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i'm only steady on my knees

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In the dead of the night, hours after the tournament has ended, Daniel makes his way back to Miyagi-Do.

Something about it is different, now. He can feel it. There’s an ache around the whole thing—bitter water, worms rotting in the dirt—and in his head he pictures the coi belly-up and still and the trees withered and the grass brown and lifeless and dead. He remembers, a few years ago, watching a documentary with Amanda—San Francisco, rebuilding after the earthquake. It’s like that. Like everything is pristine and in its place but the acrid tang of disaster still hangs heavy over the whole thing, unshakeable. Built into the city. Whatever legacy was left here is dying, slowly, and that knowledge comes with a wave of grief so sharp and strong that Daniel wants to keel over from it.

He doesn’t. He shuts the car engine off, instead, and without the steady rumble of it the place is so, so quiet. Like he’s the only alive thing for miles. He would’ve been at peace with that, once, but now—now it just makes him feel vulnerable. Seventeen again. Snakes in the grass; Silver, waiting in the dark. 

It’s fucked up, he thinks, that the monster under his bed can crawl out, decades later, and still have those same teeth, that same fucking hold on him. And it’s worse, now, because now he has a daughter, and Sam had lost a fight tonight and come out of it afraid and ashamed and guilt-ridden, and he had watched all of that spill out of her and seep into the floors of his home. He had watched her fall gracelessly into a fitful, exhausted sleep, the bruise around her eye darkening to purple, and not for the first time he had wondered how he could have ever brought her into this war.

It was never something they should’ve brought back. Him and Johnny had been caught up in some twisted fucking necromancy, born out of a rivalry that just wouldn’t die. And they had doomed the whole Valley with it.

Before this he would’ve come to the dojo for peace, for guidance, but he doesn’t know what he’s looking for this time. Absolution, maybe. Some proof that they can come out of this alive. 

That’s not exactly what he finds, but it’s close. 

There’s a figure sitting on the steps of the dojo, knees drawn up to his chest. Daniel remembers, from the first few months at the dealership, that Robby is good at being quiet; back then he had moved like he didn’t want to be seen, drifting between rooms, stacking coffee cups and filing paperwork with his mouth clamped shut. Amanda used to joke that he would jump-scare her without trying; you never heard him come in. He was a shadow.

That’s what he looks like now, sitting there in the dark. Daniel knows that he can hear his footsteps, must have heard his car pull in, but instead of running he’s gone very, very still. He looks small like he hasn’t in a long time. Since before juvie, maybe—and that thought presses itself hard against the back of Daniel’s mind, curling around his chest and constricting.

He takes a step forward. “Robby.” It’s just barely a breath in the night, quiet. He watches Robby’s arms go tighter around his knees. 

“Sorry,” Robby says faintly, after a moment, and it’s like he’s been made hollow, like someone has emptied out everything inside of him. “I’m—I know I shouldn’t be here. I didn’t think you’d come by. I didn’t know where else—” 

He breaks off with a soft, strangled sort of sound, and Daniel feels the ache settling around him sharpen. He wants to reach out. He has screwed this up so many times. 

So instead he turns the lights on. Little pinpoints of gold flicker to life around the yard, and then Robby is on his feet, hands in fists at his sides. He’s not drawing himself up like he did at the tournament, at the corner store, cobra fanning out its hood. He’s scrubbing at his eye with the heel of his palm. In the low light Daniel can see the shadow of bruises forming around the base of his throat, and they weren’t there at the All Valley, and the sight of them makes him think of murder.

“Alright,” Daniel says quietly, taking a slow breath, “it’s okay. Don’t go, okay? You don’t have to leave.”

Robby shakes his head mutely, his eyes huge and red and glistening, and he looks like a little kid, like he did that night Daniel had pulled him out of an empty and powerless apartment. He’s barely fucking seventeen. Too much life in so little time.

Daniel moves slowly to the stairs, next to the space where Robby is standing. He sits down. “Come on,” he jerks his head a little, “why don’t you sit? Just for a second, yeah?”

He’s being so gentle. Kid gloves. The whole thing is fragile and so, so important. Robby blinks at him, mouth a little open, and then clamps his jaw shut and settles back onto the step. Arms draped across his knees, eyes far away.

“You fought well today,” Daniel tells him, to start. “I know I gave you crap about Cobra Kai’s methods, but you still fought with honor. I’m proud of you, for that.”

“But you were right.” There’s a bitter edge to his voice. Robby shudders, then, and it wracks his whole frame. “That shit gets in your head. I thought I was stronger than that, but I—” he inhales, sharp, and shakes his head again, “I wasn’t.”

“It’s not your fault.” Daniel has a hand on Robby’s leg. His throat is tight. “ Robby . It’s not your fault.”

He was barely older than seventeen when he met Terry Silver for the first time. He knows what it feels like to have those claws in him, twisting his movements, making him into someone he isn’t. He had promised himself that he would never let anything like that happen to his kids—but then it had . And he couldn’t stop it.

“I made it worse, though,” Robby says. His mouth twitches at the corner, trembling. “I brought a kid into it. Kenny.” Anthony’s Kenny, Daniel thinks. The skinny kid with the huge eyes who had spent the tournament fighting like he was trying to survive. Another Cobra Kai casualty. “I thought—I wanted to help him. He came to me, y’know? He didn’t have anyone else. I thought I could make things better for him, but I brought him to Cobra Kai, and it got in his head, too, and I—” Robby’s voice breaks, “I fucked it all up.”

“That’s not on you,” Daniel says immediately, and there’s so much conviction there, more than he’s ever had for himself. Robby won’t look at him, so Daniel cups his cheek—and sees the place where his lip has split, and wants to cry—“Listen to me. Kreese and Silver—they find vulnerable kids and manipulate them. That’s what they do. We never—” he swallows, tries to get in a steady breath, “I never should’ve left you there.”

Robby makes a noise halfway to a laugh that gets stuck in his throat. “It’s not exactly like I wanted to leave.”

“You wanted us to fight for you,” Daniel says, because he understands it now, “but we didn’t. And we should’ve. Robby, I—”

“Don’t.” Robby pulls his face out of Daniel’s hands, buries it in his own. His breaths come out stuttering. “Please. I don’t want you to do that, okay? Don’t tell me you’re sorry and then promise me things you’re going to take back later.”

The disaster in the air is making itself known again. “Okay,” Daniel says, and it’s a half-whisper. “But that doesn’t mean that I’ll stop trying. You don’t deserve this, Robby.” The bruises around Robby’s neck are starker now, and Daniel thinks of Johnny, the parking lot, Kreese’s hands around his throat. Mr. Miyagi coming down like an avenging angel. 

Daniel’s not Mr. Miyagi. He’s never going to be. 

But fuck, he has to try . “And I’m not giving up on you.”

Robby kind of sobs at that, and when Daniel pulls him against his chest he doesn’t pull away. He’s shaking so, so hard. Against his hair, Daniel counts breaths with him, 1, 2, 3, 4. In, out. It’s like doing katas, like last summer, when things were so much simpler than they are now. Maybe they can be like that again. San Francisco, rebuilding from the rubble.

“It’s gonna be okay,” Daniel says, with his hands carding through Robby’s hair. He hears Robby’s breath hitch. “You’re not going back there again.”

“I have to,” Robby says, muffled against his shoulder, and his voice is still trembling but there’s an exhausted kind of insistence behind it. “Tory and Kenny are still there, I can’t leave them—”

“No, no,” Daniel sort of clutches him tighter, and he sounds a little desperate. The whole thing has shaken him to his core. He feels like the world has narrowed down, and now nothing else matters—the tournament or the dojos or the rivalries or any of it. All that matters is that his family is safe. “We’ll figure it out, okay? We’ll get them out of there. But you can’t go back.”

Robby shudders against him again, hard enough that Daniel feels it in his bones, and he thinks for a moment that Robby will argue but then he just caves. “I don’t want to fight anymore,” he breathes, soft and awful and completely broken, and Daniel’s heart hits the floor. 

These are the aftershocks, he thinks distantly. This is the fallout.

“I know, Robby,” Daniel says, and his voice cracks. Robby clings to him, and Daniel puts a hand in his hair and the other around his back and decides then that he will never, ever let go. “I know.”