Hey there, everyone. I know I haven't done a one-shot in... probably ages... but I think you'll like this one. xP It's a stampede AU story... figures, right? Written for the twentieth MLK Writing Contest, this fulfills two prompts: "Scar himself is caught in the stampede" and "Mufasa was not the perfect king as in the movie". That said, wish me luck, guys! I've won three already and finished runner up on one or two... so maybe I'll get lucky again.
Enjoy, as always.
Scar, the dark lion, the prince of misfortune, slithered out of his place behind the lone umbrella tree whose foliage had graced the otherwise dry clime in the canyon's bottom. The suppressed sunshine reappeared, pelting his clay brown hide and gradually slicking it with sweat as he walked slowly through the oppressive heat. With him was the golden child—who, contrary to common sense or the many degrees of heat and sticky humidity which was simmering in the deathly-still and torpid air around them—was bounding happily and jumping and playing and asking his uncle why he did not do the same.
He almost chuckled. Him, play? In this heat? Such a novelty…
"Uncle Scar, Uncle Scar, what're you gonna show me in the gorge?"
If the older lion had been keeping track, this would've been the twentieth time he'd begged him to spoil his little… surprise. But he wasn't going to release it the first time, and he sure as hell wasn't going to after a hundred times. If the cub knew the truth—if any of them knew the truth which would greet them in but a few short minutes—then… well, then his nice shining grin would be wiped off his face in a matter of seconds.
Too bad he couldn't find a way to do so now. That ebullient little smile with those tiny fangs and the shiny, gleaming coat which seemed to be made from strands of the sun itself… the boy was simply too spirited, it was frightful.
"Child, has your father ever explained the bounds of a surprise to you?"
A sharp, impatient growl came out with the word 'surprise'. The blasted pretext had been haunting him for the half an hour it'd taken to bring the cub down the sharp and jagged slopes. And all the while he was asking…
"Well, yeah, but I don't like surprises." His tail drooped visibly. "I mean, why can't I know now? This place is boring, Uncle Scar…"
"If it's so boring, then go…" he waved his paw vaguely, thinking, "… look at that lizard over there. Anything, Simba, really."
Just stop pestering me.
"Whoa, a lizard?" Simba craned his head, lids squinting around his vermeil irises so he could get a clear view of the lumbering, green lizard that was creeping around the rocks a mere ten yards from his curious stare. Its verdure shade was an inherent feast for the eyes and senses, and immediately he wished nothing more than to play with it.
He accordingly took off like shot in its direction, short attention briefly diverted away from his long-faced uncle. "That's great, thanks Uncle Scar!"
The lion grimaced—his version of a relieved smile—in recognition, keeping the cub within his sight. He was nearly where he wanted to be… he could only hope those brutes wouldn't screw something up this time. Yesterday his whole plan was ruined by that brother of his, the cub's protective father… and knowing the nature of his hired hands, the entire imbroglio could have had a worse finale…
He cast an inadvertent glance at the lip of the gorge. Nothing. Good.
"Hey Uncle Scar, look, it changes colors!"
Simba determinedly poked his little clawed paw at the vexed creature, whose fringes were transforming into a bright, angry shade of scarlet. Best not to toy with it further. It occurred to Scar that he really wasn't sure if chameleons could bite or not… but if they did, the boy more than had it coming to him.
"That's marvelous, nephew. Now would you come here, please?"
He was nearly at the rock that served as a marker. From the edges of the ravine, he would track their progress when… it… happened. Yes. The beasts would come down from the top—that ridge over there—and come tumbling down, leaving the cub trapped in the center of it all. Meanwhile, he will have escalated out of danger and gone to warn his brother, a task which, judging by the herd Shenzi had rounded up, he would have about six minutes to fulfill before—
"Yowww… YOWWwww… YOWLLLLLRRRrrr!"
A raucous sound jarred him out of his concentrated thoughts.
"What on earth are you doing, Simba?"
The golden cub perked up, seemingly proud of his juvenile attempt at a massive roar… a sound which sounded more like a complaining wet house cat than the regal, throaty rumbles of a fully-grown lion. Pitiful.
He should have expected that answer. Pinching the bridge of his nose as subtly as he could, he looked down on the cub, who was still perky and alert with indefatigable energy.
"Please, nephew, practice those with your father. I'm sure he would love to hear how your roar is… developing…"
Simba was not in the least deterred by his somber, perhaps even acerbic tone. His Uncle Scar was always passionless and even morose in his demeanor, and after a while, he found that he felt a little bad for him. Maybe if he cheered him up somehow, he wouldn't feel so excommunicated and lonely. Despite the warnings of his father, he felt obligated to keep the old lion company.
Scar, in his turn, was just as dispassionate and apathetic as ever, it seemed. He walked forward slowly and in his usual manner, with a deliberate sluggishness and languorousness that suggested boredom. His hunched and bowed form seemed unnaturally bony and delicate—a perception that his slender, almost effeminate figure only seemed to augment.
The golden cub frowned, perched on a rock which he had found and decided to clamber on top of. His uncle hadn't chastised him, rather sauntering up next to him with what seemed to be an unreadable expression.
"Now… as I was saying… wait here. Your father has a marvelous surprise for you."
"Really? Where is he? What is it?" The cub fidgeted in place, bouncing with energy as he searched the walls for any sign of his father. Scar should have expected such a reaction: his brother overshadowed him in nearly every aspect of life, and even Simba's interest in him seemed to dwindle and perish whenever the walking hunk of sentient muscle—the veritable form of love incarnate—walked onto the scene.
"Simba, pay attention." His tone was biting and an ample reflection of his irritation. Simba shrunk back as his acrid, acid-green eyes narrowed and bore into his sunken figure. "It wouldn't be a surprise if I told you, now would it, my boy?"
"If you tell me, I'll act surprised!" He bounced back metaphorically, limbs still twitching in excitement, barely bridled.
"Eheheh… no. This is just a father-son…" he paused, distaste welling up in his mouth as he thought back to his own father, the injustice wrought on him by the patriarch and the golden son of his. Oppressive, now that he thought of it… this bid for revenge was long suppressed and long overdue. As such, he had no word to describe such an excursion—he'd never experienced one himself. "… Thing."
"Well," he broke the uncomfortable silence and directed his silent, hidden train of thought elsewhere. "I'd better go get him."
The cub's response was almost predictable, and yet something he had not accounted for.
"I'll go with you!" The golden prince leapt several paces off the rock, bounding after him and threatening to undo all the effort he'd taken in bringing them both down here. If he breathed a word to Mufasa about the 'surprise', the older sibling was bound to get very suspicious. Likely because he was always suspicious—and for good reason. They'd more than mutually volleyed their perceptions and opinions of one another, and Mufasa knew not to underestimate his cruelty, his devious cunning and his jealousy. Doing so would be his mistake…
Yet Mufasa, in his turn, was not the best of the bunch as everyone so willingly believed. The scar on his eye, from which they'd dubbed him his appellation, physically burned at the bitter thought of his hurt, his long-welled up shame which had corroded away at his center for years now. And all of it was Mufasa's fault, Mufasa's short-coming… Mufasa's wrath.
His son, Simba, would never know, of course. But he'd made it clear how he thought of him, and now it was too late to right the wrongs any other way but this. Forgiveness was a lost road, and now only reparation remained; Scar's brother would pay, dearly.
The little cub was naïve, and hence knew none of their problems. To him, all of this was but another filial enigma. He would never understand, for in but a few short minutes his life would be snuffed out like a weak candle. At that very moment the trio of hyenas was impatiently waiting for the dark lion's signal, so that they could scatter the horde of gnu. And then they'd tumble amok down the slopes, trampling everything below their churning hooves into the cold embrace of death. Everything save for Scar, who would have extricated himself in a timely manner.
But alas, they were hyenas. And hyenas could only hold back that damned, impulsive hunger of theirs for so long. If he spent any more time here, he risked an accident—the crazed, mute one, Ed, especially worried him. There was no telling what he would do, or if he would suddenly jump into the fray and frighten them all in spite of the others' warnings.
This would have to be quick.
"Simba," he gave an attempt at a warm chuckle, the sort his bleeding-heart brother would give his son at nearly any occasion. All that came out was an icy chortle. "Stay here, safe on this rock. Wouldn't want to end up in a mess like that one with the hyenas, hmmm?"
"Oh. Yeah," Simba looked dejected, reply unusually short as he stared ashamedly at his neat little paws. "You knew about that, Uncle Scar?"
Well, yes. He'd been there to watch the slobbering brutes attack him. And also there to see Mufasa leap bravely and ferociously into the fray—frankly, he was surprised that the golden king didn't extol punishment on the creatures. The same responsible for their father's death.
With the strength of the blood feud between the species, it would have been more reasonable to cut their throats while he had the chance. Had he been in that position, he would have done so. But alas, Mufasa had been on a merciful streak. His heart ordained it not so.
But again, that was something that could not be known. Had Simba spilled their little secret to his father, telling him about how good old Uncle Scar had discreetly incited him to explore the hyena's squalid abode… well, nobody involved would have found a happy ending.
And so it was that he conceded with a vague "Simba, everybody knows about that."
The cub was understandably abject and embarrassed.
More importantly, though, was the cub's uncharacteristic, and perhaps overblown, fears. For it seemed silly to him—the same cub that would laugh in the face of danger—to be scared of what was surely just a trick from his imagination… but he couldn't shake the fact that he smelled hyenas skulking somewhere around. And if Uncle Scar left, he was afraid of another experience like the one which had transpired only a day beforehand.
"Please don't leave, Uncle Scar," he begged with a whimper, face oddly long and crestfallen. "I'm scared."
"Scared?" He scoffed. That had to be a first—the brash son of Mufasa rarely, if ever, showed his fear… he had to have been petrified. Did he… know… somehow? "What for, child?"
"I smell hyenas," the cub let out with a gentle susurration, his figure trembling slightly with the knowledge that several of the beasts were coming closer… Scar stiffened inadvertently, eyes locked with the top of the gorge. It was true, his sense of smell was not as acute as that of the young lion cub sitting abut to him, but he could sense something… a faint disturbance in his inner self which drew itself not from reasoning, but from something else much deeper, much more vital…
Something was very, very wrong. He had known what to expect, and that should have given him an advantage… but this unexpected turn of events was enough to even instill him with an ornery sense of dread.
The youngling's golden form reached out and placed a quivering paw gently on the dark lion's shoulder. Scar flinched at the touch, surprised at the frightened timbre of the cub's voice and that he would so suddenly press up against him, yet he did not move away…
"Please don't go, Uncle Scar."
He stopped and stooped in his tracks, trying to reassure the boy. May as well—he didn't hold anything personal against the miniature king-in-the-making. Yes, true, he was spoiled, and annoying, and talkative… but so were most cubs: Mufasa, especially, had been much more of a pain to grow up with. If he wasn't the king's spawn, he wouldn't have had to drag him down here. He wouldn't have had to get rid of him. In fact, he might have even grown a fondness for the cub.
But indeed, it was not so. For he was his brother's child, and his brother had to go. It would be cruel to keep the gentle father and the loving son apart for too long.
"You'll be fine," he spat, masking his vague apprehension with a show of anger which was only partially true and by no means directed at Simba. "Your father can't come here unless I leave."
He kept up his little charade, the little fallacious pretext which really didn't matter anymore. For something was setting him on edge… the sides of the gorge were alight with a faint rumble, a distant sound which ruffled their surroundings and caused their fur to instinctively bristle. And then, out of nowhere, a dark figure came bounding out from the top of the cliff, prancing and jumping and multiplying—first into two, then into five, and ten, and fifty, and a hundred, and a thousand…
Suddenly the 'surprise' wasn't on the front of Simba's mind, despite the fact that he was staring right at it. Scar, too, was shocked into silence… no, this was not supposed to happen, not while he was still here. Why couldn't those damned poachers keep themselves under control for five whole minutes? Why couldn't they wait for him? Now he was to be trampled to death along with his quarry!
Mufasa was nowhere to be seen, and suddenly he cursed his luck. This was going to fail. They were both going to die!
He spun around, prepared to run away and find safety… but Simba only stood there, mouth agape and frozen in a prolonged state of terror and unexpected fright, golden form bristling and trembling idly.
So what? Just leave him while you have the chance! This could still work!
No, it couldn't. Surely it couldn't. He was already supposed to be out of the gorge… and if Mufasa found out that Simba died and Scar had done nothing to save him, it wouldn't do anything to help him.
They'll both die in the end. What does it matter?
He ran for several seconds as such, fighting his own battle with thoughts thus conflicted. It continued on until the moment whence he looked back, seeing the cub's helpless form trip and stumble off of the rocks, the first of the stampeding animals overtaking him as he tried to find shelter. Suddenly his mind was made up.
Simba was his nephew. Family. He looked up to him like a hero, and had unbounded faith in him. Alas, he shouldn't have—the rest of the pride had long since relinquished their trust in him… but he couldn't just leave him for dead in the midst of the chaos. He had to go back for him… Besides, if Simba lived through this stampede, however slim the odds were, and remembered that his uncle had abandoned him… what would he think? And what would his father think?
Maybe he did care, to at least some small degree, after all. But nonetheless, whatever the reason, he turned around. With a burst of energy he didn't know he had, he wove his pathway through the horde of primeval beasts, approaching the little golden figure wading through the torrents of uproarious hooves that were crashing down, deluge-like, from every angle in a frightened attempt to crush his skull.
Scar darted in, teeth closing in on the loose ruff of fur at the cub's nape. Perhaps it was a little harsh, and maybe his sharp sabers had drawn blood… but alas, Simba was not one to care at that moment, his wide eyes gazing at the rows of frightened creatures as Scar tried to turn around. The slope here, from where they had entered the gorge, was relatively shallow and an ideal exit... but fighting against the current was only going to last so long, and as the sharp surface of a horn was thrust a paw's width from the older lion's frame, they both realized that the only way of survival was to run alongside the herd as fast as they possibly could.
Another burst of speed and Scar bolted, juxtaposed to their opponents. His lithe, quick frame was like a shadow in the midst of the weary and paranoid creatures, Simba synergizing smoothly with the lilting, agile actions of his uncle's movements.
They were running headlong into the fray, Scar's head shaking back and forth as he sought an exit. Yes, there had to have been one around… his jaws tightened around Simba's scruff, jade eyes purveying the sides of the massive ditch. It continued to get steeper and steeper, and if he didn't act now then refuge would be all but—
Scar cried out suddenly as one of the frenetic animals acted just a little too frisky, the sharp point of a horn stabbing into the edge of his rippling shoulder. A spurt of blood gushed as Simba continued moving, his uncle's grip compromised. He flew several feet, unsuspended, before landing as a vulnerable heap in the middle of the living river.
To his horror, he could not see the dark form of his uncle—he had disappeared in the short distance between them. Instantly his breath quickened. What if he fell too? What would happen to them? All his faith of surviving he had rested on his uncle… and if the elder lion was gone, a cub like him would could only hope to live for so long…
He tried to dodge the incoming hooves, his attention still focused behind him… but the constant, steady stream of dark hides was too much. His luck could only last for—
A hoof struck the ground inches from him, sending clumps of dirt showering out as he remained frozen in horror. No, no… he had to keep running. And so he did, watching as the sides of the gorge became steeper and steeper. Time was running out.
The magnitude of his fear increased as he felt glistening wet teeth clutch the skin on the back of his neck, a feeling which quickly dissipated. Scar had managed to find his footing, though the limp in his gait and the crimson rivulets trickling across his limb suggested he was the worse for wear. He wheezed as he moved, seeming to groan with every step now… Simba was shaken up and down roughly, the choppiness of his actions obvious. The grace and speed with which he moved was gone… another hit like that and the two of them would be resigned to their fate.
Scar's muscles bunched as he saw a flat shelf on the edge of the ravine, perfect for the idea he had in mind. For ultimately, he had to get Simba to safety first… the cub could summon help to rescue him, provided he lived that long. At this point, his own survival seemed a bleak hope—the muscle in his shoulder throbbed and smarted, sending waves of pain shooting up and down his limb every time he moved it… it hurt to keep running like this, it really did.
Closing his eyes and ignoring the pain as well as he could, he vaulted forwards, his front limbs latching onto the edge of the rock as he pulled himself halfway onto the ledge. With much effort he loosened his jaws, depriving them of their locked vise-grip as he dropped Simba onto the ground, the golden cub visibly relieved. The rest of his strength he used in an attempt to straighten his limbs and pull himself up to safety… Simba's face contorted with the crook of a smile, and for a moment, it seemed as though he would be able to go home…
Without warning, however, another wrench was thrown into his plans—this one in the form of a horn tearing deeply into the soft edge of his flank as he hung there deleteriously. He stiffened like a corpse, his claws digging into the rock… but the force of the impact still tore him away from his nephew, who cried out in surprise as his uncle was flung into the middle of the gorge, the converging point where nature's wrath would rain down upon him in the form of sharpened hooves.
Scar hit the earth with a grunt, trying to shake himself back into alertness. More than a few seconds on the ground would ensure his death. His heart pounded, temple throbbing with the pulse which reverberated in between his russet ears. He staggered to his feet as the beasts ran around him, his shoulder sending its own complaints as he shook with the chill which crawled up his spine. Every beat of his heart sent spatters of crimson spilling out from his mangled side as he tried to run, Simba's eyes tracking him in the midst of the clouds of dust and hooves which polluted his otherwise sharp sight. He could see the horrors almost too clearly. He saw his uncle's desperation as he moved to and fro sporadically. Every bit of sweat glistening off his pelt as his lurid, lemon-lime eyes graced the edge of the ravine. The rippling of his muscles under his pelt as he tensed up, using the rest of his remaining stamina to leap as far as he could… which, in view of his injuries, wasn't as far as Simba would have hoped. One might have even said that it wasn't far enough.
Simba wasted no time in running up the edge of the cliff near his own end, scampering over rocks and debris in the hope that he could reach the summit and then descend to help his uncle. But there wasn't enough time.
The dark lion clung there in fright, his claws locking in and roughly scraping at the gritty edge of the boulder. His paw pads were cut and bleeding with the sandpaper-like asperity of the inhospitable stone, his back legs scrabbling at the sheer slope of the cliff. Mostly they only clawed at air, at the dangerous and certainly deadly drop below him. Normally he was a good climber, but all of his progress relied on the strength of his front limbs… which, due to his shoulder, was lacking.
And so he stiffly held himself there, knowing that this was a life-or-death struggle. Yet he could see no way out. He would pay for his own foolishness—his plan would backfire and kill him in the ultimate show of ironic fate, whilst the two intended victims would escape with not a scratch. Oh, what a cruel twist this was… A cruel twist indeed…
Suddenly a part of the rock gave way, the lion slipping down so that he was marginally closer to the wild, bustling fray. His breath caught and he visibly quavered in terror, everything shaking and pounding and throbbing around him in a virulent cacophony. No, he couldn't die now… he couldn't. He'd saved Simba, hadn't he? Was death the price for saving his nephew's life? He didn't deserve this!
His muscles shook and buckled now, from fear and strain and effort. The twitching fibers began to give way to fatigue and weakness, and he felt himself slipping down farther, his hind legs dangling uselessly in the midst of empty, unforgiving space. A grunt escaped his battered figure, the rock a mottled grey and crimson as it abraded and chafed at the fur and flesh which rubbed against its surface as he continued to fall.
He should have left him. He should have abandoned him to be trampled by the gnu. He would be safe, his brother would be—
He looked up to see… no, it couldn't be. Mufasa's golden form was there, the epitome of regal grace and what he always perceived as filial domination. The lion was now physically standing over him, the dark lion at his mercy. Scar half-awaited the moment when Mufasa would look down and laugh contemptuously at him, cursing him to his ultimate fate. No. He couldn't stand this humiliation. Closing his eyes and bracing his slick-with-sweat forehead against the stone, he openly cursed his luck… again.
But a part of him was desperate. And that was the part of him that called out for help.
His claws slid another few inches down the stone. Only one or two more slips like that and he knew he wouldn't be able to hold on anymore.
He panted, his lungs wheezing for breath in the midst of the panic and the dust.
And that was it. Was this what death felt like? The hopelessness and despair and pain? Cold and gripping and sweaty in its embrace of fear, it was all he could feel as his claws slid down the rest of the way, his paws clinging at the very edge and their grip rapidly fading. He was about to fall backwards, the horde of dark ungulates still churning rapidly and thickly below, ready to accept him under the tread of their feet. All of a sudden he reached the precipice, the point of no return… and he was about to let go.
Until the golden paw reached down and, at the last possible moment, clutched his own.
He looked up in surprise, but Mufasa did not let go. The golden lion held him in a grip which emanated warmth and safety, the strength of his paw and, indeed, his entire body showing as he pulled him up alongside him. In fact, as the dark lion ascended, he noticed Simba, smiling happily and curled up next to his father.
"It's alright, Scar," he whispered, closing the remainder of the distance between them. "I've got you."
Suddenly the dark prince found himself standing alongside his brother on the ledge. The last of the wildebeest had disappeared at the bottom edge of it, the creatures becoming nearly powerless as the strength of their numbers was absolved. All the tension, all the suspense… suddenly it was gone, everything returning almost to normal. His heart still pounded, seemingly ready to burst, inside his chest… that much was true, yes. But no longer was he walking the fine line between life and death.
Instantly Simba lurched forwards, hugging his uncle around the leg as tightly as his little arms could… which was surprisingly so, considering his size. Nonetheless, he was growing rapidly, and would no doubt be bigger than Scar himself someday.
"Thank you, Uncle, for saving me."
Scar's muzzle was wrought into a vaguely pleased expression, though this unusual show of emotion was something he generally preferred repressed. No gratitude was necessary, considering he had been scheming to take his life all afternoon beforehand…
"… Don't mention it, child…"
"No," Mufasa chided him mildly, "we will. Listen, Scar… I… I know that we've been…"
Mufasa appeared to be fumbling around with his words, something which was unusual for someone so steadfast and confident… their gazes met, and in the still silence of the air around them, Mufasa knew he had heard him and that he had to continue.
"Look, Scar… I… misjudged you. I know. Granted, I don't see why you two were down here, alone…"
Simba frowned slightly, realizing that his father must have forgotten their surprise. That, or there never was one to begin with… an idea which, luckily, he didn't understand.
"But what you've done is something I can't ignore. I want to talk with you later… if that's okay. Just know that you have my immense gratitude, brother."
Brother. Mufasa hadn't addressed him as that in years. It was always 'Scar' or, occasionally, 'you'. He looked up at him in surprise… a surprise which was increased as the older lion advanced on him and locked him in the huge expanse of his arms. A hug. The first in… spirits, he couldn't remember the last time he'd hugged Mufasa. It had to have been many moons ago. Yet the whole experience felt…
The eyes of both his brother and his nephew were upon him, and for once, unlike his pridesisters, it wasn't a gaze filled with contempt and derision. It was kind… forgiving. Like they actually wanted him around.
For the first time in… well, perhaps ever, Scar was actually glad at the prospect of being proven wrong. Perhaps it wasn't too late for them, for forgiveness and reconciliation. It started when he decided…
Suddenly he was attacked by something unexplained. For as he remained in the embrace of the king he felt guilty, and ashamed… only minutes before he'd been so intent on taking all their lives. And it took all of this for him to change his mind.
For the first time in years, Scar—the dark lion, the prince of misfortune—wept.
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