“Hi,” I say, with the kids lined up sort of haphazardly in front of me. “I’m Travis – uh, Teke.”
“Hi, Teke,” all six of them chorus, like we’re in school or something.
I mean, I guess it kind of is school, but it’s still a little disconcerting.
“I’m Todd,” Gatling says, and I hold up a hand before he can continue.
“No real names,” I tell them, even though they’ve all heard it dozens, maybe hundreds of times before, except maybe the new kid.
“I can tell you my real name,” Gatling says, with a smirk. “I’m official and everything.”
I try not to roll my eyes at him. “Either way, good practice not to. You’re not going to want to use real names out there, and the best way is not to use them in here.”
“Whatever, man,” Gatling says, looking me up and down. “What are you even here to teach?”
“Didn’t you hear?” I ask, not quite managing to stop the faux-innocence from pervading my voice, “Coach Domino retired. I’m in charge, now.”
Gatling scowls and crosses his arms.
“Alright,” I say, “basically we have a program to train your powers, and I’m going to guide you through all the steps so that –”
“We know this shit already,” Jailbait says. “Seriously, can we just get started?”
“I was introducing it for the benefit of your new teammate,” I tell her.
“Teammate,” Gatling scoffs. “What do we need with another little girl on the team? Let her learn as she goes, what’s the big deal?”
“Little girl,” FiendPuncher mutters, “and I did read the guidelines, anyway, it’s not like I don’t know what I’m doing here.”
I shrug and skip the introductory speech.
“I mean, you, you’re gonna let us fight, right?” Gatling says, “Coach Domino never let us fight, but I am ready to get out there.”
I succeed at not rolling my eyes yet again. “Uh, no.”
“Right, right,” Gatling says, “come on, who are we going after? Hex Key? The Maniacs? The Righteous Coalition?”
“Wow.” I stare at him. “Those are way bigger than you guys could take on, even if you were going to take on anything, which you’re not.”
“Oh, come on,” Gatling says, “we need to take down some criminals, am I right, people?”
FiendPuncher giggles. “Oh, wow, who are they? I’ve never heard of them?”
Gatling smirks and turns to her. “Well, Hex Key is basically the mafia –”
“Research on your own time,” I tell them, “we’re practicing now.”
“Ooh, I know,” Gatling says, “we could take out Black as Night.”
FiendPuncher crosses her arms without even getting tangled in the ends of her sleeves, and talks before I can get a word in. “Black as Night is not a criminal organization.”
“Oh, come on,” Gatling says, “everyone knows that they’re a bunch of violent thugs with no respect for the law who bribe their way out of trouble.”
Then she has him pinned to the floor, screaming “say it again, you racist fuck”, and everything is a blur of fists and blond curls.
I definitely don’t hesitate even a little in yanking her off of him. “No fighting.”
“Yeah, that’s right,” Gatling says, pushing himself off the floor. I sigh in relief. At least she was pulling her punches – maybe I could’ve let her at it a little bit longer (no I couldn’t (well (no))).
He goes to shove her in retaliation, and I have to yank him back, too, holding my hands wide apart above my head so I can concentrate on not hurting them even as they struggle against the field. Well, Gatling’s struggling, anyway; FiendPuncher is floating with her arms crossed, but then, she can fly, so she must be used to it. I try to keep the boy away from the wall, as well as the other students, but he’s not exactly making it easy for me.
“No fighting,” I repeat to him.
He flips me off.
“Are we going to be mature enough to apologize and work together calmly,” I ask them, “or should I keep you up there?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Gatling says, holding his hands up.
FiendPuncher glares at me, but gives me a curt nod.
“Are we going to be mature enough not to call private investigators criminals?” I ask Gatling.
He flips me off again.
“How about you go sit in time out,” I tell him.
I can tell he’s about to say ‘make me’ when he reconsiders, and sits cross-legged, back up against the wall. “They never help,” he calls out, “they just let crimes happen.”
“Gatling, if you don’t want me to assign you reading, drop the subject,” I say. “They’re civilians; they’re not required to do anything for the government. They can investigate the crimes they want to.”
Gatling mouths the words after I say them, making faces when he thinks I’m not looking. I pretend not to see them. FiendPuncher flips him the bird with both her hands, waving them wildly. I pretend not to see them, either.
“Okay,” I say, “let’s do some warmups.”
Gatling continues to sit sullenly against the wall, but the others all drop to the floor to stretch, and with a wary glance around, FiendPuncher joins in, copying off her neighbors. She seems slightly more comfortable by the time they switch to situps, although by that point I’m doing the exercises with them instead of trying to correct their form. I keep an eye out for FiendPuncher, in case she’s never done this before, but she seems to know them as well as everyone else.
I keep an eye on Gatling, too, just in case, but he doesn’t jump out at any of the other kids at any point, just continues sitting by the wall, muttering to himself about how awful I am.