After the snow leopard mother and her cub had slept for some hours and woken refreshed, Fleur took a good look at the female snow leopard, noticing she was bathed in sweat from her nose to the pads of all four large paws.

     “You did very well during cubbing,” she purred.  The female snow leopard smiled:

      “I couldn’t have had my cub without you and your cub’s help,” she mewed.  Fleur looked at Pepper, who smiled at her.

     “What is your name?”  Pepper asked.

      “My name’s Holly and I’ve named my cub Panja, which is Hindi for pounce.”  Holly replied.  Fleur and Pepper laughed as Panja lived up to his name, leaping upon Pepper’s left forepaw and holding it in his tiny ones.

     “Let me tickle your paw Pepper!”  He mewed.  Pepper grinned, rolling onto her back and taking Panja in her huge paws.  Panja fought madly, but Pepper knew the tiny cub’s heart wasn’t in it, only four hours old, the cub already knew when Pepper was playing with him and when she was serious.  Panja worked his tiny paws into Pepper’s huge fat hairy ones.

     “I love you Pepper,” the male snow leopard cub mewed.  Pepper kissed the tiny cub on his nose.

     “I love you too little Panja,” she replied.  Panja ran his tiny paws all over Pepper’s body, from her nose, to the end of her long tail and from her ears, right down to the toes of all four huge paws.  Pepper laughed as the tiny leopard’s paw pads tickled her own:

      “I love that!”  She mewed.  Panja gently tried tickling Pepper’s pads, the cross bred cub squealing with laughter and curling her toes round those of the tiny cub, being careful not to crush them.

      “Yippee!”  Panja whooped, “I tickled Pepper’s paw!”  Holly watched anxiously.

     “He’s too small to play with you Pepper,” she said to the tawny coated cub, “Panja’s paws aren’t half the size of yours!”

     “Pepper will be gentle with Panja,” fleur said, “and so will Panja be gentle with Pepper.  They are already firm friends I see.”  Panja examined Pepper’s large fat left forepaw, running his tiny paws over the sole from toes to heel, feeling her pads and toes, before feeling his way over the longer hair covering the top of her paw.

     “This long hair looks like it tickles the pads of your paw Pepper,” he observed.

     “My hind paws always get tickled by the long hair around my paw pads,” Pepper mewed, “I think it’s funny!”  Panja felt his way to one of Pepper’s hind paws and found that she was right, her long topcoat brushed the pads of her hind paws, and when Pepper got onto all fours, Panja found the problem worse, with quite a bit of hair at the back of Pepper’s heel which would get trapped beneath, or trail behind her paw when she learned to walk and put her full weight on it. Because Pepper was still unable to walk and therefore crawling, the long tawny hair dangled down almost covering the entire sole of her paw, brushing her pads whenever she crawled. Panja even saw that a couple of strands reached her toes, tickling them also.  Panja gently stirred the long hair by blowing on it, making Pepper laugh helplessly and curl her toes in an effort to stop the hair from moving.  Panja rubbed the large cub’s pads with his tiny paw, and this soothed Pepper.

      “You little bully!”  Pepper mewed, but Panja knew she loved what he’d just done, for her toes now caressed his, and the feeling was wonderful.  Fleur laughed helplessly as she watched the antics of the two cubs.

      “You two are so funny!”  She whooped, “You little devil Panja, tickling pepper’s paw like that!”

       “I love it mum,” Pepper replied, gently massaging Panja’s tiny toes with her own larger ones.  Fleur smiled at her cub and took Pepper’s left forepaw in her own paws, leaving Pepper’s hind paws free for Panja to stroke and tickle, and stroke them he did, much to Pepper’s delight.  Pepper released his toes, and Panja stroked her hind paws.


“I want to stay with you Pepper,” Panja mewed.  Pepper gently wiggled her toes free of Panja’s grasp and turned to him.

      “You can come and visit me, but you need to be with your mother now,” she said gently.  Panja held desperately onto her left forepaw.

     “Please Pepper, please let me stay!”  He begged.

      “I would love to let you stay with me forever Panja my friend, but you need to be with your mum for a long time before you can be with me for a while.  Come little one; do this for me, please?”  Pepper pleaded.  Panja squeezed Pepper’s paw hard, and then kissed her nose and the toes of the huge paw he held in his tiny ones.

        “I love you,” he mewed.  Holly looked at fleur.

     “This isn’t right!”  Her eyes screamed.

       “Let them love each other,” fleur mewed, “please Holly, and let’s see how it goes.”  Holly looked into Fleur’s eyes, and was intrigued at what she found there.

     “Trust me please,” the strange cat’s eyes said.

      “I will, and do trust you,” Holly mewed.


Pepper kissed Panja’s nose and the toes of his tiny left forepaw.

     “I’ll see you later Panja,” she whispered, hugging him.  Panja mewed with such distress that Pepper was moved to tears.

      “Please don’t get upset little one!”  She pleaded.  Panja began to cry, his tears squeezing out from his shut eye lids.

       “I want to stay with you, please!”  The tiny cub sobbed, “I love you Pepper!”  Pepper held Panja in her paws, kissing his nose, belly and the pads of his tiny paws.  Panja rubbed his closed eyes with clenched paws, his face hot and red with emotion.

      “Oh, let him go!”  Holly snapped, “My cub’s exasperating!”  Fleur looked concerned.

       “Aren’t you going to feed him?”  She asked.

     “Let him drink, but then get him out of my sight!”  She snapped.  Panja drank until he was full, and then crawled towards Pepper, who guided him out of the cubbing den by taking hold of his tiny left forepaw, Holly watching him go.

      “That cub’s not mine,” she mewed, “not mine by choice anyway.  I was taken advantage of.  I was left in cub, needed a home, and something told me to come here, to a place where I’d be helped.”  Fleur wondered how Holly had found the house, had she known of the house’s existence before she’d set eyes on it.

      “How did you know this place was here?”  Fleur asked.  Holly shook her head.

      “I don’t know,” she mewed, “I just felt I should come here.”

       “Maybe Panja feels he’s destined to be with Pepper?”  Fleur mewed.

     “At five hours old?”  Holly asked, “He hardly knows his own mind!”

       “Who knows what will happen,” Fleur mewed, “Holly, let them play, let their paws and whiskers be their guides.”

      “You talk strange words Fleur,” Holly mewed, “how anyone can let their paws and whiskers guide them I don’t know!”

      “Touch and you will find,” fleur mewed.

        “I don’t believe in any of this, but I’ll give it a go,” Holly said.  Taking a deep breath, Holly touched Fleur’s paw with hers.

       “I want to hug you fleur!”  Holly mewed, her eyes half scared at what she was feeling, and “I must hug you!”  Fleur let Holly embrace her, the female snow leopard enveloping her in a huge hug.

      “Back to basics Holly,” fleur mewed, brushing the snow leopard’s whiskers with hers, “back to the old ways, ways of touch, of stroking, of peace.”  Holly nuzzled Fleur’s ear.

     “Is Pepper like you fleur?”  Holly asked, “If she is, then my Panja will be safe, please, please!  Tell me she’s like you!  As gentle as you, as loving as you are?”

      “What do you think Pepper is?”  Fleur asked, “How has she treated you?  How did she treat you during cubbing?”

     “She was gentle to me, and to Panja,” Holly mewed.

     “There you go,” fleur replied, “gentle, and do you think I’m gentle?”

      “You are, you are!”  Holly exclaimed.

     “Then, that makes two of us gentle, me and my cub,” Fleur replied.

     “Yes,” Holly said faintly.

     “The question is Holly,” Fleur said, “Do you want your cub?”  Holly looked at the large cat.

       “As I said, I was taken advantage of,” Holly mewed, “I wasn’t planning on having a cub if that’s what you mean.  I didn’t want one, but now, now Panja’s here,,,”  she sighed heavily, “I don’t know Fleur, I don’t know if I love him or not!”

       “When you look at Panja, could you give your life for him if you had to?”  Fleur asked.  Holly shuddered at the thought.

       “I don’t know,” she mewed, “Panja’s a handsome cub, but, but I didn’t want a cub, and deep down still don’t, but I couldn’t kill him, not now.  Of course, before he was born, then if I’d had a way of doing so, I would have terminated the pregnancy.”  Fleur looked sharply at Holly.

      “We don’t do that here,” she mewed, “it’s not that I don’t know how to do it, I do, but we don’t do it here, it’s not the way of things here.”  Holly suddenly felt as if she’d trodden on dangerous ground.

      “I’m sorry for mentioning it,” she replied, “I didn’t know you had such strong objections!”

      “Nature takes its course here,”  fleur replied, “we will help nature take its course, be it helping a mother have her cub by massaging the pads of her paws as pain relief, and we’ll help with soothing baths and general body massage, and help her if the cub is lost naturally, but we will never terminate a pregnancy here.”

     “What if the mother’s life was in danger, or she knew she was to give birth to a disabled cub?”  Holly asked.  Fleur’s eyes filled with tears.  Holly knew then she’d not just trodden on sensitive ground, she’d stamped on it.

      “But fleur,” Holly whimpered, “it is your job to know about these things!”

      “I know,” fleur sniffed, “but, you, you really have no idea!  You don’t know what you’ve just said Holly, you really don’t!  I’m not angry with you,” fleur buried her face in her large fat paws, unable to continue.

       “What did I say?”  Holly asked.

       “It’s a long story,” someone said.  Holly turned to see a huge lion standing in the doorway of the cubbing den.

      “Fleur’s mother was, still is a loose female snow leopard,” Leo said, “she got in with one of our Bengal tigers and fleur was the result.  Fleur’s birth nearly cost fleur and her mother their lives.  We had ways and means of helping both to survive and they did.  Now you know why Fleur’s so upset.”

       “What about disabled cubs?”  Holly asked, “Surely you must get rid of blind cubs and the like, they’d never survive here!”

       “Get rid of blind cubs?”  Nick asked, striding in to the cubbing den.  Holly knew then she’d really put her paw in it.

      “So you have blind cubs here?”  She asked.

       “We do,” Nick replied, “my cub is blind, and so is Whitie, she’s another snow leopard cub.  Panja will meet her I’m sure.”  Holly felt her paws becoming damp with sweat; she’d wrecked her standing with these people for sure.

      “Be careful what you say, and to whom you say things,”  Leo warned, “we are tolerant, but make sure you know to whom you are speaking before you ask questions like this.”  He touched Fleur’s paw with his.

     “Come on fleur,” Leo said, lying down on his side and gathering the still weeping cross bred cub to him and hugging her tightly, “it wasn’t Holly’s intention to be insensitive.”

       “I know,” Fleur sniffed, “but, but it’s sometimes hard, when I know how close I was to losing my life, to be asked about these things.”

      “I know,” Leo purred, kissing fleur on her nose, “go with Nick and find Pepper and Panja.  I will talk with Holly, alone.”  Holly knew then she was in for a real roasting.

      “I will go,” Fleur said, wiping her eyes with her huge left forepaw, “I need to be around cubs, my own tawny cross bred cub in particular.”  Fleur got shakily to her paws and left with Nick to find Pepper and her new-found friend.


Fleur found Pepper and Panja playing with Shuang and Bianca, the cubs having a mass rough and tumble game, which looked to fleur as if three cubs were ganging up on the fourth, the fourth cub being Pepper, who’d got pinned down by the other three, and who’s paws were being thoroughly tickled.  Pepper’s eyes, though half obscured by a mass of tawny mane, told fleur that though she mewed and complained on the surface, she really loved every minute.

      “Leave my paws alone!”  She mewed, trying to catch the toes tickling her pads in her own, while her eyes told everyone she was enjoying the contact and challenge of the game.  Fleur’s arrival caused the cubs to stop their game, and gather round Fleur, all of them at once trying to touch her paws and hug her.  Fleur hugged each cub in turn, the cub being hugged snuggling into her warm thick fur.  Then it was Nick’s turn to be accosted, and he dealt with the cubs in a similar manner to Fleur.

      “You’ve been crying mum,” Pepper mewed.  Fleur hesitated before replying, not knowing if she should tell her cub the cause of her tears.

     “someone said something to me which upset me Pepper,”  Fleur admitted, “but it’s all done now, all sorted.  Pepper saw her mum’s reaction to her observation, and knew the tears weren’t far away.

      “Mum,” pepper said, “I know, I know you are a cross bred cat, like me.  I know you were large at birth, I know what happened.  Jespah told me, for I asked him about our similarities, the large paws, strange markings and all that.  He was open about it all, and told me what Perdy is like.  I know who we are, and I know what reaction you got when you were born.”  Fleur was crying openly now, and Pepper threw her huge paws round her mum’s neck.

      “Others may have hurt you, but I will try not to,” pepper mewed, kissing her foster mum’s nose.  Fleur clung to her adopted cub.

     “I love you more than I can tell you Pepper!”  Fleur sobbed.  Pepper Kissed Fleur’s nose and the pads of one fat forepaw.  Fleur looked at her cub through her tears.

      “You’re a beautiful cub, and don’t you ever forget it Pepper,” Fleur sobbed.  Pepper licked her mum’s ear.  Panja and Bianca watched Fleur’s disintegration with growing concern.

      “Are you all right Fleur?”  Panja asked, touching Fleur’s shoulder with his tiny paw.

     “Oh Panja, Panja!”  Fleur sobbed, letting go of Pepper and embracing the tiny cub in her huge paws.  Panja purred as he felt her paws envelope him.


Leo arrived with Holly, putting an end to the general atmosphere of calm.

      “You look dreadful Holly,” Pepper remarked.

      “I never knew, or could have guessed any of this!”  Holly mewed, very distressed.

      “Guessed or known what?”  Fleur asked, thinking she already had a very good idea.

      “About you Fleur, and about Pepper, and Theo, and everyone here.  Leo’s been telling me all he knows, and he knows a lot.”  Holly’s paws shook and she looked miserable.

       “I’m sorry Fleur, Leo told me how you were helped into the world, and, and no wonder you were upset when I mentioned it.”  “it” being the subject of pregnancy termination, “I’m so, so sorry!”  fleur nodded:

     “It’s all over now,” she mewed, “let’s go on from here.”


Panja and Pepper played together on the carpet of the living room, the larger cub being careful not to be too rough with the smaller.  Panja tickled Pepper’s pads and toes as he knew this would incapacitate the larger cub faster than anything else he could do, While Pepper laughed helplessly throughout.

       “I love this!”  she whooped, as Panja tickled the pads and toes of her right hind paw with the toes of both his forepaws.  Pepper put an end to his paw tickling by suddenly whipping her paw away from Panja, turning and catching the cub between her huge hairy forepaws.  Panja loved contact with pepper, be it when he tickled her paws, she tickled his, or they hugged each other, so Pepper ending the game didn’t in the least upset the tiny cub.  Pepper began to groom Panja from nose to tail, Holly watching her with angry eyes.

     “What the hell are you doing!”  Holly demanded.

       “don’t be angry with her Holly,” fleur mewed, “that’s what happens here, and we groom cubs all the time.  It’s not just the cub’s mother who grooms her cub.”  Holly watched as Pepper finished grooming Panja and embraced him in her huge paws once more.

      “that’s lovely to see,” Fleur mewed.  Holly stamped her paws, angry at Pepper, though still wondering deep down if she wanted her cub.

      “You are safe with me Panja dear,” Pepper mewed.

      “Well you can have him Pepper, I don’t want him!”  Holly yelled, “Panja can go and live with his hairy misfit friend!”  Fleur snarled at Holly, and then Holly suddenly leapt at Pepper, her claws extended for the kill!  As she was leaping into the air, Salty leapt upon Holly and brought her to the carpet, smacking her across her nose, before knocking her out with a well aimed smack from his huge left forepaw!  Salty looked down at the prostrate snow leopard.

      “What a horrid animal,” he mewed, “Tawny misfit indeed, who the hell does she think she is!”  Salty walked up to Pepper and kissed her on her nose.

       “Salty and Pepper!”  buck barked, ha-ha! How funny is that?”

       “shut it dog!”  Salty snarled, “unless you want to go the same way as Holly?”  Buck danced in front of Salty, much as Tarker had done a year or so previously.  Salty’s paw smashed into the side of buck’s head!  The husky was lifted off his paws and sent flying through the air, until he hit the wall with a crash and slid down it to the carpet, knocked unconscious.

      “that’s what I think of you dog!”  Salty snarled.  Fleur looked troubled.

      “here we don’t do that!”  she mewed.

      “Fleur, dear sweet gentle Fleur,” Salty said, “sometimes we need to do that, for some animals just don’t listen, won’t listen to reason, to someone’s wishes.  They need to be told in other ways, some of which are violent.”

     “But, but you, you hit Holly so hard, so hard!  That, that she’s, she’s nearly dead Salty!  All she said was Pepper’s a misfit; they are words, only words!  She didn’t deserve what you did to her!”

      “Holly wants Pepper dead Fleur,” Salty mewed, “she hates your cub.  Ever since she heard of her cross breeding, she’s hated Pepper.  I saw what happened when Leo and Holly talked; I saw Holly’s hatred for what she called “unclean cubs,” that is to say those who are cross bred cubs.  Holly thinks animals should be pure in body as well as spirit, and this so called impurity on Pepper’s part, caused Holly to hate her.  Holly was glad of Pepper’s help during Panja’s birth that was until Panja told her he loved Pepper and wanted to spend his life with her.  Holly then began to hate Pepper, for in her eyes, noone of pure breeding, such as Panja, could possibly love a cross bred cub like Pepper.  Leo was dreadfully upset by her sentiments, but Holly stuck by them, all but denouncing you for taking Pepper in your paws and looking after her.  She said she was sorry for what she’d said to you about aborting cross bred cubs, but that apology was dragged from her for Leo had threatened her with harm if she didn’t apologise to you.  Now, now Holly has disowned Panja, what else has she to stop her from doing both he and Pepper harm?  Nothing!  You saw the look in her eyes, she wanted Pepper dead Fleur!”  fleur began to cry.

      “It’s not Pepper’s, or my fault we’re cross bred!  We didn’t choose to be as we are!  We, Salty, Have as much right to life as you so called pure bred animals!”  Salty tried to touch Fleur’s paw, but she shook him off, lashing out at him with the paw he’d tried to touch.

     “Get your paws off me!”  Fleur yelled.

      “fleur, Dear Fleur, Please stop this!”  Theo pleaded.  Fleur looked at him, and the pain in Theo’s face made her ashamed at her fury towards Salty.

      “come here,” Theo said to fleur.  Fleur knew this was a command, though Theo had never raised his voice once.  Fleur, her paws suddenly very heavy, padded over to the lion.

      “Salty was only telling you how Holly felt,” Theo said, “he’s the messenger, not the aggressor.  Though he may speak the views of those who cannot or will not speak for themselves, Salty does not hold the views he expresses.”

     “I know, I mean, when I’m not upset I know,” Fleur replied, “but to hear that cross bred cubs aren’t respected is terrible!”

      “Cross bred cubs are not respected?”  Theo asked, “did Salty say that?”

      “He said Pepper and I were hated because we were cross bred cubs, and Panja was hated because he, as a pure bred cub, chose to love a cross bred cub,” Fleur replied.

      “But by whom are these cubs hated?”  Theo asked.

      “By Holly, but you know that Theo!”  Fleur yelled.

      “Salty is not Holly, and was it not Salty who brought Holly down when she tried to attack Pepper?  Surely if Salty meant Pepper any harm or disrespected her in any way, he’d have let Holly’s attack go ahead.  I think he did not do this.”  Fleur looked down at her paws, unable to meet Theo’s gaze. 

     “Please look at me Fleur,” Theo said.  Fleur dragged her eyes from staring at her paws, and looked straight into Theo’s.  The look in the lion’s eyes filled her own with tears.

         “Salty did what was needed,” Fleur choked, “to Holly, I, I told him, told him that here we don’t do things like what he did.  Now though, now, Theo, I, I see Salty was right.  Holly wanted to murder a cub for a perceived offence that was nothing more than being cross bred.  This cannot happen.  Salty has it right, I don’t.  I’m sorry for everything.”  Fleur looked down at her paws, still very ashamed.

       “go back to your cubs fleur,” Theo said to fleur, “let your focus be on Pepper and on Panja, for he needs a mother more than ever now.”  Fleur then realised what had truly happened to Holly.

     “Don’t say a word,” Theo mewed, “but yes fleur, Panja needs you and Pepper more than ever now, for you’re all he’s got left in the world.”  Fleur looked at Panja, who lay snuggled up to Pepper.

      “How are we going to feed him?”  She asked.

     “Perdy offered her services, as she only had one cub, and can feed two.  She will leave everything else to you and Pepper though Fleur,” Theo Replied. Fleur knew the depth of love Panja and Pepper felt for each other, and knew Pepper would look after the snow leopard cub.



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