In memory of the Virginia Tech Massacre - 04/16/07

Alfred stared at the ground between his shoes and listened to the birds chirping around him. His fragmented thoughts turned for a moment to how quiet and peaceful it would be if that was the only sound for him to hear. He tried to focus on it, to tune out the flood of activity around him – of students and faculty rushing through the scene and yelling for friends or texting or talking on their cell phones, of news casters reporting the events, of police officers protecting the crime scene, of forensics exchanging information.

How could he let this happen? Why didn't he see it coming?

He felt worn. When was the last time he had felt this worn? There must have been hundreds of times…

He could remember Pearl Harbor…today reminded him something of Pearl Harbor, in a way. It was like watching a bad bar brawl from the side of the room, not noticing the guy sneaking up next to him until a fist slammed into his gut.

It was easy to remember how hard, how savagely he and Kiku had fought seventy years ago, how Alfred had taken it to an extreme that no one had ever gone to before just to make it all end. He'd felt worn then, too. And now? It was just a short while ago, actually, that Governor Kaine called from his trade mission in Tokyo, stating that he was coming home early in lieu of what happened. Kiku was very understanding, because he heard that Alfred had done something very savage to himself.

Despite himself, he felt the corners of his mouth twitch up in grim amusement. Then he felt sick.

This wasn't like him at all, the way everything had been handled. He realized that, as he stared with his one good eye at the ground between his shoes, collapsed against the side of Norris Hall in a confused, dazed mess. His other eye was covered by a messy bandage, wrapped around his face like an eyepatch, and he was vaguely aware of a warm, sticky liquid dripping down his hand through the cloth.

He didn't jump into action today like he normally would. He didn't react to the threat and rebound, coming back strong. He didn't do any of that, and a great deal of his attention was being drawn to the question of why. Why did they take their sweet time assessing the situation before deciding to warn everyone in the most half-assed way possible? Why had they been so sure that it was all over after only two people died? Why, for God's sake, did they call for the students to go to class instead of locking down the campus?

It all happened in a matter of minutes. One moment, everyone was simply going about their day as usual. The next moment, students were running from the building, escaping through windows. There was an outbreak of text messages, phone calls, and videos rippling the news out to family and friends until finally Alfred was made fully aware of the event.

He remembered the authorities rushing into the hall, and he remembered the lifeless bodies strewn around the different rooms. He remembered the ringtones playing from their pockets and bags as their parents tried to reach them.

He felt sick again.

Even in town, where most of the folks had no idea yet what had happened, Alfred could dimly recall the amplified voices over the loudspeakers slowly moving up and down each street, echoing through the neighborhoods.

"Remain in your houses!"

"We are looking for signs of suspicious activity!"

But at that point, when he finally sprang into action, when he was finally ready to resolve the situation…there was nothing left for him. They found the killer and identified him, dead by suicide. They counted how many people had been murdered. Thirty-two. The parents, the school, and the state all wanted to start talking, to cast blame and settle reparations and determine what would be done about the university. For Alfred, it seemed that all he could really do now was mourn and remember.

Maybe that was why he was sitting there in a stupor, holding his damaged eye, listening to the chaos around him, feeling like he'd just been punched in the gut. Maybe that was why he felt paralyzed and forlorn. He had gotten there too late to save the day. This time he couldn't go home the hero. The only thing that was left for him to do was to ask himself how he could let it all happen.

He would never forget. He never did forget when a tragedy like this happened. Maybe that was the flip side of his constant overconfidence, his love of being a hero. When he didn't manage to get there at just the last minute, when he didn't get to come home in victory, it brought his people together like nothing else could. All they could do then was comfort each other in their defeated helplessness. He knew now that this would be with him for a long time before he could think about moving on.

Alfred turned his dull awareness back to the outside world when a shadow fell over him. Slowly, numbly, he looked up. He didn't want to be bothered while he was still in shock, while he was still trying to sort everything out. Couldn't condolences wait while he tried to calm himself down?

Standing before him was Im Yong Soo, South Korea, looking for all the world like he had raced across the entire ocean without sparing a single breath. The surprise that Alfred felt was enough to jar him out of his own internal chaos, at least for a moment.

For that moment he simply stared, his good eye wide as the Korean leaned his hands on his knees, panting heavily and coughing. He shifted slightly and looked back at his shoes when it seemed that Yong Soo had regained his composure. Of all the nations who could have stepped up first to say something about the matter, he hadn't really expected this.

"What's with the rush?" he murmured, focusing more on his own people than on the international call. "I'm kind of busy-"

A hand tenderly touched the side of his head, just beside his own hand where it covered the bandages. His good eye shot up, training on the other nation now kneeling before him, and a jolt of shock passed through him to see tears forming in Yong Soo's eyes. The Korean's face was clouded with sadness and guilt as he gazed at the blood-soaked cloth.

"He was one of mine," he said softly, nearly choking on the words. Alfred could see that he was saying it partly to himself, confirming some personal, horrifying fear. He didn't have to ask who Yong Soo was talking about. "He was one of mine…"

Alfred watched as he lowered his head, clenching his teeth hard as strands of hair fell forward to shadow his eyes. Then, quite suddenly, Yong Soo withdrew his hand and moved back, shocking the American once more when he bowed fully to the ground. A sob wracked his body, and Alfred could see teardrops falling from behind those dark locks of hair, staining the ground.

"I'm so sorry! I'm so sorry!" Yong Soo cried as his body trembled and his tears fell. "I'm so sorry!"

Alfred was at something of a loss as he sat there against the very hall where most of the killings took place. Other nations would have been considerate, offering their sympathies for the tragedy and perhaps even mourning with him a little. None of them would have taken responsibility for a boy whom Alfred himself had raised for the past decade and a half. It was naturally understood by everyone to be an unfortunate but internal event.

"I'm sorry…I'm so sorry…"

Sitting there, witnessing the shame of a nation felt on his behalf, he was astonished…and touched. Terribly touched. Who else would have gone so far when no one even held them accountable? Who else could have come together so completely and so powerfully because of the misdeeds of a single person on the other side of the world?

"I'm sorry…I'm sorry…"

Alfred smiled softly at Yong Soo as he sobbed again. The apologies couldn't lessen the pain, but they were somehow calming. They helped ease him out of his frenzied state, if only by a little, and allowed him to slow down amidst the chaos instead of running around the situation feverishly.

He felt extremely privileged at that moment to receive such an immense generosity, for he couldn't think of it as an obligation like Yong Soo did. Maybe this was the flip side of Yong Soo's strong racial identity, the thing that made him constantly take credit for other nations' accomplishments. When one of his own people executed a catastrophe, he was just as quick to take responsibility for the consequences, whether he was personally involved or not.

"I'm so sorry…"

As Alfred realized this, he wondered what to say. How did he respond to something like that? "It's not your fault." "He was one of mine, too."

His smile fell, and he looked down at Yong Soo solemnly, his immeasurable appreciation and gratitude joined by the responsibility that he also felt for the boy. He moved forward to lay a hand on Yong Soo's shoulder and felt the tremors shaking him. The Korean didn't react.

"I'm sorry…I'm so sorry…"

"Thank you."

And so the two nations stayed like that for some time, each trying to express the sentiments inside him without knowing what to say, each knowing that neither could ever fully explain himself to the other, and both knowing, in that, that they understood each other perfectly. They comforted each other. They mourned together for the terrible actions of their boy and the lives that he took. For the first time facing a tragedy, Alfred didn't feel like he was doing it alone.

"I'm sorry."

"Thank you."

"I'm so sorry."

"Thank you."

On April 16, 2007, a student at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, VA committed two separate attacks that ended in the deaths of thirty-two people, both faculty and students, before turning the gun on himself. The first two victims were killed in the West Ambler Johnston residential hall, while the second attack took place in the Norris lecture hall two hours later on the opposite end of campus, resulting in the deaths of thirty more people within a span of 10-12 minutes. This event has become the worst mass-murder shooting in American history.

There was no public address announcement or warning given to the students or faculty on campus after the first two victims were found dead, and the first word that students received was an email message sent two hours later, at about the time when the killer struck again. Campus officials claimed that they believed the gunman to have fled campus after the first attack and that there would be no more incident; it was therefore decided that it was unnecessary to go into lockdown, confining students to their dorm rooms until the campus could be secured, which was why the gunman was able to set his second attack in an unprotected lecture hall, where students were taking their classes later that day.

The gunman was Seung-Hui Cho, a senior student at the university who had been diagnosed with mental instability. He was a South Korean who had moved to the United States when he was eight years old. After this news was released, the United States was contacted by South Korea, where the entire nation had learned of the incident and had gathered together to express their collective national shame over the crime that Seung-Hui Cho had committed. This strong sense of racial identity is entirely unique to the people of South Korea. Americans everywhere were astonished and moved by the incredible experience, expressing deep gratitude in return, even without placing responsibility on Korea at all.

Part of the purpose of expressing national shame was as an attempt to protect other South Koreans living in America, whom fellow Koreans felt to be in danger of prejudice and hate crimes after this event. They were astonished in return to learn that no one in America judged Seung-Hui Cho by his ethnicity and felt no need for retribution from other Koreans when they were not responsible.

The governor of Virginia was in Tokyo at the time on a trade mission, but returned to the States immediately upon hearing about the shooting.

Author's Note: This was originally supposed to be a comic strip. I got the inspiration after hearing about how many South Koreans are upset with their character portrayal in Hetalia, saying that he represents offensive stereotypes. I wanted to do some sort of fanstrip that shows just how great and lovable Yong Soo's character actually is, and how it's his stereotypical personality which makes him that way. Unfortunately, I have no artistic talent, so I adapted the idea into this fanfic.

I hope you all enjoyed it; please review to tell me what you think.