Title:  The Fire Is Hope
Author:  knightshade
Rating: NC-17 for some language and sexual situations
Disclaimer:  Knight Rider and its characters are the property of Universal.  They don't belong to me, I just borrow them.
 

Author’s Notes:

As always, thanks to Tomy for being my muse’s playmate and task master (read: beta reader).  Thanks for letting me bounce so much passed you and for the final polish. 

Thanks to Moonbeam for allowing herself to be talked into beta reading this monster.  Thanks for pointing out the big plot holes that somehow escaped my attention. 

Thanks to Asp for advising me on weaponry and how to use it. 

And finally, thanks to the Knight Rider Archive for providing the scripts that were invaluable in my research.  It’s starting to take a village, I tell you.  ;-)
 

Dedicated to Tomy and Britt.
 
 

(Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4)

The Fire Is Hope



“Somewhere in this darkness,
There’s a light that I can’t find.
Maybe it’s too far away.
Maybe I’m just blind.”

  - Love Me When I’m Gone -- Three Doors Down
 

Two sharp cracks punctured the silence surrounding the little tree-sheltered cabin and echoed off the canyon wall on the far side of the lake.  Roused from sleep, a bird squawked and took flight from under the covered pier.  It swooped across the water, its black form slicing through reflections of moonlight on the rippled surface.  The bird banked to skim along the rock wall before climbing beyond it, and disappearing into the early morning darkness.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bonnie pulled up next to the garage, and was surprised to find that the cabin was dark.  It was unusual, but then again, it was only an hour after sunset.  Maybe the fish were biting and Michael was still out on his nightly fishing expedition.  She grabbed her laptop bag from the back seat and strode across the dark lawn to the cabin.  She flipped on the light as she entered the kitchen.  “Michael?”

As she expected, there was no response.  Bonnie set her bag down in the direction of the hallway to take upstairs with her later.  Opening the refrigerator, she looked around for something to eat.  A pair of potatoes caught her eye as a good start, and she set them on the counter while she fished around for a peeler.  While rinsing the vegetables over the sink, Bonnie happened to glance out the window and spot Michael's boat, tied to the pier.  It was bobbing up and down in the pools of light cast from the lantern that hung from the awning. 

That was odd.  She had seen the dark shadow of the Chevy in the garage, so he hadn’t gone out.  She ignored the warning chill that crept up the back of her neck.  Normally Michael made it a point to be around when she got home on the weekends.  Maybe he wasn’t feeling well and had gone to bed early.  She turned on the light in the dining room to see if he had left her a note.  The table was bare.  Bonnie drummed her fingers on its smooth surface, trying to remember if he had mentioned that he was going anywhere with his neighbor Zeke.  She glanced through the dining room windows, wondering if maybe they had taken Zeke's boat out fishing tonight. 

Bonnie froze when she spotted the hole in the glass door.  It was just above the knob, about fist sized, with fissures curving through the rest of the pane.  The light from the kitchen glittered menacingly off the sharp edges.  She turned around slowly.  “Michael?” she asked, her voice a whisper.  There was no response. 

Bonnie stared at the dark hallway that led to the stairs and the loft.  She knew she should probably get out of the house - there was no way to know if the intruder had left - but she needed to look for Michael.

Still trying to convince her legs to move, Bonnie spotted something dark on the hallway floor.  Her breathing thundered in her ears as she took a few steps toward it.  Scanning the hallway, she put her back to the wall and knelt to study the spot.  It could have been dried blood - it was hard to tell in the darkness.  She glanced at the stairs, torn.  One part of her brain was screaming at her to get out of there, another part was wondering if Michael was upstairs, maybe even hurt.  She couldn’t leave without being sure.

Bonnie swallowed hard and stood, trying to listen for anything unusual, but she only heard herself.  Slowly rounding the bottom of the stairs, she saw that there was more blood on them and in the front room leading toward the kitchen.  Whoever was hurt had left through the kitchen door.  Bonnie eyed the stairs carefully and made up her mind to climb them. 

She gingerly stepped past the dried blood and made it about halfway up the stairs, before her courage started to waiver.  She took another step and paused behind the dresser.  It was turned to face into the room but was pushed back against the railing, obscuring the otherwise open loft stairway.  As soon as she was past it, anyone up there would be able to see her.

Bonnie rested her head against the back of the dresser, and tried to talk herself into going up the last few steps.  Hopefully Michael was up there, asleep after a long day, with some sort of small cut and a reasonable explanation.  Maybe he had locked himself out and had had to break the glass himself to get in.  They would have a good laugh about it.  But glancing down at the steps, Bonnie knew there was too much blood to have been a simple cut.

Finally pushing away from her hiding space, Bonnie continued up to the loft.  Time had slowed down and the distance to the top step kept increasing.  She scanned the room as she climbed the last few stairs, unable to get a good sense of whether or not she was alone.  The room was crowded with shadows and potential hiding places.   When Bonnie got to the top of the stairs she glanced around furtively but nothing moved.  She studied the bed and could tell there was no one in it, but something didn't seem right. Making her way to the middle of the room, Bonnie glanced up at the ominous blades of the ceiling fan, before spotting the cord for the light.  The chain clanked as she pulled it and the lights burst on, blinding her with sudden intensity.  She was shocked to find that the bed had been obliterated into a pile of feathers, the pillow split in two.  She whirled around, panicked, looking for an intruder, but nothing moved in the glaring light.  Bonnie's attention was captured by the damaged pillow.  Moving slowly, her limbs heavy, she approached the bed.  No blood.  This had been an impotent act.  But who would have done this, she wondered, frozen by the possibilities.

Bonnie reluctantly pulled her eyes away from the ruins of the bed.  She gave the room another once over before she fixated on the cedar closet.  She felt like a child waking from a bad dream, convinced there were monsters in the room.  Her hand quavered as she reached for the knob and quickly pulled the door open.  She took in a short gulp of air when she realized it was empty.  Bonnie turned in a slow arc, studying the room, listening to her heart as it pounded away at her chest wall.  Whoever had been here was gone now. 

And so was Michael. 

Bonnie was again drawn to the wreckage of the bed.  Where was he?  Obviously he had not been here when the shots were fired.  But whose blood was on the stairs?  She closed her eyes against the panicky feeling creeping up the back of her throat.  She needed to get out of the cabin; she didn't feel safe.

The thought seemed to finally break through the fog in her mind, and Bonnie rushed back down the stairs.  She hurried through the kitchen and out to the car.  Slipping quickly into the drivers seat, she hit the button to lock the doors, and backed out of the driveway. 

After driving down the road a few miles, Bonnie's fear subsided and she stopped, trying to think through her options.  Her first instinct was to call Kitt, but she didn’t want to worry him needlessly.  He was on a case with Shawn, so he was probably not in a good position to get away right now.  But if Michael was missing, Kitt would want to be here.  Bonnie bit her lip and stared at her cell phone.  Was there anywhere legitimate that Michael could be?  Perhaps he was at Zeke's, or the hospital, or maybe he had gone to the police station to file a report?  Maybe she should try to find him before she worried Kitt unnecessarily.

Bonnie decided her best bet was to start with Zeke.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

“That man is an ass!”

Michael cringed as the garage door slammed.  He hunkered down under the Chevy to wait out the imminent storm.  Bonnie had had her usual two-hour drive home from the Foundation to build up a head of steam -- there was no stopping the freight train now.  And Michael had no intention of becoming a collateral casualty.

“What grievous offense did Mr. Maddock commit this week?  And what number are you up to?”

“The list is getting too long to remember.  I think we’re in the neighborhood of Grievous Offense #7632.”

Michael smiled. Maddock could make anyone angry, but he seemed to have a special talent for infuriating Bonnie.  Michael was glad she was only working at the Foundation four days a week.  Another day with Maddock would probably kill her.  Or Maddock, he thought, silently snickering.

“He won’t let me upgrade Kitt’s CPU housing.  Kitt’s been having trouble accessing the car’s peripheral systems because he wasn’t designed for the current interface.  Maddock won’t let me install a new bus because, and I quote, ‘Kitt is temporary anyway.’” 

Michael rolled the dolly forward and hazarded a peek out from under the bumper.  She was leaning against the powder blue Chevy, her arms crossed, her face pursed in a frown. 

“Oh come on, he’s all bark.  He won’t remove Kitt,” Michael said, grabbing a wrench and sliding back under the car, where it was safer.

“He’s constantly threatening to.  And I don’t see why he wouldn’t.  He hates Kitt and he’s just waiting for the opportunity to pull him out of the car and reintroduce KIFT.  I can see why Kitt wanted an ally there.  The Foundation's culture has become completely adversarial.  There's so much backstabbing, it's a wonder that anyone there is still alive.”

Michael waited to see if she had blown off enough steam yet.  It was starting to become a ritual.  After spending four days in Seattle, she would come home all wound up about something, and it would take the whole weekend to calm her down.  Then the process started all over again on Monday.  Michael was glad she wasn't keeping much in the little apartment they had rented for her in Seattle -- he'd be worried about any breakables. 

“I have half a mind to steal KIFT and hide him here so that it’s not even an option anymore.  It would be nice to have something to hold over Maddock's head for a change.”

Michael decided it was time to stop hiding.  He slid out from under the car and brushed his hands off on his jeans.  “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.  That would be a lot more trouble than it’s worth.”

Michael checked himself for grease spots and finding none, gave her a hug.  “Besides, he’s not going to replace Kitt with KIFT.”

“How can you be sure of that?”

“Think about it.  Maddock is nothing if not ambitious.  He’s going to do everything possible to make himself look good.  With Devon gone, he’s under even more pressure to make sure he can perform on this freelance contract."  Michael put his ratchet back in the toolbox.  "The Foundation stopped doing any sort of fieldwork after I left.  So you, Kitt, and I are the only ones left with actual field experience.  Shawn is promising, but she’s still very green.  She doesn’t even have much time logged as a cop.  So, Maddock needs us to make him look good and get him out of any jams they get into." 

Michael set about his argument logically.  He was at least pretty sure he was right about this.  "Kitt is the only thing tying us to the Foundation.  Maddock knows that if he deactivates Kitt, we won’t help him.  And he’s not going to let that happen.  He acts like they’re solidly on their feet over there, but they aren’t and he knows it.  He just wants you to think he’s holding all the cards.”

“Okay, I’ll buy that.  But its not going to take long for him to feel confident that Shawn can handle things, assuming she doesn't screw up too badly.  He only has to keep us around for the next six months or so.  Then what?”

“Well, then Shawn gets attached to Kitt.  Maddock sees how valuable he is, and he decides to put KIFT on permanent mothballs.”

“And if she doesn’t get attached to Kitt?”

“How could she not?” Michael asked, confident in his former partner’s charms.

Bonnie just looked at him with her brow cocked.  “This is Shawn we’re talking about.  She’s not exactly the warm, friendly type, remember?” 

“Then you steal him, we put him back in the Chevy, and you look for a different job. I hear Boeing is hiring.”

She rolled her eyes and smiled.  “If these are the kinds of plans you used to come up with, I’m surprised you’re still with us.”

“Hey.  I’m a great strategist.  Trust me,” Michael said, stealing a kiss.  “I’m brilliant.”

“Uh-huh,” she said, unconvinced.  "When your brilliance is done tinkering with that car, come help me with dinner."

"Yes, Ma'am," he said, saluting as she left the garage.  At least she was in better spirits. 
 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bonnie had exhausted the obvious options.  She hadn't wanted to worry Kitt, but she also didn't want to waste precious time.  It looked like Michael was really missing, and Kitt was her best chance of finding him.  Her trip to Zeke’s had only added fuel to her fears.  Mary had told her that Zeke was at a reunion for his former special ops unit all week.  She hadn't noticed Michael out in the boat or jogging along the roadway.  As far as Mary knew, Bonnie was the last person to see him before she left for work on Monday.

Bonnie punched in Kitt's name on her cell phone and was reassured when he answered immediately.

"Hello, Bonnie," he said pleasantly.

Somehow she couldn’t find the right words.  Kitt felt so far away.  "Have you heard from Michael?" she asked, not wanting to alarm him.

"Not since last weekend, why?"  There was already a note of concern in his voice.

"I don't know where he is."

“He’s not playing darts at Zeke’s, or out fishing?" Kitt asked, sounding more worried.

Bonnie decided there was no point in beating around the bush if he was already alarmed.  "Kitt, the back door was broken into, someone shot at the bed, and," she took a shaky breath, "there's blood on the stairs."

"I'll be right there," Kitt said, quickly.  "Are you somewhere safe?"

"Yes.  I'm in town -- I checked the police station and the hospital.  I called his cell phone, but it went right to voicemail.  I even checked at The Old Dog, but he hasn’t been there."  It was a bar that Michael and Zeke hung out in from time to time.  She had known that he wasn't going to be there with Zeke out of town and the Chevy home, but she had been holding out hope that he was somewhere safe. 

"I'll get there as quickly as I can.  Will you be okay for a while?"

"Yes, but what about Maddock? What about the case you're working on?"

There was a pause on the other end of the line.  "I'll come meet you at the cabin tonight.  I'll plan to be back tomorrow morning early, before they know I'm gone.  Hopefully we'll have found Michael by then.  If not, we'll have to work something out."

Bonnie shut her eyes.  "Okay.  The police are on their way to the cabin now.  They said they would put out an APB on him.  I guess I’ll meet them there and wait for you.”  It would probably take Kitt at least an hour to get to the cabin anyway.  In the meantime she could see if the police had any leads.

"Bonnie, please be careful.  Call me if anything happens."

"Okay," she answered, the reality of the situation slowly starting to seep through the confused haze of the last hour. 

* * *

Kitt drove down the two-lane county highway to the appointed turn off.  For a human driver the turn onto the gravel road would be hard to see.  It was little more than a slight opening in the trees, a small spray of gravel that was kicked out onto the asphalt, but for Kitt it was clear as day.  He knew the distance from the center of town down to the hundredth of a mile.  He knew the number and pattern of the trees surrounding the corner, and he knew there was a rusted street sign that had long ago fallen beneath the ferns on the far side of the intersection.  It was like a second home, and he knew all its features.

He was scanning as far and as fast as he could.  The sweeps of electromagnetic radiation were bouncing over everything in the forest, scattering, and occasionally bouncing back to him.  But none of them told him what he really wanted to know.  None of them told him where to find Michael.

Kitt reached the end of Michael's driveway and stopped.  There were two squad cars in front of the cabin.  He decided to pull into Zeke's driveway to avoid the questions associated with an unusual car showing up without a driver.  Kitt turned his attention from scanning the forest to the police officer standing with Bonnie.  The officer was asking her the standard questions in a missing person's case.  Kitt did a quick medical scan and found that Bonnie’s vitals were elevated.  She was upset, as he would expect.  Kitt couldn't always tell a human’s emotions from their physiological state, but when it came to Michael and Bonnie he could usually put a name to what they were feeling.  He had known them long enough to figure out the patterns.

There were two other officers searching the cabin and the grounds for evidence.  Kitt noted the blood stains on the wood floor in the hallway, as well as some down near the lake, but without a sample, he couldn't tell if it was Michael's or not.  Kitt's sense of discomfort increased as he started counting the number of bullets lodged in the trees and the ground on the far side of the cabin.  Also disturbing was the fact that the phone line had been cut at the pole, the Chevy's tires had been slashed, and the boat's fuel tank was contaminated with something granular.  Even Michael’s cell phone was gone – Kitt tried it himself, just to be sure, but it went to voicemail for him too.  This was no accident.  Michael had been the victim of what appeared to be a well-planned attack.  Kitt wished the officers would leave.  He really wanted to talk to Bonnie.

Trying to keep himself busy, Kitt turned his attention back to his long range scans.  After thoroughly scouring the woods, the lake caught Kitt's increasingly desperate attention.  It glittered in his peculiar low frequency vision, reflecting his scanning waveforms back to him.  There were no boats on the lake and no one was swimming through its surface.  Aside from that, Kitt didn't want to know.  He had to adjust his scanning array to penetrate the water, which wasn't either difficult or time consuming, but it was just enough of an excuse not to look for the one thing he didn't want to find.  The lake was frightening tonight, holding potentially unfathomable outcomes.  Kitt turned away and focused on the more promising leads -- best to exhaust those first.

Finally Kitt overheard the officer ask Bonnie if she had somewhere to go. 

"I've got someone coming to pick me up," Kitt heard her answer.

He figured that they would be at the cabin for at least another hour and there were places he and Bonnie could look in the meantime.  He wanted to investigate the cabin without the prying, misunderstanding eyes of the local police. 

After waiting an appropriate period of time, Kitt darkened his windows and pulling into the driveway behind the squad cars.  Bonnie quickly mumbled an excuse, took the officer's card, and hurried down the driveway toward him.

"Are you okay?" he asked as Bonnie sat down in the passenger's seat.  He was glad she had the presence of mind not to go to the driver's side.

"I don't know.  Yes, I guess so.  Just worried."

Kitt checked over her vital signs again to confirm, and then started to back out of the driveway, the lights from the squad cars bouncing off his hood.

"They said they'd call around, check the hospitals, and that sort of thing.  They're going over the cabin with a fine-tooth comb.  I just don't know where he'd be," she said, with a hint of fear in her voice.

"We'll find him," Kitt said, in a tone he hoped was reassuring.  He wished there was someone to reassure him.  In the old days, that had been Michael's role.

"I take it you didn't find any sign of anyone in the woods?"

"Not within scanner range, I’m afraid."

Bonnie shook her head and leaned back.  "They kept asking me, but I just can't think of any place he'd go."

"I'm afraid the only leads we have are the blood stains and the bullets."

"The police took the bullets from upstairs.  They found dozens outside, though," she said softly.  "Maybe we can come back, once they've left."

"In the meantime, I suggest we get to higher ground so that I can scan farther.  It's probably too late tonight to talk to anyone in town."

Bonnie nodded.  "Okay."

Kitt made one more pass through the police frequencies and checked on his hacks into the emergency admissions databases at the three closest hospitals.  There was no mention of Michael or a John Doe.  Please be all right, Kitt silently pleaded as he looked for a suitable place to start searching. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

He heard the soft twittering of glass falling.  It was funny the things that woke him up.  He could sleep soundly through a thunderstorm or a raccoon fight right outside his window.  He rarely woke up when he heard the normal sounds of life, but breaking glass wasn’t normal.  And Michael Knight hadn't spent the better part of his adult life honing his senses for nothing.  He always had one ear to the ground, listening for the surprise attack that could come from any one of his enemies at any moment in his life.  Thunder didn’t wake him, but the quietest intruder would -- it was simply a question of survival.

Michael glanced at the alarm clock -- 3:37 am.  He propped himself up on his elbows, quieted his breathing, and listened for the telltale signs of an intruder.  He heard a creak that must have been the patio door swinging open, followed by the groaning of floorboards.  Someone was definitely in the cabin.

In his mind, he could imagine a black-clad body, creeping from room to room, responsible for the sporadic thumps and creaks emanating from the first floor.  Michael wondered who was down there.  It could be a thief, but he doubted it.  This area was safe -- most people left their doors unlocked -- and the cabin was remote.  His gut was telling him the intruder was probably after him.  And if he was judging the direction of the noises correctly, whoever it was, was making his way toward the stairs.

The stairway into the loft was open, but protected along the edge by a railing.  Michael had run out of room in the small space so he had pushed his dresser against the railing, in the front corner of the room.  It was the only cover from someone approaching up the stairs. 

Michael slid out of bed, quickly arranged the pillows lengthwise, and threw the comforter over them.  Then he slipped across the loft and perched with his back to the dresser.  He silently cursed himself for not getting around to buying an ultrasonic handgun.  He had decided a long time ago that it would be a good idea to have one, but he had never gotten around to it. 

As he waited, he cataloged the most likely players.  Someone from his past -- it had to be.  The Foundation was too new to the freelance job to have stirred up any fresh enemies.  Watts and his crew had all gone to jail, and it was hard to escape from a cryogenic coma.

The cabin had always been creaky.  It made all sorts of protests and complaints when it was windy or when the weather changed.  But there was nothing like the creak of the fourth step.  It had a loud staccato bark all it's own.  Michael tensed when he heard it sing out, warning him.  There could be no mistake now about the whisper of what had to be a gloved hand as it slid along the rough railing.  It rasped by, on the other side of the dresser, a foot and a half from Michael's head -- clearly moving up the staircase. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Kitt and Bonnie went back to the cabin when Kitt had determined that the police had finished their investigation.  His wider scans had revealed nothing, so they were eager to look for new leads.

Bonnie crossed the gravel driveway, aiming a small flashlight at the ground in front of her.  She entered the cabin, avoiding the print dust residue on the knob, and turned on the lights.  It was amazing how much safer she felt knowing that Kitt was there.  She had attached her hands-free set to her cell phone so that they could keep in contact inside the house.

"I've done a complete scan of the first floor.  I believe that all the prints are yours and Michael's.  There are no prints on the patio door, so it's likely the intruder was wearing gloves.  Nothing looks out of place, and I don't see anything obviously missing.  It doesn’t appear to have been a robbery and I can't find any evidence that the intruder was looking for anything specific."

Bonnie took a deep breath and headed for the hallway.  She stooped to the floor and from her pocket, pulled out a small, square piece of plastic covered with a paper-thin film.  She scrapped a bit of the blood onto the slide and let the film fall back across the evidence.

"It would be a good idea to collect several samples, to determine if all of the blood is from the same person," Kitt suggested.

Bonnie climbed a few steps and took a sample from one of the stains there.  She glanced up toward the loft.  "Anything upstairs?"

"Yes.  The police took the bullets and the pillow, but . . ." Kitt hesitated several seconds before continuing.  Bonnie was afraid for a moment that something had happened to him.  "There is something in the dresser that might be helpful to us."

Bonnie slowly climbed the stairs again and approached the bed.  She absentmindedly plucked up a feather and ran it along her fingers.  It seemed such a cowardly act -- to try to shoot someone while he slept.  She didn't want to think about what would have happened if Michael had been asleep.  "You said there was something in the dresser?"

"Top drawer on the right."

Bonnie pulled it open and her heart sank.  No wonder Kitt had had a hard time saying it.  Michael's comlink was lying nestled in a small cardboard box next to a pair of old cufflinks that he refused to wear unless absolutely necessary.  Their former life had been so long ago, that she had forgotten about the comlink completely -- as did Michael, apparently.  He didn't normally wear it unless Kitt was around. 

"Damn," she said softly.  Aside from being a man who didn't care much for jewelry, Michael also didn't care to live his life by the clock these days.  If only he had been wearing it . . .

"Kitt, is it still working?"

"It hasn't been tampered with, Bonnie."

She gingerly lifted the watch to examine it.  "Anything else?" she asked over the cell phone.

"No.  I don’t think there is anything else we can do here," Kitt replied over the comlink, implying that he approved of her using it.  Bonnie turned off her cell phone before heading back downstairs.  She stroked the face of the watch gently with her thumb.  She would use it, but she wouldn't wear it.  It was Michael's and it felt inappropriate to put it on her own wrist.  Bonnie carefully snuggled the comlink into her pocket and headed outside.

* * *

Kitt was still following a standard search pattern near the cabin, scanning while Bonnie slept in the driver's seat.  He was growing more and more worried about Michael.  He knew there were really only three possibilities.  Either Michael had been killed, abducted, or he had escaped an attack but was missing for some reason.  Kitt wanted to be able to study the evidence and come to the explanation that was the most logical.  Unfortunately the threads of data just didn’t lead to logical conclusions.  Surely if Michael had been taken, he would have found some way to leave the proverbial trail of breadcrumbs for them to find.  But maybe it had happened too quickly.  What if the kidnappers were thousands of miles away already?  If Michael had gotten away from them alive, why wouldn't he have contacted them?  The only way that made sense was if he was still in danger or hurt.  If he had been killed, why would his attackers have done anything other than leave the body where it fell?  They had not bothered to clean up the blood or the bullets, so they weren't trying to hide anything.  That gave Kitt a moment of comfort, but it was intruded upon by the thought of the scans he had been avoiding. 

Michael was not dead.  He couldn't be. 

Kitt was frustrated that he didn't have Michael's instincts for making the pieces fit.  He would love to have one of Michael's hunches right now.  He needed something to help make sense of the holes in the data.  There were signs of a struggle down by the lake -- trampled grass, a splash of blood on the pier, but nothing definitive, nothing that explained everything.  He needed Michael’s brand of calm optimism right now.  Kitt needed to stop circling through all the horrible possibilities. 

If they were going to make sense of the meager leads they had, they were going to have to consider suspects.  There was no reason for anyone new to come after Michael.  It had to be someone from their past.  And that was a very long list of suspects. 

Kitt turned his attention to Bonnie, who was beginning to stir.  She had fallen asleep after 3 am, and had been restlessly dozing ever since.  Her eyes popped open and she glanced down at his voice modulator, looking confused.

"I'm sorry, Bonnie, but there hasn't been any sign of him."

Her eyes closed again briefly.  Kitt suspected that she too knew that aimlessly scanning was little more than a shot in the dark.

"I'm afraid that if I don't get back before Shawn wakes up, Maddock may interfere with our search."  Kitt didn't want to leave, but he knew that if he gave Maddock a reason to make good on his threat to deactivate him, Michael's situation could become a lot more precarious.

"Okay.  Drop me off at the cabin and I'll call Maddock and see if I can get him to agree to let you investigate."

"I'm not leaving you at the cabin," Kitt said, appalled that she would even suggest it.

"Kitt, I'll be fine . . ."

"Bonnie something has happened to Michael.  We don't know who's responsible or where that person is now.  I'm not leaving you out here alone."

"But Kitt, what if Michael comes back or calls?"

"He knows how to get in touch with us," Kitt said, knowing that her cell phone was in her bag.  He felt a little uneasy about the disabled phone line at the cabin, but if Michael made it there, he could make it to Zeke's.

"But what if he's hurt?  I can’t leave knowing he might need our help." 

The wounded look on her face, and the way fear replaced anger in her voice, resonated right through Kitt.  He didn't want to leave if there was any possibility that Michael was out here.  He desperately wanted to stay and investigate with every resource he had, but right now they had practical concerns to worry about too.  One of them had to be rational about the situation.  It was not safe for her to stay here. 

"The police are still out looking for him.  They're going to check the cabin regularly." 

Bonnie shut her eyes for several seconds.  "Kitt, I'll stay in constant phone contact.  If anything happens, I'll call you."

"Leaving you here is unacceptable," Kitt said in a tone that he hoped conveyed the finality of his decision.  Seeing her face, he softened his tone.  "I know you want to help him, but I'm not going to risk losing both of you.  Aside from my own judgment, if I agreed to something like this, Michael would never forgive me if anything happened to you."

Bonnie looked at him like she was contemplating reprogramming him on the spot, but then dropped her chin slowly and gave in.

"Okay," she said.

* * *

They were already several miles into the journey back to Seattle when the timer Kitt set finally ran down to zero and the results of his first order analysis of the blood began scrolling through his processor.  Oh, Michael, he thought.  What happened?  It was several minutes before he could bring himself to share the results.

"Bonnie," he said, causing her to start and look away from the window.

"I'm afraid the blood from the cabin is Michael's," he said gently.

She slowly nodded and pressed her thumb into her palm, wringing her hands slowly.

"Some of the blood in the grass is also his, but the blood from the pier is not," he continued trying to sound hopeful.  "And even though it is his blood, there isn't enough of it to indicate a major injury.  I would guess some sort of grazing wound."

"No, but he’s hurt and missing."  Bonnie put her head down and ran her right hand over her forehead and through her hair. 

"There is something else."

"Go ahead."

"According to the rate of decay, the blood is between 36 and 48 hours old."

"Two days?" Bonnie whispered.  "Are you sure?"

"You know my capabilities as well I as I do, Bonnie."  He didn't really want to give her the odds that he was correct.  It was too disheartening.

"Kitt, if he was injured two days ago . . ."

"He needs our help," Kitt finished.  He was not ready to think about worse case scenarios yet.  He knew that over the course of their partnership, Michael had held out hope for him when others had not.  And now Kitt was going to return the favor. 

Bonnie seemed to shake off the shocked look on her face and she nodded determinedly.  "You're right.  We may need the Foundation’s help to get access to the evidence the police collected."

"And I'm going to have to get out of the Butler case.  I don't think Maddock's going to be happy about it, but it's not high priority, so he could turn it over to the police." 

"A missing person should take precedence over embezzlement.  I'll handle him."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes.  We need to get his permission and the Foundation's weight with the local authorities, unfortunately." 

"How do you propose to get it?”

"Appeal to Maddock's almost human side."

"Does he have one?"  Kitt found some comfort in the fact that Bonnie seemed to become more focused and determined now that they had concrete tasks to accomplish.

"I'm hoping he does, but the trick is going to be to find it."

* * *

Bonnie hesitated before she knocked on Maddock’s door.  She knew she looked like hell and she wanted to at least gather her wits before going in to meet the beast.  She rapped on the tinny aluminum door and pushed it open when she heard Maddock bellow, “Come in.” 

He was standing at his flat-topped workbench, his tie hanging over some presentation or plan.  He glanced at her briefly before returning to his work.

“I thought that one of the conditions you hired on under was that you were only going to be here four days a week,” he said as he continued with whatever he was doing.  "I didn't think you were going to grace us with your presence on Fridays."

Bonnie crossed her arms defensively and rethought whether she really wanted his help.  “Michael’s missing.”

Maddock didn’t react.  He had picked up a pen and seemed to be marking up whatever was in front of him.  After a long pause he said, “That seems like a fairly common occurrence for him.  Are you sure he’s not just out and about?”

“Yes, I’m sure,” she said, strategically keeping the rest of the information quiet for the moment.

“Well, perhaps he’s shacking up with some woman.  I hear he used to get around.” 

Bonnie somehow kept her jaw from dropping and reined in her temper.  She didn't think he knew the extent of their relationship, so it wasn't a personal insult.  He was just being generally insulting.  Arguing with Maddock was always a game and if she lost her temper, he’d win.  “There were bullets fired in the house.”

“And was there a body?”

She managed to catch the words before they left her mouth.  Asshole.  Complete asshole.  It never ceased to amaze her how in the few months she had known him, he had only gone down in her estimation.  She wanted to fling some scathing comeback at him, but nothing came immediately to mind.  She was too tired for this.  “No.”

“That's promising, but I don't understand why you’re here, exactly,” he said, raising his eyebrows.

“I thought that maybe Kitt could investigate,” Bonnie said, in measured tones.

“Sounds like a situation for the local authorities.  We don’t have the time or the man power right now to help you.”

He went back to his documents as she stood at the door fuming.  “You don’t have the time or the man power?” she repeated, enunciating every syllable.  “For one of your own?”

“Michael isn’t one of us.  He made that very clear.”

Bonnie had spent most of the drive into Seattle trying to think of the best way to approach Maddock.  Michael had always said that the best way to get to him was to appeal to his self-interest.  She had been trying to figure out how getting Michael back would help the Foundation.  “He may not be a full time employee but he is an asset.”

Maddock gave her a cocked brow.  “When he feels like it.”

Michael did go out of his way to give Maddock heartburn.  Usually Bonnie found it childishly satisfying, but it was not going to help them now.  “True, but in the end he comes through for you. He helped the Foundation get this freelance contract.”

“And he has our deep appreciation, but we have other cases right now.”

Bonnie was afraid to play her only real card right away, but she knew there was only one thing that would really scare Maddock.  The only angle she could think of that really affected Maddock’s self interest was publicity.  “I’m sure that will make a lovely sound byte.”

Maddock’s pen stopped moving and he looked up, his eyes dark and threatening.  “What do you mean?”

“I’m sure that sooner or later word will get out that a contract employee of the city’s brand new freelance department has mysteriously vanished.”

“Are you threatening me?” he asked giving her a cold prosecutor’s stare.

“Of course not,” she said.  “But inevitably it’s going to come to somebody’s attention.  How would it look if the Foundation hadn’t even investigated?”

Maddock had stopped glowering at her and was obviously sizing up the truth in that statement.  It wouldn’t look good.  It would perhaps even make the Foundation the target of speculation in his disappearance. 

“I wouldn’t want to try to explain that to Commissioner Daniels,” she added, trying not to be too obvious that she was maneuvering him.  She knew that on at least one occasion, Daniels had asked for Michael specifically – she wasn’t completely comfortable with Shawn, given their past relationship.  If Michael wasn’t found, and the Foundation didn’t even investigate, Daniels would want answers, and Maddock would be the one in the hot seat.

Maddock made a show of going back to his paperwork, as if this conversation was an after thought, and completely unimportant.  “Fine.  Shawn and Kitt will investigate – after Shawn's ten o'clock meeting with the security team handling tonight’s Mariners game.  But I would appreciate it if this was wrapped up quickly.”

“So would I,” Bonnie said before turning on her heels and leaving.  When she was safely outside of his office, she let out a sigh.  She didn't like the delay, but at least she had gotten him onboard. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The intruder continued his creep up the stairs, his whole body trained toward the bed in front of him.  Michael could see an odd jut in the silhouette around the intruder's face; he was wearing night vision goggles.  Michael was surprised he hadn't seen through the basic pillow ruse yet, but from the stairs, he was at a bad angle.  He watched, transfixed as the figure extended a gun and took aim.  Who are you? Michael wondered.  He sat frozen, waiting the microseconds until the man squeezed the trigger and one of Michael’s pillows exploded across the bed. 

The assailant continued firing, giving Michael the opportunity he needed.  He sprang up and vaulted over the dresser, landing behind the startled figure on the stairs.  He quickly brought the weight of both his arms down, connecting solidly with the man’s weapon arm.  The gun fell and skittered over the edge of the stairs.  The man recoiled at first, but then recovered and launched himself at Michael, knocking him backward.  Michael winced as his shoulder slammed into the corner of a step.  The intruder jerked out a knife strapped to his ankle.  Michael managed to lurch to the side, just enough that the knife missed his chest and sunk into his arm instead, causing him to howl in pain.  With his left hand Michael grabbed the assailant’s shirt and used it to throw the man off balance, sending them both tumbling down the stairs.  When they hit the bottom, Michael reached for the gun that he had knocked out of the intruder's hand.  Both men grabbed for it, but Michael managed to wrestle it away.  The intruder scrambled around the corner into the living room, as Michael brought the gun up.  He heard the man running toward the kitchen, and after clearing his way around the corner, raced after him. 

Michael chased the man out of the cabin and peered around the corner.  His assailant was running past the garage, so Michael turned the corner after him.  He was so intent on his pursuit that when the first bullet whizzed by his head, a distracted part of his mind thought it was a June bug.  That misconception was quickly cleared up, and he slid on the dew-covered grass under a maelstrom of automatic weapons fire.  Michael scrambled along the grass and hurled himself back around the corner of the cabin.  He spotted muzzle flashes from at least four different guns.  He had assumed that he was dealing with a lone assailant.  This was not good.

Quickly examining the gun, Michael recognized it was a Beretta 9000.  He couldn’t be sure, but it seemed as though the man in the cabin had fired at least 5 or 6 rounds.  Assuming that he had started with a new magazine, there would 4 or 5 rounds left.  It wasn’t much, but at least it was something.  Michael risked a quick glance back around the corner and realized that the flashes were moving -- they were coming after him.  He was barely armed and cut off from both the cabin and the garage.  The run to the pier would leave him exposed for at least 150 feet, which was too long.  He didn't know if all the shooters had night vision goggles, but if so, he'd never cover that distance alive.  The keys to the boat were in the kitchen drawer anyway.  At the moment, his only line of escape was into the forest behind the cabin.  If they were using night vision goggles, hopefully, the light from their own muzzle flashes would be just enough hindrance for him to get to the trees.

Michael didn’t have time to take better stock of his situation – he was going to have to get to a safer position first.  He yanked off his bright white T-shirt and stuffed it into the elastic of his sweats.  He spun around the corner, fired off two shots for cover, and then ran.

He knew he'd have a few seconds, but he needed more time.  He turned as one of the men peered around the corner.  Michael shot at him and ducked as the man fired back before disappearing again.  Michael sprinted towards the woods, and heard gunfire erupt behind him.  The trees in front of him splintered as bullets slammed into them.  He dove at the nearest set of bushes and scrambled up into the forest.  He turned and fired the remaining round at a pursuer who was right at the edge of the woods.  Listening to the constant rain of bullets, he veered away from their general direction, jumping over bushes and trying not to trip over roots.  He had made it to the woods, but now he was going to have to put some distance between him and his pursuers if he was going to get out of this alive. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The trip back from the Foundation had been silent for the most part.  There had been several delays in getting out of Seattle, not the least of which was a slight snag with the Mariner's security team.  By the time they left, around noon, Kitt was feeling very anxious.  He didn’t like that they had been away from the cabin so long.  He was driving well above the speed limit, trying to make up time.

Shawn and Bonnie had seemed to get along well enough in the small amounts of time they spent together at the Foundation, but Kitt didn't get the impression that they were friends.  That impression was strengthened in the last hour.  Shawn had made an attempt to reassure them both that they would find Michael, which Bonnie acknowledged, but without the warmth that Kitt would have expected.  After that, the trip was filled with awkward silences that were interrupted only by Shawn asking a few basics about the state of the cabin.  Bonnie and Kitt had decided it was best if Shawn didn't know that they had already begun investigating, so neither of them were volunteering much information.  Kitt just couldn’t be sure if Shawn was more loyal to Michael or Maddock.  He didn't know how she would react to the knowledge that they had gone behind Maddock's back.  It made for a tense ride.

When they finally reached the cabin, Bonnie barely moved as Shawn pushed open the door and climbed out, surveying the property.  With her long, business-like stride, she crossed the lawn and entered the house.  Bonnie lingered behind.

“I feel like we’re wasting time,” she said.

“It won’t take long for Shawn to investigate.  She’s efficient.”

“I’m sure she is, but if someone has him . . .” Bonnie trailed off.

“I know, but we need to get Shawn caught up first.  I’m still scanning,” he said, wanting to believe there was something to find.

“Okay.”  Bonnie tapped his hood before following Shawn into the house, not showing much enthusiasm. 

Kitt switched to infrared to follow them with his scanners.  He watched as they went from room to room, going over and reinvestigating what he and Bonnie had already discovered.  It did seem depressing to cover the same ground, knowing you weren't going to find anything new.

After several minutes, Bonnie and Shawn reemerged from the house.  Shawn stopped to examine a bullet hole in the side of the cabin, and Kitt rolled over to join them. 

"Whoever it was, they didn't get him on the first shot."

"Obviously," Bonnie said icily.

"Kitt is there any indication that any of the bullets connected?"

"It's hard to say, Shawn, but if so, I don't believe it was a fatal shot.  There isn't enough blood."

"So they were shooting wildly?"

"Apparently."

"Can you determine how many there were?" she asked.

"It appears there was one shooter in the house.  The spray pattern of the bullets outside suggests at least four shooters."

"But that may, or may not include the shooter from the house?" Bonnie surmised.

"Correct.  Although the inside shooter’s gun appears to have been used outside as well.  The police found 0.40 caliber bullets in the grass as well as the 9 mm automatic rounds."

"Why is it that only the criminals can get their hands on real guns?" Shawn muttered.

"We're outside of Seattle.  There are plenty of guns to be had," Kitt replied, even though he was sure she wasn't really looking for an answer.  “The larger caliber bullets seem to have trajectories in the opposite direction as the smaller caliber spray pattern.”

"Maybe Michael got a hold of the gun and was shooting back," Bonnie suggested.

"It's possible, but I have no way of determining a timeline for when those bullets were fired.  There are many possible explanations."

"And there's no sign of a ransom or anything?  You haven't received any unusual phone calls or emails, Bonnie?" Shawn asked.

She shook her head 'no' and traced a nasty round pockmark in the cabin wall.  "Something tells me they weren't looking for money."

Shawn opened Kitt's driver's side door and slid inside, swiftly punching the button to activate Kitt's analyzer.  She slipped a set of slides onto the tray.  Kitt already knew that the blood they contained was Michael's. 

"Is there somewhere Michael would go to hide?  Somewhere he liked?" Shawn asked.

Kitt expected Bonnie to answer, but she didn't.  Shawn looked from Bonnie to him.  "He usually stays around the cabin or out on the lake.  There are a few places in town where he goes with his friend Zeke."

Kitt ran the blood analysis again.  He was going to have to wait the appropriate amount of time before giving Shawn the results anyway.  As he expected, everything came out the same.  "According to my preliminary results, the blood in question is the right type to be Michael's.  It will take longer for me to run a DNA comparison," he said somberly, assuming that was enough to get Shawn started.  Kitt would doll out the rest of the information as it was appropriate.

Bonnie had moved to lean against Kitt's side.  She was gazing out at the lake, still somewhat detached from Shawn and Kitt's conversation.  Out of the blue, she asked, "Have you scanned the lake, Kitt?"

"No, I haven't," he said somewhat sheepishly.  He felt guilty about it, but he had his reasons.  And he didn't feel like explaining, not even to Bonnie.

She looked at him oddly for a moment and then said somewhat coldly, "Please scan it now."

Kitt wanted to be angry with her for her demanding tone.  But he couldn’t.  He knew when he had made up his mind the previous night not to scan the lake, that they might quickly exhaust other possibilities.  Bonnie wasn't herself at the moment -- anymore than he was -- so he couldn't blame her.  They were both worried.

Kitt was confident scanning the land around the lake.  Michael could be hiding or injured but clinging fiercely to life, as Kitt had known his partner to do on several occasions, but to scan the lake felt like a betrayal.  There was really only one reason to force his scanners to peer into the depths of the murky water.  A less rational side of him wanted to avoid that kind of pessimism as long as possible.  But now that Bonnie had asked, there was no way to continue avoiding it.

Kitt switched over to a better-suited wavelength and searched the lake in a wide arc, probing the waters for organic matter larger than the average fish and more consistent with a human being.  Much to his dismay, he found it.  Kitt narrowed the beam of his scanner and swept the area again, to be sure.  Human remains gave off a distinct decomposition signature, and unfortunately, this organic matter matched.  It was floating a few feet under the surface in a small cove, sheltered from the main lake.  It had washed into a tangle of branches along with empty beer cans, an old fishing rod, tires, and other impervious human creations.  Kitt couldn't bear this sort of ending for his best friend. After all that they had been through, all the disagreements that had just recently been worked out, Kitt couldn’t bear to find Michael like this.

Kitt tried to calm himself.  There was no way to tell from this distance if the remains were Michael's.  There was still the possibility that this was someone else, his attacker maybe.  But Kitt alone couldn't determine that.

He hesitated, and thought through his words carefully before speaking them.  "I am detecting organic material that could be human remains, although I cannot make an identification from here."  He carefully monitored Bonnie as her body briefly slumped harder against the car.

"Where, Kitt?" she asked, standing up and looking at the boat moored by the pier.

"On the far side of the lake," he said.

Bonnie pushed herself away from the car and strode purposefully toward the dock. 

"No, Bonnie," Kitt said, but she didn't stop.  He didn't want her to go.  If it was Michael, he didn't want her to see him like that.  Kitt knew the boat’s gas tank was contaminated, but there was a good chance the boat would make it across the lake before the engine died.  "Shawn?!" he said, somewhat desperately.

Shawn shook her head and launched after Bonnie.  She had to run to catch her, but quickly closed the distance.  Shawn grabbed Bonnie's arm trying to slow her dawn.

"Let go of me!" Bonnie said angrily.

"You don't want to do this.  I'll go check it out."

"This isn't any of your business.  I'll go."

"Oh yes it is.  When you asked for our help, you made it my business."

"I didn't ask for your help, I asked for Kitt's," Bonnie said as she pulled her arm away from Shawn and continued her march down the pier.

Shawn rolled her eyes and stomped after Bonnie, positioning herself between Bonnie and the boat.  "I don't care if you want my help or not.  You've got it.  I may not be part of the family but I am in a much better position to handle this than you are.  And furthermore, if that is his body down there, I know he wouldn't want you to be the one to find it."

Bonnie glared at Shawn but it was obvious that she wasn't going to get passed her.  She folded her arms and glared.  "Fine," she said hostilely. 

"Why don't you collect some more samples of the blood in the grass and on the pier?  We need to know if all of it is the same."

Shawn held out an envelope containing more of the little plastic slides and after a minute, Bonnie took it.  Then she wordlessly turned and marched off the pier, back toward solid ground.

“You’ll need to drain the gas tank and refill it,” Kitt said over the comlink to Shawn.  “They contaminated it with what I would assume would be either sugar or salt.  There's a canister of gas in the garage.”

"You know, someone took a lot of time to plan this.  They came with enough weapons to take on a platoon, and still took the time to cut off every escape route.  Whoever this was, wasn't taking any chances."

"What I don't understand is why they'd bother with the boat?  The lake doesn’t have an outlet.  Michael wouldn't have had anywhere to go," Kitt pondered. 

“It was probably a nasty little trap,” she said.  “If he was able to get it started, he'd think it was a means of at least getting away.  Then he’d end up with a dead engine out in the open.  They might have been able to pick him off."

“I don't believe Michael would take that route.  He knows the lake would be a dead end.”

“But what if it were his only option?  He could at least cross the lake.  Any escape is better than none,” Shawn said.  “Even if it is only temporary.”

* * *

Kitt watched on his monitor, nervous, as Shawn got closer and closer to the remains.  He was suddenly filled with a need to do something.  If he had fingernails, he’d be biting them.  After years of wondering about strange human habits, he was starting to see why people found them comforting.  But right now the only comfort for him would be finding Michael alive. 

"Kitt, I'm in the cove," Shawn said over her comlink, her voice swimming in the whining of the outboard engine.  "Where do I go?"

"Change your heading 17 degrees north.  The body is just below the surface, 16 feet from shore. 

This was getting to be too much for Kitt to bear.  He had just gotten Michael back.  He wasn't prepared to lose him so soon.  Please let this be someone else, he pleaded.

Kitt couldn't control his anxiety as he activated the video feed in Shawn's comlink.  She used a hook in the boat to pull the body out of the tangle of debris and coax it to the surface.  Immediately Kitt started some quick comparisons to Michael's known features.

"It's not him," Shawn said.  "This guy was a short blond."

Kitt relaxed a little as his scans confirmed what Shawn was saying.  Thank heaven, he thought.  But the feeling of relief was quickly deserting him; they still had no idea where to find Michael.  Kitt desperately wondered what had happened.  Unfortunately, right now, there was no answer. 

Trusting that Shawn would know what to do with the body, Kitt turned his attention to Bonnie.  He slowly rolled over the grass to where she was stooped, examining the spatters of blood.  She glanced quickly over her shoulder when she heard him coming and then went back to collecting a sample. 

“It’s everywhere.  But it seems like most of it was the result of a previous injury the way it's smeared into the ground,” she said.

“Bonnie . . .”

“Can you tell an impact point, or anything from the splatters?  I would guess that the person fell here, but if you follow it further, it takes on more of a drip-like pattern . . .”  She continued on with a rush of words like waves of watery fear.  Babbling.  “I'm assuming you can analyze the direction and amount and maybe . . .”

“Bonnie.” Kitt said forcefully.  “It’s not him.”

She froze at his words and let out a shuddery sigh.  Her shoulders dropped and she slowly turned around.  “Well that’s something isn’t it?”  She didn’t sound convinced.

“Have faith in him, Bonnie.  He’ll come back to us.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Michael took in a deep gulp of air and winced as he pulled tight a second strip of cloth with his teeth and good arm.  The knife wound had already soaked through the first makeshift bandage.  Luckily it was a grazing slice instead of a deep puncture.  It was bleeding a lot, but he knew that as along as he kept the cut fairly clean, and got it looked at eventually, he'd be fine.

His feet were not so easy to dismiss.  They hurt like hell.  Having been chased out of his home in the middle of the night, he had nothing but the T-shirt and sweats he'd worn to bed.  He had been too worried about getting ahead of the men to carefully pick a route.  As a result, the soles of his feet were ripped up and blistered, but there wasn't much he could do about it.  He had wrapped them up with strips of cloth he'd ripped from the bottom his sweats, but he didn't think it was going to help much.  He was just going to have to deal with the pain for the time being.

But on the bright side, Michael thought, at least he didn't sleep in the nude. 

He leaned back against a tree and considered his surroundings.  The sun was just coming up and the murk of the forest was starting to clear.  He took in another deep breath and held it, intentionally slowing his breathing.  The dash through the forest had left him panting and Michael needed to get his body back under control.  He needed to clear out some of the adrenaline so that he could think calmly and rationally.  But it was hard when he knew there were men with guns on his tail.

Michael was confident that he had put a reasonable distance between himself and the assailants.  He was familiar with this section of forest and even in the dark, knew where he wanted to go.  They were obviously still fumbling around.  They had even shot at something in the last hour -- probably a deer.  It looked like they had planned to get him while he slept, or worst case, mow him down if he managed to escape the first assault.  They had probably only prepared for a hike to his cabin, not an all out chase through the woods. 

Michael was startled when he heard a loud yell behind him.  He couldn't make out the words exactly - they were distant - but they were still getting closer.  Or at least three of them were. Three men had been following closely behind him, not being particularly quiet.  He could tell that they were flanking him, attempting to cut off escape to the sides, and herd him forward, always away from the cabin and the state highway where he could get help. 

The question was, where were the other two?  Michael was guessing they were following behind the first group, ready to cut him off in case he slipped past them.  Or maybe they were waiting at the cabin, preventing him from getting to a phone or his car.  In any case, he couldn't hear them, which meant they were dangerous.

There was a sharper crack behind him.  Michael had wanted to rest and come up with a plan, but he didn't want to lose his lead.  It would be suicide to take them on right now.  He had nothing.  They were well armed, and sticking fairly close together.  Even if he could ambush one, the others would be on him immediately.

Michael stood up and winced as his feet protested.  He thought through his situation, in part to keep his mind off his wounds.  It was Wednesday morning, which meant that Bonnie wouldn’t be back at the cabin until Thursday night.  That was a relief.  He didn't want her to somehow get caught up in all of this.  He wondered if the people involved had staked out the cabin.  If so, they might know her schedule and know when to expect her back.  But if that were true, and they were after her as well, they would have waited until the weekend to attack.  It was probably safe to assume that they didn’t know about her.  Michael glanced down at his bare wrist and cursed himself for not wearing his comlink.  He hadn’t thought to grab it from the dresser in all the commotion.  Of course, it wouldn’t have done him much good anyway.  There was no way to reach Kitt in Seattle from here, which meant that Bonnie would be driving into this mess on her own . . .

Michael used the sun to get his bearings and limped off again.  The best plan he had for the moment was to get far enough ahead of these guys so that he could get to the highway.  It was possible that, anticipating that move, the two missing men had taken a more direct route to cut him off.  It was a chance he’d have to take.  He needed to get out of this mess before Bonnie came home tomorrow night. 
 

 

Chapter 2



Shawn met Bonnie back at Kitt and handed over the keys to the boat.  “The coroner’s coming for the body,” she said.  “I called Maddock and he’s going to try to get it moved to Seattle.”

"What now?" Bonnie asked, hoping that Shawn had some suggestions.

"We need to start talking to people in town -- see if they’ve noticed anyone unusual hanging around or asking questions.  I think it’s a good bet that this is someone from Michael's past, so we should start looking into old cases."

Bonnie froze, a cold and familiar bile flooded her stomach.  "Kitt, where's Garthe?" she asked, her voice sounding frightened, even to her own ears.  She didn’t know why it hadn’t occurred to her before.  Maybe she just didn’t want to acknowledge that particular specter of their past.

"He's still in prison, Bonnie. Although, he isn't in a cryogenic facility."

"Could you verify that he’s still where he's supposed to be?"

"Of course."

"Who's Garthe?" Shawn asked.

"An old enemy of the Foundation.  Wilton Knight's son, actually," Bonnie sketched in.

"I'm sure the Foundation has a lot of enemies," Shawn said.  "We should probably track down anyone Michael and Kitt put in jail."

"That's a logical place to start," Kitt said, "but it wouldn't have to be someone who was sent to prison.  This could also be a relative or friend of someone we apprehended."

"That would make it almost impossible to figure out, Kitt," Bonnie said, propping her chin on the arm she had resting across his roof.

"We have to start somewhere, so let's assume it was someone directly involved with a case," Shawn said and then turned to Bonnie.  "Kitt and I will take you back to Seattle while we investigate.  You can look into old cases from there."

"I'm not going anywhere.  I can look them up with my laptop."

"I don't think its safe for you to stay at the cabin, while we're away.  Whoever did this has been here.  They could come back," Shawn persisted.

"Then I'm coming with you."

"No offense, but I think you'd just be in our way," Shawn said, pulling open the driver's door.

"No offense?  I was with the Foundation long before . . ."

"And how much police training do you have?" Shawn interrupted, rudely.

"And look at all the good your police training did you.  In your first year on the force you were shot in the  . . ."

"That's enough," Kitt interjected.  "Bonnie will come with us and look over the list of potential suspects while we search the area."

Bonnie glared at Shawn, waiting to see if she would argue with Kitt.

"Fine." Shawn got into the car and stabbing the start button before Bonnie had a chance to close the door. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Michael sat up straighter when he heard the unmistakable sound of an engine turning over.  They couldn’t be giving up.  The engine sounded far away, and there were still at least three of them right on his tail.  He listened to the foreign noise a moment, his mind churning.  Apparently, the mystery of the two unaccounted-for men had been solved; they were going for reinforcements or supplies. 

Michael tipped his head back and tried to think.  They had assumed they would ambush him at the cabin.  They didn’t drive their car or truck down the road because they didn't want to wake him.  But that meant they had only brought what they needed to hike to his cabin.

The cabin was five miles from the main road, so they probably didn’t bring much.  Michael guessed that they had just enough in the way of guns and ammunition to finish him off if shooting him while he slept didn’t work.  Or maybe they were afraid they’d find him awake.  Whoever this was, they were used to thinking about contingencies.

Now that he had at least some idea of what they were up to, he was going to have to try to outsmart them.  If they were going for reinforcements or any sort of military style equipment, he'd be in trouble.  If they were just going to town for supplies, that wouldn't be nearly as bad.  Michael thought about what he’d want if he were in their shoes.  They’d get food and water -- maybe a GPS unit, radios, and more ammunition.  All of those items could be purchased in town, with a little searching.

He assumed they wouldn’t be gone long, but it was an opportunity.  If Michael were going to slip past the other three, now would be the time to do it.  If he got back to the cabin he could get to the Chevy, or call for help.  Now was his best chance to get out of this mess. 

* * *

Michael waited under the roots of a felled tree.  From the charring, he guessed it was a victim of lightening – the price of being the tallest tree in the area.  The sun was higher in the sky and it was getting hot, so he didn’t mind hiding for the moment.  The tree had fallen so that in the shallow dugout of its roots, he was shielded from his pursuers.

They were getting damn close, though.  Michael listened to the cracks and swishes from the displaced branches as they passed through the brush.  It was disconcerting to just wait, but it was going to be easier to let them slip past him if he wasn't risking a fatal twig snap, or visible motion in the trees.  And the truth was, he could use the rest.  His arm hurt, his feet hurt, all his muscles hurt.  But it didn’t do him any good to focus on that right now.

Instead he focused on the men behind him.  Waiting on his pursuers was feeding a growing tension that he was trying his best to ignore.  He was pleasantly surprised that it had taken so long for them to catch up -- he had had quite a substantial lead.  Based on the position of the sun, he guessed that he had been at least an hour ahead of them.  Not bad for an old guy with no shoes.

A noise to his left caught his attention.  They were almost to his position.  Michael hunkered down, turning so that his dark sweats helped to hide the white of his t-shirt.  He had smeared it with dirt to blend in better, but he wanted to take every precaution to stay hidden.  He lifted his head in the dark recesses of the roots, hoping to get a good view as they passed. 

Michael sat for what seemed like far too long before he heard something to his right as well.  He was tempted to try to ambush one of them, but they were so close together that if he wasn’t completely silent in his attack, he’d quickly have a mess on his hands.  He listened as the man to his left slowly came abreast of his position.  He was too far away to be seen, as he continued to move slowly forward, away from Michael.

A twig snapped to his right and Michael held his breath.  The other man was passing close - too close.  Michael’s hiding place wasn’t obvious from a reasonable distance, but if someone passed right next to it, he would be sure to peer in.

Michael crouched deeper into the roots.  He willed every muscle to quiet, demanded that everything but his heartbeat go silent.  He heard rustling and more movement.  He could almost imagine the man out there in the forest, about to stumble onto his hiding place. 

The noises got unbearably close, and Michael was starting to think about making a run for it.  He didn’t want to sit there and wait to be taken out, crouched under some tree.  But the man walked by, just far enough away that he didn’t notice the excellent natural shelter.  Michael watched the boots and khaki pants pass through the bushes as the man slowly marched forward.  When he was far enough away, Michael risked lifting his head a little.  The man was blond, medium height, walking with his weapon pointed in front of him, slowly turning to scan from side to side. 

Michael wracked his brain.  Who was it?  He hadn’t gotten a good look at the man’s face, but he had hoped he would at least recognize him.  But then, there was nothing to say that he would know any of them, other than the ringleader.  There was even a chance Michael wouldn’t recognize him.

When the man had moved far enough away, Michael finally let his tensed muscles relax.  He listened until the noises finally faded, then slipped out of his spot, and started his beeline for the cabin.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Shawn surveyed the lobby of the old, run-down motel.  The chairs in front of the registration desk were threadbare and showing stuffing around their seams.  The man behind the desk was leaning back in his chair with his eyes closed, either asleep or quickly approaching it.  An ancient-looking computer cluttered the desk in front of him.

“Hello?” Shawn asked.

The man’s eyes popped open and he stretched, but didn’t bother to get out of the chair.  “Can I help you?” he asked lazily.

Shawn flashed her Foundation badge, hoping the man wouldn’t want to study it.  They only had legal jurisdiction in Seattle, and to anyone with any sophistication, that would be apparent from the etching on the bottom of the badge that read, 'City of Seattle Freelance Department.'  Luckily the man didn't show much interest, so she continued. 

“I’m investigating a disappearance.  I was wondering if you could tell me if there’s been any unusual activity around here the last few days.”

The man sat up straighter and seemed to give her more of his attention.  “This about that business down by the lake last night?”

“Yeah, you heard about it?”

“Sure.  I’ve got a security contract with one of the cops in town to come by my place when he’s off-duty, which around here is a lot of the time.  He was in the lobby when he got the call last night.  I was sure it was Zeke though.  Someone who runs his mouth off as much as that boy is bound to get himself in trouble.  I was real surprised to find out it was the bass charter guy.  He’s always been kinda quiet – keeps to himself mostly.”

“You know Michael Knight?” Shawn asked.

“I know everyone in this area, or at least their names.  I’ve seen him with Zeke at the bar from time to time and I know he’s got the old Jones place down by the lake.  Oh and that sweet Chevy, but other than that, I don’t know much about him.”

“So no one was here asking about him the last few days?”

“Nah.”

“Anyone suspicious hanging around?”

He shrugged.  “Not really.  We usually get a few weirdoes around here this time of year.  Out here to hike the mountains.  You know the types who backpack across Europe and don’t exactly find themselves?” He said it with a raised eyebrow and a smirk.

Shawn nodded.

“There’ve been a few people just passing through, but there’s nothing unusual about that.”

“I don’t suppose I could get a list of all your current guests?”

The man gave her a dubious look.  “I don’t suppose you have a warrant for that?”

“This would be as a favor.”

He shook his head.  “I’d like to help you, but I don’t think that would go over too well with the granola crowd, if you know what I mean?  They tend to be a bit paranoid about law enforcement.  They're not exactly my favorite customers, but I gotta pay the bills."

"I understand," Shawn said, wanting more, but she knew she didn't have a leg to stand on.  She couldn’t push it.

"I’ll tell you what, though, if anyone seems particularly suspicious, I’ll give you a call.”

It was better than nothing.  “Thanks.”   Shawn headed back out to Kitt.  So far no one had seen anything suspicious, and they had hit all of the local hotels.  They had heard from a couple of people that there were a lot of transients in the area, which made it far less likely that anyone was going to look out of place.

Shawn pulled Kitt’s door open.  “See if you can get access to his computer and download a list of people who've checked in or out this week.  If nothing else we can cross-reference the names with the list of people involved in your cases.”

“I already took the liberty of peeking at the guest lists of all the hotels we've been to.  It will take a while to create a reference matrix though.”

“Keep on it.  Any word from the airstrip or bus terminal?" she asked.

"A few Cessnas and a Piper took off from the air strip, but there was nothing unusual about any of them.  Nothing suspicious at the bus terminal either, and the police department hasn't had any promising leads from their APB.   I'm afraid that given the amount of time since we suspect the incident occurred, whoever attacked Michael could be hundreds, or even thousands, of miles from here."

"So what do we do now?"  Bonnie asked.  She had waited with Kitt while Shawn had gone in to ask questions.

"Until the autopsy comes back on the body in the lake, all we can do is keep searching here.  This is the only place that we know for certain has a connection," Kitt said.

"Maddock is going to lean on the medical examiner and see if they can get the autopsy moved up in the queue," Shawn said.  He had already been successful in getting the body moved to Seattle.

"Let's hope the ME finds something useful."  Bonnie turned her attention back to her laptop.

"Until then, I guess we keep searching."  Shawn put the car in gear.  They had exhausted most of the likely prospects in one afternoon.  She was afraid they were looking at a cold trail.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Michael emerged from a thicket and hurried across the lawn in a low crouch.  He quickly scanned from side to side, making sure the coast was clear.  He didn't see either the men or a truck so he sprinted toward the cabin.  He had already worked out a plan.  The keys to the Chevy were in the junk drawer in the kitchen along with his cell phone and wallet.  His tennis shoes were by the door.  He wanted to go upstairs and get some clothes, but he didn’t know when the men in the truck were coming back, and he couldn’t risk it.  Get the essentials and go; that was the best plan.  He could always buy clothes on his way to Seattle.

Michael wasn’t surprised to find the kitchen door open.  He had flown passed it so quickly last night that he hadn’t even bothered to give it a push closed.  He cautiously peered inside.  Seeing that all was clear, he entered, quietly opened the junk drawer, and was relieved to see that everything was still there.  He stuffed his keys and wallet into the pocket of his sweats.  Then he slipped his shoes on, and picked up the cell phone.  He glanced at the display only to see that it was dark.  Damn!  He almost never used it and therefore rarely thought about charging it – it figured that the battery would be dead the one time he really needed it.

Reaching to the back of the drawer, Michael grabbed the phone's car charger.  He’d charge the batteries on the way to Seattle -- it would only take half an hour before he could make a quick call to Kitt.  He glanced around the kitchen to see if there was anything else he needed.  Seeing nothing, he quietly shut the door and hurried toward the garage.

The garage door was never locked.  Zeke had laughed at him the first time he had seen Michael lock up.  There really wasn’t anyone who wandered by, and aside from a few gun-wielding phantoms from his past, it was a pretty safe area.

Michael was about to push open the door when the sound of the Chevy’s hood slamming stopped him cold.  Shit!  He tried to back off just as the door flew open and a muscular man in fatigues and a black skullcap came through it.  He saw Michael and froze for just an instant.  It was all Michael needed.  He launched himself at the man and tackled him to the ground.  The man fought back and managed to hit him with a well-placed elbow that knocked Michael off balance.  The man was quick to get on his feet again, forcing Michael to lunge at him.  He knocked the man backwards and got to his knees to punch him.  The man laughed despite the blood from his split lip and yelled, “Joe!  He’s here!”  Michael gritted his teeth.  Damn it, this was not good.  The man twisted and tried to kick his way out, so Michael cocked back, hitting him again -- this time hard enough to knock him senseless. 

The man's gun was still strapped to his back, lying under him.  Michael glanced up, and spotted a man with a weapon running at him from the road.  ‘Joe’, no doubt.  Michael shoved the man on the ground over, and pulled the gun off his shoulder.  He barely had time to slide back the bolt and check that there was a round loaded before the man on the road opened fire.  Michael dove through the garage door to avoid the incoming stream of bullets, only to land next to the Chevy’s discarded distributor cap. He briefly entertained thoughts of trying to put it back in before noticing that the tires were slashed too.

Bullets pelted the side of the garage and the far window shattered.  Michael was out of options.  The Chevy was useless and staying in the garage was only going to get him cornered.  The boat.  Now that he had his keys, maybe he could get to it.  He had interrupted them sabotaging the car, so maybe they hadn’t had a chance to do anything to the boat yet.  It wasn’t the best solution, being on a landlocked lake, but it was better than staying here and waiting for one of them to pick him off.  He quickly checked the gun, saw that it was a Mac-10, and flipped it into semiautomatic mode.  He wished he had had time to search the guy for a reload, but he was going to have to make use of what ammunition he had.

Michael spun out through the garage door, firing several bursts in Joe's direction.  Joe dove to the ground, giving Michael the head start he needed.  He sprinted towards the pier, keeping low and trying to fire behind him to keep the guy off his back.  It was about 150 feet to the dock, which was more time out in the open than Michael would have liked, but it was his only choice.

Unfortunately for him, the man was gaining.  In quick glances backward, Michael could see that he was young and fit.  Michael poured everything he had into his legs and focused on the pier.  His feet hit the first boards and he was starting to believe that he might just get out of this.  He pulled his keys from his pocket as he ran, but Joe fired on him again.  Michael turned and saw that the man he thought he had knocked out was on his feet again too, carrying a handgun.  Michael hadn’t had time to check him for other weapons.

The bullets started raining past him and Michael took the only option he had for cover.  He dove into the water, cutting through the cold surface and kicking as hard as he could.  He had to get away from the pier before coming up for air.  Footsteps echoed on the wooden planks above him, and bullets began piercing the surface of the lake.  He wouldn’t last long against an automatic weapon.

Michael waited for a pause, and then he surfaced.  He quickly tipped the gun down to drain it, and then fired from the chest high water.  The man on the pier threw up his arms as red blood spurted from wounds through his chest.  He reeled and fell backwards, over the other side of the pier.  Michael realized he had spent the last of the magazine.  He glanced back as the other man launched himself onto the pier, his pistol extended.  There was no way he was going to make it to the boat now.  He threw the strap of the gun over his shoulder, took a couple of seconds to ventilate, and then dove under as shots peppered the water.

It had been a long time since Michael had gone through special ops training, and a long time since he had had to swim, but he kicked as efficiently as possible in tennis shoes.  It figured that as soon as he actually had them, they became a hindrance.  Michael held his breath as long as he could before coming up.  He glanced around just long enough to point himself toward a tree-lined edge of the water, and then dove again.  Michael kicked harder when he heard the man shoot a few more rounds in his direction. 

Michael's lungs and legs were burning.  This was more exercise than he had gotten for years.  His daily jog was not enough preparation for this.

As he came up again, Michael realized that the man was not going to swim after him.   He was standing on the dock -- talking into something.  They did have radios.  Before long, the three others were going to be back on his trail.  Michael dove again, trying to push his body while also pushing his mind.  He needed a safe place to get back on land, quickly.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

Bonnie looked down the list of people the Foundation had apprehended over the years.  "This is depressing," she said, discouraged.

Outside, the mountain scenery passed by unnoticed as they sped along the highway.  They had been looking for anything unusual at the local campsites, rest stops, and other tourist places.  Kitt was scanning constantly, but they still hadn’t found any clues about Michael’s abductors. 

"So many of these people are out now.  You have the idea that once they’re put in prison, they stay there, but that really isn't the case," she continued.

"A lot of them were let out before cryogenic incarceration began.  The prisons were overcrowded and some of the white-collar criminals were furloughed early, since they weren't considered violent,” Kitt explained.

"They didn't pull the trigger themselves, they just paid others to do it," Bonnie said, unable to keep the bitterness out of her voice.  She leaned back in her seat and rubbed her eyes, trying to ease the fatigue of looking at the screen.

"I'm afraid that what we knew and what was actually proven in court were not always the same thing, Bonnie."

"And the criminals win again," she said.  "No wonder Michael got tired of it."

“So why did you leave?” Shawn asked, in her characteristically cold tone.  She glanced over at Bonnie in the passenger’s seat. “We’ve got ‘burn out’ from Michael.  What about you?”

Bonnie got the distinct impression that Shawn didn't really care one way or the other.  It was just more information.  It was ironic that she was colder than Kitt, despite being flesh and blood.  She was so different from Michael that Bonnie just couldn't see Kitt working well with her.  But then, Bonnie had to admit that she would probably have a hard time accepting anyone other than Michael as Kitt's partner. 

“I guess you could say the same was true for me,” Bonnie answered.

“What, the hours? Or the cases?”

“I just got tired of things,” Bonnie said evasively.

“I bet it was hard to walk away.”

She nodded, glancing down at her laptop.

“So did Devon put the screws to you, like he did with Michael?”

Bonnie looked up sharply, feeling a twinge of panic.  She didn’t want to talk about Devon.  “Not really.”

Shawn kind of laughed, but even that had all the warmth of a fall frost.  “He really twisted Michael’s arm to come back and he must have been pretty effective at it because even after he died, Michael still couldn’t walk away.  I’m surprised he didn’t try to get you to stay.”

“We didn’t part on the best of terms,” she said trying to keep her voice calm, wishing Shawn would just leave it alone.

Shawn raised an eyebrow.  “You didn’t get along with Devon?  Granted, I didn't know him very well, but he seemed like the type who got along with everyone.”

Bonnie closed her eyes.  "He was."  He could get along with everyone but me, she thought. “It was complicated.  And it’s a long story.”  She was relieved when Shawn gave her a funny look, but didn’t pursue it. 

After an awkward pause, Shawn said, "So does anyone stand out on the list?"

Bonnie hated to admit it, but no one looked particularly suspicious.  "No.  Fortunately, Michael's worst enemies are still in prison.  But the down side of that is that there are a whole bunch of mid-level criminals out on parole, none of whom stand out.  I'm almost ready to say that we should focus on the relatives and associates of the ones still in prison."

"Bonnie, if you concentrate on the ones who were recently paroled, I can start to look for any out of the ordinary visit patterns or phone calls to those still in jail," Kitt suggested. 

"Okay.  That seems reasonable."

"You might as well go in order of parole," Shawn suggested.  "If someone was angry enough to come after Michael, it's probably a good assumption that they would have done it right away."

"They would have needed some time to plan and get together the necessary people and weapons to do this," Kitt amended.

"True, but the most recent parolee was released three weeks ago.  Austin Templeton.” Bonnie paused long enough to cringe.  She didn’t want to think about that past romantic entanglement.  “That would be enough time for someone to plan a strike against Michael.  Unfortunately, I think we're just going to have to check them all."

Bonnie glanced down at her watch and was surprised to find that it was already 8:30 at night.  It was just over one day since she had come home, and so far they had nothing. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 Michael pulled himself up on the beach, and just inside the tree line before flopping down on his back, exhausted.  He stared up at the canopy overhead and listened for anything in the forest behind him.  He knew he was probably somewhere between the man he had gotten away from at the cabin and the three still in the forest. 

He didn’t like being this close to the shore – it was too open, he was too easily seen.  But he was so low on energy.  Michael lifted his head to pull his shoes from around his neck and undid the knot in their laces.  When he had gotten far enough from the pier to pause briefly, he had taken them off.  He was happy to have the shoes, but now they were soaked along with the rest of his clothing.  And nightfall was coming.  It was late summer so he wasn’t going to freeze, but it would still be uncomfortable.

Michael took in a few deep breaths and watched as birds soared high above him.  He didn't want to consider how bleak his options were.  Obviously whoever was after him wanted him dead, and right now they had him over a barrel. 

The leaves were blowing in the canopy, making a soothing rustling sound.  He just wanted to go to sleep, but he wasn’t safe yet.  Cautiously he sat up and looked out over the lake.  His eyes wandered past the dense terrain to a calm, half-hidden cove.  A forgotten memory tugged its way to the surface, climbing up through his fatigue.  Michael stared at the cove a few more minutes, getting his bearings right.  Yes, that was the one. 

Michael breathed out some of his discomfort and frustration.  He slowly smiled and felt a second wind coming on.  He wasn’t out of this fight yet.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

"Damn it all!" Zeke cursed as the engine on his well-used fishing boat sputtered again.  This time it died.  Zeke grabbed the baseball cap from his head and threw it to the bottom of the boat in frustration.  "I’m sorry, Mike. I shoulda been keepin’ a better eye on the gas gauge."

Michael smiled and shook his head.  Fishing with Zeke was always an adventure.  "That's okay.  We'll just have to work off our dinner by rowing home."

Zeke shook his head sadly, but then something brightened his squinty blue eyes and he started to laugh.  He glanced around at the rocky shore they were drifting toward.  His gaze rested on a rough landing point and then he turned his toothy grin back to Michael.  "I think I have a way to get us there a mite bit quicker."  He gave Michael a conspiratorial wink.  "Not to mention saving us from having to go slinking home with our tails between our legs."

"I'm listening."

"All we have to do is row over to the flat spot near that dead pine tree.  I'll take it from there."

In a few minutes the two men had maneuvered the boat toward the sandy-bottomed cove.  Zeke was the first to jump out into the water with a splash and then the two of them pulled the boat up onto shore.  Zeke led the way down a rough path through the ferns and pines.  They navigated several twists and turns before coming to an overgrown pile of boulders.  Michael did a double take when he spotted the camouflage netting draped across the opening to a small cave.  Zeke plunged through the opening and Michael had to duck down to follow him.  It was dry and dark inside.  Zeke pulled a flashlight off his belt and gave Michael yet another surprise.  Lying along the wall were three large army-green rucksacks, a small toolbox, jugs of water, and four large plastic gas cans.

"Welcome to my very own Y2K hideout," Zeke said with a smile.

"Y2K hideout?"

"Yeah, well, ya know.  They were talking all sorts of craziness and I didn't want to be caught unprepared.  I had a generator, but when nothing happened I figured, what's the use in keepin’ it. I sold it to a friend of my brother’s who's got land in Florida.  But I never got around to getting rid of the gas.  Guess it’s a good thing, huh?"

Michael watched as Zeke started rummaging through the toolbox.  "Now if I could just remember where I put the spouts . . . " 

The toolbox had a large utility knife, rope, a flashlight, D clips, a GPS, and several other essentials.  Michael looked around at the two other rucksacks.

"What else have you got down here?"

Zeke gleamed.  "MREs, water, warm clothes, some blankets."

Michel shook his head.  He knew Zeke was a bit eccentric and as a former special ops guy himself, he understood Zeke’s obsession with being prepared, but Zeke never failed to surprise him.

"I have enough here to survive for two weeks in the dead of winter.  And I’ve got a few more stashes around.  I could get to Canada if I ever really needed to,” he said with a grin. 

Michael wasn’t sure if he was serious or not.  "Why would you need to?"

Zeke shrugged and dug further into the toolbox.  "You never know.  Besides, it’ll come in handy if the missus ever kicks me out."

"Has anyone ever told you you're paranoid?"

"You know what they say, Mike.  Even paranoids have real enemies."


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bonnie was going blind staring at her laptop.  She was in the process of going down the list of people who were on parole, trying to determine when each of them had last checked in with their parole officers.  It was tedious and quite a long list, although it wasn't as bad as she had first thought.

Shawn had been silent the last hour or so, which was a relief.  The quiet was a nice contrast to the chaos in her mind.  Outside the shadows were shooting by, as Kitt kept going back and forth over the search pattern they had established.  It was almost midnight and everything seemed heavy and ominous.  Bonnie was trying to be optimistic, but she knew things didn’t look good. Without a ransom demand or substantial lead, they were at a loss for where to look, so they had resorted to aimlessly scanning.  Any success would depend on Michael actually being alive and in the area, something that was becoming less and less likely as the hours went by.  But it was something to do, something that could help, however slim the possibility.  At times, Kitt had thought he had something, some signal or bounce back from an unusual object, but they had all been false alarms.  So far nothing they had found suggested Michael's whereabouts. 

Bonnie rubbed her scratchy eyes.  The words in front of her had blurred again.  It was getting hard to keep her eyes focused on the screen.  If she thought there was any chance she would be able to sleep, she’d lean her seat back and try to catch at least a quick nap.  But she just couldn't turn off her mind.  It was desperately searching for theories and running through all the available evidence to determine what fit and what didn't.  The process was like tumbling a stone over and over again, polishing it to a stark shine.

Bonnie glanced down at the screen again.  This wandering down memory lane brought out reminders of the worst of their past.  After creating two lists, she had given Kitt the group of criminals who were still in jail.  But some of the names on that list had caught her attention -- Marco Bario, Cameron Zachery, Durante, Garthe.  There were too many villains over the years who had caused a lot of pain, both to innocent people and to them personally.  Over the last few hours, Bonnie had been obsessing over all of those who had gotten out -- she was after all researching that list -- but maybe it was better to focus on people like these, who hadn't.  These were criminals who had been stopped from causing any further injury, and Michael and Kitt were responsible for that.  They had made a difference, even though sometimes it didn't seem like enough.

They had suffered personally for all that they had done to protect nameless and faceless people.  Bonnie closed her eyes and tried not to think about how different things would have been different if not for some of these criminals. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sitting with his back against the cave wall, Michael spooned up a mouthful of spaghetti and meatballs from a piping hot pouch in his left hand.  He didn’t think he’d ever eaten anything so wonderful.  Of course after swimming, hiking, and surviving two firefights, all in one day with no breakfast, anything would be good.  Well, except maybe the tuna and noodle MREs that Zeke seemed to be such a fan of. There were four of those boxes in the sack, but Michael avoided those and went straight for the spaghetti.  He had to admit that as far as military food went, it was pretty good.  Definitely better than the K-rations he had lived on in Vietnam. 

After downing the main meal, Michael repacked the cheese and crackers and M&Ms for later.  He opened the second of Zeke’s rucksacks and found it stuffed with clothes.  Zeke was 5’10” and 150 pounds soaking wet.  There was no way Michael was going to fit into any of his clothing, but he pulled out a jacket to use as a pillow and kept searching.  He found a flannel, some long underwear, and then the holy grail - socks.  That was one thing he could borrow, and one thing he desperately needed. 

In the last of the sacks, Michael found a blanket and a butane camping stove.  He was going to owe Zeke more than a few beers.  He had laughed about Zeke's paranoia at the time, but now he couldn’t be more indebted to his friend.  The stash almost made him feel human again.

Michael slipped out of his still soaked clothing and wrapped the blanket around his shoulders.  He piled the sacks around the stove in the back corner of the cave so that there was no way the little gas flame could be seen from outside.  He knew he couldn’t stay there long – he didn’t want to run the risk that they would find the cave and corner him - but for tonight, it was a welcomed relief.

Michael carefully spread his cloths around the stove, with his shoes closest, hoping that in a few hours they would dry.  In the last sack he also found a fairly complete first aid kit.  He pulled the soiled, impromptu bandage off his arm, and unrolled a large piece of gauze.  He sloppily affixed a strip of it around his arm after cleaning the wound with antiseptic -- clenching his jaw at the sting.  The wound hurt in a nagging, irritating way that wasn’t particularly loud, but was nonetheless hard to ignore.  Next he tended to his wounded feet.  They were cut and blistered from the time he had spent without shoes.  He smoothed antiseptic and bandages over the cuts and patched moleskin over the blisters.  Then he popped two ibuprofen tablets and pulled on a pair of Zeke’s socks.  They were snug, to be sure, but much better than nothing.  He stuck his feet closer to the stove, enjoying the comforting warmth, and leaned back on his jacket pillow.

He wasn’t sure if sleeping was a good idea.  But then, not sleeping might be worse.  He needed to keep his wits about him if he was going to get out of this.  If he was too exhausted, he'd be less able to think on his feet, which was a skill he was going to need -- especially if they caught up with him again.

Michael had not heard anyone on his trek to the cave and he had been careful to make frequent trips to its opening to listen for anyone who might be approaching.  So far, he seemed to be alone.  He was guessing that they had regrouped to plan their next move.  For the moment, he might be fairly safe.

Zeke had a waterproof GPS unit in the toolbox.  Michael was starting to think that if he were ever in another scrape, he’d pay to have Zeke there with him.  The GPS gave him the time and after a while, Michael found a setting for an alarm, complete with vibrate mode.  He set it for three hours and slid it into the jacket.  He figured he could at least get that much sleep and clear his head before trying to figure out his next move.

His stomach full, his body warm and dry, Michael slipped into a fitful sleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Kitt watched on his infrared cameras as Bonnie took another sip from the steaming mug of coffee at her side.  He was monitoring her heart rate and respiration, which were slowing down, despite her obvious attempts to stay awake.  They had decided to go back to the cabin after midnight.  He would keep scanning of course and he had convinced them that it was probably best if they get some sleep.  A good shower in the morning would help to keep their stamina up as well.  In reality their search pattern didn’t really buy them much, and he knew that if Bonnie got run down, she would be even less able to cope with the situation.  Of course Shawn had gone to bed, but Bonnie had refused.  She had set her laptop on the dining room table and continued to pour over old case data.  Kitt knew she was trying too hard, being more stubborn than was good for her, as usual.  He remembered all the nights she had stayed up well beyond the point of exhaustion to take care of him.  He knew it had been hard on her, even in those days, but this had to be worse.  Kitt continued to scan her, ready to put the preverbal foot down if any of her vitals started to look too worrisome.  The least he could do in Michael’s absence was make sure that Bonnie took care of herself -- if nothing else, it was easing his guilt a bit.  It was hard enough to have his best friend missing, but to have to keep telling Bonnie the increasingly grim prospects for a break in the case was getting harder for him to bear.

"Bonnie," he said over Michael's comlink.  He watched as her heart rate jumped and she drew in a sharp breath.  Perhaps using the comlink had been a bad choice, but it was too late not to continue now.

"Yes, Kitt, go ahead."

"I've finished cross-referencing the registered guests of all the motels in the area.  Unfortunately, none of them has any ties to anyone with a history with the Foundation."

Kitt was actually a bit sad that that task had been completed.  It had certainly kept his processor busy, combing through all that information.  It had been a very good distraction.

"Okay.  I assume you’re still looking for any unusual visits to the people still in jail?"

"Of course.  I'll let you know if I find anything," Kitt said.  He waited a beat, then continued.  "It's late.  You really should get some sleep."

"In a bit," she answered turning back to her laptop.

Kitt wanted to argue with her, but he knew it would only make her angry.  Kitt realized that what he really wanted was to be able to say something comforting.  He wanted to somehow put her mind at ease so that she could set aside the laptop and get some sleep.  But he knew there was nothing he could say. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was almost dawn when the little GPS unit under Michael's makeshift pillow began to vibrate, but he was already awake.  He reached down to turn it off, still listening to Mother Nature’s alarm clock.  The birds always knew when the sun was about to come up, and they were twittering like crazy.  Michael waited a while, listening for anything unusual.  Deciding that he was alone, he sat up and ran his hand first through his hair and then across his eyes, trying to ease his way out of the fog of sleep.

Throwing back the blanket, Michael quickly located his sweats, relieved to find that they were dry – well, almost dry, anyway.  He snatched up the crackers and cheese he had left from his dinner last night, figuring it was as good a breakfast as any.  Munching on the crackers, he started trying to formulate a strategy.

It was Thursday, so Bonnie would be back tonight.  Ideally, he'd get far enough ahead of his pursuers to be able to meet her at the highway, and they'd hightail it back to Seattle to get Kitt.  But there were risks in that.  The highway was an obvious maneuver - they'd expect him to head toward it.  If he couldn't get far enough away from them, he'd be putting her in danger.  The last thing he wanted was to have Bonnie drive into a situation like that, completely unprepared.  He could try to ambush them, but in his current, less-than-optimal condition, it would be pretty hard to take down four men with guns.  And it was unlikely that he could get all of them before this evening.

But maybe he could use the highway to his advantage.  The gravel road that led to his cabin was a couple of miles long.  It was really more of an extended driveway than a road since there was nothing along it other than Zeke's house and his cabin.  Assuming that they didn’t know about Bonnie, they wouldn’t be expecting anyone to come down the gravel road.  But if he led them toward the highway first, they’d be inclined to stay there to stop him, thinking he was just waiting for the right car to come along.  Then he might be able to sneak back toward the road undetected. 

Michael turned on the little GPS unit and was pleased to find that Zeke had a local area map plugged into it.  It took him a minute to figure out how to navigate through the menus, but he eventual found a way to zoom in on parts of the map.  Using the lake and the highway as a guide, Michael programmed in a waypoint about where the cabin would be.  Then he entered in a waypoint for the cave, so he could quickly plot a route back if he needed more supplies.  Looking at the map, Michael picked the best-looking spot along the highway. 

Dumping the contents of one of the rucksacks onto the ground, Michael picked out the supplies he thought were the most useful.  He threw a couple of MREs into the empty sack and followed it with the canteen, a knife, and the first aid kit.  His next task was going to be finding his quarry and letting them think they had found him.  Michael hoisted Zeke's bag over his shoulder and carefully crept toward the entrance of the cave.  He hadn't heard anything to suggest that they were nearby, but he wasn't going to take any chances.  He waited a very long fifteen minutes before leaving the sanctuary of the cave and disappearing into the forest.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bonnie pulled her sweater a little tighter around her shoulders before venturing quietly outside.  All those years in Los Angeles had somehow permanently thinned her blood.  Even suffering ten years of snowy Boston winters hadn't thickened it up much. 

Kitt was sitting next to the garage, where she had expected him to be.  The early morning light was filtering through the trees above, giving his skin a mottled, jungle look.

"Bonnie, you should be sleeping," he admonished softly.

She watched the leaf pattern transfer from Kitt's shell to her jeans as she sat down on his hood.  "I can't."

"You’ll just exhaust yourself if you keep this up," he said softly.

"I know.  I just can't help it."  Bonnie had finally gone to bed at 2:00.  She had slept fitfully for a few hours, lain in bed an hour more, and then had finally gotten up.

"Shawn asked me to wake her in an hour.  I could call her now, if you'd like to get an earlier start."

Bonnie thought about it for a few moments.  She was anxious to get moving again, but at least one of them should be clear-headed.  She should probably let Shawn get a little more sleep.

"No.  That's okay.  We can wait."

"I'm still scanning."  He almost sounded guilty about it. 

Maybe Kitt had asked because he wanted to get moving himself.  Bonnie hadn't considered that, but as frustrated as she was, it had to be worse for Kitt -- always scanning but never finding anything.   The process of doing it would be disheartening.  "I know that, Kitt.  How are you holding up?"

"I'm worried about him, truthfully."

Bonnie nodded.  "He should have gotten in touch with us by now."

"For some reason, he can't.  And that's what worries me most."

"Me too."  Bonnie resisted the urge to say anymore.  She was starting to feel the strain of not knowing anything -- it was getting harder to keep her spirits up.  Kitt didn't need the added burden of her pessimism.

They sat silently for a while and then Kitt uttered an exasperated sigh.

"What?" she asked.

"The Bastard in Chief is calling.  Again."

Bonnie was surprised at how quickly his mood changed.  She still wasn’t used to the bitter, coarse way of speaking that he had picked up after being reactivated.  Over the months that she had been back, he had toned it down considerably, but occasionally it seemed to slip through.  Maybe it was a sign that he was taking this harder than he was letting on. 

"He's insisting on talking to either you or Shawn,” he continued.

She glanced at the house and then back at Kitt.

"I can put him off again if you’d like to wait for Shawn,” he offered.

Bonnie wasn’t sure how much loyalty there was between Maddock and Shawn.  A part of her was afraid that if Maddock ordered Shawn to bring Kitt back to Seattle, she wouldn’t argue.  It might be in their best interests if Bonnie dealt with Maddock herself.  “No, that’s okay. I’ll talk to him.”

“Putting him through,” Kitt said, a bit uneasily.

“Bonnie.  How is the case going?” Maddock said.

Nice to see you too, she thought, not surprised that he'd be at work on a Saturday morning.  “Okay.  We were out late last night, so Shawn’s still sleeping.”

“Of course.  Any idea how things are progressing?”

“No, I don’t know when Shawn and Kitt will be back,” she said, steeling her voice.

“Just asking.”  Maddock’s voice matched hers in vocal distain.  "I thought you'd like to know that I got the medical examiner to agree to look at your body this morning.  They have a backlog, but she owes me a favor.  She should have a preliminary report by this afternoon."

Apparently Maddock was good for something at least, but Bonnie shuddered at the thought of anyone being in the unenviable position of owing him a favor.  She was glad they'd been able to have the body transferred to Seattle.  At least Maddock had pull there, and they had a full-time staff, who worked nights and weekends. 

“Could you transfer the report to Kitt when you get it?" she asked.

Maddock looked at her with his eyebrow raised.  "Anything to speed this case along."

Maddock ended the transmission without another word -- before she could tell him what an ass he was.

Bonnie leaned her head back against Kitt's seat.  At least being angry with Maddock was better than the stifling emptiness that had slowly started seeping into her, like water into cotton.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Michael could hear the slow, threatening noises starting to overtake him.  This time his hiding place was the bed of the forest.  The park service hadn't been out this way in ages.  Years worth of fallen leaves, broken branches, and a thick bed of pine needles made him nearly invisible.  He was lying amongst the thick undergrowth, using the decaying matter around him as camouflage.

He was waiting for them to pass again.  He had found them fairly quickly, and had been able to lead them to the highway, but now he had to sneak back past them.  One more dangerous crossing of paths, then he’d be in a good position to try his plan.  It looked like this might just come together. 

Over the last hour, Michael had toyed with the idea of just trying to flag down the next car and get away.  It was a tempting idea.  But if he darted out onto the highway, in his current dirty and haggard condition, he was likely to scare any driver into stepping on the gas instead of the brake.  Then he'd be out in the open, exposed.  It was too big a risk.  Especially since he was pretty sure that he could get them to linger here, giving him a better chance to get to Bonnie.  It was better to wait for her than try to involve some innocent bystander.

But Michael really hated this waiting game.  The first time had been bad enough and he wasn’t happy about having to do it again.  He felt the same coiling sensation in his muscles and hyper alertness in his senses.  He lay there waiting, one part of him hoping that he'd get a glimpse of the one responsible for all of this.  He wanted to know who he was up against.  But he also knew he was safest if they passed further away - outside the zone where a single miscalculated movement would prove deadly. 

He waited and they came, this time outside his line of sight.  They would continue to be a mystery to ponder while he waited the agonizing minutes until they were out of earshot.

But they were still together.  All four of them.  As long as they hadn't called for reinforcements, he had a clear shot back to the gravel road.  After waiting about as long as he could stand, Michael rolled out of the brush and silently crept back the way he had come.  He glanced down at the GPS and had a hard time containing his excitement.  In a few miles and a few hours, he'd be intercepting Bonnie, and this ordeal would be over.  Michael got his bearings and stuffed the GPS back in the bag.  He headed toward his driveway with a lighter step than he'd had in two days.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

They were driving down a remote mountain road still scanning, still researching, and still not finding anything. 

Bonnie was again staring at her laptop, trying to find out what happened to Lawrence Blake, the man who had attempted to sabotage Sammy Phillips’ stunt show.  The last time he had checked in with his parole officer had been over six months ago.  A possibility, but it seemed far-fetched.

"Maddock just sent the ME's report," Kitt said, breaking a long silence.  "They were able to get an ID.  The body was a former Army special ops soldier named Joe Fealy.  Predictably, the cause of death was the series of gunshot wounds to his chest."

"Do you think someone from Michael Long's past could have tracked him this far?" Bonnie asked, looking up.

"That seems highly unlikely, but not impossible.  I'll run that name through the database of old Foundation cases as well as Michael Long's service record."

“Anything else?” Shawn asked.

"I don't know if this helps, but the ME did verify that the blood in the front room of the house isn't either Michael's or Fealy's.  But the blood from the pier is a match to Fealy.  They're processing the DNA in order to run it through the usual databases, but with the backlog they have, it's going to take several days.  Hopefully we'll have already found Michael by then."

"If the blood from the house isn't Fealy's then he wasn't the first shooter.  He could just be a hired gun," Bonnie surmised.

"According to Maddock's info, he was honorably discharged from the army a month ago, but there's no record of a new job."

"Maybe he decided to use his skills in a more lucrative profession," Shawn suggested.

"I'll begin researching his records, but if he is just a mercenary, there may not be much of a connection between him and the shooter," Kitt said.

Bonnie sighed deeply and rested her head against Kitt's window.  She was trying not to get discouraged, but every time they seemed to have a new lead to follow, it just turned into a dead end. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Halfway.  That’s how far he got before it became clear that all of them were after him again.  He could hear them talking; that’s how close they were, and there were definitely four voices.  Michael ran his hand through his hair.  The only plan he had at this point was to take a zigzag pattern to get to the road. He didn’t like it, it left too much opportunity for them to hear Bonnie’s car or for them to realize where he was going and just simply cut him off. 

He picked up a good-sized rock, hefted it in his hand for a moment, and threw it as far as he could.  The oldest trick in the book, but he was desperate at this point to get a little distance between them.  Michael wasn’t surprised when the forest exploded with gunfire within a few seconds of the rock hitting a tree and echoing loudly.  These guys were playing for keeps.

What did surprise him though, was the voice that rang out shortly afterward.

"Mr. Knight?"  The voice filled the otherwise quiet forest.  It was smug and arrogant and vaguely accented.  It also sounded familiar.  But maybe that was because Michael expected it to be someone he knew.

He hunkered low, resting with one knee on the ground and immediately tried to triangulate the voice.  It was close, and off to his right a little bit.  Michael didn't answer.  He wasn’t ready to engage the enemy -- he still needed to figure out who it was.

"Surely you have something to say after all these years?" the voice asked after a long pause.

Someone from his past, but he'd known that.  It was not the least bit surprising, and it didn't narrow the field.

"Oh, come now, don't be shy."  There was a loud exaggerated sigh.  "You used to be so clever and witty, Mr. Knight.  You disappoint me."  Again, the smugness.  Michael was sure he was just trying to bait him into revealing himself. 

"You know, you may be a bit better than I am at this survival game, but I do have the advantage of men and supplies and having planned ahead."

Michael glanced at the rucksack next to him.  He was glad that Zeke thought ahead, and they obviously hadn’t found the cave.

"I'd be happy to hunt you.  I'm rather good at that.  I earned my nickname that way.  But it would be so much easier if you were to just surrender."

Michael tried to mull it over.  Who in his past had a nickname?  Actually, who didn’t?  They all had aliases.  But how were any of them related to being a good hunter?  And damn if that accent wasn’t annoyingly impossible to place.

There was a long pause.  “It’s a pity really.  I was hoping you still had that car of yours.  Traded in the state-of-the-art for a molding old relic.  I would have expected better of you, Mr. Knight.”  Laughter. 

There was a very loud, medium-pitched report followed by higher cracking and splintering noises.  Michael looked up in time to see the top of a nearby tree teetering on a split trunk.  It slowly broke through the web of the surrounding canopy and crashed to the ground. 

"Since you are, or were, so well versed in high tech equipment, I thought you might appreciate my new device.  I have an exquisitely modified ultrasonic rifle.  A friend of mine in prison was an expert at making them unique."

Okay, Michael thought.  More information that wasn't really new.  He had put the guy away, but when, why?

"This rifle will destroy a tree, as you can see, but it was really enhanced for a more interesting purpose.  My associate guarantees me that this rifle will shake the parts off of any circuit card bolted into a chassis.  It’s a pity you don’t have that car of yours anymore.  I believe I owe it a ‘thank you.’"

Michael sat back and let out a silent puff of air.  A coldness crept into his abdomen.  If that were true, then he’d have to be very careful about bringing Kitt back with him.  This was going to be more dangerous than he had thought.

"I've only had a chance to try it out on my television set.  What a mess that was.  But I was really looking forward to using it on that impressive car of yours," the voice said with an unmistakable grin. 

Who was he up against?  Even knowing the guy knew something about Kitt, there were still too many options - too large a list of suspects.

Hunter.  Hunter.  Who was a hunter?

"Oh come now.  I know you can hear me, Mr. Knight.  I'm sure you'd like to reminisce about old times.  You know, you really might say that things ended in a stalemate for us.  But I seem to have the knight on the run.  Clever ruse, trying to get us to wait for you at the highway while you slipped away.  But I'm very good at ruses."

Okay, he obviously wanted Michael to figure it out.  He thought about who he had lost at least one round to.  Garthe.  Well, he'd lost more than one round to Garthe.  They were hardly tied, and Garthe's voice he knew.  Cameron Zachery?  Maybe he considered killing Michael Long a victory.  Or . . .

The cold feeling crept further up his abdomen and into his throat.  There was no way.  He was in prison.  He had to be.

Hunter.  A falcon is a bird of prey, and Durante had used the moniker Falcon.

And in Durante's eyes, they might be tied.

Michael's limbs went numb and he fought against the cascade of anger that boiled up from within him.  He had to keep control of his head.

Durante was in prison.  How could he possibly get out?  There was no way they'd release him. He was a convicted murderer and a spy. 

Michael shook his head to clear the painful memories that came flooding back.  He had pushed them down so deep inside himself that the rush of emotions almost choked him.  Her blood, her eyes closing.  His own eyes welling with tears. 

They couldn't have released the man who killed his wife.

Michael sat and waited.  It had to be someone else.

"Figured it out yet, Mr. Knight?" 

He answered with his silence.  Durante’s voice burrowed into him, leaving a nasty, gaping hole.

The forest above his head erupted in gunfire and Michael knew he had to get out of there, but he didn't want to move.  Falcon.  Durante.

Stevie.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Another whole day of nothing, Bonnie thought, slowly crumpling a sheet of newspaper between her hands.  Other than the name from the ME's report, they had nothing new to go on, and they had not found anything of interest in the hours upon hours they had spent scanning the forest.  She was starting to believe that whoever had Michael was long gone.  The thought left her empty and aching. 

Bonnie stuffed the wadded newspaper in-between two birch logs in the fireplace.  Then she sank back on her heels, a sense of futility settling on her shoulders. 

She had watched Michael build fires in the past.  Although she wasn't sure of the finer points, she had the general idea that the paper and the kindling went on the bottom.  As the fire rose up with the heat, it would engulf the logs and set them ablaze.  The birch should light easily, with its papery bark, and once the fire was going, she could throw on some of the oak she had brought in from the stack outside.  Bonnie used a butane lighter to ignite the carefully built bundle.  The paper scorched and then burned -- the flame filling the pockets she had left strategically open between the different materials.  The fire thrived on the cool sources of air.

Bonnie sat back in Michael's chair and watched the fire burn.  She wondered how it was that they had separated the chairs into his and hers.  It was silly, since of course, they were both his.  But she usually sat farther away, to avoid the uncomfortably hot air.  Michael on the other hand, sat close, always prepared to jump up and throw another log on, or to use the poker to flip a log over when one side was too charred.  He was an aggressive tender – like everything else, he made it into a challenge.   She had to admit it was part of his charm.

Bonnie half glanced up as Shawn entered the room with a plate of sandwiches.  "You should eat something," she said. 

"I'm not hungry," Bonnie answered.  She didn't feel like humoring Shawn right now.  It had been a long day and now that they had stopped moving, stopped searching, she was feeling the full weight of her fear.  It took too much energy to breathe, much less humor Shawn.  She didn't belong here anyway.

The fire had consumed most of the paper.  It had also devoured most of the birch bark and a good portion of the small sticks and twigs.  Embers from the paper burned brightly among the ashes, glowing red before flickering out.  The flame had crept back from a roaring, fast-burning inferno to a smaller licking, crackling burn.  It was flowing over the larger logs like an orange waterfall -- only it was flowing the wrong way.

"Don't worry," Shawn said.  "He'll be okay.  He's very resourceful."

Yes, Bonnie thought.  That was the problem.  He was resourceful, so they should have heard from him by now.  She wanted to believe that he would find a way out of whatever situation he was in, but it had been four days since he had been attacked.  The longer they went without hearing from him, the more likely it was that he wasn't coming home.  She wondered what in the hell had happened? It killed her to think she might never know.

Bonnie stood and picked up an oak branch.  It was heavy and rough against her palms.  She heaved it into the fireplace, careful to avoid the sparks that cascaded out from under the wood like escaping insects.

"Kitt's going over geological maps of the area.  Maybe he'll find some good natural hiding places."

"Sure," Bonnie said, without much conviction.

"We'll find him," Shawn said.  Obviously sensing that she wasn't needed or wanted, she awkwardly left the room.

Bonnie's attention drifted back to the fire.  The bottom of the oak branch was scorched and blackened to a char, but the fire had not caught.  The flame was shrinking again, as the birch was used up.  The oak log must have been damp.  The fire was skirting it, not truly catching, and unless she added more kindling or paper, it was going to go out.

Not having the energy or inclination, Bonnie didn’t move from her chair.  Instead she watched, mesmerized by the slowly starving flames.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Michael dropped to his knees to let his lungs catch up with the cramps that were ravaging several muscle groups.  He wanted to keep running, to somehow sweat out all the anger he was feeling, but his body had had enough.  He bent his head down and ran a hand through his hair.

Damn them!  Damn every last one of them! 

The criminals of his past just never left him alone.  They were determined to take everything away from him.  And they felt justified! 

Too restless to just sit there, Michael forced himself up again and started pacing.  He spotted a large branch, lying bare on the ground, and it took all his self-control not to pick it up and start swinging.  But he knew it was too big a risk.  If he started beating things, it was likely that Durante and his men would hear him.  His anger and adrenaline had given him quite a lead, but sound carried too well out here.  Michael glanced at the branch again, almost longingly.  He could see himself smashing it against a tree, and that would be just the release his battered emotions needed right now. 

He could just never catch a break.  They took something from him, he recovered, and they came back for more!  It took him ten years to get over the last two years he had spent at the Foundation.  He finally had Bonnie and Kitt back, so out trots Durante, figuring that having killed his wife wasn't enough.  Send in the home run hitter when the bases are finally loaded again!

Michael kicked at a rock wedged into the ground -- his anger had boiled over and he had to let it out somehow.  The rock turned over, leaving a gaping hole in the dirt, and Michael picked up the softball-sized rock, enjoying its weight.

He just wanted to live his life in peace.  He wasn't even a threat to them anymore! 

Michael wanted nothing more than to throw that rock as far as he could.  He gritted his teeth and dropped the rock back to the ground in front of him, knowing it was too big a temptation for him to hold onto.

Fuck them all!!

If he had ammunition for the gun he had, he'd march right up to Durante and his men and spray everything in his path with bullets.  He had believed in the Foundation's non-lethal methods, but now it just seemed like childish idealism.  The 'turn the other cheek' approach only did one thing -- allow the criminals to get out and come after him again.  If no one went to jail permanently, what good did it do to get them in the first place?

He found himself pacing faster, digging his feet into the ground, and wearing a path of fury into the forest floor.

He wished he could send them all to hell!  That was permanent, from what he understood.

Michael whirled and slammed his whole forearm into the side of a tree, from clenched fist to elbow.  It stung like hell.  Michael closed his eyes and backed away, feeling the pain shoot up his arm, calming him somewhat.  He opened his fist and slowly shook out the stinging protests of his nerves.  He slid down the trunk, still eyeing his arm.  No permanent damage, and in a strange way it felt good.  His anger seemed to be draining away with the quickly fading pain.  He pulled in a deep breath and let his head fall to his knees.  Sweat was pooled under his arms and his breathing was still rapid and heavy.  It had been a long time since he had worked up that kind of anger.  In fact, he had thought that the days of that kind of passion were long behind him.  He had been shut down and subsisting for so long that he had thought he had gone permanently numb.

But it was different when you were only responsible for yourself, he thought.  There was little someone could do to you that could equal the anger and fear of doing something to the people you love.  He had learned that the hard way.  Since Stevie, and the incident with Garthe, Michael had cut himself off from everyone who could be used against him.  But now he had family again, and he would protect them if it were at all in his power to do so.

Michael knew he was going to have to settle down and see through the blinding rage.  It didn't matter how or why Durante was out of prison.  He was.  Michael was going to have to put it out of his mind and deal with the situation at hand.  He would not let Durante anywhere near Bonnie or Kitt, which meant he was going to have to get Durante himself. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 
 

Michael set his drink down on the table before pushing open the glass door and stepping out onto the patio.  He paused there, amid the trees to watch Bonnie typing away at her laptop.  She was diligent about actually working from home on Fridays, which impressed him in a way.  He didn't think he could work outside, overlooking a lake and get anything other than staring done.  Luckily fishing allowed for that. 

Bonnie glanced up, caught him standing there, and smiled.  She really was beautiful.  The lines and evidence of age in her face didn't diminish that any -- somehow they just fit the full picture.  It was something that kind of surprised him, how his tastes had changed as he had gotten older.  The women he had dated as a young man had all been beautiful, but too many of them had been vacuous.  Or maybe they weren't, but he hadn't really taken the time to find out.  They were pretty faces to pass the time.  But when he looked at Bonnie now, his throat caught at the jaunty smile in her eyes.  True, there was a lot more sadness and conflict there now than there had been in the old days, but when he caught her really smiling, it was like he could see through everything and right into her.  She was more beautiful than any pretty face.  It occurred to him that this was how people grew old together, and he smiled at himself.  He knew that that was something a younger him would have scoffed at. 

"Are you just going to stand there?" she asked at his longish pause.

Michael smiled from his heart. Right on cue, he thought.  "I was just enjoying the view."

He crossed the grass and sat backwards on the picnic table, his back against the stone top.  He stretched his legs out in front of him and took in the view that she had her back to.  He rested his elbows behind him on the tabletop and inched closer so that his thigh was resting against hers. 

"How's it going, beautiful?" he asked.

From his vantage point, Michael couldn't see the laptop's screen.  It didn't really matter -- he knew it was work, and it was his intention to get her to stop paying attention to it.

She shrugged slightly.  "Okay.  Nothing too exciting, just documenting my code and cleaning things up a bit."

"Sounds like just the sort of thing to be doing on a beautiful, sunny day," he said, gently harassing her.

"Well, if Maddock thinks I'm doing anything other than working, I'm toast," she said.

Michael carefully pushed the laptop down the table, making more room for his elbows and making it difficult for her to read the screen.  "Who's going to tell him?"

She looked up at him without raising her head, making her eyes dark under her lids.  "Why do I get the feeling that you're trying to get me in trouble?"

"Me, cause trouble?" he said innocently.  He got exactly the reaction he was looking for.  He never tired of that exasperated, 'you're insufferable' look.  "I just want to get the attention of the woman I love," he said, seriously this time.

That definitely caught her attention.  "What was that?” she asked, the easy smile erased, and replaced with a serious, almost nervous look.

He slid the laptop further out of the way and tipped her chin up to catch her eyes.  "I love you, Bonnie."  For some reason, it seemed difficult to say it out loud, but maybe that was because he meant it so deeply.

She swallowed and met his gaze.  “I love you too,” she said sincerely.

Michael couldn't have tamed his smile if he'd tried.  He was glad they had finally said it.  It seemed to be the last thing missing between them.  He ran a hand over her cheek and kissed her.  She kissed him back and let it deepen before backing away.

"I should be working," she said, glancing at the cast-aside laptop.

"There's nothing that says you have to work eight consecutive hours on your day at home, is there?"

"No . . . "

Michael picked up her left hand and made a show of examining it.  He bent down to kiss her knuckles and then turned her hand over to examine the tips of her fingers.  "I think you've got a bad case of keyboard callusing here."

"Oh really," she said, smiling.

"Yep.  You've clearly been working too much already today."  Michael kissed the tip of each finger gently.  Then he went for another kiss before Bonnie could pull the laptop back in front of her.  Knowing her weaknesses, he ran his hand down through her hair and stroked her neck.  She responded and leaned into him, parting her lips.  Michael tried to use his free hand to surreptitiously push the laptop further out of the way.  Bonnie caught the movement and gently pushed him away, smiling. 

"You aren't playing fair," she said, sighing deeply.

"Do I ever?"

"No," she said.  "If I end up getting fired, you know who I'm going to blame." 

“Then I’d have you all to myself,” he said, taking her chin in his hands and kissing her passionately. 

"Hmm," Bonnie said languidly after he had stopped to search her eyes.  "Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.” 

Michael closed his eyes and kissed her again, enjoying the softness of her lips and the warmth of her mouth.  He savored the longing that tore through him.

After trailing his hand along her neck, Michael continued on, meandering his way down her body.  He lingered lightly at her breasts, and slid his hand under her shirt to stroke her side.  Then he continued down, caressing her thigh.  He slipped his arm under her knees and then hooked the other around her torso.  Still kissing her, he carefully lifted her up from the picnic table.

Bonnie wrapped both of her arms around him tightly and Michael stirred at the feel of her breath against his neck.  He turned her around and set her on top of the table.  The stone bench was going to become uncomfortable quickly, but Michael knelt anyway.  They kissed again as Michael started to undo the buttons on her shirt. 

“Michael, what about the lake?” Bonnie asked gesturing with her eyes over his head.

“We’re in the middle of nowhere," he said, gently grasping her sides.  "I don't think we'll get arrested.”

“Zeke?"

Michael smiled and looked skyward.  That would be an event, that was for sure.  “Bon, if Zeke catches us up here making love, he’ll be whooping and hollering, and honking the boat horn.  In which case, I promise to cover you so that he doesn’t see anything.”

She was clearly pretending to think it over and just when Michael was going to protest, relented.  “Fair enough.”

Bonnie leaned forward and kissed the soft flesh between his neck and the corner of his jaw.  Michael finished removing her shirt and bra before removing his own shirt.  She leaned into him, her smooth skin caressing his, as her kisses became stronger, more forceful. 

Michael guided her back so that he could kiss her neck, loving the sound of her breath in his ear.  He caressed the sides of her breasts and then cupped them.  He found her nipples with his thumbs and stroked them before leaning in to take one into his mouth.  Bonnie moaned as he teased the delicate skin with his tongue.  She arched her back and Michael reached around with one arm to support her.  He covered her stomach with long firm kisses, working his way down.

Bonnie shuddered and Michael guided her to lie down on the tabletop.  He pulled off her jeans and panties before removing the rest of his own clothing.

Carefully, Michael pulled himself up onto the table, trying not to rest too much of his weight on her.  He wanted to be inside her, to be one with her.  It scared him how quickly she became so much a part of him. 

"Bonnie, I love you," he breathed.

She opened her eyes, the emotions there roiling in the gray of her irises, filling him again with aching desire.

"I love you too," she said, her voice husky and deep.

Michael held her gaze for a moment.  A flush had colored her cheeks and crept down her neck and across her chest.  Her breasts were moving up and down with each shallow breath, her nipples hard little points.  Michael slowly entered her and was enveloped by her softness and warmth.

It seemed impossible to Michael that he had survived all this time without her.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Kitt watched as Shawn tiptoed around the kitchen brewing coffee and buttering toast.  She was trying to avoid waking Bonnie, who had fallen asleep in the chair by the fireplace.  Kitt knew that Bonnie had been awake for a while, but he figured she'd make that fact known when she was ready. 

Kitt wondered if he and Bonnie were feeling the same way.  He wanted with every part of his being to believe that Michael was alive.  But where was he?  He wanted Michael back so badly and nothing he had done had made any sort of difference.  There was nothing Kitt could do to help the most important person in his life.  He couldn't even find him!  Sometimes despite all his capabilities, he felt completely helpless. 

Shawn brought her coffee and toast out to sit at the picnic table next to him.

"What should we do today?" she asked, warming her hands around the cup.

"I don't know.  Do you have any suggestions?" 

"We should really check the river, the highways, spillways, and some of the less accessible wilderness areas," Shawn said, her voice as dispassionate as if she were discussing the weather.

Kitt's anger flared.  "You're suggesting we look for his body.  You think he's dead, " he accused.

Shawn set down her plate.  "You know the statistics, Kitt.  He's been missing well over forty-eight hours, the odds aren't in his favor," she said, not unkindly for Shawn, but it still put Kitt on the defensive.

"We are not giving up on him!"

"I'm not saying you should.  I'm just saying that you need to be realistic.  Both of you," she said nodding towards the house.

"Michael is not your average missing person, Shawn.  He's a survivor, and he has the training and skills to get out of a situation like this alive.  He does not give up!  And in the absence of evidence to indicate otherwise, we are not going to assume the worst."  Kitt's anger was flaming up, but in warming, stoking flares - not the over-heated, bitter kind that had consumed him when he was reactivated.  This was the kind of anger that motivated him with purpose.  "We are not looking for Michael's dead body.  Not yet.  Today we will continue scanning.  We'll go back to the hotels and stores.  We'll ask if they've seen anything else.  We are going to continue the search assuming that he is still alive."

Shawn shook her head, and looked for a moment like she wanted to argue.  Then she picked up her plate and headed toward the house.  "Fine.  As soon as Bonnie's up, we'll go," she with her back to him.

Kitt's anger slowly abated, and in its place another emotion filled him.   Kitt realized that he sounded very much like Michael in the old days, when they were on a case he felt strongly about.  It made him proud to have launched a rant worthy of his former partner.  He just hoped he wasn’t going to end up being wrong.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Michael pulled back the camouflage and entered the cave. He immediately started rummaging through the bags as quickly and quietly as he could.  He made snap decisions about which supplies were useful, and which weren’t.  The rope and knife he took, the extra blanket he left behind.  Water.  That was a tough call.  He contemplated the jugs along the wall for a moment.  Water was heavy and he was already feeling the effects of both his physical and emotional exertion.  But he was going to need a steady supply of it.  He had no idea how long it was going to take to get the best of Durante and his mercenaries.  He didn’t want to be tethered to the lake for water – it would make him too easy to track.  Not to mention that he didn’t want to come down with some nasty parasite.  He hefted one of the jugs to gauge the amount of impact it was going to have on his rucksack.  Too heavy, he decided.  He’d just have to ration himself and find other sources of water.  He refilled the canteen he had taken this morning and reminded himself of the scope of his predicament.  After this evening, he wouldn’t be able to get back to the lake or the cave.  It would be within scanner range. 

On the hike back to the cave Michael had come to a decision.  Despite everything that Durante and his men had done, it hadn’t dawned on Michael until now, just how dangerous this situation was.  Bonnie and Kitt would be in serious danger if Durante knew they were out here.  Michael had to keep Durante away from the cabin and busy enough that he wouldn’t send anyone back.  Since he had no way of contacting either Bonnie or Kitt, Michael was going to have to get out of Kitt’s scanner range.  If Bonnie found the cabin shot up, she'd go back for Kitt and investigate.  Michael was not going to take any risks with their lives.  He knew they were capable, but Hell would freeze over before he let Durante near anyone he loved.  He was not taking any chances.

Which meant that he was going to have to find a new source of water.  Damn good thing that Zeke was a hunter.  All the little streams that came down the mountain were marked in the version of software he had on his GPS.  He was just going to have to keep fairly close to them to restock his canteen.  On a hunch, Michael dug through the rucksacks again and came up with a small bottle of purification tablets.  Zeke really did think of everything.

Michael sat back and surveyed the cave.  Every time he stopped moving or took just a minute to let his mind wander it went straight back to Durante.  Michael bit the urge to yell out all his frustration.  He was so angry that Durante was out of prison, but right now he needed to focus.

Michael surveyed the remaining items he had spread out on the cave floor and made his last selections.  The rucksack was heavy and it bothered his injured arm, so he was going to have to carry it over his good shoulder.  That wasn’t an ideal situation, but he was going to have to live with it.  Michael hurried to the edge of the cave.  He pulled out the GPS, which was becoming invaluable.  He called up the waypoint he had entered for the cabin and used it as the center of a circle.  He entered Kitt's scanner range as the radius.  Michael studied the ring that encircled everything he had, everything that could bring him to safety.  It was where he couldn't allow himself to go.  He felt a pang of loneliness and isolation, which he quickly brushed aside.  He didn't have time for it. 

Michael crept out of the cave and pulled down the camouflage netting.  It was fairly easy to reach -- he had over half a foot on Zeke.  The plastic material felt delicate in his hands and he knew that is was prone to tangling.  He carefully folded it into a narrow strip and rolled it up, placing it at the top of his bag.  He studied the exposed cave opening, and decided it was too easily spotted.  He quickly gathering branches and pine boughs to cover it -- not wanting Durante and company to spot the cave and get a windfall of additional supplies.  He was eager to get moving, but not so much that he was going to sacrifice strategy.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

Michael knocked at the door where Stevie was getting ready and wasn’t surprised to hear a flurry of activity inside.  The rustling of layers of heavy fabric stopped and then Bonnie cracked the door and peered out suspiciously.  She gave him a quick appraisal and smiled.  “You look dashing, Michael Knight.  But you know you aren’t supposed to see the bride before the wedding.  It’s bad luck.”

“So I’ve been told.  But would you give her this before the ceremony,” he said, holding out a small box for Bonnie’s inspection. 

She took it knowingly.  “Hang on, I suspect there’s something in here for you too.”  She disappeared into the room and Michael could hear Stevie’s delicate voice whispering back and forth with Bonnie.  He hadn’t been nervous, at least not until he’d gotten into the shower this morning.  Everything had happened so quickly, but he knew this was what he wanted more than anything else.  He had even slept well last night.  But now Michael’s whole world seemed to hinge on whether or not he got her the right necklace.  It was a pretty little diamond cross that he had seen her looking at.  His emotions were so raw and overwhelming right now that it seemed desperately important that she like it.  He wanted everything to be perfect for her.

Bonnie came back to the door with a second small box.  “For you,” she said, still smiling.

“Thanks,” he took the offered box and held it tightly in his hand.  Why was his palm sweaty?  In a way it frustrated him that his body was reacting like this.  Everything was fine and he was happy for the first time in a while.  He was going to marry the love of his life.  There was no reason for him to be nervous. 

“Does she like it?” he asked, unable to leave without knowing the answer. 

Bonnie leaned back from the doorway and peered inside.  Seeing past her, Michael got just a glimpse of a figure in white, her blonde hair cascading around her shoulders.  Then Bonnie was back in the doorway. 

“I think she loves it. She’s putting it on right now,” Bonnie said, beaming.  “Dashing with exquisite taste.  She’s a lucky woman, Michael.” 

His anxiety fell away for a moment and he felt a deep peace.  He was finally marrying Stevie today.  "Thank you," he said.

Bonnie reaching out to gently push him away from the door.  “Now go.  She has to finish getting ready.  You’ll see her soon enough."

Bonnie shut the door and as quickly as it had come, the peace was gone, and he was nervous again. 

* * *

Falling.

Stevie was falling into him, but it seemed to take too long for his body to react.  His mind was still trying to figure out why she was falling.  His eyes had been locked on Durante, on his gun.  He had only vaguely realized that Stevie had moved when he felt her arm go over his shoulder.  The gun had gone off and he felt her falling into him.

Then it all rushed at him, filling him like a sharp breath of cold air.  Stevie was falling.  Michael fell with her, cradling her to the ground, but he was still watching as Durante fled.  Devon and RC took off after him.  He wanted to follow them, to get the bastard who had sent him to the hospital, and who now dared to show up at his wedding, and shoot . . . 

But Stevie had fallen.  Through the confusion, it finally sunk in.  Stevie had been hit.  She’d been hit by the bullet that had been meant for him!

Somehow Michael had managed to cradle her fall, and now he was pulling her to him.  Her beautiful, blue eyes were open wide, but glassy.  She was in shock.  Michael should have known exactly what to do; he’d been in this situation so many times, why was he sitting there, paralyzed.  Stevie, his wife, was shot.  Why had she thrown herself in front of him!  For a minute he wanted to be angry, with her -- he was supposed to protect her.  Michael looked into Stevie’s eyes and the anger was immediately replaced with fear.  She was hurt.  Michael looked up, desperate for help.  He had heard the screams and felt the rush of activity around him but it seemed so far away.  He and Stevie were cocooned together, trapped in a hopeless moment that no one intruded on.

“Michael,” she said, her eyes fluttering.

Kitt.  Kitt would have already called an ambulance.  But she was so pale, and there was a terrible stickiness spreading out over her back.

“Remember only . . . how much I love you,” Stevie said, her eyes so sincere, so filled with love.  And the next moment, they closed.

“No!  Stevie?” Michael heard himself ask.  She wasn’t dying; she couldn’t die.  The ambulance would come and take her to the hospital.  Everything would be fine. 

But he had felt the way her body took in her last breath, the way she went limp against his arm.  He could feel that she wasn’t breathing. 

“Stevie, no!”   Michael held onto the hope that somehow, if he just told her not to die, she wouldn’t. 

But she had.  And it was his fault – his bullet.

“No, Stevie.”  Michael's sight blurred as he pulled Stevie tightly to him, feeling the horrible stillness of her chest, the awful weight of her head in his arms.  She couldn’t die, they were finally together again, after all this time.  They were finally going to be happy together -- she could not die!  The weight of the situation finally pounded in on him, he was losing the love of his life.  Right here and now, he was losing her.  Everything they wanted together, everything they were finally going to have came crashing down.  The weight of his hopes was crushing him.  He was losing Stevie forever this time.

"No!" he cried.

The tears slid down his cheeks and fell into her hair.  There had to be something he could do, some way to change this.  His mind couldn’t accept what was happening right in front of him.  Michael looked down and his vision cleared for an instant, leaving him with the memory of a deep crimson stain seeping through the pure white of Stevie's dress, clinging to the lace on her veil.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The forest was quiet again, but he could hear them following behind.  Michael was trying not to make it obvious that he wanted Durante and company to follow him.  He was snapping the occasional twig, ‘tripping’ over the occasional root.  As far as he could tell, all four were dutifully following along.  He just hoped he could keep them together.  As long as they thought they had him on the run, he was probably safe.

Michael didn’t have to glance at the GPS unit clipped to his bag.  The sun was low on the horizon, about to go down.  Normally Bonnie wasn’t home before eight but Michael was eager to pick up the pace.  It wasn’t going to take her long to figure out what had happened and call Kitt.  It also wasn’t going to take Kitt long to get there.  Michael glanced down at his bare wrist and cursed himself again for not grabbing his comlink.  That would have made all of this so much easier.  But there was no point in obsessing about ‘what ifs’ now.  He didn’t have the comlink or any other useful way of contacting them, and it was too late to go back to the cabin. 

Michael turned his attention to the other things he was going to have to do.  It was not going to be easy to take out four armed men.  He assumed that Durante had hired the best he could find.  Michael was going to have to take them out one by one.  To do that, he was going to have to get them out of scanner range, and then get them to split up, which was not going to be easy.  He mentally inventoried everything he had in his rucksack.  He moved the pieces around in his mind like tiles in a mural, trying to create a coherent picture of how to defeat his enemies.

Michael started paying attention to his surroundings.  He was going to have to figure out what kind of terrain would work best for an ambush.  Slowly a picture of what he wanted to do started to coalesce.  It was too big a task to try to figure out how he was going to get all of them.  Right now, he would focus on getting one at a time.  After that, everything else would start to fall into place.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Kitt was recharging in the garage when Bonnie wandered in shortly after his argument with Shawn.  He knew she hadn’t slept much the last few days, but he didn’t like the way she was moving – it was slower than her normal gait and held the air of discouragement.

“You look tired,” he said gently.

“I know.”  There was a disconnected, numb note to her voice that Kitt didn’t like.

“I could recommend some natural remedies to help you sleep,” he suggested.

“No.  That’s okay.  I’m fine.”  She sat down on the hood of the car and rubbed her eyes.  “I just wish I knew where he was.  What he’s doing right now.”

Kitt did too.  It was so difficult not knowing. “I know it’s hard, but we have to hold onto something.  Michael will find a way to get back to us.”

“What if he’s a hundred miles from here?  Or a thousand?  We’ve spent days scanning this area, but they could have taken him anywhere.”

“I know that, but I just have a feeling . . . ” Kitt started, tentatively.  He wasn’t sure if he should tell her.  She would probably think he was malfunctioning or something.

“A feeling about what?”

“I believe that he’s still with us.  I know it’s completely illogical, but I have this feeling that if he were gone, I’d know it.  I’m sorry, I know that doesn’t make much sense.”

“No, it does.”  She trailed a hand over his hood.

“I keep thinking that I’m missing something that’s here to find.  I’ve gone over my data banks hundreds of times, looking at every detail and nothing is obviously out of place.  But I have the sense that there is a way to piece together the data.  Maybe it’s from having been his partner for so long, but I feel as though the leads will add up to a reasonable answer, we just haven’t figured it out yet.”

Bonnie raised her eyebrow.  “I hope you’re right.”

“He would never give up on either of us, the last few years notwithstanding.”

“I know that.  I just don’t know where else to look.”  Her voice still held a level of detachment that Kitt was finding very unnerving.  He was afraid that it was too late - that Bonnie had already given up.

 

Chapter 3




The sun was slowly coming up, peaking through the foliage that was hiding Michael, and bringing him slowly awake.  Michael wasn’t sure if the light made him more or less comfortable.  More, probably, but it had the drawback of making him easier to spot, easier to become the target for a lucky potshot.  He slowly allowed his surroundings to edge into his conscious mind, waiting for an out-of-place sound or some other hint that Durante was too close.  Michael had allowed himself a couple hours of sleep.  He had managed to get the whole group out of Kitt’s range and a few hours before daybreak, he had decided he could risk a rest.  He had slept under Zeke’s blanket, with the camouflage draped across it, forming a nice, hopefully safe, cocoon.  He had pulled the netting up over his head, but not the blanket, so that all he’d have to do was open his eyes to see what was going on.  The net didn’t provide any real protection from the elements, so his face and hair were covered in a fine film of dew.

Of course, his sleep had been fitful at best.  He was uncomfortable and deeply worried.  Over the course of the night the reality had sunk in that Bonnie was probably here and in more danger than she would ever guess.  It sparked an almost tangible fear in him, colder than the dew that had formed on his body.  He knew he had gotten them out of scanner range, but what if . . . 

Michael told himself that he was not going to think about that.

His dozing had been dream-filled and that was adding to his unease.  Lying on his back in the mud, he gazed up through the canopy. 

Stevie had been in his dreams, watching him, hurt and lonely.  Michael knew those thoughts had been lurking in the back of his mind ever since Bonnie had come out to Washington, but he hadn't wanted to voice them.  So apparently now his dreams were going to force the issue.

She’d be happy for them, wouldn’t she?  He didn’t know.  God, it's been ten years, he thought, starting to plead his own case.

Then he stopped.  Shake it off, he thought angrily.  He didn’t want to think about these things anymore.  He’d spent enough of his precious sleep time on them already. 

Sitting up slowly, Michael waited to see that no one was looking in his direction, before pushing back the blanket and netting.  He wanted to run a little, or do some calisthenics to warm up his stiff body, but his feet hurt like hell, his arm was still sore, and he didn’t want to make any noise until he knew what Durante was up to.  He had slept with his shoes on, knowing that his feet were probably going to swell the minute he took them off.  He didn’t want to run the risk that he wouldn’t be able to get them back on again.  The rucksack was still next to him, where he’d left it.  He’d like to heat up an MRE for breakfast, but even that was secondary right now.  He needed to figure out where Durante was and get them back on the chase again.  The last thing he wanted was for them to get discouraged and head back toward the cabin.  He could not allow that.

Besides, he had a plan.  First he needed to make sure they were still all out there.  Then he had work to do.  He popped a few of the ibuprofen from Zeke’s first aid kit, and then quickly pulled himself together.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

Michael stepped out onto the veranda and paused.  Devon was at his normal table surrounded by his usual breakfast accoutrements.  Michael toyed with the idea of just slipping out, telling Devon he didn't get the message or that Detective Cadan had called and urgently needed him.  Michael hadn't missed the worried looks that had passed between Devon, Bonnie, and RC or the needling in Kitt's tone.  He knew that sooner or later they were going to confront him.  He was resigned to it, but very resentful.  He couldn't even grieve without permission.  Michael was starting to feel like his whole life was decided by committee. 

Devon glanced up from his paper, spotted Michael, and waved him over.  Michael wanted to turn and leave.  He and Kitt had a stake out to attend to.  They had leads to follow up on, witnesses to talk to.  Anything, something.  Not this.  But just because he knew a talk was coming didn't mean he could prevent it.  And he knew better than to think that putting it off once was enough to make Devon go away.

Michael turned the chair across from Devon around backward and straddled it, putting Devon at arms length with his nonchalance.  "What's up?" he asked, still vaguely hoping that his boss just had some news for him about the case.

"Good morning.  Would you like something?" he asked, gesturing to the fancy breakfast spread around the table.

"No, thanks." 

Devon raised an eyebrow and Michael shifted uncomfortably.  "I already ate," he lied.

"Ah, well, in that case I just wanted to let you know that Stacy Martinez asked after you and Kitt.  She mentioned that you hadn't responded to her first message."

Michael held one hand out in front of him, cocked to the side.  “And?”

"She's a very intelligent and attractive woman."

"Yes, she is."  Michael didn’t elaborate further.

After a beat, Devon sighed and poured himself a cup of tea, as though Michael had missed his point entirely.  He hadn't.

"When did you decide to become my dating service?"  Michael said it lightly, still clinging to his casual attitude, but he couldn't quite keep the hint of bitterness out of his voice.  He respected Devon, but he was not in the mood for this.  Yes, he had noticed that Stacy was coming onto him.  And yes, she was beautiful, but he’d been relieved when they had solved the case and he could escape the sideways glances and friendly smiles.  He wasn't ready for that.

"Just mentioning it," Devon said, spooning up a lump of sugar and dumping it into his tea.

Michael sighed.  "You used to hate my casual dating, remember?"

"You've been such a solitary figure of late.  It just isn't like you to shut everyone out."  Devon very studiously buttered the toast on his plate, and with forced casualness, said.  "It has been nine months, Michael."

Michael felt a flash of anger.  He would suffer the patronizing conversation, but he was not going to be told by anyone that he was taking too long to start dating.  Resisting the urge to throw the delicate teacup that was sitting idly in front of him, Michael paused to rein in his anger before answering calmly, "I didn't know there was a time limit for grieving over the loss of my wife."

Devon set down his utensils and gave Michael his full attention.  "Of course there isn't, Michael.  I'm just worried.  It might be good for you to get out a little, have some fun."

"She was the love of my life, Devon, and you all want me to what, just forget her and move on?  Would that make it easier for you?"  Michael hated how hard he had to struggle to keep the catch in his throat from making itself painfully and so publicly visible.  Why did this feel like a betrayal?

Devon frowned.  "It's not about being easy for anyone else, Michael.  In the last few months, you've grown very distant.  Kitt noticed it first, of course, but we're all worried.  If there are things you need to talk through, we're here for you.  You have people who love you."

So Michael was right, Devon was the appointed spokesperson.  They had all had a little conference and decided that it would be best if Devon were the one to confront him.  A whole imagined scene filled his head and it made him angry.  "You know, you were the one who warned me that I was putting Stevie at risk by loving her.  You were the one who said that loving anyone in this line of work is dangerous.  Now you're pushing me to do that all over again?  I don't get it, Devon.  It's one way or the other."

Devon set his toast back on his bread plate, without taking a bite.  "Yes, I did say those things.  But I'm afraid that the cruel irony is that despite all the dangers of letting someone into this very hazardous and unpredictable life, it is maybe more dangerous not to."

If Michael were in a more charitable mood, he might be willing to give Devon the sympathy that his slightly sad tone demanded.  He might accept advice from someone who was probably speaking from experience.  But not this morning.  This morning he had had to force himself to get out of bed.  He had had to force himself to look in the mirror and try to pull himself together.  He hadn't bothered to force himself to eat.  And he wasn't about to force himself to believe that the loneliness of not loving someone could be any worse than the bitter, heart-searing, pain he was in right now.  He knew the cold loneliness of not having anyone.  He had done that the first few months of his life as Michael Knight.  There was no way that compared to this.  This was wrecking, soul-plundering pain.  There was no way that the desolate emptiness of having lost his soul mate was not a hundred times worse than never having found her.  Right now all he wanted was for that pain to end and he knew it was not going to be soon. 

"Michael, why now?" Devon asked after not getting a reply.  "You seemed fine for so long, why have you retreated from everything now?"

Michael looked down, thinking back to those first days after Stevie had died, when he had agreed to come back to the Foundation.  What else could he have done?  He had nothing but the Foundation, and he had so desperately needed something.  It had been easier then to throw himself into the cases, get wrapped up in other people's worries.  He had even thought that the reason he was fine was that he and Stevie had spent so much time apart that he was somewhat used to her being gone.  But then the cases got solved, and things slowed down.  He had had some time off.  Then Michael had started to feel guilty for not missing Stevie more.  Once he had opened that door, too many unsettling questions had marched right in.  The 'what ifs' and the 'if onlys.'  And the most painful question that lingered in his mind was intimately wound up with the one thing that had driven them apart for so long.

"She wanted me, us, to have a normal life, Devon.  A permanent home, a family."  Michael wanted to kick himself for letting Devon get exactly what he wanted.  But Devon had nothing if not impeccable timing and a damn annoying knack for knowing how to get him to talk.  "I just think.  I just know, that somewhere she's up there, disappointed with me.  She wanted so many things for me and I just gave up and went back to the only thing I know."

Devon looked truly shocked.  "You can't believe that Michael?  She didn't like the Foundation because it came between the two of you, but she appreciated the work we do.  I’m sure she's proud of you for the differences you make in people’s lives, the good you've done.  While you certainly knew her better than I, I would think she would understand exactly why you came back."

"My working with the Foundation is what got her killed.  She wanted me to leave, and I came right back as soon as she was gone."

"She wanted to be with you.  That isn't possible anymore," Devon said very gently.  "She would want you to be happy, however you accomplish that."

Michael wanted to tell Devon that he wasn't happy -- that the only thing that would make him happy was getting her back.  But it sounded childish, even through his grief. 

"Michael, Stevie loved you.  I don't think she'd want you to cut yourself off from the people who care about you."

Michael clenched his teeth together as tightly as possible, trying to bite down his emotions.  He didn’t want to talk anymore and was relieved that Devon seemed to see that.  After Devon finished his tea and folded up his napkin, he stood and came around the side of the table.  He clapped Michael's shoulder and Michael was grateful that he was not standing in front of him to see the tears that were welling up in his eyes.

"You have people who care about you.  We want to help, if you'll let us.  If there's anything you need, just ask, Michael."

He waited until Devon had climbed the steps and disappeared into the mansion before he tipped his head back, trying to get control of the tears.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bonnie was sitting at the picnic table, staring at the lake while Shawn and Kitt went over their potential options.  Not that there were many.

"Tomorrow is Monday, so we should be able to start calling parole officers,” Shawn said.

Bonnie sighed.  Back around in the endless loop.  They just kept going over the same ground.  They had no new leads, no witnesses, and there were no clues to suggest where Michael was.  Day three of the search, and they still had nothing.  She felt helpless trying to sift though the stack of useless dead ends.  She just wanted to stop thinking.  She put her head down, about to try to do just that when her mind settled on one bit of information and froze.  It was Sunday.

“Zeke” she said out loud.

“What?” Shawn asked, looking at her like she had finally lost it.

“Zeke will know.”  Feeling a new sense of purpose, Bonnie hurried to the car door that Kitt was in the process of opening.

“Do you want me to . . .” Shawn started, taking a step after her.

“No, I’ll handle it,” Bonnie answered dismissively, reaching to shut the car door.

“Do you think he knows where Michael is?” Kitt asked.

“Probably not, but I bet he can give us a few places to look.”

Mary was already at the door when Bonnie stepped onto the pretty little front porch, with its white, wooden swing.  She was smiling sadly and had her arms open to give Bonnie a hug.  Bonnie paused at the door, just out of reach.  She saw Mary’s face fall and felt bad, but she really couldn’t take Mary’s smothering kind of concern right now.  Mary was the type to invite her in for tea and a good cry, but she couldn't afford to do that.  She needed to get to Zeke.

“Hi,” Bonnie said lamely.

“How are you holding up?  Is there any sign of him?”

"No, nothing yet.  I need to talk to Zeke, if that's okay?"

“Of course.  He’s out back, working on some motor or something.  We're both praying for Michael's safe return.”

“Thank you,” Bonnie said, as Mary led her through the cozy, impeccably decorated house.

Zeke was leaning against the side of the garage, a greasy rag in hand, rubbing dirt off a motor.  His hands were covered with black grime and he barely looked up when Bonnie approached.  “Hello there, Bonnie.  How’re you doin?” he asked.

“I’m.  Well . . . I’ve been better.”

He nodded but continued working the metal between his fingers.  “Sorry to hear about the business with Michael.  Any word?”

“No.  Nothing yet."

"I'm very sorry.  Is there anything I can do?"

"Actual, there might be.  Do you know where he would go if he were in trouble?"

"I’m sorry, I don’t.”

“Zeke.  You know this area.  Are there any places he could hide?” Bonnie asked, surprised that he seemed uninterested.  He kept working his rag over the motor.

“I'm afraid I can’t help you.  Wish I knew.”

“Zeke, please don’t play me.  I really can’t take it right now.” Bonnie said, surprised at his reaction.

“I ain’t playin with you, Bonnie.”  He adjusted his glasses, still avoiding eye contact.  “I just don’t want to go pokin’ around in nobody’s business.  Sometimes when a man goes missin’ he don’t want to be found.”

Bonnie closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose.  He didn’t know.  Zeke had just gotten home and Mary might not have gone into town the last few days.  The police questioned her, but they might not have given her any details.  “That isn’t it, Zeke.”

“Are you sure?” he asked.  “Cause I don’t want to see nobody get hurt.”

“Zeke, if he wanted to break up with me, he would.”  She decided to tell him everything, knowing he was her best bet to find him.  “I don’t know how much you know about Michael, but he’s the kind of person who’s made some enemies in his past.  Someone shot at him.  The cabin is riddled with bullet holes.  He needs help, Zeke.” 

Zeke immediately stopped and gave her his total attention.  "I'm sorry.  I didn't know anything about anybody trying to shoot’im."

"I didn't mention it to Mary."

Zeke gave an incredulous look.  "It's hard to imagine that them boys that pass for officers of the law round here could keep that kind of thing quiet.  But Mary hasn’t been in town all week.  I'm really sorry to hear that.  Real sorry."

"Do you know where he might go?"

Zeke stared off at the lake and then slowly shook his head.  "No.  I can't think of anything.  He has mentioned that he’s had some run-ins with some rough characters in his past.”  Zeke’s voice trailed off.

“Please think.  Is there anywhere he could go?  A hiding place, or other friends, someone who might help him?" Bonnie asked again, trying to hold it together long enough to wait for an answer.  She was so tired of coming up empty.

Zeke suddenly perked up.  “Yeah, actually, there is something.  He’s seen my stash.   I keep a bunch of odds and ends in a cave on the other side of the lake.  If he needed supplies, he’d go there.”

“Can you show me?  Please?” Bonnie pleaded, needing this to be a real lead.  She needed something to hold onto again.

“Sure thing,” Zeke said, pushing himself away from the wall.  “We can take my boat.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Michael shifted quietly, trying to make sure the camouflage netting stayed between him and the man slowly stalking his way into the tiny clearing.  It hadn't been easy to climb up into his perch, but it gave him a clear view of what was going on below him, and he didn't think Durante's men spent much time looking up into the trees.  He pulled another little pebble from his pocket and tossed it.  The man spun and aimed his weapon at the tree it had hit.  Then he took a few more steps forward.

Good, good, Michael thought, watching him as he swung slow arcs, keeping one eye on the path behind him as he inched his way forward.

He was thankful the man hadn’t been far from his makeshift ambush.  It had taken most of the morning to set up his trap and after that he had shadowed his pursuers for several hours before they finally fanned out again.  He did not want to get into a situation where the one he took out could alert the others.  He didn’t want another firefight – he didn’t know how many lives he had left.

The man spun again, hearing something that had eluded Michael.  The mercenary glanced up and for a moment, Michael thought he was going to be spotted.  He held his breath and waited.  He didn’t think he was easily visible with the camouflage strung out over the limbs below him, but if someone gazed too long in his direction, the camouflage would separate from the leaves. 

Eventually the man below him turned back to the task of advancing through the clearing. 

Michael’s wounded arm had protested his plan to get up into the tree, but he had finally found one with enough low branches that he was able to struggle through it.  Getting the rocks up into the tree had been a bit trickier, but not impossible.  It had been a good distraction, if nothing else.  The whole process of planning had helped to curb some of the dangerous emotions that had been buffeting him since he realized it was Durante who was after him.

The man below was inching closer to a point in the clearing that Michael had marked with a small cluster of rocks.  It looked perfectly normal from the ground, but it made a nice bull’s-eye from his spot in the tree.  It was along the obvious path through the tall grass.  Michael had practiced several times, to take away any nervousness or last minute jitters.  All he had to do was let go.  Be patient, and let go. 

The man was slowly coming to the spot, still checking behind him as he went.  Michael was going to have to start battling his impatience.  He wanted this over with as soon as possible.

“Kean, report.” 

Michael jumped as the man’s radio burst to life.  He held his position, pleased to see that he wasn’t the only one to be startled.  The man settled to the ground in a low crouch, but didn’t respond.  After a few moments the radio squawked again, this time at a much lower volume.

“No sign of him, sir,” a second, static-filled voice responded.

“Mahlstrom?” the first voice demanded.

The man in the clearing raised his radio to his face.  Michael could barely make out the sound, as the man whispered his response.  Nice to meet you, Mahlstrom, Michael thought.  He gave the man a quick appraisal while listening to a third man, Galloway, report in.  Mahlstrom was on the small side, but he looked muscular.  He had been moving through the forest with military precision -- he’d obviously had training.  Michael wondered where Durante came by his hired hands.  They could just be men he had met in prison, but they seemed more disciplined and regimented than that.  Although, in the end, it didn’t matter much where they came from.

After surveying the area, Mahlstrom was on the move again.  Only a few feet left.  Michael waited, trying to keep his adrenaline down.  Mahlstrom slowly moved into range. Finally he was right on top of the little marker.  Michael let go of the rock he was holding and watched it sail across the clearing in wide arch, suspended in a rope cradle from one of the other trees.  Mahlstrom turned toward the rock, just as it was reaching the apex of its swing.  He was hit dead on in the chest. 

Damn, Michael had been hoping to get him in the head.  If Mahlstrom had been just a little bit shorter, he would have hit his mark.  Despite the pain in his arm Michael quickly swung down from his branch and dropped to the ground below him.  He had to get to Mahlstrom before he could radio the others.  Michael sprinted toward him and was relieved to see that he had had the wind knocked out of him.  He was lying on the path, his mouth agape, trying to suck in a breath.  Michael quickly pulled Mahlstrom's gun from his grasp and trained it on him.  Something about Mahlstrom seemed particularly ruthless and made Michael uncomfortable, despite the fact that he was momentarily disabled.  Taking no chances, Michael swung the gun down, jabbing the butt of it into Mahlstrom’s temple, knocking him unconscious. 

When he was sure that Mahlstrom was out, he carefully leaned down and pulled the radio out of his belt.  Then he glanced around to be sure he was still safe, hoisted the slumped man over his good shoulder, and made his way out of there.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bonnie waved to Zeke as he backed his boat away from the pier where he had let her off, and sped away.  Then she came bounding up the pier.  She pulled open Kitt’s door and sat in the driver's seat smiling and breathless – surprising Kitt completely. 

"He's alive, and here.  Or at least he was.  He survived the first attack and got away from them," she said in a rush.

"Are you sure?" he asked, trying not to get immediately caught up in the excitement that was radiating from her in a jubilant glow. 

"Zeke apparently kept a stash of supplies that Michael knew about.  Some of the things are missing.  Zeke thinks he has food to last several days, a GPS unit, and a bunch of survival gear."

"We don't know for sure that that was Michael or when those items were taken," Kitt said, trying to stay rational, trying not to get too excited.  He needed to be sure before he could let himself be hopeful again.

There was a pause and a little bit of the energy drained from her face.  "That's true.  Zeke did say he hadn't been to the cave in a while.  But, it's well hidden and he said that Michael was the only one who knew about it.  It’s the first real evidence that he might still be here.  Somewhere."

"That is a good sign. But I still have to wonder why there hasn't been any sign of him.  If he’s out there, my scanners should have detected him," Kitt said, hating the way he was bringing her down.

"I can’t explain it either, but it doesn’t mean that he couldn’t still be out there.  Maybe whoever's after him knows your capabilities and is forcing him out of range."

"That is possible.  Even if they're going off my old specs, the scanner wasn't significantly upgraded for this vehicle.  That would also potentially narrow done the list of suspects to people who knew about my capabilities.”  Kitt could hear that the eagerness he was fighting was starting to slip into his voice.

"We can take another look at the list."  Bonnie seemed to be regaining some of her balance.  It was obvious that she was going through options in her mind, working through theories.  She was gaining more control of her emotions as he was starting to give into his. 

"If we go on the assumption that he's still here and out of range, how do we find him?" she asked.

Kitt took a moment to enjoy the fact that they had a direction again, and then tried his best to put away everything he was feeling.  He needed to focus on the practical.  If they suspected he was still here, they had options they could explore.  “Do you remember those repeaters we used to have to boost my signal?” he asked.

“The portable ones I kept in the semi?”  It was a statement more than a question.  Bonnie nodded vigorously, clearly thinking it over as she spoke.  "Yes, that might help.  If he is being forced out of range and whoever is doing it is going by your specs somehow, they might just be close enough that a boost in your signal would find him.  But are the repeaters even still around?” 

“No.  But there were several spare transmitters procured for KIFT.  If we modified their software load, we could use them as repeaters.”

“Okay.  How do we get them?”

“If you take your car back, Shawn and I can stay here and continue searching.  We'll try to find ways to get deeper into the forest.  And I'll take a closer look into the whereabouts of anyone who knew details about my capabilities.”

Bonnie nodded again. It was almost like she was thinking out loud, her thoughts were so plainly painted on her face.  "That sounds like a good plan.  Can you tell me exactly where to find the transmitters?"

"Yes."

“All right.”  Bonnie rapped on Kitt's hood.  It was a definitive, determined sound.  "I'll fill in Shawn, get a few things together, and go."

Kitt again succumbed to a buoyant happiness.  He knew there was a good chance this would be like all the other leads, but he couldn't hold back the ocean of expectation anymore.  He was excited again.  He wanted to hold onto that for as long as he could. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Having a prisoner was a bigger inconvenience than Michael had expected.  Trying to find a suitable place to hide him had taken much of the day.  He had been able to set up the ambush efficiently and he had planned it well, but he hadn’t thought about where to stash the man when he was done.  Michael did not want Mahlstrom to become a threat again, but he also wasn’t going to kill a man in cold blood – if someone was shooting at him, that was one thing, but he was not going to simply point a gun at an unarmed man’s head and end his life.  But that left him with a little problem.  He had to get the unconscious Mahlstrom far enough away from the others to keep him out of sight, and that’s what had taken all day. 

Michael had finally found a thick crevice lined with trees.  He had searched Mahlstrom and come up with a knife, which he appropriated for himself.  Then he had bound Mahlstrom to a tree and used a strip of his shirt to gag him.  Overall it was a mess, but it was the only way he had to be sure that Mahlstrom was not going to cause him any more problems.

Michael set a waypoint on the GPS.  If he got out of all this, he’d send the authorities in after the guy.  If he didn’t make it out alive, well, Mahlstrom wasn’t going to either.  So be it.

Michael now had to return to the task of finding the rest of the group.  He glanced at the radio he now had strapped to his bag.  A couple of hours after Michael had captured Mahlstrom, Durante had called for another check in.  Michael had toyed with the idea of replying for Mahlstrom, but he doubted that Durante would be fooled, and he preferred not to have a conversation with him.  It would be too easy for Durante to get under his skin, and he wanted to maintain his current level of detachment.  After trying to raise Mahlstrom several times, the radio had gone completely silent.  Michael guessed they had stopped using it, knowing that he was probably listening in.  Either that, or they had switched channels or sub-channel codes.  He played with the radio a while, but it didn't have a scan feature, so he was out of luck.  He could monitor each of the channels for a while, but if they changed sub-channel codes, there would be too many possible combinations for him to find them. 

That was okay though.  The radio was a nice to have, not a necessity.  He would just continue on with his plan.  Two down, three to go, Michael thought, finally feeling like he had some control over his situation.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

So far nothing.  Bonnie had gone back to Seattle for the transmitters, which left Kitt and Shawn with little to do other than drive their well-worn search pattern again.  Kitt tried to keep his spirits up by remembering all the times in the old days when it had paid off to take a second look at things that had seemed normal the first time.

Shawn had gone in to talk with the same hotel and restaurant owners again, but none of them had anything to add.  Now they were canvassing the lakes, campsites, and tourist spots again.  Shawn looked dubious as they pulled into one of the more dilapidated campgrounds they had come across.  It was low on their list of sites, having only the most basic of facilities and no hook ups for RVs.  There weren’t even volunteers to patrol the area or welcome newcomers.  It was strictly for people roughing it.

There were three tents pitched in smallish lots, but they were all empty.  It was a beautiful day and the campers were probably either hiking, or swimming in the lake nearby. 

Shawn nodded toward one of the tents.  "Nothing here either, huh?" she asked.

"Actually, there is something a bit odd."  Kitt ran his scans again to be sure.  "The SUV parked at site 7 is a bit strange."

"Why?"  Shawn asked, cautiously approaching the gray Explorer and peering inside.

"It's been here since Friday, but there's no sign of a recent fire or camping gear on that site."

"It could be an extra car from one of the other sites," Shawn suggested.

"Perhaps, but it's a rental.  The Budget bar code is on a sticker in the front windshield.  The rest of the vehicles here are individually owned."

"Backcountry campers?" she suggested.

"That's what I thought at first too.  I didn't think it was suspicious the first time we were here, but it hasn’t been moved and there’s no sign that anyone has been back to it.  It’s strange because there’s nothing in it.  At the other campgrounds we've searched, all the vehicles contained extra supplies, even the vehicles at sites that seemed to be deserted.  When we first came through here, I assumed it belonged to someone who was just here for the day, maybe swimming in the lake, but clearly that wasn’t the case."

"And why would anyone rent a car to do backcountry camping here?" Shawn asked looking around at the sparse campground. 

"It does seem more like a campground for local people.  Normally tourists stick to the national parks or the better tended state parks.  It's still possible this is just a camper, but it does seem a little strange."

"Can you use Budget's ID tag to track down the last person to rent it?"  Shawn asked.

"It might be easier to check the rental agreement.  It's in the glove compartment," Kitt said, as he electronically popped the locks.

Shawn pulled open the glove box and unfolded the rental contract.

"Jason Hawke of Butte, Montana," Shawn read.  "Kitt, can you verify the name and address?"

"Already in progress," he said. 

Shawn peered into the back seat and then popped the tailgate.  There really wasn't anything in the vehicle.  It looked spotless.

"It's going to take some time to track down Jason Hawke, but I can tell you that the phone number and address given don't match up to each other.  The address doesn't exist and the phone number is in the name Martha Myjerson who lives in Billings not Butte."

"He made up a number that just happened to be real," Shawn said, taking a closer look at the vehicle's interior.  "Scan for prints."

"That's the other interesting thing.  There are several incidental prints on the car, probably the result of handling by the employees at Budget.  But in the places where you would expect prints -- the door handle, the steering wheel, and gear shift -- there aren't any.  None at all."

"Which means it was deliberately wiped," she concluded.

"Most likely." 

Shawn glanced around the campsite.  "Anything else useful?"

"There are partial boot prints around the truck and particularly near the tailgate, but the ground is too hard-packed to determine where they went."

"How many?"

"Two distinct sets," Kitt said as he took snap shots of the boot prints.

"Any traces of blood in the truck or signs of damage?"

"No blood.  There are some scratches in the dash and other incidental damage, but nothing that suggests someone was held captive inside the vehicle."

"If this truck does belong to Michael's assailants, why would they abandon it?" she asked, joining Kitt again.

"I assume they switched vehicles."

"Right, but why?  No one saw anything.  There's no reason to leave a truck somewhere when sooner or later it would attract attention.  If they returned it to the rental agency no one would be any wiser.  They got away clean -- why leave something that might contain clues?"

"Perhaps because they haven't left," Kitt suggested.

"Which means that they haven't accomplished their goal.  They probably weren't able to kill Michael and they don't have him.  That would fit with the information Bonnie got from Zeke.  I'm starting to believe he might still be out here."

Kitt definitely wanted to believe that.  He was still trying to keep his optimism cautious, but this was another good sign.  Except for one thing.  "If you're right, that also means that they're still after Michael."

"It's also strange that if he's here, why hasn't he tried to contact us?  He's got to know that we'd be here."

"I don't know."  Kitt pondered it and had to admit that that part of the equation really didn't make sense.  Maybe he had been injured more severely than they suspected and lost his memory.  It had happened once, maybe that made him more prone to it happening again.   Or maybe the men had him on the run and he couldn’t get back.  If that were true, they needed to get to him quickly.  Kitt hated the frustration of not being able to help Michael immediately.  "We'll have to keep scanning and try to figure that out.  Hopefully with the repeaters, we'll be able to get an answer to that." 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This was almost too easy, Michael thought, as he listened to another henchman following along dutifully behind him.  Michael had taken Friday evening to hike back to his booby-trap, reset everything and get some rest.  It had taken him a while this morning to find the group, but he had been lucky enough to get one of them alone again.  He suspected this was the last time this was going to work.  He figured Durante would keep at least one thug close, for protection, but for the time being, Michael was going to stick with what worked.

The noise behind him stopped, so Michael slowed up and stepped on a few crunchy dead leaves.  He waited and it sounded like the guy was moving again, but it wasn't in the right direction.  Damn.  Something else must have caught the guy's attention.  Michael was trying to lead him to the ambush point while staying far enough ahead that he'd have time to climb the tree to his perch.  Obviously, he'd gotten too far in front of him.  Michael listened to the man moving away tangentially.  Frustrated, he started to follow the man, needing to catch up before he could get his attention again. 

Michael knew he'd screwed up the second he felt the trip wire against his shin.  Years of training that had long left his conscious mind flowed in from his subconscious and launched him forward.  It was the only real option after a trip wire had been set off.  He saw the mesh as it separated from the debris littering the ground around him.  It was a net and he knew he wasn't going to get out of it entirely.  The realization hit him just as he felt the net grab his left foot and he was jerked back and up sharply.  A searing pain shot through his ankle first and then his forearms as he slammed chest first into the ground.  He was jerked over onto his back as the net pulled his tangled lower leg up into the air above him. 

Michael immediately lifted his head to see if there was anyone manning the net.  He spotted the rope that was angled toward the ground, but no one was there.  It was probably attached to a weight that had been released when he hit the trip.  Michael could hear the guy he had been following come crashing back through the forest after him.  He needed to get out of there fast.

The net was a tangled knot around his screaming ankle.  Michael leaned forward so he could get to Mahlstrom’s gun, which was slung over his back.  He disengaged the safety and swung it in the direction of the noise.  He popped off a burst to discourage the guy, and grabbed the knife strapped to his thigh.  Not having time to properly cut the mesh net, he simply ripped through it as best he could, leaving a large hunk of it still wrapped around his foot.  His leg fell to the ground and the pain exploded up his shin.  He dove for cover as the man pursuing him ducked out from behind a thicket and peppered the ground around him with bullets. 

Michael didn’t have time to deal with the ankle right now. It felt sprained, not broken, and it seemed like it would hold his weight, however painfully.  He hauled himself up into a crouch and fired on the man in the thicket.  Giving himself some cover fire, Michael limped as fast as he could in the opposite direction.  He didn’t get far when a hail of bullets tore the air over his head.  Ignoring his ankle, and thankful for the adrenaline that allowed him to, he took off running as fast as he could.

He had picked his ambush location in part because it was close to a stream.  If he could just get a little bit of separation between them before he got to it, he could probably throw the guy off his trail long enough to get away.  Michael turned and fired in the direction of his pursuer again.  The stream was close and he could hear that the guy had slowed down.  He was probably calling for the others.

Michael bolted out of a stand of pines into the cold stream.  It was flowing quickly enough to hide his tracks, but shallow enough to move through easily.  Michael glanced in either direction before spotting a point to the right where there was a long, dark wall of brush.  Michael ran for it, trying to listen behind him over the splashing of the water and the pounding of his breath.  He reached the trees and jumped as far up the bank, into the grass, as he could.  He dove into the bushes, ignoring the scratches to his face.  He quickly and quietly turned around to see the man burst out into the creek.  Michael watched as he stopped and then slowly turned in either direction.  The guy hadn't seen him.  Michael knew the guy had a fifty-fifty chance of guessing which way he went down the creek – he had to keep moving, as quietly as possible.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"You don't have to stay out here.  I'm sure you'd be more comfortable inside," Kitt said after Bonnie pulled her sweater more tightly around her shoulders. 

"I'm fine, Kitt," she said swiveling slightly on her stool to throw him a wan smile.  Then she hooked another transmitter to the end of the cable curling out from her laptop.  As soon as she had gotten back from Seattle, Bonnie had cleared herself a small space on Michael's workbench, near the garage door.  She had finished writing new code for the little radios and was now porting it to each one.

Kitt had parked to the left side of the open garage door to keep her company.  Since Michael had parked the Chevy in the middle of the two-car garage, he was not able to pull in and was effectively blocking the Chevy's path.  Not that it mattered much that the Chevy was trapped; it wasn't going anywhere.

"That poor car," Kitt lamented.  “It’s a mess.”

Bonnie swiveled around on her stool, contemplating the vehicle.  Her eyes strayed to the shot-out window above it.  After a moment, she pulled her attention away from the destruction.  "I've seen cars in worse shape," she said, giving him a pointed stare.  Then she swung back to her laptop.

That was certainly true, Kitt thought.  He had seen the pictures of his body after the encounter with Juggernaut in Chicago.  He wasn't supposed to have seen them, of course.  Bonnie had forbidden it, and had thought she had restricted his access.  But he had been filled with morbid curiosity, and had bypassed her safeguards.  At first he had been horrified by the visions of his battered body. He had analyzed every dent and ding, looking at all the damage to the exterior and correlating it to the damage that ran deeper.  He had actually been a bit obsessed with the images for a while, but slowly his reasons for studying them had changed.  In the beginning he was analyzing the damage, but eventually he had started to focus on what wasn’t damaged.  Then the pictures had become a secret source of pride.  He had survived the beating he took -- and without the crisis of confidence he had suffered after being damaged in the acid pit.  He had gotten stronger.  It had taken him a while to realize that. 

Kitt scanned the garage, taking in all the juxtaposed damage and normality.  A bullet hole marred the wall next to Michael’s well-used toolbox, a bit from his drill had fallen off the bench and was resting against the Chevy’s slashed rear tire.  The good and bad were all rolled together into a larger picture.  It had taken Kitt a while to forgive Michael for the last ten years.  Maybe that was making him stronger too.  It hurt to admit it, but he was afraid that if Michael’s disappearance had happened right after he was reactivated, he might have simply written Michael off.  He was ashamed with himself to think he might have said something caustic and horrible, like 'good riddance.'  That was not the kind of person he wanted to be.  He wanted to be the kind of person who sat with a scared friend on a test course and ran it over and over until that friend was whole again -- the way Michael had for him.  He was not going to hold onto the bad parts of his life at the expense of all the good.  He knew that the tendrils of doubt that had been so strong when he was first reactivated, had faded to tiny spider webs that marbled his corners.  One by one, he was sweeping them out.  He was stronger because of Michael. 

Even in the glow of the respect and love he had for his friend, there was also a menace that uncoiled itself and threatened to come to the surface again.  It was the fear that constantly wanted him to ask what he was going to do if Michael was really gone.  The last few days, Kitt hadn’t wanted to voice those thoughts, even to himself.  Those pangs of panic threatened to drown out all the happiness he felt in knowing he had someone who cared for him as much Michael as did. 

Kitt didn’t want to feel that panic right now.  They had had a promising day.  He wanted to be positive and strong.  For Michael.

Bonnie's laptop beeped and she stopped to unhook the last of the transmitters.  "All reprogrammed."

"We can place them first thing tomorrow.  I have some sites in mind that should help us cover a much wider range than we've been able to so far.  You and Shawn are going to have to do some hiking though."

"That's all right.  It's better than just sitting here.  I could use a good hike."  Bonnie began packing up her laptop and preparing to leave.

"Bonnie," Kitt started hesitantly, "are you planning to get some sleep?"

"I wish I could Kitt, but I'll probably just lay awake staring at the ceiling."

"If that's the case, would you mind staying out here for a little while.  It's a bit lonely, to tell you the truth."

"Of course," she said, setting her laptop bag back down on the bench.  Kitt opened the door for her and she took a seat inside.  Given her current dress and usual standards of comfort, Kitt warmed the interior to an appropriate level to make her comfortable.  "I know it's not the best place to sleep . . ."

"It's fine, Kitt.  I like the company too," she said.  Kitt turned on his IR heads up display, knowing that the leaves on the trees would be cooling down and thought Bonnie might appreciate the lazy patterns they made.  Kitt watched as her vital signs slowed and her eyes fluttered closed.  Despite her protests, it certainly looked like she was going to fall asleep.

With her eyes still closed she said, "All those years in Boston, I really missed you, Kitt."

"I missed you, too, Bonnie." 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

There was a sharp snapping sound and a corresponding spike in pain as Michael cut through another bit of the net, which was still wrapped around his ankle.  He was sitting on a log after having dunked his leg in an icy creek.  His fingers were numb from the cold as he worked the knife to free himself.

How could he have been so stupid?  They had used the exact same means to get him that he was using against them, and he didn’t see it coming.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.  He’d under-estimated Durante again.  It was bad enough that he had done it ten years ago.  He had spent a long time beating himself up for thinking that he could just turn over the investigation to the Foundation, walk away, and that would be the end of it.  He had underestimated Durante's determination to kill him, and it had cost Stevie her life.  Now here he had gone and done it again.  Had he really been dumb enough to think that Durante was going to wait around idly while Michael picked off his men?  Michael had been over-confident, and now here he was with a sprained ankle.

The last bits of the mesh net ripped against the knife and the whole thing fell to the ground.  Michael plunged his throbbing ankle back into the cold water, trying to bring down the swelling.  He had gotten away from Durante's men again, but now he was at a loss.  He had headed toward a rocky area that, according to the GPS, had several springs and run offs from the nearby mountains.  It turned out to be a good move; there was a nice natural shelter where he was now resting.  Of course this was the only good decision he had made in a while.  Michael kept busy beating himself up while he soaked his foot; he wasn't nearly done with either task yet.

The kicker was that a year ago he wouldn't have cared.  He had bored himself numb fishing, and other than carousing with Zeke, there wasn't much keeping him going.  A year ago he could have loaded up the gun, marched into their camp, and at least made sure that Durante was dead before he was gunned down.  A year ago, he wouldn't have felt like he was going to miss anything or let anyone down.  He never should have dragged Bonnie and Kitt back into his life.

Michael pulled his over-sized ankle out of the water and leaned down to get a good look at it.  The swelling was bad, and it was going to be a lovely shade of bruise-blue.  Michael fished out an Ace bandage from the first aid kit and tied it as tightly as he could stand.  He thought about trying to get a little further out, away from Durante and company, but there was no way he was going to be able to get his foot back into his shoe right now. 

He was stuck.  And it was his own damn fault.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bonnie was already annoyed when the branch in front of her snapped back and caught her in the face.  She was sure the sharp sting meant that she had been cut.  She wiped at her cheek, and sure enough, there was a small dab of blood on her hand.  She wiped it against her jeans. 

"Could you try to be careful?" she asked irritably. 

It was only nine in the morning, but Bonnie was tired.  Kitt wasn't kidding when he said they would be doing some hiking.  Despite leaving at sunrise, they still had two repeaters to place - the terrain they were moving through wasn't the easiest.

Shawn glanced behind her.  "Sorry," she said, but her voice was strained and it was clear that she was in pain.

The anger that had sparked up slid away just as quickly, leaving Bonnie genuinely concerned.  "Are you okay?"

Shawn slowed to a stop and rubbed her temple.  "Yeah, it's just this damn chip."

Bonnie usually forgot that Shawn had one of Kitt's old memory chips implanted in her brain.  "Is everything okay?"

Shawn shrugged.  "As far as I know.  It just gives me killer headaches sometimes."

Bonnie had to admit to being intrigued by the idea that Shawn had a piece of Kitt in her.  Bonnie had often wondered what the world was like for him.  How he thought, or how he viewed things.  And here was someone who was, in at least one small way, a little like Kitt.

"So what's it like?" she finally asked.  "Having a memory chip in your head?"

Shawn started walking again, and Bonnie noticed that she was being more careful about not letting the branches snap back.

"It's better than being dead.  And since those were my only two options, it's better than the alternative." 

Curt and to the point, Bonnie thought as she stepped sideways over a dead log.  Shawn was not the most gregarious companion, but since there wasn't much else to pass the time, Bonnie decided to try again.  "Okay, but what's it like?"

Bonnie thought that Shawn was going to ignore her completely but finally she said, "It's strange.  I can memorize whole reams of data, but things that have an emotional component aren’t as clear-cut.  Sometimes I get flashes of certain memories with such clarity, but they weren't the things I was originally thinking about.  It's like my brain doesn't understand the addressing scheme.  It's hard to explain.  And I hate the headaches.  I'd say they have some work to do to perfect this chip."

"It wasn't designed with the human brain in mind," Bonnie said. 

"Oh, that's right.  I forgot.  You probably know more about the chip than I do."

"Probably."

"Any problems with them malfunctioning when they were installed in Kitt?"

Bonnie thought about it.  "Not really.  Well, except the time that Kitt got electrocuted.  They malfunctioned then, but I'd hardly call that a design flaw."

Shawn stopped and raised an eyebrow.  "Electrocuted?"

"It was a downed power pole.  It's kind of a long story."

"Great.  That would explain the sharp splitting pains I get from time to time.  The chip probably suffered permanent damage after that one."

Bonnie chuckled.  "They were all permanently damaged.  I had to rebuild the whole memory module.  You're chip wasn't around then."

"That's good, I guess."  Shawn resumed walking and kicked over a rock.  "But it would be nice if someone could tell me what's normal, and what isn't."

"Feeling a little like a guinea pig?"

"Basically."

Kitt's voice issued over Shawn’s comlink, ending their conversation.  "I'm getting something through the repeater you're currently carrying."

They stopped walking and looked at each other.

"Any idea what?" Bonnie asked.

"No, it's just on the edge of my expanded range. "

Bonnie glanced at the bag of transmitters Shawn was carrying.  They had turned on one of them so that Kitt could get the benefits of the increased range as they walked. 

"I might be able to get more information if you each took one and moved away from each other at a 45 degree angle.

Shawn pulled one of the two devices out of the bag, flipped it on, and handed it to Bonnie.  They separated and moved off into the forest in deliberate, angled lines.  Kitt gave them directions and moved them around so that he could get a better view of whatever was tripping his sensors. 

Bonnie found that she suddenly wasn't tired anymore.  She was moving quicker than she had all morning.  She needed this to be Michael, she was sure it had to be.  So she followed Kitt's directions with a quick step, nervous anxiety fueling her.

After a long period of silence, Kitt spoke to both of them simultaneously over their comlinks.  "Bonnie, Shawn, I'm sorry, but the readings I’m getting are not Michael.  I've been able to determine that it was a deer."

The trapdoor that had opened to release Bonnie's hidden reserve of energy slammed shut again.  She felt nothing but disappointment, loneliness, and a draining fatigue.  "Okay, Kitt," she said, because there was nothing else to say.

"Shawn, if you continue on, you can place your repeater where we planned.  Bonnie, if you turn north, you can head to the next site."

Suddenly the little device in Bonnie's hand didn't hold nearly so much promise.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The last faint wisps of sunlight were still dimly visible over the treetops.  Normally Michael found this time of night beautiful and calming.  He liked to watch the sunset from his boat, bobbing peacefully on the water, but now the prospect of another night out in the cold depressed him.  It was Saturday.  He should be home sipping wine and watching old Westerns with Bonnie. 

Michael sighed and pulled out an MRE.  He still had a couple left, but they weren’t going to last much longer.  He was too old for this – chasing the ghosts of his past through the forest.  He just wanted this to be over.

He leaned back against a tree and gazed up at the stars.  A hundred years ago, he and Stevie had gone out into the desert around Reno at night to watch the stars.  They had done that a lot before they got engaged.  He had even given her a necklace because it reminded him of their nights out in the desert -- the one with diamonds on the ends of gold arcs that crossed a heart, like shooting stars.  It was the necklace she had given back to him after Michael Long had died.  “I miss you, hon,” he whispered.  Michael wasn’t in the habit of talking to Stevie much.  He didn’t really believe she could hear him.  Sometimes he hoped she couldn’t.  But every once in a while, when something reminded him of her, he’d toss a comment her direction, more for himself than her.

The stars above him started to separate out into constellations that he hadn’t paid attention to in a long time.  He spotted the Northern Cross; Stevie had preferred to call it Cygnus.  She had read some myth about the constellation that she had fell in love with.  Michael could picture her sitting next to him on a blanket, telling him the story, but he couldn't remember all the details.  The crux of it was that someone Cygnus loved, a friend or brother or something, fell into a river.  Cygnus had jumped in after him and dived repeatedly, trying to find his friend, who had already drowned.  Cygnus died of grief and the gods took pity on him and turned him into a swan.  Michael never did care much for mythology, but Stevie had loved the stories.  And she had always liked birds. 

Michael couldn’t help remembering the time they had spent at the Foundation’s retreat.  It had been incredible, seeing her again, but it had also been almost unbearable when she left.  He had wanted so desperately to tell her who he was then, but he couldn’t.  The Foundation had gotten between them then, as it always had.   But at least that time he had been able to help her -- and she had lived.

“I’m so sorry, Stevie,” Michael said, looking up at the swan in the sky.  “I’m sorry I failed you.”  Michael bit back the hesitation in his throat. “If you're up there and there's anything you can do, please don’t let me fail again.”

But he was afraid it was too late, he had already failed.  He looked down at his swollen ankle.  How was he going to get Durante now?  They had so many advantages over him, and now through his own arrogance, he had given them another one.  Michael was starting to think it was his fate to lose anyone he loved.  It was like that stupid myth -- he kept diving, but nothing he did changed the outcome.  He had lost so much of who he was over the years.  He had given up his family, Stevie, his friends, and everyone he knew when he became Michael Knight.  Then he had lost and found Stevie over and over until she died.  Then he slowly lost the Foundation, the only family he had left.  Devon had come back to ask for his help after all those years, only to die at the hands of the men Michael was supposed to catch.  Now Bonnie and Kitt were at risk. 

Why was he doomed to this life?  He kept losing all the people who made him who he was.  It was like he was being hollowed out, scoop by painful scoop.

Michael watched the twinkling stars and wondered where he would be right now if Stevie had lived.  Maybe he'd be taking their kids to soccer practice, or helping them with their homework.  Maybe he'd be spending spring Saturdays mowing the lawn while Stevie planted flowers.  They were such pretty little scenes, but he couldn't even see himself in them.  Those dreams were so long dead and buried that it seemed useless to even consider them.  What was the point of letting anyone into his life if it was just going to end up like this?

Finally he was distracted by the alarm on the GPS, telling him his dinner should be heated.  He tore open the packet of tuna and noodles, and then wrapped the heating packet around his ankle.  The warmth soothed Michael’s aching joint, but it couldn't touch the real source of his pain.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

Michael picked a parking spot as far away from the courthouse as possible.  At this end of the lot, no one was going to complain about them taking up space.  Besides, Michael liked the view of the park in front of them.  There were mothers with children playing on the immaculate grass, jumping across puddles in the sidewalk, which had been rained on by the sprinklers.  Michael turned off the engine and waited.

He was glad that Devon had not asked where they were going.  He had been giving Michael a lot of leeway the last few weeks, which Michael appreciated.

"Are you going inside?" Kitt finally asked.  Michael knew the question was coming, but he wasn't going to explain until he had to.  Kitt had been giving him a lot of leeway too.

"No," Michael said simply.

"Then why are we here?" Kitt asked cautiously.  Michael knew what he was thinking, but Michael wasn't going to rush a prisoner surrounded by armed guards.  He wasn't suicidal.  And he wasn't homicidal anymore either.

"They're presenting closing arguments today," Michael said, answering only the questions asked.  He knew Kitt wasn’t going to let him off the hook that easily – he certainly wouldn’t if their roles were reversed – but he was feeling quarrelsome. 

"Yes?"

"The jury's going to start deliberations today."

"Yes," this time it was drawn out, with more of a warning to it.

"Kitt, I'm not going to do anything stupid, I just want to be here."

Kitt was quiet for a minute.  "Then maybe you should go inside.  Maybe it would be good for you to hear the closing arguments."

"I don't think so.  I don't think I want to hear his defense."

"I see.  Then you're planning on going in to hear the verdict?"

"No. I don't think that would be a good idea either."

"Jury tampering is a crime, Michael," Kitt pleaded.  He was obviously trying his best to piece together Michael’s intentions without asking too many questions.  He felt bad.  Kitt had been worried about him for a long time now, and Michael had done nothing to reassure him.  In fact, he had been curt, rude, and distant.  For some reason Kitt had put up with all of it.  Michael wasn't sure he deserved such a good friend. 

“I'm not going to try to talk to anyone on the jury.  I'm not going to try to intercept or hurt Durante.  I don't want to go into the courtroom because I'm still angry.  I don't want to give Durante the opportunity to make me do something stupid.  But I feel like I should be here.  I can't explain it, Kitt, but I need to be here, even if I don't go inside."

"I'm sorry, Michael, I don't think I understand."

"I don't either, Kitt.  But I need to do this."

"Michael, you were the one who brought Durante in.  The local authorities never would have caught him.  Even though you couldn't testify against him, you are responsible for bringing him to justice."

Michael slowly nodded.  Kitt was more perceptive than Michael gave him credit for sometimes.  Michael hadn't said anything when Devon told him the lawyers felt that having him testify was a liability.  It had been that way ever since Michael Long had died.  Michael Knight’s lack of a past was too big a target to present to defense attorneys -- any testimony he gave would likely be undermined completely during cross-examination.  He had known they weren't going to let him testify, but it still bothered him.  This was his wife’s murderer and he wasn’t even allowed to speak.

"What if he goes free because I didn't testify?"

"Michael, they have a very strong case.  There were more than enough witnesses to Stevie's murder and they found the recording device at the data center.  There was nothing for you to add."

"I know.  I just wanted to be the one to put him away."

"You are the one responsible for putting him away, Michael."

"If he's convicted."

"He will be."

Michael hoped Kitt was right, but there was a terrible knot in his stomach that had been growing over the last few weeks.  What if Durante wasn’t convicted?  What if he went free? It had kept Michael up nights worrying. 

They stayed all afternoon and finally the number of people coming and going increased and became a one-way procession.  Michael watched as two juries were taken away by bus, under guard.  He wondered which group of people was deciding Durante's fate.  The closing arguments had ended three hours ago, and the jury had been deliberating all afternoon.  Why wasn’t there a verdict?

Then a load of prisoners was led out the back way, in chains and under heavy escort.  Michael leaned forward in his seat.  "Kitt?"

"He's the third from the end."

Michael squinted at the group and picked out the man that Kitt had indicated, but they were too far away.  "Give me a visual."

There was a long pause.  "Michael, I'm not sure that would be a good idea."

Neither was Michael, but he was here for something, he still wasn't sure what.  "I want to see him."

"You said yourself that you were afraid that seeing him would just make you angry."

Michael tried to keep the frustration out of his voice.  "Kitt, I know I said that, but I’ve changed my mind.  I need to see him.  I want to know that he's suffering too."

"And what if he isn't.  Then what?"

"I'm not going to kill him if that's what you’re asking!"

"Michael you've never been this close to a case before.  Durante shot you and killed Stevie.  I know you're struggling for answers, but please, I don’t think there's anything to be gained from this."

Michael wanted to argue, but he knew that Kitt was probably right.  He wanted to see Durante looking miserable, but what if he wasn't.  What if he had that same smug arrogance about him, even in a prison uniform?  It was very possible. 

He resigned himself to waiting.  He just wished he knew what for.  "Okay." 

From their distant vantage point, Michael watched the men being led onto the prison bus and then watched it slowly leave.  The parking lot was emptying out and the sun was setting behind the trees in the park.

"Michael, how long are we going to stay?" Kitt finally asked, after office lights started to come on in the upper floors of the building.

"Until there's a verdict."

"There won't be one tonight.  The jury's gone."

"I know."  Michael wasn't sure why he was being so difficult.  Kitt was only being sensible.

"Then we can leave and come back tomorrow?"

"Kitt, I'd prefer to stay here.  I know it doesn't make much sense, but I feel like I should stay."

Kitt paused, and Michael was afraid he was going to argue.

"I don't understand your reasoning, but if you need to stay, I'm happy to stay here with you," Kitt said gently. 

The unconditional support caught Michael off-guard, and he unexpectedly choked up.  Kitt had stood by him through so much in the last year.  "Thank you, buddy," was all he could say.

"If we're going to stay, we at least need to get you something to eat."

"That’s all right.  I'm not hungry."

"Michael, I will stay here with you for as long as you need to be here, but I am not going to let you starve yourself.  We'll go through the drive thru.  Would you prefer greasy burgers or tacos?"

"Kitt you hate the drive thru," Michael protested.

"Yes, but you need to eat.  And you are not going to win this argument, so you might as well pick a place," Kitt said, in his gently scolding voice.

Again, Michael fought the lump in his throat.  "Greasy burgers, if you don't mind."

"Just please do me the favor of not throwing the wrappers on the floor."

Michael wanted to tell him it was a deal, but he couldn’t force the words out.  Instead he nodded and was relieved that Kitt didn't say any more.  Michael tried to get his emotions under control before reaching to start the engine.

"Why don't you let me drive," Kitt said, the engine leaping to life before Michael's finger hit the button. 

"Thank you, buddy."  Michael hoped that Kitt knew just how much he meant it.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The birds above him were screaming.  Michael couldn't hear above the horrible, blood-chilling din.  The sounds swarmed around his head -- almost as tangible as the birds -- confusing and distracting him.

And yet Stevie seemed to be completely unaware of them. 

She was standing calmly, silently in a pool of light in front of him, an oasis in the cacophony surrounding him.  Her feet were bare, her ankles dainty-looking under the hem of a simple white dress.  She had a single large flower in her hands, and she was staring down at it, so engrossed that Michael couldn't get her attention.  She was just too far away. 

He yelled out her name, but he knew she wasn't going to hear him; he could barely hear himself.  For some reason -- maybe it was the birds -- Michael was sure he had to get to her immediately.  Something felt wrong.  But Michael couldn't move, there were vines everywhere.  He was cutting through them with a large knife, but no matter how much he cut, he wasn't getting any closer. 

He was frustrated and distracted.  "Stevie," he yelled, but the sound was snagged by the vines.  Or maybe it was the birds.  Somehow they were snatching the sound of his voice right out of the air. 

Michael began fiercely hacking at the vines again, trying to get to Stevie.  The knife stuck in a thick, ropy branch and was ripped away from him.  The blade came away bloody.  Surprised, Michael looked down to see a long gash in his hand.  The wound was quiet for a minute, the cut a deep, expectant white.  Michael couldn't feel any pain yet.  Then blood filled the gash, bubbling up in the wound like a thick, red-black oil.  Michael stared at it, sickly fascinated.  He still didn't feel any pain.

When he looked up again, the vines around him had disappeared -- there was a clear path between him and Stevie.  Michael rushed forward, but as he got closer, the noise above him abruptly ceased.  Stevie turned and finally saw him, but immediately her eyes went dark, and she crumpled to the ground in front of him.

"No!  Stevie!"  Michael yelled.  This time his words circled above him, echoing over and over again.

Instantly Michael was at her side, crouching next to her.  She was face down in the dirt, her flower crushed under her hand.  Michael reached out and smoothed the hair off her cheek, meaning to turn her over, but the blood from the gash in his hand stained an ugly red path through her hair.

Michael knelt back in horror and confusion.  He suddenly realized that her hair wasn't blonde -- it was brown.

Michael flew awake, gasping.  His whole body was shaking.  He sat up and looked around, reassuring himself of his surroundings.  It was still dark, although morning was on its way.  Michael listened to the birds, who were a lot quieter and less menacing than those in his nightmare.  He shook his head and ran his hand through his hair, trying to reassure himself, but he couldn't quiet the unease that was causing his hands to shake. 

 

Chapter 4



Kitt hacked into one more supposedly secure intranet site and decided he had enough information.  As a background task, he had been looking for anything unusual in the records of the criminals who were still in jail.  In the beginning, it had looked like there wasn’t much to find, but after digging a bit deeper, he had made a disturbing discovery.  He was 92% confident he knew who was in the woods with Michael and it made him extremely uncomfortable.  He was more committed than ever to finding Michael as fast as possible.  This was not an adversary that Michael should be facing alone.

“Bonnie, Shawn, I have something,” Kitt said over Shawn's comlink.  They had gone back to the cabin so the women could take quick showers and get something for lunch.  With the repeaters set, the search pattern Kitt drove wasn’t nearly as important – he could get signals from all but one of the transmitters from the cabin. 

“What is it?” Bonnie asked as both of them quickly joined him outside.

"I've looked into the rental car agreement.  Jason Hawke is a known alias of a man named Jake Mahlstrom.  He spent four years at San Quentin for aggravated assault.  Feely, the man whose body we found in the lake, also spent time at San Quentin for burglary."

"Were they there at the same time?"  Shawn asked.

"Yes."

"Were any of the criminals that you and Michael put away there at the same time?"  Bonnie continued. 

"Yes, there were several, but only three who were in the same cell block.  Charley Winters from the heist against the Foundation’s charity auction, Graham Deauville from the Helios case,” Kitt paused, “and Kurt Rolands."

Bonnie’s eyes went wide. "Kitt, Durante's still in jail.  I checked him three times."

"I don't believe so, Bonnie.  According to his files, he’s being housed at San Quentin, but I have evidence that he's not there.  The last detailed entry about his incarceration occurs in December of last year when he was put in solitary confinement for two days.  After that, the records become very vague and non-specific.  Also at that time, I was able to locate a strange set of transfer orders.  Normally transfers are a matter of public record, but these were sealed.  I managed to, shall we say, peek at them.  According to the orders, Durante was moved to the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth."

Bonnie shook her head.  "That doesn't make sense.  Leavenworth is a military prison.  Why would they . . .” She stopped, tipped her head back, and let out a puff of air.  Kitt watched as her face clouded over.  "He's a murderer.  And a double agent.  Why would they trust him?"
 
"I don't know.  I can gain access to sealed records, but not classified ones.  I can find no record of Durante once he got to Leavenworth.  That would imply that either the transfer orders were wrong, or someone classified his current whereabouts.  Leavenworth is a DOD facility.  I suspect that someone required his 'skills.'"

"Or maybe they needed him for one of his old contacts."  Bonnie sighed and sank down on the hood of the car.

“Who’s Durante?” Shawn asked.

“He killed Michael’s wife,” Bonnie supplied softly.

“Kurt Rolands, who went by the alias ‘Durante,’ was a skilled intelligence operative and explosives expert.  But he became a double agent, and gave the enemy crucial information before anyone suspected him.  He faked his own death and was operating as a high tech thief until Michael and I found him, quite by accident.  He shot Michael and killed Stevie before we apprehended him."

Bonnie ran a hand through her hair.  “They let him out, didn’t they?”

“I can’t confirm that, but I can’t think of any other reason why they’d move him.  I can only assume that if they've classified his records and moved him to a military prison, that an agency like the CIA is involved.”

“Why would they trust him?” Bonnie said, shaking her head.  “He betrayed them once, why would they give him the opportunity to do it again?”

“We probably won't ever know the answer to that.  But it does beg the question, if we catch this guy, what's to say that they won't just turn around and let him out again?" Shawn asked.

"That's a good point."  Kitt was starting to feel even more discouraged about Michael's situation.  What if Durante did become the scourge that never went away?

Shawn tapped on Kitt's hood, "You know, Maddock's sitting in Seattle, letting all his skills in irritation and harassment go to waste.  Maybe we should get him to rattle some cages and try to get some information for us."

"That's a good idea.  If we find out why Durante was let out, maybe there’s something we can do to prevent it in the future."  Kitt knew it wasn’t likely that Maddock would find anything specific, but it was at least worth a try.

"There's still one thing I don't get.  If Michael is out in the woods with this guy, why doesn’t he just lead him back here so that we can apprehend him?  He’s got to know that we’re here by now,” Shawn asked, exasperated.

“I believe that Michael would want to handle Durante himself,” Kitt said.

“Why?”  Shawn asked.  "That doesn't make sense."

Kitt noticed that Bonnie was studying the ground, and chose his words carefully.  “I believe he would do anything to keep Durante from knowing about Bonnie.  He watched Stevie die in his arms, Shawn.  I know he would go to great lengths to prevent anything like that from happening again.”

Shawn slowly nodded.  “I guess I can see that.  The whole ‘burn out’ situation is starting to become a lot clearer.  So how do we help him?"

"We have to find him first.  After that we can determine the best way to help him.  But I think we need to find him fast.  I don't believe it's a good idea to let Michael face Durante alone, even if that is what he thinks he wants."

"Of course. Give us a minute to grab something for lunch and we’ll head out again," Shawn said.  She and Bonnie quickly disappeared into the cabin.  Kitt wished he could impart the urgency he was feeling.  He had never told anyone how close Michael had come to killing Durante.  That had been a secret between them, and he didn't feel right betraying that confidence now.  They needed to find Michael quickly.  Kitt could envision many possible scenarios for what was happening out in the forest, and very few of them had good outcomes.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hunting had never been one of Michael's hobbies.  He had had a friend growing up who would get a permit every year to hunt deer or elk in the mountains.  Michael had gone with him once as a teenager.  The trip had consisted mostly of drinking beer that Zach had stolen from his dad's stash in the cabin.  Michael was turned off to the sport by spending mornings sitting in a deer blind, motionless -- not to be invisible to the deer but so that the throbbing in his head wouldn't get any worse.  That was his impression of hunting -- fighting a hangover and waiting for something to wander by.  This wasn't much different.

Of course, he wasn't hung over.  This time the pain was honest.  Michael had managed to put his shoe on this morning but he couldn't get enough free lace to actually tie it.  It had slipped off every few steps, as he dragged himself back to his booby-trap.  At first he had planned to gather up the pieces of his trap and go somewhere else, but his ankle was already throbbing.  After looking everything over, it didn't appear that anything had been tampered with or touched.  They had gotten him by waiting for him to start leading them, so it was fair to assume that they didn't know the exact location of his trap.  They knew the general area where he had been, which actually worked in his favor.  He was not feeling up to hunting Durante and his men -- at least here there was a chance that they might come back.  However, after waiting for a couple of hours, he hadn't heard anything out of the ordinary.  Michael was half-tempted to go back and interrogate Mahlstrom, the man he had captured, but he didn't feel it was wise to use up his energy hoofing it that far. 

So there he was, sitting in a blind after swearing them off years ago.  Already he was restless.  The nightmare he had had last night was still with him, leaving him uneasy and nervous.  Sitting here in the tree, there was nothing to take his mind off of it, other than the ebb and flow of the throbbing in his ankle.  Michael pulled out his GPS and checked the time again.  It was shortly before 10:30 on Sunday morning.

If only he had kept his cell phone on the charger, or made it a habit to wear his comlink, he would be in a much better position.  If he hadn’t been stupid enough to think that he was the only one who could set a booby-trap, he wouldn’t have the sprained ankle to deal with.  Michael forced himself to stop and tried to banish all negative thoughts from his mind.  It wasn’t easy. 

A spot of flickering red caught Michael's eye and he turned to watch a woodpecker bobbing up and down on a neighboring tree.  It flitted around the boughs for a while, until it found an appropriate place and started pecking.  It was a melodic, soothing sound that would have been torture if Michael had been hung over.  But the rhythmic pounding was mildly entertaining, in a monotonous way.  He turned in his perch to watch the bird for a while.  It hopped from branch to branch on the nearby trees, spotting something of interest, and then digging out its treasure. 

Michael had a fleeting thought about beating his head into a tree too.  He decided the bird must have a very thick skull to avoid getting a headache from all that pecking.  A long buried thought about birds traipsed through his mind, but he quickly dismissed it.  He wasn't going to go down that path right now.

Instead he was drawn into wondering about Durante.  What did he look like after all these years?  Michael hadn't gotten a good look at his face in the cabin, and despite all the run-ins he'd had with them, he hadn't actually gotten a glimpse of Durante himself.  He hoped that prison had been cruel.  He expected it had been.  Surely Durante, who had had mansions, women, and cars, would have had a hard time adjusting to life with nothing.  That gave him some amount of bitter pleasure.  But what if Michael couldn't get the upper hand back, and Durante managed to stay out of jail.  The possibility made it all seem so futile. 

Michael tried to clear his head, but his mind just wasn't going to cooperate.  He was feeling that same weariness he had felt during his last year with the Foundation -- that same sense that nothing he did had any real, lasting effect. 

The woodpecker hopped to another tree near Michael.  He could see its bright red head through the boughs of a fir that separated them.  It only took a few minutes before the bird resumed the duty it was born to.  Michael briefly entertained ideas of throwing something at it.  The rhythmic pecking was starting to sound less like soothing natural music and more like something being drilled into his head.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

"Michael, the bailiff just came back.  The jury must have a verdict," Kitt said, pulling Michael out of his stupor.  He had been gazing at a child who was running up the steps of a slide and then gliding down it again in an endless loop.  He must have been at it for over an hour.  Each time, he giggled the whole way down, enjoying the game despite its monotony.

Michael sat up and glanced at the courthouse, a dread filling him. He didn't think he could take it if the verdict was not guilty. But it couldn't be.  The jury had only deliberated for a little over seven hours.  How could they come back with a not guilty verdict on this case in that amount of time?  There were witnesses and evidence.  They had the gun he'd used to kill Stevie.  The ballistics matched and people had seen him pull the trigger.

But if there was so much evidence, why had it taken so long?  Michael sighed in frustration.  He was twisting himself in knots, and he just couldn’t stop it.

"So what do you think?" he asked, needing to talk.

"I don't know how they could find him not guilty, Michael."

Yes, how could they find him not guilty?  They couldn't.  He hoped.  Michael wanted a toothpick or a cigarette or some other useful nervous habit.  He had felt the first pangs of anxiety a few weeks ago, but now it was overwhelming.  It was a nasty parasite gnawing away at his insides.  The fear left him alone when he had other things on his mind, but the minute he had a moment's peace, it was back to torment him. 

"You'll tell me when they read the verdict?"  Michael asked through gritted teeth.

"Of course.  Right now they're rounding up the lawyers."

Michael rolled down the window for some air.  What was taking them so long?  He rolled the window back up again, not liking the portal it created to the outside world – it let in too many sounds.  He wanted the illusion of being completely alone, except for Kitt.  He moved on to drumming his hands on the steering column.

"The court is assembled, Michael," Kitt said.  Then more gently, "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," Michael said, wrestling with himself.  "Can I see them read the verdict?"

"They’ve activated the closed circuit camera system.  I can patch in, but are you sure you want me to, Michael?"

Was he sure?  Michael didn't know.  Maybe.  "Yeah," he said distractedly.

The video monitor popped to life, showing images from a camera along the side of the courtroom, giving a full view of the jury.  Durante was not in the field of view.  Michael assumed that Kitt was deliberately picking the footage from that vantage point, but right now he didn't care.  There was a man standing at the front of the jury box, holding a card.  He was wearing jeans and a denim shirt.  He looked so nonchalant -- as casual as his clothing.  Did he understand how important this was, Michael wondered?  Suddenly he was worried again.

Off camera, the judge asked, "Has the jury reached a verdict?

Michael's heart was doing flips as the foreman said, "Yes, your Honor."

The judge read each charge in the fairly long list.  For each of them, the foreman answered, ‘guilty.’  With each pronouncement, Michael’s heart skipped a beat.  Then they finally got to the charge that meant the most to him.

“On the count of murder in the first degree, how do you find?” the judge asked.

The time it took the foreman to answer seemed to drag on indefinitely for Michael.  It all seemed too surreal.  They had found him guilty on everything else so far, they had to find him guilty of murder.  Didn’t they?

“We find the defendant . . . guilty as charged.”

"All right!" Michael blurted out immediately, and slapped Kitt's dash impulsively.  His anxiety was replaced by a sudden rush of relief.  "We got him, buddy!  We really got him!" 

"Yes, we did."

Michael flopped back into his seat, not having realized how stiffly he had been sitting before.  The last of the charges was read and Durante was found guilty on all counts.  The judge said a few words to the jury and then dismissed them as Kitt ended the video feed.  Michael couldn't help wondering what Durante’s reaction had been.  Had he made a scene, or sat stoically?  Had part of him died at that moment?  All questions Michael had no answers to. 

But he was guilty.  He was going to jail.  Michael wanted to hold onto the feeling of victory that the verdict had brought him, but already he could feel it draining away.  All too quickly he was feeling hollow again.  He didn't know what he had expected.  He had come for closure and he'd gotten it, but it closed the door on what exactly?  Durante had been found guilty and he would go to jail.  He would suffer -- but not as much as Michael had.  Stevie wasn't coming back.  Whether Durante was in prison or not didn't really affect Michael's day-to-day life.  Losing Stevie had.  Michael found that he had been holding his breath for this trial, but now that it was over and he had started breathing again, his lungs still felt empty.  He had lost so much, and what he had gotten back was simply justice.  Somehow it wasn't as fulfilling as he had hoped it would be.

Michael suddenly found himself fighting tears.  It wasn't like he'd ever expected that getting justice would somehow bring Stevie back, but he didn't want this bitter loneliness that was left in her place.  He had hoped that somehow knowing Durante was suffering too would ease his own suffering.  Of course it didn’t.

"Michael, are you okay?" Kitt asked, obviously sensing the change in his mood.

"I'm fine, just tired I guess," Michael said quietly, because he didn't know how to explain.  Would Kitt even understand?

"Do you want to go home?"

"No."  He didn't know what he wanted to do, but going back to his lonely suite at the Foundation was the last thing he felt like doing right now.

"Michael, are you sure you're okay?" 

Michael tried to shrug off whatever it was he was feeling.  "I just thought it would make things easier."

"And it doesn't?" 

"I would have been so angry, furious, if he had gotten off.  I think I'd be tearing something apart right now if he were found not guilty.  I'm glad he's going to jail.  I just . . . it’s not all that satisfying."

"It doesn't change what happened."

"No.  It's hard to explain, but a not-guilty verdict would have made things worse, but a guilty one doesn’t make them any better."

"Stevie's still gone," Kitt said quietly.

"Yeah." 

"I'm sorry.  I wish I could help."

Michael gave a half laugh and shook his head.  "Kitt, you have helped."

"But I can't do anything to bring her back either."

"No.  But you're here."  It really did mean a lot to him.  Kitt might not know it, but he had been keeping Michael grounded.  He had clung to Kitt’s voice in the warehouse to bring him back to his senses, and despite his brusque attitude and outward distance, he had never really stopped clinging to him. 

"I'll always be here, Michael.  As long as you want me to be."

Michael watched the last bar on the voice modulator fade away.  "Thank you, buddy."


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

While Bonnie and Shawn were getting ready to go, Kitt was doing his normal scans without much enthusiasm.  He was a bit discouraged that they hadn’t found anything useful yet.  Part of him had hoped that as soon as the repeaters were active, they would find Michael.  But of course they hadn’t. 

Kitt was tempted to turn off his scanners and give himself a moment of peace when everything turned upside down again.  Something big was on the edge of his extended range.  He honed in on it, trying to get a better read, but it wasn’t coming in clearly.  It was slipping back and forth between being just out of range, and being readable.

Mindful of the last time he had detected something, Kitt waited, but waiting itself was raising his anxiety level.  They had had so many leads turn to dead ends, so many promising theories turn out to be false.  But here he was again, watching the tiny spec on his sensors with a growing anticipation. 

The blip disappeared and Kitt felt he was getting close to his own breaking point.  He was so tired of spinning his wheels and always coming up empty.  He wanted Michael back so badly it was palpable.  He regretted all the time he had spent being angry with Michael over what he had felt was abandonment.  It had seemed appropriate at the time, but now it just seemed pointless -- so much wasted time.  If this was another deer, he was tempted to just turn off his scanners and suggest some new course of action.  He couldn’t take any more disappointment.

The target appeared again, tantalizing in its low signal strength.  It was large and warm – a good sign that it could be a human being.  Or a bear.  Or a deer.  Or an elk.  Kitt stopped.  There was no point in going through all the possibilities.  He wished he had some way of getting closer, but the only way to do that was to have Shawn or Bonnie hike out to the repeater and move it closer to the signal.  It was not something he wanted to ask of them unless he was fairly certain this was real. 

Again the signal flickered and then it vanished.  Kitt waited and waited.  It must be another animal, he thought hitting the depths of another wave of despair.  It was near the same repeater that he had detected a signal from last time.  Maybe they had put the repeater on a deer path. 

Then the signal came back. 

Kitt wanted to yell at it to make up its mind.  He watched as the little blip of energy started to move closer to the repeater.  Kitt willed the signal to keep coming.  He analyzed ever bit of information as soon as he could collect it.

Finally Kitt activated Shawn's comlink, excitement radiating through his voice.  "Shawn, Bonnie, I've picked up a human signature in the forest."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was after Michael had plunged his foot into ice cold water that the damn woodpecker had finally gotten to him.  Michael was at least two hundred feet from the tree, but that hollow drumming carried extremely well.  He had woken up to the sound of it that morning, and other than the occasional brief pause, it hadn't stopped since.  It was nothing if not insistent.  And after a while, he couldn't keep his thoughts at bay.

“I read about a bird once, a long time ago.  A white bird.  It eats, sleeps, spends its entire life in flight.  It never lands.  That’s its purpose.  It’s destiny.”

Stevie was so good at haunting him.  She had put little quips in his mind that even fifteen years later, wouldn’t leave.  Some of things she had said were now so much a part of him that as much as he might like to dismiss them as romantic, poetic platitudes, he couldn’t.  And it was time he started paying attention.

He had allowed Durante, or at least the circumstances that Durante had put him in, to get the best of him.  He had taken one day of self-pity, of sitting in a tree, but the pain in his ankle was lessening, and he decided it was time to get himself back in order.  Michael filled his canteen with water that was so cold it was numbing his toes.  He was not so bad off, and he certainly was not going to let Durante win because of a sprained ankle and a wounded spirit.   He had people who loved him; they were probably looking for him right now.  If he sat around waiting for Durante to kill him, he was letting them down.  Bonnie and Kitt deserved the best from him, and he could do better than sit in a tree feeling sorry for himself.

Michael inspected his ankle before wrapping it again.   The bruise was starting to take shape nicely, but the ankle itself was a little smaller and he was able to wrap the bandage just a little tighter this time.  When he pulled on his shoe and managed to get it tied, he felt some of his old optimism returning.  He had been out in the woods for -- he had to think a minute -- over five days.  He had managed to get the tools he needed to survive.  He had eluded five men with guns and managed to take two of them out of the picture.  It was time to finish this.  Besides, Durante belonged in prison, and Michael was the only one who could see to it that that happened. 

Michael packed the canteen, and spent a minute hunting around him.  Finding a perfect walking stick to lean on, he decided he needed to find out what Durante had been up to all of yesterday.

On his way back to the trail, he noticed that the woodpecker had paused again.  Of course it started up a minute later -- it was still relentlessly searching for the delicacies that lay hidden under the bark. 

"Thanks for the reminder," Michael whispered.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Is it him?"  Bonnie asked, rushing out to join Kitt again.

"I can't tell.  The person isn't close enough to get any information about physical traits, but I am sure it’s a human being."

"Where?" Shawn asked, pulling open Kitt's door and peering at the display inside.

"At about the same point where we got a reading yesterday.  It's a good hike from the road, and I'm concerned about it getting dark."  It was already mid afternoon.

"We'll take gear with us.  If we wait until morning it could be too late," Shawn said.

Kitt was glad she was taking that position.  He didn't want to wait either. 

"There are lanterns in the garage," Bonnie said, hurrying to grab them.

"Shawn, I think we have most of what we'll need in the trunk, but you and Bonnie should bring along some warm clothes in case we're out after dark."

“Good idea.”  Shawn ducked inside to gather up a few things for both of them.  When she got back, Kitt was waiting with his engine running.  He couldn't help his impatience.

* * *
 
Kitt spotted an opening on the road at just the right place and quickly swung the car toward it.  He sent up a spray of gravel as he put the car into a controlled slide and ended up nicely parked, parallel to the road.  Bonnie was out as soon as the car stopped moving.  Kitt popped the trunk and she had the emergency bag out before Shawn could join her. 

"Bonnie, are you sure you want to do this?" Kitt asked tentatively.

She glanced at Shawn, then back at Kitt.  Her expression led Kitt to believe that she wasn't entirely sure, but she answered confidently.  "I want to help."

"Okay, but please be careful."

"I will," she promised.

Kitt was glad she was insistent.  He was concerned about her, but he was also very worried about Michael.  He wanted to get to him as quickly as possible, and he was unable to do it by himself. 

"Do you know how to fire an ultrasound?" Shawn asked.

"Not specifically an ultrasound, no."

"You know how to shoot a gun?" 

Bonnie nodded. 

"Same principle, only these are pretty much point and shoot.  It has a wide beam, so you don't have to worry about aiming too accurately, and there's not much in the way of recoil.  Just don't hesitate.  These things don't do any permanent damage, so even if you end up buzzing Michael, it's better than giving them a chance to get a real gun on you.  There's no penalty for shooting first and asking questions later," Shawn explained.  She handed Bonnie an ultrasonic pistol from the bag.

"Got it."

"The rifle can be a bit more tricky, so I'll keep it," Shawn said, slinging the gun over her shoulder.  She pulled one last pistol from the trunk and clipping it to her belt.

"Keep in touch with your comlinks.  I'll lead you to him," Kitt said.

Bonnie stuffed the ultrasound in her jacket pocket as Shawn stepped off the road, onto the gravel shoulder.

"Be careful," Kitt said as they set out into the forest.

* * *

Shawn's comlink beeped, startling both her and Bonnie.  "What is it, Kitt?" she asked, after pausing a second to catch her breath.  They were moving at a good clip and had been for a while. 

"Maddock called," he said, sounding mildly irritated.

"And?"

"He spoke to several people about Durante, and after being passed off and stalled, he finally got someone to admit, off the record, that Durante was needed for a covert operation.  His source wouldn't say who was responsible, other than to suggest it was a three letter agency."

"Three letter agency?" Shawn asked.

"FBI, CIA, DOD, NSA, or the like," Bonnie said.

"Durante did apparently give them the slip.  The source said that they weren't even looking in the right country."

Shawn shook her head.  "It really makes you wonder sometimes, you know?"

"So where does that leave us?" Bonnie asked.

"Maddock said the source was going to get word back to the people involved and they would be out here shortly to collect him."

"Nice of them to take to the time," Bonnie said sarcastically.  "Did the source happen to mention whether or not they were actually going to take him back to prison?"

"Maddock thinks they're pretty embarrassed about the whole situation.  He thinks that if the Foundation implies we're going to keep an eye on him, they'll consider it too great a risk to use him again. And there’s always the threat of publicity.  Maddock said they were pretty anxious to keep it quiet."

"You'd think they'd have some agents they could use who aren't criminals."

"Without knowing the nature of the operation, it's hard to speculate, Bonnie," Kitt said.  "But I have to agree."

Shawn pushed off from the tree she had taken to leaning against.  "And that leaves us to do the dirty work of actually getting the guy."

"I have further information on that front as well."

"What is it?"

"I've picked up a second person in your vicinity.  He's closing on the first man's position."

Shawn glanced in the direction they were heading.  "Any idea who's friendly and who's foe?" she asked.

"I have no way of determining that.  They could both be foes.  But I can tell you that they're both armed."

Great, Shawn thought.  "You can tell they're armed but not whether or not one of them is Michael?"

"He needs to be a lot closer to detect biometrics.  Large chunks of metal are easier," Bonnie supplied, her tone a bit defensive.

"Where are they?" Shawn asked.

"They're moving perpendicular to your heading, a mile from your current position.  They’re approximately half a mile from each other."

This was a crapshoot as far as Shawn was concerned.  They didn’t have enough information to make a good decision.  "Who do we go after?"

There was a long pause.  "I suggest you split up and go after them both.  Either one could be Michael."

Shan raised her eyebrows in Bonnie's direction.  She just shrugged.  Shawn suspected that Kitt had had to think about that plan for a while.  She didn't think he would want Bonnie out here by herself.  He must really be worried about Michael.

“I'll take the guy following," Shawn suggested, assuming a pursuer would be the more likely foe.

"Okay," Bonnie said, looking a little uncertain. 

"I'm setting both of your comlinks for hot mic, and I'll relay any important information between you."

"If you need anything, just yell," Shawn told Bonnie and then followed a new path into the woods.

* * *

Bonnie set her bag down and leaned with her back against a tall pine.  It was rough and gnarled, and Bonnie thought it smelled vaguely of vanilla.  She pulled a bottle of water out of her bag and drank quickly.  She didn't want to linger too long.  Michael had been in the forest for over five days; she wanted to get to him as soon as possible.  He would probably not be in a very good state right now, knowing that Durante was out of jail.

Bonnie wondered what was going through his mind.  She knew that the incident with Garthe and her decision to leave had been only part of the reason Michael had left the Foundation.  He had changed after Stevie died.  His interest and enthusiasm for the job had started to wane shortly after her death.  It was obvious to all of them that he had started to think of it as more of a job than a life's work.  She had thought it was just grief at the time, but obviously it wasn't that alone.  He had paid dearly for his time with the Foundation, and it wasn't even a life that he had freely chosen.  He had wanted to leave back then, and then Durante had come along and stolen his reason to get out, his chance at a normal life.  Bonnie wouldn't be surprised if Michael wasn't taking his escape well at all. 

She pushed away from the tree and quickened her pace.

Michael never talked about Stevie.  It kind of surprised her really, but then he probably assumed that she wouldn't want to hear about the love of his life.  Bonnie didn't have any illusions about that, but there was no point in dwelling on it either.  If she were alive today, Michael would be with Stevie.  But Bonnie knew he loved her too. 

She was startled out of her thoughts when the comlink beeped. 

“Go ahead, Kitt.”

"The man you're approaching is approximately 500 meters in front of you.  It's not Michael."

Bonnie was immediately disappointed.  She knew that as she got closer to their quarry, Kitt would be able to use her comlink as an additional repeater to gather more information.  She had been hoping, of course, that the man she was following was Michael.  Their reunion was apparently going to have to wait.  It was hard, but Bonnie pushed the thought of him out of her mind. 

She looked down at the ultrasound she was carrying and flipped off the safety.  She was starting to have second thoughts about all of this.  She was a scientist, not a field operative.  She had very little idea what she was doing.  But Michael needed her help and she had gone out on assignments before.  She did her best to gather her courage.

“Okay.”

“I suggest you take a parallel path behind him and see if you can get a clear shot.”

It could have been her state of mind, but Bonnie thought she could hear a little uncertainty in Kitt’s voice, too.  “Can you lead me to him?”

“Go about a hundred meters to the northwest and you’ll find a small creek.  The man in front of you is following that creek.”

Bonnie nodded before realizing that Kitt had no way to see her.  “Okay.”

“Bonnie, please be careful.”

“I will.”

She felt ridiculous, slinking through the forest, like she had any clue about what she was doing.  She had been given the opportunity to take some basic shooting and defense classes at the Foundation.  She’d also learned a few things by watching Michael, but she wasn’t prepared for something like this.

Her heart was pounding by the time she came to the creek.  Bonnie had never realized just how stressful it was to stalk someone.  She decided not to get too close to the water, the trees thinned out and she was afraid the man would spot her.  Instead she hung back in the forest.  She almost yelped when the comlink gave a little jerk on her wrist.  She glanced down at it in time to see text scroll along its face.  She had forgotten that they had added that little feature long ago, just for this sort of situation.  It gave Kitt the option to contact Michael silently.

“He’s stopped, sitting on the bank of the creek, 200 meters directly ahead,” the message said.  Bonnie wished he could just talk to her.  It had always been reassuring to hear Kitt’s voice.

If the man was stopped, this might be a good chance to catch up to him.  She moved as quickly as she dared, without making a lot of noise.  Her heart was racing.  What was she doing out here?

The comlink rattled again.  “Set your ultrasound to level 5, it will keep him unconscious longer.”

Bonnie made the adjustment and kept moving forward, afraid that if she stopped, she’d lose her nerve.  It seemed like a very long time before Kitt sent another message.  “Slow down.  He’s just ahead.  Approach quietly.”

Bonnie immediately stopped.  The tangled path in front of her didn’t leave many options for stealth, and she wanted to stay low, which wasn’t going to be easy.  Carefully she inched passed the trees, avoiding the brush that could snap and give her away.  Finally, she spotted something dark, crouched by the stream.  Slowly she approached, keeping her eyes trained on the figure, waiting for the faintest sign that he’d heard her.  She knew she needed to get a little closer for the ultrasound to be effective.  His back was to her, so she ventured a few feet closer.  Her whole body was a numbing mixture of fear and anticipation, focused but jumpy at the same time. 

Bringing the ultrasound up and aiming, Bonnie’s finger started to squeeze the trigger.  The man in front of her suddenly turned around.  She saw him see her in the brief fraction of a second before she finished the act of pulling the trigger.  Before he could do anything of consequence, he rolled forward to the ground, unconscious.  Bonnie let out a tightly held breath. 

“I’m clear, right?” she breathed into the comlink.

“Yes, Bonnie.  There’s no one else around, and he should be out for several hours. Good work.” 

“Thank you.”  Bonnie lowered the ultrasound and approached the man on the ground.  Cuffing him with the little plastic ties Shawn had given her, she removed his radio, gun, and ammunition.  Michael would have one less thug to deal with, she thought, elated that she had finally done something helpful.

* * *

Now that Bonnie was safe, Kitt turned his attention back to the man Shawn was pursuing.  She was closer to him now, allowing Kitt to pick out additional features.  He watched carefully, with building anticipation as each feature made itself know.  And each of those features was consistent with Michael's traits.  He wouldn't be able to see the person's surface features, like hair or skin color until after Shawn did, but the basics of the body's shape and mobility, were evident.  With the exception of an odd gait, the man in the woods matched Michael exactly.  But still, Kitt wanted to be sure.  There was one trait of Michael's that he was looking for, now that Shawn was close enough, and he knew that as soon as he got just the right angle, he'd have it. 

Kitt switched frequencies and adjusted the power going out of his different transmitters.  He cursed Maddock for using less than state-of-the-art technology in some of this vehicle's systems -- presumably to save money.  If he had just a little bit more power . . . 

And then the figure turned and Kitt caught a flash in the vicinity of the man's forehead.  A small, thin piece of metal was hard to see from most angles, but when it was turned dead on, it was like a beacon.  The man in the forest was Michael -- the plate in his head proved it.

Kitt felt like turbo boosting, or going into ski mode or somehow doing them both at once.  He felt a need to launch himself into the air, maybe to try to catch his soaring emotions.  Michael was alive!  They had finally found him! All his scanning had finally paid off.  Kitt felt a strange sense of elation that was partly a release from tension and partly pure effervescent joy.  Michael was alive!

Now they just had to bring him home safely.

When he had calmed down enough to speak, Kitt activated Shawn and Bonnie's comlinks.  "I've found him.  Michael is alive."

"Are you sure?" Bonnie asked, the excitement clear in her voice as well.

"Yes, the man that Shawn is following is definitely Michael."

"Is he okay?" she asked.

"His gait is off, like he has a minor injury, but other than that, he seems to be fine.  I'll know more as you get closer."

"Thank God," Bonnie said.

"Do you have any way of contacting him?" Shawn asked.

"I'm afraid not.  He does have a radio, but I can't be sure whether or not Durante and his men are listening.  For now I think it's best if we keep the element of surprise."

"Okay, but he's armed and expecting Durante," Shawn said.  "How do I approach him without getting shot?"

"Obviously we'll have to be careful.  I'll work on that," Kitt said. 

* * *

Someone was following him.  He was pretty sure that one of Durante's men was in front of him, but now he was hearing noises behind him too.  Perhaps they had split up again.  He wanted to keep tracking the lead guy, but the guy behind was too close to be ignored.

Michael spotted a downed tree and lay behind it, as flat as possible against the ground, the barrel of his gun just peaking over the arc of the tree.  There was definitely someone approaching.  The impulsive, rhythmic nature of the noise could only be footsteps.  Michael squinted in the direction of the noise, waiting for someone to appear.

"Michael?"

The voice didn't come from the same direction as the footsteps.  He whirled hard to the right, completely startled.  His finger was already starting to pull the trigger before it hit him that the voice was familiar. 

"Michael, can you hear me?  It's Kitt."

Michael fought against the immediate relief that flooded him.  This could still be a trap.  He waited, listening as the slow approach of footsteps resumed.

"Shawn is coming toward you.  She'll be visible in a minute," Kitt's voice said.  This time it was from the same direction as the footsteps. Kitt must have thrown his voice away from the comlink and Shawn, assuming it was really them.  Not a bad idea, given his current state of mind. 

Michael didn't have to wait long before Shawn slowly emerged from the cover of the trees. 

Every muscle in Michael's body relaxed and he gave himself up to the support of the ground.  A grin slowly spreading across his face before it infused his entire body.  In one instant, he was no longer alone, the weight of the world was shared, and for the first time in days he felt relieved.  He savored the feeling for a moment, breathing in the smell of the forest floor, before heaving himself up.

"Hi, Shawn," Michael said, his voice catching from lack of use. 

"Good to see you’re still with us," she said, shaking Michael’s outstretched hand. 

"Thanks for coming," he said.

She smiled.  "You were there to help me when I needed it.  Just returning the favor."

He nodded in understanding.

"Michael, it's so good to hear your voice again," Kitt said over the comlink.

"It's good to hear your voice too, pal." 

"We were so worried about you," he continued.

"Is everyone okay?  There weren't any nasty surprises at the cabin were there?" Michael asked.

"We're fine, Michael.  Are you okay?  It looks like you're limping."

"I'm exhausted, buddy, and I've got some minor injuries,” Michael paused for a second, remembering that nice as it was to have Kitt and Shawn with him, they weren’t out of the woods yet -- literally or figuratively.  “Durante is out here.  Somehow, some way he got out of jail and he's after me."

"We know.  It took us a while, but we finally pieced it all together.  If you're able to hike back to the road, we'll apprehend Durante, and alert the authorities."

"I can't do that, buddy.  He says he's got an ultrasound modified to work against you.  I don't want to take the chance that he's not bluffing."

"But if you're injured . . ."

"I can still take him out," Michael said, his voice steelier than he meant it to be.

"Michael, I don't think it's such a good idea for you to go after him.  Maybe it would be best if Shawn and I handle it."  Kitt's voice lingered off and Michael heard the unspoken question.  He wondered how much Shawn knew.

"I'm okay, Kitt.  We need to finish this here and now."

There was a long pause when Kitt didn’t respond.  Michael knew Kitt had reason to worry, but he wanted to bring this whole episode to a close and he wasn’t going to put Kitt at risk or wait for the authorities.

"So what can you tell me about Durante?" Shawn asked, breaking the silence.

Down to business, Michael thought.  She hadn't changed any.  "He's a former intelligence agent.  He's got lots of training.  He's good with high tech equipment and explosives, but to tell you the truth, I think the fact that this is personal is making him trip up.  He could have just blown up the cabin."

"He wanted to kill you up close and personal."

Michael sunk to the fallen log, and gestured for Shawn to join him.  "Yes and no.  His guys have taken shots at me."

"They left a lot of spent ammunition around the cabin."

"Right.  But they also set a trap for me, presumably to take me alive so that Durante could finish me off himself."

"He's willing to let one of them get you if it gets the job done, but he'd prefer to do it himself if possible,” she surmised.

"I think so."  Michael was finding it was nice to be able to bounce his theories off of someone else.  He didn’t realize how many conversations he’d had in his head.  It made it a little more clinical and less personal to dissect Durante out loud.

"Kitt, do you know where he is?"  Michael asked.

"No.  There is no one else in my range."

"How desperate do you think he'd get?" Shawn asked.

"I put him in prison.  He tried to kill me several times before we captured him because he thought I'd seen his face.  I'm assuming he's not going to give up."

"Which means he's going to get more dangerous if he thinks he's close to losing."

Michael thought about how he had gone from carefully guarding his face at a secluded government data center to showing up at a crowded wedding and killing a woman in plain sight.  He got more reckless when he felt cornered, that was true.  And they’d stripped him of all his advantages.  He was likely to be very dangerous.

"Any ideas, buddy? " Michael asked, knowing Shaw's comlink would pick it up.

"I think you should be careful first of all.  But I think you both now have the advantage.  When he's in range, I'll be able to tell you exactly where he is."

“It’s great to have my favorite secret weapon back, buddy,” Michael said, genuinely appreciative despite his flippant comment.

"We do have some other advantages as well.  Once he's in range, I should be able to determine what radio channel they're on and listen in."

Michael was relishing the flip of power.  They were the ones calling the shots now and Durante didn't even know it yet. 

"So how do we take him out?" Shawn asked.

"I think the best way to find him is to continue moving so that I can extend my range using your comlink," Kitt said.

"Once we find him, we can figure out what the next step will be," Michael suggested.  He knew exactly how he wanted to handle the situation, but he didn’t think his companions were going to agree.

"As soon as Bonnie catches up with us, maybe we can fan out and cover more ground.

Michael started.  "Bonnie's out here?"

"Yes.  She just stunned one of Durante's men with an ultrasound," Kitt said.

"Kitt, I don't want her out here.  It's too dangerous."

"Michael, she's fine," Shawn said.  "She's actually better at this than I would have guessed.

Michael was horrified.  He didn’t care if she’d taken out ten of Durante’s men.  If she was out here, Durante could hurt her.  "Kitt, tell her to go back and wait with you.  I don't want her out here.  I don't want her anywhere near Durante."  He knew his voice was rising and he didn’t mean to be yelling at Kitt, but he was not going to compromise on this.

"You know she won't like that," Kitt said softly.

"I don't care.  I'll deal with that later.  I just can't deal with her out here now."  Michael tried to soften his tone – he knew he was reacting strongly, but he couldn’t help it.  "Please, Kitt, convince her to go back.  I need to know that she's safe."

"She’s not going to turn around without a fight, but I’ll do my best."

"Thank you, pal."

Shawn waited a beat, and then said, "We should probably get moving.”

Michael would feel better if he knew that Bonnie was on her way back to the road, but he was going to have to leave that to Kitt.  Reluctantly, he forced his thoughts away from her and back to getting Durante.

* * *

“Bonnie,” Kitt said over the comlink.  “Shawn has reached Michael's position.  He's exhausted, as you would expect, and has some minor injuries, but for the most part, he's fine." 

Thank God, Bonnie thought, bending forward slightly, letting the fear drain away.  "Where are they?"

"About half a mile from your position."

Bonnie breathed another sigh of relief.  "Which way do I go?"

There was a drawn out pause, and then Kitt said slowly, "Bonnie, I think it would be best if you came back to the road."

"Why?" she asked, completely surprised.

"We’ve found Michael.  He and Shawn can take care of Durante.  I don’t think you should be out here with someone so dangerous. 

"Kitt, I know he’s dangerous -- I’ll be fine.  I’ll be very careful."  Bonnie wasn’t sure why he was suddenly deciding this, after she had stunned one of the bad guys.  She pulled her hair back and held it behind her head in one hand, trying to rein in her frustration.

Kitt was obviously hesitant; there were long pauses between his responses.  "I don't you think you should be out there.  Durante could use you against Michael."

"I can take care of myself.  And you’ll know exactly where he is.  I want to stay out here to help." 

"You have helped. You stopped one of his men.  But I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to stay out there."

"Kitt, I'm not coming back," she said angrily.

"Bonnie, Durante killed Stevie.  Michael doesn't want you to get hurt.  He doesn’t want to give Durante any opportunity."

"I have an ultrasound, it'll be fine."

"You're probably right, but I think it would be best to leave this to Michael and Shawn.  They've been trained for this sort of situation."

"Kitt, I can't just sit around and wait for them.  I've been waiting for three and a half days!"

"How many times did you wait for us in the old days?"

That made her pause a minute.  How many hours had she tried to keep busy in the semi, wondering if this was the time they weren’t coming home?  Sometimes it had been excruciating.  There were plenty of nights when she didn’t sleep, waiting up with a sour pit in her stomach.  "Kitt that was different."

"Why?"

Bonnie let her hair fall back around her neck and almost whispered into the comlink, "Because I love him."

"Then come back to the road.  He needs to know you're safe.  If you love him, you'll give him that."

It was the last thing she wanted to do.  Michael was so close and Kitt wanted her to turn away from him.  She wanted nothing more than to see his face and touch him.  The thought of turning and walking away made her ill. 

But if that was what Michael need her to do so that he would be safe . . .

Bonnie swallowed all her instincts and desires.  She tried to crush down all the emotions that were telling her fight them on this.  "Okay," she said, quietly.  “I’m coming back.”

"Thank you."  Kitt sounded very relieved.

Bonnie glanced longingly at the path in front of her and then turned her back to walk slowly towards the road. 

* * *

"I'm picking up radio traffic to the east.”  Kitt said over Shawn’s comlink.  “They seem to be trying to reach someone.  I would assume it's the man that Bonnie stunned."

"What channel?" Michael asked, swinging his bag off his back. 

"You have the right channel, but he's using a coding scheme to subdivide the channels.  If you press the button marked PL and set your radio to code 18, you’ll be able to hear him."

Michael switched the setting on his radio and waited.  A voice broke through the static, calling for someone named Kean.

"Good work, Kitt," Shawn said.

"If they follow the pattern, they'll switch again when they realize he's missing," Michael explained.

"I'll let you know what channel they go to if he does," Kitt said.

Michael clipped the radio to his belt, and was about to veer off to the east.

"I have a second signal," Kitt said suddenly. "It's about one hundred meters northeast of the first."

"Any way to tell which one is Durante?"  Michael asked.

"Yes.  Based on the radio traffic, the person further from you is Durante."

"So how do you want to take them out?" Shawn asked.

Michael had a few ideas.  There was no reason that Durante shouldn’t have to suffer at least a little bit.  "Let's get his last lackey first.  I want him to know what it's like to be out here alone."

Shawn gave him a look, but let it drop. 

"You'll want to change your heading to bear a little more east," Kitt said. 

Michael glanced in the direction Kitt was indicating and then motioned for Shawn to go ahead.  He stayed to her left and a little behind her as they resumed their hunt.

* * *
 

Michael looked through the bushes to his right, caught Shawn's eye and waved her forward.  He had to admit that she was pretty good at moving quietly through the forest.  She wasn't completely silent, but not bad.  He didn't know why he always found himself sizing her up every time he worked with her.  Well, it was probably no more mysterious than simple jealousy.  He found himself questioning whether she was worthy of being Kitt’s partner.  By all accounts, probably not, but she was the one, and he was going to have to live with that.  At the moment he really had no right to be picky, because here she was, helping him out of a jam. 

The guy they were following was moving quietly just in front of them.  Michael pulled his ultrasound, but he knew that since Shawn had the longer-range rifle, he was just there in case the guy somehow got away from her. 

Keeping one eye on Shawn's dark green jacket, Michael crept forward, at an angle to her.  They couldn't see the man yet but they were within earshot, so he knew that Kitt was guiding Shawn in with the text feature of her comlink.  It was a wonderful advantage to have Kitt lead him right to Durante's man.  It saved a lot of time floundering around. 

Michael concentrated on keeping everything silent.  If they came up on the guy without his knowledge, there would be nothing to this.  A quick buzz from the rifle, and he'd go down without ever knowing they were there.

Every so often Michael spotted Shawn's blonde hair moving through the trees.  He froze when he realized that she had stopped.  Michael carefully crouched down and squinted through the trees, waiting.  Finally he had a glimpse of the guy.  He was dressed in black, with a pack slung over his shoulder.  Michael glanced at Shawn in time to see her raise up the rifle.  In a few seconds he heard the distinctive popping sound that occurred on the backside of an ultrasound blast.  The man ahead of them dropped to the ground.

"It was a clean shot.  He's unconscious," Kitt said out loud.  Michael glanced down at his pistol and dialed its intensity back to the lowest setting.  Then he followed Shawn into the clearing.

She knelt and turned the mercenary over, securing his wrists with plastic cuffs.  "Looks about like we expected." 

As Shawn reached down to pull the automatic weapon from him, Michael raised his ultrasound and pulled the trigger.

"Michael!!"  Kitt yelled as Shawn slumped to the ground over the man.  "What are you doing?!"

Michael bent to take Shawn's comlink.  "I'm sorry, buddy," he said.  "But this is my fight."

"You shot my partner!  This is unacceptable!"

"I'm really sorry, but Kitt, this is Durante we're talking about here!"

"Exactly!!  That is why you need backup out there!  He's dangerous and you are clearly not in a state of mind to go after him alone!"

Michael bowed his head slightly.  "I'm not alone," he said quietly.

There was a moment of silence and Michael knew it was a manipulative thing to say and it probably had Kitt doing flips in his CPU, but it was also the truth.  Only he was afraid that now Kitt was going to shut up in disgust.

When he did finally speak, his voice was calmer, more subdued.  "This is not acceptable, Michael.  I disagree with your actions completely.  You had no right to shoot Shawn."

"Kitt, I need to be the one to take out Durante."

"And if you were in a rational state of mind, we could have discussed it, instead of you taking matters into your own hands.  I don’t believe that I trust you to continue this.  You do not make good decisions when Durante is involved."

"Kitt, I can't just sneak up on him and shoot him in the back."

"Of course you can.  What are you going to gain by confronting him?"

"I'm not sure.  Hopefully some sense of closure."

Kitt was quiet again.  Then he said, "Michael, I disagree with this course of action.  But since Shawn will be out for at least an hour, and we're running out of daylight, I will continue to help you, but understand it is under duress."

"Thank you, buddy.  I'm sorry for doing it this way, but I knew it was the only way you'd agree."

"We'll discuss it later.  When you're safe."

"Thanks."  Michael wasn't looking forward to that discussion.  He knew he was in the wrong, but it was the only way that Kitt would allow him to go after Durante without her. 

Michael carefully pulled Shawn to the side and made her comfortable.  Then he slung her rifle over his shoulder and unclipped the radio from his sack.  "What channel is Durante on?"

"Michael  . . ."

"Kitt, what channel?"

"He's changed to code 12."

Michael changed the setting, took a deep breath, and depressed the talk button.  "Durante, you listening?" he asked, his voice hard.

There was a pause and then the radio came alive with soft static.  "Mr. Knight.  You've finally decided to have a civilized conversation."

"I don't know if I'd say that.  I just wanted to let you know that the last of your men is lying unconscious at the moment.  You really should hire better help," Michael taunted.

"I'll take that under advisement."

Michael wanted to hear fear in his voice, but it was stated matter-of-factly.  "It's just you and me now, Durante."

"So I gather.  To tell you the truth, I wanted to be the one to kill you anyway.  I look forward to seeing you die, Mr. Knight."

"Don’t bet on it, Durante.  Your days of freedom are numbered." 

Durante laughed and the radio went silent for several minutes.

"Kitt?"

"He isn't transmitting on this or any other channel."

Good.  That meant he didn’t have any backup that they didn’t know about.  And their little conversation had gotten Michael’s blood moving again.  He felt the buildup of adrenaline in his system, giving him the energy he needed to finally finish this.

* * *

And there he was.  It was surprising to Michael how mundane it seemed.  Kitt led him to Durante, and now he was sitting there, crouched low in the scrub, watching him.  He had tracked Durante for a while, following his every move through the forest.  Durante had finally stopped, and so had Michael.

"Are you going to finish this?" The words scrolled along the face of the comlink.  Not just yet, buddy, Michael thought.  He knew Kitt was worried, but he wanted to wait until the right time.  Durante was resting, drinking from a canteen. His automatic was propped against a tree, a little to his right.  Now was probably about that time.

Michael slid sideways, slipping between two large evergreens, trying not to touch either of them.  He couldn't make a sound, or he risked Durante spotting him and possibly mowing him down.  Obviously not how he wanted things to end. 

Michael had wanted to see something, some sign that Durante had suffered.  He was still small, slightly stocky.  If he had gained any weight, it wasn't showing in the usual places.  There was a thatch of hair sticking out from under his black cap.  It was salt and pepper, but more gray than black.  From the side, Michael could see that his cheek was saggy and lined.  But nothing seemed out of the ordinary about him.  He didn't look like someone responsible for destroying so much in Michael's life.  He didn't look like someone who had suffered, but then, Michael probably didn't either.  To see what he was looking for, Michael was going to have to look Durante in the eyes.

Michael kept moving, always keeping careful watch on the figure sitting by the tree.  So far Durante was oblivious, completely focused on something, although Michael wasn't sure what.  He glanced in the direction where Durante’s gaze was locked, but there was nothing of interest.  And if there had been, Kitt would have warned him anyway.  He stepped closer.

Michael pulled back a branch, careful not to snap or rustle it, and then slipped by, keeping most of his body hidden.  He felt his comlink buzz and looked down.

"Be careful.  There are a lot of loose twigs under the maple ahead of you," Kitt said.

Michael froze in place as Durante moved.  Damn.  Michael watched as Durante picked up his gun and started inspecting it.  He was hoping to get Durante when he was out of arms reach of the weapon.  Apparently, he had missed his window of opportunity on that one.

Michael took a few more steps to the side so that he was directly behind the tree that Durante was leaning against.  He had to fight with his own lack of patience.  He wanted to rush the tree, but with the weapon now in his hand, it was possible for Durante to get the gun around before he spanned the distance. 

"Please use your ultrasound," Kitt scrolled.

Sorry, buddy, Michael thought.  He needed to do this the old-fashioned, personal way.  Looking down, Michael counted the steps he'd need and checked for any roots or branches to trip him up.  He took two steps forward, paused and waited.  Durante didn't move.

Michael took another two steps and paused again.  He was close enough to see Durante's chest moving as he breathed.  Still fighting his impatience, Michael made himself take another breath and then took three slow steps.  He could see that the skin on the back of Durante’s neck was brown and leathery -- coarse looking. 

Michael took two more steps, and then veered sideways to get a good angle with his right arm.  Silently, quickly, Michael slid one arm around Durante’s neck and wrenched him back against the tree.

Durante stiffened as soon as he realized what had happened.  Then he swung the automatic backward, nailing Michael in the thigh with it.  Michael jerked his arm to the side to grab Durante’s weapon while tightening up on the arm around his throat.

"Drop it!" he growled.

Durante gave a bizarre choked off laugh and Michael pulled back even harder on his throat.  He felt Durante start to struggle instinctively as his breathing was restricted.  Michael yanked Durante’s arm back and bashed it into the tree.  Durante kept hold of the weapon. Michael pushed him forward and then back, slamming him into the tree again, this time concentrating on his shoulder.  Durante still held the gun, so Michael grabbed his wrist and started twisting.

"Drop it!"

Durante laughed again and Michael pulled harder against his neck.  Then he eased up, and Durante coughed, his voice hoarse and dry.  "I came here to kill you.  You don't think I'm just going to give up, do you?"

"You couldn't even kill me in my sleep, Durante. All of your men are gone.  You've got nothing left.  Give it up!"

"You sent me to prison, Knight.  I won't ever give up trying to avenge that."

"You killed my wife!" Michael yelled.  "You deserved worse than prison!"

Michael yanked on Durante’s wrist harder and pulled his head back.  Durante was smaller and not nearly as strong.  Michael knew he was in control of the situation, as long as Durante didn't get his gun around. 

"You should rot in hell,” Michael seethed.

"So by all means, send me there," Durante said with a snicker.  "Clearly this doesn’t end until one of us dies."

Michael forced Durant's arm into the tree again.  This time he heard a snap and felt Durante jerk upright in pain.  The weapon fell to the ground with a thud.  Forcing Durante forward, Michael kicked the weapon behind him.  Then he shoved Durante ahead of him.  Durante fell cradling his broken wrist as Michael brought the ultrasound up and aimed it at him.

Durante slowly turned and looked up at Michael.  His face was weathered and deeply lined.  His eyes were filled with the insane calm of someone bent on revenge and sure he was going to get it.  Michael wondered if anyone had ever seen anything like that in his eyes.  If so, it could only have been Durante, long ago in that warehouse. 

"I'd love to send you to hell, Durante.  But that's the difference between us.  I'm not a cold blooded killer."  Michael said, his voice steel.

Durante laughed.  "Then you're a coward.  You won't even kill me for your beautiful bride?  You threaten me with what, an ultrasound?  A little toy.  Of what concern is it to me?"

"It concerns you because it means you’re going back to jail.  You’ll get to spend the rest of your life in a small gray cell with nothing but the clothes on your back and a dirty mattress.  It’s a long way to fall for someone who had millions.  You’ll never get that back, you know.  Everything you had is gone now.  And this little toy is going to take away the only thing you were able to get back – your freedom."  Michael pried into Durante's face with all the intensity he had left and saw the barest flicker of something in Durante's eyes.  There were hints of a hidden emotion, barely visible between the whirls of anger and the desire for revenge.  It was what Michael needed -- it was fear.

Durante's face became a mask again.  "I'll be out again almost as soon as they shut the cell door, Knight."

"Not this time.  You think they’re going to let you get anywhere near fresh air again, after this?  I may not be able to make you rot in hell, but I can send you to rot in prison!"

Durante's temper flared and in a split second, he uncoiled from his crouch.

"Michael he's got a knife!" Kitt yelled over the comlink.

Michael threw himself to the side and squeezed the trigger on the ultra sound as he was falling.  He heard the knife thud into a tree behind him as he saw Durante tumble to the ground in an ungainly, unconscious sprawl.

"Michael, are you okay?" Kitt asked in a hurried voice.

Michael looked around him, seeing the large hunting knife shaking where it had sunken into the bark of the tree.  He took in a deep breath.  "Yeah Kitt, I'm fine."

"I'm sorry.  I didn't see the knife until he moved it.  It was too thin to be seen from that angle and at this distance."

Michael smiled in relief.  "You saw it when it counted, Kitt.  That’s all that matters."

Michael glanced down at Durante.  "Call the authorities, okay, pal?"

"Of course."

"And thank you, Kitt.  For everything."

"You're welcome, Michael.  I'm so glad you're safe."

* * *

Somehow Michael's ankle didn't hurt quite so much and he wasn't nearly as exhausted.  The fact that Shawn was marching in front of him in a foul mood didn't faze him either.  She would get over it.  The only thing that mattered right now was that they were going to meet up with Bonnie, and then they were all going home.  At first Michael thought it was going to be a momentary boost - the thrill of getting Durante and ending this confrontation.  But he was still practically walking on water. 

"Bonnie is approximately one hundred feet ahead of you," Kitt said over the comlink.  Shawn turned to see that he had heard, but remained silent.  Michael's good humor couldn't even be deflated by the prospect of getting a lecture from Maddock on appropriate and inappropriate uses of an ultrasound.  He would think about that later.

Michael squinted through the trees and spotted Bonnie sitting on a fallen log.  The sight of her overwhelmed him and for a moment he couldn’t breath.  He hadn't realized that he had been preparing himself all along for the possibility that he would never see her again.  Michael slowed to a stop, his heart catching in his throat.  He also realized that he had been preparing himself for the possibility of losing her – of seeing her lying on the ground, her life slipping away.  But there she was, her head tilted down, her soft brown hair falling in front of her face.  He felt weak with relief.   He was so glad that she had decided to wait for them here. 

Michael forced his legs to start moving again, and he slowly stepped into the clearing.  Bonnie almost seemed to sense him more than see him.  Slowly, she picked up her head, met his eyes, and swallowed sharply.   In the span of seconds she was in his arms and he found himself hugging her tightly and rocking her against him.

"I was so worried about you.  I thought . . . are you okay?" she asked in a rush.

"Yeah.  I'm fine now."

"You were gone and I didn't know where to look."

"I know.  I'm sorry.  I needed to be sure you were safe.  I couldn't let anything happen to you, so I had to get him away from the cabin." 

She squeezed him tighter.  "I know why you did it, but don't you ever disappear like that on me again," she said, her voice muffled against his chest.

Michael drew in the scent of her hair as he cuddled her to him.  It was amazing how just her smell could make everything seem okay.  He had missed her so much.  "I think from now on I'm going to be better about keeping my cell phone charged."

Bonnie gently tapped her forehead against his chest.  "I think I’m just going to come up with a way of implanting a homing device.  You always did need a keeper."  Michael couldn't tell for sure if she was laughing or crying.  Most likely it was a little of both.

"If you want the job, it's yours," he said softly.

Peripherally, Michael was aware of the fact that Shawn was moving on ahead of them.  He knew it was getting late and they should get back before dark, but after all this time out here wanting to get home, now he was happy to stay a few minutes more so that he could hold the woman he loved.

* * * 

Michael had ditched his crutches in favor of carrying his orange juice and toast out to the picnic table himself.  He was surprised that Bonnie had let him do that much.  Between the sprained ankle and the wounded arm, she was not letting him do anything.  She was hovering over his as badly as she used to hover over Kitt.  But for a change, he had gotten a doctor at the emergency room who had suggested sending him home without any prompting.  Michael had had all his usual arguments lined up, and had been a bit dumbfounded when he hadn’t needed them.  Of course he wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth.  He got out of there as quickly as his crutches would carry him.

“How are you feeling?” Kitt asked, rolling over to join him.

“I’m fine.  It was great to finally get some sleep.”  It was well after 10:00 in the morning.  Michael almost never slept that late.

“I’m sure it was.”

“The drugs don’t hurt either,” he quipped.  “So when are you headed back?”

“Maddock called this morning and wants me back as soon as possible, but I think I’ll stay for breakfast,” he said impishly.

Maddock had come down last night in the Foundation’s jet to oversee everything.  Michael was pretty sure he just wanted to see the commotion for himself, and maybe hob-knob with whatever agency guys were out there.  After Kitt had called in, they had been descended upon by men in unmarked cars and even a helicopter.  Durante had been taken away before the local authorities had even arrived.  In a way, Michael was glad that Maddock had been there.  Michael had overheard him threatening one of the agents with all sorts of publicity.  Michael didn’t know if that meant much or not, but at least the Foundation was going to do what they could to keep Durante where he belonged.

“Thanks for coming to my rescue, pal,” Michael said.

“You’re welcome.”

“And pass my thanks on to Shawn again.”

“Maybe in a day or two,” Kitt said, judiciously.  Maddock hadn’t stayed long last night, and Shawn had gone back with him on the jet, ostensibly to get a jump on the cases they had been neglecting.  But Michael knew she was still angry.  He had tried to apologize, but she had brushed it off.

Bonnie came out through the still-damaged patio door carrying a tray of pancakes, syrup, and berries.  She set the tray down and turned to make another trip.

“I can help you bring things out,” Michael offered.

“Sit,” she said, not stopping.

“I have a sprained ankle, I’m not an invalid,” he protested.

“And the doctor told you to stay off it,” she called on her way back into the cabin.

Michael sighed and picked up a piece of toast.

“She’s going to take care of you, Michael, whether you like it or not.  I’ve found over the years, it’s best not to argue.  Besides, she is your girlfriend.”

Michael gulped down a swallow of orange juice.  “I don’t know which is worse, being smothered by my girlfriend, or taking romantic advice from a computer.”

"You could find worse sources for advice," Kitt said primly.  "Besides, even I know that you enjoy the attention."

Bonnie was back with a tray of eggs and bacon. 

“There’s enough food here to feed an army, you know,” Michael said, slightly awed.

“I thought that after eating MREs for six days, you might appreciate it.”

Michael gently took hold of her arm to stop her from going back into the kitchen for a third time.  “I do appreciate it.  But what I’d appreciate more is your company.”

Bonnie glanced back at the cabin.  “But the coffee . . .”

“I’ll survive without it for now." 

Bonnie slowly sat down on the picnic bench and leaned into him.  She could say as much with her silences as with her frenetic attempts to take care of him.  Michael wrapped an arm around her, deciding that breakfast could wait a minute.  He found that he was surprisingly content.  The worry, fear, and pain of yesterday had already started to fade.  It was so wonderful to have Bonnie in his arms and Kitt here with them.  He hoped they could both stay for a while – it would make for a wonderful morning. 

Michael surveyed the space that had become his home.  True, he was going to be busy making repairs and fixing things up – he was going to be patching bullet holes for a while -- but it really wasn’t that much worse for the wear.  He spotted a nest of swallows in the awning over the boat.  Normally he’d knock it down, not wanting to deal with the mess, but after watching the birds swoop back and forth a while he decided that this time he’d leave it be. 

Michael glanced over at Kitt.  Then he gave Bonnie a quick kiss on the top of her head and let her go so that they could both eat their breakfast. 

His heart wasn’t that much worse for the wear either.

-----------------
-knightshade
July 2, 2004
 
 

 


 


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