Epilogue: Nobuyuki

Nobuyuki ran at full speed toward the hill that had been his childhood thinking place, the occasional item of clothing flying out of his hands and landing forgotten on the ground behind him. I have to get away,the fifteen-year-old thought, and find my real father!

"Nobu-chan!" came a sudden shout.

The hanyou stopped short and whirled around, coming face to face with his childhood friend, Tsumura Mio. He almost dropped the remainder of his clothes he was so startled, and barely managed to hiss at her, "Get away from me!"

"Nobu-chan," the human girl chided, grabbing his hand and leading him up the hill, "that's no way to speak to a girl!"

Shrugging out of her hold, Nobuyuki bellowed, "You don't understand—I'm leaving! If you don't let go, my mother will come for me and take me back to that horrible mate of hers!"

Mio looked over her shoulder; her eyes darkened by sadness at the thought of him leaving, and said, "She's not following." Looking earnestly into his crimson eyes, she whispered, "Please, just a few minutes. Humour me for a few more minutes before you leave me forever, Nobu-chan."

Heaving a sigh but following her up the hill, Nobuyuki cursed his luck as Mio contemplated if what she had to say was needed, and thought of the cruelty of her family earlier that evening…

"I'm going to see Nobu-chan!" Mio exclaimed to her mother. There was a strange feeling in her gut, a feeling that she would soon lose someone close to her, and she was very afraid that it might be Nobuyuki.

Her mother stalked up to her, pieces of the broken mug that Mio had accidentally shattered minutes before in her hands. "Mio," she said sullenly, her hands bleeding from the rough edges of what had once been an expensive clay cup. "He will never love you."

Mio froze from where she had been halfway to the door, and turned slowly around. "Why… why would you say something like that?" she had cried, somewhat shrilly, but she never received an answer, nor had she given her mother time to answer, for the girl had rushed out the door immediately afterwards.

"Here we are!" Mio announced, tugging herself out her thoughts as they reached the top of the hill. "I love this place… remember how we would always sneak out to play?" But then, her cheerfulness gone, she turned to him. "It's also the place I saw your other form for the first time, Nobuyuki-kun."

"Let's stay out after dark!" Mio remembered insisting as the sun had gone down; she had been tugging a small Nobuyuki after her. "Come on, Nobu-chan, it'll be really fun!"

I forced you, Nobuyuki-kun, Mio thought as she painfully recalled the incident, how he had changed into something monstrous on that night of the new moon, and how she had let out a long scream and ran away from his pained eyes.

"After that, Nobuyuki-kun," recalled Mio aloud, staring at her toes, "you started to avoid me." Then, she hesitated, knowing she was lying.

No… I was the once who started distancing myself first.

Collapsing down on a tree stump and not daring to meet his surprised eyes, Mio said, "Nobuyuki-kun, for a long time, I felt guilty that I had ever been born. After all, I was the one person who could never do anything right, and, as if we weren't poor enough, I kept causing us to lose more and more money. I thought I was the worst person on earth.
"But then, I met you, and I was… relieved." She laughed shortly, bitterly. "I realized that, compared to you, I had it easy."

Compared to a kid who was hated by all just because of his race… I wasn't so bad after all.

"And suddenly, I could feel good about myself. I was always," her heart went cold as this realization hit her, "looking down on you, Nobuyuki-kun."

When the hanyou didn't respond, Mio brought her hands to her face, hiding her big green eyes. It's terrible, she thought. That day I ran away from you, I was so afraid.

I wanted to do it all over again. I wanted you to forget how horribly I abandoned you.

Not even daring to glance at Nobuyuki, Mio whispered, "I thought that if I could love you, Nobuyuki-kun… if I could shorten the distance between us, and if you could love me back, then maybe… you would forgive me, and it would be like that night never happened."

But when I saw you running from your mother's house with clothes in your arms, I realized that I was blind to your pain, Nobuyuki-kun. It was all about myself.

I never thought about the feelings I must have hurt after I deserted you, Nobuyuki-kun. I was so… selfish.

"I'm sorry," came her broken voice as tears pricked her eyes. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Nobuyuki-kun."

"You don't need to say these things on my account," he began, baritone voice echoing around the small plane as he stepped forward. When Mio looked up, he continued with narrowed eyes, "Mio, I don't love you. I will never love you. I just," he paused to glance at her wide emerald eyes without a trace of guilt, "wanted to let you know. Even if you looked down on me… there's nothing for you to apologise for."

Without replying, Mio stood up and walked slowly past him, hands locked together behind her back. In order to hold back her tears, she was biting her lip hard enough to make it bleed. She knew that if she even looked at him, no less spoke to him, everything would come out. So, betraying nothing to him, she merely thought sadly, You don't have to be so nice. When I chose to love you, a part of me knew that I'd never be able to get close to you… but I still convinced myself that I could do it.

Nobuyuki turned towards her, perturbed by her lack of response. "Mio," he said softly, "no matter what your reason was, when you talked and played with me, I was happy. My family could never have filled the space that you did. And, for that, I thank you."

Still silent, she began to walk away from him, off the plateau, wishing she were brave enough to say goodbye. But then, a thought made her pause. At the beginning, I was only in it for myself… but as time went on… I really started to love him…

It was then that Mio turned back to him and began to sob as tears ran down her face in rivers. "Nobu-chan! Nobuyuki-kun…!"

It wasn't just my selfishness that kept me near him…!

"Nobuyuki-kun… oh, Nobuyuki-kun… I do love you!" She crumpled, and screamed to the skies, "I love you!"

Before she knew it, Nobuyuki had walked up, placed a hand behind her head and tugged her to him. Now she stood, still weeping, in a tight embrace with the one she wished to be with forever. "Thank you," he said softly. "Thank you, Mio."

She squeezed her eyes shut as he released her, and refused to watch him walk away, and out of her life…

Nobuyuki stole away from Mio and off down the hill, past Mujitsu village, and into the open air. Though he didn't know exactly where his father would be, from the story that his mother told him when he was twelve, he deduced that it must be about a day away.

I'll start in one direction, he thought to himself, determinedly keeping his mind off the girl he had just left all alone, and ask the first village I come across if they have had any trouble.

Taking a deep breath, the hanyou set off at a run toward the north.

It took three tries, but when Nobuyuki finally decided to go westward, the first village was completely normal, but when the hanyou asked the quaking farmers whether they had heard about any trouble further on, they nodded yes and he hurried on. The second village was in chaos, and he knew that his father had been there.

He darted in and opened his mouth to ask what had happened when one of the villagers before him let out a long wail. "It's returned!" she screamed, hurrying to hide behind a broad-shouldered man wielding a lit torch. "The demon—it's come for us again!"

Nobuyuki heaved a sigh and cursed his appearance, wishing that, like his father, he could change his appearance at will. Unfortunately, the hanyou could do no such thing; he could only merely try and convince the villagers that he meant them no harm.

"Please!" he called out, holding up a hand. "I am not here to hurt you. All I want is information. Could you tell me what happened here?"

"We shall do no such thing!" screeched the man, abandoning the woman to come at Nobuyuki, torch in hand.

Sango had taught him how to avoid blades, how to pin your opponent to the ground without hurting them, and such things when he was a child, so now Nobuyuki slid past the burly human and in one clean motion, had him trapped in the dirt. The green boy had always wished his mother had taught him more—more violent things, like how to wield a sword, but she had refused, and now he was sorely regretting not forcing her into it.

"Tell me," he ground out, "what happened or," he paused then, thinking, and then lied, "I'll… I'll break your arm!"

The big man gulped and began a long explanation about how a demon with countless tentacles, and strange heads placed on the tips of almost every one, had come to their village in search of… well, they didn't know.

Nobuyuki, confident that this must be his father, let the human go and demanded, "Tell me where he went."

"Back that way," blustered the human, red in the face and pointing further west.

The green hanyou nodded and set off that way without saying anything more, and the entire village watched him go with frightened looks on their faces. Not before too long, Nobuyuki arrived at a grand fortress high on a hill, and immediately made for it as fast as his surefooted legs would take him.

When he arrived, he saw to his surprise, not a demon inside the open courtyard, but a puny human with brown hair, a loose blue gi and a ratty black hakama patrolling the grounds, hand on the hilt of his sheathed katana.

"Hey!" Nobuyuki shouted, stepping inside the open gate. "Human, are you the lord of this castle?"

The boy glanced up and made his way over, grinning a dark half smile. "Half-breed," he said in greeting.

Nobuyuki bristled at the demeaning name, but was silent.

The human boy then paused and cocked his head to the side, murmuring, "Don't you look familiar." Frowning, he walked back into the courtyard, beckoning for Nobuyuki to follow him. Hesitantly, the hanyou did as asked, and found he had a right to be nervous when the human suddenly curled in on himself and let out a deafening roar.

There was a blinding flash of light so bright that Nobuyuki covered his eyes and let out a shout. When he next lowered his hand, he saw to his horror and exaltation that what stood before him now was not an innocent looking human boy, but a monstrous creature with many snaking appendages.

"Father!" the hanyou exclaimed on impulse, rushing forward. "I-I knew it! You… you're Tohyama, aren't you?"

The head in the center (Nobuyuki noticed that it was the face of the boy) narrowed its green eyes—they were too much like Mio's for Nobuyuki's liking—and dipped down toward the green lad with a soft murmur of, "So you're Nobuyuki, are you?"

Nobuyuki nodded his head emphatically, and barely managed to stop himself from throwing his arms open for a hug. "Father!" he cried out joyously. "I've wanted to meet you for so lo—father?"

The hanyou found to his surprise that his father was no longer listening, but merely muttering to himself and shooting the occasional glance at the confused boy. Nobuyuki caught only snatches of the murmurings, and what he heard quite offended him, though he would have never said so. He heard things like, "I thought he'd be better looking," and, "He looks like a weakling."

But then Tohyama turned back to his puzzled son and lifted him up in one tentacle with three inquiries: "What are you doing here? Are you lost? Do you wish to return to your mother?"

Nobuyuki shook his head animatedly and, only bothering to answer his father's final question, exclaimed, "No, I wish to be here with you!"

"Then you will work for me."

"Work… for you?" Nobuyuki had never thought of it like that. He thought when he ran away to be with his father, they would spend every day together, constantly gossiping about that freak that Sango was now mated to, and Sango herself, not to mention that little brat Sayuri. "But—I thought—" But then Nobuyuki paused, and convinced himself that his dream had been absolutely idiotic. "Yes," the green boy said after a long pause. "I will work for you."

"Good. Do you know how to fight, or how to use a sword?"

Nobuyuki shifted uncomfortably in his father's grasp. "No."

Tohyama immediately let the boy go, and he landed hard on the ground, ashamed. The hanyou stood to apologize for his weakness, but suddenly found before him the same young man that he had seen when he first came in—a boy the same age as he was, surely!

After murmuring something about how he expected Sango to at least teach the boy something about battle, and how he would now have to, the young man turned to him and grinned humourlessly, exclaiming, "You can call me Kyo, boy, and from now on, I will take care of you."

Nobuyuki had a simple job, and it was this: when his father needed to feed on the images of humans, or demons, to keep him strong, the green hanyou would pop out to a nearby village and bring back a couple of humans, or a stray demon.

Everything was fine, but then, one evening, about a year after the hanyou had run away from his mother, when Nobuyuki had finally convinced his father to sit down with him and have a meal using Kyo's form, it happened.

"Father!" Nobuyuki exclaimed over his food. "Were those village girls I brought you today satisfactory?"

Tohyama chuckled and slapped his son on the back hard enough to make him stagger and nearly fall into his food, and went on to say, "I feel much better, thank you, Nobuyuki. Now, let us give a toast—"

"—to you," Nobuyuki interrupted, lifting his cup of sake.

"No," Tohyama said, waving him away, "to you."

"But why?" the hanyou exclaimed. "To be toasted to by the great Tohyama—please, I have done nothing to deserve such a great honour."

His father shook his head and laughed uproariously, raising his cup too. "To you, my son, for long outliving your purpose!"

Nobuyuki froze, cup to his lips, as these words sunk in. Turning slowly to Tohyama, Nobuyuki saw to his horror that instead of the figure of Kyo sitting before him, there sat his father in his true form, tentacles flapping. "What?" he asked nervously, placing his cup of sake back on the table. "What are… what do you mean?"

"Add hearing to your list of defects," Tohyama said pompously as one tentacle darted out and grabbed Nobuyuki by the wrist, pulling him without any hesitation through a gap in the mass of swirling tentacles. There was a horrible sucking noise, a bright light—and suddenly Nobuyuki sat at the table once more. Stretching once and murmuring, "Ah, now that feels better," the green-skinned creature leaned back, content, and sipped at his sake.

Summary for the sequel, Tactics of War:

After Nobuyuki's disappearance, Sango falls into a deep depression. But then, when he suddenly returns, all is not as it seems, and suddenly Sango and Sesshoumaru are thrust into a fight for their lives as well as the life of their daughter!

(ETA, 02/11: Well, you guys can forget about that. It's one of those shameful affairs to lay completed and secret on my hard drive for the rest of my life. I mean, if you really want it, ask, but...)