Disclaimer: Don't own them…wish I did. Guess I hold some hold over Fic!Techie, but then again, perhaps not. Everything you recognize from canon totally belongs to DC and everyone else belongs to Bright Nova…kinda sorta. We all own each other in a weird way.
A/N: This story is part of the CATverse. The story listing can be found at freewebs dot com slash catverse. It happens in arc four, directly after my story "Luck of the Irish."
Possible Trigger Warnings:This story contain depictions of claustrophobia and a near drowning. Please be advised.
It was winter in Gotham City.
Of course, it was almost always winter in Gotham City.
Given the fact it was late April, it should have been spring, but that's not the way things worked in this city. The entire town seemed to be as bipolar as most of it's residents-always one extreme or the other, very rarely anything in between. The place only two seasons; cold, frigid, icy winter and hot, miserable, sweltering summer.
The days that could be classified as being 'spring' or 'autumn' were few and far between.
And today was not one of them. The ice that covered everything and the vicious bite in the air labeled it as definitely being in the 'winter' category.
But Gotham also had two other seasons. Two that had nothing to do what-so-ever with the weather or the temperature.
Riddler Hunting and Non-Riddler Hunting.
Given the fact that the man in question was currently sprinting down the sidewalk, desperately trying not to slide on the ice as he evaded capture, you can guess which one of those was currently in effect...
And it wasn't even his fault! This time the police were after him for a crime he hadn't even committed!
Edward Nygma had no trouble with playing the fugitive; he'd done it enough times before-but he would have preferred to have Gotham's finest on his heels for something he actually did wrong.
At least when he committed a crime he was prepared for the backlash. This time, he just woke up this morning to find the whole world was after him for some reason and he hadn't the foggiest notion as to what it was.
Well, on the up side, the Bat wasn't involved…yet; but Nygma knew from experience that wouldn't last long.
If he could just shake the cops and get into hiding somewhere, his chances of avoiding a nice long vacation in Arkham would increase tenfold.
The GCPD may have been determined when it came to hunting their prey, but the force at large was incredibly thick when it came to actually catching them. 'Out of sight, out of mind' seemed to be a recurring theme-especially when it came to criminals who were lower on their 'big bad threat to society' ladder-so if he could just find someplace where he could lie low, they'd lose interest and get distracted by something more 'important'.
Not to say that he wasn't important-it was just that if it was between The Joker gassing a school bus full of children versus The Riddler committing a theft, he knew which would garner the most attention.
And since it'd been quite a while since the Joker had done anything ostentatious, Edward figured he wouldn't have to wait long before the heat was off him and on someone more deserving.
If he could just find somewhere to hide until then…
If his legs would stop trying to slip out from under him as he ran along the slick walks…
If the fuzz wasn't so close behind him…
If, if, if…
Crap, crap, crap.
How did they do that? One minute there's nobody in front of him and the next there's a cop with a gun pointed at his head.
The Riddler skidded to a halt.
Or tried to, at least.
The unsalted sidewalk had other ideas.
Ideas that actually worked to his advantage; because when Edward put on the brakes, he slipped across a patch of black ice in a straight line and collided with the policeman, catching the man in blue completely off guard, knocking him over and by extension knocking him out when his head hit the pavement-all without losing his tremulous balance.
It was Miraculous with a capital 'M'.
He'd just knocked out a cop without any effort on his part whatsoever.
It was times like this when he felt like he had someone watching over him.
Granted it was someone with a really sick sense of humor, given how he'd knocked out the cop, but he didn't mind so much and he certainly wasn't going to complain. A free pass was a free pass.
When he heard the sirens, he remembered that this little victory would have to be celebrated later-preferably when he could laugh about it without the police on his tail-and he resumed his running.
How long had he been running, anyways? It felt like forever…his legs were actually starting to get all rubbery feeling, like they would slide out from under him at any given moment and he wouldn't be able to move anymore.
There had to be somewhere-
"There he is!"
You see, this is why he hated this whole 'blamed for a crime I didn't commit' thing. No time to prepare-no time to think about his options-and that's what Nygma was. He was a thinker.
Plan first, action later-and even then only when all the possibilities had been thought of, mulled over and taken into consideration.
Sadly, his current predicament took that organized approach away from him and he was left to flounder in the chaos of panic and 'what do I do now'-ness.
His breath was coming in short, violent pants now as he glanced around himself, taking stock of what his options were.
Few, that's what they were. Very, very few. The sirens were behind him and in front of him and he could hear the shouts of the police coming from all directions.
He was surrounded.
A long forgotten female voice in his head supplied the words 'Filthy bugger' in response to the fact they were rapidly closing in on his position.
"Don't let him get away!"
Without thinking about it, Edward darted for the alleyway to his left, heedless of the fact that the voices of the police seemed to be louder in that direction.
He'd never know why he did it, rather than do the 'smart' thing and keep moving straight ahead, but running for the alley was the instinct that was screaming for attention the loudest so he listened to it.
Slipping along the ice, trying desperately to keep a solid footing, he ran down the narrow path between the two crumbling brick buildings and nearly slid right past a door that was open a crack.
He didn't debate. He didn't think. He listened to that same instinct and found himself grabbing hold of the door and wrenching it open, nearly yanking his own shoulder out of it's socket with the force of the sharp tug.
The first thing he registered was that it was bright. Fluorescent lighting assaulted his eyes, burning them as a sharp contrast to the darkness that was outside.
He blinked a few times until the stars faded from his vision.
All along one wall there were huge, front loading industrial sized washing machines and on the opposite wall their dryer counterparts; and right down the middle were smaller top loading machines for smaller loads of laundry. Interspersed between the top loaders were ugly bright orange tables for folding clothes, with space age-y plastic chairs to match.
He was in a Laundromat.
An empty Laundromat.
And those industrial sized washing machines were just screaming 'hide in me!'.
Well, his instincts had led him the right way so far…
And what were the odds that the cops would actually check inside each and every one of those machines? They were set into the walls and if the lighting was just right and he pressed himself against the back of the washing machine until he wasn't visible from outside…
It could work.
The sirens that started screaming louder and louder from outside made up his mind for him and he picked a washing machine at random and clamored inside it.
It was cramped, naturally, like being a hamster squeezed inside a toilet paper tube, but he fit well enough. The barrel itself was actually quite large, about three feet all the way around and two feet deep, but that was still cutting it a little bit closer than he would have liked. Even at a crouch while making himself as small as humanly possible, if someone were to look directly inside, they would spot him immediately.
Maybe this was a bad idea…
Maybe he should have kept running…
Or maybe tried to track down the manager of the place to hold as a hostage…
"Did you bring it?"
Edward froze and pushed his body even closer to the back wall of the washing machine.
There was someone right outside his washing machine.
"Of course I brought it. You think we're able to do laundry once a month and I would forget it?"
Scratch that-a couple of someones.
A couple of female someones.
"Good…I like things to smell all Gain-y."
Three female someones.
Three almost…familiar sounding female someones…
For some reason, Edward's chest was starting to ache and he was beginning to feel light headed.
Oh right. Breathing. Necessary activity, that.
He was about to take as quiet a breath as humanly possible when an authoritative male voice made itself known-
"Evenin' ladies," it said.
"Good evening officer," one of the female voices replied, only a slight twinge of panic underlying the cool unaffected tone.
"Don't suppose you've seen The Riddler anywhere abouts, have you girls?"
"Ed-" there was a sound like a kick and a grunt cut off the woman in mid-word.
"Us?" another of the three women said a little too loudly, covering for the other's near gaffe, "No. Just…doin' laundry."
And then there were pieces of clothing hitting the man hiding in the washing machine in the face.
Whap. Whap. Whap.
Bras, tank tops, towels and-
Boy, that Blues Brothers t-shirt looked awfully familiar.
"Well if you see him anywhere…"
"We'll call you first thing, sir."
Whap. Whap. Whap.
Whap. Whap. Whap.
Edward blew out a breath when the door to the washing machine was closed once again with a slam.
Wait a minute.
No, no, no…not slam.
Light filtered in over his head as something wet and slightly slimy in texture poured down on his bowler hat.
The light from above was abruptly cut off and he was left in a cocoon of dirty clothes that made the washing machine seem even smaller than it had before.
There were several clinking noises, like metal on metal and then-
Then the water started to pour in.
It was a trickle down his neck at first, but then it grew into a raging torrent of warm water rushing over his back.
It was up to his ankles before he knew what was happening, all sudsy and far too hot, and the panicked thought that ran through his brain was what the headlines in the Gotham Times would look like tomorrow morning:
'Riddler Found Drowned In A Washing Machine' with a cheeky subheading of 'Death by Detergent'.
Edward made a desperate lurch forward and reached for the round rubber and glass door…
Which was locked from the outside.
Apparently, no one was supposed to be able to escape a washing machine…
Of course, this was probably deemed as an acceptable design because anyone stupid enough to get stuck inside a washing machine deserved what they got lest they procreate and taint the population with their inferior 'I'm such an idiot, I want to see if I can fit inside a washing machine' genes.
The water was starting to steam up the glass door-or maybe it was just his desperate, fearful gasping-as he knelt in front of it, his gloved hands trying to find purchase along the slick sides of the rubber seal.
His hands slipped and he wound up being up to his elbows in soapy water with his face pressed against the glass.
Up to his elbows?
The water level continued to rise until he was being forced to kneel and hold his head above it, hands pressing against the ceiling of the washing machine drum and then-
The thing started to move.
It was slow at first and only a slight side to side rocking motion-almost calming-but then it turned violent and he was being flung about, grabbing air from the little pockets of space that were unoccupied by water wherever he could and trying not to ingest too many soap suds.
If he could just keep taking and holding breaths whenever he felt air, he should be able to survive the wash.
Of course, this plan worked better in his head than in actual practice, but he tried.
He actually managed to keep up this gasping means of survival for a solid ten minutes before he started feeling light headed again from taking only shallow breaths and holding them for far too long.
Well…this was certainly going to go down in history as 'the dumbest way to die ever'.
Just when he thought his lungs were going to burst from holding his breath, the drum stopped moving and the soapy water started draining away from him rapidly through little holes in the metal that he hadn't noticed before.
He let out a little garbled squeak as his lungs refilled with air, but that was cut short as light hit him from overhead again and something sweet smelling, slimy and pink slapped him in the face.
He wanted to call out-not caring at this point if whoever's laundry he was in the middle of turned him in to the police so long as he lived long enough to go to jail-but the light disappeared again and then more water started to pour down his back the way it had before.
Knowing exactly what was in store for him and about how long it would take for the washing machine to fill with water once again, he positioned himself so that he could conceivably kick against the door of the washer.
If he could just-
If there were just-
If he had just a few more inches of space!
If, if, if!
The water level was about four inches now and it sloshed around him as he tried to kick at the door and-
When did he lose one of his shoes? He didn't remember losing one of his shoes…
And he was getting light headed again…and the water was still rising…and God was he ever screwed.
Kicking out weakly as the water started to cover him up again, Edward saw the headlines of the Gotham Times announcing his death once more.
How humiliating. He wasn't even going to get to go out in a blaze of glory against his greatest nemesis.
The Riddler was going to be defeated by a washing machine.
Just as the rinse water swallowed him up completely, he gave one last kick, holding out absolutely no hope that it would make any difference.
Well, whichever deity it was that looked out for the well being of master villains seemed to come back on duty from his or her lunch break at that precise moment in time and the little porthole like door gave way, washing him out onto the Laundromat floor in a whoosh of water and half clean clothes.
He lay there, staring at the florescent tube bulbs, just breathing for several minutes, thankful to be alive.
At least, he thought he was alive until three faces he never thought he'd see again popped into his field of vision.
"Eddums!" They cried in unison.
Oh God…he was dead.
He was staring at-wait, being dragged up off the floor by-three dead women who had told him they wouldn't be seeing each other again until 'the proper time'.
That meant he was dead…right?
"Am I dead?"
The three glanced at each other.
"I'd say you cut it awfully close," The Captain said, fussing over him and straightening his sopping clothes up as best she could.
"Really, there are easier ways to get in touch with us than a near death experience," Techie added, picking up his bowler hat from it's place amidst the clothes on the floor and squeezing it out before perching it back on his head. "A séance, for example."
He gaped, "Near death experience?"
"You think we're allowed to drop by whenever we feel like it?" Al asked, "We said you wouldn't be seeing us again until 'the proper time'…so you know you must've cut it close."
"Or maybe we're still just messing with your head," The Captain put in with a grin.
"Or maybe you've got a concussion from being thrown about inside a washing machine…"
Well, that seemed likely enough. The top of his head did feel like it was about to come off.
Three sets of hands pushed him down into one of the horrible orange chairs and he tiredly dropped his head between his knees and took as many deep breaths as he could manage.
"Honestly, we can't leave you alone for five minutes what you don't get stuck in a washing machine."
"Do you have any idea how hard it is to play guardian angel to someone who gets in that kind of trouble all the time?"
"You shouldn't worry us so much, you git."
He still felt like he couldn't get enough oxygen, but at least he was aware of his lungs inflating and deflating as they were supposed to.
And there wasn't any water nearby, except that which was all over the floor beneath his feet.
When he sat back up after about five minutes of recovery time, he found the Laundromat empty.
No sign that the girls had been there…
Except for three sets of very corporeal soap sudsy footprints that trailed out towards the door through which he'd entered.
Of course, he only saw them for a split second before he lost consciousness and by the time he came to, they had dried up.
Not that it mattered, since he was being carted away to Arkham Asylum at the moment; but it still made him wonder…
Well on the bright side, perhaps Crane was in Arkham…maybe the two of them would be lucky enough to have a little chat about those three and whether or not they were really gone.
After all, last time Edward Nygma checked, ghosts didn't do laundry.
"You and your need to have clean clothes," one of the soaking wet women said snippily as she slid inside the back of their purloined VW bus.
"Hey, we don't all consider hanging our shirts outside our bedroom window to be an acceptable way of staying fresh," another said as she slipped behind the wheel of the beat up old van.
"How long do you think we can keep drifting in and out of their lives before they figure out that we're not really dead?" The third asked, pulling the basket of still wet clothes into the front seat with her.
"Well…whenever they do figure it out-I mean, if they figure it out…there's gonna be hell to pay," the one in the back said, shutting the doors behind herself, "I can see it now-they're going to be pissed."
"Nah…" the one behind the wheel started the engine, "They'll be too glad to see us."
"I dunno…we're going to give Eddie a complex if we keep it up with this 'you'll see us when the time comes' stuff. Gonna think we're a sign of the bloody grim reaper for sure."
"We could always let him know we're still alive and kicking," the one with the basket suggested, "He wouldn't tell Squishy if we asked him not to."
"Oh yeah, I can see how that conversation will go-'Hey, we faked our deaths and put you through emotional torture for our own amusement'. That'll go over huge. We'll slay 'em with that one."
"Would you relax?" The van started to pull away from the Sud Bucket Laundromat, "We'll offer him hugs and kisses and inappropriate gropes and he'll forget he's upset with us in seconds flat."
The one in the back of the van popped up in the front seat between the other two as they drove away, "You're evil. But you know, I love the way you think."
Wondering what happens next? Read my story "Bury Me Deep" to find out!