Wally liked kids. He was good with them.
He'd been spending the last couple years helping out at the local daycare in Central City on weekends to earn a little extra cash, -because apparently being a superhero and saving lives wasn't enough to convince mom to buy him that new media center he'd had his eye on- by hanging out with a group of munchkins for a few hours. It was easy stuff; they were intrigued by the simplest of things, and didn't ask a lot of questions.
But that one girl; Samantha. She infuriated him like no one else could. It wasn't that she was a bad girl- heck no, she could classified as a little angel; never yelling or throwing tantrums, or even frowning. It was the fact that she had this.. this love of magic that made him want to pull his hair out. Every weekend he'd show up, there she'd be, waving around a shiny piece of plastic, covered in glitter, that she'd dubbed her fairy wand.
Now of course, he wasn't completely insensitive. He wasn't about to ruin her childhood, -or her dream to become a fairy princess who used her sparkle dust to help the world- by correcting her. He was like that at one point too; running around wildly like his Uncle Barry, -though never as fast, of course- thinking how he zipped around was all because of some kind of spell. But he was always too inquisitive, too smart, to think that for long.
Magic didn't exist. There was no Santa Clause, -he'd pulled off Santa's beard at the mall and revealed to a hundred other children that it was just some guy, faking it- or Easter Bunny, -he'd found the stash of eggs he'd painted for the bunny to collect in the backyard behind the shed- or Tooth Fairy, -he'd caught dad slipping five dollars under his pillow- or anything magical in the world.
It was the hard truth, but didn't they have a right to know, early? Why make them believe at all? What good does it do to let a child believe in all these things and then have them be crushed when they find out their parents lied to them for years?
A sticky hand pulling on his shirt makes him break out of his inner rant.
"Look, look!" It was Samantha, waving around a small, blue plastic box that opens like a tiny drawer. She carefully slips a quarter into the slot on the drawer, closes it, then opens it again only to have the quarter disappear. "It's magic!" The little girl chirps, and Wally can't stop the agitation and immediate response that's bubbling up inside him. "It's not magic! There's no such thing!"
Her face falls, but she shakes her head defiantly. "The quarter's gone! It's magic, Wally!"
He tries, he really does. But he's been broken too many times as a kid; let down too many times, to allow this girl to believe in magic any longer.
"It's all smoke and mirrors!" He takes the drawer from her and opens up the bottom; the quarter falls out and hits the floor with a metallic clink. "See? The quarter falls down to a false bottom. It's still there!" He can see her eyes becoming shiny with tears, but his pent up aggression continues to flow out like word vomit. "It's fake! Everything's fake! You can wish all you want to, send a million letters, but unless your parents buy it for you, Santa Clause isn't bringing you that one gift you wanted! You know why? Because he isn't real!"Other kids are looking at him, gaping. "And the Easter Bunny? Not real either! All those eggs you worked so hard on? They're probably in the trash!" Samantha is sobbing quietly, and some of the others are starting to tear up, as well. "Oh, and all those dragons, and princesses, and magicians? None of them exist! There aren't secretly fairies making the grass grow, or changing the colors of the leaves! It's all because of science! Magic doesn't exist!"
Mrs. French, the daycare lady struts into the room just as he finishes; having just returned from her bathroom break, only to shake her head in disappointment at Wally. "Wallace? I think it's time for you to leave, now."
The look on all of their faces; Samantha's especially, haunts him for days after.
"You yelled at a bunch of five-year-olds? What kind of superhero are you!" Artemis gives him an earful, hands on her hips and glaring daggers. "How could you stomp on their innocence like that?"
"I know, okay?" He hisses; he's already gone over it in his head, multiple times.
"Why is it so hard for you to believe in magic, Wally?" M'gann asks quietly from the corner of the living room; face crumpled into a look of grief, not far off from Samantha's crushed expression.
"It just- is!" He throws his hands up in the air in exasperation. "It's impossible!"
"Is my telepathy impossible, too?" Her voice rings clear in his head, tinged with further despair.
"It's not magic. It's some kind of hereditary martian trait that maybe one day, humans will have too!" Wally sighs and rubs his hand over his face when M'gann begins to sulk, and Superboy squeezes her hand silently.
"Tomorrow," Artemis grabs Wally by the front of his shirt and heaves him upward so they're at eye-level from where he sits. "We're going back to that daycare, and you're going to convince the kids you fully believe in magic!"
He swats her hand away but slumps back in the armchair; tone utterly flat. "I don't believe."
Artemis gets her way anyway, thanks to some prodding from Robin, who manages to convince KF that it would be in his best interest to make things right before his mother caught wind that her son had made a whole crowd of children cry their hearts out.
"I look ridiculous." Wally scowls, soles of his feet digging firmly into the linoleum as Artemis drags him by the arm.
"And how is that any different from how you normally look?"
He bops her on the head with his wand, just before she shoves him inside the building.
Nearly tripping over his robe, he stumbles into the childrens' playroom, straightening his wizard hat and clearing his throat to get everyone's attention. Mrs. French looks up first, from her desk, and smiles slightly at the sight of the teenage boy.
"Class, I think Wally has something to say to us. Gather over to the quiet-circle; quickly." She has a hard time keeping her giggles at bay as Wally does trip over the bottom of his robe and falls into the bookshelf, but quickly regains his balance. Outside the room, he can hear Artemis chuckling along, too.
Muttering curses under his breath, he steps over the little kids to get into the middle of their human circle, and wrings his hands. "Um," He looks out the glass window, where Artemis is making hand gestures, and mouthing, 'What we rehearsed!' at him.
Taking in two deep breaths, he plasters on a wide, toothy grin and points his wooden stick- erm, wand at one of the boys in the circle and nods. "You, there. Nathaniel! Do you believe in magic?"
The boy considers this for a beat too long, and Wally is about to shift over to the boy next to him, when he speaks. "Not after last weekend." He pouts, and Wally internally winces, but keeps his big show-smile in place.
"Well, you should! Because I've come here today, to tell you that I was.. wrong about magic." The words come out between slightly gritted teeth, but Artemis is smirking and radiating smugness from outside. "It is real. I was just," His mouth clenches again, and Artemis still urges him on from the window. "Afraid, of admitting that it was real."
"Why?" A blonde girl who's name he can't quite place, pipes up.
"Because it doesn't make sense!" He exclaims, and Artemis is face palming, thinking he's blown the whole thing. Luckily, he reels himself in. "Most things in life don't make sense, though." She's letting out a sigh of relief.
He puts his phony grin back on, and waves his stick -wand- at the kids. "Anybody want to see a magic trick?"
The tykes squeal and cheer, clapping their hands and egging him on. He and Artemis lock eyes, and he gestures with his chin just slightly up toward roof. She nods, and is gone a second later.
"Now," He pulls out a sphere from the little pouch in his wizard outfit, and waves it in front of their eager faces. "I'm going to make a girl appear, with just this little ball, and some magic words."
Their eyes widen with glee, and he waves around his magic wand over the ball in his hand. "Abra Kadabra!" Just like that, he drops the ball and it bursts; creating a thick cloak of smoke around him. Creating a small smoke bomb was easy; all he needed were certain ingredients, and between him and Robin, they made swift work of it. Nothing magical about it.
The kids 'ooo-ed' and 'aww-ed' and some even shouted things like, 'He's gone!'. But he still stands in the same spot as before, watching the ceiling as Artemis moves one tile aside, then jumps down into his arms, like they had planned.
"Oof, jeez, cutback on the McDonalds would ya? You weigh a ton!" He earns himself a sharp elbow in the ribs that nearly causes him to double over and land them both of the floor. He's still trying to regain his composure as the fog finally lifts, and the kids gasp and scream in shock.
"Oh my! What a wonderful trick!" Mrs. French claps enthusiastically, -though she's looking at the misplaced roof tile and then back at them with a knowingly raised eyebrow- beaming. "Give Wally a hand, boys and girls!"
They do so, applauding and screeching like little banshees. Wally sets Artemis back on her feet, who brushes herself off, and gives him a small, approving grin. He grins back at her, winks, and nudges her gently in the side with his wand.
She knows he's thanking her.
As the clapping subsides, Wally scans the room, looking at each face and suddenly realizes what seems amiss.
"Um, Mrs. F? Where's Samantha at?"
The woman's face suddenly seems so much older, and tired looking. "Oh, Wally..."
She'd had it for months, and even after undergoing multiple treatments and tests, she would still insist on going to daycare every weekend. To see him, and to show him all her new magic tricks.
He feels like vomiting.
"Can I see her?" His voice is small, and his hands are trembling.
"I'm afraid that's something you'll have to discuss with her parents, Wally." Mrs. French truly sounds apologetic, but all it does is make him feel sicker.
"Come on, Wally," Artemis is speaking just as faintly, wrapping her arms around his shoulders and quietly ushering him out of the room. Once they're outside, he makes a beeline for the bushes, and pukes until his throat is raw.
There's no hope. She's going to die. It could be in a minute, an hour, a day, a month. There's no set time; but it will happen.
He visits her everyday after school, and every other free second he has. Kaldur dismisses him from superhero duties, under the approval of Batman and Red Tornado both.
He brings her boxes of magical items. He puts on shows for her, and makes her laugh until she cries, or amazes her until the smile on her face is permanently stuck there. In a way, he almost starts to believe in the power of magic, himself. Maybe it does exist, to some extent.
When he comes in one Saturday morning; the first thing he notices is that she's watching the news on the static-ridden TV above her hospital bed.
"No cartoons today?" He smiles at her, setting down his backpack with some of the gadgets he got Rob to help him create.
"Flash Boy is on the news." Her voice is hushed; raspy, but still filled with the type of uncontrollable joy only a child could posses.
"Flash B-" He abruptly cuts himself off, as he watches himself, suited in his Kid Flash attire, apprehending one of the local bank robbers from a few weeks earlier. The news reporter at her desk is saying something about the man having broken out of jail, but it all falls upon deaf ears, as Wally looks at Samantha with a coy expression. He doesn't bother to correct her on hid name, no matter how much he wants to. "You like Kid- uh, Flash Boy?"
"Yes!" She beams, but then a round of coughs makes him frown.
"Well, what would you say if I told you that you could meet him?"
Her face lights up like a Christmas tree, then, which lights up his heart as well. "I can meet him?"
"You sure can." In that brief second, he almost, almost believes in it; magic. That's making her healthier, and happier. Her skin is more peach colored, and her voice sounds a little less rough.
When he shows up as Kid Flash, she doesn't stop smiling for a second. She questions him about the bad guys he fights, the things he does, the people he's met, and...
"Do you believe in magic?"
He's beginning to see why parents lie- no, why they stretch the truth for children. The look of hopefulness, and delight, that comes from believing that your favourite teddy-bear might be going on an adventure while you're sleeping. "Yeah, Samantha, I do."
She's gone the next day, and all of the magic in the world has died along with that one little girl.