AN: In memory of every life lost in the 9/11 attacks ten years ago. May your love and sacrifice never be forgotten, and thank you to all of the heroes who stand up to defend our country so that we won't have to live through such tragedies again. You are in all our hearts and prayers. Thank you.
It had been ten years to the day and Auggie could still remember like it was yesterday.
He had been in his college apartment when it had happened, shaving and grumbling about having to get up for class after the party he'd been at the night before. The smell of microwaved pop-tarts was heavy in the air from where his roommate Jeremy was having breakfast on the couch, watching the news. He was a political science major and he watched news reports religiously.
"Hey Augs, you want a pop-tart?" Jeremy called.
Auggie flinched, his head aching at his roommate's loud voice. "No thanks, dude, not in the mood for sweet food," he answered and turned his attention back to his razor. He was only halfway finished when Jeremy let out a startled curse.
"Jer?" he asked tentatively.
"Shit," was Jeremy's response. The volume on the television rose and Auggie could finally hear what had gotten his roommate's attention.
"...a plane has just crashed into the World Trade Centre tower..."
Auggie's hand slipped but he ignored the nick on his jaw and the bit of shaving cream still on his chin as he hurried into the living room, standing next to Jeremy so he could see the screen. The grainy video image showed an enormous building, the top half engulfed in smoke and the tail of a plane protruding from the side. Auggie stared in terror at the flickers of flames and curls of smoke, the screams coming from the television filling his head.
This couldn't be happening, could it? This had to be some sort of joke. A political stunt or a trick or something. This wasn't real. Right?
Jeremy abruptly pulled out his cell phone and walked to the corner of the room. He was pale white as he held the phone against his ear. Auggie stared, transfixed, at the television. Falling debris, screaming people, fire licking through the walls of the towers. The camera caught a glimpse of someone hurling themselves from a window and watched as he plummeted toward the ground. He was way too far up, there was no way he could've survived. That man had jumped because he knew that he was lost either way.
"Damn it!" Jeremy shouted. He pummelled the buttons of his mobile again and started pacing the length of the room. "C'mon, c'mon, answer your phone..."
"Jer?" Auggie asked uncertainly.
Jeremy ignored him, hanging up and then dialling again. "God damn it!" he yelled after a minute, dragging his hand through his hair. His knees buckled under him and he sat down heavily, but he immediately put the phone to his ear. "Fuck, Marcus, answer your God damned phone, would you?"
"Oh my God!" Auggie hurriedly glanced back up at the television in alarm at the news reporter's cry. The video shook and for a moment all they could see was the asphalt road and the shoes of running people, and then a new wave of screams broke out. The reporter's terrified voice said, "Oh God, another plane has just struck the second tower. Oh my God..."
"No," Jeremy said, and when Auggie looked at him his eyes had gone wide in horror, the last of the colour drained from his skin. He stared down at his phone like he was begging it to ring. "No, no, no..."
"Jer?" Auggie asked again, and he crossed the room to kneel beside his roommate. He didn't know the guy too well, they'd only been living together for a couple weeks now, but he knew enough to know that Jeremy was not an emotional guy. "Jer, what's up?"
"My brother Marcus, he works in the Trade Centre," Jeremy admitted. A weight settled in Auggie's stomach and he turned back to the television in comprehension. Jeremy's brother could be inside of that place right now. Was he on a lower floor and had managed to escape? Was he in the part of the tower that had been hit by a plane? Or could he be trapped above that, where there was no hope of escape? Was he one of the people who had jumped from the windows because they knew there was no chance for them?
Nobody went to their classes that day. Auggie and Jeremy stayed in the living room of their cramped apartment, watching the television reports. They were watching as a third plane hit the Pentagon and as a fourth plane crashed down in a field in Pennsylvania. New updates and death tolls rang in all day long; horrifying stories of phone calls made from passengers on the planes and of the few survivors that had slipped from the lobby when it had happened. The stories of fire-fighters and policemen who had rushed in to save people, of bodies that had been dragged from the rubble, of those brave civil servants who had died trying to save others.
Jeremy never let go of his phone. It never rang.
Both Auggie and Jeremy took a week off of school to travel up to New York and help out with the clean-up. Auggie had never seen anything more horrifying in his life than what they found at Ground Zero, and the images haunted his sleep for months afterward. They eventually found Jeremy's brother's remains, only identifying him by his dental records because his body had been crushed when the Towers collapsed.
Jeremy dropped out of school and moved to New York to help his sister-in-law take care of his nephews. Auggie finished out the semester and then enlisted in the army.
That had been ten years ago.
Auggie sat forward in his chair, reading the information streaming across his keyboard. "Annie, we've keyed in on their location," he said into his headset. "Northeast quadrant. FBI is already on their way."
"Okay, we're on it," Annie responded and he could hear the pant of her breath as she took off running. Auggie waited anxiously until she spoke again. "Situation neutralized," Annie reported.
"Way to go, girl," Auggie said and she laughed lightly. He leaned back in his chair with a relieved sigh.
Joan patted his shoulder comfortingly. "Good job Auggie," she said. "If you hadn't caught that intel then those radicals could've caused a lot of trouble. Now the memorial can go off with the respect it deserves."
"Thanks," Auggie said gratefully. She squeezed his shoulder one last time and then he listened to the sound of her heels clicking out of the room.
It had been ten years since he had watched that fateful news report in his shabby apartment. Ten years since he'd comforted the roommate whose brother would never be coming home again. Ten years since he had helped to clean up the mess left behind in the wake of the attack. He had devoted those ten years to defending his country, and trying to make it so that no one else would have to suffer through what Jeremy and thousands of others had that morning.
The large command screens in the bullpen suddenly turned on and Auggie could hear the broadcast of the memorial service. A hush fell over the room, a silence that had never existed there before, and everyone turned their attention to the screens. Auggie took off his headset and listened, memories and losses and triumphs taking over his mind.
It had been ten years, but as long as they were never forgotten and people were still around to protect and defend their freedoms then none of those deaths would be in vain.