In the Pridelands...
"Why did you do this, Dad? Why did you not care enough to tell all of us the truth?"
Kion and his father circled one another as the pride watched on.
"Son, you need to leave."
"I'm a part of this family! Don't you think Kiara and I had the right to know? If you had kept Kopa at home, in his family, Kiara would have been in the Lion Guard. She would have all the experience she-," "Kion." Simba growled. "needed. And Kopa, he would be king. Like he was supposed to be all along." His father glowered at him. "And me, I would've been free to live a normal life. I would have been free, Dad, and my friends would've been free, too. To be happy."
" 'Friends...' " Ono sarcastically let the word trail.
"I know that," Simba looked away stubbornly.
"So why?" Kion demanded, trying not to get emotional. As he kept demanding the truth, his mane slowly started to turn black again. The red receded to the roots. "Why me? Why not her?"
Simba glanced over as his youngest son pointed out Kiara.
"You're thinking of yourself."
"You are too." His son refuted.
"Look in the water, son," His mother pointed out a puddle from the recent rain. "Look at yourself."
"You're the reason Jasiri is dead."
The hyenas circled Kion; he had been a mistake returning to the Outlands this way.
"No," he tried to face them all as they moved, well-organized and coordinated. Some were older, some were younger. But the hyenas had finally gotten themselves together. "I didn't."
"Come on, Kion," Asante appeared between the parting hyenas, "We all know the truth, so don't deny it, lion. You've been trying to warn Simba of Zira's plans. Not only are you going to betray the lion pride that took you in, your own kind, but you'll be betraying my sister." It was a fierce growl at the mention of Jasiri that made the female hyena stand off to the side.
"Kion, Kion, Kion." Janja made his way through the ranks.
The lion bared his teeth at the hyena, unafraid.
He would fight Janja to the death for what he had put Jasiri and Asante through.
"You gotta learn to pick your battles, sunshine." He nodded at Kion's ebbing mane color.
"I'll rip you apart," Kion rasped, extending his claws.
"You'll what?" Janja sneered. Asante looked away in shame.
The gray of Kion's mane turned dark black, his eyes reddened. "I'll rip you apart."
Kion ignored his mother's request. "Is it fair of her never to know? To be defenseless for no reason other than your selfish pride?" Simba growled. "And Kopa?! He deserved to know..."
"Where's Kopa now?" Fuli asked in concern.
She and the rest of the Guard backed Simba up.
"Why do you stand there and let Dad make all the decisions?" Kion turned to Nala. "You're just as strong as he is. If there's one thing the Outlands taught me, it's being true to who you are." Some of the lionesses scoffed. "Dad," Kion met Simba's eyes. "It doesn't have to be this way. If you gave the Outlanders a chance... they're not bad, they're just confused."
"We're not talking about them." Simba argued.
"I've met Kovu," Kion tried to reason with his father.
The lion growled much deeper this time, Kiara's ears perked.
"He mentioned you a lot," Her younger brother turned to her. "Well, as much as possible-,"
"You consorted with Zira's pride!" Simba stalked forward. Kion reared back, trying to stay calm but alert. His mane was only dark at the tips. "Scar's followers?! Why are you here?"
"Simba!" Nala snapped at him.
The frenzied look left the king's eyes.
Kion took another step back in fear, staring into his father's brief brush with insanity.
"You're gonna pay Kion," Janja's hushed voice was so velvet and menacing, the furs on the back of Kion's arms rose. "For makin' us starve every day, for what you did to my mother..."
"Asante told me." Kion met her eyes.
The lion realized his mistake.
"Let'er go, Janja." He was quick to rectify. "Let'er go... and you can have me."
Kion stood with his head raised, eyes closed. Asante gasped as his fur lightened completely.
"DON'T MAKE ME LAUGH!"
The irony was lost on most. Some of the hyenas growled, others just blinked and stared.
"Just let'er go, Janja," Kion repeated admirably.
"You worthless... you-, you think you're in a position ta-? Ah, man, you arrogant-!"
The lion rushed Janja and delivered his remaining trademark; the head-butt.
"I'm not proud of that, but I won't go back on my word," Kion told him, holding the grown hyena down. "Asante," He looked his friend in the eye. "Go. Find my father or brother and warn them. Zira's coming and she's training Kovu to be the new Scar. Please, you must go!"
"You betrayed me," She accused, not feeling at all friendly towards the lion who'd outed her.
"Kopa could die." Kion urged her.
"What'd you care?!" Janja demanded of Asante. "He's just a lion! And related to Kion."
The lead hyena looked between the two. She lowered her ears, clenched her teeth and then followed Kion's advice. He watched her lop away to safety and sighed. Janja growled at Kion and used his distraction to flip him over on his back. The teen gasped and braced himself for Janja's death blow when a loud smack from an unusual direction caused him to jerk his eyes up. It was unusual because no one ever defended Kion. A large lion paw was over him and a thrill of fear that his father had found him ran through the utterly terror-stricken cub... until the paw came to rest before him. Kion released his breath; only one lion had ever done this.
"What happened to Kopa?" Nala insisted on knowing.
Despite Kion's claims, Kiara joined her mother.
The entire pride converged onto the scene and Kion realized that no matter what he did to make up for the past, no matter how much he apologized or tried to warn his family, and no matter how much the cub still loved them; nothing could ever break the King's Word, except for another king. And Kion had never been destined to be one, but he was still something...
Kopa stood over Kion with his arm emblazoned with the red lion mark.
The younger lion gawked until the brown-maned leader looked down at him... and smiled.
For the first time in a long time, Kion's light brown eyes lit up. The gold shined in them.
Instead of helping the lion up, Kopa placed his big paw on his brother's forearm.
A familiar orange lion emblazoned itself upon it.
Janja was absolutely floored. "Oh... man," he said, stupefied.
Wordlessly the brothers exchanged a reuniting smile before Kopa unleashed his roar on the hyenas. Kion beamed, but remembered that true glory came from love and not a combined sense of justice. He remembered himself and The Lion Guard. With passion in his heart, the returning hero flipped around and unleashed a ferocious roar on the remaining hyenas who were at his brother's back. The two lion brothers shared a tremendous power together, one that was not theirs but united them in a way that was all the more powerful as it flawlessly swept the large clan away. The half-crazed hyenas cried in fear as they took off in separate directions. Kion was chuckling like one as Kopa smirked at him knowingly. The cub nodded:
They both remembered the jungle.
"I was pretty shook up, but those hyenas were even-,"
"I have to go after them." Kopa told him.
"What?" Kion was taken aback.
His big brother nodded solemnly. "I have to go after them... and keep them out. If what you and Asante said was true, Zira's going be striking tenfold what she tried when I was a cub."
Heartbreak was in Kion's eyes. "But we're family," he said.
Kopa smiled sadly. "We're also The Lion Guard."
They both knew what Kopa had always wanted Kion to learn, and how it no longer mattered if something was threatening their family. The bigger lion caught Kion in a tight hug, further sending the cub into shock. Kion felt saddened and lost as no one had ever hugged him like this, not even his mom. Kopa rested his big chin on Kion's head as he thought for a minute.
"Kion," He looked down into his brother's eyes with understanding, "I know that our parents have made their choices, and not all of them good. I know what they did and to a point why they did it. I've always known. Please, approach them with forgiveness and respect. That is the only way we'll ever find peace," he smiled at him gently. "And maybe we'll meet again."
The lion slowly backed away from Kion with a cautious look, then turned to head Janja off.
It was only now that he realized what his brother's parting look had meant.
"Wait!" Asante jumped in front of him.
"Asante?" Bunga recognized her.
"Whatever Kion's told you is true."
"What are you trying to tell us, Kion?" Kiara asked him curiously.
"I-," He looked at her and remembered what Kovu had said about her being the only happy thing before his training, Kion remembered what Kopa had done for Asante, he remembered Jasiri. There was nothing left for him to say; this wasn't his home anymore. "I've gotta go."
"No," The hyena turned to look at him. "What you did back there for me, for Kopa." Simba's pride relaxed a little. "You saved our lives and you didn't even have to. I'll stand up for you."
Kion smiled at her kindly.
"Dad," he looked at his father. "Asante was Kopa's best friend. She's a strong leader and is every bit as loyal and capable as any lion. Let her stay here, where she'll have food and be safe. It's what she deserves," Kion saw her smile. "And it's what Kopa would have wanted."
"I'll consider letting you stay." Simba said, begrudging. "If you tell us where Kopa is."
"But not out of love." Asante accused.
"I do love you." His father came closer to him.
Kion shrank away a little. "Kopa chased the hyenas off."
Simba lifted a paw and saw what he had done to both of his boys for the first time.
He had left them.
His son shifted just slightly from under his intended touch, holding his gaze the whole time.
"Mom? Kiara? Guys?"
Kion looked around at the pride.
"Simba," Nala came to stand beside her husband. "I think we should allow Asante to stay."
"Daddy," Kiara's bid seemed to finalize things.
He nodded once at Kion and returned to where he had stood before. "All right."
"Bunga," The teenaged lion turned to his honey badger best friend.
"Kion?" He said uncertainly, pawing up to him.
"You were seriously fierce and brave standing up to me last night."
Bunga smiled his buck-toothed grin.
"And for that," Kion smiled back, "I want you to be the new leader of the Lion Guard."
No one moved except for the lion as he placed his paw on Bunga's forearm, the white of his mark formed an orange line down the middle. Bunga's mark then turned half of Kion's mark before the former leader's faded out. Everyone watched as Bunga was breathing hard, total amazement on his face. Kion watched with a proud look. The honey badger ran his claw up his new mark and then looked up at Kion with wet eyes. Kion's brows tightened as he gave a truthful nod. Bunga swallowed once and then jumped up to grab onto Kion in a tight hug.
The lion hugged him back easily.
Neither spoke but the honey badger clung to him. Kion felt his own eyes swell with tears.
He placed his paw on the back of Bunga's head and held him close for just a moment.
Everyone watched with a heavy look as Kion brought back his head, the honey badger jumped back down and turned to his best friend's unexpected defender.
"And Asante," Bunga spoke to Jasiri's sister, "You were brave and fierce to come into the Pridelands, all while holding your own against the Lion Guard and an entire lion pride." She blinked at him.
"Oh, well, that's..."
"Welcome to The Lion Guard!" He slapped her arm nonchalantly.
She hiccuped, then yelp-roared Bunga away. "Oh!" Asante covered her mouth.
"I like her already." Fuli stated slyly.
"You'll get used to it," Besthe smiled. " 'Course, I've never been a hippo who could roar."
"Well, at least we've got some actual lions on the team now." Bunga brushed himself off.
"Speak for yourself," Ono chimed in, sounding cheerful.
"Speaking of which, you do know that the Fiercest is the leader, Bunga." Kion smiled at him.
The honey badger dropped his arms. "Ooohhh."
Two figures watched the sun set over the desert.
"Where will you go?" Rafiki turned to Kion in great concern.
"Wherever the wind takes me... y'know, cause Kopa will be causing it. Or Grandpa."
The mandrill's look was serious.
"Honestly, I don't know Rafiki." Kion was smiling, a little bittersweet now. He hadn't done it for so long in a very long time. "But wherever it is I'm going, I'm happy." The lion looked at the wrinkled primate. "For the first time things are exactly the way they're supposed to be."
"You were meant to be here," Rafiki told him heavily.
"Maybe," Kion considered this. "But I know now that I can choose who I want to be."
"What I mean is..." The mandrill placed his hand on Kion's shoulder. "I see so much of-,"
Kion hugged him with both arms. Rafiki sighed and tossed his stick aside, returning it.
"I know," The lion wiped at his eyes with the back of his paw and stepped away.
Rafiki touched his face dearly.
The mandrill nodded, smiling. "He knows, Kion, and he loves you."
"Yeah, I know."
Rafiki was so proud of him. "Go on, my son," he held out his hand grandly. "If it is another's blessing you seek, you have it. Go and live your life, Kion, knowing that you will always be loved and never forgotten. And tell Kopa... we never forgot to love and remember him. We would have come, if we'd known it was safe for him. Go in peace." Kion nodded his thanks.
"Bunga told me you never gave up on me."
"Just like you never gave up on Kopa." Rafiki returned. "Or us," he added softly.
"Goodbye, Rafiki." Kion bowed his head in respect, knowing this was true.
The lion cub then jumped down from atop the ridged bluff and ran down the sandy slope.
Rafiki watched as Kion raced along the sun's fading trail and on into the gathering darkness.
"Forgiveness," A quiet whisper drifted through the wind as the lion's form melded into red.