Paws for thought.
Rani, now faced with leaving Ahanu and Haimati alone, or attempting to harm them and getting killed herself, threw herself down on the rug where she’d given birth to the white tiger cub so she could think. She knew from instinct that white cubs were bad news, but there was something else, something she’d been told, now what was it?
“If white cubs survived, they were
considered a great asset to a community,” Rani thought. She knew this applied to all white cubs, or
white anything, even horses. If a pure
white foal with white hooves survived, it was considered a great thing in the
equine community. Rani knew she’d tried
to kill Haimati because she feared the white cub, but she now knew it wasn’t
the white cub that had been ill, it was her
Meanwhile, in another room of the
house, Ahanu and Haimati were playing, each enthusiastically tickling the
other’s paws. When the game ended, they
lay together, paw in paw. Haimati loved
Ahanu so much. He carried her when she was
too tired to walk, he played with her and groomed her, about the only thing he
didn’t do was feed her,
Ahanu felt Raja’s pain, and tried to educate Haimati a bit on who had, and who did not have “a safe pair of paws,” as he put it.
“Haimati,” he said, “there are many
animals here that will look after you. I
won’t be able to all the time, so I must teach you, and you must learn who is
safe, and who isn’t. Raja, your sire is
safe, as are Hop along and Theo, Nick and Sam.
“I’ve never seen a white tiger cub before,” Rupert whispered, Raja glancing at his face, and then down at his paws to see if he was at his nervous habit of curling and stretching his toes, they were still. Rupert reached out with one forepaw to touch Haimati, his fat paw making gentle contact with the white female tiger cub’s tiny left forepaw.
“She’s like, like Snowy!” He exclaimed softly, “mum just, just gave birth to her normally?” Raja nodded.
“I saw it,” he mewed, “Rani’s not best pleased she gave birth to a white cub.”
“I would be,” Sally mewed, “she’s lovely Raja, just lovely.” Haimati woke, sensing two tigers nearby. She began to panic, thinking Rani had brought reinforcements, but Raja calmed her.
“These two are Rupert and Sally, your, um, half brother and sister.” Raja mewed. Rupert grinned at Sally, then patted Haimati’s paw with his.
“How about adopting a white cub?” He asked. Sally smiled at him.
“If she wants to be adopted by us, then yes it sounds fine,” she purred. Haimati struggled free of Raja’s embrace and crawled to the two older cubs. Rupert lay down and embraced Haimati gently; while Sally examined her from pinkeye black nose to pinkie black padded paws.
“You are beautiful Haimati, and don’t you ever forget it,” Sally mewed. Haimati smiled. She didn’t understand the word beautiful, but she caught the meaning in Sally’s voice. Rupert embraced Haimati tightly, and then mischievously tickled her left forepaw. This led to play between the three cubs, each tickling the other’s paws. Raja watched the game delightedly, the three cubs rolling about on the floor and tickling each other’s paws. when their paws became desensitised and the game was no longer fun, they set about stroking the life back into each other’s paws, each learning about the other’s tolerances, how they liked, and didn’t like to be stroked. Haimati worked her paws into Rupert and Sally’s at every opportunity she had, gripping their toes with hers and rubbing pads enthusiastically.
Meanwhile, Liang and Yi Jie sat together, engaged in stroking and massaging their hind paws, as they liked to do from time to time. Each watched the other’s forepaws exploring the pads of their hind. Yi jie watching as the toes of Liang’s right forepaw worked its way over his left hind paw, from his heel pad to his toes and back again. Yi Jie knew Liang was watching her own paws doing much the same as his were.
“We look like cubs,” Liang said smiling.
“I don’t mind that,” Yi jie replied, “this feels so good!” Liang smiled:
“It does Yi jie my dear, “it does,” he replied. Yi jie watched as Liang stroked his paw, the black fur on the back of his forepaw visible, and the forepaw almost obscuring the brown fur on the sole of the hind paw he was stroking. He’d introduced her to paw massage long before Kodiak started training the bears how to stroke their hind paws. Liang also liked the game which involved the toes of one forepaw being caught in and held tightly by the toes of a hind paw. Once the toes of the forepaw were held firmly, the bear would pretend to struggle to free his trapped forepaw, while all the time curling the toes of his hind paws to hold those of the trapped forepaw in place. This game involved imagination, for all it took for the game to be over was for the toes of the hind paw to relax the forepaw was then freed.
Liang looked at his mate, his forepaw still playing with the toes of his hind.
“We must put an end to this,” he said, “We’ve got to go and teach Weici about the pool complex. Since Jinghua was expelled, she’s only got us.” Yi Jie looked at Liang, while playing with the toes of her own left hind paw with those of her right fore.
“Wonderful though this feels,” she said, “we must go.” Yi jie crawled towards the door, Liang following her. While they crawled, Liang mischievously reached out with one forepaw and tickled the toes of Yi Jie’s left hind paw. Yi jie squealed with surprise and curled the toes of the tickled paw, trapping Liang’s.
“You bully!” She laughed, releasing Liang’s paw so he could use the toes which had tickled her own paw to stroke her pads, which Liang did. Yi Jie turned and watched her mate.
“I suppose you couldn’t resist the chance to tickle my paw,” she said. Liang smiled, crawled quickly towards her and kissed her on her nose.
“No I couldn’t,” he replied smiling, “everything about you is so beautiful, your ears, face, body, legs and paws. I know I can give you pleasure through touching and tickling your paws.” Yi Jie smiled.
“I love it when you touch my paws,” she said softly, “I love it and you so much.” Liang grinned. The two pandas got to their paws and walked towards the pool complex, finding Weici playing with Kodiak and Arki. Seeing the looks on the faces of the two adult pandas, Arki grinned and said:
“If you want, we can look after Weici for a bit longer.” Yi jie, her left hind paw still tingling from Liang tickling it, smiled at Arki and glanced back at Liang.
“Are you sure?” Liang asked. Arki smiled.
“We can look after Weici for as long as you like,” she replied. Kodiak grinned at Yi jie.
“Weici and I have been playing, tickling each other’s paws for the last ten minutes!” He laughed, “And I’ve loved every minute of it!” Yi Jie and Liang knew of Kodiak’s love of the paw play games, and thanked the two bears.
With Weici looked after, Yi jie and Liang padded to the bathroom, where they found oil they could rub into their fur and paws. Fleur showed them how to use the oil and then left the two pandas to their own devices.
“So what do you want to do?” Liang asked. Yi Jie closed her eyes and touched Liang’s nose with hers.
“How about rubbing oil into our fur from noses to paw pads?” She suggested, “Then, then we could wash it off too.” This sounded fine to Liang.
“Let’s do that,” he said, kissing Yi jie’s nose, “but let’s do it by touch, not by sight. Yi jie put her left forepaw into Liang’s right.
“Let’s explore each other’s bodies and paws,” she suggested, “let’s also explore our own paws too!”
“We were exploring our own paws only twenty minutes ago,” Liang pointed out.
“Are you bored of that?” Yi jie asked. Liang nuzzled Yi jie’s ear:
“No,” he replied, “Though I’m really looking forward to using my paws to explore your body and paws!”
“I’m looking forward to using my paws to do the same for you Liang,” Yi jie replied, feeling the thrill of his presence, “Let’s take it slowly, gently, letting paws be our guides,” she said. Liang and Yi Jie sat down comfortably in the warm water of the bathtub, and then linked the toes of their fore and hind paws, Yi Jie holding the toes of Liang’s left forepaw with those of her right fore, he holding the toes of her right forepaw with his left forepaw. Yi Jie then felt for Liang’s right hind paw with her left, their pads brushing together, toes touching and Liang suddenly felt Yi Jie gripping his toes with her own, pressing her paw pads hard against his, the feeling of her pads against his own exciting him. Liang then felt for his mate’s left hind paw with his right hind, his pads and toes brushing Yi jie’s, his toes gently curling round hers thrilling her as much as Liang had been thrilled.
“Let’s see what happens,” Liang said. Liang and Yi jie sat with the toes of their fore and hind paws entwined for some time, then Yi jie let go of Liang’s right forepaw and reached for the oil with her left forepaw. Yi Jie and Liang held each other’s hind paws with fierce strength, their pads pressed together harder than ever. Yi jie put some oil into Liang’s left forepaw, and then he, releasing her right fore, took the oil from her and put some in the paw he’d just released. Yi Jie and Liang, their hind paws still pressed together, rubbed forepaws and then began to stroke each other from noses to the pads and entwined toes of their hind paws. The rub down took a long time, but even so, it was over too soon for them. Their paws warmed by the water and softened by the oils, the two pandas lay back in the water, their forepaws entwined. Sighing with contentment, they rested in the water for a long time.
Clambering out of the bathtub, the two pandas showered the oil from their fur and then returned, dripping water, to the towel racks. There they carefully towelled each other dry, taking extra care when drying faces, bellies and paws.
Padding from the room, they met Ahanu, Haimati, Rupert and Sally. Smiling, Ahanu went to Yi Jie and hugged her, before transferring his attention to Liang who smiled as the lynx cross bred cub hugged him.
“Let’s go to the pool complex and teach Haimati here about the water,” Ahanu suggested. Leo padded close, saw Yi jie and motioned to her with one huge paw.
“I’m getting rid of Jinghua today,” he said, “Weici says she’s no longer in need of her mother’s milk.”
“Tell her from me that we’re not going to miss her,” Liang spat. Yi jie looked grim:
“I wish I’d never got involved with her now,” she said, “I wish I’d never helped her have her cub! WEICI’s a lovely cub n’all, but I wish I’d never helped her mother during her labour!” Leo left the house and bullied Jinghua out of the concrete shed, driving her like a cow towards the back gate. Jinghua ran for her life, Leo snarling and growling behind her. As she fled through the gate, Leo inflated his lungs and roared after her, the sound making Jinghua scream with terror! Once she was out of sight, Leo slammed the gate and returned to the house. Padding in, he looked round him.
“Can anyone please, well, would anyone please stroke my paws?” Leo asked shyly. Ahanu smiled at the huge lion.
“I will,” he replied, “and if you would allow it, I could also teach Haimati how to stroke the paws of another cat other than myself, if you don’t mind of course.” Leo looked at Haimati.
“I don’t mind,” he purred. Ahanu smiled at Leo, knowing Haimati would be shocked at the size of Leo’s paws, they were even larger than Nick’s, and Ahanu had heard Haimati remark that she’d never encountered paws larger than Nicks, indeed, no cat in the entire world could possibly have larger paws. Leo looked at Haimati, at her tiny stature, at her ears, her face, her body, legs and tiny paws.
“Ahanu,” he said softly, lying down comfortably, “shouldn’t I give Haimati the chance to explore one of my paws before you commit her to massaging them?” Haimati crawled towards Leo, reaching out blindly for one of his forepaws, which Leo gave her. Lying down, she took the huge offered paw in both her tiny ones and ran them all over the paw, even exploring it with her whiskers, making Leo laugh as her whiskers tickled his pads and toes.
“I like this paw, it belongs to a huge but gentle lion,” Haimati mewed, “it’s a gentle paw, large though it is.” Leo curled his toes slightly, and Haimati kissed the pads of the paw she held, making Leo’s eyes fill with tears.
“Your paws don’t frighten me,” Haimati mewed, “I will massage them if you like.” Leo shook his paw free of Haimati’s and hugged her in both forepaws before kissing her on the nose with some of the impulsiveness exhibited by his brother Theo. It wasn’t that Leo was unfeeling or unemotional; he had problems letting himself go with his feelings. Haimati returned Leo’s affection, kissing the huge lion on his nose while he held her as tightly as he dared between his forepaws, wanting to embrace her fiercely, all the time fearing he would crush her. Haimati snuggled up hard to the lion, pressing her face and forepaws into Leo’s mane, breathing in his scent and loving his warmth. Ahanu watched the huge lion and tiny cub stroking each other’s fur and paws. Haimati laughed as Leo tickled the toes of her hind paws.
“This is lovely!” She mewed; wiggling her toes so Leo’s tickling became more of a massage. Leo groomed Haimati from nose to tail, the tiger cub enjoying his attention.
“Let’s go to a place where we can settle down in comfort,” Ahanu mewed. Haimati embraced Leo tenderly.
“Keep in touch with me by following my hind paws,” Haimati mewed to the huge lion. Leo closed his eyes, feeling gently for one of Haimati’s hind paws, and when he touched the pads of one, she turned and crawled away, Leo following, crawling like the tiny cub. Haimati crawled slowly, making sure Leo’s paw was in contact with hers. Haimati followed Ahanu in the same way she’d asked Leo to follow her. In this way, they crawled through the house like a feline conga. The stately progress of this train would be interrupted from time to time by Leo tickling Haimati’s pads, or Haimati tickling Ahanu’s paws. Ahanu and Haimati rolled about on the carpet laughing uproariously at the antics. Leo watched them, examining them from noses to paw pads. He wanted to play like they did, touch their paws and let them touch his, to once more be like the cub he once was. Leo caught Ahanu’s left hind paw as it waved close to him, tickling his pads and toes, to Ahanu’s evident enjoyment.
“I’ll get Leo’s paw for you Ahanu!” Haimati yelled, diving for where she thought Leo’s left forepaw was. Landing near it, she grabbed it and tickled his pads. Leo laughed helplessly, letting go of Ahanu’s paw, which he’d held gently in his until Haimati leapt upon his paw and began tickling it. Leo and Ahanu guided Haimati to Leo’s rug, where they all settled down comfortably. Haimati crawled away from the adult big cats and, feeling with her paws, encountered, not Leo’s paw, but one she’d not felt the like of before. As she touched it, the toes of the paw curled, claws scratching her pads. The animal whose paw this was didn’t jerk the paw away however; Haimati guessed the animal was used to having its paws touched unexpectedly. The paw felt different to either Leo’s, Nick’s or Ahanu’s paws, it was larger, more thickly furred, the pads rough, the toes shorter than those on the cat’s paws she’d yet touched. The owner of the paw Haimati now touched gently wiggled its toes, Haimati smiling at the sensation. Suddenly the paw vanished, and the paw’s owner was holding Haimati in its forepaws. Haimati giggled nervously, for the owner of the paw she’d been touching was huge, and a bear to boot. Bramble looked at Haimati held tenderly in her paws, then, she kissed the tiny cub on her nose.
“Who, who are you?” Haimati asked, realising too late that touching this animal’s paw was maybe not the cleverest thing she’d done that day.
“Who am I?” Bramble asked, “I am Arki and Kodiak’s cub. What am I? I’m a cross bred Kodiak polar bear, what is my name? It’s Bramble.” Haimati didn’t understand the bear’s strange talk, but knew by her tone that she wasn’t cross with her for touching her paw.
“Do you like my paw?” Bramble asked. Haimati smiled:
“It was soft, is soft, and warm, and furry, and very nice yes.” The tiger cub gabbled. Bramble laughed merrily, releasing Haimati and rolling onto her side before offering her the chance to stroke all four of her paws.
“You want to stroke my paws I think,” the bear said. Haimati hesitated:
“It was a mistake, that first time,” she mewed, “but, well, yes, I’d like to, if you don’t mind,” the cub replied. Bramble touched Haimati’s tiny paw with her larger one.
“Come,” she said, “stroke my paws, I would like it if you did.” Haimati crawled closer to bramble and did as the bear wanted, enjoying her task more and more as she felt the obvious pleasure bramble was feeling.
“Bramble has unusual looks little Haimati,” Arki said, “while we bears all have brown eyes, and I am white from nose to tail excepting my nose and paw pads, and Kodiak is brown excepting his nose and paw pads, which are black like mine, Bramble’s head and body are covered with brown fur, as are her forelegs. Her right forepaw is brown, with brown sole and black pads like Kodiak’s, her left fore being brown also, but with a white sole and black pads, like mine. Her hind legs are brown to about half way down, and then they are white. She has white hind paws with white soles to her paws and black paw pads. Her claws are black like mine and Kodiak’s.” This description of Arki’s cub meant nothing to Haimati, or not at that time, though later on, she was able to identify the polar bears by sight before she could identify her own kind. Haimati stored the information away like a sponge. She knew about the position of fore and hind paws, and so could tell which one she was stroking at any given time. Bramble felt Haimati’s tiny paws working over her left forepaw, over her toes, then her paw pads, down to her heel pad. Bramble curled the toes of her left forepaw, making the pads bunch together.
“Relax your paws bramble,” Haimati mewed, ever so gently stroking the bear’s paws. Bramble slowly relaxed her paw, the pads becoming taught instead of furrowed, and toes uncurling until the paw lay flaccid on the carpet.
“That’s it,” Haimati mewed, stroking the sole of Bramble’s left forepaw, the brown paw with the white sole if she remembered rightly. Bramble evidently enjoyed Haimati’s attention, the female bear basking in the sensation of having her paws massaged by the white tiger.
“Haimati won’t want to stroke my paws after she’s stroked Brambles,” Leo remarked to Ahanu, “bramble’s paws are much more interesting than mine.” Haimati, overhearing this, said:
“I will Leo; I will stroke your paws. I met Bramble accidentally, now I’m stroking her paws. I will stroke yours in a while though. Maybe Bramble and I can stroke your paws together?” Leo looked at Bramble’s face, the female bear’s eyes were closed, and she was breathing deeply, focusing her whole being on the paw Haimati was stroking. Ahanu smiled at Haimati.
“You’ve made a friend there I think Haimati,” he mewed. Bramble mumbled something; she was rapidly falling asleep under the affects of the paw massage.
Haimati stroked Bramble’s paws until the bear was asleep, then she left off to return to Leo who gathered her to him in his huge paws.
“Bramble is a lovely bear,” he purred, “You could do a lot worse than make a friend of her Haimati.” Haimati stroked Leo’s paws, but her mind was on Bramble, and Leo knew it.
“It’s okay Haimati dear,” Leo mewed, “I know what you’re thinking.” Haimati knew she wanted to play with Bramble, that the bear, though no longer a cub, would play with her easily, not worrying whether stroking and tickling the paws of a tiger cub, much younger than herself was the right thing to do. Nor worrying if it was right to let that same tiger cub tickle and stroke her own paws. Leo, for all his wishes to be like the cub he once was, could not be so. Haimati could feel his reservations when she stroked his paws.
“You can’t bring yourself to give yourself up to pure play can you Leo,” Haimati mewed, “Theo can, I know he can, but you can’t, you won’t let yourself.” Leo sighed deeply, this tiny tiger knew too much about his inner feelings.
“No Haimati dear, you’re right,” he admitted, “where bramble could let you, with joy, tickle her paws, I can’t. I can’t let go like I used to. I enjoy paw massage, but I can no longer enjoy the type of play you want to engage in. I could when I was a cub, but not now.”
“So you won’t let me tickle your paws then?” Haimati asked, guessing the lion’s words meant he didn’t want her to tickle his paws.
“No,” Leo mewed, very much ashamed, “I can’t let you do that.” Haimati felt strangely upset by this. To her all adults were just bigger cubs; she didn’t know or understand that they sometimes didn’t like something she and her cub friends liked.
“I will let you stroke and tickle my paws if you like Haimati,” bramble said. Haimati dropped Leo’s left hind paw and went to her friend, gripping the bear’s left forepaw in both of hers with desperate urgency.
“Leo’s no longer a cub,” Bramble said, “he doesn’t realise that noone would mind if he rolled on the floor laughing fit to bust while a cub tickled his paws. Theo realises it, I do, but Leo doesn’t. It’s nothing to cry about Haimati,” Bramble said, seeing the cub’s tears, “it’s just the way some grown up animals are. Now my dear, how about exploring my paws once more, all four of them, from claws to pads?” Haimati smiled, feeling bramble was on her side.
“I will,” she mewed, “then, and then would you examine my paws, tiny though they are against yours, maybe you could find out about them?” Bramble grinned, though Haimati couldn’t see it.
“I will Haimati, I will,” she said, kissing the tiger cub on her nose.
Bramble waited for a while to see if Haimati remembered to stroke her paws, but when the cub made no move, bramble gently took each of Haimati’s paws in hers, stroking the tiny pads and toes of each paw. Haimati seemed to have forgotten she wanted to stroke Bramble’s paws, the bear’s attentions driving all other thoughts from her mind.
Bjorn watched Bramble stroking Haimati’s paws, he liked bramble’s markings, bramble and he being on very friendly terms. Even though bramble was a year older than himself, he was greatly attracted to her. Bramble noticed Bjorn and waved her paw in a friendly manner.
“We can meet later,” she mouthed, Bjorn nodding and smiling, before turning away. Bjorn was now eight months old, Bramble only a year older than himself. He walked away, looking forward to the time Bramble and he would spend together.
Haimati tired quickly, crawling back to Ahanu to sleep. Bramble left in search of Bjorn, finding him lying on his back in the bathtub. Seeing her, he waved a languid paw for her to join him.
“Water’s still hot,” he said, “come in Bramble.” Bramble stepped into the water, the warm water caressing her paws. Lying down in the water, Bramble took Bjorn’s left forepaw in her right fore and held it tenderly, feeling his pads beneath hers.
“Your left forepaw is your lucky paw isn’t it Bramble,” Bjorn said dreamily, the feel of her paw holding his filling him with joy.
“Yes, that’s my lucky paw,” she replied, kissing the toes of the paw she held. Bjorn caught his breath, knowing for certain that he loved this strange looking female bear.
“I love everything about you, from your nose, to the black pads of all four paws!” Bjorn blurted.
“It’s just as well that I love you from your nose to the pads on your paws too isn’t it Bjorn,” bramble replied, turning his paw over in hers and kissing the pads. Bjorn curled the toes of the paw bramble had kissed, the female polar bear bringing her left forepaw into play, stroking his pads with the toes of her white soled paw until he relaxed his toes. Bjorn curled his toes even harder, making bramble work for the relaxation of his paw, something which she evidently enjoyed working for. Bjorn slowly relaxed his toes, the paw pads separating into their rightful places. Bramble curled and stretched the toes of her hind paws, Bjorn watching her all the time.
“I like your face, your paws, everything about you Bramble,” he said. Bramble wiggled the toes of both hind paws.
“Kodiak says you look like you’ve got white socks on your hind paws,” Bjorn said. Bramble grinned:
“I know,” she replied. “I asked him what a sock was, and he told me it was something humans put over their hind paws. He didn’t know why they did this, but said his former owner Billy used to put his hind paws into these all the time. Kodiak said Billy’s hind paws would turn daily from their normal colour to multi coloured and back again at least once a day. He then ran into the spare room and dug into an old box; coming out with some of the things he called socks. He showed me the socks; they were soft and fitted over his paws. Then He showed me how, by pulling the socks over his hind paws, he could turn his paws from their usual brown with black pads and claws, to whatever colour the sock was. At one time, he had a white sock on his left hind paw, and a multi coloured one on his right hind paw, it was quite funny. He then asked me to pull the socks off his hind paws, for he couldn’t do it. He could pull them on, but not off again. I pulled the socks down, and got them bunched around his toes, something Kodiak didn’t like. He said his human friend Billy didn’t used to like it either when socks got caught on his toes. So that is how I know what a sock is, and how it looks like I have white socks on my hind paws.” Bjorn was impressed by Bramble’s knowledge.
“Tell me,” he said, “it is said Kodiak likes it when other bears play with and touch his paws, is this true?” Bramble smiled:
“It is,” she said, “he greatly enjoyed showing me how the socks worked. I think he lets his paws guide him a lot. They are of more use to him than are his eyes and ears sometimes, or so it seems.” Bjorn didn’t know if he’d like it if his paws were encased in material. Could he stand it? He wanted cubbishly to try this game, where it was possible to change the colour of his paws. He spoke his thoughts to Bramble.
“We could play with the socks,” she replied, though we’d have to dry our paws first.” Bjorn was up for this.
“Let’s play then!” He whooped, bramble laughing delightedly at his enthusiasm.
After thoroughly drying themselves, Bramble led Bjorn to the spare room and the box where Kodiak had found the socks.
“You said Kodiak’s human former owner used to wear socks on his hind paws,” Bjorn said to Bramble, “why did he do this? Why not go bare pawed like we do?”
“I don’t know,” Bramble replied, “maybe they can’t go bare pawed, though that sounds silly, for Kodiak said Billy was always bare pawed in the early months of his life, and liked being bare pawed for as long as possible when inside the house. Maybe it’s something to do with the humans not having fur on their hind paws. They wear things on the rest of their bodies also; maybe this is because they have no fur. I don’t know. Ah, here, I’ve found the socks, two white, and two multi coloured. There’s a lot of other stuff, old things, hats, coats and things. We have the socks though, and they are what we came for. Now, now let’s see if I can remember how to put one on my hind paw.” Bramble sat down, and with the sock in both forepaws, opened out the top of the sock and worked the toes of her right hind paw into it. She had to be careful not to tear the sock with her claws, but by wiggling her toes and pulling backwards with her forepaws, she felt the sock slide onto her paw.
“There!” She exclaimed, “It’s on my hind paw now. Touch it if you like.” Bjorn did, touching the sole of her paw with the toes of his left forepaw. Then, sitting down himself, he touched her paw again with his right hind paw, feeling the material encasing her paw.
“My paw’s getting warm,” Bramble said, “I think this is why humans wear socks, to warm their hind paws. We bears, tigers, and other furred animals don’t need socks. Help me get this sock off my paw will you Bjorn? Take hold of the part of the sock that I had in my forepaws and pull it towards you.” Bjorn did, and Bramble began to wiggle the toes of the paw inside the sock. The sock turned inside out, slipping off bramble’s paw with a rush, sending Bjorn over backwards, him ending up with all four paws in the air, the sock dangling from one forepaw.
“I noticed your pads and toes had vanished!” Bjorn exclaimed. Bramble laughed merrily.
“They were inside the sock silly!” She whooped. Bjorn smiled.
“Can you make my pads and toes disappear?” He asked. Bramble laughed:
“Let me see,” she said, taking the sock from Bjorn and turning it round back to how it should be, “give me your right hind paw, and relax it,” Bramble said. Bjorn did, and she put the sock over his toes and worked it over the rest of his paw. Once the sock was past his heel, Bjorn reached for the sock and pulled it until he felt his toes touch the toes of the sock.
“Don’t pull too hard,” Bramble warned, “if you do, you’ll rip the sock on your claws. Once the sock was on his paw, Bjorn got to his paws and walked about, smiling as he felt the material beneath his pads.
“It feels strange doesn’t it,” Bramble said. Bjorn smiled:
“It does, but I’m glad you showed me what a sock is. Now, would you help me get it off my paw?” Bramble waited until Bjorn was sitting down, and then stroked the material of the sock with the toes of her left forepaw where his pads and toes should be. Bjorn smiled and pushed the sock down towards his paw with the heels of his forepaws. Once the sock was as far off as he could get it, bramble held the sock in both forepaws and told Bjorn to pull. Bjorn did, and the sock turned inside out once more, freeing his paw in the process. Bjorn wiggled his toes experimentally, then curled and relaxed them.
“That was fun,” he said, “and we got to touch each other’s paws too! That’s the best thing of all.” Bramble hugged Bjorn.
“You have lovely paws,” she said softly.” Bjorn smiled.
“So do you bramble,” he replied, “how about if we don’t cover our paws with socks any more. Then we can see, touch, massage and play with our paws like cubs have always done. Why have something so accessible and fun to play with such as our paws and then deny us the pleasure by putting them into socks? It’s stupid! We can enjoy our paws, touching the world, exploring each other. Once that’s over, we can tickle and stroke our own and each other’s paws for ages and ages. That beats putting our paws into socks and forgetting about them. It’s as if our paws don’t exist when they’re in socks! I will never put socks on my paws ever again!” Bramble smiled at his determination.
“I won’t make you,” she replied, putting the socks back into the box, and then closing the lid. Bjorn smiled at his friend.
“Wearing one sock was bad enough,” Bjorn said, “I can’t imagine what it’s like to have all four paws encased in those horrid things!” Bramble took his right forepaw in her left and began to stroke it.
“No more socks, I promise,” she said gently. Bjorn closed his eyes, enjoying the feel of Bramble’s pads against his.
“I love it when you touch me with your paws,” he said, kissing her nose. Bramble smiled.
“I love it when you touch my paws,” she replied, “and I love touching you with my paws, I hope you like my paws touching you.”
“I do,” Bjorn replied. They wandered back to Bramble’s rug and settled down together, holding each other’s fore and hind paws. Bramble smiled as she felt Bjorn’s toes gripping hers, his pads rubbing against hers felt wonderful. Bramble pressed her paws hard against Bjorn’s, the young male polar bear breathing deeply as pleasure shot through him from his ears to his toes. Bramble crawled away, Bjorn following her by crawling after her, keeping in contact with her by touching one of her hind paws with one of his forepaws. She led him to the pool complex, where they got their paws washed before entering the pool area proper. Regaining their paws after having crawled to the complex, they padded to the slides and, with fleur watching, but not interfering, Bramble and Bjorn played in the pool and enjoyed the slides. Wanting more than this, they went to the spar pool, where they got into the water, Bramble massaging Bjorn’s paws, and then he massaging hers.
“This does beat wearing socks,” Bramble said, “my paws tell me so much, and if I was wearing socks, they wouldn’t tell me half as much.” Bjorn stroked her left forepaw, tickling the pads and toes of his sweetheart’s lucky paw. Bramble laughed merrily, catching her friend’s tickling toes in hers and holding them tenderly. Pressing paw pads together, Bramble and Bjorn looked into each other’s eyes.
“We couldn’t do this with socks on our paws,” Bjorn said softly, “promise me Bramble, that you will never tell anyone about the socks. If I woke to find socks on my paws I would go mad!”
A little way off, Weici and Geming were playing in the shallow water of the larger pool, and overheard Bjorn’s words.
“What are socks?” Weici asked.
“I’ve heard Kodiak talk of them,” Geming said, “Maybe we can ask him.”
“Do you think Bjorn’s really scared of the socks?” Weici asked. Geming thought not and told her so.
“I don’t think they are dangerous,” he said, “Kodiak didn’t say they were, but we’ll check. What did you have in mind, putting his paws into socks while he was asleep?” Weici nodded.
“Don’t you dare do that!” Bjorn yelled, striding over to the two [pandas, “you do that, I’ll, I’ll tear you to bits!”
“That’s after you’ve struggled for ages to get your paws free of the socks of course,” Geming said. Bjorn looked angrier than Geming had ever seen him. Bjorn was convinced he could still feel the material under and around his left hind paw, and the memory made him want to tear at his hind paw with both forepaws.
“Don’t you even think of putting my paws into socks while I am asleep!” Bjorn yelled. Weici hid a grin behind one forepaw.
“I could imagine you wearing socks,” Kodiak said, padding in to the complex with Arki.
“No Kodiak, I won’t!” Bjorn snapped, “You dare, dare to put socks on my paws, I will make sure you pay dearly!”
“It would only be a joke,” Weici whimpered.
“No it wouldn’t!” Bjorn yelled, his paws becoming damp with sweat, “you don’t know, you can’t understand what it’s like to have your paws trapped in those things! I had to pull hard to free my paw, the sock wouldn’t let go of my toes! It wanted to hold onto them!”
“You found the game with the sock fun,” Bramble reminded her friend.
“I did, but now, now I don’t want to see them again, let alone wear them!” Bjorn replied.
“Bramble took Bjorn’s paw and led him away, the male polar bear only too glad to get away from the situation.
They lay down together on Bramble’s rug, having dried their fur and paws. Bjorn pressed his paw pads hard against Bramble’s, entwining the toes of all four paws with hers, so that noone could slip socks over their paws without them noticing. Bramble could feel her friend was trembling with fear. Freeing her forepaws, she took each of Bjorn’s paws in both of hers and began rubbing and massaging the terrified bear’s pads and toes, trying to soothe him. Bjorn eventually fell asleep, but his sleep was tortured.
Bjorn dreamt he was walking in the wood behind the house, but something was wrong. He could smell the fresh air, hear the birds, feel the cold wind on his skin, and even taste wood smoke drifting on the air. The one thing he couldn’t do was feel the ground beneath his paws. Looking down, he couldn’t see his forepaws, any toes or claws, just white nothingness.
“My paws! I can’t feel my paws! I can’t feel the ground! My paws, they’re gone!” Bjorn thought, his terror acute. He began to cry with fear, sitting down and tearing at the places where his paws used to be. No matter how he tried, he couldn’t find his paws, were his paws still there to be freed? Bjorn didn’t know. All he knew was he wanted to see his paws then more than he’d wanted almost anything else in his entire life. Bjorn began ripping and tearing at the places where his fore and hind paws used to be in a frantic attempt to find them again.
Bjorn woke sweating and crying.
“I can’t find my paws!” He sobbed, “My paws are gone! I can’t feel my paws!” Bramble’s voice intruded on his thoughts, she was yelling at someone, no, two someone’s. Bjorn opened his eyes and looked round him. Bramble was yelling at Weici and Geming, who’d evidently done something dreadful. Bjorn looked down at his forepaws, and couldn’t see them, they were encased in socks! His hind paws were too! Bjorn began to panic, tearing and biting at the offending material. After what seemed to him a long struggle, he managed to get the socks on all four paws down his legs to where they just covered his heels and the rest of his paws. There they stuck. Bjorn, in desperation, used his teeth to grip some of the sock on his left hind paw by where he thought his toes would be. Straightening his leg, Bjorn pulled backwards; the sock wouldn’t come off his paw, so bunched up around his pads and toes was it. Bjorn shrieked with fear.
“Get these socks off my paws someone! Please!” He tore at the sock he’d been pulling at, and it came off suddenly. He looked at his left hind paw, it was still there! Flexing his toes, he looked at his other three paws, still trapped by their attendant socks. Bjorn was so exhausted from fear and exertion that he lay down whimpering with fear. Bramble, having expended all her anger on the pandas for putting socks on her friend when they knew he didn’t like wearing them, turned her attention to Bjorn, letting Weici and Geming slink away. Bramble examined Bjorn’s paws, the one freed paw first, then the other three trapped ones, before pulling the socks off altogether. Bjorn sighed contentedly as each paw was freed. He felt his hind paws with his fore, stroking, squeezing and massaging his pads and toes, feeling everything.
“How did they manage to put socks on my paws?” Bjorn asked Bramble.
“I was asleep when they did it. You’d been asleep for fourteen hours before you had the nightmare, and the socks were on your paws long before that. I know what triggered the dream; it was when you reached out unconsciously for my paw and tried to take it in yours. That woke me. I saw you had a sock on that forepaw, so you couldn’t take my paw in yours. That’s what started the nightmare off. I woke, saw what was happening and went in search of the only two animals in the place who knew about your run in with the socks. I found them, and Weici came out with it straight away, she admitted her part in it, and dropped Geming in it too. By the time we got back here, you were beginning to get upset, but I was equally upset with the two pandas, so dealt with them. I know I should have attended to you first, I thought it was a bad dream, that’s all. I didn’t know you knew your paws were in socks. I thought I might be able to get them off before you woke, but I couldn’t. I’m sorry Bjorn.” Bjorn looked with hatred at the bunched up socks which had held his paws so tightly.
“It was a horrid dream,” he whimpered, “I was walking down the track in the wood, I could smell the air, feel the wind through my fur, see the trees, even taste the wood smoke on the air and hear the birds, but I couldn’t feel my paws! I couldn’t feel the ground beneath them, or see them! I panicked, screaming and searching the places where my paws aught to be. It was horrible!” Bramble held Bjorn’s forepaws, stroking his toes. Bjorn relaxed finally.
“It’s all over now,” she said.
Haimati came busting into the den, she was one angry tiger cub!
“How could they do that!” She snarled.
“Do what?” Bramble asked.
“Geming and Weici putting Bjorn’s paws in socks, that’s horrible! I got a hind paw caught in a rug once, and that was bad enough! To have my paws encased in rugs though, how horrid!” Bjorn smiled at the white tiger cub.
“Dear Haimati,” he said, “thank you for your support.” The tiger cub crawled over to Bjorn and took his left forepaw in both of hers.
“I won’t ever wear socks on my paws,” she said, “and noone should force you to either.” Bjorn kissed Haimati on her nose, the tiger cub smiling broadly.
“I’m glad you’re here little one,” he said softly, “I’m sure Ahanu will look after you with everything he has.” Haimati smiled:
“He’s lovely,” she purred.
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