Author's Notes: Someone asked me about this yesterday on tumblr and I've actually been thinking about this for a while. During the events of the last three inter-connected one-shots in this series (The Smallest Words), Aidan does not know about the truth surrounding Riza's tattoo and the burns on her back. In light of me thinking about it so much, I accidentally wrote this because I could not stop thinking about it and I made myself sad. How do you explain something as horrific as that to a child without outright lying?
we'll give the world to you
fire leaves a confession
Keeping secrets had always been one of Riza's strengths. People knew that if they confided in her, she wouldn't tell a soul, even if it was something silly or unimportant. She learned to harbor secrets that throbbed dully in her heart as a child, smiling when she was hurting or biting her tongue instead of lashing out. It made it easier to keep things to herself if she told herself that it was a secret.
Roy would say that was lying, but Riza didn't like to call it that. Lying by omission was such a tricky term, so she told herself that she was merely keeping secrets. Playing things close to the vest, as it were. She was a painfully private person, always had been and always would be, so of course she fell in love with a man that thrust himself into the spotlight more often than not. It only made sense that she would find herself in a secret relationship with an even bigger secret between them.
One of these days, Riza would see the irony in all of this, but for right now, she was a bit tired of keeping secrets, especially when one of the was the most important part of her life.
At just a month over three years-old, Aidan was quite possibly the worst kept secret in Amestris. How anyone could look at him and not know who fathered him was beyond Riza. It was a miracle that she and Roy hadn't been found out yet. The only reason was because everyone that knew the one hundred percent truth were keeping their mouths shut. Oh, everyone had to know, especially Roy's enemies in the military, but no one had exact proof and could only make conjectures. Sure, they were right in their accusations, but until someone fessed up, that's all they were.
After a long, terse day at work in which General Moore showed up and made some colorful suggestions concerning Roy's "professional relationship" with his adjutant, all Riza wanted to do was relax at home. She wished that Roy could be here with them, but things were particularly tense right now. He even thought that he was being watched, in case they might find him slipping up with her, probably under Moore's commands. The man was persistent in trying to ruin Roy, if nothing else. All of which meant that Riza picked up her son from daycare and went home alone.
Once at home, Riza set about unwinding. Aidan was limp as a noodle against her chest, having fallen asleep during the car ride home. Despite having slept during nap time, he managed to do so again. The boy was as bad as Roy when it came to sleeping during the day and at random times. Nonetheless, Riza was grateful, as it allowed her a bit of time to herself. Being a single parent was all-consuming, even if Aidan could be more independent than most his age. She laid him down in his bed and tiptoed silently out of the room.
With her son taken care of, Riza gathered a change of clothes and slipped into the bathroom. She turned on the shower and stripped out of her uniform, feeling like she could breathe again as steam slowly began to fog the room. Nothing like a hot shower after a troublesome work day. The hot water soothed the knots in her muscles as she let it stream over her, like it was washing all of her problems away. She kept her eyes closed and breathed deeply, feeling herself relax with every passing second.
As much as she enjoyed the hot shower though, it didn't last long. She'd learned not to take long in the shower during her time at the Academy, even more so once she was shipped off to Ishval and sometimes didn't have the time or means to shower for longer than a minute. She could enjoy them more these days, but unless there was something to occupy her, she kept her time in the shower efficient. Now that she had a little one in the house, she showered even quicker so that she didn't leave him unattended for too long.
Feeling appropriately satisfied, Riza turned off the water and stepped out of the shower, wrapping a towel around body and using another to dry her hair. She rubbed at her face and then picked up a hair dryer to start working on it. She was only a few seconds into drying her hair when she felt a tug on her towel and nearly dropped the dryer into the sink.
When she turned it off and looked down, Riza found her son staring up at her with attentive eyes. If not for his hair mussed more than usual, one would've thought that he hadn't just been knocked out. One hand still was on her towel as he held his other at his mouth, not biting at his nails but holding them with his teeth. He did that sometimes when he was thinking.
"Aidan," Riza sighed as she set down the hair dryer, "you know you're supposed to knock on the door if I'm in the bathroom. This is a private room."
Normally, Aidan was exceptional at following the rules, especially concerning privacy. He was quite good at keeping secrets too, though it wasn't fair of her and Roy to expect it of him. Riza thought for sure that Aidan would be the unintentional source of the leak about the truth, but he stuck to the rules and game that she'd constructed for him about Roy, perhaps too well for her liking to be honest. Every now and then though, he ignored other rules and acted like he didn't remember, like he was acting out in some way. She couldn't tell, but didn't get mad at him for it. He was a child and they were asking him to keep adult secrets.
At first, Aidan didn't respond to her, which was unusual. He might remain quiet and be shy around other people when they tried to speak to him, but he was never like that with her. Besides, he usually tried to talk his way out of things and make up excuses if he thought he was in trouble. Instead, he stared up at her, a confused look on his face.
"What's wrong?" Riza asked, bending down to his level.
Aidan pointed at her. "Why did someone color on your back?"
Even though it was such an innocent question in his mind and he said it in the most innocent way, Riza's face paled slightly. She worked so hard to keep her back hidden from sight to the point where less than a handful of people had seen it, two of them long dead and only one living person to have seen it in its entirety. Even when she showered in the barracks at the Academy or in the unforgiving desert of Ishval, she was careful avoid prying eyes. It was a different story when she was at home. She could relax and not worry about anyone seeing the transmutation on her back.
Honestly, in the three years since Aidan had been born, Riza hadn't thought about him seeing it.
Riza didn't know what to say. She was so good at keeping secrets and lying by omission, but she did not like to lie to Aidan. She had to lie to the world, but she refused to lie to him. If he asked her a question, she did her best to answer him honestly. She was relieved when he didn't ask her why he couldn't call Roy his father or dad because she didn't know what to tell him if he did. This though was something else entirely. This secret held horrors and truths that were beyond comprehensible, especially for a three year-old mind.
"It's a tattoo," Riza settled on saying, a truth if not a very detailed one. Lying by omission it was then. She could be honest with him, just not to the full extent. "Some people get pictures drawn on their skin."
"Can you erase it?" Aidan asked curiously.
Such a simple question broke Riza's heart a little. If only it could be erased. That would've made things so much easier for her. It would've made it less painful for Roy. Instead, they had been forced to come up with another way to erase it, marring her body with his flames. "No, but you can cover it up."
"Did it hurt?"
"Yes," Riza answered plainly. A tingle ran down her spine, a faint memory of the tattoo pen bearing down on her back, pricking at her soul, her lips trembling as tears spilled down her cheeks, like her skin was on fire. It was always on fire and in her dreams, the flames slicing through her, marking her as its own.
"Why would you get a picture drawn on you if it hurts?"
Because when your father asked you if you want to help him with his alchemy research and he never asked you to be involved in his work before, because he hadn't shown the slightest interest in you for years, because you were so happy to be a part of something so important and bigger than you, because you loved him and you wanted to be a good daughter, because you were eager and young and foolish with so many dreams - you didn't say no, not even after the pain and blood and nights spent crying and how utterly alone you felt.
Roy would never ask such a horrible thing of his son, but then, they were asking Aidan to lie for them. They were asking him to keep their secrets, just as Riza's father asked of her. The thought made Riza's stomach turn and she almost got sick.
"People do strange things sometimes," Riza told him, willing herself to be stronger.
The answer didn't seem to appease him as a troubled look crossed his face, but Aidan didn't push it and she was almost ashamed of the relief that flooded her body. "Can I see it?" he asked instead.
Riza bit her lip as she mulled over the question. Could he see it? The most important parts of the transmutation were lost, buried under scar tissue, and it wasn't as if Aidan would even be able to comprehend what it is. There was a chance that he might recognize it as alchemy, but he wouldn't be able to understand it. Aidan wasn't a threat whatsoever and yet Riza had been guarding her back for so long that it was hard for her to bare herself open even to the boy she had been given birth to. This secret is hers to die with one day.
"I promise not to tell," Aidan said abruptly, as if he could read her mind. Like it would be their secret. They had so many secrets with each other already.
Though she was incredibly modest and shy, Riza had given birth to him and so it was easier to be open with him. Besides, he was three years-old. The chances of him remembering any of this beyond an incredibly foggy memory was slim. Either this day would be lost as he got older or he might think it even a dream. She nodded her head and sat on her knees, moving the towel around and slightly down so that half of her back was bare to him. Riza felt her son's sharp eyes on her, distantly reminding her of the way it felt when Roy stared at her back for the first time. Careful, intense, confused, awed, and even scared. Only the anger wasn't there.
Aidan didn't get angry at his father like Roy had gotten with hers. Riza was terrified that Aidan might one day be if he were to ever find out certain truths. He was very protective of her, even at such a young age.
"It's big and pretty." Such a child-like thing to say almost made Riza chuckle. And then Aidan said something that almost made her heart stop. "It looks like Mustang's gloves."
Of course there were symbols on her tattoo that were also stitched onto Roy's ignition gloves. Countless of sleepless nights had occurred in order to find the right transition from her tattoo to gloves. It had been extraordinarily difficult, but brilliant as he was, he had cracked the code. Riza had not expected Aidan to make the connection, but then he did have a habit of being fixated on Roy's gloves.
"I thought you said you can't erase tattoos? But someone erased parts of it." Without warning, Aidan's voice became distraught, like he saw something that he didn't understand and it upset him. He didn't know what the burn marks were. To him, it looked like someone had taken an eraser to her back and rubbed it raw until parts of the tattoo disappeared. In a way, they had. Roy was incredibly careful with his fire when around Aidan. He had never seen a burnmark before until now. "It looks like big, weird scratches."
Riza could tell from his voice that he was confused, but even more so, he was afraid. She covered her back again and moved around so that she could face him. Immediately he reached out for her and she pulled him into a hug, resting her chin on top of his head. Confused and scared meant upset. His mind was trying to find an explanation for something he didn't have words for yet and though he didn't understand it he somehow knew that the strange marks on her back covering her tattoo were bad.
"Why did someone scratch you? That's mean." Aidan's voice was so tiny. Riza could've had a thousand years to come up with an answer and it still wouldn't be enough time. "Does it hurt?"
"No, it doesn't hurt, not anymore."
"But it did?"
Riza took a deep breath. "Yes."
For a while, Aidan was quiet, clinging to her as he lost himself to his thoughts. He did that every now and then. If she asked him, he would tell her what he was thinking. With others, he was disquieting and difficult to draw an answer out of. Even Havoc, whom he adored, had trouble with him sometimes. But she liked to wait for him to tell her in his own time. She didn't want him to feel pressured or rushed.
And then, out of nowhere: "I'm sorry."
Pulling away slightly, Riza looked down him. "What?"
"I'm sorry someone hurt you," Aidan repeated, looking her in the eyes. There was a film of tears in his dark eyes, but they didn't spill. He didn't cry very often. She didn't know if that was a good thing or not.
Riza smiled a little and kissed him on the crown of his head. "It's okay now. It was a long time ago. It doesn't hurt."
"I won't hurt you," Aidan promised her firmly.
This time, Riza did chuckle at his insistence. "I know."
"Mustang won't either," Aidan added. "He says that he loves you and you don't hurt people that you love."
Riza could not stop the tears if she tried, so instead she pulled Aidan into another hug and held him close so that he wouldn't be able to see them. "That's right." There were times when it seemed that she had only been hurt by the people she loved, even when they didn't mean it. This was one secret that she hoped to keep from him for as long as he lived. She could not burden him with that horrible truth as well. She didn't mind keeping that from him.