"Stay low. Stay under the radar."

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Excerpt: Preening
thumbs up, turk
empressfunk wrote in the__alliance
Hey, who wants a (completely rough) excerpt from Chapter 11? It's about preening. :3


"My parents are going to kill me," Woods said as Jordan dug at his right wing impatiently. "Not only did I go out when I was grounded, but it's nearly ten at night."

"You're still grounded?" Eric called up from the front. Along with Jace, they were the last four in the van.

"They're very disappointed with me," Woods said. Jordan swore his wings might actually be on fire. There was no other explanation for this. "Are you okay?"

Jordan turned to Woods, who was looking at him with a mixture of amusement and concern.

"My wings itch," Jordan replied.

"Well, how often are you preening them?" Woods asked.

"How often am I what?"

"Preening," Woods repeated, and then, when Jordan only continued to stare in confusion, started to laugh. "No wonder they're itching-your feathers are growing all on top of each other, cramped in that coat and haven't been cleaned."

Jordan bristled. "I clean my feathers."

"Well, probably not the way you should be," Woods continued, "I used to keep birds."

"Of course you did."

In the front seat, Jace snickered.

"Listen, maybe you could come over to my house tomorrow and I could teach you how to preen." Woods said. "And then maybe I could introduce you to my parents so they'll un-ground me."

Parents? "Uh…sure," Jordan replied.

Eric made a sound that appeared to be a cough, but Jordan was sure it started out as a snicker too.

So, the next day, Hill parked Cruella outside of Woods' two story suburban home. Jordan was taken aback by how normal it looked. He at least expected a front yard filled with a wild garden of unidentifiable plants. Instead there was just a well-manicured lawn and a small rock garden near the front steps.

Jordan closed Cruella's door and started up the pathway. A second later, the driver's side door slammed shut and footsteps followed. Jordan turned around to see Hill trailing him.

"What are you doing?" The question came out much more blunt and panicked that Jordan had intended.

"Coming to say 'hi'," Hill replied, but Jordan wasn't fooled. Hill must've still remembered Jordan's initial (and perhaps continued) wariness of Woods. Hill was checking him out, making sure he could trust Woods and his family enough to leave Jordan alone with him.

"You don't need to do that," Jordan insisted. "Any other time you would just drop me off."

Hill patted Jordan's shoulder and chuckled. "Why, kiddo, if I didn't know any better I'd think you were actually embarrassed for me to meet your friend."

Hill reached in front of Jordan to ring the bell before Jordan could come up with a proper response that didn't boil down to "Nuh-uh."

Jordan could hear Woods racing down the steps from behind the solid oak door, calling out, "I got it! Dad, no, I've got it, you don't have too-"

The door swung open, and Jordan's first thought was that Woods had suddenly aged about twenty-five years. The man before him had a stronger jaw, some grey hairs, smile lines, and a nose that looked like it might have been broken years ago and healed a little crookedly, but otherwise almost an exact replica of Woods.

"You must be Jordan," Woods' father said, sticking out his hand to shake Jordan's, who was still momentarily bewildered. He could see Woods coming to a halt at the foot of the stairs, the apprehension on his face barely suppressed. "And, you're Jordan's father, right?" He reached out a hand to Hill, who shook it, smiling broadly.

"For all intents and purposes. I'm his guardian, Hill."

"Pleasure. I'm Liam. Come on in, have a seat."

Liam led them inside. Their living room had the exact opposite effect of the outside of their house. As far as Jordan could see, there was strange and exotic art hanging from the walls and lining the hallways, odd carved wooden furniture draped with bright, woven cloths, and the smell of earth and spices lingering from everywhere.

"And this is my son, Jesse," Liam said, and Woods stepped forward to shake Hill's hand as well. "I'm really sorry about this whole mess." Jordan at first thought he meant the house, which, while it seemed to be overloading his senses with its sheer everything, was relatively neat. It took him a moment to understand Liam meant the supposed "fight."  "Jesse's a good kid, but there's no excuse for-"

Hill waved a dismissive hand, and settled into the wicker chair Liam gesture towards. "It was all just a misunderstanding. Jordan has a bit of a…medical condition…and Jesse took it upon himself to provide Jordan a cover story so people wouldn't ask too many questions."

Liam nodded slowly, and it was clear he understood just what sort of "medical conditions" would need to be covered up. "Well, that does sound far more like my Jesse. Still," he added, casting a side glance at Woods, "that doesn't change the fact that he snuck out twice while he was supposed to be grounded-"

"We should really get started," Woods said suddenly from the stairs. "The whole thing, uh, takes a while and it's already nearly two o'clock…follow me, Jordan." And Woods turned and trudged up the stairs without waiting for a response.

"Leave your door open a crack, Jesse," Liam called back, and Jordan heard Woods' faint "ohmygoddad" under his breath.

Jordan followed Jesse up, noticing the duplicate family reunion pictures that were in Eric's house lined part of Jesse's stairwell too. The smiling Jesses of different ages were a much different picture than the one red-faced and awkwardly pushing open the door to his room. Lush plants, clothes shoved hastily into an overflowing clothes hamper, and haphazard piles of schoolwork met Jordan's view when he walked inside.

"Sorry, I didn't exactly finish cleaning," Woods said, picking up his English and History textbooks and dumping them on his desk. He kicked aside what looked like a thin, rolled up exercise mat to the corner of his room, and then waved his hand towards a group of potted plants. They shrunk back on themselves just enough to give the impression of more space. He grabbed a stack of old newspapers from his desk. "Okay, coat off."

Jordan shrugged off his coat, eying the door while Woods began spreading out the newspaper on the floor.

"It's for the feathers," Woods answered before Jordan could ask. He looked up once most of the floor was buried underneath The San Domingo Chronicle and made a face. "Jordan, you have to take off your shirt too."

Jordan was aware of this fact, but it didn't make him move any faster to remove it despite the fact that his wings were itching again.

"Either you do it, or I'll do it for you and things will possibly get really awkward," Woods said.

"All right, all right…" Jordan turned to face away from Woods, pulling off his shirt and undoing the belts that held his wings in place. He stretched them out, sighing in relief, and then cautiously placed his hands over his stomach. He hoped his wings would shield Woods from seeing his lack of a navel, but just in case, he kept his hand squarely over his midriff. Being this close to someone while he was this exposed unnerved Jordan. Hill had helped Jordan make sure all of his upper body was coated in the "nude beige" makeup to avoid any awkward questions, but this close, Jordan was unsure how believable it would look.

"Jeez, Jordan, I can't believe you didn't so this sooner." There were suddenly warm fingers running through Jordan's feathers, exploring and combing. "Your feathers are growing all on top of each other and crowding together- do you even straighten them after you get out of the shower?" The question was apparently rhetorical; Woods continued chastise Jordan about his wing care without pausing for him to answer.

Preening was apparently tedious and awkward work. Woods soon, thankfully, fell silent in concentration, standing behind Jordan adjusting and pulling out feathers here and there, spraying the wings lightly with a mister. There was a sort of rhythm to it that was lulling Jordan into an oddly relaxed state.

From somewhere outside, a car's engine hummed as it approached the house, the rumbling of the garage door opening following not long after.

"Someone just came home," Jordan said and Woods' jumped, concentration broken, and accidentally squirted a particularly cold jet of water between Jordan's shoulder blades. Jordan's wings instinctively pulled together in protest.

"Sorry," Woods said, wiping the water away with his fingers. Jordan flinched at the touch. "That's just my mom. She was at the grocery store earlier and…and…" Woods voice trailed off as if he'd forgotten what he was talking about halfway through his sentence.


"Uh, nothing. Hey, can you hear what's going on downstairs? Are my dad and Hill still talking?"

Jordan was well aware of the subject change, but he didn't pursue it. Instead, he focused his hearing to the living room just below them. Woods' mother had just walked inside, and Liam was introducing her to Hill.

"Hi, I'm Jen," she said in the same bell-clear voice Woods had. "You must be Jordan's father. Jesse said he was coming over…"

"Your mom just came in," Jordan reported. "…and now she's talking to Hill too."

Woods heaved a sigh. Then, after a moment or two he said, "Did you know Hill before? Back when you were in a lab?"

The question was asked so casually Jordan wasn't even sure he'd heard right at first. He stood perfectly still.


Woods continued to mist and pluck as if he'd asked about something as ordinary as the weather, and Jordan folded his wings against his back, pulling them out of Woods' reach and spun to face him.

"I never said anything about me being in a lab."

Woods set his mister down on the desk, grabbed Jordan's shoulders, spun him back around, and then picked up the mister again in one fluid yet exasperation motion. "Jordan, it's not some a big secret. You know all of these things about Anomalies and labs and you're terrified of getting caught, like you know exactly what will happen if you do."

"There's nothing wrong with being cautious."

"And the way you talk about it, like it was your whole life before coming here, not just some part of it like ours. Plus," he added, running a finger between Jordan's shoulder blades where the mister had hit earlier, and Jordan shivered, "your disguise is coming off."

Jordan craned his neck to look over his shoulder; there, on Woods' finger, was a smudge of nudge beige concealer. Great.

"Are you yellow all over? Is that why you have to wear this?"

"I…" Jordan's mouth opened and closed over and over like a fish gasping for breath on dry land.

"I understand you have to hide from Hawks, but why all the secrecy with us?" Woods was falling back into the rhythm of preening, and that sense of ease and calm washed over Jordan again. If he didn't know any better he would've sworn Woods was doing it on purpose. Maybe he was.

"It's a lot more than Hawks," Jordan said. "Hawks are like this universal threat to all Mollies, but the people who are looking for me and Hill are…they're different."

"Who are they?"

Jordan hesitated. How much could he really tell Woods? Maybe Woods was right (as strange of an idea as that was to think about): hadn't the others proved he didn't need to hide from them? It had been weeks since the locker room incident, and no one except the seven of them knew the truth. They knew so little about the world Jordan came from anyway, how could they really be any threat? Who would they tell? This was the second time they'd been near Hawks, and they didn't even notice them until they inconvenienced them. And maybe with Kilo having such a close call, it would be better if the others knew just what Jordan was up against. Maybe then they'd listen to his advice a little more.

"They're called 'Retrievers.'" Jordan said finally. "The facility I escaped from, my brothers and sisters were a part of this project. Project Fifteen." It felt strange to have to explain it to someone. Whenever he talked about the Fifteen, it was with someone who already knew the Project's in and outs, and because he was the youngest, often knew more about it than he did. "Four years ago, something happened with all of us, my siblings and I…Hill said we'd gone through sort of wild 'episodes' before, but never like that. It started with the oldest, Alpha, and then worked its way down to rest of us. Hill thought it could've been from a chemical imbalance from all the testing, but we're still not really sure what caused it.

"The doctors thought we were too unstable to be handled so Project Fifteen was cancelled and then my oldest siblings started disappearing. What's funny is that we didn't really see each other that often unless we were testing or training together-we were all kept in separate cells, so it took me days to realize they were gone. It wasn't until after Hill had taken me out of Huxley that he told me they had been terminated."

Woods had abandoned Jordan's wings. A soft fwump indicated that he had sat down hard on his desk chair. "'Terminated'? You mean killed?"

Jordan folded his wings and crossed the room to sit on Jesse's bed. A floor below, Hill was asking Liam and Jen Woods about their impression of San Domingo High.

"Yeah. The youngest seven of us escaped thanks to the Keepers-the researchers, I mean. They were the ones who had the closest in contact with us; Hill was mine. The Retrievers have been tracking us down ever since, and they've gotten all but the last four of us. My sister Lima was termed right after I started school here. And just a few days ago my brother Kilo just barely escaped from a Hawk." Jordan felt his chest was growing tighter the more he continued to talk, the more he continued to think about how the Retrievers' efficiency grew with each sibling they caught. How close were they to him, even now? To the others? "Hill and I have been trying to avoid them all this time. We've tried to change it up a lot-abandoned warehouses, nice hotels, secluded small towns…once we camped in a forest for nearly three months." Jordan almost laughed at the memory of Hill's inability to set up their pup tent that first night. "When we don't have the Retrievers to worry about, there's the Hawks and Spencer, who'd either turn me in or…"

Or use him as one of their own. Maybe that was something Woods and the others didn't need to know about. How could they trust him if they knew he was not only a Hawk, but specifically created to be one of the best Hawks?

"…or keep us themselves," he finished lamely. "I don't know which is worse."

"Jordan, I'm so sorry…" Woods crossed the room and before Jordan knew what was happening, he was being embraced in a full body hug with the scent of grass and earth enveloping him. "Of course you wouldn't want to go back to that."

His first instinct was to push Woods away, followed closely by the second instinct to return the hug. He settled instead for the third option and patted Woods awkwardly on the back. Still, he was beginning to think Woods invading his personal space wasn't always such a bad thing. Jordan had just begun to pull away when the hinges of the door creaked open.
"Jesse, you didn't even come down and say 'hi' so I had to come up here and meet your-oh."
Jordan and Woods leapt away from each other as Woods' mother quirked a single, auburn eyebrow at them. Jordan could see Jesse had gotten his soft features from her, but was surprised by how much she also reminded him of Eric. The genes were incredibly strong in their family.
"Hi, Mom," Woods said, shoving a pillow at Jordan's midsection to cover it. So Woods had noticed Jordan's lack of a navel this whole time? Or maybe he just remembered Jordan was shirtless. "It's not what it looks like."
Jen's eyes drifted from the feathers littering the floor, to Jordan cradling the pillow across his stomach, to her son's tomato-red face, to Jordan's wings, and back to the feathers again.
"I'm not even sure what 'it' is," she replied. Then, "Hi, Jordan. Are you and Hill staying for dinner?"
"Uh, no, in fact," Jordan said, standing up, still clutching the pillow to his front, "Hill and I should probably be going. Uh. Thanks, though."

Jen gave Jordan a knowing glance and said, "Well, I'll let you get dressed. Nice meeting you, Jordan." She shut the door behind her and Woods buried his face in his hands.



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Good grief, I need to re-read this thing. Because you = genius and this = awesome.
Not to mention, I really do adore Jesse/Jordan. I've never stopped shipping them.

It's official, when I have time this upcoming week - I'm totes updating myself on this.
Both on DA and here and everywhere. Cause shyeah, awesome.

Also: if you don't remember me, this is hanela from DA (who's officially misshanbb on DA nowadays).

HAN! :D Of course I remember you! I always looked forward to your comments. :') I was wondering were you drifted off to.

Yeah, I've completely reworked The Alliance (now Anomalies), so that the whole story is a bit different, but the characters for the most part are the same. The first four chapters are up on my dA, and the next two are here. I'll probably continue to post excerpts here, and maybe some other random junk so I can breathe life into this place.

I need a hug emoticon or something. ::hugs::

Aw, good, I'm glad you remember me! :) I wondered if you ever wondered about me (as ego that sounded), I'm glad to hear that you did.

I did actually know you'd re-named it, but I just never got around to seeing what else was new with them. But I'm definitely hitting up the new chapters and everything. Are you gonna keep posting the chapters here or at DA? So I know where to look later. ;)

It kinda sucks that LJ doesn't have emoticons, but it would be such a bandwidth hogger if they did. lol

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