The Surface
Fullmetal Alchemist fan fiction

Rating: PG-13 (T)
Genre: gen, character study-type piece
Word Count: 1800 or so

Notes: Features Brigadier General Basque Grand, pre-series. The basis for this fic was ripped from a drabble – the beginning of which starts of this piece – that I wrote almost a year ago.

--

When Basque Grand joined the military, it was for his impressive use of alchemical technique.

No one questioned where he came from.

When Basque Grand carried his own team of soldiers into the Ishvalan frontier, no one ever asked why Grand chose to conceal his face when he tore through the enemy's frontlines.

When Basque Grand strutted proudly in the halls of the military headquarters, everyone pretended not to notice his red eyes and brown skin.

--

When life flashes before one's eyes just before death, rarely is it in chronological order. Rare also is it confined exclusively to sight. In Brigadier General Basque Grand's case, the first thing he felt was –

– The coarse blue material wrapped inside countless leaves of standard package paper. As he ran his fingers over it, the fabric caught against every callus, hanging onto the dry, hardened skin like hooked cacti needles. He had dreamed of this moment many times (of course, he would never outright admit to believing in some thing so immaterial), but it in his fantasies the cloth had always been smooth silk, sapphire-brilliant and cool to the touch. When he slipped on the coat for the first time, it weighed on his shoulders, so starch-stiff it restricted his movement in a way the loose robes and scarves of his people never did.

Basque Grand, however, took the discomfort in stride – it was but small penance for the power it granted him.

He could see only the shadow of his reflection in the brass buttons as he hastened to dress himself in the regulation navy and gold, but he didn't need a mirror to know how dark his skin was, or how his eyes brought out the blood-blister red of his patrol sash. It didn't matter anymore; he was a man of the Amestris military now. He was a State Alchemist.

And he didn't need any ersatz 'God' to tell him what he could and could not do. That morning, he styled his moustache into what he believed to be an intimidating 'V' just to prove it.

--

There was another man in his village that always smelled of knowledge, of musty books whose pages were dog-eared and limp with moisture (imported from the far west, where there were trees like mountains and soil that was so fertile things grew even when no man was there to moderate their intake of water and sunlight). He also smelled of alchemy, which was an odor that could never be defined by any one region.

However, if it were, that region certainly would not have been the far east.

Though the thin, bespectacled Ishvalan scholar had indeed grown to love his books and made no secret about his 'fantastic discoveries', he had not yet acquainted himself with the true strength of his knowledge, nor had he thrown down the laws and gods his society thrived upon.

But it took only the slightest whisper, 'Do you know of the Philosopher's Stone?'to set those gears in motion.

Basque Grand smiled at that, because his fellow scholar and seeker of truth had a little sibling, all lanky arms and legs like children his age so often were. He knew that he reminded the lad too much of what his brother could (and would, if he didn't destroy himself first) become. And when he looked into those beady little eyes, coupled it with the defiant frown on the boy's face, he knew that was the last thing the little boy wanted.

Unfortunately for him, Grand merely wore the uniform that the little boy's brother hadn't the spine to pursue.

They were one and the same in the end (because they both smelled of alchemy and there's no turning back after one drinks the heretic's poison).

--

In celebration of (now Colonel) Basque Grand's tenth year in the military, he saw fireworks – of a sort. On the eastern fringe of the country, there was now little more than a hastily thrown together line of dirt-floor, iron sheet-and-bar barracks where there had, at one point, stood a sizeable two-story building.

But that was before a group of religious purists decided to blow it up.

Before some low-ranking idiot charge of his had shot an Ishvalan child.

Before the start of the Eastern Rebellion.

Strangely enough, it never once occurred to Basque Grand that he might be persecuted for the wrongdoings of his brethren. And why should it? He had been serving the Amestris Fuhrer for ten years; everything was determined by rank and skill, not birth. The Amestris military was full of traitors and cowards, faux ami and deserters, but once skin met cloth and every man donned his uniform, each was merely a nameless piece for the Fuhrer to play.

They were divided by rank like simple weapons – power, reliability, durability, specialized use. To lesser men and to his peers, it didn't matter what he did on Sundays or what he believed in; beyond the uniform and all that the garments entailed, nothing mattered.

Armed with this truth, Basque Grand became one of the greatest ironies in the history of the eastern office.

When orders from the top came, stating (in the pretentious sort of tone military documents always held) 'all responsibilities and privileges of military officers of Ishvalan blood or tradition were revoked until further notice' Basque Grand did not so much as blink when he barked out the directions to his charges. When orders came to arrest all Ishvalan people that came within one hundred kilometers of a military establishment, Grand made the first arrest.

Everyone saw his eyes, his skin, but no one dared to comment. To some, silence was kept out of fear. But for the majority, Grand was sure that his men simply did not see beyond the high-collar coat, the gold stars that spanned the length of his shoulders, the uniform. He was a dog of the military – an alchemist – and as such, he could not be Ishvalan.

No alchemist could be Ishvalan; this was simply known.

Only the ignorant upstart, Roy Mustang had dared question that ('How can you kill your own people? Even if you are an alchemist, you're not a monster!' he had shouted, sounding an awful lot like the defiant lad Grand had left back in Ishval), but Grand shut him up by giving him the honour of killing 'traitors to the country'.

The upstart kept the traitors' personal effects, a photograph of a mother and father and a little girl with the most dazzling blue eyes and the cutest smile.

Grand wonders if the Flame Alchemist has ever doubted his humanity after that.

Basque Grand realised that it was not so much their dusky pallor or queer red eyes that defined 'Ishvalan' to the rest of Amestris, nor was it the strange locations of their cities or fiercely traditional sash-and-tunic garb.

What defined a man was simply what he could and could not do. His abilities measured an unspoken ranking and class in society as much as they ranked him in the military.

Appearance, after all, was only the surface. And this seemed so unbelievably altruistic and politically correct Basque Grand couldn't help but laugh (a dry, raking sound, but laughter all the same). Professors of sociology had searched deep within the human psyche, inspecting every opinion like it was some sort of lab rat. After all that, it was a simple storybook answer they had been searching for the entire time.

--

There were whisperers spinning tales of the Iron Blood Alchemist's ruthlessness. One soldier would say 'he killed twenty of their night guards without so much as hesitating!' and other would carry the message from man to man, barrack to barrack, until finally a man would receive the message 'he killed block twenty's frightened mothers after he staked up their children'.

As it happened, the Colonel Basque Grand could boast to having done both. He couldn't say it hadn't been hard, that it hadn't touched something deep within him that never should have been stirred, or that it hadn't hurt, but he was content to let technicalities like 'difficulty' and 'fear' slip away in the wave of brutal sand stories, which began as half-truths and died as lies.

Page turns before the cessation of the Ishval war, Iron Blood became known for his 'sand armour' – a conglomeration of metals and minerals from the earth that encased his entire form in an unbreakable shield, while still allowing him to fire at the enemy.

No one asked questions – it was the beginning of an entirely different branch of warfare. Alchemy. But for all its effectiveness in deflecting bullets, Grand could still hear every dying shriek, every plea for Ishvala's mercy.

At every woman's dying gurgle and every suckling babe's high-pitched wail, sharp unhindered fear lanced through him. Despite himself, his mind automatically (mechanically) matched cries to sisters, frantic shouting to a mother and an unborn sibling he had never met but knew (intrinsically, he knew there would be another little boy to replace the one his parents 'lost').

In the end, some of them were his mother, his sisters, because he found their bodies – rather, what remained of them, after the storm of bullets and the rain of fire.

He would never know which screams were theirs.

That's when he found that perhaps… his uniform – his armour – was only a façade. If he could still be felled something as slight as fear or guilt, where was the power in that?

The Fuhrer's wry comment at Grand's promotion banquet about how truly 'iron blooded' he was did not stoke his dwindling conviction.

--

All the memories halt to a stop and the Iron Blood Alchemist was more than a little dismayed. Was there nothing more? Nothing profound or wholly redeeming that would have made every sacrifice worthwhile?

Despite the vestige of power he had retained all these years, he was only a dog of the military, hungry for the valour and self-assurance donning the uniform of power could give – only a dog of the military who took everything to the table in hopes of gaining more.

There was little comfort in knowing he took a turn on the ultimate roulette, and he lost.

So when Scar – 'infamous alchemist killer operating mostly in the eastern and central areas of Amestris, priority 0023' (or so the official records state) – takes Grand's life in hand and hangs it out before the Brigadier General's eyes, it is not a brother he is killing. It is no longer the blood of a countryman that slicks the tips of his fingers.

It is the blood of an alchemist that runs in rivers down Basque Grand's skull and pools on the dusted streets like a sticky sauce that glints an almost regal crimson, before staining the uniform coat a traitor's black.

fin

Notes: Pfft. Of course Grand isn't canonically Ishvalan. BUT HE COULD HAVE BEEN.