Samson led the group back from the wood, Honeyfur and Percy badger leading. In the main part of the house, Honeyfur turned to Samson.
“We badgers have been watching the community for long time,” she said, “Percy and me want come into community.” Samson looked into the sow badger’s brown eyes.
“You can stay,” the lion said, “could I ask you and your people to keep an eye on Nuru too?” Honeyfur looked at Nuru, who was standing a little behind and to one side of Simba, who was paw to paw with Samson.
“Nuru no cause you problems,” she said, “but if he does, we bust his paws.” Samson knew what the badgers could do, and didn’t doubt Honeyfur’s words.
“I won’t cause any problems!” Nuru mewed.
“You’d better not!” Aslan snapped, “I saw what happened out there, and I think Rowena’s stupid! She’s so gullible!”
“No Aslan,” Simba mewed, “I don’t think she is. Not after Baingana’s antics. She’s more careful now.” Aslan spat on the carpet.
“I don’t trust her abilities,” he snapped.
“Do you think Rowena would let a lion like Nuru into our midst if she wasn’t sure of his intentions?” Tess tigress asked.
“No,” Aslan mewed, “well I hope she wouldn’t.” Simba walloped Aslan with his paw.
“Rowena’s got more talent in her tail than you have in your entire body you horrid animal!” Aslan flinched at Simba’s tone.
“I forgot you are her brother,” Aslan mewed. Simba growled at him and cuffed him with his paw.
“You look exhausted Nuru,” fleur said. Nuru looked at her. He knew this cat as the one who’d patched up Afua after the ill fainted attempt to overthrow the leaders of the community.
“I am tired,” Nuru yawned, “I need sleep, but I can’t sleep here, I’m not safe, not really.” Fleur could understand Nuru’s anxiety.
“You can sleep,”
fleur mewed, “noone will hurt you here.
The physical punishment is over.
It’s down to you now to show us you’re not going to hurt us, not the
other way round...” Nuru looked round
the room at Samson, Simba, Rowena,
“Where can I sleep?” Nuru asked.
“You can use Clarence’s old lie up,” fleur mewed, “I’ll show you where it is.”
“Fleur,” Nuru asked as they padded up the stairs to the first floor, “Tigress Tess said something about showing me the births of her cubs, how can she do this?”
“We’ve got cameras all over this place,” fleur mewed. There were signs all over the place, so it wasn’t a secret, “we saw you in the wood too, though we didn’t see Rowena talking to you before the badgers got you. She was careful not to let us see that.”
“So you can see me wherever I go in the house or in the wood?” Nuru asked.
“Yes,” fleur replied, “we can hear you too, microphones you see?” Nuru slapped his paw on the carpet.
“I forgot!” He said, “yes, that’s how Hop along first found us in the wood when we were coming to attack you!” Fleur smiled:
“Yes,” she said. Nuru entered Clarence’s former lie up and lay down on the soft rugs. He knew he’d not get any sleep that night.
“If, if I need to relieve myself in the night, what do I do? This place is so clean and tidy, and you are clean people too.” Fleur showed him the facilities on his floor, Nuru marvelling at the shower and the other amenities.
“I love the paw bath,” Nuru mewed, stepping in and letting the water wash over the pads of all four paws.
“It’s nice isn’t it,” fleur agreed, thinking of how Tigger enjoyed just standing in the bath with the water covering his paws. Nuru unselfconsciously made use of the facilities, and then followed fleur back to the lie up. Settling down, Nuru could not calm his mind enough to sleep, though his body wanted to collapse. Fleur took his paw in hers:
“I know you can’t sleep,” fleur said to Nuru as she held his paw in hers.
“You can tell that?” The lion asked.
“Yes,” fleur mewed.
“I’m so anxious about my safety here,” he mewed, “I can understand other community members wanting to beat me up after all I’ve done, but the leadership say that’s all over. Please fleur; can you give me something to make me sleep?”
“The sleep you need is not one by drugs,” fleur mewed, “You need your mind calming enough to let you sleep.”
A familiar scuffing sound made Nuru look down. There, crawling across the carpet towards him came his eldest cub. Nuru stretched out his paws and gathered her close to him.
“Now I can sleep well,” Nuru mewed, kissing the cub’s nose and paws. Little Tess smiled and curled up against |Nuru’s warm body.
“That cub’s only a week old Nuru,” fleur mewed, “I don’t know if tigress Tess will let you keep her with you all night, the cub needs regular milk. These cubs are feeding four times a day, and sometimes at night.” Nuru wasn’t listening, his whole attention being on the little cub curled up beside him. Crying, Nuru hugged little Tess as tightly as he dared.
“I love you little one,” Nuru mewed, his tears wetting the cub’s head and back.
“Your tears are soaking me!” The cub mewed. Nuru, unable to stop crying, put the cub down and covered his face with his paws.
“I know I have no say in what happens to this cub,” Nuru wept, “but I love her all the same, is that wrong? She keeps coming to me too; I don’t ask it of her. Surely Tess must see that the cub wants to be near me?” Little Tess cuddled up to Nuru, loving his warmth.
“I like this,” little Tess mewed. Nuru began to purr, his mind soothed.
“I could get used to this,” little Tess mewed, curling up into the warmth of Nuru’s embrace.
“Enjoy your time with her Nuru,” Fleur mewed.
“What is that supposed to mean?” Nuru asked.
“I mean that Tess might not want her cub to stay with you for a long time,” Fleur mewed. Nuru sighed heavily, for he knew he really had no right to associate with little Tess. Even though he’d sired her, she wasn’t his cub. She was Tess and Leo’s cub, and that was that. Nuru remembered Rowena telling him of the births of the liger cubs. She’d said that Leo was very gentle with tigress Tess throughout her labour.
“I’m dead on my paws,” fleur mewed, “I must get some sleep.” Padding from the room, fleur wondered if Nuru’s peace would last.
Nuru, exhausted beyond words, but fearing for his safety, slept badly that night, so that when morning came, he was heavy eyed and clumsy pawed from lack of sleep.
“You look half dead Nuru,” Fleur remarked as the exhausted lion padded from his lie up. Almost falling over his own paws, Nuru mumbled something about being too frightened for his own safety to sleep.
“Go back to bed,” fleur said, “lie down and I’ll see to you in a minute.” Nuru stumbled back into his lie up, collapsing on the rugs in an exhausted heap. Fleur came into the lie up, lay down beside Nuru and began stroking his left forepaw. Nuru, confused and weary beyond sense, felt peace stealing up on him from the paw in contact with Fleur’s. Nuru knew he would not be able to fight whatever Fleur was intending for him, so he put his life in her paws and awaited events. What Nuru felt was warmth spreading all over his body starting from his left forepaw. Then he relaxed completely, Fleur’s attention transferring to his other forepaw. Nuru hugged the sensation to him, basking in it, loving the warmth and peace.
“Do what you want to do Nuru,” fleur mewed. Nuru relaxed his body and closed his eyes. Breathing deeply, he drifted into a deep sleep. Fleur left him after an hour, Nuru breathing steadily and deeply.
Nuru woke slowly, not sure what had woken him. Yawning, he opened his eyes, shook his mane out, and then tried to flex the toes of each paw. Finding the toes of his left fore hard to move, he looked down to see little Tess holding onto his paw with both her tiny forepaws. Her grip was fierce, and Nuru found it comforting.
“You weren’t here when I went to sleep,” Nuru thought. Kissing the top of her head, he realised the cub was asleep.
“I love you little Tess,” Nuru whispered. The tiny cub mewed and shifted slightly, Nuru not sure if she’d heard his words. The peace was shattered when tigress Tess stormed in, her face telling Nuru of her anxiety and anger which were both about to boil over.
“Where’s little Tess!” The tigress screamed.
“I’m here mum,” the cub yawned. Tess snatched her cub from Nuru’s side, the cub squealing with anger!
“Mum, I was safe!” Little Tess spat. Tigress Tess cuffed her cub and then turned on Nuru.
“You stole my cub!” She yelled.
“I was asleep!” Nuru protested.
“I went to him mum,” little Tess mewed.
“Why?” Tess Asked, “what has he done for you? Why go to him at all?”
“I feel kind of close to him,” Tess replied.
“You don’t know him!” Tigress Tess Yelled, “He won’t protect you if it comes down to it, Leo and I will!”
“I wouldn’t dismiss Nuru that easily Tess,” Rowena said, padding into the lie up.
“Why not?” Tess demanded.
“Your cub knows her sire’s scent, for it is part of her own,” Rowena replied.
“But she knows Leo as her sire, she doesn’t know this cretin!” Tess yelled.
“Don’t deny your cub contact with her family Tess. He’s making the effort to change his ways, so why can’t you let go a little. I don’t think Nuru will hurt his cub.”
“So you’re saying my cub knows Nuru is related to her?” Tess asked.
“Yes,” Rowena said, “how else do cubs that are unable to see their pride members know it is their pride? They use scent. Tess knows Nuru is closely related too. She knows her own scent, and knows yours and now knows Nuru’s. She can put two and two together and make three. It won’t be any secret to her who her real sire is.” Nuru moaned with pain.
“You mean I’ll have to tell her what happened?” He asked.
“Maybe,” Rowena replied.
“You can’t put a cub through that!” Tigress Tess mewed, “I demand Nuru’s immediate expulsion from this community, right now!”
“Little Tess might have put two and two together already,” Nuru groaned, “no cub is going to like a lion who took advantage of a tigress are they.”
“The Nuru who I met two months ago is not the lion I see before me now,” Rowena said, “Despite what you might think Tess, Nuru has changed. Little Tess knows today’s Nuru, not the Nuru you saw in your enclosure at the safari park.”
“Nuru,” Leo said, padding into the lie up, “can I have a word please.” Nuru looked into the funny furred male cat’s eyes, trying to work out whether he was angry or not.
“Yes, okay,” the lion said, trying not to show Leo this shaking paws.
“What do you want to talk about?” Nuru asked, though he thought he already knew.
“Our, well, mine and Tess’s cubs.”
“What about them?” Nuru asked, trying not to let emotion into his manner.
“I think little Tess is making a big mistake,” Leo said, “I don’t want her or Little Leo anywhere near you at the moment. Tess agrees with me on this one.”
“But the cub came to me Leo, I was lying in the wood when she came to me, and it was Tess who told the badgers to release my paws so I could hug my cub! And in the lie up today, I woke to find little Tess holding my paw in both of hers. I might not be an expert on paw massage and play like you lot are, but I know what I felt then! The cub was happy in my company; she even said so to her mother!!”
“Just leave my family alone,” Leo said firmly, “it’s too early for paws on stuff, especially in your case.” Nuru turned tail, trying not to choke on tears rolling down his nose. His chest tight and breath short, he stumbled away. Distraught, Nuru stumbled along the passage and failed to see the stairs, tumbling down them a horrendous crash! The sound brought fleur out of her lie up, to find Nuru lying prostrate at the bottom of the staircase. She quickly checked him over, but found no broken bits. Leo joined her a minute later.
“Is he dead?” Leo asked. Fleur looked sharply at her Son cub.
“No, he’s just knocked out. Why he didn’t see the stairs I can’t guess. Why did you ask if he was dead Leo? Do I detect you feeling threatened by Nuru?”
“Nuru’s muscled his way into the lives of mine and Tess’s cubs!” Leo yelled, “I can’t be expected just to let our eldest cub associate with someone who violated her mother!”
“Maybe not Leo,” fleur said, “but you wish him dead don’t you?” This was a statement. Leo cursed fleur.
“Dam you mum! I hate you!”
“I thought as much,” fleur said, cradling Nuru’s head as he began to come round.
“Dam your powers; dam your paws, your ears, eyes and tail!” Leo yelled.
“I do every day,” fleur mewed. Leo stopped dead.
“What?” Leo asked.
“I hate myself Leo,” fleur mewed, “in fact the only thing that keeps me going is what I can do for others. I’m very good at keeping my own feelings about myself hidden. I hate my looks, my paws, my tail, everything.” Leo stared at his mum.
“Your tail is okay, so are your paws!” Leo said, fleur almost could see her cub back pedalling.
“How about the rest of her faculties?” Nuru asked, “Leo, I heard all you said to your mum.”
“I’m sorry mum,” Leo said, “I didn’t mean what I said; it was in the heat of the moment.”
“I can’t believe what you said!” Nuru yelled, “Leo, your mum’s paws are wonderful!”
“But you called me a thing!” Leo yelled.
“Give me your paws and I’ll reconsider,” Nuru said. Leo realised what Nuru had experienced. Leo looked into Nuru’s face. The lion looked back at him with a message that was unmistakable.
“I don’t want war any more, I’m weary of that,” Nuru said.
“I’m sorry, I must go,” Leo mewed, trying to run away. Rowena stopped him.
“You made Nuru fall down the stairs,” she mewed. I know you and he had words about the liger cubs.” Leo stared at the white lioness.
“Not you as well!” He yelled, “I admit I wanted Nuru dead when he fell down the stairs, “but now all I want is to be left in peace!”
“That’s all Nuru wants, and if it hadn’t been for you ignoring what your eyes were telling you, he still would be at peace,” Rowena said. “Despite all that’s happened to tigress Tess, you can’t blame her cubs for wanting to be with their own family Leo. Nuru did nothing to harm his cubs. Let them go to him. We all need a pride Leo, even Nuru does. The only pride he’s got is his cubs, and letting him see them from time to time isn’t hard is it?” Leo mumbled that he supposed it wasn’t hard, and that he would try not to get angry with Nuru every time little Tess was found in his lie up.
“Little Tess knows nothing of this,” Rowena mewed, “all she wants is for you to stop beating up the poor lion.” Leo knew Rowena’s last words were a direct quote from his eldest cub.
“Little Tess feels something for Nuru doesn’t she,” Leo said.
“Are you telling me you’ve only just noticed?” Rowena asked.
“I suppose, well, I’ve denied it until now,” Leo mewed. Rowena slammed her paw into the carpet.
“Little Tess crawling up to her sire in the wood, rather than going to her mother, then the cub finding her way to Nuru’s lie up when fleur was talking to him last night, then a third time when he’d found his way to the lie up after his awful night’s sleep. Little Tess was there all that time for one reason. Because she wanted to be with her family Leo! It’s her leonine side telling her she wants to be with the leader of her pride. I can’t believe you fail to see this!” Leo knew he’d messed things up.
“I will try to remember that little Tess doesn’t worry about how she came into the world,” Leo mewed, “but I worry! I know how she was made!”
“But she doesn’t care about it!” Rowena said exasperatedly, “all little Tess knows is that a member of her family is here and she wants to go to him. She now knows that when she does go to him she’s hugged and loved, so she goes more often. Nuru can’t help loving his cubs Leo. I know you want him to disappear, but he won’t!”
“You let him in here, you are his sponsor in all this Rowena,” Leo said, “what do you see for him in the future?”
“I don’t know,” Rowena mewed, “but what I do see is that he is becoming a gentler lion than the Nuru I met in the wood two months ago. He’s a changed lion Leo!”
Leo stormed back to his lie up. Rowena was about to leave when Nuru touched her paw with his. Rowena looked into the eyes of a groggy lion.
“Can we talk Rowena?” Nuru asked. Rowena took Nuru to her lie up, where they met Simba. The male white lion took one look at Nuru and settled him on his own rug.
“We know what happened,” Simba mewed, “Leo has no right to bar you from seeing your cubs. Little Tess is crazy about you, anyone can see that.”
“Anyone but Leo and tigress Tess,” Nuru mewed. Fleur padded into the lie up, lay down, took one of Nuru’s forepaws in hers and began to stroke it. Nuru purred softly, the sound soothing Rowena and Simba.
“That’s what I want to hear,” fleur mewed, kissing Nuru’s nose. Nuru focused his mind on his paws, loving every minute of Fleur’s attention. Fleur felt hard pads, tense toes and the thoughts of a worried lion. She could not unscramble his mind, though she could try to help soothe his body.
“Let yourself go Nuru,” fleur mewed, “you’re completely safe here, noone will harm you while you’re in this lie up.” Simba and Rowena placed their paws on Nuru’s shoulder and flank, in an effort to reassure him.
“Now try to relax,” Rowena mewed. Nuru tried hard to forget Leo and his views on him, but he couldn’t.
“I just want my cubs with me!” Nuru sobbed.
“You can have your cubs round you Nuru,” fleur mewed. Nuru wept into her fur.
“I have felt my cub’s paws holding mine fleur, and I want it again, I love my cub!” Nuru screamed. Rowena wiped her eyes with her paw, feeling his emotion keener than anyone.
“How about if you feel your cub‘s paws holding yours now?” A tiny voice said. Nuru looked down at the sound, to see little Tess looking up at him from bluish newly opened eyes.
“Little Tess, dear sweet cub!” Nuru wept.
“So now I know what my sire looks like,” she mewed. Nuru let little Tess have access to his left forepaw, the cub taking it in both her tiny ones and squeezing hard, her touch making Nuru catch his breath. Nuru wanted nothing more, he had contact with one of his cubs, and he was now happy.
“Mum and Leo won’t stop me from coming to you whenever I want to,” little Tess mewed. Nuru kissed her nose, then, as she rolled over, he caught sight of the soles of four of the most beautiful paws he thought he’d ever seen. Nuru kissed the pads of all four of little Tess’s tiny paws, the cub laughing merrily at her sire’s actions.
“I loved that,” little Tess mewed.
“Don’t let your mum or Leo know I’ve kissed your paw pads,” Nuru mewed, “they’d go crazy.”
“I would like you to do it again,” the cub mewed. Nuru, gulping back tears, again kissed little Tess’s paw pads, one by one, and slower than the first time he’d done it. The cub purred as she felt the huge lion’s bottomless love for her.
“Can I kiss your nose and paw pads Nuru?” Little Tess asked. Nuru, stroking her belly with his huge left forepaw, smiled down at his cub.
“I’ll have to help you lift my paws, but yes, I’d like that,” he mewed, rolling onto his side.
“What the hell’s going on here?” Leo asked, padding into the lie up.
“Just watch,” Rowena said softly. Nuru forced himself to concentrate on little Tess and ignore Leo’s presence. Lowering his head, Nuru felt little Tess’s whiskers brushing his in a leonine kiss. Then the cub tried to lift his left forepaw, Nuru helping her, turning his paw sideways so she could kiss his pads, which little Tess did. Leo watched in apoplectic fury as Nuru let little Tess kiss the pads of his right forepaw too. Then she crawled to his hind paws and kissed the pads of both hind paws too. Nuru felt his cub’s tiny paws on the soles of his hind paws, and curled his toes round her tiny ones, making her laugh delightedly. Once this was done, Nuru rolled onto his back, letting his cub clamber over his body in a way Leo knew well. His paws tense and toes curled into the carpet, Leo fought to control his rage!
“I can’t watch this any more Rowena, don’t force me to,” he said harshly. Leo tore at the carpet with his toes, ripping chunks out with his unsheathed claws as he lifted each of his paws from the carpet. Fleur heard ripping as Leo’s claws ripped the carpet to bits in his anger.
”you won’t hear the last of this Nuru, I hate you!” Leo screamed.
“You won’t break our bond Leo,” little Tess mewed. Leo then made a near fatal mistake. He swiped at little Tess with his paw. Nuru In a flash of roaring, snarling anger, leapt to his paws! Leo realised he’d unleashed a force he couldn’t control, and fled! Nuru chased him down the Passage, roaring and growling. Leo pounded into Samson’s lie up, the huge lion turning as he heard Leo’s entrance.
“What the hell’s going on?” Samson asked. Leo couldn’t answer; he just put Samson between himself and Nuru’s raging fury.
“Watch your Cameras Samson, watch them, go on! Watch them!” Nuru yelled, his eyes maddened.
“Why should I?” Samson asked.
“So you know why I’m about to kill that bloody heap of dirty brown spotty fur!” Nuru screamed, jabbing his paw at Leo.
“Okay,” Samson said, making calming motions with his left forepaw. Getting on the phone to Allie, he reviewed the footage from Simba’s lie up. Samson went through a series of emotions and the conflict in his mind regarding Nuru was heightened.
“I can see you love little Tess Nuru,” Samson said when he’d finished viewing the video, “but you shouldn’t really have leapt at Leo. He’s been good to your cub, and you should respect that. Leo didn’t mean to hurt little Tess, he was just angry with her. You calm down back in your lie up, and then we’ll talk. Nuru looked at fleur, who’d padded into the lie up.
“Leo,” she said, “your life is in great danger. You’ve angered a force even Samson can’t control.” Leo looked horrified!
“You must protect me!” He wailed. Fleur looked at Nuru.
“You really shouldn’t have swiped at little Tess you know,” fleur mewed. Nuru advanced on Leo, Samson staring at fleur in horror!
“You’re sending our cub to his death!” Samson yelled, whipping round on Nuru, fleur stepping deftly on his tail to stop him.
“Leo needs to learn that there is no harm in letting little Tess associate with her sire,” fleur mewed, “and to do this, he must feel the force of Nuru’s anger born of love for his cub!” Nuru beat Leo up, slapping him with his paws, making sure he didn’t break any bones or cause any major damage. Two minutes later, Nuru left off, the attack having been quick and full of noise and fury. Nuru ran away to tend to his cub, which he’d left with Simba and Rowena. Leo mewed and cried with pain and humiliation.
“How could you let him do that to me?” Leo complained to fleur.
“I told you not to separate Nuru and little Tess Leo. I told you last night that if you tried to drive a wedge between them, you’d regret it! Nuru needs to show his anger towards you for what you were trying to do to him and his cub!”
“The punishment is just and carried out fully,” Samson mewed, “this matter is dealt with. Just learn from your mistakes Leo. Little Tess wanted to be with her sire, and he was not abusing or putting her in danger, so you should have let her go with him.”
Back in Simba and Rowena’s lie up, little Tess asked Nuru what he’d done with Leo.
“He won’t be causing me any more pain,” Nuru mewed, “don’t worry, I haven’t killed him. I just taught him a lesson with my paws, no claws though. I treated him like a naughty cub. I cuffed him a bit, and he wined and whimpered. There was more noise than force.”
“Your paws are big and strong,” Tess mewed; examining Nuru’s left forepaw, which he’d given her after lying down comfortably.
“Your paw is lovely Nuru,” little Tess mewed.
“All I want to do is be with my cubs!” Nuru sobbed, “Surely that’s not too much to ask?” Little Tess snuggled up to her sire.
“I love you Nuru,” she mewed.
Meanwhile, Theo and Allie watched the cameras. The polar bear smiling at Nuru’s instant need to protect his cub.
“Nuru doesn’t mind if he pisses Leo off,” she mewed, “his only concern is little Tess. I like that.” Theo smiled:
“I know,” he mewed, “Nuru’s like Samson, wild under all that fur. The thing is, Samson knows it.”
Meanwhile, back in Simba and Rowena’s lie up, Nuru settled down with little Tess. The huge lion and tiny liger cub looked strangely serine as they lay together.
“I love Leo, and I love you too,” little Tess mewed to Nuru.
“You should love Leo, and I’ve never tried to stop you from loving him,” Nuru mewed, “I just wanted him to know I would like contact with my cubs.” Little Tess held Nuru’s paw tightly.
“My brother little Leo doesn’t want to see you Nuru,” Little Tess said.
“Who’s to blame this time?” Nuru asked.
“Mum said that he was still born and that you were responsible for that. Leo was the one who resuscitated him. So now little Leo hates you. I don’t know if mum is right in thinking you could have caused my brother’s lifeless birth. Maybe Fleur can tell us.”
“That’s crap, utter bullshit!” Fleur snarled, barrelling in, angry from her whiskers to her paw pads, “who’s been saying that?”
“Mum has told little Leo that Nuru was to blame for his still birth,” little Tess replied. Fleur stormed from the lie up, intent on giving tigress Tess a hiding! Busting into their lie up, fleur found the white tigress asleep. Screaming at her, fleur bullied the groggy tigress to her paws, then knocked her off her paws, tigress Tess collapsing in a whimpering and confused heap.
“What’s going on?” The tigress asked.
“You bitch, you horrid manipulative bitch!” Fleur roared, her voice reverberating off the walls, her tiger heritage showing through.
“What are you on about?” The white tigress asked.
“You told little Leo Nuru was responsible for his problems at birth!” Fleur screeched, “That’s hogwash, total rubbish, and complete bullshit!”
“What’s bullshit?” Little Leo asked.
“Something your mother’s spreading with abundance!” Fleur yelled, smacking tigress Tess across the face with her paw. How hard Fleur’s paws now were. Tigress Tess remembered Leo’s mum’s soft warm paws, but now they were as hard as Nuru’s.
“Leave me alone!” The white tigress yelled.
“You would do well to leave Nuru alone Tess,” fleur mewed, “Leave him and little Tess to find their own way, to do their own thing, and stop spreading your poisonous mental effluent all over the community!”
“Get out, fleur, leave here now!” Tess snarled. Fleur left, not because she was scared of the white tigress, but because she’d said what she wanted to say. Her paws hot and head aching, fleur padded back to her lie up, where Samson took one look at her and patted the rug he was lying on.
“Lie down and I’ll get tea,” he said. Fleur lay down, her head pounding. Samson returned with Tea and cold bandages to wrap Fleur’s paws. Samson also got a cold pack to lie on Fleur’s neck to soothe her headache. Deeply thankful, fleur let Samson wrap each one of her paws, a process he seemed to enjoy as well as take great care over. Once this was done, he laid the cold pack on Fleur’s neck. Fleur breathed deeply, trying to relax her taught muscles and stressed mind. Leo watched Samson’s ministrations and knew his and tigress Tess’s interference with little Tess and Nuru’s relationship had caused his mother’s stress.
“My mum’s not so invincible after all,” he thought, worried about her health. Leo knew how deeply fleur felt the emotions of other creatures, and wondered if she could cope. His mind flicked back to their conversation at the bottom of the main stairs, and he regretted saying what he had. Fleur’s paws were soothing balm to so many community members, including him.
“Drink the tea slowly fleur, don’t gulp it down,” Samson said gently. Fleur did as he advised, and the liquid calmed her.
“You are wonderful to me Samson,” fleur mewed sleepily.
“I love you dear fleur,” Samson mewed. Leo looked at his mum, whose paws were all wrapped in cold bandages. Fleur panted to get rid of heat, her paws sweating beneath the cold bandages.
“Let me bathe you fleur,” Samson said, “that way you’d be cooler.” Samson helped fleur to the bathtub, where he ran water into the tub with his mate in the tub, the cold water flowing over her paws and around her legs. Fleur sat in the water and panted in an attempt to lose heat. Fleur paddled a little, trying to move the water over her paw pads, Samson turning on the spar feature to help her.
“What has caused this?” Samson asked his mate. Fleur, exhausted, mumbled something about her being unable to lose heat from her body due to her thick fur.
“It has been hot today,” Samson mewed, “and you have been stressed more than normal lately.” Fleur paddled with all four paws, her temperature coming down quickly.
“It’s nicer now,” fleur mewed. Samson kissed her nose.
“Your fur isn’t designed to allow you to lose heat quickly,” he said, “and its hot today. The zircon is great here, but sometimes it’s not enough.”
“We can’t help our heritage,” fleur mewed. Samson smiled and kissed Fleur’s nose.
Meanwhile, in Samson and Fleur’s lie up, Leo got to his paws and stumbled out of the lie up and along to Simba and Rowena’s lie up. Limping in, he collapsed onto the floor in front of Nuru.
“What do you want,” Nuru mewed.
“I want, want to talk,” Leo mumbled, his head, body, legs and paws aching horribly. Nuru examined Leo’s paws at close range. Nuru took hold of Leo’s left forepaw and stroked his pads, Leo unable to do anything but relax his paw completely.
“What do you want to talk about?” Nuru asked.
“Us, me, you, our cubs and your access to them,” Leo said, “you violated tigress Tess and now you expect to be allowed to have access to the cubs your forced union produced? Why should I give you access to the cubs when I know you’re a horrid lion?”
“I tried to change,” Nuru mewed, “in the safari park Leo; I lay in my cage one day and thought of Tigress Tess. I’d heard from the birds that she’d had my cubs, and that you’d helped her. I wanted to meet her, to apologise for what I did to her. For after she’d limped away from the park, I lay down and slept some, waking to a feeling of utter worthlessness. I knew I’d messed up my life. I truly wanted to make amends if I could at all do so, and begged a bird to find someone who could help me. Rowena came to me in my lie up and spoke to me, telling me what I’d done to tigress Tess and Baingana. I asked her to help me see what I’d done wrong, and she told me. After nights and nights of talking, I learned of Rowena’s kindness and something of the trials I’d have to go through before I could make amends, if I ever could. Little Tess came to me because she recognised me as her sire, I didn’t ask her to come, and I just want to love her. She and I were enjoying time together when you busted in. You say to me also that tigress Tess wants me to keep away from little Tess. Why doesn’t she keep the cub in the lie up then? Why does she let her leave to come to me?”
“Because I don’t’ want to limit your access to little Tess,” tigress Tess said, “There’s no point, as she will just go to you anyway. Her brother though, he hates you Nuru.”
“It’s only because you told him to hate Nuru that he does,” Rowena mewed. Leo glared at her.
“You’ve been poisoning the minds of these cubs,” Simba mewed, “both of you have told the cubs about their beginnings, and tried to make them hate their sire. Only little Tess ignored the effluent coming from your mouths! She wants to be close to Nuru and he wants her to be close to him, so just leave it!” Nuru covered his face with his paws.
“I want to see my cub’s that’s all!” Nuru mewed. Leo felt the lion’s left forepaw.
“Please Leo; let me show you how I am now!” Nuru begged.
“So you’re telling me you just realised you were a nasty piece of work and wanted to change?” Leo asked.
“I wanted to apologise to tigress Tess,” Nuru mewed.
“Apologise to me then, and make it bloody good!” Tigress Tess said. Nuru took her paw in his and looked into her eyes. The tigress saw immediately that this was a different lion to the one who’d violated her.
“You really are sorry aren’t you,” Tigress Tess said. Nuru looked into the eyes of the tigress he’d violated in a fit of sexually driven rage.
“I can’t express how sorry I am for what I did,” Nuru mewed.
“I can feel you’re remorseful from your nose to your paw pads,” Tess said. Nuru looked into her eyes, then down at little Tess.
“I love your eldest cub,” Nuru mewed, “can you understand that?” Tigress Tess smiled:
“I can,” she replied, “look, I know you’ve changed, you’ve tried so hard to make things better. Now I will let little Tess hug you, and though I can’t undo the damage done to her brother by us, we will let little Tess be as close to you as she wants for as long as she wants.”
“Now are you going to tell Nuru who really told little Leo and Tess all the stories about him?” Simba asked, “Stories of him killing cubs and eating them, stories of him tearing the tails off cubs?” Leo looked down at his paws.
“Tigress Tess told her cubs that Nuru had violated her, but left it at that,” he mewed, “I told them the tales of him killing cubs and eating them, and of him ripping their tails off. They were cautionary tales of a big bad lion who would do anything to get his paws on cubs in order to kill them. I thought I’d never meet the tyrant of the safari park again! I thought he was history, until now. Now I know he’s not, and he’s worse! For he’s after me!”
“I can’t keep ligers from their pride,” Tigress Tess said, “so I didn’t even try. I told my cubs Nuru was a bad lion, but didn’t tell them any more. Leo told stories of Nuru, the big black hearted lion who made little Leo die at birth. I didn’t tell that tale, fleur thought I did, but that wasn’t my doing.”
“I was once a black hearted lion,” Nuru mewed, “and I hate myself for it now. Now though, I would like to try and make amends, please!”
“You have with me Nuru,” little Tess said, “For I never believed those tales.” Nuru looked at Leo, seemingly bottomless sadness in his eyes.
“You, you told a cub that I was responsible for his problems at birth?” Nuru asked his voice cracking.
“I told little Leo that,” the cross bred cat replied, “I didn’t think you’d ever come back to see your cubs. I hated you Nuru!”
“But to accuse me of trying to murder my own cubs,” Nuru said, tears rolling down his face, “I might have been many things Leo, a violator of tigresses, but I would never murder my own cubs! I know I was accused of murdering Baingana with my influence, and for that I am sorry. But to murder a cub at birth, how could you accuse me of that Leo? How could you tell little Leo that? That’s one story too far! I might be the worst lion you’ve ever met, but I would never murder my own cubs!” Nuru raised his head and moaned with grief.
“I cant’ undo what I’ve done,” Nuru wailed, “but I can try to make amends! I’m trying, from my ears to my paws I’m trying!”
“I know, and so does mum,” little Tess said, “Maybe if Leo took hold of your paw he might know too.” Leo was weeping into his paws, the enormity of what he’d accused the real Nuru of doing hitting home at last. The lion he’d told of in his tales to little Leo had come to life, was here, now, but he was not the lion of whom the tales told. Leo had attributed deeds to his image of Nuru that the real lion could never have, and would never have carried out.
Nuru leapt to his paws, wanting to get out of the situation. Pounding from the lie up, he raced down the stairs which he’d fallen down just hours before. Running out of the house, Nuru raced through the wood until he was almost at the edge of it. Panting, he slowed to a walk, leaves crunching under his paws.
“Now, now take hold of yourself Nuru!” He thought. Catching his breath, Nuru listened to the silence around him. He heard something, a rustling sound, then, he saw something. A tiny form walking towards him on unsteady paws. Nuru stared hard, blinked, and stared at what he knew to be a bear cub stumbling towards him.
“Hey little one,” Nuru mewed. The cub, a female, stared at him.
“Oh no! It’s, it’s a, a lion!” The bear cub squealed turning to run. Nuru lay down, catching the cub in his paws, the cub struggling and beating her paws on his.
“Let me go!” She demanded.
“Hey, I mean you no harm,” Nuru mewed. The bear cub wriggled and struggled against his restraining paws, broke free and ran for it, tripping over a root and, with a scream of terror landed heavily. Nuru padded over to the cub and picked her up in his mouth by the scruff of her neck. The cub struggled and fought, but could do nothing to free herself.
“Let me go, let me go!” She screamed. Nuru trotted back to the house, rain beginning to fall as he approached the house. The bear cub dangling from his mouth screwed up her face against the falling rain.
“I don’t know why you picked me up,” the bear cub whimpered, “but I plead with you not to hurt me!” Nuru ran for the house, bursting in and running down the passage to the main part of the house. Reaching the main part of the house, Nuru dropped the cub beside Arki, who was sleeping nearby. Arki woke; saw the lion with the new cub, then wrapped her paws round the bear cub.
“Where did you find her?” Arki asked. Nuru told her of the cub on the track.
“So you just picked her up and ran back with her?” Arki asked. Nuru nodded.
“I thought she was lost,” the lion mewed. Arki looked at the tiny cub.
“Are you lost?” Arki asked.
“I am now,” the cub replied, “I was when this lion picked me up, but why did he do this?” The brown bear cub asked, starting to cry, “I don’t want to be lost, but I don’t want to be in the rain either!”
“You’re safe here,” Arki replied, hugging the cub tenderly.
“What is your name my dear,” she asked.
“My name’s Roxanne,” the cub replied, “my mum, she, she was killed on the road! I ran for my life when the wheeled thing ran her over! We’re from a zoo, we’re the last. Or rather I’m the last, my mum is dead.” Arki hugged the cub harder, and then released her. Roxanne rolled onto her back, waving her paws in the air, Nuru catching one tiny forepaw and examining it. His eyes travelled over the cub’s body, from her nose to her paw pads.
“You’re safe here,” Nuru mewed, “I promise you’re safe here Roxanne.” The bear cub looked into the huge lion’s eyes, and knew he loved her with all he had.
“I think I will be safe,” she replied. Nuru kissed the pads of Roxanne’s left forepaw, the brown bear cub laughing at his antics.
“You like my paws?” She asked. Nuru smiled:
“I do,” he replied. Nuru lay down and gathered Roxanne to him.
“Love her Nuru,” fleur said, “for she needs it. The badgers just buried her mum.” Nuru hugged Roxanne hard.
“I will love you forever,” Nuru mewed, meaning every word. Roxanne smiled as the lion’s huge paws enveloped her. She knew the bears could hug, but not like this! This was a warm, all enveloping embrace, which warmed her from nose to tail. Arki watched Nuru and Roxanne, smiling at the bear cub’s reaction to the lion. Samson padded in, saw Nuru and touched his paw.
“Nuru, come with me,” Samson said. Nuru looked frightened:
“Please,” Samson said, “you’re not in trouble.” Nuru then saw the lion leader’s eyes were red, and his facial fur was stained.
“Come please,” Samson said, struggling to keep his voice in check.
“See you later Roxanne,” Nuru said to the cub, releasing her and giving her a kiss on the nose. Roxanne watched the lion leave with huge sad eyes.
“Nuru,” Samson said, “what you did in the wood. That bear cub, we, we saw her mother hit by the car, I was up with Allie in the control room, and we were, well...”
“Stroking each other’s paws?” Nuru asked smiling. Samson looked uncomfortable:
“Yes,” he said.
“I know about that,” Nuru replied, “the birds told me all about everyone here, so I know about you and Allie, its sweet. Anyway, you were stroking her paws when you noticed something?” Samson nodded:
“We saw the mother bear dead in the road with the smashed car speeding off. The cub was running through the wood,” the lion replied, “so Allie rewound the tape and we saw it all. Then we watched what happened next. Nuru, what you did was selfless and lovely!” Nuru smiled:
“I’m sorry I didn’t give her any choice,” he said, “but I had to save her, it felt the right thing to do.”
“It was,” Samson replied, “it choked me up Nuru. I think, I think Leo aught to see that. He’d be quite surprised at the actions of a lion he hates to the moon and back. I, I just wanted to ask you if you like bears as much as I do, for it seemed to me you did, if the goings on in the main room of the house were any guide.” Nuru smiled:
“I do,” he replied, “but I know I can’t adopt Roxanne, I can only be a friend to her. She needs a bear.”
“But she’s quite taken with you I think,” Samson replied. Nuru grinned:
“And me with her,” he replied, “I brought a cub here because she needed a home, and I could love the cub, that she’s a bear cub is a bonus Samson.” Samson smiled.
“Nuru, I will show Leo the video of you helping Roxanne. You are trying hard, very hard to better yourself. I will also talk to little Leo, that is if I can get to him before little Tess does. I believe she’s angry with her brother for taking older Leo’s stories at face value, but I can see why Leo told his cubs those tales.”
“I can understand the tales of a bad lion,” Nuru said, “for I was! But, but I never killed a cub, I couldn’t! I love my cubs Samson!” Samson hugged Nuru.
“I know,” he mewed, “I could see your love for little Tess and for Roxanne. It was natural love, you didn’t have to think, and you just did the right thing.” Nuru looked down at his paws.
“I want to be a good lion,” Nuru whispered, “I am trying so hard Samson, from my ears to my paw pads, I’m trying so dam hard!” Samson took Nuru’s paw, feeling the lion’s sincerity.
“I can see how Roxanne felt safe with you,” Samson mewed, “love her Nuru. You’re her friend; noone can change what you did for her.”
“I love her Sammy, I mean Samson,” Nuru choked. Samson then did something that broke Nuru’s control, Samson kissed Nuru’s nose. Nuru knew how the community used this gesture. It was intimate, reassuring and loving. From male to male, female to female, male to female and female to male, be they cubs or adults, they all used it. Nuru realised how far he’d come when Samson kissed his nose.
“You can’t change what you have done,” Samson mewed, “but you are changed from the lion I attacked all those months ago. Nuru, I will talk to my cub, I won’t let him spoil his youngest cub with tales of your misdeeds any longer. If I can save little Leo’s mind, I will. Though it seems little Tess hasn’t taken the stories to her heart, choosing to make her own way. She’s now following her paws like we all do here. Nuru shook his paw free of Samson’s, and tried something that he felt to be the right thing to do. He hugged Samson hard, the huge lion not resisting his embrace.
“I can’t believe what I’m seeing!” Leo yelled, padding into the room.
“It’s nothing unusual,” Samson mewed, “Theo and I hug each other all the time, Nuru wanted to hug me, that’s all.” Leo stormed out of the room, cursing his sire.
“You can’t see him can you!” Leo yelled, “He’s a horrid lion Samson!”
“No Leo, he’s not!” Little Tess yelled, crawling in and slapping him hard with her paw. Leo growled at his cub and raised his paw to slap her, when someone grabbed it and forced it down to the floor. Turning his head, he found a bear cub looking into his eyes.
“Nuru isn’t a bad lion,” Roxanne said. Leo looked into her eyes, seeing how sincere she was.
“You don’t fear him do you,” Leo mewed. Roxanne smiled and squeezed Leo’s paw.
“Does it feel like I fear him?” Roxanne asked. Leo shook his head.
“I watched the goings on in the wood,” Leo mewed, “are you sure Nuru really wanted to help you?” Roxanne smiled:
“I am sure because my paws told me so,” she replied. Leo looked at Roxanne, the bear’s expression one of total relaxation and contentment.
“I’ve heard they wash newcomers here,” she said, “I’m looking forward to that.” Leo snorted:
“Nuru hasn’t been washed yet, he doesn’t deserve it.” Samson padded over and whacked Leo’s shoulder with his paw, then rolled him over and nipped his ear!
“If, you, want, to, be, treated, like, a, naughty, cub, I, will, Treat, you, like, one!” Samson yelled, punctuating his words by slapping Leo’s paws. Leo screamed and screamed as he felt the force of his sire’s anger.
“Don’t hurt me!” He wailed. Samson let one forepaw slip, his toes catching Leo across his nose. Leo screamed with pain!
“You horrid beast!” Leo yelled. Samson left him, stamping on his tail as he withdrew. Leo lay crying on the carpet. Roxanne watched Leo, who was a grown cat, crying pitifully like a cub.
“Go with Roxanne Nuru and get bathed,” Samson mewed, “I will deal with Leo.” Roxanne rolled onto her back in front of Nuru and in Leo’s line of sight, waving her paws in the air. Leo watched, seeing Nuru’s genuine reaction to the bear cub’s antics. Nuru went over to Roxanne and looked down at the young cub watching as Roxanne’s paws waved in the air in front of him, the soles of her paws lighter than the rest of her body. Nuru caught one forepaw and gently held it in his left forepaw.
“Still those paws dear cub,” he mewed, lying down and kissing Roxanne’s nose. Roxanne held Nuru’s left forepaw hard with both of her own forepaws. Leo could see how hard the cub was holding the lion’s paw and knew she trusted him. Leo swallowed hard and got stiffly to his paws. Padding after the bear cub and lion, Leo soon found himself in Fleur’s bathroom. Fleur smiled at Nuru and Roxanne, motioning them to get into the water. Nuru helped Roxanne into the water, and then splashed in himself. Fleur smiled at the obvious ease between the lion and the bear cub. Fleur washed Nuru, the lion loving the shampooing of his fur, but not liking the treatment given to his paw pads, something fleur said would help him. Nuru took this without question. Once Nuru was clean, fleur washed Roxanne from nose to paw pads. This done, fleur was about to lead the lion and bear to be dried off, when little Tess ran up, her brother chasing her. Nuru, still in the water, saw little Tess running towards him, her brother little Leo, not two paces behind her flying tail. Tess shortened her stride, then, at the last moment possible before she cannoned into Nuru, the female liger cub leapt sideways, splashing into the bathtub. Little Leo taken by surprise, and hating getting his feet wet, tried to avoid the tub, but couldn’t. Nuru caught him as he fell into the water!
“Oh! Yuck, water!” The male cub yelled, splashing and screaming to be back on dry land. Nuru picked him up in his mouth by the scruff of his neck, and gently placed him on dry tiles. Little Leo looked a sorry sight, with his fur plastered to his body and the fur on his paws ballooning with the water, making the poor cub look vulnerable and helpless, which he was.
“Little Tess, you did that just to get me wet!” Little Leo complained.
“Did what?” Little Tess asked, “There was this lion in front of me all of a sudden, and I would have hit him if I didn’t leap to one side. Little Leo stared at the lion who’d lifted him from the water. He was a big lion, and the look in his eyes was familiar.
“I have that same look in my eyes,” little Leo thought, “I saw them in a mirror when Brunetta was showing me my paw pads.”
“What’s your name little cub?” Nuru asked, though he knew very well whom he’d just rescued.
“Leo, um, they call me little Leo sir,” Leo said haltingly. Little Tess’s toes curled as she realised what she’d set up. Everything was about to explode in her face!
“What’s your name?” Little Leo asked, “You’re new here I think.” Nuru looked at little Tess, who hid her face behind one paw.
“What’s the matter with you?” Little Leo asked. Little Tess ran from the bathroom, her wet paws skidding on the tiles.
“What’s got into her?” Little Leo asked, “She’s acting as if she’s seen Nuru or something.”
“She has seen Nuru, and so have you little Leo,” Nuru said. The cub stared at him.
“Oh, oh no, no no no!” Little Leo yelled, “Not you, you can’t be Nuru, he’s a big black lion. My sire, well he’s not really my sire, anyway, scruffy Leo, he said Nuru was big and black and would eat cubs on sight!”
“Reality is sometimes not as scary as fiction,” Nuru replied, “I am the lion of whom he tells tales.” Little Leo stood as if his paws were glued to the tiles.
“But, but you pulled me from the water!” The cub yowled, “Scruffy Leo told of a lion that’d kill me on sight!”
“He doesn’t know me,” Nuru mewed.
“Please Leo, go to Nuru,” Tigress Tess mewed, going to her Son cub and pushing him towards Nuru. Little Leo looked scared, but obeyed his mum. Nuru clambered from the water and lay down, taking his cub in his paws.
“Follow your paws little Leo, please!” Nuru mewed. Little Leo began to cry, feeling his sire’s paws hugging him. Little Leo looked at his mother, pleading with her to explain her actions.
“I never told you stories of Nuru,” the tigress said, “that was your adopted sire Leo’s fault.” Little Leo looked up into Nuru’s eyes. He certainly wasn’t feeling the vibes from a dangerous force here, indeed, if little Leo let his instinct take over, he knew he’d be curled up beside Nuru in seconds. Older Leo stood watching all this, his toes curled into the tiles. It was all he could do to stop himself from hitting his mate.
“Use your eyes Leo,” Tigress Tess said, “if you can’t use your eyes, you’ll have to use your paws.” Leo nearly vomited.
“You expect me to touch that disgusting animal?” He asked.
“Look at him Leo!” Tigress Tess said, “Look at how he hugs his cubs, look at the eyes of the lion you loath. Is he really a danger to the cubs?” Leo looked at Nuru, who was playing with little Leo, the cub and grown lion playing easily together.
“You can’t stop the cubs from following their paws,” fleur said, “for that’s the first thing they do from birth. Little Tess keeps her paws active, as does Roxanne.” The bear cub, observing the drama between the big cats with interest, smiled at fleur.
“I love my paws,” she said. Leo looked into Nuru’s eyes, the lion looking back at the cross bred cat.
“Despite what you might think, I’m no threat to you,” Nuru mewed. Leo felt his paws getting damp and knew what this meant.
“All right Nuru,” Leo gasped, his paws now hot and uncomfortable, “give me your paw.” Nuru released his cub, left the water and padded to Leo’s side. Resting his left forepaw in the cross bred cat’s right fore, he waited for the verdict.
“What do you think of me now?” Nuru asked. Leo, hardly able to breathe, stared into Nuru’s face.
“I suppose I should have trusted the cubs,” he mewed, “I know they follow their paws instinctively, and that if they felt anything wrong with your touch, they’d not stick around,” Leo said.
“But they are they,” Nuru mewed, “little Tess even played with my paws Leo, you saw that.” Leo nodded.
“I, I did,” he whimpered.
“You even saw Nuru playing with my paws didn’t you Leo,” Roxanne said. Leo mewed that he’d seen everything. Nuru smiled at Roxanne and shook his paw free of Leo’s.
“Let’s go on from here Leo,” Nuru [pleaded, “I don’t want war!” Leo looked into Nuru’s eyes.
“Please Leo,” Tigress Tess pleaded, “Let your paws tell you what is really happening.” Leo smiled and walked away.
“I won’t interfere with you any more Nuru,” he mewed. Nuru, realising Leo could not let things drop, sighed and looked with intense heartbreaking sadness at Tess and little Leo.
“Leo’s hatred towards you will destroy him Nuru,” Roxanne said. Nuru hugged her, and both left the water.
Padding to Nuru’s lie up, Nuru and his two cubs settled down on thick warm rugs. Little Tess and her brother took hold of Nuru’s forepaws and began to play with his toes and massage his pads. Nuru began to purr with pleasure, the cubs cuddling close to him.
Meanwhile, fleur met up with Leo and, without saying anything, walloped him with her paw.
“You are a stupid idiot!” Fleur yelled, “You might lose your mate and your cubs!” Leo covered his face with one paw.
“Mum, I can’t let it go; I can’t get Nuru’s past out of my head!” Fleur turned tail, whipping Leo across his face with her tail. Leo screamed with pain and ran off. Fleur bounced on her toes, watching him go.
“The fault is not with Nuru, but with you Leo.” She thought.
Meanwhile, in Brunetta and Nanuq’s lie up, Nanuq junior was stroking and playing with his sire’s paws. Nanuq and his Son cub loved their time together, often spending hours playing with each other’s paws. Nanuq junior explored his sire’s paws by touch, feeling the fur between Nanuq’s pads and toes, as well as the pads on the toes and sole of the paw itself. Nanuq smiled as he felt Nanuq junior’s forepaws exploring his own for and hind paws. It was clear to the young polar bear which paws his sire liked being stroked most, for Nanuq would curl the toes of his hind paws round those of his Son cub’s forepaws whenever they came within reach. Nanuq grinned at his cub.
“It’s funny how we like playing with our paws,” Nanuq said. Nanuq junior smiled and released his sire’s left hind paw and sat down, taking his right hind paw in his left fore, and stroking the toes of that paw with his right fore. Nanuq watched him.
“Your mum likes playing with her own paws,” Nanuq said. Nanuq junior’s eyes sparkled.
“I like it too,” he replied, “I need no computers, no ball to play with, just my own paws.” Nanuq had examined his Son cub’s paws lots of times and knew them backwards, but always treated each new time as his first, exploring all four paws with gentle care, parting fur and gently stretching pads to examine each paw thoroughly. Nanuq junior loved every minute of this, and would sometimes pretend to limp on one paw to get his sire to take a look at his paw pads. Another favoured rouse to encourage Nanuq to examine his paws was for Nanuq junior to suddenly sit down and paw at the sole of one hind paw with both forepaws as if he had a thorn in a pad or a stick stuck between his toes. Older Nanuq would come over, and his cub would tell him he had a thorn in the pads of his right hind paw, or a stick wedged between his toes. Nanuq junior would also sometimes pretend a stone was trapped between the toes of one hind paw. Nanuq would come to the rescue, knowing his cub’s game, but playing along. Of course, older Nanuq would sometimes start examining the wrong paw, his cub having to put him right. Once Nanuq had found the right paw, he would find an imaginary stone wedged between the toes of that paw, the removal of which caused a lot of whimpering and acting up from Nanuq junior as he pretended the stone was stuck tightly between his toes and it hurt as his sire removed it. Older Nanuq had to worry for some considerable time at his Son cub’s toes before he could remove the imaginary stone, his Son cub all the while trying to pull his paw away. Once the stone was removed, Nanuq junior would limp away on three paws and drag the toes of the fourth, unable to put the pads of that fourth paw to the floor. When it was a thorn in a pad, the pricked paw would be chosen by Nanuq junior, and he’d sit down and scrabble at it with the toes of both forepaws in the case of a hind paw, or bite at his forepaw in the case of a thorn in one of his forepaws. This would be accompanied with much grunting and protestation from Nanuq junior as he worried at his sore paw. Older Nanuq would then examine his son’s paws, and once the injured pad was located, stretch the pad to the sound of panting and grinding of teeth as his cub pretended it hurt to have his paw touched. Older Nanuq would then pretend to extract the thorn with his teeth, in reality kissing the pads of the paw. Nanuq junior would laugh at his sire doing this, but secretly, he loved it. Brunetta would sometimes watch their games; loving the fact her Son cub enjoyed playing with his sire as much as he did her. Nanuq junior played the same games with his mum as he did with his sire, both older bears loving the paw play games. Sometimes it would be their turn to play injured, and Nanuq junior would explore their paws and find either an imaginary stone or thorn. The games were a way of stretching their minds, but also gave them the vital paw contact all three needed from time to time. Brunetta loved watching her Son cub and mate playing together, they got really involved with whatever situation they were in, be it the stone stuck between the toes of a hind paw, or the thorn stuck in the pads of a fore or hind paw. Sometimes all three bears would play together, two bears helping the third to remove multiple thorns or stones or both from their paws.
Now Nanuq junior pretended he had got a thorn in the heel pad, and a stone between the toes of his right hind paw. Sitting down, he began Scrabbling at the injured paw with his forepaws, digging into the pads of his right hind paw with the toes of both forepaws, as well as struggling to free an imaginary stone from the toes of that same hind paw. Puffing and blowing with anxiety, his paws slippery with sweat, Nanuq junior gave up the fight with his own hind paw.
“Can I help?” Older Nanuq asked his Son cub. Nanuq junior guided his sire’s paw to his injured hind paw.
“I’ve got a stone between my toes and a thorn in my heel pad Nanuq, it hurts!” Nanuq gently explored the injured paw, his cub whimpering and withdrawing his paw slightly as his sire touched his injured pad and sore toes. Older Nanuq then gently played with the toes of his Son cub’s right hind paw, gently wiggling the stone loose, while Nanuq junior ground his teeth with imagined pain.
“Nearly there,” Older Nanuq said. Nanuq junior breathed hard, trying not to pull his paw away.
“I want to pull my paw away!” He yelled, “I want to, but I mustn’t!” Older Nanuq tugged gently on his Son cub’s toes attempting to free the stone, Nanuq junior whimpering with imagined discomfort.
“One more go,” his sire said, gently playing with Nanuq junior’s toes, “a little more and that stone should be out.”
“Make it quick!” Nanuq junior whimpered. One more gentle tug, and the imagined stone was free. Nanuq junior rubbed his toes and smiled with relief.
“Thanks,” he said, “but now it’s the thorn in the heel pad of the same paw, and that’s worse!” Older Nanuq hugged his cub tenderly.
“I’ll be gentle,” he said, “now, the thorn is stuck in the heel pad of your right hind paw isn’t it? Nanuq junior nodded and sniffled a little at the thought of his sire removing the thorn.
“Hold still,” Older Nanuq said, lying down and taking his cub’s right hind paw in both his forepaws. Exploring with his sensitive lips and tongue, for in the wild they’d not use tweezers to extract thorns, Older Nanuq felt his way over his Son cub’s right hind paw until he felt the slight swelling on his heel pad where the thorn had entered. Nanuq junior, feeling his sire exploring his paw, laughed and wriggled as it tickled his paw.
“Found the thorn,” Older Nanuq said, “now to get it out, here goes. Older Nanuq stretched his Son cub’s heel pad, Nanuq junior whimpering and sniffling with mock fear and pain.
Nearly done,” Older Nanuq said gently, “just going to pull the thorn out, hold on tight!” Brunetta padded over, and Nanuq junior grabbed her paws, squeezing them hard.
“It’ll be okay,” Brunetta said, looking into her son’s face. Nanuq junior’s eyes were tightly closed, his teeth clenched. Older Nanuq stretched his Son cub’s heel pad and gently scraped the pad with his claws, Nanuq junior whimpering and wailing with pain. Then Nanuq junior felt the familiar kiss on his injured paw pad from Older Nanuq. This was a signal that the game was over.
“I liked that,” Nanuq junior said.
“You just like it when I kiss your paw pads,” older Nanuq laughed. Nanuq junior looked embarrassed.
“I like it when you kiss my paw,” he replied truthfully, “but I also like the game, pretend play n’all that, it’s really great!”
“I enjoy it too,” older Nanuq replied. Brunetta looked concerned.
“I might have a thorn in my right hind paw, could some one help me get it out?” She asked.
“You can’t play the game like that,” Nanuq junior replied, “limp about a bit first, get into your role, then sit down and scrabble at your hind paw with your fore. Go on mum, if I can, so can you.” Brunetta sighed heavily, knowing she’d have to play along. Limping heavily, dragging her right hind paw, Brunetta staggered round the lie up, the toes of her right hind paw dragging on the carpet.
“I’ve got a thorn in the pads of my right hind paw and it is too painful to put weight on!” she panted, collapsing into a heap and curling up, finally sitting down and scrabbling at the sole of her right hind paw with the toes of her left fore. Brunetta sniffed and sobbed as she tried to remove the thorn from her hind paw.
“I can’t get the thorn out of my pad! It won’t come out!” Brunetta sobbed. Nanuq junior soothed his mother by stroking her free hind paw. Stroking Brunetta’s pads and rubbing her toes seemed to soothe her panic.
“We’ll get the thorn out mum,” Nanuq junior said gently, reassuringly squeezing the toes of the paw he was stroking. Brunetta calmed down as Nanuq junior lay down and took her right hind paw in both his forepaws. Brunetta clung to her mate as her cub felt for the thorn in her paw. He found it in the heel pad of her paw, just behind where her toes joined the rest of her paw.
“He’s found the thorn now Brunetta,” older Nanuq said gently, “brace yourself.” Brunetta whimpered and held onto Nanuq even harder.
“Pulling now,” Nanuq junior said, gently drawing his toes down Brunetta’s paw pads, Brunetta whimpering and puffing with discomfort.
“A bit more,” Nanuq junior said, Brunetta wailing with fear.
“Keep your paw still mum,” Nanuq junior said, “just a bit more, here goes.” Nanuq junior kissed his mum’s paw pads, Brunetta squealing as she imagined the thorn being pulled from her paw. Then she felt her cub kissing her pads, the feel of his tongue licking the wound site reassuring her as his sire’s doing the same had reassured him.
“Good acting mum,” Nanuq junior said as Brunetta got to her paws.
“I loved that,” she replied.
“I know what was the best part for you Brunetta dear,” Nanuq said, “it was when your son kissed the sole of your paw.” Brunetta smiled and lifted her right hind paw from the floor, Nanuq junior kissing the pads of the offered hind paw. Brunetta curled her toes, her pads bunching and hiding the brown fur on the sole of her paw in furrowed brown paw pad.
“I love your paws mum,” Nanuq junior said. Brunetta lowered her paw to the floor, turned and sat down, drawing her Son cub into a huge bear hug.
“I wish never to lose the art of pretend play,” Brunetta said.
“Mum, if I have anything to do with it, we’ll play every day,” Nanuq junior replied. Older Nanuq smiled and nodded.
“I will play with you too,” he said, “Indeed, I feel my paws need some contact with another bear’s paws.” Nanuq junior looked at his sire.
“Yes you can help me play with my paws my cub,” Older Nanuq said. His son smiled broadly.
“Please would you let me examine your paws from white fur to black paw pads Nanuq,” Nanuq junior said. Older Nanuq smiled and sat down, wiggling the toes of his hind paws, Nanuq junior sitting down opposite him and pressing his hind paws against his sire’s, older Nanuq curling the toes of his right hind paw round those of his son’s left hind, Nanuq junior curling the toes of his left hind paw round Nanuq’s right hind. Both bears pressed each other’s hind paw pads together by curling their toes hard.
“Got to love these paws,” older Nanuq said, covering the curled toes of his son cub’s left hind paw with his right fore. Nanuq junior smiled.
“Some might think you and me a bit crazy, even that what we do is slightly wrong,” Nanuq junior said, “but it feels right here, very right indeed.”
“It does,” Older Nanuq replied, “but if you want me to stop playing with your paws, let me know,” the devastated look his cub gave him made Nanuq regret his words.
“Me ask you to stop playing with my paws?” Nanuq junior replied, “Never Nanuq, I like it too much for that.” Older Nanuq wondered how long it would be before his son cub no longer wanted his sire to play with his paws. For now though, both were content to have things stay as they were.
“Your paws have rough pads Nanuq,” Nanuq junior said. Nanuq smiled and gently rubbed his son cub’s left hind paw with his right hind.
“Your paw pads are soft and supple like a cub’s,” Nanuq replied, “but that’s because you’ve never been on the ice and snow, I have.” Nanuq then told his son about the female polar bear he’d helped give birth to her cubs.
“So Allie’s one of those cubs?” Nanuq junior asked, “How wonderful!” His sire smiled:
“I thought so,” he replied. Brunetta, having watched all, got to her own paws and padded from the lie up to go to her job. She didn’t know how long she’d be working in food preparation, as it was said that Kodiak, after his recent disasters on the medical front, was to be shifted to food preparation. Brunetta didn’t know what her role would be then, though she secretly hoped fleur would train her to do what Kodiak did now.
Allie padded into Brunetta and Nanuq’s lie up. Seeing Nanuq and his male cub sitting paw to paw on the rug, she lay down beside them.
“I saw you kissing the pads of Nanuq junior’s paw Nanuq,” Allie said smiling. Nanuq junior looked uncomfortable.
“I like that,” he said, “but if my sister finds out, well, it’s going to be hell for me! Can you imagine the knowledge of my pleasure getting out? Everyone would laugh at me for liking my paws kissed by my sire.”
“I don’t think it’s strange,” Allie replied, “I wish others would play with their paws more often. Your sister is vehemently against paw play. She saw you and your sire playing Nanuq junior, and she thinks it’s silly.”
“O, I thought she might,” Nanuq junior said, “but what I do, and whom I let play with my paws is my business.” Allie smiled and touched the toes of older Nanuq’s left hind paw which were curled round those of his son’s right hind.
“You used to play with my paws when you were young Allie,” older Nanuq said, “I used to play with yours too, those were good days.” Allie smiled.
“We could do that again you know,” she replied, “I’d like it.” Nanuq looked at Allie, his first cub.
“You used to love tickling my paws,” he said. Allie got to her paws and hugged him.
“I liked it when you tickled mine too,” she replied. Nanuq and Allie played together for a while, Nanuq junior watching all.
Allie and Nanuq played with each other’s fore and hind paws, loving the sensation caused by paw pad on paw pad.
“I love your paws Allie,” Nanuq said. Allie smiled and rubbed his left hind paw with her right fore while holding his paw in her left fore. She then gently embraced his toes with one paw.
“I now see where I get my love of paw play,” Nanuq junior said. Older Nanuq smiled at him. Young Brunetta wandered in then, saw her sire and Allie playing and spat on the floor.
“It’s all paws with you isn’t it Allie!” She yelled. Allie looked up.
“It’s better playing with mine or another’s paws all the time than bitching all the time,” was Allie’s reply. Young Brunetta snorted, and then rounded on her brother.
“I know you like this paw stuff too brother Nanuq!” She ranted, “It’s cubbish!”
“It’s very good in fact,” Brunetta said, padding in to the lie up. Young Brunetta stormed out in a raging Temper. Brunetta smiled at her Son cub and mate.
“I’ve just been promoted to Kodiak’s job,” Brunetta said, “he’s rather annoyed he’s lost it, but he didn’t follow his paws.” Both Nanuq and young Nanuq hugged Brunetta hard.
“Well done,” they said.
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