The knockout is revealed!
This chapter brought to you by Chaos Baked Goods. We baked brownies while Rome burned.
The stands were varnished wooden pull-outs; Kagome had seen sets just like them at a couple of high schools. On the floor, she could see a line here and there from what was probably the basketball scheme. The backboards had been folded up, painter's tape and paper markers strung around the room to divide the different spaces for fighting, watching and moving. Eri had smiled thinly. Yuka twitched an eyebrow. Kagome had had to catch them at it three times before she realized what was up: The girls thought it was a little tacky. Kagome shrugged. For someone used to tiny huts, dingy ruins and enough responsibility to crush an elephant, it was spectacle enough.
Whatever complaints they might have had, they'd gone AWOL by the time Hojo's weight division stepped out.
Kagome waved and clapped as Hojo moved into one of the rings for his first bout. Hojo didn't look up, completely focused on the opponent in front of him, his face a mask of polite determination.
Ayumi leaned over and whispered a question into Kagome's ear, "Is that the guy Hojo promised to fight for you, Kagome?"
She shook her head, "I don't think so." It was hard to tell from this distance, but the round face framed by the puffy white helmet didn't seem familiar.
The referee raised his hands and called out something that didn't quite make it across the crowded hall. Kagome smiled slightly as Hojo danced around the other boy, springing forward with neat combination strikes to his opponent's head and chest and then pulling back out of reach. She felt a surprised smile form on her face. The round-faced boy's gloves dipped, just barely.
None of Kouga's men would've ever left their guard open like that, but still, Hojo wasn't half bad. Pretty soon, the other boy seemed to grow bolder, ducking into punches and coming out with more of his own.
"Oooooh," Yuka hissed in what might have been real concern. "Hojo's in trouble now!"
"No he's not," Kagome answered without thinking. "The other kid's getting desperate. But if you look at Hojo-kun, you'll see he's barely breaking a sweat. He's pacing himself," she pointed out.
Yuka and Eri exchanged a knowing look. "You're so in tune with all of this, Kagome," said Eri.
Kagome fought down a blush. "No, really, guys! I'm only—"
"Winner!" the distant referee called out, holding Hojo's glove in the air. Yuka, Ayumi and Eri clapped until their hands turned red. Kagome joined in. Hojo nodded to the umpire, then moved toward the other boy, holding out one gloved fist.
The round-faced kid twitched on the mat, obviously not up to gestures, sportsmanlike or otherwise. His mouth opened, forming words that Kagome knew all too well
"Audible!!" called the referee. "Two-point deduction!"
Kagome stilfled a giggle as the other boxer staggered to his feet. It was better than what she'd given Inuyasha for saying that word in front of Shippo. Of course, it wasn't as if she liked using the spell on that foul-mouthed, stubborn—
"So Hojo has to wait for his next bout?" Eri was saying.
"Yeah," answered Ayumi. "They add up the tournament points at the end of the day."
—overconfident, jealous, juvenile—
"He could probably use the rest," said Yuka. "But what are we going to do until them?"
—overbearing dog demon who never even had the decency to—
"Wow, look at /him/."
"Look at who?" asked Kagome, eyes still on Hojo.
"/Him! /" Ayumi squealed to the accompaniment of titters from Yuka and Eri.
Kagome fought the urge to roll her eyes. There was no sense ruining the fun, but really. She lifted her head and followed Ayumi's line of sight. They were here as Hojo's guests. Besides, none of the scrappy little boys here were that good-looking any—
"Oh," she said, eying the boy. His helmet looked a little overstuffed, but other than that... Smooth back, strong legs, arms that tensed and flowed just right with each motion. She felt her cheeks get warm. And the guy didn't let them go to waste either. The way he moved was like a controlled avalanche, far more power behind it than he was letting people see. Kagome watched, fascinated, as he snapped his fist into another boy's face. Something in that fighting style struck a chord.
"Hey, I think Hojo's up again!" squeaked Eri.
"Uh huh," murmured Kagome. Who was that puffy-headed boy in boxer shorts?
They were nice shorts, too. The dark gray seemed to gleam, swishing against the boy's smooth skin as he pushed himself in and out of the fight. The waistband was a little tight, though. She could barely make out dark pink marks where it had hugged his sides too tightly. A little looser and they'd fall a finger-width or two, sliding just right around his hips, showing off that smooth form without revealing his—
"Mmmhuh?" Kagome looked up as Ayumi and Yuka started squealing.
"Kagome," Ayumi answered half-scoldingly, "Hojo just won another bout."
"You aren't feeling ill again, are you, Kagome?" asked Yuka. "You did have mono all last month. Sometimes that can take a while to go away."
"She'd better hold off on Hojo's victory kiss, then," smirked Eri.
"Eri!" squeaked Yuka in scandalized delight.
"What?" Eri asked, both hands out. "It's not as if I told her to reinstall his ceiling fan." She finished in a loud whisper.
"What does that /mean?! /" fumed Kagome. "And I am not kissing Hojo!"
"Well not if you have mono," said Ayumi.
"And not before he takes a shower," added Yuka.
"Yeah," followed Eri. "They're sweating like pigs out there."
"Ewwww..." chorused Yuka and Ayumi, turning to watch in gleeful revulsion.
Kagome looked again. There did seem to be more than a few bits of froth flying around. Suddenly she was very glad that they'd picked seats at the top of the bleachers. The boxer in the overstuffed helmet didn't seem to be working up much of a sweat. He seemed as cool and collected as he had the moment he'd walked out of the locker room. He stood poised on his tight-smooth legs, watching his frothing opponent stumble left and right. Then one quick move—
"Winner!" the referee called tersely, holding the overstuffed boxer's glove in the air.
The hottie snatched it back, a rude word echoing toward the stands.
Then, fumbling with full gloves, the fighter loosened his helmet, shaking out his long white hair.
"Ooooo!" squealed Yuka.
Then he crouched down and scratched his head.
With his left foot.
Kagome's insides froze. She blinked hard. He hadn't. Not really.
"What's that guy doing?" muttered Yuka.
"It looks like yoga," answered Ayumi.
"He can keep doing it if I can keep looking," said Eri.
A hiss escaped Kagome's lips. "/How/ the /hell?! /"
"Well," said Ayumi, "if you take enough lessons, you learn to swing your hip around like this—"
The fighter – it couldn't really be him, anyway – stuffed his hair back under his helmet, growling all the time. No, not growling. Kagome was imagining it. The fighter stood up, opening his jaws in a clear snarl as the microphone sneered to life.
All in all, this wasn't hard. Some of these guys were pretty fast, but after years of whacking Shippo around and ducking Kouga's lame-ass moves, it was as easy as whacking Shippo around and ducking Kouga's lame-ass moves.
"Aaaaaaaaaaand the winner!" the grown human supervising the match grabbed Inuyasha's right glove and held it in the air. He stifled a growl. He'd stopped trying to figure out what was going on. At first he'd thought it was some kind of lesson like Miroku and Kagome's fool grandfather were always trying to teach: You may have won but you're still a poufy-fisted helpless little trout, so be good! Teach a man to fish and he'll forget about eating your children. And eat your cow instead. Or something.
Inuyasha craned his neck toward the ceiling. There were some kind of round, bladed things twirling away up there, mixing the air like a varnished breeze. He sniffed the air and nearly gagged on the redolent fume of collective adolescent male. He wasn't going to find her that way.
But then that helpful chubby guy had said that fighters sometimes brought people to watch. His eyes flicked over to the giant raised chairs. That meant that Kagome was probably—
Inuyasha shrugged, eying another human, who was shaking heavily in his shorts. He shook his head. "You sure this one's my size?" he asked the man with the whistle, only half-sneeringly. "He seems a little runty."
"I'm not runty!" squeaked the runt.
Somewhere, a high-pitched male voice went, "/Hmmph! /"
The man with the whistle raised his arm.
Inuyasha thought back to the past few dozen times he'd shotputted Shippo into the stratosphere. At least the little fluffball had shown him a thing or two about how to teach a smaller demon a lesson without breaking every bone in his body.
"Aaaaaaaaaaaand the win—! /Oh my GOD the blood! /—uh..."
Perhaps he needed more practice.
"Wow..." muttered one of the men by the ringside. "I don't think I've ever seen a bantamweight bleed that much."
Inuyasha prudently stepped back. Then he stepped away. Then he ducked back into the crowd of human boys milling around between fights. Chubbo had gone down to some knobby-kneed whelp in over-starched trunks but he'd been back up in a couple minutes, and maybe old specklehead was still in the running...
"I heard what you said," said a quiet voice by his left ear. Damn but it was hard to hear footsteps in this crowd. "I don't know why they let your kind into the sport."
Inuyasha felt his jaw set. He'd heard it too many times as a child to not know how to answer it now. "I got a right to be here," he answered. "You don't like it, you can take off any time you like."
"Not a chance." Inuyasha turned to find a soft-raised human face with a pair of steely brown eyes in it. Some nobleman's son. It figured with the attitude. "We have an issue to settle," the kid yapped on. "I didn't forget your number, Mr. Thirty-Four."
Inuyasha looked down at the scrap of paper on his chest and turned it right-side up. Thirty-four. Huh. So this was the stick-up-his-ass that Fathead and Fleckboy had been carrying on about in the locker room.
"I'm not some half-trained kid you can intimidate," the noblewhelp went on. "And after I defeat you in the ring, you are going to apologize to Kagome for what you did!"
"I said if it's supposed to smell like food, then why can't I eat the damned—" Inuyasha hissed before he fully comprehended what the boy had said. His ears tried to twitch but the damned helmet was in the way. "Kagome? You know where she is? You'd better tell me, maggot breath, or I'll—"
"You'll what?" the kid got in his face with a half-decent strut. It wouldn't have made Kouga weep with shame, either. "I'm not afraid of a nosebleed, I'm not afraid of name-calling and I'm not afraid of big braggarts who walk around like the world is theirs to poke at. I guess that means I'm /not afraid of you/."
Inuyasha narrowed his eyes. This kid's scent was getting familiar, like the drips and drabs that clung to Kagome's spellbooks after "Hojo-kun from class" had "just walked her home and there's nothing to get jealous about so give me back my math book!"
"Hojo?" asked Inuyasha.
"You remembered my name," the boy acknowledged. "And here I thought you didn't care about other people enough for that."
"You said I had to apologize to Kagome," said Inuyasha, "but you didn't say what I get when I win."
"Thirty-four!" called the man in the striped hat. Inuyasha raised one gloved fist in response. "Twenty-seven!" Hojo raised his. "Time to go, you two."
"Let the best man win."
"I can't wait."