"It was so good to see you, Cap-" Starsky caught himself and shook his head with a rueful laugh. "Geez, old habits die hard. I guess you'll always be Captain to us, Chief."
Harold Dobey simply smiled as he shook their hands. If these two still thought of him as their captain, he didn't really mind. Proud as he was of having achieved the rank of Deputy Chief, he was long retired now.
Hell—as of today, Starsky and Hutch were as well.
They'd changed, of course, since the days when Harold would regularly bellow their names from his office. Those times at Metro were well behind them, the intervening years now much longer than when they'd actually worked together. They were older, and hopefully a little wiser. Yet their still-youthful grins and familiar laughter effortlessly transported him back, made him feel younger, too.
"Thanks again for coming," Hutch said.
"We wouldn't have missed your retirement party for the world," Edith said, and Harold nodded.
"You men had a heck of a run at the Cold Case section," he said. "Your solve rates are the best in the state, and will probably stay that way for a long time to come."
"We couldn't have done it without you," Starsky said, and Hutch added, "I know we've said it before, but we'll always be grateful."
Harold coughed and said gruffly, "Yes, well..."
After Gunther was convicted and incarcerated, Harold made it his mission to get Hutch off the streets, as much for Starsky's sake as well as Hutch's. He convinced Hutch to take the lieutenant exam, got him out of the Zebra detail. Then, when Starsky's condition improved, he knew he had to find something that would fit both their unique needs.
Getting them into the Cold Case Section as a package deal took all the strings he could pull and all the favors he had coming to him and then some, but it had paid off handsomely. The two men were exceptionally good at the work, allaying every doubt the higher-ups had voiced. Harold had to restrain himself from smugly telling them "I told you so." More importantly, though, was how their partnership—once on the verge of irrevocably shattering—had instead healed and thrived. Witnessing that transformation and playing a part in the process had been one of the most satisfying events in his professional, and personal, life.
Not that he was going to admit to any of that in public.
"Well, I'm proud of all of you. Congratulations," Edith said, rescuing him from further tongue-tied awkwardness. She gave each man a hug and a kiss, then reclaimed her spot next to Harold's side. He smiled at her and put his arm around her shoulder. She leaned in and smiled back, then turned to Starsky and Hutch.
"May I offer you a piece of advice?" she asked.
"Of course, Edith," Hutch replied, but Harold caught the flicker of wary curiosity that passed between the two men.
"Retirement has its privileges, you know. Us older folks—" she patted Harold's belly, making him sputter "—we get to a place where it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. No boss to worry about. We can do as we wish, so long as we're not harming others. We can be true selves.
"As of today, you're retired too. Free to be your true selves, with no one to tell you how to live the rest of your lives. I just wanted to be sure you remember that."
The shared glance this time was thoughtful, lingering. Hutch reached out and put his arm around Starsky's shoulder. Starsky wrapped his arm around Hutch's waist. Leaned in.
The two couples stood mirrored for a moment, with warm smiles all around.
"Thanks, Edith," Starsky said. "We'll remember."
On the drive home, Harold said, "Hey, baby?"
"What you said to Ken and Dave... thank you."
Even in the dark, he could sense her beautiful grin. "Of course, dear. I know what's in your heart, how you feel about them. Your boys."
"Yeah, my boys."