A/N: This started as an idea for a flashback for "The Search for Timon," but it kept growing until it was too big for a mere flashback. You don't have to read "The Search for Timon" to understand this fic, though. All you need to know is that I named Timon's parents Nina and Nate.
Disclaimer: Disney owns Timon, Max and Fearless Buzz, but Nate is my creation.
Nate was enjoying a rare moment of rest above ground while he waited for Timon to come out of the tunnels. But even when Nate rested, he always did something with his hands. The sun warmed his fur as he wove the end of a vine through several loops, tying a complicated knot.
He smiled when he saw Timon climb out of a nearby hole. "Hey buddy, how'd the digging lesson go?" Nina had taken over the lesson that morning to give Nate a break.
"Pretty good. I dug for a long time before I messed up," said Timon, returning the smile. Although Nate wasn't quite sure what his son's definition of a "long time" was, he did know that Timon couldn't have messed up very badly. The fact that he didn't see an angry mob was evidence enough.
"That's great, Timmy! I knew you'd get the hang of it." He set his vines aside and patted Timon on the back. "Ready to rustle up some grub?"
Timon was all too ready, so father and son set off though the grass toward that best spot Nate had shown him the other day. Nate limped slightly from an old injury, and Timon kept scampering ahead. "Timon, come back here, you're going the wrong way! Just walk with me, okay?"
After a certain amount of shouting and scuffling, Timon finally fell in step beside Nate and walked quietly for a few paces. Then he looked straight into his father's eyes. "Hey Dad? What's natural selection?"
Nate blinked. "Where'd you hear about natural selection?"
"Kijio an' Kumbwe's mom was talking about it...Is it bad?"
"Depends on how you look at it," said Nate, running his paw through the fur on his crown. "See, natural selection means that only the fittest survive."
Timon only grew more confused.
"In other words, only those that are right for their environment will continue their species...I'm losing you even more, aren't I?" Nate looked down and rubbed his chin, wishing he were better at explaining things. A cricket began to chirp. "Okay, let's use crickets as an example. Say there's this cricket that's born missing a hind leg. That cricket isn't going to jump as good, so it isn't going to escape from, well, us, so it won't survive because it isn't fit. And if it dies before it has little nymphs, it won't pass its birth defect on to the next generation...Timon, are you listening?"
The young meerkat was turning his head all around, parting the grass here and there. "Yeah, I'm lookin' for the cricket with the missing leg."
Nate clapped his hand to his forehead. "It's an example, Son." But a smile tugged at his mouth...After all, Timon was doing exactly what he was supposed to do.
"But I heard a cricket chirp, and it might be missin' a leg." Timon reached forward to part the grass in front of him, but someone on the other side of the grass beat him to it. Startled, Nate clutched his son, but it was only Max standing before them.
"It doesn't take something as drastic as a missing leg to make you an easy target," said Max, pointing his finger directly at Timon.
"Max..." Nate relaxed his hold on his son. "How long have you been, um, listening?" He didn't want to accuse Max of eavesdropping outright, but this was getting ridiculous. Max was well known in the colony for popping up in unexpected places and voicing his opinion on the topic of conversation. When they complained about him to the other elders, they merely shrugged and said, "That's just the way Max is."
"Long enough to hear your little cricket story," answered Max. "Nice try, but you're leaving out an essential part of the picture. You didn't tell him, for example, that something as simple as color can play a big part in natural selection."
"That's true," said Nate, nodding slowly. "I didn't think of that."
Max gripped Timon's shoulder. "Now listen closely, sonny boy, this is very important. You see each of our markings has a specific purpose. The dark patches around our eyes absorb the sun's glare so it doesn't hurt our eyes. The bands on our backs camouflage us in the grass, and the dark tips of our tails help us identify each other when we're digging."
Timon was impressed. "Gee, I never knew that." He thought for a moment, putting a finger to his chin. "So, why are our ears black?"
"You know, I have no idea." Max wrinkled his brow. "But there's an interesting story behind it..."
"Oh no," Timon interrupted, waving his little paws in front of him. "No more stories."
"Actually, Max, Timon and I need to go forage anyway." Nate jerked his thumb toward the favored bug-hunting ground.
"All right, I'll save the story for another day, but at least hear me out on natural selection. Now Timon, did you ever notice that most of the meerkats in our colony have light brown headfur like your dad?" He gestured toward Nate.
"No, I didn't notice that...I guess you're right."
"Of course I am. And do you know why that is?"
"You mean why you're right or why meerkats have light brown fur?" Timon asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Smart aleck," muttered Max, taking his paw off Timon's shoulder.
"No, I think he's serious," said Nate.
Max shook his head. "Well, anyway, I'll show you the reason why more meerkats look like your dad. What color is the ground?"
Timon glanced down. "Light brown."
"That's right. And those with fur closest to that color," he pointed at the ground, "are the least likely to be seen by hyenas and eagles. Like the old saying goes, the meerkat that stands out gets picked off. Ever heard that saying, Timon?"
"No..." Timon shifted his weight uneasily. Frowning, Nate stepped behind his son and put his paws on his shoulders. He looked down at his bright red head; then he stared into Max's eyes.
"I think he's learned enough about natural selection today."
"What, I shouldn't tell him he's a walking target with that fur?"
"That's enough, Max. Thanks for the lesson, but we really have to go eat now." Taking his son's paw, he began to lead him toward the best foraging spot.
"You can't shelter him forever, Nate," Max called after him. "He's gotta know the truth!"
For the rest of the walk, Nate kept expecting Max to pop out of the grass again, but he must have found something better to do. No longer did Timon scamper ahead; instead his tail drooped and his feet dragged a little.
"You know, Timmy...Your Uncle Max was exaggerating about the fur. If it had that much of an impact, you wouldn't see nearly as much yellow and dark brown hair."
Timon bit his lip and stared at the ground in front of him.
"Aw, c'mon buddy. What's bothering you?"
"It's just...I don't wanna die. And I don't want you or Ma or anyone else to die either."
"Oh, Timon..." Sighing, Nate knelt to his level, trying to think of what to say. "Life is an uncertain thing. I won't lie to you, Son. You know I'd do anything to protect you, but...Sometimes bad things happen and there's nothin' you can do about it." He took a deep breath and continued, "I can't promise nothing bad will ever happen to you...And I can't promise I'll always be with you."
Timon's eyes began to fill with tears, and Nate felt his own eyes mist up. His son was just under three months old and had not yet witnessed death, but eventually he would have to face it. He pulled Timon into a hug, wishing he could actually comfort him, wishing he could keep him safe from violence and pain.
After a moment, another thought came to Nate. "I never knew my father. Your Grandpa Buzz was like a father to me. And one thing he taught me is that you shouldn't worry about what's going to happen in the future." He withdrew from the hug and placed his paws on Timon's shoulders. "Just take life one day at a time and enjoy it while you got it. Worrying never did anyone any good, and it doesn't solve anything." Of course, that was much easier said than done, but it was still something Nate tried to live by. He thought for a moment before adding, "Fearless Buzz is gone, but, in a way he is still with us, because we're always thinking about him. Do you understand?"
Timon sniffed. "So, if I think about someone, it's like they're with me?"
Timon wiped away the last of his tears. "Can they read my mind?"
"Well, um...Would you want them to?"
"Then that's your answer."
"Whew." Timon heaved an exaggerated sigh of relief, and Nate smiled a bit.
"Feeling better now?"
"A little," Timon said with a nod.
"Wanna talk to your Ma about it?"
"Yeah, but I'm hungry. Let's eat first."
Nate stood and took his son's paw again. "I think you're one of the fit ones, Timon. Come on, let's see if we can find that cricket."