Bleary-eyed and unkempt, Nik stumbled down the stairs with Auntie Al behind him. Auntie Al went to the kitchen, needing to keep his hands busy, while Nik continued down the hall to the entertainment room.

Sweetie lay on the couch, hugging a blanket to his front. He squeezed it between his legs and held it against his chest. A box of tissues sat in front of him on the couch. He did not take his eyes off the television screen even as Nik walked in front of him.

Nik sat down on the edge of the couch, leaning back against Sweetie’s middle. Nik’s eyes were fixed on the television, as well, but he reached out and touched a hand to Sweetie’s side. “Holy fucking…”

There was nothing to say. Sweetie just nodded. They watched together, in silence, hardly able to take in the information and the visuals. The smoke was so dark, so thick. It was impossible to believe anyone could be in there and survive. Every time the network recapped and replayed, Sweetie stiffened or choked back sobs, or both. Every time they cut from the towers to the Pentagon, Nik got jumpy.

When the phone rang, they both gave a start. Sweetie snatched up the cordless which was sitting beside the tissue box. “Trip?” he answered in an instant. His shoulders sagged a little, but he was still tense. “Olly, can’t you come home?” He listened for a few minutes. “No, we’re okay. You take care of your patients.” Another minute passed. “Please be safe.” Sweetie hung up and put the phone down.

Nik didn’t need to ask what that was about. “Do you think we should wake Pit?”

“I did,” Auntie Al said, striding into the room with Toby on his heels. “He’s watching downstairs. Here, I brought water.”

“Nothing shtronger?” Nik asked, taking his eyes off the television long enough to look up at Auntie Al with hope in his eyes.

“Nothing’s strong enough for that,” Auntie Al replied, sitting down in a chair with a glass of ice water. The ice cubes were clinking. His hand was shaking.

Absolutely sure he was a lap dog even though he weighed seventy-five pounds, Toby leapt onto the couch. He knocked the tissues and phone onto the floor then sat with his front on Nik’s lap and his rear in Sweetie’s face. His tail wagged, and Sweetie grabbed it to keep it from slapping him in the face. “Hey! Watch it with that thing!” The dog grunted as it pulled its tail free.

“Shhh,” Nik said to them both. He snapped his fingers to direct Toby off the couch. Then he picked up the items for Sweetie and guided Toby back up onto the couch on the other side of him. As Toby’s head came to rest on his leg, Nik’s hand gently stroked the dark, short fur in a comforting sort of way. His other hand reached out and took Sweetie’s hand, squeezing tightly.

The phone rang again, and Sweetie scrambled to answer it. “Trip?” He sighed deeply and half sat up, listening. Nik took his eyes off the television and watched Sweetie intently. “Thank God,” Sweetie whispered after a few minutes. “Okay. Bye.” He pushed the button to hang up. “He’s safe and he’s coming home. They had him enforcing the no-fly zones but more guys got there to take over now that enough people made it to Andrews from the beltway gridlock.”

Auntie Al nodded, and Nik let out a breath of relief. The news cut back to the Pentagon and Nik actually gasped out loud. “Not that he’ll be any sthafer here than there,” he whispered. Unconsciously, he petted Toby more quickly.

Sweetie grabbed a tissue, rubbed at his eyes then quietly began to shred it. “We have to close the club tonight,” he said.

“I’ll call around to check on the shtaff,” Nik nodded. “We should sthtart raisthing fundsth. They won’t let usth donate blood, but they’ll take our money.”

“Stay with me until Trip gets home?”

Nik agreed.

There was another recap on television and then another death toll estimation. Sweetie didn’t make it through without crying. Nik leaned over with open arms and hugged Sweetie as he shook and went through tissues right and left. There wasn’t any need for him to apologize, but Sweetie did anyway as the tears backed off. “Sorry. It’s not like I lost anyone…”

“Yes you did,” said Auntie Al softly, looking straight at the television set. “We all did.”