Ellie warmed her paws by the heat of the radiator in the living room. a lynx she was, and used to cold weather she might be, but she knew she’d never turn her back upon the life she had now. Ellie knew she and her cub Pipin were safe, and that she had the rest of the animals looking out for her. Ellie looked round as Theo padded over to her, his huge paws making hardly a sound on the carpet.
“Are you okay Ellie?” Theo asked. Ellie smiled at the young lion and embraced him with both forepaws. Theo grinned, snuggling up to Ellie, luxuriating in her thick warm fur. Theo grinned and buried his face in Ellie’s shoulder. Ellie hugged Theo tenderly.
“You are so sweet Theo,” Ellie laughed. Theo felt Ellie take his huge right forepaw in both of hers and begin to massage it. The young lion wiggled his toes, Ellie smiling at him.
“You like that Theo?” Ellie asked. Theo laughed nervously.
“yes I do,” he whispered, seemingly terrified others might overhear him and realise what was happening. Tembi watched Theo, smiling at him as he snuggled up to Ellie. Ellie rubbed the pads of Theo’s paw, the young and very nervous lion settling down beside her so she could continue massaging his paw. Closing his eyes, Theo drifted in a dream. Tembi padded across to Theo and began to stroke his hind paws. Theo looked drowsily at his mate.
“It’s so peaceful here Tembi,” Theo murmured. Tembi and Ellie patted Theo’s paws, the lion purring contentedly.
Leo watched Ellie and Tembi massaging his brother’s paws.
“I hope you find peace here Theo,” Leo thought. Leo knew the route of Theo’s troubles. Leo and Theo had remained close ever since they were cubs. In their early life, a lioness in their cage pride died while giving birth to her second litter of cubs. Theo had seen it all, and rescued Portia, the only cub to survive. Theo had been so traumatised by his experience that he curled up in a corner, Portia beside him. Theo wouldn’t let the tiny female cub out of his sight for three weeks. Portia was Leo’s cub, though he didn’t mind Theo looking after her. After a few weeks, Theo felt able to leave Portia alone for short periods. Even so, he was always watchful, watching over the tiny cub. Theo had never really come to terms with the death of the lioness and her unborn cubs. Many a night Theo lay awake, wondering what he could have done to help the mother to be. He ran through what he’d seen, trying to work out how he could have done something to help. The Lioness’s terrified eyes and pained cries haunted his dreams for months afterwards. Leo hadn’t been present at the birth of his cubs, for the vet had singled him out for a general check up. Leo had been reluctant to leave his mate, who was soon to have their cubs, but he had no choice in the matter. By the time Leo returned to the cage pride, his mate was dead, and Theo was curled around one tiny cub. Leo couldn’t get close to his cub, eventually having to threaten Theo, and then attack him before his younger brother would let him see his cub. Theo, terrified and devastated that his brother had felt it necessary to attack him, withdrew totally from Leo for weeks on end.
Leo remembered all this, and felt wretched all over again. He knew now that what Theo had seen was the cause of him refusing to let go of Portia. Theo wouldn’t have harmed the tiny cub, but Leo wanted to see her, and to do this he’d felt it necessary to drive his brother away from Portia with threats and the liberal use of hard forepaws and unsheathed claws. Leo looked down at his paws and felt like bursting into tears.
“Leo?” Theo asked gently, resting his paw on Leo’s. Leo looked at his brother.
“I’m sorry Theo,” Leo choked.
“Sorry for what?” Theo asked, confused by Leo’s behaviour.
“Sorry for driving you away from Portia all that time ago. Well, not for driving you away as such, for I’d tried to reason with you, but more for the way in which I did it. Using my claws and paws on you wasn’t the right thing to do. I know that now.” Theo’s mind flashed back to the scene of the lioness struggling to give birth to her cubs.
“I didn’t want Portia to, to, to go the way of her mother and those other cubs Leo,” Theo said, his voice cracking.
“No Theo, I know,” Leo replied, “I know.”
“But you don’t, you can’t know! You weren’t there, when, during, during all that.”
“Allie was my mate Theo,” Leo said, “I miss her too.” Theo nodded.
“Sorry,” he said. Leo took a deep breath.
“you’ve never really got over that have you Theo,” Leo said gently.
“No,” Theo replied, staring down at his paws.
“Why are you staring down at your paws like that Theo?” Leo asked, but he thought he already knew. Theo had the same manner about him as when his mother had caught him playing where she’d strictly told him he couldn’t and had soundly told him off. Theo was ashamed of his own perceived weakness.
“I can’t come to terms with it Leo,” Theo replied, “what happened to Allie was so awful, I saw it all, and couldn’t do anything to help her!” Leo hugged his brother, who was now crying inconsolably.
“I see Allie in my dreams every night!” Theo sobbed. Leo tried to comfort his brother, but knew Theo needed to weep for Allie, for the lioness at who’s side he’d lain for hours while she struggled to bring her cubs into the world had been a good friend to him. Theo had been there till the end, finally cleaning up the tiny cub whom Allie had managed to bring into the world before she died. It was said later that Allie died from over exertion while trying to birth a cub which was too large to be born naturally. Theo was glad a smaller cub came into the world first. Of course he’d have done anything to help Allie give birth safely to all her cubs, but the past couldn’t be changed, and Theo was glad Portia had been born safely. Theo clung to the belief Allie lived on in Portia, her and Leo’s one and only cub.
Portia watched her sire and his brother. She knew what was upsetting Theo, and wanted to go to him and hug him. Portia padded across to Theo, and before she knew what was happening the weeping lion had taken her in both his huge forepaws and was hugging and grooming her like he had that first time. Many adults, and mature cubs for that matter, would have complained at Theo’s treatment, branding it a terrible thing to do to a cub of mature mind, but Portia submitted to Theo’s ministrations, knowing the origin of his actions. The grooming Theo gave Portia was desperate, his paws and tongue working furiously over her fur, just like that first time, as if he was racing to get her warm and dry. Theo finished off by rubbing the soles of Portia’s paws, trying to warm them. It was then that Portia, looking over at Tarker, and seeing his sneer of disgust, could take it no longer.
“stop it Theo!” she commanded. Theo’s body seemed to jerk violently, as if waking from a nightmare.
“What?” Theo asked, Portia’s paw still held firmly in his, the little lioness unable to free it.
“You were grooming me like I was a tiny cub!” Portia snapped, Tarker’s eyes on her making her angry with Theo for putting her in such an embarrassing situation.
“let go of my paw!” Portia yelled, trying to bite Theo’s paw. Theo dropped Portia’s paw. It was then she looked into Theo’s face. The young lion looked confused and upset.
“What was I doing to you Portia?” Theo asked desperately.
“You were grooming me like I was a newborn cub!” Portia yelled.
“But you are, were, I saw you, just the same as you were when you were newborn, I was grooming a newborn cub,” Theo replied.
“No you dam well weren’t!” Tarker yelled, “you were grooming Portia, a year old cub as if she was newborn and unable to do it for herself! How degrading is that! You should be ashamed of your actions!”
“I was grooming a newborn cub!” Theo shouted, “I saw a newborn cub! I felt a newborn cub in my paws! I groomed the cub’s fur! I stroked her paws! “ Then more softly, “Her soft fur, her tiny soft paws. This cub was real!” In a sudden fit of temper, Portia walloped Theo across his nose! Whimpering with anxiety and pain, Theo threw up his paws to protect his face.
“You horrid creature!” she yelled, “you make me sick Theo!”
“Stop! Stop it Portia!” Tigger yelled. Portia spun round on her mate.
“why should I stop? Tell me Tigger, if you are so dam clever!” Portia demanded.
“it’s not Theo’s fault,” Tigger said quickly, trying to stop Portia from doing Theo even more damage by cramming as much information in to as shorter time span as he could by talking as fast as was understandable.
“Theo saw you Portia, but it wasn’t you as you are now. He saw you as a cub, the cub whom he rescued. It’s a flashback mixed with reality. He sees the real Portia in front of him, and hugs you because he loves you, but then he begins to groom you like you are a cub because his brain is telling him in his distressed state that you are a cub, even though in his right mind he knows you aren’t a cub any more.” Portia looked at Tigger in astonished silence.
“I’m sorry Portia,” Theo sniffed, rubbing his nose with one large paw.
“I don’t understand all this,” Portia said, “I’m clueless when it comes to matters of the mind. So you’re saying Tigger, that Theo’s mind played tricks on him. His eyes saw me as I am, but his mind told him I was a defenceless cub on the point of death whom he had to clean up quickly to give me any hope of survival?”
“yes Portia, that’s exactly what happened,” Tigger replied, “and I believe you were enjoying his ministrations too, for you were purring and snuggling up to Theo throughout it all. That was until Tarker spat with disgust. You then changed your tune and now we’re here.” Portia closed her eyes, thinking back to Theo’s frantic attempt to care for a cub on the point of death. She had enjoyed his ministrations, Portia had felt safe, warm and unconditionally loved. Desperate Theo might have been to clean Portia’s fur and paws, but his actions towards her had always been tender and loving. Portia admitted to herself she’d enjoyed Theo’s attentions and only lashed out at him the minute she’d realised Tarker had seen what the young lion was doing and had started commenting on Theo’s grooming, and her own enjoyment of his attention.
“I’m sorry Theo,” Portia mewed, “I shouldn’t have lashed out at you.” Theo, his eyes streaming, hid his face in his paws.
Portia stumbled across the carpet, almost tripping over her own paws. Arriving at Tigger’s side, she collapsed beside the huge Bengal tiger.
“What do I do now!” Portia asked, almost crushing Tigger’s left forepaw in both of hers.
“You need to tell Tarker where he can shove his disgust for starters,” Tigger replied, “then, well, you need to talk to Theo about what happened the day of your birth and try to understand why he acts like he does sometimes.” Portia looked at Theo. The lion’s face was still buried in his huge forepaws. Releasing Tigger’s paw and padding across to Theo, Portia touched the back of the young lion’s left forepaw with one of her own paws.
“Theo?” Portia asked gently. Looking up as she felt eyes upon her, Portia looked straight into Leo’s eyes, and she couldn’t bear the expression in them.
“You seem to be more concerned with what others think of you than you are about the lion who saved your life Portia,” Leo said, “I’m devastated if this is the case.” Portia looked at Theo. The young male lion had lifted his head, his paws now flat on the rug where he slept. Portia looked into Theo’s face, the expression in the lion’s eyes making her want to weep.
“go to Theo Portia,” Leo said. Portia heard no command in Leo’s tone, but knew she had no choice, for her paws were taking her closer to Theo of their own free will, or so it seemed. Once she was next to Theo, Leo nodded to his brother, and Portia felt Theo’s paws embracing her. Portia knew then where she wanted to be more than anywhere else other than with Tigger. She knew Tigger’s and her relationship could break down, but this one was set in stone. Theo would love her no matter what. Portia reached up with her forepaws and hugged Theo.
“I’m sorry Theo,” Portia whispered, burying her face in the lion’s thick mane. Theo began to purr, the sound telling Portia the young lion felt peace at last.
“You won’t lose me Theo,” Portia said gently, “I’m all right now.” Portia felt Theo’s paws tighten around her, and she gave herself up to enjoying his hug.
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