21 Guns

Alfred sighed, closing his eyes. The speaker at the front of the cemetery continued talking, going on about things that had nothing to do with this day or the soldiers lying in their graves.

Does he even realize the meaning of where we are? Does he realize the significance of these graves? How can he continue talking like this? He wondered in the back of his mind. He opened his eyes.

Then again, he thought, continuing his musings, maybe it matters more to me because of who I am.

Finally, the speaker was done.

Alfred F. Jones, the personification of the United States of America, stood almost at attention as the guards let off a 21-gun salute, concluding the Memorial Day service. He had come today as a civilian, so he was not in his military uniform like he usually was at these events. However, he figured that since he owed every soldier his life, he should do his best to pay his respects to them whenever he could.

He could only be present today due to their sacrifices. These men and women had given their lives for their country, for him. He had no intention of ever forgetting them.

Yeah, but what sort of hero am I, if I couldn't save all of them? Alfred sighed again as he headed to his car along with other people who had attended the service. Normally, he didn't think things like that, but on these days where the people of his country gave tribute to those who had died in the service of this country, all of the doubts about himself and his choices were brought to the forefront.

Getting into his car, Alfred buckled up and started driving back to his house. He knew some of his thoughts were unrealistic. During war, you can't save everyone, and some people are going to die. But, he continued to think, that doesn't mean I shouldn't try to save everyone. Even if all of the other nations call me stupid for trying. He pouted a bit at the thought of the other nations. I wonder if they ever think like this.

Soon enough, Alfred was pulling into his own driveway. He got out and headed for the front door. He was so lost in his thoughts that he didn't notice the person standing at the front door.

"There you are, git. Open the bloody door already."

Alfred jumped in surprise at the sound of the voice. "I-Iggy?" He asked, even though the Brit was standing right in front of him.

Said Brit raised one of his large eyebrows in response. "Obviously." He scowled. "But, my name isn't 'Iggy.'"

Alfred laughed and forced a smile on his face, even though he wasn't in the mood to smile. "Whatever you say then, Artie!" He noticed that his usage of Arthur's other nickname made him scowl more, but that was fine with him. He quickly unlocked the door and the two nations entered his house.

"Make yourself at home. Want something to drink?" He shrugged off his jacket and placed it on the coat rack next to the door.

"Tea's fine, if you have any." Arthur was giving the house a look over, and Alfred was glad that he had decided to clean the previous day while he was bored.

"Don't worry! I keep some just for you!" His smile became a bit more real as Arthur spluttered at this statement. However, as he entered the kitchen, Alfred felt safe enough to let the fake smile fall from his face. Jeez, if I didn't have Hollywood, I probably wouldn't be able to fool other nations as well as I do.

He had learned long ago that other nations thought of him as an idiot, so he felt no need to correct them. The only one who knew just how intelligent he was was Russia, and that was only because the Cold War had been an entire battle of wits. Besides, it was more fun to pretend that he couldn't notice how much others didn't like him and not worry too much about it.

Yet today wasn't an ordinary day, as the reason why this day was acknowledged showed just how much others didn't like him.

Anyway, I can't show that while Arthur's here. He probably wouldn't believe that I think about this kind of stuff. Alfred quickly finished making the cup of tea and he made a cup of instant coffee for himself.

He carried both mugs into the living room and plastered a smile on his face. "So whatcha doing here, Artie?"

Arthur looked up from where he was sitting. "Can't I just visit? And it's 'what are you doing,' not 'whatcha doing.'" He sighed. "Honestly, could you stop butchering my language?"

"'Course not!" Alfred handed him his cup of tea. "Besides, I'm speaking American, not English!"

"Hmmm." Arthur made a noncommittal noise as he sipped his tea. Then he stared at Alfred like he was looking at a specimen on an operating table.

The scrutinizing was making him uncomfortable and he squirmed a bit under his gaze. His smile fading, he started to ask why he was being stared at. "Hey, Artie-"

"What's wrong?"

Alfred blinked. "What?"

"I bloody raised you. I can tell when something's wrong." Arthur took another sip of tea. "You always get like this on these military holidays of yours. So just say what's bothering you."

Alfred blinked again. That's right. He always knew when I had a question or whatever back in the day. He collected his whirling thoughts. "Do you ever wonder if it's worth it?"

Arthur stared at him. "Is what worth it?"

"Well," Alfred started. "The things we fight about in wars and stuff. Is it even worth fighting for? Is it even worth having people die for?" He leaned back in his chair. "Not to mention all of the innocent lives that get caught up in these fights."

"There's all sorts of reasons that wars are fought, Al." Arthur set down his cup and looked at his former colony. "It's inevitable that wars will be fought and people will die. In the end, things are generally better than at the beginning."

"Not always." Alfred said bitterly, thinking of the Korean War and Vietnam War. "Does that justify how many die, both in service and just for getting in the way?"

Arthur raised an eyebrow. "This is coming from the 'hero' that's always throwing himself into wars?"

"Guess I'm not really a hero then, huh?" Alfred slouched down in his seat, crossing his arms and avoiding the Brit's eyes.

It was Arthur's turn to blink as he finally realized what this was about. He sighed. "You can't save everyone, Al."

"I know."

Arthur got up and gave Alfred a hug. "The fact that you care so much is what really makes you a hero, Alfred. You want to save the whole bloody world, but you want to take up the whole burden yourself. You have to share that burden with your people, and it's how they feel too. They understand, otherwise they wouldn't be fighting, would they?"

"I know." Alfred said again, taking comfort in Arthur's gesture. "But that still doesn't mean they wanted to die."

Arthur didn't have a response for that.

"The fact that they were willing to do what they felt was right, though," Alfred smiled for real for the first time that day.

"That's what makes them the real heroes."

Hope everyone remembers the soldiers of the past on this Memorial Day. After all, they're the ones that made America a free country.