I'm soooooo sorry if this has been done before and I'm fairly certain it has, but I've looked and couldn't find anything, so here's hoping! And it is ABSOLUTELY NOT intended to offend ANYONE! I deeply apologize if it does. As an American myself, I understand how utterly and totally traumatic this day was for all of us and I've tried to convey that here.
As it is, on with the story!
11th September, 2001
It was just like that ungrateful git to interrupt tea-time. England groaned and debated whether or not to get up and actually answer the door. It was oddly warm and sunny today and he thought it'd just be nice to enjoy and hour or so sipping tea and reading before going back to paperwork. It was so rare that the sun was out and the way it streamed in through the large picture windows of his parlor was almost too beautiful to leave.
The incessant pounding that always signaled America's arrival resounded through the large halls of England's mostly empty house. England wondered what the tosser could possibly need. They hadn't really spoken to each other in months, except at meetings and even then, their banter had diminished. If he needed something, why the hell couldn't he just go to Japan about it? They were very close nowadays, weren't they?
"ARTHUR!" It was muffled and somehow strained, but England could make out the human name that had been bestowed upon him so long ago and was so rarely used. The green-eyed nation frowned. That insolent twat, using that name. They had not called each other by their human names in so long, not since that fateful rainy night so long ago.
It was the use of his name, though, that prompted Arthur to rise. America deserved a good chewing out, at the very least, for not only interrupting tea time, but for using that name. He smirked, imagining the look on America's face when he yelled at him. England had long ceased trying to break the former colony of his terrible habit of barging into things that he ought not to, but that didn't mean he couldn't take pleasure in chastising him for it.
He screwed his face up into an angry expression and flung open the door, ready to rip the younger country a new one. But his expression fell instantly at the sight that stood before him.
Glasses were half falling off his face, as though trying to escape the streams of tears flowing down flushed cheeks. If only that were the worst of it. America's blond hair was smattered with crimson ooze and covered in ash and dust. His bomber jacket was tattered and covered in blood and dust as well. Arthur felt tears prickling in his eyes as he continued his examination. America's left hand was clasped tightly against his right shoulder, holding a blood-stained compress to it. Arthur noted that his arm was not hanging right from the socket, probably having been pulled out. Deep wounds marred his chest and the blood dripping from them harmonized with the sounds of the breezy peaceful day as it hit the cobblestone pathway to Arthur's door.
"What the bloody hell happened?!" England demanded, trying to cover up his concern with anger. "What foolish thing have you gotten yourself into now?!"
"I- I... they- and the-"
"Spit it out! For God's sake, Alfred! You what?!"
Alfred bowed his head, weary obviously from the pain. Tears joined the blood on the walkway. "I-" he could hardly bring himself to say it. Saying it would make it more real than the pain was doing. "Att-attacked," he stammered out before he collapsed.
England blinked for a moment. "You attacked who?" He asked, not understanding. He was frozen. He'd never seen America like this, not even when the two halves of him were being pulled at and torn by his Civil War (nothing about it had ever been civil).
"Help," was all Alfred murmured in response. He felt like he was going to die. He had no idea how he was going to explain this to England. He couldn't explain it to himself. These were the worst wounds he'd had in a long time, physically anyway. Not counting that time he was just sad a lot. The pain was incredible. He didn't know what to do anymore so he just cried. He lie there on England's doorstep and cried like a small child.
"Oh, Alfred..." England sighed in exasperation. The bitter part of him called this karma, this was what America deserved for his cavalier, brash attitude. He knelt down and pried America's hand from his shoulder, delicately removing the cloth that had covered it. "Oh, Alfred..." this time shock. Arthur nearly vomited when he saw that Alfred's arm was not pulled out of the socket, but half severed from his body. "Why the bloody hell didn't you go to the hospital?"
America's breath hitched and he coughed slightly. "Can-t. B-boss says... hide."
England raised an eyebrow. He knew Alfred hated to run and hide, hated to be a coward. Whatever had happened must have been bloody awful for the younger nation to have obeyed an order to hide. "Alfred," Arthur began quietly, replacing the compress on the wounded shoulder, "what happened?"
"Yes, but who did you attack?" Arthur asked again, trying his best to pull America to stand beside him.
"Someone attacked you?" The dusty haired man just couldn't imagine how that was even possible. Who in their right mind would attack the world's leading super power? He paused, then he knew.
Alfred cried harder, but nodded weakly.
All at once, England's blood boiled over. The protectiveness he felt over his former colony had never quite dissipated. He could get the details later though; he had bigger things to worry about right now, like how to get that arm patched up. He'd never wanted this kind of thing to happen to Alfred, for his body to become marred with scars and full of old aches and pains. Rationally, he knew it was unavoidable, but Arthur was hardly ever rational when it came to America.
Arthur sighed. Anger would not help now. He'd pulled Alfred into a standing position and leaned him up against the door jam. Now the problem was how to move him. Arthur supposed he could loop Alfred's left arm around his own shoulders, but then what to do about the right arm? He hollered for one of his staff to come with a clean compress.
"Can you walk, Alfred?"
The response was a non-committal grunt, but a determined gaze toward the inside of the house. Good God, if his eyes got any bluer than that, Arthur worried he might drown in them.
A slight maid came running out to them. Arthur watched as the shock, horror and then nausea washed over her face. He worried if she'd even be able to reach Alfred's shoulder. "I just need you to hold his..." he hesitated, it was almost too gruesome to say, "his arm- to his... shoulder."
She nodded and did so.
"Tightly," Arthur barked.
Alfred hissed at the sudden increase in pressure.
The three of them limped awkwardly inside. Alfred kept stumbling and Arthur was hardly strong enough to support all of the younger nation's weight. Arthur paused first, at the bottom of the stairs, Alfred slumping over on his shoulder and the maid trying not to fall on both of them.
"Master Kirkland?" she prompted.
"We'll have to take him upstairs," Arthur replied, more to himself than to her. He needed to be properly cleaned and the bathrooms on the first floor lacked... well, baths.
Alfred was fading in and out of consciousness. "Guh... 'm... fine," he muttered out in between labored breaths.
Arthur would have slapped him if the situation had been substantially less serious. "Oh shut up, you stupid wanker. You are not." He sighed, knowing he should stop snapping, but it was his nature to mask his concern with anger. "Do you think you can make it up the stairs?" he asked somewhat more gently. Alfred nodded, but barely.
It took them nearly an hour. Arthur was beginning to worry about Alfred's blood loss and he had already decided to raise the maid's salary. Her arm was almost as soaked in Alfred's blood as the young nation's own arm, yet she did not cringe and continued to apply more pressure to the wound as best she could.
They sat Alfred in the claw-foot, porcelain bathtub, older surely than indoor plumbing, but still pristine white as if it were new. Stained red now.
"I'll have to cut the jacket off, Alfred," Arthur informed him sympathetically.
Alfred's blank stare cleared for just a moment and he shook his head. Not his favorite jacket, his eyes pleaded, please just not this jacket.
"Would you rather lose your arm?"
At this, he hung his blood smattered head in consent.
Arthur cut the jacket with as much care as if he were performing surgery. Perhaps it could be stitched back together if he didn't totally botch the job. It was torn, probably already beyond repair. He'd buy Alfred a new one.
The maid returned with a silver tray with nylon thread and about eight or nine curved needles, along with antiseptic, scissors, cotton swabs, clean bandages, and painkillers and water. She set the tray on a ledge next to the tub. She was followed by another maid with a pitcher and basin of clean water. "Master Kirkland, please let us know if you require anything else," the first said, with that they left Arthur to his work.
He nodded and turned back to Alfred. "You stupid wanker," he repeated as he continued to cut at the younger man's prized bomber jacket. As carefully as possible, he removed it and set on Alfred's tattered t-shirt, which was considerably less work.
It was now that the full extent of the damage became sickeningly clear. Underneath Alfred's nearly-detached right arm, there was another very large gash, bleeding profusely, almost more than the arm; it would have to be stitched up as well. There was yet another gaping hole just under his ribcage, still oozing blood and staining the waist of Alfred's dark blue jeans.
"Bloody hell, Alfred," Arthur breathed, almost in horrified awe, then he frowned, "You know, these kinds of things wouldn't happen to you if you could just mind your own fucking business!" He looked up into hazy blue eyes, only to see tears streaming down Alfred's face, washing away some of the blood as they passed. Arthur had to look away.
He handed Alfred four of the painkillers. "Open your mouth," when the younger nation complied, Arthur placed the pills on his tongue and held the glass of water to his lips, "swallow."
He began the tedious work of cleaning the wounds, wincing each time Alfred hissed at the sting of the iodine. The wounds on his torso, though deep, were not as bad as they had looked before, but his arm still hung limply by his side, like the arm of a rag-doll. The water in the basin was fast turning a dirty rust color.
Once the wounds had been cleaned, Arthur breathed a sigh of relief that the bone in Alfred's arm had not been severed, simply removed from its socket. This would make his job much easier. Arthur didn't have the tools to put bones back together, though he'd done it before and in far worse conditions than this. It seemed that none of his major arteries had been severed either. "You are one lucky bugger, you know that?" It sounded bloody stupid to say just then.
As he cut a piece of nylon for the first stitch, he wondered if Alfred would ever regain full use of his right arm. He knew from experience that the nations healed better than humans did, but it often took longer and was far more painful. It could be years before Alfred's arm was functional again. He couldn't worry about that now. It would never be functional at all if Arthur didn't reattach it and soon.
"This is going to hurt," he warned as he threaded the needle.
Alfred's eyes scanned his old friend's face for a moment, blank, but Arthur knew what he meant by it.
"Right, sorry. Just a friendly warning," he amended as he punctured the muscle tissue of the arm. The muscles and tendons had to come first, his mind reminded, calling up the steps of reattaching limbs. He looked up from his work, to Alfred, who had tensed and whose face was now fixed in a silent scream. "I warn-!" he started to admonish the younger man, but stopped, "it'll be okay," he reassured Alfred gently.
Arthur worked with such a singular focus that it almost became a meditation. The muscle tissues had come together as nicely as could be expected with the limited technology Arthur had at his disposal. The tendons next and Arthur could only hope to God the nerves would reattach by themselves. Alfred was still young enough that his prognosis was good.
"Don't talk," Arthur didn't look up from his work. He didn't want to see the pain in Alfred's eyes.
"T-talk t-to m-m-m-me th-then."
The older nation realized he probably should have been talking, it would be dangerous to let Alfred sleep. He could die of the shock. Except he was terribly bad at conversation.
"What happened?" He asked absently, the question had been nagging at him incessantly. "No, don't talk. I'll figure it out. Well let's see..." as he spoke, he continued his work, having finally moved on to the skin. It would have been better to have grafted skin from another part of the body, but that was out of the question now. "The wounds are concentrated on your right side, so that must mean the east coast." His eyes widened as he came to a sudden realization. Alfred's right arm. "Not Washington..., Alfred...?"
"The Pentagon?" Arthur asked in horror as reached the middle of the wound. "Damn it. Who would do that?" It was rhetorical question, one he already knew the answer to. His eyes traveled to the gash just below the almost-reattached arm, which was now clearly two, parallel gashes, not one large one. "The World Trade Center?" Somebody was clearly intending on hitting America where it counted. He reached out his hand to touch the other wound, under Alfred's ribcage, but withdrew. This one seemed random.
"P-p-p-" Alfred must have seen the confusion in his eyes.
"Hush," Arthur silenced him. "You can tell me later." He carefully finished sewing up the rest of the shoulder wound and moved on to the twin fissures.
Alfred nodded slightly and let his eyes slide shut. The pain was almost unbearable. Somewhere in a more unreasonable part of his brain, he was annoyed that the pain was shutting out the normally wonderful feeling of Arthur's fingers on his skin. This same part of his mind wondered just how long it had been since they were this close and found it a shame that Alfred could not recall a time in the near past.
"Alfred," Arthur's voice pierced his thoughts, "You've got to stay awake now."
Alfred nodded his consent and clenched his teeth as Arthur pulled the final stitch on the first of the parallel lacerations. He didn't think he'd dozed off, but now supposed that he had to have, for Arthur to already be moving on to the lower of the two gashes.
"Why did you come here?" Arthur asked before he could stop himself. "Don't answer that," he added immediately. Sure, they were allies on occasion, but there was bitterness between them even now. They were separated by a gap far wider than the Atlantic Ocean now and the building of a bridge was slow-going. Arthur cleared his mind of these thoughts and focused again on the methodical closing of the wound. "Do you know who did this?" The reply was a shake of Alfred's blood splattered head.
The painkillers were starting to kick in now and Alfred could feel some of his voice coming back, though his thoughts were fast scattering away from him. Why had he come running to Arthur? Somehow, it seemed like running home to "mummy" after fighting such a bloody war for independence. But the pain, oh dear God, the pain. All he'd been able to think of was the way the older nation used to clean up his scraped, knobby knees and bloodied elbows those many, many years ago and how he'd place a little kiss on each little injury. That always made everything feel better.
Alfred wanted that right now. He wanted to feel better. "A-am I go-going to be o-okay?" he asked.
Without hesitation, Arthur answered him, "Yes." Alfred had to be okay. If Alfred couldn't be okay, then how would anyone be okay? Though it infuriated Arthur at times, Alfred, in a way, held the rest of the world in his hand.
That answer seemed to be all the younger nation needed. He leaned his head back and watch the unmoving ceiling.
"We'll figure this out" Arthur stated firmly as he made yet another stitch. He realized he should have been keeping count of them, but he had lost track somewhere along the way.
America wasn't sure he wanted to figure it out. Maybe he just wanted to stay in this bathtub forever. Now that the pain was clearing, he could feel other things, the things his people were feeling. Fear. Absolute terror. Children clinging to parents, people hiding in their basements. Uncertainty. If there was one thing Alfred hated, it was uncertainty. He should be with them now, suffering alongside them, wailing for the lost children, digging through the rubble in Manhattan, in Arlington, shedding his tears on that fire in the Pennsylvanian field. What was he doing here?
"Alfred, blood hell, sit down, will you?"
He hadn't even realized he'd stood. "Have... t-to... go," his voice wavered, but the determination was there.
"See here now, you're in no shape to help anyone now," Arthur chided, but understanding the impulse. "Let me get you cleaned up and then we'll help them out together, alright?" he said gently.
Slowly, Alfred sat back down, gritting his teeth and hissing as the pain bloomed anew. For the first time in a long time, he didn't hate the hot trails of tears on his cheeks. Heroes cried when it was appropriate. Right now was an appropriate time. He hissed again as Arthur pierced his skin with the needle.
"Damn it," Arthur swore almost inaudibly. As he watched his former colony, he felt the tears threatening to fall from behind his eyes as well. He stopped and blinked a few times, letting a few of them fall and hoping that would be enough to fulfill the need. He felt Alfred's large palm and long fingers in his hair. A small, ironic smiled played on his lips and he ducked his head away, resuming his work.
With the double wounds sewn up now, he moved to the one below Alfred's ribcage. It seemed almost burnt. He cleaned it a little more before making the first stitch, trying to ignore the younger nation's groan of pain.
"Pe-pennsylv-vania. A f-f-field," he muttered, answering Arthur's unspoken question.
"What? Why?" That made no strategical sense.
Alfred shook his head. "D-dunno."
Arthur nodded and continued his work.
The two men sat in silence until he was done; Arthur completely focused on the zen-like task at hand, while Alfred let tears stream wildly, noiselessly down his face.
"You're still a mess," Arthur murmured, it was more of a general statement than a physical assessment. "Th- this would have n-" never happened if you hadn't left me. He couldn't say it. He knew that Alfred had already completed the sentence in his mind. He looked up and saw Alfred half smiling, but it was a sick, sad kind of smile, a bitter smile. Nothing like his usual million-watt grin.
Arthur sighed. Dwelling on such memories now would not do either of them any good. "Stop distracting me, now," he chided quietly. Stitching was almost second nature now. It had become almost a habit through the wars, constantly sewing up wounds. Cut, thread, sew, tie, cut, thread, sew, tie, cut. This wound wasn't as bloody as the other two had been, which only indicated that less people had died.
Arthur knew Alfred had begged his new boss to listen to the possibility of an attack, to look into it earlier, to take it seriously, even had some senator or something on his side, but the man hadn't listened. "It's going to be alright," but he couldn't tell if Alfred had heard him or if he was even saying it to the blue-eyed man or not. "We've made it through worse," he assured.
"We?" Alfred questioned, the barest of smiles tugging at the corner of his mouth.
Arthur didn't respond, but the memories flowed between them very easily. The trenches, the mud, the dead bodies, the disease, the bombs, the shelters. Arthur with that hole in his chest from the fire bombing, Alfred's final act of desperation on the Pacific front. This was slightly different though. War was one thing. Terror quite another. Slipping back into old habits was easy and before Arthur even knew it, he had closed the wound, might've kept going if Alfred hadn't stopped him.
There was blood everywhere still. Under other circumstances, Arthur might have mourned his pristine white tub, bemoaned that he might never get it clean again. Right now, he didn't care.
"We have to get you cleaned up."
"Again with this we stuff," Alfred slurred back, the strong painkillers now gone to his head.
"You can hardly stand," Arthur retorted. Carefully, he helped Alfred to his feet and propped him up against the wall, wondering how on earth he was going to support the arm that still hung limply at Alfred's side.
"Whatcha doooin'?" Alfred demanded indignantly -er- that is, groggily as Arthur made to unbutton the younger nation's jeans. The throbbing pains had settled into dull aches now, but the medicine had robbed him of most of his lucidity. Arthur could tell that he'd been trying to make some kind of suggestive remark, but it failed somehow with the puffy eyes and tear-stained cheeks and the hair still coated in blood and dust.
"Well I can't very well clean you up with these things on, now can I? Git." Nothing more was said on the matter as Arthur divested the injured nation of his jeans, mildly surprised to see a rather subdued pair of plaid, blue boxers underneath. He didn't dwell on them. Now was not the time. He sat the younger nation down in the tub again and began running the water. He kept it only slightly warmer than tepid. Too hot or too cold and it could worsen the shock.
"'S c-cold," Alfred stuttered, trying to wrap his arms around himself, only to bite back a yelp of pain and return the right one to its still-questionable place at his side.
"Sorry," Arthur turned the tap reading "Hot" a little farther. "Better?"
A nod was his response.
With the greatest of care, Arthur cleaned the rest of the blood off of Alfred's body, which revealed more minor cuts and scrapes and bruises. His mind, unbidden, reminded him of Alfred's childhood, when Arthur used to have to scrub the day's filth from the young colony's body. His skin had been clean and smooth then. Now it was marred with scars that dwarfed the gashes Arthur had just finished stitching, but not half so many as Arthur himself had.
He removed Alfred's glasses and placed them on the tiled floor beside him. Gently, he washed the younger man's face, clearing it of the gray dust and the blood. Without using shampoo, he ran his fingers through golden blond hair, pouring clean water gingerly over it afterward. Satisfied, he drained the tub and dried Alfred off.
Standing up and placing a hand on Alfred's wet head, Arthur told him that he would be right back and left the room for just a moment, returning with a clean pair of boxers and a somewhat oversized t-shirt. He caught Alfred's confused glance and answered, "You left these last time you visited." Arthur stood Alfred up again slipped off the boxers he'd neglected to remove before. He didn't blush and didn't avert his gaze, he merely frowned in concentration as he helped Alfred into the clean ones, which were gaudily patterned in stars and stripes.
Despite being slightly taller than Arthur now, Alfred felt so small and helpless in a way he hadn't in a long time. He continued to assure himself that heroes asked for help when they needed it, but couldn't quite shake the feeling that this was somehow a step back for him. Anger was quickly replacing the fear he'd felt earlier. He was going to find the bastard responsible for this and get him, get him good. Make him suffer.
For now, he let Arthur steer him over to an antique chair that looked like it was no longer meant for sitting in. He stayed silent as the older nation wrapped his torso in two bands of clean white gauze, one under his arm, the other below his ribs.
Wrapping bandages, Arthur decided, was not nearly as meditative as stitching wounds, but he forced himself to focus intently on being as soft and firm as he could possibly be with Alfred's previously unhinged shoulder. When he was finished he tried to get the t-shirt on, but it was simply not going to happen. "Bollocks," Arthur swore and disappeared once again, this time returning with a clean white, collared shirt and a well-used sling.
Arthur delicately slipped Alfred's right arm into the shirt, followed by the rest of him and haphazardly buttoned it up, but not all the way. He wrapped the sling around Alfred's arm and secured it tightly, but not too tight. "There now, all-" he stopped himself. He doubted it would ever be "all better" again. Arthur could tell by the look in Alfred's clouded blue eyes that he was shaken up by this, more shaken than he had probably ever been.
If Arthur had known then what the coming years would bring, he would have smacked Alfred upside the head right then and there, but he didn't know. He hoped that maybe this incident could be turned into something positive, used to help mend a lot of bridges Alfred had burned. It was the most parental he'd felt in ages.
Alfred sighed heavily and leaned his head back against the wall. "Th-tha-thanks, Art-Arthur," he muttered.
Arthur sat on the floor and slumped his back up against the wall adjacent the one Alfred was leaning on. He thought maybe he'd brush it off, tell Alfred it was no problem, that all this time later, he still saw it as his duty to clean up the messes the other country made. But the relief was flooding through him now, washing away his previous sense of urgency. "You're welcome," he said evenly.
Blue eyes met green and for a moment Arthur swore he could see something like hope written on Alfred's face, but it was gone very quickly.
Arthur bit his lip, debating whether or not to ask the question that had been nagging him since Alfred showed up. "Why-" he stopped.
"Why- Why did you come here?" The question was prompted more by things Arthur didn't know and hadn't seen yet. Prompted by words like "Axis of Evil" and "You're either with us or you're against us" and "War on Terror" and pained looks on Alfred's face as he stood dutifully next to his boss as the man admitted life would be easier if the country he was only running temporarily were a dictatorship.
Alfred looked taken aback for a moment, unsure of how to respond, as if the weight of everything Arthur didn't know yet had just been cast onto his shoulders. Why? Because he just wanted to feel better, to feel safe and if he'd known that once he left Arthur's house that he would never feel safe again, he'd have begged Arthur to let him stay. Instead he rose to his feet, propping himself up against the wall with his good arm. He stumbled toward the door, not wanting to admit anything. "I h-have to g-go."
"What?" He half-snapped, gaining strength as he stood.
As always, feedback is love!
~Your Faithful Blue