Iron on the Outside, Father Within @bluerowley
To be a Father

Thanks for the great reviews and for sticking around! Here's a thought: a guest reviewer commented on a potential baby brother for Tarzan, but my originally idea was to stick close to the canon story. However, I find myself fascinated by the idea of a sibling for Tarzan and what that could bring to the story. Anyone else? Let me know in your review.

On to the story!

Life for Tarzan was quick to return to normal. Even though Kerchak shared a nest with Kala and him now, the great silverback was quite busy the past few days in restoring order to the family. That left Tarzan searching for companionship in the other young gorillas his age. For the most part, Flynt and Mungo would hang out with him if Terk was around, but otherwise, Tarzan would wrestle with Terk when she encouraged it, or he'd come up with his own games.

Sometimes, he would play Zugor with Terk and Tantor and see if he could outrun Terk. After hearing the monster in the mountains with Kerchak, all three kids were re-inspired to play the game more, Tantor now unsure if it was still an imaginary figment.

In their game Terk pretended to be Zugor and chased Tarzan, who tried his best to outrun Terk. Eventually, he jumped on Tantor's back and the little elephant ran for his life when he heard the Zugor was after them. When Terk managed to catch the two, it was Tarzan's turn to catch Terk, and he tried his best to keep up.

While jumping for a branch high in the trees, he missed and fell straight to the ground, landing safely and sliding against a rock. He smiled up at Terk to let her know he was safe, but then the rock fell forward and began sliding down the hill with himself still on it. He crashed into three infant gorillas, bringing them along for the ride.

"Tree!" Terk shouted, running behind them as she tried to catch up. "Tree! Tree!"

All four ape children ducked, but then they hit a root and flew into the air, Tarzan landing on the rough ground, but the infants falling into a soft pile of large plants, giggling still.

However, there mothers were right there and rushed to their babies, making sure they were all right before scolding Tarzan and banning their children from playing with him. They settled their babies on their backs and walked away.

"Nice!" Terk laughed as she ran up to him. "Almost wiped out half the family. Oh, it's Elephant Falls all over again! Ooh I can just hear Kerchak!" Terk adjusted her hair so it stood up straight then postured like the big silverback, deepening her voice and glaring at Tarzan. "You almost killed someone."

Then she pretended to be Kala: "He's only a child. He'll learn."

Back to Kerchak: "He'll never survive in the jungle. He can't run. He can't climb. He's a danger to us all. Now, I think I'll grunt impressively." And Terk did just that before laughing. Her laughs trailed off however when she noticed Tarzan's sad look. She walked up to him and smiled. "Hey pal, you know I'm kidding, right?"

"Sure," Tarzan said, looking away.

"I wasn't making fun of you," Terk tried again. She threw her hair back up once more as she backed up. "I was making fun of Kerchak!"

She bumped into something firm but soft, and she intuitively knew who it must be. She looked up at Kerchak's stern look, fixed her hair, then slinked away. Kerchak turned his eyes to Tarzan, who offered an apologetic smile to Kerchak and the angry mothers behind him.

"Tarzan, walk with me," Kerchak said, turning for a trodden path through the jungle.

Tarzan shared a look with Terk, who seemed just as surprised that Kerchak didn't start throwing accusations at Tarzan right away. Terk jerked her head in Kerchak's direction, and Tarzan shuffled after his father, keeping plenty of space between himself and the still glaring mothers.

Once Tarzan managed to catch up to Kerchak's side and the rest of the family was far behind them, Kerchak began speaking.
"I know you like to play different games than the other gorilla children," he said, looking down at Tarzan, "but do you think you could try to play safer around the infants? You could have killed someone today—yourself, even."

"It was an accident," Tarzan said. "I was playing with Terk and I was trying to keep up with her, but I missed a branch and fell. I didn't mean to hurt anyone."

"I'm sure you didn't but the truth is you almost did. Being sorry after you've done something wrong is good, but you must start thinking about how you could avoid it all to begin with. For instance, playing a safer game that would not end in any precarious situations."

"No one's going to want to play with me after today," Tarzan said. He paused and looked down at his knuckles.

Kerchak glanced back when he realized Tarzan had stopped and he was getting ahead of the child. He sighed and walked back to Tarzan.

"I'm sure the other children will play with you again." Kerchak placed a hand on Tarzan's back and used gentle pressure to encourage the child to keep walking. They continued down the path toward the family once more, walking past members of the family now, some giving curious looks at the pair, some grooming others. "Give the mothers some space to calm down and so long as you are gentle with the infants, they will encourage play. It is important for growing children, after all; it teaches social skills and establishes hierarchy."

Kerchak gently pulled an infant off a branch where he was swinging upside down rambunctiously and allowed the young ape to grip on to Tarzan, who sat up to hold the infant, smiling when the baby crawled over his head and slid down his back safely to the ground before running off to find his mother.

"See? Gentle." Kerchak continued. "The mothers are only concerned for the wellbeing of their children, and no one wants to see their babies flying through the air and crashing to the ground. Not even me."

"Really?" Tarzan asked.

"Hmm," Kerchak responded with a nod as he walked on, Tarzan moving at his side. Tarzan grinned up at Kerchak,

"So, I can keep playing with Terk and the others then?"

"I will have a word with Terkina on bringing her enthusiasm down, and on mocking her elders," Kerchak muttered the last part, but Tarzan heard and smothered a laugh that tried to escape his lips. "But you two may continue your so called rough housing as long as you mind the family and your surroundings. I should not hear of anyone else getting caught in the middle of your games anymore. And you will stay within hearing distance."

"Yes, Kerchak. But how can I tell everyone that I'll be careful from now on? They're still mad at me."

"The best way is by showing them. For example . . ."

Kerchak stopped in front of a mother and her infant. He grunted at the child, then rose and pounded his chest with a small roar before dropping back down.

The baby stood up and pounded his chest and squealed as angrily as he could at Kerchak, the mother watching in awe. The baby crawled up Kerchak's arm and mouthed the silverback's neck. Kerchak tried to grab the little baby, turning, and reaching for the ape, who swung on to a branch and dropped down on the gorilla's head, smacking his little hands through Kerchak's hair, and Kerchak flopped down on his stomach in mock defeat. The little ape pounded his chest again.

Tarzan laughed, but other infants and even gorilla children had seen the display, and they all came running for Kerchak, and some for Tarzan when Kerchak seemed overwhelmed. Three infants clamored on to Tarzan's back at once, and Tarzan pretended to try throwing them off by spinning in circles, the little apes squealing in joy.

Tarzan fell over when he felt dizzy, and the apes jumped on Tarzan's stomach, pounding their chests in victory.

Soon, all the children were playing with each other, Tarzan included wrestling and tumbling and grunting at one another. Terk had found Tarzan in the midst, and wrestling ensued, but they were mindful not to get too zealous while others were around.

Kerchak managed to escape the onslaught of the children and made his way over to Kala, who was sitting in their nest watching the children. He sat down next to her, taking note that all the mothers were enjoying the sight of all the kids playing together. Kala leaned over and nuzzled against Kerchak.

"There's the ape I used to know," she said. "I haven't seen you play like that in a long time."

Kerchak smiled as he watched the children.

"Thank you for taking care of the incident with Tarzan, earlier. I was afraid I'd have to step in again, but you handled it quite well."

"What is that supposed to mean?" Kerchak frowned.

"Well, you've always had quite the temper, especially with Tarzan."

"Just because I've accepted him now doesn't mean I'm not entitled to get angry when he does something foolishly dangerous."

"But you kept your cool this time," Kala reminded.

"I was very firm with Tarzan," Kerchak argued. "He could have killed someone today. I made my displeasure known while teaching him how to act appropriate around the family."

"Something you would have never considered before. You would have scolded him and told him how he would never be one of us and that would have been the end of that."

"He's one of us, he just needs direction," Kerchak looked back at the children.

They were settling down some and circling each other to groom, picking at the insects crawling in each other's fur. Kala sighed and stood, ready for Tarzan to retreat as he usually would and allow her to groom him. Kala was surprised however when Tarzan moved closer to a line of four and began assisting in the grooming, Terk relunctantly settling behind him. And even more, he actually ate the bugs he picked out!

"He's . . . when did he . . . how . . ." Kala stuttered. She looked at Kerchak. "He's actually social grooming!"

"Well of course he is." Kerchak couldn't help the smile. "I told him what I expected from him, and he is clearly obeying."

"How did you get him to do that?"

"It was nothing; easy actually. Some stern words and he'd eat anything I handed to him."

Kala hmphed and walked forward a couple steps.

"A mother's gentle touch is always the way to go. They learn much faster."

"Not as fast as under a father's authority."

"Really? Well, watch this." Kala spotted Tarzan among the infants who were now being gathered by their mothers. "Tarzan, it's time for a nap. Come on over here."

"One second, mom," Tarzan said as he dodged an attack from Terk, who was trying to avoid being captured by her mother as well.

"Tarzan," Kerchak interluded, standing tall. "Nap time. Get over here."

"Yes, Kerchak," Tarzan said, running away from Terk and over to his parents.

Kala swung her head at Kerchak, who smirked at her. She hmphed again before saying, "Don't abuse your newfound fatherhood. Remember, you left me to raise him alone these past few years."

"Exactly," Kerchak retorted, "he doesn't have to try to impress you."

Kala rolled her eyes playfully.

Tarzan shuffled up to his parents, sitting down in front of them. He glanced up at Kerchak before smiling up at his mother.

"Sorry, mom," he apologized. "Terk wanted five more minutes of wrestle time."

"That's all right," Kala couldn't help but smile back. "Let's get the nest ready for a nap. After quiet time, you may run off to play some more."

Tarzan helped Kerchak and Kala set the nest right and the three of them rested in the nest along with the rest of the troop. Tarzan slept on Kala's stomach while the two apes slept against each other. After a couple hours, antsy children and infants were up and playing with each other again, and the parents stirred from their naps in order to keep an eye on their young. Terk was quick to pounce on Tarzan and startle him and Kala awake, in turn, waking the silverback.

"Wake-up, lazyheads, naptime is over!" Terk said. "We've got things to do, places to be."

"And noisy apes to discipline," Kerchak grunted, standing tall and glaring down at Terk, who chuckled nervously, but she quickly fell over in big dramatics.

"Oh, wise and caring Kerchak," Terk went on, "you know best, so I accept any punishment you deliver—after Tarzan and I come back."

With that, Terk grabbed Tarzan's arm and the two vanished from sight before Kerchak could get another word in.

Kala shook her head fondly while Kerhak grumbled under his breath.

"They'll be fine," Kala said. "Why don't you make sure they stay close to the family this time?"

Kerchak sighed but stretched and walked away from the nest. He would have rather stayed in the nest and slept for another ten minutes, but the female mate was always right. He should make sure Terk and Tarzan didn't cause any more mayhem or endanger the younger infants. As he neared the family boundaries, he caught up to the two kids, and he smiled as he watched Terk chase Tarzan and Tantor in a tamer game of Zugor.

Moving on, Kerchak checked on the rest of his family, assisting in grabbing fruit for dinner. Once a large pile had been gathered, the children paused in their playing to eat some fruit as well—all save for Tarzan and Terk.

"Shouldn't those two be eating as well?" Kerchak asked Kala as she munched into a mango.

Kala set her fruit down and looked around.

"He usually comes running when fruit is laid out for everyone." Kala stood and scanned her surroundings. "They could have wandered too far, again. I'll look for them."

"No," Kerchak said, standing and stepping in Kala's way to stop her. "I'll look for them. You enjoy your dinner."

Kala smiled and returned to their nest to keep eating while Kerchak stormed off to search for the wayward children. He circled the perimeter of his boundaries first before walking deeper into the jungle. In all honesty, Tarzan and Terk could be anywhere and he could walk a mile in the wrong direction looking for them. That is why he tried to tell all the gorillas to stay at least in hearing distance of the family, which he was sure he had told Tarzan to do earlier that day.

Kerchak walked toward a nearby swampy area in the forest, knowing there were many trees and vines to play around in, as well as great fruit to eat. Perhaps they decided to eat dinner while they played. However, the trees were silent. No munching, no laughter, nothing. Frowning, Kerchak stepped carefully through the trees, avoiding the swampier areas.

A loud trumpet of a young elephant in distress caught his attention, and he ran in that direction, remembering Tantor had been playing with the two apes earlier. He found all three children and halted at the sight.

Tantor was trapped in a deep, muddy hole at the edge of the swamp, crocodiles slowly moving in from the water. Tarzan had slipped down the whole and was pushing on the elephant's rump while Terk was pulling on the trunk.

"Ow, ow, ow," Tantor cried. "That hurts, Terk."

"Would you rather lose your trunk or get eaten by crocodiles?" Terk asked.

"I don't want neither!"

Tantor tried crawling out, but his feet kept slipping, even with assistance from Tarzan. Terk fell back, and Tantor slid down into the hole again with an oof.

A younger crocodile reached the mudhole first and slid down it, snapping its jaws at Tarzan's toes. Tarzan jumped on Tantor's back and the elephant trumpeted again in fear.

At the same time, Kerchak roared as he rushed forward and slammed his fist down, missing the crocodile as it had jumped back. It snapped its jaws again, but Kerchak grabbed the crocodile by the back of its neck and base of its tail and he chucked it out of the mudhole. It splashed in deeper swamp waters. The other crocodiles still waiting to get in hissed at the silverback, wisely retreating into the swamp. Kerchak grunted at them.

"Kerchak," Tarzan cried, "Tantor needs your help! He fell in here while we were chasing each other, and he can't get out."

"What did I tell you about staying close to the family?" Kerchak scolded.

"Umm . . ." Tarzan looked down. "We kind of got a bit carried away."

"And now look what's happened." Kerchak grunted again. "You are grounded to your mother's and my sight for the rest of today and tomorrow. If you want to play, you will play right where we can see you. That includes you as well, Terkina."

Terkina sighed and looked down as well. "Sorry, Kerchak."

"Yeah, sorry," Tarzan agreed.

Feeling that they were well scolded, Kerchak grabbed Tarzan's arm and lifted him to his back. He gave Tantor a gentle push toward the wall of the mudhole and as the baby elephant climbed, Kerchak pushed behind him as well. Together, the two made it out.

"Thank you, Kerchak," Tantor said nervously. He looked up at the sky. "I think it's time I find my herd."

"It is getting late. Run off but be careful."

Tantor smiled at Tarzan and Terk before running through the jungle. Terk squeaked in surprise when Kerchak lifted her and set her behind Tarzan on his back.

"I'm keeping a close eye on you two," Kerchak explained.

"Kerchak," Terk asked, "have I ever told you that you are the best uncle ever? I mean the absolute, greatest, bestest . . ."

Kerchak glared up at her, effectively silencing her. She was such a suck-up sometimes. He walked back to the family with two chastised children.

Terk swung off his back when they passed her mother, joining her in their shared nest.

"Grounded, remember that," Kerchak said, not missing the stern look Terk's mother gave her daughter. Terk gave her best innocent smile.

Kerchak rejoined Kala at their nest.

"Here's your troublemaker," Kerchak said, allowing Tarzan to slide off him.

Kala chuckled. "What did you manage to do this time?"

"Kerchak says I'm grounded," Tarzan complained, picking up a mango and biting into it.

"Then you better be on your best behavior," Kala said, grabbing her son and tickling him with all four hands and feet. "He might unground you earlier."

"Really?" Tarzan managed to say between breaths of laughter.

"Hmph, unlikely," Kerchak said. "Stop spoiling him, Kala. I'm trying to parent here."

Kala released her son to let him eat his dinner. She nuzzled up against Kerchak, and he returned the nuzzle.

"You're doing a wonderful job." Kala sat next to Kerchak and they watched their son eat. "I don't think I've ever seen him happier."

Kerchak pushed his chest out as he allowed a small proud smile to grace his lips. Even after he had lost his first son, he was still a good father after all, even if he had a rocky start with Tarzan.

Tarzan complained about not being able to explore tomorrow after he had eaten his fill, but Kerchak would not budge. Finally, Tarzan accepted his fate and as nightfall took over the sky, Kala and Tarzan fell asleep while Kerchak made one final sweep of his grounds, checking that everyone was accounted for and asleep. When he made his way back to his nest, he laid down next to Kala. A sleepy Tarzan blinked his eyes open, then blearily crawled onto Kerchak, falling asleep quickly on the big ape's stomach. Surprised, Kerchak rested a hand on Tarzan's back, patting it a couple times before closing his own eyes.

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