Cementing relationships.

 

 

Hop along lay down on the carpet in his sheltered corner of the living room, fleur settling down beside him.  Hop along was one massive tiger, his tail on it’s own being two feet long.  Fleur looked into the tiger’s rather gentle brown eyes, and could not imagine them with a murderous expression, but they’d had one for a few terrifying minutes.  Hop along looked fleur over, from her nose, to the toes of all four muddy brown black spotted paws.

      “I love you Fleur,”  Hop along mewed.  Fleur touched his huge left forepaw with hers.

      “I love you Hop along,”  she replied.

      “Who are you talking to Hop along?”  Tinka asked.  Hop along realised Tinka had never seen Fleur, as the large cross bred cub was usually upstairs in the cubbing den.

      “Oh, Tinka,”  Hop along replied, “I’m talking to Fleur, she’s Tigger and Perdy’s cub.”  Tinka leapt down from the easy chair on which she slept and stared at Fleur.

      “This, this is, um, Tigger and Perdy’s cub?”  she asked.

      “Yes, my name is Fleur, and yes I am Tigger and Perdy’s cub,”  Fleur replied.  Tinka stared at her as if surprised she could talk.

       “Right,”  the tigress replied, “but, aren’t you, um, a, a little large?  For a cub I mean?”

      “I was born large,”  fleur replied, now recognising the pattern and keen to put a swift end to it, “I have dirty brown fur, black spotted paws, and a banded tail, so you need not tell me that.”  Tinka snorted with disgust.

      “Impudent little cub isn’t she?”  She remarked to Hop along, who was quick to defend fleur.

      “She’s so used to being seen as a dirty cub by so many,”  he said, “she’s defending herself.”

      “You don’t know how I am going to react to your markings fleur, so you can’t just assume what I think!”  Tinka spat.

       “Look, Tinka, I’m sorry,”  Fleur said, “I’m, so, so used to others looking at me and writing me off that I thought you’d do the same.”

     “Did Hop along write you off, as you put it?  It doesn’t look like he did,”  Tinka said.

      “Well, Tinka, I must admit that I did, at first,”  Hop along admitted.  He briefly told the story of his and Fleur’s first meeting.

      “I would have flogged her for stroking my paws without my permission,”  Tinka said.

      “I nearly killed her though Tinka,”  Hop along mewed.

      “Yes,”  Tinka said heavily, “You made that one quite clear.  All because you didn’t like the look of her?”

      “Well, yes, at first,”  Hop along admitted, “but, but then something happened that made it all change.”  Hop along told Tinka the rest of his tale, the tigress’s eyes growing wider by the minute.

      “So you quite literally stroked your way out of danger,”  Tinka said to Fleur.

       “I suppose I did,”  she replied.

      “Now,”  Tinka said, “Fleur, please, let me look at you.  Will you show me your paws? Your tail?”  Fleur, eager for a rub down, rolled onto her back and waved her large fat spotted paws in the air.  Tinka laughed merrily, caught hold of one of Fleur’s forepaws and tickled it.  Fleur mewed and wriggled, her eyes showing how much she was enjoying Tinka’s attention.  Tinka’s paws were large, and she managed to tickle all four of Fleur’s paws, and if she was not tickling her paws, she was tickling the cub’s belly, much to Fleur’s amusement.  Fleur wriggled and mewed, partly from the affects of Tinka’s tickling paws, and partly urging Tinka to carry on tickling her.  Tinka Tickled all over Fleur’s paws, singling out her pads and toes for special attention.  Fleur curled her toes round Tinka’s, holding the tigress’s toes in hers.

      “You are a little Tinka aren’t you,”  fleur laughed.  Tinka grinned and made a play of struggling to free her forepaws.

      “Quick, Hop along, get hold of Tinka’s hind paws, and let’s give her as good as she gave me!”  Fleur panted.  Tinka mewed, Fleur released her paws, and she rolled over, letting Fleur Stroke and tickle her paws.  Tinka, after mewing and wriggling  like Fleur had while the cub tickled her, put an end to Fleur’s tickling of her paws in the same way the cub had when Tinka had tickled hers, by curling her toes round Fleur’s.  fleur took the hint, and began to stroke Tinka’s pads.  Tinka wiggled her toes, inviting Fleur to envelope them in her huge paws, which the cub did.  Tinka pressed her pads against Fleur’s, enjoying the feel of the cub’s thick fur on the soles of her paws.  Fleur showed Tinka what she’d shown Hop along in the pool.  Tinka sighed with pleasure, making the same sound as snowy and Hop along made when feeling immense pleasure, a sort of whistling grunting growl.  Closing her eyes, Tinka breathed deeply, concentrating on what her paws were telling her.

     “This is wonderful, wonderful!”  Tinka mewed, gently curling her toes round Fleur’s, feeling the cub’s warm pads against her own.  Tinka released Fleur’s forepaws, taking the cub in her own forepaws.

      “Hug me Tinka, please,”  Fleur pleaded.  Tinka embraced the cub in her huge warm paws.

      “How’s this?”  Tinka purred.  fleur nuzzled the tigress’s ear.

     “That’s lovely, lovely!”  Fleur mewed, working her forepaws into Tinka’s fur.  Tinka nuzzled Fleur’s whiskers, the cub licking her nose.  Tinka licked Fleur’s nose, planting a tigress’s kiss on it.  Fleur felt tears pricking the backs of her eyes.

      “Let me curl round you fleur, please,”  Tinka purred.  fleur buried her face in Tinka’s fur.

      “I don’t mind,”  Fleur whispered, “just, just hold me, please!”  Tinka worked the toes of her forepaws into Fleur’s fur, massaging the cub as gently as she could.

 

Hop along watched this, wishing Tinka would be as affectionate towards him as she was towards fleur.  Tinka looked at Hop along, seeing the expression in his eyes.

      “Hop along,”  Tinka said, “I, I love Fleur very much.”  Hop along smiled:

      “So do I,”  he replied.

      “We need to talk,”  Tinka mewed, “Hop along, I’m, I’m sorry for excluding you from the birth of our cubs.  Maybe, maybe we could try again, please?”  Hop along still loved Tinka, despite everything that had gone before.

      “Tinka,”  Hop along said, “I, I have been hurt by you not letting me help you bring up our cubs.  I can understand you not wanting me at their birth, but afterwards,,,”

      “No Hop along, I was wrong,”  Tinka mewed, “Pippa’s birth was painful and difficult, and I wished you were there.  I cursed myself for telling you to leave.  Maybe, maybe we can get together, I’ll admit I’ve been a stupid and thoughtless tigress.  I’ve been so silly over our cubs, and it’s nearly torn you apart!”  Hop along looked into Tinka’s face.

     “It has nearly done that Tinka,”  he replied.  Tinka gently released Fleur and padded across to Hop along, giving him her paw.  Hop along held Tinka’s paw in his, feeling her well padded paw soft and warm in his larger war worn one.

      “Can we make a new start Hop along?”  Tinka asked.  Hop along enveloped Tinka in his huge forepaws and kissed her on her nose.  Tinka’s eyes filled with tears as his whiskers brushed hers.

      “Thank you Hop along, thank you!”  she wept.  Fleur watched this, smiling to herself.

      “I’d like to see them have a cub of their own,”  she thought, “that would be lovely to see.”

 

Tinka massaged Hop along’s paws, something which the large male Bengal tiger seemed very comfortable with.  Tinka looked at Fleur, still lying beside Hop along.  Tinka found she was beginning to feel something for the cub with the muddy brown fur.  The soles of Tinka’s paws still tingled from when fleur had tickled them, and she kind of liked that feeling.  Later she’d describe that feeling as “Fleur’s magic,.”  While she was thinking about Fleur, Tinka felt the toes of a well padded paw touch one of her hind paws.  Tinka found her toes curling to envelope the toes of the paw that had touched hers.  Looking down, Tinka found she’d caught the toes of Fleur’s left forepaw in those of her own left hind paw.  Seeing her looking at her, Fleur smiled and tried to wiggle her toes, still held in Tinka’s.  Tinka felt the cub’s soft, warm pads against her own, and knew she loved Fleur with everything she had.

      “Let’s all stroke each other’s paws,”  Fleur suggested.  Hop along smiled at her.

       “I’ve been looking forward to stroking your paws Fleur,”  he said.  Fleur theatrically tugged at her paw, the toes of which were still held in Tinka’s.  Tinka smiled and released Fleur’s paw, the cub crawling to Hop along, the huge Bengal tiger hugging her in both forepaws.

 

Hop along’s and Fleur’s combined purring nearly rattled the windows.

 

“Can we go to the pool fleur?”  Tinka asked.  Fleur raised her head, which she’d been resting on Hop along’s shoulder, as he had curled round her.

     “We can,”  she purred, “at least I think we can, I’ll have to get permission from Theo, as I don’t know if I’ve got the job or not.”  Hearing the scuff of paws, Hop along raised his head, looking towards the door into the hallway.  Theo crawled into the room.  Fleur crawled over to the young lion and embraced him with her paws.  Theo purred with contentment as he felt the cub’s warm paws hugging him and  set to licking Fleur’s ear and nuzzling her whiskers.

      “You have a job in the pool,”  Theo mewed, “Fleur, you are warden of the water now.”  Fleur buried her head in Theo’s shoulder, breathing in his scent, and admitted to herself she was closer to this lion and his mate than she was to either of her natural parents.

     “Let’s go to the pool then,”  Fleur mewed.

 

Fleur got to her paws, the sensation of standing on her pads strange after a few days of crawling about.

      “it’s not easy for others to touch my paws now,”  she mewed, unsure if walking on her paws was preferable to crawling.  Fleur knew now that she was committed to using her paws for more than just walking.  She wanted to touch everything with both her fore and hind paws, exploring things with her pads and toes, touching the world with her paws and whiskers, letting the world touch her paws.

 

Fleur, Theo, Elsa, Hop along and Tinka made their way to the pool complex.

 

Reaching it, they found Tigger already there, staring sightlessly into the large pool.

      “I know I’ve been sacked Theo,”  Tigger said straight out, “but isn’t there anything I can do?  I understand why I’m not attending cubbings and foalings any more, but the other stuff, the baths and massage, is there anything I can do to remedy the harm I’ve done?”  Theo looked at Tigger.

      “You can do something,”  he said, “work with Fleur.  She’s in charge of you, but you can work with her, for it is she who has the touch to heal and soothe.”  Hop along smiled at Theo’s words:

      “Since she touched the pads of my injured paw, I haven’t had a twinge from that leg, and that’s over twelve hours now,”  he said, “I haven’t felt so good in ages!”  Fleur smiled and lovingly touched Hop along’s paw, bringing tears to the Bengal tiger’s eyes.  Hop along wiped his eyes with a huge forepaw, unashamed at showing his feelings.

      “Fleur’s a wonderful cub,”  Tigger said, smiling with pleasure.  Hop along reached out and took Fleur’s paw in his.  Fleur purred as she felt Hop along’s paw enfold her own.  This sound made Hop along gulp hard, tears rolling down his nose.

      “I love you little cub,”  the tiger choked.  Tinka looked at Fleur, her feelings towards her similar to hop along’s.

     “Let’s go to the slide,”  she said, “all of us, including Tigger.”

 

The animals padded towards the slide, heading for the slope leading up to the top of the slide.  Elsa twitched an ear.

     “I think we’ve got company,”  she mewed.  Suddenly Bianca crawled through the house door, and made her way as quickly as she could, digging her toes into the floor and crawling for all she was worth.

     “Ah Bianca!”  Fleur mewed, running to the little cub and clasping her with both paws.  Bianca’s purr could be heard from ten feet away.

      “I’ve been looking for you Fleur,”  Bianca purred, “mum said I could go with you to the pool!  She’s letting me stay with you, and she’s not coming with me, she’s letting me have some freedom!”  fleur purred and hugged the tiger cub.

      “Let’s enjoy that freedom then,”  she said, taking Bianca’s paw and guiding her towards the other animals.  Hop along watched them coming, and on an impulse, hugged fleur as soon as she let go of Bianca’s paw.  Tigger, realising what was going on, growled at Hop along and swiped at him with his paw.

     “That’s unfair Tigger!”  Bianca mewed.

     “Mind your own dam business!”  Tigger snapped, “and as for you Hop along, get your filthy, scuffed, horrid paws off my cub!”  Tinka snarled at Tigger, and shoved him into the pool!  Tigger screamed as he fell into the water!

      “You do not swipe at Hop along!”  Tinka yelled, leaping into the water and ducking Tigger!  Tigger coughed and spluttered as Tinka’s attack hit its mark!

     “You horrid bitch!”  Tigger mewed, “get your paws off me! Leave me alone!”  Tinka snarled and growled, slapping and clawing at Tigger’s fur.

     “Leave, my, mate, alone!”  Tinka yelled, punctuating her words with slaps from her forepaws.  Tigger began to cry.

     “Fleur’s my cub, she’s my cub!”  he sobbed, “You can’t steal her!”

      “Fleur’s a lost cub!”  Tinka mewed, “she has been given love by many animals, lions, tigers and polar bears.  She’s everyone’s cub, not just yours!”  Tigger yowled with pain:

      “She’s my cub, because, because it was Perdy and I who made her!”  He yelled, “I was there when she was born, Hop along wasn’t, and neither were you Tinka!”

      “Anyone can give birth to a cub Tigger,”  Tinka mewed, “the trick is to know how to look after that cub once it’s born.”

       “I want to look after my cub!”  Tigger mewed, “but, but, Elsa and Theo have taken over her care, and now I’m out of a job, so what do I have left!”

     “fleur might have been looked after by many animals,”  Tinka replied, “but she’s still your cub Tigger.  You just need to learn that others can love her with as much passion as you or Perdy could.  Fleur’s giving Hop along and myself a reason to carry on!  I know We’re trying for a cub, but if it doesn’t happen, and even if it does, we have Fleur, she has us, and we’re together!  Now you would do well to keep your bloody paws to yourself!”  Tigger mewed and swam away, Tinka letting him go.  Tigger scrambled from the water, Tinka following.

      “Fleur’s my cub!”  Tigger sobbed, “noone else’s cub!”

      “You don’t own me Tigger,”  Fleur mewed, “you might be part of me, but I don’t really know you.  I would like to get to know you, but all I see is a bad tempered animal!  I know you held me in your paws when I was very young, but then you left my care to others.”

     “I was busy!”  Tigger mewed.

      “So you think you can care for fleur when you have the time to do so do you?”  Hop along spat, “that’s horrible Tigger!”

      “I didn’t mean that!”  Tigger mewed, “Look, all of you, “I was caught up in my work, so Theo and Elsa took Fleur on, as did snowy.  She’s made her own friends, her own connections, and brought people together.

      “Fleur hasn’t managed to do it for her parents though has she,”  Bianca mewed, “I know she hasn’t, I heard Perdy talking to Matilda.”  Tigger nearly walloped Bianca!

      “You horrid, thoughtless scrap!”  Tigger yelled, “you don’t talk about our problems in public, no matter what you hear!”

       “It doesn’t matter,”  Bianca mewed, “Perdy’s been telling everyone she hates you Tigger.  She hates you because you lied to her, you said you know about cubbing when you knew absolutely nothing!”  Tigger began to growl with anger, but Bianca ploughed on.  “You endangered her life, so she’s not going to like you much is she!”  Tigger screamed at Bianca!

     “You horrid cub!  You bloody sod!  You disgusting animal!  I hate you, I hate you! I hate you!”

   Then he ran at Bianca!  Bianca saw the enraged tiger coming towards her, turned and fled!

      “Run Bianca, run!” Fleur yelled.  Bianca crawled as quickly as her legs would carry her, and Fleur realised the cub could not hope to outrun the tiger.  Sprinting to get alongside Tigger, fleur crashed into the Bengal tiger, making him swerve towards the pool.  Fleur pressed Tigger hard, turning him towards the pool, then, when his nose was pointing more or less towards the pool, Fleur suddenly ran beneath Tigger’s belly and bucked, thrusting up into Tigger’s belly with her hind quarters!  Tigger grunted with pain, swore, then tried to kick fleur.  Fleur, now dragged sideways, butted Tigger’s stomach with her head, again and again, trying to slow the tiger.  Suddenly she felt Tigger’s left forepaw strike out into nothing!  Guessing what had happened, Fleur braced her forepaws, lowered her head, and thrust upwards with her hind quarters, springing off the toes of her hind paws with all her strength!  Tigger screamed!  Then, very slowly, his paws scrabbling for purchase, Tigger tried to fight back, one paw in mid air, the other three now fighting to hold his weight and fight Fleur!  Fleur suddenly felt Tigger lifted and thrown off her!  She heard him land in the water with a crashing splash!

      “Sod this!”  Tinka mewed, “Tigger’s heavy!”  Tigger, stunned, floundered in the water, not fully realising what had happened.

      “Thanks Tinka,”  Fleur mewed, “I was nearly done for!”

     “You go and find Bianca,”  Tinka said to Fleur, “I’ll deal with Tigger.

      “Fleur found Bianca cowering in the bottom of the closed tube slide.

      “Bianca?”  Fleur asked gently.  There was a mewing sob of:

     “yes,”  from the bottom of the slide.  Fleur got into the bottom of the slide with Bianca, guiding the tiny cub out onto dry tiles.  The cub was weeping uncontrollably.

      “I know I shouldn’t have said what I did,”  Bianca sobbed, “I realise now Tigger didn’t know Perdy had been saying these things.  I don’t know if it would have come out in the end, but I’m sorry!”

       “You shouldn’t repeat what you overhear,”  Fleur mewed, “it’s not good to do that.”

     “I know that now,”  Bianca sniffed, “I’m really sorry Fleur!”  Fleur showed Bianca the claws of one huge forepaw.

      “Your claws are scuffed!”  Bianca mewed.

      “I did that while fighting Tigger,”  Fleur mewed, “it became rather desperate.”  Bianca didn’t understand.

      “Why did he scuff your claws?”  She asked.  Tinka padded up to Fleur and touched her paw.

      “I think I can explain,”  she mewed.

     “Are we safe?”  Fleur asked.

      “Tigger’s angry, but securely contained,”  Tinka mewed.

       “I know I shouldn’t have told Tigger what I told him,”  Bianca mewed.

      “No,”  Tinka replied, “but we learn Bianca dear, and you won’t forget that lesson will you?”  Bianca shook her head.

       “I’ve angered Tigger though Tinka!”  the cub mewed.

       “I know,”  Tinka replied, “but he’ll calm down soon, for he knows he shouldn’t have left Perdy to fight to deliver her cub, he should have gone for help.”  Tigger suddenly padded up to Tinka, he looked dreadful!

       “Theo told me my fortune!”  the Bengal tiger whimpered, “I, I’m, I’m finished, if, if I don’t, don’t make amends with Bianca, for, for what she says, it’s all true!  Perdy hates me, and I can’t blame her for it either!  I’m busted, finished!”

      “Not if you open your mind Tigger,”  Fleur replied, “open your mind, stretch out your paw, touch your cub.”  Tigger touched Fleur’s paw, and the feel of the cub’s fur beneath his pads moved him to tears.

      “I’ve been so stupid!”  Tigger wept, “I’ve been too quick to judge, too fast to lose my temper!  I’m sorry, so sorry, Fleur, Tinka, Bianca, Hop along!”  Hop along touched Tigger’s paw, having arrived shortly after Tinka.

      “You need to learn how to play with your cub,”  he mewed, “Tinka and I have done so.  We’ve stroked her paws, and she’s stroked ours.”  Tigger began to shake with sudden rage!

      “How can Fleur have done that when she hardly knows you!”  he yelled, knowing Hop along wasn’t talking of professional paw massage when he spoke of “stroking paws.”

      “Because we love her and she loves us,”  Hop along replied.

      “You’re angry with us Tigger,”  fleur said.

      “Oh, you don’t say!”  Tigger snapped, “of course I’m bloody angry!  How can you let two, two strangers stroke and tickle your paws fleur?  It’s so wrong!  That’s intimate stuff!”

      “I got to know Hop along and Tinka very quickly,”  Fleur replied, “they’re open animals, and very honest with their emotions.  What you see is what you get.”  Tigger turned to Bianca.

       “As for you little Bianca,”  he said, “you have learned a vital lesson I believe?”  Bianca looked down at her paws.

       “Yes Tigger I have,”  she mewed.

      “Because of what you said,”  Tigger said, “Theo spoke to me, and what you say is all true.”

      “Even so,”  Bianca said, “I know I shouldn’t have said what I did to you.”  Tigger knew his paw was feeding vital signals to Fleur, and she knew whether he was stressed or calm.

       “I can’t change the past,”  Tigger said, “but I can try, try to make the future better for myself and my cub.”  Fleur kissed Tigger on his nose.

      “Let’s go on from here then,”  she said.  Bianca looked down at Fleur’s paw, seeing her scuffed claws.

      “how did you scuff your claws?”  She asked.

      “You owe Fleur a thank you I think Bianca,”  Tigger mewed.

      “I owe Fleur a lot,”  Bianca replied, “more than I can repay her, but what did she do for me this time?”  Tinka explained what had taken place as best she could.

       “Oh,”  Bianca mewed, “Fleur, I, I am thankful to you, very thankful…  this, this is too much!  I put my best friend into a position of danger because of my big mouth!”

      “You won’t do it again then will you Bianca,”  Hop along mewed.

      “No Hop along, I won’t!”  Bianca replied, “and if, if I sound like I’m doing so, slap my paws!”  Hop along padded forward and, lying down,  gathered Bianca in his forepaws.

      “I believe you won’t need to have your paws slapped,”  Hop along mewed, “I know how much you love Fleur, so you’ll never forget what she did for you.”  Bianca looked into Hop along’s eyes.  She’d often done this during his sessions with snowy, and had seen a pain filled animal, one for whom the paw massage was only temporary relief.  Now though, there was another look in the tiger’s eyes.  Hop along looked at peace.

       “Did my mum find a way of curing your paw or something?”  Bianca asked.

      “No Bianca,”  Hop along mewed, “it wasn’t your mum who seems to have done that.”  Bianca saw Hop along’s eyes drift towards Fleur.

      “Fleur did?”  Bianca asked, “but, but mum’s trained in paw massage, Fleur isn’t!  Fleur does it for fun!  She can’t have cured you!”  Tinka looked at Bianca, and the tiger cub lowered her eyes:

      “Can she cure you?  Did she?”  Bianca asked.

      “I don’t know,”  Hop along mewed, “but she seems to have done so much.”

       “If you get any pain from that paw, tell me,”  Fleur said to the huge Bengal tiger.

       “I will Fleur, I will,”  Hop along mewed.  He released Bianca and, getting to his paws, stood on tiptoe, raising and lowering his entire weight on his toes.  Then he bounced on his toes, trying to do something that in the past would aggravate his old injury, but no matter what he did, there was no pain.  Hop along stood with the soles of his paws flat on the tiles and raised his right hind paw from the ground, flexing it, as well as curling his toes and holding them tightly curled for a minute or so before relaxing them with  not a hint of  pain anywhere.

       “You’ve cured me fleur!”  Hop along mewed.

     “I believe she has,”  snowy said, padding up to the group.

       “I don’t know,”  Fleur replied, “I think it might be long acting, but you might get some pain in a day or so.”

     “Don’t say that Fleur, don’t say that!”  Hop along pleaded.

      “I’m not going to pretend it’s a total cure,”  Fleur mewed, “that would be wrong.”

      “But, but,”  Hop along replied, almost weeping, “what you did can be done during normal play, during family time, during normal paw massage, like you and Tinka did.  My treatment’s nothing special any more, though, though at the same time, it‘s the most special thing in the world Fleur!”  Fleur padded round Hop along, so she stood behind him.  Raising a paw, she touched the pads of his raised hind paw with her own.  Hop along curled his toes slightly, so they touched the heel of Fleur’s right forepaw.

      “You, you do a wonderful job Fleur,”  Hop along mewed.  Fleur drummed her toes on Hop along’s heel pad, making the Bengal tiger laugh delightedly.  Hop along tried returning the gesture, but only managed to move all four toes at once, and his attempt wasn’t so much drumming as thumping her heel with his toes.  Fleur smiled:

       “You uncoordinated lump,”  she laughed, patting Hop along’s pads.  The tiger purred contentedly.

     “my leg’s getting stiff,”  he said, “I don’t want this paw contact to end, but please, may I put my paw on the ground?”  Fleur removed her paw from Hop along’s, and the tiger placed it on the ground.  Before she left his hind quarters, Fleur played briefly with the end of Hop along’s tail, the tiger spinning round on her in mock anger and playfully biting her ear.  Fleur snarled in mock aggression and, releasing his tail,  swiped at Hop along’s whiskers with her paw, the tiger rolling onto his back and waving his paws in the air!  Fleur laughed as she watched him.

      “Hop along, dear Hop along!”  she laughed, “you are so lovely!”

      “I don’t know who’s the bigger cub!”  Tinka said smiling.

       “I want my paws stroked!”  Hop along mewed, waving his paws more frantically than ever.

        “Oh dear,”  Snowy said laughing, “he’s well and truly going back to his cubhood!.”  Fleur caught Hop along’s left forepaw and began to stroke his pads.  Hop along smiled with genuine pleasure and, rolling onto his side,  pressed his paw into Fleur’s.

       “Don’t do that Hop along,”  fleur mewed, “don’t press your paw into mine.”  Hop along relaxed his paw, making the whistling growl deep in his throat which Fleur knew so well.

       “That’s the sound of pleasure,”  Snowy said smiling.  Fleur stroked Hop along’s paw with both her forepaws, enveloping it in her paws and gently massaging his pads and toes.  By the end of five minutes Hop along couldn’t keep his eyes open.

      “I want to sleep,”  he murmured, but, but it would be wrong, so wrong.”

     “You can’t sleep here!”  Elsa mewed, “it’s hard tiles!”

      “I’ve slept in worse places Elsa,”  Hop along said.

       “Let’s not sleep now,”  Fleur said, gently stroking Hop along’s paw the wrong way, making the tiger wake suddenly, as it was uncomfortable.

      “You really know how to wake someone up don’t you!”  He snapped, “that hurt!”

      “I didn’t mean to hurt you, just to wake you,”  Fleur mewed.  Hop along removed his paw from Fleur’s and got to his feet.

      “I don’t know whether to be angry or not!”  Hop along mewed, “that was horrid Fleur!”

      “I’m sorry!”  Fleur mewed, “but that was the only way I could think of waking you up.”

     “Well don’t!”  Hop along yelled, “it was horrid!”

       “Have you ever had the fur on the sole of your paw rubbed the wrong way?”  Snowy asked, “it hurts Fleur.”  Fleur mewed an apology to Hop along, then padded away.  Hop along suddenly felt dreadful.  He knew he shouldn’t have snapped at Fleur, that she was only trying to wake him.  Padding after the cross bred cub, Hop along caught Fleur up near the top of the slide slope.  It had been a hard walk up the slope and Hop along was panting slightly as he reached Fleur.

      “Look, fleur, I’m so sorry,”  Hop along mewed, “I shouldn’t have snapped at you, it’s wrong of me!  I know the urge to sleep was brought on by the massage, and that you had to reverse it.  Come, please, fleur, let, let me hug you, please?”  Fleur paused at the top of the slide, the pads of her fat brown, black spotted left forepaw resting on the edge of the step, her toes just over the edge of the step, and looked at him.  Hop along noticed this detail, and was surprised by it.  He’d not noticed this before, maybe he was observing his cub more closely, as he’d heard Elsa did.  Elsa had once described Fleur crawling away from her, and she’d missed no detail, right down to the way the pads on the soles of the large cub’s paws and toes had bunched and relaxed as she crawled.  Now Hop along was noticing similar details, not just what her eyes were telling him, registering fleur as confused and slightly upset, but also what her paws were doing, what the state and position of her paw told him of her mindset.  She wasn’t tense, for if she was, her paw would have been rigid, and her toes weren’t curled, her paw not held stiffly.  Fleur felt no fear, and Hop along was grateful and relieved about that.

       “You want to hug me?”  Fleur asked.

      “I’d, I’d like to, Please Fleur.”  Fleur,”  Hop along mewed, looking down at his paws, which told him he was anxious, as his toes were slightly curled.  Fleur turned and padded back to Hop along, reared onto her hind legs, and, leaning on him for support,  embraced him with her forepaws.  Hop along mewed to Fleur, Fleur answering him by rubbing her cheek against his.

      “I love you fleur,”  Hop along mewed.  Fleur nuzzled the Bengal tiger’s whiskers.

      “You are safe with me,”  Hop along whispered.  Fleur dropped onto all four paws, then raised a paw to touch Hop along’s nose.  Hop along nuzzled the pads of Fleur’s paw, the cub smiling and laughing slightly as the tiger’s whiskers tickled her.

      “Hug me Hop along, please,”  Fleur pleaded.  Hop along lay down, and fleur let him take her in his huge, fat, warm paws.

      “You are so Beautiful and gentle Fleur,”  Hop along mewed, “from your nose, he said touching her nose lightly with one paw, to the end of your long tail,”  he continued, reaching over to touch Fleur’s tail, the cub curling it so he could touch the end of her tail.  “From your ears,”  Hop along said, to the tips of your lovely, fat, brown furred black spotted toes.”  When she felt Hop along’s toes touch the pads on the toes of her left forepaw, Fleur curled her toes round his and gently held them.

      “Let’s both go down the slide,”  fleur mewed, “first me, then, when I’m at the bottom and ready to catch you, you come down.”  Hop along smiled as he thought of Fleur catching him.

     “let’s do that,”  he mewed, “though I don’t know about you catching me Fleur, you’re too small!”  Grinning, Fleur released Hop along’s paw, the tiger mewing pitifully and gently pawing at Fleur’s pads with the toes she’d just released.  Fleur smiled and hugged Hop along tenderly.  Releasing him, Fleur got to her paws and walked towards the slide, Hop along following her.  fleur stepped down into the tray and lay down on her chest so her hind paws were straight out behind her, her fore crossed in front and tucked beneath her chin.  Fleur wiggled the toes of both hind paws, and Hop along gently stroked her pads.

      “have a good ride little cub,”  he mewed.  Fleur gently caught the toes of Hop along’s paw in hers, then, when the light went green, released him and pushed off.  Hop along watched his cub disappear down the slide.

      “I love you Fleur,”  he whispered.  Hop along got down into the slide himself, and waited for the bell.  When it went, he pushed off with his forepaws and then crossed them under his chin like his cub had.  Hop along shot round the first bend in the slide, then his head angled downwards, and he was racing towards the bottom of the slide.  Reaching it, Hop along got out of the slide, to see Fleur watching him.

       “Good ride?”  She asked.  Hop along shook his head to clear his vision.

      “It was amazing,”  he said, but Fleur knew Hop along didn’t much like the slide.

       “You didn’t like it at all did you,”  she mewed.

      “it wasn’t the most pleasurable experience today,”  Hop along admitted.  Fleur knew which one he’d pick for the best experience of the day, and so would she, a totally spontaneous and very intimate time at the top of the slide, where a cross bred cub had hugged a Bengal tiger, and he’d hugged her.  All the paw contact was lovely too.  Fleur holding Hop along’s toes in hers, and Hop along holding the cub’s toes in his, as well as stroking each other’s pads had been a wonderful thing.  Fleur saw Hop along was thinking, and touched his paw with hers.

      “Follow your paws and whiskers,”  she mewed.  Hop along smiled.

      “We did plenty of that,”  he said, covering her free forepaw with his free one.

      “I love you Hop along,”  Fleur mewed.

     “I love you too Fleur my dear sweet cub,”  Hop along replied.  Fleur gulped hard, trying to hold back tears, for she knew how sincere Hop along was.

      “Whisker to whisker, paw in paw we go from here,”  she choked.  Hop along freed his paw from Fleur’s and was suddenly hugging her tightly.

      “Paw in paw Fleur,”  he said, licking her ear and nuzzling her cheek.  Fleur kissed Hop along on his nose, then, as the tiger was now able to take his weight on all four paws, she took his left forepaw in hers and held it.

 

Let’s go to the pool,”  Fleur mewed.  Hop along wiggled the toes of his paw held in Fleur’s.  Fleur smiled, squeezed his paw and then let go of it.  Hop along felt his paw tingling as if he’d been given a new energy.

       “More of Fleur’s magic,”  he thought, padding after his cub.

 

Tinka watched all, her love for Hop along growing with every passing minute.  She hated herself for what she’d done to him in the past, in fact Tinka had cried long and bitterly in the past, mourning the loss of her mate.  She knew she’d been the cause of their estrangement, that Hop along would have been present at the birth of their cubs, and would have helped look after them.  Pippa had been born two years ago, and was now almost a fully grown tigress.  Tinka’s other cub had died shortly after birth, which had torn her apart.  Pippa now lay curled in the sheltering warmth of Tinka’s body almost every night, the pair of them terrified of losing each other.  Tinka knew she wanted cubs with Hop along, also wanted him to be there when they were born, and afterwards to help her look after them.  Tinka believed in Eohippus, and wondered if the dawn horse, by letting one of her cubs die, was telling her she shouldn’t have sent Hop along away.  Now Tinka was determined to love Hop along with all she had.  Tinka had watched Hop along and Fleur’s interaction, and remembered the feel of Fleur’s paws held gently in her own, and also remembered the feel of her paws in Fleur’s.  Fleur’s paws had been soft and warm, and not only that, there had been something special there, something other than the touch of paw pad against paw pad.  Fleur’s touch had been more than just a touch, the grip of her paw on Tinka’s more than just a soft, warm enfolding of one paw in another.  There had been commitment, concern, warmth, care, and a lot of love expressed in the cub’s touch.  Tinka closed her eyes, concentrating on the feel of the tiles beneath her paws.

      “Whisker to Whisker, paw in paw fleur,”  Tinka thought, “I’m with you my dear cub.”  Tinka was brought out of her thoughts by a paw touching hers.  Opening her eyes, she saw Theo standing beside her.

      “I know what you were thinking,”  Theo said, “I know what you were feeling too Tinka.  You need not fear the past any more.  Go to Fleur and Hop along, and roll with them in the water of the big bath.  Fleur will help you with paw massage. There, get to know your cub and your mate.  They will also be able to get to know you too.”

 

Tinka padded towards the large bathtub, finding Fleur and Hop along already in the water.  snowy and Bianca were in the main pool, swimming about and occasionally ducking each other in play.

 

Theo watched them for a while, then left the pool in search of Tigger, who’d vanished soon after his conversation with Bianca.  Elsa followed him from the pool complex.  Theo had to talk to Tigger about a few things.

 

Tinka padded over the tiles to the main bath, where she slipped into the water.  Hop along and fleur, who’d been playing together at the other end of the bath pool, swam lazily over to Tinka and  took a forepaw each, guiding her towards the middle of the pool where they signalled to her to lie down on a ledge.  There they began to stroke her from her ears to her paws.  This silent orderly massage surprised Tinka.  Once it was over, Tinka’s mate and cub settled down beside her, each holding one of her forepaws.

      “How was that?”  Hop along asked.

      “It was wonderful,”  Tinka mewed, tears rolling down her face.

       “What did you feel?”  Fleur asked.

     “Surprise at first that neither of you spoke to me,”  Tinka replied, “then, well, when I realised silence was part of the package so to speak, I then thought about what you two were doing, concentrating on the feel of your individual paws, sometimes the feel of you working on me with your toes rather than the pads of your paws.  It was wonderful!”

      “You have the loveliest eyes, and the most strokable paws Tinka.”  Fleur mewed.  Tinka caught her breath as the cub’s words sank in.

       “I, I love you Fleur,”  she wept.  Fleur hugged Tinka tightly.  Tinka’s tears dried, and fleur released her.

     “Now,”  Tinka said, “I want, would like, to, to take a look at both of you, from your noses to your tails, from your ears to the soles of all four of your paws.  Would you let me do this?”  Fleur and Hop along looked at each other, apparently undecided as to whether to allow Tinka to do what she asked.

      “Shall we?”  Hop along asked fleur.  Fleur examined Tinka’s right forepaw, the one which she’d been stroking, and seemed to be undecided.

      “Look at Tinka’s left forepaw,”  Fleur said to Hop along, “would you want to be stroked by it?”  Tinka began to feel slightly uneasy, even a little upset.

      “Let me look,”  Hop along said, picking up Tinka’s left forepaw and examining it minutely.

      “Um, ah, yes okay,”  he said.  Tinka then realised she’d been tricked into thinking her mate and cub were having a serious discussion as to whether they’d let her stroke them.  She realised she should have just stroked one or the other of them without asking and gone with how she felt, for now she came to think of it, they’d all but invited her to take their paws in hers.

     “Who’s more anxious that I stroke their paws?”  She asked.  For answer both Hop along and fleur thrust their forepaws into hers.

     “both of you, oh dear,”  Tinka mewed, “I can’t stroke eight paws at once, four maybe, but not eight!”  She looked desperately at her mate and cub.

      “We can stroke Fleur’s paws together,”  Hop along mewed, “then you and Fleur can stroke mine.  How’s that?”  Tinka, now greatly relieved, nodded.

 

Hop along and Tinka stroked fleur from her spotted nose, to the end of her banded tail, missing nothing, while Fleur purred and tried to catch their paws in hers and hold them whenever she could.  Tinka and Hop along laughed merrily every time Fleur caught their paws in hers.  Fleur’s paw massage ended up as a free for all, the Bengal tigers and Fleur splashing and ducking each other.  Tinka used her massive forepaws to disturb the water so it turned white.  Tinka suddenly ran from the bath, sprinted across the tiles towards the pool, judged her distances, and then leapt into the air!  Tucking in her paws, tucking her chin into her chest as far as she could and arching her back, Tinka bombed into the pool!  The splash was tremendous!  She soaked Snowy, Bianca, and even managed to spray Hop along, who’d followed her into the pool!

 

Fleur, hearing enraged shouts, quickly splashed from the bathtub to be confronted with the sight of Snowy standing on the side of the pool, screaming  at Tinka one paw raised as if to hit the Bengal tigress!

      “You stupid idiot!”  snowy yelled, “that’s dangerous!”  Fleur cantered over to the two tigress’s.

      “Um, Tinka,”  Fleur said, did you read the signs?”  She waved a paw at a sign on the wall, it read “no bombing into the pool.”  Tinka mewed an apology, but Snowy was furious!”

       “You’re meant to be setting an example to the cubs!”  she yelled.

       “At the moment it’s a bad one,”  Hop along mewed.

      “Oh shut up, shut up!”  Tinka wined, “I know I did wrong, now can we drop it?”

       “I think in the current context, talk of dropping things is not very wise,”  Bianca mewed.  Fleur laughed helplessly.

      “I think your apology bombed with snowy Tinka,”  she said. \\.

     “It’s not Me you should be apologising to Tinka,”  snowy snapped, “it’s Fleur!  She’s in charge here!”  Tinka looked at Fleur.

      “I didn’t see the sign!”  she mewed.

     “Right,”  Fleur said, “no harm done this time, but next time, you’ll be banned from the pool, okay?”  Tinka looked down at her paws, showing acute emotional  discomfort.

       “subject closed, okay snowy?”  fleur said, snowy realising Fleur wasn’t asking her if the subject was closed, she was telling her.

      “We’re going home Bianca!”  Snowy snapped, “I’m not being pushed around by a cub!”  Bianca stood up to her mother for the first time in her life, her fur bristling with anger!

      “You can, but I’m staying right here!”  She yelled, “and Fleur’s not a cub!  She’s young, but she’s very gentle and right now, she’s responsible for us!”  Snowy stamped her paws in sudden rage!

     “Don’t stamp your paws at me!”  Bianca snapped, sounding just like snowy once did when she told her off in the cubbing den.  Snowy, hearing her own words echoed back to her, slunk off to sulk in private.

 

“Now what?”  Bianca asked.

     “How about if we all get into the pool and have a relaxing swim?”  Tinka suggested.  Hop along looked at his mate.

      “You’ll be tickling my paws before I’m in the pool,”  he said smiling, “not that I mind it, I love it.”  Tinka raised her left  forepaw, and Hop along touched her pads with his right forepaw.  Tinka smiled and rubbed back against his touch, Hop along taking Tinka’s paw in his.

       “That’s lovely to see,”  Fleur mewed.

 

The tigers and fleur entered the pool and began the job of serious play.

 

While they were playing, the sound of scuffing paws announced the arrival of Theo, who’d left them for a while to return with Tigger to the cubbing den.  Now he was back, with serious news concerning Simba.

      “Fleur,”  Theo said, “come here please.”  Fleur went to Theo and he indicated to her that he wanted her out of the pool.  Fleur waded from the pool, then looked at Theo for more direction.

      “Tigger has badly beaten Simba up for attacking you Fleur,”  Theo said, “he, Simba, well, he’s almost dead.  Tigger’s temper  exploded when the cub once more called him a stupid blind tiger.”  Fleur looked down at her paws.

      “Simba had it coming to him,”  she mewed, “more so when he calls Tigger things like that.”  Theo growled menacingly.

      “Tigger bloody deserved to have a go at Simba!”  Theo yelled, stamping his paws with rage, “I know it’s not very leader like of me to say this, but Tigger’s in the right this time!  How, how dare Simba say that about Tigger, or about anyone!  I hate that bloody cub!  Elsa knows it too, and, and, she’s not very happy with me for it, but I don’t care!  I don’t care, because Simba doesn’t care!  Why should I care about him when he can’t be bothered to care about anyone else Fleur?  I can’t stand him!”

      “Hey Theo, Theo!”  Fleur mewed, “it’s all right, Simba will learn.”

     “No he won’t,”  Theo sniffed, almost crying, “Simba won’t learn Fleur, “I know he won’t, I know him, he’s as bad, as bad, no, worse than that lion who enticed Tigger and Clarence into the shop.  Simba’s a horrid cub!”  Fleur didn’t know the first Simba, but she’d heard the story.

     “Where are they now, Tigger and Simba?”  Fleur asked.

      “Tigger’s in the cubbing den,”  Theo mewed, Elsa’s looking after him.  I don’t know where Simba is.”

 

Suddenly there was a yell of:

     “You can’t catch me mum, you stupid bitch!”  And Simba ran into the pool area, Elsa hot on his heels.  Theo snarled and gave chase!  Fleur watched a lion and a lioness chase down and catch their prey, and worse!

 

Theo helped Elsa bring her cub down, but then he left Elsa to deal with him, and the lioness ran to the water, dragging Simba with her.  It was plain what she was about to do, and Fleur shrieked with fear!

      “Don’t do it Elsa!”  She yelled.  Elsa snarled in reply, an angry sound, born of wild fury!  Then she threw Simba into the water, before leaping in, landing on top of her cub!  Elsa drove Simba under the water, and held him there, until he stopped struggling.  When Elsa left off, Simba was dead!

 

Elsa left the water, dragging her cub’s limp body as if it was an antelope she’d just brought down.

       “Why Elsa?”  Theo asked, crying inconsolably, “why kill your cub?”

      “You don’t know what Simba and Amber did to Tigger when you left us after seeing Tigger nearly beat Simba senseless do you Theo?”  Elsa replied, “my dear lion, you should be crying for Tigger, not for Simba, for I don’t know if Tigger will live long.  Amber got onto a shelf in the cubbing den where the boss stored some old sound boxes and waited until Tigger was close, before pushing a heavy sound box off the shelf.  It landed on Tigger, injuring him.  Now, now he’s badly hurt, he says he can’t feel his paws, I’m worried Theo, bloody worried!”  There was the sound of scuffing paws, followed by a very loud, very Tigger like curse.  His words were so ripe they can’t be printed here.  Theo looked round at him.

     “You’re, you’re injured!”  he mewed.

     “Not so injured I can’t do justice to Amber and that bloody cub!”  Tigger yelled.

       “Tigger, oh Tigger!”  Fleur yelled, running to him and throwing her paws round him.  Despite his bruises and a cracked rib, Tigger snuggled into his cub’s hug, and returned it as firmly as he could without causing himself agonising pain.

      “You can’t do justice to, “the bloody cub,” as you call him,”  fleur mewed, “for Elsa’s done it already, Simba’s dead!”  Tigger mewed pitifully with pain.

     “I’m in pain from the damage caused by Amber and Simba’s attack, and now I can’t get satisfaction!”  Tigger mewed, “I want to cause that cub as much pain as he caused me!”

     “No Tigger,”  Fleur mewed, “it’s not going to solve anything my sire, It won’t solve a thing!”

      “I want to hurt that cub!”  Tigger mewed.  Elsa padded over, and laid Simba’s body close to Tigger.  The sight of the cub’s body moved Fleur to fresh tears.

      “He need not have died,”  She wept, “but he had it coming to him.  I’m not weeping for what Simba was, I’m weeping for what he could have been.”  Tigger reached over with a paw and touched Simba’s dead body.

      “I’m sorry you died little cub,”  Tigger sobbed, “but you were warned, and you ignored that warning, worse, you tried to have others kill me.  I’m sorry you sank to that level Simba.”  Elsa picked up Simba’s body and dragged it out of the pool complex to bury it privately.  Theo didn’t follow her, for he knew she wanted to be alone.

 

Elsa buried Simba’s body in the wood, covering it with earth and stamping the earth down with considerable force, as if making sure the cub’s spirit  was well and truly imprisoned.

      “You need not do that Elsa,”  Petra said gently, making Elsa turn sharply, growling and snarling with fear and anger at being disturbed.

      “believe me Elsa,”  Petra said, “you need not worry about his spirit causing us any more trouble.”  Elsa, still snarling and growling, looked into Petra’s eyes.

     “How can you know this?”  Elsa asked.

     “I can’t explain how I know, but I do,”  Petra replied.

 

Elsa suddenly looked very sad.

      “I’ve failed,”  she mewed, “I’m the worst mother in the world!  I don’t know where I went wrong with Simba, then, then, instead of cuffing him for his misdeeds, I kill him!  No mother should kill her own cub!  I don’t know why I did it Petra!”  Petra knew Simba’s spirit was a bad one, and that he would have been an evil creature even in adulthood.  Though this in itself didn’t mean he should be killed.  Petra realised that Elsa, Theo too, had been driven beyond reasoned thought by Simba’s actions and words, resulting in them protecting the rest of their family in the only way they felt was left to them.  Elsa, tears now rolling down her face, suddenly threw herself at Petra’s feet, clasping one of the young lioness’s white forepaws in both of hers.  Petra sat down, guessing what the lioness before her was about to tell her.

       “I didn’t know what I was doing,”  Elsa whispered, “I was running after Simba, then, then Theo joined me and helped me bring the cub down, then, then I drove Simba into the water and held him under until he drowned!”

        “You aren’t to blame for what you did,”  Petra mewed, “ others are to blame for that.  Amber is the one who made Simba’s horrid plan to attack Tigger possible.  Once Tigger had given Simba a beating for calling him a silly blind tiger, all it took was for amber to see what was going on and then she’d be up there on that shelf, ready to push the sound box off the shelf onto Tigger when the tiger settled down to rest on a rug in the cubbing den.  Amber was there as a second wave of attack should Simba’s attack fail.  I don’t know how it happened, or how Amber got involved, but that’s to be found out later.  What we know is Simba provoked Tigger into attacking him, and Amber pushed a sound box off a shelf, which fell onto Tigger.  I don’t know why Amber did this or what’s become of her now.

 

Elsa, her mind still numb from what she’d done to Simba, released Petra’s paw and followed her into the pool complex.  They met up with Tigger and Theo, the latter stroking the formers paws.  Petra ran over to Tigger, and joined Fleur and another lion cub, who Petra at first didn’t recognise.  It was only when the male lion cub threw his paws round Petra’s neck and hugged her that Petra realised who he was.  he was her brother cub, born a minute after herself.  The male lion cub snuggled up to her, nuzzling her whiskers and embracing her with his paws.  Petra mewed to her brother cub, who cuddled close to her.

      “I’m glad I’ve found you Petra my dear Sister cub,”  the male lion cub purred.  Petra licked his ear, feeling his good intentions.  Theo recognised the male cub, and left off stroking Tigger’s paws to crawl over to him and hug him.  Tigger, feeling fleur, Petra and Petra’s brother wanted to be alone, crawled back to the house.

 

On the way, Tigger met Amber, and when she saw the tiger, Amber spat at him, Tigger ignoring her outburst.

       “You should be dead!”  Amber yelled.

      “You are dead!”  Salty yelled, leaping on top of Amber and belting her round the head with his paw!  Amber collapsed onto the carpet, letting Tigger carry on to his lie up unmolested.  Amber groaned with pain as she regained consciousness from Salty’s attack.  Amber knew she was a marked leopard, and couldn’t take her safety for granted any more.

 

Salty, furious with Amber after hearing what she’d done to Tigger, vowed to get even with her on the tiger’s behalf.  He didn’t know the reason for amber’s disgusting conduct, only that she and Tigger had been close some time ago.  Salty guided Tigger back to his lie up, the tiger grateful to the male snow leopard for protecting him.

 

Meanwhile, Fleur, Petra and Petra’s natural brother cub stood close together in the pool area, Theo watching them.

      “What’s your name?”  Petra asked her younger brother.

       “I haven’t been given a name yet,”  the male cub replied, “my mother didn’t get round to naming me before she left, and after I heard what she’d done, I kept my head down and didn’t bother with silly things like a name, for I wanted to disappear.  It’s only now that I’ve had the courage to show myself to you Petra, as I hope that now my mother’s been gone from here some four months or so, that I can maybe be seen as a cub in my own right, rather than just being labelled as the cub of the late Elsa.”  Petra felt the male cub’s paws on her fur, his toes curled into it, gripping her fur with something like desperation.  She took pity on the cub and touched his nose with her paw.

       “how about if we name you Jespah?”  Petra asked, “it’s a name from the Meru tribe in Africa which means “god set free,”  Which given your somewhat troubled start in life, I believe is a very good name for you.”  The cub looked at his sister.

      “I suppose I am set free by the higher power,”  the cub said, “so Jespah is my name from now on then.”

 

Jespah snuggled into Petra’s hug.

      “Let’s go to the slide and cool off a bit,”  Fleur suggested.  Jespah looked at her.

      “Are you in charge here?”  He asked, sensing her confidence.

      “I am,”  Fleur replied, not betraying misgivings about her own suitability for the job.

       “You’re only a cub!”  Jespah mewed, “younger than me I’ll bet too!”

      “I am a cub,”  Fleur replied, “but I’m also well versed in the ways of the water.”  Jespah took Petra’s paw and they walked together to the top of the slide, Jespah looking down the slide with undisguised fear.

      “I’ve, I’ve never been on one of these before,”  he mewed, dipping a paw cautiously into the running water.

      “It’s okay Jespah my brother cub,”  Petra mewed.  Jespah, suddenly overcome with emotion, turned to his sister and hugged her.  Petra pulled Jespah from the water slide so he didn’t slip and take them both down, then returned his hug.

      “I’m glad we’ve found each other again,”  Jespah mewed.  Petra nuzzled the cub’s whiskers.

      “I am too,”  she purred.

     “Now, now, please Petra, tell me honestly,”  Jespah pleaded, “are these slides safe?”  out of the corner of her eye, Petra saw Fleur padding up the slope towards her.

      “Please Fleur,”  Petra said, “would you answer Jespah’s questions?”  fleur smiled at the young male lion cub.

      “What questions have you for me Jespah?”  Fleur asked, taking his paw in hers and stroking it.

      “Well,”  Jespah replied, now hesitant, “I was wondering, well, if those slide things are safe?  I know they probably are, but I’d like to hear it from you.”  Fleur looked into Jespah’s eyes.

     “They are as safe as we can make them,”  Fleur replied, “nothing is totally safe my dear Jespah.”

       “I, I don’t understand,”  the lion cub mewed, “what do you mean by as safe as you can make them?”

      “They are made to be safe,”  Fleur replied, “but if you do silly things while riding them, oh, I don’t know, making chains for example, then you could get hurt.  It wouldn’t be the fault of the slide or of its operators though if you disobeyed the rules.

      “What are the rules?”  Jespah asked, looking round him, “I can’t see any written here.”

      “No chaining, go down the slide only when the light’s green, no pushing or shoving at the top of the slide, common sense things really Jespah,”  fleur replied.

      “Thank you,”  Jespah said.  Fleur released his paw and hugged him.

     “Have a good ride Jespah,~” she mewed.  Jespah looked down the slide, his apprehension still visible.

      “I don’t know if I can go down that!”  he mewed, his distress mounting.

      “You don’t have to Jespah dear,”  Petra mewed.

       “I feel I must,”  the lion cub wailed, “I must go down the slide, because, because, well, it’s silly to be scared, and I’m a male lion, the king of beasts, and here I am, trembling from ears to paws over going down a slide!”  Jespah looked desperately at Fleur and Petra in turn.

      “Get hold of me both of you,”  he suddenly said, “don’t let me go, throw me down that slide if you have to!”  fleur and Petra each took one of Jespah’s forepaws and guided the lion cub towards the open slide.

     “This one will be easier on you I think,”  fleur mewed.  Jespah nodded, having already closed his eyes.

     “Open your eyes Jespah dear,”  Petra mewed, “nothing’s going to harm you.”  Jespah, now so frightened his paws were damp and he was breathing rapidly, mewed in an agony of fear.

      “We won’t make you go down the slide,”  Fleur said gently, patting Jespah’s paw.  The male lion cub, now close to tears, gulped hard and clenched his teeth in an attempt to keep control of his rising panic.

      “I want to go down that slide!”  he yelled, “but it’s so scary, so fast, so uncontrollable!”  Petra wondered how without either her or fleur going down with Jespah in a chain, they could reassure him.

      “We can’t go down in a chain fleur,”  Petra said, “though that’s the only way I can think of that either of us could ride with Jespah.”  Fleur suddenly remembered something Tigger had told her.  He’d said the slides were designed to be ridden in two ways, either by the rider getting into the slide and riding it in the conventional way, or secondly, there were some inflatable double rafts which could be used on either of the slides.  The problem being that on the open slide, the riders had to hang on, or they’d be chucked off the raft as soon as it hit the water in the pool.

      “I think I might have a solution!”  fleur yelled, running for the staff cupboard.  Dragging at the door, she realised it was locked. Fleur ran down the slope and  found a large key.  This was  similar to a radar key carried by disabled humans to gain access to toilets.  Fleur ran back up the slope with the key in her mouth.  Fumbling the key into the lock, fleur turned the key with both her huge paws on the turning piece.  The key turned easily enough, and the door swung open.  Fleur looked into the store, and saw what she was looking for.  Careful to sheath her claws, fleur dragged at the topmost of the four rafts she found in the store.  They were too heavy for her alone to shift, so Petra joined in, and they got the topmost raft off the pile and across to the slide.

 

Jespah watched Petra and Fleur’s efforts to drag the raft with growing alarm.

     “What are you going to do with that?”  he asked.

      “Ride on it of course,”  Petra mewed.

     “You ride more in these than on them Petra,”  Fleur replied, “they have a bottom to the individual sections so the paws of the riders don’t drag on the slide.”

      “so you sit in them then,”  Petra corrected herself.

      “yeah,”  Fleur replied, “now, now help me lift the front of this thing.”  Petra and fleur worked the raft into position, then fleur leant her entire weight on the back of the raft, stopping it from disappearing down the open slide.

     “Now Petra,”  Fleur mewed, “put Jespah in the front of the raft, and you get into the back.”  Petra shovelled Jespah into the front of the raft, the male lion so scared he couldn’t control his shaking paws any longer.  Trembling from nose to tail, Jespah meekly submitted to Petra almost throwing him into the front of the raft, letting her go so far as arranging his hind and forepaws in the raft, making sure he was sitting properly.

     “Now hold onto the handles on the front of the raft with your forepaws,”  Petra mewed to Jespah, who, sweating profusely and with paws shaking, did as she asked, “ now settle your hind paws,”  Petra said, “don’t dig in your claws though.”  Jespah mewed pitifully, for dig in his claws was indeed what he wished to do.  Breathing hard, Jespah stared at his clenched forepaws, the toes white with tension.

     “If you feel insecure, press down with the pads and toes of your paws, don’t dig in your claws,”  Petra mewed.  Jespah mewed with fear, his paws slipping on the handles as they became damp with sweat.

     “Right, get in the raft Petra!”  Fleur commanded.  Petra leapt into the raft behind Jespah and settled herself.  Jespah began to cry with fear.

      “It’s going to be okay,”  Petra mewed.  Suddenly Fleur looked up at the lights, they went green, and she braced her hind paws and shoved hard with her fore, the raft drifting into the current.  Jespah mewed and spat with fear as the raft gathered speed, bending round to the right, then to the left, then, with clenched paws, His toes dug into the rubber raft, and forgetting Petra was behind him, Jespah screamed hysterically as the raft angled downwards, gathering speed!  Petra screamed with excitement as the raft hurtled down the slide!  Suddenly Jespah felt the raft jerk to an abrupt halt as it hit the water!  Jespah tumbled out of the raft, and Petra followed behind, both cubs splashing into the water, the raft bobbing away on the surf.  Jespah floundered in the water, Petra catching him and helping him to the side of the pool.  Jespah’s paws were shaking so much, he couldn’t clamber out of the pool, fleur and Petra having to pull the now panic stricken male cub out of the pool.

      “never again Petra, never again!”  Jespah mewed.

      “Ah well,”  Fleur said, “not everyone likes water slides.”

 

Jespah suddenly looked very unhappy.  Looking into Petra’s eyes, he suddenly asked:

      Petra, my dear sister cub, please tell me, do you really love me?”

      “Why ask something like that?”  Fleur asked.

       “No fleur,”  Petra replied, “I know why he asks, but Jespah has no need to ask questions like this.”  Petra looked into her brother cub’s eyes.

      “Does it look like I do not love you my brother cub?”  Petra asked, giving him her paw.

       “No,”  Jespah replied miserably, “I shouldn’t have asked it Petra, I really shouldn’t have asked that!”

       “But why ask it in the first place?”  Fleur asked.

       “I thought, thought that because I’d been favoured by our mother, that Petra would hate me forever,”  Jespah replied.

      “And why ask it now?  Why out of the blue like this?”  Fleur asked.

      “Fleur,”  Petra replied, “you know why he asks these things.  Think of your own life, and how uncertain you have been over who loves you, and sometimes whether anyone loves you.”  Fleur suddenly realised how Jespah was feeling, and the realisation moved her to tears.

       “I forgot for a minute how it was to be in doubt that anyone loved me,”  Fleur sobbed, “I know security is a great thing, but some don’t have it, and, and Jespah is one such.”

      “Was one such,”  Petra replied, “for he is loved, I know it.”

       “Loved by whom though?”  Jespah asked, “my mother’s gone, Clarence has no reason to feel anything for me, and by rights, neither do you Petra.”

      “What our mother did was not your fault Jespah,”  Petra mewed, “it was she who rejected me, not you.”

       “I, I would have come back to you sooner Petra!”  Jespah sobbed, “but, but I didn’t know what kind of a reception I’d get from the other animals, what with the new leadership and everything else.  I just kept myself to myself, and now, now I don’t know where I’m going!”  Petra looked into her brother cub’s eyes.

       “You are loved,”  she said, “believe it Jespah, I love you, and so does fleur.”  Jespah looked at the cross bred cub.

      “yes Jespah my dear,”  fleur said, throwing her paws round him and hugging him, “I love you very much.”  Jespah felt Fleur’s paws warm against his fur, and her touch gave him fresh hope.

      “Come,”  Petra said, “let’s go from here and return to the main pool.

     “What are we going to do with the raft?”  Jespah asked.

       “let’s pull it out of the water and send it up in the lift,”  fleur mewed.

       “I’m not going up in that thing,”  Petra mewed, “you can do it fleur, but count me out!”

       “Noone needs to go up in the lift,”  Fleur replied, “load the raft into the lift, flick the switch on the lever, push the lever upwards, and then leave the lift.  The doors will close, and the lift will go to the top without stopping.”

      “Let’s get that thing up top then,”  Petra mewed.  Fleur, Petra and Jespah dragged and pushed the raft over to the lift.  Petra spat at the doors as she remembered being shut in the moving box.  Fleur pressed the button, and they waited for the lift to arrive.  When the doors opened, they shovelled the raft into the lift, fleur then pushed the switch up and pressed the lever upwards, while Petra kept her paw in the door, so the sensor kept the doors open.  Once all was done, Fleur left the lift, and rejoined her friends.

 

Padding round to the main pool, Jespah, Fleur and Petra met Bianca who’d been playing with Theo, Leona and Elsa.  Elsa was still distraught about her run in with Simba, Theo and Leona trying to keep her mind from thinking too much about the manner of Simba’s death.  Leona embraced Elsa with her tiny paws, the lioness purring contentedly despite her inner turmoil.  Theo stroked his mate’s forepaw while Leona stroked her mother’s neck and nuzzled her whiskers.  Elsa began to purr afresh, the note becoming deep and contented, telling her mate and cub that she was finding peace in her own mind.

      “Don’t worry Elsa dear,”  Theo purred, “Simba won’t trouble us any more.”  Elsa looked at her mate.

      “Please,”  she said, “Tell me Theo, tell me my remaining cubs are safe!”  Theo touched her paw.

     “Your cubs are safe Elsa love,”  he said, “all five of your cubs are safe.

      “All five of her cubs?”  Bianca asked Theo, “but, I thought five minus one was four.”

      “All five of them,”  Theo purred, “Aslan, Leona, Petra, fleur and Jespah.”

       “Jespah’s not Elsa’s cub, not this Elsa’s cub anyway,”  Bianca mewed.

      “Jespah needs a mother,”  Theo replied, “my Elsa can be a mother to many cubs, including a lost male lion cub.”  Elsa looked over at Jespah.

       “come here Jespah my dear,”  Elsa said.  Jespah looked at Petra, who nodded, and Jespah padded across to Elsa, who, purring,  shook her paw free of Theo’s and took Jespah in her paws.

      “Welcome home my cub,”  Elsa mewed.

 

Meanwhile, Tinka and Hop along returned to the main house, having spent intimate time in the large bath pool.

 

 

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