Iron on the Outside, Father Within @bluerowley
Replacement

Thank you everyone for reading and reviewing! Enjoy the next chapter!


Days turned to weeks, and weeks to months, and Kala's stomach grew a bit more distended as time passed. Tarzan slowly felt a growing sense of belonging he had never experienced before, and his excitement for a sibling grew with each passing day. He constantly asked when the baby would arrive, only to be told not yet. Still, it was nice to feel the baby against Kala's stomach.

Tarzan laid his head down on her stomach with his mother's encouragement. He smiled as he felt the movements from within, small kicks and shifts of the baby. He couldn't wait until his sibling was here and he could play with it.

"When will the baby come out?" Tarzan asked as he looked up at Kala. "Soon?"

"We've told you many times, Tarzan," Kala said with a chuckle, "the baby will come when the baby is ready."

"I've been thinking," Tarzan said with a frown.

"You should warn us when you start doing that," Kerchak teased playfully as he came over to their nest, checking on Kala.

"Dad," Tarzan complained with a smile. "I was just wondering how a baby would get into mom's stomach in the first place."

Kerchak and Kala shared a look, then Kerchak spluttered slightly as he raked his brain for the right words. Tarzan looked up at his parents inquisitively as he waited for an answer to his question.

"Well," Kerchak began, ignoring Kala's smile, "we are mates, Tarzan . . . and when mates love each other very much and are ready to have a baby, well, you see . . ."

"Hey, Tarzan!" Terk interrupted, and Kerchak breathed a sigh of relief.

"Hi, Terk," Tarzan greeted. "Kerchak was just telling me where babies came from."

"Where babies come from? Pfft!" Terk waved her hands dismissively. "Everyone knows babies are delivered by storks. They come undercooked, so that's why the moms have to swallow them and finish cooking them in their belly. Come on, we've got some games to catch up on."

Kerchak and Kala shared a look, but Terk and Tarzan were already running off.

"Hey, Terk," Tarzan asked as they moved through the family's home grounds. "Do you think I'd make a good brother? What if the baby doesn't like me?"

Terk paused, frowning at Tarzan for a moment, taking in his worried expression before she offered a small smile.

"Of course, the baby will like you," Terk said encouragingly. "It's your sibling after all."

"What am I supposed to do when the baby comes?"

"Oh, that's easy. Come on, let the master show you how it's done."

Terk led Tarzan over to where several young infants were playing. She sat near them, motioning to Tarzan to sit next to her. He did so, and they watched the young gorillas swing around on low vines or tackle each other. Terk waited a minute before pointing a few things out to Tarzan.

"All you gotta do is make sure the baby doesn't hurt himself," Terk said.

Tarzan gasped, then rushed forward when the infant singing on the vine lost grip and fell to the ground below. Tarzan caught the giggling baby before he hit the floor, and the baby crawled away happily.

"Nice catch," Terk cheered. "Watch out behind you!"

Tarzan only had a moment to turn around when another infant fell on his back, knocking him down to the ground, by the baby was cushioned from the fall and sat happily on his back. Another squeal of laughter hit Tarzan's ears, and he saw another infant swing off the vines and fall toward him, and he reached out his hands and caught the baby before she hit the ground. She giggled from the thrill. Tarzan breathed a sigh of relief.

After all the babies were happily playing on the ground in a much safer game, Terk pulled Tarzan to another group of older gorilla children scavenging the floor for something sweet.

"Growing babies eat a lot of food, so you'll have to share everything," Terk said.

Tarzan looked up and smiled at the fruit above them. He climbed the trees and knocked down as many fruits as he could. Once he managed that, he slid back down to the forest floor, and made sure everyone had a fruit, including Terk, who licked her lips and enjoyed hers. Hungry himself, Tarzan closed his eyes and opened his mouth, only to bite down on empty air. He opened his eyes with a confused look. A quick glance around revealed that one of the baby's had snatched the fruit from him and was munching away on it with a smile, blinking up at him endearingly.

Tarzan huffed, then grabbed another fruit on the ground. He was about to take a bite of that one when two children hung upside down from a tree branch, one holding the other's ankles, and they snatched Tarzan's fruit before scrambling up the branch quickly.

"Hey!" Tarzan said.

Terk snorted, then offered the remaining fruit she had left to Tarzan, nudging his shoulder playfully. Tarzan smiled at his friend and ate the fruit.

When a young infant began crying, Terk took advantage of the moment and had Tarzan try to figure out what the baby wanted. Tarzan frantically brought fruit, sticks, rocks, and even fruit rind for teething, but everything Tarzan offered, the baby threw aside. Tarzan wasn't sure what else it might want, but he thought maybe some roots or leaves might help as the texture seemed to amuse some crying babies, as he had seen some mothers do.

As Tarzan ripped some leaves down and ran back toward the infant, he tripped over the long leafy part of the plant and fell into the dirt face first.

For a few seconds, there was silence.

Then the infant laughed at Tarzan's plight, pointing a finger at Tarzan.
Slightly embarrassed, Tarzan's cheeks burned as he sat up and threw the leaves aside. Terk came over to him and gave him an encouraging smile as she rested a hand on his shoulder. Tarzan smiled back and shook some leaves out of his hair.

Later that evening, Tarzan returned to his nest. It was too early for bed, but he was exhausted from his baby training day with Terk. His mother was already at the nest munching on some roots, and she eyed her son as he crawled in the nest next to her.

"Where have you been?" she asked gently, smiling as he collapsed at her feet.

"Terk has been teaching me everything I'll need to know for when the baby arrives," Tarzan answered.

"Oh? And what have you learned?"

"Babies are a lot of work," Tarzan said.

Kala chuckled at that. "Yes, they are," she agreed. "But it's all worth it, you'll see."

Tarzan was silent for a moment, thinking over the whole situation. He looked up at his mother and asked, "Mum? Do you think the baby might look like me? It'd be nice to have someone else like me."

Kala sighed heavily, a sad look spreading over her face. She pulled Tarzan close, settling him on one of her legs and wrapping an arm around him. Tarzan looked up at her expectantly.

"You see, Tarzan," Kala said, "you are a very unique and special kind of ape. You are truly one of a kind."

"But if you and Dad—"

"I know, I know. I just don't want you to be disappointed when your new sibling does not look like you. But remember, we are all the same on the inside."

"But I don't want to be the same on the inside," Tarzan said, jumping out of his mother's hold and standing in front of her, looking up at her. "I want to be the same on the outside, too!"

"Tarzan," Kala started.

"No," Tarzan interrupted. He felt tears welling in his eyes. He sniffled. "I don't understand why it's just me. Why I'm the only one who looks like me? Are you sure the baby won't look like me?"

Kala lowered her eyes from Tarzan. She took a deep breath.

"I highly doubt the baby will look like you, Tarzan. As I said, you are very special . . ."

"I don't want to be special," Tarzan pouted. He turned away from Kala and crossed his arms. "I want to be normal."

"Tarzan," Kala tried again, reaching for her son. He yanked away from her, moving to the far end of the nest and pouting. Kala sighed, feeling a bit stressed. She walked out of the nest, only pausing to say, "I think I'll head to the river for a drink. You can join me if you wish. Maybe in a few minutes?"

Tarzan did not respond.

"Okay, then," Kala said, and she turned to walk toward the river, only to nearly run into Kerchak.

"Kala," he whispered to her, "maybe we should tell—"

"No," Kala interrupted. "not yet."

Kala moved around Kerchak and headed toward the river for a long drink. Kerchak sighed and looked over at Tarzan, who was huddled in the corner of the nest and sniffling. He watched as Tarzan used an arm to swipe at his face, then wrapped his arms around his legs. The young ape looked miserable at the idea that he would still be the only hairless wonder in the family. Kerchak did not completely agree that withholding what Tarzan was was beneficial for the child, as he would only keep asking questions as he got older, but he respected Kala's decision. Besides, he hadn't always been accepting of what Tarzan was anyway, so he felt he had little say in when Kala told Tarzan the truth.

Kerchak walked up to the nest and settled himself behind Tarzan. He pulled his son closer, and Tarzan instinctively climbed up on his leg, allowing Kerchak to hold him like an infant.

"You know your mother is simply trying to protect you," Kerchak said.

Tarzan looked up at his father.

"Do you think the baby will look like me?" Tarzan asked. "Or like you and mom? Like normal apes." Tarzan sniffed again.

"No matter what," Kerchak said, "you will be the baby's big brother. And you will be our son."

Tarzan rested his head against Kerchak's chest. He didn't understand why he had to be so different from everyone else. Why couldn't he be normal like his parents or Terk? It wasn't fair. He closed his eyes, exhaustion hitting him, whether from the busy day or overwhelming emotions, he wasn't sure, but he gave in to sleep quickly.

The next morning, he woke early, before his parents did, but he knew they would be waking soon enough. He wondered if he might be able to scare both of his parents if he tried a new animal noise he had been working on, a noise he had heard from the sky. He waited until both parents were slightly awake before hanging upside down from the vines and letting out two loud skree noises.

Kala was on her feet digging through the leaves looking for Tarzan, calling him repeatedly. Kerchak rose, glancing around briefly before looking up to the sky. Kerchak's eyes scanned the trees before falling on Tarzan. With a slightly amused grunt, Kerchak reached up and snatched Tarzan from the vines, and Tarzan let himself fall freely in Kerchak's hold, laughing as his father set him in the nest.

Kala, however, did not seem amused.

"Tarzan, don't do that!" she scolded him once he was back in the nest. "Did you want us to think you had been snatched by some eagle? Do you think it's funny to make me so frightened?"

"No, mom," Tarzan said softly, completely taken aback by his mother's scolding words. "Sorry."

"Kala," Kerchak said gently, "he was just playing."

Kala huffed at that and glared at Kerchak.

"A year ago, you would have scolded him, too, now you're telling me off?"

"I don't think he meant any harm by it. He apologized."

Kala grunted and walked away from the nest irritably, heading off to find breakfast alone. Subdued, Tarzan gave Kerchak an apologetic look.

"I didn't mean to make mom so upset."

"I know," Kerchak said understandingly. "Don't worry, she is with a growing baby. She's going to be a little . . . stressed for a while. Try to behave around her, okay? No more jokes for now."

"Yes, Dad."

And Tarzan did try to be on his best behavior, but Kala was very hard to please today. She was constantly moving around, pacing the family grounds and picking at all kinds of food, from termites to beans to fruits. She hardly took more than a bite of anything and would move on. She was down by the river drinking water and then pacing the grounds once more. Tarzan tried to be helpful and brought her a variety of fruits and vegetables to munch on, but Kala gently rejected his offers and picked out different foods Tarzan had no idea she had even liked. He tried engaging in a game with Kala, but his mother had told him she was not in the mood right now.

Rather defeated, Tarzan slinked over to where Kerchak was pulling roots and munching on them. Kerchak spotted his son approaching and eyed him suspiciously.

"You look sad," Kerchak noted. "Is something wrong?"

"I don't know," Tarzan said as he sat next to his father. "Mom's been different today. It's like she doesn't even want me around her."

Kerchak snorted. He leaned down to whisper in Tarzan's ear.

"Between you and me, she doesn't really want me around either."

"Really?" Tarzan asked.

Kerchak nodded before returning to his roots.

"Don't worry, son. This is normal behavior for pregnant apes. She needs some space right now."

Tarzan was silent as he stayed next to his father, lost in thought. After a few moments, he looked up at the great ape.

"Do you think mom will forget about me when the baby comes?"

"Why would she forget you?"

"She has the new baby now," Tarzan confessed, wrapping his arms around himself. Suddenly, the idea of a sibling was less than appealing. "What if she doesn't love me anymore? What if you both love the new baby more than me?"

"We wouldn't do that," Kerchak said, frowning down at Tarzan. "I thought you were excited for a new sibling?"

"I was." Tarzan watched his toes dig in the dirt under him, trying to find a better grip as his arms tightened around himself. "But mom said it probably won't look like me and you took forever to like me and now you and mom will have a baby that looks like you and he probably won't cause any trouble or endanger the family, or slow us down like I do all the time, and he'll be the perfect baby and I won't be anything anymore and . . ."

"Slow down, Tarzan," Kerchak said. "Relax, take a deep breath."

Tarzan tried to a take a deep breath, but each time he tried, it staggered. He didn't want to hear the truth from Kerchak. Any minute now, Kerchak would tell him that everything he just said was true and they wouldn't have to worry about Tarzan anymore since they would have a normal ape as a son. It wasn't fair. Why did he have to be so different? He hated being different. And he didn't want to be rejected for it because of a new baby.

Tarzan pushed past Kerchak and ran into the jungle. He ignored his father calling his name and telling him to come back. No, he was not coming back. He would leave and go somewhere far, far away and leave his parents to have the perfect family without him. That way, he couldn't be rejected. He would live alone in the jungle with only his freakiness as company.

Tarzan ran as fast as his legs could carry him. He ran alongside the river for a long time, startling a group of flamingos that shot up into the air. Finally, he ventured off to the left and headed deeper into the trees. He wasn't sure where he was going. He just wanted to be as far away as he could.

The evening grew darker as he kept running, and slowly, night cascaded down on the forest.

Finally, Tarzan jumped up on a low branch of a massive tree. He climbed up to a second branch a bit higher off the ground. He laid down on it, wrapping his arms and legs around the branch so he wouldn't fall off. He sniffled once more, but a lot of his tears had dried up during the run, and he felt rather cold and empty without his parents' warmth and comfort nearby.

But it was for the best. He couldn't watch the new baby steal his place in the nest and take all their parents' love from him. He wouldn't be apart of that. He would keep himself safe just fine on his own deep in the jungle. He could live in this tree. Right here, for the rest of his life. The river was nearby. There was a fruit tree not too far away. He could even make a nest in the morning right under this branch. This would be his new home. He would no longer be Tarzan, the hairless wonder. Here, he could just be Tarzan.

Tarzan closed his eyes. He felt bad for leaving without a goodbye. And the last time he had runaway, Kerchak had scolded him and grounded him to his sight for what felt like forever. And Kala had been so overjoyed with relief that he was safe, and he remembered feeling awful for worrying his mother so. He wondered if his parents were looking for him again like they did almost a year ago and if they were worried about him.

But none of that mattered anymore. The baby would come soon enough and steal all of their attention and they would stop looking for him and not care about him. He wasn't really wanted anymore.

Growl.

Tarzan's eyes flew open. That sounded very familiar. Slowly sitting up on the branch, Tarzan moved closer to the main trunk of the tree, clinging to it as he scanned the forest floor for any sign of a predator. The glowing eyes specifically.

Growl.

There it was again.

And it sounded like it came from above him.

Gulping, Tarzan glanced up.

Three branches above him was a large, spotted cat staring down at him, its glowing eyes trained on him. It was nearly upside down as it stalked down the tree toward him, a snarl on its lips. It froze when Tarzan made eye contact with it.

For a few seconds, the two stared at each other.

Then, the cat snarled again.

"Ahh!" Tarzan cried, pushing away from the tree and jumping to the ground, rolling slightly. He oofed as he came to a halt against another tree trunk. Sitting up, he watched as the big cat landed lightly on its feet a few yards away from him.

The cat snarled at him again, pacing in front of him as if judging what kind of prey Tarzan was.
As Tarzan stared at it, too afraid to move, he realized this cat wasn't like Sabor, a leopard. It was bigger, much bigger, and its spots were very different. Its massive paws fell silently on the floor, and it moved with purpose and intent, as if every move was a calculated thought.

The cat seemed to make up its mind, and it stalked forward in a straight line for him, in a brave and bold manner that told Tarzan one wrong move, and the cat would kill him in a single pounce.

Tarzan shuffled against the tree, trying to back away from the cat, but the trunk was large, and he couldn't seem to get around it.

The cat smirked, and it showed off its massive canines.

That was when Kala burst out of the trees with a loud roar, charging the cat head on.

While a leopard would have leaped out of the way and seized up the new opponent, this cat did not hesitate from a retreat, and it bolted deep into the forest without so much as a sound of surprise. Tarzan watched it go, his heart still pounding in his throat.

"Mom!" he cried, jumping into her arms when she turned toward him.

Kala returned the hug with equal strength, and she softly scolded her son.

"Tarzan, you know better than to run away. Your father told me of what you said to him, and I'm so sorry I've been distant lately, but I can't help it. Carrying a baby is very stressful and it comes with a lot of changes to myself. I never meant for you to feel unloved or like you were being replaced. That will never happen."

"I'm sorry, Mom," Tarzan said. "I thought you didn't want me anymore, now that you'll have a new, probably normal looking ape."

"What you look like does not matter to me," Kala told hm firmly. "It never has, and it never will. You are my son, my oldest child, and you will always be in my heart. No matter what happens. I know that this will be hard for you. As you said yourself, babies are a lot of work. And your dad and I may not always spend as much time with you as we have before in the first few months, but we won't let you be forgotten. Have no fear of that. You are in both of our hearts. Always."

Kala hugged her son once more and Tarzan returned it.

"I love you, Mom."

"I love you, too, Tarzan. As does your father, who will probably have a few words for you for running off."

Tarzan groaned.

"Dad takes parenting too seriously," Tarzan complained. "I'm always grounded anymore."

Kala chuckled, then pushed her son to climb on her back. Once he was settled, Kala began walking back through the trees, heading for the family grounds.

"Hey Mom?"

"Yes?"

"What was that thing? It wasn't a leopard like Sabor, was it?"

"No, Tarzan. That was a jaguar. We don't encounter them often; they tend to stay to their own grounds and keep away from any gorilla territory. But they are very powerful enemies, and while I've never heard of one attacking a gorilla, I don't think they would hesitate at the opportunity to attack a young child like yourself. They are not to be messed with; do you hear me?"

"Yes, Mom. I won't come this way again. Ever."

"Thank you. Now, why don't you sleep? It's a long way back and it is way past your bedtime."

Tarzan didn't need a second invitation. He slid down so his arms and legs were wrapped around his mother and his head rested on a shoulder. He closed his eyes, lulled to sleep by her movement.

Kala returned to the grounds in an hour and she quietly made her way to her nest, where Kerchak was waiting for her, still awake. He nuzzled Kala, glad for her safe return, then helped her dislodge a sleeping Tarzan from her back and settled him in the nest. Kala laid down next to her son.

"How is he?" Kerchak asked.

"We talked," Kala said. "I think he's better now knowing that we both still love him and that the baby is not coming to steal his place."

Kerchak breathed a sigh of relief.

"He's concerned that you'll ground him," Kala said with a snort.

"Well, he would deserve it," Kerchak argued. "Taking off like that, he knows better."

"He was upset," Kala defended, "couldn't he have one free pass?"

Kerchak huffed. He was relieved Tarzan was home and safe again. Seeing how upset Tarzan had been earlier, he supposed the child had his reasons for running away that in the moment felt justified. He laid down next to Kala and his son, feeling a wave of affection for Tarzan when the child curled up next to him, burying his cold hands in his fur. He smiled.

"I suppose . . ." he started to say. "I'll think about it."

Kala smiled. She supposed that was the best she would get out of Kerchak.

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