AN: Based on a H/C writer's challenge to complete the opening scene. Many thanks goes to my beta and special thanks in advance to all my readers.
Dedicated to all those who love a Steve H/C tale (Pssst...Shergar)
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the original characters, locations or canon information depicted in the series "The Streets of San Francisco". I'm just borrowing them for my pleasure and hopefully the enjoyment of others.
While the young Inspector didn't see the blow coming, every muscle in his body was already taut and he sensed what was surely to come. The impact would have doubled him over had Di Angelo's thug not been holding him upright with a restraining forearm pressed against his throat.
"You tell Stone to drop the case or the next time I catch one of his watch dogs tailing me, I'll be sending him back piece by piece," Marco Di Angelo threatened in a low but menacing voice as he leaned in closer to the detective, waiting for a response.
Still winded from the earlier blow, the young cop remained silent, though he realized that was a mistake. A second hard blow caught him below his rib cage. A grunt of pain was forced from his vocal chords and he was left gasping for air.
"You hear me, cop? You give Stone my message." Di Angelo jerked his head and his two musclemen allowed the detective to drop to the ground. With a sneer, he let loose a brutal kick to his hapless victim's ribs then walked back to his car with his two heavies close by.
It was late in the afternoon by the time Steve made it back to headquarters. Trying to not draw attention to himself, he walked quietly and as briskly as he was physically able in his present condition to Mike's office. As he passed Tanner's, Haseejian's and Lessing's work stations, he was vaguely curious on why they were empty. Mike's office was shut and with his mind still in a daze, he didn't think to knock but opened the door.
"Hi, Steve!" Jeannie Stone's enthusiastic greeting caught the young Inspector by surprise.
As much as he was fond of Jeannie, Steve wished right at that moment he could crawl up in a hole and hide. Though the marks left on him from his encounter with Di Angelo and his two musclemen were not visible to the naked eye, Steve was nevertheless self-conscious. The last thing he wanted was Jeannie fussing over him, but every step he took sent painful jolts through his torso and each breath was agony. Still, he tried his best to not let her on as he forced a smile and said casually, "Hey, Jeannie."
"If you're looking for Mike, I'm not sure when he'll be back. Something urgent came up and he had to leave but he told me I could wait for him here. We're supposed to be heading out to dinner tonight. Anyhow, I have a monster of a paper to write for school and thought I'd get started on it while I waited," Jeannie elaborated.
Steve cleared his throat to hide a wince as he walked into the office and closed the door.
"Is everything okay?" Jeannie asked suspiciously as she noted the slight tremble in Steve's hand when he shut the door. Something in the way he moved also caught her eye.
"Yeah, I'm just tired," Steve replied, faking a yawn in the process which only served to aggravate his aching ribs.
"Come on, you better sit down. I'll get you some coffee," Jeannie offered as she pulled herself out of the chair and gestured for Steve to take a seat. As she brushed past Steve, an unsteady hand reached out and held her by the arm.
"Jeannie, do you know where Mike went? Did he go out alone?" Steve tried to hide the worry from his voice but he wasn't sure if his facial expression succeeded to fool Mike's daughter.
"Steve, what's going on? You're shaking!" Jeannie gently pried Steve's fingers from her arm and held his hand in hers.
"Please, I have to know. Did he go alone?" Steve's tone sharpened unintentionally and the instant the words left his mouth, he regretted speaking them.
"No, I saw him leave with half the office. Norm, Lee and Bill were with him. Why? What is it?" Jeannie searched Steve's eyes and saw fear and concern. Her own heart started to beat harder and faster.
Still shaken from his ordeal, Steve drew a deep breath to steady his nerves but his injured ribs protested and out of reflex he wrapped his arm around his sore midsection.
"Steve, what's wrong?" Jeannie gasped, beginning to panic.
Feeling a burning sensation traveling up his neck and heating up his face, Steve looked away from Jeannie and tried to brush off her concern. "I'm fine. I just...need to sit down…"
"Here. You're trembling all over and you're scaring me. I'll go get you a glass of water." Jeannie guided Steve to the chair in front of Mike's desk and waited until he sat down gingerly then she hurried out of the office.
As soon as Jeannie's footsteps faded, Steve gave in to his discomfort and laid his head on his arm which rested on the desk. His other arm was wrapped tightly around himself as he waited for the pain in his chest and stomach to subside. He closed his eyes and drew slow, shallow breaths. He wondered where Mike had gone but felt more reassured knowing that wherever he was, he had his best men with him.
The familiar sound of her father's voice filled her ears and stopped Jeannie in her tracks. "Take them down to booking then lock them up!" Mike's gruff command was heard by his daughter.
As Mike approached Jeannie, the college girl noted he appeared worn out and dishevelled but otherwise there was a look of triumph in his eyes which took away most of the worry she felt for him.
"Sweet heart, I'm sorry I had to leave you like that," Mike apologized with a smile. He took her by the shoulders and leaned forward, kissing her cheek.
"It's okay, I understand. Listen, Mike, there's something you ought to know," Jeannie began, unsure of how to explain the state that his partner was in. "It's Steve. Something's wrong with him."
"What do you mean?" Mike asked, hearing the worry in Jeannie's remark.
"I don't know but he's not acting like himself. He looks sick and he was awfully worried about you when he found out you had gone," Jeannie explained.
Mike's smile faded away and he suddenly paled. "Where is he?" He asked urgently as he distinctly recalled Marco Di Angelo's words when he secured his hand cuffs around the underworld figure's wrists. At the time, Mike paid him no heed, figuring he was boasting just like he did in the past to get under Mike's skin.
"So, your watch dog failed to deliver my message? Next time, I'll give it to you in person!" Di Angelo had sneered.
"There won't be a next time," Mike's final words to Di Angelo came back to him, as he wondered if Steve had a confrontation with Di Angelo's men earlier that day. The young Inspector had been tailing Di Angelo for several days and he hadn't heard from Steve since early that morning.
"He's in your office," Jeannie's response broke Mike out of his reverie. "I'm going to get him a glass of water."
Mike nodded then walked briskly toward his office as Jeannie hurried to get some water.
Feeling sick and breaking out in a sweat, Steve groaned out loud and failed to hear the footsteps approaching the office until a hand rested on his shoulder. Assuming it was Jeannie, his head snapped up.
"It's me, Buddy Boy," Mike greeted, peering intently into Steve's face, trying to determine t the cause of his partner's distress.
"Mike! Boy, am I glad to see you. Listen, Di Angelo…" Steve began but Mike cut him off.
"I just arrested him. We have an eye witness who called in and agreed to testify."
Relieved, Steve nodded and waited for his partner to continue.
Mike swallowed and studied the young man as he proceeded, "Di Angelo told me someone was supposed to deliver a message for me. You know something about this?"
"Yeah, I was meant to deliver the message. He caught me tailing him, but it doesn't matter anymore. It's all over, right?" Steve looked down at the desk, not wanting to recount all the details of his ordeal.
"Steve, what was the message? What happened?" Mike persisted, leaning over his protégé who sat hunched over, looking utterly miserable.
With a sigh Steve confessed, "Di Angelo figured I'd make a good punching bag. I'm fine. I just want to go home, jump into a hot shower then lie down for a while."
"And you weren't going to tell me, were you?" Mike said in an accusatory tone.
"I'm okay, Mike. Can we just forget about the whole thing?" Steve looked up into Mike's eyes and knew that the senior detective wasn't going to drop the matter.
"Let me take a look at you."
"Come on, give me a break, will you?" Steve whined but a glowering look from his mentor spoke volumes.
"On your feet and lift up your shirt. Go on!" Mike ordered. It didn't escape his notice the whole time he was standing there that his partner had an arm wrapped protectively around his midsection, indicating the possibility of underlying injuries.
"I don't believe this," Steve muttered under his breath but complied and slowly stood up. He pulled up his shirt, wincing as the movement reawakened the sharp pain in his side. Much to his chagrin, he felt Mike probe a particularly sore area. Flinching he pulled his shirt back down just as a knock on the door was followed by someone entering the office.
"Here, I got you some water," Jeannie announced then handed Steve the glass.
"Sweet heart, I'm going to drive Steve over to the hospital. He might have cracked ribs from an altercation with a suspect," Mike informed his wide eyed daughter.
"Really, I'm fine. I don't know why your father's making a fuss…"
"One more word out of you, and I'll read you your Miranda rights, Buddy Boy!"
Jeannie's gaze shifted from one Alpha to the other as if she were a spectator at a tennis match. The panic that she had felt earlier dissipated as she watched the friendly banter and Mike's wink in her direction, reassured her that Steve was going to be fine as soon as he stopped being difficult.