The door opens before Jace's knuckles can strike the crackling wood and there Maia stands, framed by the doorway with her eyebrows raised expectantly. She's wearing a black crew neck tank top with arm holes cut low enough to show off her bare sides and what looks like a pair of men's loose gray boxers. Her pajamas. She looks comfortable and soft and there's something sweet about it, getting to see it. Almost vulnerable, if it wasn't for the look on her face.
"Clingy," Maia says. "It hasn't even been twenty-four hours."
Jace can feel himself start to smile even though he shouldn't, not after the day he's had. "I –" He pauses. "How did you know it was me?"
She shrugs. "You Shadowhunters reek of demon ichor. What's up?"
Nothing is what Jace wants to tell her. He wants to wrap his arm around her waist and sweet-talk her into letting him inside. But what he says is, "Clary kissed me. I – I kissed Clary."
Jace doesn't know what he's looking for but he's looking for something, so he notices the slight stilling of her limbs and how the apostrophe of her smirk droops. He craves it, those little signs. Nothing ever means anything, right?
Maia's gaze trails over him from boots to brows and then she rolls her eyes, a gesture so lived-in and luxurious that it seems like her whole body expresses her contempt. Then she shuts the door in his face.
Jace sighs. He puts his hands on the frame and leans in. "Maia." Nothing. "Maia."
The door opens again, a sharp rush of air. "What?" she demands.
"Can we talk?"
This is the wrong thing to say. Maia's brows arch up ever higher, pure disbelief on her face. "You looked up my address and came all the way out here for what, exactly? Do you want my permission to go for it?" She dips a little at the waist and fluffs her fingers out like pompoms. "Do you want a pep talk?"
Jace presses his lips together. He doesn't know what to say. He hadn't been able to sit still at the Institute, wanting. Thinking of Clary's mouth on his, remembering the sensation of Maia's hands on his wrists. He'd just wanted to get out of there. He wanted to see her. He didn't think past that.
"You're not gonna get either from me," Maia adds. "I've been on my feet all night and I'm exhausted. I'm not interested in helping you carry your emotional baggage. That's not what this is."
Jace meets her unimpressed stare. "Then what is it?"
He's looking for anything.
"We hooked up," Maia says. "Once. I know you know all about that."
Jace frowns, his jaw tight. "Maia, I –" He sees a plume of smoke streak by behind her and then he smells it, a sticky charred odor so strong he can taste it. "Is something burning?"
She's already turning away from him, heading back into the apartment. "Oh, fuck –"
Jace follows her in. It's just a few steps from the door to the kitchen, where a sad little grilled cheese has blackened on the stove. "Some werewolf senses."
"Shut up." Maia shoves him and then seems to realize it, pulling her arms back across her chest tightly. "I just thought I was having a stroke from irritation." She sighs. "Now you've ruined my day, my night, and my dinner."
Jace pokes at the fossilized sandwich. "This was your dinner?"
"Did I ask, Shadowhunter?"
He glances around the kitchen. It's small and worn but scrubbed clean, with homey little touches that make the corners of his lips twitch upwards. The salt and pepper shakers are shaped like French bulldogs, one white and one teal. "Sit. I'll make something."
Maia stares at him, but her disbelief has taken on another shade. "I'm sorry?"
"I," Jace says, "will make," slowly, "you something."
"Are you going to ruin my kitchen too?" Maia asks but she turns, steps from the peel-and-press linoleum to the scuffed wood, kitchen to living room in a skip. She perches on the couch and watches him, her legs folded comfortably but the set of her shoulders radiating tension.
"There's only one Lightwood who can't cook," Jace tells her. "And it's not me."
He pokes around in her cabinets and comes up with a box of pasta and jarred sauce, which he imagines even Isabelle couldn't mess up too badly. He keeps his back to Maia as he sets pots and pans on the stove, opening and closing drawers as he tries to learn where everything is. It's quiet except for the soft hissing of the burners and the water burbling like popping bubble wrap.
"Jace," Maia says eventually, even-toned. "Why are you here?" There's a pause the space of a breath. "Do you really think I want to hear about you and Clary? I mean, I'm not surprised, but still –"
"We were on a mission," Jace interrupts. He tips the box of pasta over, sending a dry waterfall of uncooked noodles into the pot. "It was life or death."
Even without looking Jace can feel how absurd Maia finds that. "Kissing your ex was life or death."
"The Seelie queen was playing a game with us. She wanted Simon to see, it was a whole –" He waves a hand. "Downworlder v. Shadowhunter thing."
"Of course it was," Maia says. "Why not."
"Clary kissed me." He can't let himself off the hook. "I kissed back, but –" The sauce is boiling already, fat bubbles breaking on its surface and leaving red flecks everywhere. "We wouldn't have, you know, had the situation been different."
"You can't say that," she points out. "You don't know."
Jace sighs again. His whole life is a series of sighs lately. "No. I don't know."
"I didn't expect anything from you, Jace." Is she just stating a fact or is there something beneath that, something unsaid? He can't tell. "I'm not an idiot."
He turns the stove off, the click of one knob after another. "You don't give me a lot of credit."
Maia's voice is reasonable, honest. "Should I?"
Jace doesn't respond immediately. He holds himself still as he stares down at the stove, noting absently the years-old grease stains that couldn't be buffed from its surface. "Where's your strainer?"
Maia is silent at first, but she finally says, "Corner cabinet."
They don't talk while Jace fills one of her pink-and-yellow patterned bowls and brings it over, faintly steaming. He ignores Maia's expression, her eyes watching him with a curiosity that shouldn't be half as adorable as it is considering the sharp edge to it. Jace sits at the other end of the couch, a no man's land of cushions between them.
Maia faces him, her back against the armrest, and lets her legs slowly stretch across the space. Her feet press into the outside of his thigh. "Pasta's bland," she says, taking another bite.
"You bought it," Jace counters.
Maia rolls her eyes. "I bet you didn't even add anything to the sauce. That's not cooking."
"I said I'd make something, I never promised it would be five stars."
"I'm realizing that." She spears a spiral on her fork. "I'd give this two."
"If you'd ever had a meal at the Institute, you'd know I'm practically Bobby Flay."
"Hard pass on every part of that sentence," Maia says, and Jace can't help but laugh, which she does too a moment later. It's a little awkward but it's not bad. Something in Jace's chest unclenches.
He finds himself saying, "I like you a lot," with a voice that's much too quiet.
Maia pushes against his leg, not enough leverage for a real kick. "Quit while you're ahead," she tells him. "Please."
There's something in that please. It's not nothing.
"Okay." Jace's hand curls gently around her ankle and he tugs her feet into his lap. "How was Hunter's Moon tonight?"
Maia gives him a considering look, fork clinking against the inside of the bowl as she eats. Then she shrugs. "Warlock bachelorette party. Glitter everywhere."
Jace smiles, noticing a silver fleck left behind on her cheek. "I can see that," he says, fingers reaching out for it.
Maia raises her eyebrows challengingly. "You want to keep that hand?"
Undeterred, Jace leans in closer and brushes the speck of sparkle off her face. "I'll take the risk. Already nearly died once today."
"It's not a full day for you unless your near death experiences hit double digits, I guess."
"Nope," he agrees. "Maybe when you're done eating you can elbow me in the face again." Her laugh is a reluctant little huff, clearly unintentional. "It would really help my numbers."
Maia shakes her head, but there's the echo of a smile on her mouth. "If I'm up for it."
Jace isn't supposed to say anything real, so he doesn't. He lets his hand skim over Maia's smooth skin and stays quiet, tries not to think too hard – or feel too much.
They'd said it at the start. It didn't mean anything.
So why was he here?