I'm still questioning my sanity in that I didn't immediately file this idea under Things Azelma Should Definitely Not Write, but sue me, I'm writing it anyway. This is massively AU. Set in a reality with no superheroes, and most of the characters have been de-aged quite a bit. And since they can't be superheroes, they find other things to occupy themselves, like…well, you'll find out. No, I haven't abandoned Bright Line and Cognitive Dissonance. I just wanted to try a different angle and I'm having fun so far. I can't promise exactly where this will go or for how long, but I do hope that you enjoy. Comments are, per usual, very welcome.
Chapter One: Where's Coach Babs?
Wally had been swimming since forever. He could practically walk around the pool with his eyes closed and not even bump into anything. Well, actually, he would probably be running, even though he technically wasn't allowed, because Wally thought that you shouldn't have to follow the rules if the rules were stupid. And anyway, he only got in trouble if somebody saw him, and nobody ever saw him.
But Wally knew the swimming pool. He knew everything about it, from the white starting blocks labeled 'one' through 'six' (four was the best) to the diving board that jutted over the deep end, on which Wally had split open his chin when he was three and had had to get stitches (it was cool). He could tell you everything that the big kids had written on the bathroom walls in permanent marker, could find all the anthills that hugged the big metal fence, and he knew how to go all the way to the bottom of the pool, even where it was ten and a half feet deep.
Except, Wally definitely didn't know what the big man in the white polo shirt was doing standing right in the middle of the starting blocks.
Or why he had a big frown on his face as if somebody had just cancelled recess—well, he looked kind of like the type of person who'd cancel recess himself, actually.
Or why he was staring at Wally like he'd better get over there right now or he was going to be in a lot of trouble.
"Umm, where's Coach Babs?" asked Wally as soon as he was close enough so it wouldn't be yelling.
The big man looked confused, then annoyed, then he went back to the cancelled-recess frown. "In case you haven't noticed, I'm not Coach Babs."
"Naw, really? 'Cos you're kind of not a girl," said a short, skinny boy with bright eyes and a high-pitched voice. He kept looking around, like he was trying to make sure that everybody had heard him. Wally had never seen him before.
"What's your name?" asked the big man.
"Gar," said the skinny boy. "That's what you can call me, anyway. I don't like my real one."
"Gar, for future reference, I don't appreciate interruptions," the big man growled, suddenly seeming even bigger than he had before. Gar flinched and backed away until he was pressed into the fence. "To answer your question," he continued as if he hadn't been interrupted, now addressing the entire circle of kids gathered around the starting blocks, "My name is Bruce Wayne. I will be in charge of this swim team for the next ten weeks."
Nobody said anything for a long moment. Finally, Wally decided that there had been way too much silence. "So, wait a minute, that means that you're our new coach? Aren't you, like, too old for that?"
He was answered with nervous laughter from the crowd and another frown from Bruce. An older girl poked Wally between the shoulder blades. "You idiot, that's Bruce Wayne." Just when Wally was about to say that he knew that because the man had just said that, the girl continued. "He was in the Olympics. Got a gold in the 100 fly, 200 free, 200 back…umm…he got a lot of them. Anyway, you should shut up. If you make him mad, he might decide to leave."
Well. Wally had medals. Lots of them, and one of them was silver, so there.
"Yes. That's what it means," said Coach Bruce. "We have also wasted two minutes having this conversation. Now. I want a 200 freestyle. Stronger swimmers in the front, please. Do not pull the lane rope; do not walk on the bottom; do not forget to do a flip turn."
Gar raised his hand, waving it around until Coach Bruce finally nodded. "Umm, but what if we don't know how to do that?"
"Then try your best." He looked away from Gar, indicating that the discussion was more than over.
A small boy with black hair was in the water before Coach Bruce finished speaking. He had blue eyes that Wally didn't get a good look at because he pulled his goggles down over them halfway into his dive. But the circle of kids didn't move. And didn't move. They all just stared, watching the boy as if entranced; Wally had certainly never seen anybody that eager to swim eight laps of the pool.
"I believe I spoke clearly enough—let's go, 200 freestyle. Anyone still on the pool deck in thirty seconds owes me thirty pushups."
That got everyone moving, and a good deal of them screaming, though Wally wasn't one of them because he didn't really care if Coach Bruce made him do pushups. He was really good at that, anyway. He'd wanted to stay on the deck and talk to Vic, who was finally swimming again this year, but Vic had already gotten in the pool so it was boring up here. Counting out the seconds to see how close he could get to thirty before he had to do pushups, he finally jumped in the water on twenty-nine.
Eight laps was a long way, but it was even longer when you kept being stopped by somebody who had to have everything perfect. And it wasn't Coach Bruce.
Something grabbed his foot. "You are not on the right side." Wally had ended up in the dark-haired boy's lane. It turned out to be a big mistake.
"Which one's the wrong side? And who do you think you are, anyway?"
"I'm Robin, and you're supposed to be on the right side. If you're not, we'll all run into each other and it's a safety hazard." He was hardly out of breath, treading water effortlessly and glancing towards the other side of the pool with every other word, as if he couldn't spare ten seconds to explain this. Even though it seemed like he really did want to explain it.
"But how do I know which one's the right one if you won't tell me?"
Robin shook his head harshly. "No! Left and right; directions! As in, over here." He pointed, wrist tense and rigid.
Oh. Well, no reason to get so upset about it. Wally knew about left and right; all he had to do was explain.
"What's the problem over there?" A big voice from the pool deck.
Robin's head jerked up instantly, and it kind of reminded Wally of a dog that had just graduated from obedience school. In a way that was a little scary. But Wally answered before he could, with the grin that almost always let him get away with anything. "He was telling me about left and right lanes. 'Cos I'm a safety hazard!"
For just a second, the corner of Coach Bruce's mouth twitched like he was going to smile, then he was back to the cancelled-recess look. "This can wait until after you finish your laps."
"But I just—"
Wally heard a barely audible sigh and then Robin was off again, seeming faster than before…and he was already kind of fast. Not appreciating being ignored but not knowing what else to do, Wally followed, and he was on the right side of the lane this time, thank you very much.
It took everyone else a long time to swim eight laps. Some of them probably didn't actually do eight, even, but Coach Bruce either didn't notice or decided not to get them in trouble. Wally had to surreptitiously stop Gar from doing any more than four because his face was bright red and he looked like he was ready to sink to the bottom of the pool and stay there for awhile. He stuck out a hand as Gar prepared to turn around, grabbing his wrist and shaking his head.
"Just stop," he said. "You're all tired."
Gar's eyes got really round for a second, and they were red around the edges because of the chlorine—he didn't bring goggles. Then, he laughed, though it sounded strange because he tried to fit it around all the gasping for breath and it didn't quite work. "I'm so not tired," he scoffed, grabbing the wall and hanging on tight. "I'm just really good at pretending."
Liar, liar, pants on fire. Wally shrugged. "Whatever you say. I'm Wally," he announced to the lane, mostly to make sure the new people heard him because he already knew everyone else. Smirking, he reached over and poked Robin, who had one hand on the bar underneath the starting block. "You're kind of weird. You're new, but you're fast. How come?"
Robin took off his goggles, letting them rest against his forehead. His eyes were really blue. "I've been swimming before this."
"Where'd you swim?" asked Gar, breathing slightly less sporadic and face considering returning to its usual color.
"Just by myself," said Robin, staring down into the water.
"Yeah right." Wally did a back flip before he continued. "No way you got so good by yourself."
Appearing almost out of nowhere, Coach Bruce reached down and touched Robin's shoulder, and Wally noticed how big his hands were. "Finished?"
Robin nodded wordlessly, eyes locked on Coach Bruce, and then Wally figured it out. It was so obvious. They even looked alike, except Robin's eyes were different. As soon as he walked away, Wally leaned closer to Robin and whispered, "He's your dad, isn't he? You swam with him, right?"
"Wow," Gar breathed.
Something flickered behind Robin's eyes, something painful and secret that he refused to recognize. "No," he said. "He's—I live with him."
"How come?" asked Gar, who was in the process of trying to drag himself out of the pool.
"I don't want to talk about it," said Robin, significantly less composed than he had been when he lectured Wally about the right side of the lane.
He was just about to tell Robin that it was fine, that whatever he didn't want to say could wait until later, when Coach Bruce told them all that they had to get out of the pool right now. Coach Bruce didn't have a whistle, but he didn't need one; something about the way he spoke made a whistle redundant. Holding a stopwatch in one hand and a clipboard in the other, his face left no room for argument, so Wally rolled his eyes and climbed out—but he went down to touch the bottom of the pool first.
Robin was boring since he didn't want to talk, so Wally started looking around for Vic, not really minding when Gar followed him, telling a really complicated-sounding story about a new game he had. Wally was always nice, especially to the new little kids like Gar, but one new little kid was enough. The concrete was boiling hot and Wally was wondering how much longer he was going to have to stand on it when he saw Vic, standing awkwardly in the back of the line behind lane six, seeming out of place and hesitant and a lot of other things that Vic had never been.
Wally grinned and waved. "Hey! You're back! It was so boring without you last year, I thought I was gonna die, did they fix your legs up okay and does it still really hurt a lot and do you have any cool scars?"
Vic's answering smile didn't quite reach his eyes. "They—"
"Alright, this is what we're doing," said Coach Bruce, and Vic stopped talking immediately, mouth snapping shut and attention totally focused. He'd never been like that before; Vic hadn't been exactly eager to break the rules, but he knew how to have fun, and he definitely wouldn't just let a coach—a new, mean coach—just shut him up like that.
Wally made a face at Coach Bruce when he wasn't looking.