur, kept abreast of events by the camera team, had a steaming bath waiting for them.

      “Get in, and don’t worry about a thing,” Fleur mewed, “Rowena will take good care of you, as you will of her I’m sure.”  Fleur liked to leave bathing to others in these situations.  Nodding towards the array of potions for everything from cleaning teeth to shampooing fur and oiling paw pads, fleur left the room.  Rowena led Hop Along into the water, and soon the tiger was stretched out full length while Rowena, her stature tiny against his huge form, rubbed him down with shampoo and oils, embarrassing the huge tiger.

       “This feels strange,” he mewed.

       “I can stop if you’d like,” Rowena said.

      “It’s nice,” Hop Along elaborated, “but being bathed by a cub, that’s not usual.”

        “A cub?”  Rowena said scornfully, “what impertinence!  I’m no cub!”

      “You’re only six months old,” Hop along mewed, “I’m years older than you.”

       “Doesn’t matter,” Rowena said, rubbing shampoo into his fur with gentle care, “I chose to do this.”  Hop Along had to concede that much.  Once the huge tiger was bathed and massaged from his nose to his tail, Rowena even massaging his injured hind paw using a method fleur had taught her, which Hop Along wasn’t surprised the lioness knew, it was the tiger’s turn to wash the white cub.  Hop along looked Rowena over, from her nose to her paw pads, thinking how much smaller than him she was.

        “Don’t worry about that,” Rowena said.  Hop along stared at her.

      “How did you know I was,” he started to ask, but then remembered how she’d divined his tale.  This silenced him.

       “Bathe me, then we’ll eat, then we’ll take things from there,” Rowena said.  Hop along got on with his work.

 

Once they were bathed and fed, Rowena looked at Hop along and said:

     “Right, you choose the place where we talk, where you feel most comfortable.”  Hop along thought for a bit.

       “The place where I feel most at peace is in the wood,” he said, “there’s a clearing in which I sometimes rest for a while.  I can think there, it’s secluded, peaceful.”  Rowena let the tiger take her paw and lead her into the wood.  The dawn was coming in now, and the dew was on the grass.  Their paws, dry when they left the house, were soon wet from the moisture.  Hop along took Rowena to the clearing and lay down on the damp ground.  Rowena stood a little way off.

      “Where do you want me?”  She asked.  Hop along Stared at her.

      “What do you mean?”  He asked.

       “Exactly what I said,” Rowena mewed, “where do you want me to stand, or lay, whichever is most comfortable for you.”  Hop Along found this attention to detail absurd.

      “Please come close and lie down beside me,” he said, “and Rowena, please, would you hold my left forepaw in both of yours?”  Rowena nodded.  Once they were both settled, hop along looked at Rowena cuddled close to him.

      “If you scent Simba or anyone else, tell me,” Hop along said, “I don’t want them to hear my tale, not yet.”  Rowena rubbed Hop Along’s left forepaw with both of hers, the tiger curling round her.

      “Now are you comfortable Rowena?”  Hop along asked.  Rowena said she was.

       “I don’t know where this place was,” Hop along began, “my former home was a dreadful place, a place with lots of cages, where all kind of animals stood in cramped conditions.  I couldn’t lie down; all I could do was raise the heel of each paw one at a time and attempt to flex my toes to ease the muscles in my legs.  I couldn’t even turn around properly, let alone lie down.  I became stressed, and began biting at my cage, and even at my own paws which I could get to by wriggling and twisting until I lay on my back.  I could get my teeth to my forepaws and I bit the claws and toes of my forepaws from boredom and stress.  Of course, when I was lying on my back, I couldn’t get up without quite literally climbing the bars of the cage to lever myself back onto my paws again.  I spent hours, even days either standing still or lying on my back, trying to wave my paws in the air or press my pads hard against the roof of my cage in an attempt to stimulate my mind.  I wanted someone to touch my paws, to play with me.  The time there is a blur now, but it’s a lonely time, a dreadful time.  I never want to go back there.  One day, I was thrashing about in an attempt to alleviate my boredom when my cage fell off the stack with me inside it.  It crashed to the floor four feet below.  I broke my right hind leg then, and it never got mended properly.  That’s what caused my pain which fleur cured.  The hobbling walk I had to adopt to keep most of my weight off that paw gave me my name.  I have been known as Hop along ever since.”

       “But you don’t Hop any more,” Rowena said, “I’ve been watching how you move on that hind paw.  Yes there’s a little stiffness there, but you’re fine.  The toes of that paw don’t touch the ground like they should, so you have to get your nails clipped every now and then, but its okay in other respects.”

      “I think me not putting my toes to the ground is a throw back from when I couldn’t without pain,”  Hop along mewed, “you see me doing that again, you tell me to put my toes to the ground Rowena.”

     “Let’s try it now,” Rowena said.  Hop along got to his paws and Rowena went to each paw in turn, examining the way each was placed.  She noticed the toes of Hop along’s right hind paw were held slightly off the ground, but she’d seen he could flex that paw quite well.

      “Put those toes on the ground,” Rowena said gently, using her own toes to gently reposition the tiger’s larger ones.  Hop along raised the offending paw and curled his toes round Rowena’s as hers slipped off his.  He held the toes of her right forepaw in his right hind, squeezing them tenderly.  Rowena blew on the pads on the sole of the tiger’s raised paw, Hop along laughing helplessly.

      “This is fun!”  He whooped.

      “Cubbish paw play?”  Rowena asked.  Hop along released her paw and turned suddenly.

       “Let’s do that,” he said, “I’ve never played with my paws, or had another cub play with my paws, or even played with another cub’s paws like this before, and I’m quite looking forward to it.”  Rowena smiled:

       “Let’s touch each other’s pads and toes,” she replied, “then let’s massage paw pads.”  Hop along’s eyes shone with delight.  Then he did a very strange thing for a tiger of his age, he rolled onto his back and waved his paws in the air!

     “Go on Hop along!”  Rowena urged, “Put passion into it!”  Hop along did, feeling air tickling his pads and toes as he pedalled hard with all four of his huge paws.  Hop along tried waving his paws with relaxed, stretched and curled toes, feeling the affect produced.  Rowena watched Hop along’s paws, then his face to see what he thought of things.  As well as concentration, there was pleasure in the tiger’s expression.

       “I love this, I love this so much!”  Hop along mewed, “you have a go Rowena.”

       “I will,” Rowena said, rolling onto her back and waving her own paws in the air just like the huge tiger.  Suddenly Rowena leapt to her paws and grabbed one of Hop along’s hind paws in hers, stopping his energetic display.  The white cub began tickling Hop along’s pads and toes, the tiger laughing and wriggling with delight and cubbish enjoyment.

      “Tickle the other three, please!”  Hop along urged.  Rowena did, the tiger gladly giving her all four paws five times over until he was forced to stop.  Then Rowena stroked life back into Hop along’s pads and toes, the tiger mewing and purring with pleasure.

       “Now would you do the same for me?  Tickle my paws and then stroke them?”  Rowena asked.  Hop Along said he would, and soon, he fitted deeds to the words.  Rowena loved every minute.

       “We should do this more often,” Hop along said when they were curled up together after their play.

         “I think so,” Rowena replied.

 

Petra watched the goings on in the clearing.  She knew Hop along’s story, so had banned Simba from following her into the wood.  If Hop along wanted to make his tale public, he could do so.  Petra had read his tale in his thoughts and nightmares.  Comforting him when he was disturbed by them but would not articulate his dreams.  Petra, like Rowena, had seen into Hop Along’s dreams, and knew his story.  Petra’s oath of silence was self imposed.  The play between the tiger and the white cub made Petra smile.  She wanted to join them, but didn’t know how she could without arousing suspicion.  Her quandary was solved when Rowena and Hop along unearthed her hiding place.

       “Ah Petra dear,” Hop along said, “How good to see you.”  Petra smiled and embraced Hop along with her huge paws, something the tiger evidently enjoyed.

      “Do I get a hug too?”  Rowena asked.  Petra broke off hugging Hop along and embraced Rowena fiercely, Rowena cuddling hard into the lioness’s hug.  Simba padded towards them, assessed the situation, then went to hop along and hugged him.

        “I’m sorry about earlier,” Simba mewed, “mum put me straight about a few things, and told me not to ask questions.  I won’t ask anything.”

      “You should have seen those two earlier,” Petra mewed, “waving their paws in the air, tickling and massaging each other’s paws!  Funny play that.”  Simba grinned.

 

Rowena slipped her left forepaw into Hop Along’s right, the huge tiger’s toes curling round her own, holding them tenderly.  Hop Along looked into Rowena’s eyes.

       “I’m at peace now, thanks to you,” his eyes said.  For Answer Rowena kissed his nose, the tiger’s eyes filled with tears.  Releasing her paw, Hop Along lay down and embraced Rowena tightly.

       “I love you Rowena!”  Hop along mewed.  The white cub took his left forepaw in both of hers and began to stroke his pads and toes, Hop along crying openly into her fur.

       “Hop Along’s letting his paws be his guide,” Simba said to Petra, who smiled at her Son cub.

      “I think he is,” she mewed.  Petra padded up to Simba and embraced him, mum and cub lying down together, Petra embracing Simba in a hug the like he’d not known since he was a cub.  Simba felt warmth spreading from his nose to his toes as Petra hugged him tightly, then began to stroke his nose, then ears, then his paws.  Simba began to purr contentedly, working his paws into Petra’s at every chance he had.

 

Rowena and Hop along lay on their backs, waving their paws in the air, just enjoying the sensation of the wind against their pads.  Careful to make sure blew directly onto the pads on the soles of their paws.  Hop Along spread the toes of both hind paws, pedalling furiously with his hind legs, to Rowena’s great amusement.

      “You look so funny!”  Rowena laughed.

       “Do I?  Oh dear,” Hop along said, stopping pedalling the air.

       “No, it’s fine,” Rowena said, pedalling the air with her hind paws much as Hop along had, the tiger laughing at how she looked.  Hop along wriggled and thrashed about with all four paws like an over excited cub, which Rowena found hilarious.

       “You silly thing,” she said, catching one of his forepaws in hers, “now, try curling your toes really hard Hop along.  Retract those claws before you try it though.”  Hop along tried curling the toes of all four paws as hard as he could, Rowena touching the bunched pads of all four paws with her left forepaw.  Hop along breathed deeply, focusing on the toes of all four paws, trying to curl them that extra millimetre.

     “This is what I couldn’t do in the cage,” he said, “I couldn’t lift my hind paws clear of the floor of the cage.  I wanted so much to curl and flex my toes, but I couldn’t.”

      “Now stretch your toes, reach for the clouds with those toes Hop along!”  Rowena urged.  Hop along did as she asked, stretching the toes of all four paws, but remembering to keep his claws retracted, as to extend them would be cheating.  Rowena felt his paws, the pads now taught and hard where they’d been bunched into soft furrows before.  Rowena tickled the toes of Hop Along’s left hind paw, the tiger curling the toes of that paw and catching her toes in his.

        “I love this paw play,” he mewed.

      “So do I,” Rowena replied.  Once Rowena had seen what Hop along’s toes could do, she lay down and attempted to copy him, curling her toes hard so that her pads bunched, and then stretching them to the clouds.  Hop along explored her paws with his as they flexed, Rowena pressing her pads hard into his, her toes scratching his as they curled and uncurled.

         “Your paws are a lot smaller than mine,” Hop along mewed, tracing the young lioness’s pads with the toes of his huge left forepaw, to Rowena’s delight.

      “I know, I know!”  She laughed.  Rowena withdrew her paw from Hop along’s and got to her paws.

       “Walking on my paws is boring after that,” she mewed.

       “I know,” Hop along replied with feeling.

      “You two are so good together,” Simba said to Rowena and Hop along.  The lioness and huge Bengal tiger grinned at each other.

       “I think I know your cub,” Rowena mewed to Hop Along, “her name is Pakshalika isn’t it?”  Hop along confirmed that it was.

   “She loves paw play, so I thought you might,” Rowena admitted.  Hop along smiled:

       “Tinka and I were very paws on with Pakshalika,” he said, “indeed, the first thing she did when born was work her body through Tinka’s paws so she got a good idea of how she was from nose to paw pads.”

        “How could any cub do that?”  Simba asked.

       “Like this,” Rowena said, “lie down Simba, and I’ll show you.  I think I’m just about small enough to do this properly.”  Simba lay down and Rowena wormed her way between his forepaws, making sure his pads touched as much of her as they could.  Simba felt Rowena’s nose, her whiskers, her ears, her neck, body, forelegs, forepaws, belly, hind legs and hind paws, ending with her tail.  Simba was astonished at how lithe the cub was.

       “Pakshalika did all that?”  He asked.

      “Several times over,” Hop along confirmed, “Especially when she realised how good having her paws touched was.”  Rowena grinned.

      “I know that pleasure too,” she mewed, “Simba and Petra showed me that.”

        “A certain white lioness showed me how my paws could give me pleasure,” Hop along said, looking at Rowena.  Rowena smiled broadly.

       “I wish I’d given birth to Simba,” Petra said suddenly.

       “I wish you’d given birth to me too,” Simba replied, “then my early life would have been happy.”

        “I dream from time to time about giving birth to a white cub, but that’s all it gets to,” Petra mewed.  Petra described one of those dreams to Simba once, and it was vivid and memorable.

       “How are you and Ginger Getting on?”  Rowena asked Petra.

       “Very well thanks,” Petra mewed.  Simba’s paws still felt Rowena’s presence.  Her re-enactment of how a cub would show someone else what they felt like was playing on his mind.  She’d enjoyed her role.  Simba closed his eyes, imagining being a cub again, doing for Petra what Rowena had just done for him.  He imagined having tiny paws, maybe even still covered in fluid from the birth.  Petra exhausted but happy after a textbook birth, combining his imagination with what he knew of how Petra’s paws felt when they’d worked over his body as an older cub.  Simba shook himself out of his thoughts.  He wasn’t born by Petra, no matter how he or she wished it had been so.  Simba wanted his mum to massage his paws like she’d done in the wood the first day he went on patrol as a cub.  Petra sensed his mood and lay down beside him.

      “Which paw first Simba Kizungu?”  Petra asked.  Simba gave her his right fore, feeling her familiar loving touch on his paw pads and toes, the sensation taking him straight back to that wonderful time in the wood so long ago.  Petra massaged Simba’s forepaws, then his hind, the lion purring and mewing, while wiggling, curling and stretching his toes as Petra’s own toes worked on his pads and toes.

       “Just using our paws for walking is boring and I think paw play should be encouraged among all ages,” Simba mewed, “I love this, it tells me what my paws can do for me if stroked properly!”  Rowena looked at Hop along.

       “Do your paws want more stimulation?”  She asked.

      “I think so,” Hop along mewed, bouncing on his toes.

      “Hey!”  Someone yelled, “Can we join the fun?”  Tinka and Pakshalika padded through the trees to join the group.  Tinka smiled at Rowena, obviously having seen her and Hop along’s antics earlier.

       “Waving your paws in the air is a wonderful thing,” she mewed to Hop along, who grinned at her.

       “I stretched my toes towards the sun too,” Hop along mewed, “I didn’t cheat and use my claws either.”  Pakshalika smiled at her parents.

       “I remember right back to the first time I had my paws stroked by another animal,” she said, “it was just after my birth, and I thought mum couldn’t see me, so I worked my way between her forepaws, making sure she touched every part of me.”  Rowena smiled:

       “I tried describing that to Simba and he didn’t get it, so I showed him how you did it,” she replied.  Pakshalika smiled:

       “I had tiny paws then,” she said, “now look at them!  Great big spades!”  She held up a forepaw for examination, it was large with rather flat stubby toes, whereas Hop along’s paw was more rounded with longer, more elegant toes.  Tinka grabbed Pakshalika’s paw and examined it anxiously.

      “Your paw is more like mine than Hop Along’s,” she said.  Pakshalika tried to get her mother to rub her pads, but Tinka wouldn’t.

       “I’m going to talk with Hop along,” Tinka mewed.  Pakshalika looked desperately at Rowena.

        “Would you play with me?”  Her eyes asked.

       “I will,” Rowena mewed, sidling up and taking the tigress’s paw in hers, “let’s see what we’re playing with first shall we?”  Pakshalika smiled:

        “I’m bored with just using my paws for walking,” she mewed, “I want something more out of them!”  Rowena examined Pakshalika’s paws carefully.  It didn’t even cross her mind that in the wild she’d be fearing tigers and keeping out of their way rather than playing with one’s paws.  Pakshalika focused her senses on the paw Rowena was exploring.  The cub parted fur between pads, counted toes, examined fur and claws and ran her paws all over the sole of Pakshalika’s fat wide left forepaw.  Pakshalika closed her eyes, trying to forget sight, to concentrate on touch, everything through her paws, no sight, just touch.  Rowena’s fur had a fresh smell to it, as if she’d recently bathed.  This mixed with the smell and taste of bonfire smoke soothed Pakshalika, even before she considered what her paw was telling her.  Pakshalika felt Rowena’s toes, her claws sheathed, working over and between her own paw pads and toes.

       “Is there anything you don’t like?”  Rowena asked Pakshalika.

       “No,” she replied, “just do your best.”  Rowena started stroking the pads on the sole of Pakshalika’s left forepaw, ignoring her toes for the moment.  First Rowena stroked the two pads on the ball of her paw, then the larger single heel pad.  Pakshalika breathed deeply, her eyes tight shut.

        “I love this,” Pakshalika mewed, “I’m glad I’ve got four paws you know Rowena.”  Rowena stopped stroking the paw she held.

      “Who said I would stroke all four?”  She asked.  Pakshalika whimpered pitifully:

      “But, but that’s not fair!”   Rowena kissed her nose, Pakshalika realising the cub was playing with her.

       “I will stroke your paws Pakshalika,” Rowena mewed, turning the paw she was working on over and kissing the pads.  Pakshalika smiled as she felt the cub’s whiskers tickling the pads of her paw.  Rowena then turned her attention to Pakshalika’s toes, tickling them until the tigress was laughing helplessly.

       “You rogue!”  Pakshalika whooped, writhing and twisting.  Rowena stopped tickling Pakshalika’s toes.

      “You’re a silly thing,” Pakshalika laughed, kissing Rowena’s nose.  Rowena hugged Pakshalika, the tigress snuggling up tightly to the lion cub.

       “You really love playing with the paws of other animals don’t you,” Pakshalika said.  This was a statement, not a question.

      “I do,” Rowena mewed, “and I like others playing with my paws too.”  Pakshalika smiled.

       “Love your paws,” she urged.

      “I do,” Rowena replied.  Pakshalika let Rowena touch all four of her paws, loving every second.

 

Meanwhile, hop along and Tinka were playing much the same game, as were Simba and Petra.

      “We all love our paws!”  The big cats whooped in unison, before falling about laughing helplessly, waving their paws in the air.

“We enjoy playing with our paws,” Petra mewed.  The big cats made their way back to the house, determined to carry on their play until they and their paws were exhausted.  The group returned to the house laughing merrily and chatting animatedly about their games.

 

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