Disclaimer: I own nothing that has to do w/ Princess Mononoke and the respective characters. I'm just borrowing them for a bit, so I can't be sued. Thank you.

Stand By Him

A/N: I wrote this just after I watched Princess Mononoke. The idea just came to me and refused to leave me alone until I got it out. It's what might have happened between Yakul and San after Ashitaka was healed. Can't say that it turned out too bad, especially for my first anime movie fic. Enjoy.

"What are you still doing here?" a voice asked from behind me.

I looked up from my grazing and saw a figure standing among the roots of the giant trees that surrounded us. It was the human girl, the one that I had identified as Wolf Child, that I had seen the day before. She was the one that who had convinced me to bring my rider here the night before after the other humans had injured him with the weapons called guns.

At first, we had only ridden deep into the forest before we came again to His pool. It was the same one that the Kodamas had led us to when we had brought the two injured humans from the river to a place called Iron Town. Unlike before though, we were not going to stay on the shore.

Instead, Wolf Child led me to the beach and then motioned for me to stop. She first lifted Ashitaka from my back and let him fall onto the ground below. Then, not so much to my surprise, she removed the bridle I wore and threw it into the shadows, telling me that I was free.

I did not do anything for a few seconds after that. Up until this point, I had known only that this girl was trying to take the Prince somewhere and needed my help. Beyond that, she hadn't told me anything and as far as helping Ashitaka, it was enough for now. That lasted until this moment, as I stood among the trees and free of my bridle.

Get a hold of yourself, Yakul, I scolded myself, Now is not the time to be acting foolish. So she took off your bridle and thought you wanted to leave your friend. Big deal. She thought you wanted to be free like the other creatures around here. But that foolishness doesn't matter. What matters right now is Prince Ashitaka; he needs you more than ever. So stop being stupid and get moving.

That in mind, I started after Wolf Child as she continued to drag the Prince through the pool's waters. She barely seemed to notice me at first as I stepped into the water myself. It had been cold and sent an instant chill up my legs. After a few seconds, I ignored the chill and moved on.

As we moved deeper into the pool's heart, Wolf Child finally took notice of me. She seemed a bit surprised at first but didn't really make an issue of it. Her attention was mostly focused on Ashitaka and getting him to her chosen destination, the island at the heart of the pool.

I stopped where the water was just above my shoulders while Wolf Child continued to drag Ashitaka to the water. She only came to a stop when she was completely on dry land and most of the Prince's body was the same. Once she was out of the water, Wolf Child released her grip on Ashitaka and let him land softly onto the ground. After she was sure that he was settled, she knelt down and reached for a plant stalk with one hand and a stone knife in the other.

"You know better than to step on this island, don't you?" she said to me as she cut a plant stalk and planted it above where my friend's head lay.

I didn't answer. I just stood there in the shallows, watching her every move and waiting for what would happen next. After she had planted the stalk, Wolf Child looked at the Prince one last time and then at me. Her eyes glimmered with the soul of an animal knowing that either death was coming or life was about to be changed.

"I said that you were free and I meant it," she told me.

Then she was gone. She scrambled away from Ashitaka on all limbs with the limberness of a forest creature and jumped into the water on the opposite side of the island. I watched her swim back to shore and then slip back among the trees beyond. That, I assumed, was the last that I would see of her. She had brought my friend to face judgement before the Great Forest Spirit and then considered her duty toward him finished.

Well, that wasn't going to happen in my case. My duty to Ashitaka would not end so easily. He was my friend and companion, and my place was by his side. Even if it meant that I would have face a creature that was filled with both gentle understanding and a deadliness that no other being could hope to match. One that could easily use that deadliness to end not only my friend's life if he saw fit, but my own as well.

But it was a risk that I was willing to face for one who would do the same for me. And so I stood there in the water, awaiting the Great Forest Spirit if he chose to make himself known. I really don't know how long we were there, it could have been a few moments or it could have been hours. I know only that the time seemed to slow for me and remained so until the moment that He finally made an appearance.

I remained in the shallows when He approached, my head deeply bowed in the greatest respect as my nervous eyes watched. This was the highest of all living creatures, be they mortal or be they gods, and he deserved every ounce of reverence that I could muster. For all my effort though, I was not even spared a single glance. The only attention given to anyone here was the human who still lay in a painful sleep on the edge of the island.

He had regarded the wounded man with what I could only assume was a distant curiosity and interest. I suppose it was because humans were not a very common sight in this ancient forest. Usually, from the news I had gathered from the oxen living in Iron Town, humans who entered this place were never to be seen again. Most likely killed by the animals that guarded this ancient and sacred place.

For whatever reason, the Great Forest Spirit chose to save my friend once his curiosity was satisfied. He healed the terrible wound and cleansed the poison that had come with it. But that was all He did for Ashitaka. For He though he looked at the demon mark that spread over the human's arm and hand, He did not attempt to remove it and when I realized that, I knew that the quest we had come on had been in vain. For if the Great Forest Spirit would not save my friend, then who is this world would? For there was no other in the world of Men or of Beasts that I knew who held such power.

Once he had healed Ashitaka's wound, He looked up at me with that ever knowing expression of his. He had said nothing to me when our eyes met and I dared not chance angering Him even with thanks. Though He had chosen to save my friend, the Great Forest Spirit is still a fickle creature who acts within His own set of rules and boundaries. One moment He may seem benevolent and kind, and the next, He can take your life without even thinking about it. That is His way and that is how He will always remain.

So I watched in silence as the Spirit took one last glance at myself and Ashitaka and then turned back toward the trees. He trotted away, taking with Him that aura of power that had been emanating from His proud form. In only a few heartbeats, the Great Forest Spirit had made it back among the trees and had disappeared.

I waited until I was absolutely certain that we were alone before I moved again. When I did, I began the job of moving Ashitaka away from the island and back onto the shoreline again. It would mean that I would have to slowly drag him through water that easily came up to my shoulders and over his head if I wasn't careful, but I didn't care.

I had to get him away from the island where he no longer had a place and onto the opposite shore where he could rest. If we were not gone before some other beast came, it was more than likely they would see both of us as intruders on what we beasts considered sanctioned ground. Then it was quite possible that we would both be attacked, my friend for being human and I for associating with him.

So I spent the next hour or so with this delicate operation. I myself still could not set foot on island where Ashitaka lay, since it was above my standing as a mortal creature to dare such a thing. Instead, I had to move quickly as I ducked my head under the water and made a grab for the human's pant leg.

When I had a good enough grip with my teeth, I yanked hard and pulled Ashitaka off of the island. He ended up underwater of course, but I was prepared for that. The second he was immersed in the pool, I released my grip on his pants and dove for his shirt instead. This time, I barely made the mark.

Ashitaka's clothing might have stayed still on dry land, but underwater, it had a life of its own. In the gentle current of the pool that was fed by so many incoming streams, the cloth moved and swayed like the plants that were growing all around under the surface. Which made it harder for me to do my job.

Still, I managed to grab some cloth and pull Ashitaka's head back above the surface before he drowned. Once I was certain that my grip was strong, I dragged Ashitaka through the water and back to the opposite shore. When we were on land again, I released my grip and took a moment to rest.

Through it all, Ashitaka had remained asleep. Occasionally, he would let out a small groan as he shifted in his slumber but that was it. Other than that, he remained silent and endured the fever he was beginning to suffer from.

For the rest of the day and into the night, I stayed there on the shore by my friend's side. Despite the warmth of the forest, he still shivered with the fever that had taken hold of him. I tried my best to soothe his discomfort and did what I could to keep the cold that seemed to be driving itself into the Prince by letting him lay against my side.

When morning came, Ashitaka's condition had neither worsened nor turned for the better. He still remained in a slumber that I could only hope was helping him to regain the strength that he had lost. I tried to think of something else that I could do for him and nothing came to mind.

At a loss as to what I should do further, I had then decided that it was time to take care of myself. I had not eaten since before we left Iron Town and my hunger was beginning to get to me again. So, still remaining close to watch over my human friend, I started to graze on the new grasses that grew on this side of the shore. And it was during this that my unexpected and unwanted guest chose to make her presence known once again.

I'm eating my breakfast, I replied calmly.

"I told you that you were free," Wolf Child said as she came closer," I said that you could go where you wanted. So what are you still doing here?"

To hear her use those words sounded a little strange to me. Free? I had already been free from long before I had ever encountered this creature who was neither human nor wolf on the inside. I may have served as the mount of a human and wore a bridle and saddle so that he could stay on my back, but I was not the prisoner that she believed me to be.

I was free to come and go as I pleased where Ashitaka was concerned. He didn't keep me chained to a post or hurt me in anyway. When I was in a stable, it was only to keep me sheltered from the elements and provide protection from possible attacks. It was never to hold me against my will. Which was exactly what Wolf Child was assuming.

I know what you told me, I said, and this is where I chose to stay.

"That still doesn't explain why you're here," the girl snorted.

I am staying with my friend. He needs me, I answered.

"The only thing he needs is to be left alone. He's a disgusting human and that means he's trouble. He'll just hurt you in the end," the girl warned.

I don't have to explain myself to you, Wolf Child. What I do is my own business and that includes my remaining with him, I snorted, nodding my head toward the sleeping human at my feet.

Wolf Child glared at me and bared her teeth in a fashion similar to a predator. Part of me wanted back away at seeing her like that, as it reminded me of the fleshing-eating carnivores that were my kind's sworn enemies. But I held my ground and glared right back at her. I wasn't going to back down from some bratling who thought that she was a full-grown wolf.

"My name isn't Wolf Child," she said sharply," My name is San, of the Moro tribe. What are you called?"

I am called Yakul, I replied proudly, Yakul of the Red Elk Clan of the West.

I suppose that there was no need to tell this San child what clan I was from. That was obvious, as anyone could see and even if I couldn't claim the same heritage that she could, adopted or not. But I felt it necessary to let her know that she was not in the company of some brainless ox or cow as some people might have assumed.

From the way her lip curled however, I think that was just the impression that she was getting. San looked as if she had eaten something sour and wanted to spit it back out again. Why, I wasn't quite sure. But something told me that it concerned what I had just told her.

"What kind of a name is Yakul?" San asked with minor disgust and giving credit to my guess," That isn't any red elk name that I've ever heard of before."

That's because it isn't a name of the Red Elk Clan. It is a word of the Emishi people, the humans that I lived with. It is also the name that Prince Ashitaka gave me when I was a fawn and he chose me to be his companion, I answered indignantly.

"You mean when he chose you to be his slave," San snorted.

All right, enough was enough. I knew that San had reason to hate humans and after what the ones of this area had done to the forest, I couldn't blame her. They had destroyed and despoiled what had taken the Great Forest Spirit and the Gods eons to grow and protect. That could not be easily forgiven. Even I realized this and I had spent my entire life among humans, good and bad.

But to have her lump Ashitaka in with the rest of those fools, that was just crossing the line and that something I wouldn't tolerate. I had known the Prince all my life and I knew that he had his faults. All humans do, whether they are good or bad. But Ashitaka had never done anything to harm the world as the humans here did. None of his people did.

Ashitaka and his Clan were humans who lived alongside the land instead of trying to rule it. They only took what they needed, carving out a small area for them to live in, and leaving the rest as it was. If there was anything left over once something was done, then it was returned to the earth so that the cycle could be repeated.

I knew all of this and instantly made the decision to inform this San of the difference. I would not have her insulting my friend like that. Even if she got mad at me for it, I didn't care. She would have to listen.

I am not a slave, I told her sternly, I am Ashitaka's mount and his friend. He treats me like we are of the same herd and I do the same for him. That is how it has always been between us and how it will always be. Not all humans are like the ones you know here and you need to learn the difference before it's too late.

San glared at me and retorted," Friends? With a disgusting human? I'm sorry, Yakul, but I think you're the one who doesn't realize his mistake. There's no way that anyone would want to be friend with one of them. They're too destructive and care nothing about the land. All humans are trouble."

I would, I snapped, and I think that you need to remember that no matter who raised you or what spirits dwell inside your soul, your body is just as human as his. So to insult Ashitaka is to insult yourself, San of the Moro tribe.

Well, that certainly caught her off guard. For a moment, San could only stared at me with stunned silence. Her mouth hung open as far down as any human jaw could possible go and her eyes were fixed on me. It was actually sort of funny to watch her be like this, considering that the other times I had seen her she had been wielding a knife or trying to talk me into something.

I should have known that it wouldn't last long though. After she had gathered her wits again, San was back and ready for the attack. She glared at me and bared her teeth at me for a second time.

"You dare to insult San of the Moro Tribe?" she snarled.

You insulted Ashitaka and myself first, I countered, I was only returning the favor. For a moment, it looked like she wanted nothing more than to give a counter for that one. But again, she was silent. Not in the stunned way that she had been before, but in a more thoughtful way. She only looked at me and I think she actually took my words to heart.

I decided that now might the perfect chance for me to press the advantage. Now that she was actually listening to me, I had the opportunity to get answers and maybe even get her to understand another perspective. It was a long shot of course, since San could just as easily retaliate against my words as listening to them. Still, I decided that it was worth a shot.

Tel me something, San. If you hate him so much, then why did you bother to bring him to the Great Forest Spirit? I demanded, You could have left Ashitaka on the mountain to be eaten by the Ape tribe, but you didn't. Why help him so much if you hate him?

San looked up at me in surprise and shock. I can honestly say that this was the last thing that she had expected me to ask. Possibly, she assumed that I would just accept what she had done and leave it at that. That's what most other animals would do.

When one is a creature of the forest, there is no need to ask why something is done. If someone helps you, it is done because there is the need for the stronger to help the weak. It isn't out of obligation or debt, it is just done. So when San told me she did this out of debt, then I knew it was her human side taking hold.

"He tried to help me when I attacked the Gun woman, even if it wasn't any of his business. I.I owed him for that," San said lamely.

So you were just paying back a debt you felt was there, I said.

I had long since finished my grazing and taken up a closer position to Ashitaka, who was still trapped in sleep. I lay on the ground next to him, to better watch my friend's progress. All the while though, I only kept one eye on him. The other was still on the Wolf Child named San.

"I've never met a human like him before," San admitted slowly as she finally took a seat on the other side of my human friend," All the others have tried to kill me as soon as they saw me. But he tried to help me, even though he was hurt by the same ones that were supposed to be his friends. I don't see why he would do that to himself."

Ashitaka is like that, I shrugged, He puts the needs of others before his own so that those around him may be happy and safe. My friend doesn't like to see people suffer needlessly.

"That's his name then. Ashitaka?" she asked, obviously hoping to change the subject.

Yes, I said, willing to oblige her, He is Prince Ashitaka of the Emishi people, the clan that we lived with before the curse forced us to leave.

"Curse? What curse are you talking about?" San asked.

Do you remember last night when those lights jumped out of Ashitaka's arm? The ones that looked like giant worms that reached out for you and the Iron Town woman? I asked. Her face lighting with recognition, San said," Yes. He said that he carried the mark of hate within him and that it was killing him. Is that the curse you mean, Yakul?"

Yes, it is, I nodded as I moved closer to Ashitaka.

Using my nose, I nudged the leaves that had fallen around his hand away. Careful not to touch the skin, I looked sorrowfully at the grim black and purple marking that still lay there. I wasn't sure, but it seemed to have grown during the night. If it had, then it could only mean that my friend's life was slowly drawing toward its painful end.

Do you see that marking on his arm, San of Moro Tribe? It is the curse of the Boar god that you knew as Nago, I explained as I looked up from Ashitaka to San, It is the curse of hate that has taken hold of Ashitaka and in time will be what kills him if we don't find a cure.

"How..how did he get it from Nago? Did he anger him somehow?" San asked slowly. She had moved closer to us now and was now kneeling on the grass. Looking into her eyes, I could almost just see what could have been concern. But it could have just been my imagination, given how she had been reacting to Ashitaka so far.

He received it in battle with Nago, who had become a demon thanks to the iron ball that was stuck inside of him. Rage and pain blinded him, and he tried to attack our village because of it, I said solemnly, When he came, there were three girls heading back to the village, Ashitaka's little sister Kaya and her two friends. Nago went after them and Ashitaka had no choice but to stop him. To do that, he had to kill Nago and when he did, that was when the curse of hate was able to grab hold of Ashitaka. It remains there now and will slowly kill his body and soul until he is dead.

"He dared to kill a god?!" Sand said in sudden outrage.

Ashitaka did what he had to do to protect his herd, I snapped, Kaya and the other two are mere fawns, far too young to even stand a chance against a demon like Nago had become and would have been dead if they tried to fight back. They are innocents who have never done anything to harm the forest, be it the one at home or the one we stand in now. Would you have them harmed just because they were in his path at the wrong time?

"I don't care," San hissed," Children are innocent for awhile, but they still grow up and end up just like their parents. They become just as destructive and evil."

Just as you would have if you had remained with your human family? I asked.

I really had no idea what had happened to cause her to be with the wolves instead of her human family. And maybe it was cruel of me to even bring up the subject, but part of me knew that it had to be done. It was true after all. If her human parents had raised San, then she could have just as easily become like other humans and then everyone in the forests would hate her as well.

San of the Moro Tribe probably knew this for herself but did not want to admit it to herself. I could see that now. And again I didn't care. If she didn't want to admit what her own life could have been, that was her business. But I wouldn't let her act like that about other humans just because she thought it was the only right way to go.

"You're lucky I don't kill you for that," she sniffed after a moment.

Whatever, I replied, But you need to remember that before you go gabbing about what should happen to a human and what shouldn't. Your life could have been a lot different if Moro hadn't adopted you in whatever fashion she did. It was just one choice that brought you to the point that you're at today, San.

"You're strange, Yakul," San replied," You think it ways that I've never heard from any decent creature before. You think of humans as friends and defend them even when they're bringing death to a god and to the forest. I really don't understand why you defend them so much."

Being with Ashitaka's people for so long has given me a perspective that most other creatures will never know, including you and Wolf Goddess Moro. I have seen both sides of the human world and know that at least some humans are worthy of trust even when the others are trying to kill you, I replied.

"Are all of Ashitaka's people as strange as him?" San asked.

It depends on your definition of strange, I told her, I do not see the Prince or his people as being strange. To me, they are normal people who wish only to be left alone to live in peace. It is people like the Iron Town woman and you that I consider strange. But that's probably just my opinion.

"Could you tell me about your homeland and the people there, Yakul?" San asked after a short pause of silence.

Looking at her in surprise, I replied, Are you sure of that? That sort of thing doesn't seem to be among your favorite topics.

"Well," San shrugged," I really don't care for humans. They're too much trouble. But I would like to hear about yours, because except for what happened with Nago, I think that they sound like good people. For humans I mean."

Fine, if you put it that way, then I will tell you about them. But no smart remarks out of you or I'll headbutt you into the nearest tree, I warned almost playfully.

"Alright, I promise. I'll be quiet," San promised.

Good and you remember that, I said as I tried to collect my thoughts and began my story, The Emishi tribe once lived here in the East among the great forests and plains. They were a people who lived in harmony with the land and respected life the way that we animals do. For many years, they were left in peace. Until the Emperor decided that they were too much of a problem and he sent his men..

A/N: Well, there it is. I guess that Yakul came out a bit snippy, but since he never had any lines of his own in the movie, I had to go with what I thought was going through his head. And I think it's pretty clear that he is completely loyal to Ashitaka, since he stayed by his friend no matter where the Prince went during the movie. Besides, I think it's only right that someone give San a bit of humble pie after all the times she was a pain to Ashitaka. ;)