Fujo trudged back home, thinking of the lioness. He would go back and set things right. There was no way he would just ignore it. He’d go back, even if he had to do it alone. Those fools in the sky knew nothing if they didn’t realize this was murder, plain and simple. He walked slowly up the steps to Pride Rock. Then he suddenly stopped as he heard an earthshaking yell from the den.
“HE DID WHAT?!!!”
The yell immediately cleared all thoughts of the lioness from Fujo’s head momentarily, and replaced them the thought of Oh, crap. Tumai jumped backwards out of the den. She saw Fujo on the steps and grinned at him.
“We told her.” There was laughter in her voice.
“Oh, no. You didn’t.”
“Yeah, we did.”
“You did not.”
“Hey, he’s back,” Tumai called into the den.
“Tell him he had better get his backside in here right now, or so help me I’ll—” Kiara’s voice left the sentence hanging, apparently unable to think of anything bad enough. Fujo walked into the den, aware of Tumai’s smirk following him the entire way. He saw Kovu sitting in a corner of the den, his face plainly showing shock and not seeming to take in anything. Vitani was sitting next to Kiara and wearing a smile identical to Tumai’s. Kiara, unlike any of the others, actually was calm.
“Oh, Fujo, I’m so glad you’re home,” Kiara said. “Where have you been?”
“Uh, well, actually, um . . .” He didn’t know how to describe it. “It’s a long story. I can explain later.”
Apparently Kiara’s self-restraint broke. “You slept with your AUNT?!”
“Whoa, hey, where did this come from?” Then Fujo noticed Tumai’s snicker, and it hit him. I didn’t say it was your fault. I said I was going to blame you.
“You sleep with your aunt, and then you just clear off for a few days? And you think you can just come back to this? She’s your aunt! And she’s pregnant!”
“Um . . . I know?” Fujo said weakly.
“Okay, look, whatever you think, I didn’t do it. I swear. You can ask her,” Fujo said as he nodded at Vitani. He hated when his mother got this way.
“She was the one who told us!” Fujo stared at Vitani. She just smiled at him. He turned back to look at Tumai, who was still smiling that stupid smile. He turned back to his mother as he heard her speak again in a low, steadily rising tone. “Your father wouldn’t lie about such a thing, your brother is gone, and that only leaves you. We haven’t even given you permission yet! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?” she yelled as she backed him up into the den wall, cringing. Fujo looked over her shoulder.
“Uh, Aunt ’Tani, I think this has gone far enough, don’t you?”
“DON’T YOU DARE TRY TO WRIGGLE OUT OF THIS!” thundered Kiara.
“Alright Kiara, that’s enough,” sad Vitani, barely stifling laughter.
“That is not enough! He just leaves right after he—”
“He didn’t do it.”
“No, we just wanted to see what you did to him. I mean, come on, it was a little funny.”
“But if . . . Well, who is it?” She backed down from Fujo, who let out a sigh of relief.
“No one. I’m not pregnant.”
“But Fujo said he knew.”
“We just tried to get him to do this before he left. But he wouldn’t. I think you know why.”
“Yeah, Fujo, why did you leave?” asked Tumai.
“I, uh, wanted to get out?” Tumai stared at him pointedly. “Man, you have no idea how hungry I am,” said Fujo, trying to change the topic. “You wouldn’t happen to have any stuff left over from breakfast, would you?”
“Of course we do, honey,” said Kiara, all smiles now. “I’ll just go get it.”
“Actually, I think it would be a good idea if all the girls went and got it.” Kovu finally looked up at Fujo.
“Um . . . right,” said Vitani. She began to walk out, followed by Kiara and a reluctant Tumai. Kovu watched them go, then looked at Fujo.
“What is it?”
“Dad, I met a lioness out there.”
“And you got her pregnant.”
“Just get off the whole pregnant thing, okay? She mentions that once, and you just—never mind. What was I saying?”
“Right. Look, Dad, we have to go get her.”
“She’s going to be dead or worse if we don’t do something.”
“I’m going to need more of an explanation than that.”
“Okay. Okay. Um . . .” Fujo tried to think of where to start. “I’m just walking, and I see this carcass, right? Well, she comes up and says it’s hers, and then tries to beat me up, then decides to share it with me, and then says how she just killed her king, and—”
“She did what?”
“Yeah, that’s what I said. But she did it for a good reason,” Fujo added hurriedly. “Look, that king was beating all of the lionesses, and starving them, and treating them like dirt. And other stuff she didn’t really go into, but I’m sure you get the idea. And they couldn’t do anything. Look, we have to go back and get her, or else she’s going to die.”
“I thought you said she was with you.”
“She was, but then he got her and he took her back.”
“You said the king was dead.”
“Okay, the new king. The dead guy’s son. And he isn’t going to stop torturing her, and we have got to do something.”
Kovu appeared to think it over for a minute. “Okay, you want me to go up to this guy, demand that he stop this, and if he says no, knock him off his throne?”
“Look, Fujo, you can’t just go around killing people for what they do.”
“Taraju gave himself up. That’s different.”
“Dad, you didn’t see her. She’s in just as bad shape as those Outlanders. And she’s going to get a lot worse if we don’t do something now.” Fujo sighed. “Look, we can just take some of the pride there. It shouldn’t be that hard to just—”
“I WILL NOT START ANOTHER WAR!” erupted Kovu. Fujo took a step back, alarmed by the outburst. “I am not going to place this pride in that kind of danger again. You have no idea what it was like for me that last time.”
“If I remember correctly, the last time I got my stomach bitten into. I think I have an idea.”
“You really are a stupid, insensitive jerk, you know that?”
“Thank you so much, Dad. I love you, too.”
“You don’t remember! The entire pride was decimated! And I had to hold it together! Me, when I wasn’t even sure I could hold myself together! I wanted more of that violence, I craved it. And I couldn’t have it. So what do I do? I retreat to my own little world, shunning you, shunning Kiara. You at least remember that! How would you like it to be like that again, with no speaking at all, just me sitting on the edge of that rock, day after day, almost never seeing you? Do you really want it to be like that again?”
“It won’t be like that. You’re fine now, there’s no reason why you can’t be fine then. But she needs our help now. And if you aren’t going to go, I am.”
“You will do no such thing,” Kovu snarled. He began to walk away from his son.
“I’m grown, Dad. You can’t tell me what—”
Kovu whirled around. “You are my son! My only one left! If you think I’m just going to let you run right into danger just to save a lioness, then you really must be crazy.”
“Believe it.” Fujo turned and began to walk out of the den. Kovu roared and ran in front of him.
“I said no!”
“And I say I don’t care!” Fujo raised a paw to strike his father. “No get out of the way, or so help me, I will.”
“No.” Fujo swung his paw back a little further for that extra bit of oomph. By the time he would have gotten it completely back he was already on the ground, Kovu on top of him. “No means no,” Kovu growled. He raised his voice, “Get in here. Now.” Tumai, Vitani, and Kiara all shuffled into the den, Tumai with some meat in her mouth. Kovu got off Fujo and turned to face the lionesses. “I know you’ve all heard all of it.” Vitani opened her mouth to speak. “Credit me with having some intelligence, ’Tani. Now we are going to sit here, and you—” he turned back to Fujo “—are going to sit here, and eat.”
“Not a chance,” protested Fujo, still on his back.
“I’ll think it over,” said Kovu.
“Liar.” Fujo rolled over, went to Tumai, and grabbed the half-carcass out of her mouth. He walked to a far corner of the den and sat down and began to eat. There was silence for a few moments, then the lionesses began to talk to Kovu. It was all whispering, Fujo couldn’t hear a thing. He could tell that it was getting steadily more agitated on Kovu’s part, finally ending with him saying, “Give it time.” Then Fujo had an idea. A stupid, stupid idea. He hung his head and sighed. Kiara walked over to him.
“Look, Fujo, I know you’re sad about thi—” she stopped in mid-sentence as Fujo swung his paw up to her throat and grabbed it, claws extended. “Fujo?” she whispered.
Kovu looked up and roared. “Release her. Now!”
“You don’t like it, do you, Dad?” asked Fujo. “I mean, she could die at any second, and there’s not one thing you could do about it. I could just tighten the pressure a little here—” he extended his claws the millimeter further he dared. He really wasn’t used to this kind of thing. Now Taraju, he could have done this flawlessly. “—and you’d never ever speak to her again. You see what I’m driving at?”
“You’ve made your point. Now get your paw off your mother’s throat.”
“Are we going to go now?”
“I told you I would think about it. Now let go.” Fujo took his paw off Kiara’s throat, relieved it hadn’t come to anything worse. She put her paw up to it and stared at Fujo in disbelief. He nuzzled her.
“Sorry, Mom. Really.” He finally noticed the completely shocked expressions Tumai and Vitani were wearing. He began to walk out of the den. “Start thinking,” he growled as he walked past Kovu.
“Where are you going?” asked Tumai.
“Well, if you don’t mind, my favorite light show is coming up.” He turned the corner that led to the peak. Tumai watched him go, then turned back to Kovu.
“What?” he asked her.
“Sire, don’t you think it would be good to indulge your son just this once?”
“Would you like to go to Aiheu-knows-where and kill some lion you don’t even know?”
“We never said it would come to killing.”
“Then you really are a fool.” Kovu got up and began to walk out of the den.
“Aren’t you curious?” asked Kiara. “Even a bit?”
“Nope.” He walked resolutely out towards the Pridelands.
“Well,” said Vitani, “apart from the part where they completely blew up at each other and he used his mother as a hostage, I’d say that went pretty well.”
Fujo lied on his back on the top of Pride Rock, watching the sun slowly set. It was hard to say which he enjoyed more, his morning walks or this. They were both so peaceful. Which he found kind of odd, seeing as he was at his best surrounded by company. But some part of him just longed for the stillness. He gave a sigh and laid his head back. Happy.
He looked back up as he felt something walk up between his hind legs. Little Pofu was walking up onto his stomach. He sat down on Fujo’s chest and stared at him.
“Yes?” Fujo asked. The cub tilted his head and continued staring. “I thought you were blind.”
“I’m not blind. I just can’t see.” The cub tilted his head the other way. Fujo suddenly noticed how much better he looked. All of the other Outlanders had at least some trace of gauntness, and most of them more than just a trace. But Pofu had been completely filled out. They must have really cared for him.
“Uh, right.” The cub continued staring at Fujo for a second, then turned around. “So, whatcha up here for?”
“Daddy told me you were up here.” Fujo thought this through for a few moments, but couldn’t come up with anything.
“Yes. He said he’d show me how to see.” Fujo growled. He decided Pofu must have meant his dad, filling cubs up with empty promises again. “He already showed me how to listen.”
“You could hear just fine when you came here.”
“I mean listen differently.”
“Okay, you’ve lost me now.”
The cub sighed. “It’s okay, he said you wouldn’t understand.” That only made Fujo angrier. Dad’s the one who doesn’t understand things. He’s the one who shuts himself off from the world if he doesn’t know what something is. “Maybe he can’t help it,” said Pofu.
“Oh, he can help it. He’s just a stuck-up, overcautious, jerk who refuses to see anything if it goes against what he says.”
“But doesn’t that mean he can’t help it?”
“Daddy said he doesn’t like you.”
Thank you very much for spreading that around. “He’d rather have my brother. He probably performed to ‘expected standards.’”
“I don’t understand.”
“I don’t expect you to.” You’re only a cub.
“Hey, what does that matter?” asked Pofu, whirling around.
“Did I say that out loud?” Pofu just glared at him angrily. “Okay, okay, I’m sorry. Now would you nicely lift your leg? That still hurts there.” Pofu got off him and walked away, inadvertently digging his legs into Fujo’s stomach when he jumped off. Fujo winced and watched as the cub left. He put his head down, seeing the stars in the sky. He let out a breath. A perfectly good sunset, wasted. He walked back down the back of Pride Rock, heading into the den for an early night. As he walked in he couldn’t see Kovu anywhere. Just like him to run away. Fujo went to his spot in the den and laid down, finally resting his head on his paws.
Fujo woke up, the den slowly shifting into focus. He slowly lifted his head, having it feel like it was twice as heavy as normal. He carefully stepped over the sleeping lionesses until he made it outside the den. He took one look at the morning sun and crouched down in a yawn. Then, to his complete surprise, little Pofu tumbled off his head, hitting the ground with an “Oof!”
Fujo stared at him a moment as the cub got to his feet. “What were you doing in my mane?”
“It’s nice. And fluffy. And I like it.” The cub yawned. “It’s a lot more comfy than Mom.”
“That’s nice. Now bugger back into the den before she misses you.”
“Can’t I go with you?”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
“But you’re walking away.” Fujo stopped in mid-step.
“How do you even know I’m going anywhere?”
“You do this every day. You told me.”
Fujo sighed. He couldn’t remember ever doing that. It didn’t mean much, though. He didn’t remember the bet Tumai had made with him that had cost him three days of humiliating attempts to hunt with the lionesses. “Alright, you can come.”
“Can I ride?”
“Aww . . .”
“Now come on.” Fujo walked off Pride Rock. A few moments later he was followed by Pofu falling down the steps.
“Ow . . .”
“You know, maybe it would be safer if you did ride.”
“Okay,” the cub said as he got to his feet. “Where are you?” Fujo groaned and walked over to the cub. He lowered his head so the cub could climb on.
“Up.” Pofu jumped onto his mane, then slid down a little, hind feet scrabbling for a purchase. He finally caught hold of a knot in Fujo’s mane and pushed himself up. Fujo growled. “Gods, what are you trying to do, rip it out?” He hefted himself so Pofu had a better hold. He started on his route through the Pridelands, Pofu surprisingly quiet on his neck. Fujo just walked along peacefully. After a while he even forgot about Pofu.
Until he spoke up again. “What’s it like?”
Fujo thought about it for a moment. “Well, there’s the sun coming up over the horizon, and you can hear some of the birds who are already up. There’s a herd of gazelle on the right that are getting up, and there’s the grass that’s just shifting a little in the breeze, and there are trees, and a couple of giraffes already eating on the trees, and . . . oh, that must have hurt.”
“What? Don’t stop now!”
“There’s a lion that looks like . . . it’s like he’s got a broken leg and walking on it.”
“How can you break a leg?”
“A lot of ways. Look, do you think you can find your way back?”
“Good enough. Now get off. End of the line.”
“Off. Now.” Pofu jumped, barely catching himself when he landed. “Good, now get back and tell the ki—no, the queen that she needs to get out here right away. Even better, tell Aunt ’Tani. GO!” Pofu scampered off. “Hey, it’s the other way!” Pofu skidded, then turned and ran towards Pride Rock. “Oh, that was a bad idea,” Fujo muttered. He ran toward the lion. He was starved, and his coat mussed. If Fujo didn’t know that they were all at Pride Rock, he would have said it was one of the Outlanders. The lion looked up as Fujo came closer. He stared at Fujo as if he were a fresh carcass to a starving leopard. “Hey, are you okay?”
The lion gave a bitter laugh. “As fine as I’m going to be.” Fujo noticed his horrible limp. One back leg seemed to be fine, but every step he took with it he seemed to grimace in pain. The other back leg he simply dragged along, as if it were nothing more than dead weight. “I’m looking for a guy. Kinda looked like you. Maybe you’ve seen him?”
“Well, I call him ’Sare.”
“Sorry?” said Fujo, deliberately mispronouncing it.
“Don’t. Every joke, every pun, just done to death. Look, his full name’s Akasare. Maybe you’ve seen him?”
“I haven’t heard of him. Look, are you sure there’s nothing I can do for you? I mean, you do look pretty beat up.”
“I’ve been worse.”
“You look like you’ve got a broken back leg.”
“They were both broken at one point.” Fujo winced. The lion laughed at his reaction. “Yeah, that’s pretty much what I did. May have been different if it had healed at least somewhat more right than it did.” He sighed. “You happen to have any food?”
“Uh, yeah, back at the den, but that’s pretty far away for your pace.”
“I can make it. Where is it?”
“Uh, the big rock.”
“Wow. Okay, that might be a little harder than expected.”
There were a few moments of silence. “What happened to you?” asked Fujo.
The lion hesitated for a moment. “I’m not sure I should tell you that.”
“Come on, it can’t be too bad.”
The lion hesitated again, then finally spoke. “I tried to kill my father. I did kill him. And for repayment, I get a nice rock in the back, and then I find out that she’s dead. Now I don’t have anything to live for.”
Fujo was quiet, trying to comprehend what the lion had gone through. He looked at his back legs again and winced again. “Look, are you sure you don’t want to lie down or something?”
The lion glared at Fujo. “You ask that again and I’ll show you how to crush a larynx so you’ll never speak above a whisper again.” Fujo didn’t know what a larynx was, but he decided it would be healthier to stay quiet. About fifteen minutes later and what seemed to Fujo to be barely closer to Pride Rock Fujo saw Kovu and Vitani running towards him. As they got closer, the lion looked up. Kovu suddenly stopped, and then rushed at Fujo and the lion with renewed speed.
“YOU FILTHY RAT!” Kovu roared. The lion took a hasty step back. It didn’t work too well, and he ended up sitting down.
“Whoa, there’s no need for—” The rest of his sentence was blown out of him along with his wind as Kovu pounced on him.
“Kovu!” Vitani reprimanded. “He probably doesn’t even know who you are!”
“Oh, he knows.”
The lion squirmed underneath Kovu, then looked up at him again. Realization seemed to flicker across his face. “Wait a second . . . you’re that little guy that I left bleeding in the Outlands, with what’s-her-name.”
“Do you have any idea how much that hurt?!”
“Do you have any idea how much I hurt?”
“Why did you even come back?”
“I was told I could find someone here.”
“Who?” Kovu growled.
“Akasare.” Kovu’s face lit up, and then it changed back to rage. “Oh, so you know him.”
“What do you want with my son?” Kovu said in a low, menacing voice.
“Son?” the lion asked. He seemed genuinely surprised. “Son? We-he-hell, that explains a lot. You know, he took after you pretty well, too.” Kovu clubbed the lion across the face. The lion let out a grunt of pain, then stared indignantly up at Kovu.
“Answer me now.”
“I just wanted him to help me out. Just a little shove over the cliff of life. I knew he wouldn’t mind.” Kovu looked as though he considered hitting the lion again.
“Don’t you dare talk about him that way. He changed.”
“What, you’re not telling me he went soft, are you? Not ’Sare? That’s impossible.” Kovu snarled and dug his claws into the lion, causing him to wince. “Oh, yeah, that’s it. Now just tear ’em out . . .”
“Kovu,” said Vitani. “Kovu, think through this. This isn’t right.”
“He raised Taraju to be a killer. He’s the reason he’s gone now.” It dawned on Fujo. This was one of the lions that found Taraju and twisted him into the monster that had committed atrocities without a glance back. Suddenly Fujo wished he were on top of the lion instead of Kovu.
“Hey, if it weren’t for me and Dingane, I doubt he would have gotten anywhere. He was starving when we found him. And what do you mean, gone?”
“I mean he’s dead.”
“Oh . . . I’m sorry to hear that.” The lion really did seem to be hurt by it. “How did it happen?”
“He came to his senses and did the right thing,” said Fujo quietly. They all turned to stare at him. “Dad, get off him.”
“Excuse me?” said Kovu.
“Get off him. Now.”
“Who do you think you are to be giving—”
“Get off him.” Kovu suddenly stepped off, scared by the look in Fujo’s face. Fujo advanced on the lion. “I want you gone now. If you ever come in this kingdom again, I’ll break every bone in your miserable body, and just leave you there like you did to Taraju. Now get out.” The lion glared angrily at Fujo, then slowly stood up, his hind legs giving him almost no support in the task at all. He finally managed to get to his feet. Fujo turned back for Pride Rock
“Aren’t you going to even going to say goodbye?” asked the lion. Fujo kept walking. He heard the lion mutter something and Kovu roar in response. The lion laughed, and then began to limp his way back into the Outlands. Kovu and Vitani watched for a second, then ran to catch up to Fujo. Kovu opened his mouth to speak.
“Have you decided yet?” asked Fujo.
“She’s closer to dead every second we wait.” Kovu couldn’t come up with an answer. They didn’t speak again the entire way back. They saw the hunters leaving for the morning meal part of the way back. When they did arrive Kiara was waiting for them.
“What happened?” she asked. Fujo stalked on by her. She turned to Kovu and Vitani.
Kovu sighed. “We had to meet an old friend.”
As Fujo went into the den, he noticed Pofu and another cub happily eating some of the leftover meat that Fujo hadn’t finished the night before. Fujo suddenly realized he was starving. He decided to let it go. He slumped down to the floor, willing himself to be asleep by the time the hunters came back.
Fujo woke up at dinnertime. At least he assumed it was dinnertime, as the sun had completely disappeared from the sky visible from the den, and he had a pain in his stomach that he rarely experienced. He yawned and got up, stretched out, then, sure enough, lionesses began to come into the den, dragging carcasses behind them. He gave another yawn and went outside the den. The rest of the lionesses were coming back, almost in a straight line. He walked back into the den, seeing one who had just hunted take a few mouthfuls of meat, then walk over to relieve the lioness who had substituted for her as mother, letting cubs that weren’t her own suckle at her side. It had to be this way, otherwise there would never be enough hunting done. The cubs didn’t seem to mind, anyway. Fujo didn’t when he was one.
Tumai came in and dropped her carcass by Fujo. Fujo turned to look at her. “So, how did it go?”
“You wouldn’t believe it, Fujo. Those Outlanders are amazing. They don’t even hunt like we do.”
“And this revolutionizes the world how?”
“You know how we hunt singly or with a partner, right? Well, they don’t. They told us to hang back and watch them try something, first. Shani didn’t want to do it at first, but they managed to convince her. And they were right. We’ll save plenty of time doing it their way.”
“Just surrounding the herd with everyone and rushing it. I mean, every one of those lionesses got a kill. And it was entirely unspoken. No words, no signals. They just went and acted.” She took a bite out of the antelope. “They made us look like amateurs. And I’d like to think I have some experience.” She swallowed.
“Still waiting to see how this changes my dinner.”
“I guess I wouldn’t expect you to care. You’re a lion. Hunting requires a lioness’s touch.”
“Taraju would probably be hurt by that.” Fujo took a bite out of the carcass.
“He was different. You know, I got to talking with one of them, and they actually knew Taraju when he grew up. Said he was pretty good at hunting with them, too.”
“Again, how does this affect my dinner?”
Tumai sighed. “I suppose it doesn’t. I guess the only way it will is you’ll have more food now.”
“That’s always good news.”
“They start teaching us how to do it their way tomorrow, for anyone who wants to learn. Shani’s still as stuck up as ever, though.”
“What a pity.”
“I thought about having you take lessons.”
“You must be crazy.”
“Oh yes, I run around hunting and bringing home the meat while you just sit there on your lazy behind doing nothing all day.”
“Sounds good to me.”
“I was being sarcastic.”
“But that doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea.” They ate a little more in silence, staring around the den. Pofu happily had a little carcass all to himself. He didn’t seem too happy about it, though. The other cubs kept shooting him fearful looks, looking away when ever he looked their way. It must have been something about this morning. Speaking of which—“Hey, have you seen Dad anywhere?” Tumai muttered something indistinguishable around a mouthful of meat. “What?”
Tumai swallowed. “I said he was with Nadhari.”
“Yeah, but where is he?”
“Search me.” She paused, took another bite of meat. “So, what is it about this lioness?”
“Huh? Which lioness?”
“The one that you come home ranting about and saying that we have to rescue, or else she’s doomed to eternal suffering or something like that.”
“It’s just not right. How would you like it if Dad beat you on a regular basis? How would you like it if he made you wait on him however you wanted, and whenever you did something he did like the result was instant pain?”
She swallowed. “And that’s all?”
“Isn’t that enough? She’s out there, and he isn’t going to stop until he’s taken her to within an inch of her life, and kept her there for longer than I’d even like to imagine. She needs help, and I’m the only—why are you laughing?”
Tumai quieted down. She gave a small sigh, then got up and licked Fujo on the face. “You’re cute when you’re stupid.” She began to walk away, Fujo thinking furiously. The dawn finally broke.
“Hey . . . Hey, it’s not like that, okay?” Tumai burst into laughter again and kept walking. “Look, I just want to help her!”
“Whatever you say, Fujo.” She turned the corner that led to the tanning rock. Fujo sat back down and continued eating. It isn’t like that. Well, maybe . . . No. Definitely no. He took another bite out of the carcass. He looked over at Pofu again. He had finished all he could eat of his carcass and was now lying down and yawning. Fujo wondered what it was like to not even be able to see what you were eating. He slowly worked down the rest of his carcass, staring around the den as hid did so. You almost couldn’t tell who was and Outlander and who wasn’t. The pride had accepted them, fully and completely. The only difference was how filled out the bodies were, and the Outlanders were getting closer to normal for that, too. Fujo finished off what was left of the antelope, and lied down with a sigh. He would just wait until Kovu got back. If he wasn’t willing to help Fujo, then Fujo would just up and leave. He’ll be here any time. He’ll come walking through that mouth any second now . . . any second . . .
Three hours later Kovu still wasn’t anywhere. Kiara didn’t seem unduly worried. Fujo, on the other hand, was going crazy. He had started the pacing in hour two, much to Tumai’s amusement when she came back in. Finally Fujo exploded. “Where is he? That’s what I want to know. Where the heck is he?!”
“Who?” asked Kiara.
“Oh, he said he might not be back tonight.”
“What?! Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Well, he did tell me not to.”
“You know, these are the things that really upset me.”
“Look, the other lionesses are going to be coming back in soon, so you might as well just lie down,” said Vitani. “Besides, I hear you make a pretty good pillow.”
“Just lie down and everything will be fine. Trust me. I grew up with your dad, remember?”
Grudgingly Fujo lied down, muttering about secrets. After a while the other lionesses did come in for the night, filling the den gradually in groups of twos and threes. Finally all the Outlanders came at once, little Pofu along with them. He said something to his mother, who nudged him in Fujo’s direction. He walked over to Fujo. “Do you mind if I sleep with you again tonight?”
Fujo looked up, surprised. “Huh? No, not at all. Hop on up.” Pofu jumped on Fujo, and Fujo nudged him up the rest of the way with his muzzle. “Sweet dreams.” Pofu snuggled into Fujo’s mane, finally stopping with a contented sigh. Fujo heard a snicker and shifted to see Tumai laughing quietly. Oh well. She never did think much of me anyway.
“No, she likes you,” muttered Pofu.
“Huh?” whispered Fujo. Pofu didn’t say anything. Fujo assumed he was asleep already. He laid his head back down, but kept his eyes open. I will not fall asleep. I will not nod off. I will stay awake until Dad comes back. Still, no matter how hard he tried, his eyelids drooped. I will not sleep. I will not sleep. I will not sleep. Oh, who am I kidding? He closed his eyes and finally succumbed to dreamland.
Fujo woke the next morning a little earlier than usual. He took a look around. Kovu still wasn’t back. He began to get to his feet, then remembered Pofu was still on his back. He rolled to one side in an attempt to make Pofu roll off. He began to get up again, then stopped when he felt the extra weight still on his back. He got to his feet, then tried to bounce his body up and down slightly, as well as to the side. Pofu didn’t move. After a few moments of this Fujo gave up and went outside, the cool blast of wind waking him up the rest of the way. He arched his back towards the ground, feeling the vertebrae pop, then bowed low in a yawn. Pofu came tumbling out. Fujo gave a groan. “Why me?” he mouthed.
Pofu got to his feet. “Are we going for a walk again?”
“I’m going for a walk again. Are you really sure you should be going?”
“Well, from what I heard, your mother was very worried about you yesterday,” Fujo lied.
“She didn’t even know I was gone until I came back for Sire.”
Fujo frowned. Apparently he wasn’t going to get out of this one, either. “Alright, fine, you can come.” It hadn’t been that bad yesterday.
“Yes!” Pofu leapt happily towards Fujo, hitting his side and landing on his back.
“I didn’t say to get on yet.” Fujo stooped down to Pofu’s level. “Alright, try again.”
Pofu made it this time, without Fujo’s help at all. Fujo sighed and began down Pride Rock. “Are you sure you don’t want me to stay here?” asked Pofu.
“Huh? Yeah you’re fine.” Fujo walked down the steps for Pride Rock, then out to the Pridelands. It was just the same as every morning, still and peaceful. He finally felt content again. He came up on a herd of antelope, walking right through them. They knew him well enough that he didn’t have to worry about being attacked. They saw him walking every morning. Taraju, on the other hand, he thought, would probably have made them start running for dear life. He recalled how he had brought home a wildebeest and an antelope by himself one morning.
“Who’s Taraju?” asked Pofu.
“Huh? Oh, he was my brother. He was the guy who was with you in the Outlands.”
“He was a bad lion.”
“No, Taraju wasn’t a bad lion. He changed. Now, the guy who he was before he changed was bad, what’s his name . . .”
“Yeah, that sounds right. He was bad. Taraju was sorry for what he did to you.”
“He wanted me dead. I wasn’t supposed to happen.”
“I wasn’t planned. And whatever wasn’t planned, he didn’t want. He didn’t like me.”
“I don’t even think he knew you existed.”
“Then why did Mommy and Daddy always have to hide me? I didn’t like hiding.”
Fujo didn’t have an answer. He just kept walking. He couldn’t contemplate just killing a cub because it didn’t fit into your plans. Life must have been horrible under Taraju before he came back to the Pridelands. Someone dictating how much food you had, and them never ever supplying enough; someone dictating where you slept, where you lived, how many cubs you had. It was unthinkable. But Taraju had thought it. There was nothing but silence the rest of the way, Fujo occupied with his thoughts of Taraju.
When they finally reached the den the lionesses were getting up, as usual. Unusually, Kovu still wasn’t back. Fujo went inside and lied down. He felt Pofu scramble off him, and watched him pause for a second before his mother called to him and he ran over to her. Fujo let out a sigh. Nothing to do but wait for breakfast. Then he noticed almost every lioness leaving the den. Hunting lessons, Fujo remembered. He was fine with that. He could take a little solitude for that. More food for me. His thoughts of endless amounts of meat had turned to Where are they? by the time they had come back. They had been gone at least twice as long as normal. Finally Tumai came in with a carcass, followed by several other lionesses. Then, to Fujo’s surprise, a few of the lionesses came in without a carcass, and to top that, limping, Kiara among them. He looked up at Tumai as she dropped her carcass.
“That had to be one of the worst hunts I’ve ever been in,” she said.
“Well, good morning to you, too,” responded Fujo.
She glared at Fujo, then took a piece off the carcass. “Half of them didn’t even know what to do, and the other half were so uncoordinated it’s a miracle that we got any meat at all.”
“So, it went pretty well, huh?” More glaring. “Look, just give it time, right? You can’t expect everyone to get it the first time. I didn’t,” Fujo added in an undertone.
Tumai smiled. “I am never going to forget that. You couldn’t even catch the zebra.”
“Yeah, rub it in.” He got up and began to share the carcass. After his second bite Kovu walked in. Fujo stood up too quickly and began to choke on his meat. He finally got it down, then walked over to Kovu. “If you don’t say yes now, I’m going. I’m walking right out of this den, and there will not be a thing you can do to stop me.”
“Good morning, Fujo,” said Kovu.
“Look, we don’t have time for ‘Good morning, Fujo.’ She’s out there dying, and we need to go get her.”
“You don’t need to argue. You’ve already won.”
“Yes, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t—what?”
“Just sit down and eat your breakfast. We can go.”
“What’s with the sudden change in attitude?”
“Eat. That’s an order.” Fujo didn’t need to be told twice. “I’ve been checking what you said all night, with Nadhari’s help. Finally I decided that it just wasn’t right. So we’re going?”
“That’s it? No startling revelations? No epiphanies?”
“Fujo, don’t push it.”
“So when do we get the pride ready to go?”
“They’re not going.”
“But you just said—”
“I said we can go. Just you and me. I’m not going to risk anyone else.”
“Dad, this guy was raised on pure violence. He thrives on the stuff. How do you possibly think that we don’t need help?” Kovu tilted his head. “Look, don’t get me wrong, but—”
“We’re not going to kill anyone unless we absolutely have to. Just get the lioness and get out.”
“He’ll hurt the others!”
“Not our problem.”
“If you look at it, this isn’t really our problem either!”
“So should I just call the whole thing off?” Fujo shut up. “I thought so.”
“Kovu, you need to see this,” said Vitani. Fujo turned around to see Vitani’s face filled with worry.
“What is it?”
“It’s Kiara. She’s hurt.”
“Just a hunting accident. I thought you should see her.”
“Alright.” He stood up and went over to Kiara. Her face was grimaced in pain. “Kiara?” Kiara looked up to see Kovu. “I just can’t leave you alone, can I?”
“Where have you been?” Kiara asked.
“I’ve decided to go with Fujo. Just me and him. What happened? I leave one night and you go out and do some stupid thing like this.”
“It’s more what she didn’t do,” said Vitani. “She just didn’t get out of the way in time.”
Kovu shook his head. “Are you going to be alright?”
“She should be fine,” said Vitani. “Just a pain in her leg for a couple of days, then she’ll be fine.”
Fujo walked over. “Dad, I’m done.”
“Kovu, are you sure you want to do this?” asked Kiara.
“Nope. This has got to be one of the stupidest things I’ve done.”
“Stupider than trying to kill my dad?”
“Uh-huh.” He stood up to leave. Fujo was already heading out the cave.
“Stupider than trying to stop a pride war?”
“Oh, yeah.” He was walking away.
“Stupider than trying to keep back a mountain of cheetahs?”
“Yep.” He walked out. Kiara looked up at Vitani for some kind of help.
“He’s probably right.” she said.