Trials of life.

 

 

 

Tiguak slept deeply into the next morning, waking to find herself cuddled close to Ekaterina.  For a few minutes she wondered where she was, who this bears whose paws held her tightly was.  Then she remembered, with a flood of warmth and emotion which left her tearful, she remembered Ekaterina’s struggle to deliver her cub, especially the last part after Tiguak kissed mama Ekaterina’s hind paws.

“That had been real then,” Tiguak thought, “mama Ekaterina wasn’t playing after that, her labour was real.”  Ekaterina’s tears had been real enough too, they weren’t acting.

“You fell on your paws Tiguak,” Tiguak thought, “now don’t mess it up.”  Stretching and yawning, Tiguak settled down to wait and bask in the luxury of Ekaterina’s embrace.

“I’m her cub now,” Tiguak thought gratefully, “I’m Ekaterina’s cub now.”  Tiguak, becoming bored, slipped from Ekaterina’s embrace and left the lie up.  Padding along to the house, she entered at the back door, a growl behind her stopping her and making her spin round.

“What the hell?”  Tiguak asked, seeing a large white lion standing behind her, it was clear he’d been stalking her.

“Why were you stalking me?”  Tiguak asked.  Aslan smiled:

“You are a heavy pawed cub,” he said, “I could have rattled pots and pans behind you and you wouldn’t have noticed me.”  Tiguak snorted:

“I thought I was quiet,” she protested.

“No you weren’t,” Aslan replied grinning, “You have heavy feet, and couldn’t stalk a fly.  Well, I have to go now, see you,”  With that he padded away, his tail lashing back and fourth in triumph.

“stupid lion,”  Tiguak thought, padding up the stairs to the top of the house, and along to Patch’s lie up, where she banged on the door.  Noone was in, so she went along to the relieving place and shower room nearby and relieved herself, then showered herself down.  Leaving that, she shook herself dry in the corridor.  This drew a sharp rebuke from a speaker on the wall.

“You should have dried yourself off in the shower room, there is a special place,” the voice said.  “Now, Tiguak, go to the shower room, and use the mop and bucket you will find there.”

“It knows my name;” Tiguak thought fleetingly, “the wall knows my name!”  Much ashamed, Tiguak padded to the shower room and found the bucket and mop.  Drying the floor with the mop, she thought about the speaking wall.

“I’ll bet there are cameras all over this place,” she thought, “and yes, shaking myself dry in the corridor wasn’t a sensible thing to do.”  Finishing her task, she went back to the door of Patch’s lie up and tried it.  The telephone by the wall shrilled, Tiguak picking it up in her paw.

“I’ll let you in,” Patch said from the outside lie up.

“You were tracking, me,” Tiguak said, her voice faltering.

“I saw what you did in the corridor.”

“Yes, I’m sorry,” Tiguak replied.

“Enter this code,” Patch said, “1515, then place your left forepaw on the glass, and press enter.  Then the door will open.  Your paw will then be logged in the system, and you can get in by paw print alone.”

“So hind paws aren’t used?”  Tiguak asked.

“Not for this,” patch replied, “for play yes, but not for identification.”  Tiguak smiled:

“I felt Koda playing with my right hind foot as I told my tale,” she said to Patch, “was that allowed?”

“You didn’t mind it did you?”  Patch asked.

“No,” Tiguak replied, “I, I liked it.  It’s the kind of thing I think I’d like if I was having a cub.  It would soothe me.”

“Paw play is used in that context too,”  Patch replied, “it works well for pain relief.”

“I’ll bet it does,”  Tiguak replied.

“I can vouch for how paw play works,”  Lilly said, padding up to Tiguak and hugging her.

“Oh, hello,” Tiguak said, disconcerted by Lilly’s paws on approach, “who are you?”

“My name’s Lilly, I’m, well, one of the community bears,”  the brown she bear replied.

“What’s this about paw play Lilly?”  Tiguak asked, putting the phone down.

“While a mama is in labour, oh, come in to the lie up and I’ll explain,”  Lilly replied.  They went into Patch’s lie up, and, when they were both sitting with bowls of tea, Lilly filled Tiguak in.

“Paw play,” said she, is very good for cubs, and excellent for mamas while in labour.  It gives a cub a plaything, and mamas in labour reassurance.”

“Koda, he played with my right hind foot, drawing circles on my pads and counting my toes while I was telling my tale,”  Tiguak replied, “and, and Sally, a little human child, she drew circles on the sole pad of patch’s right hind foot while he was telling his tale too.  I saw his toes curl with pleasure.”

“Patch has lovely paws,” Lilly said.

“Yeah, I know, I saw them, tops and soles, cute they are,” Tiguak replied smiling.

“You touched them too,” Patch said, padding into the lie up, kneeling and kissing Tiguak’s nose.

“Where’s Ekaterina?”  Tiguak asked.

“I’m here,” Ekaterina said, padding into the room from the lift.  Tiguak, seeing her, ran to her, embraced her and kissed her nose.

“Thank you mama,” she said.  Ekaterina smiled, playfully knocked Tiguak off her feet, and tickled her toes, Tiguak laughing so hard she was nearly sick.

“I’ll show you paw play,” Ekaterina said, kissing her daughter cub’s paws.

“I’m gonna love this, I know I will!”  Tiguak said.  Ekaterina massaged Tiguak’s paws, the half grown cub wriggling and pawing at her tickling paws.

“I love this; it’s been too long I’ve not felt this!”  Tiguak laughed.  Ekaterina kissed Tiguak’s pads, the half grown cub dabbing at her nose with her forepaws, then with the toes of her hind feet as Ekaterina kissed her pads.  Ekaterina left Tiguak alone after massaging her paws four times over.  Knut, hearing there was a new bear in the house, padded in soon after and stared in admiration at Tiguak, who playfully waved her paws at him, completely unafraid of the large male polar bear.

“Good job I’m not a rampaging male isn’t it,” Knut said grinning.  Ekaterina growled at him:

“You leave her alone!”

“Wooh mama,” Knut replied, rising to his hind feet and holding his paws up in a gesture that Ekaterina couldn’t see, “I’m not going to hurt your little one.  For Eohippus sake, why did I say that?  Tiguak can’t be yours, not unless you’ve been hiding her away.”

“You were at the gathering last night?”  Ekaterina asked.  Knut nodded.

“I couldn’t see much,”  he said, “just some white fur and a bundle of cubs using the fur as a hot water bottle.”

“They were a bit,” Tiguak replied, “yes, the hot water bottle was me.”  Knut stared, and then took a pace closer, looking deeply and interestedly at Tiguak, who smiled up at him from where she lay.  Knut looked at her face, then at her paws, slender paws they were, unlike his own large broad paws.

“You have lovely paws, um, what’s your name?”  He asked dumbly.

“I’m Tiguak, and you?”  She asked.

“He’s one love struck polar bear, paws off her Knut, she’s too young!”  Lilly snapped.

“I’m gone then,” Knut snarled, “why it is everyone thinks I’m going to screw any female with four paws!  I hate it Lilly, I really do!  First Ekaterina, now you!  Just leave it out will you!”

“Ekaterina’s very sensitive at the moment Knut,”  Patch said gently, going to Knut and taking his paw, “come, let’s sit down, and I’ll tell you all about it.”

“You keep him well away from my cub!”  Ekaterina snapped savagely.

“Hey Ekaterina, its okay my love, Knut won’t hurt Tiguak,” Patch said.  Knut padded dispiritedly away with Patch, Tiguak crawling after him as softly as she could, Ekaterina not realising she’d left.  Knut flopped down beside Patch, who got him a drink and told him everything that had taken place in the last forty eight hours.

“It is a fantastic story,” Knut said when Patch had finished the tale.

“It is,” Patch said, “and now you can possibly see why mama Ekaterina is so protective of Tiguak.”  Knut made a sound of assent in his throat, and then smiled as Tiguak padded up to him and kissed his nose.

“You are so beautiful,” Knut said, Tiguak giggling with pleasure and showing her acceptance of him by rolling onto her back and presenting him with a good look at the soles of all four of her paws.

“Can I kiss your paws Tiguak,” Knut asked.  Tiguak smiled up at him:

“yes please,”  she said gently, “but don’t tell Ekaterina, she’ll go batty!”  Knut grinned and kissed Tiguak’s nose and the pads of her paws, finding her nose cold, and paw pads warm.

“I like those paws,” Knut said softly.  Tiguak smiled broadly as Knut’s breath tickled her toes.

“I’m Ekaterina’s cub,” she replied to him, “but I could learn to love a male polar bear, and maybe, just maybe have his cubs too.”  Knut closed his eyes, Tiguak dabbing at his nose with her right forepaw.

“Soppy old bear,” Tiguak teased.  Knut grabbed Tiguak gently in his paws and, lifting her up in his paws, rolled backwards onto his back and stood her hind feet on his chest, like she was a large cub...  Tiguak, laughing helplessly, pedalled the air with her hind feet as Knut held her in the air in his forepaws.

“Silly,” she concluded, as Knut put her down on the floor.

“Sorry,” Knut said, Tiguak’s eyes shining into his.

“That was rather cute,” she observed, kissing his nose.

“You’re paws are too close to my cub!”  Ekaterina roared.

“Tiguak isn’t a cub any more Ekaterina dear,” Patch replied, “She’s nearly two years old.  She can have cubs of her own now, as you did, if she wants.”  Ekaterina was horrified.

“No Patch, no!”  She yelled, “I won’t let her, I’ll stop her!”

“You can’t,” Patch said softly, “please Ekaterina, and don’t restrict her paws.”

“I’m not going to restrict her paws; I’m going to restrict her breeding!”  Ekaterina yelled.

“Stop it!  Ekaterina, stop it!”  Lilly snapped.

“She’s my cub!”  Ekaterina whimpered.

“You adopted her, but she isn’t your birth cub,” Lilly replied.  Ekaterina looked sightlessly at Lilly, her eyes more devastated than lily had ever seen them.

“I gave birth to her, I felt her emerge into the world not twenty four hours ago!”  Ekaterina shouted.

“You were allowed to feel it; it didn’t really happen,” Lilly replied, “you mocked it up.”

“I want it to be real!”  Ekaterina yelled, “I want my labour to have meant something to me, something more than just another mock cubbing!”

“You’re deluding yourself Ekaterina,” Lilly snapped, “you could open your paws and embrace Tiguak, but you couldn’t give birth to her all over again!”

“I want to!”  Ekaterina yelled.

“You Gave birth to Blackberry in the same way you did to Tiguak, adopting both,” Patch said.  Ekaterina turned and stormed from the room, slamming the door.  She ran along the corridor, slamming painfully into Sita, who was walking the other way.

“Ow! Shit!”  Ekaterina yelled, rubbing her nose.

“You are in a hurry?”  Sita asked.  Ekaterina, disarmed by the cat bear’s touch on her paw explained all.

“I’m lost,” she admitted.

“Tiguak is no cub Ekaterina, I could feel that,” Sita replied gently, “the birth you felt was to bring her into your family spiritually, not to replace your lost cub.”  Ekaterina breathed deeply, trying to compose herself.

“What you heard in your lie up was Knut proposing to Tiguak,” Sita said.  Ekaterina grunted in sad assent.

“I know, I know!”  She replied dispiritedly, “I wanted her to play like a cub.”

“She’s no cub Ekaterina dear,” Sita replied.

“I realise that,” Ekaterina said miserably.

“Go to her, and touch her paw, then say what you want to say to her,” Sita said.  Ekaterina padded back to the lie up and up to Tiguak, who lay on her back on the floor.  Ekaterina smiled and took her        left forepaw.

“Go and have cubs with Knut,” Ekaterina said.  Tiguak looked up at her adoptive mother.

“We’re not going to have cubs yet,” Tiguak replied, “Knut is only being playful with me.”

“I’m so silly!”  Ekaterina whimpered.  Tiguak got to her feet, rubbed noses with her mama, and padded from the room.  Going along the passage, she came across a locked door.  Placing her paw on the reader, she heard the beep, and then tapped in the same code she’d used to enter the lie up.

“One five, um, one five,” Tiguak mouthed, pressing buttons slowly with her left forepaw.  The door beeped and opened, Tiguak smiling at her success.  Entering, she heard the door close behind her, and a light switched on.  Tiguak saw a water slide in front of her.  She knew what one was, as she’d been taken to one during her time at the zoo to stimulate her mind.  Turning to her right, she found a control panel.

“hmm, on, off, and another code panel,”  Tiguak thought, tapping in the same code she’d used before and giggling as she was let in yet again, though wondering at Patch’s memory for numbers.

“Silly old bear Patch,” she thought.  Pressing the on button, she found a question on the screen.

“How many minutes?”  She pondered, “um, five.”  She punched the five, and the water ran down the chute.  A scream of fear and terror came to her up the chute.

“Who’s that?”  Tiguak yelled down the chute, standing in the running water.

“What?”  Someone yelled.

“I’m coming down!”  Tiguak yelled, sliding down the tube, laughing helplessly as she had the ride of her life.  Mishka, standing in the bottom of the chute, heard Tiguak hurtling towards him, and it was a good thing he leapt clear just in time to avoid a collision.

“Who are you?”  Tiguak asked panting slightly.

“My name’s Mishka, I’m, I’m Ekaterina’s brother, who are you?”  Mishka asked.  Tiguak got out of the chute and padded to the wall, feeling along it with her paw.

“There’s no light in here,” she said, is there a switch?”

“I’m blind, I don’t need light,” Mishka replied.  Tiguak looked in the corners, her night vision quite good.

“I think I’ve found the switch,” she said, pulling the lever down.  The cell, now flooded with light, Tiguak observed her companion, a brown bear with scared eyes and shaking paws.

“What happened to you?”  She asked.  Mishka, swallowing hard, touched Tiguak to make sure she was real.

“You don’t believe I’m here do you?”  Tiguak asked.  Mishka choked back tears as he touched her:

“I’ve been here for so long alone,” he said, “what did you do to end up in here?”

“I didn’t do a thing, bar getting into a door and switching on a water slide,” Tiguak replied, “this looks like a cell, a punishment place.”  Mishka confessed all, telling Tiguak of his attack on Sooleawa, Tiguak upset by the tale.

“I’m sorry for it,” Mishka replied, “but I’ve been here for so long!  Yes Sid comes with my soup, and I’m not starving, but I wish I was back with the rest, touching paws, playing, that kind of thing.”

“You can play with me if you like,” Tiguak replied, “in the dark if you wish too.”

“I’m in the dark all the time,” Mishka replied, “but you can turn the lights out if you wish.  Tiguak turned out the lights, and she and Mishka found out about each other by touch, Tiguak surprised at how gentle Mishka was, his touch much like Ekaterina’s, a non invasive, gentle exploration.  Tiguak and Mishka were soon rolling about on the floor of the concrete cell, Mishka loving her company, and her touch.

“I love this!”  Mishka laughed, kissing Tiguak’s nose and paws, receiving the same kiss to his nose and paws, which he loved.

“What on earth is going on in here?”  Kuruk asked, bursting into the cell half an hour later while Tiguak and Mishka were tickling each other’s paws.

“I found him in here, I came down the slide and, and found him,” Tiguak replied, “Who is he?”

“Mishka be Ekaterina’s half brother,” Kuruk grunted, “he in here because he hit Sooleawa.”  Sooleawa crawled up behind Kuruk and, finding the grizzly bear was resting the toes of his right hind foot on the floor, his pads lifted off the ground, she tickled his exposed pads, Kuruk yowling with surprise and leaping into the air, his momentum taking him head over forepaws into the cell, Kuruk crashing down on his back with all four feet in the air, much to Tiguak and Sooleawa’s delight.

“Kuruk not happy, not happy!”  Kuruk growled as Tiguak and Sooleawa piled in on top of him, tickling his pads and toes, while Kuruk grumbled half heartedly at their ambush.

“Get off my feet, leave paws of Kuruk alone!”  Kuruk roared, gently kicking with all four paws.

“Kuruk likes his paws touched,” Mishka said, “it’s all right to touch his paws.”  Kuruk got to his feet, shook himself, then padded out of the cell, leaving the door open, so Mishka and Tiguak padded out after him.

“Who tickled my pads?”  Kuruk demanded.  Sooleawa grinned, Kuruk seeing her and grunting.

“Thought so.”

“You have sweet paws Kuruk,” Sooleawa said.  Kuruk, clearly embarrassed, smiled down at the ground, trying to hide his evident pleasure.

“Kuruk’s embarrassed,”  Tiguak observed, Sooleawa dancing round the large grizzly in circles, Kuruk stopping walking so he didn’t injury her.

“Get on my back Sooleawa so you no get squashed,” Kuruk said, Sooleawa smiling as her nose was kissed by the grizzly bear.

“I think we’d better get into the house, its freezing!”  Tiguak exclaimed, “My poor paws!”

“How you get into cell place anyway Tiguak?”  Kuruk asked.  Tiguak told him, Kuruk huffing through his nose.

“Patch silly bear to use same code for everything,” he grumbled, “but Kuruk no remember his own date of birth, so he no talk really.”  Sooleawa, finding Kuruk’s manner of speaking hilariously funny, spluttered and snorted as she tried not to laugh.

“Let’s get indoors, my paws are so cold!”  Tiguak whimpered, running for the door.  Kuruk, padding after her, smiled to himself.  Once indoors, he crouched, letting Sooleawa slide offs his back.  Sooleawa smiled as she caught sight of the pads of Kuruk’s hind feet as he walked away.

“Cute paws,” she said.  Kuruk, turning, glared at Sooleawa.

“Kuruk no have cute paws!”  He roared.  Sooleawa smiled and tapped his nose with her paw, Kuruk grinning broadly.

“What you think of Sooleawa’s paws then?”  Sooleawa asked.  Kuruk grinned and gently pushed Sooleawa onto her back to look at the soles of her paws.

“Them cute,” he grunted, “but Kuruk older than Sooleawa, so he can say thing.”

“I think your paws are just big cub’s paws really,” Sooleawa replied, “Kuruk, I saw you playing with your toes just before you went to the concrete cell.”  Kuruk looked horrified!

“You no see Kuruk do thing!”  He protested.

“You did, you were playing with the toes of your right hind foot!”  Sooleawa replied.  Kuruk, furious, grunted.

“Kuruk was doing playing with toes thing,” he replied gruffly.

“I think that’s cute too,” Sooleawa said.  Kuruk, now seriously embarrassed at what Sooleawa had seen him doing, turned his back to walk away, his right hind leg going into spasm as he tried to walk away.  Moaning with pain, Kuruk tried to ease the pain by stretching out his leg, his hind paw coming off the floor enough for Sooleawa to see his pads.  Sooleawa, seeing the bear was in pain, instantly did what Ekaterina did when she was in pain.  Ekaterina would Kiss Sooleawa’s paw pads when Sooleawa was in pain, so Sooleawa thought this would help cork.  Seeing him curling the toes of his right hind foot to ease his cramping leg, Sooleawa kissed Kuruk’s bunching pads.

“I hope it gets easier Kuruk,” Sooleawa said gently.  Kuruk, gasping, grunted as his leg relaxed.

“That bloody hurt!”  Kuruk gasped, placing his foot on the floor.

“Walk slowly Kuruk,” Sooleawa replied.  Kuruk turned to her and bowed his head, kissing her nose.

“Thank you Sooleawa,” Kuruk said gruffly.

“Things like praising others, taking praise, showing emotions is not easy for you is it Kuruk,” Sooleawa said.  Kuruk stared into the cub’s eyes.

“You know too much little one,” Kuruk grunted.  Sooleawa smiled:

“I love you Kuruk, you are a sweet bear really.”  Kuruk touched Sooleawa’s nose with his.

Your so gentle really Kuruk,” Sooleawa replied softly.  Kuruk smiled and sat down to hug Sooleawa then and there.

“Thank you,” Kuruk whispered to Sooleawa.  Kuruk let Sooleawa go, the cub crawling before him to his lie up, where they found Anook setting out tea, toast and jam.  Smiling, Anook buttered the toast and held out a piece to Sooleawa, who sat down and took the toast, eating it gratefully.  Kuruk, grunting as he sat down, took the toast his mate offered, scrunching into it with enjoyment.

“Kuruk love toast and Jam,” Kuruk said.  Anook smiling offered him tea and more toast.  Kuruk, his guard duties over with, settled back on a beanbag to rest.

Meanwhile, Mishka, padding along the corridor with Tiguak, was getting used in his freedom.

“Who are you?”  He asked Tiguak, “Where have you come from?”  Tiguak got Mishka tea and toast in the kitchen of Patch’s lie up, then told him her tale.

“Oh wow, oh wow!”  Mishka exclaimed.  Tiguak smiled:

“Improbable isn’t it,” she replied.  Mishka shook his head:

“You probably have identification marks from your zoo, a tag?  Or a tattoo? In your ear?”

“I even have a microchip, though I think that’s been deactivated now.  I wonder who owns me?”

“Noone now, you are your own bear,” Mishka said gently.  Tiguak looked at Mishka.

“I am,” she replied, “I can play with whom ever I want, I can tickle the paws of a stranger, and get to know him by touch.”  Mishka grinned.

“I regret hitting Sooleawa Tiguak,”  Mishka replied, “I’m sorry I smacked her hard enough to hurt her, I should have responded to her swearing with a more mature reaction than I did, I am sorry for that, and I wish to apologise to her.”  

“Try now,” Sooleawa said softly, crawling into Mishka’s lap.

“I’ve been an idiot,” Mishka said, “I shouldn’t have hit you Sooleawa, shouted at you maybe, but hit you?  No.  I am very sorry.”  Sooleawa kissed Mishka’s nose as he hugged her, Sooleawa forgiving him for hitting her.

“I’m sorry Sooleawa,” Mishka said, stroking her ears and back.

“That’s okay,” Sooleawa said, “I’m better now, and you have learnt a lesson I think.”  Mishka had, and it was a harder one than he’d learnt in his life to date.  Mishka massaged Sooleawa’s paws, the cub snuggling close to him.

“I think I was meant to slide down that slide and find you Mishka,” Tiguak said.  Mishka smiled and, placing Sooleawa on the floor, padded to Tiguak and hugged her tenderly.

“I think |Knut has been playing with you,” he said, “We might have to see who wins your affections.”  Tiguak gasped in horror.

“No!”  She whimpered, “You and Knut can’t fight over me, I won’t let you, I’ll leave here before that happens!”

“Neither of you will fight over Tiguak,” Sooleawa said, “You will be mature, community minded and civil.”  Mishka laughed.

“Sorry Sooleawa love,” he said, “when mating is concerned, things get rough.”

“I don’t like this,” Sooleawa said.

“Neither do I, paws off her Mishka!”  Knut yelled, piling in and launching an attack on Mishka, who, unprepared, took the full force of the assault, crashing to the rugs, totally overwhelmed.

“Tiguak is mine!”  Knut roared, pinning Mishka down.  Mishka, whimpering, begged for mercy.  Knut, snorting, lifted his weight off Mishka and padded away with Tiguak.

“I lost,” Mishka whimpered.

“Are you all right?”  Sooleawa asked.  Mishka struggled to his feet, groaning as his body complained.

“Yeah,” he replied, “squashed.”  Sooleawa grunted.  Sooleawa explored Mishka’s body from nose to tail, noticing where he flinched and what hurt him the least.

“I’m okay, I’ll live,” Mishka groaned.  Sooleawa crawled to the telephone and got in touch with Blackberry, who visited and pronounced Mishka fit.

“You were treated gently really,” Blackberry said, “Knut was gentle when he fought you off.”  Mishka said something unprintable about Knut, which shocked Sooleawa so much she slapped him with her paw.

“Ow,” Mishka complained.

“You need to learn gentle ways Mishka!”  Sooleawa yelled.  Mishka rolled over and embraced the silver coated cub.

“How about you teach me?”  Mishka asked.

“Get paws on with me, play gently, and I’ll play gently with you,” Sooleawa replied.

“What if I play rough?”  Mishka asked.

“Then I’ll run away and cry,” Sooleawa replied.  Mishka, kissing her nose, begged Sooleawa not to leave him.

“I’m lost here, my paws have no direction,” Mishka whimpered.

“Show me the pool complex,” Sooleawa said softly.  Mishka smiled and padded with Sooleawa to the pool complex.  Padding to the spar pool, Sooleawa and Mishka settled into the water together, swimming up and down the large spar pool, delighting in the bubbles.  Sooleawa ducked Mishka beneath the water, both bears wrestling beneath the water.  Laughing, they emerged to see Conrad padding near.

“Hey Conrad, Conrad!”  Sooleawa yelled, the blind polar bear stopping his pacing.

“I thought I heard something,” he said uncertainly.

“Well you did,” Sooleawa replied smiling, “come; we’ll swim together, you, me and Mishka.”  Conrad padded near to the spar pool, stopping when the toes of his right forepaw reached into space, Sooleawa smiling and kissing the bear’s paw.

“Come,” Sooleawa said, leading Conrad to the main pool, where they entered the pool at the shallow end.  Sooleawa smiled as Conrad’s paws splashed and sloshed through the water.

“Cute paws,” she observed.  Conrad, laughing, splashed her with his left forepaw, Sooleawa coughing as her mouth filled with water.  Conrad stamped his paws then, water spraying in all directions, Sooleawa engulfed in the tidal wave created.

“Stop it, Conrad, stop it!”  She laughed, “You’re soaking me.”  Conrad stopped stamping the water, just as the wave machine, responsible for most of the waves, got to full power.

“The wave is coming!”  Sooleawa yelled, Mishka and Sooleawa scrambling desperately away.

“Onto my back, now!”  Conrad yelled, feeling the waves rising, engulfing his legs.  Sighing with relief, Conrad felt Sooleawa and Mishka scrambling onto his back, Sooleawa clambering higher onto Mishka’s back just seconds before the wave hit Conrad, breaking over his head, flowing over his back, around Mishka’s desperately clinging paws, and swirling around Conrad’s body, the polar bear’s nose inches from the surface.  Conrad closed his mouth and breathed through his nose, digging his toes into the tiles to stop himself from being slept backwards, preying the wave would subside, and when it did, Conrad turned and fled the water, carrying Mishka and Sooleawa to safety.

“Thanks Conrad,” Mishka panted as the wave sucked back in, and raged again, the pool complex seemingly ankle deep in water as the second wave hit Conrad, the polar bear digging in his toes as he was battered by the water.

“This shouldn’t be happening!”  Mishka yelled, “It’s not possible, well it is, but only if someone turns the wave machine right up!”  Mishka yelled to Conrad to:

“Get me to the control room, now!”  Conrad padded through the sloshing water. The paths now awash with water.  Fortunately, the control room Mishka wanted was in the pool complex.  Once up steps and through a water tight door, and after a pump emptied the little water that had entered, Conrad burst into the main control room to find Whitetip inside, clapping her paws with delight at the mayhem she’d created.

“Isn’t this fun?”  She asked, turning at the sound of the door opening.

“No it’s not!”  Conrad roared, “You nearly drowned Mishka and Sooleawa!  You bloody idiot Whitetip!”  Whitetip stared in fear.

“Show me how to switch off that wave machine!”  Conrad yelled as water washed the outer door of their refuge.

“The button there will shut it off, the red one!”  Whitetip howled, now losing her composure,

“I can’t see a red button, I can’t see a dam thing you bloody idiot, guide my paw, for Eohippus sake!”  Conrad yelled.  Whitetip looked helplessly at Sooleawa, who leapt off Mishka’s back and grabbed the control panel with her forepaws, scrambling over it, pressing buttons with all four paws before finding the emergency stop button and collapsing onto it with all her weight and strength.

“The pumps will start up here,” Whitetip panted.  Conrad, furious, picked Whitetip up by her tail and held her upside down.

“What the hell were you thinking?”  He demanded.

“I was seeing what happened,” Whitetip replied, “I didn’t know I’d cause a tidal wave!”

“You dam near killed a cub!”  Conrad roared.

“I didn’t mean to!”  Whitetip yelled back, trying to bite Conrad’s nose, the polar bear realising what she was about to do a second before she tried it.  Snarling, he threw her forcibly to the floor.

“She’s a bloody menace!”  Conrad roared.

“The water’s going down,” Sooleawa observed.

“That’s good Sooleawa,” Conrad replied, “If it comes in here, you stay on that control panel.”  Sooleawa said she would.

Patch, up in the main control room, saw the goings on in the pool complex and swore lavishly.

“Good for Conrad, good for him!”  He said, clapping his paws, “that bear has got sense.”  Patch padded to the pool complex through the dry route, ending his journey in the control room there.

“Now what’s going on here?”  He asked, a rhetorical question, as he knew already.  Whitetip moaned on the floor, concussed and angry.

“Well done Conrad,” patch said.  Conrad, now shaking with fear of what he’d avoided, sat down on the floor, Mishka sliding off his back with a thud.

“I thought the cubs would die,” Conrad said hoarsely, “I didn’t want the cubs to die!”

“We’re not dead Sooleawa said, clambering off the control panel and dropping into Conrad’s lap, the male polar bear embracing her with damp, water wrinkled paws.

“Your pads are all wrinkled like prunes,” Sooleawa said to Conrad, who kissed her nose and wrinkled forepaws.

“Your pads are wrinkled too,” he said, “bet your hind feet have wrinkled pads too.”  Sooleawa smiled and rolled onto her back, presenting Conrad with her hind paws for him to examine, which he did with his muzzle, feeling wrinkled pads.

“Yes, wrinkled pads too, great!”  Conrad said, blowing onto Sooleawa’s pads, making her wriggle and laugh helplessly.

“You make me so happy Conrad,” Sooleawa said.

“And you me,” Conrad replied.  Sooleawa looked up into Conrad’s face.

“I don’t think you’re gonna have a seizure Conrad, at least it doesn’t feel like you are going to have one.”  Conrad smiled:

“I don’t think I will either,” he replied, “I took my medication today, both the needle and the tablets.”

“I wish someone would needle me, to take away this raging headache!”  Whitetip moaned.

“You deserve slinging into the pool!”  Mishka growled, slapping Whitetip.

“Don’t hurt me!”  Whitetip yowled.

“You need punishment for nearly killing cubs!”  Conrad roared.

“I didn’t know you were going to walk into the middle of my experiment!”  Whitetip yelled.

“Shut it,” Conrad snarled, belting Whitetip round her head with his paw, knocking the otter unconscious.

“Get her out of here,” Conrad growled.  Patch took Whitetip to Blackberry who checked her over.

“Conrad hit her,” Patch said.

“You saw what she did though; she nearly drowned Conrad and Sooleawa!”  Patch snarled, “She’s a danger to us.”  Patch, furious, stormed out of the lie up and back to Conrad and Sooleawa.

“You two all right?”  He asked, Mishka, having vanished to find tea in Sid’s kitchen.  Sooleawa looked at Patch and smiled at him.

“Conrad’s okay now,” she said.  Patch opened up the door into the pool complex and padded across to the main pool.  Looking at the pool, he replayed the scene in his head, the scene of Conrad nearly drowning, with Mishka and Sooleawa on the polar bear’s back.

“Stupid otter!”  He ranted aloud.  Snorting, Patch turned away, padding to the library, where he found Tarker deep in a book as usual.

“What do you want?”  The male otter asked, clearly disinclined to help.

“Tarker, don’t be a wet blanket,” patch said, “I want to ask you about otters, their nature, how they think.”  Tarker, bored, placed a marker in the book and looked at the grey bear.

“What has Whitetip done now?”  He asked.  Patch told him, Tarker laughing uproariously.

“Poor old Conrad,” he yinnied, “but yes, I can see why you want to find out why Whitetip did what she did.  She’s impulsive, very playful, almost silly,” he paused, “veering I’m said not to be,” he grunted.

“So you’re saying she meant no real harm?”  Patch asked.

“No, I don’t think she meant any harm, she’s not malicious,” Tarker replied, “I can assure you of that.  Now, patch, can I please get back to my book?”  Patch lifted the corner of the book and read the cover.

“The works of William Shakespeare,” he read, “wow Tarker, that’s deep,” Patch observed.  Patch placed his paw over the page Tarker was reading to keep the otter’s attention, Tarker slammed the book, trapping Patch’s in the pages.

“It’s what I want to read,” he said defensively.  Patch, removing his paw from beneath the book, waved a farewell, and then padded from the room.  Tarker watched him go, his paws desperate to follow the bear’s out of the room.  Tarker got to his feet, slammed the book into a drawer and followed patch.

“Do you want something?”  Patch asked.  Tarker, as if in a dream, found himself rolling onto his back in the passage and waving his paws at Patch.

       “Is that your way of asking me to stroke your paws?”  Patch asked the male otter.  Tarker nodded.

        “If you don’t want me to, I’ll understand,”  Patch said.  Tarker grunted, pedalling the air with his hind feet, Patch kneeling and catching the otter’s small right forepaw, tickling his pads and toes, Tarker laughing despite his attempts to keep a straight face.  Snowy padded up to Patch and touched his shoulder:

        “Patch,” she said, “please, come, come and sees what’s wrong with Mama Bianca.”  Patch padded with Snowy to Bianca’s lie up.  Bianca lay on her rug, very still, unnaturally still.

        “She’s dead,”  Patch said gently to Snowy, the tigress’s grief darkening her eyes.  Swallowing hard, she tried to maintain her composure, but Patch saw her raw grief.

        “I’ll tell Tommy and little Whitie,” Snowy choked.  Patch rested his paw on Snowy’s, the tigress burying her face in his shoulder, weeping like a cub.

        “We’ll have to bury her quickly,” Patch said.  Snowy whimpered with grief and turned to leave.

      “Do what you must,” she replied, padding out of the room on dragging paws.

      “Poor Snowy,” Patch thought.  Tommy and Whitie padded in then saw their mother’s body, kissed her nose and turning as one, padded from the room.  Patch phoned the badgers, which came and bore Bianca’s body away.

       “We could use Conrad’s unoccupied grave,” Furcone said to her team.  So they did, lowering Bianca’s body into the large grave and burying it deep.  Tommy dug his claws into the hard woodland floor as he saw his mother’s body vanish into the grave.  Snowy and Whitie, inconsolable at the sight of their mother’s body being laid to rest, wept into each other’s coats.  Tommy, grief darkening his eyes, turned and left the funeral site, stamping the ground with his paws as if it was responsible for his mother’s death.  Tommy slammed into the house, very upset and angry, whereas Snowy and Whitie were miserable and grief stricken, subdued and dragging their paws over the hard ground.

      “I’m sorry Tommy,” Patch said as the tiger padded angrily past him.

        “Thank you,” Tommy sniffed, for he had given up being angry, and was crying openly now.

 

Sid got Tommy, snowy and Whitie drinks and food, the tigers sitting down to eat.

        “We must eat food,” Whitie mewed, “but it’s hard, so hard.”  Tommy finished his food and lay down to think.

         “Bianca died of old age,” Patch said,” she was getting on Tommy.”  Tommy whimpered in misery.

        “I thought she’d go on forever,” he mewed.

         “Cuddle up with your sisters and take comfort,” Patch said.  Whitie and snowy padded to Tommy and lay down with him, their paws resting on his hocks and shoulders.

       “Stay with him you two,” Patch said to them.  Patch padded to Tarker’s library, in search of the otter.  Patch found Tarker and Whitetip playing, Whitetip tickling her brother’s paws, While Tarker laughed helplessly.

        “Bianca’s dead,” Patch said, Whitetip and Tarker stopping their play.

       “We’re sorry,” Whitetip said softly.

        “I see Whitetip’s teaching you how to play,” Patch said to Tarker, the male otter grinning.

       “I’m sorry for swamping the pool complex patch,” Whitetip said.

        “You ask Conrad how it was for him,” Patch replied, “you nearly drowned him after all.”  Whitetip padded to Conrad’s lie up, intent on asking him how he felt while the waves covered his head.

        “I was concerned for the cubs, not for myself,” Conrad said firmly, “I held on with all four paws as tightly as I could to the tiles.  Scared? You bet I was.”

      “I’ve just seen the most dreadful thing!”  Snowdrop yelled, running into the lie up, “Conrad, I saw you drowned!”  Conrad smiled:

       “I’m not drowned snowdrop; I’m here, still here.”  Snowdrop, who’d developed into a fun loving, gentle cub, and threw herself at Conrad, who embraced her.

       “I’ve met Sooleawa; she’s so cute, so cute!”  Snowdrop said, “We play often in the soft play room, she’s lovely Conrad!”

       “She saved my life, twice,” Conrad said.  Snowdrop stared:

      “I heard something so improbable, something about the badgers nearly burying you, it was so far fetched I didn’t believe it.”

       “It was true,” Conrad replied wearily.

        “Poor you,” Snowdrop said with genuine feeling.

      “I’m still here,” Conrad said, stretching his paws one by one and yawning expansively.

      “You’ve got big paws Conrad,” Snowdrop said.  Conrad smiled broadly:

        “My paws aren’t as big as Patch’s,” Conrad said softly, “we’ll measure paws if you like, I’ll call him to this lie up, and we can measure paws.”  Snowdrop was in favour of this, and so was Whitetip.

        “Patch,” Conrad said into the telephone, “I want your paws.”  Patch, laughing, enquired:

       “How long for?”

       “Just for a minute, so I can measure mine against yours,” Conrad replied.  Patch, grinning, put the phone down.

     “What was all that about?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “Conrad wants me to measure my paws against his,” he said, “probably something to do with snowdrop and Whitetip.”

        “Measuring paws is something that cubs learn,” Ekaterina said, “that’s something you and I do isn’t it.”  Patch grinned and kissed his mate’s nose.

        “It is,” Patch replied gently, “I love your paws Ekaterina.”

      “I love yours too,” Ekaterina replied softly.  Patch sat down and measured Ekaterina’s hind feet against his, Ekaterina pressing her toes into the larger bear’s sole pad, exploring his paws in relation to hers, finding her toes barely reached the top of the large sole pads of both his hind feet.  Patch, smiling at the realisation Ekaterina’s short claws meant he could curl his toes around hers more easily, curled his toes around Ekaterina’s, Ekaterina working her toes into the embrace of his larger ones.

        “Soppy thing,” Patch said, engulfing his mate’s forepaws in his.

       “I love that,” Ekaterina said smiling, “your pads are so soft and warm patch.”

        “I’m glad you like my pads,” Patch said.  Ekaterina giggled with pleasure as she tugged her right hind foot free from Patch’s toes, and grabbed his left hind foot, tracing his pads and counting his toes.  Patch, laughing, stretched and curled his toes tightly, catching the toes of Ekaterina’s forepaw in hth toes of his left hind foot, holding her paw tight.

       “What could you really do with those paws?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “You mean Digging?”  Patch asked.  Ekaterina smiled and nodded:

        “Can you den like a mama bear?”  She asked.  Patch grinned:

        “I could try,” he replied, “though would love it if you could get paws on with me while I did it.”  Ekaterina laughed:

       “You’re on,” she replied.  Patch got to his feet and bounced on his toes, Ekaterina getting paws on with his fore and hind paws throughout.

        “Your paws are lovely,” she said, “soft fur, warm pads, expressive toes and cute bunching pads.”  Patch giggled, and very gently, rested the pad of his right hind foot on Ekaterina’s left forepaw, trapping her foot gently between his paw and the floor.

       “Go on, put some weight on it,” Ekaterina said.  Patch gently rested his weight on his right hind foot, Ekaterina begging Patch to stop when he was half way through.

      “Okay, that’s it, you’re heavy!”  Ekaterina said.  Patch released his mate, turned, and bowed low to her.

       “I would never hurt you,”  he said softly.

        “Labour hurt me,” Ekaterina replied, knowing Patch would bite, and he did.

       “I’m sorry for that,” he replied, Ekaterina kissing his nose.

        “I hurt myself that last time,”  Ekaterina replied, “the time in the clearing when I could not bring myself to tell you I’d lost your cub.”

      “Don’t think of it any more Ekaterina, please,” Patch said, kneeling and kissing her paws.

         “I would like to touch you while you flick snow about with your paws like,” Ekaterina stopped, unable to verbalise her request.

         “like a cub?”  Patch asked.  Ekaterina, choking on a sudden rush of tears, turned away to leave, Patch stopping her:

       “I’ll do as you ask,” he replied, “It’ll be fun.  Though will you promise me one thing?”  Patch asked.  Ekaterina gulped hard:

       “What?”  She asked.

      “Promise me you’ll try to enjoy the sensation of me kicking the snow and waving my paws in the air?”

      “I will,” Ekaterina replied, “but where will we find snow?”

       “In the arctic room,” Patch replied, “I’ll show you that place.”  Ekaterina had heard of the room, and thought she’d visited once, but couldn’t quite remember.  Patch padded with Ekaterina to the lift, pressed the down button, and guided his mate to the arctic room, where he opened the door and helped her inside.

       “Now there’s a good covering of snow in here, let’s start the atmospherics up shall we?”  He said, pressing buttons on a panel.  A fierce wind began to blow, and snow began to fall from the roof somewhere above their heads.  Ekaterina felt the snow blowing in her face, and piling up around her feet.

      “It’s not deep enough yet for me to start acting like a cub,” Patch said, Ekaterina laughing merrily.

       “I’ll know when it is,” she replied.  Patch smiled as the cold snow enveloped his paws, invigorating his pads and stimulating his senses.

        “How do polar bears wash in the snow?”  Ekaterina asked.  Patch grinned:

        “I will show you that,” he replied, “then you can wash yourself, okay?”  Ekaterina smiled:

       “I’ll enjoy all of that,” she replied.

 

Patch rolled in the snow, Ekaterina exploring him from the minute he started rolling, to the time he was on his back, kicking the air with his paws and wriggling madly to clean his back.  Patch then dug a hole with his forepaws and buried his hind in it one by one, rubbing snow into his pads and toes, as wells all up his legs.  Ekaterina, loving every minute, followed Patch’s forepaws with avid interest.

       “My mama never taught me this, never ever!”  She said, “But then she never had to, what with all the modern things we have here.  Patch, once he’d washed his hind quarters, rolled onto his back and rubbed snow in by viragoes wriggling and kicking of fore and hind paws.  Once this was done, Patch rolled onto his belly and dragged himself through the snow he’d kicked up to clean his belly fur.  Once that was done, he sat down heavily and attended to his face, washing behind his ears and around his eyes and nose.  Then lastly, to his forelimbs and forepaws, washing his paws carefully, Ekaterina always attending always paws on throughout.  Once he’d washed himself from nose to tail, patch got up and, grinning delightedly, shook water all over Ekaterina, soaking her from nose to paws.

       “Oi, that’s bloody cold!”  She squealed.

       “Now why don’t you wash your fur and paws,” Patch suggested.  Ekaterina, laughing like a cub, repeated Patch’s washing ritual stage by stage.  Patch and Ekaterina washed each other’s fur and paws in stingingly cold snow.  This done, the two bears hugged each other tightly.

       “Now let’s go from here,” Ekaterina said.  Patch smiled and kissed her nose.

       “why not explore here for a while,”  he suggested, “come, I’ll show you a thing or two about this place.”  Patch led Ekaterina to a den, Ekaterina smiling and beckoning to patch as she crawled deeper into the den.  Ekaterina smiled and embraced Patch in the freezing den, Patch snuggling up to his mate with gratitude and pleasure.

       “You are so soft and warm Ekaterina,” Patch said gently.

       “If only I could have cubs safely,” Ekaterina said wistfully.

         “I wish you could more than anyone Ekaterina,” patch said softly.

        “I adopted Tiguak, but I know now what I felt was a false labour,” Ekaterina said, “though I would give anything to be able to deliver a cub normally.”

         “I would too Ekaterina,” Patch replied, “but it’s too dangerous for you to deliver the cub.”

       “I don’t want to be cut open either,” Ekaterina replied, “I don’t want that Patch.”

       “So you want to deliver a cub, but you know it would kill the cub, I offer you a solution, but you don’t want that either,” Patch replied.  Ekaterina huffed with frustration:

      “Yes, that’s true,” she replied.

       “Ekaterina, Ekaterina!”  Someone yelled, and then snow blurred Patch’s vision as someone ran into the arctic room and up to the den.

       “Shit its cold!”  Perdita yelled, “My paws, my poor paws!”

      “Why come in here then?”  Ekaterina asked.

       “We found a mama bear, she was sitting on, then lying on the floor groaning and pedalling the air with her paws, her pedalling has stopped now, but there’s something inside her, something kicking to get out!”  Ekaterina ran from the arctic room, Patch bullying Perdita out of the room in her wake, Ekaterina following Perdy’s scent out into the woodland, and along the track to a clearing where she found a dead sow bear.  Ekaterina felt her warm body beneath her paws, though the mother bear was dead.  Slipping a paw inside, she found everything closed down and reaching her goal impossible.  Huffing with anger, and whimpering with fear and dread, Ekaterina tore at the dead mother bear’s belly, ripping through skin and muscles with careful paws but frantic mind, trying not to do too much damage.  Ekaterina, tearing and touching, felt her way inside, her paw contacting a dry little body, which drew up its hind feet and kicked gently against her exploring paw.  Ekaterina drew the cub into the world, biting the cord and clearing the cub’s nose of mucus and fluid, the cub screaming lustily at the feel of cold air on its tiny body.

        “That was amazing!”  Perdita yelled, while Patch, turning away, vomited into the bushes at the edge of the clearing.

         “Patch,” Ekaterina said, “I’ve got a cub here, and I think I’ve got a cub here anyway.”  Patch looked at a tiny brown bear cub in Ekaterina’s paws.

       “Who’s the mother?”  Patch asked.

        “I don’t know,” Ekaterina replied.  Patch looked at the mother’s face, her eyes and mouth open, her eyes glazed in death, her mouth open in her last agonised scream of effort and pain.

         “I’ll have to take a paw print,” patch said heavily, “I don’t know her.”

        “You’re not going to cut her paws off are you?”  Perdita asked, her eyes fascinated.

       “No,”  Patch replied, “I’ll scan her paw print, we stored all community prints in a database before sire Koda died.  Since then, all cubs have been printed, as have any new members of the community who come in on foot.  I’ll go find the machine to identify her.”  Patch stroked the mother bear’s sweat soaked fur, then padded back to the house, finding the paw print machine and checking it had charge before taking it out into the wood.  Placing the dead sow bear’s left forepaw on the machine, Patch pressed the recognise button, and waited.  There was a beep, then a double beep as the machine began and ended its scan.  Patch then heard the sound he dreaded, a positive bell, meaning a match had been found.

        “It’s Roxanne,”  Patch said dully as he read the screen, “the cub Nuru rescued and Brunetta brought up, remember her?”  Ekaterina did.

       “How did she get like this?”  she asked, “in labour in the woods without anyone realising?”

       “She left the community some years back to seek her fortune, and when she failed, she came back in cub,” A voice said behind Ekaterina’s shoulder.  Ekaterina turned her head and saw lioness Rowena.

         “How did she arrive here?”  She asked.  Lioness Rowena replied:

      “She padded into the woods, then crawled, then sat, then wriggled and rolled, then kicked and screamed, and died delivering her cub.”

       “I’ll get this cub into warmth and give it food, then show me,” Ekaterina said.

       “You’ll hate it,” lioness Rowena replied.

        “I need to know how this cub came to be here, and how her mother felt,” Ekaterina said, “I want to, want to mother her properly.”  Patch stared at his mate:

         “You’ll regret this,” he said, “you won’t deliver a cub; it’ll be a fantasy birth, just like Tiguak’s.  Ekaterina, don’t do it!”  He pleaded.

         “She’ll feel as if this cub’s hers, I promise,” lioness Rowena said, “Perdita will realise what she did wrong though, for she could have saved Roxy, but she didn’t, she stood and watched Roxy struggle and kick.”

       “Show me,” Ekaterina said again, “I rescued this cub, no thanks to Perdita, who could have told me sooner, and didn’t.  Bitch!  I’ll tear your throat out bitch!”

        “Ekaterina, leave it, leave her for now,”  patch pleaded, “deliver your cub if you want, do your experiment, if lioness Rowena can make you experience what this mother bear did, then do it, if you think it will help!”  Ekaterina, angered from her nose to her paws, shook with emotion and fury.

        “I will,” Ekaterina said, “I will scream and kick and yell, and then I will look after the cub, for I will survive, then, once the cub is safe, I will deal with Perdita!”

        “Take me with you Ekaterina,” Patch whispered, “I’ll let you get paws on, and you can feel my pain with your mind while exploring with your paws what poor Roxy went through.  I’m sick to my stomach, and am as desperate as you to look after that cub.  I want no pain relief, none, for I am in pain already.  Heart wrenching, grief and anger for the needless death of a fellow community member.  I’ll re-enact, and we’ll get through this together.”

         “I’ll tell you how the mother bear felt if you show me how her body struggled and fought,” Ekaterina said to Patch.  Patch looked at lioness Rowena.

       “Make it so Rowena, tell us how it was for poor Roxanne while Perdita looked on, watching a mama bear die delivering her cub.”

         “Go out onto the road,” lioness Rowena said, “There I will begin Roxy’s tale, for it was there she came into my sight.  Ekaterina left the cub with Lilly, who fed the cub on milk and warm cuddles.

 

Returning to Patch who stood on the road, Ekaterina knew she was in for the ride from hell.

 

So it turned out to be, a story of despaired and hopelessness, sweating paws and a desperate struggle to deliver a cub.  Patch paced and paced, then crawled, then sat down and rocked back and fourth on his backside before lying on his back and kicking the air with his hind feet, before drawing up his hind legs and grabbing his hind feet with his forepaws, gripping them as tightly as he curled his toes.  Ekaterina could feel Roxy’s pain throughout, to say nothing of her fear and anguish as she tried, and failed to deliver her cub.  No matter what she did, she could not deliver her cub.  Worse was that Perdita, having seen much, did nothing to help.  She just stood on the edge of the clearing, watching Roxy’s struggles.  When it was all over, and Patch lay exhausted and crying bitterly into the leaves, Ekaterina, as exhausted and emotional as her mate, rested her head on his shoulder and burst into tears.

        “I will take care of that cub now,” Ekaterina whispered to Patch.

        “Yeah,” he sniffed, “Ekaterina, how could Perdita not help that poor mama bear?  She, she died cubbing!”

          “It’s awful isn’t it,” Ekaterina said, her anger making her feel unwell, “I know how she felt, and know what Perdita saw.  Maybe Perdita didn’t realise what she was seeing.  Maybe she’d never watched her birth video, though I doubt that very much.”  Angry, Patch got to his feet, shaking leaves and snow off his fur.

       “I need a drink,” he replied.  Ekaterina smiled and took his paw, both walking into the house together, settling down in their lie up.

       “I feel dreadful!”  Ekaterina said, “That poor bear, poor Roxanne, poor mama,” Ekaterina whimpered.  Patch hugged her tightly, kissing her nose and paws, his anger at Perdita tempered by the sight of lily carrying the cub into the lie up.  Smiling, Ekaterina took the little cub from Lilly and hugged her close, the female cub snuggling into her fur.

        “How did the mother bear have her cub if she was dead before it was born?”  Ekaterina asked, “All that part is a bit of a confused time for me.”

       “You rescued the cub from her mother’s belly Ekaterina,”  Patch replied, “you performed what the humans would call a caesarean section, though it wasn’t as neat as they’d do it, you saved the cub just in time.”

       “It’s a pity I couldn’t save her mother too,” Ekaterina said sadly, “but I will try to be a good mother to this cub.”

       “I want to find out why Perdita saw Roxy struggling and did nothing!”  Patch grumbled, “She was saveable, if only we’d known sooner!”

       “Maybe she didn’t know what was happening to Roxy,” Ekaterina replied, “maybe she didn’t recognise labour for what it was.”

       “Aren’t you meant to be able to sense mother’s in labour?”  Lilly asked,

      “Only when I’m asleep, and only if they cry out for spiritual help,” Patch replied, “if poor Roxy cried out using her voice, calling to Perdita to help her, and Perdita didn’t, then that’s too awful too.”

      “We know she did,”  Ekaterina said sadly, now though, it’s up to us to look after her living cub.”

        “I saw what you didn’t do!”  Someone yelled, Patch getting to his feet and going to the door, only to have Perdita literally thrown at him by an angry mama bear he’d never seen before.

      “Oooah!”  Patch grunted as Perdita’s body slammed into his.

      “I saw what this cub did!”  The mama bear yelled, stamping her big paws and looking very indignant as well as upset and on the edge of tears.

      “Who are you?”  Patch asked.  The mama bear looked at him, she was grey with the biggest paws on a mother bear he’d ever seen, they were huge, her hind feet spreading her weight amply.

       “What did you see?”  Patch asked.  The bear, evidently a mother to many cubs in her lifetime, looked so upset Patch felt he wanted to hug her.

        “I sees everything,” the mother bear replied, “I see this cub watching another mama die, I watched, I couldn’t ‘elp, not with my paws, look at ‘em, them’s ‘uge!”  Patch smiled at the mother bear’s English, possibly worse than Kuruk’s it was, though entertaining, while Kuruk’s grated on some.

       “Go on,” Patch urged.

         “Well I’m in the woods, and I see this mamma bear struggling, I want to make sure she doesn’t come to no ‘arm, you see, I am a mother too, many times over.  I watches, seeing ma’s struggle, then she die.  I know of this place, it good places for bears, and death of cub make me very sad.  I say to myself, Dorothy, the only way you can ‘elp this mama now is to pray for her, so I does, I kneels on the cold ground and preys for that cub.  Eo’ippus I pray to.  She is a mare, and a gentle mare she is.  I think you know of her.”  Patch smiled.

      “Well Dorothy, I am thankful to you for praying for our lost community member.”

        “I felt it was right,” Dorothy replied.

       “Your actions are noticed by this community, and we thank you for your compassion for our dead friend,” Ekaterina said rather formally.  Dorothy looked at her, smiling broadly.

       “I come to you to let you know I prayed for your dead friend,” Dorothy said.  Patch knelt and lifting Dorothy’s right forepaw, kissed it respectfully, Dorothy laughing with embarrassment.

      “You kiss my paw as if I am worth more than gold to a rich ‘uman, or salmon to a starving bear,” Dorothy said.  Patch rested his head on her shoulder in a signal of friendship.

        “I’m sure to Roxy, your prayers for her meant the world,” Patch said softly.  Dorothy, now visibly upset, swallowed hard, tears filling her eyes.

       “I’s only a simple bear,”  she choked, “I ‘ope I did right.”  Patch kissed her nose, smelling her scent strongly.

         “you did right,”  Patch said gently.  Ekaterina padded to Dorothy and touched her paw.

        “Hello mama,”  she said respectfully.  Dorothy looked at Ekaterina’s face, knelt and kissed her forepaws without lifting them off the floor, a deeper sign of humility than Patch had shown to her.

       “You are welcome mama,” Ekaterina said softly.  Dorothy looked into Ekaterina’s sightless eyes.

        “You re-enacted Roxy’s birth pains, I sees that,” she said.

        “We know her struggles,” Patch said, “Ekaterina and I, um, well, re-enact births.”  Dorothy smiled.

       “You ‘ave a talent for that, or so the birds say,” Dorothy said.  Patch reached out and touched a scarf around the mother bear’s neck.

       “That’s my cub Mark’s scarf, ‘e left me it when ‘e left me to go ‘is own way.  ‘E’s sweet like that.”

        “hello mama,”  a large brown bear said, shuffling up to Dorothy and kissing her nose, before removing the scarf with gentle care from around the mama bear’s neck.

        “Who’s this?”  Ekaterina asked.  Mark smiled, bowed, and kissed Ekaterina’s paws.

       “We will do as the community does mama,” mark said to Dorothy, “we will let Ekaterina get paws on with us.”  Dorothy smiled and nodded, padding into the lie up and sitting down, Mark joining her.

       “Dorothy has huge forepaws and hind feet,” patch said.  Ekaterina found this out by touch, Dorothy smiling as her paws were caressed by Ekaterina’s.

      “Make sure you explore my pads and toes with thoroughness and care,” she said smiling.  Ekaterina did, feeling Dorothy’s toes curling with pleasure and excitement at her touch.

        “You do know great pain and great pleasure don’t you mama,” Ekaterina said.  Dorothy smiled and replied:

       “Yes I do know great pleasure and great pain.”

       “Mark hurt you on his way into the world didn’t he,” Ekaterina said.  Dorothy smiled and nodded.

     “’is paws were big, is body too, I pushed and wriggled, wriggled and pushed, fighting my body and my pain to deliver the cub I knew was living inside me.”

       “But you did it mama, and loved me dearly,” mark said, wrapping the scarf around his neck and kissing his mother’s nose.  Dorothy grinned happily.

        “How many cubs have you raised?”  Patch asked her.

       “Um, er,” Dorothy replied, playing for time, “um, ah,” she counted using the toes on her hind paws, “um, seven, Mark was my last.  Two, then two, then two, then, one, thank Eo’ippus Mark was just the one cub, ‘e was ‘uge when I’s giving birth to ‘im!”  Ekaterina smiled at Dorothy’s sloppy pronunciation, if anyone else had spoken like that, mark for instance, it would have sounded false, but when Dorothy dropped her has, it sounded natural.  Mark was a well spoken bear, and, as Ekaterina found out later, also devoted to his mother when he was with her, grooming and playing with her.

 

Ekaterina found Dorothy’s body large and well padded with fat.  It was as if she’d packed on pounds for the winter.

       “Were you going to hibernate?”  Ekaterina asked, “Are you pregnant Dorothy?”  Dorothy smiled:

      “No, I am not pregnant, though sleeping through the winter was my intention.”

       “Were you looking for a den when you found Roxy?”  Patch asked.  Dorothy nodded sadly.

       “I saw the struggling mother, and then found the cub who’d watched ‘er, got furious with the cub, carried ‘er into the house, and then threw ‘er into the first lie up I found.”

      “Throwing her at Patch in the process,” Ekaterina said.  Dorothy grunted:

      “Sorry ‘bout that Patch,” she said.

      “I’m sorry too, that hurt!”  Perdita yelled.

      “Shut it Perdita!”  Patch snarled.

      “It’s Perdy!”  Perdita complained.

      “When I’m angry with you, I’ll call you whatever I wish,” Patch growled, “Perdita you are named, so Perdita I call you!”  Perdita sulked to herself, furious with patch.

       “You are a bad bad cub for lettin’ poor mama die like you did,”  Dorothy said, her tone much like the one she’d used when scolding mark when he was young, as Mark looked at his mother with surprise and shock.

       “You can’t talk to her like that, she’s not your cub!”  he remonstrated, “mama, you can’t say that.”

      “I can say it, as she ‘asn’t had good training from her mama if she leave poor labouring mama to die in the wood now Mark, that very bad thing, very bad thing indeed,”  was Dorothy’s reply.  Ekaterina, paws on with Dorothy’s right hind foot, explored her large toes and thick sole pad, Dorothy smiling , curling and stretching her toes with pleasure.

        “You played with your paws when you were young didn’t you mama,”  Ekaterina said.  Dorothy laughed:

      “I plays even now,”  she said, “plays with my toes that is, rubbing my pads and kneading my toes with my forepaws, as if I can stretch them a little, you know?”  Ekaterina knew the kind of play.

        “Do you play with your paws too mark?”  Patch asked the brown bear sitting nearby.

       “I, um, er, yes,”  he replied hesitantly, “I do, my mama said it was okay!”  he protested.

       “it is,”  Patch replied, “and for others to play with your paws too is well thought of here.”  Mark looked relieved.

        “Good,”  he replied airily, “I’m not committing a sin then.”

       “It would be a sin not to play with your paws,”  Ekaterina said, Dorothy grinning hugely..  Ekaterina stroked Dorothy’s pads, then gently worked the toes of her right forepaw into the space between the sole pad and toe pads of Dorothy’s left hind foot, stroking the sensitive skin there.  Dorothy gasped and curled her toes as best she could, Ekaterina feeling the pressure of the mama bear’s toes on hers.

       “you’re sending ma into private places,”  mark said smiling.  Dorothy laughed:

        “it’s a feeling I last got when a cub touched my toes in that way when I was younger,”  she said, “I was a cub, and this female cub was stroking my pads, in fact we was stroking each other’s pads and toes, and she worked her tiny toes into the space you have yours Ekaterina, I couldn’t believe the sensation then, and it’s amazing years later.”  Ekaterina giggled softly.

        “I know how you felt,”  she said, “we encourage cubs to play with each other’s paws, to do what I’m doing with your paws.”  Dorothy laughed merrily and curled her toes around Ekaterina’s.

        “Your toes are big and strong,”  Patch remarked, Dorothy laughing merrily.

       “they is, I suppose, she said, I climb quite a bit, even now when I’s old and fat.”  Ekaterina laughed merrily and kissed Dorothy’s nose.

       “Now let’s wash your paws,”  Ekaterina said.  Dorothy, expecting this, grinned:

       “I’s ‘eard of this paw washing thing, it’s a great thing in this place.”

     “I won’t wash your paws if you don’t want,”  Ekaterina replied.  Dorothy looked shocked.

       “But I does want it, very much!”  she whimpered.

       “Okay,”  Ekaterina said smiling, “though I have a cub to look after, I need to feed her, though she’s slept until now.  I’ll leave you with Patch.”

   Dorothy looked at the now screaming cub.

       “she needs food, you go,”  Patch said to his mate, Ekaterina running out of the room carrying the shrieking cub.

        “Now we’ll go to the bathroom,”  Patch said to Dorothy, “how about if Mark comes with us?”  mark smiled and got to his feet, shuffling after his mother.

       “Can’t you lift your feet properly?”  Perdita asked Mark as he shuffled past her.

      “No,”  Mark replied, “I was hit by a car years ago, and my back was hurt.  Now I can hardly lift my hind feet, though crawling is okay, and I can feel everything.  So I can still play with my own hind feet thank goodness, if I’m careful and concentrate on moving my hind feet towards my forepaws.”

      “Does walking hurt you?”  patch asked.  Mark shook his head, “it’s slow, not painful.  I do get pain sometimes, but can move slowly, I can flex my toes okay too.”

         “I’ll work on Mark if you work on Dorothy sire Patch,”  Georgia said.  Mark looked at the shaggy little she bear padding into the lie up, and liked her instantly.

        “You look playful,”  he said.  Georgia laughed:

      “I try to be,”  she said, “especially with paws, I love playing with paws.”

      “So do I,”  mark replied, “it’s so good paw play is.”  Georgia and Mark touched noses, both laughing uproariously.

      “Silly,”  Georgia said smiling.  Mark pushed her onto her back and tickled her hind paws, Georgia squirming and waving her forepaws in the air, her hind kicking the air furiously..

       “You have such cute hind paws,”  mark said, catching Georgia’s left hind foot in his paws and tracing her pads and toes.

       “cute paws,”  Mark mused.  Georgia giggled with delight.

        “I’m available for play any time,”  she said, “my paws especially want play.”  Mark grinned and kissed Georgia’s nose.

       “Your fur is so silky soft!”  mark said to Georgia, “and your paw pads, they’re soft and warm, and cubbish, though you’re clearly no cub.”  Georgia grinned:

       “I’m small,”  she said, “but my cubbish paws are maintained that way through rigorous care and bathing.  They are my best asset.”

        “Your personality is your best asset,”  mark replied, “though your hind paws are very cute too.”  Dorothy looked at Georgia, then at her son cub, smiling at both.

       “Love him Georgia,”  she said.  Georgia smiled and nodded.

       “I’ll see how well our paws fit together first,”  she said, “Mark, what paw games do you know?”  mark smiled broadly:

       “I know the trapped paw game,”  he said, “I also know the catching toes game.”  Georgia giggled:

        “I know both those games,”  she replied, “the trapped paw game best of all.”  Mark laughed merrily.

      “My hind feet know those games,”  he replied, “I played the trapped paw game with mama for hours one day, we just couldn’t free our paws, her paws stuck to mine and mine stuck to hers so hard we spent hours working toes and pads free, inch by inch.”

     “That was such fun,”  Dorothy said smiling.

      “It was mama, it was,”  mark replied, “we took hours freeing our feet in the den.  First heels, then soles, then toes.  We had a set back early on, where our feet touched before they’d been told not to, and we got stuck harder than ever. But with a little work, we got ourselves out of that again.”

       “it felt wonderful,”  Dorothy replied, her toes curling with the memory of the game she and her cub had played for fully four hours in their den on a windy, snowy day in his early life when to venture out of the den would have been highly dangerous.

        “I treasure that memory mama,”  mark said.  Dorothy, smiling, waved to him.

       “I’s up for playing again,”  she said, “I’s sure they wouldn’t mind here.”  Mark looked at Georgia who grinned back:

       “It would be a pleasure to watch,”  she replied.

        “We’re never to old to play,”  mark said, “it’s just sad we were separated before our time.  I was taken from my den as a yearling, and shipped to a zoo, from which I escaped a month ago.  I don’t know what mama Dorothy did during the years I was away.”

       “We’ll bathe, eat, then talk,” Dorothy replied, “just as these good people wish us to.”  Patch led Dorothy to the bathtub and filled the tub with water.  Dorothy watched with interest as Patch worked the taps and then turned to her.  Smiling, she touched his shoulder.

       “I likes your long grey fur and white paw pads Patch,”  she said softly.  Patch grinned broadly and beckoned Dorothy into the water.

       “You have had many cubs by other bears,”  Patch said, “I am Ekaterina’s mate, and swear myself to her.”

      “This I knows well enough,”  Dorothy said.  Ekaterina, listening at the door, padded in.

       “Patch,”  she said, her voice strong, though she was trembling inside, “if, if you feel it is right to mate with Dorothy, please, don’t let me stand in your way.  You have been true to me all these years, and I cannot let you remain chained to me.”  Patch looked at Ekaterina, knowing what she meant.

      “have at least one more cub with a fertile female,”  Ekaterina said, “I have my paws full with my own cub.”  Patch smiled and said:

      “Come to me Ekaterina,”  Ekaterina padded to the water’s edge, Patch resting his paw on hers.

        “Are you sure?”  he asked.  Ekaterina kissed his nose and then turned away, pulling her paw forcefully from beneath Patch’s.

        “Now I’m leaving to attend to a screaming cub,”  Ekaterina said distractedly, “do what you want patch, mate with Dorothy if it feels right.”  Patch stared after his mate as she left, then turned to Dorothy.

        “You can’t mate with me can you,”  Dorothy replied.  Patch looked into Dorothy’s face, taking in her thick grey fur and gentle wise eyes, her air of patience and gentility, as if she’d seen much, lost more, and forgiven many.  Patch, humbled by her eyes, took her paw.

         “You mama have done much in your life, have suffered losses, and celebrated triumphs.  What do you want from me, a fat old well fed grey bear.”

        “You be the master of this house,”  Dorothy said, “if you want mate with me, you only have to ask, though, if you will permit, I would like to play first, see if you really are as healthy as you look.”  Patch laughed merrily.

      “Let’s go to the adult play room to, play, as you put it,”  he said.  Ekaterina, sitting outside the door, but able to hear every word, smiled to herself.

        “good luck to you Patch,”  she thought.  Patch smiled as he saw his mate sitting on a beanbag, feeding the yet unnamed newborn cub from a bottle.

       “Come here Patch,”  Ekaterina said.  Patch left Dorothy, Padding to Ekaterina, fully expecting a slap and stern words from her for his folly in the bathtub, ended receiving a kiss to his nose and damp paws.

     “Wash Dorothy, wash her from nose to tail, and take the adventure which comes to you patch,”  Ekaterina said softly.  Patch looked into her face and wished he hadn’t.  Ekaterina’s eyes were full of tears.

        “I cannot mate with Dorothy,”  patch said.  Ekaterina smiled sadly:

        “I’m sad for what I can’t give you patch,”  Ekaterina said, “Give Dorothy what she wants, and what you are destined to give her.”

       “I can’t,”  Patch replied.  Ekaterina smiled and said:

      “Patch, please, lift your left forepaw, so that I may kiss it.”  Patch lifted his left forepaw and Ekaterina kissed the furry, damp top.

       “turn your paw over,”  Ekaterina said, Patch doing so, Ekaterina kissing his pads.

       “please patch, my tears are for what I cannot give you, not because you are capable of giving to another what is your destiny.”

        “Come,”  Patch said to Dorothy, “let’s wash properly, as Ekaterina wants us to.”  Dorothy knelt and kissed Ekaterina’s nose and paws.

       “Thank you,”  she whispered.  Ekaterina smiled and kissed her nose, smelling her wild, earthy, living scent.

       “come,”  Patch said to Dorothy, leading her to the bathtub.  Dorothy smiled and followed Patch to the bathtub, where she helped Patch into the water, sitting opposite him in the water, their hind feet touching beneath the surface.  Patch’s toes, only slightly larger than the mama bear’s, curled around Dorothy’s, the she bear laughing and pressing her hind feet tightly against Patch’s.  Patch felt Dorothy grip the toes of his right hind foot with her forepaw, curling his toes more tightly around hers, Patch curling his toes as tightly as he could, Dorothy smiling at his effort.

        “Can you curl them any tighter?”  Dorothy asked.  Patch smiled and replied:

       “Like you did while you laboured having Mark?”  he asked.  Dorothy nodded.

       “yes,”  Patch said, “if you want a reflection of how your own toes curled, I can show you.”  Dorothy smiled and rubbed the tops of Patch’s curled toes.

       “go on,”  she said, “show me.”  So patch did, Dorothy squealing as her toes were crushed in the desperately curling toes of a labouring mother.

       “Wow!”  Dorothy panted, “that’s amazing!”  Patch grinned:

      “I took that straight from you and gave it back as I felt it,”  he replied, “pain and all.”

       “You know ‘ow it was to deliver a cub the size of Mark don’t you,”  Dorothy said.  Patch smiled broadly.

       “I do know,”  he replied softly, releasing his grip on her toes, and presenting his hind foot to her so she could squeeze his toes.

       “You make me feel as if I could show you everything, even what I did during mark’s birth,”  Dorothy said, “I’d like to show you that.”

       “I’d like to see it, if you’re agreeable,”  patch said, “first though, let’s wash your fur and paws.”  Dorothy smiled:

       “I’ll show you one day.” Patch washed Dorothy’s paws, the she bear troubled by Ekaterina’s tears.

       “Why Patch,”  she asked, “why did Ekaterina become tearful when she realised me and you were together?”

      “She’s grieving for what she can’t give me,”  Patch replied, “Ekaterina wishes she could deliver me a cub, and so do I wish she could, but she can’t.”  Dorothy asked the question Patch knew she would.

      “Why can’t she ‘ave cubs?”

      “The cub dies during its birth,”  Patch replied, “becomes separated from the birth sac too soon, and suffocates.”  Dorothy was horrified.

       “’ow awful!”  she whimpered.

       “yes,”  Ekaterina said, padding into the room, “it is, it’s awful all right.”  Dorothy looked at the mama bear with terrified eyes.

        “You could ‘ave your cub by operation,”  she said.  Ekaterina shook her head:

       “I want to deliver my cubs normally,”  she replied.

         “I saw what ‘appened to Roxy’s cub,”  Dorothy said, “’ow you saved ‘er cub n’all.  I saw it all Ekaterina.”  Ekaterina smiled:

        “I saved that cub didn’t I,”  she said softly.

       “You did, you did that,”  Dorothy replied.

       “Dorothy,”  Ekaterina said, “please, have Patch’s cub, deliver it with love and care for it as I know you are able to.”  Dorothy smiled and left the bathtub, kneeling in front of Ekaterina and kissing her nose and paws, before rolling onto her back, presenting mama Ekaterina with access to the soles of her paws and belly as a signal of submission .  Ekaterina, recognising the gesture for what it was, smiled and kissed Dorothy’s nose and paw pads, touching her paws and belly with her own forepaws, before pulling Dorothy up into a sitting position, sitting opposite her, then curling her toes around Dorothy’s, pressing her pads against the mama bear’s.

        “Forget me Dorothy,”  Ekaterina said, “treat Patch as if he is fresh from the woods, meet him in the woods if you like, mate with him there if it would help you.”  Dorothy kissed Ekaterina’s nose:

       “as long as I ‘ave your blessing to mate with your mate, I will do that,”  she replied.  Ekaterina kissed Dorothy’s nose, the grey she bear almost choking on tears.

       “You go into the woods and meet my mate there,”  Ekaterina said.

 

Patch listened intently, sitting in the bathtub.  Smiling, he got out of the tub, kissed Ekaterina’s nose and left the house, padding through the woods, and dirtying his fur and paws by rolling on the cold ground ,shuffling through leaves  and breaking the skin of ice on pad freezing puddles to wet his paws.  Patch looked at the log flume’s canals, seeing ice on them.

      “That wouldn’t be safe to run the flume in,”  he thought, “and the ride would be a cold one.”  Patch heard Dorothy pad up behind him.

       “What is that?”  she asked, waving a forepaw at the flume’s canals.

        “that’s a log flume Dorothy dear,”  patch said.  Dorothy smiled:

       “I’d like to ride that someday,”  she said.  Patch looked into the water.

       “It’s icy in there, and probably not safe to turn the pumps on in case the ice damages them,”  Patch replied, “a pre mating ride on the flume is impossible Dorothy dear.”

        “let’s ride it sometime later then,”  Dorothy said.  Patch turned to her and hugged her tightly.

         “Now let’s get paws on,”  Patch said, getting into a crawling posture.  Dorothy, smiling, kissed patch’s nose.  Patch then went to the lagoon, and breaking all the rules, leapt in and swam one length, before getting out and shaking himself dry.  Padding round to Dorothy, he touched her nose with a damp forepaw.

      “You shouldn’t swim in the lagoon patch!”  the speakers hidden in the trees yelled out, “you know that you stupid, love struck bear!”  Patch, now high on excitement turned to the camera and stuck his tongue out at it, Dorothy screeching with laughter.

       “We’ll deal with you later!”  the speakers yelled.

 

Swearing, Nanuq banged his paw on the control room desk:

     “Stupid bear, stupid bear!”  he ranted.

       “The flume was off, he knew that,”  Ekaterina said, having joined Nanuq in the control room, “Nanuq, please, this is hard enough for him already, you saw what he did to make sure I was happy with the arrangement.  Patch is probably really chewed up about all this.”

 

Indeed, Patch, feeling a mix of hatred of himself for mating with another bear than Ekaterina, despite her assurances, and elation  he was able to mate at all, tried to keep his paws on the ground.

        “Mate with her, love her, go on!”  Ekaterina begged aloud, though Patch couldn’t hear her she was sure.

 

Ekaterina’s voice came over the speakers, her desperation clear to Patch and to Dorothy also.

        “I will Ekaterina love,”  Patch said, “though I do it with my love for you intact.”

      “And I tell you to mate with Dorothy with no hatred for you in my heart, and a wish for you to do your duty,”  Ekaterina said.  Patch looked to the camera, his eyes full of tears.

      “Go to him Ekaterina,”  Nanuq said, “I’ll direct you to the spot where he is.”  This Nanuq did, seeing Ekaterina meeting with Patch.  Ekaterina helped patch to his hind feet, then kissed his nose, holding his forepaws in hers.  Patch, shaking his forepaws free, embraced his mate, Ekaterina and he standing on their hind feet, paws around each other.

       “They look like two humans,”  Tiguak said to Nanuq, smiling to herself as she watched.

       “They do, and they are truly in love,”  Nanuq said, “it’s wonderful to see how devoted they are to each other.”

      “it is said their love started when they were cubs,”  Tiguak replied, “is this true?  He’s not of mama Kamchatka is he?”

       “No,”  patch is of Aga, but came to mama Kamchatka as a grown up cub.  he had no way of knowing what it was to be a cub before his tenth year.  Now he knows how to crawl, and how to play, but he always knew how to love.  Ekaterina felt this, and loved him well then as now.  Patch loves her dearly too, as shown by his reluctance to mate with Dorothy.”

       “Mate with Dorothy patch, please,”  Ekaterina begged, “I know you would rather mate with me, but I couldn’t bare the outcome if our cub died, and I know it would tear you apart too.  Love Dorothy, for if you love her, she will love her cub, and will deliver it with love and gentility.  Then she will love the cub outside of her body too.”  Patch kissed her nose:

        “I will,”  patch replied, “and thank you Ekaterina, thank you for understanding Dorothy and her needs.”

      “Yours too,”  Ekaterina  said, “you need to mate Patch, it’s your destiny, your duty to mate with female bears.”  Patch smiled and hugged his mate tighter.

       “I will mate with them, but truly, deeply love you Ekaterina,”  he whispered.

 

Ekaterina left Patch alone, dropping onto all four paws and turning, walking straight into Dorothy who stood just behind her.

     “Oh, um, ah, sorry,”  Ekaterina mumbled, her mind elsewhere.

       “What’s that swelling on your shoulder Ekaterina?”  Dorothy asked.  Ekaterina hesitated:

        “I had my implant renewed,”  she replied, it’s a contraceptive, just in case Patch and I mated, then, then I’d not have a cub, and it wouldn’t die inside me while I struggled to deliver it in time.”

        “Does ‘e ‘ave a contraceptive too?”  Dorothy asked.  Ekaterina sighed:

        “yes,”  she replied, “he can’t do it Dorothy,”  Dorothy strode up to patch and belted him across the face, patch falling into the water with a splash.

       “What are you doing!”  Ekaterina yelled.

       “’e told me ‘e could do it!”  Dorothy yelled.

       “he didn’t, he said he’d try!”  Ekaterina whimpered, listening as Patch splashed clumsily back to the side of the lagoon and hauled himself out.

         “I couldn’t do it Dorothy,”  Patch said, “I can’t, I won’t!  I know my duty is to sire cubs, but I’m not leader because of that.  I’m leader through consent and election.  There are other male bears, my brother Kuruk, he might oblige you, but I can’t, and won’t, my bond with Ekaterina is too strong, then there’s the contraceptive and all that, of which I’d totally forgotten.  I had a jab a few days back, and in the rush of things, had forgotten it.  Ekaterina’s skin reaction is worse than mine, well, she can’t abide needles in her rump, I can, so you didn’t notice my lump.  I’m sorry Dorothy, but I can’t mate with you to produce cubs, and, and I won’t.”

       “So you lead me on for nothing?”  Dorothy yelled, “you spiteful brute!”

         “I’m sorry, I forgot I couldn’t sire cubs,”  Patch mumbled.

         “you are no use!”  Dorothy yelled.

        “No use?”  mark enquired, shuffling into view, “I’ve been talking to his brother, and Kuruk is some use.”

      “I didn’t mean Kuruk, whomever ‘e is,”  Dorothy yelled, “I meant Patch is no use, ‘e ‘ad an implant, and ‘e led me on, and now I’s all ready, and ‘e tells me ‘e can’t do it.  Bastard!”

        “mama,”  Mark replied, “I’ve been talking to Kuruk, and to others also, I could tell patch was uncomfortable with the arrangement, even if you couldn’t.  Patch can’t mate with you, he won’t mate with you, the bond between him and Ekaterina is too strong.  He stayed with her even when she lied about having a cub which had died at birth.”

      “I wouldn’t ‘ave stayed,”  Dorothy snarled, “it ain’t right to lie.”

       “But Ekaterina was distressed, upset so much that she stumbled on her path.  She lost a lot for her stumble mama, a lot of everything.  Patch helped her to her paws again, pledged himself to her until the day he died, and she to him.”  Ekaterina padded over to Patch, who stood shaking and dripping wet on the bank of the lagoon.

         “I forgot,”  he whispered, “I forgot I’d had the jab until you said about yours.”  Ekaterina hugged her mate tightly.

        “You have had a stressful time since then, what with Roxy’s death and everything else,”  Ekaterina replied, “it’s not surprising you forgot.”

      “Where’s our cub?”  Patch asked automatically.

       “She’s safe, with Kuruk, who’s feeding her milk and loving every minute.”  Ekaterina replied, “patch, you said, “our cub,” not “your cub.”

       “I was there when you delivered her into the world,”  patch replied, “I’m not stepping back if you aren’t.  I will feed the cub too, play with her when she’s older, love her, kiss her nose and paws, soothe her when she’s hurt, that sort of thing.”  Ekaterina touched patch’s paw with hers.

         “meanwhile Dorothy is angry and frustrated,”  she replied, “and worse hating both of us.”

       “I wants a cub!”  Dorothy yelled.

        “You dam impatient ain’t you?”  Kuruk asked, shambling up with Ekaterina’s cub dangling from his mouth like he was her mother and carrying her through the woodland.  His eyes smiling, he placed the cub in Patch’s lap, the grey bear sitting down and embracing the cub tenderly.

        “Patch fires blanks!”  Dorothy yelled.

       “Patch no good for you anyway,”  Kuruk replied, “he pledged to Ekaterina.  Now Kuruk, he pledged to Anook, but we both wild bears and know what is what.  I mate with you, then think nothing of it, watch you deliver cubs, and have no other contact with them or you.  Patch though, he not able keep paws off.”

      “Liar Kuruk,”  Ekaterina said, “Anook explained what you did when she was delivering buck, you got paws on with buck as he was born to help pull while she pushed.”

       “yeah, but Anook mate of Kuruk,”  Kuruk grunted.  Dorothy not mate, she just female bear who want cub so desperately she no wait.  I no think of her when giving her cub.  I make her in cub, then go, leave, not worry about mama or cub again, until cub delivered into world, then, if mama want me help, I help, if not, paws off.  Kuruk pledged to Anook, though can do wild sex thing.  Patch though, he once wild bear, but now know nothing of that, and Kuruk think that good thing, for he see how Patch grow love you Ekaterina.  He have far deeper love for you than just mate,  he love you since you little cub, and you love him since he come to you as bigger bear who want be cub.  You soul mates, it not fair he mate with Dorothy, not that you no say he can’t do thing  Ekaterina, but it no fair on Patch, for it hurt him as deep as when you hurt after lie to Patch about dead cub.  patch loves you so deeply Ekaterina, even he can’t put it into words, so Kuruk have no hope at all of doing thing like that.”

        “You mean you would never mate with anyone Patch, even if you could?”  Dorothy asked.  patch looked at her.

        “I couldn’t Dorothy, even if you strapped me down,”  he replied, “I’m sorry.  I thought I could, until, until Ekaterina came to me and pulled me onto my hind feet.  She asked me many questions, the answers we both truly knew, but needed restating silently.  I couldn’t have mated with you any more than I could have mated with my own cub.”  the thought of this made Kuruk turn away and vomit into the grass.

        “My brother is demonstrating now what I would do ten fold and more if I mated with another female, let alone mated with my own cub,”  Patch said, “I want to mate with Ekaterina to give her a cub, but I cant, so I will stay with her, until she, or I die.”

      “if you died I’d be sad forever,”  Ekaterina replied, “I’d eat hemlock or something.”  Patch knew she was serious.

       “I’m not gone yet,”  patch replied, “I just can’t, won’t ever, mate with another female to give her a cub.”

       “Kuruk ‘hope you never mate with own cubs either!”  Kuruk grunted, the thought distressing him.

        “Sorry Kuruk,”  patch replied, “sorry for putting it like that.  I wouldn’t ever do what I said, in both instances.”  Kuruk looked unwell.

         “You know what imagination of Kuruk is like,”  he grunted, “patch, you tell Kuruk have imagination, then say he no use thing?  How Kuruk no use imagination when brother Patch show him he can have one?”  patch smiled:

       “Sorry Kuruk,”  patch said.

      “What’s this about Kuruk’s imagination?”  Ekaterina asked, “I thought you said he had very little.”

        “He gave me that impression,”  Patch replied, “but take him into the play room, take his paw and ask him what he would like to do, and he crawls, and really acts the cub.  once, he even thought of re-enacting the birth of a cub.”

         “Kuruk ashamed of that,”  Kuruk mumbled, “Kuruk ashamed of wanting to do thing.  That mama’s place, not Kuruk’s.”

        “You would have been a great actor,”  Ekaterina replied, “if your drinking from a bottle is anything to go by that is.”

      “Ekaterina no talk about Kuruk drinking from bottle!”  Kuruk snarled, “that private stuff Ekaterina!”

       “You lovely bear,”  Ekaterina said, beckoning Kuruk to the edge of the lagoon, lying down and scooping water into her forepaws, Kuruk lying down beside her.  Ekaterina, feeling him settle down, washed his face with the water in her paws, then helped him wash out his mouth.

         “There,”  she said gently to her brother, who gulped hard.

        “What’s up?”  Ekaterina asked.  Kuruk swallowed hard, struggling for control:

        “You so good to me,”  he choked.  Ekaterina snuggled up to her brother.

         “You do have an imagination, I know it,”  she replied, “it doesn’t matter if you like playing the cub from time to time.”

       “But I wanted more, Kuruk want do birth thing, just once, feel how Patch does when he does thing.”  Ekaterina smiled and nuzzled Kuruk’s ear:

       “Like Koda and Mishka?  You want to enter Patch’s world?”  she asked.  Kuruk nodded.

       “Patch so tactile, he feels things, each cubbing is personal to him, far more personal than just the birth of another cub.  patch feels everything, well Kuruk want some of that too.  He want know what Anook go through during her labour,”  Kuruk replied sadly.

        “You truly want that don’t you,”  Ekaterina replied.

       “Kuruk no Tell Anook thing,”  Kuruk choked, “she think him mad, and it not good that he want feel her pain and struggle, but Kuruk want thing.”

       “maybe if you tell her, she’d understand,”  Anook said, padding to Kuruk’s side, lying down on the cold ground and  slipping her paw over his.

         “You no meant to know thing!”  Kuruk grumbled.

       “Maybe I want to know these things Kuruk,”  Anook said gently, “I will describe the pain for you, let you feel me curl my toes and kick, all that.  I’ve envied Patch his paws on approach, I didn’t think my mate was up to it.  Now I hear he is.”

       “Kuruk there when mama bear had cub in mountains,”  Kuruk replied, “he see labour, he see mama panting and pushing.  Kuruk no fear labour, but he know mothers no want male bears near when they deliver their cubs.”

      “I know my Kuruk is not just any male bear,”  Anook replied, “I would have you there, paws on with me, labouring with me.”  Kuruk smiled despite his unmasking.

       “Kuruk want help Anook,”  Kuruk said, “he want understand her pain while she have cub.”  Anook kissed his nose:

       “I’ll do my best to explain,”  Anook said.  Kuruk got to his feet.

       “Kuruk no good at communication,”  he grunted.

       “You’re too reserved Kuruk,”  Anook said, getting to her paws and leaving the woods, Kuruk following.

      “I can take you on an adventure,”  Anook said, “Kuruk, I will show you everything if eohippus will let me.  Do you trust me?”  Kuruk nodded:

       “Kuruk want know everything,”  he grunted, “he will do anything too, curl toes, grunt, push and squeal, everything.”  Anook smiled and squeezed his paw.

        “I will sit down with you and try to explain how labour and birth feels,”  Anook said.  Kuruk looked down at his paws.

       “Kuruk ashamed of his feelings,”  he mumbled.

        “It’s curiosity, that’s all,”  Anook replied, “and I like that.  I’ll bet you remember everything about Buck’s birth for instance.”

       “I do,”  Kuruk replied, “I remember everything.  Sights, sounds, the touch of your paws on mine, everything,”  Kuruk replied, his English better when he was concentrating.

        “Good,”  Anook replied.

 

Meanwhile, back at the lagoon, Dorothy stamped about in a furious temper.

        “now what the ‘ell do I do?”  she asked, “my potential sperm donor is unable to do his duty, and if pressed wouldn’t do it anyway, now I’s all deflated and angry!”

       “You do realise Patch wouldn’t have gone through with it,”  someone said, “it’s better you know now than later.”  Dorothy stared into the eyes of a white lioness.

        “yeah, I knows deep down,”  she grunted, “but Patch forgetting ‘e fired blanks?  What’s with all that?  Noone forgets they ‘ave contraception on board do they?”

       “Patch was under a lot of stress,”  Ekaterina replied, “he can’t remember everything at once.”

         “Dorothy,”  lioness Rowena said, “Kuruk will help you have a cub, just let him understand the process a bit more, and he’ll help you.”

       “But I wanted Patch!”  Dorothy screamed.

       “Patch isn’t leader because he is strong in muscle, he’s leader because he is strong of spirit and courage.  He’s true to his mate and to his community.  He won’t just mate with anyone,”  lioness Rowena said.

 

Kuruk padded with Anook to the soft play room, where he sat down with her.

       “Now what do you want most in the world?”  Anook asked Kuruk.

       “Kuruk want crawl and play like cub,”  Kuruk replied, “though he also want learn how it is for Anook when she have cub, how it feel to curl toes, how it feel to crawl and struggle like she do when give birth to buck.”

        “Kuruk,”  Anook said, “I’m pregnant again.  We mated a few weeks back, and I’m sure I’m pregnant.”  Kuruk was delighted, so ecstatic in fact he waved his paws in the air, Anook laughing helplessly at his antics.

       “You lovely bear!”  she laughed, Kuruk pedalling at the air with his hind feet, Anook catching his left hind foot in her forepaws and kissing his pads, Kuruk smiling broadly and curling his toes with pleasure, Anook kissing his bunched pads.

       “Your paws are cute when you curl your toes,”  she said, “they feel great, and look fantastic.”  Kuruk smiled:

        “glad about that,”  he replied.  Anook traced Kuruk’s sole pad and counted his toes, the male bear wriggling with pleasure.

        “These paws would be great to chase,”  Anook said.  Kuruk grinned:

        “Kuruk need milk forts,”  he grunted, crawling over to the phone and putting in a call to Sid for a bottle of milk.  Sid, having watched all, grinned and brought the bottle to krupuk.

        “it’s the finest silver top,”  he said.  Kuruk broke the top of the bottle, settling back to drink, his hind feet soon kicking the air as he drank his fill, Anook’s toes curling into the soft matting as she watched him.

        “Wow,”  she thought, that is so sweet!  Kuruk looks so cute!”  Anook sat down, lifting a forepaw and placing it against Kuruk’s right hind foot as he drank his milk, feeling the bear’s foot pressing hard against her paw, his toes pressing against her pads as he braced his hind feet while drinking.

 

Meanwhile, in the woods, a bear and a lioness lay together, both feeling dreadful.  Stiff limbs, aching head and sore paws kept the two together, so different in form, but united in one fact.  They’d asked the ultimate question of a spirit.  Kamchatka lay aching and exhausted, and Rowena, feeling similarly beaten up, lay beside her.

        “What do we do now?”  Kamchatka asked.

       “The spirits told us to find those who we would most want to meet and convince them we’re back for a second chance,”  Rowena mumbled, her head swimming with nausea.

         “I can’t, I’m exhausted,”  Kamchatka whimpered, “though I know we only have a short time to make this move, or the window will close and we’ll not be able to convince anyone, as lease of these bodies will run out, and we won’t be able to claim them as our own.”

        “the bodies of a lioness and a grizzly bear who died young but healthy were found, and our spirits put into them.”  Rowena mumbled, “now we have to make the next move, painful though it is.”

      “How will anyone believe us?”  Kamchatka asked, “it’s crazy this, “oh, hi, I’m your dead mama, Kamchatka,”  hmm, yeah, Ekaterina is gonna believe that isn’t she?  No she’s not going to believe a word.  You too with Petra, how is she going to believe your tale?”

        “We have to try, we have to try as we wanted this chance to go back and be part of the community,”  Kamchatka replied.

        “Let’s crawl to the house,”  Rowena mewed, dragging herself across the woodland floor towards the house, Kamchatka following, her muscles complaining and head aching.

        “I have to find Petra, and you find Ekaterina,”  Rowena panted, “but Eohippus knows if we’ll ever find them, I’m feeling every movement is a struggle, I can’t even curl my toes without horrendous pain.”  Kamchatka, grunting with acknowledged hardship, concentrated on putting one paw in front of the other, crawling towards the house.

 

Patch, seeing them, knew what had happened, but knew also, that he could not help Rowena or Kamchatka.  They had to go through with their trial to prove they truly wanted their place back on earth. Patch followed the two bedraggled and struggling creatures, wishing he could help, but knowing he must not even offer his assistance.  Eohippus was quite definite about this, he could offer no assistance at all.

 

Rowena and Kamchatka made their way painfully to the house, their bodies sweating and eyes tired bye time they made it to the great room where Ekaterina and Petra were talking together.  Seeing the lioness and the she bear coming towards them, Petra explained to Ekaterina what she was seeing.

        “A bear who looks like Roxy, though can’t be, is crawling towards us, as is a lioness,”  Petra said to Ekaterina, “I feel we need to wait for them to come to us.”  Ekaterina made to go towards the sound of panting and scrabbling paws, but Petra stopped her.

       “They need to come to us I think,”  Petra replied.  The dream I told you of says they’ll come to us.  Ekaterina, believing Petra who’d come to her half an hour before wildly excited and bursting with emotions to tell her of her tale, stood waiting for the two newcomers to find their way.  Once she felt a paw touch hers, Ekaterina sat down and explored the body who owned the paw.  it was a bear, a fully grown sow grizzly bear with medium sized paws and a desperate manner.  Clinging to her, the bear sobbed with pain and begged her for sanctuary.

        “Who are you?”  Ekaterina asked.  Kamchatka poured out her tale, all about her wish to come back to the world of earthly living from the spirit world.

       “We had to do many tasks, go through many interviews, many trials, and lastly, they put us into two dead bodies, put the spear of life into us, and made us crawl to the house, ages of crawling, with much pain and effort, and only the will to carry on spurring us to put one paw in front of the other,”  Kamchatka said, her tone begging Ekaterina to believe her.

        “I believe you right enough,”  Ekaterina said, “though I am directed to wash you now.”  Kamchatka, knowing this would hurt more than anything, took a deep breath and consented to being washed.  Ekaterina padded from the room, Kamchatka forced to keep up, as she had no recollection of the route to the bathtub, and Ekaterina moved too quickly for her.

       “Eohippus wants me to hurry, I must,”  Kamchatka thought.  Ekaterina took Kamchatka to the largest floor level tub she could find, and instructed the grizzly bear to crawl into it.  Kamchatka did, the water warm to her touch, and life giving to her cold body.  Ekaterina, cradling the exhausted mama bear, washed her fur and paws, Kamchatka enduring the pain and discomfort without complaint.  Once this washing was over with, Ekaterina helped her mama out of the water and along to the drying room, where they both dried their fur and paws.  Kamchatka, feeling her life returning, found she could move with less pain and stiffness.

       “You feel like Roxy, though your life force is definitely mama Kamchatka’s,”  Ekaterina said.  Kamchatka smiled:

         “I’m glad I got this far,”  she replied, “I’m hoping Rowena got as far.”

 

Rowena had, her nausea and aching head fading with Petra’s ministrations, which included a thorough grooming from nose to tail.

        “I wanted to come back to earthly life,”  Rowena said, “to meet Aslan and his daughter cub Amafu.  I know the trial was a tough one, but I wanted so much to come back to my life here.  Mama Kamchatka too wanted her old life back, we’d been taken out before our times, so were given extensions, and told to make the best of our chance, with conditions we could find thus who would believe our regeneration.  Finding these believers was not difficult, but getting to them was, the pain and struggle is something you can only imagine mama Petra.  But now I’m here, willing to make a go of everything.”  Petra kissed Rowena’s nose, the white lioness purring with pleasure.

        “I wonder, will I ever have cubs?”  Rowena mewed.

       “If you want them, then I’m sure you will have cubs of your own,”  Petra said.  Theo padded in to the room, stared at Rowena, and sat down in shock.

       “how could this happen?”  he asked, “it’s more than I ever hoped!”  With that he leapt to his feet, jumped into the water with Petra and Rowena, and kissed Rowena’s nose and paws.

     “Rowena, my darling sister, my darling sister, how are you?  I heard you had come to earth again.”  Rowena, feeling her brother’s surge of life force encouraging her own, smiled and kissed his nose in return.

        “I’ve been hoping for this day for so long,”  Theo mewed, “I’ve been seeing you in the clearing, we’ve talked for so long, you’ve spoken of wanting to come back to us.  Now you’re here.”  Rowena smiled, her eyes shining with delight.

         “I will go now, and tell my brother you have arrived,”  Theo said.  Rowena smiled broadly, got out of the bath in one fluid movement and shook water all over Theo, who laughed, shoved her onto her back and tickled her paws, Rowena laughing merrily and kissing his nose.

       “Now let’s hope mama Kamchatka is doing as well as I am,”  Rowena said.  Indeed mama Kamchatka was, laughing as Ekaterina pushed her onto her back and tickled her paws.

       “your paws feel like Roxy’s did,”  Ekaterina said to Kamchatka.

       “I was told some might say that,”  Kamchatka said, “Roxy’s body was exhausted, and was made good from the saving of her cub, which I believe you had full responsibility for Ekaterina.”  Ekaterina grunted with assent.

        “You know what I did then?”  Ekaterina asked.  Kamchatka smiled and nodded:

        “Roxy didn’t want to come back, but I did.  I had so much to do.”  Ekaterina kissed her mother’s nose, and it was Kamchatka’s body now, as her spirit filled hair and paw pads.

         “now mama, do you want to see what your eldest natural cub is doing?”  Ekaterina asked, “the descriptions are cute as can be.”  Kamchatka, finding her limbs did not ache, and her paws felt light and toes flexible, as well as the sickness having vanished, padded to the screen to take a look at what Kuruk and Anook were up to.

 

Kuruk crawled round the soft play room, while Anook chased him, tickling his toes whenever she got within range.  Kuruk, growling and snarling with mock anger, eventually turned on his mate, rolled her over, and tickled her hind paws, Anook laughing helplessly while waving her forepaws in the air.  Kuruk kissed Anook’s nose, the she bear laughing merrily and returning his kiss.

       “I love you Kuruk,”  Anook said.  Kuruk kissed Anook’s nose and the pads of her forepaws, the she bear laughing delightedly.

       “Now do you feel you can tell Kuruk about having buck cub?”  Kuruk asked.  Anook smiled and nodded.

       “Not here though,”  she said, “somewhere more private, our lie up maybe?”  Kuruk padded after Anook, his heart swelling with love for her.

 

“Pity we can’t watch them and listen to their conversation in their lie up,”  Kamchatka said.  Rowena shook her head, tapped the screen and brought up the view of Anook and Kuruk’s lie up.

       “We can watch them again,”  she mewed.

 

Anook sat back on her heels, much as she had when Kuruk had first given her labour pains any serious attention.

      “contractions were like cramps, pain which made me clench my teeth and curl my toes,”  Anook said, placing her forepaws on the floor and putting actions to words, clenching her teeth and curling her toes as she’d done that day.

      “You looks like you did then,”  Kuruk grunted, stroking Anook’s back with his paw.

       “I think I bounced on my heels a bit too,”  Anook said, bouncing on her heels a bit.  Kuruk watched as Anook got to her feet, then reared onto her hind feet, placed her forepaws against his shoulders and forced him up against the wall, as she’d done that day, leaning into him forcefully.

        “I felt an uncontrollable urge to push, I felt the cub was huge and that I couldn’t push as hard as I needed too, all this at once,”  Anook said to Kuruk, who kissed her nose, which was level with his.

        “my body was in great pain,”  Anook said, “cramps, a need to push against those cramps, and my mind in fear that I couldn’t push hard enough.  Panting made everything relax, and Buck slipped out to the shoulders, his shoulders jamming, making me wriggle and scream.  I then dropped to all four paws, then got into a crawling posture.”  This she did in front of Kuruk, Kuruk getting down with Anook on the floor, stroking her hind paws, as he’d done before.

        “This feels wonderful!”  Anook panted in the present, trying to keep her description factual, but how could she, there were other messages being transmitted.  Anook felt Kuruk scratch the pads of her right hind foot with the toes of his left forepaw, the sensation making her gasp and pant harder.

        “Kuruk, don’t, don’t!”  she begged, “this is meant to be a an exploration of my labour!”  Kuruk kissed the rough wrinkled pads he’d just stroked, Anook whimpering with desire for him.

       “Kuruk, stop, stop!”  she begged half heartedly.  Kuruk smiled and patted his mate’s rump, Anook lowering her head and looking backwards at him between her forelegs, Kuruk sticking out his tongue, making her laugh.

       “Stop it Kuruk!”  she snapped in mock anger.

       “Kuruk sorry,”  Kuruk replied, smiling broadly.

        “I’m not,”  Anook replied, “that felt wonderful, and was the exact thing you did to help me while I was pushing buck into the world those last few inches, it felt wonderful then, and indescribable now.”  Kuruk leant down and kissed the pads of Anook’s right hind paw, the she bear curling her toes with pleasure, Kuruk blowing on her bunched pads.

       “that tickles!”  she laughed.  Kuruk smiled, drawing circles on Anook’s bunching pads, Anook bouncing her backside on her heels in ecstasy.

       “Silly,”  Kuruk said, kissing her ear.

        “It’s better when I can’t see what you’re doing,”  Anook said, “it feels fresher, more risky!”  Kuruk kissed the top of her head, Anook gasping with intense emotions.

        “Kuruk, you really know how to pleasure a fat old mama bear,”  she panted.

        “Kuruk know Anook have experience before,”  Kuruk said, “so if she still get pleasure from him, he must be doing good thing.”  Anook giggled:

       “You rogue!”  she laughed.  Kuruk kissed the toes of Anook’s right hind foot, then drew the toes of his left forepaw down her left hind foot, Anook whimpering with emotion.

       “Stop it Kuruk, stop this now!”  she begged, though both knew what they really wanted.

        “your mouth say one thing, your pads say other, follow your paws, isn’t that the saying?”  Kuruk asked.  Anook whimpered that it was.

       “I’ve got to make a token protest, even if I want to roll over and let you mate with me here and now!”  she replied.  Kuruk counted the toes on Anook’s hind paws, finding ten, five on each foot, plus two large sole pads and five toe pads, Anook wriggling with pleasure as he made his exploration.

         “You are going to make me embarrass myself if you aren’t careful!”  Anook replied, “I’m gonna lose control!”  Kuruk grinned, running his paw down Anook’s back, the she bear gasping with surprise.

       “Kuruk!”  she whimpered, “stop it now!”  Kuruk stepped back, anxious and confused.

       “Kuruk no want hurt you,”  he said, bewilderment uppermost.

        “I’m sorry,”  Anook replied, “it’s just that, well, we’re being watched by others, and I wanted this to be private time.  I’ll turn off the camera.  With that she got to her feet, wishing she didn’t have to use her paws for walking, and padded across to the camera, turning it off at the wall.]

 

Nanuq, on security duty, swore harshly.

       “It’s against the rules to turn off the camera Anook, you know that!”  he snapped into his microphone, Anook flipping the camera back on to allow Nanuq to see her flip her paw at him in an unmistakable signal, before turning the camera off again.

       “I’ll beat her for disobeying orders!”  Nanuq roared.

       “No you won’t,”  buck said firmly, padding up behind Nanuq and spinning him round in his chair to face him, “you leave my mama and sire alone!”

        “You bloody cub!”  Nanuq roared, leaping at Buck and attacking him in a fit of anger.  Buck, younger and fitter, slammed Nanuq to the floor and stood over him.

       “Sod you!” Nanuq yelled.

      “Oh, eloquence is yours indeed great one,”  Buck scoffed, Nanuq sprawled humiliated on the floor.

       “Get out, leave now!”  Nanuq snapped, struggling to his feet and lashing out at buck’s head, intending to clip Buck across the back of the head with his paw, buck ducking just in time, hearing Nanuq’s paw whistle past his ear.  Buck tripped Nanuq once more, the older bear landing on the floor with a crash.  Buck, sensing he’d milked things for all he could, ran for the door.  Angry and bruised in body and pride, Nanuq got to his feet and returned to his work.

 

Meanwhile, Anook, settling down beside Kuruk, invited him to stroke her body, while paying particular attention to her paws.  Kuruk, finding Anook’s paws very interesting indeed, traced her pads and counted her toes, Anook smiling broadly and curling her toes slightly, making her pads bunch beneath her mate’s touch.

        “Your paw pads are so cute mama Anook,”  Kuruk said to his mate, Anook smiling to herself.

        “I like your touch on my pads Kuruk,”  she replied dreamily, stretching and relaxing her toes from their slightly curled state, Kuruk tracing her stretching and relaxing pads, Anook smiling with deep pleasure.

       “I like your touch Kuruk,”  Anook said softly, “I hope you liked my touch on your pads.”  Kuruk smiled and replied that he enjoyed it hugely.

      “Kuruk likes stroking pads of mama Anook, they soft and warm, and toes cute when curl with pleasure.  When Anook curl toes in pain though, then Kuruk want stroke them to make pain easier to bare.”

      “Sometimes curling my toes helps with the pain,”  Anook replied, “it’s worth something to feel your toes curling in response to all that pain and effort to deliver a cub or relieve yourself, and yes I’ve gripped the tiles while straining to relieve myself, it’s as hard work holding on with my toes as it is relieving myself.”

        “are you constipated then Anook love?”  Kuruk asked.  Anook smiled:

        “I’ve been having some trouble recently,”  she replied, “I think I might be pregnant again.  I’d always get a little constipated when pregnant.  It’s a strain sometimes.”  Kuruk smiled:

       “I’ll try to help you,”  he said gently.   Anook looked at him:

       “I’ve been eating fruits for ages, but that didn’t work, so I’ve now been given something by Blackberry that needs putting into my rear end, if you know what I mean.”  She said, her embarrassment plain to hear.

       “Kuruk wash paws and help you,”  Kuruk said, padding from the room, washing his paws then padding back, stretching a glove onto his right forepaw.  Anook watched anxiously.

       “here is the suppository,”  she said, handing him a foil wrapped package.  Kuruk unwrapped the suppository, his paws gentle on the foil.  Anook looked so terrified Kuruk kissed her nose:

      “How you want do this?”  he asked, “lying on your side or squatting on your haunches?”  Anook wriggled uncomfortably:]

       “Squatting,”  Anook said, her paws shaking.  Turning away from Kuruk, she squatted, waiting, her eyes closed in discomfort.

       “Now I’m going to rub the base of your tail,”  Kuruk said gently, fitting action to words with his naked forepaw, then, when Anook relaxed involuntarily, Kuruk pushed the suppository home as far as he could, Anook trying not to cry out, not to wriggle, not to feel anything, but her body revolted at the sensations, and Anook bounced on her toes a little and groaned deeply as Kuruk pushed the medicine home.

        “All done,”  Kuruk said gently, kissing his mate’s ear.

      “I hated every minute!”  Anook whimpered, clenching her hind quarters and digging in her toes, trying to forget the sensations.

       “Kuruk sorry he have do thing,”  Kuruk said, stripping off the glove and binning it in the hazardous waste bin, before washing his paws.

      “That was horrid,”  Anook said, “I hated every second.”

       “Kuruk no want cause you pain,”  Kuruk replied, “but you cause damage to cubs if you no relieve yourself properly mama Anook.”

       “I know,”  Anook replied, “and I know you did the deed in the gentlest way you knew.”  Kuruk kissed her nose.

      “Kuruk love you deeply and so much,”  Kuruk replied.  Anook, choking on tears, returned his kiss.

        “I wouldn’t have anyone else do that,”  she replied, “medicate me in that way I mean.”  Kuruk kissed Anook’s forepaws, and smiling, stroked her back, Anook lying down on her side to allow Kuruk to massage her paws.

        “If I need to go, I want you there,”  she said.  Kuruk kissed her ear and nose.

       “Kuruk hold your paw if you want him do thing,”  he said.  Anook swallowed hard and looked at her mate:

        “I’m sorry I’m such a wimp,”  she replied, “but it hurts.”  Kuruk shook his head:

        “if Kuruk being there help you Anook, he stay, even if you squeal and stamp paws,”  he replied.  Anook smiled:

       “You are wonderful to me,”  she replied.  Kuruk kissed her nose with genuine love and respect for his mate.

        “Kuruk sorry he make Anook bounce on toes and groan in pain,”  Kuruk grunted.

        “I’m okay now,”  Anook replied.

         “Kuruk go with you if you want him to,”  Kuruk replied gently.  Anook smiled and lay down on her chest, her hind feet out behind her, supporting her chin on her forepaws.

         “Stroke me Kuruk, my hind feet are yours to stroke.”  Kuruk smiled broadly and ran his paw down Anook’s body from her ears to the base of her spine, Anook gripping the rugs with her forepaws, her hind feet relaxed.  Kuruk heard his mate gasp with emotion.

       “I need to go to the relieving place,”  Anook said to Kuruk.  Getting to her feet, she padded from the room, Kuruk hanging back.

       “You come too,”  Anook said softly.  Kuruk padded to the relieving place with Anook, holding her left forepaw as she crouched over the relieving place, straining and pushing.  Anook stamped her hind feet, roared and squealed as she felt her body make an effort at expelling waste.  Anook’s eyes, when she opened them between efforts, told Kuruk she was terrified.

       “This hurts!”  she screamed.  Kuruk kissed her nose, smelling her sweat as she strained and fought to bully her rebellious body into doing what it was meant to do.  Anook gave up after ten minutes of energetic straining, having not finished her bodily duty, her head drooping with tiredness.

        “I’m finished now,”  Anook whimpered, sounding like a cub.  Kuruk watched anxiously, then ran off to get a bottle of milk for his mate.  Anook, staggering from the relieving place, washed her paws, then crawled from the relieving place.  Whimpering in misery, she felt Kuruk padding up to her, and offering her a bottle of milk,  from which she sucked busily, the milk warm and sweet.

        “Will I have to go through this every time I defecate?”  Anook asked plaintively.

       “Eat more fruit you fatso!”  Amy jeered, running in waving a cucumber at Anook.

       “Shut up!”  Georgia snarled, running up behind Amy, stealing the waving cucumber from her, whacking her with it, then eating the cucumber.

       “I don’t know whether to laugh or be furious!” Kuruk said.  Anook, feeling exhausted, lay down where she was for a minute.

        “that was dreadful,”  she mumbled.

       “yes, Amy is a proper pain!”  Georgia snarled.

       “I didn’t mean that,”  Anook replied, “I meant my latest, um, deification.  It was horrid, even with Blackberry’s helping potion.”  Anook crawled back to her den, settling down miserably on the rugs.

       “I feel shitty,”  Anook groaned as she lay exhausted on the rugs.  Anook, though in pain, slept for a while.  Waking some time later, she found a half grown black bear cub cuddled up to her.

       “Have I given birth in my sleep?”  Anook asked herself, her body aching as if she had.

        “Hello little one,”  Anook mumbled, hearing a gentle laugh beside her.

       “I’m no cub now,”  little Targon said, “mama Anook, I came to see if I could be of help to you.  You see, I’ve had the same problems you are having now.  I know how you feel.”  Anook sighed with worry and frustration.

        “if only I could ease myself without pain and so much effort,”  she whimpered.

        “it’s not doing your cub any favours, that’s for sure,”  little Targon replied, “come, let’s see if I can help you a bit.”

       “But we’ve tried everything,”  Anook protested, all the drugs, everything!”

        “Drugs?  Oh no, you don’t need those,”  little Targon said, “I didn’t use drugs.  Just a good belly rub from a committed and loving paw does a world of goodness.”  Anook grunted her dismissal of the idea.

       “Noone’s touching my belly,”  she whimpered, “it hurts too much.”

       “Mine did,”  little Targon said, “but your cub, like I was before her,  will be thankful for the drug free cure.”

       “It’ll come early, and I’ll lose it, and be sad forever,”  Anook replied.

         “Little Targon’s right,”  Kuruk replied, having overheard all, “mama Anook, please, let little Targon come get paws on with belly.  Please?”  Anook grunted and rolled onto her back.  Little Targon stood up on her hind feet and placed her forepaws on Anook’s belly, massaging deeply with the flat and toes of both paws, Anook grunting and roaring with discomfort.  Wriggling and kicking, Anook tried to free herself from little Targon’s ministrations, but the cub kept going, pressing, kneading, working at Anook’s belly.  Anook suddenly felt a shift in her, and leapt to her feet.  Screaming with fear, she straddled her hind legs and relieved herself copiously.

        “what’s happening!”  Anook screamed.

        “It worked, it’s done!”  little Targon laughed, clapping her paws and dancing.

        “You horrid animal!”  Anook yelled.  Little Targon looked at Anook, who had turned and was staring at the ground in embarrassed silence.

        “You knew what you were doing didn’t you,”  she panted as her body recovered from its sudden effort.

        “I did, sorry for the mess,”  Little Targon said.  Anook, feeling better than she had for as long as she could remember, smiled:

         “I’m sorry too,”  she replied, “for shouting at you, and doubting you too.”

        “Now it’s time for you to eat fruits and things, keep the fibre up in your diet mama Anook. That way, you won’t have to endure the touch of my paws ever again,”  little Targon replied.

       “Am I pregnant?”  Anook asked, “to be honest, my belly was so distended with gas and stuff I hardly felt anything than just plain awful.”

       “I don’t know,”  little Targon replied, watching helplessly while Kuruk got a spade and cleared up the mess in the lie up.

        “Why did you not take me to the relieving place?”  Anook asked.

      “You wouldn’t go if I’d asked you to go,”  little Targon said honestly.  Anook looked down at her paws:

       “No, you’re right, I wouldn’t,”  she replied.

       “You feeling better mama?”  Kuruk asked, swilling disinfectant on the floor.

         “yes thanks,”  Anook replied, shifting her paws a little, then stopping suddenly as she felt a kick from inside her.

        “I think I am pregnant!”  Anook squealed.

        “how long gone?”  little Targon asked, touching mama Anook’s belly.  The cub inside mama Anook kicked back hard against the pressure of little Targon’s touch.

        “it’s lively,”  little Targon said.  Anook sat down and touched her belly with her paws, feeling the cub kicking hard against her touch.

        “Your cub is probably relieved it has room to kick now,”  little Targon said.  Anook, feeling something stir inside her, gasped and wriggled uncomfortably.

      ooouaumph.  She groaned.

        “Are you going to have the cub now?”  little Targon asked.  Anook got to her feet and padded up and down, trying to work out what was happening inside her.

       “Want me to take a look?”  Little Targon asked, padding round behind Anook.  Anook lay down on her side, now anxious.

      “Go on, take a look,”  she panted.  Little Targon slipped her paw inside Anook, finding everything seemingly ready for her to give birth.  

      “Everything’s open and ready,”  little Targon said.  Suddenly Anook wriggled, panted, shrieked, drew up her hind legs, grabbed her hind feet with her forepaws and strained hard, Little Targon catching the cub as it exploded from inside Anook as the mama bear strained hard into her tail.  Anook’s scream bounced off the walls as she got to her feet during contractions ending up standing rear on to Little Targon.  Anook, squealing with fear,  stamped her feet and strained hard in one last enormous effort which delivered the cub, screaming and tumbling head over paws into Little Targon’s lap.  Anook, gasping, strained deeply twice more, but nothing else emerged.

         “What was that!”  Anook demanded, “and what’s that noise!”

        “that’s your cub!”  Kuruk said laughing, “our cub mama Anook.  You gave birth to a cub!”  Anook turned, and stared open mouthed.

          “How?”  she asked, “how did I do that?”

     “Pushed and delivered your cub into the world,”  little Targon replied faintly, “that was amazing Anook!”  Anook touched the screaming cub with her paw, feeling it kicking her paw.

         “She’s lovely,”  Anook said, “so all that stuff was holding up the cub?”  Anook asked.

       “No, you were in labour, but so constipated and in pain you didn’t know it,”  Little Targon surmised, “I think it was only luck that first defecation didn’t deliver the cub, but then, once I got to work with my paws and really shifted things, the cub was able to be born properly.”

        “it was a squeeze in there,”  the cub whimpered, “mama rubbing her belly helped a great deal.”

       “that wasn’t me little one,”  Anook said, her voice choked with emotion, “we have a pushy black bear to thank for our safe deliverance from trouble.”

       “What shall we call this little one?”  Kuruk asked.

       “Hope,”  Anook replied, “that’s a nice name, and it was that which kept her alive throughout all my dithering and craziness, nothing else did.”

        “Hope, what a lovely name,”  little Targon replied.

        “I’m hungry!”  Hope screamed.  Anook looked down at her teats, they were dry.

       “I can’t feed you!”  she wailed.

        “Hope never fed a cub,”  Amy said padding into the room and scowling at  Anook.

       “Shut up!”  Anook yelled, then, sobbing, she screamed, “it’s not my fault my body’s malfunctioning, I’m old, I didn’t know I was pregnant, now I’ve got a cub, and I can’t cope!”

        “it’s okay,”  mama Kamchatka said gently, padding into the room and kissing Anook’s wet nose, “I’ll get her milk.”  Anook watched as the mama grizzly bear lay down and gathered Hope to her, seemingly feeding the hungry cub.

        “how come you have milk?”  Anook asked, not realising to whom she was speaking.

      “the body I inherited during my repatriation to earth was that of a recently pregnant mother bear who died during labour,”  Kamchatka replied, “now she had milk on board she did, so I can give Hope milk.”  Anook stared at mama Kamchatka feeding her cub.

        “Eohippus be praised that there are bears like you,”  Anook whispered.

         “Hope will live long and gloriously,”  Kamchatka said, “and you mama Anook, gave wonderful birth to her, that looked fantastic, real dramatic.”

       “The camera was turned off,”  Anook replied, “noone saw Hope’s birth.”

     “the Camera was switched back on when you left the lie up to relieve yourself the first time,”  Rowena said, padding into the lie up, here, let’s see the video of Hope’s birth.”  They watched in silence as, on the screen in the lie up, Anook gave birth to her cub Hope.”

        That was really violent!”  little Targon exclaimed, “you really pushed hard mama, hard enough to make Hope tumble through the air.”

        “I was straining to my limits,”  Anook replied, feeling helpless, “I didn’t know what I was doing.”  Kamchatka handed Hope back to Anook, Anook cuddling the cub close to her.

        “Now you can use formula milk, for the milk I gave little Hope was milk as if from your teat,”  Kamchatka said, “your antibodies are in your cub now.”  Anook, her eyes full of tears, nodded dumbly.

       “Feed your cub from a bottle now mama Anook,”  Kamchatka said, kneeling before kissing Hope’s nose and tiny forepaws.

         “This is all happening too quickly,”  Anook said, touching a paw to her head:, “I have a headache.”  Kuruk gave Anook some pain killing gel, rubbing it into her gums so her body could make use of the drug.

        “You do very well today mama Anook,”  Kuruk said softly.  Buck padded in then, saw his mother and the mess on the floor, worked out what had happened and sat down in shock.

         “mama?”  he asked, “you, you had a cub?”  Anook looked at her grown son cub, feeling a rush of fear flooding her senses, gulping, she fought it down.

         “yes Buck dear,”  she replied weakly, placing a protective paw in front of hope, as if to hide her.

        “mama,”  buck said softly, recognising Anook’s fear and the causes of it, “mama, I won’t hurt your cub, I’m a community cub, I know not to hurt cubs. Please, let me see, and maybe touch my sister.”  Anook, choking back tears, withdrew a little, allowing Buck to take a look at the new life cradled in her lap.  Buck reached out his paw to touch Hope, Anook slapping his paw with hers in a reflex reaction to his proximity.

     “mama, that isn’t fair!”  buck whimpered.  Anook sighed heavily, shaking her head as a form of apology.  Buck tried touching Hope once more, the newborn cub reaching up and touching his paw when she felt his touch.  Hope sniffed at buck’s paw, taking in his scent, getting to know the world around her by touch and smell, as her eyes were closed and would not open for some weeks.  Buck looked down at the newborn cub.

       “She is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,”  he said softly, “mama Anook, what I saw was amazing.  I saw your labour, for Kamchatka filmed it, and broadcast it, even though you had turned the main camera off.”

      “I wanted mine and Kuruk’s love making to be a private thing, and things didn’t work out like that,”  Anook replied, “now I have a cub, and I didn’t know I was that close to delivering a cub, and now, now I’m confused, anxious, and terrified!”

      “we’ll all help you Anook,”  Ekaterina said, padding into the lie up, “I and patch will protect everyone here, that’s the promise we made when patch became leader.”

       “it’s been a strange few hours,”  Anook replied dreamily, “all that pain, and now a cub drinking from a bottle lies in my lap.”  Buck felt Hope’s paws holding onto his with amazing strength.

     “I think you’ve got an ally here Hope,”  Anook said, watching buck’s face.

        “I will protect her mama,”  Buck replied softly.  Anook gave hope to buck, the male bear sitting down and cradling Hope in his lap, the cub snuggling into his embrace.  Anook went to a sterilizer and got a bottle of milk for Hope from it, mama Ekaterina having worked fast to prepare formula milk for Hope and warm it before she needed it.  Anook, handing the bottle to buck, Buck found he hardly had time to grip the bottle before Hope grabbed the bottle and began drinking busily.

      “Hungry cub,”  buck observed.  Hope, the bottle clamped firmly between her three hour old forepaws, drank busily, the bottle collapsing as she drank.  Finding she couldn’t get any more milk from the bottle, hope stopped drinking, taking the bottle from her mouth to complain.  Before she could utter a sound though, the bottle filled with air, snapping back to its shape with a pop that made Hope shriek with fear and drop it.

        “it’s okay Hope little one, you’re safe,”  buck said, stroking the shrieking cub until she calmed down.  Buck then gave her the bottle, Hope drinking independently.

        “you done this thing before?”  Kuruk asked buck.  Buck shook his head:

        “I just do what I think I’d like if I was Hope, a nice warm cuddle, then stroking to calm me down.  That kind of thing.”  Kuruk looked down at Hope, who was now settled in buck’s lap.

       “Hope cub look contented,”  Kuruk said gently.  Buck smiled, his heart filling with love for Hope.

       “You are so sweet,”  Buck said gently to Hope, the little cub snuggling close to him.

        “I’m cold,”  Hope whimpered.

      “I’ll find something to keep you warm,”  buck said gently.  Ekaterina padded up with a blanket which she helped Hope into, the cub’s legs warmed by sleeves in the blanket, her head and body covered by the main part of the blanket.  Hope, unlike Perdita before her, didn’t seem to mind being wrapped up, indeed, she seemed to feel the benefit of the blanket.

      “I want warmth over my paws and feet too!”  Hope whimpered.  Ekaterina got some little woollen socks and put them on hope’s hind paws, the cub working her feet down into the socks.

       “now for your forepaws,”  Ekaterina said gently, Hope rolling onto her back to allow Ekaterina access to her forepaws.

       “This be going against everything the community is, not being bare pawed and all,”  Kuruk grunted.

       “Hope needs warmth,”  Ekaterina replied, “she can’t warm herself yet.”  Anook looked at her cub, now wrapped up in her blankets.

         “What else do you want little one?”  buck asked, touching Hope’s gloved forepaws, socked hind feet and wrapped body.

        “I’m okay,”  Hope replied, cuddling into buck’s embrace, “my paws are all warm now, which is lovely.”  Anook smiled at the bundled cub.

        “it’s hard to leave her alone,”  she thought, “I want to cuddle my own cub, but she’s contented where she is.”  Anook padded to her son cub and sat down opposite him, reaching out with a paw and touching Hope’s back through the blanket.

       “I love you little one,”  Anook said softly to her cub.”

        “Mama,”  Hope said, turning to her mother, “I’m warm and safe now.”  Anook smiled broadly at her youngest cub.

        “maybe if you’re so worried about the bare pawed thing,”  Ekaterina said, “when we introduce Hope to the rest of the community, we could remove her socks and gloves in a sort of ceremony.”  Hope giggled from under her blankets.

      “if I don’t remove them first,”  she whispered to Buck who grinned at her.

       “Now I need to relieve myself,”  Hope whimpered, crawling to a corner of the den and squatting miserably.  Buck, seeing her, walked over and picked her up, sat her on his lap, and massaged her belly, Hope wriggling as she relieved herself.

        “Well done little one,”  Buck said.  Hope was dismissive:

        “I will do this alone one day, you see if I don’t!”  She said, panting slightly.  Buck cleaned Hope up, then dressed her in her blanket, and, two gloves and one sock.  Hope, wiggling the toes of her bare right hind foot, patted Buck’s chest with her forepaws, then braced her hind against his belly, exploring with the toes of her bare right hind foot, Buck tipping Hope onto her back, then picking up her right hind foot and blowing on her pads, Hope squealing with laughter.

      “Do that with my other foot too!”  she urged.  Buck picked up Hope’s sock covered left hind foot, and blew on the material, Hope huffing with disgust.

      “That doesn’t feel right!”  she snapped.  buck gently removed the sock on Hope’s left hind foot, Hope giggling with pleasure.

      “tickle my toes!”  she pleaded, buck did, Hope his friend forever.

        “You make me smile,”  buck said gently.  Hope smiled broadly and kicked the air with her bare hind feet, buck laughing at her antics.

       “You have cute paws,”  buck said.  Hope stopped kicking the air with her hind feet.

       “What does cute mean?”  she asked.

       “it means I like your paws,”  buck replied.

       “I wish I could be wrapped up in warmth from nose to tail,”  Hope said, “my belly is freezing cold, my feet nice and warm, well my hind feet aren’t now, as you took off those warming things.  Buck replaced Hope’s socks, and tied the blanket around her middle, Hope snuggling into the warmth of her covering.

       “Hope is a thin cub Anook,”  Rowena said.

       “I didn’t know I was pregnant with her, at least I wasn’t sure until I was um, un-constipated, as it were,”  Anook replied, “I didn’t do at all well by my cub.”

        “is Hope Healthy in other ways?”  Kuruk asked.  Blackberry padded in and smiled at Buck who still cradled Hope.

       “now that’s a lovely sight,”  Blackberry said.  Little Targon squared up to him.

        “Your Suppository is rubbish,”  she pronounced, “it didn’t work Blackberry!”  Blackberry cuffed her across the shoulder with his paw.

       “I’m the medic, you’re not, paws off!”  he yelled.

       “but blackberry, she’s right,”  Anook replied, “I saw what, um, I produced, as it were, and some of that was very wrong.  Your medication didn’t work at all, but little Targon’s massage worked fine.”

       “I’m leaving!”  blackberry snarled, storming from the room.

       “Have you been stealing his books?”  Anook asked little Targon.  The young female black bear smiled and nodded:

       “I’ve been reading, and learning all I can about birth and death, and yes mama Anook, constipation and stomach upset too.”

       “The first time you tried the belly massage to relieve constipation must have been unnerving,”  Anook said.  Little Targon grinned:

        “yes,”  she said, “and the most amazing things can happen too.  The first patient I had was a mama polar bear with huge constipation.  She happened to think she might be pregnant, and had been unwell for days.  My massage worked for her, and it worked for the cub too, as the mama bear delivered her cub soon after she’d relieved herself.”

        “What was her name?  was she a community bear?”  Anook asked.

        “former wild bear she was,”  little Targon replied, “she delivered her cub so quickly the cub somersaulted in the air as it was delivered, the mama was squatting and bouncing on her toes while she strained you see.”

        “it sounds like she had a similar experience to me,”  Anook said.

        “yes, she did,”  little Targon replied.  Hope, turning her face to little Targon, said:

       “mama Anook was your first patient wasn’t she?”  Little Targon grinned.

       “You are very observant little one,”  little Targon replied.

        “You are trying to take Blackberry’s job aren’t you,”  Anook said.  little Targon shook her head:

        “if Blackberry’s potions and lotions fail, and my more paws on approach works, then that’s surely a good thing,”  she replied.

       “you’ve angered Blackberry,”  Kamchatka said.

      “I don’t care!”  little Targon snapped, “he’s always getting at me for practising what I know.  I want to deliver a cub, but he won’t let me get paws on with that either!”

       “You just have done that,”  Anook said, “my cub was delivered by you Targon dear.”

      “I didn’t, did I?”  she asked.  Anook smiled and sat down beside little Targon.

        “I was in labour when you put your paw inside me and told me all was open for business,”  Anook said.  Little Targon smiled contentedly.

       “I suppose you were in labour,”  she replied.

       “Look, I know it was unconventional, not the long drawn out thing you have been taught to expect,”  Anook said, “but I was in labour.”  Little Targon nodded, her eyes filling with tears.

        “I hope I will remember the birth of your cub forever Anook,”  little Targon said.

       “I will remember how a young bear helped me deliver my cub,”  Anook said softly, “and you did help me Targon, you helped me.  You had no time to massage my paws or soothe me, and that I would have liked you to do.  But you did help me.”  Little Targon looked into Anook’s eyes.

       “mama,”  she said respectfully, “I wish to remember the birth of Hope.”  Anook smiled and replayed the video for little Targon, who watched enthralled,

       “that video is a tribute to my cub,”  she replied.

       “how would it be that?”  buck asked.

      “Anook’s being hard on herself,”  Kamchatka replied, “Anook, for Eohippus sake, please, don’t blame yourself for your cub’s weakness.  Your cub is healthy, vibrant and healthy.”

        “I wish I’d taken my other symptoms seriously,”  Anook said, “sickness, lack of seasonal cycle, that kind of thing, but I didn’t.  I thought I was too old, too past it for delivering cubs into the world, and now I have a cub.  I don’t regret it at all,”  she paused, Hope scrambling into Anook’s lap to comfort her, “I wish, wish I’d done all I could to give you the best chance little one,”  Anook choked.

        “Anook, Stop this now!”  Blackberry snapped, coming back into the room, “your cub’s healthy, stop blubbing over what you can’t change.”

       “No, you shut up, shut up, shut up!”  Hope squealed, sensing Blackberry was making her mother cry.

        “Leave here Blackberry,”  little Targon said firmly.  Blackberry, snorting, stood his ground.

      “Blackberry, dad, go!”  little Targon barked.  Blackberry, embarrassed at his cub calling him, “dad,”  in polite company, scrambled away, his face reddening.

        “how cute!”  buck laughed.

       “I don’t call him dad outside the den,”  little Targon replied, “but that was the only way I could get shot of him.  I’m sorry, but Anook needs to speak her feelings.  She is anxious about her cub’s well being, and a careful mama in pregnancy delivers a very healthy cub.”

       “I was a dead loss at the care bit, I was, I was!”  Anook wailed.

      “mama, I’m here, I’m alive, you weren’t a dead loss, I’m not dead!”  Hope yelled, beating her gloved paws on her mama’s chest in frustration.

        “now your cub’s telling you to cheer up Anook,”  Rowena said, “that’s so cute too!”

        “I did well, I know,”  Anook replied, “though I could have done better!”

        “mama, please,”  Hope begged, “stop crying, it’s awful when you cry.”  Anook kissed her cub’s nose, Hope lifting her tiny paw to dry her mother’s eyes.  Anook, seeing this, gulped hard, trying not to weep.

       “Thanks little one,”  Anook said softly to Hope, who kissed her mum’s paw.

       “Tea, toast and then a warm bath, starting now!”  Kuruk said, shuffling in carrying a tray.  Anook looked at the tray and smiled:

        “I love you Kuruk,”  she said, Kuruk buttering the toast, slapping on honey and offering her the slice.

      “What’s that mama?”  Hope asked, her nose twitching.  Kuruk, grinning, scooped a little honey onto a spoon and guided it into Hope’s mouth.

     “open your mouth and lick that spoon little one,”  Kuruk said gently.  Hope opened her mouth, and warm liquid heaven touched her tongue.

         “be gentle Kuruk,”  Anook said.  Kuruk felt the spoon taken from his paw by Hope’s gloved right forepaw, the cub licking and sucking the honey off the spoon.

       “that is lovely!”  Hope said, honey spattering her facial fur.

        “Let’s wash your face and change the mittens on your paws Hope love,”  Anook said.  this Kuruk did, washing Hope with gentle care.

      “Kuruk love those little mittens and socks on you Hope,”  Kuruk said gently to the cub.

       “You wanted to remove them from my paws earlier,”  Hope replied, “now you say you like them?  Adults, how changeable they are!”  Kuruk laughed uproariously at this.

     “Kuruk no worry if you want wear socks and mittens all your life,”  he replied, “though he prefer bare paws himself.”

      “I wear things on my paws and feet because they get cold,”  Hope replied, “though I think this isn’t the normal way of cubs.  I think mama was barefoot from her cubhood till now.  Her paws tell me she never wore coverings on them.”

      “How do my paws tell you?”  Kuruk asked.  Hope took his left forepaw in her tiny gloved paws.

       “I’ll have to remove my mittens to get paws on, dam!”  Hope raged.

       “language!”  Anook snapped.

       “I heard someone complain like that when I was waiting to be born, I think it was you mama, you were frustrated.”

      “I might have been frustrated and said that word, but you don’t’ use those words!”  Anook snapped, very embarrassed.

       “Kuruk wait until Hope cub be large enough keep pretty paws warm before he ask her remove soft coverings,”  Kuruk said.  Hope was content with that, giggling at Kuruk’s strange speech.

        “I like you Kuruk,”  she said.  Kuruk looked into the cub’s face.

       “Kuruk bloody worried about you when you unborn,”  Kuruk admitted, “he see mama Anook straining to relieve herself, and he worried cub would be hurt while she struggled.”

        “mama didn’t feel well, and it was making me feel awful too,”  Hope replied, “but when careful paws got rubbing as they did, everything was fixed very quickly.”

      “You survived, and Kuruk bloody relieved,”  Kuruk said, his voice choking.

       “Is, “bloody relieved,” one up from just relieved?”  Hope asked, Anook scowling at her mate.

       “You are as bad as me!”  she snarled, “watch your language Kuruk!”

        “I think I will enjoy this life,”  Hope said.  Anook looked at her blanket wrapped, glove and sock wearing cub.

       “Those mittens and socks do look cute on you,”  Anook said, “but I am looking forward to the day when you feel you can take those socks and mittens off and remain warm.”  Hope turned her face to her mother.

       “My paws and feet get cold fast,”  Hope replied, “when my brother helped me relieve myself earlier, I was cold by the time I’d finished.  I hope it won’t be like that all the time, the cold was horrid!”

        “I hope it won’t be either,”  Anook replied.  Hope rubbed her eyes with her gloved forepaws.

        “so what are you and Sire Kuruk doing mama?”  she asked.  Anook told her what Kuruk and she were doing.

      “We’re hungry, so we’re eating, like you drink milk at the moment when you’re hungry,”  Anook replied gently.

      “Oh ok,”  Hope replied.  Patch padded in, glanced at the bears and sat down.

       “I’ve just watched the most amazing video,”  Patch said, “it’s amazing what I saw!”

      “Who’s this?”  Hope asked.  Anook explained who the newcomer was.

        “So there is a bigger bear here than Sire Kuruk?”  Hope asked.

     “Um, well, yes and no,”  Kuruk replied, “Patch be my brother you see Hope, he wiser and better than sire Kuruk.”

       “I’m not better than you Kuruk,”  patch said awkwardly, “I’m differently educated, that’s all.  You’re more wild than me.”  Kuruk touched Patch’s forepaw:

       “Kuruk think of patch as better than him,”  Kuruk replied.

       “Kuruk,”  Patch said, “I am leader through election, I’m no better than you my brother.  I am leader because others want me as leader.”

       “Was mama Anook born here?”  Hope asked.

      “I came here heavily in cub and ready to give birth,”  Anook replied, “it was Patch who spoke to me in old ursine, and told me I was safe.”  I am grateful to him more than ever now.”

     “Who will welcome me into the community?”  Hope asked, “am I an outcast until a community bear finds me?”  Anook smiled and replied:

       “You were born here, this is your home Hope.”

       “but, but Kuruk said there would be a ceremony where my gloves and socks would be removed from my paws,”  Hope replied, “that means I’m not in yet.”

       “You are, you are safe,”  Anook said, “the ceremony is to introduce you formally to the community, for everyone to say hello, to touch you, sniff you, claim you as theirs.”

       “So I’m not your cub then mama?”  Hope asked.

      “You are my cub, Kuruk’s too,”  Anook replied, “but there are others who would like to claim you as their friend, their cub too.  Everyone has responsibility for you, and when you are older, you will touch the paws of newborn cubs in your turn.”

        “there are some who already don’t like me though,”  Hope whimpered, “that voice who said Hope never fed a cub.  I haven’t had the chance to feed another cub, and I’ve never met the owner of that voice before, so how did that voice know I’d never fed one?  Please mama, tell me what’s going on!”  Anook gathered Hope to her, hugging her tightly.

      “That voice doesn’t matter,”  Anook replied.

       “I’m hungry mama,”  hope said, Patch getting to his feet and grabbing a bottle from the sterilizer for Anook to feed Hope.  Hope drank from the bottle, remembering this time to pause and let the bottle fill with air before she drank busily once more.

       “You’re a lovely cub,”  Patch said to Hope, “what I can see of you which isn’t covered by the blanket that is.”

       “I feel the cold mister patch,”  Hope replied, “I’d rather not take my blankets off.  I’m too small, or so my mama says, I have thin paws which cause me to feel the cold more.”  Patch gathered Hope to him, careful not to disturb her bundle of blankets.

       “I’ll be gentle,”  Patch said to Anook, who looked concerned.  Settling Hope in his lap, patch gently unwrapped the six hour old cub from her bundles of blankets, seeing and feeling a thin cub.

      “Your paws are so cute,”  patch said, lifting each of Hope’s forepaws and removing the mittens before kissing her pads, Hope giggling with pleasure.

        “Do I get to kiss your pads too?”  Hope asked.  Patch smiled and replied:

       “yes, but they’re a lot bigger than yours.”

       “yes, you’re a bigger bear,”  Hope said.  Patch ran his paws all over Hope’s body beneath the blankets, Hope wriggling with pleasure as she felt his touch.

      “Can I touch your paws mister Patch?”  Hope asked as Patch removed each of the socks on her hind paws and explored her pads and toes, before replacing the sock with care, Hope wiggling her toes with pleasure as she felt Patch’s large paws embracing her small paws.

       “Your paws are warm enough to make my socks not being there less of a problem,”  Hope said.

       “I’m glad my paws are warm enough for that,”  Patch said, knowing his paws were well served by blood, as he was often complemented on how warm his paws were.

        “now can I get paws on with your paws Patch?”  Hope asked.  patch smiled and wrapped Hope up in the main part of her blanket.

       “Do you want to get paws on through your mittens, or with uncovered forepaws?”  he asked.  hope was amazed he’d asked:

      “Uncovered forepaws!”  she squealed, “please,”  she added quietly.

         “Well here are my forepaws,”  patch said, letting Hope handle his forepaws in hers, the cub exploring furry tops and smooth pads.  Then Patch let Hope explore his hind paws, Hope giggling as Patch’s toes curled round those of her forepaws, his embrace warm and comforting to the little cub.

       “your hind feet also give comfort,”  Hope said, “they’re playful hind paws.”  patch smiled.

        “You’re not the only one to find that,”  Sooleawa said, padding into the room, “I also found patch’s paws of great comfort.”  Hope let go of Patch’s right hind foot and crawled towards the voice which had come into the room, Sooleawa stopping her with a forepaw.

        “I’m here,”  Sooleawa said, “my name’s Sooleawa, I’m patch’s cub.”  Hope got paws on with Sooleawa, squealing with surprise as Sooleawa got paws on with her.

       “Your paws are like patch’s, there is something about your paws and his that makes me want to play with them and let them play with me,”  Hope laughed.  Sooleawa smiled and rolled Hope onto her back, tickling the cub’s now bare paws.

      “Stop that, now!”  Hope yelled with mock anger.  Sooleawa, smiling, sat down and picked Hope up in her paws, settling her on her lap.

        “You are so cute,”  Sooleawa said.

        “buck told me cute was a good word,”  Hope said.

       “It is,”  Sooleawa replied.  Hope snuggled into her body warmer blanket, though her paws and hind feet were bare,.

       “I get the feeling your birth was unusual too,”  Hope said.  Sooleawa smiled and replied:

      “yes it was, I’ll tell you all about it if you like.  I’ve seen yours, and it was so amazing!”

         “I think I’m going to enjoy this tale,”  Hope said, “I like a good news tale.”  Sooleawa smiled and kissed Hope’s nose:

       “so do I,”  she replied softly.

       “Look, if you two are going to go tell each other tales, please Sooleawa, take a bottle with you to feed Hope,”  Anook said.  Sooleawa grinned and said she would feed Hope as and when Hope wanted food.

        “I feed myself now,”  Hope snapped, “mama, you saw me feeding myself!”  Anook grinned and waved her paw to Sooleawa:

       “Look after my cub won’t you,”  she said softly.

       “We’re not going anywhere mama,”  Hope said, “we’ll stay here, but don’t be surprised if Sooleawa does strange things, for I will ask her to describe her birth, and if it was anything like mine, well then.”  Anook grinned.

        “We are very tactile here, we love to touch and be touched,”  Sooleawa said, “birth stories are as important as anything that happens to a cub after.  Oh, and by the way, your socks and mittens will not do your paws any good if you want to touch your surroundings.”

      “My paws don’t feel as cold as they did,”  Hope replied, “now Sooleawa, tell me about your birth, who was your mama?”

        “My mama is bramble, though I’m adopted by Ekaterina and Patch, as Bramble felt she couldn’t look after me,”  Sooleawa said.

       “Oh,”  Hope said softly, touching Sooleawa’s paw with hers, “I’m sorry.”  Sooleawa looked at Hope’s face.

        “how much do you remember of your birth Hope?”  Sooleawa asked.

        “A lot,”  Hope replied, “I remember a lot, if, if I tell you bits, can you help me put them in order?”  Sooleawa hesitated:

       “I wasn’t there, I didn’t see anything but the video,”  she replied.

       “Please,”  Hope begged, “I need to talk about it, just as you spoke about your birth once, well I’m sure you did.  Your paws tell me you did.”

       “I did,”  Sooleawa replied, “and still do.”

       “Well come on then, tell me the tale!”  Hope begged, “I like a good tale.”

       “have you met mama Ekaterina?”  Sooleawa asked.  Hope snorted:

       “You told me your mama was called Bramble, not Ekaterina, come on Sooleawa, get on with the story!”  she pleaded.

       “Please,”  Sooleawa said gently, glancing at Patch who motioned to her to be patient with Hope, “please, this is all very important.  Have you met mama Ekaterina?”

      “No,”  Hope replied, “the bear who helped me into the world was named Target or something like that.”  Anook, overhearing this, laughed helplessly.

       “I kind of fired Hope at Targon, that’s true,”  she thought.

       “yes, Targon is her name,”  Sooleawa replied, “well, she’s a midwife, as is mama Ekaterina.”

        “Hope,”  patch said, “this is Patch, Ekaterina put the blanket and socks on you.”

       “Ah, yes, okay,”  Hope gabbled, sorting quickly through the thousands of sensations she’d experienced in her short life.

        “Well Ekaterina helped me into the world, dragged me into it really,”  Sooleawa said, “I got stuck, and mama Bramble was pushing hard against me to move me into the world, but she couldn’t manage it alone.”

       “mama Anook stamped her feet, I heard that,”  Hope said, “she groaned a lot too, and pushed hard against me.”

      “Same here with me and my mama Bramble,”  Sooleawa replied, “though I had the added traction of Ekaterina’s paw to help me into the world.  She pulled while my mama pushed for a bit, then because Bramble was so exhausted, Ekaterina lubricated my body and pulled while Bramble just lay there unable to help.  Right at the end though, Bramble did push a little so she could feel me come into the world.”

      “Oh,”  Hope said, feeling her paw taken in Sooleawa’s larger one, “yes, take my paw, I think you need it,”  Hope added.

        “I was terrified!”  Sooleawa replied.  Hope kissed her nose and the paw holding her tiny one.

         “the end of my birth was fast and I think I was upside down for part of it,”  Hope replied.  Sooleawa laughed:

      “You turned head over paws as you nearly flew out of your mama,”  she said.

        “What is that? Going head over paws I mean,”  Hope asked.  Sooleawa smiled and showed her by degrees, what going head over paws was.  Hope laughed as Sooleawa handled her, placing her fore and hind feet in the right position and then telling her to push with her hind feet.  Hope pushed hard against the ground, and Sooleawa helped Hope achieve a forward roll, supporting her down to the ground so Hope ended lying on her back on the rugs.

      “You did that a lot faster though,”  Sooleawa said, Hope laughing so hard she nearly choked.

      “That was fun!”  she said, “can you help me do that again?”  Sooleawa smiled and helped hope into another foreword roll, the cub laughing delightedly.

        “I like it when you touch my paws,”  she said when she could speak after calming down.

       “I noticed you moved your paws from where I put them,”  Sooleawa said, “I thought it was because you were uncomfortable in that posture.”

       “Um, ah, no,”  Hope replied, “I like you touching my paws, that’s why I move them from where you put them, so you have to pick them up and move them back to where you want them.”  Sooleawa hugged Hope tightly.

       “I love you,”  she said, kissing the cub’s nose.

        “is love feeling like you could curl up and sleep for a week while someone hugs you?”  Hope asked.

       “it is, sort of,”  Sooleawa replied, “if you like the touch of my paws, and like my way of being with you, then that could turn into love I suppose, and I love you dearly, I’ve gone beyond liking you.”  Hope snuggled into Sooleawa’s embrace.

        “You are a beautiful cub Hope,”  Sooleawa said, “all grey brown fur, and black pads on your paws too.  Very cute.”

        “What colour is your fur?”  Hope asked.

       “I don’t know how to describe my fur,”  Sooleawa replied, “I’ve not tried it before.  My paw pads are white, well pink, but so lighter pink they’re almost white.  My fur?  Grey? Grey white? Um, silvery my sire says.  That’s why my mama named me Sooleawa, it means silver.  Though mama Ekaterina can’t see, she’s like you, though you will see, if Eohippus wishes your eyes to open to light.  Some cubs eyes open to darkness, but that does not mean they are evil hearted.  Ekaterina’s eyes opened to darkness.”

      “but she’s not evil, she’s not bad is she,”  Hope said.

      “No,”  Sooleawa replied.  She can’t see, like you can’t see with your eyes.  She uses her paws like you do.”  Hope was happy with this explanation.

        “Now I am hungry after all that rolling about,”  Hope said.  Sooleawa smiled and gave Hope her bottle, the cub settling back in Sooleawa’s embrace to drink her milk.

        “I love you little one,”  Sooleawa whispered to Hope, the sight of the cub making her eyes fill with tears.

       “Hope is so perfect,”  Sooleawa thought.  Hope finished the bottle of milk and dropped the bottle next to her.  Sooleawa, smiling patted Hope’s back, the cub belching loudly, the sound making Hope squeal with fear.

       “That was you little one,”  Sooleawa said gently, “but there’s no problem.  It’s all done now.”  Hope let Sooleawa wash her face with a damp cloth handed to her by mama Kamchatka who was silent, but attentive.

       “Come,”  Sooleawa said, “I’ll curl round you Hope, then you can sleep a while.”  Hope snuggled down with Sooleawa, the older cub protecting the younger one.

      “I love you Hope,”  Sooleawa said.

        “Can I tickle your paws Sooleawa?”  Hope asked.  Sooleawa gave hope her left forepaw, Hope tickling her pads with her right forepaw.

       “That would do better on my hind feet, maybe tickling my toes?”  Sooleawa mused.

         “You want me to touch your hind feet Sooleawa?”  Hope asked.

       “I’d like you to,”  Sooleawa replied.

       “I’d love to measure my hind feet against yours,”  Hope replied, “and then touch your pads, and feel your toes curling around mine, if they feel they want to, and maybe my paws will become attracted to yours, and we will play a game where we pretend our hind feet are stuck together.”

      “You know of that game?”  Sooleawa asked, astonished.

       “Is it a game already?”  Hope asked, “I just thought pretending paws stuck to another’s by love was a nice idea, has someone thought of that already?”  Sooleawa smiled:

      “They have,”  she replied, “and the struggle to free hind feet can be a hard one.”

       “the More you play, the stronger the glue gets?”  Hope asked.

       “yes!”  Kuruk and Anook said in unison, making Hope laugh.

        “of course!”  she said, “mama Anook and Kuruk’s hind feet would have stuck together strongly before they mated to make me come into the world.  I’ll bet they played as friends before they played as mates.”

      “Smart cub Hope,”  patch laughed.

       “I want my paws to stick to yours Hope!”  Sooleawa whined.

       “and I want to play with your paws so they do!”  Hope replied in similar vain, both laughing at their antics.

        “now I’ll help you sit up so you can reach my hind feet,”  Sooleawa said to Hope, propping her up with a cushion so she was sitting opposite her.  Smiling, Sooleawa guided Hope’s bare forepaws to her bared hind paws, settling Hope’s forepaws around her own larger left hind foot, hope wriggling closer to press her own hind feet against Sooleawa’s.  Sooleawa curled her toes around Hope’s tiny ones, hope wriggling with pleasure as her hind feet were warmed by Sooleawa’s.

        “Now how do my feet feel to yours?”  Hope asked.  Sooleawa smiled and replied:

       “Warm, playful and gentle,”  Hope pressed her toes into the thick pads of Sooleawa’s hind feet.

        “Your pads are soft and warm to my toes,”  she replied.

        “That’s so cute!”  Patch said, smiling broadly, his eyes shining.

 

Hope and Sooleawa slept curled together for a few hours.  Hope, waking feeling refreshed, crawled out of the lie up, turning left, she crawled along the corridor, her progress halted by her paw touching that of another creature.

       “oops, sorry,”  Hope said.

       “What is your name little one?”  a voice asked.

      “My name’s Hope, I’m mama Anook’s cub,”  Hope replied.

       “I heard tell she’d had a cub,”  the voice said.

      “Well, yes, I’m that cub,”  Hope replied, “um, what’s your name?”  The voice replied:

       “My name’s Sita, I’m Patch’s cub.”  Hope followed Sita to her lie up, as she trusted the paw hers had landed on.  In Sita’s lie up, Sita lay down, Hope cuddling up to her.

        “You’re wearing a blanket,”  Sita said, getting paws on, “were you born with one?”  Hope laughed so hard she nearly choked:

       “No silly!”  she replied, “I’m so thin, or so my mama says, I feel the cold, though my paws and feet don’t now.  I used to wear socks too!”

      “socks are banned here aren’t they?”  Sita asked.  Hope snuggled close to Sita.

      “I don’t know,”  she yawned, “I wore them, until my paws learnt to get warm.  Now I don’t need them, and hope I never will.  Sita hugged Hope to her, kissing the cub’s ear.

        “Sleep well little one,”  Sita said gently.

 

Hours passed, and Anook woke to find Hope nowhere in the lie up. Fighting down panic, she padded out of the lie up, turned to her right, and tracked Hope’s scent to Sita’s lie up, which she reflected would have been a crawl and a half for the little cub, being one floor down from her own lie up.

       “there she is,”  Anook thought, as she glanced into Sita’s lie up, seeing her cub snuggled next to the cat bear.  Anook went to the relieving place, then padded back to Sita’s lie up with a bottle of milk for her cub, and some newspaper in case Hope wanted to relieve herself.

       “Hi mama,”  Hope yawned, waking soon after Anook sat down in the lie up.

      “Shh,”  Anook whispered, “we don’t want to wake Sita.”

      “You failed,”  Sita replied, “I heard you come to my door that first time Anook.”

      “hmm,”  Anook replied, wondering how sensitive Sita’s ears were.

        “Well, now, I’m hungry,”  Hope said, “Where’s my lie up?”

        “It’s a long way from here, up a slope or two, and along corridors,”  Anook replied, “Hope, where did you meet Sita?”

      “Just outside our lie up,”  Hope replied, not seeing anything wrong with roaming about on her own, “I followed Sita down here.”

      “You didn’t offer to carry her Sita?”  Anook asked.

      “Hope didn’t ask,”  Sita replied.        “mama,”  Hope said, “what is Sita?  Is she a bear?  Her paws, they felt bear like, but then again, not bear like.”  Anook hesitated:

          “I will tell you later Hope,”  she said.

        “Why don’t I tell her,”  Sita replied.

        “I’d rather tell her the tale,”  Anook said.

      “No mama, let Sita tell me her birth story, as Sooleawa told me hers,”  Hope replied, “Sita?”

        “it’s a long tale,”  Sita replied.

       “I know, your tail is long, I felt it, I touched your tail!”  Hope laughed.  Sita grinned.

      “Wrong type of tail,”  she said, “but yes, my physical tale is long too.”

      “But bears don’t have tails do they?”  Hope asked, “your paws Sita, they feel like a bear’s paws.”

      “I thought you’d been exploring,”  Sita said, “I could feel you had.”

       “yes, “I touched your nose, your face, your paws, belly, tail, every part of you,”  Hope admitted.

       “Did you ask first?”  Anook asked.

       “No mama,”  Hope replied, “should I have done so?”

         “yes!”  Anook snapped, “getting paws on is something you ask about first!”

      “But Sita, Sita got paws on with me and she didn’t ask, well, not actually ask in words, her paws asked me, and I said yes, though I didn’t say yes with words from my mouth.”  Anook could feel her headache returning.

        “Your too energetic,”  Anook mumbled.  Sita smiled and told Hope her birth story, Hope captivated, then astonished at her claim patch had helped her into the world by labouring like a mother bear.

        “So you say patch pushed and stamped his paws to deliver you as mama Anook did to deliver me?”  Hope asked.

      “yes Hope dear,”  Sita replied, “it’s all true too, ask Patch, ask Ekaterina.  They’ll tell you.”

        “I think it is possible,”  Hope replied, “I hope a video of Sita’s birth is here somewhere.”

       “I know Patch re-enacted your birth Sita,”  Anook said, “as your birth wasn’t caught on camera.”

       “I think Patch and Nanuq did some wizardry with the computers to make it look like he delivered me into the world that day,”  Sita replied, “I know I had pictures taken of me lying in different positions.  I had to kick the air with my feet, and mew like a cub, no problem there.”  Anook laughed at the idea.

      “I would love to see that video, and how they worked that one,”  she replied, “considering it’s kind of rewriting history.”

       “if Sita’s mama didn’t want her, but Patch does, then why not change things?”  Hope asked, “if the mama tigress didn’t want Sita, Patch did.  He struggled and strained as much as the tigress did.  I know that.”

       “how can you know that?”  Anook asked.

       “Patch’s paws told me,”  Hope replied, “they gave me comfort, comfort like Sita’s paws do now, and Sooleawa’s paws before hers.  Yes, that’s it!”  Hope replied.

        “I hope you don’t take fright when you see me with your eyes,”  Sita thought, her mood darkening.

       “What’s the matter Sita?”  Hope asked.

       “I hope your eyes don’t turn you away from me,”  Sita replied sadly.

        “my eyes will do what I want them to,”  Hope replied.

        “I don’t look very nice,”  Sita replied sadly, “at least that’s what I’m told.”

        “If my eyes lie to me, you catch me, hold me down and tell me to use my paws then,”  Hope replied.  Sita smiled broadly:

        “I will,”  she replied.

        “It’s time for your first bath I think,”  Anook said, “first of all though, a drink maybe Hope?”  hope scrambled into her mother’s lap and drank the milk she offered.

       “I do hope Hope doesn’t judge me by looks,”  Sita thought miserably.

       “let’s bathe you Hope,”  Anook said, carrying her to Sita’s private bathroom, for Sita had special access to a bathtub left over from the days when the house was a far grander place than it was now.”  Anook washed her cub, while Sita changed the blanket socks and mittens.  Sita, finding new ones, delivered to her by Ekaterina, who swapped dirty blankets for clean, carried the new blankets into the bathroom for Hope to use.  Hope, her face and fur covered in soap, heard Sita come in and settle the blankets down on a stool for her use.  Hope, showered down by a hand held shower held by her mother, looked around her, her eyes now open.  Seeing a strange creature holding something in its paws, Hope’s eyes widened, then she asked:

      “What is that?”

       “Who is that I think you mean,”  Anook replied, “that cat bear with brown fur and black stripes is Sita.”

        “Sita, the creature with the soft warm paws, who’s mama and sire is Patch?”  Hope asked.  Anook replied this was the case, while Sita felt sick.

       “Sita,”  Hope said, “Can I touch your paw?”

       “yes,”  Sita said, giving Hope her left forepaw.

        “your paw is the same as the one which embraced me,”  Hope said with relief, “I wasn’t sure.”

          “I feared you’d let your eyes lead you,”  Sita said.  Hope felt Sita’s grief.

       “I’m sorry,”  Hope said, “you were right about eyes telling lies.”  Sita smiled, and Hope gasped with amazement.

        “wow,”  she said, “Sita, now I’m really sorry for my eyes.”  Sita leant down and kissed Hope’s nose, the cub reaching up to touch Sita’s face with her wet forepaws.

        “Please Sita, will you dry me from nose to tail?”  Hope asked.  Sita smiled, picked hope out of the tub, settled her on the towels, and rubbed her from nose to tail, the rubbing causing Hope to want to relieve herself, Sita helping her to do this.  Once Hope was cleaned up, Sita finished Hope’s rub down with attention to her paws, hope giggling with pleasure as Sita completed her task.

       “You make me feel safe Sita,”  Hope said.  Sita smiled, lifted Hope from the towels, and folded the towels neatly.  Hope stared at Sita’s face, her paws, and her tail.

       “You are a shock for young eyes,”  hope said, “but your paws are comforting and loving,”  Hope said softly.  Sita, you warned me, and I nearly let my eyes lie to me.”  Sita kissed Hope’s nose and paws, hope smiling broadly.

       “I fear you will forget my paws and let your eyes lie to you again,”  Sita said.  Hope forced herself to look again at Sita, from her nose, to her toes.  Hope felt fear, the colour of Sita’s fur made her fearful, but Sita’s paws told another tale entirely.  A slightly sad tale, but one that ultimately ended in security.

      “Ignore the news of your eyes Hope, concentrate on your paws,”  Patch said, padding into the bathroom.  Hope looked up at him:

       “Sita frightened me with her fur,”  Hope said honestly.

        “Sita’s fur is all right,”  Patch replied, “have you been hugged by her?  I have, and she knows how to cuddle.”  Hope grinned:

       “I know,”  she said, “Sita’s hug is lovely.”

       “I think we should show you Sita’s birth video, the updated one I mean, with the special affects which make it look as if I gave birth to Sita.  For reasons which will become clear when you have history lessons Hope, you will find out why Sita and I decided on me re-enacting her birth in the way we did.”

      “What does Sita think of all this?”  Anook asked.

      “Why not ask her?”  Sita enquired.  Anook, blushing scarlet mumbled:

      “oh, um, yes.”

      “Well?”  Sita asked.

       “What do you think of patch doing this Sita?”  Anook asked.  Sita grinned:

       “I feel better about it, for Patch is the one who’s given me support throughout my life.  Plus he did labour to deliver me.  If it hadn’t been for him, I wouldn’t have been born at all.”

     “I look forward to the video,”  Hope said.

       “Did you ever bottle feed Sita Patch?”  Hope asked.  Patch looked at Sita.

      “No,”  he said, “her mother, though hating her, fed her milk on pain of death.  She then threw Sita out as soon as she could, not good community behaviour at all that.  Sita then came to me, and we bonded properly.  Well, she’d been talking to me on and off, secret like, but when Haimati gave her the push from the den, Sita came to me.  Mama Kamchatka and sire Koda also adopted her, but I was, and am seen as her parent, as it were.”

       “Patch,”  Sita said, “I’ve often,,,”  her voice trailed away.

      “Often what?”  patch asked, his eyes gentle on his grown daughter cub.

        “Nothing,”  Sita mewed, her face blushing scarlet at the wish she nearly gave words.”

       “Sita wants to be bottle fed by you, just once,”  Hope said loudly.  Sita growled with embarrassment.

      “Isn’t anything secret round here?”  she asked, patch laughing merrily.

      “It’s not funny, it’s not bloody funny!”  Sita mewed, literally turning on Patch, accidentally clouting Hope across the head with her tail as she turned.

     “Hey, that hurt!”  Hope wailed, clutching her head in her forepaws.

       “You only need to ask,”  patch said, “that would be fine Sita.”

     “but I’m all grown now, you can’t do that!”  Sita yelled.

     “if it’s a one off thing, and I can understand quite where it comes from, then I’ll do it Sita,”  Patch said gently.  Sita caved in:

        “Noone is to see it, it will be done in private, in the woods, no prying cameras, and no prying cubs either Hope!  You are banned from attending!”  Sita snarled, still very embarrassed.  Hope, rubbing her ear where Sita’s tail had stung it, looked down at the toes of her hind paws.

       “I’ll stay away,”  she whimpered, much upset, “and, Sita, you hit me with your tail!”

      “Oh, um, sorry,”  Sita said, turning back towards hope, her tail lashing Anook across her shoulder this time.

     “Someone cut her bloody tail off!”  Anook growled.

      “You leave Sita’s tail alone mum!”  Hope yelled.

       “Now both of you, stop it!”  Patch said, trying not to laugh, “Sita, please, can we leave this room so you can have a bigger turning circle, and as for you Anook, and Hope, both of you come too, and we can sort all this about bottle feeding, the birth video  etc.

 

Being carried back to Patch’s lie up by her mother, Hope thought of Sita and what she’d learned in her hours with the cat bear.

       “Don’t trust your eyes, your eyes can lie,”  Hope mouthed, “trust your paws, paws never lie.  Yes, I learnt that the hard way.  I saw Sita’s grief at my reaction to her fur.  Her paws though, what paws! lovely, playful, expressive, gentle paws, and Sita’s fur?  Soft and warm, her tail, now that’s a troublesome tail that is.  Maybe it doesn’t like Sita and causes trouble for her whenever it can?”  Hope’s musings were cut short by a growl and a spitting sound.

       “Sita, I hate you so very much!”  someone said.  Hope turned her head, just as Anook began to sprint for cover.

       “No mama, I want to watch!”  Hope complained, wriggling and kicking.

       “No, we’re out of here, now!”  Anook replied.  Hope kicked and wriggled madly, trying to free herself.

       “You can’t stay here!”  Anook yelled, inadvertently letting Hope go.  Hope fell, landed and rolled away, scrambling into a crawling posture.  Anook, now sick with fright, saw her cub had landed between the owner of the angry voice, a male big cat, and Sita.

       “Hmm, Ahanu,”  Sita said conversationally, “now I thought you cared so little for me, you’d leave me alone, you wouldn’t even dirty your paws by walking down the same corridors I use, wasn’t that what you said once?”

        “I hate you for making a go of your life, for surviving, for being successful!”  Ahanu roared.

       “you are bitter and twisted Ahanu,”  Sita said, “has my mother been talking to you again?  She always was a sour puss.”  Patch, finding the expression highly amusing in the current context, tried not to laugh, where Anook, finding the whole thing terrifying, gripped the tiles with desperate toes.

       “You make me want to vomit!”  Ahanu yelled.

      “You bore the fur off me,”  Sita replied, half smiling.

       “I wish Haimati had killed you at birth!”  Ahanu yelled.

       “She wanted to, I know that,”  Sita replied, “but she called out to one who could never let that happen.  A bear saved mine and her lives, now she’s in debt to him, and I love this bear with all my heart.  |Haimati will never acknowledge the debt to Patch she owes, for she hates him for saving me.  Isn’t she pregnant again?”  Ahanu snorted, turned tail and fled, obviously, Haimati’s pregnancy was news he didn’t like.

      “wow,”  Hope said, “that was nasty.  I felt real fury there, hatred.  I take it that’s your natural sire Sita.”

        “yes,”  Sita replied, “he bores me rigid.”  Hope laughed at this, and Anook asked:

      “Hope, can we go now, please?”  Hope turned to her mother.

        “Thanks mum, for letting me watch I mean.  Now I know what real senseless hatred is, and I promise I will never do that, that cat’s face was horrible!”

        “You said you didn’t like Sita’s, is it different to hers?”  Anook asked.

       “Sita’s fur is unusual, her eyes though, and her smile, they are lovely.  She might have unusual fur, but her face is beautiful, she doesn’t hate her birth parents like they do her.  She might say she does, and I’m sure she has every reason to, if what I saw was proof of their feelings towards her.  I’m just glad I didn’t get paws on with that cat, his hatred might have shrivelled me into a desert.”  Patch smiled broadly at hope’s words.

       “Eloquent cub,”  he said.

      “that cat’s face was twisted horribly,”  Hope said, “that was more scary than Sita’s fur!”

        “let’s go to Patch’s lie up, there we can look at Sita’s birth video,”  Anook said quickly, picking Hope up and running for the lift.  Patch touched Sita’s paw, and they padded together to his lie up.

       “here we are,”  Patch said, Sitting down.  Hope, seeing him sitting on the sofa, crawled quickly to it, and scrambled up, to find Sooleawa lying on half the sofa.

     “Oh, sorry, didn’t see you there,”  Hope said to Sooleawa.

       “no problem,”  Sooleawa replied, “here, if I roll onto my side, there’s a nice warm patch you could snuggle down into, and I’ll hug you tight if you want.  Hope, feeling she’d be too hot in her blanket, socks  and mittens, shed them over the side of the sofa, and cuddled into Sooleawa’s hug as the older cub advised.

       “Face me, so your paws are in the space between our bodies, that way you keep your paws warm,”  Sooleawa said.  Hope did, and found Sooleawa embracing her tiny paws in her larger ones.

         “Instant heat, nice,”  Hope said.

 

They watched Sita’s birth video, the computer generated shots of Sita’s emergence into the world shocking Anook with their realism.

       “How did they do that?”  she asked when the video had finished.

       “You mean showed Sita covered in fluid and smaller than she actually was?”  Patch asked.  Anook nodded.

      “Computers,”  patch said, “Sita stood in a scanner, as did I, and the computer scanned our bodies, it knows our measurements to the millimetre.  So Sita could be scaled down, or up to suit the video.”

       “So she or you could become huge or tiny depending on what the film maker wanted?”  Sooleawa asked.

      “yes,”  patch replied.  Sita and I have been messing about with the computers.  Here, I’ll show you a scene shall I?”  he pressed a few buttons on a remote control, and a scene in a wood came onto the screen, Sita and Patch met in the wood, though they were clearly cubs, they played together and then padded back to the house together.”

      “I didn’t know you knew Sita when you were a cub?”  Anook said.

     “I didn’t,”  Patch replied, “that was all fictional.  Sita was scanned, photographed, then miniaturised by computers, as was I.  they then filmed us playing in real life, miniaturised the movements to the movements of the cubs, then put a woodland backdrop to it, all fiction, the camera lied.  Cool ain’t it.”  Anook, her mouth gaping, stared at patch and at Sita.

        “I don’t know what to think,”  she said, “the birth video was amazing, in that Patch could be seen delivering Sita into the world, but to know they could miniaturise and put Sita in places where she never could be in her life, is scary.”

        “the birth video that I made just for Sita, the one where just she and I were present is locked away,”  patch said, “this one, the video for all to see, is based on the original, but shot slightly differently.  Sita and I know how the spirits helped me deliver her into the world, but others might not be convinced.

       “You looked female,”  Anook said, “you didn’t look like a male bear pretending to have a cub.”

      “I don’t feel a fraud when I’m doing that,”  patch replied.

        “I knew it,”  Hope whispered to Sooleawa, “I knew Patch had delivered a cub himself, I could feel it in his paws!”  Sooleawa smiled and squeezed her friend’s paw.

        “I saw a video of a man in a school who rescued a bear,”  Anook said, “is this video true, or false?”

       “You decide,”  patch replied.

       “I can’t,”  Anook said, “it’s all rather confusing.  Can a bear go into a school full of human children and fool them into thinking he’s human?”

     “Um, no,”  patch replied, “the humans knew all the time.”

     “I heard tell you did something similar Patch, but the story was so incredible I dismissed it,”  Anook said.  patch grinned, got to his feet and left the room.  Ten minutes later an older man came shuffling into the lie up leaning on a stick.

       “Who the hell are you?”  Anook asked, her fear rising.

       “I found my way in here through an open door,”  the man said in a posh voice which made Hope giggle.

      “Don’t be rude!”  Anook snapped to her cub, while Sooleawa stared in open mouthed horror.

        “Where is Patch?”  she asked.

       “patch?”  the man asked, “I know not of such a man, is he a man?”

      “[Patch is a bear,”  Sooleawa replied.

      “Ah, is he a grey bear with white paw pads?”  the posh voice asked, “one of my capture team caught him in the woods I believe, he wears a tag around his neck to identify him.”  Sooleawa looked sick.

       “You are not serious?”  she asked, her eyes terrified.

        “I think that was his name,”  the man replied.  Sooleawa bit her paw, trying not to cry.

       “We have to rescue him,”  Sooleawa said, “and if he’s captured, he would rather die than lend his paw to you to get in here.”

       “he might still be alive, the humans forcing him to press his paws against the locks to let this disgrace into our home,”  Hope said.

       “Maybe,”  Patch said in his normal voice, “though none of that happened.”  Sooleawa stared hard at Patch, her eyes burning with fear.

        “how?  You bastard!  She yelled.  Patch smiled and stripped off his clothes, Anook covering her face with her paws.

         “You bugger!”  she whimpered.  Sooleawa looked at Hope, who smiled:

       “So he was the old man in the video, patch looked like an old man to fool the humans!  Well done Patch!”

       “he even fooled me,”  Sooleawa groaned.

       “I think Patch is wonderful,”  Hope replied.  Sooleawa swore quietly.

       “Sooleawa, that’s dreadful!”  Anook whimpered.

        “I thought Patch was truly captured, I didn’t see beyond the suit!”  she yelled, her pain clear.

        “I’m sorry Sooleawa love,”  Patch said, “I had to learn all that to get by when I was looking after jess.  Now though, I don’t need those talents, but I keep them up, just in case I do.”

        “yes, patch was good at mimicking voices to make me laugh, “  jess said, walking into the room.  Patch smiled at his life long friend and beckoned to the seat beside him, jess sitting down and putting her arm around Patch, while Sooleawa and Hope got off the sofa to get a better view of the human and the bear.

       “They look good together,”  Hope said.  Sooleawa smiled, watching jess rest her head on Patch’s shoulder in a natural manner, Patch glancing fondly at the young girl.

        “jess is wonderful isn’t she,”  Hope said.

        “Not as wonderful as you might think,”  Jess replied, “I did something bad a few years ago, or was it longer than that.  Jess then told of her life as a bear, and how she became human once more.

        “that tale is a terrible one,”  Sooleawa said.

      “I thought I knew the community,”  jess replied, “but I didn’t do what you all do, I didn’t follow my paws.  I did a human thing, aborting poor Peter, but then, then I tried to make amends.”  Jess then told of how she’d struggled to deliver peter into the world as a human mother delivering a bear cub into the world, the second story making Anook curl her toes into the carpet with anxiety.

        “how did it feel to deliver a bear cub?”  she asked.

       “painful, but natural,”  jess replied, “I did the job, and peter was given to Lunar to look after as her own cub..”

        “Who can substantiate the story of patch going into the human’s school?”  Anook asked, “and I don’t mean another human either, give me a bear, I want to hear it from a bear!”

         “I could tell you if you like,”  Tiguak said, walking into the room and sitting down, “you were there Anook, when I told my tale when I first came in here.  You say now you don’t believe me?”  Anook looked at Tiguak, then down at her paws.

        “I’m sorry Tiguak,”  she said, “of course it happened.”

       “Hey Patch, Patch!”  Moses yelled, running in waving a DVD in his hand, “I got the video of your time at the school, here, would you like to see it?”

      “Bread from heaven at the moment Moses,”  Patch said.  Moses, not understanding, slipped the DVD into the player and all watched enthralled as patch entered the classroom dressed as an old man.  Sooleawa watched with wide eyes and gaping mouth as Patch met the children, and then, as the chair collapsed beneath him, his cover was blown wide open.  Sooleawa looked fearful as the children looked at the now unmasked bear, but relaxed as they played with him and he with them, both sides relaxed as in the den.  Then came the time when Tiguak first met Patch, and the children ran out of the room to leave Tiguak and patch alone.  Tiguak’s fear of Patch made Sooleawa look at the real Tiguak with anger, but Anook motioned to her not to say a thing to Tiguak.

        “Sorry,”  Sooleawa replied faintly.  On the screen Patch and Tiguak left the room, Tiguak looking scared, then there was a brief shot of Patch diving back into the room to get his clothing before the video ended.

      “How much of that was falsified,”  Anook snapped.

      “None,”  Patch replied.  Anook got to her feet, walked round the room, then sat down again.

       “Got to stretch these old legs,”  she mumbled.

        “You’re not old yet mama,”  Hope said.  Anook smiled at her cub:

        “I’m old enough not to realise I’m pregnant,”  Anook replied.

        “You didn’t notice?”  Jess asked.

      “no,”  Anook replied, “I didn’t know, only suspected because of the constipation, didn’t know how long I had to go.”

        “I knew right enough,”  jess said, “labour kicked in and I went with it, it was amazing.”

     “I wish I’d had time to focus on mine,”  Anook replied.

       “is Hope old enough to come play with the other cubs?”  Sooleawa asked suddenly.  Anook looked at Sooleawa, then at Hope.

      “Um,”  she said, glancing at Patch for help.

       “I think she might be, if you keep an eye on her Sooleawa,”  he said, “I know she’s a day old, not even that really, but she’s well developed, and very active for her age, not to say independent too.”

      “Who runs play sessions now?”  Anook asked.

      “mama Sita does,”  Patch replied.

      “Mama Sita?”  Hope asked, “doesn’t mama mean she’s had cubs?”

     “She has indeed,”  Toby said, padding into the room, “and I’m one of them.”  Hope stared in astonishment at the grey panda.

       “wow, um, oh, right,”  she babbled.

       “mama Sita might look scary Hope dear,”  Toby replied, “but she’s really not all that scary.”

       “Does she play?”  Hope asked.

        “yes she does play,”  Sooleawa replied.

        “I was playing with her earlier,”  Jess said, “she checked my paws were bare, and I checked hers were.  Then, then we roughhoused together, she’s really gentle with me.  Jess turned to Patch and said:

       “I know I’m no longer allowed to assume the form of a bear any more,”  she said, “but being a bear meant I could really play, now though, everyone has to be so careful with me, it’s infuriating!”  Patch nuzzled her ear in a friendly manner.

       “I know,”  he replied, “Well, I hope Sita was rough enough to make the play for filling, but didn’t injury you.”

      “She tickled my toes,”  Jess said, “that felt wonderful!”  patch smiled broadly at his friend.

      “Sita is a good playmate,”  he said.

      “Not as good as you though patch,”  Sita said, padding into the lie up, Hope feeling a spike of fear despite her rational mind telling her she was stupid to feel fear of Sita.

       “me?”  Patch asked, “that’s funny!”

      “It’s true,”  Sita replied, “all the cubs say it.  They like me of course, they are at pains to say that too, but your name keeps coming up in conversation.  They say you are a great climbing frame, and your paws communicate more than mine do.”

       “You’re a good play leader, and don’t forget that Sita,”  Patch said.  Sita smiled slightly.

      “Thanks,”  she replied, “but sometimes, I wish you’d come and help out.”

       “I would like to see what the computer can do,”  Hope said, “can it make Patch massive?”  Patch went to the screen, tapped a few keys and projected a picture of himself onto the opposite wall, which was painted white,  then he told the computer to enlarge the picture, making himself huge!

      “Well?”  he asked.

     “Na,”  Sooleawa said dismissively, “I want to see big paws, big paws, huge paws!”  Patch made the image lift a hind foot, then turned the image to show the view of a head on shot of a massive hind foot, with big sole pad and toes, Sooleawa laughing merrily.

     “That’s it, big Patch!”  she whooped.

       “I could do things in real-time,”  Patch said, retiring to the bedroom and closing the door.  There he had a camera, and, knowing he was being filmed from all angles, he began rolling about on the floor, fighting with his hind paws, unashamedly acting the complete cub.  Shrieks of laughter and the sound of clapping paws told Patch he was doing well, and when he lay on his back and waved his paws in the air, the door burst open, and in rushed Sooleawa and Hope, who playfully flung themselves on Patch.

      “We wanted to play with the cub in the video!”  they said, hugging patch with their paws and kissing his nose.

       “You are so cute, I thought you aught to know that,”  Sooleawa said, patch stilled by the emotions he felt from the two young bears.

       “do I really look that approachable?”  he asked.

       “I wish Sita could see you patch,”  Sooleawa said, “she’d love you even more than she does now.”

       “Did she say she wanted to?”  Patch asked.  Sooleawa hesitated:

      “yes,”  Hope replied softly, “Sita was so upset she couldn’t see what made us so excited.”

     “she didn’t say that,”  Sooleawa replied, “she wanted to see patch, so she could enjoy how he looks as well as how he feels beneath her paws when she touches him.”

        “Sita?”  Patch asked, as the cat bear padded into the room.  Sita padded up to Patch, Hope and Sooleawa withdrawing.  Sita rested her head on patch’s chest.

        “I wish I could see you Patch,”  Sita said, “just for a minute, I know my world is in the dark, I couldn’t function with light.  But if I could only see you for a few minutes, fix you in my mind forever.

       “What about your cubs?”  patch asked, “would you like to see them too?”  Sita smiled:

        “I’d love to see them too,”  she replied, “of course, if none of this is possible, I’d understand totally.”

        “Sita,”  Patch said, “I can try and let you see me, though it will not be a permanent change.  You know how eyes lie, it is not for you to be anything but paws on.”

       “I know,”  Sita said, “but can I see your fur, your paws, how cute they say you are?”

      “You might find me very disappointing,”  Patch replied.

       “not as visually disappointing as you find me I bet,”  Sita replied.

        “you are beautiful Sita,”  Patch said, “I think you are anyway.  I love your stripes, your brown fur, your spots, your whiskers and eyes.  I love every inch of you.”  Sita giggled with pleasure.

        “I wish you could play like you did, and that I could touch you without hindering your play.”

       “Sita,”  Patch said, “I could show you how I play in your mind, make you play as I do, give you the security to roll and kick and play with your paws as I do.  I could show you how I look too.”

       “like feeding my mind with images?  As if I could see them once?”  Sita asked.

      “yes Sita,”  Patch said.  Patch smiled, and showed Sita what he looked like.  He could see she saw him and approved of him, for she smiled broadly, sat up and held out her forepaws, Patch letting her hug him, her hug huge and enveloping.

       “You are all I expected, and more.  Sita said, “your fur, your pads, your eyes and face, I don’t know the names of the colours, but they all make me feel warm and safe and loved.”

       “Do you want to see how you look to me?”  Patch asked.  Sita smiled:

      “Show me,”  she replied.  So patch did, Sita gasping at the mix of colours in her own fur and paws.

        “she looks strange, but, well, very gentle too,”  Sita said.  Sita stuck her tongue out, laughing at the resultant image she got back from Patch’s eyes.

        “This is so weird, being plugged into another’s sight,”  Sita said.  “it’s seeing the world through their eyes,”  Patch said.  Patch got to his feet and padded from the room, his eyes taking in Anook and Tiguak.  Sita, grinning, yelled to Patch to come back into the room, and when he was back with her, she asked:

       “Can you change the point of view I see?  I don’t know, say to a cub’s viewpoint?”  patch looked at Hope, who looked at Sita, Sita seeing Hope looking at her out of the corner of Patch’s right eye.

       “Will it hurt?”  she asked.

       “No Hope, it won’t,”  Patch said, “you’ll just be sharing your eyes with Sita, whatever you see, she’ll see.”  Hope gasped at the thought.

      “So if I play with Sooleawa, Sita will se me playing with her, as if, as if she’s me!”  Hope asked.

       “yes she will,”  patch replied.

        “Oh,”  Hope said, the enormity of the situation hitting home, “I would do it for her, but I’m so small, she’d get mostly paws and things at floor level.”

      “Maybe I want to see paws and things at floor level,”  Sita said.

     “Then you’re on,”  Hope replied smiling.  So Sita saw through Hope’s eyes, the cub chasing Sooleawa’s hind paws and catching them, then leaping on patch to tickle his hind feet and then play with his toes, Sita laughing helplessly as she watched Hope’s play, and Patch’s evident enjoyment of her play.

        “Patch is loving every minute of this,”  Sita thought, leaping about with excitement as the film of Hope’s playtime played in her head.

       “Are you getting to see all the things you want?”  Hope asked.  Sita, close to tears, couldn’t reply.

         “Don’t be so rude!”  hope snapped at Sita, turning to her, to see the cat bear’s expression, Sita seeing herself as Hope did.

       “Oh,”  Hope said softly, “Sita, I’m, I’m sorry for snapping at you.  I’m the one being rude.”  Hope crawled to Sita, her own eyes full of tears.  Sita, seeing the cub was close to tears herself, hugged her tightly, Hope closing her eyes, Sita’s world going dark.

          “it’s okay,”  Sita mewed, kissing Hope’s nose, “I saw through the eyes of a playful cub, that’s what was making me emotional.  I was loving every minute.  I only wish I could feel things through your paws too.  That would be wonderful.”  Hope smiled:

      “As long as I can feel the world through yours,”  she replied.

       “To do that, you’d have to become as I am,”  Sita replied, “you might not like being in the dark.”

       “ was once, so it won’t be so scary as all that Sita,”  Hope replied.  Sita smiled and Hope opened her eyes, to show Sita how she saw her.

        “Roll onto your back, and I’ll check your hind paws for thorns,”  Hope said.  Sita did, and got a good look at her own paw pads, curling her toes to make her pads bunch up.

      That is just the cutest thing,”  Hope said, Sita giggling with pleasure.

       “Do you mind me seeing what you see?”  Sita asked.

       “um, no,”  Hope replied, “though you promise not to look when I go in the relieving place?”  Sita promised she would make sure patch tuned her out.

       “I would say, I’ll close my eyes, but as my eyes have nothing to do with what I’m seeing, that doesn’t work.”  Hope grinned broadly, Sita unable to see that.

       “I’ll show you lots more stuff,”  Hope said, “then maybe Sooleawa will take over and show you more grown up stuff than I can, as I’m just a cub.”  Sita hugged Hope tightly, her vision dimming as Hope buried her face in her fur.

        “Soppy cub,”  Sita said, stroking Hope’s back.

        “I don’t want to get too used to this,”  Sita said, “It’s unfair to hijack the view from another’s eyes.”

        “Humans are always trying to get into our minds,”  Sooleawa said, “I’d much rather you saw things through my eyes Sita, than some dam human, who’d take advantage and brag about it.”  Sita smiled and hugged Hope and Sooleawa in turn.

       “It’s time for me to return to my world I think.”  She said.  Hope looked up into Sita’s face, Sita could see she was staring up at her, as she could see her own face, but could not of course see Hope’s expression.

       “Do you have to?”  Hope asked, “it’s fun showing another my world.”  Sita smiled and kissed her nose:

        “If you are content to show me your world,”  Sita replied, then please continue.”

        “it doesn’t hurt me to do so,”  Hope said, “and if, by chance I might be able to see something you big grown ups can’t, that’s all the better.”  Sita pushed hope onto her back, grinning as the view turned upside down.

       “you big cub,”  Hope said, realising what Sita was doing.

      “I like to be,”  she replied.  Sita smiled and rolled onto her back, kicking the air with all four huge paws, Hope smiling broadly and leaping onto Sita’s belly, Sita growling with mock fury, and lifting Hope into the air in her huge forepaws.

       “I love you Sita,”  Hope said.  Sita rolled onto her side, hugging Hope to her.

         “I’m hungry mama,”  Hope said.  Sita, smiling, waved at patch, who got her a bottle of milk and soon Sita was feeding Hope, or rather Hope was feeding herself while reclining on Sita’s lap.

      “I love you Hope,”  Sita said softly.

       “You aren’t scary Sita,”  Hope said, “your fur no longer scares me, it’s soft, and warm and your paws are gentle and soft.”

      “I love you too Hope,”  Sita mewed softly.

       “um, what did you say?”  Hope asked.

      “Sorry, that was Tigrine,”  Sita said in ursine.  Hope giggled:

       “You can speak two languages?”  she asked.

      “Three if you count community dialect,”  Sita replied smiling, “Patch though, he speaks English, old and modern ursine, Tigrine, Leonine, and asinine too.”

      “Hey!”  Patch yelled, padding over and gently cuffing Sita with his paw.

      “What’s asinine?”  Hope asked.

       “foolish things,”  Sita mewed.

      “That’s unfair!”  Hope yelled, smacking Sita with her paw.

       “I’m only joking Hope,”  Sita said, “and Patch knows it too.”  Hope turned to Patch, to see him laughing helplessly.

       “I love you Sita,”  he said.  Sita smiled at Patch, who padded forward and kissed her nose.

       “I’m with you,”  he whispered to her, squeezing her paw.

       “I know, thanks,”  Sita replied, her voice unsteady.

        “your sent is warm and lovely,”  Hope said to Sita.

       “Patch’s scent is even cleaner than mine,”  Sita replied, “that’s fresh, earthy scent that is.”

      “Hope is so cute,”  Sita said.  Hope giggled with pleasure.

       “You make me feel all warm inside,”  she said to Sita, massaging Sita’s paw in her tiny ones.

       “You are so cute Hope,”  Sita said gently.

        “I think Sooleawa is cute too,”  Sita added, Sooleawa smiling.

      “do you find anything cute Sita?”  Sooleawa asked.

        “I find paws cute,”  Sita said, “for I touch paws, getting paws on with the rest of another’s body is something that is only allowed by consent.”

        “yeah, true,”  Sooleawa replied.

         “I don’t mind if you get paws on with me,”  Hope said to Sita, “I’d quite like it I think.”  Sita smiled broadly.

       “I’ll take you up on that offer,”  she replied gently.  Sita got paws on with Hope’s body, Sooleawa watching Sita’s paws, noting the way she explored.  Sita, starting at Hope’s face, explored with gentle touch, stroking Hope’s nose, forehead and around her chin and ears, gently scratching behind Hope’s ears with the toes of one paw, Hope sighing with contentment.  Then, with firmer pressure, Sita ran her left forepaw down the left side of Hope’s neck to her shoulder, then, patting that on the way down, she traced Hope’s right foreleg to her forepaw, which Sita picked up in both her paws and massaged gently, before starting at Hope’s shoulder again and running her paws down Hope’s right side to her hip joint, and from there down her right hind leg to her right hind foot, Hope curling her toes with pleasure as Sita’s paws reached them.

         “This is amazing!”  Hope gasped, “I never thought it would be like this!”  Sita ran her paws down hope’s chest to her belly, then down her back, and down her left side, in a similar manner to which she’d explored the cub’s right side.  Hope, wriggling with pleasure, relaxed as Sita’s exploration ended.

       “that looked like an exploration to remember,”  Sooleawa said.  Hope, her eyes half closed, smiled gently.

        “it was,”  she said dreamily, “I could get used to that, very, very used to that.”

       “is there any left in the pot for me?”  Sooleawa asked.  Sita smiled:

       “rub downs are free, and the supplies  never run out,”  she said.  Sooleawa crawled over to Sita, Hope watching her.

     “you have lovely eyes and expressive paws Sooleawa,”  Hope said.

       “who’s do they remind you of?”  Sita asked.

         “Patch’s,”  Hope replied quickly, “yes, Patch’s paws, his eyes too.  Sooleawa’s his cub after all.”

       “I heard Bramble was her mother,”  Hope added, , “you mean Patch mated with Bramble?”

       “Um, no,”  Sooleawa replied, “um, Patch and Ekaterina adopted me, my mama couldn’t cope.”

       “but, that’s wrong!”  Hope squealed.

      “No, it’s correct information,”  Sooleawa replied.

       “I didn’t mean that!”  Hope yelled, “I meant Bramble leaving you was wrong.”

       “Sometimes mistakes are made,”  Sooleawa replied, “I wasn’t what they wanted, so they did the right thing and put me into the care of another’s paws, rather than taking the other course they could have taken.”

       “you mean, kill you?”  Hope asked, horrified.

        “yes,”  Sooleawa replied.

        “But they wouldn’t, they couldn’t!”  Hope whimpered, her eyes filling with tears, “why Sooleawa, why would they kill their own cub?”

        “I wouldn’t be here if Ekaterina hadn’t pulled me into the world,”  Sooleawa replied, “maybe Bramble and Goldie thought I was a bad influence on their lives due to me getting stuck on the way out.  I don’t know why they gave me into Patch’s care.  They say I look like him, and I can see why they say this.”

       “so any mother can deliver a cub and give it up?”  Hope asked.

       “yes,”  Sita replied heavily.

       “Oh, um, sorry Sita,”  Hope mumbled, remembering the hateful big cat abusing Sita in the corridor, “I’m really sorry,”  Hope whimpered.

        “it’s okay,”  Sita replied.

      “No, it’s not, it’s horrid,”  Hope replied, “to deliver a cub into the world, then to hate what it looks like and throw it away to take it’s life and fortune in its tiny paws, it’s awful!  I wouldn’t know where to start if my mama left me.”

        “You’d get help here,”  Sita replied, “it’s good like that here.  A cub never goes hungry or unloved.  We make sure of that here, totally sure.” 

       “I wish all cubs had love and warmth,”  Hope replied, “I’ve not been outside yet, but I’ll bet it’s freezing, and no place for poor little cubs.”

        “I won’t be getting my paws all cold and stiff,”  Sooleawa replied, “I’m grateful for the place I have here.”

          “me too,”  Sita replied.

        “You belong here, you have a place here,”  Hope replied, “Sooleawa and I are just cubs, untrained, with little worth to the community.”

      “Don’t!”  Sita snapped, “Hope, don’t say that!”  Hope covered her face with her paws, Sita seeing this, as she saw a view of Hope’s paw pads, then her world went dark.

       “Hope,”  Sita said softly, touching the cub’s paw, “I’m sorry for snapping at you.  It wasn’t at you.  I can’t guess where you got the idea you were of less worth than me, that’s all, and I was, am upset you might think that way.”

        “I don’t know why I think we cubs are worth less than you adults Sita,”  Hope replied, “I suppose, suppose it’s that big angry thing you met in the corridor, he hated cubs, they were lower than him, or so he thought.  And I thought that was how all community adults who were not the cub’s mothers saw all cubs until the cubs proved them wrong.”

      “That’s how Ahanu sees Sita, not how adults see cubs,”  Sooleawa replied, “Ahanu’s a shit, just like Haimati his mate.  They are horrible, were disgusting to Sita, and are now hated universally.  I hate them, I’ve heard the tale of Sita’s birth in history lessons, and cried when I heard the words Haimati used towards her cub.”

        “My Story isn’t all doom and gloom though,”  Sita replied.

      “Only thanks to a grey bear who asked the ultimate question a male could,”  Sooleawa replied, “thanks to his curiosity and willingness to go on when he knew the pain of delivering a cub, did you have any life at all Sita.”

       “it is true,”  Sita replied softly.

        “I think we are lucky here,”  Sooleawa said, “I have heard stories of some being thrown out, but that is because they hurt cubs.  There isn’t much that will get you thrown out of this place.”

        “What the hell is that!”  someone demanded, “it’s, it’s a vision from the pit of hell!”

       “Who’s that?”  Hope asked.

       “That’s Kojack, and I think he’s ranting about his cub Ekaterina saved,”  Sita groaned, “Time for fireworks.”

       “Fireworks?  I’ll give him fireworks!”  Sooleawa yelled, flexing her paws, “I’ll tear his paws off!  How dare he say things like that!”

       “No, leave him,”  patch yawned, already bored, “Kojack!”  He yelled, “give it a rest, there’s a good chap.”  Kojack stormed into the room, saw Hope cuddled up with Sita, and spat in disgust.

      “Horrid runt!”  he yelled indiscriminately, turned tail and stormed out of the room.  Sooleawa, furious, ran after him, leapt at his retreating back, and grabbed his left hind foot in her paws, hanging on until Kojack turned angrily on her, Patch responding by throwing a saucer at Kojack  the saucer breaking on his nose.

      “Ow, shit!”  Kojack yelled, Sooleawa sprinting for safety.

        “leave now!”  Sita snapped.

       “bugger off you blind bitch!”  Kojack yelled, “I wouldn’t mate with you if you bloody paid me!”

       “That’s horrid!”  Hope wailed.

       “you shut up too, scrap!”  Kojack screamed, “I wish Roxy’s cub had died with her, now it’s alive, thanks to medalling Dorothy!”

       “Thanks to medalling Ekaterina I think you mean,”  Sooleawa replied, “I heard what she did, and it saved that poor cub, which is yet unnamed.”

      “What should we name the cub?”  patch asked, ignoring Kojack, who stamped about a good bit.

        “I think we should give that little cub her mama’s name,”  Hope said, “not that I’ve met the cub yet, so it might be totally unsuitable.”

       “That’s a lovely idea,”  Patch said softly.

       “Blast Ekaterina to hell!”  Kojack yelled, “I thought she was past it in the midwife game, I thought she was washed up and down the drain!  Oh no, she comes in and saves a dying cub, when she can’t have them herself!”

      “Get out, sod off!”  Patch roared, leaping to his feet and charging at Kojack, driving him out of the room, and out of the lie up, the disgraced Kodiak bear sprinting out of the house and into the woods.

       “You get out, leave now!”  Patch roared, roaring with surprise as he fell over his own paws.  Kojack ran as fast as he could, the bear from hell chasing him.  Glancing back, he saw, not Patch, but mama Kamchatka chasing him.  Screaming, he ran to the road, turned right and ran along it towards the main carriageway.  Kojack ran headlong towards the speeding cars, leaping into their path, being mown down by the cars, Kamchatka, her job done, disappearing into the woods..

          “thank you mama,”  Patch said softly, as he watched Kamchatka vanish from sight from where he sat on the track.  Patch got to his feet and flexed his legs, before walking to the place he’d last seen his mama, finding the body of a mama grizzly bear lying in the long grass.

         “Thank you mama,”  he whispered.  Turning away, he saw Ekaterina coming through the woods, she was hurrying, tripping over roots and things in her haste, her eyes frightened.  Pausing, Ekaterina yelled into the woods:

       “Patch?  Where are you Patch!”  Patch walked up to Ekaterina and touched her paw without thought, the mama bear nearly leaping into the air.

       “patch, you sod!”  she yelled, “I thought you were killed on the road, I heard a scream then a crash.”

        “that was Kojack, aided by mama Kamchatka chasing him,”  patch replied.

      “I heard you leave, I settled Roxy and followed your scent,”  Ekaterina said lamely.

       “I’m sorry you were frightened Ekaterina love,”  Patch said softly.  Ekaterina leant against Patch.

        “if you had died, I’d go mad!”  she said impulsively.

      “same with me if anything happened to you my love,”  Patch said.  Ekaterina choked back a sob.

       “I thought, thought, when I heard that scream, you’d gone, I thought you were dead!”  Ekaterina sniffed, “oh patch, Patch sweetheart, I feel sick now!”  Ekaterina vomited onto the track, her whole body shaking.

       “I am so sorry Ekaterina love,”  Patch said gently.

      “My whole world turned upside down and inside out for a minute!”  Ekaterina wailed.

        “it wasn’t me who got hit by that car,”  Patch said, gently nuzzling Ekaterina’s ear.  the sound of shouting and cursing came from the motorway, and patch cocked an ear:

        “Let’s go,”  he said to his mate, leading her away towards the house.”

        “where’s mama Kamchatka?”  Ekaterina asked.

      “She’s gone over the bridge again Ekaterina love,”  Patch replied.

      “Why did she come back if she was going to be here for such a short time?”  Ekaterina asked.

      “She came back to feed Anook’s cub and to defend yours Ekaterina,”  Patch replied softly, “now though, her job is done.”

       “Who will give milk to cubs when their mamas are dry?”  Ekaterina asked, “Kamchatka did that for Hope, but now she’s gone, who will file her paws?”

       “Ekaterina,”  patch said, “do I really have to answer that question?”  Ekaterina felt patch’s paw squeeze hers.

        “Oh,”  she said, sounding like a cub, “me? How? I can’t, I can’t have cubs!”

        “You will do just fine,”  Patch replied.

       “I can’t do it Patch, I just can’t!”  Ekaterina whimpered.

       “you thought you couldn’t rescue little Roxy, but you did that,”  Patch replied.

      “True,”  she replied, “but someone guided my paws, I didn’t know where I was going.”

      “someone will guide your paws again,”  Patch replied.

        “I hope so,”  Ekaterina replied miserably.

       “You look like bear with sore head mama Ekaterina,”  Kuruk said, padding up to his sister and hugging her.  Ekaterina told him why she was feeling sick.

       “Oh, um, yeah Kuruk see why you feeling shit,”  Kuruk grunted.

        “I thought Patch had been killed!”  Ekaterina whimpered.

       “you come in to house, and we get you warm drink,”  Kuruk said, rubbing his sister’s paw.  Ekaterina, feeling shaky and unsettled, padded with Kuruk and patch, one either side of her to the house where she collapsed on the rugs, Roxy crawling to her foster mama and cuddling up to her.

        “I’s fed little Roxy,”  Dorothy said, “toileted ‘er too, so you’s got no worries there Ekaterina.”

       “Thank you,”  Ekaterina replied weakly, “I am much grateful.”  Dorothy smiled and kissed Ekaterina’s nose.

       “caring for little Roxy made me feel young again,”  Dorothy said.

       “mama Kamchatka’s gone,”  patch said to Hope, who’d crawled in after him.

       “yes,”  Hope said, “I know, Sooleawa, she saw something, she saw a bear running through the woods, it wasn’t mama Kamchatka, it was that bear who called me scrap.  Well Sooleawa said she saw another bear chasing Kojack for a while, but then he tripped and fell.  Sooleawa told me Kojack was dead.  She saw the cars, as she called them.  How she could have seen all that from where she was lying in the lie up, I don’t know.”

       “visual relay,”  patch remarked.

      “er, um, what?”  Sooleawa asked, padding into the room.

      “How you were able to see what was going on my dear cub,”  Patch replied, “mama Kamchatka saw things, relayed it to me, and I, like some kind of ursine repeater station, relayed it to another receptive mind, yours.  What you described to Hope was no hallucination.”

      “It was weird,”  Sooleawa replied, “seeing all that and not being there.  it was like a video in my head, though so clear.  I stared at my paws, and could see them through the video, as if I was watching my paws through a window, on which was projected the goings on in the woods.  It made me feel strange I can tell you.”

        “You are learning some of the skills I have Sooleawa,”  Patch said.

        “I can’t, I can’t do that stuff,”  Sooleawa protested, “all that stuff with mamas in labour and such, can I?”

       “Why not?”  Patch asked, “you are my cub after all.  You even look like me.”  Sooleawa nodded shyly.  Hope slapped her playfully with her paw:

       “Sooleawa, be proud of your coat and paws, I would be.”

      “Secretly she is,”  Patch replied, Sooleawa looking embarrassed, “secretly Sooleawa loves her fur and paws.  Sooleawa, dear silver, I’ve noticed you shampooing with reflective stuff to make your coat shine even brighter.  I know what you do.”  Sooleawa looked shocked, and then apologetic.

       “I’ll stop,”  she replied, “I’ll be natural, none of the glittery stuff any more, I promise.”

        “Your fur will become as you want it just by washing,”  patch said, “you need not put highlights in your fur Sooleawa.”

        “but I’m grey, not silver!”  Sooleawa replied dispiritedly.

       “You can’t see yourself as others do my dear,”  Patch replied, “please, don’t put that muck in your fur any more.”  Sooleawa sighed heavily.

         “I’m sorry,”  she replied.  Patch kissed her nose and squeezed her paw.

        “No need to be,”  he replied, “you’ve got nothing to prove to me or to mama Ekaterina, right?”  Sooleawa smiled and snuggled up to patch.

       “Thanks,”  she replied softly.  Patch ruffled Sooleawa’s ears with his paw, Sooleawa embarrassed and appreciative at the same time of his attentions.

        “Soppy old bear,”  she teased.  Patch growling with mock anger, gently flipped Sooleawa onto her back, then taking one of her forepaws in his mouth, made as if to bite it, Sooleawa squealing in protest.

     “No Patch, don’t bite my paw!”  she wailed, Patch smiling and releasing her paw, then kissing it.

        “I love you Patch,”  Sooleawa said, looking up into the grey bear’s eyes.

       “Now I have to go ,” Sita said yawning.  Hope leapt onto her back, and Sita padded to Hope’s lie up.

       “I wonder if I will see a mama struggling to deliver a cub in the woods while I’m asleep,”  Sooleawa wondered aloud.

       “You might,”  Patch replied, “I don’t feel my power slipping from me though, more a meeting of power, yours growing, to complement mine.”

        “Do you think Sooleawa might become leader one day?”  Mishka asked, padding into the lie up.

        “I don’t know Mishka,”  Patch replied, “she’s leader of the cubs at the moment.”

      “That she is,”  Mishka replied, “I didn’t cover myself in glory with that role.  She’s also Conrad’s guardian.”

       “I know I’ll not be able to help Conrad forever,”  Sooleawa replied, “he and I spoke about that, and he released me from any obligation I might have felt towards him.”

        “Bet you’ll still look after him though,”  Mishka replied.

       “I love him Mishka,”  Sooleawa said, “I don’t know why I love him so much, but I do.”

 

 

Conrad listened in his lie up.  Sitting on the floor, his head in his paws, he listened to Sooleawa’s words.  He’d just had a massive seizure, and Sooleawa had been there throughout.  She only left him when he was awake enough to speak and understand what she was saying to him.  Now he sat shaking and feeling terrible.

       “I don’t want Sooleawa here when my body finally gives up,”  Conrad thought, “I’m ill, and now I find she loves me?  I love her, love her like she’s my cub dam it, and I’m going to leave her someday soon.”  Getting to his feet, Conrad padded from the room, heading for the woods.  Conrad made his slow way to the woods, settling down in the same den in which Haimati had delivered Sita into the world.  Resting his head on his paws, he thought about his life.  His seizures were under some kind of control, so much so that when he had one, the shock of it was as bad as the seizure itself.  Conrad felt his body shaking within and without.  Relaxing, he tried to compose his thoughts.

        “I pray I see the end of the day,”  Conrad thought.  Stretching his body, Conrad crawled from the den, got to his feet, and padded through the woods.  Deep in thought, he blundered into the fence around the log flume, grazing his nose and bruising his head.

       “Ouch, shit, shit!”  he roared, sitting down, rubbing his nose and his head with his paws, whimpering softly to himself.  Sooleawa found him there five minutes later, and Conrad, feeling her paw touching his left hind foot, grabbed her, hugged her, and burst into tears.

         “It’s okay Conrad,”  Sooleawa said, Conrad suddenly calming down, stretching out on the grass, Sooleawa cuddling up to him, taking his paw in both of hers.

          “I love you Sooleawa,”  Conrad said faintly, “I love you and Ekaterina, please, please tell her that.”

        “I’m here Conrad,”  Ekaterina said softly, touching her sire’s left forepaw.

         “Good, thank you,”  Conrad whispered, his life force ebbing away.

       “He’s gone,”  Sooleawa said softly, “Conrad’s set his paws on the bridge to the other side.”  Sobbing with grief, Ekaterina buried her face in Conrad’s coat.

        “he lost his way and blundered into the fence,”  Sooleawa said, “Conrad’s body failed him Ekaterina.”  Ekaterina stroked her sire’s face and paws.

        “goodbye my sire,”  she whispered softly.

       “I wonder if he’ll come back, like mama Kamchatka did?”  Sooleawa asked.  Ekaterina shook her head:

        “he needs a rest, he’ll have that now,”  she replied.  Sooleawa looked at Ekaterina, then moved round to be near her.

       “Where’s Roxy?”  Sooleawa asked.

       “Hope’s looking after her, playing with her, under Anook’s supervision,”  Ekaterina replied.

       “What do we do now?”  Sooleawa asked.

      “We bury Conrad’s body,”  Ekaterina said.  speaking into her communications device on her left forepaw to raise the badgers to grave digging once more.  Sooleawa watched as Aga and Patch, who’d heard the goings on from Patch’s lie up, carried Conrad’s body to the grave and lowered it in.

       “goodbye Conrad,”  Ekaterina said softly.  Aga, looking down into the grave at her dead mate, whispered her own farewell to him, turned away, and walked into the woods.  Bruin, not wanting to be at the graveside, did not attend.  Ekaterina motioned to the badgers, who filled in the grave at speed.

         “I hate this part of my job,”  Furcone remarked.

        “this be not the time, or the place!”  Magnus snapped, cuffing his sister.

        “I resign,”  Furcone replied, walking away, her head hung in grief.

      “I can’t cope with this any more!”  Furcone sobbed as she padded through the woods, her paws stiff with mud.

         “I’ll go with her,”  Sooleawa said.  Ekaterina cuffed her so hard Sooleawa squealed in pain.

       “what was that for?”

      “the bear you spent time with dies, and all you can do is pander to some bloody attention seeking badger?  Sooleawa, you are a disgrace!”  Ekaterina yelled.

      “Conrad’s gone from here,”  Sooleawa replied, “he’s not here Ekaterina!  We buried a body, not Conrad himself!  Has being mated with Patch taught you nothing?  Why are there no ceremonies now when community members die like their used to be in the old pride led days?”

       “Because we are more enlightened now,”  Ekaterina mumbled, feeling foolish, “Lioness Rowena’s funeral was the last ceremony we had, for she showed us another path.  She opened up the bridge to our comings and goings between the worlds.  I’m sorry.”

       “So you let me go to Furcone, right?”  Sooleawa snarled, “and take this back too!”  with that Sooleawa cuffed Ekaterina with such force she yowled with pain.

        “Stop it you two, please,”  someone begged, a force separating Sooleawa and Ekaterina, “fighting like cats does you no favours.”

        “Conrad?”  Ekaterina asked, feeling a muzzle brushing her ear:

        “you know what the score is Ekaterina,”  the voice said, Ekaterina feeling warmth flooding through her, “you know deep down what Sooleawa says is true.  you buried my body, not my spirit.  Now I have to ask something of Patch, as my poor mate is in great distress.”  With that Conrad’s spirit vanished.

        “Go to Furcone,”  Ekaterina said softly, “and Sooleawa, I’m sorry for cuffing you.”  Sooleawa kissed Ekaterina’s nose, squeezed her paw, then padded away, catching up with Furcone, who’d stopped walking and turned back to watch the goings on at the graveside.

       “Sooleawa, what are you doing here?”  Furcone asked, “your place is with Ekaterina.”

      “My place is with Conrad really,”  Sooleawa replied, “but as I can’t soothe his spirit any more, others need my attentions.”  Furcone looked into the female cub’s face:

         “you’re a mini version of Patch,”  she said.

       I’m Sooleawa, though yes, I think, Patch thinks, I’m learning his skills.”

        “I met your cub, Blackberry Brock, isn’t that his name?”  Sooleawa asked.  Furcone smiled:

       “I remember delivering him into the world,”  she replied dreamily, “it was a painful hard time, I strained my guts out, and my toes hurt afterwards.”

      “Do you re-enact that time?”  Sooleawa asked.

       “I do,”  Furcone replied, “it’s amazing if it works well.  I get a rush of pleasure that I can’t explain.”

       “mama Kamchatka used to re-enact births,”  Sooleawa replied, “she found it soothing.  I wonder who will take on her role, maybe mama Ekaterina needs to re-enact a good hard cubbing to tire herself enough to sleep properly.”

        “Hopefully she won’t re-enact the birth of poor little Roxy,”  Furcone replied, “that was messy and dangerous.”

        “I know,”  Sooleawa replied, “I’m sure she won’t.”

 

Furcone and Sooleawa made their way back to the house, Sooleawa seeing Ekaterina follow her some way behind.

 

Meanwhile, in Aga’s lie up, Aga lay crying and wringing her paws.

      “Whenever I close my eyes, Conrad’s in my dreams,”  she whimpered, “I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to him, to hug him, stroke his paws and kiss his nose.  He went out into the woods and died out there!”  she closed her eyes, resting her head on her paws, but Conrad’s face invaded her thoughts, trying to tell her something.  Meanwhile, in   Patch’s lie up, Conrad’s spirit woke the grey bear.

       Patch?”  Conrad’s spirit asked.  Patch, rubbing his eyes with his paws, yawned expansively.

       “What?”  Patch asked, shaking himself.

       “Please,”  Conrad’s spirit replied, “would you go to mama Aga and hug her?  she wants to say goodbye to me, to stroke me and kiss my nose, but my body is buried, and would not be good for this anyway.”

       “I’m her cub, not her mate,”  patch replied.

      “You know how it would work!”  Conrad’s spirit snapped, “you know all she’d feel would be my body, my paws, not yours.  Your body would be the scaffolding for her to cling to, that is all.  Just lie there, don’t do anything.  You’ll remember nothing of it.”

       “if this goes wrong, I will hate you forever Conrad.”  Patch replied, “I remember the story of Petra’s domination by a spirit, and it nearly destroyed her.  Patch paused, considering, then said, “no, I won’t do as you ask.  Why can’t the spirits find some poor dead polar bear to invigorate with your spirit.  Don’t use those who have not crossed the bridge, it doesn’t work.”

        “As you wish,”  Conrad’s spirit replied, leaving Patch alone.

        “Spirits can be idiotic too,”  Patch mused as he got to his feet, stretched and left the lie up in search of breakfast.  Yawning, he entered the lift and rode down to the ground floor.  Getting out, he found his way to the kitchen, where Bramble made him a cup of tea.  Thanking her, he drank his fill.]

      “how is little Sooleawa?”  Bramble asked.  Patch smiled broadly:

     “She’s not little any more,”  he replied, hearing familiar paws approaching.  Turning, he came face to face with Sooleawa, the quarter grown cub padding towards him.  Patch examined her from nose to tail, loving every inch of her.

      “You are beautiful Sooleawa,”  Patch said.  Sooleawa smiled broadly, danced on her toes, then turned head over heels, ending at Patch’s feet, the grey bear laughing and picking her up off the floor.  Getting to his hind feet, patch lifted Sooleawa high, off her feet, Sooleawa kicking the air with her hind feet, Bramble laughing at the silver coated cub.  Patch put Sooleawa down on her hind feet, Sooleawa reaching up with her forepaws to touch Patch’s face, patch kissing her forepaws.

        “Now come for breakfast my dear cub,”  patch said, Sooleawa and he sitting down opposite each other, their hind feet touching, a tray put between them in the gap between their hind legs, both bears dipping into the contents of the tray.  Flasks of juice were consumed, as were toast, tea, honey and peanut butter.  Sooleawa smiled at her sire, Patch returning his daughter cub’s smile and curling his toes around Sooleawa’s, the cub bouncing about a little on her backside.

       “I love you Patch,”  Sooleawa said.  Patch, smiling, took his daughter cub’s right forepaw in his left.

       “I love you too Sooleawa dear,”  he said.  Sooleawa smiled broadly at her sire, kissing his nose.

       “I hope Aga can settle her mind over Conrad’s death,”  Sooleawa said, “it’s not right Conrad insists on you doing what he wanted you to do Patch.”

      “I refused,”  Patch replied.

 

Meanwhile, in Aga’s lie up, Petra and she were talking.

       “I see now why Conrad can’t ask Patch to do what I want,”  Aga said, “if the mind dulling didn’t work properly, he’d be destroyed.”

       “I nearly was,”  Petra mewed, “and it was only thanks to ancient Theo I survived.  Patch has no mentor like that to fall back on.  I won’t let him do what you want.  Let’s get you a soft toy polar bear, one with some substance that you can hug and talk to Conrad through.  I’m sure the spirits will find that acceptable if you do that.  You would do badly if you involved any living being, especially Patch in this however.”  Aga looked at Petra, then down at her paws.

       “Get me a soft toy polar bear then,”  she said, “I want to say goodbye to Conrad in my own way, kiss his paws, hug him, stroke his fur.”  Petra padded away to see if the humans could find a large enough plush polar bear to settle Aga.

 

Jess found a huge plush polar bear, then, seeing the price of such an item, she slammed her fist down on the desk.

       “Tell Aga she can go into the woods and talk to her mate there!”  she told Moses, who watched her from where he sat.

        “Aga wants to hug Conrad though,”  Moses replied, “she can’t hug a spirit.”

       “the polar bear there was around 199 pounds!”  jess yelled, “that’s disgusting, just for agar to hug and feel she’s talking to her mate.  I won’t allow her to project on that plush thing!  She should go out into the woods like the rest of us do to talk to her mate.”  Jess went to Aga and told her what she felt.

      “Go and talk to your mate’s spirit  just like little Koda has to go and talk to his mama by sitting in the clearing,”  jess said, “what you want is wrong!”  Aga, whimpering, shrank into the corner of the room.

      “I’ll try,”  she replied, “I’ll go into the woods!”

       “I think you’ll feel better for it,”  jess said.  Aga padded out of the room and to the woods, Bruin joining her somewhere along the route.  Mama and cub padded to the clearing, and through that to where the lagoon lay grey and cold in the fading light of a grey and wet day.

        “why did you refuse to come to the grave with me bruin?”  Aga asked.

       “Because I don’t wish to see Conrad’s body,”  Bruin replied, “I know he died, I can feel it, I don’t need to see his body, let alone touch it.”

        “Fine,”  Aga replied.  Bruin looked over the lagoon towards the black mouth of the cave where the boats for the flumes emerged into the light of day.  He’d ridden the flume many times, finding the ride to the top scary and the drop even worse.

        “I wonder where Conrad is now?”  Aga said.

        “probably treading the ice flows of a more gentle place,”  Bruin said sadly, “he wasn’t always blind, or epileptic you know.  There was a time, a time he used to talk about, a time he was young and virile, and had a mate on the ice, but then, then he lost his mate, and his hope, so he ran for safety.  You gave him back his hope, but the pollution draught by the humans robbed him of his life.”

        “I’m sorry Conrad’s dead,”  little Koda said, padding up to Aga and kissing her nose.

       “Thank you,”  Aga said softly.

 

Blackberry sat in his lie up feeling depressed.

       “Two deaths in the community,”  he thought miserably, “ ok one was that of a bear who was a complete bastard, but the other one, poor Conrad, he didn’t deserve to die in pain.”

      “I wasn’t in pain Blackberry,”  a voice said, “Sooleawa made sure of that.”

      “I’m glad about that,”  Blackberry said softly, his depression lifting slightly, “I hope to deliver a cub soon,”  blackberry said, “I would rather deliver six cubs to six hard labouring mothers than pronounce a community member’s death.”  Blackberry buried his face in his paws and broke down completely, weeping inconsolably.

 

Meanwhile, in the woods, Sooleawa walked alone, her eyes and paws telling her all sorts of things.  Feeling no fear, Sooleawa padded towards the lie up.  Smiling, she approached the outside lie up, the one where Anook said she’d had her first cubs in the community after her former home was destroyed.  Sooleawa noticed the door was open, and knowing it shouldn’t have been, she crawled towards the lie up.  Stopping, she listened.  A pained groan reached her, along with the sound of shifting straw, then panting, and a whimper of fear, then more shifting straw, followed by yet another, longer pained groan.  Sooleawa, curious, crawled to the door and into the lie up.  What her eyes showed her made Sooleawa gasp and hold onto the straw covering the floor with her toes as tightly as the bear sitting inside the den, who held onto her own right hind foot with desperate paws.  leaning forward, the mama bear groaned and panted, shifting uncomfortably on the straw on which she sat, rocking back and forth between groaning efforts.

        “hello mama,”  Sooleawa whispered.  The mama bear opened her eyes and stared at Sooleawa.

       “Who are, who are you?”  she panted, her eyes terrified.

       “I’m, I’m a cub, a half grown bear cub, my name’s Sooleawa,”  Sooleawa replied, “and what’s your name?”  The mama bear clenched her teeth and covered her face with her paws to suppress a cry of agony.

       “You can’t see this!”  she gasped, “I’m having a cub, maybe two!”

       “I’ve been on the business end of what you’re doing mama,”  Sooleawa replied, “I’m not frightened.  Can I help?”

       “Be with me, stay, please?”  the mama bear begged.  Sooleawa touched her sweating right hind foot, just as the mama bear reached for the same foot with her forepaws, clamped it, including Sooleawa’s forepaws, in her massive paws and squeezed hard.

       “ooowww!”  the mama bear groaned as she stopped rocking and leant forward, bearing down strongly.

          “wow!”  Sooleawa squeaked as her paws were released.

         “Did I squeeze your paws against my foot?”  the mama bear asked, her eyes distant.

       “You did, but it was fine,”  Sooleawa replied, flexing her toes, her forepaws aching dreadfully.

        “you have lovely eyes and expressive paws mama,”  Sooleawa said, as the mama bear lay flat on her back, drew her hind feet up, and kicked the air hard with all her might, screaming and crying.

      “This hurts, hurts, hurts so much!”  she roared.  Sooleawa watched the mama bear’s kicking hind feet, and when they were still, she crawled up and kissed the sweating pads of the mother’s right hind foot.

         “I’ll help you,”  Sooleawa whispered.

      “Please, show Sita what I’m seeing, I want her to see the birth of a cub.”  Sooleawa thought.  Sita, padding down a track, began to see and hear what Sooleawa could, instantly she recognised the sounds the mother bear was making as protestations against increasing labour pains, as she herself had made similar protestations.  Sitting down near the den, she listened through the wall, while Sooleawa’s eye view played in her mind.

 

Back in the den, the mama bear wriggled and rocked with pain and discomfort.

        “this is only the beginning,”  the mama bear panted, “and I’m already whimpering like a cub.”

       “Whimper away,”  Sooleawa replied.

        “Can I help?”  Sita asked, padding into the den.  The mama bear, seeing her, crawled to Sita, sat down, grabbed her in her paws and screamed into her shoulder:

       “ow mama This hurts!”  Sita, seeing her view change as Sooleawa, in an effort to make her see better, got to her hind feet.       “Use me as a labour aid mama,”  Sita replied, “I know how you feel, “I’ve been alone while in labour.  Scream, cry, rock, kick, but most of all, give it your best shot.”  The mama bear opened her mouth and groaned loudly.

        Ooooahowumph!”  she complained.

         “That’s it,”  Sita said softly, “mama, do whatever you want, squeal, roar, groan, do what makes you feel good.”

       “Who are you?”  the mama bear asked.

       “My name’s Sita, and the cub who’s paws you crushed is named Sooleawa, though I think she told you that,”  Sita replied softly.

         “Oh, oh yes, well, I don’t have a name, I’m a wild bear, I came in here to deliver my cubs, and now, now my paws can’t get me out again!  I’ve crushed nearly all the feeling out of my hind feet, and my forepaws can’t defend me either, so please, for the sake of whatever higher power you believe in, please, spare my life and those of my cubs.”

       “We will not take your life, or those of your cubs,”  Sita mewed, “we will help you mama, you are safe with us.  From Hope, the most newly born here, to Patch our leader, we will protect you and your cubs.”

       “You, you are Sita, the stories are true!”  the mama bear whimpered, for she was in increasing agony.

        “I am that Sita,”  Sita replied, “now mama, concentrate on your cubs.”

      “My pain is less now,”  the mama bear replied, “less because I am not fighting it.  I want it, to embrace it.  It doesn’t scare me now.”

        “And neither should it,”  Patch said padding into the lie up, “I saw your labour in my sleep mama,”  Patch replied, “Sooleawa was nearby, so the spirits directed her to find you and help you.”

        “now, ow, now, ow!”  the mama bear panted, “ow, ow, ow!, uooouooaumph!”

       “That’s it mama,”  Sooleawa said, leaning down and kissing the tightly curled toes of the mama bear’s right foot, “If you feel the need to push during a contraction, don’t be ashamed to, make the sounds you want too. Roar and wriggle too.  Kick the air, curl your toes, scream and shout your pain.”

      “eeeeyyoah!”  the mama bear complained as her body fought its age old battle.

       “How close are you to giving birth?”  Sooleawa asked in a lull between the mama bear’s efforts.

       “I don’t know,”  the mama bear panted, “this is my first time, and it hurts, that’s all I know!  Stay with me, don’t leave me, please!”  she begged.

       “I’m not leaving,”  Sooleawa replied, “This is the most amazing day of my life!  I’m not leaving for the world!”  The mama bear smiled despite her pain.

        “You have been brought up a good caring cub Sooleawa,”  she panted, “I wish I can be a mama to my cubs as yours was to you, gentle and loving.”

       “My mama?”  Sooleawa asked, glancing at Patch, who smiled and shook his head:

      “Tell her later,”  he whispered, “she’s preoccupied now.”

      “no, tell me the tale now,”  the mama bear begged, reclining on the straw covered floor.

      “We won’t mind if you groan and pant during my tale,”  Sooleawa said, “if I were in your situation, I would most definitely complain about the pain.”  The mama bear, her eyes half closed, wrapped her paws around herself, feeling her stomach contract as her labour progressed.

      “ow, this is a lot of owww!”  she whimpered.

       “My mama had a hard time delivering me into the world,”  Sooleawa said, “I didn’t want to tell you the tale at the present time, as you’re in labour yourself.”

       “No, I understand,”  the mama bear panted, “but, but carry on,,”  she wriggled and gasped a little, “ go on, please,”  she added.  Sooleawa told her birth tale to the mama bear, the mama bear sobbing with relief when she heard how Ekaterina’s efforts freed Sooleawa from her mama.

        “I’m so glad you got out of that alive,”  the mama bear gasped.

      “Ekaterina is my adopted mama, and Patch, my adopted sire.  It was he who directed me here.  He sees things, saw you, he was asleep, when you called out to the spirits mama.”

      “That was on the track, I sat down when the first contractions hit, they were painful, so painful, but I was scared then, now though, while they hurt a great deal, the pain is gone.  I can push without fear.”  Sooleawa smiled and kissed the mama bear’s nose, the mama bear embracing her with her sweating paws.

        “you’ll be okay mama,”  Sooleawa said, “I promise you and your cubs will be okay.”

        “I’ve heard of this place,”  the mama bear said, “I understand you like to be paws on with the mama bears when they have their cubs.”

       “Only if you want us to be,”  Sooleawa replied.

       “Oh yes, touch my paws, stroke them, all that, I want that,”  the mama bear replied, “though I didn’t mean that.  I meant you like to intervene.”

       “No,”  Sita replied, “watch closely yes, but intervene, no, unless the mama wants it of course, then we’ll check things over.  Sooleawa isn’t the midwife here, though she knows a bit.  We all do.  We watch our own birth videos.”

       “But you can’t, you can’t see!”  the mama bear replied.

       “Patch showed me mine in another way,”  Sita replied.

       “Paws on, crawling about the den, I know,”  the mama bear said, “Sita, I’ve heard of you, believed you existed, heard of your sister Freckles too.  I wanted you to be real, I wanted it so much.”  Sita, overcome, sat down and covered her face with her paws.

       “Thank you,”  she whispered.

       “My cub is calmer inside me now,”  the mama bear panted, “talking to you has calmed me and it I think.”

       “You aren’t focused on your pain any more,”  Sita replied, “that’s a good thing.  Though focus on contractions is good, frightening yourself silly is not good.”  The mama bear padded about a bit, her contractions coming more strongly.  Clenching her teeth, she blew through her nose, her head lowered to the ground as she bounced on the toes of her hind feet.  Sooleawa, watching this, transmitted her point of view to Sita, who sat down, smiling.

        “I think Sita’s enjoying the view,”  patch said.  the mama bear, overhearing his remark, stopped pacing and looked at Sita.

        “how can you see?”  she asked, “the tales tell of you being blind as a newborn cub.”

       “I’m getting Sooleawa’s eyes to show me what is going on,”  Sita replied, “I can see all she can.”

     “Oh, that’s so wonderful,”  the mama bear panted, rocking back and fourth on her feet as she felt another contraction building.

      “Must sit down, oomph, must sit, can’t stand now,”  the mama bear gasped as she collapsed.

       “ouououoch!” the mama bear roared as she strained hard for the first time..  Sita saw clenching teeth, bunching pads and curling toes, as well as a mama bear wriggling, rocking to and fro, and grabbing her hind feet in her forepaws for support, crushing her toes, while curling those same toes in the agony of labour.

         “You’re doing well mama,”  Sita said gently as the mama bear rolled from side to side on her back, her paws kicking the air with furious urgency.

       “this is hurting again!”  the mama bear roared.

       “Go with it mama, don’t fight the pain, push through it,”  Sita said.  the mama bear strained hard, her groan making Sooleawa curl her toes into the straw.

      “She makes me want to whimper and groan in sympathy,”  Sooleawa whispered to Patch, who hugged her tightly.

       “it is possible for you to feel her pain,”  he said, “if you want to that is.”

      “Could I help her like you helped Sita’s mother?”  Sooleawa asked.

       “You could,”  Patch replied, “if she’ll let you, though you need to push when she does, add your push to hers if you like, don’t push when she isn’t trying, otherwise you’ll hurt her,”  Patch advised.  Sooleawa smiled and asked the labouring mother if she wanted physical help.  The mama bear, finding a calming spirit asking her questions, responded that she’d love help with pushing.

       “I’m worn out,”  the mama bear confessed.

       “I will push with you,”  Sooleawa said, feeling the mama bear’s discomfort.

       “This is strange,”  Sooleawa said to Patch, “hang on, I’m feeling pain, like a need to defecate, odour! Ow! Mustn’t push until mama does though, aoooowach!”  When the mama bear pushed down, Sooleawa added her effort to the mix with a squeal of relief.  Gasping, the mama bear wriggled and rocked, as did Sooleawa, the mama bear and half grown cub labouring together.

      “This feels strange, some might think it wrong, but I don’t care!”  Sooleawa panted, “it’s right to help a mama bear in the best way I can.”  Sweat flying from her fur, Sooleawa paced with the mother bear, feeling her pain, and anxiety.

      “it’s going to be okay mama,”  Sooleawa said silently, “things are fine, I’m here, so are Patch and Sita, we’re here for you, every one of us.”

     “But my pain causes you to squeal and curl your toes,”  the mama bear replied.

      “I want it to,”  Sooleawa replied, “I want to help you, and how can I help you if I don’t feel what you are feeling?  Things are okay mama, don’t worry, your cub is fine, you are fine, the pain is normal.”  The mama bear kissed Sooleawa’s nose.

        “you are truly patch’s cub,”  she said, “thank you silver one.”

        “I will be with you as long as you want me,”  Sooleawa panted.

       “I won’t shut the door,”  the mama bear gasped, “I opened it after all.  I’m very humbled you’d want to help me in this way.”  Sooleawa sat down with the mama bear, the mama bear groaning with effort as she struggled not to push.  Sooleawa felt the urge to strain into her tail growing, but knew she must not push until the mama bear was ready.  Gasping, Sooleawa waited for the mama bear to begin her expulsive effort.  When she pushed, Sooleawa joined in, growling and moaning with effort, her toes curling and teeth clenching.

      “oooah!”  Sooleawa yowled.

       “got to push again, want to push!”  the mama bear wailed, Sooleawa struggling to recover.  Sooleawa found herself pushing down into her tail, the mama bear joining her, both half grown cub and mama bear labouring, both losing control.

       “The cub’s coming now, it’s coming now!”  the mama bear wailed, leaning down and catching the cub which emerged between her legs, Sooleawa gasping and panting with the mama bear, feeling her body stretching with the passage of the cub into the world, Sooleawa shrieking with intense physical and emotional sensations.

      “Wow, just wow!”  Sooleawa panted as the mama bear cleaned and fed her cub, “sorry for pushing when you weren’t,”  Sooleawa added, “that was silly of me.”

        “I needed you to urge me to push,”  the mama bear replied, “I needed that.  Now, now I have a cub, thanks to your help.”  Sooleawa smiled as the mama bear handed her the now screaming and paw waving cub.

       “I believe this cub is yours mama?”  the mama bear said to Sooleawa, the cub hiding her face with one paw.

       “She’s yours, not mine,”  Sooleawa mumbled, but when the cub was placed in her lap, and Sooleawa felt it gripping her paw with its tiny ones, Sooleawa gasped with intense emotions.

        “Can, can I examine the cub? get paws on?”  Sooleawa asked.

      “She’s your cub, go on, explore her,”  the mama bear replied.  Sooleawa did, examining the shrieking cub.  smiling as she caught sight of black pads and brown fur, Sooleawa realised she loved this cub from nose to tail.  Sita was also sitting down, mesmerised by what she was seeing through Sooleawa’s eyes.

       “your cub is lovely mama,”  Sita said, the mama bear smiling.

       “I’ll be going now,”  she said, “I can’t stay here.”

      “You can’t go, not after what this bear did for us mama,”  the cub squealed indignantly.

      “She’s right,”  the mama bear agreed, sitting down suddenly, “I can’t leave, not yet.”

     “Not ever mama,”  Sooleawa said, “you have a home here now.  You and your cub.”

      “Can we leave if we want?”  the mama bear asked.

      “Indeed you can,”  patch replied, “though we would be sad if you did, you would go with our paw of friendship extended to you for your return.  We would remember you in our stories and our history, and tell of you to future generations.”  The mama bear looked at Patch, her face disbelieving.

       “Don’t doubt it mama,”  Patch said, “we will tell of you and your cub, and how you came into our lie up to deliver your cub.”  the mama bear looked at Sooleawa, who nodded.

        “Please stay with us a while mama,”  she said.  the mama bear knelt and kissed Sooleawa’s nose.

        “I will stay a while,”  she replied.

      “What is your name?”  Sooleawa asked.

        “I don’t have a name, I’m wild, do we have names in the wild?”  the mama bear asked.

      “how if we name your cub Ellie, and you Grace ?”  Sooleawa asked.  Patch smiled at the suggestions.

        “That is so cute,”  he said.

       “Those are beautiful names,”  Sita said, her eyes filling with tears as she remembered what she’d seen over the last few hours.

       “Come here, Grace,”  Sita said.  Grace went to Sita, and Sita enfolded her in a huge hug.

       “Now love your cub with all your mind, paws, and heart,”  Sita said, “you have done weal to get her here, now love her as if every day is her last.”  Grace kissed Sita’s nose.

      “I will, thank you,”  she said.

       “I want food!”  Ellie yelled.

       “better feed your cub Grace,”  Sooleawa said.  Grace sat down and let her cub nurse, the reassuring sound of the cub nursing soothing her mama.

       Came in here in raging pain,”  Grace said, “I was walking through the woods when I felt contractions starting.  Finding this place,”  she waved a paw at the lie up, “I crawled in here and sat down.  Of course fear was uppermost, I managed to calm down enough to make a bed, I couldn’t smell the presence of any enemy, so I made a nest out of the straw.  There were other things too, but I didn’t know how to use those, so I settled for the straw, raking it into a bed and lying down.  Soon contractions got too much, and I paced about, tearing at the bedding with my paws, while groaning, crying  and panting.  Sitting down after about an hour, I was just wondering how violent things were going to get when Sooleawa padded into the lie up, and well, the rest is history.”

      “We did see you,”  Patch replied, “I got a report from the cameras, but your plea for help reached me when you were in the woods, so I sent Sooleawa out to find you.”

       “We call those the ever seeing eyes,”  Grace replied, referring to the cameras, “they never sleep.”

        “Well done mama,”  Sooleawa said, kissing Grace’s nose and paws,.

      “When Ellis is settled, I want to hug you, please,”  Grace whispered to Sooleawa.  Sooleawa smiled and bowed her head.  Grace settled her newborn cub on some clean straw and when Sooleawa was kneeling before her, Grace embraced Sooleawa with tender paws.

       “You’re barely grown from cubhood Sooleawa!”  Grace exclaimed, “and you were witnessing a mama delivering her cub with all the squealing and mess.”

        “I wanted that more than anything in the world,”  Sooleawa said, “I wanted to help you mama.”

       “help me you did,”  Grace replied.

       “I am humbled you would let me in to help,”  Sooleawa replied.  Grace smiled.  Sooleawa looked grace over, from her nose to her paw pads.  Grace, seeing she was being closely examined,  waved her forepaws at Sooleawa and wiggled the toes of her hind.

        “cute,”  Sooleawa said smiling.

        “you can get paws on with my paws if you want,”  Grace said.

      “Only if you’ll get paws on with mine mama,”  Sooleawa replied.  So Sooleawa and Grace explored each other’s paws, each flexing and curling their toes in response to the other’s touch on their sole pads.

        “your toes curl easily Sooleawa,”  Grace said.  Sooleawa, handling Grace’s right hind foot, smiled as circles drawn on Graces pads caused her to tightly curl her toes.

       “Cute paws,”  Sooleawa said.

      “not when in labour though,”  Grace replied.

     “They were even then,”  Sooleawa said, “Patch told me to touch the paws first, for they express most.”

      “You touched my foot to begin with, and I rewarded you by crushing your paws Sooleawa,”  Grace said ashamedly, “I’m sorry for that.”

       “you were in labour, and your hind paws were expressive.  I wish you’d not covered your face with your forepaws that time, it looked like you were hiding from me.”

      “I was suppressing a scream,”  Grace replied, “that contraction hurt a lot.  I was so scared.”

         “Then the spirit came along and helped us mama!”  Ellis yelled, waving his paws in the air and wriggling excitedly.

       “She did Ellis love, she did,”  Grace replied, looking over at her newborn cub, then back at Sooleawa, her eyes full of tears.

        “<My cub,”  grace said choking, “my cub, even she recognises the help you gave us.  Thank you Sooleawa, thank you.”  Ellis, feeling an urge to do something to express the feelings he suddenly felt welling in him, crawled to where Sooleawa sat and found Sooleawa’s right hind foot. shifting it a few inches with a huge effort, Ellis planted a kiss on the sole pad of Sooleawa’s right hind foot, Sooleawa curling her toes in response.

          “thank you little one,”  Sooleawa said, her eyes filling with tears.

       “Thank you mama,”  the cub replied, “Will you kiss my paws too?”  .  Sooleawa smiled and lifted Ellis onto her lap, kissing the cub’s tiny paws one by one, Ellis laughing with delight to begin with, but when her paws were kissed, he became quiet.

        “you felt every bit of my birth didn’t you,”  Ellis said.  Sooleawa stroked the cub’s tiny belly with the toes of her right forepaw.

        “”I did,”  she replied.  “Everything, from your head to your toes.”

        “I knew you were helping mama, I could feel it, I wanted to know if it was true she was having help, so I asked the spirits to show me.  They did, as I felt you push.”

       “So I didn’t jump the gun accidentally,”  Sooleawa replied, “you asked it of me.”

      “I did, I wanted to feel you push, to feel that my mama really had a helper.  Mama’s been lied to before you see, I heard her shouting at a male bear, it had to be a male bear.  She called him a silly boar, among other things, so I knew she was feeling frightened and alone.  So I felt I had to test whomever was helping her to see if they meant it.  I couldn’t help, I wanted to, but I can’t push, I can only lie there and get squashed.”

       “That argument was a few days back,”  Grace replied, “the bear, a big male, Bruin his name was, told me he wouldn’t be at the birth of my cub.”

      “Bruin?”  Sooleawa asked, describing Aga’s male son cub to Grace.

      “yes, him!”  Grace snapped, “that lazy good for nothing boar!”

        “he’s a sire now?  Oh well,”  Sooleawa thought.  Grace looked down at Ellis lying on the straw.

       “You have cute hind paws Sooleawa,”  Ellis said, “if cute is a good word that is.  I mean good things, I like your paw pads.”  Sooleawa giggled:

        “I like yours too, your paws are cute,”  she replied.

      “We’re equal then,”  Ellis laughed, “that’s good!”  Grace looked at Sooleawa then at patch and Sita, who were grinning like Cheshire cats at the little group.

        “they are lovely together,”  Sita said, her visual point of view coming from patch this time.

        “They are,”  Patch replied.

 

Meanwhile, in the house, Hope was trying to escape from Anook’s lie up.  The screens had broadcast everything, from beginning to end, or “from soup to nuts,”  as Sid would have put it, this expression of his irritating the others, as he mostly used it out of context.  Now Hope, eager to get into the thick of things, was bored, had been bored forever, or so it seemed to her, and was wanting to escape and talk with Sooleawa.

       “I can’t believe she helped push a cub into the world!”  Hope exclaimed.

      “She didn’t, it’s rubbish, now stop leaping about, you’re making me feel sick!”  Anook snapped.

       “Anook call Sooleawa’s labour rubbish thing?”  Kuruk grunted, padding into the room, “she know nothing.  Sooleawa pushed with mama Grace, even cynical old Kuruk see that true enough.  Now if you no believe Patch’s tale of him delivering Sita, then you no believe Sooleawa help grace, but she do thing right enough.  Kuruk see mama in labour many times, and he know when it is real pushing.  Kuruk already see cubs re-enacting what they see on the screen, it big funny to Kuruk.”

      “I hope they’re not re-enacting it, that’s disgusting!”  Anook roared.

       “it’s playtime,”  Kuruk grunted, Mama Anook is stiff as wooden board about such things.”

      “You can’t talk, you are so serious you’d dry up a desert,”  Anook replied.

       “Kuruk not so serious as he make out be,”  Kuruk replied, “Kuruk um, repressed, so Patch say.  Mama Anook know thing too, she help him suck on bottle like cub, and laugh delightedly while he do thing too, remember?”

  Anook, looking shocked and angry, shushed Kuruk:

       “We don’t want Hope to hear about that, that was private time!”  she snarled.

        “hear about what?  Kuruk, tell me everything, please,”  Hope begged.  Kuruk looking down at his daughter cub, sat down and gathered her to him.

        “Kuruk have deep want to deliver cub, at least feel it,”  Kuruk replied, “he play at thing when alone.  Kuruk ashamed of talking about this, he think it wrong.”

       “how did watching Grace make you feel?”  Hope asked innocently.  Kuruk, hugging her tightly, replied:

       “Kuruk curl toes and groan with mama while she push, then, when she deliver cub, he weep for joy like Grace and Sooleawa do.”

       “Thank you,”  Hope said sincerely, “I thought that’s what you’d say.”

         “You did what?”  Anook snapped.

        “Kuruk cared deeply for mama Grace in her hours of pain without getting paws on,”  Hope replied.

        “Kuruk squeeze his right hind foot in his forepaws like mama Grace do,”  Kuruk replied, addressing himself to hope.

        “Hope cub want do thing too,”  hope said, “but mama Anook stop her, tell her it be bad thing to imitate mama in labour at my age.  Hope feel it good thing do imitation thing, but Mama Anook stop her.  she say, it bad.  She say if I see bear eating other bear, would I do thing?  She ask, if I see cub being eaten by big bear, would I do thing?”  Kuruk looked into Hope’s face, then up at his mate, who now looked uncomfortable.

       “Anook,”  Kuruk asked, “did you say things which Hope says you did?”  Anook looked down at her paws, saying nothing, but that was as good a reply as Kuruk needed.

      “What would you do if you saw grown bear eating cub?”  Kuruk asked hope.  The idea so distressed Hope, she covered her face with her paws, her body shaking.

       “I get the feeling mama bears kill their own cubs if upset, if they haven’t got enough food,”  Hope replied faintly, “but Grace has got enough food, she has hasn’t she, she won’t, will she? She won’t kill poor Ellis?  She can’t! it would be wrong!”  Kuruk hugged Hope tightly.

        “Grace no kill Ellis”  Kuruk said softly, “Hope cub, dear cub, she may be wild bear, just like Kuruk’s first mate, but she no kill her own.  She come for help, she know what Sooleawa do for her.  Grace begged Sooleawa do sparing thing of her and her cub’s lives.  She is safe with us.”

        “I heard my name spoken,”  Hope replied, “I would protect mama Grace and her cub, I know that promise was made for me, but Sita is right.”

          “Kuruk have curled toes and bunched pads like mama Grace do,”  Kuruk replied, “he rock and wriggle like she do, he even groan and kick air with hind feet until sweat fly from fur and paws.”

     “Good,”  Hope replied.

       “Same thing when Kuruk find cub in mountains,”  Kuruk said sadly, “his cub stiff in the snow, her spirit gone across bridge, Kuruk show mama body of only cub, and she so distressed, she throw herself off cliff.  Kuruk bury first mate and cub together in grave, he no do wild thing and treat dead bodies as food, mama Kamchatka tell him no do thing, and he remember this from long time ago when he cub.  Hope looked up into Kuruk’s face, the large male bear’s bent down to hers, his eyes full of emotion:

        “You’ve never spoken to a cub about this before?”  she asked.

      “buck no want hear thing,”  Kuruk replied.

       “Tell me more of mama and your first cub, please,”  Hope said.  Kuruk swallowed hard, wiping his eyes with one large paw.  Lying down, he gathered Hope to him, cuddling her as he used to cuddle his first cub, the sensation bringing back memories of a time so long ago.  Kuruk wept into Hope’s fur, Hope letting him cry, while Anook, not understanding, sat angrily drumming her paws on the floor.

         “male bears aren’t like this,”  Anook thought, “Kuruk’s putting it on, he’s not as soft as all that.  Playful he might be, but he would eat the bodies of his cub and mate, or would have done.  Maybe he’s crying because he lied to Hope about not eating them.”

         “What you think is wrong mama,”  a voice said to Anook, “Kuruk did bury my body, and that of my dead cub.”

        “Who are you?”  Anook asked.

      “My name, when I had one when my paws touched the earth was Grace, and my cub, her name was Ellie,”  the voice replied, “Kuruk buried our bodies with such gentle care.  He didn’t desecrate our bodies one bit.  Indeed, he made it so my paws wrapped round my cub in an eternal hug.”  

    “Oh, um, I’m sorry,”  Anook said, her voice cracking, “I didn’t think.”

          “You didn’t believe your paws,”  the spirit of Kuruk’s first mate said, “you know Kuruk wants to roll with the cubs, but his inhibitions stop him.  You know what he truly wants Anook.”

       “Deep down, I do,”  Anook replied, “but it’s so unlike a male bear to want these things so deeply, his wish for them frightens me.  He wanted to know how it felt to deliver Buck into the world, I could hardly tell him that.  In the end it was all right, lovely even, when I strained hard during re-enactment and he comforted me.”

       “That led to Hope’s birth I think,”  Kuruk’s dead mate replied, a smile in her voice.

        “it did, I think,”  Anook replied faintly.

       “Let Kuruk tell Hope of mine and Ellie’s departure into the spirit world,”  the spirit of Kuruk’s first mate said, “I will go to him once he’s told our tale to Hope.”  Anook, feeling ashamed from nose to tail, lay down.

 

Kuruk lay curled as if to warm hope, her body cradled in his paws.  Kuruk knew how to warm cubs, he’d done it for his first born on the mountain when they’d walked together long before a cub should really be up in such cold places, but Ellie had insisted she go with Kuruk, and when the cold had almost numbed the cub’s mind and paws, Kuruk would scrape a den in the hillside and shelter with his cub, breathing on her to warm her, and embracing her in his paws.  when the weather eased, they’d go back down the mountain to their family den, Grace always glad to see them, fussing over little Ellie as if she were newborn all over again.

       “You blow on me like mama Anook does,”  Hope observed, “it feels good, but male bears don’t care for their cubs like mamas do, do they?”

        “Kuruk told by his mama to be good to cubs, for he was one once.  She say be gentle and loving to cubs Kuruk, for you needed love and gentility once.  Kuruk never forget when Kamchatka say thing,”  Kuruk replied softly.

       “your mama helped feed me that first time, didn’t she,”  Hope said.  Kuruk paused, remembering:

       “she did, she come back from the spirit world to help,”  Kuruk grunted.

       “I know now why I feel this is natural!”  hope exclaimed, “mama Kamchatka taught you how to hug a cub.”

          “She did,”  Kuruk replied, “she convinced mama bears to let Kuruk hug their cubs.  Mama Kamchatka was scared from nose to paws every day, she then left me at 1 year old, ran away, but she tried her best in the time she stayed with me.  Now Kuruk put into practise what he learn, and before now too with little cub Ellie.  Kuruk take cub up to windy mountain, she wanted go to place you see.  And then when we get cold, Kuruk dig den in woods.  There he and little cub snuggle and shelter.  Once winds die down, we go down mountain.  Ellie cub love walking in snow, loved touch of cold ground on pads, and the warmth when Kuruk embrace her cold paws in his and breathe on them to warm her.  she snuggle so close to Kuruk, we as one bear sometimes.”  Kuruk paused, Hope feeling him tremble beside her.  she felt his paws tighten on her body, then saw his face come down to hers, and felt his kiss on the top of her head.  Kuruk, his eyes closed, fought back tears.

         “I would cry too,”  Hope said softly, stroking Kuruk’s face with her paw.  Kuruk wept quietly, his grief raw even seven years on.  Stroking Hope with his paws, he rocked her in his embrace, Hope so amerced in his world she felt no awkwardness.  She felt as she imagined Kuruk’s first cub felt when embraced by him.  Warm, safe, and loved more deeply than she thought possible.

         “This story for you, Kuruk no want Anook hear thing,”  Kuruk whispered.

        “You’ve wanted to hug a cub like this for ages haven’t you,”  Hope said.  Kuruk didn’t answer, his embrace said it all.

          “buck no allow Kuruk do thing,”  he choked.

        “Ellie’s death was not your fault Kuruk,”  Hope said, “she didn’t die because of your doing.”  Kuruk roared with pain, the sound startling Anook, but no surprise to Hope.

        “she decided to go up on mountain alone,”  Kuruk sobbed, “Ellie left den, and Kuruk try tell her no go, he say it dangerous alone, he tell her, but she adventurous cub.  she three months old, barely on her small paws she was.  Kuruk know Ellie cub from nose to toes, and he trace her pads every day, Ellie laughing and curling her toes with playful cub delight at thing.  Ellie also play with paws of Kuruk too, and Kuruk curl toes with natural pleasure also.  This make Ellie giggle and tickle Kuruk’s toes till he laugh fit to bust.  We only do thing in scrape den though, for Kuruk no want mate see how he and cub play, for he scared she think him mad bear, and not fit as strong big mate.”  Kuruk’s eyes, now dry, shone with love for his cub, Hope energised by this.

        “That sounds a lovely time,”  she replied, “all that tracing of pads and tickling of toes, all that laughter while keeping warm and dry in a den.”

       “it was good time,”  Kuruk replied, “but one day, one day Ellie go out on own, Kuruk try stop her, but she creep out when he asleep.  Kuruk woke by mate Grace screaming about her lost cub.  so he go with her, and he find,”  Kuruk paused, his eyes full of soul destroying pain, “he find cub in trap, man make him, trap I mean.  Ellie stray off track into camp of men, and she get foot in trap.  Camp long deserted, but trap still there, still set.  Ellie’s body stiff, stiff in the snow, it covered by snowfall.  Kuruk dig cub out and find trap on right hind foot of Ellie cub.  Trap so big and heavy, Ellie no go place with it on paw.  Kuruk see she try free herself, he see she bite own paws and broke teeth and claws trying to free herself.”

       “Oh no, how horrid,”  Hope said faintly, her toes curling at the thought of her paws being compressed and chewed on by a trap, “Kuruk, I’m sorry.”  Kuruk bent his head down to Hope and kissed her nose, Hope reaching up with her paws to touch his face.

         “Kuruk free trapped cub,”  Kuruk said, “Grace, she so distressed, she sit down and cry into own forepaws.  Kuruk though, he clean cub’s body, make Ellie look like she sleeping.  He then give her to mama Grace to hold in her paws.  mama Grace held cub for hours, stroking, weeping, hugging the cub’s body.  Then, then, she laid the cub in lap of Kuruk, and going to the edge of a nearby cliff, she stepped into thin air.  Kuruk no hear her fall, but he pick up cub and go find body of grace.  He hope she not lying injured and in pain, Kuruk no cope with that, not after what he imagine poor Ellie go through in trap.  Kuruk find mama’s body on lower slope, far down from leaping place.  Kuruk take body of mama and cub, and dig best den ever for them in hillside, go deep, into mud and things.  He spend days on den, digging, digging.  He then make bed for mama and cub, bed like mama Grace have when delivering Ellie into the world.  Kuruk replay that time in his mind, her efforts, her pain, the hours she lay groaning and pawing at the walls and at her bed.  She have hard time delivering cub.  Ellie came out slowly, mama pushing from her nose to her toes every time she felt the need.  Kuruk watch, he touch too, feeling her sweat, feeling her curling toes, hearing her grunts and groans, whimpers and sobs of pain.  Kuruk see her pawing at her bedding, at her belly, and between her legs, easing her pain.  He see her licking, cleaning, fighting her need to scream and beat the ground in pain, for she vulnerable to danger.  Kuruk remember all while digging den for bodies of mate and cub.  Kuruk say he bury bodies in snow until now, but that rubbish, he do far more.  Kuruk know still where den is.  It long time from here, across oceans in Russia, but he no go there for years, not since a few days after he bury dead mama and cub.  Eventually Kuruk finish den, and crawl in to see if things are well, he make bed, then he lie on it with mama and cub in den, warming den a little, then he warm mama and cub, for their bodies were frozen stiff.  The den was freezing cold.  Kuruk arrange bodies of mama and cub as if mama is hugging cub.  Grace hugging her cub in her paws.”

        “That sounds lovely,”  Hope said.

      “Kuruk want last memory to be of mama and cub having cuddle, but, but that not only memory. Kuruk fool himself, or try to, but he remember,”  Kuruk replied.

       “then what happened?”  Hope asked.

        “Kuruk fill den up with snow, he pack snow into den, on top of mama and cub, he bury them deep in den, fill up den to roof, then fill den back till he come outside.  He then make sure den not visible from outside.”

         “So noone else can find it and harm your family,”  Hope said faintly.  Kuruk, choking on tears, nodded:

        “Kuruk make dam sure grave den not found,”  he replied, “mama Kamchatka say protect mate and cubs, and Kuruk do thing, even when they no really need it.”

        “You needed it though, you needed to feel they were safe,”  hope said.  Kuruk kissed Hope’s nose, the cub feeling her own tears wetting Kuruk’s fur.

      “Thank you for telling your tale,”  Hope sniffed, while Kuruk embraced her in his paws, crying as freely as Hope was.

         “Kuruk hide den, then go, he want go home to mama Kamchatka, so he set about finding her, and when he find her, he come here,”  Kuruk replied.

          “Will you play with me like you did your first cub?”  Hope asked.  Kuruk looked down at her through his tears.

         “there no mountains here,”  he said, “but there is room where we could dig den, and we could walk in wood too.”

       “Let’s do that,”  Hope said, “I’ll play, play for your dead cub.  maybe, maybe she will feel your touch on her pads just once more Kuruk.”  Kuruk smiled sadly.

         “Poor cub,”  he whispered, “poor Ellie cub, my dear sweet cub, Kuruk sorry he not able to save you.”

           “I wish she was here now,”  Hope said, “I’d like to have met her.”

        “You might go to the clearing, she might be there,”  Kuruk grunted, “Kuruk tried that, he not sure she there at all now.”

       “She is,”  Hope replied, “Kuruk, she’s there, you just have to go to a place she recognises, a den maybe, dig one, then settle down in it, and one day, she might come back to you for one last hug and to have her cold paws warmed and tickled.”

         “sounds a nice idea, but she won’t come back to me, not now, not after all these years,”  Kuruk replied miserably, “Kuruk gone from mountains, his paws are soft like a cub’s now.  If he went to mountains again, he’d be wearing socks on his paws like Hope cub to keep paws warm.”  Hope snuggled up to Kuruk.

       “Go find a den,”  she said.  Kuruk got to his feet, Hope watching him leave on heavy paws.

       “I didn’t understand a word,” Anook snapped, “Hope, what did he say to you?  It was in a language I couldn’t understand.”

         “The story was for me, and me alone,”  Hope replied, “I’m not telling you one word of it.”  Anook huffed in annoyance, but realised she’d not get a word out of her youngest cub.  Hope, shaking herself, crawled away to find Kuruk.

 

Kuruk found his way to the arctic room, where he found a hill of snow deep enough to dig a den.  Digging a den, Kuruk crawled inside, lying down to think.  Kuruk felt his body cooling, lying on his side, he sobbed into the snow, his mind reminding him of his lost cub.

        “Ellie, dear sweet cub,”  Kuruk whispered, “sorry for not being with you when you died.  Please, forgive me, I love you, I’m sorry.”  Kuruk reached out with desperate paws, feeling a warm body snuggle up to hers.

        “You wanted to see me papa?”  a voice asked.  Kuruk sniffed at the cub in his paws, she smelt familiar, too familiar not to be the cub he sort.

         “My darling cub,”  Kuruk choked.

        “Hug me, play with my paws one last time, please,”  the cub said.  Kuruk tickled the cub’s paws, the young female cub laughing and waving her paws in the air, as well as batting at her sire’s forepaws.  Kuruk wept into the cub’s fur, hugging her tightly.

        “I will go now,”  Kuruk’s first born cub said, “I will leave you with a cub who’s paws enjoy being tickled as much as I enjoyed our time together.  Kuruk, rest easy, you did not set the trap, and you treated my mama’s body and mine with huge respect.  Our grave is undisturbed, safe.  Now, play with Hope, love her as you loved me.”  With that Kuruk felt a small paw wiping his eyes, then a small kiss placed on his nose.

        “Hope?”  Kuruk choked, “it is you little one?”  Hope kissed her sire’s paw:

       “yes,”  she said, “I’m here.”  Kuruk kissed her nose and paws, Hope warm and alive, Kuruk feeling her strength reviving him.

       “Will you play with my paws sire Kuruk?”  Hope asked.  Kuruk smiled and kissed Hope’s nose.

        “I will,”  he replied firmly.

        “I’m cold,”  Hope whispered, “hug me Kuruk, my paws are freezing!”  Kuruk shuffled backwards, blocking up the den mouth with snow, leaving a little hole for ventilation.  Hope felt the temperature increase, hearing Kuruk digging a trench around the outside to stop the water pooling on the floor.  Scrambling onto the bedding, he drew Hope into a huge hug.

       “Hold me tight,”  Hope begged, Kuruk embracing her tenderly.  Hope kissed Kuruk’s nose and ears.

        “I love you dear Kuruk,”  Hope said.  Kuruk groomed hope from nose to tail, the cub snuggling close.

      “Kuruk worried you hungry little one,”  Kuruk said.  Hope smiled and shook her head.

      “I’m not hungry,”  she replied.

        “how long since you last drank milk?  Kuruk asked.  Hope couldn’t remember.

        “Kuruk go find you milk,”  Kuruk grunted.  Leaving the den, he padded across the falling snow to the only incongruous thing in the whole room, a phone on the wall inside a temperature controlled box.  Kuruk opened the box, feeling the warm air against his paws as he picked up the phone.

       “Sid,”  he said, “can you bring milk to door of arctic room for Hope cub?”  Sid, having seen everything in Kuruk’s den, composed himself and replied that he would get milk there as soon as possible.

 

In his kitchen, Sid put the phone down, his paw shaking.

        “Kuruk’s tale made me cry into the beef stew I was making, I had to throw it out,”  he thought, “I never thought I’d be affected like that.  There’s me, thinking old Kuruk was dryer than a desert, but he’s not, he weeps like a mama bear for his dead cub.  maybe it is the horror of what he went through that makes him gruff and seemingly unapproachable.  Kuruk padded in and took the milk from the warmer.  It was only when Sid heard the door bang that he looked up, to see Kuruk looking at him.

         “I’m sorry Kuruk,”  Sid mumbled, realising he’d been standing on his hind legs, leaning on the counter for the last ten minutes, “I, I’m sorry about your cub.”  Kuruk reared onto his hind feet and looked into the grumpy sheaf’s face.

        “You think Kuruk old dry husk of a bear till now,”  he stated.  Sid nodded, the expression in Kuruk’s eyes making him want to weep, “Kuruk see dead cub in dreams all time,”  Kuruk added.

        “I’m so sorry,”  Sid said, reaching out with a paw to touch Kuruk’s, “if anything happened to Kendal, I’d go mad.”  Sid squeezed Kuruk’s paw, the male grizzly kissing Sid’s nose.

       “Kuruk go now,”  Kuruk said, knowing the whole exchange had been caught on camera, and that Hope, standing outside, had witnessed the whole thing.

       “Go in peace,”  Sid choked, hanging his head in grief for a cub he never knew, his tears splashing into his second attempt at a beef stew.

        “That’s ruined again,”  Sid thought as he threw out his second stew of the day, “what a bloody waste of stew!  No, Kuruk’s cub’s life was wasted, all because of a carelessly left trap.  I understood the words Kuruk used to Hope, even if Anook didn’t.  I spoke to Kendal like Kuruk did to Hope, it’s a special language only sires and cubs understand, the mama bears can’t understand it, as they don’t believe what the language is communication for the most part.  It’s a language of love, of tenderness and security.  Only certain male creatures use it towards their cubs, male lions do, and some male bears.  Anook will never have a translation, and so it should be.”  Sid, gathering together ingredients for his third attempt at a beef stew, turned at the sound of lapping.  What he saw made him smile.  Hope, catching the scent of the beef stew, had crawled into the kitchen, and clambered onto the worktop.  Sitting down, she dipped her paws into the saucepan and, finding the liquid not too hot to handle, she scooped up some of the stew in her cupped paws and was feeding herself quite easily.

          “that stew was ruined,”  Sid said.  Hope, smiling, looked up at him, her face spattered with stew.

        “was it?”  she asked, “it tastes all right.”

        “I cried into that stew, and the one before too,”  Sid admitted, the words coming easily.

        “oh,”  Hope said, her paw paused in the act of taking another helping of stew, “you, you understood what Kuruk said to me then?  In our lie up I mean?”

        “yes,”  Sid replied, gripping the worktop with both forepaws, “I know that language, I spoke it to my son cub Kendal after his mama died on the road.  I told him how good she was, and how she’d made me a happy bear, and how much she’d loved her only cub.  I told him she didn’t want to leave him, but the spirits took her away to be a mama to other cubs as she’d been to him.  That was the only way I could explain her death to Kendal, as he was so young then.  I don’t know why I’m talking like this to a cub, you’re only  one week old and I’m treating you like an adult community member, you probably don’t understand all this.”

        “You are so silly,”  Hope said in a tone speaking of weariness way beyond her one week born.  hope suddenly lost her temper:

     “adults always do this!”  she snapped, slapping her paw into the stew in a fit of frustrated rage, covering Sid in beef and potatoes, “you adults always patronise us cubs!  “oh you won’t understand this, or that, or the other,”  yes we do!  We do!  I’m a community cub, I know what community cubs are.  Kendal, he wasn’t a community cub, sorry for him I am, for he learnt slowly, we don’t!  community cubs know about their births, and are far more with it than wild cubs.  I know this, mama said it, and Kuruk did too!”

       “Okay, I’m sorry Hope,”  Sid replied, wiping stew from his face with a towel, “I’ll not make that mistake again,.”

        “Stew’s good anyway,”  Hope said, setting to with single minded determination.

         “I’m making another one,”  Sid replied, eyeing the devastation around him from Hope’s outburst, “I’ll have to clear this lot up first though,”  he mused, “and Hope, you’re covered in stew!  Messy cub!”  Hope grinned, her fury forgotten.  Sid looked into the shining eyes in the mask of stew matted fur.

          “I love you little one,”  Sid whispered to Hope, who playfully splashed him with the now cold stew.

        “Your face and paws are all covered in stew!”  Sid admonished.  Hope crossed her eyes and stuck her tongue out at him, Sid roaring with laughter.  Picking Hope bodily up off the worktop, Sid cradled her in his paws, while standing on his hind feet.  Hope, kicking the air with her hind paws and holding onto Sid’s chest fur with her fore, looked up into his face.

          “you look a mess too,”  she said smiling.

     “At least I didn’t bathe in the stew,”  Sid challenged.  Hope smiled:

        “bet you did when you were my age,”  she replied.

        “I wasn’t a tidy eater,”  he replied, “but then I was a cub.  Now, now I know all sorts of things, how to serve dinner to humans, quite as well as Patch knows these things.  Some Humans drink tea from bowls as we do, eat food from bowls too, but some have strange customs, they forget what useful tools a good set of clean forepaws are.  They use metal things to cut their food, and another metal thing to feed themselves.  They call that progress.  Hmm, I call it repression.  Agreed, when food is hot and such, then yes, use the metal things, but some eat cold foods with metal prongs and cut their food with knives when it’s clearly to be eaten by use of the forepaws!  But I’m rambling, sorry.”  Sid put hope down on the floor.

       “the worktop is not a place for cubs,”  he said sternly.  Hope, her fun over, looked down at the tiles on which she sat.

       “the floor is cold, and I don’t like it!”  she complained loudly.

        “I’ll call Kuruk to take you to the shower room and wash you,”  Sid said.  Kuruk, having seen everything, still held the bottle of milk in his paw, the milk now cold.

         “You’ll be ill from that stew I don’t doubt,”  Kuruk said, “Hope cub not ready for solid food yet.”  Indeed, hope wasn’t ready, the rich food took its toll soon after, Hope being violently sick and suffering stomach cramps.

       “that stew was lovely,”  she whimpered, “but maybe my body wasn’t ready for it.  Oh dear, I wish I’d never stolen it now,”  she moaned as she lay in her lie up some time later that day.  Kuruk gave her soothing peppermint to chew, and Hope’s stomach stopped jumping about.  Soothed and comforted by the peppermint, Hope settled down to sleep.

        “What stew?”  Anook asked, “Kuruk, what happened earlier?”  Kuruk told her about the goings on in the kitchen.

      “Hope should be well beaten for what she did, stealing stew that was not meant for her!”  Anook snapped, “Just wait till I get my paws on her!”

         “Kuruk think she had enough punishment,”  Kuruk grunted, “Hope need no more punishment for eating the stew.  Amway, Sid had thrown stew out, so he disowned it.  She no steal thing in first place silly Anook.  Sid cried into stew, Kuruk tell Anook thing, but she no listen.  So, Kuruk say it not stealing, even though Hope think it be so.  Kuruk say it adventurous cub getting paws into things she not meant to at her age, and getting sick because of it.  Hope need to know that the stew is good, but her body no like thing at moment, even if her taste like thing.  Hope ate stew before she was ready, and so now she suffer for it.  In time though, when she off milk and eating like big cub, Kuruk show her stew again, and then she love it like before, hmm?”  Hope, listening to all this, smiled to herself.  She could understand Kuruk’s talk more easily than her mother’s rantings.  Anook used words Hope didn’t understand, but they communicated nothing much.  Anook seemed fond of long words which meant nothing.  It was true, what Kuruk said in fifty words, Anook could say in fifteen, but to Hope, her language was dry and meaningless, Kuruk’s was full of empathy, spirit, love and adventure.

         “Who’s the desert? Mama or Kuruk?”  Hope mumbled to herself.

         “What?”  Anook asked.

        “dryer than a desert,”  Hope mumbled, falling asleep, “mama is dryer than a desert.”  Anook was furious!

       “Who taught her to say that!”  she yelled.

         “Kuruk no teach Hope cub thing,”  Kuruk replied, “she make mind up all on own.  Though Kuruk agree with Hope cub.  Language  of Anook be desert of first order.”

       “I’m tiring to be sophisticated and modern!”  Anook yelled.

        “Kuruk think you sound old and dried,”  Kuruk grunted, “when you tell tale, cubs wither and dry up like leaves in autumn.”  Anook smacked Kuruk hard across his face with her paw.

        “You bloody uneducated animal!”  she yelled.

       “Kuruk know more about life than a zoo bred polar bear mama Anook,”  Kuruk challenged, “mama Anook learn how she is taught, by bozos!”  Hope shook with laughter, trying not to show she found the whole exchange hilariously funny.

      “What’s a bozo?”  Anook asked, hope unable to hide her amusement any more.  Shrieking with laughter, she rolled onto her back and waved her paws in the air, brought up short when her body complained, and she was forced to roll onto her side and draw up her hind legs as her stomach complained.

      “oooah, ow, ow!”  she whimpered, her eyes closed in agony.

         “”if you need to relieve yourself here, don’t worry,”  Kuruk said.  Hope made a huge effort not to lose control, but she didn’t manage it.  The pain, along with immature control reflexes meant her struggle lasted only a few seconds before her body overrode her mind.  Crying, hope defecated on the rugs.  Kuruk could see her distress as she did something she knew was frowned upon in the den.

       “Cubs is meant to do shit thing in den until they at least weaned onto solids,”  Kuruk said gently, but this was little comfort to Hope, who felt very ashamed.

       “I’m sorry, I couldn’t hold it,”  she whimpered.  Kuruk cleaned hope up, then refreshed the bedding.

        “Kuruk know how it was to be cub once,”  he said gently.  Hope kissed his nose and stroked his face with her paw.

       “I hope Ellis and grace are doing well,”  Hope replied.

       “Why don’t we go and see her now?”  Kuruk asked.  Hope leapt into the air with excitement, regretting it a minute later, when her body protested.

      “Oaoaoaoaw!”  she whimpered.

        “Careful little one,”  a mama bear said, hope feeling a muzzle gently nuzzling her cheek.

       “Who are you?”  Hope mumbled, opening her eyes.  She found herself on the floor in her lie up, a large mama bear looking down at her.

        “Who are you?”  Hope asked.  Dorothy sat down and gathered hope into her lap.

         “You went into shock little one,”  Dorothy said, stroking Hope’s fur and paws, “you are ill, and did too  much, getting excited with all this.”

       “I wanted to meet grace and Ellis,”  Hope said hoarsely, “I leapt into the air, and my body complained, and now,”  she choked on tears, “now I feel shit, totally shit!”

      “Language Hope!”  Anook squealed.

        “Where did she learn such words?”  Dorothy asked, “not that I disagree with ‘er sentiments, I don’t, I’s seeing she’s feeling, “shit,”  as she puts it.  Poor bugger.”

       “I want to see Ellis and Grace,”  Hope replied, “but I’m ill, and Ellis will be vulnerable to infection.”

        “Not if you wash your paws,”  Ekaterina said, padding into the room, “here, I’ll help you.”  Ekaterina found anti bacterial soap and helped Hope to wash her paws.

      “now if you touch Ellis, you won’t harm him.  I know what you’ve eaten, it’s not poison, it was just a little too rich for you.”  Hope looked ashamed.

       “I was punished for helping myself to that stew,”  she said.  Kuruk put a call into the outside lie up, which was answered by Sooleawa.  Kuruk put his, or rather hope’s request to meet little Ellis to Sooleawa, who relayed it to grace.  The request was granted, for grace herself came on the line, after Sooleawa told her just to hold the handset to her ear with one paw and speak.

       “So a little cub wants to meet mine?”  she asked.  Kuruk smiled, and his smile transmitted down the line:

      “yeah, Hope be gentle cub, she love Ellis already, she see him born you see,”  Kuruk replied.  Grace smiled at Kuruk’s language, her face on Kuruk’s screen.

       “I be glad to let little Hope cub meet Ellis cub,”  Grace said, Kuruk catching his breath.

        “Good, fine, in your own time mama,”  Kuruk said hoarsely, his own face registering distress.

       “Was it something I said?”  Grace asked.  Kuruk, closing his eyes, took a deep breath:

        “don’t try to imitate me, please,”  Kuruk pleaded, his eyes filling with tears.  Putting the phone down, the screen on the video phone went black.

 

“I’ve upset one community member, oh dear,”  Grace said, “I thought he was speaking a different dialect, so I copied his manner, he then nearly breaks down crying?  What’s all that about?”

        “I don’t know,”  Sita replied, “but there’s got to be a good reason for Kuruk to become emotional, he doesn’t as a rule.”

        “he does,”  Patch said, “but you don’t see it Sita.  He keeps it under wraps most of the time.  Something’s happened to cause this.  We’ve been here for hours after Ellis’s birth, come Grace, let’s get him and you into warmth and safety.”

      “You mean here isn’t safe?”  Grace asked.

      “I, I didn’t mean it that way,”  Patch replied, “let’s get out of here.”  With that he led Grace, Sita, Sooleawa and Ellis to the main house.

        “Kuruk!”  Patch yelled as they entered the house.  A big male grizzly came lumbering towards them.

       “What?”  Kuruk asked.  Seeing grace, Kuruk nearly fell over.  Sitting down on the tiles, Kuruk covered his face with his paws, shaking his head, for it felt as if it was about to explode.

        “What’s the matter?”  Grace asked, sensing she was the cause of the big male’s collapse.

        “I’ll take Ellis in to see Hope,”  Patch said.  Grace padded up to Kuruk and looked closely at the distressed bear.

       “Do I remind you of someone else?  Someone once close?”  she asked gently.  Kuruk swallowed hard, trying not to cry.

         “I had a feeling I’d lost something precious,”  the mama bear said, “something high up in a cold place, and that he who I’d left behind was a gentle bear, who did by me and my cub all he could to protect us, even in death.”  Kuruk wailed with tearing grief.

      “Don’t plays them games, Grace, don’t play silly buggers with me, it ain’t fair!”  Kuruk begged.

       “But I’m not,”  Grace replied, “our cub’s name was Ellie, I remember her.”

       “You mean Kuruk bury mama alive?”  Kuruk replied hoarsely.

        “No,”  Grace replied, “my early life was in a den, with my own mama.  We were adopted by a male bear, the cub I bore wasn’t his, though he loved her as if she were.  Kuruk, the mama bear who leapt from the cliff survived, the body you found wasn’t your mate’s at all.  You gave a decent burial to your own cub and to a poor mama who’d died on the snow from exposure after searching for her poor cub for ages.  I know, I know they became mama and cub in the world across the bridge.  My body was broken by the fall, but I did not die.  I struggled away from where I fell, and heard you come past me, but I couldn’t speak or move.  You moved away, and didn’t return.”  Seeing Kuruk’s expression, Grace held up a paw:

       “I don’t blame you for not noticing me, please Kuruk, don’t think I blame you.  To be honest, when your face came up on the screen in front of me, I couldn’t believe who I was seeing.”  Kuruk looked at Grace:

        “Kuruk see your face, and he hardly believe it too.  He know you as well as he know Ellie cub.  Now he find you come after him, and you deliver cub of Bruin in community den.”

        “I wish I’d known you were here,”  Grace replied, “I would have come into the house and delivered my cub with you present, I still love you darling Kuruk.”  Kuruk kissed her nose.

      Your welcome here,”  Kuruk replied, his paws shaking, “mama Grace, my sweet mama grace.”

 

Anook watched all, confused about where she stood in Kuruk’s affections now he’d found his lost mate.

       “Kuruk make dam sure Anook not unloved too,”  Kuruk said, sensing the female bear’s mood, “he do male bear thing if Anook want, have cubs with mama Grace and mama Anook, and love all cubs.  Not abandon them like big male do in wild.  Kuruk happy bear now.”  Grace kissed Kuruk’s nose once more.

       “Kuruk want get paws on with big mama Dorothy too, so Grace hear,”  Grace said.  Kuruk smiled.

       “Dorothy want Kuruk’s attention, Kuruk know thing, but Hope come along first, so when hope on her paws, Kuruk then go find Dorothy to make her in cub if she want.”

        “Dorothy want Kuruk wash her paws!”  Dorothy yelled from Anook’s lie up, Grace laughing merrily.

        “let’s get in to the warm mum, it’s freezing!”  Ellis yelled.  Grace smiled and settled her cub in the warmth of Kuruk’s den.

        “now what do I do?”  Anook asked, “there are three bears wanting Kuruk’s, um, attentions, and only one of him!”

       “Kuruk got it all in paw, he love all three mamas, then, then he make sure he present when they have their cubs, and let the cubs scramble all over him like he big climbing frame,”  Kuruk replied, “Kuruk want that.  He want cubs scramble all over him, play with his paws, so he can love them from noses to paws.”  Dorothy laughed, padded to grace and embraced her tightly.

          “So we be Kuruk’s harem,”  she said, “if you ok with that.”  Grace kissed Dorothy’s nose.

       “I’m fine with it,”  she replied.

      “What if I’m not fine with it?”  Anook asked.  the two veteran mama bears looked at her.

       “You be fine with thing though,”  Dorothy replied, “you give Kuruk permission ages back, and if you no like thing, you sod off and leave more of sinecure for Grace and me, simple ain’t it?”

        “yeah, it’s simple,”  Anook replied, huffing with exasperation, “Kuruk, go do your duty.”

 

 

Meanwhile, Knut and Tiguak lay together, Knut having just done his duty to Tiguak as a male bear would in the wild.  Tiguak smiled at Knut, the male bear covering her paw with his.

         “How will it feel to deliver a cub?”  Tiguak asked.  Knut smiled and shook his head:

        “I don’t know,”  he replied, “it’s painful, that’s what I’ve heard, it’s also exhilarating once the cub is born.”

          “I should ask mamas,”  Tiguak replied, “I don’t want, don’t want to hate the birth process or resent my cubs.”

       “you won’t hate your cubs,”  Knut said softly, “I know you won’t.”

       “My mama resented me,”  Tiguak replied softly, “I don’t want to be like her, I don’t want to hate my own cubs.”  Knut watched as Tiguak’s eyes filled with tears, “I don’t want to hate my cubs!”  she sobbed.  Knut stroked her face with his paw.

        “You won’t, you’re not your mama, you are gentle, and kind, your mama was stressed, you aren’t, you will deliver our cubs, and you will love them, because you want to,”  Knut replied softly.  Tiguak covered her face with her paws, sniffing hard.

       “Please, don’t let me hate my cubs,”  she sobbed, “I’d go mad if I hated them!”  she wept.

        “You won’t, I promise you won’t hate your cubs,”  Knut replied softly, knowing he realistically could make no such promise.

         “Knut,”  Tiguak said from behind her paws, “please, if you notice me resenting my cubs, slap my paws and tell me I’m a stupid and ungrateful butcher.  Please!”  Knut kissed her forepaws.

        “You won’t neglect your cubs Tiguak, you won’t.”  Knut replied.

        “I pray I don’t,”  Tiguak replied faintly, “nut, tie my paws, muzzle my mouth and remove my cubs to safety if I look like I’m going to attack them, please,”  she suddenly grabbed his forepaws in hers, squeezing them hard, “please, promise me!”  she begged, her eyes terrified.

       “Okay, hey, okay, I promise,”  Knut replied, “Tiguak, you, you’re crushing my paws, get off!”  he pleaded.  Tiguak released her grip, Knut flexing his sore toes.

        “If you can squeeze my paws like that when you’re upset, I don’t want to be here when you’re in labour,”  Knut said airily.  Tiguak’s expression made him regret his words the minute they were out.

        “I will stay with you, I promise,”  Knut said gently, “Tiguak, please, I didn’t mean that.”  Tiguak rubbed her eyes with clenched paws.

        “I’m sorry,”  she replied, her voice shaking, “I’m all silly.”

       “No,”  Knut replied, “you were abandoned by your mother, and you fear you will do the same to the cubs we will have.  You are not silly.”

       “I’m serious about you tying my paws and muzzling me though,”  Tiguak whimpered, “I’m frightened I’ll do something awful to my cubs!”

        “I will be watchful,”  Knut replied.

        “You are cute from your bear paws to your bear nose,”  Knut added, in an attempt to cheer Tiguak.

       “thanks,”  she replied, struggling to compose herself.

       “Cute from your bear paws,”  Knut repeated, touching the sole of Tiguak’s right hind foot, “to your bear nose,”  he finished, kissing her nose.

       “Thanks Knut,”  Tiguak said.  Knut kissed Tiguak’s paws, the she bear smiling broadly.  Smiling, Knut tenderly embraced Tiguak, the she bear snuggling into his hug, then letting herself relax into it, amercing herself in his warm embrace.

        “I love you,”  she whispered, “I love you Knut, you make me feel warm and safe, so warm, so safe.”  Knut smiled and kissed her ear:

         “While we were mating,”  he said, “I ran my paws all over you Tiguak, from your nose to your toes.”

      “yes, it, it was that which made my mind up finally,”  she replied, eager to hear more.

         “I explored your ears, your face, your back, belly, legs and paws with interest, and you’re the mama I want for my cubs.  Your paws were playful, they wanted to play.”

        “I’m really a cub in an adult bear’s body,”  Tiguak replied, “I haven’t really grown up yet, though I understand what I’m doing now, and what our play led to earlier.  I’m still a young cub when it comes to play, I love it.  And I can tell you do too.”

        “My adopted sire loved play, and while we were in a hell of a fix after my mama died and he found me on the road, he would still find safe places for us to play every night.  We played with each other’s paws, then played catch the twig, a game where one bear passes a twig to the other, using only their hind feet.  It’s a hard game to master, but is much fun.”

      “Bella plays that game,”  Tiguak said, “I’ve played it with her,,”  Tiguak suddenly wriggled with suppressed frustration,  my toes don’t do what I tell them!”  she ranted, sounding like a cub.

       “Sorry,”  she said in her normal voice, “that was rather cubbish wasn’t it?”  Knut, his eyes sparkling with merriment, took hold of Tiguak’s hind paws in turn and massaged and manipulated her toes.

      “Now you disobedient toes,”  Knut said, Tiguak nearly crying with laughter, “do what your careful owner asks of you, right?  Otherwise, I’ll tickle you, like this!”  Tiguak ended on her back, kicking the air shrieking with laughter as Knut tickled her toes.

         “get off, leave my toes, leave my toes alone!”  Tiguak pleaded.  Knut tickled her pads in response, Tiguak drawing up her hind feet and grabbing them in her forepaws to stop him.

          “Sorry,”  he said, Tiguak releasing her right hind foot and dabbing at his nose with the toes he’d just tickled, Knut giggling with pleasure.

       “Playful mama, I like very much,”  he said, Tiguak sitting up and embracing him.

         “I didn’t think it would end like that,”  she gasped, “you rogue Knut!”  Knut smiled and kissed her nose.

       “My toes are tingling now!”  Tiguak laughed, nut leaning down and kissing her pads.  Then, very gently, he took each of Tiguak’s hind feet in his paws and massaged it, first the furry top, then the sides, then the tops of her toes, then the large sole pad, then her toes, Tiguak tightly curling her toes at the end, Knut massaging her bunched pads until she relaxed her toes once more.

         “that felt wonderful!”  Tiguak said after Knut had massaged her right hind foot.

        “There’s your left hind foot to be massaged, we can’t leave that out now, it would feel excluded,”  Knut said, the concept amusing to Tiguak.

       “No,”  she said, “it would feel rather strange to have one hind foot massaged and not the other.”  So Knut set to his task, Tiguak knowing he enjoyed massaging her hind foot as much as she enjoyed the massage, giving him feedback by involuntary grunts and sighs of pleasure, as well as succumbing to the uncontrollable urge to curl and stretch her toes which overcame her from time to time.  Knut, smiling as the toes of his right forepaw were caught in the tightly curling toes of Tiguak’s left hind foot, kissed the furry tops of the she bear’s curled toes, Tiguak ruffling his ears with her paw.

        “I hope we can play like this in the early stages of my confinement,”  Tiguak said.

        “I will play with you, let you squeeze me, squeeze my paws, I’ll roll with you, crawl with you, squeal, groan and roar with you Tiguak,”  Knut replied.

       “Would you?”  Tiguak replied soberly, “nut, would you really do that for me?”

        “Of course,”  he replied, “I got you into cub, I can’t run away when you need help getting the cub born now can I?”  Tiguak swallowed hard, emotions welling in her:

        “I never thought a male would stay with his mate as she delivered his cubs,”  she choked, “I thought only in my dreams that happened.  I would imagine myself in labour, my mate caressing my paws, urging me to breathe deeply, not minding when I groaned with the pain of it all. Hugging me when I strained hard into my tail and cried with agony as the labour continued.  I would wake bathed in sweat and exhausted, as if the labour had really happened.  I never thought I’d find that dream though, the mix of pleasure and pain, such pleasure, such intense pain, and overwhelming comfort too.”

        “I’ll give you all the help you want, if I can possibly give it,”  Knut said.  Tiguak, smiling, looked into her mate’s eyes, Knut closing his eyes, then kissing her nose.

          “You made love to me with your eyes shut didn’t you,”  Tiguak said suddenly.  Knut smiled:

       “I did,”  he replied, “do you mind that?”

       “No, oh no, I don’t mind, it was lovely!”  Tiguak exclaimed.

          “My paws are more responsive when I close my eyes,”  Knut said.

       “Mine too,”  Tiguak confessed.

      “Good,”  Knut replied, “I’m glad about that.”  Tiguak, relieved he hadn’t minded her mating with him by touch alone, snuggled close to Knut with everything she had.

       “I could feel everything,”  she said, “my paws were more sensitive, my nose was more sensitive, and the pain and pleasure were heightened too.  I could feel my toes curling, my breath coming, my contractions doing their work.  When I pushed, how I pushed, right down into my tail, hard down, groaning down, whimpering with the effort of continuing the push deeper and deeper. Riding the ups and downs with my body, it was amazing, but terrifying at the same time.”  Knut rubbed her back with his paw.

         “I’ll be with you throughout the real thing,”  he replied, “ups, downs and all.”  Tiguak, smiling, kissed his nose and paws.

       “You have furry paw pads and toes,”  Tiguak said to Knut, who laughed and dabbed at her nose with his right forepaw.

       “Your fur smells sweet, clean and warm,”  Tiguak said.

       “I frequently wash my fur and paws,”  Knut replied, “I love washing my fur and paws, and,”  he hugged Tiguak and sniffed her fur, “you do too,”  he replied, nuzzling her ear.

        “I enjoy washing my paws, but I do it with special moisturising soap,”  Tiguak replied, “I don’t want to dry out my pads.”  Knut grinned, pulled Tiguak to her feet, and guided her to a bathtub.  Smiling, he filled the tub, Tiguak closing her eyes and listening to the water splashing into the tub.  Smiling broadly, she stepped into the tub, the water warming her paws.

       “What are you going to do with me now?”  Tiguak asked.  Knut, smiling, grabbed moisturising soap and rubbed it into the fur behind her years and down her neck and across her shoulders, Tiguak wriggling with pleasure.

        “This is wonderful!”  she whispered.  Knut smiled broadly and kissed her nose.

         “I would like you to kiss my paws too,”  Tiguak replied softly.

        “I will kiss your pads,”  Knut said, lifting Tiguak’s right forepaw from the water and kissing her furry toes and rough paw pads.

        “You make me feel so special,”  Tiguak said.

      “I want you to feel special,”  Knut replied softly, “Tiguak, I love you so much, so very much, from your nose to your paws, from your ears to your tail, everything about you.”

       “I got paws on with you too Knut, and your paws are so lovely,”  Tiguak replied.

      “Just my paws?”  Knut asked playfully.

      “Okay all of you then silly,”  Tiguak replied.  Knut smiled and kissed Tiguak’s nose.

       “Now I’ll wash the rest of your body, then wash my fur and paws, and we can get out of here before our paw pads shrivel up to nothing in this water,”  Knut said playfully.

        “I love you Knut,”  Tiguak replied, “when, when I’m groaning and curling my toes in pain, I hope you stick around, I can’t, can’t do it alone, I can’t! not like my mama did, please!”  Tiguak’s eyes looked so scared Knut hugged her tightly.

        “I won’t leave you,”  Knut said, “now, please, if you can, tell me what you remember of your birth and events after that.”  Tiguak clung to Knut.”

          “I’ll tell you everything,”  she promised, “it’s a sorry tale, but you were in the great room when I told it to the community, so you know the tale, I’m not telling it again.  No way Knut!”

         “ok, have it your way,”  Knut replied gently, “I just hoped to be able to reassure you I’d not leave you that is all, which I won’t.  I’ve seen mother’s in pain while they deliver their cubs, and it’s a natural pain, so is not scary.  I have a tale though, a tale that is scary, a tale I directed you to on the video.”

        “The tale of your confinement by sticky rope,”  Tiguak replied, “yes, I wanted to ask you about that.”

        “if I tell you how it felt, will you tell me? Please?”  Knut asked.  Tiguak realised she’d asked Knut to give something she hesitated to give in return”

      “I’ll tell you, I’ll take you to a place where you can hear the straw under my paws,”  Tiguak replied.

        “I’ll show you the tape and what it can do,”  Knut replied, “of course, I won’t tie you up with it, but I can show you how strong the tape is.”

       “You will allow me to experience what you did?”  Tiguak asked.

      “No, it was awful!”  Knut replied, “I, I can’t bring myself to put you through what I went through so I can illustrate what happened.  I will stick some of the tape to the pads and toes of your hind paws, so you can feel how strong it is, but that’s it, okay?”

       “The spirits could help by amercing Tiguak in what you felt Knut,”  Hope said, crawling into the room, “you won’t need tape at all.”

       “I would like to understand Knut’s experience,”  Tiguak said.

       “I don’t know if the spirits would allow that,”  Hope replied, “but taping your paws up is not right.” 

       “I want to hug Knut and massage his paws,”  Tiguak said, “but when I touch his pads, he flinches away, he doesn’t mean to I’m sure, but he does, why?”

        “it’s the tape, it’s hard to let anyone touch my paws,”  Knut whimpered.

        “are my paws sticky then?”  Tiguak asked.  Knut shook his head, looking down at the water in which he sat.         “sometimes, sometimes,”  he started to say, then stopped, shaking his head.

         “What did that bear tie you up with tape for?”  Hope asked.

        “I asked, asked, why he didn’t like the sight of a mama having a cub.  any mama, lioness, tigress, or bear, he would be sick at the sight.  I asked him once too often, and, and he did that to me, he tied me up and left me on the track, in a cold wood, where, if it hadn’t been for mama Anook and Kamchatka walking nearby, I, I wouldn’t have been found.  Tiguak hugged Knut, the male polar bear sobbing into her fur.

        “It’s all over now, all done,”  she said gently, hugging him tightly to her.”

        “Tiguak,”  Hope said, “please, don’t ask him to show you that part of his life, it’s not fair.”  Tiguak looked at the fifteen day old cub.

       “I won’t ask, I promise,”  she said.  Hope smiled:

       “Thank you, from me, and from Knut,”  she replied.

 

Knut composed himself with a great effort.

        “your birth story might be a nicer one to tell,”  Tiguak said to him.

       “I can’t remember it,”  he replied, “Tiguak, wild mama bears don’t hold the same views as community bears here, they prefer to bottle up their emotions and release them in aggression and fury.”

       “I was watching something on the computers a while back,”  Tiguak said, “some humans in America were studying black bears, and they too caught the birth of cubs on camera, like we do here.  The mama bear seemed very much at ease with her cub.  as if she’d told the cub it’s own birth tale, as if she was not ashamed of it.  I think, I think the cub was even watching in the family den a year after her own birth when her own mama had cubs again.”

       “the cub’s name is Hope isn’t it?”  Knut asked, “I know this, for Furcone has been showing us the videos to show us that humans aren’t all enemies.  That they want to know about us, and will respect our freedom to do what we do naturally, as long as they can shove cameras in our dens of course.”

        “I think they’ve shoved cameras in each other’s dens too,”  Tiguak replied, “so spying on each other isn’t unusual in human societies.”  Hope rubbed her nose with her paw:

         “I’ve watched the other cub named hope, she’s so like us here, but then again, not like us.  She’d find us very strange I think, with our tales and strange mixing with creatures she couldn’t hope to ever meet.  “oh, come and meet with this lion, he won’t hurt you,”  oh yeah, like she’d enjoy that.  No,”  Hope said with sad resignation, “I’ll never get to meet her.  pity that.”

         “hey, Hope, Hope!”  Georgia yelled, skipping into the bathroom, “I’ve just seen the most wonderful thing, that black bear cub with the same name as you?  She was looking after her younger cubs , licking them and helping mama Lilly with her duties in the den!”  Hope smiled at Georgia.

       “have you seen the views of mama Lilly in labour?”  Hope asked, “that was so magical, “it’s just like us here, mama black bear Lilly delivered her cubs just like mamas do here.  She made similar sounds too.  So what we do here is not unnatural really,  all the expressive sounds and such that mamas make, it’s all normal, all okay!”  Georgia danced with delight.

        “I’ve seen the videos too,”  she said, “so cute, so very cute them cubs are.  And mama black bear Lilly, wonderful! And as for Hope, she’s a lovely cub too, or so I think from the camera.”  Tiguak looked at the cub named Hope in front of her.  she had brown fur, and big paws, even though her legs were a little thin she looked healthy.

        “Do you want milk little one?”  she asked.  Hope smiled and pressed a button on a communications pendant around her neck.  Sooleawa padded in a few minutes later:

       “You called?”  she asked.  Hope grinned and hugged Sooleawa.

         “You call d me just so you could hug me?”  Sooleawa asked.

       “No,”  Hope replied, “I would like some milk, please, would you go find some?”

      “That pendant is for emergencies only!”  Sooleawa yelled, “it’s meant to allow you freedom with safeguards!”

         “I know,”  Hope replied, “and I promise not to use it for whistling up milk again.”  Sooleawa sighed, grinned, then padded from the room.

        “Naughty naughty,”  Knut said smiling at Hope, who looked down at her paws.

        “I was told not to use the button for little things,”  she replied, “but it’s just too tempting sometimes!”

       “the boy who cried wolf,”  Tiguak mused.

       “The what?”  Hope asked.

      “Drink your milk, then come to mine and Knut’s lie up in half an hour, and I’ll tell you the tale,”  Tiguak replied.

      “Tell me it now, tell me it now!”  Hope yelled, leaping about.

         “No,”  Tiguak replied, “do as I told you, and I will tell you the tale, disobey me, and I’ll not tell you the tale. Okay?”  Hope, realising she’d been outgunned, crawled away whimpering about older bears being so bossy.

         “Well done Tiguak,”  Knut said.

       “I wasn’t too hard on her was I?”  Tiguak asked.

      “If she comes back after having drunk her milk, you know your words will have struck home.”

       “I hope the tale does,”  Tiguak replied.

        “So you think there’s still hope for Hope, as it were,”  Knut said.

         “Now that’s cubbish,”  Tiguak replied, cuffing him gently with her paw, “but yes, there’s still hope for Hope.”

          “hey that hurt!”  Knut whimpered.

       “rubbish,”  Tiguak said smiling.

 

Meanwhile, in another room of the house, Koda and Bertie were playing with an old computer of Sire Koda’s.  they were in Sire Koda’s old office, abandoned since his death.  Little Koda, knowing a little about computers, had booted the computer, and found that it talked to him if he pressed keys on it.  Sire Koda, having adapted the keyboard for paws, rather than human hands, meant that little Koda could use the keyboard with comfort and ease.  Soon Bertie and little Koda were roaring with laughter as little Koda, who knew English, typed foul language into the pc and pressed the down arrow, making the screen reader swear.  Convulsing with laughter, the two bears wrote worse and worse language into the computer, Bertie trying to stop Koda when the black bear took things one step further by insulting everyone he could think of.

      “Koda,”  Bertie said, “writing bad words into a computer and making it speak them is one thing, insulting community members with whom we have no issue by using those words is another!  I will take no part in this!”

        “It’ll be fine,”  Koda said, “noone can read this!”

         “So you think that funny do you Koda?”  Sita asked, padding into the room.  Little Koda stared at her:

       “How long have you been here?”  he asked, horror written on his face.

        “Ages,”  Sita replied, “long enough to hear you calling me a stupid bitch, a stripy misfit, a heavy pawed oaf, and other words, other things, that, that make me want to smack you so hard with my heavy paws that you’ll never forget the day!”  Sita yelled.  Koda looked back at the screen to see an image of Patch on it, horrified, he realised this was live.

       “What you wrote has been logged Koda,”  Patch said, “logged and printed.  I know what you have been doing on that computer, I’ve seen everything, I’ve been spying on you.  I know you and Bertie have been doing silly cub stuff, for I hope that is what this slue of disgrace is.  I hope you do not really feel Sita is a stupid oaf, or that she is a silly bitch.  If you do, I am very sorry for you, and think you should apologise to Sita right now, indeed you should apologise anyway.  Sita walked in on you, she did not spy on you, I did.  Your words are unacceptable, and typed into a computer worse.  Now Koda, and you Bertie, take this as a warning.  I will not be so gentle next time.  I will show the whole community what you did.  I hope you weren’t going to publish what you’d written?”

        “I have a right to my own views patch!”  Koda snapped, “Sire Koda told me that!”

       “Indeed you do,”  Patch replied, “I hope though that those whom you have insulted have not earned your enmity by stirring in you unpleasant thoughts.  Saying I was a crazy fool with the intelligence of a bean wasn’t very nice.  Nor was writing that Ekaterina was a washed up old sow.  That was bordering on disgusting behaviour rather than silly cubbish behaviour.  You need to watch what you write.  Now let this be a lesson to you.  I will stay here watching you until you apologise to Sita.”

      “Not if I cover the camera you won’t!”  Koda replied, getting up to do just that.

       “Oh won’t I?”  Patch said, padding into the room and knocking Koda off his feet, pinning him down with one paw.

       “how, how did you do that!”  Koda gasped.

        “I was outside all the time, walking down from my lie up to here,”  Patch replied, “the camera only focused on my face, not on the rest of me, so you didn’t notice.  Now, Now, apologise to Sita.”  Koda looked very ashamed, Patch transmitting to Sita through a visual link what he was seeing.

         “Now apologise to her,”  Patch said.  Koda, whimpering with misery, turned to Sita, knelt and apologised to her:

        “I’m sorry Sita,”  he said, “it won’t happen again.”  Sita smiled and kissed his nose:

        “make sure it doesn’t,”  she replied, “sure, if you think I’m a bitch, and a heavy pawed oaf, I’d rather you told me first, rather than blogging about it.”

       “Well, I don’t,”  Koda said, “I, me and Bertie, we were only playing, making the computer swear.”

       “You could have done that without putting names of community members in there though,”  patch said.

       “yes, sorry,”  Bertie said, his face red and ashamed.

         “Let’s move on now,”  Sita said, “lesson learned I think.”  Koda sighed deeply as Patch released him.

        “Now play nice,”  Patch said.  then smiling to himself over the silliness of it all, he left.

         “I thought I was done for there,”  Koda said, sitting heavily down on the floor.

         “I still have ears,”  Sita replied, “and Koda, your look of shame was genuine.  Patch showed me it.  You do know he can transmit his viewpoint to me, don’t you?”  Koda stared at Sita.

        “How?”  he asked.

      “The spirits show me what others see,”  Sita replied, “if you opened your mind up to it, I’m sure they will show me what you see too.”

        “No, oh please no!”  Koda whimpered, “I’ll have no privacy, nothing sacred now!”

         “Is there something you hide Koda?”  Sita said.

      “No, well, yes, sort of.  I steal from Sid’s cookie jar sometimes, swim in the lagoon when I shouldn’t, that sort of thing.”

       “Next time you go to the cookie jar, save me one,”  Sita said grinning.  Koda buried his face in his paws.

      “if you’re looking now, I hope you can’t see anything!”  he mumbled from behind his forepaws.  Sita laughed helplessly.

        “Okay, now let’s end this,”  Sita said, tackling Koda to the floor and pinning him down.

      “Get off me!”  Koda squealed.  Sita tickled Koda’s paws, the black bear shoving her off and lashing out at her with his paw.

        “Get off me I told you!”  he snapped.

        “Oh, okay, sorry,”  Sita mewed, rubbing her nose where Koda’s paw had connected.

      “next time you pin me down and tickle my paws, I’ll hit you harder!”  Koda yelled.

       “Okay, sorry, I screwed up,”  Sita mewed.

       “Bloody cross bred mess,”  Koda grumbled.

       “Now that’s not fair!”  Sita yelled.

        “I’m not listening,”  Koda snarled, “you tickled my paws, and noone does that without permission!”

       “Give it up Koda,”  Bertie sighed, “everyone knows you like your paws played with, including Sita.  She’s not stupid, despite what you might think.”

        “What’s caused this Koda?”  Sita mewed, “you were always a playful cub.  very nice to know, now you’re acting like a spoilt brat, and a bloody idiot.”

         “he’s trying it on, trying to be big and adult, when all he is is what he seems to you Sita, a stupid cub,”  Bertie replied.  Koda looked down at his paws, he’d been found out.

        “You need to grow up slowly, not act all the big male bear when you clearly aren’t,”  Sita said, “Koda, please, if you want to act like a cub, please do.  Making the computer swear would have been fun, but trying to justify insulting others in print when you have no justification is just silly, and so very wrong.  No cub would do that.  You make yourself look silly, stupid even, and give the impression you are a nasty little cub by doing things like you did today.”  Koda, feeling worse than ever now, hung his head in shame.

        “So you’re saying that making the computer speak swear words was okay, but insulting others wasn’t?”  he asked.

       “sort of,”  Sita replied, “swearing is part of language, I do it, as you know Koda, but insulting others without good reason and justification is so wrong, and I know you’re not like that Koda.  Nor you Bertie, for you can’t be exonerated from this foolery either.”  Bertie looked suitably chastened.

         “Okay,”  he said, “point taken.”  Koda looked up at Sita, the look in her eyes making him feel smaller than ever.

        “I’m not sure if mama Kamchatka is looking through Sita’s eyes, if she is, then I’m even more sunk than at first glance,”  Koda thought.  A paw resting on his shoulder made him look round.

       “mama?”  he asked automatically, then, seeing Sita’s paw resting there, he blushed scarlet and looked down at his paws.

        “I’m sorry, I thought you were,”  he said faintly.”

       “I know,”  Sita replied, “mama Kamchatka asked me to give you a message from her, that she’s always watching over you Koda.”  Koda choked on a sudden rush of tears.

        “I saw her eyes looking out at me from your face,”  he sniffed, “I was sure I saw her eyes, her expression, the same one she used to use when I stepped out of line. Then the touch of her paw on my shoulder, oh Sita, what have I done?”  Sita smiled and kissed Koda’s nose.

        “You have done nothing serious yet,”  she replied, “but be a role model to others, as your mama was to you.  There are cubs who pin their hope on you Koda.”

        “Is that code for something?”  Koda asked.

  “I don’t know, is it?”  Sita replied.

      “I think there’s something in that,”  Koda replied, “but I can’t think what.”  Sita smiled and padded from the room, leaving Koda none the wiser.

         “I thought I was done for there,”  Koda confessed to Bertie, the latter examining his paws with care.

        “You elected to be a cub forever,”  Bertie said, “only in time will you become a senior cub.  right now, you are junior, or maybe infant, as you have not grown up yet.  I told you not to insult community members, but you carried on!”  Koda huffed his anger.

         “You were laughing too,”  he blustered.

        “Not when you started writing things about Ekaterina, Sita and Patch I wasn’t,”  Bertie replied, “at the first swearing then yes I was, I won’t deny that.”

        “You saying bad words about Patch and others made me feel sad Koda,”  Hope said, crawling into the room.  Koda stared at her:

        “I thought you were still denned up with Anook,”  he said, “how on earth can you be out here alone?”

       “I’m allowed out, as I’m tagged and have a panic button, or that’s what mama Anook calls it,”  Hope replied, “and I’ve been told, told to go back to Tiguak’s lie up so she can tell me a tale about a human crying wolf, or something like that.”

      “I wouldn’t do what Tiguak says, she’s not even in the high ranks of this community,”  Koda said, “she’s barely got her paws in the door herself, and she’s ordering you about?”

        “No, she didn’t tell me to go, that was wrong, oh dear, oh dear!”  Hope replied, sitting down and burying her face in her paws, “I’m all confused, “I pressed my alarm thing to get a bottle of milk, and I’m not supposed to press it to get milk, so Tiguak told me that pressing the button when I didn’t really need to was like someone crying wolf over and over, a boy I think she said it was.  Well, she said she’d tell me the tale of the boy who cried wolf, but not before I’d gone and drunk my milk, and then slept a while, I was to go to her lie up, and if I don’t go there soon, I will be late, and she’ll be angry!”  With that Hope left the lie up as fast as she could in a crawl.  Her legs going like pistons, she didn’t see a set of steps leading upwards until it was too late, crashing into them with her nose and forepaws, ending up sprawling in a squealing, crying heap at the bottom of the steps.

        “What’s this?  Hope?”  buck asked a few minutes later, picking his sister up off the floor and cradling her.  sitting down, he hugged her in his paws, Hope whimpering and crying with pain and shock.

      “What happened?”  he asked.  Hope, blood streaming from her nose where she’d grazed it, shook her head:

          “I don’t remember,”  she replied, “I remember being with Koda and Bertie, and then being here.  But how did I get here?”

       “You were knocked out little one,”  buck said.

       “My head, and nose, and paws hurt!”  Hope wailed.

       “Who am I?”  buck asked.

        “You’re my brother, um, buck,”  Hope replied.

       “and what’s your name?”  Buck asked.

       “My name’s, Hope,”  Hope replied, buck sighing with relief.

        “You’ll be okay,”  buck said softly.

       “My head and paws hurt!”  Hope wailed, “and how did you know I was here anyway?”

        “You pressed your panic alarm,”  buck replied, “me, Anook, Sooleawa, and Kuruk have got responders that will tell us where you are.  I was closest.”

        “I don’t remember pressing that alarm,”  Hope mumbled, before sinking into unconsciousness.  Buck pinched Hope’s ear with his teeth, Hope waking with a squeal.

      “Ow buck, ow!”  she yelled, “that hurts!”

      “Good,”  buck replied, “I wanted to make sure you were unconscious because you were tired, not for any other reason.”

       “You are mean, you pinched my ear for fun!”  Hope wailed.

       “No Hope, I didn’t!”  Buck replied, becoming upset, “I, oh never mind, I’ll tell you when you’re more with it.”  Buck carried Hope to their family lie up, where Anook and Kuruk cleaned her up, and little Targon checked her over.

      “One bruised nose, slightly grazed, a bumped head, and bruised toes on both forepaws, typical of falling up steps,”  little Targon said.  Hope wailed as her nose and paws were bathed.

        “I don’t like this, I don’t like this, I don’t like this!!”  Hope screamed, “it hurts, hurts, hurts!”  Anook, her eyes full of tears, kissed her cub’s nose and bandaged paws.

       “It’s all over now,”  she said gently, trying not to choke on her tears.

        “I hate seeing my cubs in pain!”  Anook whimpered, looking down at her paws through streaming eyes.

      “it’s gonna be okay mum,”  buck said, “I will look after Hope.”

       “how did she get like this?”  Anook yelled.

      “I tripped over the steps mama,”  Hope whimpered.

     “Where were you going?”  Anook asked.

      “Tiguak wanted to tell me a tale about a crying wolf,”  Hope replied, “something that would stop me pressing my alarm thing needlessly, after, after I used it to ask for a bottle of milk to be brought to me mama.  I’m being punished for using my alarm aren’t I!”  Anook shook her head:

      “No Hope, NO you’re not being punished, you accidentally tripped,”  Anook replied.

       “I feel awful,”  Hope whimpered.

       “Now sleep for a while Hope,”  Anook said.  Hope wriggled in protest:

         “I need to go to Tiguak’s lie up so she can tell me the tale of the crying wolf!”  Hope squealed.

        “We will ask her to come here, she can use her own paws to walk here,”  Anook replied firmly, “you can’t go in the state you’re in.”

        “I want to, I must go, she said to go to her once I’d drunk milk and slept a while!”  Hope complained.

       “You can’t go, you mustn’t go!”  Anook yelled.  The phone rang, Anook padding over and pressing the speakerphone button.

      “yes Tiguak, what is it?”  Anook snapped.

        “I could come to you Anook,”  Tiguak said, “I’m on my way now.”  Anook hesitated:

       “Thank you Tiguak,”  Anook said gruffly.

       “You ungrateful sow!”  Hope yelled.

      “how dare you call me that!”  Anook yelled.

      “But you are, you are!”  Hope squealed, “Tiguak offers to come down to see me, and you treat her like that?  Bitch Bitch Bitch!”  Anook roared with anger:

       “Where did you hear those words?”  She demanded.

        “Koda used them, and I think you are being a bitch, a horrid bitch to Tiguak mama!”  Anook slapped the ground with her paws in rage.

         “if you weren’t injured, I’d beat you with my paws!”  Anook yelled.

         “You wanted me?”  Tiguak asked, padding into the lie up.

       “No, go away!”  Anook yelled, “I don’t want you here, I don’t want you here!”

      “But I do, please stay!”  Hope screamed.

       “My head hurts,”  Tiguak replied wearily, sitting down and holding a paw to her head.

         “Get up on your paws, up, up, up!”  Anook yelled.  Tiguak got up on her feet, and Anook knocked her down by rearing onto her hind feet and kicking her up the backside, Tiguak tumbling head over paws, her forepaws leaving the rugs, the she bear crashing down onto her back on the floor, her paws and hind feet flailing out in all directions, Hope seeing this just in time to shield her head from a blow from Tiguak’s right hind foot.

       “Leave her alone mama!”  Hope pleaded.

         “yes leave her alone!”  Knut yelled, crashing into proceedings with alarming force, flinging Anook to the floor as if she weighed no more than a cub, and picking Tiguak up in his paws, carrying her out of the lie up.

        “Anook’s mad, she’s gone crazy!”  Tiguak gasped, “I went head over paws, she booted me up the backside!”  she whimpered.

       “I saw you go over,”  buck replied. “are you okay?”

      “A little shaken, but yes, fine,”  Tiguak replied.  Knut took Tiguak back to their lie up, where he settled her on the rugs.

       “My bum hurts!”  Tiguak complained as she tried to sit down, “ow!  This is horrid!”

         “Anook’s hind foot hurts more I’ll bet,”  Knut replied.

      “Ay?”  Tiguak asked, looking over to where Knut watched a screen, on which Anook could be seen sitting down gingerly massaging her right hind foot with her forepaws.

       “She looks in pain,”  Tiguak said.

       “And so she should be, silly sow,”  Knut replied smiling.

         “I can’t believe I went head over paws!”  Tiguak replied.  Knut showed her footage, and she groaned in misery.

       “I got a good look at the soles of my hind paws, but that was it!”  Tiguak whimpered, “that looked painful otherwise.”

        “I’m sorry I didn’t get to you in time,”  Knut replied, his eyes full of pain.”

       “I’m okay now,”  Tiguak said softly to him.  Knut snuggled up to her, kissing her nose and paws.

         “I think I’ll curl up here, snuggling down with my sweetheart,”  Knut said softly, kissing his mate’s nose.

        “You make me feel so safe,”  Tiguak replied softly.  Knut and Tiguak settled down, their paws linked, snuggled close.

         “Tiguak, Knut?”  A voice asked, “I’m here, I’m here for the tale of the crying wolf.”  Tiguak shook herself awake, finding Hope cuddled up to her.

       “Hello little one,”  Tiguak yawned, stretching her paws, then rubbing her eyes with them.

        “You look cute doing that,”  Hope said impulsively.  Tiguak smiled broadly, Hope covering her mouth with her paw and gasping as if she’d said something unforgivable.

        “I’m sorry,”  Hope gasped and closed her eyes, waiting for a hard paw to connect with her.  Instead, she felt herself given a snuffle kiss on her ear by Tiguak, then another on her nose by Knut, Hope feeling tears running down her face.

        “You make me feel so loved,”  Hope said softly.  Tiguak embraced Hope with both paws, the cub snuggling down with her.

        “I saw the film of you going head over paws,”  Hope said to Tiguak, “your paws flew north, south, east and west!”  Tiguak grinned, kissing Hope’s paws, the cub wriggling with pleasure.

       “Will you tell me the tale of the crying wolf?”  Hope asked.  Tiguak smiled and kissed her nose.

        “Are you comfortable?”  she asked.

        “I’ve relieved myself, and my paws, well, they’re stiff, but I’m ok, ok now you’ve kissed my paws, and they are more comfortable now,”  Hope replied sincerely.

        “So, here is the tale of the boy who cried wolf,”  Tiguak said gently to hope, her voice quiet and gentle, as if she were talking too her own cub, and the story was only for her cub’s hearing.

        “one day, in a land a long way from here, though in a time not too long ago, there lived a human male, human males who are cubs, like you, are called boys, but they are put to work when they are young in some human societies, do you understand?”  Hope nodded.

       “yes,”  she said, “carry on.”  Tiguak nodded and continued:

      “this boy had a job tending sheep.  He would look after them, making sure they were safe from being eaten by bears and wolves.”

       “but the boy didn’t cry bear, he cried wolf didn’t he?”  Hope asked.

       “he did, , um, maybe the bears were friendly bears, so he had no need to warn his people against them.  I don’t know,”  Tiguak replied laughing slightly, “now you’re ruining the tale!”

      “Um, er, sorry,”  Hope replied contritely.  Tiguak rubbed Hope’s back with her paw, Hope wriggling with pleasure.

        “Well this boy, becoming bored, and you know how that feels don’t you Hope,”

       “Yes,”  Hope replied, “It’s, well, boring.”  Tiguak smiled and hugged Hope:

        “Well, this boy knew that if he cried wolf, his people would come running from their houses to fend off the threat to the sheep.”

      “What’s a house?”  Hope asked.

      “Um, a den, a den for humans,”  Tiguak replied.

      “Oh, thanks,”  Hope replied, burying her paws in Tiguak’s fur.

      “Well,”  Tiguak said, “now the boy cried, “wolf, “wolf!”  and his family and friends came running to help him fend off the ravening beasts.  Reaching him, they found no wolf.  The villagers went back to their houses, very angry.  A few days later, the boy feeling bored with his job, again cried, “wolf, Wolf!  The villagers, hearing his shouting, ran out of their houses, finding no wolf, only the boy laughing and clapping his hands.”  Hope smiled and sat up, clapping her paws.

        “The villagers got really mad with the boy, and told him off.  A week later, the boy was sleeping by his sheep in the dark of night when he heard a growl and the sound of big padded paws padding around the field in which his sheep lived.  Hope, now cuddled up to Tiguak, her eyes closed and ears cocked, heard big paws padding around the field.

       “This wolf,”  Tiguak said, “he was hungry, and wanted meat.  The boy, seeing the wolf shouted “wolf, Wolf!”  Noone came, so the boy shouted again, “wolf, wolf!”  but the villagers, thinking the boy was lieing, didn’t come.  The boy heard the wolf coming closer and closer to him, its big paws heavy on the ground.  He then felt it touch his ear with its snout, then his body with its paw.  Hope felt a nose brush her ear, then a paw touch her shoulder.

          “The wolf ate the boy,”  Tiguak said, hope squealing with fright and opening her eyes.

        “Oh, I thought, thought you were the wolf Knut!”  she squealed.

         “So don’t cry wolf, or press your alarm without good reason little one,”  Knut replied, “or that wolf might come to eat you as the boy got eaten because he lied to his people.”  Hope wailed with fear.

       “You won’t eat me will you Knut?  Please don’t!”  she begged.  Tiguak snarled at her mate:

       “that’s awful Knut, stop it now!”  she snapped.

       “I thought I’d add some authenticity to the tale,”  Knut replied.

        “Scare the shit out of a little cub you mean,”  Tiguak snapped, “you big bully Knut!”  Knut heard the cubbish insult, but didn’t mock Tiguak for using it.

       “Okay, sorry,”  he replied, kissing Tiguak’s nose and paws.  Tiguak touched Hope with her kissed paws.

         “that’s not fair! ”  Knut whimpered, recognising the gesture for what it was.

        “You needed to kiss Hope’s paws and nose to soothe her, I’m not scared by your cubbish antics,”  Tiguak replied.  Knut huffed, but smiled and kissed Hope’s nose and paws.

       “Sorry little one,”  he said softly.  Tiguak stretched her paws, Hope watching her.

         “cute paws,”  she said, sounding like Sooleawa.”  Tiguak smiled and embraced Hope with tender care.

         “I’ll bet you’ll groan and kick  the air with your paws when you have cubs mama,”  Hope said.

       “Do you think so?”  Tiguak asked, “do you think I’ll be expressive?”

       “You will,”  Hope replied, “you’ll cuddle up to Knut and roar into his ear as he embraces you while you push and pant, push and wriggle to deliver your cubs, your toes curled into the rugs and Knut’s fur as you cling to him with desperate strength.”

         “Have you been listening to Grace talking to Kuruk,”  Tiguak asked.  Hope smiled and nodded:

        “Dorothy actually,”  she replied, “Dorothy told me about the birth of her last cub Mark, she wriggled, kicked, roared and pawed at her den, at her belly and at the pads and toes of her hind feet, squeezing her hind feet like mama Grace did in the outside den here.  She showed me her hind paws, she’s got big pads, and huge toes, and her toes curl easily, and they’re cute!  Dorothy laughed when I called her paws cute.”

        “I’ll bet she did,”  Tiguak replied, “she seems to me to be a bear who let her cubs be present at the births of their cablings.”

       “That she did mama,”  Mark said, shuffling into the room, “Icy birth was watched by three other yearling bears, all my cablings, one male and two females, though I don’t know where they are now.  The female was named Taomi.  She was so gentle to me.”

       “Taomi’s here, at least we have a bear by that name here.”  Knut replied.  Mark padded to the computer terminal in the lie up and scrolled through the profiles of community members, he stopped at one showing a bear with orangey brown fur.  Peering hard, he pressed the button to call her lie up.

      “Hello?”  Taomi said.

   “Hi, Taomi?”  Mark began, his voice shaking.  The bear on the screen in front of him stared into the camera at her end.

      “Who is this?”  she asked, “I don’t like prank calls!”

        “Taomi, it’s, was your mama’s name Dorothy?”  Taomi snarled:

       “What if it was?  Who the hell are you?”

        “My name’s Mark, I’m, I’m your brother!”  mark replied, his eyes billing with tears.

        “Little mark?”  Taomi replied.

      “yes, well, not so little now,”  Mark replied sniffing, “Taomi, please, can we chat?”

      “Dorothy told me you were here, but I didn’t believe her,”  Taomi replied, “I have a cub, Ashley, she’s so cute.  You’d love her.”

     “My niece, how wonderful,”  Mark replied, “come to Tiguak’s lie up Tome, or I’ll come to yours, please, I’d like to chat with you again.”

         “I’d love that,”  Taomi said, smiling and relaxing.

       “Come then, come to this lie up!”  Hope yelled.

        “Do come, please,”  Mark begged, putting the phone down.  Soon, Taomi was curled with mark on the rugs in Tiguak and Knut’s lie up, each holding the other’s forepaws.

       “I remember your birth little Mark,”  Taomi said, “I remember mama Dorothy was in labour with you for ages.  She groaned and kicked, roared and screamed as you emerged.  You were a huge cub, a massive cub.  I got paws on with her hind feet and with you as you emerged, mama pushed so very hard to deliver you, right down into her tail, and into her paw pads too.”

       “how was Ashley’s birth?”  Mark asked.

       “I woke with the first pains, and then, oh then, it was horrendous, agonising pain, making me scream, groan, then curl into a ball, as well as curl my toes and clench my teeth.  Wow, it hurt mark, labour really hurts!”

        “I’ll bet,”  Mark said.  Taomi smiled, curled into a ball and closed her eyes, clenching her teeth and curling the toes of all four paws.

        “You’re not going to re-enact the birth of your cub are you?”  he asked.  Taomi smiled:

         “I could, and it would be lovely to describe Ashley’s birth for you,”  she said.  mark smiled and traced his sister’s bunched pads, Taomi giggling and pressing her hind feet hard into her brother’s paws.

         “I could have done with your touch while delivering my cub,”  Taomi replied, “I thought of you mark, I remembered playing with you, and how you used to stroke and tickle my paws, hoping mama wouldn’t mind us playing like that.”  Mark grinned:

        “I remember your paws,”  he said, “even though mama let us play with each other’s paws, and hers too, there was always something risky about it.  Something which made paw play that extra bit special.

        “There are four chances to be caught and held by four eager paws,”  Taomi said, “that’s the risky bit.”  Mark smiled and hugged his sister tightly.

        “I’m so glad I’ve found you,”  Taomi said to mark, The latter grinning and tickling his sister’s toes.  Taomi, laughing merrily, kicked the air with her hind feet, Hope laughing at her antics.

 

 

 

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