A/N: This is the first entry into the AU I’ve dubbed ‘Special Unit Seven’, which is a combination of Supernatural and an old show nobody probably knows about called Special Unit Two (although characters from that show are mentioned in here this will not be a crossover). I’ve done my best to try and come up with something that hasn’t been explored before in this fandom, but I have the feeling that I didn’t quite pull it off since pretty much everything has been attempted with this fandom. Anyway, I tried to keep things from getting too dark, but I feel that I need to give out a warning to those who take offence to ‘bad language’ or who aren’t comfortable with ‘supernatural’ elements. If either of these things do not sit well with you I suggest you turn away now. The title for this story comes from Clint Black and is used without permission.
Redemption, Kansas October 31, 2005
There hadn’t been a single cloud in the sky when he’d woken up that morning, which in hindsight should’ve been as glaring as a neon sign proclaiming ‘Danger Ahead!’, but being the less than observant person that he was first thing in the morning he’d written the lack of clouds off as an inconsequential oddity and didn’t think twice about it. The fact that it was Halloween registered sometime after his second cup of coffee, and by the time he and Buck got back on the road he was mentally figuring out a route and schedule that would ensure he was home in time to join his family at the local harvest festival.
When Buck had first given him the news that they would both need to return to Chicago for two weeks in order to render aid on one of their old cases, he’d told the man to go piss up a pole. No…that wasn’t exactly true; he’d laughed first and then told Buck to go piss up a pole. As far as he was concerned, his debt to the ‘windy city’ ended the second he turned in his badge and headed for Kansas four years ago, but Wilmington could do whatever he damned well wanted for all he cared. Unlike him, Buck hadn’t left the city for good, so he still had an obligation to return and offer his services to the department but just because Buck had to go back didn’t mean that he had to tag along.
That whole conversation had taken place three weeks ago, and two days later Sarah had given him an ultimatum: either go back with Buck or find a good hotel because she wasn’t putting up with his newfound moodiness for one more second. He and Buck had hit the road first thing the following morning and had been gone ever since, staying a couple of extra days in the city in order to blow off some much needed steam before turning back around. Overall, the experience hadn’t been as bad as he’d hyped it up to be in his head, but he’d be lying if he said that he wasn’t happy to be on his way home again.
“Looks like somebody woke up on the right side of the bed,” a voice drawled from across the truck cab.
Damn, he should’ve known Buck would pick up on his good mood and needle him to death about it at some point. “Quit talkin’ outta your ass, Buck.”
“Oh come on now, Chris; I ain’t seen you smile so much since we watched McCaffrey’s little brother take his exam,” his friend chuckled, slapping his right shoulder with the back of a hand. This set off a round of ruckus laughter that had to have lasted a full ten minutes as they both took turns reciting the story, but once they both had settled down Buck took up where he had left off by chortling, “So…you gonna tell me what’s got you lookin’ like a rooster on his way to a henhouse or you gonna make me guess the rest of the way?”
“Just glad to be goin home is all.”
“Yeah…I hear ya, pard,” his friend sighed, moving his larger frame until he was finally settled in comfortably. Out of the two of them, he was the better driver in the mornings, so he figured he’d take the first shift while Buck caught a few extra hours of sleep and then they’d switch once he stopped to top off and grab a bite. If he’d have known what Buck was going to be driving them into later that night, he’d have kept driving the rest of the way himself.
But he hadn’t known what they were heading into, and therefore was forced to grip the dash with vice-like intensity as his best friend slowly passed by the burning sign signaling that they were now entering the town of Redemption, Kansas, helpless to do anything but scream at the man to go faster.
“I’m goin as fast as I can, Chris! Look around you, pard, the whole town’s gone to shit,” Buck hollered, his words tapering off as he was forced to steer around several downed light poles.
His friend had a point, but that didn’t prevent him from continuing to berate the man every five seconds as their truck continued to weave and swerve around the various debris littered across the road into town. However, once they reached the outskirts and he could see some of the devastation up close he found that he had no more words left to scream, the sight of half-torched cars and buildings clogging his throat painfully tight. Surely a twister hadn’t done all this, he thought absently as his eyes caught sight of a group of people throwing water onto a burning church.
“Buck…” That one word seemed to encapsulate all that he was feeling, and like he had done so many times in the past Buck picked up where he had left off and finished the thought that was on both their minds.
“I don’t see ‘em either, pard,” his friend replied quietly. The statement wasn’t nearly as reassuring as his friend probably intended it to be, and instead of feeling better his anxiety seemed to ratchet up a few more notches with every sweep that failed to produce the two faces he yearned to see most. “Maybe they didn’t make it into town,” Buck mumbled absently as they drove by the chaotic town square where the festival was supposed to have taken place. There was no way they were going to find anyone in that mess unless they stopped and did a thorough search of the grounds, but when a drive by revealed no sign of Chris’ wife or son he told his friend to head to his place first, a sickening feeling in his gut telling him that Buck was right and that Sarah and Adam had never even made it out of the house.
As they turned down the gravel road leading to his and Sarah’s ranch, that sickening feeling became a full blown notch in his chest, and he was out of the truck and racing towards the inferno up ahead before Buck could do more than shout his name. He was vaguely aware of the burning sensation creeping up his legs as lactic acid began to build up in his muscles, but being the stubborn mule that he was he forced his body to go faster until his sides began to heave and his lungs began to freeze. By the time he skidded to a halt in front of what remained of his home, he was a choking and trembling mess doing his damnedest to stumble towards the flame-covered front door, and if it hadn’t have been for the two brawny arms that came and wrapped him up in a vise grip he would’ve probably succeeded in his quest to walk through fire to find his missing family.
“Let me go, dammit!” he screamed, clawing desperately at the arms holding him prisoner. His friend’s only response was to drag him further back, and no matter how loudly he raged Buck never loosened his grip. “Dammit, Buck…they could be in there…I gotta…I gotta…” His voice broke off as he suddenly found himself assaulted by a hacking cough, and by the time he managed to catch his breath he was too out of it to put up any sort of struggle, simply collapsing in on himself as his friend helped guide him to the ground.
Together they watched as an unnatural-like wall of fire swelled up and out of the remains of the doorway and licked along the sides of the front of the house before abruptly being sucked back inside as if by an invisible vacuum, taking with it what remained of Chris Larabee’s soul and leaving an empty husk of a man behind.
In the three and a half years since the fire, he hadn’t felt like he’d changed much aside from the fact that he’d spent one of those years swimming in a whiskey bottle, but according to those around him he was an entirely different person. He hadn’t understood what they were talking about at the time; he still combed his hair the same, liked the same brand of cologne (even if he didn’t feel the need to wear it that much anymore), drove the same truck and wore the same clothes… It wasn’t until Buck had pointed out his lack of interest in pretty much everything that the light bulb finally turned on.
“It’s like…the lights are on, but ain’t nobody home,” Buck had informed him solemnly, his friend laughing as he was wont to do whenever a situation became too intense but without any real humor this time.
“So…what’re you sayin’, Buck?” he had retorted casually, his own smile feeling just as fake as Buck’s had looked.
He doesn’t think that he’ll ever be able to forget the look of utter anguish that had come over his closest friend’s face when Buck blurted out, “You’re scarin’ people, Chris!” the words being some of the last to be spoken between them since his friend ended up leaving shortly after that conversation and heading back to Chicago.
He’d regretted how they had parted ways, only now seeing just how right his friend had been, but he was still as stubborn a jackass as Sarah had accused him of being when they’d been dating and therefore he refused any and all invitations for visiting the city that made their way to him through the department grapevine. For six months he scraped and clawed his way back to a semi-decent existence, earning his spot back on the rotation and proving to those who seemed to be waiting for him to eventually slip up that he was there to stay once and for all; however, the past had a funny way of catching up with a person and when it caught up with Chris Larabee it hit harder than a blow to the head by a 2x4. A phone call from Buck, one of the rare ones his friend made to him personally, and he suddenly found himself unable to stand, unable to breathe due to the invisible blow he’d just received to the gut.
“Can…can you say that again?” he whispered hoarsely, clutching at his cordless in a near-death grip as he struggled to find purchase against a living room wall.
“Steve’s dead, Chris. There was a fire at some chemical factory and…he got hurt pretty bad…died in the bus about twenty minutes ago,” his friend sighed over the line, the sorrow carrying through the speaker and piercing the other man straight in the chest.
“Ah shit…d-does Brian know?” he managed to croak out. There weren’t too many things he missed about the city, but the McCaffrey brothers were definitely at the top of the list of things that he did miss and hearing that Stephen had passed away just about tore what remained of his heart to shreds. The thought of what the man’s brother could be going through…no one understood the pain of loss more than he did.
There was a long pause on the other end of the line, and for a minute he thought that Buck had perhaps hung up on him before he heard the distinct sounds of someone sniffling and then attempting to catch their breath. “He-he was there, Chris. Jesus…the kid was there…saw the whole thing.”
There was something in his friend’s tone that he didn’t quite like, an implication that their friend’s death wasn’t as natural as they would perhaps have it be. “What do you mean by ‘he saw the whole thing’, Buck? We see guys get killed all the time, so what makes this one so different?” he bit out harshly, a part of him chiding that he was perhaps reading too much into his friend’s tone. Ever since the fire, Buck had teased him about the fact that his fuse was almost nonexistent, a simple look being more than enough to incite his wrath but ever since his friend’s departure he’d managed to get a handle on his temper. Now that Buck had come bursting back into his life, he was finding it easier to slip back into old habits, but before he could get properly worked up Buck’s quiet voice was once again drifting into his ear.
“I know we see guys get killed, Chris, but this wasn’t just some run of the mill call.”
It was as if cold fingers trailed up his spine upon hearing those words, and even though every instinct in his head was shouting at him to hang up he found himself asking, “What was it?” A part of him had suspected that he wouldn’t like what his friend had to say, but Buck’s next words almost had him thinking that they would be the last words he would ever hear, for the rushing sound in his ears was surely an indicator that his heart was due to explode at any second.
“There was this…wall of fire…it came outta nowhere. The other guys said that they ain’t seen anything like it…”
“But you have,” he finished quietly, slowly sinking down to sit on his stone fireplace as Buck’s near-silent, “Yeah,” echoed throughout his skull. “Did it…did it fall back in on itself after spillin’ outside?” he asked tentatively. He’d never thought of himself as being particularly masochistic, but the overwhelming desire to learn more about this mysterious fire was simply too great to ignore. When Buck didn’t immediately respond, he felt a spark of his previous anger return and had a nasty comment on the tip of his tongue before the rational side of his brain reminded him that he’d only be shooting himself in the foot if he let his temper get the better of him. Using a technique that he’d picked up from one of the guys at work, he inhaled a deep breath and counted to ten in his head before he switched tactics and rephrased his previous question, hoping that the age old saying of catching more bees with honey than vinegar would hold true in this case.
“Come on, Buck, talk to me. Did the fire spill outside first before it got sucked back in or not? I know you wouldn’t waste time tellin’ me this shit unless it was important so…just tell me. Was it like the one we saw that night or not?” His voice had begun to cut out on him about halfway through his little speech, and by the time he finished the hitch in the back of his throat had increased to the size of a golf ball, preventing him from continuing his pleas to be put out of his misery.
Luckily, his friend didn’t possess a cruel bone in his oversized body, and when Buck’s confirmation finally drifted through the line he felt strangely relieved. He’d waited so long for the other shoe to drop, sinking down to the point where he felt he had nothing more to lose before slowly scratching his way to the surface again, and now that the ax had finally fallen all he could do was sit and breathe as the constant numbness that had surrounded him over the last three years slowly melted away. The lights may have been on for the last few years, but Buck had been right when he’d said that nobody was home. Now, however, now he could honestly say that he was on his way to being home again.
Of all the reasons to come back to the city, he figured that he liked this one the least, but deep down he’d always feared that it would be someone’s funeral that brought him back. He’d just never suspected that it would be Stephen McCaffrey’s. The dreaded walk through the city seemed to take twice as long as it had the last time he’d done this, but never once did he notice anyone falter. Brian in particular seemed extra stoic as they walked alongside of each other, and he felt some part deep inside his chest pull at the thought that the young man next to him could wind up as bitter and miserable as he was. If he accomplished nothing else on this journey through pain, he’d see to it that Stephen’s younger brother didn’t lose the spark that had made him so personable and had earned him the title of everyone’s ‘little brother’ when the kid was still in the academy. The world had its hands full with one Chris Larabee; he figured that the least he could do was see to it that a second one wasn’t created.
After the service, he and Buck ended up retreating to an old hangout rather than joining the rest of the guys at the bar they normally visited, both agreeing that the more private atmosphere was a better environment for discussing the issue that was on both their minds, but once they’d been seated and served their drinks neither one knew just how to begin. They settled for taking small sips of their beers for lack of anything better to do, but once the level of alcohol in both of their glasses dwindled down to slightly below half-full he knew they couldn’t sit there like mutes any longer. If Buck was gonna wait for him to start this thing off, then he might as well get on with it; it was rude to keep people waiting after all.
“I’m sorry for the way things went down between us,” he stated lowly, figuring that it was best to start on the right foot and in order for that to happen he first needed to apologize for a few things.
“Oh come on, Chris, you ain’t gotta do that,” Buck chuckled, waving off the other man’s apology as if it was something inconsequential. “We both know you weren’t yourself…”
“Stop makin’ excuses for me, Buck,” he cut in heatedly, stopping his friend before the other man could once again put a pretty spin on how he’d treated everyone he knew like shit following Sarah and Adam’s deaths. “What I did was wrong and you know it, so let’s just leave it at that and move on. There’s been enough suffering this week without us addin’ to it with more bullshit.” His firm words had the impact he’d been looking for because for once in his life Buck shut his great, big mouth and simply nodded in understanding making any more words on the matter seemingly redundant. After a swift drink to wash away the uncomfortable silence that had descended in the wake of his statements, Buck seemed to find his feet first and even managed to dredge up a genuine smile as he switched gears with his normally effortless grace.
“Listen, I uh…I didn’t let on to anybody about the fire but uh…once Tech gets done with that place people are gonna know that somethin’ bad went down, and after that well…it’s just a matter a time before somebody connects the dots,” his friend explained haltingly, hands absently twirling his glass as he attempted to gather up his thoughts properly.
Buck was fidgeting, which meant that he was nervous about something because Buck Wilmington sure as hell didn’t fidget unless he was on his way to meet a perspective father-in-law. “Buck…is there somethin’ you ain’t tellin’ me, because I get the feeling that these dots you’re talkin’ about are more than just the fire from three years ago and what went down the other night,” he half-asked, a sliver of a grin tainting his lips as he pressed his friend for the truth. If there was any chance that Buck was still holding out on him he would sit there and use every intimidation tactic in his arsenal until his friend finally broke, because if there was one thing Chris Larabee abhorred more than a ‘nosy Parker’ it was a secret.
Buck continued to twist his glass absently before he finally cleared his throat and glanced back up at his semi-patiently waiting friend, leaning forward so that any words spoken between them wouldn’t be overheard by the other patrons as he finally mumbled, “There were others.”
“Would ya talk straight for once!” he growled back, frustration beginning to boil over what little of his composure remained. “When ya say there were others…”
“Shh, not so loud,” Buck hissed, his eyes erratically scanning around to see if anyone had picked up on their conversation before he turned back and faced his friend with a look of comedic outrage. “There were more fires, alright!”
“Why are we whispering? It ain’t like anyone here has the first clue about what we’re talkin’ about,” he muttered back, his previous grin of malevolence turning slightly more bemused as he watched his friend become more uncomfortable with each passing second. “What’s gotten into you, Buck? It ain’t like you to be so worked up over somethin’ like this.”
Buck’s fidgeting slowly came to a stop after the bigger man abruptly drained what beer remained in his glass and pushed it aside, the alcohol seemingly reviving his confidence for when he spoke again his voice was no longer hushed and wavering. “What if I told you that I got a lead on the son of bitch who burned down Redemption?”
There was something in his friend’s tone that he didn’t quite like…a trace of confidence that left him wary and unsure of where this line of questioning was heading, and he found himself leaning back into his booth almost instinctively. “And just how credible is this ‘lead’ of yours?” he asked mockingly, drawing out the word as if it was some long-shared private joke they once shared in the past before he took a final swig of his remaining beer suds.
“Oh it’s legit,” Buck hastily assured, nodding his head emphatically before shaking it and chuckling, “it sounds like somethin’ straight out of a Grimm fairy tale, but it’s legit.”
Something long forgotten clicked into place in his brain upon hearing that statement, and he suddenly found himself sitting up straighter without even being consciously aware of what he was doing. “Wait a second…this wouldn’t have anything to do with O’Malley and that crackpot division he’s in, would it?” He didn’t know why he still felt the need to ask when it was clear as day what the answer was going to be, but he found that the words were out of his mouth before his brain could signal his tongue to stop moving.
“Just because they deal with shit we don’t know about doesn’t make ‘em crackpots,” Buck replied indignantly before physically shrugging off what appeared to be an oncoming tirade. “And besides, the information came from Page not O’Malley, so that’s gotta be worth somethin’ to ya, right?”
As corny as it sounded, that little bit of news actually did make him feel somewhat better, because Captain of the super-secret squad or not there was no one who tolerated less bullshit than Richard Page and if he said that ‘dragons’ were responsible for these mysterious fires than Chris would believe it in a heartbeat. “Ok…I’m listening,” he sighed tiredly, bracing his arms across the top of their table and preparing himself for another one of his friend’s ‘fantastic’ stories.
The sound of his hotel room door slamming shut reverberated loudly in the otherwise quiet space, but he was too caught up in his thoughts at the moment to care about how the noise caused his ears to ring and the walls to shake. When he’d told Buck that he would hear what his friend had to say, he’d never imagined that his previous thought about believing Captain Page if the man had told him dragons were responsible for his wife and son’s death would actually turn out to be accurate.
“Whole damn world’s gone to shit,” he growled, flinging his room key in the general direction of the dresser. He’d listened like he’d said he would, hadn’t interrupted or anything, but once Buck had finished relaying what he knew Chris couldn’t keep his frustration locked up anymore. He’d shaken his head in wry disbelief and left, not even bothering to acknowledge his friend’s pleas for him to come back and ‘just listen’.
A small, mirthless laugh bubbled its way out of his throat as he considered all that had gone down over the last few hours, and suddenly his leather jacket was too constricting. His hands scrabbled at the material as if he couldn’t seem to get it off fast enough, and by the time he was finally able to wrench his body free and hurl the damned thing across the room his grating laugh had turned into a primal scream. He’d been exaggerating with his earlier train of thought for crying out loud! How could anyone expect him to believe that there were actual dragons in this world, he thought to himself, his eyes automatically seeking more objects on which to unleash his wrath when a buzzing sound emanating from his front pants pocket broke through the haze of red surrounding his senses. Thinking that it was Buck calling to hassle him some more, he fished the vibrating device from its enclosure and answered it with swift, jerky movements.
“If you say one more goddamned word about shit that belongs in a kid’s book I swear to Christ I’ll gut you like a prized pig,” he snarled into the mouthpiece, not even allowing his friend a moment to speak before he all but tore Buck’s head off. The silence that resounded on the other end of the line had him doing a quick double-take, for it wasn’t like Buck to take such a tongue lashing ‘lying down’, but any ideas he might have had about a ‘round 2’ of their previous discussion quickly turned to ash in his mouth when an unfamiliar voice burrowed into his ear.
“Is…is this Chris Larabee?”
Although a portion of his anger had melted away from his voice in light of the stranger on the other end of the phone, he found his tone to still be quite gravely when he roughly asked, “Who wants to know?”
“My name is Josiah Sanchez, and I was wondering if I might speak with you on an important matter,” was the resounding reply.
Whoever this guy was, he certainly had some balls…too bad that he also possessed lousy timing. “Mister…now really ain’t the fuckin’ time,” he chuckled darkly, shaking his head in disbelief even though the other man wouldn’t be able to see. He was just about to pull the device away from his ear and stab the disconnect button when the voice spoke up again, this time sounding more than a shade frantic.
“I know who you are, Mr. Larabee…I know about what happened in Kansas, and I know you want answers.”
He found himself swallowing thickly at the veiled mentioning of his past but chose not to press the man on how he had come by such information, instead rasping out another harsh bark of laughter. “And let me guess…you got those answers, right? Well, let me tell ya somethin’, Mister Sanchez, I’ve had about all the answers that I can handle for tonight so why don’t ya just take your little spiel somewhere else,” he informed the other man in a falsely light voice, his restless body urging him into a slow pacing of the confines of his room as he felt a new wave of red begin to descend over his eyes. He had his thumb poised over the red ‘end’ button when the man’s next statement drifted into his realm of hearing, causing him to freeze in his movements and swallow down a suspicious itch creeping up the back of his throat.
“What do you know of dragons, Mr. Larabee?”
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