Iron on the Outside, Father Within @bluerowley
New Beginnings

So sorry for the long wait. I need another me just to write all these stories. I really do like this fanfic though, so have no fear of it ever being abandoned. I'm estimating another six to ten chapters, potentially more depending on where I take it. Thank you all for your wonderful reviews. Enjoy!

It was a restless night for Kerchak and Tarzan, as the gorilla was in an out of sleep as he constantly tended to his wounds, licking them, and picking away at any loose debris like leaves or small stones. His wounds were not too deep, and they had stopped bleeding not long after his assault of the two younger gorillas. Between small periods of tossing and turning to get comfortable, Kerchak would check on his wounds, and those of Tarzan.

Tarzan only had minor cuts and scratches from the rough handling of the Gunda family, but Kerchak fretted over them all the same. Tarzan found that he was not sleeping well either, mostly due to Kerchak's movements and attentiveness.

Once again, as the moon shined down on the two resting under the overhang on the mountaintop, Kerchak woke from his sleep and scratched at a healing bite wound, then licked what he could reach of it. He then brushed off some scratches and stretched his muscles. Spotting Tarzan sleeping at his feet, he sniffed the child, eyeing the large cut on his back before licking the wound.

Tarzan stirred, his eyes fluttering open and he looked up at Kerchak sleepily, who moved to a small scratch on the boy's shoulder, giving that wound a couple licks. Tarzan rubbed his eyes and yawned.

"Kerchak," he said, "I'm okay, really."

"Your wounds will not heal properly on their own," Kerchak said, turning back to his own wounds. "You have to take better care of yourself."

"But they don't even hurt anymore."

"That doesn't mean they're healed." Kerchak said, finishing for now and lying back down. "It takes time—sometimes, a long time."

Tarzan huffed but rearranged himself against Kerchak, ready to fall back to sleep. In all honesty, he quite liked the attention from Kerchak, even if it was annoying to be woken up every couple hours. Growing up, whenever he had scratched himself or smacked his head on something, Kala would be there to given him a couple licks and a snuggle. Tarzan snuggled up against Kerchak and smiled. This was good enough for him. He could get used to this every night, lying in the warmth of the great ape. He had always wanted Kerchak to be his father—to hear he ape accept him as his son. But this—this was much better.

Kerchak closed his eyes as Tarzan made himself comfortable once more. Perhaps Tarzan's wounds didn't itch and sting nearly as much as Kerchak's did, but it was his duty to make sure their wounds were cleaned and looked after. If he had been in the colony, all of the other family members would be all over him now, cleaning every wound for him, especially the ones he couldn't reach. He would greatly appreciate that right now. And while Tarzan did display that characteristic occasionally when he hurt himself, he had never seen the boy lick another gorilla's wounds. Oh well—he was still a child and did meet his milestones like any other gorilla infant, just a bit slower.

Slowly, dreams filled Kerchak's head, but none were pleasant. He had been far from his family for too long—and his subconscious knew it. His nightmares attacked his family in the form of darkness overwhelming them, or of a leopard stealing away all the children, or even a flood drowning them. He rolled over and over in his sleep as his dream-self raced to the rescue, but always failing to get there in time.

When flood waters came charging down the mountain, they smacked into his chest, and Kerchak startled awake with a gasp, his eyes landing on Tarzan, who was sitting on his stomach now.

Kerchak breathed a sigh of relief. It had all been another dream. Tarzan crawled over his chest, pausing to stare down at Kerchak's tense face.

"Are you okay?" Tarzan asked. "You haven't slept still all night."

Kerchak realized it was nearing dawn, the slightest bit of light was starting to creep around the mountains. He had not had a very good night after all. With a sigh, he rolled over to stand on all fours, Tarzan sliding off him as he did so, but keeping a concerned look on the ape.

Kerchak shook himself off. Usually, that helped relax him.

"We have been far from home for a long time now, Tarzan," Kerchak explained as he lied back down. "It is not in a leader's nature to leave his family unattended for so long. We must return sooner than later. So, let's get a little more sleep now so we can travel as far as we can tomorrow. We have to get back to the family before they find themselves in trouble."

"I can't wait to see Mom," Tarzan said excitedly, jumping around before crawling up the overhang and standing on two to see the tree grove they were heading for.

"Get down from there and go back to sleep," Kerchak demanded. "It is still night. Predators are out."

"Who's going to climb this mountain?" Tarzan asked, looking under the overhang.

Kerchak glared at him.

"Everyone when they see a perfectly exposed snack dancing around up there. Get under here!"

Tarzan swung over the overhang and landed next to Kerchak. He didn't look the least bit tired, however.

"But I'm too awake now," Tarzan said. "I'll never fall back to sleep."

"Then be quiet and let me sleep."

"Can't you tell me a story?" Tarzan asked, jumping up on Kerchak's back and plopping down on him. "Mom tells me stories when I have trouble falling asleep."

"Once upon a time, there was an ape who shut up and went to sleep. The end."

"No!" Tarzan laughed, rolling off his father and crawling up to where Kerchak had his head resting on an arm. "A real story."

"I don't know any "real" stories," Kerchak said, angling his head to see Tarzan better.

"I could tell you one!" Tarzan said. "Once upon a time, there was this monster—the Zugor!"

Tarzan wiggled his fingers dramatically as he said the name. Kerchak rolled his eyes as he sat up into a more comfortable position, licking a wound on his chest.

"It was the scariest monster in all the jungle, even Sabor feared him. One day, a little lost ape was walking through the mountains, calling for his parents. There were noises all around him, and he had no idea where his family went. Suddenly, it got really quiet. The ape tiptoed up the mountain, too afraid to make any noise. When he got to the top, he saw . . ."

"Zugor!" shouted an unknown creature somewhere on the mountain.

Tarzan squeaked and dived behind Kerchak, who hmphed and said, "I think that's enough scary stories for one night."

"It's real!" Tarzan exclaimed, peeking out from behind Kerchak. "The Zugor's going to eat us!"

"It was probably a harmless creature pretending to be something they are not," Kerchak huffed. "Birds do it all the time. Besides, even if it was a monster, I'm right here with you."

"You wouldn't let it get me, right?"

"Of course not."

Tarzan smiled up at Kerchak.

Kerchak noted the sun was starting to rise a bit more. He turned away from the overhang entrance, lying back down facing Tarzan.

"We still have a plenty of sleep to catch up on. It's time to settle down and . . ."

"Ooh, can I see the sunrise?" Tarzan attempted to run around Kerchak, but a large hand caught the child and settled him next to the big ape. Tarzan tried to jump over Kerchak, really wanting to see the sunrise, but Kerchak once again caught him before he could get far.

"Sleep, Tarzan," Kerchak growled, keeping an arm over the child to keep him from running off again.

"I still didn't get a story," Tarzan huffed, crossing his arms.

"Fine, uhh . . . once upon a time," Kerchak began, trying to rack his brain for some idea. "There was a little elephant. But he wasn't like the other children. He looked different, and because of that the other children did not play with him and the little elephant's parents fought over what to do about their son's looks and argued whether he truly belonged in the family. Because he looked different, the little elephant often got into trouble, and trouble was dangerous for the family. The family could not keep the little elephant if all he did was bring trouble. He had to go."

Tarzan made a sad face. This story was very relatable, he thought to himself. Kerchak continued.

"But then, the little elephant proved that just because he looked different didn't mean he wasn't the same as the others on the inside."

Tarzan smiled and looked up at Kerchak hopefully, wondering if the little elephant in the story really could belong with his family.

"He was courageous, and very caring, and always protected his family from danger, even after they had rejected him. For him, he knew he belonged deep down. He grew up into a strong and powerful leader and proved to everyone that he was as much elephant as the rest of them. And he made his parents very proud. And he lived happily ever after with his family, forever."

"Wow," Tarzan said. "I bet he was the best elephant there ever was."

Kerchak smiled softly at Tarzan for a moment before saying, "He was."

Tarzan smiled back before yawning and snuggling up against Kerchak, closing his eyes. Kerchak gently licked the cut on his son's back a couple times before resting his head atop Tarzan's, his own eyes closing. And for the first time that night, he had no nightmares, and the two slept peacefully for a few more hours, enjoying each other's warmth.

That same morning, Kerchak and Tarzan walked slowly down the mountain, careful not to overstress any wounds. Tarzan managed to keep up by sliding down the mountain carefully, though it did scrape his hands and feet some.

Once they were back on their trail, Kerchak stopped to collect food, Tarzan aiding by climbing the trees and knocking fruit down. Once they had a decent pile of a large variety, they stopped to eat, but were quickly back on their way once more. An hour later, they paused to give Kerchak the chance to scratch and tend to his wounds once more. Tarzan did the same, licking at his scraped hands, then watching Kerchak mostly.

"Kerchak?" he asked.

Kerchak looked at Tarzan while he licked at his shoulder and he gave a soft grunt to acknowledge he heard.

"When we get home, are things going to be different?"

"What do you mean?" Kerchak asked as he picked Tarzan up and positioned him between his legs. He licked the scratches on Tarzan's shoulders.

"Are you going to keep liking me when we get back?" Tarzan asked, unable to keep the slight tremble out of his voice. "Are you going to hate me again?" Tarzan closed his eyes, as if afraid to hear the answer.

Kerchak sighed sadly down at Tarzan.

"I think we are past all that," Kerchak answered. "You belong with us, Tarzan. I know it took me a while to see that, but you are family, and you are my son. I will not push you away anymore. You have my word on that."

Tarzan smiled up at Kerchak. That was all he needed to hear. Kerchak even took a moment to dig through Tarzan's hair for pesky bugs. Grateful, Tarzan decided to brave it and return the favor by digging through Kerchak's left leg that was closest to him. He was able to use his smaller fingers to pluck off ticks, and he made a face as he ate the pesky critters. Kerchak took notice, however, and it earned Tarzan a small hug.

"You are growing, Tarzan," Kerchak said. "I'm very proud of you."

Tarzan enjoyed the small embrace while it lasted. Then, they were moving again, working their way toward home. Tarzan was starting to recognize his surroundings and he jumped around gleefully as he passed a tree he knew or saw a rock with familiar scratches on it. As they came over a slight hill, Tarzan gasped, and a large grin spread across his face.

Down that hill was their family. And Kala was busy checking on everyone, walking past Tarzan's sight at that moment.

"Mom!" Tarzan cried.

Kala swung her head around in shock. Her eyes widened and her jaw dropped.

"Tarzan!" she cried back, running for her son who was already leaping down the slope for her.

Tarzan jumped in his mother's arms when they were close enough and Kala squeezed her son to her chest. Tears welled in Tarzan's eyes. He had never been so happy to see his mother in his life. Kala asked several questions in a row, making sure he was all right and fretting over his small wounds.

Meanwhile, all the other apes were up and busy greeting their leader, worshipping his return and checking over his wounds, which Kerchak was greatly thankful for. Kerchak made his way around the colony, checking over everyone and catching up with what has happened.

While Kala gave Tarzan another hug, her son was quickly pulled out of her grasp by another enthusiastic hugger.

"Tarzan!" Terk cried, hugging him tightly. Then she shook his shoulders as she said: "You can't just go disappearing on me like that, okay?"

"Okay," Tarzan answered, laughing.

"It better not happen again. By the way, how did you survive traveling with Kerchak?"

"Well . . ."

Tarzan looked over at Kerchak, who was looking over a group of infants at the moment.

"He's not so bad after all. It was kind of hard at first with just me and him, but then we had fun and I think he likes me now."

"What?" Terk's jaw dropped.

Kala's head rose slightly as she listened to Tarzan, a slight smile on her face.

"Yeah. He even called me his son."

Terk pretended to faint.

"I need water, stat!" she cried.

"Terk . . ." Tarzan rolled his eyes.

"That's great news, Tarzan," Kala said, stepping forward and nuzzling her son. "I knew you could turn him around."

"Yeah, he said things would be different from now on. I hope they will be."

"Kerchak is true to his word. You'll see."

And Tarzan waited all day for some sign from Kerchak that things had truly changed. He played with Terk some, but his mind was very distracted by the not so different things happening around him. Kerchak hadn't even looked at him since they had returned. Kerchak was roaming around the colony, repeatedly checking on everyone again and again and then circling the perimeter of their home, disappearing at times. Even Kala was given some attention by Kerchak, but not him.

By the time the sun had sank behind the mountains, Kala had made their nest and walked over to where Tarzan was trying to spot Kerchak in the trees.

"Tarzan, it's time for bed," Kala said.

"Where's Kerchak?" Tarzan asked, looking up at his mother.

"He must be making sure everyone is safe. He'll come back around."

"He said things would be different." Tarzan's shoulders slumped and he hugged himself.

"He is a very busy ape, you know," Kala tried to explain. "He has to make sure everyone is healthy and safe and he must do that by making sure everyone knows this is his territory. He hasn't been here at all to do that yet, so he must now."

"He's forgotten me," Tarzan mumbled, walking slowly over to he nest. He crawled to one end and threw himself down. "It's just like old times."

Kala sighed. She crawled in next to her son.

"I'm sure he has not forgotten you. How could he after he spent all those days with you. He has a duty to protect his family. He takes that very seriously. I'm sure once he knows we are all safe, he'll make all the time in the world for you."

"How do you know he won't be like before?'

"Because I see a light I his eyes that I haven't seen in years. Since your brother died, actually."

Tarzan had no clue what light his mother was talking about, so he rolled away from her and looked up at the stars, unsure of how to feel. He had come to like Kerchak's warm yet strong embrace at night. It was different from his mother's gentle and loving embrace. He missed it all ready.

Deciding something was better than nothing as the night air grew chillier, Tarzan rolled back over to his mother, accepting her arms around his shoulders. He closed his eyes, listening to his mother's heartbeat. He stirred when soft crunching of leaves raided his ears. He blinked his eyes open and his head shot up when he saw who was approaching their nest.

"Hey," Kerchak greeted. He looked down at the nest made for one plus a child. "Room for one more?"

"You came back!" Tarzan cried, running over to Kerchak and throwing his arms around the ape's massive forearm. Kerchak snorted while Kala awed them.

"It's been a while since you and I shared a nest," Kala said.

She stood and began adding leaves, Kerchak helping her.

"It has, hasn't it?" he agreed.

When the nest was ready, the large apes laid down in it, then Tarzan jumped in between them. He snuggled against Kerchak.

"I thought you had already forgotten me," Tarzan admitted.

"How could anyone forget you?" Kerchak snorted.

"You didn't even look at me when we got back, though."

"I had to make sure no ne was hurt and that this territory now has my scent so other gorillas will think twice before challenging for it. I've been with you for quite a while, I knew you were okay."

"Oh," Tarzan said.

"But if I didn't know," Kerchak said, "you'd be the first one to have all my attention."

Kerchak tickled Tarzan, who laughed hard at the onslaught, then he squealed when he was pulled away from Kerchak by Kala, who glared playfully at Kerchak.

"You had him to yourself all week!" Kala said. She turned away and squeezed her son lovingly. "It's my turn,"

"Mom, you're squishing me," Tarzan complained, but he was still giggling, nonetheless.

As a compromise, Tarzan settled in between the two apes with an arm from each parent wrapped around him. The small family fell asleep together under the starry sky.

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