Dedicated to the past and present memories of those who have died protecting our freedoms which we have always taken for granted.

"Thank you all for coming. The first order of business…" Germany intoned, shuffling his papers slightly. His slicked back blond hair gleamed in the lights of the meeting hall, his enormous height towering over the other Nations seated around the round table.

America, or better known as the United States of America, was sitting on the far side of the table from stoic Germany. He tried to listen to the rough, monotone voice as he dictated the order of business for the Nations that day. Honest, he was trying. Although not known for his patience, he was always trying to be the hero, to make the world a better place for the rest of his international comrades. Lately, though…

"-erica? Herr America?"

He looked up, surprised to be caught off guard. He saw his twin brother, Canada, watching him curiously as he held Kumajirou, his miniature polar bear. America grinned, almost saluting the annoyed German. "The hero's here! No need to fear!" he shouted, jumping to his feet.

"I only vanted to know if you had any new reports for ze rest of ze Nations," he sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose in frustration. His strict military training served him well during these meetings; on the other hand, his close friendship with northern Italy was probably what had aided him the most when dealing with these…younger Nations.

America quickly sat down, grinning to hide the flush he felt creeping up his neck. "Nope! Nothing to report! I'm just that awesome!" he said in his usually loud voice.

He heard his older brother on his right sigh yet again. "Can't you at least pay attention for part of these meetings?!" he hissed quietly into his ear. America turned his head slightly to come face-to-face with England's massive bushy eyebrows. "Honestly Alfred…" he added softly.

America's eyes softened, hearing his brother use his human name. The existence of the Nations was an internationally well guarded secret. No civilians knew of them, and only the leaders of each country and several staff underneath them know about their secret. The Nations support their leaders; those leaders lead the Nations, not the other way around. So the embodied Nations created their own version of the United Nations, coming together several times each week to try and solve the world's crises. It was at one of these particular meetings, a Wednesday, where America was causing yet another scene. "Sorry Arthur," he said meekly, dipping his head in an apology.

The bushy brows furrowed together even further, creating a thick mono-brow over bright emerald green eyes. "Are you feeling alright?" he asked him, darting his eyes towards Germany as he continued to read off of his well written manuscript.

"Absolutely fine! Why do you ask?" he answered along with his trademark hero grin. Was it just him, or was their meeting room warmer than usual today? He shifted in his leather bomber jacket, his tan uniform underneath feeling unusually itchy.

Arthur looked upon his younger brother, worry evident on his face. Lately the young Nation that had once been under his care seemed distracted, restless. Of course he knew how often the two of them fought; it had been many years since he and Alfred had come to terms with each other for the Revolutionary War. Still, more often than not they were at odds with each other. Arthur smiled slightly as he readjusted himself in his chair; his younger brother had inherited his tenacity in droves.

Alfred sighed in relief as Arthur let up on him. He turned away, trying once again to focus on the blue uniformed Hessian barking out his usual orders.

"Alfred! Alfred, wait up!" a quiet voice called after the superpower.

America turned around in surprise, hearing his timid twin call for him. He waited for him to catch up, the blonde haired blue eyed Nation slightly out of breath, Kumajirou clutched tightly in his arms. "Mattie!" he said happily, smiling at him.

Matthew Williams, otherwise known as Canada and Alfred's identical twin, stood back up and smiled back at him. "I just wanted to talk to you after today's meeting," he told him in his usual hushed voice. His blue eyes blinked out from behind his glasses. "How are you?"

Alfred blinked in surprise. Him too? "I'm great!" he told him, smiling a giant smile. "How have you been?"

Matthew looked at his brother. He may have fooled everyone else, but Matthew noticed everything. He noticed the (almost) imperceptible dark bags under his eyes, the extra wrinkles on his normally pristine uniform, and the reek of hydrogen peroxide and antiseptic. "Alfred, you aren't 'great.' I've noticed. Arthur has started to notice. Hell, even Francis has finally noticed that you've been off lately. And it takes something extreme to move France's massive ego." Those baby blue eyes pleaded with him as he took a step closer. "Alfred, please…tell me what's wrong. What's happening to you?" he asked him in a scared voice.

The United States of America was taken aback. He was sure that he had been extremely careful; making sure all of his actions had been customary of him. Matthew, Arthur, and Francis? he thought to himself. He looked into the waiting face of his brother, whom he knew only wanted to help him. Still… "Nothing's happening to me, Mattie. Just a little under the weather, you know, with the flu season and all. Maybe a little side case of that swine flu, but nothing a hero like me can't handle!" he finished, flashing his brother his trademark grin.

Canada blinked. "You're sure?"

Alfred took a step closer and ruffled his hair, causing the Nation to groan in protest at the affection being so lovingly bestowed on him. "I'm very sure. Just a good night's sleep tonight and I'll be as good as new in the morning." He yawned and stretched for good measure. "I have that trip to the Midwest tomorrow, so I'll see you at the next meeting on Friday then, right?"

Matthew, satisfied with Alfred's answers, nodded. "Alright. But call me if you start feeling any worse, okay? We can't have another Depression on our hands," he said with a knowing smile.

"Who knew all of the Nations had never had chicken pox?" Alfred answered with an equally knowing smile. He turned around, waving goodbye. "See you on Friday!" he called as he continued walking down the long corridor towards the personal rooms the Nations used to sleep in and refresh themselves when they were in conference. There were no guards on the inside of the compound, but they patrolled the perimeter of the building as well as maintained security at each of the four gates that surrounded the large complex. The Nations, when inside, fended for themselves; there was always a fully stocked kitchen, hot water, working swimming pool, and an exercise room. They had all the amenities they could ever need to contact their bosses as well: secure internet and phone connections linking them directly to their own countries.

Alfred grabbed his pass card out of his pocket, holding it up to the scanner on the right side of a plain door, near the handle. A green light and soft click let him know that it was open. Turning the knob, he walked into his room, closing the door gently behind him. It was at that moment he slumped to the floor, clutching his stomach in considerable pain.

It had been there, on and off, for weeks now. Occasionally the pain would spike from a dull throb to shooting pains, so unbearable he could hardly move. And then…and then there were the Marks.

He knew the other Nations had Marks, with the kind of lives they lived. No, not their lives, who they were. They were the Nations, they were their countries personified into flesh and blood beings that felt pain and suffering just as any other normal human who walked the earth did. However, the Marks came not from wounds of the flesh – cuts, scrapes, bullet wounds, swords, blades, arrows, and other manmade weapons – rather, the Marks came from the wounds felt upon his people as a whole. America had many wounds like those; scars that would fade with time, but not wholly. England, his older brother, had some of the same Marks. Even his trusting twin brother, Canada, had Marks.

However, what frightened him the most was that he did not have a Mark on his stomach. America knew, from experience, that parts of his body corresponded to the fifty states in which his union was created from. New York was the right side of his upper back; September eleventh was still quite raw and throbbed sporadically, but it had been eight years since then…since the Al Qaida terrorists attacked his home. He squeezed his eyes shut. The World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the farm field in Pennsylvania…all still burned and smoldered in his mind. The thousands of people who had died. The thousands more who had been hurt. And the thousands upon thousands more who were left behind to cry over them.

Since he had no Mark where the pain was the worst, America knew that he was experiencing something akin to apprehension and foreboding. He had felt it during the weeks leading up to Lexington and Concord, before the southern states split from the northern states to begin the Civil War, and many other notable crises in his history like both world wars, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, the Civil Rights Movement…he paused to smile amidst the pain. He missed Martin, one of the only civilians he had allowed himself to come into close contact with in his five hundred years plus of life so far. He had been a pacifist, just like Matthew, but was strong and a leader in every single way.

Alfred curled up in upon himself, clutching his stomach and willing the pain to go away. He didn't want something bad to happen again. Something bad was always happening to him, to America, the country that was supposed to be the hero that saves the day. He didn't want to worry Matthew, Arthur, or even Francis anymore. He had to be the strong one for them! If America fell, who would protect everyone then? He shook his head.

Slowly, he pulled himself up from the floor, locking the door behind him. Begrudgingly he dragged his feet over to his bed where he proceeded to sit down upon it gingerly, taking off his dark brown shoes and setting them next to the bed. Those were followed by his gloves and leather bomber jacket, which proceeded to drape over the armchair near the bed. Taking off his military jacket, he laid that over his bomber jacket and loosened his tie, throwing it on the pile as well. Finally beginning to cool off, Alfred laid his weary body down on the bed, resting his head on the soft pillows.

Alfred knew that he was sick. The constant fevers as of late, breaking out in harsh sweats which only led to shaking chills, and the stomach pains that came and went as they pleased. He should tell someone, or at least see a doctor, but that would mean showing his vulnerable side to everyone. He buried his head in the pillows, relishing in their cool temperature against his flushed skin. Maybe… he thought to himself. Maybe after my trip tomorrow and Friday's meeting…maybe I'll tell Matthew. He wouldn't tell anyone. I know he wouldn't.

Alfred blinked sleepily into the bright morning sunshine, forgetting he had left the shade up when he had fallen asleep not long after his flight began. He had boarded a small puddle jumper to Wisconsin, only three other passengers on board besides himself. There were of course the pilot and copilot, and one very nice flight attendant. Looking down, he smiled to see that she had covered him with a blanket sometime during his nap. Shifting, he looked outside of the plane to see fluffy white clouds sailing passed as the small plane raced through open skies. He couldn't see the ground far below him, but assumed they must be over Ohio or Michigan at least by now.

"Good morning sir," a cheerful voice chirped from his left. The Nation turned to see the flight attendant smiling at him. "How was your nap?"

"Very nice, thank you," he answered politely, one of the few results of having spent several hundred years with a strict Englishman. "And thank you for the blanket."

"Oh, you are welcome sir. It does get a bit chilly on these smaller crafts, and besides…you're one of our best customers," she added with a wink. "I came to tell you that we are currently beginning our descent to Mitchell International. If you would be so kind as to buckle your seatbelt and put away any items into the compartment next to you?"

"Of course," he answered immediately, sitting up and shrugging off the blanket. As he handed it to the flight attendant, he shivered. It was freezing without the extra layer of protection the blanket had provided, even with his bomber jacket on. "How is the temperature?" he asked the woman.

"Oh? In Wisconsin? Well, considering it is November, it should be Indian summer right about now. So probably anywhere from forty to sixty degrees Fahrenheit." A loud ding suddenly sounded above their heads, and the captain's voice crackled through the speakers.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We are now beginning our final descent into Mitchell International Airport. Please fasten all seat belts and prepare for landing. We thank you for flying Midwest Airlines, and please come fly with us again." Another ding ended the captain's small speech.

"Well, I should go and seat myself as well," the flight attendant told him with a smile.

"Yes, and thank you again," he added as he grabbed the two small straps and buckled himself in tightly. The flight attendant nodded and took the blanket and herself towards the back of the plane. Without delay Alfred felt the plane tipping forwards as it aimed for the ground several thousand feet below him. He was at least grateful that he would be inside the warm airport within the half hour, sipping on a nice warm cup of coffee and munching on a hamburger. His mouth watered at the thought; he hadn't had much of an appetite for his favorite food lately, so noting that he was actually looking forward to the meal brightened his spirits considerably.

"Thank you for flying Midwest Airlines. Have a wonderful day ma'am. Thank you for flying with us today," the flight attendant intoned as one by one the four passengers disembarked. Alfred walked by her and smiled, nodding to her and the waiting pilots. He had already put his gloves on and shoved them in the pockets of his jacket as he traversed the corridor connecting the plane to the entrance into the airport. As he walked through the last corrugated tunnel a wonderfully warm breeze hit him full blast in the face. Alfred relished in it, basking in the warmth as he made his way out towards the food court.

Several minutes and several dollars later, Alfred was sipping on a hot jet black beverage and eating his favorite food. Well, his first favorite food; his second was apple pie. Munching on the greasy goodness, he looked around the airport at the midday traffic. It was around eleven in the morning; the early morning flights had left, giving way to other early morning flights arriving from cities around the country just as he had. Not many people knew this, and he knew it was probably the same with the other Nations: Alfred was a people watcher. More than anything else he loved to watch his people walking around during their daily lives, hearing their laughter, hearing them conversing with each other, even hearing them argue and forgive each other later. Especially his middle states. The people in the Midwest were so…so nice. They always held doors open for each other, helped pick up spilt money or groceries, said please and thank you, and never failed to point you in the right direction if you were lost.

Hearing an arrival announcement come over the speakers, Alfred sighed and stood up. I had better get going if I want to see anything before I leave tonight, he thought to himself as he shoved the last bite of his burger in his mouth, opting to take the coffee with him. Going with the flow, he followed the steady stream of people down the escalators and in the direction of the open doors that lead towards the open air. The sun was shining dazzlingly, but as soon as Alfred stepped outside…brr. Indian summer? Ha! It was absolutely freezing out here. He shivered and pulled his jacket tighter around him, clutching his coffee and taking a large gulp of it as he walked towards the taxi service station to warm himself up.

Several men had gathered around the small booth, chatting as they waited for customers. Neither of the two taller men noticed him, but a shorter and slightly stockier man saw Alfred approaching them. "Need a ride?" he asked him in a thickly accented voice.

Russian, America immediately thought. Or at least from one of his brother or sister countries. "Yes please." He shivered again, holding tight to his Styrofoam cup. Who would have thought with his suit, military uniform, bomber jacket, and gloves on he would still be cold?

"One moment," the man told him. He leaned towards the booth and shouted something to the man inside with his native tongue, before turning around and heading towards the nearest cab. It was bright yellow, like all taxis, but it reminded America of Russia's love for sunflowers. Ivan was always trying to grow them in his frigid country, several greenhouses full of them surrounding his small palace. "Here we go. After you," the cabbie said, holding the door open for Alfred.

He gratefully slid into the cab, noting with relief that the cold disappeared as soon as the man had closed the door. It reappeared briefly as he opened the driver's side door and slid in himself. Turning the key in the ignition the taxi started up with a modest rumble, the cabbie immediately turning on the heat for his shivering customer. "So, where to today?" he asked him as he put the cab in reverse.

"Downtown please."

"Anywhere in particular?"

"The intersection of Water and State streets, if you please."

"Here you are. Corner of Water and State. Fifteen dollars please," the man said gruffly but nicely.

Alfred dug the fifteen dollars out of his pocket, resigned to leave the nice warm cab. He grabbed an extra ten and placed it in the man's hands. "Thanks for the ride," he told him gratefully.

The man looked surprised at the large tip. "Are you sure about this?"

"Use it for your daughter's birthday present," he told him with a smile as he opened the door.

The man's mouth dropped open, hanging there like a fish out of water. "But-but how did you-?!"

Alfred closed the yellow metal door before the man had time to ask him any more questions. Quickly walking away, he began to head east towards the lake front. It had been quite a while since he had been here last; he had heard that the new art museum was finally finished. It had wings like a bird, and with a few mechanical wonders several times a day would lift them up and down as if the entire building were flying.

A chilling breeze suddenly picked up, blowing the faux fur of his jacket against the skin of his neck. Alfred pulled it close to him, ducking his head down and shoving his hands into the deep pockets. The sun may have been shining, but it was still November after all. And it was Wisconsin. Wisconsin, according to the locals, only had two seasons: winter and construction. Still, he continued walking east, slowly coming closer and closer to Lake Michigan. Cars raced passed him, occasionally honking at each other, but moving along merrily towards lunchtime. There were also plenty of people on foot, enjoying the nice albeit cooler weather. Most were of the younger generation, college students from any one of the local campuses.

Alfred watched as one particular couple walked by him; hand in hand, laughing at some little secret between the two of them. Captivated, he paused to watch them, turning around in the middle of the sidewalk to see them strolling in the direction he had just come from. The woman leaned into the taller man, squeezing his arm and laughing yet again at something he said. He threw his head back, laughing a deep laugh as well.

America smiled, watching his people enjoying life to its fullest. It was at that moment that his stomach pains came back, fiercer than they had ever been before. Alfred doubled over, clutching the muscles around his middle and squeezing his eyes shut tight. It felt like someone was stabbing him repeatedly, over and over again. He fell to his knees in the middle of the sidewalk, but he knew he shouldn't stay there. He couldn't let anyone know who he was or what he was. Otherwise his family, his friends, all of the other Nations, would be in terrible danger.

Bile rising in his throat, he stumbled forward and darted down a small side alley littered with enormous green garbage bins. Tripping over a manhole cover he fell against the dirty concrete, finally losing the battle with his stomach and retching all over the spotted gray ground. Over and over, even seeing parts of his beloved burger again, until there was nothing left except a watery pink substance. Alfred's eyes widened in fear, seeing the pink fluid, until he felt something else…something warm and sticky on his hands. Looking down, he started shaking in terror as he brought his hands away from his stomach, his bright crimson blood drenching his gloves. One last heaving stab of pain clouded all other thoughts as the United States of America fell limp to the ground, his eyes rolling up in the back of his head.

His glasses tumbled to the ground, the glass shattering into one dozen tiny pieces.