Alec is familiar with the sensation of drowning. Every time he’s forced to go to one of these things and left to his own devices, he begins to sink. He’s surrounded by hundreds of people, the social and political elite of the Empire. He should be used to this, he should flourish. Instead, hundreds of conversations fill his lungs until he can’t find air around them, every passing glance is an unspeakable monster in some deep and formidable ocean.
This has been his life. Stuffy ballrooms full of faces, countless handshakes and nods, polite smiles and “of course I remember”s when he hasn’t the faintest recollection. This will be his life. A few yards away Alec can see his mother, building his future. There has been a Lightwood on the Imperial Senate for three generations now, and it’s his turn next. She gestures toward him proudly and he looks away. He can’t seem as though he’s watching her, a son trailing in his mother’s wake. He has to make the future his.
Desperately, he seeks Isabelle out in the crowd. It isn’t hard, she always has an entourage of admirers, one of the Empire’s sweethearts. He spots her across the dancefloor by a buffet table, wearing a bright emerald green gown with sleeves and a hem that brush the floor, dark hair piled up on her head. She’s always been able to steady him better than anyone else.
He’s at the opposite end of the table when he realizes who she’s speaking with. Gray and brown robes stick out at a fancy social event, but the hilts of lightsabers at the two strangers’ hips give Alec pause. Jedis don’t usually mingle with politicians. This isn’t a political event technically , it’s a charity auction, but there are politicians everywhere.
Before he can decide whether to retreat or approach, Isabelle has seen him and is waving him over. He smiles at her, softly, before tilting up his eyebrows into an expression of polite interest. He’s learned that he can sustain that look on his face for much longer than he can a fake smile.
“Alec,” she gestures to the pair in front of her, “this is Catarina Loss and Magnus Bane. Jedi.” She raises her eyebrows meaningfully, and Alec offers his hand to both of them. He’s never seen a Jedi up close like this, his parents keeping him well away from them, claiming that the Force doesn’t have any place in the modern Empire. He’s not sure what he was expecting. Catarina Loss looks uncomfortable, but in a completely different way than Alec. It’s clear she’d rather be anywhere else, but she wears it on her face and in every inch of her body language like armor rather than hiding it like Alec tries to.
Alec looks at Magnus Bane as they shake hands, and then looks away swiftly before he can stare. He’s wearing dark gray robes, modest and plain, but Alec is still entirely sure he’s the most beautiful man he’s ever seen. Which is a dramatic thought, and Alec sends it away with annoyance at himself, but still. The thought was there, and a shadow of it lingers when Alec looks up again to introduce himself.
“Alec Lightwood,” he says, cordially. “I didn’t expect to meet any Jedi this evening.”
“The Jedi Council agreed that we should make more of an effort to be seen by the public eye. They asked me to attend, and Catarina agreed to accompany me,” Magnus explains.
That made sense, and Alec glances around. The Jedi Order had been under fire recently, a wave of suspicion has risen in the Senate toward them. The source was Valentine Morgenstern, who claims that an end to the Jedi would also be an end to Jedi turning Dark and joining the Sith Order. It’s also a widely shared belief that the Jedi are outdated, an institution of a bygone era, out of place among an Empire that spans the galaxy and technology advancing more and more each day.
His own mother had called the Order a “thorn in the side of progress” and he hopes, briefly, that she won’t see her children conversing with two Jedi Knights.
“Because you’re the nicest Jedi to look at?” Alec says, and then freezes. That can be construed as insulting or flirtatious, and either one is cause for panic. But, when a bright smile creeps onto Magnus’ face, Alec can’t help but smile back. He catches Isabelle’s wide eyed staring, however, and schools his face back into neutrality.
Catarina takes one look at Magnus and rolls her eyes, before pointedly tilting her entire body to speak to Isabelle and exclude Alec and Magnus both from the conversation.
“I hear you’re running for the Senate when your mother’s term is up this year,” Magnus says, and there’s an edge to his voice. Like mentioning Maryse leaves a bad taste in his mouth. “I can’t help but be glad that her term will end before her proposal for monitoring Force-sensitive children can ever be voted into action.”
That particular proposal created quite a lot of conflict among the Senate and indeed the Lightwood family. Isabelle and their mother haven’t spoken to each other directly in months, and Max has been sent to their home in the country with a nanny to avoid the drama. Jace, their adopted brother, hasn’t slept at home in weeks.
Alec doesn’t say any of this, only, “My mother believes it would protect them. However, it’s also my mother’s battle, I plan for my time on the Senate to be my own.” It’s a common regurgitation of a campaign statement and Magnus smiles wryly.
“I’m glad to hear it,” he says, and Alec can see the distaste for Maryse begin to spread to Alec himself, and finds himself wishing wildly that it wasn’t.
“I believe people should be free to make their own choices without any organization breathing down their neck. Be it the Senate or the Order,” Alec adds, clasping his hands behind him.
Magnus tilts his head, as if mulling this over. “I hope you fight for that belief, Alexander,” he says finally, and the use of Alec’s full name makes his heart beat a little faster.
Alec can only find it within himself to nod, and give a brief smile. Magnus offers his hand, and they shake again. Alec notices a ring on his left hand, stamped with a B, but before he can ask about it Magnus is bidding them both goodbye and disappearing into the crowd with Catarina by his side.
“That was interesting,” Isabelle remarks, lifting a flute of champagne to her lips.
“Jedis are bound to be interesting,” Alec replies, opting for a glass of sparkling water himself. He doesn’t like the taste, but he also doesn’t believe alcohol would do him any favors in that moment. Isabelle narrows her eyes at him, the face she makes when she’s trying to figure him out, and Alec has a defensive statement on his tongue when he hears his name.
Maryse approaches from the direction that Catarina and Magnus just left in, dark blue dress cut in sharp lines, hair brushing over her shoulders. “Were those Jedi I just saw talking to my children?” she asks coolly, but the steel beneath it makes Alec stand up a little straighter. Isabelle, quite helpfully, pretends Maryse isn’t there, and continues to drink her champagne.
“They’re Knights from the Order,” Alec says.
“What did they want?” Maryse asks, eyeing Isabelle for a moment.
“To make a bid?” Alec suggests, gesturing around to the display cases of galactic relics for auction stationed around the room.
“Did they ask about Jace?” Maryse lowers her voice considerably and Isabelle makes a disgusted noise.
“Jace? No. No, it wasn’t anything about that,” Alec lowers his voice also, reflexively. Jace is Force-sensitive, but Maryse and Robert insisted that no son of theirs would be taken by the “Jedi cult” as Robert so artfully phrased it. Jedi representatives hounded them for years, but eventually Jace aged out completely and they stopped bothering. “Why?”
“Have you spoken to your brother lately?” Maryse asks, tight lipped. Alec furrows his brow, shaking his head. “Speak with him. A lot of interesting characters have been showing interest in him of late. I wouldn’t be surprised if those glow stick wielding monks joined the crowd.”
This statement sticks in Alec’s head for the rest of the evening, through the bidding wars for ancient galactic artifacts, even as Isabelle shows him the new ruby necklace she won. “It’s supposed to be made of kyber, and can sense when the Dark side of the Force is being used near it,” she explains excitedly, fastening it around her neck.
“Does it work?” Alec asks distractedly, and Isabelle makes an impatient noise.
“Find me a Sith and I’ll let you know,” she says, hand looped around his arm as they finally make their way up the steps of their grand home in the galactic capital city of Alicante on the planet Idris; the white, silver and cool blue making it feel large and unwelcoming.
Alec wants to admonish her for joking about the Sith when they’re on the rise, more and more Jedi going Dark with each passing day, but instead he just pats her cheek and heads off to his room, the muted green walls and dark gray bedding soothing him as he shrugs off his dinner suit. His window overlooks the city, and he can see the Imperial Senate station hanging in the sky like a watchful moon.
His mind is full of images of Magnus Bane and questions about Jace, warring for his attention. Magnus’ brief, shining smile clashes with his mother’s ominous warnings until he finally scrubs a hand over his face, opening his window and scaling the wall of the house with practiced ease, finding footholds on windowsills and the drawing room terrace.
Jace, as he suspected, is on the roof, but he isn’t alone. He often comes up here to pout, even when he spends his nights away from home, but this time there’s a figure dressed in dark colors standing with him. Alec ducks down into the shadows of the gabled roof top, peeking over it.
His brother’s hair glints in the light of the city, but the stranger’s hair is darker. His voice carries, however. “Thanks, man. Luke will be happy,” he sounds cheerful, a bit energetic, and Jace nods.
“I tried to learn more, but I didn’t want to seem suspicious. Who’re you, again?” Jace asks, crossing his arms.
“Simon. Pilot,” the stranger, Simon, says, gesturing to himself.
“Alright, Simon Pilot, stay safe,” Jace says, clapping him on the shoulder.
“Yeah. May the Force be with you,” Simon says, and then turns, taking a running jump over the side of the roof.
Alec waits a few heartbeats until he can be sure the stranger is gone, and then stands up from his hiding place. “Couldn’t find a more discrete locale, Jonathan?” he asks and Jace flinches. Whether from surprise or the use of his full name, Alec isn’t sure. He is sure, however, that he doesn’t care, the confusion and irritation caused by the entire evening rumbling to the surface.
“Who was that?” he asks, stepping closer to Jace, who visibly steels himself, standing his ground.
“Forget it, Alec,” Jace says, already bringing up his hands in defense, warding Alec off.
“Was that a rebel? He said Luke. Luke Garroway? The Rebel leader?” Alec keeps coming and balls his fists into the front of Jace’s shirt, walking them both to the edge of the roof. Jace stumbles, but catches himself, military training kicking in. He doesn’t try to throw Alec off, though his eyes dart around nervously.
“Alec, you can’t tell anyone,” Jace says, and Alec scoffs.
“What, that my ass of a brother invited a rebel onto our roof while our sister is downstairs? So you can be thrown in jail while the rest of us are under suspicion?” Alec shakes Jace a little, before yanking him away from the edge of the roof and shoving him.
“Mother said you were attracting attention. She didn’t say from who,” Alec warns, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“She knows?” Jace gasps, looking around as if she would emerge from the shadows like Alec.
“Maybe. It doesn’t matter, because she thinks she knows something, so she’ll be watching you. You can’t do this again, Jace,” Alec says imploringly, but he knows his words are falling on deaf ears. When Jace gets it into his head that something is right, there’s no reasoning with him.
“The sanctions on the Jedi are getting worse every day, Alec. People like me are going to get rounded up like animals,” Jace snaps.
“People like you,” Alec mutters under his breath, before raising his voice for Jace to hear him. “And you thought, what? Some boy from a prominent Senator’s family sneaking around with rebels after dark will save them? That you have any sort of intel that would save them? What if you get caught? Then it gives the ones who support the sanctions the evidence they need in order to justify it. And what happens to us? Mom gets removed, I’ll never be elected, and Isabelle. You could be costing Isabelle her future.” Alec walks back to the edge of the roof, looking down onto the street below, and then at the space station above.
“Find another way,” he says, and then slips over the side, grabbing the ledge before climbing back down.
He hears Jace moving around, but he doesn’t follow. Back in his room, Alec locks the window and throws himself onto the bed, rubbing his eyes furiously.
People like me . Maryse and Robert have never let Jace even see a Jedi, or interact with any Force-sensitive children. He was shipped off to military school as soon as he turned thirteen and got expelled when he was fifteen. Jace has never had anyone like him. Alec rolls his eyes. In Jace’s isolation, he never learned how to think about other people before blindly acting.
If Jace were capable of thinking about other people, he would know that going to the Rebels wasn’t the answer. What he had witnessed was treason. His brother was committing treason against the Empire. He was risking his life and the lives of his family for people he didn’t know.
It made Alec’s head hurt.