The enemy was swaying on his feet, too tired to lift his hands, but Brooklyn kept pushing him into a corner. Eight rounds in, he was tired and yet buzzing high on adrenaline and sheer, uncontrollable rage, delivering low punches into the enemy's sides, his solid resistance like a wall he wanted to tear down with his bare hands.

The enemy squirmed under the onslaught, rounded his back and stumbled away, but there were only the ropes, and beyond it, the baying mob.

Brooklyn kept punching, hitting, then noticed that the enemy had lowered his guards to protect himself. He responded to the weakness the only way that made sense to his adrenaline-dazed brain. He took a half step back and delivered a straight punch with the right and a cross with the left. Like in slow motion, the power from that cross tore the man's head to the side, Brooklyn saw a flash of the yellow mouth guard, and then the man went down as if struck by lightning.

No, not yet.

Before anybody could interfere, Brooklyn caught him him by the throat, pushed him up against the ropes and kept punching him. The rage knew no bounds, burning in his veins, turning the exhaustion to ashes, drowning out the shouts from the mob.

The enemy opened his arms, to try and grasp the ropes, but for a moment he was spread open in a T. Unguarded, unprotected, throat bared, head rolling back. Unconscious, dead, or simply KO, that strange stage when every ounce of strength and endurance had been beaten from his body, leaving only leaden indifference—or a readiness to die.

And it was a mercy to be killed on his feet, in the ring.

Somebody grabbed his left, and Brooklyn snarled around the plastic in his mouth, freed himself with a shrug. The first few lines in the audience were on their feet. Jeering, applauding, or just shouting, he didn't notice the difference through the haze, strained to finish his enemy off, there on the ropes, ready to go.

Ready for redemption.

Suddenly there were three more men in the ring. Invaded the space he'd been owning just a moment ago. One pushed between him and his enemy, who now crumpled in the corner, ignored, while the three were circling him, tonfa sticks ready.

Brooklyn knew he could take one, but not three. Fuck. Now it was him who was still on his feet, and the impulse to lift his hands and fight was very nearly overwhelming. Fuck them for challenging him in the ring. He wanted nothing more than to fight and took a grim satisfaction at how the eyes of one of the guards widened. They knew.

His ring. His space. His fucking time.

The end of a tonfa tapped him lightly in the knee, hard enough to hurt, but not enough to send him sprawling. We could have, that said. Give up.

Brooklyn cast another glance at the enemy. Done. Over. He looked at the guards, knew two of them would be on him if he attacked their comrade. He turned again, gaze sharpening. Applause. Light sparked off diamonds and teeth, expensive women were jeering at him, their companions grinning, faces reddened. A minuscule dog was jipping at the end of its pink leash. Applause.

How would that look if the guards beat him to a pulp?

Not good. Instead of lowering his fists, he raised them high over his head and turned, taking the applause, while the guards stepped smartly back. Not their applause, and the bitches knew it. He almost laughed.

He hadn't come so close to laughter in months. It didn't matter what scum was cheering him, but it mattered that all of them—apart from a few companions, he assumed—were born free and still free.

Applauding a slave might be an indulgence, might be, in truth, nothing but scorn, but right now, it didn't matter that he wasn't one of them. He'd bet that the women in the audience down there wanted him rather than the suited and tie-wearing sugar daddies they'd come with, and the men down there wanted to be him, even if they were pimps and CEOs and celebrities and two-bit VIPs from Big Brother. Right now, they were off their fat arses and applauding him.

A slave.

Fuck them all.