An extra long chapter for an extra long wait. I apologize for that, but I had a lot of fun writing this chapter so I hope you all enjoy it!
A few months had passed, and the rainy season had come to an end. The apes were on the move once again, traveling back from high grounds to a lower area for the summer months. Kerchak led the way, as usual, and he glanced back occasionally to check on his family. Tarzan, who occasionally walked at his side on long trips, was taking up the back today as he ran around and played with some of the gorilla infants. Kerchak did not mind as long as he managed to keep himself and the other young close to the family. The mothers were keeping a close eye on the children's games, and while some were annoyed, they did not stop the playing.
A small dark cloud began to overshadow the sun, and Kerchak spared the cloud a glance before pausing to admire a fallen tree that gated two cliffs. He had used this tree a few times before in order to cross the river without having to walk all the way down the mountain and find a way across closer to the raging waters. As a light rain sprinkled down on them, he grunted back at the family and motioned toward the tree, encouraging everyone to follow him as he climbed up the branches.
Everyone followed slowly, taking their time to carefully climb up the tree and onto its main trunk. The children followed behind everyone, Tarzan bringing up the rear as the rain made the tree slightly slippery. Tarzan struggled for a minute before sliding all the way back to the ground.
Kerchak stopped when he saw only a few apes were following him and he looked back to see what the hold up was. A couple mothers were waiting for their young to follow them, but they were staring down over the tree at something, waiting expectantly themselves. He sighed and turned around as he realized Tarzan was having trouble. He should have guessed. He waited for Tarzan to at least get near the top, meeting his son's eyes as the child tried to pull himself up onto the trunk. Tarzan saw him and looked down embarrassed.
"Quit fooling around, Tarzan," Terk said, grabbing Tarzan and pulling him up. "Game's over, you can stop pretending now."
Kerchak huffed at Terk but allowed her attempt to save Tarzan from embarrassment slide. At least he was up on the trunk, and they could all get moving now. Kerchak walked back to the front of the family.
Kerchak gasped and looked back.
Water from the rain was pooling under branches that lodged the tree into the ground. Those branches shifted and broke under new pressure, and the whole tree was starting to move.
"Run!" Kerchak shouted. He ran along the trunk, expecting everyone else to do the same.
Panic ensued, and the entire family ran for the other end as fast as they could, some mothers grabbing their children while others hoped theirs would catch up as they were already jumping off the trunk.
The trunk slid down as the top half of the tree fell forward toward the river below, slowly losing its grip on the earth. The angle of the tree and the rain made the trunk extra slimy, and Tarzan slipped a couple times. The other children passed him and jumped over the ledge to safe ground, but Tarzan hit some moss and fell on his face. He fell backward through the air with a shout, grunting as his back hit wood and again as he fell into the hollow tree. He scrambled to grab something, so he didn't fall out of the other end.
"Tarzan!" Kala yelled.
"Mom!" he cried back.
Slowly, Tarzan crawled his way up the trunk, but he was still so far away from the exit. He saw his mother's head appear and he cried for her again. Kala looked around frantically before reaching for Tarzan. Vines snapped around her as she leaned forward more, the tree shaking slightly under the extreme pressure with the lack of support holding the tree up. Tarzan inched forward a little more and stretched out his hand for his mother's.
"Kala!" Kerchak shouted as he grabbed her by her shoulders and threw her back.
As quickly as he had thrown her aside, with his longer arms, he managed to reach into the hollow, snatch Tarzan's hand, and throw him out of the tree, sending him flying through the air, just as the tree collapsed. However, as the tree went down, a thick piece of root collided into Kerchak's shoulder, knocking him to the ground.
Tarzan landed with an oof several yards away and rolled a few feet. He winced at the impact, his hip hurting from where it collided with the ground. He shakily stood up and watched as Kerchak hit the ground. He gasped.
"Kerhak," Kala murmured as she came to his side.
Several other gorillas gasped before a few sent glares Tarzan's way. The rain slowly dried up as the gorillas moved close to their leaders.
Tarzan backed away a few paces as he stared at his parents. Kerchak groaned and shifted.
"Look at that," a mother gorilla whispered to another, "he almost got them killed."
Tarzan winced at those words. He heard them loud as day despite the gorillas whispering. And they were right. He nearly did kill his parents. Both of them—at once! What kind of son did that? Why did he have to be so different and hurt the ones he loved? Another few gorillas were also talking amongst themselves, and they glared at Tarzan now and then.
"What if Kerchak had been killed because of him? He would have doomed this entire family."
"He's such a menace."
"He's not one of us—he'll never be."
"I hate to say it, but Kala and Kerchak are probably better off without him."
Tarzan gasped at those last words, and he took several steps back, sparing one last glance at Kala and Kerchak.
Kerchak had managed to get back up on his feet, rubbing his shoulder tenderly while Kala fussed over him.
"I'm fine," Kerchak said, gently pushing Kala away from him. "I'm fine. Where's Tarzan?"
Tarzan turned and ran as fast as he could, limping slightly.
Kerchak saw the movement, as did Kala.
"Tarzan!" Kala cried after him, giving chase.
Kerchak was surprised however, and he frowned as he watched his mate and son disappear through the brush. Why on earth would Tarzan run? Yes, the whole tree falling off the cliff had been scary, but usually, Tarzan ran toward his parents when he was afraid, not away from them. Scanning the other gorillas, he saw a few confused looks and a few guilty looks. Anger filled him as he turned on the guilty looking apes, two of them holding their infants.
"What happened?" he asked.
"What do you mean?" one asked.
"Why is Tarzan running away?"
"Oh dear . . ." a mother said, looking off in the direction Tarzan and Kala had run, as if realizing what must have happened. The other two gorillas shared the same thought and they looked down submissively.
"He might have . . ." one of the gorillas started to say, trailing off when she looked up at Kerchak's furious eyes. ". . . overheard us."
"What did you say?" Kerchak pushed.
"It was my fault, Kerchak," the oldest of the mothers said, pushing past the other two gorillas bravely. She had dealt with Kerchak's temper before, and she was ready to take the blame for this. She could clearly see how much Tarzan meant to their leader even after the rocky start the relationship had had. She felt bad now for even thinking that Tarzan was no good for him or Kala. "I started it. After seeing you nearly injured or even worse, I said that Tarzan had no place among us, ad that he was a danger to you and Kala, and that you both would be better off."
Kerchak roared, pounding on his chest briefly. The ape in front of him closed her eyes but otherwise did not move. The other two behind her backed up a few steps and offered submissive smiles, their infants hiding their faces in their mothers' fur. Kerchak glared at them for a few seconds longer before turning to the rest of the family.
"Anyone else have something to say?" he asked, eyeing each ape challengingly. When no one said anything and averted their eyes, he said, "if there is any more talk like that about my son in this family, you will deal with me."
He grunted affirmatively. No one looked at him. They kept their heads down, avoiding eye contact with the enraged silverback.
"Let's move," he said.
He led the way in the direction he had seen Kala run. He looked at the ground, seeing her footprints in the drying mud. He followed them until they vanished, then looked around the surrounding trees in hopes of catching sight of her. When he saw neither Kala or Tarzan, he sighed and turned the family in the direction of some fruit trees to eat and settle for the night. He was sure after the events of today, everyone was tired. His shoulder still ached from where a root had struck him, but it was getting better with time, and he was sure a good night's sleep would help.
After finding a good nesting site, Kerchak took a moment to groom and stretch his shoulder. He thought back to how he had snatched and thrown Tarzan from the tree hollow. He winced as he thought about how his poor child may have landed. He had not meant to use so much force, but in the second he had to save him, it was the only thing he could think to do. He prayed he hadn't injured the boy too much and that that wasn't the reason Kala and Tarzan weren't back yet. He remembered how Tarzan had limped slightly, and he pushed down the guilt that was starting to rise up his throat.
To distract himself, Kerchak circled his family to mark a perimeter, letting any other apes or predators know that this was his area for a while. He watched as everyone gathered fruit and began snacking. The children played quietly among themselves, but Kerchak was not surprised to see Terk lingering on the sidelines, picking at her fruit. She kept jumping up every time the wind rustles the leaves, hoping it was Kala bringing Tarzan back.
Kerchak felt on edge himself. Kala should have returned by now. She usually knew how to find the family if she got separated, and to not hear from her after so long was starting to worry him. What if Sabor found her? Or Tarzan? What if the rain had made the earth soft and they fell off the mountain? What if they were lost? There were too many "what ifs," and he forced himself to stop pacing the boundary and actually check in on everyone and make sure no one was injured from the tree incident. He should have done that right after, but he had been so afraid for Tarzan and so furious with everyone. Save for some scratches and missing hair here and there, everyone was unharmed.
Finally, Kala stepped through the shrubs, a sad look on her face. Kerchak rushed to her side, wrapping his arms around her as she collapsed into them.
"I lost him," she said. "He slipped away before I could grab him and now, I can't find him."
"I'm sorry, Kala," Kerchak said softly. "It'll be okay. We'll look for him."
"What if he gets hurt out there? Or if a predator finds him? Sabor?"
"He'll be okay," Kerchak reassured her. "He's a touch little guy. And we'll find him before anything like Sabor happens to him."
Kala and Kerchak shared a long embrace.
Tarzan had had a long night and his day was getting no better. After managing to escape his mother and disappear into the jungle, Tarzan decided he would not go back to his family. It was true: he did put his mother in danger in a lot. And now that his father was caring for him, he, too, was in danger now because of him. His parents risked everything, even their lives, to keep him safe. And he was just a freak of nature that didn't deserve. He had wondered most of the night, slept in the cold, and ran from several predators, including Sabor. He only managed to lose her by tumbling down a small dark cave that led to the dark mountains. Tarzan froze.
His family had passed the mountains on their way to their new feeding grounds. He had also camped there with Kerchak one of the nights he and his father had been separated from the family. Only difference was they had camped on top of the mountain. The Zugor lived in the mountain, and Tarzan moved slowly through the cave, shivers running down his back.
He heard strange noises, like the thuds of feet running and an occasional grunt or snort. He jumped at each noise but kept moving through the tunnel. He wasn't sure what he feared more—the leopard at one end of the cave or the Zugor at the other.
As he came closer to the light at the other end of the cave, he peeked out. There was nothing out there, just a plain, dried up mountain scene. Tarzan gulped, taking one last look around before stepping out of the cave.
Something grabbed his hair and yanked him up.
"Look what I found ma," the big ape Uto said. "It's that little hairless ape thing."
"You again!" Kago snapped, glaring at Tarzan.
"So, dearie," Mama Gunda said, walking up to her sons, "where's your family this time?"
"I—I," Tarzan stammered, grabbing at his hair in fear it might all rip out. His eyes trailed down. "I don't have one anymore. I ran away."
"Ran away?" Mama Gunda tsked at that. She motioned for Uto to put Tarzan down and waited until Tarzan was settled next to her to put an arm around him. "Oh dear, whatever does your mother think of that?"
"Doesn't matter," Tarzan said, "she's better off without me."
"What makes you say that?" Mama Gunda asked. She patted Tarzan's back. "No mother is better off without her children. That would leave her so unhappy. Miserable. Depressed. She might even . . . die of heartbreak." Mama Gunda whispered the last part in Tarzan's ear, earning a gasp.
"Really?" he whispered back.
"Oh, yes," she nodded. She urged him forward with a hand on his back. "And no one wants that to happen. I think it would be best if you head back to her. We'll accompany you to make sure you get home safely."
"Wait a minute." Tarzan frowned. "You're trying to trick me."
"Trick you? Why would we ever do that?"
"Zugor!" a monster shouted from the cliffs, a monstrous shadow staring down at them.
Everyone gasped and ran, even Tarzan, who tripped and fell into another cave that he slid down until pressured air shot him upward and out of the tunnel system. Tarzan fell harshly to the ground, a sharp twinge in his hip reminding him of his earlier fall from Kerchak's rescue. He got back up however and kept running, wanting to get as far away from the monster as possible. He saw another older ape in front of him, and he shouted.
"The Zugor is coming! Run!"
The older ape turned, screamed, and ran.
An infant's cry broke through the trees, followed by Sabor's snarls. Kerchak ran through the trees as fast as he could, hoping he wasn't too late. He was near the cliffs now, and he could hear the infant's cries growing louder. He was almost there. He was so close.
"Kerchak!" Tarzan's voice cried.
Kerchak halted abruptly and looked around. His heart dropped as he realized where the voice had come from and glanced over the edge of the cliff.
Tarzan clung desperately to a root on a fallen tree that now hung haphazardly from the cliff, only a few vines holding it up. The river raged below Tarzan, waiting to swallow the boy. One wrong move and Tarzan would go down with the tree.
"Kerchak!" Tarzan cried. "Help!"
The cried of the infant caught his attention, and he looked behind him. The infant, his deceased son, was running circles away from Sabor several yards away. The leopard kept cutting off the ape's route to Kerchak, forcing the baby deeper into the jungle. The baby screamed louder, and Kerchak moved toward the baby when he heard a vine snap.
"Ahh!" Tarzan cried as the tree dropped lower.
Kerchak rushed back to the cliff's edge, his heart dropping at the sight.
He looked back and forth between Tarzan's situation and the infant's situation. Who could he save first? Would he have to sacrifice one for the other? How did he make this decision? His heart pounded in his chest, and he felt dizzy and nauseous, his children's screams vibrating against his eardrums painfully. He closed his eyes.
In that moment, the vines snapped, and the leopard leaped.
Tarzan and the infant screamed one last time.
"No," Kerchak muttered as he sat up in his nest, panting heavily as he looked around.
It had only been a dream. A frighteningly realistic dream, however. Had he truly failed as a father once more? Was he destined to lose children no matter what? Kerchak turned in the nest, waking Kala, who yawned and sat up.
"What's wrong, dear?" Kala asked.
"Nothing," Kerchak said quickly, sitting down next to her. When she stared at him, he sighed. "I guess I'm worried About Tarzan."
"Me, too." Kala nuzzled up against Kerchak. "But we will find him. I know he is still alive. He's just confused and hurt. And probably scared."
"I should go look for him again."
"Not now. It is late and dark. You'd be of no use to him but easy prey for others."
"Me? Easy prey?"
"You know what I mean. Sleep tonight. We will look again tomorrow morning."
"Everyone is getting antsy with the constant searching. We'll take turns searching. I'll go first."
"If you insist."
Tarzan was surprised when he found Tantor and Terk and he brought them back to Zugor's nest, none of them realizing that Mama Gunda had been following close behind in hopes they would lead them to a new family. However, he accidentally revealed to everyone that Zugor was no monster, and Zugor, upset, ran off while the two big oafs destroyed his nest.
"Now tell us where you're from!" Mama Gunda demanded, glaring at the three children. "We have been searching for your family for days and we're getting tired of this hide and seek."
"You're searching for our family?" Terk asked. "Why?"
"Why do you think?" Mama Gunda snapped. "To take it over. Get them boys and make them talk."
Kago and Uto growled as they stepped toward the kids.
"You're serious, huh?" Terk smiled uneasily. She gasped and pointed behind everyone. "Is that Kerchak?"
The three big apes looked behind them while the kids took the chance to run. Annoyed at being tricked, Mama Gunda snarled at her boys. "Get them!"
Tarzan, Terk, and Tantor ran as fast as they could through the trees. Tarzan paused for a minute to tie a vine from one trunk to the other before following his friends. He heard the two apes' trip and collide into each other.
He then found a fallen banana and shook out the rotting remnants before tossing it over his shoulder. He would have enjoyed watching them slip and dance around each other, but he didn't want to get caught either. He climbed up a tree and picked fruit quickly. He paused and waited until he saw he two enraged apes, then rained mangoes and melons down on them. Kago and Uto tried to block the fruit and spluttered at the juices that got in their mouths.
Tarzan ran as soon as he was out of fruit.
Kago and Uto were right at his heels now, and Tarzan could see Tantor and Terk paused ahead.
"Woah, stop," Terk said, holding her hands up. "Dead end."
Tarzan gasped as he nearly pushed all three of them over the cliff. There was nothing but hills and dirt below. The children turned to run a different way, but the two apes cornered them on the cliff, Mama Gunda joining them now.
"Did you really think you could escape us, dearies?" Mama Gunda asked. "Now you will take us to your family."
Just as the two apes were ready to grab Terk and Tarzan, Zugor came swinging out of the trees on a vine.
"Zugor!" he shouted as he aimed the vine for the kids.
"Zugor!" Tarzan cheered. Then he frowned as the ape flew in his direction with no sign of slowing down. He held his hands up while Terk jumped on Tantor. "Zugor, stop!"
The ape collided with the children, sending them tumbling over the cliff, Kago and Uto too slow to grab the children.
The three kids and Zugor screamed as they fell from the cliff. They collided into a leaning hollowed out tree that broke on impact, carrying everyone and sliding down the hill at incredible speed. There was a mixture of screams and laughs as the log carried them far away from dark mountain until the land smoothed out, slowing the log down until it came to a complete stop.
Terk, Tantor, and Tarzan laughed and cheered as they jumped off, while Zugor shakily and slowly got off the log.
"Oh man, that was awesome," Terk said. "Did you see their faces when we went over the cliff?"
"Let's go again!" Tantor said.
Tarzan laughed, then looked at Zugor.
"Zugor, you came back," he said. "And you saved us."
"Yeah," Zugor said, ruffling Harry's hair. "I finally figured out what you are."
"You did?" Kala asked as she stepped into view slowly.
"Mom!" Tarzan cried, running to her and jumping in her arms. She hugged him back. "I missed you."
"And I missed you so much, Tarzan," Kala said.
"And that's it!" Zugor said. "You're a Tarzan."
"A Tarzan?" Tarzan asked, tilting his head. Kala frowned at that but smiled nonetheless.
"Yes. Remember how you saved us from that rhino? And made that green hammock? And got those bananas? You do things no one else can. Kid, you're a Tarzan."
Tarzan smiled at Zugor then at Kala.
"Makes no sense to me," Terk said, shrugging her shoulders, "but whatever you say."
"I agree," Kala said. "And you're still my Tarzan. You'll always be."
Tarzan hugged his mother once more, then looked at Zugor, who turned away slowly to head back up the hill.
"Zugor!" Tarzan called to him. "Why don't you come with us?"
"With you?" Zugor asked. "No. I could never keep up."
"Neither can I most of the time," Tarzan said encouragingly, jumping out of his mother's arms. "You can stick with me. We'll hang in the back together."
Zugor smiled, then looked at Kala curiously, and she shrugged and nodded her head. Zugor grinned.
Kerchak did another lap around his perimeter, checking on everyone as he marked his territory. He kept an eye out for Kala. It was his turn to look for Tarzan. When would she be back? He sighed as he decided to make one more lap around the family.
Startled, Kerchak looked through the trees and his eyes widened as Tarzan came running toward him.
"Tarzan," Kerchak greeted, catching Tarzan in his arms and holding him close for a long minute before pulling back and glaring at him. "Where have you been? Do not you ever run away from the family like that again. You're grounded."
"Aww, come on," Tarzan whined. "I just got back."
Kerchak sighed and pulled him back into a hug.
"I'm glad you're safe, Tarzan," Kerchak said.
"I missed you, Dad," Tarzan said.
Kerchak could not be happier to hear Tarzan address him as "dad" for the first time, and he relished the warm feeling in his chest. He let Tarzan go when the boy squirmed in his arms, and Tarzan jumped to the ground and pointed back at the small group returning.
"I brought a friend," Tarzan said. "He helped me stay safe and I thought he could join the family."
"With your honor, Alpha," Zugor said, bowing his head, averting his eyes nervously.
Kerchak stood back up and sniffed the newcomer. He was old, frail, but if he had protected his son when he could not, that meant more to Kerchak than anyone would ever know. Kerchak's eyes softened, and he nodded his head.
"You may join the family," Kerchak said. "Thank you for taking care of my son."
"You've got a really special kid, there."
"Thank you. Please, help yourself to some fruit. We just gathered some for our dinner."
Zugor did not need to be told twice and he quickly gathered a pile for himself and began eating. Unsure at first when infants began snitching from his pile playfully, but he relaxed and played with them, grabbing for more when needed.
Tarzan joined his parents as they ate fruit, his stomach growling angrily. He belatedly realized he had called Kerchak "dad" rather than by his name, and he glanced up at the silverback. Kerchak had not sounded bothered by it and he did not say anything, but Tarzan was afraid he had overstepped a boundary. He wondered how Kerchak might react surrounded by the other apes.
Kerchak looked down at him. Tarzan noticed a few looks from the other gorillas, but no one seemed to react much to it.
"What is it, Tarzan?"
Tarzan breathed a sigh of relief and leaned against his father.
"I just missed you, that's all."
Kerchak rested a hand on Tarzan's head, the touch affirming his son was there at his side and that he had not lost him after all. He would not lose him ever again if he had any say in it.