Author's Note: So, I was reading Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison for school and one of the motifs that my teacher told me to look out for was called "Armor of Invisibility" and that phrase just struck a cord with me, so I decided to write about this. Read, review, and enjoy!
Disclaimer: I do not own Young Justice
For a long time, Wally was afraid he would just disappear completely, never to be seen again. He wasn't entirely sure when this idea started. It might have started the first time his parents completely forgot his birthday. It might have started the first time he was left out of a game at recess. Maybe there was always that idea simmering under the surface, constantly beating him down and telling him that he better make himself visible or he'd disappear forever.
It was hard to make himself visible, though, but he was determined to manage it. He had started his bid to be visible at school. The mission was too important, too personal to take on at home. His first step was to make a friend. He knew that it mustn't be all that hard. Plenty of people had friends. Actually, it seemed like everyone, but Wally had friends. So, there must be some simple explanation for how to make friends. Wally must have just missed it one day. That was all.
That determined, Wally made his way to the library one day after school. He wasn't allowed to use the computer at home because his dad always needed it and, besides, Wally had all sorts of homework and extra assignments to do. The teachers always said that he was super smart and then his parents asked the teachers to give him extra work, so he was never bored. It was fun doing all that work, self-discovering the science and the math. He wasn't so big on most of the other subjects, but music theory was interesting. He liked that too.
But that was off topic! He wanted to figure out how to make friends, so he wouldn't be invisible anymore. Carefully, Wally crept through the library, making his way towards the non-fiction section that he practically lived in. He would always go there after school until one of his parents picked him up on their way home from work. The librarians nodded to him with a smile and he gave them a small, shy one back before disappearing into the shelves. Where, then, to look? Well, friendship was a social activity, right? So, books about it should be in the 300s – the social sciences. Delightedly, Wally skipped over to the 305s – factors affecting social behavior – and quickly located a book. Perfect! This was going to be easier than he thought.
The first page of the book was a comprehensive list of things to do. Each chapter would go into a deeper explanation of the steps. Silently, Wally read through the list.
Do it blind.
Get up close and personal.
Set a goal.
Don't take it personally.
Think outside the box.
Huh. Eight steps. It only took eight steps? Okay, Wally could do this. This wasn't too hard. Wally didn't know why he'd never done it before. Step one – do it blind. Just burst in and introduce yourself. Just throw yourself into someone's life and hope it works. That didn't sound very foolproof to Wally. It actually sounded kind of rude. And kind of scary. Go up to someone you've never met before and just start talking? Well, Wally really didn't have room to judge the book since this author was published in the subject and Wally was very much not. Alright. Wally could do that. He could introduce himself to a stranger.
What was step two? Be yourself. Who else would he be? That one was easy. He didn't even have to think about it. Being anyone else was silly and was technically lying. His parents said that he wasn't allowed to lie, so he wouldn't do that.
Okay, step three? Get up close and personal. Step four? Be persistent. Both of these sounded rude, too. Was making a friend always such an aggressive process? Was there no finesse? This seemed less like gentle, careful experimentation and more like brutal warfare. No wonder it was so violent when friends stopped liking each other. Wally had seen two girls pulling each other's hair out when he was younger because one of them was mad at something the other one did. It definitely stuck with him as one of the bad parts of being friends.
Wait, focus! What was he getting from the lesson so far? Don't lie and be pushy. In hindsight, maybe this whole friend thing was going to be harder than he thought it was. The rest of the steps weren't much better. Smile? Don't be afraid to fail? Don't act like you're desperate for friendship? All of those were things that Wally was very bad at. Well, he might have been okay at smiling, but he never really tried that often, so he wouldn't know. The librarians always gushed about how cute it was, but Wally was pretty sure that cute was not the look he should be going for to get friends his own age. Then again, what did he know?
Book finished, and steps memorized, Wally formulated a plan while he worked on his other homework. He could do this. It was going to be awesome.
It wasn't awesome. It was, actually, the first time he was actively bullied at school. That was the event that made Wally realize that, maybe, being ignored wasn't the worst option.
The boy he'd gone up to was a popular kid. Wally had figured that if the kid had so many friends then he would understand the friend making process and would be easy to approach. Apparently, though, being popular meant something different, even in the first years of elementary school. Apparently, being popular didn't mean one was good at making friends. It meant that one could be cruel and self-inflated and pompous. It meant that one had to be normal. And Wally, even at that age, was anything but normal.
He'd intended to go up to the kid and introduce himself. He'd barely gotten finished before the other kid was interrupting him and saying that he already knew Wally's name and didn't really care. But the book had said to not be discouraged and to be persistent! So, Wally kept going. He started talking about some of the interesting things they'd learned in class the day before because, in the 'Be Yourself' section, the author had said that it was good to find common ground. Both Wally and the kid had that same class and learned the same material, so that must be common ground.
Evidently, that common ground wasn't the right kind, or Wally was doing it wrong, or something. Because the kid had rolled his eyes, beckoned his friends over, made a derogatory comment about Wally's hair and then strolled off.
Eyes wide and expression painfully open, Wally hadn't done anything but stare at the retreating group. He couldn't believe that his plan had backfired so miserably! That was… that was… It didn't matter what it was then, but it was certainly humiliating when the other kids in the hallway started laughing at him, calling him cruel names and taunting him for his naivety and desperation. It was everything that Wally had been hoping to avoid in the friend making process. He had no way of knowing that this was one of the milder instances of bullying that he was going to experience throughout his schooling career.
Wally didn't cry, though. He was a West and West men don't cry. That was what his dad always told him. At least, that was what his dad had told him when he was younger, and they still spent time together beyond awkward car rides and obligatory church services.
The entire experience had turned Wally off of the idea that school was the place to gain his visibility. Maybe, at school at least, it would be better to disappear and not be seen. There wouldn't be any more jeers or taunts. He wouldn't be called soulless and he wouldn't be knocked into in the hallways.
When Wally was older, just entering the double digits of age and already quiet and bitter, the fear of disappearing had settled a little bit. It was less like a sharp-edged monster hunting him and more like a familiar rope around his neck.
School had been tainted by the bullies that haunted its corridors, but Wally's love of learning was never lost. He embraced the gentle complexities of science and the twisting rush of a hard math problem. They were constants that could be soothing and challenging all at one time. Textbooks were his safety blanket and calculators his teddy bear.
He threw himself into research about the Flash, about new scientific studies regarding the mix of engineering and chemistry, about cancer. Notebooks were filled with scientific ramblings and ideas and definitions. He took self-study to a whole new level and practically tore through the library's books on science. He'd get four or five at a crack and come back two weeks later for a whole new set, ready to go. Wally interned at his father's workplace – a stern, stout business that never seemed to be doing well. Wally was a glorified secretary, going for coffee runs and organizing paperwork. There was no thinking, no creativity, no passion. It seemed as if every single person in the room hated their jobs. All that job did was alienate him further from his father and belittle Wally. He knew that he was young and that it was hard to understand that he had some modicum of intelligence, but it was still irritating. He could be doing something with his life.
So, when Wally's mother suggested that he move out of the house for a little bit, he'd felt nothing but happiness. There was no sense of hurt that his parents obviously wanted him gone. They'd already talked to his aunt and uncle and had made arrangements for Wally to stay with them before ever informing Wally of the decisions being made. Apparently, they couldn't stand to stay in the same house with him over the summer. Maybe even longer. They never seemed to mention when he would be returning and there were subtle hints that made him think that maybe they didn't want him returning ever again. He wasn't sure he would mind.
Aunt Iris and Uncle Barry presented an entirely different atmosphere. Throughout the course of his short life, Wally had developed his fear of invisibility into an armor. It was one he wore proudly because it was beaten into him by bullies and by his parents' emotional neglect. He wore invisibility like Flash wore his cowl and Superman wore his cape.
They tried to strip that armor away, though. Aunt Iris and Uncle Barry did everything they could to chip away at the armor and try to tear it off piece by piece. He hated it. He loathed every minute that they spent have family dinners and talking about their day. It wasn't right! It wasn't how things went! People were cold and cruel and horrible and so, Wally would step into his armor and he'd disappear, and no one would hurt him. Taunts couldn't pierce the thick metal plates and jeers couldn't fit past his helm. For some reason, though, Aunt Iris and Uncle Barry didn't want him to have that security. Instead, they seemed to want him to be hurt and torn down. It wasn't right.
So, Wally fought them. He fought them tooth and nail on every little thing just, so they would leave him alone. His armor of invisibility didn't work on them and they seemed determined to pay attention to him, so he determined to make sure that they hated paying attention to him. If he was bratty enough and annoying enough, then there was a good chance that they'd just leave him alone.
It didn't work quite like that, though. For the first time, someone not only found his weakness, but they used it against him as well.
It was kind of ridiculous how Uncle Barry found out about Wally's absolute adoration for all things science. For the longest time, Wally kept up a strict 'don't-you-dare-go-into-my-room' rule that his aunt and uncle only seemed to respect because they realized that it would be hypocritical to stop him from going into their room and then turn around and go into his. So, Wally had been able to set up his room as some sort of science sanctuary. He made sure to only get the school library books on science and some of the teacher's textbooks, so he could hide them in his backpack. He was determined to keep at least this part of his life private from the overreaching arms of his aunt and uncle.
Then he got sick.
All morning, he'd pushed past the sweaty shivers that wracked his body and disregarded the headache pulsing at his temples and the hoarseness that was rubbing like sandpaper against his throat. He was a West man and West men didn't get sick. Well, if they did, then they certainly didn't complain about it like babies. They dealt with it on their own. If it wasn't serious enough for hospitalization, then it wasn't serious enough for his parents to care about it. Why would it be any different here?
He should have known better, though. His aunt and uncle didn't work the way that normal people worked. They peppered him with questions and concerned glances all morning, verbally poking and prodding until he snapped back and stormed upstairs to get ready. Why wouldn't they just leave him alone? Everyone else did.
In the end, Aunt Iris and Uncle Barry had been convinced that he could get through the school day just fine, and since it was a Friday he could just relax and recoup over the weekend. And it was fine. It was all good. He had it under control.
At least, he thought he had it under control until he fainted in PE. There was something stuck between disconcerting and fascinating about fainting. One second, he was running and the next, he was on the floor. There was no memory of the movement between. It was as if he'd been teleported from one moment to the next. Maybe he hadn't fainted. Maybe he'd developed super powers?
It would occur to him later that he probably wasn't thinking all too clearly at that point.
Then his aunt and uncle had to be called. Apparently, Aunt Iris was across the state for her reporter job, so Uncle Barry was the one who came in to pick him up. He signed the appropriate forms and hustled Wally out of the building, expression so completely open that Wally almost couldn't comprehend it. How was it that everyone else could live so completely naively and he couldn't? When it was him, any sign of naïve behavior was torn apart by the wolves that were constantly circling. So, why was it that no one else had to struggle through that? Why was it that no one else was constantly hunted by people who wanted to hurt them? Was there something wrong with Wally? Was it just him? What did he ever do to deserve this?
Uncle Barry's voice tore him out of his thoughts, "Hey, kiddo, we're almost home. The nurse said you fainted in gym. Did you hit your head? Does it hurt anywhere?" Wally shook his head wordlessly, the way he always tried to do. The less he talked around his aunt and uncle, the more likely they were to realize that he was happier in unnoticed silence. Barry continued speaking, "Alright, that's good. I'm going to check your temperature one more time when we get home and then I'll set you up in your room. Sound good, kiddo?" That was another thing Wally hated. He hated when Uncle Barry called him 'kiddo' with such familiarity, like Wally had seen fathers do with their sons. Uncle Barry was not his father and had not known him long enough to be so familiar. Uncle Barry's voice broke through his thoughts again, "Sound good?" Wally blinked, trying to remember the proposal, but realizing that he had no clue. Just to get Barry off his back, Wally nodded in agreeance.
Again, it would occur to him later that the fever was likely higher than he'd suspected and that it was easily muddling with his ability to think clearly. He'd have fought his uncle about letting the man into his room otherwise.
As it was, Wally didn't even really realize that they were in his room until the door closed softly behind them. Uncle Barry muttered a soft, "Whoa." He was clearly taking in the mass of superhero posters (the majority of which were this city's own hometown hero, the Flash), the piles of scientific textbooks, the scribbles of half-illegible experiment designs and complex physics problems. When Wally risked a glance, Uncle Barry's face was soft and loving as he glanced around the room, eyes like the softest blue blanket and mouth turned upwards at the corners. There was a passion dancing around the edges of the crinkles around his eyes, too. Like, maybe, it wasn't just Wally that science spoke to and comforted.
The thought spurred Wally into action. Uncle Barry was looking at his science books and his posters and his notes! Uncle Barry was in his room! Starting to struggle in Uncle Barry's arms, Wally took the blonde man by surprise, causing him to almost drop the struggling ginger.
Eyes wide and breath catching, Barry stumbled over to the bed, dumping Wally gracelessly onto the covers. The loving tenderness of Uncle Barry's expression had partially faded, and he frowned slightly at Wally. After a second, Uncle Barry sat down next to Wally on the small bed, "When you're feeling up to it, I'll take you to the Flash Museum. It's actually one of my favorite places to go. I've been there a couple times already and I definitely wouldn't mind going again. And now I have an excuse to drag you and Iris to science fairs and nerd museums. When she realizes that you love it as much as I do, then she's definitely going to let us go. If we're really lucky, she'll pay for it." He ended the statement with an exaggerated wink. Wally was confused.
Wasn't Uncle Barry mad at him? Wasn't he upset that Wally had struggled and yelled? He was just sitting there planning to go to science museums because he liked science too and he wanted Wally to be happy.
Without conscious thought, without even recognition of what was going on for a few precious seconds, Wally started to cry.
He obviously startled Uncle Barry. The man's voice faltered for a moment before he backtracked, "I mean, if you want to! We don't have to go to museums if you don't want to! I mean, if you have, like, some sort of tragic life experience at a science fair or something, then that's fine. I don't really mind not going and… and you're still crying. I… um, sorry?"
His awkward babble only made Wally cry harder, simultaneously clutching at his uncle's shirt and trying to turn his face away as if his uncle didn't know what he was doing, and he'd be able to hide it. After a few more moments of Wally sobbing into his pillows, fingers tangled in a surprisingly soft shirt, Uncle Barry softened, awkward edges melting away in light of a child crying. He bundled Wally's shaking form in his arms and tucked Wally's head under his chin, rocking them gently and murmuring soft nothings into the air around them, surrounding the two of them in a bubble of warmth and acceptance and… and visibility.
Finally, after months of trying to tear down Wally's armor and make him abandon his post, they had succeeded. Something as innocuous as the flu had finally allowed the Allen household the make the progress they'd been fighting for the entire time Wally had been there. Wally could tell that they both knew it wasn't going to last. Even in Wally's fever-addled brain, he understood that this was a temporary lapse. It was a moment of weakness that he would immediately try to hide when this infernal flu finished it route and he could get back to normal.
Still, though, Uncle Barry knew the chink in his armor, now. He knew the key to pulling Wally from invisibility to excited interaction.
At that moment, wrapped in the emotion of the moment, there was no way to tell that Wally was going to find out that Barry was the Flash when, in a not so rare moment of rebellion, he dug through his aunt and uncle's room. There was no way to tell that Wally was going to secretly gather the materials he needed and recreate the experiment in his own room one day. There was no way to know that Wally would become the Flash's partner and would, eventually, go off on his own and end up forming a superhero team of teenaged heroes. At that moment, all that mattered was that Wally had finally realized that he could be loved, and he didn't need to wear his armor of invisibility all the time.
Author's Note: I don't know what it is with me suddenly writing one-shots about Wally. I just get these little ideas and I have to write them. Honestly, I should be working on my uncompleted works (which I will finish), but the urge to write these just pushes and pulls at me until I capitulate and write them. Anywho, let me know what you thought! Thanks for reading!