The cats and bears played in the water, Yi Jie trying to forget the sight of Kuan-Yin’s body. Even though she knew Kuan-Yin’s death was noone’s fault but his own, she still felt something for him. Playing with the other animals lightened Yi Jie’s mood a little, but she wondered what would happen when she went to sleep that night.
Night time would come, and Yi Jie would lie down to sleep with Shuang held tightly between her forepaws. Even though her cub was no longer a cub, Yi Jie still held her close, Shuang and Shen knowing the reason why. When her mother was fast asleep, Shuang and Shen crept away, leaving Yi Jie to sleep.
Weeks passed in this manner, Yi Jie getting little sleep and weeping most nights.
One rainy night, in the darkness of the garden, a large, rather fat panda with fat paws sheltered beneath a bush. He was wet through from nose to tail, his fur heavy with water. Miserably, he watched the house as lights were turned out and the occupants settled down for the night. Liang, for that was the panda’s name, looked down at his forepaws, clenching them until the water wrung from them. He felt dreadful. His fur heavy with water, and eyes closed against the rain, the pathetic creature dragged himself across the grass and to the back door, where he tried the handle. The door opened inwards, and Liang crawled indoors, his groping left forepaw coming into contact with that of another animal. The paw was warm and dry, and it seemed the animal was surprised by his touch, for the paw was hurriedly withdrawn, and there was a low growl.
“I’m so, so sorry,” Liang said, almost sobbing, “I didn’t mean to,” Tigger, sensing this newcomer was no threat, explored him with his paws. Opening his eyes and seeing the tiger, Liang knew that if he’d been anywhere else and in a better frame of mind, he would have protested, but not then. Tigger examined the newcomer from his nose to the toes of all four paws.
“You are a panda I think,” Tigger mewed. Liang was about to reply that anyone could see he was a panda when something in the quality of the touch of the tiger’s paws on the pads of his own stopped him.
“We must clean your fur and get you dried and fed,” Tigger mewed, “what’s your name?”
“My Name’s Liang,” the panda replied. Tigger smiled.
“Well Liang,” he said, purring gently, “would you like a bath?” Liang didn’t know what a bath was, but the tiger seemed to have good intentions towards him, so it was most likely not to be detrimental to his well being.
“Yes, okay, thank you,” Liang replied. The tiger took his paw and led him towards another room in the house where another cat, a large one with a spotted face and paws lay languidly in a large bathtub.
“Fleur,” Tigger said, “I think you know what to do to cure dirty fur and paws.” Liang watched incredulously as the strange cat levered herself from the water and padded across to him.
“Hello my dear,” fleur mewed, extending a huge forepaw to Liang, who took it in one of his grubby ones.
“Thanks Tiggie,” fleur mewed, the tiger turning and returning to his sleeping place.
Liang was led to the bathtub and fleur helped him in, before rubbing him down from nose to tail with practised ease. Soon Liang was clean from his nose to the tips of the toes on all four fat paws. Fleur then helped him from the bathtub and dried him off, something which Liang found almost as pleasurable as the bath, especially when she rubbed his belly and the soles of his paws. Fleur, having finished her work, led Liang, now warm and dry, as well as cleaner than he’d been since the day he was born, towards the living room, where she left him to find a sleeping place.
Yi Jie drifted in a hellish dream. She could see Kuan-Yin’s dead body, and remembered him as he was, the caring and kind panda he’d been once, and not the stupid animal he’d been at the end of his life. She remembered him staying with her during Shuang’s birth, helping her through her labour. Yi Jie remembered Shuang’s birth as painful and long, for Yi Jie was a first time mother. When it was all over, she and Kuan-Yin had looked after the newborn cub together. Yi Jie wept for what had been, whimpering and sobbing for her lost mate.
Liang, while looking for a place to sleep among the assorted animals in the room in which the strange cat had left him, heard Yi Jie’s whimpering sobs and went to her. Liang, being a very affectionate panda, thought nothing of lying down beside the weeping she panda and enfolding her in a huge hug. This he did, and it seemed to calm and soothe the she panda. Liang realised the panda that he now held in his paws was asleep, and had been throughout.
Yi Jie felt the paws of another panda envelope her, and they soothed her, even though she knew they couldn’t be Kuan-Yin’s paws. Soothed, she drifted in a haze, until she woke and opened her eyes to look at the owner of the paws holding her.
“I don’t know him,” she thought, “but I don’t want him to let go of me either. I’ll just lie here and enjoy the moment.” Feeling Yi Jie stirring, Liang woke, and the two pandas looked into each other’s eyes.
“You were crying and whimpering,” Liang said to Yi Jie.
“Was I?” She asked, “I’m sorry.”
“No, don’t be,” Liang said, “You were obviously very distressed.”
“I, well, yes, I was, am still,” Yi Jie replied. Liang touched her nose with his left forepaw.
“I saw another panda being buried yesterday,” he said gently. Yi Jie gulped hard at the mention of this.
“I’m sorry,” Liang said.
“He was good to me and my cub, once,” Yi Jie sniffed, “towards the end though, Kuan-Yin got crazy, and he was eventually stupid enough to get on the wrong side of a lion. The lion killed him. Liang held both Yi Jie’s forepaws in his, gently stroking them.
“In my family,” Liang said, “we used to hug and stroke each other if we were upset. That used to calm things down. Would you like me to stroke you?”
“Yes please,” Yi Jie replied. Liang was as good as his word, massaging Yi Jie from her nose to the toes of all four paws.
“How’s that?” Liang asked. Yi Jie wiggled her toes, feeling the male Panda’s pads against her own.
“I love it,” Yi Jie said, “thank you. Liang patted the pads of the paw he was stroking.
“I am glad to be of service to you,” he said. Yi Jie looked at him. This panda was fat, really fat, and had the fattest paws she’d ever seen on a panda. Having fat paws herself, Yi Jie liked fat paws, but not only fat paws. She liked the look of this panda.
“What is your name?” Yi Jie asked.
“My name’s Liang,” the panda replied, his warm paws now working over Yi Jie’s right hind paw, stroking and caressing it, thrilling her more than she dared to admit.
“”What’s your name?” Liang asked, drumming gently on Yi Jie’s pads with his toes, making her smile.
“My name’s Yi Jie,” she replied, curling her toes round Liang’s, making the male panda smile.
“You like paw massage?” He asked.
“Yes, very much,” Yi Jie replied, “it’s lovely.” Liang released her right hind paw, and Yi Jie embraced him tightly.
“Thank you for hugging me while I was asleep,” Yi Jie said softly, burying her face in Liang’s fur. Liang stroked Yi Jie’s ears with one fat paw.
“That’s okay,” he replied, “now a question for you. Would you like me to keep hugging you while you are asleep?”
“Hug me when I’m awake too, please,” Yi Jie replied. Liang smiled and kissed Yi Jie on the nose.
“I will,” he said.
“Hold me Liang, don’t’ let me go!” Yi Jie pleaded. Liang did so, and it was with Yi Jie in his paws that Shuang first encountered him hours later.
“I know what happened,” Shuang said, “Fleur told me.” Yi Jie and Liang each hugged Shuang, the adolescent she panda enjoying every minute.
“I will never leave your mum lonely Shuang,” Liang said. Shuang found herself kissing Liang on his nose, the large panda smiling at her.
“You come from a tactile and open family I see,” Liang said. Shuang smiled.
“I love being stroked and having my paws massaged,” Shuang replied, “my mum stroked my paws when I was a tiny cub, and I got to like it then, and I love it now.” Liang stroked Shuang’s left forepaw, the cub gripping his toes with hers.
“Thank you Liang,” Shuang said, “from both of us.” Liang smiled.
“I care for you both very much, very much indeed,” Liang said. He wanted to say more, but dared not. Yi Jie lay down, and Liang joined her, Yi Jie noticing Liang’s paws had brown soles, his pads black against the brown fur on the soles of his paws. This detail capped it for her, the panda’s deep brown eyes, gentle nature and warm hug had endeared her to him, but how he looked, and how his paws were not just plain black attracted her to him. It was plain to Yi Jie Liang more than cared for her, in fact, in the short time they’d known each other, she knew he’d fallen head over paws in love with her.
“I love everything about your mind and your body, from your nose to the pads of your paws Yi Jie!” Liang blurted, now totally unable to keep a lid on anything.
“I think I’m falling in love with you too Liang,” Yi Jie replied, “for I need to move on, and now, now I have you holding me and my cub in your warm paws, we can both move on.” Liang looked at Shuang and she threw her paws round his neck and hugged him.
“I want to protect you both,” Liang said.
“The question is,” Shuang asked, “can you play with me like a cub?” Liang smiled, then rolled onto his back and waved his paws in the air. Shuang tickled Liang’s paws while the male panda laughed helplessly.
“My turn now!” Yi Jie yelled, “Give me those paws Liang! They’re mine!” Yi Jie and Shuang launched a coordinated attack on Liang’s paws, something which Liang was only too glad for them to do.
“I love this!” Liang yelled, tears of laughter rolling down his nose. Yi Jie and Shuang substituted tickling Liang’s paws for rubbing his paws with theirs, soothing the panda.
“That was lovely,” Liang said when he could speak.
“Please,” Shuang said, “would you come to the pool with me and mum?” Liang smiled, rolled onto his side and hugged Shuang to him.
“Let’s go,” he said. Yi Jie smiled and followed Liang and her cub to the pool complex. Once there they found fleur treating Hop along’s injured paw. Yi jie introduced Liang to fleur and Hop along, who smiled at the panda.
“Welcome home,” fleur mewed.” The padding of heavy paws announced Theo’s arrival. Seeing Liang Theo trotted up to him and threw his paws round the panda, hugging him tightly. Liang, knowing of lions, but thinking them fierce and moody creatures, was surprised and deeply moved by this one’s enthusiastic reaction to his presence. Liang returned Theo’s hug, enveloping the lion in the warm embrace which had captured the hearts of two of his own kind.
“Look after Yi Jie and Shuang,” Theo choked, emotion welling in him. Liang kissed Theo on the nose, feeling the wetness of the lion’s tears.
“You and I are closer than you think Theo,” Liang said. Theo clung to the panda with desperate paws.
“Come Theo, get into the pool with us,” fleur mewed. Theo slipped into the pool, and was soon joined by three pandas and two big cats.
The cats and bears swam lazily in the warm water, their minds soothed by the general relaxed atmosphere. Liang and Yi Jie Swam with Theo and fleur, Hop along and Shuang deciding to leave them to it and head for the slide. Shuang watched Hop along as the huge tiger walked up the slope. She thought he had the longest tail and the largest set of paws of any tiger she’d ever seen. Hop along saw the panda watching him and grinned at her.
“You like my tail and paws?” He asked, lifting a forepaw for her to examine. Shuang caught the huge paw in hers and stroked it.
“Time to slide I think,” Hop along mewed, curling his toes round Shuang’s and leading her to the open topped slide. Once they’d ridden the slide twice each, Shuang and Hop along returned to the main pool, where they found Theo and Liang playing together.
“That’s wonderful to see,” Hop along mewed.
“I hope Liang will stay forever,” Yi Jie said.
“So do I,” Shuang replied.
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