Fandom: The Lion King (including the 1994 movie, its sequel Simba's Pride, and parts of the spinoff cartoon The Lion Guard)
Characters: Simba/Nala, Kovu/Kiara, and a slew of OCs
Notes: Was finally inspired to get started on this thanks to that commission I showed you. I'll keep posting it here if anyone is interested in reading it here; if not, I'll just leave this chapter up and put any further ones exclusively on Ao3.
Light filtered through the leaves overhead and dappled the ground beneath Notch’s paws. It was late in the afternoon and the jungle around him was thrumming with signs of life, but the only life he cared about was curled up in their makeshift den, hopefully sleeping, definitely mourning. Lomela might eat if he brought home meat for her, and that was enough to keep him moving, but he knew it wasn’t food that she wanted.
Two days had come and gone since their cub’s heart had gone silent, and Notch had spent every hour since then wondering if there was anything he could have done differently. Neither he nor Lomela would have ever guessed that they had chosen an unsafe shelter, let alone that a large pack of hyenas would be prowling so close to the jungle. The lions had been chased too far, too fast, and it was more than their newborn son could handle.
Notch kept his senses on alert for signs of prey, but his heart wasn’t in it. He didn’t want food either; all he was getting out of this was a way to pretend he was busy.
He was following a faded scent trail when the jungle’s tranquility gave way to a crashing noise, distant at first but rapidly approaching. He frowned and looked up, losing the trail as he listened carefully. Within moments, he saw the foliage before him rustle, and then a leopardess burst into view, leaping from branch to branch to ground at a breakneck pace.
She was clearly unprepared to come face to face with a lion, and staggered backward as soon as she landed, panting heavily and weakened by exhaustion. Nevertheless, she pinned her ears and snarled at Notch without a second’s hesitation. “Get away!”
“I won’t hurt you,” he replied, taken aback.
The leopard’s attention snapped to the sounds of pursuit still coming from behind her, then back to Notch. She crouched for a pounce, heedless of her slender chance at survival if it came to a fight between the two of them. “Get back! I’ll kill you!”
“I can help you,” Notch insisted. “Who are they?”
Almost instantly, the question was answered for him as he caught a strand of cackling laughter amidst the thudding paws that would become visible far too soon. “Hyenas,” he hissed, flexing his claws into the moss. Maybe his hunt today wouldn’t be futile. Maybe it had led him to a chance at revenge. “Let me take care of this.”
“No!” cried the leopard, now sounding more afraid than angry. “Just run!”
There was no time to discuss it any further. Four hyenas burst through the bushes, laughing madly. The first two, catching sight of their quarry, went running at her without even seeming to see Notch, and the leopardess bolted. Knowing that she would be cornered at the river if she continued in that direction, Notch tried to shout a warning, but the other two hyenas now needed his full attention. One leaped for his throat while the other tried to get in close and trip him up, but both attacks were easy to deflect.
“You die today,” Notch snarled as the rage began boiling up inside him. “My son will be avenged.” He couldn’t tell if either of these had been among those chasing him and Lomela, but it didn’t matter. If they weren’t, they were clearly no better than the others.
One of the hyenas, undaunted, responded in a mocking tone. “You got any more sons? I ain’t had a lion cub in days!”
Before they could launch another attack, Notch lunged, swiping at the one who had spoken, and he staggered away with bloody gashes across his face and neck. The other made one more attempt to bite, but found herself snapping at an empty space as Notch dodged her and pounced from the other side. She was prostrate and dying before the first one could even react, and neither had given Notch so much as a scratch.
His remaining enemy appeared to make the wise decision to retreat, but he was limping, and Notch was seeing red. He took one leap and tore into him, feeling bones snap between his jaws, but as the fury within him began to dissipate, he remembered what had started the fight and stopped in his tracks, standing still to hear over the hyena’s final whimpers.
Down in the direction of the river, the sounds of the chase continued. Before Notch could work out a plan, there was a terrible crunch, the high-pitched scream of a leopard, and then a loud splash. The distant cries of hyenas echoed through the cover of the trees. Horrified, Notch stared unblinking out at the jungle. The death of the leopardess was a cruel thing to witness, all the more because it seemed so senseless. Why had she run along the jungle floor and the lowest branches, instead of taking the easy escape up any of the massive trees where her kind spent most of their days?
There was only one explanation. Notch squeezed his eyes shut, then opened them with new resolve. The chase had left a strong scent trail, but he would have to hurry if he wanted to reach the end of it before it faded, and Lomela was waiting for him.
Twilight’s first stars were shining over the canopy when he found the place where the hyenas’ path and the leopard’s had first crossed: a gnarled and mighty tree draped in creepers so thick that it was almost walled off like a cave. Cautiously he put his head through, then followed with the rest of his body. The largest branch swept downward until it rested on the ground, and Notch used it as a ramp to reach a little crevice that his nose was telling him to investigate.
Nestled in the cradle formed at the heart of the tree was a single female cub. Her eyes were no more than slits, but when Notch tentatively touched his nose to the muted spots of her soft coat, the cub stirred and let out a plaintive mew.
“Hush, little one,” Notch whispered. “You’ll come to no harm. There’s someone who needs you, as much as you need us.” With utmost tenderness, he lifted the leopard kitten by the nape of her neck, and set off with her for home.
After a long, long silence, letting Notch wash her tenderly while the tiny cub nursed at her swollen teats, Lomela suddenly felt the need to face her mate and speak. “I want to call her Paka.”
He gave her forehead one last lick before replying. “That’s a good name. For a lion or a leopard.”
“Will she understand that she’s one of us, Notch? Will she think we stole her away from her own people?”
“I don’t know. When she’s older, maybe we can explain. For now, the best we can do is love her. Isn’t it?”
Lomela nodded. Tears were in her eyes, and for once, they weren’t strictly for the cub she had lost, but they weren’t simply tears of joy, either. The leopard baby had ignited a complex web of emotion within her, and all she knew for sure was that she was once again a mother.
That, and Notch, her fierce golden rogue of a husband, was once again a father. She pushed her face into his tawny mane, proud that they had come so far together. It had only been a year since he had come roaming into the Pride Lands and stolen her heart, but she had no regrets about leaving the royal pride to be with him. Young as they were, their plan to strike out on their own had seemed like it would work, up until the hyena attack.
He curved himself around her and lowered his head to sniff the cub. “Maybe we should stay here after all. She’ll feel at home in the jungle.”
Lomela could feel his anxiety, and it mirrored her own. “Will we be safe here?” she asked. “What if the hyenas come back?”
“Hmmm.” Notch heaved a deep sigh. “I killed two of them. I think they’ve learned to give us some space. And if they try to set foot in our territory, this time we won’t run.”
He would have fought rather than run the first time, she knew, but he had been the one carrying the cub. There had been too many of them, anyway. It was likely that he would have died trying to protect her and their son, although there was no point in trying to logic him out of his guilt. She had enough of her own to deal with.
Paka yawned, having finally finished nursing, and Lomela gently moved her to the cradle of her forelegs. “We don’t truly have our own territory, though,” she said to Notch. “We only have a claim here because there are no other lions for miles around. Lions belong in the Pride Lands, that’s what they’ll say.”
“And hyenas belong in the Outlands,” he growled. “That’s what I say.”
“It is odd, isn’t it? The whole world seems out of balance. What brought them here?”
Notch was quiet for a long stretch. Then he said, “We should find out. Wait here. I’ll be right back.”
She could hear him after he left the den, staying close to its opening. He roared once, not in a threatening tone, but as a demand for attention. A chorus of birds of many kinds cried out in response.
“I, Notch of the Night Pride, have a message for King Simba!” Notch called. “Lomela’s son, to be betrothed to the heir of Pride Rock, is dead. Hyenas run rampant in the Hakuna Jungle. The Circle of Life suffers. We ask for the aid of the king!”
There was another burst of squawking, and then the sound of wings as some of the birds took flight. Not all of them would fly toward Pride Rock, but they would speak to other birds, who would travel and spread the news in turn, and the message would certainly reach Simba’s ears in time.
What would happen then? Lomela didn’t want to worry about it now. When Notch came back to her side, she licked his ear over the slit that had given him his nickname. “If things get bad here, the royal pride will take us in,” she told him. “But I don’t know what they’ll think of Paka. It would be better to raise her here.”
He gazed down at the sleeping cub, then suddenly smiled. “When she wakes, I’ll show you where I found her. It’s beautiful -- and a good place to hide. Just right for a little leopard girl and her lion parents.”
Lomela smiled back. “Good idea. We have a new family. It’s time we had a new home to go with it.”
Read it on Ao3.