This was a spur-of-the-moment story that I wrote, typed, and posted all in one day. It was completely unplanned, but it popped into my head and it just had to be written…
I have no idea what month it was when Ryo and Dee got together, so ya gotta forgive me for that… I also don't know how far Dee and Ryo's apartment is from where the explosions would have been, or how far away they would have to be for them to not know about it until they saw it on the news. So basically, I know nothing. Fake didn't give me those details…
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Those three words make this story legal, right? Cool.
Ryo MacLean didn't normally listen to country music. Actually…he didn't normally listen to music. It wasn't that he didn't enjoy it—he supposed he liked it well enough. He simply didn't have the time.
Today, he made time.
It started out as a normal day. Ryo and Dee had the day off, so the former let the latter sleep in. The raven-haired man didn't even stir when the loud, obnoxious beep of the alarm clock disturbed the peaceful silence of the room, so Ryo reached over him and quickly turned it off. Although the insufferable noise had woken him up quite thoroughly from the moment his dark chocolate eyes snapped open, the blond stretched out on the bed again and snuggled back against his lover's side, running a finger along the smooth olive skin of Dee's arm as he listened quietly to his deep, even breathing. His thoughts tumbled about with a restlessness that he couldn't explain, and this was the only way he knew to calm himself.
He remained in that position until he heard movement from his son's room.
On the rare occasion that the partners didn't have to get up at the crack of dawn to head to the precinct, Dee usually slept through breakfast, and today was no different. That man could sleep through anything, Ryo was certain of it. He could sleep through Bikky's screeches, the scream of sirens and taxi horns, drunken neighbors, an alarm clock that could break the sound barrier, and everything else that might possibly disturb him from what he felt was well-earned beauty sleep.
So on mornings when they had no reason to venture out of their apartment, the routine was always the same.
"Morning, Bikky," Ryo greeted his adopted son, who was just surfacing from the black hole of total chaos that was his bedroom.
The vanilla-haired African American muttered something that sounded like "Me awone, go die," and Ryo chuckled in response, shoving his unexplainable, agitated feelings aside as he went over to the counter and started to get out the ingredients for pancakes.
Bikky revived over breakfast, every bit of which he drowned completely in syrup so that he didn't actually have to taste the food buried beneath it. Then, almost before the last bite had disappeared, the boy bolted out of his chair and grabbed his skates.
"Home by seven, and stay out of the alleyways, Bikky!" Ryo called after him.
"I mean it, Biks!"
"I heard you the first time!" The yell was tinged with the strange humor that only Bikky could convey without insulting people, and the slam of the door effectively ended the conversation there.
Shaking his head and laughing softly, Ryo filled the sink and dropped the breakfast dishes in after setting aside a well-filled plate for Dee.
The apartment was quiet, almost eerily so. Normally, Ryo didn't mind, but for some reason, he didn't like the silence today. Reaching out with one soapy hand, he flipped the switch on the radio that sat on the windowsill, and the voice of an announcer at a station that he was almost certain he'd never set began to speak just as the last chords of some eighties song died.
"Good morning, New York City," the announcer said. "This is Jackson McKinley, your friendly neighborhood radio host at eight o'clock on this beautiful morning. As you all are aware, today is the fifth anniversary of nine-eleven, so we'd like to start our program with Alan Jackson's 'Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)?' Here it is. Enjoy, guys."
Ryo's heart sank. How could he have forgotten what today was?
Where were you when the world stopped turning that September day?
Were you in the yard with your wife and children
or working on some stage in L.A.?
Did you stand there in shock at the sight of that black smoke
Rising against that blue sky?
Did you shout out in anger, in fear for your neighbor
Or did you just sit down and cry?
The blond's hands slowed in their work as the soft notes of the song washed over him, bringing with them memories that no one in New York City or anywhere else in America would ever forget.
September 11, 2001
"I can't believe it's been a whole year," Ryo commented that morning. It was another of their rare free days, and for once, Dee was up at the same time his lover was—which meant that the sun hadn't even completely risen yet.
The two had just finished enjoying a liesurely breakfast, after which Ryo had begun to wash the dishes while Dee sat lazily at the table, read the newspaper and crunched on his toast.
"I know," Dee agreed, coming up behind Ryo and wrapping his arms tightly around the blond as he dropped his dirty plate into the soapy water. He dropped a kiss onto the other man's cheek. "Are you happy?"
And for once in his life, Ryo didn't have to think about the answer.
A slight tightening of the arms around his waist was the only reply Ryo received, and then Dee was pulling back and returning to the table.
"So what do we want to do today?" Ryo asked conversationally as he started to dry the dishes.
"Well, I know you, and I'm sure you have a bunch of stuff you want to get done, so I figured I'd go to the orphanage and give Mother a hand down there. She said something about getting an early start today—and when she says 'early' she means early. So since I'm up, I'm gonna head on over there and you can meet us when you're finished doing…whatever it is you need to do. Mother's even more obsessed with our anniversary than I am, and she won't let us out of coming there for lunch, so don't even try to avoid it."
Ryo chuckled, though his heart warmed at the thought of the kindly old nun. He supposed he shouldn't be surprised at her open mind, if she managed to raise Dee without a single heart attack, but she never ceased to amaze him nonetheless. "Sounds like a plan. When are you gonna head down there?"
"Now, actually, if you don't mind."
"Go ahead. I'm gonna get this place cleaned up and everything. I'll meet you there in a couple of hours, okay?"
Ryo had been working all morning. The apartment had fallen into considerable disarray in the week since Ryo had found the time to clean it up, and he found himself itching with the need to organize and clear away the remanants of Dee and Bikky's uncleanly habits. And so he had, and now the apartment sparkled and was filled with that lemon-fresh scent that comes with dish soap and Pine Sol.
Glancing over at the clock, he saw that he had a great deal of time before he needed to leave, and he had just enough time to catch the morning news.
About a minute and a half after he'd turned it on, he wished he hadn't.
His heart stopped.
He reached for the phone.
Did you weep for the children who lost their dear loved ones
And pray for the ones who don't know?
Did you rejoice for the people who walked from the rubble
And sob for the ones left below?
Did you burst out with pride for the red, white and blue
And the heroes who died just doin' what they do?
Did you look up to heaven for some kind of answer
And look at yourself and what really matters?
Ryo supposed his first fear, deep down, was that Dee would find out what had happened and immediately leave the orphanage and go straight to the scene, without hesitating or thinking about calling anyone.
That was just who Dee was.
So the blond's breath let out in the longest, deepest sigh of relief he could ever remember breathing when an agitated voice answered Dee's cell phone.
"Where are you?" the two asked at the exact same time.
"I'm still at home, where are you?"
"The orphanage. Have you seen the news?"
"Why do you think I'm calling? I was terrified! I was sure you'd head down there the minute you got the news."
"I thought you would, too."
Ryo's voice was strained. "I wanted to, Dee. But I couldn't, not without knowing you were okay."
Dee sounded just as bad, if not worse, than his lover. "I thought about it, too, but then I realized you'd probably kill me. I've been trying to get ahold of you forever! Where have you been?"
"Cleaning. The phone was dead—I forgot to put it back on the charger—so I'm using my cell. I just turned it on."
"Well, you scared the crap out of me."
Ryo smiled sheepishly. "Sorry. How's Mother?"
"She's trying to explain it to the kids."
"That can't be easy. Tell her I'll be there soon, all right?"
"I will. And don't you dare get any ideas about going down there. If we go, we go together."
"Right. And get ahold of JJ and Drake. Stop them from going—you know they will."
Where were you when the world stopped turning
On that September day?
Teaching a class full of innocent children
Or driving down some cold interstate?
Did you feel guilty cause you're a survivor?
In a crowded room did you feel alone?
Did you call up your mother to tell her you loved her;
Did you dust off that Bible at home?
As he walked towards the orphanage, he saw columns of smoke rising in the distance. A weight dropped into his stomach, and he felt as though he had been kicked in the solar plexus by a seventh-degree black belt. He found himself looking around at the people rushing frantically about, some still appearing to be in shock over what had taken place.
How did I miss all of this?
He supposed that was the price one paid when one didn't venture outside or turn on the television.
The sun was still shining somewhere, Ryo was sure of it.
But he couldn't imagine the smoke ever clearing enough for him to see it again.
Did you open your eyes and hope it never happened,
Close your eyes and not go to sleep?
Did you notice the sunset for the first time in ages,
Speak to some stranger on the street?
Did you lay down at night and think of tomorrow,
And go out and buy you a gun?
Did you turn off that violent old movie you're watching
And turn on I Love Lucy reruns?
"Dee?" the blond called upon entering the orphanage, his face flushed and his eyes full or worry. The old church was deadly silent—quieter than it had ever been, surely, having been filled with young, rambunctious children from the moment it was converted into an orphanage.
"Hey," Dee greeted his lover, giving Ryo a sad smile and pulling him into his arms. Bikky stood in the background and watched, choosing to remain silent for once.
That entire day, the boy didn't make a single joke.
Ryo closed his eyes and melted against the black-haired officer as he was pulled into a tight embrace, shaking slightly. He had been terrified that Dee would forget the promise they'd made and run out of the place in a blind need to simply do something. Anything.
"Did you get hold of JJ?" the blond asked quietly.
"Yeah, he and Drake promised to stay home. I don't think I've ever heard JJ sound so terrified in my entire life…"
Ryo nodded as he spoke, his voice muffled by Dee's shoulder. "I know the feeling."
That day, Sister Maria held a service in the orphanage's chapel, saying she needed the comfort it would bring. Dee and Ryo were both there, and for once, the children remained completely silent as the gentle, elderly nun clutched her rosary beads, her knuckles white from the strain, and sent up prayer after prayer for the safety of those who had been trapped when the Towers collapsed. Bikky sat between Ryo and Dee, clutching his adoptive father's arm and resting against him, letting the tears flow.
The former street boy thought he had seen the last of tears. He had always believed he was too strong to cry, that he'd seen too much to let emotion get the better of him.
Apparently he hadn't.
"Why did it happen?" one of the children asked. "Why did God let it happen, Dee?"
"I don't know, honey…" Dee replied, and for once, his voice was tight and completely devoid of humor. "I just don't know."
Did you go to a church and hold hands with some stranger
or stand in line and give your own blood?
Did you just stay home and cling tight to your family,
Thank God you had somebody to love?
I'm just a singer of simple songs
I'm not a real political man;
I watch CNN but I'm not sure I can tell you
The difference in Iraq and Iran.
But I know Jesus, and I talk to God,
And I remember this from when I was young:
Faith, hope, and love are some good things He gave us,
And the greatest is love.
Where were you when the world stopped turning
On that September day?
Two of the 27th precinct's own officers were killed that day. Ryo and Dee had known both of them to be decent, strong, friendly men with good hearts and open minds. They mourned their deaths, as did the rest of the police force.
But their losses were not too great to bear.
Fire fighters had died.
Police officers had died.
Innocent people had died.
And in some ways, it felt like the strength of America had died along with them.
But the heroes who had been taken…the men who had devoted their last breaths to bringing as many to safety as they possibly could…they had died fighting.
And no one would ever forget that.
America would remember.