It had been a good four hours since the well-prepared meal had been brought to him and he’d only absentmindedly picked from it as he’d studied for the next four hours, allowing that which had taken time and care to prepare to grow cold and much less appealing by the time he actually got around to eating it. After those four hours, ignoring his growing headache as he trudged down the stairs, Roy brought the now empty dishes to the sink and rinsed them of the encrustations of what remained of the once pleasant meal.
Setting them aside to dry, Roy then ran his hands under the water and bent low to splash some onto his face, relishing in the cooling effects of evaporation to help soothe his migraine. Bracing his hands on either side of the sink, he stood there for a few moments with his head hanging low as he allowed his mind a much needed moment to relax.
Heaving a deep sigh, he glanced up to observe the dark countryside outside the kitchen window. His gaze lingered on the rolling hills as the few remaining droplets fell from his face one after another. The sun had gone down some hours before, and he realized not for the first time that he never slept with the sun. His nights were always spent in studies, going through whichever task his mentor had set for him to accomplish before he could move on to the next. With a small start, however, as his eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness outside, he realized there was something out on the grass. It took another moment before the figure finally started to take shape.
Pushing away from the sink with a sudden sense of purpose, Roy hurriedly dried his face with a hand towel and went to the back door where he left the warmth of the house for the relative coolness of the night air. Drawing closer he realized that, yes indeed, his mentor’s daughter was sitting in the yard, perched on a blanket that she’d sprawled across the grass. Her gaze was fixed upward, and he wondered for a moment if she’d noticed his approach.
“What are you doing out here? It’s almost midnight.”
Roy barely kept his tone from sounding indignant, and the quiet girl turned her watchful gaze from the skies above to observe the young alchemist who stood a few paces from her. She was hardly surprised by his appearance and her ever perceptive eyes scanned him for a moment before she replied.
“Waiting,” was all she said, purposefully vague and much to Roy’s disapproval.
He let this show in the frown that creased his brow.
“Waiting for what?” he questioned further, allowing his dissonance towards this situation to show through the unamused tone of his voice.
She shouldn’t be out in the dark when it was this late out. It could’ve simply been the fact he’d grown up in a place where crime was more common or perhaps her father’s caution and paranoia bleeding over into his student, but Roy didn’t like the idea of his mentor’s young daughter sitting outside alone at night.
What if something were to happen?
Riza didn’t answer and instead returned her silently humored gaze back to the stars above. ‘Sit and wait if you want to find out,’ she may as well have said, although the words themselves were left unspoken. Roy’s frown deepened as he physically subdued a growl, hearing those words of hers without voice.
But alas, he complied, seating himself on the blanket beside his mentor’s quiet daughter. Even though she didn’t turn to look at him, a small smile tilted Riza lips, pleased as she was with her small victory.
“It seems I have torn you away from your diligent studies,” she stated simply, but it sounded a cheeky tease to Roy’s ears.
He narrowed his eyes a fraction as he crossed his arms and let loose an indignant huff.
“Wouldn’t be proper to leave you out here all by yourself. Master Hawkeye would have my head if he found out,” the alchemist pointed out gruffly, letting his tone insinuate that it was a significant bother for him to do so.
“Always the gentleman, Mister Mustang.”
There was a distinct undercurrent of honesty in Riza’s words here as she saw through his snark to his concern, and Roy let his frown ease with his capture.
“Of course. I was raised well and to be an honest man.”
He spoke earnestly, and his mentor’s daughter smiled that subtle smile of hers again. Roy felt his frown vanish completely at this.
A few moments passed in silence, nothing spectacular or out of the ordinary jumping out to grab his attention, and Roy found himself locating all the constellations he could off of the top of his head--not that he was an expert in astrology. He was currently up to three, but the stars looked so different from this house outside the city, were many more in number than in Central, that he found the task a tad more difficult.
Beside him, Riza’s gaze was turned ever upward, and Roy found himself wondering if she were looking for them too. Or was she able to simply look at the stars for the marvel they were without searching out patterns? Odd how two people sitting right beside each other could view the things around them so differently, he mused briefly to himself.
“Do you know how many there are?”
The voice of his mentor’s daughter cut into the young alchemist’s thoughts, and he blinked once for his mind to catch up and dropped his now confused onyx eyes to her.
“Stars?” he asked, more because he knew he couldn’t even begin to imagine their number.
Riza nodded, her eyes not once straying from the bespeckled heavens.
“I know it’s a silly question because how could anyone? I sometimes find myself trying to count them, but I often lose my place or see ones I hadn’t before and then I lose track,” she added in a thoughtful undertone.
Roy paused, not entirely sure what he was to do with this information. She tried counting the stars? Stars, he knew, were both dying and being born every moment, so counting their number would be an ever changing thing. At best, you could only get an approximation or a range of numbers, and you would be lucky if you could manage to pinpoint even that. But, then he reminded himself that Riza was likely talking only of the stars they could see. Observing the shining specs above them, he knew it wouldn’t take long for one to wonder if they had missed one or counted one twice.
“I don’t know how many there are. I’ve never thought to try and count them,” Roy finally answered, drawing Riza’s silently curious gaze. “But, then again, maybe we aren’t meant to know. Perhaps it’s one of those things that’s majestic in its mystery,” he said with a light shrug.
Something akin to amusement flashed through the eyes of the girl sitting beside the young alchemist, and the small smirkish grin she wore portrayed similar emotions.
“An alchemist who wishes not to know all,” she mused briefly, leaving the rest unvoiced.
Yet, again he heard her silent words. ‘How very... unique of you, Mister Mustang.’
Roy knew she was teasing him again. Why did this girl seem to feel the need to do that? He only wished he was able to give as well as he got. She was able to find just the right button to push to inspire just the right amount of irritation in him that somehow kept him coming back to see if he could best her in this little game of wits. He would find her buttons at one point, of that he would make sure, and then he would be sure to push them whenever he got the chance as retribution--with interest, of course.
Roy was about to return her words, or rather those she left unspoken, with a snarky remark, but the words left him when he caught a glimpse of something in his peripherals. He turned his eyes upward towards the swift movement to see a small light streak across the sky from the north and disappear over the arc of the hills to the east, leaving a glowing trail in its wake.
Surprised by this turn of events, Roy looked to Riza.
“Is that what-” he began to ask, but he stopped himself when she held a finger to her lips, urging him to remain silent as her now smiling and twinkling eyes returning to the stars.
‘Wait,’ she silently said.
So, he did. Mirroring her position, Roy too scanned the skies above, watching in the general direction the meteor had come from. It wasn’t too much longer before another glowing beam shot across the sky, splitting the darkness with its subtle yet vibrant light, a flickering trail following it as specs of the soaring chunk of mineral burned off in the outer atmosphere.
Two meteors? In such a short time? About twenty seconds, he’d counted it. Very rare indeed.
Roy became speechless of the odds when a third followed its two twins not five seconds later, and his mind was already telling him this was likely a meteor storm, not a meteor shower. With a shower, one would be lucky to see 20 meteors in an hour. But this, three in less than thirty seconds, was definitely a meteor storm.
The two teens, one nearing his third decade of life, watched in amazed silence the sight before them as another meteor flew, followed quickly by a celestial dancing partner. From there, Roy found that, whenever he would follow one trail of light across the sky and return his attention back to the north, another meteor would either follow quickly after or would already be making its progress across the bespeckled night sky. A beautiful sight, Roy marveled in something akin to reverence. The universe could truly be a beautiful thing.
A small chuckle drew his rapt attention, and Roy’s gaze moved from the ‘shooting stars’, as people had inaccurately dubbed them, to the girl seated beside him. She wasn’t looking at him. No, instead, her eyes were locked on the glowing objects above with more awe than he had ever seen a person, especially this particular person, wear.
Roy could see the lights flashing in her dark eyes, glowing streaks telling of the marvelous sight he was missing, but he couldn’t bring himself to turn away to observe the extraordinary event. He couldn’t turn away from the smile Riza wore, so earnest and bright, brighter than the flashing lights above, as she watched the meteors soar across the sky. Her smile was the largest and most joyous he’d ever seen from her and he was surprised to find it took his breath away more than the meteors did.
She at sixteen, Roy could honestly say Riza was a pretty girl, ‘pretty’ quickly bordering and blurring with her own subtle form of ‘beautiful’ as she matured. He had noticed it on several brief occasions before. They spoke very little, Roy and his mentor’s daughter. He usually only found the time away from his studies to emerge from his room for only a few hours a day and Riza was usually taking care of the house and everything that entailed. Even so, he had always been one to appreciate elegance, something she gave off in a delicate yet somehow equipotently forthright manner.
But, Roy had never noticed it more than in that moment when the heavens above were alight with a rare, almost divine light. Some might say his mentor’s daughter’s nose was a tad too pointed or that her cheekbones were a little underpronounced. But, he didn’t. No, he didn’t see those things at all. He saw her smile, normally much more subtle, and the flecks of fire-colored orange in her eyes that made them look like liquid amber.
And as he watched her marvel at the universe, Roy then found his thoughts taking quite the detour, wondering to the military and his plans of joining. He had stopped himself when he’d turned eighteen months back, worried that he wouldn’t be good enough for the military or that his convictions wouldn’t be strong enough. That he wouldn’t be strong enough. Could he conquer these doubts well enough to join their armed forces and well enough again to do some actual good for this country?
Yes, he realized as he continued to watch his mentor’s daughter, he could. He could learn to push his doubts aside, learn to be stronger just as he had learned the vast and painstakingly intricate art of alchemy. He could fight for his country and his family.
And he could fight to protect this girl.
Roy’s mentor would without a doubt flay him alive were he to know just what was going through his student’s mind, but the young alchemist didn’t care. They were his thoughts, and no one could take them from him.
Yes, once he had finished his studies, he would join the military. He would fight to protect those he cared about. He would fight for his aunt, for his sisters, and now for his mentor and Riza.
He would fight and die for this cause if he must.
Content with his decision, Roy returned his gaze to the sky, joining his mentor’s silent daughter in watching the rare sight above them. And if his attention was sometimes drawn to the girl beside him instead, no one but himself was any the wiser.