Disclaimer: No country is mine, and this series isn't mine.

Also, just to warn you...dark subject matter ahead, as this is about 9/11. Also, there will be a brief but subtle reference to the London Bombings. Apologies if this offends anyone. Slight OOC-ness may occur.

Dedicated to everyone who has been affected by 9/11 one way or another.

America slapped the alarm clock on his nightstand and let out a yawn. Did he have to get up today? Why not spend a few extra minutes longer in bed?

Then again, the next world conference was scheduled to begin at eleven o'clock, and America had set his clock to wake him up at ten. So he supposed he had to get out of bed.

Yet there was something about today that left him with a feeling of dread. He dreaded waking up, loathed the idea of having to drag himself out of bed, and hated the idea of having to face everyone as he was (especially Russia, but then again that was just because it was, well, Russia). Yes, there was something gloomy about this day all right, and America could not quite figure out just what it was.

He yawned and stretched his arms. He got out of bed, and suddenly froze with a feeling of fear. Unreasonable as it may be, he suddenly had a morbid fear of pushing back the curtains on his window and looking outside. He feared he would see something awful, something horrible.

And yet when he dared to take a peak, all he saw was the local hamburger joint just across the street. Letting out a sigh of relief, America walked over to his closet. Right next to his closet was a calendar hung up on the wall. When he looked over at it, he realized why he had been feeling the way he was.

The date was September eleventh.

Nine years, thought America as he took his seat in the world conference room, Has it really been nine years since that day? It still only feels like yesterday, with how everyone keeps talking about it...how I keep thinking about it...

He put on a cheerful smile and thought, But right now, I am not going to talk about it—I won't even think about it! Instead, I'll sit here and share my latest idea on global warming which everyone is bound to love this time! After all, I am the hero!

"Today, we will discuss a new solution for global warming!" boomed America, appearing as cheerful and bumbling as ever. "I have come up with the ultimate solution that will absolutely end it once and for all!"

"Would this solution happen to involve super heroes protecting the globe, by any chance?" deadpanned England.

"Nah, this one's even better," said America with a wave of his hand, "Instead...okay, how do hamburgers in fast food joints stay hot? By sitting under a heating lamp! And that is my new proposal—we will take out the sun and replace it with a giant heating lamp for the entire globe!"

He looked around the table in hopes of seeing just one, approving face. Instead, everyone just sat and blinked. Finally, England spoke up: "And would you happen to plan on occasionally going up into orbit to re-set the temperature if some complained it was too hot, by any chance?"

"Precisely!" said America, beaming. At least England appreciated his genius.

"America," spoke up Russia, "what would be done about rain and snow? In my country—"

"Oh, no, no, no," said America with a wag of his finger, "With my solution, people will never have to deal with the inconvenience of rain or snow ever again. Plants would be kept inside a giant greenhouse and there would be sprinklers, and—and there would be these people in green suits to come in and—no, yellow suits, yellow, and—and—and..."

"And then what?" spoke up China, sounding annoyed. "Then the Earth's vegetation will die out. What about the grass in the rest of the world?"

"Well...um...a giant sprinkler in outer space!" blurted out America. He instantly realized that was stupid long before seeing the looks on the other's faces. He cleared his throat and said, "Uh...how about instead of a heat lamp..."

His voice faltered upon realizing not a single country was sold on his proposal. In some ways, he was almost used to it by now; he was aware of the mockery he had become. While he was still treated with a certain degree of respect, he was aware of some of the things said about him...about how he needed to lose weight, about how he was scared too easily by horror movies, about how his solutions for global warming were less-on-par...

Was it because the world hated him so much that this...this event from nine years ago...had happened to him? Did people hate him so much they wanted to harm him, hit where it hurt? If they had to hate him, fine...but what about the people? All those innocent people who had done no harm...what had they done?

America had always viewed himself as a strong person who could uphold himself through any war. After all, he had made it out of the Revolutionary War with barely a scratch. He had done perfectly fine in the first and second world wars. But this...an attack on him personally...he had found it difficult to stand tall for quite some time afterwards.

The others could see this; they could tell he was still shaken up badly by what had happened. After all, he had been there himself. They wondered if this had anything to do with his sudden hesitance now.

America jerked himself back to reality and said, "Ah...sorry about that. Anyway, my other solution is..."

When lunch break came, America could see the others walk as though they were on eggshells around him. He could hear them talking: "It's been nine years, hasn't it..." "I wonder how he's holding up..." "Should we see how he's doing?"

Part of him wanted to shout, "No! Don't come over! I'm fine on my own!" After all, he wasn't supposed to be weak. He was always supposed to be the hero, someone who could be looked up to. And yet, there was another part that longed for the company. He wanted to collapse to his knees and sob for someone, anyone, to comfort him.

But once again, he was supposed to be the hero. Showing weakness would make him a coward.

And so, America kept on his grin and walked tall and proud, though shakingly so. He heard a soft voice call out, "America?"

America turned his head. He had barely missed Canada, who stood with a soft smile, carrying his teddy bear. "America," said Canada, "are you all right?"

Why should Canada, of all people, want to see if he was all right? Canada hadn't been there, he didn't know how bad it really was...

"I'm fine," said America, still smiling, "Really. I'll just...go order a hamburger. Under a heat lamp."

"I know what day it is," said Canada softly, "Would you like to borrow my bear?"

Why was Canada being so nice? Why...

Canada stood above America's bed in the hospital. He could barely look at the once tall and proud man, now lying in bed with his entire body bruised and beaten, his legs in casts. He had heard about what had happened on the news; by now, he supposed the whole world had. To watch such a bold country be struck down so viciously, taking innocent lives in the process...

He wondered where England was; he remembered hearing from him that he'd eventually stop by to visit. Although, he had sounded somewhat distant when he had said this, as though he himself couldn't believe it. Who could ever believe something like this could happen?

"America?" said Canada softly. "Can you see me?"

America's eyes shifted. Canada wasn't sure whether this was a good sign or not, but he continued: "America...I know you never notice me, and I know we may have disagreements...but..." He paused. "England said he'd be coming. France is still in shock, and—"

"Get out."

For the first time all day, America had spoken in a steely voice. Anger took over and he said, "I said get out."

Canada took a step back. He had never seen America so angry before. He wanted to stay, but part of him suspected that right now, it would be best to leave America alone. He took one last look at his injured companion and left.

"I'll be fine," said America. He walked a little faster and called out, "Say hi to Cuba for me!"

Canada blinked. Then, he said to his bear, "I don't think America is holding up so well."

England took one look around the cafeteria. Usually, America could be found chomping down on hamburgers somewhere in here; yet he was nowhere to be found. He had remembered what day it was only a few minutes ago; perhaps that had something to do with America's absence?

"If you are looking for America," spoke a faint voice, "I think he was heading outside somewhere."

England was not sure who was speaking to him, but he decided to follow up on this tip. But first, he needed to get America his hamburger.

Canada sighed and stared at the bacon on his plate. "As usual, no one notices me, even when I try to help."

England took a walk around the building while carrying a tray with his lunch, and a hamburger set aside for America...when he found him, that is. He couldn't see him sitting on the steps outside, or to the side of the building, or out on the patio.

Had he gone home for the day? Was it really that much for him?

No, he couldn't have gone far; he still had to attend to the rest of the meeting once lunch was over, after all. And America usually wasn't one to skip meetings, no matter how he was feeling...even if he had the urge to vomit.

England chuckled at memories of that incident...ah yes, those were more light-hearted times.

He walked out into the gardens and let out a sigh of relief. There was America, sitting just at the edge of the pond with his shoulders slumped over. Well, at least he hadn't run away.

"America," spoke England as he walked over with his tray in hand, "I ordered you some lunch."

America sniffed, "Th—thank you, England," without bothering to turn around.

Concerned, England sat next to America and lay the tray down. America had his face buried in his hands and he was taking deep yet unsteady breaths, the kind one took when they were trying very hard not to cry, or to stop themselves from crying.

"America?" said England. "Does this have anything to do with the date?"

America paused before looking up. His eyes were red, his cheeks tear-stained. No longer was he his usual bumbling self. He sniffled and wiped his nose on his sleeve and muttered, "Maybe."

England moved in a bit closer. "America," he said in a gentle tone he hadn't used in a long time, "I went through a similar pain to yours not too long ago. That feeling of despair...where you wonder what you have done to make someone want to do this to you...where, for a moment, you lose your sense of pride as a nation, and wonder if you're as strong as you thought. But through it all, I realized something...no matter what they take from you, there is one thing they can never, ever take: Your love for your country."

America hadn't expected to see such kindness from England, such understanding, such warmth...

It was all too much, and he burst into tears, burying his face on England's shoulder. "Th—the others," he sobbed, "They all look up to me. They expect to see me as a hero. I—I can't show any sign of weakness..."

"America," said England, "you've been able to carry yourself in spite of what happened. That makes you stronger than you know."

For the next few minutes, America just quietly sniffled before he lifted up his head. He noticed the tray. "You...got me a hamburger."

"Well, yes, I considered you might want one," said England, handing the tray over to America, "Although, if you keep chowing them down, you'll gain weight again."

"Hey, they're better than that slop you call "food"," quipped America.

England scoffed, "Well, at least I don't have to watch my weight for it."

America laughed and chomped on his hamburger. His favourite food.

One of the things that could never be taken away from him.

The End