I'm scared of this shit, y'know?
Well, I don't believe in it anymore, so.
Lydia lives a life that is carefully measured. Precise. No one made her that way; she's been like that all her life. She follows clocks and rules and instructions. She respects the demands placed on her time and she tries to rise to the occasion. She tries and tries and tries. Mostly she's been rewarded for trying. Mostly.
Her first wedding had been hasty, a whirlwind. She wore the nicest white dress she had and braided her hair back the same way she did every single day. John put his great-grandmother's ring on her finger and Lydia laughed through her vows. She never felt scared or lost or unsure, not for a moment.
Later she wore that same white dress to his funeral.
Lydia leaves the infirmary with a dull headache that won't quit and finds the Institute in uproar, a war waiting outside her doors. Jace had entered as she exited, stony-faced after his sojourn with Valentine and unwilling to talk to anyone, even Alec, even Isabelle, even Clary. Especially Clary.
Lydia returns for a follow-up and finds Jace leaning against the wall next to the infirmary door, eyes closed and blond head tipped back against the stone. His brows are knit like he's in pain but when he hears her footsteps his expression smoothes, his eyes open.
"I thought you were going back to Idris," he says.
She shrugs. "It turns out you can throw yourself into work anywhere. Are you hurt?"
Jace is uncomprehending. "What?"
Lydia points up at the neatly printed sign above the door. "Did something happen?"
Jace rolls his eyes. "They just want to make sure I'm not brainwashed."
"Is there a test for that?"
Jace gives her a curious, amused look. "How's your head?"
Her hand comes up instinctively to pat the crown of her head, protected only by a soft fall of hair. "Better than yours, I think."
An amazing thing – Jace laughs.
When he's back among the general populace he seems to move into the training center. Lydia passes him there more times than she can count, his hands wrapped and muscles tense with exertion, sweat-slicked hair in his face. They're not letting him out on missions yet so he's got energy to burn and he's burning it, sun up to sun down.
Lydia's in there sometimes too. She understands the need to work out one's frustrations in sore muscles and bruised knuckles. Lydia excels at everything she sets her mind to but her preference, when it comes to distractions, will always be for creating order where there was none before, making unmanageable situations manageable. The New York Institute is in total disarray and it makes Lydia feel good to be here, turning things around.
But she gets it, she does. Sometimes she just wants to hit things, too.
"Come on. Let's go."
It's an impulse. Lydia had been watching Jace hit a punching bag until his body shone with sweat and she just thought, suddenly, that she could do him one better. So she steps over, brings her hands up, arches an eyebrow.
"Come on," she says. "It'll be more fun. You want a challenge, don't you?"
Jace looks at her in muted surprise but he doesn't need to be asked a third time. There's a reason Jace has the reputation he does and Lydia figures it out that afternoon after her impetuous offer. Jace is fast and strong, with both training and aptitude; he thinks a move ahead in every fight and his instinct carries him through whenever she does manage to surprise him. But Lydia is analytical; Lydia is precise. Jace fuels himself with anger and passion and pride. Lydia understands how dangerous that is.
Instead of trying to best him, she waits him out. She dances out of his reach, dodges his blows. Every sidestep amps up Jace's frustration, which makes him push harder. It makes him stupid. It's a weakness Lydia can wait to take advantage of and as soon as he begins to flag, she strikes.
She ends up carrying both of them to the ground, her knee jammed up into his ribs. It knocks the wind out of them both, turns them from skilled warriors into a clumsy heap. Jace's head thunks against the mat on the floor and Lydia winces; before she can think twice she's slipped a hand underneath his head to cradle it.
"Ouch," she says sympathetically and Jace's lips part to respond but all that comes out is a laugh, breathless and random, full of relief. After a moment Lydia laughs too, even though she doesn't know what's funny.
"Ow," Jace says finally, an agreement, and looks at her like he did on the altar after her second wedding went haywire. It's a strangely open and kind expression on a face that she is so used to finding surly and sarcastic. She must look at him too long because after a moment his face softens further, too much.
Lydia scrambles to her feet and holds out a hand to help him up. "Again," she says.
It's not a request.
Jace starts to watch her with flinty eyes after that. She can feel it sometimes across the room, a shiver up her spine that makes her look up, lock eyes with him. She can't shake the feeling for hours afterwards. It's like she's too aware of how her dress fits, how her body moves.
"Are you going to ask me," he wonders, "what happened?"
"Why? Do you want me to?"
"Everyone else has."
"Did you tell them?"
Jace shrugs. "Are you?"
Lydia thinks about it; she wouldn't give him an answer without thinking about it first, because this is obviously some kind of test. "I think if I do, you'll just use it as an excuse to catch an attitude. And if I don't you'll think I'm biding my time waiting of the right moment." She meets his eyes and feels it again, that hyper-aware sensation. "I'm not here to hold your hand, Jace. You're an adult. If you want to talk, you have to decide to do it."
His jaw sets but the breath he releases is decidedly petulant. "Does it ever drive you crazy to be so calm all the time?"
Lydia affixes him with a keen look. "You're smart, Jace," she says. "But you're not very observant."
She turns to walk away, and she knows Jace watches her go.
Lydia kisses him after a mission, blood streaking across his forehead and breath heaving. It's only his second mission since he's been back and he'd attacked in a fury, blade just a blur of light. Lydia is surprised at herself – not because it happened but because she was the one to instigate, to bridge that tension-brewing gap. "Sorry," she says automatically after. A smudge of her berry lipstick is on Jace's blood-smeared lip. "I probably shouldn't have done that."
"Why?" Jace's hand is already on her hip, sliding up her side and then down to her lower back. "We're not related."
They end up back in her room, which is good, fine. It's still a temporary place to her; she never really settled in. It's sparse, generic, lacking the specificity of Lydia's personality to set it apart from any other room in the Institute. Her place back in Idris still has all the important things: photos of John, keepsakes. She never expected to stay in New York as long as she had, and it felt easier to leave things behind.
Lydia bends Jace back into her bed, curls her fingers in blood-streaked blond hair. His hands flex against her back, curling and uncurling into tight, uncertain fists. He kisses like someone who is good at it but hasn't done it a lot. Lydia hadn't expected that but she likes it. She pulls back to touch his mouth with light fingertips and Jace looks so abruptly vulnerable that Lydia kisses him again, and again.
"Okay?" she asks as his hands climb up underneath her skirt. John drew a rune on her inner thigh once, the sweep and dip of promise, and it occurs to Lydia that in a few minutes Jace will become the only other person to ever see it.
"I am if you are," Jace says. And she is, is the odd part.
Lydia takes a shower and goes to sit at the end of her bed, where Jace is still sprawled. He's got his underwear and his hoodie back on, zipped over his bare chest, and he looks enticingly at home here. Lydia doesn't know how she feels about that.
"Do you want to talk about what it all means?" she asks.
"Does anybody?" Lydia says, amused.
"I'm not," Jace starts, then stops, lips pursing. "I can't do, like, the thing. Be the guy. I can't be the person somebody wants." He doesn't say it like he doesn't want it, he says it like he's not capable. Like it's not even the faintest of possibilities.
"I never asked you to be," Lydia points out gently.
The corner of Jace's lips quirk upwards. "I have to say it."
Lydia gives him a faint smile. "I'm not sure I believe in that anymore, anyway."
Jace shrugs in response, but there is something almost bashful in it. "Yeah, well. It scares the shit out of me, so."
"Sounds like we're pretty perfect for each other, then," she jokes.
"Oh yeah, match made in," he pauses, "somewhere."