Chasing Normal
by dotfic
Gen, PG

Disclaimer: all characters are the property of DC Comics and Warner Brothers, except for the janitor, who is my fault. Thanks to everyone who asked for another janitor story, especially Missy who kept telling me this needed to get finished, and Mer, who made suggestions and listened to me babble even though this is just so not her fandom (yet).

Continuity/Spoilers: Post-"To Another Shore." Also, Teen Titans have cameos. Continuity? What continuity.

No superheroes or janitors were harmed (much) during the writing of this fanfic.


There was this one time I saved the world.

It's important to understand that when I took a job as a janitor for superheroes, it was an honest attempt to take a step towards normal. I thought even though it would never actually be normal, it would at least have a lovely view of normal.

Because I've tried so-called "normal" jobs: I've mopped floors at a high school in Southern California, at an Air Force complex just outside Colorado Springs, and at the CIA.

The CIA was dull and nothing ever happened. The other two...normal?

Excuse me while I laugh hysterically.

I'm not going to quit this job.

When I applied to become part of the maintenance crew for the Justice League, my wife and I reasoned that since my last "normal" job turned out to be full of weird, then if I deliberately sought out a weird job, it should be full of normal.

So I got a job as a janitor on the Justice League's second Watchtower. After the tower got decommissioned, they offered me a promotion to Head of Maintenance at their new headquarters. I accepted. My wife was relieved, and said at least I would be going to work on the Earth instead of in a tin can above it. I said just because the new headquarters was earth-based didn't mean super villains wouldn't try to attack it. She gave me one of her looks, so I changed the subject.

I'm not going to quit this job, even though it just bounced itself into another galaxy far, far away from normal.

There'd been a mission to planet XP3414 (the name gave me a nasty flashback to memories of Cheyenne Mountain). Apparently the team had some trouble and alien goo had gotten all over the Javelin.

Before I started as Head of Maintenance, the League sent me for additional training: handling and cleanup of toxic substances, specialized stuff like that, all fully funded. It was good of them to do that—they could have hired someone for the post who already had the training. I wondered if it was a trust issue, that they chose me because they already knew me.

So the Javelin came back from XP3414 with alien goo all over it. My crew went to work, along with two chemists. There was a lot of goo, and I always felt dumb standing around when my staff was cleaning, so I grabbed up one of the special vacuum devices we use, and started work on the underside of the left wing.

Something dropped onto my shoulder.

We were all in hazmat gear as a standard precaution, even though initial readings showed nothing radioactive or dangerous, but the stuff was mysterious enough. The hazmat suit should have protected me, but as I turned my head to look at the green stuff on my white-covered shoulder, it soaked into the material, spreading like a greasy green stain.

I shouted that I'd gotten some of the glop on me. The chemists came running over. So did Green Lantern, who'd led the mission and was watching the cleanup, alien goo being something he'd probably dealt with a lot.

"All right everybody! Clear the area! We aren't sure what we're dealing with," Green Lantern shouted. My crew put down their gear and left the hangar, a few of them hanging back and trying to get a look at me.

"You okay, boss?" Hitchens asked.

I nodded. "Go on. We'll finish cleanup later. They just need to check this out first."

Hitchens didn't look convinced. In fact he looked downright worried, and for such a young guy, his forehead could hold an awfully deep crease. But he went.

"We have to get you into the lab and out of the suit ASAP," Dr. Sacks said as they hustled me across the hangar. "Then we have to run a full diagnostic and check for..."

"Uh...Doc..." I interrupted her. I began to feel nauseous and pulled off my head covering, although I probably wasn't supposed to do that.

The room spun.

"I think he's..." Dr. Fisch was cut off as Green Lantern shoved him aside, probably because he saw that I was swaying on my feet and about to fall over and he thought he maybe should try to keep me from falling down.

His mistake. I tossed my cookies onto his boots.

"Sorry," I mumbled, right before the room spun around again like a merry-go-round and I passed out.


I woke up in the infirmary, not the regular infirmary on level twelve, the other one on level twenty-one. It was the one with the equipment that makes the Air Force's medical toys look like Legos, the one where they take the metas and the aliens—and apparently, janitors who have been splashed with alien goo.

People in white lab coats ran an alphabet soup of tests. I wasn't allowed to call home to tell them I'd had an accident. They said the alien goo was classified. Only they didn't call it alien goo, they referred to it as something long and technical.

The white lab coats started prepping me to go into a machine that looked like it could do your taxes, launch a nuclear attack, cure cancer, and perform an MRI all at once.

"My health insurance covers this, right?"

The lab coats chuckled and one of them smiled faintly. "Don't worry, you're covered." He stuck an electrode on my chest.

"So that's why I work here," I said. "It's the awesome benefits."

"That and the cafeteria food." Another one poked a thermometer in my ear.

Another lab coat approached me, holding an instrument in his hand. A long cord ran from the back of it into a machine with a computer screen with a lot of lines and numbers on it. "Okay," I said, backing up, "what is that, and where are you going to insert it?"


They kept me in there for fourteen endless days.

It was uncomfortable and boring and left me entirely too much time to think. The lab coats murmured to each other out of my earshot and compared notes scribbled on clip boards. They wouldn't tell me anything, which convinced me I was dying.

It was probably cancer. I mean, the stuff had to be radioactive, right?

They finally let me call home but I still wasn't allowed to tell them anything.

"What do you mean, 'same old, same old'?" My wife said, her voice rising. I held the phone an inch away from my ear. "You go on a trip and don't check in with us for two weeks? I would have called the police, except the Tower switchboard operator said you'd checked in with them."

"I'm really, really sorry. It...uh...things got complicated. We...uh...met with some government guys. NASA has something the Justice League wants for the tower." I could just hear the crunch of a shovel going into the ground as I dug my own grave. "I can't tell you more than that. It's top secret. I love you, I'll call again soon. Let me talk to the girls." I winced as she put the phone down with a clunk.

"Wow, Mom's really PO'd." My oldest picked up the phone next. "Dad, is it okay if I go to the movies with a boy?"

"Ask your mother," I said, ducking the question and trying not to cry. If I was dying of radioactive alien cancer, I'd never get to see her go out on her first date, let alone grow up.

My crew visited a lot. But no one but the lab coats were allowed in the same room with me, so I had to talk to them through a glass window and using speakers. That must be what prison is like.

Green Lantern checked on me twice. The Flash stopped by almost every day, which I'm certain he was too busy to do. He brought me cheeseburgers and fries. I wasn't supposed to eat them, it would mess with the test results, but sometimes I did anyway.

Somewhere under all those masks and capes and brightly-colored outfits, I knew that all of them were probably regular people, to some degree. Even the aliens. Maybe even the batman. It's just that the Flash's regular seemed closer to the surface than with most of them.

I'm pretty sure that superheroes don't bring people cheeseburgers in prison, but it still drove me crazy being trapped in there like a bug under a magnifying glass.

I actually felt fine, which eased some of my panic about cancer. They kept running tests anyway.

At last they said I could go home. They'd found no sign of illness, nothing abnormal, only they said I should eat more vegetables.


I got an additional week of paid medical leave, to recover. I told the family it was vacation and for the past two weeks I'd been on a business trip, meeting with sales reps who dealt with high-tech cleaning equipment.

It was awful lying to them. Our families are allowed to know what the nature of our jobs are, and the hazards. This was the first time I'd had to hide something from them.

We took the girls to the lake for the week. This had the additional benefit of postponing my oldest girl's first date.

She informed me she was onto my clever plan, but would let it slide for the week since I'd been away for so long and she missed her Daddy. Since she hasn't called me "Daddy" for two years, I told her I was onto her clever plan and she wasn't fooling anyone in trying to butter me up.

We had fun. Normal suddenly seemed within reach again—maybe just over the hill or around the corner.


We got back a day before I had to go back to work. There wasn't any food in the house, so I offered to go out to pick up some Chinese food and a DVD rental.

After parking the car downtown, I walked towards the rental place. It was a good night, the stars were clear, the air was cool, and no one was sticking a needle into me anywhere.

In the alley between the wine shop and the rent place, I heard voices and saw several shadowed figures. Something about it made the hair on the back of my arms creep, so I stopped under a tree, just to reassure myself it wasn't anything bad. Our town is pretty quiet with a low crime rate, but every so often something happens, as it does everywhere.

There were some broken bricks lying strewn near the mouth of the alley, the remains of a construction project. The streetlight didn't reach into the alley, leaving it in semi-darkness.

I heard one of the shadowy figures speak: "Your purse, lady. Now."

"No."

There were three of them, and one of her. I could just make her out, backed up against the brick side wall of the rental store, clutching her purse tightly to her chest almost like a shield.

I pulled out my cell phone, dialed 911, gave them the address and said a lady was being mugged. Then I did what you weren't supposed to do, and hung up, because I figured by the time the police got there, it might be too late for her.

"Hey! Leave her alone!" I shouted, moving into the mouth of the alley.

Oh yeah. Real intimidating.

One of them laughed as they turned away from the woman to me.

"Look, it's a hero. I'm scared now. Why don't you give me your wallet, hero?" Something sharp glinted in his hand.

The woman swung her purse, hitting him from behind. He turned towards her with a curse. She ran towards me, but the mugger grabbed her while the two others ran at me.

I don't remember thinking about it. I just reacted. I bent and scooped up a few bits of brick and threw it at them.

Then the weirdest thing happened.

All the broken pieces of brick rose off the ground and streaked towards the muggers. It was as if a very strong wind had gusted into the alley. Only there was no wind that night, just a gentle breeze. The brick pieces pelted the two about to attack me, and the one who was holding the woman. He yelped in pain and released her.

Under the hail of bricks, all three muggers staggered back. Blood trickled down the left side of the face of the guy who had grabbed me. Another one clutched his side, doubled over, and the third had a bloody nose.

They stared at me, speechless, then scrambled over each other to get out of the alley fast.

"What..." the woman, a brunette in her early 40's, stared after them, then looked at me. "What did you do?"

"Do?" I said stupidly.

Then I noticed that the brick pieces were in a small, neat pile a few feet away.

"You just...the bricks flew at them. You did it without touching them. I saw you. You only picked up a small handful but then...all of them. Whoosh!" She gestured.

I coughed, trying to regain my voice.

"Are you one of them? You know, a metahuman? Part of the Justice League?"

"No...I...not exactly."

"But you are a metahuman?"

"I'm..."

"Thank you," she said, heartfelt.

"You're welcome."

A siren whooped, and red light appeared down the street. I felt a headache coming on.

"What do they call you? If you are one of them. Don't you all have a funny name?"

I was about to tell her I wasn't one of them and my name was ordinary. But the cops were getting closer and soon she'd be telling them how I magically pelted the muggers with bricks. My eyes found a broken old broom, leaning against the wall next to the dumpster.

I stood up tall and bent my arms, fists on my hips.

Deepening my voice, I said, "They call me...The Janitor."

Then I ran.

And then I made a phone call.


There were more tests. Except this time in addition to poking needles in me and hooking me up to electrodes, they had me do things like move sand. I had to shift the sand from one side of the red tape in the middle of the table to the other.

After sand, we tried water and that worked too. Mud. Rubble crushed into small pieces, like the bricks.

It gave me headaches that went away after about half an hour. How long or much I shifted things didn't seem to matter, the headaches never lasted too long but they were uncomfortable.

They asked me to touch a chair, and then move it the way I'd moved the other stuff, just by thinking about it. It didn't work. They made me try it with the table, a large rock Superman brought in, and a heavy engine. I couldn't shift any of them.

Honestly, I was a little disappointed. For just a few minutes, I'd imagined myself flying like Superman, or being able to run fast like the Flash, or having super strength. But all I could do was move dirt from point A to point B.

I could already do that before alien goo fell on me.

This didn't discourage the lab coats any. They put me through another round of moving different types of sand and rubble, excitedly talking to each other using complex strings of techno babble and taking more notes.

My head started to throb. I told the lab coats about the headaches and they wrote that down too, but no one offered me an aspirin. They were too busy discussing me.

"Can I take a break now?"

No one objected, so I stepped out of the lab just for a change of scene. Flash was leaning against the corridor wall, arms folded as if he had nowhere better to be.

"How's it going?" he asked.

"It gives me a headache to do it, and I can't move anything big."

"But you can move small things with your mind. That's a pretty cool power."

"I guess. I have to touch the stuff first."

"It's strange, isn't it? One minute you're just regular, everyday you, doing you things, and then because you were standing in this spot instead of that spot, you get splashed with radioactive sh...stuff and it all changes."

"They don't know if this is permanent," I said, alarmed. "Nothing's going to change. It's only temporary."

Right?

(to be continued)