Author's Notes:

This is my first real attempt at writing fanfiction. I tried to keep the characters as close to in-character as possible, but I'm not entirely sure of my success rate. Richter really should be a bit grumpier, but I guess the lack of that trait is somewhat justified in the scenes where he's younger. Not much, though. There are also some sections that are really just built around cheap gags...

Logic quibbles and weird miscalculations abound... I would really like it if I could get someone to help me bash this into something vaguely resembling a presentable form. There is a version with my "editor's notes" tucked away in brackets, but I took them out for people who just want to read something. Some may have accidentally slipped through, though...

Well, here it is. I hope it's not too bad.

Update: ...And apparently, it wasn't! I really only kept the fic as "in-progress" in case I had to give it any major overhauls. For all intents and purposes, this story is complete.

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Can you tell us a bit about your time with Aster?

Well… he had a bit of a hair-pulling habit. Pulling other people's hair, that is. And by other people, I mean that he liked to pull MY hair.

So, that day, I felt a light tug on my hair as I had seemingly every day since I had started growing it out. I turned around, and…

"Hey, Richter… are you ready to go?"

I brushed some of my hair out of the way- an action that had become an almost subconscious reflex to keep Aster from getting at it. I would almost always be too late. "Aster, this is a serious matter. You know that you can't act recklessly when you actually meet Ratatosk and the Centurions."

Aster's demeanor shifted. It was rare to see him in a completely serious mood, but I could tell that he was fully committed to his plan. "I know that. It's like you keep forgetting that I'm not a kid anymore, Richter. I'm not just going to goof off while negotiating the balance of the world's Mana, you know." And just like that, he melted back into his normal, somewhat relaxed stance. "But that doesn't mean I have to stay that way for the entire duration of the trip! Besides, you're the one who's all serious business all the time. I'm here to keep you from losing it! You think about certain things and that makes you depressed which makes you think about certain things which makes you depressed which makes you think about certain things which makes you…"

"I get the hint, Aster." More often than not, Aster really did cheer me up. But there were also times that he made me even more nervous, like at that point. I was not feeling very optimistic about the possible outcomes of our mission. "I'm ready. I think it's time for us to set out."

But Aster didn't move. Instead, he suddenly became serious again. "Richter… you're nervous, aren't you?" I couldn't respond. He was just too sensitive to my moods. He reached forward, took my hand, and gave it a squeeze. "Don't be." I just looked at my hand in his. He could be too touchy-feely for my tastes sometimes, and this was no exception. Not that I always minded, really. "Just remember… Courage is the magic that turns dreams into reality. If we walk in there with complete confidence that we'll succeed, I'm sure that we will succeed. So don't worry too much, all right?" Another squeeze, this one tighter than the first.

I told you he had a few screws loose. But that time, I felt compelled to squeeze his hand back.