The water cascaded over the edge of the rocks, rolling smoothly into the deep pool at the foot of the falls, the frothy spume spraying into the air and wetting the coats of the two lions who picked their way along the rocks.
Simba followed Nala across the natural bridge, pausing to shake the cool droplets from his coat, making a miniature rainbow in the air as he dried himself. He joined her at a still pool where she was bending to take a drink. He was not the least bit thirsty, but at a loss as what else to do, he leaned over the water and took a couple of swallows, his eyes on the lioness across from him. He was unable to believe his friend had found him again! He had missed his family dearly, but there was something special about Nala…
She glanced up and caught him staring at her, and he stopped drinking, raising his head in alarm and embarrassment. But she merely smiled at him and bent to the pool again. “She doesn’t know,” he thought. “Else she wouldn’t smile at me like that. Oh gods, what am I going to tell her?” He looked away from her, the shame dousing the joy he had felt.
Nala lapped at the cold water daintily, enjoying the liquid as she soothed her parched throat. The trip across the desert had been exhausting, and after that high speed pursuit of Pumbaa that had nearly ended in disaster, she was fairly desperate for a drink. Curious that her friend had taken up with a warthog, of all creatures. What Simba saw in that-
She glanced up at her friend and stopped in mid-drink, shocked at the look of absolute sadness in his features. Worried, she lifted her head, intending to ask him what was wrong, but Simba saw her glance up and immediately brightened, the mask of despair vanishing as if it had never been. He stepped to the edge of the pool, then tensed his haunches and leapt gracefully over to her side, smiling enigmatically as he passed. Nala turned to look at him, thoroughly confused. What in the world was he up to now-
Her eyes widened in surprise as he ran past, a vine clutched tight in his jaws, soaring out over the pool to land in its center with a terrific splash. She watched, at first amused, then alarmed as the ripples of his landing disappeared and he still showed no sign of surfacing. She padded to the edge and looked about anxiously, looking for any sign of him.
The water in front of her erupted, spraying her thoroughly as Simba rose and clasped her around the shoulders in a hug. She started to smile and ask him if this was his way of saying hello when she felt her balance shift alarmingly.
“Oh gods,” she thought. “He’s not doing what I think he is-“
But he was indeed. Simba’s weight pulled her forward and down into the icy water with a tremendous splash. The lion surfaced, a grin on his face as he watched Nala scramble from the water, gasping, and huddle in a wet crouch, her teeth chattering. She made no move to rejoin him, and his smile wilted a little as he realized he might have stepped over the line. He pulled himself from the water, the cool liquid running from his mane in small streams as he went to her, a concerned look on his features.
Nala waited until he was next to her, then with a wry grin she shoved him playfully back into the water. “Gotcha!” she thought, laughing delightedly. She shook herself, then trotted away as Simba climbed from the water again, a grin on his face. Another laugh escaped her as she dodged among the trees, her friend in full pursuit of her and bent on revenge. She twisted agilely through a dense thicket, chuckling as she heard Simba smash through the debris.
“Clumsy!” she yelled at him.
“Oh, yeah?!” He grinned and put on a burst of speed as they entered a lush meadow, the late afternoon sun glinting through the trees as he drew nearer. She plunged into the undergrowth on the far side of the clearing and turned to face him, rising on her rear legs and pawing at him playfully. He laughed, rearing up to meet her and throwing his forepaws around her shoulders, his extra weight overbalancing them both and sending them tumbling down the hillside to slide to a stop at the bottom.
Nala giggled up at him, and he responded by bursting into laughter, the sound sweet and joyous to her ears. He had seemed so sad, back at the pond, but all her worries dissipated as she looked up at his contented face. She felt a warm rush of feeling, looking at his features, slightly amazed at how handsome he had become. The rough and tumble cub she had played with as a child had burst forth with a beautifully flowing mane, and his body, while lean in some places, was fully formed and muscular. Yet his face still held that wonderful, innocent look she knew well from their cubhood. His body was warm against hers, and the comforting pressure of his weight resting on her sent tingles up and down her spine.
Nala reached up with a forepaw, draping it over the back of his neck. Pulling him to her, she bent forward and kissed his cheek, a long, passionate lick that ceased his laughter and brought a surprised look to his face.
Simba stared down at Nala, feeling the tingle from her kiss spreading through him like ripples in a pond. She looked up at him, her eyes half-opened and giving him a look that sent fire racing through his belly. He bent to her and nuzzled her, and she responded, rising up to bury her face in his mane and purring deeply, the thrumming sound carrying clear in the still evening air. “Nala,” he whispered.
She said nothing, still purring low in her chest as she sat up and nuzzled him again, her side making heavy contact with his as she rubbed against him. Nala circled him slowly, her tail coiling around his hind legs as she moved up his other side and nuzzled his neck again. Lifting her head, she nibbled the edge of his ear playfully.
He took a ragged breath and blew it out forcefully. “Oh gods, what’s wrong with me?”
“What is it?”
He stood unsteadily, his legs splayed wide, limbs trembling with unreleased tension. “I feel so strange.” His eyes looked searchingly into hers, the fear and confusion clear through the haze of desire.
She kissed him again, and he felt her tremble slightly, and saw the wonder in her own eyes. ” I think you’re supposed to,” she said, a tremulous laugh escaping her. She nuzzled him again under the chin, then walked away towards the edge of the glade. Simba followed her slowly, a pace behind, his gaze fixed as he drank in her beauty. Nala hesitated, then crouched slowly, looking back over her shoulder at him with fear and desire warring in her eyes. “Simba? I…”
“Shhh.” He stood close, unable to tear his eyes away from her, the moonlight slicing through the trees overhead and haloing her face in silver ethrealness.
“Beloved,” he whispered, and went to her.