Title: Shades of Whimsical
Disclaimer: Entirely not mine. Except for Whimsical, of course.
Western Amestris was remote, and the distance between towns was far. Ed had seen enough country towns to last him for the rest of his life, but in a way, he liked them better than the faster paced cities. Resembool was not entirely unlike most of these lazy towns, so he found that his affinity was greater. He had no illusions—Ed knew he would not have stayed in Resembool for all of his life. He'd always felt a draw to get out, but he could never justify it to himself to leave his mother.
The brothers were in the west to find any leads on the Philosopher's Stone, and while they hadn't found anything significant, they were becoming intimately familiar with the various quirks of Western Amestris. The people here had a particularly affinity for strawberry-rhubarb pie, and most of the townspeople insisted they try a bit of their famous pie. There was like some unspoken contest going on, and all hoped that Ed and Al would spread the word on about the town with the best recipe so that they could get on the map as Little Town, Amestris: Home of Amestris' Number One Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie! Of course, Al couldn't eat food, and Ed didn't like rhubarb. Still, Ed speculated that he could always write up the recipes in his report to Colonel Mustang. The thought of filling his reports with pages and pages of recipes amused him, largely because he knew how greatly it would annoy the Colonel.
The summer nights were long and hot, so Edward was glad to see a town in the distance: they would make it there by nightfall. He pulled out the map and searched for its name, and shrugged when he couldn't find it. A lot of these towns were so small, even the military didn't find it worth their while to mark their maps with them.
The name of the town was Whimsical, and it was wholly unremarkable. However, the people seemed nice enough, and quickly invited the brothers into the town's one and only restaurant/inn. It also seemed to be the local hang out, for the place was packed. The food was cheap and plentiful, and he moved through it quickly. When he was on his third bowl, Al leaned forward as quietly as someone of Al's stature could.
"Brother, I think there's something strange." Ed looked up. The inhabitants of the inn were all looking intently back at Ed. The bite froze in his mouth, and he eyed the townspeople back.
"Are you an Alchemist?" A pretty young woman with long brown hair pulled back by a large blue bow asked. She smiled. "My name is Jill." She said, prompting him for his name. Edward winced internally. He was used to this question. It started with the townspeople filled with excitement, as they all had broken items precious to them that they were unwilling to trash. An alchemist in town meant that these things could be fixed. However, someone always found out he was a dog of the military, and it resulted in another night spent in on a park bench. Somehow, the military had managed to slight every single town in Amestris. Edward was going to have a word or two with Colonel Mustang when they got back. All these benches were bad for his back!
"I am." Edward admitted. Unsurprisingly, the eyes of every person in the room lit up. Jill leaned forward.
"Are you good?"
"Yes" Edward responded smugly, a slight smirk crossing his features. Al sighed in exasperation beside him.
"Get the alchemist more food! Let him try our special Strawberry-Rhubarb pie recipe!" Said a man in the back, and suddenly there was tons more food before Edward and Al. Edward cheerfully worked on his food, while Al discreetly pushed the food around on his plate, shoving it onto his brother's plate, when he could manage it.
"Is it good?" Jill asked, pulling up a chair and sitting beside Edward.
"Mmmmrg." Edward said around his food. The girl laughed quietly.
"Good, we don't get many visitors here in Whimsical. We're a little out of the way. I hope you enjoy your time here." She said, still smiling. When Edward didn't respond except for a small head nod, she stood and left. Edward raised his hand in a slight wave, not paying her much attention. Al watched her disperse back into the throng of people, and leaned in.
"Brother, you are so rude." Al said quietly. Edward glanced up from his food, flashing Al an annoyed look.
When Edward finally finished, the two headed upstairs to their room. Downstairs, the town citizens had begun dancing, and Edward went to sleep to the rhythm of dancing feet.
Edward awoke around four in the morning to a violently upset stomach. He lurched to the toilet, barely making it in time before he emptied the contents of his stomach. Finished, he knelt before the toilet for a few moments. He tried to stand, but fell forward, setting both hands on the side of the toilet as he violently vomited again. In a second, Al was at the door.
"Brother? Are you okay?" Al asked, worriedly. Ed managed to glare at Al before turning back to the toilet. Al came up behind his brother and gently placed a cool hand on Edward's back.
When the sun came up, Edward was still sick, although his vomiting was slightly less frequent due to the fact that he'd already thrown up the last of his food. Al had tried to force him to drink water so that he wouldn't grow too dehydrated, but Edward threw that up too, so Al gave up. When it seemed just late enough in the morning for shops to begin opening, Al stood.
"I'll get a doctor!" Al said. He helped Edward to the bed and brought a trash can to his brother's side. Edward was looking particularly pale, and Al knew he would have to be fast. He didn't want to leave his brother alone for too long.
Al went downstairs with the intent of finding the inn owner and learning about the closest doctor. There was no one, however, and Al figured the man must be outside. But upon reaching the outdoors, Al found the streets were all empty. Al wandered the town for at least an hour before giving up. Some of the doors to shops were open, but there were no owners, and the shops were dusty.
By the time Al returned to the inn, he was filled with uneasiness. He went back to the dining portion of the inn. The tables were covered in a thick dust, as if they hadn't been touched in months. There was one table that had been recently disturbed, and Al hesitantly headed to it. It was the table he and Edward has sat at last night. All of the dirty plates and bowls were still there, some of the food still left. If Al had the ability, his stomach would have lurched. The food left in the bowls was rotten, with heavy, fuzzy mold growing across all of it.
Al hammered up the stairs to find Ed thankfully asleep. There was a light sheen of sweat on his brow, and at Al's entrance, Edward peeked an eye open, looking at Al tiredly. He had the wastebasket tucked against his arm tightly.
"How are you feeling?"
"Better. I don't think I have anything left to puke, so things have to be getting better, eh?" Edward said with a weak smile.
"I think we should get out of here. Something is wrong." Al said after looking his brother over. Edward had a way of ignoring his injuries and illnesses, but such was Al's urgency that he was willing to believe Edward.
"Yeah?" Edward pushed himself to a sitting position, and paused when he was upright. Al saw him eye the wastebasket again. After a moment, he lost his private battle and leaned over the trash can. When he was done, he breathed deeply. "How about we wait a couple of minutes? I'll nap and then we can go, okay?" It was rare that asked for such concessions as naps, but Al knew his brother had spent the entire night incredibly sick, so it only made sense. And although it made Al uneasy, he reluctantly agreed.
But when Al tried to wake his brother an hour later, he didn't get a response. Another hour after and there was still no change. Al grew increasingly worried, and by the time the afternoon sun filled the small bedroom, Al decided he would carry his brother out. Ed had become unnaturally restless in the last hour or so. Al didn't know what was going on, but he had the suspicion they needed to get out of there before night fell.
Al gathered his brother up in his arms with no response. He headed downstairs, noticing with alarm that the shadows in the corners were moving and twisting as if alive. Al quickened his step and burst through the doors. His brother still tucked unmoving in his arms, he pounded down in the street in the opposite direction from the way they'd entered. Just as he reached the town's limit, he came across the local graveyard. There were the typical old headstones, but there were also an extreme amount of wooden posts that grew sloppier as they apparently progressed in number. Near the road was a large gaping hole, and Al tentatively glanced inside as he passed. The hole was filled with rotting bodies, and he saw on top that girl, Jill, staring at the sky. Al recoiled, unintentionally clasping Edward closer to his breast.
"Al?" Edward asked in surprise, stirring in Al's arms. There was a brief moment of confusion before he made a face and pushing himself out of Al's arms. He stumbled, a surprised look on his face as he found out just how weak he was. "What's going on?"
"Don't steal our alchemist!" A voice said, and Al turned rapidly to see Jill standing behind him. Al gasped. Beside him, he heard his brother make a sound of surprise. Al glanced over his shoulder, and where there had been no one, the entire town was suddenly standing before his brother.
The townspeople were translucent, the late afternoon light filtering through them. They all looked mildly angry and disturbed, and even as they stood still, they moved, as if they were perpetually underwater.
Al glanced down the road, noticing with alarm that he and his brother were the only one casting shadows. Edward stepped back; inadvertently bumping into Al. Ed had his hands held up in a defenseless position, although Al knew it wouldn't be hard for his brother to quickly clap his hands.
"What is it you want?" Edward asked suspiciously.
"We want peace." Jill said. She glided around Ed and Al to stand in front of the townspeople, a self-appointed leader.
"Okay. How?" Edward asked, his gold eyes flickering from person to person.
"Bring us back." A person from the ghost crowd called out. A general sound of agreement went out among the ghosts. Al could feel his brother slump against him, his hands falling by his side.
"I can't do that." But before he'd finished speaking, the townspeople nearly drowned his words out with angry muttering.
"We can feel your power! You have to do it!"
"I cant! I'm telling you I cant!" Edward returned angrily.
"Why not?" Jill asked softly, giving Ed a piercing look.
"It's because there is nothing in this world that can be equivalent exchange for a human soul attached to its body." Edward repeated, a touch of anger in his voice.
"You can sacrifice something for us." Jill said. Her eyes were completely white; she had no pupils, and her gaze seemed to pierce Edward's soul. "You've done it already. Your brother is a ghost, isn't he?"
"No!" Edward shouted in alarm. Jill glided closer, studying Al intently.
"You are." She said, now speaking directly to Al. "You are a soul attached to armor." She wheeled on Edward. "Do that to us? Please?" The ghosts surged around Ed, pulling at him. Al saw his brother grow pale very quickly.
"We can run, brother." Al pleaded, tugging on Ed's jacket
"How did you die?" Edward asked, unheeding of his brother.
"A plague swept through the town, even out bodies couldn't all be buried." A man said, coming up from behind Jill. He clasped a calloused hand on her shoulder. "My daughter brought food and drink to the weak, she was one of the last to die. You don't have to save us all—just our children, please." The man begged plaintively.
Ed's eyes skittered across the people, his face extremely stressed. "I can't." Edward said, brokenly. "I can't do it. It goes against the laws of alchemy and of nature."
"Liar! Your brother!" The man yelled, jabbing a finger angrily at Ed.
"I regret that!" Ed shouted back. "Don't ask me to do what I can't!" Al deserves better than what I gave him! You think that by having your soul attached to something in this world will be like living, but it can't be the same!"
"It's better than this!" And the crowd surged forward, clambering at Ed, and as their hands slid through him, he began shivering uncontrollably.
"Leave me alone!" He pleaded through chattering teeth. "I can't save you! I can't even save my brother!" Ed's shaking had become violent, and Al realized his brother somehow blamed himself for not being able to help, and so couldn't bring himself to move. Al grabbed Ed's hand and hauled him away from the desperate ghosts.
The ghost town followed after, moaning as they reached for Edward with grasping fingers. The brothers crested the hill that lead out of the town and paused. Some invincible force held the townspeople back, but their keening wails followed Ed and Al as they headed down the path.
The pair walked long into the night, escaping as far away from the haunted town as they could. In what Al reckoned to be just past midnight, the full moon rising only just, Edward stumbled and fell against his brother.
"Brother?" Al asked worriedly. He looked down to find his brother slumped against him, dead asleep. Al chuckled quietly and scooped his brother up. Finding a clearing, he gently laid Edward down, and drew a transmutation circle. He created a sleeping bag from the nearby fall leaves, and tucked Edward inside. His brother never stirred once, and Al knew he wouldn't remember this in the morning. Honestly, he was surprised his brother had made it as far as he did. He knew Edward was absolutely exhausted, and he was amazed he wasn't even sicker. Al observed his brother as he settled down beside him. Already, Ed's bangs were wet with sweat, and Al wondered if back in the town, Ed had willed himself not to be sick.
Al glanced at his shadow, dark and heavy from the bright moon. Edward's feverish eyes flashed open, and he blinked blearily at Al.
"You have a shadow. You are my brother. You are not a ghost."
"I will bring you back. I could not bring them back. You are living and human. They were just sad ghosts. I just have to find your body. I promise, Al. I promise." Edward grasped Al's hand, his eyes brighter and feverish.
"Brother, go to sleep. You're still sick."
"But Al, this is important. You are different from those people. I promise I won't fail you." Edward's voice was thick with emotion, and the look he gave Al was so passionate, Al couldn't help but nod.
"I know." Al said. Edward looked at him a moment longer before nodding in response. He sunk back down to the ground, and within moments, he was asleep, leaving Al alone once more. Al knew Edward genuinely believed he would get Al back, and Edward's passion and faith supported Al even when Al's own resolve wavered.
Al glanced down at his brother, and gently brushed his bangs out of his face. During the day, Ed was the older brother. But at night, Al stood silent guardian over Ed, and the many nightmares that plagued him. Al knew tonight would be especially bad, so Al would make sure to be especially watchful.
In the morning, Edward refused to talk about the incident that had transpired the day before. After all, he was a scientific man, and there were no so such things as ghosts. Still, Al noticed that Edward absolutely refused to ever have strawberry-rhubarb pie again