Finally, the last (epilogue-like) chapter of this fanfic! It took me a while to write it. Thanks everyone for your favs, follows and reviews!
Thanks to TweakerWolf for helping me with my English and general editing!
Note: the cover image is a screenshot from the movie and therefore not mine.
Vitani's eyes followed her mother's silhouette as she was leaving. She stared into the distance for a while after she disappeared. Then Vitani's glance shifted towards Nuka's small, frail body lying on a dusty ground. When he was unconscious, his face looked like it had a permanently sad expression, with his eyebrows slanting upward at their inner corners.
"What's going to happen to him? We shouldn't just leave him here," she said, frowning.
Nala turned towards the younger lioness, and then looked at Nuka. Her expression became softer, and for a moment, it looked like she had a strange twinkle in her eyes. "Let's get him to the Pridelands. He's part of the family, and he deserves to die there."
Vitani nodded. At least now that the fighting had stopped, she could take time to properly mourn her brother.
Kovu sighed, and Kiara nuzzled him. She then nodded towards Nuka, and Kovu picked him up, putting him on his back. Simba led the pride out of the Outlands, into the flourishing, lively land where Vitani was born, but didn't get to see in its full glory. They crossed the river, and Vitani felt soft, green grass under her paws.
"We're heading towards Scar's old cave," Nala said to Kovu.
Scar's old cave? Did she intend to leave Nuka's body there? That sounded like a terrible decision. Did she think he'd last for a few more days? Vitani shook her head. It was irrational to hope for that.
Just about as they reached the cave entrance, a blue-feathered bird approached them. Seeing the Outsiders, he narrowed his eyes in obvious contempt, but before he could ask any questions, Nala gestured him to come closer.
"Zazu, call Rafiki," she ordered.
After taking a few more moments to glare at the Outsiders, the hornbill flew away. Vitani blankly watched him leave. Not even that mysterious shaman could bring her brother back, it was not in his power. If only they could have brought Nuka here earlier, then it might have been possible to help him…
Kovu looked just as confused as she was, but Nala and Kiara exchanged glances. Nala put her paw on her daughter's shoulder, as if to reassure her. Soon, Vitani noticed a shadow at the cave's entrance, and Rafiki came in, hurrying to them.
"He needs space," he said, coming closer to Nuka.
The lions watched in awe as Rafiki put several shells on the ground, all filled with different substances. He took something from one and put it on one of Nuka's injuries. Nuka groaned slightly when the liquid touched the corners of his wound, and it slowly stopped bleeding. Vitani's eyes widened; that was a response!
"What is he doing?" asked Kovu, as Rafiki started taking care of another scrape.
"Saving him," said the Queen.
Vitani was afraid to come closer. She couldn't allow herself to believe in miracles. Even if these manipulations had some kind of effect, that would only prolong her brother's suffering. The Pridelanders were just trying to give a good first impression or adhering to their strange moral code, attempting to save what was obviously lost. Nevertheless, she waited until everything was done. Rafiki was pressing some points on Nuka's body, shaking his head.
"He has old injuries, so many of them," said Rafiki. "He must be very strong to survive that."
The mandrill then poured some liquid into Nuka's mouth, making sure he drank it. Nuka's eyelashes started fluttering, and Rafiki patted him on the shoulder with a quick nod.
"Well– Will he live?" asked Vitani in a hoarse voice, her throat dry.
Rafiki smiled. "I think you know an answer to this better than I do."
The lionesses gathered beneath Pride Rock when the royal family appeared on top. Kovu was beside Kiara, part of the family now. Maybe that was fate, Vitani thought – no matter if someone pushed him down that path or actively tried to prevent it. He wouldn't get to rule, but he still was royalty.
Rafiki stood not so far away, looking up at the sky and nodding, like he was nodding to an old friend. Simba roared, and the entire the pride roared in reply. Vitani did as well, and some part of her mind wondered what would her mother have thought if she saw her daughter showing this sign of allegiance to the king who was once their enemy. But in a way, Vitani felt she was finally free from everything that had burdened her for years. She felt like a part of something bigger, and this time, it was different from being a part of some mission. It felt like being a part of life itself.
For the next few days, Nuka was unconscious. But Rafiki visited him frequently, and he was visibly getting better. Vitani couldn't believe her eyes when he rolled from one side to the other – he couldn't do that on his own for a long while. She thanked the old shaman, it was the least she could do to show her gratitude. She thought he was just trying to protect the royal family by "stealing" Kovu, but as it turned out, he cared for everyone.
The new life Vitani had felt strange. Her old pridesisters were still wary of the Pridelanders, and the Pridelanders tried to act like they've already been united for a long time, trying to involve the new lionesses in as many activities as possible. Queen Nala assembled a meeting where she explained the new hunting rules for the expanded pride. Vitani was offered to lead her own hunting party, comprised of former Outsiders.
Kiara and Kovu had their own small ceremony that officially presented them as a couple, and Vitani was surprised by how simple it was. They seemed too happy to be with each other, and maybe that wasn't solely Kiara's looks that Kovu liked. Maybe there really was something else in her, in how friendly and non-judgmental she was. In how she tried to talk to Vitani and always asked about Nuka's condition…
Vitani knew she shouldn't let Nuka know that their mother has been exiled. But unfortunately, her absence was the first thing he noticed after he regained consciousness; Vitani couldn't even finish explaining where he was. After some hesitation, she told him the truth, which was followed by a greatest breakdown Nuka ever had. Not even the mention of the fact that Zira was willing to let him die could make him stop.
His condition wasn't changing for the better for a while after that episode. But Rafiki's consistent help and support finally led to some improvements, despite Nuka being sad most of the time and clearly being confused about why everyone suddenly cared about his well-being. Of course, he blamed Kovu for their mother's exile, so Vitani advised him not to visit Nuka for a while. Nuka was still very weak and had to relearn how to walk, so Vitani also had to talk Kiara out of the idea to give him a makeover.
A couple of weeks later, when Vitani finally figured out all of the established hunting rules without Nala's supervision and returned from her party's first successful hunt, she decided to spend some free time with Kovu and Kiara. The princess tried so hard to become her friend, and there was no reason she should resist the idea.
Kiara and Kovu were sitting in the shadow of a big tree, laughing along with Timon and Pumbaa.
"Oh, Vitani! Hi!" said Kiara, smiling at her. "Sit with us. Timon just told us a hilarious joke!"
Vitani nodded and sat facing Kovu.
"How is Nuka?" he asked.
"Much better. And I spoke of him like he was already dead!" Vitani laughed, hoping her nervousness didn't show. "I guess it's truly a miracle…"
"So that weirdo is going to start hanging out here?" asked Timon. "I hope he doesn't come near us. He smells worse than Pumbaa."
"Timon, that's rude!" exclaimed Kiara.
"Oh, my bad, Princess. Sorry, Pumbaa."
Vitani snorted and turned her head towards Kovu. Their eyes met, and she got up, now looking at Kiara.
"Would you excuse us for a moment? We need to talk privately."
"Oh… Of course," said Kiara.
Kovu looked surprised, but he still followed his sister down to the gorge, where no one appeared to be around. Vitani wasn't sure what to start; so much had happened that had to be discussed. She used to think that she knew Kovu quite well, but now it seemed like she didn't know him at all. She still felt bitter about him leaving his family, despite how he was raised to believe he was Scar's legacy, the one who was similar to him in every way possible, and everyone else believed in it as well. But in the end, it was her, Vitani, and her brother Nuka, Scar's biological offspring, who were the most like him. Nuka had always told her how horrible their father was, but she didn't pay much attention to that; now, when she knew how it was to betray her sibling and feel betrayed by him, she finally started to understand. Simba wasn't some kind of monster; he simply didn't want the same thing to happen to his family again.
Kovu was completely silent, probably expecting Vitani to talk first. She took a deep breath. "I'm sorry about what I did – what I tried to do."
Kovu stopped and shook his head. "You don't have to apologize; at least, no more than I do. In a sense, I'm glad that you did it – if not for you, I probably wouldn't have understood what Kiara means to me, that there's so much more to life than just my mission. I would have never cared to listen to the other side of the story. And I'm sorry it turned out this way with Nuka. I didn't want anyone to get hurt."
Vitani's mouth twitched. She wanted to ask, 'If you didn't, then why?' But then again, if she cared, why did she do what she did? Both of them did selfish things, and she couldn't blame her brother for the same sins. As if feeling what she thought, Kovu spoke.
"Hey, no need to blame each other. After all, it turned out alright. You know what Simba says, it's time to put the past behind us."
He smiled at her, and Vitani smiled back. Kovu was happy, and she was finally at peace with herself. All three of them, they were alive, and in the Pridelands. Not the way they wanted, but Vitani couldn't ask for more.
Kiara probably expected her to return, but after a long day like this, Vitani figured she could use some rest. She turned towards the rocks and saw Nuka slowly moving, already a considerable distance away from his cave. He was limping badly. Vitani ran up to him and managed to catch him before he fell down.
"Where are you going, exactly? Didn't I tell you not to walk for this long on your own?" she asked, supporting Nuka by his side and turning to walk him back to the cave. He tried to resist.
"I'm going to go find Mother."
"No, you won't. I won't let you. You'll die out there."
"But I have to, because… Because it's my fault Mother is not here! It's my fault, and I have to make it right! She's alone out there, and I don't know if she's okay, if she's–"
Nuka started panting heavily, his eyes open wide. Vitani didn't know how to help him. She was upset herself, but she knew it wasn't anywhere close to what Nuka felt. She had to be strong for him.
With some effort, they climbed to the cave entrance, and Nuka weakly collapsed onto the rock surface. Leaning towards her brother, Vitani patted his back and lay down near him. She looked into the distance; the view from the Pridelands was much more vibrant than what you could see in the Outlands. There were rivers, hills, trees. Night birds flying into the horizon.
The wind was making the grass move. Vitani knew there were a lot of creatures beneath it. At a distance, near the river, there was something like a shadowy thin figure lurking in the dark. It seemed oddly familiar. Vitani's eyes widened.
"You know, Nuka… She might be closer than you think."
Author's Note: I started writing a sequel for this fanfic, it's called "The Joy of Vengeance" and it follows Nuka. I'm currently posting it on Archive of Our Own under the username FunnyDiamond, and it's available only for logged-in users due to more mature themes like domestic violence (please read the tags on AO3 before reading the fanfic).