Home at Last

While the others explored their new island home, Diego and Shira went for a leisurely walk on the beach. For awhile, there was only an amiable silence, except for the sound of waves lapping on the shore, and the distant sounds of their herd calling to each other.

"They seem really nice," Shira said at last, glancing back at the jungle. "Do you think they liked me? Ellie and Peaches, I mean."

Diego looked up in surprise. He'd never heard her sound so uncertain. "Sure," he replied. "Yeah. Why wouldn't they?"

Shira shrugged. "I don't know." She flashed him a brief smile. "Just a little nervous, I guess. I've never been in a herd before."

Diego nodded, understanding completely. "It takes some getting used to," he admitted. "Before I met Manny and Sid, I always thought of herds as prey, you know?"

Shira chuckled. "Yeah, that sounds familiar. You hunt to live and live to hunt, and never look beyond that." She looked out at the ocean, watching the waves for a moment. Was she thinking of her old pack? He supposed so, but didn't ask. There would be time for that later, as they got to know each other better.

Diego had to pause, and admire her, silhouetted against the ocean and the sunlight. She was troubled, but it was fading. He could already see that she was more at ease. The rest, he knew from experience, had to come with time.

"I know," he replied, and she looked back at him with those sparkling blue eyes that put the ocean to shame. "Most of the time it worked for me...but when I met those guys, I realized what I'd been missing out on."

She smiled at him, as they stopped in the shade of a palm tree for a moment.

"What?" he asked.

She stepped a little closer, still smiling. "I never met anyone like you, Softie, you know that? You're pretty special."

He returned her smile, feeling at peace even though his heart was going a million times a minute. "Likewise, Kitty."

They both cracked up at that. Had it really been such a short time ago that they'd been on opposite sides? It felt like a lifetime ago.

"You were right about Gutt," Shira said out of the blue. "I...I didn't want to see it, I guess. Didn't think there was anything better-or that even if there was, it wasn't for me." She raised an eyebrow at him. "Does that make sense?"

Diego gave a shrug in response. "I know what you mean. And...I'm sorry, by the way."

Shira looked up at him, her brow furrowed in confusion. "Sorry? About what? You didn't do anything."

"I'm sorry that Gutt wasn't who you thought he was," Diego replied. "He didn't deserve your loyalty, and you...well..." he had to look away, not used to sharing or opening up so much. "...you deserve better."

Shira looked at him, startled. Was the faint pink that crept up her cheekfur blush, or the reflection of the afternoon sun?

Before he knew what he was doing, he'd nuzzled her very gently. She stiffened initally, but relaxed, and he heard the faint thrum of her purring-or was it his own purr?

"I'm really glad I met you," Shira said softly, resting her head on his shoulder. He looked down at her, smiling.

"I'm glad I met you, too," he responded. "And I promise...I'll always be on your side. The whole herd will, but especially me." He grinned mischievously. "Most of the time."She laughed, and he rested his head against hers. "...and you'll always be safe here, Shira."

"I know," came her reply. "You're the first person I ever met who cared at all whether I was safe or not, did you know that?"

He smiled, a tinge of regret in his eyes. "I figured-especially if your pack was anything like mine."

Shira nuzzled his neck, and Diego closed his eyes. Could he make this last forever? At her sudden gasp of pain, though, his eyes flickered open again. "...Shira?"

"It's okay-just put my weight on the wrong leg," she replied. "Don't worry about it."

Diego looked at her for a long moment. "...Gutt did that?" he asked. Underneath her fur, he could see the bruising.

She nodded. "Yeah. Gutt never did handle disappointment well." Catching his look, her expression became more stern. "Hey, don't get all soft on me, Diego, okay? It was my choice, and I don't regret it for a minute."

In response, he leaned forward, touching his forehead to hers. She leaned forward as well, bumping her forehead with his own, moving down a little as they rubbed together.

"...thanks," he murmured. "That thing you did, that got you hurt...that was really brave. You saved us."

"I'd do it again," she replied softly.

"I'll make sure you don't have to," Diego said, letting his nose touch hers.

They'd rejoin the others eventually, and explore their new home-but for now, standing here on the beach with his newfound love-Diego was perfectly content.