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Word of mouth told them at Cobra Kai the heart-lifting news that at least Miguel was going to survive his injuries from the school brawl. Didn’t mean things were good, though. Surviving and living were two different things, after all. Who knew how long it would take for Miguel to get back to anything resembling normal? Much less back to being the champ. One did not walk off a broken spine overnight.


It shouldn’t have happened this way. Hawk wanted to earn his spot as top student in the dojo, by beating Miguel one-on-one at his best. He’d dreamed about their future rematch, ever since Coyote Creek. It would’ve been epic, one of Cobra Kai legend. And when Hawk did defeat his friend, he knew his position as the best fighter would have been earned. Sensei Lawrence took that satisfaction away from him.


Because this? It felt hollow. It was no consolation at all to be the best by default. Especially not at the price the title came by.


A short time after the dust had begun to settle, Hawk drove to the hospital to check in on Miguel. He didn’t stay long. There was no point. One look through the window on the door, and that was enough.


The staff had placed Miguel in the long-term care ward. He looked unrecognizable in those neck and spinal braces, with that purple, puffy face. He laid still on the hospital bed, eyes closed, unresponsive to his mother, whose lips were moving while she cared for him. Could Miguel talk at all? Had he even woke up once yet?


Seeing Miguel like that made Hawk’s mouth go dry, it formed a massive lump in his throat that he couldn’t swallow down. His eyes stung. Being honest with himself, he couldn’t blame that on the harsh florescent lighting. Blinking the weakness back into submission, Hawk remembered what Sensei Kreese had told him earlier. The moment those tears leave your eyes, you lose. And you’re not a loser, are you?


No. He wasn’t. He would never lose again.


But right at that moment, standing in that hospital, Hawk lost his nerve. He slipped his get-well-soon card under the door and sprinted from the building. Some friend he was. Miguel would have stayed, if their situations were reversed. Miguel would have been strong.


He missed Miguel, both at school and especially at the dojo. Cobra Kai didn’t feel right without him. His presence was even more keenly missed by the students left there than Sensei Lawrence’s.


Sensei Lawrence….


Whenever Sensei Lawrence crossed his thoughts, Hawk found his eyes would squint, and his nostrils would flare. All of this was Sensei Lawrence’s fault. He had taught them to be losers. They had been on top after the All-Vally Tournament, and he dragged them all down when he, out of nowhere, went soft. He had wormed his bullshit message about showing mercy into their heads. He betrayed what Cobra Kai stood for. And of course Miguel listened. He, more than anyone else, trusted Sensei Lawrence whole-heartedly.


Fuck Sensei Lawrence. Hawk hoped he was boozed out, face-down in a gutter somewhere. He wouldn’t be shocked if that was actually the case.


Hawk could forgive Sensei Lawrence for many things. He forgave him for all the times he embarrassed him in front of everyone. He forgave him for punishing him unfairly. He forgave him for keeping secrets from them. He even forgave him for sicking that dog on him in the junkyard.


But enough was enough. Hawk would not forgive him for what happened to Miguel. If Sensei Lawrence hadn’t fucked things up with his turnabout on showing no mercy, then Miguel wouldn’t be in the hospital, with nothing to look forward to but weeks and weeks of physical therapy ahead of him. He’d be there at Cobra Kai, where he belonged.


If only he’d broken Robby’s arm and finished the fight….


Hawk clenched his jaw just thinking about it. Robby Keene should’ve counted himself lucky the cops picked him up before he got his hands on him. Only in the darkest recess of his grim fantasies could Hawk admit what he would have done to Robby in revenge for taking advantage of Miguel’s mercy. If he had his way, when he finished with him, Robby would have wished Miguel had gone through with it and broken his arm instead. Hawk would have had him begging for the mercy he had previously exploited.


But Hawk would never show mercy again.


Wasn’t it better to spend his time fantasizing scenarios like that than admit to himself he was afraid?


Fear does not exist in this dojo, does it?


School took on a whole new level of hell for Hawk. In the past, when people stared at him, he knew they were glaring at his lip. Then it was his hair that made them gawk at him with awe and respect. Now, though? What were they staring at now? What made them giggle behind their hands and point at him now?


Hawk knew the answer. And it reddened his face. It made him grip his pen with enough force that it threatened to snap in pieces. How long would it take them to forget? How many people would he have to punch in the face to make them forget?


He would’ve put up with it better if Miguel was there with him.


With every stare, with every half-concealed laugh at his expense, it resurrected flashbacks to the night at Moon’s party. And when Hawk allowed himself the time to reflect on that memory, it always resulted in his cheeks burning, in his muscles tensing, in his blood pressure rising. Because it forced him to remember.


Everyone knew. Thanks to Demetri, everyone knew he was a bed-wetting crybaby.


Even worse, he didn’t get the satisfaction of beating Demetri to a pulp to regain some of his lost pride. Of all people to lose against, why did it have to be Demetri? When would he be able to make him pay for all of that?


Hawk dared anyone to bring it up, he dared them to say something to his face, about either his loss or the roast. But no one in the dojo opened their mouth. He frightened them too much, with the way he lorded over them. Good. They should be scared of him. Fear brought respect. People would never mess with him if they were afraid of him.


The only students in Cobra Kai who never feared him were Miguel and Aisha. But Aisha’s parents pulled her from Cobra Kai. She wouldn’t be coming back. Another loss, one that Tory must have been reeling from even more than he was. Back down to one girl again.


The dojo needed more students, more soldiers their Sensei said, if they wanted to rebuild their reputation in the Valley. Everyone now knew Sensei Lawrence’s Cobra Kai was a dojo full of losers. It was time for them to see just how strong Cobra Kai could be, under its new management.


Hawk committed himself to that endeavor. If he was strong enough, he could single-handedly pull both his and Cobra Kai’s reputations out from rock bottom, where they currently resided. He didn’t care how many bloody knuckles and black eyes it would take to make that happen.


At home, his parents finally stopped remarking about the bruises on his face. They didn’t even say anything when he showed up to the dinner table with a fresh one one evening. Maybe it sunk in at last that he would maintain a stony silence to all of their questions regarding the topic. It was the only way to get them to stop. They’d barely left him alone about it since the school fight.


Although they made no comments, Hawk still saw the concern on their faces; he detected it in their furrowed brows, their creased mouths, and sad eyes. It almost made him laugh. Weren’t they used to seeing him hurt by now? What difference did it make if the bruises were on the outside or the inside? They should just be glad he’d dished the hurt back, that he hadn’t simply stood there and taken it like he used to.


His mom and dad strained their faces to form smiles while they made small talk at the table, asking him how his school day went and whether he had any homework to finish. And Hawk played along with the farce, because at least they weren’t butting in about things at Cobra Kai. But they didn’t fool him.


He scared them, just like the kids at the dojo. It was different, though. Unlike them, his mother and father weren’t scared of him, they were scared for him. Worrying themselves sick that he’d become one of those troubled kids. Frightened that they were losing him, and they could do nothing to stop it.


Hawk wished it didn’t have to be this way. But what was the alternative? He would never go back to being the son they were familiar with, not without a fight. And they knew it. So they were at a stalemate for now.


Why couldn’t they be happy for him? Happy that he was still there to fight; meanwhile Miguel would have to learn how to fight all over again. Why couldn’t his parents understand? Why did they want him to be so weak?


Hawk couldn’t figure out their reasoning. So he continued wearing those bruises like badges of honor, because they showed to everyone that he was no coward.


Pain does not exist in this dojo, does it?


After practice that day, Hawk stepped into the dojo office. His nose crinkled at the assault of cigar smoke, but he made no comment on that. He stood, hands behind him, eyes on the back of the head of his instructor, who leaned in the chair, staring at the wall like it was the most interesting thing in the world. Probably preoccupied with his own thoughts, Hawk assumed. Should he disturb him?


“What is it?” A grey cloud of smoke followed the question. But Sensei Kreese did not turn around.


Burying his misgivings, Hawk pieced together his scattered thoughts, trying to think of a way to vocalize them. “Sensei, I was thinking. About what happened to Miguel.” Behind his back, his hands clenched into fists.


Another puff of smoke. “That’s only natural. It’s still all so fresh, isn’t it?”


“Yes, Sensei.”


It kept sneaking up on him, so stealthy he didn’t realize it was there until his heart started thundering in his chest. He would close his eyes and see Miguel broken on those stairs, or laying debilitated on that hospital bed instead. Then suddenly Hawk would sneer, his fists would shake by his sides, and his blood would begin to boil. That wasn’t how he wanted to see Miguel in his mind.


It was to the point he wished he didn’t have to feel anything at all anymore, that he could become totally numb. Maybe all he really wanted was for someone to tell him things were going to be okay, and mean it.


After a nervous swallow, he asked, “Sensei, we’re going to win next time, right?”


Swiveling around to face the front, Sensei Kreese put out his cigar in the ash tray on the desk. “Soon Cobra Kai will be back on top,” he assured, although no reassuring smile could be found on his face to match the confidence behind his words. “We’ll weed the enemy out, and they will answer for what they did to Diaz. In due time. But first, all of you need to be prepared, so you’ll be ready when we bring the war back to them.”


Hawk nodded once. “Yes, Sensei. But….”


That single word must have betrayed lingering uncertainty, along with the way his mouth twitched and how his eyes briefly darted. Because Sensei Kreese stood up from his chair. Hawk watched him as he trudged over to where he stood, until the old man loomed large over him.


“But what?” asked Sensei Kreese, crossing his arms over his chest. The glare he leveled from under his thick eyebrows made Hawk falter. “Is there a problem?”


How could Hawk say what he truly wanted to say without sounding like a wimp? How could he explain the knot he felt in his chest whenever he thought about all the responsibilities and burdens he now faced? How could he admit he felt lost and alone and just wanted someone else to shoulder some of that weight instead?


None of that was an option. So Hawk’s features hardened, and he answered, “No, Sensei.”


Sensei Kreese tilted his head the slightest, and the corners of his mouth creased. He rested a calloused hand on Hawk’s shoulder; it was so heavy. “I understand things have been rough on all you kids since you lost your fight. But right now what the others need to see is a show of courage. Cobra Kai is about strength, remember that. And with Diaz gone, they’ll be looking to you for that. Don’t let them down. Help them get stronger, and next time none of you will lose.”


Hawk nodded again. “Yes, Sensei.” All of his Sensei’s words sounded encouraging, but they did nothing to untangle that knot in his chest.


He mentally kicked himself for his persisting weakness. He didn’t have the luxury to wallow in it. Sensei Kreese was right. He was the only one among them strong enough to lead Cobra Kai right now, the only one who had what it took to help take their enemies down. He had what the others were missing. He had the skills, he had the determination, and he had the fury.


All Hawk had left was Cobra Kai, and the war against Miyagi-Do. And he had enough fury in his heart to carry that fight through to the bitter end. He would not stop, would not let the fire of that rage be snuffed out by anyone, least of all himself, because then it might have forced him to confront a series of uncomfortable truths:


The fury had driven Moon away from him. The fury had turned him against Demetri. The fury made it impossible for him to make friends with the Cobras who were left behind. The fury had left him utterly alone. The fury would never let him know peace.


And if the fury dissipated, it would reveal the worst truth of all: there was no Hawk; there was only him.


So Hawk kindled the fury, kept it burning until it was white hot to the touch. He wanted to scream and reach out with all his untethered rage and crush his enemies, everyone who was responsible for this. And he swore to himself he would. Before all was said and done, he would be the one to avenge Cobra Kai - to avenge Miguel - and take down Miyagi-Do once and for all.


Defeat does not exist in this dojo, does it?