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Breaching the Fortress

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"I'll try to get home tonight, honey," Harold Dobey told Edith. "I know it's been awhile."

"I understand. And before you ask, so do Cal and Rosie." Edith's voice was rich, smooth, and a balm to his soul. "Your men need you more right now."

Harold sighed as he turned in his chair, looked out the window. The sky was blue and clear as if the city below was just as clean and bright. But he knew differently—that had been pounded home to all of them in the past week and a half. "Sorry, Edie, I didn't catch that."

"I asked how Dave is. Did you hear anything from the hospital?"

"Not today but they've got the infection under control and he's making progress. They actually had him sitting up yesterday for a little bit."

"That's good," Edith said. He heard her take a deep breath. "And how's Ken doing?"

Harold wiped a hand across his face. "I think he might be needing as many prayers as Starsky," he said. "He's wound up so tight, honey. And I'm afraid…"

"I know, Harold," Edith said. "We'll keep praying and you keep taking care of our boys. I have to go. Cal's in the kitchen and if I want any food left, I'd better go supervise."

Harold smiled—it felt strange on his face. "I love you, Edie."

"I love you too, sweetheart. I'll be waiting for you," she said and Harold held onto the receiver for a long time after she hung up.

He looked at the paperwork strewn across his desk. It felt strange being back in the office after a week spent in a small conference room at the hospital. But Starsky was out of danger now and life had to, at some point, go back to normal. Huh, he thought, nothing was ever going to be normal again. Gunther was behind bars—not even his high-powered lawyers able to get the judge to set bail due to the perceived flight risk the man presented. Harold didn't know if he should be thankful that the feds were involved in the case or not. Gunther's crimes that were coming to light were far more than an attempted assassination of two upstart police detectives in Bay City and the murder of Bates. Drug smuggling, bribery and attempted bribery of public officials, human trafficking, the list went on and on. Meanwhile, Harold's men had a city of ordinary citizens who needed protecting.

"Captain?" Babcock poked his head in the door after a quick knock. "It's Hutch," he said as he came in and closed the door.

"The others?"

"They all went to an early dinner," Babcock said. "Sims and me'll make sure no one comes in."

"Thanks." Harold got to his feet and motioned at the other door.

Babcock nodded and went to join his partner in the hallway—standing guard, protecting their own.

Harold paused at the sight of Hutch, sitting in the newly painted squad room at his partner's desk.

Heavenly Father, he prayed, open my ears to listen, guide my speech, guide my hands. Then and only then did he approach the still figure sitting ramrod straight.

Hutch was staring at a blue poodle he'd pulled from an open drawer. His hands were wrapped tightly around it, his knuckles white against so pale skin.

If it had been a living creature, Harold thought, it would be dead from the force of those hands.

Even from where he stood, he could hear Hutch's breathing—staccato and loud in the now empty squad room. They'd all been waiting for this moment—ever since Starsky had been shot. But Hutch had surprised them all, his control rigid, a wall built high and strong, the stone so tightly laid that nothing could penetrate any crack. There'd been the ecstatic joy when Hutch had found the threads tying Gunther to the whole mess, the stony silence as they waited to know if death or life would have dominion, the righteous anger at the attempt on both Starsky's life and his own in the hospital where everyone should have been safe. But what there hadn't been was release, grief, the realization that not only Starsky but also he, himself had walked through the valley of the shadow of death.

Dobey didn't know how Hutch had managed—he had shed more than a few tears himself both in the conference room and in the small chapel at the hospital. Adrenaline could only take a man so far, Harold knew. He was sure that by this point, Hutch was running on the fumes of fumes. He remembered Huggy managing to get Hutch to sleep a few times—an hour or so at a time. He wasn't sure if Hutch had eaten anything close to a real meal since the morning of the shooting.

"Ken," he said, kept his voice soft and low, the way he used to when Cal or Rosie had been afraid of monsters under the bed, in the dark. Lord knew Hutch's monsters were everywhere, still surrounding him, battering at those defensive walls.

"Cap'n," Hutch said. His gaze never left the blue dog, his hands never loosened their grip. "I'll get that report typed up."

"Ken." Harold eased himself into the chair next to Hutch. "You don't need to…"

"I need to," Hutch said and the stuffed animal fell from his hands as he reached blindly for a piece of paper and tried to insert it into the typewriter. He couldn't do it.

Harold watched as Hutch's hands began to shake—first a small tremble, barely noticeable and then so strongly that he couldn't even manage to hold onto the piece of paper. He reached out, covered those shaking hands with his.

"Hutch," Harold said. "You can let go. It's okay to let go."

Hutch looked at him—the dark circles under his eyes making them look bruised. Harold could see the doubt there— the fear that maybe just maybe another monster would pop out and destroy the world.

"I'm here," he said. "C'mon. It's time to rest."

He remembered his own dazed days after Rosie had been born, a few weeks early, their miracle baby after Edith had had three miscarriages after Cal's birth. He remembered the not wanting to trust that everything was going to be okay, the way everything seemed to be ready to snatch away happiness because it wasn't okay to be happy when things had been so scary for so long.

Hutch's breathing quickened and there was a gasp of pain—the first stone being breached, the wall, no, the fortress, he'd built starting to crumble and fall.

He let out a cry of anguish/pain/relief/fear/joy/sorrow and Harold's hand felt crushed beneath the grip of Hutch's. There were dry gasps and then the tears began to fall—raw and hot and fast and cleansing.

Harold was sure the sounds could be heard outside the closed doors, but he trusted his men who were all soldiers in the same battle for justice.

Hutch was saying words Harold couldn't understand through the sobs, but there was one he could pick out over and over. Starsky. Starsky. Starsky. Hutch's constant. He wasn't a bit surprised.

Tears never lasted forever—he'd said that more than once to his children—even if they felt like they'd never end. Hutch's grip loosened and he folded his arms on the desk and put his head down but not before touching the blue dog and smiling.

It was only moments before Hutch's body relaxed into sleep and although Harold wished he could somehow get the man somewhere that he could truly rest, it would have to do. He waited a few minutes until he was sure Hutch wouldn't awaken and then went to the door of the squad room.

"Captain?" Simmons was there along with Babcock and a few of the other detectives.

"He's sleeping," Dobey told them. "I'm sure all of you have work you can do elsewhere."

There were a bunch of mumbled sirs but all said with understanding.

"Babcock and I will go down to Memorial," Simmons said. "Visit with Starsky. Let him know Hutch won't be there."

"Tell him I'll call," Harold said to them. He waited until the hallway cleared.

He closed the door, turned off the lights, and sat down beside a sleeping Hutch. He took off his jacket, placed it over Hutch, and prepared to wait as long as necessary—guardian over Hutch until Starsky, the true guardian of Hutch's heart and soul would be ready to take over once again.