Traumatic changes.

 

 

Ekaterina submitted happily to Matoskah’s washing, comforted by Patch’s proximity to her, and Matoskah’s love for her, which he’d had since he’d met her in the woods that dark day when he had been tied up and dumped after the police had chased his human captors away.  Matoskah wanted to thank Ekaterina, but didn’t know how.

       “Thank you for being with me during that time Ekaterina,” Matoskah said.  Ekaterina smiled and dabbed at his nose with a wet forepaw.

        “I remember you crying and frightened,” she replied, “now you are a male bear with a lovely mate and cub.”

       “Mama Jinghua is a credit to herself and this wonderful place,” Matoskah said, “I did very little to be fair to everyone.”

         “You are part of the family,” Ekaterina said.  Matoskah smiled and hugged her.

        “You are going to include one more in your family very soon,” Matoskah replied softly.  Patch, listening, let Ekaterina and Matoskah talk.

        “Let’s get washed and then we can eat and be comfortable,” Patch said softly.  Ekaterina got out of the bath, Patch following, Matoskah following him, the younger male grabbing patch’s left hind foot and gently stroking his pads and toes as he left the bathtub.  Patch smiled broadly, curling and stretching his toes which were just beneath the surface of the water.  Matoskah leant down and kissed Patch’s pads beneath the water, Patch turning his head, a smile of deep pleasure and understanding touching his lips as he felt Matoskah’s kiss on the pads of his partially submerged hind foot.

        “You big softy,” Patch said.

      “What?”  Ekaterina asked, “What’s going on?”

        “What’s the soppiest thing Matoskah could do?”  Patch asked.

      “Um, what kind of a question is that?”  Ekaterina asked, confused, “I don’t know what he’s capable of.”

        “Matoskah grabbed my right hind foot as I left the bathtub and kissed my pads and toes while they were still submerged somewhat,” Patch replied, “and that’s kind of cute in my book.”  Ekaterina padded back to the bathtub and stepped into it.  Circling round, she got behind Patch and in front of Matoskah.

       “Would you?  Please Matoskah?”  Ekaterina asked.  Matoskah, embarrassed by his display of affection towards his spiritual leader, sat back on his heels and covered his face with his forepaws, profoundly embarrassed.

       “I’m, so, so sorry,” Matoskah said, almost crying.

        “You need not be sorry for a display of affection,” Patch said softly.

      “I didn’t know what I was doing,” Matoskah said, “I woke up and I was staring down at the sole of your raised right hind foot in my forepaws,” Matoskah said, “I, I knew I’d done something, something possibly inexcusable.”

        “Something very cute you mean,” Patch replied, “something loving, something from your heart, and something much appreciated by at least one bear here.”  Matoskah looked at Patch between the toes of his forepaws, to find he’d turned and was looking at him.

           “I’m sorry, so sorry!”  Matoskah sniffed.

        “Now if you apologise once more, I’m gonna get angry!”  Patch said laughing.  Matoskah lowered his paws, and Patch kissed him on his nose.

       “I love you dearly,” Patch whispered, giving Matoskah his paw, the polar bear kissing the furry top of Patch’s paw.

       “I wish you’d kiss the pads of my other hind paw,” Patch said.

       “The kiss to your right hind paw was so good because you weren’t expecting it,” Lilly said, padding into the shower room.  Patch looked at her, and nodded:

       “You are so right there Lilly,” he replied, “I was, am guilty of chasing the same feeling again, and that was wrong of me.”

       “I suppose my wish for Matoskah to kiss my paw pads is wrong too,” Ekaterina mused aloud, “it will happen when spirit decree.”  Lilly dipped a paw in the bathtub and flicked water over Matoskah, the male bear giggling with pleasure.

       “What do you remember of kissing Patch’s pads?”  Lilly asked.  Matoskah thought for a minute.

        “Everything,” he said honestly, “I have been allowed to keep that brief contact in memory.”

         “So what did you feel?”  Ekaterina asked, knowing some of what Matoskah’s answer would be, as she’d kissed Patch’s fore and hind paws often enough herself.

         “Soft rough pads,” Matoskah replied, “warm pads, with a calm owner.”

       “How can you tell he’s a calm owner?”  Lilly asked.

        “Have you ever touched the pads of a paw with your lips while kissing them?”  Matoskah asked.  Lilly, having some of the reservation of the western man drummed into her, shrank away.

       “I would never kiss another bear’s pads,” she said, “well not willingly.”

         “You should try it,” Patch said, “It’s all right.”  Lilly remembered the kiss Patch had placed on the pads of her own hind paw.

       “Do you kiss the pads of a mama’s paws when she’s just had her cub?”  Lilly asked.  Patch nodded:

       “She needs to know she’s loved and cared for,” he replied, “I’ve kissed mama’s pads while they’ve been straining against their cubs, when their pads have been bunched up with their toes curled tightly and sweating with the effort of delivering their cubs.”

        “You kissed the pads of my hind paws while they were drenched with the sweat of my efforts to push down the bars of my cage,” Lilly said, “My revolution at that is born of my upbringing by humans I suppose.  I’ll bet you never go to the vet either, self medicating, helping mothers have cubs, and such.”  Patch nodded:

       “That we do,” he replied, “I used to be the medic, and I’ve pulled cubs and helped mothers to be deliver their cubs in other ways too.”

        “Being helped to give birth to a cub by a fellow bear would be a lovely experience,” Lilly thought, her paw resting on Matoskah’s paw, the male bear smiling and kissing her nose:

          “You may still have cubs with the help of a bear,” he said, Lilly unsurprised by him catching her thoughts.

       “Let’s go from here,” Ekaterina said, “I’m bored.””  Ekaterina padded away from the bathtub, and along to the pool complex where she and Patch got into the spar pool.  Turning the jets up to full, Patch and Ekaterina sat luxuriating in the warm lively water.  Nanuq padded in, saw patch and waved at him.  The grey bears beckoning to him.

       “Come join us Nanuq,” Patch said.  Ekaterina heard Nanuq clamber down into the water and sit down with a slight grunt.  Patch looked at Nanuq.

      “What did you do with that man we are holding for shooting poor Arcto?”  He asked.

      “He went to the police,” Nanuq said, “that is to say, he was taken by them.  I don’t know what he’ll do now.  We’ve held him for a few weeks now, and it’s time to let him go.  He’s been subject to our laws, now we have to let the humans do their thing.”

       “I hope he’s been warned off,” Ekaterina said.

       “I’m concerned about the cubs,” Nanuq replied, “they got to hear of the shooting and are now very nervous indeed.”

       “Who told them?”  Patch asked.

       “Imogen did,” Nanuq grunted, “she’s loose cannon!  She says and does what the hell she wants, abuses her mother and is generally disrespectful to everyone.  I heard her baiting Bertie over the slight limp he’s been left with after Hubert’s attack on him.  She’s been calling him master fumble paws, which is very wrong.  She off paw manner with anyone who she doesn’t hold with is getting noticed too.  She’s sharp, thinks she can say anything to anyone and won’t get hurt due to who her mother is.”

        “I never thought Imogen could be rude to a fly,” Ekaterina said, “she’s so kind and gentle, but her comments are awful sometimes.”

       “She needs to wind her neck in a bit,” Nuru growled, padding into the pool complex and looking with loathing at the water.

        “I don’t know how you can bathe in that,” he snarled.

         “You scaredy cat!”  Nanuq laughed.  Nuru walked up to the polar bear and tried to hit him with his paw, Nanuq grabbing the lion’s paw in his and pulling him into the water.  Nuru, feeling his paws leave the floor, roared with fear and yowled as he landed in the spar pool.

        “You bugger! You bugger!”  He yelled, floundering between Patch and Ekaterina, Ekaterina laughing merrily at his antics.

       “You silly lion!”  She laughed.  Nuru, now submerged in the spar pool, growled at her.

        “I am not a silly lion!”  He whined.

      “Now you sound silly!”  Patch said, Nuru snarling and splashing the bear with his forepaws.

        “We have to do something about Imogen,” Ekaterina said.

 

Sita was doing something about Imogen, namely smacking her paws, as she’d just told her to piss off, after Sita had defended Nuru’s actions after the births of his cubs.

       “Nuru reacted badly to the births of his cubs, but he’s okay now,” Sita mewed, “he’s all right is Nuru.”

      “He’s a disgrace to his family! All whimpering and silly like he is!”  Imogen yelled, “He’s a lion, not a mouse!”

       “He’s sweet,” Sita said.  Imogen snapped:

       “He didn’t used to be so though did he?  Brought down by a bloody badger he was!  They trapped him and humiliated him!  A Lion with a mortal fear of badgers!  How funny that is!  Sita had heard the story of Nuru’s fall from grace, but also the story of how he’d redeemed himself enough to become deputy leader of the prise, and then leader.

       “I call him leader, but then I also call Kamchatka leader too, I’m in two camps really,” Sita replied.

        “You’re half cast, a mixture mum,” Imogen replied.

       “So are you,” Sita replied levelly.

       “I’m not!”  Imogen snapped, “I’m all bear, all of me is bear!  You’re, a tiger lion, um, bear mix.  Very strange if I am honest.  No wonder Hubert attacked you; he probably took fright at your appearance.”

        “Stop that now,” Sita said.

        “I’ll bet you don’t know what you are do you mother,” Imogen said, “You have no spiritual family, no roots, no clan as it were.  The lions hate you deep down as you are not of them, as do the tigers, and the bears are so bloody stupid they can’t consider the question of what you are.  You’re a misfit, a nothing, as you are not a something.”

         “Stop that now!”  Sita said sharply.

       “You have the tail of a tiger, the ears of a tiger too, long hair like a lion’s mane, spotted paws, and a bear’s legs!  You have ursine paws too!”  Imogen chanted.  Sita felt her toes curling into the rugs.

        “Keep calm,” she told herself, but she knew her eyes were blazing anger.

        “It is because of me you have the attributes you take for granted,” Sita reminded her cub.

       “I like my striped coat,” Imogen replied, “but I’m at least all bear, you’re a mess mama, all left over’s from some ghastly bloody experiment that went horribly wrong!  They can’t even get your colouration right.  It was as if they just threw all the colours in the mix and came out with a paint job dreamt up by a drunken baboon!”  Sita snarled deep in her throat, her anger rising hotly.

       “Stop it now, stop your talk!”  Sita growled.

       “Sita scruffy fur, Sita scruffy fur!”  Imogen chanted.  Sita, furious, turned and walked away quickly, her bearings slightly off true, so she slammed into the wall at the entrance to the lie up where she and her daughter cub had been talking.  Sita roared with anger and pain as she bounced off the wall.

      “Mama clumsy paws!”  Imogen yelled as Sita fought to stop herself from falling, her paws fumbling for purchase.  Stunned and off guard, Sita collapsed in an undignified heap.  Imogen realised something was wrong after about five seconds.  Padding to her mother’s side, she found Sita gasping and in shock.

        “What’s up?”  Imogen asked her voice hollow and stomach now churning with remorse and anxiety.

        “I feel ill,” Sita whimpered, stretching out where she’d fallen, “my head’s spinning!”  Imogen ran for help, Blackberry coming fast to her aid.

        “What happened?”  He asked.

      “Sita hit her head on the wall on the way out of the lie up,” Imogen replied.

       “She doesn’t normally do that,” Blackberry said, “her sense of direction is usually fantastic.  Was she drinking alcohol?”  Imogen laughed:

      “No,” she said, “she just lost her way.”

         “What made her lose her way Imogen?”  Blackberry asked, sensing there was more to the situation than the young bear was letting on.

        “We were talking, and she got a bit angry, and tried to do the big exit thing.  Kind of failed didn’t it.”  Blackberry growled menacingly.

       “Sita doesn’t normally get so angry she loses her bearings so drastically,” he mused, “anyway, that’s for later investigation.  My job is to treat her injuries if any.”  Blackberry examined Sita with gentle care, Sita hardly noticing as he manipulated her paws, legs and felt down her spine and around her head with his gentle paws.

        “You’ve got a bit of a bump on your head Sita dear,” he said, touching the lump on Sita’s forehead, Sita moaning with pain.

      “That hurts,” she mumbled.

       “Let’s get a cold compress on that,” Blackberry replied, “you weren’t knocked out were you Sita?”  He asked.  Sita swore softly:

       “No,” she mumbled, “just lost my balance and fell after walloping my head.  I kind of went dizzy and collapsed.  I hit the wall I suppose.  Big argument with Imogen, furious argument, then tried to leave and didn’t do that too well.”

        “She’s talking rubbish!”  Imogen said.  Blackberry looked hard into Imogen’s face:

        “You lie!”  He snapped.

        “Mama’s a waste of space!”  Imogen wailed.  Blackberry rose to his hind feet and picked Imogen up under her arm pits, lifting her off all four paws, and then he stopped, and replaced her on the floor.

       “It is not for me to exact revenge,” he said, “that is for another.  I will treat Sita, and leave you to be dealt with by another who is more qualified and has better reason than me.”  Blackberry helped Sita, who was still dazed but recovering with every passing minute, to her feet.  Then, allowing her to lean on his shoulder, he guided her out of the back of the lie up through a concealed second entrance.  This was really an exit in case of fire or hostile situations, each lie up had one, built into the back wall, the door opening into to a network of back passages which led to the outside world.  Sita leant on Blackberry as waves of dizziness threatened to overpower her.

        “I feel as weak as a cub,” Sita sniffed.  Blackberry helped Sita to his lie up, where he got hold of a cold compress and put it on her head.  Targon, seeing what was going on, ran to the kitchen to poke Sid to life, getting him to produce a meaty broth for Sita, Sid springing into action and very soon delicious scents were issuing from his kitchen and wafting into the lie up where Sita lay.

       “That smells good,” Sita mumbled, the cold compress taking the pain away from her.  Sita slept for a while, waking as she felt a paw shaking her shoulder.

       “Here’s something from the kitchen,” Sid said, padding into the lie up with a bowl of his broth for Sita.  Sita woke, startled at finding the rather taciturn bear at her side.

       “You live and work in that kitchen doesn’t you?”  She asked.  Sid laughed:

      “Don’t tell everyone I’m here, or they’ll be asking me to present their food in person every time,” he replied.  Patting her paw, he tapped the china bowl with a well manicured claw before bowing ceremonially and padding out of the room.  Targon giggled at his antics.

       “He’s so funny,” she said, “all this ceremony around food, it’s kind of sweet.  Sita, sitting up and drinking busily, grinned happily.

        “Presented to you by the bear himself Sita, wow,” Blackberry said.  Sita grinned.

     “I wonder why he did that.”  She asked.

 

Sid slammed the door of his kitchen, furious at what he’d heard Imogen saying to Sita.

       “Sita is lovely!”  Sid yelled as he stirred the contents of a large cooking pot.  Sita, having stumbled from Blackberry’s lie up, listened outside the door, eased it open, and padded in, standing behind Sid.  Rearing onto her hind feet, Sita placed her forepaws on Sid’s shoulders, the bear turning his head and smiling at her.

       “Dear Sita,” he said softly, turning and letting Sita hug him.

       “Thank you,” Sid said softly.

        “Thanks for that broth,” Sita said, “it was great, far better than your usual fair I’ll say.”

        “I got the chance to show you what I could do,” he said, “You haven’t tasted my real cooking yet.  The stuff I usually turn out is crap.  Though when I was asked to make a broth, I made a broth.”       “It was full of flavour and meat,” Sita said, “and it was lovely, and fantastic and beautiful, and gave me life and energy, and I loved it from the first mouthful to the last!”  Sid appraised Sita from nose to tail, her body thrilling him.

        “You’re being admired Sita,” Petra said to Sita as she padded through the kitchen.  Sita giggled and ruffled Sid’s ears, the chef bear smiling broadly, feeling the toes of his hind feet gripping the tiles with sudden urgency.

       “I’m sorry Sita,” Sid said, his energy waning.

       “I’ll bet your toes curled as I touched you,” Sita said.  Sid giggled, very embarrassed.

       “They did,” he admitted, “I’m, I’m sorry.  Sita laughed, kissing the top of Sid’s head, the bear laughing merrily.

       “You’re flirting with me Sita!”  He laughed.  Sita took the spoon from Sid and stirred his pot of soup a bit, Sid watching her with quiet amusement.

      “Maybe I am,” she said, “though it feels good to do this a bit.”

       “I think you’re very easy to flirt with Sita,” Sid said easily.  Sita laughed, feeling Sid’s paws holding her from behind as she stirred his pot on the stove, both of them standing easily and confidently on their hind feet.

       “I’ve never felt so alive since,” Sid said, his voice trailing off, as if he had been going to say something more.

        “Since your mate was alive?”  Sita asked.  Sid swallowed hard, tears springing to his eyes and trickling down his face.

      “Yeah,” he sniffed, “oh, oh god, I’m losing it!”  Sita turned to Sid and hugged him tenderly.

        “What happened?”  She asked, “I know Kendal is your cub.”

       “My mate was killed crossing the river,” Sid choked, Sita kissing his nose as he wept.

      “Time to keep the pot turning,” Sita said, turning to the now boiling broth and rescuing it.

        “My flirting nearly ruined the food,” she mewed, Sid laughing.

       “Now that would be a dreadful thing,” Sid replied.  Sita grabbed a spoon and lifted a spoonful of the broth to her lips, blew on it and then tasted it.  The flavour nearly blew her head off!

      ““You are so good with food!”  Sita exclaimed.  Sid grinned broadly.

       “You are so good with fat old bears,” Sid said, Sita giggling and turning, kissing his nose.

 

“Sita flirting with Sid?”  Furcone asked, “That’s dangerous ain’t it?  I mean, what about Qingshan?”

       “Qingshan played with her born cubs, and it ended with her delivering a cub by him,” Blackberry Brock replied, “or that is how I have heard it told.  Maybe Sita and Qingshan don’t really love each other deeply.  Maybe it is a mating of convenience, or brought on by a deep friendship.  He feeling lonely and she letting him mate with her as a thank you for playing with her cubs?”  Furcone said nothing, for she hardly knew the situation between Sita and Qingshan, though she knew she’d have to ask for historical reasons.

 

Lilly padded through the woods in the late evening of a warm day a few weeks later.  Now feeling as if she’d never lived anywhere else in the world, she was at peace for the first time in years.  Padding down a little used track, Lilly found her path barred by a huge grizzly bear, who was sitting in her path.  Lilly looked at the bear’s face, seeing fear and panic.

       “What’s wrong?”  She asked.  The grizzly bear indicated, holding out his right hind foot, on which was a trap he’d clearly ripped from the ground after getting his foot caught in it.  The bear, in shock, indicated his injured hind foot with his forepaws, looking piteously at Lilly.

        “Your paw is trapped,” Lilly said.  The bear whimpered with misery, gently exploring his trapped hind foot with his forepaws.

        “Hold on,” Lilly said, grasping the trap in her forepaws and trying to pull it off the bear’s paw.  Putting out all her strength, she tried to pull it off, the male grizzly screaming and rocking back and fourth, before lying on his back and kicking the air with his free paws.

       “You’re hurting him Lilly, for Eohippus sake! Stop that!”  Patch snapped, drawn by the noise.  Lilly looked at the blood on the ground and the now crying male bear, who clearly didn’t know community dialect, if he did, or could speak to her in any language she understood, Lilly felt he would have done by now.

       “What languages do you speak?”  Lilly asked.  “How can we communicate with him?”

        “I know modern ursine, and high arctic ursine too,” Patch said, he smiled slightly, “along with Tigrine and Leonine of course.”  Lilly smiled.

       “Where have you come from?”  Patch asked the male grizzly, who’d now covered his face with his forepaws, crying in pain.

        “I don’t think you’ll get a word out of him,” Lilly said.  Patch padded up to the weeping male bear, touching his tear soaked paw with his.

       “I want to bite my hind foot off!”  The bear roared suddenly.  Patch kissed his ear.

      “We can save your paw,” he said, “I’ll help.”  With that he took firm hold of the trap holding the bear’s hind foot in a vice like grip, and opened up the trap.  Lilly watched incredulously as Patch handled the trap with seeming ease.  Throwing it away, the jaws crashing shut with the sound of death, Patch turned his eyes to the bear, who, with a whimper,  had sat up suddenly, dropped his paws to his injured hind foot, and was about to explore his foot with them and lick his wounds.

        “Can you curl the toes of that paw?”  Patch asked, the bear looking at him dumbly.

       “Curl my toes?”  He asked, “What is that?”  Patch sat down and showed him what he wanted.  The bear curled the toes of his right hind foot, and then relaxed them.

      “Good,” Patch replied, “now can you feel me touching the pads of your paw?”  Patch asked, touching the bloody pads of the bear’s right hind foot.

      “Yes, yes, I can,” the bear grunted.  Patch called Blackberry on his paw phone and the black bear came with iodine.  The grizzly bear, staring at the black bear, growled deep in his throat.

       “You dare think of harming him!”  Patch snapped.  Blackberry padded to the grizzly bear and dripped iodine onto the bear’s wounds, the bear screaming with agony and throwing himself backwards, roaring and yelling, stuffing the toes of his right forepaw into his mouth and biting down hard.

        “It’s nearly all done,” Blackberry said, taking the opportunity to wash the wound completely, while the grizzly bear was immobilised by shock and pain.

       “I don’t like doing this,” Blackberry said, “but that wound is a few days old, and infection has begun in it.  I’ll have to give him a shot in a minute too.”  Blackberry dug into his box of tricks and found powder that he packed into the wounds, and then found bandages which he soaked in more iodine and wrapped around the bear’s paw.

       “We can’t leave him out here,” Lilly said.

      “Can you walk?”  Blackberry asked the weeping bear.

        “I don’t know, I don’t know!”  The bear wailed, “But I know I must!”  Struggling to his feet, the bear padded after Blackberry, limping along in the black bear’s wake.  Reaching the house, the grizzly bear, which patch now saw was enormous and very hairy indeed, turned into his lie up.

        “You’ll be safe here,” Patch said.  The grizzly bear sat down, his white swathed paw incongruous against his magnificent brown fur.

         “Why you cause me pain?”  The bear asked.

       “You needed to get angry to spur yourself on I think,” Patch said, “causing pain is not what we usually do here.”

       “Like a mother in labour you mean?”  The grizzly bear asked, “Mama needs to feel pain to deliver her cub, as the pain tells her when to push?”  Patch nodded.

        “No” your pain will be less,” Patch said.

      “No,” the bear replied, “If I feel the pain of my wounds, I tell when they’re getting better, for pain will be less.”  Patch hugged the large grizzly, the male bear snuggling close to Patch, burying his face in the grey bear’s coat.

        “If you want no pain relief, we are okay with that too,” Patch replied, “it’s up to you.”  The grizzly bear smiled shyly.

       “I very grateful to you,” he grunted, “I feel much love for you and your black bear friend.”

       “I’m very grateful,” Blackberry said.  The grizzly bear smiled at him.

        “You very gentle despite making big pain for me, then trapping hind foot in big white thing,” he said.  Blackberry smiled:

       “Your foot will be good as new after a few days,” he replied, “though I need to give you an injection in your flank to keep down infection, and also change the dressings tomorrow.”  With that, Blackberry padded up to the bear, slipping a needle into his flank, the bear hardly noticing.

        “Now that’s done,” Blackberry said, sheathing the needle and padding away.  The grizzly bear looked at patch.

       “Thank you for rescuing me,” he said.

         “We help those who mean us no harm,” Patch replied.  The grizzly bear, whose name was Aklark, meaning brown bear in Inuktitut, smiled at Patch.

       “I could feel you meant me no harm, that was why I acted rather cubbishly when the black bear helped me bathe my wounds,” he said.

       “I thought you acted a bit strangely,” Patch replied, “but now I know why.”  Aklark smiled broadly:

        “I hope to be of use to you when my foot is better,” he replied.  Suddenly Aklark stared at someone padding into the room behind Patch.

       “It isn’t, it is too!”  He exclaimed, “Kenny isn’t it?  I knew your mother!”  Kenny stared at the grizzly bear, which, despite his injured hind foot, leapt to his feet and ran to Kenny, rearing onto his hind legs to embrace the bear with eager paws.

        “Yes it’s me Aklark, I’m so glad to see you!”  Kenny laughed.  Aklark kissed Kenny’s nose, then pushed him onto his back and tickles his hind paws, Kenny laughing helplessly.

       “You used to do that when my mama wasn’t looking,” Kenny laughed, tightly curling his toes.  Aklark smiled and kissed the pads of Kenny’s right hind paw, Kenny giggling with pleasure.

       “Okay you two,” Patrick said, padding in, “Can I get a paw in edgeways?”  Aklark, seeing Patrick, leapt to his feet, bowled him over and tickled the large male polar bear’s paws, Patrick laughing and waving his paws in the air with eager abandon.

       “So you’re their sire then?”  Patch asked unnecessarily, everyone laughing at his apparent lack of perception.

        “Yes I am,” Aklark said proudly, “I’m, um, the playful side of the family you might say.  Mama, well, she was a bit, um, reserved, to put it politely.”  Kenny got to his feet and then noticed his sire’s injured paw.

       “What happened to your foot?”  He asked.

       “I got it caught in a trap about a day or so ago,” Aklark replied, “These good bears got it free for me.”

        “It looks painful,” Patrick observed.  Aklark looked down at his injured right hind foot.

        “It does hurt a great deal,” he said, “but my delight at finding you two again overrides that.”  Perdita padded in, looking with fear at the big grizzly.

      “Who’s he?”  She asked Kenny.  Kenny grinned:

      “Your grandsire my dear,” he replied, Perdita so shocked by this she hurriedly sat down.

       “My what?”  She asked, staring unashamedly at the grizzly with the injured hind foot.

      “Your grandsire,” Patrick replied.  Perdita looked Aklark up and down.

       “Would you like to see my paw pads too?”  The big grizzly asked, smiling gently.  Perdita looked suitably embarrassed.

       “No, its okay,” she said, staring down at her paws.

         “It’s okay,” Aklark replied, rolling onto his back and waving his huge paws at Perdita, the cub giggling despite her discomfort.

        “Silly thing!”  She laughed.  Aklark grinned, wriggled madly, and then rolled into a sitting posture again.

       “You’ve got cute paws,” Perdita said to Aklark, the grizzly bear grinning.

       “My name’s Aklark,” he said, “and yours is?”  He asked, lying down on his chest to get on a level with Perdita.

        “Perdita, or Perdy,” Perdita stammered, the grizzly’s friendly eyes and massive forepaws very close.  Aklark took Perdita’s forepaws in his.

       “Your welcome into my family,” he said gravely, Perdita’s eyes filling with tears as she looked into the grizzly’s face.

        “Where is your mama little Perdy?”  Aklark asked.

      “Mama isn’t here at the moment,” the cub replied, “I call her mama but you’d call her Flocke I suppose.”

      “Yes little one,” Aklark replied.  Flocke bustled in then, angry she’d had to go out on patrol, and worse that she’d missed the grizzly who’d just padded in, having walked past the track he was on and failed to notice him.

      “Who is this?”  She asked.

       “My sire, Perdy’s grandsire,” Kenny replied.  Flocke stared in astonishment!

       “How?”  She asked.

       “A lot of walking and one unyielding trap later,” Aklark said, “I’m here, and glad of it I am too.”

       “We’ll have to put off his first wash until his paw’s healed though,” Perdy mused.  Aklark looked at her:

       “Wash?”  He asked.

       “Like a grooming thing,” Perdita replied, “it’s ritual, kind of welcome to our family, but we can’t wash you yet, as your poor foot is unable to get wet.”

        “A week or so then we will wash him,” Patch replied.  Aklark looked at Patch.

       “You have very gentle paws,” he said.  Patch smiled and said nothing.

       “Who this then?”  Kuruk demanded, crashing in.

        “His name is Aklark and he’s Kenny’s sire,” Flocke said, standing up to the massive grizzly bear.

       “How he come here then?”  Kuruk asked, “You mean we never find him on patrol earlier?  What a bloody waste patrol be if we walk past bloody great foreign grizzly!!”  Kuruk’s annoyance radiated from him in waves.

         “He’s all right!”  Kenny pleaded.

       “He is injured too,” Kuruk grunted, seeing the bandage on Aklark’s hind foot.

       “Um, yes,” Aklark said, “I’m a little lame at the moment.”

      “As long as you no cause troubles for us, you stay, but if you cause troubles, you get out dam fast,” Kuruk growled.

        “Settle down Kuruk,” Patch said gently to the ruffled grizzly bear.

        “It really annoys Kuruk when he miss big grizzly down track!”  Kuruk grunted.

        “I know,” Patch said, getting to his feet and padding to his brother.  Smiling, Patch tightly hugged the grizzly bear.

       “Aklark is okay Kuruk,” Patch said.  Kuruk grunted in reply.

        “So is he staying?”  Kuruk asked.

       “Yes,” Kenny replied firmly.

       “He big male grizzly though, and they big bastard trouble,” Kuruk grumbled.

        “You’re a big bastard grizzly male too,” Perdita replied, “but we don’t worry about you being trouble now do we?”  She said.  Kuruk, realising he’d spoken out of turn, subsided onto the floor, sitting beside Aklark.

       “I could play with your paws too,” Aklark said softly to Kuruk, touching his right hind foot with his paw.

        “You no play with paws of Kuruk, you haven’t the courage to do that,” Kuruk challenged.  Aklark smiled, shoved Kuruk onto his back and tickled his right hind foot, Kuruk astonished and unable to fight back.

       “He has the courage,” Perdy said, “and huge reserves of it too!”  Kuruk tried hard not to be impressed by Aklark’s courage, but he was secretly bowled over by it.

       “Kuruk now swept off his paws,” Kuruk admitted gruffly.  Aklark laughed merrily and risked kissing the pads of Kuruk’s right hind foot which he held in his forepaws.  Kuruk, feeling the male bear kissing his pads, became suddenly tearful.

         “How come you so bold as to do paw kissing thing?”  Kuruk asked his voice hoarse with emotion.

       “I don’t know,” Aklark admitted, “it just feels right Kuruk.”  Kuruk smiled, curling his toes with pleasure.

       “I think you’ve won him over Aklark,” Patch said.  Aklark smiled broadly, loving Kuruk’s pressure against his forepaws as Kuruk pressed his hind foot hard into his forepaws.

        “Are you afraid of me now Kuruk?”  Aklark asked.  Kuruk, feeling his misgivings flowing out of him through the contact between his hind foot and Aklark’s forepaws, smiled broadly:

       “No, not now,” Kuruk replied sincerely.

       “You’re just a big soft bear aren’t you Kuruk,” Patch said playfully.  Kuruk grunted in alteration.

        “Kuruk kill bears and other things sometimes though,” he mumbled, “though he no likes killing things.”

       “Give Kuruk a cub and he goes to peaces,” Perdita said.  Kuruk growled angrily, but everyone knew his threat was a hollow one.

       “Kuruk’s a big cuddly bear, a big cuddly bear!”  Perdita chanted.  Kuruk covered his face with his paws to hide his smile.

         “Kuruk’s a big softy, I tell you!”  Perdita laughed.  Kuruk looked at her through the gaps between the toes of his forepaws, his eyes betraying his real emotions.

      “Kuruk no cope with this at all well,” Kuruk said, leaping to his feet and running out of the room,

      “Poor old Kuruk,” Perdita said.

      “He isn’t that old,” Patch replied.

        “Kuruk not old Perdita!”  Kuruk roared, charging back into the room, frightening the cub.

      “No, um, Kuruk, I didn’t mean that!”  Perdita yelled...

       “What you mean then,” Kuruk asked, brought up short by the young cub’s contrition.

        “I didn’t mean you were old,” Perdita replied.

      “Kuruk do feel old some days,” Kuruk said, flopping down beside Perdita and drawing her into a huge hug.  Perdita snuggled up to Kuruk and felt his paws envelope her.

       “You love cubs don’t you,” Perdita said to Kuruk, the male grizzly stroking her head with one huge paw.

        “Kuruk love cubs,” Kuruk replied, “he want protect all cubs,” he smiled sadly, “but brother patch do it better than Kuruk do so it seems.”  Perdita gripped his fur with her forepaws.

     “I love you Kuruk,” she said, Kuruk smiling shyly.

       “Kuruk want protect family from big bad bastard grizzlies and other bastard threats to family too,” the bear said, “that why he so furious when he miss Aklark in woods.  He knows Lilly find big bear and call patch to help him.”

       “You don’t trust our security do you,” Perdita said.  Kuruk snorted:

       “It shit,” he said, “big grizzly get in house before Kuruk know thing.”

      “He was led in here by us, and so was Arcto,” patch said.

       “Security comes from inside us,” patch said, “those who we trusted for years can become a threat to our way of life here, just as much as outsiders.”  Akanke looked at Patch, who’d lain down and was preparing for sleep.

       “You look so peaceful,” he said.

 

Goldie, washing himself in the shower room, thought deeply about what he’d found in the woods.  A trap with bear blood and hair on it.  Padding from the shower room, he found himself confronted by Aklark, who’d left Patch’s lie up after being attended to.

        “Hi,” Goldie said.  Aklark stared at the large rather fluffy bear.

        “Are you the community teddy bear or something?”  He asked.

       “No, I’m real, I’m no teddy bear,” Goldie replied, “I know my paws are large, my fur is long, and I might look rather cubbish, but I’m here, I’m a bear, and my name is Goldie.”  Aklark looked Goldie over from nose to paws.

       “What is your tale?”  Goldie asked.  Aklark looked down at his forepaws, seemingly uncomfortable.

        “I, I’ll tell you when I have met the rest of this community,” he mumbled, “I’m very nervous of all this.”  Goldie tenderly hugged Aklark, the male grizzly smiling shyly.

       “You’ll have to tell your tale in the great room this evening,” Goldie said.  Aklark nodded.

 

To that end Aklark found himself, bandaged paw and all in the great room surrounded by all kind of creatures, from big cats and their cubs to bears and their cubs.  Aklark looked at the cubs, expecting them to shy away from making eye contact with him.

       “Sit down here,” Patch said, indicating a space beside him.  Aklark flopped down beside the massive male bear.

        “Why are all the cubs staring at me?”  He whispered.  Patch smiled and replied:

       “They aren’t the timid creatures you know Aklark.”  Aklark looked at the nearest cub to him, a large long haired female with big paws, who, seeing she was being watched smiled lay back and kicked the air with all four paws, her antics making the other cubs laugh:

       “Silly Georgia!”  Nutt said.  Georgia laughed and rolled into a sitting posture again.

        “What is your tale big fellow?”  Little Koda asked.  Aklark looked at the black bear cub.

        “You are very young little prince,” he said, “Though I see you are the leader of these cubs.”

       “He will be our leader someday,” Georgia said, “his sire is the owner of this place you know.”

         “Is that right?”  Aklark asked indulgently.

       “I wouldn’t take it so lightly,” Kamchatka said, padding into the room, “little Koda’s the heir to everything here.”  Aklark looked at Kamchatka, his eyes taking in her body from nose to tail.

        “I want her!”  He thought, “I want her badly, now!”  Aklark leapt to his feet and tried to mount Kamchatka there and then, the mother grizzly realising what he was about to do a split second before he reached her.  Growling, she lashed out with her paw, delivering a crashing blow to Aklark’s nose, the male grizzly roaring with pain and checking his stride just a little, giving Kamchatka time to press home her attack, driving Aklark out of the room and up against the wall, the male bear rearing onto his hind feet and fighting with the enraged mama bear.

       “I will not mate with you you disgusting animal!”  Kamchatka roared, throwing Aklark onto the floor and sitting on his chest, several of the older cubs piling in and sitting on the bear’s hind legs and forepaws.  Kenny enraged, strode up to his sire and slapped him in the face with his paw.

       “You disgusting creature!”  Kenny yelled.

      “You older cubs,” Patch said striding up to Aklark’s prostrate body, “get away from here, take the smaller cubs and go to your lie ups and lock yourselves in, and now!”  All the cubs left quietly, leaving Kenny, Kamchatka and patch alone.  Kamchatka levered herself off of Aklark, making sure she trod on him unnecessarily.

         “You bitch!”  Aklark snarled, “I want you to have my cubs!”  Kamchatka spat in Aklark’s face and punched him on his nose with her clenched right forepaw.

        “You’ll pay for this!”  Aklark screamed.

        “”I’d be careful Kamchatka,” Kenny said, “he’s serious.”  Kamchatka snarled with anger.

        “You disgusting creature!”  Kamchatka said to Aklark, “I have a good mind to put an end to your miserable life!  We do not conquer mates here!”

         “I don’t care!”  Aklark snapped, “I want you now!”  Kamchatka turned her back on Aklark and lashed out with her left hind foot, her paw smashing into his shoulder.

       “I want her dead!”  Aklark snarled.

      “Now I don’t like the sound of that,” Patch said softly, “you leave mama alone, or I smash you into pulp.”  Aklark looked at Patch, weighing him up.

       “You’re fat and old,” he said, “I could have you any day.”

       “Hmm, well, that’s a challenge then isn’t it?”  Patch asked.  Kamchatka, horrified, opened her mouth to protest.

       “Mama, please,” patch said softly to her, “Aklark needs to let off his male steam, let’s settle this and get it over with.”  Kamchatka sat down and covered her face with her forepaws.

        “Oh heavens,” she moaned.

        “You accept my challenge then fat boy?”  Aklark asked.  Patch smiled and nodded.

      “Let’s settle this in the soft play room where we both have a soft landing shall we?”  Patch suggested.

       “I’m fighting to the death!”  Aklark snapped.

       “Easier to clean up any blood too,” Patch replied, Kamchatka wailing with fear and anguish.

        “Patch pleases no, don’t, and don’t fight him!”  She pleaded.

        “Mama, dear mama,” Patch replied, “This bonehead doesn’t understand anything other than a good beating.  Once he is given such, then maybe we can talk, but he needs re-educating.”  Aklark got to his feet, and Patch led him to the soft play room.

        “Okay, now what?”  Aklark asked, his paws sinking slightly into the soft matting.

        “You and I fight to the death,” patch said, “I’m ready, are you?”  Aklark looked round him, and then looked at Patch.

         “I can’t fight,” he said suddenly, “I can’t do it!”

        “I’m a male, so are you, let’s go for it,” patch invited.

       “But you called that grizzly bear mama,” Aklark replied, “I can’t fight her cub; I thought you were her mate!”

       Her mate is up for a fight too, if you’ll have him,” sire Koda said, Padding into the playroom from another entrance.

         “You can’t, you can’t Koda, you can’t bloody see him you stupid idiot!”  Kamchatka screamed.

         “Maybe it is time for me to leave this place,” Koda said, “and how better than for me to fight for my mate?”  Kamchatka ran screaming from the room.

        “So how about it?”  Sire Koda asked.  Aklark looked at the black bear.

       “So you are blind, and you wish to fight me?”  He asked.  Sire Koda nodded:

        “I will fight you for my mate,” he replied, “one condition though; it’s a contact sport, no running away after first contact is made, and okay?”  Aklark agreed to this.

      “That’s fair,” he replied.  Aklark and Sire Koda held forepaws, and then the grizzly was on top of Sire Koda, the black bear soon overwhelmed by the grizzly’s sheer strength and weight.

 

Little Koda, in the kitchen with Sid, watched the unfolding fight between his sire and Aklark with growing fury.

        “I can’t watch this!”  The cub said, his paws clenching and relaxing with pent up anger.

       “It’s how it should be,” Sid replied, “its how it is in the wild.”  Little Koda gasped as his sire collapsed under the weight of Aklark, the male grizzly tearing sire Koda to pieces!

     “That’s it!”  Little Koda said, grabbing a battery operated carving knife and running from the room on his hind paws.

 

 Patch, seeing his leader fall, restrained himself from wading in, as he knew this was an old style fight, Sire Koda had made it so with his challenge.  Suddenly he saw little Koda dash in with a long knife in his paws, and run straight up to Aklark.

      “No Koda, no!”  Patch screamed, “not you as well!  He’ll kill you little one!”  Aklark, seeing little Koda, turned, and the cub drove the knife into Aklark’s stomach, switching it on!  Patch heard a confusion of sounds, and then the sound of a heavy body hitting the floor.  When he next looked, little Koda was standing looking bemused at the knife in the very dead grizzly’s body.

         “My sire died today,” little Koda said, “but his death was avenged!”

         “You killed him,” patch said flatly, “little Koda, you killed Aklark.

         “He would have killed me once he’d finished with my sire,” the cub replied, “and I can’t have that.  He would have also come for other cubs too, he wanted wild ways, and we can’t have those.”

       “He was willing to give up the fight,” patch replied.

        “Only because he knew he couldn’t’ fight mama Kamchatka’s cub,” little Koda replied, “Aklark saw what you were; you were too big for him, too clever, too strong.  Sire Koda, for all his wisdom was not.  His knowledge was that of the human, not of the bear, his spirit only was that of a bear.  You Patch, know far more than Sire Koda ever did.  You know humans and bears, so you know how both think.  Sire Koda didn’t.  So he paid with his life.  Though, Aklark didn’t bank on the wits of a little black bear cub.  Now Sire Koda has died in a show of bravado.  His legacy lives on in me.  My sire was stupid to take on the grizzly, but he did it all the same.  I knew where I was going to hit Aklark, and what I was going to do when I’d stabbed him where I did.  I knew the risks, my sire ignored them.”  Patch looked at little Koda, then sat down and pulled him into a huge hug.

        “You did the best you knew,” Patch said.  Kamchatka padded in, staring down at the ravaged bodies of two bears.

         “Boys,” she said, turning and padding away.

        “Mama doesn’t like the macho side of things,” little Koda said, “and in truth, I don’t either, I don’t feel proud of what I did.”

        “You did what you felt was right,” Patch said.

 

Meanwhile, in Kamchatka’s lie up, the mama grizzly bear lay on her chest, crying into her paws.

        “I can’t cope without you!”  She wailed, “Koda, you died for bravado and macho stupidity!  I know you were letting Aklark do his wild duty, but you should have left well alone.  Patch had him calmed down, and you waded in to the situation and goaded him into attacking you!  You bloody idiot!  Now, now I’m without a mate, little Koda is without a sire, and you’re dead!”

        “Mama?”  Little Koda asked, padding to his mother and touching her paw hours later.  Kamchatka looked into the little cub’s face.

        “What happened to Aklark?”  She asked, “I saw Koda fall, and, and then I ran.”

       “I killed him mama,” little Koda replied, “I got a carving knife and stabbed him with it, and turned the knife on.  I’m sorry for killing him mama, but Aklark would have done for me and for all your other cubs to mate with you.”

        “Don’t apologise for killing Aklark,” Kamchatka said, “it’s not your fault.  You did what you needed to.”

       “Mama,” Koda said, snuggling up to Kamchatka.  Kamchatka felt her paws embracing her youngest cub.  Koda snuggled up to his mother.

         You’re in cub mama,” Koda said, his paw on his mum’s belly.  Kamchatka stared at Koda.

       “What?”  She asked.

       “You’re in cub mama,” little Koda said again.  Kamchatka gulped hard.

       “Oh, oh shit, oh god!”  She gasped, “It can’t be true, and it can’t be true!”

      “Did you mate with Sire Koda?”  Little Koda asked.  Kamchatka hesitated.

       “I did,” she whimpered, “it was, was about, about a month and a half ago.  Oh Koda, Koda!  This cub, this cub will be siring Koda’s last one!  I don’t know whether to feel happy or sad!”

       “Koda smiled sadly.

        “You’ll have to tell your cub of its sire’s deeds and bequests,” cub Koda said.  Kamchatka smiled as Blackberry padded in, his white coat mocking his name.

        “Dear Blackberry,” Kamchatka said, “I’m in cub!”  Blackberry smiled and knelt down to hug his tearful foster mother.  Blackberry, having shed his black coat years ago, and flirted with using oil which turned his coat black once more, had discarded the idea and reverted to his pure white coat.

       “I wonder what gender your cub will be.”  Blackberry asked.  Kamchatka stared at blackberry.

        “I don’t know,” she replied, “right now, I don’t know what to do.”

       “Don’t abort the cub, whatever you do,” little Koda said.  Kamchatka shook her head:

       “I won’t,” she promised.

 

The badgers cleared up the mess in the soft play room, unemotionally picking up the ravaged corpses of the two bears, burying sire Koda’s body in the wood, and setting a small pile of stones on his grave, while they left Charles Fullbeans to deal with Aklark’s body in the “big oven,” as Furcone referred to the incinerator the community used to burn some of their waste.  Padding back to the house after she and Blackberry Brock had completed their duties at sire Koda’s grave, Furcone thought about Kamchatka, and any legacy sire Koda might have left her.

       “What do we do now?”  Blackberry Brock asked.

      “It’s Kamchatka’s responsibility to sort out Koda’s affairs, or maybe Fullbeans will do it,” Furcone said.  Blackberry looked at his mother.

       “Magnus told me your mama had gone to her resting cave,” he said.  Furcone recognised the term her quarter grown cub had used, the resting cave being a well known name for the grave dug by badgers for their own kind.

       “What do we do with our own?”  Blackberry Brock asked.  Furcone smiled sadly:

      “No ceremony for us badgers,” she replied, “only a transfer of name to the eldest daughter cub to keep the memory and a good name going.”

       “You are Honeyfur now then?”  Blackberry Brock asked.

       “I might assume that name yes,” Furcone replied.  Blackberry Brock watched his mum padding beside him.  She had the badger’s lumbering walk, as did he he supposed.  Furcone had always told him to feel the ground with all four of his paws, and Blackberry Brock had done just that.  He’d often measured his paws against his mother’s, giggling as her toes curled lovingly around his and she squeezed his toes in the strong grip of her own much stronger ones.  These musings and thoughts carried the young cub to the house, where the click of his claws on the tiles brought him out of his contemplation of his playtimes.

       “The tiles are cold to my pads,” Furcone said, bouncing on her toes a little.  Blackberry Brock smiled and imitated his mother.

       “You look so cute when you do that,” Furcone said, Blackberry Brock smiling and rolling onto his back, waving his paws in the air.  Furcone rubbed her son’s belly, noticing the earth clinging to his pads and toes from the excavation work he’d helped her with.

         “I can’t believe you two can be so happy at a time like this,” Kuruk said, noticing the two badgers playing as he padded past after walking in the wood with Kamchatka, talking with her for the last few hours.

        “He’s a cub Kuruk,” Furcone replied, “Blackberry Brock buried your leader with ceremony and dignity, now he’s well away from that place.  He knows the import of what he did.”

        “You gonna make big ceremony for Sire Koda?”  Kuruk asked, “Like we do for lioness Rowena?”

        “No,” Furcone replied, “unless Kamchatka wants it, then we will, but grieving and memory is usually carried on within families now.  No ceremony.  Celebrate births, but don’t dwell on death.”

       “I hear badgers just crawl into hole and die,” Kuruk snorted.

       “Yes,” Furcone replied, “they do.”

        “They dig a cave, then get in and fill up the entrance,” Blackberry Brock said, “then, well, they lie down and drift off.  Badgers seem to know when their time is.”

         “Ursine Blackberry no like dealing with dead badgers,” Kuruk grunted, “he say he wish he have a thousand mamas in labour than deal with death of any sort.”

        “Fortunately he doesn’t have to deal with it much,” Furcone replied, “but yes, he was very genteel to me when I had blackberry Brock here.”  She laughed, “even though I screamed and tore at his fur while bearing down with everything I had to deliver my cub.”  Blackberry Brock looked up at his mother, who stood over him, her eyes shining into his.

         “I don’t regret a minute of my labour to deliver you,” Furcone said, “I loved every minute of it really.”  Blackberry Brock smiled, dabbing at his mother’s nose with one earth powdered paw.

       “You want wash them paws earth cub,” Kuruk grunted.

       “I don’t know,” Furcone replied, “wild grooming is good too, here,” she said, licking, then rasping the pads of her cub’s right forepaw with her teeth, spitting onto the floor.

       “That disgusting here!”  Kuruk snapped.

       “I’ll wash the floor afterwards,” Furcone replied.  Kuruk stared down at his own paws, realising his paws were covered with earth.

        “|I been with Kamchatka in wood,” Kuruk grumbled, “she very confused, as she be in cub and no know what to do about thing.”

       “She’ll keep the cub.”  Furcone said.

       “Yes, she keep cub, but she very sad sire Koda die before he knew she in cub.  Now she has to deliver cub on own, and look after cub too,” Kuruk replied.

      “Surely she won’t be alone during the birth of her cub,” Blackberry Brock said, “it’s not fair she’s left alone.  I’ve seen the birth of a cub, and mama sure has to work hard to deliver it, even a mother bear has to work extra hard to deliver her small cub.”

        “Have you seen a lioness having her cubs?”  Sarafina asked, padding in, “she screams and roars, curls her toes and pedals her paws.”

       “She screams and roars, curls her toes and pedals her paws!”  Blackberry Brock chanted, “That’s kind of sweet that rhyme is.”  Kuruk laughed merrily, the sound startling him, indicated by his paw flying to his mouth as if to stuff the sound back where it had come from.

       “It is okay to laugh over a cub’s silly songs,” Kamchatka said, padding wearily into the passage, it was evident she’d been crying.

       “I wish to remember sire Koda as he was, and not the manner in which he chose to die.  He chose his departure, and little Koda,” she stopped, her eyes welling with tears, “he, he,” she paused, swallowing hard, “he did what he felt was right.”

       “You do not agree he should have killed Aklark?”  Furcone asked.

       “I wish, wish he’d not got involved, not that he should not defend his community, more that he’s a cub, and that, that,,,”  her voice trailed away.

      “That you could have lost two of your family,” Furcone said gently.  Kamchatka wiped her eyes with a paw.

       “You are right,” Kamchatka sniffed.

      “So when are you going to have this cub?”  Blackberry asked.  Kamchatka looked at him:

       “I think it will be in a few weeks time,” she sighed, “I will probably cry buckets during my labour, and it won’t be due to the contractions.”

        “Do you want to get rid of the cub?”  Furcone asked.  Kamchatka looked at the large sow badger.

        “No, I won’t do it,” she replied, “the pain, the pain of that would be far greater than all the labours I went through previous to this one, plus this one every day for the rest of my life, plus, it’s not the cub’s fault his sire was stupid.”

        “Will you have the cub in the great room like Tess did?”  Furcone asked.  Kamchatka smiled sadly:

       “My labours are becoming more and more painful as I get older,” she replied, “I’ll probably not be able to walk very easily once things get really intense.”

       “How come you didn’t know you were in cub?”  Blackberry Brock asked.

       “Little Koda can feel cubs, he knows them, they connect with him,” Kamchatka replied.

       “Just like they did with his sire,” Furcone said.

       “I know little Koda would be of huge assistance to me while I have my cubs,” Kamchatka said, “the name little Koda seems so derogatory for my cub now, for he’s not little in spirit, he’s proven that.”

       “We will call him Koda from now on,” Furcone replied.

       “Kuruk no want Koda to think he go around killing thing like ancient Simba think he could do after killing furry whinnies,” Kuruk said.

      “Kuruk?”  Koda said, padding up to the large bear and standing on his small hind paws to reach up with his forepaws and tap the top of the large bear’s foreleg.  Kuruk looked round, saw Koda and turned to him:

        “You know you can’t kill at will don’t you,” he said.  Koda nodded.

       “I did it because Aklark would have come after me afterwards,” he said, “I don’t want to die Kuruk.  Plus he wanted to do horrid things to my mama!  Aklark came to our community for help, and then tried to make my mama have his cubs!  We don’t do that here! It’s awful!  Now I’m without a sire, due to his crazy bravado of course.  I think if sire Koda had left things well alone, Aklark would have left the fight.  Aklark already had been beaten by Patch’s intelligence!”  Kuruk looked at Koda.

       “He only refused to fight Patch because Patch is mama Kamchatka’s cub, not her mate,” he grunted.

        “Even so,” Koda shot back, “it doesn’t matter, and Patch had almost defused the bomb.  Now, now we have all this death and stuff, and it’s all wrong!”  Kuruk watched as Koda’s eyes filled with tears, and the cub sat down, burying his face in his paws and sobbing like the cub he really was.  Kuruk sat down, gathering Koda into a rough hug.

       “It was horrible!”  Koda sobbed, “The noise, the blood, the feel of the knife, the fear made me sick!”  Kuruk kissed Koda’s nose and paws, the young cub struggling to compose himself.

       “I’m stronger than this,” Koda sniffed.

       “You be a cub Koda, not adult yet, so you act like cub sometimes,”  Kuruk said gently, “Kuruk no want you acting all tough and adult about things when you not adult yet.”  Koda smiled sadly.

       “I am soon to be leader of this place, so must try and be stronger now my sire is no longer here,” he replied.

       “I will take Koda to see the grave of his sire if he wishes it,” Furcone said.

      “No mama, I’ll do it,” Blackberry Brock replied, “it would be better for me to do it.  I’m, well, more his age, you see?”  Furcone was about to argue, when her son cub rolled onto his paws and padded to Koda’s side.

       “Would you like to visit sire Koda’s final resting place Koda?”  Blackberry Brock asked gently.  Koda looked at the young badger, indeed everyone looked at him.

       “I would like that,” Koda said, “I, I saw his body, but seeing the grave might clear some of the fuzziness in my head.”  Blackberry Brock took Koda’s paw, and, both walking on all four paws, they left the house.  Furcone and Kuruk followed behind, Sarafina and Kamchatka following behind them.

        “He is too young to do grave thing,” Kuruk mumbled to Furcone.

       “I’m not so sure,” Furcone replied uncertainly, “I, well, the look in his eyes held something, something way beyond his years, something deep.  I doubt we’ll see cubbish behaviour from him now.”  Blackberry Brock led Koda out into the wood and on to the place where the black bear cub’s sire’s grave was.  Koda looked down at the pile of stones which stood nearly up to his chin in places.  Reaching out with a trembling forepaw, he touched the stones, as if to make sure his eyes weren’t playing tricks on him.

        “Where do we go from here?”  He asked, “It all seems so final, so empty and finished.”

       “Do you want a ceremony for your sire?”  Blackberry Brock asked.

       “I remember stories of having honoured the spiritual leaders,” Koda replied, “I suppose, well, it’s only right we do.  Mama Kamchatka loved him deeply, as did others.  I think maybe we should have a ceremony for the former leader of the community.  The question is who’s leading us now?”

       “You should,” Blackberry Brock said.  Koda shook his head:

        “As Kuruk said, “I am a cub,” or however he puts it.”  Blackberry brook and Koda smiled together at the mention of Kuruk’s mangled English.

      “I can’t lead this community,” Koda replied, “not yet anyway.  It’s down to mama to do that until I’m older, but she can’t, as she is too upset to deal with things.”

       “We could ask Jess and beanie man if they would,” blackberry Brock suggested.

       “Charles Fullbeans you mean,” Koda said sharply, his meaning not lost on the young badger, “yes, we could ask him, and no doubt he’s thought of that already and is putting in place ways to lead the community until I’m old enough to take full control.”

        “I don’t like that beanie person,” Blackberry Brock said, “He’s too human for my liking.  Maybe it’s time to take power from him and give it back to those who deserve power.”

        “Charles Fullbeans is the link between us and the outside world, and that’s that,” Koda said firmly, “we can’t do without him, and I don’t want to do without him, so shut it Badger!”  Blackberry Brock bristled with anger, Koda lashing out with a paw, cuffing the quarter grown cub across his shoulder, then, shame faced, staring down at his forepaws.  Blackberry Brock grinned and relaxed.

         “So you can already put a badger in his place,” the badger said.  Koda huffed angrily, realising what the badger cub had forced him to do.

        “You young rogue,” Koda snarled, “I’m no leader, and you know it.  I hate myself for cuffing you.”

        “I was being disrespectful and I knew it,” Blackberry Brock said.  Koda looked at the badger.

        “I am no leader,” he said, “I cant’ be, and I’m a cub!”  Koda suddenly looked at the stones at his feet, the enormity of what had happened in the last twelve hours hitting him finally.

        “I’m just a cub,” he whispered, “and everyone’s looking to me to lead them.  I can’t do it!”

       “You can do it Koda,” a voice said.  Koda looked round, seeing Arcto standing beside him.

       “I’m just a cub,” Koda said.  Arcto kissed Koda’s right forepaw, the cub profoundly embarrassed.

       “You mustn’t,” Koda said, “I don’t deserve your respect.”

        “You have a good heart and powerful spirit young one,” Arcto said.

        “I’m not ready for this!”  Koda yelled, turning away from his sire’s grave and kicking a nearby tree in frustration.

        “I’m leaving!”  Koda screamed.  Striding quickly from the graveside, Koda tripped over a root and hit the ground with his shoulder, sprawling in a flail of paws.

           “It’s almost as if sire Koda wants you to stay,” Blackberry Brock said, watching Koda as he struggled to his feet, clearly flustered and confused.

        “I’m just a cub, I can’t do this!”  He yelled at the woods, “I’m a cub, a cub I tell you!”  Koda tried to run, slamming straight into a tree and landing in yet another undignified heap.  Kamchatka padded up to her son cub and helped him to his feet.

       “Mama,” Koda choked, “I’m no leader, and I can’t do it!”

        “Charles Fullbeans and Jess will sort out the human angle,” Kamchatka said, “it’s for you to play with the cubs and be a leader to them, to show them how the community treats its most vulnerable.”

        “Patch does that,” Koda whimpered, “I’m meant to be the manager of the community, building stuff and maintaining the house, and doing boring stuff like that.  I’m a cub mama, a cub! C, u, b, a cub!”  Kamchatka lay down and hugged Koda to her, who was now weeping with fear and dread.

        “We’ll help you,” Kamchatka whispered into the sobbing cub’s ear, “we’ll help you cope, I will help you too, I won’t leave you alone to cope, I promise you that, even when my new cub is born, I’ll still help you Koda.”

        “I just got used to playing, to loving others, to being myself.  Now I have to be someone else?  A hard leader?  A hard pawed bruiser?  I know I hit blackberry Brock, I didn’t mean to mama, I didn’t want to, he insulted Fullbeans, and Charles is a friend of the community.”

       “Blackberry Brock made you enforce the law in your small world,” Kamchatka said, “He forced you to be a leader.  He wanted you to discipline him.”  Koda whimpered with misery and anxiety.

      “I want to be a cub!”  He wailed.

       “And you will be a cub,” someone said into Koda’s ear, “the community will cope with you as a regent, others will take care of the community until you are older.”

        “I’ll never feel ready to be king of the community,” Koda said to the voice.

       “If you did it would indicate you were not ready,” the voice replied, “Koda, this is my last command to you, “enjoy your cubhood, and don’t ignore your paws.””  Koda looked up at Kamchatka, who’d heard the same voice he had.

        “I knew I’d get a command like that,” she said, “everyone will help you Koda, everyone from Nuru to the badgers, little scruffy Leo to the oldest community members we have here.”  Koda got to his feet and stretched his back.

       “Time to go back to the house,” he said, “I, um, we need to sort things out I think.”  Kamchatka got to her feet, bowed to her son cub, grinned at his shocked expression, and then kissed his nose.

        “You are my leader too now,” she said.

       “But you are my mama, I could no more order you about than I could force Patch to roll over and show me his paw pads!”

      “He wouldn’t need commanding to do that,”  Patch said, padding up, sitting down and then lying down on his back to wave his huge paws in the air.  Koda laughed and kissed Patch’s nose.

       “Get to your paws dear brother and go back to the house,” Koda said.  Patch smiled and dabbed at Koda’s nose with one huge forepaw.  Koda stepped back, allowing Patch to get to his feet.

        “Your paws are huge big brother,” Koda said.  Patch smiled and examined Koda’s body from nose to tail, Koda rolling onto his back and presenting his paws for Patch to examine.

      “Hmm,” Patch said, “your paws Koda are small and,” he leant down and kissed the pads of Koda’s right forepaw, “rather cute if you don’t mind me saying.”  Koda giggled cubbishly, the sound startling him.

        “Oh, oh dear,” Koda said soberly.

      “How did you feel when Patch kissed your pads?”  Kamchatka asked.

       “Warm and safe,” Koda replied instantly, “though that won’t always be the case, I can’t rely on that forever.  Things will change.”  Patch smiled, reared onto his hind paws, scooped Koda up in his forepaws, and walked back to the house carrying the heir to Sire Koda’s throne.

 

Patch settled Koda in his sire’s favourite chair in the grand flat Sire Koda used to own, stepping back to look at the confused cub.

       “You are the leader of this community by birth, and also by spirit too,” patch said, “you protected not only yourself, but your mama’s unborn cub Koda.  Now, please, lets all think about what is present shall we?  That’s deciding what to do about remembering Sire Koda.  After that, we will enthrone his son cub in his rightful place.”

       “I suppose I must step out of a cub’s paws into those of an adult bear,” Koda sighed.

      “No, not yet,” patch said, “we will make sure you can play for many months yet.”  Kamchatka looked into her son cub’s face.

       “I saw the grave just before I met Furcone in the corridor,” she said, “I’ve done with crying, I’ve said goodbye to my mate.”

       “The rest of the community need a chance to do that too,” Patch replied.

       “In their own time Patch dear,” Kamchatka said, “in their own time.

        “Can we gather in the clearing beside sire Koda’s grave?”  Patch asked.

       “We might be able to,” Kamchatka said.

 

To that end, the community gathered in the clearing beside sire Koda’s grave at sundown the next day.

      “We gather here to remember Sire Koda, the founder and first leader of this community,” Percy badger said, “we gather here to celebrate his life, and what he did for us, and thank him for what he has left to us, a strong community with good values and a strong sense of justice and fairness.  Love the cubs, all the cubs, including the first cub of the community, Koda, or little Koda as we used to know him.  Now you will all have your own memories of sire Koda, and I encourage all here to remember those who have passed in your own ways.  We could not bury sire Koda with the usual ceremony due to the condition of his mortal remains.”  Koda, watching the ceremony from the vantage point of Patch’s lap, turned aside and was violently sick.

       “It’s okay Koda,” Patch said softly, as the cub vomited at the memory of the carnage he’d witnessed, “I’ll tell Percy he should not have mentioned that.”

        “I want to see a cub born now,” Koda whispered, “I’ve seen too much death, too much, far too much death.”

       “Cubs don’t turn up just when you want Koda,” Kamchatka said, “but I know your feelings.”

        “I wonder when your cub will be born mama.”  Koda asked.  Kamchatka touched her belly with her paw, feeling her cub kick in response to her touch.

       “Let’s go from here,” Patch said, “it’s not fair to expose Koda to this, not after what he witnessed.”  Patch fled with the leader of the community riding on his back.  Koda, relieved to get away, sat in the plush surroundings of his new domain.

        “I think we should give you the grand tour of the place,” Kamchatka said, “Koda, you need to realise what you have responsibility for now, but also realise that you are not alone.  Let’s start with that.  You are responsible yes, but you have jess, and Charles, and me to help you.  Below us, if you like, are Nuru and the other bears.  I’m head of the bear family, so I am crossing between the committee, and kind of deputy leader of the community, a bit complicated I know.  Patch, though a bear, is the spiritual side of things, so he keeps order, if you like.  No mud slinging, that kind of thing.  Then below the committee are the two families, ursine and woodlanders, and feline, lions and tigers.  That’s about it.”

      “Jess goes about her business bare pawed though,” Koda said, “is she part of the community?”

       “Yes she is,” Kamchatka replied, “you know of her tale.  She is a human member of the community, whereas Charles Fullbeans is a friend of the community, not a member as such.”

       “So it would not be wrong to play with Jess, but it would be wrong to play with Charles?”  Koda asked.  Kamchatka smiled at the idea of the slightly officious Charles Fullbeans playing with Koda:

      “Yes,” she replied, “indeed, jess is doing well with the shop and the online stuff and all.  Though she wishes she could sometimes play with the other community members.”

      “Blackberry and Ekaterina is medical staff aren’t they,” Koda said.  Kamchatka nodded.

       “And we have reinstated the position of warden of the water, Whitetip does that now.”

       “An otter is the right creature for that job I think,” Koda said.

      “We thought you’d agree,” Kamchatka replied, “I will summon her here so you can tell her of her appointment personally if you’d like.”  Koda stared at his mother.

       “You said she was already in post,” he said sharply.

       “Um, acting as warden, until now.”  Kamchatka replied, picking up the phone to the pool complex.  Soon Whitetip was standing in front of Koda, her webbed paws and long tail startling the bear cub.

        “You have some trouble walking on this flooring,” Koda stated.  Whitetip smiled shyly, realising the cub in front of her held her job prospects in his paws.

        “I do, all otters do look a little unsteady when walking on dry land.  We’re clumsy on land, but give us water, and we’ll outrace anyone, including the fish, for we’d have eaten them of course.”  Koda laughed.

       “Yes,” he replied, “I’ve never met an otter.  You have been here a long time, or so the stories tell.”

        “Our history has been, um, well,” Whitetip looked uncomfortable, “chickened,” she replied diplomatically.

        “Your not of the line that caused the cubs problems though are you,” Koda replied, “I think that was another family of otters.  Had to be.  Give me your paw Whitetip.”  Koda got down from his chair and sat down, taking the offered webbed forepaw.  Holding it in both of his forepaws, he looked down at it.

        “You seem to be an honest, gentle creature,” Koda said.  Whitetip looked into the bear’s face, noting he’d sat down at her level to address her personally, which she found touching.

        “I try to be,” she replied.

       “I saw your birth,” Koda said, “it was a difficult one for Mama Emily, but she managed it.”

      “I was a big cub,” Whitetip smiled, “I inched my way out here.”  Koda weighed the large fleshy paw in his, looking its owner up and down with appreciation and interest.

        “I’d like to see you swim,” he said, “that would be great.”  Whitetip giggled; rolled onto her back, and waved her paws in the air, Koda rubbing her belly with his paws and kissing her nose and paw pads.  Whitetip looked up at him, arched her back, and kissed his nose impulsively, Koda gathering her into a hug which enveloped her almost completely, the she otter snuggling up to her leader.

      “Which family do you belong to?”  He asked, “Mama Kamchatka never mentioned the otters.”

        “Woodlanders,” Whitetip mumbled, for her face was buried in Koda’s thick chest fur, “we live on the river you see.”  Koda stroked Whitetip’s ears with a paw, grinning as she curled the toes of all four of her webbed paws, clinging to his fur.

       “That’s better isn’t it,” Koda said, running his paw down Whitetip’s back to the root of her tail, the she otter closing her eyes and focusing her mind on touch alone.

       “This is fantastic!”  She sighed, loving Koda stroking her back, and the warmth his fur on her paw pads.

          “Why not turn me onto my back, stroke my belly, and play with my paws!  You can do that if you want Koda,” Whitetip said.  Koda declined:

       “That would be undignified in the extreme,” he said, “you are worthy of respect, and for me to ask you to roll on your back and present your paws to me would be disrespectful.  I know you did it earlier, but that was different.  You have accepted me as leader; you need not show your acceptance again.”

        “What if I just want my belly stroked and paws played with?”  Whitetip asked.

     “Now if it is just that, and only that, then yes, why not?”  Koda replied.  So Whitetip rolled joyously onto her back in Koda’s lap, the bear cub rubbing her belly and playing with her fore and hind paws, the she otter whistling with pleasure and ecstatically kicking the air with her hind feet whenever Koda was not massaging her pads and toes.  Once their play was over, Whitetip led Koda to the pool complex to show him round her area of responsibility.

         “You probably know all about this,” Whitetip laughed.

      “Treat me as if I don’t,” Koda replied, mischievously tweaking the end of Whitetip’s tail, making the she otter laugh.

       “You’re meant to be my leader,” she said soberly, though her eyes were shining with pleasure at Koda’s playfulness.

       “I only wish he could touch my paws again, but I’m standing on them, how boring is that!”  Whitetip turned to Koda and confided her thoughts.

       “Do you find using your paws for walking boring?”  She asked.  Koda smiled and nodded.

       “The days when I crawled were great ones,” he replied.  Whitetip crawled away from Koda, the cub chasing her and tickling the pads of her hind paws.

        “You are so sweet!”  Whitetip laughed.  Koda hugged the she otter.

      “Now,” he said, “let’s get back to business.”

      “That business is boring,” Whitetip said playfully, “playing with paws is much better business.”  Koda kissed her nose and forepaws, the she otter lying on the tiles to allow her leader to do this, Whitetip loving contact with the black bear cub.

       “Okay, okay, stop, stop tickling my paws now Koda, please, we, we must get to business!”  Whitetip laughed.  Koda kissed her nose and released her, to Whitetip’s obvious regret.

       “That was a huge lot of fun,” Whitetip said.  Koda hugged her, and then released her.

         “Let’s go,” Koda replied firmly.  Whitetip led the black bear cub to the entrance of the pool complex.

       “You’ve played here often I think,”  she said, “but here we have a spar pool, a normal swimming pool and the chute pool.  Also, there’s the water coaster too, but that’s in another part of the complex, to which I’ll guide you later.  This is the traditional swimming pool area though.”  Whitetip padded forward, Koda following.

      “Here’s the spar pool,” Whitetip said, indicating the spar pool with a wave of her paw, she paused beside it.

       “Would you like to experience the spar pool?”  She asked.  Koda smiled:

     “Yes, please,” he said, Whitetip turning a dial beside the pool.  The spar started up, and Koda stepped into the pool.

       “We clean these pools every day,” White tip said, “the most unusual thing we’ve had here is a mother go into labour.  It was a panda some years ago; she crawled in here and had her cub in the spar pool. That required a deep clean after this, but things can’t be helped some times.”

       “If a mother needs water to help her birth her cub, then that is paramount,” Koda replied, “cleaning of the pool is the easy bit.”  Whitetip smiled and joined Koda in the spar pool.

        “I agree,” she replied, splashing Koda playfully.  Koda splashed Whitetip in return, the she otter giggling with pleasure.

       “Now let’s visit the other pools,” Whitetip said briskly.  Leaving the water, she shook herself from nose to tail in the manner which only otters can, then turned to Koda.  The black bear, his forepaws resting on the top step of the stair into the pool, looked into the otter’s face, as his eyes were level with hers.

       “You just want to play don’t you,” he said.  Whitetip grinned:

       “It’s hard to stop the cub from breaking out of my adult body,” she admitted, “I’m sorry Koda.”  Koda smiled:

        “It’s fine with me,” he replied, “I love the playful cub inside adult Whitetip.  Whitetip laughed, much relieved.

       Always liked playing,” she replied, “my brother, Tarker, he doesn’t really.”

       “Let’s carry on with the tour,” Koda said firmly, his eyes shining.  Whitetip straightened up, shook herself as if to send the cub back inside her, and padded away, Koda following at her shoulder.

        “Now here is the main pool,” Whitetip said, “we have a wave machine here, it operates from that booth over there, and from there we can operate the slides too.  The water coaster is operated from a separate control booth, which I will show you in good time.”  Koda swam with Whitetip, the otter watching the bear cub’s splashing hind feet and forepaws with ill disguised amusement.

       “Paws beneath the water please,” she sighed in mock exasperation.”  Koda smiled and swam properly, Whitetip realising she’d been had.

       “Young sod,” she said smiling.  Koda swam with Whitetip to the deep end of the pool, and then they both left the pool for the slide tower.

      “I need to find good glue,” Whitetip said to Koda suddenly.

       “Why?”  Koda asked, “what for?”

      “A good glue to stick paws to the floor,” Whitetip said.  Koda looked concerned.

      “I know the trapped paw game is liked around here, but that’s taking a bit far isn’t it?”  He asked.  Whitetip laughed:

       “I didn’t mean that kind of glue,” she said, “I meant a glue to stop me from rolling onto my back and waving my paws in the air.  I want so much to play with you, but you’re my leader, that’s a bit hard to remember for me sometimes.”  Koda smiled:

       “I’d find glue that would keep reminding you to roll on your back and play,” he replied.

      “My paws kind of tingle, like they want to get off the floor and wave about!”  Whitetip said intensely, “I can’t help it, it hurts sometimes too!  I need to play Koda!”  Koda hugged Whitetip tightly.

        “So do me,” he replied gently, whispering softly into the otter’s ear.  Koda felt his fur getting wet.

       “Don’t cry,” he whispered, “it’ll be okay, I’ll play with you often, and we’ll make a regular time and an event of it.  I know how it is to want to play madly.  I might be leader, but that is not who I really am.  I’m a playful cub when all’s said and done.”  Whitetip sniffed a little, and Koda dried her eyes with his paw.

        “Now playing is part of your job,” he said briskly, “let’s see how you do that, treat me like a nervous cub and get me to come into the water with you Whitetip.”  Whitetip laughed with relief.

      “Thank you,” she said, stepping away from Koda, “but first, could you, would you please ease the pain in my paws?”  Koda smiled, pushed Whitetip onto her side, rolled her onto her back, then tickled her paws, Whitetip whistling and laughing with pleasure.

        “You are very interesting to me,” Koda said, “I’ve always liked paws, as you know, and yours are interesting, all furry, but webbed too!”  Whitetip giggled:

        “They are also sensitive,” she replied, “more sensitive than the webbing suggests.  They aren’t like a duck’s feet, they have sensitive soles and I can curl my toes too!  Look!”  She tightly curled her toes, Koda rubbing her bunched pads.

       “Real cute that,” Koda said, kissing Whitetip’s right forepaw.

        “I love being stroked and when others play with my paws,” Whitetip said, “I can’t deny my love of that.”

       “Have you seen your birth video Whitetip?”  Koda asked.  Whitetip nodded:

       “I’ve even re-enacted it, silly isn’t it?  Pretending I was my mama having a cub?  It felt good to stamp my paws and bounce on my toes and yell my head off though.  I was acting, but it felt wonderful!  I even rolled onto my back and kicked the air with my forepaws and hind feet.”

       “I hear you used to call your paws, “feet,” Koda said to Whitetip, who looked ashamed.

        “That was when I was very young, and saw the paws of bears and cats,” she replied, “they were paws, mine weren’t, or so I thought.  Now though, thanks to community members like you, I know my feet are paws, are not just utilitarian things, but can be used for pleasure too.  Koda, when I have a cub, will you help me by massaging my paws while I curl my toes and cry with pain?”  She asked.  Koda smiled and replied:

       “Yes Whitetip, if you want that of me.”  Whitetip smiled and hugged Koda as best she could.

       “Will you promise me something?”  She asked.

      “Depends what that promise is Whitetip,” Koda replied gently, knowing she’d be fair.

       “That you never lose your gentle touch, that as far as you can, you will make it a pleasure for cubs and needy adults to come and be hugged by you?”  Whitetip asked, struggling to keep desperation out of her tone.

        “I will,” Koda replied.  Then, smiling, he ran his paws all over Whitetip’s body, the she otter closing her eyes and clenching her teeth to control her emotions.

       “Let it all go Whitetip, go on,” Koda said gently.  So Whitetip did, whistling, wriggling, kicking with all four paws, growling, and finally clinging to Koda when all was done, weeping with exhaustion and elation at how his touch made her act and feel.

      “I’ve never let go like that before,” Whitetip said to Koda, “that was very much needed.  You opened up the can and let me get everything out of my head.  Now I’m relaxed.”  Koda smiled:

       “That felt good from my end too,” he replied, Whitetip kissing his nose and paws.  Koda, lying beside Whitetip on the tiles, for he’d had to lie down to stroke her, smiled as the she otter kissed his nose and paw pads.

      “Now do you need that glue?”  Koda asked.  Whitetip smiled and shook her head:

       “Not any more,” she replied, “I know now I can play whenever I feel the need.”  Koda touched her paw.

       “You looked cute waving your paws in the air and wriggling madly,” he said, Whitetip smiling at him, her eyes alight with merriment.

        “I was taught to use my paws Whitetip,” Koda said, “to trust them in everything I do.  I will do this.”

         “You felt my needs before I spoke them didn’t you?”  Whitetip asked.

       “Yes I could, and I did,” Koda replied, “though I could not go ahead and soothe you without your permission.”

 

I don’t see how that cub can be leader!”  Nuru yelled at Kamchatka, “He’s a bloody cub!”

       “He’s leader now,” Kamchatka said flatly, “if you don’t like it Nuru, you can walk out of here.”  Nuru stamped his paws, but then saw something on the screen which stopped him stamping and killed his rage stone dead.  A look in Whitetip’s eyes and a manner towards Koda that enthralled him.

      “I, I’m sorry,” Nuru gasped, “Kamchatka, watch this, look at this!”  Kamchatka smiled and nodded:

        “I told you he was good,” she replied, “Koda’s leading by example.  If he can get Whitetip on board with him, she’ll bring her cubs and her cub’s cubs, and so on, and so fourth.  Now, please, get on board with him too.  Play with his paws, let him play with you; let him engage in the way he knows how.  Then you will feel more respect for him than you do now.  One day, one day you will feel your paw in his and know why he is right for eldership, even though he may never kill a thing in his life.”

     “But he’s too small mama,” Nuru said, “Koda’s tiny!”

      “Great things come in small packages,” Kamchatka said softly.  Nuru felt his toes curling, and knew why they curled.

        “I’m ashamed,” Nuru whimpered, “ashamed of my anger, of my fury too.”

       “You can meet your new leader when he’s done making relations with Whitetip,” Kamchatka replied, “Whitetip’s being released by Koda at the moment, and she is getting used to it.  Soon she’ll wriggle through his paws, symbolically struggling out of her old coat into her new one.”

       “Sometimes I feel like tearing at my own skin to release the cub within,” Nuru admitted, “I sometimes fantasise I can feel a smaller cub’s paws within my own huge clumpy paws Kamchatka.”

         “It’s sometimes a release to pretend it is possible to do that,” she replied, “to have another pretend to remove the old paws from you, and reveal new paws beneath.”

       “I’ve tried for real,” Nuru replied, “and it was all a dream, I bit my paws quite badly trying when I was younger.  Now though, I know it’s not possible.  I should never have grown up, never forced my paws into an adult’s paws before they were ready, for now my cub’s paws have grown inside the adult lion’s paws, and my inner cub hasn’t the strength to free his paws now..”

       “Maybe I can help?”  Georgia asked.  Nuru turned to her, looking at the small long haired she bear.

          “How could you help me?”  Nuru asked.

       “Have you got imagination?”  Georgia asked, “Can you pretend play?”  Nuru sat down, his legs seemingly giving way.

       “I cannot play like a cub any more,” Nuru whimpered.

        “You could,” Georgia replied, “Nuru, you could learn to play with the cubs, play like a cub, empathise with your mate in the way you want about the pain she feels when having her cubs.”

       “I would like to help her,” Nuru whispered.

       “I hope the spirits will help you if you are genuine,” Georgia replied.

      “I hope they do help you Nuru,” Kamchatka said, “no matter how far you want to go with empathy.”

      “I would like to feel some of the pain Tess does while having my cubs,” Nuru said, “it’s, well, it’s only fair I feel her pain too.”  Georgia looked at Nuru:

        “I’m sure you’ll get the help you want,” she said, kneeling down to kiss Nuru’s paw.  Nuru’s eyes filled with tears as he felt Georgia kissing the top of his paw.

        “I want to pull these old adult lion’s paws off and find the cub’s paws beneath!”  Nuru whimpered.

     “That will mean pretending you have coverings on your paws,” Georgia replied, “we can improvise with socks we can put on your paws if you really must tear something physical off your paws...”

       “You mean you could encourage me to pretend?”  Nuru asked, looking into Georgia’s face, “you could make my paws all hot and uncomfortable, like I feel they are now?”  Georgia smiled and nodded:

        “You would be pulling socks off your paws, not damaging your real paws as you have been trying to do, but at least that way you can snarl and whimper and struggle and finally roar with triumph when you have torn the final restriction from your paws.”

        “I have been damaging my paws,” Nuru said, showing Georgia the sole of his left forepaw.

       “It’s scarred,” she said, “and there are old tooth marks.”  Nuru sighed heavily.

        “Poor Nuru,” Georgia said, kissing his nose.

 

An hour later Georgia held tightly onto Nuru’s left forepaw, the lion tugging and worrying at it.  Snarling, he struggled to free his paw from Georgia’s grip, Georgia letting the paw slips through her grasp a little from time to time when Nuru exerted himself, curling the toes of his other three paws and closing his eyes in effort.  Georgia listened to Nuru’s angry growling which rose and fell with his efforts to free his trapped paw.  Georgia also saw Nuru’s effort in his closed eyes and the curled toes of his other three paws, though he didn’t use his claws to aid his grip, relying on his toes alone.

         “I want to tear at my paws again!”  Nuru whimpered.  Georgia put a sock on his left forepaw, and then sat beside him, Nuru lying on his side now.  Taking hold of his right hind paw in her forepaws, Georgia felt Nuru curling and relaxing his toes with his efforts to tear his paw free of the adult lion’s paws he felt uncomfortable in.  Snarling, growling and roaring, Nuru tore the sock off his left forepaw with a tremendous effort, Georgia seeing his teeth slip on the material several times before he got a grip on the sock and tore it off, whimpering and whining with pain and frustration.  Finally, mewing with exhaustion, Nuru gathered his strength for the final tearing effort to remove the old covering from the paw that had been hidden for so long.  Georgia felt Nuru’s toes curl as he tore at the last of the covering on his left forepaw.  Nuru wriggled convulsively as he freed his left forepaw, then he was licking it furiously, the back, then the pads, then the toes of his free paw, trying to soothe the pain in it.

         “There are three more like that,” he gasped, “I must free them though!”  Georgia held each of Nuru’s paws in turn, be they his old paws or the new cubbish ones, placing a thick fabric sock over the paw he was going to attack so Nuru could tear the sock off his paw, rather than doing his paw damage,.  Nuru seemed to need the fight.  Georgia knew he could just pull the sock off his paw with ease if he wanted, but Nuru didn’t do that, pretending the freedom of his new paws was a lot harder to achieve.  Georgia watched Nuru’s struggles, feeling his effort and sweat as he tried to achieve his long held goal of learning pretend play.  Once with a snarling roar, Nuru had free the last of his four paws from its adult covering, Nuru tried to get up and walk on his new paws, but the new pads clearly hurt him, being tender.  Whimpering, he collapsed.

       “I can’t walk on my paws!”  He wailed, “It hurts Georgia, as if I’m a cub again, and my feet have never touched anything!”  Georgia smiled and began massaging Nuru’s paws tenderly, Nuru wriggling slightly with anticipated discomfort, but finding soon that things didn’t hurt as much as he’d feared.

         “How are your paws now?”  Georgia asked, finishing her ministrations by kissing the toes of Nuru’s right hind paw.  Nuru, hot and exhausted, smiled broadly.

         “Pretend play is great,” he said, “now I can face my needs to experience what my mate went through having her cubs.  That will be real, but my inhibitions are lower than they were, so I’m not frightened any more.”

 

 

Whitetip and Koda played on the water slides, each chasing the other up the slope and racing each other down the slides.  Whitetip loved Koda to arrange her paws before she slid down the slide, and would make a mess of her posture at the top of the slide, so he would have to touch her paws and rearrange them, something Koda and Whitetip both enjoyed.  When it came to Koda’s turn to slide, he would often cross his hind legs, Whitetip lifting them back into position with Koda’s help, as she was not strong enough to lift his leg.  This rearrangement would often include Whitetip stroking and sometimes kissing the exposed wrinkled pads of Koda’s hind paws, the bear giggling with pleasure.

       “I wonder if the soles of our paws will become wrinkled by the water.”  Whitetip mused, “Let’s take a look at each other’s paws in a while and see if we can find out.”

      “Sounds good to me,” Koda replied.  Whitetip hadn’t been so happy in years.  Her brother, Tarker, was rather introverted for his species, preferring to sit in the library with books and study, rather than seeking play and companionship with others.  Whitetip, her mother being too old to play with her often, had found companionship with other cubs, though even they, the bear cubs in particular, had not been able to keep up with an otter’s restless energy.

 

Nuru padded to the shower, where Georgia washed him carefully from nose to tail, the large lion loving the touch of the bear’s small paws.  Smiling, Nuru rolled over this way and that, pawing at the showering water with all four newly discovered paws, flicking water everywhere.

       “I thought lions didn’t like water,” Georgia said smiling.

      “This one’s different,” Nuru replied, “I was brought up having baths from humans in the safari park, so I kind of got used to water. now I love it.  I like the feel of damp paws and the smell of clean fur after a shower too.”  Georgia grinned:

       “Do you like having your paws washed?”  She asked.  Nuru looked very guilty.

        “I do,” he replied ashamedly, “its wrong really.”  Georgia laughed merrily.

         “It’s sweet,” she replied, “now, let’s wash your paws one last time, and then dry them off thoroughly.”  Nuru emerged from the shower cleaner than he’d been for ages, his paws tingling nicely and mane smooth and sleek.

         “You are very gentle to a confused lion Georgia,” Nuru said.

      “Now you are clean and uninhibited, are you prepared to go through with whatever it takes to be close to your mate Tess?”  Patch asked, watching Nuru pass his lie up.

       “I am ready for that,” Nuru replied, pausing outside the lie up, “I will whimper and whine, roar and cry, curl my toes and pedal the air with my paws Patch, I will do it with enthusiasm too.”

      “Your paw pads are tawny brown Nuru,” Georgia said.  Nuru smiled:

        “Your paw pads are similar to mine then,” he said, for yours are tawny brown also.  Now, I wonder if I can confide another silly dream I had last night.  I dreamt I was in labour, and when I’d struggled and cried for an hour, with my last strength, I made one final toe curling effort and the cub was born, but it was a bear cub, not a lion cub.  This convinced me I needed help to overcome my fear of experiencing what I wanted to.  Getting close to my mate with the help of a bear who would understand my complex emotions.”

        “What did this cub look like?”  Georgia asked.  Nuru looked ashamed, turning his head away.

         “If it looked like me, it’s understandable,” Georgia replied, tenderly touching the lion’s shoulder.

        “It’s not,” Nuru sobbed, “why would I dream of delivering you into the world?”

       “Because you wanted someone close to you who could understand your emotions,” Georgia replied, “the birth scene was a metaphor for closeness.  It doesn’t actually mean you want to deliver a bear cub.”  Nuru choked on his tears.

         “I had to push so hard,” he replied, “it hurt, it hurt so much, but when I gave myself up to it, things worked well, and the cub slipped free.  I just had to stop fighting the urges to push and, instead, ride with my emotions, and then all was well.”

       “You have got cute paws,” Georgia said, “watching you paw the air in the shower was so sweet.”  Nuru smiled:

        “I can be expressive with my paws then?”  He asked.

      “Yes,” Georgia replied, “now Nuru, can you remember something else? How you felt when you saw Tess having little Ellie?”  Nuru nodded:

        “I was panting and curling my toes and roaring and pacing with Tess, whatever she did, I imitated her,” he replied, “it felt great, though I denied the memory of it until now.”

        “I saw you doing all that,”  Georgia replied, “I saw your face, your bunching paw pads, your curling toes and heaving flanks when  Tess lay down to push and you imitated her.”

         “I did all that,” Nuru replied shame faced, “it was all I could do to help her, to encourage her.  I’m surprised I didn’t do myself injury pushing like that.”

       “Eohippus made sure you didn’t,” Georgia replied, “I’ll bet you remembers everything about the dream you had last night also,” she said.  Nuru turned to her, looking her full in the face.

       “I do Georgia, I do,” he replied, “it was a full on cubbing.  I had to wash myself afterwards, when I woke up I mean, I was covered in sweat and ached all over.  I knew what had happened.  Fortunately, Tess and the little ones were out of the lie up when it happened, or I don’t know what they’d have thought of their family leader labouring to deliver a cub.”

        “Well the cub’s here now,” Georgia replied, “I’m here, and I’m here to help you further if you wish it.”  Nuru looked at Patch, then at Georgia.  Patch beckoned Nuru into his lie up, where Nuru gently pushed Georgia onto her back and examined her by sight and touch from nose to paw pads.  Georgia wondered which parts of her had hurt Nuru most on her way out into the world.  She was a fat cub, and his mind probably hadn’t scaled her down at all.

       “Your head, hocks and hind paws hurt me,” Nuru said, answering her unspoken question.  Georgia sat up and grabbed her right hind foot with her forepaws, examining her pads and toes with gentle but firm pressure on the sole of her foot.

        “I felt everything,”  Nuru said, everything from your heel, he said, tracing the pads of her left hind foot with the toes of his left forepaw, to your toes, which got trapped when I relaxed for a few minutes.  Wriggling didn’t free them, so I had to push one last time, feeling your paws slip free.”  Georgia giggled as Nuru’s toes brushed hers.

        “I like that,” she said.  Nuru kissed the pads of Georgia’s left hind paw, the she bear grinning and tightly curling her toes.

        “I wish I could curl my toes like that,” Nuru said.  Georgia looked at Nuru, who was sprawled on his side, better to get to her level.

      “Try it,” she suggested, “try curling your toes.  Nuru tried curling his toes, Georgia watching as his pads bunched up and toes curled tightly.  Nuru even clawed at the air with his curled toes, in an effort to encourage himself to curl them tighter.

        “You have big paws, just like Androcles does,” Georgia observed, “are you and he from the same region in Africa?”  Nuru, panting slightly, slowed his pawing from furious to leisurely.

      “Yes we are,” he replied, “it, we both, both comes from Okavango, swimming in all those lakes cause us to have big paws.”

      “Poor mama lioness,” Georgia said.  Nuru smiled:

       “It doesn’t really hurt to push a cub’s paws into the world,” he said, “my mama told me that much; or rather her sister did when I asked her, as my mama would not tell me.”

      “I can tell you that labour in a lioness is noisy and expressive,” Sarafina said padding into the lie up, “I remember having Kosey.  He hurt me on the way out into the world.  I did everything possible to help me have Kosey easily bar climbing the walls.  I paced, whimpered, squatted, strained, roared, stamped my paws, rolled about on the floor kicking and screaming, curled my toes, and finally lay on my side crying and screaming as I pushed.  Pushing felt good though, so very good when I did it properly.  Wow, just amazing that feeling was.”  Nuru looked at Sarafina.

        “I know a little of how you felt,” he replied, “Though my time was imagined.”  Sarafina smiled:

        “It was no less real for you though,” she said, “what you went through was your own personal struggle to bring to you a cub that would understand your emotions.  Mine was to deliver a cub naturally into the world after mating with Tommy, the little rogue.  He ran off as soon as I was in active labour and there was no doubt about what was happening to me.  Bastard he is!”  Nuru looked Sarafina over from nose to tail.  She even rolled onto her side for him so he could examine her paws.  Nuru placed his huge right forepaw against Sarafina’s left forepaw, Sarafina drawing her velveteen toes down Nuru’s pads, making the lion gasp.

       “Tess is my mate,” he said, “I, I can’t help you Sarafina.”  Sarafina giggled:

        “I wouldn’t have asked if it was wrong,” she replied, “I’ve asked Tess, and she says, “Nuru has to do his duty, at least with him you’ll have a loving sire for your cub.  Tommy was a complete,” well then she used a word that even I’d never heard of, it’s a disgusting word she used to describe the tiger.”  Nuru laughed.

        “Only if you are sure,” he said, “then I will help you have another cub.”  Sarafina smiled and kissed Nuru’s nose:

       “I’m sure,” she replied.

        “You have the most gorgeous face and paws Sarafina,” Nuru said, “I like them a lot.  Sarafina, vain about her face and paws, grinned delightedly.

        “I like my paws,” she said, clasping Nuru’s right forepaw in both of her smaller ones, “I understand these are new paws,” she mused, “new more playful paws?”  Nuru giggled nervously.

      “You heard about my, um, struggle to free my inner cub,” he replied.  Sarafina nodded and kissed Nuru’s nose:

        “Its fine,” she replied, “I’ve had to quieten down my inner cub for years, but she came out when Kosey wanted to play.  Kosey loved her, and so did I.”  Nuru laughed.

       “Your inner cub is you Sarafina, there’s no separate lioness in there.”  Sarafina grinned squeezing Nuru’s paw which she still held in hers.

       “You have tawny eyes and tawny paws, and pink paw pads too!”  Sarafina said, “They are so cute, and when you were curling your toes earlier, your pads bunched up so sweetly.”  Nuru grinned, loving her views of his more vulnerable side.

       “I can also stretch my toes too,” Nuru said.  Sarafina smiled:

       “I prefer them curled,” she replied, “cuter that way.”  Nuru looked at the lioness from her nose to her toes, Sarafina shifting to allow him a good view of her from all possible angles.

        “Can I get paws on with the prospective mother of my cubs?”  Nuru asked.  Sarafina smiled and lay down so Nuru could stroke her back, belly, legs, head, face and paws.  Nuru ran his velveteen paws all over Sarafina, patting, stroking, and massaging her from her nose to her toes.  He varied his touch, stroking shoulders and flanks, while embracing paws and running the toes of his forepaws through Sarafina’s neck fur, the lioness lashing her tail with excitement.

        “You have a lovely touch,” Sarafina said, Nuru’s eyes distant, his mind consumed by a need to let things flow from him.  He was driven by a force he hardly knew, but recognised completely.  This was how he wanted to treat a lioness or tigress, with gentility and love, but his former training in the safari park had been all hard pawed beatings and domination of prospective mates.  This led to fear and then to unwilling mating.  Now he could let his paws do what they wanted, and it seemed Sarafina was not disappointed either.

          “Let, let me shift a little, so you can, there, that’s good, that’s wonderful!”  Sarafina gasped as she shifted beneath Nuru’s paws, his left forepaw tracing her belly and down her left foreleg to her paw.  Sarafina curled her toes tightly, the only way she could release the tension in her body.

        “This is play, he’s playing with me!”  She thought, “But, oh, how wonderful this is!  I want more! Must have more!  More paws, more stroking, more wriggling, more sensations like this!”  Sarafina wriggled with pleasure, running the curled toes of her forepaws over Nuru’s neck, combing his luxurious mane.  She could see he didn’t want to mate, indeed this was social, a social grooming session, the like of which she’d never felt before.  Georgia watched the two lions, knowing they’d forgotten about her for the moment, but she didn’t mind their forgetfulness.  She knew their forgetfulness was due to her intervention, and her heart was gladdened by this.  Nuru explored Sarafina with his paws, the lioness smaller than him by some margin.  When Sarafina’s turn came, she scrambled over Nuru’s body with all four paws, clambering all over him, using him as a climbing frame, kissing his ears and ruffling his mane as she explored his fur and massaged his paws.  Nuru, Enjoying Sarafina’s clambering, scrambling exploration of his body, gazed into Sarafina’s eyes; the lioness’s smiling into his.

      “But what of Androcles?”  Nuru asked, “Doesn’t he want to mate with you Sarafina?”  Sarafina smiled:

        “Androcles wants to play, he’s not the mating type,” Sarafina said.

       “Okay,” Nuru replied, “as long as everyone is ok with the arrangement.”

 

Androcles and Kosey watched from their lie up, seeing Sarafina’s joy at Nuru’s touch, also seeing how the lion relaxed as he got into his caring role.

        “I’ve heard the tale of how Nuru came here,” Kosey said, “He was outsmarted by a badger if I remember rightly.”

        “He has a mortal fear of badgers yes,” Androcles replied, “but I think that fear is slowly being conquered.  One day, Nuru might even be present at the birth of a badger cub.”

       “I think he saw Blackberry Brock’s birth, and it moved him to tears,” Androcles said, “of course the lion they caught in the trap was not the one we see now.  He has the body of that old lion, but his mind and true spirit are coming through now.”

        “I saw Furcone giving birth to Blackberry Brock too,” Kosey said, “how can a badger feel as much pain as a lioness?  A big cat surely feels more pain than a badger?”

       “If you took that view, then a bear should feel no pain at all while having her cubs, and we know this isn’t the case,” Androcles replied, “birth is painful, regardless of species.  All mammals feel pain, from the smallest to the largest when having their cubs.”

       “I suppose you’re right,” Kosey replied.”

        “A lioness’s paws get very damp when she is in labour,” Petra said, “we are nervous and excited all at the same time, and our paws are damp, at least mine were.  Sweat flew off my fur and paws as I pushed and strained, labour is hard going sometimes.”

       “Mama Sarafina re-enacted my birth,” Kosey said, “she was very expressive and used her paws a good bit too.”

        “I’ll bet she did,” Petra replied, shifting her own paws uncomfortably, as talk of labour and birth always unnerved her.

        “Are you frightened of birthing?”  Androcles asked.  Petra laughed:

      “No,” she replied, “it’s just, well, it’s intense, painful work, and I tend to wear my heart on my paw when having a cub, whimpering, roaring and crying.  I’m a big wimp really; though prefer no pain relief when having cubs.  Simba’s birth was painful, really painful, but I remember and cherish every minute of it.”  Androcles kissed Petra’s nose, the white lioness smiling sweetly.

       “You’re so gentle,” Petra said to Androcles.

       “I was too gentle for some,” Androcles said softly.

      “How the hell can you be too gentle?”  Petra asked, “It’s mad to say that.”  Androcles embraced Petra.

        “If you’re too tactile, too soft, too sensitive, some see you as weaker than those that are violent and controlling,” Androcles replied.  Petra kissed Androcles nose, the male lion embracing her tightly.

       “We don’t work like that here,” she said.

 

Koda and Whitetip, having exhausted their play on the slides, approached the water coaster.  Whitetip told Koda the pin code to activate the ride.  Koda punched the code in, and then placed his paw on the glass, the computer beeping at him and the jets starting up.  Whitetip dragged out a double raft, hauled it over to the start of the coaster, and lashed it to a mooring pole.  Punching in one ride sequence and a countdown of two minutes she ran back to the raft, helping Koda into the raft and scrambling in herself, releasing the boat and coiling up the rope.  The jets increased their power suddenly, the boat lifted on them, and then they were coasting towards the first lift hill.  Koda felt the boat beneath his paws, the jets drumming against the bottom of the boat, moving it along.  Then the boat was caught by the lift hill and they were accelerated up the hill.  Koda and Whitetip rode the coaster, both yelling their lungs out when they hit the big drops and soaking water breaks.  Having ridden the coaster many times, Whitetip knew what was about to happen, but she kept her secrets.  It was on the last drop that it happened.  Complacent, Whitetip lifted her forepaws from the handles and waved them about, the boat hitting a water break as she did so. Falling from the boat and sliding down the chute, Whitetip screamed with fear and shock.  Koda, realising he was alone, and seeing the horrifying consequences if his boat hit the she otter, screamed to her to:

      “Swim Whitetip, for Eohippus sake swim away from the bottom of the slide!  Whitetip, dazed and frightened, paddled sluggishly away, Koda bearing down on her too fast to stop.  He felt his boat bump her, and then he leapt out.

        “What do we do now?”  He demanded, Whitetip coming to her senses enough to notice she was out of the boat.

         “We wait,” she said, the, the ride will stop in a bit, then we, we can get out of the pool into an emergency escape passage.”  Whitetip coughed and spat.

        “You let go and fell out of the boat!”  Koda said, as the boat slid down the slide away from them.

        “Wait now,” Whitetip gasped, “we’ll be seen on the CCTV.”

        “Warden of the water my paw,” Koda snapped, furious at Whitetip’s behaviour.

        “I was stupid,” Whitetip replied ashamedly.

       “You are meant to be professional about this!”  Koda snapped.

        “I forgot my posting for a bit,” Whitetip said, looking at the black bear cub.

        “Yes, you did,” Koda replied gruffly.  Suddenly a voice boomed from the speakers.

       “The ride has been shut down.  Go to the edge of the pool, climb out and go down the passage to the left.”  Whitetip and Koda did as they were bidden, padding down the passage, ending where they’d begun, in the main pool complex.

        “You bloody idiot!”  Tarker yelled at his sister that night, “what the hell were you playing at Whitetip?  Koda is your leader, he was seeing what you could do, how responsible you were at your job.  Now he will probably strike you from your post!”  Whitetip lay on her back, critically examining her forepaws.

         “I know I bombed it,” she mewed pitifully.

        “That will probably be the shortest interview in community history,” Tarker said.  Whitetip covered her face with her paws, sobbing with rage and frustration.

        “I forgot who he was,” she moaned, “I was thinking of him as a friend, not as my leader, my employer!”

        “You aren’t fit to even dip your paws in the water Whitetip!”  Tarker yelled.

       “I wouldn’t go that far,” Koda said, padding into the room.

       “She forgot herself!”  Tarker yelled.

        “I will forget myself in a minute if you’re not careful, and you won’t like it,” Koda snarled.

        “Bet you won’t, bet you don’t!”  Tarker goaded.  Koda smiled, picked Tarker up by his tail, and swung him round twice, the otter screaming with fear and pain.  Koda landed him gently on his feet, the dog otter lying down, covering his eyes with his paws, and obviously feeling sick.

         “That’ll fix you,” Koda said, Tarker moaning piteously.  Whitetip looked at Koda in the slight gap between her forepaws.

         “I’m sorry Koda!”  She whimpered.  Koda rubbed her belly with his paw.

        “You are safe, that’s all that matters,” he replied.

       “I’m still ashamed,” Whitetip said.

         “I’ll give you another chance,” Koda replied.  Whitetip kissed Koda’s nose and paws.

      “Thank you,” she said softly.

        “You want to make love to him don’t you Whitetip,” Tarker snapped.

        “I don’t, I don’t!”  Whitetip yinnied defensively.

        “You do, you’re gagging for him to ask you to roll over and present yourself!”  Tarker spat.  Whitetip growled angrily.

       “You shut your mouth!”  She screeched.  Koda laughed at Tarker’s assumptions.

        “You think I want to mate with your sister?”  He asked.  Tarker snorted:

       “She wants you to mate with her,” he replied.

        “You can’t tell the difference between play and sexual flirting it seems,” Koda said.  Tarker crawled away to be violently sick.

       “Stupid he is,” Whitetip commented.  Koda looked Whitetip up and down, her fur sleek, not a hair out of place, apart from where she’d been crying.  Her face was streaked with tears, she looked a mess.

        “I’ll clean myself up,” Whitetip said, noticing Koda’s eyes on her.

       “I was admiring your fur and paws,” Koda replied.  Whitetip went to the shower room where she made hasty attempts to clean up her face, wetting her paws and rubbing them over her face and whiskers.  Koda watched her, thinking he’d never before seen such a beautiful creature.  Standing on her hind feet as she was, Whitetip seemed to glow with health, her fur shining under the lights in the shower room.

         “I like the look of your fur,” Koda said.  Whitetip, smiling, lifted her left hind foot off the floor, flexing her ankle, showing Koda the sole of her raised hind paw, then wiggling, curling and stretching her toes

        “Perfect balance on one hind foot too,” Koda said smiling, “that’s lovely to see.”  Whitetip smiled happily.

         “You know how to flatter a she otter,” she said.

        “I’m seriously impressed though,” Koda replied, “otters only do one thing disgracefully, and that’s walk on land.  Even your mama managed to give birth to you with graceful movements, even when she was pushing down hard and growling in pain.  You otters could stamp your paws and roar like bears do, and even that would be beautiful to watch, you are so dam beautiful.”  Whitetip laughed helplessly at Koda’s gushing praise of her species.

         “You are so sweet,” she replied.  Koda watched Whitetip drop onto all four paws, then trot joyfully out of the shower room.  Koda felt his pads becoming damp, looking down, he was surprised to find his toes curled, his claws gripping the grouting between two tiles with fierce urgency.

         “Oh dear,” he thought, “Do I enjoy her company that much?  Eohippus help me if I do, I’m a bear, not an otter.  I love her deeply, but I’m not in love with her.  Hell Koda, stop it now!  But then again, she plays with me so teasingly, lovingly.”

          “If it’s any consolation Koda,” patch said padding into the shower room, “I’ve seen Whitetip with a similar expression on her face and her toes curled into the tiles like yours are, and she’s been wondering the same thing.”  Koda jumped a mile!

        “How?”  He asked, “How on earth did you know what I was thinking?  Patch, looking into my mind is wrong, so wrong!”

        “Nothing is wrong until it is proven wrong,” patch replied, “murder is wrong, as it is depriving someone of their life, but murder was not seen as wrong until the first murder occurred.  Your feelings for Whitetip are not wrong, as they have not been seen as wrong by Whitetip, let alone yet identified as more than cubbish playfulness.  You are so open Koda; I can read you like a book.  Koda, stop worrying, and enjoy her company.  She enjoys yours very much, I know this.  Looking for nasty things behind bushes will only stifle your friendship.”  Koda looked up into Patch’s face, and realised that for the whole of his life, he’d be doing this, as he knew he’d hardly grow any bigger than a half grown bear cub.

       “Does she really like me?”  He asked.  Patch turned away:

       “I won’t answer that on the grounds that it is an unnecessary question,” Patch replied.  Koda was left staring down at his curled toes, feeling very lost and alone.

        “I love her, dam it I love her!”  Koda yelled.  Hearing a quickly suppressed giggle, he turned and saw Whitetip standing behind him.

      “How did you get behind me without coming through the main door?”  He asked.  Whitetip giggled:

       “You were so focused on Patch I crept beneath his belly and you never noticed!”  She laughed.  Koda grinned, but then became serious:

       “I meant what I yelled,” he said soberly, “I do love you Whitetip.”

      “I know,” she replied, “and when I let you down by being unprofessional, I hated myself.  Your paws excite me, I love you, but, it’s not a love leading to the production of cubs, it’s deeper than that, a different love, above the production of any cubs.”  Koda knew what she meant.

       “You make me feel young again Koda,” Whitetip said, Koda giggling nervously.

       “I’ve got to go,” Koda said, running from the room and to his bequeathed flat.  Running in, he slammed the door and ran into the kitchen, opening the store cupboard and finding a bottle of red liquid with a screw top.  Opening it, he poured some of it into a glass, remembering the pleasure his sire used to get from drinking the red stuff.  Indeed, Koda himself had tasted some, and it had burned down his throat, making him feel warm.  Sire Koda had warned him against drinking too much, and advised him to drink one small glass a day.  Now Koda sat on the soft couch with his glass of red liquid, staring at it and wondering what the hell was going on between him and Whitetip.  Drinking deeply from the glass, Koda felt the slightly biting liquid catch in his throat as he swallowed.  Eyes watering, he put the glass down.

      “Shit that stuff’s strong,” he thought as his eyes and nose streamed.  Grabbing a tissue, he wiped his eyes and blew his nose, throwing the tissue in the bin.

       “That stuff is too strong for me,” he thought.  Looking up as Kamchatka padded dejectedly in, Koda didn’t hide the glass of red liquid.  Kamchatka saw it, and Koda felt a shock of fear, for she’d warned him against drinking at his age.  Kamchatka looked at the glass, grabbed it, rose to her hind feet, tipped her head back and sunk the contents out of sight.  Collapsing on the couch, she buried her face in her paws and wept inconsolably.

      “Mama?”  Koda asked.  Kamchatka grabbed Koda, hugged him fiercely to her, and roared with grief and pain.

       “Oh mama,” Koda said softly, realising what had happened to his mother.

         “I, I lost my cub Koda,”  Kamchatka sobbed, “after, after you left with Whitetip, the pains started, and I tried to have the cub in here, but I knew it wouldn’t survive, so I crawled outside.  I had the cub on the grass at the back door, screaming and crying, I pushed deeply into my tail, but the cub got stuck, Ekaterina helped me deliver the cub, pulled it out.  I was too weak to help; the cub hurt me on its way out!  Ekaterina gave the cub to me; I washed it, hugged it, and kissed its tiny nose and large paws.”

        “I’m sorry mama,” Koda said, “while I was playing and laughing with Whitetip, you were in pain and grief.  I am sorry I was not there.”

        “I am glad you were playing,” Kamchatka said, “Koda, please, play for two now.  The cub was breathing when he was born, but he died soon after.  He was so weak, too weak to live long.”

       “What did you name him?”  Koda asked.

       “I hadn’t the time to name him,” Kamchatka admitted, “I hadn’t thought, had no time.  What should we name him Koda?”

        “What have you done with the cub’s body?”  Koda asked gently.

       “Ekaterina, she wrapped the cub in a plastic thing and bore him away to put him somewhere.  I don’t know where.”

        “Mama,” Koda said gently, “let’s fined your cub’s body, and then we’ll name him, and bury him in a gentle manner, you and me.”  Kamchatka got to her feet, looking down at her cub.

        “I’ll ask Ekaterina to bring the cub to the woods,” Koda said softly to his mother, touching her paw before going to the telephone.

 

Later, as night was drawing in, Kamchatka and Koda stood with Furcone and Ekaterina in the wood, Furcone having dug a grave for Kamchatka’s cub.  Ekaterina gently placed the cub In Koda’s paws, the black bear cub holding the large cub with gentle care, feeling the warmth seeming to radiate from its body, Ekaterina stepping back so Kamchatka could see the reality of what was happening.

         “What shall we name this cub?”  Koda asked, his voice seeming not to belong to him.

         “How if we name him Mishka?”  Kamchatka said sorrowfully, “For he was such a little bear when he lived and died.”  Koda looked at the large cub’s body.  Not a hair out of place, the cub lay cradled in his paws, a miniature version of himself, so innocent, so untainted by the terrors of the world.

        “Little Mishka, it is time for you to set your paws on the path to another world,” Koda said sadly.  Suddenly Kamchatka screamed, a long drawn out howl of terror that made everyone look at her.  Her eyes terrified, she stared at the little cub in Koda’s paws.

        “What the hell is this?”  Ekaterina asked, her mind disbelieving her eyes.

         “That cub is breathing!”  Kamchatka squealed turning and running away.

         “There is no doubt,” Koda said, looking down at the cub cradled in his paws, “he is breathing.”  As in a dream, he gave the cub to Ekaterina, who took the cub in her paws and began to massage its chest very gently.  Soon the cub was breathing regularly and deeply.

          “How did this happen?”  Koda asked Ekaterina, who now looked terrified.

       “I put the cub in, in the cool place,” Ekaterina replied, she could not bring herself to call the place she’d put the cub a refrigerator.

       “Then what?”  Koda asked.

      “I’m sorry brother,”  Ekaterina gabbled, feeling small, “I, I tried, wanted, to make things easier for Kamchatka, so I spent time warming the cub up, hugging it, massaging its paws and chest, making it feel as if it hadn’t been in, um, that place.”

        “You saved the cub’s life Ekaterina,” Koda said, “I do not know the ways or means of what you did, but I know this, you have brought a cub from the dead,” Ekaterina sat down with the large brown form in her paws, which was still breathing, and was now moving its legs and curling the toes of its large paws.

        “Has mama Kamchatka got milk for him?”  Ekaterina asked, snapping out of her reverie.

       “How long since his birth?”  Koda asked.

      “Four hours, if that,” Ekaterina replied.

       “I’ll milk her if it comes to it,” Furcone replied, her protective instinct kicking in.

       “Let’s take it gently Furcone,” Koda replied, “it’s not every day a cub comes seemingly back from the dead.  Treat mama with gentility; please don’t be hard on her.”  Furcone and Ekaterina ran back to the house with the newborn cub, leaving Koda standing alone.

        “What the hell do I do now?”  Koda asked aloud, his legs shaking.  Sitting down, he found himself looking into the grave.

       “We won’t need that any more,” he thought, “I hope we won’t anyway.”  Koda filled in the grave with fumbling paws, stamping down the earth and when all was done, leaving the graveside, utterly exhausted.  Padding back to the house, Koda felt light headed, and wondered if the red liquid he’d drunk had played tricks on his mind.  Had the cub really come to life in his paws?  Koda was suddenly seized by a cold dread.  What if it was not true, what if his drinking of the red liquid had tricked his mind?  Koda felt a chill of fear and horror run down his spine and end at the pads of all four of his paws.  Sitting down where he was, Koda buried his face in his paws and wept.  Later, much later, Koda felt himself being picked up in warm paws; they were very warm paws indeed.

        “Is this death?”  Koda asked himself as he was carried in floating warmth towards wherever he was going.  He felt himself being settled on a warmed rug, and then something settled beside him, a smaller body than his it was.

        “So the cub died after all,” Koda thought, “poor chap, poor little Mishka.  Koda embraced the smaller form in his paws, his nose telling him the small form’s fur was warm and full of life.

      “Maybe heavenly fur smells like earthly fur does,” Koda thought, “maybe Mishka will rise to his paws and walk with me when we both are admitted into the heavenly place across that bridge thing the spirits keep talking about.”  Koda felt something clambering all over him; the little form was exploring him.  Had he given birth to a cub?  It felt as if he had, everything ached, and his head was full of woollen rubbish, just as he thought a mother’s head would feel after the exertion and trauma of giving birth, and who was to say he hadn’t given birth to a cub.  Maybe male bears could do that kind of thing in the land over the bridge.  Images of Mishka, the little cub who had come to life in his paws still ran through Koda’s befuddled mind.  Now what was his mind trying to tell him?

       “Go away, my head hurts!”  Koda moaned as a voice yelled at him to wake up.  Then he felt large paws pummelling his shoulder.  Koda snapped into full wakefulness and realised there was a little form beating the life out of his shoulder, a large brown cub, very alive, more alive than Koda himself felt.

       “What the hell happened?”  Koda asked thickly, his lips feeling like rubber and head swimming.

        “You’ve been out for days and days!”  The large cub said.  Koda looked blearily at the cub; there were two of them, two cubs.  Koda closed his eyes, nausea making him sink back onto the rugs.

         “He’s \in a worse state than Mishka ever was,” Blackberry grunted.

        “Now I’m worried about him!”  Mishka said, his face registering anxiety.

       “Koda will be okay little one,” Kamchatka said, realising how drastically things had changed in such a short time.  Now Mishka her newborn cub, which she thought was dead, was now lively, and had fed and defecated, and done everything a cub should do at his age.  Koda however, was bleary eyed, and had done things that he should never do at his age.

       “Now can you get to your paws?”  Mishka asked.  Groaning, Koda got to his feet, swayed, and nearly collapsed.

     “I feel sick,” Koda moaned, staggering to the private bathroom, where he vomited into the toilet bowl.  Whimpering in misery, he flushed his mess away and washed his mouth with water before returning to the main room on trembling paws.  Koda looked at Mishka, taking him in from nose to tail.

        “So you’re not a dream,” he mumbled.  Mishka touched Koda’s nose with his.

        “I’m here, alive, indeed, more alive than you are I think,” the large cub said.  Koda sat down on his sire’s chair and looked wearily round him.

       “I am sorry,” he said, “I should not have drunk that red liquid.”  Mishka scrambled into Koda’s lap, the black bear hugging his younger brother as tightly as he dared.

       “I love you Koda,” Mishka said.  Koda smiled:

       “You’ve only seen me pissed, I mean drunk, so how do you know you love the real Koda?”  Kamchatka growled at Koda.

       “You don’t use that language!”  Koda smiled and apologised gravely to his younger brother.

Later that day, in the great room just before Furcone took the latest history class, Koda sat with the other cubs, hardly knowing if he was one of them or not now he was leader of the community.

      “I heard you and Whitetip were getting on famously Koda,” Imogen said, sitting down beside him, “Tarker told me everything.  He said you’d been playing with her paws and she’d loved every minute of it.  Do you love her Koda?”  Koda bristled with anger and embarrassment.

       “We like each other,” he replied economically, “that are all.  Yes we played with each other’s paws, but that is how play is here isn’t it?”

       

       “There was more than that though,” Imogen pressed, “more than just play with paws?  More feelings than just cubbish play I mean?”  Koda turned angrily on Imogen:

      “Now you just shut up!”  He snapped, “it’s none of your bloody business what Whitetip and I do, or how we play, or anything!  Just keep your nose out of our business Imogen!”  Imogen, happy she’d got what she wanted, raised a placating paw and ignored Koda completely.  Koda, sensing a trap, launched himself at Imogen, pinning her down and whacking her paws with his.  Screaming, Imogen fought madly to free herself, Koda only letting go when Sita piled in.  Koda rolled off Imogen, expecting a beating from her mother, but Sita went to Imogen and cuffed her hard.

      “You know what I told you about bullying others!”  She yelled, “Its wrong Imogen!”  Imogen cuffed her mother across the face with her paw.

       “What Koda and Whitetip are doing is wrong mother, it’s disgusting!”  Imogen yelled back, “they’ll be having deformed cub’s next, mark my words.  We all know what horrendous misfits cross breeding can cause don’t we now?”  Sita ignored the comment and massaged her stinging nose.

         “Get out!”  She snarled.

     “No mama, I won’t!”  Imogen yelled back, “I’m staying put!”

       “Are you?”  Someone asked.  Imogen looked round, to see Arcto a split second before he picked her up bodily and slung her forcibly out into the passage.

       “Ouch, that hurt!”  Imogen howled when she hit the floor.

        “I’ll do worse next time!”  Arcto promised.  Sita, unsure of what had just taken place, stood flat footed and confused.

       “Arcto threw Imogen out of the room Sita,” Koda said.  Sita turned to Koda and felt for his paw with hers.

         “I’m lost,” she said, “I don’t know what to do Koda.”  Koda looked into the terrified eyes of the cross bred cat bear.

       “She’s getting worse,” Sita mewed, “she hates me Koda.  She hates my fur, my paws, everything.  She once told me she wished she’d never been born to me.  I disgust her apparently, or is it something else that disgusts her?”  Koda looked into the sightless eyes of the mama cat bear.

        “I don’t know how to help you Sita,” he said honestly, “I’d love to help, but I don’t know how, I, I’m a cub, just a cub.  Please don’t ask of me what I cannot give you.”  Sita knew the truth of his words.

        “I am truly sorry Koda,” she replied, “it’s so hard sometimes though.  Knowing your own cub hates you from nose to paws is a dreadful thing.  It would be all right if she just left me alone, but she doesn’t, she gets her digs in, slaps me, misleads me so I look stupid, all that.  I feel so lost Koda, so lost here, I, I want to leave here, this place is changing, I feel unsafe here now.”

       “Here is your home,” Koda replied, “where will you go if you walk out of the door Sita?”  Sita crumpled completely, collapsing half on top of Koda, weeping inconsolably.  Koda tried valiantly to cradle Sita’s head, but she was too heavy for him, and he had to let her slip to the floor.  Holding one of her huge paws in his forepaws, he kissed the furry top of her paw, wondering how on earth he was to help this distressed creature.

 

Imogen ran through the house, looking for someone to hurt, someone to harm.  She bulldozed her way up to the inner sanctum of the leader’s plush flat, intending to do harm to something small and vulnerable.  Screaming lustily, Imogen ran into the lie up, and then all the wind was knocked out of her as something landed on top of her with tremendous force.

        “What do you want don’s with this,” Patch said to Kamchatka as he pinned Imogen under one huge paw.

         “Tie her up, and we’ll put her in the cell,” Kamchatka said gruffly.  Patch tied Imogen up with knots that tightened if she struggled, then carried her to the concrete cell.

       “She infuriates me,” patch said as he padded in five minutes later.

      “What was she doing?”  Jess asked.  Patch sat down, and Jess remembered how much she loved this big grey bear.

       “Imogen wanted to hurt something small,” Patch replied gruffly, “she was coming for little Mishka.”  Jess looked down at her bare toes.

       “You don’t believe that do you?”  She asked, seeing her own toes curling at the hint of danger.

        “I think she was out to hurt something small, as she could not hurt her own mother,” patch replied.  Patch noticed jess’s curled toes and smiled at her.

       “You aren’t in danger,” he said, “but I know how you feel.”  Jess giggled.

       “Expressive paws again,” she replied.

 

Imogen lay in the concrete cell, knowing she was to be run off the property.  She hated her mother with a vehemence which had grown in intensity since Sita had given birth to little Leo.  Imogen could not see how Sita was able to raise Leo properly, what could she teach him?”  Now she was being punished for her hatred of her own mother, or so she thought.

 

A few days later, Imogen was getting used to her new life of three meals a day and no other contact, when Kuruk padded past, dragged her out of the cell and carried her through the woods, leaving her on the road.  Cutting her bonds, he grunted:

       “You leave here now Imogen, you go and you no come back.  You can hate your mama, but don’t hurt her, or her cubs, or the cubs of others because they are weaker than you are.  You Imogen have forfeited the right to have the protection of this community.  If you come back, Kuruk kill you without emotion, right?”  Imogen looked at the huge grizzly bear.

        “Yes,” she said, padding down the road.  Kuruk listened to the silence, and then heard something, a car coming down the road.  Retreating into the woods, Kuruk listened as the car, now a truck, came closer, speeding along the road far faster than it should be.  The lights came round the corner, and the truck bore down on Imogen.  Seeing the car, Imogen leapt for her life!  The driver, seeing the advancing creature, hit the breaks.  The truck, articulated, jack-knifed, Imogen hit by the swinging trailer, and killed instantly.  The trailer separated from the tuck and rolled off down the road, overturning with a crash.  Kuruk ran for the house, bursting into the house and grabbing the phone on the wall to call the control room.

       “Car come along road and split in two, and then Imogen killed on road, and trailer fall on side, big mess!”  Kuruk gabbled into the mouthpiece, slamming down the phone and running out of the house to the scene of the crash.  Police soon arrived, staring at Kuruk, who sat down and raised his paws.  The police caught up with the driver and breathalysed him, Charles Fullbeans driving up in his car to sort the human angle.

      “This bear is mine,” Charles said softly.  The police constable looked at Charles and then at Kuruk.

       “We know this area,” he said, “We will take the human and the car and go.”  Banging issuing from the trailer made the police stop their work.

      “There’s something in there,” one traffic officer said to another.  The police broke open the doors, finding a huge bear in the trailer.

       “He was transporting livestock,” one police officer said.  The bear was dragged out of the trailer, the police finding he was tied up, his paws bound and mouth muzzled.  Kuruk got up, padded round to the police who’d dragged the bear from the trailer with their patrol car and a rope.  Motioning to the police, Kuruk told them he would take over.

       “He wants to take over the bear’s care,” Charles Fullbeans said.  The police cut the bear’s bonds, while |Kuruk held the bear down, though only he knew this bear was in no fit state to hurt anyone, for he was heavily drugged.

       “Now he’s free, what do we do?”  The junior officer asked.

      “Run like hell,” the sergeant replied, “that bloody great bear is going to lose his temper in a bit and we’re in the firing line.”  Charles told them this was not the case.

       “Our bears are very well behaved,” he said.  The police put the man into the back of their van and drove away, leaving Kuruk and the sedated cargo alone.  Kuruk spoke gently to the terrified bear, which whimpered and cried with fear.

      “We protect you here,” Kuruk said softly, “I get help from other friends of mine.”  Kuruk looked at Charles.

     “Go,” he said, “find patch, find Blackberry, find Bruin, they will help carry this poor bear.”  Charles Fullbeans radioed to the house and arranged everything.

 

Later that day, the large grizzly bear was waking in the house.  His paws hurt, his jaw ached, and indeed his whole body throbbed with pain.  Crying, he wondered what would happen to him.  Big paws, big soft paws, stroked him with gentle care, and someone else kissed his nose and a very small kiss was placed on the pads of all four of his paws...

        “The touch and kisses feel good, so good!”  The bear thought, his spirit lifting slightly, though he was still terrified.

       “Open your eyes big bear,” a small voice said loudly.  The bear opened his eyes, and saw a large newborn cub, the one who’d kissed his paws, or so he thought.

      “Why you kiss my paws little one?”  The bear asked hoarsely.

       “You were crying, and my mama kisses my paws when I’m crying to make me feel better.  It works for me, so I thought it would make you better too,” the cub replied.  The bear gulped hard, tears springing to his eyes.

        “I have  wanted to live in a place where cubs think like that for the whole of my life,”  he said, “tell me this is true, tell me little one, that you truly believe what you told me.”  Mishka smiled and kissed the bear’s nose, which was more in range now he’d rolled onto his chest.

        “I don’t need to tell you anything,” Mishka said, “my mama, she says that I need not spell anything out to true spirits.  The large grizzly bear hesitated:

       “No, you don’t need to spell it out,” the bear replied, “I do know, I have met caged bears before who spoke of the true spirit, of bears who, who would love before they hated, who would show no fear, who would extend the paw of friendship with no suspicion.  I never quite believed such a place existed.  These bears were seen as stupid, the ones who spoke of such places.  Now, now I know they were right.”

      “Where have you come from?”  Mishka asked.

       “I’m a dancing bear.  My master is cruel to me and makes me dance, if I don’t he whips my paws until I do.”

       “We no have dancing bears in this country, how he come to get you in here?”  Kuruk asked, padding into the room.

        “I was part of a circus,” the bear replied sadly, “I was taught from a cub that dancing was my living.  I was taught to dance in the most horrible ways.  I don’t want to dance now.”

     “Let me look at your pads,” Kamchatka said softly, glancing at the large grizzly’s hind paws.

      “They are scarred, as if from burns,” she grunted.  The bear, his story exposed, buried his face in his paws and howled with fear and misery.

       “We no blame you for wanting tell us different thing,”  Kuruk said softly to the newcomer, “you think of the least horrible thing you can and tell this to us to ease your own mind, and this be understood here.”

         “I don’t want to dance any more!”  The bear sobbed, “Well not to a human’s tune anyway.  Now, if a mama bear took my forepaws with love and gentility, then I might dance with her, but until then, my hind feet will remain still.”

         “We no make you do dancing thing,” Kuruk replied, “though patch do dance with his human friend jess.  Though he no dancing bear,” Kuruk smiled, “he have poor paw work you see, two left paws, if you get my meaning.  Kamchatka growled at Kuruk, warning him not to joke about the new bear’s barbaric employment.

       “If I could dance because I wanted to, I would dance willingly,” the bear whimpered, “but I was forced to dance, forced to do things with pain.  Now if a kind human had befriended me, cared for me, fed me with good food and bathed my paws, I would give him my paw of friendship, rather than hating him.  Now though, I find a place where there are bears who work with humans, at least one I’ve seen, maybe two, and they left the bears alone to do their own thing.  This is a human’s house, but not a human’s house.  I know houses, I know what these are.  Now though, I want to sleep, I want to curl up, lick my sore paws to soothe them and sleep.”

       “We could bathe your paws if they hurt you,” Mishka replied.

      “The pain in my paws is no longer physical,” the bear sighed, “can you understand that little one?”  Mishka nodded:

       “Sort of,” he replied, “though I’ve never felt my paws in pain yet.  I have felt gentle paws, and if painful paws are the opposite of that, I don’t want to know them.”

       “Your paws are small and have not known abuse,” the bear said, looking at Mishka’s paws, which he could see as the bear was side on to him, “you have beautiful paws by the way,” the bear said, “you have paws, paws that, that I probably had when I was a cub.  Sensitive paws, paws with toes that curled easily with pleasure.  Now they curl with pain and I scream with agony of mind and body.  That was, was until someone kissed my pads.  Now my toes want to curl with pleasure once more.”

      “But you grizzly bear, not normal kind of bear for dancing bear thing,” Kuruk grunted.

       “I was a special bear, my master found me in a market and paid massive money for me,” the bear replied, “I’m a grizzly bear, but I’m a sad grizzly bear who needs a hug.  My spirit is broken, my dreams are in my head, my paws are too painful, my body is slow, my claws and teeth can’t protect me.  He held out his paws, the claws were gone, and opening his mouth, they saw he had blunted teeth.

       “I’m unable to eat properly, I need mushy food,” the bear replied sadly.

       “You have no claws big one,” Kuruk said, the full horror hitting home finally.

        “I will never have claws,” the bear replied resignedly, “I can’t fridge, I can’t eat properly, and I can’t walk properly either.  I hoped, hoped when the lorry crashed, I would die there in the truck.”

        “You still want this?”  Kuruk asked, “You still feel in so much pain you want dies?”  The bear looked at Kuruk:

        “I don’t know,” he replied.  Kamchatka looked at her son cub.

        “You can’t,” she said.

     “Mama,” Kuruk replied softly, “if him want die, then Kuruk make it painless for him.  We give him to Patch and see what he really wants.  First though, we give him food and drink, and bathe his paws and such.  Then, we ask him when he as comfortable as we can make him.  If he still resolves that he want die then, then we have no right stop him mama, we no own life of him after all.”  Kamchatka knew what her grown son cub was saying.

        “We help you, feed you, bathe your paws, and then when you rest and think straight and such, then we ask if you want die still.  Now is not time for this thing,” Kuruk said to the large grizzly, “now you in fear and you make quick choice which you no think through.  We feed you, bathe you, then if you want cross bridge, then we let you cross bridge with gentle guidance of paws onto thing.”  The bear looked into Kuruk’s face.

         “You do know how to do it?”  He asked.  Kuruk nodded:

        “Kuruk know how,” he replied, “but not now.  We make you comfortable, then you tell us if want go through thing.  Then if so, we make thing happen with gentility.  If not, then we give you home, and maybe, maybe you find mama bear that you want make dance of love with ay?  Then maybe she has cubs from you, and you see mama pushing and grunting with pain of cubbing, but this pain good pain.  Mama curls toes and roar with natural pain, and then she have cub like Mishka maybe.”  The bear looked at Mishka, looked at his face, his fur and his paws.

         “I want a cub like him,” he whispered.

       “We give you to mama Kamchatka, she looks after you with gentle care,” Kuruk said, smiling at his mother and leaving the room, cheerily waving a paw as he left.  The bear looked at Kamchatka.

       “Are you in pain too mama?”  He asked.  Kamchatka looked into the bear’s face.  The eyes of an abused spirit looked out at her.

       “I’m grieving,” she replied, “I lost my mate to a stupid act on his part.  Mishka, the little cub you have loved with your eyes ever since you saw him, is my mate’s last cub.  Our midwife, she brought him, brought him back from the dead.”

        “Can the midwife’s mama do the same for a sore pawed stray?”  The bear asked.

       “How did you know of Ekaterina’s parentage?”  Kamchatka asked.

      “The birds tell of many things,” the bear replied, “that are how I know.”

     “They saw everything I suppose,” Kamchatka said, “ah well; I suppose my labour wasn’t exactly private.”

         “Can you bring this bear back from the dead mama?”  Mishka asked.

        “I don’t know,” Kamchatka replied, “I could, but maybe I’ll need help.”  Mishka turned his face towards his mother, his expression eager.  At the same time, he stood on the toes of all four of his paws.

        “I want to help him if I can,” the cub replied, “Can I help mama?”  Kamchatka smiled and sat down.

      “Before you can, you must be fed,” she said.  Mishka laughed delightedly, scrambling into her lap and feeding busily, right in front of the newcomer.  Blackberry, patch and the whole house watched to see what the new bear would do.  The bear rolled stiffly onto his side, then his back, and then sat up with a loud groan of pain and effort.  Now sitting with his back against the wall at right angles to Kamchatka, the pads of his right hind foot nearly touching the side of Kamchatka’s left, the bear watched her feeding her cub.

       “Sit opposite me if you want to see better,” Kamchatka invited.  The bear shuffled over until he was directly opposite the mama bear.  Sitting down, his hind feet a few inches from Kamchatka’s, he watched her feeding her cub.  Kamchatka wriggled slightly to reposition herself, the toes of her left hind foot brushing those of the newcomer’s right hind.  Her paw was somewhat smaller than the newcomer’s, and he noticed this.  He noticed she had short claws, though they looked clipped short, rather than worn such.  The bear watched in astonishment as his stiff toes curled easily round Kamchatka’s, pressing her warm toes against the scarred pads of his larger hind foot.  Kamchatka pressed her pads against the bear’s, encouraging him to increase his grip, which he did.

       “Squeeze my toes with yours,” Kamchatka said, “go on, I bet you can’t.”  The bear sighed deeply with regret, for he wanted to.

       “My toes are too stiff to do as you ask,” he replied, “I can’t do as you wish mama.”

       “Relax big bear and see what happens,” Mishka said round the teat he was drinking from, spraying milk everywhere.  Kamchatka and the newcomer laughed helplessly at this.

       “It looks like we both will need a bath now,” the grizzly with the scarred paws said.  Kamchatka smiled with genuine warmth.

         “Take me, one paw at a time,” she invited, “but first, tell me your name,” she enquired.

        “My name is Innokenti, it means innocent in Russian, where I was found and trapped.  Now mama, what is your name?”  The bear replied.

        “I adopted the name Kamchatka, from my place of birth,” Kamchatka replied, “I used to have a Russian name, just like yours, but that passed out of my memory years ago.”

        Kamchatka is a nice name for a strong mama bear,” Innokenti replied.  Kamchatka looked down at the cub held in her paws.  Feeling uncomfortable, she passed the cub to Innokenti:

      “I need to relieve myself quickly,” she said, running from the room.  Kuruk, watching from the door, stared in astonishment as his mother ran from the room, leaving her four day old cub with, as he saw it, an unknown bear.

 

“You crazy or what mama?”  Kuruk asked, tackling his mother as she emerged from the relieving place.

       “I don’t know,” she replied, “I might be, maybe I’m getting old and forget caution sometimes?”  Kuruk snorted:

      “What if your new love has eaten your cub?”  He asked, “He’s a wild bear mama knows.”  Spurred on by fear, Kamchatka streaked back to the lie up, to find Innokenti and Mishka playing together,  the older bear tickling the cub’s tiny toes, Mishka laughing uproariously.  Kamchatka stood and watched the bears playing, and then dropping to all fours, she crawled to Innokenti and kissed his nose.

       “You looked after my cub then,” she said.  Innokenti smiled and nodded:

        “I knew I was being tested,” he replied, “”would this spirit love my cub or destroy him?”  You asked.  Now I hope you have your answer Kamchatka dear.”  Kamchatka smiled and kissed her cub’s forepaws.

       “I do, and so does Mishka,” she replied softly.  Innokenti examined Kamchatka minutely, the she bear rolling over onto her back, presenting him with all four large paws.

      “There I am rolling over like a dog and I have not offered you drink or food,” Kamchatka said.  Innokenti smiled and looked over at the telephone.

       “I have heard you can telephone from every lie up for food and things,” he said.  Kamchatka laughed merrily and indicated the phone with a wave of her paw.  Innokenti smiled and padded to the phone, picking it up and hitting the button marked kitchen.  A morose sounding voice asked:

      “Yes?”

     “What kind of food have you got in?”  Innokenti asked.

       “Everything’s made fresh here, we don’t microwave stuff,” was the reply.

       “Can you make a soup?”  Innokenti asked.  The voice grunted and said:

      “You are in Kamchatka’s lie up,” the voice said, “I’ll come there with the soup.  What do you want in it?”

       “I lived with the humans, I love ham and strong cheese, and vegetables, and can you do that?”

      “Stilton?”  The voice asked, evidently pleased by the suggestion.

       “Yes, please,” Innokenti replied.

     “Done.  Now how about drink?”  The voice asked.

        “Do you have orange juice?”  Innokenti asked.  The voice grunted assent.

      “Thanks a lot,” Innokenti replied, putting the receiver down.  Kamchatka grinned at Innokenti as he sat down.

        “I wish I could join you in that meal,” she said.  Innokenti crawled to the phone and snatched up the receiver.

      “Can you make that order for the stilton soup and orange juice twice?”  Innokenti asked.  The voice on the other end grunted assent.  Patch padded in soon after, carrying a tray with one soup and orange juice, Koda walking in with the other, Sid bringing up a third, and Whitetip a fourth.  Sitting down, Whitetip and Koda joined Kamchatka and Innokenti.

       “You are very welcome here,” Koda said to Innokenti, the large grizzly bear bowing his head in thanks to the black bear.

       “I understand you own this whole place now,” Innokenti stated.  Koda smiled shyly:

      “I do,” Koda replied.  Blackberry padded in, and Innokenti looked at him.

        “Someone told me your name was Blackberry,” he said, “is this true?”  Blackberry laughed:

       “Um, yeah,” he replied, “it’s, um, inappropriate really, but my fur used to be black, my paw pads too, but, um, even they have gone white.  How I don’t know.”

        “You always had white paw pads,” Kamchatka said, Ekaterina named you blackberry as your pads looked like the skin of a blackberry when you curled your toes.”

       “My pads were black then,” Blackberry admitted, now though, maybe the black covering has fallen off them, for they are white, as white as my fur!”  Innokenti grinned at Blackberry.

       “I make a declaration in front of the spiritual leader and community leader now,” he said, drinking his soup and wiping his mouth with his paw, “I promise to love mama Kamchatka and her cubs, both younger and older cubs.  I think this is a real family thing isn’t it?”  Kamchatka smiled and nodded.

      “Now the birds tell me it is customary to offer my paw of friendship to everyone individually,” Innokenti said.

       “He looks like he would offer me all four paws mama,” Koda remarked.

      “and indeed I would Koda,”  the large grizzly replied softly, rolling onto his side and presenting all four of his paws to the half grown cub, who examined, then kissed each one.  Innokenti smiled and returned Koda’s kiss to the cub’s paws.

       “Welcome,” Koda said, “I hope you have a long and happy life here.”  Innokenti sat up, impulsively hugging his leader.

      “I could love you very much Innokenti,” Koda said, “You have lovely warm paws, honest paws they are.”

       “I will take the paws of every member of this community in mine if that is the custom,” Innokenti said.  Koda smiled:

        “Meet my friend Whitetip,” he said, indicating to Whitetip to come forward.  Whitetip abandoned her cup of soup and padded forward, Innokenti lifting her into his lap and examining her with eyes and paws.

        “You are not a bear, nor a lion, but you are one of the creatures I have longed to see since I was a cub.  Stories told of a web footed mammal that ate fish and loved play.

      “That would be me then,” Whitetip replied, rolling onto her back and presenting Innokenti with all four paws.  The bear traced Whitetip’s pads and toes, the she otter giggling with pleasure.

 

Meanwhile, Sita lay distraught in her lie up.  She’d heard all about her daughter cub’s demise under the wheels of a run away trailer, and initially, she felt nothing.  No grief, no emotions at all.  Now she was wondering if her reaction was too cold, too awful for words.  Now she lay, completely devoid of emotions, other than her distress at her lack of distress towards the death of her cub.  Did she dislike, even hate Imogen?  Maybe she did, could a mother be forgiven for hating her daughter cub?  Sita thought she might, as Imogen was violent towards her.

        “Sita?”  Someone asked, padding into the lie up.  Sita raised her head, feeling a nose brush hers.  It was a strange nose, the scent not one she recognised, even though it was half masked by the usual soap the community used.

     “Who are you?”  Sita asked.  The newcomer sat down.

      “I’m the cargo that was in the lorry which killed your cub,” the voice said.  Sita touched the newcomer’s hind paws.

       “Now it’s not your fault she died,” Sita started to say, when she felt the newcomer’s paws around her.

        “I wanted to say how sorry I was your cub died,” the newcomer said.

      “I don’t feel anything for my cub,” Sita choked, “its wrong, I know it’s wrong! I feel anger, sadness, and confusion!”  The newcomer replied:

     “Maybe there is a reason why you feel nothing for your cub?”   Sita poured it all out, everything, all the hatred, meanness and disgusting things Imogen had said and done, leading to her imprisonment.

       “You did not choose your fur or your disability,” The newcomer replied, “you cannot be held responsible for those.”

      “But I am held responsible, as if, as if my fur was my fault, as if my eyes not working are my fault too!”

        “I have the feeling this community embraces disabled members,”  the newcomer said, “that they don’t mind how disabled you are, as long as you contribute something, love for lost creatures, a gentle touch, a loving word, a gentle presence, you are valued.  I understand you have had two cubs?  What does your first cub say about his sister’s attitudes?”

        “He, Toby, is sweet and gentle,” Sita replied.

        “So you have given birth to a gentle cub,” the newcomer replied, “and you have a youngest cub too?”

      “Leo’s not old enough to make his own choices yet,” Sita replied, “but he’s gentle enough.”  The newcomer took Sita’s right forepaw in his, Sita feeling a warm rough touch.

       “Your pads are smooth and soft,” the newcomer observed, “are you a house dweller only?”  Sita nodded:

         “I hardly go out,” she replied, “maybe to the woods from time to time, but there isn’t much to interest me.”

        “Why not?”  The newcomer asked.

       “Well I can’t see much for a start,” Sita replied, “and if I’m not guided to places I can’t explore new things.”

         “Where would you like to go?”  The newcomer asked.

        “I don’t know,” Sita replied honestly.  To get my paws off of the ground would be a nice thing to do.”

       “You mean fly through the air on a rope or something?”  The newcomer asked.  Sita nodded:

       “I’d like that,” she said, “I need help to play, help to find my way.”

       “Can’t your cubs help? Or your mate?”

       “It’s not their job to help me,” Sita replied, “I can’t expect them to help me find things, let alone play with me, or help me access things.  I don’t know your name, but you know mine, which is not unusual round here.”

      “My name is Innokenti,” the newcomer replied, “I’m, well, Kamchatka’s mate.”

       “That’s lovely,” Sita said, “its good she’d found someone she can be with.”

         “I know her history, and she and her cub need protection.”

       “I’m adopted by her,” Sita mewed, “but I don’t think I can go to her for play and things, she has her own life, and they all have their own lives.”

       “So you are just shoved into a corner?”  Innokenti replied.

        “Well, no, um, well,” Sita replied, “Ok, yes, sort of,” she admitted.  |Innokenti massaged Sita’s paws, Sita mewing and growling with pleasure and excitement.

       “Is there a place where we can play?”  Innokenti asked.  Sita smiled and nodded:

      “The soft playroom,” she replied, “it’s soft there, soft and, um, Sita proof.  Innokenti smiled and picked Sita up in his paws.

       “I’ll find it,” he said, carrying Sita to the playroom and announcing the fact he’d reached their destination by dumping Sita in the foam pit.

       “Oi!”  Sita yowled, “a bit of warning would be nice!”

      “Sorry,” Innokenti said, Sita hauling herself out of the foam pit and pushing Innokenti onto his back, tickling his pads and toes.

       “Now what kind of play do you want?”  Innokenti asked once Sita had stopped tickling his paws.

        “I would like help getting onto the zip wire,” Sita replied.  Innokenti got to his feet and looked towards the rope ladders and nets.

       “We’ll climb up the rope ladders,” Innokenti mused.

       “I can run up those with no problems,” Sita said, “I’ve done it once, but only once.  Bet you can’t Innokenti, as a bear you’d be all paws and claws at doing that.”  Innokenti grinned at Sita’s adaptation of the human expression for getting in a muddle.

        “We’ll take a gentle climb to the top,” Innokenti replied, leading Sita to the rope ladder.

       “I’ll go up first,” Innokenti said, “you can then feel me going up the ladder and follow in my paw prints, okay?”  Sita smiled and rested her paw on Innokenti’s.

        “Do you mind me touching your paws?”  She asked.

       “Sita, dear Sita,” Innokenti replied smiling, “you forget something.  You tickled my toes and pads earlier.”  Sita blushed to her ears:

       “Oh god!”  She gasped, “I did, without asking your permission too!  I’m so sorry.”  Innokenti grinned.

       “I think that deserves retribution,” he replied laughing, Sita stiffening in a reflex to the word.

        “I won’t hurt you Sita,” Innokenti said soberly, “was it something I said?”  Sita swallowed hard.

         “Imogen used to use those words when she thought I’d done wrong,” she said faintly, “I, I know you were only playing and you couldn’t have known.”  Innokenti wanted to hug Sita so tightly, but didn’t know if he could now.

        “Can I hug you Sita?”  He asked.  Sita moved towards Innokenti, the male bear embracing her with gentle pressure.

       “I won’t touch you unless you want me to,” Innokenti said.  Sita shook her head:

         “I would like to be touched by caring paws,” she replied, “if only it was safe for me to climb the ladder before you I would like you to position my paws like you would a cub’s.”  Innokenti smiled:

       “I’ll do that when you’re sitting on the zip wire,” he said, “you can ride that with a footrest in place or with your hind feet swinging free,” he said, “I’ll position your feet on that rest with particular care if you want it.”  Sita smiled:

        “Ok,” she said, “and I’ll make sure I act cubbish too,” she thought.  Innokenti smiled and ruffled Sita’s ears.

       “There’s a sign here,” he said, “it’s not tactile or anything you could read Sita, but it says: “no cubs allowed to play unsupervised.  All cubs should be supervised by a responsible adult when playing on the high apparatus.””

       “Responsible adult?”  Sita asked, “That’s ruled us out then,” Innokenti smiled:

       “Also,” he replied, “It says, “all cubs should be bare pawed when playing in the playroom.  Hammed we have bare paws?”

       “I think so,” Sita replied uncertainly, “but we’d better check, just in case.  I think I left my adult paws at the door.”  Innokenti roared with laughter at this.

       “I’m not so sure I did,” he replied, “let’s go back a pace and you can check my paws to see if I have still my adult paws with me.  Then we check each other’s paws over to see for certain we both have left our adult paws at the door shall we?”  Sita laughed delightedly at this.

      “I’m not so sure I left my adult paws at the door,” she confided, “I think they might have followed me in here.”  The sound of young laughter made Sita and Innokenti turn their heads.

       “Hi mama,” Toby said, going to his mum and hugging her, “all that talk was so funny, I was trying not to laugh, but it tickled me so much I couldn’t help myself!  Your talk about leaving your adult paws at the door finished me completely.”

       “I wonder if lions and tigers can play here.”  Sita mused, “they don’t have bare paws do they?  They aren’t bears after all, so they can’t have bear paws.  I do feel sorry for them.”  Toby nearly choked:

       “Stop it mama!”  He said, “You are so silly, it’s funny.”

       “Otters too,” Innokenti replied, “They don’t have bare paws either.”

       “How do I get bare paws?”  Whitetip asked, padding in to the playroom.

        “Take your adult paws off before you come in here!”  Toby, Sita and Innokenti called in Unison.  Toby, grinning, drove Whitetip back to the door, seeming to step in her paw prints.

      “What on earth are you walking like that for?”  Whitetip asked, “You’re nearly falling over Toby.”

      “I need to eradicate your adult paw prints from this place,” he replied, “Once you have taken off your adult paws and left them at the door, you can come in.”

      “But I am now bear pawed!”  Whitetip replied sorrowfully, catching on fast, “how do I get even more bare pawed than I already am?”

      “We’ll make sure you are seen as bare pawed,” he said.  Whitetip looked down at her paws.

       “How do I get these adult paws off?”  She asked.  In reply Toby pushed her onto her back and cupped each one of her paws in his.

     “Now Pull!”  Toby encouraged, Whitetip groaning a little as she pulled each of her four paws free of Toby’s gently embrace, the three quarter grown cub seeming to throw away an imaginary something each time she freed her paw.

       “What is he doing?”  Innokenti asked.

        “I can’t see,” Sita said, “describe what you can see please.”

       “He, Toby that is, is cupping each of Whitetip’s paws in his, and she’s pulling them free one by one, then Toby seems to throw something away.

        “He’s making sure she has bare paws.”

       “I think we’d better make sure we have bare paws too,” Innokenti replied, “or Toby will be after us!”

        “I think that’s cute,” Sita said.

        “Adult paws off at the door!”  Toby said laughing as he tickled the large sole pad of Whitetip’s right hind foot, the she otter screaming with laughter.

       “Yes Toby, okay!”  She gasped, getting to her paws and wiping her streaming eyes.

        “Now to see if these other two have left their adult paws at the door,” Toby said, Innokenti and Sita rolling over in submission, eagerly waving their paws in the air.

       “Let’s check those paws,” Toby said, coming to his mother’s paws first.  He gently pressed her sole pads and toe pads, Sita feeling him stroking her pads as well as pressing them.

        “All bear?”  Sita asked.  Toby kissed his mum’s nose:

       “Yes Mama,” he replied, kissing her paw pads.  Innokenti smiled broadly, wondering what Toby’s verdict would be.  Toby padded to his side.  Smiling broadly, Toby examined each one of Innokenti’s paws, examining pads and toes.

        “You left your adult paws at the door of the house, not at the door of the playroom I think,” Toby said.  Innokenti smiled:

       “Mama Kamchatka pulled my adult paws off my current ones in our lie up,”  he said, “I had to wriggle a bit to free my hind feet, but they are truly bare now.”  Toby grinned and walked away.

       “Hey you!”  Sita yelled, “Toby, have you got bare paws?”  Toby, wearing a bell around the ankle of his right hind leg, knew his mother could track him, and track him she did, pouncing on him and rolling him over onto his back, the cub laughing helplessly as Sita made a scrambling exploration of all four of his paws.

       “These paws are not cub’s paws!”  She exclaimed, “Off with these old paws!”  Sita repeated what she’d had described to her, cupping each of Toby’s feet in her paws, Toby extricating each foot with grunts of effort, bunching pads  and curling toes.

      “My paws are bare now!”  Toby laughed merrily.

      “Now can we play,” Sita asked softly.

     “I want to play with Sita’s paws!”  Innokenti said.  Sita rolled onto her back, waving her hind paws at Innokenti, who seized her right hind foot and tickled her toes.

       “This is great!”  Sita laughed.

       “The humans use a term, “joined at the hip,” which means inseparable,” Innokenti said, now stroking the pads of Sita’s right hind foot, “I think I’ll adapt that to describe this community.  A bit hard for mobility this, but, “joined by the paw,” might be a fitting description.”  Toby giggled cubbishly.

       “Now let’s play on those high apparatus,” Sita said, gently disengaging her right hind foot from Innokenti’s grip and getting reluctantly to her paws.

       “Using your paws for walking is so boring,” she whimpered.

       “Crawl then,” Innokenti replied, “I might ask Koda if we can amend that sign to read, “no walking allowed during play.”  It would certainly make chasing easier for less mobile community members.”  Sita got down on all fours and crawled to the rope ladder, where Whitetip waited.

       “Can otters climb ladders?”  Sita asked.  Whitetip looked up the twenty feet to the top of the first ladder.  The zip wire was a further thirty feet above that.

         “What if some poor cub falls off this?”  She asked.

       “We all wear a harness that doesn’t restrict our movement when climbing,” Sita replied, “If you can’t climb a ladder, we’ll have to carry you in one of those cub slings.”  Toby dragged out the harnesses needed for climbing the ladders, and helped Whitetip into hers, clipping it to his harness while Sita lashed Whitetip to Toby’s body with a strap around his middle and her back.  Her forepaws on Toby’s neck, her hind stretched out behind her, Whitetip hung suspended in her sling, a hole in the band between her hind legs allowing for her tail, so she sat comfortably.  Whitetip sat motionless, but Toby said:

      “Have a good wriggle Whitetip, go on.”  Whitetip wriggled and struggled, but she was anchored to Toby’s strong back, and went nowhere.

         “Now you will feel safe,” Toby said, getting to his hind feet.  Whitetip squealed as her weight was taken by the strap between her hind legs and she felt the whole harness hold her.

         “Now let’s go,” Toby said, bouncing on his toes.  Whitetip held on with her forepaws, wondering what would happen next.  Toby was the first to go up the ladders, and he attached his harness to the running rope and scaled the ladder with dizzying speed, or so Whitetip thought.  Sita, clad in her own harness, went up second, having felt Toby’s assent, which had been slow at first.  She got the hang of it, and clambered up easily, followed by Innokenti.

      “Where is Kamchatka?”  Toby asked.  When they were at the top of the second ladder, and the choices of zip wire, or slide lay before them.  Innokenti smiled:

       “She’s looking after little Mishka, she’ll be around in a bit.  I’ll take over looking after little one then.”

      “Not before you’ve done what you promised,” Sita said laughing.

       “And what is that?”  Toby asked, his eyes telling Innokenti he expected salacious details.

      “Sita wants me to arrange her paws on the footrest of the zip wire that is all,”  Innokenti replied, “all above board I can assure you Toby.”

        “Oh ok then,” Toby replied.  Sita found her way to the zip wire.  Innokenti explained the layout to her.

        “in front of you is the handles for the zip wire, you can either go down holding the handles with your forepaws, or we can attach a seat and you can go down, um, cub style, sitting on the seat with either your hind feet free to swing, or you can rest them on a footrest as you go down the wire.  Which would you like?”  Sita had ridden the zip wire once without the seat, and had loved it, but for this run she decided on the seat.

        “I’ll go for the seat please,” she said, Toby looking strangely at her.

      “But mama,” Toby protested.

       “What’s the matter?”  Sita asked.

      “The seat is crap mama; you don’t feel a thing going down the wire that way.”

      “Maybe my confidence is a bit lacking after all that has happened Toby,” Sita said.

         “I think you’re mad,” Toby replied, “Come all this way, just to go down cub style is stupid in my humble opinion.”

        “Then I’m stupid,” Sita replied.  Toby felt awful.

        “Here’s the seat,” Innokenti said, locking the seat into place on the zip wire train.  Locking the seat in place with two quick release fasteners, Innokenti locked the whole assembly down with a key on a lanyard which never left the top of the ride.  He then placed his huge weight on the assembly to make sure it wouldn’t fail, before letting Sita, who was lighter than he, sit in the seat.

        “It’s regularly serviced by Human safety officers, you don’t need to do all that stuff,” Toby mumbled.

       “Okay Sita,” Innokenti said, guiding Sita to the seat, “You are completely safe, I have to open a door before I can release you down the wire.  In front of you is that door.  Sita jumped a little on her hind paws to get into the seat.  Whitetip, who’d been released from Toby’s back, padded round to look at Sita.  Sita sat in the seat, her harness clipped to the zip train.  Sita sat calmly, her forepaws resting on the rails in front of her, her hind feet off the floor by about a foot.

      “Can you touch the ground with your toes mama?”  Whitetip asked.  Sita tried, pointing her toes and stretching them as far as she could, but she could only just graze the ground with her claws extended.  Retracted she had no hope of reaching the ground.

       “Do you want to ride that way, with your hind feet free?  Or ride with your feet able to rest on footrests?”  Innokenti asked.

       “Since when did you know so much about what we have here?”  Toby asked.

       “I read the manual dear sir,” Innokenti replied, “now Sita, footrests or no footrests my dear?”

       “Footrests please,” Sita replied.  Toby sighed heavily, really annoyed at his mother’s lack of adventure.

        “Good,” Innokenti replied, flipping up the footrests under Sita’s hind feet, the rests raising her hind legs a little, so she could put pressure on the rests with the soles of both her hind feet.  Sita found the rest rested comfortably slightly to the rear of her paw pad, though she could rest the ball of her foot on it if she wanted too.

      “Are my feet in the right position?”  Sita asked.  Innokenti glanced down and nodded:

     “They’re fine,” he replied.  Sita suddenly shifted her feet on the footrests.

         “My left hind foot is itching horribly,” she said, “it’s awful and I can’t reach it while I’m sitting here!”  She wailed.  Toby swore under his breath.

        “No Toby, it’s not what you say it is,” Innokenti replied, “Sita’s in distress.

      “She wants you to touch her hind paw, that’s it, isn’t it!”  Toby snapped.

       “What if she does,” Innokenti replied, “its all play, all in fun, all very tactile.”  Toby, realising he sounded like his sister, and was going down a route he’d chastised her for, snapped his mouth shut.

       “Let’s take a look at that paw,” Innokenti said, lowering the footrests so he could get access to the pads of Sita’s left hind foot.  Cupping her left hind paw in his right fore, Innokenti gently scratched the sole of her foot with his left forepaw.

     “Thanks,” Sita said with relief, cubbishly curling the toes of her left hind foot around those of Innokenti’s left forepaw.

      “Soppy,” he said smiling.  He was about to put the footrests back, when Sita kicked her feet out of the way of them.

       “It was the rests that made my pads itch I think,” she said.  Innokenti smiled, leant down and kissed the furry top of Sita’s left hind paw, Sita laughing merrily.

        “Now let’s ride,” she said in her normal voice.  Innokenti kissed her nose, Sita whispering to him:

       “That was great, but I can’t keep it up for too long, Toby’s not impressed.”  Innokenti smiled:

      “Blame your bare paws,” he said, “say they made you act like a cub, for if your paws were not bare, they would not have been affected by that irritating footrest now would they?”  Sita giggled.

        “Now let’s go,” Innokenti said briskly, “ready Sita?”  Sita gripped the bar in front of her with her forepaws, and swung her hind eagerly, just as she’d heard most cubs did.  Toby looked away, catching Whitetip’s eye.

       “I don’t know her,” he said out of the corner of his mouth.

        “That’s not fair,” Whitetip replied loudly, “Sita’s only playing, give her a break.”  Toby turned away, uncomfortable with his mother’s cubbish silliness.

       “You are discomforted by her antics then Toby?”  Whitetip asked.

       “I can’t get used to my mama being so silly,” he said, “encouraging Innokenti to touch her paws etc.  It’s all too cubbish!”

      “So you didn’t leave your adult paws at the door then,” Whitetip replied.  Toby smiled:

      “It’s cute really,” he said, “it’s just a bit strange that is all, though hurts noone.”

      “Gives Sita a lot of pleasure I think,” Whitetip said.

       “Acting like a cub is kind of sweet I suppose,” Toby said.

       “And you wouldn’t want to do that?”  Whitetip asked.  Toby looked away.

       “I would love to,” he replied.

      “Ask your mama,” Whitetip replied, “If she’s been a bit withdrawn lately, it’s probably down to the Imogen thing.  Now she’s free, her paws are free; let her be herself with you Toby.”  Toby looked at his mother, then went to her and kissed her nose.

      “Would you play with me mama?”  He asked.  Sita, tears rolling down her face, kissed her cub’s nose:

        “I will,” she replied, “and Whitetip’s right, the Hubert thing, then the thing with Imogen has just got on top of me recently.  I didn’t mean to withdraw Toby.”  Toby smiled and, leaning down, kissed the toes of his mum’s right hind paw, Sita wiggling and curling her toes in response.

       “Love your zip wire,” he said.  Sita excitedly kicked the air with her hind feet, Innokenti releasing the zip wire train, the door opening and Sita yelling with delight as she shot down the wire.  Laughing, Toby slid down the slide with Whitetip, Innokenti following close behind, to join Sita, who sat at the bottom of the zip wire, her hind feet dangling a foot or so above the soft flooring.  Hearing Innokenti coming closer, and then Toby’s smaller step, Sita made great play of stretching the toes of her hind paws down to reach the soft flooring.  Finding she couldn’t reach it, she swung her legs in frustration, wriggled, drew her legs up as far as she could and plunged them down, stretching the toes of both her hind paws to the floor as far as she could, while growling with fury.

     “My feet can’t reach the floor!”  She raged.  Toby padded to his mother and kissed her nose.   Sita suddenly drew up her hind paws for another go at touching the floor, Toby sitting down and catching her right hind foot, kissing her pads and playing with her toes.  Sita laughed merrily.

        “Can you let me out of here?”  She asked gripping the handles with both forepaws, then wriggling slightly and curling her toes a little.”  Toby looked into his mother’s eyes, then down at her paw pads.

       “Did anyone tell you about your paw pads mama?  You have a deep brown sole pad and tawny toe pads, so cute!”  Sita giggled with pleasure.

       “I suppose that is,” she replied.  Sita curled her toes, Toby kissing her bunched pads.  Innokenti smiled and released Sita.  He lifted the handle bars and asked Sita to shuffle forwards, Toby guiding her hind feet to the floor, Sita standing up out of the seat.

      “Thanks both,” she said softly.  Kamchatka padded in with Mishka, Innokenti padding over to her and taking charge of her newborn cub.  Kamchatka gave her mate a bottle of milk, smiled at him, patted Mishka on the top of his head with her paw, and padded to Sita and Toby.

      “So he’ll feed Mishka?”  Toby asked.  Kamchatka nodded and hugged Sita, the cat bear smiling broadly.

         “I understand your cubbish paws have got you into trouble already,” Kamchatka said.  Toby buried his face in Whitetip’s shoulder, embarrassed she’d seen everything.

      “The cameras are all over the place,” Kamchatka said, in the walls and ceiling of the play room, and yes, before you ask Toby, we can zoom right into an iris or paw pad.  We can even see blemishes on paw pads if the subject is close enough.”   Toby looked at Sita.

       “So you could have a remote examination of your paws mama,”

       “We all could,” Sita replied, “but there’s no substitute for getting paws on with another’s paws, or even your own paws.”

      “The cameras are great for seeing things, but the audio helps too,” Kamchatka said.  You can tell who said what to whom in case of disputed events.”

        “Oh, oh dear,” Sita mewed, looking embarrassed; “my words to Innokenti could be seen as very suggestive.”

      “Taken with your actions and his though, they were seen as describing cubbish play,” Kamchatka replied, “anyway, we’re not in the job of monitoring every single community member, unless they are doing wrong.”

       “I enjoyed Innokenti touching my paws,” Sita said honestly.

       “What of Qingshan?”  Innokenti replied, “Doesn’t he claim you as his mate now?”

        “We are just friends,” Sita mewed, “I’m not really mated to him, yes we had a cub, but he doesn’t really love me like jet does.  Jet can’t play with his own cubs, well, he could, but he can’t shed his adult paws like I can mine.”

       “Neither could Nuru until recently,” Kamchatka said, “and now looks where he is.  He’s talking to Tess about her labour with her two latest cubs.”

        “I wish jet would kick off his adult paws and play with me,” Sita mewed, “I never stopped loving him, nor he loving me.  I know that, and he loves his cubs too.”

        
“I wish I could shed my adult paws too,” jet said, padding to Sita and hugging her.

        “You could,” Sita said, her surprise at his touch bringing tears to her eyes, “jet, I, I could try to loosen your adult paws, then you can pull them off and play with me with a clear conscience.  Toby looked at his sire and said:

       “I too would love you to play with mama jet.”  Jet looked at Toby:

        “I want to play with her, I have dreamt of it, I have wept because I cannot bring myself to play like a cub,” Jet replied.

        “Play starts with suggesting silly games,” Innokenti said, “suggest something really crazy, like chasing each other’s paws and catching each other’s toes.  Then start tickling those caught paws and or toes, then see where things lead.  You two will know boundaries without speaking them.  When getting onto rides, check each other’s paws for thorns, and when getting off them, check each other’s paws again.  Make silly excuses to check each other’s paws, hug each other, love each other with every touch, and every game.”  Jet looked at Innokenti:

        “I will,” he replied, “I will touch my love’s paws, and love her with everything I have; for I know she loves me with all she has.”  Sita embraced jet tightly, their forepaws embracing each other with desperate urgency.

        “You watched how Innokenti played with me jet?”  Sita asked.  Jet nodded:

       “Is that kind of paws on play what you like?”  He asked.

       “Yes it is,” Sita replied, “you can play like that Jet, you haven’t forgotten how, I know you haven’t forgotten how.”

        “You enjoyed the play Innokenti and you engaged in while at the top of the wire,” jet replied, “I saw it, I saw every last bit of it.  From your antics with your itching paw, to how Innokenti soothed you.”  Jet gulped hard, “I wished I was there, I wanted to be that bear!”  Jet choked.

    “You can be that bear,” Sita mewed, “take off your adult paws, leave them at the door, and come in crawling on all fours.  See what happens after that.”

 

Qingshan watched what was going on in the playroom, his eyes shining with delight at the apparent success of his advice to jet.  The distraught bear had come to Qingshan and poured out his heart, asking him if he really loved Sita, despite having a cub with her.  Qingshan had confessed that he didn’t truly love Sita as deeply as jet did.  Qingshan could see jet’s love for Sita, his turmoil shooing in his eyes and shaking paws.

      “Go to your mate and ask her to remove your adult paws, and then play with her jet,” Qingshan advised.  Jet nodded and shook his forepaws in turn.

      “Do you want to shake my hind feet too?”  Qingshan asked.  Jet smiled and shook his head:

      “Oh go on, please!”  Qingshan pleaded.  Jet smiled and took each of Qingshan’s hind feet in his forepaws, gently shaking them, Qingshan laughing merrily and wiggling his toes.

      “You are on the way to shedding those adult paws!”  Qingshan laughed.  Qingshan kissed jet’s nose and sent him to the soft play room.

 

Now jet was with Sita, and Sita was telling him how to remove his adult paws and play like a cub.

 Jet stood with Sita on the soft flooring in the playroom, his toes gripping the venal flooring, his claws cut short for play.  Jet wanted to feel the floor beneath his pads, and be able to curl his toes somewhat before his claws got in the way.  He was glad to see Sita had sheathed her claws also.  In truth, jet wished he could sheath his claws; it would make play easier and safer.  Jet placed his forepaws on Sita’s, holding them down.  He then leant forward and kissed her nose.

        “Come to the top of the zip wire and help me slide jet,” Sita begged.  Jet smiled:

        “Do you need any help other than finding your seat?”  He asked.

       “Help positioning my hind feet and forepaws would be nice,” Sita replied.

       “I can do that,” Jet replied, “I will do that with pleasure and care.”

       “First, I need you to help me free my hind feet,” Sita said, “Your pressure on my forepaws has caused my hind to stick to the floor in here, now I can’t move them!”  Sita whimpered.  Jet released his mate’s forepaws, Sita trying to turn a cartwheel to free her hind feet, but she was unable to.

      “Work the toes of your forepaws under the heel of my left hind foot to begin with,” Sita said, lowering her head and throwing her weight forward and to her right side to take her weight off the foot Jet was working on.  Jet worked the toes of his right forepaw beneath Sita’s heel, lifting her foot up off the floor bit by bit as he worked her pads free of the venal flooring, Sita mewing and growling with discomfort.

       “There’s another foot to work at yet, and it hurts too much already!”  Sita squealed.  Jet kissed the exposed pads of her left hind foot, Sita calming down as she felt his kiss.

       “Just a bit more Sita love,” Jet encouraged, “then your foot will be free.  Now pull, pull!”  Sita groaned and pulled, struggling to tear her foot free.

      “eeeeeeeow! Done it, its free!”  She yelled, as her toes lifted from the plastic flooring.  Sita kept her foot off the floor, anxious her pads would stick again if she placed it down.

       “I can’t pull the other foot free if I am on three legs!”  Sita whimpered, “and, and I don’t want to put my foot down in case my pads stick again!”  Jet looked confused:

      “How do I stop her pads from sticking?”  He asked.

      “Try kissing them jet,” Kamchatka advised.  Jet kissed the pads of Sita’s left hind foot, feeling how hot they were, Sita gently curling her toes, making her pads bunch up.

       “Now you can put your foot to the floor again,” jet said softly.  Sita did so, and found her pads did not stick.

      “Now for my right hind foot!”  Sita whimpered, Jet working the toes of his forepaws beneath the pads of Sita’s right hind foot, Sita easing her foot free as Jet worked his toes beneath her pads.  Sita suddenly tore her foot free, turning the cartwheel she’d tried earlier, laughing helplessly.

        “You look so cute!”  Jet said to Sita.  Sita’s very flexible tail didn’t seem to get in the way of her performing these tricks.

 

Qingshan watched from his lie up, Jet’s love for Sita plain for all to see.

       “I knew he loved her dearly,” Qingshan thought, “jet walked away because he felt he couldn’t play with his cubs, not because he didn’t love them, or love Sita with all he had.  I am Sita’s friend, but only that.  Yes we mated, but that was out of friendship and not real love.  Sex it was, not love making.

      “They are both beautiful creatures,” Qingshan thought.

       “Are you lost?”  Lilly asked.  Qingshan looked up into her face.

        “I’m okay,” Qingshan replied, “I am just watching a friend and her lover find their paws again.”

       “Sita and jet?”  Lilly asked, looking at the screen, “Yes, they are sweet together.”

      “Do you want to find your paws with another bear?”  Lilly asked straight out.  Qingshan laughed:

        “Are you desperate?”  He asked.

        “I’m feeling like I want to mate, that I want to have a cub yes!”  Lilly replied, “I can’t deny nature Qingshan, and neither can you.”  Qingshan laughed merrily.

        “You just want me to mate with you and that’s it?”  He asked.  Lilly smiled and nodded:

        “No strings, nothing,” she said, just mating, and then we can go our separate ways.  I won’t abandon the cubs which result.  I’m not that kind of bear.”  Qingshan smiled, feeling his body stirring to Lilly.  Suddenly he grabbed Lilly, mounting her and vigorously mating with her.  Exhausted from pressing her body against his, her paw pads sweating and toes aching from pressing her body against Qingshan’s, Lilly collapsed contented onto the rugs.

        “Thanks,” she panted, the toes of all four paws curling and stretching with her intense emotions.

        “I enjoyed that,” Lily said breathlessly, “how about it again?”  So they mated thrice more, Lilly driving herself until she was completely worn out.

       “That’s it, can’t any more!”  Lilly whimpered her body and paws telling her she’d had enough and couldn’t take another minute of Qingshan’s attentions.  Crawling away, her head swimming and paws tingling, Lilly knew she was in cub; she had to be in cub now.

        “Did you see that?”  Ekaterina asked Patch, “by the sound of it Qingshan and Lilly mated furiously in Qingshan’s lie up, there and then, he took her completely, and she wanted it, she was desperate for a cub.”

     “You can’t hold back nature Ekaterina love,” Patch replied gently, “even if you and I have made a pact not to mate because of the risks to any cubs, sometimes we can’t help it, like last night for instance.”

      “We mated?”  Ekaterina asked, horrified.

       “You tried to get me to,” Patch replied, “I was wearing protection though.”

         “Glad someone’s got their head screwed on,” Ekaterina said, “I didn’t know you used protection?”

       “I have been doing so ever since we made that promise to each other, no more cubs,” Patch replied.  I’ve been taking a male contraceptive too.  Popping pills and using physical protection is now a way of life for me Ekaterina.”  Ekaterina ran her paws all over her mate, taking in his lustrous coat and strong paw pads.

        “You put me to shame,” Ekaterina replied softly, “I haven’t tried anything yet.  I should try contraceptive pills or an implant or something.”  Patch called Blackberry, who came quickly, got a huge syringe out, and prepped it for implant insertion into Ekaterina’s left shoulder.  Ekaterina, terrified at the speed of events, clambered into Patch’s lap, shaking and sobbing like a cub.

         “It’ll be just an injection,” blackberry said softly, stroking Ekaterina’s back and the exposed pads of one hind foot.

         “Get it over with!”  Ekaterina wailed.  Patch held her tightly, the strength in his paws astonishing Ekaterina, who suddenly found she couldn’t move.  Blackberry froze the area, swabbed it, then inserted the needle, Ekaterina roaring as the large injection caused her discomfort.

       “All done,” blackberry said softly, patting Ekaterina’s forepaws.

         “That hurt!”  Ekaterina snapped.  Blackberry read the instructions for his contraceptive drug:

        “Insert one into one shoulder, and the other into the opposite shoulder,” he read.  Ekaterina wailed with distress and collapsed onto the floor.

       “Just do it!”  She wailed in misery.  Blackberry grabbed her left foreleg and plunged his needle into her shoulder, the she bare screaming and yelling.  Once all was done, and he released his grip on her paw, Ekaterina whipped round, biting Blackberry’s ear in anger and pain.

       “You bloody sod!”  She screamed, “Now that’s in, how the hell will I get it out when it runs out?”

      “That requires an operation my dear,” Blackberry said.  Ekaterina swore harshly.

        “You mean you’ll have to cut her shoulder to get the implant out?”  Patch asked.

     “Ah, um, no,” blackberry said suddenly, “that was the wrong drug I was reading about.  I injected the drug, the one you have to cut out you need to cut in, as it were.  Ekaterina’s drug is Gel based.  Um, I have one for males too if you’d like it Patch.”  Patch nodded, and soon he was injected too, roaring and complaining like Ekaterina did, for the injection hurt a lot.

      “So it just dissolves over time?”  Patch asked, rubbing his shoulder with his paw.

       “Yeah,” Blackberry replied airily.  Patch swore softly.

       “Glad about that one,” he replied.  Ekaterina sat sobbing into her paws, her shock and distress only soothed by patch kissing her nose and embracing her.

      “That hurt a lot Patch!”  Ekaterina wailed.  Patch kissed her nose and fondled her ears.

        “I know love,” he replied softly, “but it will prevent greater pain in the long run I think.”  Ekaterina caught her breath:

       “It will,”  she replied miserably, wriggling with the memories of her labour, “I’m still in pain from giving birth to my dead cub,”  she confided, “the re-enacting of that labour only helped a little to soothe the pain.”

        “Now we’ll have no more problems with that,” patch replied, kissing his inmate’s nose and the tops of her paws.

         “It’s awful when we can’t do things naturally,” Ekaterina said, “you have to wear rubber things to stop me getting pregnant, and take pills and such.  Now we both get implants to stop us having cubs.”

          “Our mating should be fine though,” Patch said softly, “it’s still pleasurable, more so now I can take that rubber thing off.”  Ekaterina clung to Patch, her tears wetting his fur.

         “I remember the pain of delivering my cub,”  she replied, “it hurt so much, was hard work, like passing a log, it was awful!”  Patch kissed her nose and paw pads, Ekaterina submitting to his ministrations.

       “then there was the pain of burying the cub, and the deception after too,”  Ekaterina continued, “I can’t take that again Patch, I don’t want it, I will die if I have another cub!”

        “So we’re preventing that,” Patch said softly, kissing his mate’s nose and paws for the umpteenth time, as he knew she liked him to do so.  Ekaterina sobbed into Patch’s coat, her mental torment clear to him.

       “If you want to really make sure you can’t have cubs, we can book an operation to make sure you never have cubs again,” patch said gently into his mate’s ear.

        “I want my cub to have lived, like Kamchatka’s did!”  She screamed desperately, “the whole Mishka thing upset me a great deal Patch, you weren’t there, and you didn’t experience it!  I want my cub here, now!  It’s tearing me apart Patch, I can’t cope, and I can’t sooth this pain!”  Patch kissed his mate’s nose and paws.

         “You have many cubs Ekaterina, many many cubs.  You even have Mishka, for he knows your touch, as you helped him into the world.  You saved his life Ekaterina.”

       “But he’s not my cub!”  Ekaterina sobbed.

       “I am a community cub,” a voice said, Ekaterina feeling a small set of forepaws grab her right hind foot and squeeze her toes with gentle pressure.

       “Who’s that?”  Ekaterina asked, as a cub scrambled into her lap, Ekaterina feeling her forepaws automatically embrace the cub.

       “I am your cub as well as mama Kamchatka’s,” Mishka said.  Ekaterina lifted the cub off her lap, until she felt him kiss her nose.

        “You are a beautiful cub,” Ekaterina said.  Mishka smiled and wriggled excitedly as the mama bear embraced him, then laid him on his back in her lap and played with his left forepaw in her larger paws.

        “Mama, please,” Mishka pleaded, “would you accept my paw as the paw of your own cub, not in place of him, but beside him, play beside him, and for him.”  Ekaterina kissed Mishka’s nose.

       “You are afraid I will set my paws on the bridge your cub crossed aren’t you Ekaterina?”  Ekaterina gasped:

        “I miss my cub,” Ekaterina admitted, “even though he had no life, I wish he’d lived.”

       “Maybe he lives even now,” Mishka replied.

       “What are you on about?”  Ekaterina asked harshly, “that is almost offensive!”

       “Who do you think gave me the spirit to fight my body into physical life?”  Mishka asked.  Ekaterina hesitated:

       “Do you think so?”  Ekaterina asked, now interested.

      “I know who helped me in that cold place,” Mishka replied, “how did I know of your cub’s death? How could I have known of a cub’s death, whose death occurred long before my birth?”

       “I didn’t tell you about my cub’s still birth,” Ekaterina whispered, “but you know of him.”

         “I know of his traumatic entrance into this world, and how his mother strained and cried as she fought to deliver him into the world,” Mishka said.  Ekaterina explored Mishka’s body, from his nose to the toes of his hind paws, every hair, every pad, every inch of the cub’s large body got Ekaterina’s gentle touch.  Mishka even opened his mouth, Ekaterina gently putting a digit of her left forepaw in his mouth, Mishka closing his mouth and sucking on the offered digit.  Ekaterina, feeling the cub sucking on her paw, felt her eyes filling with tears.

        “Suck away dear cub,” she whispered.  Mishka clasped Ekaterina’s left forepaw in his paws, Ekaterina hearing her tears splash into the cub’s face.

       “You’re crying on me!”  Mishka laughed went he’d released Ekaterina’s paw.

         “I love you mama Ekaterina.  I wanted to tell you ever since I could talk, but you were never nearby so I could.  I remember your paws, the smell and feel of them, your gentle pressure as you held me inside my mama as she pushed and wriggled to deliver me.  All that and more.”  Ekaterina lifted Mishka in her paws and kissed his nose and the pads and toes of all four large paws.

       “I love you little Mishka,” Ekaterina said.

      “I’m glad you do,” Mishka replied, “for I’ve loved you since I first felt your paws around me in the wriggling, groaning, panting, squeezing wet place we first met.”

        “You remember all of Kamchatka’s efforts and all the sounds she made?”  Ekaterina asked.  Mishka nodded:

       “I do,” he replied.  Kamchatka, having come into the lie up in search of her cub, sat down and listened, having found Mishka as he’d introduced himself while he held tightly to Ekaterina’s right hind foot.  Now she spoke softly to Ekaterina:

        “Ekaterina,” she said, “Mishka wanted to come to you, I foolishly tried to stop him, but he ran away when I was called away to answer the call of nature.  I left him and nature detained me long enough for him to get away.  Now I wish I’d not restricted his paws.”

       “Your labour mirrored mine closely,” Ekaterina said faintly.

        “Maybe Mishka’s explanation was correct then,” Kamchatka said, “not helped by my inability to push him into the world without assistance.

        “I was stuck mama,” Mishka replied, “I needed gentle help, and so did you.”

       “I called for help before I crawled outside that was true,” Kamchatka replied, “though I hardly remember making the call.”

        “I’ve heard the audio,” Ekaterina replied, “you yelled down the phone, and Patch told me you suffered a contraction, nearly crushing the phone when curling the toes of all four paws.  Kamchatka smiled briefly:

        “I don’t remember that,” she replied, “I remember crawling out into the garden and stretching on my side, screaming and crying with the pain of ineffectual contractions.  Wriggling and straining for hours brought the cub down a little, and then Ekaterina came in and helped me by pulling as I pushed.  That way we got Mishka out into the world.  I was so distraught and in so much pain, Ekaterina took Mishka away for a while until I could face burying him.  Then,” Kamchatka swallowed hard, “then the miracle happened, and my cub came back from the dead.”

        “He is now yours and Ekaterina’s cub,” Patch said softly.

        “Yes,” Kamchatka said, “in spirit he is.  He is her half brother, but also her adopted cub.”

       “I just want to stop Ekaterina’s tears,” Mishka said.

       “You have stopped my tears of grief,” Ekaterina said, “my tears are of joy now, joy that a cub is born to my mama who struggled to deliver him.”  Ekaterina kissed Mishka’s nose and paws.

         “Ekaterina, here,” Kamchatka said, “here’s a bottle of milk for Mishka,” she smiled: “it aught to be more nourishing to him than a good suck on your paw was, cute though that indeed was.”  Ekaterina took the bottle and gently felt for Mishka’s mouth with her free paw, Mishka kissing her pads as she guided the teat towards his mouth.  Once he had the teat in his mouth, he sucked busily.

     “Ekaterina, you can hear when Mishka’s sucking and when he relaxes?”  Kamchatka asked.  Ekaterina nodded:

      “Why?”  She asked.

      “Let Mishka take the bottle in his paws, and when he’s sucking on the bottle, gently touch his hind feet.”  Ekaterina listened for Mishka to suck busily, and then touched his hind paws, feeling his toes curling with the effort of concentration as he sucked on the bottle.

      “How cute!”  Ekaterina laughed, as Mishka’s toes curled beneath her touch.

        “I think so too,” Patch said softly, “I remember mama Aga told me I curled my toes while drinking my milk.”

       “Ekaterina,” Kamchatka said, “when you were little you used to do it too, you’d suckle from my milk supply, and curling your toes with effort and concentration was your way when you sucked hard at my teats for milk.”

        “I’m so happy now,” Ekaterina said, “I know I can’t have cubs now, but I have a wonderful cub here.”  Patch looked at little Mishka.

       “I pray   Eohippus keeps you safe,” he whispered.

       “Eohippus?”  Mishka asked, looking thoughtful, “I heard mama crying out that name as she pushed against me.” 

        “Begging the white mare for assistance in her labour I think,” Patch said.

        “I was,” Kamchatka said softly.

        “Eohippus helped you birth me, and then Ekaterina’s cub, who didn’t survive his birth, gave me the spirit to live until I was able to make my own paw prints.”

        “All I ask is that you love my cub as your own Ekaterina,” Kamchatka said.  Ekaterina set Mishka on the rugs and crawled to her mama.  Kamchatka lay on her side while Ekaterina kissed her nose and paws.

       “I wish I’d been there when your labour started,” Ekaterina said, “I remember every minute of it.”

      “So do I,” Kamchatka replied, “I could re-enact it for you if you like.”

      “But it was painful, and scary, and messy,” Ekaterina replied.

        “The outcome was a glorious one though,” Kamchatka said, “and I don’t mind celebrating glorious times.”

       “You’re getting Older Mama,” Ekaterina said, “I won’t ant you to go too mad. Kamchatka playfully slapped her cub.

       “You cheeky sod,” she replied, “old indeed!”  Kamchatka paused, and then hugged Ekaterina:

      “But yes, my labour was a long one, ineffectual contractions, lots of pain even though they were the weak contractions, and when I actively pushed, my pushing didn’t result in much.  Your help, along with Gravity and wriggling got Mishka out for the most part.  Then once you’d got enough of Mishka out for me to grab hold of him, I did, and worked him free.  You took him away from me in the haze of the final screaming push I made.”  Ekaterina kissed her mama’s nose and paws.

     “I remember every bit of your labour I was involved with,” Ekaterina said.

       “I will re-enact Mishka’s birth when he is old enough to understand such things,” Kamchatka said, “it is the least I can do for him.”

        “How old are you mama?”  Mishka asked.  Kamchatka looked at her youngest son.

        “I’m eighteen now,” she said, “but some of that time was spent in the wild.  I came here when I was ten.  Bears live until twenty five in the wild, maybe I’ll live till thirty, though I’m too old to have any more cubs now.  That’s certain now.”

      “How old is mama Ekaterina?”  Mishka asked, “Surely if she is younger than you, she should not have problems giving birth to cubs?”

       “I’m five years old now,” Ekaterina said, “and sometimes Mishka, sometimes cubs don’t work out.”

        “Oh,” Mishka replied softly, “I’m sorry Ekaterina.”  Ekaterina crawled to Mishka and kissed his nose, the cub dropping the bottle of milk to reach up and touch her face with his paws.

        “I love you little one,” Ekaterina whispered to Mishka.”

       “I love you too big Ekaterina,” Mishka replied.

       “You are so lovely,” Ekaterina said.  Kamchatka smiled and crawled to her cub.

       “Do you remember colours?”  Kamchatka asked.  Ekaterina nodded:

       “Well Mishka is brown all over with black nose, toe pads and paw pads.  Of course, I can’t tell what colour his eyes are yet.  They’re still closed.”  Ekaterina gently nuzzled Mishka’s cheek, the male cub giggling with pleasure.

       “Soppy you are mama Ekaterina,” he said, Ekaterina sobbing into the newborn cub’s coat.

       “Now I think we know where we are,” blackberry said.  Ekaterina wiped her eyes and crawled to Blackberry.

        “I’m sorry, sorry for biting you Blackberry,” Ekaterina said softly.

      “It was fair,” Blackberry said laughing, “If someone came up to me and shoved a needle into me no questions asked, I’d bite them too.”  Ekaterina kissed her adopted brother’s nose and paws.

        “I look forward to you and Targon having another cub,” Ekaterina said, “how is little Targon now?  She had some issues if I remember rightly.”

      “She is okay now, defecating properly now, which is good,” blackberry replied.  He smiled suddenly:

      “She still enjoys a good belly rub though, and even now she’s cured of her affliction, she still loves me or her mum rubbing her belly.”  Ekaterina explored her adopted brother with her paws, from his ears, to his paws, blackberry shifting his weight from hind paw to hind paw, so Ekaterina could feel him resting the toes of his hind feet on the floor.

       “I’ve felt Rosie resting her hoof like that,” Ekaterina said, referring to the young pony that helped out at their ceremonial occasions, “are you a horse Blackberry?”  Blackberry smiled and tried to whinnies like a horse, Ekaterina laughing merrily.

      “I love it when you rest your hind paw like that,” Ekaterina said, “its cute!”

       “I find many visual things cute,” Blackberry said, “but you cannot Ekaterina, as you can’t see.  So you need to find cute things with your paws.  I think we should encourage cubs to play with their paws, and not to stop if you come along to touch them in an effort to explore their play.”

        “I suppose you see many cubs doing very cute things,” Ekaterina said, “now though, I will never see those things again.”

      “I think cubs are so cute when they play with their toes or the toes of other cubs, and when adults do the same, it’s extra cute, as they aren’t expected to play like cubs do,” Ekaterina said.

       “I often see adults playing with each other’s paws,” Blackberry replied, “for Targon and I often do, as do Aga and Conrad, and Goldie and Arki also.  Did you know they were an item Ekaterina, Goldie and Arki?  I think Arki’s in cub you know, she and Goldie are trying for a cub anyway.”  Ekaterina smiled, she was delighted:

       “I hope they have a cub,” she replied.

      “I hope so too,” Blackberry replied, “it will at herm Goldie’s place as a bear in this community, and cement his and Arki’s relationship too.”

       “I would like to touch a mama bear while she’s delivering her cub,” Mishka said, “it would be great to feel things, from the other side as it were.”

       “You’ll see it soon enough Mishka,” Ekaterina replied, “I’ll make sure you see it, and feel it too.”

        “I get the idea that birth and cubs are a huge part of this community’s life,” Mishka said.

      “You bet they are,” Blackberry replied, “We are peaceful here, and love our cubs as much as we can.”

      “By the feel of things,” Mishka said, crawling to Blackberry and touching the sole pad of his raised hind foot on his way to Blackberry’s shoulder, “you love your cubs from nose to paw pads.”

      “We do,” Ekaterina replied, “we do Mishka.  Blackberry, feeling Mishka’s paw touching the tough, rough pad of his right hind foot, now had tears in his eyes.

        “That felt lovely Mishka,” Blackberry choked.

      “Can a brief touch of paw pad on paw pad make a grown bear cry?”  Mishka asked.

       “It can make this one cry like a cub,” Blackberry sniffed.

       “That is so sweet!”  Mishka said.  Blackberry wiped his streaming eyes with a trembling forepaw.

        “thing is,”  he choked, “I cried off, I got the call to help Kamchatka in her labour to deliver you little one, but I freaked out, I saw her writhing on the grass, knew what it was, and panicked.  Ekaterina though, she ran straight in and got her paws dirty, even though I told her what was happening, I could see it, Kamchatka was trying to bring the cub down with rocking and rolling about, rather than with proper contractions.  Yes she was having them, but they were ineffectual, they didn’t work for her or you little one.  I panicked, and Ekaterina ran in to help.”

         “Maybe you weren’t taught how to help a mama who can’t physically push a cub into the world,” Patch said, “For that I am sorry blackberry, I didn’t teach you that, as it’s so rare, and I thought you knew how to do it, as you’d done it before.”

        “Swarupa’s cub’s birth was different,” Blackberry said, “I was young and didn’t know what I was doing.  I was full of cubbish confidence, and that wasn’t misplaced.  Though now, now I knew what was happening, I froze!  I couldn’t cope with mama Kamchatka rolling about on the floor, almost climbing the walls in her effort to loosen the cub, sorry, Mishka, up so she could push him into the world.”

      “Mama did it though,” Mishka said, “she pushed and pushed and pushed, I felt it!  So I should know.”

        “Ekaterina braced her hind feet against mine and finally dragged you out though little one,” Kamchatka said, “I was spent, I could hardly push, even though my daughter cub’s forepaws were kind of pulling and guiding you out, I could hardly push, I tried with everything I had, but Ekaterina had to set her hind feet firmly against mine, get a good hold of you and pull.  Those last few minutes were very hard indeed for all of us.”

        “You were rear onto me, and you still bounced about and roared a lot mama,” Ekaterina said, “your toes pressed ever so tightly into the heels of my hind feet.”

       “I don’t think I want to see that bit when I can see it,”  Mishka said, “but then again, as mama Kamchatka said, “the struggle for life is a beautiful one, and my life must have been worth fighting for, so I will see a re-enactment of that time, if mama will let me.”

       “I will,” Kamchatka replied.  Blackberry, still upset, tried to leave the room, Mishka trying to block him.

        “You’ll get trampled on little one!”  Ekaterina yelled, but Blackberry, feeling the resistance against his forepaws, stopped, one hind foot raised.  Mishka, feeling the slight shift in blackberry’s weight which told him one hind foot was slightly off the floor, crawled quickly to blackberry’s left hind foot and caught the raised paw in his smaller ones, stroking blackberry’s pads and squeezing his toes as he’d done with Ekaterina’s paw earlier that day.  Blackberry, feeling the cub’s touch and overcome with emotion threw himself forwards, not wanting to break the contact between the newborn cub and himself.  Burying his face in his paws, Blackberry sobbed inconsolably.

         “What’s the matter little brother?”  Ekaterina asked.  Blackberry wiped his eyes with his paws.

       “I feel like I’ve failed!”  He sniffed, “the first big cubbing I could have attended, and I pass on to you, a mama bear that has lost her own cub.”

       “You couldn’t know what would happen after the cub’s birth,” Ekaterina said, “my emotional issues are mining alone, noone is responsible for those.”

        “I could see Kamchatka’s labour wasn’t normal,” Blackberry said, “all that rolling about, all that outward physical effort, when the usual labouring actions are to lie in one position for a while, then change as the cub moves down.  It’s not so much of an outward fight to deliver the cub is what I really mean.”

      “Do mother’s still curled their toes and clench their teeth?”  Mishka asked, “oh, and make all that noise?”  He added.

      “Yes they do,” Ekaterina replied, “what Blackberry means is that you wouldn’t have got so shaken about little one, if mama Kamchatka had a normal delivery.”

        “It was a bit bumpy,” Mishka admitted, Kamchatka laughed uproariously at this.

        “I’m sorry,” she said when she’d calmed down, “that was insensitive.”

       “I wimped out!”  Blackberry wailed, “I curled up in a ball and sucked my paw like a cub!”

       “Mama Kamchatka does that even when she’s not frightened,” Mishka replied, “I’ve felt her doing it.  Mama, you can’t deny it!”  Kamchatka laughed and, crawling forward, hugged her youngest cub.

      “I won’t stop playing with my toes if Ekaterina gets paws on with me while I’m playing mama,” Mishka promised.

        “I am very grateful for that,” Ekaterina said.

      “Grateful?”  Blackberry said, “Why do you have to feel grateful for that Ekaterina?  If you don’t get paws on, there is no way you can experience the world now.  Look at poor Sita and how easily she is isolated by those who don’t make an effort to include her.  She accepts it as the norm, but when she’s given real interaction, as she was with Innokenti, she blossoms and relaxes.  Watching her play is lovely.”

        “I will play with you mama Ekaterina,”  Mishka said, “I think I will have lots of practise in how to play with a bear who is so like me in so many ways.”

        “You mean you are blind don’t you little one,” Ekaterina said.  Mishka nodded:

        “The spirit in the cold place told me to feel with my paws, and with my nose and my toes, and listen with my ears,” the cub replied, “he made me crawl round the cold place, feeling my way around.  I did as the spirit asked.  Of course, to disguise my little exploration, I wrapped myself up in the sheet thing and went to sleep.  I woke when you were massaging me mama Ekaterina, but I hardly breathed then.  Something was telling me to remain still, until the right time.”

       “I wish you’d come out and told us you were okay,” Ekaterina said.

      “I didn’t know I was until little Koda held me in his paws,” Mishka replied, “It was he who gave me the nudge I needed.”

        “Now you are here, and well, and warm, and alive, and will live,” Kamchatka said, “this is very good news indeed.”

        “I can play with Ekaterina, and also with Sita too,” Mishka replied, “Sita, I know that name,” he added thoughtfully, “Sita, mama? You told me Sita was a cat bear with a tail and big paws, and that I’d know her when I found her paws.  Well mama, I’m going to look for those paws, now!”  Kamchatka and Ekaterina laughed merrily.

        “Go explore little one,” Kamchatka said, “I’m sure you will find many interesting paws.”  Mishka finished the bottle of milk, and then crawled away.

        “Will he be all right?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “Mishka might find things better on his own,” Kamchatka replied, “There aren’t any dangers here.”

      “That cub can disarm the most hostile creature,” Blackberry said, “He’s got a magical touch.”

        “He will go far,” Ekaterina said.

 

Mishka crawled out of the room and along to the soft play room, the soft flooring pleasant to his paws.  Smiling, he crawled, feeling his way with forepaws and hind, enjoying all the sensations.

       “I am looking forward to getting paws on with Sita,” Mishka thought.  This is some amazing creature if everyone thinks she’s so lovely.”

 

 

Who do we have here?”  Jet asked, as Mishka crawled into the room.

       “What’s happening?”  Sita asked.  Jet looked at Mishka.

      “There is a small cub crawling towards us,” he replied, “a small male cub.  What can we do for you little one?”  Jet asked.

       “Are you talking to me?”  Mishka enquired, stopping as he felt his right forepaw come into contact with something furry that was soft and warm.

        “I was just crawling about,” Mishka replied, “exploring, getting paws on with my world, or as much as my paws can tell me about my world that is.”

        “He sounds like me,” Sita thought, “getting paws on with as much of my world as I can hold in my four paws.  Is he isolated like me?”

       “What is your name little one?”  Sita asked.  Mishka turned an ear to her:

       “My name is Mishka, I’m Kamchatka’s cub,” he replied.

        “The cub that came back from the dead!”  Jet exclaimed.

       “I was more dead than alive when I was born,” Mishka said, “but with the help of spirits and of gentle paws, I came to full health.  Now I am a little small for my age, or so mama Ekaterina said to my mama, but I am healthy, I can, “eat, shit and be happy,” as one bear put it.”

      “That’s vulgar,” jet spat, “who said that in your hearing little one?”

       “Kuruk his name was,” Mishka said.

      “Foul mouthed creature he is,” jet snapped.

       “I’m looking for a particular community member,” Mishka said, “I wonder if you can help me find her?”

         “Who?”  Sita asked, feeling her toes curling with excitement and fear.

       “Sita is her name, “although mama said I’d know her by her paws, I don’t know what that meant exactly, but I will find out no doubt when I find Sita.”

        “Why would a cub want to find me?”  Sita asked herself.

       “I’m Sita,” Sita said, “Mishka, why do you want me?”

        “I don’t know until I find you with my paws Sita,” Mishka replied, “I heard your name and something told me to find you.  I’m sure I would not have found you if the spirits did not wish me to do so.  There are many rooms between the lie up I left and this one, many I did not go into, though I could have done so.  My paws, my forepaws I think, for if my hind had any say, they’d have me crawling backwards, and I didn’t do that, brought me here.”  Sita laughed at the notion of hind paws and fore being in competition.

       “”I don’t think your hind feet are in opposition to your fore,” Sita said.”

         “But they can guide you backyards,” Mishka insisted, “when you crawl backwards, they guide you don’t they?  You’d never ignore your hind feet now would you Sita?  Sita had to admit she’d never denied the information her hind feet gave her in preference to that given by her forepaws.”

        “No, they are equals in my life,” she replied.  Mishka crawled up to Sita and found her right hind foot with his forepaws.

        “You have hold of my right hind foot little one,” Sita said.

      “I know,” Mishka replied, I first came up against the hind foot of another bear, and the toes of that paw were relaxed, yours are curled slightly, as if you are emotional.  I know toes curl with emotion, as mama Kamchatka’s do when she’s aroused or upset.  Even mine do when I’m enjoying a bottle of milk.  My paws ache after a large bottle, for I cant’ stop my forepaws gripping the bottle, or the toes of my hind curling to grip nothing.”

       “Oh, oh dear,” Sita choked, feelings rushing through her from Mishka’s touch, “I don’t know what to say.”

      “How about nothing,” Mishka replied, “let your paws do the communicating.”  Sita suddenly grabbed Mishka, settled him in her lap, and furiously examined him with her forepaws.

      “Steady on Sita,” jet said, “he’s only small.”

       “If you think Sita’s paws are frantic, you haven’t found out how I can scramble and explore, and embrace with all four of my paws big bear,” Mishka laughed.

        “I don’t know why you came to me little one,” Sita replied, “There are far more interesting people to go to.”

       “I might find you very interesting Sita,” Mishka replied, “indeed; I know one bear that certainly does already.  His hind feet are pressed against yours, or they were when I came to you.”

       “Sita is very interesting to me,” Jet replied.

        “Now let me explore you Sita,” Mishka said, scrambling all over Sita’s body, Sita lying on her side to allow him to explore her.  She felt Mishka’s small forepaws and hind feet gripping, sliding, touching her all over, sometimes his nose would quest too, exploring her ears for instance, the sound of his snuffling breath making her smile.  Sometimes too, she felt him exploring her with his lips; the tips of her ears for instance, got a gentle exploration, Mishka nibbling the tip of Sita’s ear, Sita giggling with pleasure.

       “Now do I get to nibble your ears too?”  Sita giggled.

      “I am a cub, cubs do that kind of thing,” Mishka said.  Sita smiled:

      “Maybe I’m just a big cub,” she said, “so can I nibble your ears too?”  Mishka slid off her back, down her right foreleg ending up between her forepaws.

       “Come on then,” he said.  Sita began exploring him with her muzzle, her gentle kiss on his ear making Mishka wriggle with joy.

      “How old are you little one?”  She asked.

      “I’m five days old now,” Mishka replied, “it’s a wonderful world out here.  I remember my birth, the squeezing and rolling about mama had to go through to deliver me.”

       “I heard it was quite violent,” Sita mused.  Mishka smiled and nodded:

      “Yes, but it was worth it,” he said.

        “So what do you want to do now you’ve explored my face and paws?”  Sita asked.

      “I want to play, can you play mama?”  Sita giggled:

       “Can you tell I’ve had cubs?”  She asked.

       “I know you have, I know it, I know it!”  Mishka replied earnestly.

       “Well I have,” Sita replied, “one of my cubs is Toby, he’s not here now, but he was here earlier, another cub is little Leo.”

       “Would you play with me Sita?  Can we chase each other’s paws? Tickle each other’s toes?”  Mishka asked eagerly.  Sita grinned:

       “Let’s examine each other’s paws first,” she replied.  Mishka giggled as Sita’s forepaws worked over his hind, Mishka curling his toes with pleasure.

       “Your hind feet are very expressive,” Sita said.  Mishka turned his face to Sita.

       “Mama Ekaterina said mama Kamchatka’s paws expressed her feelings well while she was giving birth to me.”

      “Mine curled too,” Sita said, “while I was giving birth to my cubs that was.  Mind you,” she added smiling, “they don’t need something as extreme as labour to deliver a cub to make them curl.”

       “Cubs should not fear their own paws, or the paws of other cubs,” Mishka said.

        “I want to play with these paws,” Sita said, stroking Mishka’s forepaws.

       “And I want to play with your paws,” Mishka said.  “Mama Kamchatka taught me a game; it’s called the stuck paw game.  Can we play that?”  Sita smiled:

        “So we pretend our hind paws are stuck together?”  She asked.

       “Yes,” Mishka replied, “is that all right?”

       “Mama Packed a lot into your first five days,” Sita observed.

        “Yes, she did,” Mishka replied, “it’s been fun packed, and also very paw friendly too.”

       “Who has the most interesting paws then?”  Sita asked.  Mishka thought for a minute:

      “Your paws are interesting,” he replied.  Sita grinned:

      “Shall I show you a game Sire Patch showed me?”  She asked.

      “What game is that?”  Mishka enquired, “Can I use my paws to play it?”

      “Of course you can use your paws,” Sita replied, “it’s a counting game, how to count up to thirty six using your own body.”

       “But you have a tail, so you can count one more,” Mishka replied.

       “Forget I have a tail,” Sita replied, “I wish I didn’t sometimes.”

      “Why if you’re a bear do you have a tail as long as you do?”  Mishka asked.  Sita settled him down, and told him her tail.

       “Oh wow! Oh wow! Sita, how wonderful of Patch to help you like that!”  Mishka gushed.  Sita smiled:

       “He is a wonderful bear; I love him so very much,” Sita replied, “he is mama and sire to me Mishka.”

       “I believe Patch gave birth to you Sita,” Mishka said, holding Sita’s left forepaw in both of his, “I can feel his gentility in your paws.  He came to me on my second day and played with me, and I loved his paws, I loved them so much!  They were firm, and soft, and his toes were so playful!  And when his pads bunched up, they were so cute!”  Sita laughed merrily, as if the paws being described were her own.

       “I’m glad you like him and his paws,” she said.

      “So am I,” Patch said, padding in and leaning down to Kiss Sita’s nose.  Sita instantly rolled onto her back, Patch catching her forepaws and leaning down, kissing her nose and ears.

        “Will mama Kamchatka be mama and sire to me?”  Mishka asked.  Patch looked down at the cub:

      “Innokenti can help her with the sire bit if you wish,” Patch replied, “he’d like that I think.”

        “But you will be a playmate for me too?  Please say you will Patch, please!”  Mishka pleaded.  Patch smiled and sat down, pulling Mishka onto his lap.

      “I will,” he said, “if you like, I’ll teach you both how to play by touch.”

       “I just want to touch your paws again Patch,” Mishka admitted.  Patch laughed merrily and sat Mishka opposite him.  Smiling, his eyes shining, patch guided the five day old cub’s forepaws to his right hind foot.

       “Now tell me how many toes I have,” he said.  Mishka smiled and counted:

      “One, two, um, three, I think three is after two, four, and five.  Five toes Patch!”  Patch curled his toes around the cub’s tiny ones.

       “I like it when you do that,” Mishka said.

     “Do what?”  Patch asked.

      “Scrunch your toes round mine like that.”

        “ah right,”  Patch mused, “well I’ll make a deal with you, if you can add up all of the toes on all four of my paws right, and give the right answer, my toes will remain curled round yours as you like, if not, I’ll release your paw, okay?”  Mishka looked so confused Patch took Pity on him.

         “I can’t do it Patch!”  Mishka wailed after five minutes of confusion and rapid repeated counting of the toes of Patch’s left hind foot.

      “That was a bit harsh Patch,” Sita said, “he’s not as old as he looks.  I know he’s a big cub and all that, but he’s not that old, he’s five days old!  Give him some slack please.”  Patch kissed Mishka’s nose.

      “Sorry little one,” Patch said.  Mishka kissed Patch’s nose.

        “I like you very much,” he said into Patch’s ear, the male bear giving Mishka’s ear a snuffle kiss, Mishka giggling with pleasure.

        “That’s so cute,” he whispered.  Patch relaxed his right hind foot, and lifted Mishka onto his lap.  Mishka, feeling the bear’s thick warm fur beneath his body, snuggled hard up to Patch.

        “Who gave you such beautiful paws?”  Mishka asked.

       “My mama did,” Patch replied, “her paws are like mine, “mama Aga’s are I mean.  She is as gentle as I try to be.”

        “I heard a horrid tale of you killing a lioness,” jet said, “Patch, is this true?”

       “You did what?”  Sita asked.

       “Ruslana was a nasty creature,” Patch replied, “I didn’t like killing her.  If I hadn’t though, she would have killed her own cub, and we can’t have that.  I hate cub killers.  Ask Furcone about the story, and don’t take notice of half truths either.”

         “Mama Kamchatka tells me you hit bags and kick balls with your paws for fun patch,” Mishka said, “Do you do this?  And if so, why aren’t your paws hard?  The pads are tough, but they become soft when your toes curl, which happens often.”

        “I condition my fur and use paw oil every day,” Patch replied, “I don’t like hard paws, but I need to strengthen them so I can defend little cubs like you Mishka.”

        “Have you had to defend little cubs?”  Mishka asked.  Patch stroked Mishka’s head with one massive forepaw.

        “I have,” he replied, “but I use my paws to play with them more often then I do use them to defend cubs.”

       “Patch doesn’t really want to talk about being violent Mishka,” Sita said gently.

        “I don’t want to talk about it either,” Mishka replied, “I was only asking if stories were true.”

       “I would much rather endure a horrendous fight to free a stuck paw than kill another sentient being,” patch replied.

        “Have you ever got your paw trapped Patch?”  Mishka asked, “I haven’t yet that I can remember, but mama Kamchatka said my hind feet were trapped on their way into the world.  She had to push extra hard to deliver them, so she says.”

        “I often pretend my paws are stuck with glue to something,” patch said, “sometimes I’ll be playing with my toes, and my toes will curl around my forepaw and not let go.  I’ll worry at my forepaw for a bit; even try to free my forepaw from my grasping hind foot with my other forepaw.  Then I rock back and fourth, tugging and struggling.  I’ll draw my hind foot up and try to tear my forepaw free with my teeth too, licking my forepaw and the pads and gripping toes of my hind foot to ease the grip of hind foot on forepaw.  Did you know that mama bears squeeze their hind feet with their forepaws while having their cubs?”

       “They hold onto their hind feet and squeeze them hard?”  Mishka asked.

     “They do,” Sita replied, “they curl their toes while doing it too.  I know, I’ve done it.

        “Why?”  Mishka asked.

       “It’s something to hold onto while you bear down or endure a contraction,” Sita replied.

       “What’s a contraction?”  Mishka enquired.

       “The squeezing you felt,” Patch replied.

      “So the squeezing makes mama yell and curl her toes, and grab her hind feet with her forepaws and in turn squeeze her cub during labour?”  Mishka asked.

      “Yes,” patch replied, “and that squeezing and groaning and toe curling gets the cub into the world.”

        “Do you play at being a cub patch?”  Mishka asked, “For you are adult, like mama Ekaterina and Kamchatka.  I know that.”

      “He doesn’t need to play at being a cub,” jet laughed, “Patch is one by nature.”

      “Yes I do,” Patch replied, “I sometimes even play the part of mama bear while she’s having a cub too.  Its fun that, I get to wave my paws about and yell my head off.  Mama Kamchatka used to do that play acting too, so we can train mama Ekaterina and others to help bears like your mama.”

        “So you pretend to push a cub into the world, like you pretend your feet are stuck Patch?”  Mishka asked.

      “Indeed I do,” Patch replied.  “I used to do mama Ekaterina’s job.  But now I’m spiritual leader.”

       “So you know the spirits who helped me in the cold place!”  Mishka exclaimed.

       “I do,” patch replied, “and the cub that helped you in the cold place is very glad you are playing for him as well as you Mishka.”

      “I will play for him, I will play for him!”  Mishka said eagerly, “I won’t be afraid of asking questions either, just like you patch.  You asked how it was to deliver a cub into the world don’t you; you know how it is don’t you?  You know how mama Kamchatka felt doesn’t you!”

       “I do,” Patch replied.

        “That is how you can be mama and sire to Sita isn’t it,” Mishka said, “you know both parts.”

       “I do,” Patch replied, “I treasure each part of my role and will never forget Sita’s birth.  Before you ask, yes I did rock and wriggle, grab my hind feet with my forepaws and yell.  I even sat back on my heels too during a few straining efforts.”

       “Have you re-enacted Sita’s birth for her?”  Mishka asked, “Mama Kamchatka said she’d do it for me.”

       “We’ve talked about it a lot, but no, I haven’t yet,” patch admitted.

        “Patch,” Sita said, her eyes pleading, “would you? Please? I know I’m not a cub now.”

       “I will,” patch replied, “and with joy and realism too.  I’ll do it right now if you’d like.”  Jet got to his feet and padded from the room.

         “I believe the tale,” he mumbled, but I can’t watch this.”

       “You go back and watch now Jet,” a voice said, “for if it wasn’t for that brave bear, your mate would not be here now.”  Jet looked into the face of a white lioness that he recognised.

        “I’ll go back and sit down Rowena,” he said ashamedly.  Jet padded back into the room, to find Mishka’s closed eyes staring straight at him.

       “You got ticked off by a lioness didn’t you,” Mishka said.  Jet collapsed onto the soft flooring.

       “How did you know that?”  He whimpered.

       “Cubs can see the spirits, even when they are unable to physically see them,” Patch replied, “adult creatures sometimes lose that ability, as they become more cynical that is.  Though some, they still see the spirits, even into old age.”

      “Do you see the spirits Sita?”  Jet asked.  Sita nodded:

       “It is they who have kept me seine all these years,” she replied, “and it is they who told me who my sire and mama really were.  For my rational self says a male bear cannot give birth to a cub, but my spiritual self finds it the most natural thing in the world.”

       “I cried like a cub as I strained and pushed,” patch said, “everything hurt, and at the end I was roaring and screaming with effort and pain.  I am proud of every minute of my labour.”

       “I know,” Mishka replied, “I can tell you are.”

        “I sometimes re-enact the births of my cubs,” Sita said, “its stress relief sometimes.  It allows me to scream and roar and curl my toes hard.  Once, I even imagined I was delivering a cub the size of Patch.  That was difficult!”

       “How long did that labour last?”  Patch asked.

     “Ten hours until forepaws presented, then a further two pushing the cub into the world inch by screaming, sweating, crying inch,” Sita replied.

        “You have a vivid imagination Sita,” jet replied, crossing his hind legs uncomfortably.

       “My imagination is all I’ve got,” Sita replied, “I have no external sight to tell me what I imagine is impossible.”

       “It is said you are the product of a bear’s imagination Sita,” Jet said.

       “I am,” Sita replied, “and it was that bear who saved my life, I know this.  While I am indebted to Patch for every day I live on this earth, I know he does not hold it over my head.  All he wants is for me to be a gentle creature, and gentle I try to be.”  Patch crawled to Sita and kissed her ear, the cat bear smiling and resting her head on Patch’s shoulder.

       “Have you ever re-enacted my birth in a quiet moment?”  Sita asked.  Patch smiled and nodded:

       “I have,” he replied, “the whole thing takes about two and a half hours, so it’s hardly a moment, but I love and cherish every minute from first contractions to hard effort.  I crawl, and rock, wriggle and pant, sob and curl my toes hard.  I sit back on my heels, brace my forepaws and close my eyes, bearing down into my tail with all my might Sita.  I truly feel every inch of your arrival into this world when I get into the swing of things.  I think I adopt every posture I can bar standing on my head.”  Jet laughed, converting it into a sneeze.

        “Its not funny big bear,” Mishka warned, “what Patch is describing is a serious event.”

       “Why didn’t Kamchatka ask for your help during Mishka’s birth?”  Sita asked.  Patch sat down and replied:

      “I was with her, I pushed with her, and I helped her a lot.  I was in the shower at the time she had the cub, and so the sounds I made were not unexpected of a bear that was in abdominal distress.”

      “So you helped me?”  Mishka asked.

       “I did Mishka,” patch replied, “I helped, and my mate helped too.  Mama Kamchatka knows who helped her, though she and I don’t talk about it.  I want no thanks from her, and none from you either little one,” Patch replied, covering the cub’s mouth gently with one paw, “you living your life and enjoying every minute is all the thanks I could wish for.”

       “Even when I ask personal questions?”  Mishka asked.

       “The questions you have asked are worth asking,” Patch replied, “and very soon, you will be able to get paws on with a labouring bear.  Mama Kamchatka will show you your birth Mishka, but I would like to show you Sita’s.”

       “Are you sure Patch?”  Mishka asked.

        “I want to,” Patch replied, “it’s nothing to be ashamed of.  For after all, the product of that labour is a beautiful creature with the most gorgeous face, fur and hybrid paws I have ever seen or touched in my life.”

        “So my paws aren’t the loveliest paws you’ve ever seen or touched?”  Ekaterina asked, padding into the soft play room.  Patch blushed to his ears:

       “You always catch me with that!”  He snapped.  Ekaterina laughed merrily.

        “You bite so beautifully Patch its sweet!”  She laughed.  Patch padded forward, reared onto his hind feet and picked Ekaterina up in his forepaws.  Pivoting on his right hind foot, he swung her gently round a full circle and placed her on her hind feet on the soft matting.

        “You gorgeous hunk!”  Ekaterina giggled.  Patch kissed her nose and the top of her head.

       “Now mama,” he said, “what can I do for you?”  Ekaterina smiled:

      Kamchatka was wondering if master Mishka would come back for his dinner.

      “Master Mishka wasn’t hungry until you said dinner,”  Mishka replied, “my belly has been full of tales of wonderful life giving things like the births of magical cubs and the amazing creatures who deliver them into the world.”

       “I know of one such,” Ekaterina replied, “and he’s my mate, and has been ever since I was a cub, if the truth be told.  I love him more deeply than I have loved almost anyone else.  Though his paws are easily tripped by playful comments like the one I made a minute ago.”  Patch kissed his mate’s ear.

       “Now let’s get master Mishka back to his mama,” patch said gently, “I need to eat too, as I’ve got a strenuous time ahead I think.

 

 

Patch padded back to his lie up with Ekaterina, the two bears sharing a salmon and Patch getting out bread and peanut butter.  Ekaterina’s nose twitched at the scent of the butter.

        “You got your taste for this butter stuff when you lived with jess in the human’s house didn’t you patch?”  She asked.  Patch smiled and nodded:

        “I did Ekaterina, I did,” he replied, giving her a slice of bread with the peanut butter spread liberally on it.  Ekaterina tasted the butter, her mind blown by the intensity of the flavour.

      “This is lovely stuff Patch,” she said softly, “No wonder you wanted to introduce me to it.”

      “I will need all the energy I can get,” patch replied, “if I am to re-enact Sita’s birth.”

       “Don’t strain you Patch,” Ekaterina said, touching his shoulder.  Patch laughed:

       “I’ll be doing a lot of that, 2 he replied, “I need to.”

        “I could never re-enact cubbings again,” Ekaterina replied, “patch, should I resign as midwife?  I can’t do it emotionally now.”  Ekaterina’s voice cracked, and she buried her face in his long fur.

        “You need to do what is comfortable for you Ekaterina my love,” Patch replied, “I will support your choice.”  Ekaterina squeezed his paw with hers.

        “I will re-enact cubbings for you my love, but I can’t demonstrate what will happen for outsiders now.”

       “I understand Ekaterina,” Patch said, kissing her nose.  Ekaterina gripped Patch’s paw with hers.

       “I know you do,” she replied, “You of all know how it is to deliver a cub into this world.”

       “I could not help outsiders if I had the experience you did,”  patch replied, “mama Kamchatka’s labour was different, she went into labour, and you helped her admirably, but giving amity natal classes is not suitable for you to teach now.”

       “Patch, you are the Tornassuk, you know how it is for mama having cubs, and for the cubs themselves.”

       “Do you still want to bring Bertie into our family?”  Patch asked.

        “I do,” Ekaterina replied, “I’ve spoken to him about it.  He is ready for it when I am.  Again, that will be a time, you and me, and Bertie of course.”

        “Where will you re-enact Sita’s birth?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “I’ll do it in our lie up,” Patch replied, “I can’t do it in the playroom, it’s not right, even though it’s acting, it’s not right to do that.”

      “Wonder what would happen if play brought on a fast labour in a mama?”  Ekaterina said, “Then the birth would happen in the playroom, mama couldn’t be moved could she?”

        “Depends,” Patch replied, “but maybe not.”

        “I wonder if you’ll ever get the chance to help another mama have her cub,” Ekaterina said, “Patch, how it feels for you.”

         “I have stomach cramps, and a need to relieve myself mostly,” Patch replied, “I push and push and push, that’s about the size of it.  Of course there are different types of pain, and the way I deal with the pains is different too.  My most comfortable posture while pushing is sitting back on my heels, forepaws flat on the floor, then rocking back and fourth.  That’s lovely.”

        “It is a lovely comfortable posture yes,” Ekaterina said, and when you want to bear down, you can, sitting back on your heels and pushing down hard.”

      “Then there’s the rocking back and fourth, grunting as the cub slides down, don’t forget that,”  Patch said, “and then, your back sitting hard down on your heels, straining deeply into your tail again.  I almost want to do it now, right now Ekaterina!”  Ekaterina stroked her mate’s paw.

       “Later,” she said softly.  Patch sat down and began playing with the toes of his right hind foot.

        “Do you want me to get Sita?”  Ekaterina asked.  Patch took a deep breath, trying to contain his rising emotions.

       “Just Sita,” he gasped, “just Sita, noone else, my labour is for her alone.”

       “I’m here Patch,” Sita said, padding in.

      “How long you been out there?”  Patch asked.  Sita smiled, sitting down and touching her friend’s left hind foot with her paw, feeling Patch’s toes curling with suppressed emotions.

        “I have been here for a good while,” Sita said.  Patch wriggled with discomfort.

       “Are you in pain Patch?”  Sita asked.  Patch suddenly shot out his left forepaw and pulled Sita towards him.

       “Things are beginning to happen,” Patch gasped, “I, I can’t stop things for much longer!”

       “Don’t hold things up,” Sita replied softly, “I’m here now.  Patch gave vent to a long wail of discomfort.  Then he began to pace about the lie up, Sita following him.

      “Touch Patch if you want, feel his feet as he paces, gently hold his legs and let his feet run through your paws,” Ekaterina said.  Sita did so, feeling Patch pacing, pacing, pacing, then feeling him stop, lower his head and hearing him groan with increasing pain.  Sita felt Patch crouching down, his forepaws flat on the floor, the toes of his hind feet bearing his weight as he bounced on them between groaning efforts, in which he held on tightly to the floor with the toes of all four now sweating paws.

       “Push down Patch, push, push!”  Sita encouraged.  Patch groaned and heaved, placing his hind feet flat on the floor, Sita’s left forepaw beneath his right hind foot as he did so her paw bearing his weight as he strained hard.  Sita, not minding her sore paw waited for events. Patch bounced on his toes again, then gasping, he began to crawl, Sita following him, feeling his forepaws, then his hind slip through her paws as he wriggled and crawled, fighting his internal battle.

       “Well done Patch, you’re doing well!”  Sita mewed.  Patch growled with pain, twisting and wriggling as his need to push increased.  Then Sita felt Patch sit back on his heels, hard back, desperately digging his heels into both buttocks, wriggling as if fighting to spear his backside on his heels.

     “Oooooaw! Oaoaoaoaowaowh!  Aow!”  Patch screeched, wriggling and rocking.  Sita explored Patch, knowing he would pause to let her explore his posture.

        “This is your time too Sita,” Patch whispered.  Sita explored Patch’s body, from his closed eyes and wide open panting mouth, to his sweating pads and curled toes.  Patch writhed under Sita’s paws, stoking himself up for another effort.

        “I must push down hard, I want to!”  Patch squealed suddenly, bearing down into his backside, before rocking and rolling over onto his back, kicking the air with all four feet.

      “Kick Patch Kick!”  Sita encouraged, hearing Patch roaring and struggling.  Sita put herself in the firing line of Patch’s hind feet, feeling his hind paws pummelling her shoulder and hock.  Sita lent into the kicking paws to feel their power.  Patch wriggled closer, feeling his hind paws gripping Sita’s fur.  Patch leant into his sweating pads as he felt them getting traction on Sita’s fur, whimpering, he gripped her fur with his toes.  Sita didn’t care about the fact Patch was re-creating her birth, and she might force him off script as it were, She wanted to help him.

       “Push Patch Push!”  Sita encouraged.  Squealing and grunting with effort and fear, Patch grabbed Sita with his forepaws.

        “It’s okay Patch, you’re safe,” Sita said softly.  Patch whimpered:

       “I’m worried about the cub, ow, ow the cub’s coming!”  Patch sobbed. Sita felt Patch’s fur bathed in sweat, his paws hot against her skin.

       “Lie on your side and deliver that cub,” Sita said, Patch stretching out on his side and pushing down hard.

      “Cub’s coming out backwards!”  Patch squealed, rolling onto his back and drawing his hind feet up, grabbing them with his forepaws.

      “Erhrhrhrhrhrumph!”  Patch growled, his body rocking back and fourth.  Suddenly Patch was on all fours, crawling about, panting hard, Sita showered in droplets of sweat as [Patch wriggled, shook himself, then wriggled again.  Sita explored Patch’s bunching pads and curling toes between each of his straining efforts.  While he was pushing, Patch would sit hard back on his, heels as he’d done before, Sita once getting her paw between his backside and heels, feeling him sitting on her paw, his effort and struggle now plain to her. Suddenly Patch got onto all fours after a lot of bracing his backside against his heels and screaming, Sita feeling him straddling his hind legs behind him, his weight on his forepaws, backside slightly raised.  Sita gently stroked Patch’s sweat soaked heels and toes, while Patch whimpered and writhed as he prepared for the next effort.

       “Spread those hind feet apart a little more and let the cub come out,” Sita said.  Patch, knowing he’d reclined in a sitting posture during the real thing, whimpered this was not how it had happened.

       “Deliver me how you’d want to deliver me,” Sita replied.  So Patch straddled his hind legs while on all fours, feeling instant relief, instant relaxation and space to push.  Patch grunted, wriggled, and bore down into his tail with a shriek of effort, while Sita stroked the bunched sweating pads and curled toes of Patch’s right hind foot.

      aOaoaoww’w’w’w’w’w’w’oaupmph, aOaoaoww’w’w’w’w’w’w’oaupmph!  Patch screeched as he relived Sita’s birth to the end, wriggling and screaming as Sita’s body slid into the world.

        “What on earth is going on in here?”  Koda asked, padding into the lie up, “I saw Patch in real pain!”  Patch, now lying exhausted on the rugs, motioned to Koda that everything was all right.

        “What happened?”  Koda asked.  Sita, emotional herself, told him the tale.

      “So he re-enacted your birth?”  Koda asked.

      “Patch did, and it was wonderful,” Sita replied.

        “There is no record of Patch having ever helped at your birth Sita,” Koda replied, “though I know the tale everyone tells.”

       “My birth was never seen by anyone, just as Peter’s birth was never seen by those who did not need to see it.  I asked patch to re-enact the birth as he remembered it, and yes I suggested something towards the end, but he liked that idea.”

      “On all fours, hind feet splayed while pushing the cub into the world you mean,” Koda replied.

       “Yes,” Sita replied, “so that is how he gave birth to me. In a kneeling position, on all fours really, just as mama Kamchatka delivered Mishka in that posture.  That was how Ekaterina got hold of Mishka with her forepaws while keeping hind paws on with mama at the same time.”

         “I found pushing in that position easier than how I remember the actual birth,” Patch replied.

        “Your hind feet are very expressive Patch,” Sita said, “thank you for letting me touch you during your re-enactment of my birth.”  Patch hugged Sita tightly.

        “Now will you let me get paws on with you while you re-enact Toby’s birth?”  Patch asked.  Sita smiled and buried her face in the sweet scented long grey fur.

        “I will,” she replied, “Patch, I love the scent of your fur.”

       “I’m hot and have been sweating a good bit,” patch said.

         “Your scent is earthy, and fresh,” Sita replied, “its lovely.  Don’t others say that?”

       “Some like the scent of earthy paws when I hug them,” patch replied.

        “I like your scent,” Sita admitted.  Koda sat down heavily.

        “I was frightened,” he admitted, “I saw patch writhing and struggling.  I thought he was dying!”  Patch crawled to Koda, sat down and drew him into a massive hug, planting a snuffle kiss on the young bear’s nose, Koda gasping and snuggling close.

        “I love you Patch,” Koda said softly.  Patch turned Koda round in his paws and gazed into his face:

        “You are a handsome little bear yourself Koda,” Patch replied.  Koda lay back on Patch’s lap, presenting the grey bear with a view of the soles of all four small paws.

        “Love those pads,” Patch said, kissing each one of Koda’s paws, the male bear giggling with delight.

       “I’m frightened Patch,” Koda said plaintively.

        “What of little one?”  Patch asked softly, hearing the cub’s tone:

      “Of everything!”  Koda replied, his eyes filling with tears, “I, I can’t tell mama, she’s, she’s got Mishka to look after now,” Koda choked, beginning to sob, “I’m so scared!”  Patch embraced Koda.

         “You know mama would listen if you asked her don’t you Koda,” Patch said, “though I see the reasons why you don’t want to Burdon her.”

        “I love Mishka with all my heart Patch,” Koda replied, “I, I want to protect him!  I’m frightened that I can’t do that properly!  My paws are little bigger than his, and he came to me looking for a hug, snuggling up and all, and I hugged him, and I tried not to cry then, I felt responsible, inadequate, and alone Patch!”  Patch held Koda tightly in his forepaws.

       “You are not alone Koda, you aren’t alone my gentle brother,” Patch said softly, kissing his brother’s ear.

         “I am no leader Patch, I’m a cub, a fumble footed cub Patch!”  Koda sobbed.

        “Your quite sure footed last time I saw you walk,” Patch said reassuringly.  Patch saw Koda’s toes curl in frustration.

       “I don’t mean that, you know I don’t mean that!”  Koda raged turning and pummelling patch’s chest with his paws.

       “Stop that right now!”  Sita snapped, hearing Koda’s paws beating on patch.

        “I can’t cope!”  Koda sobbed, crumpling completely into Patch’s hug.

        “I didn’t mean to punch Patch Sita,” Koda sobbed.  Patch embraced Koda, kissing his nose and paws, Koda shaking violently from nose to tail.

         “You have come to me for help, and that is what I will try to do,” Patch said softly.

       “I played with Mishka’s paws,”  Koda sniffed, “he reminded me how I was when I was younger, Mishka is so cute Patch, he is so cute, so vulnerable too, I explored him from nose to paw pads, every inch of his body, he is lovely Patch, a beautiful cub he is.  I wanted to protect him so much Patch, but when I looked at the sum of myself, I came up with big cub, big cub, that is all.  A larger version of Mishka with black fur that is all I am Patch.”  Patch kissed Koda’s paws, and then gazed into his face.

       “You know more than you think,” Patch replied, “Koda, don’t doubt your knowledge, or your ability to make a tiny cub feel secure and safe.”

      “I saw a video of mama having her cub,” Koda replied, “part of the reason why I’m so upset Patch, is because you re-enacting Sita’s birth looked just like mama when she had Mishka!”

        “I didn’t think of that,” Patch replied honestly, “I’m sorry Koda.”  Koda kissed Patch’s nose.

        “You don’t need to apologise,” Koda said.  Patch kissed Koda’s nose and paws, the black bear wriggling with pleasure.

        “We’ll help you run this place Koda,” Patch said.

       “Patch,” Koda said, “I’ve been thinking about a job for Sita.”  Sita audibly gasped and there was a scratching sound as her toes curled into the rugs in anticipation.

       “What job would that be?”  Patch asked.  Koda smiled and looked at Sita.

        “Warden of the playroom, something like that,” he replied, “she’d be great at it, of course with Toby’s help, as she couldn’t keep a visual check on many cubs.  Sita would be able to teach the cub’s gentle play, and then maybe they’d know how to play with community members who are blind too.”

        “I like that idea,” Patch said.

        “Cubs like you more than me though Patch,” Sita said, “your fur, your paws, they’re all lovely to play with, I know, I’ve done it.  How about if you do that Job?”

        “How if you both do that Job Sita,” Koda said.

       “I’d love to,” Patch replied, “I could combine my role as Tornassuk with that job too.”  Sita sat down suddenly.

       “I’ve never been considered for a job, let alone been given one,” she said.

      “Can you play?”  Koda asked.

      “Yes, yes!”  Sita replied, “I’ll do anything, anything Koda!”

      “Now Sita,” Koda said softly, “play with me, go on, play with me, and show me how you’d play with a cub.”  Sita touched Patch’s paw.

      “Are you okay?”  She asked.  Patch smiled and kissed her nose:

      “I will be okay my daughter cub,” he said softly.  Sita choked on her tears, buried her face in his shoulder, and burst into tears.

       “I think you have made her very happy Patch,” Koda said.  Sita clung to Patch, smelling his recently sweat soaked fur.  Patch kissed Sita’s ears and nose.  Then Patch gathered Sita into his paws, Sita unable to stop her tears, for she felt whole for the first time in her life.

       “Welcome home Sita,” Patch said softly.  Sita kissed Patch’s nose and paws, running her paws down his body to his hind paws, Sita feeling Patch’s toes curling as she touched his pads.

        “Thank you Sita,” patch said.

       “I need to play with the world’s biggest cub I think,” Sita said, Ekaterina and Koda laughing helplessly.

        “You have a mama’s paws one minute, a cub’s paws the next, and an adult’s paws for a third second,” Koda said.  Sita laughed helplessly:

       “You have lovely paws Patch, lovely paws!”  Sita said.

       “I would love to touch patch’s paws as he crawls round the lie up and does everything he did during your birth Sita,” Koda said.  Sita hugged the young cub:

      “I am reborn Koda!”  Sita said softly, and now I know what my birth was like.  Right from first contraction to screaming climax.  Patch gave birth to me that day, he did, he did!”

       “Kiss his nose, kiss his paws, stroke his fur Sita,” Koda said.  Sita did all that, stroking, patting, and loving her parent, her only mama and sire in one body.

       “I will re-enact your birth to remind you and me how it was for years to come,” patch said.  Kamchatka padded in, her eyes full of tears.

      “I can’t believe what I saw Patch,” Kamchatka said, her face streaked with tears.

     “I loved every minute of it mama,” patch said.  Kamchatka dropped to her knees and kissed her son’s nose.

       “That was lovely,” Kamchatka said, “it was so well re-enacted I felt your pain, felt your love for Sita in all that.”  Koda looked at his mama.

       “Mama,” he said, “I have almost confirmed Patch as playroom attendant along with Sita and Toby.”

         “Koda,” Ekaterina said, “I’m resigning as Midwife, and I can’t do the job any more.  Koda looked at Ekaterina.

       “”Why would you want to leave your post?”  Koda asked, “You are wonderful at your work.”  Kamchatka growled irritably, but Koda missed her signal.

       “She can’t cope with still birthed cubs,” Patch mumbled into Koda’s ear.  Koda threw his paws up in horror at his own misunderstanding of the situation.

        “Oh, yes, yes, I understand now, of course, yes Ekaterina, of course.  Koda babbled.

        “I think you’ll need an extra set of paws in the playroom,” Toby said, yawning and stretching as he padded in to the lie up, “I’m exhausted playing with all these new cubs, and Lilly’s got in cub to Qingshan too, so there’ll be more paws needing playtime.”

      Another playroom attendant?”  Koda asked, “Yes, yes of course, fine, yes just fine, of course!”  He gushed.  Koda turned a shattered expression on Patch, who hugged him, the black bear cub burying his face in Patch’s fur sobbing quietly.

        “Now let’s go from here,” Kamchatka said, looking down at her two son cubs embracing each other.  Sita touched Patch’s right hind foot, Patch curling his toes around hers, holding them tightly.

       “Your pads are smoother,” Sita said, “they are kind of cute too.”  Patch giggled:

       “Of course Sita, you, me, Ekaterina and Toby will have to get used to comments like that from little cubs.”

       “Let’s go to the play room,” Sita suggested.  Patch got to his feet, padding out of the lie up beside Sita.  As he walked, Sita heard a slight sucking sound from his paws, as if they were sticking to the tiles as he walked.

       “Your paws are sticking slightly to the tiles Patch,” Sita said.  Patch grinned:

      “They are probably a bit warm still after the efforts of the last few hours,” he said.  Sita touched Patch’s raised right hind paw, feeling a little resistance as she tried to pull her paw away.

       “That’s kind of cute,” she said, Patch smiling with pleasure as Sita stroked his pads.

      “Your paws smell of earth and very honest living,” Sita said.  Patch laughed:

       “I know I haven’t washed my paws since I walked in the woods earlier,” he said.  Sita smiled, kissed Patch’s heel pad, and drew the toes of her right forepaw down the pads of his right hind foot, feeling the slight resistance of his warm pads on hers.  Patch felt his toes curling as Sita’s pads created a little friction, warming his paw slightly.

       “That feels amazing,” Patch said.

       “Keep paws clean and all is well,” Sita said, patting patch’s pads.  Patch lowered his foot to the floor, and they walked together, Sita’s head on Patch’s shoulder.

         “That’s lovely,” Kamchatka said.

       “We could always use taken powder to dry our paws,” Sita said.  Patch smiled:

      “Maybe that’d be good for us if we’re playing a lot,” he said, “also, if we go to the pool complex to help play with the cubs, then they come here.  Maybe we need to have playtimes for the cubs, where they spend a day playing; I know Furcone has them for history lessons for six hours a week.  Maybe if we have them playing for another six?”

      “We can’t structure their play though,” Sita replied, “that’s the way humans do things.  We could encourage them to explore sensations, touch, sharing, cooperation play, that kind of thing.”

        “Using talc on their paws would be a nice addition too I think,” Patch said.  Sita smiled:

       “It would be,” she replied.  Patch smiled:

       “Let’s play with the cubs,” Patch said.  Sita laughed:

      “Let’s grab Mishka and tickle his paws and make him laugh, and love him,” she said.

       “I will love him with my paws, with my heart and with everything else I have,” Patch replied softly.

      “Let’s make a pact,” Sita said, “that we both use our paws, and our love, to play with the cubs.”

      “Promise you,” Patch said.

 

“Did anyone tell you patch,” Blackberry said some time later, “that I think you have the most playful paws here?”  Patch laughed merrily, led Blackberry to the playroom, tripped him, rolled him over, and tickled his toes, the white bear laughing hysterically.

        “Stop that, stop it now!”  Blackberry pleaded.  Patch kissed his nose and the pads of all four of his paws, blackberry embracing Patch’s head with his forepaws, and dabbing the grey bear’s nose with the toes of his hind feet.

       “Your paws are becoming warm,” Patch said.  Blackberry sat up and touched the sole of his right hind foot.

       “Yes, sorry,” he said, “my paws are becoming a little damp.  I’m getting a little excited.”

       I’ll rub talc into your pads,” Patch replied, doing just that, Blackberry laughing helplessly as Patch ministered to him.

       “I didn’t know getting my paws dried off could be so wonderful,” blackberry said.  Patch kissed his nose:

      “That is how we teach cubs to dry their paws, with play,” he said.

       “I wish I was a cub again,” blackberry said, “for several reasons.”  Patch hugged him tightly.

       “We allow big cubs in to the playroom too,” he said softly into Blackberry’s ear.

       “I saw your re-enactment of Sita’s birth, that was amazing,” Blackberry replied, “Targon was very tearful throughout.”

       “Is she in cub?”  Patch asked.

       “I think she might be,” blackberry replied.

        “Now let’s go find some cubs to play with,” Patch said to Sita, who’d followed him and blackberry into the playroom.  Sita felt Patch tugging at her paw, and followed him out into the passage.  Sita felt her heart racing, her paws sticking slightly to the tiles as she walked.

       “I’ve never felt so excited outside mating,” Sita said suddenly, making Patch roar with laughter.

        “You tell it how it is Sita!”  He guffawed.  Sita laughed nervously.

      “I’m sorry,” she whimpered.

       “Miss sticky paws,” Patch whispered, kissing Sita’s nose, Sita giggling with pleasure.

       “You are mister sticky paws then,” she said, “for your paws started all this.”  Patch smiled.

      “When was that?”  He asked.

     “When you were holding onto my fur with the toes of both hind paws,” Sita replied, “I placed myself in the line of fire of your kicking hind feet as you fought to deliver a cub.  I leant into your pressure as your paws found my coat, and your pads seem to stick to my fur.  Feeling this, and likening it, you curled your toes into my long fur.”

        “Did I?”  Patch asked, “I don’t remember.”

        “I could show you how you did it,” Sita said, “right, back to the playroom.”  Once in the playroom, Sita lay down on her belly and asked patch to lie on his back at right angles to her, pressing his hind feet against her side.  Patch, feeling his pads touching her fur, immediately felt them warm up as her fur enveloped his hind feet.  Patch felt his toes curling, gripping Sita’s fur, Sita leaning into the pressure of her friend’s hind feet on her body.

       “Yes, I remember now,” Patch said softly.

      “Your pads and toes grip my fur easily,” Sita said suddenly, “it’s lovely Patch, it feels great!”

       “Now do I feel a round of the trapped paw game coming on?”  Patch asked.  Sita giggled:

       “I must learn how to play with the cubs,” Sita replied, “and to play with them, you need to become one.”

       “What’s the most enjoyable thing you and Toby did together,” Patch asked.  Sita giggled and clambered into Patch’s lap, cuddling close.

       “Playing with each other’s paws I think,” she replied.

       “Your paws are very attractive,” Patch said to Sita.”

       “You know how to make me smile,” Sita replied.

      “I’m only saying what I feel,” Patch replied, “your paws are attractive; they are very huggable, very playful loving paws.”

       “Of course!”  Sita exclaimed, “The first cubs will know of me is how my paws feel to them!  I know how others are feeling by their paws!  How could I think your comments unusual?  I suppose, I am thinking of you as a sighted bear, and not as I am.”  Patch smiled:

      “Treat me as if I cannot see you, and can only love you by the paw,”  Patch said gently, “for during my labour, the touch of your paws against my pads did more for me than anything else.”  Sita gasped and kissed Patch’s nose.

       “Do you really mean that?”  She asked.  Patch hugged her:

        “Silly questions Sita,” he said playfully.

       “Silly questions get silly answers,” Sita mewed, her heart lifting.

       “Exactly,” patch replied, kissing her paws.

      “Now Sita,” Patch said, looking round, “and you Ekaterina, come here, please.”  Sita snuggled closer to Patch, Ekaterina padding up and sitting down, leaning on her mate.

      “What is it dear Patch?”  She asked.

       “Promise me one thing both of you,” Patch said, touching first Sita’s, then Ekaterina’s ear with his nose.

      “What is that?”  They asked.

       “Promise me you two,” Patch said, his voice catching slightly, “that you will play, that you will use those gifts still left to you.  Please, use your paws as your eyes, if you find the fact your pads are slightly sticky after play and you want to laugh about it, please do.  Don’t be afraid of it, it’s natural.”  Ekaterina smiled and snuggled close:

       “I won’t,” Ekaterina replied, “but I do know what you mean.”

      “Right,” Sita said, “so let’s start now shall we?”  Patch laughed, pushed Sita and Ekaterina onto their backs, then tickled their toes and pads until they were wriggling and laughing like cubs.

       “Now we’ve established that,” Patch said, “I’m lost for inspiration.”

       “We’re not, come on Sita!”  Ekaterina said, bowling Patch onto his back, both Sita and Ekaterina leaping on top of him and tickling his paws until patch was crying with laughter.

        “Let’s make our paws slightly sticky like they would be from prolonged play,” Sita suggested, “let’s swim in the main pool for a bit, get our paws nice and wet, then shower and come back here, just as the cubs would do.  How if we get Toby in too?”  Patch smiled.

       “I’ll find him,” Patch said.

       “Dear patch cub,” Ekaterina said, “crawl to the phone, there’s a good lad.”  Patch roared with laughter and crawled past Sita and Ekaterina, while they both got paws on with him.

       “I want my hind feet stroked!”  Patch whimpered, Sita hugging him while Ekaterina stroked his hind paws with loving care.

       “I love this bear Ekaterina,” Sita said.  Ekaterina smiled:

       “He needs all the love we can give him,” she replied, “for he loves us with everything he has.”  Patch crawled to the phone and got hold of Toby, who was a bit uncertain about playing like a cub.

        “You need to play like a cub to understand them,” Patch replied to his gruff enquiry.

        “What’s all this about getting paws wet and sticky and whatnot?”  Toby grumbled, “It’s weird.”

       “Only because your main world is a visual one,” Patch replied, “feel it from Sita and Ekaterina’s point of view, then you see why they are so keen on that.”

      “But you are visual like me,” Toby snarled, “are you not put off by the focus on paws?”

       “No,” Patch replied, “Remember, I used to talk to jess through the paw, we had no common language other than touch of paw on paw, and we managed well.”  Toby had to agree that one.

       “Yes,” he mumbled.

       “So will you come?”  Patch asked.  Toby hesitated:

       “I’m nearly grown up now,” he whined.

      “Well come here and learn how to be a cub little Grandcub,” Patch replied.  Toby exploded:

     “I’m not your Grandcub!”

      “Oh yes you are,” someone said on his end of the line, “No I’m not!”  Toby raged at the speaker, whom patch could see was Georgia.

       “How can I be his Grandcub?”  Toby asked.

      “Touch his paws, and you’ll understand,” was Georgia’s cryptic reply.  Toby slammed the phone down with a mouthed sentiment that shocked Patch, even though he couldn’t hear it.

       “Foul mouthed brute,” patch growled, stamping back to his two assistants.

     “Well he comes?”  Ekaterina asked.

      “If he doesn’t, he’ll be sacked,” Patch said.  Toby padded down to the playroom, very confused and a little upset.

      “What’s all this about being my grandsire Patch?”  Toby demanded.

       “You know the tale of how he gave birth to me?”  Sita asked.  Toby snorted:

      “More spiritualist stuff I suppose, not worth the breath used to tell the tale.  Yes Patch, before you ask, I saw that disgusting attempt to convince Sita you gave birth to her, what a fraud!  It looked like you have bellyache that is all.  All overacting and rubbish.”

       “It wasn’t overacting,” someone said.  Toby looked round, seeing Haimati pad in.

     “What the hell are you doing here?”  Patch asked.  Haimati leant down and kissed the toes of Patch’s right hind foot, and then looking very frightened, she approached Sita, Sita spitting in anger.

     “What the bloody hell do you want?”  Sita snapped.

       “Let her touch your paw Sita, please,” Patch said.  Sita, trusting him, did as he asked.  Haimati’s forepaw touched Sita’s left hind foot, her toes gripping Sita’s.

        “I want to say something to you Sita, and to you Toby.”

         “And what is that?”  Toby asked gruffly.

       “I want to tell you Toby that if it hadn’t been for Patch, I would not be here now, and neither would Sita.  I wish to tell you Toby that what patch re-enacted is completely true, and honest, and moving.  I know I lied to Sita and the spirits, but now I’m sick of all this.  I know I mistreated you Sita, and I am sorry for what I did.  I know I cannot undo the hurt I caused, and do not deserve you as my daughter cub.  Yes you are part of my species, but I do not deserve you.”  Sita felt Haimati turn away, but she put her paw on her shoulder to stop her.  Haimati stared into her daughter cub’s sightless eyes, then; Sita knelt before Haimati and kissed her nose.

       “You said that from the heart,” Sita said, “I know it.”  Haimati looked into her daughter cub’s face.

       “I know now who really deserves you as their cub,” Haimati said, “I don’t care if Patch is male, he has been a mama and sire to you, and a great comfort to lots more besides.  Now I must go, and you will hear from me no more.”    With that, she was gone, running from the room.

      “So now do you believe it Toby?”  Ekaterina asked.  Toby, who’d, covered his face with his paws after Haimati had begun her speech, nodded, close to tears.

       “I’m sorry, so sorry!”  He whimpered.

       “Haimati took her courage in her paws when she came to you Sita,” Patch said.  Sita sighed heavily:

       “I am sorry I snapped,” she said.

      “You weren’t to know what she wanted,” Patch replied, “and you made up for your snappy response by doing the right thing by her.”

        “I can’t believe you forgave her,” Toby spat.

       “I haven’t forgotten,” Sita replied, “but hatred eats at you if you carry it on.  Since,” she swallowed hard, “since being with patch, he’s taught me a lot.”

      “So what are my orders?”  Toby asked.

      “To swim, to play, to climb, to enjoy your paws, to savour being a cub,”  Patch replied, “just like Sita and I are about to do.”

       “All slightly sticky paws and stiff fur after chlorinated water?”  Toby snorted, “Awful stuff that.”

       “You can always change jobs,” Ekaterina yawned.

      “I’m sorry Ekaterina,” Toby said shaking him.

       “Come,” Patch said, “time to go to the pool complex and find our web footed river living friends.”

      “Who?”  Toby asked.  Sita laughed:

     “The otters, well one in particular,” Sita said.

      “Have you hugged her?”  Patch asked.

     “I have,” Sita replied, “she’s cute.”

        “I’m glad you think so,” Whitetip replied, padding in, Sita crawling to her and kissing her nose.

      “Dear Whitetip,” Sita purred, the she otter snuggling close.

       “I’m of the sticky pawed sort,” Whitetip said, lifting her right hind foot, Sita touching her pads with her nose, feeling the slight sweat caused by the transition between tiles and venal floor after being in the water of the pool complex.

         “I love you Whitetip,” Sita whispered, the she otter returning Sita’s kiss to the cat bear’s nose, and then leaning down, the toes of her left forepaw also.

       “Now to go to the pool complex and get our paws wet,” Patch said.  Patch crawled to the pool complex with Ekaterina and Sita following, each following the other’s hind feet. As they approached the pool complex, they couldn’t help smiling as their paws were drenched while getting a good wash.

       “We have clean paws now,” Whitetip remarked.  Turning right, they entered the main hall, Sita hearing a change in sound as the landscape opened up.  Sita patted Patch’s right hind foot as they stopped beside the first pool.

       “Now I need a few sets of guiding paws,” Whitetip said, “I’m unable to, as I’m supervisor, “it’s a bit difficult with two blind bears and only one bears who can help both.  We need one to one support here.”  Whitetip seemed at a loss, so Patch got to his feet, trotted over to a phone, and got through to Arcto, the black bear eager to help in any way he could.

       “I’m hot pawing it down to you Patch,” he said, and he was as good as his word.

      “Now we have enough support,” Patch said.

      “But surely we’re okay on our own,” Ekaterina said, “we’re blind, nod.”

      “If something goes wrong, I need help to get you out of trouble,” Whitetip said, her voice slightly condescending, though she didn’t notice it.  Koda did However, as he was watching the goings on from his lie up.  Punching a button on the control panel in front of him, he spoke into the microphone.

       “Whitetip, you are still on probation, watch your tone of voice.”  Ekaterina snorted with disgust at Whitetip’s condescension.

      “You won’t need me or Patch to help in the pools will you Whitetip,”  Arcto said, “it’s just on the slides and things, but even then, when Sita and Ekaterina get used to the layout of the place, we will only need to tell them when to slide.”

       “Not even that,” Patch replied, “There are different bell sounds for the different slides.  Whitetip is being unreasonable in this, and Koda has let her know it too.”

        “So where do we start our exploration?”  Sita asked briskly.

       “The spar pool,” Whitetip replied, “its dead ahead of you Sita.”  Sita padded forward, until the toes of her forepaws were over the lip of a ledge.

       “May I suggest you step into the pool backwards Sita,” Arcto said.  Sita stepped back, turned round, and backed towards the pool, Arcto’s left forepaw stopping her as her heels touched the edge of the pool.

       “You will now step into space with your left hind foot,” Arcto said, step down with that foot, and hold onto the tiles with the toes of your other three feet, until you find the loge below, which is about a foot down.”  Sita did, and this way, was soon in the spar pool.  Patch helped Ekaterina in a similar manner, and very soon all four bears were sitting in the pool.  Arcto dipped his paw in the water and felt Sita’s right hind foot land in his grip.  Smiling, he stroked her pads under the water, Sita smiling, her eyes shining.

       “Your touch could make my toes curl,” she said, fitting actions to words, the toes of her right hind foot curling tightly.

      “Love those bunched pads,” Arcto said.  Sita giggled cubbishly, splashing Arcto with her forepaws.  Hubert padded in then, sitting down on the side of the pool, his hind feet dangling in the water.  Smiling, Ekaterina, who was sitting beside his right hind foot, cupped her paws around his paw and tickled his pads and toes.  She then cupped both Hubert’s hind feet in her paws, feeling how one foot was flatter than the other.

        “You have thick pads on your left hind foot and thin on your right Hubert?”  Ekaterina asked.  Hubert nodded:

      “I can’t walk very easily on my thicker padded foot,” Hubert confessed.

       “How if you crawl then?”  Ekaterina asked, “Crawl, take off your adult paws and crawl like a cub.”  Hubert looked into Ekaterina’s face:

       “Would you help me do that?”  He asked, “There was a time, a time not so long ago, when I would have scoffed at your idea of adults having adult paws, but now I don’t.  Please, help me remove my adult paws and become a cub.”  Eater smiled and, lifting his foot in her paws, kissed his toes.

       “You’re all cuddly and soft really,” Ekaterina said.

        “I want to be that,” Hubert replied, “is my son cub spiritually born to you yet?”  Ekaterina shook her head:

      “He will be shortly,”  she replied, “there has been so much going on recently, I can’t think, now though, now I’ve resigned as midwife, I’ll be able to think more clearly.”

      “Now let’s go to the slides, and the water coaster,” Whitetip said.  Leading the way, she led Sita, Patch, Arcto and Ekaterina to the slides, Arcto and Patch helping Sita and Ekaterina to ride the slides.

      “I remember doing this when I could see things a little,” Ekaterina said, pausing at the bottom of the slide, “this is the first time I’ve been to the slides since I lost my sight.  Now it’s all paws, paws, paws, rather than using my eyes, but it’s easy, for our former leader was blind, so he built this place to be accessible.”

     “Now use your lovely paws, paws, paws,” Patch said gently, Ekaterina laughing and kissing his nose.

       “Same to you,” she replied, Patch rubbing the top of her right forepaw, then ducking behind her, Patch kissed the exposed pads of Ekaterina’s right hind foot, the she bear gasping with emotions.

       “I love you,” she whispered, “I love you kissing my nose, and my pads and toes.”

       “I found you cute from the first time I hugged you when you were a little cub Ekaterina,” Patch said, “I promised to protect and love you then, and I’ve loved every second of our friendship, then courtship.”

       “We’ve been close ever since I can remember,” Ekaterina replied, “Patch, your love for me has helped me through the darkest of times, and I hold it close to my heart every day.”

       “Some say you blew Patch out when you lost your two cubs,” Arcto said.  Ekaterina stiffened:

       “I did,” she replied, “I won’t deny that.  Instinct took over, and I hid myself to deliver the second cub, and effectively did the same with little Patch, though Patch saw everything.”

       “Now let’s leave that,” Patch said softly, “we are here for play, not to talk of distressing things.”  Ekaterina smiled and curled the toes of her right hind foot, catching those of Patch’s left forepaw and holding them tightly.

        “I’d like to leave here for our lie up when all this is over,” Ekaterina said.  Patch smiled and kissed the bunched sole pad of his mate’s right hind foot.

       “We will,” he replied.

       “When you two have quite finished making love,” Whitetip said, “we’ll get on with the tour yes?”  Patch grinned and Ekaterina released his paw.

       “Do you remember sitting on that island after, after I’d lost my second cub?”  Ekaterina asked Patch.  Patch nodded:

      “The water lapping round our hind feet,” he replied, “very comforting that was.”  Whitetip looked into the camera above their heads, pulling bored faces at the watchers.  Kamchatka, watching in their lie up, laughed at Whitetip’s boredom.

       “She’s so impatient,” she said to Koda, who smiled.

      “Ekaterina and Patch are so good together,” Koda said, “plus they’re real sweet.”

       “Mama Ekaterina is very good with her cubs,” Kamchatka said.

      “I wonder why that is,” Koda said.  Kamchatka laughed and hugged her older cub.

       “Would you feed Mishka if I leave you a bottle of milk?”  She asked, “I’ve got to go patrolling with Innokenti.”

       “I will,” Koda replied, “but he almost feeds himself now, drinks from the bottle I mean.”

       “Just be there,” Kamchatka said.  Koda promised he would.  Kamchatka left a bottle of milk, padding from the lie up.  Koda looked over at Mishka, who was lounging on a beanbag.

      “Do you want your bottle now?”  Koda asked him.  Mishka rubbed his closed eyes with tired paws.

       “I’d rather a hug,” he said.  Koda smiled and crawled over to his brother, sitting down on the beanbag and picking Mishka up in his paws, lying down, and then embracing him tightly.  Mishka snuggled up to Koda, Koda exploring the younger bear with his paws, amazed something so beautiful and tiny could be left in his charge.

      “Play with my paws brother Koda, play with my paws!  Um, please and thank you,” Mishka said.  Koda laughed, kissing his brother cub’s nose.

        “You are so gentle brother Koda,” Mishka said.  Koda examined each of Mishka’s paws, the cub curling and stretching his toes as his brother stroked and massaged his paws.

       “You can squeeze my toes a bit if you want,” Mishka said.  Koda gently embraced Mishka’s toes, the cub wriggling with pleasure.

       “Do you want your milk Mishka?”  Koda asked.  Mishka smiled and crawled to the bottle, sitting down beside it, picking it up in his paws and drinking busily, Koda watching proudly.

      “I can see you going far dear Mishka,” he thought.  Mishka finished the bottle of milk, and then crawled to the kitchen.  Koda, fascinated now, followed him silently, Mishka crewing into the kitchen, where Koda could not follow due to the tiling on the floor giving his presence away.  Mishka pulled he up on the draw fronts until he stood on his hind feet, then, balancing with one forepaw, he threw the bottle up and forward, the bottle landing in the sink.  Mishka then reached up with his forepaws, using the handles of the drawers as with his forepaws and hind feet as a ladder until he reached the worktop, then with a bouncing jump on the toes of his hind feet, he threw himself up and sideways, twisting in the air, finally landing on the worktop.  Mishka then crawled to the sink, explored it quickly with his forepaws, and then turned the tap, the water drumming in the sink.  Mishka then opened the bottle, washed it out and left it on the draining board, before shuffling backwards until his hind feet, then his body were over the edge, dropping down to the floor with a grunt.  Pausing to collect his thoughts, he turned, crawling back to the lounge, and running straight into Koda’s forepaws.

      “Oh! Koda!”  Mishka exclaimed, “I, you won’t tell mama will you?  I know she said not to climb on the worktops and all, but,” Mishka’s voice trailed away as his eyes filled with tears.  Koda looked down at the cub, realising his eyes were open.

        “No, I won’t tell her,” he replied, “but the cameras might.”  Mishka gasped with horror!

       “No Koda!”  He wailed, “She’ll go mad!”

        “Who’s she? The cat’s mother?”  Kamchatka asked.  Koda spun round, Mishka squealing with dismay and shock.

       “Mama,” Koda gasped, complicit in Mishka’s deception.

       “I saw it all,” Kamchatka replied, “I should smack you both for disobedience, but I won’t this time.  Your shock at my sudden appearance is enough punishment I think.”  Mishka looked so terrified Kamchatka was worried he was actually going to vomit.

       “Mishka,” she said, “it’s okay my dear cub, please don’t lose all that good milk.”  Mishka took a deep breath.

       “You must admit though mama,” Koda said, “watching Mishka independently washing that bottle was really great.”  Kamchatka had to admit it was.

      “Yes,” she replied, “but I will now provide him with a stepladder so he can do it safely.”

       “I’m sorry mama,” Mishka whimpered.  Kamchatka sat down, picked Mishka up in her paws and embraced him tightly.

        “You might have fallen off the top, or down off the drawer front while you were climbing up,” Kamchatka said to Mishka.  Koda sat opposite his mama, the pads of his hind paws touching hers, Kamchatka’s toes curling round his.

      “Now mama,” Koda said, “I have been watching Patch and Ekaterina, they are very much in love with each other.”

         “That they are,” Kamchatka said smiling, “their love was plain to me from the day Ekaterina and Patch first met.  They touched paws and,” she laughed slightly, “the rest is history.”  Koda looked at his mother, examining her from ears to paws.

       “Want me to wave my paws in the air Koda?”  Kamchatka asked.  Koda looked won at his own paws, ashamed at his blatant examination of his mama.

       “No mama,” he replied.  Kamchatka smiled, let Mishka crawl away, then rolled onto her back, waving her paws in the air and presenting them for Koda’s inspection.

       “You could ask every community member to show you the soles of their paws,” Kamchatka said.  Koda looked at his mum.

      “Why mum?”  He asked.

      “You are leader now,” Kamchatka said, “you could ask every community member to show you their paws.”  Koda shook his head:

       “They wouldn’t take me seriously,” he replied.

       “Try it,” Kamchatka suggested.  Koda left his flat, padding down the passage towards the private lift.  Punching the button, he waited for the lift.  As he waited, a door opened, and Nanuq emerged, and stood beside Koda.  He looked tired.

       “Just had eight hours staring at computer screens,” he yawned, rubbing his red rimmed eyes with a tired paw.

       “I’m very glad you are here Nanuq,” Koda replied.  Nanuq smiled:

       “You don’t really mean that,” he said, “this place is so big now, surely you can’t know every member of this community?”  Koda was upset by his tone:

      “I can learn,” he replied.  Nanuq, seeing he’d upset Koda, sat down suddenly, wanting to comfort the cub.  Koda saw how big Nanuq’s paws were, and how thick and large his pads were.

       “Can I examine your paws?”  Koda asked.  Nanuq looked surprised.

      “Why?”  Nanuq asked.

       “I thought I saw a wound on your right hind foot,” Koda gabbled.  Nanuq looked at the black bear cub.

     “You have no right to ask to look at my paws!”  Nanuq snapped.

      “Okay, okay!”  Koda said, nervously shifting his paws.

       “Well not in public,” Nanuq conceded, “in private, then, well, I’d be glad to show them to you.”  Koda grinned.

       “You silly bear,” he laughed.  Then Koda was treated to the sight of Nanuq rolling onto his back and waving his paws in the air, in public.

       “I want my paws examined now, right here, now!”  Nanuq whimpered, rolling onto his side and pawing at Koda.  Koda stared at him:

      “You told me that you didn’t want this,” he protested plaintively.

      “Oh yes yes yes that!”  Nanuq snapped, “Forget it, Koda, forget it, and forget I ever spoke.  Now grab my paws and examine them, tickle them, hug them if you like.”

       “Why the change of heart?”  Koda asked.  Nanuq stared at him:

      “I remembered who you are,” he snarled, “I’m angry with myself.”

       “I’m just Koda,” Koda replied.

      “Your mama sent you out here for a reason didn’t her,” Nanuq said.

      “She said I could ask every community member to show me their paws,” Koda replied, “I don’t know what that means, well not properly.”

        “We have to obey you, that are what she means,” Nanuq replied.

      “Oh no!”  Koda wailed, “I’m not worth that!”

        “You are leader,” Nanuq said gently, rolling over and kissing Koda’s nose, for he’d begun to sob, “you could ask every community member to show you their paws, and they’d have to.”

        “I like touching other’s paws,” Koda replied, “but I couldn’t ask every community member to show me their paws.”

        “Your power is enormous,” Nanuq said.

       “I don’t want that power!”  Koda whimpered, “It’s scary, and dreadful, and awful.”

         “I can’t help you much,” Nanuq replied, “I’m a noone here.”  This upset Koda so much he turned to run.

        “Stop,” Someone said, “Koda, this is your duty, do your duty by your community.”  Koda looked at Nanuq, knowing the voice, and knowing what it was telling him to do.

        “It wants me to order Nanuq to show me his paws,” he mumbled, “I’m not the commanding sort!”

       “I’m not showing you my paws, and that’s final,” Nanuq said, getting to his feet and planting them flat on the floor.  Koda knew he had to act, but hated himself for doing it.

       “Nanuq,” Koda snapped, his eyes telling Nanuq he was scared sick, “show me your paws now! Please,” he added lamely staring down at his paws.

       “That’s no bloody good,” Nanuq said laughing slightly, “You’re no commander with a tone like that.”

      “I can get others to show me their paws, but it’s through play, not force.  I could have a good look at a community member’s pads within five minutes, but not in a forcible manner,” Koda whimpered.

       “What would be the most amazing thing you’d want to see?”  Nanuq asked.

       “I’d like to be present when Lilly has her cub,” Koda replied, “that would be amazing, from the first contraction to the last.”

        “You could make that happen,” Nanuq replied.

      “How?”  Koda asked, “I’m not family, I’ll be invading her privacy.”

       “You can ask anything of anyone,” Nanuq replied.

       “You make it sound as if I own the lives of those who live here,” Koda said, “I don’t, I can’t!”

        “You can ask to be present at the births of the cubs though,” Nanuq replied, “it is your right to be present at the births of the cubs.”

       “I don’t want to invade her privacy,” Koda replied, “though I would like to see her deliver her cub into the world.”

      “I can arrange that,” Nanuq replied, “for she’s a good friend of mine.”

       “Do you think she’d really let me?”  Koda asked, almost dancing with excitement.

       “I will ask her,” Nanuq replied, “but I am sure she’d agree.  Koda returned to his mama in their lie up, Kamchatka hugging him before sitting down on the sofa.

        “I watched everything,” Kamchatka said, “Koda, you need to be more assertive, make them roll over onto their backs.  They need to respect you for more than just your cute cubbish paws.”

      “I can’t bully them mama,” Koda whimpered, “it’s all so wrong!”

       “Nanuq said you wanted to see me Koda?”  A voice said.  Koda turned his head towards the speaker, seeing Lilly standing in the doorway.

        “I, I don’t know,” he replied, “All I was saying was I’d like to be present at the birth of your cubs, if that’s agreeable to you of course.”  Lilly smiled, trying to put Koda at ease, but her smile only seemed to make things worse.

       “I don’t want to intrude, but everyone is saying, “go on, make them roll over and show you their paw pads!”  As if I have the right to ask anything of anyone?  I’m a cub Lilly, a fumble footed, stupid cub!”

        “You’re also master of this house,” Lilly replied, “your sire created all this.”

      “He did, but I didn’t!”  Koda replied, “I’m not sire Koda, I’m his son, little Koda they used to call me, and if it hadn’t been for my sire being a complete idiot, I’d still be little Koda Now!  I don’t want this role!  I want to play with the cubs, and be what I am, a cub Lilly!  I’m no leader!”  Koda was stamping around the lie up, his paws thudding into the rugs. He only realised this when he trod on Lilly’s paw as he came up to her.

       “Sorry,” he mewed.  Lilly sat down and embraced Koda with gentility.

       “I’m a cub!”  Koda wept into Lilly’s fur.

       “Now let me kiss your nose and paws,” Lilly said softly.

       “I would like you to be with me when I have my cubs,” Lilly said, “you can get paws on with me; feel my toes curling, as my body strains to deliver my cub.”

        “I saw a cub born once,” Koda replied, “it was little Leo I saw born.”

       “Well you can be with me when I go into labour,”  Lilly promised, “if it’s anything like my life so far, it’ll be memorable, and probably involve every part of my body.”

       “Labour does,” Kamchatka replied, “every bit of your body from your nose to your toes.”

         “I have never seen a cub born,” Lilly said.

      “You soon will be more involved than just seeing it,” Koda said, his paw on her belly, “lily, your cub is very active.  Lilly smiled as she felt it kick against her belly.

        “Now let’s wait and see when your cub will be born,” Koda said.

       “I still want you to go to a member of the community and ask them to roll over and show you their paws,” Kamchatka said to Koda.  Koda, furious now, ran from the room and down the corridor to the lift, stabbing at the button he beat his paws on the door screaming.  So upset was he that when the doors opened, he fell into the lift, landing at Patch’s feet.  Crying, Koda lay on the floor.

       “What’s the matter?”  Patch asked.  Koda couldn’t tell him.  The doors shut, and Patch opened them again.  Koda, whimpering, closed them, Patch opened them, and Koda closed them.

      “Are you keeping me prisoner?”  Patch asked playfully.  Koda hit the button for the ground floor, Patch now very concerned.  The lift descended, and when the doors were open, Koda dragged at Patch’s paw, leading him to his lie up.  Once in there, Koda collapsed sobbing into the rugs.  Patch sat down, and Koda scrambled into his lap.

        “What’s the matter?”  Patch asked, stroking his brother’s paws.

       “Mama wants me to order community members to show me their paws, but I can’t!”  Koda wailed, “She says I should assert myself as leader, but I am not a leader!  I’m a fumble footed cub patch, I don’t want leadership, and I’m a cub!”  Patch kissed his brother’s nose:

        “You will be a leader one day,” Patch replied, “and that day might not be too far off.  Sire Koda was stupid to do what he did, but noone can change that now.”

        “I know, I know!”  Koda whimpered, clenching his paws, “I hate him for what he did, it was selfish and stupid and awful!”

      “Yes, I agree,” Patch replied, “stupid pride got in the way of a defused situation.”  Koda sniffed hard:

        “I am now leader and it’s too awful for words,” he said.  Patch hugged Koda tightly, kissing the bear’s nose and paws.

        “I love you patch,”  Koda said tearfully, Patch drying the cub’s eyes with his paw, just as he’d done for Jess all those years ago.

        “How do you feel now?”  Patch asked, hugging Koda close.

       “Safe and warm,” Koda replied.

       “As for the paws thing,” Patch said, “I will gladly show you my paws, every one.”  Koda smiled:

       “I know you would,” he said, “That’s not the issue.”  Koda then told of Lilly’s arrival in his lie up.

        “You can request the presence of any community member,” Patch replied, “and it would be discourteous not to attend.”

       “Are you sure Lilly really wants me at the birth of her cubs?”  Koda asked, “I don’t’ want to intrude, it’s not right Patch.”  Patch gently rocked Koda on his lap, the black bear cub snuggling close despite himself.

        “I don’t think she’d mind you being there,” he replied.

      “I would love to massage the paws of every community member Patch,” Koda replied, “You more than anyone know I like paws.  I was brought up touching paws, while others are brought up loving eyes.  I’m a tactile fellow.”

       “I can arrange for the cubs to assemble in the great room so you can introduce yourself,” Patch replied, “they probably will let you touch their paws, they like that.”

        “Can I touch your paws Patch?”  Koda asked.  Patch sat Koda opposite him, and then gave him his right hind foot.  Koda looked into Patch’s face, the grey bear smiling and indicating his hind foot.

       “Explore it, it’s yours to do with what you will,” Patch invited.  Koda stroked the furry top of Patch’s paw, and then explored his pads, feeling their smoothness and warmth, Patch slightly curling his toes as Koda continued his exploration.

       “If others see us playing, they might come in, then you can touch their paws also, then they’d see you as leader,” Patch said, “You are already my leader Koda.”  Koda smiled:

     “The cubs call me leader, but that’s a joke isn’t it?”  Koda asked.

       “Is it?”  Georgia asked, padding in, “we’ve been watching what’s going on, and we’re behind you Koda.  You’ve treated us with nothing but kindness and respect.  So me, and all the other cubs, including your younger brother are willing to call you leader.”  Koda stared at her:

        “You’re joking,” he said.  Georgia crawled to Koda, took his right hind foot in her forepaws, and said:

       “Would I joke about leadership now?”  Koda realised she was serious, and felt very humbled.

      “Hug me Koda,” Georgia said.  Koda did, releasing Patch’s right hind foot.

       “How if you start with my paws, then Georgia’s?”  Patch asked.  Koda smiled and nodded:

       “I would love to massage both yours and Georgia’s paws,” Koda replied.  Koda explored Patch’s paws, both fore and hind, noticing how Patch couldn’t help curling his toes as Koda massaged his pads.  Then it was Georgia’s turn, the young she bear bouncing about with cubbish excitement as Koda took her left forepaw in his and began to stroke and massage it.

       “I want you to massage my hind feet more though,” Georgia thought as she moved closer to Koda until the toes of her hind feet touched his.

       “I think Georgia likes you Koda,” Patch said.  Koda looked into Georgia’s face, though her paws told him all he needed to know.

       “I know she does, she can’t hide it,” Koda replied, “and I’m sure she knows how I feel about her too.”

       “”compatible paws?”  Patch asked.  Georgia laughed:

       “Made to measure I think,” she giggled.

      “You two are so sweet together,” Nanuq said, padding into the lie up.

       “I’m arranging for Koda to meet up with all the cubs Nanuq,” Georgia replied, “he needs to know we respect and love him from nose to paws.”

       “So all you cubs are getting behind me?”  Koda asked.  Georgia laughed:

       “We were behind you long before now,” she said, “we called you our leader long before now.”

      “I didn’t really believe you were serious,” Koda said...

      “But you are our leader,” nut said, padding in and sitting down beside Koda, who buried his face in his paws.

        “I can’t lead anyone!”  Koda whimpered.

       “But you can, you can!”  Georgia said, excitedly bouncing on her backside.  Koda hugged Georgia’s right hind paw with his forepaws, the young she bear laughing delightedly, and slightly curling her toes.

       “Now let me play with your paws Koda,” Georgia said.  Koda kissed her nose, Georgia gathering him into her paws, embracing him, and kissing his nose and paws, Koda giggling with pleasure.

 

Meanwhile, in a lie up at the top of the house, Nala, a member of Nuru’s old pride, was in considerable pain.  The pain had started hours ago, Nala woken by a need to relieve her.  Padding to the relieving place, she’d done just that, and gone back to her lie up.  Time passed, and soon Nala needed to relieve herself again, though her need was urgent this time, and she hardly made it to the door before she had to squat down.  Moaning deeply, she tried hard to relieve herself, but nothing came of her efforts.  The second and third attempts caused her to growl, then moan, then scream, before they left her crying, wriggling and scrabbling at the floor with her paws in her efforts to obey her body.  Nala had tried this many times, and she was sure something was defiantly coming, and it wasn’t body waste.  She’d long  given herself up to screaming, lying on the floor, gripping the rugs with desperate toes, her mouth wide in a seemingly constant scream of agony.  In a lull between her efforts in which she could think a little, Nala crawled to the phone, punched the speakerphone, and then the button to contact the control room.  As her call was answered, a massive contraction tore through Nala, her answer to Pipin’s

“Hello?”  Being a scream which nearly burst his eardrums.

       “I’m, I’m having a cub!”  Nala yelled when she could speak, which was swiftly followed by another shriek of agony.  Pipin, who’d been monitoring Nala for some time, though she didn’t know it, sent Blackberry up to attend to her, the black bear finding Nala screaming her head off while rolling about and kicking the air with all four paws.

      “Help me Blackberry!”  She mewed, her teeth clenched and toes curled into the rugs.  Blackberry stroked Nala’s sweating flanks, feeling her pant, catch her breath, and then straining to her utmost.

      “Aowoaoaoaow!”  Nala shrieked.  Blackberry watched as Nala strained again, her tail straining backwards as she pushed.  Blackberry explored the straining lioness’s birth canal with his paw, exploring gently, Nala wailing as she felt his touch.

       “Do what you have to,” she panted.  Blackberry gently pushed his paw inside, his paw hurting Nala.  Nala roared in agony, and began kicking, straining hard against Blackberry’s progress, her effort pushing Blackberry’s paw out into the world.  Before Blackberry knew what was happening, with a scream of pain and anger, Nala was on top of him, scratching and clawing, furious with pain and fear.

       “Hey, stop!”  Blackberry yelled, the lioness’s sweat soaked paws beating at his head, sweat flying off her fur.

       “Don’t do that again!”  She yelled.

      “I need a cub’s paw, a smaller paw,” Blackberry said to Nala, who lay back, beaten into submission by another tearing contraction which she knew would cause her pain though would do nothing to shift the cub, though one like this shifted Blackberry’s paw.

       “Maybe if I work my paw into your birth canal again, the pain will make you push hard for long enough to shift the cubs,” Blackberry said to Nala, who swore at him.

      “Find the help you need,” she panted.  Blackberry thought for a minute, watching as Nala strained and writhed.

      “I’ll call Georgia,” Blackberry said, “She’s got small paws. Blackberry did, and soon Georgia was with Nala, the lioness looking with fear and pain into the cub’s face.

         “Help me,” she begged.  Georgia slipped her left forepaw gently into Nala’s birth canal, Nala wriggling, trying to aid the passage of Georgia’s paw, where she’d fought Blackberry’s attempt.  Georgia felt the cub, stuck fast in Nala’s birth canal.  Pulling Gently as Nala tried to push, Georgia guiding the cub into the world.  Handing it over to Blackberry to revive, Georgia reached in, finding a second cub inside Nala’s womb, the lioness groaning with discomfort and misery.

      “Relax Nala,” Georgia said, gently patting Nala’s flank with her free forepaw.  Nala, feeling the second cub coming into the world under Georgia’s traction, braced her feet and bore down gently, trying not to panic, not to strain hard, not to force things.  Giving vent to long drawn out moans before gasping for air, Nala tried to eek out her remaining strength by pedalling the air with her paws to help Georgia.  Georgia eventually drew the cub into the entrance of Nala’s birth canal, Nala almost too exhausted to notice.

       “Let me push the last bit, please,” Nala begged, gathering her strength.  Georgia relaxed, then Nala gathered herself and pushed down into her tail.

       “Push Nala Push!”  Georgia encouraged.

       Roareeeeoaw, Roareeeeoaw!””  Nala yelled as she pushed twice, then, “aowe’e’e’e’e’aowRoareeeeoaw!”  As she felt the cub jam tight, and she had to exert herself for the last time.  Georgia cleaned up the cub, and then gave it to Blackberry to revive.  Blackberry got the cubs breathing, and then they were snarling and roaring with infantile gusto, healthily proclaiming their life to the world.  Nala, hearing her cubs, crawled to them, then as she felt them begin to suckle and snuggle to her, she realised her ordeal was over.  Sobbing with relief and joy, she settled down to care for her cubs, Blackberry giving her warmed milk with sugar in it.

 

Meanwhile, Koda watched from the doorway, astonished at what he’d seen.

       “I’ve always wanted to see a cub born, and now I have!”  He felt his heart filling with joy.  Koda crawled into the room, stopping a safe distance from Nala, settling down resting his chin on his forepaws to watch.  He then noticed something which made him cry out.

      “Nala, Nala!”  Nala jerked her head round, spotting the young cub.

       “What the hell are you doing here?”  She asked, “You have no right to spy!”

      “You have a white cub Nala, a white cub!”  Koda babbled, ignoring her anger.

       “Do I?”  Nala asked, having relied on touch to track the whereabouts of her two cubs until now.

        “Yes, yes, the male, the male cub!”  Koda gasped.  Nala looked at the male cub, which drank busily and was closest to her head.  He was indeed white, his sister tawny like herself.

        “Eohippus is smiling on me this day,” Nala whispered.

       “Your one lovely mama to those cubs,” Koda said.  Georgia looked at Nala, who grinned weakly.

        “I had a hell of a time with the beginning of labour,”  Nala replied, getting up and re-enacting her struggles, theatrically scrabbling at the rugs with her forepaws, wriggling and stretching her tail out behind her, as if straining to pass solid body waste.

       “Wow,” Koda said, “that was dramatic then,” Nala laughed, lying down because her cubs were yelling for food.  Feeling their mother settle, both cubs leapt upon her, scrambled all over her body, tumbled off her back, crawled to her tail, tugged at it, then played with the toes of her hind paws, before both cubs crawled to her teats and began drinking busily.

        “I can’t believe I’ve been in labour for nearly six hours,” Nala yawned, glancing at the clock, “Labour started exactly six hours ago.  I woke with an urge to relieve myself, and that I did.  Then it came again, and I tried, and tried, then forced myself again and again to relieve myself until I was worn out and sobbing with frustration and effort.  Then things really started, and I knew then, I knew I was in labour.  That was when I yelled for help.”

       “What are you gonna name your cubs?”  Koda asked.  Nala smiled:

       “The white male, he is going to be named Baingana, after my first cub.  The other cub, the female, I’ll name her, um, how about Georgia?”  Georgia giggled and covered her face with her paws, embarrassed but very pleased.

       “Now we have to wait for Lilly to have her cub,” Koda said, “it would be great if she had it soon.  Who was the sire of your cubs Nala?”   Nala smiled:

      “The head of the pride, who else?”  She replied.

      “But it is said, was said, that Nuru hated you, and you him, and that you ran from him!”  Koda said accusatorily.

       “He’s not the lion he was,” Nala replied, “I asked him to do his duty, and he did his duty.  Now I have two lovely cubs, and I won’t have any more now.”

      “Now let’s celebrate these cubs!”  Kamchatka yelled, padding in with a bottle of red liquid which Koda recognised.

       “a small amount of this for you my dear Koda,”  Kamchatka said, flopping down, pulling the cork and splashing the liquid into a bowl for Nala, then for Koda, and a little for Georgia bear too.  Once they had drunk to the two cubs Baingana and Lioness Georgia, Kamchatka and Koda left Nala to look after her cubs, Kamchatka dialling up food for the lioness and her cubs before she left.

      “Stay Georgia,” Nala said softly.  Georgia stayed, Nala beckoning her close.

        “Your paw inside me felt wonderful,” Nala replied, “a blessing after Blackberry’s awful big paw.”  Georgia looked down at her paws, flexing her toes.

       “You were wonderful,” she said to Nala, the lioness smiling.

       “No, you were wonderful,” Nala said gently, “you pulled my cubs into the world when I had no strength to deliver them.”

      “I would do it again,” Georgia replied.  Nala smiled and nodded:

       “I will tell my cubs how they were born,” Nala replied, “I won’t spare them the details, as they need to know.”

       “I might take over Ekaterina’s role as midwife,” Georgia mused, “I’ll see if Blackberry will let me.”

       “You have certainly seen and felt the worst a non invasive labour can offer,” Nala replied, “I strained to the depths of my soul and of my soles too, and could not shift those cubs.  You dragged them from me, and I will remember that feeling for the rest of my life!  I treasure it, it was almost pleasurable!  I will not deny that!”

        “It was pain for a purpose, not useless agony as before,” Georgia said, “so you could bear it well.”

         “Would you check me for another cub?”  Nala said, just in case?”  Georgia smiled and gently explored inside the lioness’s birth canal, feeling her way to the womb and beyond, Nala growling with discomfort and curling her toes a little, but otherwise not complaining.  Georgia gently explored, then withdrew her paw.

       “Nothing,” she said softly, “you’ve got no cubs in there now.”  Nala strained gently to e3ase the slight discomfort she felt from the examination, then settled down contentedly.

       “Your cubs will like being dragged around, or dragging each other by the forepaws,”  Georgia said, “Nala, they won’t know why they like it, but they will I think.”  Baingana and little Georgia slept beside their mother while Nala and her youngest cub’s namesake talked in low voices.  Once, in a fit of exuberance, Nala rolled onto her back and presented Georgia with her four fat paws, Georgia kissing her pads and playing with her toes.

      “Why did you pedal the air with your paws mama?”  Georgia asked.  Nala smiled:

       “I don’t know,” she replied, “I suppose it felt good to do that when I was coming down from a contraction and building up to one.  I was running away from pain maybe? Trying to leave my pain behind, but then again, the pointless pain was awful, the meaningful pain, when I was pushing with your help pulling the cubs into the world, I liked that pain, sort of liked it, if you know what I mean.”  Georgia smiled and nodded:

        “it’s like when you’ve been straining for hours, then something gives and the thing unstuck and you feel it flow from you, but it hurts on its way out?”  She asked.  Nala nodded.  Georgia smiled:

       “I’ve had that feeling before,” she replied.

       “Your paw didn’t hurt when you explored,” Nala said, “even when I was in the worst labour, it didn’t hurt.  You were kind of gentle.”

       “I expect Blackberry was too, though his paw is larger than mine,” Georgia said.  Nala screwed up her face, and Georgia saw her toes curling involuntarily.

       “He hurt me,” she whimpered, “it was awful!  That is why I got rid of his paw with all my might.  It’s a pity I couldn’t use that anger to give the cubs a helping push into the world, but it was not to be.  I needed the help of a tiny paw to get my cubs delivered safely.”

       “I saw your toes curling and relaxing as you tried to push,”  Georgia said, “your ears were flat back on your head too Nala.”

      “My whole being was trying to force those cubs into the world,” Nala replied, “I was pushing down into my tail, no, into my toes to try and deliver those cubs under my own steam.”  She recounted the whole experience from first contractions to last screeching effort, and Georgia was humbled by the end.

        “You really fought,” Georgia said, “mama, I’m glad you hung on.”

       “I’m sore and exhausted,” Nala mewed, “but I’ll never forget, or regret this time we had together.”  Little Baingana crawled to Georgia, who gathered the white lion into her lap and hugged him.

       “You are so cute,” Georgia giggled, Baingana snuggling up to her.

      “Now let’s explore you from nose to tail Baingana,” Georgia said softly.  Baingana wriggled closer to Georgia.

      “What does exploring me from nose to tail mean?”  Baingana asked.

       “I’ll show you if you’d like,” Georgia replied.  Baingana smiled and kissed her paw.

       “Explore me,” Baingana invited, and Georgia did, kissing the cub’s nose before running her paws from his face to his paw pads, Baingana giggling with pleasure and cuddling as close as he could.

      “I want some of that big brother,” little George lioness said, nudging her brother with her nose.  Bengaline smiled and shuffled up a bit, allowing his sister to sit on Georgia bear’s lap too.  Georgia smiled and ran her paws all over little Georgia’s body, the lioness mewing and purring with pleasure.

        “You have gorgeous fur little Georgia,” Georgia bear said. 

 

Nala couldn’t take her eyes off banana, the white lion settling down and sleeping peaceably on the rugs.

 

Meanwhile, in Koda’s lie up, Kamchatka and Koda talked animatedly about the birth of Nala’s cubs.  Koda had never seen assisted birth before, and to see his friend boldly do what she          did to help Nala filled Koda with admiration for Georgia bear.

       “I love her for what she did,” Koda said, “Georgia is so wonderful!  “To be asked to do what she did, and just do it like that was amazing.”

       “You really do love her don’t you Koda,” Kamchatka said.  Koda smiled and nodded:

        “I do,” he replied, “I trust her more than any other bear outside my own family.”

 

“You said Nuru did his duty?”  Georgia asked.  Nala smiled and nodded, sighing with pleasure at the memory.

       “it was lovely,”  she replied, “I was ready, so was he, and we played and mated, and played, and mated, and played and played some more, then mated some more too,  He was gentle this time, not like last time, which was domineering.  Now he used his paws as much as his mating instincts and drive.  He was caring this time, not callas.”

       “I hope he played with you with care and consideration,” Georgia said.  Nuru padded in, having heard of the births of his cubs.

        “I’m sorry I was not with you Nala,” he said straight off.

       “So was I,” Nala replied, “I wished you were there Nuru.”  Nuru padded to Nala and kissed her nose.

        “Can I touch the cubs?”  He asked.  Nala smiled and waived her paw.

     “Come,” she replied, “come and meet little Baingana and Georgia.”  Nuru smiled broadly.

       “I will watch the births of my cubs on the video,” he said.  Nala smiled and replied:

       “I’ll re-enact the birth of my cubs with as much realism as I can, of course, the way Georgia bear helped me can’t be re-enacted.”

       “I look forward to it,” Nuru said.  Nala got to her feet, bounced on her toes, turned full circle, before settling down again.

       I will always remember our mating,” Nala mewed, “it was so nice, so gentle, and so exquisitely pleasurable.”

      “My paws became damp with excitement as you took me to heaven Nuru,” Nala said.  Nuru smiled and lay down beside Nala.

         “You gave me real pleasure too,” he replied.

        “You held me down between mating, my feet were stuck to the floor, I couldn’t move!”  Nala whimpered.  Nuru opened his mouth to apologise, when Nala smiled and playfully swiped at him with her paw.

      “I didn’t want to move,” Nala said, “my feet stuck to the floor because I wanted them to.  It’s the trapped paw game for lionesses, you see?”  Nuru smiled.

        “My paws were riveted to the floor too,” he replied, I didn’t want to move between later mating either.  We played in the beginning, and lay together at the end.”

       “You biting the back of my neck kept me from doing anything,” Nala replied, “but that’s natural behaviour for a tom cat.  It made me feel like a cub again, so I didn’t want to move my paws at all.”

       “Sounds really sweet,” Georgia bear said.

\       “Yes, Nuru’s a lovely lion really,” Nala replied.

 

 

Koda settled down for the night in the plush surroundings of his new domain.  He had gone over it time and time again with infinite care, and could not take in the flat, let alone the whole house and the grounds.  The worst of it was the notion that he was leader, and that he could ask virtually anything of anyone.  This part made him feel very uncomfortable.

       “I’ve heard my sister Alaska is very pregnant and about to deliver her cubs any day,” Koda thought, “I wonder if she’ll let me watch while she has her cubs.”  Getting to his feet, he went to the phone and put a call through to Alaska’s lie up, watching as the camera in the lie up gave him a view of the goings on as Spits picked the phone off its cradle.

       “I phoned to see what was going on,” Koda said lamely.  Spits nodded:

       Alaska’s very uncomfortable tonight, I think she’s going to have her cubs very soon,” Spits replied.  Koda smiled and wished Spits and Alaska well.

       “I wonder if, if, it would be acceptable to you if I visited you,” Koda found himself saying.  Spits looked at Alaska, who had come in from an adjoining room; Koda thought she looked very uncomfortable indeed.  Koda looked at the she bear, which was shifting from paw to paw, bouncing on her toes and lifting her hind feet from time to time, stretching her legs backwards and flexing her toes.

       “I think Alaska’s going to be in labour very soon,” Spits said.  Koda thought so too.

       “I don’t want to intrude,” he said, “I’ll come round when the cubs are born if you’d prefer.”  Alaska, hearing the conversation as the call was on conference, smiled through her discomfort and waved her paw:

      “Come,” she said, “I’ll need someone to massage my paws calmly when Spits loses it when I start moaning and yelling.”

       “I’m on my way,” Koda said.

 

Blackberry, seeing Alaska’s discomfort on the screen in his lie up, called Georgia in Nala’s lie up.

       “You my dear have another job I think,” He said, “Alaska’s going into labour soon, and I think she might want you there.”  Georgia got to her paws, kissed Baingana and little Georgia on their noses, hugged Nala and then looked at Nuru.

      “Hug him too,” Nala suggested smiling.  Georgia did, Nuru smiling with shy pleasure.

 

Georgia and Koda padded into Alaska’s lie up, the she bear sprawled on her side.

       “mama bears have been delivering their cubs for years,”  she remarked, “but it’s nice to have a few sets of paws just in case.”  Koda looked embarrassed.

         “I’ll go,” he mumbled.  Alaska shook her head:

       “You won’t!”  She said with mock severity, “you’re staying here to help me birth these cubs!”  Then she grinned:

       “Get paws on, feel my toes curling, my pads bunching, all that and more,” she replied.  Koda looked at spits.

        “You don’t mind?”  He asked.  Spits smiled and shook his head:

        “I’m not very good around pain,” he replied, “when Alaska starts moaning and grunting, I’ll run like hell.”

        “I’ve been feeling uncomfortable for ages,” Alaska said, sitting up and rocking back and fourth on her backside.  Koda watched her, wondering if he would be privies to the emergence of her cubs.  Alaska was all polar bear, from her nose to her black paw pads.  Koda watched fascinated as Alaska got up and came towards him, sitting down opposite him.  Before he knew it, she’d given him her right hind foot, her paw warm and soft padded.  Koda gently explored Alaska’s foot, from her toes, which were slightly curled, to her large thick sole pad, while Alaska watched him through half closed eyes.

        “Am I in labour?”  She asked.  Koda smiled:

       “Your paw is very warm,” he replied, “and you look fit to explode.”  Alaska laughed at this and curled her toes, Koda massaging her bunched pads and curled toes, the she bear pressing her foot hard into his grasp.

        “You have a lovely touch Koda,” Alaska said.  Koda smiled and thanked Alaska for her complement.  Alaska bounced about a little, panting slightly.  Spits, seeing the look on her face, turned and fled!

        “It’s us now,” Georgia said.  Alaska moaned deeply.

        “Oooooahow!”  She groaned.

        “It’s gonna get worse,” Koda said gently.  Alaska wriggled uncomfortably:

       “I know, I know!”  She wailed.  Alaska got to her feet and padded round the room, Koda watching her from every angle.  Alaska then dropped to a crawling posture, Koda getting a good view of the large pads of Alaska’s hind feet. Groaning lustily, Alaska turned towards Koda, Koda watching her face as she drew her lips back from her clenched teeth as a contraction built in her, then Alaska opened her mouth to wail and then parsed her lips to pant and blow as her contraction eased.

        “Are you all right Alaska?”  Koda asked.  Alaska crawled towards Koda, her toes gripping the rugs as she pulled herself forward, her mouth slightly open and eyes half closed.

       “Yes, I’m ok,” she panted, “I’m glad I’m not alone here.”  Suddenly Alaska stopped crawling, lowered her head and screeched.

“Mooooooof! Oaoaoaoaoaoawh! Yaaaaaawoaoaoaowch!”  Alaska roared, rolling onto her back and kicking with all four paws.  Alaska wriggled convulsively, her hind feet pedalling the air faster and faster as her pain increased, her kicking slowing as it subsided.

       “Oooah, umph, umph! Eeeoumph!”  Alaska grunted.

         “Are you all right?”  Koda asked Alaska, whose paws, after a brief rest, had begun furiously kicking the air once more.

       “Aowwhwhwhwhwwhwhw, aowwhwhwhwhwhwhwhwhwhwwhwhoah, aowwhwhwhwhwhwhwhwhwhwwhwhoah!”  Was Alaska’s response, sweat flying off her paws as she kicked at the air.

        “Things really are getting hard now, really uncomfortable!”  Alaska moaned, “It, it feels like I need to go to the relieving place, but I don’t, I know I don’t!  This is awful!”

       “Try pushing down,” Georgia said gently.  Alaska tried pushing.

      “um’m’m’m’m’ph! Erhrhrhrhrhrummmmmpph!”  Alaska yelled as she bore down, and then panting, squealed:

       “That felt good, bloody good!”  Alaska drew up her hind legs and grabbed her hind feet with her forepaws, wriggling to get comfortable before pushing again.  Then she sat up, drew up her hind legs so her heels took some of her weight, and then leant forward, bearing down against her cubs.

       “That’s it Alaska, you do as you feel right,” Georgia said.  Alaska whimpered and gasped, rocked and puffed.

         “Umph, umph! This hurts, hurts, hurts!”  Alaska squealed.

       “Try lying on your side,” Georgia suggested.  Alaska stretched out on her side, moaning deeply and curling into a ball as her contractions increased.  Grabbing her hind feet with her forepaws, she lay on her side, grunting and puffing.

       Alaska’s feet are so big!”  Koda whispered to Georgia.

       “She has big black pads yes,” Georgia replied.

        “What’s that?”  Alaska whimpered.

      “Koda was remarking on how big your feet are,” Georgia replied.

        “I feel like the cub’s feet are as big as mine at the moment,” Alaska wailed, “the cubs are hurting me, and their forepaws come out first!”  Alaska let go of her hind feet and began to paw the air with all four of her paws, Koda watching her teeth clenching and the big black pads of all four paws bunching and toes curling as the mama bear expressed her pain with her whole body.

        “Maybe the cubs are breach,” Georgia mused.  Alaska, hearing this, panicked.

       “No, oh no!”  She wailed, trying to sit up and reach down with her paws to check progress.

        “You won’t be able to do anything from that angle,” Koda said, glancing furiously at Georgia.

       “You bloody fool!”  He snapped, get out!  Why you make stupid comments like that?”  Georgia fled.

      “Now what do you want me to do Alaska?”  Koda asked.

       “Get your paw in there and feel around, a breach cub is the last thing I want!”  Alaska wailed, drawing up her hind feet and grabbing them with her forepaws to keep them out of Koda’s way.

       “I’ll be as gentle as I can,” Koda said, lying down and gently slipping his paw inside Alaska’s birth canal.  Alaska wriggled a little as she felt Koda’s exploration, the sensation uncomfortable but not painful.

        “What’s going on?”  Alaska asked through clenched teeth, her forepaws gripping the pads of her hind with desperate urgency...

        “You’re nearly ready to push,” Koda said, “and I can feel a set of forepaws ready to emerge.  Alaska groaned as Koda gently withdrew his paw, and then squealed as a huge contraction gripped her.

        “Oh god, god!”  She yelled as the cub’s passage shocked her system.  Wriggling, Alaska let go of her hind feet.  Kicking she bore down hard twice, the cub’s passage burning and stretching her whole being as she pushed harder and harder, her need to push driving her on to greater and greater efforts.

      “Ow, ow, ow!”  o’o’o’o’ow! o’o’o’o’ow!”  Alaska screamed.  Koda watched as the first cub’s forepaws, then its head, then body slid into the world, Alaska crying and thrusting at the air with her hind feet as she wriggled, her forepaws clamped over her mouth.

       “Take your paws from your mouth and scream Alaska, Scream!”  Koda encouraged.  Scream Alaska did as her second cub emerged.  Alaska greeted every contraction and urges to push with yelling and roaring, then almost constant screaming as she rode the waves of intense pain and sensation from within her body.  Alaska, feeling victory was near, splayed her hind legs and pushed down one last time, feeling the contraction start from her nose and end with her toes curling tighter than they ever had before.

      “That’s it, that’s it!”  Koda encouraged.  Alaska felt her second cub slide free, and, sobbing, she curled round to gather her cubs and nurse them.

         “That was intense,” Alaska panted as she felt her cubs begin to nurse.  Koda looked Alaska over from nose to tail.  Then he crawled up to her and touched her paw with his, Alaska raising her head and kissing his nose.

         “Touch my hind paws if you like,” she said.  Koda smiled:

       “I’ll leave your forepaws free for your cubs,” he said.  Sitting down at right angles to Alaska’s hind paws, Koda took her left hind foot in his paws and began to stroke her pads, Alaska wiggling and curling her toes as Koda massaged her pads.

       “I love a bear that’s really into paws,” she sighed, “it’s great to feel my paw in yours.  Koda, his eyes closed, replayed the images of the last few hours in his mind.

       “What was your favourite bit?”  Alaska asked.  Koda’s eyes snapped open.

        “I don’t have one,” he replied.

       “I must have looked cute at one point, did I look vulnerable?” Alaska asked.  Koda, nervous now, looked at Alaska’s right hind foot cradled in his paws.

        “I don’t know,” he replied, “I don’t know Alaska.”

       “Shall I tell you when I felt safest?”  Alaska asked.  Koda, his eyes full of tears, looked at her:

      “When?”  He asked.

        “When I held my hind feet with my forepaws while you explored the progress of my cubs,” she replied, “I knew things were okay then.  I knew what was going on.”

         “I was too frightened to look at you properly,” Koda admitted, “I just did what I had to.”

        “I understand,” Alaska replied, “but you saw everything, it’s all there, in your memory.  Tell me honestly Koda.”  Koda closed his eyes.

         “When you were pedalling the air with all four paws while lying on your side, just as I commented about how big your feet were,” Koda replied, “that was cute Alaska.  Alaska giggled:

       “Sweet,” she replied, “when my cubs are asleep, I’ll do that again if you’d like.  Koda felt his toes curling with anticipation.

       “You soppy thing,” Alaska said laughing.  Koda smiled and crawling to Alaska’s head kissed her nose.

       “You have the most expressive paws I’ve ever seen Alaska,” Koda said.  Alaska giggled and wiggled the toes of her left forepaw.

        “You were too young for me to play with when you were a cub,” Alaska said, “I was off doing other things by the time you were born Koda.”  Koda smiled and kissed the pads of Alaska’s right forepaw.

        “You screamed and roared mama,” one of her cubs said, “that was loud!  It nearly burst my ears!”

       “I was in pain,” Alaska said to the cub, “now I’m not in pain, I’m laughing with pleasure.

        “Something touched my forepaws!”  The other cub said, “When I was in the dark squeezing place, something touched my forepaws!”

        “My paw touched yours I think,” Koda said.  The second cub, a male, swung his head round and then crawled to Koda, sniffing at his forepaws.

       “Yes, it was you,” he said, “you made my mama scream, you asked her to scream and she did.  When she did, I slid faster and faster.”  Koda laughed:

       “It opened things up,” he replied, “that were good.”

        “I couldn’t push any harder,” Alaska said.

       “You did well,” Koda replied, kissing Alaska’s nose and paws.

      “Will you kiss my paws?”  The younger male cub asked.  Koda smiled and nodded:

      “Come,” he said, settling the cub on his back in his lap and kissing the cub’s tiny paw pads.

       “Some of the contractions came one after the other really fast, almost too fast!”  Alaska said, “It was all ow ow ow!”

       “I heard you yelling mama,” Alaska’s second cub said.

       “I yelled, I kicked, I wriggled and rolled about,” Alaska said.

        “Mama’s labour was wild!”  Alaska’s eldest cub said, “My paws got squeezed and shoved and pushed, and I felt like wriggling and yelling too.”

        “When did your labour start Alaska?”  Koda asked.

       “When did I start feeling uncomfortable?”  Alaska said, “um, er, late last night.  Labour started last night, just a bit of grumbling at first, but then real contractions about the time you came in.  I loved every minute.”

 

Spits, watching from Patch’s lie up, picked up the phone and spoke to his mate.

       “Are you all right my love?”  He asked, Alaska giggling at his reaction to her in pain.

       “I’m ok, and so are our two cubs,” she replied, “come and see them Spits, come and see your cubs.”  Spits padded to the lie up and kissed his mate on her nose.

       “You did wonderfully,” Spits said, omitting the fact he hadn’t been able to watch the birth.

      “I’m sorry I chickened out,” Spits said gruffly.  Alaska looked sharply at him:

         “Take all the pleasure and duck the pain, boars,” she grunted.

       “That’s bloody unfair!”  Spits snapped.

       “No it’s not,” Alaska replied, “you promised me you’d be there with me, and you ran off.  Koda was far more accommodation.”

       “Patch said Koda stayed with you,” Spits grumbled.

       “He did,” Alaska replied, “and not only that, he was midwife to me too.  Georgia made some crass remark, and he sent her away.”

       “I had to turn the audio off,” Spits confessed.

         “You are dreadful,” Koda said, “Spits; you could at least have listened to Alaska, if not watched.”  Spits stared at Koda.

        “Patch said you helped Alaska,” he said, “What did he mean by that?”

        “Oh that,” Koda replied, “Alaska had some trouble with the male cub, so I put a little traction on him, that’s all.”

       “Bending the truth a bit Koda,” Alaska thought, but said nothing.

       “I’m glad he didn’t hear our subsequent talk about the labour,” Koda thought, “Spits would go mad if he knew I was as intimate as I had to be with Alaska.”  Spits paced about, uncomfortable and furious with himself and with Koda.

        “You can’t blame anyone but yourself Spits,” Koda said, “you ran out as soon as Alaska opened her mouth to express her pain.  You lost your right to be present at the birth of your cubs.  I know you did, for I know Patch would have tried to talk you round, and you flatly refused to go back even with him promising to hold your paw, as if you were having the cubs yourself.”  Spits walked away, his tail between his legs.  Koda was right, Koda had seen it all, and he’s not only been helping Alaska, but was keeping an eye on Spits also.

       “We did a good job,” Alaska said.  Koda smiled and hugged the she bear.

        “I love you Sister Alaska,” Koda said.

       “Your paws were very gentle,” Alaska replied, “Koda, you were fantastic.  Koda laughed and Alaska returned his hug.

       “You gave me the strength to push and deliver those cubs,” Alaska said.  Koda looked down at the cub in his lap and the one snuggled up to Alaska, both were asleep, the male in his lap with all four paws in the air.”

        “A good day’s work I think,” Koda said.  Alaska smiled:

        “I think so,” she replied yawning, “I’m exhausted.

        “Now I wonder why that could be.”  Koda teased.  Alaska smiled; reaching out with her right hind foot to brush the toes of her paw over the pads of Koda’s left hind.

         “Sweet,” Koda laughed as her toes made contact with his.

      “Thank you .little brother,” Alaska said softly.  Koda realised then what a momentous and unforgettable time he’d had with his sister, helping her deliver her cubs.

        “Thank you for letting me into your most personal moments,” Koda said.  Alaska smiled:

      “That’s okay,” she replied softly, “I was glad of your help and of your tender touch on my paws.”  Koda kissed his nephew’s paws and then settled him beside his mother.

       “I want you to kiss my paws again!”  The cub yelled.

      “Enthusiastic,” Alaska laughed.

       “I have to drink milk!”  Alaska’s eldest cub, a female, said, crawling to Alaska’s milk supply and drinking busily.

      “So the female cub is the eldest one?”  Koda asked.  Alaska smiled.

     “The largest too,” she replied.

       “I’ll bet she was the first cub that made you squeal and wriggle,” Koda said.  Alaska smiled and nodded patting the cub’s head:

         “She was,” Alaska replied, “but I screamed as I delivered the male cub too.”  Alaska looked at her cubs, loving them with her eyes.

       “Mama,” Koda said, “why not rolls onto your back, gather your cubs to you with those lovely paws and hug them?”  Alaska did just as her brother suggested, though hugging two cubs was not easy.

        “I’ll help give one of them a warm place,” Koda said, seeing Alaska was struggling.  Alaska gave Koda the large female cub to hug, which he did with tender paws.  The female cub snuggling close to him, burying her face in his warm fur.

        “You touched my paws before I was born!”  The female cub said, “I know, I know!”

       “I was gentle I hope,” Koda replied.  The large cub wriggled with excitement.

       “Yes you were,” she replied, “and now I’m being hugged by the paws that helped my mama to push hard down into her tail.  I heard you say that to her, I think,” the female cub replied.  She smiled, rolled onto her back and kicked the air with her hind feet, just as her mother had.

       “Mama did this with her hind feet while birthing me,” the cub said, thrusting at the air with her hind paws as Alaska had done.

       “That’s really cute,” Koda said, the large female cub wriggling with pleasure in his lap.”

       “That looks really cute,” Alaska said.

        “Yes,” Koda replied, “and when mama did it, it was cute too.”  Alaska giggled:

       “So you do remember my labour,” she said, “treasure that Koda.”  Koda smiled:

      “I will,” he replied earnestly.

 

Koda left the lie up and padded along to where Georgia and Blackberry were talking.  Georgia, furious with herself, grumbled that her job was over before she’d got her paw in the door.

       “Speculating about the position of a cub in a labouring mother’s hearing is not good form Georgia,” Blackberry said.  Georgia snarled angrily and looked at Koda.

        “How did it go?”  She asked dispiritedly.

       “Two lovely cubs,” Koda replied, “real beauties too.”

        “I missed it all!”  Georgia wailed.

       “Mama Alaska did so well Georgia,” Koda said, tears filling his eyes, “it was wonderful!”

       “It’s nearly time for Lilly to have her cub isn’t it?”  Georgia asked.  Koda shook his head:

       “A few months maybe,” he replied, “then, she has her cub.”

        “I wonder who’s next to deliver us a cub?”  Koda asked.  A loud squeal of pain made Blackberry leap to his feet, and Koda sprint from the lie up.  More squeals and the barking of a dog in distress spurred Koda onto Patch’s lie up, where he found Patch stroking a large dog as she lay on her side, her flanks heaving as she strained to pass something from her body, her eyes closed, teeth clenched and ears flat back against her head.  Koda stood flat pawed on the floor, staring in astonishment.

        “Oaoaoaoaoaoaowhwhwwhow!”  The mama dog yelled, pedalling the air with her huge paws as she strained to deliver her pup, for she was in labour.  Patch looked towards the door, saw Koda and waved his paw:

       “Her pup’s stuck,” Patch said, “I can’t get my paw in there to help, can you?  Please?”  Koda padded forward and gently inserted his paw, feeling the pup’s head, then the pup’s little tongue lick his paw.

       “You have a live pup,” Koda said, “a huge one mama.  Now push, push long and steadily.  The mama dog braced her feet, closed her eyes and mouth and bore down into her tail with everything she had while Koda pulled on the puppy’s forelegs in time with the mother dog’s efforts.

      “Aowwhwhwhwhwhwhwwh! Aooooooaoaoaoaowhwhwhwhwh!”  The mother dog yelled.

       “Nearly there, nearly there, push mama push!”  Patch encouraged.  The mama dog panted, relaxing her paws.  She’d been curling her toes in time with her contractions until then, but this time she curled her toes into the rugs, holding on tightly to them with claws and toes and pads.

       “Ooooooawhwhwhwhwhwumph! Aowhwhwhwhwhwhwwoawhwhwhwhwumph!”  The mother dog screamed as she strained deeply into her tail.

        “That’s good, one more push, go on mama!”  Koda encouraged.  The mother sheepdog panted hard for breath, then braced her paws for a final heaving push against her pup.

       “I must do it this time; the pup’s got to come!”  The mama dog whimpered.  Koda rubbed the pads of the mama dog’s right hind foot, and then the mama dog was pushing with everything she had for one final time.  The pup slid into Koda’s paws, the mother dog exhausted and crying.

         “How did she get here?”  Koda asked, cleaning the pup and massaging it to growling, squealing life.

        “I found her in the wood, her name is Bess, she was in hard labour then, staggering down the track,”  Patch replied, “she’ll tell her tale when she’s ready I think.”

       “Her paws are enormous Patch!”  Koda said, staring down at Bess’s huge feet.  Bess, now feeding her pup, looked round her at her rescuer and the bear whose paws had rescued her pup, and possibly saved her own life into the deal.

       “I am owned by two humans named Royston and Janet,”  she said, “my young human family would not leave me alone, so I left to walk in the woods a little, and, and, well, my pains started.”  Bess wiped her eyes with a huge forepaw and sniffed hard, “my pains, such pains, they made me curl my toes and dig up the track.  I screamed and rolled about, waved my feet in the air and barked hysterically every time a pain came on.  It was that which attracted patch to me.  He picked me up and told me to cross my hind legs.  Lying on my back, the urge to push was less, but I would have done all he said and more, tying my toes into knots if it would keep the pup inside until I got to wherever Patch was taking me.  I knew however the pup was stuck, my efforts were doing nothing.  Patch brought me in here, and at my insistence, I lay kicking, growling, straining and sweating for an hour before I let fly with my first yell of agony and frustration.  I begged Patch not to find help, me foolishly wanting to birth my pup without assistance, but I couldn’t do it myself in the end.  Panting and gasping, I pawed at the air with curled toes, curled my toes some more and pawed faster, yelled and screamed, then you came in black pup.  You inserted your paw, and then, oh joy!  Things began to move properly.  Then, well, you know the rest.”

         “Your efforts were gallant and worthwhile,” Koda said.  Bess smiled:

        “I don’t think so,” she replied, “if they were, I’d have been able to squeeze that pup into the world.  I needed help.”

       “You did well mama,” Patch said.  Bess curled and stretched her toes, Koda staring at her paws in admiration.

       “Koda likes paws,” Patch said smiling.

       “I’ve heard the whole community communicate with their paws pretty much constantly,” Bess replied, “so I’m not surprised he likes paws.”   Koda gently took Bess’s right hind foot in his paws and stroked her pads, Bess wriggling with pleasure, pressing her toes into his pads.

        “I like that,” she said unnecessarily        .  Koda smiled and kissed the top of Bess’s paw, Bess giggling with delight.

        “You made my labour bearable,” she said, “I felt hope replace fear, though the pain was still there.  I could cry out and pedal the air with my paws in the knowledge I was doing well for my pup.”

        “So what do we do now?”  Patch asked, “Royston and Janet,” he turned and spat on the floor, “they’ll come and see if they can find you and your pup Bess.”

 

Indeed, Charles Fullbeans was taking a call from Royston’s parents.  They wanted to find out if Bess had been seen in the woods.  Charles had seen Bess give noisy and productive birth to her pup, but denied knowing where Bess was.

       “Is she micro chipped?”  Charles asked.

      “No, but she’s a bloody great Old English sheepdog, and she’s pregnant,” Royston’s mother replied, “She can’t be missed really.”

        “I’ll keep my eyes open,” Charles said.

     “We’ve already opened our door to her and her pup,” Charles thought, putting the phone down.

 

“It seems your owners have already been on the phone to us Bess,” Jess said padding into the room and sitting down.  Bess, knowing of Jess, and seeing her as a member of the community that just happened to be human, and hence no threat to her, smiled and waved her paw in greeting.

       “I’ve seen you in the woods when I’ve been walking there,” Bess said to jess.  Jess smiled and touched Bess’s paw with her hand.

        “I saw you having your pup,” she said to the sheepdog, “you were wonderful Bess.”  Bess smiled and kissed Jess’s hand.  Jess smiled:

         “I love your spirit and commitment Bess,” jess said.  Bess smiled, showing all her teeth, her eyes shining.

      “You have tough pads Bess,” jess said, cradling Bess’s paw in her hands.

        “Can I cradle your left hind paw in my paws Jess?”  Bess asked.  Jess smiled and, releasing her hold on the dog’s left forepaw, gave Bess her left foot, the dog embracing her foot with both forepaws.  Stroking the sole of Jess’s foot with her left forepaw, Bess smiled into the young girl’s eyes.

         “I curled my toes and kicked with my fore and hind legs just as you did,” jess said.  Bess smiled and kissed the toes of Jess’s left foot:

        “I know,” she replied, “I can feel you’ve had a pup too.”  Jess nodded, tightly curling her toes.

        “I wish my pads were as tough as yours though,” Jess said.  Bess smiled and touched the bunched skin on the sole of Jess’s left foot with the toes of her right forepaw.

        “Your pads are half tough,” Bess said.  Jess smiled, lay down on her side and pedalled the air with her arms and legs; her fingers and toes curled slightly, Bess smiling at her.

       “Whimper and bark and you’ll look and sound like me,” she replied.  Jess tried whimpering and barking, making Koda, Patch and Bess laugh helplessly.  Koda reached out with his paws and Jess’s foot slid through his grip, Koda embracing her heel then gently squeezing her toes as she kicked and wriggled a little.  Jess pushed against his pressure as she felt her foot caught in his grip, his pressure seeming to comfort her and give her strength in her mock whelping.

      “I’ve heard re-enacting the births of cubs or pups is welcomed here,” Bess said.  Jess smiled and nodded, flicking hair from her eyes:

       “Yes,” she replied, “it is.”  Koda smiled as Jess curled her toes, and then braced her foot into his paw, growling with effort.

      “Push mama Push,” Koda said softly.  Jess pressed down hard with her toes, while Koda massaged them with gentle care.  Jess relaxed, Koda massaging the sole of her foot with his paws, Jess curling and stretching her toes with pleasure.

        “That’s cute,” Bess said, as Koda, smiling kissed the heel of jess’s right foot.

       “I wonder if your owners will come here to find you and your newborn pup,” Koda said.

       “I’ll make sure they don’t,” Jess replied, “They have no right to the pup, though they might want Bess back in their house.”

       “What if Bess doesn’t want to go?”  Bess asked.

       “We can’t steal you,” Jess replied, “if you walk out of the house yourself, then that’s different.  Bess curled her toes into the rugs.

        “I’m staying here!”  She barked.

 

Meanwhile, in the plush flat, Charles Fullbeans was talking to Royston and Janet’s father on the phone.

        “If Bess wants to have her pup here and stay, we can’t stop her,” Charles said, “the dog was found walking on our land by one of our residents.  Patch took her to the house and she gave birth to her pup right enough.”

      “You can’t just steal our dog,” was the response.

      “We did not steal the dog, she was in pain and Patch helped her into the house so she could deliver her pup in safety and comfort,” Charles Fullbeans said.

       “Well,” was the response from Royston and Janet’s father, “we already lost one dog to your community years ago, she was also named Bess?  She died in your house I believe after a long life.  I know what your community is like, so I won’t try to claim my dog unless she wants to come back to us.  I know Royston and Janet were all over her, harassing and prodding her before her pup’s birth, so no wander she ran off.”

      “She walked in the woods to get away from that I think,” Charles replied, “and her labour started in the woods.  Her pup was stuck, and a young bear helped her have her pup with a little intervention.”

      “I’m glad the pup is all right,” Royston and Janet’s father said, “so that’ll be the end of it then.”  Charles, relieved, put the phone down.

 

Bess was overjoyed at the news her former owners weren’t going to force her back into their house.  She’d taken to the community ever since she’d heard of them, and then got to know them over time.  Now she was well fed, watered, and her pup was safe due to the caring paws of a large bear, then the paws of a gentle smaller bear.  Bess wondered if she’d consciously made her way into the woods, or had her need to deliver her pup in a safe place sent her paws in that direction?  She remembered wandering aimlessly in the woods, her mind confused and body heavy with pup.  Had she really known what she was doing?  Bess wasn’t sure, but one thing was certain, her paws had taken her in the right direction to ensure her safety and that of her pup.

      “Has anyone told you how gorgeous your paws are mama Bess?”  Koda asked.  Bess laughed slightly:

       “You like my paws?”  She asked.  Koda hesitated:

       “I’m sorry,” Koda said, “I work others out by touching paws, of course, my eyes sometimes look at them also, paws I mean.  I’m sorry for being so forward about this.”  Bess laughed merrily, settled her pup with Jess, who wrapped the pup in a blanket, then, smiling, she sat down, then lay down on her side, pawing at the air with her huge paws.  Koda looked privatively at Bess’s fore and hind paws, Bess watching him.

       “You love my paws don’t you,” Bess said.  Koda giggled nervously.

       “I do,” he replied, “I like all paws.  Some focus on eyes, but I was taught to focus on paws, on touch more than on the expression in one’s eyes.”

      “Mine were closed throughout my labour here,” Bess said, “so you couldn’t have seen any expression, though my feet,” Bess smiled, “or, my paws, if you like, and mouth told all.”

        “I’ve never heard a scream like it,” Koda said.  Bess smiled:

       “My pup hurt me on her way out,” she replied, “so I had to scream and bark.”

        “I know the feeling,” Alaska said, padding in with her eldest cub riding on her back, while she carried her youngest in her mouth.

       “It smells of wet dog in here,” Alaska remarked.  Then she spotted Bess, her pup and the soiled rugs on the floor that had not yet been cleared.

       “Oh sorry,” she said gruffly.

       “If I went into your lie up mama,” Bess replied, “would I smell the strong smell of bear?”  Alaska smiled sheepishly and nodded:

      “Sorry,” she said.  Crouching, Alaska let her eldest cub slide down her back, the female cub laughing as she landed on the rugs with a thud.  Alaska watched for her cub to crawl round to her side, and then sat down, placing her youngest cub in her lap.

      “I remember every minute of my labour,” Alaska said to Bess, who smiled and nodded:

       “I do too,” she replied, “that is, I remember every minute of mine.  When my toes curled, when I pushed, all that.”

       “Same here,” Alaska said.  Bess padded up to Alaska and sat down, the mama bear looking into the sheepdog’s face.

      “Watched your pup’s birth video,” Alaska said, “it was amazing Bess.  I thought it happened before my cub’s births.

        “No,” Bess replied, “maybe slightly after your cub’s births.  My labour started in the late evening, and I had the pup in the early morning after hours of labour.”

        “I saw the end of the video,” Alaska replied, “It was a study in vulnerability and strength.  Your paws, those curled toes and bunched pads spoke to me more than your growling and barking.”

       “My curled toes and bunched pads spoke to Koda too,” Bess replied, “I know that, and cherish it too.”

 

Meanwhile, in another part of the house, Kuruk sprawled in his lie up examining his forepaws.  Smiling to himself, he sat up and grabbed his left hind foot in his forepaws, exploring his pads and toes with gentle care, pressing the large sole pad and toe pads with care, feeling for tender places.  Finding none on his left hind foot, Kuruk curled and stretched his toes a few times, feeling his pads bunch up and stretch as he flexed his powerful toes.  Satisfied, he turned his attention to his right hind foot, smiling as his forepaws touched the skin on the pad of his right hind foot, loving the sensation produced.  Kuruk carefully explored pads and toes, smiling broadly at his picture in a TV screen he’d set up with a camera to film himself exploring the pads of his hind paws.  Every lie up had one of these cameras, so a bear or other community member could examine themselves without assistance, though most still enjoyed a communal grooming or examination of paws and pads.  Finishing his examination, Kuruk got to his feet, bounced on his toes, then sat back down again.  Smiling, he crawled to the fridge where he kept a bottle of milk.  Settling onto his back, Kuruk held the bottle in his forepaws, feeling his hind leave the floor and begin to kick at the air.  Kuruk’s eyes closed as he drank his milk, and when he’d finished, he rewound the footage on his personal camera and watched the footage from the main cameras and the small personal camera.  He smiled as he saw a rear view of his hind feet pedalling at the air, the camera gazing down at an angle on kicking hind feet with black pads and toes curling slightly as Kuruk drank his fill.

         “You do look cute,” Kuruk thought, forgetting for a moment he was watching himself.

         “You looked so cute there,” Anook said, behind his right shoulder.  Kuruk spun round.

       “How long you been watching?”  He asked.

       “Ever since you finished exploring your pads,” Anook replied, “I imitated you and even grabbed a bottle of milk myself.  Kuruk stared at her:

        “You take piss out of Kuruk?”  He asked.

      “Now I won’t answer that, as it’s a stupid question,” Anook replied.

      “No,” Kuruk grunted, “that stupid thing for Kuruk say.”  Anook hugged Kuruk tightly.

       “I love you Kuruk,” she said softly.  Kuruk snuggled close to his mate.

        “Kuruk making sure his paws good and strong,” Kuruk said.  Anook smiled and hugged her mate tightly.

        “Your paws are very strong,” Anook said.

       “Kuruk now have big strong paws like mama Anook,” Kuruk said.

      “My paws are stronger because of their contact with yours,” Anook said smiling...  Kuruk looked at his mate, remembering her struggle to deliver their cub Buck.

        “Remembering buck’s birth are we Kuruk?”  Anook asked.  Kuruk smiled and nodded:

       “Kuruk loved that time,” he said.  Anook smiled:

       “Let’s re-enact that shall we?”  She suggested.  Kuruk smiled and rubbed his mate’s paw.

        “”Kuruk remember rubbing pads of mama Anook’s hind paws as you pushed hard into your tail,”  Kuruk replied.  Anook smiled and curled her toes into the rugs.

       “I still wonder what would have happened if Buck had been more careful with his and Sita’s friendship,” Anook mused, “I suppose we can’t talk of what ifs now can us.”

       “No,” Kuruk replied.

       “I wonder when Lilly will have her cub.”  Anook speculated.

      “Maybe her cubbing will be less violent than the time when you came to us,” Kuruk replied, “mama Anook lay on the floor and delivered a cub there and then.”  Anook kissed his nose:

      “Then a huge bear took her in his paws and loved her and her cubs,” she replied.

       “Kuruk love Anook from nose to tail,” Kuruk said, “Anook need not worry about no loving from Kuruk bear.”  Anook sat down and gathered Kuruk into her paws.

       “You are so sweet under that gruff exterior,” Anook said, “and it’s only an exterior, almost fake, for you are not the big bruiser you like to think you are Kuruk.”  Kuruk nodded:

        “Kuruk want protect his cubs that’s all,” the huge grizzly bear replied.

  “Even the big cubs,” Anook said.  Kuruk smiled and kissed her nose:

      “Yes,” he replied, “even the big cubs.”  Anook suddenly rolled onto her back, kicking the air with all four of her beautiful paws.  Laughing, Kuruk rubbed her belly with his forepaws and then patted the pads of Anook’s forepaws.

       “I love you Anook,” Kuruk said.  Anook giggled and buried her face in his fur, inhaling his scent.  The scent was earthy, warm and full of life.  Anook kissed the pads of Kuruk’s right forepaw, his scent exciting her.

        “I love you so much Kuruk,” Anook said.

 

Patch sat in Kamchatka’s lie up with Ekaterina, Koda, Mishka and Innokenti.  Kamchatka joined them a few minutes later, rubbing her paws with excitement at what she’d heard.

       “So you found Bess in the woods?”  Kamchatka asked, “how wonderful Patch!”  Patch smiled:

      “She looked pitiful,” he said, lying on her side, kicking and straining to deliver her cub, sorry, her pup.”

       “Bess’s paws are so expressive,” Kamchatka said, “I can’t see her eyes very well, so it’s her paws I look at, and wow, those toes and pads really expressed her feelings.”

      “Yes they did,” Patch replied, “She is good at expressing her feelings through her paws.”

      “so she’s used to the community way of doing things,”  Mishka said, “she can’t see very well with all that hair in front of her eyes, so she uses her paws.”  Patch smiled and nodded:

       “I know how she was feeling during the walk back to the house.  She was wriggling, uncomfortable, wailing and yelling, trying not to push against her pup.”

      “Poor mama Bess,” Koda said.

       “Not so poor really,” Bess said, padding in carrying her pup.  Koda smiled, leapt to his feet and hugged Bess with evident warmth.

        “He likes her,” Patch said of Koda towards Bess.  Bess set down her pup and returned Koda’s hug by leaning into his embrace.

       “I am very blessed indeed,” Bess said into Koda’s thick fur.  Koda took Bess’s right forepaw in his left fore, feeling her thick warm pads and relaxed attitude.

       “I remember seeing your toes curling tightly,” Koda said to Bess.  Bess smiled and curled her toes tightly once more.

       “Like this?”  She asked, Koda smiling.

       “I can do better if I lie down,” Bess replied, “my toes can curl tighter then.”  Koda rocked Bess gently, the sheepdog smiling, showing all her teeth.

        “My paws will always remember the touch of your paws,” Bess said.

      “What shall we name your little one?”  Koda asked.

         “I don’t know,” Bess replied, “I haven’t yet thought of a name for my pup.  Koda examined the pup with gentle paws.

       “Your pup is female,” he said, “she was a large pup, but that’s not unusual for an only pup.  How if we name her Bobtail, or Bobbie for short.

       “Some will think her name’s Roberta,” Kamchatka said.

      “They’ll never guess her real name though will they?”  Bess asked.

       “Bobtail’s a nice name,” Koda said.

       “Now let’s wash your fur and paws,” Koda said to Bess.

        “Koda wants to wash your fur and paws, that’s what he really means,” patch replied.  Bess giggled:

      “Maybe I want him to wash my fur and paws also,” she replied, “but first, I must feed little bobtail.”  Koda watched as Bess fed her pup.  Then, shaking herself, she settled little Bobtail with patch to warm her, then padded to the bathroom, Koda following her.  Koda filled the bathtub, and then invited Bess to climb in.  Bess did, and Koda got the soap, rubbing it into Bess’s fur and paws.  Bess enjoyed her bath time, Koda washing her thoroughly from nose to paw pads.  Then he dried her in a warm room smaller than the main ones off the main shower rooms, Bess loving the feel of warm air on her pads and toes.

       “I could get used to this,” Bess said, Koda kissing her nose.

       “Now you are clean,” Koda said.  Bess smiled and rolled onto her back, Koda kissing her paw pads.

       “I love you Koda,” Bess said.  Koda smiled and hugged her tightly.

       “What would have happened if Patch was a wild bear?”  Bess asked.  Koda shivered:

      “He would have eaten you and your pup I think,” Koda speculated, “though he is not wild, he is a gentle, loving, beautiful gentle pawed creature.  When he looked at you straining and struggling on the track, he saw a mama in trouble, not a food source.”  Patch padded over and sat down.

       “I could no more have eaten you than have eaten my own cubs,” he said.  Bess looked at the grey bear through the mass of hair covering her eyes, examining him from nose to toes.

       “I will re-enact the birth of little bobtail,” Bess said.

      “Would you want me to carry you again?”  Patch asked.  Bess smiled and nodded:

      “Of course,” she replied, “it would not be realistic if I excluded you.”

      “But we can’t re-enact the most intimate part can we,” Koda replied.

     “No,”  Bess replied, “though you could explain how it went, and we can cover that part with you maybe massaging my paws and encouraging me to push while I wriggle and kick with effort and the pain of contractions.  How’s that?”  Koda smiled and nodded:

      “I’ll be ok with that,” he said.

       “So will me,” Bess replied.

       “I’ll massage bunching pads and curling toes,” Koda replied, “that’ll be wonderful.”  Bess Kissed Koda’s nose.

       “I feel really close to you Koda,” Bess said, “is this wrong?”  Koda gently kissed Bess’s ear.

       “No,” Koda replied, “why do you feel close to me?”

       “Because you found a labouring mama, me, and inserted your paw to help me have my pup.  You were so gentle, so loving to me.”  Koda embraced Bess tightly, the sheepdog snuggling closer to him than she had anyone ever before.

       “Who is little Bobtail’s sire?”  Koda asked.  Bess thought for a minute:

       “He’s the dog next door to our house, he’s a randy bastard.  He jumped me in the woods, and I had a cub, sorry, pup, a few months later.”  Koda kissed Bess’s nose with genuine affection.

        “I love how your paws are so expressive that they give me a window into your mind,” Koda replied.

      “They only allow you in because I want them to,” Bess replied.  Koda nodded.

       “I love your paws too,” Bess said to Koda.

       “I’m glad,” Koda replied.  Bobbie crawled to her mother and Bess fed her, the newborn pup snuggling close to her mother.

         “Who looks after me here?”  Bobtail asked.  Bess smiled and replied:

        “Everyone does little pup.”   Bess looked at Koda:

       “Would you like to feed little Bobbie?”  She asked.  Koda stared at Bess.

       “How?”  He asked.

       “Draw milk from me into a bottle, and then feed her, why not?”  Bess replied.  Koda, as if in a dream, drew milk from Bess’s teats into a bottle and then gathered bobtail into his lap, the pup feeding veraciously from the bottle.

        “I like the sight of that,” Bess said.  Bobtail finished her milk, and then fell asleep.

       “I now feel my paws sticking to the rugs of this place,” Bess said, “I don’t want to leave here Koda.”  Koda smiled and settled bobtail beside her mother.

       “Neither you, nor little Bobbie will leave unless you want to,” he replied.

 

A few days later, Alaska watched her cubs as they wrestled each other in play.  Marvelling at how advanced her cubs were for their age, around two days old now, she remembered their births, tearing pain, seemingly endless efforts which tore her apart and made her paws ache from tightly curling and relaxing her toes.

        “I wonder what my cubs will grow up to become,”  Alaska mused as her eldest cub rolled her submissive brother onto his back and gently explored his paw pads with her nose, making him laugh as his pads were tickled by her breath.

         “You’re tickling my toes, you’re tickling my toes!”  The male cub squealed, to which his sister responded by blowing on his pads, her brother curling his toes as tightly as he could.

        “Stop it, stop it!”  He laughed, wriggling madly.

      “Stop it little one,” Alaska said, “your brother doesn’t like you tickling his paws.

        “No mama,” the male cub replied, “I like it, it’s just too much of it that’s all.”  His sister, still unnamed, kissed her brother’s paws, making him stop wriggling and relax his legs.

       “I like it when you kiss my paws big sister,” he said, pressing the toes of his right hind paw against his sister’s forepaw.

        “I think your paws are soft and warm big sister,” the little male cub said.  Smiling, his larger sister lay down and took him in her paws, hugging him close.  The male cub snuggled into his sister’s embrace, falling asleep in her paws.

        “Sleep well little brother,” she yawned, falling asleep also.  Alaska watched her two cubs, marvelling at how gentle her eldest cub was.  Alaska curled round her cubs, settling herself to sleep.  Hours later, she was woken by her eldest cub squealing with fear and terror!

        “What’s the matter?”  Alaska asked, snapping into full consciousness.  She saw her eldest cub crawl away, her face full of fear and panic, and then she realised why the cub was so distressed.  Alaska found her youngest cub stiff and lifeless.

       “What happened to my brother?”  Alaska’s eldest cub asked.

      “He’s dead,” Alaska said faintly.

       “No, no!”  Alaska’s female cub squealed, burying her face in her paws and bursting into tears.

          “It wasn’t your fault,” Alaska said gently, though she wondered if the older cub had smothered her younger brother.

        “He buried his face in my fur and now he’s dead!”  Alaska’s female cub yelled.

       “He died in his sleep,” Alaska replied, “You didn’t kill him.”

        “I played with his paws, I loved him,” the female cub sobbed.

        “You did, and he knew that,” Alaska replied, crawling to her eldest cub and kissing the top of her head.

      “Your brother passed away happy that he’d played with his sister,” she said softly, “you did nothing wrong dear cub.”  Alaska’s cub rubbed her eyes with her paws.

       “I won’t forget him,” she promised.  Alaska smiled and kissed her cub’s nose.

       “Now let’s take him to Blackberry,” Alaska said.  Blackberry received Alaska’s dead cub with shock and commiseration.

         “He’s very dead, that’s for sure,” Blackberry confirmed.  Alaska told him how she’d been woken by her eldest cub’s squeal of fear and terror.

       “How were you embracing your brother?”  Blackberry asked the three day old cub.

        “You don’t want; want me to hold him again do you?”  The large cub asked.

        “Um, no,” Blackberry replied, Alaska knowing the black bear was covering himself.

      “I hugged him to me,” the cub said, “we’d played together, I’d tickled his toes, and then kissed his paws, I loved him.”

       “I know you did,” Blackberry replied, “I know you loved your little brother.”

        “I hugged him and he died,” the female cub whimpered.

       “You probably rolled on top of him,” Blackberry said.

         “You mean I squashed him?”  The cub asked.  Patch swept in, assessed the situation in a second flat, and delivered a stinging slap to Blackberry’s shoulder with his paw!

       “Ow!”  Blackberry yelled, “What was that for?”  Patch stared into Blackberry’s face, anger sparking in his eyes.

       “Are you a medic or a bloody idiot?  For I would very much like to know!”  Patch demanded.

       “Mama!”  The female bear cub yelled, running for Alaska’s protection.

        “I’m going, I’m going!”  Blackberry whimpered.  Patch resisted the temptation to stamp about the lie up swearing, instead, flopping heavily down on the floor.

        “I’m sorry,” he said to Alaska, who stared at her older brother.

        “What happened to my cub?”  She asked.  Patch gently picked the lifeless form up in his paws and examined him for injuries, finding none; he gently laid the cub on the rugs.

         “The cub died of natural causes,” Patch replied, “your eldest cub did him no harm by hugging him.  He slipped away warm and safe in loving paws, that is the best place he could have been.”

         “So I didn’t squash him?”  The female cub asked, her tone begging Patch for an honest answer.  Patch replied softly:

       “Come here little one.  The female cub, frightened now, touched her mother’s paw for reassurance.

        “Its okay, go to him,” Alaska said gently, kissing her cub’s nose.  The female cub crawled to |Patch and felt herself lifted in warm, sweet smelling paws.

       “You didn’t do your brother harm,” Patch repeated.

        “I don’t understand,” the female cub whimpered.

       “You didn’t hurt him,” Patch said simply, “his dying was not your fault.”  The female cub cuddled up to Patch, the grey bear smiling and embracing her tenderly.

       “Show me how you played with your brother,” Patch said.

        “You aren’t a cub, you’re too big!”  The female cub said.  Patch smiled and rolled onto his back.

       “Now, take my paw,” Patch said, giving her his left forepaw.

       “Your paw is just like mine, but bigger!”  She said laughing slightly, “you’re a big cub!”

       “Treat me as such, play with me and hug me, go on,” Patch replied.  Yes, yes I will,” the female cub said.  She did just that, played with his paws, then hugged him, and despite his size, she found she could hug him easily.

      “No,” Patch said, “you didn’t squash your brother...”

       “I’m so glad I didn’t!”  The female cub said, “I am sorry my brother didn’t live long.”  Patch kissed the cub’s nose and then settled her on her back, blowing on her pads and toes as she’d done her brother’s paws.

      “I love that, I love that!”  She laughed, “Did my brother feel that?”  She asked seriously.  Patch gently explored the female cub’s pads with his nose, just as she’d done her brother’s pads not so long ago.

        “Yes he did,” Patch replied, “he felt the joy you feel now.”

     “And the comfort of a kiss to his paws too?”  The female cub asked.

        “Yes that too,” Patch replied.  The female cub kicked the air with all four of her paws; Patch smiling as her right hind foot accidentally struck him on his nose.

       “Oh, sorry,” the cub said.  Patch gently took the toes of her right hind foot between his lips, the cub squealing with fear.

      “Don’t bite my toes!”  She yelled, Patch releasing his hold and kissing her pads.

        “You are so beautiful,” he said.

       “You’re a playful cub too,” the female cub mumbled, rapidly falling asleep in Patch’s lap.

         Alaska dear sister, what should we name this little cub?”  Patch asked.

     “How if we name her Snowdrop,” Alaska asked, “she’s so cute, and I had her in the springtime too.”  Alaska expressed milk for her cub into a bottle and handed it to patch.

      “You can feed her if you like,” she said.  Patch smiled and stroked his sleeping niece.

        “I would love that,” he replied, his eyes gazing down at Snowdrop lying in his lap, her paws gently kicking at the air as she slept.

       “She has the most beautiful face and paws,” Patch thought, his eyes taking in snowdrop from her nose to her tiny toes.  Snowdrop slept peacefully for hours, then woke, Patch feeding her with the bottle of milk.  Once this was done, he helped her relieve herself, and then Snowdrop settled with her new found living source of warmth.  Alaska, who’d been sleeping alone, leaving Patch in charge of snowdrop, gave him another bottle of milk when she realised he’d basically taken over the cub’s feeding and welfare.

       “I need time,” Alaska said, “not just to get over the death of my youngest cub, but to get over Spits disappearance.”

      “I can’t keep feeding snowdrop,” Patch said, but Alaska wasn’t listening.

        “I’ll put some milk in the freezer, and you can feed her from that,” she said.

       “So be it,” Patch grunted, not wishing to force the issue.  Alaska took the body of her dead cub and headed to the woods.

 

Days passed, in which Patch fed, played with and cleaned Snowdrop, Alaska taking no part in her newborn cub’s rearing or welfare.  Alaska would always be absent at mealtimes, though the freezer was always stocked with milk, which Patch defrosted in the microwave and fed to snowdrop from a bottle, which the large cub was, at ten days old, very adept at holding in her paws.  Patch played with, ate with and slept with snowdrop beside him as if he were her mama and sire all rolled into one huge caring furball.  Soon snowdrop and Patch were inseparable.

 

Kamchatka had not failed to notice her daughter cub’s almost total rejection of her cub.  Yes Alaska left milk for Snowdrop, but that was all she did.  Indeed, she did the bare minimum she could do so she didn’t anger the community.

       “You’re helping Alaska a great deal Patch,” Kamchatka remarked on the twelfth day when she visited his lie up.  Patch looked at his mama.

        “It’s like jess all over again,” he replied, “ok there’s no emotional abuse, but it’s as if Alaska doesn’t care for her cub.  Feeding her cub is what she has to do to heap her paws clean.  If she didn’t feed little snowdrop, she’d be held to have abandoned her, for which she’d the forcibly milked like a cow.  I don’t mind feeding, bathing and playing with snowdrop, but that’s not the point.  Alaska should be doing this.”

      “Maybe her mothering instinct just wasn’t there,” Kamchatka mused.

      “As long as she keeps the milk coming, that’s all I’m worried about,” Patch replied, “I can’t produce milk for Snowdrop, though I’m sure if things got desperate, Eohippus would make it so I could do that too.”

 

Alaska stood paw to paw with Spits and yelled into his face:

         “You left me when I was in labour you bastard!  I wanted you there, and you promised you’d be there, but as soon as I expressed my pain, you left me, you left me Spits”

      “I couldn’t cope with it,” he whimpered, “I’m sorry for leaving you, but I couldn’t cope with it!”

        “I wanted us as a family, me, you and the cubs, now I’ve lost one cub, and can’t cope with playing with my second cub!  I blame you for running away!  Now I want to go back to my cub, but I need help to get over the death of my younger cub.”

        “I freaked out, all that moaning and kicking, all the pain and stuff made me lose control,” Spits whimpered.

      “How do you think I felt during all this?”  Alaska screamed, “you’re a loser Spits!  I needed you; I needed you with me, even if you’d sat in the corner and screamed with me like Nuru did when tigress Tess was in labour that would have been acceptable.  You ran though, you ran from me and my pain, and your cubs!  You have no right to my cub now!  Patch and Koda have more right to seeker and are with her!”

      “She’s my cub too!”  He roared.

       “She’s more Koda’s cub than yours spits, anyone can dip their wick, and you dipped and ran!  I hate you for leaving me in pain!”

       “We should have gone to pre cubbing classes,” Spits whimpered, “then I’d know what was what.”

        “Yes we should have done,” Alaska conceded.

       “So what are you doing to ensure the life of your one remaining cub?”  Spits asked.

       “I’m leaving milk for her in the freezer, and Patch is feeding her, playing with and basically doing everything for her,” Alaska admitted, “I’m sailing close to the wind as far as offending community ethics are concerned, but I can’t face looking after my cub at this time.”

       “Patch should get a medal for all he does,” Spits growled, “I’ll bet he’s feeling like he did when he looked after Jess when she was younger.  He did everything for her, and now he’s at it again, selflessly helping a cub because its parents can’t be bartered with it.  I am disgusted at my conduct and at yours too.”

        “So what do we do now?”  Alaska asked, “snowdrop’s with Patch, and we’re in the doghouse!”

       “Who the hell is snowdrop?”  Spits asked incredulously.

       “That’s the cub’s name,” Alaska replied, “Snowdrop, cute isn’t it?”

       “Who named her?”

      “I did,” Alaska replied, “but she’s more Patch’s cub now.”

        “Poor sod,” Spits grunted, “getting put on like that.  He must hate us.”

       “I don’t think so,”  Alaska replied, “if I’d aborted Snowdrop, then he would hate me, “but delivering her into the world, and then providing milk, long distance though it is, is okay I think.”

 

Patch padded to Koda’s lie up, the black bear surprised to see him pad in with Snowdrop.

       “What is she doing here?”  Koda asked, waving a paw at snowdrop, “she should be with her mother!”

      “By her you mean Snowdrop I believe,” Patch replied, “and her mother does not want to know her it seems.  Alaska has promised to keep milk coming, on the proviso I look after her cub.”  Koda swore harshly.

      “Oi!”  Bess barked, “Koda that was horrible!”  Koda put his paw over his mouth, as if to stuff the words back in.

       “I know,” he whimpered.  Bess padded to Patch and looked at Snowdrop in his paws.

         “She’s beautiful,” the sheepdog bitch whined.  Patch sat down, and Koda crawled over to him.  Koda looked at Snowdrop in Patch’s paws, his eyes taking in her perfectly groomed white coat and clean black paw pads.

      “You have a beautiful cub here,” he said.  Patch smiled and Snowdrop kicked the air with her paws, Koda feeling his toes curl, he knew he’d fallen in love with this cub.  Reaching out a paw, he touched Snowdrop’s belly, gasping as her paws grabbed hold of his and squeezed it hard.

       “Strong isn’t she,” he gasped.

       “Patch is so good to me Koda,” Snowdrop said.  Koda leant down and kissed her nose, snowdrop dabbing at his nose with her paw.

      “Hey little one, paws off!”  Koda laughed.  Snowdrop looked so upset that Koda kissed her nose again and took the paw that had dabbed at his nose:

        “You are so sweet little one,” he said gently.

       “My mama doesn’t want me,” snowdrop whispered, “it’s my entire fault, I killed my brother and she doesn’t want me now.”  Koda looked at Patch, who shook his head:

       “You are wrong Snowdrop,” Koda said, “your mama keeps away because she can’t cope with her own grief at the death of her son cub, and because of her anger towards her absent mate when she went into labour.”

      “This cub still thinks she killed her brother, and she needs help Patch,” Koda said.

      “I’m trying to help her, as well as be a mama and a sire as well as a stable influence in her life,” Patch replied.  Koda heard the sharpness in Patch’s voice and looked at him.

        “I’m sorry,” he said contritely.

       “Maybe you can be a good influence in this cub’s life?”  Patch replied.

     “How?”  Koda asked.  Patch smiled and replied:

       “She is fed every three hours; the milk is in the emergency fridge and freezer.”  Koda’s eyes widened.

       “You don’t expect me to feed her do you?”  He asked.

       “You seem quite at home birthing cubs, so how about feeding them too?”  Patch asked.  Koda stared at snowdrop.

      “Show me how, please,” he said gruffly.    “Now Koda, you can’t be grudging about feeding this cub,” Bess said, “she’ll feel you don’t care, and that’s worse than words.”  Koda closed his eyes, imagining him feeding Snowdrop.

       “I’ll help with things if you get into trouble,” patch said.  Snowdrop crawled to Koda, the black bear feeling his paws embrace her, and then she snuggled up to him, Koda gasping with emotion.

      “You’re soft and warm!”  He said, almost sobbing.

       “I need warmth,” Snowdrop pleaded.  Koda held her close, loving her.  Snowdrop pushed with her hind feet, pressing her body into Koda’s embrace.  Patch watched Snowdrop’s hind feet, her toes pushing against the rugs, her pads bunching and stretching as she pushed against Koda’s embrace, the black bear holding Snowdrop close.  Whimpering, snowdrop suddenly braced her feet, and then pushed hard, hard into Koda’s hug.  Koda pushed back against Snowdrop’s pressure, the cub snarling with anger and pushing harder than ever with her hind feet.  Suddenly her left hind foot slipped with the sweat dampening her pads, snowdrop squealing with anger and collapsing onto her side.  Koda, lifting Snowdrop into his lap, hugged the cub close.

      “You tried hard with those hind feet,” Koda said softly into Snowdrop’s ear.  Snowdrop drew up her hind feet and grabbed her toes with her forepaws, dropping her head to her chest so she sat almost curled in Koda’s lap.  Resting her back against Koda’s chest, she sat apparently contemplating her forepaws holding the toes of her hind feet.

        “Hug me Koda, please,” Snowdrop begged.  Koda wrapped his paws around Snowdrop, looping his paws under her forelegs to grip her body.  Hugging her from behind, he leant back a little, not disturbing Snowdrop’s now desperate grip on her hind feet.  “Squeeze those toes snowdrop,” Koda said.  Snowdrop’s toes got a good squeeze from her forepaws.

       “I’m frightened!”  Snowdrop whimpered.  Koda turned her, and kissed the top of her head.

       “You’re safe,” he whispered.

      “Promise?”  She whispered in reply.

      “Promise,” Koda replied in a whisper.  Snowdrop’s forepaws released the toes of her hind feet, and she reached up, feeling her way to Koda’s face with her paws.  Once she’d found Koda’s nose with her paws, she planted a kiss on his nose.

       “Patch said you would keep me safe,” she whispered.  Koda kissed snowdrop’s nose again, the cub giggling with pleasure and relief.

      “I will,” Koda said in a whisper, “I promise you I will.”

       “Little Koda?”  Snowdrop whispered.

      “Yes snowdrop?”  Koda replied smiling.  Snowdrop grinned at Koda’s reaction.

      “”Your pet name is little Koda isn’t it,” she said.  Koda smiled and hugged snowdrop to him, gently rubbing her back and ears, while she buried her face in his shoulder, clinging to his fur with her forepaws, desperately pushing with her hind feet.

       “Have you played with your toes yet little snowdrop?”  Koda asked.  Snowdrop smiled broadly.

      “Patch taught me that,” she replied.

       “I love him very much,” Koda replied.  Snowdrop smiled broadly:

       “He feeds me, plays with me, and relieves my stomach too,” she re said.

      “Would you like me to feed you?”  Koda asked.  Snowdrop smiled broadly:

      “I’d love you too,” she replied, and then she hesitated, “Koda?”  Snowdrop asked, “Would, please, would you check my paw pads please? My sole pads and toes? Please?”  Koda smiled broadly.

       “I will,” he replied softly.  Snowdrop smiled and, rolling onto her back, kicked the air with all four paws.

      “Check my forepaws, check my hind feet! Touch my pads and my toes!”  Snowdrop yelled joyously.

      “What’s the magic word?”  Koda asked.

        “Now!”  Snowdrop replied giggling.  Then she hesitated:

        “Please,” she added soberly.  Koda kissed her nose and paw pads.  Then checked them over with tongue and lips, feeling for grazes and tender places.  His exploration was so gentle that he tickled snowdrop’s pads, the cub giggling.

        “You’re tickling me!”  She laughed.”  Koda smiled and hugged snowdrop with tender paws.  Koda closed his eyes, running his paws all over snowdrop’s body, remembering how she’d come into the world.  Koda wondered if Alaska would deny the existence of her own cub.  Would Patch become a mama to Snowdrop as he was to Sita?  Koda looked at Snowdrop and imagined him giving birth to her.  Feeling himself breathing deeply as his toes curled tightly, he shook himself out of his day dream.

        “Oh dear,” he sighed.

        “You were whimpering like mama did when she was pacing about before she lay down Koda,” snowdrop said.  Koda shook himself.

        “Sorry,” he replied, “I, I don’t know what was going through my head.”

       “You have an intimacy with the events which brought snowdrop into the world,” Patch said.

      “But, oh dear,” Koda said, staring at the wall above Patch’s head, “it was strange, as if, as if I was about to give birth to her myself!  Is that how it is Patch?  Do birthing attendants feel this way?  As if they need to re-enact the births they have seen that is?”

       “Yes,” patch replied, “it’s empathy with the labouring mama, a kind of tribute to her if you like.”

        “Is that how you do it Patch?  How you re-enact births so well?”

       “It is,” Patch replied.

        “I saw you re-enacting Sita’s birth, it was amazing!”  Koda replied.  Patch smiled, beckoned Koda to him, and when the black bear cub was sitting in his lap, Patch hugged him.

       “If you feel the need to re-enact snowdrop’s birth, you can come to my lie up and I’ll help.”

        “Thanks,” Koda said softly, his eyes full of tears.”

        “I’m sorry Patch,” Koda choked, Patch hugging him.

       “It’s not only sows that have feelings after the birth of a cub,” Patch replied, “especially when you were as intimate as you were Koda.”

        “I felt everything!”  Koda whimpered, “Alaska’s toes curling, the pressure of her efforts, everything Patch!”

      “You won’t forget that as long as you live Koda,” Patch replied, “don’t try to forget either.”

      “I won’t, I promise I won’t!”  Koda replied earnestly.  Patch kissed Koda’s nose and took his right forepaw in both his large forepaws.

       “I repeat, if you wish to re-enact the birth of snowdrop, then please come to my lie up and I’ll help.”

        “Who will be a mama to Snowdrop if Alaska won’t?”  Koda asked his distress mounting.

      “We’ll all be a family to her,” Patch said softly.

 

A few days later, Kamchatka, realising the extent of her daughter cub’s abandonment of her cub, chased Alaska down the woodland track.

      “Get back here!”  She panted, feeling her age as she tried to move leaden limbs and heavy paws at speed.  Mishka’s birth had taken more out of her than Kamchatka wanted to admit.  Alaska ran into the log cabin lie up and slammed the door in her mother’s face.  Kamchatka banged on the door with her forepaws, finally sinking onto the track in exhaustion as she realised the door had been tampered with, and there was no handle on the outer side of the door.

       “You can’t catch me!”  Alaska taunted as her mother lay panting and impotent on the other side of her door.  Alaska even beat the door with her paws to emphasise her point.  Kamchatka rolled onto her side, speaking wearily into the communications watch she wore on her right foreleg.

        “Someone helps me here, Alaska’s gone mad,” she mumbled.  Rowena, hearing Kamchatka’s call in the control room, spoke to mama Kamchatka, reassuring her someone was on their way to her.  Picking up a phone, she spoke to Kuruk, Patrick and Qingshan, who ran out of the door to mama Kamchatka’s aid.  They found the mama grizzly sitting dejectedly on the track, her eyes closed as she miserably sucked her left forepaw.

         “It’s okay,” Qingshan said to mama Kamchatka, who turned shattered eyes on him.

         “I’m old and fat,” she whimpered, “I can’t run any more!”

       “You’re still exhausted from delivering Mishka into the world,” Qingshan replied.

       “That was ages ago,” Kamchatka replied wriggling with the memory of the pain and effort she’d gone through, “never a night passes when I don’t remember that time though, the pain is horrendous!”

        “Do you blame your cub for that pain?”  Qingshan asked.  Kamchatka shook her head:

      “No,” she mewed.

       “Come mama, let’s go home,” Koda said.  Kamchatka let her cub lead her away from where she’d been sitting.

      “She’s looking worn out,” Qingshan thought as the mama bear stumbled away.  Reaching her lie up, Kamchatka collapsed onto the sofa, her body protesting at the run she’d embarked on.

        “I’m so tired,” Kamchatka thought as her paws and joints ached horribly.

       “Are you all right mama?”  Mishka asked, crawling into his mother’s lap.  Kamchatka hugged her son cub, looking down at him.  Mishka’s eyes had opened, but it was clear to Kamchatka he could not see her.

        “I’ve been exploring mama,” Mishka said, “I’ve found the cold place where I was visited by the spirit of Ekaterina’s cub.”  Kamchatka gasped with shock:

      “You didn’t go in there did you?”  She asked.  Mishka nodded:

      “I did, “I’ll show you where it is if you wish.”  Kamchatka snapped:

      “No!”

       “It’s not scary, it’s just cold and dry,” Mishka replied.  Kamchatka buried her face in her paws.

        “That’s the mortuary fridge!”  She wailed.

       “I go there sometimes to remember the time the spirit told me to crawl and explore with my paws,” Mishka said.  Kamchatka wailed in misery.

      “You don’t need to go there!”  She wailed.

       “I often meet that spirit in the clearing too,” Mishka added, as if to placate his distressed mother.

       “I don’t want you crawling round the mortuary!”  Mama Kamchatka yelled.

      “I won’t go there any more,” Mishka promised.  Kamchatka looked Mishka over, imagining him crawling and climbing over the slatted shelves in the fridge.  Feeling sick, she pushed Mishka to the floor, crawled to the bathroom and was violently sick.  Mishka crawled to his mother’s hind paws and touched her sweating pads as she vomited copiously.

        “Leave me alone!”  Kamchatka whimpered as she finished her business.

        “Promise me you won’t go back there!”  Kamchatka begged, getting to her hind paws and rinsing her mouth out.  Spitting into the toilet bowl, she flushed it and then washed her paws thoroughly.

        “I won’t go there mama,” Mishka said, gently stroking the tops of the toes of Kamchatka’s right hind foot.

       “I need to lie down,” Kamchatka said, dropping to all four paws and crawling back to her bed, where she lay down and slept as if dead.  Mishka crawled away and found Kuruk, whom he told of his mother’s frailty.

       “We need make note of this,” Kuruk said, “for if mama die, then Koda become leader of whole place, and he no ready for that, or so he say.”

       “Mama did feel as if she was tired,” Mishka replied.

       “Mama not recovered well from your birth Mishka,” Kuruk replied.  Mishka nodded:

        “I know this,” Mishka replied, “she described my birth, and Patch re-enacted it.  So I know what happened.”

       “I think mama will die soon,” Mishka said.  Kuruk looked shocked.

       “Mama is just tired that is all,” he said, his tone hinting at desperation.

 

Later that day Patch and Koda sat in Patch’s lie up while Patch fed snowdrop, Kamchatka’s failing health obvious to both.

       “You know what this means Koda,” Patch said.

        “Yes,” Koda replied, looking into the eyes of the bear that he’d grown to trust and love possibly more than his own mother.

        “How, how would it be patch if I told you I loved you dearly?”  Koda asked.  Patch smiled.

       “You don’t need to tell me,” patch replied, “I know you love me, and I hope you know I love you too.”  Koda smiled:

       “So you are now mama and sire to the communities lost cubs?”  He asked.

       “Their Tornassuk, their guide yes,” patch replied.

      “Mama Kamchatka used to be mama to lost cubs,” Koda replied, “that was her title, but you’ve taken that responsibility from her now.”  Patch nodded.

       “Mama is frightened to cross the bridge,” Patch replied, “but I’ve seen that bridge, even stepped onto it and crossed it.  I know there is nothing to fear on the other side.  Mishka has too, and so death holds no fear for him either.  Mama Kamchatka though, she’s denied the bridge’s existence, and might even deny her own failing health.”

        “We are transitioning to a new time,” Koda said, “the signals have been here for a long time now, but Kamchatka’s run into the woods has brought things to a head.”

       “Mishka’s birth took it out of her more than she knows I think,” Koda said.  Patch nodded:

       “I know how her labour was,” Patch replied, “and yes it did damage her beyond what she knows.  It weakened her significantly, and now she’s very unwell.”

       “It was said Ekaterina dragged Mishka from Kamchatka,” Koda said.

      “If you can imagine pulling snowdrop or bobtail from their mothers without any help from the mother herself,  that is how it was for Kamchatka and Ekaterina that day,” Patch replied.  Koda shuddered at the thought.

        “Poor mama,” Koda said.  Koda looked at snowdrop, the little cub always seemed to be with Patch, or so Koda thought.  Indeed Koda himself had seldom left Patch’s side since their talk in his lie up.

        “Patch,” Koda said, “I’m sorry for hanging around like a lost cub,” he stopped, for Patch had raised his paw.

        “Koda,” he said softly, “you would not be hanging around like a lost cub unless you were one.”  Koda looked away.

       “Why are you frightened to look at me Koda? Patch asked.  Koda looked down at his paws.  Patch, smiling, took the cub’s left forepaw in both of his:

        “You need not hide from me Koda,” Patch said softly, “for you are acting normally for a lost cub.”

       “I am lost Patch,” Koda confessed, finally giving Patch his eyes.  Patch kissed Koda’s nose, and that simple act broke Koda’s control, the cub cuddling into Patch’s fur sobbing inconsolably.

        “You are safe, the community is safe,” Patch said softly, “Koda, you and I will help this community, I am young, and you are young.  My time with jess was the most difficult of my life, here is easier for me.  We have nothing to fear here other than ourselves.  If we fear ourselves, we will fail, but if we love each other, love the cubs and the community with everything we have, and fight to preserve this community, then we will be okay.  We have nothing to fear but fear.  Mama Kamchatka fears her own passing because she does not truly believe in Eohippus and the gentility shown to the lioness and her cubs in the early days.  I have met the messenger who will help Kamchatka over the bridge.  She too has met her, though she will deny it.”

       “Mama Kamchatka said she’d seen her mother in her dreams more and more lately,” Koda said, “does this mean she’ll be going over the bridge soon?”

       “Yes Koda, yes it does,” Mishka said, crawling in and taking the black bear cub’s paw in his.

        “She’s gone hasn’t she,” Koda said.

        “Yes,” Mishka replied softly.  Koda looked at Mishka.

        “Don’t blame him for her death Koda,” Patch said.  Koda gasped as he realised Patch had read his mind.

        “I’m sorry,” Koda said to Mishka, “that was a very horrid thing to think.”  Mishka nodded and kissed his brother’s paw.

        “You think how you have been taught,” Mishka said, “and Koda senior had a lot to do with that.  Mama Kamchatka’s labour delivering me into the world did her harm, but I was not the cause of that harm.  Now Koda, listen to Patch, for he will guide you from now on.”  Koda looked at Patch, taking in his grey fur, gentle eyes, and near white paw pads.

       “You are everything a cub could want in a playmate,” Koda said.

       “Everything anyone could want in a playmate I think,” Jess said padding in, “Koda, you do know how Patch and I came to know each other?”  Koda nodded:

      “A sorry tale that was,” he replied, “but a tale of hope also.  You and Patch must have a great bond.”

      “We do,” Jess replied, Patch smiling at her.

       “Even though we can converse in community dialect now,” he said, “we still communicate the old way sometimes, “paw to paw, as in the old days before jess became free.”

       “You mean bare paw to bare paw?”  Koda asked.  Jess nodded and sat down.

       “We used to take each other’s hind paws in our forepaws and communicate that way,” Jess replied, “it worked.  I would curl my toes tightly to indicate pain or distress, and Patch would do his thing to soothe me.  Kiss my nose; stroke the sole of my hind foot, that kind of thing.  I would always feel better after that.  He was my rock in those dark days.  He even knew I liked playing at having my own cub, and would play the part of the cub after I’d delivered a cub.  He told me how mama bear would deliver a cub, and it was amazing!”

       “So you taught her a lot Patch,” Koda said.

       “He taught me everything Koda,” jess replied.  “I went through human schooling, but patch was my parent, my security, my absolute comfort.”

        “I am glad of it,” Koda said to Jess, “for you could not have asked for a better teacher.”  Patch got to his feet, putting snowdrop on the floor so she could crawl, which she did, following him, Koda, Mishka and Jess out of the lie up.  Padding along to the plush surroundings of Koda’s lie up, they found Kamchatka’s body lying where Mishka had left it ten minutes before.  Patch looked down at his dead foster mother.

         “She died peacefully,” Mishka said, “I saw her mother come into the room and escort her out into the woods.”  Patch smiled:

       “You were tasked with telling Koda and that you did little Mishka,” Patch said softly, “well done.”  Mishka smiled:

      “The bridge and what lies beyond holds no fear for me Patch,”  he replied, “I have been there, I know who and what lie beyond the end of the bridge.  Now mamma Kamchatka is gone to that place, and here is not her, here are her earthly remains, her vessel, what she was contained in.  Now she is gone from this world, though she is not far away, as we know here.  We need no medium or special board to communicate with the spirits.  Humans need that; they need drugs and such to have, as they put it a spiritual experience.  We do not.  All we need do is going to a special place, and the spirits come to us if they wish,”  Mishka said.  Patch knew this, and knew why he’d been excluded from Kamchatka’s passing.  He had another spirit to soothe, that of a black bear cub.

       “Now we bury mama Kamchatka’s remains,” Patch said.  Koda looked up as Kuruk padded in, furious and about to lash out.

        “What be this?”  He asked, staring at mama Kamchatka’s remains.

      “Mama Kamchatka’s dead Kuruk,” Mishka replied, “I told you this before I went to talk to Koda.”

      “Kuruk think Mishka playing horrid game!”  Kuruk snapped, “Now he fined Mishka no lie.  Kuruk curse Mishka as silly and horrid cub.  Now, now he knows mama Kamchatka dead and feels awful.  Now he goes tell mama Alaska too.”

      “I wouldn’t dignify her with that title,” Mishka snorted, “she’s no mama I’d like to have.”  Koda looked severely at Kuruk.

      “Nobody is to call Alaska mama Alaska,” he said stamping his paw, “that is an order Kuruk!”  Kuruk looked at the black bear cub.

       “Kuruk hear she leave milk for her cub and do nothing else,” Kuruk said, “that good thing she do, but that only enough to make sure snowdrop no die.  As Koda bear say, no mama is Alaska.”  With that he swept out.

 

Koda and Patch buried mama Kamchatka’s remains in a grave dug by Magnus and Furcone later that day.  There were only a few bears to witness the burial, Ekaterina, Patch and Kuruk stood around, Ekaterina having touched Kamchatka’s body to reassure herself Kuruk wasn’t telling stories.  She found the mama bear’s body lifeless and cold, very dead.  E mama Kamchatka’s body had been buried, patch and the others dispersed to their lie ups, grieving for mama Kamchatka done in private or with family groups.  All the cubs were assembled in the great room that night and told of mama Kamchatka’s death, the news meaning little to many of them, a symptom of how big the community had grown.  To the cubs, Kamchatka was more history than real.  Patch was real, he was there all the time, so stories involving him made the cubs sit up and take note.  Kamchatka though, she was ancient as far as the cubs were concerned.

 

Koda didn’t blame the cubs for their lack of reaction, it was how the community was, indeed how he would have reacted were he in their paws.  They felt sad for Koda, as he’d lost his mother, but less sad for Kamchatka, as they didn’t know her.  All the cubs came to Koda and kissed his paws in solidarity with him as their leader, but that was the only recognition of a change of era they could give.  Koda, as well as being leader of the community, now felt even more responsibility as leader of the cubs.

       “Can’t someone else lead the community?”  Koda asked Patch as they left the great room, “the cubs want me as leader, and I want to be a cub!”

       “You can’t be a cub Koda,” Patch replied, “but you can be leader of the cubs.  You are older than most of them.”  Koda knew chronologically this was not the case, but psychologically patch was right.

       “He acts like a cub sometimes,” Georgia said, overhearing Patch’s comment.

      “Patch acts like a cub sometimes too,” Koda said, “and for that I’m very grateful.”  Patch turned into Koda’s plush lie up, Koda realising his flat was now all his own.

      “I need to get used to this,” Koda thought.  Mishka smiled, crawled up to Koda and took his paw.

     “Would you play with my paws Koda?  Please?”  He asked.  Koda smiled and nodded:

      “Come,” Koda said gently, Mishka sitting opposite him and letting him take his right hind foot in his forepaws.

       “Your pads are soft,” Koda said, “a real community cub’s paws.”  Mishka giggled and curled his toes with pleasure as Koda massaged his pads.

        “Now I could get used to this elder brother,” Mishka said, bouncing about with delight.

       “You can ask me for a paw massage any time you like,” Koda said.

 

Patch sat on the other side of the room with snowdrop, the young cub cuddled close to him.

      “You are a comfort to me Patch,” she said.  Patch kissed her nose and the tops of her forepaws.

        “How will I learn about my birth if Alaska isn’t going to show me?”  Snowdrop asked.  Patch smiled:

      “There was a video of it,” he said, “we will show you by video, or if you’d prefer, I can re-enact it.”  Snowdrop took hold of Patch’s left hind foot, stroking his pads and toes, Patch wiggling and curling his toes with pleasure.

        “You have delivered a cub I think,” snowdrop said.  Patch smiled:

        “I have,” he replied honestly.

        “I’ve met your cub,” snowdrop said, “a long haired bear cat padded into the lie up earlier, she was looking for you.  She touched my paw, and I knew she was your cub.  She had the same feel to her paws as you do.  Her name was sitter, something like that.”

      “Sita I think you mean,” Patch replied laughing.

      “Sita, yes that was her name,” snowdrop replied, “She had lovely paws, and a gentle kiss too.”

       “I love her dearly,” Patch replied, “and yes I remember her birth as if it was an hour ago.  I have re-enacted it for her, and she touched me throughout every minute.  She can’t see, so she has to get paws on.”

      “Ah yes, I’ll have to as well,” Mishka said.  Patch nodded:

       “Yes,” he replied, “you will have to get paws on.”  Patch hugged Koda and Mishka, kissing noses and paws, the two cubs smiling and rolling onto their backs, waving their paws in the air to allow Patch to kiss their pads some more.  Snowdrop, feeling left out, squealed for attention from Patch, only to be ambushed by Koda and Mishka, who kissed her nose and paws in turn, snowdrop giggling and wriggling with pleasure.

       “I yell for one and get two, oh yeah!  I love this!”  Snowdrop yelled.  Patch kissed the pads of Koda’s right hind paw as Koda tickled snowdrop’s toes, the black bear giggling as he curled his toes in response to patch’s kiss on his pads.

        “I approve of that,” someone said, Patch looking up and seeing mama Kamchatka standing by the door.  Mishka, Koda and Snowdrop also turned their heads, and Patch saw all were grinning.

      “I told you mama Kamchatka wasn’t far away,” Patch said, the bears turning their faces to him.

      “Do you often see spirits?”  Koda asked, “Do they often come to you?”

      “They do,” Patch replied.  Mishka crawled to Patch’s hind paws and began massaging his pads, patch curling his toes with pleasure as he knelt to tickle Koda’s pads.

       “Your paws are so cute Patch,” Mishka said, kissing the larger bear’s bunched pads, Patch smiling with genuine pleasure.

       “You are so soppy dear Mishka,” he said, looking round at the small cub, which was now looking guilty and ashamed at his familiar manner towards him.  Patch turned round and kissed Mishka’s forepaws.

       “Did you learn anything while touching the pads of my hind feet?”  Patch asked.

      “Your pads are soft and warm,” Mishka replied, “and they bunch up like mine do when your toes curl.  So that is what I’ve learnt.”

       “He’s taught a lot more,” Snowdrop said, “but Mishka doesn’t want to voice what he’s learnt I don’t think.”

      “Koda told me to let my paws be my guide,” Mishka replied, “and they guide me to stroke other’s paws, is that right?”  Patch smiled and lay down on his side, Snowdrop and Mishka crawling close and snuggling up to him.

         “Does it feel right?”  Patch asked.  Mishka snuggled close, enjoying Patch’s warmth.

        “Yes it did,” Mishka mumbled, “your paws liked my touch.”

      “Good,” patch replied, “they didn’t withdraw did they?”

      “No,” Mishka replied, “your toes curled around mine, squeezing them tightly.  It was sweet.”  Patch smiled.

       “I felt them curling tightly round yours,” he said, “it felt wonderful.”

       “When your paws are relaxed they’re an adult bear’s paws,” Mishka replied, “but when your toes curl, they become a cub’s paws.”  Patch smiled:

       “My paws don’t change size or anything like that,” he replied, “though I know what you mean Mishka.”

       “I wonder if mama Kamchatka approves of us playing with your paws,” Mishka said.

       “mama loved playing with her own paws, though she’d keep that quiet,”  Patch replied, “it soothed her a great deal, and she’d be upset if we didn’t play with each other’s and our own paws too.”

       “Good,” Snowdrop said, sitting up and grabbing her left hind foot in her forepaws, exploring her pads and toes, the sensation making her smile and her toes curl with pleasure.

       “Why are the soles of my paws so sensitive?”  Snowdrop asked.  Patch sat down and explained gently; taking her right hind foot in his forepaws and tracing her pads and toes.

       “Your pads are sensitive so you can feel the ground beneath them,” he said, “no other reason than that.”

       “So they’re not meant as playthings?”  Snowdrop asked.  Patch gently drew circles and wavy lines on the large sole pad of Snowdrop’s right hind foot.

       “What do you think?”  Patch asked.

       “I’d like my paws to be playthings,” she said, “they seem to like being played with too!  The toes of my other hind foot are curling with pleasure as I stroke my pads anyway, so my right hind foot might like playing too.”  Patch nodded.

       “I agree, paws love play, so they are playthings as well as earth sensing things.”

       “Patch,” jess said, padding in, “here, peanut butter for you.”  Patch took the bowl and smiled his thanks to Jess, who sat down to watch her friend eating the rich food.

      “What’s that Patch?”  Snowdrop said, dropping her left hind foot.

       “It’s the most amazing food I know,” Patch replied, “its peanut butter.  Jess and I used to live on this for days.  Now, now I’m here with a huge bowl of the stuff, enough for all.”

       “A male bear would claim this for himself,” Koda said, “but you are willing to share yours Patch?”  Patch grinned:

      “A mama bear shares her food with her cubs,” he said, “now, maybe I’m showing my mama side.”  Koda felt his eyes fill with tears, angrily; he brushed at his eyes with a paw.

        “Come little one,” Patch said, and Koda knew he was talking to him.  Koda scrambled into Patch’s lap, and Patch fed him from the bowl.

       “Now I can rest in peace forever,” someone said, “my cubs are safe.”  Koda gasped as he recognised Kamchatka’s voice.

       “’all go to the clearing tonight,” Patch said, “There we’ll meet with Kamchatka one time more.  Now though, now I need to feed my cubs.”  Patch fed Koda, then snowdrop, then Mishka.  Then, smiling, he looked at Jess.

       “Come here my little one,” he said to her, Jess crawling to her friend and rescuer.  Crawling into his lap, she sat comfortably; patch feeding her from the bowl like he’d done in old times.  Koda told Snowdrop and Mishka what was happening, right down to how Jess’s toes curled with pleasure as she was fed by her life long friend.  It was only after this that Patch ate the remainder of the butter mix.  Then, smiling, he got a bowl of water and washed the faces and paws of all four of his cubs.

       “You are so wonderful!”  Koda said, tears streaming down his face.  Patch smiled and went to Koda, Snowdrop, jess and Mishka, kissing their noses and forepaws.

       “Now I want you to come to my lie up,” Patch said.  Koda whispered to Patch.

       “Yes,” Patch said, “you can come too.”  Patch padded to Koda’s lie up, punching in the code to enter the lie up.

        “You are leader now then?”  Innokenti said as he saw Patch pad into the lie up.

        “He is,” Koda confirmed, “I’m leader of the cubs, but he’s, um, my leader.  Innokenti smiled:

        “You even look like a mama bear should,” Innokenti said to patch, who smiled and kissed the large bear’s nose, Innokenti looking into Patch’s eyes with a desperate plea.

        “Go on, try it,” Koda said to Innokenti, who rolled onto his back and stuck all four paws in the air, patch leaning down and kissing the large bear’s pads and toes, Innokenti sobbing with emotion, Patch kissing his nose and wiping away his tears as tenderly as his own mother would.

       “I’m sorry for your Loss Innokenti,” Patch said, and Innokenti knew he meant it.

        “Let’s take stock for a minute,” Patch said, sitting down in the plush sofa.

        “I’ll talk to the community tonight,” Patch said, “I will see if they will accept me as leader.”  Koda crawled up to Patch and looked into his face, touching his leg with a forepaw.

      “Come,” Patch said, letting Koda clamber into his lap. Sat in Patch’s lap, Koda looked into Patch’s face.

       “They will accept you as leader, they will, they will!”  Koda said earnestly, “I know they will patch!”  Patch kissed Koda’s nose, then looked at snowdrop and Mishka.

        “I’ll arrange a meeting with every community member,” Patch said.  Jess crawled to the phone and put in a call to the whole house, telling everyone of the meeting.

 

That evening, all the community members gathered in the great room.  Patch noticed Lilly was heavily pregnant now, and hoped she would have her cub soon.  Sitting down, he waited for silence, and then nudged Koda:

        “I think Koda has something to say to you all,” Patch said.  Koda, his paws shaking, got to his hind feet and faced the company.

        “I, I want to say something to you all, from the eldest to youngest.  I, Koda, have been born to leadership, but I do not feel I’m ready.  I therefore, would, would like, like you to accept someone else as your leader.  You know of mama Kamchatka’s death, and that I am now in charge through being sire Koda’s eldest cub.  I do not feel I am ready to lead, and Mishka is too young, so I beg that I may choose a successor to me.”

         “Let Patch do it!”  Someone yelled.

      “Patch was indeed my first choice,” Koda replied, “and making that choice is mine alone.  I therefore ask you to listen to my reasons, then maybe, hear what Patch has to say, if anything.”  Chatter amongst the community erupted, talking and speculation charging round the room like wild mice.  Koda raised his paw, waiting for silence before he began to speak.

        “You all know me,” Koda said, “and you all know of the death of mama Kamchatka.  I am asking your permission to pass on the role of leader.  I know I am born to leadership, but I do not feel I am capable.  I therefore wish to give the role to someone who has proven himself throughout his life.  Patch is a wonderful bear, loves everyone, and is loved by everyone I think.”  The cubs began clapping their forepaws in agreement, Koda grinning despite the solemnity of the occasion.

        “Yes, yes yes yes!”  Snowdrop squealed, “I want Patch as leader, please!”  Koda smiled broadly at her entreaties to him.

         “I will ask Patch, with the permission of everyone here including cubs.  Now, do I have that permission?  Please, discuss within your family groups, and let a bear, a lion and a cub come to me with their choice.  I will give five minutes.”  Koda sat down, examining his paws.  After five minutes, Nuru, Aga and Georgia bear came to the front and approached Koda.

       “It is a unanimous decision,” Nuru mewed, “we lions wish to confirm Patch as leader.”

     “And so do we bears,” Aga said.

      “And we cubs,” Georgia said.  Koda nodded, and kissed the paws of the representatives of the families.

         “You have done well, and I thank you,” Koda said.  Then, raising his head, he dismissed Nuru, Aga and Georgia.  Koda got to his feet once more.

      “I am handing the leadership over to Patch now,” Koda said, “I will ask him to address you now.”

       “There is no need,” Goldie said, “for we know what he says, he’s been saying it to us for ages and ages.  Koda, you use words to communicate, Patch doesn’t use words, he uses paws, and paws are more communicative than words.  We will come to him and he will speak to us and to our cubs outside this place.”  Patch looked at Koda, who couldn’t meet his gaze.

         “Do not be ashamed Koda,” Patch said, reaching over and touching his paw, “you have nothing to be ashamed of.”  Koda snuggled up to Patch.

       “Promise?”  He asked, sounding like a cub.  Patch kissed his nose and whispered to him:

       “Yes my cub, I promise.”  Georgia stopped on her way out of the lie up, standing beside Koda, she looked at Patch.

        “We decided to grant your wish Koda when we saw How Patch fed you and his other dependant cubs.”

        “It was the play which got me,” Nuru mewed, “that was amazing.”

       “I saw Mishka stroking your hind foot while you knelt to stroke Koda’s paws Patch,”  Georgia said, “and that was so sweet, so cute, your reaction was so genuine, like a mama bear’s would be.  Love radiated from the pads and toes of your hind foot for Mishka, and your forepaws for Koda.  Then you gave snowdrop that love too.  After this, you fed jess, Koda, Mishka and snowdrop with the peanut butter before you fed yourself.”  Patch left the great room, padding along to the lie up.  Punching in the access code, he opened the door and led the way into the plush flat.

        “Let’s settle down here until we go into the clearing at moonrise to talk to mama Kamchatka one last time,” Patch said.  Snowdrop, now crawling easily, scrambled into Patch’s lap, settled down, put the digits of her left forepaw into her mouth and fell asleep.  Koda watched Snowdrop sleeping, feeling he might want to suck his paw.

        “Now let’s rest a while,” Patch said, “for tonight, we will go at moonrise to meet with the spirits as they come across the bridge to see us.”  Koda looked frightened by the prospect.

        “I don’t want to come tonight,” he said, “I won’t see the spirits, I don’t want to.”

       “It would not be proper for you not to see the spirits,” Patch said, “Koda, you will come.”  Koda looked fearfully at Patch.

       “You can’t force me to go,” he challenged.  Patch looked into Koda’s eyes, and then he raised a paw and cuffed Koda hard.  Koda, shocked, withdrew whimpering into the corner of the lie up.

     “Now we wait,” Mishka said, “we wait for the time when we will meet the spirits.”  Koda groaned and swore harshly.

       “You don’t believe?”  Snowdrop asked Koda.  Koda sighed:

       “I don’t know, I’ve not got the certainty Patch has that there are spirits out there.  Yes we heard Kamchatka’s voice, but did we really hear it?”

       “Answer those questions tonight Koda,” Mishka said.

 

That night, at moonrise, all the community gathered in the clearing.

        “Now what?”  Koda asked.

      “We wait,” Mishka replied.  Patch sat in the front row of the assembled creatures, snowdrop and Mishka cuddled close to him.

         “What’s that coming through the trees?”  Aga asked.  Patch looked over to his right, and saw a white coated big cat coming through the trees, a large grizzly bear padding easily beside him.

        “Ah Ancient Theo,” Patch said softly, the large big cat trotting up to him and rubbing noses.  Koda, who’d seen it all, turned to bolt.

        “Don’t run Koda,” the grizzly bear said, “you need not run.”  Koda felt a nose brushing his ear.

        “You’re dead!”  Koda sobbed.  Kamchatka laughed slightly:

       “My body is dead, I’m not,” she replied, “I heard you were not coming here tonight, but Patch kept you in line.”  Koda looked down at his paws, his shame as deep as if his mother was still alive and could cuff him with her paws.

       “Yes, I didn’t want to come,” he mumbled.

       “What made you not want to come to see us?”  Ancient Theo asked, padding over to Koda.

      “I, I was frightened to come,” Koda admitted.  Theo kissed Koda’s nose:

      “Be scared no more,” Theo said.  Koda reached out a paw and touched the lion’s shoulder, feeling real fur.  Theo smiled, then lies down and let Koda touch the pads of his paws.

       “I hear you like paws Koda,” Theo mewed, “so I thought I’d get your verdict on mine.”  Koda embraced each of the lion spirit’s paws, feeling warmth and rough pads, and curled toes when Theo curled his toes with pleasure.

        “Now I must go,” Ancient Theo said, getting to his feet and trotting away through the wood.  Koda turned to Kamchatka, who was talking to Patch.

       “you may find yourself inundated with bears soon,” she was saying, there is a breedin