a/n the first part of this story was told from Mike's POV. Now, as Steve enteres the store, the story switches to his POV.

Merry Christmas to all! I appreciate all the kind words and support. For those who've been following the SOSF/Ironside crossover, that story took an unintended holiday break. I've got the next part written and will post hopefully before New Years.

As I walked across the street to the convenience store, the little loose pebbles of asphalt hurt my feet. If the guys knew what a tenderfoot I am, there'd be no end to the razzing. Haseejian alone would be all over it. Anyone watching my stride would see a slow deliberate pace. It's not done for effect; the reality was that I couldn't wait to get over to the store. I wanted to see those kids bolt to freedom first, and then I just wanted to get off this lousy street and into the tile-floored store.

The robber said nothing to me as he opened the door. Two kids, a young girl, maybe seven years old, and an even younger boy, ran out presumably to their father's waiting arms. Thank goodness for that. I didn't get to see the reunion as I was immediately thrown against the store check-out counter and aggressively searched. I gathered that at least one of the two men had done time, since he knew exactly what he was doing.

He found nothing, which I knew would be the case. My purpose here was not to overpower or trick the robbers. My primary job was already complete. The children were safe. Now my role was to look out after their mother and make sure she enjoys a Christmas reunion with her kids. After the unnecessary roughness displayed during the search, I take my place on the floor next to the woman.

A call comes through on the store line. I'm sure it's Mike.

"Yeah, your little piglet is sitting next to the woman. If he's smart, he'll keep his yap shut," the guy leers at me. For the record, while I hate the term 'pig' for a cop, I hate 'piglet' even more. "Now that the kids are out of the picture, Stone, it's time for us to talk."

I presume that Mike tells them to go ahead with their demands.

"We want a car to take us to the private airport. Call one of your mayor's buddies and have them arrange for a corporate jet to take us and one of the hostages to Mexico. In the plane, we want a stash of cash. Ten grand will do,"

I imagine Mike stalls for time. The response I hear is, "You have an hour." He slams the phone down.

Now, it's the waiting game. I look at the clock and see that it's just after 4pm. Another hour will get us to 5pm, and it will be dark. I check the woman to my left. She's got tears in her eyes. I can't imagine how frightened she must be. From where I sit, there's a body behind the counter. All I can see are his ankles and shoes with toes pointed at a random angle. I figure it's the owner who'd been shot.

"Is there anything we can do for the man over there?" I look deliberately at the robber who had been on the phone.

"Shut up. Talk again and you'll be in his condition. Dead." He waved his gun for effect.

Okay. But I continue to stare at the shoes. There's no movement at all.

"His face," the woman whispers. "He was shot in the face and then in the chest. I don't think he could have survived."

I wonder which one is 'Tommy': The one who just gave the woman a quick, disapproving look when she spoke to me or the one standing near the phone? Both men were in their thirties and appeared like they could put up a decent fight. The one closest to us had dark hair, a short beard and an army jacket. The jacket read 'Warren' on the name tag. Maybe it's his name, or maybe it's surplus that he picked up somewhere cheap.

We sat for several minutes. The guy next to the phone finally spoke up. "Hey, it's a long trip to Mexico, man. They've got some sandwiches over there," he nodded to the back where there was apparently a small deli. "Go get us some." Warren went over to the refrigerator case and looked around.

Actually, eating wasn't a bad idea. This could prove to be a very long night. They must have read my mind because the next thing I know, two sandwiches were dropped in the lap of Mrs. Richmond. "One of you is coming with us. I don't know who yet. We haven't decided. Might as well eat something."

With hands cuffed behind me, I was in no position to eat. I looked over to her, "Ladies first, go ahead." The last thing Mrs. Richmond wanted was food. It probably tasted worse than it looked. She took a couple of bites as if it was the most bitter thing on earth and tried choking it down.

"It will be all right," I whisper. "The kids are safe, and that's a good sign. They want to end this without anyone else getting hurt and so do we."

Mrs. Richmond nodded her head as she picked up the other sandwich and placed it up to my mouth. I take a quick look at it. Bologna with a limp piece of lettuce on white bread. Next to Mike's anchovies, I can't think of a food I detest more. But as I may need my energy for later, I take a bite. Like Mrs. Richmond, I choke the sandwich down.

Mrs. Richmond was barely thirty. She had wavy, dark wavy hair and wore a green patchwork coat over her dress. My first impression was that she was scared stiff, but had calmed some as she realized her children were safe. "What's your name?" I whispered as I sought to introduce myself.

"Louise Richmond," she answered with a half smile.

"Well, Louise, I'm Steve. Looks like you and I are going to be here a while."

The hour was up. One thing that I realized was that while Mike could call in, they had no real way to call him unless they knew to call the dispatch unit and have them patch a connection through. I could almost bet Mike wouldn't initiate a call at this point. He wanted to make them sweat a little.

"It's after five," the man I know think of as Warren announced. "What do we do now, Tommy?"

"Shut up!" Tommy answered. Apparently he didn't like hearing his name out loud like this. Tommy was clearly the brains of the outfit.

He gave it a few minutes and then walked over to me. He yanked me up and led me over to the door. The next thing I felt was Tommy's pistol resting at my temple. Tommy opened the door and wedged us both in the open doorframe.

"Where's the car, Stone?" Tommy shouted. At the mention of Mike's name, he jabs the pistol harder into my head.

"Take it easy," Mike yelled. "It's on its way."

"You're going to drive," Tommy instructed to me. "We'll leave the broad behind. She looks like she's going to fall apart, although I have to admit, the idea that we could have some fun with her on the way down to Mexico is still appealing."

I remain silent, but was sickened by the thought.

"I want the keys to his cuffs. Have one of your boys in blue toss it over to me." Tommy yelled to Mike. The next thing I see is Officer Reed coming out from behind the barricade of police cars with a silver set of keys in his hand. He walks closer to the front door. "That's far enough, Toss 'em," Tommy says. Reed complies and Tommy catches the set. He chuckled as he stuffed the keys in his pocket. "You never know, kid. We might have some fun with you instead. You may even grow to like us."

I know he's just trying to get a rise out of me, so I remain quiet. The next thing I know I'm being yanked back over and thrown again to the side of Mrs. Richmond.

I imagine what Mike must be thinking right now. He has to anticipate every move these characters will make. There's no chance that an airplane is waiting to take us to Mexico. There is a chance that they will allow us to leave the premises, however, especially if that means Mrs. Richmond will go free. If I'm the one they choose to drive, there will be a better chance for Mike to make a quick move and nail these guys. If it's Mrs. Richmond, then all bets are off.

The phone rings again. "Yeah," Tommy responds. "What do you mean 8pm? There has to be a way to get out of here sooner than that?"

Tommy listens in silence. Mike talks about how they have a plane that's large enough to get us down to Mexico and that it's one its way in from LA. It will need time to land and refuel. By the time that happens, it will be 8pm, which is two and half hours away.

Obviously, Mike is trying to wear them down. His plan would be to catch them by surprise. At some point, he'll either send in SWAT or shoot some tear gas. Tommy slams the phone down and walks over to me. I think he realizes at that point, there's really no way out of this mess and he's angry.

"I don't know what the hell your cop buddy thinks he's doing, but you're going to pay." While his anger is directed at me, Louise flinches and cries out.

Tommy backhands me hard. I feel the sting in my cheek and can taste a trickle of blood at the corner of my mouth. He reaches down an grabs me by the upper arm, then slams me against some shelves. After three solid punches to my gut, I want to wretch and nearly puke the bologna sandwich. I realize then, it tastes worse coming back up than it did going down. How is that possible? One final right hook across the jaw and I'm back down on my side.

"What are you doing?" Warren asks. "That cop is our driver." He doesn't understand that they won't be permitted to leave San Francisco.

Tommy takes a step back and allows for the possibility that we will at least get in the car and begin driving somewhere. He looks like he's weighing his alternatives. If it were me, I'd want to be driven to the most crowded area I could think of so I could get lost and go underground.

Time passes very slowly. It's now nearly 7:30. I've been sitting uncomfortably on the floor next to Louise for well over three hours and I began to wonder what was next. We hear noise in the back as does Tommy and Warren. Mercifully, they leave Louise sitting, but Tommy once again grabs me and I feel the gun to my head. We walk toward the back behind the store followed by Warren. I've become Tommy's human shield.

I feel the air pressure change in the store and realize that Mike has ordered the guys in through the front. The noise in the back was subterfuge, plain and simple. Tommy yanks me back around and we return to the storefront to find Louise gone. Thank God! From behind the counter, a SWAT officer jumps up and yells, "Freeze!"

This is, without a doubt, my cue to hit the floor and lie as flat as possible. I throw myself down hard. Tommy knows that the end has come and for a quick second, I feel like he's going to go down in a blaze of glory and take me with him. I hear his gun cock, but less than a second later, there's a hail of gunfire. While I can't see a thing, I can hear bullets all around me and pray that none ricochet downward. In the end, Tommy never stood a chance.

In the meantime, Warren has dropped his weapon and begins singing like a Christmas choir. "It was all Tommy. He made me do it." He is swarmed by other officers and they lead him away.

But it's over. I'm still flat on my stomach with hands cuffed behind my back on a cold tile floor, but the sense of relief is overwhelming. I raise to my knees and I hear, "Steve!". A helpful, if over exuberant, pair of hands lead me to stand.

"Are you okay, Buddy boy?" Mike gives my shoulder a quick squeeze.

"I'm fine." I was a bundle of nerves, but I didn't want it to show. After all, I'm with my partner and at this point a couple dozen other macho cops. Anything less than measured bravado would be met with a substantial degree of derision back at the station.

Mike knows the game and privately offers to take me to the hospital to be looked over. "No, I'm fine. I don't need to go to the hospital. All I need is for someone to take off these damn cuffs. Who has the keys?"

"That guy," Mike said as he looked over to the bloody pulp that was Tommy. "But my keys will work, too." Mike turned me around to unlock the cuffs. Seconds later, my arms were free. They were a screaming mess as I tried to get circulation back.

Thank God, I say under my breath as we walk out the front of the store. The cool air feels tremendous. "Are the Richmonds okay?"

"Yes, last I saw Dale was taking Mrs. Richmond's statement. She'll be free to go soon. And the kids were fine. They wouldn't move away from their dad. Can't say as I blame them."

The outcome couldn't have been better, at least for the Richmonds. I glance over and see another woman in distress. "That's the owner's wife," Mike whispered. I hadn't forgotten the still, angled shoes from behind the counter. In fact, that sight will haunt me for a while.

Mike nudges me on the arm and looks ahead. In front of us are Captain Olsen, Haseejian, Lessing and Healey. They had already gone home for the holiday, but apparently came back in when the hostage situation occurred. I appreciated the smiles on their faces.

"Well, my boy. Good work!" the Captain began in his normal perturbed voice.

"Yeah, we were afraid Mike would have to break in a new partner," Norm joined in. "And just as we had become used to you."

"Not a chance. Besides, who else would be around to drink that potion you call 'coffee'?" I tease. After a few more slaps on the back, some of which were actually a little painful, Mike and I make our way over to the LTD.

"I'll drive," he said. "And we're going to the hospital. You don't look too good and Mrs. Richmond told us you took a pretty good beating in there."

I simply nod. Everything ached and my jaw was throbbing. I dared not say that my feet were killing me, but they were. "Do you have my shoes?"

"In the car, Buddy boy."

We get in and Mike looks over. "I'm glad it worked out. But I will tell you, I never want to go through that again. When he had you at the door with the gun jammed to your head, that was it for me. Next time, I go in myself."

"I'm glad it worked out, too. I never had any doubt that it wouldn't."

"Faith is a good thing to have at Christmas, Buddy boy," Mike hesitated as he switched the subject. "Say, remember when you said that you don't have anyone? It was when we were debating on who should go in."

I remember, I thought silently.

Mike continued. "I know you meant not having a wife and kids, but you do know that we all consider you a part of our family. Those guys back there would give their right arm for you."

I hadn't thought about that, but it was true. And I had grown to feel the same way about them in the last eighteen months. Especially Mike. I'd put my life down for him in a heartbeat. For such a realization, I responded, "Yeah, I know."

"Well, let's go get you checked out and then I'll take you home."

"Sounds good. I have a feeling I'll sleep well tonight."

"And then you are still coming over tomorrow for dinner and to watch the football game. Unless you have other plans?" Mike added.

"No. No other plans." I smiled. Fatigue was catching up with me as I leaned back in the passenger seat.

"Good, Jeannie's making a ham and all the fixins. You'll love it." Mike continued to elaborate on the meal, but my thoughts turned elsewhere.

I say a quick prayer of thanks. Not only for the realization that there are those around me who consider me family, but for the Richmonds and their kids. Not everyone can be with their loved ones at Christmas, but for them, I imagine they won't be apart for one second. They'll be together, as parents and children should be.

We speed off for the hospital when another call comes through the radio. This time, it's disorderly conduct in a parking lot outside of a bar. "No more," I say with my eyes closed.

"No more, Buddy boy. At least for today," he says with a chuckle. "Merry Christmas."