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Title: Soliciting
Author: MustInvestigate
Disclaimer: I only own action figures
Rating: PG-13
Character(s)/Pairing: Nite Owl I / Sylvia Kovacs, if you squint
Warning(s): brief non-con
Summary: Nite Owl meets Brooklyn’s Mother of the Year.
Note: One from the vaults…it was on my “add some porn” list for so long I forgot I wrote it.

Nite Owl huddled inside his heavy coat and watched the happy bustling crowds – or as happy and bustling as Brooklyn natives ever got, even a few days before Christmas. He sat back among the television aerials and tucked his nearly bare legs into the down of his coat. Not for the first time, he wished his parents had chosen one of the Southern cities when seeking their fortune, somewhere a man could be comfortable in a leotard year-round.

He watched the purposeful strides of late commuters give way to the frantic scampering of last-minute shoppers, secure in his vantage point. Real New Yorkers never looked up, and any tourist would be eaten alive within five blocks of this neighborhood.

Hollis just couldn’t get into the hoo-rah this year. It wasn’t because he’d be working the late shift both Christmas Eve and Christmas – he usually volunteered. Let the religious or family men have the time off; he’d take the double-bubble paycheck and the deeper camaraderie of the other holiday refugees determined to enjoy the night anyway.

No, it was just the ache in his chest that never seemed to really ease except when he had someone under his fists. It was an old man’s feeling, the sense that everything was corroding at the soul all at the same time, and he was decades too young for that. But – it had been only three years since they’d won the war that was supposed to end them all, so many lives traded for final peace, and the news was already whispering of a draft next year to send the survivors to Korea, of all godforsaken places. The Comedian would be there, he was sure. The exuberant hopefulness, the confidence of a world united, was long gone. The good solid families on his beat were dribbling away to the defensive sanctuary of Jersey suburbs, and those that replaced them weren’t usually the kind to cooperate with police inquiries.

And Ursula was gone. He tried to picture the Silhouette lurking in the shadows just behind him, shivering at each blast of wind and lighting a new cigarette from the end of the old, until he almost believed he’d see her if he turned around quickly enough. Sally was nearly as gone – now that she had sweet little Laurie to keep her busy, nothing would tempt her back to the nastiness of the streets. Nelson and H.J. were tied up plunging together into a hell of their own making, with little attention to spare for outsiders. Mothman gamely patrolled with Nite Owl some nights, but had little to say. Hollis suspected that, like him, Bryon preferred to partner up with quieter spirits these days.

He certainly wasn’t upset that yet another of his contemporaries made detective last week, that thick brute Fenster, while Hollis had fizzled out years before with a desk and a sergeant’s uniform. Those hotshots might solve a couple murders a month, if they were on a real bright streak. He’d prevented hundreds. If only they knew…

None of them would have picked out the discordant pattern in the chaos of movement below, for instance, but Nite Owl was moving to intercept a heartbeat after spotting them: first, a woman not really dressed for the chill in a short jacket two sizes too small, walking quickly and focused on the icy pavement; second, a young man, well dressed in almost a parody of ivy-league fashion, with his gaze locked on her. He was gaining, and if Nite Owl was right, she would decide to cut through the narrow Telfer Alley on the right, avoiding the wind long enough to get her breath back. He leapt between rooftops with the ease of long practice, the exercise warming his numb legs.

Nite Owl was fast, but the predator was faster. He was already on her when Nite Owl dropped down into the alley, pushing her roughly into the edge of a dumpster. She fought back half-heartedly, fists pounding on his shoulders but looking blankly to the side, already defeated.

She rallied when Nite Owl yanked him around (noting when he saw the lined face that he was a good ten years too old for the letter jacket he wore) and kicked her assailant in the knee with her pointed shoe, pulling her clothes back into place.

The would-be rapist cursed them both and windmilled his arms, catching her under the chin nearly by accident, but there was no steel in his bones. Nite Owl grabbed his hands and easily cuffed them together. He yanked them up and bashed Nite Owl’s nose a good one. The woman came from behind and threw a punch with more fury than force behind it, but caught him squarely in the kidney. He sagged into Nite Owl’s arms.

“Knew that one was trouble,” the victim muttered, almost to herself. “Insisted I’d ripped him off, the freak…”

“You know this man?” Nite Owl asked, jerking away as the man tried to bite his arm. “Can you tell me his name?”

“John,” she snorted, and the quotation marks hung in the cold air between them.

“John? …oh.” A prostitute. No chance of conviction, even if she was crazy enough to put herself through the court system. Nite Owl sighed and pulled the squirming man’s arms painfully higher behind his back.

She took advantage of his distraction to throw another punch, this one direct to the groin. The man yelped and collapsed, twitching, on the filthy asphalt at her feet. She promptly kicked him in the face.

“Ma’am!” Hollis exclaimed. “Please, I understand you’re upset, but…”

He trailed off, honestly unsure how to finish that thought, and busied himself checking the man’s pulse. He was unconscious now, mercifully, but his heartbeat was strong. Some savage part of Nite Owl wanted to shake her hand, but he throttled down the impulse. He suspected she’d cheerfully stomp the man to paste with the slightest encouragement.

As it was, he looked up to find her riffling through the man’s pockets. She found and held up a fat wallet in triumph.

“Ma’am!” he gasped again and grabbed her elbow, trying to pull her away. He let go when she whimpered in pain.

She fished the money out of the wallet, frowning when it proved to be mostly ones and a lone sawbuck, and tucked it defiantly into her blouse. She returned to his pockets and made a grimly satisfied hurm when a flask fell out of his hip pocket. Nite Owl reached to take that away. She held it back out of his reach.

“What you saw, that wasn’t – wasn’t what you think you saw. That was theft, pure and goddamn simple. Now he’s paid.”

Her voice was unselfconsciously nasal and harsh, a cadence disappearing now as children grew up listening to Midwestern newscasters and ironed-out Hollywood accents. It grated, but nostalgically.

He let her keep it, and the money.

“Can I call you a cab, ma’am? Maybe to a hospital?”

She laughed and uncapped the flask. “You gonna pay for it?”

He looked pointedly at the empty wallet, tucked behind the flask in her hand. She shrugged and shoved it back in the man’s pocket, then sat on his stomach. “That’s rent,” she insisted defiantly. “Or, hell, maybe I’ll get my kid a present this year.”

She rolled her eyes at her own declaration and took a sip, humming appreciatively. “Not bad. Not good, but not bad,” she declared it, and tipped the flask in his direction.

“No, thank you. And could you please get off him?”

“No,” she replied and dug a crumpled packet of cigarettes out of her purse. “He didn’t, when I asked.”

“Ma’am – ”

“I asked him real nice, too,” she sneered. “Nice stems, by the way. I can see why you’d show ‘em off. Got a light?”

“No.” He moved back a few steps. The chill was settling into his limbs again, now that he wasn’t moving. Not twenty yards away, the crowds moved through the light of a streetlamp, huddled against the wind and blind to anything else. She lit her cigarette from a bent matchbook, cupping the flame.

Her trembling hand shook ash away from the tip as soon as it formed. “How’s your schnozzle?” she asked, exhaling a head of steam.

He rubbed his nose. Not broken, not even bleeding. “Fine.”

It was time for him to go – or almost. You didn’t hang around, didn’t make friends, just got them safe, got the bad guys into custody, and got out. Didn’t matter if you were wearing blue or yellow. Don’t get involved. But her legs were trembling, even tightly pressed together, and her eyes were glazing over as the sheen of adrenaline faded. In this cold, between shock and alcohol, hypothermia could set in all too easily, and it wasn’t like the neighborhood had an overabundance of white knights.

His daytime instincts kicked in, and he evaluated her quickly. She was shocky, but obviously fighting it. In fact, she seemed remarkably resilient, and he automatically reconstructed the crime: her assailant planning carefully, watching her movements for some time before a distracted, vulnerable moment presented itself. He came from behind – if she’d seen him first, he wouldn’t have had a chance.

If Nite Owl kept her talking until she was steady, she’d be able to get herself home safely. Best to skip the more traditional treatments for shock of wrapping warmly and elevating feet. She seemed to be doing well enough with her self-prescribed flask and nicotine cure. There was something familiar about her – and hell, it wasn’t impossible that he’d met her before, maybe booked her on some petty crime or other, even if the weighed-down features didn’t really ring a bell. It was the sense of brittle strength that did, as if someone could shatter her, given persistence and sheer brutality, but she’d leave them impaled on the shards.

He cast about for a neutral topic. “How old is your child?” he asked, trying not to think of a vulnerable youth, surrounded by pimps and johns.

“You a cop?” she shot back, exhaling sharply. She snorted again – Nite Owl decided it much be an automatic tic, punctuating her sentences, since there was no way one woman could have that much contempt for the world – and saved him the awkwardness of answering. “No, of course not – you haven’t demanded your freebie.”

“Ma’am,” he began again, with no idea how to insist they weren’t all or even mostly bad guys without giving away that he was one of them.

“Will you stop calling me that? I’m younger than you, for Christ’s sake. Call me Syl.”

“Pleasure to meet you, Syl,” he replied, happy for an automatic response, no matter how surreal it might be in a freezing alley, with a rapist at their feet.

“I’ll just bet.” She sucked back one last drag and quickly lit a fresh one from the butt before the ember blew away, and the sense of familiarity spiked.

“Can I have one of those?” he heard himself asking. Ridiculous – he didn’t smoke. It was a filthy habit, one he’d barely tolerated in the partner who somehow left clothes he hadn’t even worn patrolling saturated with the stink of smoke.

“They’re not free,” she said, so he fished a dime out of his payphone stash. He almost winced as she lit one from her own and handed it to him in trade, wondering if he was now technically or only morally guilty of soliciting.

He wondered, not sure if it made him want to chuckle or weep, how much she would charge to call him “boychick” and challenge him to go poke the Comedian in the nose.

“He’s nine,” she interrupted his thoughts, as he struggled to inhale without coughing. “Bet you wouldn’t think I could have a nine-year-old kid, huh?”

He’d believe she had a brace of delinquent teenagers, from the frown lines cutting her cheeks, but smiled diplomatically and shook his head.

Her lips tightened. “Yeah, sure.” She dragged out the words, and he felt absurdly like scuffing his boots on the pavement. “You could drop dead of shock, I can see it.”

“Have you got a picture?”

Her scorn turned thoughtful. “Maybe.” Her cigarette dangled Bogart-style as she fished through her purse and finally produced a yellowed wallet-size of the homeliest baby he’d ever seen, all squalling rage and tight red fists.

“Cute,” he managed, which she accepted with her usual snort.

“He grew out of that quick.”

He wondered how long it’ll be before this kid is walking past his desk, caught boosting tires or mugging little old ladies, if he hadn’t already. “Does he like school?” he asked, defaulting into his “Public Relations: Parents Edition” script.

She was too quick for him. Again. “He doesn’t get into any trouble,” she spat. “He goes to school like anyone else’s kid. I’m a good mother.”

The word turned to “mutha” in her mouth, a blunt weapon. “He’s got a roof over his head and dinner every night, which was more than I could count on.”

And that was even the way Ursula used to snap at him, when he pretended he hadn’t heard her point out the fine figure of this or that woman below, when he uncomfortably called Angelina her “friend.” Demanding he account for what he hid under polite phrases, which he never did, not really. Not if he could vote along with the others, telling himself she’d be safer off the streets, away from people like Blake and Hooded Justice.

So he didn’t backtrack, but said what he thought, albeit as gently as he could manage through chattering teeth. “Do you really think that’s the best environment for a child? What chance does he have to be anything but a criminal if he’s surrounded by them?”

He pinched out his cigarette half-smoked. She stood and took it from him before he could throw it away, tucking it into her purse.

“He’s my kid,” she said, chin set, subject closed. “And I gotta get back to him. He can’t be left alone long.”

She looked better, lucid and steady, and he nodded, already plotting a route to the nearest pay phone. But then she rubbed her back and her hand came away dark and slick in the bleaching light of the streetlamp at the alley’s mouth.

“Well, shit,” she muttered. “I didn’t even feel that.”

“You’re hurt?”

She touched the rough edge of the low dumpster and nodded, surreptitiously stepping on the unconscious man’s fingers. “This got me, I think.”

He eyed the rusty edge. “You should really go to a hospital. Get a tetanus shot, at the very least, if not – ”

She shook her head. “Rent.”

Ten minutes together, and they already had conversational shorthand. It was really time to leave.

He took the field kit from his belt. “I could clean and bandage it, if you like?”

She hesitated, head tilted, before nodding and lifting her jacket.

It was mostly scrape, fortunately. Only the last half-inch sliced deeply into her skin. It probably needed a couple of stitches, but his hands were shaking, her skin was grey and goosebumpled, and he was not getting involved, dammit. He cracked open an iodine capsule and mixed that in with the blood oozing from the wound, both a uniform black in the darkness, and scrubbed both away before taping a thin bandage over it.

She didn’t move away from his hands. Her respiration was slow and steady.

“That should hold until you get home, but after that…”

A faint smile creased her lips. “You just don’t give up. I got a girlfriend who’s a nurse, okay? Was a nurse.”

He thought that she must have been pretty, once, in a Teutonic sort of way. He stepped away, walked deeper into the alley’s gloom.

She called after him, the bravado settling back into her voice, “You’re all wet, but you’re all right, kid.”
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