The Last of Simba

By Shembre

It had been three days since his father had tragically passed onto the beyond, settling high in the swath of bright stars that shine overhead by night. With paws burning, sore, and raw, Simba was making the journey to the one place he thought safe, the one place where he knew there was someone whom he could trust. It seemed that the rest of the world had turned its back on the young lion, letting all of its weight fall upon his shoulders. He needed to talk more than anything, and in his clouded mind, he clearly thought that visiting Malka of the River Pride would solve his problems.

Sitting behind a bush, his shoulders hunched miserably, and his ears down, Simba waited for Malka, or for one of his younger pridemates who could fetch Malka, to appear. This time gave him a chance to think on his situation. Before, he had avoided such behavior, and instead busied himself with running, hiding, and trying to hunt small prey. So far, Simba had been vastly unsuccessful with the hunting part of his self-exile, leaving him hollow-stomached and ill. When he met with Malka, he would have to ask for some food; if any more time passed, the young prince's life would pass over the line heading towards death.

"I didn't mean for him to die,"thought Simba grimly, feeling utterly responsible for his father's death. "I feel so wretched. I did nothing… but if he hadn't tried to save me… I didn't know that because I was down in that gorge, I was putting not only myself, but my own father at risk. Now I can never return… my mother would never forgive me for what I have done."

Finally, Simba raised his eyes to the starry sky and murmured, "I'll understand if you can't forgive me. I—"

"What would I need to forgive you for, Simba?" interrupted a voice.

Quick as a flash, Simba spun around. Malka, a honey-furred cub with black tufts on the tips of his ears, and on his head, was staring at him, one eyebrow raised in uncertainty. His paws massaged the ground as if he were uncomfortable, anxious.

"I thought that I scented you when I came for a drink, but I wasn't sure. Now, I know you're here… but why areyou here, Simba? Shouldn't you be at Pride Rock?" Malka questioned once he realized that Simba wasn't going to be bothered by giving an explanation right then and there. He then began looking Simba's sorry condition up and down. "And why is your fur so dirty and mussed up?"

Simba barely recognized the voice that came out of his mouth. So unused in the past few days, it sounded far from the cheerful, confident tone it once had been. "I came to deliver some news personally, Malka. After, I must continue on."

"News?" Malka tilted his head to the side. He then shook his head. "Simba, what's wrong? Is there something wrong with your Pride? Please tell me!"

The desperation in Malka's face caused Simba's words to catch in his throat. Perhaps he had made a mistake in thinking that he could confide in this cub. After all, Malka was at least a full season younger than he was. It was the urge, however, to share his pain that made Simba speak. Perhaps it would allow him a sort of release.

Swallowing, the young prince spoke slowly and almost bluntly. "My… My father is dead, Malka. It happened nearly four days ago."

Malka perked up, his eyes wild. "What do you mean by 'dead'. Simba, your father can't be…"

Eyes flashing, Simba pulled himself to his feet, a wave of wooziness causing him to sway slightly. Gazing levelly back at his friend nonetheless, he said, his voice on the edge of a snarl, "Don't you think that I wish that it weren't true, Malka, because I do."

Something within Malka's eyes changed once more, his tail flickering self-consciously. "I'm sorry," he apologized softly. There was only his deepest sympathies in the simple reply. "That must be absolutely terrible. You and your mother must be taking it hard… but with dignity of course," he added quickly.

Simba bit his bottom lip. He paused a bit longer than he intended.

"Simba?"

"Yes, I'm sure she is. I know I am," he finally muttered grudgingly.

Taken aback for a moment, Malka remained speechless. It was some time before he even opened his mouth.

"Don't you know if your mother is upset or not, Simba? I'm sure that you would have seen her to tell her… right?" he prodded.

"My uncle, Scar, would have told them all by now."

"Don't you know?"

"I haven't exactly…" Simba began, looking down sadly at his paws, "… been home since it happened."

"Haven't been home!" Malka exclaimed. "But why not? You're mother should be devastated and sick! Losing both her king and son is… is…" He could not even finish.

Simba raised his chin slightly. "I have decided to go into exile, Malka. I cannot return home. I have no choice."

"What? That's stupid," Malka spat, his eyes, although, were filled with concern. "You can't live on your own like this. I mean, look at you! How long has it been since you've eaten?"

"A few days," Simba admitted quietly. At that moment, as if on cue, his belly emitted a loud, rebellious growl. A shudder shook Simba's weak body as he sat down heavily.

Malka opened his mouth, but nothing, not even a pitiful squeak, came out. Instead, he turned and began to pad away. Glancing over his shoulder, he explained, "I've gotta get some food in you, Simba. If I didn't, you might fall over!"

Simba managed a small smile in gratitude. "Thanks," he said, settling down with his trembling chin on his paws.

A few long moments passed before Malka returned, a sizeable chunk of zebra meat sandwiched between his jaws. He set it down within Simba's reach. "Here," he said, "it was caught just at sunset."

Blinking to his friend gratuitously, Simba tore into the meat ravenously. If it were only a day before, he wouldn't have even touched the food, too ill of mind to bother. But now, his hunger as sharp as a falcon's talon, he couldn't even consider giving up this delight. Even while he gorged, he felt his energy returning, surging through him like a powerful river.

"You alright now, Simba?" Malka asked, lowering his head and moving close enough to Simba for their pelts to brush.

"Better," Simba replied, running a moistened paw over his nose to clean his muzzle.

"You do look better," conceded Malka, taking note of the bit of life that had returned to Simba's eyes. After pause, he asked, "Are you ever going back to Pride Rock?"

Simba shook his head. "I can't face my mother."

Malka blinked confusedly. "How come? I would think that she'd be glad to see you."

Simba looked away. "She'd hate me."

"Why would she hate you? She's your own mother!" Malka reasoned, still completely baffled and bewildered.

"It was my fault," Simba quavered. "It is my fault my father's dead."

Malka gasped. "How could it be your fault?"

"How could it notbe my fault," Simba muttered darkly.

"What do you mean?"

"I was down in a gorge, waiting for something wonderful that he had planned for me. A lizard crawled past me while I was sitting there, so I decided to practice my roar on it. My uncle suggested it…"

Sensing that Simba had stopped, lost in thought, Malka pressed, "Go on. I'm listening."

Simba then glanced at Malka before averting his eyes once more. He said, "When I was roaring, the wildebeest that graze above the gorge poured down the side… they were startled, and I think it was because of me. My growl was pretty loud down there. I would have been trampled if I hadn't climbed up an old tree."

"And then what?" Malka asked in a hushed voice, his eyes widening.

Simba seemed to smile. "Through the dust, Zazu, my father's advisor, told me that my father was on the way. And he was right; it was difficult for him to get to me, but he did it. After that, I remember him setting me down on a ledge, and he would have made it too if he hadn't been torn away by one of the wildebeest… or hadn't fallen from the side of that cliff into the stampede."

"Wow," Malka breathed in complete awe and respect. Dipping his head, he said, "King Mufasa was a great king. I hope that his replacement is up to taking his place." With this, Malka spoke slowly, trying to meet Simba's eye as he dropped his obvious hint.

"My uncle will take care of the Pride Lands, I have no doubt," Simba replied, emotion lacking in his voice as he spoke. It was a fact, not an opinion.

Malka shook his head, his eyes wide and serious as he stood up. "No, Simba, you can't do that! You alone are the heir to the throne. You must go back!" He then stopped suddenly. Narrowing his eyes, he said, "Why are you leaving your whole world behind for the unknown?"

"I already told you—I'm going into exile," Simba replied, his tone matter-of-fact.

"Why?"

Simba's tail lashed. "Can't you see how responsible I feel for my father's death, Malka?"

"To me, it sounded like he died a noble death, racing to save his one and only son, Simba," Malka responded as he lowered his chin until I rested on his chest. "There is no reason for—"

"If he hadn'tsaved me, he would still be alive!" Simba's gaze was fierce upon Malka, who found himself shrinking back as a result of Simba's outburst. "It's my fault he's dead."

A long silence ensued this comment. The thought of his friend trying to convince him endlessly of something that could not be changed flickered in Simba's mind, distasteful in every way. It was to his great surprise, however, when the honey-furred cub unexpectedly said in acceptance, "Is there any way that I could get you to stay for a while? Before you have to go?"

Half-heartedly, Simba said, blinking, "If you promise to not tell your family why I'm here… I will stay. At least until I come up with a plan."

Malka nodded understandingly. "I won't tell." Sitting down pointedly and raising his chin, the young lion tapped his chest with the tip of his tail. "Cross my heart and hope to die," he said.

Simba had to stop himself from laughing, the corners of his mouth twitching. "But don't hope too much, okay?"

Malka smiled back. "Don't worry," he said, and then added with a flick of his tail, "C'mon, let's find you some place to sleep. There's still a while 'til dawn, and there's nobody who'll be bothered by your presence."

It would have been a lie for Simba to say that he didn't feel a bit lighter after he had told Malka of his problem, although still unsolved. He followed after his friend, into the heart of his pride's camp. Creeping over the paws and tails of sleeping lionesses and their cubs, Simba and Malka made for the spot where Malka often slept.

"Wait," Malka whispered as he halted. Simba watched as the River Pride cub flipped the tip of his tail across the face of a slumbering lioness that Simba had before met. With a wave of alarm, Simba realized that she was Malka's mother.

"Malka!" Simba hissed in a loud whisper. "I thought you prom—"

"Wait," Malka interrupted, flashing a meaningful glance at his golden-furred friend.

Malka's mother stirred within moments. Blinking sleepily, she asked, her voice groggy, "What is it, my son?"

"Simba's come. He'll be spending the night with us," Malka explained, brushing his muzzle against his mother's in a gesture of affection.

The lioness's ear pricked in curiosity. "You traveled by night, Simba?"

Simba nodded. "Yes."

"Is everything okay?"

Simba couldn't help but hesitate. "Yes," he lied finally. "I just thought I'd come to visit." After a brief pause, he added, "My mother knows."

Smiling drowsily, Malka's mother then nodded, purring. "I hope that your stay here is nice, Simba." She then closed her eyes, yawned cavernously, and finally settled back down.

Malka motioned for Simba to follow with a jerk of his head. When they were out of earshot, padding side by side, Malka said, "You should have trusted me, Simba. I would never give you away, especially now, after you lied to my mother."

A ripple of guilt came over Simba. "I'm sorry," he murmured. "I just feel that I have so much to lose.

From Malka's gaze, Simba could tell that his friend wasn't going to try to figure him out. It wasn't out of arrogance, but out respectful humility.

Both cubs padded near a pile of other cubs, snuggled up tightly together in a mound of tails, ears, and legs. None of them seemed to sense their presence, continuing to sleep soundly with the occasional snort or dreamy mew, as Malka and Simba curled up together against a boulder face.

"Are you going to be okay?" Malka asked as he ran his tongue comfortingly between Simba's ears.

Simba curled his tail up close to his body and rested his chin on his paws. "You shouldn't worry about me, Malka. I'll be fine," he replied.

Malka continued to wash Simba's ruffled and dirty fur, his rhythmic motions lulling Simba into sleep. At first, he thought that he would never find sleep; however, within moments, he had drifted into darkness. He expected to find himself terrified by nightmares, but they never came, thankfully. Through the night, he slept solidly, not waking until midday when Malka pressed a paw into his side. Simba stretched and yawned.

"Sleep well?" Malka asked.

"Yes, thanks," Simba replied through another yawn. He did feel refreshed after having a decent sleep and food the night before.

"Do you want to go play? My pridemates are off throwing clumps of grass at each other." As he spoke, Malka's gaze was hopeful.

Simba at first opened his mouth the refuse, but then he considered it. "Why not," he said, forcing a smile.

To Simba, the look on Malka's face was priceless. "Great!" the honey-furred cub exclaimed. Turning, he called Simba to follow him. "This way!"

"Hi, Simba," one little, creamy furred cub called in greeting as Malka and Simba pounded up to her group.

All the other cubs looked up. Many echoed the first cub's greeting, but one cub asked innocently, "Why are you here?"

Malka answered for Simba. "Just visiting." Shrugging indifferently, he then said, "Let's play."

The cubs then played happily until sunset when their mothers and aunts brought home the remains of the day's kill. Simba ate then too, snacking on a piece that Malka had torn personally from the carcass so that he wouldn't have to fight for his meal.

A few days such as this passed, leaving Simba content and nearly as happy as he had been before his father's death. But, when a member of his pride showed up unexpectedly, bad memories flooded back.

"Simba, you must come with me," Malka urged. "Right now."

Simba had been busy pawing lazily at a rock when Malka had rushed up to him. "Okay," he asked, his eyes shining with curiosity.

Malka led Simba behind a bush, where he parted the branches just enough for them to be able to look out. What Simba saw was Zazu, speaking to Malka's father, the king of the River Pride.

"Mufasa will be remembered in all of our hearts, Zazu," the king began. "He will be dearly missed."

"Yes," Zazu replied, his head dipping in respect and sorrow. "Sarabi and the rest of the lionesses are deeply saddened by his tragic passing."

"Send them my condolences, Zazu," the king replied. He then sat straighter. "How is Simba taking this? I'm sure he's got mixed feelings about this; being both heart-broken and honored to take his father's place."

"Yeah,"Simba thought with a stabbing pang of regret. "If only"

Zazu fluttered his wings, as if he had grown awkward. "I'm sorry to tell you that Simba is dead."

Malka's father made a face. "Did you just say that Simba's dead?"

"Uh-oh." Malka's ears twitched as he looked on.

"Yes," Zazu began. "There was no body, but Scar told us that he was no longer, and the fact that he has not returned home in days confirms this. No cub as young as he was could survive for this long by himself.

The River Pride king let out a hearty laugh. "I will tell you, my friend, that Simba is alive and well. He's been here for those several days."

"Is this a joke?" Zazu asked, his feathers ruffling. "And if he were here, why didn't you know about Mufasa's death?"

"Well, he just didn't tell us, I suppose," the king replied slowly. His eyes gained a puzzled glint. "But yes, he has been here. I could have my son Malka fetch him."

"Y-yes," Zazu stuttered. "That would be good."

Nodding, the king turned. At the top of his voice, he called out his son's name. "Malka!"

"What do we do?" Malka asked, turning to Simba. "I won't do anything that you don't want me to."

Simba's first thought was to run away so that his secret would be safe. Nobody needed to know that he was alive. It would make Malka's father look like a mad liar. But then he thought that if he were never to return home, his mother at the very least deserved to know that he wasn't dead, but instead… alive.

"We should tell him," he told Malka finally, rising to his paws. Just then, Malka's father began calling for his son once more. "He should know."

Malka nodded. Leading the way, the two princes went around the bush into the view of Zazu and Malka's father.

"What is it, Father?" Malka said, although he knew why he had been called.

"Zazu tells me that Mufasa is dead, Simba as well," the king began, his eyes flickering to Simba. "If Simba really is dead, why is he here, standing before us?"

Malka opened his mouth to explain, but Simba beat him to it before even one syllable could escape him. "I'll explain. Could I talk to Zazu alone?" he asked, meeting the king's eyes.

The king glanced from Simba, to his son, to Zazu, and then back to Simba. "I suppose. It would only be proper," he concluded. Motioning with his tail, he added, "Come Malka. Let's leave them in peace."

Once the two River Pride lions were gone, Zazu approached Simba. The blue hornbill looked as if he had seen a ghost. "Why are you here, Simba?" he asked quietly. Resting his wings on Simba's shoulders while his eyes glittered with disbelief, he continued. "Don't you realize how sick your mother is right now?"

"Of course I do," Simba said, looking down guiltily at his paws. "Any mother would be."

"Then why aren't you at home?"

Simba was silent.

"Why aren't you at Pride Rock, Simba," Zazu repeated.

"I've done something terrible, Zazu," Simba murmured, on the edge of tears. "I can't face her."

"Nala misses you desperately," Zazu commented tactfully.

"She does?" Simba asked, looking up at his father's advisor. The thought of his decision's impact on the young, light-furred lioness hadn't even crossed his mind. Now, it made him feel as if his heart had broken in two.

"Come home, Simba."

Simba's ears lowered as he looked away, partly in shame. "I-I can't… I can't go home," he replied in a voice hardly audible.

Zazu hopped back in surprise. "What? That's preposterous! Of course you will!" he exclaimed.

Simba shook his head. "Zazu…"

"Your pride needs you!"squawked Zazu.

"Zazu…"

"What happened to 'I can't wait to be king'!"

"Zazu!"

"What?" Zazu snapped.

Simba swallowed. "Please don't tell them that you found me."

Narrowing his eyes as he stared levelly at the young prince, Zazu said, "Why shouldn't I?"

"Because I did something terrible," Simba replied, holding back a sob. "Please believe me; I can't go back. I can't face my mother. I can't…"

Zazu seemed to be lost for words for several long moments that carried on forever, at least for Simba. He waited, holding his breath until the bird spoke.

"Simba, you're not making any sense…" Zazu began. "And you need to come home. You are the rightful heir."

"Scar will take care of the pride," Simba replied tartly.

Zazu shook his head. "I'm not so sure of that."

"Even if I went back, he'd still have to rule until I was old enough."

Sighing half-heartedly, Zazu said in an agreeable tone, "Yes, I do suppose… but nonetheless, you should return ho—"

"No, Zazu," Simba interrupted, his tone determined, "I will not return. Nothing you can say will change my mind."

"You can't be that selfish."

The fur on Simba's nape rose. He was beginning to grow angry. Why couldn't Zazu just leave him alone? After all, Malka had realized that it was no use, however reluctant he was to.

All of a sudden, Zazu seemed to sense this. In Simba's shadow, the hornbill drew back, cowering, his eyes narrowed in displeasure. Taking the step back, Zazu warned darkly, "I will not allow you to do this. I will tell your mother, and she will come get you. You shall remain here until then. I will make sure of it."

"No." Simba's eyes glittered with both defiance and sadness. Zazu was forcing him to make a choice to leave. He could never go home, and he could no longer stay here; he had to run.

Nodding, as if accepting the challenged, Zazu then took flight, soaring off in the direction that Malka and his father had left in. Simba knew that it would only take the bird moments to find the king and tell him to hold Simba. Desperately looking around, he broke into a brisk, ground-slapping run that took him in the opposite direction. No matter what, he had to get out of there. He was in so much distress that he didn't notice Malka until he was right in his path. The cub had separated from his father.

"Where are you going?" Malka asked, his eyes wide.

"Don't try to stop me," Simba growled as he slowed his pace a bit, but did not stop. Did the River Pride prince know of Zazu's demand?

Malka, who met Simba's pace, tilted his head. "Why would I stop you, Simba? You're coming back right?"

He didn't know. "No," Simba said, feeling somewhat relieved, and yet disappointed. A part of him wished to be forced to stay. He even stopped running, facing Malka. "Zazu has ordered me to stay until my mother comes to get me. I'm leaving now before your father catches me and holds me."

Malka looked in the direction Simba was heading. There was nothing but a long expanse of scrubland and scattered trees. Turning his eyes back to Simba, he said, "You'll never survive out there, you know."

Simba wanted to tell Malka that he truly didn't care, but he knew that he couldn't tell his friend this. Partially telling the truth, since at that moment, a strange, calming feeling came upon him, he said, "I know what could happen; I'm no idiot. But… I think that everything will be alright." Pausing for a breath, Simba added, "I'm pretty sure."

Malka stared at Simba, his face expressionless. Finally he said, "I hope for your sake that you are right, and hope that I see you again." He seemed to force and smile.

A small smile creased Simba's muzzle. His was true "Thank you, Malka. I will never forget you." Padding away from Malka, he set his gaze forward. It wasn't until he was some distance away that he turned around to see Malka, still sitting in vigilance. Neither Malka nor Simba knew that the honey-furred prince was the last lion that Simba would see for years. Before him was the beginning of a journey that would last until his return home once more to avenge his father's death, one of which had been instigated by Scar.

Epilogue

Zazu flew home the moment he found out that Simba had run, successfully escaping. He couldn't wait, nevertheless, to inform his queen, Sarabi, that her son lived, no matter where he was located. After all, it wouldn't be that hard to find the cub since he could only go so far on his own.

However, this was never meant to be. That night, Scar invited the hyenas to the Pride Lands, calling it a peaceable new era. At first, this gave Zazu the ambition to tell Sarabi of Simba. In fact, he was on his way to tell the grieving queen of the truth when he stumbled upon Scar as he was speaking to his new mate, Zira. Scar, in a sinister tone, openly discussed his reign, telling Zira that now that Mufasa and Simba were out of the way there would be no boundaries. Alarmed, Zazu realized that if he had brought Simba back, he would have been greeted by death. But of course, Zazu had no clue that Scar had purposefully killed Mufasa, but he did know that Scar at this point wouldn't have stopped at anything to make himself king. This was only confirmed when Scar began eradicating the young cubs that Mufasa had fathered, driving out any other competition with the help of his hyena minions. Thusly, for season upon season, Zazu, out of fear, held his tongue and the secret that he kept.

The End