They had always said that to win the war, the pawns were not to be sent in without the king close behind. War was like a foul and gory game of chess, where the king became as filthy as the pieces being sacrificed around him, and the battlefield was less checkers of black and white, but inches of thick, congealed blood caked on barren bomb cracked earth where bodies lay broken and disfigured, unrecognisable that they had ever been men.
War never discriminated, and gambled with lives like it would worthless pennies to a billionaire, tossing them aside like it had plenty to spare.
Yet they weren't dispensable, and Arthur knew this, but he also knew that their enemy had fewer than what remained in their own army.
Devastation had soaked the earth when acid rained from the skies; thick and deep black and unrelenting for three days and nights, having been created from the evaporated chemicals used in the bombs, and drunk into the clouds that were dyed a dark pink in the ruby skies. Many soldiers didn't make it, but those that did were invited into the thick protective shelter made of lead, concrete, and synthesised materials specifically designed to prevent any leaks of nuclear radiation. The space was crowded, stuffed with soldiers wounded, famished and worn. They couldn't keep fighting for long.
The dark curtain dropped back down to cover the window of the door separating the rest of the bunker and soldiers to the tiny room allocated for the generals and commanders to gather and speak, stuffed with a desk and shelves of equipment. Normally, the whole underground encasement was meant solely for the higher in command, but Arthur had, on a truly rare instance, agreed with Francis that with so few left—and so many that could have been lost had they not called everyone to withdraw before the rain fell—not allowing soldiers into their private space was ludicrous and inhumane. Those who had not been able to be carried inside in time, or had been unable to drag themselves to the shelter before it was sealed, had been left an agonising death as the acid ate away at their clothes, flesh and bones.
Francis had remained in the corner of the small office throughout the first night, head bowed, eyes shut tight and clutching to a rosary whilst whispering prayers in French, and the few in Latin he recalled from too long a time ago, for those who screamed until there was nothing but silence above ground beyond the thick barrier. It had been hard to leave some behind to make it in time, but it had been even more heart wrenching to listen to the blood curdling shrieks of agony and pleading as a soldier banged on the shelter door and begged to be let in. The door had remained tightly sealed, unable to be opened lest the rain poured in and destroyed the latch, preventing it from closing and then flood the chambers below with the eroding and burning liquid.
"We've won this war," Arthur spoke up at once, tone crisp but voice rough and weary, his eyes lowered to the documents piled before him, his darkly gloved hands grazing the many sheets of printed faces, some scratched out with a thick black X, "There's only one left who won't surrender."
Alfred lifted his head up, a toothpick clenched between his teeth, chewing on it slowly, slumped in the corner of the small office, his hands occupied with a small paint worn toy car, a faded hotrod red and scratched with wear and play.
"Once Francis comes back, we can let the soldiers out to breathe again," Arthur continued, beginning to slide the documents alphabetically one by one into the manila folder, "We lead this war with our strongest and bravest and those in charge, and we'll finish it the same way. I refuse to send ten good, young soldiers to do the work of a single leader."
Lifting up the sole document left without a mark, Arthur scanned the information on it.
"Besides, I have every bit of confidence that that damn wine sucker can do the job perfectly fine on his own. As much of a Nancy as he is, and I hate to admit, he's got a good arm on him," he added, tossing the document down to the desk, the sheet fluttering, "His sword is practically an extension of his limb, and he slices like a sharp guillotine. The bastard's head will roll for his insolence and resistance."
"Y'know, I'm pretty sure ya mean mass murder," Alfred drawled, lifting his single eye to look at his mentor, bright blue with flecks of gold behind a single rectangular monocle, his right eye hidden beneath a large black eye patch, "It's illegal to kill people, last I heard, so I can't see why 'murder' suddenly changes to 'resistance' when ya do it in mass amounts and to the sound of trumpets…"
The American scoffed, dropping his one eyed gaze back to the item in his hands, flicking his finger to make the wheels of the toy spin with a little hum. The sound of bombs had long since stopped with no planes left to fly, and no men left to pilot them, and only a single man left to strike down. There was no need for aerial attacks, yet the silence was equally as disturbing; much too ominous.
Arthur looked to the younger man, nearly a whole decade his junior at the age of twenty one as he sat at thirty, studying the death hardened lines along the sun kissed skin of a once sunshine bright and cheerful man.
"War never determined who was right, only who is left," Arthur quoted, pushing his shoulders back to stand straighter, "I never said I approved what either side was doing, but the rogues were in the wrong and needed to be exterminated."
"See what I mean?" Alfred huffed out with a laugh of disbelief, "The words you're usin'… 'Exterminated'… like you're tryin' to disassociate them from the rest of us, from humans. They had mothers and fathers, family, friends… They had a story that made them do that."
Arthur frowned, thick eyebrows furrowing towards the creases between them, straightening up, ready to argue back—not an uncommon thing between the two—when he was interrupted with a large bang, acid green eyes snapping to the door. Creaks and shuffles came from the room on the other side of the door, along with heavy footsteps and groans. Arthur and Alfred both straightened and made a move forward as the large and heavy latch at the entrance was forced up, the sounds of men shouting, and the barked German accented orders to move aside, move aside, instantly catching their attention.
Something had gone wrong.
In seconds, the office door had been thrown open, curtain fluttering with the motion, and Arthur and Alfred stared in shock as Ludwig carried Francis in, the Frenchman's expression strained and twisted with agony, his hand pressed to his belly over a thick cloth that was soaked red.
The word fell in disbelief from the Englishman's lips, eyes locked on the wounded male as Yao practically broke down the door and he forced himself inside the small room, medical supplies already in hand.
"Francis, what the fuck?!" Alfred shouted, darting up from his position on the floor, shouldering past one of his guardians to the other, watching in disbelief as the black uniform was stripped from the Frenchman's torso, a deep hole coming more and more into view with every layer removed, "What happened?"
"A poisoned bullet—that bastard works with poisoned bullets," Yao snapped, hands quick as he took up his first tool—a scalpel, followed by a large pair of tweezers, "The rogue shot him."
"Poisoned?" Alfred breathed, eye lifting to the Chinaman in shock, feeling himself forced backwards by Ludwig's larger body to give Yao room to work, the scenario seeming so rushed, so hard to keep up with, "We've got a cure for it, right? Some antibiotics or cream or medicine to fix it, right? What do ya do with poison?"
"Hope and pray."
The words alone had chills of sickness flooding through the American, single eye connecting with baby blues that cracked open, his expression disorientated as he looked at the sadness swelling in those that he had grown to associate with playfulness and joy, his own heart tugging in pain at seeing Francis gasping for air, long hair usually silken and neat now matted with blood and disarrayed around his face, pulled from his hair tie.
"Ne pleure pas, Alfred… J'ai besoin de tout mon courage pour mourir à trente quatre ans!" Francis begged through raspy gasps of air, cracking a weak smile, wincing as Yao worked on the wound, tweezers pinching and pulling, concentration in the Asian's sharply slanted brown eyes.
"Someone get a translator in here, I can't fuckin' speak French!" Alfred snapped, toy car being stuffed into the pocket of his long black jacket, his gloved hands catching one of Francis' tightly, squeezing it firmly, "Damn it, old man, how many times do I gotta say I don't understand a word of it?"
The wounded man's laugh was cut off with a sharp cough, baby blues squeezing shut, eyebrows knitting as blood gurgled in his throat, his head tipping to the side as the crimson liquid splashed the once clean table after a violent series of gags and splutters. Alfred's nose crinkled, eye glassy as he blinked furiously to hold back tears, holding tight to the other's hand. He wasn't going to lose someone else… Not again. He refused.
"Is he still out there?"
"That bastard rogue?" Alfred barked, snarl curling his lips, fury burning inside of him, swelling, eating away at his organs and blood and every cell in his body, "Is that fuckin' son of a bitch still alive?"
Francis' eyes widened, eyebrows drawing down, chest heaving.
"Alfred, you're not going out there," the French accented voice murmured, tone stern, though his voice trembled, "I'm not having you fight him—he's got fantastic aim, and he waits until you're close so you have less chance of dodging. You're not going out there to sacrifice yourself to waste his bullets!"
"Francis is right," Arthur chipped in softly, placing a firm hand on the younger's shoulder, pulling him back, eyes locked on Francis' face, "I'm not having you running off to fight this maniac. He's no longer human."
Alfred's head snapped to the side sharply, hair fluttering as he snarled, teeth bared, hissing air through the pearly whites.
"I'll kill him… I'll kill him for sure," he insisted, bright blue eye turning to the Frenchman, "He's almost outta fire, huh? That's what ya said. Once he's all outta ammo, he can't do nothin', right?"
Francis stared at him, grunting as the bullet was pulled out, dropped with a heavy clatter, long and sharply pointed, a few tears sliding along his cheeks from the suffering in the minor anaesthetic-free operation.
"He has at least two or three left, I'm certain," Francis whispered, Arthur's face paling, jaw falling slack.
"Where is he?" Alfred pressed, hand clasping at the Frenchman's sword and its sheath, pulling it from Francis' hips after unclipping it, "I'm going after him."
"Alfred, did you not just hear—"
"I'm going after him," Alfred cut off, making Arthur go silent and his jaw click shut, an angry and offended expression forming on his face, strained, "I ain't gonna go down easily, and I don't take people hurting someone I viewed as a parent lightly… I'll kill the fucker myself for this."
Thin lips pursed into fine line, acid green eyes meeting with baby blue, discussing silently with looks alone, the Englishman's breath held before he let out a shaky sigh, nodding, turning his gaze away from Francis'. It felt like agony, sending out someone he saw as his own son to war, sending him out for a one on one death match with a sword against someone with a gun, but they were out of bullets entirely.
"Where is he?" Alfred repeated, his eye cold as it settled on the Frenchman.
"In the middle of the Sleepless Town… standing at the centre of the bodies like they're some trophy of what he's done," Francis breathed reluctantly, shaking his head, "Please… Alfred… Just stay. It's the dead of the night."
Pulling his hand back after a final soft squeeze, Alfred turned, adjusting the sheath to hook onto his belt, fixing up his coat, and pulled his black cap from the hook it rested on, hanging from the wall, and adjusted it on his head. Correcting the strap of the eye patch where it crossed his cheek, a deep scar jagged across his nose still visible, Alfred turned to look back to the Frenchman, his former position now occupied by Arthur who clutched tightly to the blood stained glove.
"This is my job, ain't it? Hunt, capture and eliminate all 'evil'," he spoke, eye on Yao's fingers as they pinched and squeezed, cleaning up the blood and mopping at the violet hued poison as it was forced up and out with a herbal ointment, Ludwig helping to hold Francis down in the event that he thrashed, "I'll chase this bastard to the end of the earth until not even a speck of his ash remains."
Turning, Alfred moved swiftly for the door, the long tails of his coat swishing side to side against his legs whilst his boots fell heavily on the cement ground, door yanking open and shutting with a bang behind him, leaving Francis and Arthur staring after him.
They'd grown so fond of him, had taken a liking to him from day one when they'd met him and had cared for him since… both of the boys.
"His aim isn't perfect," Arthur croaked out weakly, lowering his eyes to the gory wound on the side of Francis' stomach, "Did he aim from far off?"
Francis shook his head, shutting his eyes, allowing the tiredness and age to show on his expression.
"No. It was from close range. He refused to shoot until I raised my sword at him from up close," he whispered, licking his lips, trying to force the bottom one from trembling, "He recognised me, I think. His aim is perfect. He never aimed for my heart. He didn't want to kill me. I want to believe that. His mind's not completely lost to us."
Arthur looked to the Frenchman's face in alarm, swallowing thickly.
"He won't kill Alfred… Not when they remember each other."
The document beneath Francis soaked with blood, name illegible beneath the crimson, smearing over the portrait of a young man, expression calm and soft with a striking violet eye, and fair blond hair dipped in caramel at the tips.
"It's for the best if Alfred doesn't remember."
They would be hard pressed forgetting; the blood, the acid, the broken bodies, the sounds of gunfire and maddened laughter and screams. Alfred knew that it would echo in his mind until the day he died. The image of Francis sprawled on the table, struggling to breathe easy, to be strong in front of him—it burned itself into the back of his eyelid and refused to leave, even as he marched across the land, the acid soaked up and having eroded so much that the ground dipped inwards, concave in comparison to the metal lid and bowl shape of the shelter he had left behind.
Alfred had been able to see it, written right across his guardians' faces as plain as the print of a book; it broke their hearts to send him out, devastated them and brought them so much misery. It didn't matter to Alfred what the rogue looked like; that man was the only one left. It wouldn't be hard to find him. It had to be done. He had to be stopped, whether Alfred enjoyed killing or not, there were simply no more options left.
Madmen couldn't be reasoned with. He had learnt that a long time ago.
The crunch of half eroded bones crackled beneath his boots as he came to the entrance of the town, the once lively population disturbingly silent, sprawled before him like a gory cobblestone pathway made of bones and half melted flesh. Crinkling his nose and staring about warily, Alfred pushed on, hand on the hilt of Francis' sword, passing under the large ruby gateway, paint eaten away in patches and stripes where the acid had drizzled down the stone, the once elaborate decorations and lamp posts half bowed and curled, buildings sloped as though they had been forced to their knees by fear and death. Thick smears lined most of the buildings; blood, but some of it fresh, large patches glistening in the moonlight where Francis had likely fallen against, struggling to make his way back to the protective shelter.
The rogue had let him get away alive. Why? As a warning?
Snaps and cracks of buildings before him made Alfred's head lift, thumb pushing the sword from its sheath with one hand as the other curled around the long handle, looking about the devastated town, all of its beauty sapped in the crimson moonlight, the air eerily illuminated like a thin mist had settled.
"So… they sent someone else, eh?"
The voice was echoed with a laugh, cold and light, reverberating through the empty streets, bouncing back from walls and the dead.
"Fine. I'll destroy you as well."
Alfred reacted instantly, snarling ferociously as he drew his sword and darted forward, steps echoing and falling heavy amidst the bodies, bones brittle beneath his boots and shattering to fragments where they weren't protected by remnants of muscle, arms and legs sticking up at angles from how bodies had fallen amass, accumulating the closer he rushed towards the centre of the ruins. The man had to have seen him somehow, so he was closer than he expected, or sound carried further than he anticipated, the element of surprise dashed from hopes the moment the other had announced that he had been seen.
Skidding to a halt in the town square, there in the heart and standing motionless atop the water feature, Alfred found the rogue, long hair tied back in a ponytail, his long white coat draped over the slope of pale shoulders, and bodies piled high around him like a collection of toys.
"I'll add you to the trash pile," the man spoke, voice clear and soft, though echoing throughout the space between them, his head turning slightly, revealing a large twisted smile spread across his lips, "I've got a constant and insatiable impulse for destruction, and I've been thinking… I might have thought up a new way to make you beg for mercy and death."
Twisting his torso more, the coat slid slightly down his arms, tight and toned muscles revealing themselves, along with the sinister red coloured shirt he wore beneath, fitted to his powerful but slender frame.
"I wonder if you'll let me test it out a bit?" he breathed.
Like a flutter of wings, the man's coat shifted as he threw himself backwards, body twisting in mid-air, the long barrel of a gun being drawn by the grip from within the sleeve before the rogue took aim. Feet covered only in a thick white and red stained pair of slippers landed effortlessly on the pile below, pushing him forward as he picked up speed on the downward slope. Alfred braced himself, watching as the long fair blond fringe flew up from the left side of his face, bandages covering it, mirroring the black eye patch on Alfred's right, the monocle the other wore round and securely fastened to the bandages.
The gun fired and Alfred darted to the side and then forward, the bullet grazing his coat, puncturing a hole in the loose tails as he clutched the hilt of his sword with both hands and slashed up and the down with power, metal clinking on metal as the man laughed, using the barrel of the gun to defend, simultaneously skidding, body slanting down.
"How fun, how fun! You're not like the old man," the rogue chortled, sliding between Alfred's legs with the propulsion of his run, twisting and catching himself on his hands and feet, crouched down as Alfred turned around in fury, "They sent someone young—a challenge, eh? Not even the acid rain took me out, so what do you think you can do? Come on. Bring it."
"Cocky piece o' shit!" Alfred barked, swinging the blade powerfully again, high above his head before he sliced the through air, the sword singing whilst the rogue darted to the side in a dodge as the blade instead collided with rock and blood, echoing in a sickening clash and clatter, "They said ya got good aim! Yet ya missed your shot!"
"I never miss," the man boasted, straightening up, head cocked to the side and smirk lopsided, revelling in the fury pulsating from the American, "I hit my mark perfectly."
Gesturing with his gun, the man's violet eye narrowed in amusement, rings and specks of ruby amongst the purple glimmering in the lighting. "There's no escape. Look where you're standing."
Alfred immediately tore his gaze down to his feet, having hardly a moment to react to the gory sucking rib cage trapping his foot before the gun was back in his face, moving only split seconds before it went off again, shredding a portion of his cap and following with a ringing in his ears. The hat tipped upwards with the force of the shot, revealing more of his face to the light, and his hand lashed out to grasp at the long ponytail, trapping the man with his grip, clutching hard, and for a moment, he saw the violet eye widen as the sword was swung outwards in preparation and aim for a beheading.
"Look who's the fragile trash now," Alfred sneered, watching as the other violently jerked backwards, caught like a spider in its own web as his hair refused to allow his head move, refused to permit him to flee, his jacket falling down his arms, pooling at his elbows, "Right back at ya… There ain't no escape."
The single violet eye widened, the trigger of the gun pulling repetitively, only clicks echoing as the empty chambers failed to fire anything, despite the muzzle being pressed to Alfred's chest, though there was a halt in the twitches of fingers. The sword sung in the air, accompanied by the drum line of cracking bones beneath scrambling feet and morbid ticks of the gun's hammer banging out empty shots, the blade aiming for the long and smooth neck wrapped in bandages. The American intended to end this.
The paler man moved suddenly, sharply, and like a dead weight, dropped downwards until his hair was taught, the sword slicing, but, instead of meeting skin, it severed strands of fair blond locks, letting them flutter inches shorter against his face, violet eye wide in shock, disbelief at the close call of a near beheading, but it was then that Alfred froze, frown deepening.
The rogue stiffened, remaining crouched against the ground where he had been allowed to fall once his hair had been cut, clutching desperately to the gun that still aimed for its mark, light coloured strands fluttering from above him as the hair tie came loose from the cut off ponytail.
"No… You're… No," Alfred breathed, dropping the hair, inspecting the other's face up close.
The rogue's left eye was covered, a mirror of his own right eye, but an identical scar covered his nose and along his cheek. With his hair shorter, curling in waves, it gave a new shape to his face, and the sinister smirk had melted away to leave his lips parted in surprise, expression fearful.
"How do you know my name?" the man breathed, remaining crouched, one hand on the chest of a corpse, keeping him balanced, holding his weapon at arm's length despite its uselessness, no longer threatening without ammunition. The man—Mattie, Matthew—stared for a moment, studying before the gun lifted, easing the cap back more with the barrel so that he could take a good look at the American's face.
The two were frozen, sword held to one side, slowly lowering as Alfred backed down, hair fluttering away as it was released, and Matthew drunk in the sight before him. The one he'd grown up with, the one he'd been so close to—been torn away from—now standing before him in uniform with elimination orders and a sword, while he remained kneeling, weaponless.
"Oh God… You're him… You're alive…"
The voice was soft, and it was only a split second before the Canadian turned, taking off running, scrambling across corpses, hands and white coat staining red as he moved, desperate, Alfred gawking in shock before he took after his former childhood friend, yanking his foot forcefully from the body it had sunk in after a few attempts, stumbling and urging himself forward.
"Mattie! Mattie, what are ya doin'? Mattie, don't tell me that this is what you're doin'! Mattie, this ain't who ya are!" Alfred shouted, expression pained, the toy car in his pocket feeling like a lead weight, a heavy reminder of times long passed, "Mattie, stop running! Come back!"
"No! Fuck off! Fuck off!" Matthew hollered back, jumping and sliding down bodies and blood before hitting the ground and breaking out into a sprint, Alfred not far behind, clutching to Francis' sword tightly, "No! Please! I can't fight you! Fuck off, fuck off!"
"Stop running, Matthew!"
"No! No! You were sent to kill me!"
"Matthew! Stop, please!"
It felt so different from the time when they were children, smiling and laughing as they chased each other about the gardens in games of tag, the snaps of twigs and crackle of fallen leaves the only sounds beneath their feet. Now, sickening crunches followed them in their chase, and Alfred hastily sheathed his sword before powering on, drawing near the sprinting man, catching the end of his coat and yanking, digging his heels into the ground. It worked enough to make the fairer haired blond stumble, head turning in shock before arms snapped back and straightened, the coat slipping from between his fingers as he kept running, violet eye glistening wetly. The bodies of fallen soldiers provide ample weapons for the two; swords, knives, grenades with pins still loaded in them, but all remained untouched as Alfred made more grabs for the lithe man, so close—so close.
"Stop chasing me!"
The words echoed back and Matthew skidded, catching a pole and using it to jerk his body in a sharp right angle to take off down a new street through the Sleepless Town, coat fluttering behind him and Alfred nearly tripping as he followed the sudden turn, gasping and panting for air, legs powering him on. Matthew had always been stronger with his legs, and Alfred with his arms.
"I wouldn't be able to hurt ya! I could never!" Alfred shouted, "Please, just Mattie, talk to me! Just—careful!"
Alfred's hand shot out in surprise, catching Matthew's wrist and clasping firmly, pulling him back until they collided, Matthew's back slamming against Alfred's chest, skidding and turning as a fallen soldier's sword narrowly missed impaling the rogue's torso, leaving them gasping for air, standing in shock, pressed against one another. For long, agonising moments, there was silence between them, Matthew's eye focused on the sharp point of the sword, one of his slippers upturned where he had stumbled and it had fallen off, by a hair's breadth escaping a gruesome end, his jaw opening and closing in disbelief, even as Alfred released him and moved around to his front, sweat trickling down his face.
"I won't kill ya… I didn't know who it was I was meant to kill… I wouldn't—I couldn't. I've missed ya… It's over, Mattie… There ain't no more fightin'… You're the last one… Just stop… Please… Let's end this," Alfred begged softly, hands gripping pale shoulders, trying to meet the unfocused gaze of the Canadian, "Mattie, please… I wouldn't let ya be taken from me again, not after—"
Memories burned both their eyes, the ache in the other half of their face testament to the missing one, to the accident, to seeing insignias they didn't recognised as they were torn apart, watching as they slumped, both believing the other dead.
"They're… They're all dead?" Matthew breathed, hands trembling, looking up into the bright blue he was once so familiar with, "This… For so long is…"
Shaking his head, he trailed off.
"This is all I knew… They told me you'd died, that I had to do this to get back at those who took you from me. This whole time, I…" The Canadian's expression grew pained, disbelieving. It was too sudden, too unbelievable, yet it was happening, and Alfred was here, alive, pleading for him. "I was taught I had to kill, so… now that that's over… and you're here… You mean to tell me that I was doing that all for nothing? So… for what reason am I even alive?"
"I'll tell ya," Alfred whispered, tears glimmering amongst the bright blue, drinking in the changes that lost years had done to the one he had once looked to so fondly, "Live for me. Live for me just like how I live for ya."
Dropping his hand to his pocket, Alfred pulled out the little toy car, offering a wobbly smile, chuckling as Matthew made a soft choked sound, daring to reach out and touch it, as though testing to see if it was real.
"We can fix this all…Ya don't gotta be alone no more… Live for me." Pressing his face forward into Matthew's neck, the military hat tipped back, falling from his head as he brought Matthew in for a hug, holding him tightly. After a brief hesitation, the hold was returned, mirroring each other again after too many years.
It was impossible to tell how long they remained that way, clinging desperately to old memories being resurrected in their minds, and mourning over the time that they had lost, but relieved in finding each other again, alive, having long since believed that it had been the other side that had killed them in cold blood too many years ago.
The sun was staining the battlefield marigold and ruby by the time the sharp rapping on the latch of the shelter drew Arthur's attention, exhaustion written on his face as he jerked his head for Ludwig to go open it, gently stroking Francis' hand as the Frenchman rested on a makeshift bed in the private study, eyes drained but open. Both adults were stunned, beyond bewildered when they watched two men walk in, Arthur half rising to his feet as realisation dawned on him at the face of the rogue, only to spot the tear stains on both faces afterwards, the fear in Matthew's expression, but then he broke a weak smile, his hand clutched tightly in Alfred's, trembling.
"I'm sorry… I'm home now."
Tears rolled down Francis' face and he smiled in relief, clutching tighter to Arthur's hand as the Englishman slumped back down in disbelief, acid green eyes filled with emotions to the brim as Alfred smiled widely through his tears. As dense as he was, Alfred had known that there was no deception in Matthew's face when he had whispered that he was willing to surrender, to return quietly, that he hadn't recognised Francis after so many years and with the darkness. Guilt etched the Canadian's face as he hesitantly moved towards the Frenchman, studying the bandages around his stomach, reaching out to grasp onto his hand, letting out a shaky breath when Arthur placed a hand on his head and Alfred joined in with an embrace from behind, his hair hiding the tears that rolled down his cheek from his closed eye at finding his family alive.