Jace comes in during one of Maia's shifts, his pretty face all beat up and sour. She's starting to wonder if he ever looks any other way, but she supposes he's more than earned that twisted mouth, that scraped skin.
The first time she saw him he'd been bruised and half-drowned, so she gave him a drink and a phone. Today she just crosses her arms, eyebrow cocked, and says, "I don't know what you think you're doing here, but I'd turn right back around if I were you."
"Why? You wanna try to kill me again?"
He'd like that, wouldn't he? That's the thing – he'd like that, he would. "No," Maia says. "I'm cooling it on the murder front lately. Same can't be said for you, though."
His jaw clenches but he still comes and sits across from her at the bar. There is a part of Maia, however small, that respects that. "Can I get a drink?"
"The hard stuff?" Maia guesses, and after his nod she pours him a glass of whiskey, two fingers. "If you're looking for absolution then you came to the wrong bar."
"And the wrong bartender," Jace remarks. "No. I'm not looking for that."
The pack is like a pulse. Even when Maia can't feel it, she knows it's there. Since the night at the Institute, her heart keeps skipping.
"Good," she says.
Jace swallows his drink in one go. "Good," he says, and there's a trace of his usual smirk in it. But it flickers and fades like a lit match, there and gone. "I am s–"
"Don't say you're sorry," Maia interrupts, harder than she expected. "People I love are dead because of you." Her voice wavers and she presses her lips together until she has control again, three deep breaths like Luke taught her back when her transformations were erratic and uncontrollable. "I know it wasn't on purpose. I know you feel guilty."
She trains her gaze on him, tough. "Believe it or not, I know a few things about manipulative men."
That gets a reaction, though it's subtle: just the barest tightening of Jace's jaw, his fingers clenching around the glass. In his eyes there is a trapped look, like being locked in a small room. You can get out but you can't get out. "Oh yeah?"
Maia hates feeling bad for him, but she does. She hasn't lost her empathy yet. "You want me to spill, you're going to have to get behind the bar," she says. "There's a code to these things. Customer does the soul-baring."
Jace relaxes his shoulders forcibly and his lips lift a little at the corners. "You've been doing most of the talking."
Maia sets three shots in front of him even though it's late afternoon and he's already deep into his whiskey. "Then you better start picking up the slack."
Jace lines the shots up neatly, licks tequila off his fingers when it sloshes over the rim. "I got nothing," he says, which Maia knows isn't true, before he throws back one shot and winces at the taste. "Apparently that's a problem I have. I've heard alcohol helps."
"How's it working so far?"
Jace shrugs and does the next one, then the third. "Not well enough." He looks up at her. "I am sorry. You may not want to hear it, but I am. You think I should be dead instead of them? Agreed. I should be."
Maia studies him for a long minute, the mottled purple shading his cheekbone and his reddened eyes. "That's my line," she says mildly. "Takes all the fun out of it if you say it first."
Jace does grin at her then, though it's an edgy one. He's brittle, but she finds she likes that. "I'll try not to step on your cues."
A gaggle of Seelies wave Maia over from the end of the bar, blue streaks curling through their hair and leaves glimmering at the edges of their faces. They really blend in during festival season. "You better not," she says distractedly to Jace before she moves off, gets caught up in drink orders and strange cocktails, yet another argument about how she cannot possibly accept acorns as payment.
The Hunter's Moon fills up as happy hour kicks in and Maia keeps busy flitting from one end of the bar to the other, but every so often her gaze travels back to the spot where Jace still sits. His shoulders are hunched and he's nursing the dregs of his first drink, but he doesn't leave. He doesn't chat up girls or boys or anyone. He just sits on his stool, parked like an old drunk at his favorite watering hole, and picks at the basket of peanuts.
Maia really has to excise her empathy impulse. It's not getting her anywhere.
On her next pass-through she switches out the stale peanuts for the good pretzels. "I better have the biggest tip in the five boroughs coming my way."
"I'll see what I can spare," Jace answers wryly.
He's still there are the end of the night. Maia's on until closing, so she watches the Hunter's Moon empty out – tipsy colleagues and blitzed regulars, designated sober friends and Downworlders with high constitutions, everyone coming and going and going until there isn't anyone left but her and Jace. Maia waves her co-workers off and hooks her fingers around a bottle before she makes her way back over to him.
"We're drinking," she says.
Jace looks from the tequila to her and back, brow creasing in puzzlement but lips already curving. "We're drinking," he agrees.
They sit at one of the tables in the back, lights sparkling above them and casting a golden glow on his blond hair. "Do bartender rules apply when we're sitting at the same table?" Jace asks.
"I'm off-duty," Maia tells him. "All bets are off."
Her eyes meet his under an arched eyebrow, challenging him. Daring him to ask something and daring him not to.
"Manipulative men," he says.
"Off-limits," Maia answers. "You're curious? Suffer."
His lips twitch, an odd little mix of emotions visible on him. His head hangs, his shoulders hunch: misery, clean and simple. But interest and amusement and tentative curiosity linger on his face. Not arrogance, though. Maia doesn't miss it.
"Is that how you…?" Jace draws three fingers lightly along the side of his neck, nodding at her.
Maia has looked at those scars in the mirror every single day for years; she has nothing to fear from them now. But still, for some reason, a shiver alights along her arms and shoulders. "Off-limits," she says again. "Don't be rude."
Jace nods a little, looking down at his drink. "Does it feel good?" he wonders then. "To be something else?"
Her forehead furrows for a brief moment, intrigued more than confused. "I'm not," she tells him. "It's like putting your insides outside. I'm the same. I change but I don't…change."
His lips purse as he processes this. "But does it feel good?"
Sometimes Maia got so angry that she could feel it under her skin, in her veins. She just wanted to rip herself apart, shred her skin until there was nothing left, until the anger had eaten everything. She'd been like that her entire life. Turning made it literal, but Maia had always been angry.
"Yes," she says.
There's something satisfied about his nod.
Then it's Maia's turn to pry. "He raised you?"
Jace nods again, glances up at her with a twisted little smile. "I have scars, too."
Maia doesn't know what possesses her to say it. "Show me."
He holds her gaze for a long moment and then tugs the sleeve of his t-shirt up over his shoulder, tilting towards her so she can get a good look. In between crisp black runes is an angry slash that has long since healed over. It's a deep furrow in his skin that runs an inch or three, pale down the middle and pink at the edges. "I was eight," Jace says. "Demon attack."
On his side there's another, a showy scar branching out like a flash of lightning; he was nine. Then he tugs down the collar of his shirt to show her the smallest smattering of scars across his collarbone: constellations, or freckles in negative. She wonders what caused that; it almost looks like shrapnel. "Six," Jace tells her. "No runes yet. Had to heal the old fashioned way."
He moves to drop his hand, but Maia stops him before he can. Unthinking, her fingertips land lightly on his knuckles, collarbone still exposed. Six, she keeps thinking, feeling turned over and sick. Six.
Jace's hand shifts under hers so that her fingers slip neatly into his. His thumb slides over her knuckles – maybe flirtatious, maybe deflecting. Maybe meaning it. It's such a stupid thing to be holding hands with a Shadowhunter after hours in her bar, sitting close together and sharing scars. Feeling sympathy. Feeling anything. Maia does not want to be a tool for someone else to numb their pain, but she has pain too. Maybe it's okay if it's mutual.
Maia looks at Jace's mouth, lips dry and always a little pursed but very pink, and knows that she's going to kiss him. She knows it the way you just know things sometimes, the universe presenting you with obvious and uncomplicated facts. In the next moment Jace is pulling her forward by their joined hands so that he can put his mouth on hers. Guess the universe gave him that one, too.
Their hands are still awkwardly clasped between them until Maia pulls hers free so that she can curl her arm around Jace's neck, hook him closer. He puts his hands on her waist, not stroking her skin or making a move, but just holding her. Holding onto her. He kisses like he's got the time for it, not pushy like some guys but waiting to see what she wants him to do before he does it. He doesn't step on her cues. A prickly part of her wonders if she's so easily read, her need for control so evident. Perhaps his passiveness is equally revealing. They're both dogs that have been hit one too many times on the nose with the newspaper. Sometimes they cower. Sometimes they bite.
Maia wants him to bite.
"What are you afraid of, huh?" she murmurs against his mouth, loosely curled fist thumping against his chest. She nips him sharply in frustration, tugs on his lower lip with her teeth. "Is this the best you've got?"
His grip on her waist tightens and his lips quirk, that old Jace grin. "Ain't seen nothing yet," he tells her, and in the next kiss something ignites. He's never once fought back with her, but this kiss gives Maia a sense of what it would be like if he did.
They kiss until they're tilting together and the awkwardness of the booth becomes an issue. Maia makes a decision before she can think twice. "Let's go."
They leave their untouched drinks behind with the uncapped bottle, separating long enough for Maia to grab her purse and lock up. Jace's palm settles warmly on her lower back as though he's reminding her that he's there before he steps in closer to kiss her neck. His mouth moves over the scars on her throat, but not in a way that is particularly significant or reverent. He's just kissing her neck. Maia appreciates that.
Maia lives right above the bar. It's two flights of grimy, gritty stairs surrounded by off-white walls smudged with dirty fingerprints, leading up to an apartment so small she could cross it in eight steps. It never got any air and it reeked of sidewalk trash in the summer, but on spring nights like this one it was almost pleasant. Maia could hear the sounds of the street filtering up after them: chatter and laughter and even music from the restaurant next door. Eighties power ballads. Not bad. She likes noise, feeling the city in her bones.
Plus the rent was impossibly cheap because a pack member owned the whole building, so Maia didn't really have any complaints.
She keeps one hand behind her the whole way up the stairs, Jace's fingers hooked in hers like links in a chain. She doesn't usually take men back to her apartment. Call it territorial, she just doesn't like them in her space.
The scuffed whitewashed door swings open and shut with a creak. Jace doesn't bother looking around the dim apartment before turning Maia gently and easing her up against the closed door. Two fingers thread themselves through the loop at the back of her jeans and the other hand splays flat against the door next to her head. Hunter, hunted.
They're on the same page, though; neither of them spoils the mood with talking, asking questions looking for deeper meaning where there isn't any. It's enough for Maia to curl her hands in Jace's hair so tightly that she might pull it out by the fistful. It's enough for him to nudge her legs apart, sink down and fit his hips against hers. When he kisses her again, Maia meets it without hesitation, arching up into him, pushing and feeling him push back. Their breathing gets short but synced, both of them catching little gasps whenever they're able to drag their mouths apart for a moment. It's like being evenly matched in a good fight. There's adrenaline and excitement and danger, the smell of blood in the air.
One of Jace's hands slides into her jeans and skims down her stomach until it can insinuate itself between her legs, pressing against her hard through her bodysuit. She flicks the button of her jeans open to give him more room as he rubs her through the fabric until its wet. Then suddenly he jerks open the snaps holding the suit together and his fingers skate over her skin, slip where she's slick. Maia makes a little keening noise as she grinds down against the heel of Jace's hand, his teeth on her earlobe.
Maia kisses his bruised cheekbone absently as she rocks against his hand, but then she pushes him away so she can twist the bodysuit free of her jeans and pull it over her head. Jace gets distracted, smoothes his hand over her torso and cups her breast, his fingers still sticky from being inside her. He rubs her nipple with wet fingertips and then circles it with his tongue, tastes her and tastes her. Jace can't seem to keep his mouth off her after that: he kisses her collarbone, trails his lips down her sternum and over her ribs. He kisses her bellybutton. He's nosing lower into her open jeans when Maia yanks him up sharply by his hair so she can divest him of jacket and shirt, haul him in for a kiss bare skin to bare skin.
His body is substantial, his skin warm – not surprising, but surprisingly real. To feel him like that, his chest against hers, is something of a shock.
Jace's hands curl around her thighs so he can hoist her up, her legs around his waist and arms around his neck. He carries her the eight steps from her door to her unmade bed and drops down onto it, pressing her into familiar sheets that will carry his smell after this, that mix of steel and demon ichor and sweat and spice that Maia likes more than she'd ever admit to.
Maia runs her hands over Jace like she's making a blueprint, mapping out his weak spots. Those stupid runes flash under her fingers as she kneads his shoulders and biceps, his chest, his waist, his ass. His skin reacts to her touch visibly, going white-then-pink under every too-hard pass of her hands, but he reacts too: lips parted, eyes closed, breath hitching. He feels strong but Maia knows he can break. There's a wolf thing there, a part of her that likes it.
She shoves him off her again, momentarily edgy with that feeling, and sits up on her knees so she can fuss with the speakers on the shelf above her bed. She needs music: something bluesy, something for late nights and bad decisions and pretty boys. Maia knows she could do what she wants with him. She could lay him on his back and just look at him, tensed muscles and blond hair and pouting lips. She could ride his fingers, his mouth, she could get what she wanted from him and get rid of him after. Her skin prickles with all the things she could do to Jace. She could, she could.
What she does is let him pull her back down. She lets him trace a path down her body with his tongue and his teeth, his stubble scoring her skin. He peels her jeans off, finally, and buries his face in the crease of her hip. "God," he says, the first thing since the bar. "Your body."
It's so dumb and generic, but there's something intoxicating about it all the same, his pretty mouth saying pretty things against her skin. Maia watches him as he moves lower, his cheek rough against her inner thigh. One of his eyes, the one that's blue and brown, is shadowed purple underneath. He's got a scrape on his forehead like you'd get from hitting gravel. But Maia doesn't ask what the hell happened to him that brought him to the Hunter's Moon looking for someone who wouldn't cut him a break. She just lays back and listens to the music, closes her eyes and touches her tits while Jace pushes her legs apart and folds them up, tongues her open.
His mouth is hot but she's hotter. It's evident that he's got reliable moves to fall back on here but Maia doesn't make it easy for him. She twists, bucks up against him, digs her heels into his shoulders when she likes what he's doing and pulls his hair when she doesn't. It's a challenge Jace rises to. He eats her out like he's got something to prove, fingers inside her to work every angle. Coaxing it out of her, fixated on getting her across that finish line.
That's different, too.
Maia comes so hard she shreds one of her pillows, pulling taloning nails away from his back before she can do any transformative damage. It's not the first time she's ruined a pillow, but it's the first time in a while. "Mind your fucking ego," she says when she catches him grinning. His pink mouth is wet, and his face tilts up like he's waiting for her to kiss him.
Maia doesn't. Instead she gets the rest of his clothes off and pulls him back up, Jace pressing her into the sheets. She wraps a hand around his dick, measures thickness and length with an assessing touch and feels her body clench in anticipation. "Hold up," she breathes, "Not like this," and she flips them over so she can sit straddling his hips, her eyes flashing green. Her body is buzzing. "I like to be on top."
Jace looks up at her like –
It's not important. His fingertips dig into her splayed thighs. "I like being under you."
Maia snorts and rolls her eyes, plants her hands on his chest. "Loser," she says. "You better hope I don't scratch."
"Might not be able to help it," he replies, cheeky. She feels him shift under her like maybe he wouldn't mind it if she did.
"I guess that's up to you." Maia sits up on her knees a little. "How good do you think you are?"
Jace finds her with his fingers first, teasing her, dipping inside and gathering moisture to massage into her still-sensitive clitoris, sending spiky little shivers through Maia's body. He spreads her open, holds her apart so he can ease into her slowly, keeping his hand there. Maia gasps as she adjusts, and moans when Jace's fingertips trace where she's stretched around him. He brings his hand to his mouth after, like he can't get enough.
They don't take things slow. Maia rolls and rocks her hips, feels that sore little twinge in her lower back from her last transformation. Jace's thumbs press into her hipbones, his fingers leave temporary indentations in the swell of her ass. She doesn't have to wait for him to catch up to her, like she sometimes has to with other guys. Jace gives it to her just as hard as she wants it.
Jace sits up, gets close. Maia's first instinct is to push him back down, keep him in line, but she finds she doesn't mind having him right there. Close enough to loop her arms around his neck. To drag her teeth over his bottom lip. To tighten her fingers in his stupid silky hair.
He lays a hand on her collarbone with surprising care and trails it down her chest, palms her breast and rubs rough over her nipple. All while driving into her, meeting her thrust for thrust. Maia's body feels vast as space, a galaxy of veins spiraling down to that feeling building between her legs, a star exploding.
She grinds down against him and comes that way, keeps going until she comes again.
Jace pulls out and it's a messy fumble of his hand and hers to get him off. Maia forces his mouth open in a kiss and Jace makes the sweetest noises, voice hoarse when he moans her name. He comes on his stomach and her fingers; Maia licks it off her knuckles. In the warm hazy orgasm bubble everything is good and tender. Maybe they're just two people who met at a bar, no history between them. Catching their breath and trying to kiss at the same time, both of them still buzzing, it's easiest of all to pretend.
Afterwards, they lay side by side in the mussed sheets and the wreckage of the ruined pillow. Maia still feels the echoes: her pulse thuds through her like a reminder, the bass turned up in her body. She feels a little hollow. Despite her better judgment, she turns and tucks herself against Jace's side, her head on his chest. He puts his arm around her.
"Do you routinely fuck people who have tried to kill you?" Maia asks after a moment.
"Most of them aren't as hot as you," Jace tells her, so she punches his shoulder.
"And not just you." Resentful of how much she enjoys being held by him – by anyone, but especially him – Maia can't resist the dig. "Your sister, too. Or girlfriend. Which was it?"
Jace doesn't reply immediately, silent for long enough that Maia starts kicking herself, but then he says, "Neither."
Her brow furrows with confusion but she doesn't ask for a clarification.
"Let's not keep score," Jace says quietly. "We both know who would lose."
Maia's fingertips land on each little scar decorating his collarbone. She tried to kill his people. He cut her pack in half. "I don't think either of us would come out of that a winner."
Jace pulls his arm free and wriggles down so he's facing Maia, nose to nose. His hand settles gingerly on the line of her jaw and he kisses her for no other reason, it seems, than to kiss her. "Couple of losers, then," he says, searching her face. "You and me."
That's dangerous. Maia knows it, and she kisses him back.
The next afternoon, Maia goes down to the Hunter's Moon before it opens. She walks straight to the table in the back and downs each watery, lukewarm glass of tequila one after the other. Then she picks up the glasses and the bottle to put them in the sink, cleans it up like nothing happened.
A couple of losers, then.