This was actually not the intended chapter I had planned next, but it struck me suddenly and I let it flow. I hope you enjoy!
A few weeks passed and Tarzan noticed his parents were very busy with the baby, even though it seemed like Kaphi didn't really do much. She slept a lot, nursed from Kala, and slept some more. Kala spent a lot of time grooming her, and Kerchak would often gather food for Kala in between checking on the family and patrolling. Tarzan would sometimes just stare at his sister, marveling at how small she was, though her big brown eyes seemed abnormally large for her head. She would stare back, and Kala would chuckle at them when she noticed.
While his parents were busy with the baby, Tarzan would find Terk and Tantor to play with. Sometimes, it was just him and his two friends, other times, Terk brought in Flynt and Mungo for some rougher games of tag, king of the mountain, or rounds of dares. However, he missed his quality time with Kala, who always had Kaphi latched on to her, so even when he went to her, she had to juggle him and the baby. She would still joke around and play with him, but often, she didn't want to wake Kaphi from her naps.
So that left Kerchak, but as usual, his father was busy tending to the whole family, and checking in constantly on Kala and the baby. Even as Tarzan approached him now, Kerchak was pulling fruit down from a tree for Kala.
"Hey, Dad," Tarzan greeted, grabbing a mango that rolled away from the small pile Kerchak had made.
"What are you up to, Tarzan?" Kerchak asked as he collected some of the fruit to carry over to Kala.
"Nothing," Tarzan said. He picked up the mango and followed Kerchak. "Kaphi's napping, so Mom wants quiet time. What are you doing?"
"Delivering lunch to your mother," Kerchak said. As he reached his mate's nest, he dropped off the fruit and nuzzled Kala, who was napping with her baby. She smiled at him, and then at Tarzan as he added a mango to the pile.
"Thank you, my boys," she said.
"You're welcome, Mom," Tarzan said, nuzzling her briefly before following after Kerchak, who was moving on to his next task.
"Now what are you doing?" Tarzan asked, matching his father's pace.
"Making rounds," Kerchak said. He looked down at his son. "Isn't there something you could be doing?"
"I don't know, playing with the other young apes or that elephant friend of yours?"
"Tantor's herd is really deep in the jungle right now. He won't be back for a while. And everyone is playing apehunt right now, and Flynt already found me. They always find me first." Tarzan pouted as he glanced up at the trees where he could hear snickering and laughing as Flynt and a few others closed in on another ape's hiding place.
"Perhaps you should look for better hiding places," Kerchak suggested.
"I try. But I still get found first."
"Then go help find the others," Kerchak said.
"I can't always keep up with them. It's just easier if I sit out once I'm found. I just slow everyone down. Or they leave me behind," Tarzan said, muttering the last bit under his breath, but Kerchak heard him.
Kerchak gave his son a sympathetic look. He glanced up at the young apes in the trees as he walked under them. At least he knew what all the apes Tarzan's age were up to. Now to make sure all the infants were accounted for, at least the ones who were toddling and not latched on to their mothers like newborns. Tarzan followed him.
"When will Kaphi be interested in playing?" Tarzan asked. "She doesn't do much right now."
"She was born not that long ago. She needs time to grow and gain her strength. She'll be crawling before you know it, and then you'll wish she was still latched to Kala."
Tarzan frowned, thinking about what Kerchak said, then he smiled and shook his head.
"No, I don't think so. I can't wait till she's ready to play games with me and Terk!"
"You'll play gently with her, though, won't you?"
"Yeah, of course."
Kerchak smiled at his son, then tried to focus on the task at hand and started mentally counting everyone in his head as he walked by them. So far, all mothers accounted for, and the youngest members of the troop were within their mothers' sight. Kerchak walked around the colony and kept an eye out for predators, hyperaware that Tarzan was still following him.
"So, what are you doing now?" Tarzan asked.
"Same thing as I was before." Kerchak said with a sidelong glance down at Tarzan. "How about a nap with Mom and Kaphi, hmm? You must be exhausted."
"I'm not tired," Tarzan complained. "Can't we do something? Want to wrestle?"
Tarzan jumped around Kerchak with playful grunts, posed to leap on his father at any minute.
"Tarzan, I'm busy right now. Maybe later."
Kerchak stepped around Tarzan to continue looking for any threats to the troop. He did not miss the way Tarzan sat down with a defeated look.
"That's okay. You guys never have time for me anymore."
Those words had Kerchak stopping dead in his tracks with a startled, sharp intake of breath. He sighed and closed his eyes, thinking over what he was doing. The sun was high in the sky, so predators were a low risk at the moment. Nothing strange or concerning was sounding alarms through the forest—birds were silent, other troops were keeping their distance, and his family was either resting or playing. Perhaps he could spare an hour or two giving his son some much needed attention. He walked back over to his son, who was sitting with his head lowered, his hair hanging in his face. Kerchak whispered in his ear.
"Do you want to see something cool?" Kerchak asked.
"Really?" Tarzan asked, a grin stretching across his face.
"Yeah!" Tarzan said, jumping up. "You mean right now, right?"
"Well," Kerchak looked off, as if thinking hard about it, "only if . . . you can catch me!"
Kerchak turned and ran off into the jungle, following a path he was familiar with. He heard Tarzan laugh before the child's feet started kicking behind him.
"Hey, no fair!" Tarzan called. "You got a head start."
Tarzan ran as fast as he could, taking a path through the trees to try and cut ahead of his father. They ran alongside each other for a minute before Tarzan tried to dive in front of Kerchak, who turned sharply and evaded Tarzan's attack with a chuckle.
Kerchak led the way to an open field of purple, blue, and yellow flowers. He laughed as he ran in large donuts around the field, dodging Tarzan's leaping attacks. He paused to grunt playfully at Tarzan, who grunted back and charged his father. Kerchak waited until the last moment to shuffle aside, avoiding Tarzan's overzealous leap, and Tarzan sailed right past him.
Tarzan didn't give up however, and he jumped after Kerchak, who backed away slowly with an amused look, waiting for just the right moment before he lunged forward and pinned Tarzan down on his back. Tarzan grunted, then smiled up at his father.
"Gotcha," Kerchak said, then he snorted down on Tarzan, causing a rush of air to blow through Tarzan's hair and tickle the boy's neck. Tarzan laughed and squirmed in Kerchak's hold, and Kerchak let him go and ran off again, back toward the trees and to the marked path he had originally been following.
Tarzan shook himself off and followed Kerchak, determined to catch his father once. Kerchak led the way up a hill, then slid down the other side toward a waterfall, carefully watching himself to avoid sliding down too fast. He paused halfway down when Tarzan came barreling over the hilltop, then went tumbling down the hill, rolling and summersaulting all the way down to the waterfall below.
Kerchak shuffled the rest of the way down, pausing where Tarzan had landed. He carefully rolled Tarzan over. Tarzan stood up and spun dizzily a couple times before shaking himself off.
"Are you okay?" Kerchak asked.
"I'm okay, Dad," Tarzan said, giving himself another shake.
"I believe," Kerchak said, lowering himself to Tarzan's height, "I win."
"I want a rematch!" Tarzan declared. He looked over at the waterfall and tilted his head with a confused look. "Is this what you wanted to show me? The waterfall?"
Kerchak snorted and jerked his head in the direction of the waterfall before walking in its direction.
Tarzan followed at Kerchak's heel, surprised his father would walk so close to the falling water. He realized that there was a large gap behind the waterfall, and Kerchak slipped behind the water, Tarzan running to catch up to him. As Tarzan entered the cave, sunlight from a crack in the rocks above them reflected against several shiny rocks—diamonds—that filled every nook and crevice along the walls. They glittered and sparkled in in the darkness, providing a beautiful luminescent glow in reds and blues. Tarzan oohed, mesmerized by the sight.
Then, arms grabbed him and threw him in the air, catching him as he fell back down. Kerchak tickled him, and he shrieked.
"Gotcha again," Kerchak said before releasing his son.
"Dad," Tarzan complained, though he smiled all the same. "This is so cool! How did you find it?"
"I had to chase one of the infants down here a few days ago," Kerchak explained as he glanced around. "That Kwende is a very fast runner; a troublemaker that one will be. He doesn't listen to a word anyone says, but the rocks grabbed his attention long enough for me to catch him. Beautiful, isn't it?"
"It sure is. Mom and Kaphi would love it, too, I bet."
"Perhaps another time for them," Kerchak said. "Right now, I'm enjoying some one-on-one time with my son."
Kerchak pulled Tarzan close and nuzzled him, Tarzan returning a nuzzle himself. They stared up at the diamonds a bit longer before getting a drink from the waterfall. Tarzan jumped into the water, ignoring Kerchak's order not to jump in. Kerchak sighed and decided to groom himself while Tarzan swam around in the water. When Tarzan finally crawled out and shook himself off, Kerchak grabbed him and groomed him as well, despite Tarzan's cries that the water cleaned him off. Once Kerchak was satisfied, Tarzan was jumping around his feet again.
"Okay, Dad, now you have to catch me!"
"I already did," Kerchak reminded. "Twice, when you were supposed to catch me."
"Well, I won't go easy this time," Tarzan declared, puffing his chest out. "Ready? Set? Go!"
Tarzan splashed water at Kerchak's face before taking off up the hill they had come down.
Kerchak wiped his face and shook his head fondly, allowing Tarzan a head start before he trotted after him. He made it up the hill just in time to see Tarzan head for the trees. He ran after him, pausing when he saw Tarzan swinging through the trees like the little monkey he was. Kerchak snorted and took a sharp right.
Tarzan kept swinging through the trees as fast as he could. He glanced back and frowned, wondering where Kerchak went. He was sure he had seen his father appear behind him a moment ago. Tarzan glanced through the trees and checked the ground below him when the vine he was swinging on jerked to a stop. Tarzan tightened his hold on the vine, so he didn't fall and looked up.
Kerchak was a branch above him and holding on to the vine Tarzan had been swinging on.
"Gotcha," Kerchak stated smugly. He tugged on the vine, dragging Tarzan up toward him.
"You got the vine," Tarzan said, promptly letting go of the vine and surfing along the trees.
Kerchak appeared at his side, running alongside him. The big ape opened his mouth, ready to gently mouth Tarzan's arm or leg to stop his surfing, but Tarzan squealed and leaped for the ground on the other side of the trees he was surfing on, putting space between himself and Kerchak.
Tarzan ran along the jungle floor, leaping over roots and fallen trees while occasionally looking back to see where Kerchak was. However, when he was looking back, he tripped over a root and stumbled. This gave Kerchak the chance to catch up to Tarzan, and he gave his son an amused look.
"This doesn't count," Tarzan said, sitting up. "I tripped."
"If you say so," Kerchak smirked. "I could use a break anyway. I don't have your youth, you know. I feel you could run all day."
"I can." Tarzan jumped around as if to prove his statement true. "Come on, you still have to catch me."
Kerchak rolled his eyes, then quickly snatched Tarzan into his arms, falling backwards so Tarzan was on his stomach. He tickled his son, who giggled and squirmed in his grasp, kicking his feet futility. Kerchak stopped tickling him and hugged him close.
"Gotcha," Kerchak said. "Can we take a break now?"
"Okay, Dad," Tarzan said, snuggling against Kerchak.
The two stared up at the clouds for several minutes, watching them roll by high above the trees surrounding the two. Tarzan pointed at a cloud that morphed in shape as it moved across the sky.
"Look at that cloud!" Tarzan said. "It looks like a leopard."
"It does not," Kerchak said, tilting his head at the cloud in question. "It looks like nothing more than a big fluffy mass in the sky."
"Oh, come on," Tarzan insisted. "Look at it closer. See the teeth and the eyes? It's a leopard."
Kerchak snorted and smiled at his son.
"Okay, it's a leopard."
Tarzan glanced up at his father.
"You're not even looking at it," he said.
Kerchak looked back up at the sky, watching more clouds shift their way through.
"You know what I see?" Kerchak asked.
"That cloud right there," Kerchak said, pointing at a fluffy mass, "looks like a mango."
Tarzan burst out in laughter, rolling over so he could be face to face with Kerchak.
"All clouds look like mangoes at first," Tarzan said in between fits of laughter.
"Speaking of mangoes," Kerchak said as he rolled over, Tarzan sliding off of him, "I am quite hungry. We've had a busy afternoon. We should head back to the family and make sure everyone is safe. Then we'll have some dinner."
"Sounds delicious!" Tarzan licked his lips eagerly.
"Come on," Kerchak encouraged, walking in the direction of the troop.
Tarzan trotted at his side.
"I'll race you," Tarzan said.
"Aren't you tired of losing?" Kerchak teased.
"Nope. Just ready to win. I'll get home before you, Dad!"
Tarzan ran ahead.
"To the right," Kerchak called out to him.
"I knew that," Tarzan said, veering off to the right.
Kerchak huffed but ran after his son, if only to herd his child in the right direction back home. He acted as though he might try to catch Tarzan when he wanted him to run in a certain direction, and the tactic worked all the way back to the family, where Tarzan landed first in their nest, cheering happily while Kerchak walked up to the nest, then playfully knocked Tarzan over, effectively ending his whoops of victory. Tarzan brushed his hair out of his face and gave an indignant look at Kerchak.
Kala walked over to the nest with Kaphi tucked in one arm. She smiled at her boys as she climbed into the nest.
"There you two are," Kala said, touching her forehead against Tarzan's and then doing the same to Kerchak in greeting. "What have you two been up to?"
"Dad and I were trying to catch each other today and I won all the games," Tarzan said.
"Did not," Kerchak argued.
"Okay, I couldn't catch Dad. But I won the race back home."
"It sounds like you two had a busy day," Kala said. She adjusted her daughter against her and settled in the nest. "Dinner is set out. You should both eat and reenergize."
"For what, sleep?" Kerchak asked.
"I still have to try and catch you, Dad," Tarzan said.
"I think I've had my share of running for today," Kerchak decided as he moved toward the pile of fruit and roots in the center of the family grounds. He bit into a thick root happily, chomping on it for a moment before saying, "Tomorrow, I might sleep the whole day away."
"Well, that's no fun," Tarzan said, sitting next to Kerchak. He bit into a mango.
"Maybe not for you. It sounds like a blast to me."
"Why do you have to be so old?" Tarzan asked, emphasizing the last word.
"What did you just call me?" Kerchak's eyes flashed at his son. "I'll have you know I am in my prime."
"To sleep." Tarzan agreed.
"I'll show you who's old," Kerchak growled. Tarzan tossed his fruit down and ran, Kerchak chasing him. "Come here, you."
Tarzan ran over to the nest where Kala was shaking her head in amusement. Kerchak grunted in approval and returned back to his food. After a minute, he felt Tarzan climb up his back and hug his neck.
"Old or not, I love you, anyway, Dad," Tarzan said.
"I love you, too, you little imp," Kerchak said.
"And guess what?" Tarzan whispered in his ear.
"I finally caught you," Tarzan said, squeezing his father's neck briefly before nuzzling against Kerchak's cheek.
"So, you have," Kerchak chuckled. "I guess we're even now."
Tarzan jumped down and sat next to his father, leaning against Kerchak and grabbing another fruit to eat. They ate dinner together in warm silence, enjoying the other's presence, reminiscing on the wonderful day they had shared. After they had their fill, Kerchak rested a hand on Tarzan's back to stop him from running after Terk. Tarzan looked up at his father curiously.
"I just want you to know that if you ever feel like your mother and I are not spending enough time with you to let us know and we will make sure we do. We both get busy, especially with your new sister around, but we do not want you to feel like we are ignoring you or leaving you out. Okay?"
"Okay, Dad," Tarzan said. "I know you guys are busy and I didn't want to bother you or anything . . ."
"You are never a bother," Kerchak insisted, nuzzling Tarzan. "Never."
Tarzan nuzzled his father back, then his mother, who came to sit next to them. He touched his forehead to Kaphi's before running after Terk. Kerchak shook his head.
"Where does he get the energy?" he asked Kala.
Kala laughed, then butted her head against Kerchak's shoulder.
"Wait until Kaphi's running around with him," she said. "Then you'll be chasing both of them."
Kerchak's eyes widened, then he shook his head fondly.
"It's worth it," he decided, smiling at Kala, who smiled back lovingly.