The chapters are slowly building up. I think we are getting somewhere now. Thank you to all the new followers, favorites, and reviews. I really appreciate them all and they are very encouraging to keep a story going. Please enjoy this next chapter!
Two days passed and Kerchak and Tarzan were still traveling, though they encountered no further problems on the way. Silence reigned between the two for the most part, sparing a few words between meals, which were mostly short commands for Tarzan to obey. Tarzan did as Kerchak said for the most part, finding it best to just listen to the older ape, staying at Kerchak's heels and eating everything offered to him. Besides, it was his fault they were in this mess anyway.
The more Tarzan thought about it, the more he knew it was because of him that he and Kala had been hit by the flood waters. If he could just keep up with the others like the normal gorillas his age, he wouldn't always force his mother to take up the rear of the colony. He always screwed up. And this incident was no different. He sometimes wondered if he should just runaway and save everyone the trouble. As soon as he saw Kala, he would apologize for what an awful son he was and for any hurt he caused Kala when they were swept away. That would be the right thing to do.
Forcing the guilt down, Tarzan spotted some large rocks randomly spaced between each other. To distract himself from his thoughts, he scrambled up one of the large rocks, balancing himself on it. He eyed the next rock ahead of him, rocking slightly before leaping for it, landing on it perfectly. He eyed the next rock and jumped, slipping on the landing but catching himself before he fell off the rock.
Kerchak huffed as he glanced back, narrowing his eyes at Tarzan, but the child jumped to the next rock, too engaged in what he was doing to notice Kerchak's look.
Tarzan leaped for a low branch of a tree from the rock he was in, climbing up the branch. He slid down the next branch on his feet, wobbling slightly as he did so before launching himself to another branch in a nearby tree. He was starting to get the hang of that trick. He looked down, seeing that Kerchak was just catching up to him, maintaining his own steady pace. Tarzan jumped to another branch.
"What are you doing?" Kerchak asked.
"Just having some fun," Tarzan said, copying a lizard crawling along a branch in front of him, hanging upside down with it.
"Now is not the time for games. We need to focus on catching up with the family. They cannot be left alone for long."
"Why not?" Tarzan asked. The thinning branch he and the lizard were on snapped, and they both fell to the ground, Tarzan shouting in surprise.
Kerchak, who had been right underneath them, startled at the lizard that fell in front of him, but then narrowed his eyes as he snatched Tarzan's leg before the child could hit the ground. He held the boy upside down in front of him, meeting the child's eyes and glaring at the boy.
"Sorry," Tarzan said, his hands hanging. "And, err, thanks."
"The family needs my protection, Tarzan," Kerchak said, flipping Tarzan over as he sat him down. "As the leader, they rely on me to keep the family safe and guide them to new feeding grounds, otherwise they are exposed to other large silverbacks and predators, like leopards such as Sabor."
Tarzan frowned in thought, walking at Kerchak's heel again.
"I could help defend the family, too!" Tarzan smiled, pausing to pound on his chest in a gorilla fashion. "Terk has been teaching me some fighting moves. And I've been practicing my leopard challenging cry."
Tarzan charged forward, spinning and snarling like a leopard. Kerchak paused as the boy cut in front of him, watching him for a minute before rolling his eyes. He continued forward, saying, "Let's move, Tarzan."
Tarzan ran into a tree and fell over slightly dazed. Shaking himself off, he shuffled over to Kerchak. Tarzan looked up at the great ape, remembering how Kerchak had been quick to fight off Sabor. One must be very brave to want to put himself between his family and a hungry predator. He wondered what it would be like to be so courageous. And big! Every time he looked up at Kerchak, the great ape seemed bigger and taller. Was that even possible?
"I think one day," Tarzan mused, "I could be as brave and strong as you are. Then I could protect the family like you."
Tarzan nearly fell over as he abruptly stopped, curiously looking up at Kerchak, who was staring down at him stock-still. There was a strange emotion across the great silverback's face that Tarzan had never seen before, and Kerchak's eyes seemed distant, as if they were far away in a long-lost memory. Tarzan tilted his head, blowing some hair out of his face.
A long moment passed before Kerchak grunted and said, "You do no more than play with Terkina. I could hardly call it fighting practice. A great leader must be ready at all times to protect the colony."
"I'm ready now," Tarzan said, wiggling his ears.
"You think? Let's see what you've got."
"I'll show you what I can do," Tarzan jumped in front of Kerchak, pawing the dirt with his back right foot. Tarzan eyed Kerchak, wondering where he should even attempt to tackle and disable. He never managed to beat Terk, but perhaps Kerchak would go easy on him. After all, he was only showing the great ape what he could do.
Kerchak allowed Tarzan to charge him, but just as the child reached him, he used one hand to flip Tarzan over and pin him to the ground. Tarzan struggled in the hold, and Kerchak moved his fingers just enough to tickle the boy's sides. Tarzan squealed with laughter, his arms curling at his sides.
"Hey, no fair! No fair!" Tarzan cried.
Kerchak's lips quirked into a small smile before he shook his head and released Tarzan. Tarzan laughed in between breaths, trying to breathe again. Kerchak's face grew serious as he stepped over the boy. "Well, err, well done. We should keep moving. Come."
Tarzan leaped after Kerchak happily, still laughing slightly. He looked up at Kerchak, noting how the ape kept his head up with a neutral expression. Tarzan puffed out a breath and straightened himself out, holding his head up and doing his best to keep a serious look on his face, his eyes flicking up at Kerchak occasionally.
Kerchak glanced at Tarzan and rolled his eyes. Tarzan rolled his own eyes, quickly peering up at Kerchak again. Kerchak huffed, ignoring the small huff that followed, and continued walking on, Tarzan at his side.
Night was creeping up on the duo and another rainstorm was brewing in the distance. Kerchak scavenged the ground for roots and berries, Tarzan doing the same. It was the first mimicry Kerchak actually appreciated from the child as it allowed Tarzan to feed himself.
It had been strange—being mirrored by the small, hairless ape all afternoon. As if the boy actually wanted to impress him. As if he wanted to be like him. For Kerchak, it reminded him too much of his lost son, who had very much copied him from newborn hood. In a brief moment of weakness, Kerchak almost saw his son in Tarzan, but the moment quickly dissipated. Tarzan would never replace what he lost. He would not allow it. The boy would never be like the rest of the family. Tarzan could never be one of them.
Perhaps all this mockery would teach the boy how to care for himself. Kala babied the child too much in Kerchak's opinion, and it was time the child step up to the plate and do things without a mother's intervention. If this was how the child needed to learn, then he would allow it for the time being.
Kerchak paused to eat some roots he dug up, remembering how he had played with the boy, even if for a minute or two. No, not playing. He was just seeing what the boy was capable of, that was all. Testing him, yes, that was it. Kerchak shook the memory away. It was no more than allowing Tarzan to prove himself, which the boy had failed miserably. Although, he was only five years old, and small in gorilla standards. Kerchak looked back at Tarzan, his eyes softening as he watched the boy struggled to pull out a root from the ground. The plant finally gave, and Tarzan fell backward with a small yelp. Very small, Kerchak thought, just as his own, young . . .
No. Kerchak snapped his head away and closed his eyes. He couldn't let himself think like that. He may have let Kala keep the baby those few years ago, but that did not make Tarzan his son. Ever.
Raindrops sprinkled from the sky and Kerchak led the way up a tree. While Tarzan still struggled with gripping the bark, he learned to use the branches around him to his advantage. Kerchak quickly put a bed together for them. The rain fell harder, forcing Kerchak to manipulate some branches above them to create some shelter from the weather. Cold wind blew around them, slithering under the umbrella like structure to chill the duo.
Kerchak laid down on the bed, hardly bothered by the wind. His thick, dense fur kept him warm and he closed his eyes contently. He heard Tarzan shuffle around the nest, adjusting the leaves around himself as he often did. There was silence for a close thirty seconds before chattering interrupted Kerchak's rest. Opening his eyes, he spotted Tarzan under many leaves yet shivering away.
The boy had his arms wrapped around himself and his body visibly shook. Yet, Tarzan tried to fight it, keeping his eyes closed and curling up more, snuggling deeper into the leaves. His chattering stopped now and then; a visible effort Tarzan put into along with stopping his shivering body.
For one so small, you seem so strong, Kerchak couldn't help but think.
The boy would freeze if Kerchak didn't do anything. And Kerchak almost decided to do nothing. It would certainly be less baggage if the boy never woke up in the morning, and Kala couldn't possibly blame him for the child's lack of hair.
Yet, a part of Kerchak knew what Kala would expect him to do. And seeing the boy fight the cold the storm brought pulled on heartstrings he was unaware he had. With a heavy sigh, Kerchak stood and walked to Tarzan's side of the nest. He laid down next to the surprised boy and used a hand to pull the child against his side.
Tarzan was stiff next to him, but as his muscles warmed, the boy relaxed, his shocked face morphing into a soft smile as he rested his head against Kerchak's side, closing his eyes.
"Thank you," Tarzan said. The boy's breathing evened out slowly.
Kerchak stayed awake, listening to the pitter patter of rain, the low rumble of thunder in the distance, and the soft snores of the sleeping child. A warmth spread from his side where Tarzan slept all the way to his chest, and he wasn't sure he recognized the feeling. Or if he even liked it.
Where once there was resentment and disapproval, there was now . . . apathy . . . and still something he could not name. Where had those original feelings run off to? He still did not think Kala made the right choice in taking in the orphaned baby, but the boy was obviously not a threat. Not now, at least. Would he become one in the future? Or could he shape the child into one of them? Could it be possible?
Kerchak stared down at the boy in his arm, that feeling still strong in his chest. Perhaps he could make an ape out of Tarzan while the boy was still into gaining his approval and acceptance. Just maybe . . .
Kerchak sighed and shook his head. What was he thinking? It couldn't truly be possible. He should sleep on such a ludicrous idea. Kerchak closed his eyes, falling into a deep sleep himself.
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