Disclaimer: This is an original story, so no disclaimers needed really.
Feedback is of course very welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at my fic site http://ryufic.blogspot.com/
by Carola “Ryűchan” Eriksson
Riley Thomas was sitting at her rickety table with its two mismatched chairs pouring over her mail. She put the junk mail addressed to ‘Mr Thomas’ aside with nary a bat of her lashes, it was a common mistake that she had long since gotten used to. What made the pale features look even more haggard and resigned than usual was the stack of bills that just grew higher on the centre of the small kitchen table.
Especially when compared to the small stack of bills and coins placed neatly at her side. It just wasn’t going to cut it... again.
It was quite the dilemma... pay the rent, or pay a hospital bill or two. She hadn’t paid for electricity in quite a while, and as a result the small, run down space that was her home was dark and cool, something she didn’t mind in the summer. It wasn’t that cold, and she did alright with her candles or what sunlight came in through the small windows. Winter would be worse, she needed the heat then, and if she didn’t think of something before the cold set in for real, she’d be in trouble.
It wasn’t as if she was terribly prim about paying her hospital bills, in fact she only paid enough of them so that she wouldn’t risk being turned out next time she needed hospital care, because she just couldn’t afford to. And in her case, there would always be a next time... until she would finally be beyond help.
Riley took a few deep, calming breaths... or as deep as she could, which wasn’t much really, since it was summer after all, and that meant the metal bands that always restricted her lungs crushed them together even further. It was one of life’s ironies that while the summer heat eased the pain in her aching limbs a little, the summer air could end up killing her if she was not very careful. She hadn’t truly enjoyed the spring and summer in so many years now, preferring the winter and snow even if the cold brought more pain. Riley’s stomach protested loudly in the silence, accompanied by burning and the beginnings of a pressing pain in her chest area.
She should eat something, in fact she should have already, to go with all the medicine, but... the cupboards were empty. They had been empty for some time, really. Tap water would have to soothe the belly beast for the moment, even if that meant the pain would set in soon and be pretty unbearable.
Of course, Riley was pretty used to unbearable pain by now. In fact, she couldn’t remember what it had felt like to have a day when there was no pain... had she ever experienced a day without pain? It seemed a ludicrous thought.
Food or medicine, that was a common dilemma as well. Usually if she got one, she wouldn’t be able to afford the other, and tried to balance it all so that she’d just pull through somehow. Soon it wouldn’t be anything left to struggle with, she figured, and she’d die from it all anyway, whether by one or several of her illnesses or by starving didn’t really matter.
Not that any of the diseases Riley had were fatal, oh no. They were just permanent, painful and bad, and some could kill if not treated properly... but you needed money to buy medicine, and to get money Riley would need to work. And to be able to work she’d have to be well enough to handle some poorly paid job somewhere nearby, which required medicines and a state of health she hadn’t been close to in a long time. Not having a terminal disease meant that there was little help to get, and even less understanding to have... and so Riley Thomas fell through the cracks.
She had felt vain hope, and had that hope dashed with reality. She had raged against the unfairness, then gone through denial followed by apathy and depression. She still felt depression lurking around sometimes, but mostly she had just resigned to what life was, and the fact that she wasn’t going to live it for very long.
Riley stared at the bills with unblinking, unseeing eyes for a long moment, then sighed as she came to a decision. She’d pay the rent this time, but not all of it... perhaps she could get away with paying just enough to leave a little cash to buy some food with, she’d have to bitch with her landlord again and probably get threatened to be evicted once more, but he really didn’t have anyone that wanted that dark and dank hole in the wall that was her home.
Having made up her mind, Riley grabbed her money, put the bills away for another time and another ulcer, carefully put out her candles, put her asthma medicine in the pocket of her jacket and headed out into the daylight.
Riley Thomas had no family, and no real friends to speak of. There were people who knew her, or rather knew of her, in the area where she lived, of course... the little old lady across the street always greeted her warmly, the people at the local cheap-shop knew her by name, and a number of people around would nod or wave in greeting as she passed them by. But they didn’t know her. Knowing someone like Riley, being friends with someone like her, was just too demanding for most people. If there was anyone that Riley would consider a friend in her life as it was now, it would be the old man who lived in the scabby apartment above her, who would occasionally check in on her to make sure she hadn’t gone and died in there.
Riley tried not to dwell on it too much, just like she tried not to dwell on a lot of things in her life, as she walked down the street. A group of people were standing at the street corner, and a young woman waved at Riley. Riley waved back, a faint smile on her pale features, intending to keep walking when to her surprise the woman crossed the street to run up to her. A small battered leaflet was trust in Riley’s hand, and the young woman pointed at something in it. Blinking a bit surprised at the friendly exuberance, Riley caught the words ‘new place’ and ‘dung cheap’ as well as an urging to ‘go check it out’ from the young woman, before she had bounded off back to the group on the other side of the street again, leaving Riley to stare after her.
Riley looked at the battered piece of paper, yes, it was apparently some new store that had opened up, selling cheap second-hand things. They had a special offer for the opening day which tempted Riley to go see if she could find some candles she could afford, considering she was running a bit low on them at the moment. Stepping up to the young woman whose name she didn’t recall, if she had ever known it in the first place, Riley asked for directions.
The store had Riley quite puzzled once she reached it. From the outside it looked like someone had just put in a door in the side of the building, although Riley could have sworn there used to be a small alley there before, and besides the brightly coloured paper sign stuck to the wall above the door, and large pamphlet-filled ashtray mounted on a wooden sculpture of a naked woman right outside the door, no one would have been able to tell this was the place.
Inside though, it was large, too large it seemed, but crammed to overflowing with dusty old things. In the far back was a dimly lit counter with an ancient cash register and a little old lady, smiling kindly at the people buying a small knickknack or other from her. Above the counter was an old painted sign with the message ‘Come find that which you need most’, which made Riley smile just a little. What she needed most couldn’t be found here or anywhere, but the two boxes of mismatched and truly dirt cheap old candles that Riley found not far from the door would do just nicely.
Another item caught Riley’s eye as she stood next to the counter, offering up her money for the much needed candles, and almost as if hypnotized, Riley left her money on the counter to walk heedlessly towards that strange thing.
It was in the far back, crammed in among the dustier things that looked as if no one had even glanced at them in a long time, and still it gleamed dully in the dark corner. Riley squatted down carefully to look at it a bit more closely.
It was a candle holder, shaped like a beautiful old lamp, the dark and delicately wrought metal of the base branching up into the multi-coloured glass lampshade, and Riley found herself thinking that it would probably look very lovely once cleaned up and lit... in fact, it would look quite nice on the small square table she had in front of the couch that was also her bed. Shaking herself out of the pointless musing, Riley drew back the hand that was about to touch the multicoloured glass, straightened... and nearly bumped right into the little old lady.
There was something odd about this old lady, Riley decided. Although she was tiny and wrinkled and old, the blue eyes looked shockingly young and sharp as she gazed thoughtfully at Riley. An amused smiled played on the withered lips as she looked up at Riley, then back at the lamp.
“Did you find what you need most, dear?” The voice was warm and friendly, but the intense look in those blue eyes startled Riley for a moment. When Riley didn’t answer, the old lady tacked on “Do you like it, dear?”
Absently Riley answered something in the affirmative, and watched in fascinated shock how the wrinkled face lit up with satisfied glee.
The next thing Riley knew she was standing in the street outside her home, the lamp and a small white plastic bag containing candles held with both arms. A startled inspection showed her that she had exactly the same amount of money in her tattered purse as she had when entering the store, despite having left it apparently with both candles and lamp. An eerie chill travelled up Riley’s spine.
She hurried to backtrack, to go back to the store with her new things, find out what had happened, and apologize for whatever she might have done that she couldn’t recall. But even though Riley would have sworn she walked the same way as before, there was no shop anywhere. She searched for some time, and even thought she had found the place at first, only to find that there was an alley where the shop should have been. After a while Riley was just too fatigued and too much in need of her medications to continue, so she held her lamp with arms that were shaking from the exertion and made her way back home.
Realizing that she had forgotten to buy food in all the excitement, Riley wearily took her much-needed medication, then went to lie down on her couch for a moment, hoping the dizziness and nausea wouldn’t be so bad that way.
She woke up many hours later with her small home thrown into darkness as the sun had set some time ago. Riley awoke with a jolt, and scrambled around in a sleepy daze until she caught hold of her bag of candles and the mysterious lamp. Hesitating for only a moment, Riley lit up one of the thick candles and squeezed it into position in the lamp, thinking it couldn’t hurt and she might as well enjoy it for the night.
An involuntary smile curled on pale lips as she watched the warm glow spread through the glass, wishing suddenly that she had thought to clean it up first, but still enjoying the tinted light in her darkness.
Then to her surprised alarm the light did not stop, but increased in intensity until it bathed the room and Riley had to shield her sensitive eyes from the brightness... before it was gone just as suddenly as it had appeared, leaving only the warm glow of the candle inside the lamp. Riley blinked a few times to help her stinging eyes to recover and readjust to the darkness, pressing the tears away as she looked around in reflex.
And stopped, wide-eyed and staring at the figure standing right in front of her.
“Who the heck are you?” Riley yelped in surprise, staring at the woman standing in front of her. “Who are you, and how did you get in here?” Riley thought that surely she had locked her door, but then again, after the memory lapse regarding the shop and the lamp, she wasn’t entirely sure she could trust herself anymore.
The woman smiled enigmatically at Riley, and Riley felt her heart rate go up a notch further. Whoever she was, this woman was lovely, Riley decided, even if she was breaking into her home for some unfathomable reason. A mass of deep red curls that cascaded down her back, a striking, heart-shaped face with full lips, and eyes that shone like silver in the light of the lamp. Looking down, Riley saw the tiny and gauzy outfit her unexpected visitor was wearing, and felt even more faint. Oh my, was this woman ever beautiful.
“Look...” Riley started nervously. “...I don’t know who you are, but if you came to rob me, well, take what you want, I have nothing that’s worth anything. And if you’re here because you want to kill someone and figured no one will miss me, well, it’s not like I can put up much of a fight.”
The strange woman smiled a bit more.
“I am not here to harm you, Riley Thomas.” The stranger’s voice was surprisingly deep and sultry, causing shivers to travel down Riley’s spine. “I am here because you summoned me.”
Riley looked at the stranger suspiciously, edging back on her couch carefully. Beautiful or not, this was clearly some nut case that might just decide to keep Riley captive in her home and slowly torture her to death, or something similarly evil and depraved. “Who are you, and how do you know my name” She demanded, while discreetly eyeing the door with some longing.
“My name is Isaber.” The lovely stranger said, shifting slightly and cutting off Riley’s intended retreat. “And I am here to grant you three wishes.”
“Three wishes?” Riley echoed, incredulous.
“Three wishes.” Isaber confirmed, smiling quite becomingly. “You can wish for anything, as long as it is for yourself. Your wishes may not involve another unless it is indirectly, and I cannot change the past for you.” A slender, graceful hand moved up to lightly touch her heart in some strange gesture of servitude. “Chose your wishes wisely, and your wording even more so.”
Riley blinked. Then her eyebrows climbed quite high on her forehead. “So, you’re saying you’re what... a genie?”
Isaber tapped her chin in playful consideration. “You... could say that.”
“Uhuh. You’re a genie.” Riley said slowly. “And... what, I’m supposed to have rubbed a lamp and you came out?”
“No...” Isaber said, frowning a little then patting the lamp Riley had gotten home under such strange circumstances. “Not like that.” Isaber cleared her throat a little. “When the heart that is worthy lights a candle in my lamp, I am summoned from beyond to grant three wishes.”
Isaber bounced the step forward and pounced on the couch next to Riley, close enough to make the pale and wide-eyed woman lean away slightly at the invasion of her personal space. “Yours is that worthy heart, and you have summoned me.” Isaber’s smile was delighted. “I was created for you, for this moment, to grant you your wishes.”
The round-eyed Riley was silent for a long moment. Then “Are you... real?”
“I told you, I was created for you... therefore I am real to you.” Isaber said gently, looking sad for a moment. “When I have granted your wishes, I may become truly real... but no, that does not matter now.”
Riley found herself curiously wanting to comfort the strange woman leaning into her personal space, until the sad expression left those pale silvery eyes. She blinked a little and pulled herself back together. “Can you prove that you are a... genie, or whatever you prefer to be called?”
Isaber smiled. “Of course I can! What to do though... hmm...” She tapped her chin with slender fingers and looked around. “Oh, I know!” One graceful wave of her hand and all the electric lights that had not been working for so long switched on, bathing the room in bright light. “There.”
Riley cried out a little and clutched her hands to her eyes, moaning slightly from the sudden pain so soon after the first assault on her sensitive eyes. A gentle hand on her forehead erased the pain, and in surprise Riley looked up into Isaber’s silver eyes. Isaber smiled and spoke, but Riley didn’t catch it. “Huh? What?”
Isaber smiled and leaned in until they were almost nose to nose. “Isaber.”
“I prefer to be called Isaber.”
With all the confusion and strange goings-on Riley decided to splurge, and went out to buy herself something to eat. Isabel assured her that she did not need to eat but Riley still felt slightly guilty when she opened her brown paper bag to take her first bite of the greasy sandwich with wilted greens that was her version of a fancy take-out dinner. She tried not to think about the fact that the cost of the sandwich, although cheap, would have gotten her several meals worth of the cheap instant noodles that were her staple food.
Riley also tried not to think about wishes, what was real or not, and whether or not she had finally gone and lost her mind as well. Instead she focused with all her being on eating slowly, chewing properly although she wanted to just cram the entire thing into her mouth, and cherishing the taste of grease and cardboard. If she ate too fast or did not chew properly, the pain in her chest would intensify even further, or worse, she’d end up loosing her precious dinner, that was a lesson she learned long ago.
The meal took the edge out of the hunger, but also awoke the tiny blades in her abdomen... Riley closed her eyes and focused on that pain for a moment. No, it was only a minor pang, it was nothing to worry about yet to Riley’s relief. Some more medicine followed the meal, and then, weary beyond belief from the day’s excitement, Riley wanted to go to bed.
And that meant another dilemma for her to solve. Riley only had the one couch to sleep in, no bed, and no extra furniture that could be used. Certainly, the couch could be pulled out to convert into a bed large enough for two, but... she eyed the beautiful stranger warily. Did she even sleep?
“Well no, I do not need...” Isaber began to answer Riley’s question, then halted, looking slightly odd. “...why yes, thank you.”
Riley was too tired to contemplate on the odd answer, and instead pulled the table to the side so that she could make the bed. “I just have the one set of bedding though... I’d offer you the blanket for yourself, but it will get too cold in here tonight so I’m afraid we’ll have to share.”
Isaber just nodded and, to Riley’s embarrassment, followed her like a puppy as Riley cleaned up and took the last of her evening medication before going to bed. Riley even felt compelled to flee into her tiny bathroom to change into a long T-shirt she could sleep in, not wanting to bare her pale, scarred and emaciated body in front of someone so lovely. She was mortified to find that Isaber stood and watched her get into bed before doing the same, and ready to virtually jump right out of her skin as this mysterious person snuggled up close to share her pillow and her blanket.
If she didn’t ache and tremble so much already, Riley would have taken her chances and let Isaber have the blanket and pillow to herself anyway. As it was, Riley curled her arms tight around herself, biting back against the pain, nausea and dizziness that rolled over her in waves. Normally she’d sleep propped up, or flat on her belly, either being easier for her to handle in terms of nausea and dizziness, and also making it easier to breathe, but there was the person lying next to her to consider... whose warmth was seeping into Riley’s cold and aching limbs from behind like a promise of absolution. Sparing a tiny but fervent thought to whoever or whatever was out there to let her fall asleep quickly for once, and let her stay on her side of the tiny bedding, Riley closed her eyes and tried to empty her mind for sleep.
When Riley woke up very early next morning, she was warm and cuddled snugly into soft arms. She didn’t notice.
She did however notice that she was bleeding profusely from both her nose and her mouth, in fact bleeding all over her unsuspecting body pillow. Scrambling to her feet while fighting with the urge to vomit, head pounding and dizziness making it hard to stand, much less walk, Riley couldn’t take the time to apologize to Isaber. She needed to get to the bathroom, and she needed to do it fast.
She made it... barely.
As Riley divested herself from last nights meal with Isaber’s horrified arms around her as she clutched the porcelain feebly, the little white-hot knives of pain did their worst in her abdomen. Riley tried to cry out with one of the bigger spasms of pain, but all that came out was a wet gurgle as the pain caused her body to try and empty what was already an empty stomach all over again. Then the next wave of pain hit, bigger, sharper, and Riley knew no more.
Isaber yelped as Riley Thomas spasmed once more in her arms, then fell face first towards the bathroom floor. Isaber caught her just in time to save the still profusely bleeding nose from being broken, and carefully laid the woman down on the floor on her side, as far away from the mess as she could manage in the small space. With just the barest hint of hesitation, Isaber tore the ruined T-shirt from Riley’s frail form and bunched it up under her head, then splashed some water into the pasty face.
Once some groaning proved that Riley was once again awake if not yet quite coherent, Isaber set about cleaning the woman up as best she could. Muttering something under her breath about cheating, she moved her hand slightly over the bridge of Riley’s nose, causing the blood to ease to a small trickle, then a few drops, until it finally stopped. Another movement with her hand, and the bathroom as well as the nearly naked woman on the floor, were both clean.
Hesitating briefly in the doorway after pulling the blanket from the bed to cover Riley’s pale, shivering form, Isaber set about going through the multicoloured drawers that held Riley’s clothing.
Four T-shirts of the same worn uniform grey. Five bras of the same brand, in faded blue or darkened white, next to small piles of neatly folded though mismatched cotton panties. Nine pairs of mended socks in colours that looked like they once had been hideously bright but now had turned muddled. One pair of patched jeans and one pair of threadbare drawstring pants. One denim shirt turned nearly white by use and one baggy sweater that didn’t look much better.
A sad expression crossed Isaber’s soft features as she stood for a moment watching the extent of Riley’s wardrobe, and realizing the implications.
“Pretty pathetic, isn’t it?” A gravely voice broke into her thoughts. “But when you live on the bottom of the barrel, you take what you can get.”
Isaber turned around quickly, looking somewhat like she was caught doing something she shouldn’t, facing Riley who had managed to get to her feet leaning in the doorway to the bathroom. She was still deathly pale and sweating, but even though she looked so ill it was quite apparent that she was embarrassed.
Then Isaber had to hurry across the floor to keep Riley from falling.
Isaber led the panting Riley to the still unmade couch, and helped her sit down. Riley clutched her head in an instinctive response to the spinning and pounding, while fighting a loosing battle with her breathing. Her medicines would not be enough now, Riley knew, feeling the cramps setting into her chest, squeezing the air out of her lungs and tears to her eyes.
Isaber knelt in front of Riley, gently urging Riley to look at her. Even with the tears that poured out of her own eyes with the breathing cramps, Riley saw the tears that glittered in the silver eyes in front of her before sliding down smooth cheeks, and she was amazed.
“Please... make the wish.” Isaber asked in a tremulous voice. “I cannot do it for you, you must make the wish.”
Blinking slowly as realization dawned, Riley reached out to take Isaber’s hand in her own weak and trembling one. Struggling to press the words out while she could not seem to get enough air and the cramps pulled the steel bands around her chest tighter and tighter, it took Riley a moment to say what she needed.
“Please... make me well again.” Riley wheezed. “I wish to be... healthy.”
Isaber did not answer, but nodded through her tears, then impulsively pulled Riley in for a hug. Riley who had long since grown accustomed to have no human touch in her life outside the sterile environment of hospital visits, gratefully closed her eyes and leaned into the small shoulder, struggling with her pain.
With her eyes closed Riley never saw the light that signified the use of Isaber’s power and Riley’s first wish.
When Riley opened her eyes again it was a slow and struggling process, sleep fighting her for control of her body every step of the way. Blearily and groggily Riley blinked at the ceiling, her body heavy with sleep still and her mind taking unaccountably long to process the usual inventory list of her body which she was long since accustomed to go through upon waking, or at least was accustomed to upon those mornings when waking up was a less violent ordeal.
Though it took her a while, it was with rising alarm that Riley came to the conclusion that something was wrong, and very very wrong at that.
At first she could not put her finger on it. She lay still and tried to go over her body’s responses one by one, a method which had served in the past to help locate the malfunctioning part. This time however the end result was puzzling, for apart from a heavy lethargy there was nothing hurting, pulsing, cramping or cutting going on. It took a good long moment more while Riley lay there frowning, deep in thought, before the obvious truth presented itself.
The strangeness she felt was the fact that for the first time in longer than Riley could easily imagine there was no pain. No pain whatsoever, anywhere. Riley flew upright on the drawn-out couch, heart thundering in her chest.
No sooner had the memory of how she had collapsed in Isaber’s arms surfaced than a smiling face surrounded by dark red curls came into view. Riley stared at the smiling... well, what exactly was she? At this point Riley was willing to consider her a saving angel.
“How do you feel?” Isaber asked with a warm voice, reaching out to brush a few strands of hair out of Riley’s eyes.
Riley took a long moment to reply. How did she feel? She stared at her hands, not only did they not feel like her own should, they looked oddly different as well. “I’m not sure... strange, I think.” She conceded at last. “There’s no pain.”
“Good, because there should not be.” Isaber smiled more and took one of the so critically inspected hands into her own. “You will probably feel a bit strange for a while though, before you get used to not being in pain again.”
“It really... worked?” Wonder warred with disbelief on Riley’s face while earnest dark eyes looked to her companion for answers.
“Did you doubt me?” Isaber teased gently, still smiling. She patted the hand in hers comfortingly and made a small gesture towards the bathroom. “If you are still not sure, have a look for yourself. I think you will be surprised.”
Riley nodded and gingerly rose to her feet, making a slightly wobbly line to the bathroom mirror as she had not expected the strength in her limbs, causing her to be just slightly off balance. She was not sure what she expected to find, just that it was not what looked back at her from the slightly cracked mirror above the sink.
It actually took her several minutes to grasp that the face she was looking at was her own, just no longer skinny, pale and sunken in on itself. Her face like the rest of her was... strong was the word that came to Riley’s mind. An inspection confirmed it, her entire body was now a solid, somewhat muscular and slightly tanned thing, the appearance which she could imagine she would have had if illnesses had not ravaged her life. Was this really her?
Next to a wide and strong shoulder Isaber appeared to meet Riley’s gaze in the mirror. “Your wish was to be healthy, so this is your body at its peak health-wise. Illness and disease can no longer touch you in any form, though I want to warn you that you can still be hurt and still die no matter how strong and fit you are, so kindly keep that in mind and do nothing which would endanger you.”
“No illness?” Riley sought reassurance while looking from her hands to Isaber and back. “None whatsoever?”
Isaber simply smiled and shook her head, and then giggled softly as Riley sat down on the floor with a thump, dazedly looking at her hands again. After a moment there was a softly whispered wow from the dark-haired woman whom then turned towards Isaber with the widest of smiles and tears pouring down her cheeks.
With a fond look Isaber sank to her knees next to Riley and put her arms around her in another hug. There was an awkward kind of desperation in the way Riley clung back and sobbed quietly into a flimsily clad shoulder.
Isaber stroked the dark hair and hummed comfortingly until the torrent of emotion seemed to have calmed itself down. “If you think you are up to it, what do you say about cleaning up and going for a small walk outside? You slept for a few hours, so it should be about midday now.”
Dressed anew in clothes that to Riley’s embarrassment no longer fit the way they had, they ventured out in the sunlight. Out of habit Riley found herself having tucked her asthma medication into an inside pocket and she squinted her eyes when stepping out the front door of the building, instinctively protecting eyes that had been painfully light-sensitive for years.
There was not even the faintest sense of discomfort, from her eyes or any other part of her body. Even the last vestiges of lethargy fled as Riley walked out into the light and, completely filled with the wonder of it all, slowly walked through her neighbourhood as a woman reborn. It was as if the entire universe had been remade around her, and with barely containable joy and amazement Riley wanted to absorb it all.
Had the sky always been that blue? Had the light and the breeze always felt this sweet against the skin of everyone else, everyone that had not been like her?
So wrapped up in this experience was she that it took a good long while before Riley began to fully notice the reactions of people around her. Most passed her by without much notice, but there were those that did, like a pair of young women waiting at the bus stop that openly appraised Riley and called out a few flirtatious invites as she passed them by.
Isaber laughed at the fierce blush on Riley’s face as she hurried out of sight and earshot of the admiring young ladies, and paid no attention to the small frown and pout directed her way. “See how beautiful you are?” She teased instead, laughing some more at the even darker blush that followed. Riley opted not to respond to that and instead just trudged on ignoring her heating face and the amused chuckles beside her.
It was apparent to Riley that people for some reason did not react to the sight of Isaber, even though the breathtakingly beautiful woman wore such strange and revealing clothing. On a few occasions Isaber even had to step around people that simply seemed intent on walking right through her. The redhead smiled and appeared not to mind until Riley finally had to ask outright.
“Why can’t anyone else see you?”
The smile faded and was replaced by a sombre look. “I am not... real, Riley. Not to anyone but you, at least not yet.” There was a strange look in sparkling silvery eyes that Riley could not read. “I exist only for you.”
Riley was not entirely sure why that statement made her blush anew, but it did. It also made her feel unaccountably happy, but then again who would not be happy to suddenly have been given their very own saving angel that could take all pain away?
“Maybe I should tell you” the playful tone returned and Isaber leaned closer. “that since no one else can see or hear me you should not speak out loud to me when we are not alone. People might think you hear voices if you do. Besides, I can hear your thoughts anyway.”
Further conversation, out loud or otherwise, was interrupted by the kindly old lady that lived near Riley. The elderly woman was understandably shocked when she realised that Riley was the same person as the pale, reed-thin and sickly woman she would exchange pleasantries in passing with every so often. Riley stammered her way through a flimsy lie about a new treatment working wonders, knowing that she could not exactly say that her salvation had come in the form of an incredibly attractive young woman appearing from a lamp, if she said anything about that she could likely expect to get picked up for some nice place with cushioned white walls and complimentary shirts.
The encounter had Riley disturbed, and so she cut her walk a bit shorter than she first had intended it. Returning to her apartment building she crossed paths with the crotchety old man who lived upstairs, and if the old lady had been shocked it was nothing compared to his reaction to a strong and healthy Riley. The lie was repeated, a bit more convincingly this time and supported by Isaber’s ad-libs, and although the old man was hard pressed to believe such a big change could occur in the week or so that had passed since they spoke last, in the end he appeared to agree not to question the how and the why too much. Instead he congratulated Riley and gruffly patted her back in an awkward attempt to convey his happiness over her improved health.
Riley all but fled into her darkened apartment after excusing herself, not liking at all that she had to lie to someone who had shown her kindness, and also uncomfortably aware how bad she was at it. She walked over to the couch and sat down, unconsciously still moving in that careful way that to an experienced observer revealed a person who had learned the hard way that careless movements meant pain.
The springs in the worn out couch complained when Isaber flopped down next to her, immediately turning towards Riley and moving a warm hand across Riley’s cheek.
“Are you really here?” Riley whispered, sounding desperate. If this turned out to be some strange and elaborate dream or hallucination she doubted she could find the strength to keep going.
“Yes. I really am.” The reassurance was gentle, and the look that accompanied it understanding and comforting. Isaber pulled one of Riley’s hands to her face. “See? You can touch me. You can feel me. But...” The hand was pulled down until it was held against Isaber’s chest. “can you tell the difference?”
Riley could barely breathe for an entirely different reason than she was used to, in fact she could do precious little at all other than blush to new and intense heights at the sensation of Isaber’s soft skin underneath her hand. She fought off the instinct to scramble off the couch because silver eyes were looking at her so expectantly, and eventually she managed to calm herself down enough to at least try to grasp what she was being shown.
“No heartbeat.” Isaber’s smile was wistful, perhaps even a bit sad. “I exist and I am here, but not the way a human being is. No one else will see me, hear me or be able to feel me, only you. I was created solely for you.”
Although it was true that Riley had only known Isaber for roughly a day, in that brief time she had still been closer to her than Riley had been to anyone in a very long time. This meant that she could not stand to see the kind creature that had been her saviour so sad, so despite her shyness and awkwardness Riley pulled Isaber into a hug, attempting to offer comfort the way Isaber had done for her before.
Isaber was not crying, but she willingly accepted the embrace and leaned her head on Riley’s shoulder anyway. She closed her eyes at Riley’s awkward stroking of her hair, a small smile and a blush stealing its way onto her features.
“You are so warm.” She said softly, almost sighing as she relaxed in Riley’s arms.
“So are y...” Riley’s words were interrupted by an inhuman howl coming from her midsection. She and Isaber sat up straight at the sound and stared, first at one another, then at the sweater-clad stomach which had chosen such loud way to make itself heard.
“I... I’m... hungry?” Riley was stunned and quite a bit worried. She felt absolutely starved, and while she was used to hunger this seemed just far too excessive for her, the way she felt now she could have eaten a whole horse if someone had handed her one on a dinner plate.
Of course then there was the fact that hunger for Riley could be a dangerous thing, with many painful repercussions. It took her a moment before she realised that the illnesses she feared would make themselves known at the moment were also gone, and that at least for now, hunger was just that... hunger.
“Your metabolism is that of a very healthy and fit person.” Isaber patted Riley’s stomach briefly before standing up, beaming at the sitting woman. “You will need to eat a lot more from now on, although it is true that whether you eat a lot or barely anything at all, your body will remain in peak condition.”
It provided Riley with quite a dilemma. She of course had absolutely nothing edible at home, and with her brief, and sadly wasted, splurging with the sandwich the previous day she was already back a bit more in her meagre funds than what she really could afford. She would of course go buy a few packets of instant noodles at the cheap grocery store she frequented, but that food would have to last her until next month, and something about this stronger sense of hunger made her think it would not be enough anymore, a small part of a pack of instant noodles in a pot full of water each day. Her other fallback for temporary hunger pangs, tap water, was not going to cut it either now that her stomach had awakened to how empty it truly was.
Now that she was this healthy Riley would try to get a job, although she knew from experience that with her credentials it was very hard to find even the smallest underpaid job that did not involve certain illegal activities she had decided long ago she would have nothing to do with. She’d do her best of course, and sooner or later Riley was sure she would find at least some work, but that still left her to try to figure out what to do for her increased food costs and other bills until then.
Isaber knelt at her side, her expression compassionate and strangely eager.
“Make the wish. You have two wishes left; you need but say the word and it will all go away. Will you not wish it so?”
“I can do that?”
“Of course. Whatever you may wish that does not involve another, I can grant you.” A pair of slender hands warmed Riley’s knee through the worn fabric of her pants. “I may not be able to do such things as end famine or disease for all humanity, but I can certainly grant you any personal wish as long as you word it right.”
Could she do it? She did not question that Isaber could grant the wish, she had more than proved herself as far as Riley was concerned, rather should she use Isaber’s gift for something like that? It wasn’t as if Riley was against receiving money she had not earned out of moral compunctions, no, she had long ago learned that she could not afford to be that spoiled, but where would it come from? Would her gain be someone else’s loss?
“No, what you receive would not be taken from anyone else.” Isaber seemed amused at Riley’s concerns, yet waited patiently for the dark-haired woman to come to a decision on her own. “It would take on the appearance of having come from somewhere, but it would be wealth that did not exist until your wish was made.”
Well that laid some concerns to rest, but still. Riley could not help but feel that it would be both greedy and selfish of her, yet at the same time the way Isaber had explained the wishes it seemed the wishes were supposed to be selfish in nature. And it would undeniably be wonderful to get all those hospital bills taken care of at long last.
Riley scratched her cheek while thinking, not really paying attention to the woman that was now leaning against her legs while looking at her with obvious fondness.
The hospital bills and the remaining medical bills. Yeah, that would be great. Also the rent she had yet to pay and the bills for electricity and heating would be pretty awesome too, if that was possible. But if she just asked to pay her bills, would the power of the wish deal with all of the things she owed money for, or just the bunch of current bills she had piled neatly on the table in the kitchen?
Money for food would be incredibly welcome as well, though how to word that? And would it be terribly greedy of her to wish for a bit extra, enough so that she might actually go buy herself a bed somewhere? Now that she wasn’t forced to sleep more or less sitting up it would be nice to have a cot or something she could just stretch out on at night.
Besides, though the thought made her blush slightly, it would be nice if she could get a bed that was just wide enough to make better room for Isaber, if Isaber was going to stay with her.
Isaber’s smile widened and she giggled happily as she rubbed her cheek against Riley’s knee.
The wording... how should she put it? How had she worded the wish that freed her from all her illnesses? Riley had been to out of it at that point to remember.
“Umm, I wish...” She muttered, unaware that she was voicing part of her thoughts out loud. “to have enough money to... pay all of the bills...” That sounded about right, didn’t it? Did she need to specify which bills she meant? Oh, and maybe the word bill in itself wasn’t the best choice. “all of my debts and, err, to...” To be able to put food on the table? Nah, too silly and who knew what would happen at that kind of statement. Oh wait. “To be able to afford all of my house, home, food and living expenses” Mentally Riley congratulated herself, that was a good one. Now just to add the bit about affording a bed for them. Though she couldn’t just tell Isaber she wanted to buy a bed for them to sleep in, that would sound weird wouldn’t it? “and to be able to buy... things.” Riley growled, no, that wasn’t it, and it sounded absolutely ridiculous. To buy a necessary thing? A piece of needed furniture? Darn this was hard. Oh and she needed to say for how long, right? All the debts she had now and for the next month or two?
“Up until-“ A bright light interrupted Riley’s muttering and brought her attention back to her surroundings, specifically back to the smiling and now brightly glowing woman kneeling in front of her.
“It is done!” Riley was confused as to which should shock her more, the bright light, the exclamation, or the fact that the other woman practically threw herself into her lap.
“Done?” She blinked owlishly at Isaber who appeared to be quite comfortable on Riley’s lap. “What do you mean, done?”
“Your wish is granted, of course.” She glanced towards the door. “It will not take long before you can tell for yourself.”
“W-what? But I haven’t made my wish yet!”
“Ah but you did. Your wish was to have enough money to pay all bills, all your own debts and costs for houses and other living expenses, and to be able to buy things. I cannot say for certain, but I would suspect that the wish to be able to pay all bills alone will make you a very rich woman.”
Riley’s eyes went as wide as saucers just as a knock could be heard at the front door.
“And there it is.” Isaber said cheerfully and got up from her spot on Riley’s lap. Riley on the other hand stared at her dumbfounded until Isaber, with a small sigh, took her by the hand and pulled her over to the door. “Will you not see who it is?”
Shakily Riley found herself opening the door to find a small group of men in suits standing in the dirty and dingy hallway, led by a skinny and balding man with a very official air to him. She did not know it when she hesitantly and rather timidly greeted them, but their arrival would mark the end of Riley’s old life.
When the whirlwind that began the moment Riley made her second wish finally abated nearly six months had passed, and Riley Thomas found herself in a luxurious mansion in a completely different town than the one she started out in, the sole and long sought-after heir of a previously unknown grandfather whose fortune was so great that no one seemed able to tell Riley just how much money she had inherited. Isaber had to assure Riley that the old man had never actually existed several times before the tall woman could lay her concerns about inadvertently stealing someone else’s heritage to rest.
To begin with, once all her debts had been paid and it started to become obvious to Riley just how obscenely rich she had suddenly become, Riley tried to give her fortune away in a number of ways. After a few eventful days of that kind of behaviour, and the loud protests of the army of lawyers and advisors that were steering Riley through the process of gaining her fortune, Isaber had to sit Riley down and explain to her that the more money Riley gave away, the more the power of the wish would generate, so she would never actually notice any difference no matter how much she gave. The problem was that if Riley gave that much to other people eventually the rule about personal gain would be broken, and if that happened Isaber was not sure just how the powers involved would punish them, only that Isaber herself would ultimately be destroyed.
After that Riley opted to simply accept her new wealth as quietly and graciously as she was at all able to. Although at times it felt as if her life had become an unwanted circus at least she had Isaber by her side, always smiling and providing Riley with a very sweet-sounding voice of reason. Riley’s one last personal act of generosity, before turning such things over to her advisors to handle, was to buy the apartment block she once had lived in, have the building thoroughly renovated, and then finally made it so that the old man that used to be her neighbour could live there for free.
Riley herself never returned to her old home.
While she found she had many people working for her in some way or other, by the time that the strange process finished which took Riley from a woman in threadbare and washed-out clothing living in what amounted to a dank basement, to the woman whom now were given designer clothes to wear and a small palace to live in, Riley found she still had her privacy at least in her own home. She desperately needed privacy, not only for the sake of her own reticence around people, but also for Isaber.
As it was Riley had already gotten quite a reputation for being eccentric, as she tended to forget that people could neither see nor hear Isaber and thus did not stop herself from reacting or even occasionally speaking out loud to her while others were present. Finally though they were left in peace.
From that very first night together Riley and Isaber had shared a bed, continuing this even when Riley’s new home had rooms and beds aplenty. During their second night together Riley ended up spooning Isaber in her sleep, and from the third night onwards Riley would go to sleep with Isaber cuddled up with her head on Riley’s shoulder. Riley never said anything about it, but with her ability to hear Riley’s thoughts Isaber still knew how much their closeness meant to the other woman. What Riley did not know was that Isaber was not able to sleep, and instead spent the nights awake but content to be in Riley’s arms.
They spent all their time together. Isaber did not eat, but that did not stop her from keeping Riley company for dinner, or prevent her from taking a strange interest in the to her complete mystery of cooking. It was mostly a theoretical pursuit on her part, though Riley volunteered herself for the odd occasion when it was not. In many ways it was a bittersweet interest, since Isaber could not herself try to taste anything she might make, or know the flavours and experiences mentioned in the cookbooks she read.
For most part they naturally found things they could share without problem, simple things like watching movies together while curled up on the couch, or long walks in the surprisingly large and very beautiful garden. There were times though that Riley would find herself abruptly reminded that Isaber was not really a normal woman.
One such occasion was when Riley had given serious thought to getting a pet. She had been watching movies about animal rescues and reading magazines for pet owners for days, until she finally approached Isaber with a few glossy pictures of kittens and a shiny, almost childlike, look in her eyes.
“What do you think?” She asked Isaber eagerly, spreading the pictures of various little fluffballs on the table in front of the redhead. “It hadn’t really occurred to me before, but I don’t have to avoid being around animals anymore.”
“They are adorable.” There was something about the way Isaber looked at the pictures that felt a bit off to Riley despite the amused reply she had gotten.
“You... don’t like cats, maybe? Perhaps you would prefer dogs?” Riley was slightly concerned but fully willing to compromise. True she had always wanted to have a cat, but if Isaber preferred dogs she wouldn’t mind having some cute puppy instead.
Isaber shook her head and reached up to cup Riley’s face. “No, I find both cats and dogs quite adorable, and I think I would have liked to join you in playing with either. If you want one you should get one, and I know it would have a good home here with you.”
“But I fear that any animal you would bring here will become afraid of me, as they can neither see nor sense me and surely finding furniture and other things appearing to move by themselves will be unnerving even to an animal.”
Isaber let go of Riley and looked away. “I... am sorry.”
Riley saw the sadness in silver eyes and did the only thing she could think of. She embraced Isaber and held her close, regretting that she had brought the subject up at all. While she might have wanted a pet that was no more than a fanciful thought, and definitely something she could do without. Isaber however meant so infinitely much to her, everything really, and she never wanted to do anything to make the other woman sad.
“Thank you.” Isaber whispered against a cotton clad shoulder, trying not to feel guilty as she lingered in this display of affection for as long as she could.
They did not bring the subject up again that day, although several nights later as they had gone to bed and Isaber curled up in her by now customary place in Riley’s arms, Isaber once more expressed her regret that her presence prevented Riley from doing something she wanted.
“Don’t be silly.” Riley hugged Isaber closer and rested her face against the red hair. “It was just a thought and it doesn’t matter. Not like you do.” Having Isaber with her was Riley’s fondest wish, she had realised that by now.
“Really? I am?” Isaber smiled into Riley’s shoulder, lightly playing with the long dark hair that spilled out around them. “Would you not have used your final wish for something else rather than me?”
“Nothing in this world means as much to me as you do, not even my health.” Riley was shy and awkward when expressing herself in words, even though she knew Isaber would have known that truth from her thoughts for some time now. “Nothing else would matter, if you weren’t by my side.”
There was a happy sound from the slight weight on her shoulder, reassuring Riley that her sentiment was at least well received. “What about you, Isaber? What would you ask for if you had one wish?”
Silver eyes came into view to blink at Riley briefly before disappearing again. “Me? Make a wish? What a thought.” There was a soft giggle. “As long as I could stay here with you I would not need to make any other wish, although there is one thing...”
“I would wish that I was human.”
“Could we do that? Use the last wish to make you human?”
“No...” Isaber shook her head slightly, sighing. “It does not work that way. Your wishes must be about yourself, only indirectly involving anyone else.”
“It seems to me that a wish like that would be about myself also, because I would selfishly want you to stay with me.” And then she could ask Isaber to marry her. Theoretically anyway, if Isaber felt anything along the same lines as what Riley felt for her. Unseen by her human pillow Isaber blushed and smiled brightly. “Well, if that doesn’t work we will have to find another way to make you human.”
“Becoming human is to be my reward once the third wish has been made.” She cut Riley off before she could say what Isaber knew she would at this information. “It is just that I do not know if I will become human as I am and where I am, here with you, or if I will be reborn as a baby somewhere else. I am... somewhat afraid to find out.” Then quietly, while clutching slightly at Riley. “What if becoming human means I shall never see you again?”
Riley’s grip tightened. “Let’s not think about that for now. We’ll find a way to make you human and still stay together, you’ll see.” She tried to clear the thickness out of her voice and steer the conversation in on more pleasant things, thinking that they should sit down and discuss this more properly the following day. They would probably need to have clear minds to come up with a solution for this. “What would you do if you were human, then?”
Understanding that Riley tried to keep them both from becoming too upset Isaber acquiesced and began telling her about the things she had fantasized she would do if she was fully human.
Fortunately Isaber had many, many thoughts on what she would want to do. Most of them were fairly simple, like walking together with Riley through the streets of the shopping district just to know that people saw them together, to cook dinner for the two of them and then get to experience eating it for the first time, or to go and pick out a pair of kittens from the pound together. Others were more complicated.
“...and in winter we would go away somewhere, to where there is much snow and we could make a snowman together. We could learn how to skii or skate, and play around in the snow during the day, and the evenings we would spend on something soft in front of the fireplace.”
Isaber drew slow and light circles over Riley’s collarbone, knowing that the sound of her voice and the images she created with her little stories were lulling the other woman into a peaceful sleep. She wasn’t sure Riley could make out her words anymore, but that was fine. Isaber continued anyway, letting her voice provide its own kind of lullaby.
“You would teach me how to make snow angels, and maybe we would have a snowball fight until we got so cold and wet that we would have to go back inside, and then we would spend the rest of the day cuddled together on the couch.”
“And eventually, one day...” Isaber’s voice grew quieter, coloured with a different kind of emotion. “We would do those things I know you sometimes dream of. We would share ourselves in that way that humans do when they love one another deeply.”
The hand stilled and the story faltered, Isaber listening to Riley’s heartbeat for a moment. “And we would kiss.”
“Mmnn...” Riley agreed, sleeping yet some small fraction of her remaining awake enough to have understood Isaber’s words and tried to reply to them. “Wishhacould... kishyou... saber.”
Isaber stiffened immediately. “R-riley?” She gasped, and then, when the dark room suddenly began filling with light, “RILEY!”
Riley shot upright instantly. “What? No!” Isaber was crying although her tears were barely visible for the strong glow that grew brighter and brighter. “I haven’t made a third wish! I haven’t!”
To Riley’s surprise their lips met, soft and warm and all too briefly. Then as they drew apart as suddenly as they had come together, she could see Isaber cry and shape her name although no sound was heard.
Crying herself now, Riley tried to grab onto Isaber, but before they could touch the glowing subtly changed, and to Riley’s horror Isaber’s face became translucent for a very brief moment before finally she disappeared in a soundless explosion of glowing sparkles.
Then the room turned dark again, with no sign of anything having happened there remaining. There was no trace that there had ever been someone else in the bed beside her at all.
Clutching her head Riley screamed like she had never done in life before.
But there would be no answer. Riley was alone.
Two weeks passed, and Riley was in such a miserable state that those that came to see her, her employees, feared for either her life or her sanity, perhaps both.
She would not eat, would not speak nor move from the spot on the floor where she had been found. She would not take care of herself in any way, the only thing she did besides staring brokenly into nothingness was to drift off into fitful and haunted dreams from time to time.
It had gone so far that the advisors reluctantly began talking about having her forcibly admitted somewhere for psychiatric help, before one day everything changed.
“Miss! Miss, you can’t just go in there!” A man’s agitated voice was followed by the sound of running.
“I have to! Riley is waiting for me!”
The sound of a familiar warm and melodic voice snapped Riley out of her stupor enough to focus on the here and now. Dark eyes turned to where the sound of running came closer. Then suddenly there she was.
“I-isaber?” Riley’s voice was raspy and her tone fearful. She couldn’t take it if this was another dream.
“Oh... Riley.” The woman who stopped a mere few steps out of Riley’s reach had tears pouring down her cheeks, yet she was smiling. It was such a familiar smile.
She looked different, Riley dimly noted, a little more substantial maybe, or a trifle more tanned. She did not wear the flimsy outfit anymore, instead she wore denim pants and a white sweater that hugged the generous curves nicely underneath a short jacket. It had rained outside so the mass of unruly red curls were even more unruly than usual, sticking out in odd directions in some places while slicked down in others. Isaber had never looked more beautiful to Riley.
Riley struggled to get to her feet. Strange, she felt as if she was coming out of one of her more crippling asthma attacks from back when life had still been so bad; suddenly there was an easing of hard steel bands that had crushed her chest and she could begin to breathe again. “Isaber?”
She was pushed down on the floor again as she found herself having a sobbing redhead wrapped around her neck and crushed tight against her. Even chilled by the rain Isaber felt warm to Riley, she had felt so endlessly cold the weeks that the other woman had been gone.
There was a shuffling sound and then heavy footsteps moved away, the man that had chased after Isaber clearly coming to the conclusion that she was a welcome guest after all. Finally there was the sound of a door closing, and Riley and Isaber were alone.
“I am sorry it took me so long to come home.” Isaber whispered with a thick voice, her breath brushing against Riley’s ear. It was a new experience, since Isaber had never seemed to really breathe before. “I woke up in a hospital a few days after we parted, they told me there that I had been found in an alley and had been unconscious since I was brought in. It took a week before they would agree to release me as they believed I have amnesia, and after that it took me a while to find a way to be brought here.”
“You are really here.” Riley whispered, running her fingers adoringly over familiar features and through red curls. “I thought I had lost you forever.”
Then she closed her eyes as the tears spilled over, and clung to Isaber while she wept in silence.
They still clung to one another after the torrent of emotions had passed and the tears caused by the uncertainty of their parting had ceased. Isaber giggled slightly and drew her head back just far enough to meet Riley’s eyes, freeing one hand to tenderly wipe at wet cheeks. “Riley,” She breathed, excitement in her voice. “I am home!”
“And I love you.”
With that she pressed her lips to Riley’s. Once Riley overcame the initial surprise of feeling soft lips moving against her own she responded enthusiastically, the two of them eager and willing to make up for lost time.
After a long while Isaber broke away to breathe while Riley moved her attention to Isaber’s neck. “Oh! It is truly glorious to be human.” Isaber moaned, causing Riley to chuckle slightly against her throat.
They drew back further to be able to look at one another.
“I love you.” Riley’s eyes were open and earnest, making Isaber feel both grateful and reassured that even though she could no longer hear her thoughts, it would not be hard to tell what Riley was thinking of. Isaber knew her so well that all she had to do was look into those eyes and she would know.
“I love you too, Riley.”
They smiled at one another.
“Welcome home, love.”
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