Disclaimer: Disney owns the exclusive North American rights to The Lion King.

Chapter 20: A Bright Future

As the sun made its way over the Outlands, Vitani was driven from the entrance of the termite mound to escape the suffocating heat. She had managed to stop her crying, reminding herself that not only would that be a futile endeavor, but it was exceedingly dangerous to waste water of any kind in a place where the only liquid came in the form of a grimy crocodile-infested river on the far side of the Outlands. As she moved farther inside the structure she once called home, her dark thoughts made themselves known once again. You were warned. They hissed, taking inhumane pleasure in the pain of their host. You were warned to stay away from him, but you decided to follow your heart. What have you to show for it besides a very real threat to your life and a temporary, if not permanent, exile? Your little threat didn't hold much weight in the grand scheme of things. If Kopa should tell his father that you played a paw in his untimely departure from the Pridelands, what do you think will happen to you?

Vitani sighed and came to stand in the center of the mound, where Kovu's old cradle rested, and a small circle of light from the time Zira had tore a hole in the ceiling flittered down around her and offered a short reprieve from the otherwise gloomy, ominous shadows dancing on the walls. However, she shadows of her mind continued their song. He should've killed you. You know he should've killed you. An eye for an eye; that's what Zira always said. And you? Well, you're her daughter. Did you really think you could escape the truth; that if you ran far enough you could hide from who you are? You've proven time and time again that you follow in Zira's paw prints. Everything else was just a game you played with yourself, a delusion you created so as not to face reality. Now you have no other choice. In revealing to Kopa your true identity, you were finally called your true title. Murderer. Traitor. Destroyer. Outsider. You can never escape it, you will never be loved.

"Shut up!" Vitani heaved a roar of frustration and pain from deep with her chest, made only louder by the acoustics and echoes of the walls and rocks. And as the sound was carried too far from its source and began to die out, she faintly heard another creature stir within the darkened corridors. She strained her ears listening for the sound, while at the same time slipping into a defensive posture and silently slinking deeper into the mound. Mice squeaked and scurried out of her path as she passed, her sharp eyes scanning the area for any sign that someone else had taken residence. Finding none, she chalked it up to exhaustion and depression and was just about to return to the circle of sunlight when something knocked her off her feet and pinned her tightly to the ground. Her eyes wide, she mentally rebuked herself for not paying attention and trusting the skills that served her well in the past, before rapidly assessing the situation. The creature was larger than her, seemed feline in shape, and had bright glowing green eyes that shone vividly the darkness around them…wait a second. "Kovu?" She called out.

The weight of the animal was lifted and she quickly got to her feet and prepared to attack in case she was wrong. Better to be safe then sorry, after all. She only relaxed when she heard the confused question from her brother. "Tani?"

Kopa returned to Pride Rock just as the hunting party arrived with breakfast, but he didn't join the others going to meet them. For some reason, he didn't feel all that hungry at the moment. This didn't go unnoticed by Sauni, who approached Kopa with a hunk of meat in her jaws soon after. As she set it down she asked, "Why didn't you come to breakfast?"

He shrugged uncaringly. "I'm not that hungry I guess."

"Kopa ever since I've known you, you've been hungry. There's at least one whole Pride of lions that'll back me up on this. What's wrong?"

"Nothing. Don't worry about it."

"I'm worried about you."

"Well, I'm fine. Just a little," he gave a short fake yawn, "tired. I was up a good part of the night."

"And that's fine?"

"Yes!" He sighed and got to his feet. "Thanks for the den service, and the concern, but I have to go. There are some things I have to figure out. Alone." He left the cave, and Sauni, and went up to the summit of Pride Rock. He always enjoyed it up there, he could see everywhere in the Pridelands from that height and it was often a good quiet place to collect one's thoughts. Which was what he needed right now; his were all over the place. He knew he should feel angry, and he did. He felt righteous anger at being betrayed all those years ago, nearly being killed by the lioness he loved because in her family's mind that would be just compensation for the death of a lion he never knew, who was dead before he was even born. But that was old anger. This was new anger. This was totally, completely, beyond a shadow of doubt, nearly out of control fury. Fury at being lied to from the day he met "Ujasiri", fury for ever trusting her and at his own foolishness for not recognizing who she really was in all that time, but mostly he felt fury at himself because somewhere inside, he still loved her.

It disgusted him. After everything she did to him, all the times she hurt him, the last thing he wanted to do was love her. And yet he did. Try as he might, he could not deny that there was still love there. The trust was gone as if it had never been, but the love remained. Could there be love without trust? Kopa didn't know. He didn't know why, when he thought of her his heart still sped up as though no wrong had been committed against him. He didn't know why, when she begged him for a second chance, begged him to believe her, he wanted nothing more than to accept her words and forgive her. But she didn't deserve it. But then why, when he had nearly moved her to tears and the light left her eyes once and for all, did it feel like he had just committed some unforgivable sin?

Kopa's eyes fell on the horizon, following the path Vitani had taken out of the Pridelands. Far in the distance, on the edge of the world it seemed, a pillar of orange jutted up against a blue sky. He'd heard some of the lionesses mention that place—the Outlands. It seemed likely that's where Vitani ran off to, as she only had to wait a few more days until the Kuua Pride left, and when that happened they could both get back to their normal lives and forget all about each other. What Kopa didn't know, was that a certain mystic monkey had no intention of letting that happen.

Rafiki looked mournfully at the paintings on his tree. A perfectly good plan lay in ruins because the two most stubborn lions in all of Africa decided they'd rather fight than love. Honestly, why those two couldn't just accept their past for what it was, forgive, and move on was beyond him. Couldn't they see they were meant to be together? They had been betrothed long before they ever fell in love. From the day they were born they were meant to be two halves of the same lion. It irked the elderly ape, that they shared a connection that could transcend time, ways of life, even death itself; but could not rise above a mistake made so long ago in the past. Rafiki took his staff in hand and left the baobab tree. Once again the preservation of the Circle of Life and the fate of his lion friends fell on his capable shoulders.

"What are you doing here?" Vitani demanded.

"I might ask you the same question." Kovu replied. "The Outlands isn't exactly famous for its visitors this time of year."

"I was looking for you." She lied smoothly. "The Princess has worked herself into a tizzy because you pulled your little disappearing stunt." She didn't actually know whether or not that was true, but knowing Kiara it wouldn't be so far-fetched to assume.

"Well, you can go back and tell her I'm fine."

"Or you could go back and tell her yourself and I could stay here."

Kovu and Vitani were glaring at one another, and might've come to blows if Kovu hadn't of asked what he did. "Am I your brother?"

"Well, that's what they told me." Vitani answered, her sarcastic tone not at all matching the confusion stamped on her face. "Why would you ask something like that?"

"It doesn't make sense, right? I mean there's no possible way it could be true. He has to be lying. But then I think about the things he said; he made some pretty good points, you know. We have a lot of the same features; we even have the same mane style for crying out loud. And it wasn't just what he said, but how he said it; not just like he believed it, but also like he wanted it to be true. It was a combination of unvarnished truth and ardent desire. The more I think about it the harder it is for me to be completely sure. And you are my sister, so please Vitani, I just—I need to know."

"What are you talking about? Who's 'he'? What did he say to you? Did someone tell you we weren't related?"

Kovu shook his head, looking like he used to when they were cubs and Zira had gotten angry at him and he would sneak off to find his big sis for comfort, for reassurance. "Not in those words exactly. He's a lion traveling with the Kuua Pride; he said he's my brother. He said that Zira's not my mother, that she took me away from my birth mother. I didn't believe him…at first. But now? Now I'm not so sure."

Vitani sighed. She never imagined having to tell Kovu this because, well it never seemed important. There were always more and more imperative concerns in life. Surviving in the Outlands, getting enough food and water on a day to day basis, training to take over the Pridelands, learning how to live at peace with the Pridelanders so shortly after trying to kill them…the list went on and on. She should've made room for "telling Kovu the truth" on the list. He deserved to know. He deserved to have the honor of not being biologically related to Zira. "I don't know if he's telling the truth about being your brother, but I do know it's a possibility. He was telling the truth about you not being related to Zira. You aren't her cub; at least not by blood. After she had me, Zira was unable to have anymore children so she went off for a couple months to find what she called 'a suitable heir' for scar. She came back with you."

"So Kunavu could be telling the truth?"

"It's a very real possibility, but we don't really have any way of knowing. He could be making it all up to get something from you."

Kovu shook his head. "When we met we hated each other, for no other reason than we just did. I've only known him a few days, but given his original feelings toward me, I doubt he would do a complete 180 and claim to be my brother of all things to try and get something from me." The two sat in silence for a moment, neither really aware of anything but their own thoughts. When Kovu spoke again it was to bring light to another dark subject. "Vitani, what are you really doing here?"

The blue-eyed lioness frowned. "Trying to escape the past."

"Wouldn't coming here be the exact opposite of what you should do in that case?"

Vitani sighed. "Believe it or not, the Outlands weren't the worst thing to ever happen to me."

Rafiki strolled all the way up to the summit of Pride Rock, where a golden-furred lion was seated taking in the scenery. At least that would've been what he was doing if there wasn't a deeply confused, concentrated, angry look on his face that betrayed his reflective and no doubt chaotic thoughts. "Why'd you bring me back there?" The lion asked, having somehow seen and registered the fact that Rafiki was moving toward Pride Rock, in spite of the muddled emotions and thoughts taking up the greater part of his attention. "If it weren't for you, nothing would've changed."

"Dat's where you eer wrong. Tings always change; noting ever remains de same fer too long."

"You know what I mean! If it weren't for you, I could still be in love with Ujasiri."

"Whad's stopping you?"

"You know what! Ujasiri also goes by the name That Snake in the Grass Vitani. I hate her!"

"So den why do you want do be wid her?"

"Because I love her, try and keep up!" He paused then spoke again, his voice tinged with sadness and pain. "When I was with Ujasiri, everything felt so right. When I think of Vitani all I can see is how she led me to my death. I survived, of course, but no thanks to her."

Rafiki laid a gentle hand on Kopa's shoulder. "So you love Ujasiri and hate Vitani. But whad you cand see is dey eer one and de same."

Kopa's expression was one of almost comical disbelief. "They're nothing alike! Ok, sure, they technically are the same lioness, but they aren't the same being. Ujasiri is a little closed off, but funny and nice— in her own way—once you get to know her. Vitani is a conniving, manipulative, lying, selfish—"

"Let me stop you dere. Rafiki tink he sees de problem. In your anger toward Vitani, you ave forgotten all de good times you used to share. You ave forgotten who Vitani truly was; who you truly were. Come wid Rafiki to de valley one last time, Kopa, dere is someting you should know." The ape and lion left the pinnacle and walked across the grasslands, over the hill, and through the valley until they came to a place near the edge of the loathsome river of the Pridelands.

"Why are we here?" Kopa asked his voice thick with impatience, and maybe a little fear.

"Because whad you remimbur isn't all dere is." Rafiki laughed. "Rafiki can show you de past, but first you must forgit for a moment whad you believe and dond believe. Close yer eyes and listen to yer heart. Go back to dat place in dat time and see de truf for yerself."

"And how am I supposed to do that?" Kopa asked incredulously. Hearing no reply, he looked around to find Rafiki had already left. Letting out a breath of frustration, he closed his eyes and tried to do as the wise mandrill suggested.

The journey took a while, but in time Rafiki found himself in the sun-baked desolate expanse of the Outlands. He wiped some sweat from his brow, trying not to concentrate on how the firey sun beat down mercilessly on his weary form, though his long shaggy fur didn't do much to alleviate the feeling of being slowly roasted alive. "Oh Rafiki, yer getting too old fer dis." He chuckled. Still he pressed onward, the hot, cracked ground burning his feet like hot coal with every step he took. After what seemed like an endless cycle of melting into sweat and then drying up without a trace, a cool shadow blocked the sun from continuing its ruthless treatment of the traveler. Looking up, Rafiki saw he reached his destination, for several spires of sand almost as hard as rock loomed over him and stretched up into the cerulean sky.

Entering the cavity, Rafiki noted that while the air was still stuffy and suffocated, he did feel a few degrees cooler without the warm sun pulsing down on him. The primate went deeper and deeper into the grotto, looking for the lioness he knew to be there. He didn't expect to find Kovu there as well. And yet both were resting peacefully, almost serenely in the dark of the cavern. Whether they heard him approach or caught his scent in the air, he didn't know, but both lion and lioness raised their heads and looked in his direction. Kovu's face held mostly confusion as to why the baboon would come so far into the Outlands of all places, while Vitani could care less what his reasons for being here were, just that he was here. Her lips pulled back into a sneer and she acted without delay, pouncing on him and knocking him to the dusty ground. "What are you doing here?" She seethed.

"Tani, get off the crazy monkey." Kovu sounded almost amused by his sister's antics, though he quickly added as an afterthought, "But that is a good question. You were saying?"

"Rafiki's doing his job."

"What job?"

"Nothing." Vitani snapped hurriedly. Blue eyes shrunk down even more than normal, making her irises appear to be only a speck among the yellow background of her eyes. Leaning in closer to the old baboon, and subsequently putting even more weight on him as her sharp claws threatened to break the skin; she hissed softly, yet dangerously, "I don't know what you were trying to pull, but I do know that I did not like it."

Rafiki, displaying once again his complete fearlessness toward anything that would be considered a threat for a normal ape, laughed. "Oh, but you know xactlee what Rafiki did. And you did enjoy id, being wid Kopa agin. You always haf, and you always will."

"No!" Vitani shouted; the outburst wrapped in deep, throaty growl. "I want nothing more to do with him!"

"Well den, someone should let yer heart know, dond you tink?"

"My heart is well aware of that fact. It just…needs a little reminding."

"Perhaps. And perhaps you are de one who needs to remimbur—and accept—yer feelings fer Kopa."

"What good would that do? It would only remind me of what I can't have…what I gave up."

"You gave up noting." Rafiki assured her. "It was taken from you, and maybe it was fer de best." Vitani started to object the complete absurdity of that statement, but Rafiki held up a hand to silence her. "If it wasn't fer Kopa's assumeed deaf, den you and yer family would never haf left de Pridelands."

Vitani could hold back no longer and interrupted with a scoff. "Yes, that would be terrible wouldn't it? A bunch of mangy Outsiders would be an appalling blemish in your precious Pridelands."

"Dat is not whad Rafiki was trying to say."

"Then kindly get to the point, or better yet get out of here while you still have two good legs to walk on."

Ignoring her request for him to leave, Rafiki began again. "Dond you see? Kopa's 'deaf' starded a chain ov evens dat led to de reoonafikashion ov de Pride. Ironically enouf, if it wasn't for Zira den de Pride would still be torn in two on de inside, devided by hate and distrust and vengeance. Life wouldn't be as safe as it is now, and certanely not as peacefil."

"Who's at peace? I'm certainly not."

"Because you won't let yerself be. Accept dat you love Kopa; dat he loves you and—"

"But he doesn't love me!" Vitani growled, though it was filled more with sadness than rage. "He hates me and he has every reason to."

"And dat's whad herts you de most, isn't it? You love him, you always haf, no madder whad you tell yerself. But it hert when he said he hated you and wanted noting more to do wid you. When someone you love rejects you, Vitani, yer first instinct is to protect yerself by pretending it doesn't hert. But it did, and does. Few tings, if any, ever hert as much as dat. And it's made all de worse by feeling dat his rejection is justified."

"Who are you, Dr. Biped? You don't know anything about it, alright?! You don't know anything!"

"Rafiki knows what Rafiki knows." The monkey replied, repeating something he told Vitani several lifetimes ago, it seemed. "And now so do you. De question is, will you hide here out ov sight like a sniveling cub, or will you remimbur all de good times you shared, remimbur de love and laufter and fun, and decide dat maybe—just maybe dat happiness and sense ov belonging is someting worf fighting for?" With that last bit of misplaced fortune cookie advice, Rafiki slipped out from underneath Vitani's grasp, bid a final farewell to the two lions, and began the journey home. He had done all he could do; it was up to them now.

Kopa opened his eyes for the one-hundred-and-twenty-second time since Rafiki had vanished into thin air. A sigh of frustration accompanied this action. He just couldn't see whatever it was the eccentric ape wanted him to find. And he'd been at it almost all day, if the low position of the sun was any indication. Taking another look around him, in the unlikely event that Rafiki had taken pity on him and come back to give a straight answer (though that would be the day), he decided there was nothing to see here and that maybe he was just better off holding a grudge the rest of his life. So, with a distinct feeling of depression hanging over him, he returned to Pride Rock for a restless night's sleep.

The next morning was a warm, bright, beautiful day. The kind of day that made you want to laugh, be with friends, play in the waterhole, go on an adventure, or even just lounge around Pride Rock all day just because you could. It was the kind of day that made you realize what a miracle life is. But while everyone else was out enjoying the sunshine, Kopa was hidden away inside the den, with a dark cloud over his head while his mind once again did battle with the torrent of emotions laying siege to his heart. It was quiet inside the stone hollow, the only noises coming from outside were muffled and sounded like they were miles away from the young lion—which was just how Kopa preferred it. It lasted all of seventeen minutes, and was brought to a close by the unexpected albeit nearly inaudible arrival of his best friend.

Kunavu, having noticed Kopa's absence from the Prides yesterday, decided to see what was wrong with the young King and if he could help. "Kopa?" He questioned, coming to stand in front of the lion. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing." Kopa replied, laying his head over his paws as he looked away from Kunavu. "Nothing at all."

Kunavu gave a growl in response, easily seeing through such a flimsy attempt at a brush-off. "It's about that lioness you were seeing, right? The one you spent so much time with the past few days?" At Kopa confused look, he replied simply, "Mganga."

"Does she know everything?!"

"Probably. I still think she's got a fountain of youth somewhere she hasn't told us about."

After a moment of thoughtful silence, Kopa spoke. "Do you remember the lioness cub I told you about? The one from my past?"

"Yeah. Oh, don't tell me that's who you were dating? An idiot with less sense than a box of rocks could tell you it's a bad idea to date someone that has already tried to kill you. Seriously, aren't you a little young to be experiencing senility?"

"I didn't know it was her when we met."

"And how exactly do you forget the face of the very person who tried to kill you? Maybe you should take a nap. I've heard it helps lions with your mental condition."

"Are you finished now?"

"Of course not. But I will pause for a small intermission while you try to justify your incredibly stupid behavior."

"Gee, thanks. Look, she changed a lot from when she was a cub; I didn't recognize her until after she told me who she was. And I thought Vitani was long dead by now anyway. I mean hello, she killed the Prince of the Pridelands; you would think that would warrant the death penalty. But, since it didn't I wound up saving her life and falling in love with her before I knew who she really was."

"And you're still in love with her, aren't you?"

"Absolutely not!"

"Ok, forget senility, you need to see a shrink. The sooner, the better. And after you do that, track that double-crossing, two-faced, deceitful, selfish, murderous lioness down and tell her…you forgive her."

"What?"

"Oh come on, your heart already has. If you can still feel love toward her after all this time, you've already forgiven her, even if you don't want to admit it."

"That's the second time someone told me that my heart knows something I don't."

"Well, then it's probably worth checking out, right?"

Kopa shook his head. "I tried. Rafiki said something about going back to the past and seeing what really happened. All I could see was that scene playing over and over again in my head."

"Maybe because that's all you really want to see. Maybe after blaming Vitani for so long, it's difficult for you to entertain the notion that she might be innocent."

Kopa thought about that for a minute, and then shot his friend a half-serious glare. "I hate it when you're right."

Kunavu smirked. "I know. Hey, where you going?"

Kopa paused halfway down the steps of Pride Rock. "Back to the past, and this time I'm not gonna stop till I find out what really happened."

"What was that about?"

Vitani looked up from the shadow where she was fighting the age old fight between her and the sand deeply embedded in her fur. "What do you mean?"

"You know what. That little exchange between you and the monkey. What was that about?"

"Nothing." Vitani sighed.

"I'm getting tired of that answer."

"Then stop asking questions!"

Once again the siblings were glaring at one another, and once again Kovu was the one to step back and approach the situation from a different angle. "It was about Kopa, that much I know. I bet if I tried I could piece it all together myself."

Vitani scoffed and turned back to her work. "You could not. But if you're starved for fun, try and see."

"Alright, I will. I know it was about Kopa, and I know you've been hanging out with him for the past couple days. I also know, thanks to Simba, that Kopa lived in the Pridelands before along with you, Nuka, and Zira. You also mentioned something about trying to escape the past…" He trailed off, causing Vitani to look up in curiosity and distress, though she tried hard to keep the second emotion out of her voice.

"What?"

"You were there, weren't you?" Kovu asked quietly. "When Zira attacked Kopa? You saw the whole thing."

Vitani's felt her heart plummet into her stomach as ears fell against her head in shame. "I did more than just watch," she admitted. "I was a part of it."

Kopa sat by the river, closed his eyes, and slowed his breathing. "Ok heart, I'm listening. Now, tell me what happened that day." His eyes fluttered and he waited, seeing nothing but darkness behind closed eyelids. Memories tugged on the edge of his mind and whispered in dark voices of what he already knew to be true, telling him his actions were foolish, that he would be safer off forgetting the lioness Vitani, lest she try to kill him again. He felt the allure of their presence in his head, in his paws, but not where it mattered. Not in his heart. No, as he pushed the voices and memories away he felt something greater pull him elsewhere. And suddenly, he was there. Back in the valley, the day Zira almost succeeded in killing him.

Looking above him he saw the deranged lioness herself, laughing at him with a sneer on her face and a deadly gleam in her blood red eyes. "You really believe my daughter is going to do anything to help you? Who do you think told me about your little secret meeting place? Who do you think led you here knowing that I was coming after you, that I wanted to vengeance against you and your family?"

The cub, for he was a cub again, had to forcefully push away the growing sense of fear and dread he felt and remind himself that this had already happened. That Zira was dead and so could no longer hurt him. "Vitani had nothing to do with this!" He yelled. "She would never hurt me!" He heard the words coming out of his mouth even though he didn't speak them. A few seconds later he heard his younger self scream "traitor" at the lioness standing off to the side behind Zira. Testing a hypothesis, he discovered that he could move from his position without disrupting this…memory. His body remained in the same place, and he became a translucent copy of his younger self. Zira apparently couldn't see him and continued cackling to his body, which was rapidly losing consciousness. When he reached Vitani, the cub's eyes were wide with anger, fear, and horror. She couldn't see him anymore than her mother could and instead flung herself at the older lioness and took a bite out of her ear.

Despite the situation, Kopa laughed as Zira thrashed around trying to dislodge Vitani and subsequently ended with a semicircular hole in her right ear. His laughter promptly ended, however, when Vitani climbed to feet after being thrown and rushed to his side to try and suppress the blood seeping from his wounds. He felt his heart wrench as she franticly tried in vain to stop the bleeding. Before anything else could be done, a large clawed paw belonging to his assaulter swiped at both cubs and threw them in the river. Kopa could only watch helplessly as the destructive current tried to pull them apart and took turns dragging them under. Each time this occurred, Vitani would find his unconscious body and latch on to it even tighter in a desperate struggle to keep them both alive.

Eventually the young cub caught sight of a large rock strong enough that it broke the water's surface. As the current brought her by it, she reached out with her claws and just barely grabbed on. She tried to pull against the river and climb up the surface, but the rock was wet and slippery, and the current was strong. As Kopa looked on from the bank he saw that what little reserves of energy she had left was split between conquering the outcrop and keeping him afloat. That is, until a powerful wave crashed over them and wrested Kopa from her jaws. Vitani, completely exhausted, barely had the strength to lift herself above the water. Once she scaled the boulder, she could only watch as the river took away the only lion in the world that ever truly loved her.

A turtle offered her a ride back to shore, and Kopa watched her curl up into a ball, his heart threatening to break with hers as she dissolved into sobs and cried herself to sleep. "I'm sorry." He said genuinely as he watched her small form move up and down with her breaths. "I never knew." She had just gone to sleep, the tear marks on her cheeks not even dry yet. He wanted stay with her, to guard her from whatever nightmare still awaited her, but even now he felt himself getting pulled back to his own time. He could not be allowed to interfere with past or it would change everything. But he could make her a promise and he could give her a better future. "I'll make things right, Tani. Somehow, someway I'll make things right."

"Kopa. Kopa. Wake up, sleepyhead." Kopa opened his eyes to fuzzy blurs. Blinking a couple times, the blurs blended together to reveal the relieved faces of Simba, Nala, Kiara, Sauni, and Kunavu standing over him. Giving a slight groan, he tried to get up but was immediately pushed back into lying down by Sauni and Nala.

"Rest Kopa." Sauni commanded.

"You're in Pride Rock." Kiara spoke up. "You were unconscious for two whole hours after we found you and for who knows how long after that." Judging by the sinking sun, Kopa would guess awhile, the whole day in fact.

"What were you doing in the valley?" Simba asked. "When we found you, you were as Kiara said, unconscious. What happened?"

"I never should've let you go. I should've known you'd find a way to get in trouble; you always do." Kunavu growled.

"Everybody quiet." Nala commanded, gesturing at Kopa's pale complexion and woozy expression. "Can't you see you're overwhelming him? Back up, give him some breathing room." The three lionesses and two lions did as Nala said.

Kopa shot her a grateful look. "Thanks." Turning in Kunavu's general direction he added, "What do you mean I always get into trouble? I'm usually the one pulling your sorry tail out of it. You'd be nothing but a carcass by now if it wasn't for me."

Kunavu gave an expression of mock distress. "Someone fetch Mganga! Kopa's delusional!" The six felines shared a good laugh, and then slowly one by one, after each being reassured he was ok, they left Kopa to get some sleep. As Kopa drifted off, he remembered his promise and decided tomorrow he was going to the Outlands to find Vitani, and for the first time in a long while his heart was at peace.

Deep in the termite mound where even the setting sun had difficulty reaching, Kovu was pacing back and forth angrily, his claws scraping on the rocks as he walked. "Why didn't you tell me?!"

"I just did!"

"Why not sooner? For crying out loud Vitani, don't you think this was something I needed to know?"

"It wasn't up to me. Zira forbid talking about Kopa or the any good things about the Pridelanders."

"Yet you told Nuka!"

"Yes, late at night when everyone was sleeping, because I had a rather disturbing nightmare and Nuka actually helped reassure some of the doubt I had in myself."

Kovu only scoffed and continued his pacing, only to stop again a few minutes later. "No one else knew?"

"No. I told you, we were the only ones."

"Why didn't you tell somebody?"

"You don't think I wanted to? It killed me when I thought Kopa died, when I thought my foolishness had cost him his life. I wanted to tell Simba, I wanted him to kill me just so I wouldn't fill so empty and lifeless. Anything, even death, had to better than the pain I went through everyday when I remembered the Prince who made the mistake of putting his trust in me. But I stayed alive. I stayed alive and let Zira mold me into a heartless, violent, revenge-bent lioness just like her. And I did it for you! I did it so you and Nuka would stay alive and sane as long as possible in this horrid place."

She looked at Kovu, desperate for him to actually hear her. "I regret many things about my past, so many it would probably be impossible to count them if I tried. But the one thing I do not and never will regret is being there for you when you were lonely or afraid, or splitting my kill with Nuka so he didn't completely starve to death in this desolate wasteland. And if the need ever arose where you couldn't watch out for yourself I'd be there in a heartbeat. So, no, I don't regret it at all." Vitani turned and left the mound, deciding the cold winds of the night would help her temper to cool off.

She only returned the next morning, when the sun had already crossed over the Pridelands and was starting to shine high above the Outlands. The heat was already getting unbearable, so Vitani quickly entered the shelter, dragging a young half-eaten antelope in behind her. Kovu raised an eyebrow at the sight. "Gone hunting?"

"You're lucky I decided to bring you any back." Vitani's voice was curt, but not angry or scornful like it was last night. "You gonna eat that antelope or just drool on it?"

That was all the encouragement Kovu needed. Diving in head first, he still managed to talk between mouthfuls. "When did you find time to go hunting?"

"I snuck into the Pridelands early this morning. It never ceases to amaze me how clueless Pridelanders can be."

Kovu swallowed a gulp of meat and cut the small talk short. "Tani, I think we should head back."

"Head back? Why?"

"It's our home. Our Pride lives there, they're bound to have noticed our absence by now. And I really miss Kiara."

"Ok, so you go back. Be with your Princess of a mate, convince Simba not to have us exiled for desertion, and while you're at it let me know when the Kuua Pride disappears once and for all."

"No. You're coming with me, Vitani. We both have things we need to face, and we can't do it here. If you stay you won't just be turning your back and everything you once stood for; you'll also be abandoning you future. I may not agree with what you did, but you were willing to sacrifice everything for Nuka and I. Don't you think you owe Kopa the same courtesy?"

"No! You two are my brothers; Kopa isn't even related to me."

"Neither am I, but that hasn't stopped you yet. Has it ever occurred to you that maybe Rafiki was right? That maybe you do still love Kopa and you're running away because you're afraid of being hurt again?"

"I'm not running away."

"Then come with me. Go back to the Pridelands and face Kopa, face what your heart tells you about him. Only then can you ever be free from your past."

Vitani rolled her eyes. "As cheesy as all that sounds, you have got a point. Ignoring and," she sent a small glare Kovu's way, "running away has only caused me more difficulties. Maybe—maybe it's time face the past head on, for better or worse."

Kopa's nerves were all over the place. He had impatiently waited until after the morning hunt because no one thought he was well enough to make it to the Outlands alone after they found him passed out the day before. He didn't tell them what had really happened because he didn't know if he would be able to explain it well enough, something that only added to their worry, never mind how much he proved he fighting fit. So now, he was stuck waiting for everyone to finish arguing over who should go with him. At this rate he would make it to the Outlands by the time he was old and grey. "Were they always like this with you?" Kopa asked Kiara, not bothering to keep his voice down since no one was listening to him.

The Princess smiled. "No. They were much worse."

"I pity your cub-hood." Kopa replied sincerely.

"What cub-hood?"

"Funny."

"I try." Kiara paused in their back-and-forth, having caught movement far off out of the corner of her eye. As they steadily moved closer, she began to distinguish them. "You wanted to go to the Outlands to find Vitani, right? You might not have to wait much longer." She said to Kopa, pointing out the speedy, calculated movements of brother and sister. Kopa and Kiara looked to the bickering adults, shared a look, and then dashed off without anyone ever realizing they were gone.

Kovu and Kiara embraced immediately once they reached one another, but Vitani and Kopa hung back, each searching the other's eyes for signs of animosity and finding only mirrored suspicion and fear. The Prince and Princess, noticing this, decided to go tell the others Kovu and Vitani had returned and left the two felines alone in the savannah. A minute passed where neither lion nor lioness spoke. Finally, Vitani ventured to break the silence. "Look Kopa, I know you said you don't trust me, and you probably hate me. I understand that. But I can't do you the courtesy of feeling the same. My heart won't allow it. We've been trough a lot together—too much to just write it off like that. What I did was wrong, I won't deny that. And I'd give anything thing in the world to turn back time and right my wrongs. But I can't. If you still want to leave things in ruin, I'll respect that, but first just listen and try to understand. Zira found out about our relationship and she wasn't tolerant of it. She lied to my face and told me horrible things about you—things I was stupid enough to believe. Because of that I made the biggest mistake of my life. But never wanted to hurt you; and it killed me inside that I ever did. I've spent my whole life hating myself for what Zira did, and it's only now that I'm able to forgive myself. I can only hope you can look inside your heart and do the same, but I understand if you can't. Either way, for what it's worth, I'm truly, honestly sorry."

"I know." Kopa told her. "I understand a lot of things I didn't before, and I know that after Zira attacked me, you realized that she used you to get to me and even went so far as to attack your own mother. You tried to save me when we fell in the river but you weren't strong enough to save us both. And when you thought I drowned, a part of you died inside, only to be reborn through Ujasiri and your love for me and killed through my harshness toward you. For that, I apologize. Even as I hated you and felt I couldn't trust you a part of me still loved you, and always has. I see now that I can't blame you for what happened all those years ago. You were only a child, as I was, and Zira used that to her advantage against us both. She was the real monster here, not you or I. But now we can finally put the past behind us, and maybe in time we can regain what we once had."

Vitani gave a wide, elated smile and her eyes found the sparkle they had lost so long ago. "What are we waiting for, exactly?"

"Absolutely nothing."

Kopa and Vitani sat atop Pride Rock together, watching the sun start to set and bring a great end to an even greater day. The sky was painted in various shades of orange and pink and yellow and indigo. Vitani sat with her head resting on Kopa's shoulder and Kopa had his tail wrapped around her legs. After so many years of emotional turmoil, peace finally reigned supreme, and Kopa and Vitani couldn't think of any other way they'd rather have it. "I'm leaving tomorrow." Kopa muttered, breaking the spell of silence woven over the land. "I don't have much of a choice. Mganga and the others have made some very dangerous threats they will carry out if we don't leave the Pridelands."

"It's like I just got you back. I don't want you to go."

"I have to. I'm King; the others are counting on me. It would be cruel to leave them in Kunavu's paws." He turned to face Vitani, and beautiful blue eyes met with loving amber ones. "But I don't want to leave you either, so come with us. Be my Queen. With all you've been through, you must know some techniques we don't. You'd be perfect for the Kuua Pride…like you're perfect for me."

"Kopa, you had me at 'but'. Of course, I'll come with you."

"Then all is well in the world."

The next morning was one of bitter-sweet sorrow for the members of Simba's Pride. The King had granted Vitani's request to leave with Kopa and now all were at the border to wish them farewell. "Kopa, you take care now." Nala smiled.

"By, Kopa! By, Tani! You both better come back soon." Kopa sweat dropped when his sister sent him her master puppy dog face—the very one that got him to stay for a week—but Vitani just rolled her eyes.

"We'll see Princess."

"Bye, sis." Kovu gave her a brotherly headbutt.

"Kovu, I know you've always been a bit softer than the rest of us, but try not to totally go Pridelander while I'm away, alright?" Vitani smirked.

Kovu just gave a mock glare and said. "I only have to keep that promise if you come back, though you'll always be welcome here." He looked to Kunavu. "Just drop him off somewhere before you return."

"Little brother's just jealous he can't beat me in a fair fight."

"You haven't fought fair yet! Once you do, you're dead." The words sounded cold enough, but there was no real hostility between the brothers.

"Tell you what, next time we come back we can settle this once and for all, Outsider."

"Good, maybe next time I'll actually try."

"Ok," Kopa laughed. "We should get going before Kovu and Kunavu kill one another. Bye Mom, bye Dad."

The King and Queen embraced their son and wished him well. Then before the sun rose too high in the sky, the Kuua Pride set off across the desert, ready for a brand new adventure.

-Seven Months Later-

Vitani growled through clenched teeth as another wave of pain overcame her. She had survived Zira's training, fought angrily in the war between the Prides, and since joining Kopa's Pride, battled and killed on a regular basis. But it all seemed to pale in comparison to the torture she was currently being subjected to. Mganga was by her legs instructing her to push, but right now all she wanted to do was slice her claws clean through the lion responsible for her recent suffering. "Kopa, I'll kill you!" She shouted at the top of her lungs, her voice traveling out of the small den and to the surrounding area where Kopa was waiting nervously after Mganga had made him leave. "If it's the last thing I do, I swear I'll finish what Zira started! Ahh!"

Kopa stopped his restless pacing and made to go in the cave, but Kunavu stopped him. "Mganga will skin you alive if you step one inch in that cave." He reminded the expectant father. "Relax Kopa, she'll be fine. But I think you might want to watch your back the next couple of days." Kopa gave a weak smile at his friend's attempts to calm him, but his eyes were clouded with worry as he stared at the small cave, trying to see past the shadows that cloaked the two lionesses.

"All right, one more big push." Mganga commanded sternly.

Vitani gasped. "After I kill Kopa, you're next you grey, old bat." But she put all of her strength into bringing her cub into the world. Five minutes later, a small bundle of fur was resting between her paws as she ran her tongue over it lovingly. Mganga had left to allow Kopa to come in as the small grotto was only big enough for two lions. Kopa stood by her side, his eyes never leaving the saffron cub before him.

"She's perfect." Kopa whispered.

"Yes, she is. She needs a name." Vitani reminded her husband.

"I know the perfect one. Let's call her Ujasiri."

Vitani's beady eyes widened until they were Kopa's size, but quickly shrunk back down. "You're sure?"

Kopa nodded, his eyes falling back down to gaze at his daughter.

"Then Ujasiri it is. Welcome to the world, sweetheart."

8,500 words. 8,500 words and the longest chapter I've written on any published story thus far! This is for all of you, who read, favorited, followed, commented, or even just clicked on it by accident. Thank you all from the bottom of my keyboard.

Tandreas99: Of course not! *Awkward chuckling* Just a small question, unimportant really, you did sign the papers stating we at Insanity Inc. are not responsible and cannot be held liable for any mental illness you may or may not get from reading this fanfic, right?

Fanfic1892: Thank you. 100 Gp and so glad you my challenges and story, which is for the record copyright of Insanity Inc. It's mine; no one else can have it! *Gets wild look in eyes* Congrats by the by, you have earned a total of 400 Gp.

DarthRushy: Ack! Don't blow up the planet! That's where I live! Glad to know I reel in such, ah, explosive readers, though. Your angry violent outburst in reaction to this impeding ending was welcomed and loved. 100 Gp (I know that yes at the bottom was because you liked my Gp challenges. Don't you dare tell me otherwise!) And you're balance comes out to 300 Gp. Enjoy!

Thingsarewierd: As you ask, so shall I type. Will there be anything else?

Wolf: I'm glad you liked the last chapter and I hope this one is a great end to a totally awesome story for everyone. I understand the anthro thing better now and I will get around to writing the story. I'm just not completely sure when. There's a couple other stories I need to work on and school is gonna start soon, so if you could just bare with me for a while it would be greatly appreciated. 100 Gp for liking my challenges, that makes three out of three, thank you very much. Oh, wow, your total points come to—let me get my calculator out here… uh-huh… carry the 9…subtract that…1,000 Gp on the nose. Congratulations. Can I borrow 600 Gp?

For those who didn't review last chapter, but racked up points anyway:

Snowyleopardess- 350 Gp

Cook563- 400 Gp

Wiechcheu1925- 200 Gp

All right folks, that's all she wrote. It's been a really great adventure and I'm glad I could share it with all of you. Thanks for the feedback and enjoy the rest of your lives. And don't forget to drop a couple reviews for the chapter so long it deserves its own zip code. Hasta la pasta, my friends.