He Lives In You
Simba ran. The downpour came fast and frigid, and his wet mane clung to his fur like the grass on his muddy paws. He passed crocodiles and hippos keeping safe under the river. He saw caracals and leopards staying dry below tree branches. Simba was alone in the storm. It was raining harder than he had ever seen in the Pridelands, turning the fields to wetlands.
He raced past the Zuberi River, the water levels rising, and Five Stones, unfazed by the weather. The king ran across his kingdom, never taking in its majesty the way he used to, never stopping for breath until he had pushed himself to his limit.
When his legs felt close to breaking, Simba took refuge under a line of acacia trees, panting. Just as he was about to carry on, someone called out to him.
"My king! Please, I need help!" The source of the cry was a zebra foal, trapped under an tree trunk knocked over by the storm. "I don't want to die!"
To die. Simba stared at the injured zebra in terror. He slowly backed away, and the animal began crying louder, more desperately, until he could not stand it any longer. Simba ran.
His legs carried him to the edge of a cliff in the farthest region of the Pridelands. Simba's paw slipped, but he caught himself before he plummeted, knocking a pebble down. He watched it fall to the bottom of the Gorge.
Simba came to stand in the middle of the great canyon. He had come here before looking for his son, and here he was again. The cliff walls towered overhead. They were closing in around him, and any moment now, hundreds of wildebeest would come stampeding towards him. He felt the ground shaking.
Suddenly, there was a flash of lightning. It illuminated the Gorge, and a few seconds later, thunder echoed across the sky. "Father?" The clap of thunder sounded exactly like his father's roar. "Are you there? Can you hear me?"
Simba waited, gazing at the dark sky and the rain poured down. He knew that soon, very soon, the storm clouds would form in the shape of his father. Mufasa would tell him what to do. Mufasa would help him.
He waited, but his father did not appear in the clouds. There was more lightning and another bout of thunder, but it did not sound like Mufasa's roar this time.
"You're not there. Of course you're not there." He hung his head. Water from his mane streamed down his face, clung to his whiskers, dripped to the ground. "If you were, my son wouldn't be dead. I prayed to you, didn't I?"
The storm seemed to clear after that. The rain lessened, there were no more thunder claps, and the gray sky seemed a little brighter. Simba sighed in relief.
Night turned to day in an instant. Lightning cracked from the heavens, making Simba jump in fright. The lightning lasted longer than before, but there was no accompanying thunder. The sky was lit in silence. When Simba turned his eyes upward, he saw a figure in the light, a lion clinging to the edge of the cliff.
"Father?" He watched the figure, horror-struck but unable to look away. "Father, no! Hold on, I'm coming – I'll save you!"
The lion was thrown from the Gorge, falling into the canyon like the pebble Simba had knocked off a moment ago. He fell to his death, fell to the stampede raging below. Lightning flashed again.
Kopa was falling through the air, trampled below the wildebeests' hooves, screaming for his father to save him. I don't want to die! He saw his son's face for a second before a hoof smashed it in.
"No... Not Kopa, not again..." The stampede was charging towards him, overtaking him. Simba shut his eyes before impact. "You took him."
"Took what, hmm? What has been taken?"
Simba knew the voice well, but that did not stop him gasping in shock. An old mandrill, gray-furred with white hair and a colorful face, leaning on a walking stick, was suddenly behind him. "Rafiki, what are you doing here?"
He waved a long finger. "I asked you first!"
"My... My son. Kopa was taken from me."
"Taken? I heard he died."
Simba glared at the monkey, who grinned at him in return. "Please, Rafiki... I can't deal with this. Not now. I know you want to help, but please... leave me alone."
Rafiki shrugged. "As you wish."
He bounded away from the lion, moving with the speed of a monkey a fifth his age. Rafiki stopped before a bare tree trunk in the midst of the Gorge that had cracked and fallen over years ago. "Ooh, what a lovely spot!" He climbed up the broken tree, leaned back, and kicked up his feet.
Simba felt his whole body quaking. "Don't sit there."
"But why not? I like this tree. Quite comfortable for a poor old monkey whose back is so achy. Arthritis. It will come for you in time."
"You can sit anywhere else," Simba seethed. "This tree is where – "
"This tree is where you found your father's body. This canyon is where you watched your father die." Rafiki jumped down from the thin, broken tree and leaned on his walking stick. "But a tree is just a tree, and a canyon just a canyon."
"They're more than that." Simba closed his eyes. "For me, they are."
"But why? Why do you feel pain when you come here, hmm?"
"Because I lost my father here! Of course I – "
His words were cut short by a sudden blow to the head by Rafiki's stick.
"This is a place like any other place. You cannot give it power over you," Rafiki said, holding his stick out triumphantly. Simba rubbed his head and gave the monkey a sour look. Rafiki sighed. "Oh, my king. What you are is afraid."
"And what exactly am I afraid of? Besides your stick, that is."
Rafiki chuckled. "Why, the same thing everyone else fears: death."
The king gave him a puzzled look, then turned away to gaze out at the Gorge. His eyes flickered up to a spot on the edge of the cliff. "When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass. And so we are all connected in the great Circle of Life." Simba looked back at him. "I'm not afraid of death."
"Pretty words to say. Harder to believe." The rain was coming down heavier than before, drenching the open Gorge. Rafiki crawled under the broken tree and beckoned Simba to join him. "Do you believe them?"
Simba squeezed under the tree. It did not provide much cover from the rain, but Rafiki did not seem to care. Simba nodded and said, "I know death is a natural part of our lives, the same as birth and having cubs and growing old."
"You know it, but you do not know it," Rafiki sighed. He flicked one of the gourds on his stick absentmindedly. "Was Kopa's death natural, as you say?"
Simba gaped at him. "He was murdered! There's nothing natural about that, and don't tell me there is. Zira took my son away from me."
"Who took him? Zira or your father? I am getting confused."
He growled at Rafiki, then brushed past him to stand out in the rain. Simba sat with his back turned. "You'll catch your death of cold, my king! Hee hee hee!"
"My son's death," Simba muttered, eyes shut, "was not natural."
When he opened his eyes again, Rafiki was sitting directly in front of him. He placed a hand on the lion's shoulder. "It is hard losing someone you love. Harder still to lose a child. Kopa died before his time, yes, but all death is part of the Circle of Life, just as you said. Even murder."
"Rafiki, I... I just can't believe that."
"What do you believe in, hmm?"
He stepped back from the mandrill, staring at him but saying nothing. Simba looked to the night sky, but the storm clouds were dark and heavy, raining down on the land. They blocked the stars from view. Tears stung at Simba's eyes. "I don't know, okay? Is that so wrong?"
The sky lit up again. Bolts shot across the sky, thunder clapped, and the downpour became more torrential. Part of Simba worried about the waterhole flooding and endangering the herds, but another part remembered that he had run away and no longer cared.
"Come. Something you must see."
Simba frowned but followed Rafiki through the Gorge, disregarding the storm rains. The ground of the canyon was muddy, splashing under his paws, but Rafiki brought him to a small opening in the side of the cliff. There was just enough room for an adult lion to squeeze into the cave.
It was pitch-black inside, but Simba followed the sound of Rafiki's voice ahead of him, and eventually they came into a larger clearing within the cave. There was an underground pool at his paws, and the surface of the water shone with reflected light. Simba looked up but saw no hole in the cave ceiling.
Simba leaned his head out and saw his reflection in the glowing water. His face was drawn and weary, with dark bags under his eyes and a messy, unwashed mane. Rafiki placed his stick in the pool and stirred the water, distorting his reflection, until it reformed. A different lion was staring back at him.
"My father," he muttered, looking away from the pool. "We've done this before. I remember him just fine."
"Your father? No, my king. Look again."
He rolled his eyes and turned back to the pool of water. Mufasa's face was reflected on the surface, his strong jaw and golden fur, his stern eyes and stocky shoulders, and the red mane that parted to either side of his face... but the lion Simba now saw had a longer tuft of hair in the middle. His mane was more brown than red, and there was a glimmer in his eyes, a childlike wonder that Simba loved.
"R-Rafiki... is this...?"
"You know him, don't you?"
"Kopa," he whispered, gazing at the reflection on the water. His son was fully grown before him, a handsome king that looked nearly identical to his grandfather. Kopa smiled at him.
Simba ran from the water, ran from Rafiki and the reflection of his adult son. He squeezed out of the cave and fled into the rain. The weather had only worsened over the Gorge. Simba had never seen a storm of such magnitude in the Pridelands before. It had all come on so quickly.
He was standing in the middle of the canyon, soaked to the bone, when Rafiki emerged from the cave. The mandrill hobbled over to him, chuckling softly.
"I know what you're going to say," Simba mumbled.
"I am all ears, my king."
"He lives in you," he whispered. His head was hung low, and his wet mane clung to his face, hiding his eyes. "But it doesn't feel that way. It feels like Kopa's gone forever." Simba shook his head, parting his hair. His eyes were brimming with tears. "What am I doing wrong? Why do I feel like this?"
"I already told you. You are afraid."
Simba gave an incredulous laugh. "How can I be afraid of something I've seen so much of?" He suddenly grew quiet. "My father. My mother. My son." Simba glared at the old monkey. His temple was throbbing, his voice rising. "They don't live in me. They're dead."
Rafiki shrugged and walked away from him. He went to one side of the Gorge and began climbing up, reaching a ledge a good distance off the ground. Simba was left to stand in the middle of the canyon and roll his eyes at the old monkey.
He spotted a pebble in the mud, the same one he had knocked off earlier. It was beginning to shake. Other rocks and twigs on the floor of the canyon were shaking. Simba felt the ground move beneath his paws, and for a second, he thought an earthquake was about to rock the Pridelands. "Rafiki, what's going on?"
"This is quite a storm, my king. And you know the logs damming the water farther along?" Rafiki pointed towards the end of the Gorge where the shaking was the loudest. "I may have moved a log or two out of place."
"Wait, you mean it's – it's going to flood?"
"How nice and high up I am."
"Are you trying to kill me?"
Rafiki looked away innocently.
Simba gasped. The water had rushed into view, dark as night, carrying broken logs and massive rocks. It flooded towards him, stampeding through the Gorge like a thousand wildebeests running for their lives. Simba made a run for the rocky cliff, but the walls were steep and lions were not made for climbing.
Rafiki grinned at the king from his ledge.
"Let it take you," he called out. "Death is a natural part of life."
"I can't just stand here! I'll drown!" Simba cried. "Rafiki, help me!"
"No, my king. Help yourself."
"I – I can't! I'm afraid!"
The flood was sweeping closer to him, a massive wave that would break him, drown him. Simba wanted to run, but he would never get to safety in time. His heart pounded in his chest. He heard the hooves that would stomp him, crush him.
Let it take you. His eyes were fixed on the torrent that would surely kill him. Simba felt the force of the water before it struck. Was this how Kopa had felt? Had he been this afraid? Don't be.
He closed his eyes and was swept away in an instant. Simba was thrown through the Gorge, carried by the flood, falling this way and that. His body hit rock, hit the ground, and when Simba dared to open his eyes, he saw nothing. Blackness.
Simba could not see which way was up. His sense of direction was thrown. He was holding his breath. Simba's body was swept over a waterfall, and he was falling, falling through the water, landing in the river that lay below the Gorge. He was no longer being carried, as the flood waters had leveled out over the land and left him sinking to the bottom of the river.
Simba could swim. He swam all the time in the jungle oasis. Now, Simba could not make his paws work. Every instinct he had urged him to swim to the surface, but something was stopping him. Something kept him sinking.
Was this death? It was peaceful. His last few breaths were leaving him, and Simba felt like he could just close his eyes and drift away, go to sleep below the water. Why had he ever been afraid of this?
Maybe he was already gone, because he could see Kopa floating above him, swimming up towards the surface. "Kopa?" He sent up air bubbles. Simba kicked off from the riverbed and followed his son. If he was dying, it was painless. There was a light from above that Kopa swam towards, and Simba went after him.
He broke the surface, gasping for air. The sky was clear, not a cloud in sight. The light he had seen underwater was the full moon. Simba pulled himself onto the riverbank and collapsed in the white sand.
Rafiki was standing near him, his fur completely dry. When Simba's vision cleared, he saw that the trees were all standing upright. The ground was dirt, not mud, and the river was calm, not flooded. If there had ever been a storm over the land, he saw no sign of it now. "Rafiki... what happened?"
"You tell me. I was sitting here, eating this lovely banana." Rafiki held out said banana for him to see. "Then you wash up out of nowhere!"
Simba stumbled to his paws, dripping water all over the beach. "But we were just – it was storming – I don't understand!"
"Well, of course you don't understand!" Rafiki said this as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "But are you afraid?"
"...No, I don't think I am."
"Excellent. Life is short, my king. No time to be afraid."
Simba was quiet for a moment. "I almost died."
"Yes, I gathered as much."
"It was like the stampede all over again, but I didn't run. I let the flood take me. When I was at the bottom of the river, I wanted to die. It felt nice."
"Oh? And what made you surface, hmm?"
"Kopa," Simba said with a grin. "He was there with me, under the water."
Once again, Rafiki struck him on the head with his stick.
"Don't talk nonsense! Kopa isn't in the river," the old monkey laughed. "He is here." He first pointed the banana to Simba's heart. "And he is there." He then pointed it to the stars in the night sky.
Simba burst into tears. Rafiki pulled the lion into an embrace and patted his back. "There, there, my king. What is troubling you?" Simba turned his gaze upward, sniffing and rubbing his eyes with the back of his paw.
"I never told him," he choked out. "He kept asking me to, but I – I never made time for him. I was too busy being king. And now he's..."
"Nothing to cry about. Whatever you have to say, you can tell him still." Rafiki smiled and placed his hands on Simba's shoulders. "Kopa will listen."
"Well, son, you asked," Simba whispered, laying down in the field of grass, "so here we are. Just you and me." There was no one else in sight, but Simba's eyes were fixed on the stars in the heavens.
"When I was your age, I disobeyed my father once. Well, more than once. But this time, I put myself and your mother in danger," the king said. His eyes veered out across the grassland, and he remembered the feel of rolling through the field, playing with his father. Just the two of them. "My father's father told him this, and he told it to me that night. Now I'm telling it to you, son."
Simba took a deep breath, gazed up to the sky, and began. "Look at the stars. The Great Kings of the Past look down on us from those stars." Tears were welling up in his eyes. "So whenever you feel alone, just remember that those kings will always be there to guide you. And so will I."
He sobbed quietly for a moment, but he never turned his eyes away from the stars, not once. When he was done crying, Simba smiled. "I miss you, Kopa."
"Simba, thank goodness! I've been so worried about you!" Nala embraced him the moment he set his paw in the Royal Den. "When you ran away, I – I thought you might... I didn't know what to think."
"I'm sorry for leaving like that," he nodded, then looked up at her and grinned, "but I'm glad I did." Simba glanced out at the night sky. It was calm and clear. "One question, though... Was it ever storming tonight?"
Nala frowned. "No, of course not. Why would you – "
"It's not important." He licked her cheek and nuzzled his head against hers. "I love you so much. I'm sorry for all the trouble I've been, refusing to be king. It was wrong of me."
"You were depressed," she said, shaking her head. "And I don't blame you."
"Well, you should. The Pridelands have been suffering, and I should have done something about it. I caused everyone so much pain. Little wonder those lionesses abandoned the pride."
"They're traitors. You can't excuse that."
"Maybe, but they were right. I am an incompetent king. At least, I have been," Simba said, sighing wearily, but then he looked her in the eyes. "But that all changes now. I know I can't win our subjects over with a speech, so I'll take actions to regain their trust. It will be slow, but they deserve everything I can give them."
"They believed in you before," Nala said, "and they'll do it again."
"I hope so. But I'm not just changing for them. You deserve a better king than what I've been," he assured her. Simba leaned down to her stomach and touched his nose on her rounded belly. "And so do you. Your daddy won't let anything bad happen to you. I promise."
"Glad to hear it," Nala beamed, licking his cheek in return. She then pulled away and looked him over, her eyebrows creasing with worry. "Simba, you look so... old. You seem weary."
His nose appeared more purple than pink, and there was a constant touch of gray around his eyes. Simba's fur seemed to have dulled in color. His long mane, once bright red, had grown darker with age. "I guess age catches up with everyone," Simba chuckled. "You're right. I am weary. But I'm happy, too."
Nala's eyes fell to the ground. "I... I don't know if I can be happy again. I feel like a part of myself is gone. Does that make sense?"
"More than you know. But it won't always be like that," Simba said. He wrapped her in a tight embrace and nuzzled her neck. They were alone in the cave, the king and queen. Just the two of them. Simba whispered, "Even those who are gone are with us as we go on."
AUTHOR'S NOTE: And from here on out, the story segues into Lion King 2. This chapter was conceived as a "healing Simba" story after his struggle with depression, and who better for the job than Rafiki? Only by facing death can Simba understand and cope with it. Water has always signified a rebirth or rejuvenation, so that gave me the idea to have the storm cause a flood that Rafiki unleashes on him (and yes, Rafiki is strong enough to move the dam logs out of place). This chapter marks the conclusion of Kopa's storyline.
Thanks for reading! Reviews are always appreciated.