A/N – A very short chapter, to tide you over while I struggle with the next fight scene.

Thanks to those reviewers who reassured me this story was not equivalent to a bad van Damme movie. Comments are always warmly appreciated.

Disclaimer – I don't own Ruroken. Don't sue.

Chapter Eight

"Jesus, Ken," Sano murmured under his breath, still trying to assimilate what it was he had just seen.

As if he had heard him, as if he had felt Sano's shock and sudden fear, Ken turned and met Sano's eyes. His expression was strange; distant and remote, as if he had gone far, far away from the man Sano had thought he'd known –

All around him, the roar of the crowd echoed and reverberated, as they howled and stamped and showed their approval of such a clean, masterful kill. Flowers and money rained down upon him, tribute paid to the performer who had entertained them so royally.

Ken made no move to acknowledge his fans, simply standing there, frozen, his erstwhile opponent crumpled and broken at his feet.

They dragged the dead fighter away by his heels, leaving dark crimson trails of blood soaking into the sand. Kenshin watched, stone-faced, as a group of workers swarmed across the circle, quickly restoring the pristine surface before the next match. His stomach twisted, and he felt suddenly sick. He had killed more than a hundred men – guilty and innocent, rich and poor, powerful and pawn – but never before had he seen such brutal disregard for human life and dignity.

Filled with sudden, terrible hatred, he tilted his head back to look up to where Yukishiro sat and overlooked the vicious, brutal trap he had created with such vengeful glee. He wondered how many more men the yakuza leader was willing to sacrifice in the name of empty, ultimately unfulfilling vengeance.

And then he saw it, and heard the scream.

"You monster!" Kaoru shouted again, her dark blue eyes glowing furiously. "You can't imagine what you've done…!"

Yukishiro's face twisted and his eyes grew almost bloodshot with rage. Rising up from his seat, he spun around, grabbed Yahiko by his shirtfront and lifted him off his seat.

"Do you hear your sister, boy?" he screamed, flecks of foam and saliva flying with his temper. "Doesn't she know how to talk to her betters? Didn't your father ever teach her her proper place?"

Yahiko began to struggle and choke. "Let go of my brother!" Kaoru shouted, flying to his defence. "Let go!"

Turning on her, Yukishiro backhanded her and sent her sprawling, crying out to the floor.

"Shut up, bitch! Don't ever raise your voice to me again!"

Modern, independent Kaoru held a hand to her smarting, stinging cheek and stared at him in absolute, uncomprehending shock.

"Kaoru!" he shouted, his hands clenched on the sword's hilt. Unthinking of the consequences, he leaped over the barbed wire fence that separated the circle from the crowd and charged towards Enishi. The crowd drew back, panicked, screaming and trying to get out of his way. He paid them no heed, all his attention fixed on Enishi and the memory of Ka- Miss Kamiya's scream –

"Ken!" he heard Sano shout from somewhere behind him. He ignored it.

Leather-jacketed security guards swept towards him, guns out and ready to shoot.

"Don't shoot him, fools!" Enishi shouted. "I want him alive!"

Hastily putting the guns away, they pulled out tasers and cattle prods, smiling cruelly and sniggering in anticipation. Kenshin bore down on them and drew his sword, the old, graceful movements coming instinctively –

One down, clutching his stomach and screaming as he tried to hold in his guts. Another, shocked, staring at the stump of his wrist. A third parried with the cattle prod and could not recover in time.

And then a fourth, fifth and sixth overwhelmed him from behind, distracting him just long enough to shock him. He arched and cried out in pain, and then they shocked him again and again and again…

Shocked and horrified at Battousai's sudden escape, Enishi trembled as he walked over to stand by the unconscious swordsman. Viciously, he drew back his foot and kicked him in the ribs. The American girl cried out in protest, but drew back and shut her mouth when Enishi rounded on her again.

"Well, well," murmured a Colombian drug czar, reclining back in his chair and sipping an exotic cocktail. "That was certainly interesting. The American very nearly turned the entire game on its head."

His audience, a grim, taciturn American, only frowned. "He reacted to the girl's cry."

"Yes. An unthinking reaction." He smiled cruelly. "I wonder if Yukishiro recognizes it; it gives him the chance for an exquisite, far more fitting revenge."

"The way I heard it," the American said, "Yukishiro himself set his sister up for a fall. He sent her in to betray Himura to the VC, and then cried when she was caught between them."

The Colombian laughed. "Rationality has little bearing on matters such as these. Yukishiro is a man consumed by hatred, and nothing will dissuade him from this very public spectacle of vengeance." He sighed. "It seems a magnificent waste, though. I've never seen such a natural killer…"

The American grunted, his eyes fixed on the slight, redheaded body as Yukishiro's thugs hauled him back to the circle and dumped him on the sand. That young, delicate face, that feral grace – how many years had it been? Could it possibly be the same man? Major Katsura had made sure that the men under his command never came into contact with one another. But still, there had always been whispered rumours of the Major's super-assassin, who had somehow fallen out of contact after Katsura's death in '73…

"Yukishiro should never have given him a weapon. Men like that one are too dangerous to risk – he should have just shot him in the head."

"Yes, he should have. But he won't."

Swearing frantically under his breath, Sano ran out and knelt next to Ken's slumped body. Bruises and electrical burns from the tasers covered his arms and torso, and he still shuddered and spasmed with the aftershocks. Pressing his hand to Ken's ribs – that bastard Yukishiro – he was glad to find that there were no broken or fractured ribs…

"Wake him up, American," a pierced and tattooed yakuza thug sneered at him. "His next fight is in five minutes."

"What?" Sano shouted, incredulous. "You're still going to make him fight? After what you did with those cattle prods?"

"The deal is that he fights until either he's dead, or every one of his opponents is. He's not dead, and so he faces his next opponent." The thug grinned. "Five minutes. Make sure he's awake and moving, or else he'll be a very easy target…"

"And now," a rich, practiced voice announced, "the next fight will begin…"

A/N – Next week: Kenshin's next fight.