Politics in Nature

Disclaimer/Author's Notes: All recognizable characters belong to Fox/Blue Sky. I'm obviously not making money from this since this is probably the weakest fic, IMO, I've ever written. But maybe if I put it out there, I'll at least feel better. Thanks to Vicchic for the title.

Feedback is fuel for the machine.

A cool wind blew across the open plain, bathing the lounging tigers in a comforting breeze. The females of the pack watched over their cubs as they played in the tall grass. Diego watched as the little cats pounced one another, shaking his head with a smile.

"What's so funny?" A female voice asked as she sat beside him.

"Oh, nothin'," he replied. "But tell me somethin', Zerra? Were we ever that... spirited?"

"Of course we were, Diego. All cubs are. And if I remember correctly, it was only last season that we were still young enough to play without getting strange looks from the elders," Zerra informed her littermate. The pair had grown up together and we nearly inseparable as cubs.

"Riiiiight. Now it's all about being a productive member of the pack," Diego sighed. "Not that I don't enjoy the lessons from my father but he makes being a carnivore sound so... so..."

"Boring?" Zerra offered.

"Exactly." Diego slumped to the ground, swatting at the dried blades of grass. "I mean, he never lets me go on any hunts... he just TELLS me about hunting. If he assigns me for a scout, one of the other guys has go with me. I feel like I'm being..."

"Babied?" Zerra offered again. Diego gave her a funny look, wondering how she was finishing all his sentences for him when she smiled and lowered herself to the ground next to him. "Aw... don't worry. He's just proud of you, that's all. He doesn't want you to get hurt. Everyday it seems the humans encroach onto OUR land, killing OUR kind. He just doesn't want to lose you to that."

"Yeah, I know. But I'm never gonna be able to lead this pack if I don't get out there and experience things." Diego understood why his father, Tunkar, was so protective. They'd lost five of their pack in the past two seasons to the humans. If anything, that was reason enough to teach Diego about being an efficient hunter and protector.

Zerra laughed. "Lead the pack! Listen to you! Three seasons old and you're already thinking about being pack leader!"

"What? You don't think I could?"

"No, no. It's not that. You're just... awfully ambitious," she commented with a smile. Seriously, she reminded Diego, "But you're forgetting about Soto. He's second-in-command right now. Eventually... HE'LL lead the pack, son of Tunkar or not."

Diego's face fell even more at the mention of Soto. Soto had been taken into the pack by Tunkar as a cub... found bloodied and weak, without a pack. Too young to survive on his own, Tunkar had taken in the cub, raising him as his own against the wishes of the pack elders. That had been two season before Diego was born. Were it not for Soto, the position of second-in-command would automatically go to Diego when the time was right. But with Soto around, Diego was pushed to the side... smaller, younger and too inexperienced to help lead the pack.

A light swat over the head brought Diego out of his reverie. "C'mon, Pouty. I just heard the dinner roar," Zerra said, smiling, before she got up to help the older females round up the rowdy cubs. Diego watched fondly, reminding himself that if he couldn't be part of the hunting party, that at least he would be able to take a mate this year. And he would chose Zerra.