Château Montreuil, France -- July 24th, 1918
"It's a nice view, isn't it?"
Alfred didn't bother looking at his brother. "What, they send you to make sure I don't spy on any super-secret allied meetings?"
"No." Matthew sat beside him on the bench, tugged his uniform sleeves. "I might be at war with Sadiq, but most of my troops are in Europe. I thought that I'd rather spend the afternoon with you, since we, you know, haven't. For a long time."
Yeah, a long time. Surrounded by rolling grass and shady trees, Alfred changed the subject. "You didn't seem surprised that there's going to be a major action."
"Marshall Foch has been holding my boys back, while the others - Francis, Jack, Arthur - were holding the line." He shrugged. "My forces are over-strength, and there's only one thing you do with over-strength armies."
He nodded. "Use them."
"Yeah." Matthew tilted his head back. "You didn't fight with Arthur, when he told you that you'd be fighting under his command."
He shifted. "General Pershing told me a couple days ago that my 33rd would stay attached to the British Third Corps, and that I had to be at the action."
"Did he say you simply had to be there, or with your boys specifically?"
"... What'cha thinking?"
"Come with me instead," he said, eyes on the clouds scudding overhead. "Adding two to a squad isn't much harder than adding one, and our bosses can spin it as 'Two brother nations fighting side-by-side for freedom,' or some such. The newsreels could have a field day, and you wouldn't have to fight under Arthur."
It'd be nice to be on the same side, fighting with his brother for once. "You mean that."
"Mm. It's not quite the same, but I do know what it's like to not want to fight under someone's orders. I only got my own command last year, remember?"
Alfred snorted. "How could I forget? The letter you sent me was three pages of 'Wow, isn't this fantastic?'"
"... Sorry about that."
"Nah, s'okay. Besides, when did you learn to be so sneaky, working around orders and stuff?"
"What, you thought I always obeyed Arthur like a good little Dominion?"
"Well, yeah. You're the good one, I'm the free one, Australia's the rowdy one..."
Matthew turned his head, smiled. "You haven't paid attention to Canadian-British relations at all, have you?"
Matthew snorted. "Once this is all over, I'm going to sit you down at my embassy and we'll have a nice, long chat."
He grinned, bumped their elbows together. "I'll hold you to that."
Near Amiens, France -- Morning of August 8th, 1918
Tanks, Alfred decided two weeks later, were not as awesome to ride in as they were to look at. He tried not to breathe too deeply, so he wouldn't be like the poor bastards who got light-headed and fainted from the gas fumes. He liked machinery well enough, planes and automobiles and steamboats, but these stank, were too loud and confined.
He shifted in place, the wool of his uniform scratching against his skin. His pack bumped Matthew's as the treads rolled over another blasted trench; Matt looked over and raised an eyebrow.
"Sorry!" Alfred yelled.
Matthew frowned, cupped a hand to his ear.
Oh right - if he couldn't even hear the fucking bombardment just ahead of the tank, how was Matthew supposed to hear him? Alfred shrugged, smiled apologetically.
Matthew knocked their shoulders together with a half-smile, and the tank rumbled to a stop.
Time to go to work, then. Alfred ducked his head and followed the other members of the squad out through the hatch.
It was still foggy as they followed their sergeant along the remains of a communications trench, ground wet with dew and other things. The bombardment really had been effective - there were shell holes everywhere, even this far behind the lines. The sides of the trenches had fallen in, a boot or hand sticking out from the dirt every now and then. Alfred tried not to look too hard.
A crack of rifle fire, and one of the soldiers fell to the side, clutching his arm; the rest dropped to the mud. There were some frantic hand-signals, then Matthew nudged Alfred's boot. "Sarge wants me to go over the top to deal with those riflemen," he murmured under the sound of more gunfire. "You coming with?"
"Of course, can't let you have all the fun."
Matthew nodded, crawled up the side of the trench. He poked his head out, motioned the all clear; Alfred followed him up as the rest of the squad fired around the corner, keeping the Germans occupied. It was a slow crawl across the torn earth, staying within sight of the trench but far enough away they couldn't be seen by someone standing inside.
Alfred stopped at the lip of a shell crater - if he leaned up just a little, he could see the muzzle flashes of the Germans shooting back at the Canadian position.
Matthew halted beside him, arms and legs covered in mud, and pulled a grenade from his belt. Tilted his head in question.
Alfred nodded - they were close enough to throw now, yeah - and pulled out one of his own grenades. He pulled the pin, and counted down with his fingers. Three, two, one- They let fly.
A moment, then the explosion. Clods of dirt pinged down on their backs and helmets, but the German rifle fire had stopped, was replaced by pained mutterings. Matthew gave himself a shake, and poked his head above the edge of the shell crater. Alfred followed suit, then glanced away. He'd forgotten how messy grenades were, but Matthew didn't seem bothered.
Still, Alfred swallowed and led the way out of the crater, stopped by the edge of the trench wall. Cocked his rifle at the soldiers down below. Matthew was at his side, the butt of his rifle against his shoulder.
One of the men looked up - a captain, if Alfred remembered the insignia right - and dropped his pistol. "Bitte," he said, his hands in the air and the other Germans following suit. Even the one missing a hand joined in, saying "Please" in mangled English.
From the corner of his eye Alfred could see the rest of the squad advancing through the trench, and Matthew's finger tightening on the trigger. "Matt!" he hissed. "They're surrendering!"
"Are we taking prisoners today?"
He blinked, bonked Matthew with his elbow. "Yeah, and so are your boys, so let them take charge, hey?"
Matthew took a breath, let it out, and set down his rifle as the squad came even with the Germans. "Yeah."
Near Caix, France -- Evening of August 8th, 1918
Alfred sat next to Matthew on the empty crate, handed him a hot cup of cocoa. "Hey you."
"Hey." Matthew wrapped his fingers around the cup, but didn't take a sip.
He bumped their shoulders together. "You okay?"
He hesitated. "I just want this to be over, eh? Today was- Today wasn't an exception. I've been here nearly four years, and-"
"That's what I'm here for, right?" He rubbed circles into Matthew's back, let him curl against his side. "Overwhelm the Germans with my massive manpower and all that."
"So if everything goes to plan, we'll be done before Christmas. Then you can give me that talking to you promised, and we can go and hide out at my Virginia house for a while. You can make me import maple syrup from Vermont, I can drive you around in my new car, and we can both ignore Arthur. Sound good?"
"Yeah," Matthew said quietly, preparations for tomorrow's advance a quiet roar all around them. "Sounds good."