For Friday Flash Fics this week, I saw this image and immediately thought of both a character (and type of creature) I hadn’t yet introduced yet into the Triad universe, but also Mackenzie Windsor and part of her back story that comes to light in Triad Soul. So, of course, spoilers for Triad Soul in this one. And once again I went way over word count.
Mackenzie picked up the cup and took a sip of air. It was empty. She sighed, put the cup down, and picked up the small teapot.
It was empty, too.
“Would you like more hot water?”
Mackenzie glanced up. It was the man she’d bought the tea from, and he’d come out from behind the counter, and there was no sign of his apron. She blinked at him. It took a second to find her voice. “Sorry?”
It took her longer than it should have to process. How long had she been here? She was the last customer, she realized, and half the tables had their chairs stacked on top of them. She’d been working on ideas for hours.
“You’re closing,” she said.
“I’ve got stuff I still need to do. And you look like you’re working on something important.”
His kindness in his voice, a soft patience she wasn’t expecting, hit too close to home. Her eyes filled with tears, and she couldn’t blink fast enough to stop them.
“Oh, hey,” he reached out one hand, but it hovered just an inch or so from touching her.
“It’s okay,” Mackenzie said. She lowered the book she’d been searching, and closed her laptop, just for something to do. She wiped her cheek then took a deep breath.
“Let me get the hot water,” he said, and he turned to do it before she could say anything else. She let him, deciding that more Lady Grey might be just the ticket. She felt like she was on the edge of a solution, but kept missing it by just a breath.
There has to be a way.
He brought the water, and refilled her tea pot. He’d rolled up his sleeves now, and she saw an eclectic range of tattoos on his right arm. A mask. A feather. The Millennium Falcon.
He put the chairs on tables while she drank the tea. Between sips, she gathered her books back into her messenger bag and, finally, slid her lap-top in as well.
“Can I make a suggestion?” he said again, when she stood and looped the bag over her head.
She eyed him. He was handsome, in an ever-so-slightly coiffed way that made her think he spent more time preparing his look than he wanted anyone to know. Short hair, artfully tousled. Just enough scruff to be almost a beard.
“Sure,” she said. Because if you’ve got some spell or crystal I’ve not thought of, I want to hear it. I’m starting to think nothing short of a philosopher’s stone is going to save her—and it turns out no one’s even sure if those exist.
“Get out of your head. Stop thinking. Drift. Let your mind wander.” His voice was charming, and gentle, and she would have given anything to slap his face, hard.
“My sister is dying and there’s nothing I can do about it.” The words came out in an angry rush.
He’d been wiping down a counter. He threw the towel over one shoulder. “You’re used to being able to fix things.”
She stared at him. I can make bodies heal overnight with a touch. I can make crystals dance. But not cancer. “Yes.”
“Come dancing with me.”
She opened her mouth. Closed it. “Does this routine work for you often? Find women in a bad place and swoop in and offer your best Dr. Phil?”
He shrugged. “I don’t meet wizards very often.”
Mackenzie held out one hand. Her magic moved beneath her skin, strong and solid and ready for her. If he was going to throw down, she was very much indeed in the mood to break his face.
He held up both hands. “Not looking to fight, flick. Was thinking dancing. Get you out of your head. My name’s Leo. I promise, I’m no threat.”
“You’re not an incubus,” she said. “Because I’m so not into you right now.”
He rubbed his chin. It was adorable, and really worked for him, and the move only conjured more annoyance. Nope. Definitely not an incubus.
“There are demons, and there are demons,” he said.
Mackenzie swallowed. “Dancing, huh?”
In the morning, she checked her phone. There was a text from Matthew.
Your mother did check in with me. I covered for you. You were fast asleep when she called, in case she asks. I don’t suppose you’ll tell me where you really were?
Mackenzie’s thumbs hovered over the screen. Finally, she tapped a reply. Just needed to get out of my head.
She heard him come back into the bedroom. His apartment wasn’t big, but it had been close to the club where they’d danced. And she had indeed left all her worries about her sister to the side, just for a night. No thoughts of magic, no notions of spells, no catalogs of stones and crystals known for healing properties. Nothing that might fight cancer. Just music, and movement, and a really cute boy who’d had even more tattoos once his shirt had come off. And green boxers with a repeating cannabis pattern, apparently.
Out of her head indeed.
“You okay?” he said. He leaned in the doorway, watching her. He’d slept on the couch, and had given her his bedroom.
“I needed that,” she admitted.
He nodded. “I could tell. Now. You fed me, how about I feed you?”
She sat up in the bed. In her T shirt and underwear, she should have felt exposed. Instead, she felt oddly calm. “I fed you?”
He shrugged. “You have a great imagination, and you were working on your…problem…for hours at the café.”
“And that fed you.” She’d knew there were demons who could feed on things other than lust. Incubi and succubi were the most common, at least in most of North America, but there were others. Wrath demons—furies—fed on anger.
He nodded. Okay, he really was cute, and if she’d been in a better place emotionally, she’d totally go for that whole rumpled and adorable thing. Also, he had a Mockingjay tattooed on his shoulder, and who didn’t love Katniss?
“If it helps,” she said. “I’m a big fan of bacon.”
“I wasn’t thinking that kind of food,” he said. He tapped his temple. “I was thinking maybe inspiration.”
Her heart shivered in her chest. “What?”
“I’m not saying you haven’t thought of everything. Maybe you have. But…” Another shrug. “Maybe I can jog something loose you didn’t consider.”
“Yes,” she said. “Please.”
He sat with her on the bed, looked down, and when he looked back up, his eyes were the liquid black of a demon. It should have made him terrifying. He was a creature who fed on human emotion. Maybe not lust and not wrath, but something. At least he wasn’t a vampire, she thought, remembering something she’d been told about how vampires found the taste of wizards to be something of a delicacy.
No, she wasn’t afraid of Leo. Instead, Mackenzie felt a sliver of hope.
He touched her hand.
And just like that, Mackenzie had a terrible idea.
She couldn’t save her sister’s life. There was no magic, no crystal that worked in the face of cancer. Healing spells sped up the body’s restoration and growth, but cancer was growth gone wrong. There was no magic to hold it still, no spell to force the body to stop growing. There was no way to stop time.
At least, not with magic.
Mackenzie leaned back on Leo’s bed. His eyes returned to the hazel they’d been at the café. His smile was amiable, gentle, and maybe even a little shy. “You thought of something.”
She nodded slowly. She had a tonne of research to do. There had to be a way to make sure this could work without her sister losing all of her magic in the process. But first? First she had a really big problem.
“I don’t suppose you know any vampires?” Mackenzie said.