I wrote this story today, on September 11, 2009, in remembrance of the attack on America's Twin Towers. Some of the things the people on television say are direct quotes I got from youtube videos. I don't own those sentences.
This goes out to all Americans. I feel for you.
Arthur was in England when the world stopped turning.
He was watching BBC. Well, he wasn't watching, really. He had his feet propped up on the low table, was slumped against the back of his sofa, the images flashing in the TV filtering into his mind without being processed. Arthur was vaguely aware that a news programme was on, the voice of the newsreader droning on with only minor fluctuations in tone. It was probably some minor political issue or it could be a new museum opening, for all he cared. Zoned out, Arthur felt his eyes drifting closed.
Arthur's eyes were nearly fully closed when the pitch of the voice on the news changed drastically. His tone suddenly held a sense of extreme urgency, interspersed with moments of disbelieving, horrified silence and small exclamations of denial, as quiet booms and screams repeated over and over in the background.
Arthur sat up, alarmed. His green eyes wide, he took in the images in front of him.
He immediately recognised America's World Trade Center. One of the towers had a gaping hole in its upper half, a black, smoking, burning wound. The image was shaking, righting itself and focusing on different parts of the hole.
England frowned. What had happened? How had... but then another clip was broadcast. The Twin Towers, sunlight streaming over them on a clear American day. A dark shape. A plane? No, that couldn't be a plane, could it-
Plane! Crash. Flames.
''Bloody hell!'' Arthur blinked repeatedly. How could that have happened? Why the hell did that plane...?
The newsreader sounded flustered, shocked. ''...the plane crashed into the North Tower! This is unbelievable, the tower is burning...''
Suddenly, the newsreader paused, his eyes widening in horror. ''Another plane has just hit the South Tower! I repeat, there is another airplane and it hit the second tower! We will have the footage soon, oh my God...''
Arthur couldn't believe it, his mouth was gaping, he could feel, but he did not close his mouth. It was as if his mind had ground to a halt, had refused to go on thinking, and was stuck, like an old vinyl-player, replaying and replaying the images on the news. His mouth was dry as he stared at the flickering screen, which was showing the shocking videos again.
A new clip started, a different angle, shaking perspective, closer, closer to the Twin Towers. Another plane, flying in a deathly graceful arc around the second tower, just to crash into it a split second later. An enormous ball of flame, no, a black, red, yellow wall of fire, bursting outward and upward soundlessly. A second- denial, disbelief, and then sound arrived. A deafening explosion shook the city as sound carried its fateful noise along. Shouts rose as reality sank in, people starting to turn toward the South Tower. ''Fuck!'' ''Was that another plane?'' ''Yes! I saw it! It came from over there and it just... oh my God.'' Shots of people jumping out of the window on the top floors. A crying woman being interviewed: ''People are jumping out the window, over there, they're jumping out of the windows, they're trying to save themselves, I don't know!''
England swallowed thickly. His eyes were glued to the screen and he couldn't tear them away, even though his whole being cried out for America, for Alfred, whose peace had been so destroyed. He needed to call him, no, he needed to go there, be there, gosh, he should be there already, with him in this terrible, terrible moment.
But just then, new videos showed the South Tower smoking, burning, and all of a sudden, beginning to crumble. Shouts grew panicked, disbelieving, pained and hysterical as the tower collapsed on itself in an inward- and outward-rolling, ever expanding grey cloud of debris, the lower half crashing while the upper half fell as if in slow motion, following its foundation down, down, always down. ''Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh God... Oh my God!'' It sounded as though the people realised only then the extent of the horror- screams grew loud, sobs were heard in the background and the high, keening cries of those who had had someone dear to them in the South Tower, created a terrible symphony of agony and denial.
Quiet tears of shock were seeping out of England's eyes, running down his cheeks in warm rivulets as he heard the cries, the shouts, the sheer pain of the American people.
''The South Tower has collapsed! Oh my God! Oh God. It is gone! The South Tower is no more!''
Arthur tore himself away from the television, grabbed his phone and dialled Alfred's number as fast as his trembling fingers would allow. A heavy numbness was settling on his mind, on his thoughts, on his very being.
He waited. And waited. And waited. In the background, the news were broadcasting new videos every few minutes, the shouts echoing through England's house. Alfred wasn't picking up.
''Come on, Alfred...!'' Arthur clung to the receiver, his fingers grabbing it with too much force.
No answer. Suddenly, static, and then a quiet rush of air on the other side.
''Alfred! Alfred, are you all right? Damn, are you okay?''
''Why aren't you answering?! What's wrong? Shit, I saw what happened to your Twin Towers... Why aren't you saying anything??''
''DAMN! Alfred! Come on! It's Arthur! Are you okay, please, say you are okay!''
''Arthur...'', the voice he knew so well whispered.
The connection broke.
Arthur cursed. Another glance at the television revealed more horrifying pictures, the North Tower collapsing, a shock wave carrying debris with it flooding the streets.
Arthur stood for another moment, dumbfounded. There Manhattan was, a thick column of dust and smoke rising into the previously clear sky where just an hour before, the World Trade Center had stood. God, America... Alfred...
Grabbing his cell phone and his coat, he dialled the number of his pilot.
''Get my jet ready. Immediately. I am going to America.''
They had barely come to a standstill and yet Arthur commanded that his pilot let him out.
Scared for Alfred and still in shock, Arthur got into the black car waiting for him.
''To the White House. Drive as fast as you can!''
His driver nodded and they were off.
The White House came into view a couple of minutes later. Arthur was grinding his teeth in helpless anger and fidgeting with his hands, unable to keep them still. This was taking too long! He was so close, so close! Alfred was suffering and he was not there. The flight had taken so long already!
There. The high-security fence. The guards. The lawn, the fountain. The flag. The White House.
''Who are you, sir?'', one of the armed guards stepped toward him, suspicion in his eyes.
Arthur rarely visited Alfred at his home and when he did, he was in company of the nation, so that he was never questioned.
''Arthur Kirkland'', he answered tersely, sure that the guards would remember a face.
Apparently not. ''We need to see identification, mister, and what your business is with the president.''
Arthur could have screamed in frustration. ''I am England, you prat, and I am not here to see your dimwit president, I am here to see America!''
One of the guards looked at him more closely, then, he saw the guards' face light up in remembrance. ''I remember your eyebrows!''
Growling, Arthur took a threatening step forward, tired of waiting.
''We are extremely sorry, Mr. Kirkland, please pass right through.''
Not even being his usual, polite self, Arthur brushed the guards off and started running.
The corridor with Alfred's rooms was brightly lit as Arthur stumbled through it, exhausted and panting.
''ALFRED!!'' He called out, knowing the other couldn't hear him anyway.
The door to his rooms was locked and no one answered to his knocks. Closing his eyes for a second, gathering his strength, England took a deep breath and sent a mighty kick against the door, tearing it off its hinges on the inside with the superhuman strength of a determined nation. The entrance area was deserted, just as Arthur had expected. The next room he checked was the living room. The television was on and images of the planes crashing into the towers were repeating over and over, the sounds echoing through the empty room eerily.
The office was unlocked.
Arthur pushed open the door.
The room seemed empty at first glance. The television was on and the tall form of America was nowhere to be seen. However, when Arthur turned to look at the couch more closely, he realised that Alfred was sitting there, small and huddled, knees drawn to his chest and unseeing eyes glued to the screen.
''Alfred!'', he called, but nothing in the other nation's bearing suggested that he had heard.
Arthur crossed the room in three big strides, coming to a stop in front of Alfred, effectively blocking the other countries' view of the terrible images.
Alfred stared at his legs without a flicker in his eyes.
Arthur was frantic by now. Alfred wasn't reacting to his presence, what if...
He leaned down and placed his hands on his shoulders, lightly shaking him and calling his name.
His eyes looked dead. Where had their light gone? Arthur felt himself shiver at the soulless gaze that was fixed on him, now that he was kneeling in front of the other nation.
''Alfred, damn it, please look at me!''
Arthur couldn't stand seeing those vacant eyes any longer. Impulsively, he leaned forward and wrapped his arms around America, feeling his warm body underneath his hands, frozen in shock and pain. He squeezed him harder, needing to feel Alfred breathe, to know that he was at least alive, even if not well. Placing a trembling hand against his chest, he could feel Alfred's steady heartbeat.
Letting him go, he gazed into those eyes again, realising that he was in Manhattan, with his people, living their suffering, their panic, their horrible horrible loss.
Arthur needed to make him return to his body.
''Alfred, Alfred, come on, it's me, Arthur, I'm here, I'm here, I'm finally here.''
Arthur could not keep his hands from once again reaching out. This was not only Alfred's comfort, but also Arthur's. He touched Alfred's arms, which were quite thin without the brown bomber jacket he usually wore. Alfred felt so horribly horribly fragile beneath his fingers. Arthur swallowed back the tears he felt were threatening to overwhelm him.
People were saying ''Oh God. Oh my God.'' in the background and Arthur couldn't help but repeat their litany along with them, for a different reason entirely.
''Oh God... Oh God, Alfred...'' At some point, the tears had found their way around the choking feeling in his throat and were now dripping onto the front of his uniform, staining it a deep green.
Alfred's face was so innocent and vulnerable in its emptiness. Arthur shuddered at seeing those usually vibrant, lively eyes so dull. Where had the life gone? He needed to give it back.
A fierce feeling was building up in Arthur, something he had never experienced before, a growing sensation, as of a flock of white swans taking flight.
On an irrational impulse, he lurched forward, buried his hands in Alfred's hair and pressed his lips against America's unresponsive ones. He moved his lips in desperation, changing his angle, drawing back and kissing him again.
And suddenly, a shudder went through Alfred. Arthur immediately felt it, wrapped around him as he was, and drew back breathlessly.
The blue eyes were slowly focusing on him, a numb look in their depths.
''Alfred, I'm here, everything will be all right.'', Arthur whispered fiercely. He kissed him again on another impulse.
Alfred blinked at him, not fully realising he had been kissed by the man who usually brushed him off. ''They are all dead and dying... there is so much pain...'' But there was no emotion in his voice.
''Oh Alfred, I know...'' Arthur searched his eyes and found a little spark of the nation he knew. He held onto that glimpse, gazing into his eyes intensely, attempting to draw out Alfred again.
''Alfred, Alfred, look at me.''
Slowly, Alfred seemed to fully recognise him. ''Arthur...'', he breathed. ''You're here... with me.''
''Yes. Yes, Alfred, I am. And I won't leave you again.'' He spoke in a quiet, passionate voice that was full of intent.
''The people, my people... oh God, Arthur... I need you.'' His blue eyes were back, haunted and older than they had ever been before.
He hesitated for a moment, uncertain, and then pressed his lips to Alfred's in a quiet show of comfort and understanding, of love, even.
Blue eyes widened in shock. ''You... Arthur...'' Previously suppressed tears leaked out, as finally, Alfred gave his grief free reign, held safely in Arthur's arms.
I hope this comforted some of you, I am sorry for what happened on that day.