Shen and Shuang grow close.
Fleur lay half conscious on her rug, the previous night’s patrol having worn her out. Drifting in a warm haze, she felt two paws which were familiar to her take hold of one of her own forepaws and gently hold it. Fleur intimately knew the paws holding her own, for they belonged to her cub Pepper. Working her paw into pepper’s, fleur moved closer to her cub, and pepper released her paw and enveloped her in a huge hug, which was just as good as a paw massage, if not better. Fleur snuggled up to pepper, resting her head on her cub’s shoulder, for Pepper was quite large now. Pepper’s purring woke fleur properly and Pepper released her. Fleur yawned, rubbing sleepy eyes with one huge paw.
“You look so cubbish when you do that mum,” Pepper mewed. Fleur smiled at her:
“Cubbish?” She asked, “not me surely,” before rolling onto her back and waving her paws in the air, Pepper laughing helplessly at her mum’s antics.
“Oh mum,” she laughed, “you are so funny!” Pepper then rolled onto her back and caught the toes of Fleur’s right hind paw in those of her own left, fleur batting playfully at her whiskers with one fat forepaw. Pepper kissed her mum’s paw as she felt her pads brush her nose. Fleur smiled at her cub.
“These are my favourite times,” she mewed. Pepper smiled.
“I heard you were up all night patrolling the wood in case that porcupine came back,” pepper said. Fleur grimaced.
“That was not one of my favourite times,” she mewed, “yes; I can’t deny that’s what I was doing the whole night. Pickles won’t get back here easily. Theo’s on the look out for her, as are all the other animals, Salty most of all, as he hates her.”
“Salty couldn’t hate anyone, could he?” Pepper asked. Fleur looked down at her paws.
“He has it in for Pickles,” she replied. Pepper relaxed, knowing her mum would make sure no porcupine came her way. Fleur looked at her cub, examining her from nose to tail. Pepper was still mostly covered with long tawny hair, all of her that was apart from her face to her jaw line and just behind her ears, and the soles of her paws, which were covered by thick spotted snow leopard like fur, much like her own in fact. Fleur knew Pepper’s fur was greyish with black spots, whereas her own fur was dirty brown, her own spots only present on her face, and the soles and upper parts of her paws. As fleur stroked pepper’s left hind paw, the cub curled her toes, making the spotted fur between her pads disappear, hidden by bunched black pads. Fleur gently stroked the pads of pepper’s paw until the cub relaxed her toes.
“Why did you curl the toes of that paw?” Fleur asked her cub.
“Because I wanted to,” Pepper replied, “it seemed a good idea at the time. I love having my paws stroked mum, and me curling the toes of whichever paw is being stroked means no more than that I feel like curling my toes, that’s all.”
“You’re beautiful from your nose to the pads of your paws,” fleur mewed, making pepper smile shyly.
“Even when my toes are curled?” She asked.
“Even then,” fleur mewed. Pepper playfully scrabbled with the toes of her left forepaw at the pads of Fleur’s right, and fleur saw the cub’s toes were curled slightly, her claws retracted. Fleur gave |Pepper her paw, Pepper smiling and taking the offered paw in hers before gently massaging Fleur’s pads and toes. The sound of large padded paws coming their way made Pepper and fleur look up. Jespah entered the room, saw what was going on and, smiling, lay down beside his mate. Fleur grinned at him and touched his nose with her free paw.
“I love both of you,” Jespah mewed. Pepper smiled at him.
“We love you too Jespah,” she replied, her words bringing tears to Jespah’s eyes.
Meanwhile, Kuan-Yin and Yi Jie questioned Shen on how he’d come to the community’s door.
began, “it’s like this. I was born in
“You like this?” She asked, stroking Shen’s paw ever so gently. Shen replied that he liked it very much.
“Stroke my paws, please Yi Jie, stroke my paws again!” Shen pleaded. Yi jie smiled.
“I’ve hardly started,” she replied, “but yes, I will stroke your paws twice over.”
“Thank you,” Shen whispered, desperately fighting sleep. Yi Jie felt Shen’s paw relax, his toes uncurling, releasing her own. She hugged him to her, Shen snuggling into her fur.
“Shen’s got the most handsome face,” Shuang said, “and,” she picked up one of his forepaws, “the loveliest paws of any panda I’ve yet met.” Yi Jie smiled, knowing her cub was no longer a cub.
“I take it you like him for more than just how his face and paws look,” she said. Shuang threw herself down on the carpet and hid her face in her paws.
“I thought so,” Yi Jie said, smiling broadly at her cub.
“Shuang is lovely,” Shen said, rousing himself to look at Shuang, who peeped at him through the gaps between the toes of her forepaws.
“I think it’s quite sweet,” Theo said. Kuan-Yin looked sharply at him.
“Do you?” He snapped, “Well don’t! Shuang’s only a cub!”
“Not any more she’s not!” Yi jie snapped, rounding on her mate. Sensing trouble, Shen took Shuang’s paw and they slipped away unnoticed by everyone but Raja, who grinned at them as they passed. Shuang led Shen away, the male panda forgetting all about his bamboo shoot.
Settling down in a secluded place, Shen began stroking Shuang’s paws, Shuang pressing her pads hard against his. The two young pandas curled up together, paw in paw. Shuang felt Shen’s large paws holding her own and they felt wonderful. Shuang felt Shen envelope her in a huge hug, and she snuggled close to him, working herself into his embrace. Hours passed, in which the two young pandas hardly moved from the rug they were lying on. Shuang examined Shen from his nose to the pads of his paws, missing nothing. She knew she loved this panda with all she had. Shen wanted to examine Shuang too, but waited his turn, contenting himself with gently holding the toes of her fore and hind paws in his whenever they came within range, much to Shuang’s delight. Smiling at Shen, Shuang wiggled her toes as Shen gently took hold of them in his. Shuang tugged playfully at her paws, Shen smiling at her.
“You want me to let go of your toes?” Shen asked. Shuang shook her head.
“No,” she replied, “I’m playing with you.” Shen smiled and gripped Shuang’s toes.
“Tug of war?” Shuang asked.
“You’re on,” Shen replied. Shen and Shuang rolled on the carpet, Shuang trying to free her paws from Shen’s, while Shen fought to keep hold of them. Shuang managed to free her left hind paw, but could not free the other three. Shen released Shuang’s paws and hugged her tightly.
“Silly cubbish games we play,” Shen said. Shuang smiled.
“I loved every minute,” she replied.
“So did I,” Shen said, kissing Shuang on her nose.
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