Title You Never Know
Year 1998
Tagline "A soft heart lurks beneath a granite shell."
Comment The characters Simba, Nala, and Kiara are property of Disney.

You Never Know

     As the sun began to set over the pridelands, the pride quietly awaited the return of their king. It had been a pretty average day, at least on the outside. The cubs played, the lionesses slept, and the sun gently rolled along its golden path without any form of obstruction. A calm surrender took hold of the pride, and for a moment there was peace. Only for a moment.

     "The king is coming!" an excited voice suddenly chortled. As if in a carefully choreographed dance, the heads of the pride lifted and looked toward the setting sun. There, coming slowly but steadily toward his ancestral home, Simba appeared. His head was down, but his seemingly relaxed gait gave the appearance that he was simply tired. Coming up the gentle slope, he managed to raise his head and smile to his waiting pride.

     "Welcome back, Simba."

     "Hello,my King."

     "Hi there!"

     "Glad you're home!" The voices all meshed together in an evening celebration of his return, pleasing the lion. He offered a placating smile to the grouping and nodded his head to each in turn. At the top of the slope, Nala stepped from the cavern to greet him. Seeing her warm smile, Simba quickened his pace imperceptibly to greet her. They purred in unison as their heads met.

    "Hello dear..." Nala said, trailing off to look into Simba's eyes.

    "Hi." Simba replied softly, breaking the normally loving stare and starting to pass her. Nala looked surprised.

    "Simba, is something the matter?"

     "Nothing more than usual..." answered the lion quickly, moving toward his normal spot in the cavern, "I'm just tired, that's all." Nala followed after him after a brief pause.

     "You're not going to sleep are you? The hunt is on tonight."

     "You can go ahead." Simba said, offering a slight smile, "I'm not very hungry."

     "Oh..." Nala whispered softly, as if something had been revealed to her. She moved up close to her mate and gently pressed her head against him. Hesitantly, Simba returned the nuzzle before returning his head to his paws.

     As his eyes closed, Nala sighed and turned around. The pride was gathered at the entrance peering into the darkness of the cave curiously. Moving quickly to diffuse the situation, Nala walked toward them with regal composure. Their eyes asked the question before they could get it out of their muzzles.

     "He's fine." she assured them all warmly, smiling, "We have a hunt to take care of."


     The euphony of triumphant roars echoed over the savanna in chorus shortly after the night spread its thick blanket. Their success would mean another meal for the pride. Well, most of the pride anyway. Simba remained in the cavern, eyes open but looking at nothing. His vague stare only gained focus when the resting cubs nearby scrambled to respond to their mothers calls. As the cavern emptied, a single cub broke from the group and moved in Simba's direction.

     "Daddy?" she spoke in a tone that masterfully mixed concern and curiosity, dubbed with a hint of anxiety. Rolling his eyes onto her quietly, Simba once again attempted a smile.

     "Yes, Kiara?"

     "Aren't you gonna come eat?" she mewed softly. Simba gently petted her with a paw.

     "Not tonight dear, daddy needs some time alone."

     "But dad.."

     "Kiara...please." he purred, offering a gentle nuzzle, "You'll understand someday." Disappointed, but more concerned with not disappointing her father, Kiara acquieced and rubbed against him lovingly.

     "Alright dad." she said, starting out.

     "..Kiara?" Simba said suddenly, stopping her in her tracks. When she turned around, Simba bit his lip slightly and then purred, "Be safe." With a patronizing nod of the head and roll of the eyes, Kiara turned and raced to get into the meal fray.


     The meal went well. A large buffalo was brought down, allowing the pride plenty to eat and even leaving some for the scavengers. Although late, Kiara was not oblivious to the strange silence that hung over the meal area. The normal roars and grunts were present, but seemed subdued in a strange reverence for an unknown reason. Even the walk back to Pride Rock was oddly muted. Kiara was only able to pick up random mumblings.

     "...hope he's alright."

     "...wonder what's going on."

     "Strange way he's acting..."

     "...don't understand." The way the voices sounded worried the cub. Running up to the front of the procession, Kiara batted at her mother's hindpaw.

     "Mom? Can I talk to you?" Nala smiled warmly at her.

     "Of course." She nodded her head, letting the others pass by onto Pride Rock. When the pair was alone, Nala sat down and looked at Kiara. "What's on your mind dear?" Kiara sidled up to Nala and rubbed against her forelegs.

     "I'm worried about dad. Why didn't he want to come tonight?"

     "Your father was tired, little one." Nala answered, almost practiced.

     "But we had such good food!" Kiara complained. "He never misses meals. He likes to eat a lot, that's how he got so big."

     "Kiara..." Nala chuckled, "Yes your father likes to eat but-" she cut herself off and sighed. Taking a step back, she reclined on her belly and opened her paws to Kiara who quickly jumped into them. "Little one, your father deals with a lot more than most of us. Tonight he just needed to be alone."

     "But why? What's going on?" Kiara pressed on. Nala sighed and looked toward the quickly receding wave of lionesses.

     "Most of the pride doesn't understand what Simba goes through every day. They simply expect him home each day, to support or to protect or things like that." she looked back to Kiara, "But Simba has a lot more to do than just watch out for the pride and walk around the lands. He's also responsible for keeping the lands in as good a shape as he can, following the Circle." Kiara looked at her mother in a confused manner. Nala smiled.
     "Do you remember a few suns back, when we couldn't drink from the waterhole because it was fouled?" Kiara wrinkled her nose.

     "Oh yeah, that was sooooo nasty! Why did those animals do that?" Nala smiled at her a little.

     "Well Kiara, why they did it wasn't ever truly found out. But although it was not his fault, Simba was the one who was held responsible by the lands."

     "Well...that's not fair..." Kiara said softly.

     "You're right," Nala started, "It's not very fair sometimes. When something goes wrong with the lands, the king is blamed whether it is his fault or not." Kiara folded back her ears a moment and looked downward. After a moment's cute pout, she pushed her ears back up and toward her mother.

     "But that was a few suns back. What made him stay back today?"

     "Oh..." Nala said, momentarily pausing. Deciding honesty was the best policy here, she sighed and continued. "Well, lately Simba has been under a lot of stress. Several cheetah cubs were killed by a rogue and he had to endure the grief of the mother. He also came across a panther injured on the hunt recently who requested to have his pain ended. The herds often give him a hard time for various reasons. Several of our lionesses were nicked in a hunt just yesterday and one almost got trampled tonight. And with his fear of the outsiders..." Nala stopped in order to release a short sigh. "He has a lot on his agenda." Kiara's ears folded back.

     "That's so sad..." she said, snuggling into her mother for comfort. Nala looked down at her.

     "He doesn't always tell the pride what has happened in the course of a day. Simba deals with much more sadness than he wants us to deal with. That's why he keeps it inside a lot of times. It hurts to see others suffer, and whether he is at fault or not he takes responsiblity. Sometimes, when no one is looking he will cry."

     "Daddy cries??" Kiara whispered with emphatic concern.

     "Yes, little one. Just like you or I can. He's not invincible you know." Nala lifted her head to an oncoming breeze, taking in a deep breath as it caressed her muzzle like a warm nuzzle. After a moment's glance to the stars for inspiration, she returned her gaze to Kiara.

     "You know, Kiara. Sometimes Simba appears like nothing in the world could scare him or get to him. But he's lived a very hard life, most of it feeling as if he didn't have a friend in the world. Even Lion Kings get worn down sometimes, and although they don't want to show it, they do get sad. It's why he cares for you so much and wants to protect you." Nala paused to lick Kiara on the cheek, producing a surprised squeak and giggle from the cub. "Your father is a strong lion, but even strong lions have lapses on occasion."

     "Gee..." Kiara said looking down. "I guess we never really know what's going on in someone's life to make them do something. But...what can we do?" Nala smiled at her daughter.

     "That's the easy part, Kiara." she gave her a hug, "Be there for him. Tell him how much you mean to him. Show him that you care as much as he cares. It's the greatest form of therapy anyone can ask for." Kiara smiled, then bounded from Nala's paws.

     "Com'on! Let's go do it now!" With that, the cub tore towards Pride Rock, her mother laughing as she worked to catch up.  


     Simba opened his eyes groggily as he felt something nudge under his paw. Grunting a soft sound of curiosity, he peered through narrow vision a small ball of fur struggling to get under his paw. Smiling involuntarily, he lifted it and allowed his daughter to snuggle in close. Kiara squirmed to a comfortable position and looked up at him.

     "Love you daddy." she said, nuzzling him and promptly falling off to sleep. Simba smiled a little and gave her a gentle stroke with his paw before resting it around her. He exhaled a long sigh in surprise. It was as if all the shadows of his life momentarily disappeared in the radience of his daughter's love.

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