There's blood on her knuckles and on his mouth, but for once there's no correlation. There's something to that, maybe – being on the same side for once.
Jace is worse for wear, but he usually is. There's familiarity in his roughed-up features, though; Maia finds it far more unsettling to see his face clean and handsome without any violence to tarnish it. Maybe it's just that imprint of the first time she saw him coloring everything that came after. She prefers him like this. And anyway, runes will heal him.
Maia herself got lucky. There's the taste of meat in her mouth but otherwise she is whole, unharmed. "Good fight?" she says to Jace.
He grins at her. His teeth are bloody too. "Good fight."
Fighting off a troop of rogue vampires was not how Maia had envisioned spending her after-work hours, but she couldn't deny that her blood was pumping, her adrenaline up. She never wants to enjoy this part of it, but she always does. The only downside is that turning wrecked another pair of good jeans. It was smart of her to have stuffed a change of clothes into her bag before leaving her apartment this morning. You never knew.
She's wriggling into her new outfit behind a stack of crates, so she doesn't notice the odd way Jace is holding his arm until she's back out in the open.
"Dislocated," he says dismissively when he catches her looking. He's trying to play it off, but she can hear how his voice is tight with pain. "I'll deal with it later."
Maia rolls her eyes. "Don't be stupid. Come here."
He arches an eyebrow, giving her the kind of look that she thought was firmly behind them.
"I promise I won't be gentle," she adds.
"Well, in that case," Jace says.
Maia helps him ease his leather jacket off carefully, ignoring his hissing intake of breath as she does so. She does not think of other alleys and other jackets. She doesn't think of a night when she was less careful. Then she takes his hand and wraps her fingers firm around his wrist, drawing his useless arm away and down slowly. She's conscious of the pain in his face in the periphery of her vision. She runs a light touch over his bicep. Then she jerks his shoulder back into place.
Carefully, of course.
"Ah, fuck," Jace bites out, more air than sound. He's gritting his teeth, brow furrowed, but she realizes he'd been grinning at her before with his stupid arm hanging out of its socket.
"Am I supposed to feel sorry for you?" Her voice comes out softer than she intends, more teasing.
Jace is close. His hair is messy in his eyes and his lip is still bleeding, but he gives her that asshole smile she pretends not to like. "Uh-huh," he says. "Please."
Maia pushes him away. "We are not doing this."
"Not doing what?" he asks innocently.
She raises her eyebrows at him. "How's Clary?" she says, and the conversation is effectively over.
But it was a good fight. Usually was, with him.
The Jade Wolf is so empty now.
Maia always liked to come down after a shift at the bar, even though the train ride was stupid long and took her in the opposite direction of her apartment. It was nice to be surrounded by her familiar people even if she didn't do anything besides settle in for free noodles and a book. It was all about proximity. The sound of their bickering, the comfort of their scents. That had changed after Gretel died, but Maia kept coming. Then the massacre happened and it changed again. Maia still comes, but she drags her heels.
Gretel left a void. Maia misses her smile; she misses Gretel sidling up to interrupt her reading with the good pack gossip. She misses trading clothes, especially after they'd lost something good wolfing out. And Gretel would always text Maia full moon emojis the night before one rose, as though Maia could have forgotten about it. That had always made her roll her eyes, but she misses it now.
Gretel left a void, but Gretel was one person. These days it feels like the Rapture hit the Jade Wolf and left it silent, empty, angry. Mournful. When Maia's there she pulls her legs up into the booth, folds herself up like she used to when she was a little girl, when she was an angsty teenager. She picks at her food and skims the pages of her books. She's reading Rebecca now. She probably should have picked something cheerier.
"This is our pack," Luke tells her. "I won't let it disappear." Maia believes him because he's Luke, but she's afraid. Lately it feels like everything is getting worse instead of better. "I told you I was reaching out. Some people are going to come check out the pack, see if they want to be a part of it."
That sounds more concrete than the last time they talked. "Soon?"
"Next couple days," he says. "Maybe do neutral territory first."
"Hunter's Moon," she says with a nod.
Luke's voice is softer when he promises, "Nothing can replace them, but we can be strong again. Stronger." He has a way of sounding so certain that it gives everything the weight of absolute truth. Maia believes him because she wants to believe him, even if she knows things will never be the same again. Her family as she knew it is gone. "Once they get a look at us? No way they'll turn us down."
Despite herself, Maia laughs a little. "We cut a fine figure."
"That we do."
It's early still but the Hunter's Moon is already packed, wall-to-wall with noisy chatter and the odd hiss or growl. Every so often a burst of magic will shower sparks on everyone, or a Seelie's happy laughter will make rose petals scatter across the floor. The vibe is good, but Maia is tense as a bowstring because tonight is the night Luke is planning to meet with the potentials. He hasn't arrived yet, but she reserves the good corner table for them, a little placard printed with a crescent moon standing ominously on its shining wood surface. Maia isn't nervous. She refuses to be.
But there is a lot riding on this.
It doesn't help that a handful of Shadowhunters chose tonight to show up, their presence an uneasy thread running through an otherwise chill evening. They're like the stain on a white shirt, Jace and his sister Isabelle sitting in their booth all black leather and thigh holsters. The sister is only drinking ginger ale; Maia heard about that. Clary isn't with them, which is interesting. Or not, depending on how Maia feels that day.
But why is he always at her damn bar?
Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, is how Maia's beginning to think about Jace. If he had strolled into the corner bodega that day instead, dripping wet and damaged, would Maia's quality of life be on an upwards swing instead of its current downward trajectory? Or was it the kind of thing that was bound to happen somehow, somewhere? Maybe they were already on a collision course, if Maia believed in things like that.
Simon must sense the angel blood in the air, because when he rolls in half an hour later, his expression immediately sours. He makes a sharp turn to come sit by Maia at the bar and she's got a pint waiting before he can even ask, hoping to turn the melancholy in those puppy dog eyes into something else. It's difficult to do these days. Jace, meanwhile, stares guiltily at the back of Simon's head until Maia catches his eye and raises an eyebrow. He gives her a sneering grimace in response that doesn't fool her for a minute, and then he's down at the other end of the bar beckoning her over.
Maia drifts away from Simon and says, "Wow, you're just praying for the day a room full of people tear you apart."
"Piece by piece," Jace says.
Maia sets his usual in front of him along with another ginger ale. "How's that shoulder?"
Jace's grin edges on dangerous. "Concerned?"
"Don't want to be blamed for another vicious attack on a Shadowhunter," Maia replies dryly.
He snorts and makes a show of rotating his arm, a roll of joint and muscle under the thin weave of his sweater. "Good as new, Dr. Roberts."
"Try not to get jumped by any vampires," she tells him, very officious. "Even adorable ones from Brooklyn who will probably just cry on you."
Jace smiles again but it's in his eyes less. "Put it on my tab," he says as he steps away, drinks in hand, and Maia nods because she knows the routine by now. She doesn't watch him go.
In fact, she's turning away just as Luke comes in, followed by a guy even taller than him, a petite girl with pink hair, and –
"No," Maia says immediately, resolutely, when she sees him. There is no one around to hear her, or at least no one listening. "No, no, no."
She didn't expect –
She would never have thought to expect this.
Maia hasn't seen Jordan since she was seventeen years old but he looks mostly the same, only a little older and a little thinner, more like a man and less like a boy. The youthful fullness has been culled from his cheeks but the hard set of his jaw is the same, the strong line of it that made his displeasure evident and his smiles startling. Jordan was the bogeyman Maia had banished at the end of the horror movie that was high school. She had not expected to see him again.
She's standing still like a squirrel in the middle of the road waiting to get hit by a car. Her heart is racing. It makes her furious, her hands fisted at her sides like she can will her pulse to calm. But she can't. She didn't think Jordan could have any effect on her anymore, but her heart is racing.
Simon shoots her a curious look, head tilted, but she gives him a tight little shake of the head. That only makes his brow crease in concern so Maia tries for something else, a forcibly relaxed smile. She's not sure she accomplishes it. He's far enough away that he has to mouth, You okay?
Maia waves him off, wanting to wipe the worry from his face. She can't handle that right now.
Why would Luke invite Jordan here? Why would Luke –
But then Maia remembers Luke has no idea who Jordan is. She never divulged the name of her bad ex-boyfriend. It hadn't seemed like there was a point: Jordan went off to college and Maia could breathe again, Maia was free. Until she wolfed out for the first time a month later and almost killed a girl. That was when Luke came into the picture. He never met Jordan.
Maia has to get out of here. She mumbles something to Chloe, the other girl on shift, and then just makes a beeline for the door to the back. Once outside, she realizes she's still holding an empty glass and one of the rags in her hands. She resists the urge to rip it in half. She resists the urge to throw the glass, hear it shatter.
Her skin prickles like fur raising along the back of her neck. She turns and says, with too much bite in her voice, "What?"
Jace just looks at her. "You tell me what."
What was it with the two of them and dark alleyways?
"I'm working," Maia says. "I'm not here to play twenty questions with Shadowhunters." When he doesn't move, doesn't flinch, doesn't change his expression, she finds herself speaking again. "I don't like that guy."
She presses her lips together. "The one who came in with Luke."
Jace furrows his brow. "Who is he?"
Just a guy. Just a stupid guy who took Maia to the homecoming dance in junior year and did his best to force her into smaller and smaller boxes of behavior.
"My ex," she says.
He's searching her face now, which she wishes he wouldn't do. She didn't ask for anyone to dig around in her psyche. "Just an ex?"
Just an ex. Just a guy. Nobody important, nobody who has any impact on Maia anymore.
"Can you tell Chloe I had to go home?" Maia says. "Tell her – tell her I got sick, tell her I'm puking, I don't care."
She thinks for a moment that Jace is going to say something, going to push, but he just goes, "Yeah," slowly, and, "Sure. No problem."
Maia doesn't look back.
She had been anticipating the knock, so when it happens she's not surprised. She is surprised to see Jace holding up her purse, the black leather tote with embroidered flowers that she had specifically saved up for and treasured and totally forgotten about in her rush to leave Hunter's Moon. She'd told Chloe to bring it over; Maia had had to let herself into her apartment with the key under the ceramic panda.
"Got your address off your I.D.," he says. "Cute picture. Your hair was long."
"I remember what I looked like, thanks." Maia snatches the bag from him. So strange, to think of him picking through her purse for her wallet, his hands on her things. Did he pause over the book she's currently reading? Did he see the extra clothes she keeps rolled and shoved at the bottom of her purse, her spare lipgloss, the tangled web of necklaces and earrings and receipts she always forgets to clean out? It feels intimate, which is stupid considering the things they've already done to each other. "Bye?"
"Are –" Jace does this expression he sometimes does, like making his mouth say words causes him a physical pain. Maybe it's the price of saying something real. "Are you okay?"
Maia lifts an eyebrow, drawing back. "You fucked me in an alley and didn't even bother with a text. Now you care about how I feel?"
She doesn't care about that. She did not want him at her door with chocolate and flowers; she had not been waiting on a word from Jace Wayland. She made those rules and he followed them. Bringing it up is just a distraction.
"Goes both ways," Jace says.
His gaze is annoyingly steady and his hands hang passively at his sides; he doesn't try to come in, waiting to be invited like a vampire in a movie. He'll be waiting a long time.
"I'm fine," Maia tells him. "Happy?"
"Ecstatic," Jace replies.
"Look, thanks for bringing my bag, or whatever it is you want to hear," she says. "I told Chloe to bring it, so I don't know why –"
"I've never," Jace interrupts, but when they both falter the silence hangs awkwardly for a beat. "I've never seen you like that."
Phantom fur up on her neck again.
"What do you know? The only time we see each other is when somebody's about to die. Usually you."
He tries again. "That guy, Jordan –"
How does Jace know his name?
"You talked to him?" she realizes, voice coming out a little too wild. "Who told you to –"
"Luke wanted to know where you were," Jace says. "After you skipped out. He was just there – that guy. He asked about you."
She can hear it, her name in Jordan's voice. The press of his lips on the M, the rush through the rest of the syllables. He always called for her like he was in a hurry and she was late.
Maia wants to ask what Jace said to him but she won't.
Jace is looking at her again, that too-close look. "I've never seen you do that," he says again.
She knows what he means: leave instead of running headlong into trouble. Well, Maia knows all about fight or flight.
Maia takes a breath. "Jace," she says. "We're not friends."
She curls her fingers around the edge of the door and moves to slam it, but then Jace speaks again. "I recognized that look on your face," he says quietly. "Shellshock."
Maia pauses. She needs neutral territory for this.
"Drinks," she says. "You're paying."
They go to a random mundie bar on the same block as her apartment. It's not cute or hip or even particularly clean, so it's only half-full. There's one disinterested bartender slinging watered-down drinks to a clientele that look as though they've fused with the furniture. Jace looks a little ridiculous in his shiny, fresh leather, not worn in in the slightest. He gets them whiskey gingers that taste like ice and they sit at the edge of the open façade, just a step up from the sidewalk. The air is warm against Maia's face and she's glad to be outside right now, feeling the way she does. Woods would be better, but in Manhattan this is as good as it gets.
Maia starts after half her glass has emptied. "He always – he said it was because he was a werewolf, that that was just how it was. He had all of these feelings he couldn't control, all this rage. And I believed him. It was the wolf, right? It wasn't him. What did I know? I was –" She heaves a protracted breath before she can stop it. "I was sixteen. I was a mundane. What did I know about werewolves? But then one day he got mad at me – I don't even know what I did." She reminds herself, "It doesn't matter what I did. I didn't do anything. But after that…" Maia lifts her fingers to the marks on her neck. "After that he made sure I understood."
This is the part she hates: seeing it in other people's faces. It's one thing to own up to it herself, but to say the words aloud – to see someone who had looked at her with respect come over with anger, sadness, pity? Maia hates that. Before she tells people, she's still Maia. After, she's the girl who got hit by her boyfriend.
She sees the expression on Jace's face like he wants to kill Jordan and it's not comforting. It's not anything. Sympathy used to make her skin crawl but now it just makes her tired. She wanted to kill Jordan too. It never got her anywhere.
Maia gives Jace a sideways look that could double as an eye roll in the right lighting. "Aren't you gonna say something?"
Jace has been silent since they left her apartment, but it's particularly conspicuous now. Finally he says, "Valentine used to leave me alone for days. I never knew what he was doing; I knew better than to ask. No food. I had to hunt if I wanted to eat. But every time he came back I was so happy. I was so thrilled to see him. I didn't even… I didn't get it."
She shifts to face him more fully.
"I never told anyone that," Jace says. "I'm ashamed of it."
"People look at you different," Maia says after a moment.
"Like you're weak," he says. "Or fragile."
"Like you can't be fixed."
"Yeah." He looks down at his drink, still full. His fingers are slick with the condensation from the glass. "Yeah."
"Yeah," Maia echoes with a sigh. She puts her feet up on the edge of his chair. "It's bullshit, huh?"
Jace leans in to clink his glass against hers. "A-fuckin'-men."
In that split second Maia saw Jordan, half a dozen stupid scenarios ran through her mind. She pictured herself sitting across the table from him at an empty Hunter's Moon with a shot glass and a bottle of something. She would drink; he would not. She'd watch him, her gaze cool and removed, and she'd say something like, Should I kill you? I could kill you now. I'm not sure I'd feel bad about it.
Like a Jennifer Lopez movie, or something.
But Maia doesn't do that, however satisfying it would or wouldn't be. She just tells Luke. Music tinkles through the Jade Wolf like a comic underpinning to Maia's tragic tale and something about the absurdity of that makes it easier for her to talk. That and the soft chatter, the shuffle of footsteps, the ordinary noises of their spare pack filling the space.
"Jordan was my boyfriend," Maia says carefully, meeting Luke's eyes directly and trying to convey everything that means without having to say all of it. "When you found me – that night when we met? That was because of Jordan. He did this. To me."
"Maia…" Luke breathes her name on a deep exhale and his eyes close for a moment. "I wish…" he starts, but shakes his head. "It's good that you told me."
"You are not to try and protect me," Maia tells him. "I don't need to be protected."
But Luke is so steady, gaze and voice unwavering, his hands folded loosely on the table in front of them. "Everybody does, sometimes," he says. "It's my job to protect you. I can't slack on it."
She realizes – she doesn't know how she missed it, but Maia realizes then that it hurts him, that someone hurt her.
It was strange that the worst thing that had ever happened to Maia had also given her the only people who ever really cared about her. For so long she hated what she was but now she can't imagine who she would be if she wasn't this – if she didn't have this strength, this power, this ability to keep herself safe. And she has a pack where she had always been so alone. Was that the way things went – was it always a trade-off?
"You'd do that for me," Luke says. "Wouldn't you?"
Maia can't say anything, her throat suddenly thick, so she just nods. And a minute later Luke moves his hand to cover hers.
"Someone I loved did this to me, too," he tells her.
"Why is that always how it is?" Maia feels stupid, like a little girl, because she'd already asked herself questions like that and never managed to come up with an answer. Her parents, her brother, Jordan. Why did it take her so long to figure it out?
"It's not." Luke's voice is quiet. "Call it bad luck, if you want. But nobody sets themselves up for betrayal. Or pain. That was a choice they made – not us." His head tilts a little so he can meet her eyes. "Not us. Not you. I love you, Maia. I'm proud of you. All the parts of you."
Maia pulls her hand away to scrub over her cheeks, forcing a breathy laugh. "Too sentimental," she says. "Abort, abort."
Luke smiles a little, but his eyes are still sad. That doesn't bother Maia as much as she thought it might. "Tough break. Deal with it."
The breath Maia takes is a shaky one, but she says, "Okay. I can try." She points a finger at him. "But don't make a habit of it."
Luke holds up both hands. "No promises."
The demon's nails open a gash in Maia's arm four inches long, sleeve splitting and blood soaking into the fabric of her shirt. Another day, another outfit ruined. She's going to have to start buying in triplicate.
She snarls in response, eyes flashing green, but Jace chooses that moment to be useful. He comes at the creature from behind, silver of his sword catching a shine off the streetlights, and plunges his blade into its back. Just like that it's gone, nothing but sparks and a splatter of inky blood on the pavement. Jace reaches out and wraps his hand around her upper arm, leather glove warm, to stem the bleeding.
"This kind of shit was a lot more rare for me before you came into my life," Maia tells him.
Jace smiles. "Want an apology?"
"Nope," she says. "The novelty's worn off."
"Then the least I can do is deal with this." He lifts his fingers to take a look at the damage and winces a little, but his eyes are playful when they meet hers. "Surface wound. It's just a lot of flash. Nothing serious."
"Like you," Maia quips.
"Ha ha," Jace says dryly.
They go to Duane Reade. Jace gives Maia his jacket so she won't alarm the cashiers with her bloody arm and they buy water, a first aid kit, and a bag of mini Reese's, the last at her insistence. They clean up in the bathroom a little, blood washing down the sink, and then go sit on the steps of her building, where Jace takes care of the wound.
He's still not invited in.
He was right; it really is just a scratch, and the demon's poison was only in its teeth so Maia's not in danger there. She heals quickly, anyway, and is pleasantly resistant to most infections. Still, Jace puts on the kit's sterile blue gloves before he touches her. Maia finds something about that amusing.
A little alcohol and gauze and Maia is good as new. Unbeknownst to her, Jace had also purchased a box of Disney princess band-aids and he lays one atop her wrapped-up arm like the bow on a present. Maia looks from the band-aid to Jace slowly. "You think you're real cute, huh."
"Facts are facts, Roberts. Who am I to disagree?"
She rolls her eyes and fishes the Reese's out of the shopping bag, informing him, "You're not getting any. Not allowed. You're unbearable."
"I've heard that a few times too," he says easily. There's so much warmth in him at that moment that Maia wants to touch him, wants to burn her fingertips.
"Don't be soft with me," she says, meaning don't act like anything has changed.
"Cross my heart," Jace tells her, but she knows he's lying.
Two weeks later the moon is full. Maia texts Luke three moon emojis, as though he would have forgotten about it.