Disclaimer: I don't own Starsky and Hutch and I'm not writing this for profit.

Warning: This story involves the events of September 11, 2001. If you find this distressing, stop reading now. Also, this is a slash story. And be warned, there is strong language used.

Authors note: I live in New York City. On the morning of September 11, 2001, I took my daughter to school, and then went to work like any other day. It wasn't until I arrived at work that I found what had happened. I was lucky, I didn't lose anyone I knew, though of course I know people who did. As some people write deathfics to try and exorcise the trauma of something in their own life, this story is my attempt to come to grips with my experiences and feelings on that day.

A special thank you to my friend LAWV for reading this before I dared to post it

oo0000oo

The Only Thing I Can Be Sure Of

For Steve D., FDNY, who survived

"When President Kennedy was killed, my friend Mary McGrory said to Senator Pat Moynihan, 'We'll never laugh again.'

And Senator Moynihan replied, 'Mary, we'll laugh again, but we'll never be young again.'...

I watch the same pictures over and over again. The buildings on fire, and tumbling down, the soot on the faces of the rescued and the rescuers, and I know I'm entering a new world and things will never be the same...

The only thing I can be sure of - 'We'll laugh again, but we'll never be young again.'"

Art Buchwald,

We'll Laugh Again

oooOOOooo

September 11, 2001, 7:15 AM PDT (10:15 AM EDT)

Kenneth Hutchinson was jolted out of sleep by the incessant ringing of the telephone. Blearily and resentfully he reached for it on his bedside table. Who the hell was calling at this time of the morning? He was retired now, didn't he have the right to sleep late? His seeking hand found the cordless phone at last. Beside him the warm lump that was David Starsky was beginning to grumble and stir restlessly.

"Hello?" he muttered sleepily into the receiver.

"Kenny?" The frantic sound of his sister's voice jolted Hutch totally awake.

"Cassie? What's wrong?"

"Kenny, get up and turn on the TV. Right now. Get David up too."

Hutch staggered to his feet. "What is it? Cassie, what's wrong?"

"Just turn on the TV, Kenny. You have cable, right? Put on CNN."

"OK, OK, I'm going..." He stumbled into the living room.

Behind him he heard the sounds of Starsky pulling himself to consciousness. "Hutch? What's going on? Where ya' going?"

"Dunnow. Cassie says to turn on the TV." Hutch called back over his shoulder. He clicked the remote. Watched the screen warm up. Saw the images. Stared blankly. Sank down on the couch. "Oh my God. What...?"

"The World Trade Center. Two planes. And one at the Pentagon. The South Tower collapsed, Kenny, just before I called you, it just... collapsed. There's thousands of people in there, maybe tens of thousands..."

"Planes... with people in them?" Hutch stared at the devastation.

"Jets... hijacked."

"Oh my God."

"Oh crap. Oh geezus." Starsky, having followed Hutch into the living room, sank down next to him, mouth open.

"Kenny" Cassie continued tightly. "There's police and firemen in there. David's family, doesn't he have...?"

"God, yes, Cassie, let me go, he'll want to call them. I'll call you later and let you know how everyone is... Thanks for calling us." He hung up, turned to Starsky, who was staring as though hypnotized. "Starsk... Babe... Cassie said there's cops and firemen in there... "

Starsky turned from the screen with an effort. "Huh?" Then Hutch's words seemed to sink in. "Oh my God. Nick. And Mikey." He grabbed for the phone.

Hutch watched him dial the familiar number, a cold dread filling him. Nick, Starsky's younger brother, turned his life around, a cop now for over twenty years. Hutch never totally trusted Nick, even now, but he certainly wished him no ill, and Starsky loved his brother. And Mikey, Nick's oldest son, had been his uncle's pet from the day he was born. Just 21, and one month exactly a probationary fireman. Either or both could be in that hellish scene, lost in that cloud of smoke. Injured. Dying. Already dead. He wrapped his arms around Starsky and pulled him close as Starsky held the phone to his ear.

"Damn. The lines are tied up" Starsky muttered in frustration, and started redialing. Again he was unsuccessful. He started a third time, then "Hutch" he whispered urgently, "Look!"

As they watched, the North Tower pan-caked in on itself and collapsed.

"Gone" Hutch whispered. "Just...gone..."

Starsky frantically resumed dialing, muttering curses under his breath as try after try was unsuccessful. Hutch stared at the TV, his mind numb. How? Who? Why? And above it all stunned disbelief. This couldn't be happening. This couldn't be. How many dead? How many planes? The news announcers, panicked themselves, reeled off new facts, new rumors. New York in a state of emergency. A bomb outside the State Department building. Embassies evacuated. Planes grounded. Airports shut down. Flights diverted.

The world ending...

At last Starsky made a connection. "Rina? It's Dave... I saw the news... Nick and Mike, are they...?"

Hutch could hear the hysterical tone of Starsky's sister-in-law through the phone though he couldn't make out the words.

"OK, OK" Starsky said soothingly "OK, so Nick's all right, yes, I know, I know, I'm sure Mike's safe, you'll hear soon, I'm sure... shh, Rina, shh, everything'll be OK... He'll call when he can I'm sure... OK, sweetheart, don't cry, don't cry... Is Rich there? Good, can I talk to him?"

There was a pause as Rich, Starsky's younger nephew, 19 and a student at CUNY, was put on. "Rich, it's Uncle Dave. Yeah I know things are pretty bad. I think your mom's hysterical. Try to be strong for her, OK? When you talk to your dad, tell him I said to be careful. I know, I know... I'm sure Mikey's safe. They wouldn't put a rookie in danger, right? He's gotta' be OK, you'll see. Yeah, I know, you gotta' leave the line clear. Look, call us as soon as you know anything, right? Put your Mom on again first, though, please?"

There was another pause, Starsky turned to Hutch and said "Nick's OK, he's at headquarters, directing things from there. But Mikey... "

He turned back to the phone. "Rina, I have to go now, you have to leave the lines clear. But call me, as soon as you hear, OK? Tell Nick I said be careful. Tell him I love him, OK? And the rest of you guys, love you all... Yeah, thanks, I'll tell him. Bye."

"Mikey?" Hutch prompted as Starsky hung up.

"They don't know anything. He was on duty this morning, though. And his station was one of the first to respond. So he's right there in the middle." Starsky said heavily.

"Oh Christ" Hutch muttered. He pulled Starsky even closer, arms wrapping around him, cradling the graying curls against his shoulder. He felt Starsky's body shaking, and the slow, soundless drip of tears on his neck. They sat like that for a long time. Finally Starsky pushed himself upright. He wiped his eyes. "Rina said to say she sends her love" he said.

Hutch managed a smile. "You want coffee? My turn to make breakfast, right?"

"Yeah. Thanks..."

Hutch bustled around the kitchen, trying to drown out the images in his brain with the familiar tasks. The mindless work of getting a pot of coffee on seemed the most he could do. Maybe cold cereal would be the best idea for breakfast. He didn't feel like eating, but he knew they needed to anyway.

As he got bowls from the cupboard, the phone rang.

He dashed for the living room. Starsky had answered already, stress written on his face.

"Rina, is that...?" Then his expression changed. "Oh, hi Kiko. Yeah, we know, thanks." He gave a deep sigh. "Yeah, I called. Nick's fine, he's down at headquarters, but they don't know about Mikey." He filled Kiko in on Mikey's situation. "Do you want to talk to Hutch? Ok, here he is. Take care of yourself, Kiko, bye." Starsky tossed the phone to him.

Hutch took it gratefully. Kiko, his one time "Little Brother" was the closest thing he had to a son. Hutch needed to know that his family was safe. "Kiko, everyone all right there?" Kiko and his wife and kids were in Oregon now, where Kiko did something in computers, but Hutch kept in close touch. He and Starsky flew to visit them as frequently as possible. Flew. Flying. Would he ever have the courage to fly again, Hutch thought wearily.

"Yeah, Hutch. Thank God no one was traveling anywhere today. That's rough about Mikey. I hope he's OK."

"Yeah, me too." Hutch sighed. "Look, Kiko, we have to leave the phone open, Rina's going to call when she knows something. We'll call you back, alright?"

"Yeah. I'm going to call Molly now to make sure she's OK." Molly, Kiko's adopted sister, and her family still lived in California, where Molly was a teacher.

"They weren't planning a trip or anything, were they?" Hutch asked, suddenly concerned.

"No, no, nothing." Kiko hastened to reassure him. "I just want to, you know. Talk to her."

"Yeah, I know." The same impulse that had lead Hutch's sister to call, the same impulse that made Kiko call. When things are falling apart, you need to make contact. "Look, tell her what's going on with us, and that we'll call when we know something else."

"Yeah, sure." They ended the call, and Hutch slid down on the couch next to Starsky.

"They've confirmed a fourth plane is down" Starsky said bleakly. "Somewhere in Pennsylvania."

Hutch just shook his head. This was more than he could handle. "Come and have breakfast, Babe. You'll hear the phone if it rings, and we don't need to stare at this the whole time."

Reluctantly Starsky moved into the breakfast nook. He left the TV on, though.

"Hutch, think we're gonna' declare war when we know who did it?" Starsky looked at him with wide, bewildered eyes.

"How the hell should I know?" Hutch snapped in irritation. Instantly he regretted it. He knew Starsky was scared, hell, he was scared himself. "I'm sorry, Starsk. We'll just have to wait and see I guess. The president hasn't even made a comment yet."

"It's an act of war. We can't let it pass, it's an act of war. Like Pearl Harbor was."

"If it was a foreign government that did it, I guess you're right." Hutch admitted.

"Who do you think did this, Hutch?" Starsky asked plaintively. "Who hates us enough for this?"

Hutch shrugged. "Doesn't have to be foreigners. Could be anyone. Look at Oklahoma City."

Starsky shook his head. "That was just a fertilizer bomb. Nasty but simple. This is..." He trailed off. "Gotta' be someone from the Middle East. Like when they bombed the Twin Towers back in the 90s. '94 was it?"

"'93, I think." Hutch said.

"Whenever. Gotta' be the same thing. Maybe the same people."

"Maybe. But we don't know yet."

They ate in silence. Hutch reached over the table to take Starsky's hand, and held it tightly. He desperately wanted to voice some words of comfort, of reassurance, but there was nothing that he could think to say. The silence dragged longer. Finally, Hutch could stand it no longer. He stood.

"Gotta' do the dishes. Wanna' help me?"

A look of relief washed over Starsky's face. "Yeah. You wash, I'll dry and put away."

There weren't many dishes to do, but the sheer normalcy of the action was soothing. They made it take as long as possible. Finally everything was finished.

Starsky took a deep breath. "You going to stay in your PJs and robe all day, Babe? Not that I don't love seein' ya' like that, but..."

Hutch realized Starsky was trying to keep making things as normal as possible. "Yeah, I guess we both oughta' get showered and dressed, huh? You want to go first or should I? Or... wanna' double up?" He gave the best approximation of a sexy leer that he could under the circumstances.

Starsky shook his head. "One of us has to be able to get the phone if it rings" he said, pain showing in his eyes. "I'll go first." Hutch nodded wordlessly.

They showered and dressed. By then it was 10:00. Hutch toweled off his hair and settled next to Starsky on the couch again.

Starsky turned sad eyes to him. "You know, Hutch, I thought the Twin Towers were ugly when they were first built."

"Nothing wrong with thinking that, Babe. A lot of people did."

"They didn't start growing on me until... remember that time we went to visit and we took Ma to eat at the restaurant there? What was it called?"

"Windows on the World."

"Windows on the World, yeah. Remember that view? That's when I started thinking, OK, they're kinda' ugly, but they're not so bad. And now I just keep thinking, they're my towers... and they're gone." His voice broke on the last word. "And it hurts, Hutch. Oh God, it hurts."

"I know, Babe. But I'm here..." It was a replay of a scene over twenty years in the past, when Starsky had collapsed from the poison Bellemy had dosed him with. The overwhelming fear and helplessness that had washed over Hutch as he held the trembling form to him were akin to the fear and despair he felt now, but at least then there had been something he could do. Find the poisoner. Get the antidote. Now there was nothing he could do, and the only bad guys to catch were even farther out of his reach than Gunther had ever been. Hutch pulled Starsky close and held him tightly. He seemed to be doing that a lot today, but what else could he do for his broken-hearted partner?

He knew that even after all these years in California, somewhere deep down in his soul, Starsky still thought of himself as a New Yorker. It was part of him. Even aside from the fear for his nephew, Hutch knew Starsky felt this attack on his city as a wound in his own heart. Hutch couldn't imagine himself feeling that way about Duluth... or could he? If it were some important place in Duluth that was on the screen, in flames and smoking, how would he feel? He prayed that he would never know. This was bad enough.

They sat in silence a little longer. Then Hutch said "I was planning on doing laundry today. If I don't, we'll be naked tomorrow."

Starsky managed a little laugh. "Can't have that, can we? Scare the neighbors."

"The thing is, Starsk, we're out of detergent. I was going to go shopping."

Dismay flickered over Starsky's face. "I'll be fast, Babe, promise." Hutch assured him. "I'll just go to the mini-mart." Tentatively he added, "You could come."

Starsky shook his head. "Rina might call."

"Starsk, that's why we have an answering machine." He knew it was futile, but, truth be told, he didn't want to be alone either.

Starsky shook his head. "If it's bad news, she shouldn't have to leave it on a machine."

Hutch nodded at the truth of that. "OK, I'll take the cell phone. If you hear anything, call me, alright?" He kissed Starsky good-bye, and left.

The car radio had nothing but news. Hutch turned it off. The mini-mart was nearby. For the few minutes of the drive he could try to forget, try to pretend it was a normal day. A useless effort.

The parking lot for the mini-mart was empty. As Hutch walked towards the door, he stopped. Something was not right. The cop instincts of a lifetime didn't go away just because you were retired, and now every instinct he had was telling him something was wrong in the little store. He pressed himself up against the wall and sidled up to the window, then peered in from the edge.

There Hutch saw the reason for his tingling instincts. There were two people in the store, one a turbaned man behind the counter, the owner, who Hutch knew slightly, but the other wasn't a customer. Not in any usual sense of the word at least. A teenager, dressed in jeans and a hooded jacket, he had his fist wrapped in the owners shirt and was pulling him over the counter towards him. In his other hand he held a handgun.

Hutch pulled his head back out of sight. Not for the first time, he regretted that his retirement meant giving up his badge, and not carrying a gun on a regular basis any more. Still though, he had his cell phone.

Quickly he dialed a number that he'd long ago committed to memory.

"Bay City Police Department." Fortunately, a voice that he recognized.

"Becky? It's Ken Hutchinson."

"Lieutenant! What's up?" Officer Rebecca Wright sounded stressed, but happy to hear from her former superior.

"Becky, I need you to send a black-and-white to the mini-mart on the corner of Pine and Harmon immediately. There's a 2-11 in progress. The perp is armed."

"Roger that."

"I'll try to do something about it here."

"Sir! You're retired!"

"I know that Becky. Just send the black-and-white." Hutch snapped his cell phone shut, and eased forward again to take another look in the window. The gun-wielding teen was yelling something now, Hutch could hear the tone of voice, though he couldn't make out the words. Hutch had the feeling the situation was near to exploding. Waiting for the black-and-white might lead to a dead store-owner. No time to think or plan, just follow his instincts.

He sauntered carelessly into the store.

The perp turned his head, but didn't loose his grip on the owner's shirt. Hutch continued sauntering as though he didn't see what was happening, as though nothing was wrong, counting on sheer surprise to give him the advantage over the robber. "Hey, Mr. Singh" he called cheerily, "How about a cup of coffee?"

The robber waved the gun in his direction. "You! Old timer! Get out, now. I'm gonna' make this Arab towel-head pay for his sins."

Hutch ignored him, moving closer to the counter. A trickle of sweat was running down his back, but he kept himself looking as cool as possible. He could see now the small portable TV that the owner had set up, showing, of course, more scenes of the destruction. Closer now... the robber looked unsure of himself, should he keep his hold on man behind the counter, or switch all his attention to the new threat? Now Hutch was within a few steps of the pair...

And suddenly he pounced. There was a brief struggle. Hutch was older than his opponent, almost sixty, but he'd kept in shape, and he knew all the street fighting that a career on the force had taught him. It should have been enough. In his younger days it would have been enough. But now...

Hutch found himself sprawled on the floor with the perp panting slightly, one hand twisted in Hutch's hair, gun pointed at his head.

"You are dead, old man, you are so dead" the perp snarled.

It flashed through Hutch's mind that if the perp didn't kill him Starsky would, for being so stupid. "You don't want to do that" he said as calmly as he could. "The police are already on their way. All you've done so far is armed robbery. You don't want to make it murder one."

"I don't get you, man. Why do you want to help this raghead anyway?" the perp went on, unheeding. "Don't you know what they did in New York today? He's even watching it on the TV there."

"I know everybody's upset about what happened today, but I don't think Mr. Singh had anything to do with it." Hutch said quietly. "So why don't you put down the gun and let's talk about this?"

"No way, man. No way." The perp tightened his grasp on the gun. Hutch swallowed. He couldn't breath. Yeah, Starsky was really going to kill him for this one.

Then loud in the silence there was the sound of a pistol being cocked. "Put down the gun please and let Mr. Hutchinson get up" Mr. Singh's lightly accented voice was firm, as was the hold that he had on the gun he was now pointing at the would-be robber.

Both Hutch and the would-be robber stared for a moment, then the robber dropped his gun. Hutch suddenly found he could breathe again. Carefully he got up, grabbed the dropped gun, and pointed it at the robber.

"I'm getting to old for this" he muttered. "Thank you, Mr. Singh" he said more loudly.

"No, it is I who must thank you" Mr. Singh contradicted. "He surprised me, so I could not get to the gun I keep under the counter. If you had not intervened, I am sure he would soon have killed me."

"Well we can thank each other, then." Hutch said. "By the way, I hope you have a license for that thing."

"Oh yes, it is all legal." Mr. Singh assured him.

"You're pretty good with it." Hutch said, noticing the man's stance and unwavering grip.

"I am a Sikh, Mr. Hutchinson. We are a warrior people."

Suddenly the door slammed open.

"Freeze! Police!" Two uniformed officers burst in. Reflexively Hutch and Mr. Singh both dropped their guns and raised their hands. The perp on the floor cowered.

"Oh! Lieutenant Hutchinson" the older of the two uniforms said, relaxing slightly. "Becky said you were here." It was an officer Hutch knew vaguely, Sergeant Miller. Hutch carefully put his hands down. Mr. Singh cautiously followed suit.

"I'm very glad to see you boys" Hutch said gratefully.

They soon had the situation straightened out, and the younger officer cuffed the would-be robber and read him his rights.

Miller got out a clipboard with papers. "OK, Lieutenant, let's get this taken care of. It's gonna' take a while."

"Oh hell, I gotta' call Starsky and let him know what's going on." Hutch muttered, getting out his cell phone.

"Hey Babe?" he said when Starsky answered. "I ran into some trouble here. There was an attempted robbery. Nothing serious but I've got to help fill out some paperwork."

"Oh shit, Hutch. Are you all right?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. It was nothing, really. I'll tell you all about it when I get back. Have you heard anything from Rina?"

Starsky sighed. "No. A few other calls from people who wanted to know if we'd heard anything. Alison called. And Junior. I'll tell you when you get home."

"I'll be as fast as I can."

"You'd better be." Starsky said suspiciously. "I think you've been getting into trouble again."

Hutch sighed as he hung up. He knew it was useless to try and keep the truth from Starsky, his partner knew him too well.

They filled out the paperwork. "I do not understand" Mr. Singh said sadly. "How could he blame me for this terrible thing that has happened? I am not an Arab, I am from India. And I am not even Muslim, I am a Sikh." He looked at the policemen with hurt, bewildered eyes. "And even if I were an Arab, or Muslim, I have been an American citizen for 20 years. Does he not think this thing hurts me too?" His voice cracked a little. "I have family in New York City! My brother and his wife and children."

"There's been a few other incidents today." Sergeant Miller said. "People are on edge... lashing out at anyone they think is different from them. Your family in New York, are they all right?"

Mr. Singh shrugged. "For the most part, yes. But the boy my brother's oldest daughter is to marry... he works in the towers, and they have not heard from him."

There was a somber silence for a few moments.

The younger officer spoke up for the first time. "Lieutenant Hutchinson? Aren't you David Starsky's, um..." He looked as though he was searching for a word, then switched to "Don't you live with Sergeant Starsky?"

Hutch glanced at the young officer warily. Twenty-two years of being a couple, most of that time out of the closet, he was used to hostility, even on the force, even after all this time. But the young officer's face showed only friendly concern.

"Starsky and I are partners, yes."

"Doesn't he have family in New York too? Are they all right?"

Hutch relaxed his guard, and told the young officer about Nick and Mikey. "You know Starsky?"

The youngster nodded. "I was in some of his classes in the Academy. He was one of the best teachers I ever had." His expression turned serious. "I hope his nephew's OK. You can tell him Ronnie Taylor was asking about him. I don't know if he'll remember me, though."

Hutch smiled. "I'll tell him. Starsky remembers all his students." It was the truth. Just as Starsky had kept a seemingly bottomless file of cases, faces, and seemingly pointless trivia in his head when he worked the streets, so once he started teaching he had kept a file of his students. It wasn't surprising that Officer Taylor felt that way about him, Starsky cared about his students, and he had always had the ability to bring out the best in people he cared about, to see their good points no matter how deeply they were buried. It's what had kept them together, Hutch thought, even before they were lovers, through the bad times before Gunther's hit, when Hutch had been getting burned out and cynical and taking it out on Starsky.

The crackle of the police radio in the black-and-white brought their thoughts back to the moment at hand. "Well, I guess we'd better get this bad boy in for processing." Sergeant Miller said. "Good seeing you again, Lieutenant. Mr. Singh, be sure to call if you have any more problems."

"And could you let us know how Sergeant Starsky's nephew is?" Officer Taylor added.

"Of course." Hutch assured him. They made their farewells. "And I had better get what I came for in the first place, and get back home. How'd it get this late?" It was almost 1:00. Hutch headed for the laundry detergent. "What do I owe you, Mr. Singh?"

"Please, you must allow this to be my gift, Mr. Hutchinson. It is little enough to thank you."

"Uh, no, I couldn't" Hutch demurred. "To many years as a cop."

Mr. Singh looked bemused. "It is only a bottle of detergent, Mr. Hutchinson." To Hutch's determined expression he added "But if you insist, at the very least let me give you the cup of coffee you asked for when you came in."

Hutch laughed. "All right, that I can accept. But I really do have to get home. Starsky's upset enough with everything that's happened today, this is just going to make things worse. He's gonna' kill me himself when he finds out how close it came today" he added ruefully.

"You do not need to tell him, you know" Mr. Singh said, a small smile crossing his dark face as he poured Hutch's coffee and handed it over. "I am not going to tell my wife more than the bare essentials."

Hutch sighed, fixing his coffee. "Doesn't matter. Starsky'll know. He always knows."

Mr. Singh nodded sagely. "Yes" he agreed. "It is the same with my wife. But I will try."

Hutch laughed. He sipped some coffee.

"Mr. Hutchinson." Mr. Singh started thoughtfully. "You and Mr. Starsky have been together a very long time, is that not so?"

Hutch nodded. "Twenty-two years as a couple, and we were friends for years before that."

"Where I came from, where I grew up, this was looked on as a very bad thing, you understand." Mr. Singh said slowly. "But when I came here, when I saw people like you and Mr. Starsky, and some others who live around here, I started to think 'These are nice people, they are happy, they are not hurting anyone... perhaps this is not so bad a thing as I was always told. It is not for me, but maybe for them, it is the way they are meant to be.'" He gave a chuckle. "I am glad that I changed my mind before today. It would have been very embarrassing to owe my life to you otherwise."

Hutch swallowed more of his coffee. Very carefully he said "You know, when you opened this store, I didn't know anything about your religion. Someone mentioned that you were a Sikh, and I realized I didn't know anything about it. So I went to the library, and read some books. I found it very interesting, and with many things about it that I thought were very worthwhile."

Mr. Singh nodded. "And so we learn from each other. This, I think, is part of what makes this country what it is, that two men as different as we can find some common ground. It is one of the things that men such as they" he nodded towards the TV and its scenes of destruction, "hate so much about it."

Hutch nodded. "I think you're right, Mr. Singh."

"Please, call me by my first name. It is Budhjeet."

"Budh... uh..." Hutch flushed.

A laugh. "My American friends sometimes call me 'Bud', if you find that easier. Or even 'Buddy'."

Hutch laughed too. "'Buddy' I can manage. Then you have to call me 'Hutch'. And it's simply 'Starsky', without the 'Mr.' to our friends. And I need to be getting back home to him" he added, draining his cup. "I hope you hear good news about your niece's fiancé."

"Thank you. And I in turn hope you hear good news about your Starsky's nephew."

"Thanks. We'll let you know."

Hutch hurried home. Starsky met him at the door.

"OK, partner, give. What happened at the store?"

"Nothing! It was nothing, really. Some teenager tried to rob the place, and I called the station and had them send a black-and-white, that's all."

"Uh huh. You didn't try to get involved at all?" Starsky asked, plainly skeptical.

"Well, I did distract the robber for long enough that Mr. Singh could pull his gun on him."

Starsky pursed his lips in irritation. "And you did this distracting, how?"

Hutch sighed. He should have known better than to try and fool Starsky. "I jumped him."

"And this was an armed robber?" Starsky said in dismay. "Hutch! You could have been killed!"

"Not a word, Starsky." Hutch said firmly. He pointed a finger at his partner. "You would have done the same thing if you were there and you know it."

Starsky had the grace to look embarrassed. "Yeah, I suppose so."

"And it wasn't as dangerous as all that. It was just a punk kid, and the black-and-white was on the way. And hey!" Hutch went on, changing the subject as quickly as possible. "Guess who they sent? Miller and some kid named Ronnie Taylor. Taylor said he was one of your students. He knew you had family in New York, and he wanted to know if they were OK. I told him we'd let them know when we knew anything."

"Yeah, I remember Taylor. Nice kid." Starsky said thoughtfully. "Good choice to put him with Miller."

"So what's been going on here since I called?" Hutch asked, sensing that the immediate danger of Starsky's wrath was past.

Starsky slumped down on the couch again. "Still nothing from Rina. Cal called, he wanted to know how everyone was. He said he'd pass the news to his parents and Rosie. His church is having an ecumenical prayer service tonight at 8:00. He said he'd pray for Mikey and Nick." Captain Dobey's son was now the Reverend Calvin Dobey, with a church in Bay City. "He asked if we wanted to come. I told him maybe." Starsky grinned fleetingly, then his expression changed to more somber. "And Huggy called. He's in a bad state. Seems his cousin Melina works in one of the towers, way at the top, and no one's heard from her. They don't think she got out."

"Aw hell." Hutch rubbed his face. "Anything new from..." He waved vaguely at the TV.

"They think it was Muslim fundamentalists. The same bunch that run the Taliban in Afghanistan. Osama bin... something. The president's been blathering. And the veep's in an undisclosed location." Starsky was not a fan of the current administration. "Rudy Giuliani's been down at the site. At least he's there and doing something" Starsky added grudgingly. He wasn't a big fan of the New York mayor, either.

Hutch started the laundry. When he got back from the little laundry room, he found Starsky making lunch. "I had to do something." Starsky explained. "I couldn't just keep sitting there. There's been reports of an attack in Afghanistan, Hutch. Someone's shelling Kabul."

Hutch sat down heavily in one of the kitchen chairs. "Was it us?"

Starsky shrugged. "No one seems to know yet. Might be the Northern Alliance, that's the ones who are fighting against the Taliban."

They ate slowly. Neither had much appetite, but they made it take as long as possible.

"What do you want to do for the rest of the afternoon?" Hutch finally asked. "I know you want to stay home, but... we have to so something."

They ended up playing Monopoly with the TV on, but turned down low. Even so, neither was able to concentrate very well. Hutch did the laundry. And time dragged on. There were a few phone calls, mostly from friends. Hutch called Cassie back to tell her they still didn't know anything. Rina didn't call.

Eventually Hutch finished the last load of wash, a load of towels. After the game was over, a little after 4:30, he went to put them away in the bathroom closet. Starsky turned up the TV. When Hutch came back, Starsky was on the couch again, bent over one of his photo albums.

"Whatcha' looking at, Starsk?" he asked, craning to see.

"It's the pictures from the summer Mikey spent with us." Mikey had spent several weeks with them when he was 12. "Here, take a look."

Hutch sat next to Starsky and peered at the album. A grinning curly-haired Mikey, Starsky to the core, stood proudly showing off the ship model he and his uncle had built over the course of his visit. Starsky turned the page, and there was a series of pictures taken at a ball game they had gone to. On another page, Mikey and Hutch played catch.

Hutch slipped an arm around Starsky. "We had a good time that summer."

Starsky turned haunted eyes to Hutch. "Hutch, now they're saying at least half of the firemen who were initially sent to the towers are dead. At least two hundred. Two hundred, Hutch. Maybe more."

Hutch went cold. "Oh Christ. Oh, Babe..." There were no words to say, but he tried anyway. "Don't give up hope, Starsk. Wait 'til we know for sure."

"At least Nicky's safe." Starsky said brokenly. "But there's about 78 police officers missing, probably dead. The NYPD just announced it."

Hutch just sat, incapable of grasping a loss of that magnitude. "Come on, lets put the game away" he said eventually. He started sorting the stacks of money. He felt sick to his stomach.

The phone rang. Starsky was on it before Hutch could even move.

"Hello? Rina?" Starsky dropped to the couch as though his legs had given out. "Oh thank God. Is he...? OK, slow down, slow down. Wait, let me tell Hutch." He looked up over the receiver, his eyes bright for the first time that day. "Mikey's alive. He's hurt though." He turned back to phone. "OK, tell me. How is he?" He listened, nodding. "Ok, let me tell Hutch." He put down the phone. "He was trapped under debris. He has a broken leg, and burns, and he's hurt pretty bad, but they say he's going to be all right."

Hutch sat down, breathing hard. It felt as though a weight had lifted off his chest.

Starsky spent several more minutes talking to Rina, then, after asking her to have Nick call him when he could, he got off so she could make some more calls.

"I guess he's pretty bad right now" he said to Hutch. "Gonna' be scars, too. But I told Rina, scars are nothing. I'll show him my scars. Long as he's alive, right? And they said he's gonna' be OK."

"How are things in the city?"

Starsky shrugged. "About how you'd expect. People are hurt, scared. But holding together. Treating each other gentle. A lotta' the bus drivers have just blocked off their fare boxes and are giving free rides. And, Hutch, she went to the hospital to see Mikey before she called, so that she'd know how he was. And she said when she got there, there was a line waiting to donate blood that went all the way through the lobby, and out the door into the street. All kindsa' people she said, black, and white, Hispanic, and Asian, and from the Middle East. Everyone together. All wanting to give blood to help." His voice grew hushed at the thought. He paused, then his voice grew harsh. "Wish we could."

Hutch understood his bitterness. Twenty-two years of monogamy, but because they were two men having sex, they still were considered an AIDS risk. "We could go somewhere they don't know us. And just donate."

"You mean lie when they ask if I've had sex with a man in the last six months? Babe, not even for this am I going to lie about loving you." Starsky said flatly.

Hutch nodded, understanding. "There'll be other ways to help besides blood, Starsk. We'll find something. And we'll go out and see Mikey as soon as we can."

Starsky sighed. Then he pulled himself together. "Well, now what?"

"You mean right now? There's a bunch of people to call who wanted news. After that, you have any ideas?"

"We could go to Cal's prayer service."

Hutch looked at Starsky in surprise. "Um, Starsky. You're Jewish. Cal's Baptist or something."

"Hey, it's just a matter of wanting to be with people, ya' know? Just seems like today's a day to be with people. Besides, I said it was ecumenical, didn't I? He has Rabbi Kopperman coming too, and a bunch of other religions. They're just using Cal's church because they have the nice big space. We can ask Huggy if he wants to come. And the rest of the Dobeys'll probably be there too."

Hutch smiled indulgently. Mikey was alive, let Starsky do what he wanted to celebrate it. He had occasionally showed an odd religious streak ever since Gunther's hit. "OK, Starsk, you got it. We can grab something to eat on the way."

Afterwards Hutch was surprised to find himself glad he had gone to the service. Starsky was right, it was better to be with people. Huggy came. There was still no word about his cousin, and he was resigned to her probable death. "She was just 25, man" he murmured bleakly. "Had a good career, boyfriend, lotta' stuff to look forward to. Who the fuck could want to do something like this?"

The Dobeys were there, with Rosie, who was now Dr. Rosalind Dobey, MD. They all hugged Starsky and told him how glad they were about Mikey, and Hutch found his breathing easier than it had been all day. The sick feeling subsided a little too. The service was quiet, and filled with the sound of crying. Hutch even found a few tears sliding down his own face.

That night, when they got home, they went straight to bed. They made love, gently, an affirmation of life, rather than passion. Afterwards, Hutch lay with his head resting on Starsky's chest, listening to his heart, thinking. He thought about Mikey, in the hospital, probably drugged asleep at this point, and Nick, probably still working. He thought about Huggy's cousin, and Mr. Singh's niece's fiancé, and all the families that didn't get good news. The world seemed a much more frightening place than it had the day before. He had known evil all during his career, but the cold blooded hatred required to kill thousands of total strangers and yourself in the process was totally foreign to anything he'd ever encountered. It was overwhelming, that such hatred could even exist. But then he thought of the tentative friendliness of Mr. Singh, willing to overcome his prejudices, or the crowds Rina had described waiting to donate blood.

"Hutch?" Starsky's voice was hesitant.

"What, Babe?"

"Whata' you think is going to happen tomorrow?"

"I don't know, Starsk."

"Think there's gonna' be another attack?"

Hutch sighed. "If we don't get the people responsible for this one, probably. But not soon."

"Everything seems different. Think this is how it felt to our parents after Pearl Harbor?"

"Probably. But at least they had a clear enemy. This is... how do we fight this? You tell me, Starsk. What do we do?"

"I don't know, Hutch." He wrapped an arm around Hutch's shoulders. "You're supposed to be the brains, remember?" he joked gently.

"Not about this, Babe. Feels like I don't know anything for sure."

Hutch felt a gentle rumble of laughter from deep inside Starsky. "I know something for sure, Sweetheart. The only thing I can be sure of."

"What's that?"

Starsky stroked a gentle hand through Hutch's hair. "Me and thee, Babe. Me and thee."