Disclaimer: I do not own Guardians of Time or this plot, actually.
Picking out a Christmas gift for your six hundred year-old soul mate was not easy.
Isabel must have passed every store window at least five times that night, pondering away at what to get Arkarian. Neriah said that she should just give it up by now; whatever they had here was obviously not meant for him. But Isabel just couldn't stop looking. Her sixth sense was kicking into overdrive; the ideal gift had to be here somewhere.
She now paused in front of a shabby old bookstore, a seeming nothing compared to all the high-tech shops inside this busy mall. Arkarian liked books...didn't he? Isabel strained to remember him ever glancing at a book, but her mind came up empty. She had never seen him read a book, ever.
'Oh well,' she mused as she entered the shop. 'A book had to be a safe gift, anyway.'
The smell of dust was thickly laid into the atmosphere as the blonde teenager strolled among the many shelves filled with volumes of any kind. Obviously this shop wasn't visited that often, as she first suspected.
It was by the end of the third row of books that Isabel realized that she was looking in the completely wrong store; Arkarian would want nothing in here. It was full of wishy-washy witches books and trinkets, with how-to guides on performing seances and rituals. Isabel snorted at the thought of Arkarian practicing voodoo.
Isabel gave a sigh, then headed back towards the front of the shop. It was then that something sparked her attention out of the corner of her eye.
It was a glinting of silver, or more specifically, a silver frame. It sat on an end table, where the shopkeeper had set out non-book related items for display. The beautifully crafted rose design was intricate and resembled the flower more than any other meld Isabel had ever seen.
In that brief instant, Isabel thought about a painting that Arkarian had, one that was just the same size as that lovely frame. It was a Picasso original, he liked to tell. Made especially for Arkarian in one of his earlier missions. It was one of Arkarian's prized possessions.
Six-sense guiding her, Isabel reached up and took the frame. In an instant, a warmth spread through her fingertips and she knew this was the gift she had been searching for.
Isabel bit her lip thinking of how much this must cost and was thankful for her savings account: Arkarian was worth it, after all.
There was no one at the counter when the girl was ready to pay for it. A small bell sat on the top, and Isabel hesitantly rang it. The tinkering sound filled the small store and seconds later, through a curtain of beads, emerged the shopkeeper. She was a round, black woman with her hair in a turban and long, flowery skirts. Her golden jewelry and makeup reminded Isabel briefly of a gypsy.
The woman stared at Isabel as she placed the frame on the counter between them.
"Ah," the keeper said in a rich African accent. "Mara has sensed that your aura would go toward this, as soon as I felt it come toward the door. I'm sure your purposes will serve the Border of Insanity well."
"The Border of...Insanity?"
"Yes, my child. That frame you've got there."
Isabel cringed inwardly. "Why is it called that, if you don't mind me asking?"
"This frame has properties never spoken of in this world. It will fit any picture, any photo, any page. It was so tormenting to those who tried to study it that it eventually drove them insane."
"Mara never lies," the woman said. Isabel guessed by now that her name was Mara. "It was very lucky that I came upon it into my possession. I sense that you will not mistreat my treasure, girl."
"Y-Yes. Well, umm...How much is it?"
Mara leaned forward with intense brown eyes. "Mara does not accept money. If I am to give up one of my treasures, you must give up one of your own."
For an instant, Isabel was frightened. Would Mara hurt her if she didn't offer an alternative to cash? Her thoughts were interrupted abruptly by a swift grabbing of her left hand. Mara gazed at her ring finger intently. There, by her knuckle was her grandmother's ring.
It had been given to Isabel when she turned fifteen. She had worn it ever since. But now--would she give it up for a mere picture frame?
Yes, she would.
Isabel slid the ring off her finger and handed it to Mara. "Will this do?" She asked this in rhetorication. Mara nodded, took the ring and gazed upon it only inches from her eyes. As Isabel left the store, frame in hand, Mara was still staring at it.
Meanwhile, in Athens, a blue-haired male was hussling with one of the buyers in the merchants' square.
"This must be worth at least a thousand," Arkarian bargained, his violet gaze intent upon the old man's face. "It's an original, I swear it to you."
"How can I trust you? It could be a copy, for all I know." The old man's face was steady, his tone threatening.
Arkarian sighed. "Would I lie to you? Would the son of Lorian lie to you?" He hated having to pull his father's card, but sometimes you have to do what you need to.
This got the merchant thinking hard. He turned away from the lad and busied himself among his items for sale as he pondered what to give the boy. Arkarian looked idlely around the small stall, thinking of what he was going to buy Isabel with the money he was going to get from selling his painting. It had pained him when he had thought of what he had to give up, but he was sure it would be worth it when he saw the look on Isabel's face when she got her gift.
The old man turned back to Arkarian, his hands full of small trinkets. He started to set them out on displays as he gave his response. "I'm sure your father raised you to be a nice boy," Arkarian cringed, and looked down at what the man was setting out. "And I'm sure he taught you not to lie. So...I'll give you eight hundred for it."
However, Arkarian was not listening. His eye had caught on a small box the merchant had just sat down. It was a jewel box, of medium size, and was encrusted with small turquoise gems. The figure of a moon was on the lid, casting blue sparkles into the air. "How about this?" He pointed it to the old man.
"What about it?"
"Instead of money," Arkarian thought fast. "Can I please have this box?"
Arkarian knew it would be the ideal place to store the ring that Isabel's grandmother had gotten for her. She wore it quite often, he had noticed, and knew she cherished it. Only a box of this immense beauty would suffice to provide it a resting place.
The merchant never seemed to think about. "Pscht," he snorted. "Go ahead, take it. That box was only worth a quarter of what I'm offering you for your painting." With that, he pushed the trinket towards the boy, and shoved his newly required painting into his stall, thinking he had made quite a bargain.
Amazed at the fast business, Arkarian took the jewel box in his hands. WIth a smile, he used his wings to get back home.
On Christmas day, the couple was extremely antsy. Isabel woke up quite early and bounded over to Arkarian's with his gift. When she entered his room, she noticed him still sleeping. A malicious grin spread across her face as she ran and jumped right on top of her sleeping boyfriend. He woke with an "Umphf," which quickly turned into a smile. He had been expecting something like this from her this morning.
"Merry Christmas, love," he said, as he pecked her quickly on the lips. Arkarian sat up straight in bed, pulling her onto his lap.
"Merry Christmas, Arkarian." Isabel said, clearly excited. "Want to open your present?"
Arkarian smiled, his violet eyes shining. "Of course, but I want you to open yours as well." He pulled a small package from his bedside table.
Isabel retrieved his gift from beneath her coat. "We should open them at the same time."
They exchanged gifts, and soon set to unwrapping them. Isabel was obviously the first one with her gift revealed, and Arkarian paused to explain her gift. "It's a jewel box. I found it in Athens. I thought it would be the perfect place to put your grandmother's ring." His smile quickly faded at the frown on her face. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," she fought back a sob. "Go ahead and finish opening yours."
Giving her a second look, Arkarian finished with his own gift. "Oh, Isabel..." His pale, slender fingers traced the ornate design of the frame.
"It's for your painting." his soul mate explained. "You never had a frame for it...I thought it would be perfect."
Arkarian gave a small smile, before crushing her into a gentle hug. "Isabel...I sold my painting to buy your jewel box. It was the only source of income I could buy you something with, and I couldn't just go without getting you a present."
"But," Isabel interjected, smiling softly, too. "I traded my ring for your frame, so you could put your painting in it."
There was silence around the both of them for a few moments. Then the two burst into quiet laughter.
"What ever are we going to do with our gifts, now?" Isabel asked, tears of sorrow and laughter running down her face.
Arkarian winked at her. "We can improvise." He got up out of his bed and went over to his dresser. He pulled out a paper of some sort and came back to her. Taking the frame, Arkarian slid the paper into its border, before handing it to Isabel. It now held a painting of them two together, one that Neriah had painted herself. To Isabel's surprise, Mara was right: this new painting was so much smaller than the one the frame was intended for, yet it fit snug.
Isabel smiled at Arkarian.
"As for your jewel box," Arkarian said quietly, mischief in his eyes. "I'm sure you'll have a new ring to put inside it sometime soon." He winked again.