by Constance Eilonwy (a.k.a. dotfic)
Justice League and characters is the property of DC Comics/Warner Bros. animation.
It's ten days on, ten days off, which is a kinder schedule than I had in the military. If my wife and kids complain, they also understand about what it is I'm doing. My wife says she's proud of my job. She's not allowed to tell anyone what it is, of course. My girls, they aren't supposed to know but we told them anyway. Before we could explain to them why they must never, ever, ever tell anyone this secret, they explained it to us.
I heard my youngest girl last weekend brag to her friend that "Daddy has a really cool job." When the friend rightly answered, "Oh, yeah, what?" she fumbled and said "Something...VERY important" as if that settled the matter for now until the end of time.
So what is this very important job my youngest thinks of so highly? I'd like to be able to say that I save the world for a living, but I don't. Where I work there are people who do, though. It's the kind of place that just being there, even when nothing's going on, is amazing. In my line of work it gets quiet and then you can hear the hum of the life support systems. The corridors are shining clean, half-lit, totally empty while my own footsteps echo back at me, and if I look out a viewport I can see so many stars.
Oh yeah, I'm a poet.
Well, no. I'm not a poet and I don't save the world. Unless putting up a "Wet Floor" sign counts as saving the world, which my wife says does, because what if Green Lantern slipped on the wet floor, hit his head, and couldn't go out and save people?
It's one way of looking at it, I guess.
My territory is in Watchtower Main, level seven, corridors A, B, plus hangar two. I mop the floors. I'm the janitor to superheroes. Sorry, environmental engineer.
The security is fierce. I used to clean offices at the CIA. If you think that screening process was long and tough, it was a picnic compared to what you have to go through to become Watchtower Maintenance Crew, Grade 12.
It's not as dull as it sounds, trust me. We've had problems. There's a clause in my contract that gives my wife a hefty fee if I die while on duty. The benefits are better than the army, as are the conditions and the pay. Lantern's a former marine; we've talked. He didn't act like it was a thing, a big hero like him talking to a regular guy who mops the floors. He's normal.
Not like the Batman, who gives the creeps. I sort of feel bad thinking that about him because he saved my life once. The tower had taken a hit while I was on shift and a piece of ceiling almost fell on me.
He came out of the smoke. One second he wasn't there, the next he tackled me like it was the superbowl in the last quarter with eight seconds to go, knocking me out of the way. The chunk of ceiling slammed to the floor I had just mopped clean not an hour ago instead of onto me. I thanked him. He sort of grunted and raced off to help someone else.
The hangar I always do last--it's just the layout of my section, I don't want to track back dripping all over the corridors I've already done. Also, the hangar is a weirdness magnet so I put it off as long as possible.
Not weird like conspiracy-nut weird. More like the hangar is a window to the soul weird. There's just something about the place. There's a still, hollow quietness. The sheer size of it, the aircraft--so powerful yet just sitting there, waiting. Like sleeping dragons that will wake up when knights command them. It brings something out in people, all that lonely quiet potential.
Makes me think I'm a poet. I'm telling you, it's the atmosphere. Maybe they're putting something in the air ducts.
Wonder Woman, for example (and a damn fine example she is--don't tell my wife I said that). She's always polite to us mop jockeys and the techies. Sometimes she goes into the hangar when she thinks no one's around, and even though there is a highly trained team assigned solely to the maintenance of her Javelin, she checks it over herself. I don't think her teammates realize she even knows what a rivnut puller is, let alone how to use it.
Which is fine, except sometimes, she pets it. The Javelin. She strokes the wing and she speaks to it softly, like you might praise a high-strung race horse. She likes to bond with her airplane.
I sort of get that. I felt that way about the Mustang convertible I had to sell when I went into the army.
The Martian meditates there on occasion. Doesn't bother me, although one time he politely asked me to please stop thinking so loud.
Mostly it's not peaceful like that.
If I'm way off at the far end finishing up--and the place is the size of a football field--they don't always notice me right away. Or at all. I try to shut my ears but you know how it is.
Hey, I just work here.
Still, it's still the best job I've ever had. After the CIA laid me off due to budget cutbacks, I was on maintenance for the Airforce at their Cheyenne Mountain facility. The less said about that the better. My wife was greatly relieved when I took the job as janitor for a high school in a small town in Southern California. She said it was great I was doing something normal for a change.
Of course, that was before the high school blew up with a giant snake inside of it.
The last day of my prior shift, Lantern came into the hangar. Must have been about oh-two-hundred hours. Down in North America everyone was asleep or up to no good if they weren't.
He looked ready to put his fist through a wall, and started pacing. Then Hawkgirl came in. She touched his shoulder but he jerked away. She said something sharp to him--her voice carried so I could catch the tone but not make out the words. He stopped and growled something back at her. They began to argue, he waving his arms in grand gestures, she standing very straight with her hands at her sides, proud, like a falcon.
Finally he walked out, not stomping mad anymore, just quick as if he were holding too much in and it might explode if he didn't hurry. And she reached out after him but he was already gone.
I looked down quick into the soapy water in the yellow plastic bucket and pretended that I didn't hear it--the ragged, muffled sound that carried right across the hangar and bounced against the walls. I stared into that soapy water because listen, she may be a tough girl, but she's real pretty and delicate-looking and I knew if I saw her huddled up on the floor, crying with her wings up behind her, I'd have to go over to her and say something nice. And then she'd rip my arms out of their sockets or something. So. Soap.
It made me hate Lantern. Just for that one night.
Yeah, I've seen and heard some interesting stuff. Batman, who has more secrets than the CIA and is about as chatty and warm, was in there a few nights back talking to some dark-haired kid in blue and black spandex, one of Gotham's bunch. Something about whether he should join up.
It started out okay, just a conversation they weren't happy about having, but then Bats said something that made the kid angry. Then the kid said something bitter and I distinctly heard the name "Barbara," and at that Bats got real scary-quiet. If it'd been me, I would have been out of there. But the kid kept on until finally Batman kicked a maintenance trolley into the wall. Then they each stormed out through opposite exits.
Half of me wishes the acoustics weren't so odd in there--both too distinct and too muffling--so if I'm forced to overhear half the known superhero universe's dirty laundry, I'm not getting it piecemeal. The other half wishes I were deaf and blind.
One time I got the whole enchilada, a front-row seat. Wasn't my fault, I got trapped.
I was just starting on the hangar, over behind the Princess' Javelin, when Supergirl walked in alone. She stood there a moment before there was a red streak that ruffled her blond hair and red cape. Flash appeared, blocking her path.
She laughed and stumbled back a step. He kept zipping around her and she kept ordering him to stand still, and the more she ordered him, the more he zipped.
I loudly slopped my mop heavy with water and soap onto the floor, hoping they'd hear me and get a clue. They didn't. I could have just left, but that would mean abandoning my post. We're trained not to do that.
Supergirl finally got tired of the teasing and the zipping. A red, white and blonde blur joined the red blur, and then the two of them crashed to the floor, the Flash pinned beneath her, with her knees in his chest and her hands holding his biceps to the floor. Supergirl was still laughing.
"I said, hold still. What are you afraid of?"
"Did you mean what you said earlier?"
"What, that Froot Loops are clearly superior to Apple Jacks?"
She let out a little shriek of frustration. "No!" She slid off him and instead stood with her arms folded, little red boots on either side of his red covered legs, and glared.
I'd looked away by then, concentrating on the streaks of moisture on the floor, thinking about football and whether my middle child was going to pass math.
She didn't say anything for a long stretch; finally he said, worriedly, "What?"
"Nothing. I just never expected such a direct answer."
And she, who could bend steel with her bare hands, sounded a little scared.
"Yeah, me neither."
By this point I'd worked my way back out to the tip of the javelin wing, which was unfortunate as this gave me an almost unobstructed view of the kiss. It showed no signs of being a short one. They started rising off the floor.
Soap. Just look at the soap.
Get a room, fer cryin' out loud.
And then the blood in my veins turned to ice as a voice thundered, "KARA!"
The lovebirds thudded to earth.
Now, everyone loves Superman. Big, nice guy. Protects the planet. Saves little kitties from trees. He smiles. He asks to see pictures of your kids. But have you ever seen him mad? I don't mean red-kryptonite-on-a-mind-controlled-spree-of-destruction mad. I mean like he just caught some guy making out with his daughter mad.
I started to inch back along the wing, mop in hand as if it might defend me. Flash was also backing up slowly, stammering.
It only occurred to me later than it was a tribute to his courage than he stayed and stammered instead of turning into a red-streak-the-heck-out-of-there.
Supergirl moved between them, looking more than a little furious herself. She yelled--iyelledi--at Superman.
"Who do you think you are? You aren't my father."
He pointed a long finger in her face. "You need looking after if this is how you're going to conduct yourself. The hangar is not the appropriate place for...for such things, I'm not sure if anywhere would be appropriate. What you were thinking? We expect a certain code of conduct, and you--"
Then Flash stepped between ithemi. Supes gave him isuchi a glare I'm surprised the speedster didn't spontaneously combust on the spot.
I carefully set my mop down. Superman was between me and the main exit, so I began inching towards one of the rear side doors, which were uncomfortably far away.
"Just hear me out," Flash said.
"Why should I?"
"Because...I know you won't believe me but I really care about her. I mean really. Don't roll your eyes, this isn't at all like anything I've ever been through. I think I love her. I told her that earlier, I just blurted it out without thinking it through and then I was hoping she'd forget, because I figured she maybe doesn't, y'know, back, but she didn't forget, she just made me tell her if I meant it and so I told her that I did. Like it or not, we're both adults and while I know we shouldn't be doing this here, personal time isn't exactly easy to come by lately. I'm glad this happened because now you know and I know what kind of reputation I have but I promise you I would never, ever, ever hurt her. She makes me not lonely and not feel like a goof. When I'm with her I feel like I'm a real person and maybe even that I deserve to be a part of all this and she doesn't take me too seriously which I so really need so ask yourself if you're worried she'll be hurt if she gets involved with a teammate, or if you're pissed off because it's me."
How does the Flash do that without taking a breath?
After that it got terribly quiet, broken only by the sound of two sets of footsteps leaving.
When I peered around the nose of the Javelin, Supes was just standing there, his back to me as if he'd just turned to watch them go.
He looked like a man who very much needed to be alone, so I continued my retreat towards the back door.
Without turning around, he spoke my name. I froze on the spot.
How did he...oh yeah. That's right.
"You have daughters, don't you?" he said, more statement than question.
I nodded, my mouth dry, before I remembered that he did not, in fact, have eyes in the back of his head. "Yes," I squeaked.
"Ground them until they're thirty-six," he said through what sounded like gritted teeth.
Then he left, and I was alone with the hangar again. My mop looked forlorn and bedraggled, lying sprawled in a puddle in the shining floor. I picked it up almost tenderly and went on with my business.
Interesting place to work, the Watchtower, ten days on, ten days off. Things happen when it's quiet.