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.

        Owwwwwwwww! Owwwwwwww! Aowwwwwwwwww!  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.

 

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