Patching up the community.

 

 

Two months later, the community were settling down to life without mama Kamchatka, but with Patch as leader.  Patch was truly multi talented, the “Ursine Swiss army knife,” as jess dubbed him.  He could speak four languages, old ursine, modern ursine, and community dialect, as well as English.  Patch was also good at paw to paw combat, as well as making the cubs feel very much at home.

 

Patch, waking in his plush quarters, stretched his paws and got to his feet, padding to the bathroom to relieve him.  This done, he washed his paws and returned to the bedroom, his return waking his mate Ekaterina, who yawned, stretched and padded to the bathroom to relieve herself.  This done, she padded back to the bedroom, settling down beside Patch on the rugs.

        “Lilly and Cinders featured in my dreams last night,” Patch said.

       “Was the dream a pleasant one?”  Ekaterina asked.  Patch smiled and nodded:

      “It wasn’t one of my second sight moments,”  Patch replied, “Lilly was watching me as I played with Cinders, Cinders snuggling up to me and laughing as I played with her paws.”

       “That sounds wonderful,” Ekaterina said, turning onto her side, Patch turning to her and looking at her face and paws.  Then, smiling, he parsed his lips and blew gently on the pads of Ekaterina’s hind paws, playing his focused breath over her pads and toes, Ekaterina yelping and wiggling her toes.

      “Oi you!”  She laughed, kissing the top of Patch’s head.

        “I love your reaction,” Patch said, Ekaterina giggling and dabbing at Patch’s nose with the toes of her right forepaw.

       “I’ll bite that paw if you dab at my nose again,” Patch said.  Ekaterina dabbed at his nose, and Patch gently took the toes of her right forepaw in his lips and gently closed his teeth over them.  Ekaterina whimpered, but kept her paw still in case Patch accidentally bit down.

       “Please Patch, release my paw? Please?”  Ekaterina begged.  Patch released his hold on Ekaterina’s paw and kissed her nose, the she bear snuggling close.

      “I love you,” she said softly to her lifetime friend.  Patch kissed her nose once more.

        “What will today bring Patch?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “Who is to say,” Patch replied, “only Eohippus knows really.”  Ekaterina got to her feet, bounced on her toes, then settled her weight back onto all four paws, feeling her stepping on Patch’s forepaw as she did so.

       “Oh, Patch, sorry,” she gasped as she lifted her right hind paw off his forepaw.

       “I managed to touch the pads of your hind paw, and I liked that,” Patch said.  Ekaterina smiled.

       “I like exploring you while you walk, it’s really cute, powerful also,” she replied.”  Patch smiled.

        “You are cute yourself when you walk,” Patch said, “Though for utter toe curling cuteness, your crawling is sweet as.”  Ekaterina giggled.

      “You are so sweet,” she said.

       “And your waving paws are cute also,” Patch replied.  Ekaterina felt herself stirring.  Fearfully, she quashed those feelings, scared of what might result.

       “You need not be frightened,” Patch said, “I know how you feel Ekaterina.”  Ekaterina sighed heavily.

      “I don’t want to be a killjoy,” she replied.  Patch kissed Ekaterina’s nose and hugged her tightly.

       “I know you can’t have cubs,” Patch replied softly, “I wouldn’t hurt you at all Ekaterina, and I love you more than I can tell you.”  Ekaterina kissed his nose.

       “I feel now that I can welcome Bertie into our family, give spiritual birth to him, you know?  Now, now I’ve felt a living birth.”  Patch smiled and rubbed his cheek against Ekaterina’s.

     “Let’s see what’s going on in the other rooms,” Patch said.  Padding along to the spare bedroom, Patch put his head in, finding Koda and Mishka sleeping with Snowdrop curled up between their bodies, their heat warming her.  Patch padded softly into the room and knelt down, kissing Mishka’s and Koda’s noses, waking them.

      “Morning Patch,” Mishka yawned, stretching his legs and flexing his paws.

        “Hi Mishka,” Patch said, taking the cub’s paw in his.  Mishka smiled and snuggled up to Patch.

       “My heater is gone!”  Snowdrop yelled, waking suddenly.  Koda embraced Snowdrop to give her warmth.

      “You’re so good to me Koda,” snowdrop said, “you and Patch, and Mishka, everyone but my mother, who does little to help me.  She makes milk, but that’s it.  No soft paws, no nurturing, nothing.  She’s a pain.”

 

Alaska and Spits watched their cub from their lie up.

        “Snowdrop doesn’t know us now,” Alaska said, “she knows us as a pain in her life, but that’s it.”

       “We caused that,” Spits said, “we left her, not the other way round.”

       “So what do we do now?”  Alaska asked, “Do you think we should leave the community?”  Spits looked at her:

        “We aren’t wanted by our cub, so we have nothing keeping us here,” he said.

        “Where do we go then?”  Alaska asked, “We’ve lived nowhere else, we know nothing about the world outside the wood.”

        “Let’s not push things,” Spits said, “let’s keep our paws clean and see if our new leader throws us out.”

       “Patch?”  Spits laughed, “He couldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding, let alone throw us out.”

      “That’s not nice Spits,” Alaska said, “he’s all right.”

         “He is a pansy!”  Spits yelled, “He loves paw massage and playing with cubs, and he’s too soft pawed.”

        “You loved paw massage once,” Patch said padding into the lie up, “I taught you to count to thirty six using your head, body, legs and paws Spits, and you loved it.  You kicked the air with your paws and wriggled with delight.  I remember all that.”  Spits looked down at his paws.

       “Yes,” he replied faintly, “I do remember that.”  Patch picked Spits up and swung him round, Spits hind feet brushing Alaska’s shoulder as they flew past her.

       “Put me down!”  Spits yelled.  Patch did, and Spits stumbled around as if he couldn’t feel the ground beneath his feet.

        “I wouldn’t try saying things like that again Spits,” Alaska said.  Spits grunted and left the room.

       “So what conclusions have you come to Alaska?”  Patch asked.

        “I have been feeding Snowdrop,” Alaska said dully, “but you want more from me I see.”

        “I want you to make a choice,” Patch said, “do you want to give Snowdrop up for adoption, or do you want to look after her.”

        “I want to give her up,” Alaska replied, “I can’t deal with her, I gave birth to her, but I don’t want to care for her, I can’t care for her now.”  Patch turned and left, passing Snowdrop, who’d been listening round the corner.

       “So she doesn’t want me,” Snowdrop said, “I am not surprised, though I know the strength of community and of love too.”  Patch looked Snowdrop over from nose to paws, Snowdrop rolling onto her back to show him the soles of all four of her small paws.  Patch kissed Snowdrop’s nose and paws, the cub giggling with pleasure.

       “You come with me now,” Patch said, Snowdrop clambering onto his back and riding to their plush lie up.  Patch crouched, letting snowdrop slide from his back and land on the floor.

       “What happened Patch?”  Ekaterina asked, sensing his mood.  He told her, and Ekaterina snarled deep in her throat.

       “Dam Alaska and Spits!”  She yelled, “they deserve nothing, let alone snowdrop!  Now we’ll look after her, love her and play with her.”  Snowdrop crawled to Ekaterina and she lay down to embrace her.

      “How sweet is that?”  Patch said smiling from his eyes to his paws.

 

Meanwhile, in a house on the boundary of the community woodlands, Royston and Janet sat together dreading the next few weeks.  Though they thought of themselves as brother and sister, they actually were unrelated, having been adopted as babies.  Royston was dark skinned, Janet fairer than him.  Janet, being fourteen, and her brother sixteen, the news she’d told Royston seven months previously troubled him.

        “You Know I’ve been seeing Gareth,” Janet had said after Royston had questioned her about weight gain he’d seen in her, “I’m pregnant Royston.  You mustn’t tell mum and dad, they’ll go mad!”  Royston had read about pregnancy when Bess had run off and had her pup in the woods.  Now he was frightened for his sister.

        “What you gonna do with it,” he asked.  Janet stared down at her hands.

       “I’m seven months gone now,” she said, “in another two months, I’ll have the kid.  I’m not giving it up.”

      “How we gonna keep it from mum and dad?”  Royston asked.  Janet was sure she could devise some way of hiding her labour as she’d hidden her pregnancy...  Royston knew their parents were going on holiday for a few months to repair their marriage, and also knew he and Janet were excluded from this, as they’d wanted to be, feeling their adoptive parents needed time together.  Royston knew Janet was under age to have a baby, and that if anyone found out, the trouble would be endless.  Royston read up on pregnancy and birth under the pretence of doing biology homework for school.  A month later, Royston and Janet’s parents went on their holiday, leaving their children with the secret they shared.

 

Janet went into labour one evening.  Royston listened to her moaning and restless pacing.

        “I think things are happening!”  Janet squealed, fleeing for the bathroom.  Royston, frightened, watched Janet as she sat on the toilet, her waters breaking.  Royston knew his options were limited if anything went wrong.  Running to the computer, he looked up videos of mothers giving berth to see what happened during it.  All the time he was listening for Janet, who was pacing about, sitting down and getting up and crawling around the room naked from the waste down.  Royston watched her face, fingers and toes, watching for clenching teeth, gripping fingers and curling toes.  Hours passed, and Janet’s moans got more urgent.  Royston knew he’d got to do something, but who could he go to?  Who would help him, no questions asked.  Royston looked at the cork board on the wall, seeing the number for the community he and Janet had visited to fire set.  Having heard of the tales of their merciful conduct towards Bess, and that they had a human living with them, he put through a call to the main house.

 

Patch picked up the phone. He’d taken over as leader, he had begun answering the phone, as he could speak English as well as Jess herself.

      “Hello?”  Patch asked, hearing yelling somewhere in the caller’s house.

      “Hi, is that, um, the woodland community?”  Royston asked.  Patch replied that it was, recognising the voice on the other end.

      “Royston,” Patch said, “What are you doing calling here?  Where are your parents?”

        “I need, Janet needs your help!”  Royston yelled as Janet screamed in pain and fear in the bedroom behind him.

        “I bet you do,” Patch replied, recognising the sound.  Slamming the phone down, he leapt to his paws, running from the room.  Ekaterina running after him as best she could.

       “What on earth?”  She asked, “What does Royston want?”

       “Janet’s having a cub!”  Patch replied shortly, “I knew it, I’ve been watching her, and I know she’s pregnant, but I bet her parents don’t know!”

     “And what the hell are you doing?”  Ekaterina asked.  Patch ran down the track with Ekaterina following him.

       “I’m going to help her, now,” Patch replied.  Ekaterina yelled at him:

      “After what she did to our wood?”  She asked.

      “Ekaterina, this is for the child Janet is giving birth to, not for Janet herself, treat her as a labouring mother first and foremost, not as a human.”  Ekaterina knew what he meant, and leapt onto his back, holding on with her paws, Patch able to run faster now he’d got no concern about Ekaterina blundering into things.  Patch dug his toes into the track and sprinted, Ekaterina thinking she’d never travelled so fast in her life.  Patch banged on the door several minutes later, Royston opening it.

       “What the hell are you doing here?”  Royston asked.

        “I’m your best hope for a safe delivery,” patch said in perfect English.  Royston, having heard about Patch’s care of Jess and jess’s tale in the community, ran to Janet who was sitting uncomfortably on the bed, her legs drawn up to her, her heels dug into the sheet, and arms hugging her knees.  Patch’s and Janet’s eyes met, and she stared in astonishment.

       “What are you doing here?”  She asked.

       “We came to help,” Patch replied, “we could take you back to our home and you could deliver your cub, sorry, baby there,” Patch said.  Janet looked at the soiled bed sheets and then at Royston.

       “Can we clean this place?”  She screamed as another contraction gripped her.  Patch watched Janet’s closed eyes, clenched teeth, bunched fists and curling toes.

      “How often has she been screaming and looking like this?”  Patch asked.

      “Every ten minutes,” Royston replied, “I have timed them; I learned that off the net.”  Patch smiled.  Ekaterina snapped:

       “Why didn’t you tell your sire and mama?”  Patch translated.

        “Janet didn’t want them to know,” Royston replied, “they’ll go mad if they find out.”

       “Let’s get her to the house,” Patch said.  Ekaterina slapped him.

      “No Patch No!”  She yelled, “Not there!”

        “She’s a mama in labour Ekaterina,” Patch said gently to the mother bear, “would you really, honestly, turn a mama away if she came to us in labour?”

       “No,” Ekaterina replied, “but this is Janet, the fire setter!”

        “This is Janet a mama in labour,” Patch replied, “I cannot let her have her cub here.”  Ekaterina, overruled, grumbled to herself, but she could not fault Patch’s compassion.

        “Come mama,” Patch said to Janet, sitting on the bed and taking the young girl in his paws.  Sitting her on his lap, he hugged her with a tenderness that brought tears to Royston’s eyes.

        “You will be okay Janet, “I promise,” Patch said.  Janet looked into the bear’s large brown eyes.

         “You mean me no harm, I can feel that,” she said.

       “Is it painful for you mama?”  Patch asked.  Janet nodded:

       “But it is said you know of that too Tornassuk,” Janet replied, not knowing where her words were coming from.

        “I do know, I do understand,” Patch replied softly.  Janet shifted onto the bed, placing her right foot in Patch’s paws as she endured another contraction, Patch touching her curling toes and stroking the bunching skin on the sole of her foot.

      “Let’s get to the house,” Patch said, “I’ll carry Janet.”

       “I want to do things naturally now,” Janet replied, “I don’t want to hide my pain or my curling toes or anything.”  Patch kissed her nose, while Royston told Ekaterina what was happening throughout, Ekaterina realising she was now increasingly uncomfortable with her own misgivings about the humans.   Patch, for his part, seemed to have left his misgivings at the door.

      “I will carry you,” Patch said to Janet, who let him pick her up in his forepaws, wrapping her arms around his neck.

      “If you want to crawl some of the way, I’ll let you on the track,” Patch said to Janet.  Ekaterina and Royston followed Patch out of the house, Royston locking the door.

       “Let’s go now,” Patch said to Janet, who moaned through another contraction.  Janet let Patch carry her to the woods, and then she crawled down the track to the house, Patch following her and gently stroking the sole of her left foot whenever she stopped to moan through another contraction.  In no time at all, or so it seemed to Janet, she found herself lying on the rugs in Patch’s lie up.  Janet, now feeling calmer than she had for nine months, began to explore her body’s sensations, rather than fearing them.  Jess, who’d heard all, came in and sat down to watch.

       “I’m not going to interfere,” she said, “it’s your labour Janet, it’s your time.  You do what you want.”

        “I can’t believe you’re helping us after all we’ve done to you,” Royston said.  Ekaterina snorted, but Patch touched her paw:

       “Remember we’re doing this for the cub,” he said in ursine.

       “Patch, if it wasn’t for you I’d throw her out to have her cub somewhere else!”  Ekaterina replied gruffly, “she doesn’t belong here.”

        “We are her only help,” Patch replied, “Her parents have vanished, so now Janet’s on her own.”

        “She’s not ready for cubs,” Ekaterina mumbled.

        “You were young when you had your first cub Ekaterina,” jess replied, “so I wouldn’t say anything.”

       “But I knew what I was doing!”  Ekaterina snapped back.

      “So does Janet,” Patch replied, “she’s having her cub, now Ekaterina, she is in our house, in our care, to be comforted by our paws, if you don’t want to be part of this, then you can leave.”

         “No Patch, I’ll stay,” Ekaterina replied, “I sometimes forget you lived with humans, and know more of their ways than any of us here...” Janet sat on the rugs, cradling her left foot in her hands.  As Jess watched, Janet screwed up her face, panted hard, and then gripped her foot tightly in both hands as her toes curled tightly.

       “Ooooooaw! Aaaw!”  She moaned.  Ekaterina touched Janet’s right foot with her paw, Janet letting the she bear take her foot in her paws, Ekaterina feeling the young girl’s toes curling tightly as she endured another contraction.

        “My toes curl tighter than I’ve ever been able to curl them,” Janet said in wonder, “I have played with my toes you know.”  Patch believed her.

       “Just relax and go with it,” patch said gently in English.  Ekaterina smiled broadly.

       “Now mama, take your time,” Ekaterina said in community dialect, jess translating.

       “Thank you,” Janet panted.  Janet began rubbing the sole of her left foot with the fingers of both hands as she came down from her contraction.

       “Oooah, aaaahh, ouch!” she panted as she came down.  Then screwing up her face again, Janet wailed:

      Awooooaaaaaaw, umsh, awooooaaaaaaw!” crushing her foot in her hands. While curling the toes of both feet, making the soft pink skin on the soles of both feet bunch up, Janet wriggled convulsively.  This happened twice more, everyone watching her intently from her face to the bunching skin on the soles of her feet. Janet suddenly grunted, let go of her foot and began crawling round the lie up.  Ekaterina felt the toes of Janet’s right foot curling as the human endured another contraction, groaning turning to screaming.

       “Let it out Janet, let it out,” Patch said.  Janet gave herself up to screaming and beating the floor with her hands, then rolling onto her back and kicking the air with her feet.

       “Woooooawwww! Aoooooaw!”  Janet yelled as she kicked and thrashed at the air.  Then she squatted on her haunches, lifting her heels off the floor, balancing on her hands and bouncing on her toes between contractions.  Ekaterina gently explored Janet’s bouncing heels and squealing posture.

       “Catch the cub mama,” Janet gasped, actively bearing down for the first time.

       “Oooooaumph!”  Janet moaned, pushing down hard.  Ekaterina explored Janet’s situation, feeling Janet’s wriggling efforts as she pushed down.  Moving onto all fours, Janet, roaring like a lioness, pushed down again, and then she squatted, bouncing and bearing down once more, Ekaterina fully aware of the human’s situation.

      “Oooah! Ow, ow, ow!”  Janet yelled as she pushed, feeling her efforts stretching her body, her hands and feet knowing what they should do.  Ekaterina gently kissed the damp heel pad of Janet’s right foot as she knelt to pant before squatting to push again.  Janet suddenly pushed down more deeply than she’d done before, giving vent to a roaring yell as if she was a lioness having difficulty delivering a huge cub

        “I want to push, I must push, now!”  Janet yelled, sitting back hard on her heels, as if trying to drive her heels into her backside.  Grunting, Janet bore down, bouncing on her heels between efforts, while Ekaterina stroked the sweating soles of her feet.

       “Contractions every two minutes now,”  Patch said, Janet moaning and getting to all fours, while Ekaterina explored Janet’s situation, Janet roaring lustily and straining hard, Ekaterina suddenly feeling the baby emerging from the human’s body, Janet screaming and grunting.

      “Push Janet Push!”  Jess yelled.  Patch watched closely.

      “Catch the cub Ekaterina,” He said in ursine, Ekaterina catching the baby in her paws, feeling the slippery body in her paws, and treating it like an emerging cub.  Ekaterina felt the slippery body slide into the world, Patch watching for complications, and finding none.

      “Push gently Janet,” Patch said in English.  Janet obeyed by bearing down into her bottom as she felt the baby emerging.  Ekaterina caught the baby in her paws, feeling it wriggling.  Ekaterina began to clean the baby up, making sure it could breathe.  The baby began to cry like a bear cub, Ekaterina recognising the sound.

       “I will cut the cord now,” Jess said, tying the cord expertly and cutting it.  Janet lay down on her side, panting and gasping.

        “All correct,” jess said to Janet.  Ekaterina, cleaning up the baby, said nothing until she’d cleaned it from head to toes, and then handed it to her mother.

        “You have a male cub,” Ekaterina said, “well done mama.”  Patch translated.

        “She’ll be okay, and so will her baby,” Patch said.  Janet waited for the afterbirth to be delivered while feeding her newborn baby son.

        “We can’t keep this secret any more,” she said, “mum and dad will go mad!”

        “What will you name your baby?”  Patch asked.

        “I don’t know yet,” she replied, “but I will tell him of his birth into this world.”  Patch smiled.

        “We have video of it,” he replied, “audio and pictures.”  Janet smiled:

        “I would like a copy,” she said.  Charles Fullbeans wandered in from his lodge in the wood.

       “Your mum and dad know of the birth of your son,” he said, “they have been watching the community from their holiday home.  They are furious you didn’t tell them you were pregnant.”

       “I hope they look to the here and now and look after their daughter cub and her son cub,” patch said, “If they don’t, I’ll break their paws!”  Charles smiled at the large male bear.

        “They will look to the here and now,” he replied, “Here, talk to them.  He handed Patch a phone:

      “Hello?”  Patch said.

       “We have just seen our daughter giving birth to a baby!”  Janet’s mother yelled.

       “What is your name my dear,” patch said softly.

       “Jean, and my husband is tony,” was the reply, “now why is Janet delivering her baby in your fêted house?”

        “I wouldn’t describe this place as a fêted house,” Patch replied, “I know fêted houses, for I lived in one once, and this is not one.  We helped your daughter have her cub, sorry, baby, and we will look after her and her baby until you return.  The sire of the baby is not Royston, I can tell that.  So who is he?”

        “Probably that bloody boy from Janet’s school,” jean snapped, “though I suppose the main thing is now to make sure Janet and her baby is all right.  Can you do that?”  Patch promised he would.  With that the call ended.

       “I’m getting a doctor from the hospital to come and look at Janet,” Charles Fullbeans said, “We have to wait for the afterbirth to emerge now.”  Emerge it did, Janet helping things along with enthusiastic efforts.

         “Your baby is very handsome Janet,” Ekaterina said, exploring the baby from head to foot as he slept.

       “We will look after both Janet and Royston while they are alone in their house,” Patch said.  “Charles, could you please arrange that?”  Charles said he would gladly do so. Half an hour later, Janet took her newborn son back to their house wrapped in a blanket.  Charles Fullbeans made sure there was everything the young people needed.

       “She is no cub now,” patch said to Ekaterina, “Janet is a mama now.”  Ekaterina snorted:

        “You’re too forgiving of those humans,” she snarled.

        “Ekaterina,” Patch said, patting the rug beside him for her to sit down and embracing her, “humans are not all bad.  Indeed, Royston and Janet are good humans really.  Yes they did not know how to handle Bess and her pup, and they fire set, but think about this, Royston tried to help his sister.  He researched pregnancy on the internet, and tried to help her get through the birth.  He then rang us, and I could do nothing other than help Janet and her brother.  Janet was wonderful during the birth of her baby wasn’t she?”  Ekaterina nodded reluctantly.

       “She was,” she said uncertainly.

        “Ekaterina,” Patch said, “forget Janet is human and think of her as a labouring mother.  Did she do well, or did she not do well?”  Ekaterina smiled:

       “She did well,” she replied earnestly.

       “Think of her as the mama whom you helped give birth to a gorgeous cub,” Patch replied, “I know I shall, and I’ve seen the worst of humans.  Ekaterina, if I can see beyond the fault of some humans, can’t you try to do the same?”

         “I could,” Ekaterina replied.

      “Cement the memories of this day in your mind Ekaterina,” Jess replied, “I can re-enact Janet’s labour for you, I’ve been watching closely, as has everyone here.  Ekaterina smiled:

        “I remember how Janet’s toes curled, how she sat back on her heels and bore down, how she struggled bravely to deliver her cub.”

        “Should we let them stay here for a while?”  Jess asked.  Patch shook his head:

        “We will allow them to come and go as they wish, but we can’t give them a permanent home here,” he replied, “they have their home after all.”

 

 

Janet fed her newborn son, and chatted with Royston about the day’s goings on.

        “I was in labour for eight hours,” she said, “four here and four in the community house.  I can still feel the touch of both Patch and of Ekaterina’s paws on the soles of my feet, and remember the pressure of my own hands around my feet as I grabbed and squeezed them as hard as I could.  My toes ache, indeed my whole body aches, but I wouldn’t change a thing about this day.”

      “I watched everything,” Royston replied, “You were wonderful Janet.  You did so well!”

        “I dreaded this day,” Janet admitted, “all the pain and effort was worth it though.”

        “Are you gonna get Gareth to pay for his kid?”  Royston asked.

      “Yes I will!”  Janet replied, “I don’t think a paper round will put nappies on him or buy food for him will it.  Tell you what I will do though, I will teach my son that barefoot is the way to be.  I have enjoyed being barefoot throughout my confinement, and did you notice, Jess was barefoot too.  I think she goes barefoot all the time.”

      “I know we’ve played with each other’s toes before,” Royston replied, “though we haven’t gone barefoot for long, we’re not allowed.”

       “I certainly will go barefoot,” Janet said, “I wonder if I can talk to jess about it.  She’s a similar age to me.  Though I think her mind is a lot older, though she’s not as inhibited as most.  She re-enacts the births of cubs as if it’s a rite of passage.”

      “I think it is,” Royston replied, “as some can’t see the videos, the only way to include those who can’t see videos is to get hands, or paws on, as they’d say.”

        “I am glad we called them,” Janet replied, “I’ll never forget this day, and giving birth into the paws of a bear beats a sterile hospital.  I’ll bet my son will remember another’s touch, as well as mine when he’s older.”  Janet’s baby son pushed against her arm with his tiny feet, his strength amazing to her.

        “Bet you can push harder with those feet than that,” she said.  And the baby boy did, as if he understood her at two hours old.

        “I wonder if he’ll be as active as some of those cubs are at two hours old.”  Janet asked Royston, “You know, when Snowdrop was born,” she laughed, “I copied Alaska’s labour throws, do you remember that?”  Royston grinned:

        “You did very well,” he replied, “maybe that was what made your real labour easier, don’t you think?”  Janet smiled:

      “Maybe,” she replied, “but I wonder if my boy will be as active as little snowdrop.”  For answer, the baby crawled away from Janet, clambered into the space between the pillows on the double bed, curled up, and fell asleep.

       “Is my little boy going to be more mobile than others of his age?”  Janet asked.  Going over to the bed, she did what she’d seen Ekaterina do, ran her hands all over her baby’s body, feeling well developed muscles and strong hands and feet.

        “A baby should not be able to do that yet,” Royston said, “crawling is not expected yet!”

        “Maybe he is like the cubs who are far more developed when born in the house, to when they’re born of mothers in the wild,”  Janet thought aloud, “Maybe my baby’s like little Snowdrop, able to crawl at a very young age.”

        “Maybe the experience in the house had a deep effect on the little one,” Royston thought, “who knows for sure?

 

Days passed and Janet realised her baby was very developed for his age.  Within two days, the baby, yet unnamed, was rolling onto his back and grabbing his feet with his hands and crawling about on strong arms and legs.  Janet laughed at her son’s antics, loving him from his head to his tiny toes.

        “I suppose we should take him to the community house and ask them to name him, as he is their cub really,” Royston said, “his development is way beyond what a child of his age should be.”  Janet smiled and tickled the young baby’s heels, the baby boy laughing, rolling over onto his back and drawing up his legs, grabbing his feet with his hands.

        “He is more developed than a human child should be,” Janet said, “I wonder why that is?”  Later that day, the doctor arrived to check Janet and her son over.  Finding Janet’s tale of being helped to give birth by a bear incredible, the doctor, one Doctor Julia Sanchez, phoned the only place where she could think of phoning for confirmation.  Patch arrived a few minutes later, and Doctor Sanchez had the shock of her life.  She recognised Patch.

       “You used to look after one of my patients,” she said to the bear, “jess wasn’t it?”  Patch nodded and smiled:

        “I used to bring her to your surgery for check ups,” he replied, “now she’s doing well in our community home.  I too am doing well.”  Julia Sanchez looked into patch’s face.

       “Can you tell me what happened during the birth of Janet’s cub?”  Doctor Sanchez asked.  Patch smiled:

       “You’d do better asking Janet about that, along with this video, Patch replied, holding out a DVD in a case.  Doctor Sanchez put the DVD in the player and watched in amazement as the first shots were of Janet crawling into Patch’s lie up.  Four hours later, the film ended.

       “That was amazing,” Doctor Sanchez said, “Maybe we’re not so different after all.”  Patch grinned:

        “I think this little cub will grow to love both his human and non human families,” he said, “Indeed, I have seen this little chap acting like one of our community cubs.  He seems very developed for his age.”

       “His physical development is very advanced for a five day old boy,” Doctor Sanchez replied, “indeed, because it is possible to see what’s going on in here, I didn’t come round earlier than today, as I could see things were fine.  Next I’ll be hearing Ekaterina is feeding the lad with a bottle.”

       “I’ve been trying to stop her,” Patch replied, “it’s hard for her not to; she was so involved with everything.”

       “There is no reason why she can’t.  I know Jess has been injecting herself with anti bodies to enable her to live amongst the community and do all that you do.  I will proscribe that for Janet too if she’s agreeable, then she and her young son can have the same immunity to bugs and things.”

        “Yes,” Patch replied, “jess has been injecting various drugs so she can live naturally with us.”

      “Why would she inject herself with stuff,” Janet asked.

       “Dirtying up if you like,” Doctor Sanchez replied, “humans are too clean these days, and to live with the community, despite how clean they are, and they are very clean, humans have become too clean in this country.  We’d all get ill.  Jess has certain immunity, as she was brought up by Patch from an early age, but she still has to boost the antibodies to certain things.  The injections are twice a year, and so will be for you and then for your son when he’s older if you wish it Janet.  If you don’t have these injections, you’ll have to treat Patch and the other members of the community like common animals.”

      “What about when I gave birth to my son?”  Janet asked, “Would I be subject to infection then?”

      “No,” Doctor Sanchez replied, “You didn’t see it, but Ekaterina washed her paws with special gel which killed germs on them.  Fortunately she didn’t have to work intimately, though I’m sure she could if she needed to.”  Patch smiled:

      “Indeed, she knows how to rescue stuck cubs,” patch said.  Doctor Sanchez looked into Patch’s face, longing to take his paw in her hands.  She’d never touched him in the years she’d known him.

       “Take my paw if you want to,” Patch said smiling and holding out his massive right forepaw.  Doctor Sanchez took Patch’s right forepaw in her hands, feeling the bear’s massive power.

       “You know how to fight too I think,” Doctor Sanchez said.  Patch looked unhappy, sitting down suddenly.

        “I don’t like that part of my life,” Patch said honestly, “but it’s necessary to protect my family.”

        “I hear others have been practising too,” Doctor Sanchez said.

        “Jess and I practise together yes,” Patch replied, “we are very well practised, and very dangerous too.”

        “But you also have a softer side,” Doctor Sanchez said, “a side which involves paw play and natural other playtimes too.”

        “Yes, I enjoy paw play, as do most of the community.”

        “Indeed, I have heard,” Doctor Sanchez said, “that one of the rules is that anyone coming to live in the community has to be barefoot, or “bare pawed,” as you put it.”

      “Charles Fullbeans doesn’t go without shoes,” Patch replied, “but he’s a friend of the community, not part of it, though that’s by choice.”  Julia Sanchez looked at the little boy who was now crawling towards Patch. Patch noticing him, smiled, dropped his right forepaw to the floor, lifted his left fore, and tickled the sole of the little boy’s right foot, the child laughing merrily and curling his toes with pleasure.

       “How developed is my cub, sorry, my baby?”  Janet asked.

       “In ursine terms he’s three months old, in human terms, he’s six months to a year now,”  Patch replied, “your son cub will grow up fast I think, faster than you did, though he’ll enjoy play for the whole of his life.  He’ll enjoy being barefoot and feel the world through his hands and feet more than modern humans do.  He will shed his socks and shoes quickly, if and when he wares them at all.”

       “Let’s see how this little chap is doing,” Julia Sanchez said, examining Janet’s baby with her equipment and knowledge, pronouncing him healthy and strong for his ten days of age.  She gave Janet injections to help her build up her immune system for life in the community as an over sanitised human.  Janet didn’t mind the jabs, for she knew that they were for her and for her baby also.

       “Now I’ll go,” Doctor Sanchez said, “I’ll come back in a month and see how you are getting on Janet, and by that time, you will have named your child.”  With that, the doctor left the house.  Patch grinned at Janet and took his leave.

       “Now I wonder what your overdeveloped son cub will turn out to be,” Royston asked.  Janet grimaced:

      “Gareth will probably call him wolf boy, or bear boy or something so silly.”

     “What will you call him?”  Royston asked.  Janet smiled:

        “I know he is of Gareth and of me, but he is also of the bears that helped me in that room,” she said, “what else could cause his fast paced development?”

        “You mean he’s partly bear cub?”  Royston asked.

       “There is something unusual about him, but nothing wrong,” Janet replied.  The young boy began to babble at Janet, and she reached for him, sat down and began to feed him.

        “He asked to be fed,” Janet said to Royston, who stared in astonishment.

       “He spoke, though not in a language we could recognise,” Royston said, “is this how cubs in the community talk when young?  It doesn’t sound like the community dialect used by young adults or fully grown adults,” Royston said.

       “Yes it is,” Cinders replied, crawling into the house after Lilly, who’d come to offer a supporting paw to Janet.  Janet, having read of and watched Cinders birth and life, ran to Lilly, hugged her, then knelt and hugged Cinders.

    “What are you two doing here?”  Royston asked, “Are we no longer Enemies?”

      “You only became enemies when you set fire to the woods, but now you are sorry for what you did, we will let you in.  Yes if it hadn’t been for Janet’s labour, you probably wouldn’t have come down our path to apologise, but she went into labour, and you came to us.  You trusted us with Janet and her cub, so now we trust you a little.  I decided to come down here and offer a helping paw to Janet with understanding her newborn cub’s talk, but she doesn’t need help it seems.”  Lilly spoke the community dialect, and Janet wasn’t fluent in it by any means, but she knew what the mother bear was saying all the same.

      “Thanks for your concern mama,” Janet said.

 

Kuruk watched angrily as he saw Lilly with Janet.  The camera, recently installed in the human’s house after the birth of Janet’s little boy allowed the community to check on the humans as well as they could check on the members of the community.  Kuruk, made uneasy by Patch’s manner towards Janet and Royston, tackled him about his conduct.

       “Patch,” Kuruk said one day soon after doctor Sanchez visit to Janet, “you treat Janet as if she no commits crimes against us, as if she pure white like lioness Rowena, why you do this?”  Patch, unsettled by Kuruk’s tone, motioned for him to sit down.

       “Janet went into labour to have her man cub, and she was in need of our help because of this.  She was like a mama bear, like Anook was when she came to us.  Janet was in labour when she came through our door, as was mama Anook.  Mama Anook wasn’t turned away, so why should we turn Janet away?  It has been some time since the fire setting insolent, and I think everyone deserves a second chance.  Jess has looked into the computer Royston and Janet have in the house.  They have been researching how to look after Janet’s son cub, what to feed him, how to keep him clean, that sort of thing.”

      “You mean they try look after cub on own?”  Kuruk asked.  Patch nodded, Kuruk was outraged:

        “How come we never help them?”  Kuruk asked.

       “You are so funny!”  Patch laughed, “Kuruk, one minute you are saying we shouldn’t help Janet, the next you are outraged that we don’t help them.  What do you want us to do?”

       “Kuruk hate humans big time,” Kuruk grumbled, “but that little cub, he all right.  Kuruk want hug him, though Kuruk no say thing to anyone else in case them think him silly old bear, you know?”  Patch grinned, hugged Kuruk and whispered:

       “I know you are a silly old bear Kuruk, soppy and soft.  You don’t know what you want really do you?”

       “Kuruk no know anything now,” Kuruk grunted.

      “I’ll bet you that if you got paws on with Janet’s little cub, he and you would fall instantly in love with each other,”  Patch said, “you’d forget he was human and love him like you do any other cub,”  Patch insisted.

       “Kuruk and Jess play with each other’s paws good bit,” Kuruk confided, “Kuruk like thing, as does jess.  She real cute and Kuruk call her as his cub, though only playing.”

       “Is it really only play?”  Patch asked, taking his brother’s paw.

       “Kuruk no want say for sure,”  Kuruk mumbled, his eyes confused, “Kuruk get big warm feeling when play with jess, as if he want cuddle and protect her, and he feel same of Janet’s cub too.  Patch, you able to be all soft and thing for all time, Kuruk, he no good at showing soft side until alone in den with cubs, you see?”  Patch smiled and hugged his brother.

       “You go see Janet and ask if you can hug little man cub,” patch said in woodland dialect, Kuruk smiling broadly.

       “Now Kuruk scared!”  Kuruk admitted.  Patch kissed his brother’s nose, just as jess wandered in.

       “You two are so sweet together,” she said, Kuruk’s walls going straight up.

       “We talking private,” he grunted to jess, Jess laughing and grabbing Kuruk’s right hind foot, the male grizzly too shocked to fight her.

        “You are as soppy as your brother, though you don’t want to admit it Kuruk,” she said.

        “Now Kuruk look like sheep for sure,” Patch said.  Kuruk laughed.

       “I play with little man cub if Janet say can do thing,” Kuruk said, “though he so big for human that man cub be!  He big and strong, like he has community food and care all time.  Kuruk see little man cub’s forepaws and hind paw too; they big and he do well at crawling thing also.  He speaks to Cinders, and she knows what he says, though Eohippus knows how she knows.”

       “You already know how to stroke a human’s paws,” Patch said.  Kuruk giggled cubbishly.

      “You brought Jess up almost single pawed,” Kuruk said, “so Kuruk suppose he can learn to love Janet’s cub.”

       “What will there parents think of the cub?”  Ekaterina asked, “They sounded pretty angry with her for delivering their first Grandcub to them at her young age.”

       “I’m sure they’ll come round to it in the end,” Patch replied, “Ekaterina, have you forgiven me for letting Janet into the house?”  Ekaterina hugged her mate:

       “I forgave you the minute I got paws on with Janet as she delivered her baby,” Ekaterina replied, “I knew you’d done the right thing Patch.”

        “What do you remember of that time?”  Patch asked.

       “The feel of her paw pads, sorry, the soles of her feet beneath my paws, the emergence of the baby from her body, all that and more, I felt her commitment and vulnerability Patch.”

       “I will never forget your touch Ekaterina,” Janet said, padding into the room, “and nor will my little cub.”  Ekaterina turned to Janet and hugged her.

        “You did wonderfully,” Ekaterina said.  Janet wrapped her arms around Ekaterina’s neck and hugged her tightly.

         “Treat me like a teddy bear why not!”  Ekaterina laughed.

      “Oh sorry,” Janet replied.  Ekaterina kissed her forehead and nuzzled her ear.

      “That’s okay,” Ekaterina said.

       “Have you had cub’s mama Ekaterina?”  Janet asked, though she knew the answer.  Ekaterina replied that she had given birth to cubs, and also lost one too.

       “I’m sorry you lost one cub Ekaterina,” Janet said.  Ekaterina took Janet’s hand in her paws.

       “It was a horrible time,” Ekaterina said, “for more than the fact I lost the cub too.”

        “How did it feel?”  Janet asked softly.  Ekaterina sighed deeply:

       “Like delivering a log,” Ekaterina said, “pushing out that cub felt like I was battling to pass a huge log.  I strained and pushed, bounced and wriggled, stamped my feet and cried with pain and sorrow.”

       “But you do know the joy of delivering a live cub too,” Janet said.

       “I do,” Ekaterina replied, “and that’s so wonderful.”  Janet smiled:

      “I have left my son with Royston for a minute, he’s baby sitting for a while which is good of him.”  Janet gave Ekaterina her left foot, Ekaterina exploring the young girl’s toes and the sole of her foot, Janet finding her toes curling easily with pleasure.

        “I tried playing with my toes before you got to the house you know,”  Janet said, “it helped a little, as did gripping my feet in my hands and squeezing hard while curling my toes, then a bit of frantic rubbing of sole and heel with my fingers when the contraction ended.”

       “Your foot is cool and expressive,” Ekaterina said, “I remember when it was hot and damp, with toes curled even tighter than now.”  Janet curled her toes as tightly as she could, but knew she couldn’t match how she’d curled them while delivering her young son into the world.

      “My fingers and toes ached for days,” Janet said as Ekaterina rubbed her toes with her paw.

       “Can I take hold of your paw Ekaterina?”  Janet asked.  Ekaterina, sitting down as she was, gave Janet her left hind foot.  Janet explored the mama bear’s pads and toes, Ekaterina curling her toes as Janet had curled hers.

      “Your pads are soft and rough,” Janet said, “your foot is like mine, with soft pads and expressive toes.”

       “I like my paws,” Ekaterina said.  Janet laughed:

      “And me mine,” she replied, “though I like your paws also.”

       “Me yours too,” Ekaterina replied.

       “I’ll encourage my son to go barefoot and enjoy feeling things through his feet and hands,” Janet said.  I’ll teach him hand and foot games, and play the stuck foot game, or trapped paw game as you know it.”  Ekaterina smiled:

      “That’s a fun game,” she said.

      “Royston and I played it when we were younger,” Janet said, “we don’t play any more; he’s too old for that he says.  I would love to play it again though.  Maybe I will with my son?”

       “You will,” Ekaterina said, “maybe you could play with Cinders now?  I’m sure she’d love a game.”  Janet giggled:

        “I’d love that,” she replied, “but what about me and you playing?”  Ekaterina grinned:

       “Yes, lets,” she replied.  Janet and Ekaterina sat opposite each other, the soles of Ekaterina’s hind paws touching Janet’s bare feet.  Janet felt Ekaterina’s rough pads against her feet.  Smiling, she tried to slide her right foot down Ekaterina’s pads, finding the rough pads stopped her foot sliding.  Then Ekaterina curled her toes around Janet’s, Janet smiling broadly and pressing her toes into Ekaterina’s pads.

       “Do you think your feet are stuck to mine?”  Ekaterina asked.  Janet laughed:

       “Now I try to pull each of my feet away from yours, and you try to pull your paw away from my foot,”  Janet said, “though I don’t think I really want to separate us, your pads are soft and warm, and comforting.”  Ekaterina laughed.

       “Okay, now my toes let go of your toes, and you try and free your left foot, okay?”  She asked.  Janet smiled and gently explored her left foot, touching her toes and the area around her foot, trying to find a gap to fit a finger between the pads of Ekaterina’s paw and the sole of her foot.

       “Try around the inside of your hind paw,” Ekaterina suggested, “there is a gap there I think.  Janet found the gap between the pad of Ekaterina’s paw and the arch of her foot, and began to gently lever at the heel of her foot with her fingers.  Tugging with her fingers at the heel of her left foot, Janet found the job of freeing her foot difficult.

      “Can you curl your toes again Ekaterina?”  Janet asked, Ekaterina complying, Janet finding there was no difference in the bond between her heel and the polar bear’s paw pad.

      “I’m stuck!”  Janet whimpered.  Ekaterina gently explored the situation her left hind foot found itself in.  She found she had a little play in the bond between the ball of Janet’s right foot and the ball of her own hind foot.

       “I’m going to work on the ball of my left hind foot, while you work on the heel of your left foot, okay?”  Ekaterina said.  Janet nodded, her fingers scrabbling furiously at the pads of Ekaterina’s right hind foot around the place where her heel was pressed against the pads of the sole of Ekaterina’s foot.

      “I don’t know if my foot will want to be parted from yours Ekaterina,” Janet said, “the friendship started when I was in pain and your paws touched mine.”  Ekaterina laughed merrily and confessed that:

       “My paws feel the same about yours.”  Janet smiled, and Patch, who had watched and heard, all, smiled to himself.

        “You enjoy her touch then Ekaterina?”  He asked.  Ekaterina became defensive:

      “I know what I said, I know I said I didn’t want her to come here, but I was wrong.  I know I was wrong now.”  Patch smiled and kissed his mate’s nose.

       “You better concentrate on freeing your hind feet both of you,” he said to Ekaterina and Janet, both bear and human smiling broadly.

 

Meanwhile, back at Janet and Royston’s house, Janet’s son, who was yet to be named, played with a new playmate.  Mishka, who’d visited the house out of curiosity, had almost collided with the little boy as he crawled about.  The baby boy, feeling the touch of paw pads on the sole of his left foot, turned and looked at Mishka, reaching out to touch him.  Mishka felt the tiny hand exploring his face and paws, and didn’t mind it in the least.  Mishka knew what he’d touched was a human child, and that this child was male, and very young, like him.  He gently explored the baby’s face with his small paws, just as the baby had explored his.  Then, with unspoken consent, explored forelimbs, bodies and hind legs as it were, finishing off by touching fore and hind paws, as Mishka knew them to be.  Once this was done, the greeting was completed.

      “Can we play together?”  The baby boy asked Mishka.

      “We can,” Mishka replied, “I’m not what you are, and you are not what I am.  But we do have things in common.”

       “We are young, and we have small paws?”  The baby replied.  Mishka smiled:

       “Yes,” he replied.  Soon Mishka and the baby boy were playing together, Mishka playing with the baby’s hands and feet, and the baby playing with his fore and hind paws, both rolling over and over, Mishka instinctively knowing the young human was more fragile than himself, and playing carefully, though vigorously with him.

       “What is your name?”  The baby asked Mishka.  Mishka told him.  Though in his mind, the baby resolved the name as little friendly furry.”

       “My mama hasn’t given me a name yet,” the baby replied, “but I’m sure I’ll have one soon.”

       “Did your mama have you while she was hibernating?”  Mishka asked.  The baby laughed and replied:

     “No, I have been here in this world for ten sunrises now.  Though, though something tells me I’m older than that, as I know so much about my feet and hands.  Plus they tell me I’m well developed, whatever that means.”  Mishka smiled and gently massaged the baby’s right foot in his forepaws, the baby smiling while curling his toes and pressing his foot into the warmth of the massaging paws.

       “You can play, that’s all that should matter,” Mishka said.

      “I like your touch on my foot,” the baby said, Mishka smiling broadly.

 

“What are you doing to my grandson?”  Someone yelled, and then Mishka felt something hit him hard on his head.  Mishka crawled away confused and in pain, as Tony, Janet’s father, raised the poker to hit the cub again.  Mishka stumbled out of the room, and out of the house, limping down the track, his ears telling him where he was.  Crying, Mishka stumbled down the track, his head aching from the blow it had received from the poker.

         “We were playing!”  Mishka thought angrily, “we weren’t doing harm.”  Mishka stumbled into the house and found Janet playing with Ekaterina, the bear and human in an involved round of the trapped paw game.

        “I’m having difficulty freeing the toes of my left foot Ekaterina, they just won’t come free!”  Janet was saying as Mishka stumbled in.

         “What’s the matter Mishka?”  Ekaterina asked.  Mishka told her what he knew.

       “A voice hit you with a poker?”  Janet asked.  Ekaterina told her that, like herself, Mishka was blind.

     “Oh yes, I see how it would seem now,” Janet replied.

       “What did the voice say?”  Janet asked.

       “Let me get to my daughter!”  Someone yelled in English.

      “Oh dear, mother’s back,” Janet said resignedly.

        “You have no business playing with these vermin!”  Jean yelled at Janet.

       “Vermin?”  Patch asked, “That’s a bit rich coming from you I think.”  Jean spun round and screamed as Patch faced her.

       “Now what do I do with you?”  He asked, lifting his right forepaw, in which he held a riding whip, “do I hit you like your husband hit our cub?  Or do I order you back into your hovel and lock the door?  Hmm?”  Jean tried to barge past Patch, but it was like trying to move a mountain.

        “We saw what your mate did,” Patch replied, “we put cameras in the house to keep an eye on Royston and Janet, but the camera also kept an eye on you Jean.  Your Grandcub and my cub were playing together, and your mate got a poker and hit my cub for no reason.  Now little Grandcub is upset, and so is my cub, and I don’t like unduly upsetting cubs.  Leave here, and leave Janet here, but bring back little Grandcub so he can live in a place that understands playtime.  That is an order!”  Jean fled and to Ekaterina’s surprise, complied with Patch’s demands, bringing Janet’s son to the house and leaving him with Patch.

      “Now we’re all together and safe, let’s deal with poor Mishka.”  Janet said, “How my father could hit him I don’t know!  That’s so awful!”

        “I can’t think why he would hit Mishka if the cub wasn’t doing your son any harm,” Ekaterina said, cradling Mishka in her paws, “did you hurt little man cub Mishka?”  Ekaterina said to him in community dialect.

       “No, no!”  Mishka replied, “We were talking, sort of talking, kind of newborn cub talk, you know?  Well we were talking, and then I got hurt by something hard hitting my head!  I ran for my life mama!”  Ekaterina looked toward Janet.

      “Does the camera say that?”  She asked.  Janet said it did.

       “I’ll tear him to bits!”  Ekaterina roared, “That adult man human scum!  I hate him!”

         “Just let me be there when you do it,” Mishka said, “I don’t love that man human, but I do love little man cub a lot.  He is really fun mama, and has the most playful paws too.”  Ekaterina smiled and hugged her foster cub tightly.

         “Let’s get you bathed, fed and seen to, then you can sleep,” she said.  Mishka was happy with that.

 

Meanwhile in Julia Sanchez’s house, not far from the woodlands, her son Gareth sat miserably contemplating his lot.  He’d often been interested in the goings on re his mother’s work, but the news that she’d visited a young girl who lived near the woods to check up on her after she’d had her baby, filled him with dread.

        “I’ll bet Janet had our baby,” he thought, “though she would have done it in secret, I wonder that helped her, if anyone?”  Freakish videos from the internet played in his mind of mothers delivering babies alone in bathtubs, their cries, sweating faces, clenching teeth and curling toes making him feel sick with fear.

         “I hope she’s all right,” Gareth thought.  Doctor Sanchez walked in to find her son preoccupied and quiet.

        “What’s up?”  She asked.  Then, as he could see no way out, Gareth told his mother everything.

        “I don’t know what to say!”  Julia Sanchez yelled, “how are you gonna pay for the baby’s upkeep?  After all he’s yours!”

       “And the whole communities,” Julia thought, though said nothing to her now frightened son:

        “I’ll pay all I can from my paper round and the job at the shop,” Gareth said.  Julia Sanchez looked at her son, and knew he meant every word.

        “How did it happen?”  She asked.

       “We got together mum, you know how it happens,” Gareth replied.

       “Okay,” Julia Sanchez replied, “now Gareth, I have something to show you.  It is the birth of your little boy.”

        “I can’t watch that!”  Gareth yelled, “I’ve seen women having babies on their own in bathtubs and such, and it’s awful!”

        “Please,” Julia Sanchez said, emotion welling in her, “Gareth, watch this video, please?”  Gareth stared at his mother.

      “What?”  He asked.

       “Your son has, has, well, a protective family already,” Julia said, leading her son into the front room.

 

Gareth watched incredulously as his son was born in front of his eyes, seemingly helped by a load of people dressed as bears.

       “Is this a fake?”  He asked.  Is this a set up?”

       “They are real bears,” Julia Sanchez said, “I have met one, and watched many more.  There are lions, tigers and otters, everything almost.”

       “Hang on, that female polar bear has just, oh yuck! She’s catching the baby in her paws! How disgusting!  She even licked Janet’s sweating foot that was horrid!”

       “She kissed her foot I think you’ll find,” Doctor Sanchez said, “look and learn Gareth.”  Now the mama polar bear was cleaning the baby up, and then handing him to his mother while Gareth, dumbstruck and horrified, stared at the screen.

       “Janet doesn’t look distressed though does she,” Gareth had to concede.

      “No,” his mum replied, “she’s moaning, yelling, and grabbing her feet with her hands, but she’s not in distress as such, just suffering the pains of labour.”

        “She seems happy with the bears being there,” Gareth said, “can she understand them and they understand her?”

      “Yes on both counts,” Julia said, “and tonight, we’ll watch the community live.  You’ll see so much.  They are beautiful.  I’ve met Patch, that big grey bear that looked after jess I told you about, well I’ve met him.  He’s so sweet, a real gent, and gentle as you like with the cubs and little human babies too.”

       “Janet’s labour was not like those I see on the net,” Gareth said, “it was more expressive, but more gentle than those I’ve seen.  Janet seemed to move with her body, not against it.  She seemed to enjoy her struggle, if that’s not too stranger thing to say.”

        “The baby’s different too,” Julia Sanchez said, “look at the way he is, he’s stronger than a newborn human baby normally is.  I’ve examined him, and while he is well developed for his age, he’s got nothing wrong with him.”

        “let’s look at what’s happening now,”  Gareth said, switching the TV to the web browser and tuning into the community web feed, in time to see Ekaterina and Janet playing the trapped paw game.”

         “Do you remember when we used to play that game?”  Julia asked her teenage son.  Gareth looked at his mother:

       “It’s silly that,” he said, “I wouldn’t play it now.”

       “No not now,” Julia said, “but do you remember when we used to play it when you were younger?  You liked it then.”  Gareth remembered playing that game, and the memories were warm ones, though he didn’t want to admit it.

      “Now a cub is playing with the little boy, and, and, someone’s coming in with a poker, it’s Janet’s dad I think,”  Gareth said, “and he’s, oh shit mum!  He’s hit the cub!  He’s hit the bear cub mum!  I’m gonna kill him!”

       “We’re not standing for this,” Julia said, both running to the car and leaping in.  Speeding to the community woodlands, Doctor Sanchez, who broke all the rules, using a green light on the roof of her car while she was not on call, as she thought this was an emergency, pulled up at the door of Janet and Royston’s house.  Royston, who was left alone while his parents went to the pub, told Doctor Sanchez where she could find Janet, the little boy, and the injured cub.  Doctor Sanchez and Gareth made their way to the house, getting strange looks from a lion or two, and one enormous tiger, but none approached them.

        “I’ve come to check on that darling cub which was hit by that man with the poker,” Doctor Sanchez said to Patch.

       “But you aren’t a vet are you?”  He asked.

      “No,” Julia admitted, “but I can tell a broken bone when I find one.”  Mishka had the purpose of the doctor’s visit explained to him by Patch, and then was content to let Doctor Sanchez examine him.  She found no broken bones, just a shocked cub, which enjoyed her gentle examination.

        “Have you thought of a name for the boy yet?”  Doctor Sanchez asked as Janet walked in with her ten day old son in her arms.  Gareth looked at the little boy, who was more interested in gazing at the bears and a lion or two who stalked round them in the lie up, some growling deep in their throats.

       “Whose child is this really?”  Gareth asked, “Mine and Janet’s, or Janet’s and the community’s?”

        “We can’t really separate him from the community now,” Janet said, “he’s as integrated as Jess now.”  Gareth knew of jess, and how she played and socialised with the community cubs.

       “I saw you playing a game with Ekaterina Janet,” Gareth said, “it looked like you two were pretending your feet were stuck together.”

      “We were, and what a struggle it was to free them,” Janet said smiling, “that were fun.”

       “I remember my mama and I playing the game when I was younger than you are now,” Gareth said, “isn’t it a childish game Janet?”

       “It’s a bonding game, a real bonding game,” Janet replied, “I won’t stop playing it.”

      “It is a game that means no harm to anyone,” jess said, “and it’s a great game for growing imaginations.”

        “The bear Ekaterina caught your baby!”  Gareth yelled.

        “Don’t shout, and yes she did,” Janet replied, “That was fine by me of course.  I couldn’t have done it without Ekaterina.”

        “You must be extremely brave, or mad to allow a bear to help you while you give birth to our son,” Gareth said.  Janet shook her head:

       “These people know what birth is, they don’t frighten themselves with it, they know it’s hard sometimes, that deaths happen, but their faith is strong in nature’s way of doing things.  It’s a very strong thing.”

       “As strong as the bond between Ekaterina’s hind paws and your feet?”  Gareth said.  Janet smiled:

      “That was strong,” Janet replied, “and the bond didn’t want to be broken either.”

       “I can’t believe your dad hit that poor cub!”  Gareth exclaimed.

      “That was horrid,” Janet replied, “there was no need.”

       “What shall we name our child?”  Gareth asked.

       “I thought of naming him Moses,” Janet said, “it’s a nice name.”  Gareth was agreeable.

       “Moses he is then,” Gareth replied.

       “Moses has a good friend, a bear cub named Mishka; he’s so sweet towards him Gareth.”  Gareth nodded:

      “I saw them playing,” he replied, “They were talking too, and were so good together.”

        “I know I fire set in the woods,” Janet said, “for that I am very sorry, and so is Royston.  Now we have learnt what good kind people live here.  When I was in trouble, they came and helped me.”

        “What do you want me to do to help you?”  Gareth asked, “I can’t live like you do.  All this play and stuff is not my thing.”

        “If you don’t want contact with Moses, that’s fine, as long as you do your duties as the sire, sorry, father of our son cub.”

      “You talk like you have fur and paws!”  Gareth yelled suddenly, “Janet, are you human or animal?”  Kuruk, understanding all, cuffed Gareth hard and said:

       “It no matter what she is, as long as she is good to her cub and to others.  Now if she wants call her son cub, cub, than that is okay by us.  Her hind feet are like paws really, as they play well.”  Gareth, his face stinging, stormed from the house.

       “I’ll make sure he pays up,” Julia Sanchez said on her way out of the house.”

        “Dipping your wick really does make you sick,” Sita said as she padded into the room, “Imogen was right in one case at least, the vibes coming off him were pure anger.”  Janet smiled at the funny furred cat, gave Moses to Kuruk to hold for a minute, then went to Sita and hugged her.

        “You are so lovely to me and my boy,” Janet said to Sita, who’d stationed herself in the human’s house and curled around Moses, warming him, and sometimes feeding him from a bottle.  Lilly also had offered to feed Moses, Janet accepting the mama bear’s offer, and not being surprised when she fed him naturally, Cinders seeming to accept the newcomer.  Once Moses had fed, Cinders and he played together; their favourite games were chasing each other’s hind feet and catching them with their hands or paws. 

 

When Mishka played with Moses, their play was gentler. Moses liked Mishka to stroke the soles of his feet from heel to toes, the bear cub obliging with evident enjoyment of his task.  In response to Mishka’s stroking, of the soles of his feet, Moses curled and relaxed his toes to show his pleasure.  Moses seemed to realise Mishka couldn’t see him, so played without losing contact with Mishka.  This resulted in a contact sport, rough and tumbles without any loss of contact between hand and paw or hind paw and foot, or forepaw and hind foot.

       “Your foot pads are smoother than mine Moses,” Mishka said, Moses giggling with pleasure.

        “I know,” he said, “your pads are rougher than mine, though your toes are really playful.”

 

 

Sita knew Moses would end up being one of her charges in the playroom before long, and she’d have to get used to him.

 

Meanwhile, tony, Janet and Royston’s father was getting the worst of it from Charles Fullbeans, the former council worker giving the man hell for hitting Mishka.

       “The bear was mauling my grandson!”  Tony yelled.

     “He was playing with him, they were playing,” Charles said, “I’ve seen the video.  They were playing with each other’s paws; they do that kind of thing here.”

       “It’s all wrong!”  Tony yelled.

       “if it hadn’t been for Patch and those like him, Janet might not have had her baby so easily as she did,”  Charles replied, “I know you didn’t know about your daughter’s pregnancy, but don’t dismiss Patch and his kind out of hand.”

       “I’ll come back and destroy this community!”  Tony yelled.

      “No you won’t,” jess replied, “you couldn’t bring yourself to destroy the bears and their ways.”

        “What are you?  Wolf girl?”  Tony asked.  Jess snorted, and then lashed out with her bare left foot, catching Tony between his legs.  Tony screamed and collapsed, while Kuruk laughed fit to bust.

       “Now you go!”  Kuruk yelled, “Or we kick you in head next time, and it is with metal paw!”  Tony wailed and stumbled away.

       “Is he a danger to us,” jess asked, sitting down and massaging her aching left foot.

       “I need more training,” she said, massaging the ball of her foot with her fingers.

       “You’ll get that,” Patch said.  Jess looked at her life long friend.

       “I think he’s serious,” She said, “What harm have we done him?  We’ve saved his daughter and her son cub, but it seems he wants more.”

       “He wanted us to be paws off, but we couldn’t be,” Jess replied.

       “I’ll see we’re safe,” Patch said.

 

Jean and Tony tried over the next few weeks to find fault with their grandson, or with Janet, but despite Moses being well developed for his age, all the doctors they took him to say he was doing well, very well, extremely well in fact, and even congratulated Janet on her mothering skills.

       “I think it’s all that wild lonely air,” Janet said diplomatically.

       “Do you go walking with him in the pram then?”  A doctor at one of the interminable meetings that had been held for weeks asked.

       “Yes, and sometimes he crawls through the woods too,” Janet replied.

       “That’s not good for him really Janet,” one doctor remarked, “maybe when he’s older, “but not now.”  Though no matter what blood tests they did, Moses was pronounced healthy, very healthy and active, with a well developed imagination and good dexterity and hand eye coordination for a child of his age.

         “It seems to me that, improbable though it may seem, there are others looking out for little Moses than just Janet and his grandparents,” another doctor said, “I get this feeling strongly.”

     “There are others,” Janet replied, “others that you would not even dream of.  I gave birth in an amazing place; my midwife was gentle and caring.  She had the gentlest caring paws I’ve ever felt.”

        “Paws?”  One doctor asked.

 

Patch, dressed in his suit and hat, sat with a wine glass against the wood of the door, his ear to the wine glass, listening intently.

         “Yes paws,” Janet replied, “my midwife’s name is Ekaterina, and she’s wonderful.”

         “What’s this reference to paws?”  Another doctor asked.

 

Patch opened the door, padded in and sat down on the floor.

       “Paws,” he said, “what bears have on the ends of all four limbs.”  The doctors stared at the large man who’d walked into the room and sat down on the floor.

        “Who are you Sir?”  One doctor asked.

       “I am the leader of the house where Janet had her baby,” Patch said from beneath his hat.

        “You lead this strange community?”  Another doctor enquired.

       “With all due respect Madam, “Patch replied, “My family is not as strange as it might seem at first.  Indeed, your families are often stranger than ours.”

       “What do you mean?”  Another doctor asked.

       “Do you remember the story of Patch, the bear who looked after a young girl by the name of jess?”   Patch asked.  All the doctors nodded, for that story was one they’d studied in their training in child protection.

       “It was said the child was looked after by Patch, who was ursine, a bear in other words,” one doctor said.

         “Yes, a bear is what Patch was,” patch replied, “though no fault was found with this bear’s care of the human I think.”  Another doctor opened a file and read:

       “In conclusion, we can find no fault in Patch’s care of Jess, indeed, his care is more careful than that of a lot of [human parents we have met.”

       “Indeed,” Patch replied, “now I know this bear, and Jess too, so I can vouches for the care jess was given.  Patch loves jess dearly, and Janet too I hear.”

        “I have viewed the video of Janet’s labour,” Doctor Sanchez said, “and if you would permit me, I will show it here for all to see.”  Patch looked at her, their eyes meeting.

       “Don’t worry,” she mouthed.

        “I saw that,” another doctor said, “who is this man who’s walked in here?”  Patch grinned, shrugged off his coat and took off his hat.

        “Here is Patch, jess’s guardian,” he said.  The five doctors stared at him in astonishment.

       “You looked human!”  One yelled.

       “I lived with them for years, so I can,” Patch said.

       “You use a cane while you walk, are you elderly?”  One doctor asked.

      “No,” Patch replied, “I’m twelve now, but I can walk without the stick.  The stick is to disguise my slight, um, ursine gate when walking on my hind feet.  Part of the human act you see?”

       “Is everything else an act, caring for Janet and her son for instance?”  Another doctor asked.  The look Patch gave him made him look away.

        “That is not an act,” Patch replied, “I play a human because you could never allow a bear in here to show you how we care.  You would never trust the word of a bear, but I’d trust the word of a bear, or of any other non human creature more than that of some humans I know.”

         “This meeting is ended,” the head of the committee snapped suddenly, “I can’t stand this any more.  This bear knows everything!”

        “He did look after Jess for years,” jess said padding into the room.  The doctors stared at her.

         “Case closed!”  The foreman yelled, slamming his file shut and bolting!”  Jess and Patch collapsed into each other’s embrace, laughing and crying in turn while Janet looked down at her hands.

         “We’re okay then,” patch said to Jess, who smiled and hugged her ursine sire.

 

The family returned to the house after the meeting, tony meeting his daughter at the door of their house.

        “I’ve done all I can to convince the authorities to take your son away from you and that family you have, and now I can’t do any more,”  Tony said, “I will now ask you to leave this house.”

       “Then you will be prosecuted for child neglect,” Doctor Sanchez said, “Janet is fourteen, Royston sixteen, they need a home, and you are refusing to give them one here due to your prejudices.  Tony, watch and learn.  Watch the video of Moses birth, see what is really happening.”

       “I can’t watch those filthy bears doing things to her!”  Tony yelled.

      “They do nothing to her bar comfort her and aid her in pushing the baby into the world,” doctor Sanchez replied.  Tony screamed, grabbed an over night bag he kept for emergency situations, and fled!

         “Now what?”  Janet asked.

       “Look after your son,” doctor Sanchez said.  Janet did just as she advised.

 

Nuru, having observed the goings on with Janet and the other humans in growing alarm, sat in patch’s lie up.

        “I don’t like the interactions with the humans,” Nuru said.  Patch hugged the huge lion and massaged his paws.

        “You need not worry,” Patch replied, “I’ve spoken to them about this, Moses the little man cub, and Janet his mother are fine with working with us.”

       “They aren’t like Jess is they?”  Nuru asked, “Not part of the community I mean.”

       “No Nuru,” patch replied, “jess was once a bear you know.”  Nuru looked down as Moses crawled in with Mishka.  Smiling, Nuru rolled onto his side, gathered the little boy to him and embraced him.

         “Come here,” Nuru purred, embracing the little boy, Moses snuggling close to the big lion.

        “What’s new Pussy cat?”  Patch asked laughing.  Nuru growled in mock anger, his paws embracing the human child with gentle care.  Smiling, Moses snuggled into the lion’s embrace.

       “You are big and soft,” Moses said to the lion.

       “I feel I could get used to caring for this man cub,” Nuru said to Patch.  Moses wriggled out of Nuru’s embrace, lay down on his back, and pressed his tiny feet against Nuru’s forepaws, the lion pushing back gently.  Moses shifted his tiny naked feet against Nuru’s paw pads and patch saw the child’s leg muscles bulge as he pushed back hard against the lion’s forepaws.  Nuru whimpered as if Moses was overpowering him, closed his eyes and snarled in mock effort as he pushed back against the child’s pressure.  Moses laughed as Nuru’s forepaws dropped to the floor, and the lion rolled onto his back as if exhausted from pushing against his feet.

       “I got you!”  Moses laughed, Nuru rubbing his eyes with his paws.  Moses kicked the air with his feet, Patch crawling over to the laughing child and tickling the sole of Moses right foot, Moses laughing harder and wriggling madly.

     “We love you little one,”  Patch said, Moses freeing his foot and then crawling to patch, finding the bear’s right hind foot, and tickling his pads, Patch laughing and curling his toes to make his pads bunch up.

        “You have very mobile paws Patch,” Moses said; patch curling his toes around the little boy’s fingers as he stroked them.

       “Silly Patch,” Moses said, kissing the sole pad of the bear’s right hind foot, Patch looking round and smiling broadly.

      “Your pads are so soft,” Moses said.  Patch released the boy’s fingers and got to his feet.

       “Now you need to go back to your mama for a bit Moses,” patch said.  Moses left, and Patch sat down with Mishka, the cub scrambling into his lap and settling down, snuggled close.

       “You are one handsome cub Mishka,” Patch said, Mishka rolling onto his back and smiling up at Patch while waving all four paws in the air.

       “Such a sweet face and cute paws too,” Patch said smiling, Mishka covering his face with his paws in embarrassment.

       “Patch, don’t say things like that!”  He mumbled from behind his paws, “It’s embarrassing!”

       “You like it really don’t you,” Patch replied, Mishka reaching out for Patch’s paw, squeezing it tightly in his smaller ones.

        “Can we play the trapped paw game?”  Mishka asked.  Patch smiled and leant down, kissing Mishka’s nose.

       “We can play that game if you’d like to,” he replied gently.  Mishka sat opposite Patch.

        “Please check my hind feet for thorns,” Mishka said.  Patch did, lifting the cub’s left hind foot and resting the heel on his right leg.  Patch pressed Mishka’s pads with the toes of his left forepaw, Mishka trying not to wiggle his toes, or worse curl them with pleasure.  Patch could feel Mishka’s struggle in the slight twitching of the cub’s toes.

      “Okay,”  Patch said smiling, “on the count of three, wiggle those toes, on the count of five, curl them tightly for five seconds Mishka, then relax your toes and I’ll carry on the inspection of your pads, okay?”  Mishka smiled:

      “Thanks,” he said with relief.

       “One, two, three, wiggle your toes!”  Patch said.  Mishka did.

      “One, two, three, four, five, curl your toes!”  Patch said, Mishka tightly curling his toes.  Patch rubbed Mishka’s bunched pads, then said:

     “One, two, three, four, five, relax those toes, slowly uncurl them, and stretch them, one, two, three, four, five.”  Mishka smiled broadly.

       “That helped a lot,” Mishka said airily.  Patch smiled:

       “You might find my paws doing the same as yours,” Patch said.

       “It felt as if my paw was going to explode with pleasure,” Mishka said.  Patch knew what he meant.

       “I will now try to examine your hind foot Mishka,” Patch said softly.  Mishka giggled with excitement.  Patch firmly pressed Mishka’s paw pads firmly with his own paw, Mishka grabbing his left hind foot to stop himself from moving the toes of the paw Patch was working on.

       “You’re touching my sole pad, now my toes!”  Mishka said, I love you touching my toes Patch!”  Patch leant down and blew on Mishka’s toes, the bear cub squealing with laughter.

        “All’s fine with that foot,” Patch said, his eyes shining, “now let go of your left hind paw and I’ll look at that one.”  Mishka obeyed his sire, and Patch took hold of his cub’s left hind foot, repeating his exploration.  Mishka, his whole world focused through his paws, bunched about on his backside as Patch explored his left hind foot.

       “I can’t stop my toes!”  Mishka blurted.  Patch smiled, blew on Mishka’s toe, and then tickled his pads.

       “Do you want to wiggle and curl your toes again?”  Patch asked.

      “Yes please, I must do that again!”  Mishka replied.

 

Okay, as before,” patch said:       “One, two, three, wiggle your toes!”  Patch said.  Mishka did.

      “One, two, three, four, five, curl your toes!”  Patch commanded, Mishka tightly curling his toes.  Patch rubbed Mishka’s bunched pads, then said:

     “One, two, three, four, five, relax those toes, slowly uncurl them, and stretch them, one, two, three, four, five.”  Mishka laughed merrily as he completed his task.

       “Now you can carry on your exploration,” Mishka said softly.  Patch smiled and finished his exploration of Mishka’s left hind foot with a gentle massage to his sole pad.

       “We’ve spent ages preparing for the game, and I haven’t yet explored your pads for thorns,” Mishka said.

      “We could just play the game,” Patch replied, “I’m okay with that if you are.  Mishka hesitated:

      “No,” he replied, “the exploration of paws is part of the game; at least, mama Kamchatka said it was.  She taught me the trapped paw game.”  Patch heard Mishka’s voice crack as he mentioned his mama.

       “I’m glad she taught you the right way to play the game,” Patch replied, “she taught me that way too.  So let’s not skip anything, let’s examine each other’s paws before we press them pad to pad.  Now it’s your turn to explore my hind paws with your forepaws.”

      “I don’t know if I can let you let go of my foot though, your touch is so good!”  Mishka said, pressing his paw into patch’s warm embrace.

        “Please explore my paws,” patch whimpered, “please!”  Mishka giggled and mimicked patch,

       “Oh please explore my paws!”  He whined. Patch dabbed at Mishka’s nose with his forepaw, Mishka sticking his tongue out at him.  Roaring with laugher, Patch let go of Mishka’s left hind foot, Mishka taking hold of his brother’s right hind paw.

       “Now hold still,” Mishka said, gently exploring Patch’s pads and toes, Patch finding his toes wouldn’t keep still, just like Mishka’s.  Patch could feel emotion welling in him from the pads of his paw, up his leg and into his belly, where it threatened to overwhelm him if he didn’t do something soon.

        “I think my paw is going to explode!”  Patch wailed, “I need to wiggle and curl my toes now Mishka.”  Mishka smiled broadly.

       “Would you like help with that?”  He asked.  Patch smiled and replied:

        “Yes please.”  Mishka grinned and replied:

              “One, two, three, wiggle your toes!”  Mishka said, Patch did.

      “One, two, three, four, five, curl your toes!”  Mishka said, Patch tightly curling his toes.  Mishka rubbed Patch’s bunched pads, then said:

     “One, two, three, four, five, relax those toes, slowly uncurl them, and stretch them, one, two, three, four, five.”

      “Thanks,” patch replied, much relieved.

      
“Your pulse was racing a little,” Mishka said, “you were excited Patch, like I was, you’re just a big cub!”  Patch giggled:

        “I am a big cub really,” he replied, “If you tug at my hind paws, you might find a small cub’s paws beneath them.”

        “I’ve heard a story about Nuru taking off his adult paws, Anook hers too,” Mishka said, “your paws are cub’s paws though Patch, you have cub’s paws, not adult paws.”

       “We can pretend I have covered my paws,” Patch said, “you can then make sure my paws are bare before I play, okay?”  Mishka smiled:

      “I’ll hold onto your hind feet in turn, and you can pull your outside paws off if you like.”

      “I like very much,” Patch replied, “hold on tightly though, my outside paws are tightly fitted to my indoor paws.”  Mishka smiled:

       “Who needs computers,” he said, “we’ve had huge fun just by playing with our own paws!”  Patch smiled and hugged his brother cub.

       “We can have a lot of fun,” he replied, “I have enjoyed it so far.”

      “Me too Patch, me too,” Mishka replied.  Nuru, having been completely forgotten by the two bears, watched them silently, loving every minute of their play.  Patch took his right hind foot in his forepaws, tugging at his toes to try and remove his outdoor paws, Mishka exploring his effort tot free his paw.

       “I can’t get my outdoor paws off!”  Patch whimpered, Mishka grasping his brother’s right hind foot firmly in his small paws and commanding:

     “Pull and wiggle your paw while you’re pulling.”  Patch did, Mishka letting Patch’s paw slip through his smaller paws, Patch becoming more excited as he could feel his foot coming free.

     “Nearly there, nearly there!  My foot’s nearly free!”  Patch yelled, crying out in triumph as his toes slipped through Mishka’s tiny paws.

       “Now for my other hind foot,” patch panted, “same manner Mishka, take a good hold of my right hind foot and hold tight!”  Mishka did, patch finding the outdoor paw on his right hind foot more difficult to remove.  Whimpering, he explored the pads on the sole of his paw with careful forepaws.

       “Let’s try scratching at the pads a little,” Patch said, “that might loosen things up.”  Mishka felt Patch scratching the pads and toes of his right hind foot with the claws and toe pads of his left forepaw.

       “Now let’s try pulling that outdoor paw off again,” Patch said, “Mishka, please help me.  Mishka took hold of his brother’s hind foot and patch pulled hard, wriggling and tugging with increasing desperation until his foot came free with a rush, patch yelling with triumph once more.  Mishka smiled at his elder brother.

      “If I’ve just been exploring the pads of your outdoor paws, and now they’re off your indoor paws, I’ve got to explore your indoor paws now, just in case a thorn has gone through your outdoor pads into your softer indoor ones,” Mishka said.  Patch laughed.

       “That sounds a great idea!”  He replied.  Mishka gently explored Patch’s right hind foot, tickling his pads as he did so, Patch roaring with laughter and grabbing his foot in his forepaws, Mishka exploring all with his paws.

        “You are so cute Patch,” Mishka said.  Patch rubbed the tickled pads and toes of his right hind foot with his forepaws.

       “Now tickling my foot wasn’t nice!”  Patch whimpered, Mishka grinning and hugging Patch.

       “Now let me touch your right hind foot, and then you can check my paws to see if they are cub’s paws.  If they are, finally we can play the trapped paw game.”  Patch, enjoying himself hugely, gave the cub his right hind foot.

      “Check carefully,” Patch said, for Nuru had padded silently over and placed a cotton bud between the toes of Patch’s right hind foot, patch smiling at the lion’s complicity in their play.

       “There’s, there’s something between your toes Patch!”  Mishka said excitedly, “I can get it out for you if you’d like.”

      “Go on then,” Patch said, Mishka gently pulling at the pen top, Patch curling his toes in mock pain.

     “Ow, ow ow ow!”  Patch whimpered.

     “Hold still, and relax your toes,” Mishka said gently.  Patch struggled to relax his toes, and soon the obstruction had been removed.

       “That’s it,” Mishka said as Patch whipped his paw away and massaged his sore toes with frantic paws.

       “Can you still play the trapped paw game?”  Mishka asked.  Patch gently explored his toes:

       “Yes, I can,” Patch replied hesitantly.

        “You have a cub’s paws now,” Mishka said, “your adult paws have been left at the door Patch.  How did you get that twig stuck between your toes and not notice it?”

         “I ignored it until you removed my adult paws,” Patch replied miserably, “I didn’t check my cub paws before I put them into my adult paws to go out into the woods this morning.  The twig must have been on the floor in here.”

     “Always check your paws!”  Mishka said with mock severity.”

      “I will,” Patch replied grinning.

       “Now can we play the trapped paw game?”  Mishka asked.

      “We can,” Patch replied firmly.

        “You have such playful paws Patch!”  Mishka said, “This game we’ve just played is as good as the trapped paw game.”  Patch smiled and kissed his brother’s nose.  Then, pushing him onto his back, Patch grabbed Mishka’s left hind foot, put his lips to the cub’s sole pad, and blew hard, the air and vibration tickling Mishka, the cub laughing and curling his toes.

        “You bully!”  Mishka laughed, though he playfully dabbed at Patch’s nose with his slightly curled toes.

       “I love you Mishka,” Patch said, Mishka sitting up and pressing his hind feet against [Patch’s larger ones, exploring the situation with his forepaws, realising for the first time how much bigger Patch’s hind paws were compared to his own.

        “You have big hind feet Patch,” Mishka said smiling broadly.

        “You have tiny hind feet Mishka cub,” Patch said exploring Mishka’s small hind paws with his giant forepaws.

        “Now let’s play the trapped paw game,” Patch said, curling his large toes around Mishka’s smaller ones.

         “I wonder if my paws will stick to yours.”  Mishka asked.  Patch smiled:

       “I think mine are already bonding to yours Mishka,” he said.  Mishka gently tugged at his right hind foot, finding to his delight that his foot was stuck to patch’s.

        “I’m almost ready for our game,” he said, “if my other foot is stuck as well, we can play.”  Patch smiled:

        “Test that foot,” he suggested.  Mishka smiled and tugged at his left hind paw, finding it firmly stuck to Patch’s right hind foot.  Smiling, Mishka rubbed Patch’s curled toes which held onto his toes with gentle pressure.

        “Now let’s see if we can free ourselves,” Patch said.  Mishka tugged enthusiastically at his left hind foot, but try as he might, he could not move his foot.

      “Work the toes of your forepaws beneath the pads of your hind and lever away gently,” patch said.

      “Try to relax your toes Patch,” Mishka said.  Patch did, though his efforts to free his hind caused him to curl his toes a little in an effort to bunch his pads up and give him a little wiggle room.  After five minutes, Patch managed to work the toes of his left forepaw between the pads of Mishka’s right hind foot and those of his left hind foot, working their paws apart, Mishka whimpering and tugging as his brother struggled to free both of them.

       “As I work my forepaw between my pads and yours, tug gently at your foot Mishka,” patch panted.  Mishka tugged and worried, and soon his right hind foot came free of Patch’s.  Then it was Mishka’s turn to work the tiny toes of his left forepaw beneath the pads of his own left hind foot and patch’s right hind paw.

       “Pull gently Patch, tug and relax, tug and relax.  Go on!”  Mishka encouraged.  Patch tugged at his right hind foot, Mishka working on the ball of his paw, While Patch worked at the heel of his right hind foot with the toes of his right forepaw.  Working together, Mishka and Patch managed to free themselves.

       “My pads hurt!”  Mishka whimpered.

      “Mine too!”  Patch yelled, rubbing the pads of his hind paws with his forepaws to soothe them.

        “Let’s massage each other’s pads,” Mishka suggested.  Patch thrust his left hind foot into Mishka’s tiny paws, Mishka giving him his smaller right hind foot, Patch massaging the cub’s smaller pads and toes.

      “That feels wonderful, so wonderful!”  Mishka said.  Patch smiled broadly:

       “Yes,” he said, it does, it really does feel great.”  Patch slightly curled his toes, Mishka tracing his brother’s bunched pads and rubbing the tops of his curled toes.

       “Now let’s take a look at your pads little brother,” Patch said, looking down at the pads on the sole of Mishka’s right hind foot.

        “You have such cute paws,” Patch said to Mishka, the cub giggling with pleasure.

        “I’ll crawl away, then you can stroke my hind paws a bit,” Mishka said, fitting actions to words.  Patch crawled, chasing Mishka’s black pads and playful toes.

        “Mama used to chase my paws like this,” Mishka said sadly.  Patch caught Mishka’s right hind foot, drawing the toes of his right forepaw down the cub’s black sole pad, bringing Mishka to a stop.

        “You know how to play with cubs,” Mishka said, his voice catching.  Blackberry padded in, smiling at Patch.

       “Do you remember the first time we met?”  He asked Patch, “I was only hours old, and your kindly treatment of me is something I’ve never forgotten.”

      “Tell me, tell me the tale of what happened Blackberry,” Mishka urged.  Blackberry sat down and gathered Mishka to him.  “I used Patch as a climbing frame, played with his paws and generally made a right nusense of myself,” Blackberry replied.

        “I loved every minute though,” Patch said, “and you were so cute, all your questions and kissing my paws etc.  Blackberry laughed:

       “You connect with cubs very well,” Blackberry said.

       “You clambered all over Patch?”  Mishka asked.  Blackberry grinned and suggested:

       “Why don’t you try it before you get too big to do it?  Patch will enjoy it I’m sure.”

        “Oh lovely,” patch whimpered, “being volunteered as a climbing frame is just what I want!”  Blackberry looked at Patch, the grey bear winking at him.

       “Go on, try approaching Patch,” blackberry said.  Mishka crawled to Patch and found him lying on his side.

       “Explore my body with your paws then,” Patch said.  Mishka touched Patch’s nose with his left forepaw, the large grey bear kissing his paw pads.  Patch let Mishka clamber all over him, touching him with his fore and hind paws, Mishka sliding and tumbling, gripping and exploring with curious paws.

       “My cub did that very same thing to me today,” Lilly said, padding into the lie up, “cinders was very curious about my body and paws after I showed her around her own body and paws.”.”  Patch caught hold of Mishka as he explored his belly and chest, holding the cub in his forepaws.

      “Let go of me!”  Mishka whimpered, kicking and struggling.  Patch held Mishka tightly, the cub struggling harder and harder to free himself, giving up after five minutes of pawing, wriggling and kicking, Patch grinning with pleasure as Mishka turned beating him up to hugging him.

       “Please let me go,” he begged.  Patch kissed his nose, and then released him.

        “I enjoyed that,” Mishka said.  Patch smiled as Mishka rolled onto his back and kicked the air with his hind feet, his forepaws clasped over his belly.  Patch got to all fours and looked down at Mishka.

       “You are so cute,” he said.  Mishka smiled:

       “How much do you weigh patch?”  Mishka asked.

       “I don’t know,” Patch replied, “though I have often placed my hind paws in the paws of cubs while walking, if you get what I mean.”

         “Stepped on their paws to show them how much you weigh you mean?”  Mishka asked.  Patch replied this was the case.

      “Yes,” he replied.

      “Now if you want to feel how I walk, I’ll get to all four paws and pad past you, you can feel my fore and hind paws, but first, you can’t walk until you can crawl, so how about exploring that first?”  Mishka was in agreement, and got paws on with Patch as he crawled past him.  Patch crawled slowly, letting Mishka get totally paws on with his head, shoulders, forelegs, body, hind legs and best of all for both, his hind paws.  Patch curled the toes of his hind paws around those of Mishka’s forepaws as the cub explored patch’s hind feet.

      “You have such cute pads and toes Patch,” Mishka said.  Patch grinned:

       “What do you like about them?”  He asked.

       “Playfulness, gentility, loving paws and gentle toes.”

        “You might as well be describing their owner,” Nuru mewed.

       “I am, I am!”  Mishka laughed, “It’s what I am talking about.  Patch’s spirit transmits itself through his paws, through his pads and toes, and the way he uses them.”

        “If only he had the small paws I do,”  Blackberry said wistfully, “Patch could then help with delivering cubs, but his paws are huge and he’d hurt mamas while trying to help them.”

       “I’m sure he could help in a crisis, wouldn’t you Patch?”  Patch smiled and nodded.

        “I wish I was having cubs now so Patch could help me,” Swarupa said padding into the lie up.

        “I would hurt you more than I helped you Swarupa, my paw’s just too big to help your cubs into the world.”  Swarupa looked at Patch’s paws, they were huge, but Swarupa looked at them with a strange longing which smouldered in her eyes.

         “I won’t put you through unnecessary pain,” Patch replied, “I’d rather a cub helped you.”  Swarupa looked at Patch, pain in her expression.

        “I wish you could help me Patch,” Swarupa said.

       “I would be causing you more pain than is necessary,” Patch said.

       “Maybe that’s what I want,” Swarupa replied, “I can’t forget what I did to you.”

        “An eye for an eye you mean?”  Patch asked.

         “Yes, I hurt you, so now it is only fair you take what is yours.”  Patch sat down and held Swarupa tightly in his forepaws.

      “I will not intentionally hurt you Swarupa, even if you ask me to I cannot,” Patch said gently.  Swarupa looked devastated.

       “I can’t relieve my pain now then,” she replied, “I’ll wait for another time.”  Patch looked into her face:

        “I can’t because you pain either,” patch said, “no matter the pain you caused me.  Swarupa, let the feelings go, or they will consume you.”

       “I’ve been trying for ages,” Swarupa said miserably, “trapping my paws, that kind of thing, trying to soothe my pain with an even bigger dose of pain, but I can’t cure the hate I feel for myself.  Patch examined Swarupa’s paws, finding them scarred and tough.

         “You defacing your beautiful paws make me sad,” patch said, “I know your paws are your own to do with what you will, but defacing your own paws is not good.”  Patch rolled Swarupa onto her back and picked up her paws, examining them closely.  Swarupa fought him, jerking her paws away, making him chase them.  Patch held on gently to each of the tigress’s paws, kissing the tigress’s scarred pads while Swarupa flexed her toes.

       “Please bite my paws Patch, please,” Swarupa begged her eyes pleading and desperate.

        “I can’t,” Patch replied, “I won’t.  Swarupa suddenly turned on patch, attacking him!  Patch, knowing Swarupa’s attack to be one driven by desperation, threw her to the floor and gently pinned her down wile she kicked with all four paws and screamed herself hoarse.

          “Go on!”  She yelled, “I’ve attacked you now, hurt me, drive your claws in to me!”  Patch looked down at Swarupa.

       “How many more times do I have to tell you I can’t hurt you,” he said.

      “Right, I’ll go for a cub!”  Swarupa yelled.  Patch laughed:

        “You wouldn’t do that,” he said.

        “You’re right,” Swarupa replied miserably.

      “Why not make her struggle and fight for her freedom?”  Mishka asked, “You could pin Swarupa down and make her fight and struggle free. That might appease her need for a trial of fire.”  Patch looked at Swarupa.”

      “Is that okay with you?”  He asked.  Swarupa nodded.

      “Tie my paws together, muzzle me, and make it really hard!”  She pleaded.

         “I don’t want to cause you pain, so I won’t do that,”  patch replied, “but I will catch your paws, push you over onto your back, and frustrate you at every turn if that’s what you want.”  Swarupa smiled and closed her eyes, relaxing.

       “I’ll try to escape the lie up,” she said, “you do everything you can to stop me, okay?”  Patch nodded.

      “Okay,” he said, “I’m happy with that compromise, you have a challenge, and I don’t have to hurt you at all.”

      “Fine, fine!”  Swarupa said, getting to her paws.  Patch immediately knocked her down, Swarupa trying to get away, Patch circling her and frustrating her attempts to get to her feet by rolling her onto her back, over onto her side, crossing her paws while she lay on her back, everything short of actually harming her.

       “You have a beautiful face and gorgeous paws,” Patch said to Swarupa, who snarled at him, then swiped at him with her paws, Patch catching her swiping paws and kissing them, to her great annoyance and frustration.

       “Leave my paws alone!”  She snarled.

        “Why not stop this now,” patch said softly, as Swarupa crawled towards the entrance of the lie up.  Patch padded after Swarupa, accidentally treading on her tail.  Swarupa, feeling this, dug in her toes and pulled as Patch inadvertently put his full weight on her tail.  This hurt her, which she wanted.  Closing her eyes and mouth, she tugged and pulled, the pain surging through her in a wave that made her pant and writhe.

       “I’m sorry Swarupa, my paws on your tail!”  Patch said with genuine horror.  Swarupa looked round at him, her eyes shining.

       “It’s all right,” she said, “It’s just a pity I can’t free it myself.”  Patch moved to lift his paw, but Swarupa snarled at him.

      “Don’t!”

      “Let her do what she wants Patch,” Mishka said, “you gave her an out, so just stand there and let her struggle.”  Swarupa clenched her teeth, dug in her toes and pulled hard, writhing and twisting in a desperate struggle to free her tail. Inch by inch Swarupa dragged her tail from beneath Patch’s paw.

       “Oooah, yooooooaw!  Youououoaw!”  Swarupa yowled as she tore her tail free.

        “Thanks,” she panted, Patch staring at her.

        “You wanted punishment didn’t you,” he said, “you felt understanding of any sort was too good for you Swarupa.”  Swarupa nodded.

       “I hate myself,” she confessed, “and you accidently stepping on my tail helped me to release that hatred.  To fight with myself to free my tail, which I knew I could do if I struggled hard enough was what I needed.”

 

Tigger and |Namrah, Swarupa’s cubs, watched their mother from their lie up.

      “What’s happening?”  Tigger asked.  Namrah, lying beside her brother, took his paw.

       “Mama Swarupa’s standing on the rugs; she looks rather elated, if exhausted.”  Tigger lay beside his sister, his eyes closed.  They didn’t serve him well these days anyway, so there was no point in keeping them open when he was relaxed and in the lie up.  Namrah, knowing her brother was almost blind, had begun describing things to him months ago, and liked it, for if she described the positions in which another creature was lying, Tigger would get paws on with her to get a good idea of what everyone was up to.  Sometimes, she’d explain things to Tigger by touching his body to show him what was going on.

        “mama hasn’t let go of her pain over our births,”  Tigger mewed, “I know I had scraped my way out of her, I can’t remember why I did that now, even if I was conscious of doing it.  Though I think her pain is something to do with Patch.  Something she did to him before our births.”

        “Mama’s paw pads are extremely scarred,” naira said, “here, and here,” she said, taking Tigger’s right forepaw and tracing his pads and toes to show where their mama’s scars were, tiger finding his sister’s touch tickled his pads.

      “You’re tickling me!”  He laughed.

      “You have sensitive paws Tigger,” Namrah said, “You are a big cub really.”  Tigger swiped at his sister’s paws with his, Namrah laughing merrily.

      “You have soft cub paws Tigger,” Namrah said.  Tigger smiled at his sister.

       “No need to find my cub paws then,” he said.  Namrah giggled and kissed his nose.

        “Have you touched Patch’s paw pads?”  Namrah asked.  Tiger nodded:

        “I have,”  he replied, “they’re, well, lovely, there’s so much coming from them, so much love, so much gentility.  He’s sweet.”

       “Patch is wonderful that’s for sure,” Namrah said, “I am glad he’s our leader now.”

       “Little Koda was right to pass the baton,” Tigger mewed.

 

Patch sat wearily on the sofa, wondering why Swarupa needed physical pain to ease her mental suffering.  He’d heard of humans self harming, and maybe Swarupa was self harming in the feline manner,” Patch thought.  Patch woke some time later, feeling uncomfortably hot.  Opening his eyes, he found a tigress curled up on his lap contentedly purring.

       “Swarupa?”  Patch asked gently, the tigress waking with a start.

      “Um, er, yes?”  She asked, staring into the grey bear’s face.

      “Why are you sleeping on my lap like a lap cat?”  Patch asked softly.  Swarupa looked desperately at Patch.

       “I’m sorry Patch, you are not my personal hot water bottle,” Swarupa said ashamedly.

      “Though you did look cute there,” Patch said smiling.  Swarupa got off Patch’s lap.  She’d crept onto his lap when he was asleep, and fallen asleep herself.

       “I’ve been eyeing up his lap,” Bess yapped, “I would like to lie on his lap you know, soft warm fur, gorgeous soft warm fur!”  Patch looked at Bess and beckoned to her.

       “Come,” he said, Bess jumping onto his lap.  Patch rubbed Bess’s belly as she rolled onto her back and pawed at him.  Bobtail, now on her paws and running about, scampered in and pounced on Swarupa’s paws, the tigress laughing and playing easily with the puppy.

       “One big happy family,” Patch remarked.

        “You and your community make it so,” Bobtail said.  Patch looked at the female pup.

      “You and your community saved my mama and me,” she said.

         “I suppose we did,” Patch said.  Bess smiled up at Patch and waved her large well padded paws at him, Patch leaning down and kissing Bess’s paw pads, the sheepdog giggling and wriggling like an over excited pup.

        “You have such cute paws,” Patch said to Bess, who wiggled and curled her toes with pleasure.

       “I remember seeing you curling those toes so very tightly while you were pushing against your pup,” Patch said gently.  Bess smiled and tightly curled her toes.  Patch traced her bunched pads, Bess giggling with pleasure and pressing her paws into Patch’s.  Mishka, lying in the bedroom, resting after the games he and Patch played, felt a nose brush his ear:

       “Who’s that?”  He asked.

      “My name’s bobtail, or Bobbie if you want, “I’m Bess’s pup,” was the reply.

        “Oh yeah,” Mishka yawned, “what can I do for you?”

        “I just wanted to say how cute you and Patch looked playing together.  I couldn’t take my eyes off you.”  Mishka smiled:

        “It felt wonderful,” he replied softly.  Bobtail grinned and, lying down, snuggled up to Mishka, who held her close, the pup kissing Mishka’s nose.

      “We’re not so different after all,” bobtail said to Mishka, who smiled and embraced the sheepdog pup.

 

Very early the next morning, Sita padded quietly into the lie up, settled down next to Patch and whispered to him.

       “What?”  Patch enquired softly, patting Sita’s paw and leading her into the bedroom, pressing a concealed button which closed a door which was rarely used.

       “There’s a new set of paws in the house,”  Sita mewed, “I came across them, in my lie up, they belong to a small bear, not a cub, no, not a cub.”  Patch smiled at Sita and kissed her nose:

        “You know the paws of every member of this community,” he said, “I know that, to you, if you get paws on, it’s as good as seeing with conventional sight.  Did this little bear say anything to you?”

       “Her name is Ashley, and she’s got the cutest paws I’ve found for a long time.  Thick pads and cute toes, a real sweet cub too.”  Patch smiled and kissed Sita’s cheek.

       “Was she alone?  Did she say she’d lost her mother?”  Patch asked.

       “she said she’d lost her mother in the rain last night, and had come into the house in the early morning to shelter from the rain,”  Sita replied, “the security saw her, but let her come in, as she was clearly no immediate threat.”

       “Would you do this for me?”  Patch asked, “Go into the woods and see if you can find the cub’s poor distressed mama?”  Sita smiled, turned tail, letting herself out of the room and padding quickly away down the corridor.

       “I’ve sent Sita off to find a poor distressed mama,” Patch said softly to Bess, Bobtail and Mishka.

      “Why send a blind cat bear into a possible danger zone?”  Bobtail asked.

       “Sita is very gentle, and will find the mama bear if anyone can.”

        “You mean Sita’s as good as you at coaxing poor distressed bears into foreign places?”  Bess asked.

       “Yes,” Patch said softly, “she’s wonderful.”

 

Sita, her heavy paws light on the tiles despite her flat footed gate, padded silently out of the house and quested around the woods.  Rain fell heavily as Sita wandered through the woods listening for the cub’s mother.  She stopped suddenly, brought up short by a wail of anguish she knew well.

       “I sounded like that when I heard of Imogen’s death,” Sita thought.  In public Sita had been unemotional, but in private, she’d wailed and beat her paws on the floor with grief for her cub, despite what Imogen had been at the end of her life.

       “Your cub is safe mama, though you don’t know it yet,” Sita mouthed silently, the mama bear’s distressed wailing upsetting her.

         “Mama?”  Sita asked, stepping out of the brush beside the crying mama bear, who sat on the track weeping into her paws.

       “Mama?”  Sita asked softly.

       “I don’t understand you big cat bear,” the mama bear said in ancient Ursine, which Sita understood, as Patch had taught her the language.  Indeed, she was pretty fluent in ancient and modern ursine, as well as Tigrine, Leonine, and English, as well as her native community dialect.  Sita switched to old ursine and spoke rapidly to the mama bear.

       “I know where your cub is, she is safe, I know her name is Ashley and she is safe in my house.  Sita took the mama bear’s paw, feeling the similarity between her paw and that of her cub.

       “You are Ashley’s mama?”  Sita asked.  The mama bear gulped hard, the toes of both her hind feet curling tightly.

       “Yes, yes!  Is she safe?”  She gasped.  Sita kissed her nose.

      “She is safe, I give you my word.”  The she bear sniffed hard and looked at Sita’s face:

        “You are the stuff of my dreams,” the she bear said softly.

       “Me?”  Sita asked, almost laughing, “Noone’s told me that before.”

        “You know the legend of the Maoxiong?”  The mama bear asked.

       “I have heard of that tale yes,” Sita replied, “but I’m not cat bear.”

        “Rubbish,” the she bear replied, “You are the maoxiong, the real maoxiong!”  Sita smiled in the dawn light, her coat showing more vividly as the light increased.

       “I’ll take you to your cub now,” Sita said.  The mama bear sniffed hard wiped her nose on the back of her paw and got to her feet.

         “Thank you,” she replied weakly.  Sita, smiling, kissed her nose and nuzzled her ear.

       “What is your name mama?”  She asked.

      “Taomi,” the mama bear replied, sniffing and swallowing hard.

       “Your cub is safe, very safe,” Sita mewed, kissing Taomi’s ear.

        “Come,” Sita said briskly, “let’s go to the house.”

        “You knew I was Ashley’s mother before you asked me didn’t you,” Taomi stated.  Sita laughed slightly:

        “I am almost certain,” Sita replied, “but I can be absolutely true if you would let me touch your hind paws with my forepaws.”  Taomi smiled and nodded:

        “You can,” she said, “though I don’t know what good it will do you.”  .”

      “I can tell a lot about someone by touching their paw pads,” Sita replied.  Taomi smiled and couldn’t help dancing slightly on her toes at the thought of Sita touching her paw pads, anxious though she was about Ashley’s safety.

       “It’s cold out here,” Taomi said, “let’s go indoors Sita, my ears are freezing, and my poor paws are like ice!”  Sita, appalled at the thought of Taomi being cold, hurried her along to the house.  Taomi wiped her paws on the matting at the entrance to the house, and then walked through the paw bath that washed her paws completely clean.  .  Sita also washed her own paws, and then both Taomi and Sita padded to Sita’s lie up and found Ashley looking round her with interest.

      “Mama!”  She said excitedly getting to her paws, Taomi laughing and hugging her cub, both rolling with excitement on the rugs.

      “I love your playfulness,” Sita said softly.  Taomi smiled:

       “Would you still like to touch mine and my daughter cub’s paws?”  She asked Sita.  Sita smiled broadly and touched Taomi’s paw:

        “I would love to,” she said, “but first, first, you do not know my name.”

       “I don’t really need to know your name,”  Taomi said softly, “names are not important, only paws are important, the contact between paw pads and fur, fur and paw pads, toes and fur, all that.”  Sita smiled and hugged Taomi with firm paws.

        “Will you hug me too?”  Ashley asked.  Sita smiled and let go of Taomi.  Then lying down, she tickled Ashley’s paw pads, the half grown cub squealing with laughter and curling her toes with pleasure.

        “You and Taomi are related,” Sita said, “your paws are so alike!”

      “I want my paws tickled too!”  Taomi blurted, her paw flying to her mouth as if to stuff the words back in.

       “I’m sorry,” she said in a mewing voice, “I didn’t mean that, not really mean it I mean.  Oh god!”  Sita laughed merrily and kissed Taomi’s nose, the she bear laughing merrily.

        “Your forepaws and hind feet have thick pads and large toes,” Sita said.  Taomi giggled cubbishly.

       “I haven’t been told I have cubbish paws since I was, well, a cub,” she said smiling, her eyes shining.

      “I like your paws Taomi,” Sita said, “oh; by the way, my name’s Sita.”  Taomi smiled gently at her.

        “How about if we let dear Sita check over our paws,” Taomi suggested, “that’s the form here I think.”  Ashley giggled.

       “I’m looking forward to it already,” she said.  Sita gently took each of Ashley’s hind feet in her paws and traced the cub’s thick pads, and then very slowly, Sita began counting Ashley’s toes, Ashley giggling with pleasure and curling her toes.

         “I think your paw pads and toes are cute,” Sita said.  Ashley laughed.

       “You make me feel just like I did when I was a cub in the den,” she said, “as if my dreams of paws being more than just for walking on could really come true.  That paws could be playthings, worth playing with even.  I wished in those dreams long ago that, that, oh well, it’s nothing.”

       “Tell me,” Sita said gently.

       “I dreamt that I could play with my paws forever, that it would never be taboo to play with my paws.  I loved it so much in the den, playing with my mama’s paws, and she playing with mine.  Now though, I’ve been told that it’s wrong to play with paws, but I want it more than ever!”

        “Is that why you ran from your mama?”  Sita asked, “To find a place you could play with your paws?”  Ashley suddenly pulled her left hind foot away from Sita’s gentle embrace and curled into a miserable ball.

       “Yes,” Ashley wailed, “yes it was!  My paws hurt with the need to play, I ran off, and came to the house, and you found me!”

       “Your mama was worried sick about you,” Sita said sternly, Ashley whimpering with misery:

        “I know, I know!”  She said miserably, “I’m sorry mama, I didn’t mean to upset you, but I was driven by my own paws!”  Taomi smiled:

       “I know you are safe now,” she said, and that’s the main thing.  You see, I too am afflicted by the needs of my paws sometimes, the need to just sit down and play with them, stroke my pads and play with my toes.  Things get so difficult sometimes; my paws feel like they’re going to explode sometimes!”

        “I know the feeling very well too,” a voice said at Sita’s shoulder:  turning, Sita bumped noses with a cub whose scent she didn’t recognise.

        “Who are you?”  She asked, “What is your name?  Whose cub are you?”

      “My name’s tom, I’m mama Targon and Blackberry’s son cub,” was the reply.  Sita pushed tom onto his back, beginning a snuffling and very thorough exploration of the cub’s body and paws, tom giggling and laughing as Sita’s whiskers tickled his paw pads.

       “You’re tickling me Sita, stop it!  You’re tickling my feet!”  Tom squealed.  Sita smiled and hugged the two week old cub.

       “Mama Targon didn’t even let us know she was pregnant,” she said, “but it’s great to find she had a lovely healthy cub!”  Tom laughed helplessly as Sita deliberately tickled the toes of his right hind foot.

      “I hope your mama has taught you to play with your paws,” she said, “and that you are not afraid of your paws either.”  Tom kissed Sita’s nose and replied:

       “Freckles has been teaching me how to play too.  She said I’d find you Sita.  Freckles said to me that her sister Sita would make me welcome.”  Sita laughed, loving tom instantly.

       “I will,” she replied firmly.  Mama Targon padded into the lie up, saw her son cub lying on his back with his paws in the air and laughed merrily.

       “You look so cute with your paws in the air like that,” she said.  Sita got paws on with Tom, the cub giggling and kicking the air with his hind feet.

        “I love your touch on my paw pads,” tom said to Sita.

        “I’m glad I found Ashley and her mama,” Sita said.  Tom looked at her:

       “How did you find Ashley?”  He asked.

       “I came back to my lie up, and found Ashley in my lie up, Ashley’s hind paws that was.  I knew these paws were not those of my cubs, as I know the community’s paws as well as you know eyes and faces.  I woke Ashley and asked her who she was and what she wanted.  She said she wanted to play with her paws in safety and security.  I asked her if she’d left the den, she said she hadn’t, that she was a year old, but she wanted to play with her paws somewhere dry.  I asked her where her mother was, and it all came out.  Ashley had run away from her mother and into the house.  I said I’d go to patch, explain the situation and see what he wanted to do.  Patch commanded me to go and find Ashley’s mama, so I went.”

       “He asked you in an arcane manner that is all,” Targon said, “Patch wouldn’t command you if you ordered him too.”

       “I found mama in the woods and brought her here,” Sita said.  Tom looked at Ashley, taking the half grown cub in from nose to tail.

       “She looks healthy,” he thought, “gentle eyes, kind expression, and gentle paws too.”  Ashley looked at tom, taking in his jet black fur and gorgeous paws.

       “I like the look of you Tom,” Ashley said.  Tom laughed:

       “I’m only two weeks old,” he said, “you’re, um, much older than me.”  Ashley padded over to tom and hugged him, kissing his nose.

        “I know nothing of this community,” she said, “but by the feel of Sita’s paws and her general attitude towards me and my mama is anything to go by, this place is lovely.”  Tom smiled his white teeth stark against his black facial fur.

       “Your fur is so nice to look at,” Ashley said.  Tom, used to the ways of the paw rather than the eye, smiled at Ashley and asked:

       “But how does my fur feel to your paws?”

      “Very soft and warm,” Ashley said.  Ashley then looked at Targon, and noticed something.

       “You’ve only got one eye mama!”  She blurted.  Targon raised her right forepaw self consciously touched the lid of her closed eye.

       “Yes,” she said, “I have.  I was injured ages ago, in another life, before I was caught in a paw trap and a handsome male bear padded along a track and found me.  He took me in his gentle, loving paws and comforted me.  We’ve had three cubs since then, and I am very happy and contented here.” 

 

Tom, now bored, turned and ran off towards the pool complex.  Racing down the passage, he found himself in the large main hall, and then seeing a door to his right, he ran to it, the door remaining closed when he pressed the button on the wall to open it.  Growling in frustration, he investigated the panel beside the door, seeing a glass screen and a keypad.  Placing his paw on the glass screen he waited.

        “You won’t get through,” Whitetip said padding up to him, “I’ve got the code, and the paw to open that door.

        “I was only curious,” tom pleaded.

       “And so was the cat,” Whitetip replied.

     “What?”  Tom asked, mystified.

       “No matter,” Whitetip replied, “the thing is, you can’t get through that door without supervision of the warden of the water, or of another competent adult, of which there are few here.”

       “Oi!”  Koda yelled, padding down the passage, picking Whitetip up in his paws and slinging her into the main pool, “you can’t say that!”  He yelled at the floundering otter.

       “I’ll get you!”  She screamed, as Koda, smiling, placed his paw on the glass screen and tapped in a code.

       “I know the code too little Tom,” Koda said softly, Tom gazing up at him in astonishment.

       “Now what’s behind this door?”  He asked.

       “The slides, the flume and the water coaster,” little Koda said.  Tom’s eyes stared and mouth gaped as he saw the entrance to the coaster, the flume and the water slides.

      “Wow!”  He gasped, “I’ve never been on a slide, or a flume, or on a water coaster.  Can I go on that?”  Koda looked at tom, measuring him by eye.

       “Maybe the slide, maybe the flume, but not the coaster,” he said critically, you’re too small for the coaster.”  Tom looked downcast:

       “I wish I could get as big as my sire Blackberry, though why he’s called Blackberry I’ll never know, as he’s as white as a polar bear!”

       “Long tale that one,” Koda replied, “but yes, Blackberry is whiter berry really.”

       “Where are your sire and mama?”  Tom asked.  Koda told him, tom shocked by sire Koda’s actions, and saddened by mama Kamchatka’s death.

       “So that little cub, um, mash something, he’s your brother,” tom said.  Koda grinned:

      “I’m sure you mean Mishka, and yes he is my brother.”

      “But he can’t see anything, he said he can’t,” tom replied.  Koda nodded:

      “Don’t let that colour your view of him,” Koda said, “he’s more than just a blind bear.”  Tom looked ashamed:

       “My mama and sire said that too,” Tom mumbled.

       “You take him as you find him,” Koda warned, “He has a valuable contribution to give to this community.  Though he is loved no matter what.”

       “How can he contribute anything?”  Tom asked, “He’s unable to see anyone, he’ll have to be led about anywhere he goes.”

        “You should not talk like this at your age,” a voice said.  Tom looked round to see a huge polar bear lumbering towards him.

      “Who the hell are you?”  Tom blurted.  Conrad, using his ears to devastating affect, lined up his left forepaw with Tom’s face and cuffed tom hard across his face.  Tom roared with pain and rolled on the floor, covering his face with his forepaws, screaming lustily.

       “A mere tap I think,” Conrad snarled.

       “You hurt my nose!”  Tom yowled.

       “You hurt my feelings,”  Conrad replied, “now get up, up up up!”  Tom got to his feet, but he wasn’t fast enough, Conrad booting him up his backside to get him to his feet.

       “You are not qualified to have opinions yet,” Conrad snapped.  Tom looked at Koda, who went to a wall phone and put in a call to Targon’s lie up.

       “Come and get your cub,” he said to Targon, “we’re in the pool complex, just by the entrance to the flume.”  Tom wailed and stamped his feet, but Koda was unrepentant.

      “Shut your mouth!”  Koda snapped.

      “No, no no no!”  Tom yelled, “I won’t!”  Conrad sat behind tom, then snarling:

      “I hate this racket,”  he gathered the cub to him, making as if to smother tom in a huge bear hug, the cub screaming with fear, then becoming quiet.  Conrad set tom down, the cub shocked into silence.

       “He was going to crush me,” tom whimpered after taking a minute to recover.

       “No,” Koda replied, “he wouldn’t do that.  Conrad’s soft and gentle really, though you weren’t to know that, and I,” he smiled wolfishly, “I wasn’t going to tell you either.”  Tom looked as if he would swear at Koda, if he had the words.

      “Now you go with your mother,” Koda said to tom, Tom angrily stamping his feet as Targon came down the passage.

       “You come now Tom,” she said sternly, picking her cub up by the scruff of his neck and padding out of the complex.  Tom, furious, kicked the air with all four paws while yelling lustily.

       “Little sod,” Koda snarled to Conrad, who smiled, got to his paws and padded to the spar pool, where Whitetip sat, recovering from the surprise attack from Koda.

        “He flung me into the water!”  Whitetip whined to Conrad, who laughed:

      “You mean he picked you up and threw you in the pool?”  Whitetip nodded.

       “Koda did!”  She wailed.  Conrad covered his face with his paws trying not to laugh.  The thought of Whitetip flying through the air amused him greatly.

      “You find it funny that I was nearly killed?”  Whitetip asked.

      “You weren’t in danger;” Conrad said, “Koda flicked you into the pool, and knew what he was doing.  Now get out of the pool and go back to your lie up.”  Whitetip padded to the entrance and left the complex.

      “I didn’t want to throw her in the pool,” Koda said to Conrad, “but I couldn’t have her denouncing all adult community members like she did.”  Koda left the main pool complex, Conrad following him.

     “I’m sorry your mama died Koda,” Conrad said.

       “Thank you,” Koda replied, “I forget sometimes that she was once your mate too.  Conrad looked so distraught at Koda’s words Koda felt sorry for him.

       “Yes,” the male polar bear said, his eyes telling Koda he was still upset about what he’d done.

       “You now have Aga and little bruin now,” Koda said gently.

      “I do,” Conrad replied, “but I also killed mama Alaska, and that was so wrong.”

       “You two were fighting, scrapping, and you injured her that injury resulting in her death,” Koda replied, “yes you injured her, but you did not intend, nor contemplate murdering her.”  Conrad gave Koda a shattered look and then ducked his head and padded away whimpering to himself.

       “Poor fellow,” Koda thought.

      “Conrad?”  Koda asked the polar bear turning and nearly losing his footing as if he was drunk.

       “Yes?”  Conrad asked, his voice nearly cracking, one forepaw rose from the tiles.

      “I’m sorry,” Koda said.  Conrad lifted his raised paw, and Koda sat down before Conrad and took his raised forepaw in both of his.

      “What shall I do with this paw?”  Koda asked.

       “Do with it what you will,”  Conrad said, his eyes telling Koda he counted his life as nothing to the one he’d taken years before.

       “It’s not your fault, that, that mama Alaska died,” Koda said.  Conrad sat down, the pads of his hind paws pressing against Koda’s.

       “I can’t forget the feel, the sensation of the injury I caused to mama Alaska,” Conrad said gruffly, “I can’t forget that touch on my paws.  The paw you hold now did the damage.”  Koda looked down at the paw he held.  It was relaxed, though it shook a little.

       “What would rid you of the memory?”  Koda asked.

        “My own death,” Conrad said faintly.

       “Maybe you talk with Patch,” Koda suggested, “he could help you come to terms with your feelings.”

         “Noone can,” Conrad choked.

        “Maybe I can,” someone said.  Conrad turned his head, his eyes registering fear.

        Alaska?”  He asked, “Mama Alaska?”

      “Yes,” the voice replied.

        “Love Aga, kiss her nose, massage her paws,” Alaska said, “This is how you will be able to help yourself.  What you did was accidental, we were fighting as wild bears will do, and you accidentally injured me.  Now I live over the bridge, and you live in the physical world.  Conrad, please, loves Bruin and Aga, and little Peter too.”

        “I will,” Conrad replied softly.

       “I hold no ill will towards you Conrad,” ancient mama Alaska’s spirit said, “my only wish is that you could leave your self hatred behind.  You lied to me, for whom you are sorry, and now you must move on.”

       “I will move on, I promise,” Conrad said softly.  With that he got to his feet, walking stiffly away, his body aching and mind in a spin.

       “Poor Conrad,” Koda thought, looking down at the polar bear’s dragging hind paws scuffing on the non slip flooring.  He noticed Conrad was curling his toes slightly as he walked, as if to grip the tiles more securely.

       “I thought polar bears had non slip pads on the soles of their feet,”  Koda mused, “I am sure they do, at least their feet have courser pads than a black bear’s do.”  Koda knew he could ask any community member to show him their paws, and they’d hardly refuse him, but he didn’t want to bother the polar bear.  Koda watched Conrad’s hind feet, the sight of the bear’s desperately gripping toes upsetting him.

       “Conrad?”  He asked, the polar bear turning, then stumbling, crossing his fore and hind paws in an attempt to regain his balance and falling heavily on the tiles.

         “Are you all right?”  Koda asked, padding to Conrad’s side.  The polar bear, blinded by exposure to oil years previously, lay shivering on the tiled floor, seemingly dead, and then groaning, Conrad shifted uncomfortably.

        “How did I end up here?”  Conrad asked.

       “You fell,” Koda replied.

     “Did I?”  Conrad asked faintly.

      “You mean you don’t remember?”  Koda asked.  Conrad shook his head:

        “It sometimes goes like that,” he replied, “it’s been happening more and more recently, “when I try to do something complex, I black out and fall over.  It starts with a loss of feeling in my paws, I can’t feel the ground, then, and then I fall over a few minutes later.  I should take up crawling I suppose, but that’s cubbish.”

        “How often do these attacks happen?”  Koda asked.

       “More frequently than they used to,” Conrad replied wearily, “first tingling paws, then a complete loss of feeling and balance, and I black out for a second or so, and wake to find myself on the floor.  Koda touched Conrad’s left forepaw, finding his pads were sweating profusely.

        “You’re overheating,” Koda said, “other polar bears don’t do that here.” 

 

Indeed this was true, the house was air conditioned to a constant ten degrees c outside the lie ups for the comfort of the polar and other bears.  The tigers and lions bore the chilled air with good grace, their own lie ups being heated to a temperature they wished.  Indeed, to Koda, Conrad looked unwell.

       “I’ll look it up with a vet,” Koda said, “Conrad; this could be down to your exposure to oil all those years ago.”  Conrad got slowly to his feet, his whole body shaking.  Whimpering with fear, he thought better of it and dropped to a crawling posture, Koda leaning down and kissing the pads of the polar bear’s right hind foot.  Conrad, feeling the gentle kiss on his pads, raised a trembling forepaw to wipe away tears.

         “I’m frightened,” Conrad whispered, “frightened of the time when I can’t get up because my trembling paws no longer support me.  There are times when I wake to find I can’t feel my forepaws and hind feet.  I lie terrified until feeling gradually returns to my paws.  it is how you saw me today, I think, me gripping fiercely with my toes , then fumbling with my feet for purchase on non slip tiles, my non slip paw pads useless and my head swimming as if I’ve drunk a thousand gallons of ale.  Today, when I fall and then I crawl like, like a cub, and you kiss the pads of my hind paws,” Conrad said, his voice cracking, “that mean a lot to me Koda.”

        “If you want to ease your pain, I’m sure Patch or Blackberry will help you Conrad,” Koda said gently.  Conrad rested his head wearily on Koda’s shoulder, the young black bear feeling the polar bear’s exhaustion.

        “My feet are very heavy after one of my funny turns,” Conrad said, “they feel like lead weights on the ends of my legs.  Indeed, my whole body feels stiff and useless for about an hour after, though my paws take longest to recover.  It’s kind of ironic, the very things I need to help me get about more than ever now take longest to recover from my black outs.”  Koda buried his face in the polar bear’s fur, whispering into his ear:

       “When you want to set your paws on the bridge, I’ll help you.” Conrad sighed deeply, turned his head and kissed Koda’s nose.

        “It is your brother who knows more of the bridge than you little Koda,” Conrad said softly, “I’ve often thought of talking to him, but I can’t do that.  He’s just a cub.  I couldn’t ask him what he knows of the bridge and what goes beyond that.  His life is here now.”

       “I was about to suggest you talk to Mishka,”  Koda replied, “Mishka knows a lot, and he’s unafraid of that world.”

        “I’m unafraid of it too,” Conrad replied, “it’s this world I’m terrified of.  Terrified that one day, when I stumble and fall, my paws will not recover, and I’ll lie there and not be able to get to my feet ever again, though my mind will be alert to it all.  I, I don’t want that Koda.  For Eohippus sake I don’t want that.  I’d rather have my throat torn out before I get to that point.”

        “Let’s get back to your lie up,” Koda replied, “there you can rest, and then maybe you can talk to Patch and Blackberry, and maybe to Mishka too.”

       “I don’t want to set my paws on the bridge just yet,” Conrad replied, “I just want to understand what’s happening to me that am all.”

        “Maybe the poison from the oil is affecting your brain,” Koda replied gently, “the attacks will get more and more frequent, and last longer, and there will be one from which you will not recover, at least that’s what I think.”

        “Me too,” Conrad mused, “I know this is how it is.  I just don’t want others to see me like this.”

        “Maybe we can find you a medicine that will keep the fits to a minimum or stop them altogether Conrad,” Koda replied, “It’s not yet hopeless.”

          “You mean I could be free of this if I took a tablet or injected something?”  Conrad asked, cautious hope entering his tone, where there was despair.

        “yes,”  Koda replied, “now I’m not saying it will be a total cure, though I know that many humans and some of their pets, as they call them, have these fits, funny turns, whatever you call them, and they are helped by medication of some sort.  I’ve read about it on the internet.  The humans, and their pet’s lead normal lives apart from they have to take pills for the rest of their lives.”

       “I’d much rather take a tablet than fall over and have numbed paws,” Conrad replied.

       “I don’t think blackberry can deal with this alone, but Charles Fullbeans might be able to get a friendly vet in to assess you and proscribe pills for you.”

        “I’ll try anything,” Conrad whispered.

 

Koda led Conrad, who crawled slowly back to Koda’s lie up.  Flopping onto the rugs in the plush surrounds of the leader’s lie up, Conrad waited to see what would happen to him.

       “I’ve arranged for you to see a vet to find out what’s wrong with you Conrad,” Patch said gently to the distressed polar bear.  A few minutes later, a vet came in and examined Conrad there and then, after having been assured by Charles Fullbeans and jess that neither Patch, nor Conrad, would hurt him.

       “What are his symptoms,” the vet asked.  Patch told him in perfect English, the vet scratching his head and considering things.

       “I think we should monitor him,” the vet said, “We should put a probe on his head and see what happens in his brain when he has one of these attacks.  If it is what I think it is, then it’s treatable.  Epilepsy caused by the poisons in the oil he was exposed to is what I think this is.  But we’ll have to make sure.”  The vet put a miniature sensor on Conrad’s head just behind his ear, securing it with a band around the polar bear’s head.

       “Now let’s take a look,” the vet said, opening his laptop and tapping into the application which received signals from the sensor.  The vet looked at the screen, watching Conrad’s brainwaves.

        “Now this is being recorded in the chip, we’ll wait a week, and then download the information to the computer,”  the vet said, “then I can see what is going on.  Okay big fellow?”  He asked Conrad, who, after Patch had interpreted for him, gave the vet his paw, the vet seeing hope in the bear’s eyes where there had been none.”  Conrad got to his feet, weaved about a bit, and then was able to pad out of the room on all four feet.  Patch watched him go.

        “Poor Conrad,” he said.  Koda looked at his brother.

       “Conrad just collapsed,” he said faintly, “He gripped the ground with his toes, then stumbled and fell.”  Patch nodded.

      “I know, I saw,” he replied.  Koda covered his face with his paws, fighting back tears.

        “Conrad looked as if he was dying!”  Koda sniffed.

       “He probably felt lousy,” Patch replied softly, “Koda, I am hoping he will get the treatment that will keep his illness under control.”

 

Conrad padded to Aga’s lie up, curling up to sleep.  Aga looked down at him sleeping, the headband he was wearing frightening her.

       “I hope your treatment works,” Aga said gently to Conrad.  Conrad crossed his paws and rested his chin on them, falling deeply asleep.  The sensor reading Conrad’s brain patterns picked up a spike in them as Conrad fell deeply asleep, the fit causing his body to vibrate, his paws to sweat and toes to curl tightly.  Conrad lashed out with all four paws, kicking and struggling.  Aga stared in horror as her mate struggled with his fit.  Conrad came out of the seizure panting and crying.

         “I’ve had enough,” he choked.  Aga took Conrad’s sweating left forepaw.

        “I hope you can get treatment for this,” she said to him.  Conrad grimaced:

      “So do I,” he replied, “I hate this, I hate this so much!”  Aga kissed Conrad’s wet nose as the polar bear cried with fear and terror.

        “We will help you, I promise you Conrad, and I promise you you are safe and loved here.”  Conrad took a deep breath, trying to regain control of his body and thoughts.

        “I want a drink,” Conrad said, crawling to a bowl of water and lapping desperately.

        “I’m scared, so frightened!”  Aga yelled.

       “I’m thirsty,” Conrad replied, lapping furiously.

        “I want the vet to see what you are going through Conrad:” Aga said miserably.  Conrad crawled to his rug and settled down again.

      “Maybe I’ll get sleep now,” he mumbled, trying to get comfortable, though his paws ached horribly and his mind felt woolly and sluggish.

        “I want this to end!”  Conrad whimpered.

 

Indeed, the vet, watching from patch’s lie up, had seen enough.  Finding Conrad, he conversed with him through Patch, Conrad desperate to start treating his illness.  The vet reviewed the information from the sensor behind Conrad’s ear, and then proscribed tablets to control the epilepsy.

       “These are cumulative, so won’t work immediately,” the vet said.  Which news made Conrad whimper with fear?

       “We’ll help you Conrad,” Patch said softly.  Conrad turned a shattered expression on his leader.

        “I want to sleep now,” Conrad said.  Patch helped him get comfortable, and then he and the vet left.

       “How are you going to get a polar bear to take his medicine?”  The vet asked.

        “Sticking needles in him isn’t very nice,” Patch replied, “Conrad will take his medication I’m sure of that.  Give him a month, and then we’ll reconsider if things don’t go well.”  The vet was happy with that, and left the building.

 

Conrad, sleeping deeply, didn’t wake until later that day.  He took another dose of his tablets, and then padded to the bathroom to relieve himself.  Finishing that job, he padded to his lie up, hugged Aga, Peter and Bruin, and then padded away to the kitchen to get food.  Eating his fill, Conrad padded back to the lie up and sat down to groom himself.

      “What does it feel like sire Conrad?”  Peter asked.

       “What does what feel like,” Conrad asked.

       “The fits and things,” Peter asked.  Conrad felt a flush of anger rising in him, but he fought it down.

         “I feel dizzy before a fit, then confused and lethargic after it.  My body, legs, and paws ache horribly for ages.  I also can’t remember where I am.  Koda saw such an attack, and now, I hope, things are going to get a lot better.”

        “Sounds awful,” Peter said.  Conrad smiled despite himself:

        “It’s not how I would choose to live my life,” he replied airily, Aga staring at him.

         “You stumbled, gripped the ground desperately with the toes of all four paws and then fell over!”  She exclaimed, “I’m not letting you go out alone Conrad!”

       “I’m not going to be chaperoned,” Conrad snapped, “I am going to get this stabilised and then carry on with my life!”

        “You like swimming in the pool don’t you sire Conrad,”  Lilly said, padding in with Cinders, “I’m sure we could do with swimming lessons from you, me and Cinders that is.”  Conrad knew what Lilly was doing, and reluctantly agreed.

       “So I teach you and your cub to swim, and you two keep an eye on me, is that it?”  He asked.

       “Yes,” Lilly replied, “just while you’re in the water Conrad.  I don’t want to make a cub of you, and that isn’t my intention, but until you are stable with your condition, you could do with a little assistance.”  Conrad smiled broadly:

        “Put it that way, and I’ll gladly step into my gilded cage,” he said.

       “You are ungrateful!”  Aga snapped.

       “No,” Sita said, padding in, “he does want to be as independent as possible.  Conrad does not want to be made a cub of, and I agree with how Lilly put things.  Conrad is excellent in the pool complex, but he needs someone to look out for him, just in case he has a funny turn, then he’s got help at paw.  It’s not dependence, it’s enhancing his independence.  Conrad can teach the cubs how to swim, how to play on the slides and ride the coaster.  The only thing he can’t do is be responsible for his own well being when he has one of his fits.  Then he needs assistance, a helping paw, not a restrictive paw Aga.”

       “You’d be a great one to help him wouldn’t you,” Aga scoffed, “you’re as blind as he is Sita!”

       “I didn’t say I would or would not help him in the pool,” Sita replied, “but I could by swimming alongside him.”

      “How about if we all look out for each other?”  Cinders asked, “That way we can all lend each other a helping paw.”

      “What a wonderful idea!”  Sita replied grinning.

       “Please, Conrad,” Lilly asked tentatively, “please, could you tell me one thing.  What signals do you have when you’re about to have a fit?”

       “Dizziness, uncontrollable curling of the toes of all four paws, sweating, and if I’m on my feet, stumbling too.”  Conrad replied.  Lilly kissed his nose, seeing an incredibly sad look in Conrad’s eyes.

        “I sound like a wreck don’t I,”  he said acidly.

      “You are not a wreck Conrad,” Sita said firmly, “you have a condition which is being managed by tablets, that is all.”

       “I don’t think the tablets will stop the fits completely,” Koda warned, “so we still need to be alert to them, but they will become less frequent.”  Conrad looked towards Koda:

       “Koda,” he said, “thank you for giving me hope.”  Koda looked down at his paws:

       “I did nothing,” he replied.

       “You gave me hope when I was hopeless,” Conrad replied, “Your knowledge gave me hope.  I was terrified before you kissed the sweating pads of my right hind foot, then my nose and told me it would be all right.  Now I’m accepting of my condition, not frightened of it.”  Koda took Conrad’s paw:

         “I’m glad I could help,” he said softly.  Conrad hugged Koda tightly, the polar bear hugging the black bear as tightly as he dared.

       “If I can help in any way at all, please let me know,” Koda whispered to Conrad.

         “You looked so vulnerable lying on the floor with your toes curling and paws thrashing at the air,” Koda said, “I couldn’t just stand by and watch you suffer.”

        “You are so good to me,” Conrad said softly.  Koda turned his head to the door as Matoskah padded into the lie up.

       “I heard, heard you nearly died!”  He panted, his eyes staring wildly, “Conrad, the story I heard was you fell and nearly died!”

          “I had a fit that is all,” Conrad replied.  Matoskah ran to Conrad, pushed him onto his back, and then explored him thoroughly with his muzzle and forepaws, Conrad so surprised he didn’t protest at first.

      “Get off me!”  Conrad gasped, “I’m okay now, and the vet gave me a pill.  Get off, leave me, you’re tickling my toes! Oi!”  Conrad laughed as Matoskah’s muzzle explored the pads of his right hind foot.

       “You make me feel like I did when we were cubs together in that breeding centre, and you would explore the paws of all the cubs after they’d come back from play,”  Conrad said, “Matoskah, do you remember that?  We used to laugh about it, me and the cubs, thinking your inspection of our paws rather unusual, but cute too.”  Matoskah smiled and nodded.

      “I remember,” He replied, “I don’t think anyone objected did them Conrad?”  Conrad giggled:

       “No,” he replied, “we loved it really.  You held us together.  You gave us a sense of security after we’d been taken from our mamas.”  Matoskah sat down suddenly.

       “Are you serious?”  He asked.  Conrad sat up and hugged his lifelong friend.

       “Yes,” he replied, “do you remember little Ikuk, that tiny brown bear cub who was too weak to walk far?”  Matoskah nodded:

      “I was very worried about her, extremely worried,” he said, “she was so weak, so small.  She loved the paw massage and play.”

      “I did,” Ikuk said padding into the lie up.  Matoskah stared at her, the mama brown bear smiling back at him.

        “Paw loving Matoskah,” she said, “do you remember me?”  Matoskah got to his feet, ran to Ikuk, reared onto his hind feet, picked her up in his paws, settled her onto her back on the rugs and kissed her nose, while her cub Asak stared in bewildered fear.

        “I do remember you, I’m so glad you survived out there in the wilds!”  Matoskah replied weeping with joy and relief.

       “I love you Matoskah,”  Ikuk said, “I’ve always loved you, from the moment you explored my tiny paws in the breeding facility at the zoo, right to now when I came in here and you picked me up in your paws.  Please, for old time’s sake, would you explore my paws like you used to?”

     “Hang on mama,” Asak snapped, “what is all this about?”

      “Matoskah’s no enemy,” Ikuk replied, “quite the opposite.  He’s my cubhood friend.  Indeed, so is Conrad too.  We came from the same zoo, and we were separated from our mamas at an early age, to be put into this cub rearing facility.  Of course, afraid and confused as we were, we made our own alliances, our own friends.  While Mishka and Conrad tossed the more boisterous cubs in a blanket, yes boys, I’ve not forgotten that, you even tossed me once; I and a few of the younger cubs were feeling very alone, though Matoskah took time to play with us.  He had a thing about paws, and he would check our paws for thorns and injury before we went out, and especially when we came back in from the outside enclosures.  These inspections would take ages, though we all liked Matoskah’s attentions, for he was so gentle, and meant us no harm.”

      “Did he find any thorns?”  Asak asked.

      “I would make sure he found a twig between the toes of at least one of my paws,” Ikuk confessed, “then he was so gentle when removing it too.”

       “So Matoskah and you are cubhood friends then,” Asak said.

      “Conrad too,” Ikuk replied, “Conrad, what happened to you my dear?”  Conrad told them everything, Ikuk upset by his tale of life on the ice and then of his subsequent sight loss and current illness.

        “You poor thing,” Ikuk said, “Conrad, you have had it dealt out to you haven’t you.”

       “I have,” Conrad replied, “but now I’m safe.  Ikuk smiled and nodded, looking at Matoskah.

       “I’m safe too,” she replied softly, “totally safe now from my nose to my paws.  For not only have I found a safe place, I’ve found the one who kept my paws, and therefore me safe when I was very young.”  Matoskah smiled and kissed Ikuk’s nose.

       “Hey sire Matoskah!”  Someone yelled, and Lihua ran in, leaping at her sire in mock ambush.  Matoskah turned to his now fully grown cub and caught her, tackling her to the floor and rolling her onto her back in play.  Ikuk saw a large panda with a long face and white socks rolling on the rugs.  To Ikuk Lihua was one of the most beautiful creatures she’d ever seen, and Asak was impressed too.

       “What match gives birth to a creature like that mama?”  He asked.

       “A panda and a polar bear Asak love,” Ikuk replied, “I think that white socked bear is Matoskah’s grown cub.”

       “She is,” Matoskah said, releasing Lihua, who scrambled to her paws.

      “Hello,” she said, “my name’s Lihua, I’m Matoskah’s cub.”  Asak stared at her, admiring her from her ears to her paws.

       “Want a closer look?”  Lihua asked, turning her body this way and that, lifting her paws to show Asak the black pads on the soles of her paws, and then sitting down to groom her fur, Asak feeling his pulse quicken and toes curl into the rugs.

     “Wow, she’s, she’s beautiful,” Asak thought, Lihua’s beauty scrambling his brain.

       “That’s how I looked when I first really met Whitetip,” Koda thought, looking at Asak’s staring eyes and fiercely gripping toes.

       “Would you like to get paws on?”  Lihua asked, rolling onto her back and waving her paws in the air.  Asak stared at the cross bred bear’s paws, and wanted desperately to touch them.

       “Come, try it,” Lihua invited, Asak finding his toes uncurling, and paws taking him to the polar panda’s side, then he was embracing her left forepaw in his forepaws and kissing the top of her paw, Lihua giggling with pleasure.

      “Come,” she said, “let’s leave these adults to their paw play.  Let’s go to the soft play room Asak.  Asak let Lihua lead him to the soft play room, where Sita and Toby waited for them.

       “You two can continue your paw play if you like,” Toby said smiling at Lihua and Asak, “I saw you two, Asak, Lihua’s paws are very good to play with.”  Lihua laughed:

       “Matoskah showed me how to play with my paws, and for that I will always be grateful to him,” she replied.  Lihua, grinning at Assoc, rolled onto her back and waved her large paws in the air.

     “Come and get them if you want them,” she said.  Asak ran to Lihua and caught hold of her left hind foot, Lihua wiggling her toes and then curling them as Asak stroked the pads on the sole of her foot.

       “You have a beautiful face and the most gorgeous paws I’ve ever seen,” Asak said to Lihua, the panda polar cross bred she bear laughing merrily.

        “You’re so sweet,” she said softly.

       “Can I count the toes on all four of your paws and stroke your pads?”  Asak asked softly.  Lihua laughed and gently clasped her forepaws across her belly as if in prayer.  Then she looked up at Asak and smiled.

      “Yes please,” she replied.  Asak traced the pads of Lihua’s paws and counted her toes, the she bear unable to stop herself from wriggling with pleasure...

       “You great big softy!”  Asak laughed as Lihua pawed at his face with her forepaws as he explored her hind feet.

       “That looks so sweet!”  Toby laughed.  Sita padded over to Lihua and Asak and explored the scene with her paws, the two bears unconcerned with her exploring paws.

       “That is so cute,” Sita said, kissing Lihua’s nose and the top of Asak’s head.  Lihua rolled onto her belly, and then crawled away, Asak following her hind paws.  Taomi and Ashley padded into the soft playroom.

      “I read a sign out there,” Taomi said to Toby, “the sign said, “please make sure your paws are bare before entering.”  What does that mean?  I’ve never worn shoes on my paws, and neither has Ashley.”

       “It means that being bare pawed is the rule here Taomi,” Toby replied.  “Then of course, if you still have adult paws, you might have to remove those too.”  Taomi sat down.

      “Are my paws cubbish?”  She asked.  Toby sat down and took her right hind foot in his forepaws, Taomi’s toes curling with cubbish delight at his touch.

       “Um, no,” he replied, “Though we could perform the ceremony to make sure.”

      “Let’s do that,” Taomi replied eagerly, “I’m eager to get involved with play rituals in this community.”

       “Sita,” Toby said to his assistant, “could you check Ashley’s paws to make sure they are bare and cubbish?”  Sita smiled and nodded.

       “I will,” she replied.  Toby took hold of Taomi’s right hind foot in his forepaws and told her:

       “Pull!”  Taomi did, finding Toby’s grip firm and strong on her hind foot, though she found she could just about pull it free, which was the idea of the game, to rid her cub’s paws of their adult coverings.  Taomi tugged and worried at her right hind foot, curling and stretching her toes in her efforts to free her foot from its adult covering.  Soon Taomi managed to tug her foot free, and explored it urgently with her forepaws, fancying she could feel softer pads on the sole of her foot.

      “Now for the other paw!”  Taomi said, thrusting her left hind foot into Toby’s forepaws, the game beginning again.  Taomi found she derived even greater enjoyment from pretending to struggle to free her left hind foot from its adult binding, finally checking her pads and toes over with probing forepaws.

      “That felt wonderful!”  Taomi panted, realising she’d exerted herself somewhat during the game with Toby.

         “I truly felt my paw coming free from something, as if I was wearing something on it,” Taomi said suddenly, “it felt wonderful!”

       “I could feel your effort to free your foot was genuine,” Toby replied.  Taomi laughed:

       “Why did you stop Ashley from playing with her paws?”  Toby asked.

      “There was nowhere safe, nowhere she could really let go of her cares, roll onto her back and kick the air with her hind feet,”  Taomi said, “I didn’t want to restrict her paws.  I was discussing it with her when she ran for the house and left me alone.  I couldn’t stop her, and in panic, I sat down and fretted about where my dear cub was.”  Toby looked into Taomi’s face, then down at the pads of the she bear’s hind paws.  She had brownie paw pads and expressive toes.

     “Your tactile education was very thorough wasn’t it,” Toby said.  Taomi laughed merrily and motioned to her right hind foot.

      “You can feel it already can’t you,” she said.

     “The way you pretended freeing your foot was difficult,” Toby said, “that was well practised.  You enjoyed it.”  Taomi laughed:

      “I did,” Taomi replied giggling, “it felt lovely!”

      “Your pads are thick and well travelled,” Toby replied, “but they are sensitive also.”

      “Want to chase my toes?”  She asked.  Toby laughed:

       “Yes, okay,” he replied.  Taomi crawled away, Toby chasing her hind paws, catching them and mercilessly tickling her toes.

      “Hey!”  She squealed with mock indignation, “Leave my toes alone!”  Toby smiled and kissed the heel of her right hind foot, Taomi smiling broadly.

       “I didn’t really mean that,” she said unnecessarily, “I like you touching my paws.”  Toby drew the toes of his left forepaw down the sole of Taomi’s right hind foot, carefully tracing from heel to toes, Taomi gasping and tightly curling her toes with intense pleasure.

       “Don’t, I’ll go mad!”  She panted.

       “If I lie down and simultaneously stroke both your hind paws, will you go mad?”  Taomi turned her head, looking at Toby from the corner of one eye.

        “How if you find out?”  She asked.  Toby gently stroked the soles of Taomi’s hind paws, the she bear whimpering and curling her toes as tightly as she could.

       “Okay, I can’t let you do that again, well not here,” Taomi said quickly, leaping to her feet and running away, Toby chasing her.  Taomi led Toby into the woods, where she slowed down, and let him catch her.  Toby, reaching her, touched her shoulder with his paw, Taomi rolling on the ground to allow Toby to embrace and claim his prize.  Toby embraced Taomi tightly, the she bear snuggling close.  The two bears settled down together, contented and feeling safe.

        “I’m glad to see you two are getting on well,” Nuru purred.  Toby yelped as if he’d been stung and leapt to his feet, whirling round to face the lion, who watched them from behind a nearby bush.

       “How long have you been watching us?”  He asked.  Nuru grinned:

       “I followed you and Taomi out into the woodlands, you are so clumsy pawed, very noisy!”

      “Oh dear,” Taomi said smiling, “we’ve been found out Toby.”  Nuru grinned, padded from his hiding place, leant down, kissed the noses of both bears and then padded away.  Taomi watched him go, and then turned to Toby.

       “Now I like that lion,” she said, “even though I’ve not met him before, he looks kind of nice.”  Toby grinned:

      “Nuru?”  He asked, “Yes, that lion’s all soft paws and gentility, though he doesn’t look it does he.”  Taomi rubbed her nose with her paw, smelling the earth on her pads.

       “No, I wouldn’t tangle with him,” she replied.

      “I’m tired now,” Taomi said, smiling at Toby.  Toby led her back to the house, where he and Taomi settled down together.  Toby was a large cub, but had grown into a small adult.  Taomi liked his small paws and gentle disposition, his small paws complementing her large ones.

 

Meanwhile, in the soft play room, Koda and Ashley played together, Koda, released from his responsibility as leader, let he go, enjoying Ashley’s playful outlook on life.  Ashley and Koda rolled on the soft flooring in play, each trying to claim the other’s paws by touching each paw in turn.  Koda, loving this type of tactile play, energetically fought for the prize of claiming all of Ashley’s thickly padded paws.  Koda tickled the toes of Ashley’s right hind foot, the half grown cub squealing with mock indignation.

      “Tickling my paws is not part of the game Koda!”  She laughed, swiping at his paws with hers.

       “But you liked it didn’t you?”  Koda asked. Ashley giggled:

       “I did,” she replied.

    “Soppy you are,” Koda laughed.  Ashley smiled, cuddling up to Koda.

       “Your fur is so soft and warm,” Ashley said into Koda’s ear, the male black bear smiling with pleasure.

       “Your fur and paws are so warm and lovely,” Koda said, Ashley laughing merrily.

       “Last I saw, mama Taomi and Toby were running off into the woods,” Koda said.

       “And I watched them every step of the way,” Nuru purred.  Ashley turned her head and screamed.

        “Lion!” 

      “Big softy,” Koda laughed.

       “I stalked Taomi and Toby,” Nuru said sitting down composedly, “they were so noisy they didn’t see or suspect a thing.”  Koda laughed helplessly at the thought of Taomi and Toby getting rumbled by the large male lion.

       “Oh, how funny!”  He guffawed.  Ashley looked round at the male lion, the fear in her eyes making Nuru lie down to present a less frightening aspect to her.

        “I’m not your enemy,” Nuru mewed.

        “You could eat me!”  Ashley squealed.

       “Me?  No,” Nuru replied smiling, “too tough for a start, seriously though, I wouldn’t eat you if you were dead meat.  It would not be right in this community, though my initial training, as a pride leader told me to eat what was dead, and to terrorise others.  Now I don’t do that.  Now I have been shown another way.  I help frightened bears now, lions and tigers too.”  Ashley stared at Nuru, taking in his eyes, his mane, his ears, and his huge paws, which he crossed under his chin as he settled down half closing his eyes.

       “Now does he look frightening?”  Koda asked.  Ashley looked at Nuru’s face, and then at his paws, Ashley smiling despite her fear as Nuru wiggled the toes of his right forepaw at her.  Feeling he was winning, Nuru yawned expansively, rolled onto his side, and then relaxed his body, his paws relaxing and ears drooping.

        “He’s just a big lap cat!”  Ashley laughed.

       “I’m not a lap cat!”  Nuru growled deeply, stretching and yawning.  Ashley stared bug eyed at the lion.

       “Tell me he won’t rip me up!”  She wailed.

       “Nuru?”  Koda asked, almost choking with laughter, “he’s as soft as a bear cub Ashley, if you only knew him better.”

        “I like my paws massaged,” Nuru yawned lazily, then, to Ashley’s horror, he began flexing his toes, the lion’s pads bunching and stretching.

       “He’ll get his claws out in a minute, and I’ll die of fright!”  Ashley thought.

       “I won’t hurt you Ashley,” Nuru mewed.

       “Your paws are big and powerful!”  Ashley countered.

       “If I told you that the sight of his mate delivering his cubs into the world had Nuru lying crying on the floor, would you believe me?”  Koda asked.  Ashley looked at the large strong lion lying on the soft flooring of the play room and shook her head.

       “I can’t see him ever being bothered by the birth of any cubs,” she replied honestly, “he probably wouldn’t care much whether his cubs lived or died.”

        “There you are much mistaken Ashley,” Koda replied, “Nuru laboured with his mate, and loves his cubs with everything he has.”

       “”  “How can he labour with his mate?”  Ashley asked.  Koda smiled, padded over to a screen on the wall, touched it with his paw, and soon had the video of little Ellie’s birth up on the screen.

     “Now watch Nuru,” Koda said, “watch his face and his paws as his mate labours to deliver their single cub.”  Ashley, feeling sick, watched as Nuru’s body imitated his mate’s, the lion’s toes curling and teeth clenching in sympathy with his mate’s efforts and pains.

       “He did,” Ashley mumbled as the video ended.  Ashley looked at Nuru, who looked as shell shocked as she’d ever seen a lion look.

        “I don’t remember doing all that,” he mewed, “but I obviously did.”

     “Do you feel silly for it?”  Ashley asked.

      “No,” Nuru replied, “not now, not since, well, since I was told it was all right, all right to talk about these things and that getting close to my mate during her labour was okay.  Now I don’t mind talking about it, or others seeing the video.”

       “He’s desperate for understanding,” Ashley said to Koda.

        “Nuru is,” Koda replied, “though we must not talk about him as if he’s not here.  While Koda spoke, Nuru crept behind Ashley and placing his forepaws either side of her, growled into her ear.

        “I’m still here little one.”  Ashley shrieked with fear and terror!

       “Oh Nuru, Nuru! Please!  Don’t hurt me!  Don’t hurt me!”  She yelled.

       “I won’t hurt you,” Nuru purred, pushing Ashley onto her back with one huge forepaw and then tickling her nose with his whiskers, making her sneeze.

     “Oi!”  She gasped, only for Nuru to tickle the toes of her right hind foot with his whiskers as he kissed her pads.

      “You’re tickling me!”  She yelled.

        “It’s better than eating you,” Nuru said smiling.  Ashley drew up her hind feet, grabbing them with her forepaws and holding on tight.

        “I love seeing a bear do that,” Nuru mewed, “humans too, when they grab their hind feet with their forepaws, it’s so cute.”  Koda laughed delightedly and tugged Nuru’s tail, the lion giving vent to a horrendous roar, , whipping round, knocking Koda off his feet and pinning him down on the soft flooring.

      “You do not pull a lion’s tail!”  Nuru snarled.

      “Oh sorry!”  Koda said laughing.  Nuru raised his paw and cuffed Koda as if he were an errant lion cub.

       “You can’t do that!”  Koda protested, “I’m not your cub!”

       “Your mama and sire are dead, so you are a ward of the community now little one,” Nuru purred, “and you do not pull a lion’s tail!”

       “Don’t hurt me more!”  Koda squealed, very frightened.

       “I will teach you a lesson if you don’t heed my warning,” Nuru spat.  Koda suddenly yelled:

       “I’m Sire Koda’s son cub, heir to this community; you can’t do this to me!”  Nuru touched noses with Koda and said softly:

       “Patch is my leader, you are not, and you are a cub, a miserable, snivelling little cub Koda!” Koda flinched, realising his choice to relinquish the leadership had greater consequences.

        “You are a cub,” Nuru said to Koda, pinning him under his paws.

         “Let me go, let me go!”  Koda begged, his eyes tight shut.

       “I will let you go when I want to let you go,” Nuru growled.  Koda squirmed beneath Nuru’s paws.

         “Let me go Nuru, please, for Eohippus sake, let me go!”  Koda begged softly.  Nuru released Koda, the black bear scrambling away and running to the nearest relieving place where he crouched miserably over the hole in the floor, his fear having nearly caused him to disgrace himself in the play room.  Shaking from nose to tail, Koda relieved himself, then washed himself carefully, noticing his paws shaking as he completed his tasks.

        “I’ve been given a warning,” Koda thought miserably.  Padding from the relieving place, Koda nearly walked straight into Conrad:

        “Oh, Conrad!”  Koda gasped.  Conrad touched Koda’s shoulder:

       “You are shaking dear cub,” Conrad said softly.

       “I made, made a dreadful mistake,” Koda gasped, “I tugged at Nuru’s tail, and, and now he hates me!”

        “I heard something about that,” Conrad said softly.

       “The worst of it is,” Koda whimpered, “I tried to pull rank with Nuru, forgetting, forgetting, that I’m no longer part of the leadership now.  He pinned me down under his paws, and frightened me so much I had to relieve myself quickly.”

        “You have been silly then,” Conrad said softly.  Koda lay down on the floor, his legs shaking so violently he couldn’t support himself.

       “Tugging at Nuru’s tail was bad, pulling rank to get out of trouble was worse, I see that now,” Koda whimpered.

       “You forgot you were no longer leader,” Conrad said, “now it is down to Patch to decide who succeeds him, and his choice might not be you Koda.  Have you thought of that?”  Koda sighed heavily, he hadn’t considered that.

      “No,” he grunted, “I hadn’t considered that.”

         “Well you passed the leadership on,” Conrad replied, “along with leadership comes the right to choose the leader’s successor.”  Koda squirmed with discomfort.

       “Go and play with the cubs as you wanted,” Conrad said, “go Koda, go now.”  Koda crawled away, very upset and remorseful.  Koda found his way to his lie up, crawling into the plush surroundings of his home, something he’d not lost when he abdicated.  Patch, hearing him come in, glanced at him.

      “You messed up didn’t you,” Patch grunted.  Koda snarled at Patch and slammed into the bedroom to sulk.

       “You rude little cub!”  Patch yelled, banging on the door to frighten Koda.

      “Leave me alone, go away!”  Koda yelled.  Patch, frowning, sat back down on the sofa.  Patch settled into the deep plush of the sofa and picked up his cup of tea.  Smiling, he drank his tea, loving the warm liquid which warmed him from his nose to his toes.

        “Can I have a hug Patch?”  Mishka asked.  Patch, smiling put down his tea and gathered Mishka to him, the four month old cub snuggling close.  Patch looked down at Mishka, taking him in from nose to toes.  Patch rubbed Mishka’s belly, the cub grabbing Patch’s paw in his tiny forepaws and squeezing hard.  Patch noticed Mishka’s toes curling with the intensity of his emotions.

        “I wonder if Taomi will have a cub with Toby.”  Mishka asked Patch.

       “I’ve not met Taomi yet,” Patch replied, “maybe she could come to the lie up, or I’ll go to her.  Apparently she has a cub too?”  Mishka smiled:

      “Ashley is so sweet,” he said, “she and Sita were playing with each other’s hind paws earlier that sounded so cute.”  Patch smiled broadly.

       “Maybe we should meet these two,” he said.

         “I’ll ask them to come here,” Mishka said, walking over to the phone and putting in a call before crawling back and scrambling into Patch’s lap once more.  Patch watched the door, Taomi and Ashley padding in five minutes later.  Patch settled Mishka onto the floor and got to his feet, Mishka following him to the two newcomers.  Patch smiled and kissed Taomi and Ashley’s noses in greeting, then took their paws in turn, holding their left forepaws in his paws.

        “Welcome,” he said.  Taomi stared at Patch.

       “I’ve seen those eyes before,” she thought.

       “You’re Sites sire!”  Ashley blurted.

       “I am,” Patch replied, “though I am more to her than that as well.”

         “She did say something else,” Ashley admitted, “but it was so strange I thought she was telling stories.”

       “Did she talk of a male bear that gave birth to her?”  Patch asked.  Ashley replied:

       “Yes, she said that, she was convinced, utterly convinced.”

       “It is all true, every word,” Patch replied.

      “But how can a male give birth?”  Ashley asked, “It’s impossible!”

        “It’s not,” Sita replied, padding into the lie up, “my biological mother could not deliver me without help.  Patch helped her by labouring with her, pushing with her to deliver me, and the spirits created me.”  Taomi looked at Sita, and asked:

      “You Sita said you could tell if one bear was related to another by touching their paws.  Can I look at and touch your paws and then touch patches?”

      “You’d have to ask him if you can touch his paws,” Sita replied, “but yes, you can touch mine by all means.  Sita sat down comfortably, Ashley looking with envy at her paw pads.

       “I wish I had paws like those,” she thought.  Sita said:

      “Your paws are lovely too.”  Ashley gasped.

      “I forgot you were telepathic,” she whimpered, “I’m sorry for that Sita.  Yes I have lovely paws.”  Sita said:

       “Sit opposite me Ashley,” Ashley did, and Sita took her right hind foot in her paws.

       “You have lovely toes, here, one, two, three, four, five toes, and gorgeous pads, here,” Sita said, counting Ashley’s toes as well as tracing round and across Ashley’s pads, Ashley giggling with pleasure.

      “I know, I know!”  She laughed.

      “Play with your paws, enjoy your paws, look after your paws,” Sita mewed.  Patch giggled and sat down, playing with the toes of his right hind foot with his forepaws.

       “You are so cute,” Taomi said to Patch, who laughed merrily and waved his paw at Taomi in a friendly gesture.

       “Paws are for playing with,” he said smiling.  Taomi grinned and sat down, grabbing her right hind foot in her forepaws and exploring her pads and toes with the toes of her forepaws.

        “Check those pads for thorns mama,” Patch said.  Taomi and Patch touched hind paws, the large male bear’s toes curling round Taomi’s in a warm embrace, Taomi pressing her paws hard against Patch’s.

       “Your pads are very warm,” Patch said to Taomi, the she bear laughing merrily.

       “Can we play the trapped paw game?”  Taomi asked.  Patch smiled and nodded:

      “All right,” he replied.  Taomi rested her forepaws on top of the curled toes of Patch’s hind feet.

      “Are there any rituals we have to go through before we play?”  She asked.

       “Yes,” Patch replied, “if we want to be true to the game that is.

       “Tell me or better show me, please,” Taomi replied.

      “I will,” Patch said.  Mishka laughed:

        “Mama,” he said, “Patch is the best player of the trapped paw game you’ll ever meet, and his checking of your paws will be done well and very enjoyable too.”

       “Mama does have a name Mishka dear,” Patch said.  Mishka looked so terrified that Taomi took pity on him.

       “Can’t you say my name little one?”  She asked.  Mishka’s dismay deepened.

      “No,” he mumbled, “the best I can do is Tammy, but you aren’t a Tammy, Toby says you aren’t!”

        “You’ve got most of it,” Taomi replied, “say it like this.  Tao, then me.”  Mishka tried:

     “Tao, me,” he repeated, obviously feeling very silly.

      “Now run it all together,” Taomi said softly.

      “Taomi!”  Mishka said, his eyes shining as he realised he’d solved one more problem.

      “That’s it!”  Taomi laughed merrily, “now we’re okay, aren’t we Mishka.  Mishka smiled and crawled forward, Taomi giving him her left forepaw.

       “You are welcome here,” Mishka said.  Taomi laughed and kissed Mishka’s nose.  Koda, watching from the bedroom, yelled:

       “You can’t say that Mishka!” 

       “Patch,” Mishka said, ignoring Koda’s rant, “please, check Taomi’s paws over as well as you did mine.”  Patch grinned:

       “I will Mishka, I will.”  Mishka smiled:

      “Good,” he said, as if it was the most important thing in the world that Taomi’s paws got a good looking to.

       “Mishka,” Patch said, “would you like to check Taomi’s paws for thorns?”  Mishka hesitated, eager to help, but unwilling to take Patch’s place unless Taomi wanted him to.

       “I’d like that,” Taomi said smiling, “Patch, you and I can play later if you’d like.”  Patch nodded and got to his feet.  I have someone to deal with,” he said.  Patch padded over to the bedroom and, pushing Koda inside, closed the door.

      “I saw the looks you gave Mishka,” Patch snapped at his brother.

        “Mishka’s acting as if he’s leader, welcoming Taomi like that!”  Koda yelled, “That’s my job!”

      “You aren’t leader,” Patch replied, “you passed the job onto me.”  Koda whimpered with indignation, but couldn’t deny the fact.

      “Who’s deputy?”  Koda asked.

       “I don’t know just yet,” patch replied.

       “You need to find someone strong, someone who will help you,” Koda said firmly.  Patch looked at his brother cub.

        “I have the committee of family heads,” Patch replied, “Aga is headed of the woodlanders, Nuru the lions and you, the cubs.  Your deputy is Georgia I suppose.”  Koda grunted alteration.

      “You dare impose yourself on others as if you are leader!”  Patch snapped, “If you do, I’ll lock you up and throw away the key Koda!”  Koda whimpered with fear and backed off, his ears drooping and head hung in shame.

       “Now leave,” Patch said firmly.  Koda, knowing he’d be picked up bodily and thrown out if he didn’t, left with ill grace.  Patch turned his paws hot and uncomfortable.

       “I hate telling anyone off, but I must from time to time,” he thought miserably.  Sitting down, Patch explored the pads of his hind paws, feeling they were hot and damp.

       “Patch doesn’t like getting angry,” Ashley remarked, “his paws are sweating mama.”

       “Poor Patch,” Taomi said softly.

       “My brother’s being a complete idiot,” Patch growled.

      “Your brother used to be leader,” Taomi said, “maybe he’s having issues realising he’s no longer leader.”

       “He abdicated, that’s just it,” Patch replied, “He wants the trappings of leadership without the responsibility.  He’s a chump!”

       “What’s a chump?”  Mishka asked, while Ashley tried not to laugh, failed, covered her face with her paws and snorted into them as she tried to mask her mirth.

       “A chump is a foolish person,” Patch replied wearily, “is what Koda is being.”

      “Do you find Koda’s antics funny Ashley?”  Patch asked.

      “No, No,” Ashley gasped, “your words, they are so funny!”  Patch smiled despite his anger.

        “Yes,” he replied, “they were I suppose.”

      “Where’s Koda gone now?”  Ashley asked.

       “I don’t mind if he’s gone to the moon,” Patch grunted, “as long as he’s far away from me.”

       “So Koda let you have the leadership Patch?”  Ashley asked.

      “He did,” Patch replied.  .

       “Now he wants to boss people about,” Mishka snarled, “that are just so wrong!”  Patch smiled and ruffled Mishka’s ears.

       “You never know,” he said, “you might be leader one day Mishka.”  Mishka laughed:

       “I don’t think so,” he replied, “I’m younger than Koda.”

       “I think Patch would rather hand over to a young leader than a chump,” Ashley said.  Taomi giggled despite herself.

       “I shouldn’t laugh,” she said, “but Koda is so silly!”

       “Sometimes he’s not,” Patch replied, “but then sometimes he is more than silly.”

       “That’s in the future though,” Mishka said.  Patch got to his feet, bounced on his toes and padded out of the room.  Patch went to the soft play room and, placing his paw on a glass and punching in a special code, opened a door off that into another room.  The door closing behind him, Patch hit the lights and looked at the punch bags and weights.  Patch sat on the leg extensions machine and worked out for half an hour, pushing the weights up and down.  Then he kicked and punched a bag for another half an hour, before returning to a shower to wash himself.  Leaving that Patch padded along to his lie up, feeling much refreshed.  Ekaterina, returning from her own oblations, ran straight into Patch.”

       “Sorry Patch,” she said, having blundered straight into him.  Patch picked his mate up off the floor where she’d landed on the floor.

         “You weren’t paying attention,” Patch said gently, lifting his mate up onto her feet and kissing her nose.

       “You are so good to me,” Ekaterina said wearily.

        “What’s the matter Ekaterina my dear?”  Patch asked.  Ekaterina sighed heavily:

       “I made a follow up visit to Janet and Moses, of course, Moses was all over me, we hugged and conversed as I do with the cubs here.  Then Jean has to come in and ruin everything.  Getting a whip out, she beat me until I turned and ran out of the house!”

        “I’ll tear her to bits!”  Patch growled.

        “Janet tried to tell her that I was the midwife who delivered her son, but her mother wouldn’t have any of it.  She screamed that bears don’t get involved with midwifery, branding her daughter mad, completely, um,” Ekaterina seemed to trip over her words then, she hesitated, looking scared, and said in a rush, “she used a word then that I don’t know the meaning of, the closest I know is duck, but why would she say duck in the middle of a rant?”  Patch looked grim and replied:

       “I know the word you mean Ekaterina.  She used that word, and probably mad or bonkers after it?”  Ekaterina nodded:

       “I don’t know what that word means Patch, “I’ve heard some words.  I’ve heard you swear, you and I both swear when needed, but never at our cubs, and not like that.”  Patch could see the abrasive words had shocked Ekaterina.

       “The word you heard was unacceptable,” Patch replied, “doubly so when used in front of cubs, even human cubs, who can be uncivilised at the best of times.  Did Jean use duck towards you?”  Ekaterina squirmed with discomfort.

       “She told me to go away, using the duck word; she called me a stupid ducker, and told me to duck off out of her house.  Patch snorted:

       “Cow,” he grunted.

        “I am sorry Ekaterina,” Royston said, walking into the lie up, “my mother should not have told you to go away like that.”  Ekaterina turned away, as if she was going to vomit.

       “I’m no prude,” Ekaterina said, “but the violence of that word, the hatred it imparts, I can’t deal with that!”

        “You’ve never experienced it before my love,” patch replied, “I have, and know the violence is not really there.  The words sound violent, but they aren’t.  The whip though, mama, did jean whip you?”  Ekaterina nodded.

       “It didn’t hurt me,” she said, “I’ve got all this fur, thank Eohippus, she tried to beat me with a long whip.”

        “Is this true?”  Patch asked Royston.

        “It is,” Royston replied.  Patch growled deep in his throat.  Ekaterina fearful for his safety laid a restraining paw on his.

       “Don’t do anything silly please!  Ekaterina begged.  Patch kissed her nose and walked out of the lie up.  Entering another room through a secret door, he padded to a wall safe and picked up a heavy coat which he put on.  Inside he felt for another bit of kit, something he’d trained with in secret, and knew the power of.  Withdrawing his paw from the pocket inside the jacket, he examined what he held, a stun gun.  Smiling grimly, he fastened the Velcro over his stomach and pocketed the stun gun.  Patch went to another cabinet and found pepper spray and a stun grenade, just in case he had to get out in a hurry.  The stun grenade would give him time to run if things got heated and violent.  Packing all this, Patch was strangely glad Ekaterina could not see him now.”  Sighing with intense sadness, Patch padded out of the room.  Patch padded along to the house of the humans, knocked on the door and presented himself.

       “What do you want?”  Jean asked with hostility.

       “I heard what you said to my mate,” Patch replied, “you insulted her, you even whipped her.  Now I don’t like that.

      “Why are you wearing a jacket Patch?”  Jean asked.

       “In case things get violent,” Patch replied, “I love my life.”  Jean threw a poker at Patch, who caught it and threw it back, burying half of it in the door opposite the entrance to the house.

       “Now that behaviour is not necessary,” Patch said softly, “all we want to do is live in peace with you, but you don’t wish to be in peace with us.  Why is this?”

       “You got your filthy paws on my grandson!”  Jean yelled.

      “Filthy paws?”  Patch asked, “no, not filthy paws, gentle loving clean paws.  We took your daughter in and ministered to her during her labour, loving her and her son cub because they are not our enemies, even though they have the shape of the most detested species on the planet.  We can tell the difference between a shape and what lies beneath.  For instance, you hate me as I’m, as you would see me, a stinking, repulsive, rapacious bear, but under my fur, I might be a gentle creature.  You don’t know what I truly am doing you?  The trouble is jean; you don’t want to know what I am.  You can’t stand me because I am a bear.  I have the shape you detest more than any other, and this is the issue you have with me, and also with my mate.  Ekaterina helped Janet as well as a human midwife would have done, but you detest her for it.  Humans have said the birth went well, and that Janet gave birth with no stress at all.  Yes she yelled, screamed and curled her toes, but that was not real distress, only labour pains.”

       “Get out of my house!”  Jean yelled.

       “I’m not in it,” Patch replied reasonably.

        “Mum, leave it!”  Janet yelled from inside the house, “Patch and his family didn’t hurt me did they? No, so just leave them alone!”

       “When I see that video, I get very angry!”  Jean yelled, “That horrid female bear stroking Janet’s feet and then catching Moses in her paws. How horrible!”  Patch sighed heavily.

        “We were only helping her,” he said.

       “We don’t need your help,” jean said, slamming the door in Patch’s face.  Patch, depressed, turned and walked back to the house, his paw on the gun in his pocket.  Reaching the secret room in the house, patch disarmed himself and locked the weapons in cabinets.  Padding out of the room, he ran straight into Ekaterina.

      “What’s in that room?”  She asked.

       “Things you would hate me for using,” Patch replied.

        “What?”  Ekaterina asked.  Patch hugged her and told her what he hid in that room.

       “It’s worse than just an electric stun gun and a bit of seasoning though,” Ekaterina said, “I know it is.”

       “I know how to handle guns Ekaterina love,” Patch replied, “pistols, rifles, I’ve handled them all.  I have taken the tests, and even have a licence.  Did you know there are no rules specifically banning bears having gun licences?  As long as the applicant, that’s the words they use, the applicant, can demonstrate they are of sound mind, they can have a licence.  It doesn’t say the applicant has to be homo sapient.”  Ekaterina laughed despite herself.

      “Oh Patch, I love you,” she said, kissing his nose.”

     “I don’t want you getting involved in my shit,” Patch replied, “It would make me very sad.”  Patch kissed Ekaterina’s nose.

        “Would you show me?”  She asked.  Patch sighed heavily.

        “You want to get paws on with guns and bombs?”  Patch asked.  Ekaterina gasped:

      “You mean exploding things?”  She asked.

       “Stun grenades yes,” Patch replied, “You won’t be able to see the flash Ekaterina love, but you’ll hear the bang.”  Patch squeezed his mate’s paw.

         “I don’t want you involved in this stuff,” he pleaded.

        “I’m curious,” Ekaterina admitted, “Show me what you use, please?”  Patch led her into the room and closed the door.  He then got into his body armour and showed Ekaterina the armour, stun gun and stun grenades.

       “I’ve been shot with a stun gun,” Patch said, “it’s awful, but doesn’t kill, unlike traditional guns.”  Ekaterina explored the stun gun with gentle care.

       “So this fires electricity?”  She asked, “Gives a shock?”  Patch nodded, picked up the gun and fired it on stun mode, the electricity crackling between the terminals with a snapping sound which made Ekaterina close her eyes, clench her teeth and grip the ground with the toes of all four paws, panting heavily.

     “Or you can fire it at someone,” Patch replied, “like a normal gun, then it shocks when it hits a target.  I’ve been subjected to that too.  Listen.”  Patch fired the stun gun, which discharged with a hell of a bang, and then there was a crackling noise.  Ekaterina yelped as the gun went off.

        “Sorry mama,” Patch replied, reloading the gun.  Ekaterina touched the prongs of the gun with her paw.

      “Now if I fire, you get the shock,” patch replied conversationally.

         “You wouldn’t,” she replied.

        “No,” Patch said.  Ekaterina suddenly felt sick, the thought of her mate using such power made her want to throw up.

        “When would you use that?”  She asked.

      “If a human came at me,” patch replied.  “Of course, if he has a gun, I can’t defend myself against that, which is why I wear the suit I’ve got on, that’s bullet proof.  Of course, when visiting Janet’s home, it’s not Janet I’m worried about, it’s her parents.  What would they have hidden away in their closet?”

       “It’s the same old fear we bears have always had,” Ekaterina replied, “the fear of the gun, of the human hunter.  Now though, a bear has got his paws on the guns and a licence to use those guns.  I’m sickened to my stomach to think you have that power in your paws.”

        “I’m sorry Ekaterina love,” patch replied.

       “You mentioned stun grenades,” Ekaterina said, “her fascination sickening her, “what are they?”

     “They make a loud bang and a horrendous flash of light.”  Patch replied.

       “Were you, did you?”  Ekaterina asked, unable to finish her question.

      “Did I carry one when I went to the house?”  Patch asked.  Ekaterina nodded her mouth dry and paws sweating.

         “I did,” patch replied unemotionally.

       “I don’t like this, I don’t like this!”  Ekaterina whimpered.

       “You weren’t supposed to know,” Patch replied.

      “What else?”  Ekaterina asked, “I might as well know it all.”

       “I can fire pepper spray balls, bean bags, and live rounds,”  patch replied, “oh, I didn’t take a live weapon to the house if that’s what you’re about to ask, though I considered it.”  Ekaterina rubbed her nose with one sweating forepaw.

        “What do you think of all this?”  She asked.

      “I hate it Ekaterina love,” patch replied, “but I have to do it, I have to use it, I have to know how to use this stuff.  Also, I train in paw to paw combat and use of sticks and staves in combat also.  I am considered a top knife thrower and street fighter.”

       “You did all this in secret?”  Ekaterina asked.  Patch removed the body armour and held his mate tightly.  Ekaterina sobbing into his fur.

        “I don’t want you to do anything stupid,” Ekaterina said, “though, on the other paw, I’m kind of proud of you patch.”  Patch smiled:

       “There are others,” he replied, “others in this community who know almost as much as I do.  Only I and one other have the live firing licences, but others know how to use the stun guns and grenades, and there is at least one other who knows how to fire live rounds.”

       “Jess,” Ekaterina breathed, “she knows doesn’t she Patch, she trained with you, she knows what you know.”

      “She does,” patch replied, “that girl is a fantastic shot and brilliant at hand to paw combat.  We have to know this stuff Ekaterina, just in case.”  Ekaterina clenched her teeth, trying not to cry.

        “I’m so sorry,” she replied suddenly, “so very sorry.”

       “I am too Ekaterina love,” patch admitted.

      “I want to throw something!”  Ekaterina yelled impulsively, “I’m furious!”

       “How about this?”  Patch asked, handing her a metal cylinder with a ring pull in the top.

       “Pull the top out of that, and throw it when I say,” Patch said, leading Ekaterina to a secret range.

      “Now,” Patch said, “get to your hind feet, pull the pin and throw the tube.”  Ekaterina pulled the pin and threw the tube.  There was an almighty bang which made Ekaterina scream lustily.

       “What the hell was that?”  She asked.

       “You did that,” patch said, “that was a stun grenade, the one I didn’t use at the house.”  Ekaterina swore, saying something about a duck.

      “I thought you didn’t know that word,” patch said.

        “I remembered it,” Ekaterina replied, and it’s justified here.”  Patch hugged his mate, the smell of explosive permeating her fur.  Ekaterina, shocked, shook violently from nose to tail as Patch hugged her.

       “I want to play with paws, not bombs,” Ekaterina said, almost sobbing.  Patch kissed her nose and paws, the she bear sinking to all fours, then lying on the floor as if exhausted.

       “That was awful!”  Ekaterina whimpered, the fierce noise, the shock, everything was just awful!”  Patch smiled and picked his mate up off the floor, carrying her into the anti room, lying her down and divesting himself of the bullet proof vest.  Then, lifting Ekaterina in his paws, he carried her out of the room and closed the door, locking it.  Ekaterina lay in his paws, her forepaws dangling into space.

         “I feel disorientated,” Ekaterina whimpered, “Patch, I shouldn’t have asked about your other life.”  Patch kissed the top of her head:

      “Ekaterina, please, don’t worry,” he said, “it I’ll do all I can to make sure things don’t come to the point where I have to use ultimate force.”  Ekaterina felt herself lay down on a soft rug, and then patch settled down beside her.  Ekaterina buried her face in Patch’s fur, breathing in his scent as if her life depended on it.

        “I’m frightened patch!”  Ekaterina sobbed.  Patch kissed her nose and forepaws, the she bear embracing him.

       “You don’t need to be scared Ekaterina love,” Patch said.  Moses crawled in, his presence making Ekaterina look round, the month old little boy crawling up to Ekaterina and cuddling up to her.  Ekaterina, smiling, hugged Moses with gentle paws.  Moses smiled and gave her his right foot to stroke, Ekaterina tracing the sole of his foot and counting his toes, Moses laughing and curling his toes with pleasure.

        “Moses likes your touch Ekaterina,” Patch said smiling.

       “I do,” Moses said, Ekaterina able to understand him perfectly, “your touch makes me feel Safe Ekaterina.”  Ekaterina laughed merrily and hugged Moses tightly.

      “Your paw pads are smoother and rather cubbish,” Ekaterina said softly to the child, Moses laughing merrily and kissing Ekaterina on her nose.

      “Can I touch your paw pads?”  Moses asked Ekaterina, who smiled and let him touch the pads of her right hind foot, curling her toes with pleasure as the young boy explored her pads and toes with his hands.

       “I love you mama Ekaterina,” Moses said to the mama bear.

      “I love you too Moses, you have a home here or in the house, don’t’ forget that,” Ekaterina said softly.  Moses laughed and hugged Ekaterina’s hind paw with enthusiasm, Ekaterina embracing Moses with tender paws.

       “Hug me mama,” Moses begged.  Ekaterina lifting the child into her lap and hugging him as she would a bear cub, Moses cuddling close to the mama bear.  Patch signalled to Janet, who’d followed Moses into the room, and Janet gave Ekaterina a bottle of milk for Moses, the mama bear feeding the baby boy.  Moses drank busily, holding the bottle in his hands while Ekaterina cradled him.

        “That looks so natural,” Janet said to Ekaterina, who grinned happily.

        “I remember his birth every day,” Ekaterina said softly.

       “I will re-enact it for you and him in time,” Janet replied, “I know this is part of his heritage as are things that take place after.”  Ekaterina smiled:

      “It is,” she replied softly.

       “I remember playing the trapped paw game with you Ekaterina that was such fun!”  Janet said, the polar bear smiling broadly.

      “It was,” Ekaterina replied, “maybe you and Moses will play that game when he’s old enough?”

      “I hope we do,” Janet replied, “I’ll see if he’s interested in playing that game.”   Ekaterina finished feeding Moses, and then handed him back to his mother.

       “I feel better now,” Ekaterina said to Patch as the humans left.  Patch kissed her nose and paws, the she bear smiling with pleasure.

       “Now what?”  Ekaterina asked.

      “Now I have to convince one frightened mama bear that her mate isn’t a cold blooded killer,” Patch replied softly.  Ekaterina held her mate’s forepaws in hers.

       “I know you aren’t Patch, I know what those humans can do if they want to, I, I just can’t believe, don’t want to believe they would endanger us.  I don’t want you or jess to get into pitched battle with those humans!”  Ekaterina whimpered.

       “I won’t get into pitched battle with those humans,” Patch promised, “I’ll be peaceful, unless of course they pick a fight, then, then I and others will be ready for them.”  Ekaterina smiled at her mate.

      “I’d like to play with your paws Ekaterina,” Patch said, “will you let me do that?”  Ekaterina smiled:

       “Yes patch, I’d love you to,” Ekaterina said softly.  Patch sat opposite Ekaterina and took her right hind foot in his forepaws.  Ekaterina curled her toes with pleasure as Patch traced her pads and counted her toes.

       “Are my pads in good order?”  Ekaterina asked.  Patch smiled and replied that:

       “Your pads are in very good order Ekaterina love.”  Ekaterina smiled and curled her toes with pleasure as Patch massaged the large sole pad on her right hind foot.  Patch drew the claws of his left forepaw down the pads of Ekaterina’s right hind foot, Ekaterina gasping and whimpering with emotion as Patch thrilled her.

       “Oh Patch, that feels wonderful!”  She panted.  Patch stroked and then rasped Ekaterina’s pads, the she bear relaxing and curling her toes repeatedly, and her toes curling tighter and tighter each time she curled her toes.

       “If you carry on doing that, I’ll not be able to curl my toes any tighter!”  Ekaterina panted.

      “Relax them,” Patch said, kissing the toes of Ekaterina’s right hind foot, which were tightly curled.

       “I can’t patch, I can’t!”  Ekaterina laughed, “Your touch makes me want to curl my toes as much as the sensation of delivering a cub into the world does.”

      “But one sensation is painful, the other is pleasurable?”  Patch asked.  Ekaterina smiled broadly:

       “the toes curl with intensity of feeling, be it pain or pleasure,”  Ekaterina replied, “curling toes takes muscle power, so it’s not advantageous when you need all your strength to push against a cub, but you can’t help curling your toes.”  Patch smiled:

      “Yes I know,” he replied softly, “for I too have delivered a cub, and curled my toes as lustily as you did.  It too gives something for me to focus on, concentrate on curling my toes when things are more intense, relaxing them when things ease.”  Ekaterina smiled and nodded:

      “That’s how it is when giving birth to a cub,” she replied, “It’s very intense, very hard work.  Mama could do better energy wise without curling her toes, but she can’t help it.”

      “So that is why mamas say their paws hurt after giving birth?”  Patch asked, as if he didn’t know.  Ekaterina smiled and taking Patch’s left hind foot in her paws, kissed the sole pad.

      “Yes,” Ekaterina replied smiling.

        “Your paws are so cute when you curl your toes Ekaterina,” Patch replied gently, Ekaterina curling the toes of all four of her paws as he said this.  Patch took each of Ekaterina’s paws in his and massaged her pads, Ekaterina relaxing her toes little by little as the tension in her paws relaxed.

        “I love that,” Ekaterina said as her toes relaxed completely.  Patch smiled:

       “Ekaterina,” he said, “can you remember how your paw pads look?”  Ekaterina nodded:

       “I do remember,” she replied hesitantly, “Patch, it is my own fault you have to describe my paw pads to me now, I shouldn’t have hidden the cub’s birth from you, and loss of my sight was my punishment for what I did.”

      “That’s not true,” Patch replied.

       “If I’d not hidden the cub’s birth, stress would not have built in me, and then I most likely would not have lost the use of my eyes,” Ekaterina reasoned.  Patch held her tightly as she cried into his coat.

       “Now we go on from here,” Patch said, “Ekaterina, what’s done is done.  Now look to the future if you can.  I’ll help you.”  Patch kissed his mate’s nose and paws, the she bear shaking with fear.

        “My paw pads were black and wrinkled, rough too,” she said, “they were cute in a way, very expressive when I curled my toes in pleasure or pain, I remember that.  I watched you and me Patch, I watched us on video, making love, then me having cubs, that kind of thing.”

     “remember those pictures,”  Patch replied, “and I’ll help you remember those by re-enacting things, walking past you so you can feel my body, legs and feet, letting you stroke my paw pads, touch my mouth and ears, that kind of thing.  I’ll do all this because I love you Ekaterina, not because I feel I feel pity for you and see it as my duty to show you.”

       “You let me get paws on with you while you’re walking about, lying down, or even wearing that horrid bullet proof suit,” Ekaterina repined, “is there any time you wish I’d keep my paws to myself?”

         “Only when I’m using the relieving place,” patch replied, “but that’s obvious.  Otherwise,” he considered the question for a minute, “no Ekaterina.  You can’t see me with your eyes, so you use your paws, that’s just as it should be.”  Ekaterina smiled:

       “Thank you,” she said.  Patch gently placed his paw over her mouth.

        “I don’t want or need thanks,” patch replied, “it sounds then as if I’m doing it under some kind of sufferance, and I’m not Ekaterina.  Your love for me is all the thanks I need.  You give far more back to me when you touch me than I can put into words.  You thrill me Ekaterina, thrill me to my marrow with the little things you do, such as take my paw, kiss my nose, that kind of thing.  So what do you think you do when you really go out of your way to give me pleasure?”

        “It goes straight off the scale?”  Ekaterina asked.  Patch gave her his right hind foot in reply, curling his toes as tightly as he could.

          “Ah, I get it now,” Ekaterina said smiling.

        “I just wish I could curl my toes even tighter,” Patch replied, “then it might do justice to how I feel.”  Ekaterina smiled broadly, kissing the bunched pads of Patch’s hind paw.

         “I love you just as you are,” she said, “but if you want to try to curl those toes a little tighter, I’ll do all I can to help.  Ekaterina drew circles on Patch’s sole pad with the toes of her left forepaw, Patch putting his entire mind into relaxing and letting his toes do what they wished, and indeed, they did curl tighter still, Ekaterina smiling and kissing his curled toes.

       “Told you you could curl your toes even tighter,” Ekaterina said laughing.  Patch smiled broadly.

       “I enjoyed that,” he replied.

        “How do your toes feel now?”  Ekaterina asked.

      “They ache terribly,” patch replied.

       “Can I?”  Ekaterina asked.  Patch smiled:

       “Try,” he invited, Ekaterina taking his hind foot in her forepaws and massaging his pads and toes with gentle loving care and attention.  Ekaterina sighed with relief as she learnt to trust her paws completely.

        “Your eyes don’t work, so trust your paws Ekaterina love,” patch said softly.

        “Your paws tell me everything,” Ekaterina said gently.

       “Don’t be afraid to ask me if you can touch me,” patch said, “and that is not because I might refuse you, it’s just so I know you will be touching me, and I can take things slower and more carefully.”  Ekaterina knew what he meant, and kissed patch’s nose with passion.

      “Now let’s love each other with touch and physical demonstration, rather than with visual stuff,” Patch replied, “for who wants visual stuff anyway, that’s boring!”  Ekaterina laughed happily.

        “You softy,” she said to Patch, who kissed her nose, then kissed the pads and toes of all four of her paws.

      “I love you from your nose to your paws Ekaterina, and that’s tactile love.”  Ekaterina smiled broadly.

       “I know in my heart,” she said, “I know you love me from my nose to my toes, but my irrational brain, my idiot silliness tells me you can’t love a blind bear, as you are a sighted bear.”

       “Treat me as if I can’t see you,” patch replied, “be tactile, pretend I can’t see you.  Ekaterina, do you know what I do when I stroke your fur and paws?”

      “What?”  Ekaterina asked.

        “I close my eyes and use my paws, both my hind and forepaws.”

       “I know,” Ekaterina whimpered, “I know you do patch.  My heart knows, but my silliness sometimes tells me you wouldn’t want me.”

       “I want you Ekaterina,” patch replied, “I want you so much.”

       “I’ll give you everything,” Ekaterina said softly.  Patch smiled.

       “You know what turns me on most?”  Patch asked.

       “I should know,” Ekaterina said miserably.

       “When you crawl away from me, and I can chase your paws and catch you, just as I would chase a mama bear in the wild,” Patch replied.

      “But a mama bear would be running on all four feet,” Ekaterina said, “I can’t.”

       “You can crawl though, and that’s a compromise to your disability,” patch replied, “I know this, though your escape from me is no less enthralling.  I love catching your paws and stroking them, and then tackling you to the floor and kissing your nose and paws and then hugging you tightly to me.  Ekaterina smiled:

        “I wish you’d do that faster,” she replied, “you do it slowly, as if I’m fragile, and I’m not!  I’m not going to break Patch.”  Patch giggled:

        “I am sorry,” he replied, “maybe that was why you didn’t know the answer to my question, I maybe am a little more gentle than I really want to be.  Maybe I do treat you slightly more gently than I would a bear that could see me.  I’ll make sure we’re safe, and then I’ll chase you down and conquer you with abandon.

         “Yes please!”  Ekaterina replied eagerly.  Ekaterina and Patch went to the soft play room and to the place made originally for Sita and her cubs to play.  Patch showed Ekaterina the soft walls and floor, so that if she and he got over enthusiastic, they’d not get hurt.  Ekaterina smiled as she thought of the fun she and Patch could have.

       “Are we alone?”  She asked, “Last time things got interesting, we were in the other room I think, and we had to stop.  Now though, I hope we’re alone and we can play and love each other without worrying about cubs seeing us.”

     “It doesn’t matter if they do,” patch replied, “it’s just the fact we were playing in the soft playroom that is all.  Here, we are able to play on our own terms.”  Ekaterina explored Patch from nose to tail as the bear stood on the soft flooring.  As she touched his paws, patch bounced on his toes a little, lifting his heels slightly off the floor.  Ekaterina slipped her paw beneath his pads, patch letting her lift his foot up, and so he stood on three legs.  Ekaterina sat down and picked up Patch’s relaxed left hind foot, cradling it in her forepaws.  Smiling she kissed his pads and toes, Patch slightly curling his toes with pleasure.

      “Now who chases who?”  Patch asked.

        “Patch,” Ekaterina said softly, “could you describe your paw pads to me?”

       “I have seen my own paw pads, so I can Ekaterina love,” Patch replied, “though to do so, I need to sit down so I can guide your paw over mine.”  Ekaterina smiled and released her hold on Patch’s paw, Patch sitting down comfortably on the matting.

      “Now,” Patch said, “take my right hind foot in your forepaws and rest my heel on your leg Ekaterina.  Then cradle my foot with one paw, and I’ll talk you round my pads as you touch them.  Ekaterina cradled her mate’s right hind foot in her paws, resting it on her left hind leg.  Then, steadying Patch’s hind foot with her left forepaw, she touched the toes of Patch’s hind foot.

       “My pads are off white, almost cream in colour,” patch said, “my skin is pink, so my pads are pink too.  As you can feel, my pads are rough, and,” he curled his toes, Ekaterina giggling with pleasure, “my toes curl easily,” patch continued, “Now count my toes, then press my pads firmly with your toes Ekaterina, check my paws over please.”  Ekaterina did, counting five toes on Patch’s hind foot, then gently stroking down the sole of his paw from his toes to his heel, [patch wriggling and wiggling his toes slightly with pleasure.

       “Your pads are warm and rough,” Ekaterina said, “but they are sensitive too, I can feel that.”  Patch smiled broadly, though, realising smiling would be as much use to Ekaterina as a printed sign six feet high and in lights, he curled his toes, smiling as her toes were caught by his.

        “I love the warm embrace of your toes,” Ekaterina said.  Patch squeezed the toes of Ekaterina’s right forepaw with those of his right hind.

        “I love that,” Ekaterina said.  Patch leant forward and kissed her nose.

        “Your paws tell me so much Patch,” Ekaterina said with vehemence pleasure.

      “Your paws tell me lots too Ekaterina love,” Patch replied.  Ekaterina let go of Patch’s right hind foot and patch crawled away, Ekaterina crawling after him.  Suddenly he turned on her, chasing her, Ekaterina squealing and crawling away, her forepaws and hind going like pistons in a crawl.  Patch leapt at eatery’s hind feet, grabbing them with both forepaws, nearly landing on top of his mate, rolling her over and pinning her down, Ekaterina laughing helplessly.

      “Go on patch, catch me patch!”  She laughed, pawing at him.  Patch bear hugged Ekaterina to him, kissing her nose and paws.

       “Now that was lovely!”  Ekaterina gasped, half winded by patch’s mock assault on her.

        “I love you so much Patch!”  Ekaterina laughed.  Patch kissed the mama bear’s nose and paws, Ekaterina’s toes curling with emotion.

        “You are so sweet to me,” Ekaterina said.

       “I wonder why that is?”  Patch asked.

        “Because you love me,” Ekaterina replied smiling.

      “I love you from your nose to your paws Ekaterina,” patch replied softly.  Ekaterina ran her paws all over Patch’s body, exploring his face and neck, ears and back, legs and paws, Patch wriggling and whimpering with pleasure.

      “That’s good, so good!”  He gasped, Ekaterina realising for the first time she could drive Patch wild with her touch.

        “I would deliver you a cub Patch, if only; if only I could be sure it would survive the birth.  I know we could deliver the cub with an operation, but I don’t want that.”

       “Let’s love the cubs we have shall we?”  Patch suggested, Rowena, and little Allie, little Patch too.  They are doing so well aren’t they?  Ekaterina nodded:

       “Until today I was so worried you’d not want me as I’m a barren sow now,” Ekaterina said softly, “but I’m not worried now, I relax completely in the love of my mate and cubs.”

        “Your beautiful from your nose to your toes Ekaterina, and don’t you ever foregut that,” Patch said.

        “In my heart I knew you made love to me with your eyes closed Patch.  I thought it was because you couldn’t stand the sight of me, that’s my silliness talking, but now, now I know why you make love that way.”

        “Yes Ekaterina love,” Patch replied, “it’s so my paws tell me everything, and I’m not distracted by my eyes.”

       “You catching me and pinning me with your paws felt wonderful Patch,” Ekaterina replied, “and I don’t mind re-enacting a cubbing for you if you wish.”  Patch smiled:

       “I will help you by stroking your paws if you do that,”  Patch replied, “but you must want to re-enact a cubbing too, don’t just do it for me.”

       “I might do it to relieve stress,” Ekaterina said, “I know what you do to relieve your stress Patch; you massage your paws or beat up punch bags.”

       “I don’t want to punch bags,” Patch replied, “that are more training than stress relief, though massaging paws is great too.  I also lie on my back, and grab my hind feet in my forepaws, pushing against my forepaws with my hind feet.  That’s wonderful also.”

       “I love your fur and paws Patch,” Ekaterina said.

      “And I your paws and fur Ekaterina,” patch replied softly, kissing his mate’s nose and paws.

      “Now mama,” Patch said, “I’m leaving here.”  Ekaterina was about to beg Patch not to leave, when she realised he was crawling, not walking away from her.  Ekaterina leapt at Patch’s hind feet, catching one in her forepaws and hanging on, Patch dragging her along the soft flooring, Ekaterina digging in the toes of her hind feet to stop her slide.

       “Stop, stop!”  Ekaterina whimpered, as if she were a cub, “I must stop this bear!”  Ekaterina hung onto patch’s right hind foot, trying to stop his escape.  Panting and whimpering, Ekaterina clawed her way up Patch’s hind leg to his hock, trying to stop him with her weight.

      “I can stop him I can!”  She thought as she struggled desperately.  Patch wriggled and scrabbled breath his mate’s body as she fought his escape attempt with all four of her paws, her pads now slippery with the sweat of effort.

        “I must stop him, I must!”  Ekaterina thought, growling and snarling with mock anger and fury.  Patch suddenly laid still, Ekaterina stopping her adult.  Suddenly she was grabbed by a set of huge paws, hugged fiercely and kissed on the top of her head.

       “Patch!”  She yelped.  Patch laughed and cradled his mate in his lap, hugging her tightly.

        “You acted like a cub,” he said.  Ekaterina took a deep breath, as tears threatened to overwhelm her.

        “I feel like a cub when playing with you,” she said, “I’m your mate, but also, well, I feel like a cub too.”

       “Like you need protection?”  Patch asked.

       “Yes, patch, I’m sorry, I can’t be a mate to you if I need protection can I?”

        “It is a male bear’s duty to protect his mate,” patch replied, “and I will protect you Ekaterina.”  Ekaterina smiled shyly, her insecurity glaringly obvious to Patch.

      “I couldn’t dominate you as you did me,” Ekaterina said, “I don’t want to dominate you patch.  I want to play, but I like a strong mate.”  Patch smiled.

        “I love you just as you are,” he said, “and the way you tried to stop me leaving was so cute.”  Ekaterina smiled:

      “Do you think so?  Really?”  She asked.

      “It was,” Patch replied, “you sounded like a cub whimpering and snarling like that, and the way you pawed at my hind feet, scrabbling inch by inch to overpower me was just like a cub learns how to overcome prey,” Patch replied smiling.

         “I didn’t want to eat you!”  Ekaterina replied, shocked and upset.

       “No, I know,” Patch replied, “but it was still cute when you did that.”  Ekaterina knew he meant it too, that her method of play had thrilled him.  Patch laughed as Ekaterina ran her paws all over his body, Patch wriggling with pleasure and excitement.

          “Okay big boy,” Ekaterina said, kissing Patch’s nose, “I’ll reluctantly let you back to your leadenly duties.”  Patch snorted:

       “Oh thanks,” he replied, “I’m bored by the thought of that.”  Ekaterina kissed his paws.

      “Go now,” she replied, “and I will follow you.”  Patch crawled from the room with Ekaterina following him by touch.

         “Let’s go into the woods Patch,” Ekaterina said, “do you have to go back to your duties just yet?”  She asked.  Patch smiled and shook his head:

        “Let’s go into the woods,” Patch replied softly.

 

Padding into the woods with Ekaterina, Patch and Ekaterina walked on their hind paws down the tracks, holding forepaws.  Ekaterina seemed to enjoy walking on her hind feet, and even more did she enjoy it when she found she could rest her head on his shoulder, hugging him with one foreleg around his shoulders.  Patch met Ekaterina nose to nose, the she bear touching lips with her mate.

       “Soppy,” Patch said smiling.

         “Just that?”  Ekaterina asked.

      “Loving too,” patch said softly, rubbing noses with Ekaterina.  Patch and Ekaterina were disturbed by a rattling sound in the air, Ekaterina puffing and blowing with fright, dropping to all four paws in preparation for flight to the house.

        “It’s a helicopter,” Patch said, dropping to all four paws him and placing a reassuring paw on his mate’s.

        “What is a helicopter?”  Ekaterina asked as the local police chopper thundered overhead.

       “It’s a flying thing, like a dragonfly!”  Patch yelled over the noise, “It’s the police tracking someone I don’t doubt!”  Ekaterina closed her eyes against the noise, burying her head in Patch’s shoulder.  The chopper circling above, now very low indeed.  Ekaterina screamed in terror as the helicopter’s public address system roared into life.

        “We can see you, stop running!”

         “I’m not, I’m standing still!”  Ekaterina shrieked.  Patch held her close, put his mouth close to her ear and said softly:

         “I’m here Ekaterina,”  Ekaterina’s world though filled with the sound of the helicopter’s anger, heard her mate’s reassuring words, feeling his breath warming her ear.

        “Patch then looked up suddenly.

        “What?”  Ekaterina asked.  Ekaterina was suddenly aware of the sound of feet running, human feet, shod feet, not paws, not unshod paws!  Ekaterina heard a thud, then a yell of:

     “Bear!  Shit!  It’s a bear!  Shit! Shit!”  Then she was picked up bodily by Patch, sat down on something soft, and her nose was kissed by her mate.

       “Sit there Ekaterina, and don’t move,” Patch said, Ekaterina feeling the thing she was sitting on wriggling and hearing it swearing.

        “What on earth’s going on?”  Ekaterina yelled, but patch was gone.  Then she heard another yell, a thud and more outrageous swearing and howling.  Ekaterina screamed lustily, covering her head with her paws as the chopper landed on the road nearby and more feet ran towards her.

      “Patch, Patch!”  She yelled, “Oh patch, what’s happening!”  Patch didn’t answer.  Ekaterina, obedient to her mate’s commands, sat where she’d been put, struggling to make sense of the sounds invading her brain, sounds of the helicopter’s dying engine, then the terrified screams of the thing she sat on, for which she felt no sorrow, as it swore outrageously, and was human, and a human probably up to no good at that.  Ekaterina felt someone nuzzling her ear, and it was this which brought her out of her miserable trance.

       “You’re now off Duty officer,” Patch said smiling.  Ekaterina levered herself off whatever she’d been sitting on and stood up on all four paws.

        “What the hell happened?”  She asked.

        “Come,” patch said, leading her away and down to the road, where the helicopter still stood.

        “I’m Chief inspector Berman,” a voice said, “and I’d like to congratulate you Patch, and your mate for apprehending the two joy riders who took Julia Sanchez’s car.”  Ekaterina recognised the name of Julia Sanchez, patch otherwise interpreting for her.

       “You did good work mama,” Patch said in community dialect, “sitting on that human was a good idea.”

        “But I was put there, someone sat me there,” Ekaterina replied.

        “The humans don’t know that,” Patch said in old ursine, “you sat on the human of your own accord Ekaterina, remember?”  Ekaterina grinned, realising what Patch was doing.

       “Ah yes,” she agreed, “I did didn’t I.”  Patch squeezed her paw.

       “So did Julia get her car back?”  Patch asked the chief inspector.

      “I wouldn’t have it back in the condition we found it,” the woman replied.

        “So we arrested two humans?”  Ekaterina asked.

        “Yes,” patch replied, “and not a stun grenade or stun gun in sight mama Ekaterina.”  Ekaterina smiled broadly.

      “Good,” she said.

       “Now we must be off,” the chief inspector said.  Patch looked at the helicopter.

       “I’d love to fly that,” he said softly.

       “You mean you’d love to fly in it,” Ekaterina said.

      “No mama,” patch replied gently, “I want to fly that.”  The chief inspector stared at the bear.

        “How?”  She asked.  Patch grinned, bowed to her, padded round to the pilot’s door and opened it.

        “Please sir,” he said, the civilian pilot staring at the bear in astonishment.

       “if you want to ride shotgun to make sure I don’t’ make a hash of it, then please do,” Patch said smiling.  The civilian pilot shifted across, Patch taking his seat, then grinning, Patch closed the door, strapped himself in and rested his forepaws on the cyclic stick and collective lever, his hind feet on the pedals, and he gazed out of the windshield.  Smiling, the cross bred bear punched the starter button, and then turned the dial of the rotor blades, watching for things to warm up.  Patch then manipulated the levers and pedals, the helicopter rising into the air.  The civilian pilot watched with sick fascination as Patch took the chopper to a thousand feet, circled the wood twice, and then dropped the helicopter back down on the road, switching off; Patch waited for the rooters to stop, grinned like a cub, waved, and left the cockpit.  Ekaterina waited for Patch on the side of the road, her mouth gaping.

       “Patch, you great big, crazy, lovely bear!”  Ekaterina laughed.

      “You’ll be telling me you have a conventional pilot’s licence too,” the chief inspector said.

       “Ah Chief inspector, but I do,” Patch said modestly.

       “How patch, how?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “I stretched the law of the land and as long as there were no references to applicants for licences having to be homo sapient,” patch replied, “I went for them, and passed them, and now I have to keep my flying hours up.  I do it in a simulator some of the time, but also, at night, when all are asleep, I fly aircraft, small ones, large ones, and even commercial jets.  I am a bear, but I am also somewhat human, as I learnt the ways of the human creature as well as I knows the ways of the ursine creature.  Ekaterina, please trust me.”  Ekaterina kissed her mate’s nose and shook his paw.

       “Captain Patch,” she said softly.  Patch grinned broadly.

        “Now can we have our aircraft back Captain?”  Chief inspector Berman asked.  Patch smiled at her and looked down at his paws:

      “You checked my credentials,” Patch said to her.

      “We did, and all is correct,” Chief inspector Berman replied.  Patch grinned and laid his paw on Ekaterina’s.

      “Come on Ekaterina love, let’s go home,” Patch said gently.  The police packed their now very scared suspects in the van, and then the pilot of the helicopter walked over to Patch and reached out to pat him.  Patch let the human pat him, then smiled, raised a paw and patted the human’s shoulder in return, the human very embarrassed.

         “Now you know how it is to be patted when you can talk the same language,” Patch said.

       “Sorry,” the pilot replied, “I forgot you can understand and speak English.  Patch smiled and shook the human’s hand, his huge paw engulfing the human’s hand.

       “Fly safe,” Patch said gently.  Ekaterina touched Patch’s paw.

      “What makes that awful noise?”  She asked.  Patch waved to the pilot, who stopped and walked back to him.

       “My mate,” Patch said, indicating Ekaterina with his paw, “she can’t see the helicopter, and wants to know what makes the thudding noise in the sky.  Can she get hands on with the aircraft?”  The pilot, Captain Walker, threw Patch the keys, and put in a call to control:

       “The helicopter is going to be unavailable for duties for half an hour,” he said to control, who queried what was wrong.

       “The pilot who took the chopper around the woods wants to show his mate the helicopter,” Captain Walker replied.

      “Half an hour, no more,” The control replied.  Ekaterina freed her toes from the track, for she’d curled them into the forest floor to anchor herself to the ground against the coming of the beating, roaring air.

        “Come,” Patch said, leading his mate to the helicopter, placing her paw on the nose of the aircraft, he invited her to explore.  Ekaterina felt her way around the helicopter, rising to her hind feet and encountering all sorts of things, windows, doors and wheels, then the tail and blades, one of which she could just touch if she stood on her hind feet and rose on tiptoe.

         “And that causes all that noise and fury?”  She asked.

      “It does,” Patch replied, “but you can’t really stand on your hind feet so near the blades when they are working, that would be dangerous.”  Ekaterina dropped to all four feet and nuzzled her mate’s ear.

       “Now we go and let these good humans go back to their work,” she said.  Ekaterina and patch walked back to the house, the chopper’s departure noisy and disruptive to the peace.

        “Now what?”  Ekaterina asked.

      “How if we continue our walk?”  Patch suggested.  Ekaterina smiled and hugged him.

      “Walking on my hind feet was unusual, but not unpleasant,” she replied, “right now though, what I really really want is to curl up with you Patch.”  Patch smiled and kissed Ekaterina’s ear:

       “We will soon,” he replied.

P

Etch and Ekaterina lay down in their lie up, Patch embracing his mate in tender paws.

        “I’m not sure who I am these days Patch,” Ekaterina said suddenly, “a mother certainly, a sister, and a mate to a wonderful, gentle male bear, but that male bear knows I’m terminally confused about everything.”

       “There should be one thing you are not confused about Ekaterina love,” Patch replied.

      “What’s that?”  She asked, “Everything I thought I knew about those I love is proving to be all illusion, I don’t know anything now.”

       “You are loved Ekaterina,”  Patch replied, “loved by me and by the whole community, and especially by a little human child who adores you as much as he does his own mother.”

       “I don’t know you Patch!”  Ekaterina wailed, “Who are you?”

       “I’m Patch, once guardian to jess and now leader of the community.  I trained in paw to paw combat, fire arms and the use of non lethal weapons, as well as piloting fixed wing aircraft and helicopters.”  Ekaterina breathed in Patch’s scent trying to calm her.

 

Meanwhile, in another part of the house, the word went round that Patch had flown the human’s “beating dragonfly,” as Furcone called the helicopter.  The badger’s story seemed so incredible she was disbelieved.

      “No bear can fly one of those,” Leo said, almost spitting out the water he was drinking in incredulity.

       “Magnus saw it,” Furcone replied, “he saw the police land, then he saw Patch go into the dragonfly’s body and he flew it twice around the wood.”

        “That’s rubbish badger!”  Leo roared.

       “It isn’t!”  Furcone whimpered, her paws becoming damp with fear, “it sounds incredible, but it’s all true!”

       “It is,” Ekaterina said, having been attracted by the furious argument between the badger and lion.

       “I heard the helicopter beating the air, and touched it too.  I know Patch flew in it, though of course I can’t see that he did for sure.”

        “It’s all lies Ekaterina, all lies!”  Leo yelled into the bear’s face.  Ekaterina swiped at Leo, knocking him off his paws.

       “Hey, that was heavy pawed!”  Leo whimpered.

        “You idiot cat!”  Ekaterina yelled, “you know nothing you flea bitten puss!”

       “You horrid fleabag!”  Leo yelled, trying to make he look huge by shaking himself, fluffing out his mane, which had no affect on Ekaterina what so ever.

       “Fluffing your mane and prancing about, which I know you’re doing by the way,” Ekaterina said conversationally, “does nothing to intimidate me.  It’s all visual stuff, and I don’t do that kind of stuff, never seen the point.”

        “That’s funny!”  Furcone laughed immoderately.

        “You live in a fantasy world Ekaterina, a bear who throws stun grenades, which can fire a stun gun and fly a human thing.  It’s all rubbish!”  Suddenly the air was gone by a tremendous bang and a flash, and Patch asked:

       “Is it Leo?”  Leo, blinded, roared with fright.

        “I can’t see!”  He roared.

      “Join the club,” Ekaterina said, Furcone snorting into her forepaws to stifle her laughter.

      “You bully!”  Leo yelled, though to whom he referred was not clear.

       “I thought I’d clear things up a little,” Patch replied conversationally, “now I will go.  And if you ever accuse my mate of living in a dream world ever again, I’ll break your paws Leo, okay?”  Leo whimpered in misery and left for the relieving place at top speed.  There he met Petra, who’d seen everything just before she arrived at the place herself.

       “Stupid that,” she said.

      “Ekaterina?  Yes, she’s stupid,” Leo replied.

     “No Leo,” Petra mewed, “I meant you.  You are stupid.”  Leo whined with indignation, but didn’t contest Petra’s assertions.

       “How can a bear fly a human thing?”  He asked.

      “Look at how bears and humans move, how they interact with each other and their environment,” Petra said patiently, “they are similar, very similar.  Now if Patch wants to fly, let him.  He loves Ekaterina, he loves this community, and if he needs to use banging, flashing bombs to protect us, he knows what he has to do.”

       “It is upsetting!”  Leo yelled.

     “War is upsetting,” Patch said, “I don’t want it, but must protect my family from it if I can.”  Leo, now in a towering rage, yelled:

       “We’re feline, not ursine you bloody idiot!”

         “You are as much my family as Ekaterina and Mishka is Leo,” patch said steadily, “believed what you want, but I will continue my training, though it breaks my heart to do so.  I will fly helicopters and fixed wing aircraft, and keep this community safe.”

       “You can’t do it single pawed Patch,” Petra said candidly.

      “No Petra love,” he said, “I can’t, and because of that, I have many helpers around the woodlands and beyond.  What Furcone said is completely true; she is not a mad badger, far from it.”  Leo lay on the floor where he’d flung himself after the stun grenade had exploded, staring at patch.

       “Ekaterina started this,” he yowled, “she told the badger she touched a helicopter.  Furcone is impressionable, Patch, even the greatest bear has poor relations.”  Petra spun round and spat at her mate:

       “You horrid creature!”  She yelled.

      “Ekaterina probably dreamt the helicopter and Patch flying it.  After all, she’s got nothing else to do.  They say seeing is believing, and she can’t see, so she probably lives in a dream world all the time, one that has no link with reality!”  Petra flew at Leo, biting his ear and raking her claws down his face!

       “You bitch, ow!”  Leo roared.

      “That is the least I will do if you carry on!”  Petra screamed.  Patch looked at the lions.

      “I’ll show you the film of the helicopter,” he said.  Leo growled with anger, and Petra smacked him.

       “Patch is offering conclusive proof,” she said, “now we’ll see.”  Patch shoed the video from the woodland cameras, Leo staring wide eyed at the helicopter.

        “You did fly it then,” he said dumbly.  Patch grinned:

      “I did,” he replied, “and it felt wonderful!”

        “You’re a bloody idiot!”  Leo growled, “What the hell are you doing in one of those things?”

    “I’m not a bloody idiot,” Patch said gently, and then smiling wolfishly, he picked Leo up in his paws and swung him round, the lion roaring and screaming.

      “Put me down!  For Eohippus sake Patch, put me down!”  Leo pleaded.  Patch put Leo down, then flipped him over onto his back and tickled his paw pads, the male lion looking decidedly unwell.

       “I want to throw up!”  Leo whimpered, Patch flipping him onto his side where the lion vomited copiously.

      “Wimp,” Petra growled.

       “You horrid bitch!”  Leo moaned, coughing and retching, “bet you couldn’t survive that!”  Patch grinned and Petra looked up at him like an excited cub.

      “Hold on tight,” Patch said.  Petra laughed happily and Patch grabbed Petra round her middle, lifted her up, and cradled her in his paws with a jerk which made her smile.  Then, to Leo’s horror, Patch threw Petra into the air, the lioness tumbling over once, then he caught her, Petra landing gently on her back in his paws.

        “You daft sod!”  Petra laughed, Leo looked sick.

       “You gorgeous cat,”  Patch said softly, gazing down at Petra’s face and paws, the pads on the soles of her feet black against her white fur.

       “Patch,” Petra said, her eyes shining, “I feel dirty, would you wash me?”  Patch grinned:

       “I will little cub,” he replied, Petra giggling cubbishly.

       “I look forward to it,” she replied.  Leo struggled to his feet and padded out of the room in shame.

        “Silly fool,” Petra mewed.  Patch smiled and let her follow him to the bathroom.  Petra danced on her toes as Patch filled the bathtub.

      “Your not an average lioness are you Petra,” Patch said.  Petra smiled:

      “I love the water Patch,” she replied, “always have.”  Patch grinned, picked Petra up in his paws and lowered her into the water.  Petra, laughing, splashed Patch, who got in after her and began to wash her fur and paws, Petra mewing and purring. Making sure her paws got a good massage in patch’s huge forepaws.

       “I love you Patch,” Petra said.  Patch smiled and kissed her nose:

        “I love you too Petra love,” he replied.

       “You love me like I was your cub don’t you Patch,” Petra said.

        “Do you mind?”  Patch asked.  Petra smiled and hugged Patch as best she could.

         “Please Patch,” she said, her eyes looking hunted, “I, I, please, please, please massage my paws, tart me like a cub, please!”  Patch looked concerned, realising she needed reassurance.

      “What’s going on?”  Patch asked.  Petra swallowed hard.

       “You know, you know Nala had two cubs?”  She asked.

      “Yes Petra love, they are Nuru’s,” Patch replied.

       “No, No Patch, they, they’re not Nuru’s, Nuru is mated with Tess, tigress Tess.  Nala likes to lie she’s had cubs with Nuru, but she hasn’t.  Baingana, he’s, he’s Leo’s, not Nuru’s.  Leo has the white gene too, so, so if Nala had a white cub, she could claim it was Nuru’s.  Nuru will be furious if he finds out, for he did mate with Nala, but only once.  Baingana looks like Leo, and smells like him too.  The family smell, you know what I mean.  Nuru hasn’t sniffed at Baingana yet, but when he does, he’ll go mad!”

      “How do you feel about this Petra?”  Patch asked.

       “I feel betrayed, the pride thing, you know?  Community is community, but pride is family.  The patriarch is to be obeyed.  Lionesses hunt, but the male is head of the family.”

      “Does Leo and Nala’s conduct hurt you that much?”  Patch asked.

      “It makes me want to weep.”  Petra replied, “His conduct and her silence make me sick and anger me so much.”

       “Pride and community are equally important to you aren’t they,” Patch said softly.”

        “If it hadn’t been for the community, I’d be dead now,” Petra replied, “so yes, pride and community are equally important to me.”

       “I understand,” patch replied, kissing her nose.  Petra looked at Patch sitting in the water, taking him in from nose to tail, loving every inch of him.

       “I love Moses too,” Petra suddenly said softly, Patch smiling.

      “That’s wonderful,” he replied, “have you played with him?”  He asked.

       “I have,” Petra replied, “he has a gentle nature and a cute face and lovely fore and hind paws.  I’ve traced the pads and played with the toes of both Moses hind paws, and he laughed the whole way through,” Petra replied.  Patch grinned:

       “I’ve touched his paws too, and they’re lovely,” he replied.  Moses crawled into the room as Patch said this, and seeing Patch, the young boy, whom Petra and Patch thought of as they did any other cub, smiling and crawled to the edge of the bathtub which was sunk into the floor.  Patch motioned to the human child with his paw, who lowered himself into the pool and paddled across to Patch who hugged him with tender care.

       “Play with my toes Patch,” Moses said.  Patch smiled and sat the boy on a ledge in the tub, taking hold of his right foot in his paws and tracing round Moses heel and across the sole and then gently curling the toes of Moses foot, the young boy bouncing his backside delightedly on the ledge.

       “I like that!”  Moses said to Patch who smiled and touched noses with Moses.  Moses withdrew his foot and grabbed it in his hands, massaging his toes and the skin on the sole of his foot with gentle pleasure, starting with a gentle squeeze of his toes, and then down with the fingers of his left hand to his heel, pressing and stroking the skin on the arch, and of the heel of his foot with evident enjoyment.

        “Did your mama teach you to do that?”  Patch asked.  Moses grinned and replied:

      “Yes Patch, yes, she did.  We played the trapped foot game as well, I pressed my feet against hers, and we had a fight to free each other’s feet, then we massaged each other’s feet and toes.  It was fun!”  Patch knew Jess could not have spoken like Moses did when she was his age, but the situation of his birth, and some of the community spirit had entered into him, and he was as articulate as one of the cub’s newborn in the community.

       “Your hands and feet tell you much I think,” Patch said.  Moses giggled with delight.

       “They do,” he replied, “they are so wonderful!”  Patch smiled and watched Moses exploring his own feet with his hands, the child taking huge care and deriving huge pleasure from the sensation his exploration gave him.  Moses curled and stretched his toes as he explored the sole of his foot with his fingers, his eyes shining as he enjoyed his exploration.

       “You look so cute playing with your hind paws,” Petra said, Moses smiling and dropping his foot, paddling over to Petra and sitting on her back in the water.  Petra smiled and paddled across the bathtub, trying not to touch paw to tile, the shallow water making it difficult.

      “We should swim in the pool, not in the bath,” Petra said.  Moses, slipping off her back, splashing her with his hands and paddling back to Patch.  Patch lifted Moses into his lap and hugged him.

 

Meanwhile, in another part of the house, Janet and Jess sat opposite each other, each checking the other’s bare feet over for thorns and things in preparation for a round or two of the stuck foot game.  Janet often played with her own toes, and knew her feet well.  To find jess was also keen on playing with her own toes gladdened Janet, as she’d never forgotten the pleasure of playing with her toes, even now she was older.

      “Your touch on the sole of my foot is light and warm,” Janet said to jess, who smiled broadly.

       “You are gentle too,” she replied, “but you mustn’t fear what your fingers do, trust your fingers to guide you, trust my feet to tell you whether I like something or not.”  Janet tried letting her fingers and the sole and toes of Jess’s right foot communicate, and found Jess enjoyed her touch eleven more, if jess’s tightly curling toes meant anything.

      “What do tightly curling toes mean?”  Janet asked.  Jess smiled and replied:

      “Intense emotions or feelings, pleasure this time.”  Janet smiled, happy at her work.

       “Your foot pads are soft and warm,” Janet said to jess, who grinned:

       “Yours are too,” she said, taking Janet’s left foot in her hands and exploring it, Janet feeling her toes curl tightly as Jess’s fingers worked over the sole of her foot.

        “This feels wonderful!”  Janet exclaimed.

      “Good,” jess said, as Janet relaxed her toes, then curled them even tighter than she had before, making a conscious effort this time to curl her toes tightly.

       “Don’t try,” Jess advised, “just let your toes express how you feel.”  Janet tried that, managing to curl her toes that little bit extra which she wanted.

       “I did it!”  Janet laughed.

       “The last time you curled your toes like that was while you were giving birth to little Moses,” Jess said.  Janet grinned:

      “The last time you, jess, curled your toes as tightly as you did a minute ago, and was when you gave birth to ursine peter.”  Jess smiled and nodded.

       “You’ve seen the birth video?”  Jess asked.  Janet shook her head:

       “I’ve heard of it,” she replied.  Jess smiled and said:

       “We’ll watch the births of our little ones then,” she said.

      “I’d like that,” Janet replied.

 

So they watched both videos, both young women feeling closer to each other by the end of the videos.

       “You did what I did during your labour,” Jeanette said to Jess.  Jess smiled and nodded:

       “Births are similar if you let them take their course,” Jess said, “curling my toes and screaming lustily felt wonderful!”  Jess said intensely.

       “It helped me too,” Janet replied.  Jess sat down opposite Janet, the two girls, of similar ages touching bare feet together, heels to heels, Jess’s right foot contacting Janet’s left, Janet’s right contacting Jess’s left.  Janet smiled and pressed her toes against Jess’s.

      “Now shall we play the stuck foot game?”  Janet asked.  Jess smiled and tried to move her right foot, finding she couldn’t.

        “I’m ready if you are,” she said.  Janet smiled and tried to move her left foot, finding she couldn’t move it either.

        “Let’s test the glue holding our feet with our hands first,” jess suggested.  Janet tugged at the heel and toes of her right foot jess at her left foot, finding their feet were stuck firmly together from ball to heels.

       We’re stuck,” Janet said, “and it feels wonderful!”  Jess smiled and pressed her toes against Janet’s, the two friends pressing their feet together with firm pressure.

        “Playing with hind feet is very much right isn’t it jess,” Janet said.  Jess smiled and nodded:

       “It’s a cub’s game to begin with, but adults play it too.  I heard you and Moses played it,” she said.  Janet smiled and nodded:

        “We did,” she replied, “then Moses went to see Petra and Patch.”

       “Our feet being stuck together means something too,” Jess said.

       “yes, it means we both want to play, that we are friends,”  Janet replied, “I’ve been studying this community, and know that the stuck paw game, or stuck foot game, will not happen if both players aren’t friends, or if one doesn’t want to play.”  Jess smiled and nodded, feeling her way around her right foot with the fingers of her right hand, exploring her own toes, the sides of her foot, and then, with her left hand, the inside of her foot, her arch, then the ball and heel of her right foot, pressed hard against Janet’s.  As she explored the heel of her right foot with her fingers, jess felt Janet press her heel hard against her own, Jess pressing back enthusiastically.

        “Now let’s work on freeing ourselves,” Jess said, working the fingers of her left hand between the ball of her right foot and Janet’s left.  Janet pulled her left foot away, trying to help Jess out.  Gasping and struggling, the two girls tugged and worried at their own toes, heels and the balls of their feet, trying to free each other.

       “Toes of right foot nearly free now.”  Jess gasped, pressing the toes of her left foot against Janet’s with the intensity of her concentration, Janet whimpering and tugging at her own right foot as Jess’s toes pressed against hers.

      “Let’s work on our heels, working forward towards our toes jess,” Janet panted.  So they did, working on opposing heels, Janet on the heel of her left foot, Jess on the heel of her own right foot.  Jess, using the fingers of her right hand, worked at the outside of her heel, [prying her heel from Janet’s.

      “Press into your toes Jess,” Janet gasped, “take the weight off your heel, and off mine!”  Jess tried pressing into her toes, levering with the fingers of her right hand at the outside of her right foot, whereas Janet attacked the inside of her own left foot with the fingers of her right hand, starting from where the arch of her foot ran into her heel, and the “trouble,” as they saw it, began.  Janet slid her fingers into the space between the arch of her left foot and Jess’s right foot, and then pulled downwards, trying to separate their heels, while Jess worked from the outside with furiously fumbling fingers.

        “It’s not working!”  Janet panted, dragging at her left foot with her right hand.

        “Maybe, maybe we want to play more,” Jess replied, “maybe the glue is getting stronger!”

        “It is, it is!”  Janet said smiling, “well as long as you’re prepared to play, I am.”  Jess nodded eagerly.

       “This is such fun!”  She said Jess and Janet relaxed their legs, trying to think of ways they could free themselves.  Suddenly Janet had an idea, and smiling at Jess, gripped her own left foot in both hands and dug her fingers hard into the v shaped gap between Jess’s heel and her own, prying at her heel in an effort to free herself.  Jess took a deep breath and gripped the toes of Janet’s right foot, and her own left as Janet tugged and pulled, Janet yelling with effort as she tried to free her heel by putting pressure on the toes of her left and Janet’s right  foot, while lifting the heel of that foot with her fingers.  Jess growled as their heels came apart.

      “Done it!”  Janet panted, “That’s free, now for the toes of that foot.  Jess whimpered and worked with her fingers at freeing the ball of her right foot from Janet’s left.

       “We have to do this all again, but working together on the same side to free each other’s feet works well!”  Jess panted.

        “We’ll get through it,” Janet replied, Jess gently squeezing the toes of Janet’s left foot.

      “Sorry if I squeezed your foot a bit hard while you freed your heel,” she said.  Janet grinned:

        “It felt wonderful,” she replied, “you really believe in the game.”

       “I do,”  jess replied, “I believe my feet really are stuck to yours, it’s a real struggle to free my feet from yours, but it’s one I want to enjoy as well as fight to the end of.”

       “Me too,” Janet replied, “this is such fun, and not a computer in sight.”  Jess gently worked her fingers between the ball of her own right foot and Janet’s left foot.

      Now I’ll use the fingers of my right hand to work on the arch and heel of my left foot,”  Jess said, “Janet, work on the outside of your foot with your right hand.”  Janet saw jess smile as she explored her own right foot, and Jess’s left with both hands, then jess explored the same thing from where she sat.

       “When we struggled madly to free our feet,” Janet said, “our heels and toes stuck firmer together.”

        “Didn’t you like that?”  Jess asked.  Janet grinned:

      “I loved it,” she replied, gently massaging Jess’s toes with her fingers.  Jess gently explored the soft skin on the arch of Janet’s right foot with the index finger of her right hand, Janet giggling with pleasure and pressing her toes into Jess’s.

        “That will only make the glue stick more,” Janet said laughing.

       “Can you feel the glue sticking then?”  Jess asked hopefully.

       “I can,” Janet replied, you know it has when you try to move your foot sideways or downwards and you can’t.”  Jess smiled:

       “I know we are teenagers now,” she said, “but I love these games.”#

      “So do I jess,” Janet replied.  Moses crawled into view then, sat down and watched his mother and her friend playing.

       “You carry on mama, I’ll watch,” Moses said.  So Janet carried on her game with jess, jess trying to free the heel of her left foot by working her fingers into the gap formed by the arches of her and Janet’s bare feet.  Working her fingers downwards while putting pressure on her toes, Jess worked her fingers down her own heel, levering gently as she went.

     “You try pulling as I push my fingers into the gap Janet,” jess panted.  Janet concentrated on the feel of Jess’s desperate fingers on the sole of her foot, tugging a little each time she felt Jess’s fingers work a little further, and their heels slowly parting company.  Moses, fascinated by this play, watched intently, wishing his, hind paws, as Patch called them, were large enough to play like his mother and her friend were doing.

      “Pull a little Jess,” Janet urged, “pull a little as you work your fingers between your heel and mine, tug a little, go on!”  Jess did, and by rocking her foot a little, she was able to increase the rate of progress.  About half way through freeing her right foot, jess tired, removing her fingers from her work.  Immediately Janet’s heel pressed against Jess’s, the two girls gasping as they felt the glue stick their heels together stronger than ever.

       “Now we’re gonna have to work at freeing our heels all over again!”  Jess whimpered.

        “I’ll leave you to it mama,” Moses said, “please can I have some milk, and I’ll go and visit Mishka.  He and I like drinking together.”  Janet expressed some milk into a bottle, which she handed over to her young son, who crawled away with it in the crook of one arm.

        “He’s interplant already,” Janet said, “more like one of your newborn cubs than a human child.”  Jess smiled and nodded:

       “He was born with the community spirit and is living up to it,” she said, “now we’ll displease him if we don’t do what he asks and play like cubs ourselves.”  Janet laughed and turned her attention back to the problem of freeing her right foot, and Jess’s left, which had become even more firmly stuck together while they talked.

       “It’s even harder to work my fingers between my heel and yours now jess,”  Janet said, working the fingers of her right hand into the slight gap she’d found between their feet, jess working her way from the bottom of the arch of her and Janet’s feet to the back of her heel.  While Jess worked her fingers down between her and Janet’s heels, Janet wriggled and tugged, trying to help her friend’s efforts.  Jess worked doggedly for another ten minutes, then with a sudden tug and yell, she pulled her heel free, then began frantically tugging and worrying at the ball of her left foot and toes in an attempt to free them.  Jess worked on the inside of her left foot, Janet on the outside of her right, and the fingers of the two girls met in the middle, separating them.

       “That’s done,” Janet panted.  “Now let’s check each other’s hind paws over, just in case.”  Janet took jess’s right foot in her hands, resting Jess’s heel on her left leg.  Janet explored the sole of jess’s foot with her fingers, pressing toe pads and heel pads, and then gently massaging the ball and arch of her foot, checking for tender places.  Finding none, she massaged Jess’s toes, and then transferred her attention to Jess’s left foot.  Jess then explored Janet’s feet in the same way, both girls agreeing they’d enjoyed their game, and that their feet were undamaged by the glue, if anything, they’d been strengthened by it.

       “That was such fun!”  Jess laughed.  Janet smiled and hugged her friend.

        “We have the community to thank for this,” she said, “We know how to play naturally now.”  Jess grinned and touched palms with Janet.

         “Those hand clap games we played as unenlightened youngsters sound boring after what fun we had today,” Janet said.  Jess laughed and they linked fingers and each curled their toes around the others, both linking fingers and toes in solidarity and friendship.

        “Playing the stuck foot game was so amazing,” Janet said.  Jess smiled and hugged her friend.

       “I enjoyed it,” she replied, “maybe we could play again later?”  Jess smiled and nodded:

 “I’d like that,” she replied.

       “I would love to play with Ekaterina or even Patch,” Janet said.  Jess smiled:

      “Maybe they’ll play with you one day,” she said, “I know though that Koda might play sooner.”

       “What?”  Patch asked padding into the room, “What makes you think I won’t play now?”  Janet smiled at the bear and rolled onto her back, kicking the air with her bare feet and waving her hands about, Patch laughing with pleasure.

       “You softy,”  he said, sitting down, grabbing Janet’s right foot in his paws and tickling her toes, Janet shrieking with laughter.

       “Paws off!”  She laughed.  Patch grinned broadly.

       “I watched you and Jess playing,” he said, “that was so lovely.”  Janet smiled and curled her toes slightly.

      “We loved it,” she replied, “I think all children should be able to play that game.”  Patch grinned:

       “I think you are on our wave length there,” he replied sincerely.

       “I can’t get over how easily mine and Jess’s feet stuck together,” Janet said, “the glue was very strong.  Does this happen with bears too?”

      “It does,” Patch replied.

       “I wish I could have that glue on my paws too,” Petra said, padding into the room, “Leo and I have played that game, but it’s a difficult game to play for us cats.”

       “I’m sorry,” Jess said.  Petra smiled and left her tail twitching as she ran out the door.  Patch looked at jess and Janet.

       “What are you two going to do now?”  He asked.

        “Let our leader examine our paws of course, as is your right Patch,” Janet said.  Patch took Janet in his paws and hugged her:

        “I am not your leader,” he said, “not unless you wish me to be.  Then I will check your paws over, wash you and invite you into our community as I have done to your son cub Moses.”  Janet smiled:

        “You speak English to me now,” she said in community dialect, which jess had been teaching her, “but I wish you’d speak in your own language.”  Patch grinned and repeated his words in community dialect, Janet smiling and snuggling close to Patch’s warm fur.

      “I’ve been injecting myself with the antibodies that makes me immune to anything you lot might carry,”  Janet said, “though that is not to say you aren’t scrupulously clean, which you are.”  Patch smiled and hugged Janet.

        “How does your mama feel about you moving to our community??”  Patch asked.  Janet looked frightened:

       “We were adopted, Royston and me.  When I had Moses, jean went mad.  She spoke to Charles Fullbeans, who investigated whether I could have any say in where I lived.  It seems I can have some say in where I live.  So I said.  Jess has been teaching me community dialect, and of course, we play like we do, which is liberation.  Royston is moving in with Charles Fullbeans, and this really angered my adoptive sire, for Fullbeans is toy’s brother.  Tony changed his name from Fullbeans to something full staff.”

      “So Charles Fullbeans is Royston’s adoptive uncle,” patch said.

       “Yes he is,” Janet replied, “so the long and short of it is that if you agree, I move into the house with you, if you don’t, I move in with Charles in the lodge.  There’s two rooms which he doesn’t use in there, Jean left the house in a temper a week ago, and hasn’t returned.  Patch, I dearly want to stay here with Moses.  I trust you and your family, every last one of them!”

       “I know,” patch said softly, “I saw you express milk and give it to your son in a bottle.  He then crawled off to talk to Mishka and is now drinking with him like two humans in a pub.”  Jess and Janet laughed helplessly at this analogy, Patch smiling broadly.

       “Now Janet,” Patch said sitting Janet down opposite him and taking her right foot in his paws, “tell me again, do you want to live here?”

       “Patch,” Janet said, feeling her toes curling with the intensity of her emotions, “I would like to live here, please.”  Patch smiled, leant down and kissed the tops of Janet’s curled toes.

       “The paws never lie,” he said softly.

       “I will remain bare footed from now on,” Janet replied softly.  Patch looked up at her face, seeing Janet’s eyes were closed, she was forcing herself to communicate her emotions through the pads of her right foot.

      “Don’t fight it cousin,” Patch said.  Janet smiled and relaxed the toes of her right foot.

        “Your touch feels wonderful!”  Janet gasped.

         “You live here now,” patch said, realising Janet was wearing a cat suit, just as Jess did.

       “I am bare pawed now,” Janet said, “I love being bare pawed!”  Patch grinned and hugged Janet tightly.

       “Now you will be part of this community as jess is,” he said, “be gentle to our cubs, go bare pawed, and follow your paws.”  Janet smiled:

       “We were following our paws during that game,” she said, “Jess and I were following our paws, and we spent an hour playing the game.  Freeing our feet took ages, but we enjoyed every minute.”  Patch smiled broadly and got to his feet.

        “Now I must go,” he said, “though when you want to play, come and ask, and I might play, you never know.”  Patch padded from the room and rode the executive lift to his lie up, where he stepped out into his sitting room, finding Moses and Mishka curled up by the fire.

       “We were asleep until the lift came,” Mishka yawned, “that dam bell!”

       “It is a bit loud,” Patch said.  Mishka got to his feet and padded over to Patch, touching his right forepaw with his smaller left fore.

       “I hope you don’t mind,” Mishka said, “but Moses and I were playing with each other’s paws a while ago.”

       “Why should I mind?”  Patch asked, “They’re Moss’s paws after all.  He can let you play with them if he likes.”

       “You know humans, and I thought what with Janet not being totally part of the community yet, you’d object to me treating her son like I would another cub.  But we couldn’t help it Patch, we really couldn’t!  It felt the right thing to do!”  Patch squeezed Mishka’s paw.

        “It’s all right,” he said, “Janet won’t mind, and Moses certainly doesn’t.”

       “I’ve held Moses hind paws in my forepaws, and also touched his hind paws with my hind feet too.  His pads are smooth and his toes curl easily.  He is so playful.  I helped him to the relieving place, and helped him clean himself after too.  I have washed his paws and face and bathed him in the bath, and everything!  Sire Patch, I thought he was already part of the community, and I’ve broken the rules, it is you who would bathe new members, not me.”  Mishka gabbled.  Patch saw the distress on Mishka’s face, and smiling, sat down, drawing him into a huge hug.

       “Mishka,” he said softly into the now weeping cub’s ear, “Mishka, did you and Moses enjoy the bath?”  Mishka nodded miserably; terrified he’d done something wrong.

        “Mishka,” patch said, “I’ll tell you what I’ve told you before, if something feels right to both players in a game or in a tub, it is right.  Moses wanted to relieve himself, and you knew you could help him, so he used his eyes and your knowledge to get the job done.  Then you wanted to bathe Moses, to show him your love for him.  He also wanted to be bathed by you.  A big brother bathing his little brother if you like.  This is right of you, good of you, what you should have done.  Moses loved your attentions, and you loved his.  You played, you touched paws, and you enjoyed your time together.  What you did was right, right, and right.  It wasn’t wrong.  You and Moses explored each other’s paws carefully I hope.”

      “We did,” Moses said, “I know Mishka’s paw pads and toes by touch, and he knows mine by touch too.  It felt wonderful!”

       “What games did you play?”  Patch asked.  Mishka laughed:

       “I think you will know this one,” he said, “It’s called this little pig.  It’s a hind paw game.  Patch smiled, sat Mishka down and counted from the toe on the outside of his right hind foot to the inside toe:

       “This little pig went to market, this little pig stayed at home, this little pig had roast beef, this little pig had none, and this little pig,”  patch said, reaching the toe on the inside of Mishka’s hind foot, “went wee, wee, wee, all the way home!”  Patch tickled Mishka’s pads as he said this last part, Moses and Mishka laughing delightedly at patch’s playfulness.

       “I know that game too,” patch said grinning like a cub.  Mishka curled his toes tightly in reaction to his brother tickling the sole of his foot, but thrust his untouched left hind foot into patch’s forepaws.

     “Does it again, do it again?”  Mishka pleaded.  Patch smiled and said gently:

       “Do it again what?”

      “Please,” Mishka added, looking embarrassed at his behaviour.  So Patch repeated the rhyme, touching the pads on the cub’s toes, and then tickling his large sole pad as he had before, Mishka loving the game.

        “That is such fun!”  Mishka said, removing his left foot from Patch’s grip and massaging his tickled pads and counted toes.

        “Play with me too Patch, play with me too!”  Moses pleaded.  Patch smiled and repeated the new rhyme twice more, Moses kicking the air with his tickled feet in ecstasy as Patch finished the game.

        “You make me feel like a cub again,” Patch said laughing, “Mama Aga used to play that game with me.  Though it wasn’t pigs.  We used moles. Though it was the same rhyme.  Mishka giggled with pleasure and scrambled into patch’s lap, kneeling in his lap to throw his paws around the bear’s neck and hug him with all the affection and love he could.

         “Can I hug him too Mishka?”  Moses asked.  Mishka nuzzled Patch’s ear and rolled onto the floor, helping Moses onto Patch’s lap, the little boy mimicking Mishka’s actions, Moses hugging Patch, Patch returning the hug by embracing him in a huge bear hug.  Mishka, standing on his hind feet, drew the toes of his right forepaw down the sole of Moses left hind foot, the young boy laughing and curling his toes with pleasure.      “Hey!”  He yelled, “Though that was nice Mishka, better when I couldn’t see what you were doing.”  Mishka smiled.

      “I’ve heard that some close their eyes while they are massaging paws, sorry, feet,” he said.  Moses replied:

     “Paws, feet, same thing really. Yes some do close their eyes while massaging paws. Mama Janet and mama Jess had their eyes closed while playing with each other’s feet earlier tonight.”  Moses slid off of Patch’s lap and crawled to the fire, settling down on the rug with Mishka curled around him protectively.

       “Those two will get on well,” Patch thought.

 

Janet and Jess sat together watching the last few hours from the flat’s video camera.  They saw Mishka teaching Moses to play with his feet and hands in a constructive manner, as bear cubs are used to play.

       “Moses is basically a bear cub in a man’s body,” Jess said, “He learns everything so fast.”

       “Moses was well developed when he was born,” Janet replied, “no wonder when you think of the spirits who helped him into the world.  He is more of this place than he is of man.  He doesn’t care that his shape is that of a man, he plays like a bear.”

     Moses loved it when Mishka stroked the sole of his foot with his paw while he was unable to see him doing it,” Janet said.  Jess smiled:

      “You liked me stroking the sole of your foot with my finger during our game,” she said, “I saw your smile.”  Janet grinned.

      “I loved it, as I didn’t know it was going to happen, and it felt so good,” Janet replied.

        “Your hind paws have sensitive pads and toes,” Jess said to Janet who grinned:

        “I know,” she replied, “I loved your touch.”

       “So what are you going to do with the house now Royston has moved into the lodge and you’re in the house?”  Jess asked.

      “I suppose they’ll sell it,” Janet replied, “I have a home here now.”  Patch padded into the lie up, saw Janet and beckoned to her.

      “Time to bathe you my dear,” he said, “but as you are a grown human, and jess is too, she will wash you.  The grown up human sensibilities will not allow a bear to wash a human.”

       “What if I say I would like to be washed by a bear?”  Janet asked, “Washed by a certain bear?”

       “Which bear would you like to wash you?”  Patch asked.

        “The one who helped my son into the world,” Janet replied, “would Ekaterina wash me?”

        “Go to her,” patch advised, “go to our lie up and ask her if she’ll wash you.”

       “She won’t understand me, I’m not fluent enough in community dialect to ask,” Janet replied.

      “You need to try Janet, go to Ekaterina, and speak to her, let her take your hand in her paws...”  Janet padded away barefoot to talk to Ekaterina.  Padding into the plush surrounds of the leader’s lie up, Janet saw a juvenile black bear coming towards her in the main corridor.  Smiling, she realised a hand in greeting.  Koda, seeing her, smiled and rose to his hind feet to slap paws with her, something Janet found unusual, but comforting.

       “I suppose you want to talk to my sister,” Koda said.  Janet hesitated.

       “Ekaterina, yes,” she said.  Koda led her into the lie up and took a quick look around the door of the bedroom, seeing Ekaterina was asleep.

      “Go in there,” he said, “I’ll wait here.”  Janet stared at Koda and said:

       “She’s asleep, and she’s a bloody great polar bear!”

       “The bloody great polar bear is awake now,” Ekaterina yawned expansively.

       “Oh, sorry,” Janet said, very embarrassed.

       “What can I do for you Janet?”  Ekaterina asked.  Janet stood at the door and replied:

        “Patch sent me here to ask you if you’d wash me as I’m now part of the community, officially I mean.”

      “I will, if it’s okay with patch,” Ekaterina replied, “but why do you stand at the door and talk, come in, I won’t bite.”  Janet padded across to the recumbent polar bear, Ekaterina rolling from her chest onto her side, exposing the black pads of four huge paws.  Janet stared at Ekaterina, taking her in from nose to tail, Koda embarrassed at the human’s curiosity, and glad his half sister could not see her staring.

      “Stop staring at me,” Ekaterina said suddenly, “I’m not much to look at.”

        “How did you know I was staring?”  Janet asked.

       “Your oar told me that,” Ekaterina replied, rolling onto her chest and crossing her massive forepaws under her chin.

         “You can feel more than we humans can,” Janet said lamely.  Ekaterina rolled onto her side once more, stretching her paws and opening her mouth in a huge yawn.

       “Let me get these old limbs and stiff paws working as they should, and I’ll bathe you,”  ?Ekaterina said, rolling onto her back and pedalling the air with all four paws, wriggling madly on the rugs.

        “You look so sweet, so cute!”  Janet said impulsively.  Ekaterina rubbed her face with her paws, curled and stretched her toes, then got to her feet.

      “Come,” she said, beckoning to Janet with her paw.

       “I’m coming,” Janet said softly, crawling up to the massive mother polar bear.  Ekaterina sat down and spread her forepaws in a jejune of welcome.  Janet crawling into Ekaterina’s lap, the mama bears kissing Janet’s head and hands, Koda watching with pleasure.

      “Mama Ekaterina,” Janet said, “my ursine mama.”  Ekaterina smiled and getting to her hind paws, carrying Janet in her forepaws as if she was an injured older cub.  Ekaterina walked to the bathtub and sat Janet down on a chair in the bathroom.

       “Now what?”  Janet asked.  Ekaterina laid her massive right forepaw on Janet’s shoulder and looked into her face as best she could.

      “Wait,” the mama bear said, turning and working the long handled taps with her forepaws, Janet feeling a sense of unreality creeping over her.

        “I’m about to be bathed by a bear,” she thought, “now what do I feel about this?  Comforted I think.””  Ekaterina finished filling the tub and motioned to Janet to get in.  Janet looked at Ekaterina.

        “Help me mama, please,” she said softly.  Ekaterina smiled and pointed to the cat suit:

       “You can’t be bathed in that,” she said.  Janet removed the cat suit and Ekaterina lifted the fourteen year old girl in her paws, placing her in the warm water and clambering in herself.

       “Now Patch has told me older humans don’t like being bathed by their parents,” Ekaterina said.  Janet took Ekaterina’s huge left forepaw in her hands and said firmly:

      “I am your cub.”  Ekaterina explored Janet with her forepaws, from head to the soles of her feet.  Then she grabbed the soap the community used, squirted it into her paw, and then began to rub the soap into Janet’s hair and all over her body.  Janet closed her eyes, letting the sensation of the bear’s gentle paws tell her what was going on.  Ekaterina washed Janet methodically, then, when all was done, she indicated to Janet she should get out and go to the shower.  Janet did as she was asked, and Ekaterina followed her.  Janet padded to the shower room and showered herself down.

       “I will wear my cat suit,” Janet said, “but it is only because I am a grown human that I do.”  Janet and Ekaterina padded from the bathroom and found Amafu sitting in the lie up.  The fully grown white lioness smiled and padded over to Janet, rubbing her head against the human’s arm.

      “What’s your name white one?”  Janet asked.

      “My name is Amafu, I’m Imvula’s and Aslan’s cub,” Amafu replied.

       “You are a beautiful lioness,” Janet said, Amafu smiling broadly.

       “I’m glad you approve of me,” Amafu said, her eyes shining.

       “I’ve never been close to a lion before,” Janet said, “I’ve only been close to bears.”

       “Our pride leader is Nuru, a tawny lion.”

       “Nuru is here,” Nuru purred, padding in.  Janet screamed with fright, and Amafu giggled with cubbish delight at the massive lion’s impact on the human.

       “I am Nuru,” Nuru said.  Janet had met the lion before, but his sudden appearance had shocked her.

        “I’m sorry,” she said, Nuru smiling broadly.  Nuru padded to Janet and kissed her nose.

         “I love your son cub as if he were my own,” Nuru purred gently, Janet smiling broadly and embracing the lion, wrapping her arms around his neck and resting her cheek against his.

      “I would love to massage your paws, play a childish game with your paws Nuru,” Janet said.

       “How about trying to impress my Grandcub Amafu with your paw games,” Nuru mewed, “you impress her, and then her mama and sire, you can then try me, okay?”  Janet laughed merrily.

       “I’ll try,” she replied.  Amafu turned her eyes on Nuru:

      “Grandsire Nuru, are you setting me up for a game with Janet as a playmate?”  Nuru turned an expression of such gentility on his Grandcub that Janet felt tears pricking the backs of her eyes.

      “You play with Janet Amafu, and then she can play with the big lions if you are impressed.”  Amafu smiled.  Janet sat down in Amafu’s lie up, the lioness’s mother and sire watching her play with their cub.  Imvula and Aslan watched their daughter cub being massaged by the human, who stroked Amafu’s ears and paws.  Janet massaged Amafu’s pads and toes, the lioness mewing and growling with pleasure, stretching out her hind legs and curling her toes.

       “Seems you are on the right track Janet,” Aslan said, Janet looking up at the male lion, who lowered his head to kiss her nose.

      “Now how if you massage my paws, then my mate’s?”  Aslan asked.  Janet smiled and stroked Aslan’s cheek with her hand, the lion nuzzling her hand and giving her his paw.

         “You have lovely paws,” Janet said softly to Aslan who smiled and kissed her nose again.

        “I heard my mother’s mate dipped his wick with Nala,” Aslan said, “He shouldn’t have done that.  It is for Nuru to sire the cubs as he is pride leader, Leo isn’t.  I am disgusted.

        “Who’s your sire?”  Janet asked.  Aslan told her, explaining about Samson’s spiritual transformation into a bear.

      “Ah, so Nuru became leader after Samson left his post,” Janet replied.

       “Exactly,” Aslan replied.

        “I’d love to see a lioness having a cub,” Janet said.  Aslan padded over to a screen on the wall and tapped a few buttons with his paw.  Soon Imvula’s struggle to have Amafu filled the screen, and Janet watched in amazement and oar as she witnessed Petra helping Imvula give noisy but successful birth to the cub that was to become the lioness that now lay contentedly across her lap.

      “You did well mama Imvula,” Janet said softly to the tawny lioness.

        “What made me laugh was Aslan’s expression when he walked in and found his mate having given birth to his cub in his house.”  Amafu said, “His shocked expression is so funny!”

      “Glad you think so dear daughter cub,” Aslan said smiling, “I was shocked to my paw pads to realise my mate had crawled all the way to the house, in labour too!”

      “It was a hard struggle,” Imvula said, “but I managed it, sometimes gripping the ground with my toes, sometimes screaming into the woods.  All that and more.”

       “You did well mama,” Amafu said.  Imvula smiled and kissed her daughter cub’s nose.

        “You don’t know how often I relive your birth,”  she replied, “I know it all, every position I adopted to deliver you, every sound I made, every emotion I felt, I remember it all.”

        “It’s not good to hang on to memories of pain mama,” Amafu said.

      “It was useful pain, lovely pain, pain which brought you into the world Amafu love,” Imvula replied, “I treasure that time.”

        “I’m sure I will treasure my labour if I have a live cub,” Amafu said.

       “Don’t deny it if you have a dead cub,” Ekaterina said padding into the lie up.

        “I wouldn’t want to remember it,” Amafu said, “that would be horrible.”

        “I made the mistake of denying what happened to me and my dead cub, and I lost so much because of that denial,” Ekaterina said, “now I have accepted what happened and come to terms with it, even re-enacting it to work out where things went wrong.  I know it was not my fault my cub died, but in hiding my cub’s death from patch, and the horrendous labour which preceded it, I lost so much Amafu.”

        “Are you saying your sight loss was because you lied to Patch?  That it was punishment?”  Amafu asked, the suggestion horrifying her.

       “I believe it was,”  Ekaterina replied, “I believe it was a punishment, to make me think of what I have now, and force me to love what I have, and not strive for what I cannot have.  I am now dependant on others.  I know we are all dependant on each other, but I am dependant in a way you Amafu are not.  I was made an example of, I was taught with fierce force what hiding things from a good kind soul who has pledged when he was a cub to look after you forever, does to you.  Amafu, though I lied to Patch, tried to hide my still born cub; I was blinded by the lie.  I am now rebuilding respect for myself through the kindness of others.  I take every day as it comes, I no longer feel secure in myself...  I knew in my heart, in the place I used to know before Patch kicked me in the head that time he was pretending to have a cub, I knew in my heart I was loved by him and by the whole community.  Gaining my sight did me no good.  It made me deceitful, scheming and awful.  Now I am back how I was meant to be, how I was born.  I need to find security again, security in touch, security in paws, and security in love again.  Amafu, please, if you have a cub which does not survive, and you have the chance, kiss its nose and paws, and tell it you loved it for the short time it lived inside you.  I didn’t do that, I checked my cub was dead, and then I buried it deep and tried to forget about it.  I did much wrong by my dead cub and by my mate.”  Ekaterina said quietly.

       “But Patch still loves you,” Amafu said, “I can see that, anyone can see that.  Your living cubs too, Rowena, little Patch and Allie, they love you too.”

       “They do,” Ekaterina replied, “I love them also, but I will never forget what I did to my dead cub and then to my mate in that month.  All I am saying Amafu is, please, please don’t forget the births of any of your cubs.  For even the cubs nature meant not to be have a history.”

       “The death of your cub destroyed you though Ekaterina,” Amafu said.

       “No Amafu,” Ekaterina replied, “the lies and deceit destroyed me.  The spirits have taught me a lesson in the only way they could.  They have made it so I cannot see others, so that I cannot lie to my mate, so I have my paws restricted until I learn to accept the way of the paw.  I forgot the ways of the paw.  How to be gentle and honest.  I became what I hate in others.  The spirits could not turn me into a human because I am ursine, but they could do something else, they could take away what they gave to me, and they did.  Or rather I offered the opportunity to them with my lies and deception.  Patch says the loss of my sight was nothing to do with my lies.  That it was all to do with stress about the birth and all that.  That’s rubbish, and he knows it.  They are weasel words to soothe me.  To comfort me when I really need a good kicking.  Patch knows what the spirits did.”

     “Did he tell them to do it?”  Amafu asked.  Ekaterina shook her head:

      “Patch doesn’t have that power,” she replied, “and he could never bring himself to do that, even if I told a thousand lies.  Jess lost her ursine form because she deliberately aborted a cub, this is a human choice and against community teachings.  She could have accepted her human form and gone on her way, but she wanted in to the community, so she gave birth to the cub she’d aborted.  The spirits made that happen for her, though she could never become ursine again.  I can never take back my lie to patch, I can never right my wrong, as my cub died naturally, and the lie is done.  I can’t become a human, as I never was one, I can’t become anything more than what I am now.  I was given sight by the spirits; I abused their trust, so I had sight taken from me.  I did not however, kill a cub.  So my crime was not as great as Jess’s.  I am able to stay here as a bear in the community, though I am having to learn to live as I did before, as I used to live.  I am getting back to the bear Patch fell in love with, the bear whom he met when she was a cub.  The cub who taught him how to crawl and be a cub himself.  It seems funny now, that even though he saw more violence and distress than any human should see in their lifetime, let alone a bear, he came out of it good, kind and with a gentle heart.  I however, who had everything, had to be taught how not to lie.  I was given one chance Amafu, one chance when little Patch was buried, buried alive as we found out later, but I was given a chance then.  I excluded patch from that, and I promised I wouldn’t do it again.  The spirits gave me a second chance; they let me keep my sight.  Then, when I excluded Patch a second time, again abusing their trust, I lost my sight, returning to what I was when I was a cub.  Jess became a bear, and when she committed her sin of aborting little Peter, she was sent away to live as a human in the human’s world.  She begged to come back, as I begged for another chance from patch after little Patch’s burial, and she got that chance by delivering peter into the world.  She has not broken her promise to the community, so she will not be expelled.  I however have broken my promise to my mate.  The only thing which separates me from jess is the fact I didn’t kill my cub.  Other than that, I have gone through the same trials, though have been found wanting twice.  I cannot undo the lie, as the spirits could allow jess to undo her mistake.  Though she hasn’t returned to her ursine form as she is not ursine, jess is still more deserving of her place than I am at present.  Maybe one day I will deliver my cub again, but before I can do that, I will have to learn to get close to my mate, really close, to love him with my heart as well as my paws, to trust him like he does me.  How can he be so trusting? How can he forgive me for what I did to him?  How can he love me as he does?”

       “Maybe the spirits made you lie,” Amafu replied, “maybe they made you disgrace yourself to bring you closer to those who truly mattered to you?”  Ekaterina turned away, as if she was going to be violently sick.

       “How can the spirits make me lie?”  She asked, “They are good, they would never do that.”

        “Maybe one spirit in particular got to you Ekaterina,” Amafu replied, “maybe one spirit; the spirit of younger Brunetta got to you and convinced you to lie to your mate.  She told you in your weakened state after the horrendous delivery of your cub, that you could lie to Patch, hide the dead cub?”

        “Don’t, don’t talk to me of younger Brunetta,” Ekaterina said hoarsely, “she, she tried to drown me when I was a cub!  Do you mean she could have tried to force me to do something that would result in me excommunicated from the community?”  Amafu nodded:

       “Maybe she wanted you dead, maybe she wanted you to commit a sin that would leave Patch no choice but to throw you out and leave you to the outdoors, in a place you’d die.  Because she could not convince you to abort a cub, to make a human choice, she made you lie about the death of your cub, and because patch took you in and loved you still, despite the lie you told, maybe young Brunetta blinded you to make you less appealing to Patch.”

      “Then she failed,” Patch said padding into the room.

        “Young Brunetta might have blinded me,” Ekaterina said, “but she was only reverting me to what I had been.  She forgot something in doing that.”

       “Yes Ekaterina love, she did,” patch replied, “that I loved you before you gained your sight.              Young Brunetta forgot that.”  Ekaterina felt Patch move alongside her and take her paw.

       “Ekaterina,” he said softly, “did young Brunetta talk to you?”  Ekaterina felt her paws become soaked with sweat.  She tried to forget, tried to block it, but when she was lying in the clearing, the same clearing all the spirits came to, and to which Koda was taken to meet his mother’s spirit, she had met young Brunetta.

       “Yes Patch,” Ekaterina said, her words coming with the force of breath, “she came, she told me, told me that I could lie, that it would be better if I lied.  I believed her for a time, my heart knew I was wrong, but I believed her.  I lied to you about the death of my cub. Kept it from you, pretended all was fine.  Even when you asked me if I’d lost a cub I lied to you.  Of course the blindness came upon me when I told you the truth, and I took that as my due for being such an awful creature.  Now Amafu says young Brunetta might have blinded me to disgust you into leaving me, as my lies had not done so.”

       “I know she tried that,” Patch replied, “though she forgot I fell in love with a cub that happened to be blind, a cub that I already loved from nose to playful, lovely paws.  Brunetta failed to make me despise you Ekaterina.  I know you are not evil, I know you would have told me about your dead cub.  You failed to do so because you did not think like the newborn cub you’d delivered into the world.  If you’d come to me crying and in pain from your labour, I would have embraced you and comforted you.”

       “I know Patch, I know that now,” Ekaterina replied, “I wish I had, I wish with all my heart and paws and everything that I had come to you.  Maybe I needed to be taught how to crawl again.”  Patch kissed her nose.

        “How did you leave the site of our cub’s burial?”  Patch asked.

      “On my feet, pads to the floor,” Ekaterina replied, “but I should have crawled away in shame, I know that now.  When you touched my hind paw pads in the woods patch, when Lilly and I were talking and you tried to make lily laugh, I felt so rotten, for I knew I should have crawled to you like the miserable cub I was after the still birth of our cub.  I couldn’t cry while I was burying our cub, but inside, I was weeping like a cub.  I just wanted to curl up, suck my paw and weep, but the lie was on me, and I was strong with that lie.  Now, because the one who loves me refuses to hate me for my lies, I am blinded to make me repulsive to his love.  That didn’t work either.”

       “What else will young Brunetta try to do to Ekaterina?”  Amafu asked.

       “Nothing.”  Patch replied, “she can do nothing more.  The spirits won’t allow Brunetta to deal out any more punishment.  I spoke to Brunetta, and she poured out enough hatred and scorns to sadden the hearts of all our enemies in the world.  I told her she would never destroy the love between Ekaterina and me, as she could not destroy the real Ekaterina.  The real Ekaterina knew the ways of the paw.  During her time of sight she’d become divorced from that.”

        “You mean Brunetta actually did her a favour by taking her sight?”  Amafu asked.

        “I didn’t know how to use it anyway,” Ekaterina replied, “I was always better with my paws than with my eyes.  It seems patch feels he was better with his too.  Do you know he closes his eyes when he makes love to me?”  Ekaterina asked, her voice cracking, “that’s rather sweet I think, not to say considerate also.  It makes me wonder who pushed who away.  I pushed him away from me when I had sight.  He never pushed me away, ever.”  Patch kissed Ekaterina’s nose.

         “Come with me now Ekaterina,” Patch said.  Ekaterina, as miserable now as she’d been during her struggle in the clearing to deliver her cub, crawled after her mate.  Patch helped Ekaterina to their lie up, where she collapsed exhausted onto the carpets.

       “I failed you and most of all myself,” Ekaterina wailed.

       “Now you can begin to rebuild your life,” Patch replied.

       “Why haven’t you walked out on me?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “the bear whom I fell in love with wasn’t the one who lied,”  Patch replied, “in your heart, if you’d stayed true to yourself and not been taken in by young Brunetta’s false promises, you’d have crawled from the place where you had our cub, crawled with it in your mouth and laid it in my lap.”

        “I would have done that, and I wish I could now,” Ekaterina replied, “but now I can’t, my chance is gone.”  Ekaterina panted hard, her whole body shaking.

        “Patch,” she said, “if I tell you I now feel as weak as a newborn cub, can you understand that?”  Patch picked up her left forepaw, feeling her fear and anxiety.

       “You have nothing to fear Ekaterina, nothing at all to fear,” Patch said softly, “I can feel your fear and pain.  I knew what young Brunetta had said to you.  I knew she’d tempted you into lies.  I knew you had to go through what you did to realise what you’d done, and where your paws had gone wrong.”

        “But you couldn’t stop me from doing what I wanted, as it would have been wrong to do that too,” Ekaterina replied, “I needed to find my own way.  I needed to realise for myself who truly loves me.”

       “Yes Ekaterina,” Patch replied, “I see many go wrong, and it is only they who can put things right.  I saw you going wrong, but could not help you.”

       “If you had, I’d never learn who was true to me,” Ekaterina replied.

        “I wanted to help you Ekaterina,” Patch replied.

      “No, I see you couldn’t,” Ekaterina said, “now, now though, patch, I’m a cub, a frightened cub desperate for a hug, please!”  Ekaterina sobbed.  Patch embraced her tenderly, Ekaterina melting into his embrace, snuggling hard into his fur, gripping fiercely with her forepaws and pushing hard with her hind feet, as if Patch was her life support system.

         “I love you Ekaterina my dear,” Patch said softly to the weeping she bear.

       “Do with me what you want,” Ekaterina said.  Patch kissed the top of her head:

        “Okay,” he said, “I will.”   Patch pushed Ekaterina onto her back and, starting at her head, ran his paws all over her body, exploring her ears, her face, her neck, shoulders, body, legs and paws, paying particular attention to her ears, belly and paws, as he knew she loved his touch on those parts of her body.

         “I want to crawl like a cub,” Ekaterina said, to crawl and climb, and explore with my paws, and for you Patch, if you will, to touch me while I’m doing all that.  Touch my head, my forepaws, my hind feet, my pads, my toes, my ears, everything.”

        “I won’t watch,” patch said, a slight smile in his voice.

        “I wish my paws were cub’s paws, and not the great big fat things I have now,” Ekaterina said.

       “Great big fat things?”  Patch said, examining Ekaterina’s paws, “they are lovely paws Ekaterina, beautiful paws, well padded, expressive paws, both fore and hind that is.”

        “You can’t look, don’t look!”  Ekaterina begged, “please, don’t look,” she mewed.”  Patch kissed the sole pad of her right hind foot, and Ekaterina knew he’d found it by touch.

        “I wasn’t looking,” Patch replied softly.

         “I, I know now,” Ekaterina said.

       “Now come little cub, “come and let’s see if you can crawl shall we?”  Patch said gently.”  Ekaterina embraced Patch with her forepaws and kissed his nose.

        “How would you like me to stroke you?”  Patch asked.  Ekaterina smiled broadly.

        “What do I feel like to you?”  She asked.

        “You feel like a frightened cub,” Patch said softly.

       “Treat me like a frightened cub,” Ekaterina invited.  Patch stroked Ekaterina from nose to paws, the she bear snuggling close to him.

        “Your pads are damp with sweat,” Patch said softly to Ekaterina.

       “My stomach is all churning and I feel I could weep for a week,” Ekaterina said.  Patch embraced her tenderly, then, lifting her into a huge hug, kissed her nose.

        “Take a deep breath and let it out slowly,” Patch whispered to his mate.   Ekaterina tried what he suggested, and felt a lot better.

      “Now cuddle up close, and relax,” Patch said softly.  Ekaterina kissed her mate’s nose.

        “You are so good to me,” she said.

       “I love you from nose to paws,” Patch said softly.

      “I don’t feel I can ever repay you for what you give me,” Ekaterina said.

        “You give me it back in spades,” Patch said.

         “I was weak,” Ekaterina mewed, “I didn’t want to lie, I thought, thought I could forget about the cub’s birth, everything!  It was while I was lying on the floor; aching and frightened that I was spoken to and convinced that covering up what had taken place was the best policy.”

         “We all have moments of weakness Ekaterina,” Patch said softly.

        “Now hug me Patch, please, please!”  Ekaterina begged.  Patch hugged her tightly, and then Ekaterina said something strange:

       “Patch,”  she said, “if you find me walking on my four paws again, tell me to crawl,  for that is all I deserve now, after, after denying the death of my cub and being taken in by young Brunetta.”  Patch smiled and kissed her ear:

        “You feel you are not worthy to walk like an adult?”  Patch asked.  Ekaterina nodded:

        “I don’t, don’t feel myself to be worthy of using my paws for anything until I am cleansed of my disgusting act.”

       “Please,” Patch said gently, “Ekaterina, dear Ekaterina love, can you explain.”  Ekaterina buried her face in his chest.

        “I feel my weakness was that of a naughty cub, even the most naughty, disobedient cub would not have lied, would not have done what I did.  I’m worse than anyone bad that I’ve ever known.  I lied to the one bear I should not have ever lied to.  To whom I owe so much, whom I love with my heart, ears, nose, paws and fur, to which I should give everything.”

       “You owe me nothing Ekaterina,” patch replied, “you have apologised, seen the error of your ways, and are now persecuting yourself unnecessarily.”

        “What would happen if I kiss the pads of all four of your paws Ekaterina?”  Patch asked.

        “Can you bring yourself to do that?”  Ekaterina asked.

      “You mean like this?”  Patch replied softly, pushing Ekaterina onto her side and kissing her forepaws and hind feet.

        “I miss the sight of your eyes,” Ekaterina said softly.  Patch ran his paws all over Ekaterina’s hind legs, from her hocks to her paw pads, Ekaterina stretching out, allowing him access, enjoying her mate’s touch, wriggling and pedalling her hind legs to increase her pleasure, feeling her hind paws brushing Patch’s forepaws, then she felt Patch kiss the pads of her right hind foot, then the toes of that hind foot caught by Patch’s left forepaw, his toes gripping hers with tender strength.

       “Go on, grip my toes with yours, try to uncurl them,” Ekaterina said, curling the toes of her right hind foot with desperate urgency, Patch trying to uncurl her toes, Ekaterina fighting him with the strength of the toes of one hind foot.  Patch and Ekaterina fought for a few minutes, and then Patch kissed the bunched pads of his mate’s right hind foot, Ekaterina sighing with pleasure and relaxing contentedly.

        “You have strong toes Ekaterina,” Patch said, Ekaterina smiling and releasing his right forepaw.

       “I love you Patch,” Ekaterina said.

       “Your fur is soft and smells gorgeous, your pads are soft and warm, and very lovely,” Patch said.  Ekaterina sat up and grabbed her right hind foot in her forepaws, Patch touching her forepaws and hind feet as she played with the toes of her right hind foot.

        “You’re eyes are closed aren’t they Patch,” Ekaterina said.  Patch smiled and kissed her nose:

       “They are,” he replied, “and I find more out when they are closed too.”

       “How do my pads feel to you?”  Ekaterina asked.

      “Warm, soft and rather cubbish,”  Patch replied, “I’ve kissed your paws when they’ve been drenched with sweat after you had your cubs,”  patch continued, “I love your paws however they are, toes curled or relaxed.”  Ekaterina smiled as she felt Patch kiss the furry tops of her forepaws, and then giggled as he wrestled her right hind foot from the grip of her forepaws and kissed her pads and toes.

        “Naughty,” Ekaterina said smiling, patch exploring her with his paws, from her head to her hind feet, Ekaterina loving every minute.

        “Claim my paws,” Ekaterina said, patch stroking Ekaterina’s hind paw pads and kissing her nose.

        “I love that,” Ekaterina said.  Patch smiled and embraced his mate...

       “I dreamt about you last night, chasing your paws and catching them as I’d done in the soft play room.  Then you chased my paws, scrabbling at my hind paws then scrambling to grab hold of me.  It was so cute!”  Patch said.  Ekaterina smiled and kissed Patch’s nose.

        “Right now I don’t feel I am entitled to play with your paws,” Ekaterina said.

       “You speak as if we don’t know each other, as if you haven’t born me three lovely cubs,”  Patch said, “Ekaterina, my paws are yours to do with what you will.”  Ekaterina, smiling, kissed Patch’s nose and the pads of his forepaws.

       “Your paw pads are warm and comforting,” Ekaterina said, “I love every inch of you patch, I just wish, wish I’d delivered you a live cub in the clearing.”

       “You do not need to worry any more Ekaterina,” patch said.

       “I want to crawl and roll, and play, and kick the air with my hind feet, and touch with my forepaws, and crawl, and explore with my paws, and everything!”  Patch smiled:

       “I could teach you,” he said.  Ekaterina snuggled up to Patch, and Patch carried his mate to the kitchen, sat her on a beanbag, rummaged in the fridge and brought out a pint of milk.  Putting it in Ekaterina’s paws, he sat down to watch her drinking.  Ekaterina drank the milk with enjoyment, and then put the bottle down.

       “Now I’m too full to play,” she said, “ah well, I’ll have to sleep.”  With that she curled up on the beanbag and fell asleep there and then.  Patch sat down and watched his mate sleeping, and when she woke a few hours later, he led her to the reliving place.  Having relieved herself, Ekaterina crawled back to the lie up and Patch followed her, kissing her ear as she crawled.

       “.

       “You have cute paws Ekaterina,” patch said.  Ekaterina smiled.

       “Pull with your forepaws, and push with your hind Ekaterina,” Patch said gently to the she bear that dug in her toes and crawled with enthusiasm.

      “I thought I was meant to be teaching you how to crawl?”  Patch asked.  Ekaterina smiled.

       “Play with my paws, love me from nose to toes, be gentle and warm to me Patch, please,” she replied.  Patch nodded:

       “You have my full body and mind,” he said, “your paws are interesting, lovely and beautiful.”

       “What is lovely and beautiful about my paws?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “Let me take them in my forepaws and I’ll tell you,” Patch said.  Ekaterina reached her lie up, and sighing contentedly, rolled onto her back, letting Patch handle her paws.  Patch took each one of Ekaterina’s paws in his, the she bear wriggling and huffing with pleasure and excitement as he worked Ekaterina’s pads and toes as if they were soft and malleable, Ekaterina wriggling and gasping with the intensity of the pleasure she felt.

        “My paws are yours, all yours patch!”  Ekaterina whimpered, “I’m powerless, I am overwhelmed by all this!  But I want it, I want to be overcome, controlled, and fed pleasure!  My paws are yours, stroke them, I trust you, so do what you want with them!”  Patch kissed Ekaterina’s nose and paw pads.

       “Your paw pads  are firm and dry, a little wrinkled as all bear’s pads are, and,”  Ekaterina curled her toes, “cute when you curl your toes,”  Patch concluded, Ekaterina giggling with pleasure and dabbing at Patch’s nose with the bunched sole pad of her right forepaw.

        “You thrill me when you kiss my hind paws,” Ekaterina said.  Patch stroked Ekaterina’s hind paws, tracing her pads and gently manipulating her toes, Ekaterina catching her breath as he worked on each foot in turn.

         “How can you be so dam good at this?”  She gasped, “how Patch?  Where did you learn?”  Patch smiled and replied:

        “I learnt how to massage a young human child’s hands and feet from a very young age.”

      “Oh, of course, yes!”  Ekaterina gasped, “I’d forgotten, well not forgotten, but it’s been so long since Jess came here.”  Patch smiled and continued massaging her hind paws, Ekaterina fiercely gripping the rugs with her forepaws.

       “Your paws are so cute and sort of cub like too,” Patch said softly.

       “Cub like?”  Ekaterina asked, “How are they cub like?”

       “Kind of small, expressive, innocent paws,” Patch replied.

      “Small compared to yours,” Ekaterina said, “but innocent? I don’t think so.”

       “Why not?”  Patch asked.

        “I suppose I am,” Ekaterina replied, “naive too.”  Patch kissed Ekaterina’s nose:

       “You are a community cub,” he said, “What would you know of lies and deceit, and the ways of dreadful species like man.  I will cuddle you and protect you Ekaterina.”

       “How was your birth Patch?”  Ekaterina asked suddenly, “Mine was difficult, Conrad pulled me from mama Kamchatka, as I pulled Mishka.”  Patch scratched his nose, and then drew Ekaterina into a massive hug.

        “My questions which led to me delivering Sita into the world came about when I stumbled across a mother bear having her cub on the first day I was out of my den following my mother down a track.  The mama bear was a late breeder, and she was groaning and scrabbling, roaring and grunting as she tried to give birth to her cub without being noticed.  Of course, I recognised the sounds she was making as they were similar to the sounds my mother made, which I remembered then, and still do now.”

      “Your mama is Aga isn’t she?”  Ekaterina asked.

     “Yes Ekaterina, she is,” Patch replied.  Ekaterina snuggled against patch.

        “So you asked your mama about your birth?”  She asked.

       “My mama tried to hurry me along to our den, but, when she fell asleep, I crept back to find the mama bear more restless than ever, then, as I watched, she gave birth to her cub.  It was amazing!  I didn’t then have the confidence I have now to ask the questions I wanted to ask.  Now though, I’ll ask anything of anyone.”

        “Yes it hurts,” Ekaterina replied, “labour makes you curl your toes and scream, and consumes your world until the cub is born.”  Patch smiled and ruffled his mate’s ears.

      “But I wanted more, as you know; I wanted to find out how things felt for mama.  To feel what made her groan and curl her toes and pant, and cry like a cub.”

      “You did,” Ekaterina replied, “you felt it, and you were wonderful, and lovely, and beautiful.”  Patch kissed Ekaterina’s nose.

       “Can you describe the birth of the cub to me?”  Ekaterina asked.  Patch smiled and replied:

       “Yes Ekaterina love, I will re-enact what I saw.  Indeed, I kept looking back to the labouring mother bear as I followed my mama to feed, so I saw far more than my mama thinks I did.”

       “Surely mama hid beneath a bush or something while having her cub?”  Ekaterina asked, “I know I would.”

        “I had good eyes Ekaterina, and could see beneath the bush,”  Patch replied, “what’s more, when we went back to the den, I kept an ear out for the mother, I could tell by her cries she wasn’t due to give birth yet.  A mama bear moans and groans when pushing hard, and she wasn’t, she was just squealing a little, which meant initial labour pain.  She didn’t feel the need to actively push against a cub ready to be born when I went back to my den, but later, after a lot of wriggling and shifting about in her den, she did.  She moaned and roared like a bear in a trap.”

       “Indeed, when a cub is low down and you have to push, it feels as if you’re in a trap,” Ekaterina said, “pushing to deliver yourself and the cub from the jaws of vice like muscles, clenching teeth and curling toes, each effort exhausting you to your marrow.”

        “I understand,” Patch said gently, “I also heard my mama’s cries while she delivered me into the world.  She whimpered and moved about a lot, though her last effort made her roars lustily as she delivered me.  As for the mama bear birthing her cub in the bush, I’ll re-enact what I saw and heard,” Patch replied, “I didn’t touch mama while she had her cub, she wouldn’t let me, though I played with her cub briefly before I was captured and brought to service of the humans.”

       “Could you show me?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “What?”  Aga asked padding in, “I show you how I delivered patch and Patch show you how our next door neighbour delivered her cub?”  Ekaterina nodded, now embarrassed she’d asked.

       “Yes,” she mewed.

      “I’ll do it,” Aga replied, “I can, I want to.  Patch’s birth was amazing; Freckles birth though, was not.  Though that wasn’t because of her.  That was because of the horrid things they did to cause me to give birth to her.”

       “I’m sorry,” Ekaterina said, having heard Aga’s tale,

       “I could re-enact Freckles birth too,” Aga replied, “that would ease my pain I suppose.”

       “Let’s do that,” Patch replied, “I will re-enact our neighbour’s labour for Ekaterina.”

       “She didn’t move about much though did she,” Aga replied, “not like Lilly did when having Cinders?”

     “No,” Patch replied, she lay on her back and on her side, sitting up a little to grab her hind foot to get it out of the way so she could lick furiously and help the cub out.”

     “Poor mama,” Ekaterina said, “being restricted like that.  I would have braced my feet against the roof and pushed against it.”

      “Mama did,” patch replied, “Ekaterina, have you been inside a real den?”  Ekaterina shook her head:

        “No, of course not,” she said, “I’ve been in roomy lie ups where I can move about.”

      “I’ll take you to a den I found,” patch replied, “there you can feel how large the den is, and when you’re in it, how small it is when you need room to deliver a cub.”

 

Patch took Ekaterina to a den he’d set up in part of his lie up for the wild mothers to deliver their cubs in, if one should be found in distress in the woods and need urgent help.  Ekaterina crawled in, feeling immediately claustrophobic.  Lying down on her back, she stretched out all four legs, able to touch all four walls, then, stretching up with forepaws and hind, she found she could brace her hind feet against the roof, pressing the toes and balls of her hind feet against the roof, feeling she might be able to curl her toes into the roof for support if she needed it during her labour.

      “Patch,” she called, “come and looks at this.”  Patch padded over and looked at his mate lying in the den.  To tell her he was there, he kissed the heel of her right hind foot, which he could just about reach.

       “Cramped isn’t it,” Patch said.  Ekaterina sat up slightly, sticking her tongue out at her mate.

       “I could never deliver a cub in here,” she said, “its awful!”

       “I delivered Patch in a place much like this,” Aga said, padding over and looking into the den.  Ekaterina rolled onto her chest and crawled backwards out of the den, Aga crawling in, Ekaterina touching her as she did so.

      “Now touch me as I move about,” Aga said, “I’m smaller than you Ekaterina, but even, yes, even this is cramped for me.”  Ekaterina explored Aga’s body as she moved her hind legs and body as if she were in labour.  Soon Ekaterina realised Aga used the roof of the den as a brace for her hind feet while she strained against her cub.  once, Aga sat up in the cramped place, her head hitting the roof, Aga moaning with pain and frustration as she scraped her neck and back along the roof as she curled round to lick her belly fur, shifting her left hind foot out of the way with her forepaws as she found it in her way, and couldn’t reach where she wanted.  Gripping her left hind foot in her forepaws, Aga moaned and wriggled, trying to deliver the cub.  Ekaterina paws on with everything, gasped as she realised how Aga had struggled.

       “Poor thing,” she murmured.  Ekaterina, feeling she could do no more for Aga, kissed the brown bear’s right hind foot, feeling Aga’s toes curling as she endured another imagined contraction.

       “Oooah!”  Aga moaned.  Ekaterina felt Aga’s head, panting mouth, desperately gripping forepaws and curling toes of hind paws.

      “Oh mama,”  Ekaterina said, tears in her eyes as it hit home to her what delivering a cub in a cramped place must be like.”

       “Now do you want to try?”  Aga asked.  Ekaterina felt her paws becoming damp with anxiety.

       “I must try,” she said.  Aga pressed her toes against the pads of Ekaterina’s forepaws, as she had taken hold of Aga’s right hind foot without realising.

       “Your paws are sweating Ekaterina; you don’t have to come in here if you don’t want to.”  Ekaterina let go of Aga’s right hind foot in embarrassed silence.

       “I’m sorry,” she mumbled after a few minutes.  Aga shuffled out of the den and kneeling down embraced Ekaterina with tenderness, Ekaterina gasping with pleasure.

        “Do you regret Freckles birth?”  Ekaterina asked.  Aga brushed her ear with her nose.

      “I hate what the humans did to me, but no, I don’t regret Freckles arrival.”

       “Tell her Aga, Tell her,” Ekaterina urged.  Aga turned at the touch of a kiss on the exposed pads of her right hind foot.  Freckles straightened up after kissing the sole of her mother’s foot.

         “How can you bare to do that after I ran off?”  Aga asked.  Freckles looked sightlessly at her mother.

      “We were both in a horrible situation mama Aga,” she said, “I don’t’ blame you for running off.”

       “Mama,” Freckles said, “We’re together again now, I don’t think of those times any more.”  Aga sat down and pulled Freckles into a huge hug.

       “I love you Freckles dear,” Aga said softly.  Freckles snuggled into her mother’s hug.

        “Mama,” Freckles replied, “I always knew you loved me.  Your hug and paws told me you loved me.  When you ran off, I waited for you, but then, driven by desperate need, I ran from the place.”

      “Now, now there is no more running,” Aga pleaded, “no more running Freckles love.”  Freckles kissed her mother’s nose.

      “No mama,” she said, “no more running.”

        “Hug me Freckles, please,” Aga begged.  Freckles embraced the weeping mother bear.

      “I have been talking with Lilly,” Aga said, “she’s a lovely bear, a lovely mama to Cinders.”  

     “She is mama, she is,” Freckles replied...

       “I would like to touch Patch while he re-enacts the birth of mama bear’s cubs,” Ekaterina said softly.  Patch crawled to the den and settled down in it.  Ekaterina, crawling in after him, managed to touch him from nose to toes.

      “Patch,” Aga said softly, “maybe I’d better show Ekaterina, for mama did tell me about the birth of her cub, and even showed me what she’d done.  I saw more than you did.  I knew you’d gone to see her after you thought I was asleep.  Your little trip was busted open by me.  I watched mama bear, she was courageous in labour.”  Patch wriggled out of the den and Aga crawled in.

       “Now to get myself into character,” she said.  Ekaterina touched Aga’s body from her nose to her toes.

       “Good luck mama,” Ekaterina said, kissing Aga’s nose and the pads of her right hind foot.  Aga wriggled a bit, pushing with her forepaws and kicking with her hind feet as things got going.  Whimpering, she braced her hind feet against the roof of her den, her toes curling into the roof.  Pressing her forepaws against the roof, Aga held on with the toes of all four paws, bracing herself against the floor and the roof all at the same time, tearing, clawing, sweating and screaming with effort.

       “She’ll destroy the den,” Ekaterina whispered to Patch.

      “It’s designed to be smashed up,” he said, “don’t worry.”  Aga whimpered and drew her hind feet up, grabbing them in her forepaws and holding on tightly.

      “Aowhwhwhwhwwhwhwhw, aowhwwhwhwhwhwhwwhw’w’w’w’wwhwhwh!”  Aga shrieked, panting hard and writhing desperately.

      “Push mama Push!”  Ekaterina urged, Aga kicking hard, Ekaterina putting her paw in the way of Aga’s feet, feeling her feet kicking hard against her paw.

      “Oooah, ooooamph!”  Aga gasped as she kicked and struggled.  Suddenly she sat up, pulling with her forepaws and digging in with the heels of her hind to help herself, banging her head on the roof of the den.

       “Ouch, ow!  Yooooawouch!”  Aga whimpered as she struggled with pain from external bruises and internal forces.  Ekaterina explored Aga’s body, Aga leaning down to lick at her belly fur, finding her right hind foot in the way.  Snarling with frustration, she grabbed her foot in her forepaws and lifted it up slightly, leaning down to lick and clean.  Ekaterina felt Aga’s cramped body straining and fighting.

       “I didn’t know,” she said softly.  Aga growled with frustration and pain, lifting her head, getting nose to nose with Ekaterina.  Ekaterina felt her hot breath panting against her face.

       “Give a little push mama, you must try,” Ekaterina said.  Aga catching her breath and straining.

      “Ooooumph!”  She gasped, gripping her left hind foot desperately with both forepaws.

        “I’ll re-enact Freckle’s birth after this,” Aga whimpered, “I want to do this!”  Ekaterina kissed the sweating pads of Aga’s right hind foot.

       “Deliver this cub first,” she said, Aga curling her toes tightly in response.

       “Humph, heruuuumpf!”  Aga gasped as she pushed and wriggled.

       “Kick mama kick!”  Ekaterina encouraged as Aga rolled over onto her side and kicked with her hind feet, faster and faster, as if pedalling her hind feet would help the cub out.

       “Why do mothers do that?”  Ekaterina asked, “Pedal the air with their feet I mean?”

        “It helps the cub’s passage,” patch replied, “just like crawling around the den does, though there’s not much den to crawl about in where Aga is.”

      “Nearly there mama, nearly there!”  Ekaterina encouraged, Aga grunting as she forced the cub into the world.

       “I must push!”  She whimpered, “Pedalling the air doesn’t work any more! Oaoaoaoaow!”  Ekaterina felt Aga’s body convulsing, then she relaxed.

      “Done, done!”  Aga gasped.  Ekaterina crawled in and touched Aga’s hind feet with her paws, kissing the hot damp pads of Aga’s hind feet.  Aga smiled and drummed on Ekaterina’s nose with the toes of her right hind foot, Ekaterina blowing on Aga’s toes, making the she bear squeal and withdraw her paw.

     “Hey!”  Aga yelled laughing merrily.

       “Now come out, and let’s talk about Freckles birth,” Ekaterina said.  Aga crawled from the den and pushed Ekaterina in.

       “Try labouring in there,” she said.  Ekaterina stretched out all four paws sideways and upwards, finding she could not quite brace her hind feet flat on the roof.  Indeed, her legs were bent enough to enable her to brace her feet quite firmly.

        “Dig in those toes Ekaterina,” Aga encouraged.  Ekaterina did, feeling her paws embracing their role as anchor for her labour.

       “Push against those paws,” Aga said.  Ekaterina did, and realised she was well anchored.

       “Now, can I come out of here?”  Ekaterina asked.  Aga smiled and touched the heel of her right hind foot with her paw.

       “Let go of the roof with your toes,” she said.  Ekaterina did her forepaws and hind relaxing into repose.  Suddenly she felt herself dragged forwards by her hind feet, then something was pinning her down with its paws and she was being kissed on her nose.

      “Got you!”  Aga teased.  Ekaterina smiled broadly and pawed at Aga’s nose, the mama bear laughing merrily.

      “I will have to climb the walls to re-enact Freckles birth,”  Aga said, “I clambered around my cage for a lot of the time, and only sat down when things got really bad, lying on my back and grabbing my hind feet with my paws for support.”

      “Does it really help you Aga,” Ekaterina said, “gripping your hind feet with your forepaws?”

        “I’d prefer pushing my feet against something, but holding my hind feet feels great too.”

      “Show me Aga,”  Ekaterina said, agar rolling onto her back and drawing up her hind feet, grabbing them with her forepaws and wriggling a little, before pressing back hard against her forepaws with her hind feet.

        “You have a great support there,” Aga said, “and it feels wonderful!”

        “Your hind paws are wonderful,” Ekaterina said, I’ve touched them, they’re so cute!”  Aga laughed merrily and gave Ekaterina her right hind foot.

        “Embrace it, hug it,” Aga said.  Ekaterina rubbed Aga’s toes and the sole of her paw, the she bear giggling with pleasure.

       “No wonder you are a midwife Ekaterina,” she said, “you can rub a paw enough to make mama wish to push harder than she ever has before.”

       “I know the feeling,”  Janet said, padding into the room with mosses, who, seeing Patch, crawled over to him, the bear laughing and lying down, letting the human child clamber all over him as if he were a living climbing frame.

         “Do you?”  Aga asked.  Janet smiled and nodded, sitting down.

        “I remember mama Ekaterina’s touch,” she said, “and so do my hind feet.”.”

      “My feet remember your touch Ekaterina,” Janet said, “and I find it very gentle.  Do you know, Jess and I played together yesterday?  Our feet stuck fast together.”

       “I would love to have been paws on with that,” Ekaterina said.  Janet smiled and replied:

       “I will let you touch my feet, then call Jess and see if she’ll let you touch hers, then she and I will play a round of the stuck foot game so you can feel us doing that.”  Ekaterina smiled broadly.

      “Thank you,” she said.  Janet sat down and gave Ekaterina her left foot, the she bear taking it in her paws and stroking the top and sole of her foot with considered care.

       “Your hind paw is warm with smooth pads and easily curling toes,” Ekaterina said.  Janet curled her toes as tightly as she could, Ekaterina rubbing her curled toes with her paw.

       “Your toes curled more tightly than that once or twice,” Ekaterina said.  Janet smiled and relaxed her toes a little.

      “They did,” she replied, when I was in labour with Moses.”  Jess crawled in, and sat down, giving Ekaterina her left foot, Ekaterina touching her foot and smiling:

        “I take it yours and Janet’s hind paws are compatible,” she said.

      “They stick fast,” jess replied, “and we love it when they do too.”

 

Patch and Moses sat opposite each other, tosses feet touching the pads on bear’s hind paws.

      “My feet are sticking to yours Patch!”  Moses laughed.  Patch smiled and curled his large toes, Moses giggling as his toes and half his foot was engulfed in the warm embrace of the bear’s hind paws.

        “I love this,” Moses said, pressing his feet hard against patches.  Patch smiled and pressed back gently, Moses smiling:

      “Hold my feet with your paws Patch,” he said, Patch holding Moses feet against his hind paws with his forepaws, pressing them gently against his pads.

         “I will help,” Moses said, pushing back hard.  Patch smiled, stroking the tops of Moses feet with his forepaws, while the young child reached up with his hands to touch Patch’s face.  Patch let the young boy touch his ears, nose and mouth, even opening his mouth and sticking out his tongue, to Moses huge amusement.

       “You funny bear!”  Moses laughed.  Patch grinned and kissed Moses on his nose.

      “Will you play with my toes?”  Moses asked.  Patch released his hold on the toes of Moses left foot, then, smiling, picked mosses foot up in his paws and tickled his toes.

        “That tickles!”  Moses yelled, wriggling madly.

        “You wanted me to play with your toes,” Patch said, stroking the young boy’s foot.

       “You are so gentle with him Patch,” Janet said.  Patch smiled at her:

       “Moses is our cub too,” Patch said, Janet crawling over to Patch and taking his left forepaw in her hands.

        “Moses are our cub too,” Patch repeated, knowing what she wanted.

       “I know he is,” she said, “I knew from the minute you helped me into the house.  From the minute you knocked on our door when I was in pain and scared.  I knew it deep down.”

       “I remember watching Moses emerging into the world,” Patch said, “it was amazing.”

        “I saw Sita’s birth too,” Janet replied, “That was amazing also.”  Patch smiled broadly.

       “It was,” he replied, “I remember every minute, and love every minute too.”

      “I was watching Moses crawling today, and that looked so cute, just like a bear cub,” Janet replied.

       “Will you re-enact Moses birth?”  Aga asked.  Janet smiled and nodded:

        “I will, for you and for freckles too,” she said, “freckles hasn’t got paws on yet, though I re-enacted it for Sita only a day ago.  It was wonderful!”

        “I’m looking forward to it,” Freckles said.

        “I’ll re-enact your birth too Freckles,” Aga replied, “That should be interesting.”  Janet smiled at Moses, who crawled to her.

       “I’ve shown Moses his birth video,” she said, “He’s fascinated by it.”

        “He has the intelligence of a community cub,” Patch replied, “that’s amazing mama.”

       “I’ll never forget the way I pushed, how it felt to push,” Janet said.  Patch smiled and kissed Janet’s nose.

 

Meanwhile, in another part of the house, Nuru squared up to Leo, having spotted Baingana, sniffed at him and realised what Leo had done.

      “You mated with Nala!”  Nuru roared.

       “She wanted it, I could give it, so I gave it you wrinkled old duffer!”  Leo roared in reply.

       “I’m not a wrinkled old duffer!”  Nuru roared.

      “Your paws are all wrinkled and you’re a woosy pussy!”  Leo yelled.

      “Wrinkled paws?  I don’t have wrinkled paws!”  Nuru yelled, “You can’t accuse me of having wrinkled paws!”  Leo laughed:

      “Look at this!”  He jeered, tapping a video screen and showing Nuru a close up of the sole of his own right forepaw, “it’s wrinkled, the pads are wrinkled!”

       “I’d just left the bathtub after a bathing session with tigress Tess!”  Nuru screamed, “We spent hours in the bathtub!  That was why my paw pads were wrinkled.  Also, I’d curled my toes a good bit, and maybe my skin isn’t as elastic as it once was, so I need to stretch my toes a little to get it back into place, I don’t know.”  Leo laughed in Nuru’s face, the male lion whacking him across his nose with the aforementioned forepaw.

         “Ow!”  Leo yelled.

     “Right now, we should engage in a fight to establish dominance,” Nuru mewed, “but I can’t be bothered.  Leo, take this as a warning!”

       “No, take this!”  Petra yelled, rushing in and slamming Leo to the floor!

      “You, do, not, impregnate other, lionesses!”  Petra yelled, punctuating her words with slaps across Leo’s face from her forepaws.  Leo crawled away, very ashamed.

       “You did more than I could,” Nuru whispered to Petra.  Petra smiled and kissed his nose:

       “It is the lioness who really rules the pride Nuru, you know that my dear,” she [purred.  Nuru rolled onto his back and Petra kissed his paws, Nuru’s eyes closing in bliss.

         “Soppy old Nuru,” Petra mewed.

      “I resign,”   Nuru mewed, “you take over Petra.”  Petra stared at him:

      “What?”  She asked, “Nuru, are you mad?”

       “No,” Nuru yawned, “I’m old and wrinkly, Leo’s right.  Why would Nala take him and not me?”

      “She took both of you, sex mad she is!”  Petra replied, “You know whose cub is whose.  Georgia lioness is yours, Baingana lion is Leo’s.”

        “Yeah, I know,” Nuru replied, “but I’m getting soft in my old age.”

        “Softness is what we need now,” Petra mewed, “soft on the outside, tough on the inside.  Nuru, don’t give up the leadership just because a lioness kisses your paws.”

       “A lioness with a big heart and the most gentle paws I’ve ever known,” Nuru mewed, “you know what power you possess Petra.  You aren’t done yet.”

        “Neither is you Nuru, so get to your lovely paws and claim your status.”

       “I can’t!”  Nuru whimpered, “I’m no fighter now, and Leo knows that.”

      “Woosy pussy, woosy pussy, woosy pussy!”  Leo chanted.

      “Shut up!”  Petra snapped.

      “Make me Petra!”  Leo yelled, “I’m pride leader now!”

      “No you’re not!”  Nuru challenged.

      “Fight me then?”  Leo asked, “I’m ready!”

        “Oh god,” Petra sighed heavily.

        “Leo was the name of the first pride leader, and so it should always be the name of the leader here,” Leo challenged, “You are dead Nuru!”  Leo pounced on Nuru, squashing the breath out of him.

     “Oomph!”  Nuru gasped as the breath whistled out of his body.  Leo sat aboard the lion, who tried to struggle, but Leo had him pinned, and then he closed his mouth over Nuru’s nose, trying to suffocate him.  Petra had seen enough, and screaming, hit the panic button in the room.

 

Nanuq, Matoskah and Lihua ran in a few minutes later, beating Leo off Nuru with riding crops, the lion tied up and slung into a corner.  Nuru, half dead, was pulled into Blackberry’s lie up, where he recovered slowly.

       “I win, I win!”  Leo yelled.  Indeed, to Petra, his statement was true, he’d claimed the leadership by nearly throttling the incumbent lion and for her, and this was enough, even though she hated violence.

        “You made your point,” she mewed to Leo, who smiled in triumph.

       “Now Nuru will have to give control to me in a ceremony and I’ll be the king!”  Leo roared in a voice like thunder.

       “You’ll have to fight it out with him unless he abdicates in front of the whole pride,” Petra mewed, “a little scuffle won’t give you leadership.”  Leo stamped out of the lie up, knowing his mate was right.

 

Patch watched what was going on in the lie up, sighing as Leo overpowered Nuru.

        “More shit?”  Janet asked, seeing patch’s face.  Patch told her what had just taken place.

       “So Leo thinks he can outdo Nuru?”  Jess asked.

      “He nearly killed him Jess,” patch replied.

      “Why aren’t you getting involved?”  Janet asked.

      “Its pride business, family stuff,” Patch replied, “It’s not a direct challenge to the community.  Lions will be lions that are why we moved from the pride system to individual families with a committee drawn from the families and the cubs.  This would let the families do their own thing.”  Janet snorted:

       “But Nuru’s leader,” she said.

      “Not if he can’t hold his end up,” Aga replied.

       “Leo’s a chump,” Ekaterina said, “He’s a pain.  No backbone.”

     “But if he can climb the ladder, he’s leader,” Patch replied, “despite what you think of him Ekaterina, that’s how it goes.”  Ekaterina grunted, knowing the truth of her mate’s words.

        “Prides!”  Petra snarled, striding into Patch’s lie up a few minutes later, Moses moving out of her way as she padded towards Patch, clambered into his lap and collapsed with exhaustion.

      “I’ve never been good at violence,” Petra mewed, looking as if she wanted to suck her paw like a frightened cub.

       “If Leo and Nuru want to fight it out, that’s their issue,” Patch said, “I would not expect them to mediate between bears or badgers, so we should not mediate between lions.”

       “Nuru nearly died!”  Petra wailed, “Leo, he, he nearly killed him patch, I can’t cope with that!”  Patch kissed Petra’s nose, the lioness close to tears.

        “You can’t stop them fighting if they want to,” patch replied.

       “I know, I know!”  Petra whimpered, “But I’m not violent myself, and the idea frightens me.  Ok I lash about with my paws from time to time, and can be a bit fierce, but I don’t like it, I hate it, my paws are sore for ages after.”

       “You no hit properly then Petra,” Kuruk grunted, padding in and embracing the lioness, “you need practise from Patch; he shows you how sock it to others.”  Petra looked shocked.

       “You?”  She asked Patch, “You get violent?”

        “I don’t want to,” Patch replied, “it’s out of necessity.”  Petra buried her face in Patch’s chest, breathing in his scent.

       “I don’t want Leo to kill Nuru Patch!”  Petra pleaded.

       “I’ll make sure they come to agreement,” Patch replied, “Nuru won’t lose his life mama Petra.”  Petra buried her paws in Patch’s coat.

        “I hope they don’t,” she replied, tightly curling her toes into his fur, her claws sheathed.

        “Hold on tight Petra,” Patch encouraged, Petra holding on to him with all four feet.

       “Dig in those toes,” Patch encouraged, Petra pressing her paws as hard as she could into his fur, her toes gripping fiercely.

         “Mama,” Patch said softly, “what do you want?”

        “Hold me, Hold me!”  Petra sobbed.  Patch held her tightly.

        “Poor Petra,” Jess said, “she’s so gentle and innocent.”

        “You were mistreated by a higher force weren’t you my sweet lioness,” jess said softly.  Petra, whimpering with cubbish fear and terror, buried her face in Patch’s neck, crying in misery and fear.

       “I don’t want to see a lion die!”  Petra sobbed, “I’m too old for that now!  A thousand births may I see, and gladly too, but deaths, no more, no more!”  Janet smiled:

        “I could re-enact the birth of Moses,” she said, “and gladly too.”  Petra smiled and looked at Janet.

        “Please,” she said.  Janet grinned and Petra sat down on the floor, looking at Janet sitting beside her.  Her bare head with its brown hair, her bare hands and bare feet.  Petra was glad to see Janet examining her from nose to tail too.

       “If I show you mine, will you show me yours?”  Janet asked.  Petra smiled and rolled onto her back, wiggling her toes and waving her paws in the air, showing Janet the soles of her paws.  Janet laughed merrily and rolled onto her back, waving her bare feet at Petra, wiggling her toes as the lioness had done.  Petra laughed delightedly, Padded to Janet and kissed the heel of her right foot, Janet curling her toes tightly and giggling with pleasure.  Petra laughed and traced Janet’s foot from toes to heel with her whiskers, Janet giggling with cubbish mischief.

        “Your feet are cool and dry, smooth padded and very expressive,” Petra mewed, “Janet, I saw you crying like a cub while you were delivering Moses into the world.”

       “I struggled like a cub in a trap too,” Janet said, hugging Petra tightly.

       “Your paws are beautiful Petra,” Janet whispered to the lioness, while burying her face in her sweet smelling fur.  Petra snuggled closer to Janet, kissing her nose.

        “Touch both my feet again Petra, please,” Janet pleaded.  Petra did, kissing Janet’s toes and heels, Janet curling her toes with pleasure.

         “Can, can I kiss your paws?”  Janet asked.  Petra smiled and rolled onto her back.

      “Come,” she said, “come and kiss my pads.”  Janet did, and found Petra’s pads cool and dry.

       “It is only those who ware shoes that have unnecessarily wet pads,” Janet said, “and this is why kissing a sweating paw is okay if the owner of the paw is bare pawed all the time.”  Petra knew this.  She hated wearing anything on her paws, and knew Janet and Jess did too.

     “Indeed,” Petra mewed.  Janet hugged Petra as tightly as she could, the lioness pressing her body hard into the human’s embrace.

         “I like this,” Petra said, Janet kissing her nose.

       “You have sweet smelling fur and lovely paws mama Petra,” Janet whispered into the lioness’s ear.

       “When I saw Moses birth video,” Petra said, “I wanted to stroke your paws mama Janet.”  Janet smiled:

        “I know you did,” she replied, “your paws told me so when you touched my feet today.  You have known a hard labour too mama?”  Petra nodded:

       “Aslan’s birth was particularly difficult,” Petra replied, “he was a big cub, and I felt everything.  I wanted to feel, but the reality was very painful and slow.  I couldn’t push easily, I forgot to relax, to push with contractions, all that.  I messed up.”  Janet smiled and nodded:

       “So did me,” she replied, “for a bit at least.  It gets you nowhere.”  Petra nodded.

      “Aslan’s paws hurt me the most,” she replied, “He had big paws even then.  They scraped their way out, my hard straining moving them inch by sweat soaked, screaming and toe curling inch.  They hurt!  I wriggled, cried, scrabbled with all four paws, flexed my toes, roared and panted, but my efforts were not enough.  In the end, Mama Kamchatka had to help me, as unlike you humans and the bears, cats can’t grab their cubs if things go wrong and the cub is too large.  Humans can pull their cubs, as can bears.  Even a mama in labour can pull her own cub if she needs to.”

       “I’ll bet you roared and pawed a good deal,” Janet said.

      “I did,” Petra mewed, “my feet kicked the air like yours did, I kicked and wriggled and kicked some more, lying on my side most of the time, but one time, I lay on my back, and that hurt me so much!  I roared and screamed as Aslan was forced out of me.”

        “I lay on my back and kicked too,” Jess said to Petra, “Janet and I both did while we had our cubs.  It helps, and if we kick hard enough, the breeze on the soles of our feet helps cool us too.”

      “It did my paws,” Petra mewed.

      “Let’s do that now,” jess suggested, “kick the air with our feet I mean so we can feel the breeze on our pads.”  Petra laughed merrily at this suggestion.

        “We should encourage our cubs to play at birthing cubs of their own,” Janet said, “it lets them explore things, trust, friendship, and of course their own paws.”  Petra grinned broadly.  Jess and Janet rolled onto their backs and kicked the air with their bare feet, Petra smiling at the sight and imitating them.  Then patch, who’d described the goings on to Petra and Freckles ever since Petra had sat down with Janet, lay down on his back to kick the air with his hind feet, Ekaterina and Freckles getting paws on with his feet as he kicked and wriggled with ecstatic abandon.

        “Is that what Janet and jess are doing?”  Ekaterina asked.  Patch replied that it was.  Moses smiled and copied his mother, Aga watching him with undisguised delight.

       “Kick with those feet mama Janet, Mama Jess!”  Aga said.  Ekaterina, curious, crawled over to Janet and got paws on with her pedalling feet.  Janet kicked Ekaterina’s forepaws for a while, and then Petra got paws on with the soles of Janet’s feet.  Janet sat up and took Petra’s paws in her hands.

       Petra,” she asked, “would you do something for me?”

       “What?”  Petra asked.

       “Stroke the sole of my foot with your toes?”  Janet replied.  Petra did, drawing the toes of her right forepaw down the sole of Janet’s foot from heel to toes as Janet knelt on the rugs averting her gaze, concentrating on the touch of the lioness’s toes on her pads.

        “Now, please, would you gently run your claws down the sole of my foot?”  Janet asked.  Petra smiled:

        “I remember my sire ancient Theo doing that to my paw,”  she mewed, gently drawing her claws down the sole of Janet’s right foot from heel to toes, Janet smiling broadly.

       “Your pads are soft and warm Janet,” Petra said smiling.  Janet spun round and sat down properly, taking her right foot in her hands and exploring the sole of her foot with her fingers where Petra’s claws had scraped her skin.  Pressing the skin on the ball, arch and heel of her foot with her fingers, Janet relived the pleasure of Petra’s gentle scratching at the sole of her foot.

        “That felt wonderful mama Petra,” Janet said.

      “You look so cute examining your foot with your hands like that,” jess said, sitting up and imitating Janet, Janet smiling as she saw how she must look to jess.

       “That is sweet,” Janet said, jess copying her every move.

        “I think playing with one’s paws or with the paws of others is such fun!”  Janet said, “It feels so good!”  Patch smiled and nodded.

       “That is why we teach our cubs its okay to play with their own paws, and those of their friends.”  He said, “It’s very important to us to teach them, or more accurately let them know playing with their paws is not frowned upon here.”

      “it’s encouraged,”  Koda said, padding in with tom, both bears settling down opposite each other to massage each other’s hind feet and play with each other’s toes.  Jess watched with amusement as the two bears got to grips with massaging paws without tickling toes or pads.

       “Firm but gentle pressure,” Koda said to tom as the inexperienced male bear took Koda’s right hind foot in his paws, and promptly tickled Koda’s toes, Koda laughing merrily.

        “You sod!”  He laughed.

       “I’m no good at this paw massage thing yet!”  Tom whimpered, mortified he’d messed it up.

      “I can take a little tickling of my toes dear Tom,” Koda replied.  Tom grinned broadly and explored the pads and toes of Koda’s right hind foot with his forepaws.

        “That feels great,” Koda said.  Tom smiled and looked at Koda.

        “You look cute when you crawl,” he said.  Koda smiled:

      “So do you tom,” Koda replied, “and Targon giving birth to you is my favourite video of recent times.  She did so well, was really expressive, you know?”  Tom knew right enough, Targon had screamed and roared herself hoarse.

      “Mama Targon said her paws ached after giving birth to me,” tom said.

        “I’m sure they did,” Koda replied, having seen close up shots of Targon’s toes curling as she laboured.

       “Tom’s birth hurt me so much,” Targon said, padding into the lie up.  She looked sideways at her son cub and Koda playing together, her one remaining eye showing gentility.

        “You two look so sweet,” she said.  Tom grinned at his mama.

       “Koda’s paws are so soft with warm pads mama,” he said.  Targon smiled lovingly at her son cub.

       “Now how are you and Koda getting on with paw play?”  She asked.  Tom smiled, bouncing about with excitement.

       “I didn’t know my paws were so useful!”  He said, “They are so wonderful mama!”  Targon smiled broadly, her one eye shining with amusement.

       “I didn’t know that until I came here either little one,” she said, “I thought paws were for walking on, or for catching things, and got annoyed with them when I picked up a stone between my toes or thorn in my pads.  Apart from that, I had little knowledge of my paws.  Then one day,” she sat down, deep in thought, “one day I got trapped in a foot trap.  Or rather my right hind foot did, and I was left panting and frightened on the track.  It was some time later that Blackberry found me, and he freed me and took me in and showed me, showed me my paws.   He showed me what they could do, and how wonderful they could make me feel.”

       “How did getting paws on with blackberry’s paws make you feel mama?”  Tom asked.  Targon looked dreamy.

       “That was wonderful,”  she replied, “and when Blackberry held one of my hind feet in his forepaws while I held one of his hind feet in mine, the first time, that first time, oh wow, just fantastic!”

       “Then paw massaging became something more didn’t it mama,” tom said.  Targon smiled:

      “It did,” she replied, “but that other thing, pleasurable and lovely, led to even more intense sensations, resulting in the births of three lovely cubs.  I didn’t mind pushing, sweating and curling my toes Tom love.  I wanted it, needed it. I embraced my labour with all four paws and rode with it.”

        “Mama Targon kicked the air with her feet as I saw mama Janet do,” Koda said.  Targon grinned hugely.

      “It helped,” she said, kicking the air helped.  It moved tom along.  Then I pushed into my tail, everything opening up down below, stretching and stretching to allow tom’s body to pass through.  I felt his body stretching me, felt the pain of being stretched, and pushed harder to stretch myself even further.  It felt wonderful when tom slid into my paws and I was able to grab him, then push and pull, push and pull, helping myself and him by delivering my cub myself.”

         “How do you self deliver a cub?”  Freckles asked.  Targon looked at her:

         “I’ll demonstrate,” she said, “where’s a rug, I’ll roll it up lengthwise and sit on it, treating it as the cub I’m delivering.  I’ll show you Freckles.”  Freckles smiled, padded to Targon and kissed her nose.

       “Thank you,” she said.

      “No problem,” Targon laughed, “it’s a pleasure!”  Targon found a rough rug she could roll up and sit on.  Rolling it lengthways she sat down on it, the end visible between her hind legs.

        “Now I’ll wriggle and kick a bit to get myself into the mood for this,” Targon said to Freckles, who’d joined her.

      “Okay,” Freckles said.  Targon grunted and whimpered, drawing up her hind legs and grabbing her toes with her forepaws, squeezing them hard.  Then she rolled onto her back with a shriek of pain and began to kick with her hind feet while roaring and yelling.

       “Oaoaoaoaoaoaaow! Aaaaaw! Aaaaaw!”  Targon screamed her forepaws and hind feet pedalling like pistons as she wriggled and struggled.  Freckles felt Targon moving backwards slightly as she struggled, but then Targon sat up, whimpering and gasping, desperately grabbing the rug between her hind legs with both forepaws.  Targon bore down hard as if straining desperately into her tail, pulling the cub as she pushed, panting while desperately wrestling the imagined cub, represented by the rug in her paws, into the world.  Freckles explored Targon’s face, forepaws, hind legs and hind feet as the female black bear wriggled while she struggled to deliver her cub unaided.   

    “Push and pant mama, go on, go on!  You can do it, you can do this!”  Freckles encouraged.  Targon, groaning, blew through her open mouth.

       “Ow, ow, ow Freckles!”  She moaned.

      “The cub’s coming,” Freckles replied, “when you pant and pull, it comes a little more, pant mama pant!”  Targon did, moaning lustily as she felt the cub stretching her to her utmost.

       “hur’r’r’r’rumph! Oaoaoaoaw! Hurhrhrhrrhrhrump!”  Targon wailed.

       “Nearly there, nearly there!”  Freckles told the exhausted mother bear.  Targon opened her mouth in a wail of pain as her cub finally slipped free.

     “Just the hind feet to go, eeeeeoaw!  Umph! There!!”  Targon panted.  Freckles kissed Targon’s sweating right hind paw, her scent strong but not at all unpleasant.

       “Now I know what helping a cub into the world is like,” Freckles said, “though I’d like to experience a mama doing that for real.”  Targon smiled and put the rug out to be washed.

        “I enjoyed that,” Targon said, panting slightly and bouncing on her toes with excitement.

       “Silly mama!” Tom laughed.  Targon smiled:

      “I’d like to see you try what I just have,” she said.

      “I can’t have cubs,” Tom replied, “so I can’t.”

       “Patch asked if he could have a cub, and he did,” Targon replied, “so maybe you can too.  It would help male female relations a great deal if males could feel the emotion and struggle of delivering a cub into the world.”  Tom screwed up his face with disgust:

        “All that moaning and panting, looking like you is going to relieve yourself, awful!”  Targon nudged her son:

      “It feels like that too, being stretched at the end is the worst though, it hurts, but is exhilaration like you’d never imagine.”

       I don’t want it,” Tom grunted, “other male creatures might want to feel the birth of a cub, but I don’t!”

      “That’s your wish,” Petra replied, “though Targon’s right, since Nuru asked Tess the question, he’s been a gentler lion, even though his toes ache horribly now from re-enacting Tess’s labour with her.  He says he’d rather his body ached for days than feel disconnected and flat, which is how he describes the way he did before.”

      “Speaking of Nuru,” Leo said padding in, “Petra, he and I, we, we’ve come, come to an agreement.  I haven’t hurt him, well not in the way you fear.  I hurt him in other ways though, and he invited me into a bath so he could say his piece, and it did me a world of good.  Can, I mean, I’d like to tell you about it if I may.”  Petra took Leo’s paw, knowing he was as far from lashing out as he’d ever been in his life.

        “What good will bathing with a lion do anyone?”  Tom asked, “That’s stupid stuff!”

      “No it isn’t, it’s how we do things here, in the bath,” Targon said, stretching the truth a bit.

       “If I stretch the truth any more I’ll have to push the lie out like I did my cub tom,” Targon thought, though she kept stretching the truth a little wider.

        “The lions conduct most negotiations in the bath, it’s more conducive to non violence,” Targon said, Tom’s eyes glazing over, as he wasn’t really interested.

      “Yeah mum, whatever,” he said.  Targon slapped tom hard for his insolence, tom roaring with pain and shock.

      “This community is yours too Tom, so learn about it!” she yelled.

        “I need to talk to you Petra,”  Leo said, shifting his paws uncomfortably, “Nuru, Nuru told me the tale of Ancient Theo’s death, and how he died of a broken heart after tawny Aslan attacked him.”

      “I was there, I saw it,” Petra mewed.

       “Nuru made it sound like ancient history,” Leo said, “but then this community has so many heritages I suppose it is.”

       “My son cub was given the name Aslan,” Petra replied, “and my youngest Simba.  We revive names here, keep them going.”  Leo nodded.

       “Your Aslan is a lovely lion,” Leo mewed, “Samson sired him, and he is a lovely lion.”  Petra smiled with pride.

        “There is a young Theo too, a white lion,” Leo said, “Samson was his sire too?”  Petra nodded.

       “Clarence is also lion Samson’s.”

      “Yes, good,” Leo mewed, picking at the rugs with one forepaw, “Petra, Nuru, he told me many things, of how he was upset by my conduct, and how he felt about finding Baingana.  He didn’t feel rage at the cub; he didn’t want to hurt Baingana at all.  He wanted to tear my head off though, and Nala, along with Tigress Tess stopped him.  They told him that talking it out would be best, and he agreed after the first flush of anger.  I’m sure now, now that he would have come and killed me, then regretted it forever after, and not in a retributive way either.  More an emotional regret.  I know that now, now I’ve spoken to him, and got my paws wrinkled like his were.”

      “Did you have to stretch your toes to settle your wrinkled pads?”  Petra asked, her eyes showing amusement.

       “Yes,” Leo replied honestly, “I did Petra, and Nuru helped, massaging my pads while I curled and stretched my toes to get the pads back to where they should be.”

        “What nonsense this is!”  Tom snapped, “paw pads don’t do what you say Lion!”

        “It’s play tom, play for play’s sake, play that encourages friendship.  You don’t know what this paw play thing is yet, well not really.  You’re in the first thrill of sensations, and haven’t explored pretend play with paws.  You can make paws be anything you want, pretend their injured, pretend their cub’s paws, pretend you have a stone between your toes.  We need no computers here tom, our paws are playthings themselves.  Our minds are much improved by this.”

       “I know mine are,” Ekaterina said, “my paws are playthings I mean,” Patch laughed merrily and hugged his mate.

       “You play beautifully with your paws,” he said sincerely.

      “Talking of my paws, my hind paws really,” Ekaterina said, “why did you grab my feet and whip me out of the den?”

       “Your hind feet were so temptingly available,” patch said, “I couldn’t resist the temptation.”

      “It was fun!”  Ekaterina laughed, “I loved it, would you do it again patch?”

      “What?”  Patch asked, whip you out of the den again?”  Ekaterina smiled and nodded.

      “I’ll do that,” he said, leading her to the den and letting her settle in.  Once she was settled on her back, her hind feet towards the door, patch grabbed both her hind paws in his forepaws and whisked them towards him, Ekaterina laughing helplessly as she was dragged out of the den.  Tom scowled at her, Targon slapping him.

        “Get out of here,” she snarled, “I’ll deal with you later!”  Tom skulked away, Koda watching him go with a mix of regret and frustration.

        “I’ve tried to show him, tried to help him understand.”  He said to noone in particular.

        “So have you and Nuru patched up your differences?”  Petra asked.  Leo nodded.

       “I apologised, and I’ve kissed his paws too,”  Leo replied.  Nuru padded in as he spoke, padded up to Leo and kissed his nose.

        “Dear Nuru,”  Leo purred.  Nuru smiled at Leo.

       “have you spoken to Petra about the births of her cubs?”  Nuru asked.  Leo replied that he hadn’t.

       “Lionesses just get on with having their cubs,”  Leo replied, “should I ask how Petra felt?”

        “I think she’d like it,”  Nuru mewed.  Leo looked at Petra.

        “How did giving birth to Simba feel?”  he asked.

        “It made me scream and grip the rugs with my toes and clench my teeth and strain hard into my tail,”  Petra mewed, “though Sita helped me a great deal by letting me use her as a crutch.  I grabbed her and rolled on top of her as I wriggled and struggled.  Simba and Sita are now very good friends.”

 

Indeed, Sita and Simba played together in the soft play room as Petra spoke to Leo.  Sita rolled the lion cub onto his back and tickled his toes, Simba mewing and snarling with mock fear and anger at being handled so easily by Sita.

       “Get off my paws!”  Simba yelled, pawing at Sita, so she had no choice but to grab his paws again, the game going round and round in circles, to the delight of both.

        “Now I get to hold your paws!”  Simba said, grabbing Sita’s right hind foot as she lay on her back on the soft flooring.

       “I love that,”  Sita said as Simba, grinning broadly, tickled her toes.

       “Now Sita,”  Simba mewed, “can I have hug?”  Sita sat up and embraced the lion cub in tender paws.

        “There,”  she said softly, Simba purring with pleasure.

      “I wonder who here loves playing with their paws the most Sita,”  Simba mused, “mama Kamchatka used to love playing with her paws, now she’s gone, who do you think loves playing with their paws the most?”

         “I think patch is in the running for that prize,”  Sita replied, “then again, so is Kuruk, though he’d not like me telling you that.”

      “Kuruk loves nothing more than lying on his back with a bottle in his paws, sucking down gallons of milk, while kicking the air with his hind feet, or so I’ve heard,”  Simba replied.  Sita giggled:

       “yes, he loves that,”  she replied gently.

       “You spilling beans Sita?”  Kuruk grunted, piling into the soft play room.  Sita laughed at him:

       “yes Kuruk,”  she replied, “your milk drinking is so cute.”  Kuruk snarled, but smiled sheepishly.

       “Kuruk love drinking milk,”  he admitted, “playing with paws too.  Others see him doing thing, so he no deny anything now.”

       “Good,”  Sita replied gently.

 

Janet sat in Patch’s lie up, stroking the sole of her right foot with her fingers.

      “Why did you ask Petra to run her claws down the sole of your foot Janet?”  jess asked.

        “I wanted to find out if she could be as gentle with me as she is with one of her own cubs,”  Janet replied, “and now I know, yes she can be gentle.

      “Patch crawled over to jess and tickled her toes, Jess laughing merrily and scratching his ears.

       “now that reminds me of old times,”  Jess said smiling, “I love your touch on my toes patch..”  Patch smiled with genuine warmth and remembered good times amongst all the tough times they’d gone through together.

      “Jess used to communicate with touch before we had a common language,”  Patch said to Janet.

       “You needed a secret code,”  Janet said, “jess told me some of her, first life, as she called it.  You and she needed to communicate silently and confidentially.”

       “We communicated well like that,”  Patch replied, “I knew what Jess wanted to say, and she knew my replies and suggestions, even though she spoke no ursine, and I, though I knew English then, could not be seen to speak to her at all, for fear we’d be split up and I’d never see her again.”

       “You saved my life Patch, and you know it,”  jess replied.  Patch smiled broadly and kissed jess’s nose.

       “You two wouldn’t just play with each other’s toes then?”  Janet asked.  jess shook her head:

      “WE communicated too,”  she replied, “deep dark secrets, awful things, and patch helped me through it all.”

         “But you played too?”  Janet asked hopefully.

       “We did,”  jess replied, “I know Patch’s paw pads and toes as intimately as he knows mine.  We are friends, brother and sister, guardian and guarded, the deepest friends and family together.”

        “You love Patch deeply don’t you,”  Janet said to jess.

       “yes Janet I do,”  jess replied, “he’s my friend, my saviour, my protector.  He’s very good for this place, lovely, gentle, but tough too.”  Patch smiled.

      “I’m glad you approve,”  he said.  Janet saw Patch’s eyes smiling with gentle care for his community.

      “I will give bare pawed service and hugs from gentle paws,”  Patch replied.  Patch crawled away, Aga chasing him as she’d done when he was a cub and tickling the pads of his right hind foot, Patch roaring with laughter and rolling over to kick the air with his hind feet and wave his forepaws in the air with gay abandon.

        “you’re so funny!”  jess laughed.  Patch sat up and rubbed the pads of his right hind foot with the toes of his left forepaw.

       “Now,”  Ekaterina said, “what do we do about tom and his refusal to learn the ways of the paw?”

        “Tom knows, he will learn,”  Patch replied.

        “I hope so,”  Ekaterina replied.

       “I don’t know why tom thinks a male asking strange questions is so offensive,”  Ekaterina said, “I ask strange questions of others, she laughed suddenly, “some think me asking if I can touch their paws is strange.”  Patch kissed her nose.

       “my paws are always available,”  he said.

         “Cute,”  she replied.

        “I love your paws Ekaterina, from your pads to your toes I love them dearly, and their owner? Well? She’s indescribably lovely too.”  Ekaterina laughed merrily, sniffing hard and gulping back a rush of tears.

       “You’re so sweet to me Patch,”  she choked.

       “That is because I love you Ekaterina,”  Patch said softly.

        “Ekaterina feels she doesn’t deserve your love Patch,”  Targon said.  Ekaterina whimpered and shook with terror, her inner thoughts exposed by the mother black bear.

        “I know,”  Patch replied, “though her fears are unfounded, I don’t blame her for fearing.  she lost her sight in a sighed world, and feels insecure and lost.  I know this, and I am doing all I can to help her find her way by use of her paws.”

      “What would Ekaterina have to do to make you abandon her?”  Janet asked.  Aga frowned and lashed out with her paw at the teenage girl.

       “Hey!”  Janet yelped as Aga’s admonishing paw connected hard with her shoulder.

        “You don’t ask those questions!”  Aga snapped, her eyes blazing with anger.

        “Patch might want a sighted mate to sire his cubs; it’s only natural,” Janet said, “maybe he stays with Ekaterina because he feels pity for her, losing her sight and all that.”

       “You disgust me!”  Aga snarled.

       “Patch?”  Janet asked, “What would Ekaterina have to do to make you leave her?”

         “I’m going, I can’t stand this!”  Ekaterina sobbed.  Patch looked stonily at Janet.

       “Ekaterina does not deserve my pity; she deserves my love, my heart, and my gentility.  I fell in love with a young female bear that happened to have a visual disability.  Ekaterina didn’t always have you know.  I love her as she is, though she can hardly bring herself to feel secure at the moment.”  Ekaterina, whimpering and sobbing, crawled towards the door, her strength failing her.

      “She’s on the edge,” Jess replied, “Janet, you know nothing of what made Patch’s and Ekaterina’s relationship as strong as it is.  He loves her from her nose to her toes and deeper than you can ever imagine.”

       “What of her dead cub?”  Janet asked, “Wouldn’t patch leave her for delivering him a dead cub?”

        “No,” jess replied, “why are you trying to force them apart?”  Jess asked.

       “I’m just probing, wondering how an able bodied, clearly viral bear could give himself to a disabled wreck of a mate.”

       “Eohippus help you if you ever become disabled,” Aga said angrily, “humans are so disgusting!  It is tribute, yes tribute Janet! To Ekaterina! Ekaterina! That blind wreck that your little boy is here today!  Remember that!”  Janet realised she’d touched a nerve.

       “So you’d never abort any cub?”  She asked.  Aga spat with anger, leapt to her feet and left before she killed Janet.

        “I feel useless,” Ekaterina whispered to Aga as she passed her.  Aga stopped and resting her paw on Ekaterina’s.

       “You are not useless Ekaterina, you are beautiful, generous, and a wonderful mate to Patch.”

        “I don’t feel I am, I can’t give him what he wants!”  Ekaterina wailed.

      “What do you think he wants?”  Aga asked.

        “Live cubs, someone to tell him he’s handsome and looks great and such,” Ekaterina replied.

        “Stop that!”  Aga snapped, “Ekaterina, patch doesn’t lie, he loves you as you are, you’ll push him away if you carry on with this rubbish.”

        “I lied to him Aga, and he’s taken me back with all four paws, and I can’t believe any bear would do that.”

      “This one can Ekaterina,” Patch said softly, “now come, come with me my princess and dry your eyes.”  Ekaterina felt her paw taken in Patch’s, his huge paw engulfing hers.

      “Now come with me,” Patch said.

       “Patch,” Ekaterina asked desperately, “what would make you pack up and leave me?”  Patch kissed her nose:

       “If you ran off with another male,” he said, “then, then I would know you no longer wanted me.  I would leave you then.  Also, if you deliberately killed a cub.  Apart from that, I don’t think you’d be in any danger of me walking out.  Especially not for the reasons Janet’s talking of.  I love you Ekaterina, blindness and all.  Your love making is wonderful Ekaterina; you use your paws fantastically.”

       “Janet is right though,” Ekaterina said, “most male bears would dismiss a disabled mate.”

        “Your Patch is not most bears Ekaterina,” jess said to her.

      “I know,” Ekaterina replied, “but I can hardly believe he’s as lovely as he is.  I can’t believe he would still love me after all I’ve done.  Lies and everything, you know?”

        “Ekaterina,” patch said, “come with me, and let me show you how I can love you.”  Ekaterina padded after her mate, following him by scent.

        “How can you love lire?”  Ekaterina mumbled.

       “You were vulnerable, lied under duress, and are truly sorry now, I know more than you think I do about that time, and I know things, things that Janet will never understand.  Jess understands, for she knows more than she realises, but Janet doesn’t.”  Ekaterina padded listlessly after Patch, her paws feeling heavy and head feeling as if full of cotton wool.

        “I can’t think straight,” she thought miserably.

 

Patch took Ekaterina to the soft playroom and they sat opposite each other in the soft padded tube where they’d sat before in times of crisis.

       “Ekaterina,” Patch said holding her forepaws in his, the angle of the tube making them press their hind feet hard gather, “I want to tell you something now.”

        “Yes?”  Ekaterina replied.

       “I love you deeply, completely and unconditionally.”

       “I know that, my heart knows that,” Ekaterina replied, “and for that I am more grateful than I can tell you.”

        “You speak as if you are a Burdon to me,” Patch said.

       “I feel I am,” Ekaterina said, “it is only when I can get paws on with something and do it all myself I feel whole.  Though I never used to feel this way.  Maybe it is because I could see once, and now am blind, that I forgot how it was to always be blind and accept myself for what I am.  Now I can’t.  I feel, well you know how I feel.  You always have known more than words can express.”

       “You are no Burdon to me,” Patch said, “Ekaterina, your carefree attitude has gone, and you aren’t yourself.  You haven’t been yourself since the loss of your cub.”

      “Do you expect me to forget about my cub?”  Ekaterina asked.

No,” Patch replied, “of course not.  Ekaterina, please, think of what you can do well, what your strengths are.”

       “I’m good with the cubs, mothers and cubs I mean,” Ekaterina replied, “I can play with cubs, I love them, and they me.  Apart from that, and being a rather suitable paperweight for pinning human joyrides I don’t know what my strengths are.”

       “You need play therapy I think,” Sita said, padding near.

       “How much have you heard?”  Ekaterina snapped.

       “Everything,” Sita replied, “Everything.”  Ekaterina lashed out with a paw, Sita dodging Ekaterina’s attack, catching Ekaterina’s paw in hers.

       “Angry?”  She asked, knowing Ekaterina was furious.

       “You bloody eves dropper, you sodding gossip, piss off!”  Ekaterina yelled.

       “Me?”  Sita asked, “I’ve never spread anything in my life Ekaterina.”

       “Why the hell would I need play therapy!”  Ekaterina screamed, “I’m not a bloody cub!”

        “Come,” Sita said, drawing Ekaterina out into the open, Patch watching her go with confused eyes.

       “I’m not a cub!”  Ekaterina whimpered, crying like the cub she insisted she wasn’t.

       “Ekaterina,” Sita said, “I will help you to rediscover your paws.  That is what play therapy is.  Exploration through play.”

       “Rediscover myself you mean,” Ekaterina mumbled.

       “Perhaps,” Sita replied.

       “Sita, you made a name for yourself being kind and gentle regardless of the shit others threw at you,” Ekaterina said, “then you got a formal post here.”

       “While you my dear went the same route,” Sita mewed, “you have a post here too, and midwife isn’t it?”

       “Yes,” Ekaterina replied.

      “There are no better posts than that of delivering our next generation into the world.”  Sita purred.

       “What were you saying about me learning how to use my paws?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “Bringing you down to earth, letting you feel, touch, play, relax, and enjoy life again,” was Sita’s reply.

       “How can I enjoy life if I’m a lieing bitch?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “Patch is willing to give you a clean slate,” Sita mewed, “I know that, and so does he, and now so do you.”

        “How do you know this?”  Ekaterina asked.

      “He spoke to me,” Sita replied, “he isn’t as strong as you think Ekaterina, and even the Tornassuk needs help sometimes.”

        “But he helped you into the world, how can you then help him?”  Ekaterina asked.

      “Ah the top down,” Sita mewed, “got to love that.  Well no, I hate it.  Ekaterina, Patch wants you back, the real Ekaterina, the mother bear who loved playing with cubs and pretending to have cubs and loved playing with her toes and being silly with the cubs.”

       “I can’t re-enact a cubbing, not seriously, not ever again,” Ekaterina protested.

       “How if I told you your dead cub’s spirit talked to me and told me he was pissed off you’d not gone back to your job>?”  Sita mewed.  Ekaterina became angry:

      “How the hell can you say all this?”  She yelled, “You’re not connected with the spirit world, you can’t see spirits!”  Sita laid her paw on the angry mother bear’s.

       “You don’t know what I can see or what I can’t for that matter,” Sita mewed, “conventional sight, I do not have, that has been tested, and I have none.  Not even light and dark perception, as they call it.  Though I have seen things, more like felt them; small paws in the night that weren’t those of Toby, scruffy Leo or even Imogen.  Small voices too, your cub was one?  He told me, told me he was furious you’d given up midwifery, for he knew you’d done the best for him during your pregnancy and labour.  You did your best to deliver him safely Ekaterina.  He wants you to re-enact his birth, but do it with love and commitment, not a sense of loss.  You can do it, if you like, I’ll help you.  You can play at cubbing at first, then maybe, maybe things will feel better to you and you can try and explore the feelings you felt.  Then you can put them to rest once and for all.  Maybe, after this, you could go back to your job and enjoy it.”

      “I already do enjoy my job,” Ekaterina replied.

       “Yes,” Sita replied, “I know that, and so does your cub, but what he means is truly enjoy your job.  Be positive about it, rather than taking the view you are in the job to prevent what happened to you happening to anyone else.  Ekaterina, you went back into midwifery because you feel guilt about your cub’s death.  Now do you really truly enjoy the births of cubs?”  Ekaterina gave Sita her paw.

       “I do,” she replied, “I enjoy it hugely.  Do you mean, mean that my cub thinks I do my job out of a sense of guilt?  Well maybe I do.  Maybe it is like that.”

       “Don’t do it from a sense of guilt, do it because you love the cubs mama Ekaterina, please,” someone said.  Ekaterina choked back tears, as, though she’d never heard the voice of her dead cub, she was sure it was him speaking through Sita.

       “I will little one, I promise,” Ekaterina whispered.

      “Now let’s get on with play, very good play is.  Kelps you in touch with your paws you know,” Sita mewed.

      “What were your favourite paw play experiences?”  Patch asked, crawling up to Ekaterina.

       “This isn’t anything to do with you Patch, go away!”  Ekaterina snapped.

        “I thought I could help,” Patch replied, standing his ground.  Ekaterina turned to Sita.

      “Tell him to leave!”  She demanded.

      “No,” Sita replied, “Patch has a role here too.”

       “What’s that?”  Ekaterina asked, Patch crawling forward and touching her paw.

       “Would you play with me Ekaterina?”  Patch asked.  Ekaterina wanted to scream no, but her paws told her yes.

      “Go with your paws Ekaterina,” Sita said gently.  Ekaterina knew her paws would never forgive her if she ignored them.

       “Play with a cub Ekaterina, get paws on with him, he won’t punish you if you make a mistake.”  Ekaterina took patch’s paw in hers; his paw was large, but cubbish too.

       “Come,” Patch said, rolling onto his back and presenting Ekaterina with his paws.  Ekaterina touched Patch’s paws, but they weren’t patch’s paws.  Yes they were large, but they were soft and playful, and demanded nothing from her other than play.  Ekaterina played with the bear’s large paws, loving them, stroking them, and kissing the bear’s nose and paw pads, finding she felt better than she had for a long time.

    “Is the stress leaving you?”  Patch asked.  Ekaterina snuggled close to him, knowing she could not lie.

       “Yes,” she replied softly, “Patch, if that’s your name, why is the stress leaving me?”

       “You are believing your paws, following your heart rather than your, silliness, as you call it.”  Ekaterina kissed his nose and paws, loving his warmth and security.

        “Rediscover Patch’s paws, his love for you and your love for him,” Sita mewed.  Ekaterina and patch played together, uninhibited, loving play, Ekaterina feeling her tension flow from her in waves that ordinarily would have left her feeling sick, but she only felt elation.  After five minutes of intense play, the two bears settled down together, Patch’s paws no longer feeling at all cubbish to Ekaterina.

       “There,” Sita said, touching Ekaterina’s right hind foot with her paw, “I can feel play worked.  Ekaterina, you were honest with your mate, showing him you’re real self, and he accepts you as you should be.  Now go and enjoy your lives together as you used to.”

        “I’m tired patch,” Ekaterina said, “can we, can I go to bed?”  Patch held her tightly.

       “On one condition love,” Patch said softly, his nose rushing her ear.

      “What is that?”  Ekaterina asked wearily, “I’m really beaten Patch, I can hardly stand up!”

        “That you let me come with you,” Patch replied softly.  Ekaterina smiled and nodded:

      “Of course,” she said softly.

 

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