Finding the right path.

 

 

Ekaterina Sat down opposite Patch and pressed her hind feet against his, feeling his warm pads against hers, then his toes curling round hers with comforting strength.

       “I could get used to this,”  Ekaterina said, leaning forward and kissing the toes of patch’s right foot, now curled round those of her own left foot, his foot larger than hers.  Patch, feeling the kiss to the toes of his right foot, plonked his paws on Ekaterina’s head as she leant forward, massaging her ears with the digits of his paws, Ekaterina laughing and lifting her head a little to increase the sensation of patch’s massage to the tender places behind her ears.

        “You Rogue!”  Ekaterina said smiling, Patch releasing the hold the toes of his left foot had on those of Ekaterina’s right, lifting her right foot up in his paws and blowing on the pads of her foot, Ekaterina giggling like a cub.  Indigo, seeing he wasn’t involved, sat down to watch Patch and Ekaterina’s play.

 

The sound of scuffing paws and feet announced Sita’s arrival.  Sita could be light on her feet, but mostly chose not to be so, plus she had recently taken to wearing small bells on a strap around one forepaw so they tinkled when she walked.  Patch looked up, and saw she had a tiny bear with her.

       “Who’s that?”  Patch asked, “Sita, who do you have with you?”

      “Well,”  Sita replied, “I hoped you’d tell me that.  She feels like a cub, all small with the cutest paws and feet, but she says she’s two years old.  She can’t be.”

       “Come here please,”  patch said to the small bear, who looked round her nervously.

        “My feet are nearly sticking to the floor with fear sir,”  the young bear replied.  Patch kissed Ekaterina’s nose, and she moved away.

       “come,”  patch replied, “I won’t harm you.”

         “My feet won’t move, my toes are curled into the floor, and my pads are stuck!”  the she bear whimpered, patch seeing her struggling to free her feet.

        “I know Sita’s playtimes are great, but this is serious,”  Indigo remarked.

        “I’m serious too!”  the she bear replied, “I can hardly move my hind feet!”  Patch padded over to the she bear and found her standing on her hind legs.  Smiling, he said:

      “Lean on me sweetheart, then I’ll see if I can free those feet.  The she bear looked into Patch’s face, her eyes terrified.  Patch then knelt, put his paws tenderly around the terrified bear, and said:      “Lean your arms across my shoulders, taking weight off your heels and onto your toes, try it.”  The she bear did, and Patch cupped his paws beneath the heel and sole pad of each of her hind feet.

        “oooooauoph!”  the she bear exclaimed.

      “Now, now let me lift you off your feet,”  patch said.

       “but my toes, they,”  the she bear protested.

       “What about your toes little one?”  patch said gently, now stroking the small bear’s back with one paw, having let her stand on her feet once more.

      “My toes will still be stuck!”  the she bear whimpered.

       “When you feel your feet leaving the floor, push off onto your toes, so they leave last,”  Patch said, “now, I’ll stand up, then lean down and hold you in my paws, lifting you up, okay?”  The she bear nodded, fascination overcoming fear.

        “yes,”  she mumbled, though it was clear she felt she need say nothing.  Patch got to his feet and lifted the she bear up in his forepaws, the she bear lifting her heels off the floor just as Patch advised, then, feeling her toes lifting from the floor, she kicked the air with her hind feet, squealing with cubbish delight.

      “now let’s try this,”  Patch said, swinging the she bear round in his paws, her hind legs and feet flying out behind her, the she bear laughing delightedly as Patch put her down on her hind feet, then, feeling her sway a little, he sat her down tenderly opposite him and Ekaterina, her right foot in line with his left hind, her left foot in line with Ekaterina’s right hind.

        “Thanks,”  she gasped.

       “You lied about your hind feet being stuck,”  Indigo snarled.

       “No, no, they were, I promise they were,”  the she bear replied honestly.

       “Can I touch you stranger?”  Ekaterina asked.

        “yes, if, if you wish,”  the small she bear replied, glancing at Ekaterina’s sightless eyes.  Ekaterina touched the she bear’s right shoulder, then her right paw.

        “Your feet were glued to the floor with fear weren’t they,”  Ekaterina said.

        “yes,”  the she bear replied, feeling her toes curl and paws ball into fists with emotion at the mama bear’s touch.

         “I know that feeling,”  Ekaterina replied, “the feeling which makes your toes curl so tightly they ache, but it’s not the urge to curl the toes which the need to push a cub into the world produces, it’s a worse urge than that, in that this urge is driven by fear.”

       “yes,”  the she bear replied, “my paws are clenching and my toes curling now, but, but the feeling is different, that’s a warm feeling making them do that.  When my feet were on the floor though, my toes and pads were cold, stuck to the floor freezing cold!  Now they’re warm, though my toes are curled as tightly now as then.”

       “You are young,”  Ekaterina said, “and I do not think you’ve had cubs yet, so you will not know what curling your toes while delivering a cub feels like.”

       “I’ve seen my mama do it,”  the she bear replied, “I’ve seen it in a den.  Mama curled her toes and moaned and moaned, then she wriggled and I saw her lie on her back, draw up her hind feet and grab them with her paws, then she wriggled and wriggled some more, moaning and yelling, her toes curled tightly and paws gripping fiercely .  Mama then kicked furiously with her hind feet, then splayed her hind legs while lying on her side, and I saw a cub born.  It was magical!  But yes, I’ve seen toes curling as you describe.”

        “that sounds wonderful,”  Ekaterina said smiling.

      “it was, it was, but, but, then, after that, well, my life wasn’t so wonderful.  Nor was the life of the newborn cub, for a male bear found us, he killed the newborn cub, who was only a few hours old.  I saw it done, and mama was so distressed she ran away.  I was left alone with the male bear, who looked at me, then turned and walked away.  I don’t know why he killed the newborn cub and left me.  Now though, I’m alone.  I wandered for days, weeks, months, and frightened, paw and footsore I found myself here.  I know I’m small for a two year old bear, so I attached myself to the group of cubs, and played with them for a day or so, before, well before the she bear cat thing which brought me to you found me.  She knew I wasn’t a cub straight away, and brought me to this place.  Now I’m here, but where am I?”

       “My name’s Ekaterina,”  Ekaterina said, “the big bear who lifted you off your feet is patch, and,”  she hesitated, “the bear who called you a lire is Indigo.”

         “Patch’s paws unstuck my feet,”  the she bear said, “can he do that for stuck cubs too?”

       “I’m sure he could,”  Ekaterina replied smiling.

        “My feet wouldn’t move,”  the she bear said.

      “What’s your name dear?”  Patch asked, touching the she bear’s left paw with his.

        “My name’s Hattie,”  the she bear gabbled, her eyes flicking from Patch to Ekaterina and back again, then she felt the pads of her right foot pressed by those of Patch’s own right foot and his toes curling round hers.  Taking a deep breath, Hattie steadied herself ever so slightly pressing back against Patch’s pressure with her own smaller right hind foot.

       “I never knew just the touch of another’s hind foot against mine would be soothing, but it is!”  she exclaimed.

        “Hold Hattie’s left foot with yours Ekaterina,”  patch said, Ekaterina curling the toes of her left foot around Hattie’s smaller toes.  Hattie looked at her hind feet, her toes now invisible beneath the toes of the two bears, and each bear now held a paw each.

        “I’m stuck here for good now!”  Hattie laughed.

        “You can leave if you wish,”  Ekaterina said.  Hattie pressed the toes of her left hind foot into the ball of Ekaterina’s foot.

       “I don’t want to leave,”  she said, “my feet feel warm, and my paws feel safe.”

       “You are safe here,”  Ekaterina said.

       “You mama Ekaterina have curled your toes while pushing to deliver a cub, haven’t you.”

        “I have,”  Ekaterina said, “and so has Patch here.”

        “I knew it, I knew it about Patch!”  Hattie exclaimed, “when he touched me, there was more in his touch than a male bear usually gives.  Now I know, he’s delivered a cub!  he’s pushed and panted, screamed and wriggled, kicked and curled his toes!”

        “I have,”  patch replied.

       “you were able to free my feet from fear because you knew how to,”  Hattie replied.

       “Yes,”  patch replied, “but you also felt safe enough to let me free them, and you, from fear.”

       “Well now we have freed Hattie from fear,”  Sita mewed, “is she a cub, or isn’t she?”

        “Treat Hattie as a cub Sita, treat her like you did indigo when he was first here,”  Patch said gently to Sita, who smiled:

        “I’ll have no problem playing with her,”  she replied.

        “Seeing a male bear kill and eat your brother or sister must have been awful,”  Ekaterina said.  Hattie sighed heavily.

        “it was,”  she replied, “but I don’t remember much about it, as it was all in a fog of fear.  I hope male bears don’t kill their young when they are born here,”  Hattie said.

      “No,”  Titania replied, padding into the lie up, “they don’t.  what they do is help mama bear have her cubs.  They stroke paws and feet, and encourage mama to push and breathe through her pains.”

     “I wish mama had help,”  Hattie said, “she really struggled alone, for she wouldn’t let me near her to rub her paws or feet.”

         “Mama sometimes doesn’t want anyone to touch her,”  Ekaterina said, “though during my last confinement, well, if I’m honest about it,,,”  she stopped speaking, unable to articulate her wishes, but Patch knew them.

        “I think I’ll leave you lot to it,”  Indigo said, walking from the room.

       “I’ll go with Sita,”  Hattie said, shaking her feet free of the embrace of Patch and Ekaterina’s hind feet and getting slowly to her feet.

        “I’ll see you later then,”  Hattie said, padding from the room with Sita.  Ekaterina took Patch’s paw in hers.

         “I know Ekaterina,”  Patch said gently, “you don’t have to say anything my dear.”

       “Having Sam all alone hurt me Patch,”  she replied, “but I couldn’t tell you, in case, in case you didn’t want the cub after we’d decided to have no more cubs.  The labour was awful, painful, straining heaving efforts, my toes ached, my legs ached, my insides felt stretched and deformed, I felt deformed, but became more so afterwards.”

        “Sita knew you weren’t in your right mind, that is why she saved your cub Ekaterina,”  Patch replied, “Sita knew, and told me after of what she had done to save Sam.”

      “I’m more grateful than I can tell her, and you for what you both did for me and my cub,”  Ekaterina replied, “how you found it in your heart patch to forgive me I don’t know, for what I did was so awful, no, it was worse than awful, it was dreadful, mean and disgraceful.  I forgot all you’d ever taught me, all I ever learned about you, and treated you and my cub with disrespect and disgust.  Now I am trying to repair the hurt I have caused, but I don’t know if I have the strength to yet.”

       “What would give you the strength to rebuild your life?”  Patch asked.

        “I haven’t been punished enough, I think that’s it,”  Ekaterina said, “you’ve been so dam good to me Patch, but I need a slap I think.  I know I’ve done you wrong, you told me, but I know I tore at you with my deceit.”

      “So you want me to be violent and angry?”  Patch asked.

        “yes, no, I don’t know Patch, I don’t know!”  Ekaterina sobbed.  Patch took his mate in his arms and laid her in his lap.

        “Ekaterina,”  Patch said, “being violent towards you would hurt me even more.  I know I can kill if needed, even hurt if needed, but I won’t, I can’t.”

         “show me how you felt, give me your emotions, go on Patch, you can do that.  You did it for Peter when he disbelieved Anernerk.”  Patch held Ekaterina in his paws, and showed her his emotions during that time, Ekaterina feeling his pain at her own actions, seeing him upset and crying privately, then his anger at her when he tried to help her with her mobility, but when he needed help emotionally, she gave him nothing.  By the end of half an hour, Ekaterina was exhausted and weeping freely.

        “I wouldn’t give myself another chance!”  Ekaterina sniffed, “so why are you giving me another chance Patch?”  Ekaterina asked.

         “Because deep down, I know you aren’t like that,”  Patch replied, “though I suppose you are right, you needed to know how it felt for me.”  Ekaterina wiped her face with her paws.

         “now how do I make amends for what I did?”  she asked.

         “by being yourself, by being the honest she bear I grew to love?”  Patch suggested.

        “You never changed,”  Ekaterina replied, “I did, I metamorphosed into a mega bitch.”

        “now change into a loving she bear, if that’s what you really want,”  Patch said.  Ekaterina touched Patch’s face with her paws, running them from his ears to his mouth, Patch smelling the salty tears on her pads, and her increased scent.

        “I’m slightly fatter than I was when you saw me last,”  Patch said.

        “Patch,”  Ekaterina said, “Can I get paws on with you?”

       “I think it’s a bit late to ask that now isn’t it?”  he asked smiling.

       “Well, um, yeah, I suppose, but I didn’t mean paws on in that way, I meant really paws on.”

       “make love to me you mean?”  Patch asked.

        “yeah, really make love to you, you see, Patch, I want a cub, I want a cub with you now, really want one with you, one last cub.  I’ve been considering things, and I know I could deliver the cub safely, if you’d help me.”

       “I will help you Ekaterina,”  Patch said, “but my paws are bigger than they once were, I might not be able to pull the cub.”

        “I’d push and strain and make sure you got your paw into position to pull the cub!”  Ekaterina replied earnestly, “no matter how much it hurt, I’d do it!”

          “You’re serious aren’t you,”  Patch replied, letting his own feelings creep into the foreground.

       “you want it too?”  Ekaterina asked, feeling his need.

         “I do, but only if you’re sure,”  patch replied, “for I have vowed never to hurt you Ekaterina, and putting you in danger is not my intention, nor my wish.”

        “We were mated well last time, so why not again?”  Ekaterina asked, “Patch, I want you to mate with me, take me, love me.”

      “I will,”  patch replied, “but let’s take it slowly, let’s take our time, do it gradually, not leap in with all four paws, well, not yet anyway.  I want to get to know you from nose to paws like you want to know me from my nose to my paws Ekaterina.”

      “I would like you to strip off the skin of the lieing mega bitch and show me the one who loves you patch,”  Ekaterina replied.

         “You mean unzip you from your old coat and paws and reveal you like I did myself for Orbon when he asked me to show him myself as a cub?”  patch asked.

       “Yes patch,”  Ekaterina replied, “but I want to feel it, every bit of it, from you unzipping my coat, to tugging off my paws and feet, for I haven’t the strength to do that.  I can’t do it patch!”  Ekaterina wriggled uncomfortably in Patch’s embrace, “I need your strength to uncover my true self, who is covered by this soiled coat and has to use these dirty, horrid paws and feet to love one who I do not deserve to touch, be my paws and feet washed in a volcano!”

         “wow!”  Titania remarked, having heard all from where she had been sitting.

        “I know what Ekaterina means,”  patch replied, “and she will have her wish.”

       “You mean you can unzip her from her dirty coat and paws?”  Titania asked.

        “Yes,”  patch replied, “if she wants it enough.  I can grant her wish.”

        “I’d like to see this!”  Titania said, then, seeing patch’s expression, she covered her mouth with her paw in shame.

        “Sorry,”  she mumbled.

         “it is a private matter,”  patch replied, “and you Titania should have left with Sita, Hattie and indigo.”  Titania left, her ears, paws and feet burning with shame.

        “She looked so unhappy,”  Patch remarked to Ekaterina.

        “She made a silly comment,”  Ekaterina replied.

       “She did,”  Patch agreed.

       “now will you help me?  Please?”  Ekaterina asked.  Patch smiled and hugged his mate.

       “I will,”  he replied, “but I don’t want to hurt you Ekaterina, unzipping you from your old body will hurt.  It’s not like the cub play of pulling off your adult paws and feet.  It’s real, it’s a struggle, the first tear, that hurts like hell.  I know, I’ve done it to myself.  It took a lot of willpower to do that.”

         “Awful,”  Ekaterina said.

       “yes,”  Patch replied, “and I don’t want to do it to you.”

       “I hate myself for what I have done to you,”  Ekaterina replied, “I also know you are not telling me the whole truth either.  I want to know your anger in a way I can understand, talking and reasoning doesn’t work so well with me, I’m not on the level you are with that.  Show me the violence I expect, and I will understand.”

       “You want me to hold you down and rip off your fur and paws?”  Patch asked.

       “yes,”  Ekaterina replied, “well, undress me from these dirty paws, feet and this fêted fur.  I am not fit to be touched by you Patch.  Do you know why you could return to your cub state so easily?”

       “Go on?”  patch prompted.

      “Because you’d remained true to yourself throughout your whole life,”  Ekaterina replied, “you’d done right by others, followed your paws.  I didn’t do that, and now I’m dirty and feel uncomfortable too.”

        “When I’d finished the first tear, it was easy then,”  patch replied.

      “Because you’d not lied to yourself like I have,”  Ekaterina replied, “it’s gonna be hard for me, every bit will hurt, I know it.”

      “it was like pulling off an old suit,”  Patch said, “hard to pull off my feet and paws though, as I’d grown into them, the rest was ok, with a little stretching of course.”

        “I will want to curl up into a ball and scream,”  Ekaterina replied, “but Patch, don’t let me, pull my legs straight, straighten my spine, and pull my feet and paws from me.”

       “I will do what I can to help you,”  Patch replied.

       “Patch, please, put aside your concerns for me for a few minutes, as I need punishment for throwing aside my love for you for so much longer.”  Patch ran his paw down Ekaterina’s back, then her chest and belly.

        “I can’t do it to you Ekaterina,”  patch said softly, “you would scream and cry.”

     “Treat it like a cubbing then,”  Ekaterina replied, “every contraction, let you tear into me.  I will bear it that way.”

         “I am sad more than angry,”  Patch replied.

         “I know,”  Ekaterina replied, “Patch, do for me what you did for Jess.  She became what she truly was.  I want to go back to my old self, to be the bear you loved from when her paws were smaller than your own.  I made paw contact with you, you loved me, I loved you, now I have thrown you away, and I want to get back to you, but I have dirtied my fur, feet and paws stumbling through a forest of shit to get back on the right path, and now not even the best wash in the world would cleanse my body.  I need more than that.”

       “Well I’ll tell you how I did it shall I?”  patch asked.  Ekaterina, desperate now, snuggled up to him.

       “how?”  she asked, sounding like a cub.

         “I lay on my back and stretched the toes of all four paws and feet, then thrust at the air with my legs and paws stretching my spine every time,”  Patch replied, stretching my old skin.  I then, when I felt the time was right, sat up and pulled off my old feet and paws.  then, when the time was right again, I tore down the front of me with the toes of my left paw, not the claws, for they’d disappeared somewhere.  My skin split right down to a soft coat, into which I could not penetrate.  I then tugged at my old fur, opening it up.  I then wriggled and struggled from my old coat.”

         “o help me do that,”  Ekaterina said.

       “I will help you,”  Patch replied, “but it must be you, not me, who makes the tear into your belly fur.  You must want enough to struggle free of your present coat and paws.”

        “I want it, I want it more than I’ve ever wanted anything,”  Ekaterina replied, “well, almost more, the births of my cubs are level with that, pushing to deliver them.  That was a tremendous urge.  I wanted to do that from my nose to my curling toes and sweating pads.”

       “You sound like you want to go through with this,”  patch replied, “I’ll help you.”

      “yes, please patch,”  Ekaterina replied, “please, help me to stretch, to wriggle, to find my inner self.”

        “Do you want to do this on the floor?  Or with me holding you in my lap?”  Patch asked.

        “Hold me Patch, please,”  Ekaterina begged, “but you’ll need your paws to show me how to stretch, so I’ll have to be an adult bear and lie on the rugs, but I want to feel your touch though Patch.”  Patch kissed his mate’s nose.

        “Breathe deeply Ekaterina, imagine your fur inflating, your whole body becoming full of air.”

        “Like, like that inflatable polar bear I once felt?”  Ekaterina asked, “it had rough pads, and bounced away when I touched it with my nose.”

      “yes,”  Patch replied, “you remember the one?  Nanuq got into this silly suit and padded about, he said it was very weird to feel air under his feet and paws, and to be able to bounce off the walls.”

       “I remember that,”  Ekaterina replied, “he could just about curl his toes in the big paws, as it was specially made, the toes on the inflatable suit were huge, as were the paw pads.”

      “Breathe like you are about to push into your tail to deliver a cub,”  Patch said, “but when you push Ekaterina, keep your mouth shut, and breathe through your nose.  Feel what happens.”

        “What if I want to groan and pant with the effort?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “That’ll come later,”  Patch said.  You need to shed your skin first Ekaterina.  I was breathing like you will while stretching my body.  You will stretch your fur, then your body.”

       “So you were doing two things at once,”  Ekaterina mumbled, “I’ll do one thing, separate my fur and paws from my inner self first.  Here goes.”  Ekaterina took a deep breath, closed her mouth and breathed out.  Her breath didn’t escape through her nostrils, though she felt it flowing into her body.

       “This is hard work!”  she whimpered after four breaths.  Then she tried harder, breathing in and pushing the breaths out, imagining she was pushing into her tail to deliver a stuck cub every time she breathed out.  Patch, holding his mate tightly, felt her skin inflate off of her skeleton.

        “One more pushing breath,”  Patch said, after Ekaterina had been making huge efforts for half an hour.  Ekaterina made one more huge effort to push another breath into her hind feet, pushing down hard with her final breath, then she opened her eyes and her mouth.  Feeling light headed, she explored her new body, her paws were almost desensitised by the air between her nerves and the outside world.

       “I want to get out of this body now!”  Ekaterina whimpered, instinctively tearing at her belly with her right paw.  to her astonishment, the spongy toes of her right paw penetrated her flesh.  Yowling, Ekaterina dug deeper and deeper with her inflated right paw, tearing deeper down, until she could go no further, then she began to tear the fur apart.

       “I’m doing this wrong, I should have pulled my paws and feet off first!”  Ekaterina wailed, “it’s all gone wrong!”

       “I’ll help you pull your paws and feet off in a bit,”  patch said, “it’s fine, you’re doing well Ekaterina.  Ekaterina tore her skin from her neck down to between her legs, raking the spongy toes of her right paw down her body.  Then she struggled out of the coat, her paws and feet still enclosed in their inflated, desensitised coverings.

        “I want rid of these horrid hind feet!”  Ekaterina screamed, sitting down and tearing at her right hind foot with the spongy toes of her right forepaw, “I can’t free my hind feet, I haven’t the strength!”  Ekaterina wailed, thrusting her paw at Patch.

        “I can help,”  patch said.

       “go on then,”  Ekaterina replied.  Patch raked his claws down the sole pad of Ekaterina’s right foot, the she bear screaming and crying.

      “that Hurts!”  she yelled, “ow, patch, ow!”  Patch tore and tugged at the sole pads and toes of Ekaterina’s right hind foot with his claws, pulling the sole pad and toe pads of Ekaterina’s right hind foot off one by one.  Ekaterina, grabbing her foot in her paws, found the contact between her old paws and the new sole pad even more painful.  Shrieking, she let go of her foot, Patch quickly tugging off the top of Ekaterina’s old right hind foot.  crying and screaming like an injured cub, Ekaterina could do nothing as patch attacked her ferociously, pushing her onto her back and tearing at the sole of her left hind foot with his claws.  Ekaterina, pain filling her world, screamed, roared and sobbed, but she didn’t beg him to stop.  Patch tore at the sole, toes and tops of both Ekaterina’s hind feet one more time, Ekaterina writhing in pain and drawing up her feet, but her forepaws would go nowhere near her hind feet to protect them, the ravages of Patch’s attacks on her hind feet hitting home every time.  When it was over, Ekaterina sat up, her feet throbbing with the most intense agony she’d ever felt.

         “What do I do now?”  She whimpered.

        “Tug off your forepaws,”  patch said, “unless of course, you want me to do that for you?”

         “I can’t concentrate,”  Ekaterina whimpered, “Patch, it’s too painful, all this is too painful!”

         “I know,”  Patch replied softly.

         “My stomach is hurting, my feet are hurting, my paws are burning too!”  Ekaterina replied desperately, “what do I do about it Patch?”

      “what do you want to do?”  patch asked.

         “Tear off my paws and bathe my hind feet!”  Ekaterina squealed, then more softly, “but that won’t work will it?”

         “My anger is spent Ekaterina,”  Patch said, “but your transformation is not quite complete yet.

         “What do I do to free my paws Patch?”

         “Take off your gloves,”  Patch replied.  Ekaterina, sobbing with fear, tugged at the inflated toes of her right paw with her teeth, finding It slid off easily.  She then tugged at her left paw with her teeth, and found that slid off easily too.  When she grabbed her feet with her newly freed paws though, Ekaterina found the contact still hurt her.  whimpering, she let go of her right foot, fearfully extending it to Patch, who leant down and kissed her sore pads and toes.

        “it’s all over now,”  patch said gently.  Ekaterina collapsed into Patch’s embrace, weeping and roaring with emotion.

        “it’s all over now,”  Patch said, “you are free from your unclean fur and paws, touch them, touch your body fur, leg fur, paws and feet Ekaterina.  You won’t contaminate your new paws and feet.”  Ekaterina explored her old skin with sick fascination, then, once she’d finished, Patch stood over Ekaterina, shielding her with his body as her old skin was destroyed in a fire so bright even Ekaterina could see the flames.  Patch released his mate, Ekaterina struggling to her feet, finding she couldn’t walk on her tender paws and feet.

       “I can’t walk!”  Ekaterina whimpered, collapsing into Patch’s embrace, “it’s hurting me too much.”

       “Can you crawl?”  patch asked.

        “I can, I think,”  Ekaterina replied, crawling round the room.

       “Your hind feet are tender,”  patch said, “your forepaws less so.”

       “Because my hind feet buried my cub, pounding the ground,”  Ekaterina replied, “they needed more of a lesson than my paws did.”  Patch kissed her nose.

        “now do you feel cleaner?”  Patch asked.

       “I do, Patch, I really do feel cleaner.”  Patch gently kissed Ekaterina’s nose, then kissed the sole pad of her right hind foot, Ekaterina instinctively curling her toes as she anticipated the pain she’d felt before.

       “your toes and pads are cute,”  Patch said, kissing the bunched pads of Ekaterina’s right hind foot.  then, sitting down, Patch  gently uncurled the toes of Ekaterina’s right foot with his paw, straightening them.

      “My foot no longer hurts!”  Ekaterina exclaimed, “but it was so painful only a few minutes ago.”

       “I think you know where the pain came from,”  patch said.

       “I know now Patch,”  Ekaterina replied softly, “I’m sorry for what I did.”  Patch kissed the pads of Ekaterina’s left hind foot this time, Ekaterina curling her toes with pleasure this time, and giggling like a cub.

       “my feet no longer hurt because you have forgiven me?”  Ekaterina asked.

        “More than that Ekaterina dear,”  Patch replied.

         “I’m ready to move on,”  Ekaterina replied, “my old coat is gone, my old paws and feet are no longer here.”

      “But two cute paws and two cute hind feet are,”  patch said, “as well as a gorgeous coat.”  Patch kissed Ekaterina’s nose and hugged her, the she bear snuggling closer than she’d done before, burying her face and paws in Patch’s fur, which she thought had grown longer and softer.

       “I’m enabling you to do what you truly want Ekaterina,”  Patch said.

     “to snuggle up to long warm fur and bury my paws in it,”  Ekaterina whispered, snuggling up to the huge bear.

       “Can you reach my hind feet Patch?”  Ekaterina asked.  Patch put his left arm around Ekaterina, who was now kneeling in front of him, her paws around his neck, he then reached his right paw around to touch Ekaterina’s left hind foot.  finding he couldn’t, he asked Ekaterina:

      “How much do you want me to touch the pads of your hind feet Ekaterina love?  I can’t reach them from the position you’re in.”

      “And I don’t want to move, for I want to be cuddled up like this,”  Ekaterina whimpered, resting her chin on Patch’s shoulder.

    ”Could you make me as small as I was when we first met?”  Ekaterina asked, “could you help me walk again?”  Patch smiled:

        “I could,”  he replied, “I could do all that.”

       “I remember you helping me onto my feet,”  Ekaterina said dreamily, “I felt so safe then, so safe.”

        “I could help you walk again,”  Patch replied.

      “I want to crawl first,”  Ekaterina said, “Patch, show me my feet and paws, please,”  Patch kissed his mate’s ear.

        “You want me to take you that far back?”  He asked.

       “I’m there already,”  Ekaterina begged, “ I can’t stand on all four paws Patch, I can’t, it’s too scary, I am a cub again, so please, take me back there, so I can relearn why I loved you so much back then, so, so,”  her voice trailed away.

       “So you can avoid the mistakes you made before?”  Patch asked.

       “yeah,”  Ekaterina replied, almost sobbing.

       “”I will help you to play again,”  patch said.

        “You will walk again,”  Patch replied, embracing his mate.

       “Yes, but not yet, let me crawl first,”  Ekaterina replied dreamily, “touch my paws and feet Patch, stroke my ears and paws, please,”  Patch rubbed Ekaterina’s back with his paw, the she bear sighing deeply.

        “Your new fur smells great,”  Patch said, all fresh and clean.”  Ekaterina kissed his ear.

       “I would like you to touch the soles of my feet again,”  Ekaterina whispered.

        “I will,”  Patch replied, “I will trace your pads and count your toes, and make sure your new paws and feet fit properly too.”

         “Like you did when you got your new paws and feet from Orbon you mean?”  Ekaterina asked.

      “Yes, I sort of worked my paws around my feet, pressing, squeezing and kneading my pads and toes, it felt great!”

      “What about your paws though?”  Ekaterina asked.

      “Well just lifting my arms up slipped my paws into their new coverings, my hind feet took a little work to get right,”  Patch replied.

       “I would love to have witnessed that,”  Ekaterina said.

        “I could re-enact that for you,”  Patch offered, “take my feet in my paws and mould my feet like I did in the shower.”

       “I’d like to touch your paws and feet while you re-enact that,”  Ekaterina said..  Patch leant over and tickled the sole of Ekaterina’s left hind foot with the toes of his right fore, Ekaterina giggling and leaning into him, shuffling closer to him.

      “I love that,”  she said, Patch kissing her ear.

        “It’s time to do your duty,”  Ekaterina whispered.

       “I wanted to take it slowly Ekaterina,”  patch replied gently, “but if you insist.”

       “No not that duty silly,”  Ekaterina laughed, “your duty to your community, I just remembered your other role, the one which you were appointed to.”

       “I’d rather do my natural duty to my mate,”  he replied smiling.

       “But the community need you,”  Ekaterina replied, “I do too, but I can wait.”

        “I need to meet my followers,”  patch replied, “I can’t leave them leaderless.”

      “I’ll stay here,”  Ekaterina yawned.

       “You come too,”  Patch replied, “after all, you are my mate, and you have a job here which is as important, no, more important than mine.”

        “I haven’t delivered a cub in ages,”  Ekaterina replied, “you delivered Titania’s cub.”

       “We’ll get you back into the swing of that,”  patch replied.

      “Can you magic up pregnant bears, lions and tigers?”  Ekaterina asked.

      “No,”  Patch replied, “but I’m sure there will be pregnant bears and big cats soon enough.”

       “You are spiritual leader, and leader of this community too, I’m just a failed mate to you,”  Ekaterina replied miserably.

        “Did you go through all that struggle and pain for nothing then?”  Patch asked, “all that effort and screaming just to decide you’re a failed mate?”  Ekaterina huffed with exasperation at herself.

        “You’ll be doing more than physically helping me get on my paws,”  she whimpered, “I’m a wreck.”

        “What you need is to attend and be paws on at the birth of a cub,”  Patch replied, “but we can’t make cubs be born out of thin air.”

       “I heard Tess showed little Arjuna how his mum crawled to us and gave birth to him, screaming and pushing with her last strength,”  Ekaterina replied, “Arjuna was very upset afterwards.  He wanted to meet his mama, but of course, now she’s no longer here.”

 

Meanwhile, in the soft play room, Hattie and Sita sat on the soft flooring, Sita massaging the pads and toes of Hattie’s right hind foot.

         “Who’s leader round here?”  Hattie asked.

        “You’ve met him,”  Sita replied, “Patch is leader.”

       “Patch?”  Hattie asked, closing her eyes in concentration, “the one with the lovely paws who took away the fear?”

       “yes him,”  Sita replied, “he’s leader.”

        “he doesn’t seem strong enough to be leader,”  Hattie replied, “I expect a leader to be stern and rough, demanding of respect at every turn, but he doesn’t demand respect at all.”

       “Patch won’t demand anything from you,”  Sita said, “he will ask, and he will expect you to treat him with kindness and respect when he treats you so.  Patch has been hurt before by those closest to him, but they are coming round to the right path now.”

         “What on earth is that?”  Hattie asked.

      “the right path you mean?”  Sita enquired.

      “No, Sita, there’s a huge white thing padding into the room, he’s an enormous polar bear, and he’s bouncing on his paws a bit.”

       “Ah, that’s Nanuq,”  Sita said, “he likes dressing up in this inflatable suit, he’s an impressive polar bear in his bare feet, as it were, but he likes to get into this suit and bounce about all over the place.  It’s silly really.”

      “he is bouncing on his paws, it looks so funny!”  Hattie yelled, “Sita, I wish you could see this, he’s literally bouncing on his toes now!”

        “oooah!”  Nanuq grunted as he fell over, the inflatable suit cushioning his fall.

        “Nanuq’s a huge fat bear now!”  Hattie laughed, clapping her paws.

 

Patch wandered into the soft play room with Ekaterina, Nanuq padding up to them in his oversized suit, rearing onto his hind feet and batting at Patch with his over padded paws.

        “You silly old bruin!”  Patch said, pushing Nanuq off his feet, the bear landing on his back, the cushioning affect of the air filled suit making his hind legs flex, his hind feet bouncing about uncontrollably, Nanuq laughing uproariously as he watched his paws and feet take on a life of their own.

       “your paws and feet are large and very cute,”  Patch said, “you can just about curl those toes I think Nanuq.  Nanuq curled the toes of both hind feet, the rough pads of the inflatable suit bunching up, the large toes curling over as tightly as Nanuq could curl them.

        “come and touch my body and feet,”  Nanuq said, Ekaterina touched Nanuq’s hind feet, the bear’s over sized hind feet making her smile.

        “Cute hind feet Nanuq,”  Ekaterina said, Nanuq wriggling madly, his oversized paws and feet waving with abandon.

         “How do you get out of that?”  Hattie asked.

        “if you notice, my head is not in the suit,”  Nanuq said, There’s a fan inside the suit keeping me cool.  When I want to emerge, I stop the fan, then pull the plug on the suit and roll about madly, squeezing out all the air, I then unzip myself from the suit, there’s a zip by my belly.”

       “Why Nanuq, why wear a silly suit?”  Ekaterina asked.

      “Because I like to feel air under my feet, and be able to leap about with abandon,”  Nanuq replied.

      “What about your head?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “I could put a silly headpiece on, but I haven’t yet,”  Nanuq replied, I have done it once though, and it was weird to wear that.”

       “What does it feel like to have air under your feet?”  Hattie asked.

       “You bounce about a lot,”  Nanuq replied, getting to his feet and padding about on the padded floor.

      “Bet you can’t bounce on your feet like this!”  Nanuq laughed, bouncing on his toes, leaping feet into the air with every effort.

       “You look so cute doing that,”  Patch laughed.  Nanuq landed on all four feet, padding to Ekaterina and sitting down awkwardly, Ekaterina exploring him from head to hind feet.  Nanuq ended this by putting on the headpiece and inflating that, making him look twice his normal size.

     “So now you can leap about and not look where you’re going because you’ll bounce like a ball?”  Ekaterina asked.  Nanuq smiled and got up, bouncing on the toes of all four paws, then, rising to his hind feet, he bounced on his toes, Ekaterina laughing as his highly padded paws pummelled her shoulder as he bounced on the toes of his over padded hind feet.

       “How can you curl your toes and bounce like that?”  Ekaterina asked.  Nanuq lay down and showed her the joints in his suit, that in fact the feet and paws were inflatable boots and gloves, the joints for the arms and legs were flexible enough for him to walk, and at the headpiece was  yet another joint.

        “it’s so cool!”  Ekaterina said, “a big bouncy bear!”  Nanuq laughed merrily at this.

       “I’ll never surpass patch as a big bouncy bear though, he’s cuddly and bouncy without being full of air.  He’s not false, I am.”

       “You are a good bear Nanuq,”  Ekaterina said, “you are good to this community.”

        “I know you are good Nanuq,”  Patch said, “but there is no harm in pretending to be a fat bear, when you are not.”

      “I just wanted to see what it was like to be fat and bouncy!”  Nanuq said, “I’m not trying to be you patch.”

      “are you saying I’m fat?”  Patch asked in an aggrieved tone.

      “No, no I’m not, oh dear, oh dear!”  Nanuq whimpered.

       “I’m not fat!”  patch wailed, stamping around the play room.  Nanuq, appalled at his misjudgement, chased him in his oversized feet and paws.

       “Patch, please!”  Nanuq begged, Patch turning on the now bouncing, blundering polar bear and knocking him off his fat feet, removing the inflated foot covering from Nanuq’s right hind foot, and tickling the polar bear’s pads, Nanuq laughing helplessly.

       “Okay, okay, stop tickling my foot now, please!”  Nanuq begged.  Patch kissed Nanuq’s pads, the male bear giggling with pleasure.

       “Daft old bruin,”  Patch said, Nanuq smiling.

       “I love this play,”  he said.  patch replaced the inflated foot covering on Nanuq’s right hind foot, Nanuq getting to his bouncy feet and bouncing on his toes, Hattie laughing at his antics.

        “how does it feel in there?”  she asked.

       “I’m floating on air, it’s great!”  Nanuq replied, “my feet feel light and springy, my toes, how wonderful those toes are!”  patch could see Nanuq’s joy in his eyes, even though the inflatable head peace devoid him of any expression.

       “Can I touch your paws and feet Nanuq?”  Ekaterina asked.  Nanuq, smiling broadly, sat down, or rather bounced down onto his backside, extending his paws and feet to Ekaterina, who explored them with gentle care.

       “I’ll bet your feet are a bit desensitised to the ground,”  she said,  Nanuq admitted they were.

       “I can’t feel much,”  he said, “it’s like bouncing about in my own little world.”

       “You do that enough anyway, so no change Nanuq,”  Koda snapped, “dressing up like you’re a big cub, who the hell do you think you are?”

       “he wants a bit of fun, for Eohippus sake Koda, leave him alone will you!”  Sita growled, “you really are a pain sometimes.”

       “I’m trying to teach my cub how to be grown up, and now I see a grown bear acting more cubbish than a newborn!”  Koda yelled.

       “I think he’s funny,”  Hattie said.

        “Nanuq’s a grown member of the community, he’s one of our CCTV operators, and he walks about in an inflatable polar bear costume? Isn’t he happy with his own body?  For heaven’s sake!”  Koda screamed.

       “I think it is time someone took a happy pill,”  Nanuq said, rearing onto his bouncy hind feet and patting Koda on the head in a patronising manner, clearly meaning to anger the black bear.

          “sod you!”  Koda roared.

       “now isn’t that nice,”  Nanuq replied, “such a nice mannered cub mama Kamchatka bred,”  then he turned savage, “you are a thorough disgrace Koda, now piss off out of my sight!”  Koda ran off, his mood black.

       “I hate that,”  Nanuq whimpered, looking thoroughly fed up.

       “can you run in those cushioned paws and feet?”  Hattie asked.

        “Well, no not that well,”  Nanuq replied, “my feet are too big and clumsy you see, I’m meant to be a big fat polar bear, without actually putting on the weight.  I can also bounce off the walls and roll about without hurting myself, which I love doing.”

        “I found the deprivation of touch very hard to take,”  Ekaterina said.

        “You blew your fur off didn’t you Ekaterina dear?”  Nanuq asked.  Ekaterina felt her paw taken in the huge rubbery paw of Nanuq’s costume, the grip on her paw surprisingly strong.

       “yes, well, I wanted to get rid of my old dirty fur.  Patch helped me.  I blew and blew and blew into my body, breathing like I did while having a cub, and my body inflated, and then I could emerge, but Patch got violent at one point, and that hurt me a lot, well, it was meant to.”

        “You need not discuss private matters with me Ekaterina,”  Nanuq said gently, “I won’t ask you about them.”

        “Someone said you’d re-enacted cubbings in your time,”  Ekaterina said, “Nanuq, could you do that now?  make it completely silly, not only become a big male polar bear, but pretend to be a male polar bear delivering a cub?”  Nanuq laughed at this.

       “I could,”  he replied, “but not in your pool Ekaterina, I’d float on the top all the time.”

        “You would in that suit of yours,”  Ekaterina replied.

        “Why is giving birth to cubs and pretending to such a big thing here?”  Hattie asked.

        “it’s emotional, it’s hard work for both mama and attendants, it has many variations, it enables paw play, encourages gentility and is a lot of fun,”  Nanuq said, “and as for males playing the part of the female, well that’s just what happens sometimes.”

         “the next thing you’ll be telling me is that you helped a human give birth to her baby,”  Hattie growled.

        “I did,”  Ekaterina replied.  Hattie put her head in her paws and shook it:

      “No, no, no!”  she whimpered.”

      “Oh yes,”  Moses said, padding up to Hattie, taking her paws from in front of her face with the utmost gentility and kissing her nose, the she bear staring in shock.

        “You?”  she asked, “you’re, um, the baby Ekaterina helped into the world?”

      “yes, a few years ago now,”  Moses replied, “but I still watch how she helped my mama deliver me, it is a wonderful video Hattie, you could watch it now if you like.”

       “How, um, how, how paws on, did you get Ekaterina?”  Hattie asked.

       “She got paws on with my mamma’s hands and feet, and then with me when I came out, when mama Janet was pushing and screaming, and curling her toes, and everything!  It’s wonderful!”  Moses enthused, Hattie’s shock deepening.

        “how?”  she asked, “Ekaterina, please, tell me how you got paws on with a mama human delivering her cub?”

       “She came to me, and I helped her,”  Ekaterina replied, “delivering a human cub is similar to delivering a bear cub.”

       “I’d like to see that,”  Hattie replied.

      “follow me, and I’ll show you,”  Moses said, tugging at Hattie’s paw.  as if in a dream, Hattie followed the bare footed young human to another part of the house, where she sat down and watched the most amazing video she’d ever seen.

        “I wanted to help my mama like Ekaterina helped yours Moses,”  Hattie said, “my mama did all yours did before she gave birth to my brother cub.”

        “I’ll bet they sounded similar too,”  Moses said.

      “They did, mama panted, groaned and whimpered yes,”  Hattie replied.

        “mama Janet and I play the stuck foot game too,”  Moses said, “it’s a great game that.”  Hattie looked down at Moses feet, thinking the young boy’s bare feet well padded and rather similar to her own hind feet.

       “What’s the stuck foot game?”  she asked.

      “Press your hind feet against another players and then pretend they are stuck together,”  Moses said, “you use your paws to try and free your feet, it’s a pretend game, a role play game mama calls it.  Patch plays it very well too.”

     “Can I touch your left hind foot Moses?”  Hattie asked.

        “yes okay,”  Moses replied, smiling as his foot was embraced in Hattie’s paws, Hattie exploring his small toes, then the sole of his foot from ball to heel.

         “Your foot is so like mine!”  she exclaimed.

      “I check the soles of my feet by touch every day,”  Moses said, “do you check yours for thorns Hattie?”  Hattie smiled as Moses curled his toes with pleasure as she gently stroked the soft skin on the sole of his right foot.

       “Your toes are curling and the skin is bunching up, just like my pads do when my toes curl, this is so sweet!”  Hattie said, Moses smiling and tightly curling his slightly curled toes, Hattie blowing on the bunched skin on the sole of Moses foot, the young boy giggling with pleasure.

        “can I touch your right foot Hattie?”  Moses asked.  Hattie released her hold on Moses right foot and gave the boy her own left hind foot.  Laughing, Hattie curled her toes, just as Moses had done.  Moses gently drew circles on the sole of Hattie’s right foot with the forefinger of his right hand, the young bear giggling like a cub.  

    “That feels great!”  Hattie laughed.

        “the pads of your feet are rough,”  Moses said.

       “Yours were smooth,”  Hattie replied, “you have cute paws and feet Moses.”  Moses laughed and kissed Hattie’s nose.

      “My feet know the touch of a bear’s,”  he replied, “they stick very easily to a bear’s feet too.”

       “Let’s both agree each has cute feet and paws, Moses said.  Hattie grinned and kissed his nose.

        “would you show me how your mama gave birth to your brother?”  Moses asked.  Hattie hesitated:

        “I saw every minute of it,”  she replied, “it was all groans, grunts and clenching of teeth.  Then, then she braced her feet against the den roof a bit.”

       “There is a den, a birthing den Ekaterina has for use of mamas to be.  how if we go in there and you can show me,”  Moses suggested, “and I can pretend to be a female bear delivering a cub too.”  Hattie laughed at this, but agreed.

 

Moses and Hattie asked Ekaterina where her birthing den was, Ekaterina asking them why they wanted to use it.  Moses told her, Ekaterina hugging the human and the bear in turn.

        “I think Sally and Peter might want to hear that tale too Hattie,”  Ekaterina said, “peter  wanted to re-enact the birth of a bear cub ever since he heard Sally describe her experiences.”

       “I’ve met Sally and Peter,”  Hattie said, “Sally had something about her which made me think she was part Ursine, and now I know.”

         “I’ll go find her,”  Moses said, running away.

         “he’s lovely,”  Hattie said to Ekaterina.

      “Moses is a lovely young man cub yes,”  Ekaterina replied.

        “”Peter won’t feel the same way Sally did when he re-enacts the birth of a cub,”  Ekaterina mused, “Sally did it for a reason, Peter is just playing at it.  Though I suppose, if Patch gets involved, Peter will feel what Sally felt.”

       “I think Moses has cute hind  feet Ekaterina,”  Hattie said.  Ekaterina smiled:

       “yeah, I know,”  she replied, “I rubbed his mama’s hind feet while she pushed and groaned while delivering him, I felt her toes curling and pads bunching as she strained with contractions, then I caught Moses on his way into the world.  That was wonderful!”

 

Meanwhile, in another part of the house, Hope and faith stood toe to toe, shouting at each other.  The argument had started when Faith found Hope playing with Sally.  Sally and Hope were crawling about, each tickling the other’s toes.  Faith remarked that Hope would do better not to get too close to the humans by tickling their toes, as humans caused her own paws to be set on the bridge too soon.  Furious at her remarks, hope broke off her game, padded up to Faith and whacked her across her face with her paw.

       “You disgust me!”  Hope screamed.  This grew into a shouting match, Faith denouncing Sally as horrible, that Kuwaizi’s birth was nothing but a sham, and that Hope was complicit in the deception of the whole community.  Hope, apoplectic after fifteen minutes of this, wrestled Faith to the floor, just as Moses ran in,.

      “What’s going on? “  he asked.  Sally told him, Moses appalled and angry.

      “Faith, get up, now!”  Moses screamed at the half grown she bear.  Faith got to her feet, and Moses whacked her hard on her nose, Faith squealing with pain.

      “You know Hope’s not a lire, you know it Faith!  You have met Kuaizi, you have met Matoskah, you know Jinghua died!  Just because Hope is gentle and attracts others to her, that is no need to become jealous of her!”

      “when Sushanti had Baako, Hope was there, all paws on with her and the cub, when Sally had Kuaizi, Hope was there again, I want to be at the birth of a cub, I want to see it and get paws on with it! But noone wants me there!”  Faith screamed.

      “You need to find your own path,”  Moses said, “hope’s is clearly to help others have their cubs, indeed, mama Ekaterina is seriously thinking of training her up to help her.  she’s already training Targon, with Mama Targon’s full knowledge.”

      “You mean I might be able to help deliver cubs into the world?”  hope asked, her argument with Faith forgotten for the moment.

      “yes,”  Moses replied, “I think mama Ekaterina is going to ask you to help her.  she will maybe train you in re-enacting births too.”

      “I have always wanted to do that,”  Hope said, “ever since I saw Baako born.  I’ve not yet asked Patch if I can feel what Sally felt though, I must ask him.”

        “but I want that!”  Faith roared, stamping her paws.

        “find your own path Faith,”  Moses replied, “don’t be envious of Hope because she’s found hers.”

        “What brings you here Moses?”  Sally asked.

       “Oh,”  Moses replied, Hattie and I were discussing the birth of her brother cub, and she was going to re-enact the birth of her brother for me, and we were wondering if you’d like to come with us and show Hattie how you delivered Kuaizi in the small den in Ekaterina’s lie up.  We wondered if Peter would like to come along too.”

       “Peter’s playing with the other cubs,”  Sally replied, “but I’ll come and show you yes, Hope, maybe there, you can feel what it was like for me.  Maybe get into the den and re-enact Kuwaizi’s birth for yourself.”  Hope’s eyes lit up.

      “Could I?”  she asked, dancing on her toes, “I’d like that.”  Faith looked down at her paws.

       “So I’m not invited?”  she asked miserably.

        “if you can stop sniping at Hope for her success then yes come along,”  Moses replied, “but if you can’t stop sniping, then no.”

        “I’ll try,”  Faith grumbled.

 

Sally, Hope, Hattie, Moses and faith padded to Ekaterina’s workplace where they found the den occupied.

 

The first they knew of this was a wail of agony, then panting and the sound of scrabbling toes as the mother to be fought for a foothold, then the sound of gripping claws and a squeak as the den took the full force of a mama bracing her feet against the left wall of the den to push her back hard against the opposite wall.  Peter ran in, having heard about Sally’s re-enactment of Kuwaizi’s birth.

       “oaoaoaoaoaoaaow! Oaoaoaoaoaoaaow!  The mother screamed hysterically.

        “Who’s in there?”  Hope asked.

        “Where the hell’s Ekaterina?  I want Ekaterina here!”  the mama screamed.

       “Um, I don’t think she knows you’re here, let alone in labour,”  Hope replied, “Lily, who is the father of your cub?”

       “I’ll tell you if I get through this!”  Lily growled, “right now, I want help!  My cub’s hurting me!”

        “We were hoping to re-enact a couple of cubbings,”  Faith grumbled, “now you have got in the way!”  Sally slapped Faith, while Hope crawled in to see Lily.

       “it’s a bit cramped in here,”  she observed, kissing the pads of Lily’s right hind foot as the mother bear relaxed her foothold on the right hand wall of the den.

       “Can I help?”  Hope asked.  Lily groaned deeply.

       “kissing my foot helped, I’m not alone now.”

      “No, and I’ll help you, Sally will too, and Moses, and Hattie too.  We’re all here for you Lily.”

      “But Ekaterina isn’t, and if things go wrong, I’ll need her!”  Lily whimpered.

        “Nothing’s gone wrong yet,”  Hope replied, “how bad are the pains?”

       “Let me see, now fear is gone,”  Lily gasped, waiting for another contraction.  When it came, Lily moaned, wriggled, and puffed and blew a little, and curled her toes too, but there was none of the previous desperate bracing of her feet against den walls accompanied with hysterical screaming.

        “now that’s better,”  hope said, gently crawling up to Lily’s head and kissing her nose.

       “Stay with me Hope,”  Lily begged, Hope looking down at the mama bear’s huge paws and then up at her half closed eyes.

       “I’ll stay,”  Hope replied softly.

       “Hope’s got all the fun!”  Faith roared, stamping around the room.

        “We can all see what’s going on in the den on this 360 display, it’s holographic, so you can see what’s happening from any angle. These cameras are amazing!”  Sally said, tapping into a computer, an image of Lily and Hope in the den in 3 dimensions appearing on the floor in the middle of the room.

        “You can see Lily’s hind feet, look, she’s curling her toes now!”  Moses yelled, pointing to the hologram.

       “it’s like we’re in there with her,”  Hattie said, completely oar struck.

        “Great isn’t it,”  Sally replied, “I heard Charles Fullbeans talking about it, it would allow more realism in re-enactments, and also enable mothers to be monitored from all angles without the attendant being in the den if the mother to be didn’t want it.”

       “You can see every pad, every toe, every muscle straining, everything, it’s amazing!”  Moses exclaimed.

     “Now let’s sit down and watch Hope deliver Lily’s cub shall we?”  Sally asked.

        “I can’t believe what I’m seeing,”  Hattie whispered.  The Hologram showed Lily rolling onto her back, then drawing up her hind legs.  Lily, deep in labour now, grabbed her hind feet in her paws, desperately rolling from side to side as she moaned pitifully, then strained deeply into her bottom, ending her effort panting while thrashing at the air with her hind feet and forepaws.  Lily strained harder than ever, her hind feet braced against the roof of the den, toes curled into the roof.  Yowling, Lily relaxed her pressure on the roof of the den and splayed her hind legs, wriggling madly.  Then, gasping, Lily rolled onto her back, grabbed her hind feet in her paws, rolled about, then let go, then splayed her hind legs as she pushed! Hope rubbed Lily’s right paw as she pushed deeply into her tail.”

     “how cute, how lovely!”  Hattie gasped.

        “Lily will be okay with Hope there,”  Sally replied, “I know she will be okay, for I’ve had Hope’s care during my labour, and I knew little of what to do.  Hope helped me, she guided me, though she didn’t know she was doing so.”

        “Lily’s now sitting up in the den, leaning down and cleaning herself,”  Moses said, “her hind feet are huge! Her toes are flexing a bit now, and she’s panting a little, now she’s lifting her head and opening her mouth.  her squeal of pain, so expressive, while she rocks back and fourth, her paws clamped over her belly!  Lily’s now gasping and moaning, her eyes tightly shut and toes curled.  Hope’s rubbing the pads of Lily’s right hind foot, and now massaging her curled toes.  how cute, how very cute and kind and gentle, and everything sweet!”

       “Lily’s now rolling forward,”  Sally said, “ her head near the entrance to the den, Hope’s crawling round behind her, Lily now on her paws and knees, now she’s sitting back on her heels, I can see the sole of her right hind foot, and her backside pressing into her heels, Hope massaging the sole of Lily’s left hind foot, now digging her toes into the ball of Lily’s foot as Lily endures a contraction, Hope’s digging in hard, I think that’s an endorphin producing place.  Lily’s straining hard, really pushing now, her bottom in the air, Hope rubbing the toes of her right hind foot, now hope’s kissing the heel of Lily’s left hind foot, now Lily’s lowering her head between her forepaws and panting, really panting hard.”

        “why are you describing this, we can all see it!”  Faith yelled.

       “I can’t,”  Ekaterina said.

       “Oh, I didn’t see you there!”  Faith yelped.

      “Moses and Sally did,”  Ekaterina replied, “I’m not going to get paws on if Hope’s doing a great job,”  she added, “I learnt through getting my paws dirty, as it were, and so should she.  I don’t think anything’s wrong, for if there was anything wrong, Lily would know, and would ask Hope to find help.”

      “Now Lily’s splaying her hind feet and pushing.  I can see her muscles straining as she’s pushing hard, really hard, harder still, go for it Lily!”  Sally yelled, her toes curling into the tiles on the floor as she watched Lily straining into her tail.

      “hooaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaooaw! Yaoaoaoaoaoaowwwaoaoaow!  Ooaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaoah!”  Lily screamed as she pushed.  Then she closed her mouth and bore down hard into her tail, fluid exploding from her as she strained.

       “I can see the cub’s paws now, and they are enormous paws too!”  Moses said, “but the pads are facing up, not soles down.”

      “something is wrong Hope,”  Lily gasped, “I can feel something’s wrong!”

       “Your cub’s coming backwards,”  hope said, “I’ll find Ekaterina, I can’t deal with this.”

      “But I want to push, now, oh god, now, right now!  Eeeeeeeeeaoaoaoaow!”  Lily roared, straining into her tail.  Ekaterina opened a door in the back of the den and crawled into the small space.  Seeing her via the light in the den, Hope sat back, whimpering with fear.

      “it’s all right, I’ll tell you what to do, and you can help Lily,”  Ekaterina said, while simultaneously stroking Lily’s right hind foot with her paw.

        “how do we get the cub out?”  Hope squeaked.

      “the trick is to pull the cub into the world gently, help Lily, when she pushes, pull the cub down towards her heels.  Go on.  Hope gripped the cub’s hind feet, and when Lily pushed, she guided the cub out, Lily grunting with effort and pain.

       “the cub’s bottom is coming out now,”  Ekaterina said, “push Lily, push hard!”  Lily pushed, and Hope felt resistance, then the cub slip free, Lily screaming and grunting as the cub’s body slid into the world.

        “Can I catch my cub?”  Lily panted.

      “No Lily, not this time,”  Ekaterina said gently, “Now push, push hard, this will hurt and be hard work.”  Lily wriggled, and then sobbing, she bore down hard into her tail, yelling and screaming as she felt the cub’s body emerging.

      “aaaaaow! God!Yaaaaw! Eeeeoeoeoeoeoeaowow!”  Lily complained, Huuuuuauauauauuwuamph!  She panted as she relaxed to ease the cub’s head into the world, Lily ended her labour by screeching as her body was stretched by the passage of her cub’s head.

      “all done Lily, all done,”  Hope wept.

        “yes, all done Lily,”  Ekaterina said softly, “you did well.

        “I tried to turn right way round mama!”  the cub yelled, Lily howling with emotion.

 

         “wow, that was tense,”  Sally gasped.

       “You’re telling me!”  Moses replied SIGHING WITHRELIEF and uncurling his toes from a crack in the tiles they’d found to cling to.

 

Lily collapsed onto the floor, Hope helping the cub to his mama’s head, Lily licking the cub dry and embracing him in her paws.

         “Welcome to the world little one,”  Lily said softly, the cub snuggling close to her, Lily sighing with relief and contentment.       

         “that was traumatic,”  Lily sighed, “but it was amazing too.”

        “I’ll never forget it,”  hope said, kissing the hot damp pads of Lily’s right hind foot, then crawling out of the den after Ekaterina.

        “That was amazing!”  hope enthused.  Ekaterina, sighing with relief, replied:

       “yeah it was.”

       “I can’t believe how tightly Lily’s toes curled Ekaterina, I’ve tried curling my toes like that, but I can’t do it, I just can’t!”

       “Only when you give birth to a cub will you be able to curl your toes like that Hope dear,”  Ekaterina replied.

       “that was amazing Hope,”  Sally said, “you did really well!”

       “Lily did well too, she pushed the cub into the world Sally, I didn’t, though I would have liked to help her by doing so.”

        “can I go in to see Lily?”  Sally asked.

       “yes,”  Lily called from inside the den, “but it’s a squeeze in here!”  Sally smiled and crawled into the den, coming face to  face with Lily, the she bear touching noses with Sally.

         “how was it?”  Sally asked.

       “Painful, hard, exhausting work,”  Lily replied wearily, “I’m sure I’ve never pushed so hard to deliver a cub before today.”

       “I know how it feels,”  Sally said.  then she laughed suddenly as Lily’s cub tickled the toes of her left foot with his tiny paw.

      “your cub’s tickling my toes!”  Sally laughed, curling her tickled toes, feeling them catch the cub’s tiny ones.

       “You’ve got my paw!”  the cub squealed.

        “now let my cub’s paw go Sally,”  Lily said, Sally doing so, the cub kissing the toes which had so recently held his paw.

        “shuffle round, and sit down Sally,”  Lily said, backing up and sitting back on her heels, “then you can stroke my cub, if he’ll let you.”

        “Can we crawl through the back door and tickle Lily’s toes while she’s sitting back on her heels Ekaterina?”  Hope asked.

        “I wouldn’t,”  Ekaterina replied, “though stroking her pads might be acceptable, try it Hope.”  Hope crawled back in to the den through the door she’d left through half an hour before, seeing Lily’s back and below that, the soles of both her hind feet, toes relaxed.  Hope crawled up to Lily and breathed on her pads, Lily wriggling a little and curling her toes slightly.  Hope then gently massaged the heel pad of Lily’s right hind foot, Lily’s toes curling tighter and tighter as Hope’s paw stroked and massaged her pads.

      “Stop it Hope!”  Lily gasped, “my toes can’t curl any more to express my pleasure, but I want to curl them more!”  Hope gently rubbed the bunched pads of Lily’s right hind foot, Lily whimpering as she struggled to curl her toes a little more than their full range of movement, Hope kissing the mama bear’s toes, Lily gasping and relaxing her effort.

        “is that bear making you curl your toes like giving birth to me mama?”  her cub asked.  Lily smiled and replied:

       “yes little one, but this time it’s noticeable, when I pushed against you, I didn’t notice my toes curling in pain, now I notice them, and the pleasure of Hope’s touch is balanced by the pain of keeping my toes curled.”

      “Well don’t curl your toes then,”  her cub suggested.

      “it’s not that easy little one, you’ll find out soon enough,”  Lily replied smiling.

       “Maybe one day I’ll feel a mama bear curl her toes, and she’ll be pushing against a cub of mine?”  Lily’s cub asked.

       “Steady on!”  Lily laughed, “you’re not yet on your paws, there’s time enough for that kind of talk.”

       “Can I crawl round and touch your toes mama?”  her cub asked.  Lily smiled and agreed:

      “come and feel them then little one,”  she said, “and don’t you want milk now?”

       “I’ll touch your toes, and you tell me if I want milk,”  the cub said, “I think Hope could tell when you wanted to push by touching your toes.”

      “that was because I was curling them in pain little one!”  Lily laughed, “surely I can’t tell if you want milk by the touch of your paw on my hind foot?”

       “I’ll try it,”  the cub said, crawling round to his mama’s left hind foot, “I’ll touch your toes, there.”  Instantly Lily’s toes curled fiercely round her cub’s, the she bear squealing with surprise at her reaction to his touch.

       “My toes are out of control!”  she screeched as her toes tightened their hold on those of her cub’s tiny paw.

        “What do you think mama?”  the cub asked.

       “I think my toes are going to crush yours, sod the milk, my toes, my toes won’t release your paw!”  Lily yelled, wriggling and tugging at her left hind foot.

       “Relax mama,”  the cub said gently, kissing his mama’s pads, Lily swallowing hard and fighting to relax.  Finding she could, her toes uncurled, releasing her cub’s paw.

       “I didn’t like that!”  Lily whimpered.

       “Well I did mama,”  her cub said, kissing her pads once more, Lily bracing her paws on the floor and putting her head down between them to see her cub, even if he was upside down.

       “but I crushed your tiny paw!”  she whimpered.

       “I liked it, it was fine,”  the cub replied, “and no more did you crush my paw then than you did when you delivered me, now that was a squeeze!.”

          Let me sit down properly,”  Lily said, shuffling round in the den and sitting on her backside, her hind feet out in front, her cub clambering into her lap.

        “My labour started hours ago,”  Lily said, cradling her cub, who drank busily, “I felt the first contractions, and came in here to deliver my cub.  I thought Ekaterina would be along soon, as I thought someone had seen me come in here and would alert her.  Seems not.  I was disturbed by little humans and a bear or two who wanted to re-enact the birth of a cub or two.  You got a real eye full though I think.”

       “yes, and it was wonderful,”  Peter said, “thank you Lily for letting us be with you during your labour.”

        “I hope it was worth watching,”  Lily said smiling.

       “It was!”  Sally said, “and Peter will be re-enacting that, won’t you?”  peter laughed and replied:

       “No Sally I won’t, well not in public.”

       “It’s okay to play at it,”  Lily said, “and please Peter, have a go if you feel the need.  After all, I’ll see it as celebrating the successful birth of my cub.”

        “Okay,”  Peter replied, “I will.”

        “But do it properly, moan, groan, yell and curl your toes like you mean it,”  Lily cautioned, “or I will be very angry!”  Sally giggled, Peter grinned.

        “I’ll do my best,”  Peter replied smiling.

       “Can I look at your hind feet?”  Lily asked, as you lot got a good look at mine?”  Peter and Sally laughed, Hope and Hattie smiling, all sitting down and letting Lily examine their hind feet.  Lily settled her cub, then crawled from the den and washed herself before approaching the bears and children.  She sat down, and one by one, they all sat in front of her, each unable to stop their toes curling with pleasure as Lily took their feet in her paws, stroking tops, soles and toes.  Even Peter laughed like he’d not done since he was very young, curling his toes tightly with pleasure and emotion.

        “You have expressive toes and soft pads Peter,”  Lily said, “I wonder if you can curl your toes like I did?”

       “I’d like to Lily,”  peter replied, “I’d like to curl my toes like you did, and hold my feet with my hands too.”

       “I heard your feet do not like your hands,”  Lily said.

       “When my fingers are massaging my toes or my heels, then my feet like them, but when they are gripping my soles, then my feet hate my hands, and my toes curl, and my feet push against my hands, and my hands pull against my feet,”  Peter replied smiling.

       “So it’s a real fight?”  Lily asked.  peter stretched the toes of his right foot Lily held in her paws, then curled them tightly, Lily rubbing the sole of his foot, feeling stretching skin, then bunching skin as he flexed his toes.

         “yes it was,”  Peter replied, “and this is everything I was taught to do with my feet, but never dared do in public Lily.”

        “I played with my hind feet often while in my cage at the circus,”  Lily replied, “my hind feet were good playthings for me.  Play soothed my mind.”

      “What other games did you play?”  Peter asked, “could you play the stuck foot game alone?”

      “I could,”  Lily said, “bend my legs towards each other, so my feet touch, sole to sole, toes to toes, then lock my toes together, pressing heels firmly into place, and smoothing over with my paws to ensure a tight seal.  Then it’s time to curl my toes a bit, as much as I can, and fight with my paws to free my feet.  It takes some doing.”

       “I’ll bet you rubbed the soles of your feet a bit,”  Sally said.  Lily giggled:

       “I did,”  she replied, “but my toes were stubborn, they wouldn’t let go of each other!”

       “More to the point you didn’t want them to let go,”  Hope said.  Lily looked at her.

        “yes,”  she replied, “I had to rub the pads of my feet with my paws as much as I could to relax my toes, that took a long time.  My toes relaxed, and I was then able to pry my heels and the balls of my hind feet free.  It took ages!  But it was lovely, felt great, and stretched my imagination, as well as strengthening my toes too.”

        “Would you show us how you play that game?”  Peter asked, “then we could play it too?  We play two player stuck foot games, not single player.  Please show us Lily.”  Lily smiled and patted the top of the toes of Peter’s right foot with her paw:

      “I’ll show you once I’ve examined Moses feet, Sally’s feet, and Hattie’s feet, and  faith’s feet, oh and, and Hope’s too.”

       “Good,”  peter replied, his eyes shining.

        “I could imagine these toes curling, and pads bunching as you crawl around, screaming and yelling your head off like I did peter,”  Lily said, gently stroking the sole of Peter’s right foot, the young boy curling his toes with pleasure.

        “You do have soft pads Peter,”  Lily said, “soft pads, Just like your mama’s.  I played with Jemma’s toes, she curled her toes, and held her feet in her hands, squeezing her heel pads and sole skin in her hands while curling her toes hard, just as she said she’d done in labour while giving birth to you Peter.”

       “could you feel the dents in her pads from her desperately gripping fingers Lily?”  Hope asked.

       “I could,”  Lily replied smiling.

        “Are mine and mum’s feet similar then Lily?”  Peter asked.

      “yes,”  Lily said, “and Hope will probably confirm that Sally’s feet are similar to yours Peter.  You both have thickly padded heels and rather fleshy hind feet, your toes are also large, though your feet and Sally’s are small, hers slightly larger than yours at the moment Peter, though yours will outgrow hers.”

     “At the moment, Sally can curl her toes around mine when our heels are on the ground,”  Peter said, “we sometimes lock toes, and push are heels together.  It’s lovely that.”

      “It’s great we find such pleasure in our own company, and in the touch of paw on foot,”  Moses said, “we need no computers, nothing like that, our minds, and bare hands and feet or paws and feet to play are all we need..”

        “What name are you going to give your cub Lily?”  Moses asked.

       “Um, well, I haven’t thought yet,”  Lily replied, “I’ll have to think a bit.”

        “Who’s the sire of your cub?”  Hope asked.

        “Ebony,”  Lily replied, “I didn’t want to say, just in case, well, in case the cub didn’t make it into the world alive.  I would have gone back to him and told him of the devastating news, and we would have grieved in private you see.  Now though, as the cub is fine, and I am fine, I can let the world know.”

         “Watching you give birth to your cub was amazing Lily,”  Hattie said.  Lily smiled:

        “I am glad you saw it,”  she replied, “I want all the world to see the births of cubs.”

         “Hope will re-enact the birth of your cub Lily,”  Sally said, “I know she will, and Peter will too.”

        “Why is it hope gets paws on all the time?”  Faith asked, “I have never been invited to get paws on at the birth of a cub!  Hope gets paws on all the time!”

        “How would you like to be trained up to help mamas have their cubs Hope?”  Ekaterina asked, “I mean properly.”

         “I’d love it Ekaterina,”  Hope replied, “would I get the chance to act out a cub’s birth too?”

      “It’s part of the job,”  Ekaterina replied, “you need to show mamas and their mates what a cub’s birth will look, feel and sound like, as best you can of course while not actually delivering a cub into the world that is.”

        “So I get the chance to moan, kick, curl my toes and scream?”  Hope asked.

       “yes,”  Ekaterina replied smiling, “that you do.”

       “I’m looking forward to that already,”  Hope replied.  Lily explored the hind feet of the other bears and humans, and when all were happy with her exploration, in that it had been thorough and enjoyable by all, Lily got to her feet, picked up her cub, and walked from the birthing den.  Ekaterina cleaned the den up, threw out all the waste, then washed her paws before resetting the den for future use.  Sally and Peter examined each other’s feet, looking at pink pads and easily curling toes, and touching them too, ending up laughing as each tickled the other’s toes.

        “that’s so cute to see,”  Hope said to the two humans, who laughed at their own antics.

        “What’s going on?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “Oh Peter and I are exploring each other’s hind feet,”  Sally replied, “that ended in peter tickling my toes, and me tickling his.”

        “that’s so sweet,”  Ekaterina said.

      “peter’s got smooth pads,”  Sally said.

      “So have you dear sister,”  Peter replied, “your heel pads are soft too, the stuck foot game is going to be harder than ever to win now, my feet will stick to yours very well indeed.”

       “I’ll get ready to re-enact Kuwaizi’s birth,”  Sally said.

       “Or I could re-enact yours Sally,”  Jemma said, padding into the room.

        “Would you do that mum?”  Sally asked..

       “I would, if I could get into the mood first,”  Jemma replied, “I’d like to do so, and maybe put that on video too.  I’m sure, if the spirits wish it, I will remember everything that happened then.”

       “Can we check your feet for thorns?”  Ekaterina asked.  Jemma sat down on the rugs, Ekaterina checking her left foot for thorns, Hope checking her right.  Jemma looked at the two bears, her eyes telling her she had given her means of mobility over to the control of two wild creatures, while her feet told her that those wild creatures had warm paws, and were very gentle, the feelings making her want to curl her toes, which she did, Hope smiling as she felt Jemma’s pads bunch up beneath her touch.

       “Follow your paws,”  Hope said to Jemma, who smiled.

       “I will,”  Jemma replied, curling her toes tighter and tighter, her toes curling as tightly as they had while she was pushing hard against contractions during Sally’s birth nearly ten years previously.

         “oooooooaoaoaoah!”  Jemma exclaimed as her toes curled tightly.

       “It’s all right,”  Ekaterina said, massaging the sole of Jemma’s left foot, Jemma stretching her toes, then when Ekaterina stopped massaging the sole of her foot, tightly curling them.

        “this feels like everything I wanted to do with my feet, but stopped myself from doing as a young adult,”  Jemma said, “though as a child I played with my toes, and explored my bare feet with my hands.  That is why I used them to soothe me during my labour, they were my first pain relief, massaging my toes, like this.  she leant forward, grabbed her bare right foot in her hands and massaged her toes and heel, Ekaterina getting paws on, hope seeing Jemma massaging and squeezing her relaxed toes with the fingers of her right hand, while the fingers of her left pressed into the heel pad of her right foot, gripping even more tightly every time she curled her toes, while her left, so recently massaging there now curled toes, joined her right hand in gripping her foot from the other side, the fingers of both hands holding her bare right foot in a desperate grip, while her toes curled desperately.

          “wow, just wow!”  Hope gasped, such expression in Jemma’s hands and feet, and I’m not yet looking at her face!”  Jemma’s eyes were closed in concentration, her whole world focused through her fingers and the sole of her right foot.

       “I’m glad I remained barefoot throughout my early life into adulthood!”  Jemma whimpered, her fingers gripping her right foot harder and harder, as her toes remained curled.  When they relaxed, so did she, massaging the toes, ball and arch of her foot with her fingers, only for the toes of her left foot to curl suddenly, Jemma squealing and grabbing her foot in her hands, holding onto it desperately as her toes curled tighter and tighter, her fingers massaging and squeezing, gripping and pressing  her heel pads and sole as she obeyed her need.

       “Wow this feels wonderful!”  Jemma gasped.

        “play like you’ve just discovered your feet Jemma,”  Ekaterina said smiling.

      “I am, I am!”  Jemma replied.

       “What is making her grip her feet like that Ekaterina?”  Hope asked.

        “I think it’s the need she felt when delivering her man cubs into the world,”  Ekaterina replied, “Jemma’s feeling the need to relieve her discomfort, though when she does, she is feeling pure pleasure, rather than the dulling of the physical pain, as there is none, so she’s pleasuring herself really.”

     “Oh okay,”  Hope replied, “that’s nice isn’t it.”

       “Nice?”  Jemma gasped, “it feels wonderful!  So this is what the urge to grab my feet resulted in without my labour pain.  The pleasure was just about keeping labour pain bearable, but without the pain, the pleasure is amazing!  I felt an uncontrollable need to curl my toes and hold my feet after playing with my toes for a bit,”  Jemma explained, “then, then, my toes curled, and I had to hold my feet with my hands, no, embrace, grip, squeeze and hug my feet all at once with both hands, and press into the pads and soles of my feet with my fingers as my toes curled desperately.  When my toes relaxed, I rubbed them with my fingers, as well as rubbing the sole of my foot too.  then it was back to gripping my foot hard, as my toes went all curled again.  Wow Ekaterina, just wow.”

      “Great isn’t it,”  Ekaterina said.

        “it’s wonderful,”  Jemma replied, “I suppose you community members, who are uninhibited about these things, get that feeling all the time, the uncontrollable need to play I mean.”

       “yes,”  Hope replied, “that is how we keep stuck foot games going for hours, one player’s need to play fuels the other’s need to play, and the glue gets stronger and stronger and stronger.”  Jemma laughed delightedly.

        “that’s lovely,”  she replied, “I wish I could play like that normally.”

       “You can, if you want it enough,”  Lily said.  Jemma looked at the mama bear.

         “I saw you giving birth,”  she said, “Lily, you were so calm during contractions, yes you screamed and roared, but you didn’t lose control.”  Lily beckoned the mama human over, and when Jemma was sitting in her lap, Lily hugged her in her paws, then, as Jemma lay down on her back on the floor and drew up her feet and held them with her hands, Lily kissed the mama human’s gripping fingers and the pads of both her heels, Jemma smiling with innocent pleasure..

         “You hold your feet like I did,”  Lily said, “you are a mama bear in disguise I think.  Can you roar like I did?”  Jemma smiled, wriggled a little, took a deep breath, gripped her feet hard with her hands, curled her toes and roared lustily.

        “yes, that’s it!”  Lily laughed, clapping her paws, while Jemma, getting into her role, wriggled desperately, and groaned and roared some more.  Then panting, she let go of both her feet, kicking furiously with both feet, Lily rubbing Jemma’s belly with her paw.  then Jemma drew her feet up again, grabbed them in her hands and squealed with effort as she curled her toes tightly once more.

       “Push mama Push!”  Lily said, Jemma pushing against her hands with her feet, roaring with effort.

        “this is wonderful, wonderful!”  Jemma panted pushing hard with her feet, her hands flying free, Jemma laughing as her feet kicked free after a struggle where everyone, including Ekaterina, through Hope’s eyes, had seen Jemma’s muscles straining, her arm and leg muscles tensing and relaxing, her toes curling with effort, as well as absolute concentration etched on her face.

        “that was amazing,”  Hope said to Jemma.

       “I know,”  Jemma replied, “it felt wonderful at my end too.  I felt like a child again, my hands were the enemy of my feet, a grasping enemy I had to defeat.”  Peter laughed and hugged his mum.

        “I’ve played that game too,”  he said, “it’s wonderful isn’t it mum.”  Sally grinned broadly.

       “I like it too,”  she said, Jemma smiling at them both.

      “I taught you those hand and foot games,”  Jemma replied, “I’m glad you still play them now.”

      “I was growing out of them,”  Peter admitted, “but now, now I’m growing back into them again.”  .”

       “how can a human walk on smooth pads?”  Hattie asked, “there is no grip there at all.”

       “I don’t know,”  Jemma replied, “but we do walk on our bare feet without slipping about.”

       “I think we bears and you humans have more in common than you think,”  Hattie said, “we give birth the same way, we hug our cubs like you humans do, we even make the same sounds while giving birth.”  Lily laughed and padded from the room with her cub.

       “now what?”  Jemma asked.

      “Well I was going to re-enact Kuwaizi’s birth, but now I’ve seen the real thing, I don’t think I will,”  Sally replied.

        “I think Lily’s got soft warm paws,”  Peter mused, “she touched my feet, and my toes curled with pleasure!”

     “I think it’s time for you hope, to start learning about how a cub is born,”  Ekaterina said to Hope, the half grown cub so excited, she turned cartwheels.

        “I’m going, now!”  Faith snapped, storming from the room.

        “Oh dear,”  Jemma said, “one unhappy bear.”

        “she’s jealous, that’s all,”  Moses replied, “she doesn’t like Hope for a lot of things, and being able to charm the cubs from their mother’s is just one.”

       “Lily felt secure with Hope helping her,”  Sally said, “that was lovely to see.”

        “You should know,”  Peter replied, “you were as close to Hope as any human has got so far.”

       “She helped me by touching my feet when I was in pain yes,”  Sally replied, “it felt wonderful!”

          “I saw the video,”  Peter replied, “it was lovely to see Hope helping you like she did.”

        “She caught the cub as it emerged,”  Jemma said, “I saw the video myself.  At first I couldn’t believe what I saw, but now, now I know what happened.  Sally’s always been mad about pandas, and was able to help one in the most amazing way.”

         “Kuaizi is a lovely panda,”  Sally said, “but unlike Patch, I didn’t actually give form to Kuaizi, I only pushed her into the world, Patch, and Kuruk after him, had to help their cubs become form.  That’s why I don’t feel as motherly towards Kuaizi as Patch does towards Sita, or Kuruk towards Faith.”

        “I think Lily gave birth to her cub with extraordinary grace and calm,”  Jemma said, “she wasn’t the screaming wreck I was when I had Sally.”

       “But she did moan, groan and pant,”  Moses replied, “that shows her pain and discomfort doesn’t it?”

       “yes it does,”  Jemma replied, “but she didn’t lose control like I did.  I spent a good five minutes rolling about on my back, thrusting at and kicking the air with my feet and curling my toes, legs drawn up while screaming lustily.”

       “wow,”  Hope said, “I’d like to have seen and heard that.”

       “My toes curled like they did earlier,”  Jemma replied, “though I could get back into that zone easily.”

       “You are a young mama,”  Hope said to Jemma, “you could curl your toes easily again.”

       “I would show you how giving birth was for me,”  Jemma said to the half grown cub, “I could help you understand what it is for older humans.  Sally can help with younger humans too.  We could also ask Janet.”

        “seeing the cubs playing, seeing them crawl about, their tiny feet and paws exploring is so cute too,”  Hope said.

       “yes,”  Jemma replied, “I remember seeing Peter and Sally crawling about together, they had very similar sized hands and feet.  They were so cute!”

       “Not so cute now though?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “Well yes, they’re cute now too, but bigger hands and feet they have,”  Jemma replied, “though their games are more intricate, the stuck foot games especially.”

        “Ekaterina,”  Sally said, “would you like to get paws on with my hind feet?”

        “Well would you like me to?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “I know I would like you to get paws on with mine,”  Peter said.

        “Okay, I’ll get paws on with Sally’s feet, then yours Peter,”  Ekaterina replied smiling.

 

 

In another part of the house, some hours later, Ekaterina and Hope sat in the warm water of Ekaterina’s birthing pool, talking over Hope’s impending study of birth and labour.

      “I think you need to speak to Snowdrop first,”  Ekaterina suggested, “she is a similar age to you, and can describe her labour quite well.  Then you could ask Lily, and then Janet, Sally and Jemma.”

        “Can I ask you?”  Hope enquired.

          “Well, um, ah, uh, yes, okay,”  Ekaterina replied, covering her mouth with her paw.

         “how was it for you Ekaterina?”  Hope asked.  Ekaterina wriggled uncomfortably, the water splashing around her as she slapped it with her free paw, the one not covering her mouth.

       “If you don’t want to tell me Ekaterina, I understand,”  Hope said softly to the distressed mama bear.

       “I’ll get snowdrop,”  Ekaterina replied, scrambling from the pool and over to the waterproof phone.  Calling snowdrop, Ekaterina could hardly keep the distress out of her voice as she asked her to come to the birthing pool.  Snowdrop, thinking the worst, ran in as if her feet were on fire five minutes later.

        “What?”  she asked, looking round anxiously.

        “Ekaterina wants me to hear tales of labour and birth,”  Hope said, “I asked her about her labours, but she got upset and called you,.”

       “My tale is a scary one,”  Snowdrop replied, “I was a young mama, too young really Hope.”

         “but Kamchatka’s a lovely bear, a lovely cub!”  Hope replied, “you did a good job with her Snowdrop.”

        “yeah,”  Snowdrop replied, “but I crawled to Patch while in the midst of my labour, screaming and crying like a cub.  I shouldn’t have gone to him, I should have suffered on my own Hope.  I should have been told to scream and curl my toes through the agony and be left alone to fight for my cub.”

       “You think you should have been punished?”  Hope asked.

        “Though I would not change anything for the world, back then, well, Innokenti and I were just playing, and then, then, when the labour started, it was not play, I knew it was not play,”  Snowdrop replied, “Hope, when you see Kamchatka’s birth video, you will see a cub giving birth to a cub.  me screaming, crying, squealing and roaring like the cub I was back then.”

         “Where did Ekaterina go?”  Hope asked, looking round the room.

       “I think you frightened her off,”  Snowdrop laughed.

       “I shouldn’t have asked her about her labour, that’s what did it!”  Hope whimpered, “Oh dear Snowdrop, I’ve blown it!”

      “I’ll tell you about mine,”  Snowdrop said, “I will show you everything on that video, including my rejection of Kamchatka.”

       “But you haven’t, you love her!”  Hope replied, staring at snowdrop.

       “now I do, but in the aftermath of my labour, I didn’t know what to do, and pushed her away,”  Snowdrop replied, “though thanks to Sita and Patch, I was given the time I needed, the guidance too.”

       “you’re a good mama now though,”  Hope said, “I think it was Kamchatka who brought Anernerk to you wasn’t it?  You welcomed Anernerk with gentle paws and that shows what mama you truly are.”

       “I feel ashamed of my labour, of screaming and crying like a cub,”  Snowdrop replied.

       “I know I would if I was in your paws,”  Hope said, looking down at Snowdrop’s paws.

        “I will curl my toes and crawl about when watching that video,”  Snowdrop said, thrusting her paw into Hope’s.

        “I haven’t seen your cub’s birth video yet,”  Hope said.

       “Well I scream like I am injured, no, worse than that,”  Snowdrop replied, “I can’t scream like that again, well unless I have another cub maybe.”

        “You both came through it fine,”  Hope said.

        “I did everything wrong though,”  snowdrop yelled, “I pushed out of time, I rolled about and kicked and curled my toes, screaming and yelling my head off.”

         “You were frightened I don’t doubt,”  Hope replied gently, “”I’m sure I’d have done the same as you if I was in your paws.”

      “No Hope,”  snowdrop replied, “you’d never have got pregnant in the first place.  You’re too sensible for that.”

         “I can do silly things too,”  Hope replied.

       “you mean?”  snowdrop asked, staring at Hope, her mouth gaping.

        “No, not that,”  Hope replied grinning.

      “Oh thank goodness for that,”  Snowdrop replied, “you’re even younger than me when I had Kamchatka, having a cub at your age would kill you Hope.”

        “I’ve wanted to feel how it is to be in labour for a long time now,”  Hope replied, “but Patch would never show me.  He refused point blank.”

       “I’m not surprised,”  snowdrop said, “labour is, is, is the need to give yourself up to pushing more deeply into your tail, no, into the soles of your feet and your toes than you ever have before.   It’s all consuming Hope, totally and utterly consuming.  You push and scream, strain wriggle and roll about, each huge effort seemingly getting you little further than the last one.  Each effort out of proportion to the progress the cub makes towards being born.”

      “Oh dear,”  Hope whispered.

        “I can’t do it justice,”  Snowdrop replied, “the pain, the fear, the effort, the aching paws and feet from curling my toes so tightly, my sore throat from screaming and roaring, my sore insides from pushing, the sweat, the tears, the mess, everything.  Though, saying all that, I’d go through it all again, it was magical too.”

        “Doesn’t sound it,”  Hope replied.

       “it was,”  Snowdrop replied, “when I could feel my cub coming into the world, it was wonderful then.”

       “Kuruk know thing too Hope,”  Kuruk said, padding into the room.

      “What are you doing here Kuruk?”  Hope asked.  Kuruk grunted as he sat down in the birthing pool.

         “Kuruk hear Hope cub learning about birth of cubs and all that,”  Kuruk replied, “Kuruk want tell his story too, how feel give birth to faith cub.  Also he hear Sally cub want show how she deliver Kuaizi into world too, now Kuruk want make sure Hope no overdo things, and that sally no overdo things either.”

       “Soppy Kuruk!”  Hope laughed.

       “Kuruk concerned that all,”  Kuruk grunted, “but if you no want me here, I go.”

      “No Kuruk, stay please,”  Hope said, touching her sire’s left hind foot with the toes of her paw beneath the water, Kuruk catching the toes of her small paw in his large toes.

       “I’ll bet these toes holding my paw curled tightly while you pushed to deliver Faith,”  Hope said.  Kuruk smiled:

       “They did,”  he replied, “and Kuruk want show Hope how they curl big time too.”

       “I saw the videos,”  Snowdrop said, “Kuruk, you have big feet and paws, and when you opened your mouth to scream and roar your pain, you have a big mouth and huge teeth!”  Kuruk smiled broadly, Snowdrop feeling her toes curling with emotion.

       “Want a hug Snowy cub?”  Kuruk asked.  snowdrop, whimpering with fear at her feelings, found herself snuggling up to Kuruk, the huge male bear’s paws enveloping her in a bear hug which she found she more than wanted.  As her need grew, Snowdrop buried her paws in the warm fur of her benefactor, Kuruk embracing her tightly.

        “lovely isn’t it,”  Hope said.  snowdrop, now crying, buried her face in Kuruk’s warm fur, The huge male bear rubbing her back with his paw.  Leaning over, Kuruk blew gently, Snowdrop laughing as his breath tickled the toes of her right foot.

      “My aim good then?”  Kuruk asked.  Snowdrop wriggling with excitement, replied that it was.

       “You still cub at heart,”  Kuruk grunted.

       “You tickling my toes with your breath felt wonderful Kuruk!”  Snowdrop exclaimed.  Hope giggled cubbishly.

         “I know how that feels,”  she said, “it’s great.”

        “Kuruk need be near cubs now,”  Kuruk grunted, “mama Anook die earlier today.”  Hope stared at him.

         “Oh dear,”  she said, “poor mama.  I’m sorry Kuruk, and I will speak plainly, all I remember of her is a screaming rage with heavy slapping paws.”  Kuruk looked at his daughter cub.

        “Anook died from her rage,”  he replied, “the spirits told Kuruk thing.”

       “How do you feel about that?”  snowdrop asked.

      “Sad for Anook,”  Kuruk replied, “she good bear at beginning, but she let her anger at a world she no understand consume and ate her.  She gone now.”

        “She cursed you for delivering Faith into the world didn’t she Kuruk,”  Hope said faintly.

        “Anook went into woodlands and tried asking spirits to cure me of my belief,”  Kuruk grunted, “Simba Kizungu told me that, and everyone knows he never comes back because of what he did on this side of the bridge.”

       “Anook died of her anger?”  Hope asked.

       “yes,”  Kuruk grunted.

       “it is said you were an angry bear once Kuruk,”  snowdrop replied, “so why did you not die?”

         “Kuruk furious with humans for taking faith cub,”  Kuruk grunted, “it when he meet Patch that he become less angry, then, well, Patch help Kuruk through anger, then make him like cub, then teach him how do what he want most in world.  Kuruk not angry bear really.  He like mama Kamchatka, soft bear.”

        “I know Patch can move Kuruk to tears just by touching the sole of his foot,”  Hope said, “I’ve heard of it, though can’t remember seeing it ever.”

       “That is so cute,”  snowdrop replied.

        “Kuruk want cuddle up with cubs now,”  Kuruk grunted, “want embrace cubs, play with them, crawl with them and see them born, he see Anook die, and that horrid, he hold her in his paws, and she die of anger, screaming horrid shit at me for being in with the spirits, as she put it.  Then she clenched her teeth, curled her toes and collapsed.  Anook now gone and Kuruk bury her in woods.  Now he want be with cubs, and when he heard Sally cub, and Hope cub playing at having cubs, he want give his story too, and re-enact birth of Faith cub, and see Sally and Hope pretend re-enact a cub’s birth too.”

       “Sally was going to show me how it was for her,”  Hope replied, “but then I got talking to Ekaterina, as she wants me to be part of her team, but then, then I asked Ekaterina about her own labours, and she got shaky, and ran off, and now it’s all gone wrong Kuruk!”  Kuruk settled Snowdrop down on the ledge and hugged Hope, who was crying freely now.

       “Ekaterina had hard time of labour with Sam cub,”  Kuruk grunted, “she have lots of issues, not all related to his birth.  Now patch and she have to get things together.  How if you ask snowdrop how she deliver cub into world, or Kuruk tell you how it feel for him.  It hurt Hope, but it good feeling when pushing, pushing was so good!”

      “I saw the video,”  Hope said, “but, well,,,”

       “You want Kuruk re-enact it, now?”  Kuruk asked.  Hope looked down at her paws.

        “I can’t ask it,”  she mumbled.

      “But Kuruk want do thing, he want celebrate birth of cubs.”

        “Can we see you out of the water Kuruk?”  Hope asked, “see you from your nose to your paw pads?”  Kuruk clambered onto another ledge, and got down on paws and knees, his feet and paws half covered by the water, the heels of his hind feet clear of the water, whereas his toes were covered, Hope flicking water onto his heel pads, then blowing into the shallow water next to his heel, making Kuruk laugh and wiggle his toes.

 

I wonder if someone can help me?”  someone asked.  Hope looked up from where she’d been closely studying the rather water wrinkled sole of Kuruk’s right hind foot.  what she saw made her scream with fear!

        “What the hell is that?”  she asked.  Into the room came the strangest creature Hope had ever seen.  It was a flat bear, at least that’s what it looked like.  The bear had a body, but it was squashed completely flat.  The bear was wriggling along like a snake. And she looked as if the effort cost her dearly.

       “I need water, water to bulk out this body!”  the bear gasped, wriggling towards the place where Hope stood in the water.

       “Go away you horrid thing!”  she squealed.  The flattened bear flopped into the water, and before Hope’s eyes, the bear’s body began to soak up the water.  The water in the pool was sucked into the bear, and she looked more relieved with every passing minute.

        “who the hell are you?”  Hope demanded of the female bear, who was now very fat indeed, the last of the water in the pool being absorbed into her paw pads, as she padded around the pool, her pads soaking up the water like huge fat sponges.  When she was quite done, she shook herself, the water, which had collected in her legs and paws, making them look grotesquely fat and unwieldy, flowing throughout her body, the bear finishing off her task by rolling onto her back and stretching out her legs, her paws and feet huge to Hope, who stared in horrified fascination.

         “her paws are even bigger than Kuruk’s!”  Hope gasped.

        “now, that’s me presentable,”  the bear said, getting to her feet and shaking herself, her lifeless fur coming to vivid life as she shook herself from nose to toes, actually lifting each foot off the floor and shaking it, flexing her toes as she did so. Bouncing on her toes a bit, the mama bear sighed deeply with contentment.  padding to Kuruk, who wept softly into the now dry tiles, the mama bear knelt and kissed the top of Kuruk’s head as if he were newborn.

        “I’m back Kuruk dear,”  Mama Kamchatka said, nuzzling her son cub’s ear.

          “How you come back?”  Kuruk asked.

       “With a little help from my adopted cub,”  Kamchatka replied smiling, “but the body he found, well, that had been run over by a truck, hence why it was so flat.  Patch asked me to find a pool, to make like a snake and find a pool in which to be reborn, so I found one.”

       “I found the sight of you padding round, your pads soaking up the water very interesting indeed,”  snowdrop said.

      “yeah, it was,”  Kamchatka replied.  Now though, I’m here, and fat, and best of all, I have my lovely paws and feet back.  I’ve not played with my toes in ages!  I used to love the feeling that gave me!”

        “I know,”  Kuruk replied, looking up into his mother’s face.

        “I’m here to nurture the cubs, to help Sita with her playgroup,”  Kamchatka said.

        “My cub has the same name as you,”  snowdrop said.

       “And that is a good thing,”  Kamchatka said, “but my real name is not Kamchatka at all, I remembered it while struggling into my body, after having forgotten it for all these years.  My mama called me Anook when I was a cub, as I used to mother anything on four paws.  Anook, late Kamchatka, suddenly looked very sad, “Kuruk,”  she said to her eldest son cub, “do you know why I was so scared during the first year of your life?”  Kuruk looked up into his mother’s face, for she was larger than him now.

      “Why mama?”  he asked, his voice sounding like that of a cub, the cub Kuruk felt he truly was.”

        “I lost my first cub, well he wasn’t mine really to lose, when I was four months old.  I’d found a starving little cub on the track, and my mama wouldn’t feed him, no matter how I pleaded.  She knew he was sick I suppose, but back then I knew no better.  I used to spit milk into an old bucket I found and take it to him in a cave I’d found for him.  He was a very weak cub, and my mama didn’t like me going there, but strangely she didn’t stop me.  I gave the cub some of the milk I didn’t drink, half my milk as it were.  The cub died a month after I found him, for some reason he didn’t live, though I tried to save him.  So when I had my own cub, I was so worried the same would happen, but of course it’s so different.”

        “I’ll bet the cub died from drinking sour milk,”  Hope said.

        “no,”  Anook replied softly, “he died because he didn’t have a mother to look after him.  We spent ages cuddled up together, he was weak, not ill as such.  I tried to feed him, but my donated milk wasn’t enough for him.  I miss him even now.”

        “he’ll come to hug you one day,”  Kuruk said softly.

         “I do hope so,”  Anook said.

        “I want to hug you,”  Hope said to the massive mama bear.

       “You were fearing me a minute ago,”  Anook said.

       “I feared your forming, not you, it’s those paws, they look so comforting,”  Hope said, “rather like my sire Kuruk’s, big, and fat padded, and big toes, and just a whole lot of cuddle.  Even Kuruk’s hind feet look like they could be gentle.”

         “they can be, I know,”  Anook said, “now Hope, come for a hug if you want.”  Hope crawled to the mama bear, and scrambled into her lap, her fur warm with pads huge and comforting.

         “now I think you like that,”  Anook said, Hope snuggling into the warmest fur apart from Patch’s, she’d ever buried her paws in.

      “How did you become so large?”  snowdrop asked Anook.

       “I filled out with the water of the birthing pool,”  Anook replied, “I had to find a pool where birth was possible, and I found one.”

       “All the water is gone!”  Hope exclaimed.

       “yeah, I know, sorry about that,”  Anook replied smiling.

 

Ekaterina padded into the room, and stopped dead at the side of the pool.

         “there’s no water in here!”  she exclaimed.

       “I, um, drank it all,”  Anook replied smiling.  Ekaterina stared sightlessly towards the voice:

       “ma, I mean, um, who is that?”  she cleared her throat, embarrassed at how she nearly addressed the newcomer.

       “You were right first time,”  Anook said, “but I am not in the body in which you knew me Ekaterina dear.”

         “what? How?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “I needed to come back to guide the paws of the cubs,”  Anook replied, “also, to guide the paws of my cubs too.”

       “I have gone off the rails a bit mama,”  Ekaterina admitted.”

       “I know Ekaterina dear,”  Anook replied, “but you are making strides now to find the right path with Patch’s help I think.”

        “yes, it’s hard,”  Ekaterina replied, “we’ve, well, been talking about Sam’s birth and all that.  Patch knows now how I felt throughout it, I opened up to him, and he understood.”

       “Patch tried to help another bear too, but she was numb to his paws,”  Anook said sadly, “she died hating her mate for his belief.  She is unable to set paw across the bridge like I did, as she is in another place where noone can reach her.”

        “she try turn me from the spirits,”  Kuruk grunted, “but Kuruk know the truth of thing, Faith proof of that.  Now you come back too mama Anook.”

       “Is it strange that my name is the same as your mate’s?”  Anook asked.  Kuruk smiled:

       “You fit it better,”  he replied, “you mama to all cubs, she gruff hard pawed bear really, angry and bitter she was.”

         “I’m sorry she turned angry,”  Hope said, “when I heard my mama had died, I felt nothing much.  All she meant to me was hard paws and lots of screaming and yelling at Kuruk.”

        “She wanted Kuruk to be a gruff hard bear, and when he wasn’t, she didn’t like it one bit,”  snowdrop replied.

        “Can I get paws on with you mama?”  Ekaterina asked.

        “yes,”  Anook replied, Ekaterina touching her paw, then her face, then her belly, and down to her left hind foot.

        “You’re fat like Nanuq was when he got into that inflatable suit thing,”  Ekaterina said.

       “Mine isn’t air though, it’s flesh, I’m a fat bear now, before, well I was just large.”

       “I like these big paws and feet,”  Ekaterina said, “very fitting for a big mama.”

       “What are we going to do about the water in the pool?”  Hope asked.

      “Refill it of course,”  Anook said, padding to the taps and filling the pool  with water.  Sitting back down, she looked at her eldest cub.

       “I remember examining you from nose to pads when you were just born,”  Anook said, “you were handsome then, and now an even more handsome bear Kuruk.”

        “mama Anook, you do best thing for me you could while we together when Kuruk young bear.  You teach him be good bear, even though you shit scared, Kuruk grateful for that.”

         “You were a caring cub,”  Anook said, “you seemed to know I was scared furless.”

        “Why did you run off, leaving Kuruk alone Anook?”  hope asked.

        “I don’t rightly remember if it was a conscious choice,”  the mama bear replied, “I just fled one day, and have regretted it ever since.  I was young, far too young to have a cub of my own.  I knew little, and seeing Kuruk helpless in my paws was frightening.  I didn’t know what to do, but I knew killing Kuruk wasn’t an option.”

        “I know that feeling too well,”  Snowdrop said.

       “I believe you do,”  Anook replied, “I had noone like  Sita to guide me though.  I just, well followed my thoughts. Of course I should have followed my paws, but we’re all wiser after the fact.”

       “Following your paws is what you did after you came here,”  Hope replied, “outside the community, the spiritual dimension is not so strong, or so I’ve heard.  That was why Patch was elevated to more than leader of this community.  He followed his paws from a small cub.  now I can’t say he was a tiny cub, for I don’t know, he might have been a large cub, making his mama push and heave, scream and roar to deliver him, but he had his paws on the right path from the start.”

        “I know Indigo’s birth spurred Patch to investigate why his mama made the sounds she did, and ultimately what caused her to reject her first born cub.”  Anook said, “I saw that from where I was on the other side of the bridge.”

       “Did you know Indigo in his spirit life?”  Hope asked.

       “I did,”  Anook replied, “though now he’s happier.”

        “Patch said Indigo had a need to get back to him,”  Hope replied softly.

        “Patch helped Indigo, and helped me too,”  Anook replied, “he is truly Tornassuk.”

        “I wonder how Patch is getting on meeting his community,”  Kuruk grunted.

        “I’m sure they’re loving him from his nose to his toes,”  Anook replied.

 

Meanwhile, in Lily’s lie up, she fed her cub, Patch padding in on his rounds of the community to meet those he led so they could get used to his new fur and paws.

      “Hi Lily, and, oh!  You have a cub!”  Patch exclaimed as he walked into the lie up.

       “uh, yeah,”  Lily replied, staring down at the cub as if the fact of his being was news to her also, “I can’t quite believe it myself.”

        “when?”  patch asked, peering closely at the nursing bundle of fur.

       “about two hours ago, I thought you’d all be watching the birth, Moses, Sally, peter, Faith, Hope and Jemma did,”  Lily replied yawning expansively.

       “No,”  Patch replied, “I’d love to have seen the birth, now I can see that is.  Was Ekaterina there?  who helped you? If anyone did that is?”

       “Hope helped me, with Ekaterina directing things,”  Lily replied, “though Ekaterina never got paws on.”

        “I’m glad you had an easy time of delivering your cub,”  Patch said.  Lily snorted:

       “Easy time?”  she asked, “he came out backwards!”

      “Oh, shit,”  Patch replied, his paw flying to his mouth, “oh, sorry.”

       “I think you should watch the birth of my cub,”  Lily said, “it’s, um, interesting.”

        “I shall,”  Patch replied, shaking himself, “sorry Lily,”  he continued, “I’m usually so up on these things, who’s giving birth, who’s pregnant and all, but lately, well,,,”  he paused.

         “You have had other things to deal with,”  Lily replied, watching as her cub crawled towards Patch.

       “yes,”  Patch replied.

       “I don’t think you want to get too close to him,”  Lily said to her cub, Patch sitting down when he caught sight of the cub.  Lily’s cub first found Patch’s right foot, touching the sole pad of the huge bear’s foot with his paw, Patch curling his toes in response to the cub’s touch.  Then, sitting down, he reached up, grabbed Patch’s toes in both paws and hauled himself onto his hind feet, Patch stretching his toes to give the large cub some leverage.

         “Thank you,”  the cub said, Patch reached down with his paws and rubbed the cub’s back, the cub holding onto the toes of his right hind foot with both paws, as the toes of his own hind feet curled into the rugs at Patch’s touch.

         “that feels wonderful!”  the cub said, Patch leaning forward and kissing the paws which held the toes of his right foot so tightly, the cub curling his toes even more tightly into the rugs, then relaxing his toes and letting go of Patch’s, Patch lifting the cub off his feet and laying him on his back in his lap, the cub kicking excitedly with all four huge feet.

       “Rub my belly please!”  the cub pleaded, Patch rubbing the cub’s belly, then blowing on the pads of Lily’s cub’s paws, Lily’s cub giggling with pleasure.

        “You like my paws?”  the cub asked.

      “I was wondering if you liked my hind feet, the way you were holding onto my toes,”  Patch said.

        “your hind feet remind me of mama Lily’s,”  the cub said, “she curled her toes and squeezed my paw you know.  It felt wonderful!”

        “mama Lily had to curl her toes to help give birth to you,”  Patch said.

        “I know,”  the cub replied, “her toes curled because she was feeling frightened I think.”

         “Partly that yes,”  Patch replied, “but also because she was in pain.”

      “I felt your pads bunch up like mamas when I touched the bottom of your foot,”  the cub said, “is that because you liked my touch?”

        “yes,” Patch replied, “I think you curled your toes into the rugs when I kissed your paws?”

     “I did,”  the cub replied, “then, then I let go of your toes with my paws, and let go of the rugs with my hind feet too, and you lifted me up off the floor, and I swam through the air with my paws and feet, now I’m here!”

       “You are indeed,”  Patch laughed.

         “Does Ebony know I’ve had a cub yet?”  Lily asked, “won’t it confuse my cub to meet two males?” 

        “No and no,”  Patch replied, “I’ll call Ebony and make sure your cub knows whom his sire is.”

       “Bet my sire isn’t as playful as you are though,”  the cub said.

       “Get away from here Patch!”  Lily yelled.

        “No!”  Lily’s cub squealed, “I want him here still!”

       “Well I want you to go Patch, for you will confuse my cub!”  Lily roared.

       “I think your cub is more like Patch anyway,”  Ebony said, padding in after hearing the squeals of a newborn cub while he was passing the lie up, “didn’t you tell me you wanted no contact with me after mating Lily? Even when I protested I wanted to be with you at the birth of any cubs sired by me?”  Lily opened her mouth, then snapped it shut.

        “Well didn’t you?”  Patch asked.  Lily mewed that she’d said something of the sort, but regretted it when labour started, and she’d had help from Hope and Ekaterina.  Then she’d realised she needed another set of paws to help her.”  Ebony scowled at Lily, stepped round Patch, and cuffed her across her face with his paw.

         “You wanted sex from me, that was all!”  Ebony screamed, “I gave you that, but would have given you much more.  You didn’t want me at the birth of the cub, so you didn’t tell me you were in labour!  I would have held you while you strained and pushed, screamed and roared, curled your toes and beat the walls of your den, but no, you let me live ignorant!”

         “I should have told you I was in labour,”  Lily mumbled.

      “I can’t hear you,”  Ebony snapped, “Lily, speak up.”

        “I said I should have told you I was in labour,”  Lily repeated testily.

        “Now what do I do?”  Ebony asked.

        “how about getting paws on with your son cub?”  Patch asked, lifting the cub off the floor and passing him to Ebony, who’d sat down beside him.  Patch, placing the cub in Ebony’s lap, watched as Ebony embraced the confused cub, then, as the cub recognised the comfort of his sire’s paws, the large form began to snuggle up to him.”

         “You helped create him,”  Patch said softly to Ebony, who fought back tears.

       “it’s okay to cry Ebony,”  Patch said, Ebony sobbing with joy at the life he held in his paws.

       “I wish I could have done this when Indigo was born,”  Ebony sniffed, “but Aga prohibited it, and, and, left my cub to die in the clearing.”

       “I know Ebony,”  Patch replied softly, “now though, you have your cub here.”

        “I would re-enact the birth of our cub for you,”  Lily blurted, “Ebony, I would do all that, and you can be paws on.  I’d even take harsher pain and harder straining to deliver my cub the second time around as punishment.”  Lily looked hard at Patch, who shook his head.

         “I won’t, though I could,”  he replied, “for the offence was not against me.  Only if Ebony wishes it will I punish you in that way.”

         “Can I see the video of my cub’s birth?”  Ebony asked.

      “yes,”  Lily replied, “I’ll make sure you see it all.  Indeed, if we go into the birthing room, we can see it in three dimensions on the floor of that room.” 

         “I have heard of such things,”  Ebony replied, “though I thought you had to wear glasses for such things?”

        “No not this,”  Lily replied.

          “let’s sit and watch this here,”  Ebony said.

 

Lily and Ebony sat down beside each other and watched the video, from the first scene, the empty room, to Lily padding in, clearly in discomfort, then crawling into the den and settling down on her side to rest.  After a few minutes, the on screen Lily, clenched her teeth, breathed hard and pawed at her belly with her paws, thrusting at the air with her hind feet.  Then she braced her feet and paws against the den wall in front of her, gripping hard with the toes of all four paws, while she screamed her protest at the pain of labour.  Then Hope crawled in, and Ebony found he couldn’t see any more of the video due to tears which blinded him.  Sobbing, he hugged Lily, holding her tight as her recorded agonised cries filled the room.

         “it hurt you so much,”  Ebony sobbed.  Lily buried her face in his chest fur.

       “yes it did,”  she replied, “I screamed and cried like a cub one minute, then roared and growled like a mama the next.”

       “the cub’s coming now,”  Hope said on the video, Ebony wiping his eyes.  Lily rewound the video, watching her cub seemingly sucked back into her body.  This made her feel very uneasy indeed.  Lily on screen sat back on her heels, Ebony getting a view of her back and the soles of her hind feet, her heels slightly hidden by her buttocks.  Then Lily leant forward, until she supported herself on knees and paws as she pushed down into her tail, Ebony seeing a rear view of Lily’s backside as she strained and pushed, Ebony seeing straining muscles and splayed hind legs.  The camera cut to a shot of the sole of Lily’s right hind foot as she pushed, Ebony seeing curling toes and bunching, sweating pads.  Then he saw his cub emerging backwards, the shot obscured by Hope’s head as she reached up to cradle the emerging cub, Lily screaming and roaring, Hope encouraging her to push gently to deliver the cub’s body, then to pant to allow the passage of its head.  Ebony looked at Lily in the flesh.

        “I could get into that posture now,”  Lily said.

       “but the camera missed the whole thing!”  Ebony replied miserably.

       “I know,”  Lily replied, it’s, um, hard for me too.  I wanted to catch my cub, but I couldn’t.”

       “I tried to turn round mama, but I got squeezed and forced down that tunnel!”  her cub said.

       “I know little one,”  Lily replied, “I pushed hard too!”

       “I know, you squashed me!”  her cub said.

       “I think you did very well Lily,”  Ebony replied smiling.

        “I wish you could have seen the birth of my cub!”  Lily yelled, “bloody cameras!  They can get a shot of my curling toes, but not see through Hope’s head!”  Ebony laughed despite his attempt not to, Lily screaming at him, setting her cub down, before attacking him in a fit of peak, Ebony and she rolling about on the floor, Lily pummelling Ebony’s body.  Patch strode up and put an end to the fight by splitting up the combatants by knocking Ebony off his feet, and more gently stretching Lily out on her back on the floor.  Ebony picked himself up and faced off to Patch, who gently lifted the smaller bear off his feet and laid him out with the most tenderness he could muster.

      “Now you two,”  patch said smiling down at both of them, “don’t quarrel my dears.”

        “You completely tied my paws!”  Ebony whimpered.

      “Your paws are free, look!”  Patch replied, manipulating Ebony’s paws, then tickling the male bear’s hind feet, Ebony laughing like a cub.

       “I want my feet tickled too!”  Lily’s cub yelled.  Patch smiled and pushed the cub onto his back, and tickled his toes, the cub squealing delightedly.

      “now let’s name this cub,”  Patch said, “what would you want him named mama Lily>?”

         “I think you should name him,”  Ebony said.  Lily got to her feet and laid her paw on Patch’s shoulder.

        “yes,”  she replied, Patch, you name our cub.”

       “I think his name should be Orbon, to keep a good name going.  He will be told of the bear who carried that name before him, and he will learn of his deeds, but of course, that does not mean he should be held to the ideals Orbon had, it will be his name to b called by until the end of his days.”

        “so I am Orbon now then?”  the cub asked.  Patch smiled and replied:

      “yes little Orbon you are.”

        “I’m glad I have a name,”  the cub said.  Patch smiled and kissed little Orbon’s nose.

        “Can I groom you little one?”  patch asked.  Orbon smiled broadly and nodded.

       “I’d like that,”  he replied.  Patch groomed little Orbon from nose to tail, the cub giggling throughout.  Orbon’s mirth increased when  Patch began gently licking and rasping his pads with his tongue and teeth, then blowing on them to dry them, just as his mother Lily would do, little Orbon shrieking with laughter every time Patch blew on his pads to dry them.

       “You can wash my paws every day!”  Orbon laughed.

       “You’ll be washing your own soon,”  Patch replied.

       “No! I want you to!”  Orbon yelled, dabbing Patch on his nose with the toes of his right hind foot, Patch catching the cub’s tiny toes in his mouth and gently closing his teeth down on them, Orbon squealing with concern, Patch letting go and kissing his pads, Orbon laughing merrily as he realised Patch wouldn’t hurt him at all, and knew how to be very gentle.

        “You look so natural doing that,”  Lily said, “Patch, the stories speak of you grooming Jess in the same way.  Did you groom her like you have Orbon?”

      “I did sometimes,”  patch replied, “though I also used soap and water, using my paws like humans use their hands.  Though sometimes, when jess asked me to treat her like I would a younger cub, I did, grooming her like I would a smaller bear cub.  his eyes far away in another place, Patch smiled with memory.

         “You’d do it again wouldn’t you patch,”  Ebony asked.  Patch nodded.

         “She’s my cub,”  he replied, “I was her guardian for so long, nothing can change that.”

         “you would make a good mother for cubs patch,”  little Orbon said.

        “thank you little one,”  patch replied, kissing the top of the cub’s head, Orbon humming with pleasure, as cubs and some adult bears will do if extremely comfortable.

        “That is a lovely sound,”  Patch said.

         “”did jess hum like that when you groomed her?”  Lily asked.  patch laughed helplessly at this.

       “I might have called her my cub,”  he said, “but she is human, humans don’t hum with pleasure like bears do.”

      “What did she do when you groomed her then?”  Ebony asked, “I’m interested Patch.”

       “She told me in our own language, which didn’t involve words, that she enjoyed my ministrations, touching my face with her hands as I groomed her body, or leaning over to kiss the top of my head as I worked on the palms of her hands or pads of her feet.”

        “that sounds lovely,”  Lily said, “I wish I’d had a guardian to do that for me.  As it was, I was a circus bear from a very young age.”

        “I’ll leave you two to it then,”  patch said, getting up from where he knelt on the rugs.

      “I don’t want you to go!”  Orbon yelled, crawling to patch, then pulling himself paw over paw up Patch’s leg foreleg.

          “I must go little one,”  Patch said softly into the cub’s ear, “I have others I need to groom too.”

        “So your magical paws never run out of magic?”  Orbon asked, his face very concerned.

        “Not yet,”  patch replied smiling, “and I’ve been playing with others for years now.”

       “I’m glad your paws never run out of magic,”  Orbon said, much relieved, “I would not like it if your magic ran out half way.”  Patch smiled at tissed the top of Orbon’s head, and then asked:

      “Orbon, would you let go of my leg please?”  Orbon turned his face up to patch’s, and kissed the large bear’s nose.

        “You will come back won’t you,”  Orbon said sadly.

         “I will,”  Patch replied softly.

        “I know you have others to groom,”  Orbon replied, his voice cracking as he began to sob, “but I love you Patch.”  Patch smiled and kissed the cub’s closed eyes.

          “Follow your paws little one,”  patch whispered softly, “for they will guide you far.”  Orbon dried his eyes on the long fur of Patch’s leg, Patch kissing the top of his head.

        “now let me go little one,”  patch said.  Ebony watched patch, knowing the huge grey bear had known his destiny from the minute his brother had passed into the world and been left behind by Aga.  Even when his task was complete, Patch could not stop, and did not stop his search, his quest to make cubs happy.  Ebony saw that Patch didn’t have to do anything special, he was just himself, a big cuddly bundle of fur with big paws, huge hind feet and a gentle smile.  But even the gentle smile didn’t matter,”  Ebony thought, for even those who could not see found Patch irresistible, his touch stopping the blind cubs, and making them thoughtful.  Indeed, he could even speak to those who could not speak, or were unable to hear, Patch could communicate by touch alone, as he’d done with jess, as Ebony knew their language had been a silent one for years, on account of Patch being unwilling to speak Jess’s language in case he was discovered to be more clever than at first thought.

       “Let go of his leg Orbon, now!”  Lily yelled, dragging her cub’s paws off of Patch’s leg, Orbon squealing bad temperedly.

      “Shut your noise!”  Lily yelled, cuffing Orbon, the cub as Orbon curled into a ball and protected his head with his paws.  Patch looked down to where Orbon’s tiny sharp claws had ripped out chunks of fur.

        “don’t hit your cub Lily!”  Patch begged.  He looked down at his ragged fur “now my name matches my fur,”  he observed dryly, “but it will grow back in time.”

        “Sorry,”  Lily said, “and so will Orbon be!”  she added, cuffing her son cub a second time, Orbon howling to the heavens.

      “Stop it Lily!”  Patch snapped,.  Lily raised her paw for another go, when patch walloped her with his paw.  Lily screamed lustily and collapsed, holding her head with her paws where Patch’s paw  had connected.

       “That is how Orbon feels now!”  patch snarled, furious and very upset.

      “ow, sod you Patch, ow!”  Lily roared.

       “your cub is not able to tolerate that cuffing,”  Patch replied firmly, “he is not a day old yet, but you cuff him like he was three months old!  What the hell are you playing at Lily?”

        “Ow!”  Lily roared, as Orbon’s own pain was transmitted to her through patch, who scaled up the pain to show her how she’d hurt the little cub.

         “now learn,”  Patch said gruffly, “pulling the cub off my leg was okay, hitting him for damaging my fur wasn’t!”  patch roared, his anger as powerful as his tenderness had been only a minute ago.   

     “this hurts! My head’s exploding!”  Lily howled.

       “The pain will ease soon,”  patch said, “but you will not forget this Lily.”  Lily staggered over to the corner of the room and was violently sick.

         “it’s bursting my head!”  Lily squealed.

         “now little one, come here,”  Patch said softly to Orbon, who lay whimpering pitifully on the rugs.  Patch placed his paws over the cub’s head and Orbon’s whimpering subsided.

        “You’ve killed my cub!”  Ebony screamed at Lily.

        “No she hasn’t,”  Patch replied, “but now, now I fear he will have to follow his paws forever.”  Lily, opening her eyes after vomiting a second time, saw spots in front of them, then total darkness.

         “What the hell’s happening!”  Lily demanded.

         “the aftermath of your attack on your cub I think,”  Ebony replied coldly.

      “I can’t see a dam thing!”  Lily shrieked.

        “you should not have hit your cub around his head Lily,”  patch said grimly, “Now though I can soothe his pain, I cannot undo the damage you have done.”  Lily threw herself on the floor and raised her head, screaming and howling at the ceiling in her distress.

        “that second blow was too much Lily,”  Patch said gruffly, “you should not have done that, you are an adult bear, but you have acted in a manner lower than any cub.”

         “What will happen now?”  Ebony asked.

         “Orbon will have to learn to live as Ekaterina,”  Patch replied, “his life will be a full one, but he will never see the sun in his lifetime.”  Ebony closed his eyes and shook his head.

        “What of Lily?”  He asked.

        “her sight will return,”  patch replied, “so that she will be reminded every day of what she denied her cub.  Losing one’s sight is cruel punishment for ripping out a few chunks of fur Lily.”  Patch sat down and picked Orbon up off the floor, cradling the cub in his lap.

        “My head doesn’t ache any more Patch,”  Orbon said, Patch stroking his ears and paws.

         “I am glad little one,”  patch replied gently.

        “You are upset inside though,”  Orbon said.

       “I am upset inside little one, that I cannot deny,”  patch replied honestly.

        “My paws will guide me now,”  Orbon said, “yours have guided you for the whole of your life, and you’re wonderful!”  patch covered his face with his paws to hide a rush of tears.  Orbon, hearing Patch sniffing and gulping behind his paws, pulled himself up using his forepaws, then climbed patch’s body, then up his right foreleg, until he hung upside down by forepaws and hind, then, kicking hard with his hind feet, and holding onto Patch’s left paw with his paws, Orbon attempted to drag Patch’s paw away from his face, Patch so startled he let his paw drop with the cub’s weight, Orbon landing with a thud on the rugs.

         “your paw’s all wet!”  Orbon exclaimed.

        “I know little one,”  patch choked.  Orbon licked the pad of Patch’s right paw:

      “You’ve been crying,”  he said softly.

       “yes little one,”  Patch replied, “I am crying for what you will never know now, though you will learn much, you will not know all your original path would have shown you.”

       “You mean the light in front of my eyes would have grown brighter?”  Orbon asked.

        “yes, but now it will never do so,”  patch replied, “though your life will be enriched by other things.”

       “You mean cubs can see light through their closed eyes?”  Ebony gasped.

        “yes,”  patch replied, “the lids don’t completely black out light.  If they did, emerging into a lighted world would cause them pain.”

        “My head hurts!”  Lily complained loudly.

        “I’m going with Patch,”  Orbon said.  Lily padded from the room on her way to Blackberry’s lie up for a painkiller for her throbbing head.

       “how are you going to feed Orbon patch?”  Ebony asked.

        “Like this?”  Patch replied, stroking Orbon’s head, then settling back, and holding the cub as a mama bear would.  Ebony stared as Orbon seemed to drink from Patch’s breast as if he were a lactating female.

        “You’re pretending Orbon!”  Ebony yelled.  Orbon spat out a mouthful of milk in response, then carried on drinking, Ebony looking down at the white substance, which was definitely milk.

        “How?”  Ebony asked.

        “I can save a cub when I need to,”  Patch replied smiling happily.

        “Was spitting the milk out wrong Patch?”  Orbon asked.  Patch smiled and stroked Orbon’s back with his paw.

        “No, you were proving a point,”  Patch replied, “now finish your drink, and then maybe sleep a while?”  Orbon smiled, drank his fill, then curled up in Patch’s lap to sleep.

 

Meanwhile, in Blackberry’s lie up, Lily poured out her troubles to the black bear, who listened, but wasn’t surprised at the reason for Lily’s headache.  Bandaging her head with a cold wet towel to soothe her, he said:

        “Patch is sparing the cub from the pain of his sore head, he is showing you what Orbon would feel if he let him.  Patch is a companionate bear, but cross him, and he will deal out retribution.”

        “He hit me!”  Lily yowled.

         “I suppose it was proportionate,”  Blackberry grunted.

        “he said it was to make me feel what my paw made Orbon feel,”  Lily moaned.

        “You clearly can’t see me,”  Blackberry said, “Lily, how long did it take you to get to my lie up?”

       “Half a bloody hour!”  Lily wailed, “I stumbled into walls, in the end, Eohippus knows how, I blundered into a glass wall, and found the button to summon the monorail.  I stumbled in, lay down on the floor and told it to take me to Blackberry, it did, and you found me in the car, holding on to the non slip floor with the toes of all four paws.”

        “I take it when your headache goes, your sight will return,”  Blackberry replied.

        “yes, patch said that,”  Lily replied miserably, “I think he said it was so I could be reminded of what I took from my son cub.  if only I could turn back the clock Blackberry!”  Lily sobbed.

          “I wish you’d listened to Patch,”  Blackberry said when he viewed the video of the goings on in Lily’s lie up.

        “but Orbon made a mess of Patch’s fur!”  Lily mewed.

       “and hitting Orbon around the head was proportionate to that damage was it?”  Blackberry asked harshly, his own emotions rising.

          “No, not really,”  Lily mumbled, Blackberry lashing out with his paw in a fit of temper, catching Lily on her shoulder.

         “ow Blackberry!”  Lily yelped.

         “You blinded your cub because he ripped out fur, which will grow back!”  Blackberry yelled, “I hate you Lily.  I know I’m meant to be professional and all that, but bugger professionalism right now, bugger it to hell!”  Blackberry attacked Lily, driving her to the floor beneath his paws then whacking her paws and feet with the wet towel he’d first placed around her head to soothe her pain

      “Ow, Blackberry, ow!”  Lily screamed, “don’t hit my paws, or my hind feet with that towel! Ow, ow, oaoaoaoaoaoaaow!”  Lily complained as Blackberry smacked the soles of her hind feet with the now rolled up towel.

        “I want to throw you in the skip with the bottle tops as I did Swarupa all those years ago!”  Blackberry roared.

       “No Blackberry!”  Lily pleaded.

       “You deserve little better,”  Blackberry replied, almost crying, “how could you Lily? How could you hit your day old cub so mercilessly!”  Blackberry literally threw Lily out of his lie up, whipping her backside with the towel as she stumbled away.

        “Forgive me for losing my temper,”  Blackberry prayed, his tears falling onto his clasped forepaws.  Throwing himself face down on the rugs, Blackberry wept as he’d not done since he was a cub.

 

Blackberry lay on the rugs, the video of Lily’s attack on her cub replaying in his mind, the forces put upon little Orbon’s head, everything, the damage caused, and the damage that could have been caused.  Blackberry, feeling the enormity of what he knew flooding him, screamed in terror like a cub about to die under a train, who’d just caught sight of the impending roaring death hurtling towards him.

 

Blackberry’s scream echoed around the room, and then the corridors.  Mama Anook, fresh from speaking to Kuruk, padded down the corridor towards Blackberry’s lie up.  She was keen to meet the black bear she’d first hugged so many years ago.  Hearing him scream, Anook padded into the lie up to find her honorary Grandcub curled on the floor, sobbing into his paws.  Sitting down, Anook took the weeping male black bear in her paws and hugged him as if he were an injured cub, holding him firmly and close to her body, but gently too.

        “mama!”  Blackberry wept, clinging to Anook with desperate paws.

        “I am your mama now,”  Anook said softly to Blackberry, “I know Ekaterina adopted you, but that was only because I had many cubs of my own, now I have all cubs to think of, and you are one.”

      “But there are many more cubs here now,”  Blackberry sobbed.

      “There are, but I’m that much bigger now,”  Anook said smiling, “feel my paws Blackberry, feel my pads, touch my paws and feet.”

        “Your pads are thick, your fur is too,”  Blackberry sniffed.

       “I noticed that,”  Anook replied smiling.

       “will you have cubs again?”  Blackberry asked.

       “I might,”  Anook replied, “I might Blackberry.”

        “I wish,,,”  Blackberry started to say, but caught himself.

       “You wish what?”  Anook asked.

       “it’s awful, dreadful!”  Blackberry squealed, almost choking, “I wish,”  his paws tightened on Anook’s fur, his toes going white with tension.

        “I wish you’d given birth to me Anook, “I know who you are.  You would not have left me to run wild, you tried not to let me run wild!”

        “I wonder what giving birth to you would be like?”  Anook asked, her toes curling with anticipation at the thought.

        “You could try, you could do it mama Anook,”  Blackberry replied, looking up into her face.

        “how was it when you pretended?”  Blackberry asked.

       “it was intense, hard work, but not like the real thing,”  Anook replied, “I couldn’t really push you know, I just braced my feet against the floor, or if I held them in my paws, braced my feet against my paws while curling my toes for all I was worth of course, there’s rolling about and kicking at the air with my hind feet too, oh, and a lot of screaming.  That’s made easier by screaming at one’s self for not kicking hard enough.  Indeed the whole straining thing is done that way too.  partly the pain of exertion, partly the effort put in, makes for a very realistic labour sound if you moan with the pain of stressed muscles..  Talking of screaming, I heard the most horrendous wailing coming from your lie up.  No, not wailing, screaming.  As if a cub was in distress.”

        “I saw, saw the most awful video mama cam, I mean Anook,”  Blackberry whimpered.

       “Would you like to show me it?”  the patient, gentle sow bear asked.

       “I, it’s, it’s of Lily, she, well, I’ll show you.”  With that Blackberry, his feet as heavy as lead, padded to the screen and ran the film of Lily’s attack on her day old cub.  Mama Anook was shaking with fury after she’d seen the footage.

         “I’ll tear her paws off!”  she roared.

        “I know the damage that blow could have done,”  Blackberry whispered, his eyes terrified.

        “if it hadn’t been for Patch,,,”  Anook said, Blackberry nearly choking on a fresh rush of tears.  Running to mama Anook, he threw himself into her lap, and, clinging to her fur as if he was newborn, Blackberry shrieked with sadness and fear.  Mama Anook held him tightly, kissing the top of his head and stroking his back with her paw.

        “You’re safe now, and so is little Orbon,”  Anook said softly to the weeping male black bear.

         “I’m weeping like a cub, and I should be so happy really,”  Blackberry sniffed, “Targon’s pregnant again, and Titania’s little one is so sweet too.  I have a great family Anook, a lovely family.”

       “but you are also protecting the cubs of others than yourself Blackberry,”  Anook said, “that’s a good thing.”

        “I remember the births of my cubs as if they were born only a few hours ago Anook,”  Blackberry said, “I remember how it felt to touch Targon, how her fur felt, how her paw pads felt, how it felt when my paw was caught in the toes of her hind feet as she curled her toes in pain, such pain she told me of.  She was graceful in labour Anook, Mama Targon laboured with grace and elegance!”

        “I didn’t!”  Targon replied, padding into the lie up, “I screamed and roared.  I was a sweaty mess!”

        “You did wonderfully my lovely,”  Blackberry said, looking at his mate with undisguised love and affection.

        “I will let you get paws on again Blackberry,”  Targon said, “I like you getting paws on with me.  I remember my pregnancy started after you and I had played the stuck foot game four times, twice on each of our hind feet, and then you chased my hind feet, and then you caught them, and then, oh yes, then you mated with me!  Wow!  I wanted that so very much!”  Blackberry laughed with love for Targon.

       “We could play the stuck foot game again my lovely Targon,”  Blackberry said.  Targon bounced on her toes a bit.  Then smiled:

       “wouldn’t it be nice if while we were playing, a contraction made my toes curl, and my paws grip your feet hard?”  she asked.  Blackberry grinned:

        “I would love to feel the strength of your commitment to your cubs,”  he said.

       “You will,”  Targon replied, “for I think I’m close to delivering my cubs into the world.  A few days I think Blackberry, then my toes will curl for another reason than the pleasure you give me when you hug me or touch my paws and feet.  They’ll curl in pain at the efforts of my body to deliver my cubs in response to their will to be born.”

       “your toes curled cutely,”  Blackberry said, Targon giggling with delight.

       “I’m glad you thought so,”  she replied smiling.

       “I remember catching both our cubs in my paws, all slippery and warm, it was wonderful!”  Blackberry said, “I also remember kissing your pads Targon, they were warm too.”

       “Covered in sweet and all hot you mean,”  Targon said.  Blackberry grinned and kissed her nose.

        “Now I’m looking forward to helping you through your labour once again my dear,”  he said softly.

        “Do you play with each other’s hind feet?”  Anook asked.  Targon smiled:

      “Blackberry’s hind feet are so cute!”  she said, “his toes curl easily, his pads, now they are cute when they bunch up, just like Ekaterina said, they look like the skin of a Blackberry when he curls his toes.”  Blackberry laughed merrily and kissed his mate’s ear.

      “Soon your pads will look like the skins on blackberries,”  he said, “they might even glisten with the dew of the effort of labour.”

      “That’s the most poetic description of bunched up, sweating pads I’ve ever heard Blackberry!”  Anook laughed.

       “That’s rather cute,”  Targon said smiling.

       “I wonder if Hope will be at the birth of your cubs?”  Blackberry asked.

       “if she wants to be there, I’m not stopping her,”  Targon replied, “I just want the labour to be long enough for others to share it with me, that is all.”

       “It will be,”  Patch said, padding into the lie up carrying little Orbon with him, the cub riding on the large bear’s back.

      “Are you all right little one?”  Blackberry asked, padding up to patch and scooping little Orbon off his back, the cub releasing the paw and foothold on Patch’s fur just in time, then kicking the air with all four paws as he was transferred to the floor.

       “Kicking the air with your feet and paws didn’t do much,”  Blackberry said.

       “No, but it felt good,”  was Orbon’s response, the black bear smiling and kissing the cub’s nose and paws.

       “Patch said you cried when you saw what mama did to me,”  Orbon said, Blackberry looking at patch.

       “Why did you tell him?”  he asked.

        “he wanted to know what the scream meant,”  patch said, “we heard you Blackberry.  I watched the video and told Orbon what happened, that’s all.  Orbon wanted to find you and hug you.”  Blackberry sat down and Orbon crawled into his lap, giving him as bigger hug as he could, Blackberry choking back tears.

        “it would be great if you could lay your paws on my belly and encourage these cubs to come,”  Targon said to Patch.

       “I can’t do that,”  Patch replied, though I could tell you if your cubs are happy or not.”  Targon stretched out on her back, her feet in the air.  Patch rested his paws on her swollen belly, Targon wriggling with pleasure as her cubs responded to Patch’s touch by kicking with their paws against the wall of her womb, patch smiling as he felt the thrusting paws and feet, Targon gasping as the cubs kicked and wriggled about inside her.

        “They’re lively!”  she panted, “now, now, please, cubs, settle down!”  Targon begged, clamping her paws over her belly.  Wriggling a little, and kicking slightly with her hind feet, Targon breathed deeply, trying to restore calm to her cubs.

      “I think your cub’s telling me he’s ready, but has asked constantly, and is now impatient to get out, would you like to have your cubs in the birthing pool?”  patch asked, “I’ve heard it’s very nice Targon, all warm and you could swim a little, and then brace your feet when things get bad, Blackberry could be with you at all times, in the water too.”

      “I’ll take a look,”  Targon said, “I’ve never had a water birth before.  I know snowy half tail did it back in the mists of time, but never since has a community member had a water birth I think.”

       “Let’s go there now,”  Blackberry suggested.  Targon got to her feet and padded with Blackberry to the monorail where they called a car to travel to the birthing room.  Reaching it, Blackberry and Targon walked into Ekaterina’s dry birthing place, then on to the place where the pool was.  As they entered, they heard a moan of pain.

       “What’s going on?”  Targon asked, unable to see as the pool was on her blind side.

       “It looks like snowdrop is in labour,”  Blackberry replied, “but she’s only just had little Kamchatka.”

       “Snowdrop’s helping Hope learn about birth of cubs,”  Kuruk grunted, “Snowdrop’s been at it for hours now.  she having a bad time, moaning and padding about, but no actual pushing yet, though she’s tried once or twice.”

          “Are you in real labour snowdrop dear?”  Targon asked, Snowdrop’s splashing and moaning making her toes curl with emotion.

         “I’m pretending, but it’s getting more real by the minute, as I remember bits of little Kamchatka’s birth,”  snowdrop replied gasping with renewed pain, then, bracing her feet and gripping the rail on the side of the pool with her paws, snowdrop leant into the wall, roaring and squealing, then yelling lustily.

      “oaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaooooowaoooour!”  she complained loudly, uuuooooaoaoaoow, uuuuuuuoaoaow! I need to push!”  snowdrop yelled, bearing down into her tail.

        “aoaoaoaow! Pushing hurts!”  she screeched.

        “does pushing against the cub hurt?”  Blackberry asked.

       “You bet it does,”  Targon said, “there’s the contraction which hurts, then the effort you are forced to make which hurts even more.  That’s why I scream and roar Blackberry.”

       “Will this bring on the birth of your cubs?”  Blackberry asked.  Targon laughed.

        “I don’t think it will,”  she replied, though the warm water might, when Snowdrop is done with it.”

       “You mean you are in labour?”  snowdrop asked, leaping out of character and out of the pool in an instant, “sorry Hope, this mama needs the pool more than I do!”  snowdrop replied breathlessly, shaking herself all over Blackberry and Targon, the two bears soaked from ears to paws by the she bear’s shakings.

        “Now we’re wet enough that getting in the pool is a formality,”  Blackberry grunted, “thanks snowdrop.”

        “Oh, sorry,”  snowdrop replied contritely, “but how wonderful it would be if a little swim in the pool brought on Targon’s labour, and then, then she had her cubs in the water too!”

       “I don’t know if the cubs will come yet,”  Targon replied, “though they were rather active earlier.”  Targon got into the water, which was constantly filtered and warmed.  Padding about in the nearly shoulder high water, her chin inches from the surface, Targon felt her body floating a little, as the water was a little salty, giving her buoyancy.  Only touching the floor lightly with the tips of her toes, Targon crawled through the water, her feet thrusting, her paws paddling.

      “thrust with those feet Targon,”  Blackberry said, following his mate up and down and round and round, ducking down to see what her legs and feet were doing beneath the water.  Lights, bright enough to eliminate everything beneath the water, made seeing what was happening a whole lot easier.

       “I don’t know how anyone could wear coverings on their feet!”  Targon panted, “I love the feel of the water on my feet!”

      “Did she ever wear anything on her feet Blackberry?”  snowdrop asked.

       “She might have done as a cub,”  Blackberry replied, “I don’t know, maybe it’s that, maybe she’s regressing to a cub level as she struggles to bring her cubs into the world.  She did this last time a bit.  I put socks on her feet at her request, and she tore them off during a contraction, maybe she’s remembering that.  Targon didn’t like the feel of the socks on her hind feet at all.  Whimpering and roaring, she endured two contractions with them on, then tore them off on the third, screaming about nature meaning her to be barefooted, that the socks meant she couldn’t curl her toes properly, and that she wanted to be barefooted till she died.”  Targon paced and paced, and swam and swam, up and down and round and round.

       “I’ll never wear socks on my feet, never again!”  Targon panted.

        “Are you all right Targon love?”  Blackberry asked, the sow black bear shaking her head to clear it.

         “Was I rambling?”  Targon asked.

       “You were talking about socks on hind feet,”  Kuruk said, “did you wear socks while in labour before Targon?”

        “I did, I had a craving to wear socks for a bit, it was when I found I couldn’t curl my toes as I wanted while wearing them I tore them off,”  Targon replied, “was I remembering that Blackberry?”  Blackberry smiled and hugged her:

       “yes you were,”  he replied gently.

        “My thoughts always stray to my feet and paws when in labour,”  Targon said, “I suppose, when my window on the world closes, my one good eye, I become foot and paw focused, and anything which will stop that becomes the enemy.  I spoke to Nanuq recently, and his messing about with his inflatable suit came to mind as I was bouncing through the water on my toes.  so I gave voice to that too, the thought of having something on my feet while in labour, being unable to curl my toes, hold my feet in my paws and squeeze my toes, or pads, or both is just too horrible.  I want my feet and paws free, free to soothe my pain, and to be there for me to work with, or for others to work with for me.”

        “I heard something about massage of a mama’s hind feet aiding labour,”  Blackberry said, “rub the pads in a certain way, and contractions happen.”  Targon smiled and sat on the ledge, thrusting out her right hind foot, Blackberry taking it in his paws, and rubbing the sole pad of her foot, pressing the inside of her heel.  Targon closed her one good eye , as the sensation filled her brain, then, as Blackberry pressed his toes into the pads of her heel with gentle pressure, Targon whimpered, gripping her belly in her paws.  Blackberry took each of Targon’s hind feet in his paws in turn, pressing the inside of her heel pads alternately, Targon rocking back and fourth as her contractions got going with every pressure on the pads of her hind feet from Blackberry’s paws.  Every time Blackberry stimulated a contraction, he waited to see if Targon’s labour continued beyond the lessening of his pressure on her heel pad before inducing another contraction for his mate.  It was only when Targon felt a small spontaneous contraction that Blackberry stopped stimulating her labour with gentle pressure on her heel pads.  Targon, her one eye closed in concentration, breathed deeply as her body told her her cubs were ready.  Whimpering, she rolled onto her belly, then got into a crawling posture, Blackberry kissing her wet pads and toes as she curled them with the beginning of another contraction.  Smiling, Targon moaned deeply as Blackberry kissed her bunched pads and curled toes as she endured yet another contraction.  After three of these, with Blackberry kissing her heel pads at the peak of each contraction, Targon turned and, smiling with thanks, slipped into the water, the movement making her roar with the first serious pain of labour, as the first hard natural contraction gripped her.  padding through the water, half walking, half swimming, Targon laboured properly for the first time.

      “yeeeeeeeeeoaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaououuochh!”  Targon squealed, aoaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaouch!”  she complained loudly and plaintively.

       “It’ll be okay,”  Blackberry said softly, snowdrop going to the phone and calling Sally and peter.  Kuruk and Hope sat down, watching Targon.  Ekaterina, padding in after the two children, sat down to hear How Hope would cope with Targon’s cries and reactions to her increasing labour pain and need to make effort for her cub or cubs.

       “How many cubs do you think you’ll have?”  Hope asked.  Targon grimaced as she felt another contraction building, then panting, she straddled her legs and roared lustily with the pain of labour.

       “I think it’s one cub!”  Targon wailed, “no wonder it felt energetic, one huge cub, ow, this is gonna hurt, hard work too!  hooaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaooaw! Aoaoaoaoaoaoaaoaoaoew!”  Targon squealed, stamping her feet beneath the water.  Then, sitting in the shallow end of the pool, but not on the ledge, Targon plunged her paws beneath the water, grabbed her left hind foot and massaged her pads, the massage stimulating another contraction, making her curl her toes, rock back and fourth, roar and cry.

       “So that’s how mama bears stimulate their own labours,”  Blackberry said.  the massage feels good, but it also stimulates the contractions.  Targon, addicted to the massage, and strangely to the pain, kept massaging her pads, then, as the contraction built, Targon reacted by squeezing her foot while screaming, rocking, then pushing, then squeezing her foot in her paws again to continue the self stimulation.

       “massage, grip, scream, push, massage, grip, scream, push!”  Targon wailed.

       “Can I help?”  Hope asked.

       “yeah,”  Targon gasped, “just take my other hind foot, Blackberry, you take my left, Hope my right, and massage one at a time, so I don’t go mad!”  Blackberry and Hope massaged Targon’s hind feet, pressing her heel pads, the sow black bear roaring and rocking as her contractions peaked and spent themselves.  Sally smiled as she remembered her own labour, holding her feet in her hands as she lay on her back, her fingers pressing into the inside of the pads of both heels, as she took a good grip on both her bare feet.  The feeling of the contraction building, then, when things got too painful, Sally let go of both feet, spread her legs and bore down, pushing hard into her bottom like Targon was doing now.  she didn’t know what she was doing back  then, but Sally realised now, she had been stimulating her own labour.

         “roaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaowaoaoor! Aoaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaaaaooaoaororororrororororor!”  Targon moaned, her hind feet splayed beneath the water.  Then she lay back on the inclined bottom of the pool, reaching down with her paws, feeling the cub sliding into her paws, grunting, puffing, then opening her mouth to pant, Targon felt the cub emerging.   Wriggling, with Blackberry pressing the heel pad of her left hind foot, Targon growled as another contraction built in her, then she set to pushing down savagely into her tail, harder, and harder, then as hard as she could, screaming lustily as she bore down desperately into her tail, the toes of all four paws curled more tightly than she ever thought she could curl them, forcing the pain through her tail, through the floor of the pool, and away.  Puffing, Targon felt the cub sliding into the world, from its head, to the cub’s body, and then, Targon moaned, squealed and roared as she felt the cub’s hips and legs emerging.  with a  final wriggle and shriek of pain, Targon freed the cub’s hind feet, and Blackberry smiled, lifting the cub from the water.

        “You did it Mama Targon!”  Blackberry said, as the cub, yelling for food, was cleaned up by Sally, then handed to Targon.

         “that was amazing!”  Hope exclaimed, Targon grinning at her with pleasure and thanks.

       “My king bear helped me deliver the cub at first,”  Targon said, “he started the whole process really.  I just finished it.”  Blackberry, realising what he’d helped achieve, watched Targon feeding their cub through a blur of tears of joy.

        “Well done mama,”  he sniffed, his day complete.  Targon smiled broadly.

       “I enjoyed that,”  she replied, “though I’m sure it didn’t sound like it.”

       “I now know how I stimulated my own labour to help Kuaizi !””  Sally said.  Targon grinned at her.

         “I watched you,”  she said, “you held your bare hind feet in your hands, your fingers pressing into the heel pad of each of your bare feet.  I’m feeding my cub, otherwise I’d touch the place on your foot where you pressed.”

     “Was it here?”  Sally asked, lifting her right foot and grabbing it in her hands, touching the skin on the inside of her heel pad with her fingers.

       “Yes, there!”  Targon replied smiling.

        “no wonder when I gripped my heels hard in my hands, I felt a need to push, so push I did,”  Sally said, “then, when I released my hold, the cub slid into the world.  Feel it slow down, grab my feet, press down into my heel pads with my fingers, feel a contraction build, press down more, when it peaked, let go of my feet again and splay my legs, while curling my toes in pain, that way I delivered my cub.”

      “You did well by all accounts,”  Targon said, Sally jumping into the pool, wading across and throwing her arms round the mamma bear, before planting a kiss on her nose, Targon smiling..

       “You did so well Mama Targon,”  Sally whispered to the mama bear, who gave her cub to Blackberry, then leant forward, pulled Sally into her lap in the water, embraced her, then whispered:

       “I think you did well too.”  Sally sat opposite Targon, each taking the other’s feet in their hands or paws, and exploring each other’s heel pads in mutual recognition of the power of their bodies to help deliver the next generation.

       “that’s so sweet!”  Peter said, Blackberry smiling.

       “They each know what the other felt,”  Hope said, “though I wish I’d been paws on with Targon as she was in labour.”

          “You can’t have everything Hope,”  Targon said.

        “I suppose it was Blackberry’s right to be paws on with you Targon,”  Hope grumbled, Sally scowling at her.

       “You saw, you learnt from Blackberry,”  she snapped, “now Hope, you know how to help a mama with her contractions if they are not doing their job.  You know more now than you knew when Targon was without cub.”

       “I know, but I wanted to get paws on!”  Hope yelled, slapping the water with her paw, something which angered Blackberry so much he threw the cub out of the room.

       “Get out Hope, go on, shoo!”  he yelled, giving Targon’s cub to Peter, who embraced it tenderly, then roaring lustily, chasing Hope from the room.  Sally grinned at Targon as Hope was ejected by force, the sound of her skidding paws and feet as she tried to accelerate on the smooth tiles of the dry birthing den making them smile.

        “Blackberry’s pushing her hard,”  Targon said, “Hope shouldn’t have said what she did.  Now she’s in the shit.”

      “what does in the shit mean mama?”  her cub asked.  Targon snapped her mouth shut.

        “I forgot community cubs were more developed than wild ones!”  she whimpered.

        “it means she’s in trouble, but don’t say that in polite company,”  Sally said to the cub, who she realised was male, a large male black bear cub..

         “You better leave the pool now,”  Blackberry said, returning to the poolside after chasing Hope, “or you’ll have wrinkled pads, and I’ll have to massage oil into them.”

       “We’ll stay a little longer then,”  Sally said, touching the sole of her left foot with her fingers, feeling her pads already wrinkled by the water.

          “You two just want paw and foot massage don’t you!”  Blackberry replied with mock exasperation.

       “Um, ah, yeah,”  Targon replied, “at least I do.  Sally might not though.”

       “Oh I’m of your mind Targon,”  Sally replied, “Blackberry could massage my feet any day.  Any bear who can charm a cub from her mother’s womb by pressing the pads of the mother’s hind feet is okay to massage my feet too.”  Targon examined the sole of Sally’s right foot, seeing water wrinkled pink sole skin and soft thick pads, with small toes, as Sally was still a young girl in body, despite her experiences.

        “Cute hind feet,”  Targon observed.  Sally smiled, lifted Targon’s foot onto her lap and examined it, from large padded toes, to sole pad, with the arch represented by a half moon cut out of the inside of the sole pad, rather than being an actual arch.  Sally traced the half moon arch of Targon’s right hind foot pad with her finger, Targon giggling with pleasure.

       “Very cute pads and toes Targon,”  Sally replied smiling.  Targon stuck her tongue out at Sally, Sally screaming with laughter.

       “Daft bruin!”  she said to Targon, Targon curling her toes around Sally’s fingers, squeezing them with as much tenderness as if she’d curled the digits of her forepaw around her fingers, the emotion communicated being the same, Sally leaning forward to kiss the tops of the toes of Targon’s right hind foot, as she might have kissed the top of her paw, had she not had her paws full with cradling a busily drinking newborn cub once more.

 

Titania, having seen the video of her mother’s labour and the delivery of her brother cub, ran in two hours later, having watched it live, and then, fascinated by the under water photography, as well as the surface shots, watched the video a second time.  There were underwater cameras and lights which filmed from all angles in the pool, so every bunching pad, every straining muscle was recorded.

      “mama!”  Titania yelled, leaping into the already crowded pool, Sally stopping her by blocking her advance with her arm.

      “Careful,”  she warned.

       “I saw mama in labour!”  Titania yelled, “it was amazing Sally, I saw everything!”

       “so did I,”  Sally said, having watched partly on the screen, partly the room, seeing the underwater shots as well as the surface and overhead ones.

       “Who runs the cameras?”  Titania asked.

       “I think it’s Royston from the lodge,”  Sally said, “he’s got a little suite of rooms there, where he does all sorts of things with cameras.  I think that’s his school project, film, editing, that sort of thing.”  Titania leapt out of the water and to the phone, screaming at whomever was on control to dial the numbers for the lodge.

      “get me Royston!”  she yelled into the phone.

      “Please and thank you?”  Sally admonished.

       “Please, and thanks,”  Titania said, her face blushing scarlet that a man cub should be more well mannered than herself.

       “Hi, Royston, were you responsible for shooting that video of Mama Targon giving birth to her cub?”  Titania asked, her toes curling into the tiles with anticipation of his response.

       “You were?  Titania squealed excitedly, “how wonderful!  How perfectly fantastic!”  Targon laughed at her daughter cub’s eloquence.

      “Oh how perfectly fantastic,”  Targon repeated in a rather plumy tone.

      “Oh shut up mother!”  Titania snapped, almost dancing with delight, “Royston?”  she continued into the phone, thank you for that video, it was so amazing, I watched it twice!”  Titania literally danced with joy as she replaced the receiver.

        “What will you name your cub?”  Blackberry asked.

        “I like the name Caleb,”  Titania said, he’s a lovely cub, and so big and soft too.  I don’t know where I got the name from, but he’s so gentle.

       “Was your cub overdue Targon?”  Blackberry asked, peering at the cub.

         “I don’t know,”  Targon replied.

       “he doesn’t look much like me either,”  Blackberry mused.  Targon looked down at her paws.

       “I, I don’t know that he is yours,”  she replied sorrowfully, “Blackberry, I, I didn’t tell you this before, for I was too shamed by the incident.  but, well,,,”  Targon’s one remaining eye looked scared.

        “What happened?”  Blackberry asked gravely.

        “I was in the woods, walking in the woods, and, and I was trapped, tripped by a foot trap.  It was in the dark part of the woods, no cameras.  I was tripped, then trapped by a foot trap, and, and someone landed on top of me, and, and, well, put me in cub!”  Targon replied miserably, “I struggled with the notion of my pregnancy, as I knew just after we’d played, and mated, I thought, thought I could pretend the cub was yours, but, but now, Oh Blackberry, I should have told you what happened, but I was so upset by it, I hoped, hoped, that when the cub was born, I could look after it and be happy with my lot, and happy I am that I have a lovely male cub here.”

        “You should have told me, we could have done something about that!”  Blackberry snarled.

        “could you Blackberry?”  Targon asked, “could you really do what jess did?”  Blackberry slammed his paw into the water in frustration.

        “Of course not!”  he growled, “but, but we did mate!  We did!”  he insisted desperately.

        “that mating was rather a desperate one,”  Targon admitted, “the foreplay was wonderful, but the mating was desperate Blackberry.”

         “I wanted to prove myself,”  Blackberry admitted, “to prove, prove what tests, oh shit Targon!  I tested myself, tested my, um, prowess, if you know my meaning, and, and it looked like I couldn’t sire cubs any more!  I wanted another cub with you, and you with me, so we mated, little did I know then what I know now, and you didn’t know then what you know now either!  I’m infertile, unable to sire cubs with you any more!”

       “but I’m your cub aren’t I?”  Caleb asked, overhearing the whole heated conversation.

        “yes, well no, well,,,”  Blackberry replied quickly, regretting his words as soon as they were out, “oh dear!”  Blackberry sobbed.

      “was your attack on Lily fuelled by your knowledge of the results?”  Sally asked.

       “yes, a bit,”  Blackberry admitted, “she had what I could not have, and to abuse that gift which she had with such wanton violence was too much Sally, too bloody much!”

        “Who um, had their way with you Targon?”  Peter asked.

        “I don’t want to know,”  Targon replied, “it was a panda, I think, at least it looks like it was from Caleb’s markings.”

       “but he has the paws and feet of a black bear,”  Blackberry said, examining the cub closely.

      “Of course,”  Targon replied, “am I not a black bear Blackberry?”

      “Oh, of course,”  Blackberry gabbled, sounding very silly.  Indeed, some might have laughed a little at his blundering words, but none did.

        “So what will you do with your cub?”  Titania asked.

        “I’ll feed him, groom him, and love him like I want to,”  Targon said.  Blackberry rubbed the cub’s back, then sat down on the ledge and took him in his paws, sitting the cub on his lap.  Caleb looked up into Blackberry’s face, the male black bear shocked to see the cub’s eyes were open.

         “You were overdue little one,”  Blackberry said.

         “I knocked on the door with my feet and my paws, but noone would let me out, until, until someone touched my mama’s feet with their paws,”  Caleb said, “I tried to let a set of paws which touched me know I was ready by kicking hard against them, but until my mama got her feet entangled with paws which told her body to tell the door to open, I couldn’t fight my way free.”

        “So your labour was induced,”  Sally said to Targon.

      “Indeed it was,”  Targon replied, “I don’t think I’ll be having any more cubs after this experience, I’m too worn out for it.”

         “I love Caleb from his nose to his toes,”  Blackberry announced, embracing Caleb tightly, “Targon, he’s ours, I don’t care how he was conceived, he’s ours, I was with you before your pains, during them and after them, and I am your mate too!  I will look after this, um, big one, with you.”  Targon giggled with pleasure.

       “he is rather large for a cub,”  she said, “I think the cubs need to press a part of the womb with their foot to start labour, it’s a small bit, and this cub’s huge paws and feet were just too big to push through the gap to the switch, as it were.”

        “You are right mama, I pressed and pushed with my feet and paws, I rolled and turned this way and that, and curled my toes and kicked with my hind feet and punched with my paws, but nothing happened!  When those big paws laid on me from outside, I punched even harder, and you moaned and stopped me punching by clamping your paws over my head mama!”  Caleb yelled.

       “sorry,”  Targon replied contritely..

        “it was my fault for not finding that switch,”  Caleb replied miserably, “but someone found it, there must be another one, in the soles of your feet mama, or that’s what I think I heard.”

      “You did,”  Targon replied, “the switch was in the sole of my foot, and Blackberry kept pressing it, until it was jammed on, then the labour continued naturally.”  Blackberry laughed at the analogy Targon dreamt up.

        “that’s about it,”  he replied, “I jammed the switch on, and that kept the door opening until it was wide enough for you Caleb to pass through, and for Mama Targon to push you into the world the whole way,”  he said.

       “Good,”  Caleb said.

       “it was amazing,”  Targon replied, “the sort of paws on labour I wanted, all assistance without drugs.  Not doing it on my own.”

         “So if Blackberry hadn’t been there, you would not have laboured at all?”  Peter asked.        “No,”  Targon replied, “I wouldn’t.  I think there’s something wrong, and only induction would help me.”

        “So Blackberry couldn’t sire cubs, and you can’t give birth to them any more,”  Titania said, “good job there was a way of delivering Caleb into the world then.”

       “Of course there’s the surgical route,”  Blackberry said, “but that’s not so magical, and leaves scars and discomfort, and is very clinical.  The way Targon did it, she was ready in her mind, and I knew how to stimulate her body, so she delivered our cub.  now everyone’s safe and well, and we have no tearing and no complications, um,”  he looked pointedly at Sally’s and Targon’s hind feet, “I think we might have wrinkled pads to iron out though.  Time to leave the pool I think Sally, and you Mama Targon.”  Targon and Sally laughed, splashed Blackberry and Caleb, and got out of the pool.

        “I like this water,”  Caleb said, slipping out of Blackberry’s embrace and paddling across to the other side, while Blackberry waded alongside him, “I like the water, all warm and safe to my body, paws and feet,”  Caleb continued, “it’s warm in here, like it was in the place I couldn’t get out of.  I knew I needed to leave the place, but I couldn’t do it without help.”

       “I know little one,”  Blackberry said, “now you are free though, and can stretch your legs and the toes of those paws and feet.”

       “I can, I can!”  Caleb replied.

        “You are a true water cub,”  Blackberry observed.

       “I like the water,”  Caleb replied, “it’s nice and warm and safe.”

        “You’ll end up with as wrinkled pads as your mama and Sally,”  Blackberry said.

       “What about your pads though?”  Caleb asked, “won’t they get wrinkles too?”  Blackberry reared onto his hind feet and looked at the pads of his paws:

      “yes,”  he replied softly, “they are wrinkled, though I can’t see the pads of my own hind feet.”

       “I’ll help you by looking at them,”  Caleb replied.

       “Not here though,”  Blackberry said.

      “Why not?”  Caleb asked, “Sit on that place where you and I were cuddling, and I can get in the water and see and touch your hind feet.”  Blackberry grinned and returned to the ledge, sitting down as his newborn cub directed.  Caleb slid into the water, and gravely examined his sire’s right hind foot, the slightly salty water enabling him to lift Blackberry’s huge hind foot into view.

       “the pads are wrinkled, your toes too!”  Caleb said, “here, here, here, oh, and here,”  he continued, touching Blackberry’s pads and toes with a lightness of touch designed to tickle his foot.  Blackberry, surprised, began to laugh, then, as Caleb tickled his toes, Blackberry lay back on the ledge and roared with laughter, waving his paws in the air and kicking the water with his free hind foot, Caleb laughing delightedly.

        “Ticklish toes!”  he guffawed.

       “yes, oh yes they are,!”  Blackberry gasped, “stop it Caleb, stop it now!”  he commanded, Caleb kissing his sire’s toes where he’d tickled them, Blackberry dabbing the cub’s nose with his kissed toes, Caleb giggling and letting go of his sire’s foot.

         “Why didn’t you let Targon and Sally be near you for that?”  Titania asked.

         “it’s a private time for them,”  Targon replied, “I know what happened, “it’s sire and cub time, just like mama needs time alone with her cubs sometimes without sire’s intervention.”

       “but Caleb and Blackberry are going to be close aren’t they,”  Sally said, “for Caleb knows what Blackberry did for him, and for you Mama Targon.”

        “yes indeed,”  Targon replied, “if it wasn’t for Blackberry learning what he had, we both might be in trouble now.”

       “I think Blackberry and Caleb playing together was so cute!”  Peter said, “the emotion of it made me tightly curl my toes.”  Sally giggled at Peter’s words.

      “now how many other times have you curled your toes with emotion Peter?”  Sally asked.

       “Oh, every time Targon roared with pain, every time she curled her toes, and especially when Caleb was lifted up from the water,”  peter replied.  Sally hugged him tightly, then both she and peter left the bears to their own private time.

        “No don’t go,”  Targon protested when she saw them leaving.

       “I wish sire Blackberry would press a switch on your feet that would close the doors!”  Caleb added, Peter and Sally laughing and pretending their feet were stuck to the floor by bouncing on their toes, trying not to lift their heels off the floor too much, Caleb laughing merrily at their antics.

        “Blackberry found the switch!”  he yelled.

        “mama, there you are!”  Wihakayda yelled, padding into the room quickly.  Seeing the pool, she leapt in, and swam across to Caleb, who, seeing her coming, squealed in mock fear, and splashed her.

       “Oi you!”  Wihakayda yelled.

       “you have tiny feet and paws, not like me, look at mine big girl!”  Caleb challenged, settling back in Blackberry’s lap and waving his paws and feet at Wihakayda, who waded up to the ledge and blew on Caleb’s toes, tickling them, making the male cub shriek with surprise.

        “You tickled my toes big cub!”  Caleb yelled, Wihakayda kissing his nose.

       “You are my cousin then little one?”  Wihakayda asked.

       “I don’t know!”  Caleb replied, “my mama is Targon.”

       “My mama is Targon’s cub,”  Wihakayda replied, “that makes me, um, er, related to you somehow.”  Targon laughed merrily at this talk, waded across to her Grandcub and kissed the top of her head.

       “You are Wihakayda’s nephew I think Caleb,”  Targon said.

        “I’m confused,”  Caleb announced, “can’t we all just say we all look after each other?”  Targon smiled at this and kissed her granddaughter’s, then Caleb’s noses.

        “You are right,”  she said, “we’ll all look after each other.”

        “I can’t free my feet from these tiles!”  Sally said, bouncing on her heels a little.  Blackberry smiled, waving to Targon, who waded from the pool and freed the children’s feet by gently prying their heels from the floor with her paws, then lifting each foot and kissing their heel pads, Sally and Peter leaning on each other and giggling as the mama bear freed them.

       “This is so sweet!”  Peter laughed.

        “it is,”  Sally replied.

        “I wonder what happened to our teacher from the school?”  peter asked.

 

Cynthia Chartwell finished her day at the school.  Very pregnant now, her maternity leave was about to commence.  Padding barefoot from the classroom, having tidied everything away, she wondered what had happened to Sally and Peter, who’d not returned to their classes after school had returned from summer break.  Now she was about to give  birth to her child, conceived nearly a year earlier.  Walking down the track into the woodlands, barefooted as usual, she wondered about her charges, were they still in the house?  Had they learnt anything since she’d left for Africa?  Cynthia felt her unborn child stirring as she walked, then felt pain.  Gasping, Cynthia padded into the woods, heading for the only place of safety she knew.  Reaching the house, her pain stronger now, she crawled into the vestibule where Sooleawa sat by her pool, her hind feet in the water.  Seeing the human crawling in Sooleawa got to her feet and padded across to Cynthia, just as Cynthia endured another contraction, screaming lustily and curling her toes as tightly as she could.

        “You’re in labour, oh wow, wow!”  Sooleawa said, “though this is not a birth pool I have here, it’s a pool for washing feet, the basin for washing paws.

        “My feet need a wash yes, but I’m having a baby!”  Cynthia moaned.  Sooleawa gently washed Cynthia’s bare feet, as the human curled and relaxed her toes through contractions, then made a leisurely call on her phone.

       “Um, is Blackberry in his lie up>?”  she asked Nuru, who was on control room duty, Sooleawa having had no luck contacting the black bear by directly dialling his lie up.

       “he’s in Ekaterina’s birthing pool,”  Nuru replied smiling down the phone, “he and Targon had a cub an hour ago.”  Sooleawa, tears of joy filling her eyes, gulped back her emotions and said:

      “I have Cynthia here, she’s,”  then Cynthia screamed as another contraction gripped her, Nuru getting the idea, as he watched and heard the goings on.

        “I’ll call Blackberry, now!”  Nuru said, punching a button on his consol.

 

Blackberry, feeling his bleeper vibrating on his wrist, looked down, seeing the name of the lie up in which he was needed.  Pressing a button, he listened to the report Nuru had, his face lighting up, then becoming serious.

      “Can she walk?”  he asked.  there was a pause, then, Blackberry again.

        “get her in the monorail and send her here, I’ll help her from the monorail.  Monitor her the whole way, no, scrub that, send Sooleawa with Cynthia in the car to hold her hand.  I’ll see them both here when they get here.”

     “What?”  Targon asked.

        “Cynthia Chartwell’s in labour, and we’re going to see a human birth,”  Blackberry said smiling, “and I’ll be present at two births this day! Yippee!”  Targon giggled indulgently.

       “What about Ekaterina?”  Sally asked.

        “Don’t mind me,”  Ekaterina said, “I’ll stand by and listen to the birthing expert deliver another cub.”

        “I’m no expert,”  Blackberry said, “I just, well, coaxed a cub from his mother, and might be able to coax another from their mother too.”

        “I will sit back and listen with wrapped attention,”  Ekaterina said.

        “here she comes,”  Blackberry said, hearing a wail of pain proceeding the arrival of the monorail.  Leaping from the water, he padded to the door of the birthing pool room and opened it.  Cynthia crawled in with Sooleawa padding alongside her, the former moaning with pain, the latter confused.

       “all I do is wash paws and feet!”  Sooleawa whimpered, “I don’t understand all this berth stuff!  All I know is Cynthia kept curling her toes and screaming!  I’m off!”  With that Sooleawa turned tail and ran back to the monorail car, swearing as the car hadn’t waited for her.

          “It’s gonna be okay Cynthia dear,”  Blackberry said to the labouring woman.  Cynthia stared down at the tiles, then up at the bears all around her.

        “cubs in here,”  she gasped, “cubs can’t see this, ow, ow! Hooaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaooaw!”  Blackberry led Cynthia, who was still clothed, towards the edge of the pool.

        “sorry,”  he said as he gently undid the skirt she was wearing, “you’ll have to get out of your lower  clothes.  You can’t have your cub with them on you know.  Blackberry gently undressed Cynthia in the water, dumping the wet skirt and underwear on the side of the pool, while the labouring mother settled into the warm water.

        “I didn’t plan on a water birth, but here I am,”  Cynthia panted, bracing her heels against the bottom of the pool to brace her back against the side as she felt another contraction build.  Breathing deeply, she closed her eyes and felt her fingers and toes curl as she bore another contraction.]

      “aoaoaoaow! Aaaaaw!”  Cynthia complained, feeling a gentle and cooling paw touching her forehead as she came down from the effort.

        “I’m being tended to by a bear!”  Cynthia panted as she opened her eyes and realised whose paw soothed her.

         “I’ll help you like I helped Janet,”  Ekaterina said gently to Cynthia.

        “I thought Blackberry was going to help her!”  Titania snapped.

        “No, I’ll help if she needs pressure on her heels, though I don’t think she needs that,”  Blackberry replied, “anyway, Ekaterina’s the midwife round here, and she needs the job.”  Cynthia moaned and panted through her contractions, feeling a set of tiny paws taking her left foot gently in their embrace and stroking her toes and the ball of her foot.  Blackberry, sitting in the water with Caleb, gently whispered to the cub, telling him how to massage Cynthia’s toes and the sole of her left foot.

       “her toes are curling, just like mama’s did!”  Caleb said.

      “yes,”  Blackberry replied, “this human is in the same pain as your mama was.”

      “is she going to have a cub?”  Caleb asked.

      “yes she will,”  Blackberry said, “she’ll have a smaller version of peter or Sally, I can’t tell which.”  Caleb was happy with that explanation, watching Cynthia’s face, her closed eyes, clenched teeth, and fists beating the water.  In his paws he felt her foot pressing into his paws, then being pulled away a bit, then pressing hard into his paws once more, as Cynthia roared and screamed, curling her toes as tightly as she could.  Then her hands plunged beneath the water, and Blackberry saw her biceps bulge as she grabbed something beneath the water.

       “What is she holding onto with her hands?”  Caleb asked.

      “her other hind foot I think,”  Blackberry said.  Indeed Cynthia was, holding her right foot in her hands, the fingers of her right hand clamped around her heel, those of her left pressing into the soft sole skin as she strained, curling the toes of both feet as she struggled.

       “Auoaoaoaoaoaoaurgh! Oaoaoaoaoaoaaow!”  Cynthia screamed throughout.  Cynthia suddenly withdrew her left foot from Caleb’s grip, let go of her right foot, and scrambled onto the ledge, and rested there on her hands and knees, her hands covered by water, and the desperately curling toes of both feet covered likewise.  Groaning, Cynthia pushed down hard, then sat back on her heels, bouncing her buttocks on her backside, the t-shirt she wore flicking water as she bounced and settled, grinding her heels into her backside.  Ekaterina, unable to help in any other way, kissed the labouring mother’s heels and toes, Cynthia having relaxed her toes for a minute while she panted.  Then, as Ekaterina kissed her toes, Cynthia curled them tightly, screaming with pain.  Cynthia  leant forward and splayed her legs, heaving and moaning, Caleb seeing something emerging from Cynthia’s body.  Roaring, Cynthia held on tight to the tiles with the fingers of both her hands, her knuckles showing white.  Wriggling, her eyes tightly shut, Cynthia strained lustily as Ekaterina got onto the platform behind her to catch the emerging baby as Cynthia panted.  Cynthia suddenly got to her feet, bounced on her toes a bit, then held tightly onto a bar with her hands while squatting, feet flat on the floor, her knees splayed. Moaning deeply, she  heaved desperately, Ekaterina hearing all and smiling as she supported the baby’s head and body in her paws as Cynthia, growling with the effort like a mama bear, pushed down hard, while everyone, except Titania, who found she couldn’t watch, observed the birth of a child.  Ekaterina helped the child from its mother, Cynthia squealing as she bore down against her child, shoving it into the world.  Once the child’s legs and feet were delivered, Ekaterina cleared the child’s airway and expertly washed Cynthia’s newborn baby from head to toe,  the baby crying in such a cub like way, Targon had to curl her toes into the tiles to stop herself from running to it and embracing it, before maybe feeding it from her own milk.

       “the baby’s a human, not a bear cub!”  she told herself sternly.

      “thank you!”  Cynthia gasped as she sat down on the ledge, her feet in the water.

       “hey no problem,”  Ekaterina replied, “it happens all the time this, human mothers often drop in to have their children.”  Cynthia laughed:

       “No they don’t,”  she said, “but you can turn your paw to anything it seems Ekaterina.”  Ekaterina grinned and handed Cynthia her newborn daughter.

        “What will you call your little girl?”  Blackberry asked.

        “I have a good idea,”  Cynthia said, leaning over and kissing Ekaterina’s nose.

         “what?”  Ekaterina asked.

        “I’ll call her after the midwife who overcame her fear of man to step in and give a labouring mother the best care she could.”  Ekaterina felt tears filling her eyes.

       “thank you, I’m honoured,”  she whispered.

       “while I was pushing, I also felt the paws of a cub holding my left foot in their embrace,”  Cynthia said, looking at Caleb.

       “yes, sorry,”  Caleb replied.

        “No, it was lovely,”  Cynthia replied, “I shall tell my daughter of how my labour was eased by the touch of not only the midwife, but by a cub as well.”

       “your foot was soft and warm, and your toes curled so tightly mama,”  Caleb said.

       “yes,”  Cynthia replied smiling, “I’m sure they did.”

     “They curled like this!”  Caleb said, lying back in Blackberry’s lap, lifting his right hind foot in the air, and curling his toes as tightly as he could, Cynthia laughing.

      “that’s so cute!”  she said, “thanks for showing me little one.”  Caleb laughed and waved his paws at Cynthia, who smiled, got up, and left the water.

        “Where will you go from here?”  Titania asked.

       “I’ll go home,”  Cynthia replied, “via the doctors of course, but the care I got here was second to none.”  Indeed, a human doctor had already been summoned by Charles Fullbeans, and Cynthia was seen there and then, the doctor supervising the passing of the afterbirth.  the doctor, whom everyone knew as the mother of Moses Sire, checked Cynthia over, then checked the tiny newborn baby over too in the privacy of the dry birthing den.  Doctor Sanchez, finding everything well, viewed the video of Cynthia’s arrival and the birth of her baby girl.

       “you fascinate me,”  she said to Ekaterina, who stood with pride beside her.

       “I learnt my trade the hard way mama doctor,”  Ekaterina replied smiling.

        “I watched Blackberry too, and the way he handled Targon’s birth earlier,”  Doctor Sanchez said, “that was amazing too!”

       “I didn’t need to ask Blackberry to help Caleb along,”  Ekaterina replied, “though soon after his own birth, Caleb got paws on and helped Cynthia give birth by massaging her toes a bit I think.”

        “yes,”  Doctor Sanchez said, “I am past child bearing age now, but I think I’d like to have my baby here if I were still of that incline.”  Ekaterina smiled and kissed the woman’s hand, Doctor Sanchez returning the kiss to Ekaterina’s left paw.

        “now I must go,”  Doctor Sanchez said, getting to her feet.

        “That doctor’s barefoot,”  Titania observed.

       “but of course,”  Doctor Sanchez replied, “I wouldn’t come in here wearing shoes, most disrespectful, and Sooleawa did check my feet for thorns before I entered too.”

       “What if it was an emergency?”  Wihakayda asked.

      “Then you call an ambulance,”  Doctor Sanchez said, I’m no emergency trained doctor, though I did midwifery before I went into general practise.”  With that she left, Ekaterina padding around her now empty birthing pool and den, all the sounds replaying in her mind.

      “I’m sure I will never forget this day,”  Ekaterina thought.  Emptying the pool and cleaning it, Ekaterina replayed everything in her mind,  once she’d washed the tiles and finished her work, she sat on the ledge in the now empty pool, waiting for it to fill once more.

        “To think a mama bear, and a mama human delivered their cubs here today,”  Ekaterina thought, “I was present at both births, getting paws on with one, but not with another.  I remember the feel of Cynthia’s hands and feet, and of the baby emerging, and of how fragile the little man cub was.  As fragile as a bear cub really.  I wish I could have seen as well as felt what happened, but I’m sure I’ll get retellings from Sally and Targon, Sally re-enacting Cynthia’s labour from time to time I’ll bet.”  Ekaterina kicked her feet in the water, which was just covering her toes as she sat.  sitting on the ledge, Ekaterina spun through ninety degrees, grabbed her right foot in her paws and began to play with her toes, the feeling of her paws on the pads of her hind feet triggering the memory of what Sally had said about the inside of her heel triggering contractions if she pressed the heel pad there.  Ekaterina felt for the inside of the heel of her right foot, and pressed into the pad.  Sure enough, she felt her stomach tighten, whimpering, she pressed harder, the contraction becoming stronger, yelping, Ekaterina let go of her foot, her pain easing.

        “wow, oh dear!”  Ekaterina gasped aloud.

        “it’s all true then,”  Titania said, “all true that pressing the heel pad of either foot works to stimulate contractions.”  Ekaterina huffed with exasperation that she’d been discovered.

       “Noone was meant to see my experiment,”  she snarled, “it was private!”

        “I wanted to think,”  Titania replied, “I came back to walk, to wade, to make sense of what I’d seen.  I suppose you were doing the same thing?”  Ekaterina hesitated:

        “I hadn’t seen anything,”  she replied, “but the rest, yes.”

        “I remember my labour with Wihakayda, it hurt, god it hurt Ekaterina.  I screamed and roared, and cried and kicked with my feet like a terrified trapped cub.”

       “Labour makes cubs of all of us, screaming for our mothers,”  Ekaterina replied.

        “the pain was so complete, so there, I drowned in pain and fear,”  Titania said, “but it all came right in the end, I had good help, and support too.”

       “Patch helped you didn’t he,”  Ekaterina said.

       “yes,”  Titania replied, “back then, you, well, you weren’t in a fit state to minister to anyone.”

       “I was not myself then,”  Ekaterina admitted, “though now, now I am, and I’m back for good.  Patch helped me as he helped you, as he brought you through your labour, he brought me through mine.  Now I’m a new bear, trying to make some amends for my lies and dreadful behaviour.  But I don’t’ want to talk about that much here, here is not the place for that kind of talk.”

        “how did Cynthia’s baby’s birth feel to you?”  Titania asked.  Ekaterina wept openly as she remembered it.

        “Amazing,”  she replied, “amazing Titania.”

       “Do mother humans curl their toes as tightly as I did when I had Wihakayda?”  Titania asked.

      “yes they do,”  Ekaterina replied, “they scream and roar too, just like you did.”

        “so Humans have painful labours just like us?”  Titania asked.

      “yes,”  Ekaterina replied, “they scream and cry, roaring like lions for hours while pushing to deliver their young, just like us bears.”

       “Oh,”  Titania replied, sounding like the cub she still was.

        “now I’ve finished cleaning here,”  Ekaterina replied, “I’m going to rest, and think.”

       “I hope you remember this for the rest of your life,”  Titania said.

      “I will,”  Ekaterina said, “and I will ask others to fill in the gaps that I cannot, as I can only know what is beneath my paws at any one time.”

        “Oh, I’ll do that for you, gladly,”  Titania said, “I think Sally will too, as will Targon if you ask her.”

         “Thanks,”  Ekaterina replied smiling.

         “I’ll never forget the relief on Cynthia’s face when she felt your paw on her forehead,”  Titania replied, “she was deep in a contraction, and surfaced to feel your paw on her forehead, soothing her.  from then on she felt secure, I could see it.”

      “I could feel it,”  Ekaterina replied.

 

Meanwhile, in Blackberry’s lie up, Blackberry lay on his chest, Caleb clambering all over him.  Blackberry, his eyes closed, concentrated on the feel of his cub’s paws and feet, the slippage of pad on fur, the grip of toes into his fur, the cub’s clumsy attempts to scramble up onto his back.  Blackberry smiled as Caleb, losing his footing entirely, tumbled off his back and, squealing with indignation, landed in a heap on the floor.

      “Naughty feet, you didn’t hold me, toes?  I blame you!  All of you!”  Caleb screamed at his hind feet, Blackberry and Targon trying not to laugh, as they could tell their son was deadly serious.

        “Try again little one,”  Blackberry said softly, kissing his son’s nose and the raging bear’s paws and feet.

       “Maybe your kiss on my paws and feet might make them listen to me!”  Caleb roared.  Targon snorted behind her paws, trying to stifle her laughter.

       “You are so funny Caleb!”  Targon whooped, giving up the struggle.

        “it’s not funny mama!”  Caleb whimpered, “my feet didn’t hold me, and I ended up on the floor!  Now I hope me yelling at them will make them do the job they’re there for!”  Anook, having stayed behind in Blackberry’s lie up throughout the goings on in the birthing pool, now gazed down at Caleb.

        “I wish you’d been there Anook,”  Blackberry said.

       “yes agreed,”  Targon replied, “Anook, your presence would not have been unwelcome.  Blackberry and I both love you dearly, and you Patch, oh dear, I wish we’d invited you all!”

       “But you did,”  Anook said smiling, “we saw everything, heard everything too!”

       “Did you know how we stimulated my labour? And how Sally stimulated hers when she delivered Kuaizi ?”

       “yes,”  Anook replied, “I know how it is done now, Blackberry showed us on the video.  It’s magical, a beautiful way to help a mama.”

       “It’s so simple!”  Targon replied, “take your hind foot in your paws and press your heel pad, and bingo, a contraction.  Of course the pain makes you hold onto your foot even tighter, increasing the contraction, until the pain makes you let go, and then you can let the cub surge forward!  It’s addictive.”

        “I don’t think Cynthia needed that stimulation though,”  Anook said, “she was well past that.”

        “Cynthia’s labour was as lovely as yours Targon, but so much quicker,”  Patch said, “she’s a young human I think.”

       “I’m a slow old bear,”  Targon harrumphed, “old enough to need constant help to deliver my cub.  I needed it rather than wanting it, but it was great to feel everyone paws on with me.”

        “How did you feel when you took Sally’s feet in your paws Targon?”  Anook asked.

        “It was a time of understanding for both of us,”  Targon said, Sally smiling and sitting down beside her, the she bear pulling the young girl into her lap and hugging her, “I touched the very pads that had helped Sally to deliver Kuaizi, and she touched my pads which had helped me deliver Caleb.  Now I know, I know mamas roll onto their backs and draw up their hind legs, then grab their feet with their paws.  It’s comfortable, and the position the paws are in on the soles of the feet stimulate contractions when the mama is exhausted.”  Anook thought back to Kuruk’s birth.

      “I remember Kuruk’s birth, such a struggle, and yes, I grabbed my feet with my paws in the den much like I’m sure you would have done Targon, had you not had birthing attendants to press your pads, and I know that you did Sally, when you had Kuaizi.”

        “I am so excited by the realisation of the power of my own feet!”  sally said.

         “I’ll watch the video of Kuwaizi’s birth in that knowledge and see what you did to aid her passage,”  Blackberry said.

      “Oh you know what I did you silly bear!”  Sally laughed, “but I know you like watching birth videos and things like that.”

        “I do,”  Blackberry admitted.

         “I wonder,”  Little Targon said, padding up to Blackberry, “I’ve been watching all this foot rub stuff, have you, Blackberry?”  Little Targon looked suddenly exhausted and miserable, “do you have something for my old complaint?  A foot rub for that? Please, please I’m begging you!”  she sobbed.  Blackberry held the weeping she bear in his paws, rocking her gently in his embrace while she wept.

        “I can try,”  Blackberry replied, “I can try to ease your pain by massaging your hind feet a bit.”  Little Targon, emotional after an hour of pain and struggle, kissed her sire’s nose.

        “Thanks,”  she whispered, “I’m so worn out with all this!”

        “I’ll get paws on right now, but in private, as this is a very personal matter,”  Blackberry said. With that he led his daughter cub into a side room, where there was a relieving place.  Spreading a rug, then absorbent towels, Blackberry asked Little Targon to sit on the towels.  When she was reclining slightly, her back propped against cushions, Blackberry began to massage the inside of the soles of her feet, first her left foot, then her right, little Targon drifting in a dream as her sire worked with soft pressure from his paws.

        “This feels lovely, just this,”  Little Targon said dreamily, “if this works, Blackberry, if this works, could you help me by doing this every day?”

       “I could teach you how to do this for yourself,”  Blackberry replied, “you’d be self administering the massage, like mamas in labour do.”

       “I suppose it is a kind of labour,”  Little Targon replied, “I eat all the right things, but nothing works.  Only straining hard, and I don’t want to do that.  I must, must now, lean forward, oooah, my stomach is,,,”  little Targon whimpered, leaning forward from where she was reclining, Blackberry kissing her nose as it came within range, then little Targon was leaning back again, Blackberry able to get on with massaging the sole pad of her left foot.  His daughter cub lay back, her stomach contracting as her need to relieve herself got more urgent.

       “Please would you help me while I relieve myself Blackberry?”  Little Targon asked, “it’s gonna hurt, I’ll need support, please, oh please!”  Blackberry kissed the toes of her left hind foot, the pad of which he was massaging.

       “I will,”  he replied, “I have a very good seat that allows you to relieve yourself while I can access your hind feet.  I have considered your request before this.”

        “It’s gonna hurt, it’s gonna make me cry and scream, and curl my toes!”  Little Targon whimpered, “and, and I think it’s gonna happen now!”  She crawled to the relieving place, and scrambled onto the raised seat, her hind feet resting on a pedestal, while her back was supported, little Targon crouching over a hole.  Blackberry was able to access his daughter cub’s hind feet, massaging her pads as she endured her pain and effort to relieve herself.  Whimpering, little Targon strained and panted, while Blackberry worked on the pads of her hind feet as he’d done before.  Little Targon grabbed a bar in front of her with both paws and held on as her body expelled what it didn’t want, but could not get rid of without help.

       “oaoaoaoaoaoaoaoaoao! Yoaaoaoaoaoaoaow!”  ooooooooaoh,”  little Targon squealed as she relieved herself.  Crying, she moaned deeply, then screamed as her body strained for the last time, clearing the plug which led to a flow of matter, Little Targon grunting and puffing, moaning, whimpering and sobbing as she got on with her job, wriggling slightly as she fought her battle.

         “It’s okay my little one,”  Blackberry said, as his daughter cub finished her task and settled back exhausted.

        “your massage helped,”  little Targon said, “but there is no way I could do this on my own, I can’t reach my hind feet from here, but the relief when it’s all done is amazing!”

        “There’s another seat you can use,”  Blackberry said softly, kissing her tear stained cheek, “now, let’s clean you up my dear.””

        “Sorry for all this,”  little Targon said, “Blackberry, it’s wrong, wrong that you should have to help your grown cub to do this.”

         “”I help you because I know how to, and you need my help,”  Blackberry replied, “and you know what my dear daughter Targon, “helping you is a pleasure, because I know you are free from pain now.”

          “I need to learn how to relieve myself unaided though,”  Little Targon replied, “It’s gonna be hard, massaging my own hind feet while sitting over that hole, it’s gonna hurt, it’s gonna make me roar and cry.”

         “I’ll show you the stimulus points, and the pain relieving ones,”  Blackberry replied.

        “will it hurt that much?”  little Targon asked.

       “today it hurt because you hadn’t relieved yourself for ages,”  Blackberry said, helping little Targon off the relieving place and to a shallow bath, where she washed herself.

          “so if I, oh, um, play with my hind feet a bit, in the way you show me, then, well, go to the place and sit down, and then play with my feet some more, I’ll be able to do things more easily?”  little Targon asked.

       “yes,”  Blackberry replied, “that’s it.”

       “So frequent play with my hind feet is necessary to stop me from having all this pain,”  little Targon mused, “it seems the hind feet have a cure for everything.”

         “I’m hoping you’ll get relief from this,”  Blackberry said, as little Targon dried herself with towels and threw them in the bin before washing her paws and feet.

          “thank you Blackberry,”  little Targon said.

 

Meanwhile, in the main lie up, Caleb lay with Mama Targon, after relieving himself for the first time, wanting to stand on his  feet and crouch a little as he would when he was older. this done, he’d lain down, his ears tuned to his sister’s cries and moans.”

       “is she delivering a cub in there?”  He asked.  Mama Targon shushed him.

       “it’s not very nice,”  she replied, “your sister’s ill, and Blackberry’s trying to find a cure for her,”  she whispered.

         “it sounds like he’s killing her mama!”  Caleb replied.

        “No he’s not,”  Mama Targon replied, though in her heart, she could understand what the cub meant.  She could hear her daughter’s cries, and it was only her total faith in Blackberry which stopped her from running in and attacking him.  After an age, little Targon emerged, looking far brighter, and much happier.

        “What happened to you sister?”  Caleb asked.

         “I’m unwell, and Blackberry was helping me get better,”  Little Targon replied.

       “but you moaned and roared like mama did!”  Caleb replied.

       “yes, I know Caleb, I know, little Targon replied, “It’s all over now.  I’m fine.”

         “Your legs are shaking, and your toes are curled into the rugs, you’re not fine,”  was Caleb’s reply.  Little Targon, feeling weaker than she had for a long time, lay down beside her brother cub.

         “I don’t know where you got your perception from,”  she said, “but Caleb, you are right, I’m feeling drained, sore and weak.  Caleb, as he could do nothing else, pressed his paws against little Targon’s belly, the she bear flinching away at first, but then relaxing, as her sore belly began to respond to the cub’s touch.  Whimpering, she wriggled a bit, Caleb pressing gently with the flat of his paws.

      “there,”  Caleb said, “how do you feel now?”  Little Targon stared at the young cub in astonishment.

       “My belly felt all uncomfortable after the time I’d had,”  she said, “but, you pressed it with your paws and it’s feeling fine now.  Well Caleb, I’ll come to you when my belly’s feeling out of sorts then.”

          “I don’t know how I did that,”  Caleb replied, “It just felt the right thing to do.”  Little Targon sighed deeply, she knew the constant tension of her illness was making the illness itself worse.

        “if I can get this massage of my feet to do the job I want it to,”  she said to Caleb, not realising he didn’t know the whole story, “could you tell me how to soothe my belly too?”

        “You won’t be soothed unless you want to be,”  Caleb said, “you must want it sister Targon.”

         “how does he say these things? “Mama Targon asked.

       “The thoughts are there,”  patch replied, “I’m just helping him out with a few words he doesn’t yet know, but wants to use to express his feelings, that is all.”

         “Sounds wonderful,”  Mama Targon replied.

        “I remember a game you played mama,”  Caleb said, “it was played with your hind feet.  You and sire Blackberry played it not long before my urges to get out became very strong indeed.  I could feel Blackberry’s pads through mine, as if I was hind foot to hind foot with him, as you were.  My feet stuck as strongly as yours did, or maybe I was imagining they had.  The feeling was amazing, the love flowing through my pads from Blackberry.  I think even then he was promising to look after me, and you.”  Blackberry stared at his newborn son.

         “I played that game shortly after my tests came back,”  Blackberry replied, sitting down and burying his face in his paws, “I played the stuck foot game with Mama Targon, and, and, I wished, wished, oh how I wished I could sire a cub with her!  I didn’t say anything, but my feet told my true thoughts to a cub, a cub I didn’t know was there, so close to my own paws!”

         “I was afraid you’d guess my shame,”  Mama Targon replied, “but you didn’t Blackberry.  Now though, we know our son felt our love for each other, and for him too, though we didn’t know we had a son cub then.”

         “We didn’t even know we had a cub!”  Blackberry whimpered, “for we mated that night, and, when you said you felt the stirring of your cubs, I thought you were wrong Targon!  You weren’t though, as I know now what you meant.”

         “I think you are soft and gentle Caleb,”  little Targon said to the large cub, who smiled, rolled onto his back and waved his paws and feet at her.

        “those paws and feet are just the cutest!”  little Targon said, kissing Caleb’s nose, the cub sitting up and grabbing his right foot in his paws.

        “How would it be if I helped you big sister?”  he asked.

       “Helped me with what?”  little Targon asked.

       “helped you with your pain, I mean, the other bit of it.  The bit that makes you roar and moan like mama did when she pushed me into the water from the place inside her.”

       “You can’t help me with that,”  little Targon said, “it’s a private thing that.”

      “your pain wasn’t private,”  Caleb replied, “I heard it, I heard you wriggling about, stamping your feet, and straining too.  I heard your muscles complaining, and your toes curling so tightly one time, your claws nearly dug into your pads.”

       “how do you know all this?”  little Targon asked, while Blackberry stared at the cub.

       “I felt it,”  Caleb replied, “the feelings made me want to run to you and hold you.”

        “I was thinking of you, and wishing with all my heart you would not be afflicted as I had been,”  little Targon replied, “maybe that was it.  It was while Blackberry was paws off that I curled my toes, that I had the worst bout of pain, that I cried out in my agony to a little cub who’d made a big black bear laugh by tickling his toes.”

        “I could help you by pressing the switches that ease your pain,”  Caleb said, Little Targon staring at him.

        “You’re too young,”  she said.

       “he’s not,”  Mama Targon replied, “he relieved himself while you were away with Blackberry, Caleb, you see,”  she took a deep breath, “Caleb knew that’s what you were doing, that you had trouble,”  Mama Targon looked at her daughter cub, “I’ll wage the pads on all four of my paws that while you were curling your toes in pain and thinking of a cub, that cub of whom you were thinking was being supported by my paws as he relieved himself.”

          “I moaned and wailed afterwards,”  little Targon replied, almost weeping, “what did Caleb ask you after he’d finished his task mama?”

        “he asked me if you were delivering a cub, for that’s what it sounded like to him.”

      “now I know what she was doing,”  Caleb replied, “I had no problems, but I felt slightly unwell once, as if someone close by was having problems,”  Caleb replied.  Little Targon, now completely overcome, grabbed Caleb in her paws and hugged him, weeping into his coat.

          “Please help me, please help me if you can!”  she begged.

        “What do you want to do to help her?”  Blackberry asked.

       “show her how to massage her hind feet,” Caleb replied, “help her to massage her feet so she gets relief.”

       “I’ll show her that,”  Blackberry said.

      “But you can’t be there all the time,”  Caleb replied, “I want to be there for her, and I’ll help her by massaging my feet in the way she must massage hers, and then, if that’s not enough, I’ll get paws on, if she’ll let me of course.”

        “that’s so sweet of you,”  Mama Targon said..

        “if she cries like a cub when she needs help, then she is a cub, and I’m a cub,”  Caleb replied, “so Sister Targon is just a big cub, at least that’s what I think.”

        “I am where illness is concerned,”  Little Targon replied, “my pain makes me cry like a cub and scream as if injured too.”

       “I know another cub who screamed like that,”  Caleb replied, “I heard him, it wasn’t too long before Blackberry found the key to free me.  I heard a scream, then shouting, then a big male bear crying.  I think that was Blackberry, the crying bear I mean.  The scream was from a cub, I know it, though I don’t know if the cub survived.  I heard a male voice shouting at a female one, the voice was angry, hurt, and grieving.  I felt sorry for that voice.  The female voice, well that was winy, horrid.  I thought the female voice had injured the cub, and that the cub belonged to the female voice.”

       “Oh god, oh no!”  Blackberry sobbed.

       “how could you know this?”  Mama Targon asked, “I was nowhere near Blackberry while he was whipping Lily with the towel!”

        “cubs are attuned to cubs Targon,”  patch said, “Caleb was attuned to the sufferings of Orbon as much as he was attuned to little Targon’s sufferings.   Adults lose that affinity, but as cubs, we all had that.  With our mothers, with our fellow cubs, we all felt their pain.  Why is it all the cubs play at birth.  Why is it they ask other cubs about their trips and falls, and try to emulate the least dangerous ones?  If a cub gets a stone between their toes, or a thorn in their paw, see how many emulate them, and how much pulling of thorns and freeing of stones there is in the playroom, even though no thorns or stones are for the pulling or the freeing.  The cubs empathise with their fellow cubs, and with their parents.  It is only hard bitten adults who lose that.”  Targon stared at Patch, her one good eye registering confusion and a little fear.

        “You’re right,”  she said, “Patch, are you saying that me stopping Caleb from helping Little Targon is wrong, not his wanting to help her?”

        “yes,”  patch replied, “watch them, see how he helps her, if he massages her hind feet, and she’s okay with that, it’s fine.  If he shows her how to massage her feet, and she’s ok with that, fine too.”

        “I don’t understand all this!”  Mama Targon whimpered.

         “haven’t you ever wanted to re-enact something you saw?”  Patch asked.

       “well, yes,”  Mama Targon replied, “but I’ve never been allowed to, where I used to live, it was frowned upon.  I was forced to grow up very quickly, and when I even so much as talked about what I’d seen, maybe the birth of a cub in the next cage or something, I was shushed by those around me.  Here though, they don’t just talk about it, they re-enact it do the cubs.  They make sense of it that way.  They even ask mama how it felt to be torn apart from inside!”

         “how did it feel mama?”  Caleb asked.

         “My labour?”  Mama Targon asked.

       “yeah,”  Caleb replied.

         “it was warm, and gentle, and loving, and fantastic, and wonderful!”  Targon replied, “I had wonderful help, and now I have a wonderful son cub.  I know I roared and yelled, curled my toes and kicked, but that’s all part of it.  I knew I wasn’t in real trouble, not once, once Blackberry had opened the door for you to arrive Caleb.”

         “I remember, remember my body getting squeezed, then, then more squeezing, and hearing mama panting and moaning, as if my head was part of that moaning and panting.  I could feel it.  I could feel you mama, panting and moaning, could hear your screaming and roaring, and could hear you swimming, stamping your feet, and whimpering.  Then I felt you pushing, and heard you wailing with effort too. you sounded like a cub mama!”  Caleb gushed .

        “I felt like one, one that could not relieve herself, but had a desperate urge to,”  Mama Targon replied honestly.

       “so that’s why I thought Sister Targon was having a cub, for she made the same sounds you did!”  Caleb yelled.

       “yes,”  Mama Targon replied, “she did.”

        “the most pitiful sound was a low sort of aaaaaow! Sound, though it was longer than that.  A long drawn out sound, when mama was forced to really push, but she was too tired.  Then, then someone pressed the pads of her foot and mama roared, and pushed hard, before gasping and panting, then pushing again.  I came out into the water, and felt mama’s paws around me, then sire Blackberry’s paws, while mama pushed, how she pushed, I think she screamed and cried too.  then she roared again, and I was free.”  Mama Targon, hearing her cub’s tale, buried her face in her paws and wept.

        “Mama?”  Caleb asked, “why are you crying? You did so well, you got me out of the room I was stuck in alive.”  Caleb crawled to his mama’s side and kissed her tear stained face, Mama Targon unable to stop weeping.

         “I felt so much like a cub, so much like a cub when in labour!”  Mama Targon wept, “I wanted to scream and cry, really scream and cry.  To make, to make the same sounds as Orbon had, as I was torn apart by the force of another life coming into the world.  I wish, wish that, that I could help that cub you heard screaming Caleb,”  Mama Targon sniffed, “he’s more injured than sister Targon you know, he, he, he was hit by his mama Caleb, she, she walloped him for, for nothing!”

        “Could you not take him in your paws, take him away from his heavy pawed mother?”  Caleb asked.  Blackberry, hearing this plea from his youngest cub, buried his face in his paws, sniffing, trying not to weep.

        “I could,”  Mama Targon replied, “I want to give birth to him! He’s only a day old! Only a day old, and his mama hit him, hit him for clinging to the leg of a bear, that when you meet him, you’ll want to cling to too.  Blackberry knows this bear, I know him, everyone does.  All the cub wanted to do was play, just play!”  Targon wept.

       “His mama hurt her cub for wanting to play with a big bear?”  Caleb asked.

       “yes little one, she did,”  Patch replied softly.

        “You’re the one with the soft paws, the paws which made me know I had the strength to break free of that place!”  Caleb yelled.

       “I have his voice, touch my paws, then, and only then will you truly know,”  Patch replied gently, giving Caleb his right paw.  Caleb held the huge paw in his smaller ones, and breathed deeply:

       “yes, it’s the right paw!”  he exclaimed.  Patch leant down and kissed Caleb on his nose, the cub tearful.

        “you told mama you couldn’t speed up her labour,”  Caleb said, “was that because you knew what would happen if you left her alone?  That Blackberry would find the key and let me out?  Did you know he knew where that key was?”

         “I had an idea,”  patch replied, “your sire is a very great bear, who learns much and your easy birth was a product of, and then became part of that learning.  Blackberry took things slowly, and so did Mama Targon, for you would be okay, both of them had faith in that.”

       “They had faith in you, you kept me strong, didn’t you,”  Caleb replied.

        “If you want to believe that, I wont speak against it,”  patch replied, “and thank you Caleb.”

        “in how much danger were we?”  Mama Targon asked patch.

        “Do I really need to tell you that,”  patch replied gently, “treasure your labour, and treasure your son, for his arrival wasn’t guaranteed at all.”

       “I was losing hope patch,”  Caleb replied sorrowfully, “I kicked desperately against your paws, because I was beginning to panic, I felt things changing, things going wrong, I needed out then and there!”

         “I know,”  patch replied, that is why I urged Targon to look for a birthing pool.  She found one, and though she doesn’t realise it, she would have stayed there until you were born.  The water was keeping you alive Caleb.  Blackberry helped things along nicely with his pressure on Targon’s foot, and the rest is history, but what a lovely history, what a tale to tell the other cubs!  What a tale to re-enact with water and foot massage too.”

         “I remember every touch on my feet, every push, every moan, every sound, every wriggle and pant,”  Mama Targon mused, “I remember every sensation, the feel of Caleb’s head, and his body, and his legs and his hind feet coming into the world, all that.  I remember when I curled my toes, when I roared and screamed, all that. I will never forget any of it.”

         “You cannot give birth to Orbon Targon,”  Patch replied, “for it is not the way things should be.  I know that.  Show Orbon love, we can all show him love.  You, your son and daughter cubs, everyone.  Caleb is already showing his sister love and compassion, willing to empathise with her as much as he can, to massage his feet to be at one with her and show her how to massage her own feet to help her ease her pain.”

        “I so want to give that poor Orbon cub a new life!”  Targon whimpered, padding to the video, and rewinding the last video played.  When Targon saw what Lily actually did to little Orbon, she ran out of the room, and was violently sick.  Sobbing, Targon vomited twice more, nearly choking.

        “I can’t let him stay there!”  she screamed when she could speak, “I can’t let that poor cub stay there, not with her, not with that horrid sow bear.  She hit him twice, twice for ripping out a little fur! That scream, that poor cub screaming, screaming to the heavens, the sort of scream I hope never to hear again!”  Targon, feeling unwell, washed her mouth and cleaned up the mess she’d left before returning to the main lie up.  The first indication she had of a cub other than her own in the lie up was when two paws clamped themselves around her left leg.  Targon couldn’t see who owned the paws, but they were strong, and had sharp claws.  Targon sat down, and swung the clinging form round until it was forced to let go, and landed heavily in her lap with a grunt.

        “Let’s examine you,”  Targon said, her paws making a rapid assessment, then she looked down with her one good eye.

         “it’s little Orbon!”  she exclaimed.

         “yeah, it’s me, hello,”  the tiny cub replied.  Targon embraced the tiny form tenderly.

         “I saw,,,”  she began to say, when little Orbon put his paw over her mouth.

       “I know what you saw, I know how it felt to be hit like Lily hit me.”

        “If I could, I would turn the clock back two days,”  Targon said, “and, and,,,,”

        “And give birth to me yourself,”  little Orbon finished.

         “yes,”  mama Targon wept.

         “patch said it cannot be,”  the cub replied, “though I think it has happened once before.  To mama Kamchatka, when she became a mama to a very young cub.  that was real, so why not now?”

        “We cant all have perfect cubhoods!”  Blackberry snapped.

       “there’s a perfect cubhood, and there’s being injured by your own mother because you clung to another bear’s fur for longer than she wanted,”  little Orbon snapped.

      “patch?”  Targon asked, “would you?  Please? You can, I know you can!”

         “I will have to speak with Ebony and Lily, for this will alter the way of things,”  Patch replied, “when Alaska was reborn to mama Kamchatka, Alaska noticed little, as Conrad was Kamchatka’s mate anyway.  It was for the good of the cub that was done.  Orbon is safe, he is here, but Lily, is she safe to be around him.  We could ask her to put Orbon up for adoption, that is all I can suggest.”

      “I’ll kill Lily for what she did, then it will be fine, won’t it!”  mama Targon yelled.

        “her offence was not against you,”  patch replied gently, “Mama Targon, dear Targon, you can’t kill for revenge, only for protection, and that would have had to have been done by me or Ebony long before this time.  I cannot let you give birth to Orbon, I cannot let you Kill Lily.  Lily knows her mistake, and will live with it for the rest of her days.  This is punishment enough for her.  meanwhile, little Orbon can come and go as he pleases, can snuggle up to you, nurse from your breast if he wants, be brother to Caleb too, but you cannot take him in your paws by force as you wish, or by rebirth, only by adoption of Orbon into your family, meaning Lily would revoke all care and immediate access rights to her son cub.”

         “make her revoke them Patch!”  Blackberry snarled, “she doesn’t deserve Orbon!  Lily deserves nothing of him, not even a lock of his fur!  She should be scrubbed from nose to tail, and inside her too, to rid herself of all traces of him, then she should be cast out with sandpaper between the toes of all four paws!  she injured a cub patch! That is a grave offence here!”

        “I understand that,”  patch replied, “but the punishment should be proportionate to the harm done.  I managed to save Orbon’s mind, and his personality, though not his sight.  Lily will regain her sight soon, but she will lose it again before her time.  I cannot kill her, for by good fortune, Orbon was not killed.”

       “you are too merciful Patch!”  Targon roared.

         “if I took the hard line you wish, there would be dead bodies everywhere,”  patch replied, “I have the power of life and death, but that needs using with extreme consideration.  I am not willing to kill Lily to appease you Targon.”

         “I will look after this little one then, and call him my own,”  Mama Targon replied.

         “Thank you,”  patch said softly, leaning down and kissing Targon’s nose, then Orbon’s.

         “Was my reaction to seeing the film overboard?”  Blackberry asked Patch.

        “did you permanently harm Lily?”  patch asked.

        “No, well, I whipped her paws and backside with a towel,”  Blackberry replied.

       “I’ve seen her walking on her paws, and sitting on her backside since, so no, your reaction was proportionate, proportionate as you are a sire of cubs, and have feelings for them.  Now if you hadn’t been a sire of cubs, then maybe, maybe, just maybe I’d take a different view.  But as things are, no, you are excused your actions.”

        “he does n’alf go on,”  Caleb said to little Targon, who giggled:

       “that’s just Patch,”  she replied, “he dresses his thoughts up in flowery words, now get paws on, and you know the raw Patch, the playful Patch, the, “let’s tickle everyone’s toes,” Patch that we all know.”

         “the bear who can soothe a trapped cub with his paws until it is time to be born into water,”  Caleb said dreamily.

       “yes,”  Little Targon replied, “yes even that Patch.”

         “the truth is, I hate this,”  patch said, “I hate making these judgement calls, but that’s my job sometimes.”

         “I remember clambering all over you when I was a cub patch,”  Blackberry said, “you had the most wonderful fur and paws, and now, though your paws have changed a bit, and your fur too, I often wonder if you still have that wonderful fur, and those lovely paws and feet.”

        “You were still too young to see when you first met me,”  patch replied, “Blackberry, is that the time you mean?”

       “it is,”  Blackberry sniffed, his toes curling with emotion as he screwed himself up to beg something of Patch.

       “come to me Blackberry,”  patch said gently, “come to me with closed eyes and questing paws, and find what you shall find.”  Blackberry closed his eyes and crawled to Patch, the latter sprawling on his back on the rugs.  Blackberry felt himself clambering onto Patch’s chest, the bear’s huge paws enveloping him, hugging him, and comforting him.

      “I remember playing with your hind feet Patch, playing with your toes!”  Blackberry sobbed, “can I do that again?”

        “Follow your paws little cub, and see what they might find,”  Patch said.  Blackberry clambered all over Patch, his body and paws seemingly as small as a cub’s once more, while Patch’s fur was vast, his paws huge and more interesting than Blackberry had ever found paws before.  Blackberry tumbled off Patch’s belly and somehow found himself holding the huge grey bear’s right hind foot in his tiny paws, the bear’s foot was huge, with thick pads, and when Blackberry stroked his toes and Patch curled them, Blackberry found huge toes too, warm toes, which curled around those of his forepaws with a warmth he recognised.

        “You’re still the playful cub I met all those years ago,”  Patch mused.  Blackberry, unable to speak, just kissed the pads of patch’s right hind foot, remembering he should always ask first, but words failed him.

         “You’re so huge!”  Blackberry blurted.

       “I’m as large as you imagine me to be,”  patch said smiling.  Blackberry shook himself, and looked at patch again, measuring him with his eyes.

         “You’re normal size again,”  Blackberry gasped, “oh thank god for that.  I thought, thought I was a cub again, and that you were huge and soft, sorry.”

        “Well you are right about two of those, wrong about the first,”  mama Targon replied.

       “did I clamber all over patch?”  Blackberry asked hesitantly, “if I did, I’m sorry.”

        “I don’t know,”  Targon replied, “I think, I think I saw something, but it was a cub, not you. Or was it you before I knew you, all black fur and questing paws, not white fur like now.”

      “Whatever I did, I’m sorry,”  Blackberry choked.

       “Nothing you did disgraces you Blackberry,”  patch replied gently.

        “What is he saying?”  Orbon asked Caleb.

       “I think that’s, “don’t worry about it,”  in patchspeak.”  Little Targon grinned.

        “Patchspeak, I like it!”  she giggled.

        “Patch always spoke more eloquently with his paws than he did his mouth,”  Jess said, padding into the lie up.  Patch got to his feet and approached the young girl, reared onto his hind feet and embraced her in his paws.  Jess wrapping her arms around the huge bear’s neck and kissing his nose.

         “I saw Targon’s labour,”  jess said, “it was amazing Patch.”  Patch smiled.

       “Talk to Targon about it,”  he replied, “she’ll tell you all I’m sure, and maybe, just maybe you can embrace her newborn cub too.”

        “I watched Sally’s labour, and Mama Targon’s too, they were lovely,”  Jess said.  Patch smiled broadly, dropped to all four feet, and sat down, Jess exploring him from nose to toes with her eyes, loving him.

       “did you see where Sooleawa went to when she left after delivering Cynthia to the birthing pool?”  Patch asked.

       “She went back to her pool and sat there, shaking so much she created waves in the pool,”  jess replied.

 

Sooleawa sat in her shallow footbath, something she’d never normally do, usually only amercing her hind feet in it.  Shaking, she tried to rationalise what she’d seen.  She remembered the feel of Cynthia’s bunching pads beneath her paws as she washed her feet, and the feel of her curling toes, as well as the sight of the bunching skin on the soles of the human’s feet.  Then there was the ride to the birthing pool, with the human unable to walk, she spent the journey on her hands and knees, head down, screaming from time to time, then moaning and yelling towards the end of the journey.  Sooleawa had never seen anything so frightening in her life.  Feeling sick with fear, Sooleawa crawled to the phone and spoke to the control room, crying to Nanuq, who left the control room, padded to Sooleawa’s station and sat with her, cradling her in his paws.

         “she was screaming and roaring, and her toes, they curled so tightly!”  Sooleawa sobbed.  Nanuq stroked the she bear’s head and said softly:

       “those curling toes and screams heralded the birth of a little female man cub,”  both mama and cub are doing fine Sooleawa.  Sooleawa wept with relief.

        “her pads were sweating, her toes curling so tightly, her pads bunching so urgently!”  Sooleawa wept.

         “I think you might want to meet someone,”  Cynthia said, padding into the small room where Sooleawa worked.  Sooleawa looked up, to see the woman she’d last tended to some hours ago padding in barefoot, with a tiny bundle in her arms.  Cynthia sat down, her feet in the water, and handed Sooleawa her newborn child, Sooleawa gazing down at the child’s tiny face, hands and feet.

       “She’s beautiful,”  Sooleawa said, touching noses with the tiny baby.

       “I named her Ekaterina,”  Cynthia replied smiling.

       “that’s lovely,”  Sooleawa replied, “I love that name.”  Cynthia said:

       “Sooleawa, you would know me better by my feet, to prove I’m the same woman whose feet you washed, would you like to touch my pads and toes again?”  Sooleawa smiled and shook her head:

        “I know you are the same,”  she replied, “but if you insist, I will.”  Sooleawa waved her paw at Nanuq, the huge male polar bear looking at Cynthia, who smiled and handed Baby Ekaterina to him, the human child quiet, and gazing about her.  Sooleawa sat Opposite Cynthia, and took the human’s left foot in her paws, feeling familiar pads and toes, and when Cynthia curled her toes, the recognition was complete.

       “I’ll bet you can’t curl your toes like you did earlier,”  Sooleawa said, Cynthia smiling and making a valiant effort to curl her toes as she’d done while Sooleawa was washing her feet.

        “You can’t curl them like you did, that’s not as tighter curl as you managed hours ago,”  Sooleawa said, “but it’s a good effort.”  Cynthia, giggling, stretched her toes and tried curling them again, Sooleawa stroking her bunching pads..

        “I feel the paws of a cub have pressed your toes and pads,”  Sooleawa said.  Cynthia closed her eyes, remembering another set of paws, newborn paws, holding her foot so firmly, but so tenderly.

        “I think his name was Caleb,”  she replied, her eyes still closed, “I pressed my foot into his paws, like this,”  Cynthia fitted actions to words, “then pulled it slightly away, curling my toes tightly, like this,”  she said, re-enacting what she’d done in the birthing pool, “I think I then braced my foot hard, like this,”  she added, pressing her foot hard into Sooleawa’s grip.

       “your pads feel young,”  Sooleawa said.

       “yes, I’m a young human really,”  Cynthia said.  Jemma and I are a similar age, indeed, we play foot games, we have done since her cubs brought me and her together, as we are now friends.”

       “We are friends yes,”  Jemma said, walking into the room and sitting down beside Cynthia.  Sooleawa smiled as she saw how similar the feet of the two women actually were.

        “You two have similar feet, soles and toes,”  she said, “I know that, for I’ve touched them.  I’ll bet you playing triggered labour too Cynthia, Jemma pressed the pad of your heel, and it brought little Ekaterina into the world hours later.”

         “I think it did,”  Jemma said, “sorry about that Cynthia.”

         “it worked out well in the end,”  Cynthia said, “though we must be careful next time, to make sure none of us is pregnant before we press each other’s heels with our fingers.”  Jemma smiled and hugged Cynthia.

        “but our foot play was wonderful wasn’t it,”  she said, “three rounds of the stuck foot game, and we even locked toes at one point.  That was amazing!”

        “it was,”  Cynthia replied.

        “”your pads were warm and soft against mine,”  Jemma said.

       “I thought of our foot play when that cub, Caleb his name was, took my foot in his paws,”  Cynthia said, “his touch was gentle and loving, just like yours.  That’s why I pressed my foot into his paws, and curled my toes, then withdrew my foot a little, and pushed harder with my foot, curling my toes even harder the second time.”

       “Just like you did yesterday when we were playing,”  Jemma replied smiling, “I felt you do that, and it was so sweet.  You begged me not to let go of your foot when you withdrew it a little too.”

       “I think things were getting going even then,”  Cynthia replied, “though I didn’t know it at the time.”

       “your toes curled so tightly,”  Jemma replied, “you whimpered a little too.”

     “Did I?”  Cynthia asked, “I don’t’ remember, though I do remember your touch, and my world being focused through the sole of my foot and the pads of my toes.”

         “We film our times together, so we can look at how we play the games,”  Jemma said, “it’s a bit cubbish, but we like filming our games, so we could check the video to see.”  Cynthia grinned:

       “I’m sure I lost myself in the moment,”  she said, “that game became very intense, very focused on hands and feet, toes and touch.”

         “it was wonderful,”  Jemma agreed.

        “So humans play with each other’s hind feet after they become adult then?”  Sooleawa asked, “I thought they grew out of that when they were juveniles?”

      “Some do,”  Jemma replied, but Cynthia and I hadn’t grown out of it, and it was only the social norms that stopped us playing the games, but one hour, in this house, we got talking, and realised we both played personal foot games.  Locking the toes of both feet together and prying them loose with our fingers, pressing heels and toes together, and pretending they were glued, then prying them free with our fingers.  It was a short hop to talking about stuck foot games, and we opened up to each other, and yes, before you ask, we measured feet, and our toes curled round each other’s.  I don’t know whose toes  held tightest, mine or Cynthia’s.”

        “I think it was a close thing,”  Cynthia replied, “and the pressure between our heels was big too.

        “that sounds so cute!”  Sooleawa giggled.

      “it was,”  Jemma and Cynthia said in unison, “and we don’t regret a minute of it.”

         “I’d love to see your play,”  Sooleawa said.

      “For real? Or recorded?”  Jemma asked.

       “for real,”  Sooleawa replied, “though only when you have the time to devote to it, like yesterday, for I know how long foot games take to get going.  Rushing the game would be a shame.”

      “well I can show you the video of last night’s antics,”  Jemma said, “my pc is online at home.”  She padded to the consol on the wall and tapped a few keys, accessing her laptop at home.  Soon Sooleawa was watching a video, seeing a shot of Cynthia and Jemma’s hands and feet, and hearing their voices.

        “let’s check each other’s feet for thorns first,”  Jemma said on the video.  There was a little discussion as to who would check whose feet first, and it was decided that Jemma was the one to check Cynthia’s first.  Jemma took Cynthia’s right foot in her hands, pressing her toe pads, the ball of her foot, the sole and heel, before embracing her whole foot in both hands, rubbing with her thumbs on her heel.

        “that’s what did it,”  the real Cynthia replied, “listen to me now.”  Cynthia on screen curled her toes tightly, then moaned deeply, withdrawing her foot a little, before pressing it back into Jemma’s hands, Jemma pressing her thumbs gently into Cynthia’s heel pad, one thumb on the pressure point to stimulate labour.  In the room, Jemma looked at Cynthia.

       “I’m sorry I started off labour,”  Jemma said.

       “I needed a push, as it were,”  Cynthia replied, “it was no problem.”

        “but I might have endangered your little one,”  Jemma replied.

      “You didn’t, and all’s fine, so stop fussing,”  Cynthia said.  Cynthia smiled:

       “but that foot rub felt so dam good Jemma!”  Jemma giggled.

        “I always played with my feet as a child, so know how to do it,”  she replied, “that’s why I chose you as Peter and Sally’s teacher, for you have similar views to me on play, and so many other things.”

        “our feet stuck together though when we first touched heels and our toes, how they locked!”  Cynthia said.  Jemma grinned.

       “that was intense,”  she replied, “really intense.”

         “now I will feed and settle little Ekaterina for a sleep,”  Cynthia said, “and then Jemma, maybe you and I could play?”  Jemma smiled:

       “and this time, when we check each other’s feet for thorns, I’ll try not to trigger an early labour,”  she replied.

         “I hope though, that you can trigger childish play and single minded focus on the game,”  Cynthia replied, “for I would like that.”  Jemma asked:

     “Cynthia, what happened when we first touched heels and toes together, that first time we opened up about our playtimes?”

       “We were both nervous,”  Cynthia replied, “but when our heels and toes touched, our toes locked, and it was as if our feet were glued together,  we had to use our hands to free our toes and heels!  Yes I remember that!”  We played spontaneously, and freeing ourselves took an hour.”

        “yes, but it seemed much longer didn’t it,”  Jemma replied dreamily, “it took ages, or seemed to, the glue holding our heels and toes together got stronger and stronger I remember.”

       “yes it did,”  Cynthia replied, “it was kind of cute too really.”

       “it was,”  Jemma agreed.”

        “”I paused the video,”  Sooleawa said, “your talk in here is much more interesting than that.”

        “if only we could revisit that first time,”  Jemma mused, “that strong bonding of two friends in a common game.  I remember almost a physical sensation of our feet sticking together, our toes locking tight.  Then we had no choice but to play.”

       “it is true,”  Cynthia replied.

        “You are just big cubs really then,”  Sooleawa said.

        “yeah, and I screamed and cried like one while delivering little Ekaterina into the world,”  Cynthia said.

       “You were wonderful,”  Sooleawa replied.

         “I tried my best,”  Cynthia said, “now though, it is time for me to go home with my daughter.”

          “I’m sorry I can’t see you two play together,”  Sooleawa replied.

       “When little Ekaterina is settled at home, then we’ll play,”  Jemma said.  Cynthia left, Sooleawa looking at Jemma.

        “Did you and Cynthia really play that first time?”  she asked.  Jemma laughed:

       “yes,”  she replied, “it felt wonderful.  We got talking about having our feet washed by you, then we got round to discussing the foot play games peter and Sally played, then I asked Cynthia if she played those games.  She said she did, and I told her I did too.  then, just for a giggle, we measured feet, and our toes locked, and then we just had to play the stuck foot game, as our feet were stuck, and well, it’s rude not to.”  Sooleawa laughed merrily.

       “I know,”  she replied, “I’ve been stuck before too, and it’s taken ages to free my feet.  Sooleawa smiled as she remembered, “I think my feet were stuck to Patch’s.  we took ages to free ourselves.”

        “the stuck foot game is a good game to play, for both adults and cubs,”  Jemma replied smiling, “Cynthia and I played it, me and my children played it, patch plays it with Ekaterina too.”

        “it is great,”  Sooleawa replied.

 

Meanwhile, in Blackberry’s lie up, Little Targon sat with Caleb, the latter showing the former how to massage her feet to relieve her discomfort.

         “press the sole of your foot, mid way between your heel and toes,”  Caleb said, “Blackberry told me that’s what soothes constipation.  Little Targon nodded:

      “While I was sitting in the canvas chair in the other room,”  she said, “Blackberry rubbed the inside middle of the soles of my feet with his paws, and wow, that helped!”

      “it sounded as if you were in labour!”  Caleb said.  Little Targon smiled and nodded:

       “I felt like it,”  she replied, “but when that plug left me, oh heaven, I could push finally, and push I did, right down into my toes!”

        “I heard,”  Caleb replied smiling, “a sort of ooooooaoaoaowmph sound you made as you pushed.”  Little Targon giggled at Caleb’s impression of her.

       “I made that sound yes,”  she replied, “but there was much groaning, moaning and crying before that.”

      “there was, it sounded like you were having a cub!”  Caleb replied softly.

        “I was pushing hard and getting nothing,”  Little Targon replied, “even when Blackberry got paws on, the relief wasn’t instant, I had to endure a few efforts before things moved down, really, I wasn’t pushing, my body was of it’s own free will, I was just suffering, the push came first when I pushed out the plug, then, oh then things got moving, and I could push into my bottom, then my soles, then my toes!”  Caleb touched the sole of little Targon’s right foot, then touched her toes, the she bear bouncing on her backside with excitement.

        “You do seem brighter,”  mama Targon said to her daughter cub.

      “I will be, until the blockage happens again, then I’ll have to cry and pant, and heave and push,”  she said.

         “I’ll help you by showing you how to massage your hind feet to make things easier,”  Caleb replied.

       “I think we could incorporate that into general paw and foot games,”  Little Targon replied, “the urge to relieve myself is never urgent, I have at least some warning.  I could run off if things get desperate.  But just massaging my feet is so boring, and anyway, if someone else does it, it’s often more affective, as I’m not fearful of their pressure on my feet, but my own, well, I can’t press hard enough to do it.”

        “You don’t trust yourself?”  mama Targon asked.

        “she needs someone to hold her paw,”  Caleb said, “and if the sounds you were making were anything to go by, I’m not surprised.”  Little Targon looked so upset that Caleb hugged her.

        “It scares me!”  little Targon wept, “I know I shouldn’t be talking to a day old cub about this, it’s a horrid subject, but I’m as frightened of relieving myself now as if I was a young cub again!  It hurts!”

        “I’m wondering,”  Caleb said softly into little Targon’s ear, “I’m wondering if a warm bath might help, like mama had when she was delivering me into the world.  She had to push, like you have to push, and she waded up and down the pool, and sat in the pool too.  I’m sure it helped her, so why not you?”

         “I couldn’t do that in the birthing pool,”  Little Targon replied.

      “No,,”  Blackberry said, “but there are other baths, with relieving places next to them.  You could try that, with Caleb’s help, if he wishes to help you, which I think he does.”

         “so I swim, and crawl, and sit back on my heels, and Caleb gives me foot and belly rubs until, until, I’m relieved?”  Little Targon asked.

       “yes, if you like,”  Caleb said smiling, “I’d like you to try it anyway, for if it relieved mama, it’s got to be good for you too, it must help somewhat.”

          “what if I moan and cry?”  Little Targon asked.

         “I won’t worry about that,”  Caleb replied, “it seems keeping things inside hasn’t done you any good anyway, so moaning and crying is fine.”  Little Targon embraced Caleb, weeping into his fur.

         “how can a cub talk so much sense?”  Targon asked.

         “they do, if only we’d listen,”  patch replied gravely.

         “Right,”  Caleb said when little Targon’s tears dried, “when you feel you need to get things moving big sister, I’ll help you with a bath of warm water, rubbing the soles of your feet, and supporting you while you relieve yourself.”

        “Thank you,”  Little Targon replied, kissing her brother’s ear.

 

Jemma, leaving the community house, padded to Cynthia Chartwell’s house, which was just on the edge of the dark woodlands.  Ringing the bell, she waited, her friend coming to the door and letting her in.

         “Coffee?”  Cynthia asked, Jemma accepting.

         “how’s baby Ekaterina?”  Jemma asked.

      “Sleeping like a bear cub,”  Cynthia replied smiling, “If we settle down with a coffee, and don’t make too much noise about it, we could play the stuck foot game together.

      “the night before last was rather loud wasn’t it,”  Jemma said, Remembering their laughter and shouts of encouragement as they tried to free their feet from the glue which kept getting stronger and stronger.

        “yes,”  Cynthia replied, “I think that game might have sped things up too, and my baby’s birth wasn’t too far off.”

         “Seems that way,”  Jemma replied.  The two women drank their coffee and sat down on the sofa.

        “I remember our chat,”  Jemma said, “that one where we realised we played childish foot games.  We were both nervous as hell talking of it.  I think we spoke of why I’d chosen you as teacher for Peter and Sally, about how you were barefoot and enjoyed being so.”

      “I then told you of a game I used to play,”  Cynthia replied, “where I pressed my soles together and locked my toes together, using my fingers to explore the resulting tangle and ease my toes, the heels and balls of my feet apart, while trying not to let my toes curl with the pleasure of the game, for if they did, they’d lock, and I’d be back to square one, as that locked my heels again.”

       “I told you of how I used to play at birthing a baby, squeezing my toes and rubbing my soles whenever I moaned or pushed,”  Jemma said.  We then played your single player stuck foot game, which I found difficult to finish, as my toes kept curling.”  Cynthia laughed.

      “I remember that,”  she replied, “it took you four attempts didn’t it?”

      “yes it did,”  Jemma replied.

      “then, then we decided we’d measure feet, just like Sally and peter do,”  Cynthia replied, “and, and then, then we touched heels and toes, and our toes locked.  I can remember your pads warm and soft from the games you’d played only a minute previously.”

      “You played those games too,”  Jemma said, “so your pads were warm also, your toes too, wow, how they pressed against, then locked mine in their embrace!”  Cynthia grinned.

        “Stuck for a long time,”  she said, “we stuck for a long time, finally prying the last toe free after an hour of laughter and setbacks where our feet refused to obey our hands.

       “Our fingers kept slipping,”  Jemma replied, “especially when it came to me working my fingers between my heel and yours while you pulled, my fingers wouldn’t stay in the gap.”

         “it was great when they slipped,”  Cynthia said, “we’d whimper and growl, then roar as your fingers slipped, our feet pressing together and toes curling round each others as tight as we could.  Of course, we could only do that because your feet are slightly smaller than mine.”

       “yes they are,”  Jemma replied, “even though I have tried stretching my toes, which doesn’t work.”  Cynthia smiled.

       “Such fine times,”  she replied.  Jemma and Cynthia sat opposite each other on the rug in front of the sofa, and smiling, they rubbed alcohol gel on their hands and feet, then took each other’s feet in their hands and explored them from toes to heels, pressing pads and stretching the skin on the soles of their feet to check for thorns.  This done, they pressed their heels together, their feet slightly raised from the ground by a bean bag they used to rest their heels on.  Jemma felt Cynthia’s warm pads pressing against hers, then felt her larger toes curl round her smaller ones.

       “We’re locked here!”  Jemma said, tugging at her right foot with both hands, finding her heels and toes locked into and against Cynthia’s.

          “Silly cub games,”  Cynthia said laughing, Jemma grinning broadly.

        “it’s great to play with someone of like mind,”  she replied, “playing on one’s own is boring.”

       “yes it is,”  Cynthia replied, “even if you do urge your fingers on out loud while prying at your toes with scrabbling fingers, while your heels get warmer, and the glue gets stronger as you battle with your curled toes, then try not to make them curl as you free the balls and heels.”

      “I fought for an hour once,”  Jemma said, “I was nearly there, then when I was within an inch of freeing my heels, I touched the sensitive sole of my right foot, my toes curled together, and I was back to square one.”  Cynthia giggled:

      “My record was two hours freeing my feet, for the whole thing to be undone by a careless touch to the sole of my right foot.  that did it, toes curled, and locked, heels jammed tightly together, game lost to sensitive feet and grasping toes.”  Jemma smiled at this.

       “now we’re stuck again,”  she said, exploring with her hands, “and the glue is very strong.”

       “it is,”  Cynthia replied, “I think it’s your turn to pull, and mine to work my fingers into any gap you make.  So grab the heel of your right foot in your hands and I’ll use my right hand to pry my left foot free as you pull.”  This they did, their game quiet, apart from a few grunts of effort and whispered exultations, so not to wake Cynthia’s newborn daughter.  By degrees, Cynthia worked her heel free of Jemma’s, each bracing their toes as they worked.  Cynthia worked her fingers down into the v between the arch of her left foot, and Jemma’s right, while Jemma tugged and wiggled her heel, trying to free the pad from Cynthia’s.

        “this takes some doing!”  Jemma gasped, when they were half way done, “the glue is very strong today.”

       “understandable,”  Cynthia said, jamming her fingers into the increasing gap and holding on tight for a rest, “we’re up for a game, so it’s powerful play.”  With that, she dug hard down with her fingers, Jemma tugging furiously at her own right foot, dragging their heels apart.

      “done it!”  Jemma panted.  Then she and Cynthia worked hard to free their toes, and the balls of their feet, gasping as their feet were freed.”

       “Half an hour that one,”  Jemma panted, “now for our other two feet.”

        “I’d better feed my daughter first though,”  Cynthia said, as little Ekaterina began to cry.

 While feeding her daughter, Cynthia and Jemma watched the video of Cynthia’s daughter’s birth, Cynthia marvelling at how gentle mama Ekaterina was with her.

       “the touch of the she bear’s paw on my forehead was lovely,”  Cynthia said, “and the touch of Caleb’s paws on my foot was wonderful too.  as was the whole thing.  They are very good creatures there, from lions to tigers and bears, they are all wonderful.”

         “Sally and Peter saw the whole thing too,”  Jemma said, “they kept out of the way, but I’m sure they loved every minute.”

        “I’m sure they did,”  Cynthia replied, “I wondered what they’d been doing since they didn’t come back to school.”

        “They’ve been learning here, doing school type things under the tutelage of a formal teacher for formal subjects, their playtimes supervised by Sita and mama Anook, who are great at play.”

        “yeah, I have other children to see too, who while their parents don’t mind them going barefoot, don’t like them going to strange houses with strange creatures, even if they would be completely safe.”

       “I know, I’m sorry for it,”  Jemma replied, “but you can come to the house of an evening, and play with Sally and peter, they really like you Cynthia.”

      “Oh I know that,”  Cynthia replied, “and I like them, but the rules are the rules, I need to teach for all, and the majority don’t like that big house.  I love it myself, and would take my classes in the great room, with playtime in the soft play room, but that would not do for the governors of the school.  They’d hate it.”

        “yeah, they would,”  Jemma replied, getting to her feet and stretching, “it’s late now,”  she said.

     “wow, is that the time?”  Cynthia asked, glancing at the clock which said ten pm, “I’m going to have to go to bed.”

         “I’ll see you in the morning,”  Jemma replied, “oh, Cynthia, how long are you off school for?”

        “Nine months,”  Cynthia replied, “are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

        “that you come to the community house and spend that time there,”  Jemma replied, “I’m sure patch would love it, and you could help teach the cubs, not that Furcone doesn’t do a good job, she does.”

        “I’ll see what I think in the morning,”  Cynthia replied, “but I am rapidly falling head over heels in love with that place and its community.”

       “Maybe we can finish our game in the soft play room,”  Jemma said.  Cynthia seeing her out the door.

       “I look forward to that,”  Cynthia said.

 

A few days later, in Blackberry’s lie up, Little Targon lay on her side feeling awful.  Her old complaint had returned with vengeance, and she felt worse by the day.

       “I need help,”  she whimpered, “but I don’t want to take drugs to help me, I need massage to do it.  Thing is, I’m pregnant, Zane got me pregnant!”

        “Wow,”  Blackberry said, “so you’re in cub, lovely!”  Mama Targon stared at her daughter cub.

        “Zane?”  she asked, “that big fat bear with the huge hind feet?”

       “Him,”  Little Targon replied, “and he is so gentle too!  though I think when the cub is born, I’ll have to push extra hard to deliver the cub’s hind feet, probably a special effort for each.”

        “”would you like me to help?”  Caleb asked.

        “I would like that Caleb,”  Little Targon replied, “I, I don’t want to end up like Kuruk’s ex mate, Anook, she was unblocked, and hope came soon after, she couldn’t tell what was labour and what was pain from her constipation.  I want to feel the birth of my cub!”  Little Targon wept, “I want to feel it free from this other pain.”

        “I know,”  Blackberry said softly, “if Caleb can do anything he will.”

         “I could relieve you, and the foot rubs could start labour, for which you’d need more foot massage, then oh, then, then you’d have a lovely cub too!”  Caleb giggled.

        “I am not ready for that yet,”  little Targon replied smiling, “I need, need so badly to relieve myself though, as it’s hurting me, and I’ve tried hard today.”  Caleb held her paw, smelling her scent strong in her fur.

       “It would be great if your cub came while I was rubbing your paws,”  Caleb said to little Targon, who whimpered with fear.

        “It would not be good if she delivered her cub in a dirty bath you idiot!”  mama Targon roared.

        “I’ll look after them both,”  Blackberry replied, “but Caleb is paws on from now on.  I’ll stay paws off, as little Targon seems to like his touch a lot.”

        “I want to rip Zane’s paws off!”  mama Targon screamed.

         “that won’t serve any useful purpose,”  Blackberry replied, “now mama Targon, please, can’t you be glad for our cub?”

         “I am, but she’s got this awful thing that means she can’t even push out, well, you know, so how on earth is she gonna push out a cub?”  Targon wailed, “my cub will die giving birth!”

       “your last labour was assisted,”  Blackberry replied, “and you did not die.”

         “yeah, I suppose it was,”  Targon replied faintly.

       “Now I’m feeling a little silly,”  Targon admitted.  Little Targon padded to the tub where Caleb clambered about, filling the tub with water, little Targon settling into the shallow bath.

      “Things feel better already,”  little Targon said, as her brother cub, only two days old, got on with rubbing the pads of her right hind foot, little Targon curling her toes slowly, then relaxing them.

          “I don’t know how well I’m doing,”  Caleb said after five minutes of massage, in which his sister wriggled, then puffed and blew a bit, then she suddenly closed her eyes, dug the heels of both hind feet into the bottom of the tub and strained deeply.

       “yoaaoaoaoaoaoaow!”  she whimpered, “I can’t stop it Caleb!”  Caleb kept massaging little Targon’s right foot, the she bear breaking wind beneath the water, Little Targon panting and whimpering, then she tried pushing again.

      “Huuuuuuuuuuauuuuwmph!”  she complained, As she broke more wind.

       “You’ll both have to wash your fur now!”  mama Targon roared, but Caleb, intent on his work, massaged his sister’s hind feet some more, little Targon roaring and straining deeper and deeper into her tail.

       “ayayayayayayaow! Yoaoaoaoaoaoaoaow!”  she roared.  Caleb rubbed her back, Little Targon growling with pain and effort, the water now very dirty indeed, but it was clear to everyone that Caleb’s paws had worked their magic. 

       “Push dear sister, push, gentle push,”  Caleb whispered softly to Little Targon, the she bear getting to her feet and crouching in the water, then gathering her strength and mewing a reply noone but Caleb caught.  Little Targon panted, then strained a little, then suddenly groaning, wriggling and rocking back and fourth, little Targon pushed down hard into her tail and, with a splash,  finished her job.

       “now both of you need a bloody good wash!”  Blackberry said.  both little Targon and her brother showered themselves thoroughly.

       “Maybe a bathtub isn’t the best place for that,”  Little Targon said.

        “You’ll have to clean it now too!”  Mama Targon snapped, angry with her cubs.

        “it’s not fair to make them do that,”  Blackberry said, “Caleb was only trying to help his sister out, and he did it.  Give him a break mama.”  Mama Targon washed out the tub, which was easier to do than she expected.  Then she padded back to the den where her daughter and youngest cub were cuddled up together, the latter stroking the former’s back with his paws.

         “How did it feel?”  Caleb asked.  Little Targon, crying softly, didn’t answer at first, but when she could, she replied:

         “I’m embarrassed, I’m shocked, but I’m very grateful and feel very loved too,”

         “You made it easier, less stressful during the fact.  I was able to relieve myself without shame, and only after, when I saw the mess, did I feel bad about it, but then it was cleared up, and I would have cleared up the mess myself too, but others did it.  Though I don’t think we’ll try that in the tub again, I think we should try it using towels and absorbent pads.”

      “But I thought water would ease things!”  Caleb wailed.

       “It did,”  Little Targon said, “but it’s very messy, and, and, well,,,”

        “mama Targon goes mad about it,”  Caleb said angrily, “well she can go stuff herself!  Then when she’s done that, she can try going through what you do every time she needs to relieve herself!  It’s horrible!”

          “I wish I wasn’t like this!”  Little Targon wept.

         “You really shouldn’t talk about your mama like that Caleb,”  Blackberry remonstrated.

         “I was trying to help my sister, and mama goes mad Blackberry,”  Caleb roared, his fur standing on end, “I can’t have that, little Targon’s in pain, you saw her face, you saw her paws, her feet?  How hard she was having to push?  It hurts her Blackberry.  Breaking wind hurt her enough, getting rid of what she had inside her made her scream and roar, you heard that.”

        “I did,”  Blackberry replied, “but what can we do?  We can’t clean the tub every time!”

          “I’m eating everything fibrous, everything like that,”  Little Targon wailed, “but it still hurts, still makes me scream and cry like a stuck cub.”

       “I’ll try working with warm water and pads and things,”  Caleb replied, “but surely doing what Little Targon did in the tub to relieve herself, and what mama Targon did to deliver me into the world is basically the same thing? The only problem would be if Little Targon’s cub came into the world while she was relieving herself, that would be a problem , but with daily treatments, that shouldn’t happen, or I can try and stop it.”

        “I don’t know!”  Blackberry whimpered.

       “What I know is this,”  patch said, having watched the whole thing without comment until now, “what I know is this.  though Little Targon made a mess, though she roared and screamed, and tell me if I’m wrong here please.  But she felt better with Caleb, than with Blackberry.”

        “yes,”  Little Targon whimpered, Blackberry looking devastated.

        “but how?”  Blackberry asked, “I care, I want to care!”

        “You don’t understand her fear, Caleb does,”  Patch replied, “you judge her, even though you try not to..  Caleb feels her fear, he’s empathetic to her needs.  Little Targon knows she can scream and cry, grunt and make all the noises she needs to, and Caleb will understand every movement, every tear, every effort.”

        “Oh,”  Blackberry mumbled, “I suppose I don’t judge mama Targon for making a sound when she’s in labour because it’s a correct thing for me to help her, but when my cub’s in distress with her complaint, I judge her, as the social norms say she should be doing this on her own.  I don’t mean to Judge her Patch, I don’t!”

       “But you do,”  Patch replied, “Caleb doesn’t.  to him, she’s a cub in distress, and he’s helping her. that is as deep as it is.”

         “I’m sorry we didn’t get much paw play in before things got desperate,”  Little Targon said to Caleb, who smiled.

        “To hear you getting rid of that stuff was all the thanks I needed,”  he said, “you did very well by the way, you didn’t shy away from pushing down when you needed to.”

        “In the other place, I did,”  Little Targon admitted, “I tried not to push because I was embarrassed and pushing hurt, with you Caleb, I wasn’t, I went for it, and it was better because of that.”

          “bugger social norms where health is concerned!”  Blackberry yelled, stamping his feet in rage, “I will not judge my daughter cub, I will not!”

        “I’ll bet you told her to keep pushing too Caleb,”  Patch said gently to the male cub.

       “I would and did,”  Caleb replied.

         “I think we’ll do this on our own next time,”  Caleb said to the room in general.  I think, tender though my time on this earth has been, that I can say that it would be better for little Targon if it was just me and her alone.”  Blackberry huffed, but knew the truth of his son cub’s words.

       “What did you say to Caleb after he urged you to push little Targon?”  mama Targon asked.

       “That’s private between me and him,”  Little Targon replied.

         “when you told her to push, you sounded so cute, as if coaxing a cub even smaller than yourself Caleb,”  mama Anook said.

      “Did I?  Well I’m sorry if I made little Targon feel small,”  he replied.

       “No, no!”  Little Targon protested, “I liked it, it encouraged me, you weren’t shouting at me to push, “just a little push, just a little push,”  you said softly. So I gave a little push, and it worked, then I felt like giving a big push, so I pushed like I felt like doing, and wow, that worked too!”  Little Targon roared.

       “Good,”  Caleb said, “so I’m doing okay so far.”

        “You made me feel Safe and cradled,”  Little Targon said, “not that Blackberry didn’t, but, but, I felt his anxiety, he was scared for me, and well he might be, I’m his cub, you Caleb, you know what it is, you know it’s not scary if taken gently, at least you know that, I need reminding of that when I’m in the grip of it.  For I know it when I’m here, all safe and warm, but when I need to push, I forget everything!  I just want to scream and cry, and curl my toes and roar!”

       “You’re curling your toes even now,”  patch said.  Little Targon relaxed her toes, panting a little with emotion.

         “So you would help her every time she wanted to, you know?”  mama Targon asked.

        “by her, I suppose you mean Little Targon,”  Caleb said imperiously, though he didn’t know he was sounding so, “then yes, I would, every day if she wanted, I would massage her paws and feet, and help her to ease her pain in as much comfort as is possible for her.”

        “yes I do mean Little Targon, and that tone is out of order young sir!”  mama Targon snapped.

         “there has been a lot out of order here,”  patch replied, “Caleb’s tone the least of the things, so let’s see if we can just be glad and grateful that Little Targon has someone to share her bad times with, that that cub will hold her paw and do so much more than that for her, and not just because he has been asked to either.”

        “I don’t get this at all!”  Mama Targon raged.

      “he likes caring for others, the paws on stuff,”  patch said, “I used to do a lot of that for jess when she was younger.  And it is very satisfying when you help your charge out of a tight spot like that.”

         “It seems wrong that a cub should help his sister in those situations,”  mama Targon whimpered.

        “I don’t see you getting your paws dirty mama,”  patch said, Targon huffing with exasperation.

      “Okay, okay!”  she grunted, “Let Caleb work his magic, or whatever you call it.”

        “Thanks,”  Caleb replied smiling.

        “You really did me the world of good,”  Little Targon said later that day when Blackberry and Mama Targon were out of earshot, “you know how to massage a poorly bear’s belly and get her back on track, if only for a while.”

         “I do my best sister Targon.  I am not trained in this type of thing, it’s just that my paws and your hind feet seem to like each other, and my massage of your hind feet seems to soothe your discomfort.”

       “it wasn’t just your touch,”  Little Targon replied, “it was your words and tone too, when you told me to push, just a little push, I was exhausted, but I pushed, just a little, and then I wanted to push harder, so I did.  You helped me do that.”

        “so every time she gets blocked up, Caleb will rub her pads and she’ll get relief?”  Zane asked, padding into the room, having monitored the goings on from his lie up.

       “Um, yeah,”  mama Targon replied scowling, having followed Zane into the lie up, “and what the hell are you doing here anyway?  You’ve taken my daughter cub from me you thief!”  Zane, confused now, sat down, his huge hind paws very prominent indeed.

        “now Targon please,”  Blackberry said gently, “you’re over reacting to this.  Little Targon is pregnant, she’s not dying.”

        “All my cubs are getting pregnant!”  mama Targon screamed.

       “Um, no, I’m not, and never will be,”  Caleb replied, Patch laughing uproariously.

        “You know what I meant!”  Mama Targon roared.

       “If your cubs have as big feet as Zane there,”  Caleb said, “you’ll have a job to push them out.”

        “Yeah, I know,”  Little Targon replied, “but I’ll do it.”

        “I felt mama Cynthia’s toes curling while she pushed,”  Caleb said, “they curled so tightly, so very tight.”

        “I’ve watched the video,”  Zane replied, the underwater shot of her holding her right foot in her hands was as expressive of her pain and struggle as any sound or facial expression, her fingers, how they gripped, her toes, how they curled!”

        “I saw that too,”  patch replied, “expressive is the word.”

       “her fingers will leave indentations on her pads forever,”  Sooleawa said, padding into the room.

       “Are you all right Sooleawa love?”  patch asked.  Sooleawa smiled:

       “I was a big woose where Cynthia’s labour was concerned,”  she replied, “I went to pieces!”

        “it’s all good, all did well,”  Blackberry said.

       “I heard Caleb got paws on too!”  Sooleawa exclaimed.

        “yes I did,”  Caleb replied, “and it was wonderful Sooleawa, wonderful!””

       “But she moaned, screamed and beat the water!”  Sooleawa whimpered.

       “All part of it,”  Cynthia said, padding into the room.

        “but,  but you screamed and roared, and curled your toes!  I know we’ve spoken of it before, but I watched the video, and you curled your toes so much!”  Sooleawa said, staring at the young woman.

      “Like this?”  she asked, Sitting down, grabbing her right foot in her hands and squeezing her heel and sole, curling her toes as tightly as she could.

       “yes like that,”  Sooleawa replied, Cynthia giving her her right foot.

      “Hold it,”  she invited, Sooleawa sitting down and taking the woman’s foot in her paws, Cynthia curling her toes tightly, as Sooleawa explored gently.

        “cute really,”  Sooleawa said, “but then I know that, as I’ve checked it for thorns, and washed it several times now.”

        “would you like us to re-enact that scene in the water Sooleawa?”  Caleb asked.  Sooleawa looked up sharply at him.

      “Which one?”  she enquired.

      “the one where I stroke Cynthia’s left foot while she squeezes and curls the toes of her right.”  Caleb replied smiling.

     “Um, uh, no thanks,”  Sooleawa replied, “it’s too realistic for my liking, I know how easily these humans drop into realistic role play, I’ve seen them playing the stuck foot game, and that made my toes curl!”

       “You felt their emotions,”  Caleb replied grinning.

       “Okay, okay, I did!”  Sooleawa replied gruffly, “despite my fear of what I was watching, the emotions got the best of me, and I curled my toes with the mama on screen, I watched everything!”

       “So what do we do now?”  Caleb asked, “I seem to have invited a human into this place, but I’m only a cub?  I’m sorry if I broke the rules!”

        “The fact that she came here for help and came back to us means we adopt her as one of us, as a friend of the community,”  Patch said softly, “and maybe her female man cub can become a community cub just like Moses.”

       “She might,”  Sooleawa replied, “but I’m just a silver coated she bear, who holds none of the levers of power here.”

       “Noone gets in without your say so,”  Patch replied smiling, “I tried to once, and you demanded I let you check my feet for dirt and thorns.”

        “Oh all right, all right!”  Sooleawa huffed.

       “you are lovely Sooleawa,”  Cynthia said.

      “I was a wreck of a bear when I left you,”  Sooleawa replied, “all this birth stuff frightens me a lot.”

       “But then you plucked up the courage to watch the video?”  Cynthia asked.

     “After you came to me and showed me your cub, sorry, baby, then yes,”  Sooleawa replied, “then I found pleasure in seeing the video, as I knew all would be okay.”

        “So you won’t be present at the birth of my cubs?”  little Targon asked.  Sooleawa shook her head:

        “I can’t,”  she replied, “I can’t deal with it in real-time, in case, oh dear,”  Sooleawa gulped hard, “in case, well, something goes wrong, and, and, and, you or your cub come close to what I did,,,”  Sooleawa stared into space, her eyes unfocused, looking back into a time of fear and terror which only she knew.

        “You came through your own birth all right though,”  mama Targon said to Sooleawa.

        “I was overdue, like Caleb!”  Sooleawa whimpered, “I remember everything, I remember being stuck, the fear of that, Caleb and I know that fear mama Targon, you don’t!”

       “My cub wasn’t frightened at all!”  mama Targon roared.

       “are you sure of that?”  Caleb asked.

        “um, ah, no,”  mama Targon huffed.

       “I felt fear mama Targon, of course I felt fear!”  Caleb roared, “I knew changes were happening, I knew I was dying inside there, and needed to get out!”  Targon stared at her cub.

       “So you and Sooleawa knew the fear of dying before you lived?”  Targon asked.  Caleb looked at Sooleawa, the two cubs eyes locking.

       “You know it don’t you little one,”  Sooleawa asked.  Caleb crawled to Sooleawa and took her paw in his.

        “I know what causes you not to look at the births of cubs before you know the outcome,”  Caleb said.

        “So you would deny a cub had ever existed if it didn’t live Sooleawa?”  Blackberry asked.

       “No,”  Sooleawa replied hoarsely, “I just can’t watch the struggle a mama has delivering a huge cub, that is all.”

       “Sooleawa,”  mama Targon said, her tone softening, “shall I tell you how it felt for me to deliver Caleb into the world?”

       “if you want to,”  Sooleawa replied, feeling her paws trapped so she couldn’t run from the one eyed sow black bear.

        “it was wonderful,”  mama Targon replied, “it was a time of caring, of effort, of paws all around me.  I felt loved and cared for and about.”

       “What about you Caleb?”  Sooleawa asked, tugging her paws and feet from the tiles to which the sweat of her own fear had stuck them and turning to the large cub.

       “After patch had taken my fear away,”  Caleb said, “I felt loved too, for I knew we’d be all right, mama and I.  that she would find the assistance she needed to find the switch.”

         “My mama couldn’t find that switch little one,”  Sooleawa replied, “noone knew of it when I was born, I was dragged out into the world, and now, now I am taunted and jeered at because I check the paws and feet of others for thorns.”

         “Do you hate your job?”  Caleb asked.

        “No,”  Sooleawa replied, “I love it.  It’s just, well, others think it a bit strange.”

       “I wish mama had brought me down to you so you could check my feet for thorns,”  Caleb said.

      “But you don’t know what a thorn is, and you weren’t born with a thorn in your foot!”  Mama Targon whimpered.

        “I could have imagined one,”  Caleb replied.  Sooleawa smiled, realising what the newborn cub was trying to do.  Crawling to him, she kissed his nose, Caleb throwing his paws around her in an infantile hug which left Sooleawa tearful.

        “You are my sister,”  he said, “Sooleawa, you are my sister, as we both know how to get out of tight places.”  Sooleawa kissed Caleb’s nose.

        “We do,”  she replied.

        “Would you check my paws and feet for thorns now?”  Caleb asked.  Sooleawa looked at mama Targon for permission.

       “They’re your paws and feet Caleb,”  the she bear said.  Sooleawa smiled at Caleb and carefully checked his hind feet for thorns, spreading the skin on his sole and toe pads, small though they were.  Blackberry approached Caleb, knelt down and placed something near the toes of his right hind foot, Sooleawa intent on working on the cub’s left hind foot.  Caleb suddenly squealed, rolled about a bit, then lay still again, giving Sooleawa his left hind foot, and there was a little twig held in the now curled toes of his hind foot.  Sooleawa, grinning, gently explored the now afflicted hind foot with her paw.

       “You have a stick held tight in your curled toes,”  she said, Targon huffing with annoyance.

      “how on earth did he get hold of that!”  she demanded of Blackberry, who smiled broadly.

       “I couldn’t say,”  he replied.

        “It hurts me a bit,”  Caleb replied, “I think someone must have left it on the floor and my toes grabbed it.  Would you please help me free it from my toes?”  Sooleawa looked down at the tightly curled toes and extremely bunched pads.

        “it’ll be a struggle to free,”  she said, “it’s well stuck there.”

       “I’ll cope,”  Caleb replied, Sooleawa gently tugging at the twig with her teeth, Caleb curling his toes around the twig while roaring as if the removal hurt him.

       “This twig is stuck fast!”  Sooleawa said, glancing up at Caleb, who crossed his eyes and stuck his tongue out at her, Sooleawa screeching with laughter and kissing the cub’s nose.

      “Now I’m going to try one last time to free this twig from your toes,”  Sooleawa said, gripping the end of the twig with her teeth, and tugging gently, Caleb yowling as he released his hold on the twig.

     “there’s your problem,”  Sooleawa said, holding up the twig.  Caleb giggled as mama Targon turned her head away in seeming disgust at her cub’s antics.

        “it was you wasn’t it Blackberry!”  she roared, rounding on her mate, “it was you who gave Caleb that twig!”  she roared, “you did it on my left side so I wouldn’t’ see!”  Blackberry grinned slightly.

        “No harm came of it,”  he replied, “it’s all play, that’s all.”

      “I forget how important play is,”  mama Targon replied, “that’s my trouble I think.”

        “the problem is,”  Blackberry said, “that you wouldn’t like your hind feet caught, as you’ve had that done to you for malicious purposes.  Pretending feet are stuck, and getting others to free them after a long struggle yourself is quite a good game here.  It’s often played.”

        “If, if my foot was caught in loving paws, I might enjoy it,”  mama Targon replied.

      “Did you see how tightly Caleb curled his toes to hold the stick?”  Cynthia said, “I nearly died of cute overload!”

       “You find our paws and feet cute?”  Targon grunted.

       “yes, I do, and so does Jemma, indeed, a lot of humans do,”  Cynthia replied, “our paws and yours, and our feet and yours are very similar, so we find them cute.  Same with cats, we find their paws and feet cute too.”

        “Now it’s time to sleep Caleb,”  mama Targon said to her cub, who crawled away from her and hid behind Sooleawa.

       “I want to go with Sooleawa to see what she does!”  he yelled.

      “No, you can’t do that,”  Targon replied, padding round behind Sooleawa, Caleb keeping on mama Targon’s left side, so he couldn’t be seen.  Mama Targon realising what he was doing, Sat down, completely defeated, only for her cub to clamber into her lap and embrace her.

        “Sorry mama, I’ll stop now,”  he said, kissing her nose.

        “You crawl to my left so I can’t see you, Blackberry also uses my disability to get the upper paw!  Can we stop this now?”  mama Targon begged.

        “Okay,”  Blackberry said, feeling very contrite, “mama, that wasn’t meant to seem like that.  I just wanted to give Caleb something to grip in the toes of one of his hind feet, that is all.  I should have told you what I was doing.”

        “I wondered how he got that twig,”  mama Targon replied, “I thought I’d been less than careful and he’d picked it up when he’d stood on his hind feet while defecating.”

         “I wanted Sooleawa to find something wrong with my foot mama,”  Caleb said, “and Blackberry gave me the twig.”

     Why did you squeal?”  Targon asked.

      “I squealed as Sooleawa touched the twig, as if it hurt me,”  Caleb replied, “that’s all it was.”

       “I must try to play more often,”  mama Targon replied, “but, well, my situation leads to seriousness.  Caleb touched his mama’s paws, then her feet.

      “mama,”  he said, “you have damp pads, are you all right?”

         “I’m frightened by what has been told to me,”  Targon replied, “the realisation that you were close to dying inside me, and that you and Sooleawa had similar experiences.”

        “You are sweating with fear?”  Caleb asked.

       “Yes my cub I am,”  Targon replied miserably.

       “Well I’m here now, and so’s Sooleawa, and we’re fine, so mama, let that fear leave you,”  Caleb said.

        “though I wanted everyone paws on,”  mama Targon replied, “the reason for them getting so paws on in the first place was because I couldn’t push, I couldn’t give birth to my cub!  do you know how that feels? To realise that I couldn’t do it on my own?”

      “Well you could have mama,”  Blackberry said, “but you didn’t know that, for I never got the chance to tell you until things had to happen urgently.”

        “So a mama, with a normal sized cub, but who cannot push, can actually make herself push?”  mama Targon asked.

      “yes,”  Blackberry replied, “she has to keep pressing her heel pad though, that does it.”

    “Right,”  mama Targon replied, “I’ll remember that for next time, if there were to be a next time, which I doubt now.”  Blackberry looked unhappy.

       “yes mama, sorry,”  he replied gruffly.

        “I’m sorry too,”  Targon replied, “but there it is.”

        “how do you play the stuck foot game alone Cynthia?”  Sooleawa asked.

         “Sit down, and bend your legs towards each other, until your feet touch,”  Cynthia replied, “your heels should meet, almost pad to pad, your toes and the balls of your feet likewise.  If you have flat soles, the whole sole pads of both feet will touch.”  Sooleawa grinned and sat as Cynthia suggested, feeling her heels, soles and toes touching, her toes pressing against each other as if by magnet.

       “right, now I’m heel to heel, and toe to toe with myself, what do I do now?”  Sooleawa asked.

       “press your feet together, and try to pry your toes, then your heels, then the balls of your feet apart with your paws,”  Cynthia replied.  Sooleawa tried it, and found her toes while not locked together physically, were pretty immovable, as were her heels.  Indeed, she found the glue getting stronger as she worked, giving up in frustration.

       “This was a bad move!”  she replied, “it’s like I’m now allowed to do everything I was told I’m not allowed to do with my hind feet, and now I see why, for I’m stuck!”  Cynthia grinned and gently helped Sooleawa to free her feet, the silver coated cub grinning throughout.

         “You are so cute,”  Cynthia said, Sooleawa smiling.

        “I’m just me,”  she replied shyly.

     “”I will try not to be scared of the births of cubs,”  Sooleawa said, “but it’s so difficult when you know the pressure the cubs are under when being born.”

        “I know I pushed hard into my bottom,”  Cynthia replied, “I roared and screamed, moaned and groaned.”

        “I saw and heard,”  Sooleawa replied, “I’m not having cubs, if I can help it.”

        “You never know,”  Little Targon replied, “I thought that, and now look at me, barefoot and in cub.”

       “Having a cub would kill me,”  Sooleawa replied gruffly, “I’m not doing it!”

        “Find the right bear, and you might,”  Little Targon replied, “find the right bear and you might have your cubs, even if the sire of your cubs has to press your pads with his paws to enable you to push while you sit in a tub full of water.”

        “What are you saying?”  Sooleawa asked, her eyes flicking towards Caleb.

        “Not me I don’t think,”  Caleb said, catching her astonished thoughts.

          “I don’t know!”  Sooleawa whimpered.

         “how can you be so certain when he’s only four days old?”  patch asked.

         “how long had you known Ekaterina before you promised to look after her?”  Caleb asked.

      “yeah, but I was older than her,”  Patch replied, “I promised her early on in our friendship, but you, Caleb, you’re only four days old.”  Sooleawa buried her face in her paws, knowing her touch had conveyed more than she’d wanted it to.

        “Patch,”  she whimpered, “I think we need to talk, you and I, alone.”  Patch padded with Sooleawa to his lie up.

 

“What would you like to talk about?”  he asked.

        “I, I know I had a brief love interest with indigo,”  Sooleawa replied, “but, oh dear patch, tell me, how long was it before you fell head over paws in love with Ekaterina?  I mean really in love with her, that you’d protect her as the stories all tell?”

        “it was quite soon after we met,”  patch replied, “we had a meting of paws, then of hind feet, and we bonded, and, well, the glue hasn’t let either of us free our feet or paws yet.”

         “I know,”  Sooleawa sniffed, “you have been true to Ekaterina, true from your nose to your toes, and, and, I, I, Patch, I love Caleb, my paws and his, they bonded, I know they did!  I’m older than him, I’m nearly five now, and he’s so tiny, so small!”

       “I was nearly eleven when I met Ekaterina,”  Patch replied, “she was barely six months old.”

        “but it’s wrong, it has to be wrong!”  Sooleawa whimpered.

         “No,”  Patch replied, “not wrong to have a friendship, not wrong to play, not wrong to embrace and snuggle.  Not wrong to be close, not wrong to help Caleb crawl, then walk, then push him off his newly found feet and tickle his toes until he cries with laughter.  Then, from being a friend, if the spirits allow it, you could become his mate.”.”

       “You called Ekaterina sister for ages didn’t you,”  Sooleawa replied miserably, crawling towards Patch, and looking into his face from close range.

         “I did,”  patch replied, “and Sooleawa, if your feelings towards Caleb are like mine were towards Ekaterina when she was young, things are fine.  Give me your paw.  Sooleawa choked on her tears and gave Patch her paw, the large grey bear smiling broadly.

        “Like sire, like daughter,”  he mused.

        “You mean, mean I’m feeling what you did?”  Sooleawa asked.

        “yes,”  patch replied softly.

         “I’m confused Patch!”  Sooleawa replied, her eyes filling with tears.

         “what do you want to do?”  patch asked.

       “I want to play with Caleb, tickle his toes, chase him, hug him, and curl up with him, to protect him dam it! But his mama does that!”

        “I wanted to protect Ekaterina in the same way,”  patch replied, and mama Kamchatka let me protect Ekaterina.”

      “how do I know what I’m feeling is not just me being unreasonable?”  Sooleawa asked.

       “Um, I’d see what you feel when he touches the pads of your hind foot without you making eye contact,”  Patch replied.  Sooleawa looked down at her paws, then felt someone touch the heel, then the sole, then toes of her right hind foot, the paw ran down from heel to toes.  Sooleawa cried out as her toes curled suddenly, catching the smaller toes in their embrace.  Sooleawa felt a kiss placed on the heel of her right foot, then felt her toes tightening around the toes they’d caught.

         “stop it toes, stop it!”  Sooleawa whimpered aloud, “you’ll crush his paw, you’ll crush his toes!”  Another kiss, placed on the now bunched sole of Sooleawa’s foot made her sob.

       “My toes are going to crush those of one I care for, stop it toes!”  she screamed.  The toes caught in Sooleawa’s pulled her foot back, Sooleawa turning her head a little to see the face of the owner of the paw she’d caught.

        “don’t hide your face!”  Sooleawa whimpered.

         “You don’t need to see him to play with him,”  patch said softly.

        “But my toes won’t let his go!”  Sooleawa wailed.

        “Relax your toes Sooleawa,”  Caleb said.  Sooleawa tried, forcing her toes to relax, trying to stretch them, but Caleb kissed her pads once again, and her toes curled tightly once more.

      “Don’t do that!”  Sooleawa laughed, Caleb blowing on the heel of her foot in a circular fashion, Sooleawa shrieking with laughter and hanging onto the rugs with both forepaws.

       “You rogue!”  she squealed.

        “you have the most gorgeous silver grey fur and the cutest pink paw pads,”  Caleb said, Sooleawa giggling cubbishly.

        “I’m glad you like them,”  she replied.

        “so how do I free the toes of my right paw that are caught by your right hind foot?”  Caleb asked.

       “I don’t know,”  Sooleawa replied, “every time I try to relax my toes, something happens to make them curl again, it’s frustrating!”

          “maybe we are just meant to stay like this for a long time?”  Caleb asked.  Sooleawa breathed deeply to calm her wild need to play.

          “Uncurl toes,”  she told them, Caleb feeling the strong grip on his paw relaxing. grinning, he ran his paw gently down the sole of Sooleawa’s foot, giggling as her toes caught his own toes in a fierce grip.

        “You make my toes do this!”  Sooleawa roared with mock anger.

        “You make me want to play,”  Caleb replied.  Sooleawa forced her toes to uncurl for a second time, Caleb smiling, freeing his paw then crawling up beside her and kissing her nose.

        “Can you show me what you do in that pool of yours?”  Caleb asked.

       “Well you haven’t got dirty paws or feet,”  Sooleawa replied lamely.

        “I would like it if you could maybe dirty up my paws a bit, then help me clean them,”  Caleb said.

        “You mean get you all muddy and then clean your paws and feet?”  Sooleawa asked, “that’s, um, pointless isn’t it?”

       “That’s play, or so I thought,”  Caleb replied.

       “Oh dear, oh dear!”  Sooleawa whimpered, “of course, I’m forgetting myself.”

          “You know how to play don’t you?”  Caleb asked.

        “yes,”  Sooleawa replied softly, “I know how to play.  That was the adult me talking, I need, need help, help to, to remove my adult paws and feet.”

        “I can help you do that,”  Caleb replied smiling.

       “But my paws and feet are so old and wrinkled and adult!”  Sooleawa replied in what sounded like genuine distress.

          “I noticed they were a little tough,”  Caleb replied, “not soft and springy like mine.”

       “But I’m washing paws and feet all the time!”  Sooleawa whimpered, “my paws and feet should be soft padded!”

        “No,”  Caleb replied, “I don’t think that’s how it is.  You wash with soaps and things that dry out your pads, it’s bad you know, really bad for your poor paws and feet.”

       “This is sounding like a health spar consultation,”  Patch laughed.

        “but my feet and paws are all hard and horrible!”  Sooleawa wailed.

         “Maybe if you tried to pull off your old feet and paws, it might work out,”  patch replied, “Sooleawa, you’ll need help, of course.”  Sooleawa stared at Patch.

        “could you make that happen?”  she asked, “I’ve heard of such things like that, but never attempted it myself.”

         “As I said, you’ll need help,”  patch replied, then he became thoughtful:

        “Well you wouldn’t need help as such, as you have a good imagination,”  Patch mused, “you’d need a playmate though to help you.”

         “I think, Caleb? Could you? Would you?”

        “I’m not part of the group of cubs yet,”  Caleb said, “I don’t know those games yet.”

        “My paws used to be smooth and soft to the touch, and cub like,”  Sooleawa whimpered, “now, now they’re wrinkled and hard, and awful!”

        “Your paws and feet do hard work Sooleawa,”  Patch said, “well your paws do, your feet, they just dangle in the foot spar the whole day.  You get wrinkled pads that way.  Then, when you come out, you dry them, and all the oils are washed out of your pads, and you never moisturise your pads at all!”  Sooleawa shook her head.

        “I know, I know!”  she wailed, “but I forget my own paws and feet!”

        “you won’t when they become cracked and sore,”  patch replied.

       “they have before,”  Sooleawa confessed, “but once they are healed, I go back to my old ways, and I get sore feet and paws again.”

       “Maybe Caleb can help a little,”  Patch replied, “you know all the potions for keeping paws and feet in good condition, but you never use any of them Sooleawa!”

       “I know, I forget!”  Sooleawa whimpered.

        “now how if I give you responsibility for the paws and feet of one cub,”  patch said, “Caleb’s paws and feet are yours to keep in good condition, as you forget your own.  Now I know you’ll remember his, and maybe then, he can be responsible for making sure yours are in good condition too?”  Sooleawa huffed with misery at the memory of the last time she looked at the soles of her hind feet.  They were hard and looked ancient.

        “I felt your playfulness coming out of your pads, even though they are a little tough and dry,”  Caleb said to Sooleawa, who smiled at him.

        “Great isn’t it,”  she sighed, “I’m in charge of keeping paws and feet clean, and I neglect my own feet and paws, even though I have all the lotions and potions to paw, as it were.”

        “they say a doctor often neglects his own health,”  patch replied, “though I’m glad Blackberry isn’t.  he seems to be researching on himself.  Though that lead to him finding out things which upset him recently I believe.”

        “I heard,”  Sooleawa replied, “poor Blackberry.”

       “now can I touch your paws and feet please Sooleawa?”  Caleb asked.  Sooleawa rolled onto her back and lifted her hind feet off the floor, Caleb sitting down at her feet and grabbing each foot in his paws, exploring her tough pads and toes.

        “your pads are hard, not tough, hard,”  Caleb said, “now Patch’s feet, they are tough, but soft, or so Blackberry said to me.”

       “Come and touch for yourself,”  patch said, sitting down beside Sooleawa.  Caleb compared Patch’s tough, but springy sole pads, with Sooleawa’s dry hard sole pads.

       “I wonder who’s the foot and paw specialist here,”  Caleb mused, “my paws tell me it’s Patch, but my eyes told me Sooleawa had the job.”

        “Patch should have the job after the shocking state of my paws and feet were exposed, “now I’m a disgrace!”  Sooleawa wailed.

         “You are not a disgrace,”  Patch said, “well, not to others, maybe to yourself in the paw and foot department, but that can be cured, if you’d only remember you had paws and feet that is.”  Caleb laughed helplessly at this, Sooleawa smiling.

       “My toes are feeling a little stiff, is that due to tiredness, or due to my tough pads?”  Sooleawa asked.

      “or are they so unused to curling with pleasure at playtime that they need a little workout?”  Caleb asked.

         “I rarely play now,”  Sooleawa replied honestly, “not the sort of play which leads to me curling my toes with emotion.”

        “Maybe I can help you there,”  Caleb replied smiling.

         “You could, if you would,”  Sooleawa replied gently, kissing Caleb’s nose as he clambered into Patch’s lap and faced her.

         “So I’m just a seat now am I?”  Patch asked aggrievedly.

        “no!”  Caleb replied, “you’re a heated seat.”  Sooleawa screamed with laughter at this, Patch picking Caleb up in his paws, setting him down on his back in his lap, and playfully tickling his toes.

       “he’s tickling my toes Sooleawa!”  Caleb laughed, “stop him!”  Sooleawa struggled to get her stiff old paws to work, but they couldn’t grip Patch’s forearm to lift the tickling paw off of Caleb’s right foot.

       “I can’t, my paws are too stiff!”  she roared in anger.

        “So you’ll have to get supple and flexible paws and feet to stop me tickling Caleb’s toes then!”  patch snarled in mock anger, Caleb squealing playfully.

       “Oh dear, my paws and feet really are stiff and in need of a good sort out,”  Sooleawa grunted, Caleb rolling off Patch’s lap and crawling to Sooleawa’s left hind foot, the toes of which he tickled, making her shriek with laughter and curl them around his paw.

       “My toes are stiff and in need of a work out!”  Sooleawa raged as she felt them catching Caleb’s tickling paw.

         “cute as,”  Caleb said, kissing the tops of Sooleawa’s toes, the she bear looking between her hind feet at the young cub with whom she felt more comfortable than anyone else except Patch.

         “Go with Sooleawa to her workplace Caleb, and show her how to care for her paws and feet,”  Patch said gently  .

         “Let’s go to your pool then,”  Caleb said.  Sooleawa crawled in solidarity with Caleb to her workplace.  Sitting on the side of the pool with the young cub, Sooleawa embraced him in her paws.

        “now what do we do about your hard pads and tired toes?”  Caleb asked, standing on the side of the pool. Sooleawa smiled:

        “I must remember my own feet and paws,”  she said, “I forget them you see.”

        “You remember to look after the pads of others, but not your own?”  Caleb asked.

       “yeah,”  Sooleawa replied softly, “I do, I’m terrible when it comes to my own paws and feet.”

      “how do you check another’s paws and feet for thorns?”  Caleb asked.  Sooleawa was about to reply when Moonshadow padded in from the woods.

      “Ah, Moonshadow,”  Sooleawa said to the bear who shook himself as rain had begun to fall outside.

         “I know I need my paws and feet checked over,”  Moonshadow replied.  Caleb watched Moonshadow kneeling in the shallow pool, Sooleawa getting in behind him and checking his hind feet for thorns, stretching his pads and toes, Moonshadow bouncing on his heels as she worked, seemingly enjoying her touch.

      “oooah!”  he exclaimed, pressing his heels into his backside, Sooleawa helping him from the water, then lifting each hind foot in turn and blowing on his toes, Moonshadow laughing helplessly:  

    “That’s abuse of position Sooleawa!”  he laughed, “tickling your customer’s toes is not part of the deal!”  Sooleawa grinned and kissed Moonshadow’s nose, the brown bear resting his head against hers.

       “I like that though,”  he whispered.

        “I won’t do that again,”  She replied.

       “But I want you to!”  Moonshadow whimpered, sounding very cub like indeed.

        “I’ll check your other hind foot for thorns,”  Sooleawa said, checking both feet over once more, Moonshadow giggling throughout.

        “Now I’ll dry your hind feet,”  Sooleawa said, drying his feet with a paper towel.  She then helped him wash his paws before he left her workplace.

       “Standing on your hind feet,”  Sooleawa said, “do you feel comfortable?”  Moonshadow nodded.

       “there is no pain in my feet at all,”  he replied, “though my toes are still a little tickled by your ministrations.”  Caleb giggled at this.

        “Sorry,”  she replied contritely.

        “I’ll come back for more toe tickling,”  Moonshadow said, “I like it very much.”

      “I like your paws and feet too, very cute,”  Sooleawa said, Caleb hiding his face in his paws.

        “You do, how lovely!”  Moon shadow replied laughing.

        “Your paws and feet are those of a cub Moonshadow,”  Sooleawa said smiling.

        “I am still one of the cubs, well under Sita and mama Anook’s care anyway,”  Moonshadow said, “they told me that until my paws and feet grew up, I’d always be a cub.”

       “I don’t think they were talking about your physical paws and feet though,”  Sooleawa replied, “more your emotional state I think.”  Moonshadow padded away from Sooleawa’s workplace with heavy feet.

       “She put weights on my feet did that Silver coated bear,”  Moonshadow thought, “I didn’t want to leave her.”

 

 

“So that’s how it’s done is it?”  Caleb asked.  Sooleawa smiled and nodded.

        “It’s easy work,”  she said, washing her paws, “I should remember that when it comes to checking my own feet and paws, but I don’t.”

       “It should be pleasurable work too,”  Caleb replied.

        “It’s boring checking one’s own paws and feet for thorns,”  Sooleawa replied plaintively.

         “Haven’t you got someone helping you do this job?”  Caleb asked, genuinely shocked.

        “I haven’t, well, not officially,”  Sooleawa replied, “I rely on the good will of others to check their own paws and feet, and I just randomly check a random someone’s paws and feet, a sort of four pawed patrol, as it were.  It’s not easy.”

        “How if I check the paws and feet of all the cubs, and you do the same for the adults paws and feet?”  Caleb asked.  Sooleawa smiled:

       “You’re too young,”  she said, “I can’t give you that job yet.”

      “Oh I don’t know,”  Sita said, padding into the small lobby from the outside air and shaking water from her fur, “he could shadow you Sooleawa, anyway, to whom are you speaking?  I don’t recognise his voice, though his scent is of Blackberry and Targon’s family.”

       “ah Sita,”  Sooleawa replied, “this is Caleb, he’s mama Targon’s cub, who was born a few days ago.”  Sita padded forward, Caleb looking at her and backing away until he fell into Sooleawa’s pool.

       “I’m sorry,”  Sita said, sensing she had something to do with the huge splash sound, and the cub who was now paddling about in the pool.

      “What is that!”  Caleb demanded.

       “Um, me?”  Sita asked.

       “it speaks!”  Caleb screamed.

      “that’s Sita,”  Sooleawa replied, “she’s, a, a, um, she’s herself.”

       “mama has showed me cats, bears, humans and other things, but Sita’s a mix of cat and bear!  How could she be a mix of those?”  Caleb asked, his eyes on stalks.

       “A mix of bear and human would be more unusual still,”  Sooleawa remarked.

        “How would that work?”  Sita asked, now thoroughly confused.

        “I suppose a bear and a human would, um, well, and then, well, then the bear or the human, whomever was the female would,,,”

      “Oh yes Sooleawa I know that!”  Sita snapped, “I didn’t mean how would the mechanics work!”  She became thoughtful:

       “A bear with human hands and feet?”  she mused.

       “don’t even think of it!”  Sooleawa snapped, “if you do, we’ll end up with another weird creature, and we already have one.”

       “Oi, bitch!”  Sita growled.

       “I don’t like her Sooleawa!”  Caleb wailed.

        “Oh dear,”  Sita whimpered.

       “Sita’s lovely,”  Sooleawa replied, “under all that fur I mean, she has a golden heart.  Caleb screamed as Sita approached the side of the pool and stood on the edge, with the toes of her large paws over the side.

         “You have no claws!”  Caleb squealed.

       “I do,”  Sita replied, “they are retracted now though.  I can retract and extend my claws, though you can’t, you’re a bear, I’m a cat bear, sort of.”

        “how can you be a cat and a bear all at the same time?”  Caleb asked..

        “I was born of both,”  Sita mewed, “my mama and sire were big cats, but, at the end of my time in the, um, “dark place,” as you call it, something happened to me.”

       “What was that?”  Caleb asked, his fear forgotten in the face of a good story.

       “My mama and sire decided they didn’t love me, and, well, I had to be born, but my mama refused to push, she refused to deliver me into the world.”

        “Noone found her switch?”  Caleb asked.

      “No, she wouldn’t let anyone near her to find it,”  Sita replied, “so, so, a bear, who got to hear of this, well, he pushed, he pressed the switch and pushed and roared, kicked and wept until I was born.  He then tried to show me to my mama and sire, but they hated the look of me.”

      “I’m not surprised they did,”  Caleb replied, “maybe you were sick, that’s why your fur is all brown and horrid.”

        “I am healthy thank you,”  Sita replied gruffly.

     “No you’re not,”  Caleb replied, “you’re blind, like that other cub, um, Orbon, I’ve met him too. he looks like you do, that is to say he doesn’t look anywhere with his eyes, his ears are always twitching, that’s very annoying.”

         “I think you should apologise now!”  Sooleawa snapped.

      “Apologise for what?”  Caleb asked, “this cat bear thing does look strange, and she is blind, and mamas and sires don’t just reject their cubs, Blackberry and Targon have said I am not of them ,but they didn’t reject me.  So this Sita, this thing, she must be evil, as her mama wouldn’t even push her into the world.”

        “I’m leaving!”  Sita choked.  Caleb splashed Sita with his paw, the cat bear choking and spitting water.

       “That was a horrid thing to do Caleb!”  Sooleawa yelled.

       “She’s got a dirty face!”  Caleb yelled, “I was doing my job!”

        “she has spots on her nose and on the soles of her feet!”  Sooleawa roared, “she hasn’t got a dirty face, or dirty paws, or dirty feet!”

       “How do you know Sooleawa, you haven’t checked them over!”  Caleb roared back.

        “true, I haven’t checked her feet for thorns, but I will,”  Sooleawa replied calmly, “Sita?”  Sita, miserable now, sat down, and Sooleawa checked her paws and feet for thorns.  Sooleawa saw a twig drop from the curled toes of Sita’s left hind foot as the cat bear sat down.

        “You picked that twig up just for me didn’t you,”  Sooleawa asked.  Sita nodded, saying nothing.

       “Why pick a twig up in your toes scruffy cat bear?”  Caleb asked, “it’s silly.”

       “there aren’t many stones or thorns I need to pick out,”  Sooleawa replied, “and sometimes it’s a change to find one.  Sita was bringing me a twig to find when I checked her feet over, but now, now her playfulness is gone.  She doesn’t want to play any more.”

       “Is this the Sita I will be looked after by when I join the cubs?”  Caleb asked.

       “She is,”  Sooleawa replied.

       “Well then, I don’t want her touching me!”  Caleb whined, “she’s dirty, and horrible, and I hate her, and if I touch her, I might end up like Orbon!”

          “don’t be so bloody silly!”  Sooleawa shouted.

        “I’ll bet Sita’s mama and sire saw what the bear had created and cursed her with blindness so everyone would hate her!”  Caleb screamed.

         “that’s a dreadful and horrid and disgusting thing to say!”  Sooleawa roared, now completely on Sita’s side, and cursing herself fluently for her own words a few minutes previously.

       “Even you said she was a strange creature, so why are you now defending that horrid bundle of fur?”  Caleb asked.

       “I didn’t mean I hate Sita,”  Sooleawa replied defensively, “but I wish I’d kept my mouth shut now.  Sita is good, kind, gentle, and a wonderful educator and knows how to play.”

       “I still hate her Sooleawa!”  Caleb squealed.  Mama Targon padded in, assessed the situation and plunged into the pool, scooping up her cub and departing smartly for her lie up.

 

“I’m leaving now I think,”  Sita said, getting to her feet.

      “Sita, please, don’t, oh dear, Sita, please!”  Sooleawa begged.  Sita turned her face towards Sooleawa, the silver coated cub seeing a pair of devastated eyes, the devastation having nothing to do with Sita’s sight loss.

         “how could you say what you did Sooleawa?”  Sita asked.  Sooleawa looked down at her paws.

        “I didn’t mean it to sound like it did,”  She mumbled.

          “You know how impressionable young cubs are,”  Sita mewed, “now he hates me because of the way I was introduced.  I tried to make my story believable, and I am now shown disgust!”

       “I didn’t help there,”  Sooleawa whimpered, “Sita, dear Sita, I’m sorry.”  Sooleawa lifted her head and touched Sita’s nose with hers.

        “I should smack you like I would an errant cub,”  Sita replied, “but I haven’t got the strength, and you’re not a cub.”

       “I acted worse than a cub,”  Sooleawa replied contritely, her pads sweating, and toes curling with shame,” I shouldn’t have said what I did.”

         “What can I do now?”  Sita asked.

       “I will undo the damage, I will, I can’t do anything else!”  Sooleawa replied miserably, walking from her workplace, leaving Sita alone.

         “You can’t leave me here!”  Sita yelled, “I don’t know where I am!”  Sooleawa ran back to Sita, grabbed her paw and then, sobbing, threw her paws around her and hugged her.

         “How can I undo the damage I have done?”  she asked.

       “Bring Caleb back and tell him to look beneath the fur,”  Sita mewed, “I don’t wish to have fur like I do, but I accept my fur as it is, and wish others could too.”

      “your fur is beautiful,”  Sooleawa replied, “it’s soft, and warm, and visually interesting.”

      “It’s dirty brown, has spots and stripes everywhere, and is disgusting,”  Sita mumbled, “I’ve seen it, and it’s hideous.”

         “You are lovely Sita, so shut up,”  Hattie said, running to the cat bear and kissing her nose.

        “thank you dear Hattie,”  Sita said.

      “You played with me yesterday,”  Hattie said, “you crawled with me in the soft play room, and you crawled up a slope, and I followed, and tickled your toes, and you turned on me, we rolled down the slope together, and you tickled my toes in return, then we roughhoused on the floor, it was wonderful Sita!”  Hattie enthused, bouncing on her toes while she spoke, like the excited cub she was.

        “It’s a pity you can’t see what Hattie’s doing Sita, it’s so cute!”

         “She’s bouncing on her toes by the looks of it,”  Sita said, “it is cute.”  Sooleawa stared at Sita.

       “No, don’t look at me, look at Hattie,”  Sita said, Sooleawa realising what had happened.

       “Oooooaw,”  she gasped, turning her eyes on Hattie.  Hattie, grinning, crawled away from Sooleawa, Sooleawa looking down at the soles of Hattie’s hind feet as she crawled away.

       “Cute,”  Sita said smiling.

       “Does she look as you imagined?”  Sooleawa asked.

      “She’s cuter,”  Sita replied smiling.

        “She is isn’t she,”  Sooleawa replied smiling.  Sita padded to Hattie, and tickled the large cub’s toes with her paw, Hattie screaming with laughter.

        “tickle my toes, tickle my toes!”  she laughed.  Sita blew on Hattie’s toes, the cub shrieking with laughter and banging the ground with her paws.

      “You look so cute little Hattie,”  Sita said smiling.

         “now I must go,”  Sooleawa said, “I need to, need to sort my head out.”

        “Poor Sooleawa,”  Sita thought as her point of view vanished, and Hattie scrambled to her feet, tangled her paws and fell in the water with a splash.

       “oops, um, that wasn’t meant to happen,”  Hattie said, wading to the side and clambering out.

         “I love you Sita,”  Hattie said, Sita sitting down, Hattie scrambling into her lap and throwing her paws round her neck.

        “I know you do little one,”  Sita replied, kissing the top of Hattie’s head, the young she bear snuggling up to Sita.

 

Meanwhile, in mama Targon’s lie up, Caleb had told his mama all about Sita.  Little Targon, furious with him, wanted to wallop him with her paws, but knew she couldn’t.

       “Sita is lovely!”  she resorted to yelling, Caleb shook his head.

       “How can anything that looks as disgusting as that cat bear thing be nice,”  he replied, “she’s horrid little Targon!”

       “She isn’t!”  Little Targon roared.

        “One day, one day you’ll learn!”  Blackberry shouted, “Caleb, you can’t judge by eyes alone!  You can’t do that!”

        “I don’t want that horrid thing touching me with it’s paws!”  Caleb screamed.

         “Sita be a she, not an it, and she be lovely, so shut it!”  Sam roared, pounding into the lie up.

       “And who on earth are you?”

      “One whose life be saved by those paws you hate,”  Sam replied breathlessly.

        “How could she save the life of a big fellow like you?”  Caleb asked.

        “she did, when I, when I be young, very young, fresh born,”  Sam replied.

       “Fresh born?”  Caleb snapped, “what on earth do you mean by “fresh born?””

        “Exactly what I said,”  Sam replied.

       “Where on earth did you learn your weird speech?”  Caleb asked, “it’s awful!”

        “It’s them badgers ain’t it Sam dear,”  Patch said, padding in and ruffling his son cub’s ears with his paw, Sam looking acutely embarrassed, but leaning his head into his sire’s pressure all the same.

       “I can switch off the dialect, but why should I just to please you?”  Sam asked.

       “Because you sound like an idiot!”  Caleb roared

.         “Oooah,”  Sam scoffed, “I’s really afeared of you I be, you’s only a cub, so shut your mouth!”

        “You’re beginning to anger me now!”  Caleb roared.

        “Why?”  Sooleawa asked, padding in, “I think his language is rather cute.”

        “Well I don’t!”  Caleb screamed, “I’m born to a mother who is injured physically, I then meet a cat bear who is injured genetically, and now I find another bear who is injured linguistically!  So we have one who can only see a bit, another who is a misfit, and a third who can’t talk!  Eohippus help me!”

         “Eohippus can make you as you were Caleb,”  Patch replied, “if you touch a hair on the head of any cubs here, vengeance will be dealt out swiftly and without mercy.”

         “Try it! Now!”  Caleb roared, utterly incensed.

        “No Patch, please no!”  Mama Targon begged, throwing herself at Patch’s feet.

        “I won’t, yet,”  Patch replied gently, speaking only to Mama Targon, “but if he makes trouble, so to hurt anyone here, I’ll have something to say.”

         “it’s all your fault for keeping misfits alive!”  Caleb roared, “that cat bear thing, she’s horrid in the fur!  Sam, he’s horrid in the mouth!”

         “I thought you’d learnt from the paws, not the eyes,”  Blackberry said to Caleb.

        “I did, until that bloody cat bear thing came in, she made my eyes so disgusted my paws wouldn’t touch!  Next thing you’ll be saying is that the horrid cat bear has had cubs!  Reproduced herself!”

       “Well, I didn’t do it without help,”  Sita replied, padding in, “but yes, I have had cubs, three, though one died of bad thoughts, so be warned on that Caleb.  My other two, Toby and Scruffy Leo, are fine creatures, Leo though, he owes more to my feline side than does Toby.”

         “I think you are lovely from your ears to your feet Sita,”  Sam said.  Caleb was physically sick with disgust.

       “She’s horrible!”  he squealed..

        “One day you may learn not be afraid of Sita,”  Sam said.  Caleb made exaggerated vomiting noises, as some cubs will do to express their disgust when words fail them.

          “now that is rude!”  Blackberry scolded, “Caleb, please, Sita has done you no wrong, so try to at least treat her with the respect she deserves as a community member.”

       “The bear who delivered her into the world was wrong to have done that!”  Caleb roared, “his imagination ran away with him and produced that!  That, that horrid thing!”  he screamed, pointing at Sita with his paw.

         “so you would have let a cub die because its parents hated it?”  Patch asked.

       “yes, there must have been something wrong with her to make her like she is,”  Caleb replied, “I was born late, but that, that thing was born huge, and horrible, and with a hideous tail and paws and a filthy face!”

         “I have never heard such words from a cub whom I thought better of!”  Patch roared.

        “Well isn’t she a mess?”  Caleb asked, “noone would mate with her out of choice now would they?”

         “Yes they did,”  Jet said, padding into the lie up, “I did.”

       “You?”  Caleb asked, “why?  You could have done much better than that, that thing!”

        “You will never know what’s beneath that fur,”  jet replied, “and I am sorry for it.  Caleb, while you were saved by knowledge, your wish to learn is sadly lacking.  Wrapped in dull packaging, might be the most precious jewel you have ever laid paw on.”

       “she is horrid!”  Caleb screamed, “sure, make your cubs with her, but be warned, she’s evil!”  Caleb growled..

       “you disgust me!”  Sam roared, rushing at Caleb, mama Targon fending him off.

        “Get away from him!”  she growled, “I know you’re upset, and I agree with your reasons, but violence isn’t the way Sam!”

         “Sita saved my life!”  Sam replied, “she’s just about the loveliest creature I’ve ever met!”

        “she makes me sick!”  Caleb snarled.

         “I think you make her sick too,”  Sam said, “she be sensitive creature under all that fur you know.”

        “I’ll go, I’m not wanted here,”  Sita mewed, turning tail and walking out of the room.  Sam ran after her, grabbing her tail in his paws, bringing Sita to a stop.

      “who’s got hold of my tail, ow that hurts!”  Sita yelled, turning to swipe at the offender with her paw.  Sam dodged the flailing paw, ducking round the swiping paw, then  throwing his paws around Sita, kissing her nose and embracing her.

        “Oh Sam,”  Sita gasped,.

        “I love you Sita,”  Sam said, kissing her nose.

        “I know,”  Sita replied, “and I love you too Sam.”

        “Hattie loves you too Sita,”  Sam replied, “I’ve heard her talking about you to other cubs, she’s following her paws.  Now that Caleb, having been delivered by the power of a paw, as it were, is denying the evidence of his own paws.”

        “I know, but it hurts to be told I’m a misfit, I know that already!”  Sita sniffed, “I was rejected by my mama and sire, but the one who really gave me life hasn’t yet turned his back on me.”

         “Patch never will Sita, he never will,”  Sam replied, “he loves you more deeply than you will ever realise.”

        “I know Sam,”  Sita mewed, “but sometimes, sometimes I doubt I am worthy of that love.”

      “But you are, you are loved, embraced by Patch and the cubs.  They all pile in on you when you come into the playroom, the only thing we wish is there was more than one of you so the workload was shared.  I don’t know, cloning you might be a good thing, then it would spread the workload.”

      “No Sam No!”  Sita laughed, “I’d not like to meet myself.  Oooah, how scary!”

         “Maybe we can bring patch into the playroom and let the cubs clamber all over him too,”  Sam thought aloud.

       “he’d like that, I know he would,”  Sita replied.

        “I would like that Sita,”  Patch said, padding into the corridor, “so let’s go, and the cubs can all make sure I take my adult paws and feet off at the door.”  Sita led the way to the playroom, Patch following her.

        “Did anyone tell you how cute you are Sita?”  Patch asked.  Sita smiled broadly, dropping to a crawling posture, Patch padding up behind her then kissing the pads of her right hind foot.  Sita then got to her feet and padded down the corridor, her pads squeaking slightly on the tiles, Sam noticing the sound.

       “Your feet are squeaking Sita,”  he said.

       “My pads must be a bit warm,”  Sita replied, “maybe the emotion of the day has made them a bit warm.”

       “You’re so funny Sita,”  Sam said.

        “Do you remember the foot and paw games we used to play?”  Sita asked.

      “I do,”  Sam replied, “you got stuck for an hour once, your feet well glued to the floor.”

       “I did,”  Sita replied, “and the more I struggled, the firmer my feet were glued.”

       “that was the whole point,”  Sam replied smiling.

        “Your feet got stuck too,”  Sita replied.  “I had to help you free one foot from the other when you pressed both your hind feet together.  I think your toes locked if I remember.”

      “They did Sita, they did,”  Sam said smiling.

       “I remember playing those games with Jess when we were kept in our room for days,”  Patch said, “I’d introduce her to foot and paw games, as we had little else to do.  Yes we got stuck many a time, and it was wonderful.”

        “I’ll bet it was,”  Sam replied, “I’ve played with her myself, and she’s got a great imagination.  She pressed her feet together, heels to heels, toes to toes, and I had a job to free her feet, as her own hands weren’t strong enough to overcome the glue.”

        “that’s so sweet!”  Sita said.

       “We play often,”  Sam replied softly, “she’s a great player of the stuck foot games, thanks to Patch of course.”

       “I remember her pads being soft and warm,”  Sam said, “she really could play easily.

 

Reaching the play room, Sita and the others washed their paws and feet with soap, water and alcohol gels, then padded into the room.

         “Washing my paws and feet is as good as the play itself,”  Sam said, as Sita helped him wash his paws and feet, then he helped her.

      “I love foot and paw play Sam,”  Sita said.

       “Oh, I didn’t know that!”  Sam exclaimed, Sita laughing and hugging her adopted cub..

       “You have pinkie black paw pads Sita,”  Sam said, “and there are spots on the soles of your feet too.  please, curl your toes?”  Sita did, Sam giggling at the result.

       “the spots vanish into furrows of wrinkled pad!”  he laughed, “that’s wonderful!  Sita, now stretch your toes.  Sita did, Sam blowing on her toes, making her tightly curl them.

        “I think I have a certain cross bred cat to thank for my spots on the soles of my feet,”  Sita said, “I’ve met her, I think, in a dream, she told me to be strong when I was having problems with my birth parents.”

       “Dear Fleur, as you call her?”  Sam asked.  Sita grinned:

       “yes, dear fleur,”  she replied, “I wish she’d come back over the bridge so I could kiss her nose and her paws and embrace her tightly.”

       “Maybe you can one day,”  Sam said, “Patch has opened the bridge to others before now.”

       “I don’t know if she’d want to come back,”  Sita said, “she was tired and exhausted by life, or so the stories say.”  Sam smiled:

        “I think you were meant to carry on her work,”  he said, “she loved cubs.”

 

Laughter erupted from the interior of the playroom, Sita and Sam entering to find mama Anook lying on her back, her huge paws and feet sticking skywards.

      “What happened?”  Sam asked.  Patch looked at mama Anook, who grinned at him, and Patch started to laugh too.

      “What?”  Sita asked, “what’s so funny patch?”

       “Oh mama Anook!”  Patch laughed, padding forward and kissing his adopted mama’s nose.

        “Now how do I tell Sita what happened? The full drama of it?”  Anook asked.

       “I know how I could do it,”  Patch replied, “for I know what happened, but Sita would have to let me have control of her body.”  Sita padded up to Patch and kissed his nose:

      “My body is yours to do with what you will,”  she replied.

       “Okay,”  Patch replied, “here’s what happened.  Mama Anook, please, will you get to your lovely feet and marshal the cubs so Sita might have a clear run.”  Mama Anook got to her feet, padded to Patch and kissed his nose.

        “Your wish is my command my leader,”  she said, Patch burying his head in her shoulder with embarrassment.

       “Now let me show you,”  Patch said, Sita finding herself running, then jamming her forepaws into the  rubber tiles, her momentum making her forward roll, and land on her back, with all four feet in the air.

       “that’s what I did?”  Mama Anook asked, fascinated.

       “yes!”  Patch replied giggling, “that was so funny!  I just interrogated your brain and told Sita’s body what yours did.”

        “now I’m upside-down!”  Sita laughed..

        “You looked so funny mama Anook!”  Wihakayda said, clapping her paws.

       “I should have leant on my hind feet when breaking to a halt, not on my paws,”  mama Anook said smiling.

        “I think that was very cute,”  Hattie said, padding up to mama Anook then kissing her nose.  Jayden, watching all this, tried to emulate mama Anook, running up, jamming his forepaws into the tiles, then landing on his nose with an indignant squeal.

       “It didn’t work!”  he roared, sitting down to rub his nose with his paws and sniff back tears of pain, while pretending he wasn’t crying.  Hattie padded up to Jayden and whispered:

      “it hurts doesn’t it,”  Jayden whimpered:

      “No, oh, all right, yes!”.  Hattie embraced him unashamedly, Jayden snuggling up to her.

       “I landed on my nose Hattie!”  Jayden sobbed, Hattie licking his tears dry, then sitting down, and pulling Jayden into a huge hug.

        “That’s so sweet!”  Wihakayda said smiling, “I love seeing that.”

       “Hattie’s too demonstrative,”  Toby mumbled, “too demonstrative for here anyway.  That stuff is okay in the dens, but cuddles and things are not good in public.”

       “I disagree with that,”  Sita said, padding up to Wihakayda and hugging her.  the black bear cub smiling and snuggling close.

      “Did anyone tell you that you have cute paws?”  Wihakayda said to Sita, who laughed.

      “Some say I have cute paws yes,”  she replied.

        “When you lay on your back, you kicked the air with your hind feet like a cub!”  Wihakayda replied smiling, “that was so very cute!”

         “I’m glad you liked it,”  Sita said.

        “how does it feel to be in your paws Sita?”  Wihakayda asked.  Sita sat down and gathered the black bear cub into her lap.

         “It’s not your world,”  she replied softly, “you, you wouldn’t like my world at all little one.”  Wihakayda turned her face up to Sita’s:

       “Why not?”  she asked.

       “I’m unable to see, my eyes don’t work,”  Sita replied, “think of everything you see, and then subtract that from your life, that’s what mine is.”

       “I saw mama Anook fall over in a comical heap,”  Wihakayda replied, “I saw a sunset yesterday, and a sunrise today, and the pads of Jayden’s hind feet as he crawled, and his laughing eyes and waving paws as I tickled his toes, and far much more too.”

        “Can you remember watching your birth video?”  Sita asked.

      “I can, Titania was wonderful, but she did n’alf have to push, was I that big?”  Wihakayda asked.

       “I don’t know,”  Sita replied, “I wasn’t there, I didn’t get paws on.”

      “but, but you can see the video can’t you?”  Wihakayda asked, then she gasped, and said faintly: “no, no you can’t, you can’t see it.”

       “If I turn off the screen and show you your birth video with sound only, that will be how I see it,”  Sita replied.

         “Okay, show me, please,”  Wihakayda said.  so Sita did, and at the end, Wihakayda was thoughtful.

          “it tells me little,”  she replied, “I heard groaning, and mama Titania saying things, and screaming, and a bit of a squelching sound as I came into the world, at least I think that’s what it was, but I didn’t get the cute factor much.  Now if someone had told me what was going on, then that would have been different.  Sita smiled and fiddled with the video.  Wihakayda then heard the same video, but with a voice describing what was going on on the screen.  The voice described Titania’s facial expressions, how she moved, how her paws and feet looked, what position she was in, crawling, on her back, on her side, or whether she was kicking the air with her hind feet, holding her feet with her paws, or curling her toes.  the description also told of Titania’s straining muscles and clenched teeth as she pushed, then her curled toes as she moaned and wailed.

      “So Koda kissed Mama Titania’s hind feet while she lay on her back, and held them in her paws,”  Sita said, “that was dangerous.”

      “yes, but necessary for her,”  Titania replied, padding up to Sita and kissing her nose.

       “mama,”  Wihakayda said, “Sita’s been telling me about her world.  It’s scary!” 

       “Sita’s world is not yours Wihakayda, so don’t worry about it,”  Titania replied, “you will never visit it.”

        “I don’t think Orbon thought he’d visit her world either,”  Hattie remarked, “but he’s permanently within it now.”  Titania stared at her:

       “How?”  she asked.

        “didn’t you hear?”  Hattie asked, “mama Lily got angry and whacked her cub so hard, she blinded him.”

      “Oh, um, ah, oh,”  was all Titania could say.

       “So don’t be so certain your cub, or you, will never enter Sita’s world”  Hattie said, “for it could happen to you.”

         “A world where I’ll never see another sunset?”  Titania asked.

       “yes,”  Patch replied sadly.

      “And what would you know of that world to sound so sorrowful?”  Titania asked.

       “it is only because of Sire Orbon’s grace that I have the sight I have now,”  Patch replied.

      “oooah!”  Titania exclaimed, the full import of what she’d just said hitting home.

        “now please do not question when I say it is easy to become as Sita is, and by rights, as I should still be,”  Patch replied, “Orbon told me the world of visual darkness was not my world, so he gave me his sight, but take heed of this Titania, those who have lost the gift of visual sight, often see things more clearly.”

       “How?”  Wihakayda asked.

      “Nonsense!”  Titania roared, “look at Ekaterina, she went off the rails!”

       “She went off the rails when she had visual sight,”  mama Anook replied, “it took the loss of her sight to help her find her right path in life.”

        “I’m not saying all visually blind creatures are spiritually enlightened, but it helps,”  Patch said.

      “how does it help?”  Titania asked.  Patch smiled:

      “Titania,”  he replied, “what did you do when you needed that little extra strength to push Wihakayda into the world?  What do you do when you want to think more clearly?”

      “I close my, oh, um,,,”  Titania replied.

     “Close your what?”  Patch asked, smiling as he saw Titania’s toes curling in embarrassment at her gaff.

        “I close my eyes,”  she mumbled.

        “Right,”  Patch replied, “Now will you please think before you open your mouth?”  Titania looked down at her paws, seeing her toes curled into the rubber flooring.

       “Um, yeah, I will,”  she replied miserably.

         “I think it’s time for you to go now,”  Sita said, firmly showing Titania out.

       “Leave here, and don’t come back,”  Sita snarled, “your views are not wanted.”  Titania looked into Sita’s face, then turned and fled.

        “I need to play, seriously play,”  Sita mumbled, “my paws and feet feel dirty after that.”

        “but your paws and feet are clean, we saw them!”  Apudo yelled.  Sita padded up to the fat lion cub, rubbed heads with her in the customary lion greeting then kissed her nose.

       “You may have done,”  she replied, “but my paws and feet still feel dirty after dealing with Titania.””

       “Can I have a hug Sita?”  Wihakayda asked, “I, I, I think, oh dear,”  tears filled her eyes, “I don’t know why I’m upset.”

        “come here,”  Sita said, sitting down and embracing Wihakayda in her paws.

        “Your world frightens me Sita!”  Wihakayda wept, “but you aren’t scared at all.”

        “Sometimes I am,”  Sita replied, “sometimes I get lost, and I can’t find my way home.”  Wihakayda buried her head in Sita’s fur, breathing in her slightly spicy scent.

         “what was it like for you to deliver a cub Sita?”  Wihakayda asked.

       “It was very paws on, very intense emotions, very tactile,”  Sita mewed.

       “Was it like Targon’s?”  Wihakayda asked.

      “No,”  Sita replied, “but it was very lovely all the same.  I felt everything, I mewed, roared, curled my toes, kicked, all that, and more.  It was lovely all three times I did it.”

     “Three times?”  Wihakayda asked.

     “Toby first, then Imogen, who died, then scruffy Leo, who is my third cub,”  Sita said.

       “one of your cubs died?”  Wihakayda asked, sounding like the cub she was, “why?”

        “She ran out of the house after an argument, and got run over by a lorry on the road through the woodland,”  Sita mewed, “I try not to think of how she treated me.”

        “Why did she hate you?”  Wihakayda asked.

       “My fur, my paws, and my eyes,”  Sita mewed, “she hated them all.”

       “oh no,”  Wihakayda replied, sounding genuinely sorry.

         “Toby and Leo though, they are reasonable boys,”  Sita said, “I don’t mean everyone should like me, I just wish, wish that Imogen had a reason for her hatred, but she didn’t.  she blamed my disability, my fur, and my paws, all things I could not do anything about.”

     “Can I look at your paws and feet?”  Wihakayda asked.

       “yes, of course,”  Sita replied, rolling onto her back to present her paws and feet for inspection.  Wihakayda sat down on Sita’s right side, taking the bear cat’s right paw in her paws and examining it with sight and by touch.

       “You can ask me to curl my toes or stretch them, extend my claws too,”  Sita said.

       “I like your paws and feet without claws,”  Wihakayda replied, “they suit you better that way.”

         “I can still curl and stretch my toes,”  Sita said.

      “Did you get your claws out during labour?”  Wihakayda asked.

      “No, I don’t think I did,”  Sita replied, “I wasn’t angry then you see, just in pain, screaming and crying, pushing and straining, though not angry.”

        “Is there video of your cub’s births?”  Wihakayda asked.

      “I think Leo was born on camera,”  Sita said, “for Koda had a head cam I remember, but Toby might not have been born with a den cam.”

         “What we need is the birth of another cub, now,”  Wihakayda replied, “I know we’ve seen the births of two creatures recently, but I want to see a third cub born.”

       “You can’t just pull cubs out of thin air,”  Sita laughed.

        “I don’t know,,,”  mama Anook began to say, then stopped, her paw over her mouth.

       “What?”  Wihakayda asked, “not you, surely, not you?  Patch explained what happened to you, and, and, you haven’t had time to get pregnant,”

       “Not me, my, my body, well its previous owner, she was, she had a cub inside her when she was killed,”  Anook replied, “I, I was asked, would I, would I deliver the cub into the world, and I said yes I would.  I couldn’t say anything else!  Didn’t want to say anything else but yes.  Now, now, today, I’ve seen milk from my nipples.”

        “how did the cub survive the accident which killed its mother?”  Wihakayda asked.

      “It didn’t, but it was far enough along to have a spirit and be viable for life when it died,”  Anook replied, “like Faith, My cub will come across the bridge, and I’ll have to deliver it into the world.  Indeed, it has come across the bridge, it did with me.  The cub’s inside me, and I will give birth to it soon.”

        “but the stories say you’re an elderly mama now,”  Wihakayda replied.

      “Not now,”  Anook said, getting to her feet and flexing her legs, turning a full circle and sitting down again with a grunt, “I’m as young as yours Wihakayda.  Though I do have twenty years behind me.”

       “I could imagine you in labour,”  Wihakayda said, “it would be expressive, very physical, very vocal and involve a lot of movement, a lot of curling toes, clenching teeth and moaning.”

      “Oh yes,”  mama Anook replied, rubbing her huge paws together with anticipation, “It will be all that.”

       “You love it don’t you!”  Wihakayda exclaimed, “you love the whole birth thing?”

       “I do, I love it,”   mama Anook admitted.

       “All the tales say you were good with cubs,”  Wihakayda replied, “they say you destroyed a human bed while delivering mama Alaska into the world.”

      “I did,”  mama Anook replied, “proper destroyed it, tore the mattress up, broke the laths, and ended up sitting in the mess straining and crying.  Sire Koda helped me out, and I had Alaska soon after.  Koda was born by the fire in more tranquil situations.  But with him, I had a long slow labour, lots of pushing and little reward for it, as I was older then than I am now.”

        “has Koda recognised you yet?” Wihakayda asked.

       “No, not yet,”  Anook replied, “he uses his eyes too much, I do look different to the mama he knew.  Kuruk though, he didn’t need to take more than a glance before he knew whom he was looking at.”

       “Ah there you are Wihakayda!”  Koda snapped, running into the room, “Titania said she’d been booted out for being disobedient, or something like that.  Um, who the hell are you?”  Koda asked, pointing with his paw at mama Anook, who sat cuddling Wihakayda.

       “don’t you recognise me?”  Anook asked.  Koda looked her up and down, then approached until the toes of his right forepaw touched the sole of Anook’s left hind foot.  Koda stood, his toes bent backwards, resting his weight, it was then he realised to whom the body belonged.  A rush of tears overwhelmed him, and he wept quietly.

        “I missed you mama, though I never told you,”  he sobbed.  Anook smiled, set Wihakayda down and scooped Koda up in her paws to hug him, the black bear not resisting her hug.

       “You know I sired a cub mama,”  he said.  Anook kissed his nose:

       “I think I’ve been hugging her for the last few minutes,”  she said softly.

       “I didn’t want a cub at first,”  Koda blurted, “when Titania went into labour, I was scared, I nearly ran, it was mama Targon who kept my paws stuck in the room.  But then, when I saw Titania in pain, and realised I could help, I got paws on mama, paws on, so paws on!”

       “I know,”  Anook replied, “I saw.”

       “how?”  Koda asked.

      “Through your eyes Koda,”  Anook replied, “patch gave me access to your viewpoint.”

       “But I was a coward!”  Koda replied, staring down at his paws, “I didn’t face Titania until I was forced to, but then, when I saw her, her struggle, something changed in me.  I don’t know what that was mama, but I felt, deep down, deeper down than my stomach, I think it was in the soles of my feet, that I had to be with the mother of my cub through it all.  Then, when I felt her straining and pushing, and saw her effort, and saw the cub coming into the world, I vowed to love Titania and our cub.”  Anook looked at her son cub, his small stature, and smaller paws and feet.

       “How did you get this big and fat mama?”  Koda asked bluntly.

       “Tact was never your strong point Koda,”  Anook said, slapping her grown cub with an admonishing paw.

      “ow mama, that hurt!”  Koda wailed, but both knew his pride was injured more than his body.

        “I filled up with water from the birthing pool,”  Anook replied, “that’s why I’m fat.”  Koda snuggled into Anook’s hug, feeling something kick against him as he buried his paws in her belly fur.

         “What?”  he asked, tapping gently on Anook’s belly, the life inside returning the tap to his paws.

       “yes, I’m in cub,”  Anook said, “it’s wonderful!”

        “I heard, heard Targon half regrets giving birth to Caleb, who was not really her cub,”  Koda replied faintly, “mama, please?  He looked into mama Anook’s face, his eyes haunted.  Anook kissed the top of Koda’s head, a gesture that would have annoyed him a few minutes ago, but now, was the most welcome thing in the world.

        “I won’t,”  she replied, “I will treasure my cub with my heart and all the rest of me too.”

        “I’m glad,”  Koda replied softly.

        “I love you Koda,”  Anook said, “don’t ever forget that.        “You’re gonna make me cry!”  Koda sniffed.

        “That’s not a failing Koda dear,”  Anook replied.

       “I know, at least I should know, but I’m so bad, so bad at letting go recently,”  Koda choked.

       “You can fall apart with me Koda,”  mama Anook said gently, Koda weeping into her fur.        “Now I must go,”  Koda sniffed after a few minutes.  Turning away, he found Wihakayda blocking his path, moving to step round her, she blocked him, then threw her paws around his neck and hugged him, Koda choking on his tears.

       “It’s okay to cry sire Koda,”  Wihakayda said softly.

        “I failed!”  Koda sobbed, “I didn’t even recognise my own mama!”

      “You recognised her when you followed your paws though didn’t you Koda,”  Wihakayda said.  Koda wiped his eyes with his paws and sniffed hard.

       “I know,”  he gulped, “but my eyes didn’t recognise her, nor my nose either, well my nose wouldn’t, as she’s not in her right body, oh dear, oh dear!”

        “she’s got more of a body, if the stories are true Koda,”  Wihakayda replied, “now she’s big and fat, and those paws and feet! How wonderful they are!”

        “I’m well covered, not fat!”  Anook roared in mock anger, her cub getting excited and kicking against her belly, making her gasp and clamp her paws over her belly, making her look  like the bear who’d eaten all the cake, and was now regretting it.

        “is that your cub getting restless?”  Koda asked.  Anook smiled and nodded.

       “That’s it,”  she replied, “the cub wanted to join in.”

       “labour is gonna be fun!”  Wihakayda enthused.

       “Fun?”  Koda asked sharply.

       “yes it will be fun,”  Anook replied, “I’m not worried.  I’ll just take my time.”  Anook crossed her left leg over her right and played with the toes of her left hind foot in her paws, Koda marvelling at how big her hind feet were.

      “wow, she’s got big feet!”  he gasped, then he looked at his own small paws.

       “My body isn’t my original one,”  Anook said, catching his thoughts.

       “I like your feet and paws,”  Koda replied, “mama, they’re big and rather cute.”  Anook wiggled the toes of her right hind foot, then curled them, Koda watching the curling toes and bunching pads.

      “I’ll bet your toes will curl really tightly when you’re in labour,”  Koda said.

       “They will,”  Anook replied, “and you can be with me if you like Koda, you and Ekaterina, and Kuruk.”  Koda felt his own toes curling with emotion at the thought.

       “yes please,”  he replied smiling.  Mama Anook rubbed the sole of her left foot with her right paw, the toes of her paw describing a circle from bottom of heel to base of toes and round to the bottom of her heel again, then she drew her toes down the sole of her foot from the base of her toes to her heel, Koda watching intently.  Anook suddenly massaged her toes feverishly, groaning deeply, then went back to massaging her entire foot.

       “are you having contractions mama?”  Koda asked.

       “I might be, only slightly,”  Anook replied, gently stroking the toe pads of her left hind foot with the toes of her right paw.  Gently curling her toes, she dug into the ball of her left hind foot with her right paw, pressing the now furrowed pad.

       “Are you in pain mama?”  Koda asked, his eyes concerned.

        “A little,”  Anook replied, “I suppose it was my foot massage that did it, the cub liked it, and well, he moved excitedly.”

         “I hope you’re not going to deliver the cub early,”  Koda said, “that would be awful.”

      “I’m okay,”  Anook replied, dropping her left hind foot off her right leg and taking hold of her right foot in her paws then massaging her pads and toes in a similar manner to that which she’d used to massage her left foot.  Koda watched his mama massage her sole pad with toes relaxed then curl her toes, then massage her pads again, the pad all bunched up, then stretch her toes, then massage her sole pad, now taught, for a third time.

      “I can see that feels great mama,”  Koda said, “your eyes are half closed in bliss.”  Anook giggled.

       “I won’t press my pads, just stroke them,”  she said, “I heard what pressing her heel did to Cynthia, I want my cub to come when he’s ready.”

      “How do you know the cub’s male?”  Koda asked.

       “Just a feeling I have,”  Anook replied.

 

Hattie ran in, intending to throw herself into Anook’s lap, seeing just in time that the mama grizzly bear had her hind legs crossed and was playing with her toes, Hattie jammed her paws into the rubber flooring, screamed at the pain caused to her pads by friction between the floor and her pads, then flipped herself head over heels, her hind feet lashing out kicking mama Anook in her belly, the mama bear unable to move in time what with her crossed legs, and paws on approach to her hind foot.  Anook’s paws flew off her right hind foot as the mama bear fell backwards, her paws clamped over her belly as she roared in pain.  Hattie, disorientated, squirmed on the floor, then sat up, to see mama Anook draw up her hind feet and grab them in her forepaws.  Panting hard, Anook tried to stop the turmoil in her belly.

        “You sod, you bloody sod Hattie!”  mama Anook moaned.

       “I tried to stop my charge,”  Hattie whimpered.

       “don’t bloody run in future!”  Anook roared as another pain gripped her, “ah shit, shit shit!”  she screamed, rolling about on the floor.

        “What do I do now?”  Hattie wailed, “Is there anything we can do to stop her labour?”  Anook breathed heavily, then calmed down a bit, her anxious expression relaxing somewhat.

        “I’ll see what happens,”  she panted, “but that’s not something I want to go through again!”

       “but you’ll go through labour,”  Hattie said, Anook scowled at her:

        “go away!”  she snarled.

        “It was accidental!”  Hattie pleaded, “I didn’t mean to kick you in the belly Anook!”  Anook, now attending to her right hind foot with anxious paws, squeezing her toes and massaging her pads, grunted, but didn’t look up from her intense contemplation of her paws as they massaged and played with the toes of her right hind foot.

       “You look so cute when you play with your toes Anook,”  Hattie said.  Anook ignored her, pressing the ball of her right hind foot with the toes of her left forepaw.

         “that’s it,”  she said, “we’re calm now.  Looking up at Hattie, she sighed deeply.

        “I hope my cub’s gonna be all right,”  she said.

      “What was Anook doing that was cute?”  Sita asked.  Koda ignored her, so Sita continued:

       “Can I get paws on with you Anook?”

      “Why doesn’t Koda lend you use of his eyes?”  Anook asked.

       “I could, if Patch will help me do that,”  Koda replied.

      “Describe what’s going on by looking and speaking what you see,”  Anook huffed, “you don’t need any of that spiritual intervention then.”   

  “Well,”  Koda said, “Sita, mama Anook is playing with her toes, is that okay?”

       “No no no!”  mama Anook snarled, “tell her what I’m doing, “mama Anook’s forepaws are doing this or that, the heel of her right hind foot is resting on her left leg, her toes are curling as she presses her pads,”  that sort of thing,  for Eohippus sake Koda!”

       “I’m no good at that stuff!”  Koda moaned.

        “I could get paws on?”  Sita suggested.

       “Um, no,”  Anook replied, “just in case, well, just in case I go into labour and have to use my feet for pain relief, it takes quite a bit of pressure to do that.”

        “I suppose it does,”  Koda said, “I haven’t had to use the pads of my hind feet for pain relief like that.”

       “Have you never grabbed your foot when you’ve got stomach pain?”  Hattie asked, “I have, and it works, massaging your toes works!”

       “I wouldn’t know!”  Koda said gruffly, though all could see he’d done what Hattie had, his shifting paws and feet, and averted eyes were a dead give away.

       “You must look so cute when playing with your toes Koda,”  mama Anook said.  Koda huffed and blew his annoyance.

       “No I don’t!”  he replied, “my paws are hairy and my feet are horrid.”

       “I saw you Koda, I saw you!”  Wihakayda laughed, leaping about, “you were playing with your toes last night, and mamma asked you if you’d play the stuck foot game with her, and you two played, and it was lovely!”

      “You weren’t meant to see that!”  Koda snarled, “you were meant to be asleep!”

        “It was so cute!”  Wihakayda continued, ignoring her sire’s warning tone.

       “I would love to have seen that,”  Sita replied, “I know how communicative little Koda’s paws are, and when we used to play, his feet would stick easily to mine, I remember his toes pressing into my pads too, such a lovely touch.”

      “Stop it, stop it!”  Koda moaned, “Okay Wihakayda, me and mum were playing together, and I did get my foot stuck, and I couldn’t free it for an hour, it took me all my will just to get my heel free.”

      “You mean you didn’t want to,”  Wihakayda replied, “that’s so lovely sire Koda.”

         “sire Koda,”  Koda mumbled, “now I never thought I’d be referred to as that.  Even though I’ve been a sire for months now, it’s still strange.”

       “You have the cutest hind paws Koda,”  Hattie said, “I’ve watched you play, they are just so cute!”

       “No they’re not!”  Koda whimpered, but his eyes told her she was right, he had enjoyed his play.

        “My feet stuck to Titania’s, I won’t deny that one,”  he mumbled.

       “You whimpered and struggled like a stuck cub,”  Wihakayda said, “I heard you Koda!”

        “I didn’t, I didn’t!  all right, oh for Eohippus sake Wihakayda! Is there anything you don’t know?”

        “I know you and mama mated after you’d freed yourselves from that glue holding your feet,”  Wihakayda replied.  Koda, frustrated now, stamped out of the room.

        “give a quick push and that cub might be born before he gets back mama!”  Hattie yelled.  Anook huffed her annoyance, transferring her attentions to her left hind foot, scratching her pads with her claws, and massaging the toes of that foot with the toes of her right paw.

        “You look like you’re about to burst mama Anook,”  Patch said, padding into the room.  Mama Anook told patch what had happened.

        “Hmm, so where you gonna have this cub?”  he asked.

      “Here,”  Mama Anook replied, “here, where I can punch the walls, and dig my feet into squashy bricks that will enable me to push against them without hurting anyone.”

       “We do have squashy bricks here,”  Hattie said, some of the cubs pelt the others with them, little buggers.”

       “Oi!”  Sita snapped, “that’s not good language Hattie!”

      “Oh sorry,”  Hattie mumbled.

       “Now let me find a good set of bricks to brace my feet against,”  Anook said, padding into another room where there was a good supply.  Getting onto the raised mattress, she lay down, then rolled onto her back to stretch her legs, feet and paws.

       “I think I’ll build a wall of bricks against the back wall here,”  Anook said, building herself a small wall with gaps in it at her paw height if she was standing on her hind feet.  This done in record time, she found half a brick sliced from corner to corner so when it rested on the ground on one of the short sides, the resultant corner was sloped, not at ninety degrees.  Anook rested her back against this, her feet out in front of her, bracing her back against her wall, she bent her hind legs, digging her heels into the soft mattress.  Pushing hard back with them, Anook tried pressing her back into the wall.  Satisfied, Anook threw her head back, her head cushioned by the wall of foam filled bricks as it smacked into it.  Then Anook turned around and, facing the wall, braced her hind feet against it, curling her toes into the wall, gripping hard, trying to grip with sole pads and toe pads rather than claws, which Koda noticed she’d cut short.

      “Can you hold on with your toe pads and sole pads?”  Koda asked.  Anook spun round into a crawling posture and looked at him.

      “yes, I can,”  she replied smiling, “Can you Koda?”  Koda looked down at his own feet, then got onto the mattress so Anook could watch his paws and feet. He then crouched, pressing his toes into the mattress, concentrating on the feel of the mattress under the entirety of his toes and sole pads on all four feet.

       “I can’t do it mama!”  he gasped, sounding like a cub.

       “Feel your feet Koda, feel every inch of those feet and paws,”  Anook said.  Koda tried, but found that by not trying too hard, he felt more beneath his pads.  

   I don’t want you to go into labour!”  Koda suddenly said, “mama, you’ll scream and cry, and beat the floor with your paws, and it will be awful!”

       “I’ll be okay,”  Anook said to her son, kissing his nose, “you’ll have a half brother soon.”

        “what be all this?”  Kuruk asked, padding over to them, “Koda, mama Anook ain’t your mama in body, you do know that don’t you?”  Koda nodded:

      “But I hated seeing Titania in labour, it was scary!”  he wailed.

       “it’s fine,”  Anook replied, “it’s what we were born to do.”

       “but you not his mama any more!”  Kuruk roared.

        “you know who I am,”  Anook replied huffing at her eldest son, “I’m Anook, your mother, now my body is not my original one, so technically you are right, but don’t let that get in the way.  I’m going to give birth to this cub as mine, I’m going to scream and roar, kick and fight for this cub with every bit of my body until I either succeed, or it kills me.  Okay?”  Kuruk looked at Anook:

       “You think it come kill you labour?”  he asked, his fear jumbling his words.

       “No,”  Anook replied, “but it will be hard, as hard as your labour was Kuruk,”  Anook replied smiling.

      “Kuruk scream and cry, and curl toes like he want put holes in pads with claws,”  Kuruk grunted, “mama Anook do thing too?”

      “yes,”  Anook replied, sitting down near the edge of the mattress and curling the toes of both her hind feet, Kuruk watching intently, then padding forward, resting one paw on the edge of the mattress, then reaching over with the other and tracing his mama’s bunched pads and curled toes with his own toes.

       “that feels wonderful,”  Anook said.

        “Kuruk know how rub mama’s feet while they in labour,”  Kuruk grunted, “he do thing for Grace mate when she in labour with Faith that first time.  Now she roar and swear, kick and scream like Kuruk do when have cub.”

       “I’ll try not to swear when I have mine,”  Anook replied, relaxing her toes so Kuruk’s touched the gap between the ball of her foot and her toes, then curling them to catch his toes in hers, Kuruk smiling.    

 “Mama have bigger feet than she have when Kuruk young,”  he said, “but then he think she have big paws and feet then too.  Kuruk love when mama hug him in paws and kiss top of head, then groom from nose to tail.”  Anook looked at her son cub, a wild light in her eyes.  Kuruk let himself be taken in the huge mama bear’s embrace and Anook kissed the top of his head, grooming soon following.  Kuruk submitted happily to his mama’s ministrations, and when it was over, his paws and feet tingled and he felt tearful.

      “Mama make feet of Kuruk feel like cub’s feet,”  Kuruk sniffed, “all soft and tender, like Kuruk no able to walk on anything but soft floors now.”  Anook kissed her son’s nose.

      “How do my hind feet feel to you Kuruk?”  she asked.

      “They soft, and toes big and curl with love,”  Kuruk replied, “Kuruk want feet like mama Anook.”  Anook helped Kuruk onto the mattress and examined his paws and hind feet.

       “You have the most handsome paws and feet Kuruk,”  Anook said.

      “Kuruk no think that thing mama should be saying to him,”  Kuruk grunted.

       “Well that’s how I feel,”  Anook replied, “maybe some of the desires of the previous inhabitant of this body haven’t quite been flushed out yet.”

       “Kuruk think he have nice paws and feet too,”  he replied, “Kuruk make sure he look after paws and feet, he bathe them, and oil them like patch do.”

      “your paws are very soft,”  Anook replied, “and as for your hind feet,”  she picked up his left hind foot, traced his pads and then tickled his toes, making Kuruk yelp and curl his toes tightly, “they are soft too, and so clean also.”  Kuruk giggled and curled his toes tighter, moaning deeply as if in abdominal pain.

       “I’ll be making sounds like that soon enough,”  Anook said, dropping Kuruk’s left hind foot and rubbing her son’s belly with her paw.  Kuruk, belching, grinned at his mama.

       “I remember winding you like that when you were able to be carried easily in my two paws,”  Anook said, Kuruk choking back a rush of tears:

      “Stop it mama, stop it!”  he sniffed.

       “Do you remember lying on your back while I tickled your paws and feet, then helped you count your toes from one to twenty?”  Anook asked.  Kuruk, his eyes blurring with tears, nodded.

       “Kuruk want that now, he want it mama!”  he begged.  Anook pushed Kuruk onto his back and tickled the huge male bear’s hind feet, Kuruk laughing helplessly and waving his paws in the air, Anook blowing on his toes and pads exciting him more, making him squeal and draw up his hind feet, grabbing them in his paws to massage them with the toes of both paws, giggling cubbishly throughout.  Then Kuruk sat up, and Anook sat in front of him, taking his paws in hers one by one.

      “now how many toes do you have on each paw?”  she asked.  Kuruk looked blankly at his mama, his mind blank.

      “Kuruk no know thing,”  he replied.  Koda snorted with disgust.

       “Why all this cub play mama?”  He asked, “it’s all silly and wrong, and you’re telling me Kuruk, that you can’t remember how many toes you have on each paw or foot?”

       “it’s fun to watch,”  Wihakayda said, “stop being such a wet blanket Koda.”

       “but he’s a grown bear, older than me!”  Koda snapped, “it’s not a good example to cubs like you to see an adult bear acting this way.  He is a disgrace!”

      “he’s needing love and affection, just like you needed that earlier Koda,”  Wihakayda replied, “I saw you playing paw games with mama Anook, I saw you, so don’t pretend you weren’t.  all that feel the mattress with your pads and toes stuff wasn’t a game then?  You were loving it Koda!”  Koda growled and huffed, but didn’t deny his daughter’s assertions.

       “Oh all right,”  he huffed, giving voice to his thoughts, “but don’t tell anyone!”  Mama Anook roared with laughter and reached over to ruffle her second youngest son’s ears, Koda seeing her paw coming and ducking out of range.

      “if this is what being near to giving birth does to you mum, then you should put a cork in it!”  Koda complained.

        “She’s being good to you, so you no speak to her like that, you hear Koda?”  Kuruk roared, leaping to his feet and chasing the black bear round the room.  Koda, screaming for mercy, leapt into the foam pit to escape, Kuruk tumbling in after him, Koda narrowly avoiding being crushed as Kuruk landed.

       “Now stop it, stop it both of you!”  Patch roared.  Kuruk and Koda struggled from the foam pit, and carried on their spat, Kuruk knocking Koda off his feet, and rolling him over, before standing over him with one paw on his chest.

       “Now you apologise!”  Kuruk roared.

       “No, no, No Kuruk!”  Koda wailed, “don’t crush my chest, I can’t breathe!”

       “Get off Him Kuruk!”  Patch roared, mama Anook piling in to separate the two warring bears.  Rearing onto her hind feet, she pushed Kuruk off Koda by flipping him backwards, then stepped back.

      “Now you two!”  she shouted, “get back to your corners and leave it, leave it out!”  then she clasped her belly with her paws, screwed up her face, and roared in agony.

       “now look what’s happened!”  Koda yelled, “you’ve started mama’s labour!  You bloody idiot Kuruk!”  Mama Anook sat down heavily, rubbing her belly with her paws.

        “I’m all right,”  she gasped, “it’ll be okay in a minute.”

       “What’s happening mama?”  Koda asked, sounding and looking like the cub he’d once been.  His eyes terrified, his toes gripping the tiles, Koda stood shaking as if he’d never seen a bear in labour before.

        “You get out!”  Kuruk growled.

       “No, please,”  Koda begged, showing submission to Kuruk, “don’t exclude me, she’s my mama too.”

        “You no recognise her until you touch her!”   Kuruk grunted.

      “Now that’s unfair!”  Koda wailed.

      “You two, stop it!”  Mama Anook roared.

       “Bad cub to your mama you be,”  Kuruk snarled at Koda, cuffing him with his paw.

        “Kuruk, don’t do that,”  mama Anook pleaded weakly, “Koda isn’t a bad cub, he never was bad.  Yes he made mistakes, but he’s learning from them.”

       “Koda silly cub,”  Kuruk grunted.

      “If you don’t stop it Kuruk, I’ll have the cub in Koda’s lie up where you have no right to enter,”  Anook grunted.

       “I would love to get paws on too mama,”  Mishka yelled, running in and throwing himself at Anook, who caught him in her paws and hugged him.

        “how come you caught him?”  Hattie asked.

      “I saw him coming,”  Anook replied.  Mishka kissed Anook’s nose and playfully drummed on her belly with his paws, Anook’s cub responding by kicking back against Mishka’s drumming.

      “stop it!”  Anook laughed, “the cub will come out musical if you don’t stop now.”  Mishka grinned and ran his paws over Anook’s belly.

     “Do you want to know what position your cub is in now?”  he asked.  Anook stared at him.

      “You know?”  she asked.

       “At the moment he is sitting on the opening to your womb, his feet and paws facing outwards, I’ll guide your paw so you can touch his.”  So Mishka did, touching Anook’s paw to her belly where the cub’s paws and feet were, the cub pressing back against her touch.

      “wow!”  she gasped, as the cub punched and kicked the wall of his refuge with whichever paw or foot she was touching.

       “He’s lively!”  she gasped as the cub , kick, kick, kicked, and thump, thump, thumped with his paws or feet in response to her touch.  Anook, smiling, tapped on her belly with her paws, the cub tapping back with his, Anook tapping faster and faster until she couldn’t stand the discomfort any longer.  It was then, when she stopped tapping with her paws, that her cub decided he was going to kick with his feet.  Groaning, Anook lay on her side, stroking her belly, trying to calm the overexcited cub.

         “Stop it little one!”  she pleaded aloud.  The cub, feeling his mum’s distress, stopped his kicking.  Instead he began to rub the wall of her womb with his paw, causing Anook to curl up and squeal with discomfort.

      “And you can stop that too!”  she shrieked.  Her cub stopped his massage of her insides, and Anook settled down to wait.

        “now we wait,”  Kuruk grunted.  Anook dozed fitfully and after an hour, she clambered onto the raised mattress and lay down on her left side.

       “Are you uncomfortable mama?”  Mishka asked, listening to her every move.

      “I am, more so in the last few minutes,”  Anook replied.

       “is it contractions?”  Koda asked.

      “yes, here, take my paw Mishka, my right paw, and you Koda, my right hind foot,”  Anook replied, “and I’ll curl my toes every time I feel one, so you have some idea.”

      “could you curl your toes in proportion to the pain?”  Koda asked.

     “That bloody silly!”  Kuruk complained.

      “No, I’ll do it,”  Anook replied, and she fitted actions to words for the duration of her labour.

      “Curling my toes like this, having to get it right to reflect the level of pain is so good!”  Anook panted after half an hour, “it takes my mind off the pain concentrating to get the degree of curl right.  I love it!”

      “Kuruk think it pointless,”  Kuruk grunted, “mama should be concentrating on pushing, like Kuruk did.”

       “it’s not the same for her as it was for you Kuruk dear,”  patch said, addressing his brother in a most gentle fashion, “she doesn’t have to push like you did, as she’s female.”

       “Mishka and Koda should not be paws on with her like that, she don’t need it!”  Kuruk grunted.

      “Maybe she does,”  Anook replied, her eyes closed, “maybe, oh ow, aoaoaoaow! Maybe she needs paws on! Ow! Yooooawouch!”  Anook yelled, with much curling of her toes.

       “I’ll be paws off now so others can see you mama,”  Mishka said, kissing Anook’s nose.

      “Okay, okay!”  Anook panted, her eyes blurred by tears of pain.

       “it’s hurting you isn’t it mama,”  Koda asked, his voice cracking.

      “yes Koda love,”  she panted, “but it’s a natural pain, it’s a good pain.”

      “but you cried out, you drew up your legs too!”  Koda replied, his bottom lip trembling.  Kuruk snapped suddenly.  Roaring, he scooped up Koda and literally flung him out of the soft play room, the black bear landing on the hard tiles of the corridor with a yell.

        “now you stay there you blubbering idiot!”  Kuruk roared.

        “What have I done wrong? Please tell me what I’ve done wrong?”  Koda pleaded aloud, weeping into his paws and wringing them out like a handkerchief.

       “You did nothing wrong,”  Hope said, padding up to Koda and kissing his wet nose, “Kuruk’s being silly, let’s go in there and you can see what mama Anook’s doing.”

       “Kuruk doesn’t want me in there!”  Koda sobbed, “but I want to be with mama, I want to be with her Hope!”

      “You can be with her, “look I’ll take on Kuruk if he plays up,”  hope said.  Koda looked at her:

      “He’ll hurt you,”  Koda said plaintively.

     “he won’t,”  Hope replied, “I’m tough enough Koda.”  Koda followed Hope into the play room, and the scene was as before, with Kuruk watching anxiously as if he were the sire of the unborn cub.  mama Anook, looking tense, sat on the mattress, hind legs drawn up, the heels of her hind feet digging into the soft bedding.

      “At least we can clear up easily,”  Kuruk grunted, “that gonna make a bloody mess when that cub comes out.”

       “How are you mama?”  Koda asked, clambering onto the mattress and crawling to his mum’s side.

       “It’s hurting,”  Anook replied, “it’s stiff work, as the muscles aren’t strong enough.  Koda, I might need help, a push to my foot like Targon.”

       “I’ll do it, I’ll help,”  Koda said softly, as Anook closed her eyes and breathed deeply.

       “got to push now, a little,”  she panted, bearing down slightly.

        ?”uooouooaumph!”  she gasped.

      “that’s it mama,”  Koda said, follow your body.”

       “it’s hard to push when the muscles aren’t really strong enough,”  Anook replied, “it’s like trying to blow up a balloon, it all sticks, until you really push, then it inflates a little, then gets easier and easier to push.  Now I’m at the deflated stage, and it’s hard Koda, it hurts like hell!”

    “Oh mama,”  Koda said, kissing her paw and right ear, “if I could  I’d push with you.”  Anook smiled:

        “it would kill you my dear,”  she replied.

       How if I help you push mama?”  Hope asked.

        “You can’t, you’re too young!”  Anook laughed, then grimaced as another contraction built in her, “You can’t push!”  she squealed, “Hope, I, I won’t let you!”  she moaned deeply.

       “this is too much for you mama, stop it now!”  Kuruk roared.

      “Stop it?”  she asked, “Kuruk, I’m in labour, this isn’t pretend, I’m in pain dam it!  I’m having a cub!”

        “yeah, and it’s someone else’s cub!”  Kuruk roared.

       “This is someone else’s body, but I’m here, and the cub is here, and I’m not sacrificing it for convenience!”  Anook roared.

       “It will kill you!”  Kuruk roared.

      “It might die of fright if you keep yelling, so shut up,”  hope replied.  Kuruk glanced at her, then spotted Koda, who stood on her other side, his paws and feet damp with fearful sweat.

       “What is that doing here?”  Kuruk grunted, scowling at Koda.

       “he’s here, under my protection,”  hope replied bravely.  Kuruk, angered, lashed out at Hope with a paw.

        “You will never win that way,”  Hope replied, dodging beneath his paw.

       “Hope cub Annoying Kuruk Now!  Kuruk roared.

       “Please, think of the mama who is delivering a cub!”  Hope begged.  Kuruk snorted and turned away, to find mama Anook playing with the toes of her right hind foot, while crossing her eyes and sticking her tongue out at him.

        “mama!”  Kuruk laughed, forgetting Hope and going forward to kiss Anook’s nose.

       “Mama’s curling her toes again,”  hope said, watching the sole of Anook’s right hind foot.  Indeed she was, tightly too.  Evidence of Anook’s struggle didn’t end with her curling toes, her mouth opened and she screamed lustily too.

       “What you want mama?”  Kuruk asked.

      “I’d like a drink,”  Anook gasped, Kuruk padding away to get one for her.  Reappearing, he handed his mama an opened can.  Smiling she drank the contents and lobbed the can into the corner of the room.

       “Don’t want to roll on that when I’m straining,”  she panted.

       “how does it feel mama?”  Hope asked.

      “it’s tight, tight around my belly now, oooah,”  Anook replied.

     “Do you want foot rub mama?”  Kuruk asked.

       “No, I’ll play with my toes, it’s good at the moment,”  Anook replied smiling.

       “can I stroke the hind foot you’re not holding onto?”  hope asked, scrambling up beside Anook.  Anook, looking down at her, smiled gently and let go of her right hind foot, slapping her lap, she invited Hope to scramble aboard, Hope doing just that.

       “what if you have a contraction mama?”  hope asked, “you can’t grab your feet if I’m in the way.”

      “I’ll know before it gets to screaming pitch,”  Anook replied smiling.  Hope snuggled up to the huge mama bear.

       “Can I talk with your cub?”  she asked.

      “You can try,”  Anook replied, “things seem to have calmed down now, so he might chat a bit.”

        “how do I talk to him?”  she asked.

       “he can hear you now,”  Anook replied, “he likes having his paws patted too.  come, pat my belly with the flat of your paws, and see what happens.”  Hope, fearful now, hung back.

       “But you’ll have a contraction won’t you,”  Hope said.

       “if I do, I won’t blame you,”  Anook replied smiling.

        “Okay, here goes,”  hope replied, now the frightened cub she really was.

       “Make sure you speak kind words to him when you’ve got his attention,”  Anook replied.

        “here goes,”  Hope said, tapping Anook’s belly with her paw, the cub responding instantly, Anook clenching her teeth and moaning soon after.

      “oaoaoaoaoaoaaow! Aoaoaoaoaoaoaaoaoaoew! Aaaaarhgh!”  Anook yelled.

       “I told you it would happen!”  Hope squealed, bursting into tears.

        “Shall I show you how to help her?”  Patch said softly, padding up behind hope, taking her in his paws ,turning her to face him and lifting her face to look into his.

       “How?”  she asked miserably.

        “When she is having  a contraction, go to whichever hind foot she’s not holding in her paws and stroke her pads and toes Hope, that would be good for you and her wouldn’t it?”

       “how?”  hope asked.

     “Good for you because you are helping, and you like that don’t you?”  Hope nodded, “and good for mama too, as she gets pain relief, and can feel you are there too, which is nice for her to feel isn’t it?”

        “yes, I think it is,”  Hope said sniffing and rubbing her eyes with her paws, “I can’t do much though, I only have small paws Patch.”

        “You can do as much as I can,”  patch replied, “you know you can Hope.  Your paws are as good as mine at soothing mama bear.”

       “I suppose,”  Hope replied uncertainly.

      “if you don’t believe it Hope, then mama can’t can she,”  patch replied gently.  Hope looked up into Patch’s face, the bear’s smiling eyes comforting her.

        “how paws on do you wish me to be?”  she asked.

        “do I need to spell it out?”  patch asked.

      “You mean, mean I will be able to catch the cub?  I’ll be like Ekaterina?”

      “Stay with mama Anook, and be yourself,”  patch replied, “help her, suggest things to her, like to make sounds appropriate to the pain, deep pain, deep sounds, sharp pain, sharp sounds, that sort of thing.”

       “how do I talk with her?”  Hope asked, “I can’t guide her, I’m a cub Patch!”

      “to Anook you are not a cub, you are her guide in this time of fear and uncertainty,”  patch replied, “Hope, take her paw and guide her.”

      “But I don’t know where to go!”  Hope whispered, “I’m a cub!”

       “You will know,”  Patch replied, “I have faith you know what to do.”

        “But I don’t have faith in myself,”  Hope replied, “I can’t do it Patch!”

       “Take mama’s paw in yours and see how you feel,”  Patch replied.  Hope crawled away, to find mama Anook lying on her side on the mattress.

      “How are you feeling mama?”  Hope asked.

       “It’s worn off a bit, but I’m still nervous and frightened,”  Anook replied.  Hope took her in from her face, closed eyes and anxious expression, which made her want to cry, to her paws and feet , with nervously twitching toes.

        “Take my paw Hope,”  Anook said, Hope taking the mama bear’s huge left paw in hers.

        “Thank you Hope,”  Anook said dreamily, “I feel safe now.”  Hope looked at Anook’s face, the she bear’s eyes were closed, and her expression had relaxed.

       “I know nothing Anook!”  Hope mewed pitifully.

        “I can rest now, rest until I need to start pushing properly,”  Anook replied faintly.  Then she clenched her teeth and curled her toes, moaning deeply.

       “It’s all right mama,”  Hope said, feeling the mama bear’s huge toes clamp round hers with a grip that would have shamed a hydraulic vice.

       “ow, ow, oaoaoaoaoaoaaow!”   Anook roared.

       “What would be more comfortable?”  Hope asked.

       “I’ll try sitting back on my heels,”  Anook gasped.

       “Is she in active labour yet?”  Hattie asked, “or is this just a little grumbling from the cub.”

      “I don’t know,”  Anook panted, “whatever it is, it hurts!”  Anook got to her feet, squatted and defecated in the corner of the mattress.

      “Oh great, you disgusting thing!!”  Kuruk roared.

       “I can’t help it!”  Anook whimpered, straining hard into her tail to clear the blockage, a stream of faeces erupting from her.  Hope watched anxiously.

       “I’ll get that cleared up,”  she said.  Anook, padding away from her impromptu relieving place, settled down to endure her pain and discomfort.

        “Couldn’t you make it to a relieving place?”  Kuruk grunted.  Anook closed her eyes and moaned deeply.

        “I’ll help,”  Hattie said, clambering onto the mattress with a shovel from a locker which she’d seen marked, “cleaning stores,” and investigated.  Clearing up the mess, Hattie bagged the resultant spoils and remarked:

       “We could put this on the garden.”  Anook laughed despite her pain.  Hattie padded away, and Hope went to grab the disinfectant to wash the floor, but Patch stopped her.

      “Your concern is mama Anook now,”  he said softly, “Hope, go back to her, take her paw, and don’t let go of it, or her until she has delivered her cub into the world.”  Hope turned her head to Anook, who opened one eye to look at her.

       “come back to me,”  she whispered.  Hope went, hearing her own paws and feet making a sucking sound on the rubber flooring as she walked.

      “I’ll bet my feet would be doing the same hope, if I walked,”  Anook replied, “I might try it, it might ease the cub a bit.”  She struggled to her feet and padded about a bit, her feet making an even bigger sucking sound than Hope’s had.  Hope padded behind Anook watching her anxiously.  Anook, smiling, lifted her left hind foot and extended her leg backwards, Hope kissing her pads, Anook breathing deeply in and out.

      “ooooooooaoh!”  she breathed, “ooooooooaoh, that feels good Hope, so good you kissing my pads.”  Hope stroked Anook’s pads and toes, Anook breathing deeply, her eyes closed in concentration.

       Aaaahh, um, yes, that’s so good!”  Anook breathed, “wowowowowowoaoaoh, ooooooooaoh, ooaoaoaoaoh,”  Hope smiled as Anook curled the toes of her right hind foot, Hope kissing her bunching pads.

       “I’m with you mama,”  Hope whispered.

        “thank you Hope,”  Anook replied, “eeeeeeesh,, oooaaoeeesh,”  she gasped as the cub moved inside her.

        “Your pads are damp now mama,”  Hope said.

      “I’ll bet they’d stick to the floor if I let them,”  Anook panted, “I might let them you know, it would give me a base to push from.”  Hope looked down at Anook’s pads, the wrinkled black pads damp with sweat.

       “I love you Anook,”  Hope whispered.

     “Thank you Hope,”  Anook said, putting her right foot on the floor and bouncing on her toes, her pads sucking against the plastic mattress as she bounced on her toes.

     “Can you hear that sucking sound Sita?”  Hope asked, “that’s mama Anook’s pads on the plastic flooring, they are just damp enough to stick slightly, but not damp enough to lubricate her pad to stop the sucking sound.”  Sita smiled:

      “Thank you hope love,”  she replied.

      “Anook’s standing on all four feet now, bouncing on her toes, now she’s squatting with her hind feet splayed a little, her paws between her hind legs, balancing her weight on them, her head raised slightly as she breathes.”

       “I could put you in her position Sita?”  Hattie invited.  Sita smiled and accepted, Hattie arranging Sita’s body so she squatted like Anook.  Anook glanced over just as Sita’s body was arranged and smiled:

      “So I look like that?”  she thought, “wow, powerful.”  Anook’s world was shattered by another contraction soon after, and contemplation of her world turned internal as she bounced on her toes, puffing and grinding her teeth.  Anook breathed deeply, sounding like the world’s biggest steam train.

       “Things are calming down now,”  Anook gasped, “I’ll go take a bath I think.  I hope, Hope I don’t have the cub in there!”

       “We could let you give birth in the birthing pool,”  Hope said, “that would be good for you I think.”

       “I want to have my cub here though,”  Anook replied, “I’ll do it here.”  Anook padded about, her feet sticking quite firmly to the plastic rubberised flooring, her progress punctuated by a sucking sound each time she lifted a paw or foot.

       “Are your feet giving good grip?”  Hope asked.

      “they are,”  Anook panted, “hope, they really are.”  Hope led Anook to a bathroom just off the main playroom, mama Anook crawling beside her.  Once there, mama Anook showered herself, sitting down to wash her feet and paws in a jet of water spraying out of the wall.  Then she washed her hind quarters with a jet of water from the floor.  Anook sighed deeply with pleasure as the water played over her bottom and legs, while another jet played over her hind feet, and a third enabled her to wash her paws.

       “oooah, my cub could find this pleasurable,”  she gasped.

      “He is if you are,”  Patch said, watching from the corner of his eye from the doorway, while Hope, sitting nearby, kept a second pair of eyes on Anook.

       “Now I’m ready,”  Anook replied, “but I’m sad that I lost my sticky paws and feet.  That was kind of sweet to be able to make a sound as I walked.”

       “You’ll regain them soon enough,”  Patch said smiling. 

     “I can’t go very far now, I really can’t go far at all,”  mama Anook whimpered, struggling to her feet and padding from the shower room.  It wasn’t three steps before the old sucking sound came from her pads again, mama Anook having to curl her toes into the tiles to pull herself along.  Panting, it was clear she was trying not to push.  Anook, whimpering, closed her eyes, walking by feel, up the slope to the mattress, and onto it, then, settling her paws and feet, she squatted and gave up the fight not to push,  roaring, she bore down into her tail.

       “yoaoaoaoaoaoaoaow! Aoaoaoaoaoaoaaoaoaoew!”  she roared lustily, her toes curled into the rubber mattress.

       “That’s better, that’s better!”  Anook yelled, “I needed to push!”  She straightened her legs and tried to walk away, physical effort needed to pull her feet from the floor.

        “She’s stuck,”  Koda whispered to Sita, Mama Anook’s feet are stuck to the floor, Now she’s moving fine, but listen to those paws and feet!”

      “Mama’s paws and feet are sticking properly aren’t they,”  Sita said.

      “they are,”  Hope replied, “she’s getting good grip from them.”

       “My feet are sticking to the mattress!”  Anook gasped, “this is great, as when I really start pushing, I want help!”  she roared in a strangled voice, “ow, ow, shit,  shit ow!”  Anook splayed her hind feet a little as she squatted, her forepaws just ahead of the toes of her hind feet, her neck strained upwards, as if she was howling to the moon.  Blowing hard, Anook wriggled where she sat, her feet and paws stationary, the rest of her squirming and rocking.  Hope, with a good view of her hind feet and hind end in general, saw Anook’s heels come off the floor as she bounced and pivoted on her toes, then slam hard down as she settled in for another contraction, her toes curled tightly into the rubberised matting.

      “You have beautiful hind feet mama,”  Hope thought as she watched from a very dangerous position by the mama bear’s right hind foot.

       “it’s calming down now,”  Anook panted, “I managed not to scream, but I wanted to!”  she announced.  Hope got to her feet and padded round to Anook’s head, kissing her nose she asked:

      “Why didn’t you scream?  I would have.”

        “blowing was enough for now,”  Anook replied, but soon, yes soon I will be.”

         “Can you give voice to your pain now?”  Hope asked.

        “I could,”  Anook replied, “it’s a deep pain, like a bad stomach ache, but worse.  I’m not pushing yet though, just bracing and rocking, bouncing and puffing.”

        “I wish I could help,”  Hope said.  Anook lowered her head, using her nose to find Hope.  Once she’d found her, she whispered:

      “But you are helping me, I saw where you were lying, and what you were looking at.”

       “Mostly your hind feet,”  Hope replied, “with a glance up at the place where your cub will arrive from as you endured a contraction.”

       “You would have shouted if you’d seen anything though?”  Anook asked.

      “yes,”  Hope replied, “but all I saw was a little widening of the exit for the cub when you pushed, nothing much.”

      “it’s like blowing up a balloon Hope,”  Anook said, “these first hours are gonna be hard, as I make muscles work that were atrophied by death.  I am determined to make them work though, and to push my cub into the world.”

 

 

Meanwhile, in the local school, jess, Janet and Moses were talking the children of Cynthia Chartwell’s class through the goings on live in the playroom of the community house.  Jess translated Mama Anook’s words, while  Janet translated Hope’s,  and Moses helped by showing a girl called Jenny, who couldn’t see the screen as well as the others, by physically demonstrating to her what Anook was doing by bouncing on his toes, crawling about, and also lying on his side and curling his toes while Jenny got hands on with his body, hands and feet.  All barefoot, some of the children played with their toes or pressed the heel pads and balls of their feet with their fingers as they watched Anook doing the same. .  Cynthia’s replacement was a drama teacher by trade, and was eagerly scribing notes as the children watched avidly, and Moses helped Jenny to understand what was going on by demonstrating what mama Anook was doing on screen.

 

Meanwhile, back at the house, mama Anook paced and paced, her contractions easing now her paws told her cub that it was safe to be born where she now was.  Mama Anook crawled from one side of the mattress to the other and then sat back on her heels, drilling her heels into her backside, while Hope stroked the pads and toes of her hind feet.

 

Back at the school, Moses followed mama Anook’s example, showing jenny what the mama bear was doing, jenny finding herself playing  the part of Hope by stroking his heels and toes like she was the midwife, and he the mama bear herself.  Many of the other children watched Moses acting, marvelling at how deeply he got into character.

Back in the playroom, mama Anook breathed deeply, trying to soothe herself, for her cub was pressing hard to be born.  Straining experimentally, Anook felt things shift and open up.  Huffing and blowing, she got to her feet, wriggled, splayed her legs and squatted, bracing herself to push.  Groaning, she heaved lustily into her tail, once, twice, thrice.  After this she gave a heart rending cry of pain, as her cub surged into the gap made by her pushes, and then jammed tight, making her want to push again, which she did, roaring into the heavens, her paws and feet immovable on the mattress.  Making a sound which sounded like:

       “huaouaw!”  mama heaved and pushed, while bouncing on her toes during contractions, which came faster and faster.  Mama Anook could only make “ooh” sounds now, breathy sounds, powerful grunts of effort as she bore down against a cub which she knew was coming fast, yelling out for help from the spirits, she bore down:

     “ooh, Oooh, Oooh, Oooh!  Oooh, oooah,  oooah!”  she gasped as she pushed and wriggled, while keeping her crouching stance.  Hope, watching intently, was showered with sweat from the mama bear’s fur, while she had a very good view of the cub’s progress, as well as of its mother’s hind feet.  At the end of the most energetic pushes, Anook bounced hard on her toes, Hope seeing the heel pads of her hind feet as she bounced on her toes, but they would soon disappear as she rested hard down on her feet and paws to push hard into her tail again.

      “oooah, Oooh, oooah, oooah!”  mama Anook panted, her cries becoming more urgent and pleading

      “Oooah! Oooh! oooah! Oooah!”  she pleaded, in a language only she knew.  Then she wriggled, and stood up, Hope catching the emerging cub and helping the cub into the world.

        “oooah, oooah!”  mama breathed as she eased the cub out into the world.  Then, as she licked the cub dry, it began to cry, a loud, insistent demand for food, which mama Anook satisfied by feeding him.

 

Back at the school, Moses finished his act, and all the children applauded, jenny in tears.

       “Thank you Moses,”  she said, Moses grinning at her.

     “it’s fine,”  he replied, “I’ll see, though I can’t promise, but I’ll  see if you can meet the mama who had her cub today..”

     “Could I meet her?”  Jenny asked.

      “How else are you to check that what I showed you was real?”  Moses asked..

      “It felt real,”  jenny replied, “your toes curled with real pain, and your hands and feet became damp with effort.  You’re not acting that out, you feel the mama’s pain.”

      “how did my feet feel?”  Moses asked.

      “Soft and warm, with easily curling toes, and well bunched pads when things got going,”  jenny said smiling, “thank you Moses.”

       “Right, now we’ve seen that,”  their teacher said, “what do you all feel?”

       “how cute that cub is!”  one young boy yelled.

      “I was playing with my toes like the mama bear did,”  another admitted.

        “I curled my toes with mama Anook,”  a young girl said after a long pause.

      “how about if we all become mama Anook for a while?”  the teacher asked, “we could imagine what it would feel like to deliver a cub, and pretend we were her.  we could roar and curl our toes, and pad about like she did.  How would that be?”

      “that sounds great!”  everyone chorused.

     “Okay, you are all mother bears now,”  the teacher replied, “every one of you are big and fat, and bursting with cub.  you all have heavy feet and paws, and a big bellyache which comes and goes from time to time.  You can pad about on hands and feet if you can, or crawl, or play with your toes a bit.  Take what you’ve seen and make your own version of the birth story of mama Anook’s cub.  If some want to play the midwife bear, they can, or you can all have a go at playing Anook herself.  Okay I’ll guide you first, Moses, you were helping Jenny, could you help me now?”  Moses smiled and padded forward.

      “now Moses , please show the class how you would play the part of mama Anook, and everyone else, watch him.  Jenny, I know you can’t see Moses, but I’m sure you can play mama Anook better than most, so you have a think about how you want to play the part of the mother bear.”

      “Well I would walk on my hands and feet for a bit, like this,”  Moses said, getting down and walking on his hands and feet, “then I would sit down and play with the toes of my right foot, like this,”  he said, fitting his actions to his words, “then mama got to her feet and squatted down, bouncing on her toes, her paws supporting her weight in front, like this,”  Moses continued, acting the part as he spoke, “then she crawled off the mattress and out of shot, then padded back, her toes gripping the tiles, I think the cub was telling her something then.”  Moses walked on his hands and feet again, curling his fingers and toes into the tiles as he padded about, “then she bounced on her toes a bit, then squatted, mama Anook head down to deliver her cub with roaring and pushing, then she made that amazing sound, “oooah, oooah, oooah,”  she said, and the cub emerged, but that sound made her able to have the cub, big though it was.  It had big feet and paws that cub!”

        “thank you Moses ,”  the teacher said, as Moses returned to the ranks.

        “Now,”  the teacher said, “I want you all to practise being mama Anook, imagine you have been carrying a cub for months, you are tired, your paws and feet feel heavy, you feel bloated and fat, and you are in pain.  You know the pain will get worse, but you are determined to have this cub.  you know the aids mama Anook used, her voice, her paws, her feet, crawling, playing with her toes, sitting back on her heels to push and squatting too, now become  mama Anook for an hour.  Feel your hands, feel your feet, curl your toes, play with your toes, feel your voices, enjoy making a noise.”

 

So the children did, and their efforts did not go unnoticed, for in the community house, Charles Fullbeans and Royston watched the video from the school.  Laughing merrily at the children’s antics, they called Hope in and showed her the video, Hope smiling at the footage of the children.  Hope, staring, ended the viewing thoughtfully.

      “so humans re-enact what they see too!”  she exclaimed.

      “yes Hope love they do,”  Anook said, padding in with her cub, cradling him in her paws, feeding him as she walked on her hind feet.

       “It’s amazing mama,”  Hope said, “the human children really put their souls into the re-enactments.  Especially that young girl who can’t see the video, Moses helped her.”

      “Moses is great isn’t he,”  Royston said.

      “Moses is wonderful,”  Hope said..  Anook flopped down and cradled her cub, the cub busily feeding, humming with contentment.

       “He’s a contented cub,”  Hope said, smiling at Anook, who grinned.

      “You did very well helping me,”  she said.

       “But it wasn’t just me was it,”  Hope said, “I know that, I know others were helping both of us.”

        “I think so,”  Anook replied, “for when I pushed, all was fine, then when I relaxed, this little one jammed tight, rather than gliding to a stop as he would.  It was like pushing him down a hard rubber tunnel, stretch the tunnel a little and you can push him a little, relax, and he stops and sticks firm.”

       “You did wonderfully,”  Hope said, “and mama, even the children at the local school were with you, they watched you, and some laboured with you I’m sure, well they played with their toes, and Moses showed a young girl what was happening, I don’t think she can see the screen.”

 

Back in the school, the thinking time for the children was up, and a lot of the children had taken mama Anook’s part, playing with their toes, squeezing their pads, and curling their toes with imagined contractions.  Jenny found herself playing with her own toes, her toes curling beneath her fingers as she played.  She found herself moaning deeply like mama Anook did, her toes curling tighter and tighter as she worked, her pads warming up with emotions.

      “how are you doing jenny?”  Her teacher asked.      

 “I’m working up to having a cub,”  she replied.  “my feet might want to stick to the floor soon.  That was so cute when mama Anook’s feet did.”

        “I thought it was,”  a boy named tom replied, “she could hardly move her feet at one point, so stuck was she.”

       “I’d love to meet Anook,”  jenny said, “but she probably wouldn’t be very comfortable with a human she didn’t know.”

        “I could make introductions,”  Jess said to Jenny, “she knows me, um, from a previous meeting, as it were.”

 

Jenny could see a little, but not enough to see people’s faces, or the screen on the TV.  She could see the colour and shape of something, but no detail, so her sight was next to useless for distance work.  To see anything she’d have to get close enough to touch the thing she was looking at.

 

The teacher brought the children to order, and said:

      “Right, the way we’re going to do this is we’re all going to be mama Anook, we’re going to do what she did, through playing with our toes to crawling about, to sitting back on our heels, to keeping our hands and feet flat on the floor in a squatting posture and wriggling with the rest of our bodies.  We are also going to roar, to huff and puff, and to express our joy at the birth of the cub, just as mama Anook did too, okay?”  All the children agreed with this.

        “right Jenny,”  the teacher said, “how about you show us how you would give birth to a cub?”

         “Where do you want me to stand?”  Jenny asked.

      “There’s a small raised mattress here,”  the teacher said, “get on that, just like mama Anook did.”  Jenny padded to the mattress with Moses guiding her.  Once she was on it, she crawled about, getting a feel for how larger surface she had to work in.  then she sat down facing the class.  She could not see them, but they could see her, her bare feet at their eye level.

       “go on Jenny,”  the teacher said, “show us how you see the delivery of Anook’s cub.  jenny tried to remember the sequence of events that she’d got hands on with, but it had all been such an emotional experience, that she couldn’t remember enough.  In agitation, she began playing with the toes of her right foot, her toes curling tightly around her fingers, and stomach tightening with shame.

       “I don’t know what I remember,”  jenny said.  the teacher stared at her.

       “Moses did all that for you, just for you to forget everything?”  the teacher asked.

      “my mind is a bit scrambled,”  jenny admitted.

       “You are a disgrace jenny,”  the teacher said.  jenny’s face reddened, and she bent her head down to a close contemplation of her fingers playing with her blurred toes.  suddenly she curled her toes tightly, moaning deeply.  The teacher stared at her as she went into seeming full blown labour, playing with her toes, and gripping her feet in her hands, while curling her toes tightly during contractions, then crawling around the mattress, ending up sitting back on her heels.  Whimpering, she tried to push, and found she could, though it hurt with a burning feeling which made her want to push some more, which she did, drilling her heels into her backside.  Moaning pitifully, Jenny got into a squatting posture, her hands on the floor, her feet splayed, heels on the floor.  Then she began to bounce on her toes, her warm damp heel pads sticking to the mattress as she settled, her heels making a sucking sound as she bounced on her toes, all the while grunting and puffing.  Squealing, she bore down with a roar which started in the soles of her feet and exploded from her mouth in sound which amazed everyone.  Then Jenny gasped and began to make the familiar “oooah, Oooh, oooah, oooah,”  sound that mama Anook did, pressing her hands and feet hard into the floor while she squatted, then, feeling relief flood her, she got up, her hands and feet damp with sweat.

      “there,”  she said, “how was that?”  the teacher, astonished, helped jenny down from the mattress, feeling her hand shaking in his.

       “I thought you said you could remember little?”  her teacher asked.

       “I don’t know what happened,”  Jenny replied, “it just happened for me.  I felt close with the mama bear.”

 

Back in the house some hours later, mama Anook lay in her den, curled around her cub to keep him warm.  She’d been dozing on and off, and now was in a dream where she imagined a young girl delivering a cub into the world.  The young girl looked lost at the task she had to do, so mama Anook told her what to do to deliver her cub, first play with her toes a bit, that helped things start up.  The young girl did, and things progressed through minor contractions, to heavy labour and finally the girl got the hang of it, and mama Anook sat back to watch her make her own cub’s birth story.  Anook wondered if the girl she’d seen in the dream was that same one Moses had helped to understand what she herself had gone through hours earlier.  Sighing, mama Anook resigned herself to the fact she’d probably never know.  Anook explored her cub who slept beside her, he was very fat and large with big feet and paws.  mama Anook couldn’t remember straining to deliver the cub’s paws and feet though, though she reasoned she must have done so.”  Anook reached out with her paws in another dream to touch the young girl’s hands and feet, she was back, sitting down, playing with her toes, and looking very concerned, her toes in overdrive as she fought with waves of pain.  Anook felt her paws touch warm pads, and felt bare human toes curling round those of her left paw.  Anook woke with a snort, to see a young girl sitting in front of her, the toes of her left foot curled around those of her own left paw.

       “Oh, sorry,”  Anook grunted, moving to remove her paw, but the young girl’s hand clamped down on her paw, pressing it to the sole of her foot.