Title: Worth the Effort
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds belong to Jim Butcher and ABC.
Summary: DF/Castle; 2500 words. The mist roiled, then parted around something long, slender and whippy that quickly vanished back out of sight...
Spoilers: Dresden Files novels through "Small Favor"; vague S1 for Castle
Notes: Violence, tentacles, humor. For the 2009 spookathon at IJ, prompt #26, B-Movies. References the 1958 movie "The Trollenberg Terror", known in the US by a slightly more descriptive name.
The women's voices carried clearly through the dank night air as I trailed them down the street, next best thing to invisible under careful layers of magic. One tall, with dark, stylishly cut hair and the other blonde, updone, and five foot nothing even in her heels, they made a dramatic pairing in their ladies-night-out gear, all skimpy jewel-toned silk and vibrant accessories. Murph dressed up all girly usually comes off as cute more than anything else, what with her petite frame, blue eyes, and button of a nose, but she was actually making a fair play for seductive that evening. I'd nearly dropped my veil at my first glimpse of her when they'd left her house for the club.
She still moved like the martial artist she was, though; like twenty pounds of kickass in a gaily-wrapped ten-pound package. By contrast, her friend stalked the streets like a model who'd just wandered off a high-fashion runway. Sergeant Karrin Murphy of CPD Special Investigations was no wallflower; but Detective Kate Beckett of the NYPD had the kind of aggressive natural beauty that wouldn't have been out of place in a femme fatale, never mind a police officer. I'd seen more attractive women-- I could hardly have avoided it, given how deeply my affairs had become entangled with White Court vampires lately, never mind the Faerie Courts-- but very few of those unearthly beauties had been mortal.
I suppose I shouldn't have expected anything less from a woman Rick Castle had hired Harry Dresden, only wizard in the Chicago phone book, to follow. My brief acquaintance with the man several years back when he'd tried to interview me about life as a P.I. in the Windy City had been... interesting, in a dramatic, 'I never want to look you in the eye again' kind of way. He'd laughed when it was all over and promised that if he ever turned from crime thrillers to urban fantasy he'd know just who to look up, then hurriedly shook the dust from his shoes and took the next ticket back to denial-land. Still, his money spent the same as any other client's, and I had a vested interest in the job he'd offered.
Murphy threw her head back and laughed at something Beckett said. I smiled at the unfettered happiness in the sound, and concentrated, Listening a little closer. After all she'd been through in the last few years, mostly due to her friendship with yours truly, it warmed my heart to hear her having such a good time. The last time she'd smiled that widely in my presence Kincaid had been involved, and the less thought I put into her on-again off-again relationship with the inhuman mercenary, the better. I redoubled my vigilance as I followed them, peering more closely into every shadow and rustle of movement, and wished that I was up there walking with them. Castle had been clear, though; Beckett wasn't to know that he'd hired me to protect her.
He hadn't wanted me to tell Murph either, of course, but I knew better than to try that kind of thing on her any more. She'd agreed to give me the benefit of doubt going forward, as long as I kept her in the loop when my business trespassed on her responsibilities. It would be pretty damned hard to find a more blatant case of that than the present circumstances.
As if the thought had summoned her attention, she glanced back over her shoulder at me, a quick flicker of eyes to let me know she was still on track and aware. She even met my gaze for a second, a sure sign that my veil was slipping; I gave her a little wave, then tightened my grip on my will and did my best to vanish more thoroughly from view. If I'd brought Molly along, we wouldn't have had that problem-- the grasshopper was much more gifted at the subtler magics than I was-- but she was out of town on a trip with her parents and numerous siblings that week, and I was not going to interrupt her father's first vacation in who knew how long for a petty monster hunt. Michael Carpenter's calling as a Knight of the Cross had kept him in the thick of the fight for at least as long as my apprentice had been alive, and he deserved some extended family time now that he was finally off the front lines.
There were times I envied him for getting the chance to lay down his sword. But it had come at a bitter cost, and the supernatural turmoil that had brought so many heavy-hitters to the city over the last few years was far from settled. Every time I thought about what it would be like to sit and watch, unable to fight, knowing just how bad things were likely to get if those Black Council bastards had their way, my stomach churned. I did what I did because it needed to be done, and because there was no one else who could do it. I didn't even want to imagine what the fallout would be like if one of my crazy, patched-together plans finally fell apart on me and left me on the sidelines.
Fortunately, it didn't seem likely to come to that that night. The foe Castle suspected of stalking his personal Muse was a heavy hitter, sure, but on a scale of restless spirit to Queen Mab, it rated more or less on the level of a troll. I wasn't sure I wanted to know just how a popular author, and by extension the woman he followed around for plot material, had ended up on the threat list for a being from the NeverNever that usually preferred much more elevated climates-- but it shouldn't be much more difficult than swatting a mosquito. A very ugly mosquito that bullets wouldn't kill, but still, a mosquito.
"I mean really," Beckett's voice carried, ringing with good-natured complaint as she grinned back at her fellow cop. "Could my life be any more of a B movie?"
Murphy chuckled again and shook her head. "You'd be surprised. Those stories I've been telling you the last decade or so? Those are just the tip of the iceberg."
"Just the ones you thought I'd believe, huh?" Beckett snorted. "I know how that goes." Then she sighed. "Fuck, I'm a competent professional; I've been doing this job for years. So how is it that just when I'm assigned a glory-hound writer as a ride-along, suddenly every murder I'm assigned to requires his expertise to solve?"
Murphy glanced in my direction again, though this time her gaze skittered right over me, unsure of its target. Her jaw set a little, and she gripped her friend's arm. "Convergence of events?" she shrugged. "I've got my own hammer, and damn if the longer he sticks around, the more cases around me haven't started looking like nails."
Beckett huffed. "But are they really nails? Or is just that personality vortex thing he has going on? I swear, if he introduces me to one more contact that just so happens to be conveniently expert on the very clue we're investigating..."
Murphy's grip on Beckett's arm tightened as a fog began to spill out of a nearby alleyway, and all my senses went on alert. I raised my staff and began closing the distance between us, shaking out the little shields on the braided metal bracelet I wore around my scarred left wrist, as Murph reached into the front of her outfit and came out with a little holdout gun.
"Oh, I think they're nails all right," she said grimly, as my brain shorted out trying to imagine exactly where that gun had come from.
Then I shook my head and dropped the veil, gathering the released magical energies into a spell. "Ventas servitas!" I called into the fog, readying my shield as I aimed the blast of wind with my staff.
"Karrin...?" Beckett said uncertainly, reaching for her own weapon with her free hand and frowning at the low-lying cloud as it rolled back up the narrow gap between buildings. She spared half a glance for me, but whatever she saw in my body language and Murphy's was apparently enough to tell her which potential hazard she should be focusing on first.
I wasn't used to getting that much benefit of the doubt from unfamiliar policemen; six foot six of scruffy, leatherclad male usually rated a bit higher on the threat assessment scale. Bright woman. I didn't envy Murphy the job of trying to explain it all to her, later.
Something slithered heavily just out of sight; a large, damp weight scraping over rough pavement. I swallowed, then jumped at a sudden metallic clattering sound-- probably a trash can knocking over in the monster's wake. Murph edged a little farther back, pulling Beckett with her, until I was even with them, then stood her ground as I sent another gust of wind into the thick, chilled air.
The mist roiled, then parted around something long, slender and whippy that quickly vanished back out of sight. I firmed my shield, then raised my will again, wondering if I dared take the time to drop the staff and bring out my blasting rod. Against something this large, the imprecision and greater strength provided by the larger tool might be more effective, which was why I'd readied the staff to start with; but then again, with my luck, I was just as likely to bring down half the bricks of the neighboring buildings by accident.
"Okay," Beckett spoke up again, "What the hell is going on here? What is that thing? And who's the guy with the walking stick?"
I decided more power was probably better, and spared her a wry twitch of mouth. "Ever hear of the Trollenberg Terror?" I replied.
"Trollenberg?" she asked, only a slight quaver in her voice as another bluntly pointed rope of muscle lashed out of the clinging mists. "As in the mountain in Switzerland?"
I got more of a reaction out of Murph; she froze and stared at me. "You've got to be kidding me," she said, then shook it off and faced forward again. "Of all the movie monsters to be real," she complained in disgust. "Although I guess I shouldn't be surprised, after what happened at SplatterCon!!!"
"SplatterCon?" Beckett hissed. "What are you talking about?"
You could tell she hadn't been there by the way she failed to pronounce the three exclamation marks that were an intrinsic part of the name. "Long story," I snorted, then answered Murphy's half-question. "And no, those were fetches; they took on whatever shapes people feared most. This is the real--"
A third tentacle whipped out of the mist-- and this one, unlike the others, kept on coming.
"--Deal!" I wheezed as it latched around my middle, lifting me up into the air as the rest of the monster's body followed it out of the fog.
"Oh, my God!" Beckett exclaimed, firing her handgun into the thing's-- lower quadrant.
Okay, 'body' might have been overstating the case, I thought nonsensically as I dangled over it. It was basically a gigantic, hideously pulsing mass of flesh, set with one central eye, supported on a mass of writhing, tentacular appendages, one of which it had just thrust through my shield like it was wet paper.
Hells Bells. I was so never explaining that to Bob. Not only would the air spirit that served as my lab assistant mock me endlessly for insufficiently preparing my defenses, he'd demand its skull for an upgrade in residence.
"F-fuego!" I gasped, forcing a breath past the constriction around my chest.
Murphy's gun echoed Beckett's as the thing moved further out of the alley, reaching for them as well. It barely reacted to the sting of the bullets. The gout of flame that burst out of my staff caught its attention a little more thoroughly, however.
"Harry!" Murph screamed, her voice dopplering strangely as the world whirled around me at a high rate of speed. I groaned as my back impacted against the side of the nearest building; that was going to leave a mark. Then I swallowed hard against the lurch in my stomach as the tentacle whipped around again, lashing me toward the opposing brickwork.
I aimed the knuckles of my shield hand at the band of muscle wrapped around me and hurriedly triggered one of the kinetic rings I wore. They saved up little bits of energy from every swing of my hand on off days, only to release it all at once upon command.
The tentacle jolted, but didn't let go. It didn't smash me against the wall either, though, so I decided to count it a win and aimed my staff downward again, gathering my will as best I could around the pain in my ribs and the vertigo tugging at my inner ear.
"Pyrofuego!" I commanded, lashing back at the monster for all I was worth.
Fire bloomed. The world moved again with disorienting abruptness, and ended with a sudden soft impact and a rush of air out of two more sets of lungs. A hideous wailing emanating from behind me told me I'd hit my target, but I was too busy trying to recover my equilibrium and not put my hands anywhere I shouldn't to take a look at my handiwork.
Murph groaned underneath me, then shoved at me with small, strong fingers. A second later, Beckett's joined hers; I rolled off to one side, grunting as tender-- and tenderized-- portions of my anatomy came into contact with cold, wet pavement.
Silence fell, punctuated only by the crackling sounds of fire, the dying cries of the monster, and the click of heels as one or both of the women got up to investigate. I lay there with my eyes closed, trusting them to let me know if it moved again, and savored the sensation of drawing in one breath after another. Served me right for thinking of the thing as a mosquito, really.
"Harry," Murphy's voice carried to me, a lot calmer now that the action was over. "Tell me we didn't just kill a Crawling Eye."
"We didn't," I wheezed. "Like I said. Trollenberg Terror."
"Castle is never going to believe this," Beckett said, shakily.
"You'd be surprised," I chuckled. Then I lifted my eyelids, gazing up at dark green eyes, dramatically raised eyebrows, and pursed, incarnadine lips. Not a bad view. Almost worth the effort I'd just expended to get it.
"Harry Dresden, at your service," I introduced myself, carefully levering my weight up onto aching elbows.
"Kate Beckett," she said, then smiled, wryly, as I climbed slowly to my feet. "And you'd better be."
I could practically hear Murphy's eyes rolling behind me.
I pressed a hand to my ribs, and smiled back. Definitely worth the effort.