Kovu sat alone on the tip of Pride Rock, staring at the night sky, lost deep in thought. They had returned from the Elephant Graveyard just before sundown, much to the Pride's relief that Rosa hadn't been hurt. Both Simba and Kiara had furiously reprimanded the cub for her reckless actions and made her thank Josh for saving her life. Kovu however had been left out of all this, preferring to face his own inner demons alone.
As far as the rest of the Pride was concerned, the three humans had definitely proven their worth by saving Rosa from those scumbag hyenas, not to mention having nearly getting killed in the process. Rosa had told her grandfather about how the hyenas had demanded that Josh handed her over in exchange for him and his friends walking away alive, as well as Josh's brave stand against the enemy. The three humans had received a hero's welcome and that was what was bothering Kovu.
Ever since the explorers had come, he had been hoping they'd soon go their own way, or that Simba would send them away and he could feel more content regarding his family's safety. Like that was going to happen now and, worse still, he hadn't any real say in this. He just couldn't bring himself to trust those strangers, in spite of himself…nor could he bring himself to explain why to anyone, not even Kiara.
Josh had left Denzel in Chen and the lions' care, as the skilled Chinese healer treated his injured ankle. Thankfully, it wasn't broken, just badly sprained. Venturing out of the den to get some night air, glad that this exciting day was over, when he noticed Kovu sitting alone with his back turned to him.
Josh's first impulse was to turn in the opposite direction before the two of them got into another argument; hell, after today, he was amazed the dark-maned lion hadn't pulled a blood feud on him and his friends for putting Rosa in danger. He didn't care what Simba said; Kovu would never accept humans. But, looking at him now, Josh realized that the young lion must have a reason behind his great distrust of them. Remembering what Sarafina had said, it suddenly dawned on him that something about Kovu's past that he wouldn't talk about had to be why. Did he dare ask?
Gritting his teeth and figuring he could survive another yelling-at if he had to, timidly he approached Kovu. The young lion, still lost in his own thoughts perked an ear at the sound of familiar footsteps approaching. He grew tense realizing who it was, clearly not in the mood for talking with the human.
Kovu did not even turn to look at Josh, or even acknowledged his apology. But the Texan still stood his ground. He knew he was trying Kovu's temper, but he had to try and get through to him one way or another. The two of them had started off on the wrong foot from the start and this was wrong. No, he'd seen worse than this, he thought, so he could handle this.
"I'm sorry I put your daughter in danger," he said, trying to be as understanding as possible. He figured he had better get straight to the point of this discussion, before Kovu could lose his temper again, "I didn't mean to. Whether you believe me or not, it was not my intention." His raising his tone of voice at that last statement, almost accusingly, had certainly caught the young lion's attention.
"I swore to Simba on the day we came to Pride Rock that no harm would ever come to any member of the pride, and I would die first before anything were to happen to Rosa, or Kiara, or even YOU for that matter!" Kovu still didn't answer him. Josh started getting tired of this.
"If you want to hate me, fine, go ahead! I don't care! But don't you dare imply that I would for one minute intentionally put your child's life in danger. I made a vow, and I intend to stick to it. But I guess you don't care either way, do you?"
Thinking he was probably wasting his time and tired of being ignored like that, Josh turned and walked away, heading for his campsite under the ledge of Pride Rock. However, he never got there, because Kovu, finally breaking out of his silence, spoke in a soft, but no less annoyed voice.
"Look… Please don't think me ungrateful for saving my daughter. My family and I will always be in your debt."
"But you still hate me?"
The young lion didn't answer Josh on this; but the expression of guilt, of loss in his eyes, told the Texan it had to do with something that concerned them...maybe not directly, but definitely concerned humans nonetheless. Finally, tired of keeping it all bottled up inside him any longer, Kovu spilled the beans. And as Josh soon found out, he had a very legitimate reason to distrust them.
"Not too long before you came, my sister, Vitani, was taken by human hunters," he told Josh, "It was a grave mistake of a little curiosity on both our parts by approaching them, the same way we did you; I barely escaped, but Vitani wasn't so lucky..." Josh needn't hear more; a lion falling victim to a poacher meant a freshly tanned skin sold for a profit on the black market, "That's the second member of my family I've led to their death. My mother was right when she said I couldn't escape my past. She had trained me to be an assassin, to kill Simba…!" Finally, remembering what Sarafina had said earlier, Josh was able to put two and two together.
"Zira… Zira was your mother, wasn't she?" His deduction must have been spot-on, because Kovu suddenly froze where he stood; slowly, he turned to face Josh, his eyes wide with shock.
"How… how did you know?" he asked in utter surprise.
"Sarafina told us how you and Kiara stopped a war between your prides," Josh explained. "The rest I kind of worked out on my own." The young lion looked at him glumly, his head drooping in what looked like deep shame at his dark family heritage.
"Well, then you know what this is all about," he told Josh. As humans might put it, the cat was now out of the bag, so he might as well get it off his chest, "I grew up believing I was destined to be Scar's precious Chosen One, born to finish his dirty work by murdering Simba, and then assume the throne in his memory! When I realized the error of my ways, thanks to Kiara's good heart," he added, "My own brother, Nuka ended up paying the price of my mother's hate – all because I crossed her."
Although slightly unnerved to hear that Kovu had actually once been an assassin out to kill Simba to avenge his dead enemy Scar, Josh finally began to see what dark secret lay buried deep within Kovu's heart; it was the shame of his mother raising him to be her murderous pawn. The death of his brother, who, Kovu explained, had been caught in the crossfire during a failed assassination attempt on Simba, still rested heavily on his conscience – as was the fear of losing another of his beloved ones by placing his trust in the wrong party.
"I lashed out at you and your friends because I feared you'd turn out to be what I was supposed to be – that you'd betray us and then kill us when we let our guard down. Not only that, but every time I see a human, I see Vitani being taken away from me. After I lost her, I swore I'd never lose another of my family…" Finally, it all made perfect sense to Josh; Kovu's distrust of them simply stemmed from his fear of his own haunting past. Being raised a former assassin, who had ultimately had a change of heart because he'd found true love in the enemy, must be a difficult burden to bear – so much so, that Kovu, haunted by self-distrust and guilt, basically saw a threat in any stranger who reminded him of his own past self. That, combined with the fact that it had been humans who had taken his sister away from him in the first place, would naturally make him distrustful of Josh and his friends.
Josh didn't know what kind of comforting words to offer the young lion...until he realized something that hadn't occurred to him until now. Like Kovu, he too had his own secret guilt buried in the utmost depths of his soul, still resting heavily on his conscience as it had for the past 15 years…
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. July 4th, 1863…
The infamous Battle of Gettysburg had just come to an end, leaving heavy bloodshed on both sides but an ultimate victory for the Union Army, in their years-long struggle to defend the northern States from the Confederates. General Lee's elaborate plan to smash the Yankees at the town of Gettysburg was a failure, leaving him and his surviving troops on the run, on a disgraceful retreat back to Virginia. The American Civil War had finally reached a turning point and the Union Army would eventually go down in history as the victors. But not everyone in the blue uniform was in the mood for celebration.
Then-sixteen-year-old Joshua Cody was a juvenile Private in the Union Army, in his father Samuel's own unit, who was a Captain, stationed in Gettysburg. With the Feds now headed their way in an onslaught, Sam Cody had led his men to battle, joining the other units under the command of Major General George Meade. It was there, on the 4th of July, during the march on Culp's Hill that young Josh saw his own father gunned down by a sniper's bullet – the same fate that would eventually befall President Abraham Lincoln a few years later.
Taking the bullet originally meant for Josh, Sam Cody was dragged to a medic's tent by Josh and a Sergeant, but his wound was too severe. Shot clean through the lung and bleeding internally, it soon developed into pneumonia and he died three days later in his son's arms, his last words been how proud he was of his boy and how he was sure he'd be a great man someday. On the morning of July 8th 1863, Samuel James Cody was laid to rest alongside many of his men who had died fighting with him in a military cemetery just outside Gettysburg, leaving his only son an orphan and all alone in the world.
After burying his father, the next day, a devastated Josh went AWOL, fleeing west into Texas. Penniless and wanted for desertion, he had drifted aimlessly through the desert for some time until, whilst on the brink of death, he had been found by an Apache tribe.
At first the boy had been scared for his life, knowing all too well that the Apaches were known to do to white men, with whom they were still at war over control of the land. However, rather than scalp him or feed him to the fire-ants, the Chief of the tribe had taken him in and raised him as his own. Once a lost and lonely orphan, Josh eventually grew into a courageous and confident personality, who knew how to live in harmony with Mother Nature, as per his mentor's teachings.
Upon his return to civilization in the aftermath of the war, he had received a pardon for his desertion with the help of some of late father's old friends and settled down in Texas. Despite rebuilding his life, the guilt over his father's death, who had died to save him, not unlike King Mufasa would someday do for his son Simba, had never truly left him. Until his eventful trip to Africa, he had never discussed it with anyone, not even his Apache mentor, yet longed to get it off his chest…
Kovu felt his lion's heart melt as Josh recited to him the tragic story of his childhood. Now he realized this strange human, whom, only hours ago, he had regarded as a threat to his family and wanted to get rid of, were not that different after all…nor was Josh that different from his father-in-law.
"I'm so sorry, Josh," he said softly to the human in question, who, in all his courage and manliness, was holding back tears of grief as the long suppressed memory of his father's coffin been lowered into the ground played over in his mind like a haunting nightmare. For the first time, Kovu wanted to know this newcomer better, to befriend someone who shared a similar burden on his conscience. The massive lion placed a comforting paw on Josh's shoulder.
"I never knew my own father, not even his name," he scoffed with disgust, "I knew Scar wasn't my real father thanks to my half-brother Nuka, who, jealous of me being the family's Chosen One rather than him, running his mouth off at every turn. Mother would beat us raw if we ever spoke of him in her presence. I realize how hard this must be for you…"
Josh, pulling himself together somewhat, reached out and patted the dark lion's mane, "It's all right, Kovu. It was a long time ago." He wanted to add the fact that despite what everyone kept telling him all these years, the fact that that sniper had been aiming for him made him ultimately responsible for his father's death, but thought against it. Kovu however seemed to read his mind somehow and spoke again.
"You needn't blame yourself, Josh," he said, somewhat envying the fact that Sam Cody had given his life to save his son's as he had done; he never knew his real father and his wicked mother had never shown him any loving affection whatsoever. Some particularly horrible memories of his early childhood out in the Outlands, starving and under Zira's domineering, abusive care, where brutal punishment was the reward for weakness or disobedience, still haunted his nightmares to this day, "Your father only did his duty towards you; Simba's father also did the same for him; and I would certainly do the same for Kiara or Rosa."
"I know you would," said Josh with a smile, "You're a better father than you realize, Kovu. You just might want to go a little easier on Rosa though…" Kovu was touched; hearing from a near-stranger that Zira hadn't left her shadow upon him as he had always feared, felt real good indeed. Letting each other's inner demons out had sure felt good! Neither of them realized Simba was silently watching them from the shadows nearby, his superior lion's hearing permitting him to hear every word that was being said between the two.
After the earlier incident in the Elephant Graveyard, with him and his family now owing these humans Rosa's life, he had feared what Kovu would think of it. He knew how his son-in-law and, to a lower extent himself, had totally distrusted these strangers and had wanted to see the last of them as soon as possible, but now things seemed to have taken a turn for the better. Seeing Josh and Kovu slowly bond was definitely a good sign. But to what ends? How would this contact between the pride and the human world affect the Pride Lands in the long run? He gazed up at the heavens where the Great Kings of the Past resided, including the late King Mufasa. Sometimes, he wished his father was still here to advice him…
Sometime later, Josh and Kovu returned to the den, where the former cornered Simba. There was something he was itching to know since coming to the Pride Lands, "How come you were so quick to trust me when Kovu wasn't?"
"I learned my lesson long ago," explained Simba with a soft smile, referring to when he had reluctantly first allowed a younger Kovu, then an Outlander, into the Pride Lands for saving Kiara from a bushfire. Back then, he had had great reservations as to his trustworthiness, but in the end he had been proven very wrong when the two enemy Prides had merged as one.
That night, Josh and his companions settled down to sleep in the den, on Simba's invitation, feeling as if their luck had finally taken a turn for the better. Their initially delicate and nearly short-lived truce had miraculously turned into what they might almost call a true friendship with Simba's pride. The relationship between man and animal seemed to be turning out better than even Josh could ever imagine possible…