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The Curse of the Mortal Cup

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Alec startled from his sleep, sitting bolt-upright in his bed; entire body covered in a thin sheen of sweat, his heart pounding in his ribcage as though trying to escape from his chest- it replayed over and over in his head. Fire. Men. Ghosts. Death. Fire. Men. Ghosts. Death. 

It was always the same thing, over and over and over. He threw back the bedsheets and stumbled over to the curtains, throwing them wide and revelling in the blinding light of the midday sun. 

When their ship had been attacked on their way to Port Royal they had been ripped through by cannons, hounded by the wind and fog that throttled men where they stood; poisoning the very air they breathed. Alec’s heart constricted, breathing becoming difficult.

 

Hodge threw Izzy into the storage room first, then Max, then Jace. He grabbed Alec’s shirt as connonfire hacked through the ship once more, gunfire hitting bluntly at their ears. The waves battered at the portside, rain lashing down on the men outside in silver sheets; Alec screamed at Hodge, screamed for his mother and father, who were fighting out on deck, screamed for his brother and sister, that they might die locked away in a storage room with nobody to protect them. 

Hodge gripped his lanky 12-summer-old arms, and screamed right back. Another shot and it was closer. Another step and the door handle to the quarters turned. Alec fell silent as Hodge pulled a leather string from his neck and pressed it to Alec’s heart, mumbling a few words under his breath; the glass of the pendant hanging from it cool to the touch in his hands.

That was the last time he had seen Hodge Starkweather.

They had been found by their mother, huddled in a corner covered in a linen behind several barrels of drinking water. She had held them all as they cried, the cut of her forehead still oozing blood and her dress torn in several places, their father was next, just as bloodied and bruised as his wife, but he had not held his children; instead he had pulled Alec aside and berated him for not coming back out on deck to truly protect his family. 

The crossing from England had been a difficult one, and their ship had barely made it to Port Royal in one piece; in the years to follow Maryse Lightwood would tell them the story of their journey, of the one outside the double doors of the quarters. The one where the pirates that attacked had simply turned and run the other way, had fallen back in their places, turned and fled back to their ship without a second look back.

Alec’s first night in Port Royal had been riddled with nightmares, so much so that he stood at his balcony, looking out over the town and the ocean, the humid air a stark contrast to that of the biting chill of London. The mood hung high in the sky, glittering off the waves lapping at the cliff-face. The fog of early morning rolled in faster than he had expected, and when his eyes scanned the horizon it morphed and whirled into a ship, torn sails and tattered rigging hanging like a noose. When he blinked again for his eyes to adjust, it was gone.

 

Alec’s eyes adjusted to the light. The ocean was bright and clear, matching the endless blue sky that stretched over the land. There were white sails dotted on the water and the port was full, trade coming and going and all sorts of boats tied up to the dock. The green shrubs outside were being tended to and if Alec listened close enough, he could hear the market stalls in the town. Port Royal was beautiful in the summer.

He twisted the pendant on his neck, the rounded glass soothing him as it twirled through his fingers, calming him.

It was his day today, his commander had taught him everything he needed to know and now it was his turn to be honoured, to finally take over the Shadowhunter and finally be able to take control of his life, of his own choices. 

His promotion ceremony was in another few hours, the pavillion was already set up the night before to prepare for Governor Lightwood’s son to become a Captain of his Majesty's Royal Navy. Robert had told him to be proud of his accomplishments, but he never let him forget the one thing his parents wanted more than any promotion or award: for him to find a suitable wife from a good family and to make heirs to the Lightwood name.

Alec’s stomach twisted at the thought of marrying a woman. It was something he had accepted in himself a long time ago. Izzy had been the first to know after he had realised it himself, then obviously Jace, Max was too young to understand what it meant for Alec to favour men over women. His parents would never understand it, despite them pushing Alec to the best he could ever be and loving his siblings with a fierceness he admired… they would never accept him.

Alec washed away any thoughts of the dream with the heated water of the washroom before dressing in his cotton undershirt and trousers and knocking on Jace’s door. God help him if he had been out drinking the night before.

“Jace you lazy bastard- open the door!” He called, hearing a loud groan he walked right in.

“What? Alec- huh?”

His brother rolled over to get a better look at him, gold eyes squinted and blonde hair sticking up at all odds and ends. Alec just smiled smugly in return and promptly ripped the drapes open. Jace hissed and hid his face in the comforter, yelling profanities.

“Oh shut it- it’s your fault you were out until God knows how early in the morning,” Alec pulled the bedsheets off of him, eliciting a glare from Jace, who had nothing but his nightshirt and underwear on.

“You look like a sad puppy.” Alec said, cocking his head in mock sympathy,

Jace pouted, “I am a sad puppy.”

Alec rolled his eyes, “well I expect you to be bright-eyed and bushy tailed for the ceremony.” 

Jace was about to answer when Izzy barged in, not taking a second glance at a half-dressed Jace and a scolding-mom-zone Alec.

“Mom and Dad want you,” she said, holding out a green apple, “I figured you could eat this to avoid agreeing to marrying some poor girl.”

Alec took the apple, narrowing his eyes at his sister’s obvious jab at his foot-in-the-mouth syndrome that always seemed to get him into the worst situations.

“Stay out of trouble,” he shot a pointed look at the both of them, and walked out, calling back, “AND PUT SOME PANTS ON!”



“We have very good news.” His father said, Alec held his breath, watching how Robert’s left eye twitched, and his shoulders tensed. “I have been contacted- by Commodore Malachi Dieudonne. Apparently in training you have been impressive,” he smiled proudly, making Alec’s heart swell, “he has specifically requested you to follow him on an expedition to the East India Trading Company’s port in Batavia.”

Alec’s heart dropped. To travel the sea and to see the world was his dream, it was all he ever wanted- but to do so now? With his brother barely mature enough to follow orders and his sister still running away from the marriage proposals men older than their father had thrown at her since the day she turned eighteen?

“I can’t.” He choked out, “my fate is here, in Port Royal, to protect the ones I love that are here.”

Alec’s father’s expression changed in a heartbeat as Alec looked back with a determination he had never seen in his son. Alec was not going to leave his family. His siblings were his life and he would rather die than leave them to fend for themselves in a world where they would be forced into roles that would crush their spirits.

He knew what being sent away meant. It meant the end of his siblings freedom in exchange for his own, Izzy would have nobody to save her from being married off. Jace would have nobody to get him out of bar fights and out of the way of their parent’s wrath. 

“Do you have any idea what an honour it is to be chosen for this mission?” Robert raised his voice slightly, making Alec curl in on himself. 

“I understand that, but I won’t leave Jace and Izzy. My duty is to protect the ones I love and I will do that here.” His voice was hard, assertive, something he had never been with Robert. But to have Alec leave his siblings? It was never going to happen.

Robert sat back in his chair, studying his son with an intensity that made Alec look at his shoes like a scolded child. The grandfather clock ticking on the wall was the only catalyst in the silence of the office.

“Fine.” Robert said finally, “you may not take the Commodore up on this opportunity to make the Lightwood name proud.” Alec looked up and saw nothing but a cruel glint in his father’s eyes. “You can stay here in Port Royal, Alec. But you will never amount to anything.”

Alec was dismissed and his feet lead him back to his room, mind going numb and fingers clenching into fists; his father’s words played over and over in his head you will never amount to anything. His family had run into trouble in London; an uncle had somehow disgraced the Lightwood name and they had no other choice but to kiss up to the conclave of nobility looking at them as if they were the ones that offended them. After that honour and status was all that Robert Lightwood cared about- how other people thought of them, what they said and how they said it. It was why Alec had to take the blame for so much; if he could uphold the family status by being perfect and allow those he loved to do whatever they wished- there was really no contest. All it took was a small part of his happiness, and even then it wasn’t that much.

He bypassed everything else and walked straight out onto the balcony, taking off the strap of leather around his neck and holding the glass close to his heart. It was the one constant he had left, a sort of comfort to him when he couldn’t tell Jace or Izzy what was going on inside his head. 

The warmth of the summer air ruffled his hair and he took a deep breath. If he was going to be a disappointment and never be anything in the eyes of his parents he was going to have to work twice as hard to prove them wrong. Follow every rule; every other expectation to make sure that he was not a failure. He was going to make his parents and the Lightwood name proud.

In the distance he counted the boats heading for shore, the way the sails rippled in the wind and the figurehead pointed to the docks, the boat surging forward and slicing through the water. He thought of the Shadowhunter and the power behind it. It had been refurbished in the years he and his family had settled in the bay, and it was truly unmatched in speed and beauty.

“I know it’s shit.” Izzy’s voice pulled him from his thoughts and he quickly threw the necklace over his head, 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he replied nonchalantly, 

Izzy came and stood next to him, “I heard what father said to you, and he’s wrong. Alec,” 

He knew she was trying to make him feel better, but the pity in her eyes reminded him how weak he was. How could he bring honour to the Lightwood name if he could barely make his parents proud?

“I’m fine, Iz,” he said again, keeping his eyes trained on the horizon.

Izzy took a deep breath and fidgeted with her corset dress, it was a lovely blue that she’d helped the seamstress make a few weeks prior; “sometimes I wish we could just leave, y’know?”

Alec’s head snapped to look at her, but she kept looking ahead, a wistfulness in her eyes, “like when we were children; playing with wooden sticks and pretending we were pirates.”

Alec almost laughed at the memory, “we used to pretend that there was treasure hidden in the caves on the beach,”

“Max still has the little wooden sword Jace and you made him,” she giggled, there was a pause.

“I do.”

“Do what?”

“Imagine leaving.”

It wasn’t that Alec was lying; he had often dreamed of leaving Port Royal behind, travelling all over the world in search of something. There had to be more to the world than nobility and politics. Hodge had told them stories about the Old Gods, the myths and legends of the sea and all its power. Jace had written them off as nothing, but Alec always felt as if there was some truth to it. There had to be more.

But his own feelings didn’t matter. There wasn’t any point in him going after what he wanted in life if it meant that everyone else would suffer. No, he was happy to keep his parents and others occupied so that Izzy and Jace and Max could enjoy the life they wanted, the one that they deserved.

Izzy turned to him, blinking and taking a few deep breaths- Alec was about to ask if she was okay when she began speaking again,

“Then why don’t we do it?” Alec’s eyes widened, but Izzy gripped his arm her eyes shining, “why not? Jace isn’t happy here either- and I know you aren’t, we could do it- Hodge taught us enough and we could leave and finally be free, we could be free, Alec- be who we want,” her expression softened, “we could love who we want.”

“What about Max, Iz? We would abandon him?” He snapped, he knew that what she was saying was possible, it was so close and he wanted to go more than anything. That’s what made anger swell in his chest because he couldn’t be that selfish, he couldn’t leave his youngest sibling to fend for himself in the sea of politicians while he was free to roam the earth. Izzy and Jace and Max were safe. They were together. That was all that mattered.

“No,” Izzy hissed back, “I say we take him with us, he’s twelve, he’s old enough to join us on a ship.”

“And old enough to be hanged for piracy if we do.”

That was another fear; of all his fascination the thought of any of his siblings being harmed for piracy or otherwise was unthinkable. He wouldn’t- He couldn’t let that happen.

Izzy was silent, she took her hand off Alec’s arm and held on to the stone wall of the balcony,

“I guess we’re stuck then.” She said, the disappointment clear on her face,

“I’m just trying to protect you guys,” Alec replied, Izzy offered a sad smile,

“Sometimes you have to take care of yourself too. We just want you to be happy,”

“I am happy, Izzy, I have you, and Jace and Max,” he said, both meaning it and not, he was happy with his siblings, just not happy with himself. But himself didn’t matter.

Izzy cast another wistful looks back at the ocean, mind obviously running off with images of the three of them stealing a ship and running away to a foreign land before leaving Alec alone, fiddling with the glass around his neck.

 

~

 

The Fort was littered with red, white and royal blue. 

The red tailcoats formed triangles either side of Alec, leaving a perfectly (ironically) straight  gangway for him to walk down to his father to honour him as Captain Lightwood. The openness of the pavillion made him feel naked in front of the crowd that had gathered to see the ceremony; the sun beat down in hot, heavy swathes that even the breeze couldn’t squash- instead it curled around Alec’s throat, heated anxiety wrapping its claws around him like a noose.

The drum started; a thrumming that nestled itself in Alec’s mind. Each step he took towards his father. He could see Izzy out of the corner of his eye even though his vision came in and out of focus a few seconds at a time. He looked straight ahead, all he had to do was reach his father, make his pledge and move the sword the way he had memorised when he was just a child.

 His blue coat was tight, or at least it felt it was- there were too many layers and the ruffles and long sleeves made it difficult for him to move fluidly, almost fumbling with the sword more than once. The searing heat did not let up, instead seemed to press down even harder as the ceremony wore on. By the end of it Izzy and Jace had walked over, congratulated him before Izzy had said that a corset in the heat was not good for her health. As much as Alec protested to staying at the party Izzy had told him to enjoy his special day. 

So he stayed at the party. Maryse had kissed him on the cheek and said how proud she was of him. Robert said nothing, just a slight incline of the head when he looked his way.

Alec made his way over to the archway at the very edge of the fort. A vertical drop into the water below only hindered by the low wall lining the edge. There was an archway, built of the finest stone- although a decade of tropical storms and salty sea air had weathered it. The bell however, still worked, it was beautiful, old brass and inscribed with the motto that carried his country’s political stance, Sed Lex, Dura Lex: The Law Is Hard, But It Is The Law. 

Alec leaned against the archway, hoping that the salty sea air could calm his raging nerves and take away the heat stroke turning his brain to mush.

It was a moment before he registered he was falling.

The wind whipped through his hair and all he could see was blue- that of the ocean or the sky he didn't quite know until his back hit the raging waves of the sea. White and blue. Sea and foam. Cloud and sky. Alec saw nothing but black.

Somewhere in the recesses of his mind he thought he heard a muffled shout and a heavy pulse in the water- maybe it was Jace, maybe it was the angels calling for him to follow them to the afterlife. He didn’t know. What he did know was that the water was cool, and that within the rhythmic movement of the waves was not a bad place to die.

 

Warm hands replaced cool water as he surged towards the surface. He didn’t see more than felt the strong arms wrap around his waist, pulling him to safety. When he felt the hard surface of the docks he knew he had to open his eyes and to breathe, but he couldn’t. A mental block that stopped his lungs from working; that made his limbs as lifeless as he felt.

The hands were back again, tearing at his coat and his shirt until he could feel his body begin to fight against the invading water. 

Coughing and spluttering Alec rolled over, damp and claggy air coating him in another layer of wet. When he looked up he expected to see Jace as his saviour, but instead was greeted by a pair of beautiful brown eyes and caramel skin.

He was beautiful.