velvet mace

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

"Were they expensive?" Ed asked, running his fingers over the smooth plastic that did not come that close to his natural skin tone. It was warmer to the touch than the automail had been. But there was no feedback, nothing that made it feel like it was part of him.

Hohenheim held Ed's leg and fastened the straps around the thigh. "They were a hundred pounds. The quality is the finest I could find. The look is the most natural, and the mechanism provides the most mobility."

Ed was still somewhat unfamiliar with British currency, but he knew that was a lot. He felt uncomfortable. "Thank you, I owe you."

Hohenheim gazed in Ed's eyes for a long while. "You don't owe me anything," he said, but the tone was wrong. Ed wondered what was the matter, but didn't press it. Hohenheim would tell him when he was ready.

"Thank you," said Ed moving his leg with difficulty. It felt awkward and unreliable, but Ed had no doubt it was the best Hohenheim could find.

Ed felt his father gently stroking back his hair. Ed found it a strangely tender, intimate touch. So this was what a father-son relationship felt like. It felt odd, and disarming.

"It's funny," Ed continued, laughing a little at the awkwardness between them. "I never needed you as a kid. I always took care of myself just fine. Now that I'm an adult and should be independent, here I am, needing my father."

Hohenheim smiled sadly. "Yes. You do. It's a pity."

No one talked of Equivalent Exchange in England, but they had a saying that came close: There ain't no such thing as a free lunch. Ed accepted this, because it fit in a way equivalent exchange never had.

Equivalent exchange was a myth... you always had to pay more than what you got. Sometimes much more. Sometimes too much. Ed should have learned that the first time he'd encountered the Gate, but the concept had been so appealing he'd held on with all his might.

No there was no equivalent exchange, and no free lunch either.

Which is why when Hohenheim's embrace shifted, and his huge hand slid from Ed's waist down to his buttocks, Ed simply held still. And when Hohenheim's mouth strayed from his forehead, to his lips, Ed didn't shrug him away.

Ed had always paid his debts.

A roof, clothes, food, and mobility for the cost of disappointment and disgust. The comforts of life, in exchange for his last shred of innocence.

As Ed scrubbed the lingering sweet-spoiled scent from his skin, he wondered how he could have forgotten his father was dead.

I should just go, thought Ed, fingering the shillings in his pocket. Buy a train ticket and go ... somewhere... anywhere. Start new.

Hohenheim finished his eggs and wiped his mouth. "You're cooking has improved, Edward."

"Thank you," said Ed, limping over to the older man's plate, picking it up with his one good hand. His other lay at his side, more decoration than useful. He could only move it in the most clumsy swings. The hand was like a doll's, ridged, fingers curled in a way that looked somewhat natural. He propped the plate up against the plastic fingers and turned on the water.

I could wash dishes to start off with. Maybe be a short order cook. Not everyone will reject me off hand because I'm crippled. There will be a job out there somewhere I can do.

Hohenheim stood up and patted down his clothes. "I'll be home by six," he said.

"Have a good day at work," said Ed. Then he put the plate down. "Fa—"

"Ed." The warning in Hohenheim's voice was unmistakable.

I could get a train ticket, take a leap of faith. I don't need alchemy to live. I don't need to be a strong fighter. I still have my brains they are valuable.

Hohenheim closed in, a massive wall towering over Ed. He reached out a cold hand to stroke Ed's cheek, then cupped him under the chin to force their eyes to meet.

"I love you," said Hohenheim, and he leaned down for a kiss.

"I love you, too," said Ed, when the wall rose up and backed away, leaving confusion in it's wake.

He felt the shillings in his pocket again. Or maybe I could buy some books.