Chimera by Hayley

the Fabulous Life Less Ordinary mix by Vix

Doris was late, but when they got a look at her face, no one would say anything to her. The younger seraphim clustered in Stacey's cubicle, whispering furiously. When Daniel squawked as Stacey rolled her chair over one of his pinions, Mrs. K at the reception desk glared at them and gestured meaningfully at Doris's stubbornly shut door. They subsided briefly, but a few moments later, Daniel emerged from their little conference, feathers still ruffled. He edged up to Mrs. K's desk, trying his most winning smile. Mrs. K raised a single eyebrow.

"Light of my life, sweet angel of mercy, could you buzz me in?" He notched the smile up from winning to blinding. Mindy over at the copier sighed audibly.

Mrs. K just raised her other eyebrow. "She hasn't asked for coffee yet."

Daniel smile dimmed, but he pushed a little more. "What if I went and got it for her and one for you, too? Extra cream and half a pack of sugar," he wheedled.

"You do that, and I'll think about it. You're not the one who'll have to deal with her for the rest of the day." She moved her hand to the phone. "What's so hellfired important that it can't wait until this afternoon's staff meeting?"

Daniel slumped, wings drooping. "Conference Room 3. Case 390642 just showed up."

"What?" Doris's outburst was audible both through the phone's intercom and her closed door. "They're early."

Daniel nodded mournfully at the phone. "Seven years early."

Mrs. K covered the speaker with one hand, but Doris would not have been able to hear them over her own cursing. The rest of the junior host had crept closer to hear, and Stacey looked awed. "I didn't know she could say those words."

Mindy looked thoughtful. "Is that ancient Sumerian?"

Mrs. K sighed and looked at Daniel. "You'd better go get that coffee now."


It was a boardroom that looked like a thousand other boardrooms, and it made Chris twitchy. He plucked an apple from the bowl on the center of the enormous table and started tossing it. He had added two more pieces of fruit and had just gotten a nice rhythm going, the familiar repetitive motions distracting him from the strangeness of it all, when a deep voice behind him startled him. "That's cool. Where'd you learn how to do it?"

Chris kept his composure well enough not to drop the fruit, and he turned carefully, still juggling. He did drop the fruit when he saw that the voice belonged to a kid, a boy who couldn't be more than fourteen, fifteen at most. And who, frankly, kinda looked like a girl. Chris bent to pick up the fruit, and the boy helped him. "My mom taught me," he said. The boy quirked an eyebrow at Chris's own voice, which he supposed was only fair. "I'm Chris," he said, sticking out a hand.

The boy dropped an apple in his outstretched hand, grinning. "I'm Lance."

Chris opened his mouth to ask if Lance knew what was going on when the door slammed open. An impossibly beautiful young man with highly improbable wings burst in. He saw the two of them standing in each other's space, shrieked, "They've already introduced themselves! We're ruined!", and vanished again in a flurry of feathers and outrage.

Chris and Lance stared at each other.

"I don't suppose you—" Lance ventured.

"Nope," Chris cut him off. "Nuh-uh. No way. Not a single solitary fucking clue about what's going on."

Thunder rumbled outside. They both glanced at the window, where outside the sun beamed cheerily at them.

"Fuck," Chris said. Thunder rumbled again, but the weather only appeared more oppressively delightful.

"Shit," Lance said. The thunder boomed obligingly. They grinned at each other again.

"Slimy, motherfucking nutbag," Chris said, bouncing a little at the window. The thunder was louder this time.

"Goatsucking son of a whore," Lance said. Chris nodded in approval as Lance smiled at him, all innocence. The thunder sounded even closer, even as the sun shown brighter.

"Godda—" Chris was cut off by the sound of the door slamming open.

"We'd appreciate it if you'd refrain from that one," the woman said, sweeping into the room. Trailing her wingtips was the impossibly beautiful man from before, still looking vaguely disgruntled. She smiled at them both. "I'm Doris, section head. Daniel here is your case manager, and he tells me things have gotten a little mixed up. I'm here to see what we can do to straighten them out."

Chris stared and stretched out a hand. "Are those real?"

Doris twitched back out of his reach. "Yes, and very ticklish. If you wouldn't mind?" She gestured to the table, and they sat.

"Is this heaven?" Lance asked.

Doris smiled at him. "No, it's Iowa."

Chris snorted.

"No, really." Daniel was all earnestness. "You're in the Intervention Operations, Winged Administration building. IOWA. Normally you'd be next door in the Field of Dreams, but since you're early you've been diverted to the administrative branch."

"Early for what?" Chris demanded. "Why are we here anyway?"

Doris looked genuinely surprised. "Why, to fall in love, of course."

Chris and Lance did not look at each other.

After a heartbeat's stunned silence, Chris laughed. "You're shitting me. Andrew, Doozer, joke's up." He waved his middle finger at the ceiling. "Was it the mushrooms on the pizza last night, or did the heat stroke finally get to me? I've hallucinated you all. Look, kid, I'm sure you're nice and all—" Lance nodded his thanks "—but no fucking way. I mean, I just said it! He's a kid! Barely a teenager!" ("Fifteen," Lance murmured.) "And no! This is crazier than the time I hallucinated the dancing pigs and revolving mustard machine!"

Doris placed a conciliatory hand on his arm, but he jerked it away. "Christopher, if you will just sit down and let me explain—"

"Did you miss all of what I just said? Crazy! No! Leaving!"

"There was some sort of time differential—"

"Stupid fuckers with bad taste in pizza delivery—"

"—highly irregular, but we pride ourselves on only the finest—"

"No," Lance said, sitting up straighter. His voice was quiet, but it was enough to stop both Chris and Doris mid-rant. "I'm sorry, but no."

"No what?" Doris asked.

"No, you don't get to decide who I fall in love with," Lance said. "Thank you for the offer, but I don't need or want your help."

Daniel snorted. "Honey, that's what you think. I've seen your alternate paths, and I have two words for you: neck tattoo."

Lance, Chris, and Doris ignored him. Lance continued, "What gives you the right to interfere—"

"Intervene," Chris corrected, the air quotes heavy in his voice. Lance nodded his thanks.

"Fuck around with our lives like this?" Lance amended. "Are you bored? I mean, it sure as hell isn't for breeding purposes." He gestured vaguely yet obscenely, and Chris cackled. "Do our tiny little lives mean so little so you can try and push us around like game pieces? Excuse me for breathing, but I like my tiny little life the way it is—mine." He slumped back in his chair. "And you've even got me talking like this isn't some crazy hallucination. I'm never trusting Jimmy to buy the pot ever again," he muttered.

Chris grinned. "I like this kid," he murmured, then whipped around to stab a finger at Daniel, who had clapped his hands together in glee. "That doesn't mean I'm gonna fall in love with him."

Doris looked weary. "James Lance, your life is still your own. Ultimately the choice is yours. The choice will always be yours. We intervene; we don't manipulate."

"Potayto, potahto," Chris said.

"We help things along, but we don't force them to happen," Doris said, glancing at Chris, who rolled his eyes. "As the world has gotten bigger, love has gotten harder and harder to find. Honestly?" She leaned in and dropped her voice, and Chris and Lance automatically followed suit. "The odds are against it. The chances of you finding your true love in today's society are less than half of your chance of winning something from underneath a soda cap. That's not good.

"Even beyond seeing the residual benefits, like increased happiness, quality of life, and poetry production, love has other demands on us. We—" Doris flicked her wingtips for emphasis, "are officially pro-love. Support it in all its many splendored forms."

"Well, most of them," Daniel hastily added. "There's still that goat case pending."

"Our official mandate—and this comes from the very top," Doris made an indeterminate hand gesture, "—is that love is a good thing, and we are to help it along however we can. What we do is really only a drop in the bucket, as far as the entire world is concerned, but we try to work where we'll have the biggest impact, make the most difference."

"So why us? Why now?" Lance asked.

"As for why now, well, truth be told, we don't know. You're not scheduled on our docket for another seven years. You don't even know each other yet."

"No shit," Chris snorted. They had all stopped paying attention to the thunder a long time ago, and it rumbled forlornly in the distance. "Plus he's twelve."

"Fifteen," Lance said, and his voice didn't even crack.

"Whatever. Too. Young."

Lance just raised one delicately curved eyebrow. Turning back to Doris, he said, "You never answered why us, though."

"Because I asked them to," said a new voice from the doorway.

Lance's eyes widened, and he looked genuinely shocked for the first time since he'd shown up in that anonymous boardroom. Chris was disconcerted. "Stacey?" Lance asked.

"Yeah, fartface, it's me." She made to ruffle Lance's hair, he reached up to swat her hand away, and she diverted to tug on his ear. It was all a clearly familiar routine. Chris bit his nails.

"How? Why? What?" Lance gave up on complete sentences.

"I've been with IOWA for three years now, and for my promotion bonus last year, I asked them to look into your file. You came up with a match, and a good one, too," she winked at Chris, who just stared at her, "so we docketed you for when you were twenty-one." She frowned. "Or at least we were supposed to. I don't know why you're here now. But you were lucky. Not everyone turns up a match that we can work with, even on a direct request." Sadness crept behind her eyes. "Love isn't as easy as it sounds."

Lance sank back in his chair, not looking at Stacey. "Are you even really my sister?"

Stacey looked surprised, then the sadness came back even stronger. "Oh, kiddo, of course I am." She tugged Lance's chair closer to hers and curved her wings around them both. "I just really meant it when I was seven and said I was specialer than you." She poked at his leg with her foot, trying to scare up a smile from him.

Lance still wouldn't look at her. "Do Mom and Dad know?"

Stacey curled her wings even tighter around them, blocking the two of them from view. Chris couldn't follow their quick, murmured conversation, no matter how hard he craned his neck. Once he heard Lance yelp, "Ford? That Ford? You're going to—" until Stacey shushed him. He also heard her say once, firmly, "You know I can't tell you that," but that was it. Doris and Daniel just smiled at him. Chris scowled and bounced a pear off the table.

When they sat back, Lance was still frowning, but his bowl cut showed signs of having been rumpled by an affectionate hand, and he looked less likely to throw things. Chris couldn't decide whether to be relieved or alarmed. "So what happens next?" Lance asked.

Doris opened her mouth, but Chris steamrollered over her, having come to a decision. "What happens next is I thank you all for a highly weird time, wish you the best of luck in your future relationships, and I get the fuck out of here. You may be resigned to your fate, kiddo, but I'm not." Chris threw himself out of his chair, started for the door, turned back, grabbed another apple from the centerpiece, and left again. He didn't even have to growl at Daniel to get him to step aside.

The boardroom opened onto a maze of cubes, but Chris weaved his way straight through to the prominent exit sign. He ignored the angels and Lance trailing behind him like ducklings. He yanked and shoved at the doors, but they would not budge. "How do I get out of here?" he demanded, not looking anyone in the eye.

Doris leaned around him and opened the door with a press of her fingertips. "Walk through there," she said. "I wish you would reconsider."

"Sorry but no," Chris said, not sorry at all. He turned to the doorway. Doris caught him as he stumbled and fell back. "What the fuck is that?" he whispered when his voice returned to him.

"That hazy place between sleeping and waking," Doris said, stepping back when he shook her off.

Chris gripped the doorway with white knuckles. Metaphor or more fucked-upedness, Chris didn't care. It looked like a gaping, swirling void of nothing to him. "Is this some sort of joke?"

"No joke," Doris assured him. "To leave, all you have to do is wake up, either on your own or by crossing through that."

Chris laughed with only the faintest hint of hysteria creeping into his voice. "So this really is just a dream. Angels introducing me to my predestined true love," he twisted it until it sounded ugly even to his own ears, "then all I have to do is jump from the highest place I've ever seen. What's next, I have to perform in my underwear?"

"Not just a dream," Doris said. "But yes, we're all in a dream. Yours, Lance's, it's difficult to say. Maybe both."

"Angels don't dream," Daniel said quietly from behind Doris.

Warm fingers wrapped around Chris's hand on the door frame, so very different from Doris's strange, cool hands when she caught him. "Don't jump," Lance said in Chris's ear, something warm in his voice inviting Chris to mock the absurdity of it all with him. "Whatever they've planned, it can't be as freaky as that."

"You're not afraid," Chris said, not asking a question.

"Of heights or the divine yentas?" Lance did ask.

"Either."

Lance shook his head. Already the kid was taller than Chris, and his hair brushed against Chris's cheek. "Neither. I don't get scared much."

"Don't show it much, you mean," Chris snapped back before he could think about it.

Lance shrugged one shoulder, a slight grin playing at his lips. He was oddly self-possessed for a teenager, Chris Chris thought, but his irritation didn't prevent him from letting Lance tug him away.


"And this actually works?" Chris inspected his elbow pads and shin guards very, very carefully.

"Like I said, we're kind of winging this one," Daniel said as he tried to smush a helmet onto Lance's head that was at least two sizes two small. "Heh. Winging it. Little pun, there." Chris glared at him. "Right. Yes, well, normally we have a scene all set up for you over in the Field, but since you're unexpected and we're throwing this together at the last minute, because, hey, we might as well use you while we've got you, we've just set up a temporary Field here in IOWA. The transition may be a little bumpy, so we're just taking extra precautions."

"And divine extra precautions involve my little sister's bike helmet?" Chris yanked the too-small helmet off of Lance's head and passed him a larger one.

"Really, I think these are mostly supposed to help psychologically," Daniel whispered behind a wing.

"Oh, I feel so much better now," Chris snapped, fiddling with his chin strap. "That enormous hole is looking better and better."

Lance snickered.

Stacey swanned into the room, bearing a clipboard. "Okay, so you guys are getting the basic setup, but we're compensating by giving you the deluxe time package. Can I interest you in a set of commemorative plates as well?" Chris just stared at her. "Kidding, kidding," she said, elbowing Lance.

"How much of this will we remember?" Lance asked.

Stacey wobbled a hand back and forth. "Probably not much. When you're in the Field, you won't remember being here. When you wake up? Well, it's a dream. How much do you usually remember from your dreams?"

Chris opened his mouth to reply, but he was distracted by the door opening on the far side of the room. He and Lance both flung their hands up in front of their eyes. "What is it?" Chris squinted through his fingers.

"Your room is ready," Daniel said, clearly satisfied. "All you need to do is walk into the light."

"Hey, I saw that movie," Chris said. "This is gonna end badly, isn't it?"

"Ultimately, that will all depend on you," Doris said from the doorway. "I wish you both the best of luck, and I hope you gain something from this experience, no matter how it turns out."

Stacey smacked a kiss on Lance's forehead. "Be good, kiddo, and I'll see you in the morning."

Lance looked at Chris, eyebrows raised. He motioned politely for Chris to go first.

Chris nodded sharply, breathed like he was reaching for a high note, closed his eyes, and stepped forward. He didn't look to see if Lance followed him.


Chris woke up on the floor of Bobby's tiny living room, head under the couch and legs draped over someone he vaguely recognized. A pillow had been ripped open at some point during the evening's festivities, and Chris had tiny, soft feathers stuck in his hair.

He wasn't hung over at all.


Lance woke up early, reaching out to turn off the unplugged alarm. He nearly whacked Stacey, who was sitting on the end of his bed.

"What?" he said, voice still muzzy and deep.

Stacey peered at him intently for a moment, then grinned to herself. "Nothing, kiddo. If you get up now, maybe we can convince Daddy to make pancakes before church." She ruffled his hair and wandered out of his room.

Lance watched her retreating back, staring hard for a minute. He shook himself once, driving the last of the sleep from his brain. He didn't know what he was looking for, but it wasn't there.

EPILOGUE

Chris managed to catch Stacey alone for a minute, closing the living room door on the madness of the extended Bass family. "I just wanted to say thank you personally," he said. "I don't think Lance knows, but I know what you did for us, and I really appreciate it." He rubbed the back of his neck, feeling awkward all over again.

Stacey started. "What I did for you? But, well, what? You never said anything before! I didn't know that you re—"

"I only just found out," Chris overrode her. "Which is why I think Lance doesn't know. But I overheard your mom talking, and she said that you talked to your dad. You know he hated this at first," he said, looking her in the eye and waving his hand between himself and the backyard, where Lance was entertaining his great-aunt with highly edited tales of the Hollywood life. "But he's better now, even if he still wishes I were Joey. Or Joey were here instead of me. Whatever. But I know I have you to thank for that. Thanks for talking to him."

Stacey laughed, loud and bright. "Oh, honey, there's nothing to thank me for. You two are stupid over each other, and that's all my daddy really wants someone who'll make his boy happy. It just took him a little longer to see that. I'm just glad you two found each other." She snickered a little, then shoved at his arm. "Now go on and get back out there. No more using me as an excuse to avoid your first full Bass family reunion. Lance could probably use a rescue about now."

Chris caught her hand and squeezed it once. "Liar," he said gently. "We have you to thank for everything." He grinned at her, then went and joined Lance.

Ford found her a few minutes later, still watching Chris and Lance out the picture window. Great Aunt Tilly had cornered them near a lawn chair and was waving wildly as she talked. Chris had tucked himself just behind and beside Lance, his hand resting on Lance's lower back. Stacey watched her brother curve into Chris, relaxing to fit up next to him. He tugged Chris's hand around his waist, and Stacey could see the glimmer of Chris's grin all the way across the yard. She indulged in a moment of smug triumph.

Ford caught her eye in the window's reflection and smiled at her. He grabbed her around the waist and bent to rest his chin on her shoulder. "You're about to miss dessert. What's got you all puffed up and looking pleased?"

She shook her head and brushed a kiss across his cheek. "Just daydreaming."