Disclaimer: I do hereby disclaim all rights and responsibilities for the characters in this recreation of past events… especially for the stubborn one. A nod of recognition is bent towards Rumiko Takahashi for her creative prowess.

A Debt of Gratitude: With thanks to mine beta, Fenikkusuken… who was sweet enough to hint for more.

This story was originally posted to Live Journal on October 31, 2008

The Bargain

Hisoka's agitation ebbed away as soon as he realized that his pupil's scent trail led unerringly towards the south-facing caves below the walls of the Western Fortress. "I should have known," the neko-youkai sighed with relief, running a hand over close-cropped pewter hair in an effort to calm his frayed nerves. The Inu no Taisho had made his expectations very clear where his son was concerned, and Hisoka didn't wish to lose either his post—or his life—simply because the young lord was proving to be quite a handful. Sesshoumaru wasn't exactly a difficult child; in many ways he was an ideal student—serious, curious, and driven to succeed. However, the young lord never did a thing unless it pleased him to do so, and if his interest was caught by something besides his lessons, he disappeared the minute Hisoka turned his back.

Most teachers would have found it daunting to be overruled by a pup less than half their size, but something about Sesshoumaru's solemn self-assurance intrigued Hisoka. He was a solitary child who took himself very seriously; so the neko-youkai treated him with equal gravity, and it worked. Sesshoumaru accepted the necessity of lessons, and Hisoka accepted his role as the young lord's first retainer. As it was the only kind of play Sesshoumaru ever indulged in, the neko-youkai was willing to live with the demotion.

Arriving at the mouth of the shallow cave, Hisoka leaned casually against the wall, folding his arms and crossing one leg behind the other as he considered the tableau before him. Sesshoumaru was kneeling on the sun-warmed sands beside a large egg, eyes closed in concentration as he pressed a pointed ear against its mottled surface. Hisoka's lips quirked upwards, and the expression in his tawny orange eyes grew thoughtful. Perhaps there was hope for his pint-sized tyrant after all, for the animals stabled here would fascinate any little boy.

Remembering his manners, the neko-youkai nodded respectfully towards the copper-scaled mother-to-be, and she blinked placidly before returning to her basking. In the meantime, Sesshoumaru had wrapped his arms around the egg and was tapping the shell with tiny claws. Hisoka strode forward on light feet and crouched beside his pupil. "Gently, milord," he cautioned. "It's still several days from hatching, and cracking the egg prematurely would harm Kirameki's baby."

Solemn gold eyes regarded Hisoka for a moment, and then Sesshoumaru withdrew his arms and stood to his full height, meeting his crouching teacher eye-to-eye. "I will not hurt Kirameki's baby," he earnestly replied.

"Are you here again, boy?" boomed a familiar voice. Hisoka rose to greet Katashi, a big, broad-shouldered inu-youkai with a permanent swagger. They saw much of him since these creatures were under his care, but as much as Sesshoumaru doted on the herd, he remained aloof from their burly keeper. Leaning a rake against the cave wall, Katashi grinned down at the silver-haired child. "You really fancy these great lizards, don't you, boy! I'll just bet you'd like one for your very own, am I right?"

Though the boy's face betrayed nothing, Hisoka saw longing in the hurried look he sent towards Kirameki's egg. Still, Sesshoumaru met Katashi's gaze levelly. "Kirameki is nice," he conceded, punctuating his comment with an unconcerned shrug.

The big inu-youkai slapped his knee and guffawed, his laughter echoing off the walls. Hisoka dredged up strained smile in response to Katashi's misplaced merriment, but he cast a concerned glance towards Sesshoumaru, whose downturned lips indicated either confusion or displeasure. "I agree, milord," Hisoka declared evenly. "Kirameki is the most beautiful mare in the herd."

"Oh, aye," replied Katashi, who had a proprietary air where the draconic steeds were concerned and took it as a compliment. "These lovely beasts were a gift from Lord Ryuukotsusei, and we have great plans to use them as mounts for the guardsmen. Every single hatchling is spoken for, so don't set your heart on that egg, boy. They're not pets for pups."

Hisoka couldn't deny the truth of Katashi's words, but his patronizing tone grated against the tutor's nerves. His flame-colored eyes flashed with annoyance, but Sesshoumaru spoke up first. Lifting his pointed chin, he managed to look down his nose at Katashi and say, "Kirameki is not yours; she belongs to Father."

Katashi's eyes narrowed briefly in response to Sesshoumaru's lordly manner, and Hisoka wondered if he would have to step in. However, the inu-youkai rubbed his chin thoughtfully and dropped to one knee, beckoning to the child. "That may be true, but I have some say in how things are run down here. I'll tell you what," he drawled, making a show of coming to a decision. "Let's make a bargain. If by some chance there are two hatchlings in that egg of Kirameki's, one of 'em is yours."

Sesshoumaru regarded the man with widening eyes. "Truly?"

"You have my word on it!" Katashi laughed.

Hisoka's heart sank when the little lord flashed one of his rare smiles. "Thank you very much," Sesshoumaru said with the utmost respect before darting through the entrance and trotting towards the uphill path.

The neko-youkai moved to follow, but hesitated to address Katashi. "That was unnecessarily cruel."

Katashi rolled his eyes. "It was a joke; someday he'll look back at this and laugh."

"Hnn, I wonder." With his mouth thinned by displeasure, Hisoka stalked after Sesshoumaru.

If Katashi had hoped to turn Sesshoumaru into a laughingstock as a part of his petty trick, the humiliation never materialized. Other children might have babbled their excitement to anyone who would listen, and the deception would have been quickly uncovered. However, Sesshoumaru was far from typical. It seemed that he considered the bargain a secret too precious to share, and he kept his hopes to himself. In the days that followed, Hisoka looked for a way to gently break the truth to the child. During their lessons the next morning, he made an attempt. "Do you know what this is, milord?" the neko-youkai asked, extending his palm.

Sesshoumaru laid aside his calligraphy brush and scooted closer to his teacher, nose twitching. "An egg," he replied.

Hisoka nodded approvingly and continued, "Do you know what kind of egg this is?" The child's curiosity was piqued, and he extended cupped palms in silent demand. His teacher complied, then revealed, "This is a pheasant's egg."

Sesshoumaru prodded it gently, turning it over in his palm. "It is warm."

"The hen keeps her egg warm until it is ready to hatch," Hisoka explained.

"It is smaller than Kirameki's," Sesshoumaru noted softly, then glanced up at his tutor. "How many?"

"How many chicks?" the neko-youkai echoed, making sure he understood. At the boy's quick nod, he replied, "There will be five chicks in this brood."

Sesshoumaru blinked in surprise and studied the speckled shell more intently. "How can you tell?"

Hisoka's brows dipped into sympathetic lines, but he spoke matter-of-factly. "The pheasant laid five eggs, so there will be five hatchlings." Holding his breath, he watched Sesshoumaru digest this information, catching the brief spark of understanding in his expressive golden eyes. The pup tucked his chin into his chest, and for several moments his forehead was so puckered with concentration that the crescent moon gracing it was marred by the ripples. At least now he knows, Hisoka thought sadly. The neko-youkai's relief was short-lived, though, because when Sesshoumaru raised his face to meet his teacher's gaze, those eyes glinted with determination. And yet, it pleases his lordship to hope.

As a youkai of the feline persuasion, Hisoka was no match for the famously keen inu-youkai sense of smell, but a neko-youkai's eyes were sharp and didn't miss much. Over the next few days, Hisoka bore witness to a demonstration of selective ignorance that was so ludicrous, it was childish. In spite of all his teacher's hints to the contrary, Sesshoumaru wasn't giving up on his hopes of claiming a hatchling from Kirameki's egg. Does he think he can bend reality to suit himself by the force of his will alone? After a moment's consideration, Hisoka decided that yes, he probably did. "Never underestimate the stubbornness of dogs," he muttered as he jogged across the courtyard, intent on rejoining Sesshoumaru in the caves.

"It would also be unwise to underestimate a dog's hearing," called a deep voice. The neko-youkai skidded to a halt and turned towards the tall figure bearing down on him. "Cat got your tongue?" teased the Western Lord after a few seconds of awkward silence.

"No, milord. I apologize for my rudeness," Hisoka stammered, though he managed his bow with catlike grace.

The inu-youkai brushed the apology aside and folded his arms across his chest. "I'm hearing rumors that my son has been sleeping with the herd every night."

Hisoka nodded cautiously. "That's true, milord."

Sesshoumaru's father grunted at this verification and drummed the fingers of one hand against his arm. "His mother is… unamused. She speculates that Sesshoumaru's sudden interest in the great outdoors is due in large part to some outlandish custom of feline origins, and she strongly recommends I reconsider my ill-conceived decision to appoint a neko-youkai as his instructor." The Inu no Taisho spoke without rancor, making it apparent that he doubted the truth of his own words. Catching the tutor's eye, he smirked and said, "Between you and me, I think she's misinterpreting events, but I did promise to look into the matter."

"Very wise, milord," Hisoka diplomatically interjected.

The Western Lord inclined his head and moved on. "Can you tell me why my son and heir is sleeping under the stars these days?"

The neko-youkai tried not to fidget. "It pleases him to do so."

"And why would such a thing please Sesshoumaru?" the boy's father prodded.

"False hope," Hisoka replied bitterly. The Inu no Taisho's brows lifted, and with a sigh, the neko-youkai gave an abbreviated explanation, summing up with, "He's praying that Kirameki's egg will hatch twins."

The Western Lord's bark of laughter surprised the tutor, and he wasn't sure what to expect when the inu-youkai dropped a heavy hand on his shoulder. "This, too, is a lesson he must learn."

"It seems a harsh lesson."

"But a necessary one."

Hisoka shifted uncomfortably, but dared to speak his mind. "Sesshoumaru is just a child, with a child's innocence and ignorance; his disappointment will be very great."

"Yes, he is a child, but children must grow up," the Inu no Taisho replied frankly. "You are here because he outgrew nursemaids; do not coddle the boy."

"As you wish, milord."

The inu-youkai caught and held Hisoka's gaze before adding, "This is a good opportunity for my son to shed some of his naiveté. The sooner Sesshoumaru learns that not every person is as honorable as you are, the better off he will be." Giving the tutor's shoulder a squeeze, he turned and walked away.

Stunned by level of trust being placed in him as much by the compliment he'd been paid, the neko-youkai could only stare after him.

When the time for hatching reached the any-day-now stage, both teacher and pupil spent more and more time with the herd until finally, Sesshoumaru refused to leave Kirameki's side. Hisoka admired the pup's tenacity—which amounted to willful blindness—but he dreaded the coming event almost as much as his young lord longed for it. For once, they both wore solemn expressions.

"Are you hungry, milord?" he asked, vainly hoping that the promise of breakfast might tempt Sesshoumaru away from his vigil. He nodded but didn't budge, so Hisoka stood and stretched. "Then I'll fetch something for you to eat." And today's lessons, and a change of clothes, and lunch while I'm at it, he added to himself as he climbed towards the fortress gates.

In the kitchens, he ran into Katashi. The herdsman had steered clear of Kirameki's visitors for the most part; enough that Hisoka wondered if the Western Lord had seen fit to have a word with him. The broad-shouldered inu-youkai nodded a greeting but hesitated before passing by. "The boy's still down there?" he inquired nonchalantly.

"Hnn," murmured the neko-youkai. "You know he is."

Katashi tried to laugh it off, but his chuckle sounded forced and he rubbed the back of his neck. "Spunky lad; he's almost got me hoping there's two dragons in that egg."

Hisoka knew this was as close to an apology as the dog was likely to give, but he wasn't in the mood to make things easy on him. "We both know that's impossible."

"Aye," Katashi sighed, then rallied. "Any which way, it'll probably be today—tomorrow at the latest. You going back down now?"

"Not yet; I need some things."

"I'll bring that lot down to him if you like," Katashi offered, nodding towards the provisions one of the kitchen crew had just finished tying into a bundle. Hisoka agreed and left, letting the inu-youkai have his peace offering.

He was still in his room when the first stirrings reached his ears—calls and the clatter of running feet. Tucking an extra scroll under his arm, Hisoka went to investigate. One of the young inu-youkai assigned to Katashi was in the middle of the courtyard, gesticulating wildly and pointing in the direction of the caves. The neko-youkai didn't need to hear what he was saying to guess what was happening. Berating himself for leaving Sesshoumaru's side just when his need was greatest, Hisoka sprinted towards the gate.

There were already a dozen people gathered in front of Kirameki's cave when he arrived, and the buzz of excitement over the hatching was putting the mare on edge. She grumbled and snapped warningly at her audience, making sure they kept their distance. Hisoka shouldered his way through as courteously as possible and found himself standing beside Katashi. "You missed it," the inu-youkai cheerfully informed him.

Ignoring the jibe, Hisoka kept his eyes on Sesshoumaru, whose straight little back was mostly turned to him. The pup sat in the sand, surrounded by shell fragments, and he was talking softly to the ungainly hatchling that rested its head on his forearm. From this angle, the neko-youkai could see the newborn's back and tail, the damp scales shining a dull bronze. Then, a second head appeared over Sesshoumaru's opposite shoulder, and the boy turned to address it as well. Hisoka blinked in surprise and exclaimed, "Two? There were two hatchlings? That's impossible…!"

Katashi smirked. "Look again, cat."

Hearing his teacher's voice, Sesshoumaru shifted to meet his eyes, and Hisoka saw happiness and triumph mingled in that glance. As the boy moved, the neko-youkai had a clearer view of the creature that lay half in and half out of Sesshoumaru's lap, and it took a moment for Hisoka to realize what he was seeing. "Two heads?" he blurted in disbelief. The young lord regally inclined his head, though Hisoka could tell he was fairly bursting.

"Aye," Katashi chuckled. "Seems the joke's on me after all."

Hisoka decided there was just one word for Sesshoumaru at this moment—smug.

As the news spread and the rest of the fortress's habitants turned up to see the hatchling, Hisoka stashed his supplies and wondered fleetingly if his young charge had eaten any of his breakfast. The Inu no Taisho soon arrived to inspect the new addition. "What have we here?" he called over the excited hum.

Katashi hurried forward and waved towards Kirameki's baby. "Have you ever seen the like, milord?" his herdsman eagerly asked.

"Never in all my days," admitted the Western Lord. "Is it normal? Healthy?"

"There's nothing normal about a two-headed dragon," scoffed Katashi, "but it seems to have a full set of wits in both its heads."

Sesshoumaru reluctantly disentangled himself from the hatchling, standing to properly greet his father, but the dragonlet lurched after the pup, crying in protest. When the young lord bowed, the small creature tried to swarm up his leg, sending them both sprawling. The Inu no Taisho chuckled, then addressed Katashi in an clipped undertone. "Will there be any complaints if I hold you to your bargain?"

"No, milord," the big inu-youkai quickly assured him. "I'd say the boy has earned him… erm, them?"

"So be it." Next, the Western Lord beckoned Hisoka over and nodded towards his son. "It seems my son will be taking a different lesson than expected from this day."

"That he is indomitable?" the tutor asked wryly.

"Confidence is its own kind of strength," the inu-youkai replied lightly.

Hisoka smiled and suggested, "That he should never give up, even in the face of impossible odds?"

"Determination is valuable trait," he stated, sounding even more like a proud father.

By this time, Sesshoumaru was back on his feet, and Katashi was at his side, showing the pup a few basics in caring for his new 'pet'. Hisoka noticed that while Sesshoumaru listened to the herdsman's instructions, he took the time to consider them before acting. It looks as though the intended lesson took hold after all. "Sesshoumaru doesn't trust him anymore, does he?" the tutor quietly observed.

"He trusts himself," the Inu no Taisho replied.

Hisoka nodded slowly, but there was so much the boy didn't understand—couldn't understand. "He shouldn't have to rely on his own judgment yet," he protested, albeit respectfully.

The Western Lord snorted. "As you pointed out the other day, he's only a pup; this is far from the last lesson Sesshoumaru will need to learn. This was simply today's lesson." With a casual wave towards his son, he added, "He's learned caution, which will serve him well… as will you."

The neko-youkai ruefully shook his head. "How am I supposed to teach a pupil who's convinced of his superiority?"

"You already know the answer to that." When Hisoka's brow arched questioningly, the Inu no Taisho folded his arms over his chest and gazed at Sesshoumaru as he spoke. "It pleases my son to trust you; you will leave your mark."

"Constellations, calligraphy, and a few choice feline expletives?" he asked with a hint of sarcasm.

The Western Lord's laughter rumbled through the cave. "Well, not everything in life is as dramatic as a two-headed dragon."

"Hnn," Hisoka murmured.

End Note: This oneshot was written for the Live Journal community iy(underscore)blind and their prompt for October 2008—Blind. 3,034 words.