This story is a sequel to Flip Turn. It's not absolutely necessary to have read it first, though it will certainly make things a bit easier to understand. For those who are new to the party: what follows is a gigantic AU, in which there are no superheroes, and those who would have been superheroes occupy themselves with competitive swimming (no prior knowledge of swimming required). In Flip Turn, most of the characters were young children; they are substantially older here. Comments are, as per usual with anything I write, very welcome. Boundless thanks to Avea for ninja beta-ing of doom.
In other words: my dear, sweet god, I am writing a high school fic. Should I be shot now, or later?
Chapter One: Like a Shrew With Herpes
Vic was trying to convince himself that he did have the energy to bike home when a red-headed hurricane nearly knocked him onto the cold pavement. And that was no easy task because Vic was a big guy.
Even though it made no sense, Vic knew exactly who had latched onto him because only one person would do that, and it didn't matter if that person was supposed to be in Georgia, working on cars with his dad. He was taller, the face a little less round, the grip a lot stronger, but the eyes were the same. Exactly the same.
And so were the words that came out of his mouth, even though the voice that said them was considerably deeper: "Oh my god, I knew you hadn't gone home yet, 'cos you were probably helping a poor, defenseless freshman find their lunch money, or maybe helping a poor, defenseless kitty out of a tree—and Vic, I really hope this is the last day of school for you because I couldn't possibly be more bored.
"Hi, Wally," said Vic skeptically. "Do I want to know how you got here?"
Wally released him, though his face was no less than six inches from Vic's. "Don't worry, it was legal, I swear. Maybe." He raised an eyebrow, grin becoming impossibly wider, then pretended to think about something. "Well, okay, so the stolen car and the broken window might be borderline—"
He giggled. "You're really gullible, y'know."
"I just spent three hours writing about the literary devices in Brave New World. So, I mean, understand that this may just be my brain turning to mush, but if you're not running from the law, why are you in Gotham when you're supposed to be a thousand miles away from Gotham?" He got back up, glad that he was wearing his heavy coat since he really had gone down pretty hard.
"You mean y-you're not h-happy to see me?" Wally sniffled extravagantly, lower lip stuck out.
"Dammit, Wally, you know what I mean!"
"Tell ya in a sec; we can talk in my car." He pointed to the bike that Vic had been innocently trying to unlock before he'd been tackled. "That yours?"
Vic nodded, then cringed as Wally tapped the lock in a few strategic places, sending it falling into the palm of his hand. It was probably because Wally was really, really good at getting into things, not because the lock was bad. Probably. He cringed again when Wally picked the bike up and started hauling it across the parking lot.
To the black station wagon that was definitely parked in the space reserved for the principal.
"Either that was the stolen car you mentioned, or you're not supposed to park there," he pointed out as he stepped over the barricade that separated student parking from faculty.
"Aww, I just needed it for a little while; he can share," said Wally as he attached the bike to the back of his car. "You coming?"
"Seeing as how you've got my bike, I think I have no choice."
The answering grin sent him all the way back to eight years old and tricks played on the girls. "That was the idea," Wally said, holding the passenger door open for Vic with exaggerated formality.
"Do you even remember where my house is?"
Wally sent him a scandalized look as he hit a button on his cell phone. "You think we're going to your house? What kind of non-exciting friend do you take me for?"
"Bummer that Gar's not home. You don't know where he is, do ya?" Wally twirled his straw around in his milkshake, staring into the cell phone as if it was to blame.
"He's at something with the debate team," Vic said carefully.
The straw stopped moving, Wally's head jerking up from the phone to stare. "Gar is doing what?"
He sighed. "Not debate, not him anyway. Oratory, actually." He broke off before he said anything potentially incriminating. Gar had gotten public speaking in his head and wasn't very good at it, but Vic didn't want to discourage him.
"That won't go well." Wally cringed, but it was mostly sympathetic, and Vic unclenched his hand from the edge of the plastic seat. He shouldn't have worried, but while it was easy to remember Wally's constant laughter, it was hard to remember how it was almost never at anybody.
"He's getting better," Vic supplied with a noncommittal wave.
The blue eyes lit up again, completely abandoning the previous subject. "Hey, let's call Robin! We can hit him with straw papers and stuff!" He started pressing buttons on his cell phone again, fingers moving almost faster than Vic could keep track of. Kind of like the boy's attention span.
"Umm. Wally? I don't think that's a very good…"
"Hiya, Alfie! Can I talk to Robin? Huh? Oh, sorry, this is Wally! Wally West, don't'cha remember me? I've only been gone six years—you can't have met that many Wallys since then! Sorry. Yes, I have a point, I promise. So can I…umm, 'kay, may I talk to Robin? Huh? Oh. Well, can you tell him I called? And that he needs to get out of the pool 'cos he'll get all wrinkled? Alright, thanks. Yeah, I'll stop by. Later!" Wally snapped the phone closed, rolling his eyes. "He's married to the swimming pool, like he's always been."
"How long have you been calling Alfred…'Alfie'?"
Wally shrugged and reached for a slice of pizza. "Can't remember. But who can say Alfred with a straight face, anyway?" He wrinkled his nose. "If I ever name a kid anything like that, please slap me."
Before Vic could ask how he managed to say 'Alfie' with a straight face, the bell attached to the back of the restaurant door jingled, bringing with it a very loud, very familiar argument.
"—not right; you didn't even ask, and now I'm never going to get the stains out, and you have to buy me a new one!"
"And I'd love to know how you're going to make me, sweetie."
"You know what, Koma, I think you did it on purpose."
"Hi!" said Wally, loudly, standing up to wave at Starfire and her sister. "If you're interested in some more stains, I have pizza over here that might be useful."
The girls stopped talking and blinked, at the same time, which was kind of strange—they almost never did anything the same, and yet, occasionally, without warning, they'd remind you that they had the same DNA. Starfire was only shocked for a moment before she broke into a grin, shrieked, and ran over to the table, grabbing Wally's hands and yanking him around in a circle, her back knocking into a counter and sending a napkin dispenser clattering to the floor. She blushed and bent to pick it up, not at all hurt. Starfire was one of those people who could fall out of a building and get back up wanting to go again.
Komand'r kept right on staring, though there was an intensity in the way she looked at Wally's face—well, mostly the rest of him—that Vic didn't suspect was exactly meant as friendly. Wally didn't seem to notice, but it could have been because he was busy hugging Starfire.
"I thought I'd never see you again," Starfire breathed, arms around him as if she was afraid he'd disappear if she didn't hang on.
"Like a thousand miles and a couple of states could keep me away from the best people ever," said Wally. He winced. "Umm…Star? Needing air now."
She let him go abruptly, chirping out an apology. It was something they'd never been able to get her to stop: the slightly deadly hugs. He still wondered where all that strength came from sometimes; it wasn't like Kara, who played practically every sport imaginable and hadn't yet found something she was bad at.
Starfire's eyes landed on the table—more specifically, the food on the table—well, actually, make that the mustard bottle that was next to the food on the table, and before Vic could blink she'd pulled up a chair and was in the process of twisting off the cap.
"Ohhh no, I remember this." Wally yanked the bottle out of her hands. "You are so not pouring mustard on the whole thing."
Starfire scratched the side of her head, fingers getting lost in her endless mass of hair. "Actually, I had been thinking of pouring it on some pickles this time." She paused, glancing around the table thoughtfully. "With pepper."
"Not on everybody else's food!"
"I won't," said Starfire, tilting back her head to stare up at him. "Now may I please have my bottle?" She tapped some pepper into her palm and licked it. "Yes, I think this will be satisfactory."
Wally cringed, but cautiously handed back the bottle. "You do realize that this is the kind of stuff that people dare me to do?"
"They dare you to do anything else?" asked Komand'r as she slid off her parka and sauntered over to take the seat next to him.
"Maybe," Wally said cryptically, raising an eyebrow. "Hey, weren't you like in jail?"
Komand'r rolled her eyes, helping herself to Wally's milkshake. "Community service, moron. Not the same as jail. Hey, this is pretty good." She snapped her fingers at Starfire. "Minion! Get me a shake."
"You have two legs," Starfire stated, though she didn't look up from spreading mustard on a plate full of pickles, which she'd arranged in a circle.
A caustic smile crawled onto her face as she gritted her teeth. "Koriand'r. Get. Me. A. Shake."
Komand'r dragged the plate of pickles out of reach, grabbing Starfire's hand when she tried to take it back and holding it, palm pressed into the table. "If you don't wipe that little smile off your face, I will do it for you," she spat, voice low and dangerous.
Vic took a deep breath, ready to say the words, the ones that would stop this, the ones he needed to make her sit down and take her hand off Starfire's wrist.
"She's not smiling, but neither are you, and I think you wouldn't look nearly as much like a mouse with rabies if you'd try it." But those weren't the words he was going to say—Wally had said them, the syllables running together because his mouth could never keep up with his brain
And Vic remembered how much easier it had always been when Wally was around.
The statement didn't exactly put Komand'r in the mood for smiling. Letting go of Starfire, she spun on Wally with a vicious glare, though it quickly softened into something that was definitely not a glare. "You can't really think that, sweetie, can you?" The words sounded like they'd been dipped in sugar water and left there to harden for a few weeks.
"Yep, 'fraid so." Wally pretended to think about it, taking another look at Starfire, who had her hand close to her chest. "Hmm, actually, sorry: maybe it's more like a shrew with herpes, I guess. Also, you're kind of a bitch. Just so you know," he stated, dragging his milkshake away from Komand'r and wiping the straw on his shirt.
It was even worse than that time six years ago, when Roy had put syrup in Komand'r's swim cap. For a split second, Vic was seriously concerned that she'd try to hit him, and Wally was bigger than she was, but not by much—and Komand'r was almost six feet tall. And she'd once broken a varsity baseball player's nose on the hood of his car. When she was fifteen.
So Vic stood up when she did, staring down into clouded dark eyes and trying not to see the way Starfire was clutching the table and biting her lip, face wrinkled with fear. "Don't do anything you'll regret, Koma," he said, hoping that one of the employees would see the situation and intervene. Vic didn't fight. At all. He just usually found himself praying that his size would fool people into thinking that he did.
"Oh, I wouldn't regret it," she spat. "But you're not even freshies, so you're not worth it. Maybe next year." She yanked her purse from the back of her chair and stalked towards the door of the restaurant. "Have fun walking home, darling sister," she tossed over her shoulder.
Vic counted two seconds after the door had swung shut behind Komand'r's black heels before Wally shrugged and offered, "What? She is!"
"How nice of you to bring it to her attention," Vic sighed, sinking back into his seat and waiting for his heartbeat to return to normal.
"Hey, somebody had to," he said, going back to his milkshake as if nothing had happened.
Starfire's face was slightly pale—which looked really disturbing for her. "Thank you," she said, smiling wanly. "I can usually manage her, but I was upset about the sweaters that she ruined, and—" She broke off as her eyes followed a dark red car out of the parking lot as it ran a stop light. "And that was definitely my sister driving away without me."
"S'okay; we'll drive you," said Wally. "And maybe if Vic is really nice, he'll let us go to his house first because I don't remember what it looks like."
"You totally remember what it looks like!"
Covering his plate with both hands when Starfire politely offered him some of her pickles-with-mustard, Wally laughed, rolling his eyes as if he had an inside joke. "Well, yeah, but how else would I trick you into letting us play your video games?"
"If you want to trick me into doing something, you might not want to tell me that you're trying to trick me."
"See, you're so much fun 'cos you think that that was the trick." He took his straw out of the mostly-empty milkshake to poke Vic with it.
Vic shook his head. "It can't possibly be worse than the fight that you just narrowly avoided. Did I mention it's good to have you back?"
"Can't possibly be worse than that? Give me a little credit!"