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The Sweet Science by RosieB

Hook

A/N: Welcome to my new drabble/one-shot serial! Like The Nightingale, this story will be written for the LJ comm, dokuga_contest. Most of the updates will be 400 words or less, but I decided to kick off with a one-shot. This one tops out at 2214 words!

"The sweet science" is a phrase that refers to the sport of boxing. It was coined by a writer, Pierce Egan, in the 19th century and then popularized by journalist A.J. Liebling when he used it to title his book of boxing essays. This story isn't strictly about boxing though - it's about the newer sport that's alternately called street fighting, ultimate fighting or mixed martial art (MMA) fighting. MMA involves a variety of combat strategies - judo, karate, Brazilian jiu jitsu, etc. - but it has some core similarities to boxing. Mostly, that two competitors try to beat the tar out of each other in order to win. :) Anyway, I thought the title fit the story.

All the chapters will be named after a fighting/boxing term. A "hook" is a powerful close-range punch where the fighter lifts his elbow (thus creating a hook with his arm) and delivers a punch the side of his opponent's head or body. It's a surprisingly difficult punch to master, but when you can throw one effectively, you have a powerful weapon in your bare hands. I'll leave secondary meanings to your own imagination. ;)

Originally posted on July 1, 2010. I was floored by a wonderful welcome back - this won first place! :D

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Hook

The warehouse at the edge of the city already smelled of sweat. Sesshoumaru had almost forgotten how powerful the stench could be to his nose when he wasn't accustomed to it. Still, it was almost welcome. He had stayed away too long. And although he was already drawing a few furtive glances and outright stares, he knew that these people understood his situation. They welcomed him, in their own way.

These sorts of gatherings didn't exactly have a card table at the entrance full of name tags. He would have to make his own introduction or risk being seen as a coward for not stepping out as a first-timer. They would know he wasn't a cop, of course, but people engaged in illegal activities tended to distrust unknowns until it was clear that they were there for illegal activities as well.

He found the largest group of men in the place and headed over, smiling inwardly as others parted in front of him. The organizer was easy to spot, preening in the middle of the crowd. He was far more feminine looking than most of the males in the room, but Sesshoumaru knew from experience that no demon should be underestimated. This one could fight - he could see it in the way that he moved.

"Sesshoumaru Taisho," the organizer greeted him, pushing aside a few of his hangers-on. "I heard a rumor that you might show up. It's wonderful that you did."

Considering how many people he had told about his plans to attend this function - exactly zero - Sesshoumaru knew that the organizer was just trying to butter him up. He knew he was a rare commodity here, able to bring in big money. "You are Naraku?" he asked.

The demon gave him a small smile. "Naraku doesn't have the time to attend all of his business functions," he said, tossing his long ponytail a bit. "I'm Byakuya. I manage most of these little events."

"Hn." He glanced toward the empty cage in the middle of the room. "And where is the actual 'event'?"

"Eager?" Byakuya smirked. "Good. We'll be starting soon enough. First-timers have to fight, you know."

Sesshoumaru arched an eyebrow. "And is the second rule not to talk about fight club?" he asked flatly.

"Of course not. We want any interested parties to attend," Byakuya said. "We prefer some discretion about who you talk to, but that's more for your own safety. Cops are a pain in the ass."

The taiyoukai shrugged. He'd never had a problem with law enforcement - some youthful hell-raising aside, he'd been legitimate until the moment he had walked in this place.

Byakuya beckoned to him. "Alright, newbie. Follow me, and we'll find you a good slot." He ignored the glare he earned for the nickname and led Sesshoumaru to the large board set up several yards away from the octagonal, transportable cage. A red-eyed demoness sat behind it, taking numbers, cash and names with precise speed. Byakuya cut straight to the head of the lengthy line. "Kagura. I think you know my new friend. Mind finding a place for him?"

The female scowled, swiveling in her seat to write Taisho (D-T) beside B. Shichinintai (H) in the ninth slot. "There. Now, fuck off."

"Don't pay attention to the attitude. That's downright civil for her," Byakuya said, rolling his eyes.

Sesshoumaru studied her, immediately seeing the slight swell of her cheek beneath her left eye. It was covered in a healthy dose of make-up, but he could recognize a fresh bruise. "The females fight as well?"

Kagura paused in her count of the stack of five-thousand yen notes in front of her. "In private only," she sneered before turning her back on them.

The look he gave Byakuya must have held some of the annoyance he felt - illegal fights were one thing, but an organization that beat its females was another. "It was taken care of," the organizer said swiftly, leading him away from the table. "Don't worry about it. The only fights we condone are in the ring. You should mingle. Place a few bets. Meet some of the other fighters. Or, perhaps, some of our biggest supporters." He gestured to a few of the women strutting about, but another glance at Sesshoumaru's face took the final bit of wind out of his sails. "Right. Well, I'm needed elsewhere. The fights will start soon. Try to enjoy yourself until then!"

He attempted one last grin before taking his abrupt exit, leaving Sesshoumaru in the middle of the warehouse floor. But the taiyoukai hardly had a moment to sneer at Byakuya's back before he was accosted once more.

"Tagged or not?"

Sesshoumaru turned to see a petite woman carrying a pocket-sized pad of paper full of indecipherable scribbles. "Tagged, of course," he answered irritably.

She frowned and flipped back a couple pages. "Oh," she sighed. "That's too bad. I really wanted to give you a chance."

He knew he should walk away, but it was difficult to let the apparent slight slide. "Excuse me?" he growled.

The woman looked up at him at last. "You're fighting Bankotsu, aren't you? Tagged demons never win against him."

Sesshoumaru narrowed his eyes. "I was not aware that I could fight untagged," he muttered. "But I will not lose to a human either way."

"You can't change it now," she said, marking down something else in her notebook. "It affects the odds."

"It does not matter either way," he repeated. "Although I did not think any human would dare fight a demon that did not have his powers and strength sealed before a match."

"You don't think that a few of your human opponents in the legit world are itching to take you on with nothing to hold you back and make you two somewhat equal? Just to prove how big, strong and manly they are?" she asked.

Sesshoumaru snorted. "It would be suicide. Tagging youkai is the only way humans are able to fight demons with any hope to win."

"Only the truly crazy or deeply stupid do it," she said. "Bankotsu is only crazy, but in a really good way. If you're wanting to bet on him, that is. Outside the cage, you don't want to mess with him or his brothers. But I don't bet on newbies unless they're really something special. If you don't know the rules though..."

Sesshoumaru scowled down at her. "Apprise me of them," he interrupted.

She smiled up at him. "I guess I could do that." She thrust her hand towards him. "My name's Kagome Takahashi, by the way."

He didn't move to return the gesture, although he started to mutter his name.

"Oh, I know," Kagome broke in. "I don't think anyone doesn't know who Sesshoumaru Taisho is, especially these last several months. Everyone was wondering if you'd come underground, although I'm surprised they let you. You're practically a sure thing. You have an amazing right hook. Not to mention you're one of the best grapplers I've ever seen."

"Thank you," he said stiffly.

"You should work on your kicks though," she added.

He grit his teeth together. "The rules."

"Right." She tucked the notepad into her back pocket and twirled her pen between her fingers. "No claws. No biting. No groin shots. No time limit, but keep moving. And even if your powers aren't sealed against a human opponent, you can't use your abilities. Strength only."

"Why do they not make the tags seal everything but demonic strength?" he asked.

"Oh, I think they enjoy the struggle of holding back your powers. You get kicked out if you release them though. And, of course, it kind of pisses off anyone that bet against you." She glanced at him, letting him know exactly what sort of punishment would be exacted upon those that upset the gamblers in the crowd.

"Hn. Anything else?"

"No killing your opponent."

He turned to snap at her but stopped when he saw the seriousness in her eyes. "That," he muttered, "was not intentional."

"I saw the match," Kagome answered. "I know it wasn't."

Sesshoumaru frowned. "You seem to be the only one sure of that."

She shook her head, clucking her tongue in disgust. "It was the doctor's fault. He should have seen that Magatsuhi couldn't go on." She cocked her head. "Did they ask you to retire early? Or did you leave voluntarily?"

"I left before they could ask me to do so," he replied.

She spread her arms, gesturing towards the crowd of sweaty, rowdy males that were beginning to surround the ring. "But you couldn't really leave all this behind," she said with an easy smile, just as Byakuya's voice floated over the crowd, announcing the start of the fights. Kagome pulled the notebook from her pocket once again. "Hold that thought!"

"I had nothing to say," Sesshoumaru said as she scribbled across the page.

"I have to go put some money on you," she replied, not seeming to pay attention. "Keep a spot for me, okay?"

He agreed in spite of himself and soon, she was back at his side, clutching a slip of paper with his name on it next to a sizable bet as the first competitors stepped out of the crowd and onto the thin mat inside the octagon. She shuffled it into the short stack of betting slips. "Why are you in this place?" he asked.

Her eyes remained fixed on the two fighters - both humans - that were circling each other. "Why is any woman here?"

Sesshoumaru glanced at the few other females in the room. Aside from Kagura, who was muttering to herself at the still-swarming table, every woman in the room was hanging off the arm of a man. They were spangled with sequins and encased in skirts small enough to be used as rubber bands and not paying attention to the fight at all. Kagome wasn't exactly demure in her deeply scooped halter top and tight jeans, but her muscles were tensed with the thrill of the fight, not the thrill of the trapping a man for the night. "Not for the same reason as you," he answered.

She cast him the quickest of glances and grinned. "Well, fighters are easier to read than the dogs or the ponies," she said.

He raised an eyebrow. "Easier?"

"Not an insult," Kagome said. "But I grew up in a family full of boxers. I know what a good fighter looks like, although I wasn't allowed to get into the ring myself. So instead, I started wagering with my brother."

"Have you considered the possibility that you have a gambling addiction?" Sesshoumaru muttered as one of the humans took the other to the floor. The crowd swelled with jeers for the one that had fallen.

"Not admitting the possibility means I have one, right?" She laughed. "Look, why do you think they let me in here? No woman gets in alone except for me. I'm wrong just often enough for it to be profitable for Naraku to allow it."

There was a cry from the ring, and Sesshoumaru looked back fast enough to see the human that had been forced to the ground lower his knee from his opponent's groin. "I thought that was not permitted."

"It's not," breathed Kagome. "Where is... ah, there's Kyokotsu."

The largest human Sesshoumaru had ever seen pushed through the crowd, pulled open the door to the cage and lifted the offending fighter by the collar of his bloodied shirt. The smaller man cried out - his strength diminishing to nothing as he was dragged out of the ring. The mob cheered and laughed until Kyokotsu disappeared through the doorway. "What will happen to him?" Sesshoumaru asked.

"For a purposeful knee to the nuts?" Kagome shrugged. "Not much. But when it's Kyokotsu, 'not much' still means a world of hurt. If the guy has the guts to return though, I'm betting on him."

He stared. "Why?"

"He has guts, and he won't break a rule again," Kagome answered smoothly, whipping out her notebook yet again. She peeked at him out of the corner of her eye. "Still ready to trade in the professional octagon?"

"I do not have much choice now," Sesshoumaru said.

Seven more matches passed - all of them bouts between competitors of the same species. Sesshoumaru was beginning to wonder about the choice of his opponent - one of the youkai present could have been a better match. When Byakuya announced a small break before the ninth fight, he turned to Kagome once again. She had been alternately writing notes and screaming for one fighter over another for the last hour and was beginning to sound a little hoarse. "Why am I fighting a human?" he asked.

"It's Bankotsu. He only fights demons these days," Kagome said, pushing a few, sweaty strands of hair back from her face. "The fights against other humans were over too fast for his liking, although he makes the occasional exception. Usually for his brothers. And you've already seen one of them, so you get the idea of his criteria." She pointed across the warehouse to where the hulking shadow of Kyokotsu now lingered.

"Bankotsu Shichinintai! Sesshoumaru Taisho!" called Byakuya. "One minute!"

Sesshoumaru glanced around for his opponent. "Over there," said Kagome softly, drawing his attention to entirely average-looking man at the other end of the ring. "Don't be fooled by his size. He's stronger than Kyokotsu."

"Impossible," scoffed the taiyoukai.

"But true," she countered. "He's overconfident though. I'd use that, if I were you."

He was becoming annoyed with the woman again. "I have been doing this for many years," he said before stepping into the cage to allow one of the humans - a short man with a disfigured mouth that stretched almost from ear to ear - to slap a tag on him. The sharp, familiar bite of pain that accompanied the sealing of his powers came back to him, alerting him to the impending fight. His adrenaline began to flow, and the crowd's calls faded to white noise as he stepped to the center of the octagon.

Bankotsu appeared calm, wearing the tiniest of smirks on his face as they shook hands. "Sure you don't need baby powder for that delicate skin of yours?" he asked, soft enough to be menacing.

Sesshoumaru scowled. Talcum or baby powder was used by professionals to prevent the stink of sweaty hands from transferring to the leather gloves they wore. Here, underground, there were no gloves at all. It had been a very long time since anyone had implied the dog demon was going soft. "Your blood will do just fine," he answered coolly.

When he received a laugh in return, the taiyoukai inwardly sighed. Bankotsu wasn't suicidal - he was psychotic. And when Byakuya called the start of the fight, it didn't lift his spirits to see the human fall into a flawless stance. He wasn't a common street brawler - he was trained. Very well trained, Sesshoumaru amended as they began their slow dance around each other.

Bankotsu suddenly dove in, sending a fist towards Sesshoumaru's ribs. The taiyoukai felt the force of the blow as he redirected it away from his body and startled when his counterattack landed in nothing but air. The human was already three steps away, grinning and readying a new attack.

Sesshoumaru straightened up and rolled his shoulders, sharpening his focus on the quick bastard across from him. Dimly, he was aware that the crowd was calling for blood - the match had already taken longer than the first one he'd witnessed. In the professional circuit, the taiyoukai had been famous for his fluidity and grace - the way he could wrap an opponent in his clutches and force him into submission like a viper - but this mob needed something rougher and more violent.

Bankotsu heard their call - he burst towards him, forcing Sesshoumaru to bring up both hands to block a vicious round kick aimed for his kidneys. His ability to recoil rivaled most demons, even without their powers sealed. The human landed on both feet and threw an elbow across Sesshoumaru's uncovered flank and caught him across the jaw.

The taiyoukai stumbled. The blow was illegal in professional bouts for a reason - he could feel blood trickling down his throat from where his skin had split open. Somewhere behind him, he heard a woman scream out his name in annoyance.

He regained his footing, his powers boiling in anger behind the tag he wore on his chest. Bankotsu was still smirking, drawing out the match by not taking advantage of Sesshoumaru's temporary daze. He would pay for that, the dog demon decided. Pulling himself up to his full height, Sesshoumaru rocked back as far as he dared on his heels. The trap was obvious, but if Kagome was right, Bankotsu wouldn't be able to resist.

Sure enough, the human darted forward again, clearly intent on taking the taiyoukai to the mat. But Sesshoumaru was just as quick as his opponent - he was moving before Bankotsu could plow into him, bringing down his fists on the human's spine. It took only one muffled cry from his opponent to silence the crowd.

Sesshoumaru didn't smirk. He didn't draw it out. He caught a couple of weakened punches to the ribs as he drove Bankotsu to the cage wall, using his greater mass and stability to corner the human as he landed his own hooks around the slower defensive moves. "I don't tap out," coughed his opponent as he drew Sesshoumaru into a clinch in an attempt to stop the blows.

The taiyoukai allowed him to drag them to the ground. The crowd was screaming again, predicting what was going to happen. The hit to Bankotsu's spine had been devastating, but he would recover soon enough. Sesshoumaru braced his knees against the mat, stopping with his body upright as the human tried to grapple him to the ground. "You won't tonight either," he growled in Bankotsu's ear as his arm snapped around the back of his neck.

Bankotsu barely registered what was happening before Sesshoumaru brought his wrist up to lock with his free hand. The guillotine choke was aptly named - the human slumped down in seconds, unconscious.

The cage door opened, and Sesshoumaru could hear the audience again, yelling in shock and approval. Byakuya came inside to announce his win by submission with a smile that hid none of his anger. He had actually expected the taiyoukai to lose.

Sesshoumaru pushed past the few trying to get in to check on his human opponent and found Kagome at the forefront of those that wanted to scream insults at him or slap him on the back. She was beaming. "Looks like you were a good bet!" she shouted over the din.

"I suppose," he murmured, touching his jaw. Blood was still flowing.

"Should be healed by next week," she said, tilting her head to inspect it more closely than strictly necessary. "So, I'll see you then."

He nodded, but she had already disappeared into the crowd.

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A/N: And don't worry. The muse rebelled against my plan of what to write first, but Beside You in Time and the *other* new story, The Tinderbox, are still being worked on every day. No promises on an exact date, but they're coming. I promise. :)

 

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