More goings on at the big house.

 

                                   

 

Ekaterina held her cub tightly.  Suddenly, he swallowed hard, his body shaking in her embrace.

       “What is it?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “That scent, that scent is of the one who fed me.”  The cub choked, for he was close to tears.

        “What are you doing here Sita?”  Ekaterina asked.

        “I thought I’d come in and see how my friend is getting on,”  Sita mewed.

       “Friend?”  Ekaterina snapped, “more like cub!  What happened Sita?  Tell me now, tell me!”

         “if you demand I tell you, I won’t,”  Sita replied.  Ekaterina, feeling the cat bear’s spiritual weight, relented.

      “I’ll tell you tonight, you me and your cub,”  Sita said..

       “he’s not my cub!”  Ekaterina screamed.

        “I won’t argue with you,”  Sita said, “I could finish the job you started with one blow of my paw.”  Ekaterina felt her anger rise.

      “You bitch, you horrid bitch!”  She screamed.

      “So is he your cub, or is he not your cub?”  Sita asked smiling.  Ekaterina huffed with anger.

       “you bugger,”  she snarled.

       “Tonight, I will tell you your cub’s tale,”  Sita replied smiling.

        “You’re impossible,”  Ekaterina grumbled.

        “No,”  Sita replied, “I found what I did very easy indeed.”

        “my first real memory was of being dug out of the grave,”  Ekaterina’s cub said, “warm paws lifted me up, and then, then I was being fed with milk, and warmed with warm fur and warmer paws, and it was lovely, so lovely.”  Ekaterina frowned.

       “So the grave I took patch to was empty?”  She asked.

       “it was,”  Sita replied.

       “How did I not smell the fact it had been desecrated!”  Ekaterina yelled.

       “I, um, rubbed my paws in the afterbirth before I filled the grave in,”  Sita replied.

      “You tricked me!”  Ekaterina yelled.

        “I didn’t want you to realise you’d made a mistake,”  Sita said, “you would have probably not survived the distress.”

         “What did you do?”  Ekaterina asked Sita.

         “I dug up your cub, warmed and fed him,”  Sita replied simply.”

      “if you knew he was alive, why didn’t you tell me?”  Ekaterina asked, “stop me from, from doing what I did?”

         “I tried,”  Sita replied, “but you swore at me, you beat me off and told me to go, um, well.  You were maddened Ekaterina, a crazy bear.”

        “”I do remember having a sore throat,”  Ekaterina replied, “was that from screaming at you Sita?”

        “It was,”  Sita replied, “you screamed like a wild thing.”  Ekaterina let go of her cub, who scrambled to Sita and embraced her.

      “Who’s cub is he?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “Under community law, he’s a community cub, and the responsibility of all,”  Sita mewed.

       “Why didn’t you let my cub die!”  Ekaterina roared.

       “Because he wasn’t the one who made offence against you Ekaterina,”  Sita replied, “now we will not talk of this fellow dying any more, he is wonderful, and alive, and loves play, and is cute, and I love him, even if you don’t.”

       “hey Sita, you’ve brought your friend back again, wonderful!”  Georgia yelled, running in, and tackling Ekaterina’s cub to the floor, before tickling his hind feet, the cub laughing helplessly.

       “So the head of the cubs knows this cub?”  Ekaterina asked, “My cub’s been here all the time and I didn’t know?”

        “yes,”  Sita replied, “he knows the cubs very well, and is greatly loved by them.”

       “You hid my cub from me!”  Ekaterina screeched.

      “You wanted to be hidden from him, and when you asked, he came to you,”  Sita mewed, “it was your doing Ekaterina.”  Ekaterina roared and stamped her paws.

      “now who’s the cub!”  Georgia said laughing, for which she got a slap from Sita.

       “shut up!”  Sita snapped, “it’s serious here.”

        “What happened to my cub!”  Ekaterina demanded.

       “I dug him up, fed him, played with him, and kept him safe,”  Sita said, “that is all.”

        “Thank you,”  Ekaterina whispered.

      “So no more stamping of them paws,”  Dorothy said, padding into the room and hugging Georgia, who snuggled close.

        “Now let’s go and see patch,”  Sita said.

       “I thought Patch was here,”  Ekaterina said.

       “He left you alone to bond with your little one,”  Dorothy replied.

 

In Patch’s lie up, Patch and Sooleawa played together, each wrestling the other so each could tickle the other’s hind feet.  Once each had claimed the other’s hind feet twice, they curled up together, Sooleawa snuggling up to Patch, patch sheltering her like he would a newborn cub.

       “Are you here Patch?”  Ekaterina asked.  Patch yawned and settled back onto the rugs.

       “yeah,”  he replied, his eyes shut.

       “Are you asleep?”  Ekaterina asked, huffing as her cub scrambled away from her.

       “I’m coming Patch!”  the cub yelled, running towards the large grey bear.

       “Not asleep any more,”  Patch replied, as Sooleawa got out of the way to allow Patch to roll onto his back and catch Ekaterina’s cub, something he was still able to do easily.  Patch laughed indulgently as the cub snuggled up to him and kissed his nose and paws.

         “will you tickle my toes?”  the cub asked.  patch smiled and blew on the cub’s forepaws.

      “No no no!”  the cub laughed, the toes of my hind feet I meant!”  patch sat up and settled the half grown cub on his lap as easily as if he were newborn.

       “I like you handling me like a cub,”  Ekaterina’s cub said.

       “Sita and I played with you a lot,”  Patch said.

      “You did, you did,”  the cub replied.  Ekaterina, her mouth gaping, listened to all.

        “How come I didn’t know the cub was in the dark part of the woods or in the house with Sita?”  she asked, “it’s been a massive cover up by not only my mate’s cub, but my mate too!”

         “yes, but for that I am not apologising,”  patch replied, “I had to leave the choice in your cub’s paws as to whether he wanted to make contact with you.  I told him everything about you, factual things only, your story without my opinions.  Your cub, whom we didn’t name, as he was not ours to name, then told us that he would like to meet you.”

         “What should we name my cub then?”  Ekaterina asked.

        “How if we name him Sam,”  Patch suggested, “I know we have a Samson, yes, that little cub demands to be known as Samson, not Sammy, or Sam, but Samson, so ursine Sam should be fine with that name.”

        “So Sita fed my cub, and patch played with him?”  Ekaterina asked, sitting down and rubbing her head with her paw, “I’ve got a headache.”

        “We worked to make sure your cub lived,”  Patch said, “and only if he wanted to know you would you have been told about him being your cub.  Indeed, you made hiding him very easy, you never play in the soft play room, so it was easily done.”

         “We made sure your cub didn’t suffer from your actions,”  Sita said.

        “Now you’re blaming me for being raped!”  Ekaterina screamed.

        “I’m not,”  Sita replied, “I’m only saying you made a huge mistake in burying your cub without checking properly for signs of life.”  Ekaterina padded out of the lie up and along to the shower, where she turned the power on full and the heat up to hot.  Sprawling beneath the jets, she let her mind drift.  Stinging hot water striking her face and paws, Ekaterina asked herself if she’d been stupid.  She felt Kamchatka’s paw on hers, and realised the mama bear was wanting to talk to her.

        “Show me the way mama,”  Ekaterina begged.

         “Patch and Sita saved your cub, and your cub saved your brother,”  Kamchatka said softly, “they have committed no crime against you Ekaterina, none at all.”  Ekaterina writhed uncomfortably:

        “I am glad they saved my cub,”  Ekaterina replied, “I just wish I’d been kept in the loop, that Sita had stopped me when I was burying him, that I hadn’t lied, all that.”

       “Sam knows you didn’t want to lie Ekaterina, he knows that, and so do Patch and Sita.  All they want, and all Sam wants is for you to enjoy the fact Sam is alive and well.  If you didn’t want to know Sam, he would not have been shown to you.”

       “I want to know my cub, I’m sorry for burying my cub!”  Ekaterina wailed.

       “Go from here, and do not blame Patch or Sita for being a force for good Ekaterina,”  Kamchatka said, “you will lose Patch if you aren’t careful, he is a good bear, a very good bear, but he will leave you if you don’t treat him with consideration and love.”

       “I do love Patch,”  Ekaterina said.

        “Show him, be part of his world,”  Kamchatka said.

       “I’m not part of his world though,”  Ekaterina protested, “his world is full of touch, and play, and paw on paw contact, and tickling of feet and bellies and round after round of the stuck foot game.  I’m not able to play like that.”

       “Patch would love you to rough and tumble with him Ekaterina, he would also love you to get your hind feet stuck to his, and to fight for hours to free himself from the glue which holds his paws to yours.”

       “It wouldn’t take hours though,”  Ekaterina replied, “for I can’t play those games, my pads barely stick to his.  I’ve tried it Kamchatka, it’s not going to work.”

      “Maybe you don’t want it to work?”  Kamchatka asked, “Ekaterina, do you truly love Patch?  Or do you like his protection.”

         “I love him!”  Ekaterina snapped, “I love him so much!”

       “You tie his paws as strongly as steel ropes,”  Kamchatka said, “you deny his emotions, you didn’t try to help him through his sight loss.  He cradles you in your times of need, while you run away from him in his.”

         “am I really like that?”  Ekaterina asked.

        “You are very cold to Patch, as cold as ice,”  Kamchatka replied, “you are not as tactile as you used to be Ekaterina.  You used to touch Patch all the time, touch his paws, kiss his ears, rub noses.  Since he lost his sight and his status, you’ve stopped touching him.  Is it that you love his status, and not him?”

         “I want protecting,”  Ekaterina replied, “and maybe patch can’t do that any more.  Maybe I need to stand on my own four paws.”

         “Maybe you need to think about that,”  Kamchatka replied, “maybe you need to think long and hard about what you want from, and can give to a relationship with Patch.  He will love you, give you everything he can, but he needs love in return.  He is as vulnerable as you are, though he tries to protect everyone he can.  You do not protect your cubs, let alone your mate.  You don’t play with your mate or cubs now either come to that.  Patch gives you everything Ekaterina, you give him nothing but hard paws and a harder time.”

       “I need to rethink my life,”  Ekaterina thought miserably.”  The shower still ran hot on Ekaterina’s paws, but she found the heat uncomfortable rather than soothing.  Punching the button in sudden rage, she left the shower room and angrily shook herself in the drying room.

       “I wish my clean paws would stick to the floor, to show me how it would be,”  Ekaterina thought, but her paws didn’t stick, and she padded back to her lie up .

        “Your paws won’t stick to the floor, because you are not imaginative enough,”  Toby said to Ekaterina, passing her on his way to the play room, “Sita can make her hind feet and forepaws stick because she believes in the games she plays, as do Patch and Sooleawa.”

       “I don’t know if I believe in anything any more,”  Ekaterina replied.

        “How about your love for Patch?”  Toby asked.

      “Love?”  Ekaterina replied, “more like my need for him to protect me.  Mama Kamchatka made me think of what I wanted from Patch.  Cubs? No, a hug? Yes, well, that and more protection.  I can’t bring myself to play with him.  What does he want from me?  A loving, caring, gentle mate, and I am not that to him, or I haven’t been for so long now.  I’ve been an emotionless pig towards him.  I don’t know what to do now.  I want to keep him, but his paws are wandering, and I don’t blame him.  I’ve been a selfish bitch.”“

     ”You’ll have to talk to him,”  Toby replied.

        “I can’t, I don’t know how to,”  Ekaterina replied, “I want to, but he is so free, even now, now after he lost his sight, he is still freer than me.  He can play, paws everywhere, crawling, playing with the cubs, and them playing with him.”

       “You need to get paws on and really talk, honestly and frankly with him.  Take your adventure,”  Toby said.

        “You mean I could end up leaving Patch?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “You could,”  Toby replied, “though only you can decide what you should do.”

        “I need to find my own four paws now,”  Ekaterina replied miserably.  Padding away to patch’s lie up, Ekaterina found herself sitting beside her lifelong friend and mate.

        “Patch,”  Ekaterina asked, “What can I do to make amends?”

        “Get back to yourself Ekaterina,”  Patch replied, “get paws on, love your paws like you used to.”

        “Stop relying on you for so much too,”  Ekaterina replied miserably, “I know I do Patch.  I know you promised to protect me, but I’ve taken you for granted for too long now.  I keep saying I’ll find my own way, but I never do.”

        “how about if we try playing together, playing like cubs.  You have said you want to play the stuck foot game with me.”

        “I do Patch,”  Ekaterina said.  patch sent Sam away with Sooleawa and turned his attention to Ekaterina.

        “sit down opposite me Ekaterina dear,”  patch said, “and then with your permission, I will explore your hind paws with my forepaws.”

        “I want to play with you patch,”  Ekaterina replied, “but I’ve lost the art of play.”

       “relax Ekaterina, try to enjoy your paws, don’t be frightened of them, of how your toes react to being touched.  Just enjoy yourself, and don’t be scared by what might happen.”

       “I’ll end up crawling about like a cub!”  Ekaterina replied.

       “That won’t matter,”  Patch replied.

      “You might not think it matters, but I do, I have a reputation to think of!”  Ekaterina snapped.

       “A reputation?  For what?”  Patch asked.

       “I’m a midwife, I am meant to be sober and someone to whom mamas can turn in a crisis, they will lose all confidence in me if they see me crawling about like a cub.”

        “they lost no confidence in me when I used to do that,”  Patch replied, “Ekaterina, you’re talking rubbish.  Seeing you moaning about a reputation you don’t have is going to do you no good at all in their eyes,”  Patch replied, “look, Ekaterina, please, listen to me.  Here is the honest perception others have of you.  They tell me, I’m the spiritual leader,  I know what they think.”

      “Tell me, go on, I won’t mind.”  Ekaterina replied.

        “Towards them, you are gentle and caring, but towards me, you are emotionless and unfeeling.”

       “Sita told me that,”  Ekaterina mumbled,  “she told me that Patch.  It seems she’d been told that by her cubs.  They told her, told her, I was unsuitable for you as a mate, and that they wished she, Sita would be your mate!”

        “got to love the honesty of the cubs,”  patch replied.

       “Well I don’t!”  Ekaterina snapped, “I think they should have kept their mouths shut!”

       “You did ask,”  Sita mewed, padding into the room, “and I told you.”

        “Well screw you Patch, Screw you and your paws, and your stuck foot game and everything!  Mate with Sita if that’s what you want!”  Ekaterina screamed, crashing into Sita on route out of the door.

       “woops,”  Sita mewed, “that’s not quite how I think you wanted this to end patch.”  Patch swore so violently Sita felt her pads sweating with embarrassment and shock.

      “Patch!”  she squealed.  Patch swore viciously again, Sita touching his paw with a now freely sweating forepaw.

         “Look, Sita,”  patch replied, “I’m not going to apologise for that.  For that’s how I feel.  Ekaterina has been no help to me during my sight loss, you have been every help, and I thank you for it.  Ekaterina though, the one I should rely on, has been no help, no comfort, nothing.”

        “you protect her because?”  Sita asked.

       “I promised to years ago, and now I can’t break that promise,”  Patch replied, “though it’s increasingly difficult to keep that promise.  I would hate anything to happen to her, but she’s got to live, and live she hasn’t.  she hasn’t got her paws dirty.”

      “neither have I patch, not like you,”  Sita replied, “none of us have, really.”

        “Ekaterina’s been protected from the world, by her mama, then by me.  It would be okay if she’d reciprocated my protection by helping me adjust to a world she knows, but she hasn’t helped me, “live with it,”  is all she says, and sometimes I can’t, I don’t want to!  I want to be able to watch a cub playing with her toes again, and realise she is playing naturally and without a care in the world.  Now I can’t see that.”

      “My cubs play with their hind paws all the time, and I get paws on,”  Sita replied, “it is cute.”

       “Don’t they stop playing?”  patch asked.

       “No,”  Sita replied, “they are so engrossed in their play, they don’t realise I’m paws on with them.”

        “you have a light touch and quite frankly, I wouldn’t notice if you touched my hind feet while I was playing with my toes Sita.  I’ve got big paws though, and don’t think I’d have the same affect.”

        “What are you going to do about your promise to Ekaterina?”  Sita asked.

        “I’m so tempted to break it,”  Patch replied, “but that’s not my way.  I’m the way I am.  I look after everyone if I can.”

        “Ekaterina needs to stop running to you whenever anything goes wrong,”  Sita replied, “it would be fine to do that, if she was gentle to you in return, but she’s not.”

       “I know that,”  patch replied.

       “Touch Ekaterina’s paws, and if you want to crawl away, don’t stop yourself,”  Sita said.  Patch swallowed hard, but knew he’d have to follow his paws.

       “Let her come to you Patch, don’t seek her out,”  Sita said, padding forward and touching Patch’s paw, then feeling he wanted more, she squeezed his paw hard.

        “I love you Patch,”  Sita said softly.

      “Thank you,”  Patch said softly.  Rubbing his face with his paws, Patch thought honestly about who he could rely on.  Sita for sure, Petra, Orbon, Sooleawa, Lilly, Janet, jess, Moses, indeed the whole community apart from Ekaterina, his mate.  Sighing, Patch rubbed his face hard with his paws.

       “What do I do now?”  he asked himself.

         “How about playing with my paws?”  a small voice asked.  patch reached down and touched the owner of the voice.

       “Little Conrad?”  Patch asked.  the cub giggled and snuggled up to him.

      “Mama Freckles said you wanted to hug me,”  little Conrad said.  patch smiled and lifted little Conrad up, the cub kissing his nose.

       “I want to hug you and your mama,”  patch said softly, little Conrad crawling away to find Freckles, who padded to Patch, having been briefed by her newborn cub.

       “Little Conrad said you wanted a huge hug,”  Freckles said smiling.  Patch embraced her tightly, Freckles smiling and kissing his nose.

       “Would you rub my paws?”  she asked.

       “Okay,”  Patch replied, massaging Freckles forepaws.

        “I meant to ask about my hind feet too,”  Freckles added after a few minutes.

      “I’ll get to those in a bit,”  Patch replied.

      “mama said she curled her toes so tightly that her claws nearly dug into her pads,”  little Conrad said, “she said you can do that too Patch.  She told me you gave birth to Sita.  The tale Sita told was lovely!”

        “you have learnt a lot little Conrad,”  Patch said smiling.

        “I loved the story of how you gave birth to Sita, it was lovely!”  Conrad said, patch smiling broadly.

       “I gave birth to Sita like mama Freckles did you little Conrad,”  Patch replied.

        “Did you have anyone rub your paw pads while you strained to deliver your cub?”  Freckles asked.

      “No,”  Patch replied, omitting the fact Sita had done so a little during his re-enactment of her birth.

       “Would you have liked someone to do that for you?”  little Conrad asked.

       “yes little one I would,”  Patch replied.  Little Conrad got paws on with Patch’s right hind foot, Patch curling his toes to make his pads bunch up.

       “Did you curl your toes like this when you were giving birth to Sita?”  little Conrad asked.

       “I curled them tighter, like this,”  patch replied, curling his toes as tightly as he could.

         “you really can curl your toes!”  little Conrad said.  patch, panting a little smiled:

        “Your mama curled her toes like that,”  he replied, “it’s only possible when the only thing you are concentrating on is curling your toes.”  Conrad kissed Patch’s bunched pads, Patch relaxing his toes a little to take the pressure off, all the while keeping his pads bunched.

         “your hind feet are cute,”  Conrad said.  Patch smiled.

        “Sooleawa thinks so too,”  he said.

       “Cute paws,”  Sooleawa said, padding in, kissing Patch’s nose and lifting his left forepaw, planting a kiss on his pads.

       “Can I rub the toes of one of your hind paws?”  Sooleawa asked.  Patch smiled broadly:

      “My left hind foot is free,”  he replied, “little Conrad has got my right hind in his paws.  Sooleawa smiled and grabbed patch’s left hind foot, tracing his pads and playing with his toes, Patch smiling and curling his toes around hers.

        “I love this,”  patch said, Sooleawa smiling and kissing his curled toes.

        “Your hind paws are as clean as your fore,”  Sooleawa said, “bet you wash them every time you wash your forepaws.”  Patch admitted that he did.

      “yeah,”  he replied.  I shower every time I use the relieving place too.”  Orbon padded into the lie up.  Smiling broadly, he rolled onto his back and waved his paws in the air, kicking the air with his hind feet.  Sooleawa, seeing him, laughed helplessly.

       “Orbon’s waving his paws in the air, he looks like a big cub!”  she said to patch, who smiled.

       “I wish I could see that,”  he replied.

        “I’ve seen him playing with his toes often,”  Sooleawa said, “Patch, did you ever see me playing with my toes?”

      “I did Sooleawa, and it was lovely to watch,”  patch replied, “I saw you and hope playing with each other’s toes too, which was so cute that my toes curled with emotion.”  Sooleawa giggled at this and lifting Patch’s left hind foot, she kissed his pads.

        “I think you should get paws on with me Patch,”  Orbon said, “I’ll stay here, and you can get paws on with my body and hind paws, and forepaws, and head, and everything.  Patch smiled and crawled over to his sire, Sooleawa and Conrad stroking his hind paws the whole way.  Orbon, smiling, stopped Patch by dabbing at his nose with the toes of his left hind foot.

        “now get paws on with me Patch, Orbon said.  Patch smiled and gently blew on Orbon’s toes, then curled the toes of his hind paws, embracing the toes of Sooleawa and little Conrad’s forepaws.  Orbon, laughing, wiggled his toes.

       “I need to sit back on my heels to get paws on with you Orbon,”  Patch said.  Patch sat back on his heels, then explored Orbon from his face to his hind paws, the older bear wriggling with pleasure.

        “your fur is long and very soft,”  Patch said to Orbon, your paw pads are naked, smooth, and very warm, like mine are,”  patch observed.  Orbon smiled:

       “We are blessed with pads which have good blood supplies,”  he said, “they mean cubs find them easier to play with.”  Patch smiled and traced Orbon’s sole pads, drawing Es shapes on  the larger male bear’s sole pads, Orbon laughing and curling his toes, Patch drawing his toes down his sire’s bunched pads, Orbon swallowing hard as tears welled in his eyes.

        “What’s the matter?”  Sooleawa asked Orbon.

        “Nothing, really nothing,”  Orbon sniffed, “not now, now is lovely.  I wish, wish, well, that’s the past.”

        “That you’d been able to play with me as a cub?”  patch asked.  Orbon’s choking sob telling him everything he needed to know.

       “I wanted this so much when you were just out of the den!”  Orbon choked.

       “To play with my paws and for me to play with yours?”  patch asked.

       “yes,”  Orbon replied, struggling for control.

        “It was you running your toes down Orbon’s bunched pads that broke the dam,”  Sooleawa said.

       “yeah, it was,”  Orbon repined, wiping his eyes with his paws.

       “Now I can play with you and make up for lost time,”  Patch said, gently kissing his sire’s nose.

       “I can’t see you for crying,”  Orbon sniffed.

       “Use your paws then,”  patch suggested, Orbon embracing Patch with tear soaked paws.

        “I would like to stroke your hind paws again dear Orbon,”  Patch said.

       “I would like you to also,”  Orbon replied.  Patch got paws on with Orbon, who lay back, the heels of his hind feet coming off the floor, Patch catching each huge hind foot and tracing his pads.

          “I copied mama agar as she delivered you into the world Patch,”  Orbon said, “I mimicked what she did, in the hope I would get closer to her.”

       “I can imagine that,”  Patch replied.

       “I played with and squeezed my toes, held my hind feet in a fierce grip with both forepaws, rocked and kicked as mama Aga did.  I wanted to be with her Patch, I wanted to touch her paws and rub her back, and embrace my newborn cub.”

      “The cub is grown now,”  Patch replied, “though still loves a hug and loves being played with.”

       “Can I chase your hind feet, can I roll about with you on the floor and claim your paws like you were playing with Sooleawa?”  Orbon asked.

       “You can, and you can play with my paws and my hind feet, and stroke my fur, and roll me over, and rub my belly and back, and wash my paws afterwards.”  Patch replied, “on one condition though,”  he added.

        “What?”  Orbon asked.

      “That I can do the same for you,”  Patch replied.  Orbon embraced patch tenderly:

      “You can do all that, and wash my paws.”  Orbon said, “Patch, show me what you do to make yourself clean so the cubs can play with your paws, please?”  Patch promised he would.

      “I will help you wash your paws and feet, and get yourself ready for the cubs to play with,”  patch said.

        “I saw Orbon washing his paws and feet well enough,”  Aga said, padding into the lie up.

      “Orbon knows how to wash himself Aga, he’s not wanting washing tuition, he’s wanting Patch to get paws on with him silly mama.”  Aga Sat down, stunned at Sooleawa’s manner.

        “You have no compunction about talking to adults like that,”  she whimpered.

     “No I don’t,”  Sooleawa said, “it’s silly that you can’t read what Orbon and Patch really want.”

        “So you imitated my labour positions?”  Aga asked Orbon.

       “I did,”  Orbon replied, “and it was hard work.”

      “Are you taking the piss?”  Aga asked.  Orbon’s face told her he wasn’t, and patch, who had hold of his sire’s right hind foot, knew that also, as Orbon’s toes curled tight with emotion.

        “Sorry,”  Aga mewed.

      “I wanted to labour with you like Patch laboured to deliver Sita,”  Orbon replied miserably.

       “I wish you could have done so,”  Aga replied.

      “Maybe he still can,”  patch replied, playing with the toes of Orbon’s right hind foot.

       “how?”  Orbon asked, his heart racing at the thought.

        “if Aga got into a frame of mind where she re-enacted the labour, she could let you in sire Orbon.  You could feel her pain and push along with her.”

        “I wanted that so much,”  Orbon replied, “I wanted to share her pain, to soothe her reason for moaning and yelling through her agony.”

        “I think we should play a bit first though Orbon,”  patch said.  Orbon drew his hind feet up and grabbed them in his forepaws, patch kissing the toes of his right hind foot.

        “that looks so cute,”  Sooleawa said.  Orbon wriggled a little, settling his hind feet into his forepaws, his forepaws seemingly made to cradle his hind feet, the posture very comforting, as his forepaws embraced the thick sole pads of his hind feet.  Patch touched Orbon’s paws and hind feet, Orbon pressing his hind feet against his forepaws, gasping at the sensation.

        “Orbon has beige paw pads,”  Sooleawa said to Patch, “they are very clean pads too.”

        “Your pads are smooth and warm,”  Patch said.

      “Good job I’m not an arctic bear then,”  Orbon replied, “or I’d slip about on my smooth soles.”  Patch smiled, and removing his own hind feet from the custody of Sooleawa and little Conrad, Patch sat down and gently removed Orbon’s right hind foot from the grip of the large bear’s right forepaw and cradled the freed hind foot in his lap, stroking Orbon’s pads and playing with his toes.

       “I love this,”  Orbon said, curling and stretching his toes, as patch played with his right hind foot.”

         “Playing with your hind feet is lovely,”  Patch said.  Orbon smiled and gently curled his toes, tighter and tighter, patch rubbing the tops of Orbon’s toes encouraging him to curl them tighter and tighter.

       “Well done Orbon,”  Patch said softly, rubbing the furry tops of his sire’s toes.

        “I want my feet to remain bare and accessible,”  Orbon said, “I’ve always been barefoot.”

        “I know Orbon, we won’t change that,”  patch said.

        “I can’t remove my adult hind feet,”  Orbon said, “I have tried, but I need help.”

      “I will help with that,”  patch replied.

        “Will it be difficult?”  Orbon asked.

        “It’s a struggle, but you can do it,”  patch replied, “your adult paws are tightly held onto your cub’s feet, for if they weren’t you’d be slipping about.”

       “I am looking forward to freeing your cubbish paws from your adult hind feet,”  patch said.

       “My cub feet will be tender and I will need lots of massage to help them harden up,”  Orbon said.

      “you’ll get that,”  [patch replied.

       “using my hind feet to walk on after this is going to be so boring,”  Orbon said.

      “I know Orbon, I know only too well.”  Sooleawa said, “my hind feet don’t like me walking on them, they want to be touched and played with!”  Little Conrad laughed and tickled Sooleawa’s hind feet, the female cub rolling about, kicking the air with her hind feet, while laughing helplessly.

         “Let’s explore each other’s hind paws, big and small,”  Patch said.

       “I am going to love this,”  Sooleawa said.

         “I know,”  patch replied, “your love of everything paw related is rather sweet Sooleawa.”  Sooleawa laughed merrily and ran her paw down the sole of patch’s right hind foot, the male bear curling his toes with pleasure.

       “your hind feet were more interesting when you crawled,”  Sooleawa said.  Patch smiled:

        “I know,”  he replied, “it’s cute when you catch the hind feet of a crawling bear, and I’m sorry to hear my hind feet are boring now.”

      “They aren’t!”  Sooleawa whimpered, “I didn’t mean that.”  Patch grinned and kissed Sooleawa’s forepaws which she was using to stroke his hind foot.

       “I think your paws and hind feet are lovely,”  Sooleawa said, “warm, and expressive, and gentle, and cute.”  Laughing, Patch picked Sooleawa up, settled her on his lap, and hugged her tightly.

        “You two look so good together,”  Orbon said softly.

       “I love you Patch,”  Sooleawa said, snuggling up to Patch.

        “I love you with all my heart Sooleawa,”  Patch said softly into her ear, Sooleawa snuggling close to her adopted sire.

        “I feel safe here,”  Sooleawa said.

        “Good,”  Patch replied.

        “You two look beautiful together,”  Orbon said.

         “I love my cub,”  Patch said, kissing Sooleawa’s nose.  Sita padded up to Patch, sat down and embraced his left hind foot in her paws, rubbing his pads and toes with gentle care.

        “You deserve so much patch,”  Sita said, “feel free to come and play with us in the play room.”

      “I will come to the play room,”  patch said.

      “I want you to!”  little Conrad yelled.

       “I’ll come,”  Patch said, “but right now, I have one cub in my lap, and another big cub holding my left hind foot, as well as my sire wanting me to play with his hind feet and count his toes.”

       “Can’t he count his own toes?”  Aga asked.

       “that’s not the point!”  Conrad said, “it’s play mama Aga, counting toes, checking pads, it’s all there in the play.  It’s wonderful!”

       “so counting the toes of all four paws is part of the play?”  Aga asked.

      “It is,”  Orbon replied, “and I will help you count your toes to make sure they’re all there, and check your pads over, and wash your paws too.”

       “so our paws and hind feet are to be so clean so cubs and others can play with them?”  Aga asked.

       “They are,”  Sooleawa said softly, “paws are how we communicate when words are not enough, and eyes lie.”

        “Why do you love paws so much Sooleawa?”  Aga asked.

        “A paw pulled me into the world, a paw soothed me when I was upset, paws are sensitive and gentle, and expressive, and look so cute, and feel better than cute, hind feet are all cute and more too.”

         “have you seen a mama delivering her cub?”  Aga asked, “there’s lots of paw work there.”

       “There is,”  Sooleawa said, “and I notice mama’s toes curl even if she manages to keep quiet through her contractions.  Her toes tell of pain.  Touch mama’s paws and or hind feet, you have a good idea of how mama is really feeling.”

       “I couldn’t stop my toes curling at the slightest hint of pain or discomfort,”  Aga said..

       “Mine did,”  Patch admitted, “flexing and curling my toes was a distraction from pain more than anything.  I found breathing deeply, while curling and stretching my toes helped too, as did screaming and yelling when things got too bad.  I also wriggled and kicked too, which felt wonderful.”

        “I really didn’t want to remove my hind foot from Sooleawa’s forepaws during my madden speech to the community,”  Orbon said, “but I had to stand on my feet.  My feet found it boring by the way.”

        “That’s sweet,”  Sooleawa said, “I noticed you were dancing on your toes, was that because your heels didn’t want to touch the ground?”

       “yes,”  Orbon replied, “if I could have addressed the community lying on my back waving my paws in the air I would have done.”  Sooleawa grinned broadly at the thought of Orbon waving his paws in the air while being mobbed by cubs who wanted to touch his paws and feet.

         “You have lovely honest paws and feet,”  Sooleawa said.

       “I’m glad you think so,”  Orbon replied smiling.

         “Are you going to lie on your back all day punctuating your words with waving paws and kicking hind feet Orbon?”  Aga asked.  Orbon wriggled and kicked the air, Aga laughing at his antics.

        “silly lovely bear,”  she said, crawling over to Orbon and kissing his nose and                       paws.

         “I wish you’d been with me when I delivered Patch into the world,”  Aga whispered to Orbon, “I so wish my paws and hind feet had not been so tied by conventions.  I would have loved your help to push and labour.”

      I sat outside our den, rocking and wriggling as you struggled,”  Orbon replied, “I didn’t care what others thought.  I so wanted to be in the den with you mama.”  Aga kissed her mate’s nose.”

         “I’m not too old for another cub,”  she whispered gently.

       “I’ll see what I can do,”  Orbon replied.

      “and if we do have cubs again,”  Aga said, “I want you there with me Orbon.”  Orbon rolled onto his side and embraced Aga in his paws.

       “I’ll be there from first moaning pain to screaming last push,”  he replied sincerely.

       “Good,”  Aga replied gently, “by the way, I roll, kick, grab my hind feet and scream, is that okay?”

       “I would do the same if I was you,”  Orbon replied gently.

        “I’d bet you would,”  Aga replied.

      “I would crawl, kick and sweat with you Aga,”  Orbon replied, “I wanted to fourteen years ago when you delivered patch into the world.  I heard, saw and smelt your distress.  At one time, you crawled from the den, round the clearing and back in again, moaning and crying.  I followed d you and rubbed the soles of your hind feet with my paws a little, but you were too far gone to notice me.”

        “Re-enact that, and I might remember, even now,”  Aga replied.

       “I will if you re-enact Patch’s birth,”  Orbon said.

         “I want to hug you Aga,”  Orbon said.  Orbon sat up, and Aga knelt in front of him, Orbon embracing her while she snuggled close, wrapping her paws around his neck.

      “Push with those hind feet Aga,”  Orbon said, Aga pushing herself hard into his hug.

        “I want to remember my labour delivering Patch,”  Aga said, “including you rubbing my hind feet with your paws while I crawled and wailed in pain.”

       “I remember it very well,”  Orbon said.

       “If only I could have broken the bonds tying my body, paws and hind feet!”  Aga whimpered in genuine distress.

        “It’s okay now,”  Orbon said gently.

       “No It’s not, I wanted to be with you during my labour,”  Aga whimpered, “deep down I wanted it.  When Patch emerged, I wanted you to be paws on with him and me.  Convention stopped me though, and I tore chunks out of the den with my paws and the toes of my hind feet in pain and effort as I struggled.”

       “I want to be with you now,”  Orbon replied gently.

       “how much did you copy me?”  Aga asked.

       “Right to the end,”  Orbon said.

       “If I have a cub with you in the future, I want you there, right there, touching me, being with me,”  Aga whispered as Orbon hugged and stroked her.

         “that’s so cute,”  Sooleawa said, “Aga and Orbon are hugging each other, Aga kneeling in front of Orbon, Orbon sitting down.”  Patch got paws on with Aga and Orbon, the two bears hardly noticing his touch.

          “I want to deliver Patch into your paws Orbon,”  Aga said, “but I can’t do it, it’s impossible now.”  Orbon Kissed her nose and paws, holding her close in his embrace.

       “You could re-enact patch’s birth in real-time,”  Orbon replied.

      “But that was nearly two days!”  Aga replied, “you can’t be with me all that time.”

      “Why not?”  Orbon asked, “I am unattached, and due to your former mate’s death, so are you dear Aga.”

        “I suppose we could, I’d love it if we could,”  Aga replied softly.

         “We could use baths and paw massage and crawl in the woods, and everything like that,”  Orbon replied.

        “I used a bath when I had Bruin, it helped, though most of the hard pushing was done in my lie up.”

         “I wanted you there, I wanted you there!”  Aga sobbed.

       “I was there, I touched your paws while you cried and crawled,”  Orbon replied, “I wanted to be closer to you in the den, but you asked me not to be.”

          “I am so sorry,”  Aga wept.

          “let me kiss your paws,”  Orbon said softly.  Aga kissed Orbon’s nose and rolled onto her back, letting him kiss her nose and paws.

        “My hind feet want to pedal at the air and my toes want to curl so tightly they ache!”  Aga whimpered.

        “let me rub the pads of your hind feet,”  Orbon said, Aga settling back to let her mate massage the soles of her hind feet with his paws.

        “You two are so good together,”  Patch said.

        “Did you have a mate in the time between patch’s birth and meeting up with Aga years later Orbon?”  Sooleawa asked.  Orbon traced the pads of Aga’s right hind foot, the she bear curling her toes with pleasure.

        “No,”  Orbon replied, “I couldn’t bring myself to.  I wanted to find my mate and cub who’d been stolen from me  before I mated again.  When I found my cub, by good fortune I also found my long lost mate too, whom I love now as I did then.”

        “I didn’t think king bears were loyal to their mates,”  Sooleawa said.

        “Orbon is no ordinary king bear though,”  Aga replied, “he was good enough to stay with me while I roared with pain while delivering patch.  Not many king bears would do that.”

       “Does that mean that now he is leader, I will have to mate with him too?”  Sooleawa asked.

      “No Sooleawa,”  Orbon replied, “it’s your right to choose your mate.”

        “I hope to see Tiguak deliver her cubs into the world,”  Sooleawa said.

       “I wished to see it, but now I won’t see it,”  Patch said heavily.  Sooleawa touched his paw with hers:

        “I forgot you rescued her,”  she said softly.”

        “I wish I could watch her deliver her cubs,”  patch replied.

       “You can get paws on with me,”  Tiguak said, padding into the room, “I’d like that Patch, I was going to ask you if you would.”

        “I will help you,”  Patch said to Tiguak, who touched his paw.

       “I want you to help me Patch,”  Tiguak said gently.

        “I am honoured you would ask me,”  Patch said.

        “I ask you because it is your job, or used to be, and you were so sweet to me in the school.  I don’t know if you remember Patch, but I refused to look at you, I could not make eye contact.  Do you know what made me trust you first?”

        “the touch of my paws I suppose,”  patch replied.

       “yes,”  Tiguak replied, “now I trust you with my cubs, as I know you are gentle and loving.”

       “When are they due?”  patch asked.

         “a few weeks yet I think, though I’m not sure,”  Tiguak replied, “I’ll crawl into your lie up and let you know when I’m in labour, that’s for sure.”

         “it’s Knut’s job to be with you during labour, not mine,”  Patch said.

         “not if he doesn’t want to be there,”  Tiguak replied, “and he would like a helping paw patch, even though he does want to be at the birth of his cubs.  He’s scared of getting his paws dirty, or getting things wrong.”

        “Knut has been gentle with you hasn’t he?”  Patch asked.

        “yes,”  Tiguak replied, “but the labour won’t be, I’m gonna be screaming my head off, while wriggling and rolling about, kicking the air with my hind feet and beating the floor with my paws, stopping to rock back and fourth, making ow sounds before screaming and yelling and making more ow sounds.”

        “You’ll be okay,”  Patch said gently.

        “I’ll be screaming and begging for it to be over before it’s really begun, I can’t stand thorns in my pads, so how will I cope with labour?”  Tiguak replied.

       “Labour is not like thorns in pads,”  Janet said, padding in with Moses running in after her, “I should know, I gave birth to Moses.  It was hours of crawling, roaring and screaming.  Though it was wonderful too, thanks to my ursine midwives.”

         “hey Patch!”  mosses yelled, throwing a ball to him, which he couldn’t see.  The ball bounced off Patch’s nose, making Patch roar with surprise and throw his paws up, launching the ball into the air, where it flew towards Orbon, who fended it off with his paw, smacking it towards Tiguak, who headed it out of the door.

       “Patch can’t see you Moses, I told you that,”  Janet said despairingly.

        “I forgot,”  Moses replied.

       “I must say, you bears do have good ball control skills,”  Janet observed.

         “was that a ball?”  patch asked, rubbing his nose with his paw.

       “yes,”  Moses replied, “sorry patch.”  Patch buried his face in his paws to hide his tears.

      “Did I hurt you?”  Moses asked gently, padding to Patch and touching his shoulder.

        “No, not really,”  patch choked, “it’s not your fault, not all your fault.”

        “I’ll put bells in the ball so you can hear it next time,”  Moses said.  Patch hugging him tightly.

         “now that would have been great,”  patch whispered to mosses.  Moses trotted off after his ball, and not long after, a thud, rattle, thud, rattle sound could be heard.  Patch grinned as the sound got closer, and getting to his hind feet, he arranged himself to catch the now audible ball.  Moses bounced the ball hard, Patch catching it in his paws.

       “Now that’s better,”  Patch said, Moses face radiant with pleasure he’d helped patch.

        “That is so cool!”  Sooleawa said.

       “So simple, but so affective,”  patch purred.

       “I’ll feel like I’m pushing that out of my body when I go into labour,”  Tiguak said, “Amafu said that’s how it felt for her, as if she was delivering a rock the size of her own head.”

         “Amafu is right,”  Aga replied, “it hurts a lot when delivering a cub.”

       “Like squeezing out a rock the size of your head?”  Tiguak asked.

       “yes,”  Aga replied, “at least it did when I had patch.  I roared and screamed lustily.”  Tiguak sat down and buried her face in her paws.

       “I don’t like the sound of this,”  she whimpered.

         “It’ll be okay,”  Janet said, padding in, “I delivered Moses, and got through it fine.  He was enormous.  Have you seen his birth video by the way.”

        “yes I have, it’s amazing, but I could see your pain clearly, hear it too, it made me curl my toes and want to push with you Janet,”  Tiguak replied.

        “Maybe a human delivering her cub wasn’t the best birthing video to show,”  Aga replied gently, “how about watching Grace delivering Ellis into the world.”

       “I’ll watch that next,”  Tiguak replied.

         “it’ll have you wriggling and grabbing your hind feet with your paws, and everything,”  Grace said, padding into the room with Ellis riding on her back.

        “I want to know how it will be, please!”  Tiguak begged, kneeling before Grace in a display of supplication which made the large brown bear feel uncomfortable.

         “I’m no birthing expert,”  Grace replied, backing off, “I just had a cub, that is all.”

           “Ekaterina is usually the one to go to for these things,”  Freckles said, “but I wouldn’t go to her if you gave me all the fish in the world.”

         “I’d hit her with a rotting fish, um, sorry, that would be an insult to the dead fish,”  Grace grunted.

         “now stop this,”  patch said, “why beat Ekaterina when she can’t defend herself.  I know she’s done bad things to me.  You though, have had nothing but good service from her.”

         “I suppose it’s that we’ve all heard how she’s been towards you Patch, and we can’t stand it,”  Grace replied, “in the woods when Ekaterina left you, you weren’t alone.  We heard her heartless comments.  Now she will have to rebuild her reputation, not that she had one to speak of.”

        “I suppose that’s a vote of solidarity of sorts,”  Patch replied, “though it makes me uncomfortable.”

       “You patch are so good to everyone, you can’t think of others not being as you are.”

        “I wanted a bit of support from Ekaterina, that’s all,”  Patch replied, “she gave me none.  Yes she sort of gave me support in the shower that time, but that was it.  I get more support and love from others.”

        “I know Kuruk wants you to play with him,”  Grace replied.

       “I might do that you know, I want some no strings play,”  patch replied, “after all, I did promise him.”  Patch hugged everyone in the room in turn, then padded away in search of his brother.

 

Patch found Kuruk angrily beating up a punch bag.

       “Kuruk find out Ekaterina no care for you patch, she say she no help you any more, that she throw in towel with all four feet.”

         “I told her to find her own way in so many words,”  Patch replied, “Kuruk, she depends on me too much.  Not that I won’t protect her, but she’s got to stand on her own four paws, but she refuses to.  I give her love and tenderness, she gives me nothing in return.”

      “Kuruk see that, and he bloody upset for brother Patch,”  Kuruk grunted.

      “I came to play with you Kuruk, to play the stuck foot game with you a bit if you want.”

       “Kuruk want play stuck foot game,”  Kuruk replied smiling.  Patch sat down with Kuruk.

        “Sooleawa come to me and ask if I wash my paws regularly,”  Kuruk said, “she ask to look at and touch my paws and feet.  I show her my paws.  What’s all that about Patch?”

      “Ah, the clean paw patrol,”  patch said grinning.

      “What that then?”  Kuruk asked.

        “It’s something to give Sooleawa an outlet for her love of paws and hind feet,”  patch said, “plus, with the increasing population here, it’s important we keep our paws and feet clean.”

        “Kuruk find her gentle and enjoyed the paw and foot check,”  Kuruk said, “Kuruk fight not to let toes curl, they wanted to.”  Patch grinned hugely.

        “I know how easily your toes curl,”  he said.  Kuruk covered his face with his paws.

        “Kuruk dam sorry for that,”  Kuruk whimpered.

       “Don’t be, it was cute and truthful,”  Patch replied.

         “when you run toes of your forepaw down sole of Kuruk’s right hind foot, then press near toes, Kuruk want curl toes and wriggle with intense pleasure,”  Kuruk said, “though it only work when Kuruk kneeling, not if he sitting.  Then massaging sole of hind foot work to make toes curl, but that not so amazing.”

         “I know,”  patch replied.

          “Mama Kamchatka know about sensitive hind feet too,”  Kuruk replied smiling, “she do what Patch do, and Make Kuruk roll onto back with paws in the air.”

       “Would you like me to massage your hind feet now?”  patch asked.

        “Kuruk want Patch to make sure hind feet of Kuruk are super clean so them stick well to pads of Patch when he play trapped foot game.”

       “I’ll check yours over if you’ll check mine,”  patch said.  Kuruk smiled and hugged his brother cub:

        “Kuruk want do thing,”  he replied.  Patch sat opposite Kuruk, taking the male grizzly bear’s right hind foot in his forepaws and resting Kuruk’s heel on his own left hind leg.  Stroking the furred top of Kuruk’s foot, Patch felt his brother’s toes curling with pleasure.

         “Focus on your hind feet Kuruk,”  patch said.  Kuruk smiled and breathed deeply as Patch’s touch on the pads of his hind feet filled his brain with intense pleasure..

       “Kuruk no want stop toes curling,”  Kuruk said, “is that okay?”  Patch massaged the sole pad of Kuruk’s right hind foot.

        “Do what you feel,”  Patch said, feeling Kuruk’s toes curling tightly as he massaged the grizzly bear’s right hind foot.

      “Kuruk want kneel so brother Patch can make him curl toes like mad!”  Kuruk said.

         “It won’t happen if you force it,”  Patch said softly.

        “Kuruk want to grab his hind feet and make them fresh like cub’s.”  Kuruk said.  Patch smiled and let Kuruk crawl away from him, following the grizzly bear’s huge hind paws.  Smiling, patch ran the toes of his right forepaw down the sole of Kuruk’s right hind foot, stopping just before he touched the bear’s toe pads.  Pressing into the skin there, patch felt Kuruk’s toes curling.  Then he heard Kuruk whimpering with emotion and excitement.

           “Go on Kuruk, let it take it’s course,”  Patch said, lying flat on his chest and gently stroking the pads of Kuruk’s left hind foot with his left forepaw, while keeping the pressure on the grizzly bear’s right hind foot.  Kuruk whimpered and wriggled with pleasure, then sat back heavily on his heels, bracing his forepaws on the floor.

        “This be too much!”  Kuruk exclaimed, “but Kuruk no care what others think now.  Pleasure go from hind feet, fill body till get to head of Kuruk, then Kuruk have to break contact before head Explode!”  Kuruk said laughing.

         “You could pretend to deliver a cub, then become that cub and drink from a bottle of milk,”  Patch said.

        “Kuruk want do all that, he remember watching Anook delivering Buck and Hope into the world, and he want do thing too.”

        “I could make you feel as if you are heavy with cub,”  Patch replied, “I know how that feels, I also know how it feels to experience a contraction, and to push down into my tail too.”

       “Go on, make Kuruk feel same way,”  Kuruk replied.  Patch took his brother’s paw.

       “it will be painful and make you want to push hard down,”  patch warned, “it might exhaust you to the point of crying and moaning.”

        “Kuruk want feel how it is,”  Kuruk said.  Patch stroked the pads of Kuruk’s right forepaw, feeling his brother’s mind opening up to him.

       “Okay Kuruk, here goes,”  Patch said.  Kuruk breathed deeply, feeling his stomach contracting.  Grunting, Kuruk rolled onto his side and drew up his hind legs.

       “oooah,”  Kuruk complained.  Patch, touching Kuruk’s right hind foot with his paw, gave the grizzly bear a tougher contraction, Kuruk roaring and kicking.

     “Aaaaaaaaow!”  Kuruk screamed.

         “is that enough?”  Patch asked.  Kuruk groaned and braced his hind feet, straining hard.

       “Oaoaoaoaw!”  Kuruk yelled, “Kuruk want to feel real hard contraction, real hard one, just one.”  Patch hugged his brother cub, and gave him the full affect of the contraction which brought Sita’s body into the world, one that had Patch kicking with both hind feet, and screaming lustily.  Kuruk moaned, wriggled, kicked Patch with all four feet, then rolled onto his back, grabbing his hind feet in his paws.

      “Kuruk want push, got to push!”  Kuruk roared, straining hard twice.

       “lie on your side, it will be easier,”  patch said, Kuruk squealing with pain.

       “Aaaaaaaaaw!”  Kuruk yowled, stretching out on his side and kicking hard.

       “Kuruk now want to squat and push,”  Kuruk said, getting to his feet and crouching down.

      “heuuuuuumph! Heuuuuuumph!”  oooumph!”  Kuruk roared as he pushed hard down into his tail, pausing to bounce on his toes between efforts.

         “That’s it, push Kuruk Push!”  patch encouraged, Kuruk finding his own efforts triggered a need to push more.  Soon Kuruk was used to  his own efforts triggering further efforts, his labour natural.

      “Get paws on with me Patch,”  Kuruk panted, Patch paws on with his brother as Kuruk wriggled and bounced on the toes of all four paws, then, when a contraction hit, Kuruk got down to pushing, his paws and feet flat on the floor, Patch’s right forepaw beneath Kuruk’s right hind foot, the grey male bear feeling Kuruk shifting his weight as he pushed and suffered.  Patch felt Kuruk shifting his weight, panting and growling.

        “Kuruk hind foot on patch’s paw!”  Kuruk groaned.

      “Don’t worry about that,”  patch replied, kissing his brother’s ear, “just concentrate on your labour.  Kuruk panted, groaned and strained hard in response, Patch feeling sweat breaking out on the pads of Kuruk’s right hind foot.

       “aoooooow, Aaaaaaaaow!”  Kuruk roared.  Sitting back on his heels, Kuruk felt Patch stroking the sole of his left hind foot. Settling back hard, Kuruk bore down into his tail, wriggling desperately, Patch touching Kuruk’s hind feet, the male grizzly bear seemingly trying to dig his heels into his buttocks to ease his pain.

        “ooooooaoaoaowmph!”  Kuruk yelled, “this is amazing, but painful too!”  Kuruk gasped.

       “Tell me when you need to stop,”  Patch replied, “right now, you are fuelling your own contractions, the harder you work, the harder they become.  You are writing your own story.  If you want them to ease and then to come back stronger, they will.”

         “Kuruk no want them to ease, not yet,”  Kuruk grunted, “Kuruk want Patch to stroke his paws and feet and encourage him to push like he encourage mama bear do!”

         “Okay,”  Patch replied, “you truly want to know how it feels, just like I did?”  Kuruk whimpered with emotion.

       “Kuruk want know thing, he want know it so much!”  Kuruk panted, “Kuruk enjoy sitting back on heels and squatting,”  Kuruk said, “Kuruk comfortable with this labour at the moment, now he in control of his labour.”

        “do what you feel then Kuruk, and I will assist you, though suggest nothing.”

        “Kuruk want help thinking of huge contraction though,”  Kuruk said.

        “You won’t need help,”  Patch replied, “just take it slowly Kuruk.  Amerce yourself in it.  Deep down, you know how things should be.”  Kuruk felt patch draw the toes of his right forepaw down the sole of his left hind foot, the sensation making him clench his teeth and curl the toes of all four paws.

         “yes patch, Kuruk know how he want it be,”  Kuruk grunted, pressing down hard into his heels with his backside, wriggling and rocking, feeling something open up inside  him, a passage open to the outside world.

       “Kuruk clearing way for Cub, nearly done it, nearly done it!  Oooumph!”  Kuruk yelled. Patch felt Kuruk roll onto his back, then sit up, his hind legs drawn up to him.

       “Is that Better?”  Patch asked.  Kuruk hissed through his clenched teeth and rocked back and forth  a little.

        “Kuruk know now he want do this properly patch, not like before,”  Kuruk whimpered.

       “You were getting used to the control you have,”  Patch replied, “Now Kuruk, make your own tale.  Kuruk let patch hug him.

       “Kuruk want feel what Anook and Grace feel while having his cubs,”  Kuruk replied, “and now he got chance.  If he know how they feel, he can help them.  He want know how they use their bodies too.  how body feel during birth of cubs.

       “yes Kuruk,”  Patch replied, “that is a noble calling.

       “Kuruk no want Patch stop thing though, for mamas have no stop button.”

      “Okay,”  Patch replied.  Kuruk leant forward and grabbed his right hind foot in his forepaws, playing with his toes, then squeezing them as his contractions got worse.

        “aaaaaow, ow, ow!”  Kuruk whimpered, his toes curling tightly, while he crushed his right hind foot in his paws.  Patch all the while, got paws on with everything, from Kuruk’s head, to his hind feet, Kuruk absorbed in his own world of urgent increasing physical needs and emotions.

        “it’s all right Kuruk,”  Patch said gently as the male bear whimpered and wriggled with increasing discomfort.

      “Kuruk so want this, want this from nose to paws!”  Kuruk whimpered, “Patch, it okay to scream and cry isn’t it?”

        “it is,”  Patch replied softly, “it is, what you are doing is going to help you and help mama.”

         “I want to do this right,”  Kuruk whimpered.

        “You will Kuruk, you will,”  Patch replied, as Kuruk gripped his right hind foot in his paws, squeezing hard, his eyes tightly closed and teeth clenched.

        “let your curiosity guide your labour,”  Patch said, “mine did, and I delivered Sita into the world that way.”

        “Kuruk wish he had cub at the end of this,”  Kuruk whimpered.

         “You will Kuruk, you will,”  patch replied.  Kuruk rocked back and fourth harder and harder, gripping his right hind foot in his paws.

        “it feels as if I’ve got belly ache, it’s getting worse!”  Kuruk whimpered, squeezing and releasing his hold on his right hind foot with every contraction.

        “oooooauoph, oaoaoaoaoaoaaow!”  Kuruk complained.

        “This is disgusting!”  Anook screamed, charging into the room.

       “Why is it disgusting?”  Patch asked, rubbing Kuruk’s back, as the male bear, oblivious to his mate’s presence, groaned and writhed with pain and discomfort.

        “Kuruk pretending to have a cub!  that’s what is disgusting!”  Anook yelled.

         “Would you call Patch giving birth to me a disgusting event Anook?”  Sita asked, padding into the room.

       “Well no,”  Anook replied, “it’s right that he helped you into the world.  Kuruk though, he’s not helping anyone into the world, he’s pretending!”

        “No Anook, Kuruk no pretend, this real, this so real!”  Kuruk gasped.  Anook looked into her mate’s face, seeing his closed eyes and clenched teeth as he drew his lips back in a snarl of pain.

          “Kuruk no near pushing yet,”  Kuruk gasped, “it hours away yet.”

          “you look like you are,”  Anook replied.

        “No, Kuruk just gripping hind feet with paws, like mama Anook do for hours before she want to push,”  Kuruk panted.

       “Do you want to walk about a bit?”  patch asked gently.  Kuruk struggled to his feet.

        “Let’s walk a bit,”  he panted.  Patch and Kuruk walked up and down the corridor, Kuruk stopping from time to time to lean into Patch and roar with pain, while desperately gripping the tiles with the toes of all four paws.

        “heuuuuuumph, heuuuuuumph!”  Kuruk complained.

        “it’s okay Kuruk, I promise,”  Patch whispered.  Sita padded up to Kuruk and touched his sweating shoulder.

        “your cub will come when she wants to,”  Sita said softly into the male bear’s ear, “don’t force things Kuruk.”

       “No, Kuruk done with forcing things, he tried that, and it no work, Kuruk want do things slowly now.  Sit back on heels, wriggle hard, curl my toes, Grab hind feet, rock, whimper, moan, cry, kick with hind feet, grab hind feet in paws, all that, and of course push, push deep into tail.  Must do all that Sita, want to do all that!”

        “Your cub would expect and wish you to do all that,”  Sita replied, “Kuruk, your cub is real, deliver her with the love you feel for her.”  Kuruk panted hard, feeling his pads on the tiled flooring.

        “Tell Anook to piss off,”  Kuruk gasped, “only Patch and Sita know what is going on here, Anook no believe it if she hear it, so tell her go.  Kuruk can’t, he too busy!”  Kuruk sat down, grabbed his right hind foot in his paws, and leaning over, squeezed it hard.

       “oaoaoaoaoaoaaow!”  Herhrhrhrhumph!”  Kuruk yelled, gasping with intense emotions and effort.

          “Can this hard labour go on for ages?”  Hope asked, padding up to Patch.

       “Kuruk’s contractions are light, his cries are more to do with expressing himself,”  Patch replied, “he can go on for a long time with this.”

        “Patch right, Kuruk learning to express his pain,”  Kuruk said to Hope, “no tired here, just learning how to rock, grab hind feet, and roar like a mama bear.”

       “Hope padded up to Kuruk and kissed the sweating pads of his left hind foot.

       “Good luck,”  Hope said softly.

        “What on earth is going on!”  Anook demanded.

        “I know,”  Sita replied, her own emotions as intense as Kuruk’s need to do his duty, “but I’m not telling.”

         “It ok Anook, Kuruk fine,”  Kuruk replied, shaking himself, sweat flying off his fur.

         “it’s all fake!  Its’ all acting!”  Anook screamed.

        “it don’t feel like acting here,”  Kuruk replied, touching his belly with one paw.

         “now you’re taking the piss!”  Anook yelled, “I laboured for hours to deliver Hope, and now she and you are conspiring to make me believe you are having a cub Kuruk!”

         “Kuruk is having a cub, I believe he is,”  Hope replied.  Anook, furious from nose to tail, walloped Hope so hard she fell over.

         “That was unfair!”  Sita snapped, belting Anook with her paw, Anook falling over, just as Hope had.

        “Ow!”  Anook screamed.

        “You all right Hope love?”  Sita asked, helping the startled cub to her feet.

        “I didn’t feel a thing,”  Hope said.

        “how?”  Anook asked, rubbing her head with her paw, “how could hope not feel a thing?  My head hurts!”

        “Maybe her joy at what is happening to Kuruk makes her impervious to pain,”  Sita replied smiling.

        “I can’t believe this!”  Anook said, storming away.

        “She’ll have to believe it when she sees it,”  Hope thought, as Kuruk, sitting beside her, groaned and gripped his left hind foot in his forepaws, squeezing his foot as the contraction increased, then rubbing the sole of his foot with his paw as his contraction eased, first fast, then slower and slower as the contraction got easier to bear.

         “How are you feeling Kuruk?”  patch asked.  Kuruk smiled.

        “Kuruk feeling better than he have for years,”  he said, getting to his feet and padding to patch’s lie up.  There Kuruk sat down on Patch’s bean bag sofa.  Orbon, watching all, smiled broadly.

         “Kuruk’s contractions are coming every twenty minutes or so,”  Patch said.  Hope sat in Kuruk’s lap, the large male bear hugging her.

          “Kuruk no think you safe here,”  Kuruk said,” if I have pain, I squeeze Hope rather than hind foot.  Kuruk rather hurt hind foot than hurt Hope cub.”  Hope smiled, turned and kissed the male Bear’s nose.

         “Can I get paws on with your other hind foot, the one you’re not squeezing I mean?”  she asked.

       “yes,”  Kuruk replied, “me and my cub would love that.”  Hope smiled, Kuruk lying along the length of the sofa to allow Hope to get hold of his right hind foot.

         “Play with my toes if you want,”  Kuruk said, “Kuruk love that.”  Hope gently stroked and played with Kuruk’s right hind foot, and when it came to another contraction, she felt his toes curling, and saw the pain on Kuruk’s face, and his paws gripping his left hind foot, while the toes of that foot curled tightly.  Kuruk gripped and rubbed, gripped and rubbed at the pads of his left hind foot as he endured his contractions.

        “Kuruk no pushing yet,”  Kuruk said, “though when he push, Hope might want keep away.”

       “No, I won’t, if you’re okay with that of course,”  Hope replied.

       “Kuruk okay with everything,”  Kuruk replied, “even pain okay, for Kuruk know what it for.”

         “Good,”  Hope replied, kissing the bear’s damp nose and sweating left forepaw, which still lightly held his left hind foot.

         “I love you Kuruk,”  Hope said, Kuruk smiling and hugging her.

        “Kuruk do strange things when really pushing, but Hope cub no worry about that,”  Kuruk said.

       “They’re not strange things,”  Hope replied, “you mean sitting back on your heels, bouncing on your toes and roaring don’t you Kuruk.”

       “yeah,”  Kuruk replied.

        “They’re not strange things,”  Hope replied, “they are normal things if you’re giving birth to a cub.”  Kuruk smiled and kissed Hope’s nose.

         “Kuruk want do this so much Hope,”  he said.

        “I know,”  hope replied, “you told me Kuruk, you told me once what you’d like most to do in the world.  Enjoy it, love it, and love the result of your efforts.”

         “Kuruk committed now,”  Kuruk said, “and that good thing to be.  patch give me taste of hard pushing, and I scream and cry, but then, then, I enjoy pushing, enjoy feeling paws and feet more in contact with ground, enjoy breathing and shifting own paws and feet on floor.  Kuruk want go through with birth of cub.”  Kuruk padded to the bathroom, where he stepped into a bath which Orbon had filled for him.

          “I’ll watch over you,”  Orbon said, sitting down.

         “What you think of all this?”  Kuruk asked.

         “I know your tale Kuruk, and your wish to do this is pure and shall be for filled,”  was Orbon’s reply.

        “Kuruk no have the cub in Anook’s lie up, she mad enough already,”  Kuruk said.  Orbon got into the water with Kuruk and took the grizzly bear’s left hind foot in his forepaws.

          “I’ll leave your forepaws free to grab your other hind foot,”  Orbon said.  Suddenly, Kuruk struggled, Orbon letting go of his hind foot, then suddenly Kuruk was embracing him, pressing his hind feet against the side of the pool, and Orbon’s back against the other side.  Bracing his feet hard against the pool wall, Kuruk groaned deeply and at length, then roared lustily into Orbon’s ear.  Panting, he rolled about a bit in the water, kicking up spray with his hind feet, Orbon keeping the male grizzly’s head above water while Kuruk struggled.

       “It’s okay Kuruk, everything’s fine,”  Orbon whispered when Kuruk came to rest with his head resting on Orbon’s shoulder.” 

        “sorry,”  Kuruk gasped when he could speak, “that come suddenly.”

        “maybe your cub wanted you to realise I was okay with helping you,”  Orbon replied.  Kuruk sat back down, his hind feet in the water, his forepaws resting on top.

       “That intense,”  Kuruk grunted, “think I get out before it happens again.”  Orbon quickly washed Kuruk, while minor contractions made Kuruk growl and curl his toes a little.

        “Your labour is coming on well,”  Orbon said.  Kuruk, leaving the tub, smiled:

        “Kuruk know cub is going to throw him into paws of everyone who care about him,”  Kuruk replied, “now Kuruk want to do all labour thing, make like mama be.”

        “you will, for your cub would want it,”  Orbon replied.  Kuruk padded into the lie up, his resolve to finish off what he started hardening with every contraction, which were coming more frequently now.

       “e’e’e’e’e’e’e’e’e’e’eah, ow”  Kuruk groaned, shifting his feet uncomfortably.

       “it’s gonna be okay,”  Hope said to him, kissing his nose.

        “yeah, ow, Kuruk know this, ow, ow!”  Kuruk panted, sitting down and rocking back and fourth, panting and then desperately grabbing his left hind foot in his paws, crushing it.

       “oaoaoaoaoaoaaow!”  Kuruk complained.

          “Keep rubbing your pads Kuruk,”  Hope said, feeling the toes of Kuruk’s right forepaw furiously massaging the bunched pads of his left hind foot.

       “My feet fit well into my forepaws,”  Kuruk gasped, “good they do, for I need them to fit!”

       “your feet were your first playthings,”  Orbon said.

         “Were your hind feet yours Orbon?”  Hope asked.

       “yes, and still are,”  Orbon replied.

      “Good,”  Hope replied smiling.

        “Where do you want to have this cub?”  Aga asked.

        “he can have it wherever he wants,”  hope replied, “right now, Kuruk hasn’t made a plan, he’s just going with things.”

        “you’re talking as if you’re the midwife!”  Aga snapped, “you’re only a cub!”

        “I’m the one to whom he told his most intimate and heart felt wish,”  hope replied, “and I know Kuruk hasn’t planned this.  he wanted to do this, but other than that, there’s no plan.  Kuruk could deliver the cub anywhere.”

        “but the dirt, the mess?”  Aga protested.

       “I’ll follow him with a pan,”  Orbon replied.

       “You’re not catching that poor cub in a pan!”  Aga yelped.

      “No no silly Aga!”  Hope laughed..

        “Kuruk no close to delivering cub yet,”  Kuruk panted.

        “Where will the cub emerge from?”  Aga asked, there’s nowhere for it to emerge.”

          “the cub will come,”  Patch replied, “eohippus will make sure of that.”

       “So Grace won’t deliver the cub?  Kuruk will?”  Aga said.

        “yes he will,”  Patch replied.  It will be okay Aga.”

         “When was the tunnel forged?”  Hope asked.

        “Kuruk forged it himself,”  patch replied, “while he was pushing hard down while squatting, then while he was digging his heels into his buttocks.  He forged the tunnel then.”

      “Ouch,”  Orbon remarked.

        “it hurt, but pressing my heels into my bum helped everything open up properly,”  Kuruk replied, “Kuruk know what happening, he believe he can have this cub.”

           “Good,”  Hope replied.

       “Pushing that passage into the world hurt,”  Kuruk grunted, “but it was wonderful.”

       “I’ve never heard such rubbish!”  Anook screeched.

         “Watch and learn,”  patch replied.

         “No, no!”  Anook screamed, “this is wrong!”

        “the death of Kuruk’s cub was wrong, this is the complete opposite,”  a voice said.  Anook looked over her shoulder and squealed with fear.

         “mama Kamchatka, what the hell are you doing here!”

        “Giving my cub my blessing for the safe delivery of his cub,”  the mama bear replied, padding to Kuruk and kissing his nose.

          “you’ll do fine,”  Kamchatka said to her son cub, “What you are doing is right Kuruk, you knew it was the minute you forged the passage to allow your cub into the world.”

         “Patch knew what I was doing mama,”  Kuruk replied, “he braced his heels against his bottom in the same way during Sita’s birth.”

        “I know he knows,”  Kamchatka replied, “now deliver that cub with love and tenderness Kuruk.  Everyone here is with you in this.”

        “I’m not!”  Anook roared.

        “Well maybe you should be,”  Ekaterina replied, knocking Anook out cold.

         “Now we’re all looking out for you Kuruk,”  Patch said.  Kuruk, smiling, Let Ekaterina come up to him.

        “This patch’s job now Ekaterina,”  Kuruk said, “though you can get paws on too.”

        “I haven’t got the insight he has,”  Ekaterina replied, “I couldn’t have opened up the door to allow your cub to be born.  Patch opened the door, and you forged her a passage into the world with your efforts when just playing at labour.”

       “Kuruk no playing,”  Kuruk replied, “he want Patch give him full blast, he want him show him everything.  Once patch show Kuruk, Kuruk want more than ever to push and deliver cub.  Kuruk want nothing more in world.”

         “I know that now,”  Ekaterina replied, “even I was sceptical about your wish.  I spoke to Hope about it, and she was sure you’d one day get your wish, but I told her you delivering a cub was complete fantasy.  Now though,”  Ekaterina touched Kuruk’s belly, “it’s not fantasy at all.”  Kuruk let Ekaterina get paws on with his right hind foot while he weathered a contraction, Ekaterina feeling Kuruk’s toes curl and pads bunch up, while the male bear grabbed his left hind foot in his paws and squeezed it hard while curling his toes when the contraction built, relaxing his toes while rubbing his pads as it eased. suddenly Kuruk got to his feet, then crouched, roaring with pain as he bore down.  Then closing his mouth Kuruk bore down for a second time, then a third,, Ekaterina feeling his muscles tensing as he supported his weight.  Then Kuruk sat back on his heels, digging them into his backside once more, wriggling and twisting.

         “is the passage closing?”  Ekaterina asked.  Kuruk wriggled and whimpered, then answered her by straining hard down into his tail, fluid exploding from him.

        “cub is coming down now, oooah, this hurts!”  Kuruk roared, rising to a squatting posture, stamping his feet and writhing.  Ekaterina, covered in fluid, retired to clean herself up, while Patch took over.

       “I think Hope should help you,”  patch said.  Kuruk smiled:

         “Kuruk think so too,”  he replied.  Hope padded to Kuruk, to find him sitting back, playing with the toes of his left hind foot, trying to stop them curling with pain.

         “let your toes curl Kuruk,”  Hope said.  Kuruk let go of his hind foot, his toes curling harder than ever.

          “Hope,”  Kuruk replied, “you watch, Patch get paws on.  He gave me the key to the door, so it’s right he should catch little cub.”  Patch padded forward, and Kuruk crawled away, Patch following him.  Kuruk’s contractions strengthened, the male bear roaring and beating the floor with his paws.  patch, checking him over with a gentle paw, pronounced everything fine.  Kuruk, feeling patch’s exploration, panted hard.

        “is the passage open?”  Kuruk asked anxiously.

      “it is,”  patch replied, “now Kuruk, it’s time for you to sit back on your heels and push down into them.  You’ll know when to stop, your body will tell you.”  Kuruk sat back on his heels and pushed long and hard.  Three efforts later, he rolled onto his back and drew up his hind legs, grabbing his hind feet with his forepaws, wriggling and squirming into the right posture.  Roaring, Kuruk pushed four times more, patch gently touching Kuruk’s sweating forepaws and hind feet, while Sita, at his head, stroked his face with her paw.  Kuruk, roaring and yelling, held on tight to his hind feet with both forepaws, bracing his hind feet against the restraining grip of his paws with every increasingly heavy contraction.  Then groaning, he wriggled convulsively, freeing his hind feet from the fierce grip of his paws to let them kick at the air, while Kuruk screamed and rolled about from side to side.  After a few minutes of frantic kicking,  Kuruk stood up on all four feet and squatted down, pushing deeper and deeper into his tail and then deeper still.

       “Kuruk’s pushing with his mouth open, his eyes shut,”  Hope said, “his toes are gripping the floor and he is flat footed while pushing, though bounces on his toes while he’s panting.”  Kuruk moaned and wriggled through two contractions, then went back to pushing down enthusiastically.

        “This hurts so much!”  Kuruk roared as the cub’s paws came in contact with patch’s.

         “Push a little, then pant,”  Patch said, Kuruk wailing and wriggling.

      “That’s it,”  Patch said gently, Helping Kuruk by guiding an enormous cub into the world.  Kuruk got into a crawling posture, then, roaring with effort and pain,  strained hard into his tail, feeling the cub coming slowly into the world, lots of cub, lots and lots of cub, Kuruk’s efforts seemingly in vain..

       “the cub no coming, Kuruk push hard into tail and it no coming!”  Kuruk yelled.

        “it is, pant and push, pant and push,”  patch advised.  Kuruk did, and, feeling progress, yelled:

         “Kuruk want to catch cub!” 

        “the cub is safe now, so gently roll onto your side, then onto your back and sit up,”  Patch replied.  Kuruk did so, with Patch supporting the emerging cub.

         “Get paws on Kuruk, go on,”  Patch said, Kuruk feeling the cub emerging where it should emerge.  Drawing up his hind feet, bracing his heels for support against the floor, his back against the wall, Kuruk strained deeply, feeling the cub slide into the world when he pushed, and back inside him when he relaxed, Patch paws on throughout.

      “It not working, I can’t push and hold cub at same time!”  Kuruk whimpered.

      “Steady pushes, push and pant, steady Kuruk, steady pushes,”  patch said softly to Kuruk, who groaning with effort, pushed as Patch advised, and in this manner, caught the emerging cub in his paws.  the cub was huge!  When Kuruk first got paws on, he could only touch the emerging cub’s paws.  Kuruk felt the cub come into the world completely, the cub’s head coming with help from a contraction which made Kuruk roar lustily, but the touch of his paws on the cub kept him focused.  Puffing and groaning, Kuruk squeezed down into his tail, deeper and deeper puffing and pushing as Patch told him, then, rolling onto his side as the cub’s hind legs emerged, squealing and panting, Kuruk drew up his hind legs, desperately splayed them, curling desperately into a ball,  reaching down between his splayed hind legs with both paws to catch his cub, the cub sliding into his paws as he wriggled and strained for the last time.  Groaning with discomfort as the cub’s hind feet came free and everything calmed down, Kuruk lifted the cub to his face, and began licking her dry.  The cub was female and huge!

       “how on earth did Kuruk deliver a cub that big!”  Grace yelled, “it’s as big as, as, oh dear!”

        “As big as your little one you lost on the mountain?”  patch asked.  Grace swallowed hard.

          “yes,”  she mewed, “What have you done Kuruk!”

       “he has done nothing, while at the same time everything,”  Patch replied smiling.

       “Nothing but everything?”  Grace asked, as her ears were pounded by the healthy cries of a newborn cub.

        “yes,”  Patch replied.

       “next thing you’ll be telling me is Kuruk can feed her naturally!”  Grace roared.

       “With a bottle,”  Patch replied gently, “a bottle which Hope is getting for the cub.  Kuruk will feed little one.  You knew her as harmony, I think Faith might be a better name in her new life, as Kuruk had lots of that while he was delivering her, and before that too.  she also had faith in him, that she would be born safely into the world.”  Kuruk, his fur sweat stained and body aching, fed his cub, Faith drinking busily.

         “how did this happen!  It’s impossible!”  Anook roared, having been given the news by Theo, who, wildly excited, had rushed to where Anook was walking in the woods to tell her the good news.

         “We caught it all on camera, you can watch the whole thing Anook,”  Theo said, smiling as if he were the sire himself.

       “You don’t believe in all this passage shit do you?”  Anook asked.  Theo padded to Kuruk, bowed, and kissed the top of Faith’s head.

         “I once was spiritual leader here,”  the white lion replied, I gave the position up in self loathing after making a mistake regarding jess’s spiritual form.  Though my mistake was huge, my belief is stronger still.  Kuruk could give new life, was able to give new life and wanted to give his cub a new life.  Kuruk asked the question, and like patch, believed in the answer.”

         “So Kuruk is female now?”  Aga asked.

        “no, the passage is now closed,”  Patch replied.

         “that’s how you did it wasn’t it Patch,”  Ekaterina asked.

         “”yes Ekaterina, it was,”  Patch replied.

         “Well done Kuruk,”  Ekaterina said.

       “Why was Ekaterina denied getting paws on with the actual birth?”  Hope asked.

       “Because I do not believe,”  Ekaterina replied honestly, “the spirits made me go and wash myself.”

       “is Kuruk’s cub real?”  Hope asked.

      “Even Ekaterina can touch her,”  Theo purred, “so yes, she’s real.”

        “Kuruk never forget what happened today,”  Kuruk said softly.  Orbon, having seen all from close range, rubbed his face with his paws to hide a rush of tears.

        “That was amazing,”  he said.

       “You see it all?”  Kuruk asked, hugging his cub tightly.

       “Yes Kuruk,”  Orbon replied gently.

        “Come and hug cub Faith,”  Kuruk said to Orbon, the male bear sitting opposite Kuruk, Kuruk anchoring him there by curling the toes of his hind feet around Orbon’s.  Passing the contented cub to Orbon, Kuruk watched intently.  Orbon, cradling the cub, looked down at her.  Faith had brown fur and black paw pads.  Orbon thought her huge, but remembered that Kuruk had delivered a cub the size of the one he’d last seen on the mountain, not a newborn cub at all.”

        “your cub was three months old when she visited the spirit world wasn’t she Kuruk,”  Orbon said.

      “yeah,”  Kuruk replied, “Kuruk give birth to cub size of one he last see on mountain, that why things go slow, and he have push hard and for long time.  Curl toes and strain much, you know?”  Orbon knew, he’d seen everything, from crying male bear to sweating paw pads, and the emergence of the cub, from big forepaws to huge hind feet, the latter making Kuruk squeal and convulsively splay his hind legs, the toes of both hind feet tightly curled.

         “You looked fantastic,”  Orbon replied, “if I ever do that Kuruk, I’d want to labour with as much commitment as you.”

         “Kuruk want this very much before, and even more now,”  the grizzly bear said.  Orbon traced the pads of Faith’s forepaws, then her hind, the cub laughing helplessly.

         “your cub loves her pads and toes tickled,”  Orbon replied.  Kuruk watched enthralled:

        “You want feed her next?”  he asked.

        “That’s grace’s job,”  Orbon replied.

       “No, I’ve moved on,”  Grace replied, turning her back.

         “I will then,”  Orbon replied, “and with joy too.”

        “will you tickle my paws and feet more?”  Faith asked.  Orbon smiled and kissed her nose.

        “You need food,”  he replied.

      “But I want my paws and feet tickled!”  the cub yelled, “I’ve just drunk lots too!  please, please, play with my paws and feet!”  Orbon did so, Faith laughing with pleasure as he traced her pads and counted her toes.

      “big thick pads, and one, two, three, four, five toes on each hind foot,”  Orbon replied, “and smaller pads, with five toes each on your forepaws too,”  Orbon added, Faith wriggling delightedly.

         “What do you remember of your birth little one?”  Orbon asked.

        “Everything,”  faith replied, “I remember speaking with Patch about Kuruk helping me into the world, then how patch helped Kuruk to get used to the pain and how to push.  Then, then, when the passage opened up, I knew it was going to happen, I knew Kuruk had the strength to do what he wanted.”

         “Good,”  Orbon replied.

        “Kuruk pushing was difficult for me, as it hurt me, but he and I knew what we were doing then, I helped him, and he me.”

       “So you delivered a three month old cub?”  Ekaterina asked.

      “Kuruk do that yes,”  Kuruk replied, “Faith help me, and I help her.  we got through it together.”

         “I remember every minute,”  Faith said, “and it was wonderful.”

       “Kuruk groan and cry, and wave paws, and kick with hind feet, and everything,”  Kuruk said.

        “That was all good,”  Faith said to him, “everything you did helped me and you sire Kuruk.”

         “Kuruk never forget this,”  Kuruk replied.

       “We got it all on disc,”  Theo mewed, “everything, from surprising angles too.”

       “Good,”  Faith replied, “when I’m a little more awake, I’d like to see what Kuruk did.”

          “how long will you be drinking milk?”  Orbon asked Faith.

       “for a week,”  faith replied, “the spirits told me this.  they said I’d be dependant for about a week, for food and such, though I can crawl and explore, I’m not as dependant as a newborn cub, as I’m not that.  The milk is a bonding thing mostly.  I want to drink milk.  They gave me the option of padding back to the house, but I didn’t want that.  I wanted to give Kuruk his wish, as he’d been so good to me in the dens he dug for us in the mountains.  I always wondered what it would be like if he’d delivered me into the world, and now I know.  Kuruk wanted this, and so did I.  it was hard for both of us, but we trusted each other.”

        “You both did well,”  Patch said.

       “I knew I shouldn’t have run off into that camp,”  Faith replied, “I wanted to make up for that too, for all the trouble I’d caused by bonding my paws to sire Kuruk’s in a way I couldn’t break.”

        “that cub was always more yours than mine,”  Grace snapped, storming from the room.

        “Sorry for forging relationships,”  Kuruk grunted.

        “the spirits told me what you did for me,”  Faith said, “digging the den grave and all that.  For that I thank you, as does the mama bear who’s body you buried alongside mine.  She however, did not want to cross the bridge to this world.  I however, wanted to.  I know it has been years in the waiting, but now I’m here.  I needed to find my sire, and he needed to be ready to accept my return.  It was only when he came to the community, then confessed his deepest need to one who understood his longing, that Kuruk could satisfy his desire and mine.  Patch knew what Kuruk wanted, and that what he wanted was for good.  So he made it possible for me to return to this world, Kuruk’s efforts forming me into a physical being once again.  Of course, he thought of me as the cub he’d last seen on the mountain, which meant he delivered a huge cub, and I’m none the worse for that.”  Kuruk smiled happily.

       “Kuruk want do it no other way,”  he replied crawling over and touching faith’s belly with his paw, the cub drawing up her hind legs for warmth and embracing his paw in both of hers.

       “You’ve  got big cute paws Faith,”  Sooleawa said.  Faith looked between her hind legs at the speaker, Sooleawa waving her paw at her.

        “hello,”  she said, “um, glad you like my paws.”  Sooleawa smiled.

      “Sooleawa is our resident foot and paw washer and general puller of thorns,”  Patch said.  Faith grinned broadly.

       “Paws, now who do I know who likes paws?”  Kuruk grinned:

        “Kuruk used to play with yours Faith dear,”  Kuruk grunted.

       “yes,”  Faith replied, thinking hard, “it was lovely, and, before, before I put my foot in that trap and left this world that first time, I liked playing with your paws too sire Kuruk.”

      “Can you get to your feet?”  Kuruk asked.  Faith rolled off of Orbon’s lap and landed hard.  Scrambling into a crawling posture, she took off round the room at speed.  Kuruk, still weakened from his labour, smiled at the racing cub.

      “Kuruk no chase you yet, he too weak, please stop!”  Kuruk begged, Faith coming to a halt beside him, and scrambling into his lap.

        “I loved every minute of my journey into the world,”  Faith said, Kuruk smiling broadly.

       “Kuruk love delivering you into the world too,”  Kuruk replied gently.

      “But you were crying and roaring,”  Faith said.

       “Kuruk no regret roaring and crying,”  Kuruk replied, “that what happen when he deliver cub that he want to for ages.  Kuruk no shy about expressing pain, though he no regret pain, he push with pains, and they help him to know what going on.”

       “Good,”  Faith replied.

       “Can I touch you Faith?”  Hope asked.

      “You can,”  Faith replied, smiling broadly as Hope got paws on, patting her paws and kissing her nose.

         “You are beautiful,”  Hope said, “Kuruk described you, and he wasn’t wrong, you are a beautiful cub.”

       “I’m glad you think so,”  Faith replied, looking at her half sister.

         “You too are a beautiful cub.  can I hug you?”  Hope smiled and embraced Faith, Faith returning her hug.”

        “how did Kuruk deliver Faith into the world?”  Anook asked, “it’s impossible, but I’ve just seen it happen!”

       “he forded a passage to the outside world for the cub’s spirit,”  Hope said.

    “How?”  Anook asked.

       “With determination and commitment,”  Patch replied, “Kuruk did it all Anook, I showed him how to push, and he did it all himself from then on.”

       “So you had to keep it going,”  Anook asked.

      “I did,”  Kuruk replied, “and Kuruk regret nothing.”

       “I must say, this cub is rather beautiful,”  Anook replied, looking closely at Faith.

        “Want me to show you my paws and feet?”  Faith asked, waving her paws at Anook.  Anook smiled despite her misgivings.

        “Faith is real, is very real, touch her, hug her,”  Sooleawa said.  Anook sat down, and faith scrambled not her lap, Anook feeling a wave of emotion sweeping over her.

       “You are real, you are real!”  Anook sobbed.

       “Told you she was real,”  Hope said.  Anook kissed Faith’s nose and paws, embracing the huge cub in her paws.

       “I want to see Kuruk’s labour again,”  Anook replied, “close up, to see what really happened.”  Kuruk looked at Anook, and Anook couldn’t meet his gaze.

        “Sorry Kuruk,”  Anook whimpered, “sorry for doubting you.”  Kuruk kissed his mate.

        “You know little of how spirit works,”  Kuruk said, “Anook, ask Patch how it works.”  Anook looked up, to see Patch smiling at her.

       “I’ll show you in the only way I can,”  Patch said, “I’ll take you through what happened when I brought Sita into the world.  I’ll describe it, how I felt, what I did.  For that is how Kuruk brought Faith into the world.”  Anook’s eyes filled with tears as she realised how wrong her eyes had been.

       “I want to wave my paws in the air!  Faith yelled, fitting action to words, Kuruk laughing helplessly.

       “Your paws beautiful faith,”  Kuruk said.  Orbon watched Faith, enjoying her antics.

        “Your hind feet are so big grey bear,”  Faith said, “did anyone tell you how handsome you are.  Orbon smiled shyly.

       “Are you talking about me, or my cub,”  he asked.  Faith dabbed at the sole pad of Orbon’s right hind foot with her paw.

       “You!”  she replied.

       “I would love to see my sire for a few minutes,”  Patch said.  Orbon smiled:

        “let me hug you Patch,”  he said.  Patch, crawling to his sire, bowed his head, Orbon embracing him.

       Kuruk’s eyes will give you a window to see me from nose to hind feet,”  Orbon said.  patch, choking back tears, watched as Orbon showed off his paws and hind feet, turned his head to Kuruk, and stuck his tongue out at the grizzly bear, Kuruk laughing so hard he fell over, patch getting a good view of the ceiling.

        “Calm down Kuruk, you’re blocking my view,”  Patch said.  Kuruk wiped his streaming eyes with his paws and looked back at Orbon, who’d rolled onto his back and waved his paws in the air.  Patch, seeing this, laughed merrily.  Standing off to Orbon’s right, patch touched the sole pad of Orbon’s right hind foot with his paw, watching through Kuruk’s eyes as Orbon curled his large toes.

       “Cute,”  patch said, Orbon drawing up his hind legs and grabbing his hind feet with his forepaws.

         “Will you play with your toes Orbon?”  Patch asked.  Orbon did, and Patch smiled at the sight of him.

        “Look to your right Kuruk,”   Orbon said.  Kuruk looked, and grinned, as Hope sat on the floor, playing with the toes of her right hind foot.  Patch seeing this, smiled broadly.

       “That’s what I used to spend hours watching,”  he said, “now I am glad to see it again, but sad too, as I can’t see it all the time.”  Hope knew what he meant.  Patch looked at faith, hugged her, then kissed her nose.

        “Thank you,”  he said to the room in general, before padding from the room.

        “Poor patch,”  Hope sighed.

      “I will let him get paws on with me,”  Faith said, “I think we’d both enjoy that.”

        “I want to play with him,”  Orbon said, running out of the room to find patch.  Orbon found patch in the soft play room.  Hugging him, Orbon sat down with his son cub.

        “Patch,”  Orbon said, “dear cub,”  Patch hugged Orbon tightly, burying his face in the bear’s long fur.

        “Hug me Orbon, hold me, please!”  patch begged.  Orbon held Patch tightly, kissing Patch’s nose and rubbing his head with his paw.

          “it’s okay Patch, I promise it’s okay,”  Orbon said.

           “Play with me Orbon, please,”  Patch begged.

        “Let’s play the trapped paw game properly,”  Orbon said softly, “and maybe, maybe you can tell me about the birth of your dear cub Sita.”

        “I’ll tell you, I’ll show you,”  patch replied softly.

        “I love you Patch,”  Orbon said.

       “it is because of your influence that I am able to do what I do Orbon,”  patch replied, “tell me, why did you not get involved with Aga’s labour to deliver me?”

       “She didn’t want it,”  Orbon replied.

      “But you could have helped her like I helped Haimati, I know you could,”  patch replied.

         “I could,”  Orbon replied.

        “now I will show you as best I can, and tell you how I delivered Sita,”  Patch said.

       “I didn’t see it all, I only saw Kuruk padding into the lie up in pain,”  Orbon replied.

         “I’ll show you as best I can,”  Patch replied.  Orbon looked at Patch:

       “You don’t mind me getting paws on then?”  Orbon asked.

        “No,”  Patch replied, “I’ll crawl about and show you what Kuruk did.”

       “What if I want to play at that?”  Orbon asked.

        “I’ll show you how to push without pushing,”  patch replied, for if I make it authentic, I’ll be pushing against myself, not against a cub, well not this time.”

       “So you use your own body?”  Orbon asked.

        “Yes, grab my hind feet in my paws and massage my toes and pads, then press my feet into my paws as I groan deeply, I also brace my hind legs while squatting, that simulates a pretty good contraction.  Bouncing on my toes is easy, as is crawling about and sitting back on my heels.  Of course rocking back and fourth on my backside and wriggling is easy, as is playing with my toes, rubbing pads and bouncing about.”

       “sounds energetic,”  Orbon replied.

       “yeah it is,”  patch replied, “addictive too.”

        “I’ll bet you relieve stress with it also,”  Orbon replied.

        “I punch bags,”  Patch replied, “though mama Kamchatka used to use the same techniques I described to relieve her own stress.”

        “Show me,”  Orbon replied.

         “well crawling is pretty self explanatory,”  Patch replied, crawling past Orbon, “then there’s sitting back on heels, like this, and sitting on my backside to rock back and fourth, and then playing with my toes, and taking my feet in my paws to squeeze my pads and toes, then I can curl my toes too,”  Patch replied, fitting actions to his descriptions.

         “how about if you want to push when sitting?”  Orbon asked.

     “I bend my leg, holding my foot in my paws, then I push into my paws with that foot, Bracing  my foot against my paws,”  Patch replied smiling.

       “Nice,”  Orbon replied,  “It looks natural too.”

       “Because mothers who are having cubs are using their hind feet as pain relief,”  Patch replied, “the only thing I’m doing differently is pressing my feet into my paws to make me want to groan and pant.  I can also lie on my back and draw my feet up, grabbing them in my paws and pressing my feet against my paws that way.  .  Squatting on my haunches, I can also push realistically by bracing  my feet against the ground, with my forepaws on the floor for balance, just like a mama does, and I am able to simulate contractions and physical effort.  Of course, there’s some make believe too, no cub at the end of a re-enactment.  That’s about it.  It’s based in play, and a good actor can fool most, until the cub fails to show up of course.”  Orbon smiled broadly.

         “What a laugh,”  he said, “pretend to have a cub, get everyone worried, then just switch it off and have a cup of tea.”

       “They don’t like that,”  patch replied soberly, “though simulation is good for lessons for the mama and sire before the birth of their cub.”

        “of course they can watch videos here,”  Orbon replied.

        “yeah, but it’s not as fun,”  patch replied, “the sire can learn how to soothe mama, and she can learn birthing positions.  Some mamas don’t’ realise at first they have all the pain relief on board.  They, for the most part, need no drugs at all.  The touch of feet and paws is very useful.  Hind foot to hind foot, paw to paw, paw to hind foot.  All work in their way.”

        “You sound patronise,”  Orbon said.

        “I am, I loved my work with mamas,”  Patch replied, “I was taken off that when given the spiritual role.”

       “but you’d love to get back to it I’d bet,”  Orbon said.

        “yeah,”  patch replied, “that I would.”

        “That’s why Kuruk allowed you to be present at Faith’s birth,”  Orbon replied, “You knew how it would be for him, for you’d done it, and you’d been trained too.”

       “yes,”  patch replied.

        “I might try this,”  Orbon mused, “it sounds fun to roll about and wave my paws in the air.  Tell me, can I draw my hind feet up and grab them too?”

       “yes, that too,”  patch replied.  Orbon grinned hugely.

       “So it’s all play with paws and feet, cubs learn about most of this during their playtimes,”  he said.

      “They do,”  Patch replied.  Orbon hugged Patch and suggested:

      “Maybe you get paws on with me while I grab my hind paws and play with them?”  Orbon asked.

      “Good times,”  Patch replied, “let’s do that.”  Orbon strapped a bell to his right ankle, and crawled away from Patch, patch chasing his sire’s hind feet by listening to the tinkling bell.  Laughing, Orbon rolled onto his back as Patch tickled his paw pads.

       “My hind feet are yours to do with what you wish,”  Orbon laughed.  Patch, smiling, kissed Orbon’s nose, then the pads of his forepaws, then the pads of his hind feet.

        “I claim your nose, your paws and your toes!”  patch laughed, kissing Orbon’s nose.  Orbon, feeling emotions welling in him, covered his face with his paws.

       “Oh, um, yeah, fine,”  Orbon choked.  Patch removed Orbon’s paws from his face and hugged him tightly, Orbon crying into his grown cub’s fur.

         “Don’t you want to play any more?”  patch asked.  Orbon, happier than he’d been for years, held Patch tightly by way of reply, for words wouldn’t come.

        “It’s okay,”  Patch said gently into the weeping bear’s ear.

         “I’ll be all right in a minute,”  Orbon sniffed.

         “would you like me to curl up with you tonight?”  Patch asked.  Orbon swallowed hard, his emotions running strongly.

        “I can’t ask it, you’re adult now,”  Orbon replied horsely.

        “I play like a cub though, your reaction told me that,”  Patch replied.  Orbon, startled, hesitated:

        “you can read my mind can’t you,”  he asked.

       “I know what you truly want me to do, and to that I consent,”  patch replied.

        “I would love you to curl up with me,”  Orbon replied, “just tonight.”

       “I’m sure if the spirits will allow, I can become small again,”  Patch replied.

         “They can’t do that,”  Orbon said, “it’s impossible.”

         “Give me five minutes,”  patch said, crawling away.  Orbon rubbed his face with his paws in an attempt to gain control of his emotions.  Getting up, he turned a full circle, stamping his paws and feet on the floor.  It was while he was at this, the bell on his right hind leg jangling madly, that Orbon looked up at the sound of someone crawling into the room.  His eyes widened as he took in a small grey bear crawling towards him.  Orbon, shocked at what his eyes were telling him, sat down on the floor, the cub scrambling into his lap.  Orbon, his eyes filling with fresh tears, explored the grey bear cub with gentle paws, touching his nose, his back, belly, legs and of course, his small paws and feet.  Orbon knew who the cub was.

        “Patch, dear patch,”  Orbon choked, kissing the cub’s nose and the pads of all four of his small paws and feet.

        “I wanted this, but it seems impossible!”

       “Nothing’s impossible my sire,”  the cub said, reaching up and touching Orbon’s nose.  Orbon groomed the cub, missing no inch of him.

         “This is amazing!”  the cub purred, Orbon’s joyful tears wetting his fur.

          “I love you,”  Orbon said softly, “I don’t know how this is happening, but I will never forget this time.”

        “it will happen for as long as you wish,”  Patch said gently.

        “How will you grow to your adult size?”  Orbon asked.

        “Massage my paws when thee time comes, and you can help me,”  the cub said.

         “Will it hurt you?”  Orbon asked.

       “it will be a little uncomfortable and a struggle, but so was getting out of my adult coat,”  patch replied.

       “Can’t they numb you when they do that?”  Orbon asked.

       “I didn’t want it,”  patch replied, and I made sure it was filmed too.  you can see the transformation if you wish.”

         “I don’t know if I want to see that,”  Orbon replied honestly.

         “I don’t mind if you do,”  patch replied, “it’s five minutes of intense struggle and effort, but shows that how cubs play, the things they imagine are not so far fetched after all.”

         “how long have we got?”  Orbon asked.

       “The whole night, and after breakfast tomorrow, I’ll return to my adult self,”  Patch replied.

        “If I can help, please let me,”  Orbon said.

       “it would be very much welcomed,”  patch replied, “I don’t want to be unconscious when it happens.”

      “But why go through it if it hurts so much?”  Orbon asked.

      “it doesn’t hurt,”  patch replied, “it’s sort of a struggle out of a tight jacket, becoming a cub is, and returning to my adult form will mean me growing into my adult form again, stretching of toes and back, and such, stretching my body into adult proportions.”

       “Sounds a challenge,”  Orbon replied.

      “it will be, but that’s for later.  Then I’ll show you how I came to be like this too.  the unzipping and revealing of my cub self if you like.”

        “So who is the real patch?”  Orbon asked.

        “the real patch is inside my body,”  Patch replied, “you wanted to hug me as a cub, and a cub I have become.”  Orbon smiled and embraced patch tenderly.

        “I will enjoy this while it lasts,”  Orbon said.  Patch and Orbon played together, Patch making sure Orbon took casts of his small cub paws and feet before the enchantment was over.  This done, the large male bear and his cub curled up together, Orbon able to cuddle his cub for the first time.

 

The next morning, Patch and Orbon woke, Orbon getting his cub breakfast, then washing him.  Patch explored Orbon’s hind feet, pressing his own small feet against his sire’s.

      “You have big hind feet and huge paws Sire Orbon,”  patch said, “now though, it is time for me to return to my original stature.”

       “Can I help?”  Orbon asked.

        “help me by encouraging me to curl and stretch my toes,”  Patch replied, “my bones will grow inside my legs and back first, my feet and paws will be the last things to grow into their adult form.  I’ll worn you, the transition involves me curling up into a ball and forcibly uncurling, wriggling and kicking, as my body grows, a sort of wriggling into a small coat sort of motion to stretch that coat, I need to stretch my legs, my back, paws and feet.  My head sort of grows by itself, that’s not dependant on my help.”

     “what if you can’t stretch enough?”  Orbon asked.

        “I have no choice, I am made to do it,”  patch replied.”

        “You’d do this in a private place normally though,”  Orbon said.

       “I would, and I’d be semi conscious while doing it too,”  Patch replied, “but I’ll show you how it’s done, it takes half an hour or there around, getting out of my adult coat took around twenty minutes.”

       “You said five,”  Orbon replied.

       “yeah, I know,”  Patch replied, “it was a longer struggle than I imagined.  It was like pulling myself out of a tightly fitting set of clothes.  Of course getting back to my original size will mean stretching this body to adult proportions.  I can’t overstretch, the spirits won’t allow it.”

       “so what do you feel?”  Orbon asked, now fascinated.

        “the bones grow and I have to stretch my skin and fur to accommodate them,”  patch replied, “there’s a lot of curling up in a ball and stretching to stretch my body fur, wriggling, kicking and rolling about when sorting my legs and everything else, then a lot of curling and stretching of toes when remodelling my paws and feet.  It’s uncomfortable, but fascinating.  I’ve done it once before, as have I done the return to my cub self once before.  I’m not afraid of it.”

        “Seems you rather enjoyed it,”  Orbon replied.  Patch smiled:

        “it was interesting,”  he said, “now though, I need to stretch myself back into adult form.”

 

Patch curled up into a ball, and waited.  Orbon saw him close his eyes in concentration as he began uncurling and curling up again, stronger and stronger movements, stretching his body, Patch gasping and panting.  Orbon watched enthralled as Patch grew in size, his body first, getting taller and larger as patch curled up and stretched full length on the tiles by the bathtub.  His legs, still small, grew as he kicked at the end of every uncurling effort.  Growling and grunting with effort, patch completed his body’s growth, then began the thickening and lengthen of his legs, kicking with all four legs, and wriggling, as he’d described, as if Patch was wriggling into a small coat or suit, fording a passage for growing limbs and muscles.  Patch sat up after a while, showing Orbon his feet and paws, the naked pads taught over his slightly larger paws and feet.

       “My feet and paws feel squashed,”  patch replied, “so I have to curl and stretch the toes of my forepaws  and hind feet to stretch the skin and fur over the growing bones.  It’s the most difficult bit of all, as there’s less to push against.”  Patch stretched his forepaws first, curling and stretching his toes, Orbon watching in fascination.

      “Wow,”  he said, as Patch stretched his fur and paw pads over his growing paws.  Then, smiling, patch gave Orbon his still cubbish hind feet, one at a time.

       “Stretch your toes Patch, curl your toes and stretch them to free your adult feet,”  Orbon encouraged gently.  patch curled and stretched his toes, Orbon touching the pads on the soles of Patch’s feet throughout.  Patch tightly curled and stretched, curled and stretched the toes of his right hind foot then his left, waiting for discomfort before he attempted curling and stretching his toes.  In this way, patch shaped his hind feet as his fore had been.  Within half an hour, Patch was back to his adult size, Orbon hugging an exhausted and sweating son cub.

       “That was as exhausting as becoming the cub,”  Patch gasped.  Orbon smiled and kissed Patch’s nose.

        “now let’s watch the video of your transformation into a cub,”  he said, completely taken by the idea.

 

Patch padded wearily to the video screen and found the video of his transformation.

 

Orbon watched the video showing patch lying on his side in a private den in the house, then on the screen Patch drew up his hind legs and thrust with his hind feet, kicking with both feet simultaneously, making strong efforts.  Then, seemingly having loosened the bonds between his outer coat and inner one, he sat up.  Patch then pulled at his hind feet with his forepaws, seeming to roll the large paws, complete with their familiar pads, off of smaller paws beneath.  Orbon saw patch rocking, and heard him grunting as he exerted some effort to remove his cub hind feet from the grip of his adult hind feet.  Less to remove the coverings on his forepaws.  Once this was done, Patch seemed to easily shrug off his body fur.  His head already the size of a cub’s, the miniaturisation of that as mysterious as the growth of his head had been when he’d returned to full size.  Patch, now the size of a three month old cub, padded away from the remains of his outer fur and paws.

 

 

         “Wow patch, just wow,”  Orbon said.  patch smiled.

        “I don’t do it often,”  he replied, “the hardest part was stretching my outer coat by using my hind legs to break the bonds, then removing the coverings on my hind feet and forepaws.  It all sort of fell away after that.”

       “So removing your adult paws and feet before you enter the play room can be done,”  Orbon replied.

       “it can be done, but is of course, just a game there,”  patch replied.

         “are your adult coat and paws still where you left them?”  Orbon asked.  patch got up and took Orbon to the private place where he’d transformed into a younger version of himself.  Orbon stared at something standing in the middle of the room, then looked back at Patch.

        “You shed your adult skin,”  Orbon said.

        “I did,”  patch replied.

Orbon rubbed his eyes once more, then looked afresh at what he’d seen, though not seen.  Patch apparently stood on the floor in the middle of the room apparently stuffed, though standing freely , as he’d seen bears in museums in Russia, where he’d lived for four years.

      “No, patch, no!”  Orbon yelled, patch touching him with his paw.

        “it’s okay,”  Patch said gently.

      “No, no it’s not!”  Orbon screamed, “you’re stuffed and mounted on a plinth!”

       “I’m here,”  Patch replied, “I’m not stuffed.

        “I can’t take this!”  Orbon screamed , throwing himself on the floor, weeping and wringing his paws.  Patch heard the sound of bells, then a deep sigh of infinite sadness behind him, turning, he touched the paw of an unknown bear, which had been held out to him.

       “Who are you?”  Patch asked.

       “My name is Ebony,”  the newcomer said, “I am the friend of one bear here, and half brother of another.  Patch heard the jingling of bells as the newcomer padded past him, knelt and gently helped Orbon, who was crying freely, to his feet.

         “What you saw was awful,”  Ebony said, “but is not uncommon in my country.”

        “You are Russian?”  Patch asked.

      “I am, as is Orbon , my half brother,”  the newcomer replied, “I escaped from my tormentor and came here, I met with Nicolai who is also Russian, and I described my half brother to him, now I find him here. I find him lying on the floor, weeping over a stuffed likeness of his own son cub.  some sick joke this?  Who do this thing?  I want destroy thing!”

         “I don’t know who used the discarded skin, paw coverings and head peace,”  patch replied, padding up to the likeness of himself and sniffing at it.  He then ran his paws over it, from nose to paws.  patch lifted the likeness of himself off of the plinth, sitting it down and posing it with gentle care.  The scaffold on which his discarded body fur, headpiece, paws and feet were now fitted was loose jointed, the whole bear likeness sitting properly.  Patch lay the likeness down on its side with gentle care, while Orbon and Ebony stared in mute horror.

         “Who did this?”  Orbon asked, “who found this place and made a disgusting display of a living bear!”

          “Maybe someone wanted to try something out for when I am gone,”  patch replied.

       “No Patch No!”  Orbon screamed, “that is horrid!”

         “it would be a permanent reminder of a great bear though,”  Royston said, walking in.

        “You did this?”  patch asked the young man.

        “I did, I found the skin and headpiece, and fitted it to a scaffold made in your likeness patch.  It was amazing how realistic it looked.”

        “I don’t know whether to be sickened or honoured,”  patch replied.

        “Touch his pads, he’s fully mobile, this scaffold took ages for us to make in a factory,”  Royston said, “we wanted moving head, moving arms, legs, paws, feet and toes.”  Patch moved the likeness of himself into a more comfortable posture, kissed its nose with gentility, then raised his head.

       “Royston, please, take it away,”  he said, “I do not want this seen here, it would distress too many people.  I should have had the spirits destroy my old fur coat, but they did not.  now this has been created.  How much of a likeness is it?”

         “it is you patch,”  Orbon replied hoarsely, “it’s like looking at the real Patch, though into a future when you are dead and all I’ve got left is a stuffed likeness to remind me of my cub.  it’s horrid and dreadful!”

         “It’s what humans do,”  ebony said gravely,  “they make statues of their dead out of stone, and use our skins to make statues of us when we pass on if they want to honour us, or they chop off our heads and discard our bodies using our heads alone as trophies to jeer and take the piss out of us.”  Ebony turned to Royston, looking right into the young man’s eyes,   If you are going to kill a bear for sport, take the body of him or her, and make a glorious statue to that bear.  Tend to it, care for it, or better still, think before you kill, leave the bear alive so he or she can make beauty for the forest and woodlands.”

      “hey, I’ve killed no bears!”  Royston replied, “it was an engineering project I was involved in, and I needed a skin, so I found one, it was just lying here, complete with paws, feet and headpiece.”

         “Honour Patch by keeping it whole then, don’t take it apart.”  Orbon grunted.

       “I won’t, I like the outcome.  I got Patch’s dimensions right.”

       “I should never have put my body into that scanner,”  Patch grunted.

       “yes, we used that measurement to create the scaffold,”  Royston said.

         “I feel I should treat this, bear, if I can call it that, with gentility,”  patch mused.

        “You’ve already kissed its nose,”  Orbon growled.

         “Take it, and preserve it, and have no harm come to it,”  patch said.

      “I created it for art class,”  Royston said, “jess came up with the idea a year or so back.  She wanted something to remember you by when you’d passed on patch, and we came up with the idea of me and my class making a moving scaffold on which we were going to put false fur and paws and such, then though, I found real fur, paw and foot gloves and boots, and a headpiece.  I don’t know where they came from.”

         “Take my likeness and care for it,”  patch grunted.  Royston got a sack barrow and wheeled it into the room.

       “No!”  Orbon snapped, “that is not good enough.  With that, he gently picked up the likeness of Patch and carried it out of the room as tenderly as he’d carried any cub in his life.

        “conflicting emotions,”  Ebony grunted.  Patch, following Orbon, stopped his sire.

       “Orbon,”  patch said, “I want to touch that bear again.”  Orbon set the likeness of Patch down on the floor, the living Patch touching his likeness’s ears, nose and paws.

        “While I live, the fur lives too,”  Patch whispered, “then when I die, the fur is preserved.

       “I’m sorry I used your cast off fur and headpiece,”  Royston said.

       “it is well,”  Patch said, feeling round the back of his likeness’s neck, feeling for a join between head and body fur, finding none.  He then felt down the bear’s legs to his paws and feet, finding no join their either.

          “Why is there no join in the places where I clearly pulled my gloves and socks off?”  Patch asked.

          “I don’t know,”  the bear replied, “you tell me Patch.”

       “Who are you?”  Patch asked.

       “You know me, deep down, back before your birth, you knew me,”  the bear replied, lifting his paw and stroking patch’s face.

        “Oh, um, ah, I knew I wasn’t a single cub, I knew it, though mama said nothing,”  Patch whispered.

        “She delivered me, but I was dead,”  the likeness of Patch said, “I am your twin patch.  The one whom you buried in the woods after mama left me alone.”

          “I buried a cub who looked so like me, it was scary,”  patch replied, “I remember that.”

       “You were a strong cub, I wasn’t strong enough,”  the likeness of patch said,  “now though, I just want a hug.  Will you?  Please? I’m begging you brother!”  patch, tears rolling down his face, kissed the nose of his brother cub, then embraced him tightly.

         “Your life and work is an example to others,”  patch’s brother’s spirit said, “I am unable to return like Faith did, but I managed to come back when you gave me the medium to do so.  You pulled off your paws and feet, and wriggled out of your outer skin, someone put that skin on a bear shaped body, and the spirits let me return for a while.  Kiss my paws Patch, tickle my toes, play with me please.”  Patch smiled and nuzzled the bear’s ear:

         “I will, tonight,”  he replied.

       “Does this body move?”  Patch’s brother asked.

      “Try wiggling your toes,”  patch suggested, the bear wiggling the toes of both his hind feet.  Then, gasping, he got to his feet and padded round, whimpering with surprise and fear, then throwing himself into Patch’s embrace.

       “You can come to play,”  patch said gently, “you want it, and so do I.”

        “What the hell is this!”  Royston demanded.

         “My younger brother,”  Patch replied, “unnamed, but never forgotten.”

         “I can feel my paws and feet!”  patch’s twin brother yelped, then he shook himself naturally.

          “Come,”  patch said, “I will bathe your fur and paws little brother.”  Patch led his brother to the shower room, where he bathed his paws and feet, the young bear smiling and rolling onto his back to feel the water showering down on the soles of his feet.

        “What shall I be named?”  the cub asked.

          “I will give you my pet name,”  Patch replied, “Pihoqahiak, the ever wandering one.”

       “But I don’t want to wander the spirit world any more, I want my paws fixed, glued to yours patch, so I can’t run off!”  his brother said.  Patch smiled:

        “Little Pihoqahiak, I think you won’t wander far, though your paws will still explore, as they catch up on years of lost playtime.”

        “I want to play, I want to play!”  Pihoqahiak begged, Patch kissing his paws and the soles of his feet, Pihoqahiak dabbing at his older brother’s nose with the toes of his right hind foot.

        “Now do your paws and feet feel part of you?”  Patch asked.  Pihoqahiak smiled and embraced his brother cub.

       “oooah yes, yes, yes!”  he replied.

         “your paws and feet are sensitive and don’t be surprised if you get mobbed by a cub or two,”  Patch told his brother.

        “I watched you playing the trapped foot game, can we play that?”  Pihoqahiak asked.

        “Do you know how to play it?”  Patch asked.

       “yes,”  Pihoqahiak replied, “my hind feet want to touch yours and stick strongly so I can tug and pull, and pretend I’m stuck so much it takes hours to free my feet!”  Patch kissed Pihoqahiak’s nose.

       “Come now my brother cub, come and play with me,”  patch said softly.

        “I saw what you did when you delivered Sita into the world, and when you showed Kuruk how to let Faith into your world,”  Pihoqahiak said, “I couldn’t ask for rebirth in that manner as I’d not been born alive, though I’d had a life inside mama Aga.  So I had no transition into the world as a living cub.  Now though, as you patch returned to your cub self, I was able to try to communicate to you.  Now, now thanks to a human, and to your spirit, I can be with my brother.”

 

Patch dried Pihoqahiak off and then they padded towards patch’s lie up.  On the way they met Sooleawa, who greeted Pihoqahiak’s arrival with a delighted squeal:

         “wow your handsome!”  she said.

        “Cute paws,”  Pihoqahiak said smiling.

        “Who’s? mine?”  Sooleawa asked.

      “yeah, yours,”  Pihoqahiak said, watching as Sooleawa’s toes curled into the tiles as their eyes locked.

          “You two have met before then,”  Patch said.

        “No, well yes, well sort of,”  Sooleawa replied, “it was when the skin was first put on that bear model thing that I got a feeling there was someone wanting to chat.  I opened up my mind, and spoke to this bear, your brother.  He looks just like you patch, if a little darker in the fur and paw pads.  Cute paws he certainly has, and I wished to meet him, and was going to meet him in the woods, but then you came along and freed him to walk and play.  Now, now, well, my toes are dug into the tiles to stop myself from running forward and embracing your brother.”

         “let go of the tiles with those toes and hug me then, come upon,”  Pihoqahiak said smiling.

         “My paws and feet are on fire, wanting to do just that, but it’s wrong,”  Sooleawa said.

       “No it’s not,”  Pihoqahiak replied, “if you won’t do it, I will.”  With that he ran to Sooleawa, and pushed her onto her back, tickling her pads and toes, Sooleawa laughing merrily.

          “You two know each other don’t you,”  Patch said.  Pihoqahiak smiled as Sooleawa flipped him onto his back and tickled his hind feet.

        “yes,”  she replied, as Pihoqahiak waved his paws and feet in the air.

         “Pihoqahiak has black fur and white paws,”  Sooleawa said, “you and I patch, have silver fur, and grey fur.  All have white paw pads, though mine and yours are whiter than Pihoqahiak’s.  his look, um, well, a dirty pink, cute though.”  Pihoqahiak smiled broadly at this.

        “I washed my paws Sooleawa,”  he said, “though yes, my feet do look a dark, almost muddy pink.”

         “so my brother grew up to have dark pink pads and black fur,”  Patch replied, “cute that, Real cute.”  Pihoqahiak laughed merrily.

        “when I came to my body, I had white paws and grey fur like you patch, when you washed me, my true colours were shown to the world, but you can’t see them, can you,”  the bear said, his eyes welling with tears.

         “Sooleawa will let me see your fur and paws little brother,”  patch said.  gazing at his brother through Sooleawa’s eyes.

       “You are handsome,”  Patch observed, “very nice fur, paws and feet you have too Pihoqahiak.”

      “Shall I tell you Pihoqahiak what your feet and paws make me think of?”  Sooleawa asked.

       “What?”  Pihoqahiak asked.

        “they make me think the bear who’s feet and paws they are doesn’t like to wash them too often, though I know they’re clean.”

         “My wanderings in the spirit world dirtied my paws and feet a bit,”  Pihoqahiak replied, “maybe that was it.  Maybe my paws and feet were like Patch’s some time back, but then they got darker, and dirtier, and though I washed them clean, they remained darker than my older brother’s.”

        “I think they’re cute,”  Sooleawa replied.  Pihoqahiak grinned hugely.

       “I saw my paws and feet in a mirror Sooleawa, and they looked playful,”  he said, Sooleawa smiling broadly at the black coated bear with pink soled paws and feet.

         “have you two been romancing?”  Patch asked.  Sooleawa laughed:

        “he’s slow,”  she said to Pihoqahiak, who grinned.

        “yeah,”  Pihoqahiak replied, “it was a long distance relationship though, until now that is.”  Patch smiled delightedly.

         “Good luck to you both,”  he replied..

         “I recognised him when I touched his paws,”  Sooleawa said, “Pihoqahiak is my spirit playmate and lover, now he can be my physical one too.”

          “These cubs grow up fast,”  patch mused.

        “yeah, we do,”  Sooleawa replied smiling, “I am already planning on playing at a cubbing with Pihoqahiak , letting him massage my paws and feet and rub my back.  Just to see how tender he is.”

       “He’ll be tender all right,”  patch replied, “I know that much.”  Pihoqahiak got to his feet and padded to his brother cub.

         “I will love and look after Sooleawa,”  he promised.  Sooleawa took Pihoqahiak in from black fur flecked with grey, which made him look dirty, to his dark pink paw pads, which also looked as if they needed a wash.  Sooleawa knew he was clean, but the others wouldn’t be so sure.

         “now it’s time for our history lessons,”  Sooleawa said with a heavy sigh, “let’s go Pihoqahiak, you’re a cub too now.”  With that Patch kissed his brother cub’s nose and Sooleawa padded away, Pihoqahiak following her.

 

“Let’s check fur, paws and feet before lessons,”  Aga said, having got a job helping Furcone keep cubs in line.  The cubs submitted to Aga’s inspection of their fur, paws and feet, making sure they were clean.  Aga came to Pihoqahiak and stopped, snorting, she examined the large bear with growing confusion.

        “I think I know you,”  she whispered to him, “I don’t like you!”

         “You have dirty feet, look at them!”  Aga said loudly.

       “I can’t look at the soles of my own feet,”  Pihoqahiak said.

       “What is your name scruffy one?”  Aga asked.

      “My name?  It’s Pihoqahiak ,”  Pihoqahiak replied.

       “Well you do look like you’re forever wandering, your feet are dirty!”

        “They are dark pink on their soles,”  Sooleawa said.

       “You!”  Aga snapped, “you checked this scruffy urchin’s paws and feet?”

      “I did,”  Sooleawa replied, “and they are perfectly clean, I washed them myself.  Look, look at his nose, at his forepaws, they are both deep pink.  His hind feet have the same skin tone on their soles.”

      “I think his feet are cute,”  Hope observed.  Aga cuffing her hard.

      “Ow Aga, that wasn’t fair!”  Hope wailed.

       “I know you!”  Aga screamed at the dirty black bear, “I know who you are, I left you on the track just before I delivered Patch into the world all those years ago, I didn’t want to see you again!  How did you return to this world!”

         “he’s your cub?”  Hope asked.  Aga backhanding her in the mouth with her paw.

       “aaaaaow!”  Hope screamed.

       “I hate you, I hate you!”  Aga screamed at Pihoqahiak, kicking him.

       “Stop this, stop this Aga!”  Orbon snapped, running in and tackling Aga to the floor, “you have no right to do this, none at all!”

        “I hate that bear, he came out black and sinister,”  Aga panted.

        “You delivered him into the world, and left him on the track weak and helpless, hours before you delivered Patch.”  Orbon replied, “I know it, I saw it Aga!  I couldn’t save the cub, so I left him alone to die in a comforting place, telling his brother cub he was somewhere to be found.  Patch buried the body of his brother cub, but being twins, one knew the other in the womb.  Patch knew he had a brother, he knew it Aga!  Now let him live in peace!”

       “No, he is evil!”  Aga yelled.

        “I think his dirty fur and dark pink paws make him look cute,”  Hope replied thickly, for her lip had been split by Aga’s attack on her.

       “Evil looks gentle,”  Aga said.

         “I know he’s not Evil, you horrid tic infested fleabag!”  Sooleawa yelled.  Suddenly the cubs launched an attack on Aga, the she bear swamped by tiny bodies, paws and feet lashing out at her.  Screaming and begging, she collapsed beneath their combined weight, Orbon letting the cubs take their revenge.  When they left off after two minutes or so, Aga was bruised and battered.

          “Leave him alone! Leave him alone!  The cubs chanted in unison, while Pihoqahiak, realising the solidarity the cubs were showing for him, buried his face in his paws to hide his emotions.

          “I’m going, I’m going!”  Aga whimpered, walking stiffly away from the scene of her humiliation.

        “She’s gone, she’s gone!”  Georgia laughed.

         “Thank you all,”  Pihoqahiak said softly.

        “You were left alone on a track to die?”  Hope asked Pihoqahiak.

         “yes,”  the black coated bear replied, “Patch was preferred over me.”

        “Do you feel jealous of patch for that?”  Hope asked.

        “it’s not his fault,”  Pihoqahiak replied, “and he did bury my body with due tenderness when he found me on the track.  I was born while mama Aga was crawling round the clearing during her labour.  I came into the world hours before Patch did.  So I’m older than he is.”

       “so your fur is black?”  Orbon asked.

        “My fur is darker, my pads are too.”  Pihoqahiak replied.

       “let me look at you,”  Snowdrop said, pushing Pihoqahiak around with her nose and paws.

       “You smell clean, your paws, are clean, your feet, are too,”  Alaska and Spits cub observed, “you have wrinkled hole pads on your hind feet, and smooth pads on your forepaws, and long grey flecked black fur.  You are very handsome Phi wetsuit.”

       “Phi wetsuit?”  Pihoqahiak asked laughing.

      “I can’t say your name, I can barely speak properly some days!”  Snowdrop whimpered, Pihoqahiak hugging her tightly.

       “I think you have cute clean paws and feet, and this fur, it’s lovely!”  Snowdrop said, burying her paws in Pihoqahiak’s fur.

          “Can I stroke your paws and hind feet?”  Snowdrop asked.

       “yes, that’s what they’re there fore,”  Pihoqahiak replied.

         “Everyone come, everyone look at and touch my paws and feet, please tell me if they are clean!”  Pihoqahiak yelled.  All the cubs crowded round the black bear, touching him, running their paws through his fur, then picking up his paws and feet to look at and touch them.

        “they’re clean, and cute,”  Sooleawa said when it was her turn to examine Pihoqahiak’s paw and foot pads.

       “You would say that, you’re in love with him,”  Georgia replied, “it’s cute and lovely by the way.”  Sooleawa smiled hugely.

        “I do love him,”  she replied, “we loved each other across the bridge too.”

      “What bridge?”  Morag asked.

        “the spiritual one,”  Sooleawa replied.

        “Who put you on to Sooleawa,”  Snowdrop asked Pihoqahiak.”

        “I knew about Sooleawa through my brother patch,”  Pihoqahiak replied, “though I was afraid to speak to patch, in case he didn’t want to speak to me.  Of course, I took the plunge when the spirits asked me to, and now I regret noting.”  Patch smiled and rubbed his brother’s belly with his paw.

         “I love you brother Patch,”  Pihoqahiak replied, clasping his brother’s paw in his.

         “Now your paws and feet are clean big brother,”  Patch said, kissing the pads of Pihoqahiak’s paw.

        “Now let’s carry on with the history lesson,”  Patch said, “Furcone?”  Furcone looked at Orbon.

       “Would you keep an eye on the cubs for me,”  she said, “while I concentrate on telling the story.”

       “Which story are you telling today mama badger?”  Orbon asked, bowing his head to the woodlander.

        “I think I’ll tell the story of how jess came to the community,”  Furcone said.

       “I know Jess,”  Orbon replied, “I’ve played with her, she’s lovely.”

        “I’ll begin the tale,”  Furcone said, this one is called, old grey.  “Old Grey

 

Kamchatka, Conrad  and Nanuq Junior led Helga and Ekaterina to Kamchatka’s lie up, which was bigger than Olga’s and Nanuq’s had been.  Once they’d settled the cubs, Kamchatka and Conrad padded out into the wood for air.  Padding along the track, they were chatting happily when Conrad saw a bear coming down the track towards them, it was walking on its hind legs.  Conrad and Kamchatka waited for the bear to pass them, but seeing them, he stopped, sinking down exhausted on the track.

         “Can, can you help me?”  The bear asked.  Kamchatka looked at the bear; she saw a scruffy grey bear with lighter grey paw pads, which Kamchatka saw as the bear sat on his backside, his paw pads visible to her.

       “You have been with humans,” Kamchatka said, “Do you want help getting back to them?”  The bear looked very unhappy.

       “My humans dumped me,” he choked.  Kamchatka sat beside the scruffy bear and enveloped him in a huge hug.  The bear breathed deeply, trying to contain his emotions.

        “I was dumped here three days ago!”  the bear wept, giving up the struggle, “my life’s been with humans ever since I was a cub, and now, now it’s over, my life with humans that is, but who do I turn to?  Who can I go to now the humans have abandoned me?”

        “You can come home with me if you want,” Kamchatka replied softly.  Conrad, listening to all this, smiled at his mate.

         “Come,” he said to the grey bear.  “Come home with us.”

       “But I’m older than your cubs mama,” the bear protested, “I see you are looking after cubs.”  Kamchatka kissed the bear’s nose, smelling wet fur and tasting salty tears.

        “I can always adopt another cub,” she whispered softly, the grey bear choking back tears.

         “Mama,” the grey bear said, “shows me how it is to be a cub, please!  I’m begging you from the bottom of my heart to find it within you and your family to be kind and gentle to a poor grey bear!”

       “How old are you?”  Kamchatka asked.  The grey bear, whom Kamchatka had named Patch in her mind due to his scruffy and balding coat, thought for a minute.

       “I’m eight years old,” he said, “your cubs are only a month or two old I think.”  Kamchatka felt Patch’s need for a home.

       “Do you have a name?”  Kamchatka asked softly.

        “My name’s Old Grey, at least that’s what my human child used to call me,” the bear replied.

       “Old Grey,” Kamchatka mused, “You’re no old grey, but you have balding fur in Patches.  How about Patch?”  The bear snuggled up to Kamchatka even harder.

         “Patch I am then mama,” he said, “I will do anything to stay with you, let you play with my paws, tickle my toes, stroke my pads, anything to be with you.”

       “I like stroking the paws of my cubs,” Kamchatka replied, “but I will only stroke them if they want me to.”

      “I want you to stroke my paws, both fore and hind, but hind mostly, also, I like having my toes played with and tickled too!  I’m sorry if this is not how a bear should behave, but I was with humans for the last seven and three quarter years and old habits die hard.”

       “Me and my mate love playing with each other’s paws as well as the paws of our cubs.  We will take you home and love you as our own Patch.”  Conrad smiled broadly.

        “Come here,”  he said to the grey bear, who crawled to him, for he found walking painful after three days on his hind legs, having not been taught to walk on all fours.  Conrad watched the bear coming, the poor creature looking more and more like a cub with every passing minute.

        “You have been well loved,” Conrad said, “but humans are funny creatures.  They will discard you as easily as a bit of rubbish, and move on, not giving a thought to the welfare of the poor creature they’ve discarded.”  Patch reached Conrad, who sat down and gathered him into a huge bear hug.  Patch gulped hard.

        “Am I worth loving like this?”  He asked himself, “for these two bears do love me, but on what do they base their love?  Surely not my coat, that’s scruffy and balding?  So what do they feel inside?  Am I dreaming I’m feeling paws around me?  Was the big grizzly mama a dream?”  Patch held onto Conrad’s fur with all four paws, curling the toes of fore and hind paws into the bear’s fur.

        “What’s going on?”  Samson asked, padding up to the group.

        “We have a lost bear here,” Kamchatka replied, “Conrad and I am adopting him, his name’s Patch.”  Samson stared at the scruffy grey bear.

        “Let me take a look at you,” Samson said gently, the scent of man on the bear’s coat making him want to run away.

        “Who are you?”  Patch asked, not turning his head to look at the lion.

       “My name’s Samson, I’m, well, mama bear’s friend.”  Patch wailed with fear as Samson touched him with his paw.

      “Don’t force him Sammy,” fleur said, padding up and looking with a shocked expression at the scruffy bear.

        “What happened to you?”  Fleur asked.

       “Take me home mama; this is too much, too much!”  Patch begged, leaping at Kamchatka.

       “Fleur, Samson, out!”  Kamchatka snapped.  Fleur and Samson fled, seeing the grizzly’s expression hardening.

        “Let’s go home Patch,” Kamchatka said, getting to her paws and leading the way.  Fleur and Samson watched the bears leave, both shocked at Kamchatka’s tone.

        “She’s got a new cub,” Alaska said padding up to fleur, “Kamchatka’s protective, and when Patch became overwhelmed she protected him.  It’s nothing personal.”

        “I don’t know if giving that bear a home is going to bring joy to her heart,” fleur mewed, “that bear looked pretty ill to me.”

        “I can’t say,” Alaska replied, “maybe if I can get paw to paw with him, I can tell you with more certainty.  Right now though, he strikes me as well loved by humans.”

       “Probably taken from his mama as a cub and reared by humans,” Samson suggested.

       “I think that’s exactly what’s happened,” Alaska replied, “poor Patch.  What a life!  Well, now Kamchatka’s paws are round him he’ll have a good few years ahead.”

 

Kamchatka led Patch into their lie up, where Helga and Ekaterina were playing.  Helga, seeing the new bear, told Ekaterina about him.

      “I can smell him from here!”  Ekaterina spat, “he smells of man! Disgusting!”

         “I know he does,” Helga replied, “but mum’s brought him here for a reason I’m sure.  Maybe he’s lost and in need of a home like Conrad was.”  Ekaterina had heard Conrad’s tale, and this struck home.

       “Maybe,” she replied.  Ekaterina crawled up to Patch, which, having walked from the wood on his hind legs had collapsed onto the rug in an undignified heap.

         “Patch, this is my cub Ekaterina, Ekaterina, meet Patch,” Kamchatka said, Ekaterina smiling and touching Patch’s left forepaw.

      “You said I smell disgusting,” Patch said, “why come to me little cub?”

         “Because you are like my sire was, lost and alone, and I can’t let you be alone any longer,” Ekaterina said.  Patch, feeling the cub’s touch, gulped hard, trying with everything he had not to cry.

         “I mustn’t cry, I mustn’t cry!”  He told himself, but tears wouldn’t stop filling his eyes.

        “Cry if you want to Brother Patch,” Ekaterina said.  Patch looked at the white bear cub through his tears.

        “You are all so accepting of me,” Patch sobbed, “why?  What have I done to deserve this?”

        “You have spirit,” Ekaterina said, “you’re a bear.”

       “I’m a humanised bear, who likes peanut butter sandwiches and curling up with a bedtime story.  That’s not wild bear stuff, even I know that.”

        “As a matter of fact, I like peanut butter too,” Ekaterina replied, “also, I like curling up with a bedtime story.  Our badger friends tell us tales just before we go to bed some nights.  We all gather in the great room, and Honeyfur will tell us all tales of the community who have passed into the spirit world from this one.”  Patch, his tears subsiding, was listening with interest.

        “The spirit world? The other side? I, I remember something,”  the scruffy grey bear said, closing his eyes in concentration, the toes of all four paws curling as he fought to remember his first three months of life, “eon something?”

       “Eohippus,” Ekaterina said, “go to Rowena and she’ll tell you that tale, for she’s the spiritual leader round here, but yes, eohippus guides our paws here, and guided yours to us today no doubt.”

       “No,” Patch replied, “I was dumped by my human owner.  I had no guide, I was lost, and I had strange dreams though, for I wandered for a few days, days in which rain came to the wood.  These dreams, dreams of a white lioness.  A white lioness who kept telling me “follow your paws, follow your paws.”  When I told her my head didn’t know where to go, so my paws certainly had no idea, she just kept saying “follow your paws.”

       “And you have followed your paws I see,” someone said.

     “Oh, Hi Rowena,” Ekaterina said airily.  Patch looked up, and then stared open mouthed.

       “It’s, I mean, you’re, you’re the lioness from my dream!”  He exclaimed.

         “I saw a lonely road with a car driving along it,”  Rowena replied, “I saw a human stop the car and push a scruffy bear out of the back.  The car drove away.  The bear was grey with light grey paw pads, as I saw when he lifted a hind paw to scratch the ankle of his other hind leg.  The bear walked into the wood on his hind legs like a man.  So I knew he’d been kept by humans for a long time to learn their ways like he had.  Eohippus told me to reach out to this bear, that she would see him safe if I told him what I was told as a cub.  Follow your paws.  So I told the bear that, and he raged against the ancient teachings, but in the end, the grey bear with the light grey paw pads followed his paws, and they led him eventually to a track and to a meeting with a grizzly bear and polar bear.  Then, in time, the grey bear came here.”  Patch listened to Rowena’s voice; the lioness speaking in such gentle tones Ekaterina had fallen asleep.

         “I don’t know what to say,” Patch said, “Queen Lioness Rowena, you know my dreams!  You describe them completely.”

        “Queen Rowena?”  Rowena asked laughing, “come off it Patch!”  Patch looked into the lioness’s eyes and saw a deep gentility.

        “I thought lions were the kings and queens of the animals,” Patch said.

        “This lioness isn’t,” Rowena replied, “I’m just a student of Eohippus, and Sometimes the white mare will ask me to go to people in need.”  Patch looked at Ekaterina lying with his left forepaw still held in her right fore.

        “Is Ekaterina my sister?”  He asked.

       “What do you think she would say to that?”  Rowena asked.

       “Her paw tells me, tells me she’d like to be my sister, also she called me brother.  I know I want to be her brother, to learn to be a cub again, to play, and to love my mama and adopted sire and their family.”

        “Your paws are telling you the right things,” Rowena said, “follow them Patch, and you will seldom go wrong.”

        “Is it okay to let other bears stroke my paws and play with my toes?”  Patch asked, “I’m sorry if that’s cub stuff, but I never really grew out of liking my paws played with.”  Rowena looked down at Patch’s paws.

        “Do they feel as if they want Ekaterina to play with them?”  She asked.  Patch thought for a minute and decided they did.

        “Yes, they want to be played with,” he replied.

       “So it is good to allow Ekaterina to play with your paws,” Rowena mewed.  Ekaterina shook herself awake.

        “Um, ah, oh, Rowena!”  She said, looking guilty, “I’m sorry, but that story put me right to sleep, I mean, oh no! I didn’t mean it like that!”  Rowena laughed and kissed Ekaterina’s nose.

       “Now you are a good sister to Patch Ekaterina,” Rowena said, “for he’ll need your help.”  Ekaterina smiled and nodded.

       “I know,” she replied, “for he’s never been a cub.”  Patch stared at the white bear cub.

       “How do you know that?”  He asked.

       “I can feel it in your paw,” Ekaterina replied, “it told me everything.”  Patch was about to ask if Ekaterina was willing to help, when she kissed his nose.

       “Curl up my brother so I may kiss the pads of your paws,” Ekaterina said.  Patch did as she requested, and Ekaterina kissed the sole pads of all four of his paws, how good that felt!  First the tiny kiss to the sole pad of a paw, then the tiny caress of her toes holding the toes of whichever paw she’d just kissed.

        “Close your eyes little brother,” Ekaterina said, “for you will not need them if you trust your paws.”  Patch closed his eyes, reaching for Ekaterina with his forepaws, finding her forepaws, then her legs, then her body, enfolding her in a huge hug, his paws guiding him to hug her tightly.

       “I want to hug her; I want to hug her so much!”  Patch thought, “I can’t stop it!”  Ekaterina snuggled closer, the scruffy grey bear’s rain dirtied paws enveloping her, holding her, loving her.

         “My paws don’t want to let go!”  Patch thought frantically, “but, but what if Ekaterina wants me to let go?”

        “Follow your paws, always,” Ekaterina replied, “they’ll tell you what to do.”  Patch and Ekaterina lay curled together for a long time, mud from Patch’s paws dirtying Ekaterina’s fur.

 

Helga watched Ekaterina and Patch, realising Patch had been taught by humans for such a long time, that when they left him, his world fell apart, though his memory of the stories of Eohippus meant he hadn’t quite forgotten the natural world.

Ekaterina and Patch parted after about an hour and a half.  Helga then took her chance to look at Patch and examine him from nose to tail.  He was a medium sized bear with grey fur which was balding in Patches.  His eyes were brown, nose and paw pads grey.  Helga thought he might be related to brown bears rather than grizzly or polar bears.  Patch watched Helga inspecting him from nose to toes.

       “I know I’m a mess,”  he said, “I’ll clean myself up when I’ve had a rest, the last few days have been, well, difficult.”  Helga kissed Patch’s nose.

        “We’ll bathe you and feed you too,” Helga said, “mum’s taken quite a liking to you I feel, as has my sister Ekaterina.  I also like what I feel, even though you are a bit scruffy.”  Nanuq Junior wandered in shortly after and caught sight of Patch.  Going over to him, the polar bear lay down beside the scruffy grey bear.

        “Hi,” Nanuq Junior said to Patch, the grey bear watching him closely.

       “Who are you?”  He asked.

       “I’m Helga’s sire,” Nanuq Junior replied.

       “Helga?”  Patch asked, “Whose Helga?”

       “You mean you didn’t tell this poor bear your name?”  Nanuq junior scolded his cub, “disgraceful behaviour Helga!”  Helga hung her head; she’d forgotten to introduce herself.

      “I’m Helga,” she said lamely, “and you’ve got Conrad, Kamchatka, or mama as we all know her, and Ekaterina, our sister.  Nanuq Junior is not Ekaterina’s sire, even though we’re one family really.   Conrad’s Ekaterina’s sire, my sire kind of adopted Ekaterina, and Conrad’s kind of adopted me too.”  Patch’s eyes widened with surprise, but there was yet more in store.  A scream of:

       “Conrad!”  Followed by the sound of tiny paws running into the lie up heralded Jinghua’s arrival.  The panda cub ran to Conrad who was lying on his side, his eyes half closed.  As the panda cub approached him, Conrad rolled onto his back, the cub leaping onto his chest, Conrad catching Jinghua in his paws.

        “Hello dear cub,” Conrad said, almost purring.  Patch watched all this.

         “Is the black and white bear cub Conrad’s?”  Patch asked.

      “No,” Helga replied, “but he helped her mama a panda named Yi Jie give birth to her.  That’s Jinghua.”  Patch knew of pandas, indeed of many bears, as he’d learned to read with the human adult then the human adult’s child.  He’d read many books, in secret of course, reading about pandas and all kinds of other creatures.  What all his reading had not prepared him for was the family diversity within this community.

        “Um, am I right in thinking that in essence, everyone’s cubs are everyone else’s?  In terms of responsibility I mean?”  He asked.

       “Yeah,” Nanuq Junior replied, “of course you would never call, um, say Yi Jie mama, but if she were the only adult in the room, she’d be as careful with my cubs as I would with hers.  Yes, we look after each other’s cubs.”  Patch smiled, he liked that idea.

        “Now let’s get you bathed,” Kamchatka said to Patch, “a shower, and then a bath for you I think Patch, then some food, a bit of time visiting other families, then a warm drink and off to bed.”  Patch smiled and replied:

       “Ok Mama,” Helga covered her mouth with her paw to hide a smile, for she thought the grey bear was mocking Kamchatka, but Ekaterina knew the truth, Patch wanted direction.

       “I’m on the same bedtime routine as you, so you’ll not be going to bed before everyone else,” Ekaterina said to Patch, the grey bear crawling to Ekaterina and hugging her.

          “why don’t you show Patch where the bathroom is Ekaterina,”  Kamchatka said, “then you can show him how to operate the shower, how to wash his face, body and paws,  and then you can go to the bathtub, and soak for a while before both of you have some food then we’ll visit Allie and Sam.  Alaska should be there tonight, that’s if there’s no cubs due, if there are, she’ll be working.”  Kamchatka thought of her own midwifery post and wondered if she’d ever get back into it.  She was a mama to lost cubs too, but surely that could go alongside caring for mums to be?  Patch was up for all Kamchatka suggested, and followed Ekaterina, crawling along the passageways to where the shower and bathrooms were.  Once inside the shower, Patch looked around him in astonishment!

       “I know how to use all this!”  He said, “For I saw humans using a lot of this.  I know how to use a shower, a bathtub, and the relieving place too.”  Ekaterina laughed:

       “That’s good,” she said, pressing a button on the wall by the shower to turn on the warm jets while Patch made use of the relieving place.  Once he’d concluded his business and washed his paws, he padded over to the shower, staring in amazement at the buttons on the wall, all set at different levels so cubs and adults in the community could operate the shower.  Soaking himself, Patch pressed a button marked “all over body wash” with one forepaw while cupping the other beneath the spout below the button.  Catching the shampoo in his paw, Patch began to rub it into his facial fur.  Once he’d rinsed the soap off his face, he attended to his body, rubbing more of the soap into his fur on belly, legs, chest, neck and paws, making sure he got between the pads and toes of all four paws by sitting down with the shower off and rubbing the shampoo into the pads and toes of his hind paws.

        “This place is wonderful Ekaterina,” Patch said, Ekaterina laughing merrily.

      “I like it,” she said, showering herself down in another shower setup.  Patch made sure every part of his body got washed and rinsed thoroughly.  When Ekaterina and Patch emerged from the shower room to go to the bathtub, they looked like walking puffballs.  Indeed, Patch’s coat looked a lot better now it had been washed.  Entering the bathroom, they found Kamchatka and Conrad, themselves having already showered, bathing in the warm water.

       “I think you two will have to use the other bathtub,” Kamchatka yawned, “it’s too small in here.”  Patch had to agree.  Maybe Ekaterina could get into the bath with her parents, but Patch couldn’t join her.

       “Okay,” Patch said, “Ekaterina and I will use the other tub.  Getting into the water, Patch and Ekaterina sat opposite each other, their hind paws touching.

       “Your hind paws are nice and warm,” Ekaterina said, Patch grinning hugely.

        “”Yours are really soft and,” he picked up her left hind paw in his forepaws and examined it by touch, “so cute too, just like the rest of you Ekaterina.”  Ekaterina giggled as Patch stroked the pads of her left hind paw.

       “I love having my paws touched,” Ekaterina said, “do you like it too Patch?”  Patch gently stroked the toes of Ekaterina’s paw.

       “Why not take my hind paws in your forepaws and see what your paws tell you,” Patch suggested.

       “I will do that, but first you have my hind paw in your forepaws,” Ekaterina said, “Do you want me to curl my toes?”  She asked.  Patch replied:

      “Do you want to curl your toes?  If you do, you curl them, I’ll stroke them.”  Ekaterina smiled and curled her toes tightly, Patch stroking her curled toes and bunched pads.

       “I love all this,” Ekaterina said.  Patch kissed the bunched sole pad of his sister’s left hind paw, Ekaterina giggling with pleasure.

        “Playing with each other’s paws feels so good!”  Kamchatka said.  Conrad, who’s right hind paw she was at that moment holding in her forepaws, laughed merrily.

      “It feels great!”  He said.  Ekaterina giggled:

        “Patch kissed the pads of my left hind paw!”  She said.  Kamchatka smiled broadly.

      “That’s nice,” she said.  Patch let go of Ekaterina’s left hind paw, the cub picking up his left hind in her forepaws and exploring it from toes to sole pad.  Patch smiled hugely, wiggling his toes, Ekaterina kissing the wiggling toes and wrinkled sole pad.  Patch sighed deeply.

        “My hind paws like your paws it seems,” he said softly.  Ekaterina smiled.

 

“Right,” Kamchatka said, “time to get some food then go visit a few friends of our family.”  Ekaterina and Patch got out of the water, drying themselves in the drying rooms, where hot air blew from vents in the floor, walls and ceiling, ruffling the fur and tickling the paw pads of the bears, much to the delight of Ekaterina and Patch, who rolled on their backs in the stream of air, waving their paws about to catch a good jet to tickle their pads and toes even more.  Kamchatka and Conrad watched them, their eyes shining with pleasure.

       “I think they’ve found their own fun,” Kamchatka said to her mate, “no computers for them, just themselves and their paws, that’s all they need.”  Conrad grinned indulgently.

        “I agree completely,” he said, “for all we need is ourselves and our paws to have just as much fun as they are having Kamchatka dear.  Kamchatka smiled and took Conrad’s right forepaw in her left.

      “That we do,” she said.

 

Padding along from the drying room, the first lie up they came to was Petra and Leo’s.  Patch stared round him at the lions that were assembled there.  Theo Junior, Little Elsa, Clarence and of course Leo and Petra themselves.  Petra, seeing Kamchatka, padded over to her and hugged her enthusiastically.

       “Hello Kamchatka love,” Petra said, kissing the grizzly bear’s nose, “who have you brought along to see us?”  Kamchatka knew Petra must have seen everything, but was pretending ignorance.

      “This is Patch,” Kamchatka said, nudging Patch, who stepped forward nervously.  This lioness was no threat to him, Patch knew that, but there was something about her which made him pause.  She looked so assured of her place, of her role in this family, a family which numbered Kamchatka among its members.

       “Mama,” Patch asked, “is you part of the leonine pride too?”

       “I am,” Kamchatka replied.

        “How about me, Helga, and Ekaterina?”  Patch enquired.  Kamchatka looked at Petra, who smiled:

       “Yes,” she said, “all of us.”

       “So does that mean, um, Petra’s part of the ursine family too?”  Kamchatka nodded.

      “Of course,” she said.  Petra walked all around Patch, examining him from all angles.  She then pushed Patch over onto his back from the crawling posture he was in and examined his belly and the soles, pads and toes of all four paws.  Patch giggled as Petra’s paws worked over his own paws.

      “That’s tickling!”  He yelled, “You’re tickling me lioness!”  Petra grinned and specifically tickled his right hind paw, Patch laughing helplessly.

       “Hey!”  He yelled.  Petra kissed his pads, Patch sighing deeply.

        “You have been humanized,” Petra mewed, “dear Patch, you can only walk on your hind paws or crawl like humans do.  Mama Kamchatka will help you get onto all four paws like nature intended you to.  You can still crawl, but walking on your hind paws will no longer be your main mode of locomotion.  Love your paws, crawl all you want, but stand on your four paws more often than you do your hind.  Try it now.”  Patch rolled onto his chest and put his forepaws flat on the carpet, before heaving himself onto his hind paws.  Patch closed his eyes, feeling a change in him.  He then took a few steps, collapsing into a crawling posture, crawling a few paces, then getting onto all four paws again, gripping the carpet with his toes for support.

         “I fell over!”  He said, “But walking on all four paws is easier.  Also, there’s less of a fall if I lose my footing.”  Patch rolled over onto his back, letting Leo, Little Elsa, Theo and Clarence take a good look at him.

        “You have light grey, almost white paw pads and dark grey fur Patch!”  Clarence said.  Patch smiled and curled the toes of all four paws, Little Elsa giggling as her right forepaw was caught in the toes of his left hind.

       “Your pads are bunching up beneath my paw!”  Elsa giggled, as if she’d never felt this before.  Patch grinned.

        “I like the feel of your toes in mine,” he said.  Elsa kissed the bear’s toes holding her own.

       “I like it too,” she replied.

       “This bear’s mad about his paws,” Theo junior remarked.

      “Aren’t we bears all mad about our paws?”  Jinghua asked, padding into the lie up.

      “All except younger Brunetta that is,” Petra said, “she’s a funny one when it comes to her paws.”

       “I learned how to play with my hind paws when my last owner, a young female human child learned to play with her feet,”  Patch said, “I was owned by the adult human, the young female human child’s mother then.  Even so, I saw what the female child was doing and copied her, learning how to use my forepaws play with my hind paws.  I could already stand upright, but I must say that walking on all four paws does feel better, though crawling is great too.  If I crawl, that allows others to touch my hind paws if they want to.  I’ll soon let them know if I don’t want them to touch my pads or toes.  Ekaterina and I were having a great time playing with each other’s paws in the bathtub earlier.”  Jinghua padded over to Patch and looked at him.

       “You are no cub Patch,” she said, “but you act like a cub.  Why is this?”  Yi Jie, padding in and overhearing her daughter cub’s words took Jinghua aside to explain things, for Patch could not.  As far as he was concerned, he was how he was, and that was that.  He’d spent his life playing like a cub, and that was all he knew.

       “U supposes I am a cub,” he mused, “but I’ve never been taught to be any other way.”  Patch released little Elsa’s paw and sat up, looking down at his hind paws.

      “So playing with my hind paws is still okay?”  He asked.  Kamchatka told him it was.  Patch scrambled to his paws, and then fell over theatrically, rolling about and waving his paws in the air before getting into a wild fight with all four paws in an attempt to regain his footing.  Rolling about on the floor, grabbing his hind paws with his forepaws, rolling head over paws and over and over while kicking the air with his paws while growling and snarling,  Patch struggled to regain all four paws, failing at every turn.

      “I can’t get to my paws; I can’t get to my paws! They won’t let me!”  He yelled, while everyone else fell about laughing.

       “Take it gently,” Ekaterina said, “though I have no idea what you were doing.  Just lie on your back, take deep breaths and try to get to your paws.”

      “I’m sorry Ekaterina,” Helga said, for she’d padded into the lie up, “it was so quick I couldn’t describe it.  Patch turned summersaults, rolled about, grabbed his hind paws with his fore before letting go and kicking the air with all four paws in an attempt to get to his feet!  It was very funny!”

       “I was only playing,” Patch said, “but it felt good to play like that, to let my mind run wild for a minute or two.”  Kamchatka helped Patch to his feet, and he went over to Ekaterina.

        “I’m sorry I can’t describe what I just did,” he said, “it was so quick, so frantic, you know, like when you’re trying to get to your paws for the first time and you can’t.  Ekaterina had tried once to get to her paws, but had fallen in a heap on the floor.

         “I only tried it once,” she said, “and I fell over!  It was painful!”

       “Do you want to try getting to your paws now?”  Patch asked.  Ekaterina tried, putting her full weight on her forepaws and placing her hind flat on the carpet.  She stood uneasily, and then took a few tentative steps, before collapsing again into a crawling posture.

       “Crawl with me Patch,” she pleaded, “for I can’t’ walk yet!”  Patch crawled over to Ekaterina and hugged her.

      “I will,” he replied, “until you can walk.”  Ekaterina hugged Patch and kissed his nose.

      “Thanks,” she said.

       “The only way I can describe what Patch did is by saying he rolled about on the floor, trying to get to his paws and failing.  I think he got to his paws once, got them tangled up, then fell again, rolling about on the floor!”  Helga said, “he grabbed his hind paws with his fore, curled up, uncurled, held his hind paws in his forepaws for a few seconds while rolling about on the floor before turning head over paws three times, then landing in a heap.  It looked hilarious!!”

       “I imagine it did,” Ekaterina said, feeling left out for the first time in her life...

        “I’m sorry,” Patch said, Ekaterina, if, if I could take you with me, I would have done so.  You can touch my paws all you like, feel me holding my hind paws with my fore, feel me curling my toes, everything like that, but I can’t re-enact for you what happened earlier.  The sheer craziness of it can’t be recaptured.  Unless someone reviews video of it I suppose.  Oh yes, I saw video cameras here, I know someone will have recorded it.  Maybe someone can describe what happened?  I’ll even watch myself being cubbish and try to tell you.  The thing is, I could let you feel me rolling over or turning head over paws, but you’d most likely be injured if you got paws on with something like that.  Maybe when you’re bigger, I can then show you.”

       “You aren’t a cub in body are you,” Ekaterina said, “Patch, you’re a grown bear with the mind of a cub.”

       “I suppose I have the mind of a cub yes,” Patch said, “but I definitely have the body of an adult bear.  I know this only too well when I realise I can’t play with you like I want to.  I want to roll about with you Ekaterina, but I can’t!  I’m too big!”  Ekaterina hugged her friend.

       “So I can’t see to play with you and you’re too big to play with me,” she said, “what a mess!”

        “Yes,” Patch replied, “but we can still play with each other’s paws, even role plays games like pretend our paws are trapped and we have to free them.  The trapped paw game I know it as.”  Ekaterina smiled:

      “I know that game,” she said, “take the toes of a forepaw in the toes of a hind and pretend it’s stuck, then after a lot of struggling, growling and snarling, another bear frees the trapped paw by stroking it.  Have you ever played the game where we sit opposite each other, hind paws touching and pretend our hind paws are stuck together?  We have to work the toes of our forepaws between the stuck hind paws, working our hind paws loose by inches.”  Patch shook his head.

       “I’ve never played that one,” he said, “but it sounds fun.  So we pretend our paws are stuck together and try to free ourselves, hmmm, sounds fun.”

      “It is,” Ekaterina said.  Patch then had an idea.

      “Ekaterina,” he said, “how would it be if I showed you what I did, sort of took hold of your paws and guided you through it?”

       “So you get me to roll about and turn head over paws?”  Ekaterina asked.

      “Yeah,” Patch replied, “we could find a really soft mat or something, so you wouldn’t get hurt if you fell, and you could roll about and wrestle with your hind paws as much as you wanted.

       “I’ve always wanted to go crazy like that,” Ekaterina said, “I wonder if there is such a place.”

       “There is such a place,” Kamchatka said, “the Boss opened it only yesterday.  It’s a playroom especially for cubs, but is big enough for big cubs too.”

       “You and Conrad you mean,” Helga said laughing.  Kamchatka cuffed her playfully.

         “Yes, well,” Kamchatka said, “it’s a big room with soft matting on the floor and walls and soft slides and ladders and all sorts of stuff.  Ekaterina could play in there without much supervision.  Of course someone would be watching her, but she’d need no one to one help.  The Boss has even included tactile markings on the floor for blind community members.  There’s also soothing music, and soothing lighting, as well as a kind of restful area away from the play area.  It’s adjoining the pool complex but can be accessed from the main house!  Ekaterina and you Patch could play in there easily, and Ekaterina could have her first taste of freedom.  She could learn how to navigate her way up the ladders and down the slides and to use her ears and paws more affectively.  Well, we all need to do that.”

      “I want it, I want it, and I want it!”  Ekaterina yelled, jumping up and down with excitement.

       “I can hardly wait either!”  Patch said, dancing on his toes.  Ekaterina hugged Patch forcefully.

        “A place for us cubs and noone else? How wonderful!”  She enthused.  Patch giggled:

       “Yeah,” he said, “a place where we can crawl about, play with each other’s paws, or play together on the slides and things.”

       “This is going to be so cool!”  Ekaterina enthused.  Patch took her paw and they crawled to the new place which Kamchatka guided him to, then she opened the door and pointed the way in.

     “Go in,” she said, “I can’t follow you two in there.”  Patch led Ekaterina into the new room, which was huge!  Kamchatka closed the door behind them, feeling lonely.  Watching on a screen by the door, she saw and heard what was going on in the room.  The room was enormous!

 

Ekaterina and Patch found themselves in a well lit room with soft flooring under paw and a slide off to one side.  The room was forest themed, with the trees providing the supports for the above ground level activities.  One tree was even part of the slide, this was a bent tree trunk which one slid down inside.  Ekaterina bounced on her toes and looked up at Patch as best she could.

      “Could you show me how you roll head over paws?”  She asked.  Patch grinned:

        “Sit down,” he said, “and then lean forward, tuck your head into your chest and roll forward quickly.  Let your body do the rest.  Ekaterina tried it, but couldn’t do it.

      “I don’t like it!”  She whimpered, “It’s uncomfortable!”

      “It is when you’re thinking about it,” Patch replied, “forward roles are not that easy to do when you’re concentrating.  Right, let’s try something simpler.  Try standing on all four paws, then tangling them up and falling over.  You know how soft this floor is now, so you’ll be okay.”  Ekaterina stood on her four paws, and then leapt into the air, trying to tangle her paws.  Managing this, she collapsed in a laughing heap, rolling and wriggling in a fight with suddenly unresponsive paws.

       “My paws are all tangled up!”  She yelled laughing helplessly, “they’re trapped, Patch, touch my paws!”  Patch did so, finding Ekaterina had her hind paws held in her forepaws and was trying to pull them apart.

      “They’re stuck, stuck tight!  I can’t free them!”  She yelled, tugging desperately.

        “Pull Ekaterina Pull!”  Patch encouraged, the female polar bear cub rocking back and fourth and rolling from side to side in her struggle to free her fore and hind paws.

       “I can’t free my paws, I can’t free them!”  She yelled, “They won’t let go!”

        “Come here,” Patch said gently, going to her and gently stroking the bunched pads of Ekaterina’s hind paws, which released her from the game.

     “Thanks,” Ekaterina panted, exhausted, “my paws had a mind of their own!”  Patch laughed:

       “I don’t think they did, but I don’t know for sure,” he said, “mine seemed to at one point.”  Ekaterina hugged Patch hard, her paws damp with sweat from her exertions.

         “Weren’t we meant to be having food then going to sleep?”  Patch asked.  Ekaterina laughed:

       “Not until mum catches us, come on!”  She said, racing off into the depths of the playroom, scampering up a ladder, Patch following more slowly.  Ekaterina seemed to find her way instinctively, even though she’d never been in that place.  Running across levels and up ladders with her paws hardly touching the rungs.

        “Wait for me!”  Patch panted, his paws feeling clumsy when set against the light paw prints of his younger friend.  Ekaterina waited for Patch at the top of the tower.  Patch, his paws feeling heavy and useless joined her a minute later.

       “Now where?”  He asked, “There’s nowhere else, and it’s a long way down Ekaterina!”

         “Is it?”  She asked, “I wouldn’t know.  Well, there’s got to be a way down from here, besides climbing down all those ladders of course, and that’s just boring.  What can you see?”

       “I can see two ways down,” Patch replied, “both make my paws sweat with fear.  One is a slide, the other is a thing you sit on and hang on with your forepaws to a stick, and you are carried down at horrendous speeds.  I must say, I like neither of them.  You got me up here, now you get me down!”  Patch whimpered.  Ekaterina padded round, feeling her way to the zip wire.  Finding the seat, she sat down in it, making sure her hind legs were each side of the central padded bar, the toes of her hind paws just brushing the soft flooring if she pointed them.  She held onto the handles with both forepaws, working her body into the tight fitting space, and sat waiting.  Nothing happened.

        “Come on, I want to go!”  She complained, swinging back and fourth with all her strength.  Patch wondered what was keeping Ekaterina, and was about to ask her when she suddenly shot off down the wire.  Ekaterina, completely unprepared, hung on with all her might, the slide plummeting downwards!

         “Help me! Stop this! Please!”  She screamed.  Suddenly the slide began to slow, and then stopped with a jerk.  Ekaterina didn’t know where she was, so she sat, the toes of her hind paws straining towards the floor only inches away.

 

Kamchatka, seeing her cub was distressed, ran into the room and picked up Ekaterina who was now sobbing.

        “It’s okay dear cub,” Kamchatka said softly, then, as Patch came whizzing down the traditional slide to join her, she looked up at the camera and yelled:

      “I don’t know who released the zip wire, but whoever you are, you need a good whack!”  “Let me be the one to whack them!”  Patch begged.  Kamchatka refused him.

      “No Patch, that’s just vengeful,” she said, “Now let’s gets you both to the kitchen where I can fix you both some warm milk and some food.  I think we could all do with a little peace for a bit.”  Patch padded after his mama, feeling he’d not done a very good job of looking after his little sister.

 

Kamchatka let Ekaterina drink from her milk, then sorted Patch out with his favourite food, peanut butter sandwiches.  Alaska padded in then, talking to Kamchatka in low tones.  Kamchatka went to Patch and told him Alaska, one of the medical team wanted to see him.  Patch hated medics, and began to sweat with fear.

        “What does she want to do with me?”  He asked.  Alaska padded up to Patch and took his sweat soaked paw in hers.

       “I just want to examine you, see how you are health wise,” Alaska said.  Patch looked at her.

        “You’re barely out of cubhood!”  He exclaimed.

       “I got my job early on I’ll admit,” Alaska said.  Patch looked at Alaska more closely.  She was beautiful, and her paw was telling him things too.

        “Come to somewhere private and I’ll just take a quick look at you,” Alaska said.  She took Patch to her lie up and asked him to roll onto his back.  Patch did, and Alaska took each one of his paws in hers, feeling his pads and toes, parting fur, rubbing pads and toes.  She then looked at his teeth, his eyes and his general condition.

       “Your fur is rather scruffy,” she said, “but that’s due to human intervention I believe.”  Patch looked at himself.  She was right.

       “I like your paws,” Alaska said, “the pads on the soles of your paws are almost white, whereas your body fur is dark grey.  I love contrasting paw pads, they look so cute when you’re crawling about, the contrast between your dark grey fur and lighter paw pads is so endearing.  Patch grinned, for he liked his paws very much.

        “Do you play with your paws Alaska??”  Patch asked.  Alaska smiled, rolled onto her back and took the toes of her hind paws in her fore.

      “Like this?”  She asked.  Patch laughed:

        “Yes, yes!”  He said.  Alaska sat up and began playing with the toes of her right hind paw, Patch following her example.

       “Silly cub stuff isn’t it,” Patch said.  Alaska shook her head.

      “No it’s not silly cub stuff,” she replied, “it’s good wholesome fun, hurts noone and is very pleasurable.”

        “So what’s the verdict on my health?”  Patch asked.

       “You’re healthy,” Alaska said, “the condition of your fur is a result of much loving and being hugged all the time, but that will grow back very quickly.”

       “You mean I won’t be hugged here?”  Patch asked, looking very upset.

      “Of course you’ll be hugged, just in a different way which doesn’t damage your fur.”  Alaska said, rolling over, releasing her hind paws and kissing the bunched sole pad of Patch’s left hind paw, the larger bear releasing his hold on his hind paws so Alaska could hug him.  Once he was lying on his back, Alaska pulled Patch onto his side and embraced him tenderly.  Patch snuggled up to the younger bear, loving her attention.

       “I will report back to fleur on what I find,” Alaska thought, “she’s going to be surprised, for she was dead wrong about this bear.  He’s got lots of life in him, all he needs is a bit of ursine rather than human tender loving care and he’ll be fine.”

        “Go Home Patch,” Alaska said.  Patch got to his paws and padded from the room, Alaska watching him go.

       “I like that bear,” Alaska thought.

 

Later that night, when everyone else was asleep, Alaska made her report to fleur on Patch’s health.  Fleur was surprised that Patch was in such good health.

       “He looks so dreadful!”  She said.

       “Looks aren’t everything fleur,” Alaska replied, “patch has a strong life force, and his spirit is good.  His fur will grow back in time, and he’s already learning how to walk rather than crawl.  Plus he’s got the most gorgeous paws too!  They’re almost white on the soles, and he’s got dark grey fur on his legs, so when he does crawl, you see the almost white pads on his hind paws and it’s so cute!”  Fleur smiled:

       “You and your paws Alaska,” fleur said, “I’ve never known anyone, apart from Kamchatka, who’s as mad about paws as you are.”

        “I know,” Alaska said, “but I just can’t help it.”   Fleur laughed merrily.

      “If we don’t look after our paws then we go nowhere,” Kamchatka said, padding into the room and hugging Alaska.

       “Thank you Alaska,” Kamchatka whispered to the young female polar bear.

       “Thank her for what?”  Fleur asked.  Kamchatka looked at her.

        “I’m thanking her for refusing to trust her eyes,” the grizzly bear said.  Fleur stared at Kamchatka.

        “What do you mean?”  She asked.

       “You wrote Patch off on sight!”  Kamchatka yelled.  Fleur hesitated; she had expressed her views, and now was very sorry.

        “I’m medical trained, not spiritually trained,” fleur mewed in mitigation.  Kamchatka whacked Fleur’s shoulder with her paw, fleur nearly knocked off her paws!

        “Fair one,” fleur sniffed, shocked at the force of the grizzly’s anger.

          “You’re finished!”  Kamchatka shouted, “Alaska can overpower you with her paws, and you’re a has been!”

       “I’m not as powerful as I once was,” fleur mewed, “I’ll admit that, but Kamchatka, please, we all make mistakes, and I made one then!  I’m sorry!”  Kamchatka, angry and upset, walked out of the lie up.  Fleur looked down at her toes; they were curled into the carpet, her claws sheathed.

        “Fleur,” she thought, “you shouldn’t have said what you did.  You’re big mouth got you into trouble!”

 

Alaska, feeling a need to be close to Patch, went into his lie up and gathered the sleepy dark grey bear into a huge hug.  Patch, feeling her paws around him, snuggled up hard into her hug.

       “Hug me Alaska, please,” he murmured, burying his face in her thick warm fur and clinging onto her with both forepaws.  Alaska breathed in Patch’s scent, loving his hug.

       “Sleep well Patch dear,” she whispered, Patch cuddling closer and relaxing totally.  Alaska knew she liked Patch a lot, loving his mind as well as his body, for she could feel his need to play, his love for his paws was as great as her own for hers.  Alaska took Patch’s right forepaw in both of hers, massaging his toes and stroking his pads, the sleeping bear reacting to her touch, pressing his paw into hers, his toes pressing hard against her pads.

        “Hold my paw Alaska, please, squeeze my toes a bit if you want,” Patch said sleepily, Alaska gently caressing his toes, Patch sighing deeply.

       “I want you to caress all four of my paws, play with my toes, tickle my pads, and love my paws Alaska!”  Alaska kissed Patch’s nose, the bear’s desperation plain to her.

       “Sleep first Patch,” Alaska said, “then we will play together, I will play with your paws.”  Patch cuddled Alaska tightly.  Alaska slept after a while, the warmth of Patch’s body comforting to her.

 

Waking some time later, Alaska found Patch curled round her, still sleeping peacefully.  She looked at him in the light cast by the dim bulbs in the ceiling, the light automatically dimming after ten pm, and growing brighter after seven AM.  Alaska saw Patch was dark grey from nose to the soles of his paws, which were so light grey they were almost white.  Alaska gently extricated herself from Patch’s hug and examined his face and paws more closely.  Alaska saw a frightened cub; indeed, she fancied he’d cried out in the night, clinging to her with desperate paws.  Now taking his right forepaw in hers, she felt sweat on his pads and an accelerated pulse.  He was asleep, but only just.  Suddenly Patch screamed, his paws reaching out to Alaska!  Alaska held his forepaws tightly, Patch’s hind paws scrabbling at her for purchase.

         “Don’t throw me out, not here! Please, don’t leave me!  Not here!  Not on this road!”!”  He screamed.  Alaska, feeling the toes of the male bear’s hind paws gripping her fur, and his forepaws crushing hers, wondered what on earth could be the matter.

         “Patch, Patch!”  Alaska said, “It’s all right, it’s all right!”  Now Helga, Kamchatka and Conrad were awake too, Ekaterina and younger Nanuq sleeping through it all.

       “What the hell’s happening?”  Kamchatka demanded.

        “Patch, dear Patch,” Alaska whispered into the grey bear’s ear, “it’s okay, noone’s leaving you now, I promise.”  Patch began to sob quietly.

        “I dreamt that I was inside my former owner’s car,” Patch sobbed, “I pleaded with them not to throw me out, but they did, and I was all alone on a cold road in the middle of nowhere!”  Kamchatka listened, very troubled.

        “No wonder he screamed,” she thought.

       “You’re safe now, totally safe and protected,” Alaska said gently.  Patch clung to her with all four paws.

        “That was a horrible dream!”  He yelled.

        “I don’t doubt it was.”  Helga snapped, “now Patch, go back to sleep.”

      “I can’t, if I do, I’ll have that horrid dream again,” Patch whimpered.

       “Well see if anyone else is awake then,” Kamchatka said drowsily, “there’s usually a lion or two about, or the tigers, they aren’t sleeping at night.”  Patch looked at Alaska, who shook her head.

       “I’m going back to sleep,” she said finally.  Patch got to his paws and padded from the lie up.  Padding along the passage, the tiles cold on his paws after the warmth of the rugs, Patch listened to the silence, it was silent, no sound bar the whirring of air conditioning.

        “I wonder if anyone’s about.”  Patch thought.  Patch looked to his left, and then someone screamed in his right ear!

       “Heehaw!”  Patch leapt a mile!

       “Hey!”  He yelled once his paws had quite literally touched down.  Swarupa laughed merrily.

       “Got you!”  She yelled.  Patch, very angry, cuffed the half grown tigress with his paw.

       “Hey big bully Patch!”  She whined.

       “You horrid thing!”  Patch remonstrated.

      “Oh, how sweet!”  Swarupa teased, “oh you horrid thing!”” She mocked, “Come on Patch, let’s hear you swear!”  Patch knew some disgusting words, for he’d heard them during the break up of the marriage between his first adult owner and her male human mate, but he’d never use them.

       “Why should I swear?”  He asked, “There’s no need.”

        “I know some words,” Swarupa said.

       “Yes,” Tigger said, padding up to his cub and whacking her hard with his paw, “I know you know them!  Now leave poor Patch alone!”  Patch turned to the larger tiger.

       “You’re her sire?”  He asked.  Tigger smiled and held out his paw.

        “My name’s Tigger,” he said, Patch instantly realising the tiger was blind, for he has the same tentative manner as Ekaterina.  Patch shook paws with the tiger.

        “I’m Patch,” the grey bear said unnecessarily.  Tigger touched noses with him which made Patch feel a lot better.

        “Now where were we?”  Tigger asked.

        “I was about to teach Patch how to swear,” Swarupa said.  Tigger spanked his cub hard.

       “If I catch you teaching anyone how to swear I’ll knock your block off!”  He yelled.  Swarupa ran away, goading her sire.

       “Bet you can’t catch me!”  She yelled, skipping away on silent paws.  Tigger looked frustrated, for he couldn’t catch her, but Patch could, and did!  Dragging Swarupa back to her sire, the bear dumped her on the floor at Tigger’s feet.

       “Got you!”  Patch snarled, now furious!”

        “What are you?  His enforcer?”  Swarupa whined.  Patch walloped her!

       “Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!”  Swarupa screamed.  Patch left off, one blow from his paw being enough.  Sushanti padded up to her younger sister and looked down at her.

        “So your disgusting words have got you into hot water with a bear, wonderful!”  She snapped.  Tigger told her all about it, Sushanti getting even angrier!

        “You horrid thing!”  She yelled, adding her own blow to Patch’s, Swarupa howling with pain.

        “That bloody great bear already hit me Sushanti!”  Swarupa whimpered, “Right where you did too, and it sodding well hurts!”  Tigger sighed with exasperation and padded away.

        “You’re not going to leave us with a cub like Patch is you Tigger?”  Swarupa yelled.

        “He’ll sort you two out I’m sure,” Tigger snarled, “I’m leaving.”  Sushanti looked at Patch.

        “So how did you and my darling little sister come to meet?”  She asked.  Patch told her.

       “Oh lovely,” Sushanti said, “Swarupa, you are a disgrace.”  Patch padded away, not wanting to inflame the situation further.  He wanted someone to play with; his paws were desperate to be played with or to play with the paws of another creature.

     “I know I can play with my own paws, but that’s not what I want now,” Patch thought, “I want to feel the paws of another creature responding to my touch!”  Patch padded along the passage, his paws pleading with him to make contact with the paws of another creature.  Patch wanted to play, and play well, gentle or rough play, he didn’t mind which.  Padding up some stairs, he found himself turning right and entering the lie up of the pandas.  Almost immediately he was ambushed by Jinghua, who was unable to sleep and just about going round the twist with boredom.  Patch pretended surprise, reared onto his hind legs and collapsed backwards, all four paws sticking skywards, to the panda cub’s huge delight.

       “Got you!”  She yelled, leaping on top of Patch, pawing at him, and finally tickling his right hind paw with huge enthusiasm, Patch laughing until he cried.

        “Stop it!”  He said, glad someone else was in a playful mood.  Jinghua let go of his hind paw and embraced him as best she could.

       “I saw you in Conrad’s lie up; you’re his new cub aren’t you?”  The panda asked.  Patch said he was, which Excited Jinghua, who hugged him even harder.

      “Your Name’s Patch isn’t it?”  Jinghua asked.

      “Yes,” Patch replied.

      “My name’s Jinghua, “the panda cub said, meeting you finally Patch is so great!”  She enthused.  Patch giggled cubbishly, enjoying her enthusiasm.  Jinghua soon set to examining him from nose to paws, the panda loving the fact he had almost white soles with black paw pads and dark grey fur.

       “Your fur and the soles of your paws are different colours!”  She whooped, “How wonderful is that?  Look, I’ve got brown soled paws!”  She rolled over, showing Patch the soles of all four paws, Patch seeing this was indeed true.

       “You have,” he said, “so we’re similar in that we have different coloured soles to our paws.  That’s great isn’t it?”  Jinghua hugged him.

      “It is, it is!”  She exclaimed.  Yi Jie found them comparing the soles of their paws five minutes later, and laughed at the two bears.

       “You two don’t need much to amuse you do you,” she said.

      “No mum, we don’t,” Jinghua replied, “I haven’t even played with Patch’s paws yet, and nor has he played with mine.  That’s a whole new game!  We’re just letting each look at the other’s paws; we’ve not got paws on yet.  Um, well I did, before I realised he had near white paws of course.  Now though, t’is a whole new game!”  Patch thought of Ekaterina, and how she could not play the visual part of the game, the thought saddening him.

       “What’s the matter Patch?”  Jinghua asked.  Patch told her.

        “Oh, oh dear,” Jinghua said, “So Ekaterina can’t see you have near white soles to your paws, nor that I have brown soles?”  Patch shook his head.

        “Oh dear,” Jinghua said, very affected by this news, “I don’t know what to say to that.  It’s horrible!”

       “It’s normal for Ekaterina,” Patch replied, “so she and I play very paws on.  We play with each other’s paws from the very first.”

       “Teach me,” Jinghua said, “please, teach me how patch.”

       “Close your eyes and keep them closed,” patch replied, “then find my paws with yours.  Feel my paws rather than look at them.  Learn to find your world with your paws Jinghua.”   Jinghua closed her eyes.

      “I remember this!”  She said suddenly, “It’s like when I was first born, I was like this all the time!  This is easy!”  Patch touched her nose with his, having also closed his eyes.  Jinghua dabbed at his nose with her paw, Patch kissing her pads, which had the female panda cub laughing helplessly.  Patch and Jinghua played for a long time, the panda cub and grown bear finding each other’s paws very easily and loving each other’s touch.  Then, once the games were over, Jinghua took a good look at Patch’s paws.  They had dark grey upper fur with white soles, his pads almost white rather than the usual black.  Yi Jie laughed at the antics of the two bears, loving how they could get so much pleasure from their own bodies by just playing with each other’s paws.

        “Long may they enjoy each other’s company and paws,” Yi jie thought.

 

Meanwhile, Alaska, having woken in the early morning, was shocked to find patch no longer with her.  Forcing her sleep drugged mind to work, she remembered telling him to find something to do if he wasn’t going to sleep after he’d woken up from a nightmare screaming.  Where had he got to?  Picking up a wall phone, Alaska got through to Brunetta who was on night duty and asked her to search for the dark grey bear.  She found him easily, curled up with Jinghua in the panda’s lie up.

        “They’ve been playing with each other’s paws for the last two hours,” Brunetta said, “before that, there was a little trouble with Swarupa.  The little tigress frightened the fur off of Patch and then tried to teach him how to swear.  He had none of it, as did Tigger or Sushanti.  Just watch this!”  Brunetta replayed all the footage from the cameras in the corridor.  Alaska was angry with Swarupa by the end of the presentation.

       “Dam that tigress!”  She snapped.

       “Patch then went to the panda’s lie up, more by luck than judgement.  Watch this!”  Brunetta said, playing Alaska more of the night’s goings on.  Alaska laughed as she watched Patch and Jinghua playing, both cub and grown bear clearly enjoying each other’s company and playing with each other’s paws.

        “He looks so content,” Alaska said, “it’s lovely.”   Brunetta smiled:

        “He’s as mad about his paws as me or Kamchatka,” she said.

       “I can see that,” Alaska replied.  Ekaterina padded up to Alaska and slipped her tiny left forepaw beneath the older cub’s larger right fore.

        “Where’s patch?”  She asked.  Alaska rubbed noses with the younger cub.

        “He’s playing with Jinghua,” Alaska said.

      “Jinghua?  The panda cub?”  Ekaterina asked.  Alaska replied:

       “Yes Ekaterina, though I think he’ll be back soon.”  Ekaterina snuggled up to Alaska, shivering with cold.

        “I’m freezing!”  She complained.  Alaska lay down, curling her body around the smaller cubs.

       “How’s that?”  Alaska asked.  Ekaterina snuggled down into Alaska’s warm fur.

       “That’s lovely,” she said dreamily.  Kamchatka watched Alaska and Ekaterina.

        “I’ll feed you in a bit,” Kamchatka said, padding over to her cub and settling down beside Ekaterina and Alaska.  Kamchatka looked at her cub nestled in the warm embrace of the older cub that’d helped her into the world.

       “I love you Alaska,” Ekaterina said dreamily.  Kamchatka listened to her cub, watching her.

        “We all need love,” Kamchatka said, knowing she was loved by Conrad and Nanuq junior.  Kamchatka fed her cub, Ekaterina drinking her mum’s warm milk, the warmth spreading from her nose to her toes.  Kamchatka remembered Ekaterina’s birth, all the pain, all the effort she’d made, all worth every straining, panting, heaving second.  Kamchatka stroked Ekaterina’s back, closing her eyes and imagining another birth, the birth of a grey bear, and herself giving birth to him, such a struggle, tremendous urges to push down so hard to deliver a large cub with near white paw pads.

       “Mum?  Mum!”  Ekaterina yelled, slapping Kamchatka’s paws.  Kamchatka surfaced, her whole body aching.

       “What?”  She asked, “Ooh, I feel dreadful!”

       “You were imagining giving birth to a cub,” Alaska said.  Kamchatka shook herself.

        “I heard you grunting and yelling with effort,” Ekaterina said, “I was scared!”

       “I’m sorry, so sorry,” Kamchatka said sobbing, “I didn’t mean to, I wasn’t, I didn’t know I was, oh dear!”  She buried her face in her paws, weeping.

        “It’s okay, it’s okay!”  Conrad said, crawling over to his mate and hugging her, Kamchatka slumping on the floor almost choking on her tears.

        “I thought, fantasised, imagined I was giving birth to a dark grey cub with near white paw pads!”  Kamchatka sobbed.

         “You wish you had given birth to him,” Conrad replied, “I can sympathise with that.  For if you had, patch wouldn’t have had the life he’s had.  You can’t change his past life Kamchatka love, but you can make his life better now.”

        “My life’s better than it was two days ago mama,” patch said, crawling towards Kamchatka, hugging her when he reached her.

        “I hope I didn’t cause you too much pain during my birth.”  Kamchatka looked at patch, remembering her dream, the pain, the effort, the feeling of the cub emerging into the world, the sight of his grey fur and near white paw pads.

        “It was wonderful, just like Ekaterina’s birth was,” Kamchatka replied, “I wouldn’t change a thing.”  Patch snuggled up to his mama.

        “Jinghua and I played with each other’s paws today mama,” he said.  Kamchatka smiled and kissed Patch’s nose and the whitish pads of his right forepaw.

        “Ekaterina, Patch, Helga, I love you all my dear cubs,” Kamchatka said.  Ekaterina and patch cuddled up to Kamchatka, Helga watching them.

        “You two are more Kamchatka’s cubs than I am,” she said.  Kamchatka beckoned to Helga, before trying to hug her, patch and Ekaterina all at once.  Patch laughed delightedly and rolled onto his back, whimpering and whining like a newborn cub, much to the amusement of the other bears.  Kamchatka fed Ekaterina, and then called to Patch.

      “Come here Patch dear cub,” Kamchatka said; patch crawling to her and embracing her with his forepaws, Kamchatka becoming tearful.

       “Play with my paws mama, please!”  Patch begged.  Kamchatka turned patch on his back and stroked the creamy white pads of his left forepaw, Patch sighing contentedly.

        “I can feel you love me very much mama,” he said.  Kamchatka smiled, her tears wetting Patch’s paw pads.

       “You’re crying on my paws!”  The grey bear said, “aw mum, don’t cry, it’s okay.”  Kamchatka kissed the now wet pads of Patch’s paw, the bear himself trying not to cry.

       “I love you mum,” he choked, sniffing hard.  Kamchatka gathered her son cub to her, rolling onto her back and embracing him with everything she had.

       “Isn’t that sweet?”  Ekaterina said, fully aware of what was going on.

        “Kamchatka’s wanted to imagine the birth of her son cub for a long time,”  Alaska said, “now she has, she feels he’s really part of her, not just part of her family.  She needed to imagine Patch’s birth Ekaterina.”  Ekaterina nodded.

       “I know,” she replied.  Kamchatka hugged Patch hard to her, embracing him as if she’d given birth to him that very day.  Kamchatka looked Patch over from his light grey nose, to his dark grey body fur, ending with a close examination of his paw pads, which were such a light grey they were almost white.  Patch curled his toes with pleasure as his mama massaged his pads and caressed his toes.

        “I’ve never been so happy since I was in my den with my natural mother,” patch said.  Kamchatka kissed the pads of patch’s right forepaw, the grey bear giggling cubbishly.

        “Dear mama,” he said.

        “My dream was so real!”  Kamchatka said, “I felt real pain, a real urge to bear down against a cub!  I saw and felt the cub emerging too, feeling everything from the emergence of the cub’s head, to the final squeezing push to deliver the cub’s hind paws.”

       “Was the cub patch?”  Alaska asked.

       “I think he was,” Kamchatka replied.

       “You were grunting and panting!”  Ekaterina said, “Curling your toes too, I felt you curling your toes!  You were really pushing hard mum!”  Kamchatka nodded and sighed:

        “You can’t help pushing when you’re convinced you’re having a cub,” she replied, “the need to bear down is so powerful!  I just wanted to push so hard, then pant, then push, and push, and push some more!  Right, right until I felt the final urge to squeeze down to deliver the cub’s hind paws.  It’s a different type of push, it’s an open mouth, curl toes tight type of effort, breathing all the way through the effort.  Just squeeze down into my tail, deep deep down, a really big push!  The cub’s paws were hard to deliver, but I managed it.”  Patch looked at his mama.

       “You enjoy describing it, I can feel that,” he said.  Kamchatka smiled and nodded:

       “I do,” she replied.

       “Can you remember anything else about the dream?”  Patch asked.  Kamchatka nodded:

        “I can remember pushing down into my tail, big pushes, big grunting, and panting, straining efforts.  Then I saw the cub’s head, panting for breath, letting the cub slide into the world, then bearing down hard to deliver its forepaws and body, then a big push to deliver the cub’s hind legs, then the big squeezing push to deliver its hind paws.  Patch hugged his mama.

        “Well done,” he said.  Kamchatka grinned.

         “I love you very much Patch,” she said, “the birth I imagined was full of love for you, every effort was committed to with love, and I pushed with everything I had, to give life to the cub I love from nose to whitish padded paws.”  Patch giggled cubbishly and kissed his mama’s nose and paws.

        “I love you mum,” he said, dropping mama, the more formal term.  Kamchatka kissed Patch’s nose and the soles of all four of his paws, Patch laughing merrily.

       “We all love you patch,” Alaska said.  Patch smiled.

       “I know,” he said.  Patch curled up on the floor and was soon asleep.

 

Petra padded in a short time later, gazing at the grey bear curled up sound asleep.  Her heart went out to the grey bear.

       “I saw him and Jinghua playing together,” she said, “it was lovely to see them playing with each other’s paws and enjoying each other’s company.”  Kamchatka smiled broadly.

        “He is one handsome bear,” she said, “and I love him so much Petra.  I had a dream of giving birth to him; the dream was so real, so vivid!”  Petra nodded, for she’d had similar dreams before Theo Junior’s birth.  Petra often watched the video of his birth, marvelling she’d given birth to a cub.  Petra would watch with fascination as in full colour and sound, she brought new life into the world.  All the pain and effort had been worth it.  Theo had also watched his birth video several times; surprised his mum had felt so much pain during his birth, for he’d been not overly large at birth.  Petra told him he’d hurt her quite a bit on his way into the world, and that she’d had to push strongly to deliver him.

        “I didn’t want pain relief,” Petra said to her son cub when they’d watch the video together, “I wanted to feel everything, and I felt everything!”  Theo would then look at his mum, taking her in from nose to tail before hugging her.  Now, In Kamchatka’s lie up, Petra thought of her own cub.  Theo had turned into a handsome lion, gentle and kind to those smaller and weaker than himself.  Thinking of Theo always brought tears to Petra’s eyes, for he reminded her so much of her adopted sire Theo Senior, for Theo Junior was so much like him.  Petra felt a paw take hers, and looking round, her eyes met those of her Son cub.

        “I felt you thinking about me and my birth,” Theo Junior said.  Petra gulped hard.

        “I was, I was,” she said, “I was thinking, remembering, for Kamchatka dreamt of giving birth to Patch.”  Theo nodded.

       “I know she did,” the white lion said, “she wriggled and groaned with pain, bringing her hind paws up and curling her toes as she pushed hard to deliver her cub.  I saw her pain and effort.  Although she was dreaming, it was real to her, and that’s all that matters.  I wish her to remember that dream, remember her feelings, remember how she pushed and fought to deliver her cub.”  Kamchatka looked at Theo.

        “I can remember how I felt, how I wanted to push, how I bore down hard, how my toes curled, how I breathed deeply and heaved with everything I had, squeezing down to deliver the cub’s hind paws.”

       “You rolled about and pedalled the air with your hind paws,” Theo mewed.  Kamchatka smiled:

       “I could have given birth to Patch,” she said, “and I’m glad I was allowed to come as close as I could.  The dream was wonderful, and would have continued, had Ekaterina not freaked out, but I can’t blame her for that.  I so wanted to push Theo!”  Kamchatka said, her eyes burning with intensity, “I so wanted to push, and push I did!  Push and push, and push!  I curled my toes and strained with everything I had!  The dream was wonderful.  I remember the cub’s entrance into the world, and I’ll never forget that!”

 

Rowena listened in her lie up.  She knew why Kamchatka’s dream had been so vivid and real to her.  The white lioness had seen everything, and knew of Kamchatka’s need to feel patch was her own cub.  so when the grizzly bear had thought hard about how patch’s birth might be, Rowena had allowed her mind to run free, telling her body to obey her mind, to make her feel like she was giving birth to patch.  Kamchatka had given birth to the cub, only waking Ekaterina at the last moment when she shrieked while pressing down to deliver the cub’s hind paws, but they were delivered before Ekaterina woke.  Rowena could do nothing about the grizzly’s confusion however.  Dreams like the one she had often lead to slight confusion.  Kamchatka would never forget the birth of her dark grey cub.  It would be etched on her memory as firmly as Ekaterina’s birth.

 

Patch rolled onto his back, presenting Theo Junior with all four white soled paws.  The white lion laughed and tickled patch’s toes, the dark grey bear laughing and wriggling with pleasure.  Theo kissed the soles of Patch’s paws, the bear shouting with laughter as the lion’s whiskers tickled his pads.

        “It’s almost too much!”  He shouted, “But I love it, I love having my paws played with!”  Theo embraced each one of Patch’s paws in his large white forepaws, caressing toes and stroking white paw pads.

       “Can I look at your paws?”  Patch asked.  Theo smiled and nodded.

     “Why not touch them too?”  He asked.

      “Can I?”  Patch asked.  Theo nodded and blew on the pads of Patch’s right hind paw, the bear giggling.  Theo rolled onto his back and presented Patch with his paws, the bear taking each one of the lion’s white, black padded paws in his and examining them by sight and touch, Theo purring and curling his toes in ecstasy, much as the bear had.

       “I would like to see a birth video,” Patch said, “for mum said she’d watched Ekaterina’s birth video.”  Theo nodded and pressed the pads of his right hind paw hard into Patch’s forepaws, pushing as hard as he could, the bear easily resisting his pressure, Theo curling his toes with effort.

      “Push Theo Push!”  Patch encouraged, the lion grunting and panting with effort.

       “I can’t, can’t push any harder!”  Theo panted, pressing with all his might, patch easily holding Theo’s paw, feeling the sweat break out on the lion’s pads as he struggled to increase the pressure exerted by his hind paw.  Theo snarled, growled, then roared with rage as his strength gave out.

      “I can’t do any more!”  The lion yelled, tearing his paw free and kicking hard with all four paws.  Patch laughed uproariously at Theo’s cubbish antics.

       “You’re so funny!”  He said.  Theo leapt to his paws and grabbed Patch’s paw.

      “I’ll show you my birth, come,” he said.  Theo led Patch to a video screen and they were soon watching Petra in the first stage of labour.  Patch watched enthralled as Petra panted, growled, roared and pushed down hard against a tiny cub.  Patch could see the effort Petra was putting in in her closed eyes, curled toes, bunched pads, and panting breath at the end of each expulsive effort.  Petra sometimes cried out during a contraction, her whole body vibrating with tension and physical exertion.

        “I feel guilty whenever I watch this,” Theo admitted to patch.

         “You have no need to feel guilt,” patch replied, “for it’s not your fault Petra was in pain.  Pain is normal, birth is painful, and paws on heart, I’m sure Petra would say to you she loved every minute of your birth Theo.”  Theo’s paw was covered by a familiar paw.

       “I would do it all again right now,” Petra replied, “the straining pushes at the end were productive even though they were hard work.  Pushing without getting anywhere is a real pain, pushing and feeling progress is great, for it encourages harder pushing, more effort and so you see me trying to push longer and harder.  I don’t regret a thing Theo.  Things were painful and hard work, but I wanted to feel everything, to push, to growl, to roar, to curl my toes, to pant, and push, and push and push.  Don’t blame yourself for anything.”  She kissed her son’s nose, Theo smiling.

       “Enjoy the birth video,” Petra said, “for I enjoy watching it.  It reminds me of my first meeting with you.  I could feel you coming into the world, and I will never forget that feeling.  When your head came into the world, then your body and forepaws, then your hind quarters and hind paws.  I remember how I pushed to free every part of you.”  Theo kissed his mum’s nose.

        “I would like to see a cubbing,” Theo mewed.  Petra smiled and lay down on the floor.

       “I feel a cub coming now, ooowww!”  Petra whimpered pedalling her paws in the air, her toes curled as if she was trying to tear the air apart, “ow! Ooowww! Ooooooowwwwww!”  Petra wailed, growling and grunting with imagined pain and effort.

        “Ow, ahoooah!  Ush, ush, uuuuush!”  Petra moaned.

      “The cub’s forepaws are coming mum!”  Theo mewed, Petra wriggling and kicking with her hind paws, her fore clamped over her mouth to suppress a scream as she bore down hard.

         “Uah, uah!”  Petra squealed, “yiuu’u’u’u’u’u’u’ah!”  Theo stroked his mum’s right hind paw, the lioness pressing her paw into his.

      “The cub’s body’s out, now for its hind quarters and paws, come on mum, push!”  Theo begged.  Petra set her teeth, braced her right hind paw against her son’s and strained with everything she had.

        “Aowwwwwwww! Owwwwwwww! Aowwwwwwww!  Petra shrieked.

       “Pant mum, pant!”  Theo encouraged, Petra opening her mouth and panting hard, whimpering and whining.

       “Ow Theo, ow ow ow!  She whimpered, “It hurts, it really hurts!  Must push!  Ow, ouch! Ouch! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ouch! Uerhrhrhrhrherhrhrhrhrhrhruffff!”   Petra snarled, roared, wriggled and twisted, bearing down to free the cub’s hind paws.

       “It’s done, finished!”  She gasped.  Theo hugged his mum.

       “How was that?”  He asked.

      “Wonderful!”  Petra replied.

      “It was wonderful from my end too,” Patch said, Theo nodding in agreement.

        “I’ve been longing to do that,” Petra said, “longing for such a long time to imagine a cub’s birth.”  Theo kissed his mum’s nose and tickled her sweat soaked paws, Petra laughing.

        “I love you both,” she said to Patch and Theo, the bear and the lion hugging her tenderly.

        “The hardest part is when everything’s at full stretch and I still need to push the cub down what is now an almost rigid tunnel,” Petra said, “complaining about the pain of the stretching muscles turns to real heaving grunting effort. From ow, to uerhrhrhrhrherhrhrhrhrhrhruffff!”  Theo looked uncomfortable.

        “I can almost feel it myself,” he said, shifting from paw to paw.

       “it’s like trying to force something down a pipe when it needs just a little more room,”  Petra replied, “you can force the cub into the pipe and the tunnel will stretch to accommodate it, just, but to make it stretch is a real effort, a real puffing, grunting struggle.”  Theo looked as if he wanted to bear down against a cub.  Bouncing on his toes, he looked about him uncomfortably.

        “I, I can almost feel it!”  He whimpered.  Petra touched his paw, and Theo sat down heavily, his toes curled into the carpet.

        “It’s really ouch mum!”  Theo mewed.  Petra hugged her son cub, who sobbed into her fur.

       “It’s okay,” Petra mewed, “I was fine, I just had to push a little, that’s all. I wanted to push, so I pushed.  I wasn’t forced to push if I didn’t want to.  Theo, I wanted to push my cub, I promise it was not your fault.”  Theo sniffed:

       “The sound you made a minute ago,” he sobbed, “it was so realistic, it was so full of pain!”

      “Cubbing is painful Theo love,” Petra mewed, “but it’s a pain I bore knowing I loved the cub I was bringing into the world.   I would do it all again now, and wouldn’t have re-enacted a cubbing if I hated it.  I’m not going to do something I hate and put everything into it now am I?  I loved re-enacting that cubbing, and will do it again.  It’s great!  It gives me a chance to curl my toes and kick all four paws, as well as roar and snarl from time to time too.”  Theo hugged his mum.

        “I suppose it refreshes your memory too,” he replied.

        “It does Theo dear cub, it does,” Petra replied.  Patch smiled at Petra, took her paw and began to stroke it, the lioness smiling at the bear and kissing his nose.  Patch giggled cubbishly and rubbed noses with the lioness.

       “You said I’d make it onto all four paws and I have,” patch said.  Petra purred softly, the sound relaxing patch so much he closed his eyes for a minute.  Petra lay down and pulled Patch into a huge embrace, the bear losing his footing and collapsing onto his side, feeling warm paws holding him, a lioness’s kiss placed on his nose and the sole pads of all four paws.  Patch got to his paws after five minutes or so, his pads tingling from the lioness’s kiss.  Smiling at Petra and Theo, patch skipped out of the lie up and trotted along to the main room of the house where he looked round to find something familiar.  Spotting a music system on a sideboard he went to it, pressed a few buttons with a tingling forepaw and found there were three discs in the player.  Selecting the first disc, patch made sure the volume was moderate, and when the music began to play, Patch giggled with delight.  It was his favourite artist, James Blunt’s first album.  Patch had been played everything from back to bedlam shortly before his expulsion from the human household, and liked the singing and music which this human named James made.  Sitting down, Patch put his head in his paws and listened to the music, his mind recalling good times with the humans, times which, when remembered made him cry.  Patch had loved his humans as much as he now loved Kamchatka and his ursine family.  Sobbing quietly, Patch remembered playing with the younger human, the child who’d eventually thrown him out.  He remembered playing with her for hours, each using their forepaws or hands to play with the other’s hind paws or feet.  Patch remembered her touch, how gentle she was with his hind paws, as gentle as Kamchatka and the bears were.  He wondered if she remembered him, probably not.  She’d dismiss him from her mind as she’d thrown him out of the car.  Patch tried to remember the feeling the paw play sessions gave him.  He fought hard to remember it, the touch of the child’s fingers on his paw pads and toes as she played with his hind paws.  Patch imagined he could feel the touch, and he realised with a jolt that he could feel the touch of another’s paw on his!  Opening his eyes, he looked down at his hind paws, seeing not a human child playing with his paws, but a lion cub, a tiny lion cub.  Patch reached tear soaked paws towards the cub, embracing him.

       “Whose cub are you?”  He asked.  The lion cub let go of Patch’s right hind paw and looked up into his face.

       “I’m Ruslana’s cub,” the male cub said, “my name’s Pipin.”  Patch lifted Pipin up in his paws, loving the cub.

       “Hello dear Pipin,” patch said, “Your very gentle with your paws, do you know that?”  Pipin grinned and nodded.

       “My mum doesn’t like me playing with the paws of other community members, but I love it too much!”  Pipin replied.

      “Do you like it when others play with your paws Pipin?”  Patch asked.

       “I do, I think,” Pipin said, letting Patch put him down, then take hold of his right hind paw in both his forepaws.  Patch felt the little lion curling his toes, the pads bunching under the bear’s touch.  Patch felt the lion’s desperation, his loneliness and need for a friend.

        “Stay with me a while Patch,” Pipin begged, “please, stay with me a while!  It’s not often I meet a paw pal, someone who loves his paws as much as I love mine.  My mum, lioness Ruslana, does not agree with me.  She doesn’t use her paws like I do.  Her mum, Portia, uses her paws, but not to the same extent as I do.  My mum wallops my paws every time she finds me playing with my hind paws which I can just about reach with my fore.”  Ruslana ran in suddenly, screaming, and whacked Pipin with her paw! Patch surprised, and angered by her actions!

       “That’s horrible!”  Patch yelled, leaping to his paws and grabbing hold of Ruslana in his forepaws!  Getting to his hind paws and lifting her up over his head, he held her in the air!  Ruslana screamed as she dangled from the paws of an angry bear!”

         “Patch, no! No! No! Please!”  Ruslana begged.

 

Allie and the other bears watched all this, knowing Ruslana was getting the hiding of her life!

       “I will smash your body to bits!”  Patch screamed, “You whack your poor cub’s paws because he likes playing with his own paws and the paws of others.  You will die if you carry on restricting his paws!”  Ruslana whimpered and whined begging for her life.

      “Just let me go, and I’ll never trouble Pipin again!”  She begged.

       “You let him play with the paws of others and with his own paws,” Patch snarled, “Pipin is doing no harm, and has a gentle touch and soft paws.  It’s a pleasure to let him play with my hind paws.”  Patch dumped Ruslana on the floor, the lioness padding away sulkily.  Pipin looked at Patch, and then motioned the bear to sit down.  Patch did, and Pipin took his right hind paw in both of his tiny forepaws, patch curling his toes with pleasure.  Pipin smiled as his smaller toes were engulfed by the bear’s larger ones.

       “This feels so great!”  Patch said, Pipin giggling, pressing his paw pads into the bear’s bunched pads.

       “I love your paws Patch,” Pipin said, “for they are the keys to their owner, who is gentle and loving.”  Patch laughed merrily.

       “your paws are gentle and loving too,”  Patch replied, releasing Pipin’s paws, then picking the cub up in his forepaws and settling him down on his back on the floor, taking the cub’s right hind paw in his forepaws and examining it.  Pipin smiled as Patch traced his pads and played with his toes.  Patch and Pipin laughed together, the latter pulling hard at his hind paws while the former held on gently to them, both playing a mind game, the lion pretending his hind paws were stuck to the bear’s forepaws.

       “Pull Pipin pull!”  Patch encouraged.  Pipin gasped and tugged with everything he had, freeing his right hind paw with a rush, the lion squealing with triumph.

     “One paw free, but, but the other’s still stuck!  Must pull that one free now, got to try, try hard!”  Pipin whimpered, tugging at his left hind paw with everything he had.  Patch let Pipin’s paw slip slightly, the lion growling with effort:

      “My toes are still trapped, even though my paw slipped!”  He whimpered, “Must free my toes!”  Tugging with all his might, Pipin tore the toes of his left hind paw free of the bear’s grasp.

      “Done it, I’ve done it!  I’m free!”  Pipin yelled.  Patch kissed Pipin’s nose, then the pads of all four sweat soaked paws.  Pipin giggled cubbishly and kissed Patch’s nose and the pads of his forepaws, the bear and lion rolling together in cubbish play.  Snarling, they batted at each other’s noses and paws, laughing helplessly whenever one grabbed the other’s paws and tickled their pads and or toes.

        “I like you patch, brother patch,” Pipin mewed, Patch becoming still at the lion’s words.

        “Did you mean that?”  Patch asked.  Pipin kissed Patch’s nose and the pads of all four large white soled paws.

       “I meant it Patch, Brother Patch,” Pipin mewed.  Patch hugged Pipin tenderly.

       “I love you Pipin,” Patch said, kissing the lion’s nose and paw pads, the lion laughing helplessly.

      “We’re all brothers and sisters together in this community,” Pipin mewed.  Patch tickled the lion’s belly and played with the toes of his left hind paw, Pipin laughing with delight and pressing his toes into Patch’s paws, frustrating the bear’s attempt to tickle his toes.  Pipin grinned hugely as his paws were embraced by Patch’s.  Patch giggled and played with the lion’s toes.  Kamchatka wandered into the great room, seeing her cub playing with Ruslana’s cub.

      It’s all paws with you two,” Kamchatka said, sitting down to watch the two playmates.

      “You don’t mind me playing with Patch or his paws?”  Pipin asked.  Kamchatka shook her head.

       “Patch’s paws are his, ask him.”  She replied.  Patch smiled broadly.

       “Mum’s as into her paws as we are into ours,” he said, “she won’t mind us playing together Pipin.”   The truth was, Kamchatka had seen what Ruslana had done to her cub for playing with patch’s paws and then what Patch had done to the lioness.  Kamchatka decided patch should not be punished for standing up for Pipin, for Patch, though angry, had shown restraint by telling Ruslana in no uncertain terms what he could do to her, while not hurting her in the slightest.  Kamchatka watched Pipin stroking Patch’s paws, both lion and bear evidently loving each other’s company.

       “I love it when your pads bunch up,” Pipin said to patch, the bear giggling and gently curling his toes.  Kamchatka laughed at the two cubs.

       “I love you two,” she said, “Pipin, if you ever want to play with Patch or with my other two cubs, or even with me or Conrad, come and talk to us.”  Patch nodded:

      “She’s serious Pipin,” he said.  Pipin crawled after Patch, Kamchatka watching them go, thinking the lion cub was a little small for six months old.

        “I wonder,” she thought, “is Pipin a stunted cub?”  Kamchatka padded after Patch and Pipin, the two vastly different cubs finding their way to Kamchatka’s lie up. Pipin and Patch curled up together, Pipin gripping Patch’s left forepaw in both of his tiny ones.

       “Patch,” he said, “please, please listen, I want to tell you something, for I think you’d understand.”  Patch embraced Pipin, the lion whispering into his ear:

      “My mum, she hits me with her paws, constantly, she hates me patch!”  Patch shook his head, but Pipin scrabbled at his fur with his tiny paws.

      “Please!”  The little lion begged, “I’m not joking, I’m serious!  She hits me all the time, takes her anger out on me, says I’m playing with my paws when I’m not, I’m not Patch!  Please! Someone’s got to believe me, Afua won’t, he doesn’t understand!”  Patch looked up at Kamchatka, who was listening to everything.

       “Mum?”  He asked.  Kamchatka motioned to her cub to come with her, Pipin screaming with fear!

       “No patch!”  He yelled, “Don’t go, and don’t leave me alone!”  Patch looked at the little lion.

       “You will be safe here, I promise you,” he said softly, “I need to talk to my mum.”  Patch tried to get to his paws and walk away, but Pipin grabbed his right hind paw in both forepaws and hung on tightly.

        “My mum will go mad if she finds out what I told you!”  The cub whispered, digging his toes into Patch’s pads for emphasis.  Patch felt the cub’s toes digging in, and knew his claws were sheathed in consideration for him.

       “Your mum won’t hear anything of it.”  Patch whispered.  An angry roar stopped both Kamchatka and patch.  Ruslana ran into the lie up, picked up her cub and flung him against the wall!

       “Family business is not discussed with anyone else!”  She yelled, Pipin crumpling to the floor.  Patch had seen enough!  Screaming, he launched himself at Ruslana and wrapped his paws around her neck.

      “A cub I might be in spirit,” Patch snarled, “but a fully grown bear I am in strength!  Tell me, have you hit your cub for no reason?  Ruslana, you lie, I will know, for I know the truth of Pipin’s words, I felt it, I know it, the paws never lie!”

         “I hit him, hit him for playing with his paws, for playing with Jinghua’s paws too,” Ruslana replied, her throat constricted by the bear’s grip, “Pipin killed my oldest cub, the healthy cub!  I’m sure of it Patch!  He cursed my eldest cub!”  Patch knew what he’d felt, he might be a playful cub at heart, but he knew truth when he felt it.  He knew Patch wasn’t into telling tales.”

        “Your cub touched my paws, and he had the touch of a newborn cub, even though he’s six months old now,” Patch snarled, “Pipin’s scared, frightened for his life!  I know that feeling, for I felt it once, I felt it from a human child when one of the humans she most loved did horrible things to her.  She told me, while we were playing with each, each other’s paws, hind paws, feet, whatever humans call their hind paws, and, and,”  Patch’s eyes filled with tears, “that’s how I know your cub is telling the truth!”  Patch sobbed, remembering what he’d been told and the horrendous arguments in the house when it all came out.  Many humans were locked in prison when the human child who’d abandoned him let the humans know what she’d told her ursine friend.  Ruslana knew patch’s tears were for a loss she knew nothing about, but his anger was for her, for what she’d done to her cub.

         “I know my cub’s unhealthy!”  Ruslana screamed.

      “He’s smaller than he should be, that’s all!”  Patch yelled, “And you did things to him, things which make me want to end your life now like I wanted to run in and end the lives of the humans who did horrid things to my human child friend!”

         “You would never end my life!”  Ruslana choked, “you’re a cub, and you couldn’t do it!”

        “I never thought my human child friend would abandon me, but she did,” Patch sniffed, “human or lion, or whatever you may be, doing and saying things like you have said and done to your cub is horrendous!!  My human was abused by those who were meant to love her, and I could do nothing to stop them but play with her when we had the chance to take her mind off her trouble!  Now, now I find it happening in a community I thought loved and caring, who cared for their cubs, even eight year old ones!  Now I find, I find a mother who comes from a caring cat family, who actively hates and abuses her cub!  I know it happened Ruslana, I know it, I felt it, I know that feeling anywhere!  Your cub begged me to stay with him, begged me to stay a while, his paws, paws, telling me, telling me so much, so much!  Just like my little human friend told me so much with her forepaws, sorry, hands I think they’re called, when she took my hind paws in them and played with my toes, she had no words to describe what was happening to her, but I knew things were very wrong.  I hugged her in my forepaws and played with her feet as she played with my hind paws, for that’s how we played together, but that became more, much more, it was how we communicated, for she could not speak my language nor I hers, but we knew each other well then.  I knew her mood, her mind, just as I know Pipin’s now!  She cried on my paws, clung to them like Pipin clung to them, basked in the relief of me playing with her feet as I loved her playing with my hind paws.  I would stroke the soles of her feet as she would stroke the soles of my paws.  We played with each other’s toes too, and kissed noses.  We communicated in a language only we understood, and she told me everything!  I knew so much about that human, so much.  I loved her when noone else loved her Ruslana, and I’m going to love and defend your cub, even if it means killing you!”  Ruslana felt the intensity of Patch’s emotions, and knew he spoke truth.  She was about to die.

 

Meanwhile, in a house not too far from the wood, a young girl named Jess sat at her desk trying to concentrate on her homework.  Age eleven, she was coming up to her stage two exams and was studying hard.  She’d had a difficult early life.  Fostered after her parents were imprisoned for drugs offences culminating in murder, Jess had been with a family who’d fostered her from the age of four.  The bad stuff started from when she was about six.  Her guardians started shouting at Jess, slapping her , and worse, for no apparent reason other than the adults who did horrid things to her seemed to like their cruel sport.   Her much older foster brother and his father seemed to like making her cry, then telling her not to tell anyone.  The only constant friend in her life was the bear, a real live bear that’d been given to her by the social worker who’d looked after her from the age of one and a half until she’d been placed with the foster carers at age four.  This bear had come with Jess, much to the annoyance of the family, but they’d kept him, as he was no trouble.  The social worker said she’d owned him for ages that he was a wonderful companion, and that Jess and he really got on.  The bear was about a year old when she’d given him to Jess.  When jess’s problems started at age six, the bear which she’d named Old Grey, as he was old in her eyes and very grey, apart from the soles of his paws, which were almost white, became her constant companion and confidant.  They’d play together, Jess playing with the bear’s large hind paws, stroking and tickling his pads and playing with his toes, and then he would stroke the soles of her feet and play with her toes using his forepaws just as she’d used her hands to stroke the soles of his hind paws and play with his toes.  Throughout the bad times, Jess often played with her ursine friend, trying to tell him what she was feeling without saying a word in the hope he’d understand.  Old Grey seemed to, for he would hug her often, embracing her in his huge warm forepaws after they’d both tickled and stroked each other’s hind paws or feet and played with each other’s toes for a while.  Jess’s problems got resolved when police came crashing in one day when she was about eight years old and arrested her foster father and a lot of other adults, including the father’s son.  Jess was then moved to her current home, where, after Old Grey had been living with them for three years, her new family were told by authorities they could not keep the bear, and Jess had been forced to throw him out.  No re-homing centre would take him, even though he was almost human in his mannerisms.  He walked on his hind legs, could relieve himself properly, and was dainty when eating food, all that and more.  He was no trouble.  Jess wondered why the bad humans, as she’d called them in her head, those who’d abused her, had not taken the bear from her.  Now Jess was in a stable house, it was six months since she’d been told to get rid of Old Grey, and Old Grey had been gone exactly a month.  Jess found herself staring at her mathematics homework, the page blurring into the shape of a bear, a scruffy grey bear with white paw pads.  Jess hadn’t wanted to talk to her new family about the loss of her old grey bear, though she’d often thought of him.  That day when they’d stopped the car and she’d pushed him out the door still haunted her.  Jess had just pushed Old Grey out, her guardians driving away at speed to stop the bear from following.  It was said there were bears seen in the wood, so they’d dumped him there.  Jess knew from her natural history classes that Old Grey could not survive on his own, not after the life he’d led up till then.  He was used to three meals a day, human contact, a bedtime story, things like that.  Not eating berries and things off of trees.  He’d gone fruit picking with her current family, but their circumstances had changed, and they could no longer give a home to an Old Grey bear.  Every day Jess regretted pushing Old Grey out of the car.  She thought about him all the time, and wondered if he thought of her, if he still could.  Was he dead?  Jess found herself crying, her new foster mum leaning over her.

        “What’s the matter?”  Her mum asked.

       “I just got to thinking about Old Grey,” jess sniffed, “we kind of dumped him, and I was wondering how he was getting on and if he remembered me.”

       “We can’t keep a bear here,” her foster mum said, “not after the council found out about him.  We kept him for four years before they twigged, and now they’ve told us to get rid of him.

        “But they couldn’t give him a home could they!”  Jess yelled, “They didn’t suggest anywhere, we looked, but nowhere would take him due to his unpredictability, or so they said.  They wanted us to put him down!  So we dumped him in the wood, but now I’m thinking that wasn’t such a good thing.  He’s probably starving to death, he was all but human!  I know his story!  I’ve got in touch with the social worker who took him from the wild in America.  I know his tale!  He’s a half grizzly, half polar bear, he’s about nine years old now, or there about, she’s not so sure.  Well, he might be nine now, if he’s not dead.  I didn’t want to give him up, you know I didn’t! But I had to harden myself, and now I don’t want to be hard, I want to cry, I want my Old Grey back!  My only friend throughout the worst part of my life, the only one who really understood me then!”

       “You and he would play with each other’s paws,” her foster mother said, “he with your feet and toes, and you with his hind paws.  You’d play for hours like that.”

      “That was how we communicated,” jess replied, “it was play, but it was communication too.  We loved playing with each other’s hind paws, well, him playing with my feet in his case.  He’d take one of my feet in his forepaws and stroke the sole before playing with my toes.  I’d then play with one of his hind paws, and then he would play with my other foot, then me with his other hind paw. He’d then kiss my nose and the palms of my hands and soles of my feet, and I’d kiss his nose and the pads of all four of his paws.

      “That bit was disgusting!”  Her foster mother said.

      “We washed our hands, feet and paws before we played,” Jess said, “Old Grey knew how to wash his paws.  Indeed, sometimes I’d wash his paws, he liked that.  Old Grey was my best friend in the entire world.”  Jess’s foster mum looked at the picture of Old Grey on jess’s desk.  The bear was sitting playing with his right hind paw, cradling it in his right fore, while playing with the toes of his right hind with his left fore.  The bear looked contented, innocent, the most loving friend any little girl could have.

      “Maybe you can trace him, find Old Grey.”  Jess’s foster mother said.  Jess was determined to find her lost bear.

       “I will try,” she said, “but will he remember me?”  She asked.

 

To this end, jess went onto her website page and put an appeal out for anyone to get in touch if they had seen a grey bear with white paws.  She posted the only picture she had of him on the page and waited for responses.

 

The Boss, surfing the internet one day, came across jess’s enquiry.  He knew of the arrival of a grey bear which the four pawed community were calling patch.  He also knew of the troubles Ruslana was giving her cub, and what involvement the new grey bear had in the discovery of Ruslana’s abuse of Pipin.  The Boss never missed anything, even though he kept himself to himself pretty much, letting the community run itself for the most part.  Now though, his interest was sparked by the appeal on website.  He’d been looking from time to time for anyone who’d lost a grey bear, in the hope of telling them the bear Kamchatka had found in the wood was safe.  That was all he could tell them, for to try and reunite the bear with his previous owner would cause Kamchatka and her family so much heartache.  Responding to Jess’s enquiry, the Boss told her Old Grey was safe, and that he’d been adopted by his community.  He then said that even though the house was off limits to the public, if he could talk the community round, jess might be able to meet up with her old friend once more.

 

Jess, getting this positive response, emailed back and fired off many questions about Old Grey.  How was he?  Who had he made friends with? That kind of thing.  The Boss emailed her back with answers to her questions, as well as links to footage from the cameras.

 

Back in the community, Kamchatka and the Boss were talking about Patch’s human friend possibly visiting the house.  Kamchatka was wary, but the Boss told her the human was aware of the situation now, and that she would make no attempt to reclaim her bear.  Kamchatka was insistent that she make the first contact with the female human, and that no other humans be allowed in the vicinity when she was making the first contact, or any time after.  The Boss communicated this to jess and her family, who were agreeable.

       “So I can come and see Old Grey?”  Jess asked when the Boss got her on a VOIP line.

      “Yes you can come and visit him, but first you’ll be met by a grizzly bear, his, um, mama.”  the Boss replied.  Jess was a bit nervous of meeting a grizzly bear, but after seeing the community in action, this was tempered with curiosity.

 

Meanwhile, back with patch and Ruslana, patch was close to murdering the lioness.

       “I cannot let you live!”  He cried, having lost control of his emotions, “Ruslana, you are a horrid lioness!  You did horrid things to your cub, which deserved none of your hatred and hard treatment!  I will love him; love him like I loved my human friend!  We will play with each other’s paws, understand each other, and love each other for years and years and years!”  Ruslana’s life ended soon after that, for she spat at Kamchatka who’d come back from a quick meeting with the Boss, secure in the knowledge that Patch could deal with the lioness, and that Pipin was safe with him about.  Kamchatka had reassessed her opinions of Patch, and knew him now to be a cub at heart, which was how she and her family saw him, the real patch, but there was another patch, the bear who’d seen much, understood more than he let on, and was out to rescue Pipin from the fait which had befallen another dear friend from his past.  Kamchatka came back from her final meeting with the Boss regarding Jess’s arrival at the community to find Ruslana dead on the floor, patch cradling Pipin in his paws, both lion cub and bear sprawled on the floor.  Kamchatka slung Ruslana’s body over her shoulder and took it away.

 

Patch was not told of the meeting set up with his former owner for the next day.  Kamchatka kept it secret, only telling the dark grey bear that she had a surprise for him.  At the appointed hour, Kamchatka went out into the wood and waited for jess, who’d been described to her.  sure enough, through the trees came a young human.  Kamchatka, standing on all fours, stood on her hind legs to get a better view of the approaching two legged creature.  Jess had been told to bring a token to show she was expected, even though Kamchatka had seen photographs of the female human many times.  Jess saw the grizzly bear, and was frightened by her enormous size, but the Boss had told her not to show fear.  to treat Kamchatka like a new dog she’d met in the street, to be cautious, but receptive.  Jess walked up to the huge grizzly bear, which dropped onto all fours when she was a few metres away, regarding her carefully.

      “it’s okay grizzly mama,” jess said gently.  Kamchatka let her come right up to her.  then Jess, as arranged, sat down beside the huge grizzly, Kamchatka towering over her.  then jess brought the token out of her pocket, a photo of Patch’s, or Old Grey’s face and the pads of his paws which she’d found in her computer files.  Jess had been messing about with a digital camera shortly before her bear was abandoned to the wood, and she’d taken photos of the grey bear’s face and the soles of his paws.  Kamchatka sat down and took the photo which Jess held out to her.  The young girl’s hand and Kamchatka’s paw briefly touched as Kamchatka took the photograph.  Jess gasped at how warm and soft Kamchatka’s paw was.  Kamchatka sat back and examined the photograph in her paws.  then, dropping the photo on the track and crawling over to jess and sitting opposite her, she very gently cupped the young girl’s chin in her left forepaw, lifting her head so she could look into her face.  Jess had been told not to be afraid of Kamchatka, though it was hard for her.  the Boss seemed very assured of his knowledge of the members of his unusual household, and Jess had to trust him, like she’d trusted her Old Grey bear, which essentially was a wild animal, though she’d never thought him so.  Jess found herself looking into the face of a female grizzly bear.

       “Mama?”  Jess asked the bear’s paw soft and warm under her chin.  Kamchatka knew the word, for she understood English, indeed all the community did, though they spoke their own language among themselves.  Kamchatka took her paw from beneath jess’s chin, and pointed to jess’s shoes,  Then to her own bare paws.

      “You want my shoes?”  jess asked laughing out loud.  Kamchatka put her paw to her lips and shook her head, pointing at jess’s shoes, then her own paws once more.

      “show me mama,” jess invited.  Kamchatka gently took jess’s right foot in her forepaws and, resting it on her left hind leg, undid the laces on her shoe.  Gently removing the shoe, Kamchatka looked down at the sock on jess’s foot.

        “No socks?”  Jess asked.  Kamchatka shook her head, pointing to her right hind paw.

      “You want me to remove my shoes and socks?”  jess asked.  Kamchatka nodded, gently using her forepaws to remove  the sock from Jess’s right foot before placing the sock on the ground beside the girl’s shoe.  Jess closed her eyes trying not to shrink away as the grizzly’s forepaws enveloped her right foot, the bear examining the sole and toes.  Kamchatka gently stroked Jess’s toes, then her heel with her left forepaw while cradling the girl’s foot in her right fore.

       “its how Old Grey used to explore my foot,” jess thought, her toes curling involuntarily.  Kamchatka stroked the bunched skin on the sole of Jess’s right foot, then leant down and kissed her toes.  Jess almost cried.  Kamchatka then released her foot, motioning for her to take off her left shoe and remove the sock from her left foot.  Jess, now slightly breathless with emotion, did as the grizzly asked.

       “now do you want me to give you my left foot?”  Jess asked.  Kamchatka shook her head, motioning with her forepaws for calm.

        “how can I be calm when I’m face to face with a grizzly bear who’s just held my foot in her paws, stroked the sole of my foot and kissed my toes?”  jess yelled.  Kamchatka drew the now weeping human into a huge hug, rocking her gently.

        “Shhh, Shhh,”  Kamchatka said in ursine, jess calming down after a while, for she could do nothing else, the bear’s paws wouldn’t allow her to be anything but calm.  Jess found the bear’s voice soft and gentle, just like Old Grey’s when he’d tried speaking with her.  Indeed, their accents were very similar.  Then jess remembered, Old grey was half grizzly bear.

       “What now mama?”  jess whispered.  Kamchatka released Jess and motioned for her to sit down opposite her again, though now she’d hugged the human, the next part of her ritual seemed pointless to the grizzly bear.  Lifting her left hind foot from the track, Kamchatka motioned for jess to take it in her hands.  Jess did, resting the heel of the huge furry paw on her left leg, holding the bear’s paw in her hands.

         “now what?”  Jess asked, looking down at the huge ursine paw.  Kamchatka looked away, seemingly uninterested.  Jess began to stroke the huge paw, tracing Kamchatka’s pads and stroking the mama bear’s toes with one finger.  Kamchatka suddenly snorted, whipped her paw away, grabbed it in her forepaws and rubbed her pads furiously, her mouth open in wheezy ursine laughter.

       “What?”  jess asked.  Kamchatka gently took jess’s right foot and did the same to the sole of her foot as the girl had done to her paw.  Jess squealed with laughter!

        “Oh, okay!”  she said, “I tickled your paw, I’m sorry mama.”  Kamchatka massaged jess’s foot, soothing the tickling sensation, then gave her her tickled right hind paw.  Jess massaged the pads she’d inadvertently tickled, Kamchatka sighing with relief.

       “now what?”  Jess asked.  Kamchatka withdrew her paw, then crawled away, beckoning for jess to follow her, Jess following close behind, crawling also.

 

Kamchatka led jess to the house, and into her lie up, where patch waited.  As soon as he saw his beloved human, Patch ran to her, and then dropped into a crawling posture to allow jess to hug him.  She embraced him, then he her.

      “Hello Old Grey, my Old grey!”  jess cried, tears wetting the bear’s fur.  patch cradled jess in his paws, letting her cry, for he was crying too.  Ekaterina, Helga and Conrad watched or listened from another room, Kamchatka telling them everything.

        “You made contact with humans?”  Conrad asked, “well, you never said a thing Kamchatka!  Why?”

        “jess, that’s the girl human, she used to care for Patch.  You remember he said his name was Old Grey?  Well Jess, the female human who’s hugging him now, is the one who named him so.  The Boss found her email address on line and that she was looking for her bear.  he conversed with her, and now they’re meeting up.  Patch’s human might tell us her tale, so we might get an insight into our cub.”  Jess and patch came out of the lie up hand in paw, patch crawling beside his human.

       “What is your tale?”  Kamchatka asked jess, the human not understanding her.

       “I’m sorry,” Jess said, “I don’t speak ursine.”

       “she asked, “what is your tale?”  Conrad said.  jess nearly fell over!

      “You spoke English!”  she shrieked, pointing to the polar bear.  Conrad grinned and nodded.

       “I was raised in a zoo,” he said, “My mate Kamchatka is a wild bear and speaks no English, only ursine and the common language we speak here.”

     “But she understood me in the wood,” jess said, “she can understand English if it’s spoken to her, but not speak it?”  She asked.  Conrad nodded.

     “but we saw you and her getting on famously in the wood,” he said, “you tickled her paw too!  That’s a little familiar isn’t it?”  jess giggled, catching the bear’s tone:

       “I didn’t mean to,” she replied, “that was accidental.”  Kamchatka grinned and, padding over to jess enveloped her in a huge bear hug.  Jess, now feeling comfortable with the huge mama grizzly, snuggled into her hug, Kamchatka kissing her tenderly on the top of her head.

        “am I an honorary bear grizzly mama?”  jess asked.  Kamchatka smiled, then gently took jess’s right hand in her paws, Jess giggling.

        “You are so funny,” she said, “I love you Kamchatka.”  Kamchatka looked into Jess’s face, and then gently traced her eyes, nose and mouth with the toes of one forepaw, the claws enormous to the startled human.

       “She’s careful not to graze my face with her claws!”  jess thought, “Kamchatka knows, she knows she has to be gentle.  How amazing!”  Kamchatka looked deeply into Jess’s eyes, then sat her down and took her left foot in her paws and closed her own eyes.  Jess closed her eyes, thinking this was what the bear wanted.  Now her whole focus was through her ears, her nose, hands and feet.  Jess found there was very little scent from these bears.

       “focus your world through the contact between your foot and Kamchatka’s paws,” Conrad said, “what do you feel jess?”  jess breathed deeply, her foot warm in the grizzly bear’s embrace, for it wasn’t a grasp, not a hard pressure on her foot at all.  Indeed, she could remove it if she wanted, but she didn’t want to remove her foot at all.  Jess pressed her foot gently into Kamchatka’s paws, the grizzly bear’s pads warm and soft if a little rough.

       “I think, think Kamchatka loves me,” Jess replied, “it’s the same feeling I have when Old Grey takes my foot in his forepaws.

        “We call him patch here,” Conrad said.

       “Ok patch,” Jess replied, knowing she’d call him nothing else from now on.  Patch was her Old Grey, but not her Old Grey.  He was a bear once more, and she was in the bear’s world now, even though it looked like her own, they ran things.  Jess realised Kamchatka had asked her to remove her shoes and socks so she could feel the rugs and tiles beneath her feet.  This was strange for her, as the last time she’d been barefoot had been on holiday the year before when she’d gone to the beach with her guardians.  Jess accepted the rule of being barefoot, as no other community member, from the oldest to the youngest wore any kind of protection for their paws.  Indeed, jess even thought to walk upright was an imposition on the community, so she crawled like patch had when he’d been living with her.

 

Indeed, it was in a crawling posture that jess made her first independent link with another member of the community only half an hour after Patch had hugged her at their first meeting since his expulsion from the human run household.  Jess was exploring the house, the great room, and taking a peak into some of the lie ups, as well as getting used to crawling on all fours, which she found easier by the minute, when a paw touched her left hand and she stopped, crawling as she’d been advised to in case she came across any blind community members and they were trying to work their way around her rather than make contact.  Jess looked round to see a polar bear cub standing beside her.  the cub was obviously shocked to find her paw encountering the hand of a human, for the paw was lifted quickly.  Jess reflected that the cub was either blind, or had deliberately made physical contact with her.

        “Hi,” Jess said, hoping the cub could understand her.

       “You’re, you’re human,” the bear cub said, “I can smell you’re human.  You are not the Boss, and he’s the only human round here, so who are you?”

       “My name’s jess, I’m, was, Patch’s owner,” jess replied, thinking the term owner to be a horrid one.  She didn’t own Patch’s life.

       “You can’t own a life,” the cub said, “I don’t like that term jess.”

       “No, I don’t either,” jess said, her face reddening and palms sweating, “I don’t like it; it’s a term used by the human in me.  We humans own everything, or think we do, lesser animals included.”

        “Lesser animals?”  the cub asked.  jess wanted to curl up and die with embarrassment.

        “Not lesser animals, well, I don’t think you’re any less important than me, not now, though I used to, until, until, well,” she hesitated, feeling emotions welling up, “until, until I met a grizzly bear in the wood.  The bear that brought me here, she was so dignified, so sure of herself.”

       “Almost human, as you humans might say?”  the cub enquired.

       “yes, no, well, I don’t know!”  jess said, her distress mounting, “there was something about her, something so magnificent, but also humble too.  She, she gave me her hind paw to stroke, and I managed to tickle it accidentally.  I got rather upset, and she drew me into an enormous bear hug, and everything was all right after that.  Kamchatka asked me to take off my shoes; in fact she removed the shoe and sock from my right foot, sorry, hind paw, and explored my hind paw with her forepaws.”  The polar bear cub smiled at jess’s use of terminology to describe her feet which was more akin to that which community members used.

        “I’m sorry for speaking of owning patch and you being lesser animals,” jess said, “can I ask, what’s your name?”  the polar bear cub sat down and regarded jess from friendly brown eyes.

        “My name’s Alaska,” the cub replied.  Jess wanted to shake the bear’s paw, but was it the done thing?  If it was, which paw did she take in her hand, a fore or a hind?  Alaska saw Jess’s confusion and resolved it.

        “Take my left forepaw in your hand if you must adhere to your human customs,” Alaska said grinning, “here we just hug each other on meeting.”  Jess shook Alaska’s paw, then was surprised when the bear pulled her into a bear hug.

        “You are one with us now,” Alaska said, “I can feel you want to be one with us.”  Jess shook her head.

      “I can never be like you, I’m human Alaska, and you’re a bear in a community who gives everyone a chance, who is fair, who loves by the paw.  I know this for I’ve studied your way of life.  The Boss, which I believe is the name you give to the human who ultimately runs this place, told me about you after I’d posted an enquiry about the whereabouts of my grey bear on my website.  Oh, there I go again, claiming Patch as mine!  Dam! Stop that jess!”  Alaska smiled and kissed Jess’s nose.

         “You will learn quickly I think,” the polar bear cub said.

       “you’re, you’re not a cub, well you are, but you’re not,” jess hazarded, “what’s your role here Alaska?”  Alaska told jess her life tale.

        “How wonderful!”  Jess said, “that you were able to help a mother have her cub not once, but twice.  I’d love to see a cub being born.  I’ve seen it in documentaries, but to see one for real, even close up on a video would be wonderful.” 

      “come, I’ll show you the latest cubbing video,” the polar bear said.  Once the video was over, jess took her eyes from the screen, which she’d not taken her eyes off for a full hour and a half, expecting to see Alaska sitting beside her.  Instead she found the huge mama grizzly sitting in the cub’s place.

      “Oh, mama!”  jess blurted, “I’m sorry for watching a private video.”  Kamchatka smiled and shook her head.

       “It’s no problem,” she said using the language of the community.

      “Oh mama, don’t cry!”  jess said looking at the grizzly bear, who had buried her face in her paws and was fighting back tears, “mama, don’t cry,”  jess said, crawling over to Kamchatka and embracing her as best she could.  Kamchatka smiled tearfully and let jess hug her.

       “that always upsets me,” Kamchatka said, “jess, my cub is blind, and I blame myself for her disability.  If I’d pushed harder, she’d not have got stuck!”

       “You could do nothing more than you did!”  jess said, “I’m sure you did your best, your mate did too!  Kamchatka, mama Kamchatka, don’t say this ever again.  Your cub is how she is, and you had no paw in causing her blindness.  I’ve not met Ekaterina yet, but when I do I’ll treat her as I treat anyone else here, touch her with my hands, and let her touch me too.  Now grizzly mama, dear mama, please, let your guilt leave you.”  jess took Kamchatka’s right hind paw in her hands and stroked her pads and toes.

       “let it all go mama,” the young girl said.  Kamchatka curled her toes around the human’s fingers.

       “I’m letting it go,” Kamchatka said breathing deeply, “Jess, dear jess cub, let me take your left hind paw in my forepaws.”  Jess, tears filling her eyes let go of Kamchatka’s large paw and gave the bear her left foot.

      “here,” jess said, “here’s my left foot mama.”  Kamchatka embraced the girl’s foot in her forepaws.

       “My guilt over Ekaterina’s disability is all gone now,” the grizzly bear said while stroking the sole of jess’s left foot and gently playing with her toes.  jess nodded.

      “mama,” she said, “I can feel that.”  Kamchatka kissed the toes she stroked.

       “I gave birth to Patch you know,” Kamchatka said, “I’m not his natural mother, but I gave birth to him.  He’s, reborn if you like, into our family.  I know he was your friend, and you treated him like a human, but he’s no human jess.  You make the choice to be here, he had no choice when he was taken from his wild home all those years ago.  Here is not wild, but here is where patch wants to be now.  I love him as much as you do, though I love him as a bear, not a human like bear.  I understand he and you had a language all your own, and that this was based on touch.  Jess, dear jess cub, you can be with Patch once more if you take his paw and learn the ways of the paw, which you have already begun to learn.  You know the ways of the paw deep down, for you did not resist when I removed the human coverings of leather and fabric from your hind paws.  you know how to feel with your fore and hind paws.  Tell me jess, have you ever played with your own toes?”  Jess nodded, on the verge of admitting something she’d never tell her guardians.

      “I do play with my toes,” she said, “I use my forepaws to play with my hind.  If you will let go of my hind paw I will show you how.”  Kamchatka did as Jess asked, and she took her left foot in her left hand and played with the toes of that foot with the fingers of her right hand.

       “you look like a bear cub when you play with your hind paws,” Kamchatka said.  Jess smiled, partly from the sensation of her fingers on the sole and toes of her left foot, but also from the knowledge she was loved by this huge mama bear.

 

Meanwhile, in their house, Jess’s guardians were watching the live feed from the community house.  The Boss spoke to them on the phone, reassuring them jess would come to no harm and that she’d be fed and looked after.

       “She can come up to my flat and I’ll see she gets food,”  the Boss said, “then, if she wants it, and the community want it, she can sleep with the community for a few nights.”  Jess’s foster mother watched her daughter playing with Ekaterina and patch, the two bears gentle with the human.  There was much playing with paws by all three, either with their own paws or with each other’s.  Jess giving Ekaterina her feet to touch and stroke, Ekaterina gentle with the human’s feet.  Jess then took Ekaterina’s hind paws in her hands one by one, stroking her pads and playing with her toes, the young cub loving her touch.

        “You have soft pads and even softer fur Ekaterina,” jess said.  Ekaterina giggled, the sound making jess smile.

       “Your hind paws are rather soft too,” the bear cub replied, “you curled your toes as I stroked them, just like I curl my toes when I have my toes stroked.  I love how the pads bunch when toes curl, it’s so cute!”  Jess laughed.

      “curled toes can signify pain as well as pleasure,”  the human said, “I saw mama Kamchatka curling her toes in pain when she gave birth to you Ekaterina.”  Ekaterina nodded.

      “I know mum did,”  she replied, “my sire Conrad showed me how she tried to play with her paws to ease her pain, he played with his paws just as mum had and let me feel what he was doing.”  Jess nodded.

      “I can imagine that,” she said.  Conrad padded into the room and smiled at jess.

      “Come and I’ll re-enact it for you too.  I love playing with my paws as much as any bear here,” Conrad said.  Jess giggled childishly:

       “A bear playing with his paws?”  She asked.  Patch smiled and rolled onto his back, gripping his hind paws in his fore, wriggling and squirming as if his paws were stuck together and he wanted to free them.  Jess yelled to patch, encouraging him to pull his paws free.  Patch snarled, wriggled and squirmed even more frantically fighting his own paws.

       “I must free myself, but I can’t!”  He whimpered.  Suddenly Patch tugged with everything he had, tearing his forepaws away from his hind while yelling and whimpering with effort.

       “My paw pads and toes were stuck together,” Patch gasped.  Jess crawled over to patch and the two friends touched their hind paws and feet together, jess’s soles touching patch’s pads, their toes curling together.  Suddenly the two friends were struggling to free themselves in a role play mind game, complaining that their feet and paws were stuck together, each trying to pull their feet or paws away from the others.  Patch and jess struggled for half an hour, eventually managing to free them.

      “That was great!”  Jess enthused.  Patch hugged her.

       “I love playing those role play games,” he replied.  Jess hugged her friend.

      “I remember playing those games when I was younger,” she said, “you’d encourage me to scream and pull hard at my feet and toes to release my anger at what was happening to me, and I did.  I remember that.”  Patch kissed her nose.

       “It worked,” Patch said, “I could feel it worked.”  Jess kissed patch’s hot paw pads, the bear giggling with pleasure.

        “Those mind games are wonderful,” Ekaterina said, and very soon jess and Ekaterina were playing the same game she had played with patch, the polar bear cub playing with enthusiasm and commitment.  By the end of half an hour, human and bear were worn out from struggling to free their hind feet.

     “That was wonderful!”  Jess said, the soles of her feet tingling from the touch of the cub’s pads.  Ekaterina giggled:

      “It was,” she replied, “my paw pads and toes are tingling!”  Jess laughed:

      “Mine are too, but it feels great!”  She said.  Ekaterina sighed with pleasure.

       “I’ll introduce you to a lion cub who loves his paws as much as we bears do,” Patch said to his human friend.  Jess smiled and crawled over to Patch wrapping her arms around his neck and hugging him.  Patch snuggled up to her, sighing deeply with contentment.

         “I love you jess,” Patch said.  Jess kissed his nose and buried her head in his fur.

        “I’m sorry I threw you out,”  she said, “I had no choice, other humans told me to throw you out or they’d throw us out of our home.”

       “Did those humans think of how I’d feel if I was thrown out of my home?”  Patch asked, “Did you think of me when you threw me out?”

        “I tried to find a good home for you, but noone would give you a home,” jess replied, “The best I could do was release you into the wood in the hope you’d survive.  The other option was to end your life.”  Patch wriggled free of his human’s hug, his eyes harsh and angry!

       “You thought of, thought of killing me?”  He asked, his eyes filling with tears.  Jess shook her head.

      “No, no, patch, I didn’t, that was something the council suggested!  It wasn’t my idea, I promise you!”  Patch turned tail and stormed out of the room, crying bitterly.

       “Oh dear, oh dear!”  Jess said aloud, “what do I do now?  I’ve busted things with the best friend I ever had!”

 

Patch threw himself down on the rug in Kamchatka’s lie up, buried his head in his paws and sobbed.  Kamchatka found him a minute later, and Patch blurted out the whole tale.

       “She said she was going to kill me mama!”  Patch choked.

        “The councils which humans create to run things for other humans can be heartless,” Kamchatka said, “jess had no choice, in the human way of things, us bears are not thought of as important when their homes are at risk.  The councils do not consider bears part of the family patch.  Let me talk to jess, I will then come back and talk to you.”  Patch wiped his eyes with his paws.

       “Mama,” he said, “I don’t know what I think of jess now.  I want to love her, I want to believe her that she didn’t want my life ended, but, but, I don’t know what I feel now!”  Kamchatka hugged her son cub.

       “I’ll get Rowena to talk to Jess.  She’ll divine what’s what.”

 

Rowena was indeed talking to jess at that moment.  Jess found herself approached by a white lioness.  This lioness had a bearing about her which could not be ignored.

        “I believe you have a tale to tell?”  The lioness said to jess.  Jess sat down, unable to meet the lioness’s gentle eyes...

       “I was forced to consider something which I would never consider in a million years,” jess said, “mama lioness, I was forced to consider ending Patch’s life and I made the mistake of telling him I’d considered that.  You know what councils are?”  Rowena nodded:

       “I’m part of one here,” she replied.

      “Well,” Jess said, the council told us that either we get rid of Patch, or we lose our home.  I tried to re-home patch, but noone would take him.  My last resort was to have him shot, but I thought I had another idea.  I found a wood and pushed him out of the car.”

        “I know this,” Rowena said, “I know your tale Jess.”

      “If you know my tale, why ask me to retell it?”  Jess asked.

       “To see if you spoke the truth,” Rowena mewed, “for if you spoke the truth, this would mean you were on the right path.  If you lied to cover up your failing, for fail you nearly did, I would know you were untruthful.”

      “How did I fail?”  Jess asked.  The lioness sat down and lifted Jess’s chin so their eyes met.

        “You thought you were doing the right thing releasing Patch into the wood.  For this I cannot blame you, but that was the worst thing for him.  Patch did not know the wood, he knew houses, and beds, and tins, and human things.  He knew how to pick fruit, but that was about the sum of his knowledge.”

      “You mean that he would have died if mama Kamchatka hadn’t found him?”  Jess asked.  Rowena nodded.

        “Mama Kamchatka found patch with the help of a horse.  I am Eohippus’s representative here, and I had a dream of a bear being thrown from a car.  I told him to follow his paws, and his paws led him to Kamchatka.  Your mistake was rectified due to the intervention of a gentle mare.  Shooting patch would have been the right thing to do otherwise.  He is humanized too greatly to be released into the wild like you tried to do.  No doubt you thought what you were doing was for the best, but you were wrong.  Patch feels betrayed by you; his heart is torn apart by your words and actions.  Patch would have starved and died a long and horrible death were it not for eohippus’s intervention.  She guides my paws so I could guide his.  Not shooting Patch has given Kamchatka another cub, a cub she can love and does love like she gave birth to him, which indeed she did, giving birth to his spirit as a community bear.  Patch hates the thought of you shooting him, but it was the most merciful thing you could have done had you not dumped him so close to our home.  The human council is wrong. They do not care for pets, if their bits of paper say no pets, then no pets it shall be, regardless of the love the humans have for their pets as you call us who live with you.  Patch will never know the reasons behind why you thought of shooting him.  He does not understand councils and things like that.  All he saw was you, a child who he’d loved and shared so much with, now dumping him in a wood.  Patch knows you jess.  And he was torn apart when you dumped him.  He helped you through the horrendous abuse the other humans put you through in your early life, and all you did in return was dump him.  This is how Patch feels.  Then to learn you might have shot him rather than take him with you finished him off.  Patch doesn’t know where to turn now.”

       “I should not have said what I did, I know that now,” Jess said, almost crying, “I’m sorry mama lioness.”

         “You need to tell him what you really feel for him, tell him he’s not going to die, tell him you’re no threat to him now.  Let him take your hind paws in his forepaws and then tell him what you really feel.”  Jess fled to find Patch.  Finding him sobbing into Kamchatka’s fur, Jess watched her lifelong friend.

        “Patch?”  She asked softly.  The bear raised his head and looked at her.

        “Patch, please,” jess begged, “come to me, I want to tell you how I feel, how I am so sorry for even thinking of shooting you.”

        “I went through so much with you jess,” patch said, crawling to her, “all that trouble, everything, and all you did was dump me.  I don’t care what the council said, for they are surely not as important to you as what you and I had together?  Do you love the council more than me?”  Jess hugged her friend tightly.

      “No Patch no,” jess sobbed, “the council, they gave us a house, and part of the conditions for living in that house is that we have no pets.  I wanted to keep you, you are my friend and I wanted to keep us both together, but the council said we had to part.  As soon as I could I tried to find you, and the Boss communicated with me, and now I’m here.  I want to be with you patch, I promise I will never harm you or your mama.  I was trying to make the best of a bad job patch.  Shooting you would have broken my heart, as did letting you go into the wood, but something kept reminding me of you, a vision in my mind of a bear sitting in a house his head in his paws, crying.”

      “That was Eohippus doing,” patch said.  Jess nodded.

      “Mama Lioness said something like that too,” the girl said.  Patch smiled:

     “Mama Lioness?”  He asked, “Petra?”

      “Rowena,” Kamchatka said, “she’s the one who speaks of Eohippus.”

       “So where do we go from here?”  Jess asked.  Patch shook himself.

      “To find out if you’re really sorry for what you said and did to me,” patch replied, “sit down, take my right hind paw in your hands, give me your left foot and I will hold it in my paws.  Then tell me, tell me what you really feel about me.  I will then know for sure, for right now, I don’t know anything!”  Jess did as Patch asked, sitting down and taking his hind paw in her hands, letting him take her foot in his forepaws.

         “Now tell me how you really feel,” Patch said, jess stroking his right hind paw while he stroked the sole of her left foot.

       “I feel sorry for dumping you in the wood and also for planning to shoot you,” jess said, “now, now I want us to live in peace together.  Is that possible?”

       “I don’t know jess,” patch said, feeling her sincerity, but not too sure what to make of things.  Were councils that powerful they could kill bears?  Patch looked at his lifelong friend.

        “I love you jess,” he said, “but I wish you’d not told me about the council.  I wish you’d just come back to me and said nothing!”  Jess didn’t know what to say or do to make it easier on Patch.

       “Look Patch,” jess said, “I love you more than I love anyone in the world, and that’s the truth.  You’ve been like a brother to me.  I didn’t want to throw you out of our home, and would take you back if I could, though I know you have a family here now.  I want to love you now as I did before!”  Jess pressed her foot into Patch’s forepaws, the bear embracing her foot with one forepaw while playing with her toes with the other.  Jess also embraced patch’s right hind paw, stroking his pads and playing with his toes.  Patch smiled hugely.

      “I like it when you play with my toes,” Patch said.  Jess smiled:

        “I love you patch my friend, my ursine brother.”  Patch tickled jess’s toes, the young girl laughing helplessly.

      “You rogue!”  She squealed curling her toes, catching patch’s toes in hers.  Patch giggled, tugging at his now trapped paw.

       “I can tell you love me,” patch said softly.  Jess massaged patch’s pads and toes, the bear kissing the toes of her left foot still curled round those of his right forepaw.  Patch closed his eyes, feeling Jess kiss the toes of his right hind paw which she held in her hands.  Jess looked down at her friend’s hind paw, examining the grey upper fur on his paw, and then the nearly white pads on the sole of his paw.  Patch opened his eyes and looked at Jess’s foot, jess releasing her hold on his paw.  Patch looked more closely at her foot held in his forepaws.  It was dark pink with lines on the sole, the lines on the sole of Jess’s foot becoming confused as she curled her toes gently at first, but then hard, patch stroking the bunched skin on the sole of Jess’s foot until she relaxed her toes.  Then the bear used the toes of his right forepaw to trace the lines on the sole of Jess’s foot until they disappeared into the pad of her heel.  Jess sighed contentedly, remembering the good times she and Patch had in their old home, each stroking the other’s hind feet with their hands or paws.  These were gentle times, loving gentle hours.  Jess curled her toes hard, making the skin wrinkle into furrows, Patch kissing the furrowed skin, then tracing it with the toes of his right forepaw.  Jess smiled at her friend.

        “I want to stay here for a few days,” jess said, “I’ll talk to my guardians and maybe I can stay?”  Patch nodded.

       “I’m sure the Boss will arrange that,” he said.

 

Jess’s guardians watched everything, talking to the Boss on the phone.

       “She can stay for a while, maybe till Friday.”  Jess’s foster mum said to the Boss.

       “She can sleep where she wants, and I’ll make sure she gets food,” the Boss said.  The Boss pressed a button and spoke to Kamchatka, the bear going to the Boss’s flat.  Jess’s guardians got to see the bear that’d taken Jess in and called her cub.  jess’s foster mum asked:

      Kamchatka, do you love my daughter like your own?”  Kamchatka showed her teeth in an ursine smile and nodded, speaking in the community language.

        “She says she hopes you won’t mind if she calls jess cub.”  Jess’s guardians were moved by the grizzly’s words.

      “We don’t mind,” they said, “all we ask is that you look after her like your own cub.  Kamchatka nodded and smiled:

        “No problem,” she said in heavily accented English.  Patch and jess, listening in, laughed with delight.

      “You can stay!  You can stay jess!”  Patch yelled, each dropping the other’s hind foot and lovingly hugging each other.

        “Let’s dance a bit!”  Jess suggested.  Patch looked uneasy:

      “Bears can’t dance!”  He warned, getting to his hind paws, Jess getting to her feet.  The human and bear danced together, Sometimes standing on one leg and kicking out behind with the other hind foot.

      “Try holding onto your raised hind foot with one forepaw,” patch suggested.  Jess grabbed the heel of her raised right foot in her right hand, Patch grabbing the heel of his raised left hind foot in his left forepaw.  They then tried to dance together, both falling over after a few leaping steps, much to the delight of the watching community.  Patch rolled onto his chest, crawling  away, jess following, keeping in contact with him by touching the sole of his right hind paw with her left hand.  Patch led jess to the soft room where he and Ekaterina had played together two days previously.

     “Let’s play here,” patch suggested, jess nodding and gently stroking the pads of the bear’s right hind paw.

       “I’m looking forward to this,” she said, “We can play with each other’s hind paws even more, then slide down the slides, climb the ladders, and play in the ball pool filled with foam balls!”  Patch smiled and nodded, pressing the toes of his right hind paw against the palm of his friend’s left hand.

 

The two friends crawled about, chasing each other’s hind feet, grabbing at each other’s toes and tickling the soles of each other’s feet until they were exhausted from laughing.  Then jess sat down and showed patch she could play with her toes just like he could.  Patch watched as jess took the heel of her right foot in her right hand and played with the toes of her right foot with the fingers of her left hand.

      “That looks so ursine, you look so happy,” Patch said, Jess smiling broadly.

      “My toes curl up when I stroke the sole of my foot with my fingers,” she said, “it feels great when the skin on the sole of my foot wrinkles up, just like yours does when you curl your toes patch.  Patch remembered the first time they’d discovered this, all those years ago when jess was younger than she was now.  She and Patch, on discovering how the soles of their feet reacted when they curled their toes spent ages playing together, each curling their toes and letting the other touch the curled toes and bunched pads.  It had been such a happy time.  Jess wanted more of the happy time with her ursine friend.

       “Can we go back to how, how we used to be?”  Jess asked Patch.  Patch looked at Jess.

       “I’ve already forgiven you for thinking of shooting me,” Patch replied.

      “I know,” jess said, “I didn’t mean that, I meant, meant, the times before all the trouble, before, well, you know what happened.  The time when we played with each other’s hind paws because it felt the right thing to do, each wanted the other to play with our hind feet.  You wanted me to play with yours and I wanted, want, you to play with mine.  We got close then, really close; you taught me how to be, to be like, like you.  Not to be a bear, well, to be sort of like a bear.  Gentle, caring and loving.  You gave me love when noone else in my life did.  It’s a duty for my guardians to take care of me, they’re professionals at it.  You patch, took and take care of me because you want to.  I love you with everything I have Patch!  I don’t care if my guardian’s hear this, I don’t care if they’ve seen me playing with my feet, tickling your toes or playing the trapped paw role play games.  This is what I want to do!  I want to be with mama Kamchatka and with my brother cub!  Tell me patch, what do you see when you look at me playing with my toes

       “When I look at you I see a human I love playing with the toes of her right hind paw as if it’s the most natural thing in the world for her, and enjoying it hugely,” Patch said, “now, if I close my eyes and take your left foot in my paws, like this,” he took her left foot in his forepaws, jess gulping hard as she felt his touch, her toes curling slightly, “I feel my sister cub’s left hind foot in my forepaws.  You play with your hind feet because you saw me playing with mine at first.  I taught you that, though I didn’t realise it until lately.”

       “I love it patch,” Jess said, “I love playing with my toes and feeling the sole of my foot with my fingers.  In my view, hind feet were meant to be played with.  Though I don’t need to tell you that.”  Patch smiled:

       “I thought you looked more contented than I’d seen you in years while you were playing with your toes a few minutes ago,” he said.  Jess smiled, automatically reaching for her left foot with her left hand, her fingers cupping the heel and pulling her foot towards her.  Then she got a better hold of her left foot with her hand, her fingers caressing the sole of her foot.  Patch watched her, as jess meant him to.  The grey bear lay down so his eyes were level with Jess’s fingers holding her left foot.  Jess giggled as she settled her heel comfortably, and then withdrew her hand, wiggling, and then curling her toes, making the sole bunch up.  Patch giggled cubbishly.

       “We get so much pleasure from our paws it’s cubbish,” he said.

       “It’s how we are,” jess replied, “its how you and I have always been.  How we’ve communicated, how we’ve expressed our love for each other.  Some send text messages, we send touch messages.  Patch reached forward with his left forepaw and touched the bunched sole of Jess’s foot with his toes, jess wrapping her hand around the bear’s paw and pressing his toes to the sole of her foot, her own toes curling to meet his.

         “Ekaterina and I did this yesterday,” patch said, she touched my right hind foot with her left forepaw, and I held her paw just as you’re holding my paw now.  This is ursine indeed.”  Jess sighed contentedly.

        “Thank you for loving me Patch,” she said.  Patch kissed the curled toes of jess’s left hind foot.

        “You’re my sister,” he said, “as much my sister as Ekaterina or Helga is.  Your body might be that of a human, but your mind is ursine.”  Jess smiled:

       “I lived with a bear for nine years almost,” she replied, “so that’s not surprising.  When my human role models did anything but be kind to me, I turned to my ursine friend, who became a brother to me.  I want to live like you patch, I want to be here, I want to play with my toes and let you play with them too.  Let me stay here Patch, forever with you.”  Patch didn’t have to look up to tell jess was pleading with him, crying too.

 

“I can’t believe what I’m seeing!”  Jess’s foster mother said to her husband, who’d given up their daughter for lost ages ago and was doing paperwork.

         “What are you doing Arnold?”  She asked.

      “Telling the foster agency our daughter’s been abducted by a bear!”  He snapped.

       “Hardly abducted,” the Boss corrected them, “use your eyes and ears, listen to them, and watch them.  I’ll bet jess hasn’t been so happy in years.”  Jess’s foster mother had to agree that point.

       “So what do we do?”  She asked, “We can’t claim money for a child we’re not fostering!”

       “We can’t even let her go, as she’s not competent in the eyes of the law,” Arnold said, “but jess certainly wants to be with her ursine friend.”

        “Tell her she can’t be!”  Jess’s foster mother said.

      “Mildred,” Arnold said, “jess is happier with the bears than she is with us.  We’ve seen over these last eight hours how amazingly they get on!  Now, now we can’t take her away from patch.  What I feel is that Patch was her only true friend in all this, you can see it in the way they are with each other.”

      “So now you’re saying she can go?”  Mildred said, “You were saying she was being abducted five minutes ago.”

      “I don’t know what to think,” Arnold said, “jess came to us four years ago, and patch and she never left each others side for long.  She’s more ursine than human in her mannerisms, though Patch made huge efforts to learn our ways too.”

       “Patch is what we all wish we could be,” Arnold said, “he knows what feels good and cares nothing for what others think.  He knows he loves Jess with everything he has, and she knows she loves him.”

      “What will happen when she reaches eighteen?”  Mildred asked.

        “She’ll make her own choice as to whether to stay in the community or not.”  Arnold said, “Mildred, jess went to see her friend, and found a whole new family.  Indeed, she has found her real family, for what have humans ever done for her that is kind or caring, from their hearts I mean.  Her first family were drug dealers and murderers, her second abused her, and we are just looking after her, unable to reach her on any level other than that of a lodger or paying guest.  She never lets on about her previous life, yes we’ve got the files, but she never talks to us, not like she talks to patch.  He’s her brother, her real brother, the one who would stand shoulder to shoulder, paw in hand with jess.  We need to let her live with them.”

      “But the law won’t allow it,” Mildred said.

      “I can get lawyers on to that,” the Boss said, having listened to everything.

       “They won’t let you take her on,” Mildred replied, “You’re not registered.”

      “I’m not taking her on; Kamchatka is,” the Boss replied, “I’m sure something can be worked out.  I think with the help of child behaviour experts and that expert in animal behaviour, we can work this out.”

 

 

Jess and Patch knew nothing of the swift legal proceedings.  The Boss spoke to a good lawyer friend of his, presenting evidence of how Jess had been taken in by the bears and by the whole community.  The lawyers knew of jess’s case, for it had been huge in the local area.  They knew of Patch too, and managed to get a temporary order to keep Jess with the bears for one year.  The Boss said he’d make sure she was educated.  But one lawyer asked him why jess needed human education at all.  She was educated by the bears now, by Patch and their mama.  If the bears needed no education in the human sense, then neither did jess, as she was one of them in all but body shape and mannerisms, though she was catching on fast.

 

Meanwhile, patch and jess crawled around the room, feeling the soft flooring beneath their hands and paws.  Patch stopped when they reached the ladder up to the zip wire.

        “Jess,” he said, “I no longer walk on my hind legs now, I walk on all four paws or crawl.  You need to walk on your hind feet, for you are human and cannot walk on all four paws.”

         “I know you walk on your paws patch dear,” she said, “but I promise I will walk on my hind feet.  I need to go to the Boss’s place and talk with him I think.  I have a feeling, but it’s only that, which tells me my life will never be the same again.”

         “You’re staying permanently?”  Patch asked.

       “I think so,” jess replied, “until I’m eighteen, then, then, I can decide what I want to do.  Maybe I’ll continue the Boss’s work when he retires.”

       The Boss is only thirty or so,” Patch replied, “he’s not retiring yet.”

      “No, but sometime he will, and he will want a safe set of paws to give the control of the house to,” jess said.  Patch looked at his friend.

      “You wear clothes,” he said, “we don’t.  How are you going to deal with that?”

        “I’ll get a jumpsuit or two,” Jess replied, “that will leave my hands and feet bare, which are the whole idea of this place, keep in touch.”  Patch covered Jess’s hand with his paw.

        “We bathe each other here too,” he said.

      “Patch,” jess replied, “I think you are forgetting what we used to do?  Do you remember when the humans who did horrible things to me refused to bathe me for weeks?”  Patch nodded, growling deeply in his throat at the memory.

       “I remember,” he said.

       “You bathed me like you’d bathe your sister cub,” jess said, “You treated me like your ursine sister for weeks until the police came and found us.  The humans fed us, so they could not get done for anything else, but that was about it.  You helped me eat, sleep, play, bathe, everything.  You looked after me patch.”  Patch remembered everything.  He’d treated Jess the only way he knew how.  He made sure she was as clean and as fed as he was.  His instinct for finding fruit was developed, and sometimes he’d raid fruit from the bowls of the humans after dark.  Then he and Jess would eat the fruit together.  Patch would bathe his friend twice a week, making sure she was clean and tidy.  The humans washed her clothes, but the only interaction with Jess herself was to do horrid things to her.  They would never be kind to her at all.  Patch made sure she was dressed in her clothes, for she could dress herself well enough.  He would help her bathe; though in truth she could do that for herself.  The help in bathing was more a guard duty, making sure the humans did nothing else to his friend.  Patch knew about the ill treatment the humans dealt out to Jess, and vowed never to let her be ill treated when he was with her.  Though there were times when he was shoved into a room and the Dorr was locked, times when he would fret and worry.  Then the door would be unlocked, and patch would go back to Jess, and she’d tell him horrible tales by touching his paws with her hands and hind feet.

         “I tried to protect you,” patch sniffed.  Jess hugged her friend.

         “if you’d hit out at them, they’d have shot you and kept on doing horrible things to me, so you could do no more than you were doing.”  Patch looked at his friend.

        “You are so adult in some ways,” he said, “but you’ve got there by experiencing things noone should.”  Jess buried her face in patch’s shoulder.

       “I want to be a cub, a cub in a family who love me from my nose to my paws,” she whispered, “I want a brother who protects me with everything he has, who is playful and loving.  I want all this and you patch have let me into your world for eight years.  Your teachings have kept me together.  When the humans did horrid things to me, I was angry at them, I had no words to describe what was happening, but I knew you were there, that my brother bear would be there for me through it all.  You tried to be like me and my race failed you.  Now it’s my turn to come over to your side, to live like you, to love like you love.  To be a bear with you.  I want to do this patch; I want to be with you and your family.  I’m a bear within a human body.  I wish I had paws and fur like you, but I don’t.  Please patch, treat me like you’d treat Ekaterina or Helga, and forget I’m of human form if you can, for I hate my race.  Love me as jess, not as a human, but more as a bear.  Bathe me like you’d bathe a bear, play with me like you’d play with a bear.  I want to be with you and your kind patch.”  Patch looked into Jess’s face, seeing a cub in need of a hug and someone to play with, someone to tickle her paws.  Patch ran his paws from jess’s head to her toes, jess making sure her hands and feet got a good massage from his paws.

       “I want you to treat me like your ursine sister,” jess said.  Patch stroked the sole of her right foot, jess giggling and pressing her toes into his pads.

    “I love you stroking my toes,” jess said.  Patch laughed.

       “I know you do,” he replied.

 

Patch and jess clambered up the ladders and slid down the slides.  They crawled to the ball pool and leapt in, Patch and Jess throwing foam balls at each other, trying to juggle the balls with their hind feet, patch doing a better job of it than Jess, who kept losing the ball which kept slipping from the sole of her foot.  After a while of this, jess and Patch found their way to the main part of the room and began playing with their own hind paws, Patch and Jess playing with their left, then their right hind paws.  Then they played the trapped paw game, pressing their hind feet together.  Jess giggled as she felt patch’s rough hind paw pads touching her toes and the soles of her feet.

       “I love the touch of your paws on the soles of my feet,” jess said.  Patch smiled and curled the toes of his right hind foot around those of her left foot, jess curling the toes of her right foot around those of patch’s left hind paw.  Patch felt jess’s intense emotions transmitting through the contact between the sole of her foot and his rough pads.  Patch and Jess then their forepaws and hands to try and pull their paws apart, both snarling and whimpering with the effort of pulling their hind feet apart.  Once they’d freed their feet, the final effort causing both jess and patch to end up on their backs with their hind feet in the air.  Jess, laughing helplessly, kicked the air with her feet until patch grabbed her right foot and tickled the sole.  Jess curled her toes, patch stroking the furrowed skin.

       “I love your hind paws Jess,” patch said, “for they are keys to your spirit.”  Jess smiled and pressed her foot hard against Patch’s forepaw.

       “The sole of your foot is soft to my paws,” patch said.”  Jess giggled.

       “I remember you washing my hands and feet,” she said, “it felt lovely.”  Patch grinned.

       “I loved washing your fore and hind feet,” patch said, “it brought us closer to each other.”

      “I used to wash your paws too,” jess replied, “That was great.”  Patch and jess went to the bathtub, where they were soon in the water playing with each other’s hind feet, the warm water heightening the sensations.  Jess and patch washed each other from noses to toes, just as they had in the old days, jess thinking she’d feel strange having patch bathe her, but she loved it.  His paws were gentle, he was considerate of her dignity, but most of all, and she felt loved, really loved.

       “I don’t want you to let go of my right foot!”  Jess said, Patch massaging soap into the skin on the sole of her foot.  Patch smiled and kissed her nose.

       “Why not?”  He asked.

       “I’m feeling so loved, and the feeling’s coming from your paws, through the sole of my foot, and to my brain.  I want to give your paws a wash now.”  Patch stopped washing jess’s hind feet, and jess got hands on with his hind paws.  Patch enjoyed every minute, jess starting with his left hind paw, stroking his toes and massaging his pads.  Jess smiled as she worked on her brother cub, patch sighing contentedly.

      “I can feel the love you have for me,” patch said, “now, now please stroke my paws, then we’ll go and get dry and get some food.”  Jess and Patch were soon eating together.  Jess had some cheese on toast and a cup of tea, and Patch, liking pretty much the same thing, had peanut butter on toast and a cup of tea.  The Boss spoke to jess and patch, explaining things to them.

      “So I’m here for a year?”  Jess asked.

       “A year, then if you’re getting on fine, we’ll extend it.  You are happy here so it seems, so your guardians say you can stay if you want, and Patch for one wants you to stay,” the Boss said.  Patch hugged the Boss with his peanut butter covered paws.

       “Hey,” the Boss laughed, “peanut paws Patch!”  Patch giggled cubbishly.

      “I’m sorry,” he said.  The Boss grinned and gently wiped patch’s forepaws, the bear becoming still at the human’s touch.

        “He loves us all,” Patch thought, his eyes filling with tears.

       “Thank you for saving my life and allowing Jess to continue her life here,” patch said.  The Boss hugged Patch, and then turned to Jess.

       “I’m not the one who saved you Patch, Eohippus is, and so is Kamchatka and the community.  now for you Jess, love your brother cub with all you have jess, for he loves you with everything he has,” the Boss said.  Jess nodded.

      “I know, I know,” she said.

       “Make paw contact with everyone you can,” the Boss said, “there are lots of friendly creatures here.  You will find which paws are friendly paws here.  Mama Kamchatka will look after you and Patch.  I will go now, and let you two do your own thing.  Play with each other’s paws, hug each other, tickle each other’s toes, whatever.”  Patch giggled.

      “We love playing with each other’s paws,” patch said.  Jess smiled:

      “You’ve got lovely paws,” she said, “lovely grey paws with beautiful whitish paw pads brother cub Patch.”  Patch giggled:

       “You have lovely paws too Jess,” patch said, “your hand paws are soft, your hind feet are soft too.  I feel your paws are keys to a gentle sister cub.”  Jess kissed his nose.

       “I love you Brother Patch,” she said softly.

       “I love you too sister jess,” Patch replied, returning the kiss to her nose.””

      “That’s a lovely tale,”  Pihoqahiak said.

        “so my old grey has a brother,”  jess said, sitting down beside Pihoqahiak , who looked her up and down from brown hair to bare arms and feet, the rest of her covered by a tight cat suit.

        “yes he does,”  Pihoqahiak replied, “you are Jess?”  jess smiled and nodded.

         “I am,”  she replied smiling.

        “I know more of your tale, Peter was your cub wasn’t he?”  Pihoqahiak replied.

       “yes he is my cub,”  jess replied, “my other life, that as a bear is probably known to you too.”  Pihoqahiak nodded gravely.

 

“So what do I do now?”  Pihoqahiak asked..

       “How about getting some food, then having a look round,”  Patch suggested.

        “I’ll do that,”  his brother replied, getting to his feet and stretching his legs.

         “I’ll follow you,”  Pihoqahiak said, Patch leading his brother to Sid, who’d got wind of his arrival, and produced a meat and vegetable meal, which the black coated bear ate with enjoyment.

       “Now I want to wash my paws,”  Pihoqahiak said.  Sooleawa, shadowing Pihoqahiak as she’d done Conrad, took the black coated bear to the shower, and helped him wash his face, fur, paws and feet.

       “It is important to wash your paws and feet well,”  Sooleawa said, “the cubs will sometimes want to play with your paws and feet, it’s what they do.”

         “Adults also play, I know that,”  Pihoqahiak said.

      “They do,”  Orbon said, padding in to wash his own feet and paws.  Pihoqahiak looked at Orbon.

        “you are now leader of this place my sire,”  he said gently.

      “I am, with Patch as adviser.”  Patch grinned hugely.

        “Washing feet and paws is such fun,”  Pihoqahiak said, curling his toes around Sooleawa’s.

        “I know,”  she replied, kissing the toes of Palahniuk’s right hind foot, which held those of her left forepaw.

        “Your hind feet are so cute dear wandering one,”  Sooleawa said, Pihoqahiak giggling with pleasure.

       “I so wanted to play like this,”  Pihoqahiak said, curling his toes tighter and tighter, Sooleawa smiling and tugging at her left forepaw.

        “Will my hind feet stick to yours Sooleawa?”  Pihoqahiak asked.

       “I’m sure they will,”  Sooleawa said, Pihoqahiak releasing his hold on her paw.

       “Now let me wash the sole pads of your hind feet,”  Sooleawa said, paying particular attention to the sole pad of Pihoqahiak’s right hind foot, the male bear wriggling and laughing with ecstatic pleasure.

        “I want to crawl away so you can catch my hind feet!”  Pihoqahiak laughed, Sooleawa kissing his wet nose and paws.

        “Your face and paws are so gorgeous,”  Sooleawa said, Pihoqahiak smiling broadly.

       “Now let’s go and play with the other cubs,”  Sooleawa said softly to her friend.

        “that is so sweet,”  Orbon said to patch as Pihoqahiak and Sooleawa left the shower room.

        “They are deeply in love with each other, you can see that,”  Patch said.

        “I remember his birth,”  Orbon sniffed, Aga, while crawling round the clearing, suddenly stopped, sat back on her heels and grunted deeply, pushing, pushing down hard.  Then she got to her feet, splayed her hind legs, and squatted, bearing down hard three times, the cub slipping free.  She then crawled away, whimpering and crying.  When I brought the cub to her, she refused to embrace him.  Telling me she thought him evil.  Then she grabbed him and took him into the woods.  Coming back, she got down to delivering you into the world Patch.”  Patch crawled round the room, then sat back on his heels, grunting and straining, then he got to his feet and squatted, pushing hard down, then, whimpering, he crawled back to Orbon, the male bear crying openly.

      “yes, like that, like that,”  he wept.

       “I remember it,”  patch replied, “I remember more every day.”  Orbon, half choking, grabbed patch in his paws and hugged him.

         “I know all about my brother’s birth, and of course my own,”  patch said softly, “I knew I wasn’t an only cub.”  Orbon kissed Patch’s nose and paws.

        “Do you love your brother cub?”  Orbon asked.  Patch nodded.

       “When I found him, he was stiff, and very dead,”  patch replied, “I buried him gently, “now, now he can become what he could have been.”  Orbon smiled and guided Patch from the room.

        “love your ever wandering brother Patch, for he needs you,”  Orbon said.  Patch smiled gently.

        “I will,”  he replied.

 

Pihoqahiak and Sooleawa played together, their laughter and merriment attracting Sita’s attention.

      “Who is this?”  Sita asked.

       “What are you?”  Pihoqahiak asked.

       “I’m, um, Sita, a Sita, and my name is Sita.

      “What is your real name?”  Pihoqahiak asked.

       “My name is Sita, and my name is what I am, Sita means harvest, and I was that.”

         “How do you arrive at a body like yours?”  Pihoqahiak asked, “I mean, you’re not a bear or a cat, you’re, um, a cat bear.”

       “Patch gave birth to me,”  Sita replied, “my DNA mama was a tigress, though my real mama is Patch.  He delivered me into the world.”  Pihoqahiak stared at Patch.

       “So it is true,”  he said, “the maoxiong does exist.”

       “it does my brother cub,”  Patch replied smiling.

       “You two evidently love play,”  Sita said, “that’s what I do, encourage play that is.”

        “I wouldn’t want to play with you,”  Pihoqahiak said, “you’d outthink me twice over with the knowledge you have Sita.”

       “Depends what kind of play,”  Sita replied, “my imaginative play is supposed to be very vivid indeed, board game play, not so.  I can’t play connect four for instance, always beaten by the cubs I am.”

        “Your imaginative play is the play I’m interested in,”  Pihoqahiak replied, “I’ll bet you can imagine situations, just like my brother can.”

       “yes, I am told so,”  Sita replied.

        “What can you imagine?”  Pihoqahiak asked.

       “I’ve got my paws and feet stuck to floors, to the feet of other cubs and adults, that sort of thing,”  Sita replied.

       “So you’re a good player of the stuck foot game?”  Pihoqahiak replied.

       “Sita’s feet are magnetic!”  Sooleawa laughed.

        “I’ve heard the playing of this game can last for hours,”  Pihoqahiak said.

       “It can,”  Patch replied.

        “Can I touch your hind feet Sita?”  Pihoqahiak asked.  Sita lay down on her side and said:

       “I’m lying down now, come and touch my hind feet if you want.”  Pihoqahiak was about to ask Sita why he’d told her what he could already see, when he saw Sita wasn’t looking at him at all.  Rather her ear was turned to him.

          “You can’t see me can you,”  he asked.

       “No,”  Sita replied, “now are you going to get paws on with my hind feet or not.”

        “yeah, I will,”  Pihoqahiak replied, padding up to Sita and sitting down, taking her right hind foot in his paws.

        “your foot is large, warm and, “very strong!”  Pihoqahiak yelped, as Sita’s toes engulfed his.

          “now if your hind feet touched mine, they might stick so strongly it would take ages to free them,”  Sita replied.

         “I would like to see a game played,”  Pihoqahiak said.

       “You might see one,”  Sita replied, “it’s not an organised sport, more a cubhood game taken into adult circles.”

        “the game depends on two players wanting their feet to stick together,”  Sooleawa said.

        “Ah, ok,”  Pihoqahiak replied, “so your hind feet find Sita’s feet magnetic, but mine might not?”

      “yes,”  Sooleawa replied.

        “Sita’s pads are soft and smooth, like my brother’s,”  Pihoqahiak said.

       “She is his cub, so it would be natural for her to have similar pads to Patch.”.”  Sooleawa replied.

      “I suppose so,”  Pihoqahiak said.

       “your paws are of Orbon, your hind feet of Aga Pihoqahiak,”  Patch replied, “your forepaws having smooth soles, your hind wrinkled pads.”

        “Can you tell who’s related to whom by touching paws and feet then?”  Pihoqahiak asked.

        “I could have a good shot at it,”  Patch replied, “and Sooleawa, well her knowledge of paw and foot pads is growing every day.  So she could too.”

        “have you got pictures of bears playing the stuck foot games?”  Pihoqahiak asked.

        “We have video of it, some real tough games too,”  Sita replied, “they have audio description, where someone narrates what is going on on the screen, positions of paws and feet, expressions on player’s faces, that sort of thing.”

        “Can you get paws on with the feet of two players?”  Pihoqahiak asked.

        “Not really,”  Sita replied, “it sort of disrupts play.  Though I have got paws on once, but the players were very committed when I touched their feet, it didn’t break their commitment or train of thought.”

        “So what are the rules of the trapped foot game?”  Pihoqahiak asked.

       “First the players check each other’s pads and toes for thorns, sore pads etc, so that when they are pressing their hind feet together, there is no pain caused.  Once this is done, the players sit opposite each other and the feet of both players are pressed together, heels on the floor.  After this, the pads stick together, and the object is to work out how to free your hind feet from your friend’s feet.  Of course, the stronger the friendship, the stronger the glue, and it can take hours to free your feet.  It’s a game of imagination, and I’ve played it often, the longest game I played was an hour on each foot, working slowly to free my feet from my son Toby’s.  we played energetically and with huge commitment.  Of course, once we’re free, our hind feet are sore, sore from the loss of contact.  So we take part in mutual rubbing and massaging of each other’s hind feet.  That’s the bases of the game.”

        “Sounds very involved,”  Pihoqahiak replied, “though I don’t know if I’d ever be able to play it.”

       “Maybe with your brother?”  Sita suggested,” Patch will show you how to play the game.”

       “I’ll help you play the game,”  Patch said gently to Pihoqahiak, who padded away with him to a secluded corner of the room.  Sitting opposite each other, patch guided Pihoqahiak’s hind feet until they touched his, curling his toes around those of his brother cub, as patch’s feet were a bit larger than Pihoqahiak’s.

       “Now what do I do?”  Pihoqahiak asked.

       “Try to free your right hind foot from my left, go on, take your foot in your paws and see if you can move it.”  Pihoqahiak tugged gently at his right hind foot, then, he couldn’t move his foot,  applied his paws to the job of prying it loose from his brother’s foot.

       “My feet are stuck to yours Patch, both of them!”  Pihoqahiak yelped.

        “So now what do we do?”  patch asked.

       “I don’t know, I don’t know!”  Pihoqahiak whimpered, “it’s all new this, I’m suddenly stuck here!”

       “Try exploring with your paws, explore your hind feet carefully,”  patch advised, “you’re safe, nothing is wrong.”  Pihoqahiak smiled at his brother and gently explored his own right hind foot, finding the gap between his foot and Patch’s, on the inside of their touching pads.

       “I’ve found a gap, now I’ll work the toes of my left forepaw down into that gap and try to work my foot loose from yours patch,”  Pihoqahiak said, patch smiling broadly.

       “I’ll work on my own left hind foot, and we can work together, I’ll pull at my heel, while you work your toes into the gap we make, Okay?”  Pihoqahiak smiled and nodded.

       “Sounds good,”  he added, Patch feeling the toes of his brother’s forepaw digging for purchase between the pads of his right hind foot and Patch’s own left hind.

     “This feels great!”  Pihoqahiak gasped as the work began.  Patch tugging and wriggling, smiled at his brother.

          “it is a good game,”  he replied, “though I think, I think the glue is quite strong!”

      “yeah, I know!”  Pihoqahiak replied, his eyes shut in concentration, as he admitted to himself, his hind feet were truly stuck to those of his brother cub.

        “My feet are really stuck, I mean it Patch, they’re really stuck!”  Pihoqahiak whimpered, “how did this happen?”

        “You wanted it,”  Patch replied, “and when I showed you how, your spirit connected to mine.”

       “So my pads are gonna hurt when you pull your feet away from mine,”  Pihoqahiak replied.

      “As Sita said, there’s a cure for that,”  Patch replied.

        “I want this game to go on longer,”  Pihoqahiak said, as with a tug, patch pulled his heel away from Pihoqahiak’s.

     “ow, oooah, ow!”  Pihoqahiak whined.

        “Keep going Pihoqahiak, keep digging in those toes!”  Patch grunted, Pihoqahiak driven to do just as his brother asked, feeling his toes digging into soft warm pads, as Patch pulled his foot away from below his gripping, scrabbling paw.

       “it’s hard work!”  Pihoqahiak whimpered.

        “I know, I know!”  patch replied as his foot slipped from his grip, pressing against Pihoqahiak’s paw, the shock making Pihoqahiak pull his paw away quickly.

       “Now what?”  patch asked.

      “What happened?”  Pihoqahiak asked.

       “I lost my grip, sorry,”  patch said, Pihoqahiak experimentally moving his right hind foot.

        “we’re stuck again, we’re back to square one!”  Pihoqahiak whined.

        “So you are able to play this game,”  Patch laughed.

       “yes, I like it, it’s great!” Pihoqahiak replied grinning.

         “so now we’re stuck firmer than ever,”  Patch observed.

       “yeah,”  Pihoqahiak replied smiling, “it’s gonna be hard freeing myself from the glue binding my feet to yours Patch.”  Patch smiled as he felt Pihoqahiak press his toes into the soft skin beneath his toes, where it was most sensitive, the part least in contact with the ground.

       “I love your touch,”  patch said softly.

       “and I yours,”  Pihoqahiak replied, rubbing the furry tops of patch’s toes, which had curled round his, holding them gently.

       “My feet love your touch Patch,”  Pihoqahiak said.

        “mine do yours,”  Patch replied.

        “But my feet are your feet, really,”  Pihoqahiak said.

      “No, well, yes, at first they were, then, when you showered, you returned to yourself, your body became your own then,”  patch said gently.

       “Good,”  Pihoqahiak replied smiling.  Leaning forward, he shuffled on his backside, bending his knees, then touching Patch’s nose with his paw.

        “My feet have come away a little from yours,”  he said, “but the game will continue.”  Patch smiled, and kissed the paw stroking his nose.

        “You gave me the strength to come to you patch,”  Pihoqahiak said, “when you kissed the bear’s nose then stroked his paws, I wanted that, I wanted that so much it hurt.  Then, then, then I could feel your touch, I begged you to touch me, to hug me, for I thought you’d run away the minute I spoke to you.  You didn’t though, you recognised me, and hugged me, and loved me, and now I am in your debt forever.”

        “No you’re not in debt to me,”  patch replied, “I wanted you back with me big brother cub, and even if I didn’t want you back, which I do, I had the key to allow you back here, which I would have used anyway.  So no more talking of debt, right?”  Confused, Pihoqahiak looked at Patch.

        “so, it’s all right then?”  he asked in a small voice.

       “yes, more than all right,”  patch replied, “now, will you help me free my feet from yours?”  Pihoqahiak sat back, feeling his feet pressing against patch’s.

       “My feet are sticking stronger than ever!”  Pihoqahiak laughed.  Patch grabbed his left hind foot in his paws, feeling for the gap between the pads on the sole of his foot and those on the sole of his brother’s right hind foot.  Finding the gap, Patch worked the toes of his left forepaw into the gap.

      “You pull at your right hind foot as I lever away Pihoqahiak,”  Patch grunted.  Feeling his brother take the heel of his right hind foot in both forepaws.

        “This is harder work than it was before!”  Pihoqahiak whimpered.

      “Brace your toes against my foot, use them as a lever,”  patch gasped, feeling Pihoqahiak’s toes digging into the soft pad just below his toes.

      “That’s it, press into there,”  patch gasped, digging the toes of his right forepaw into the growing gap between his brother’s right hind foot and his own left hind.

       “ooooooaerf!”  Pihoqahiak grunted, tugging gently but firmly at his right hind paw, using the toes of one paw to keep his foot separated from his brother’s.

      “Nearly there, nearly there, dig with your toes patch, dig with your toes!!”  Pihoqahiak whimpered, pulling his foot away from patch’s bit by bit, patch growling with intense effort and emotion.

       “your toes are the only things stuck now,”  patch panted after half an hour of strenuous work from both him and his brother cub.

         “Hold still,”  Pihoqahiak panted, tugging at the toes of his right hind foot with his forepaws, Patch squealing as Pihoqahiak’s toes came free of his paw.

       “done it!”  patch gasped, “now, now for the other foot Pihoqahiak!”

        “I’ll help in a minute, that was tough!”  Pihoqahiak panted.

         “My toes want to curl round yours,”  patch whimpered, curling the toes of his right hind foot around those of his brother’s left hind.

       “Mine want to press into your pads, I can’t stop them, my foot wants to stick strongly!”  Pihoqahiak laughed, “should I let it?”

        “yes, let it,”  patch gasped, feeling his toes gripping his brother’s.

      “oooah,  oooooauoph!”  Pihoqahiak gasped, “this is intense, this game is real, my foot is stuck, it’s going to be a real struggle to free it, but I will enjoy it hugely!”

        “My pads think yours are magnetic!”  patch laughed.

       “and mine yours,”  Pihoqahiak said smiling.  Pihoqahiak explored Patch’s right hind foot, the toes of which held those of his left hind foot in a gentle, warm embrace.

        “Your pads are warm and smooth,”  Pihoqahiak said, stroking Patch’s left hind foot with the toes of his own right hind.  Patch, smiling, returned Pihoqahiak’s massage, using the toes of his larger left hind foot to stroke the wrinkled pads of his brother’s right hind foot.

       “your pads are wrinkled,”  patch said, Pihoqahiak curling his toes, making his wrinkled pads bunch up in response to Patch’s toes stroking the sole of his foot.

       “I love this foot play,”  he said, Patch grinning delightedly.

       “So do I,”  he replied unnecessarily, but Pihoqahiak was glad to hear him say it anyway.

       “your pads are warm and soft Pihoqahiak,”  patch said, “they are dark pink I believe, a kind of dirty pink?”  Pihoqahiak smiled:

      “They are,”  he replied, “dark pink from my toe pads to my heels, here, when we’ve freed ourselves, I’ll let you touch the soles of my hind feet and describe what bits are pink, and what bits are flecked black fur.  Well you’ll be able to feel that.”

         “Let’s free my right hind foot, your left hind,”  patch replied, Pihoqahiak taking hold of his own left hind foot, feeling his way to the gap between his pads and those of his brother cub’s hind foot.  Working the toes of his right forepaw into the gap, he began levering at his foot, while Patch, holding onto the heel of his right hind foot, pulled gently in time to Pihoqahiak’s efforts to free his foot.

      “Oooah, ow!  Oaoaoaoaw!”  Pihoqahiak grunted as he levered at his pads, prying his foot free of Patch’s, while Patch, tugging and grunting, fought to keep his foot coming free.

       “This glue is tough!”  he whimpered half way through, panting and bouncing about.  Pihoqahiak, his eyes closed in concentration, whimpered a reply, digging his toes in hard, in an effort to free his foot.  Patch, growling deeply, hauled at his right hind foot, squealing as it came free with a rush, Patch ending up lying on his back, with his paws in the air, his hind feet kicking with exertion.

       “Done it, we’ve done it!”  patch yelled.  Pihoqahiak stroked the sole of his left hind foot, feeling damp pads and toes which wanted to curl tightly, so he let them.  Pihoqahiak squealed as he felt the urge to curl his toes tighter and tighter, keeping them curled until he was exhausted and had to relax them.

     “Wow!”  he gasped, “my toes have a mind of their own!”

      “what’s happening brother?”  Patch asked, Pihoqahiak explained.

      “Just after your foot freed from mine, my toes curled tight and I felt I needed to hold them curled until it hurt, I don’t know what came over me.”

        “Your toes curl with excitement maybe,”  patch replied.

      “maybe they did,”  Pihoqahiak replied, “but now my feet want massaging, and I can’t do it patch.”  Patch crawled to his brother cub, and took Pihoqahiak’s right hind foot in his paws.

      “now to describe my hind feet,”  Pihoqahiak said, “well, you are touching pink pads, they are a dark pink, I know you’ve seen it before, but as well as dark pink, they are flecked with black, so if I relax my toes, my pads do look rather dirty.  I’ve got pink pigmented skin, and black skin too.  A real dirty footed look.”

       “But your paws and feet are not dirty Pihoqahiak, they are clean,”  patch said.

      “They are clean, and I make sure they are, but they sure don’t look it.”  Pihoqahiak replied smiling, “and, and, you’re touch is tickling my toes! Stop!”

        “Sorry,”  patch said, as Pihoqahiak’s toes caught those of his left forepaw.

        “That’s all right, I liked it,”  the black coated bear said.

       “I think your fur and paw pads are ten out of ten for cute,”  Patch replied smiling.

        “I like my feet and paws, and my fur,”  Pihoqahiak said.

        “Black fur and pinkie black pads were what you had when you were born,”  patch said in wonder, “mama Aga heaved you out onto the track, and left you to die because she saw only a black cub.”

        “Yes Patch,”  Pihoqahiak replied, “and you remember my birth don’t you.”

      “I do, the sound mama made, how she stamped her feet, squatted then heaved twice groaning with the effort.  You slipped away from me.  I heard you fall onto the track, and mama turned, I suppose she looked down at you, then crawled away, whimpering with pain as another contraction gripped her.”

       “I don’t remember that, thank Eohippus,”  Pihoqahiak replied.  Patch cradled Pihoqahiak’s left hind foot in his lap, pressing the bear’s pads and toes, Pihoqahiak unable to stop himself from curling his toes.

        “I love you playing with my feet,”  he said, “it feels wonderful!”  patch smiled and rubbed the furry top of the foot he held.

       “Feet were meant to be played with, I felt sure of that,”  Pihoqahiak said, “when I washed my hind feet using my paws, my feet fitted into my paws as if they were made to do so, it was very nice to find that.”  Patch smiled, let go of Pihoqahiak’s foot, then sat back, taking his own left hind foot in his paws and stroking his pads and toes, before playing with his toes, his brother laughing merrily.

        “so cute, so very cute,”  he said, “now patch, get paws on with me, please.”  Patch did, and found Pihoqahiak holding his right hind foot with his right paw, while stroking his toes and pads with his left paw.

       “That is indescribably cute,”  Patch said, Pihoqahiak laughing with pleasure.

       “I love the way you play with your toes Patch,”  Pihoqahiak said, Patch grinning.

         “I have had much practise,”  he replied, “I also play other silly games, like pretending to have cubs, that’s energetic play too.”

        “I’ll bet it is, I’ve seen cubbings happening, lots of playing with hind feet, squeezing feet with paws, grabbing feet in paws and kicking with feet.  Very important that, then the cub is born with slow pushing, gentle easing of the cub into the world, wriggling it into the outside world, like this.”  Pihoqahiak straddled his hind legs a little, ,wriggled and rocked back and fourth, then got to his feet, straddled his hind legs, braced his hind feet on the floor and wriggled a little, patch smiling as he felt this.

       “you’ve seen everything then,”  he replied.

        “I have, and everything was wonderful,”  Pihoqahiak said.  patch tickled Pihoqahiak’s heels as the black coated bear knelt on the floor, Pihoqahiak laughing helplessly.

        “you love stroking my hind feet I think,”  he said.  patch smiled:

        “don’t you like it then?”  he asked.  Pihoqahiak felt Patch run his toes down the sole of his foot from heel to toes.

       “it’s great, so good!”  he gasped, as his toes curled with the thrill of Patch’s touch, “wow Patch, that’s dam good!”  Pihoqahiak yelped.

        “I thought you liked my touch,”  patch said.

         “I do, I really do, and the stuck foot game was wonderful also.  I loved it,”  Pihoqahiak replied smiling.

       “Now let’s go from here,”  patch said gently.  Pihoqahiak got to his feet, turned to Patch and embraced him tightly.

        “Where do I sleep tonight?”  Pihoqahiak asked.

       “I’ve got space in my lie up now,”  Patch replied, “I don’t think Ekaterina will be back soon.”  Pihoqahiak followed his brother to his lie up, where Patch lay down on the rugs, Pihoqahiak snuggling up to him.

         “I have a mama who hates me,”  the black coated bear said, “but I have a brother and sire who love me.”

       “You have a sire who loves you Pihoqahiak,”  Orbon said softly, touching his son’s back with one huge paw.

         “Will you stay here tonight too?”  Pihoqahiak asked.

       “I will my cub, I will,”  Orbon replied softly.  Pihoqahiak smiled and turned to his sire, Orbon embracing him tightly.

        “Can I stroke your paws and feet too?”  Orbon asked.

        “You can, examine them, play with my toes, stroke my pads, please!”  Pihoqahiak begged.  Orbon did all that, the black coated cub rolling onto his back and presenting his sire with access to his belly and all four feet.

        “I love this,”  Pihoqahiak said smiling, “I love paw and foot play.”

       “I think Pihoqahiak’s paws and feet are more beautiful than mine,”  patch said, “more interesting anyway.”

        “I don’t think so,”  Pihoqahiak said, “your paws and feet are lovely patch, really lovely.”

       “They are Patch, I know, I’ve played with your paws and feet.”  Orbon added, backing up his eldest son cub.

        “Patch and I played the stuck foot game Orbon, It was lovely play, I loved it!”  Pihoqahiak said.

        “I watched you two playing,”  Orbon replied, “I wish I could play that easily with my brother cub.  though my brother, he was a black bear, he went to Russia, and I don’t know where he is now.”

       “Was his name Ebony?”  someone asked.  Orbon turned his head, his eyes wide with shock.

        “It’s you, you’re still here, still alive!”  Orbon yelled, leaping to his feet and embracing the huge black bear.

         “I love you Ebony,”  Orbon said unashamedly.  Ebony, smiling broadly, kissed his brother cub’s nose.

        “I wish we could have played like your two cubs did,”  Ebony replied gently.

        “My feet could join with yours, and we could play,”  Orbon replied gently.  Ebony hugged Orbon tightly.

        “who’s cub is this?”  Ebony asked Orbon, waving a paw at Pihoqahiak.

        “Um, mine,”  Orbon replied, then he looked at Pihoqahiak, then at Ebony, his eyes shocked.

         “You and agar know each other!”  Orbon yelled, “you Ebony, and I, mated with Aga, agar delivering a cub who was all mine, Patch, and all yours, Pihoqahiak!”

        “Um, er, yeah, I mated with Aga,”  Ebony replied, unable to deny the evidence of his eyes.

      “No wonder Aga rejected Pihoqahiak,”  Orbon thought, but said nothing, “I was king bear, and she’d mated with one who wasn’t king, and didn’t want to tell me.”

      “Aga is wrong!”  Orbon roared, “she mated with two cubs, but left one to die, the one that wasn’t of the king bear.  This king bear says all cubs shall live!  may a plague land on Aga’s den!”  Orbon roared.

         “So I’m not of Orbon after all,”  Pihoqahiak said, “well what happens now?”

          “I look after you, that’s what big brother,”  patch replied firmly, hugging his brother cub.

         “when we were playing, I felt so safe,”  Pihoqahiak said softly into Patch’s ear.

        “you are safe,”  Patch replied gently, “from your nose to your paws you are safe.”

         “Thank you,”  Pihoqahiak replied, sobbing into Patch’s coat.

        “You are safe here,”  Orbon replied, “I hold no ill will towards you or my half brother Ebony.  Ill will is not my way.  All cubs are worthy of life, it is only mama Aga who thought one cub wasn’t.”

       “Was I disabled?”  Pihoqahiak asked.

      “Even if you were,”  patch replied, “there is no justification for your death.  If you can live a good life, then you should be allowed to live that good life.  And a good life can be as little as doing good for others from a den if unable to walk far.”

       “your disability came on in later life, but you still do good for others patch,”  Orbon said.

      “Too right he does,”  Pihoqahiak replied, clinging to patch.

        “I love you Patch,”  Pihoqahiak whispered to his brother, who embraced him tightly.

       “I love you too, my dirty pawed brother cub,”  patch said gently, Pihoqahiak giggling softly.

       “What’s that about dirty paws?”  Ebony asked.

        “it’s a little private thing,”  Patch replied, “between me and my brother cub.”

         “maybe I have a little of Orbon in me after all,”  Pihoqahiak mused, “for if I didn’t, my skin would be black all over, it’s not, it’s pink with black patches.”

       “I don’t mind who’s cub you are,”  Patch replied softly, hugging Pihoqahiak tightly, “you’re my brother cub, from nose to playful hind feet. Okay?”  Pihoqahiak laughed merrily and snuggled hard into patch’s hug.

        “I love our paw and foot games Patch,”  Pihoqahiak mumbled.

       “What foot and paw games?”  Ebony asked.  patch explained.

       “Oh, so you enjoy pretending like that do you?”  Ebony asked.

       “They do, and so do I,”  Orbon replied, “it’s healthy play Ebony, very healthy play.”

        “I bet it is,”  Ebony replied, “what games can you play with paws? other than pretending they’re stuck of course.”

         “chasing games, soothing games, where one adult pretends to deliver a cub, and the other seeks to soothe them.  There are counting games, toe curling games to see if one player can curl their toes tighter than another, that sort of thing.  There is also general foot massage, which is great for fostering trust and tactile play.”

        “I know a bit about that one,”  Orbon replied smiling, “that’s great is that general foot massage, many cubs find my hind feet interesting, I often get foot massage from others.”

      “Do you massage hind feet too?”  Ebony asked.

      “yes, indeed, it’s almost the rule here,”  Orbon said smiling, “not to touch paws and feet is unusual in this place.”

         “Nice,”  Ebony replied.

        “it is,”  Sooleawa said, padding into the room, her eyes shining, “Patch, I saw you and Pihoqahiak playing, it was so cool, so lovely!”  she said, sitting down beside her adopted sire.

       “I’m glad you enjoyed watching it,”  Patch replied.

       “I wanted to play the winner, but there wasn’t one,”  Sooleawa replied.

       “it wasn’t a contest Sooleawa dear, it was a bonding session,”  Pihoqahiak replied gently, “a session for my feet to stick to Patch’s, then for us to free our feet and realise that, even though we’d struggled for ages to free our feet, our feet wanted to be stuck once more, and more firmly than before.  It was so good!  Patch can really stroke a foot too, he has the touch, the amazing touch!”

        “he can make me curl my toes and want to play with my toes,”  Sooleawa replied, “Patch can turn me into a large cub by just touching my paw or the sole of my foot, or my toes.  He makes me want to crawl and roll about, and play with my toes, and do all that cub stuff!”

          “That’s lovely,”  Pihoqahiak said.

        “I wonder if I could play with you sometime Pihoqahiak,”  Sooleawa asked.

      “yeah, sure, when?”  Pihoqahiak asked.

       “When you are ready, my paws and feet are always up for play,”  Sooleawa replied softly.

        “So how do you feel about me Orbon?”  Pihoqahiak asked.

        “I don’t blame you for what Aga did,”  Orbon replied, “it’s not my way to take out my anger on cubs.  The females have responsibility for who mates with them.  Then, when they have the cubs resulting from those mating, it is their responsibility to look after those cubs.  Ebony, when did you mate with Aga?  Before me, or after me.”

       “before you brother,”  Ebony replied, looking down at his paws in anguish.

        “I thought so,”  Orbon replied, “for Pihoqahiak was born first.”

       “That’s no judge of when Ebony mated,”  Ekaterina said, padding into the room, “I know when Aga mated with your brother Orbon, for I’ve asked Aga, indeed, I have been talking to Aga ever since she attacked Pihoqahiak.  Ebony did mate with Aga first.  You came second Orbon.  You were king bear, so after Aga mated with you, she dared not mate with anyone else, as you marked her with your sign.  You failed to notice Aga had mated with Ebony, as she begged him to rub out his sign on her.”

       “So she lied to me!”  Orbon roared.

      “She did,”  Ebony replied, “and I would have told you, but I was taken from the woodlands before I could tell you Orbon.  Indeed, it was the humans arriving to hunt that scared Aga and I, um, apart, as it were.  I was captured, and taken to Russia.”

        “You wear bells around your neck brother Ebony,”  Orbon said, “why is this?”  Ebony touched the bells on a collar around his neck.

        “I’ve not had permission to remove them yet,”  he replied ashamedly, “the humans put them there, and though I ran away, I can’t bring myself to remove my bells, as I’ve not had permission to do so yet.”

       “Take them off, they look awful,”  Orbon replied.  Ebony took his bells off, and threw them down on the floor.  Ekaterina picked them up, the bells jingling.

       “Not again, Ekaterina, get rid of those, now!”  Patch yelled.  Ekaterina padded from the room, the bells jingling softly.

       “I hate those bells,”  Ebony said flatly.

        “I’ve been told I can go anywhere in the house and woodlands,”  Ebony said, “is this true?”

       “it is,”  Orbon replied, “it’s all true, all is open here.  Ebony smiled and bowed to Orbon.

        “I wish you wouldn’t do that,”  Orbon replied gruffly.

        “After all this time, I’m still in the habit of it,”  Ebony replied, “I used to dance for humans, and bowing at the end of my act was what I did, as a signal of respect to my audience, or so my owners ordered.”

      “How sad,”  Sooleawa replied gently, padding up to Ebony and getting onto her hind feet, Ebony looking down at her.

        “What is your pleasure my lady?”  he asked.

        “I’m sorry, I don’t understand,”  Sooleawa replied.

       “he means what do you want him to do,”  Orbon replied.

         “Um, I wanted to kiss his, your nose Ebony, Ebony, that is all.”  Ebony sat down.

       “I want to hug you,”  he replied hoarsely.  Sooleawa scrambled into his lap, Ebony crying into her fur.

       “Don’t abandon your cub,”  Sooleawa said softly, “he wouldn’t want that.”

        “I’m done with dancing, done with being struck with sticks, done with being abused!”

      “Can I tickle your hind feet Ebony?”  Sooleawa asked.

       “Stroke them, don’t tickle them,”  Ebony replied, Sooleawa smiling and embracing each of Ebony’s hind feet in turn.  Smiling, Ebony curled his toes with pleasure.

        “Everything my mama told me not to do with my hind feet,”  he said gently to Sooleawa, who massaged the pads of his hind feet in circles, Ebony feeling his toes curl tighter and tighter.

        “You have big hind feet Ebony,”  Sooleawa said, counting the bear’s toes, Ebony laughing merrily.

       “Are all my toes still there?”  he asked.

        “Five on each foot,”  Sooleawa replied, “yes, they’re all here, and tightly curled too.”  Ebony grinned hugely.

       “What about my pads?”  he asked.  Sooleawa ran her paw over the sole of Ebony’s right hind foot, the bear bouncing about with pleasure.

        “bunched up pads,”  Sooleawa said.

        “So cute,”  Orbon observed.  Ebony looked at Orbon.

       “What are you going to do about Aga?”  He asked.

        “I think I need do nothing, for she is disgraced by her actions,”  Orbon replied, “hitting her is going to do nothing productive.  She will just have to live with the fact her cub is here, yes he is learning about his paws and feet, though he is in an adult’s body.”

        “So that is why I’m in with the cubs, not that I mind it,”  Pihoqahiak said, “I like the cubs, there’s one, Georgia her name is, she’s cute.”

        “glad you think so,”  Georgia said, padding put o Pihoqahiak and hugging him.

        “your fur is wonderful, wonderful!”  Pihoqahiak exclaimed, running his paws through the fur on Georgia’s back.

       “how about my paws and feet?”  Georgia asked.  Pihoqahiak looked down at her hind paws, they were covered with long hair.  Georgia, sitting down opposite Pihoqahiak, gave him her right hind foot, Pihoqahiak looking down at the naked pads surrounded by long hair.  Smiling, he blew on Georgia’s pads, the hair lifting and tickling her pads and toes, Georgia giggling with pleasure and excitement.

        “I thought you’d do that,”  she said, “that’s lovely.”

        “You don’t mind me stroking your hind feet?”  Pihoqahiak asked.

       “No,”  Georgia replied softly.

        “You feel like a playful sort of personality,”  Pihoqahiak said to Georgia, who smiled at his assessment of her.

        “I came here from a travelling zoo,”  she replied, “my mama dumped me out of the van when it stopped in the woods here.  Fortunately I was taken in by this community and found myself well looked after.”

      “But you are the leader of the cubs,”  Pihoqahiak replied, “how did you get that position?” 

       “I don’t know,”  Georgia said, “I just did, well sort of.”

        “is patch in here?”  faith asked, padding into the room.

       “I’m over here Faith,”  Patch said, faith going to him and cuddling into his embrace.

       “Sire Kuruk said you’d be around somewhere,”  Faith said, “I wanted to see you, and thank you for helping me into the world.”  Patch, overwhelmed, buried his face in the young she bear’s fur.

        “That’s okay, that’s okay,”  he whispered, breathing in her scent.

         “I love you Patch,”  Faith whispered to the grey bear.

        “I love you too,”  Patch whispered to her, remembering everything about her birth, as he’d been paws on with everything.

        “I’ve touched Kuruk’s paws and hind feet,”  Faith said, “they’re big and he seems to like my touch, his toes curl tightly, making his pads bunch up rather sweetly.  About an hour after you left Us Patch, Kuruk felt a need to push, and push he did, I was paws on with his hind feet, he lay on his side, pushing and panting, kicking with his hind feet, then pushing and panting.  Each push made him curl into a ball and curl his toes tightly, roaring and straining.  I held his right hind foot, his toes curled tighter, and tighter, and remained curled throughout the effort he made.  Then squatting, and  with a yell, he delivered the afterbirth, much to Anook’s disgust and amazement.  Kuruk sat down exhausted in the foot and paw bath, it was then I rubbed his feet with my paws, Kuruk flexing his toes and kicking a little with his hind feet as his body relaxed.”

        “I saw his face, his paws, his feet, his body and mind struggling then, it was all his own effort.  I think he had to relieve himself.”

        “yes Kuruk have do thing,”  Kuruk replied wearily, padding into the room and flopping down beside Patch, “pushing out afterbirth was hard straining effort.  Though Kuruk do thing, he want do thing.”  Patch touched Kuruk’s fur, it was damp with sweat, then the pads of his right hind foot, they were also damp.

        “Poor you,”  Patch said, though he knew how Kuruk had felt.

         “Kuruk curl toes and kick with feet, and yell and curl up in ball while pushing down into tail,”  Kuruk replied, “he squat and push down into tail hard, show you how he do thing in a bit when he less tired.”  Patch kissed his brother’s nose.

        “Later,”  he replied, “show me later.”

         “Kuruk’s hind feet kicked so very hard patch, his toes curled so tight,”  Faith said in wonder.

        “It’s hard work pushing a cub into the world Faith,”  Patch replied.

        “Kuruk know that,”  Kuruk grunted.

         “I remember everything,”  Kuruk mused, “everything from first pains, to bigger pushes to last roaring, screaming efforts.”

         “I remember everything too,”  Patch said gently to his brother cub.  Kuruk rested his head on Patch’s shoulder.

         “Kuruk love you patch,”  he said softly.

         “I know Kuruk,”  Patch replied gently, “I know you trusted me hugely when you asked me to help you deliver your cub into the world.”

         “Kuruk did it all though didn’t he,”  Faith said.  Patch stroked her back and ears.

        “yes,”  he replied gently, “I stroked his paws and feet and reassured him enough to give him courage to push and roar and strain enough,”  Patch replied.

        “Kuruk regret nothing Faith,”  Kuruk said smiling.  Faith tickled the toes of Kuruk’s right hind foot, Kuruk laughing helplessly.

        “Toes of Kuruk like touch of Faith,”  Kuruk said.

       “Your language is so sweet Kuruk!”  Faith laughed.

       “Kuruk know he speak funny,”  Kuruk replied, “well he speak funny when emotional, which is most of time.”

        “You’re lovely,”  Faith said.  Kuruk smiled, gathered faith into his lap and kissed her nose.

         “Awwwh, you big soppy cuddly bruin!”  Faith laughed.

         “Kuruk remember everything about your birth Faith,”  Kuruk replied.

 

Meanwhile, in another part of the house, Aga tried to sleep.  Haunted by images and sensations she’d shoved to the back of her mind, she tried to empty her mind in preparation for sleep.  Whenever she closed her eyes, she felt the woodland floor beneath her paws and feet, and contractions tearing her apart.  Whimpering, Aga got to her feet, then squatted, bearing down into her tail with a scream of agony.

         “Leave me alone!”  she begged aloud.

        “You need to realise what you did!”  a voice said, “you need to confess to Orbon, get down on your knees and confess you dumped a helpless cub!”  Aga turned, seeing Ekaterina standing behind her.

         “Get out, leave now!”  Aga screamed.

      “No,”  Ekaterina replied, “I might have messed up my relationship with patch, but my love for cubs is undiminished.  You are a disgusting creature Aga!  I hate you!”

        “I thought I could hide my indiscretion from my king bear,”  Aga whimpered.

        “I hate you!”  Ekaterina screamed, “how could you leave a cub to die you horrid creature!”

          “My cub isn’t dead now,”  Aga mewed petulantly.

         “No, but that is only thanks to Patch, and you know that you silly sow!” Ekaterina roared.  Ekaterina, having shouted herself hoarse, whacked Aga across her face with her paw, then walked out of the room.

 

“that was fourteen years ago,”  Aga thought, rubbing her face with her paw, “I shouldn’t have left Pihoqahiak to die.  No mother should do that, but back then, I did.  I wonder what will happen to me now?  The spirits know what I did, Kuruk has delivered Faith into the world and Patch brought my cub across the bridge.  What will happen to me?”

         “I think it is time you took a walk Aga,”  someone said.

         “Conrad, where will I go?”  Aga asked.

        “go into the woods,”  Conrad replied.  Aga padded into the woods, her paws and feet scuffing at the leaves and dirt.  Staring ahead, she kept walking, walking, walking.

         “Stop where you are,”  Conrad’s voice said, “now Sit down.”  Aga sat down and looked up at the moon.

       “Am I about to die?”  Aga asked herself.

        “would you like to end your life in this world now?”  Conrad asked.

        “I have screwed up,”  Aga thought, “I left one cub to die, lost another, abandoned another, and all they gave me was respect in return.  I think I need to take a rest now.”  Aga lay down on the track, feeling her body relaxing.

        “Do you want to set your paws on a path over the bridge now?”  Conrad asked.

        “yes, yes I do,”  Aga replied firmly.  Settling down, she felt Conrad coming close to her and hugging her.

       “come with me,”  Conrad said gently, Lifting Aga up and carrying her across the bridge.

 

The next morning dawned, finding Orbon pacing round the great room.  He’d heard reports from the patrol that Aga’s body had been found in the woods.

       “Was my yell of the wish for a plague on her den realised?”  Orbon asked himself.

        “No Orbon,”  Conrad said gently, “Aga decided to set her paws on the bridge.”  Orbon hung his head in shame.

        “I was angry, furious with her,”  he said.

        “and so you should be, what she did to Pihoqahiak was awful,”  Conrad replied gently.

       “Though I didn’t want her to die Conrad, that’s not what I wanted!”  Orbon wailed.

         “You didn’t make her die, she made herself die.  Aga didn’t want to live in this world any more.  She decided that, because she’d abandoned Pihoqahiak and freckles, she should make a new life on the other side of the bridge.”

       “We’re not all perfect,”  Orbon replied, “Conrad, I didn’t want that to happen to her!”

         “I know,”  Conrad replied, “but Aga is no longer with you now.”

        “I don’t know what to think,”  Orbon replied.

        “concentrate on your cubs now Orbon,”  Conrad replied, “Aga left you and them alone because she felt disgrace at leaving Pihoqahiak to die and Freckles alone to fend for herself.”

 

Meanwhile, patch and Kuruk chatted.

        “What happen to Kuruk patch?”  Kuruk asked.

        “During the expulsion of the afterbirth you mean?”  Patch asked.

      “yeah,”  Kuruk replied wearily.

        “the spiritual passage was for Faith alone,”  Patch replied, “as we males don’t have, um, the usual route, for cubs, the spirits create one.  After the cub’s birth though, the afterbirth comes out the way of all solid waste, if you get my meaning.”  Kuruk rubbed his face with his paw.

          “I know what you mean,”  he replied, “it awful thing, though Kuruk glad Faith and Anook there to support him, it hard effort.  Took ages!”

        “I know,”  Patch replied, “I’ve done it too Kuruk, it took me an hour for things to build up, then another hour to get rid of the afterbirth after Sita’s birth.  It hurt and left me sweating and sore from nose to toes.  My backside ached after that.”  Kuruk squirmed, for he felt how Patch described.

         “Kuruk roll about on floor of lie up for a bit, doing all that Faith say he do, grab feet with paws, roar and roll about, then he run for relieving place, and he squat over hole, straining into tail, he get rid of afterbirth.  It hard work Patch, Kuruk push and pant like he do when he deliver faith cub, though this not so easy, this really hard, this make Kuruk cry and stamp feet!  Kuruk sweat from nose to tail, once Kuruk shake, sweat flying off fur and paws!”  patch hugged his brother cub.

       “I know,”  he replied gently.  Kuruk got to his feet and squatted, grunting and bouncing on his toes, then stamping his feet and panting as Patch got paws on, then, gasping, Kuruk violently shook himself.

         “It was like that for me my brother cub,”  Patch said gently.  Kuruk, tired out again, sat down heavily.  Patch sat opposite Kuruk and took his brother’s right hind foot in his paws, rubbing his pads and playing with his toes, Kuruk smiling and curling his toes with pleasure.

          “Kuruk no curl his toes too tight,”  Kuruk said, “they ache too much from delivering Faith and after that.  Kuruk never know his toes curl so much.  They stay curled for long time, for a whole hour once, Kuruk never really relax toes.”

         “no,”  patch replied, “I know how that is Kuruk, it hurts.”  Kuruk sighed deeply, letting his tension leave him.

         “My toes remained curled for near on two hours,”  Amafu said, padding into the room, “my cubs were difficult to deliver.”

        “I remember touching your paws as you pushed against your cubs,”  patch said, “Amafu, your toes were slightly curled throughout your labour, curling tighter and tighter as contractions came and went.”

        “My poor forepaws and hind have not recovered yet,”  Amafu admitted, “they still ache!”  Patch replied:

       “once I’ve massaged my brother’s hind feet, I’ll massage yours.”

       “Thanks,”  Amafu said smiling.

         “Curling toes while delivering cubs is not just the preserve of you lions and bears,”  jess said padding into the room, “I did the same as Amafu and Freckles.  My toes never stopped moving as I delivered Peter, and Janet will say the same when she delivered Moses.  I’ve watched Moses birth video, and Janet’s fingers and toes gripped the rugs and curled tightly as she pushed down hard into her backside.”

          “I remember that,”  patch replied, “I saw everything back then, now though, now I’d have to get paws on.”  Kuruk moved out of Jess’s path, and she knelt, wrapping her arms around Patch, hugging him tightly.

         “your toes even curl when you’re hugging patch!”  Faith laughed.

        “it’s emotion doing that,”  Kuruk replied.

        “did you and Jess play the stuck foot game when you were younger Patch?”  Amafu asked.

       “We did,”  patch replied, “and I’d love to play it again, even now Jess is older.”

        “I’m, well, fifteen now,”  jess replied, “but my mind is older, as I was once a bear.  Yes, I will still play the stuck foot game, indeed, Moses and Janet were talking about playing the game earlier, and my toes curled with the memory of the games Patch and I played together.”

 

That evening, in the lodge, Janet and Moses sat opposite each other, her bare feet pressed against his smaller ones, their stuck foot game had lasted an hour already, and they’d got nowhere with freeing their feet.  Moses had tried bracing his toes against the soft skin on the sole of his mum’s foot, Janet curling her toes with pleasure and emotion.

        “I can’t free my foot!”  Moses whimpered, bracing the toes of his left foot against the sole of Janet’s right foot and tugging at his heel with both hands.

          “My foot won’t give you any leverage Moses,”  Janet said, “your toes are pressing into the soft skin on the sole of my foot, your feet are too small.”

      “Let me see if I can stretch my toes,”  Moses said, curling and stretching the toes of first his left foot, then his right.

       “They’re not getting any beiger!”  Moses whimpered, and now they’re really stuck!”  Janet curled her toes in an attempt to give her son a little more room, but Moses left foot was strongly glued to his mum’s right.

        “I can’t move my foot!”  Moses whimpered, the fingers of his right hand digging into the space between the sole of his left foot and his mum’s right.  Janet massaged the top of Moses left foot with her hand.

      “I’ll try working my fingers between our feet if you pull at your heel, then you can help me by working your fingers between the soles of our other two feet, and I will pull, okay?”  she asked.  Moses smiled and nodded.

       “Let’s try that,”  he replied.  Janet felt for the gap formed by the arch of her foot and the smaller arch of her son’s, then, carefully digging in her fingers, she levered gently at her foot digging into the slight v shaped gap where their heels touched, Moses tugging and worrying at his right foot, while Janet pushed her fingers into the growing Gap, mosses gasping, then yelling and whimpering with mock effort as he tugged at his heel and pushed with his toes against the soft skin of the sole of his mum’s foot, Janet finding she couldn’t stop her toes curling, making the sole of her foot bunch up, Moses toes digging into still softer flesh.

        “I can’t stop my toes curling!”  Janet whimpered, “stretch toes! Stretch!”, Moses felt his mum struggling to stretch her toes, the sole of her right foot firmer beneath his bracing toes as he tugged and pulled.

        “Nearly done it, nearly done it!”  Moses gasped, then, “yes!”  he shouted as his heel came free.  Snarling, Moses tested the toes of his left foot, finding them stuck due to all the bracing he’d done.  Snarling, he tugged his toes free, Janet grabbing her right foot in her hands, massaging the sole of her foot, moving from her heel, to the soft skin on the arch of her foot, to the ball of her foot, and then her toes.

        “That was amazing!”  Moses gasped, massaging the sole of his own small left foot in his hands, copying Janet’s example.

       “it was,”  Janet replied smiling, “though we still have to free my left foot from  your right.”

       “That’ll be a great game,”  Moses replied, “my foot loved the touch of yours mama.”

      “Mine did too Moses love,”  Janet replied.  Moses soon massaged his left foot enough to stop it sticking to his mama’s right, and attacked the problem of how to free his bare right foot from her left.  Feeling down the inside of his own foot, he felt the gap between the arch of Janet’s foot and that of his own, finding he could work his small fingers into the v shaped gap above where their heels touched.

       “Pull mama Pull!”  Moses encouraged, as he dug his fingers into the gap, Janet feeling her son brace his small toes against the sole of her bare left foot.  Gripping her heel, Janet pulled enthusiastically at her foot.

          “Stretch your toes mama, stretch them and curl them to break the bonds between my toes and yours!”  Moses encouraged.  Janet curling her toes and stretching them, while Moses tugged at the toes of his right foot, freeing all five.  Then with a grunt, Janet freed the heel of her left foot, while Moses worked with the fingers of his right hand at the widening gap between her heel and his.

       “My foot’s nearly free, just a bit more, a bit more pulling!”  Janet gasped, then with a yell, she freed her foot.

       “Well done mama!”  Moses laughed.  Moses and Janet then examined each other’s feet, checking heels, soles and toes for damage, the whole thing turning into more play, which both hugely enjoyed..

       “Your foot and toe pads are smooth mama,”  Moses said, examining James’s right foot with his hands.  Janet smiled as Moses drew his finger down the sole of her foot, curling her toes and laughing as he tickled the soft skin which his toes had pressed so hard against only half an hour earlier.

      “Did you enjoy the stuck foot game?”  Patch asked.  Moses looked at him.

       “We did,”  he replied, “Patch, if we’d known you were here, we’d have let you get paws on, wouldn’t we mum?”  Janet smiled:

       “of course,”  she replied, “but maybe Patch didn’t want to disturb us.  I saw him, but didn’t tell you.  He just sat down and let us play.”

         “I hope we were expressive enough with what we said, our yelps and so on,”  Moses replied.

        “You’re very thoughtful,”  Patch said.

       “We’ve been learning something about blind humans in school,”  Moses replied, “they told us all about blindness, they say some blind humans use dogs to guide them.  Will you use a dog Patch?”

       “I don’t think Lucy or Lucky would like that,”  Patch replied, “anyway, I’m a bear, they wouldn’t teach a bear how to be guided by a dog, I know I’m up for almost anything, but not that.  I’m ok with my cane thank you.” 

      “They also said it would be good if we could describe what we could see of our world , and that blind humans got better information about their world if they could touch it.  So what I thought was, maybe if mum and I play our game again, and you get paws on with us Patch?”

      “Thank you,”  Patch replied, gulping hard as a rush of emotion swamped him, “that would be nice, really lovely of you.”  Moses got to his feet and padded to Patch.

       “Patch?”  he asked.

      “yes?”  Patch replied, his voice choked by tears he couldn’t suppress.

     “This!”  Moses exclaimed, throwing his arms around the grizzly bear in a huge hug.

      “Oh dear,”  Patch wept, crying into the boy’s shoulder.

         “I love you Patch,”  Moses said, Patch crying freely.

       “I love you too,”  he sobbed.  Moses grinned, patted Patch’s shoulder, and sat down opposite his mum.

      “Right, let’s check each other’s feet for thorns and things, and make sure Patch touches our feet, so he can see us do it properly mum,”  Moses said.  so they did, Patch getting paws on with Moses and Janet’s hands and feet as they checked each other’s feet for thorns and sore places by touch.  First, Janet carefully checked Moses right foot, touching his toes, the ball of his foot, the sole and heel, massaging, gently squeezing and pressing on toes, soft sole skin and heel pads.  This done, she turned her attention to Moses left foot, checked his left foot, she touched his toes, the ball of his foot, the sole and heel, massaging, gently squeezing and pressing on toes, soft sole skin and heel pads, Moses unable to stop his toes from curling and stretching with pleasure and excitement at the coming game.  Once she was sure Moses feet were pain free, Janet let him explore her feet with his hands in the same way she’d explored his.  Moses small hands working over the soles of his mum’s feet, from her toes, to the ball of her foot, the soft sole skin, and her heel pads, just as she’d checked his feet over.  Smiling, he drew circles on the soles of his mum’s feet as she tightly curled her toes in response to his touch, which she clearly enjoyed.

        “Your soles are a lighter colour than the tops of your feet mama,”  Moses observed.  Janet grinned and then laughed as Patch inadvertently tickled the heel of her right foot as he got paws on with her.

        “You’re doing well,”  patch said.  now for the game you two.”  Moses and Janet pressed their bare feet together, Patch checking their position.

       “now see if your feet are ready to play,”  patch said.  Janet curled her toes as Moses pressed his tiny toes into the skin on the arch of her right foot, then her left.

         “My feet are stuck patch, they really are stuck!”  he said smiling.  Patch got paws on with the whole game Moses and Janet played.  First Moses tried prying his right foot free of his mum’s left foot, digging into the gap made by the arches of their touching feet with his fingers, digging down from where the heel of his right foot touched that of his mum’s left foot, to the floor.  Janet, feeling her son struggling to part her heel from his, pulled at her left foot, as he worked slowly and gently to free his own smaller right foot from hers.  pressing his toes into the sole of his mum’s right foot, Moses worked and tugged, worked and tugged at his foot with his fingers, feeling the glue sticking the sole of his foot to his mum’s..

       “The glue is strong now, really strong!”  Janet gasped.

       “I know, I know!”  mosses replied, tugging at his left foot with the fingers of his right hand, Janet feeling her son’s foot come free with a rush which made him cry out.

      “that felt an energetic game,”  patch observed, having got paws on throughout.

      “it was,”  Moses replied, “now to free my mum’s left foot from my right foot!”

        “Can I play each of you after this?”  Patch asked.

        “You can,”  Janet replied.

 

 

Moses felt around his right foot with his hands, finding the gap on the inside between the arches of his and his mum’s feet.

      “I’ll lever with my fingers, you pull mama,”  Moses said.  Janet gasped as she felt her son’s fingers digging for purchase between her heel and his.

        “Pull mama Pull!”  mosses gasped.  Janet took hold of her left foot and pulled hard at it, as her son worked to free his foot from hers.

        “My foot’s coming free, t’is coming free!”  Moses yelled, digging with his fingers down into the growing gap between his mum’s heel and his, freeing both of them.  Rocking backwards, Moses tugged at his foot, digging his toes into the soft sole skin on the sole of his mum’s left foot, the skin on her sole made softer by Janet’s toes curling tightly as she felt Moses toes pressing into her foot for purchase.

        “Stretch your toes mama, stretch your toes!”  Moses urged.

      “I can’t, they want to curl, they want to curl!”  Janet whimpered, bouncing about, struggling to stretch the toes of her right foot, her toes ignoring her request, and curling tighter with every effort she made.  Growling, Moses dragged his right foot free of his mama’s.

      “Done it, done it!”  Janet gasped.  After a few minutes to recover, Moses turned to Patch.

 

.“Patch,”  Moses said, “would you check my mum’s and my feet over with your paws?”  Patch smiled and sat down.

       “Okay, who’s first?”  he asked.  Moses sat down opposite the grey bear, Patch taking the young boy’s right foot in his paws and gently stroking the sole of Moses foot with gentle care.

       “you have small toes, pads which will become sturdy in later life, and sensitive soles too,”  Patch said.  patch tickled the ball of Moses right foot, making him laugh and impulsively curl his toes, Patch blowing on Moses curled toes, tickling them, Moses shrieking with laughter.

       “I love you playing with my hind feet,”  Moses said smiling.  Patch smiled broadly and traced the sole of Moses foot with the toes of his right foot, drawing as shapes from mosses toes to his heel,  Moses toes curling tighter and tighter as Patch’s touch moved down from his toes to his heel.

        “My toes are being curled by your touch!”  mosses laughed.  Patch smiled.

        “it’s like you have put string around Moses toes,”  Janet said, “as you run your paw down the sole of his foot, his toes curl tighter, and tighter.”

      “I want my feet to be like yours Patch,”  Moses said.  patch grinned:

        “our feet are very similar,”  he replied, “we have give toes, smooth pads, and our pads bunch up cutely when we curl our toes.  I’ll show you how similar our feet are already..”

        “how if I let you touch my hind feet, then I touch yours?”  Moses asked, forgetting patch already had hold of his right foot.

       “let’s do that,”  patch replied smiling.

       “So shall we start with my toes?”  Moses suggested.

       “yes, your toes,”  patch replied, “well, mosses, you have five toes on each foot, and if you take my right foot in your hands, you will find I have five toes too.  Moses lifted Patch’s right foot in his hands and counted the bear’s toes, yes he had five.

        “I can find, one, two, three, four five toes on your right hind foot Patch ,”  Moses said.

      “good,”  Patch replied, wiggling his toes, Moses laughing at his antics, “Now, Patch said, soberly, “below your toes is the ball of your foot, now this is where our feet are a little different to each other.  My foot is flat, from tows to heel, yours isn’t, you have an arch, which you feel when pressing your feet against your mamas.  My feet have got a slight indentation in the solid pad, so I have sort of got an arch too, though not like yours.  Can you feel that?”  Moses could.

      “It’s on the inside of your foot,”  he confirmed, a flat pad on the sole with a little bit cut out of it on the side, my foot has an arch rather than a bit of the pad cut out.”

      “yes,”  patch replied, “then there is your heel, because you have an arch, your heel pad is more pronounced than mine, feel,”  Moses touched the sole of Patch’s right foot, then the sole of his own left foot.

       “I thought we were meant to talk about my foot, but we ended up talking about yours, and mine,”  Moses replied, “though it’s been great.”  Patch smiled.

      “Good,”  he replied gently.

       “Now will you touch my feet and describe them?”  Moses asked.  Patch did:

        “On your right foot You have five toes, then a hard ridge, the ball of your foot, then a softer sole,”  patch replied, tracing the sole of Moses foot with his left paw as he spoke, “the sole skin is soft, as you know, for your toes dug into that as you tried to free your foot from your mum’s during the stuck foot game.  This skin is soft.  Then down below that is your heel pad, and that is tougher than the skin on your sole.  The skin on the arch of your foot is soft because it doesn’t touch the ground.  Mine though, my whole sole touches the ground, so the whole of my sole pad is tougher than yours.”  Moses laughed as Patch traced the sensitive skin on the sole of his foot.

        “I like that,”  mosses said, “thanks patch.”  Patch grinned and gently squeezed the toes of Moses right foot with his paw.

      “now you describe my right foot,”  patch replied.  Moses took the huge bear’s right foot in his hands.

       “you have five toes Patch,”  the boy said, touching patch’s toes, “and a large sole pad, no ball or arch, though, as you said before, you have a little cut out of your pad on the inside of your foot, so you have a gap to get the toes of your paw into when playing the stuck foot game.  Do you think that’s what it’s there for?”

       “I think it is there for that,”  patch replied, “as we all know here, feet and paws are for playing with.”  Moses giggled with delight.

       “I agree, I love paw and foot play,”  he replied.

        “So do I,”  patch replied, curling the toes of his right foot.

      “when you curl your toes Patch,  your pads bunch up like the skin on the sole of my foot does when I curl my toes!”  mosses exclaimed.

      “yes, that’s another similarity between your feet and mine,”  Patch replied.

        “Are there rules for the stuck foot game Patch?”  Janet asked.

 

“well, um,”  patch replied, rubbing his nose with his paw, “well, yes, there are, though they are unspoken rules.  Oh dark, I’m making no sense at all.  I’ll find some coffee, then I’ll try to make my thoughts serious ones, rather than playful ones.”

       “I want you to write the rules down,”  Janet said, “then we can teach the game at the school too.  some of the children have been watching us here, and they want to know how to play the game.”  Moses got a pen and paper.

       “I’ll write, you talk,”  he said to Patch.

      “hey, give me that pen!”  Patch demanded.  Moses gave him the pen, and patch wrote his name in a scrawled manner.

       “It’s not as good as it used to be,”  he mused.

       “if you use my eyes, then maybe?”  Janet asked.  patch tapping into her visual stream, then, sitting behind her so he could write over her shoulder and get the words straight.

       “The stuck foot game, the rules,”  patch wrote in beautiful paw writing.  Moses, seeing this, clapped his hands with delight and gently removed the pen from patch’s paw.

       “let’s speak the rules onto disc, then all will be able to hear you, and if we film you, you can teach the game by playing it with mama Janet Patch,”  mosses commanded, Janet laughing helplessly.

         “The right little director isn’t he!”  she guffawed.

       “I’ll do that,”  patch replied.

      “Now?”  Moses asked.

       “let me have a drink and something to eat, maybe relieve myself, then, yes.”  Patch replied, Moses dancing about with delight at this.

 

Once Patch had eaten, drunk and tidied himself up, he sat down in  his lie up.

      “How are you going to make yourself understood to the children patch?”  Moses asked, “you don’t’ exactly speak English.”

        “now I do,”  patch replied, Moses mouth dropping open.

        “I forgot, I forgot you can speak English!”  he whooped, “this gets better all the time!”  patch laughed merrily and then became serious.

      “now Moses, have I got clean paws and feet?”  he asked.

      “Oh yes, you must show the children how to clean their paws and feet, and how to check their feet for thorns and things,”  Moses said, “that’s very important too.”

       “I don’t know how their mums and dads would feel about a bear teaching them how to wash their paws, sorry, hands  and feet,”  patch replied.

       “Teach them anyway, then we can skip that bit if not needed,”  Janet replied.

       “Right, I’ll find a basin of water and a towel,”  patch replied.  Finding one, he sat down before the camera.

        “You’ll have to position the camera Janet, for I can’t see to look into it, sorry,”  patch said.

      “Okay, here’s how to play the stuck foot game,”  patch said, “but first, I will show you how to wash your paws, sorry, hands and feet, though for the purpose of this film, I will refer to my paws as paws, and my feet as hind feet.  First you have to wash your paws and hind feet, to make sure they are clean.  First wash your hind feet, like this.  Patch then took his right hind foot in his paws and washed it, speaking as he did so, Janet working the camera to show everything.

       “Take the soap and rub it between your wet paws,”  Patch said, “then once you have a lather on your paws, massage it into the top, toes and sole of your hind foot, like this.  Patch massaged the soap into the top between his toes, and over his toes, and the sole of his right hind foot.  “make sure you wash thoroughly,”  patch replied, then rinse your foot free of soap, then dry with paper towels, making sure you dry between your toes.  Repeat that for your other foot.  Then wash your paws.  get some clean water,”  Moses passed him another basin, “thanks,”  patch said smiling, “as I was saying, get some clean water, and wash your paws like this.  Rub the soap into wet paws, measure the soap covers the whole of your paws and gets between your fingers and or toes, depending on whether you have fingers or toes on your paws that is.  Wash the backs, and the pads of your forepaws as carefully as you did your hind feet.  Then, then pat them dry.”

       “I’ll stop the filming now,”  Janet said.  “patch, you couldn’t help curling your toes when you were washing your hind foot.  That was so cute!”  Patch laughed.

       “I know, I felt them curling and couldn’t do a thing about it,”  he said.

       “now who are we going to get to film the stuck foot game?”  Janet asked, “for I can’t film and play at the same time.”

      “Well I could tell them the rules, then we could play, so you could keep filming for a bit,”  patch replied.  Turning to the camera, he said:

“The stuck foot game, “What you’ll need.

 

Two barefoot players,

A willingness to let go of all thoughts other than those of play, and of course A good imagination.

 

The rules.

 

The players Sit opposite each other, then each player checks the other’s feet for thorns.  This is to make sure there are no sore patches.  Of course, this can be a difficult thing to do, as trying to handle another’s feet without tickling them is difficult, though this part can also be a whole lot of fun, with much laughter had by all. Each player takes the other’s feet in their paws and touches the soles of both feet, checking for sore patches on toes, sole and heels.  Careful not to tickle each other though, unless of course tickling is all part of the game.   Once the two players are sure each has no thorns in the pads of their feet, they then can carry on with the rest of the activity.

 

Section one.  This is the counting and educational part of the game.  If you just want play, go to section two, how to play the stuck foot game.

 

each counts the other’s toes, to make sure of the number of toes  each player has.  Then if the players are adults educating children or cubs, you can tell them about parts of the foot, from toes to heels, why not get them to touch part of their own foot, or of yours and tell you the name of the part of the foot they are touching? 

 

 

The stuck foot game.

Then there is the stuck paw or foot game.  This is where two players press their hind feet together, and use their hands or forepaws to try and separate their stuck feet or paws.  this is a game of imagination, pretend game, each pretending their feet are stuck to the other’s.  of course, depending on how strong the glue is, as it were, the game can go on for a long time.

 

I hope this helps, though rules can vary depending on how imaginative you are.

 

Start with heels pressed together.  Depending on how large your feet are, your feet might be of a different size to your opponent’s, this means your toes might not reach those of your friend, or your friend’s toes might not reach yours.  Explore the situation with your hands or paws.  then try to pull your feet away from your friend’s, one by one.  Your feet, if your imagination wants to play, should be firmly stuck to your friend’s. decided who wants to free their foot, while the other pulls at their heel with both hands.  Once you have decided, use the fingers of the opposite hand to the foot which you want to free to feel for a gap in which to fit your fingers to start levering away to free your foot.  So if you are playing with your left foot stuck to your friend’s right, use your left paw to lever at your own right hind foot.  Meanwhile, your friend will be pulling at their own left foot with both paws while you work at freeing your heel from theirs.  There is a catch though, if you start to free your feet and either you or your opponent lose your grip on your heel, or the digits of the levering paw slip out of the gap you’ve made, the feet will stick back together, and you’ll have to start all over again, though this time, the one who’s grip failed has to swap roles.  If for example, I’m playing with you, and I lose hold of my heel, I become the one to use my paw as a lever, as I can’t be trusted to hold onto my own heel and pull you see.  Of course, the games can be as short, or as long as you want them to be.  once your heel is free, you can work in a similar way to free the ball of your foot, and your toes as you used to free your heel.  I must say here that no glue is needed, it’s a role play game only!”  patch concluded, smiling hugely into the camera.  Orbon, having watched all, clapped his paws in applause.

        “now who are you going to play to show the game?”  Orbon asked.

        “Can I play you Sire Orbon?”  Patch asked.  Orbon grinned and sat down.

       “Now check my feet over for thorns,”  he invited.  Patch got paws on with his sire’s right hind foot, checking his toes and sole pad.

       “That feels wonderful!”  Orbon exclaimed as patch explored his foot with his paws.  Smiling, Patch drew circles on his sire’s sole pad, the male bear smiling broadly.

        “It’s like everything my mama told me not to do with my hind feet,”  Orbon mused.

        “Does it feel good?”  Patch asked.

       “It does, it really does!”  Orbon replied.

        “As long as it’s mutual play, then it is good,”  Patch replied gently.  Orbon grabbed his left hind foot in his paws and explored the sole of his foot as he curled his toes.

        “My pads bunch up, it’s cute!”  he laughed.

       “I think your pads are cute yes,”  Patch said smiling.

 

Snowdrop crawled into the lie up, her face distraught and eyes full of pain.

        “it hurts patch,”  she whimpered.

       “What does?”  Patch asked, feeling snowdrop clambering into his lap, then curling into a ball and hearing her screaming with pain.

         “What’s the matter?”  Patch asked.

       “I think, think I’m having a cub!”  snowdrop screamed.

        “Who’s?”  Orbon asked, looking at the two year old polar bear.

         “Innokenti’s I think, ow, this was too soon!”  Snowdrop yowled.

        “how long have you been feeling pains?”  patch asked.  Snowdrop, her eyes shut against intense pains, gasped and panted.

         “A few hours now,”  she whimpered, “I thought, thought I’d eaten something, the contractions, if that’s what they are forced me to go to the relieving place.  I went, and they won’t stop!” 

        “We’ll help you have the cub,”  Patch replied.  Snowdrop bit down on her paw to stifle a scream.

       “Don’t bite your paws Snowdrop dear,”  patch said, rubbing her back with his paw, “scream and kick. Roll about and yell.”  Snowdrop clung to Patch and wailed into his ear.

      “This hurts, it’s horrible!”  Snowdrop yelled.  Then she lay on her side on the floor, kicking and moaning, then shrieking with fear and pain, rolled onto her back, drew up her hind feet and grabbed them in her paws, screaming, crying and finally  roaring as she was forced to bear down hard.

         “aaaaoaoaoaoaoaoaaooaoawrgh, uuumph! Aaaaoaoaoaoaoaoaaooaoawrgh!”  the she bear screeched like a cub.

         “Poor thing,”  Orbon thought as he watched snowdrop’s struggles.  Patch, now paws on, set to massaging Snowdrop’s back, belly and the soles of her hind feet, while she cried and yelled through contractions.

       “Aaaaaw!  Aaaaoaoaoaoaoaoaaooaoawrgh! Aaaaaaaaaw! Oaoaoaoaoaoaaow!”  Snowdrop complained, sitting up and gripping her right hind foot in her paws, crushing her toes every time she felt a contraction.  Then she lay down, curled up into a ball and screamed lustily, her mouth open, eyes shut and the toes of all four paws and feet curled as tightly as she could curl them.  Patch stroked the damp wrinkled pads of snowdrop’s right hind foot, feeling her tightly curled toes and sweating pads.

       “this cub is huge, so big!”  Snowdrop gasped, then  shrieking like a cub, Snowdrop, in a desperate effort to deliver her cub, gave herself up to frantic wriggling, kicking and screaming, delivering a huge cub into the world.  Patch caught the cub, and cleared the mucus from its nose and mouth, while snowdrop herself lay back, sobbing with fear and pain.

         “You have a lovely cub here,”  Patch said softly, Snowdrop too exhausted to do anything about feeding her newborn cub.

      “Who’s torturing a cub?”  Sita demanded, running in.

       “I think that sound was me,”  snowdrop panted, “I had a cub.”

        “Like this?”  Sita asked, imitating Snowdrop perfectly.

         “Aaaaaw!  Aaaaoaoaoaoaoaoaaooaoawrgh! Aaaaaaaaaw!”  Sita yelled.

       “yes,”  Snowdrop said sadly.

        “It sounded like a cub was having her own cub,”  Sita replied.  Snowdrop covered her face with her paws and mumbled:

        “yes, a cub was having her own cub.  I’m sorry Sita,”  Sita hugged Snowdrop, who wept into her fur.

        “I’m not angry with you,”  Sita replied, “Now what will you do with that cub?”

        “I don’t know, I don’t know!”  Snowdrop whimpered, “I have no milk for my cub, I didn’t know what was happening until I was nearly delivering the cub!  when I felt it moving down, I knew I was having a cub, so I crawled to Patch.  I wriggled, kicked, rolled about, then curled up to deliver the cub, screaming and crying with fear and pain.”

        “So a cub delivered a cub into the world,”  Patch said softly.

        “yes, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”  snowdrop sobbed.  Patch attempted to give the cub to Snowdrop, but she pushed it away.

        “I can’t, I don’t know how to feed it, I can’t feed it!”  she wept.

        “You have to!”  Janet snapped.

        “Innokenti and I were playing, that is all, we tickled each other’s hind feet, then we rolled about in the playroom, and, and we mated, I don’t know how we did it, it just happened, when we realised what had happened, I was so shocked, I denied what was happening, until, until, until I couldn’t deny it any more, until the cub was nearly here!”  Snowdrop wailed.

        “You are irresponsible!”  Janet yelled.

       “Janet, you gave birth to Moses when you were fifteen, under age for having a man cub I believe, so shut up.”  Patch growled.  Janet shut her mouth with a snap.

        “Go from here, wash, eat, and drink, then sleep, and come back here in a few hours Snowdrop,”  patch replied, “your cub will be safe, fed and kept warm.”  Snowdrop looked into patch’s sightless eyes.

       “I will be back,”  she replied, “I can’t do to this cub what mama Alaska did to me, but I don’t know what to do, how to be with this cub, how to feed it, to care for it,”  snowdrop whimpered pitifully.

        “that is why I want you to go away from here, eat, drink and think,”  Patch replied, “Let your paws be your guide.  Here, before you go, hug your cub a little.”  Patch gave Snowdrop her cub, Snowdrop feeling the cub’s warmth, and hearing its cries.  When she held it though, it fell silent.

         “My cub is quiet with me,”  snowdrop mused, “why is that when I can’t care for it?”

        “right now you think you cant,”  Patch replied, “go away, eat, drink, wash, relax, and see where your paws take you.” 

      “Cut the crap patch,”  Janet snapped, “you know where her paws are going to take her already don’t you.”

         “I can’t be sure,”  patch replied, “but, well, Snowdrop has to make her own choice.”

       “Are you a politician now?”  Orbon asked.

        “I’m saying nothing either way,”  patch replied, “Orbon, you know how it is.”  Orbon, having seen everything, stared at Snowdrop.

        “I wish you well,”  he said gently, leaning down and kissing her nose.  Snowdrop left the room dragging her feet, her sweat dampened pads making a sucking sound on the tiles.

         “So she made a mistake,”  Janet said, “Patch, I’m sorry for judging her.”

          “I think we need to take a step back, and see what happens,”  patch replied heavily, “Now though, I’ve got a cub in my paws who needs feeding, and warming, and playing with.”  With that he padded to a steriliser which had been set up by Ekaterina.

       “Eohippus keep you safe mama,”  Patch whispered as he grabbed a bottle.

 

Snowdrop padded to the shower room and showered herself down.  Her whole body ached, and she felt tired.  Padding from the shower, she nearly blundered straight into Sita, who’d followed her.

         “Are you all right Snowdrop dear?”  Sita asked.  snowdrop, embarrassed, as she knew Sita considered her one of, “her cubs,”  shifted her paws uncomfortably.

        “I’m all right,”  Snowdrop replied hesitantly, “though I don’t know if I should have got into the straw with Innokenti.  He’s a nice bear and all that, but, now, now I’m a mama bear, and I’m too young!  I’ve got no milk for my cub, I’ve failed at the second hurdle, delivering the cub, well, that was easy, sort of easy,,,”

       “Really?”  Sita asked.

       “No,”  snowdrop whimpered, “it hurt, and was hard work, and I had to push in ways I didn’t feel possible, and now my toes ache, my throat aches.  I’m exhausted.  No Sita, it wasn’t easy.”

         “I know,”  Sita replied gently.

       “It hurt mama, I mean really hurt,”  snowdrop replied, “that pain and the need to push was my whole world.  How my paws and feet got involved I’ll never know, but they did, and now they ache horribly.”

        “You can’t stop your toes curling Snowdrop,”  Sita replied, “it’s natural that.”

        “Did you scream and cry when delivering your cubs Sita?”  Snowdrop asked.

         “yes,”  Sita replied, “though I was a bit older than you when I had my first cub, so I sort of knew what to do.”

        “I didn’t think I’d get in cub, I didn’t think it was possible!”  Snowdrop wailed.

         “I’m not blaming you for getting in cub,”  Sita replied, “though it did sound like a cub was giving birth.  It was awful sound.” 

        “I know,”  snowdrop replied, “I am a cub, really I am, my body is barely out of cubhood.  To think last night I was happily letting little Koda tickle my pads and toes, and we played the stuck foot game too.  then an hour later, I’m in labour doing a very non cub thing, as it were.  I’m not even out of your play classes yet Sita, and now I’ve got a cub of my own.”

      “Do you want to go back to see your cub?”  Sita asked.

         “I don’t know,”  snowdrop replied, “I feel ashamed, ashamed of delivering a cub into the world too soon.  Leaving the cub would be so wrong, in my head I mean, and in my heart too.  I’m ashamed at myself, but I know it’s not the cub’s fault it arrived.  What sex is the cub?”

        “You have a female,”  Sita replied gently.

          “Oh god!”  snowdrop wept, her emotions crowding in on her.       “We will help, the community will help,”  Sita said gently to snowdrop, who wept inconsolably into her fur.

        “My cub, she, she became quiet when I touched her, what does that mean?”  Snowdrop asked.

          “That means she likes your touch,”  Sita replied.

        “oh, right,”  Snowdrop sniffed, “I, I must go back then, I must try, I can’t, I won’t do to my cub what my mother did to me!”

        “We will hold your paw the whole way,”  Sita said, “well, if noone else will, I will.”

       “Thank you Sita,”  Snowdrop whispered.

          “you are already talking like a mama,”  Sita said gently.

       “But I screamed, cried, yelled, and feel like a cub,”  Snowdrop replied.

         “Come,”  Sita said, walking away.  Snowdrop found her paws following Sita, the cat bear leading her back to the lie up where she’d left her cub.  snowdrop padded into the lie up, and as soon as she sat down, felt a large form scrambling into her lap.

        “Where have you been!”  her cub demanded.

         “I can’t tell you now,”  snowdrop replied honestly.

       “You’re back now, which is good,”  her cub replied, burying her paws in Snowdrop’s fur.

         “Can I touch you with my paws?”  snowdrop asked the cub.

        “I don’t know,”  the cub replied, “try it, and I’ll tell you if I like it.”  Snowdrop touched her cub’s nose, then her ears, then her paws, hind feet and belly.

        “I want more of this,”  the female cub said softly, rolling onto her back in snowdrop’s lap.

         “your face and paws are beautiful little one,”  snowdrop said.

           “your feet squeaked as you walked out of the room,”  the cub said, “I heard them!”

       “I know, I, I was hot and my pads were damp,”  Snowdrop replied.

        “Can you make my feet do that?”  her cub asked.

         “When you walk, yes,”  snowdrop replied, “but you have to learn to crawl first.”

         “Patch said I can crawl now,”  her cub replied, “he got paws on with me and showed me, I know how to do it, how do you think I got here?”

        “I delivered you into the world, you didn’t crawl into the house,”  snowdrop replied.

       “Not then, not then!”  the cub snapped, “I meant how I got from Patch’s lap to yours, a short minute ago.”

        “You crawled,”  snowdrop replied in wonder, “um, ah, ok.  So you can crawl.”

        “I was taught how to in my sleep, a big mama bear came to me and showed me how to crawl.  She let me get paws on with her, I felt her fur, her paws and the pads of her hind feet.  She hugged me and told me you truly loved me mama, and that I shouldn’t worry about you walking away.  I was worried, I asked Patch about it, and he said you needed time alone, well I told him I needed time with you.  We got into an argument, then a fight.  I hit him mama.  I’m sorry for that now.”

         “You hit Patch?”  Snowdrop asked, astonished.

       “I did, with my paws and my feet, and my claws, I hit him hard.  He took it, and told me not to be an impatient cub.  I screamed I wanted my mama, and he said you needed time.  I got furious and kicked him some more, which I am sorry for now, as the mama bear in my dream told me Patch wouldn’t have said things to anger me.  I told him of my dream, and he seemed to understand me.  He seemed to know the mama bear who taught me to crawl.”

        “I think, I think I know her too,”  snowdrop replied softly.”

       “You’ve met her too?”  Snowdrop’s cub asked.

       “When, when I was in labour with you, I spent hours alone, screaming into my paws and kicking the walls.  A huge mama bear came to me and told me to go to her son cub who would understand me and help me.  She said I couldn’t labour alone.  I crawled, painful though it was, and found Patch, and she was right, he did understand.”

        “she told me to dig my feet in hard to help you along mama,”  Snowdrop’s cub said.  snowdrop grimaced as she remembered pressure inside her as she crawled.

        “So that mama bear made me go faster,”  she mused.

       “yes I think so,”  patch replied, listening to the talk between snowdrop and her cub.

        “You screamed and yelled like a cub snowdrop,”  Orbon said, crawling over to take a closer look at snowdrop’s cub.

         “I know,”  Snowdrop said, “I’ll watch my cub’s birth video in a bit.”

       “I want to see it now mama,”  her cub said.

       “your eyes aren’t open yet,”  snowdrop said.

      “Oh no matter of that,”  the cub snapped, “Patch can’t see, and he says he wants to see the video too, you wouldn’t refuse him would you?”  snowdrop, stumped for an answer, huffed with exasperation.  Orbon switched on the video, and soon snowdrop was on screen, her screams and cries filling the room.

        “I do sound like an injured cub,”  snowdrop said miserably, “a frightened, injured cub.  when I’m pushing, I sound as if the world is about to end.  Indeed I thought it was about to, the pain was horrendous!”

        “wow mama, just wow.”  Orbon said, staring at the screen, his toes curling and relaxing with those of snowdrop on screen.

         “ouch,”  jess remarked, walking into the room.

       “yes that’s me,”  snowdrop said, sweating with shame.

        “are you going to have another cub?”  Jess asked, “your fur and paws are soaking Snowdrop.”

        “I’m ashamed, even now,”  Snowdrop replied miserably.

         “Don’t be,”  Jess said, sitting down, “can I look at your cub?”  snowdrop released her hold on her cub.

         “I don’t think you should be talking of shame here,”  jess said, “your cub is large, and strong.”

        “I’m so young though, it hurt too much, I was punished for getting in cub,”  snowdrop replied.

         “I don’t think you were,”  Jess replied, “your cub is very strong, ouch!”  she yelled as snowdrop’s cub squeezed her hand in her massive forepaws.

        “Sorry,”  the cub said.

        “have you been curling and stretching your toes like your mama did while delivering you?”  Jess asked.

       “Um, I don’t know,”  the cub replied, “I do remember curling my toes while mama pushed against me, I tried pushing with my feet too, does that count?  Should I curl and stretch my toes now, kick with my feet and paws?”

        “I remember that, it hurt!”  Snowdrop whimpered.

          “You don’t need to curl and stretch your toes if you don’t want,”  Jess replied, “but kicking with all four paws would be a cute thing to do.”

       “Do you want me to?”  the cub asked.  jess grinned:

        “yes please,”  she replied, snowdrop’s cub kicking the air with her hind feet and waving her paws.

       “that is just all sorts of cute!”  jess laughed.

       “I tried to help my mama by pushing with my feet,”  snowdrop’s cub said, “I pushed with my hind feet when mama relaxed, she pushed, I stayed still, and when she didn’t, I pushed with my feet and pulled with my paws.  push with feet, pull with paws.  push and pull, push and pull.  While being thrown about, all upside down and things.  It was hard work!”  snowdrop, sorting the last few hours out in her brain, sighed heavily.

       “So that’s what the ongoing pain was when I didn’t push, it was you pushing to get out!”  she said.

        “I suppose,”  the cub replied.

         “I screamed the loudest when that happened,”  snowdrop whimpered, “I tried to push to stop the pain, but that caused more pain.”

        “I thought I felt your cub’s paws kicking when she was born, but I wasn’t so sure, it was all so quick at the end,”  Patch said.

        “I pushed with my hind feet, and pulled with my paws!”  snowdrop’s cub roared, “I wanted to help mama, that is all.  Are you all saying I shouldn’t have done that?”

        “yes!”  Snowdrop screamed, “no,”  she whimpered, “no, oh I don’t know!”

        “no wonder you’re strong now,”  jess said, cradling the large cub’s huge right hind foot in her hands, feeling the cub’s toes curling around her fingers, “squeeze my fingers with your toes,”  Jess encouraged, the cub curling her toes tightly.

      “Wow, that’s a strong set of toes!”  Jess yelped.

         “push my hand with your feet,”  jess said, the cub releasing her hold and pushing jess’s hand with her hind feet, her leg strength amazing jess.

       “wow,”  Jess exclaimed, “Snowdrop, you’ve delivered a strong cub into the world.”

        “It would seem that way,”  Snowdrop replied, her cub’s antics making her feel uncomfortable as she remembered every minute of her labour.

        “ow, ow,”  she mumbled as she relived her ordeal.”

          “so my cub can feed herself too I think,”  snowdrop said, “how can this be?”

       “Your cub is resourceful,”  patch replied.

        “maybe she knows I’m a useless mama,”  snowdrop said.

          “I want to go back to my mama now,”  the cub said to jess, who let her go.  Watching her hind legs and feet, jess noticed how large the cub’s pads and toes were.

       “Poor mama Snowdrop,”  jess thought, her own toes curling in sympathy with the mama bear, who’s birth video she was now watching.  the on screen snowdrop heaved, screaming and yelling, her cub emerging slowly with every straining push.

       “Pant snowdrop pant,”  patch said on screen, snowdrop panting and squealing as she fought not to push.

      “Now Push, hard,”  Patch said on the screen, Snowdrop shrieking and bearing down hard to deliver her cub.

        “I want this cub out now!”  Snowdrop screamed in the video.

        “I don’t remember you screaming that,”  patch said, “but it was obvious now you did.”  Snowdrop stared at her labouring self.

         “that looks hard work,”  she mused.

        “it was!”  her cub replied.

         “you did nothing!”  snowdrop yelped.

       “I did, I pushed with my feet and pulled with my paws!”  the cub whimpered.

        “Let’s just say it was a team effort,”  Patch suggested.

         “I feel sore and exhausted,”  snowdrop whimpered.

        “I know,”  her cub replied.

         “What are you going to name your cub?”  Patch asked.

       “I suppose I could name her after the mama bear who taught her to crawl and sent me to you patch,”  snowdrop replied.

        “I think that would be nice,”  patch replied smiling.

        Kamchatka she is then,”  Snowdrop replied.

       “She certainly has big paws, mama Kamchatka had big feet too,”  patch said.

        “Did you ever play the stuck foot game with her?”  little Kamchatka asked.

       “how do you know about that game?”  Patch asked.

        “I was listening to your description of the game while sitting inside my mama waiting to be born,”  little Kamchatka said, “I followed your words carefully.  I wanted to play with my own toes, but whenever I moved mama would groan and wriggle, and I’d not be able to get either of my feet into my paws!”

         “You hurt me!”  snowdrop roared.

         “I didn’t mean to mama,”  Kamchatka whimpered.

       “I’d like to see you play with your toes now,”  Snowdrop said.  her cub sitting up and grabbing her right hind foot in her paws.

       “Like this?”  the blind cub asked.  snowdrop grinned broadly.

       “that is so cute, so very cute,”  she said.

          “Who told you where your feet were?”  jess asked.

         “I think the big bear who taught me to crawl told me that,”  little Kamchatka replied.

       “What colour is Kamchatka’s fur?”  Patch asked.  Orbon padded to patch and sat down.

       “if she’ll let you, why not get paws on with her and I’ll describe what colour she is from nose to paw and foot pads?”  he asked.

        “Why would Patch want to know what colour my cub is?”  snowdrop asked.

        “he lost his sight a few months back snowdrop,”  jess replied, “didn’t you know?”

        “I was hiding,”  she replied, “I kept out of the way because, well I was pregnant.  I didn’t want others to see me.  Outwardly I denied pregnancy, but inwardly I knew.  When I went to patch, he got paws on, as I expected him to, I don’t know why I expected it, I just did.  Maybe because he’s so playful and everything.”

      “you didn’t notice him not looking at you, or finding you with his paws, or anything like that?”  Orbon asked.

         “I had my eyes closed the whole time I was in labour,”  snowdrop protested, “I had no time to open them, I was concentrating too hard.  I wanted Patch’s paws all over my body, to soothe me, I was in so much pain and distress.  I found him by scent and touch when I crawled to him.  No, I didn’t notice he’d lost his sight, and for that I’m sorry.”

        “Well I have,”  Patch replied heavily, “but to know what colour fur and pads your cub has would be lovely.”

       “is getting paws on like being rubbed all over with warm paws?”  little Kamchatka asked.

       “yes,”  Snowdrop replied.

       “I want that!”  the cub yelled, crawling towards Patch, Patch catching her in his paws, as she was making as much noise as she could, huffing, whimpering and growling in her effort to crawl quickly.

        “Do you want to make all that noise?”  Patch asked.

        “yes,”  Kamchatka replied, “I wanted to.  I was making a lot of effort, just like my mama was, and she made more noise than me, even I know that.”

       “That’s sweet,”  patch replied, catching the snarling cub in his paws and hugging her.

        “Calm down now little Kamchatka,”  patch said gently.

          “I love you patch,”  the large cub said, patch smiling broadly.

         “little Kamchatka has brown fur from nose to paws, she has a black nose, her left ear is white, and the pads of her paws are black and wrinkled,”  Orbon said.  Patch grinned and tickled little Kamchatka’s toes, the cub squealing with laughter and curling her toes, making her pads bunch up.

       “Cute ain’t you,”  Patch said, stroking the cub’s bunched pads.  Little Kamchatka pushed against Patch’s paw with her left hind foot, Patch drawing his paw down the sole of her foot.

         “Push hard against my paw little one,”  patch said, Kamchatka pushing hard against patch’s paw with her left foot, Patch gasping with surprise.

       “Did mama Kamchatka pour her strength into you little one?”  Patch asked.

        “I don’t know,”  the large cub replied, “all I do know is I love this play.”

         “So I had a cub fighting to be born, while I was straining to deliver her,”  Snowdrop mused.

        “You certainly did,”  Patch replied smiling.

       “I only wanted to help,”  little Kamchatka said.

        “You did help,”  Snowdrop replied, “even if it did hurt like hell.”  Patch stroked little Kamchatka’s back, the cub snuggling up to him.

         “You have lovely paws Patch,”  Kamchatka said.  Snowdrop looked at her cub in Patch’s paws.

        “you love my cub don’t you,”  she said.

       “I do, I really do,”  Patch replied, “to help you deliver her into the world was a real privilege.”

        “I loved your touch on my body, paws and feet,”  snowdrop replied, “Patch, thank you, thank you from my heart.”  Patch smiled shyly.

        “I enjoyed helping you, I like delivering cubs into the world,”  he replied.  Kamchatka grabbed patch’s paw in hers and hung onto it.

          “You are so cute little one,”  Patch said.

        “She’s not so little though,”  Snowdrop replied, “it took me ages to deliver her into the world.”

        “What was I doing before?”  Patch asked.

       “Recording the rules of the stuck foot game Patch,”  Janet replied, “though I managed to get the whole of little Kamchatka’s birth on video too, that was a sight I can tell you.”

       “I’d rather be stuck by both feet,”  Snowdrop whimpered, “actually no, well I don’t know!  It was painful, but I wouldn’t have changed anything.”  Patch hugged little Kamchatka with tender care.

        “Your mama loves you dearly little one,”  patch said.

       “I know,”  Kamchatka replied.  Patch smiled broadly and turned to Orbon.

        “Will you help me play the stuck foot game?”  he asked.

        “On camera?”  Orbon asked.

       “yes please,”  Patch replied.  Orbon smiled:

        “Of course,”  he said, “after all, I’ve got big feet, so they can see what’s happening.”

       “What do I do with the footage of snowdrop’s labour?”  Janet asked.

         “I’ll translate that,”  Patch replied, “and maybe you can do some audio description to make the video completely accessible.”

        “They are only children,”  Janet cautioned.

       “six to eight years of age I think,”  jess replied.

      “yes, but seeing and hearing that?”  Janet asked.

        “they watched bears giving birth in the wild yesterday,”  jess replied, “and their teacher explained everything.  To see Snowdrop delivering a cub, then to meet that cub too.”

       “Am I going to meet other cubs?”  Kamchatka asked.

        “Sometime soon,”  patch replied, “not yet.”

        “It’s almost advocating teenage pregnancy,”  Anook said, padding into the room, “Snowdrop, you are too young to have a cub!”

         “Don’t start that!”  Patch snapped.

        “Are there any standards round here now?”  Anook asked.

        “I know I was wrong, I was punished in my labour by the pain I went through,”  snowdrop replied, “I know I was too young to have a cub!”

         “It’s okay Snowdrop,”  Patch said, crawling over to her and kissing her ear.

      “So do you want me or not?”  Kamchatka asked.

       “I don’t want you!”  Anook roared.

       “the feeling is mutual I think,”  Orbon said, Anook swinging for him, Orbon catching her paw and twisting it.

       “ow!”  Anook screamed.

       “now get lost,”  Orbon said calmly, “for we don’t need you Anook.”  Anook turned and walked from the lie up.

        “She’s horrible!”  jess remarked.

        “She has an inflated idea of her own importance,”  Patch said, “she’s zoo bred, so thinks she knows more than we do.”

       “I was born in a hospital for humans,”  Jess replied, “but I don’t think I know more than a wild bred human, probably less.”

         “How long is labour for a mama human?”  snowdrop asked.

       “Ten, twenty, thirty hours,”  jess replied, “I know bears have twenty hour labours too.”

       “Mine was ten hours,”  snowdrop replied, “four in here, six in my lie up.”

        “You yowled, cried  and screamed like a cub,”  jess replied, “it was scary, but also amazing.”

        “I know mama yowled and screamed,”  Kamchatka said, “I heard her, I felt her kicking and rolling about.”

        “if it’s any consolation,”  Sita said, “I also screamed and yowled as I delivered Leo into the world.”

       “Sita in labour is a mixture of deep groans, lion roars, tiger mewing, and screaming,”  jess replied, “Sita, you really can scream and roar.” 

        “I’m proud of it,”  Sita replied, “I love being expressive when delivering cubs.”

       “I heard you yowling and screeching, then growling and moaning as you pushed,”  Jess replied, “I could tell everything you were doing from your cries.”

        “I know I lay it on thick,”  Sita replied, “but labour and birth is intense, hard, painful work.”

        “Don’t I know that,”  Snowdrop replied wearily.

        “Mama yelled like this “Aaaaaw!  Aaaaoaoaoaoaoaoaaooaoawrgh! Aaaaaaaaaw! Oaoaoaoaoaoaaow!””  Kamchatka said, “and she waved her paws and feet like this!”  Kamchatka began wriggling and waving her paws and kicking the air with her feet, Snowdrop looking uncomfortable.

        “Will you shut up about that?”  she asked.

      “Um, no,”  Kamchatka replied, “it’s part of my life too mama.”

        “But it hurt me!”  Snowdrop yelled.

        “I was squashed too,”  Kamchatka replied.  Snowdrop smacked her cub with her paw.

      “Will you shut up!”  she yelled.

        “ow mama, that’s not fair!”  Kamchatka wailed.

        “Snowdrop,”  Patch said firmly, “don’t blame your cub for your pain, it’s not her fault.”

        “I don’t want to be reminded!”  Snowdrop replied.

         “you will remember for the rest of your life,”  Sita remarked, “I remember mine, and jess remembers the birth of her cub.”

        “You look after her, I won’t!”  Snowdrop snapped, thrusting Kamchatka into Patch’s paws and running out of the lie up.

         “Who’s cub am I now?”  Kamchatka asked.

         “You are mine,”  Patch said, realising the cub needed certainty, “I’ll look after you, play with you, hug you and feed you.”

         “Why did mama run off?”  Kamchatka asked.

       “She needs time,”  patch replied, “her memory of your birth upsets her a little.”

       “Snowdrop hit Kamchatka hard with her paw Patch,”  Orbon said.

        “I’ll deal with her violence in a bit,”  Patch replied, “right now, my concern is for little Kamchatka.”

      “I think she’ll be fine,”  Orbon replied, “I’ll play with her a bit, while you deal with Snowdrop.”  Patch padded to the door, but Sita stopped him.

        “I’ll go,”  she said, kissing his nose, “your place is here with Orbon and little Kamchatka.”  With that Sita padded out of the room.

 

“My cub is making fun of my pain!”  Snowdrop yelled at Sita.

        “she isn’t,”  Sita replied, “that Snowdrop dear is the reaction of a cub to her experiences.  She’s asking you for help to understand what happened to her.”

       “how can I help her when I don’t understand myself?”  Snowdrop asked.

       “hitting your cub didn’t help her understand,”  Sita replied, “I’ll help you understand what happened to both of you.  I’ve been in labour, I can help you understand the pain, the need to push, everything.  We can disgusts it and I can make sense of it for you.  You could then talk to your cub.”

        “maybe you could teach us both,”  Snowdrop replied, “you’re so good at that Sita.”

       “Teach you through play?  Great,”  Sita replied.

        “Isn’t that how we all learn?”  snowdrop asked.

        “Giving birth to cubs isn’t play though,”  Sita replied.

         “Make it a game, make learning about it a game with a serious message,”  Snowdrop replied.

         “I suppose with you still being part of my play group, smaller cubs will ask,”  Sita replied, “now how to make it serious but fun.”

         “how about if you describe the birth of your cubs,”  snowdrop replied, “then, then I describe my labour.  The cubs will ask questions, and we can answer them.  They can crawl about and scream and kick the air with their feet.  All that.”

        “they will ask questions,”  Sita replied, “as you are one of them, and your little one will be growing up with them.”

         “I need to accept I have a cub, and that delivering that cub hurt like hell,”  snowdrop replied, “but I mustn’t take out my pain on my cub, for my experience was hers too.”

       “That’s how a mama speaks,”  Sita said.  “now come back to the lie up with me, and we can answer your cub’s questions, and questions from other cubs too.”  Snowdrop padded back to Patch’s lie up with Sita.

       Kamchatka, please,”  snowdrop pleaded, “can, can I apologise to you?  I shouldn’t have hit you, Sita told me things, I’ll have to answer questions from many cubs, so I might as well start with those from my own cub.”

          “Why did you scream and roar?”  Kamchatka asked.

        “you were being pushed down a small tunnel into the outside world,”  Sita said, “mama snowdrop had to push the tube to make you move towards the outside world. That hurt her.”

         “I’ll bet it did.”  Kamchatka replied, “I’m big, Patch has said that to me, so I suppose the tube had to stretch as well as move me along too?”  snowdrop wriggled uncomfortably:

        “yes,”  she replied.

        “so rolling about, kicking the air and screaming was quite okay,”  Kamchatka said.

        “yes,”  Sita replied, “it was what mama had to do.”

       “Thought so,”  Kamchatka replied, “but she doesn’t want to remember it?”

         “she does,”  Sita replied, “she needs to see and feel it was all worth it though,”

       “I’m here aren’t I,”  Kamchatka replied, “now every screaming kicking effort was worth it.”  Snowdrop smiled and hugged her cub:

        “it was worth it,”  she replied gently, “now though, I’ll have to answer questions from other cubs.”  Patch smiled broadly.

         “I had to answer questions too,”  he replied, “for I delivered a cub into the world too once.”

         “I will show the cubs how it was,”  snowdrop replied, “I can’t shy away from questions, as it’s all there, on tape.”

        “I’ll answer questions too,”  Kamchatka said, “I pushed with my feet as well as you pushed me into the world mama.”

 

 

A few days later, snowdrop returned to the playgroup with little Kamchatka, who continued to amaze her mother with her development.

        “now let’s see who’s here today,”  Sita said, hearing whispering and oared voices.

          “Snowdrop,”  Georgia said boldly, “you did scream and cry and deliver a cub into the world a few days back didn’t you?”  snowdrop nodded.

        “I did,”  she replied, “and beside me is my cub.”

      “That sounded so painful!”  Georgia yelped.

       “it was, it truly was,”  Snowdrop replied.

         “I re-enacted things for Mishka,”  Georgia said, “I couldn’t scream like you did though Snowdrop!  That was amazing!”

        “I was in so much pain!”  snowdrop whimpered.

       “I know,”  Georgia said, taking snowdrop’s right hind foot in her paws and massaging her pads and toes.

       “I curled my toes so tightly,”  Georgia said.

      “Like this?”  snowdrop asked, curling her toes as tightly as she could.

         “yes,”  Georgia replied.

       “Good,”  snowdrop said, smiling broadly, “I’d hate you to make light of my labour, either in sound or in the way your toes curled.  It has to be authentic.”  Georgia laughed helplessly at this, Snowdrop smiling broadly.

        “I made sure I was well informed,”  Georgia said, “I studied your face, your paws, your feet, and body.  I enjoyed letting everything hang out, it was wonderful!”  Snowdrop hugged her tightly.  Georgia let snowdrop hold her left hind foot in her paws, then curled her toes as tightly as she could.

       “That’s it!”  snowdrop laughed.

        Georgia did a wonderful job of re-enacting the birth of your cub,”  Mishka said softly to Snowdrop, who kissed his nose.

        “I could do the same,”  she replied, “these last few days, I’ve learnt a lot, that my experience was not just mine, but that of little Kamchatka too.” 

       “Crawling about and moaning lustily was wonderful,”  Georgia said, “I felt my whole body respond to my need.  My paws, my feet, my legs, my voice, everything worked to make things realistic.”

       “What was giving birth like snowdrop?”  Koda asked.

        “it was like defecating, though more painful, I rolled about on the floor, screamed and kicked, it was a real realer coaster.”

         “I’ll bet the dirty bear who impregnated her is keeping a low profile now,”  Amy snapped.

        “I thought I knew what I was doing,”  snowdrop said, “now I’m not so sure.”

        “Innokenti’s a good bear,”  Georgia mused, “he’s all right that one.”

       “I would love to have Pihoqahiak’s cubs,”  Ellie remarked.

        “wow, now we’re all getting in the family way,”  Sita said laughing, “having cubs is not the goal of everyone here.”

      “Ah, yes it is,”  Georgia replied, “we love cubs here, that’s why there are so many about.  You love them Sita, and they love you.  If there were no cubs about, you’d be bereft.”  Sita sighed heavily:

       “You’re right,”  she replied, “I love cubs.”

        “is it right for Kamchatka to ask her mama about her birth like she has?”  Koda asked.

        “it is right, I think all cubs should know,”  Sita replied, “after all, they went through it too.”

 

Fudge, still one of the cubs after four years of living in the community, crept up to Georgia and tickled the pads of her right hind foot.

        “You rogue!”  she laughed, curling her toes with pleasure.

        “Do I get the idea you and Georgia are friends?”  snowdrop asked.  Fudge kissed Georgia’s nose.

       “We are,”  he replied.

       “You kept that quiet,”  Sita mewed.

       “we wanted to,”  Georgia said softly, “Now it’s out in the open, fudge and Georgia, an item.”  Koda smiled broadly:

        “I’m so glad,”  he said softly.

        “they are good together,”  Mishka said, “I know, for I’ve known for ages they’re an item, they have very compatible paws.”

        “how do you know?”  snowdrop asked.

       “I’ve, um, got paws on with them while they’ve been playing together, they let me get paws on,”  Mishka replied.

        “that’s so cute,”  Baako said, “if cute isn’t too degrading a word to use.”

      “No that’s fine,”  Georgia said smiling.

         “I love Georgia’s paws and feet, they are so expressive, and as for her fur, that’s lovely too,”  fudge said smiling.

        “My paws and feet are soft, while yours are rough and tough dear Fudge,”  Georgia said, kissing the male bear’s nose.

         “Your feet stick to mine easily,”  fudge said, “that is so cute Georgia.”

        “I must remember to play the stuck foot game with Orbon so we can record it,”  Patch said, padding into the playroom.

       “Maybe you and Orbon could practise here and now?”  Sita asked, “that would be a great thing to get paws on with.”

        “have you and fudge played at delivering a cub Georgia?”  Koda asked.  Georgia grinned:

        “We have,”  she replied, “and every time he touched the sole of my foot, I couldn’t help curling my toes.  I tried to keep the effort going.  Whenever I wanted him to touch my foot, I’d groan and pant, and he’d touch my foot, then I’d whimpered and moan through a contraction while he ran his paw from my heel to my toes.  Those times were hard, trying to keep the moaning and panting realistic for as long as he kept his touch on the sole or toes of my foot.  I loved every minute of it though.  Sometimes I would crawl away, becoming more and more distressed, until he crawled up behind me, and touched my hind feet again, then I could release my stress by screaming, roaring and curling my toes, then, if things were really awful, I’d roll about and kick a bit too.  it was wonderful!”

         “I rolled and kicked, screamed and curled my toes tightly,”  Snowdrop said, “my need was very real indeed.”

        “I know, and I’m not trying to make light of that when I play,”  Georgia replied.

         “So who’s got the cutest paws and feet round here?”  Sita asked.

         “that’s subjective,”  fudge replied, “but I must say that the pads and toes of Orbon’s hind feet are quite cute when relaxed, though when he curls his toes his pads become even cuter.  Maybe he likes playing with his own toes, I don’t know, but it seems like he might.  Of course, Georgia’s feet are cute when she curls her toes.  I can’t say about the paws and feet of other bears.”

        “I think patch’s feet, which are very like Orbon’s and Sita’s, are super cute,”  Sooleawa said honestly from where she sat with Toby at the back of the room she playing with Toby’s toes and stroking his pads, the male bear curling his toes with pleasure.

        “your pads bunch up so cutely Toby,”  Sooleawa said.  Georgia, watching her, grinned hugely.

         “I think Orbon’s hind feet are cute when he curls his toes, his pads bunch up very sweetly indeed,”  Georgia said, “I saw him playing with his toes a few days ago, he held his right hind foot in his paws, massaging his toes and pads, sometimes squeezing his pads hard, as if the pleasure was almost too much to cope with, then he stroked his pads with his paws again, the toes of his hind feet curling and relaxing as he worked.”

          “it’s rather cute watching a bear play with his or her toes, or with the feet of another bear,”  Patch said wistfully.

        “You liked watching bears playing didn’t you patch,”  Georgia said with understanding.

        “I loved it,”  Patch said honestly.

        “I will let you get paws on with me while I play with my hind feet Patch, you know that,”  Orbon said, padding into the room and kissing his son cub’s nose.”

         “I am very grateful,”  Patch replied gently.  Patch got paws on with Orbon as he walked past him, from Orbon’s head to his forepaws, hind legs and hind feet.  Orbon making sure Patch could feel the way he walked, from how his legs worked, to how his feet contacted the ground from heels to toes.

        “Touch my hind feet from tops to soles,”  Orbon invited, Patch running his paw down the sole of his sire’s right hind foot, Orbon catching the toes of Patch’s paw with those of his right hind foot.

       “I couldn’t help that, sorry,”  Orbon said, Patch smiling and kissing the heel of Orbon’s right foot.

        “Your pads are smooth, and rather like mine,”  Patch observed.

         “are they?”  Orbon asked, “I’d like to find out for sure.  Patch, could I touch your hind feet?”  Patch smiled and released his hold on his sire’s right hind foot.

       “yes let’s do that,”  he replied, “as long as I can touch your feet that is?”  Orbon bounced on his toes with delight, Patch exploring throughout, and smiling at the larger bear’s enthusiasm.

        “yes please!”  Orbon replied, sitting down opposite Patch.  Patch got paws on with Orbon’s right hind foot, Orbon unable to stop his toes from curling with pleasure at the touch of his son cub’s paws.

         “oooah,”  Orbon gasped as his toes curled tightly, “My toes have a will of their own Patch, they want to curl tighter and tighter!”

          “I’ll let go if you want,”  Patch said, stroking the heel of his sire’s right hind foot with his paw.

        “No, it’s, it’s all right, it’s honestly all right,”  Orbon replied.

      “Orbon’s squeezing his left hind foot in both his paws, frantically massaging his toes to release the pressure,”  snowdrop said to Patch, “it’s as if he will explode with pleasure if he doesn’t release it by squealing the pads and toes of his free hind foot.  It looks rather frantic and cubbish, not to say rather cute.”

          “I feel I need to do something with my paws,”  Orbon gasped, “I don’t know why this is.  I think my paws want to clench, and it’s better if they squeeze my free hind foot, the toes of which want to curl tighter than they ever have before in response to Patch’s touch.”  Patch stroked the bunched pads of Orbon’s right hind foot as he relaxed his toes for a second, then curled them tightly again, the pads bunching up and Orbon’s toes curling with desperate urgency.

         “You have such cute hind feet,”  Patch said gently to his sire, who took a deep breath to steady his emotions which were running free.

          “I love this playtime,”  he said softly, “I can stretch and curl my toes, and the play is always different.  If I crawl away now, the play will be different again.  Sit back on my heels and don’t look, and let you get paws on with my hind feet, the play is different again Patch.”

         “I could change my attentions to focus on your left hind foot?”  Patch suggested, Orbon giving his son cub his left hind foot.

        “oh wow,  oooah!”  Orbon gasped as patch got paws on with his left hind foot, “eeearhrhrhrhrhrrth!”  Orbon moaned as he squeezed his right hind foot with both paws in an effort to control the flow of intense pleasure he was feeling from the contact between the sole pad and toes his left hind foot and his son cub’s paws.

         “if you want me to stop, I will,”  Patch said, stroking the sole of Orbon’s left foot.  Orbon, pressing his foot hard into his son’s paws, gasped that it was all right, that patch should carry on.

       “he looks so cute!”  Sooleawa said, running round to get a good look at Orbon.

        “Orbon looks so contented,”  Georgia remarked, “one really happy bear.”

        “I am contented Georgia, I love patch playing with my hind feet, I absolutely love it when Patch strokes my pads and plays with my toes.”

       “What do Orbon’s pads and toes feel like Patch?”  Georgia asked.

        “his pads are smooth, his toes large,”  Patch replied, “when he curls his toes, his pads bunch up, becoming wrinkled.  Orbon’s feet are very expressive.”

         “it’s really cute watching you play with your sire,”  Georgia said to Patch.

        “I’m honoured he will let me play with him, let alone play with his hind paws,”  patch replied.

        “it is an honour to touch another’s paws,”  Georgia replied, “we forget that here.”  Patch blew on Orbon’s toes, the male bear giggling like a cub and tightly curling his toes.  Orbon then turned his back on Patch, sitting back on his heels, Patch exploring the changed situation.  smiling, Patch blew on the sole of Orbon’s right hind foot, blowing a stream of cold air from Orbon’s heel to his toes, Orbon roaring with laughter.

        “now my foot is all tickled,”  he laughed, “will you rub out the tickling please Patch?”  Patch did so, rubbing the sole pad and toes of Orbon’s right foot with his left forepaw.

       “That feels so good!”  Orbon said, bouncing his backside on his heels.

        “You have thick pads Orbon, they are so cute,”  Patch said, Orbon laughing merrily and wiggling his toes.  Patch laid the toes of his right forepaw over those of his sire’s left hind, Orbon curling his toes so they embraced, then squeezed  those of Patch’s paw.

         “Orbon’s pads are beige and wrinkle sweetly,”  snowdrop said.

         “I can imagine him playing with his toes,”  patch said.

       “don’t just imagine it, I’ll do it, now,”  Orbon said, releasing his hold on Patch’s forepaw and spinning onto his backside, grabbing his right hind foot in his paws and playing with his toes.  Patch got paws on with Orbon’s hind foot and forepaws, Orbon laughing as Patch explored what he was up to.

       “That’s so very cute,”  patch said gently.

        “I’m sorry for making all that noise earlier,”  Orbon said.

        “That’s no problem,”  Patch replied.

       “I sounded like a mama in labour though,”  Orbon said, squeezing his toes with desperate paws.

       “I know how you felt, as do Kuruk, and everyone else here,”  Patch said.

       “It’s like I have to squeeze my free foot in my paws and or make noise to relieve the pleasure that is about to burst out of my head,”  Orbon replied, “it’s like the pleasure fills me up from my foot through my body, to my head, then has nowhere else to go.  You felt me wriggling?”

       “I did,”  Patch replied.

      “That was to make sure the pleasure got into all the places it could, so I didn’t have to release the valve as it were,”  Orbon said, “but that didn’t work, and I ended up making a sound like a mama pushing against her cub.”

        “it’s all right,”  Snowdrop said, “at least you curled your toes tightly while making that sound.”

       “I loved every minute of that,”  Orbon said, gripping his right hind foot in his paws as his emotions rose again.

      “Squeeze that foot and curl those toes,”  Patch said gently.  Orbon did, pressing the pads of his right hind foot with his paws, digging the toes of both his paws into the pads of his right hind foot, his toes curling tightly from pleasure and intense emotions.

         “The more I get worked up, the more I need to press my foot pads with my paws, the more I press and rub the sole of my foot with my paws, the more worked up with pleasure I get, making my toes curl tighter!”  Orbon gasped.

         “Orbon reminds me of someone else,”  Georgia said nudging patch.

       “Do I really sound like him?”  patch asked.

        “you do, it’s cute,”  Sita mewed.

       “Good,”  Patch replied smiling.

       “You also look like him too, for you have been known to get worked up like Orbon is now.”  Patch kissed the pads of Orbon’s left hind foot, feeling his sire curl his toes, the sole pad of Orbon’s foot bunching as he felt his cub’s kiss on the sole of his foot.

       “Cute feet,”  Patch said, Orbon giggling with delight.

        “I think you are as fond of paws as Sooleawa is Patch,”  Orbon said.

        “I am,”  patch replied.

        “how do my paws feel to you Patch?”  Orbon asked.

       “tops furry and soft, with long fur,”  Patch replied, “soles, smooth, naked, no hair, toes strong, pads bunch easily, and toes curl readily.”  Orbon, giggling at this, curled his toes tightly, Patch stroking his sire’s bunched pads, Orbon closing his eyes and clenching his teeth with the intensity of the sensations he was feeling.

       “Wow, oh wow!”  Orbon gasped, “my  foot is filling up with pleasure, filling my legs, then my body, then my head, then it will explode from my mouth in roaring and my paws in mad waving of paws and hind feet!”  patch smiled and continued stroking his sire’s right hind foot.

       “I wish I could bottle this feeling up,”  Orbon said.

         “”I will play with your paws often if you’d like my sire,”  Patch said.

       “But you get no pleasure that way,”  Orbon replied.

        “I love it Orbon,”  Patch replied, “your reaction gives me pleasure.  Your description of how pleasure fills your body from the sole of your foot to your head, finally making you yell and kick the air with your feet is funny and is cute to witness.  I can feel you losing control, and it’s cute.”  Orbon smiled, embracing Patch’s paw with the toes of his right hind foot.

         “I won’t cover up my pleasure,”  he said, “if you like it, I’ll let things run their course.”

         “I’d like to feel you roll onto your back and grab your feet with your paws,”  patch said.

        “I will do that for you my cub,”  Orbon replied, rolling onto his back and drawing up his hind feet, Patch paws on throughout, Orbon’s right forepaw gripping patch’s left, pressing it against the pads of his right hind foot as he tried to grip his right hind foot in his paws while patch’s paw was in the way.

       “Cute,”  patch said.

        “I want to hold my foot in my paw!”  Orbon roared.

         “My paw is in the way of your paw Orbon,”  Patch said, “but your paw is holding my paw against your foot, so you’ll have to let go of my paw to enable me to let go of your foot, so you can touch your foot with your paw.”

      “But I don’t want you to let go of my foot as I like your touch, but I want to touch my foot with my paw!”  Orbon whimpered, Patch laughing merrily at his words, which were accompanied by Orbon desperately curling and stretching the toes of both his hind feet, his pads bunching beneath Patch’s left forepaw.

        “You try to make playing with paws sound so interesting,”  Amy snarled, “but it’s really total rubbish.”

        “you’ve never tried it properly,”  Orbon replied, staring at Amy between his forepaws, through the gap between his hind legs,  past Patch and across the room, “I’ve not touched on the stuck foot game yet, that’s a whole new game, as it were.”

       “I never play with my own toes!”  Amy screamed.

       “Wrong,”  Koda said smiling, “I caught you yesterday.”  Amy covered her face with her paws.

        “You weren’t meant to see that!”  she mumbled.

        “now Patch,”  Orbon said, “can I please hold my right hind foot with my right paw?”

       “You’ll have to let go of my paw so I can let go of your foot,”  patch said.  Orbon did so, Patch kissing the pads of his sire’s right hind foot as he removed his paw.

        “You have beautiful paws and feet Orbon,”  Lilly said, padding into the room.  Orbon looked at Lilly, his eyes taking in her figure from ears to paws.

         “I’m available,”  Lilly’s eyes said, the she bear dancing slightly on her toes, then impulsively rolling onto her back and waving her paws at Orbon.

        “Sexual displays are not allowed here!”  Sita snapped, sensing what was going on.

      “Sorry,”  Lilly replied.

      “I should think so,”  Sita snapped, “sure tell the cubs about their births, but the courtship should be done in private!”

        “I’m not interested,”  Orbon replied flatly.

       “Well screw you, screw you sideways!”  Lilly yelled.

      “Now stop! Stop that!”  Sita demanded.

        “I never said I was interested did I?”  Orbon yawned, “are you desperate or something Lilly?”

      “Take it somewhere Else!”  Sita snapped.  Lilly got to her feet and padded from the room, defeated.

        “She bores me,”  Orbon said.

        “I thought Lilly was a bit more restrained than that, it seems I was wrong,”  patch replied.

        “I want to play with the cubs, not mate with Lilly,”  Orbon said, “anyway, Tiguak is due to have her cubs soon isn’t she?  There will be enough cubs to carry on the community for some time to come.”

        “there will be,”  Patch said.

       “I wonder if Tiguak will have a trouble free labour?”  snowdrop mused, “I hope so, I hope she’s been warned what it’s like.”

       “I think she has,”  Patch replied, “she was talking to Ekaterina about it a few days ago.”

      “I want to play the stuck foot game with my son cub,”  Orbon said, “patch, let’s play that game now.”

        “Let’s examine each other’s hind feet first,”  Patch said gently to his sire.

 

Sitting Opposite each other, Orbon and Patch examined each other’s hind paws, Patch first examining his sire’s hind feet for thorns.  Taking Orbon’s right hind foot in his paws, resting Orbon’s heel on his own left leg, patch got paws on with Orbon’s hind foot, from furry top to naked sole pad.  Orbon, curling and stretching his toes with pleasure, looked guiltily at Patch.

        “a friend and I played together where I lived in Russia,”  he said, “we’d spend ages stroking each other’s hind feet, he’d stroke mine, and I’d stroke his.  We’d spend ages at this, just spending time together, it was great!”

        “That’s really great,”  patch said gently, stroking the sole of Orbon’s right hind foot from heel to toes.

       “I love that,”  Orbon said curling his toes with pleasure.

         “I’ll bet snowdrop’s toes didn’t curl like yours do,”  Patch said.  Orbon smiled broadly:

       “I could never curl my toes like snowdrop did,”  Orbon replied, “she was in pain, desperate pain and fear.”

        “Snowdrop was very frightened,”  Patch said gently.

        “I could never imagine pain like that,”  Orbon said.

       “Kuruk know that pain,”  Kuruk said, padding into the playroom and sitting down to observe the goings on among the cubs, both big and small.

        “I know Kuruk,”  Orbon said with deep respect.

      “Kuruk scream and roar, kick with hind feet and wriggle like mad.”  Kuruk replied.

         “I know Kuruk, I saw,”  Orbon replied softly.

       “Giving birth to Faith hurt Kuruk so much,”  Kuruk replied, “though delivering afterbirth was harder than delivering faith.  It not so good delivering afterbirth, it hurt and was more difficult.  Faith’s birth was easier, as Kuruk could move about more.  When getting rid of afterbirth, all he do is crouch and push, and bounce on toes, wriggle, crouch and push.  It not so easy that.  Kuruk prefer rolling about on floor, crawling about and sitting back on heels was easier for Kuruk.  That way he able to push and ease faith into world better.”

         “I know Kuruk,”  patch said gently to his brother, reaching over and gently squeezing the toes of Kuruk’s right hind foot with his paw.

         “I’m looking forward to seeing you play Orbon at the stuck foot game Patch,”  Kuruk said, “then, can Kuruk play with brother patch?”  Patch smiled and replied by squeezing and massaging the toes of his brother’s right hind foot.

 

Patch got paws on with Orbon’s hind feet, checking his pads and toes for thorns, then Orbon, smiling, got paws on with his son cub’s hind feet, stroking Patch’s pads and toes.  Pressing pads with his paws, Orbon felt naked pads and strong toes.

 

Now let’s press hind feet together and see what happens,”  patch said smiling.  Orbon and patch did so, Patch finding his feet stuck to his sire’s with ease.

        “I feel warm pads beneath mine,”  Patch said softly, exploring with his forepaws, finding the natural gap between sole pads and exploring it with gentle care.

         “I’ll work at my right hind foot with my forepaw,”  Orbon gripped the heel of his left hind foot with both forepaws and pulled as Patch worked at the gap between his right hind foot and Orbon’s left hind foot with the toes of his left forepaw.

          “it’s difficult to separate our feet Orbon, the glue’s so strong!”  patch said smiling.  Orbon curled his toes, tugging and wriggling to free his foot.

       “your paw is working its magic, it has nearly freed my foot!”  Orbon gasped.  Patch pressed his toes into the soft skin of his sire’s left hind foot, Orbon gasping as he felt the pressure of his son cub’s toes on the sole pad his left hind foot, as Patch’s toes touched the skin at the base of Orbon’s toes, pressing into it.

        “now pull Patch, Pull!”  Orbon gasped.  Patch pulled hard at his foot.  Freeing it.

        “now let’s free our other feet,”  Orbon gasped.  Feeling his way round his right hind foot, feeling the gap between his foot and that of his son cub, the gap both believed was there by nature’s wish so beers could play the stuck foot game.  Patch grabbed the heel of his left hind foot, tugging at it as Orbon worked down toward the soft flooring from the lower part of the gap between his and Patch’s sole pads, using the digits of his left forepaw to work the pads free.  Orbon felt Patch pressing his toes into his sole pad once more, the sensation making him smile:

         “your hind foot likes mine,”  Orbon laughed.

        “It does,”  Patch gasped, “now Pull, Orbon pull!”  Orbon tugged at his right hind foot, Patch gasping as his sire’s foot came free, Orbon rolling onto his back with the intensity of his game, his hind feet kicking at the air.

         “That looked intense,”  Koda said smiling.  Orbon, smiling, replied that it was.  Patch heard the bell on Orbon’s right hind leg jangling as he kicked the air with his hind feet.  Orbon, realising his son cub couldn’t hear him walking about, had taken to wearing a bell on the ankle of his right hind leg.  Patch grabbed Orbon’s right hind foot in his paws ands stroked his pads, Orbon feeling his urge to kick the air dwindling to nothing.

        “Touch my feet, stroke my pads,”  Orbon said, Patch drawing as shapes on the sole pad of Orbon’s right hind foot, Orbon curling his toes tightly then stretching them strongly in response.

       “I love this feeling!”  Orbon sighed.

       “how do Orbon’s pads feel?”  Sita asked.

       “come and touch them yourself,”  Orbon invited.

       “No,”  Sita replied, “I’d like Patch to describe how they feel.”

        “His pads are firm and a little rough, though smooth when compared to Kuruk’s for instance.”

     “Cute,”  Sita said.

      “How about if I disagree with Patch’s assessment of my pads, will you come and touch them for yourself then?”  Orbon asked.

       “That’s the most unusual way of asking if I would play with your hind feet Orbon,”  Sita said smiling.

      “I offered you the chance to touch my hind feet, which you refused,”  Orbon replied.

       “yeah, so I did,”  Sita replied.

       “now let’s get on with play,”  Orbon suggested.

        “You never stop playing you big cub,”  Patch said.  Orbon hugged Patch tightly, Patch snuggling close.

       “I love you Orbon,”  Patch said softly.  Patch kissed Orbon’s nose and paws, the large grey bear smiling broadly.

         “someone made you into the cuddliest bear going,”  Patch said softly to his sire.

        “You’re very kind,”  Orbon said, embracing his son cub with gentle care.

       “I think you are the most cuddly bear in this community,” patch said softly to his sire, who grinned broadly.

       “I try to be gentle and cuddly,”  Orbon said.

        “If you could, you’d be crawling about, letting all the cubs tickle your toes!”  Faith laughed, Kuruk shushing her.

        “Faith no know what Orbon thinking, don’t say thing!”  he snarled.

        “it’s okay Kuruk,”  Orbon replied gently.

       “but he loves play,”  Faith whimpered.

        “I know he does,”  Orbon replied, crawling to faith and tickling the toes of her right hind foot.

        “leave my toes alone!”  Faith laughed.

         “Sorry,”  Orbon replied.

       “I liked that,”  Faith said smiling.

        “Patch,”  Ekaterina said padding in and touching the grey bear’s shoulder with her paw, “can I talk with you?”  Patch felt a thrill of excitement from Ekaterina’s touch.

       “let’s go,”  he replied, “Orbon, sorry my sire, I have to talk to Ekaterina for a while.  Orbon took one look at Ekaterina’s face and nodded:

        “Go,”  he replied.

 

Patch padded away with Ekaterina, she leading him into the woods.

        “I don’t know how to say this,”  Ekaterina began.

          “I’ll wait,”  patch replied.

         “I know I’ve been awful to you,”  Ekaterina continued, “you lost your sight, and I didn’t help, I walked away.”

       “You did,”  Patch replied without ranker, stating a fact, nothing more.

        “you’ve never said a word against me patch, never,”  Ekaterina said, “I thank you for that, and am more ashamed because of your refusal to bad mouth me.”

         “I still love you Ekaterina,”  Patch replied, “though I had to cut ties with you for my own emotional well fir, to find my friendships elsewhere.”

        “I know what Sita said,”  Ekaterina replied, “for I asked her.  she’s so honest, told me everything.  It hurt to hear I was an emotional desert.”  Patch touched Ekaterina’s paw, Ekaterina gasping at his touch.

        “Try communicating with me through your paws,”  Patch suggested.

        “I could, could try,”  Ekaterina replied softly.

        “Now let’s go home,”  patch said gently, kissing Ekaterina’s nose.

        “lead me Patch,”  Ekaterina replied,  Patch leading her back to the house.

          “Let’s go to my lie up,”  Patch suggested, Ekaterina demurely following him.

        “I have been talking, talking with your half brother,”  Ekaterina replied, “he, he told me a story, that, that he’d been abandoned as a cub, delivered into the world and left to die, is this true?”  Ekaterina asked.

        “yes Ekaterina love,”  Patch replied gently, “it is all true.  Aga did that.”

         “I, I felt anger, such anger towards Aga my paws sweated,”  Ekaterina said, “then, then Pihoqahiak told me something, he said, said, oh Patch, he said he knew what I’d done!  He knew I’d left my own cub to die, and that, that he thought my actions as bad as those of his own mother!  I did what I hate Aga for!”  Patch sat Ekaterina down on the beanbag sofa and flopped down beside her.

          “yes, what you and Aga did is very similar,”  Patch replied wearily.

         “I’m sorry Patch,”  Ekaterina wailed, “I hug Sam every day now.”

        “what did my brother say to you?”  Patch asked.

       “He told me to be honest with you, to show you my true feelings towards you.”  Ekaterina replied.

        “Your actions are as bad as Ages were,”  Patch replied.

       “I know, I know!”  Ekaterina whimpered, “how do I make amends for that?”

        “Does Sam seek you out for a cuddle?”  Patch asked.

       “He does,”  Ekaterina replied.

       “Good,”  Patch said.

        “Sam wants to see you too,”  Ekaterina said, “but he doesn’t know if he can approach you.”

        “Why not?”  Patch asked, “all he has to do is come to me and touch my paw.”

      “I told him that,”  Ekaterina replied, “but he’s still apprehensive.  I think he sees you as a sort of leader, I mean, you aren’t now, leader of the community I mean.”

        “he is my leader, no matter what anyone says,”  Orbon replied, padding into the lie up.

       “But I thought you’d taken his post?”  Ekaterina asked.

        “No, not now,”  Orbon replied, “I’ve stepped back, for those who objected to patch now realise they were wrong.  There have been things which have happened since that time which only a true leader could cope with.  Patch is that leader.  I’m just a fumble footed cub.”

        “Some cub,”  Ekaterina said, “I’d have trouble delivering you into the world.”

           “yes,”  Orbon replied, “Ekaterina, have you ever touched my paws or feet?  Got paws on with me in general?”

       “No, to me you are just a voice,”  Ekaterina replied honestly.

        “Well come, get paws on, touch my fur, my pads, everything,”  Orbon invited.  Ekaterina did, and couldn’t imagine delivering Orbon into the world.

      “I’ll bet you were a big cub,”  she said, when she got paws on with his right hind foot.

         “I wasn’t really,”  Orbon replied, “but now, now I’m a huge cub.  I never grew up you see.”

       “Rubbish,”  Ekaterina said.

        “Orbon plays like a cub,”  Patch said.

        “yeah, maybe, but he’s no cub,”  she replied, “though these pads are rather soft for a male bear’s.  how old did you say you were Orbon?”

         “Twenty something, I can’t remember,”  Orbon replied.

        “it’s just a number big fellow,”  Ekaterina said, Orbon smiling broadly.

        “now are you and Patch getting back together Ekaterina?”  Orbon asked.  Ekaterina huffed with frustration:

        “I don’t know,”  she replied, “it’s up to Patch.  I want to, but this time, this time I’m going to stand on my own four paws.”

        “surely you have two paws and two feet?”  patch asked.

        “Don’t get me started on that,”  Ekaterina huffed.

         “Now can I touch those paws and feet?”  Patch asked, Ekaterina yelping as he knocked her onto her back and tickled the pads of her right hind foot.

       “Hey you, get off!”  she yelled.

       “Sorry,”  Patch said contritely, Ekaterina scrambling clumsily into his lap for a hug, Patch embracing her tenderly.

        “I love you Ekaterina,”  Patch said, Ekaterina pausing in her effort to wave her paws and kick the air with her feet.

       “You never divorced me did you,”  she said gently.

        “No Ekaterina,”  Patch replied, “I hoped, hoped you’d realise I needed different communication with you.  I can’t explain things like I used to, though I can still play with you, stroke you and love you.”

        “You’re dependent on others to describe things to you now,”  Ekaterina said.

       “yes Ekaterina love,”  Patch replied.  But we can get paws on with each other’s fur and paws, play with each other’s paws and feet, and love each other,”  Patch replied.

         “Can I touch your fur, paws and feet?”  Ekaterina asked Patch.

        “Please do,”  Patch replied.  Ekaterina touched patch’s face, paws, legs and feet, stroking and tracing his pads and playing with his toes.

         “Tell Sam he can come to me whenever he likes,”  Patch said.  Ekaterina, now thoughtful, padded away to find her and patch’s cub.

         “you always loved Ekaterina didn’t you Patch,”  Orbon said.

        “I never fell out of love with her Orbon,”  patch replied, “yes I was harsh towards her, but only after she walked away from me”

        “your swearing was from the pain she’d caused you,”  Orbon said.

         “yes,”  Patch replied softly, “Ekaterina caused me much pain Orbon.”

          “Patch?”  Sam asked, padding into the room, then crawling towards his sire as a sign of humility.  Patch felt his son cub crawling towards him, Sam crawling past him once, Patch touching him from nose to hind feet, before Sam turned and crawled into his lap, his paws begging Patch for a hug, Patch unable to refuse his son cub.

          “I love you Sam,”  Patch said gently, feeling the half grown cub snuggling close to him.

       “Now get paws on with me patch, please,”  Sam begged.  Patch got paws on, from Sam’s head to his hind feet.

        “I wish I’d been with your mama when she delivered you into the world Sam,”  patch said sadly.

        “I wish you’d been there too,”  Sam said, “if, if you’d been there, then, then, well,”  Sam’s eyes filled with tears.

       “I know little one, I know,”  Patch said softly.

        “I was rescued by a large pawed, long furred cat bear,”  Sam sniffed, “she was so good to me.”

       “I know she was,”  Patch replied, “do you know who she is?”

        “her name is Sita, she’s your cub, she told me that.”

        “I know she did,”  Patch replied, “and she told me of you too.  do you remember our first meeting little Sam?”

        “I do,”  Sam replied, I remember your touch.”

         “how long have you known Sam?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “Two weeks after his birth,”  patch replied.

         “You hid him from me all that time,”  Ekaterina said, “I’m not surprised, after what I did.”

         “I hugged him and stroked him, and played with his paws and feet,”  patch said, “Sam loved our time together.”

         “I did Patch,”  Sam said.  Ekaterina touched Sam’s back, then moved her paws to his right hind foot, stroking his pads and toes, Sam giggling and curling his toes with pleasure.

         ”It’s time for play now,”  Sam said.  Patch smiled gently at Sam, the cub running his paws over Patch’s body, exploring him from nose to tail.

        “you have big paws Sire Patch,”  Sam said, Patch catching the toes of his cub’s right forepaw in the toes of his own left hind foot.

        “You have soft pads sire Patch,”  Sam said, Patch smiling broadly.

        “I watch you walking and crawling about Patch,”  Sam said, “you have cute paws and feet.”  Patch giggled cubbishly, and soon he and Sam were playing together, in a rolling bundle of fur, tickling each other’s hind feet and pulling playfully at each other’s ears.

        “the pads of your hind feet are as smooth as mine,”  Patch observed.

        “I’m glad about that,”  Sam replied smiling and nibbling at his sire’s ear.

        “Get off my ears!”  patch yelped.

       “I’ll kiss your paws instead then,”  Sam said, kissing patch’s paws, Patch laughing merrily.

      “You soppy cub!”  he laughed, pushing Sam onto his back and kissing his nose.

       “Kiss my paws, kiss my paws!”  Sam laughed, Patch kissing his son’s paws.

        “it’s good to hear you two playing,”  Ekaterina said smiling.

       “why not join us?,”  Patch asked.

        “It’s your time together, Ekaterina replied.

         “Sita helped me play a rather silly game when I was younger,”  Sam said, “I wanted hind feet as big as hers, and she said, if I massaged the soles of my feet with my paws, while curling and stretching my toes as hard as I could, my feet would get bigger.”

          “I remember that game myself,”  patch replied, “I used to play the same game with jess when she was very young, and she wanted feet as big as mine.  It was so cute.”

       “yes,”  Sam replied, “I liked that game, and my feet did feel bigger after a while, but that was a very long while, when they’d probably grown a bit anyway.”

      “it’s a silly game really,”  jess said smiling, padding into the room to watch Patch and Sam, “though I liked the game when I was young.  Of course, now I’m older, my feet still aren’t as big as Patch’s, though, well,”  she hid her head, “I do sometimes play the game, even now, to try, well, to make my feet bigger.”

       “You looked cute rubbing the soles of your feet with your fingers from heels to toes, while curling and stretching your toes jess,”  Patch replied sadly, “I’m only sorry I can’t see Moses or the cubs playing those games now.”  jess stroked Patch’s paw.

      “You could get paws on while I play that game,”  she said, “I’d like my feet to grow a bit bigger you know.”  Patch smiled broadly:

       “Thank you,”  he said, “and I will, but it’s not the same.”

        “I suppose not,”  jess replied gently.  Jess sat down and gripped her right foot in both her hands, pressing her fingers into her heel, then massaging in circles from her heel to her toes, while repeatedly and energetically curling and stretching her toes.

         “I can almost fool myself into thinking I can make  my feet grow by curling and stretching my toes while massaging the soles of my feet,”  Jess laughed.  Patch got paws on with jess’s hands and feet, feeling her attempts to make her feet grow just by massaging the soles from heel to toes.

      “Help me Patch,”  jess gasped, giving the large bear her right foot.  Patch massaged the sole of jess’s foot from heel to toes, while jess curled and stretched her toes.

      “press the toes of your paw into the sole of my foot when my toes are curled, then push towards my toes as I stretch them!”  Jess gasped, patch obeying her.

       “ooooooooaoh!”  jess whimpered, curling and stretching her toes as strongly as she could with Patch’s help.

        “Massage my toes Patch!”  jess panted, Patch massaging the toes of jess’s right foot, jess curling and stretching her toes with less urgency.

        “this is how we used to play this game so long ago,”  patch said.

       “I want to play it more regularly now,”  jess replied.

         “We will,”  Patch said, “if you want.”

         “I’ve just watched my birth video, t’is amazing!”  little Kamchatka said, running into the room and leaping onto Patch’s lap, “but the squelching sound as mama pushed was disgusting!”

       “I’m surprised you could hear that over her screaming and roaring,”  Patch said.

      “when she moaned I could hear it,”  little Kamchatka said, “and it was hard to listen to mama too, I could really hear her pushing.  I am sorry I was so big!” 

       “You were fine,”  snowdrop said, following her cub into the room and touching her back with her paw.

         “The squelching sound was fluid Kamchatka dear, it helped me deliver you,”  Snowdrop said.

        “Good mama, it sounds like you needed every bit,”  Kamchatka said.

      “I did, every bit of fluid, every bit of strength too,”  Snowdrop replied, “though I wouldn’t change a thing.”

        “I’ll see my birth video too when my eyes open,”  Kamchatka said.

       “I’ll re-enact it now for you,”  Snowdrop replied, “I can do it, my body knows how to.”

        “mama Sushanti showed me how my birth went,”  Baako mewed. [padding into the room.  Snowdrop looked at him:

       “I’ll bet she didn’t’ scream and cry like a cub,”  she said.

       “No,”  Baako replied, “but she left nothing to the imagination.  Also, she didn’t use her claws to hold onto the floor or paw at anything with them, she used her toes only, relying on the grip of her toes alone to hold herself steady while pushing.  Mama Sushanti said she didn’t want to use her claws, the pain didn’t make her want to use her claws.”

        “how can a tigress go through labour without extending her claws and tearing the place apart?”  jess asked.

        “I don’t know, but she did,”  Androcles replied, “I saw her, we all saw her refusing to grip with her claws, only using her toes to provide purchase.”

        “I did it as a sort of challenge,”  Sushanti said, padding in and kissing the top of Baako’s head, “I wanted a challenge to distract me from the pain, I hoped my toes would slip, and I’d be able to get angry with them, but they didn’t, they stuck fast to anything I gripped.”

        “You did well mama,”  Snowdrop said, “I wish I’d laboured as well as you did, but I screamed and cried.”

        “Screaming and crying is okay,”  Sushanti said gently.

        “I saw you sitting on the rugs, your toes curled into them, rocking back and fourth, left and right as you roared and strained,”  Snowdrop said, “my feet could not hold me to the ground even if I glued them to it.  I needed to roll and kick.”

        “that’s all right,”  Sushanti said.

        “You should have seen and heard Swarupa,”  Androcles replied, “she had a hell of a time delivering Tigger and Namrah.”

        “My sister’s labour was a punishment for her,”  Sushanti said, “she used her unborn cubs to defend herself, and her labour reflected that, the spirits punished her greatly,”  Sushanti said.

       “You had the most graceful labour Sushanti,”  Androcles said.  Sushanti smiled and kissed his nose:

       “Do you think so?”  she asked.

        “I love you however you are,”  Androcles replied, “serine and sleeping, or screaming and waving your paws about.”

         “You took hold of my sweating paw as I curled my toes,”  Sushanti said, “I remember that Androcles.  You lay with me while I kicked you and held onto you with all four of my sweating paws.” 

       “I found your labour enthralling and amazing,”  Androcles said.

        “Did you get a good look?”  Sushanti replied.

        “I saw everything,”  Androcles said, “from your face, expressive with clued eyes and clenched teeth, to your body, wriggling and writhing while you sat on the rugs, then curling up and stretching out as you lay on your side, dealing with heavy contractions, to your legs, pedalling the air, and your feet with curled toes.  I then saw Baako emerging, from his forepaws, to his head, his body and hind legs.  It was all wonderful Sushanti.”

         “It was hard work from my end,”  Sushanti said, “but worth it when I felt my cub emerging into the world.  I felt everything Androcles, the rugs under my feet, every breath, very movement of my cub, everything, it was wonderful!”

          “I know Hope enjoyed her time with you,”  Baako said, “she hasn’t stopped talking about the time she delivered a tiger!”

          “Hope is lovely,”  Sushanti said, “and yes, she delivered a tiger,”  Sushanti kissed Baako’s nose, the male cub looking embarrassed but pleased at his mum’s public display of affection, “she helped deliver a handsome tiger cub.”

         “I love Hope mama,”  Baako said.

       “I know Hope loves you dearly Baako,”  Sushanti said, “she speaks to me all the time about you, showing me how big your paws have got, at least trying to.”

       “Why doesn’t she come and get me, then I can show you how big my paws are, or rather she can show you while I lie on my back and allow her to massage and play with my paws?”  Baako said.  Sushanti laughed merrily at her cub’s candour.

       “Do you and Hope play with each other’s paws Baako?”  She asked.  Baako smiled:

      “We do mama, we do,”  he replied.

      “and do you play with Hope’s paws too?”  Sushanti asked.  Baako smiled:

        “her paws and feet are so good to play with mama,”  he replied laughing.

       “I’m glad,”  Sushanti said, “she had comforting paws when I was in pain and frightened.”

        “mama’s paws are big and strong, with thick pads and powerful toes,”  Baako said to snowdrop, who smiled at him.

       “Have you been talking to Sooleawa?”  she asked.  Baako grinned.

       “I think we should all sit down and play with each other’s hind feet,”  jess said, “you lot could teach me all the games you know.”

        “I’m not very good yet,”  Baako said, “Hope’s better at playing with my hind feet, as is Sooleawa.  Patch could tell you all the games there are to play.”

        “So it’s down to me now?”  Patch asked.

       “Who’s that!”  jess yelped.

       “Who?”  Patch asked, sniffing the air.

        “Hello my brother,”  Pihoqahiak said, kissing patch’s nose.

        “You, you have changed Pihoqahiak,”  jess said, “you are, um, less like Patch now, your paw pads are brown, your fur black as before.”

       “My name has changed too,”  The bear said smiling, “I will keep Pihoqahiak, as my brother patch gave it to me, but I am also known as indigo.” 

       “I wish you could see him Patch, he’s bloody handsome!”  Jess exclaimed.

        “maybe you can help me my brother,”  Patch said to Indigo, late Pihoqahiak.

       “Help you with what?”  Indigo asked, sitting down beside Patch.

       “Help me teach cubs how to play with hind feet,”  Patch replied.

        “the stuck foot game, stretching hind feet, how to encourage another to curl their toes and stretch them?”  Indigo asked.

       “yes,”  patch replied.

          “I like the foot stretching game,”  Indigo said, “it’s, well, very cubbish, which appeals to this overgrown cub hugely.”

        “You have different pads on your feet now,”  patch said, handling his brother’s left hind foot.

         “yes,”  Indigo said, “they changed when I found my final body shape, “Now I have more tactilely interesting hind feet, so that you brother Patch, can find them more easily.”

        “So that you have more excuse to ask me to check them over for thorns you mean,”  patch said, kissing his brother’s nose.

       “that too,”  Indigo replied smiling.

       “The floor is yours Indigo,”  Patch said smiling.

        “Well here I go,”  Indigo said, “the foot stretching game and how to play it..  All cubs find their feet at one time in their lives, though that’s not usually by standing on them at first.  They find them with their paws, and touch them, finding their feet give them pleasure if they touch their pads, or even tickle them.  Of course, they then find the feet of other cubs and those cubs might have larger feet.  So a cub might want to stretch their feet to match the size of their cub friend’s feet.”

        “Oh get on with it!”  Baako mewed, “cut the crap and get on with telling us how to play the game Phi, I mean Indigo.”

        “Oh all right, all right!”  Indigo replied, his eyes sparkling, “I’ll get paws on with my feet and see if I can stretch them.  I’ll take my right hind foot in my paws, make sure I’m comfortable, then massage from my heel, pressing into my heel pad with the toes of my paws, rubbing in circles.  I then move up my foot, to the middle of my sole pad, then I curl my toes tightly, making my pads bunch up, pressing the toes of my paws in hard, holding my foot tight in my paws.  While holding my foot in my paws, my toes curled tightly, I stretch my toes, holding my foot in my paws, pressing my toes into the stretching skin.  Like this.”  Indigo did as he’d described, pressing the toes of his paws into the bunched pads of his right hind foot, curling his toes and stretching them.

       “Massage your foot from heels to toes all the way.  Then, as you reach the top of your foot by your toes, press the soft skin gently at the top of your foot by the root of your toes with the toes of one paw.  that bit is sensitive, and can give much pleasure.”

        “I know Indigo,”  Patch replied smiling.  Indigo looked at his brother, seeing patch holding his own right hind foot in his paws.

        “You have been following my instructions haven’t you,”  indigo said.  Patch smiled and replied that he had:

      “They are accurate and very thorough,”  Patch said.

        “I watched him,”  Jess said, “Indigo, he was thorough and attentive.”

        “I’m glad patch can follow instructions,”  Indigo said, giving his brother his left hind foot.  Patch embraced his brother’s foot, Indigo curling his toes with emotion and pleasure.

        “wow, that feel great!”  Indigo gasped, Patch rubbing the sole of his brother’s left foot, Indigo closing his eyes and breathing deeply.

       “Patch, the pleasure is filling up my foot, and my leg, and soon I’ll explode!”  Indigo gasped, Baako laughing at his words.

       “that is so silly!”  he roared, “it’s silly to say your head will explode.”  Hope crawled up behind Baako, who’d lain down to observe indigo’s demonstration of the foot stretching game.  Hope grabbed Baako’s right hind paw and massaged his pads and toes, Baako growling and mewing with excitement and pleasure.

        “My paw is going to make my head explode!”  Baako mewed.

       “Told you,”  Indigo laughed.  Baako, mewing and purring, lay back, exhausted with emotion and pleasure.

        “I love your paws and feet Indigo,”  Jess said.  Indigo smiled broadly and wiggled the toes of his right hind foot, while Patch embraced and stroked his left hind.

        “wow, if I could curl the whole of my foot up with pleasure I would!”  Indigo laughed, “Patch, your foot massage is so dam good.!”  Patch smiled, tracing his brother’s pads and toes, Indigo bouncing with pleasure.

          “that looks so cute!”  Baako said smiling.

        “It feels so good it’s almost indescribable,”  Indigo said.

       “Describe it as best you can,”  Hope said.  Indigo sighed deeply.

        “I don’t know, I can’t!”  he whimpered, “it’s everything I was told not to do with my feet, but it feels so good!”  Hope laughed merrily and crawled to Indigo’s right hind foot, tickling his toes with her paw, Indigo laughing and curling his toes around Hope’s.

        “I love foot play,”  Indigo said smiling.

        “I’m glad you’re in your right body now,”  Patch said smiling.

       “My feet feel my own now, really my own,”  Indigo said.  Indigo looked at Jess, who grinned at him:

       “I like you,”  she mouthed, Indigo grinning.

       “now shall we look at other games?”  Indigo asked.

       “So there’s stretching feet, what else?”  patch asked.

        “the stuck foot game,”  Indigo said smiling, “that’s a role play game, Patch, you know this game better than most I think.”

      “I do,”  Patch said smiling, “but I’m sure you and jess could demonstrate this game for us?”

         “I’d like to,”  jess replied, moving to sit opposite Indigo, who waited for her to sit opposite him, then smiling, he pressed his feet against Jess’s and curled his toes around hers.

        “You two have played before!”  Baako said in an accusatory tone, “jess, you and indigo know each other’s feet don’t you!”

      “I just like the touch of her feet on mine,”  Indigo said, “you know, instant communication, that sort of thing.”

        “Would you check my feet for thorns?”  jess asked Indigo.

       “I will,”  Indigo said.  He picked up Jess’s right foot, cradling it in his cupped left paw, and began pressing her toes, the ball of her foot, the sole of her foot and her heel pad with his right paw.

       “No thorns in this foot,”  Indigo said, blowing into Jess’s toes, making her squeal with laughter.

        “You tickled my toes you rogue!”  she laughed.

        “Shall I tickle the toes on your left foot to make things even?”  Indigo asked.

       “yes please,”  Jess replied.  Indigo smiled at jess, his eyes shining.

         “if he doesn’t like her, I’m a mongoose,”  Snowdrop mumbled.

       “He can’t like her, she’s human!”  Ekaterina whispered to Patch.

        “I think they do like each other,”  Patch replied gently.

        “they can’t!”  Ekaterina whispered harshly, “think of the offspring, it wound’s work Patch!”

       “shut it Ekaterina!”  Patch hissed.

        “it won’t work,”  Ekaterina grunted.

        “let’s show them how to play the stuck foot game,”  jess said to Indigo, who grinned at her.

       “Let’s,”  he replied gently..

        “It won’t work,”  Ekaterina said, “you and jess couldn’t mate Indigo.”

       “Who says we want to do that?”  Indigo asked.

         “I thought, well,”  Ekaterina replied, “what with Jess’s admiration for your looks and all, you’d be, well, wanting to, uh, um,,,”

       “Play with her hind feet?  Let her tickle my toes and trace my pads, get my feet hopelessly stuck to hers so we’re playing the stuck foot game for an hour each round?  Yes, I’d go with that,”  Indigo said.

      “Um, oh, yes, that,”  Ekaterina babbled.

        “Your hind feet are so interesting Indigo,”  jess said.

        “and yours too,”  Indigo said.

        “did you two meet by the paw, as it were?”  Baako asked.

       “We did,”  jess said, “I was paired with Indigo during a play session, and we got tickling each other’s toes, then chasing each other and catching each other’s feet.  After that we talked a little, and I found I liked him.  Though he was not called Indigo then of course.  Now I love him even more because of his cute feet and paws.”

       “That’s sweet,”  Patch said.

         “they can’t mate, They can’t!”  Ekaterina hissed.

       “They won’t.”  Patch replied.

        “Your feet are exciting Jess,”  Indigo said, pressing Jess’s heel, sole and toes with his left forepaw.

       “Your soles are smooth and well padded jess,”  Indigo said.  jess smiled and curled her toes, Indigo massaging the ball of her left foot until she uncurled and stretched her toes.

        “Cute,”  Indigo said, Jess grinning.

        “Indigo is flat footed compared to Wilfred, who has real grippe hind feet!”  Koda said, “Wilfred is a young bear I met in the woods today, and we played with each other’s hind feet, and his hind feet have deeper gaps in the pads on the insides of his feet.”

        “I like Wilfred,”  Indigo said, “I’ve played with him often, he came in as an honorary cub for a bit, and our feet stick well together when we play.”

         “they do,”  Wilfred said, padding in and hugging Indigo.

         “You tickled my toes so much I nearly cried with laughter,”  Wilfred said.

       “You have lovely feet and paws Wilfred,”  Indigo replied smiling.

        “your toes curled round mine, you have big feet Indigo,”  Wilfred replied.

         “I think we should spend time exploring each other’s feet before we play the stuck foot game,”  Jess said.

        “So who will play the winner of the game between you and Indigo jess?”  Wilfred asked.

      “As there’s no real winner in that game, how if you play Indigo after we finish our game?”  Jess replied.

       “Sounds good,”  Wilfred said.  Indigo looked at the sole of Jess’s right foot, seeing light pink skin on the soft arch of her foot, and darker skin on her heel, the ball of her foot and her toes.

        “You have cute hind feet jess,”  indigo said, jess curling her toes tightly with pleasure as Indigo stroked her heel.

         “that feels great,”  she said.

          “Will you ever get on with playing the stuck foot game?”  Baako said impatiently.

       “half the excitement is in the paw play before the game,”  Sushanti said.

        “the game itself is great too,”  Jess replied, “Indigo and I have very compatible hind feet.”

         “my feet and yours do stick together easily,”  Indigo agreed.

         “it took me and Indigo an hour to free our feet yesterday,”  Wilfred said smiling.

       “We did, your pads were really keen yesterday,”  Indigo said laughing, “which is not a bad thing in my book, it made me curl my toes tight with concentration.”

        “Curling your toes trapped mine, I couldn’t free my feet!”  Wilfred said laughing, “you tried to give me room by making your pads bunch up, but caught my toes with yours in the process of bunching your pads.”

       “Sorry about that,”  Indigo said, “my toes are known to curl a little enthusiastically.”

       “My wish was to free my feet, but when you curled your toes round mine, I suddenly didn’t want to,”  Wilfred replied a little cubbishly.

         “our struggle was very real to us wasn’t it,”  Indigo said gently to Wilfred, setting jess’s foot on the ground and crawling to Wilfred.  Indigo looked the younger bear over, from his nose to the pads of his hind feet.  Wilfred watched Indigo’s eyes, then felt indigo’s  paws tracing the pads of his left hind foot, Wilfred unable to stop his toes curling tightly, his pads bunching up.

          “I’ll watch you two playing the stuck foot game,”  jess said, “indigo, you and I can play tonight if you will.”  Indigo smiled and nodded.

       “We will,”  he replied.

 

Indigo and Wilfred sat opposite each other pressing their feet together.  Wilfred saw his toes only reached as far as the bottom of Indigo’s toes, and remembering what the larger bear had said about that part of his foot being sensitive, and giving him much pleasure, Wilfred pressed his toes into the soft fleshy pad at the base of Indigo’s toes, the larger black bear curling his toes tightly round Wilfred’s in response.

       “I like your touch Wilfred,”  Indigo said.

        “I like yours too,”  Wilfred replied smiling.  Indigo smiled and released his grip on Wilfred’s toes, the younger bear drawing his toes gently down the sole of Indigo’s foot, Indigo curling and stretching his toes as Wilfred stroked his foot with the toes of his own smaller foot.

        “That’s so cute,”  jess said smiling.

        “I thought so,”  Indigo replied laughing.  Wilfred grabbed Indigo’s left hind foot and tickled the sole of his foot from just below his toes, right down to his heel, Indigo falling backwards, waving his paws in the air and laughing throughout.

         “I love that!”  Indigo said, then smiling, he drew up his hind feet and grabbed them in his paws, rubbing his tickled pads with his paws.

        “You do look cute,”  Wilfred said.

        “Good,”  Indigo replied, kicking the air with his hind feet, Wilfred catching indigo’s right hind foot, tickling the bear’s large toes.

       “Oi you, paws off!”  indigo whimpered, curling his toes to trap Wilfred’s tickling ones.

        “you got me!”  Wilfred yelped.

       “Knew I could,”  Indigo replied smiling.

        “I love your touch,”  Wilfred said.  smiling, indigo released the hold the toes of his hind foot had on Wilfred’s paw.

         “Let’s play the stuck foot game properly now,”  Indigo said.  Wilfred pressed his toes into the ball pads of Indigos feet, the larger bear smiling and curling his toes with pleasure.

        “I think we are really stuck now,”  indigo said.

       “I think your feet like mine,”  Wilfred said.

        “now explore your right hind foot with your paws and find a gap to fit the toes of your left forepaw into.”  Wilfred explored, and found the gap.  Gently feeling inside with his paw, he explored down towards his heel, finding indigo’s heel pressed hard against his.

         “I’ll lever away at my heel, you tug with your paws,”  Wilfred said.  the two bears worked gently but firmly for ten minutes, Patch crawling over to get paws on with what his brother and Wilfred were doing.  Wilfred wriggled and tugged at his right hind foot, roaring and gasping with effort and anxiety at his position.

       “My foot’s stuck, I can’t free it!”  Wilfred yelped.

        “I’ll curl my toes a bit, then maybe you’ll have just a little more room,”  Indigo said.  Indigo curled his toes a little, and Wilfred felt instant easing in the pressure on his foot.  Working at the pads of his own right hind foot, Wilfred felt the toes of his left paw slip easily between the pads of his right hind foot and indigo’s left hind.  Pressing hard into indigo’s pads with his toes, Wilfred slipped a corner of the rug he was sitting on between his and Indigo’s heel pads to stop them sticking again, indigo closing his eyes with intense emotions.

         “it’s lovely this,”  Indigo said.

        “I know this is all role play, but it is wonderful to play with you,”  Wilfred said smiling.  Indigo tugged at his left hind foot, pulling his foot free of Wilfred’s with a yell of effort.

         “Now for the other feet,”  Wilfred gasped.  Indigo worked at his right hind foot, separating his foot from Wilfred’s right hind with gentle care.

        “Now, now let’s check each other’s hind feet over,”  Indigo said.  Wilfred smiled and sighed with contentment as Indigo’s paws cradled his right foot with gentle care.

        “I like your pads Wilfred,”  Indigo said, Wilfred giggling with delight. 

        “I like you playing with my hind feet,”  Wilfred replied.  Indigo got to his feet and stretched luxuriously.

        “now I’m off to bathe,”  Indigo yawned.  Padding to the bathroom adjoining the lie up, Indigo found the tub occupied by a large grey bear.  To begin with Indigo thought it was Patch, but the bear’s eyes focused on him, which Patch’s could no longer do.

         “What’s your name?”  Indigo asked, “you aren’t a community bear are you?”

       “No,”  the bear replied, “I was brought here by Kuruk, one of your family I think.  Kuruk left me to bathe here, and said someone would be along soon.”

       “I thought you were my half brother at first,”  Indigo said, “but he is blind, and you were clearly making eye contact with me, which he sadly cannot now do.”

       “I am sorry,”  the grey bear replied, lifting one very well padded paw to rub his nose.”

          “I was accosted by a half grown silver coated bear cub,”  the grey bear continued, “she checked my paws and feet for thorns, washed my paws clean and examined them again.  Who was she?”

       “That was Sooleawa, she loves paws and feet,”  Indigo said smiling, “she’s appointed herself clean foot and paw police.”

       “You let her examine the paws and hind feet of everyone here?”  the grey bear asked.

       “She isn’t obtrusive,”  Indigo said smiling, “did she make you feel reassured?”

       “She did, she was gentle, though her asking me if she could examine my feet and paws before I entered the house was a little disconcerting, but was pleasurable when she got paws on.”  Indigo smiled broadly.

       “Sooleawa loves paws and feet,”  he said, “she enjoys playing with cubs, tickling their toes and pads.”

        “She has soft paws and made me feel like a cub when she examined my hind feet with her paws, I wanted to curl my toes so tightly as she explored the pads of each of my hind feet with her paws!”  Indigo smiled broadly, his eyes shining.

        “She makes me laugh,”  he said, “but her point is valid, her sire is Patch, and she supposes that as his focus is paws and feet, as he can’t see with his eyes, hers should be similarly so, though she does use her eyes too.”

        “Hi,”  Sita said, padding into the room, “what’s going on in here?”

        “oooah, the grey bear exclaimed, his eyes staring at Sita, “she’s beautiful!”

         “What?”  Sita asked, “are you talking about me?”

       “I am dear lady, I am!”  the grey bear gabbled.

        “me? Beautiful?”  Sita asked, “muddy fur, black spots on my face, stripes on my back, a banded tail? You like that?”

        “No, I mean yes, I mean, oh dear, it wasn’t your fur I saw first!”  the grey bear babbled.

        “Tell me what you saw,”  Sita said, padding up to the edge of the bathtub.

        “Your eyes, your oh dear!”  the bear babbled, Sita touching his paw with hers.

        “Oaoaoaoaow!”  the grey bear whimpered, Sita laughing merrily now she knew what he was really feeling.

        “Now what can I do for you?”  Sita asked.

       “”give birth to my cubs?”  the bear blurted, Sita shrieking with laughter.

        “You are so funny!”  she roared.

        “I want you to be the mother of my cubs!”  the newcomer blurted.

       “I can’t be, well not yet, we don’t know each other, I don’t even know your name silly!”

       “It’s Moonshadow, or just Shadow for short,”  the bear blurted, “now, now can we, um, please?”

        “No!”  Sita snapped, half laughing, “you are desperate aren’t you Moonshadow.”

       “Sorry,”  Moonshadow said contritely.  Sita smiled and leant down, clumsily kissing the bear’s nose.

        “Get to know me better, and you might see me deliver your cubs,”  Sita purred.

        “I’ll seek you slowly,”  Moonshadow said smiling.

       “Moonshadow and I were talking, Kuruk showed him in here,”   Indigo said.

        “Right, good,”  Sita replied smiling.

       “I was talking to Tiguak earlier,”  Sita replied, “I think she’s close to having her cubs.

        “I am,”  Tiguak replied, padding in, “little contractions at the moment, Sita, have you seen patch?  I want him to help me deliver my cubs, or at least to be there, get paws on, you too, paws on too.”

         “I’ll find him,”  Sita said, touching Tiguak’s paw, feeling her anxiety.       “You’ll be okay,”  Sita said.  Tiguak looked anxiously at Indigo.

        “If I have to get in the water, will you help?”  she asked.  Indigo smiled and nodded.

       “I will,”  he replied.

       “ow, aoooooow!”  Tiguak groaned, crouching and wriggling her backside, then kneeling and sitting back on her heels, driving them into her backside.

      “uah, uah, uuuuush!”  Tiguak moaned.  Indigo examined Tiguak from her expressive face with closed eyes and open panting mouth, to her wriggling body and her paws gripping the floor with desperate toes, then her hind feet, her black pads bunching, with tightly curling toes.

         “I want to stroke her,”  Indigo thought.

         “Stroke my paws, my feet, my back,”  Tiguak gasped, “my life has been a public event ever since I was born, so I don’t see the birth of my cubs should be any different.  Indigo got paws on, stroking Tiguak’s back, then her ears, then gently, the pads and toes of her right hind foot, while Tiguak panted and bounced about with discomfort.

        “That’s great, it’s great, I like your touch Indigo, oooooooaoaoaoah!”  Tiguak whimpered.

         “Patch will be along in a minute,”  Indigo said.

         “I don’t know if I want him exclusively,”  Tiguak replied, “I would love it if anyone who can’t see me could get paws on with me, but then the ones who can see me won’t be able to see me.”

        “Maybe we can give everyone the experience of how your pads and everything feels,”  Sita said, “I’ve been thinking, how would it be if I got paws on, I have sensitive paws, the sensations I feel could be transmitted to those who can’t see what’s happening?”

      “So your paws become everyone’s paws?”  Indigo asked.

      “yes,”  Sita replied, “I will explore everything Tiguak lets me explore, my paws transmitting what they feel to the paws of others, and maybe then everyone will know.”

         “So others can be the canvas on which your paws paint the picture of Tiguak’s labour and the birth of her cubs?”  Indigo asked.

       “yes,”  Patch replied padding in, “Lilly could be the canvas for Ekaterina, you indigo could help Freckles, anyone who could follow what Tiguak was doing, crawling, sitting back on her heels, could copy her actions, but what the one getting paws on would feel would be what Sita was feeling beneath her paws.”

       “Can we make it so those helping those who can’t see things follow Tiguak’s movements?”  Sita asked, her mind building the picture in her head that she’d most want.

       “yes,”  Patch replied, “it would need the consent of those who are taking part, but it would mean that everyone whether they could see things or not, could experience Tiguak’s cub’s birth.”

        “Try it with me Patch,”  Indigo said, “Sita, get paws on with Tiguak, and patch, get paws on with me now.”  patch and Sita did, and Indigo found himself crawling round the room as Tiguak did, sitting back on his heels, curling his toes, beating the ground with his paws and rolling about.  The only thing he didn’t do was moan and yell, for Tiguak’s voice could be broadcast to those who couldn’t be with her.  while this was going on, Patch could feel Tiguak’s fur and pads beneath his paws when he touched Indigo’s fur and paw pads.

        “That’s great,”  patch said, Indigo smiling.

       “and I get to feel almost how it is to deliver a cub.”  he said.

        “Not entirely,”  ?Tiguak replied panting, “you don’t feel the pain or the urge to push do you?”

       “No,”  Indigo replied, “I do feel a need to crawl about, roll around and curl my toes though.  It’s uncontrollable.”

         “That’s good,”  Tiguak replied.  Tiguak suddenly curled into a ball, covered her mouth with her paws, drew  up her hind legs, curled the toes of both hind feet and screamed, Indigo directed to do the same by the link he had with Tiguak’s body.  Patch felt Indigo’s paws, his curled body, his curled toes, and his open mouth.      

 “I have an urge to do these things,”  Indigo panted, “it’s not pain, it’s just an uncontrollable urge to imitate what Tiguak is doing with her body.”

        “I want to push now!”  Tiguak yelled, straining deeply into her tail while stretched out on the floor.  Meanwhile, Moonshadow, who had a floor level view of goings on, focused on Tiguak’s curling toes, pedalling paws and bunching pads.