Jace stared up at the mistletoe with a mixture of horror and curiosity. “Why did someone hang a poisonous plant in the doorway?”
“Do you know what it is?” Alec asked, scowling when the younger boy answered him by giving him a ‘duh’ look. “I didn’t know if they had mistletoe in Idris.”
“Of course, they do,” Jace said, crossing his arms over his chest the way he always did when he talked about his home. “Everyone knows that.”
“I don’t. I’ve never been there. I’m not allowed to go there.”
“I’m sor – ” Jace stumbled over the word, then quickly added, “Why can’t you go?”
Alec shrugged, fingering the sleeve of his new sweater. It was itchy and too warm but his mom would be angry if he tore holes in it like he had with all his hoodies. “The stuff that our parents did that no one will talk about.”
Jace let out a nearly silent ‘oh’ and nodded. “There’s mistletoe in Idris but knowing what it is doesn’t tell me why it’s up there.”
Letting go of his cuff, Alec looked up at the bright green leaves tied to the heavily carved wood with a red bow. “It’s a Christmas tradition. People kiss underneath it.”
It sounded gross to Alec but there were lots of Mundie things that sounded gross to him. Adults kept telling him that kissing wouldn’t sound bad when he was older, but Alec wasn’t sure if he believed them or not.
“That doesn’t make sense,” Jace complained. “Why would you kiss someone that you like under a deadly plant?”
“It’s a Mundie thing,” Alec said with a shrug, assuming that it’d be enough of an answer for the younger boy.
Jace tipped his head back again, scowling at the decoration. At least he wasn’t scowling at Alec like he usually did. “Of course it’s a Mundie thing. Shadowhunters would never do something that dumb but that doesn’t explain anything. What does this plant have to do with kissing?”
Alec knew that Jace hated unanswered questions and things that were different from his life at the Wayland manor. He wasn’t sure why but he had the feeling that it had something to do with Jace’s dad… and maybe the scars he’d seen on his friend that didn’t look like the ones that Alec had earned during his training. If Jace didn’t get an answer, he’d get angry and snarl at everyone the way he had when he first arrived at the Institute.
“It’s based on a Norse myth,” Alec said slowly, surprised when Jace turned his attention toward him, gesturing impatiently for him to keep going. “The god Baldur was killed with dart made out of it.”
Pausing, he pointed at the white berries that were nearly hidden by the leaves. “His mother Frigg, cried over his death and the tears became the berries. She said that mistletoe would never again be used as a weapon and she would kiss any who passed under it.” It still didn’t make sense to him, but Mundies seemed to think it did. “I don't know how it went from a goddess’ blessing to people kissing under it.”
As he finished, he realized that he’d been rambling, giving Jace more information than he wanted. Izzy was always complaining about Alec being a nerd and memorizing stupid facts that no one cared about. Jace probably thought he was annoying just like Izzy did. “Sorry. You didn't want to know all that.”
Instead of mocking him, Jace grinned, almost bouncing on his toes before he realized what he was doing and stopped. Alec had seen him do that a few times before. When he asked about it, Jace had told him that a Shadowhunter was supposed to be absolutely still unless he needed to move. It’d seemed strange since Hodge hadn’t ever told them that but Alec had just nodded in agreement. “Do you know any other stories?” Jace asked. “Myths like the one about Baldur and Frigg?”
“Lots of them. Hodge lets me read books that mom and dad think are too old for me.” Some of them were even ones that Alec knew most Shadowhunters never bothered with, not believing that the stories in them were important. “I’m not supposed to tell them about those ones.”
Watching Jace, he realized that there was something weird about his expression. Was he going to tell mom and dad about the books? Or was he going to tell them that Hodge had given the books to Alec? What if Hodge got in trouble for letting him read them? Hodge was the only one in the Institute that thought it was good that Alec liked to learn things that no one else was interested in.
He kind of expected Jace to run off to tell on him the way Izzy would but instead he looked at the other decorations around the room before turning toward Alec. “I’d like to read books about mythology. Maybe the ones about the Mundie traditions?” It probably wasn’t supposed to be a question but it sounded like one. Which was weird because Jace always seemed confident no matter what was going on around them.
“There's some in the library and I have some in my room.” Keeping them there meant that his parents probably wouldn’t ever notice what he was reading. Unless Jace told. But he wouldn’t. They were becoming friends and friends weren’t supposed to tattle on each other. Alec gestured toward the hallway. “I can show them to you.”
Jace smiled, a real smile instead of the fake one he was always giving Alec’s parents, then he bit his lip, suddenly staring down at the floor. His shoulders hunched inward and Jace seemed bruised, like he’d been when he first arrived at the Institute. “Alec, what would happen if your parents knew you were reading those books?”
He felt sick as he stared at Jace, stomach clenching the way it had the first time he’d practiced on the high beam in the training room. Jace was going to tell. They were supposed to be friends and he was going to get Alec in trouble. His hands curled into fists and he was about to storm away when he realized that there wasn’t any meanness in Jace’s eyes. He looked scared even if he was trying to hide it.
“I won't tell them,” Jace promised in a rush. “But won't they be angry? Won’t they punish you?”
By the Angel, Jace was frightened of something, but Alec wasn’t sure what that could be. The only times Jace ever seemed afraid was when he talked about home. Alec knew that someone had hurt his friend in the past. Everyone told him it’d been the men who killed Jace’s father but why would he be scared now? Why would he be afraid of someone finding out about Alec’s books?
“They’d be angry but they’d just take the books away. They might tell me to stay out of the library for a few days but that’s all.” There’d also be the lecture about how he wasn’t a ‘proper Shadowhunter’ but it was hard to explain why that hurt when it was just words and it wasn’t the kind of hurt that would leave marks like the ones he’d seen on Jace.
“You never learned about mythology? I thought we were all supposed to learn about it since ‘all the stories are true’.” Alec hoped the question would distract Jace from whatever he thought would happen if someone found out that Alec had the books.
Jace blinked, focusing on Alec instead of whatever he had been thinking of. “Father taught me the Greek and Roman legends to help with my language lessons. I never read about the Norse. He only wanted me to focus on the classics.”
“Norse legends are classic too,” Alec huffed. “Maybe he was waiting until you finished those before letting you read the others.”
“Maybe,” Jace admitted, but he sounded doubtful that Alec was right. Alec doubted it too but he knew that they shouldn’t talk about Jace’s dad. It always made Jace go quiet and sad, making it hurt whenever Alec looked at the other boy. “I won’t tell them, Alec. I promise. You should have your books.”
“Izzy would tell. She always tattles on me.” Usually that was because he didn’t like to play the types of games she liked. Alec couldn’t understand why anyone would want to change their clothes as much as Izzy did or why glitter was so interesting.
“Well, I’m not Izzy.” Jace rolled his eyes as if Alec should have known the difference between the two of them. “If they make you give them back, then we can’t talk about the stories.”
The superior tone turned to something that would have been shyness if it was anyone but Jace Wayland talking to him. “We could go read now. Maybe you could show me your other books too?”
“Sure. I have lots of them. Mythology. Mundie novels – ” Alec started for the hallway, already trying to figure out which books Jace might like when he felt a hand on his wrist, tugging him back into the sitting room. “What?”
Jace held him firmly, but not hard enough to hurt him. Pointing up at the mistletoe, he gave Alec a small, but real smile. “We don’t want to hurt Frigg’s feelings, right?”
Alec was about to tell Jace that the tradition was for adults when Jace pressed a kiss to his cheek and then let go of his wrist. “Now the goddess will bless us.” Before Alec could think of anything to say, Jace was out the door, heading for Alec’s room. “Hurry up! You’re as slow as a Church!”
Tipping his head back, he stared at the plant and it’s shiny, red bow. Maybe kisses weren’t as bad as Alec thought. “Thank you, Frigg,” he whispered before chasing after his friend.