In the wild, Shiva would make one or two kills a week and eat her fill; she’d hide the leftovers—paws digging into the soil until the carcass is covered in dirt and grass and concealed from scavengers—and return for the occasional snack over the course of the following days until the time came to kill again.
In the Kingdom, Shiva relies on Jerry to bring her her daily meal, and today’s supper is running late.
By the time he arrives she’s pacing in circles behind the steel bars, the tip of her tail flicking back and forth in irritation, and she deigns to acknowledge his entrance with but the briefest of glances before she turns and stalks away, slumping down in one of the corners of her cage with an audible huff.
It’s a display of childish displeasure that would’ve made Jerry chuckle had its source not been a frustrated and hungry three hundred pound Bengal tiger.
“My apologies, madam,” he says instead and unlocks the cage door.
Shiva watches him stoop to retrieve the pig carcass from where he’d set it down to fumble with his keys, and her nostrils flare as she scents the smell of congealed blood. She seems to perk up as he deposits the body in front of her, big paws reaching out to gather the pig up and tongue extending to give the carcass a slow, full-body lick. Jerry moves to refill her water bowl before he leaves her to her dinner. He makes sure to lock the cage door behind him as he watches her bite at one of the pig’s ears, its head limply flopping on its neck as she gives the cartilage a playfully tug.
Outside the sun is setting and a feast is being readied, by order of the King, in honor of the new arrivals and the proposed alliance. Jerry busies himself by overseeing the preparations for the celebration before excusing himself and heading back for a final check on Shiva; for all the Walkers she’s sunk her teeth into she’s a surprisingly picky eater, and he’ll need to dispose of the pig’s skull and whatever other remains she’s deemed inedible this evening.
As he nears the room housing the cage he’s not surprised to hear the low murmur of Daryl’s voice drifting through the half open door; the man’s a frequent visitor, as taken by Shiva as she seems to be with him. They share a connection, not quite as strong as that of Shiva and her King, which is a bond born out of devotion and loyalty, but perhaps something more primal; something both wild and tamed, a dual nature found in man and tiger alike, and recognized by both.
So no, Jerry’s not surprised to find that Daryl’s removed himself from the festivities in order to spend time in the company of the big cat—it’s the second voice that stops him short, his hand resting on the door left ajar:
“Is it safe?”
It’s female, young and soft and distinctly Southern, and no one that Jerry knows.
“C’mere,” Daryl murmurs, and Jerry lets curiosity get the better of him—leans his weight against the door and slowly lets the gap between door and frame widen just enough to give him a clear view of the room.
The first thing he sees is Daryl, standing in front of the cage, big hand scratching the top of Shiva’s head as she presses the whole length of her body against the cage bars. The white of her muzzle is still stained pink with pig’s blood and she’s licking her chops as she butts her head against the hand that pets her, clearly enjoying the after-dinner attention. If she were a house cat, Jerry is certain that she would be purring.
Standing next to Daryl is someone young and female, just like Jerry had guessed, but she’s not soft.
She’s thin-faced, hair braided and pulled back into a tight ponytail that showcases the sharp angles of her cheekbones and the scarring of her face—the discolorations of the healed wounds are noticeable even in the dim lighting of the room. Her clothes are dusty and worn, her boots mismatched and almost comically large on her small frame, and she looks nothing like Rick’s relatively clean-cut people but a lot like the Kingdom’s new allies, the ones from the junkyard. Even the few stray curls of sweat-dulled blonde hair that have escaped their braids to sloppily frame her face do nothing to offset the paleness of her eyes and the sharpness of her gaze and no, there’s nothing soft about her, except—
“Oh,” she breathes, reaching out to bury her fingers in the thick coat on the side of Shiva’s head—scratching slowly, gently, as the big cat tips her body into the touch.
“See?” Daryl rasps. “She’s just a big ol’ pussycat.” He sounds breathless, almost pained—like he’s been knocked off his feet by a shot to the stomach, the air punched out of him and lungs now running on empty—and Jerry doesn’t quite understand the scene he’s stumbled upon.
Shiva chuffles then—a breathy snort exhaled against the girl’s forearm—and the girl laughs, surprised. It’s a quiet but delighted sound, and as Jerry watches Daryl shifts his weight from one foot to the other, letting his bare arm brush up against the girl’s shoulder—the briefest of touches—before he pulls away.
The blonde doesn’t seem to notice.
“She’s amazing,” she says, her gaze transfixed on where her fingers are carding through the coarse fur along Shiva’s jawline, making the tiger squirm in pleasure.
Daryl grunts in agreement. His hand is resting on Shiva’s back, unmoving, his body turned towards the girl, shoulders curled like she’s the gravitational focus of his entire being.
He only has eyes for her.