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Tango No Sekku

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Tango No Sekku

May 5th, 1946.

Tango No Sekku.

A day to celebrate the young boys who lived in Japan for their unique personality, talents, and future success.

Carp Streamers? Check. Erwin Smith, an American soldier thought at he finished displaying the Koinobori outside of his little, traditional Japanese house. He had them hung to wave alongside the American flag, because while he lived in Japan, his pride as an American would not falter. He then waved to a passing neighbor, who shuffled past him quickly. She was one of the many Japanese women who did not trust American soldiers, and had repeatedly cut her hair short to maintain the boyish disguise. Clever.

Eight arduous months had passed by since the war ended last September. There had been large relief efforts, and political changes that implied a positive future for Japan. Women gained the right to vote, while the press could report incidences with little restrictions, and limitations imposed on them. The schools were teaching democracy, and clubs were favoring pacifist activities that excluded Kendo. Japan had signed a Peace Constitution, and the citizens gave up their cherished samurai swords, many of which fell into the hands of American soldiers who doubled as collectors of unique Japanese items.

This was not to say that everything was perfect.

As a single, fair-skinned, American soldier, sent amongst others to demilitarize Japan, and encourage democracy, Erwin was subject to discrimination and hostility from embittered, elderly Japanese people who blamed him and his kind for the termination of Shintoism as the State religion, and the covering up of worship of Feudal Lords in place of American democracy. These Japanese natives had lost sons to the war, and were losing their way of life. Their world was changing before their eyes into something they couldn’t discern, recognize, nor approve of.

Some of their daughters had even been raped by unruly American soldiers who had no respect for the law, even despite the hundreds of Japanese brothels that had been erected in an attempt to curb the American’s from impregnating the young, proper Japanese women. For these reasons, and more, Erwin had his gun strapped to his body any time he ventured outside, even for a moment. He never left the house without the gun as a precautionary measure.

Another Japanese neighbor—a young man who had fought in the war had ventured outside, and caught Erwin’s blue eyes in his dark eyes. They stared at each other for a moment. To say the fact they fought against each other in the same war, yet they lived opposite of each other was awkward was an understatement. There was an uncomfortable apprehension that both men felt, and acknowledged when in each other’s presence.

However, each unsettling encounter ended the same way. Erwin smiled, waved, and watched the other retreat into his house, confused, or troubled by the warm demeanor Erwin expressed. As an American soldier sent to occupy Japan, Erwin was required to treat the ordinary Japanese natives with respect, cautious kindness. He was in a foreign country, in what was once enemy territory.

An enemy who had allied themselves with Germany, and who had bombed Pearl Harbor. Erwin had lost his wife that day, and became a single father. Armin was just over a year old, and had to be switched to soft foods, and dairy milk. Erwin remembered feeling overwhelmed with a crying child, and when he was drafted in 1944, he regretted the few nights he had considered putting Armin into an orphanage.

That one paper had made Erwin realize just how thankful he was to have Armin, and how much he wanted to raise Armin, even in the absence of his long deceased wife. It was ironic how one never understood what they had until it was gone. Erwin had been forced to leave Armin behind, to fight in a war on foreign soil. Armin had been about four then, and his heart broken cries haunted Erwin’s dreams to this day.

As soon as the war had ended, Erwin had been granted temporary military leave to find, and fetch his long-lost son. To Erwin’s surprise, Armin had been found right where he had left him, at CrickSide Orphanage, located in a rural town.

The heartfelt reunion had been a joyus one, though Armin, a year later, had insecurities that Erwin would drop him off with strangers again. Those insecurities manifested during the nights, and made Armin cry for long hours, despite Erwin’s constant reassurances that he would never leave him alone again. Armin was still too young at five to understand the full implications of why Erwin had left for a year, which made soothing him difficult at times.

With thoughts of Armin in his mind, Erwin re-entered the house and slid the door shut behind him. He kicked his shoes off, and headed into the bedroom that he shared with his son. Armin was curled up into a fetal position, which made Erwin’s heart grow heavier with guilt. That little boy had been born happy, and carefree. He used to splay himself out in his crib, not having a fear in the world, until his mother was suddenly gone. Then he became fussy. And after Erwin returned from war, Armin’s natural sleeping position was to curl himself up tightly.

It’s all my fault. Erwin told himself and took a moment to compose himself. He then approached his precious boy, and gently shook him awake. “Wake up, Armin.” Erwin encouraged warmly, and let a small, amused smile spread across his face as he heard Armin groan with protest. Armin roused a bit, and grabbed the blanket tight in his small fists.

“Mmmnnnghh…way…” Armin muttered incoherently, half asleep, even as he nuzzled his cherub cheeks against the pillow. Erwin made a noise of intrigue, and pulled the blanket off of Armin. Armin gasped at the loss of warmth and comfort, while his blue eyes bulged open. He flailed his arms out, scrabbling for the blanket frantically, and grabbed it tightly, but when he couldn’t just pull it back over him, he grunted with frustration and plopped back down on to the bed with a cute ‘huff.’

“Did I wake you?” Erwin teased playfully, and nudged Armin out of bed. “Come on, you might as well wake up and see what surprise I have for you.” Erwin insisted amicably, and was pleased to watch Armin sit up at the mention of a ‘surprise.’ Armin was five, and he liked surprises.

“A surprise?” Armin repeated excitedly, suddenly wide-awake now as he clambered out of the Western-styled bed, that looked out of place in the Japanese house. Erwin gestured towards the door with his hand. Armin hopped on his feet with anticipation, and then rushed into the designated living room where on every flat surface was a heroic Japanese figure of legend, and history. “Ahhh!”

From the bedroom Erwin could hear Armin squeal with excitement, and wonder. Erwin leisurely followed Armin into the big room, and with a bit of pride, and joy, he watched Armin dart around the room, to curiously observe each figurine. Erwin grabbed the camera off of the shelf and took a few pictures of Armin, with messy, slept on hair, and slept-in pajama’s pluck the wooden sculptures off of the surfaces to stare at them with innocent, inquisitive blue eyes.

The move to Japan had been difficult for both of them, yet Erwin still felt he made the right choice during moments like this one, where Armin took interest in the new culture he was living in. At first, Armin, as Erwin had, experienced culture shock. However, Armin was more receptive to new ways of life because he was young, and curious. He had not even questioned why Erwin always had a gun with him, nor why had they moved in the first place.

All Armin knew was that Erwin had come back for him like he promised he would, and had whisked him away to a completely new, colorful world, almost like the ones in storybooks that had been read to him by the orphanage lady. Actually, there was a lot that Armin did not question. Erwin decided that Armin’s trusting nature was benefiting both of them because the kid was too young for Erwin to explain that the reason they were living here was so that he could help keep the Japanese natives complacent.

At least, that had been Erwin’s military assignment before. One he conducted with Armin at their new home, once it had been established that the majority of Japanese natives were not openly hostile. He would admit that even now, he could unintentionally be putting Armin in harms way, but, the alternative would have been to leave Armin alone at the orphanage to grow up without his father.

A reality that Erwin did not want. The poor kid already lost his mother, and that had been traumatic for him, on a subconscious level. Erwin had made a promise to Armin that once the war was over, he would come back for him, and considering that Erwin, unlike many other fathers, had lived, Erwin swept Armin up into his arms and hadn’t let go since. Armin was his boy, and if Erwin was completely honest, he felt as if he needed Armin too.

“Wow!” Armin exclaimed, ogling a famous samurai warrior. “Whose he?” Armin asked as he practically shoved the figure into Erwin’s face. It was times like these that Erwin was glad that he was a tall man.

“Why don’t you look on the bottom of his feet?” Erwin suggested, because he honestly didn’t remember any of the figurine’s Japanese names. Armin turned the figure over and widened his eyes with wonder at how a name actually was inscribed on the bottom of the hero’s foot. He briefly looked at his father with awe that he had known to look there, and then began to re-grab the other figures, to look at their names.

Not that Armin could actually read the names well, much less pronounce them, but he still found some joy out of knowing all of these toy-like figures had names. He occupied himself with taking time to appreciate the foreign dolls.

“They are memories of people who once lived, and performed heroic, or legendary deeds within Japan that left a lasting impression on friends, and family.” Erwin informed Armin, who was fascinated with the figures with that charming child-like wonder filling his eyes. As a Westerner, Erwin understood that he did not fully grasp the many customs and holidays of Japan, but he wanted to experience them with Armin, to express interest in the culture they lived in.

Maybe one day Erwin would return to America with Armin alongside him, but for now, they were making the best out of living in a foreign country. Neither of them would ever truly fit in in Japan, but Erwin wanted to live in the newly pacifist country for awhile, in the hopes that he would never be forced to leave Armin again. The war might have been over, but the consequences of it would be felt for many years to come.

“Ooh. Princes? Kings? Knights?” Armin guessed excitedly, feeling a surge of joy flutter through his heart. He felt special, holding such important toys. He then whirled around on his heels and held two of the figurines out to Erwin, sporting large eyes. “Can I play with them, Papa?” Armin asked, as if he just realized that he could wave them around and imitate noises of sword fights, and feasts. Erwin paused, hesitating as he debated on what his answer would be.

Would letting Armin play with these figurines be disgraceful to the heroes they were based after? Erwin was too ignorant of the Japanese customs to know whether he should allow Armin to play with them or not. Erwin then thought about how Armin did not have many toys, nor ways to properly entertain himself. He was definitely going to let Armin play with the figurines he bought for this Japanese holiday.

“Yeah, you can play with them, and pretend they are whoever you want them to be.” Erwin decided, and ruffled Armin’s soft, yellow hair. Armin smiled brightly and swept each figurine into his arms and then plopped himself on to the ground where he began to innocently play with them. Armin was partial to the samurai, and acted as if he were a Knight. The Emperor dressed in long garbs was definitely the King. There weren’t really any female figurines to play with, so Armin refrained from enacting out any love plays from the stories he was read.

Instead, Armin pretended the figurines were engaged in a war.

The awful irony was not lost on Erwin as he listened to Armin play, and took a few more pictures of him with the camera. Armin was damn precious, and he was all Erwin had. Most of all, Armin was his. He created Armin. That was a special feeling.

Somehow, a single sperm had become Armin, and even though Erwin was an educated man, he still was fascinated that Armin came from his loins. Erwin was more grateful that he had survived the war to be able to raise Armin. Many sons had had their fathers stolen from them. As bad as things had been, Erwin and Armin were together again. If that wasn’t a miracle, Erwin didn’t know what was.

“Are you okay to play on your own while I finish making the rice cakes?” Erwin wondered, sitting on the pillow near Armin who was making noises in place of the soundless toys. He would probably appreciate toys that made noise, but those were a bit expensive for the single, struggling father.

“Shh! Shh!” Armin hissed at Erwin, as he waved his small hand in a shooing motion. “You’ll give away the knight’s position.” Armin warned, not wanting to ruin the apprehensive moment he created with the heroic figurines, ‘lost’ in an epic battle that even he couldn’t quite comprehend, but he wanted to see how it would play out. Erwin smiled, charmed by Armin’s innocent play-acting, and ruffled his hair. “Dad!” Armin complained, shying away from the fatherly touch because it was distracting him from the play-script in his head.

“Okay, okay. I am going.” Erwin swore, and headed into the kitchen to finish making the Kashiwamochi. They were rice cakes that were to be filled with a sweet bean past and then wrapped in oak leaves. It was another tradition the Japanese had, and was one of the few native foods that did not explicitly contain sea food. Armin was such a finicky eater. Always had been.

Even when Armin was a baby, Erwin remembered how difficult it always was to convince Armin to eat anything, which had been unusual because when Armin had access to his mothers breast, he ate often, and healthily. But without her, he absolutely rejected formula, and had only reluctantly ate the baby food offered to him. Since Armin would barely eat the baby food, Erwin mashed what ever foods he could to feed to Armin. Armin ate most of those mashed foods, especially if it contained sugar.

While Erwin made the rice cakes up, he distinctly remembered the first time he had fed cold custard to Armin. Armin’s blue eyes popped open, and he flailed his arms excitedly. He had been almost two then, and to this day, Armin pestered Erwin about wanting more, and more cold custard. It was a luxury Erwin had been able to provide during those early years simply because it was one of the few things Armin had been able to eat.

Once Armin had been able to eat solids, the spoils of sugar was drastically halted. It was not a necessity, and only on the few birthdays and Christmas’s Erwin had spent with Armin had he bought him the frozen dessert. Erwin even entertained the idea of surprising Armin with cold custard today, but remembered that this was Japan, and if Japan did offer cold custard, Erwin wasn’t sure where to find it yet.

When the rice cakes were done, Erwin set them on a plate and carried them into the living room, where he sat down on the pillow. Armin perked up and peered curiously at the rice cakes, then furrowed his eyebrows with suspicion.

“Fish?” Armin queried apprehensively, concerned his father was trying to feed him something slimy, and salty again.

“No. No fish, Armin. It’s just a rice cake with a bean paste, wrapped in oak leaves.” Erwin answered, and as if to prove his point that the food was safe to eat, he took the first bite out of one. Armin watched him with warily, then he relented and grabbed one of the rice cakes for himself, and bit into it.

“It’s kind of sweet, but it’s kind of bland too.” Armin muttered, unimpressed with the food that had been made, and offered to him. He hadn’t ate yet this May morning so he continued to crunch into the rice cake, despite not being intrigued by it.

“I concur.” Erwin agreed, which made Armin smile, and lean against him. “But please don’t talk like that in public, and try to remember your Japanese.” Erwin chided gently then, because while he preferred Armin to be honest with him, he didn’t want Armin to be so candid with strangers who might misinterpret his innocent observation as rude.

And if Erwin was being honest, Armin’s comment about the rice cake was one of the more positive responses he had received from his child in the seven, or eight months they had spent here. Erwin counted Armin’s opinion as a win, and made a mental note to make the rice cakes as snacks that Armin could have from time to time.

“Japanese…” Armin repeated slowly, mulling over the word for a bit as he mindlessly snacked on the food. Ever since he had been brought here to what his father called Japan, Erwin had been trying to teach him weird-sounding, long words that meant the same thing as a simpler English word he knew. Erwin said it was a game, learning this, ‘Japanese,’ and that they’d learn it together. Armin only entertained the ‘game’ because Erwin played it with him. It was something they did together, and Armin appreciated any time Erwin spent playing with him.

Tickle-time was a favorite of Armin’s, although the more he thought about it, the more he decided that he liked story-time better. He liked hearing about far-off worlds, where happy endings were prominent. During his time at the orphanage, Armin liked the books because they reminded him of the books his father would read to him, and he wished, and wished for a happy ending where his father would come back to him like he said he would and he did. So now he liked the happy books because they reminded him that Erwin kept his promise to him and that they were together again, and were ‘living happily ever after.’

“You’ll learn a lot more of it when you attend school. For now, let’s get you in the bath.” Erwin suggested as he stood up. Armin straightened up at the mention of a bath and tried to run. Erwin easily plucked Armin up off the ground.

“Waah, noo! Not the Lake of Water again!” Armin whined playfully, while he flailed his limbs. Erwin chuckled at his son’s antics. Armin sure had an active imagination.

“And what is so bad about the Lake of Water?” Erwin wondered, half playing along with what ever game Armin was making up on the spot, as he often did. Armin especially liked to be chased, but since he was already caught, he was having fun waving his limbs about.

“There’s a water dragon in there!” Armin exclaimed, while Erwin carried him into the little bathroom. “There, it’s there!” Armin shouted and pointed urgently at the tub.

“Oh, I see it. Is it going to bestow you with intelligence?” Erwin guessed, and with one arm curled around Armin, he readied the bath with Iris leaves that would promote good heath, and would ward evil off.

“In-tell-ee-geece?” Armin repeated, struggling to voice the word out, even though Erwin had used it in reference to him a lot.

“Intelligence. Water dragons bestow intelligence on boys who behave themselves in the bath.” Erwin elaborated for Armin, and carefully set him down. Armin looked down and watched Erwin’s fingers nimbly push the buttons out of the holes of the pajama’s.

Sometimes Armin unbuttoned his shirts himself, and felt a great deal of pride in his accomplishment. Today, Armin wanted to feel cared for, and attended to, so he let his father undress him, offering no resistance. Erwin briefly looked Armin over, and when he saw no rashes, cuts nor bruises, he helped Armin climb into the bathtub. He always worried that Armin would inexplicably get hurt because most children seemed to have a talent for that, and Armin was no exception. Armin was clumsy and uncoordinated, especially if he was excited and giddy about something.

Why, just the other day Armin smacked into the door because he forgot it was there, in his haste to find a book for Erwin to read to him with. Erwin hoped the clumsiness would go away as Armin aged. For now, Erwin kept a vigilant watch over his only child.

“Does that mean I can’t splash? I was going to make waves.” Armin pouted, not sure he wanted to be gifted with intelligence if it meant he couldn’t have fun in the bath.

“Well, maybe you can splash a little…” Erwin relented, hating to see Armin pout when he didn’t have to. Armin brightened, and began to splash about in the tub, and make dragon noises.

“I am the dragon!” Armin declared enthusiastically, flapping his arms to imitate the flap of bird wings. “Rawr!” Armin roared cutely, and shuffled about in the water. Some water splashed over the rim of the tub and splattered on to Erwin’s thigh. Armin paused and stared at Erwin, concerned he played too hard. Erwin suppressed a sigh, and forced himself to smile. Armin grinned and resumed splashing about the tub.

There were many days where Erwin had to firmly tell Armin no, and other days where he had to scold him. Today was a holiday that was meant to celebrate young boys like Armin, who had the utmost potential to succeed in life. Erwin wasn’t going to restrict Armin from being himself. If the boy wanted to splash around that badly, Erwin would just clean the floor up with a towel. Splashing was one battle he could let Armin win.

For a few minutes, Erwin let Armin play in the bath, and at one point he tickled the boy, which resulted in laughs, and hard, wet splashes. Then Erwin bathed Armin, washing his hair, and his soft, smooth body. It was times like these that Erwin wanted to hug, and cuddle Armin as if he were a stuffed bear.

“Ow, ow, ow! I got soap in my eye!” Armin exclaimed suddenly and flailed his arms about in panic. One eye was squeezed shut.

“Why did you open your eye?” Erwin asked, half laughing, half sighing, as he helped Armin rinse the soap out of his eye. It wasn’t the first time Armin opened an eye at an inopportune moment, and Erwin doubted it would be the last because Armin was so fevered about learning about the world that was around him that it was hard for him to sit still and close his eyes, even for a minute.

“Don’t laugh at me!” Armin whined, embarrassed that he brought this upon himself again. He just wanted to play. Erwin smiled and pat Armin’s head lovingly.

“Let’s get you dried off, and dressed.” Erwin suggested, and lifted Armin out of the tub. Armin wrapped his arms around his body as he always did, and shivered for the brief moment it took for Erwin to grab the towel, and dry him off with. When Armin had been rubbed dry, Erwin wrapped the towel around him and ushered him into the bedroom.

“Why that one?” Armin questioned as Erwin pulled out a light blue Yukata from the dresser.

“Today is Tango No Sekku.” Erwin answered, although as he suspected, a blank stare appeared on Armin’s face to suggest that he had no idea what Erwin just said. “It is a day where fathers honor and appreciate their child, and his future success in life.” Erwin clarified, and was pleased to see some type of recognition flit through Armin’s eyes.

“But it’s not my birthday.” Armin objected, while Erwin helped him into the Yukata.

“You’re right. It’s Tango No Sekku. It’s a Japanese tradition. One I happen to like because it means I have the perfect excuse to sit here and tell you that I am proud of you.” Erwin praised, while he dried Armin’s hair off with the towel. Armin’s cheeks flushed pink at the praise he was receiving from his father, who was the most powerful role model in his life.

“You always tell me that.” Armin groaned, trying to act tough.  Erwin just smiled and ruffled Armin’s hair again.

“Then it must be true.” Erwin responded in a light-hearted voice, and gently picked Armin up, to embrace him in his strong arms. Armin set his hands on Erwin’s shoulders for support. “You’re astute, and creative.” Erwin mentioned as he carried Armin out of the room, and headed for the front door. The words were lost on Armin, but he grinned anyways as flattery surged through him. He knew by the tone of his father’s voice that he was still being praised, and that was a good feeling. Whatever the words meant, Armin liked that Erwin was applying them to him.

“Where are we going?” Armin questioned curiously, as Erwin opened the door. “I don’t have shoes on.” Armin said, a bit alarmed at the thought that Erwin forgot his shoes.

“I want to show you the carp streamers. They’re just outside.” Erwin informed his boy, and slid the door open with his free hand. The other arm was wrapped securely around Armin’s tiny waist.

“Carp streamers?” Armin queried, raising an questioning eyebrow. His dad was always showing him new, colorful things, particularly when they went shopping, or had other business outside of the house.

“Those.” Erwin declared, as he pointed to the colorful fish being knocked about by the gentle spring breeze. Armin craned his head up, and gasped with amazement at the decorations.

“Wow!” Armin exclaimed, and took a minute to admire the pretty Koinobori. He noticed the American flag flying behind it, and while he didn’t fully understand the significance of the flag, he felt daunted by it, recognizing its power. “Ooh.” Armin murmured and shifted a bit against Erwin, awed by both decorations waving in the wind. It was a pivotal moment for him.

“It was told that when the carps were new, their safe, and easy path was laid out before them. The carps wanted a different life for themselves, so they turned around, and changed their destiny forever by swimming up the waterfall. They became dragons—” Armin ‘wowed’ loudly, “—and from then on, they became a symbol of success, and change.” Erwin explained, retelling the legend as he knew it.

“They became dragons?” Armin repeated, in sheer wonder that fish became dragons. He liked dragons. Dragons were powerful, and beautiful.

“That’s the legend.” Erwin responded, refraining from telling Armin that the colorful legend was probably not true. Armin was five, and if he wanted to believe in magic and fairytales, there was no harm in letting him have that sense of wonder. It was a magic Erwin had thought he lost during the year of war, having seen comrades lose their limbs and lives because the Japanese decided to bomb Pearl Harbor, and the Germans wanted to expand their territory and rule the Earth. But, these last eight months Erwin spent with Armin had reminded him that miracles did happen, and that magic existed in his child’s bright, young eyes.

“I want to become a dragon.” Armin announced, imagining what it would be like to be one of the colorful carps flying through the air, with no rules, and no worries. He wanted to be free, and travel the world to find lost civilizations like Atlantis, and maybe rescue a princess from other dragons.

“Well, I don’t know about that, but I know you are going to be successful.” Erwin told Armin, and took him back into the house.

“Sussfull as a dragon.” Armin insisted adamantly, and hurried around the house to collect the few toys he owned, and began to set them all up in the living room to play with. Erwin watched Armin set up a makeshift army, equip with toy cars, and a train. He wasn’t quite sure where Armin learned about war, but figured his boy was more attentive than he gave him credit for.

There was nothing particularly disturbing about how Armin played with the toys. It wasn’t like he was pretending that the doll got its arm blown off. It was just, ‘pow, pow, ow,’ and other simple, innocent words, and scenario’s. Erwin put his gun aside, and sat down to watch Armin play with the toys. He knew Armin’s comprehension skills were admirable, and that his memory was inspiring, so it was no surprise then that even at five, and playing with toys, that Armin was unintentionally expressing subtle signs that one day, he might make a great tactician.

By no means did Erwin ever want Armin to grow up, and become a soldier. There were just some things Armin never needed to see, like those Japanese brothels that seemed to be on every street corner. Yet, Erwin picked up a toy, and began to play ‘war’ with Armin. Armin simpered, and became more animated, and loud, now that his father was encouraging him, and was playing with him. Erwin didn’t reenact his own experiences, nor did he propose the terrible situations that war consisted of. Armin was too young for that. Erwin simply proposed questions that made Armin think, and to his surprise, Armin did think about the questions, and attempted to answer them, which reasserted Erwin’s opinion that Armin really was clever.

Not that Erwin had ever doubted that, but he felt as if all parents thought that their child was smart. Armin was actually clever, and that made Erwin proud. Maybe one day Armin would become a doctor, or a lawyer…maybe he would write his own fairytales. The options seemed limitless as they played, and laughed together.

“Papa. Can you get me a princess? I don’t have any princess’s to save.” Armin spoke up, in the midst of waving one of the decidedly male figurines around. There were no female toys, and that had bothered Armin for awhile. He just had to use the most feminine looking guy toy.

“When my next paycheck comes in, I’ll find a princess toy for you, and maybe we’ll try to find some cold custard.” Erwin promised, confident he could at least find a female doll, even if they couldn’t find the cold custard. And he knew the toy wouldn’t look like one of Armin’s American princess’s, but there were plenty of Japanese princess type dolls that he could find for his boy and that would just have to do. Armin had already expressed interest in the feminine dolls whose lips had been painted red, like roses. A Geisha, if Erwin remembered correctly. But, Erwin suspected Armin’s interest in the color of the Geisha’s lips was reflective of Armin’s memory of his mother who had often worn red lipstick.

“Cold custard!?” Armin exclaimed, brightening at the mention of the frozen treat. He became giddy, and rambunctious at the thought, because while he was clever, and had some insecurities, he was still a child at heart.

“Yes. I’ll buy you some if we can find it.” Erwin swore, wanting to give Armin everything that he realistically could give to him.

In a perfect world, Armin would still have his mother to coddle him and love him. Erwin never would have had to abandon him for a year. Wars wouldn’t be fought. Innocent lives wouldn’t perish. But the world was not perfect, and it never could be, no matter how many socialistic programs were forced on to a nation, because everyone’s idea of a ‘perfect’ world was different.

Hitler had wanted a ‘perfect’ world without Jews, while Stalin had wanted a ‘perfect’ world without Christians. They each slaughtered people by the millions to create ‘a perfect world,’ by their definition. The Muslim’s crusades years before would have engulfed the entire Earth, had they been able to create their own version of a ‘perfect world.’ The Christian Crusades had not been successful in creating their ‘perfect world,’ either, because while they slaughtered the Muslims back, and regained some once Christian-turned Muslim territories, the Muslims had barbarically slaughtered the inhabitants of entire towns, and islands. Christianity could not regain those lost native lives. And some people wanted a ‘perfect world’ where religion did not exist by any means necessary.

In this way, a ‘perfect world’ that would make everyone happy was just not possible. There would always be unhappy people, and those people would continue to spark the everlasting flames of war. Erwin wondered what Armin’s idea of a ‘perfect world,’ would be when he grew up, because right now, Armin wanted the same thing he did—Marie. The place didn’t matter to them. They had each other, and that was enough for now.

“You know you’re my perfect world, Son?” Erwin stated lovingly, as he set the toys down, and leaned forwards to kiss Armin’s forehead. Armin gasped, and blushed at the affectionate attention Erwin was giving him out of no where, again. All morning, Erwin had been showering him with love, and attention.

“Dad!” Armin complained, embarrassed by all of the positive attention he was receiving. He was also a bit irked that Erwin was interrupting the fight scene between the dragon, and the Knight to tell him something he already heard before.

“I love you.” Erwin asserted warmly, as he caressed Armin’s chubby cheek with his large, calloused hand. Armin happily soaked up the kind, comforting words, and reveled in the soft touch for a moment, and then remembered that their game was still being interrupted.

“The game, the game!” Armin insisted, waving some of the toys in front of Erwin’s face. As a child, Armin had no idea just how lucky he was to have a father who had returned home from war, and who still loved, and cared for him. He took Erwin for granted, as children often did, and was more concerned about playing with his Dad, then being told something he had been told again, and again, and again, even if the words made him feel light, and warm inside.

“Okay, okay.” Erwin surrendered, raising his hands into the air. Armin stared at him for a moment, and then let his guard down. “Come here.” Erwin encouraged, as he snatched Armin around his waist. Armin squealed loudly with alarm, and flailed his limbs as Erwin pulled him on to his lap. “You’re just so precious to me, and I am so happy that you are my son.” Erwin said, hugging Armin affectionately.

“Ahh! Let me go!” Armin whined, kicking, and flailing to escape the warm, loving embrace. He had princesses to save, and a dragon to become. Erwin just smiled fondly, and began to tickle him, which really made Armin squeal, kick, and laugh. “Nooo!” Armin howled in another playful, drawn-out whine between bursts of laugher.

This was how they played, and expressed their love for each other.